A cheerful tune drifted through Carousel Boutique. It blended with the soft jingle of windchimes outside. Brightly colored bolts of cloth sparkled in the sunlight as it scattered through the store's glass windows. Finely dressed mannequins stood silently in audience to the song like a crowd of sophisticates at an opera. In the middle of it all, seated upon a comfortable red cushion, Rarity hummed while she worked.
The white unicorn made careful use of her hooves, teeth and magic to work her needle through the yellow fabric of a spring dress. Garnet studs came into place along the hem, and she planned to decorate the clasp with a fiery ruby.
Rarity's humming subsided as she heard a hoof knock against her front door. “Is that you, Twilight?” she called, stowing her work away. “Do come in.”
The door opened as Twilight Sparkle stepped inside. “Thank you for letting me drop in like this, Rarity,” she said, taking care to wipe her hooves on the welcome mat before stepping into the boutique proper. “I know you've been busy lately.”
“Oh, nonsense,” Rarity replied, helping her friend hang her saddlebags near the door. “I always have time for my friends.” The white unicorn then trotted lightly off toward the kitchen. “What kind of tea would you like, dear?”
Twilight smiled gratefully. “Anything is fine, thank you.”
A few minutes of running water, rattling pots, and finally whistling kettles ensued before Rarity returned, levitating two steaming cups before her. The two unicorns each found themselves a perch of cushions and pillows and got comfortable.
“So,” Rarity said, stirring a lump of sugar into her cup, “what brings you to my humble abode?”
Twilight took a careful sip. “Ooh, this tea is delicious!”
“You like it? It's a special blend you can only get in Canterlot. There's this darling little tea shop--” Rarity stopped herself, unwilling to let Twilight sidetrack her.
The lavender mare grinned sheepishly. “Okay, okay. You caught me, I didn't come here to talk about tea.” She took another sip. It really was good tea, though. “I came here because... well, I think I have a crush.”
Stars glistened in the corners of Rarity's eyes. “Oh, Twilight, that's marvelous! Tell me all about her!”
“Well, I—,” Twilight began, before blinking a couple of times. “Wait, why do you just assume it's a 'her?'“
Rarity gave an airy laugh. “Darling, I don't know how subtle you think you've been, but you've had 'filly-fooler' written all over your face since day one!”
Twilight's cheeks flushed dark red. “Rarity!” she hissed.
“Pardon my crude language, of course,” she added, taking a sip from her cup. “But it's true. Since you arrived in Ponyville, I don't think I've heard you say more than three words to any stallion that wasn't your brother.”
Twilight set her teacup down and stood up. “Nevermind,” she said, turning toward the door.
“Oh, sit down, will you? I'm only teasing,” Rarity said.
Twilight paused, then gave an exasperated sigh as she sank back down onto the pillows.
“That's it, dear. You came here to tell me about this crush of yours because you and I both know I can help.” Rarity brought her cup to her lips, but froze. “Unless... dear Celestia, it isn't me, is it?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “No, Rarity, I don't have a crush on you.”
The white unicorn breathed a sigh of relief. “Not that I wouldn't... appreciate your affections if it were, mind you, I just would like to believe you're bright enough not to go barging into a pony's home and just say it. That would be far too forward.” Rarity's eyes fixed themselves to some point beyond the walls of the boutique. “No, you would need to start with something like an innocent invitation to a friendly dinner-date. We would talk and laugh over our salads and wine, and then we would take a detour through the park as we walked back home. As the sky above us glows with the time of day that is your namesake, you would lean in close and whisper—“
“Oka—y,” Twilight interrupted, laughing nervously. “I am going to pretend I heard none of that.”
Rarity coughed into her hoof. “Ahem... besides, poor Spike would be just devastated.” A long, awkward silence filled the room. “So, is it anypony I know?”
Twilight nodded. “Yes, you know her very well.”
Rarity clapped her hooves on the tiles in excited glee. “I knew it was a 'her!' “
The purple unicorn shot an annoyed glare at her friend.
Rarity folded her hooves under herself and focused her attention on her tea. “Go on.”
Twilight took another sip. “Well, it started when I realized that she'd always been there for me. No matter where I went, there she was.”
Rarity gasped. “Pinkie Pie?” she squeaked. Twilight cocked her eyebrows. “No? Oh, nevermind, then. So you're close?”
“Oh yes, very close,” Twilight continued. “We hang out together all the time.”
A big grin spread across Rarity's face. “I always thought you and Rainbow Dash would make the most adorable couple!”
“It's not Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said flatly.
“Really?” Rarity rubbed her chin with a hoof. “I could have sworn... hmm.” Rarity tried to sip thoughtfully from her cup, but found it completely empty. “Tell me, does this lucky mare suspect anything? Is she aware that she has stolen my dear Twilight's heart?”
“Oh, I think she knows,” Twilight said, twirling a hoof against the floor. “I don't think I could hide anything from her if I tried.”
“Is it Fluttershy?”
“You're absolutely positive it isn't Rainbow Dash?”
“It isn't Rainbow Dash!”
“Now you're just going down the list of all our friends.”
Rarity pouted. “Well I simply must know, darling! Tell me, who could have drawn the gaze of Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight finished her cup of tea and set it carefully down on the floor. “Well...” A wind began swirling through the boutique. Thread and needles left the tables to dance in the air. The room was suddenly filled with a blinding light.
When the light and wind faded, Rarity was faced with not one but two Twilight Sparkles. The new Twilight wore an eyepatch and her mane was all frizzy.
Rarity stammered. “T-Twilight, what is going on?”
The Twilight without an eyepatch stood up. “Rarity, I am now dating myself. My future-self, that is.” Future Twilight gave her past self a playful nip on the ear. “Oh, me,” Past Twilight said, pushing Future Twilight away with her hoof.
The eyepatch-wearing mare grinned and spoke. “I realized, 'hey, here's a pony who likes all the same things as I do. She can keep up with me when I talk about my research, and it won't bother her if I snore!”
Rarity stood dumbfounded. “I—you, uh, wha—?”
Past Twilight giggled. “Plus, the eyepatch is pretty hot, don't you think?”
Rarity's eyes lost focus and she collapsed in a heap on the pillows.
The two Twilights stepped out of Carousel Boutique, laughing. Future Twilight looked to her left with a smug expression on her face. In the bushes outside the window, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash stood staring, their jaws hanging nearly to the ground. “That,” she said to them, “is how you do a real prank.” In a flash of light and a gust of wind, Future Twilight disappeared.
The remaining Twilight Sparkle held out her hoof. “All right girls, I won. Pay up.”
Pinkie and Rainbow dug through their saddlebags and produced some bits.
Twilight grinned as she began mussing up her mane. “Oh, and Pinkie, do you mind if I borrow one of your emergency eyepatches? I need to go help a friend settle a bet.”
Carousel Boutique smelled of lilacs. There was also the scent of freshly washed fabric, an acrid hint of dye, and occasionally a vague trace of odor to indicate that the place was home to a cat, but the most distinctive smell in the boutique was the lilacs. Stems of the little purple flowers rested in jars of water on the windowsill, on the table, and on shelves by the door. Dress forms with half-finished patterns pinned to them had lilacs tucked behind their stuffed ears. A bouquet of lilacs hung from the ceiling by a string, slowly drying beneath the skylight.
Applejack began to suspect she was mildly allergic to lilacs.
“Hold still, darling, the glue hasn't set yet.” Rarity used her hoof to hold a wooden purple horn steady against Applejack's forehead.
The farm mare grimaced, doing her best to keep herself from itching the end of her muzzle. “Where'd ya even get a phony unicorn horn, anyway?”
Rarity chewed her lip in concentration as she used her magic to pull her friend's blonde mane into a bun. “Hmm? Oh, I just had it lying around. I probably picked it up at some novelty shop or another.” She took her hoof off Applejack's forehead, staring at the horn until she was satisfied it would not fall off. “There. Just don't move your head too suddenly, and it should stick just fine.”
Applejack lifted a hoof to feel her faux-horn. It still startled her to see that her hoof was now light purple instead of orange. She frowned. “Just double-checkin', but are you sure this dye ain't permanent?”
Rarity dug through a cabinet, discarding various odds and ends before finally emerging with an indigo wig with a bright pink stripe down the middle. “Of course, dear, it's completely washable. Your tub will turn purple the next time you take a bath, but you'll be back to your orange self at the end of the day. Lower your head for me, please.” Applejack put her head down and folded her ears back as her friend placed the wig over top of her yellow mane. The unicorn fussed with it until it seemed to settle properly over the bun. A false tail in the same style was fixed over Applejack's tail.
“Is this really gonna work, anyway? Won't she know it ain't her?” Applejack fidgeted as Rarity took to modifying the wig with a brush and a pair of scissors.
The scissors snapped at the false hair, sending bits of it drifting to the floor. Rarity grinned as she worked. “I may not have command over incredible feats of magic, but I am a darned good makeup artist. When she sees you, she'll believe it.”
The no-longer orange mare frowned. “Not that I mind helpin', it's just this seems like goin' a bit far just to get back at somepony fer a prank.”
“Farther than traveling back in time?” Rarity replied, brushing the bangs of the wig up into a wild tangle. “Besides, this is a matter of principle. Nopony pulls one on Rarity Belle and gets away clean. You don't really believe it was an accident when Sweetie Belle added itching powder instead of detergent to the laundry when I gave Rainbow Dash and Pinkie those sweaters for Hearth's Warming, do you?”
Applejack inclined her head. “I thought that seemed a mite suspicious.”
“Indeed.” Rarity took what looked like a sheet of paper with Twilight's starburst cutie mark drawn on it and pressed it against Applejack's flank. She put a hoof to her chin as she rubbed the paper vigorously. “Rub-on cutie marks... It's probably best we don't let our sisters find out such a thing exists, don't you agree?”
The farm mare nodded. “Sweet Celestia, I shudder ta even think about it.” After two sheets of paper and a few minutes of rubbing, Applejack's apples were completely invisible, hidden beneath bright pink stars.
“Here, put this colored contact in,” Rarity said, handing her a single purple lens.
Applejack looked down at it. “Why only one?”
“Because the other eye will have an eyepatch,” the unicorn explained.
It took the earth pony a bit of time and effort to work the contact lens into her eye. After she finished, Rarity strapped an eyepatch over the remaining green eye. Applejack blinked, trying to get her eyelids used to the foreign object. “Well, how do I look? Do I look like Twi?”
Rarity grinned. “Oh, darling, Twilight wishes she could look as much like herself as you do now!”
“That don't even make sense.”
“I'll get you a mirror, darling.” A flash of Rarity's horn dragged a full-length dressing mirror across the floor to rest in front of Applejack.
The farm pony's mouth hung open. Staring back at her through the mirror was Twilight Sparkle, down to the last detail. “Well ain't that somethin'?” she murmured as she stared at her reflection.
Rarity clapped her hooves against the floor. “Oh! I almost forgot!” She zipped into the kitchen and rummaged through the cupboards. “Aha!” She produced a small round candy in a wax paper wrapping, which she held out to Applejack. “Eat this.”
Applejack blinked a moment in confusion before doing as she was told. She chewed on the treat for a few moments before swallowing. “Mm, minty,” she remarked. Her eyes went wide as the voice that emerged from her mouth was not her own. “What—my voice!”
“A special order candy from Bon Bon,” explained Rarity. “It will make you sound just like Twilight. Say something smart.”
The false Twilight narrowed her eye. “I beg your pardon?”
“Say something Twilight would say,” Rarity rephrased.
Applejack rolled her eyes. “I um, square-rooted all of my hypotheses.”
The fashion designer cackled. “Oh, it's perfect! Remind me sometime that I owe Bon Bon a... a whatever she asks for. That mare does brilliant, brilliant work!”
“Um, Rarity, this will go away after a while, right? This stuff is making my head hurt whenever I try to say 'ya'll.'”
“Now you know how the rest of us feel, darling,” Rarity mumbled.
“What was that?” Applejack hissed.
The unicorn coughed loudly. “I said not to worry, darling. Bon Bon assured me it will wear off in a couple of hours. Now, do you remember the plan?”
Applejack flexed her jaw. “I wait upstairs until I hear your signal. Then I come down the stairs, back up your story, then go back up the stairs. Simple enough.”
“Good. And I'll be covering your entrance and exit with some smoke and lights.” Rarity glanced out the window. Her eyes went wide. “Oh, she's coming! Quick, get to your spot!” She nearly shoved Applejack into the closet in her room before dashing back downstairs to sweep up the hair clippings.
Rarity only just managed to find a seat on her sofa when a hoof knocked against her door. “Come in,” she sang.
The door opened and in stepped Twilight Sparkle. “Hi, Rarity,” she greeted, wiping her hooves on the welcome mat. “Thank you for inviting me back over for tea.”
“Of course, of course, come on in, darling,” Rarity said, beckoning her towards a pile of soft cushions. “I have the tea already made this time.” She levitated a set of teacups and a gently steaming teapot from behind the sofa.
Twilight accepted her cup with a smile but hesitated before bringing it to her lips.
Rarity smirked. “Is something the matter, dear?”
The librarian stared suspiciously at the dark liquid in her cup. “You do know that what I did that one time was just a prank, right? I didn't mean anything by it.”
Rarity took a long sip from her tea. “Of course, dear. It was all in good fun.” After a moment of silence, she started giggling. “You don't think I would put something in your tea, do you?”
“The thought did occur to me,” Twilight admitted sheepishly. “I remember Pinkie and Rainbow's sweaters last Hearth's Warming.”
The fashion designer's eyes shined innocently. “It isn't my fault my sister doesn't always take the time to read labels.”
“Uh huh,” said Twilight, unconvinced. After a few minutes, she shrugged, squeezed her eyes shut and took a sip of her tea. One eye relaxed back open. “Mm, jasmine,” she remarked.
Rarity grinned wickedly. “No, darling, I'm afraid I've done something far worse than putting something in your tea.” She let out a low chuckle. “I have gone and stolen your marefriend.”
Twilight raised one eyebrow. “Really, Rarity? That's what you're going with? You know I'm not actually dating my future self, right? That was part of the joke.”
The white mare cackled. “Oh you're not dating her anymore, at least. Future you is all mine, now!”
The librarian took another calm sip from her tea. “No, no, this is very amusing. Please, go on. I expect you have some kind of proof that you and my future self are together?”
“But of course! She should be dropping in any moment now.” Lights and noises filled the boutique. Puffs of white smoke formed around the stairwell. The light grew bright, forcing both ponies to look away.
Zwip! When the light and smoke faded away, nopony stood at the base of the stairs. The two unicorns stared in awkward silence for a few minutes before Rarity repeated herself. “I said, she should be dropping in any moment now.”
“Sorry!” came Twilight's voice from the top of the stairs. A set of purple hooves trampled down the steps, revealing Future Twilight's frizzy mane and eyepatch. “I uh, miscalculated the locator matrix,” she said, coughing on the remaining wisps of smoke. Past Twilight's eyebrows raised in surprise.
Rarity's smirk returned. “There you are, dear. Your past self does not believe me that you and I are a thing now. Would you enlighten her for me?”
“With pleasure.” The wild-maned mare marched purposefully to the sofa, swept Rarity off of her seat, and planted a long, deep kiss on her lips. There was a significant amount of tongue involved, and it lasted long enough that Rarity was gasping for breath at the end of it.
Past Twilight's eyes were as big as saucers. Rarity managed to open hers even wider still. Future Twilight turned to give her past self a big wink before leaving Rarity to stand on her own legs, which promptly dumped the white mare in a heap on the floor. Future Twilight leaned down to whisper in Rarity's ear, “I'll see you later, darling,” and then trotted back up the stairs.
Rarity pushed herself off the floor, brushing dust off her fetlocks. “Ahem,” she cleared her throat, trying to regain her composure. “You see? Me. Her. A thing.”
Twilight stared up the stairs, nodding. “Y-yeah... I saw.” She set her teacup down and slowly stood up. “I think... I think I'm going to go home now.” The librarian backed carefully up to the door.
“Yes,” said Rarity. “Do travel safely, darling.”
The stunned librarian nodded weakly. “Yes. I will do that.” She shut the door firmly behind her as she left.
Rarity watched from her window as the purple mare stumbled down the road. She waited until Twilight was out of sight before scrambling up the stairs. “Dear Celestia, I didn't expect that kiss, but you sure sold it, Applejack! Did you see her face?” Rarity laughed, opening the door to her bedroom. “If you ever get tired of farming, dear, I know of some talent agencies that would just die to get their hooves on somepony with that kind of commitment to a role! ...Applejack? Where are you, dear?”
A voice came from her closet. “I'm in here!”
Rarity opened the closet door, grinning. “You can come out now, she's gone.”
Applejack tumbled out of the closet. Her faux-horn came loose and rolled around on the floor. “What are you talking about, Rarity? What kiss? I've been stuck in the closet this whole time!”
Rarity pushed Applejack's shoulder with a hoof. “Oh, don't kid! You did an incredible job down there. Why, even I half believed you were really Twilight!”
“Rarity, I'm being as honest as the day is long,” said the farm pony, a concerned frown tugging at her lips. “I heard your signal and tried to come out, but the knob wouldn't budge. I thought about yelling for help, but then Twilight would have seen through everything, so I decided I would just wait for you to realize something was wrong and come up here yourself.”
The unicorn looked Applejack in the eyes. The green eye and the purple one contrasted sharply, but they did not waver with the slightest hint of deception. Rarity blinked in puzzlement. “But, if you were up here, then who was...” Her eyes fell on a neatly written note left on the corner of her bed.
Rarity picked up the note in a blue aura of magic, frowning as she read it. Her eyes went wide and she took a sharp breath. “Oh... oh, Celestia!” With a swoon, Rarity collapsed on the bed.
Applejack picked up the false horn and tried to press it back into its place on her forehead. “Hey, Rarity? If we're done here, do you mind if I keep the wig and horn a little while longer? I was thinking I might go and scare the hay out of my brother by asking him about that doll. ...Rarity?”
No response came from Rarity. Applejack raised her eyebrows. She nosed the note open to investigate.
That was a good one, ha ha! You sure got me!
While the exterior of the old farmhouse at Sweet Apple Acres was painted the same bright red as the orchard's prized apples, the interior walls were covered in warm earth tones. The windows and corners were trimmed in well-worn and age-stained wood, and the wallpaper bore a desaturated apple pattern. The walls were almost entirely covered by framed family portraits, homely knick-knacks, and macaroni art taken home from school by proud fillies (and at least one by Macintosh from before anypony had ever thought to affix 'Big' to his name). The smell of pies baking had been so prevalent for so long in the old structure that it smelled like fresh apple pie even when there was nothing in the oven.
Though the ground floor was a mix of bare earth and tile, the second floor—where all the bedrooms except Granny's were located—was lined with solid wood floorboards. It was a testament to the quality construction of the farmhouse that despite being older than all the current residents save one, the floorboards were not bent or warped out of alignment at all. Yes, this was high quality lumber right here under Apple Bloom's hooves. The wavy, swirly patterns of the wood grain held the yellow-coated filly's rapt attention, conveniently allowing her to avoid eye contact with the large, red, stern-faced mountain of older brother that towered over her.
“Now I want you ta sit in yer room real quiet-like, an' think about whatcha done,” Big Macintosh said in his low baritone. He did not often use his stature to intimidate anypony, but the disciplinarian air he now put on made him an imposing figure.
Apple Bloom's face found a position somewhere between 'guilty' and 'confused.' “But I—” she stammered.
“Nnope,” interrupted Macintosh, shaking his head. “No buts.” He turned and swung the door shut before the filly had the chance to protest again. The largest member of the Apple family stole a glance out the window as he marched down the stairs. He puffed out his cheeks as he spotted a purple mare making her way up the old farm road to Sweet Apple Acres.
“Eeyup,” he muttered to himself, “sure enough, here she comes.” Big Macintosh found himself a comfortable seat in the living room and waited to hear a knock on the farmhouse door.
He did not have to wait long. The voice of Ponyville's librarian accompanied the knock. “Um, is anypony home? Applejack? Mrs. Smith?”
Macintosh pushed himself out of his seat and made a deliberate plod to the front door. He twisted the handle and pulled it open. On the other side was a pony that looked very much like Twilight Sparkle. Her eyes shifted this way and that, and her left foreleg did not seem to want to stop moving. “Why, Miss Twilight,” said Big Mac. “What brings ya out here today?”
The nervous mare looked over her shoulder, as though she expected she would be followed. “I uh, was looking for my old doll, Miss Smartypants, actually,” she said. “Somepony told me I should check out here first?”
A warm smile spread across the big red stallion's lips. “Why don't ya come on inside? Would ya like some tea?”
“No!” Twilight shouted. She coughed once and lowered her volume. “I mean, no, thank you. I think I've had enough tea today.”
“Fair enough.” Big Mac stepped aside to let the unicorn in. “What about warm cider?”
“I was really hoping I could just grab my doll and go, if that's all right.”
The stocky stallion sauntered into the kitchen. “Cider it is. Have a seat, Miss Twi,” he said, flicking his short tail towards a well-worn but comfortable-looking sofa.
Twilight opened her mouth to protest, but failed to come up with any words to use. With a sigh of resignation, she collapsed on the old cushions, coughing at the little puff of dust she raised. She could hear Big Mac in the next room, rattling pans together and... was that humming? The unicorn could not recall ever hearing the large apple farmer hum before. He returned with a tray balanced on his back, a pile of cookies and a pair of steaming mugs resting on it. Twilight took the mug between her hooves. “Thank you,” she said.
Macintosh nodded in acknowledgment and slid the tray onto a low coffee table, grabbing his own mug as he settled into a wide wooden chair.
Twilight sniffed the cider and was rewarded with a pungent mix of spices. “This is the foal-friendly kind of cider, not the other stuff, right?”
“Eeyup,” Big Mac said, taking a long draw from his cider. “I could get some of the hard stuff from the cellar, if you'd prefer,” he offered.
“No, thank you, I...” Twilight paused, bringing a hoof to her chin in consideration before shaking her head vigorously. “No, thank you.” She took a sip of the tangy sweet beverage, smacking her lips at the astringent flavor. “So, about my doll. Do you know where it is?”
The purple mare waited for him to elaborate, but Big Mac appeared to have lapsed back into his trademark monosyllabism. “Does Apple Bloom have it?” she asked.
Twilight took a frustrated gulp of cider and immediately regretted doing so. Cider was not meant to be gulped in frustration. She coughed and sputtered. “Where,” she wheezed when she regained enough breath to speak again, “where is Miss Smartypants, then?”
Macintosh's face was unreadable. “She's in my room, on the shelf above my bunk,” he said.
“Oh,” said the librarian. She blinked a few times. “That's, um, that's...” her vocabulary failed her once again. “May I have her back, please?”
“Don't ya wanna know why a stallion like me's got your doll in his room, Miss Twilight?” Macintosh grinned through a sip of cider.
“To be perfectly honest, no, I'd rather not know, actually,” said Twilight. She set her mug of cider down on the coffee table and stood up. “Shelf above the bed, you said?”
The red stallion's grin grew wider. “It's 'cause she smells like ya. Books an' candles an' ink. It helps me get ta sleep at night.”
The librarian's cheeks flushed red and she laughed nervously. “Haha. That was precisely what I did not want to know. Good job. Now, if it's all right with you, I'll just be taking my doll and leaving.”
Big Mac rose from his chair and placed himself between her and the stairs. “Tell you what, Miss Twilight,” he said. “I'll give ya yer doll back if ya give me a kiss.”
Twilight's eyes widened. She began backpedaling toward the door. “Y-you know, I don't really need the doll. You can keep it. I'll just go now.”
“Aw, jus' one little kiss? Y'know, I've fancied ya fer a long time. You'd be makin' an old apple-farmer's dream come true.” He took a step forward.
The lavender librarian's response was to fiddle frantically with the latch to the door. After a moment of panicked fumbling, the door swung open and Twilight bolted out. “Everypony in this town is crazy!” she shouted as she galloped.
“It's the filly-fooler thing, ain't it?” Big Mac called after her from the doorway. “Don't you worry none about that, I could be a mare fer ya!”
Macintosh watched the purple unicorn disappear over the nearest hill. He turned around, his wide grin still stuck to his face. The door swung shut behind him as he made his way to the coffee table. The stallion picked up the tray and balanced it on his back so that it would be hidden from Apple Bloom's view when he went to talk to her. The stairs creaked under his hooves as he made his way up to his little sister's room. He paused to adopt a serious frown before opening her door.
Apple Bloom sat with her forehooves crossed in front of her, the same mix of perplexed guilt on her face as he had left her with. She glanced up at him through her red mane.
“You should know better than to spy on yer sister, Apple Bloom,” he scolded her.
The filly winced. “But she was gonna play a trick on ya. I thought you'd wanna know.”
“Nopony likes a taddle-tale,” said Big Mac. “If Applejack gets it in her head to dress up like Miss Twilight and try to harass me, that's her business. It ain't yer place to go an' meddle. Do ya understand?”
Apple Bloom's eyes lowered. “I understand.”
“Good. Now,” Macintosh took the tray of cookies from his back and set them on the floor in front of his little sister. He gave her a devious wink. “There's more where these came from if ya give me a heads up the next time yer sis gets any bright ideas.”
Apple Bloom stared at the cookies in confusion for a minute before understanding dawned in her eyes. A sly grin slowly spread across her face as she took a cookie and nodded.
Big Mac chuckled softly and peered out the window. From the second story, he could still see the purple speck dashing down the road toward Ponyville. He wondered how far his sister would go before getting rid of her disguise and circling back to come yell at him. That disguise sure had been something. If not for Apple Bloom's warning, he would have believed it was really Twilight Sparkle he had been talking to.
“That should teach Applejack a thing or two about thinkin' she can get the better of me,” he mused to himself. The purple speck disappeared in a soft pink flash of light. Big Mac blinked. That wasn't... no, it must have been a bit of sunlight on the window or something. There was a knock on the door.
“Oh, Big Ma—aw, honeysuckle, the voice candy wore off!” Applejack's voice sounded from the other side of the door. She coughed a few times and then did the worst impression of the librarian's voice Big Mac had ever heard. “I mean, uh, Big Mac, I'm lookin' fer my doll, Miss Smarty-Trousers. You ain't—I mean, uh, you haven't seen it anyplace, have you?”
Macintosh stumbled down the stairs and threw open the door. Standing on the porch was his sister, coat dyed to match Twilight's purple. Her indigo wig was swept up and frizzy like it had been caught in a hurricane, and she had an eyepatch. “A-Applejack?” he stammered.
The wooden unicorn horn slipped off her forehead and bounced on the floor. “Horseapples! What gave me away?” She bent down to pick the horn up.
Big Mac glanced down the road nervously. “You weren't, by any chance, here just five minutes ago, with a different wig on, were ya?”
“Rarity's only got the one wig, as far as I know,” Applejack said, trying to press the horn back onto her head. “An' five minutes ago I was at Rarity's tryin' ta get this darn thing ta stick. Goldurn cheap glue.”
Macintosh gulped loudly. “Aw, shoot,” he croaked, and took off down the road. “Miss Twilight! Miss Twi, wait! There's been a misunderstandin'!”
Apple Bloom appeared next to Applejack, mouth full of cookies. She watched with her older sister as the red stallion galloped madly toward Ponyville. “Cookie?” she offered, sliding the tray over to her.
Some might have thought it odd to place a library in the hollow of a tree. The humidity generated by the living wood was not an ideal environment to keep books, ensuring that the librarian needed to constantly refresh the enchantments on the shelves that kept the books dry and protected from moths. While it was quite wide by tree standards, the floorspace available was still narrow by the standards of a traditional structure, requiring the library to build upwards in order to fit its stock. Most libraries of such a small scale did not require a ladder to reach half the books available to it. Lastly, the more superstitious might point out that nothing good could come of using a tree to house the pulped and pressed remains of its kin.
However, whatever may be said about its dubious quality as a library, the great oak near the center of Ponyville was an excellent site to hold sleepovers. There was a surprising number of spare pillows available. There was a spare bed, and, as a result of insight from the night Rarity and Applejack had stayed over, a spare spare bed. Twilight had a whole pile of makeup and mane-styling accessories in the bathroom—gifts from Rarity, nearly every one of them—that were only ever brought out for the sake of the makeovers that her book, Slumber 101 and its sequel, Slumber 201 both insisted were a necessary part of the sleepover experience. The kitchen was well-stocked with all the ingredients required for proper s'more construction.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the walls were made to dampen sound, allowing guests to plot out pranks in hushed whispers without fear of discovery by their host.
“Did you bring it?” hissed Rainbow Dash, keeping her eyes trained on the door to the kitchen where Twilight was busy hunting down ingredients for s'mores. Dash had hidden the chocolate in the bottom left cupboard, so she knew they had at least five minutes while the unicorn checked each drawer systematically from right to left and top to bottom.
Pinkie Pie produced a small clay vial—from where, Dash was afraid to guess—and gave her a conspiratorial wink. “Of course!”
Dash took the vial in her hooves and grinned. “Awesome. Zecora said it would work?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yep! Just a little bit should do the trick. She said to be careful not to get any on your lips, or it'll affect you too!”
“That'd blow the whole thing,” Rainbow Dash agreed, carefully tucking the vial under her wing. She offered a hoof-bump to her friend. “You and me, Pinkie, we're gonna get back on top of our game. No egghead is gonna out-prank us!”
Pinkie grinned and reciprocated the gesture. “Well, except for the one time when she did. And the second time, when Rarity tried to get back at her. Three times, if you wanna count the time she turned Big Mac into a mare for a day.”
“That one doesn't count,” insisted Rainbow. “My point is, we're Ponyville's pranksters, not Twilight, and tonight she's gonna find out why that is.”
“Aha!” Twilight's voice issued from the kitchen. “Found the chocolate!” She emerged from the door, levitating graham crackers, marshmallows and a stack of chocolate bars behind her. “It's always the last place you look, isn't it?”
Rainbow chuckled and grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, funny that.”
The slumber party went as smoothly as could be expected. The pillow fight was spirited, pitting Dash's uncanny agility against Twilight's capacity to levitate every pillow in the library at will and Pinkie's inexplicable ability to be everywhere at once—Rainbow accused her at one point of keeping a clone from the mirror pool. Ultimately, the fight had to be called a draw before they ran out of usable pillows to sleep on.
Without Rarity present to egg them into it, makeovers came and went without much fuss, until Pinkie came up with an idea to frizz up Dash's mane and call her Rainfro Dash. In response, a few hairties turned the earth mare into Pigtail Pie. Twilight put her mane in a bun, but nopony could think of an entertaining pun for it, so she took it out.
Spooky stories and Truth or Dare ended up being rolled into one, as Pinkie Truthed Rainbow Dash to tell her the scariest story she knew, and Dash Dared Twilight to try and do better. The two of them shared classic campfire tales, while Pinkie followed up with a curiously disquieting story about every day being just a bit too sunny and everypony being a little too cheerful.
After a good deal of fun times and memories, it was finally time to go to bed. Given how active she was in the daytime, it was unsurprising that Pinkie fell fast asleep the moment she hit the pillow. Dash, being an expert napper, soon followed. Twilight had a little more trouble than her guests getting her eyes to shut. Nothing was really keeping her awake, but frequent late-night study sessions had gotten her body used to staying up well into the night.
She tossed and rolled in her bed for a little while before finally dropping her hooves to the floor to quietly tip-trot down the stairs into the kitchen. Twilight illuminated her way with a dim charge from her horn, careful not to make it bright enough to wake her guests.
Smacking her dry lips, Twilight levitated her favorite mug—a simple ceramic vessel with her cutie mark printed on the side—from the counter. She yawned as she filled the cup with water. It did not always work, but occasionally a little drink would help quell her insomnia. Twilight lapped at the cool, clear liquid.
The glow in the room began to brighten. Twilight winced and tried to extinguish her horn, only to realize the light was not coming from her horn. A soft but slowly intensifying light emanated from her own coat, bathing the kitchen in lavender luminescence.
She suppressed a yelp of surprise and stumbled back, her pupils shrinking both out of shock and exposure to light. She was radiating light like a giant purple firefly. Twilight twisted her head as she heard a couple of ponies snickering behind her.
Rainbow Dash and Pinkie peeked over the crest of the stairs, giggling. “Hey look, Pinkie,” said Dash, pointing her hoof. “It's Night-Light Sparkle!” The two mares fell over each other in laughter.
Twilight's eyes flickered back to her mug. The rim of it now had a golden, glowing substance smeared across where Twilight's lips had touched it. She rolled her eyes and gave her friends a good-natured chuckle. “Firefly dust on the rim. That's clever, you two. Very clever.”
Rainbow Dash slapped her knee with a wing. “I was beginning to wonder if you were ever going to drink from that cup! You're like a camel!”
The cup levitated in Twilight's magical grip as she studied it, rubbing her chin with a hoof. “How did you keep the stuff from glowing when you applied it?” she asked.
“We went to Zecora for that,” Pinkie supplied, bouncing happily. “She mixed it with some starch and a berry I can't remember the name of!”
“Duskberry,” Twilight ventured, nodding appreciatively. “I should've tasted it. The duskberries absorbed the light from the firefly dust, but they break down as soon as they meet the moisture in my lips. The dust takes effect, and I start glowing like a sign at an all night cafe.” She studied her luminescent hoof with an expression of academic satisfaction at having unraveled the mystery.
Rainbow waved her hoof dismissively. “Yeah, sure, probably that. The point is, we got you good. I mean, when we can see your expression reflected in shadow puppets on the wall, that's pretty good!” She turned to Pinkie, who was busy rolling on the floor giggling. “Didn't we get her good?”
Pinkie snorted. “We got her pretty good,” she agreed.
Twilight smiled graciously. “All right, you girls got me pretty good, I'll admit.”
“Ponyville's best pranksters!” Rainbow hissed, offering a hoof-bump to Pinkie, who returned it with enthusiasm.
Twilight yawned. “But I think now it really is time for bed. Good thing firefly dust doesn't last very long,” she said. Indeed, the glow emanating from her coat was already beginning to dim. She finished her glass of water and herded her guests back upstairs.
The next morning, Twilight Sparkle was larger. Or perhaps her bed was smaller. At any rate, where once her legs had a little space to reach for the ground when she rolled out of bed, this morning her hooves easily touched the smooth hardwood of the floor without ever leaving the covers. She yawned, muttering to herself something about fully investigating the cause of this after breakfast.
She stopped as she felt two pairs of eyes on her. “Oh, good morning, Pinkie, Rainbow Dash. I hope I didn't wake you. I was just going to get some breakfast. Would either of you two like anything?”
Pinkie and Rainbow Dash simply sat upright in their guest beds and stared, their mouths gaping open in shock. Perhaps it was a trick of perspective, but they seemed somehow shorter than Twilight.
After a few minutes of stunned silence from her friends, Twilight shrugged and started down the stairs. Addled by drowsiness, she stumbled on the first step, but fortunately her lavender wings opened up to stabilize her as she made her descent. Her expression registered something odd about this, but once again she repeated her vow to have breakfast before figuring anything out just yet.
She hummed an idle tune as she fixed herself a mug of coffee and a bowl of oats. The oats clinked together pleasantly in the bowl, and the coffee gurgled and percolated nicely. The granular meal was crunchy and just sweet enough, and the coffee managed to cool down enough by the time she drank it that she could call it just right.
Her breakfast thus completed, Twilight trotted back up the stairs, where her two friends remained in their beds, still frozen in shock.
“Now then,” she said, addressing the pair. “Pinkie, do I have wings?”
Pinkie Pie blinked. After a moment's hesitation, she nodded.
“I see,” said Twilight, nodding. “And I didn't have them last night, right? This isn't something I just didn't notice the whole time?”
Pinkie shook her head.
“Good, good. Now Rainbow, am I... taller than normal?”
Rainbow Dash nodded.
Twilight took a deep breath. “Okay. So, I'm taller, and I have wings now. Is there... is there anything else?”
Pinkie and Rainbow shared a glance. After a while, Pinkie cleared her throat. “Your uh, mane's all sparkly.”
“It is,” agreed Rainbow Dash. “I wasn't gonna say anything, but it totally is. Sparkly, and a bit, uh, floaty.”
“I was afraid this might happen,” said Twilight, shaking her head. “It was those duskberries.”
Rainbow sputtered, “The duskberries!? Twilight, berries can't do this! Look at you, you're a—you're an—”
“Well, no, not the duskberries by themselves, no,” Twilight said. “This isn't your fault, you couldn't have known I had dawnberries for breakfast yesterday.”
“Dawnberries?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“Yes, dawnberries. And I'm sure you both know what happens when a particularly magical unicorn eats dawnberries and duskberries in the same day, don't you?” She met with a pair of uncomprehending stares. “Well, you don't think Princess Cadance was born with wings, do you?”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “Nope. No way. Nice try, Twilight, but I'm not buying it. These are like, fake wings, or something.” She got out of bed and reached out with a hoof to grab her wings. They were warm, and they moved on their own, and the feathers felt very, very real.
Twilight winced, and with a few beats of her purple wings lifted into the air. “Ow! Uh, please don't do that, Dash, that hurts.”
Rainbow stumbled backwards, her eyes going wide. “C-C-Celestia, they're real!” she stammered.
Both Twilight and Rainbow Dash winced as a high-pitched, happy squeal issued from Pinkie. “Omigosh, Twilight, you're a princess! I've never gotten to throw a coronation party before!” The bed squeaked and groaned as she bounced on it. Pinkie used it as a springboard to launch herself at Twilight in a flying hug.
“I—ack—don't think that's how royalty works, Pinkie,” gasped Twilight as pink hooves squeezed her. Pinkie's grip loosened and Twilight let her down to the floor. “But it still would be a good idea to let Princess Celestia know about this. Do you think you two could go find Spike for me, please?”
“Okie dokie, your highness!” Pinkie Pie trotted down the stairs and out the door, humming the Equestrian national anthem as she went.
Rainbow Dash remained in place, staring vacantly for a few minutes before finally shaking her head and taking to the air. “Hey Pinkie, wait up!”
Twilight went out on the balcony to watch the pink and blue dots disappear into the streets of Ponyville. A bluebird perched on the railing and chirped cheerfully to her. She smiled at the bird and whistled back to it. She heard hoofsteps behind her. “Did I do okay?” she asked.
A smaller, wingless Twilight joined her on the balcony. “That was incredible! You saw their faces, didn't you? They totally believed it!”
“Indeed, darling, you performed marvelously.” Rarity joined the two Twilights, grinning. “Wonderful quick thinking dear. 'Dawnberries,' I loved it! Where did you learn to improvise like that?”
The taller, winged Twilight smiled. “Well, I—” she coughed as the voice-alteration candy's effects wore off. “Oh, excuse me,” came Fluttershy's own soft voice. “See, Thursdays are improv night for the bunnies and me. You should see Angel Bunny's Hoity Toity impression. It's really good.”
The two unicorns helped Fluttershy out of the stilts she had been wearing to look taller. Rarity removed the enchanted wig, which halted its unearthly shimmer as it was removed from Fluttershy's head. Rarity had spent quite a few bits to get her hooves on a wig that both had the right colors and also had the sparkling enchantment on it to imitate the Celestial Sisters' famous manes. She had ended up painting the pink stripe on it herself.
Twilight glanced out over Ponyville. Pinkie and Rainbow Dash could still be seen galloping across the plaza. “I wonder how long it's going to take them to remember Spike is in Canterlot for the week?” she mused.
Rarity shrugged. “I suppose this little joke could potentially backfire on us if they go all the way to Canterlot and tell the Princess themselves. Still, I would call it worth it.”
Fluttershy's wooden horn clattered to the ground. “Oh my!” the pegasus shrank back, hiding behind purple-dyed wings. “D-did I just commit treason?” she squeaked. “When I agreed to help you two, I didn't even think... is impersonating a princess a crime? Taking care of a sick bird was one thing, but I don't want to get banished for this!”
“Relax, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, placing a hoof on her friend's shoulders before she could start hyperventilating. “For one thing, you were impersonating me, not a princess. And even if that still counted, Princess Celestia loves a good practical joke. You've got nothing to worry about.”
“A-are you sure? What if the Princess doesn't think it was funny?”
“Then Twilight and I will take full responsibility for it,” Rarity placated.
Fluttershy nodded. “Okay. But, um, if it's all the same to you, I think I'm going to go home and wash this dye out, and start working on an alibi.” She gathered up her things and slipped out the back door, darting from bush to bush in an effort not to be seen.
“I can get Aloe and Lotus to swear you were at the spa all morning, if you'd like,” Rarity called after her.
“Eep!” Fluttershy disappeared in a purple blur.
Twilight put a hoof to her chin, blinking at Rarity. “Actually, I'm still not sure why you agreed to help with this, Rarity,” she said. “Not that I'm not grateful. Your disguise was great; Fluttershy and I couldn't have done this without you,” she added, “but I thought you were still trying to get back at me for the one prank over teatime. What happened to 'nopony pulls one on Rarity Belle and gets away clean?'”
“Ah, well you see,” Rarity chuckled lightly. “I've found a new, more productive motto for myself.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what is that?”
Rarity leaned against the railing. “If you can't beat them, join them.”
A room above Sugarcube Corner was, in many ways, the perfect place for Pinkie Pie to live. For one thing, it was convenient to live under the same roof she worked under. She didn't mind commuting, but it was handy to be able to just trot down the stairs and throw on an apron some days.
For another thing, it was a bakery. Smells of cinnamon and sugar and fresh pastries drifted up to her room at all hours of the day. Some ponies had remarked on Pinkie's appetite for sweets, but really anypony would develop a sweet-tooth living in that kind of environment. Pinkie probably spent about half of every paycheck to take advantage of her employee discount on the baked goods she sold, and to her mind, it was bits well-spent.
The Corner's central location in Ponyville also meant that Pinkie was never more than a hop, skip and a short canter from all of her friends. Given that her list of friends included everypony in town, that kind of proximity was not so much a convenience as a necessity.
There were some disadvantages, of course. Living with one's employers meant she had to keep it down at times. Her more impromptu parties were always held somewhere other than the bakery; she had promised to always get permission from the Cakes several days ahead of time if a party was to be held at Sugarcube Corner, so that they had the time to properly reinforce the sound-proofing in the place.
But today, even that was an advantage, as the sound-proofing secured against eavesdroppers as she conspired with her friends up in her room.
“She needs to be stopped!” Rainbow Dash pounded a hoof on Pinkie's bed, which, being soft and springy, made her hoof bounce and thus made the gesture less effective than it was intended to be. “Twilight's pranks are getting way out of hoof!”
Pinkie Pie held Gummy in her forelegs and giggled. “I don't know, I thought it was pretty funny. Berries turning her into a princess... hehe!”
“Yeah, okay, it was funny,” Rainbow conceded, “but that's not the point! The point is that we're supposed to be Ponyville's big pranksters! We can't have some egghead constantly showing us up! It's humiliating!”
The third occupant of the room spoke up. “I agree with Rainbow Dash, darling. Twilight is growing too bold. She needs a taste of her own medicine.” Rarity tossed a lock of her mane aside.
Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes. “Why are you here, anyway? You helped her pull off the last one!”
“And I have been the victim of her jokes twice as many times as you two have,” Rarity shot back. “Once on a bet she made with you, as I understand.”
Pinkie rubbed her hoof absently over Gummy's head. The little alligator stared vacantly. “So what are the three of us gonna do?” she asked. “I'm all for playing a funny joke on a friend, but Twilight's really smart. Ever since she learned that time-travel spell, all she's had to do if somepony tries to pull something on her is go back in time and make it so that the joke's on them!”
A sly grin spread across Rarity's face. “I think I have an idea, but we're going to need to call in some help. I need the two of you to head for Canterlot...”
Twilight Sparkle rested comfortably in her bed, engaging in her most favorite of activities, reading. There was still enough evening light to read by, but she had already lit her firefly lamp preemptively—she planned to keep reading well after dark. A copy of Moral Code's The Ethics of Time-Travel lay between her hooves.
...and so, while the primary concern among many scholars is that use of time spells has the potential to cause some kind of universe-swallowing logical paradox, I would point out that if it were possible for time-travel to cause the universe to implode, the universe would have already imploded. Since the universe remains fully ploded, the natural conclusion is that it is actually impossible to create universe-ending paradoxes.
Allowing, of course, for some minor iterative noise, any use of time spells invariably will result in a stable time-loop, even if for some reason the caster actively attempts to break the chain of cause and effect. In fact, in recorded cases of time-travel, attempts to change the past have been, at a disturbing frequency, met with such dramatic failure that they ironically create the very conditions they were trying to change.
Uncomfortable questions about fate and free will aside, this means that time spells are significantly less useful for any practical purposes than you would initially think. You cannot, for example, go back to stop the Great Pasture War, nor can you in any useful capacity smuggle advanced technology from the future to reverse-engineer it.
But the upside is that there really isn't such a thing as reckless use of time-travel. No permanent harm can ever come from it, at least not that wasn't already going to happen anyway. This makes time spells—and I am certain my colleagues will balk to read this—the perfect thing with which to impress friends at parties.
Some recommended tricks to use for this purpose may include...
Twilight lost her place as a sudden gust of wind blew the page over. She reached to shut her window, but found that it was already closed.
The wind grew stronger, whipping through her bedroom like a tornado. Books and parchment whirled through the air as magical energy filled the library with blinding light.
Twilight knew this drill well enough by now to shield her eyes. The brightness eventually faded, leaving the bedroom dark by comparison as her pupils struggled to readjust. As she expected, when her eyes cleared she faced herself—presumably her future self, since she did not remember traveling to today at any point in the past.
The Twilight of the present greeted her future self with a smile. “Hey. What've we got this time? Are Pinkie and Rainbow Dash up to something again?”
Future Twilight shook her head. “Not this time,” she said. “Listen, next Monday, you need to—whoa.” Her eyes widened as they passed over her past self's haunches. “Wow, I am really glad I decided to go on that diet after this!”
“What?!” Twilight's ears folded back. Did she just call herself fat?
Future Twilight waved her hoof. “Don't worry about that. That's not what I'm here about. Look, whatever you do, don't—” She was cut off as the room once again filled with wind and light.
“Don't listen to her, Twilight!” A third Twilight Sparkle stepped forward, magical energy still crackling in her mane. “Or... don't listen to me, uh, me?” She put a hoof on her chin as she debated the semantics.
The first future Twilight turned to the second. “But I was just going to tell her—”
“I know exactly what you were going to tell her,” said Future Twilight Number Two—or would it be more appropriate to call her Twilight Number Three? “It won't work. I know because I tried it.”
Present-day Twilight sat dumbfounded on her bed. “Um, girls? Or, me, I guess? What's going on?”
“But you already know that I'm going to tell her anyway,” argued Future Twilight Number One, “because if I didn't, then you would never have tried it! So what's the point in coming here to stop me?”
More wind. More light. Zwip!
A third Future Twilight appeared and put her hoof on Present Twilight's withers. “Good,” she said, leaning into Present Twilight conspiratorially. “Those two are arguing already. Listen to me carefully, me. Future you is going to tell you to do something. You need to nod and tell her you'll do it, and you'll need to fully intend to do it, too. But tomorrow, before you actually do do it, and this is the tricky part...”
“Aha!” Future Twilight Number... Twilight had lost count at this point, but some future version of her tackled the version that had taken her aside. “I thought I could be sneaky, but there's no way I could get something like this past me!”
Present Twilight chewed her lip nervously as her room continued to fill with more and more future instances of herself.
“Twilight! I... wait, which one of you is past-past me?”
“I actually came here from the past, but I think my memory gets erased after this, so that's why none of you remember me!”
“Twilight! Help me get this chocolate stain out! In the future, there is no stain-remover left!”
“Oh, shoot, I forgot that was this night! Hey, past me, you're really gonna save yourself some time if you start filling a mop-bucket now. Not that I'll listen, of course.”
“Look, Twilight, wings! We get wings!”
It was uncharitable and mostly untrue to say that Twilight Sparkle's hold on sanity was only tentative at best. Considering the fact that a day in her life might include a deadly showdown against a mad god as easily as it might include a picnic, she could really be considered nearly unflappable. She prided herself on her ability to take new information and assimilate it into her worldview in a neat and orderly fashion, eventually. If there happened to be screaming and flailing and burning of villages in the meantime, well that happened, but eventually it would all fit.
But it would take a great deal of time for her to process this, and Twilight imagined a considerable amount of screaming and flailing would occur before she was done. It was best, she concluded, if she got started on it now.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaauuuughhhh!” Twilight Sparkle—presumably the one that had not arrived in the room by means of time-travel, galloped out of her room, out of the library, and ran about in the streets of Ponyville, wailing like a madmare.
The remaining purple unicorns, still overcrowding the small bedroom, ceased their chatter and glanced at one another. For a few minutes, they remained silent, apart from an occasional snicker or giggle, and waited.
Finally, a set of golden-shod white hooves appeared on the balcony of the library. Dozens of Twilight Sparkles bowed low as Princess Celestia landed and entered the room. Her ever-serene smile rested comfortably on her lips.
“You may change back now,” the princess said.
One by one, each of the Twilights flashed in a bright green light, revealing insectoid creatures with compound eyes and black carapaces. The library filled with the sound of gossamer wings buzzing as they stretched their legs and began quietly chatting amongst themselves.
“Congratulations,” Princess Celestia said, beaming at them. “You have all graduated from my Reform Course for Changelings.”
A wave of cheers rose from the changelings. Many exchanged hoof-bumps, or what passed for hoof-bumps among their kind.
“You are free to move about Equestria and seek love,” Celestia continued, “provided of course that you stay within the law and do not harm anypony. I would also appreciate it if you all kept in touch with me; a letter every month won't hurt, letting me know how well you are adjusting, and what you look like so that I will know one of my friends when I see you.”
The changelings cheered again. Many of them gave the Princess a proud salute, and a few came forward offering hugs, which Celestia accepted without hesitation.
Rarity crawled out of her hiding place among the branches of the library. Typically, she wouldn't have risked her mane against the leaves and tangled sticks, but she had to see the solar princess's infamous pranking streak for herself.
She stood on the balcony, blinking. “My goodness, your highness, I've heard the stories, but they truly do not do you justice!”
Celestia shook hooves with one of the changelings. “I have had a good deal of time to practice, that's all.”
Rarity nodded, and glanced nervously at the chitinous creatures celebrating their freedom. A few of them gathered in a corner, applauding excitedly as one of them cycled rapidly through the appearances of dozens of ponies. Rarity cleared her throat. “Not that I can argue with the results, but...” she lowered her voice, “changelings, your highness? Is it really safe to set them loose, just in exchange for their help with a prank?”
Princess Celestia smiled warmly. “These changelings have completed a course, which I have personally overseen, on how to find the love they need without hurting anyone. I have grown close with each of them over the last few months, and I trust them enough to... well, I trust them enough to put them all in a room with my most faithful student.” She bowed her head as another changeling came up to her and saluted. “They had all passed already before this, this little outing was more like one final hurrah before they set off. You needn't be concerned, Rarity.”
“Oh. Okay.” Rarity did not sound entirely convinced. “It's just, that one over there doesn't seem to be having such a great time.” She pointed her hoof to a purple unicorn sitting wide-eyed on the edge of the bed, her mouth hanging open as she looked around at the insectoid creatures milling about the room. “She still hasn't even changed back out of her disguise yet.”
The one that still looked like Twilight Sparkle worked her jaw. “Ch-changelings?” she finally said at length. “They were all changelings this whole time?? I was about to cast this spell twenty times in a row to preserve the space-time continuum!” Magic arced through her mane, and in a sudden poof she was whisked away back into the future.
Celestia grinned sheepishly. “Oh dear,” she said. “I imagine I will be receiving a letter from a rather upset faithful student at some point in the future.”
Rarity covered a giggle with her hoof. “Something to look forward to, I suppose.”