There were forty-two convex vertices in her cutie mark. Forty-two books strewn about the library's floor. Forty-two words written in her diary entry for the day. Forty-two quills still in usable shape—counting the one in her magical grasp—before they had to go buy more. Forty-two titles that contained the word 'of' in the lower five shelves of the Romance section—not counting those with a cover in any shade of grey.
That last one was a bit of a stretch, but she was running out of things to count in her little self-imposed game. The forty-second such game she'd played that morning.
Twilight Sparkle was bored.
Languidly, she turned to face her little dragon assistant, who had probably just finished re-shelving the History section. "Yes, Spike?"
"When are we gonna get rid of the mess down in the basement? It's been like that since we moved in."
"Actually, I—" A loud ding cut her off, drawing their attention towards a small clock that sat atop her writing desk, marking the beginning of the day's eleventh hour.
Without a word, Twilight materialized a parchment in front of herself, checked off an item from her list and dismissed it once more. "I've already asked the others to come help us with that. They should be arriving later this evening."
Spike shifted his sight between the still-floating quill and the little clock. He grumbled, "Should I even ask?"
"Hey, you wanted me to relax, so I set aside an hour for relaxation. Unfortunately, that's made the rest of my day really busy." Another—much longer—parchment appeared above Spike, giving him just enough time to look up as it buried him.
"Here's the schedule for this afternoon. First, I'll need you to go buy some ingredients, since Fluttershy's offered to make us some muffins when she gets here." With that, Twilight started setting everything up to continue her research.
Spike rolled up the checklist and made for the front door. "You know, that's not what I meant when I said—"
"Really busy right now!"
"Yeah, sure." With a sigh, he closed the door and headed towards the market.
Fluttershy considered her life to be fairly average—at least, up until two years ago. She used to be just a normal pegasus with normal foalhood traumas, a normal fear of anything dangerous and normal animal friends that kept her company far more often than other ponies did.
It was nice.
Not that her current life wasn't nice! She loved the friends she'd made, as well as all their adventures and non-adventures together, even if they could get scary at times. The adventures, not her friends! Well... maybe her friends too, once in a while.
For example, a normal pony wouldn't have to deal with walking into a room and finding that one of their friends was threatening another with the business end of a cannon.
"Pinkie, don't you dare! We just cleaned up the main room this morning!"
And Twilight was so nice, too. It wouldn't be right to let her floor get covered in confetti, even if Pinkie was just trying to have fun. However, the other three ponies in the room stood on the sidelines with an assortment of resigned sighs, preemptive wincing and unabashed expectation. She also noticed a very scaly tail coming from behind the writing desk and the sound of barely suppressed snickering.
Once she realized that no one was going to do anything to stop what was happening, Fluttershy did what any normal pony would do: She ignored it.
Approaching the reading table and pushing aside an edition of Surreptitious Stealth Spells for Sneaking with her muzzle, she placed down the platter she'd been carrying on her back.
Her voice came out as barely a whisper, but in the tense silence that filled the room, it was enough. "Um... Pinkie? Would you like to try one of my blueberry mu—"
Twilight let out a sigh of relief as she noticed that Pinkie was now busy gulping up the treats that were supposed to be for all of them. It was fine though, really! Some ponies just needed to be distracted at times, and a few muffins were a fair price to pay for everything to remain neat and tidy.
"Dash." Applejack's stern voice brought everypony's—well, almost everypony's—attention back to the cannon, above which a cyan hoof had just stopped.
"Aw, you're no fun." Rainbow crossed her forelegs, scowling while hovering in mid-air.
"We're here to help clean, sugarcube. Not to make a mess."
It seemed like Rarity was suppressing a giggle—surely, a very ladylike giggle—but Twilight cleared her throat and started addressing everyone before it could escape. "As I was trying to mention before, Spike and I always keep the first floor of the library clean and presentable, since it's the public area. That's not an invitation to create a mess so we can all clean it together." She punctuated this with a slight glare in Pinkie's direction. "However, we'd like to ask you to help us with the basement."
Three more muffins disappeared with a gulp. "The basement?" Her eyes twinkled with glee. "You mean the secret lab with all those colorful lights and shiny whatchamacallits?"
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Heh, have you been reading too many tabloids or something, Pinkie? This is a library, why would I have a lab in the basement?" She waved a hoof dismissively as she magically opened the door to the stairs that led underground, lighting up the room below with a spell so that the others could get a better look. "The only things down there are lots of very heavy boxes. Most have been there since we moved in, so I don't really know what we'll find."
"What?!" Pinkie bolted towards the open door, craning her neck to get a good look downstairs and confirming what Twilight had just said. She fell back onto her haunches with a confused look on her face. "But... I remember when you put those shackles on my hoofsies and that thing on my head..."
Rainbow let out a tired sigh as she moved to take one of the few remaining muffins. "Cut it out Pinkie, you're not gonna sell us the whole 'crazy scientist Twilight' gig. It's already been way overplayed."
"But, Dashie! I—"
"You know those rumors aren't true, right?" Twilight approached Pinkie and placed a foreleg around her back. "You can trust me. We're friends, after all."
The soft tone of voice helped put the confused mare at ease. A few silent seconds later, Pinkie was back on her hooves, bouncing around the room. "That's right! If I know one thing, it's to trust my friends!" For an instant, she slowed down to give Twilight a grateful smile. "That's what I learned almost a year ago." And then she started hopping merrily down the stairs. "C'mon, everypony! Let's get this cleaning party started!"
The others just shared knowing smiles and followed her to the basement.
A couple of hours had passed, and the place was starting to approach something one could call order... and actually mean it a little. Several empty boxes were now lying in a corner of the room, while their contents had been sorted into very specific piles, such as the 'things to throw out' pile, the 'might be useful junk' pile, the 'wish I'd known this was here before' pile and the 'I'm not touching that, darling. Get Applejack to put it out of its misery' pile.
Spike was holding an ever-growing inventory list, while the others were busy emptying more boxes.
Rainbow lifted her head from the latest bunch of items she was sorting, holding a bag in her hooves. "Hey, Twi? You think we could use these next week?"
Twilight shook some dust from her mane before turning around. Inside the transparent bag, she could see a bunch of multi-colored balloons and party streamers in good shape. "Yes, that'll do. Leave it upstairs on the table, so we don't forget."
With a quick salute, Dash flew upstairs, leaving Pinkie curious as to what they'd been talking about. A quick glance around told her that no one else found the interaction strange. That meant she was out of the loop. It wasn't fun being out of the loop.
Rubbing her chin and narrowing her eyes, she zipped out of sight and burst out of the box that Twilight was going through, eliciting a shriek and causing the surprised unicorn to fall on her back, as she held a hoof up to her heaving chest.
"Hey!" Pinkie loomed over her fallen friend with a piercing gaze. Twilight always told her she needed to take things more seriously, but it was really hard not to burst out laughing at such a reaction. In fact, it was probably Twilight who needed to lighten up a bit. It's not that she never had fun or played with the rest of them, but more often than not she was cooped up in the library, reading some dusty tomes. She'd gotten better at spending more time outside compared to when she'd moved in, but she seemed to be going back to her old habits recently. She'd even turned down a few of her party invitations to stay home and study, and that couldn't be good for anypony!
Wait, what was she doing again? Oh, right, focus!
Pinkie shook her head, losing the distant gaze she'd adopted and going back to her looming glare of doom—forelegs on her hips for added emphasis! "Are you hiding something from me?"
Having been given a few seconds to recover, Twilight managed to piece together a response. "W-what?! Is this about that bag?"
"Uh-huh. The one you just sent Dashie to save for next week. The one filled with balloons and streamers. You only use balloons and streamers for parties, and nopony in Ponyville throws a party without asking for my help..." Pinkie trailed off for a moment, reconsidering her words before continuing, "Okay, so they don't actually need to ask. I'm just there already because that's what I do!"
Despite her words, her eyes gleamed only with excitement at the prospect of a new celebration. "So? What do you have to say for yourselves?"
"We haven't told you yet?" Rainbow asked, hovering back down the stairs. "We're throwing you a birthday party next Saturday." Not one for explanations, she gave a look to the mare best suited for the task, urging her to continue.
"I was actually going to tell you later today. It's item thirty-four on my checklist, but I suppose now is as good a time as any." Twilight stood up and began what they'd all come to call 'assuming lecture mode': A combination of clearing her throat, puffing out her chest and closing her eyes. Very official. Very serious-looking. Very unnecessary.
"We know that your birthday's on Thursday, but very few of us would've been able to make it that day. Rarity's leaving on Tuesday for Canterlot to restock on fabrics, Dash has that Wonderbolts show in Fillydelphia, the Cakes went on that month-long paid vacation with the twins, and I have to present the first half of my thesis to Princess Celestia for revision on Thursday night. Since we didn't want to miss it, we decided to have the party on Saturday. I think Gummy will also appreciate the delay."
With her explanation finished, she opened her eyes and turned her attention towards her little assistant. "Spike, check off this item from the list, please." Finally, her lips turned up in a contented smile. One could almost see the classroom around her, along with the teacher patting her on the head and praising her for being such a good student.
From the corner of her eye, Pinkie barely registered Applejack trying to suppress a shiver. Not giving it much thought, an enormous grin got plastered across her face and she leapt on Twilight and Rainbow, crushing them in a hug, "Aww, you girls planned that for me? That's so sweet! Like cupcakes! I love cupcakes! And muffins and cake and pie and pancakes and waffles—ooh! And those little chocolate thingies they put on the cakes as decoration! Thank you, girls!"
Twilight shifted her gaze towards her fellow captive. "I get the feeling we're being thanked for the wrong thing."
"Meh, we're being thanked for something. Just roll with it."
Spike was fumbling between the inventory and the day's activity checklist, trying—in vain—to keep them off the dusty floor. "So, not planning another surprise party?" The implied smirk in his tone did not go unnoticed.
"Never." Maybe it was the fact that Twilight's lungs were being crushed and that the lack of oxygen made her statement come out roughly—just a bit louder than a whisper—but it still sounded very harsh.
Pinkie let go of them abruptly.
"Pinkie, I didn't mean—"
"No, it's okay Twilight." Her voice was low, even if it still held a bit of bounce, and her grin had collapsed into a small smile.
A pristine white hoof softly tilted Pinkie's chin up. "Don't feel bad, darling. Even if it isn't a surprise party, it's still a party in your honor."
She looked up into Rarity's eyes and could easily tell that they were filled with concern for her. "But... it's my fault."
"That you feel like you can't throw me surprise parties anymore. I ruined it for you. I'm the one who plans all the other parties in town, so my birthday is the only time when you could organize it without me, but now you're afraid I'll go all nutty again—which I won't, because I learned my lesson—but there's still that little worry in your heads that something might go wrong and so you can't throw me a surprise party anymore and those are the best parties! I always love that moment when the lights come on and everypony jumps out and yells 'Surprise!' and all the party poppers pop and the guest of honor is all 'Gasp!' and what kind of onomatothingy is 'gasp' anyway? Nopony says 'gasp' when they gasp. It doesn't even sound like—"
Pinkie had been too absorbed in her tirade to notice the fluffy yellow pegasus that had just cantered over to her, locking her forelegs behind Pinkie's head in a soft embrace and pulling her into her bosom. "There, there. Calm down. It's not your fault."
Fluttershy's voice, while not having changed much from how she normally talked, was at exactly the right volume it needed to be. This, along with the soothing strokes of her mane, seemed to have a hypnotizing effect on the younger pony, almost causing her to fall asleep right then and there.
"Pinkie, um... we may not be planning a surprise party, but that doesn't mean we're not going to try our very best to make it fun, so you can feel as happy as we do when you throw parties for us... I mean, if that's okay with you."
"Y-you're right." Pinkie nuzzled Fluttershy's chest before pulling away, her bright smile restored. "I shouldn't be a Miss Mopey McSadderson when my friends are planning a party for me!"
"That's the spirit!" Said the purple claw, pumping out of the heap of parchment in the middle of the room and bringing forth laughter from the rest.
The group of seven had gathered to bid Rarity farewell at the train station. They were all in a circle, having just cut their conversation off as they eyed the poor skinny unicorn colt that was trying to balance all of Rarity's baggage on his back at the same time.
"Why doesn't he just use his magic?" Rainbow whispered, only making it harder for the others to hear her given the background noise from the other ponies on the pad and the train itself. It was doubtful that the colt would've been able to listen in with all the ruckus. That... and the fact that he was about twenty strides away.
"Because he's dumb."
"Twilight! Ain't no need to be mean, sugarcube."
Applejack's disapproving glance did a lot to melt Twilight's deadpan expression, but she didn't feel like conceding just yet. "What? I'm being honest! If there was anything preventing him from using his magic, like a nullification field or an inhibitor ring or something, I would've already noticed. He's doing it because he wants to—with no logical explanation—and that's just dumb."
"The poor darling must simply be trying to impress me. He did the same thing the last time I stayed over at the castle."
Spike's eyes widened at this and he started to look around, searching frantically for a bag that the colt might've missed. "Uh... does it actually impress you, Rarity?" When he saw no other bags around, his claws suddenly became very interesting while he waited for her response.
Rarity regarded him with a bemused expression. "No, Spike. I'm not really one for displays of brute force. I prefer acts of chivalry, as becomes the nobility. Also, as I'm sure you know, nobles don't... lift things. At least not with their muscles."
Spike smiled at that, thankful that he hadn't missed a chance to impress her. A loud giggle came from behind him, "You should consider just packing balloons, they take up much less space!"
As if to prove her point, Pinkie loosened one of the strings tied around her midsection and undid the knot from the corresponding white balloon, letting it deflate as it flew around the air in circles for a bit before plopping down on top of a perfectly styled violet mane. Rarity just sighed.
"Hey, why do you need all those bags anyways? You're only gonna be gone for, like, three days."
Swiping off the deflated balloon, she looked over to Rainbow, who had started flying in place just to keep from being pinned to the ground for too long. "Oh Dash, a lady always needs to be prepared for any kind of impromptu social event she might be invited to.
"Half of those bags are filled with an assortment of dresses and accessories that go with the various locales in Canterlot, for every time of day. Of the other half, some are empty, for the materials I'll be buying. The rest... well, you don't think I just look like this naturally, do you? One has to put in the effort to look fabulous, not just for yourself, but for the benefit of those around you as well. I could give you some point—"
"Yeah, no thanks, we've been through this before. I'm awesome just the way I am." She lay back in the air, crossing her forelegs behind her head and giving a smug grin.
"Gee, I'm glad loyalty and generosity have nothing to do with modesty, 'cause we'd be screwed."
Twilight's mumbling got a raised eyebrow from AJ and curious glances from the others. "You alright there, hun? You haven't been actin' quite like yourself today." Applejack took a second to assess her friend's appearance. "And you ain't lookin' so hot, either."
The grumpy unicorn didn't even have to lift her half-lidded gaze to know that the others were all thinking the same thing and waiting for her response. She let out a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, girls. I'm not usually awake at this hour and I didn't take my dose of—" she cut herself off, looking around at her friends for a couple of seconds before continuing, "—trimethylxanthine this morning."
"Tri... what?" Rainbow's confusion was reflected on everypony else's faces. "Is that a medicine or something?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"It's caffeine. We ran out of coffee yesterday."
"Thanks for that, Spike." Twilight didn't hold back on the spite in her tone of voice as she spoke through gritted teeth, turning her narrowed eyes towards her assistant. Spike didn't flinch, seemingly quite upset himself and staring straight into her eyes. "Maybe we wouldn't have run out if someone had followed the grocery list I gave them last week. Which, might I remind you, had checks on every single item when you returned."
"Well, maybe I did it on purpose!" He never thought he'd hear Twilight gasp louder than Pinkie did when they first met her. Some of the others also gasped, but he guessed that their motives were quite different from those of the mare he was locking gazes with at the moment. He saw her face go through several emotions in an instant: Disbelief. Betrayal. Hurt. Disappointment. Ah, there it was: rage.
"How. Dare. You." Twilight prowled towards him like a tiger approaching a very-much-dead-in-the-next-few-seconds rabbit. Some parts of her rumpled mane and tail were starting to release thin strands of smoke—whether because of the imminent spontaneous combustion or because she'd started wearing fireworks as a fashion statement, Spike wasn't sure. Dark bags hung under her bloodshot eyes, with pinprick pupils staring down into his soul.
Have you ever felt fear trickle warmly down your legs? Spike was determined not to learn what it felt like that day. "You need help!" He was taking a gamble. One that was starting to fall apart as he saw the others taking wary steps back as the scene unfolded.
Risking a quick glance at the clock on the far wall, he saw that the train would be departing in ten minutes. Any resolution they came to right then and there would be rushed, but it would be a start. Besides, if being partially raised by Twilight had taught him anything, it was that you had to be determined when you knew that you were right!
The instant her horn began to glow though, every shred of determination left in him evaporated like a drop of water amidst a blazing inferno. Word of advice: Don't piss off the most gifted unicorn in Equestria. At least, not without a backup plan. Unfortunately, his backup was to jump on the tracks and hope the train got him before she did.
So it was to his relief and everyone else's surprise when the most unlikely voice spoke up. "Um... excuse me... Twilight?"
The soft spoken interruption was enough of a shock to make Twilight's anger subside for a moment, turning a questioning glance towards her meekest friend. Fluttershy walked slowly and nervously, positioning herself between the two, only daring to look up from the ground into Twilight's eyes once she'd stopped moving. She didn't say anything—probably because the tension had robbed her of the ability to do so—but she didn't really need to. Her eyes, though fearful, displayed a firm resolve.
She was soon joined by Rarity, who gave the dragon a warm smile before turning to face her infuriated friend. "I believe Spike has made it quite clear that you have a problem, dear. You know we're always here to help."
It didn't take long for the other three to get over their stupor and move next to Fluttershy and Rarity. The gazes of her five friends betrayed no judgment or anger, they were simply concerned. Well, Rainbow was also quite peeved at the whole 'emotional' thing, but she was still worried... deep, deep down.
Twilight took a step back. "What are you insinuating?" And another step back. "Problem? I don't have a problem!" And another. "I'm not—" She picked up a scent. A very familiar and welcome scent coming from behind her. She quickly turned around to see Pinkie holding a mug full of black, freshly brewed and steaming hot liquid paradise. Her left ear twitched and her lips formed a huge grin. "Coffee!" She pounced on the mug, throwing Pinkie into amused giggling.
She downed the drink in seconds, sitting on her haunches and going so far as to use magic to coat her throat and place a layer of frost over her tongue and cheeks to counter the scalding liquid. Once done, she noticed that all of her friends had formed a circle around her and were staring disapprovingly at Pinkie, which didn't really faze her glorious savior and new best friend forever.
Spike was particularly peeved. "Pinkie! That's not how you help a pony overcome an addiction!"
She giggled again. "Oh, silly Spike, that was just to make her stop being so grumpy. Now we can talk to her!"
They all looked down at the dazed unicorn, who was staring at nothing in particular with a goofy grin on her face. "Coffee's in my belly, all's right with the world." Her voice slurred a bit from what they could only assume was pleasure and bliss.
"I don't think she's in much of a listenin' tune. Was that a normal cup, Pinkie?"
"Nope! It was my special blend. Super charged with more caffeine than a pony should ever ingest… or, at least, that's what the Cakes say about it. I just call it my morning shot."
"Just give her a minute, then. It'll kick in soon." Taking advantage of the moment, Spike looked around and smiled at the five. "By the way, girls... thank you for doing this."
"Oh, it's no problem, Spike. It was, umm... very brave of you to stand up to her like that."
"Yeah! I thought she was gonna go all flamey again, but then we could've roasted these marshmallows I also brought!"
"Uh, yeah..." Rainbow eyed Pinkie curiously, before shaking her head and giving Spike an approving smile. "Good going there, kid."
"We'd never leave Twilight to face a problem alone, darling. But the poor dear really needs to learn how to take care of herself better." Rarity waved a hoof in front of her dazed friend's eyes, unable to get a response.
"Shucks, I know getting over these things ain't easy. Why, I myself had a—"
Applejack was interrupted as Twilight jolted upwards, landing on her four hooves and looking no worse for the wear. Her mane looked like it had been combed for hours, sporting a healthy shine. The whites of her eyes were actually white again and the bags under them were gone. She also wore a warm and friendly smile, the one they had all grown used to seeing. "Hi girls! Beautiful day, isn't it?" Her tone was also back to normal. This was the Twilight they knew.
They all shared worried glances. Finally, it was Rarity who spoke up, "I think we need to have a serious—"
The train's whistle drowned out her voice and signaled the station attendant to start giving out the final call.
"Oh dear." She shifted her gaze back and forth between the wagon she should be boarding and her friend in need—even if her friend didn't acknowledge that need.
A calming hoof was placed on her back. "Don't you worry none, Rares. We ain't gonna leave Twi's side 'til we get all this sorted out."
"I don't know... maybe I should just—"
"You should just get on the train before it leaves with all of your bags. Seriously, we'll get this whole thing straightened out before you get back." It was a typical Rainbow boast, but those usually held some truth behind them—not to mention confidence.
"Alright then." Rarity drew her caffeine-addled friend into a hug. "Please listen to what they have to say, dear. I'll be back soon, but I trust they'll be able to get you through this problem. Besides, addictions are just not fashionable nowadays."
"I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Have fun on your trip!" Twilight gave a bright smile, adding to Rarity's discomfort. However, she still said her goodbyes and was soon on her way to Canterlot.
A few minutes later, they were all moving towards the library from the train station, which piqued Twilight's curiosity. "You need to check out a book, girls?"
"Uh, no... Hey, do you even remember what happened before you drank your coffee?" Rainbow was hovering over her with an eyebrow raised.
"Sorry, were we talking about something important before that? This morning's memories are sort of a blur to me."
Spike beckoned Rainbow over, huddling in the back with the rest of the group and whispering, "She won't remember anything until an hour or so has passed. We'd better just wait to do this at the library."
They all nodded.
"What are you being all secretive about?" They turned to see that Twilight had stopped walking and was looking at them questioningly.
Spike opened his mouth to answer, but Applejack's eye twitched and she quickly cut him off, "We'll tell ya once we're at the library, since it's kinda private."
Twilight just shrugged it off and started walking again. "Okay. By the way, Fluttershy, did you pick up Opal?"
"Oh, yes," Fluttershy answered as she trotted along, thankful that the conversation veered away from the more serious topic, if only for the moment. "Angel Bunny's taking care of her right now."
This was it. Just a carrot and a spoon. He signaled his aerial comrades to start their final attack, giving one last tug on the basket's handle under his chin, making sure it wouldn't fall off his head when he moved.
The eggs started falling, bathing the battlefield in whites and yellows. The enemy was distracted as he charged forward, hoisting both of his weapons at his sides. He leapt and saw the white beast take note of him, flashing its sharpened teeth and preparing its claws for impact.
He smirked. It was a good day to die.
"They're like the best of friends." Fluttershy sighed wistfully.
Twilight eyed her friend curiously. "Well, you're the animal expert." She wasn't entirely convinced, but she put it out of her mind as they arrived at the library.
The mares settled into the main room, while Spike went into the kitchen to make them all something to drink.
"Well? What's this about, girls?"
Her friends stole guilty glances at each other, none of them wishing to be the first to broach the subject. Twilight just stared at them, with her head tilted slightly to the side and a faint smile hanging on her lips.
The room was so quiet that the clock's ticking sounded like a hammer rhythmically beating on metal, very close to their eardrums. Finally, Applejack took a deep breath and dove headfirst, "Sugarcube, you have a problem."
This was enough to open the floodgates for all of them.
"Yup! But we're gonna help you through it!"
"It's really not so bad... umm, if you look at it from a certain point of view... and squint a little."
"The first thing you gotta do is admit that you have a problem. The rest of it'll be a breeze, since we've already got your back."
Applejack grimaced at Rainbow's words. "I ain't sure it'll be a breeze, but we're behind ya, sure as sugar."
Twilight blinked. "Uh... that's very nice of you, girls, but... what are we talking about again?"
Spike had just opened the kitchen's door, bringing a tray of beverages into the room.
"Your coffee addiction."
And he turned right around and left again.
"Oh, that." She sighed and rolled her eyes, still smiling. "I don't have an addiction. I just use it to stay awake when I need to."
Seeing as how Applejack and Rainbow Dash might start using a harsher approach—and Pinkie might not be the best pony to rely on in this case—Fluttershy stepped forward and started a very soft version of an interrogation.
"Twilight, how do you prepare your coffee?"
"And how many cups do you drink every day?"
"Around two or three..."
"Oh. Well, that's not so bad—"
"Huh? A-and on weekends?"
"Seven or so."
Fluttershy considered this for a moment, casting her gaze to the floor, before raising it again towards her friend's eyes. "Throughout the weekend?"
Twilight started fidgeting and looking everywhere except towards her interrogator, as she answered in a very meek voice, "Each day."
Fluttershy took a step back, startled and wide-eyed. She wanted to say that it wasn't healthy or that there wasn't enough coffee in Ponyville for that to be true, but the words just died on the tip of her tongue. In the end, she could only ask, "Why?"
Twilight hadn't really questioned it before, so it took a few seconds before she could piece together an answer. "I used to drink just one cup for breakfast, but I started drinking more when I began my thesis. I needed to stay awake longer, so I drank accordingly. And then my body adapted to it, so I had to drink more..."
Seeing the worried glances that passed between her friends' eyes, she quickly added, "But it's not that bad, really! I can cut back whenever I want. It's just necessary for my research right now."
Applejack rubbed her neck with a forehoof, stepping in front of a still-blinking Fluttershy. "It's just, uh… consarn it, how to put this nicely?" She struggled for a moment, before coming up with the right words. "You're a very nervous pony, Twi. You've overreacted and gone all loopy and stressed in the past. And that was before all this. It's not that I think the coffee's gonna make ya ill or nothin'—though I wouldn't be so sure with those many cups—but I'm a mite worried about what it could be doin' to your mind.
"Also, havin' to drink somethin' just to work properly... that ain't good for you, sugarcube. If you needed more time, I'm sure the princess wouldn't mind giving it to ya."
Twilight closed her mouth, cutting off the retort she was about to give. Her eyes refused to meet those of her friends, thinking on what she'd been told.
"And you kinda went all meanie on Spike because you didn't have any coffee when you woke up," Pinkie chimed in, hoping it'd be enough to get through to her.
"Uh-huh." Pinkie bobbed her head up and down, putting on a serious face for the occasion. "You were being all grumpy and negative too, up until I gave you a cup."
Fluttershy shook her head, snapping out of her initial shock. "We've never seen you like that before, Twilight… I mean, we've seen you have a breakdown, but never get furious with one of us. That's why we want to help you... umm, if that's okay with you."
"So... let me get this straight." Twilight closed her eyes, tapping her forehead with one hoof. "You want to take away that which allows me to have a civil conversation, prevents me from getting snappy with others, lets me feel upbeat and gives me the edge I need when I stay up all night working. Does this sound like a good idea to you?"
The others were caught off guard by this.
"Uh..." Applejack felt that she should say something, but she just couldn't think of anything proper.
"Huh." Rainbow blinked. "You know, that's actually... You're right, why would we take it away?"
"Dash!" All eyes turned to Spike, peeking out from the kitchen door. "She's tricking you. You've already figured out that it's bad for her health!"
He moved further into the main room as he spoke. "All that snappy behavior? That was all part of the withdrawal symptoms. At least, that's what it said in that medical encyclopedia. It's supposed to last for several days, but she has to ride it out. That's the time we have to be there for her, because after that, she'll start acting normally again."
Twilight seemed to process this information, but one sentence in particular stood out from it all. She gasped and beamed at her little assistant. "Spike! You did research?"
"I kinda had to, since—"
"Oh, Spike!" His body was suddenly enveloped in a reddish glow and he shot towards her crushing embrace. "I knew you had it in you!"
"Urk!" The captive dragon felt his eyes bulging out. "So, you'll listen to me?"
Twilight released him slowly, mulling over his previous words. "Hmm... did you check the dates of the references?"
"About five years old."
"Any standing or verified rebuttals?"
"None reported by the Equestrian Medical Board."
"The researcher's credentials?"
"Verified and clean."
"Well..." She looked up and found that her friends had moved closer, fixing their pleading gazes on her.
"Please, Twilight?" Fluttershy looked at her with wide and glistening eyes.
The cornered mare grimaced, feeling a few beads of sweat on her forehead. "I… I just don't really see how this is such a big deal. I mean, it'll only be for a few months and then I won't even need coffee anymore." Her voice grew meeker with every word.
Applejack sighed, moving next to Twilight and draping a foreleg over her back. "Now, I don't really think coffee's all that bad for ya. Otherwise, the princesses wouldn't let it be sold to everypony. Way I see it, the real problem here is that you're usin' it to go on little to no sleep."
Spike nodded, happy that they'd arrived at this particular subject. "Yeah, and that is bad for you. All the research I looked up on it was pretty conclusive."
Twilight started moving her gaze around, trying to think up a counterpoint, but she just arrived at the same excuse. "B-but it's just something I need at the moment. I have to squeeze out every waking hour I can from my days."
Pinkie was suddenly also hugging her. "And Applejack already told you that Princess Celestia would gladly give you more time if you felt you needed it! I'd bet her farm on that."
Twilight tried to slip out of the two-way hug, with little success. "No! I don't need more time! I can do this!"
AJ furrowed her brow. "Twi, we can do this the easy way or the hard way."
Rainbow hovered above them, raising an eyebrow at that last part. "Really? I thought we were just gonna get her to quit cold cabbage."
"Yeah, but she can offer to do it on her own or... we'll take more extreme measures." Applejack tightened her hold on Twilight as she uttered the idle threat.
Finally, the huggled mare stopped struggling. She took a final look at the determined faces of her friends and sighed in defeat. "Alright, if it means that much to all of you, I'll try to quit coffee."
A burst of confetti and streamers filled her field of vision and in seconds they were all cheering and celebrating in their own private party. It only lasted about half an hour, but it was still pretty good for a spur of the moment thing.
Soon, they were all saying goodbye and heading out the door, with Spike seeing them out.
"Wait until I rub this in Rarity's face, I told her we'd have it done before she returned, but even I didn't—"
"Uh, girls?" Spike's tone was hushed, clearly making sure that Twilight couldn't hear them as she arranged her books for her morning research.
The four of them stopped and looked back at the little dragon, with Rainbow at the forefront. "What's up, buddy?"
He twiddled his claws and shifted his eyes a bit, "Could... could one of you stay a while? You know, for when she... remembers what happened at the train station."
Applejack's face fell. "Sorry Spike, but I gotta go help Big Mac at the farm. I'm already late as it is."
"Ooh! I've gotta go get everything ready for when Sweetie Belle gets out of school! I'm throwing her a personal 'You get to live with Pinkie for a few days' party!"
"I'm sorry Spike, but... umm, even though Angel's taking care of things, I don't like leaving him in charge for too long. It tends to... get to his head..." There was a distant sound, very much akin to that of an explosion, coming from the direction of Fluttershy's cottage. Everyone turned to look at the rising smoke, except for her. "...A lot."
Blinking back to the situation at hoof, Rainbow turned to Spike again. "Uh, I don't have a problem with staying. I can just tell Twilight I wanna read something."
"Really?!" Spike's eyes lit up with gratitude. With that, the others left for their respective tasks and Dash followed him back inside.
The outburst wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it'd be. Twilight actually caught herself before she began and realized how she'd behaved back at the train station. She even apologized, which was... really nice, actually. He could count on one claw the amount of times she'd sincerely apologized to him. But then, they were basically family, so their fights just tended to blow over naturally.
However, several hours had passed, Rainbow had left and there was now another problem. One that he imagined would become a trend in the following weeks—if not months.
"Please, Spike. I'm still really behind on my research! I can't go to the market myself."
"And I wouldn't let you anyway. You're not even allowed to go near a coffee shop until you get over this."
The tired mare groaned as she let the rings of books floating around her fall softly to the floor. "Getting over an addiction takes a very long time, and even after you're considered 'cured' there is always the risk of falling back into it. Can't we just hold off on this until I don't have so much work to do?"
Her begging was lost on Spike, and if he'd been surprised at her actually admitting that she had an addiction, he gave no indication of it. "You always have a ton of work to do. It's because you overextend yourself. Throwing so much on your shoulders isn't going to impress Celestia! It's only going to make her worry. You need to defenestrate that way of thinking and stop putting all of this off. Procrastinating is never good, especially when it comes to doing things that are for your own well-being."
She allowed herself a small smirk. "That word-a-day calendar's really working out for you, huh?"
"Better than that book you gave me two years ago," he grumbled, still loud enough for her to hear.
"Hey, The Basics of Barriers and Bubbles is a great piece of educational literature!"
"Yeah, if I was a unicorn!"
"One should always strive for knowledge, Spike. Even if it isn't applicable to oneself. Also, I'm not sure you can use 'defenestrate' figuratively, though I'll have to look it up."
He could feel another rant coming, so he decided it was best to nip it in the bud. "Whatever. It's past my bedtime, and I'm not going to go buy you coffee. In fact, the market's probably closed by now—no that you'd know its working hours—along with the coffeehouses in town."
"Come on, Spike! I just need one cup, please!"
"No means no, Twilight. If you can't stay up anymore, just go to sleep." The little dragon snuffed out the kitchen light, heading upstairs to turn in for the night.
As he was moving up, she noticed a small orange and red bundle, nestled on top of his head.
"Oh, Peewee's back."
Spike stopped and looked back at her, before rolling his eyes up towards his little phoenix. "Yup, came back from Fluttershy's an hour ago."
Twilight moved a little closer, to get a better look. "Is he alright?"
Spike grinned. "He's fine now. Fluttershy tied a note to his leg saying that he'll just need to rest up a bit and stick to eating flameburst seeds for a couple of days."
"Flameburst? That doesn't grow around here."
"She also sent a small pouch of them. Only four seeds a day."
Relief washed over her, as she smiled and walked back to her books. "Well, that's good then. Remember to pay her... and make sure she keeps the bits this time!"
He chuckled as he resumed his walk up the stairs. "I know. Try not to sleep too late!"
A few minutes later, the unicorn was resting her head on the reading table, trying to keep her eyelids from closing.
"Can't... fall asleep... I—wait!" A jolt of energy shot through her body, allowing her to sit upright once more. "I know who can help me with this." A mischievous smile formed on her lips as she stepped out of the library.
Applejack was fuming. She had decided to take a walk in town under the night sky and maybe drop in on one of her friends for a bit.
"Lil' filly needs to get some common sense in her," she grumbled, as she walked down the quiet streets.
As she passed by Sugarcube Corner, taking in the sweet scented air, she heard a very familiar pair of voices in mid conversation.
"—and a cow will fall from the sky to offer you a muffin," said… Madame Pinkie Pie, apparently. Changing back to her normal voice, she added, "I also have some cupcakes in the back if you want any."
"I don't need a cupcake, Pinkie, I need coffee!"
"Uh oh." The apple farmer immediately forgot her fleeting anger and headed in through the store's open door, to the sight of an absolutely miserable-looking Twilight slumped over one of the tables, and a nervous—but still smiling—Pinkie Pie, waving her hooves around a glass sphere.
Neither had noticed her presence yet, and the rest of the room was devoid of patrons.
"Aww, come on. I never get to use my crystal ball!"
"Maybe if you made some predictions that weren't either obvious or nonsensical… And it's not what I came here for, anyway!"
"But I can't give you coffee, you know we talked about this."
"I just need one cup to work through the night..." Twilight's voice trailed off as she covered her face with her forelegs, she seemed to be shaking slightly. "Why are you making me sad, Pinkie?" Her voice was tinged with sorrow and it actually cracked a bit.
Pinkie started to lose what little composure she had left, shifting her gaze frantically between her distraught friend and the doors that led to the kitchen. "O-okay, just... just wait here and—"
"Hold on there, Pinkie." Applejack was having none of it. She firmly trotted up to her friends, noticing how the lavender ears twitched with every step she took. "Twilight."
She didn't move. She didn't dare move. In fact, she'd never lift her head again. The table was nice, after its surface had warmed up from the heat radiating from her forehead. She was sure her face could do a great impression of a cozy fireplace at the moment, especially since the room had dropped several degrees in temperature a few seconds prior. Yes, the tables at the Corner were nice. Really nice. Always so clean… she could probably eat off of them. Not that she'd do that, since it'd be unseemly and Rarity would choke the life out of her if she found out that the idea had merely crossed her mind—
That did it.
One of her forelegs retreated a little off the table, allowing her to peak up with one eye into Applejack's hardened gaze. "Hi Apple—"
"Are you toyin' with Pinkie's feelings to get what you want?" The tone was mostly flat, but it oozed disapproval.
"Don't ya lie to me, missy."
Twilight went silent for a moment before heaving a sigh, and slowly pulling her weight off the table. She didn't even know what she was doing anymore. How could she treat a friend like that?
She stood on all fours again, not making eye contact and noticeably crestfallen. "I'm… I'm sorry, both of you. I don't know what's come over me lately." Her voice was soft and sad, almost a whisper. She turned to leave, but she was stopped by an orange hoof on her shoulder.
"We're doin' this for your own good, sugarcube. You know that, right?" AJ's voice was back to its normal, caring tone.
Twilight nodded, meeting her gaze and showing a small smile. "I know. I'm just so used to it by now. I need it to stay awake during my late night research. Otherwise, I just fall asleep on my desk."
"Why don't you just sleep early and wake up early, to keep workin' the next day?"
"You don't understand. I can't keep my old routine. I used to wake up late—"
"Sugarcube, you used to wake up in the afternoon."
"My point exactly. I at least got enough sleep to make up for staying up late, but I just don't have the time anymore. Between the research for my thesis, keeping up with the princess' regular assignments, working at the library and spending time with you girls, I can actually feel the days stretching thin... and I don't want to give up on any of those things." Twilight's whole body seemed to droop with that statement.
"I don't get it. Why don't you just ask the princess to lighten up on the workload?" Pinkie asked.
"Are you insane?! That'd mean that I would've failed to live up to her expectations! That I was a... a disappointment..."
Applejack fumed again. "Will ya listen to yourself?! Celestia would never think of you as a disappointment, but how is she to know what your limits are if you never say 'stop'?"
Instead of backing away, Twilight seemed to regain some of her vigor. "I shouldn't have any limits. I'm her protégée, so my shortcomings reflect upon her! It doesn't matter if she doesn't personally think of me as a disappointment. If anyone else does, that's bad enough.
"I can't make any more mistakes. I can't whine or complain just because I have a little more work to do than usual..." Her voice seemed to die off as her energy seeped away once more. "I have to be worthy of the effort she's placed in my upbringing."
Applejack stared at Twilight for a good long while, before whispering, "Ya know, I think the princess would be pretty sad to hear you say that."
"There's no need for her to feel that way... I'll make her proud with the results of my work. And she doesn't need to know that this conversation ever happened. Understood?"
Applejack opened her mouth to reply, but she was swiftly cut off by Pinkie. "Why don't you try chocolate?"
"Huh?" Twilight looked at her other friend, offering her a slice of black forest cake with a smile.
"It's also supposed to give you lots of energy!"
Twilight eyed the pastry with a hint of amusement. "While that is true, I'd have to eat very large amounts of chocolate to get the same effect as a single cup of coffee... and since I don't really exercise much, I'd probably get fat."
Pinkie blinked and looked back towards her flank. "Heh, maybe I have gotten a bit chubby lately."
Twilight raised a single brow in confusion, then both in understanding. "Oh! No, Pinkie, that's not what I meant. You wouldn't have that problem with how much energy you burn each day, but I mostly just sit around in the library and read."
"Also, it don't exactly fix your problem. What you're doin' is plumb silly, Twi, and I'm sure Celestia'll be glad to give ya more time for your assignments if'n ya need it. I doubt she'd be very happy to know 'bout your sleepin' habits."
"Yeah, I don't really tell her about these things." Celestia's prized pupil turned her gaze away, ears falling flat against her head.
AJ brought her attention to her other friend. "And Pinkie, I want you to help us keep Twi in line. Ya gotta cooperate if we're gonna get her through this."
Pinkie pouted. "I know, but when I see that one of my bestest friends' face has made a frown, all I want is to work real hard and do my best to turn that sad frown upside down—"
"'Cause ya love to make us grin, grin, grin. Yeah, we know the song Pinkie, ya made the whole town rehearse it for weeks. Your heart's in the right place, but right now it's important for us to do right by Twi... and ya have to understand that that doesn't always mean doin' what makes her happy right now."
"But she'll be happy later, right?" she asked, with an eager nod.
AJ beamed. "Exactly. Now, Twilight, I'm gonna take ya home and make sure you're tuckered in 'fore I leave, okay?"
"What? But I'm not"—she yawned loudly—"tired... yet..." Her eyelids started dropping and her balance faltered a bit.
"...Right. G'night, Pinkie."
Twilight had given in to sleep about halfway to the library, so Applejack carried her on her back for the rest of their trek. Once inside the building, she climbed the stairs and made her way to the bedroom, where Spike was sleeping like a rock.
She looked to the scroll-covered bed and rolled her eyes. Gently, she brought herself down to the floor and slowly moved Twilight off her back. She then started gathering up the parchments and moving them to the nearby desk.
"Good gravy. Your room's a mess, filly."
She was grabbing the last two scrolls when one of them rolled of the mattress and fell on the floor. "Darn it."
When she picked it up, it unfurled, revealing a stylized carbon drawing.
"Huh, never took ya for the artist type. This is actually pretty good. Looks kinda like an apple tree... 'cept, without the apples... or the leaves." She shifted her gaze towards her sleeping friend. "It's actually a bit depressin', hun."
Rolling the scroll back up and placing it on the desk with the others, she finished clearing the bed and preparing it for its owner. With a slight bit of effort, she got Twilight under the covers without waking her.
She smiled softly as she watched the slow, rhythmic movement of the unicorn's chest and the peaceful expression on her face. She started to gently run a hoof through the sleeping mare's mane.
"Sorry, sugarcube, but you just proved that we can't trust you with quittin' all by yourself. That means we'll have to go with plan B." She stopped stroking Twilight's mane as a slight shudder passed through her. "Hoo boy. Fellas at the market ain't gonna be too keen on this one."
She nuzzled Twilight and spoke in hushed tones, "We all care about ya, but ya gotta help us by carin' about yourself as well."
Satisfied with the smile that tugged at Twilight's lips, Applejack let herself out and left the library in the quiet of the night.
"You sure you don't want me to stay?"
"I'll be fine, Rainbow. Spike's doing a good job of keeping me in line, and the others are still here to help." She looked around herself to her proud little assistant and the three smiling and nodding mares.
Dash moved in closer, speaking in a hushed voice, "Don't get me wrong, Twi, but I wouldn't rely that much on Pinkie or Flutters to hold you back. And AJ's usually busy with the farm."
Twilight just smiled and chose to forego the whispering as she countered, "While AJ may be busy most of the day, I think Pinkie learned to be a bit harsher on me yesterday night. And I know that Fluttershy's been getting better at her assertiveness... when it's necessary."
"Don't you worry about a thing, Dashie!" Pinkie popped up between them and pressed her snout against Rainbow's. "I just Pinkie Promised Twilight this morning that I wouldn't allow her to get anywhere near coffee."
"She really means it, too." Spike moved up next to them, carrying a fake moustache in his claws, as Rainbow reestablished the boundaries of her personal space. "That poor waiter, he never knew what hit him."
The unicorn raised an eyebrow at the item. "You're going to give that back, right?"
"I guess… if we ever see him again. I mean, he'll have to come back down from the sky someday, won't he?"
"Normally, I'd tell you that the laws of physics do work that way for earth ponies, but then..." They all turned towards Pinkie, who simply grinned excessively under their collective stares.
"Anywho, you should get goin' RD. We'll hold down the fort."
"Well, okay then. I'll see you all soon!" With that, she bolted off towards the horizon, leaving a rainbow trail behind her.
The five shouted out their farewells, even when they knew they could no longer be heard, and then turned to head back into Ponyville. They crossed the lush green fields that spread beneath Rainbow's home, leaving the outskirts and reaching the town proper. A few quick partings later and Pinkie was headed towards the school, hearing its bell ringing in the distance.
"So, we're all set for tomorrow?" Scootaloo strapped on her helmet, getting ready to leave as she eyed her fellow Crusaders.
Sweetie Belle noticed a pink blur coming their way from further down the street, before turning towards Scootaloo with a grin. "Yup, just don't be late!"
"I hope everythin' goes well." Apple Bloom turned to look at the heap of twisted metal in the schoolyard, where a swing used to be. "Unlike most of our plans," she added glumly.
"You're still hung up on that blowtorch thing, aren't you?" Receiving a silent nod, the Scootaloo just rolled her eyes. "Hey, don't sweat it. We didn't even get in trouble for that."
"My sis said that's prolly 'cause Miss Cheerilee's just tired of havin' to stay in detention, watchin' over us every other week."
Sweetie lifted a hoof to her chin in thought. "Hmm, that might be true. Remember how she was dozing off last time?"
"Must be hard, being the only teacher in town and handling all the classes."
Sweetie's eyes widened at that, before she furrowed her brow in confusion. "Cheerilee isn't the only teacher in town."
Scootaloo took a second to process that fact, tilting her head to the side. "Well... she's the only one I've ever seen." Shrugging it off, she turned her attention to Apple Bloom. "So, your sister heard about all that?"
Apple Bloom nodded, dejectedly. "...And then she grounded me," she added, almost as an afterthought.
"What?!" This caught the Sweetie off guard. She thought they'd all gotten out of it scot-free.
Scootaloo picked her jaw off the ground. "You mean, no crusading?"
"Exactly. She wants me back from school as soon as we get out. She was right mad last night, stormed out and everythin' after sendin' me to bed early."
"And tomorrow?" Sweetie asked, with a little hope in her voice.
"Well... she said tomorrow was okay, because we'd already planned it. 'Cause it's important, too."
"But that just means you can't go out, right? Isn't it okay if we come to visit you?" Scootaloo also held some hope in her voice, looking for a loophole to exploit. It just wouldn't do for the Crusaders to lose a member, no matter how short-lived their absence may be!
"I dunno… bein' grounded is supposed to be a punishment, right? Wouldn't be a very good one if you could just spend it with your friends." Apple Bloom scrunched up her muzzle, turning the idea around in her head. "But you're right. She didn't really say that ya couldn't."
"I get the feeling she won't mind much, especially if we use the mini Stare!" She flapped her little wings in excitement and flashed a smug grin.
"That don't really work with my sis, Scoots," Apple Bloom replied flatly.
"Of course, yours doesn't, since you're related and all. But I bet one look at Sweetie, with her big sparkling eyes and puckered, trembling lower lip, and she'll crack in an instant." Scootaloo pointed a hoof at their friend, who made a quick demonstration of her weaponized cuteness before breaking into a grin of her own.
"I did learn from the best."
Apple Bloom chuckled, cracking a smile for the first time since they left the school building. "Rarity must be able to get anything she wants."
Sweetie's grin faltered a bit at this, her eyes narrowing and her gaze falling to the side. "She usually does..."
Scootaloo looked at her scooter and then at her friends, suddenly remembering something. "Hop on the cart, Apple Bloom. I'll give you a ride. Your granny's not coming today, right?"
Apple Bloom beamed at this, quickly forgetting all of her property damage woes and hopping on. A moment later, they were zipping down the street.
Pinkie bounced up eagerly to the waiting filly. "Hey Sweetie! Ready to go?"
"Ready!" She fell into a trot next to the older mare, keeping up with her hopping. "Can I help you around the kitchen again today?"
"Absolutely! You can choose what we'll bake and remind me of the ingredients and throw out the coffee and help me carry the flour and sing with me—"
"Actually... I was wondering if I could help with the... you know, the baking part?" Her tone was tentative and she looked up at Pinkie with pleading eyes.
Pinkie froze in midair, taking the time to blink once before allowing gravity to reassert itself. Her smile never faltered, but her voice gained a hint of nervousness and lost a bit of volume. "Sure. You can help me bake. No problem."
Sweetie took it in stride. "Great! I actually have something special in mind."
"Oh?" She gulped. "This'll be fun."
"Yup! But we'll leave that for tonight, I'll just help you with the small things during business hours."
A small wave of relief washed over Pinkie as she perked up again. There weren't that many clients who came by the store at night and she'd be able to clean up any accidents before the next day. She broke into a grin. "Deal!"
It was morning again. Even in her sugar-coated dream, she could sense that slight itch running along her left flank, telling her it was time to wake up. She sighed, last night had been very tiresome and she really wanted to just stay in bed, but that wouldn't do. She had to wake Sweetie up and make her breakfast…
She shuddered at the memory of the filly's attempts at making scrambled eggs the previous morning. Eggs weren't supposed to be brown. Or sipped through a straw, for that matter.
Pinkie felt that slight tug towards consciousness, pulling her out of her blissful sleep. Her eyelids started to open very slowly, trying to drag it out as much as she could. She deduced that she was laying on her side, given the angle of the blurry image that came into sight. Her eyes started to focus and she could make out a distinct color flooding her vision: pink.
Well, of course it was. Her pillows were pink, her mane was pink, her snout was pink, her windows were pink... but all of that allowed her to recognize the various shades of her favorite color. And this was different. This was a shimmery kind of pink. A wavy kind of pink. A translucent-y kind of pink, even.
Suddenly, she heard a loud pop and the pink was gone.
Her eyes flew open and she was speechless. Torn between the shock at her Pinkie Sense failing to predict this and at being so very happy that it had, because this was the most beautiful surprise she could have awakened to.
Her entire room was decorated in flowing streamers and colorful balloons and snack tables and a mixing table and there were just so. Many. Ponies in there, all looking at her with smiles on their faces. Bon-bon was there with Lyra, next to Berry, behind Carrot Top and there was Vinyl near the Doctor and lots of others, but right now she was looking for her bestest friends and there they were and they were moving towards her with a very familiar-looking multilayered chocolate cake hovering in a reddish glow between them and everypony was singing and she wasn't even listening, but it was okay because she knew this song and her cheeks were really starting to hurt from grinning so much, but she didn't care and then it was time to blow out the candles!
She quickly put out all twenty-two candles with a single breath, the room filling with the roar of hooves stomping in elation. The loud rumble of conversation began and she focused on the five mares and the little dragon—with the little phoenix perched on his head—that were surrounding her bed.
"Oh my gosh, guys, this is so amazing!"
"We're glad you're happy, darling. Though, might I recommend that you go freshen up a bit before making the rounds with your guests? There is such a thing as a mane that's too tangled up, and you need to throw a little water on your face," Rarity tittered.
Pinkie gingerly stuck a forehoof in her mane and tried to pull it back out. Key word: tried. "Heh, yeah... I'll be right back, girls." She bolted between the ponies filling up her room and locked herself in the bathroom.
It took a couple of minutes, but the image in her mirror gave her a happy wink when her eyes were free of sleep and her mane was its usual puffy and bouncy self. She winked back.
Now that her mind was a bit clearer, she could start digesting everything that just happened. And it all started to seem a little weird. How were Rarity and Dashie there? Neither one of them was supposed to be back in Ponyville for at least another day. How could they get all those ponies in her room and set up all those decorations without waking her up? She was a pretty light sleeper. And where did the music go? She was fairly certain that she'd seen Vinyl moving towards her mixing table, but it was silent outside the bathroom. Very silent.
Had there been music in the first place?
With a slightly trembling hoof, she reached out to the handle on her bathroom door. She gulped audibly as she pressed her hoof down. The loud click of the lock's release seemed to echo in the small confines. Really small confines. Had her bathroom always been so small? She felt a rising urge to escape from the tiny space and pushed down faster on the handle, stepping quickly back into her room.
Her empty room.
Empty when compared to a couple of minutes ago. There were no streamers or balloons, aside from the ones she usually had lying around. No music or ponies, dragons or phoenixes. Only Gummy, still resting where she left him on the bed.
She took a few steps forward. Of course her room was empty, what was she thinking? She loved it when things didn't make sense, but she usually had to put in a little effort for things to be that way. And she hadn't planned herself a surprise party... Nopony would do that for her. Not anymore.
She chuckled, lacking the emotion that should accompany it. Just going through the motions. "It's okay, right Gummy? We'll celebrate on... on S-Saturday." A little moisture formed on the corner of her eyes as her lips twitched into a sad smile.
A 'sad' smile... those shouldn't exist. She shut her eyes tightly, trying to force back the tears that were threatening to escape.
Her eyes flew open as she fell back onto her rump. Her jaw hit the floor at the sight in front of her, even though she'd already seen it a few minutes before. It was all back! Her party was back! She sputtered, trying to form words while the gears in her mind grinded to a halt. Giving up, she just smiled a wide and joyful grin. The tears finally fell.
She didn't care.
Her friends were on her immediately, hugging her close. Twilight's gaze seemed ridden with guilt, though. "I'm so sorry, Pinkie. I didn't think it would affect you this much." Twilight backed up a bit, so as to look her straight in the eyes. "Did I go too far?"
Tears still flowing, Pinkie giggled loudly and lunged at her friend, pulling her into a crushing embrace. "Silly Twilight, this is the best surprise party ever! You surprised me twice! I didn't even know you could do that!" She heard Rainbow's familiar mocking laughter and paused—letting Twilight get some oxygen back into her lungs—to look up.
"I can't believe you just fell for a prank that Twilight pulled!"
Pinkie gasped. "You're right! Twilight pulled a prank! This is the best day ever! Wait... you gotta tell me how you did all this."
"I just learned a couple of new spells to help us out. One of them was the Mass Invisibility spell you just saw—or didn't see, actually—and the other was... did you get a peek at the barrier around you while you were getting up?"
"Ooh! The Pinkie Bubble?"
"Yeah, you... wow, you already named it." Twilight smirked. "It's actually a Vibration Dampening Bubble spell and—since Rainbow's already pretending to snore above us—I'll just say that I used it so that we could make noise and walk freely on the hardwood floor, without fear of waking you."
Pinkie's eyes widened as an idea seemed to strike her, but her attention was drawn to Fluttershy as she came closer to her with the cake. "I think you didn't get to read the icing message before, what with all the commotion."
Pinkie stood on her hind legs to get a better view, and saw that the top of the cake read: Happy Birthday Pinkie and Gummy!
"'Course we remembered, Pinkie. Figured you'd be awful mad if we forgot Gummy with all this runnin' and sneakin' around."
Pinkie nodded. And suddenly stopped. "Hey… wait a minute." She narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing the delightfully delectable dessert in front of her. "I know this cake!"
Dash rolled her eyes. "Ugh, I thought we were over this. Is this another one of your 'special' objects?"
Pinkie giggled. "No, silly!" She paused a moment, putting a hoof to her chin. "Unless I didn't notice and used the new Madame—I mean, no! I recognized it because I baked it yesterday!"
"Of course you did, darling. There aren't any other bakeries in town. And we couldn't exactly get you a birthday apple pie, could we?"
"I still don't get what the problem would've been," Applejack huffed.
Rainbow snickered as she flicked the farm pony's hat with a hoof. "Sure, you've got apples for brains, so none on your end. But this is Pinkie we're talking about."
Pinkie did a double take as she remembered what had crossed her mind in the bathroom. "Wait a second... Rarity? And Dashie?! What about your materials? And the show?"
Rarity played with the curls in her mane, her eyes betraying a hint of nervousness. "Well, we had to make the whole thing seem real, dear. It would be very strange if we were all here for your birthday and didn't have a party planned."
"So you didn't need to buy anything?"
"Oh, I did. But really, three days for fabric shopping? I had it all done on the first afternoon. I came back yesterday, on the overnight express." Rarity turned towards Twilight, standing beside her, who grinned in response. "With the help of our dear Canterlot expert, of course. All I had to do was tell her what shops I would be attending, and she had the most wonderfully efficient route ready in seconds."
"And there actually was a Wonderbolts show. I just didn't go." Rainbow flashed a cockish grin.
Pinkie noticed that she was tuning out all of the noise around their perfect little bubble. There was a party out there, but for once, she didn't really feel the need to join it. "You... you did all that for me?"
"Yup. Gotta hoof it to Twi, though. She's the one that went and thought of everythin'."
Twilight blushed. "Well, as the party pony, you deserve the best party ever..." Her smile faltered and her eyes widened. "Not that this party is better than the ones you throw. I mean, 'best' for a given measure, taking into account a necessary level of enjoyment, still within your boundaries of acceptable entertainment, but also given the exceptions of—"
"Boop! I booped your nose!" Pinkie singsonged.
Twilight froze at the interruption, but gave into chuckling a few seconds later. She sighed as she regained her breath. "I honestly don't understand how you organize these things on such short notice. I've been planning it for months! And I had to get most of the town in on it without you finding out. I'm surprised Applejack didn't crack."
"Hey, I can keep a secret!" AJ scrunched her muzzle up, while looking at the ceiling.
Twilight smirked, gazing down at the little filly that had just joined their circle. "Also, since the Cakes are actually out of town, we needed somepony to unlock the door for us, and Sweetie here was our perfect little agent!"
"Still didn't get my cutie mark..." Sweetie pouted.
Pinkie looked to one side of the room, where she spotted Apple Bloom using the helium tank to fill up some balloons, while Scootaloo tied them to her midsection with a huge grin.
Turning back to her friends, she mentally counted off all of the excuses they'd given her. "So, Twilight, I guess you didn't really have to work on your thesis?"
The unicorn shook her head. "No, Pinkie, I presented the first half of it to Princess Celestia two months ago."
Rarity gasped the loudest. "Darling, that's wonderful! I thought you were just making that up. Why did you not tell us about this?"
"I didn't really want to make a big deal out of it." Twilight fidgeted uncomfortably under their gazes.
Rarity scooped her up in a hug. "But it is a big deal! You know I never got to go to college and... well, I can't speak for Pinkie, but you know most of our histories in the education system."
"I think Rares is the only one of us that finished high school, so you can be sure we're powerful proud of ya, sugarcube."
Twilight gave a nervous little laugh.
"So? How was it?" Rainbow asked eagerly.
"It... didn't go so well..." Seeing that they were all about to comfort her, she quickly amended, "But that's what these things are for, after all. To find mistakes or rough edges and correct them for the final presentation. I've been working on it a lot since then, so I hope I'll live up to your expectations."
Their faces melted in relief, but Rarity caught sight of the frown that the lavender mare was quick to try and hide. "Twilight? Are you really alright, darling?"
"I… I'm just a little down." Twilight gave a small smile, trying not to spread her gloom to the others. "It's not a good feeling, disappointing the princess."
"Oh, darling. I'm sure that when you're finished she'll be absolutely delighted. Also, if you know that these preliminary presentations are to spot and correct mistakes, she must surely be aware of it as well."
That brought out a bigger smile. "You're right."
"So, the whole coffee thing was also part of your plan?" Pinkie asked, in between bites of her giant slice of cake.
"Uh… no. That's actually a real problem." Twilight rubbed the back of her neck and smiled sheepishly. "I'll be counting on you girls for that."
"Oh, that's good to know! I've already gotten rid of all the coffee in Sugarcube Corner, and we have a 'no coffee' policy until you get better."
Twilight's eye twitched. "Th-that's great, Pinkie…"
"Heh, and I talked with all of them folks over at the market. Ain't nopony gonna be sellin' it for several weeks."
She was shaking now. "That's... great..."
"And I've spoken with most of the café owners in town. You're banned from all of them! Isn't it wonderful, darling?"
Her body started twitching uncontrollably, while she unsuccessfully tried to form words.
"She's overcome with gratitude!" Rarity beamed.
"Aww, we love you too!" Pinkie threw her forelegs wide as a helpless Twilight could only accept the inevitable hug.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Remember that letter I sent you two years ago today? This is a follow up to it. While Pinkie learned not to mistrust us and quickly jump to the worst conclusion back then, I've realized—after much thought—that it was a failing on our part to not consider her potential reaction to the way we were acting.
Even though we were planning something to make her happy, our behavior had the opposite effect, causing a great misunderstanding. We also could have—and should have—noticed her distress sooner, and done something to stop it before it got so bad.
By careful planning and taking a lot more care into not acting suspiciously, we were able to make this day very special for her, without any of the unpleasantness from before.
Your faithful student,
P.S.: I also learned that interventions are like peer pressure, but used in a good way and performed by those who care about you.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Ah'm sendin' this letter 'cause Ah know Twi won't mention any of what Ah'm 'bout ta tell ya in her report. This week we learned that Twi's a caffeine addict, so we're gonna be helpin' her through it. Even if she says it ain't no big deal, we know that she's in some sorta denial phase... or somethin'. Rarity was talkin' 'bout that earlier, Ah guess she just don't wanna quit drinkin' what she likes—Ah know Ah'd be pretty miffed if somepony told me ta stop eatin' apples.
Fluttershy said that Twi was just bein' nice, so that we didn't have ta worry 'bout her, but that's what friends are for: ta help ya through the rough patches and laugh next ta ya durin' the happy times.
And we laughed a lot today, but Ah guess Twi already told ya all 'bout that.
Also, we wanted ta ask ya fer a favor. See, we know that you and Twi really enjoy yer monthly get-togethers over tea, but we were wonderin' if you could start havin' 'em over juice or, ya know, somethin' that don't have caffeine in it. Fluttershy says that there are some special kinds of tea that might actually help, but Ah don't really know much 'bout it. We'd really 'preciate it, though. And we're sure Twi will too... eventually.
P.S.: Twi's gotten real good at lyin', hasn't she? Ah worry 'bout her someti—Spike? What're ya doin'?
Ah know yer writin', but why are ya writin' all... wrong like that?
'Imitate mah accent'?! Ah ain't got no accent! Have ya been writin' all mah letters ta the princess like that?!
Git over here ya little rascal! Stop laughin'!
Sorry princess, it's really hard to write while I run. I hope you got the gist of AJ's message, though. Catch you later!
And now, a word from the author [and his editor]:
Woven's Notes: Welcome to Woven Word Weekly! I'm Woven Word and I'll be supplementing your Wednesday periodical at the behest—and with the blessing—of our beloved Princess Celestia.
I'd like to thank her for her trust, as well as the staff at Canterlot's Equestria Daily, the best newspaper in the entire kingdom (I'm legally bound to say that every time I spell out its name, so I'll just be calling it EqD from now on, since that's what everypony calls it anyway).
The idea is that this'll help spread the lessons of friendship and harmony that the bearers frequently learn, even though some are saying that it’s because the princess would like to know more about her esteemed protégée's daily life—the little things that they never talk about—but that's just hearsay.
It's important to point out that everything you read here will have been approved by the bearers themselves, before being sent to print. This isn't a gossip column, so you'll have to go elsewhere for that.
Violet's Notes: What, no mention of little old me? How ungrateful. [Corrections to scene flow required in pages 8, 16, 21, 31 and 32, marked in red.]
WN: Ah, of course! Special thanks to my lovely consulting editor, Violet Ink, who pitched my name to the staff at EqD when Final Cut—the Editor-in-Chief—started looking for authors.
She's also the one who asked me to send in something to put down in the Author's Notes section, so here we are. [I've revised the scenes.]
VN: I still don't get why you'd want them to read our back-and-forths. By the way, you didn't run into any problems when you asked the bearers for their approval, did you? [Word repetition in pages 4, 11, 15 and 27, marked in red.]
WN: They mostly didn't mind, but Twilight did say that she thought we were over-idealizing them. Still, she agreed, indicating that it'd be better for us to dispel this aggrandized image we have of them, instead of just trying to talk us out of it.
She's so modest, and she acted very mature and polite during our conversations. You could seriously learn a thing or two from her. [Changed the wording around a bit.]
VN: By Celestia, it's like experiencing a fanfilly's gushing in written form. Also, how did Applejack let you write her dialogue like that? She seemed pretty angry at Spike. [Speaker confusion in pages 11, 22 and 23, marked in red.]
WN: Ah, yes. I can still remember our conversation: "Please, Applejack, I'm begging you. I know what you sound like, but the rest of Equestria doesn't! This is a nation-wide publication!" And she gets all insulted, "I already told ya, I ain't got no accent!" It went on for hours before we reached a consensus. [Rephrased.]
VN: Did you have to put it in? Most good authors would just make an allusion towards it. Oh, right, those are good authors, not hacks like you. I just spent the entire day finding a hundred and fifty seven grammatical mistakes, Woven. A hundred and fifty seven! [A hundred and fifty seven! All marked in red!]
WN: Right where it hurts, Violet. Right where it hurts. By the way, there were a hundred and fifty eight mistakes. See if you can't find the one you missed. Happy weekend. [All corrected.]
VN: That took me seven hours. My eyes hurt. But there, a hundred and fifty eight! Why do you do this to me? Is it because of my desire to watch you burn in Tartarus? [Last error, page 27. Marked in red.]
WN: Nice working with you too, dear. [Corrected.]