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"I can't believe you're passing this up!" cried Rainbow Dash, trotting agitatedly back and forth across my floor. "Maybe you don't realize who we're talking about here. This is Moonage Daydream, Twilight! He's, like, the biggest Pony Rock star in all Equestria!"
"I'm familiar with Moonage Daydream, Rainbow," I said, busily putting my spare quills at right angles to my telescope over on my primary organizational table. "In fact, I have a particular fondness for his Hoofington period. There's some beautiful instrumental work mixed in with the louder tracks."
"Yeah, yeah," said Dash. "Instrumental schminstrumental. You know what you need to have a fondness for? You need to have a fondness for being crushed into a way-fun, way-awesome pony pit right up next to the stage in the Ponyville Hippodrome with about a thousand other ponies, close enough to feel flecks from the Daydream's sweat!"
"Exciting!" I said. "Also, kind of icky. I do appreciate the offer, Rainbow Dash, but I've got plans to see a different kind of star tonight."
"Oo!" said Pinkie Pie, leaping up from her position near one of my bookshelves. "There's another concert going on tonight? How come I didn't hear about it yet?"
"Not a musical star, Pinkie," I explained. "A baby star."
Pinkie Pie screwed up her mouth. "A baby star? What do babies do to make them stars? I thought babies just drank lots of milk and tottered around."
"Not a baby star," I explained more clearly. "A baby star. Fluttershy and Spike and I are going to see a brand new star for the first time tonight. But that's just the opening act! We've got orbits to measure, galaxies to track, and we're even," I said, really pouring the icing on, "going to be trying to prove the existence of the Oort Cloud!"
"Sounds… great," said Dash.
"You know it, sister!" I said. "Hee hee hee."
"Yes," said Fluttershy, smiling over that faint blush of nervousness I've rarely seen her without. "And you're all invited. We're going to go outside and sit on a soft blanket and drink warm cocoa under the dark spring sky."
"And learn about a whole bunch of celestial objects," I prompted.
"Well… yes," said Fluttershy.
"It's gonna be great!" said Spike, my little dragon secretary, looking up from his dusting. "If any of you want to come, there's still plenty of room on the blanket!"
"Thanks, but no thanks, Spike," said Dash. "Maybe I didn't make this clear enough to everypony here: Moonage! Daydream!" She made a little squeeing noise. "I mean, since when does a humongoid mega-star like him come anywhere close to a little burg like Ponyville? He's gonna draw ponies from a hundred miles around! This is the chance of a lifetime!"
"Afraid I have to keep my concert plans as well," said Rarity. "While I can't say that the music itself is much of a draw, Moonage Daydream is known throughout Equestria for his lavish stage shows, complete with some of the most exquisite and exotic costumes you've ever seen! And if things get too loud, well." Rarity lifted a pair of plush violet earmuffs from her saddle bag and settled them on her head. "Ta da! Fashion accessory and ear protection! I won't be bothered by a single noise."
"Very convenient," I agreed.
"I'm sorry, what?" said Rarity, cocking her head at me.
"Never mind," I said. "What about you, Applejack? You don't strike me as much of a rock-and-roll pony."
"Well, that's mighty astute of y'all. I'm sure Mr. Daydream is a fine musician. But you're right, he ain't really my cup a' grits."
"Then there's always complex astronomy!" I said, in what I hoped was a tempting fashion.
"Shoot, Twilight," said Applejack. "It ain't about the music no more. The minute R.D. explained to me how big a draw this Moonage Daydream was fixin' to be, I went right out and got me a brand new vending cart. I'm aimin' to break all kinds a' sales records tonight."
"Well, good luck with that. And I suppose there's no point trying to convince you, Pinkie Pie?"
"What?!" Pinkie exclaimed. "Miss the biggest, noisiest, glowing-lights-iest, happiest streamer-riffic party-time concert Ponyville's ever seen?"
"Like I said, it was a longshot."
To her credit, she did ponder it for a moment. "Nope!" she eventually decided. "I'm gonna party 'til I fall over and then party some more while I'm on the floor!"
"It won't be the same without you guys," muttered Dash, kicking petulantly at a table leg. "I just wish that crummy old baby star would've picked some other night to get born."
"Actually, it did," I said. "The new star we're going to watch was actually born more than a thousand years ago. One thousand three hundred and forty-four, to be exact."
"Who the what now?" said Dash. "Twilight, are you messing with space and time again?"
"I love messing with space and time!" said Pinkie Pie. "Messing with space and time is great!"
"Sugarcube," said Applejack, glancing sidelong at Pinkie, "you do realize you can't personally mess with space and time, don'tcha?"
Pinkie Pie sighed airily. "That's exactly what you said last today," she said.
"No messing with space and time required!" I said. "The star is forming from a gas cluster in the Orion Nebula, which is so very far away it takes the light over a thousand years to reach our eyes. Orion sets at dusk at this time of year, though, so we have a very limited window of observation."
"Wait," said Dash. "Light has a speed? Like sound?"
I smiled. "Yes, but don't get any ideas. As soon as you got anywhere near the light barrier your effective mass would increase until it approached infinity. Surpassing light speed would thus take an infinite amount of time and effort."
"Bet I could still do it," said Dash, sullenly.
"Something to shoot for, at least," I said, amiably.
"My effective mass increases when I eat cookies!" exclaimed Pinkie Pie, helpfully.
"As per typical, Punkin," said Applejack, smiling sheepishly at me, "I'm not sure any of us one hundred percent understand what you're goin' on about."
"Yeah, but I am a hundred percent sure that Twilight's gonna be missing the time of her life at that concert!" said Dash.
"Oh, girls," I said. "Don't worry about me."
Then I struck a proud and head-high pose.
"Tonight," I said, "is going to be my best night of stargazing ever!"
* * *
In retrospect, I don't know why I even say things like that.
I yelped as yet another blast of fireworks from the distant Hippodrome caused me to flinch and knock over a stack of brass tokens. I grunted exasperatedly and re-neatened the board with a quick shot of telekinesis. I had been pleased as punch to discover that I had functionally inherited a beautiful antique Hex board when I took occupancy of the Ponyville library; back in Canterlot I had acquired something of a reputation as a killer Hex player, and under ideal conditions, a pleasant match or two could whisk the boredom right out of any given rainy afternoon. Unfortunately, these were far from ideal conditions. Not for Hex, not for an impromptu evening hot cocoa picnic, and definitely not for stargazing.
I shot a glare at the old racetrack where Moonage Daydream's concert was going full swing. Normally, the place would be just barely visible at the edge of my sight, but not today. Despite the falling dusk, the place was lit up bright — or perhaps brighter — than noon. A score of magical spotlights wheeled and danced crazily through the evening sky, accompanied by volley after volley of rainbow-hued fireworks, the last of which had made me practically upset the Hex board just now.
"I'm so sorry, Twilight," said Fluttershy, blinking at me, "but I wonder if maybe one of those Wind tokens might possibly be in a different place than where it was? Before the fireworks startled us all, I mean."
I frowned. Fluttershy was right. Scowling, I used my magic again and scooted the offending Wind token one space to the right.
"Thank you," said Fluttershy, demurely, and then started stacking tokens on the board with graceful abandon.
"There, there, there, there and, um, there," said Fluttershy, claiming a huge swath of the board for Wind. "There. I think that's my move. If that's all right."
I blinked, stunned for a moment. "You won," I said, stupidly.
"It kind of looks that way," said Fluttershy. "I'm sorry I was so bossy about moving that piece back before, but it really was important to my strategy."
"You won," I repeated. This night was not going well at all.
Fluttershy fidgeted nervously, perhaps sensing my darkening mood. "We could take a little break from board games now, if you feel like it. You could try your telescope again. I'm sure it'll be dark enough to see something now."
"Fluttershy, it's not happening!" I shouted. "The Moonage Daydream concert is throwing off so much light that it's impossible to observe anything up there! I've never seen this much light pollution in my entire life! So much for getting to see a new star ignite!"
"Oh, well," said Fluttershy. She scooted the Hex board back in my direction. "If we play again, you can have a two-token head start, if you like."
I sighed out through my nose. "Spike!" I called.
Spike zipped up to my side. "Whatcha need, Twilight?"
"Hot chocolate," I said, grimly, stacking up the Earth tokens again and getting them ready for play.
"Roger that!" said Spike, and in a twinkling, he rushed to our tiny little fire, poured me a mug of cocoa, and returned.
I took a sip, and swallowed hard. "Spike… this isn't hot chocolate. It's lukewarm chocolate."
Spike glanced from side to side and then back at me. "I just took it from where Fluttershy set it up."
I looked over in the direction of the kettle, and saw suspended on a chain roughly a yard and a half away from the fire. "You could move it closer," I suggested.
"Oh, no," said Fluttershy. "It's not good to have too hot of hot chocolate. You could burn yourself. Or burn your tummy."
I growled, telekinetically snatched the mug from Spike, and blasted it with a minor Flame Hoof cantrip, causing it to boil and steam and get icky and crusty around the rim, but at least it was an acceptable temperature. I lifted the mug to my lips, and then…
PHOOM! …went another spray of fireworks. And then "AAAH!" …went me, directly after dumping freshly Flame Hoof'd cocoa all over my face and mane.
Fluttershy reacted with predictable horror as I stood there, dripping, slightly red, and chocolatey-flavored. "Oh, Twilight!" she said, rushing to my side in a rustle of feathered wings. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything is not 'all right'!" I said, entering full snit mode. I admit this; I am not proud. "I'm going to miss seeing my new star and anything else in the sky tonight, you beat me at Hex, which shouldn't be possible, and I just spilled half a mug of formerly-lukewarm extremely hot hot chocolate on my face!"
"WE HAVE HEARD THEE IN THY ANGUISH!" roared a voice from above, momentarily drowning off the noise of both my snit and the distant rock concert. I promptly spilled the remaining half-mug of cocoa on myself, and screamed again.
An achingly bright shaft of white moonlight slammed down from the heavens and began carving a path through the deserted streets of Ponyville. Dirt charred and cobblestones sizzled in its wake.
"T— Twilight?" said Fluttershy, who had taken up a huddled position under our picnic blanket. "W— what is that?"
"I think I know," I said, as the shaft of moonlight drew closer and closer, finally resolving itself into the proud and regal form of…
"Princess Luna!" I said.
"Nightmare Moon!" said Fluttershy, simultaneously. I dropped to one knee; Fluttershy did not move, as it's hard to get any more prostrate than hiding under a picnic blanket.
"Hey, Princess!" said Spike, amiably, wandering up to the Monarch of the Entire Night Sky. "How's tricks?"
"TRICKS ARE EMINENTLY ACCEPTABLE AND EVEN AMUSING IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS!" said the Princess. "BUT ENOUGH PLEASANTRIES! WE HAVE HEARD THE CRIES OF ONE OF YOUR CITIZENS IN NEED, AND AS IT BEHOOVES US TO MAINTAIN OUR SUBJECTS IN A STATE OF WEAL, WE HAVE DECIDED TO GRANT THEE A BOOOOON!"
"Thanks?" I hazarded, looking up from my bow.
"THOU ART MOST WELCOME, TWILIGHT SPARKLE! IT IS FITTING THAT THY BOON BE FIRST AND GREATEST, FOR WE OWE THEE MUCH — BOTH FOR FREEING OUR HEART FROM THE DARK POWERS OF ENVY, AND BY TEACHING US TO ACT IN A TOTALLY NORMAL AND NON-THREATENING FASHION!" Luna stamped decisively at the ground; steaming cracks formed in the dirt at her footfall. Fluttershy whimpered and cowered deeper under our blanket.
"Uh, yeah," said Spike. "About that, Princess…"
"BUT THAT IS NOT ALL WE WILL DO FOR YOU THIS NIGHT!" bellowed Luna, knocking Spike all the way over by force of outburst alone. "THE CITIZENS OF PONYVILLE HAVE TAUGHT US MUCH SINCE OUR RELEASE FROM OUR THOUSAND-YEAR IMPRISONMENT! IN WARM AND HEARTFELT GRATITUDE, WE WILL POUR OUT NIGHT'S PLENTY UPON…"
Luna paused and looked around, then continued in a slightly more normal tone. "UPON… ALL OF…"
The dark princess blinked and stared for a moment at Ponyville's deserted streets. "Where is't everypony?" she asked, eventually.
"At a concert," I said, nodding in the direction of the Hippodrome. "I think about ninety percent of the town is there, either rocking out, jotting down notes on the costumes, or, um, selling concessions."
"Oh, fiddlesticks," remarked Luna, biting her lip. "Our timing doth stink pretty bad. Perhaps we could just sort of meander over to the stadium and begin granting boons over there."
"Not so sure that's wise," I said, quickly, trying to banish the distressing images floating in front of my brain-eyes. "Maybe you could come back tomorrow and grant your boons then? I think everypony's kind of distracted what with Moonage Daydream in town and all."
"We kind of wanted to do something tonight," said Luna. "We have sentimental attachments to this evening."
Luna threw her head back then and gazed skyward, her eyes glinting. Strong eldritch winds swirled about her, frazzling my mane as they tore past. "IT WAS ON THIS VERY NIGHT," she intoned, "A THOUSAND AND ONE YEARS PAST, WHEN WE DID FIRST ALLOW ENVY INTO OUR HEART, SETTING US ON OUR SHORT AND DARK COURSE TO OBLIVION!"
"Volume," I suggested, woozily.
"Right, sorry," said Luna. "Well! There's only one thing for it, then. If we have to pour out blessings on just a very few ponies—"
"And dragons," Spike commented.
"And dragons, yes," added Luna. "If it's just going to be you three, let's make these some excellent boons, shall we?"
"Princess, you don't have t—"
"Awright!" Spike shouted. "I want me some gemstones!"
I gave my baby dragon a warning glance. "Um… if you please, Mistress Luna," he added.
"Oh, Spike," I said, smirking.
"What? I'm a growing dragon!"
"We do please, in fact!" said Luna. Mystic energies coursed up and down her horn and, suddenly, another bolt of hard bright moonlight crashed into the ground, blinding us for a moment. When the spots went away, Luna's boon for Spike became visible: the tiny crater formed by the moonlight's impact now contained a chest of shimmering alabaster with onyx fittings, filled to overflowing with pure white diamonds.
Spike leaned in close, the stones reflecting in his eyes. A tiny thread of drool escaped one corner of his mouth.
"Plucked from our private stash," said Luna, proudly, "and carefully aged within Equestria's crust. Plus, when thou art finished, thou cans't eat the box."
"Say 'thank you', Spike," I said.
"'Thank you, Spike,'" said Spike, dreamily. I chuckled.
"We are pleased that thou seems't to enjoy thy boon," said Luna. Then she rounded on the picnic blanket, which still concealed a Fluttershy-shaped lump.
"SMALL TREPID YELLOW ONE!" shouted Luna. "SPEAK AND RECEIVE THY HEART'S DESIIIRE!"
"meep," whispered Fluttershy.
"'Meep'?" said Luna, slightly taken aback. "What is this 'meep' of which you speak?"
"I think what Fluttershy means is that she'd like to take a minute to think about her boon. Maybe put it in a letter to you when she's not… overwhelmed by your presence."
"Of course!" said Luna, to the trembling mass of Fluttershy. "Though as noted we would prefer to handle our boons tonight for sentimental reasons."
"You could give her a rain check," I said. "Then you'd feel like you gave her something."
"Oh! Certainly!" said Luna. Another moon-bolt struck the ground, knocking over the cocoa hook entirely and driving away a stubborn owl who had apparently finally decided that enough was enough. When the spots cleared a second time, the second crater contained a rather tiny and anticlimactic slip of parchment.
"Oop," said Luna. "Tamp thy hoof down on that little thing lest it blow away." I did so.
Luna turned back to the concealed Fluttershy. "THE RAIN-CHECK FOR THY HEART'S DESIRE LIES SAFELY BENEATH THE PUISSANT HOOF OF THY COMPANION!" she announced.
Fluttershy did not move. "Princess," I said, wincing.
"Oh, right. Our volume." She cleared her throat. "Come retrieve the rain-check on thy, er, wait, possibly 'your', boon, little one."
Fluttershy peeped out from under the blanket. I smiled encouragingly and telekinetically picked up and showed her the parchment slip. Slowly, hesitantly, Fluttershy emerged from her blanket fort and nipped the parchment out of the air.
"Excellent," said Luna. "And what about your boon, Twilight Sparkle?"
"Me?" I said. "Oh, there's no need. Saving you from absolute evil and corruption was my pleasure. Really. No need for any special boons."
"That's not true," said Fluttershy, busily stashing away her rain check. "Oh — I mean… if you don't mind me saying so. It's just — well, you were talking so much about how much the light pollution was bothering your stargazing, and—"
"DONE!" cried Luna. "I SHALL COVER THE LAND IN non-ETERNAL DARKNESS!"
"No!" I shouted, as Fluttershy zipped back under the blanket. "No, please!"
"Well, what then?" said Luna, petulantly. "I need to make some reparation of the tremendous debt between myself and thou, Twilight Sparkle. How about a brand-new telescope?"
"Are you going to slam it into the ground and make another crater in the road?"
Luna pondered this. "Possibly," she admitted. "O CURSÈD BE MY LACK OF IMPULSE CONTROL!"
"Okay, tell you what," I said, hastily. "You can do me a favor. You can accompany us all out of town somewhere far away from that concert. Maybe then we can get some decent stargazing in and salvage some of the night."
"You… you want me to walk with you?"
"That's… that's it? Just walk?"
"Yep!" I affirmed. "Just somewhere nice and dark."
Luna thought about this for the moment. "I know the place," she said, at last. "Twilight, you will accompany me to my old observatory on Griffinwatch Hill."
"Your what?" I asked, suddenly stung by the curiosity bee.
"When my sister and I ruled this country from our palace in what is now the Everfree Forest, I often felt as though I needed… a place of my own. Far from the lights of our castle." Luna's eyes went distant. "And… far from my sister, sometimes." She shook off an unpleasant memory and pressed on. "I found a high and bald hill, which I named Griffinwatch, deep within the forest. And there I founded a small, yet magnificent, observatory where I could make most compelling observations of the night sky."
"I want to see this place," I said. I thought, but did not add, the words, "so bad".
Luna shook her head. "Likely it has fallen into disrepair," she said. "I… have not been back there since my release. I feared that the seeing it in its current state would smite my heart a blow from which it could not recover." Luna squared her jaw. "But for you, Twilight Sparkle, I shall do this."
"Great!" I said. "Come on, Spike! Come on, Fluttershy!"
From under the blanket came Fluttershy's voice. "The Everfree Forest?" she said, timidly. "There're Ursas there!"
"It'll be all right," I said. "They're probably all asleep. You remember our joint research project on the ecology of the Ursa? The stars are in completely the wrong configuration for them to be up and about."
Fluttershy peered out again. "I… think I'd prefer to stay here. No offense."
"But what about our astronomy?"
Fluttershy grimaced. "I was mostly here for the cocoa," she said.
I sighed. "Okay. I understand. But I'd hate to think of any of my friends alone on this night. Spike?"
I glanced over to see Spike, trembling on the thin edge of self-control that separated him from his delicious aged diamonds. "Spike!" I said, louder.
"Huh?" he said, looking up.
"Spike, I'm going to go do some stargazing with the Princess. Please keep Fluttershy company and play some Hex with her or something."
"You can count on me!" said Spike, saluting crisply, though I noticed his eyes were straying back to his new hoard.
"Great," I said. "And Fluttershy?"
"Go easy on him."
"Gotcha," she said, winking.
"THEN IT IS SETTLED!" thundered Luna, turning to go. "COME WITH ME, TWILIGHT SPARKLE, AND MAKE HASTE! EVERY MINUTE SPENT HERE IS ONE LESS MINUTE SPENT SEARCHING THE HEAVENS!"
"Gotta go," I said, grabbing my telescope and turning to trot along after.
As Spike and Fluttershy receded into the distance, I could barely catch one last smidge of conversation.
"I hope Twilight will be all right."
"What's the worry?" comforted Spike. "She's just going deep into the Everfree Forest." Pause. "At night." Pause. "…with Nightmare Moon."
And then they were gone. Fluttershy was right, I thought, looking up at the proud form of Princess Luna trotting along all headstrong beside me. This might be one of the crazier things I had ever done. But there was really no choice, was there? My stargazing was calling.
Astronomy can be a hard mistress.