Twilight bounced just a little as she walked through the halls of Canterlot Palace. It was a truly glorious day. The morning sun was bright and warm, the sky outside the broad windows was clear and blue, and she had finally solved the problem of long term transformation spells. Once she performed a few further experiments and wrote out the results, her name would go down in history. Again. She grinned to herself as she trotted. Being famous because she was a princess was often odd and uncomfortable. Being known in academic circles for her work on the theory and practice of magic felt both comfortable and rewarding.
Even better, she was on her way to have breakfast with her three fellow princesses. Luna she counted as a close friend, Celestia was still her adored mentor, however much she'd grown since her foalhood days at Celestia's feet, and Cadance was one of her best friends, in addition to being her sister in law. Cadance's visit was, in fact, the reason Twilight had come to Canterlot. She'd come down for yet another diplomatic meeting, but had extended her stay a few days so that she, Twilight, and the other princesses could catch up a bit before she went back north again.
Today could not possibly be any better. Even having to wake up early for breakfast hadn't dampened Twilight's spirits at all. A day like today was a perfect day, in which nothing whatsoever could bring her down.
"Good morning!" she called cheerfully as she entered the room. It was one of the more modest dining chambers, and the table was set for just four. Celestia and Luna were already there--Celestia sipping a morning cup of tea, Luna yawning as she regarded a platter of waffles.
Twilight seated herself, and an efficient palace servant took her request for the kitchen and vanished almost as if by magic. "You're quite cheerful this morning," said Celestia.
"I finished a new spell last night!" said Twilight, resisting the urge to bounce in her chair like a filly.
Cadance came in just then and took the last place at the table. "Morning. What's this about a new spell?" she asked, giving Twilight a warm smile.
Twilight did bounce just a little bit as she said, "I have finally perfected a long term transformation spell!"
"Really?" Cadance looked a little bit surprised. "I thought transformation magic was always temporary?"
"Usually, yes, but I've found a way to make it last. In fact, I've had to build in a reversal mechanism to the spell I've developed, because otherwise it might be completely permanent--or at least last for years with no way to undo it. It taps into the primal reality, a bit like chaos magic does, but with much more control, of course."
"I trust you are not toying with chaos itself," said Luna, a fork full of waffles half way to her mouth.
"Oh no, nothing that dangerous. This does touch chaos, but just as a way to direct the spell, it's not drawing its power from there. I wouldn't mess with that just for fun."
"So you can turn anything into anything?" said Cadance curiously.
Twilight shook her head. "In theory, but the specific spell I've been working on is a species change spell, so it turns one living thing into a different living thing."
"Ooo. Does that include ponies?" Cadance looked intrigued by the possibilities.
"It does, yeah." Twilight grinned.
"You'll have to tell us more about it," said Celestia, smiling. Just then several servants arrived, carrying platters of food, and for a while all four alicorns were busy eating.
Luna, who had gotten an early start, finished first. She yawned again. "If none object, I shall retire. The night has been long and I would rest."
"Sleep well, sister," said Celestia, and the others bid her goodnight too.
There was another pause as the three remaining alicorns applied themselves to the rest of their food. Eventually Twilight's fork scraped the last bit of syrup from an empty plate. She sat back with a replete sigh, feeling stuffed to the gills. The palace chefs had done an amazing job, as always.
"Now, tell us more about this spell of yours," said Celestia.
"Yes, I think it would be fascinating to spend time as another species!" Cadance chimed in.
"It really was," said Twilight, grinning.
"Wait, you tried it on yourself?" gasped Cadance.
"Well, how else was I going to know it worked? Though I still want to do some more tests. I need to cast the spell quite a few times and record everything. I want to publish a paper about it. It's quite revolutionary!"
"Indeed it is," said Celestia.
"If you're going to cast it a bunch more," said Cadance, looking thoughtful, "I wonder if..."
"What?" Twilight tilted her head curiously.
"Well... I just think it would be interesting to know what being some other creature is like. Being... I don't know. A dragon. A sheep. Something totally different from a pony."
"So you'd like to be a test subject, hmm?" said Twilight, grinning playfully.
"That would actually be very useful. Testing it on myself was just the first step. The spell can interact with a lot of things, it's very sensitive. Your own magical field can affect it, the environment around, the distance it's cast at, even the air itself, they all have an influence on how it comes out."
"Oh. Doesn't that mean it's dangerous, then?"
"They're subtle effects. The basic spell will always work, and so will the fail-safe that lets it be reversed even without casting again. I turned myself into a bird when I tested it. I didn't even have a horn, but I turned back just fine. It's very safe. The details are just a little bit unpredictable. I mean, I meant to be a robin, but I still came out purple, even though robins are definitely not purple. Things like that can happen."
"Ah. Okay then. What should I be?" Cadance frowned as she pondered.
"How about a cat?" suggested Twilight. "You remind me of a cat sometimes, the way you like to lounge around."
Cadance giggled. "I think I'd like that! Napping in sunbeams, sitting on laps, getting petted... Sure, I'd love to be a cat."
"Great!" Twilight hopped to her hooves. She gestured to the other end of the room, where the morning sun was streaming in through several large windows. "Let's stand over here, so we don't get any spillover effects."
Cadance rose with a smile and stood in a sunbeam. Twilight, beside her, began charging her horn. She built the complicated spell matrix in her mind as she did so. It was important to get the whole spell right, from the initial transformation itself, to the later portions that made it permanent and the final structure that allowed it to be easily reversed. Learning how to hold a spell structure in one's imagination was one of the most difficult parts of high-level spellcasting. Twilight was justifiably proud of her ability on that front.
Slowly she started feeding power into the spell. There was a little more resistance than she'd expected. Perhaps it was because Cadance was an alicorn and her own magic was interfering? Twilight concentrated, pushing more power through. The transformation began to take hold. Suddenly a small, pink-furred cat was standing in the sunbeam. She shook herself, sending little hairs floating into the air. Twilight tried to not be distracted by her delight; the spell wasn't finished, if she let it go now Cadance would just snap back to her old shape.
She pushed even more power through the rest of the spell structure, her horn blazing as she did.
And then one of Cadance's wayward hairs drifted into Twilight's nose, making her sneeze loudly, and the world vanished in an explosion of pink.
Twilight blinked, clearing the flash of the spell from her eyes. Then she blinked again. Something wasn't right. The room looked distorted, stretched, as if it had suddenly become larger. She looked over at Cadance, who was still a small pink cat, and with a lurch of perspective shifting, realized that the room hadn't stretched, she'd shrunk. She looked down at her own hooves and saw paws. Behind her was a fluffy kitten's tail, not her normal pony tail. She crossed her eyes and saw a whiskered cat's nose. She was a cat.
"Cadance, are you okay?" she said. Or rather she tried to say, but all that came out was "Meow?"
"Meow!" Cadance's reply was the same. Twilight put a hoof—a paw rather—over her face and sighed. It was going to be one of those days.
"Meow," said Cadance, and something in the tone suggested that she was thinking the same thing. She plopped down on her haunches next to Twilight and sighed.
Twilight tried to gather her thoughts. Absently she licked the paw she was still holding near her face, and ran it over her muzzle, grooming herself. Oh dear. She hadn't really meant to do that, but the urge had been irresistible. Apparently cat shape came with cat instincts. "Okay," she muttered to herself, except of course it came out as another meow. Gotta focus, she thought to herself. The sneeze obviously made me shove too much power through the spell, which expanded its range to include me. It was an alicorn to cat spell, so even if the range was fairly large, it won't have turned every pony in the palace into a cat, but... oh no.
Twilight spun around, scanning the room. Celestia should still have been sitting at the table, but she was obviously not there. Then a graceful white cat leaped down from the chair where Celestia had been sitting and headed towards Twilight and Cadance.
As Celestia approached, Twilight noticed that she was much larger than either Cadance or herself. She was even larger in proportion to them than she'd been as an alicorn. In fact... Twilight looked at Cadance again. Short tail, big ears, small muzzle... Cadance wasn't a cat, she was a kitten, and so was Twilight. Celestia was an adult cat. Though the spell had obviously gone a bit oddly, for all three of them had horns, though they were rather small and stubby. When Twilight tried to summon magic through hers, though, nothing happened.
Celestia padded up to Twilight. "Meow?" said Twilight, wishing that she could actually ask Celestia if she were all right. Celestia didn't reply, but sniffed the top of Twilight's head curiously. Twilight looked at her, puzzled. What was she doing? Celestia went to Cadance and sniffed her as well. Then she flopped down on her side and began grooming herself. It was a perfectly cat-like grooming, with no awkwardness or hesitation. Was that merely Celestia's usual poise, adapting itself to any situation, or had something more... fundamental gone wrong?
Twilight waved a paw at Celestia, hoping that the obvious attempt to communicate would prompt her former mentor to wave back. Celestia's head swiveled towards Twilight at the motion, but then she simply returned to her grooming.
Uh oh. Twilight exchanged a worried glance with Cadance. Had the unstable spell somehow affected Celestia's mind as well as her body? The evidence seemed to be pointing that way. This is really not good.
"Meow?" Cadance tilted her head, her tone questioning. She was probably wondering how all this could be fixed. Fortunately Twilight was fairly confident it could be. The fail-safe portion of the spell should have worked, Twilight had built the entire spell matrix, after all. The sneeze had pushed too much magic into it, too fast, but it shouldn't have changed how the spell worked, so the fail-safe should have been created. It was merely a matter of finding it. Twilight looked around the room again. The fail-safe took the form of an eight-sided crystal, which she merely had to touch to reverse the spell's effects entirely.
The crystal had appeared immediately beside her when she'd turned herself into a bird. But now she couldn't see any sign of it. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she realized that the crystal could have appeared anywhere within the spell's effect zone. Which was probably at least half the palace. Twilight sighed and buried her face in her paws. This was definitely being one of those days.
Cadance came up beside her and nuzzled her comfortingly. "Meow?"
"Meow," said Twilight, meaning "Thank you." She got back to her feet, her snub-nosed kitten face setting in an expression of determination. She would have to search the whole palace? Well so be it! She would find the crystal, reverse the spell, and fix everything. She pointed at the door with one paw, meeting Cadance's eyes firmly. Cadance nodded and got to her feet as well.
"Mroweep!" The feline yowl was startled out of her by a rough tongue on the back of her neck. Celestia was standing just behind her, her expression one of curious interest. Maybe she was still mentally herself, and hadn't been turned feline in mind as well as in body? Celestia licked her again, and Twilight scowled and scurried away from her. That hadn't been very like the Celestia she knew. That had been like a cat.
Twilight ran towards the door. As she reached it, however, she realized she had a problem. She didn't have magic, and the door's knob was well out of her reach. How was she supposed to open it? She frowned at the door, willing it to open. Suddenly it did as one of the palace kitchen staff entered to clear away the dishes. He stopped in the doorway to gape at the empty table. Twilight darted between his ankles and out into the hall beyond, with Cadance close at her heels.
The pony who'd opened the door let out a startled yelp as the two kittens ran past him. He turned, letting the door begin to fall shut behind him, and Celestia dashed out through the narrowing gap at the last moment. Twilight looked back at her, searching her face for some signs of intelligence, but found nothing. With a mental shrug, Twilight set off down the hall. She had a crystal to find. Even if Celestia's mind had been affected by the spell, the crystal should reverse it.
Cadance came right behind her and Celestia trailed further behind them, obviously interested in what they were doing, but frequently distracted by the tails of passing ponies and the dancing of dust motes in sunbeams.
Twilight picked a direction more or less at random. The crystal could be anywhere, so it didn't really matter where she began searching. Before she'd gotten far, though, she rounded a corner and nearly ran into the dark blue hooves of Princess Luna. Twilight let out a startled "Mew!"
Luna blinked down at her somewhat tiredly, then looked at Cadance, who was still close at Twilight's heels. A slow smile spread across her face. "What marvelously adorable kittens!" Luna exclaimed. "I must discover if you have owners, else I shall make you mine. And I must show you to 'Tia! She doth love..." Luna trailed off as Celestia came around the corner. The white cat still had Celestia's eyes, and her tail was streaked with the colors of Celestia's tail, not to mention her horn, which was much more obvious on the adult cat than on the kittens. The resemblance was very unmistakable.
Celestia, seemingly oblivious to Luna's stares, began weaving in and out of her legs. Hesitantly Luna lifted a hoof and petted Celestia, who immediately leaned into the caress, purring loudly.
"Oh dear. I suspect that you are not mere cats." She petted Celestia a bit more and a wry smile crossed her face. "And I suppose that doth rather hinder my plans to acquire adorable new pets. Ah well."
Twilight heard Luna speaking, but it was hard to concentrate. She knew she should be trying to communicate with Luna, and enlist her help in finding the crystal somehow, but all she could see was the rhythmic, hypnotic waving of Luna's starry tail. It was entrancing. Twilight found herself creeping towards it, head low, tail high. She gave a little wiggle and pounced. She knew it was stupid even as she did it, but she couldn't help it.
"Yipe!" Luna jumped, and Celestia yowled as Luna nearly stepped on her. Cadance yowled as well, just caught up in the general confusion. Suddenly Twilight felt herself lifted in the air by Luna's magic. She flailed her legs instinctively, trying to somehow get her feet under her. "Twilight," said Luna severely when she got Twilight up to eye level, "That was most unbecoming of you. Have you been reduced to a mere animal, that you would do such a thing?"
Twilight put her ears back flat and shook her head. "Mew," said said, as apologetically as she could.
"Ah. Thou canst understand?"
"Very well. I trust such a prank shall not be repeated?"
"Mew." Twilight shook her head again.
"Good. Now... I suppose this is the result of the transformation spell thou wert speaking of earlier?"
"And was this spell the cause of the magical surge that woke me from my slumber bare moments after I had stepped into the dream lands?" said Luna, her tone somewhat scolding again.
Twilight's ears went even further back and she nodded.
"I take it that something went amiss somehow, then?"
Twilight nodded again.
"Hast thou a plan to correct this error?"
"Good. And can I render aid to thy plan?"
Twilight considered this, and nodded again, slowly. Luna could certainly help look for the crystal; she could cover far more ground than Twilight could in her current form. But Twilight couldn't think of a way to tell Luna what to look for.
"I would ask thee how I might aid, but thou cannot give an answer. I suppose I must guess at ways to assist. Shall I go to the library, and research such magic?"
Twilight immediately nodded. There were several scrolls that mentioned the kind of crystal fail-safe she'd used, so Luna might figure out what to look for. Even if she didn't, she might come up with some other way to help.
"Then I shall do so at once, and leave thee and thy feline companions to whatever plan thou hast." Luna set Twilight down next to Cadance. She petted Celestia once more, and then turned and strode down the hall, away from the trio of cats.
"Meow?" Cadance sat down next to Twilight and regarded her with a quizzical tilt of her head. Celestia began chasing dust motes in a sunbeam. Twilight sighed and considered the best course to pursue. Now that she knew the spell's range hadn't included Luna's room she could estimate the sphere that the fail-safe crystal must lie within. It included most of the public areas of the palace, but also a large portion of the gardens. She should probably start there.
"Mew," she said firmly to Cadance and beckoned with her paw. Then she headed for the nearest exit at a determined trot. Celestia sat down, licked the end of her tail twice, and then followed behind.
Once out in the gardens, Twilight looked around. There was no sign of the crystal. But she was so short, it could be sitting in the grass only yards away and she wouldn't be able to see it. Twilight frowned. Searching the arc of possibility where the crystal might lie was going to take ages, given how limited her vision was from a mere few inches up. But what if she could get a higher vantage point? Twilight's eyes immediately fell on a tree.
It was a maple, and it stood quite tall. From the upper branches Twilight would be able to see most of the gardens. She might have to climb another tree or two to get proper angles on everything, but that would be much faster than going yard by yard along the ground.
Feeling very clever, Twilight immediately set about scaling the tree. Cadance sat on the muddy ground at the foot of the tree, and Celestia proceeded to stalk bugs through the grass nearby as Twilight climbed. Scaling the tree proved to be simplicity itself; her claws gave her perfect purchase and she was so light that she could ascend to the very highest branches with no trouble.
At the top of the tree, she surveyed the palace gardens. It was a lovely, sunny day, and the sight was beautiful. A soft breeze ruffled her fur, and it bore dozens of scents both new and familiar. Her nose was definitely more sensitive in this form than it had been before. The predominant smell was that of wet greenery. It had rained that morning, and puddles stood here and there in the garden. The fresh scent of summer rain still lingered in the air. With it were things like blooming flowers, a whiff of baking bread from the kitchens, and many other, less easily named things.
Twilight dragged her attention away from the fascinating scents and looked for the crystal. It should be hoof-sized and brightly colored, easy to see against the green backdrop of the garden, but there was no sign of it. Eventually Twilight began descending. This proved to be trickier than the climb up had been, but she scrambled and slid from branch to branch most of the way down without incident. Then she reached the smooth trunk and stopped. She'd gone up it easily, but down seemed much more intimidating. Going headfirst seemed crazy, but trying to hang on with her claws and climb down backwards didn't sound much better. Suddenly she realized just why it was that pegasi were always rescuing kittens from trees. How was she supposed to do this?
Finally she just dug her claws into the bark and tried to go tail first. But having to let go and move her paws down gave a much less secure grip than it had while going up, and before she'd gone far she slipped, tumbling down into a puddle at the tree's base with a wet splat.
Twilight frantically scrambled out of the puddle, trying to shake water off of her paws as she ran. Being wet felt absolutely horrible. Her fur stuck to her awfully, and it was cold and nasty and she didn't like it one bit.
On dry ground again, Twilight shook her head, sending muddy droplets flying. Ugh. Suddenly Celestia's huge, white form was looming over her and the next thing Twilight knew, she was getting licked repeatedly. Twilight flinched away from the licking, but Celestia simply moved closer and started up again. Twilight flicked an ear, trying to figure out how to respond to this. Being licked by her former mentor was just not right! But on the other hoof, she didn't exactly have a towel handy, so how else was she supposed to dry off?
She finally resigned herself to her fate and stood still, letting Celestia groom the muddy water from her fur. Cadance, watching, looked equally nonplussed. It was definitely a strange situation, but then the whole day was being pretty strange, even for her.
Celestia eventually finished, and Twilight had to admit that she felt much better. She arched her back and stretched, then set out at a trot to head back inside. The crystal might possibly still be in some odd nook or cranny of the gardens, but Twilight didn't want to get wet again. If she didn't find it inside she could come back out and look again.
When she reached the door they'd come out through, though, it was closed. Twilight put a paw over her face and sighed. "Meow," she said irritably. It really was being one of those days. The pair of kittens sat in front of the door for a while, waiting for somepony to come along and open it so they could slip through. Celestia was chasing bugs in the grass again, but stayed nearby, not letting the two out of her sight.
After a while, Cadance got up and took a few steps along a path that led around the palace, nodding towards where there was another door further down. Twilight nodded at her and got back to her feet. Perhaps that door would have more traffic.
As she got closer, the scent of baking bread wafted by again. If Twilight remembered the palace layout correctly, the other door might actually lead into the kitchens. Certainly the part of the garden they were now passing through was now vegetables and herbs rather than flowers and hedges, so they must be near the kitchen, if they were in the kitchen garden.
Just as they reached the door, it swung open and a pony wearing a chef's hat and apron trotted out. Twilight dashed forward, between his hooves, and inside the kitchen, with Cadance and Celestia both right behind her. The pony didn't seem to notice, he just let the door shut behind him.
Inside, Twilight's nose was almost overwhelmed with scents. The kitchen seemed to be empty, but it was full to the brim with delicious smells. The fresh-baked bread scent was still the strongest, but there were dozens of others too. Lunch was obviously almost ready. Interestingly, Twilight found the scent of flowers and greens from the various salads and sandwiches that no doubt lay on the tables and counters to be the least appetizing. Something else wafted to her sensitive nose, though, something strong and wonderful, and her stomach growled in response.
Twilight crouched, then leaped, but came well short of the counter. She landed on her feet, of course, and sat looking up at the counter with frustration. Then she spotted a chair nearby. One leap took her to the chair, and a second bound took her up to the counter itself. With a grin she saw it was spread with all sorts of foods. Daisy sandwiches, hay fries, tossed salads; everything a pony could want to eat lay in front of her. A moment later Cadance jumped up beside her. Together the two kittens regarded the repast. Both of them were sniffing the air eagerly, for one particular scent cut through all the rest. Either a daring pegasus or a visiting gryphon must be getting served, for that one unmistakable, tantalizing, amazing scent was that of fish.
Cadance took the lead this time, sniffing as she picked her way among platters and bowls, seeking the source of the tantalizing fishy scent. Twilight eagerly followed.
Moments later the pair of kittens were standing in front of a truly glorious dish of baked salmon. It steamed gently, obviously just removed from the oven. Twilight normally felt a little queasy about eating fish, despite her alicorn nature making her part pegasus, but right now the scent was the most heavenly thing she'd ever smelled. Her stomach growled again and Twilight dove in, unable to hold back any longer. All her pony thoughts and habits drifted away as she ate eagerly, biting and chewing with instinctive ease despite the strangeness of both the meal and the teeth she was eating it with.
Cadance was right beside her, actually standing in the dish, on the bed of greens that cradled the side of salmon, as she ate.
"Hey! Get off of there!"
Twilight jumped, her fur standing on end. She hadn't even heard the chef come back inside. The cook reached out a hoof towards Twilight, who dodged away, letting out a loud, involuntary meow of fright. She had a sudden sympathy for all kinds of small animals. Ponies were huge, and angry ponies were terrifying!
"Cats do not belong in kitchens," said the chef. "And look what you've done to my beautiful salmon! Bad kitties!" He tried to grab Cadance this time, and almost got her, but suddenly Celestia was there, having leaped gracefully up onto the counter in a single bound.
"Yipe!" The chef yanked his hoof back as Celestia swiped a clawed paw at it. When he tried to reach out again she flattened her ears and hissed.
"Hey, mamma cat. I'm not trying to hurt your kittens, I just want them off the counter." He reached for Twilight slowly, but Celestia leaped to stand over her, hissing and yowling at the chef.
"Okay, okay, no touching, right." The Chef stepped back, sitting on his haunches and holding his hooves up in a gesture of surrender. "But please, I've got a lunch to make, and I really need to see if I can salvage the salmon. Gaston is going to be furious if he doesn't have fish for lunch."
Still regarding the chef with a wary eye, despite his obvious surrender, Celestia picked Twilight up by the scruff of her neck and jumped down from the table. She looked back at Cadance, who leaped down the way she'd come up. With the pink kitten following behind, Celestia towed Twilight out of the kitchen and into the palace halls once more.
Some time later, Twilight was starting to get a little bit bored. They were currently in an empty parlor. The room was used for small diplomatic gatherings and Celestia sometimes had afternoon tea there when she wanted to do so in company with more than one pony. It was a large room, scattered with chairs, couches, and other comfortable furnishings. Today it was obviously unused, since Celestia was otherwise occupied.
She'd checked far too many similar rooms in the palace, with no sign of the crystal in any of them. It was getting a little bit tedious. Twilight licked a paw and groomed her face, not even fully noticing that she was doing so. Suddenly something bowled her over. She tumbled sideways, a blur of pink blocking her view of the pinwheeling room. When she halted, lying on her back on the floor, the blur resolved itself into Cadance, who was sitting on top of her, looking down with a distinctly mischievous expression on her face. She leaped off of Twilight and assumed a half crouched pose. Then she did an odd little dance, moving her front paws and then bringing them together.
Twilight blinked as she recognized the dance. It was a kitten's best attempt to do the "Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake" dance, and indeed Cadance finished by shaking her short, fluffy tail. Twilight grinned, feeling suddenly playful. Never mind the hunt for the crystal for now. She could afford to take a few moments and play. No doubt Cadance, not even knowing what they were looking for and thus unable to help, was even more bored than Twilight.
She repeated the dance back at Cadance, and with her tail raised and her paws down at the end, giving one more little tail wiggle and pouncing on the other kitten was the most natural thing in the world. Cadance squeaked as Twilight bowled her over, and the two rolled over several times, but somehow Cadance came out on top again. She batted at Twilight playfully with her paws, the claws safely sheathed. Twilight swiped back and squirmed, trying to get out from under her. This toppled Cadance over, and she fell to the ground, but immediately scrambled up again.
With a feeling of playful glee, Twilight leaped at her again, and the pair tumbled around on the carpet. They wrestled back and forth, while Celestia looked on with a somewhat aloof air, no doubt above such kittenish behavior.
It was honestly very delightful to just let everything go and play. It made Twilight think of being a little filly and playing endless games of tag or hide-and-seek with her babysitter. She could hardly imagine doing something like that as an adult alicorn. Yet she was glad she had this excuse to revisit those memories as the two kittens rolled around on the carpet.
Eventually Twilight managed to pin Cadance for a moment, but Cadance kicked out with her hind paws, sending Twilight tumbling. Panting a little bit, Twilight lay on her back, throwing her paws up in surrender.
Cadance grinned down at her, then flopped over on her side next to her.
Twilight yawned. Their playful wrestling match had worn her out a little bit. She should probably go back to her search. But the luxurious carpet was quite comfortable and she needed to at least catch her breath. She would get up in a moment, once she'd recovered a little bit.
She yawned again, and before she realized how tired she really was, she'd fallen asleep sprawled out on her back, with Cadance likewise sleeping curled up beside her.
Twilight opened her eyes slowly, feeling wonderfully comfortable and rested. Afternoon sunlight was filtering into the parlor, but that wasn't the first thing Twilight noticed. No, the first thing she noticed was a pair of intense, purple eyes staring straight into hers. She squeaked and jerked her head back, then realized that it was Celestia, who was sitting next to her with her paws tucked tidily beneath her and her tail curled around her.
She was staring rather intently, as if she'd been watching Twilight sleep all this time. A warmth against Twilight's side proved to be Cadance, still curled up neatly into a little ball of pink fluff.
Twilight rose and stretched luxuriously, working her claws through the thick carpet. That felt surprisingly good. Twilight kept doing it for a while, but eventually stopped and prodded Cadance with a paw until she woke. It was time to continue the search for the crystal.
There was a sudden loud bang at the center of the room. Twilight, acting on pure instinct, found herself under a large couch before she even had time to recognize the sound of a slightly sloppy teleport. Looking into the room at floor level, she saw Cadance under an ottoman nearby, and Celestia behind a chaise longue. Four dark blue hooves were also visible in the middle of the room, and Twilight recognized Princess Luna.
Twilight's fur was still all standing on end, though, and she had no desire to come out from her hiding place.
"Twilight?" Luna bent down and peered under the couch, which made Twilight instinctively scoot back, pressing against the wall.
"Twilight? I have discovered a spell which mayhap shall return thee to thy usual form."
Twilight hesitated, lifting a paw uncertainly. Her feline instincts were telling her to stay right where she was. But if Luna had found a solution she really should come out and let Luna test it. Luna's face withdrew, leaving just her hooves in view once again. Twilight crept a few steps forward. There was a soft "pop!", and a moment later a little gray mouse toy on a string dropped in front of the couch.
If Twilight could have spoken, she would have said, "Really?" She could, and did, roll her eyes mightily. Yes she was a kitten, and yes she was having a teeny, tiny, little bit of trouble with kittenish instincts, but she was still Twilight Sparkle, and being lured out by a mouse was plainly ridiculous. She backed up against the wall again in sheer annoyance. She wasn't just a cat! It wasn't her fault that she wanted to... to... The train of thought was derailed by seeing the mouse wiggle. Her tail twitched. Pouncing on it was so tempting! But no, it would be against her dignity.
A moment later the mouse was lifted away. There was a long pause. Then Twilight heard Luna murmuring, so quietly that her pony ears probably couldn't have picked it up, "If I were Twilight... hmm..." There was another pause, then Twilight once again heard the soft "pop" of an item being teleported in. Then something else was lowered on a string, but this time it wasn't a mouse, it was a book.
Specifically, as it settled to the ground and Twilight could read the spine, it was an original copy of Gallineigho's Mechanics. Twilight's eyes went wide. The Royal Library had a second edition, but an original? She scurried forward and rested her paws on the book's cover, staring at it.
"'Tis my personal copy," said Luna, her voice filled with amusement.
Somewhat sheepishly Twilight looked up at her. "Mrow," she said, folding her ears back.
Luna chuckled. "I shall let thee peruse it at thy leisure once this difficulty is past. For now I believe I have a spell that shall return thee to thy customary form. Shall I attempt it?"
The glow of magic gathered around Luna's horn, growing slowly brighter as she built her spell. Twilight suddenly felt an electric tingle that made all her fur stand on end. The light flared brighter, until Twilight had to close her eyes.
When she opened them again, she was still looking at the room from ankle level.
Luna heaved a sigh. "It seems I have failed. And duty must keep me until sundown, I fear. I hope thine efforts shall yield better results."
Twilight sighed too, nodding. She hoped they did as well. Luna picked up her book and trotted out of the room. Twilight didn't object, though she did make a note to take Luna up on her offer to let her borrow it later. Right now there was no time for light reading. Though perhaps she should consult a few books herself. Powerful, area-effect spells sometimes created interference patterns. The crystal was likely to be at the intersection of such a pattern. Given the right formula, the size of the spell, and the location she'd been in while casting she might be able to calculate the crystal's location.
With this new goal in mind, Twilight meowed at the other two cats, and headed out of the room with both of them once more following behind. She felt energized after her afternoon nap, and practically sprinted through the palace halls. With this energy, pulling an all-nighter studying to work out the crystal's location should be no problem, should it prove necessary.
Slipping into the library was simplicity itself. Even at night the main library was nearly always open. As she walked along the rows of shelves towards the books on magical geometry that she'd need, she scanned her surroundings for the crystal purely by habit.
A glint just visible on the highest shelf of one bookcase caught her eye and she halted, surprised. Surely that couldn't be the crystal? Backing up so that she could get a better view, Twilight peered into the somewhat poorly lit upper shelf. It was! The fail-safe crystal that would return all three alicorns to their normal selves! Twilight's tail lashed in excitement. All she had to do was to reach it somehow.
Her ears flicked as she considered the problem. The shelves were far enough apart that climbing them would be a fairly difficult task. But without her wings and with a non-functional horn that was probably her only option. She should see if she could reach from one shelf to the next...
Suddenly she realized that her feet were dangling off the ground. She kicked and flailed, panicked for a moment before seeing that she was being carried by Celestia. Cadance was draped over Celestia, apparently half asleep and not minding being carried about on Celestia's back. The bigger cat was holding Twilight by the scruff of her neck and walking away from the shelf holding the crystal.
Twilight started kicking and struggling again. She had to get to it! She had to fix her mistake and make everything right again! She flailed frantically, but it accomplished exactly nothing. Celestia easily held her off the ground, and her grip though gentle was very firm.
Celestia ignored her protests and continued carrying both kittens out of the library.
"Mew! Mrow! Me-aaaawn." Twilight's final protest was interrupted by a huge yawn. Her heavy eyes drooped half closed. Apparently the earlier nap hadn't really helped. Twilight yawned a second time, realizing exactly how tired she was after the day's adventure. Well, young ponies needed more sleep than adult ponies, and adult cats slept quite a lot. Young kittens probably normally spent more time asleep than awake! Perhaps that was why Celestia was towing her off, to find a safe place for them to all sleep.
Indeed Celestia proceeded up a flight of stairs and into the residential area of the palace, stopping before long at a very familiar door. The dark wood and silver moon inlaid on it marked it at Princess Luna's bedroom. Celestia pawed at the door and waited. When it didn't immediately open, she set Twilight down and yowled loudly while pawing again.
The door swung open and Luna regarded the trio of cats. She lifted one eyebrow. "What chances?"
"Mrow! Meow! Mow!" said Celestia firmly. Then went she into the bedroom, nudging Twilight ahead of her with her nose. Cadance, who had slid off of Celestia's back while she was pawing at the door, yawned hugely and stumbled as she followed the other two inside.
"Ah, art thou and the little ones tired, then, my sister?"
"Mow!" said Celestia loudly. "Mreeow!"
Luna chuckled. "I see. Very well. I shall provide a place for thy slumber." Her horn glowed with magic, and a round cat bed, luxuriously padded with soft fabric, appeared on the floor. Celestia picked up Twilight by the scruff of her neck again and deposited her firmly in the cat bed. She dropped Cadance in as well, then jumped in and curled herself around the kittens.
The last thing Twilight heard as she closed her eyes was the sound of Celestia purring contentedly.
Twilight woke to the sensation of a rough cat tongue on the top of her head. For a moment she felt wildly disoriented, then she remember the previous day's events. She wiggled around until she could get her paws under her and jump out of the cat bed. This time Celestia let her go without insisting on grooming. Cadance was still curled in the bed, but Celestia herself rose and left the bed as well.
Luna had set the cat bed next to her own bed, and Twilight could see her lying in it, sleeping soundly. Since she had probably needed to raise the sun, no doubt she hadn't been sleeping long. A few slivers of morning sunlight were peeking into the room, past the heavy drapes that were drawn over the windows.
Celestia jumped up into Luna's bed and climbed across it, with no care for avoiding the slumbering alicorn. Luna shifted, and then let out a sound of drowsy confusion when Celestia climbed atop her and started meowing.
"Mrow! Meow! Mow!"
Luna blinked sleepily at Celestia. "Sister? What is it?"
"I would appreciate being allowed my sleep. I have gotten little of late," said Luna grumpily, nudging Celestia off of her with one hoof.
Celestia just climbed up again, sitting on Luna's chest and staring intently at her. "Mrow!"
"Argh. What must I do to get thee and thine to leave me in peace?"
Luna pushed Celestia off of her again and sat up. "Very well, I am up, I am up." She rubbed her eyes and stretched her wings out. She shook herself a bit and, looking at least slightly more alert added, "I suppose thou art hungry? And the kittens also?"
As soon as she said it, Twilight felt her empty stomach rumble. She was practically starving. "Mow!" said Celestia, and jumped down from the bed. Luna yawned again and climbed out. "I shall see to it. A moment." She left, and Twilight could hear her saying something to somebody outside the door of her bedroom. Luna reappeared. "I have sent for food. It shall be but a moment."
Celestia walked over and rubbed against Luna's ankles. Luna smiled and petted her head. Twilight wondered why Luna didn't seem to find Celestia's feline situation strange. She also wondered what being petted felt like. Giving in to her impulse rather than her instinct this time, she went over to Luna and rubbed up against one hoof.
"Ah, art thou feeling left out, kitten?" Luna smiled at her rather mischievously. Twilight flicked her ears uncertainly, but when Luna started petting her, stroking from her head along her back, Twilight couldn't help but relax.
She nearly jumped when she started purring, she hadn't expected the involuntary reaction. But that felt good too, purring was also relaxing. She was nearly half asleep again when the door opened and a servant came in carrying a tray.
"The cat food you requested, Highness," she said, and set it down beside the bed.
"Thank you," said Luna. She picked up the tray in her magic and set it on the floor, then removed the cover, revealing three dishes heaped with soft, brownish stuff. It looked strange and unappetizing, and Twilight didn't even want to think about what it might be made of, but the scent of the stuff wafted to her nose and her instincts kicked in, making her drool. It smelled wonderful.
Before she could think she was up to her whiskers in the dish, wolfing down the food. She ate until she couldn't eat any more, then licked her whiskers clean and sat back with a replete sigh. She looked up and saw Celestia, sitting next to her untouched dish, and watching Cadance, who had eaten a bit more neatly than Twilight, finishing her food. When both kittens were done, Celestia crouched down and started eating delicately, taking neat bites of the cat food and licking her whiskers frequently.
After she finished, Twilight went to the bedroom door and pawed at it, meowing and then looking expectantly back at Luna.
"Time to resume thy work, aye? Well, I shall go about mine as well, afore long. I am awake now, so sleep shall wait." Luna opened the door and Twilight dashed out, with Cadance bouncing cheerfully behind her and Celestia once again following at a more sedate pace.
She hurried to the library, and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw that the crystal was still sitting atop its shelf in the mathematics section. Twilight reached up, and found she was just barely tall enough to hook her claws in the shelf above her head. With a lot of heaving and scrabbling of her hind feet, she hauled herself onto the shelf. She stood on her hind paws again and repeated the awkward struggle. Once on the next shelf she looked down. The ground was already dismayingly far away, and Celestia and Cadance were both watching her intently, Celestia with a faint expression of worry.
She reached up again and pulled herself up once more, nearly falling this time when a flailing paw caught on a volume of trigonometry and sent it tumbling off. She let out an alarmed squeak and heard it answered by a distressed mew from Celestia below. Fortunately her claws held firm and she scrambled up again. Just two more shelves to go. She was getting tired, but she got onto the next to last shelf with only a little further struggle. Now she just had to haul herself up the final shelf to the crystal.
Twilight gripped the shelf with her claws and pulled herself up. Her chin came above the shelf and she could see the crystal only an inch or two from her nose. It was so close!
"Is this what thou hast been seeking?" Luna's familiar voice startled Twilight and she nearly lost her grip. A blue glow surrounded the crystal and it was lifted away from her. She let out a squeak of dismay. All that climbing and if she'd just waited a few minutes Luna could have come along and gotten the crystal down without effort.
Unfortunately the distracting thoughts kept her from realizing that her grip was slipping. A moment later she'd lost it and was falling.
Panic was the first thing that flashed through her mind. She was falling! Then she felt herself twisting instinctively and remembered that cats always land on their feet. She would be fine.
Then the world took on a blue tint and she stopped moving. Luna had caught her in her magic. "There, poor kitten. Forgive me for startling thee from thy perch." Luna set Twilight on the ground, and set the crystal down next to her.
Eager to finally be herself again, Twilight instantly pounced on the crystal. Being a cat had been interesting, but she wanted her magic back!
Pink light blossomed out from the crystal, wrapping around all three felines and then growing to a blinding white glow. When it cleared three alicorns were standing there once more, restored to their old selves.
"Oh thank goodness!" said Twilight. "I can talk again! Wow, that was really annoying!"
Celestia's low, melodic chuckle filled the space between the shelves. "I found it rather relaxing."
"Well, you were kind of more cat-like than Cadance and I," said Twilight. "That probably helped."
"Ah, yes, of course," said Celestia with a smile.
"Cadance?" Twilight looked at her sister in law, who had a rather uncomfortable expression on her face, "Are you all right?"
"I'm a little bit queasy," she said.
"Oh no! Did the restoration spell do something wrong?"
"No, I was feeling kind of off for the last few minutes as a cat too. I think I need to... oh dear." Suddenly she lowered her head, making a disturbing gagging, coughing sound, followed by a damp splat as she coughed up a hair ball.
All four alicorns, Luna included, stood and stared at it for a moment.
"I think it's time for me to go," said Cadance, looking sheepish. "Shining will be missing me." A moment later, she had teleported away.
"Yes, I must return to my bed," said Luna, and she turned and trotted briskly out of the room.
"And I have many neglected duties," said Celestia, who also turned and left.
"Uhm. Well, I guess the mess is my fault, it was my spell," said Twilight. She looked at the hairball again. "I'll just... go get a maid."
Sometime after sunset, after Luna had slept and Celestia had made at least some dent in the work she had left undone the day before, the pair sat on a patio in the gardens.
"I find myself curious, sister," said Luna, after sipping her coffee, "What was it like, being feline?"
"Oh, I don't truly recall that much," said Celestia, brushing her off. She sipped her tea with her usual serenity.
"I did observe that thou didst indulge thy feline nature much more than thy companions," said Luna. She sounded rather amused.
One corner of Celestia's mouth quirked upward, but she merely took another sip of her tea and said nothing.
"'Twas a merry jest to see Twilight and Cadance beset by their kittenish natures, I do avow. Though Twilight must always be Twilight. She refused the lure of a mouse, but came from cover when presented with a rare book."
Celestia chuckled slightly. "My former student can be rather... fixated on books at times."
"Indeed. Though she seemed to likewise fixate on her cat food. I would not wish to know, were I her, how the stuff is made. But her expression while eating..."
"Oh yes. I wish you could have seen her expression when she got into the kitchen and found a plate of salmon," said Celestia, her smile broadening slightly.
"Aye? I could swear that I did hear thee claim to lack recall, mere moments ago."
"Oh, ah, well..." Celestia flushed slightly, embarrassed as much at being caught out as at anything else.
"So thou canst remember thy time as a cat?"
"Well... yes. In truth my mind wasn't muddled at all, I recall everything."
Luna grinned. "And yet I can quite clearly recall thy most feline behavior."
Celestia made a little throat-clearing sound. "It was... well... relaxing, I suppose. Cats don't have affairs of state, or public image, or anything else to worry about. And I have to admit I have missed being little Twily's second mother. She doesn't need my mothering any more these days. Trying to shelter and protect her would just upset her and stunt her further development. But I want to sometimes all the same. Being 'mamma cat' was an excuse to indulge myself a little bit."
"Ah, ha, ha, ha!" Luna couldn't help herself, she broke out in laughter. "Mamma cat! Oh sister!"
Celestia put her ears back and stuck her tongue out at Luna, who only laughed more.
"I shall never let thee forget this, Celly kit."
"Never?" asked Celestia, arching one eyebrow.
"A thousand years from now I shall remind thee that thou wert eager to play at being a dumb beast." Luna grinned broadly.
Celestia rolled her eyes. "Well, I suppose it could be worse."
"Oh aye. The Diamond Dog ambassador could have been visiting!"