12.1 (Stainless Steel Fox)
Diplomancy – Ticket Master
Twilight had had a suspicion of what was going to happen from the time she'd come to help out Applejack, which had turned into a solid belief when she heard about the farm-pony's bet with Big Mac and now turned to certainty as Spike burped up a letter with a Royal seal. Oh great, it was that time again.
“A letter from Princess Celestia!” Twilight had been thinking about this day, and how to handle it better than she had the first time. She'd always felt guilty about how the Grand Galloping Gala had turned out for her friends. The after-party they'd had at Donut Joe's had been fun, but all the anticipation and excitement, leading up to that massive disappointment... At least these loops would be good for something. Spike was reading the well remembered words.
Hear ye, hear ye. Her Grand Royal Highness, Princess Celestia of Equestria, is pleased to announce The Grand Galloping Gala to be held in the magnificent capital city of Canterlot, on the 21st day of, eh, yadda yadda yadda, cordially extends an invitation to Twilight Sparkle plus one guest.
“The Grand Galloping Gala? Woo hoo...” As Applejack's expression lit up, she schooled her own to be less illuminated. “What's the matter sugar-cube? I'd have figured you'd have been as pleased as a hound dog with two tails to wag!”
As Spike burped up the two golden tickets, Twilight replied, “It's a great honour to be asked, and it'll be wonderful to spend time with Princess Celestia... when she's not doing her duties as host. I guess that's why the two tickets, so I can bring a friend to keep me company. It's just, I've never been, but from what I've heard there's certainly no galloping. It'll be a big bunch of nobles standing around comparing egos and wallet sizes. I'll fit in about as well as a spell book in a rack of ledgers and fashion magazines. Have you been to one Spike?”
“No, and I plan to keep it that way. I don't want any of that girly frilly frou-frou nonsense. “
Applejack cut in. “Well if he ain't interested, I surely would. Land sakes, if I had an apple stand set up, ponies would be chowin' our tasty vittles till the cows came home. Do you have any idea how much business I could drum up for Sweet Apple Acres? Why, with all that money, we could do a heap of fixin' up 'round here.” Applejack’s eyes became distant. “We could replace that saggy old roof, and Big Macintosh could replace that saggy old plough, and Granny Smith could replace that saggy old hip. Why, I'd give my left hind leg to go to that gala.”
“Uh...” Twilight raised a protesting hoof. “You do realise it's held in the palace grounds? It'll probably be catered by the palace chefs. Your wares would be up against fancy hors d'oeuvres made by the finest chefs in Equestria...”
She was interrupted by a vertically descending Rainbow Dash. She glanced up and materialised a thick mattress over her and Applejack's head that intercepted the plummeting pegasus like a catcher's mitt. As she lowered it down, the pegasus sprang off and asked, “Are we talking about the Grand Galloping Gala?”
Applejack huffed. “Rainbow Dash, you told me you were too busy to help me harvest apples. What were you busy doing, spyin'?”
“No, I was busy napping, and I just happened to hear that you have an extra ticket?” The irrepressible pegasus replied, hovering upside down in front of Twilight.
“Yes, but I'd have thought you of all ponies wouldn't find a fancy dance like the Gala interesting,” Twilight replied.
Dash began to spin her fantasy about how going to the Gala would be her ticket into the Wonderbolts, and Twilight wondered why she hadn't spotted the many, many flaws in the pegasus' plan the first time. Probably because she had no more idea of what the Gala was really like back then than they did, and had been just as excited. She felt even more guilty. She was the one who always did her research, who found things out, and she'd let her friends down by not checking this. Still, she could at least do something for Dash.
“This performance... It's one of their most spectacular and important?”
“Yup!” Rainbow Dash preened.
“Requiring split second precision and teamwork?” Twilight pressed.
“And if some-pony dived in the middle of it and threw off their timing, the whole thing could unravel?”
“Yes... wait what? Uh....” Rainbow Dash gave a rueful chuckle and rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof. “Heh, heh, I guess I hadn't thought of that. But I could still go and spend time with them, get to know them.”
“Uh huh, Twilight was goin' to offer me the ticket, weren't ya?” Applejack interjected. “I asked first!”
“That doesn't mean you own it, c'mon, I'll hoof wrestle you. Winner gets the ticket.” Rainbow dashed over to a stump and held up a hoof and Applejack quickly joined her.
Twilight managed to push them apart before they got started. “I'll decide who gets the ticket, they're mine after all. But I don't think either of you would get as much out of going as you think. As I was saying to Applejack, the Gala will be catered by the Palace kitchens part of the ticket price, and while I'd pick her confections over some frilly palace hors d’oeuvres any time, those upper crust Canterlot party-goers will probably stick their noses up at buying stuff off a cart.”
She rounded on Dash. “As for hooking up with the Wonderbolts, I suspect every-pony at the party will have the same idea. I doubt you'd get any more time with them than I'll have to talk to the Princess. I have to go,” Twilight emphasized, adding just a bit of a slouch to her stance. “The Princess invited me by name, and I can't disappoint her, but you don't have to.” Her stomach rumbled, and she gave an embarrassed little grin.
Neither Applejack or Rainbow Dash looked pleased.
Applejack exclaimed, “It sounds like you'll don't want us to go!”
“Yeah, what's the matter? Aren't we fancy enough to be with you at the Gala?” Rainbow huffed.
“Girls, that's not it at all...” Twilight cried out, but the pair of them were walking off in opposite directions. She gave a big sigh and hung her head. This wasn't going to be as easy as she thought. “C'mon Spike. I'll wait until they've both cooled down. I need something to eat anyway.”
“Now that's an idea!” the little dragon enthused.
She levitated the dragon up onto her back, and as an afterthought, levitated all the remaining baskets of Golden Delicious over and into the barn before heading back into Ponyville. In the distance she could see the two other ponies continuing their interrupted hoof-wrestling match.
As they walked through the town towards the central square, Spike asked, “So who are you giving the ticket to?”
“I'm hoping no-pony!” Twilight said. “Not that I wouldn't love to have both of them there as friends, I was just trying to make sure they weren't disappointed...”
Even fore-knowledge couldn't always save you from the bouncing ball of chaos that was Pinkie Pie. Exactly why she shot out of the top half of an open door would remain a mystery, but her destination quickly turned out to be Twilight. Pinkie Pie landed on the road, and the two golden tickets landed on her muzzle.
“Gah! Bats! Bats on my face!” She engaged in the usual zipping around like some insane ground bound firework, then finally realised what they actually were and went off into her own little fantasy land about what the Gala was like. Twilight reckoned it was better to let her run down on her own, so she left well enough alone until Pinkie finished with, “Oh thank you Twilight, it's the most wonderful-est gift ever. “
Twilgiht attempted some damage limitation. “Y'know, that doesn't sound like any description of the Gala I've ever heard. It’s more of...”
“Are those what I think they are?” Rarity was there gazing at the tickets clutched in Spike's hand.
“Yes, yes, yes! Twilight's taking me to The Grand Galloping Gala in Canterlot,” Pinkie said, completely ignoring Twilight’s hoof-waving.
Rarity was starry eyed. “The gala? I design ensembles for the gala every year, but I've never had the opportunity to attend. Oh, the society, the culture, the glamour! It's where I truly belong, and where I'm destined to meet… him.”
“Him! … Who?” Pinkie Pie asked, and boy did she get an answer. Twilight still couldn't believe that Rarity had ever fantasised over a worthless piece of horseflesh like Prince Blueblood, but then for someone who'd never met him, his title and appearance might make his superficially attractive. Prince Blueblood was one pony she thought couldn't improve even if he were stuck in a time loop. As for becoming a Princess, well, Twilight had ideas along that line for those of her friends, but hooking up with Blueblood wasn't one of them…
“Twilight, I simply cannot believe you would invite Pinkie Pie so she can... party, and prevent me from meeting my true love. How could you? Hmph!” Rarity folded her forelegs.
Twilight couldn't help it, the idea of Rarity calling Blueblood her true love was just so silly she burst out laughing.
“Well, really!” Rarity growled. “You don't believe that the Prince would be interested in a simple Ponyville girl such as myself?”
“No, I mean yes, but...”
“Maybe he'd see more to me than you obviously do!” The white unicorn flounced off, looking annoyed.
“That's okay, you were going to give the ticket to me anyway...”
Pinkie Pie was interrupted as the ticket was snatched out of his claws by Angel, who dashed back to Fluttershy with it. “Angel, these are perfect.”
Twilight rubbed her forehead with a hoof. “I haven't made any decisions about the extra ticket yet.”
“You haven't?” asked Pinkie Pie, shocked, and Rarity appeared by her side.
Fluttershy asked. “Um, excuse me, Twilight. I would just like to ask, I mean, if it would be alright, if you haven't given it to someone else...”
Twilight sighed. “Let me guess, you're interested in seeing the Princesses' private garden.”
Fluttershy hesitated, then was urged on by Angel. “Oh my, yes! Well it is only open the night of the Gala, and that's the only night all the flowers will be in bloom, not to mention the fauna, the humming hummingbirds and the buzzing buzzards... “
“Wait just a minute!” Rainbow Dash dropped down from the sky.
“You were following me, “ Twilight sighed.
“No. I mean, yes. I mean, maybe. Look, it doesn't matter. I couldn't risk a goody-four-shoes like you giving that ticket away to just anybody.”
“Wait just another minute.” Applejack was there too.
“And the gang's all here!” Twilight rolled her eyes. The five ponies were getting into a five way argument, and her stomach was rumbling. “Right now I could eat just about anything, even oatmeal.”
“For lunch? Oatmeal? Are you crazy?” called out Pinkie Pie before she returned to the fray.
No-pony was happy right then and there, and they made no secret of it as they complained. Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity all seemed to share the opinion that she didn't think them suitable for a fancy party, Pinkie Pie was… well… Pinkie Pie, but it was the depressed Fluttershy who tugged at her heart strings the most. Maybe she should tell them what she had planned, but she wanted to get everything organised first.
Twilight lit off her horn and threw up a firework spell which went off with a bang. “Quiet!”
She sighed. “Girls, please don't argue. Applejack, I already explained why I don't think you'll get much out of going to the gala with a cart, and Rainbow, it's not going to get you into the Wonderbolts. Rarity, Prince Blueblood may look the part, but he's really not your type. Pinkie Pie, the Gala isn't the sort of party you're thinking off, a formal ball, not a carnival. And Fluttershy, you aren't even bothered about the Gala, you're only interested in the gardens.”
“Huh, it sounds like you don't want any of us to go to the Gala!” Applejack said.
“Not like this!” Twilight was getting fed up of not being fed. “Right now, I'm going to get myself some food. Meet me at the library at sundown, and I will try and work this out so everyone goes away happy.”
“You will?” They chorused, looking happier.
“Yes, now I've got to go!”
“Rainbow, I am not comfortable accepting unwanted favours, so I'd appreciate it if you close up that rain cloud right now.“
Twilight materialised an umbrella for the table at the restaurant as Rainbow Dash sealed up the hole she'd made in the clouds. “I said sundown, and I meant it!”
Just as she was about to take a bite of the sandwich, Rarity appeared with her own private rain shield. “Twilight, it's raining!”
“Yes, yes I had noticed,” Twilight sighed.
“Come with me, you should get inside before you catch a cold.”
“Let me guess, you just happen to have a dress for me that's perfect for the Gala, and you just happen to have a matching dress.” The Anchor rolled her eyes.
Rarity blushed. “Well, maybe? But that's what friends do for one another, and we are the best of friends, are we not?”
“A true, true friend would trust me to do the right thing, and wait until sundown.” Twilight growled. “Oh, and let me eat my meal in peace!”
“Did someone say eat?” Applejack's voice drifted over. Twilight quickly munched on her daisy sandwich before the farm-pony's covered cart got there. Seeing all the goodies stacked inside would make her even hungrier.
Before the farm-pony could even speak, Twilight cut her off. “No, your farm made treats may be delicious, but they're a bribe, just like the dress Rarity made. I expected more from you. I told you, sundown!”
She finished off her sandwich and dashed away, with Spike on her back and a purple shield protecting her from the rain. As expected, Fluttershy was inside, spring cleaning.
“No. Thank you for the help, but I'm not accepting favours from anyone. That's not what friendship is about. Sundown!”
As she let the pair out (and had Angel bunny kick her in the fetlock en passant) she was dragged out of the door by a pair of pink fore-hooves.
Her horn lit up at the top of the first bump, and she brought herself to a stop in mid-air. “Pinkie! Sundown, no sooner!”
She teleported back to the library, and slammed a purple energy dome over the whole place. She had a lot to do, and she couldn’t afford interruptions… or being chased around by the crazed horde of ponies that would manifest when Pinkie spilled the beans.
At sundown, with her preparations done, she raised the dome. A few moments later, there was a knock at the door. Spike opened it, and the five ponies trooped in.
“Have you decided...?” It was hard to tell which pony had asked first.
“Will you let me say something first?” Twilight’s tone made them all pause. “Do you have any idea how bad you made me feel by trying to force me to choose one of you? Whoever I chose, I'd leave four other disappointed ponies, four friends I let down. I may be still learning about friendship, but bribing me and trying to cheat each other out of the ticket? I'm sure that's not it. You are all my friends, and I want to make you all happy, and with just one extra ticket I can't!”
All five ponies looked back and forth between each other guiltily. As she hoped, each of them relinquished their claim on a ticket, even Rainbow Dash.
“We're sorry, Twilight!” they all said, in chorus.
Twilight smiled. Just because she intended to change things up, didn't mean she couldn't make the same point as originally. It had been a lesson for all of them the first time, and one of the first bonding experiences as a group. Now to the fun bit.
“That being said, it did teach me an important lesson about friendship. That while sharing your blessings with friends is one of life's great pleasures, it isn't fun unless you share it with all your friends equally.” As she finished, the others’ faces went through various shades of puzzlement.
She levitated seven tickets from the open saddlebag on the table and laid one in front of each of her friends. “I wrote to Princess Celestia asking if you could all come. She said yes.”
The other ponies burst out in cheers. So far so good.
“Don't thank me just yet. I heard some of you say I didn't want you to go because I thought you weren't good enough for a fancy place like Canterlot.” That stopped Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash cheering, and the others stopped out of politeness. “Nothing could be farther from the truth! You're my friends, and I want the very best for you. I didn't want you to go to the Gala because I was trying to protect you from being disappointed!”
That got them all looking curious.
“I spent the afternoon doing research, and gotten direct confirmation from the Princess herself. She considers the Gala to be one of the dreariest, awful, most stuffy events of the year. And she's been doing it for a thousand years or more!” Twilight doubted that any of them understood quite how wearying a thousand years of boring social occasions would be… but she herself had at least some idea, and a little of that came across in her speech. “As host, she has to put up with it, and if I can do anything to relieve her boredom, I will be by her side. That's why I have a ticket.”
“Applejack, taking a cart of goodies to the Gala will not net you the piles of money you hoped. It's fully catered, as I thought, and the sort of ponies you'll be selling have never bought off a stall in their life. They'll snub you, and all you'll bring home is sore hooves from standing around all night,” she shook her head, “along with a cart full of leftovers.”
Seeing the farm-pony slump, she continued.
“But if you go as a business mare, and talk to the ponies there, you might be able to pick up some contracts for Sweet Apple Acres. Speaking of which,” she winked, “I also found out who to talk to at the palace about supplying the apples for those fancy hors d’oeuvres I mentioned, and you've already catered the Summer Sun Celebration for the Princess. I can set up a meeting, and I'm confident once the chefs at the palace have tried your apples, you should get that contract. That should net you enough money for your Granny's new hip. As for the plough and the barn...”
She lifted the pony bust off its pedestal and smashed it to pieces with her telekinesis, then cast a Reparo spell. It magically restored itself. “Let me have a look at them first before you hoof over any money.”
“Twilight, this is too much...” Applejack started to say, but Twilight waved her silent.
“Rainbow, I did some checking and I was right, the Gala is the busiest night of the year. I sent a letter to Spitfire herself, and she gave me a good idea of what they expect. It's the duty no-pony wants, being dragged around by ponies eager to get their picture taken, having to listen to endless dull stories from ponies who just want to be able to name drop. It's possibly the worst time to try and get to know a pony.” After all, Dash had only managed what she did the first time by a complete fluke that had proven nearly impossible to re-engineer.
“You talked to the commander of the Wonderbolts directly?” The cyan pegasus was incredulous.
“Not directly. I never really thought about it, but my position as Celestia's personal student does mean I have some status in court.” Rarity hid a grin at her self-deprecation, guessing at the probable depth of understatement. “Besides, my brother Shining Armour is adjutant to the Captain of the Guard at Canterlot castle, and it's likely he'll take over the top slot when Commander Ironhoof retires next year.
“As adjutant, he deals with relations between the Royal Guard and Equestria's other services such as the Wonderbolts. They are often drawn from the Royal Guard and vice versa. He knows Spitfire personally, and he helped get my message through.”
Rarity's eyes went wide. “Your brother is going to be Captain of the Royal Guard?”
“Yep!” Twilight giggled. “Sorry, though, I think he's spoken for. My old foal sitter, Princess Cadence, I think she has a thing for him, and vice versa.”
That had all of the ponies wide eyed. “Sugarcube, I had no idea...”
“I don’t normally talk about it, I don't want ponies to think I'm all high and mighty.”
Spike chuckled. “Yeah, High And Mighty is a unicorn stallion and the second biggest snob in Canterlot after Prince Blueblood.”
Twilight grinned. “I also mentioned that I knew a pegasus called Rainbow Dash who was one of the most awesome fliers I knew. We shall have to see if that goes anywhere, but mentioning things like your one pony controlled tornado and the way you cleared the sky in ten seconds flat apparently piqued her interest. I'm hopeful she'll spare a few hours to come down and see you before the next Young Fliers Competition in Cloudsdale. I've gotten you your chance to meet her, what you do with it is up to you.”
“OhmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohmygoshohMYGOSH!” Rainbow Dash didn't look like stopping any time soon, so Twilight moved on to Rarity.
“When I said Prince Blueblood wasn't your type, I didn't mean you weren't good enough for him, I meant the opposite. Spike will back me up on this,” and a glance at the dragon showed he was nodding vigorously. “He's efficient, I'll give him that. No-pony else could combine such stupidity, arrogance, narcissism and inability to admit any other point of view than his exists, let alone has any validity, in one pony. In fact,” a grin flashed across Twilight’s face, “it would normally take three. I would not set my worst enemy up on a date with him, let alone one of my dearest friends.”
Twilight could remember how Blueblood had treated Rarity originally, and in some of her earlier loops had found out far more about him than she wanted to know.
“However, I've decided that I shouldn't assume any pony is beyond help, even Blueblood.” After all, miracles happened – and that wasn’t an entirely sarcastic thought, either, what with one redeemed deity and another. “Also, I think you'd be the one pony who'd enjoy the gala for what it is. So what I'm going to do is give you a chance to study him and decide for yourself before the Gala. You said when we first met you wanted to go to Canterlot and enjoy the sophisticated atmosphere. I should have seen I could help with that long before now.”
“It's going to take time to arrange, but Princess Celestia has agreed to let you stay at the palace for a couple of weeks, in the East Tower. It's normally used by visiting ambassadors, so it should be comfy enough.” Vast understatement. “I'll write to Cadence and let her know you're coming, I'm sure she'll want to meet one of my new friends, and she's about the friendliest pony I know.
“Spike knows more ponies outside the Royal family, as Princess Celestia brought him up after I hatched him. I was thinking of asking him to go as your assistant.” She turned to Spike. “You know Hoity Toity, don't you?”
Spike hadn't been privy to this wrinkle, and was over the moon. “YES! I mean yes, after I helped him out with the thing at the place. I know High Hat, Fancy Pants, Diamond Dust... all the ponies any-pony should know! But don't you want me here as your assistant?”
It was clear he was torn between going with Rarity and worrying Twilight didn't need him any more. She gave him a gentle smile. “Oh Spike, I'll always need you, but I can manage for a few days on my own. If things become desperate, I'm sure I can come ask for help.”
Rarity was still stunned at the idea of staying at the palace and getting personal introductions to the most important ponies in Canterlot. “I... East Tower... Princess... oh, my...”
She collapsed backwards in a swoon with a smile that looked like it would have to be surgically removed. Twilight manifested a fainting couch to catch her.
“Well, that went well.” Twilight grinned. “Rarity, eyes on the prize, or rather Prince Blueblood!” (Still a prize, though usually with the word ‘buffoon’ appended to the end.)
That got her unfainted in a hurry. The purple unicorn continued. “The idea is to give you a way into Canterlot society, and go to the same sort of events he goes to. You'll be able to watch him and make your own decisions, and in the meantime, I'm sure you can promote your skills and get lots of dress orders as well. So when you go to the ball, it won't be as some unknown, but as the exclusive fashionista Rarity. So even if Blueblood turns out to be unsalvageable, you'll still enjoy the night to its fullest.”
“Oh Twilight!” Rarity gasped, “It's more than I ever dreamed!”
Twilight turned her attention to Fluttershy. “I can get you in to the Royal Gardens a lot sooner than the Gala, if you're willing to accept some restrictions. The problem is, the animals in there aren't as... well, they've all lived in the gardens their entire lives and they're not used to strange ponies as your animal friends. If you just appeared, you might scare them off before they could get to know you.”
“Oh my, that would be terrible!” Fluttershy gasped. “But I'm sure I could get them to come to me if I just treat them gently.”
“Maybe,” Twilight replied, knowing otherwise – Fluttershy’s talent was one thing, but for animals that delicate it would take weeks to work on its own. “But if you want to visit them, you'll have to do it in the company of Mr Greenhooves, the palace gardener. I think you'll like him, he's… sort of your counterpart for the palace gardens. I think he knows every animal there by name. With him along, he can help you overcome any timidity they show. By the night of the gala, you'll be familiar to them, and you should be able to enjoy the blooming without a problem.”
“Well, if I have to...” Fluttershy said in a slightly downcast tone.
“Trust me; I want this to be the best night ever for you, which is why I'm not leaving anything to chance. Though there is one other pony you may meet. Princess Luna spends a lot of time in the gardens, in the evening at least.”
“Princess Luna?” Fluttershy asked nervously. “She won't be... mad at me?”
Twilight sighed, rather theatrically. “Right now even getting mad would be an improvement. I've been corresponding with Princess Celestia, I kind of felt responsible as I was directing the Elements of Harmony when we freed her. She still feels really guilty about Nightmare Moon, about what she did, she's not a happy pony. I guess there's no way she could be after what she's gone through. She's hiding away from things. Princess Celestia is worried about her, and I am too. She's back to her original form physically, but she's nowhere near ready to take back her duties.”
Twilight could see Pinkie ready to explode, and cut the fuse.
“Pinkie, normally you'd be perfect for cheering her up, but for now she needs some-pony less... energetic. What she really needs right now is a friend, somepony who won't judge her, won't try to force her to be anything she isn't ready for. That's why I'd hoped if Fluttershy met her, she might be the right pony to bring her out of her shell.”
“Oh! Oh! Has she turned into a snail?” Pinkie asked. “Is that why you need Fluttershy to talk to her?”
“No she hasn't, but she needs gentleness right now.” She turned back to the pegasus. “Fluttershy, you don't have to if you don't want to, in fact I can make sure your visits are scheduled so you don't, but if ever there was a job for the Element of Kindness, this is it.”
Twilight felt slightly guilty, she knew what buttons to push, and engaging Fluttershy's 'mother to all things living' reflex and pointing it at Princess Luna could be considered manipulation of the worst sort. But it should be so good for both of them. With Fluttershy's support, Princess Luna would hopefully recover much sooner than she originally had, and having someone like Luna as a friend should help Fluttershy's confidence no end.
She could see the subtle changes, the straightening of the wings, the slight narrowing of the eyes, and knew the bait had been well and truly taken. Fluttershy was now on a mission.
Finally, she turned to Pinkie. “I'm sorry, there's no way to make over the Gala into the kind of festival you described. It's a fancy formal ball, and that's what all the other guests will want. It may not be what you or I consider fun, but it is to them. I can get you books on what the Gala is supposed to be like, but I can't do anything more about it.”
“Don't worry Twilight!” Pinkie beamed. “There's no kind of party I can't handle!”
“I'm trying to get you a chance to help out at the Hearth's Warming Eve celebrations at the castle, which will be exactly that sort of festival you want. We can all go together, and I'm sure with your unique touches, it will be the best Hearth's Warming Eve ever!”
At that Pinkie did explode in a burst of streamers, and started bouncing around. “Two parties for the price of one! Of course, we're not paying admission so that's still zero, but this will be so super-duper-fantastically-amazing.”
Twilight relaxed, it seemed she'd succeeded. Every-pony seemed happy, and if she'd advanced things several months for most of them, that just meant they'd have more time afterwards to enjoy the memories.
“Uh, Twilight?” Applejack spoke, and Twilight worried that she'd left something out. “I think we all owe you a huge apology. You went to all this trouble, and after the way we squabbled over that durned ticket. You didn't need to do this. We're your friends, through thick and thin, and that ain't gonna change.”
“Yes, I did.” Twilight was relieved. “I know you're all my friends, and what I did wasn't some kind of trick to get you to like me more. I just want the very best for my friends, I didn't think you could get what you wanted from the Gala, and I just happened to have the ability to make sure that you could get it some other way. It isn't like I've given it any of you on a silver plate, you'll still each have to work to get what you want, but I could help you along, and that's what friends are supposed to do.”
A tea pot floated out of the kitchen, followed by a box of the Cakes' finest cakes. “Now let's have some tea, and enjoy just being friends.”
“You did what.”
Dash shrugged helplessly. “He asked!”
Twilight sighed. “What did he ask?”
“He asked me what would be a good idea for a story, and I told him about one of those Transformers Loops. Then he got all excited, and started writing.” Dash pointed. “He’s over there. Scorch Mark, I think his name was.”
Twilight shook her head, looking the unicorn over. He seemed entirely too excitable…
“Ah, there you are!”
Before she could fully process his words, he’d hurried over. “I love this story! Do you know anypony who could help with the special effects? I changed a few things, of course, because doing giant robots is a little bit harder to make work than magical transforming beings, but…”
Twilight picked up the script – surprisingly complete, given he’d only had lunch to work on it. “Transformares?” She opened it and skimmed through. “This… actually, it’s not as bad as I’d feared…”
“I could help with the cool explosions!” Dash volunteered. “I love them!”
“Hmm…” Twilight pondered. “I could go find Trixie. She’s good with this kind of thing too. Especially explosions. And Rarity’s always good for costumes.”
“The only problem is who would fund such a film,” Scorch Mark said, slumping slightly. “Making convincing transformations is going to be very expensive…”
“Actually…” Twilight slowly smiled. “I have an idea that could save money.”
“Hello, Queen Chrysalis of the Changelings. My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I’m helping with the production of a film which could use your talents and those of your hive. As such, I’ve negotiated with the director and producer to secure their approval to offer you a very lucrative contract, with ten percent of the gross being transferred to your hive and with sundry other benefits.”
“…what?” Chrysalis managed, staring at the purple unicorn who’d materialized in her inner sanctum.
“By sundry benefits, I include but do not limit the description involved to the fact that you and all other Changelings will become film stars, resulting in an overall highly positive opinion of your race and making it much more easy for you to sustain yourselves. Any transformation for which a given changeling requires more magic than they currently possess will be facilitated by our Kindness and Laughter assistant directors, who specialize in positive feelings,” Twilight rattled off.
“And you want us to…” Chrysalis read through the contract in front of her, feeling very confused. “…be actors in a film? Where we change from normal ponies into giant beasts which fight one another?”
“One set of them the villains, the other set the heroes,” Twilight confirmed. “Remember, amongst the benefits there’s that you’ll end up able to integrate with the ponies of Equestria freely, and that ponies will have overall positive opinions towards you.”
“…this bears some thought…” Chrysalis mused.
Fluttershy staggered out of the movie theatre, and collapsed onto a bench. “I feel… overwhelmed…”
Dash and Pinkie left next, excitedly talking about the premiere. “So awesome!”
“Yeah!” Pinkie bounced. “And was that big blast of prism dragonbreath-”
“You bet it was! Sonic Rainboom, perfectly timed!”
Spike hurried out with a big box of popcorn, entirely finished. He was keeping it because he was on the side – Twilight had managed to make his ‘Spike-Zilla’ transformation controllable, so he was one of the biggest monsters in the film.
Rarity took off her earmuffs. “I knew these were a good idea! That film was very impressive, but just so loud!”
“Yeah,” Applejack agreed. “Still, it was kinda cool seeing all o’ them giant monster fights.”
“I don’t know if you’ve heard,” Twilight said to Trixie, as they left last of their group, “But he’s already started work on a second script. He wants Princess Luna to get involved.”
“Oh?” Trixie still had a flush from excitement – seeing hundreds of ponies loving her work was an amazing thrill. (And the huge amount of bits she was going to get from the film wouldn’t hurt, either…) “What is this one about?”
“Not sure yet. Probably going to have even more explosions, though, so you and Dash won’t be out of work.” Twilight winked. “I do have the title, though. Transformares: Dark of the Moon.”
She’d finally worked out what was going on, after checking her extensive collection of fiction from the hub-loop. They’d found a pony variant of Michael Bay.
No wonder he got on so well with Trixie and Dash…
Spike turned, nearly knocking over a shelf with his tail. “Whoops… what is it, Twilight?”
“Well, two things. First… don’t you think you’re overdoing it a bit?” Twilight pointed. “I mean, you’re kind of… big…”
Ever since Twilight had showed Spike how to adjust his own relative age (and hence size), he’d taken to growing at least three feet right as they arrived in Ponyville – usually overnight – and calling it a growth spurt.
“Maybe. If this doesn’t work, I’ll go back down a notch.” Spike shrugged. “What was the other thing?”
“Well, I’ve been meaning to ask… why is it that you like Rarity?” Twilight winced, and tried to clarify. “That might have come out wrong. What I was actually asking was… okay, first time around when we turned up in Ponyville, it seemed like a crush, and… you know. But you’re older now, and…” Twilight made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know how to put it.”
“No, I get you.” Spike carefully manoeuvred around the stacked returns and headed for the kitchen. “I’ll make some tea.”
“Okay, so you’re kind of right.” Spike passed Twilight her tea. (Earl Bay.) “It did start off as just a crush – like with Moondancer, in Canterlot. But…”
Spike stopped, and sighed. “It’s hard to put. I think it really got started back when I had that…greed growth incident.”
Twilight nodded sympathetically.
“See… I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Rarity isn’t a particularly nice pony, by nature.” Spike waved his claws, as if to fend off disagreement. “Let me finish. Her first instinct is always for herself – stealing some of a dragon’s hoard, or how well she’s doing with her dresses, or how much she’d love to be a model… but – and it’s a big but, a big, glorious-”
“Get on with it,” Twilight mock-growled. “Or I’ll start thinking there’s an extra t in there.”
“You got me.” Spike grinned. “Anyway. Her first instinct is for herself, but she knows that and she tries as hard as she can to overcome it. Even when she’s not Awake, you can see it – and the Looping Rarity has pushed it so far back you could barely tell it was there.”
The dragon paused, and blushed. “Is it strange that I really like a mare with self control? The kind of self control that could make a dragon into an altruist?”
“Yes,” Twilight said flatly, and Spike chuckled at her tone. Inside, however, she was making all sorts of realizations.
“…she reminds you of you, doesn’t she?” Twilight said softly. “Or who you want to be, I don’t know. Somepony – someone, I suppose – who’s got the control to restrain their darker impulses.”
“Pretty much.” Spike shrugged. “There’s other bits, too – she’s smart, graceful, we like a lot of the same things and she does look very good, but what I just said is kind of the core.”
“And you know it’s real because of her Element,” Twilight continued.
“Yeah. Mind you,” Spike momentarily let a flame-gem in a golden gorget flash into being around his neck, “I’ve got one too…”
“You’re really proud of that, aren’t you?” Twilight could remember when he’d got it. A very, very strange Loop where Spike – as a young adult dragon – had replaced Rainbow Dash as local weather coordinator, Element of Harmony et cetera. (It turned out he really was the new Rainbow Dash, for certain values of ‘new’. Though Ponyville had had a suspiciously arid climate that Loop…)
Spike nodded, his hand going to where it had been. “It’s kind of the… proof, I suppose, that I’m doing things right.”
“…aaaaaaaAAARGH!” Applebloom screamed, and ran out of the class.
Scootaloo put up a hoof. “Miss Cheerilee? Shall Sweetie and I go get Applebloom back?”
Cheerilee nodded tiredly. “Fine. Just go ahead. I’ll expect you to do well on the history test next week, though…”
The other two fillies shot out after their friend.
“And as for you, miss Tiara, you’re going to take notes for poor Applebloom,” Cheerilee continued.
“But I only-”
“I know all you said was that she didn’t have a cutie mark, and I don’t know why she reacted so strongly.” Cheerilee dropped some extra sheets of paper in front of the pink filly. “But she did. So get writing. And I’m going to check them afterwards to be sure they’re good ones.”
Diamond Tiara gave an exaggerated sigh, and started writing down notes about the founding. Cheerilee stayed another moment to see how they were going, then nodded. Not bad, actually… Tiara did good schoolwork, and got along fairly well with the rest of the class most of the time, but something about her and the ‘crusaders’ just kept striking sparks.
Scootaloo bounced over a hill, using her wings to control her jump even if she couldn’t fly with them. “Over here!”
Sweetie came over the slight rise next, and the two of them sat down on either side of Applebloom.
“Okay, what is it?” Sweetie asked.
“I just… gaah!” Applebloom kicked the ground. “If she was just an idiot I could ignore her. It’d be hard, but I could. But… I keep thinking of that second Marecross Loop.”
The others nodded, understanding. Flight Coordinator Diamond Tiara had run her squadron with a rod of iron, browbeating them in public over the slightest mistake… and had brought eleven out of twelve pilots out the other side of the war alive. That was a little over half the entire surviving roster from the six squadrons on board.
“She was a bitch, but she was a bitch for a reason,” Scootaloo agreed. “I hated it when she was tearing me apart over that flubbed transformation timing, but if we’d done it against the Zentraedi…”
“Yep.” Applebloom made an explosive gesture with her hooves. “Bang, zoom, right to the moon. And when that isn’t coming up, it’s the time she ended up in charge when the machines attacked… you know, the metal-changeling-things?”
“Yeah…” Sweetie agreed. “I think I’m seeing why you left.”
“Exactly.” Applebloom shook her head. “Every time there’s serious trouble, she rises to the occasion like she was born to it! And then she goes back to being the petty, small minded jerk we’re used to.”
“Maybe we could ask Twilight to have Nightmare Moon win next time, to see what happens,” Scootaloo suggested idly.
Then the Crusaders exchanged glances.
“Actually…” Applebloom said, slowly.
“Diamond tiara action!”
Nightmare Moon flinched backwards as the spinning item of jewellery came close to her face.
Below the rooftop that Applebloom and the other Crusaders were hiding on, a battle was taking place. Golden Voice, Silver Spoon, Platinum Star and the other Jewelry Scouts were devastating dozens of moon-born creatures of the night, while their leader – Diamond Tiara – kept Nightmare Moon herself at bay.
“…ah think we got a defective Loop…” Applebloom said, watching in stunned amazement.
“Yep,” Scootaloo concurred. “It’s like somepony took a Sailor Moon Loop and reversed the naming theme.”
12.5 (Lord of Bones)
Celestia backpedalled in fright as her student was consumed in a pillar of seething violet fire. Around her, the court assembly panicked as they heard the roar of a dragon just before the entire palace shook, as though a small earthquake had hit it. The sides of a vast pair of spread wings were easily visible outside, considering they blotted out the sunlight streaming in from between the pillars and windows.
The firestorm in the audience chamber slowly died away, revealing an alicorn only slightly smaller than Celestia herself. An armoured brace ran from the base of the glowing black horn down her neck, with a cuirass of the same metal protecting her chest. Both wings blazed like fire; one the feathery wing of a pegasus, the other the bat wing of a thestral. Her mane and tail were clouds of hissing violet flame, and her hooves were shod in silver.
On her flank, the deep purple of Twilight's cutie mark glowed malevolently.
Her former student spread her wings and opened sultry violet eyes. "I am queen of the end of day and the beginning of night! Here I say, and so it is truth, that I shall rule! Bow, my little ponies, for the Hour of Twilight has come! THE DUSK SHALL LAST FOREVER!" Her voice thundered as the Bearers of Harmony flanked her, all grown to her size and just as darkly beautiful.
There was a dull "thud!", and both assembly and nightmares turned to the sight of Princess Celestia passed out from shock next to a slack-jawed Luna.
"…too much?" Twilight asked meekly.
For once, Twilight woke up in bed.
Wait a minute, the lavender pony thought as she stirred, that’s not quite right. Er… for once, I’ve started the Loop in a bed. That’s much less ambiguous.
Delicate matter of nomenclature thus resolved, she crawled out of bed and looked around.
The room was expensively decorated, to put it mildly. Nothing too excessive, certainly not opulent, but the simple cut of the furnishings – which were made with fine cashmere and velvet and dyed in her precise coat and mane colours – was a statement in and of itself. And the deep pile carpet was another.
She did a quick check, discovering that she was an alicorn this loop. Further investigation revealed that a number of familiar looking dresses were hanging in the closet, and her Magic tiara was resting on the dresser atop a pile of books.
Now, if only my Loop memories would return…
Someone knocked on the door. “You up yet, Twily?”
“Yeah, just a minute!” Twilight called back automatically, then blinked. Apparently she was still living with her parents. Which meant something unusual was going on this Loop…
“Okay, but hurry up,” the voice continued. Twilight frowned, because despite it being male she couldn’t quite identify it – it certainly wasn’t her father’s, but the door distorted it, “or I’ll have to reverse gravity in there to make sure you’re not still in bed!”
At that precise moment, the memories arrived.
“Oh, buck me…” Princess Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Trottingham, younger child of King Discord and Queen Celestia, said to herself.
Not only were she and Crown Prince the Prince of Horseshoe Bay Shining Armor (both alicorns, as it happened) the children of Discord and Celestia – who had taken kingdom titles, for whatever reason – but several other familiar faces were also turning up in various important positions.
Princess Luna, for example, was the former heir to Equestria’s throne, but was now third in the line of succession after her sister had produced two children. For her part, she was as of yet unmarried – something of a blessing for Twilight, who was starting to wonder if the alicorn of the night would have been married to Angel Bunny or something. Or Blueblood… shiver. (He was, as it happened, a duke this time – duke of Canterlot. And one without any blemishes on his record of service. Either this was a different Blueblood or he was planning something.)
Furthermore, the nearest other kingdom was Amoria. Ruled by – Twilight was almost expecting this – King Sombra and Queen Chrysalis, though the fact that their daughter was Cadence was a completely new twist. Oh, and then there was the fact that Spike was pulling his occasional “ruler of the Griffins” trick, and that there had been several border incidents between Equestria and Amoria in the last few years.
It was obvious what the Loop had planned for her.
“Shiny.” Twilight walked into her brother’s room, noticing the same combination of tasteful and insanely expensive that marked her own room – though with the addition of maps and a complete suit of armour piled in various places around it. “Please tell me that the word ‘anchor’ means something to you.”
Her brother blinked, then grinned. “Yep. This is one hay of a strange Loop, isn’t it?”
“Yep.” Twilight pulled two bottles of Applejack’s finest cider out of her subspace pocket, then blinked at Shining. “Do you want one?”
“Er… okay.” Shining watched, bemused, as Twilight pulled a third bottle out, levitated it across to him and then started on the first of the two she was apparently going to have.
After a long draught of apples – well, mainly apples – Twilight felt a lot more alicorn. “Okay. What happens now?”
“Seems fairly obvious.” Shining’s grin could have lit up the room. “Two words, little sister. Dynastic marriage.”
“…oh.” Twilight managed a weak smile. “Okay, I suppose that is a good thing on your part, then. You and Cadence, just like every time.”
“Exactly. You know, you should find a somepony for yourself,” Shining ventured.
“Nope.” Twilight shook her head. “Most other Loopers are female, which… just doesn’t really interest me. The rest are Spike – who is spoken for – and Discord, who doesn’t loop often anyway and who I didn’t have an interest in even before he became my dad for this loop.” She took another drink of the cider. “Good thing this stuff is non alcoholic.”
“Er…” Shining raised a hoof. “How long has that been in your subspace pocket?”
“…oh, right. I wondered what the extra tang was.” Twilight levitated a drop out of the bottle and put it on a spatula, which promptly dissolved. “Huh. Probably best not to drink much more of that now, then.”
“I’d say so.” Shining nodded. “And I can see you’ve put some considerable thought into this, so I won’t press you on it. Anyway, I’m going to get dad-”
“La la la!” Twilight interjected.
“Look, we have to get used to calling him that for now, okay?” The elder, male, alicorn wondered just how strong that cider actually was, watching his little sister bounce around the room with her hooves over her ears. “Right. Okay. So, I’ll make sure a message is sent asking about the possibility, because quite frankly when we turned up things were on the slippery slope to a war.”
“Cool.” Twilight nodded. “Well done, Shining, for preventing a war by getting nookie. Anyway, I’m going to go to the library.” She spread her wings, and Shining caught her tail in a telekinetic grip.
“No flying while drunk, Twilight.”
“No fair.” Twilight pouted, then began walking to the library instead.
Princess Luna, Princess of Manehattan, stomped into the throne room. “Thy younger child, mine sister, has taken a quarter of the books in the library and removed them to her room.”
“…oh.” Queen Celestia frowned. “Can’t you get her to give them back?”
“She is.” Luna shook her head wearily, and the rulers noticed a bruise on it. “She’s throwing them back out, with little slips saying ‘finished’ on them, at a rate that approximates to three per minute.”
King Discord nudged his wife. “Told you that my side would come through eventually!”
There was a small explosion, and the castle shook.
Luna rolled her eyes. “If my liege will excuse me, I suspect that that may have been the distillery I saw her setting up.”
Celestia buried her head in her hooves. “And she was doing so well…”
“Well, this is a new experience,” Twilight muttered.
Her brother shrugged. “Next time, make sure to put stasis spells on magically potent drinks, or they’ll turn into magically potent alcohol.”
This time they were in her room, and Twilight was busily writing an essay. The theme was ‘why princesses should not brew volatile alcohol in their rooms’. (That was from her mother. Her father had added to that punishment, but also given her three gold stars and a new bathroom.)
“Still.” Twilight finished the current paragraph with a flourish, and cast a word-count spell. Nine thousand, two hundred and fifty three words.
“Cheer up!” Shining said, nudging her. “Only another thirty-one thousand to go.”
Twilight suspected she’d have gotten off lighter if the scumble hadn’t gang-detonated and blown her outside wall clean off the castle…
“Your majesty,” Blueblood raised a hoof, “There is one more matter, now that the vows have been taken.”
“What is it?” Celestia replied, with a smile. Blueblood had been very helpful in getting the wedding organized, so this was hardly unusual.
“Well, this needs to be a bit more of a Blue wedding.” There was a sudden flash of steel, and a dagger emerged from his tuxedo. Dozens of ponies charged into the room, wielding weapons, and a goodly number of the guests also drew steel. The dozen griffins around Emperor Spykoran looked around warily.
“You see,” Blueblood continued in the sudden stillness, “I’ve always wondered what it feels like, sitting on a throne. And now I get the change to have three at once.”
Twilight started laughing. “You’re a moron.”
“What?” Blueblood turned, stung. “It’s valid! So long as I kill you all in the right order, so that the two lovebirds technically inherit, and then I kill them too, since I have a position in the line of succession I can legally obtain the twin crowns. And the griffins give the throne to whoever kills the previous Emperor.”
“No, not that!” Twilight fell over, rolling around on the floor in paroxysms of hilarity. Between the gasps of laughter, she managed to get out, “You just tried to assassinate eight deities and a greater dragon!”
Blueblood turned back to Celestia, who was by this point glowing a dull yellow with heat. “Ah. Er… parley?”
“Good suggestion, Twilight!” the king of Equestria said, grinning. “I never thought of using the moon as a holding cell.”
“So long as thou dost get them off mine satellite soon…” Luna said, less happy about the whole thing.
“Oh, I had an idea for that, too.” Twilight levitated up a map. “Here. The island of San Equus. No pony habitation there, the griffins never run trade lines that far south and there’s enough grass to keep them alive.” The young alicorn’s grin grew malicious. “Why not even make it an independent kingdom? See how many of them are content with being bossed around by Blueblood.”
Chrysalis matched her daughter-in-law’s grin. “I like it. Poetic justice.”