15.1 (expanded by Filraen)
Rainbow Dash awoke lying down in a cloud over Ponyville. The sun was warm and the wind soft so instead of checking through her loop memories, apparently too much work for now, she lazily decided to check which other ponies were Awake. Feeling the connection to the Element of Loyalty she realized everypony was-
One of her friends was in pain. It couldn't be a physical feeling, because no physical injury would hurt so deeply or cause sadness so deep. One of her friends needed her. The response from the Element of Loyalty was as automatic as breathing: making a Sonic Rainboom from her lying position she flew in a direct line towards the source of this feeling. It was only moments later, only because she realized she was going to crash into her friends arriving at the front door, when she realized she was heading straight to the library.
She managed to dodge them, though the library now had a Rainbow Dash shaped hole in a wall and had a few bookshelves that had to be organized, but it was all right as she could see Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy…
"You all right, Rainbow?" Applejack asked, pushing some books off her.
"Yeah, AJ." Rainbow stood up and looked to her friends "Must be Twilight."
Noting how Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were already going into the next room Applejack nodded once and then pointed to them "Come on, let's hurry."
Fluttershy was glad all she and all her friends were awake this loop. She was sure none of them would have forgiven themselves if they were unable to do anything for Twilight because of not being awake, even if she'd have preferred Rainbow not making another door in Twilight's house. But that barely mattered as they went to the bedroom, to meet Twilight Sparkle crying on her bed hugging a photo frame.
"Er… Twilight," Fluttershy blinked, "what's the matter?"
Leaving the frame on the bed Twilight spread her hooves. Recognizing the signs of a recent bad experience, the others crowded around her to give her a group hug. To Applejack's surprise, Twilight started really wailing this time. Not just the confusion or sadness from one or other of the strange loops… this was a deeply personal grief. As time passed and the sun set she could feel the pain receding, if only slightly.
Eventually Twilight hiccupped to a stop. "Okay… sorry, guys. This was just…" a sniffle. "I hate this."
"Bad Loop?" Dash asked. "How bad could it be?"
"No, not bad." Twilight shook her head. "In many ways it was the complete opposite. Okay, basically, I was the only one there, and it was fairly close to our prime loop." she broke off to sniffle again. "I thought it was just like baseline Equestria, actually, and I was planning on something to do with the – with Sombra, so I let things happen. But I got… attacked, by some kind of cult who wanted to resurrect Nightmare Moon."
"That doesn’t sound much like Equestria…" Applejack muttered. "All the cults ah ever heard of turned into fan clubs when the relevant god or alicorn turned back up."
"Yeah, there’s a reason this one was different." Twilight sniffed. "But, basically, it was successful and really wrong at the same time. They got Nightmare Moon back, alright… but about Apple Bloom's age, with no memory of her past life and not evil.
"I just…" Twilight shook her head. "I let my guard down. I was stupid, really. I know we – all Loopers – are prevented from having children by Yggdrasil, but I forgot why."
Fluttershy felt a sinking feeling inside her when she realized what she would have done in Twilight's case. If this filly was a reincarnation from Nightmare Moon she would have been received so much rejection from many ponies, and if she really didn't have any memories from her time as Nightmare Moon, if she really wasn't evil, if this really was the chance to redeem the corruption on Princess Luna…
"You adopted her, I bet!” Pinkie said, as if completing Fluttershy's thoughts, then her face fell. "Oh, Twilight…"
"Yeah," Twilight croaked, taking the frame photo on her bed and showing the photo -of her and a black filly alicorn- to her friends. "After all, if she really was a threat, Nightmare Moon was still weak so it was supposed to be safe. So I called her Nyx, and… and she was dear to me as anyone I’ve ever known. And…"
Twilight didn’t finish. Everypony there felt her pain of what happened. One moment, Nyx was there… and the next, gone as if she’d never existed, and to never exist again.
"Anyway," Twilight forced herself back up, "I don’t really feel like dealing with Nightmare Moon this time… can you girls handle it?"
Rarity pondered. "Probably. Can I borrow the Element of Magic?" Twilight wordlessly took it from her subspace pocket and placed it on Rarity's head. "We won’t be subtle, though."
15.2 (Another Kind of Magic fused loop)
“Trixie is confused.”
“Yes, I know.” Twilight looked over. “Remember I mentioned the loops? Sometimes they do strange things like this.”
“It is just Trixie’s luck that her first proper one is so unusual.” Trixie frowned, then her eyes widened. “Wow. Tri-I mean, I, have a whole new set of memories?”
“Yeah, those happen too,” Twilight said casually. “Apparently we’re sisters in all but name here. Neat.”
“So…” Trixie grinned. “This is actually quite fun. Apparently that dragon of yours rather prefers me over you.”
“Well, Spike isn’t mine, or yours. He’s his own being… we just pay him.” Twilight shrugged. “Actually, though… here’s the deal. I won’t get involved this Loop.”
“In what?” Trixie frowned.
“Well, I’ll still do all the library stuff, and so on. And help you out with learning more magic… but I won’t take the Element of Magic this time. It’s your turn.” Twilight grinned. “Consider it a final exam.”
“What?” Trixie’s jaw dropped. “I can’t… I mean… you’re ridiculously skilled at magic! How could I be worthy of it if you-”
Twilight chuckled. “It’s sometimes hard to get the hang of just what the time loops mean, isn’t it? I’ve been Looping for a long time, Trixie. I’m not much like the introverted scholar who first went to Ponyville. In fact, you might find it easier making friends than I did. Just…” she made an indefinable gesture. “Make sure to be more like the Trixie that you became after Ponyille, not… before.”
“You do not need to tell Trixie twice…” the blue-coated unicorn muttered. “And why do I remember your brother being very unfair to me?”
Twilight scanned her own Loop memories. “That would be because this version of you likes setting off homemade explosives. Hey, look!” She opened a chest and brought out a scroll. “Twilight Sparkle’s five step checklist for when Trixie Lulamoon has access to explosives.”
Trixie snatched it from her. “Stage four: duck and cover? And stage five is how to fill out an incident report for the Guard!”
“Guess this version of me really knows you well,” Twilight teased.
“Okay, well done,” Twilight said, as Trixie climbed into bed in the library after a long day of celebration, for the return and purification of Princess Luna. “But… what did you say you did to Nightmare Moon?”
Trixie paused, adjusting the covers. “Uhh… a flashbang spell that blinded her long enough for me to retrieve the elements, then I threw an anvil at her, launched a firework bigger than my entire body and blew half the castle wall off, then dropped the ceiling on her. After that I used a triple-detonation spell, an accurately kicked rock, an attracting point, and was about to start working up one of those Force Burst spells you taught me when the others arrived.”
“…wow, overconfident much?” Twilight managed.
“Actually, no,” Trixie flourished her hat. “Part of my talent is knowing how to trick a crowd – and so I launched a combination of highly pyrotechnical attacks mixed in with ridiculous cheap shots. It kept her off balance for long enough that the others could turn up, but I didn’t think I could actually beat her.”
“No, for direct combat I usually have to use alicorn mode,” Twilight confirmed.
Trixie stared at her. “You have to use what?”
“…I’ll explain later.”
“Hmmm…” Twilight paged through a book on Zebra potion making. “I wonder how that would work…”
Chrysalis looked over the pilfered map from the Canterlot guardhouses, and sent approval to the changeling who had stolen it. “Good, good. Not too much longer before we can strike…”
There was a purple flash overhead.
Intruder! jangled through the empathic Changeling network, alerting the guards and sending them soaring into the air in their hundreds.
By the time they reached the place the flash had occurred, however, there was nothing there. Not even on their empathic senses.
Just a bottle, which said ‘open’.
The changelings conferred amongst themselves, deciding to let their queen handle it. Accordingly, one of them picked it up – and it slipped out of his hooves.
Good going, Murphy… every other changeling in the hive thought at once.
Then the bottle smashed on the hive floor.
“Right,” Twilight said, adjusting her binoculars. “Potion bottle applied to changeling hive. Bottle has been dropped, potion release anticipated at ten-twenty-three and fourteen seconds.”
The magic-crystal recorder next to her took down every word.
Then there was an almighty green flash and she was standing in Paradise Valley.
“…oh, buck,” Twilight muttered. “Experiment conclusion: Love Poison applied to changelings results in explosive positive feedback. Not recommended.”
She let out a long sigh. “Now I have to endure a Loop where Rainbow Dash dresses in style. Again.”
“Does any pony dare to challenge Trixie?”
Twilight had a slight smile on her face. This was Trixie’s first ‘baseline’ loop, so it would be interesting to see how she handled it…
This time, Applejack went first. She spun her lasso, demonstrating a most impressive grasp of how to handle a rope and how to make the practised little flips that would cause it to change direction seemingly out of nowhere.
Trixie nodded. “So, your weapon is a lasso. Interesting.” Trixie’s horn lit, and she unfolded the back half of her wagon to make a larger, square stage. “First fall, first contact or surrender?”
Applejack blinked. “What?”
“Well, Trixie did say challenge…” Trixie shrugged. “Trixie thought a battle would be more impressive.”
Twilight frowned. This had the potential to go wrong…
Within five minutes, though, she saw that Trixie had judged right.
Though it had the trappings of a duel or combat challenge, it was actually a bit more like a presentation match. Applejack used her lasso to try and catch Trixie, who evaded – barely, on many occasions – with fancy hoofwork or teleports. Trixie replied with a series of low-power spells, many of which Applejack blocked with the rope of the lasso itself and the rest of which just about missed.
Overall, the effect was of a pair of closely matched and fast-thinking pair of ponies having a fun and entirely non-lethal ‘fight’. Trixie even came off worst, Applejack’s lasso coiling around her tail as she dodged and pulling her backwards before she managed to teleport out.
A bell dinged as Trixie skidded to a stop from a shield-blocked buck. “Right, time is up.”
Applejack stopped twirling her lasso, confused.
The showmare trotted over to her and shook her hoof. “Trixie is most impressed. Good match.”
Applause broke out.
After Dash had demonstrated her own skills, Trixie pondered for a moment. “Hmm… well, Trixie can’t fly. So no luck there. A race?”
“Sure!” Dash replied, grinning. “What rules do you want to use?”
Trixie held up a convenient book. “What about Canterlot rules, third revision, to the outskirts of the town and back?”
Dash took the book, skimmed it for a bit and nodded. “Yeah! If you think you can beat me!”
“On the starting blocks,” Trixie rejoined. “Put your muscles where your mouth is.”
At the ‘go’, the pegasus shot off at high speed. Trixie ran after her, and then vanished in a puff of smoke.
“Hey!” someone shouted.
“That can’t be fair!” another pony said.
Trixie materialized back on stage and crossed the finish line, then looked nonplussed at the booing coming from the crowd. “Oh, what is it now?”
Twilight walked over, having worked out what was going on. “You did say Canterlot rules third revision, right?”
“Yes.” Trixie nodded. “The ones which allow teleportation.”
“No, that’s second. Third only permits non-cast magic.” Twilight pointed to the relevant line in the book.
Trixie blinked. Blinked again, slowly and theatrically. “…oh. Oopsie…”
The booing turned to giggles.
“Oh, shut up!” Trixie said to the crowd, stamping a hoof foalishly. Her hat fell off. “Any pony could have done it!”
Dash shout out of the sky, panting. “Okay, I guess you beat me. How the hay are you that fast?”
“…did I miss something?”
After that, several more ponies tried their hoof at challenging Trixie to something. Several of them lost, more of them won, and Trixie usually either made them look good or made herself look the fool, or more often both.
Though Derpy’s trick, which involved a Klein bottle, just let her to scratch her head and give up.
Finally, she challenged Twilight directly. This time, she let Twilight pick the form of the challenge.
Twilight mused for a moment, and decided.
Tennis. With fireballs.
It was already fairly impressive when there was one fireball going. It was a lot more so when, on an unseen signal, both Trixie and Twilight lobbed another fireball each into the air. And when there were no fewer than fifteen fireballs going back and forth, it started to become obvious that there wasn’t going to be a quick winner in this challenge.
After about ten minutes, Twilight called a halt. “I think we’ll call that a draw.”
“Indeed,” Trixie said, panting a lot more than Twilight was. But then, she’d been on the go all afternoon. “Good game, Twilight Sparkle.”
Trixie gave her a bow, then extended that to her whole audience and many challengers. “And Trixie hopes you have enjoyed the show!”
Fireworks went soaring into the air.
“Well?” Trixie asked, that evening in the Books and Branches. “How was that?”
Then she frowned. “Though I wonder where you put that chair I brought from Canterlot when we moved…”
“That was last Loop, it didn’t happen in this Equestria,” Twilight reminded her. “I know it’s tricky to keep track. And yes, I’m very impressed with how mature you were.”
“It was hard,” Trixie admitted. “But at least this time there hopefully won’t be an Ursa attack.”
Something roared in the distance.
“…oh, you are kidding me.” Trixie sighed, and picked her hat up off the floor. “Can I count on your help?”
“Sure.” Twilight headed for the door. “And yeah, this might not happen every time, but it happens far too often.”
“Hi, Matilda!” Pinkie said cheerfully, mentally crossing her hooves. “What brings you into town today?”
“Ah, hello, Pinkie.” Matilda nodded to her. “It’s good to see you. Well, actually, I wanted to buy some carrots and flour. I plan to make a carrot cake.”
“Oh, neat!” Pinkie’s smile lit up the square. “I know a Carrot Cake! Well, a different kind of carrot cake… anyway, I know how to make an edible carrot cake too! Hold on a minute, I’ve got a special recipe!”
Pinkie hurried back into the shop and started looking, half her mind counting. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen…
On ‘twenty-three’, she bounced back out again with the recipe and handed it to Matilda. “Here you go! I’m afraid it needs to have a few things that aren’t on a normal carrot cake recipe, but I know just where to get them. Applejack’s stall started having a sideline in oranges recently, so you can ask for orange peel there – or just whole oranges and eat the rest, if you want to be daring.” Pinkie giggled. “And the raisins are sold over there, by Sour Grapes.”
“Is he… sour?” Matilda asked.
“Nah, he’s really sweet. But Sweet Grapes isn’t as funny so he wasn’t called that.” Pinkie shrugged.
“Okay. Thank you, Pinkie.” Matilda picked up the flour that Pinkie had put on the table when she wasn’t looking and paid for it. Pinkie’s gaze alternated between Matilda and the other side of the square.
“Oh, did you hear the one about the bats?” Pinkie suddenly said.
“No, I didn’t,” Matilda replied politely.
“Neither did I, but I bet they did.” Pinkie huffed. “Bats hear all the best jokes. Stupid ears…”
The donkey giggled. “Ah, Pinkie, you always surprise me. Well, thank you again!”
“No problem!” Pinkie smiled, then started handling the next customer. That joke should have just about done it…
There was a commotion across the square as Lyra stepped up to the counter.
Yes! “Excuse me,” Pinkie asked the green unicorn, and shot over there.
Two shoppers had collided, as one of them wasn’t looking where he was going. Pinkie helped both of them up, babbling something about how if they’d bumped together closer to a bush she could have helped them with any boo-boos, because she had medical kits hidden all around Ponyville in case of… well, emergency.
“Oh, sorry,” Pinkie said, “where are my manners! I’m Pinkie Pie, and this is Matilda. Who are you?”
“Cranky Doodle. And-” the donkey froze. Pointed at who he’d bumped into. “I remember you.”
Pinke gave them some space. She wasn’t the kind of pony who would interrupt a happy reunion.
But she’d have to get permission to organize a carnival after this. There was party going to waste!
The door to the Sweet Apple Acres farmhouse creaked on hinges that honestly ought to be oiled at some point. Applejack made a note to ask her sister to do it in the morning, then looked to the reason for her door-opening.
Twilight Sparkle stood on the threshold, her hair distorted in unkempt disarray, framing bloodshot eyes underscored by black circles. Applejack looked askance at her friend as the purple unicorn stood in the light shed from the doorway, a slice of brightness against Luna's backdrop… and left eyelid twitching.
"Can ah help ya, Twilight?" the farmpony asked, with some trepidation.
Purple eyes moved, shifting from gazing into empty space to fixate on Applejack.
"I finally figured it out."
One of Applejack's eyebrows quirked.
"Figured what out, Twi?"
The manic grin never faltered even as the unicorn it belonged to spouted exposition.
"Why nothing seems to go wrong anymore. I told myself I'd let this loop develop naturally, but something keeps changing it."
Applejack's quirked eyebrow shifted to meet its counterpart, shifting from curiosity to skepticism.
"I think it started just after we defeated Nightmare Moon. Remember how Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Pinkie Pie pestered me about going to the Grand Galloping Gala?"
Applejack nodded. "Yep. Took y'all pretty much the entire day to get them to lay off ya before th' Princess sent ya more tickets."
A purple eyelid twitched.
"Indeed. But you ALL were supposed to be obsessed with going."
A hoarse voice interrupted Twilight's tirade and caused Applejack to divide her attention momentarily. "Applejack, who is it?"
"It's Twilight, but she don't seem right in the head."
"Course she ain't. Ye've kept th' poor thing on th' doorstep for a while now, invite her in!" Granny Smith said with assurance.
"Right, Granny. Why don't ya come in, Twilight, and explain around the fire?"
Violet bangs rippled back and forth as Twilight Sparkle's head shook in response, and she continued.
"It's happened other times. Fluttershy for instance. When we went to confront that dragon that was blotting out the sun, she grew the confidence to pull through almost a quarter of the way up the mountain. She was meant to not overcome her fears until she was at the top. Mayor Mare knew to put me in with the organizing committee right out of the gate. We visited Cloudsdale without a hitch. Met Zecora so naturally, when ponies had been avoiding her for months. Resolving the Appleoosa situation before it escalated. I never did find out why Discord never showed his face. The parasprites I traced though.I've seen it all play out countless times, and there have been changes before. But not this go 'round. This started as a baseline Loop. I meant to leave it that way, or work out why it wasn’t one. But I've figured it out. Traced it all back to one somepony."
Applejack looked at her friend askance.
"Care to clarify?"
"Somepony else knows what's going to happen ahead of time, and has been changing things so it happens more gently, or the problem doesn't occur at all. Countless disasters have been averted already."
Applejack relaxed slightly, a smile playing at her lips, even as confusion threatened to slip behind her eyes.
"Well if'n they're makin' things easier, ah don't quite see th' problem."
Twilight stamped a hoof against the threshold, the wood responding with a *thunk* that punctuated her statement.
"That's the thing, you have no idea how this has affected the timestream, many valuable lessons haven't been learnt!"
A frown of doubt crossed Applejack's face as she responded.
"Now that's just plain wrong. Y'can't judge somepony by the disasters they avert. Seems to me that's the opposite of what ya should be doin'."
By this point, the other Apples had taken notice of the debate going on across the doorstep. Granny Smith had a hoof to her ear, straining to make the discussion audible. Applebloom was riveted, her eyes and ears soaking in every word. Big Macintosh was just peering over the top of a farmer's almanac, taking in the scene quietly. Twilight's tirade continued.
"Oh, I wouldn't have worried so much if they'd come round and told me what was going on, then I would have been sure this was a normal loop. But nooo. They just continued on. Another pony might have been flashier, utilized the situation more directly to their benefit. Taken some credit, acted more directly or netted some abnormally large benefit. But not our culprit. They're subtle-like. Degrees of separation, a word here, some wisdom there, a bit of encouragement or a pick-me-up right when it's needed, so very innocuous. That's why it took so long for me to realize who was behind it. He almost got away with it too."
Behind Applejack, her younger sister was staring slack-jawed at her brother.
Big Macintosh the Looper had turned an even brighter shade of red than normal, and he was being careful to avoid eye contact with anypony.
“Good news,” Twilight said, passing Trixie some herbal tea. (The showmare had encountered the blend last Loop, learning what Zecora had to teach her, and taken to it with gusto.) “I think I’ve worked out a way to get you introduced to Ponyville early.”
“You have?” Trixie blinked. “I thought I usually turned up fairly early…”
“Fairly, yes,” Twilight dragged the words out, “but not soon enough that I can finagle you an invitation to the Grand Galloping Gala. I know you like that sort of thing.”
Trixie nodded. “Fair point. Can I have Rarity make me a dress made of fire?”
“I… actually don’t think she’s Awake this time, so only if she is when you next turn up.” Twilight shrugged. “Sorry.”
“Ah well.” Trixie gave a theatrical sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to rely on my dazzling wit to wow the crowd.”
“Knowing Canterlot nobility…” Twilight stopped, and pondered. “That might actually work. They do tend to spend a fair fraction of their time coming up with cutting barbs and performing social manoeuvring.”
“Anyway.” Trixie tossed her head. “With that out of the way, what is this plan?”
“Right.” Twilight winked. “Basically, I think by now you can technically count as an old friend. So I’ll simply set things up with an old friend so that they perform the opening act at the Summer Sun festival.”
Trixie gulped. “…doesn’t that mean Nightmare Moon will come onto the stage directly behind Trixie?”
The Anchor shrugged. “Basically. But my brother worked out a spell that should help keep you safe – I can cast it on you before you go up.” Twilight began counting under her breath, then looked up again. “Actually, I have… a spare Intelligent Device, a copy of a thing called the Rainbow of Light, a full set of battle armour from when I recruited you as the head of my guard – back before you Awakened – and…”
Giggling at Trixie’s gradually opening mouth (and expression like Hearth’s Warming had come early), Twilight rummaged in her subspace pocket. “Aha!”
Twilight sprinkled what she’d found on the table. “Twenty-four Cartridges for an Intelligent Device’s feed mechanism. That’s enough for two reloads, assuming you go in with six in the chamber and we spend six practising.”
Trixie blinked. “Are you trying to set me up to fight Nightmare Moon?”
“Yep.” Twilight nodded. “I think I taught you all the really powerful spells over the last few Loops, and an Intelligent Device isn’t actually all that hard to learn to use. Since the plan is to do this next time you’re Awake, we can probably get that practise in now.” Then the purple unicorn grinned. “Even if the result is a stalemate or that you eventually get beaten – and I honestly don’t know which way it would end up going – then it should at least look like you’ve brought me time to get the Elements running.”
“Right.” Trixie’s face set. “That does sound like quite the introduction.”
“That’s the plan.” Twilight frowned. “Oh, don’t forget your Element, either. The passive power of the Element of Magic does things like make spells more efficient, which should help.”
“To say the least…” Trixie muttered. “Trixie cannot believe she is doing this.”
“Anyway. Any pony here from Manehattan?”
Some of the audience raised their hooves.
“Well, so much for thirty percent of Trixie’s material.” Trixie pulled some pages out of her stack of notes and crumpled them up, then threw them away.
Looking at what was left, she blinked… then cantered across the stage to where the bits had gone and picked them up. “That was not according to plan. Trixie definitely did not plan to crumple up the page she was on. Anyway…”
She pointed at a pony in the audience. “What is it that you do?”
“Me?” The pony looked around. “Er… I sell quills and sofas.”
“Quills and sofas.” Trixie nodded. “Right. Trixie supposes that makes as much sense as anything. But doesn’t it get you down sometimes?”
There was scattered laughter.
“The rest of you can ask whoever’s closest to you who actually got the joke,” Trixie said with a sigh.
This time, there was a bit more laughter.
“It’ll do.” Trixie leafed through her notes. “You’re not getting this whole gig, are you, audience? Trixie tells jokes, you laugh. That is how it is supposed to work.”
She put them back down on the nearby lectern. “So, anyway. The Summer Sun festival. Longest day of the year. Trixie can’t help but think we might have got the wrong end of this one, to be honest. I mean, it’s four AM and here we are, up before the sun. If ever there was a day to be asleep when the sun’s up, it’s when the sun’s up for so much of it.”
Suddenly, there was a commotion backstage.
Nightmare Moon stepped through the curtain, batting away incoming guards. “Oh, my beloved subjects-”
Trixie interrupted her. “You.”
Nightmare Moon focused on her, an expression of astonishment on her face. “Why do you provoke me?”
“My name is Trixie Lulamoon. You interrupted my comedy routine.” Trixie grinned as the adrenaline began to kick in. “Prepare to cry.”
She heard Twilight’s voice taking charge behind her, evacuating the building, and reached out to the contingent spells Twilight had helped her set up.
One-two-three, and she was ready for this.
Hat and cape were in place, though the clasp for her cape had been replaced by the Rainbow of Light. Beneath her hat was concealed her Element of Magic – a slim circlet with a wand at the top – and her new Intelligent Device, Loki, was held in one hoof.
But what really showed something was different was the armour. Twilight had made it to the same standards as the Princesses’ own battle armour, and it showed. (It also held the bound-spell version of Shining’s protective enchantment, the other end of which was apparently keyed to an entire mountain.)
Stand by, ready. Set up.
Loki finished the preparations, hovering over her right shoulder in staff form.
Nightmare Moon blinked. “What-”
“You wanted to come back here after a thousand years?” Trixie asked. “Come back and take over as though you’d never tried to usurp sole rule in the first place?”
“My night never got the attention it deserved!” Nightmare Moon shouted back. “It-”
Trixie held up a hoof. “Wait a moment. While this is probably going to end up as a fight, I deplore starting a fight in which I don’t have the element of surprise.”
Before Nightmare Moon had quite finished processing that sentence, Trixie launched off a Missile Storm, and then things got quite loud.
Twilight winced as the town hall exploded. “That’s going to be costly to fix…”
Mind you, it was hardly the first time Ponyville had needed substantial rebuilding. Well, it was the first this Loop, but it seemed to average three or four times per Loop.
Trixie teleported away from an attack by a sliver of a second, fired off three illusions – two of them obvious, one of them just within what she guessed was Nightmare Moon’s skill to localize – and used the moment of confusion to expend three cartridges.
The resultant lightning bolt split the night, shaking the ground and hammering through most of Nightmare Moon’s defences. As she turned to locate the origin point of the blast, a tree fell on her.
“Always the way,” Trixie said to herself. “Misdirection. Feint, feint, kick to the head. Loki, Blaster One.”
Affirmative. Blaster One engaged.
Two semi-autonomous blaster bits flew out of Loki’s launch bay, leaving four still in there. That let her split her fire more effectively, but she still had to actually cast all the spells herself and her horn was starting to ache.
Let it! This is the most fun I’ve had in SO long!
Another dark bolt flew off the Nightmare’s horn, hitting her in the thigh. Protective magic crackled, and what would probably have blown her apart became just a faint ache in the left rear leg. Though there was probably a chunk of mountain missing somewhere.
As the battle escalated, she started relying on Nanoha-style spells more. Thrown objects, fireworks, illusions and just the occasional loud noise had their place, but to actually keep Nightmare Moon off balance took some serious firepower – if she didn’t feel under threat, she’d stop taking the distractions seriously.
Nightmare snarled, as another of the annoying unicorn’s illusions turned to dust under a Dark Bolt.
This was the most infuriating foe she had ever faced! The illusions were too good for her to properly unravel half the time, and when they weren’t they were just there to make her think something. She was being manipulated, and didn’t like it.
And she had to treat all the illusions as serious threats, too, which meant spending FAR too much magic on them. Earlier, the unicorn – Trixie something – had somehow endured an attack that would have blown a hole in a castle wall, and probably the whole castle.
Another illusion appeared, this one just a little bit off. Nightmare Moon determined to ignore it, focusing on the slightly better-hidden signature which could be-
And then a bolt of blue magic speared out of what she’d written off as an illusion, smashing her in the flank and nearly knocking her over.
Then a house landed on her.
Snarling, Nightmare Moon disintegrated the house and took to the air. That pesky unicorn couldn’t be up here!
Trixie winced as Nightmare Moon started levelling the town, methodically pulverizing buildings one by one. Better them than me… that protection spell is feeling ragged.
“The illusion is working?” she asked, hoofing the spent cartridges out of Loki and loading her last six.
“Good… and the town is clear?”
Indeed. A pause. The answer is the same as last time you asked.
Trixie looked around. All six of the blaster bits were active… she still had enough magic… and Nightmare Moon was still shooting things only she could see.
Loki fired off all six remaining cartridges, and Trixie’s reserves swelled back to full. Enough.
Then she dispelled the illusion she’d been maintaining. Across Nightmare Moon’s eyes and ears.
Nightmare Moon blinked as the town below her wavered like smoke. What-
She turned towards the origin of the voice, and saw that infernal unicorn again. Hovering in mid aid, exactly as Nightmare had thought she couldn’t. Gratifyingly, Nightmare had apparently done some damage – the armour was torn in places, and Trixie’s hat was missing. But-
There was a ball of magic building on the end of that strange staff thing.
And something atop the unicorn’s head, which felt surprisingly familiar. A circlet of crystal, with the wand atop it burning with an intense blue flame.
Then, two objects darted from nowhere and wrapped a golden chain around her middle, holding her in place.
“It’s called Enkidu,” Trixie said. “It’s the most powerful binding spell I know, so it should hold for at least a few minutes. I just wanted to explain something to you.”
“Villains – evil doers – ponies who want to be powerful, who want to win and who want to rule over others. They’re always the ones who have all the impressive powers. They’re the ones who you read the stories, and you think ‘wow. I didn’t know any pony could do that.’ You want to be able to do what they could.” Trixie shook her head. “But you never want to be them. And that’s because of something that… almost everyone understands, somewhere deep down. It’s that being selfish doesn’t really work.”
“And that’s for a good reason.” As Trixie continued, Nightmare Moon caught sight of four other objects, each of them with the same gradually growing ball of magic as the staff.
“Basically, good ponies aren’t any less powerful than evil ones. In fact, because they cooperate, because they learn from one another, they can become more powerful. No, it is something else… Tell Trixie, one thousand years ago… did your sister ever fight you?”
Nightmare blinked. “…no. She just hit me with the Elements of Harmony.”
“And do you think that that was because you could defeat her?” Trixie bobbed her head. “Possibly, possibly. But there’s another good reason. Look at the town below you.”
The bindings gave Nightmare enough movement to do so.
“See how devastated it is? That’s the point. Good ponies aren’t less powerful. They just care more about collateral damage.”
Trixie grinned. “But this town was evacuated. Starlight Breaker.”
Five bolts of surprisingly pink magic erupted.
Trixie coughed. “Ow. My horn hurts.”
“I bet it does…” Twilight said, trotting briskly over. “Did you really have to do this much damage?”
The blue pony giggled. “So much for being accepted…” After a moment, Trixie shook her head, and recovered some of her composure. “I think I did fairly well, actually.”
“Yeah, you did. You tricked a goddess, manoeuvred her into a trap, and then hit her with enough magic that she…” Twilight craned over the rubble of a wall, “Seems to be cured, actually. Guess Nanoha universe magic really can just about manage it, with enough boosts. Congratulations…”
Twilight conjured a mirror.
Trixie blinked, taking in the sight of her new wings. “Oh.” Then she frowned. “Wait a minute. Was this your plan all along?”
“…kinda.” Twilight shrugged. “I honestly had no idea if it’d work, but even if it didn’t it would still be a useful test.”
“You should have told me!” Trixie accused. “Turning ponies into deities without their permission is… er… Trixie was going to say impolite, but she thought impossible would have fit until a few hours ago, so she stands corrected.”
“I don’t really know if it would even work like that,” Twilight admitted. “Anyway, no harm done, right?”
“No, Trixie supposes not.” The new alicorn then slumped over and started snoring.
“Yeah, yeah, leave me to explain everything…” Twilight groused.
Celestia appeared in a flash of light. “Twilight! What happened here? And… wait, is that my sister?”
“No, cutie mark’s wrong. Though she is called Lulamoon…” Twilight pointed. “Luna’s over there.”
Rarity stepped outdoors, and breathed deeply. Ah, midsummer’s eve.
A new Loop, and new opportunities.
Wonder who else is Awake… she pondered with half her mind, the other half trying to decide what was ‘in’ this Loop.
Ooh, perhaps I could go with a theme focused on birds? It would be simply marvellous!
With a flash of green fire, something appeared in front of her. Surprised, she caught it. Now what does Twilight want this time?
The envelope was alabaster in colour and slightly scented with saffron. Frowning, she opened it, and took out the letter.
Spike here. I thought I should let you know that I’ve finally actually started Looping. Twilight let me know that you were Awake this time, and so I thought I’d try going about this whole thing… right.
I know I had a silly crush on you. I would like to hope that that crush has gone away with maturity, but I can’t be sure, since I certainly don’t feel any less attracted to you.
If I was a proper dragon, I’d probably try to steal you away, or something like that. But I’m not, so… I’d like to do something a bit more sensible.
I’ve made a reservation for two seats in a restaurant in Canterlot, for the evening meal – the one run by Blue Cordon. Twilight’s agreed to help with the teleportation required, so I would be honoured if you would give me the pleasure of your company.
P.S: Twilight found a way to help me change my physical age. I won’t look like a baby, so don’t worry on that front.
Then started to smile. “Well, he certainly doesn’t do things by halves… I can never be sure of managing to get a meal there. Wonder how he got the reservation…”
Yes, this could be interesting. Spiky-wikey was always so sweet, and this much more mature Spike – she’d never seen or heard him use his full name before…
Then she gasped. “Only seven hours to do all the normal preparations and get ready! And I must look my best! Oh, maybe I should make him a suit as well! No, perhaps that would be taken as an insult…”
She shot back into the boutique, already planning what she was going to make. Romantic dinner, simple meal, or whatever else it turned out to be, she was not going to waste the chance to show off her dressmaking skills in the premier Canterlot restaurant!
“Thanks,” Spike said, scratching the back of his head. “I know this is short notice…”
“Oh, no problem,” Cadence assured him. “In all honesty, Shining and I had booked the seats before we discovered that his parents would be free this evening. We’ll be able to visit Twilight Twinkle and Night Light – that’ll probably be just as nice.” She giggled. “Shining certainly thought so! I swear, he calls that formal outfit of his – the one he’d have had to wear there – worse than full plate armour. I barely had time to suggest it before he agreed.”
Then she grew sly. “Besides, what else am I doing here, but my job?”
Spike coughed. “Well, yes, that is my hope. But I’d rather it all start slow.”
“Good attitude.” Cadence nodded. “Try to win a lover, and you might gain an enemy. But try to gain a friend, and you might just win a lover…”
This time the dragon blushed slightly, and adjusted the tie she’d helped him with.
“So,” Rarity said, halfway through the main course. (She was having something inventive involving bamboo shoots stuffed with cheese; Spike had opted for a pasta dish.) “Do tell me, Spike. How on Equestria did you get us a table at such short notice?”
Spike smiled, ever so slightly nervously. “Well, Cadence and Shining had a reservation they didn’t particularly want to make use of – apparently they booked it well in advance, and then it turned out that Twilight’s parents were having a night in.” The dragon – currently about the same size as Rarity – broadened his smile. “More power to them.”
“Indeed – I wish I’d known about that. But, then, you have rather more of an in with the two of them than I do.” Rarity paused, checking that the table was indeed far enough from other ponies who might overhear them. “How did she handle your unexpected size increase?”
The dragon shrugged, and swallowed his latest mouthful. “I passed it off as a growth spurt, to tell the truth. It isn’t as though dragon biology is well enough understood to preclude it.”
“Of course.” Rarity nodded along with the explanation. Then she put a hoof to her chin in thought, expertly keeping the fabric of her sleeve from touching the table. “Though – one has to wonder. Have you taken advantage of the… well, the loops, when I wasn’t present, to… become involved with me?”
Spike hid his discomfort at the topic. Then decided he didn’t need to, and permitted a wince to escape. “Honestly… yes. One which was the first time I’d actually turned up in Equestria itself, and then another time about two loops after that.”
Rarity nodded. “I’m glad you let me know. How did it go?”
“The first time…” Spike smiled slightly. “Basically, I saved you from the Diamond Dogs – rather than you save yourself, I mean. I like to think I was quite dashing, but…” The dragon shrugged. “I was still young, then. Twilight and I hadn’t worked out the age changing trick yet. In any case, the farthest it got was that we went to the Gala together a few times.”
The unicorn digested the information. “I imagine I was quite grateful. The first time… those dogs were scary.”
“You were.” Spike sighed. “I felt really good about it, actually… but, at the same time, there was this nagging question at the back of my mind. Two, really. The first one was is this right? I mean, I was using my knowledge of the future to develop a relationship with a pony who hadn’t… it kind of felt wrong.”
“And the second one?” Rarity asked, when he didn’t continue.
“I couldn’t shake the feeling that you saw me as a child. You probably did.”
“I’d say… more than that, probably,” Rarity replied, thinking back to her own mental state from all those years ago. “I always did like a knight in shining armour – though not the actual Shining Armor, of course.”
Both of them chuckled.
“I imagine I did have some stronger feelings for you, but…” Rarity shrugged, sending the dress rippling and causing the colours down it to change as she moved. “Well, I’d have wanted to wait until your majority.”
“Which would never come, of course, but you couldn’t know that.” Spike took a drink from his glass – he’d asked for the sourest vintage they had, which had raised a few delicately manicured eyebrows but which suited him quite fine. (They’d been grateful to be able to sell something they’d have had to throw out, once he explained the biology involved.)
“What was the second time?”
“That was… stranger.” Spike shrugged. “I got Twilight to try turning me into a pony, basically. Stupidest idea I’ve ever had. I didn’t get far with you…”
Rarity giggled despite herself. “Oh, dear. Sorry, Spike, but… that is rather a funny image.”
The dragon nodded. “Yeah, once I got a bit of perspective I could see how it was funny too. I was trying to look all suave when I didn’t even know how to walk properly, it must have been dreadful.”
“And after that?”
“I… just didn’t bother. Partly because of those same problems I mentioned, but partly…” Spike sighed. “I don’t want it to be… or… okay. In simple terms: I think that I love you. But I can’t be sure. I don’t know if this is still a crush, I don’t know if… well, if the things which I like about the… the you that I know, are the ones which you like about yourself. The ones you’ve kept. And I don’t know if you like me.”
“Which me do you mean this time?” Rarity said quietly.
“The… looping you. I… basically, it’s like I knew what you were like as a child. And like you knew what I was like as a child.” The dragon rubbed his forehead. “So, before I – before either of us starts even thinking about going further, we should make sure we each know what the other is actually like.” Spike then flashed a grin, this one with a lot more humour in it. “Hi. I’m Spykoranuvellitar, but everyone calls me Spike, and I’m Twilight Sparkle’s assistant. What’s your name?”
Rarity matched the smile. “Rarity. I’m a dressmaker, and I like making magical items as well.”
“Nice to meet you, then.”
Then they remembered the meal, which had sadly cooled off a bit.
The dragon who had set up in the mountains overlooking Ponyville opened one eye. “What is it, little pony?”
Fluttershy pressed the tips of her hooves together. “Well, you see, we’re having a bit of a smoke problem. We were wondering if you could stop?”
That only got laughter. “Why should I stop? Are you going to make me, little pony?”
“I’d… really rather not,” Fluttershy said, “but if I have to, then I will.”
Fluttershy’s eyes hardened. “Alright, then. Angel? Sic ‘em.”
Applebloom held up cards. “Eight point six!”
Scootaloo disagreed. “Only four point five, I think. He’s really not controlled his landing well.”
Sweetie Belle held hers up. “Six and a half. I really like the startled yowp noise he made.”
There was a crack, as Angel Bunny kicked the dragon entirely into the air a second time. The three fillies gauged this new trajectory, and then started holding up more scorecards.
“How did you do this?” Twilight asked. “Whatever it was, it was cool…”
“Oh.” Fluttershy blushed. “I basically made Angel my animal companion – you know, like druids have. And then I went alicorn and pumped more power into him.”
Twilight nodded, watching Angel twist all six of his target’s limbs into a single chokehold. “I have to say, he took to it well.”
"By the way, Rarity," Fluttershy asked, when they were arriving to Ponyville Town Hall in preparation to take care of Nightmare Moon, "why did you ask Twilight for the Element of Magic?"
"Because I want to try wearing and using it. Doesn't it look fabulous on me? I must definitely must have a few pictures taken wearing it." Rarity posed.
"You sure it's gonna work, sugarcube?" Applejack asked as she, like the others, summoned their Elements.
The white unicorn frowned slightly. "Not really. But in that case we are still five alicorns against one."
The rest of the night was a silent wait. Even the usually energetic Pinkie Pie wasn't in the mood for talking, everypony mourning Twilight's loss.
Eventually, Rainbow Dash pointed to the moon, now without the alicorn shaped shadow. "Here she comes." That was all the signal Rarity and the others needed to start activating the elements, from a place hidden enough to conceal them, so that they’d be ready by the time Nightmare Moon made her appearance.
"My beloved subjects, it has been so long."
…or so they believed, because the Element of Magic wasn't activating.
Please, Element of Magic! Twilight really doesn't need to deal with Nightmare Moon this loop.
The lack of response from the crown only angered her. "Oh, buck it! Plan B!" And then the Element holders started running towards Nightmare Moon just in time for her usual declaration.
"The night will last-" … which was as far as she got, because Nightmare Moon's speech was interrupted by a blur of blue movement which punched her in the jaw.
"OUR NIGHT" Princess Luna said to Nightmare Moon with the full force of the Canterlot Royal Speaking Voice, and blew on her right forehoof.
"Princess Luna?" all five Element bearers chorused, skidding to a halt in confusion.
"Oh, hi!" Luna waved to the Elements bearers, and trotted over as guards covered the recumbent form of Nightmare Moon.
Once in range, she lowered her voice so only they could hear her. "For some reason I turned up separate to Nightmare Moon this time, any idea why? And where's Twilight?"
"Ohh… my head…" Nightmare Moon said, clutching it. There was a burst of light, and she shrunk down to filly size. "What happened?"
That filly was…By Harmony. "Dash! Get Twilight NOW." She only received a Sonic Rainboom as answer.
"Rarity, what's the deal?" Princess Luna asked.
"It's about Nightmare Moon, it could be a very long shot but-" The crack of teleportation interrupted her, bringing Twilight Sparkle and Princess Rainbow Dash. Rarity wondered if there was any library left as of now.
"We’re here," Twilight said, bloodshot eyes showing she hadn't stopped crying after they had left. "What did you want-?"
She broke off mid sentence, locking eyes with the little alicorn on the dais. "…Nyxie?"
"Momma! I mean, Twilight!"
Luna gestured to the two guards to stand down, as Nyx launched herself across the room into Twilight’s forelegs.
"What happened? I was going to bed and then suddenly I was on the moon, and then I tried to play Nightmare Moon when I saw the Summer Sun celebration. Are we in the past?"
"Thank you… whoever’s organizing this, thank you. For letting me have my daughter back." Twilight muttered while hugging Nyx tighter.
"…so I won’t be around much?" Nyx asked. "That kinda sucks."
Twilight nodded. "I know, I wish you would be more but it’s just the way these loops seem to work. But promise me, please let me know the moment you awake in any loop – that'll be the very next loop for you, but I don’t know how long it will have been for me."
"I promise momma."
Then the purple unicorn smiled. "But what matters more is that you’re going to be here at all. When I thought I’d lost you…"
After a moment, Nyx adjusted her glasses. “Hey… next time I turn up, can we play a prank on Princess Celestia?”
“Whatever you want,” Twilight said. “Whatever you want.”
Dear Princess Celestia,
By unexpectedly using a loophole in the "no children" policy for loopers I ended adopting a small filly I named Nyx. I think I could gush for a long time about her, so I'll leave it for when we meet in person (feel free to ask Princess Luna for pictures, you'll be for a surprise). The important part is, I found myself heartbroken when the loop reset and I couldn't even give my farewells to my daughter. However, thank Harmony, Yggdrasil somehow decided to make Nyx awake the very next loop.
I think I now finally understand why you requested me to write you these Looper Reports so many loops ago. I may not know when, I may not know how, but now that both Nyx and myself are looping I know we will meet again someday, in the same way the Looper Reports are a promise for us to meet again. Now I see how those promises give me the strength to go on each day.
Thank you, Princess. For taking care of me even when you aren't awake.
Your faithful student,