Twilight Sparkle's ordinary morning routine had not changed very much since becoming a Princess. The only major addition was that she – at least most mornings, when she didn't oversleep and did remember – spent an extra quarter-hour taking care of her wings. Rainbow Dash had given her several passionate lectures on the subject, which reminded Twilight of nothing more than Rarity's discourses on proper mane care. Beyond that, though, she did not suddenly need to help raise the sun, put away the stars, or drop by the Gates of Tartarus any more frequently than normal. (Once a month, so Cerberus wouldn't get lonely again.)
Instead, once she had finished taking care of her personal hygiene, she merely went down to the kitchen like always, put on a pot of water for tea – replaced with coffee if and only if she had fewer than six hours of sleep – made breakfast, and ate it. Then it was only a matter of waking Spike and selecting a book for morning reading before she was ready to unlock the front door and flip the sign to indicate that the Golden Oaks Library was open.
Although Twilight Sparkle was always one to recommend that ponies read more, she couldn't be completely sad that on a typical day patrons were few enough that she usually had several hours of uninterrupted reading time. Yesterday had, unsurprisingly, been an exception. It had been a few hours before Fluttershy was safely on her way back to her cottage, and shortly afterward Twlight had been called to reassure the Mayor that Princess Luna hadn't been shouting about anything important. (Like a plan to plunge Equestria into Eternal Night again, again.) And then she'd needed to get all the decorations down....
Well, needless to say Spike had been forced to staff the library for all but a couple hours. She'd given him today off to compensate, and he was out the door almost before he was done eating his own breakfast. Twilight made a mental note to buy a few gems off of Rarity as an additional thanks, if she had any of the dragon's favorites available.
Today, fortunately, was more typical, and Twilight had settled down with her chosen book right on schedule. She just wished that book had been her current pleasure read (the great pegasus philosopher Fancy Flight's Thus Spake Celestia), instead of the book Luna had left her.
A more thorough inspection didn't leave her any more enlightened than the cursory one the night before last. The only writing on the covers was indeed the title, Nightmare Moon, with no sign of the author's name. She flipped through the opening pages, finding that it had been published recently in Canterlot by a mid-sized publisher she was quite familiar with. She also found that it was a numbered limited edition – this copy was the first of five hundred, oddly enough.
That at least raised the hopes that this mess could be dealt with quietly, but... had the author actually sent this copy to Princess Luna, then? Twilight frowned, flipping back through the opening pages and confirming that no author was listed. Why? If she feared retaliation, why give the Princess a copy; if she didn't, why publish anonymously? Something wasn't adding up.
The library door opened, and Twilight had to break for a few minutes to fetch Mrs. Cake her reserved copies of Help, My Foal Is Flying! and Help, My Foal Is Glowing!. Twilight doubted the newly published guides would contain much the Cakes and Pinkie hadn't already learned, but it could be comforting to get more confirmation that they weren't missing something important, she supposed.
Twilight returned to Nightmare Moon, and turned the page to the simple, short dedication. “For her,” she muttered aloud. She had a feeling this author, whoever she was, enjoyed being cryptic. Twilight normally enjoyed a good puzzle, but she wasn't really in the mood right now.
So she just turned the page and started to read the story proper. The main character seemed to be North Star, a pegasus mare in the Night Guard, and seemed to be set either almost a century before Nightmare Moon, or the reference to the “newly finished Castle Canterlot” was an anachronism. Twilight forced her pedantic irritation aside, and kept on reading.
There was only a couple more major interruptions. Around page one hundred, Rarity dropped by to check for any damage to her decorations and warn her that there was a new pegasus couple in town picking a spot to have a cloud home built, so a Pinkie Party could be expected sometime in the afternoon, or earlier if the newcomers stopped by Sugarcube Corner. The second interruption was a couple hours and several hundred pages later, when Twilight took a break for lunch before returning to her post in the front room to polish off Nightmare Moon.
Twilight let out a thoughtful noise as she finished the final scene, North Star's tearful conversation with the victorious Celestia, and shut the back cover. It hadn't been what she'd expected, really. The history had been a tad rough, but as an adventure story it wasn't bad. She didn't really see anything overly objectionable in its content, but even as a Princess herself it wasn't really her place to tell Princess Luna what she could find offensive. That didn't mean she wasn't still going to have to figure out how this nonsense could be settled without anypony getting executed. Ideally, it wouldn't leave Princess Luna angry at her either.
“Dear Princess Celestia, this friendship problem is left as an exercise for the reader,” she tested on the empty library. Then she half-chuckled, half-sighed. Like it or not, Princess Celestia had given her this task, and she wasn't going to let her first assignment as a Princess be a failure.
The first step, she supposed, was going to be to track down the author. Unless her read of the author was drastically incorrect, she probably wouldn't object to offering an apology or something. It felt a little wrong to be thinking of asking a novelist to apologize to a Princess for her work, but it would probably go a long way to getting Luna into a mood conducive to not killing anypony.
Behind her, the door to the library tree's small kitchen opened. Twilight almost jumped in the air, her wings briefly opening uncontrollably in surprise. She turned to look, only to be confronted by a bouncing wall of pink.
“Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, Twilighttwilighttwilight,” the pink vibrated. “Hey, your name is pretty funny sounding, Twilight!”
Twilight blinked twice, slowly. “If you say so, Pinkie Pie.”
“I'm pretty sure I did say so,” Pinkie Pie said, “but I can say it again if we're not sure. Hey, your name -”
“Pinkie Pie Welcome Party in... an hour?” Twilight guessed, trying to get the conversation back on something resembling solid ground.
“No, silly. It's a Pinkie Pie Pre-Welcome Party. They aren't moving here for another few months... hey, how did you already know about Fast Breeze and Stormforge?”
Twilight couldn't stop a grin. “The Royal Pinkie Pie Party Early Warning System?” she offered. Pinkie stared at her dubiously. “...all right, Rarity came by and mentioned that she'd seen two new ponies in town.”
“Anyway, if you're done being silly...” Pinkie proclaimed. Twilight giggled. “...I was wondering if I could throw the party here again?”
“Sure,” Twilight agreed. “Just help Spike and me clean up afterward.”
“Okie-dokie!” the earth pony agreed. “Back in an hour with the cupcakes!” She bounced out the front door, giving a happy wave as it shut behind her.
Twilight looked back at her open kitchen door. Her mouth opened, and then she shook her head. “I'm probably better off not knowing,” she decided, and then she started her own party-hosting preparations.
She was partway through making sure all the doors to the private areas of the tree were shut – more so she didn't have to straighten them up than from fear of intrusive party guests – when she heard the front door open again.
“Twilight!” came Spike's familiar, worried voice. “Pinkie Pie said she's throwing –”
“I know!” Twilight called back. “I said it was okay.” She made her way back to the main room of the library.
“We're not going to be cleaning up all night again, are we?” Spike asked, just like he did every time this happened.
“You're never going to forgive me for that second night here,” Twilight said, then she shook her head. “No, Pinkie agreed to stay and help pick up the mess again.” She probably would have after that eventful Summer Sun Celebration if Twilight had thought to ask.
Spike relaxed. “All right, what can I do to help?”
“Can you grab a couple packages of napkins out of the basement?” Twilight asked. Then a thought occurred to her. She ran down her schedule for the rest of the week quickly, before Spike vanished down the stairs. “And also... when you get a chance, can you send a quick note off to Canterlot asking for my chariot to pick me up tomorrow?”
Spike paused. “Am I going to have to run the library again?” he asked, sounding a little disappointed.
Twilight thought about it a moment. It really wasn't fair to ask him to do that again so soon. “I'll try to get one of the others to sit in, or we can close it if we have to. This is technically official Princess business, after all. Do you want to come with me?”
“Thanks,” Spike said, “but I'm going gem hunting with Rarity tomorrow.” Twilight could almost see the hearts in his eyes.
She giggled. “Have fun,” she said, and then she went to the kitchen to find the punch bowl.
The reply confirming that her chariot would be in Ponyville an hour after breakfast – getting letters addressed to “Your Highness” still made her feel like she was a little filly snooping in Celestia's mail again – came only a few moments before Pinkie Pie made it back with her cupcakes. After that, Twilight put the matter of Nightmare Moon out of her head and concentrated on preparing her library home for the coming storm.
A short while later, the party was in full swing. Twilight stayed in the background as best she could – after a brief awkward conversation it was clear that the pegasus couple found having an alicorn princess attending their Pre-Welcome Party even more disconcerting than being dragged to such a party in the first place. Golden Harvest and her filly Carrot Top were present, probably swept up when Pinkie Pie collected the market square, and Twilight spent a pleasant few minutes visiting with the foal.
“Excuse me, Miss Sparkle?”
The voice distracted Twilight from her very important game of Royal Peek-A-Boo, and to the foal's brief discontent she closed her wing and turned to the new pony. “Good afternoon, Cheerilee,” Twilight said, smiling at the schoolteacher. She had a soft spot for anypony who subscribed to the Communications of the Royal Academy of the Arcana and Sciences. Golden Harvest made her excuses and faded away into the party crowd with her foal.
“I just wanted to give you a warning,” the dark pink mare told Twilight. “I plan to assign my class a short paper on the Griffon Kingdoms tomorrow, so you can expect my students to keep you busy when I let them go in the afternoon.”
“Thanks for letting me know,” Twilight said. “Any topic about the griffons in particular?”
“No, just covering them in general,” Cheerilee said. “I did warn them not to just try to reword the encyclopedia entry, though.”
Twilight nodded, then froze. “I forgot. I'm actually heading to Canterlot tomorrow; I don't know if I'll be back before you let the class out.” Cheerilee frowned, and Twilight quickly added. “The library will be open; I just need to see if one of my friends can cover me or if I'll owe Spike even more gems.”
Cheerilee nodded. “Fair enough,” she said. “If it's absolutely necessary, I can take care of it.”
“I'm sure that won't be necessary,” Twilight said. “Let me go see right now.” Twilight quickly ran down the possibilities as she searched the crowd for her friends. Applejack would have been her first choice, but after what had happened during Twilight's first weeks in Ponyville, she and everypony else knew better than to ask Applejack for help during Applebuck Season. Pinkie Pie hadn't even been upset when she didn't show up for this party.
Twilight found Rarity and a hovering Rainbow Dash first, chatting about something.
“Excuse me, girls,” Twilight said, interrupting what sounded like a passionate argument about the merits of Prench cuisine.
“What's up, Twilight?” Rainbow said quickly, clearly glad for the distraction.
Twilight explained her problem. “I was checking to see if one of you could cover me at the library tomorrow afternoon. You won't have to do much; just point the fillies and colts at the right section and stop them from doing any damage.”
“I was planning to stock up on gems tomorrow, so the shop was already going to be closed,” Rarity said. “I suppose I could -”
Twilight groaned. “I forgot Spike mentioned that. Sorry, Rarity, I appreciate the offer, but I don't want to disappoint him.”
“Of course,” Rarity said. “I understand.” She laughed. “I'll make sure he enjoys his day off and doesn't work too hard trying to help me.”
Twilight gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks.” Both of them turned to look at Rainbow Dash.
The pegasus stared back at them. “Fine,” she said after a moment. “I guess we don't have any real weather work scheduled for tomorrow.”
“I owe you one,” Twilight said.
“Flying lessons.” Rainbow Dash grinned.
Twilight's wings fluttered. “...deal,” she finally said. She could already feel the pain coming.
Rarity giggled. “You must really need to go to Canterlot, darling. Is it anything serious?”
“Just that mess with Princess Luna from the other night.”
“That book thing?” Rainbow Dash asked.
Twilight nodded. “The author is anonymous, but I've got a source with her publisher. Somepony at Canterhorn Books has to know who she is.”
Rainbow frowned. “Canterhorn... why does that sound familiar?”
Rarity laughed. “Well, it is a big mountain,” she said. Rainbow glared at the unicorn.
“It's on the spine of every Daring Do novel,” Twilight told the pegasus.
Rainbow's head whipped around to her, wings beating wildly enough to lift her another foot in the air. “Daring Do?” she asked. “...you don't think your source could get me a meeting with the author?” she asked. “I'd take that over the flying lessons!”
Twilight was tempted for just a moment. “No, sorry.”
Rainbow deflated. “You're sure?”
Her suddenly miserable expression was almost too much. “Sorry, Rainbow, but I made a promise.” Twilight realized her mistake just a moment too late.
“Wait,” Rainbow said, her wings starting to beat faster again. “You know the author of Daring Do?”
Rarity blinked once. “Even I know that she's very private,” she said slowly. “Aren't the books written under a pen name so she can keep her identity secret?”
Twilight planted a hoof in her face. “Look, yes, I know. But I promised not to tell anypony. Please don't make a big deal about this, Rainbow, all right?”
“Promise or Pinkie Promise?” Rainbow asked.
“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said warningly.
The pegasus laughed once. “All right.” She rubbed her hooves together. “Say, you don't think you could get me an autographed copy for Hearth's Warming Eve, though?”
“...no promises,” Twilight said. “But I'll try.”
“You are now officially my favorite Princess,” Rainbow said. “Anyway, it looks like Pinkie Pie has finally let this Fast Breeze go, so I need to go see if she has any airspeed or if that's just a name.” She flew off before Rarity or Twilight could respond.
“I wasn't her favorite Princess already?” Twilight asked grumpily.
Rarity just laughed.
Twilight Sparkle's day-to-day life might not have changed very much since her coronation as a Princess of Equestria. That title might have brought more annoyances than anything else so far. Not least among those annoyances might have been the errand that brought her to Canterlot this morning.
Yet, with all that one side of the scales, at the moment it almost felt to Equestria's youngest alicorn that the convenience of having a sky-chariot under her command outweighed it all. By land, the trip from Ponyville to Canterlot was far more of a journey than a naive glance at the short distance between them on a map might lead a pony to believe. Outgrowths of the dangerous Everfree Forest lengthened the roads leaving Twilight's home village, while the capital city was built high on the slopes of the Canterhorn. On hoof, the trip was long and tiring; by train it was best taken overnight.
In her chariot, Twilight Sparkle returned to the city of her birth after only a couple of hours in the air, well before lunchtime. She landed directly in a small courtyard behind the main palace, instead of needing to trot her way up through the entire city. It was almost enough to make her not regret agreeing to take Rainbow Dash's flying lessons.
She settled her saddlebags onto her back and thanked the pegasus guards who had flown her, letting them know that she would need a trip back home before dinner. After that, she turned her attention to the gray-coated stallion who was patiently waiting by the doorway into the palace proper.
“Your Highness,” he said, bowing. Twilight felt herself blush uncontrollably, and she waited awkwardly for the stallion to rise. “Princess Celestia has a few minutes to speak with you before opening the Day Court.”
Twilight hadn't actually been intending to intrude on her mentor, but she wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. “Thank you,” she told the stallion. “Is she in her chambers, or her office off of the throne room?”
“Ah... her chambers, Your Highness. I can lead you –”
“I know the way,” Twilight said. “No need to take up more of your time.” Once inside, she slipped into a semi-hidden servants' stairway, passed a couple of startled stallions who for some reason were lugging a sofa up the stairs, darted across the Pillared Hall in front of a bored janitor who barely noticed, then headed down a flight of another set of servants' stairs, and she was outside Celestia's private chambers.
She nodded once at the two guardsmares posted outside the gold-inlaid wooden doors, knocked once, and entered without waiting to be answered. In the back of her mind, she knew that this was probably unusual, even for another Princess, but she had been in and out of these rooms so often as a filly that they held no fear or mystery to her.
She found Celestia in her study, though at a glance the only thing she was studying was only a new naval adventure novel. The white alicorn set her book down and stood, turning to face her student. “The Princess of the Sun is pleased to receive the Princess of Books,” she intoned gravely.
Twilight Sparkle wasn't sure what to say.
Finally, Celestia broke into snickering laughter. “The look on your face, Twilight,” she said.
“Am... am I really supposed to be the Princess of Books now?” Twilight asked after a moment.
Celestia chuckled. “Not unless you want to be,” she said. “But it was the fastest way to get Luna out of my mane so I could go back to sleep.” Her face turned serious for a moment. “About the note you sent back, though...”
Twilight laughed nervously. She really should have stopped herself, shouldn't she? Even if they were both Princesses, this was still Celestia. “I -” she began.
Celestia bowed her head. “I do apologize for dumping that little problem on you without warning. It's hardly the kind of matter I'd have liked to handle during my first court, either.”
Twilight's mind took a moment to change gears. “Oh... um... apology accepted?” she said.
“I'm glad,” Celestia said. “I'm also glad that you seem to have handled it well. I haven't heard any more threats to burn down the Canterhorn Books offices.”
Celestia thought Luna's problem was settled? Twilight felt familiar stirrings of panic in her gut, that she had to hide from her mentor that all she'd done so far was kick the can down the road.
“Is something wrong, Twilight?”
The younger alicorn took a deep, calming breath. “I... haven't really resolved Luna's petition,” she said when she'd managed to force ridiculous punishment scenarios out of her imagination. “I just asked her to come back next week when I'd had a chance to read the book.”
Twilight couldn't read Celestia's expression. “I'll handle it!” she said quickly. “I just needed some time to think over my strategy.”
“Are you certain, Twilight Sparkle?” Celestia asked. “I can speak with my sister about this.”
“I'm sure,” Twilight answered, trying to sound confident. This was the first real thing she'd tried to handle as a princess. She didn't want to – couldn't – let Celestia down. “I just need to find the book's author, and –”
There was a light knocking from the front door to Celestia's chambers. “It seems it is time for my court,” Celestia said. “You're sure you don't want me to deal with this... issue, Twilight?” she asked again.
Twilight made herself nod. “If Princess Luna gets angry, better at me than you, right?” she asked.
Celestia looked at her for a long moment. “All right. I'll trust your judgment,” she said. There was another knocking on the door, and Celestia smiled. “I don't suppose I can delegate all my petitions to you?” she asked plaintively.
Twilight laughed. “I think this one petition is enough for now.” She just hoped she wasn't making a mistake not handing this one back.
Celestia smiled. “I wish we had more time to talk,” she said, starting to walk for the exit. Twilight followed her, and the larger alicorn paused before opening the doors. “Was there anything else you needed from me?”
Twilight started to shake her head, then remembered something. “I did have one other petition,” she began, and explained what she had done for Golden Harvest's filly. “Is there something specific I should have done?”
“No,” Celestia said with a laugh. “That's about what I do.” Her golden magic flickered over the doors, opening them moments before the gray pony who had met Twilight earlier could knock again. “Do let me know if there's anything at all I can do to help with Luna, Twilight,” Celestia said, and then she was gone.
Twilight took a deep breath, closed the doors behind her with her own magic, and then she was on her way to her parents' home. (Another quick jaunt through the palace to the School For Gifted Unicorns, cut across the campus, a brief stop at Donut Joe's to say hello, take the back road down to the Upper East neighborhood, and then she was only a few minutes' trot from her parent's door.) It was a path she'd traveled hundreds of times before, and at this hour of the day it should have only taken about twenty minutes, plus whatever time she spent chatting with Donut Joe.
It took closer to two hours. Canterlot ponies might have been too self-possessed to simply mob her like the citizens of Ponyville had when she'd first returned home from her coronation, but that didn't stop her intended brief visit to the donut shop from turning into a zoo. Apparently, while interrupting an alicorn princess on the road would have been uncouth, swarming the store where she stopped and almost fighting to get close enough to be able to casually say hello was appropriate behavior. At least Donut Joe appreciated the business.
It took the intervention of a guard patrol to extract her from that mess, but fortunately once they had escorted her to her old neighborhood she was able to make the rest of the journey in peace. Twilight supposed that after Cadance, the ponies who lived there were probably used to alicorn princesses coming and going. Either that, or her mother had given one of her little speeches at the homeowner's association meeting again.
When she reached her destination, she knocked on the door, and – unlike with Celestia's chambers, a part of her noted in amusement – she waited patiently for one of her parents to answer. A few of the neighbors emerged from their homes, pointedly busying themselves with some chore or another while managing to look up at Twilight far too often for comfort. She shifted uncomfortably, fighting to keep her wings still.
It was her mother who finally came to the door, and she broke into a smile almost instantly. “Twilight?” she asked, clearly surprised at the unannounced visit.
Twilight's eyes traced the smearing of what had to be cake batter smeared across her mother's muzzle and down her flank. “...are you baking, Mom?” she asked.
Twilight Velvet quickly rubbed at her cheek, but succeeded only in spreading the mess further. Then she looked over her daughter's shoulder, at the watching ponies. Her face hardened, though the expression looked a little absurd decorated with batter. “Come inside, sweetie, and let me wash up.”
A few minutes later when her mother joined her in the living room, Twilight's mind was still on something other than the purpose of her visit. “Why were you trying to bake?” she asked, turning away from the – rather embarrassingly crowded – wall of various honors her family had received.
Her mother was coming out of the kitchen, a couple of glasses of lemonade cradled in her magic. Another brief glow shut the door behind her, before Twilight could get a good look at what was left of the kitchen. “I think a mother should be able to bake a cake for her daughter-in-law's baby shower,” she commented, as she floated one glass over to her daughter.
For the first time since before she'd gotten her cutie mark, Twilight fumbled her levitation, letting the glass plummet to the ground, shattering and spilling her drink all over the rug. “Cadance is pregnant?” she asked. She wasn't ready to be an aunt!
“...well, it has to happen eventually, and they are coming to visit next week, so she might be,” Twilight Velvet observed, staring at the spreading pool of lemonade.
“Sorry,” Twilight said. “I'll get some paper towels.”
Twilight opened the kitchen door, then shut it firmly, turning around and pressing her back firmly against it, her wings spreading reflexively. “Mom, did you have help from Discord in there?” It was a sad day when he was the sanest explanation.
Her mother laughed awkwardly.
Twilight took a deep breath. “Okay. There are spells for this. We can fix everything.” Except the memory of what she had seen.
“I knew all that tuition we paid to Princess Celestia's school would have a return someday.”
“The School For Gifted Unicorns doesn't have tuition, Mom.” Everypony who attended heard at least once a month that lecture about why the school needed students to help tend the grounds, sweep the hallways, and (ugh) clean the bathrooms. And even though she'd listed it as her first choice every semester, Twilight never got assigned to help in the library. (It was probably Princess Celestia's fault.)
Still, the experience had given her – and most other graduates – a very formidable practical education in the oft-neglected field of janitorial magic. Those battle-forged spells, the product of the combined wisdom of generations of Equestria's most talented young unicorns, had – in Twilight's senior year – triumphed over even the colt's dormitory second-floor restroom, widely agreed to be a Class-S arcano-biological hazard site.
This would be nothing.
A half-hour later, Twilight collapsed into the new couch her parents had bought last Hearth's Warming Eve. “Mother,” she said seriously. “I am making an Official Princess Decree.” She tried to pronounce the capitalization, so the importance of the matter could be understood.
“Yes, sweetie?” Twilight Velvet asked as she shut the door to the kitchen (which nopony could guarantee was one hundred percent composed of materials originating in this universe anymore).
“You are hereby forbidden from baking until Pinkie Pie has certified you as not a threat to yourself or those around you,” the tired princess proclaimed. “So let it be written, etcetera, etcetera, by decree of Her Royal Highness Twilight Sparkle.”
Her mother just laughed.
“You think I'm joking,” Twilight Sparkle said, managing to sit up after a brief effort. “I can banish ponies to the moon, you know. I worked out how the other week, and the girls wouldn't even ask why.”
“That's nice, sweetie,” her mother said, sitting down beside her.
Twilight sighed, and then she laughed herself. “Seriously, though; if you want to learn to bake, I'm sure Pinkie would be thrilled to give you lessons, and I'd love to see you more often.”
“We'll see,” her mother said. “Ponyville is a little far to go for baking lessons.”
“I suppose,” Twilight said. “Though I do have my very own sky-chariot now, you know.”
Her mother laughed again, then her face turned serious. “I have a feeling you didn't just come to help me clean,” she said.
Twilight had almost entirely forgotten her original purpose. “Right,” she said, straightening. “I assume Dad isn't home, since he hasn't come down to see what all the noise is?”
“He disappeared for some reason around the same time I started looking for the flour,” her mother admitted.
“Wise stallion,” Twilight quipped, then she shook her head, forcing herself back on topic. “I need to get an off-the-record conversation with one of the editors at Canterhorn,” she said.
Twilight Velvet blinked. “That's an odd request.”
“I need to talk to the author of a book they published anonymously,” Twilight said. She started to explain the situation, only to be stopped by her mother almost as soon as she said Princess Luna's name.
“What book are you talking about?” Twilight Velvet asked, her voice controlled.
Twilight searched for her saddlebags, finding them where she'd dropped them by the door. A flicker of magenta light opened the clasp and pulled out the book. “It's called Nightmare Moon,” she said as the slim volume floated over to the couch.
Her mother didn't reach for the book. “You don't need to talk to an editor,” she said. “I can tell you who wrote that.”
“Really? That saves me... no.” Twilight froze, the book hanging in the air in front of the two mares. “You're joking.”
“He didn't release it under the usual name because he's curious how it will be received on its own merit,” Twilight Velvet said. “I'm guessing Princess Luna wasn't a fan?” she asked, her voice still calm.
“You... could say that,” Twilight said. “I was going to...” She trailed off, really considering what she had been planning to do. A Princess of Equestria was angry about a book, a novel. Twilight Sparkle had been planning to track down the author, and ask her... him to apologize, so Luna wouldn't want him executed.
What if the apology wasn't accepted? If she was there alone with a furious Luna and the author... her father?
And what if the apology was accepted? It didn't actually solve anything. It just kicked the can down the road again. This time, the author probably wouldn't mind making the apology, and it might even settle this incident. Yet, what lesson would Luna learn? What would happen the next time somepony wrote something that offended her, somepony that wouldn't back down?
She felt sick to her stomach, and she stood suddenly.
“Twilight, sweetie?” her mother asked cautiously.
“It'll be be fine,” Twilight said. “Don't worry about it, and don't tell Dad.”
She smiled thinly. “I'll take care of this, Mother. I promise.”
“Take care of... what did Princess Luna –”
“You don't need to worry about it,” Twilight said again. “I'm sorry, but I need to get going.” She turned for the door, the copy of Nightmare Moon flinging back into her bags.
“Twilight Sparkle.” Her mother's voice stopped her. “What are you going to do?”
“Princess Luna and I are going to have a little talk about freedom of speech,” Twilight said. “That's all.” And if the talk didn't go the right way... well, Luna wasn't about to try to hurt her, and she had to accept Twilight's judgment, right? The petitioner had no right of appeal from the Princess's ruling.
And if she got angry about it, like Twilight had told Princess Celestia, it was better for Luna to be angry at Twilight than anypony else.
“All right,” her mother said finally. “Take care.”
“You too,” Twilight said, and then her bags followed her out the door.
A four-pony guard squad was too-casually waiting on the fringes of the neighborhood and “volunteered” to escort her back to the castle. Twilight barely paid them any mind, but the walk helped to calm her racing thoughts.
She'd half-intended to go storming into Luna's chambers, wake the Princess of the Night, and have the whole matter settled by sundown, but by the time she reached the castle she realized that was a poor idea. The intrusion would only make Luna defensive and angry, hardly the proper frame of mind to encourage her to back down. Later in the week, at the library, at her court, it would be different. Luna would be in the role of supplicant awaiting Twilight's ruling, not in her own place of power dealing with an unexpected challenge.
Yes, if there was any hope of a satisfactory resolution, it was if Twilight just waited for that moment. It would have to be a private session, with no audience to make Luna feel the need to defend her pride. Twilight had almost a whole week to prepare her argument. It would be fine, she told herself. Luna was a grown mare, and she knew that Equestria was different than it had been a thousand years ago. Once the matter was explained to her, she'd see reason.
It really wasn't that different from Nightmare Night, and that had ended perfectly well.
...except it hadn't been her father's life on the line that night, an unhelpful part of Twilight's mind reminded her.
“Princess?” one of the guards asked, just a hint of worry in her voice, and Twilight realized that she'd been standing in one of the palace courtyards, staring at the tower that held Luna's quarters, for several minutes.
“I'm sorry,” Twilight said automatically. “My mind was somewhere else. I'll be taking my chariot back to Ponyville now; thank you all for the escort.”
The guards murmured acceptance of her gratitude and left, and not long afterward Twilight was in the air again, reversing the journey she'd taken that morning. The trip was less enjoyable, her mind already busy pondering rhetoric to convince Princess Luna, but there was a good wind and before she knew it they were landing behind her library home.
It was still the early afternoon. After she pointed the pegasus guards who had ferried her at Sugarcube Corner as a place to grab something to eat before the flight back to Canterlot, her own stomach started to rumble, reminding her that she'd had nothing substantial to eat since breakfast. She pondered heading to visit Pinkie Pie herself, but then she remembered the too-many donuts she'd eaten while stuck at Donut Joe's. The last thing she needed was more sweets.
With a sigh, Twilight instead headed to her tree home.
When the door opened, she half-expected to find a disaster. Instead the library looked much the same as when she'd left it, though a glance toward the appropriate section showed that the books on griffons had been thoroughly picked over.
“Hey, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, glancing up from the copy of Daring Do and the Onyx Hoof she had open on the table she was standing beside. “You're back early.”
“You seem to have grown a filly,” Twilight said after a moment, walking up and gently poking the sleeping orange filly on Rainbow's back with one hoof.
Scootaloo mumbled something that sounded like it ended in “Dash,” but the legs wrapped around the older pegasus didn't relax their grip.
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “It is a very, very boring story.” Twilight laughed, and Rainbow flipped the book – the library's copy, not her own – closed. “Now that you're here to take over the librarian-ing, I've got to deliver her back to her parents. I'll be back in just a minute, okay?”
“Sure, Rainbow. I need to eat something anyway.” Twilight set her saddlebags down by the table, then made her way to the kitchen as Rainbow let herself out.
She'd finished her sandwich and gone back to the main room to start straightening up when Rainbow came back in through an open window. “So, how did it go?” she asked as she settled back down to the ground.
Twilight felt herself stiffen. She sighed. “Well, I found out who the author is.”
“That's good, right?” Rainbow asked. “So she can come to your thing next week?”
“No, he's not,” Twilight said.
“Wasn't that why... well, whatever,” the pegasus said. “Anyway, you went to the publisher, right? You didn't see anything about Heart of the Everfree, did you?”
Twilight really could not care less about the next Daring Do book right now. “No,” she snapped. “I had more important things on my mind.”
Her friend blinked. “What's got you so worked up?”
Almost without thinking, Twilight used her magic to pull Nightmare Moon back out of her saddlebags and shove it onto the table. It hit the Daring Do book Rainbow had left there, almost knocking it onto the floor before the blue mare caught it with one hoof, pushing it back to safety.
“Twilight, are you okay?” Rainbow asked worriedly.
The alicorn took a deep breath, calming herself. “Not really,” Twilight admitted. “My dad wrote that stupid book.”
“Your dad?” Rainbow looked confused for a moment. “Wait, wasn't Princess Luna talking about –”
“Executing him, yes,” Twilight said.
“That's messed up.”
“Yes,” Twilight agreed vehemently. Then she sighed. “Look, I'm kind of tired, and I need to start planning how I'm going to handle Luna next week. Did anything happen when all the children were here that I need to know about?”
Rainbow frowned for a moment. “No, it was all cool,” she said. She stared for a moment at the two books on the table. Her wings opened, then shut rapidly. “You know that we'll all do anything you need to help, right?” she asked.
“I know,” Twilight said. “I think this is something I need to handle on my own.”
“...all right,” Rainbow said. She headed for the door, then stopped, looking back.
“Is something wrong?” Twilight asked her.
“No,” Rainbow said after a moment. “Just don't forget you owe me for watching the library. Flying lessons start tomorrow.”