Twilight Sparkle quite liked a rainy day, now and then. Wet weather did away with the tiny, nagging feeling that staying indoors all day with her books might be unduly self-indulgent, and the rumble of rain could be strangely more peaceful than silence. So long as she had no plans to be spoiled, and the weather pegasi didn’t stack too many of them in a row, then yes, Twilight was usually just fine with a good rainstorm.
But usually, she wasn’t trapped inside with... it. The mind-destroying monster, the scourge of all scholars, the silent beast that watched her every move and made each moment a misery. This wretched, miserable blank sheet of paper.
It taunted her. The only way to defeat the blasted thing was to cover its thought-sucking surface with words, but so far she had written only enough to give the creature a name: “On Magic, Friendship and the Elements of Harmony”.
Adding “by Twilight Sparkle” did no more than bind the nemesis personally to her soul. Below that was the culmination of her efforts thus far:
After countless false starts she was reasonably sure that “The” was the right way to kick off. After “The”, surely, the remaining nine hundred and ninety-nine words would be a piece of cake.
She just didn't have anything to say. Everything she had learned of friendship, and its relation to magic, she'd already poured out in weekly letters. Even her personal experiences wielding the Elements of Harmony had been documented in as much detail as her meticulous mind could assemble. She didn't want to repeat things Celestia had already read.
It wasn't as though she could pop out and find some new magical threat to all of Equestria to defeat for the sake of fresh material, even if she hadn't learned well not to go looking for trouble just to complete an assignment. The prospect of awakening yet another ancient evil was looking more appealing by the minute, though. What terror could Discord's brother, or a volcano goddess, or any other monstrosity hold, compared to facing a thousand words! due tomorrow! with nothing to show but a lousy blasted hoof-rotted “THE”!
The paper after “The” was worn white and thin with multiple magical erasures, and that sheet was only the latest in a pile already crumpled and tossed aside after reaching their own limits of durability. With a sigh, she lifted her quill again with the power of her horn and took another slash at the enemy.
The study of magic is
The study of magic has been
The study of magic has always been
The study of magic is a field which has always been
“RRRRGH!” she screamed through her teeth, dropping her forehead to the desk and gouging a little divot through the paper with her horn. She glared at the woodgrain of the floor, daring it to say anything.
“Umm... Twilight?” came a soft, hesitant voice from across the desk.
“WHAT?” Twilight barked, snapping her head up. Spike, the baby dragon, recoiled, tangling his fingers together and ducking his head. The sudden fright in his eyes cut through her annoyance and dug a guilty little claw into her heart. She closed her own eyes for a moment, summoning forth her most gentle tone of voice, with extra sugar. “I’m sorry... I mean, what is it, Spike, dear?”
The unaccustomed endearment made little impact. Still more subdued than his usual confident, cheery self, Spike said, “I... I was gonna make some lunch, but we’re out of bread and really low on veggies and stuff.”
Twilight put on what she hoped would resemble a genuine smile. “Oh. Well, I guess we can go shopping when the rain lets up, if it’s not too late...” she began, but Spike immediately perked up.
“Nah, I don’t mind the rain. I don't have all that hair to soak it up like you do.” Seeing the excited gleam in his eyes — is he that eager just to get away from me for awhile? — Twilight gave a dubious nod.
“Okay, if you really want to, go ahead and take some bits from the box.” she said. Spike was in motion by the fourth word. Hearing the jingle of coins from the lockbox in the kitchen, she called out, “Hey, Spike?”
“Take some extra and get yourself a treat too, okay?”
“Will do, Twilight! Thanks!”
The cheerful bounce in his step as he left helped raise Twilight's mood as well, but the warm feeling subsided when the door shut behind him, leaving her alone once more with her papery arch-nemesis.
Chapter One: Salon of Doom!
Twilight assumed that Spike would swing by Sugarcube Corner and come back with something like cupcakes or cookies. She didn't expect him to bring back an extra pony.
While Spike was gone, Twilight managed to arrange her desk to the physical limits of tidiness, and write almost but not quite one complete sentence. When the door banged open, letting in a burst of rain and some sort of pink explosion, Twilight gave a strangled cry and leapt up nearly to the ceiling. Her quill whickered through the air, propelled by a reflexive burst of magic, to lodge quivering in the wall.
“TWILIGHT!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, in a tone more appropriate to finding the unicorn lying in a pool of blood than quietly struggling over an essay. Before Twilight could react in any sensible way — before she had even landed from her startled leap — Pinkie was upon her, grasping her cheeks in both hooves and examining her eyes.
“Pinkie — what — I’m FINE, what’s gotten into you?”
“Oh, yes, this is serious, Spike, you were right to call me.”
“What's serious?” Twilight sputtered, pushing Pinkie’s hooves aside and backing away irritably. “The worst affliction I’ve got is an attack of the Pinks!”
Pinkie shook her head and tsked. “Oh, Twilight. Yoooooouuuu —“, she pointed accusingly, “— are ALL COOPED UP!”
Twilight scowled and ran a hoof through her mane to straighten it. “Pinkie, I’m too busy to deal with nonsense right now...”
“Nonsense, huh?” Pinkie shot Spike a grave, knowing look.
“Yup. Worst case I’ve ever seen.” the dragon replied, just as somber.
“Ugh! For crying out loud, what are you two going on about?”
“Ob-serruv!” Pinkie barked. In unison, with identical solemn expressions, she and Spike held up two lengths of soft white rope. “Two identical ropes.”
Precise as soldiers in drill, Pinkie and Spike looped their ropes into loose knots. “And here we have a pair of simple overhoof knots.”
Twilight rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to speak again, but Pinkie cut her off.
“Now watch! As Spike attempts to undo his knot using Method 1: working harder and harder.”
Theatrically, Spike grabbed the ends of his rope and yanked, drawing the knot tighter. Looking for all the world as though he were surprised by this result, he tugged the ends with ever more determination, claws shredding the fibers while the knot was pulled into a taut, inextricable knob. He scowled at it and continued wrestling the rope while Pinkie proceeded.
“And now see as I address my knot by relaxing...” she said, drawing the last word out into a soft purr as she brought the ends of her rope closer together, letting the knot droop between them. The loosely-tied knot growing slacker, she raised one end of the rope and let the loop slide of its own accord toward her lower hoof. “I just let off the tension, let things flow... and voila!”
Giving the rope a little shake, she had the knot wide and loose enough to drape over her hoof, and by letting go of the end, she was able to simply wiggle the rope straight again.
“Behold, the knot is gone! Spike, any luck with yours?”
Spike shook his head sadly and held up his rope, displaying its firmly locked-up knot and torn ends. He bobbed it and delivered the punchline in perfect deadpan.
“Nope. I’m a frayed knot.”
Twilight snorted. “Okay, I get it. But really, Pinkie, I just haven’t got time to waste —“
“Will a couple of hours be less wasted if you spend them grinding and grinding and erasing and crumpling papers and snapping at Spike, than if you spend them doing something light and fun and letting your talky-talk brain relax while your thinky-think brain works things out?”
Twilight stopped short, a different kind of frown settling onto her features as she finally stopped to think about what Pinkie was saying, instead of how to get her to go away. She darted a quick guilty look at Spike, who wore a mild poker face.
Pinkie bounced closer and put her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder.
“For reals, I know you need to get your homework done, but right now you’re just tugging and tugging at your knot and it’s not helping. I bet you can even feel the knot, right here, can’t’cha?” She tapped lightly on Twilight’s forehead, just below the base of her horn, and Twilight couldn't deny a feeling like something solid and stressed right under the bone, just where Pinkie indicated.
“Pinkie Sense tells you that?” Twilight asked dubiously.
“Nope! Common sense!” Pinkie giggled and leaned forward to look Twilight straight in the eyes, indifferent as ever to personal space. “You need some fun, and that’s totally my department!”
Twilight pondered carefully the odds of successfully arguing with Pinkie, and after a long, thoughtful pause, conceded to the inevitable. “Okay, fine. I do need a break, and I am pushing too hard without getting anywhere.” she admitted, setting the pink pony bouncing in delight.
“Allllll right!” Pinkie squealed, bounding over to her saddlebags and flipping them open. "You're gonna love this!"
Twilight knew Pinkie well enough to realize that quite literally anything could come out of her big magenta saddlebags, but she was still mystified when it turned out to be a series of miniature buildings. Blinking in puzzlement, Twilight leaned in to inspect one, and saw that it was a very detailed, hoof-painted replica of Sugarcube Corner.
Pinkie set about creating a little panorama of Ponyville landmarks on a book-free patch of floor, each carefully recreated on a tiny scale: the bakery, the Carousel Boutique, the town square's ornamental fountain, a Sweet Apple Acres barn. Wonder dawned in a broad grin across Twilight's features.
"Pinkie, these are amazing — and you've even got a little Library!" She couldn't help but give a little squeal when Pinkie set out the miniature Library tree, bedecked with tiny silk leaves. "Did you make these yourself?"
"Sort of. Not from scratch." Pinkie said modestly, though her smile was wide and proud. "Mostly they're just ordinary dollhouses I decorated to look like my favorite places! I was gonna make Sugarcube Corner out of real gingerbread, but that, um, didn't get very far."
Twilight knelt down on her belly to peer closer at the little buildings, tentatively plucking at the Library's door and giggling again when she found that it did open on tiny hinges. "This must have taken you so long!"
"A little bit here, a little bit there," Pinkie said airily. "I've been working on 'em for years now. It's my rainy-day-nopony-around-to-party-with thing, and now I'm making it your rainy-day-can't-stand-to-work-anymore thing!"
Twilight raised her head to give Pinkie a warm smile. "I'm really impressed, Pinkie. Thanks for sharing!"
Pinkie grinned back and pulled one last box from the saddlebags. Leaning closer, she waggled her eyebrows and said, "Oh, but they're not just for looking at, Twilight! I brought this stuff over to play!"
She turned the box over and dumped a pile of tiny ponies in the middle of the impromptu Ponyville. Twilight's grin froze slightly.
"You want to play with dolls?" she asked, very nearly succeeding at keeping scorn from her tone.
"I sure do!" Pinkie chirped, and poked Twilight's shoulder. "And you're gonna play with me! Dr. Pinkie insists."
"Well... if you say so..." With a polite smile pasted on, she poked at the pile of dolls. One particularly bright-colored pony caught her eye, and her expression swerved again to genuine, pleased surprise as she lifted the little rainbow-maned pegasus for a closer look. The carefully painted lightning-flash cutie mark on the doll's flank was unmistakable.
"They make Rainbow Dash dolls?" She asked, disbelieving. Now that she knew what to look for, she found other familiar color combinations in the pile and picked them up. "And... Fluttershy? Rarity? Hunh! And me!"
"Nope! 'They' don't make 'em, I do!" Pinkie bounced gleefully. "Just plain generic filly dolls, paint and patience! Well, except for these two of course..." She drew out a pair of ponies larger than the others: two regal alicorns, one evening blue, the other...
"Uh, Pinkie, why is your Celestia all... pink?"
Pinkie rolled her eyes and gave a little growl of frustration. "Ugh! I don't know, but those are the only ones they sell! You'd think they could get that right, but nooo..." She set the Princesses up on a high bookshelf overlooking the miniature town, and with a self-satisfied little hum, found a book with a picture of Canterlot Castle on its cover to put behind them.
"Huh. Weird." Twilight shrugged and looked back at the lovingly detailed figures of her friends. "This is just bizarrely sweet, Pinkie. Have you shown these to any of the others?"
"Just Fluttershy. It's not really AJ or Dashie's kind of thing."
"Not exactly, no." Twilight put down the rest, but continued to turn the Rainbow Dash doll over in the air, wondering how Pinkie managed to get such perfect stripes in its hair. "Um, so, okay... how do you play with them?"
Pinkie let out a little snort. "Oh come on! I know you've always been the booky type but you must know how to play with dolls. There's no trick to it, you just... y'know... play with 'em." She picked up a little mint-green unicorn, whom Twilight recognized by appearance if not by name, and demonstrated making the doll walk around, lightly humming, "La-la-la... you know, just like that!"
Twilight nodded slowly and, humoring Pinkie, resolved to give it an honest try. She put the pegasus doll on the floor and self-consciously trotted it around, looking up toward Pinkie to see if she was doing it right.
Pinkie gave her a strange look. “Twiiiii-light... that’s Rainbow Dash.”
“Well yeah...?" Twilight looked blankly at Pinkie, to be met only with a mildly exasperated stare, until suddenly she got it. "Oh! Right!”
Twilight raised the doll with her hornlight, stretched its legs out, and made it swoop in long curves through the air instead of walking. Pinkie nodded approval and mimed applause.
Giggling, Twilight lowered her voice and tried to imitate Dash's raspy tones. “Zzzhhhooomm... I’m Rainbow Dash! I’m the fastest flier around! I’ve gotta practice for the Wonderbolts!”
Pinkie grinned madly and put aside the green unicorn to pick up Rarity instead, posing her in the doorway of the miniature Carousel Boutique. “Oh Rainbow Daaaaaaash!” she trilled. Her imitation of the elegant unicorn’s lilting inflection was quite close, though it sounded odd in Pinkie’s higher pitch.
Rainbow Dash hovered down near Rarity. “Hey Rarity! What’s up?”
“Your mane is a mess! You should let me style it!”
“No way! I like being messy! And I’m way too busy practicing.” The brash flier started to soar away, but Rarity gave a mighty leap and tangled her legs around the protesting pegasus.
“Oh no you don’t! You’re coming with me!” Practicing the aerial combat manoeuvre of repeatedly bashing into the target with her hooves, Rarity managed to drag Rainbow Dash kicking and yelling down toward the boutique.
“Nuh uh! Lemme go!”
“Not this time! You’re going to look pretty if it kills you!” The unicorn was implacable, and moments later Rainbow Dash found herself perched on a chair inside the boutique.
Rarity gave an evil yet elegant laugh and paced around her captive, who struggled weakly against the invisible ropes binding her. "For too long you've run around with the messiest mane in Equestria!" she declaimed. Her horn emitted a mysterious Bwoooeeeoooeeeooo! sound, and an oversized hairbrush floated toward Rainbow Dash with sinister intent. "Today your wild rainbow tresses shall be tamed!"
Rainbow Dash cried out in terror, but for naught, as the crazed fashionista and her horrible hairbrush closed in. Rarity’s makeover technique was much the same as her combat moves, consisting largely of bumping her hooves and muzzle against Rainbow Dash while the brush flailed at the captive’s mane and tail. Struck numb with tonsorial anguish, Dash was helpless to resist, but she could certainly yell.
“Help! Help! I’m being...FROU-FROU’D!” she cried.
“Not on MAH watch!” came another voice, deeper, with a broad country accent, yet still curiously similar to the voice of Rainbow Dash. With a triumphant trumpet blare, Applejack burst into the boutique, propelled by a glowing violet aura of unicorn magic.
“Rarity!” she declared sternly. “You know better than to go gussyin’ up ponies without their permission!”
“Ahaha! But you cannot stop ME, silly filly!” Rarity’s horn went wooeeeoooeeeoop again and a large hair dryer flew up to menace Applejack. “NOPONY can stop RARITY! Soon all of Equestria will be... FABULOUS!”
But Applejack was fearless, even when the hair dryer started going voooooooosh and assaulting her with birdlike swoops.
“No way, sugarcube!” she sneered. “Your reign of terrific is over!”
Applejack launched herself at Rarity, and the battle was on. The combatants were more evenly matched than anyone would suspect, both well-versed in the martial art of randomly smacking against each other and going "Kssh! Kah! Bshh! Arg nonono ahh ahh ahh!"
But after a few rounds of epic battle, Rarity backed away and wooeeeoooped with her horn again, bringing in a sinister new weapon: a gigantic tube of lipstick in vivid bubblegum pink. Leaping forward to pin Applejack to the ground, the white unicorn mercilessly smeared the orange earth pony’s mouth area with girly color, and forced the frilliest tulle skirt in the boutique’s giant cardboard wardrobe around Applejack’s waist.
“Ha ha ha!” Rarity crowed, wickedly, allowing her victim to stand and look at herself in a full length mirror. Applejack was frozen in horror for a moment, then reared up on her back legs to give voice to a cry of purest soul’s anguish.
“Oh NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO —“
In a barn at Sweet Apple Acres, the real flesh and blood Applejack dunked her muzzle into a trough of cool, clear water, taking a break from the indoor work she’d been doing to keep busy despite the weather.
Her ears flicked and she raised her head with a mildly puzzled frown. She turned her head back and forth, thoughtfully staring into space while her ears swiveled slowly and carefully around.
She didn’t hear anything but the susurrus of rain on the roof. Eventually, she shrugged and lowered her head again to take a bite from a nearby bale of hay.
“— OOOOOoooooooooooooohhh...” Applejack’s despairing cry trailed off to a woeful croak.
“Ahaha, but yes!” Rarity cackled in triumph.
Applejack staggered painfully, listing one way and then the other, before falling weakly on her side. “Aggh! Too... girly... pink lace... ungh!”
“AJ! No!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed. Rarity let loose an evil villain laugh and advanced toward Dash with the menacing pink lipstick.
“Only one hope left...” Applejack gasped, raising her head painfully from the floor. “Fluttershy... you got to... help us...”
“Fluttershy?” Rarity laughed scornfully.
“How’s she gonna help?” Pinkie looked up from the toys and gave Twilight a mystified head-tilt. Twilight replied with a broad impish grin, the gleam of inspiration in her eyes.
“She’s got a secret weapon. Hang on just a sec!” Twilight leapt up and trotted quickly upstairs, grabbing the Fluttershy doll with her magic as she went. Pinkie rubbed her chin thoughtfully, pondering what the unicorn might be up to, before turning a wicked grin on Rarity's tiny victims.
With Rainbow Dash and Applejack both rendered silent and still by the assault and beautify, Rarity giggled madly to herself and smeared lipstick all over Dash’s face, before bringing forth a giant soft brush to powder both victims liberally with magenta blush.
“So pretty — so pretty!” she singsonged, but then gasped and jumped in surprise as a shadow suddenly loomed over the boutique.
Fluttershy was perched on the rim of a gigantic, floating wicker basket, and she called down in a voice so tiny and squeaky it verged on insulting.
“Um, hey, did somepony call for a rescue?” she asked, cautiously.
“Fluttershy — thank apples you’re here!” Applejack said. “Rarity’s givin’ us unwarranted makeovers!”
“Oh, that’s not very nice is it?”
“Not at all! But you can’t stop me!” Rarity declared. “Come any closer and I’ll fancy you up just like the others! Ahahaha!”
“Um, no, I don’t think you will...” Fluttershy replied, then took a deep breath and shouted, “GET HER, MY BUNNIES!”
Fluttershy made a courageous, graceful leap from her floating basket to the ground, though she cleverly made it seem like she just fell out of the basket as it tipped over, showering the boutique with her minions: hundreds of white bunnies, so furry they didn’t even seem to have ears or any other features, just puffs of cottony fuzz.
“OH NO, BUNNIES!” Rarity had time to scream before she was buried in the puffy horde. “Curses, my only weakness! Too cute! Too fluffy!”
With the evil makeoverlord vanquished, or at least temporarily stunned, Fluttershy hovered above the bunny pile and called out for Rainbow Dash and Applejack.
“Are you okay?” she asked nervously. Applejack was first to recover and pop up from under the cotton balls, muttering apple-filled curses.
“I’m okay, but I got to get this makeup off!” She grabbed a bunny and wiped her face with it.
Rainbow Dash emerged also, and spoke in a voice that for some reason sounded more like Pinkie Pie than she had before.
“That was a great rescue, Fluttershy! You’re my awesome hero!”
“Oh, it was nothing...” Fluttershy began modestly, but Rainbow Dash cut her off.
“Let’s make smoochies!” the blue pegasus exclaimed, bopping her lips up against Fluttershy’s and tilting back and forth. “Mwaah! Mwaah! Mwaah!”
“PINKIE!” Twilight laughed and gave Pinkie Pie a startled, scandalized open-mouthed grin, reflexively pulling the Fluttershy doll back. Pinkie stuck out her tongue.
“Oh, relax! These are make-believe ponies, they do smoochies a lot more than real ponies. Well, more than most real ponies, anyway. See?”
Spurned by Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash flew back down to Applejack and said “You looked real good with that skirt on AJ!”
“Thanks Dashie!” Applejack answered. “Now for kissies! Mwah mwah!”
Twilight smacked a hoof against her own face and dragged it slowly downward, shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter at Pinkie's enthusiastic Appledashing. “Pinkie Pie, you... you are something else.”
“I am? Ooh, what am I?” Pinkie dropped the dolls and bounced on her hooves in excitement. “Am I a coconut cream pie? Oh please say I’m a coconut cream pie!”
Twilight opened one eye and saw nothing on Pinkie’s face but wide-eyed anticipation, eager to be declared a dessert. Twilight tried to hold back, but the laugh built up too much pressure, escaping first as a snort, then a sputter through pursed lips, and then she gave up, fell to the floor laughing heartily, rolling onto her back holding her belly. Pinkie bounced even higher, wearing a big toothy grin and glowing with pride.
When Twilight managed to catch her breath again, Pinkie settled onto the ground nearby and asked indulgently, “There, see? Feeling better now?”
“I really am, Pinkie.” Twilight wiped away tears before rolling her eyes up toward the pink pony. “I’m glad you came over.”
“Me too! This is loads better than sitting around the bakery all day with no customers because of the rain.”
“Yeah, I bet....” The suggestion of work drew Twilight’s gaze reluctantly over toward her writing desk. “But I probably should get back to that essay...”
“NOT SO FAST!” boomed a new voice, echoing menacingly across the miniature Ponyville...
Dun Dun Dunnn!