The first rays of the morning dawn traced their way through the window and down to Celestia’s eyes, and for the first time in her long life, the sun dared to offend her. Like a university student crawling out of a local watering hole at 5:00 AM, the filly stretched and yawned. Her bloodshot eyes eventually adjusted just enough to the harsh light to make out where she saw.
It was definitely her bedroom. The walls, the floor, and the bed she laid upon were testament to that. Nonetheless, there was something definitely off. It might have had something to do with the very loud snores coming from right next to her. And then there were was the peculiar sensation of feathers running down the length of her body.
The filly slowly pulled herself forward, every nerve in her body seeming to rebel against her movement, and rolled onto the floor. When she finally recovered enough to look back up, she saw the source of the offending feathers and deafening snorts. Princess Luna was still passed out on the bedspread, with only a few flickers of light from her horn left to reveal who had moved the sun this morning. Celestia smiled and rapped her hooves against each other. Only on the job three days and she’s already moving the sun in her sleep. Oh, they just grow up so fast these days…
The snoring came to a crashing cacophony as life returned to Luna. The mare slowly opened her eyes and rolled onto her barrel before pushing herself back up. She stretched as her legs reached out onto the floor, her lips smacking in a way that would send more fashionable princesses scurrying from this apparent imposter. Her eyes eventually found their way to the smiling Celestia. “Oh…hello, sister.”
Celestia giggled as Luna let out a loud yawn. Her sister had never been a morning pony, but in the intervening years since Celestia had forced her filly of a sister to sleep at night, the elder had forgotten just how bad she really was. Her mane was an absolute disaster, her wings almost appeared to be molting, and her eyes were bloodshot and sagging. “My goodness, you need some caffeine,” the filly joked.
Luna ignored her sister’s joke as she climbed out of the bed, stretching her limbs and wings as she did so. She stifled another yawn as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. “I…I have not slept like that in days.”
“It wears you out, doesn’t it?” Celestia said. “At least this is your last day.”
Luna sighed. “Yes…Yes, it is.”
Luna’s eyes finally adjusted enough to pick up something rather…off about Celestia’s appearance. Namely, the small clumps of dirt and debris currently nestled within her sister’s mane and tail. The night mare’s own coat was an unkempt mess as well, with mud splotches and grass stains covering about half of her body. “I suppose we should be getting cleaned up. This is your last day as a filly, after all.”
Celestia sighed. “Yes…Yes it is.”
Lofty looked up from behind the tilted cereal box. “Are you sure Princess Celestia is okay?”
Sighing, Ruby slowly lifted the cardboard box until it was in a natural, non-pouring position before setting it back on the small counter. “I told you, she’s probably fine. The guards just took her home, that’s all.” I hope.
“Then why were you so scared last night?” Lofty asked between sugar-filled bites.
Ruby raised an eye at this. “What do you mean, ‘scared?’”
Lofty swallowed another bite of her breakfast before continuing. “You know, when you were in bed last night! I could hear you all the way in my room. You were all, ‘I am so dead I am so dead Luna is going to banish me forever and I will never see my daughter again and she will be sold into slavery or as food for Griffons oh I am so dead I am so dead I am-’”
The filly’s dramatic reenactment of her mother’s descent into pure madness came to a crashing halt as a loud knock emerged from the door and echoed throughout the house. The sudden noise startled Ruby so much that she leaped onto her daughter like a cougar, wrapping Lofty in her legs and hugging for dear life. The filly was simultaneously terrified and exhausted by her mother’s incessant panicking, but her tiny strength was not enough to break the older pegasus’ iron grip.
A voice from the other side of the door called out. “Hello? Is there a Miss Ruby Dream here?”
Ruby’s fear-induced bear hug relaxed as her brain picked apart the voice. It was definitely a mare, and lacked any of the intensity of an arresting guard’s. In fact, she sounded downright friendly. Lofty took advantage of the sudden lapse and broke free of her mother’s grasp, hopping back to her seat and resuming her cereal eating.
The grown mare walked over to the door and pulled it open, revealing a very smiley pink Earth pony on the other side. There was no sign of any garrisons or platoons waiting nearby, a fact that calmed the pegasus down even more. “M-May I help you?”
The pink pony raised a hoof to her mouth, loudly cleared her throat, and then unfurled a scroll. The sound of blazing trumpets and cheering crowds came pouring out of nowhere, confusing the feathers out of the bewildered Ruby. “Har yeah, har yeah…” The pony stopped, wiped her eyes, and then started over. “Hear ye, hear ye! By the royal decree of Princess Luna of Equestria, the citizen by the name of Lofty is hereby commanded to accompany her mother, royal employee Ruby Dream, to Canterlot Castle today for reasons that shall not be disclosed at this time due to issues of national security. Both ponies shall be expected in Princess Luna’s office at the normally appointed time, or shall face severe consequences.”
Ruby’s eyes glazed over as the news finally struck home. She was more than a little in trouble now, and even Lofty was being dragged into this mess. Then the pink one smiled and pulled a pair of purple envelopes out of nowhere. “Oh, and don’t forget your party invitations! It’s gonna be a blast! Well, see ya around!”
The pony darted down the street, leaving behind a perfect facsimile in a dust cloud that soon collapsed. “Mom, what was that?” Lofty shouted from the breakfast nook.
Ruby turned back to her daughter, wearing the best smile she could in this situation. Lofty was too busy finishing her cereal to notice. “Oh, it was just…work. Princess Luna wants to see us both, so go wash up and be ready to leave in five minutes.” And take a good look at the house, too. It may be the last time we ever see it.
The guards stationed throughout Blueblood’s estate grumbled in relief as the hour came to change shifts. One after another, the armored ponies wandered in and out of the house, with the ones departing either heading to their next post or home to rest for their next assignment. Half of the ponies at the scene were happy to be gone, and the other half were dismayed to lose their entire day guarding some spoiled prince. At least all the reports had said the prince had not set a hoof outside of his bedroom all morning.
One of the newly-arrived pegasi slowly marched up the stairs to Prince Blueblood’s bedroom, his teeth grinding angrily with each step. Normally, he would have preferred to just fly straight up and avoid stairs altogether; Celestia knows such things are not for a proud pegasus like himself. But alas, Blueblood was one of those Canterlot folks – the kind that thought the world revolved around the unicorns and everypony else was beneath contempt – and had outlawed any flying by the few pegasi that could stand to be near him for more than five seconds.
Fortunately, Blueblood’s door was directly across from the top of the staircase. The guard pounded on the door. “Prince Blueblood?”
The pegasi’s guard instincts kicked in within seconds. The pony spun about and bucked the door with his rear legs, sending the whole thing crashing open so hard the top hinge popped out. The guard’s fears were quickly confirmed as she saw the empty bed.
Then he heard the muffled noises coming from the closet. The guard crept to the small door, his wings extended, and slowly pushed it open with one hoof. He recoiled as he saw what was inside.
It was one of the unicorn guards, the one that had been assigned to Blueblood’s bedside to make sure he wasn’t plotting vile schemes in his sleep. His eyes were half-shut, like he had just awoken from a rather abrupt nap. His legs were trussed up with one long piece of rope, and a dirty sock had been taped into his mouth to hide his screams.
One other item happened to be missing, however.
Once safely away from the confines of his home, Blueblood broke away from the rest of the guards and retreated down a nearby alleyway. His agents were already waiting for him, this time dressed in the most pompously arrogant outfits they could find. If one didn’t know better, they would have been indistinguishable from actual nobles.
Blueblood shuffled his armor about; he had never quite cared for metal plating, even with his brief tutelage at one of the military academies. Then again, he had only attended because it was tradition for all princes and princesses to be trained in at least some martial art. The dyes his agents had supplied him with were not to his liking either, but at least it would wash out easier than the kind the real guards used. “My thanks for the chloroform. I would have never escaped that prison without it.”
“Think nothing of it,” said the stallion. “Now, what is this plan of yours?”
Bluebood pointed a hoof at both disguised ponies. “I need you two to present our demands to Princess Luna. If she does not comply, show her the copies of the photos you made. I will carry the originals with me into the palace.”
The mare shrugged. “So, we’re just your diversion?”
Blueblood readjusted his helmet. “You are my mouthpiece. I cannot show myself to the princess without being recognized, but to the guards I can just pass myself as a new recruit. All I need you to do is keep her occupied while I find Princess Celestia’s foal. Once I have her in my custody, both Luna and Celestia will be at my mercy.”
The stallion let out a rather disturbed laugh. “And…you don’t plan to…kill the foal, do you?”
Blueblood recoiled in surprise. “What? No, I would never kill a foal! Besides, she is the illegitimate daughter of my aunt. She’s a part of the family, albeit a shameful one, and I will not do anything to harm my own flesh and blood. Physically, at least.” He turned back towards the castle. “I will meet you inside. Remember, do not approach Princess Luna until nine o’clock. I need every minute I can to find the filly.”
The mighty stallion galloped off down the street, his armor clanking noisily as its bounced against his body. Once he was gone, the stallion sighed. “We’re working as foalnappers now?”
“I’m more worried about the stupidity of his plan,” the mare said “Just marching up to the princess and saying, ‘Oh hi! We broke into your room and stole these pictures! Let us burn down a village or we’ll inconvenience you and your sister!’” She sighed. “I sometimes wish I had never gotten involved with this creep. Sabotaging another house is one thing, but this is getting too heavy.”
The stallion nodded sadly. “Well, let’s get this over with, then.”
Star Sparkle and Night Light were already at the breakfast table by the time Twilight dragged herself out of her old bedroom. Night Light was levitating a newspaper in front of his face, his eyes half-buried in the sports page. Star, meanwhile, had pulled the national news page from the bundle and was halfway through an article about a dispute between Manehatten and Las Pegasus over tourism revenue.
Night Light looked up from his paper as Twilight sat at her old spot at the table. “Well, hello sleepy head! About time you woke up!”
Twilight’s head sank down until her chin was resting on the table. Her eyes were bloodshot, and she kept blowing a small tuft of bedmane out of her face. “Ugh…so tired…”
Star looked up from her own paper, looking more than a little concerned at her daughter’s condition. “Have you been taking care of yourself, dear? You look awful.”
“Sorry,” Twilight moaned. It took all of her strength to pull herself back up. “It’s just been a really rough last couple of days. I haven’t had a lot of time to sleep.”
“I can imagine,” said Star, her hoof patting Twilight on the back. “Helping Princess Luna while her sister is away? That has to be one of the greatest things my little Twinkle has done.”
Twilight moaned again. “Can you PLEASE not call me ‘Twinkle?’ I’m not a foal anymore, mom!”
Star and Night both chuckled at Twilight’s protests, causing the unicorn to slink down yet again. Her face came dangerously close to slamming into the French toast sitting in front of her.
Her eyes sprang to life, her body shot back up like it had hit a spring, and her horn had magically grabbed a fork even before she had willed it. It was her father’s personal recipe, the one she had fallen in love with as a small filly. She had tried to cook it herself, but every attempt resulted in a fiery kitchen and massive property damage. Even Spike had taken a few shots, and while his attempts were usually less traumatizing, they never came out just right.
Night Light noticed his daughter’s surprise immediately. He folded the newspaper and set it aside, now satisfied that the Canterlot Comets were still in the middle of their worst season since the Open Field fiasco twenty years ago. “Surprised this old stallion could still cook?”
Twilight cut off a chunk of the toast and slammed it into her mouth. The long-forgotten flavors came rushing back in seconds, sending the mare into a nostalgia-driven nirvana. “I…I haven’t had this in so long…”
Star set aside her own page, choosing to hide the column about how Princess Luna was fast becoming more popular among yearlings than her sister. “It has been a while since your last visit. I think it was, what, just after you graduated?”
“And then back to your postgraduate studies,” Night sighed. “We wanted to visit, but we knew how busy you were with Princess Celestia. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we learned you moved to Ponyville.”
“And that was because your mail kept bouncing back,” Star said with a depressed sigh.
Twilight swallowed her bite in guilt-ridden silence. “I-I’m sorry I never wrote. I was always just so busy that…”
She stopped herself mid-excuse. “No. I wasn’t too busy to just send you a letter. I…I guess I got so caught up in my own world that I forgot where I came from. I never meant to discard you from my life like that.”
Night Light responded to his daughter’s self-pity by giving her a little jab on the shoulder. The lavender unicorn winced in shock and pain as he struck, but quickly cooled down when she saw the smile on his face. “You are so high-strung, you know that? Your mother and I were just teasing you!”
Star rose from her seat and levitated away the parents’ finished plates. Twilight, meanwhile, continued to pick at her own piece of bread, not wanting to let so much as a single gooey crumb go to waste. The mother floated the dishes into the waiting sink before taking her seat again. “Your father and I are so proud of you, Twilight. I hope you never doubt that for a minute. We would love to hear from you more, but you’re a grown mare now and have to live your own life. You could move as far as Las Pegasus, but you’ll still be our little Twinkle.”
Twilight smiled, her gut now feeling a little better. “Thanks.”
Night Light glanced over at the hanging clock. “Well, I’ve still got a while before work. Tell us some more about this Ponyville of yours.”
The nervousness washed away from Twilight’s mind, only to be replaced with a calming sense of nostalgia and belonging. She launched into almost a dozen stories at once, talking about everything from when she first arrived in Ponyville to the present day. She spoke of her friends at great length, detailing every little thing about each pony all the way down to what brand of hairspray Rarity used. Her parents listened not with false sincerity, but genuine curiosity and wonderment as they got a taste of their daughter’s grand adventures away from Canterlot.
Twilight’s smile beamed as she finished the tale of the last Nightmare Night Festival. This wasn’t home; that would always be Ponyville to her now. But for this brief moment, it was like she had wandered back to her time as a filly, eagerly telling her parents about everything she had experienced that day.
It was a wonderful feeling.
Celestia stared at the mirror in indignation, once again lamenting the horrors that awaited her the next few hours. The harbinger of her doom floated overhead, slowly descending upon her precious scalp. The filly squirmed and twitched from the oncoming pain as the first few fangs pricked the follicles of her mane. And then came the yank.
Celestia yelped in pain as the hairbrush pulled through her tangled mess of a hairstyle. Above her, Luna was performing a precarious balancing act, using her forehooves to hold Celestia steady and her magic to move the brush through her sister’s hair. “How could you possibly -ugh- get your mane -grah- in such a terrible state?”
“I don’t -AAGH!- know! I’ve never had to -OW!- comb it before! It’s one of the perks that -OUCH!- comes with being the Sun Princess!”
Luna groaned as she pulled through a rather nasty tangle across the back of the rainbow tuft of hair. Celestia’s response was a louder, more severe shout of agony; if she did not know better, she would have sworn that Luna was in the middle of tearing her mane from her scalp completely. “Why are we even doing this?” she whined. “I’ll look normal again once the spell’s broken!”
“But your friend is coming over this morning, and I will not allow my little sister to humiliate the entire royal household by looking like something that just crawled out of a cave,” said Luna.
Celestia rolled her eyes. “We did crawl out of a cave.”
Luna’s response was to nuzzle the side of her sister’s face. The filly’s mood unconsciously lifted as the warmth from her sister’s muzzle spread through her very being. “Oh Celly, I am only making sure my sister looks her best. Once you are back on the throne, you will have to look like the most wondrously beautiful pony in Equestria all day and night. I just want to make sure you get off to the right start.”
Celestia snerked and chuckled. The tangles in her hair were thinning out, and the feeling of a comb running through her unknotted mane was certainly an enjoyable one. Still, while the two were alone, there was still one thing left to discuss. “Luna…I’m sorry for being so mean to you.”
“You do not need to apologize again,” Luna said while batting the back of the mane to the other side of her head.
“But I did so many terrible things to you these last few weeks,” Celestia said sadly. “I knew it was wrong to pick on you, especially after all that’s happened between us, but like a bully I did it anyway.”
Luna ran the comb down another lock. “You have nothing to worry about. We are perfectly even now. I would much rather we not pull anything like this on each other again.”
Celestia spun her head around, her eyes locking with Luna’s. “I agree completely. It’s time we really acted like sisters again and not just co-rulers. In fact, I have a proposal you might find interesting…”
Ruby’s and Lofty’s steps were slow, quiet, and altogether timid. The mother pegasus could feel her dire fate well up around her as they entered Luina’s office, and only the fact that a three-headed alligator had failed to pop from the ceiling and devour them whole calmed her nerves. Lofty, meanwhile, had no real idea what was going on; her only fear was that Luna would ground her for playing with Princess Celestia when she had ran away from home. And a princess outranked a mom; that meant any punishment would be at least doubly, if not triply, harsh.
Luna was already waiting for the two, as was Celestia. Ruby sighed in relief at the sight of the uninjured filly. “G-Good morning, Your Highnesses. M-May I ask why you wanted Lofty to come with me today?”
“We found a cure,” Luna said curtly.
Ruby smiled nervously as the news. “Th-That’s wonderful. But that doesn’t answer my question.”
Celestia slowly walked up to the pegasus filly. “Um…Lofty? D-Do you want to go to my room for a little bit? I wanted to tell you something.”
Lofty blinked a few times before turning back to her mother in confusion. Ruby’s face was still locked in a perpetual frown, but she still managed to catch her daughter’s indecision. “It’s all right, honey. You aren’t in any trouble.”
“Your mother is right,” Luna said. “What Celestia has to tell you is very important.”
“Oh, um, okay,” Lofty said. She turned back to Celestia. “So…your room, right?”
“Just follow me,” Celestia sighed.
The two filled trotted out of the room as quickly as one could blink, their tiny hooves scrapping against the palace floor as they charged towards Celestia’s living quarters. Once they were safely out of earshot, Luna turned her attention back to her terrified attendant. “As for you, Miss Dream, I wish to discuss what occurred yesterday afternoon.”
Ruby’s heart sank. She could feel the horrors of perpetual unemployment threatening to swallow her whole. “I…I didn’t…I mean…”
“I wanted to thank you.”
“Please don’t….” Ruby’s eyes popped open in shock. “I…I’m sorry?”
Luna smiled at her attendant. It wasn’t that of a slasher toying with their victim; rather, it was much like one mother speaking to another. “Were it not for you watching over Celestia, a bad situation might have become even worse. My sister’s judgment has not been at its best during this time, and there is no telling what kind of disasters might have occurred had you not been there to watch over her.”
Ruby was stunned. She had come in expecting to be roasted alive, perhaps even sent to an orbiting celestial body for a thousand years. But to be thanked? “I was only doing what I would have done with any of Lofty’s friends. I was in the middle of telling her to go back home when your guards arrived.”
Luna sighed. “Perhaps they acted a little too hastily, then. In any case, what is done is done, and my sister will soon be back on the throne. Which means…”
Ruby gulped. She knew exactly what fate had in store for her. “I’m being demoted, aren’t I?”
“Not quite.” Luna took a seat at her desk and levitated over a very old, very dusty piece of paper. Ruby leaned over in curiosity, but could not make out the archaic script. “According to the laws we created when we first became princesses, each of us was assigned a specific time of day to rule over as we saw fit. At the same time, we inserted provisions that would allow the other sister to legally fulfill the same obligations and duties in case either one of us fell victim to an illness or injury. It was how Celestia managed to take over my royal duties during the time I was…indisposed.”
Ruby nodded along, not quite getting all the intricacies of the Canterlot political system but just humming enough bars to fake it. “I see. But…how does that affect me?”
“This morning, Princess Celestia came to me with a proposal. Rather than allow me to melt into the background yet again, she is willing to switch positions once in a while.”
Ruby’s jaw dropped. “Switch positions? You mean…”
Luna stood and trotted up to the stunned Ruby. The pegasus shuddered as a hoof fell upon her shoulder. “Every so often, I shall be performing my sister’s duties, while she fulfills my own. Never again will we fully separate the work that goes into ruling Equestria based on an arbitrary time schedule. And besides, it would do my sister some good to see how difficult it is to implement some of her proposals.” Her grip on Ruby tightened, causing the pegasus to wince. “It would do her a lot of good.”
“That’s….nice,” Ruby said, pushing Luna’s hoof off her aching shoulder.
“In any case, I would like to retain your services during these days,” Luna said. “You will still be working in the pool otherwise, so you will not be in danger of losing your job. And you will still get the expanded benefits package, albeit not at the same pay you are at currently. But we can work such things out.”
Ruby was even more stunned than before. Her entire life, she had never imagined something quite like this happening to her. Even when she began working for the palace, she could have never anticipated not only becoming an attendant for the mysterious Princess Luna, but getting to keep her job after her sister changed back from being a filly.
Then again, she had never imagined Princess Celestia ever turning into a filly, but that was neither here or there.
“I…I would love to,” Ruby said with a smile.
Luna smiled back. “Wonderful!” Her face then flipped right into serious mode. “Now, we have a lot of work to finish and only a few hours to do it in. The situation in Fillydelphia is beginning to improve, and it is time we began bringing ponies back in rather than pushing them out. We need to inform every unit we have there that…”
Luna’s epic monologue of epicness stopped at a knocking on her door. The princess sighed. “Yes, what is it?”
“You have some visitors in the throne room, Your Highness,” the guard on the other end responded. “They say it is of the upmost urgency. They also said it was for your ears only.”
Luna moaned. Great, another crisis. What a wonderful way to begin the day. “I will be there in just a minute.” She turned to Ruby. “I shall return soon. In the meantime, look over last night’s scroll deliveries. I am expecting a correspondence from my niece on the repairs in Stalliongrad.”
With a final hug and kiss, Night Light set off to the office, his briefcase firmly clasped in his mouth. Once he had vanished into the distance, Twilight gave her mother one last hug. “Goodbye, mom. I-I’ll write this time. I promise.”
“Goodbye, Twinkle,” Star said with a sniff.
Twilight slowly began to walk away from the house, only to stop dead in her tracks. There was one thing she had to talk about. “Um…mom? While I was in the castle, I found this book…”
“Did it have an orange cover?”
The younger unicorn’s very face seemed to start sliding off of her skull in shock. “Wh-What? You knew about it this whole time?”
“Well, I knew I had smuggled some rather detailed anatomy books into the school at one point,” Star said before chuckling. “The teachers weren’t too happy, though. They had the things locked up right after they caught me in class with one.”
Twilight’s face sagged more. “Y-You took one to class?!”
Star blushed beneath her fur. “Well…it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done. Anyway, I didn’t bother to pick them up. I met your father by the time I graduated, and I didn’t need things like that anymore.”
The lavender unicorn could feel her heart stopping. She did not want to think about…THIS. “I..I think I need to lie down for a little while. I’ll see you later, mom,” she said in a complete monotone.
Before Star could say a single word, Twilight was galloping away as quickly as possible, no doubt to scrub her brain clean of any naughty images. The old mare could only laugh at her daughter’s discomfort. “Still as awkward as always. Oh, some things never change.”
The two PIs watched Luna enter the throne room, looking every bit her regal self. The graceful pony sat herself upon her sister’s throne and eyed the two cautiously but warmly. “Good morning. How can I be of assistance?”
The unicorn mare took a step forward. “Your Highness, we have come here to speak of a matter of great importance. We regret to inform you that your sister may have been performing some…indiscretions.”
Luna’s eyes narrowed. “Indiscretions?”
The stallion gulped and took a step forward. “We have proof that Princess Celestia has had a foal outside of wedlock.”
If the princess had been drinking anything, she would have spat it out at that moment. The guards looked about themselves and muttered in confusion. The two informants simply stood there, watching for Luna’s response. “Guards…I need to speak to these two…alone.”
The guards were still stunned by the bombshell, but quickly marched out of the throne room as per their ruler’s orders. Once they were gone, Luna stepped down from her throne and walked right into the faces of the terrified ponies. “I will indulge you only so much longer. Tell me, what is this secret you have discovered?”
The mare bit back her terror, unsank her eyes, and took a few steps back. “Now that we are alone, I suppose we could level with you. We’re here on behalf of Prince Blueblood.”
Luna’s glare only intensified at the sound of her nephew’s name. Her blood boiled at a temperature that could cook an egg, while the other two could feel their own fluids chill until little icicles raced through their veins. “What….does that insignificant waste of oxygen…want?”
“He is giving you one last chance to reverse your position on the Ponyville case, Your Highness,” the stallion stammered. “If you do not, he will release these photos to the general public.”
The stallion reached into his fancy clothes and pulled out a manila envelope. Luna’s telekinesis snatched it before he could transfer the folder from his fetlock to his mouth, popped it open, and floated out its contents. Her jaw dropped as she recognized the pictures. They were the same ones she had taken during the initial prank, before everything had gone horribly wrong. “Wh-How did you get these?”
“Does that matter?” asked the mare with a shrug. “You see, these are only copies. The originals are stashed away so safely even you could never find them. Give Prince Blueblood what he wants, and your sister’s little foal problem will stay our little secret. Don’t, and this will be on the front page of every newspaper in Equestria. It’s your choice, princess.”
Luna bit her lower lip as she processed the dilemma. I cannot give that monster what he wants. Ponyville has done no wrong, and I will not allow it to be destroyed because of a bad dance. But I cannot allow these pictures to get out. Even if nopony ever connects them with me, my sister will still be accused of hiding her own child. Rumors will fly about who the father is, my sister’s reputation will be damaged beyond repair, and for my carelessness, I will be to blame. If only I could…
Then it dawned on her. She set the photos back into the envelope and handed it back to the two, who took the holder in surprise. “Once again, how did you get these?”
The stallion smirked. They could smell that the conversation was turning to their advantage. “As if we would tell you.”
“Well, it strikes me that the papers will ask you much the same question,” Luna mused. “I am certain that the photographer who managed to capture such wonderfully pristine shots will be handsomely rewarded.”
The mare shook her head at the obvious scheme. “Oh please, do you expect us to fall for that?”
Luna shook her head, laughing all the way. “No, of course not. I just thought I should also tell you what would happen to that poor pony.”
The mare and stallion looked at each other in confusion. “Huh?” asked the stallion.
Luna paced around the room, pausing occasionally at the stained glass windows as if to heighten the drama. It was obviously working, as the two ponies could feel that tingling of fear building up inside them yet again. “You see, in order to get pictures like that, they would have had to have broken into Canterlot Castle. As you can imagine, illegally entering royal property, and especially that of the Royal Pony Sisters, is one of the highest crimes in all of Equestria. Oh yes, that poor pony would be facing many, many years in the dungeon.”
“B-But we didn’t take them!” the stallion stammered.
Luna continued to pace, never breaking her casual gait for even a moment. “But then there’s the foalish ponies that try to use these photos to intimidate their beloved princess. Trespassing is a serious enough crime, but conspiracy against the crown? Tsk tsk. Back a thousand years ago, that was the only crime in Equestria worthy of a death sentence. We had plenty of assassins, thieves, cutthroats, and petty nobles trying to strike blows against my sister and I, and all of them found themselves at the wrong end of a noose. Princess Celestia forbade such a penalty in favor of banishment a thousand years before the last Summer Sun Celebration, but I would not hesitate to bring it back if anypony was enough of a fool to try and hurt her in any way.”
The two could feel their resolve beginning to seep away. Nothing they had ever done had prepared them for a literal death threat from the second most powerful pony in the land. “M-My partner and I…would…like to…” the mare muttered.
Luna froze in the middle of the throne room, her eyes locking on the two. “Well? Do you have something you need to confess?”
The stallion could take no more. With a mighty leap, he threw himself at Luna’s hooves and began to kiss them for mercy. “Oh please please please! We admit it! Prince Blueblood hired us to spy on you! We broke into your party! We broke into the palace! We stole those pictures from your room! And he made us come up here and blackmail you! J-JUST DON’T KILL US!”
The mare facehoofed herself at her partner’s total meltdown. Even Luna felt like joining in, but her work was not yet done. There was one more thing she needed to do. “So, are you ready to make a deal?”
Twilight was more than a little surprised to see a small group massing at the palace gates. “But you have to let us in!” said a familiar voice.
“Sorry, no admittance without an appointment,” the guard responded.
“But we’ve come so far,” said a yellow pony speaking in a soft tone.
The guard’s gaze was unbroken. “I am sorry, but the law is the law. You cannot enter the premises without an appointment or an invitation. Princess Luna’s time is very valuable, and…”
Twilight’s mouth almost popped open as she saw who the ponies trying to get in where. It was her friends, the same ones she had seen back to Ponyville only two days before. Her trot broke into a gallop as she approached the waiting crowd, who turned about at the sound of her hooves striking against the Canterlot streets. And as per Ponyville tradition, everypony immediately broke into a group hug, complete with cheers, well-wishes, and thanks for making it at such an important time.
One of the guards raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Miss Sparkle, are these ponies with you?”
Twilight broke free from the crowd, save for a purple baby dragon now affixed to her back, and smiled at the guard. “Why, yes. I invited them here so we could wish Princess Celestia well on her return.”
Applejack turned to Twilight. “Really? First time Ah heard-” The workhorse stopped as Twilight gave her a glare that could set the whole Everfree Forest on fire. “A-Ah mean, YES! We’all are here ta see that…that Princess Celestia is happy as a worm in an apple core ta be back!”
The guard’s mood lightened as he heard the excuse. “Well, if that’s the case, they’re more than the welcome.” The two stepped aside, allowing the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony (sans Laughter) to enter Canterlot Castle.
Once they were FAR out of reach of the front guards, Rainbow Dash hovered up to Twilight’s ear, her wings beating at a relatively relaxed pace for the blue pegasus. “So what do you mean by Celestia coming back?”
Twilight smiled smugly. “Yesterday, Pinkie and I put our heads together and figured out this whole magic mess. And today, Princess Celestia is going to be officially cured!”
A cheer broke out amongst the ponies. Spike hugged Twilight from behind her neck for a few seconds before returning to his normal riding position. “I knew the smartest unicorn ever could figure this out!”
Twilight chuckled. “Well, I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
“Say, where is Pinkie?” Rarity asked. “I would have imagined she would be the first one here to greet us.”
“Oh, she’s probably setting up for the party we’re having after the spell’s broken,” Twilight said. “Knowing her, it’s going to be one of the grandest events in Equestria ever!” Her smile fell just a bit. “And why are all of you back in Canterlot? I thought you had a lot of important tasks back in Ponyville.”
“Well, um, we kind of forgot the reason we came last time,” Fluttershy squeaked.
“In all the commotion with the princesses, we forgot to ask Princess Luna for a tax extension,” Rarity finished. “It’s vitally important that we get that, or we’ll be in real trouble once the taxpony comes knocking on our door. I could lose my shop!”
“And Ah can lose Sweet Apple Acres!” Aj added.
Twilight was quiet. She had never really paid much attention to tax laws and the like, if only because she never really needed to pay much of anything. Her one attempt at studying the code had left her brain frazzled, and she had never dared to ask Spike in case the same thing happened to him. Still, it was a problem for her friends, and that made it a problem to her. “I wouldn’t worry about it. Princess Celestia and Luna are more than fair. Once this is done, you can all get an extension, and we can all enjoy ourselves a fine Pinkie Pie party!”
The five ponies and one dragon high hoofed/clawed each other with a yelp of self-congratulation.
Lofty may have been quite young, but even she could tell something was very wrong by the time she and Celestia entered the princess’ bedroom. Her new friend was so quiet and looked so uptight that it was almost startling. She was acting more like a stuffy adult than a little foal. “So…what do you want to do?”
Celestia scratched her crest as she tried to find the right words. “Lofty, I…that is, we…I mean…we found a way to turn me back to normal.”
The pegasus filly’s mouth spread into a goofy grin. “Really? You mean you get to be all big and massive and big and stuff?”
“Well, yes, but…”
“And you can fly around and move the sun again?”
“I suppose so, but…”
“And you can show me all the cool stuff a princess does to have fun?!”
Celestia took a few steps away from the filly. Her excitement was only making the awkwardness even worse. “That’s just it. Once I’m a full-grown princess again, I’ll have to go back to my royal duties. That means I can’t hang out with you anymore.”
Lofty was quiet, her grin slowly melting into a sad frown. When she spoke again, the filly was more bewildered than anything else. “What do you mean? I mean, we can still be friends, right?”
The white alicorn grumbled. She had never really considered how exactly to explain this concept to a filly. “We don’t need to stop being friends, but it won’t be like it was these last two days. You see…”
Blueblood crept through the palace, his eyes scanning every inch of the hall for some sign of his elusive prey. So far, however, all he had found was disappointment and a gnawing sense that his mission was doomed. Wherever Luna and Celestia had stashed the bastard child, they had certainly done a good job.
Even so, his disguise appeared to be working. None of the other guards motioned to stop him, at worst giving him a curious look before returning to their duties. As much as he hated having to cover his naturally fabulous good looks with coat dye and ill-fitting armor, he could not deny that the costume was fooling everypony that could stop his quest. And with Princess Luna thoroughly occupied with his long-outlived-their-usefulness agents, he had plenty of time for his scheme to unfold. It was the one glimmer of hope in his day.
“And so you see…”
His ears tingled at the sound. It was a filly’s voice, that much was clear, and it was coming from down the hall. Blueblood could recognize the route from his days as a colt, before his Auntie Celestia became cold to him for reasons that baffled the stallion. It was the way to Celestia’s private quarters, a place that no ordinary filly would even be allowed to set down a hoof without being mobbed by Canterlot’s elite troops.
I found you.
“…that’s why I have to be an adult again,” Celestia finished.
Celestia had seated herself next to the windowsill. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Lofty anymore; otherwise, this would just be too hard. The yellow filly was sniffing at the air, barely able to hold back the frustration welling up inside her. “It’s not fair.”
Celestia sighed. “No, it isn’t.”
“B-But we can still be friends, right?” Lofty said quickly. “I mean, you can write to me, and I can write to you, and we can say hello if we run into each other and all that? Th-This isn’t goodbye, right?”
Celestia could take no more. She jumped down from her perch and walked up to the filly, her steps covered up by the sound of the pegasus’ sobs. “I-I didn’t mean to hurt you. What you’ve done for me the last couple of days has been nothing short of wonderful. You know....I never really had a ‘friend’ friend.”
Lofty looked up, her teary eyes reflecting her puzzlement. “Really?”
Celestia nodded in affirmation. “Ever since I was a filly, I had to be the responsible one. I had to make sure Equestria didn’t collapse under its own weight, or the planet didn’t get hurled into the sun, or that Luna didn’t poison herself on the green weeds. I never had time to play or have fun, and by the time I realized that, I was already a full-grown pony ruling a country. That was why I wanted to hang out with you so badly. Since I’ve been cursed, I’ve been able to actually enjoy things I never got to experience before, like playing with toys and riding carnival rides.”
Lofty managed to let out a weak smile. “B-But why can’t we stay like this?”
“Because I have responsibilities,” Celestia said. “Being a princess is more than just tea parties and fancy dresses. It means taking charge of your ponies, making sure your subjects have safe places to live and plenty to eat. I can’t just think about what I want; I need to do what is best for my little ponies, including you.”
“B-But we can still be friends?”
Celestia smiled and stretched a foreleg across the back of Lofty’s neck. “Of course we can. We may not be able to do the same things, but that doesn’t mean I have to stop counting you out as somepony I care about. And who knows? Perhaps when you grow up, you can get a job with the castle. We could always use more pegasi on staff.”
Lofty smiled and wiped another tear away. “Th-Thank you, Princess Celestia.”
The two friends hugged each other tightly, wishing a fond farewell to this brief time.
And then they heard the door slam.
Both fillies turned around to see an unfamiliar unicorn guard standing overhead, his eyes narrowed on the filly princess. His confusion soon transformed into a disturbing grin of triumph. “Good morning, Your Highness.”
“Oh…uh….hello?” said Lofty. She turned to Celestia. “Who is this....?”
The filly’s mouth froze as she saw Celestia’s terrified expression. Her jaw hung flat and her eyes bulged as she recognized this pony’s key features. His coat may have been a different color, and he may have been wearing the armor of a pony guardscolt, but there was no hiding who he truly was.
The stallion smiled. “Well, this is not quite what I was expecting. From what I had heard, you were just my dear aunt’s love child. But now that you really ARE my dear aunt…that makes things so much easier.”
Celestia hurriedly stepped backwards. Of all the ponies that she could possibly want to find out about this, Blueblood’s name was at the very bottom. “i…I order you to stay back!”
Blueblood laughed and took a single step forward. “Oh, you cannot order me around anymore. Once I have you, taking down your sister will be the easiest thing in Equestria.”
Lofty cantered herself in between the trembling Celestia and the menacing Blueblood. Her tiny little hooves shook with a remarkable fury. “You are NOT going to hurt my friend, you big bully!”
“Get out of my way, foal!” Blueblood bellowed. “I am a prince, and I will not tolerate a peasant that thinks she can order me around!”
“Peasant?! PEASANT?!” Lofty turned to Celestia. “What’s a peasant?”
Blueblood facehoofed himself, the helmet letting out a metallic ting as his hoof struck. “Whatever. Get out of my way, or I WILL make you move!”
“Hah!” Lofty shouted. “You forget that I am a student of the great Fluttershy, tamer of beasts and defeater of dragons!”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. You only met Fluttershy once.
Blueblood raised an eyebrow. Who is this Fluttershy?
“And thanks to my mom, I too know her ultimate technique! BEHOLD....THE STARE!”
The filly planted all four hooves hard onto the ground, craned her neck back, and closed her eyes. One deep breath later, her eyes popped open, revealing the most focused pair of retinas a pony had ever known. They were the very eyes of death itself, the kind that could pick a pony’s soul clean and leave the empty carcass behind for the buzzards to feast upon.
That was what the filly was aiming for. Instead, her bulging irises and sweaty expression only brought on exasperation from the prince. “Very well. Know that I do this for the good of Equestria.”
Bluebood reached up a foreleg, ready to smack the filly away. Lofty’s resolve faltered quickly as she realized her attempt to emulate her hero would only end in her untimely demise at the hand of this murderous stallion. Celestia galloped to her friend and tried to pull her away, but the pegasus’ hooves were still locked in place.
The prince’s armored hoof swung…only to stop as the door opened. “Good morning, Princess Celestia! Ready to be…”
The prince spun around, his jaw almost pulling his entire face down with it as he saw who had just intruded. It was five of the six ponies that had ruined the Grand Galloping Gala, all neatly assembled together and trudging about like they owned the castle. They had even brought a small monster with them, no doubt to feed it the bones of ponies so it could grow and help them destroy Equestria forever. The beast and four of its cohorts stood there, mouths agape.
One, however, recognized the prince for what he was within seconds. Her growl was like that of a demon. “Yooooooou.”
“Well, this is a surprise,” Blueblood said. “The same ponies that ruined the most important night of my life just happened to come waltzing in right at my moment of triumph!”
“And…who are you, exactly?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Th-That cur there is Prince Blueblood, the termite-infested branch of Celestia’s family tree!” Rarity snapped. “I have never met a pony so uncouth, so uncivilized, and so self-absorbed as that wretched waste of fur right there!”
“Ah yes, the ungrateful peasant that thought herself worthy of my attention! I allowed you the opportunity to protect your superior, and you repay my kindness with threats and insults? No wonder you will never be true nobility.”
Rarity’s teeth grated against each other, filling the room with a noise not unlike nails on a chalkboard. The other ponies poured into the room, taking up a semicircle between Blueblood and the doorway. Even Fluttershy seemed unusually assertive today, standing alongside her friends without so much as a twinge of fear.
Blueblood choked back a laugh at the sight. “Th-This is too funny! You really think I’d believe you’d attack me when I have CelestiaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!”
The pained prince his head around to see Lofty yanking on his tail with her mouth. Even worse, Celestia was nowhere to be seen. The sound of tiny hooves, however, signaled where she was headed: right behind Twilight. Even worse, the prince could hear the marching of more armored hooves headed in his direction. Any moment now, he would be swarmed with guards.
With a growl of frustration, Blueblood flicked his tail, sending Lofty crashing into the waiting Fluttershy. The other ponies quickly gathered around the downed pegasi, only to freeze when they heard the sound of shattering glass. The ponies looked up, and Blueblood was gone, leaving behind only a broken window.
Once news had spread of Blueblood’s schemes, Luna had seen to it that Celestia’s cure be given as soon as possible. She had not anticipated things to get this bad, but then again, her nephew always did have a bit of a thick head. And if he was willing to stoop to blackmail and extortion, then foalnapping did not seem too far behind. In any case, the guards were still swarming the grounds. There was no sign of a body, meaning that either Blueblood managed a leap that would astound even the Royal Pony Sisters themselves, or he had slinked off somewhere and was waiting to strike again.
Either way, it was time to bring things to an end.
After conferring with Twilight on the matter, it was decided that Luna’s bedroom was the best place to use the counterspell. Celestia’s room was still being cleaned out, and the Sun Princess apparently did not wish to have too large of a crowd for her grand return. The Bearers of the Elements were obviously invited, especially Twilight and Pinkie. (The latter having finally returned from her secluded party preparations to a great many group hugs and well wishes.) Ruby Dream and Lofty were also allowed to attend, as a reward for their services during these hard times. That, and Lofty was Celestia’s friend.
The preparations were drawn in total silence. An Imprisoning Circle was drawn on the floor and magically trapped. Luna had prepared magic-proof hazardous material suits just in case the spell backlashed. And Twilight stood nearby, holding onto an ornate wooden box until just the right time.
The minute Lofty got her suit on, she trotted up to Fluttershy. “Thank you so much for saving me, Fluttershy. You really are the most awesome pony ever!”
“W-Well, it really wasn’t a rescue,” Fluttershy corrected. “It was more like you, well, um, crashed into me by accident. B-But I’m glad I was there to break your fall!”
Rainbow Dash was on the conversation in seconds, wrapping a suited foreleg around her friend’s neck. “Oh, Fluttershy, you don’t have to be so modest! Why, if it weren’t for you, who knows what could have happened to little…uh…filly here!”
The filly frowned. “I have a name. It’s Lofty.” Her eyes lit up again as her gaze returned to Fluttershy. “So, can you teach me how to do all those cool things like how to talk to animals or use the Stare to defeat dragons?”
Before Fluttershy could speak, Dash overrode her will yet again. “I’m sorry, kiddo, but we’re awful busy today. Tell you what, next time you’re in Ponyville, you’re welcome to stop by. Fluttershy will GLADLY help you then. Isn’t that right, Fluttershy?”
The pegasus whimpered and nodded. The young filly sighed disappointedly and walked off, her only elation being that she was able to get so close to her hero.
“Alright, everypony!” Twilight shouted. “May I have your attention, please?”
Everypony spun around to face Twilight and the nearby princesses. The unicorn turned to Princess Celestia. “Please step onto the circle. I-If that’s fine with you, that is. I mean, you could just…”
Celestia raised a hoof. “Calm down, Twilight. It’ll be fine. Just…continue with the spell.”
The filly alicorn took a few steps forward, her rear hooves eventually contacting the drawing. Sure enough, the same transparent tube sprang up around her as before, albeit with a lot more room this time around. Twilight turned to Princess Luna next, nodding the signal to proceed.
Luna unfurled the scroll with the counterspell, quickly memorizing all the steps she would have to take. Once satisfied that she wasn’t going to turn her sister into a full-on baby or make her a filly in a mare’s body, the princess began to channel as much of her magic through her horn as possible. The entire room radiated from the raw power emitting from Luna’s form, and the show became even more accentuated by the flurry of sparks firing from the tip.
Celestia could feel a peculiar tingling sensation run the length of her body. Her wings unfurled against her will, her hooves became affixed to the floor, and even her horn began to glow with a faint golden light. A purple mist seeped out from the floor, twisting itself into the form of a snake before coiling around Celestia’s entire body. The smoke rose higher and higher, eventually filling the entire tube.
Everypony was so transfixed by the sight that they failed to notice the noises outside until the door came crashing down. Everypony but Luna and the now-hidden Celestia spun about to see none other than Prince Blueblood standing by the broken entrance, a few unconscious guards left in his wake. His armor was tattered and broken, his face was twisted in rage, and his entire body was covered with small cuts and glass shards. There seemed to be nothing more to him but a ball of incessant fury, his mind locked on one objective: get Celestia.
With a roar, Blueblood charged into the room, his horn aimed at the tube. The other ponies immediately leapt upon him, save for the two princesses. Luna could not break from the spell without possibly damaging her sister, and Celestia’s entire body was in the middle of a metamorphosis that prevented her from moving.
Pony after pony pulled and pushed against the rampaging prince, grabbing onto every bit of his body in a desperate attempt to prevent him from making things worse. Unfortunately, Twilight had made the costly mistake of placing herself directly in front of Blueblood, and in one of his wild head swings, his horn caught onto her suit. When he yanked back, he tore a good-sized hole in her protection.
At that moment, the mist glowed a pure white before suddenly exploding in a flurry of bright light, engulfing the entire chamber. The sheer force was enough to send the defending ponies flying. When the spectacle finally came to a stop, everypony’s jaw dropped as they saw what was standing in the center of the madness.
It was Princess Celestia, standing tall and proud for the first time in almost a week. The small, slightly chubby filly was now replaced with the slender proportions and elegant beauty the princess was known throughout the world for.
And beneath her were two stunned foals.
A lavender unicorn filly in an oversized hazmat suit, and a white unicorn colt surrounded by empty armor.