The capital city of the Diarchy of Equestria, named Canterlot, was as much a work of art as it was a work of thaumaturgy. It was built more than halfway up the south-facing mountainside of Alicorn’s Peak, the tallest mountain in the North Equinus Mountains overlooking the Saddle Valley. For the city’s construction would have been impossible if not for the thaumaturgical work of the Unicorns of old. Canterlot’s foundations were built into the nearly vertical side of the mountain itself, with a cliff-face only two-dozen hooves across leading to the city’s main gate. Almost the entirety of the city hung over the Saddle Valley almost two-dozen megagross hooves below, its ponymade waterfalls disintegrating into a fine mist that made for an ideal spot for Pegasi to spread their rainbows.
Canterlot itself was widely considered one of the most beautiful locales in all of Harmonia. Its sparkling ivory towers, peaked with gold, easily added another six-megagross hooves to the city’s height. Low-hanging clouds that Pegasi strategically placed about the minarets lent additional awe-inspiring atmosphere. Its two courtyards − the West Castle Courtyard, known colloquially as the Courtyard of the Moon, and the East Castle Courtyard (the Courtyard of the Sun) − were spaces of great beauty, whether you wanted to take a nap, to think, to graze, or to sip from the stream.
It was not uncommon to see folks from around the globe − Zebras, Mermares, Giraffes, Deer, Centaurs, Minotaurs, Qílín, Hippalectryons and even the odd Griffon − taking the journey to Equestria just to bask in the magnificence of Canterlot. Once you were in the city, you could easily forget that you were almost a mile off of the ground. The wide city streets were paved with the highest quality of cobblestone, with many parks set aside for grazing and simple relaxation. If you wanted to do something, you could likely find the means to do it in Canterlot. There were many bookshops in Canterlot, boutiques and restaurants, concert halls and theatres, art galleries and racetracks, observatories and planetariums.
Jailhouses were nowhere to be found in Canterlot; crime was a seldom occurrence in even the most seedy establishment in Equestria, and Canterlot was hardly seedy. The harmony that Queen Celestia had strived for so earnestly since she first sat the throne almost two-dozen-and-a-half-gross years prior was now a reality.
None of this was on Twilight Sparkle’s mind as she galloped at full speed through the streets of Canterlot, ignoring the calls and cries of other ponies as she passed them by. Though she was a Ward of the Crown, which gave her the same ranking of a Princess, she did not care for stature or appearance at the moment.
She had to get home.
Why oh why was her favored reading spot such a distance from her home?
After pushing her way past a particularly ornery Centaur, Twilight arrived, with a stitch in the barrel of her chest, at the Ivory Library Tower. The uppermost level, a golden bulb, was where Twilight lived alone with her books.
Well, not quite alone.
Reaching the top of the staircase that spiralled around the Ivory Library Tower, Twilight entered the wards that prevented anypony − or anyone, for that matter − from passing without her permission. Her horn glowing pink, the double-doors bearing a sign which read Twilight Sparkle’s Quarters swung inward violently.
Twilight winced. She had not anticipated that Spike was behind the doors as she opened them.
“Spike, are you alright?” she asked, using her dwimmer shimmer to help the young drake pull himself up.
Spike was a Dragon cub of about a dozen years, which meant that he was still a baby by Dragon standards. He was a light mulberry, with moderate harlequin spines along his head and back, pistachio-colored eyes, and lime-green-colored frills flanking his face. His underbelly was a light spring budish gray. He could walk on all fours like a pony, though he preferred to walk on his hind legs, using his claws to help carry Twilight’s books. He was presently using his claws, though, to rub his head where the double-doors had bumped him.
“I’m fine, Mom,” he muttered.
Twilight fixed him with a firm glare. Spike sighed.
“Fine, Twilight,” he groaned, reaching around to pull a wrapped gift off of his spade-tipped tail.
Twilight’s ear twitched. “What’s that?”
Spike pulled a teddy bear, stuffing poking out of a large hole in its belly, out of the wrapping paper. His nose wrinkled slightly. “Well… It was a gift from Moondancer.”
Twilight rolled her eyes, and Spike followed suit. This was no big loss. Moondancer was always trying to get on Twilight’s good side, trying to mooch her way into a place of higher social standing by riding the coattails of Queen Celestia’s number one student. She had reached a new low now: bribery. Well, it wouldn’t work.
“You know what to do with it, Spike: the same as all of her previous invitations. More importantly, have you rotated Mom and Dad to match the Sun’s place in the sky?”
“You bet, Twilight!” Spike said brightly, as he dropped the busted present and teddy bear in a wastebasket, already almost full of unanswered invitations to other social gatherings around Canterlot. He then took a deep breath, and exhaled a blast of sparkling green fire. Soon, all that was left in the wastebasket was a pile of ash. “Gran−… err, your parents are still soaking up the Sun!”
Twilight strode past Spike, who followed her out of the foyer into the living room, which was really more of a miniature library in and of itself. The centerpiece, in lieu of some form of couch or seating cushions, was a large hourglass filled with sand that flowed from the bottom bulb to the top. It was a conversation piece she had payed hard bits for, as it was one of the prized possessions of Star Swirl the Bearded, one of Twilight Sparkle’s favorite thaumaturgists of old. Crafter of grosses of spells, the ancient mage was revered in many circles of magic.
Passing through the living room to the ceiling-to-floor windows that made up the opposite wall, Twilight trotted onto the balcony, overlooking the Saddle Valley over a mile below. The view of the Saddle Valley, in which rested a humble hamlet at the edge of the wild Everfree Forest, of the South Equinus Mountains, beyond which could be seen the distant rolling hills of the San Palomino Desert, was ignored by Twilight as her dwimmer shimmer drew a watering can from a nearby table. Smiling sadly, she watered an agave and a cactus which Spike had placed on the westmost side of the balcony, for the afternoon sunlight.
“Good afternoon, Mom,” she said softly to the agave. “Good afternoon, Vati,” she said quietly to the cactus.
Spike clung to Twilight’s left hind leg, sniffling slightly at the pair of potted plants. Twilight turned to Spike, placing the watering can on the floor between the agave and the cactus.
“Spike, it really doesn’t make sense for you to call me Mom, or my parents Grandmom and Grandpa,” Twilight explained clinically. She smiled in what she thought was a comforting way as she rubbed Spike’s head with her right forehoof. “I’m not your biological mother; all I did was magically incubate your egg as my entry test into Queen Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”
“Which makes you my mom!” Spike cried.
“I just happened upon something that could be of vital importance to the future of Equestria − no, of Harmonia,” Twilight said, ignoring Spike’s continued pleas.
Spike sighed; this was par for the course when making arguments for calling Twilight his mother.
“Aren’t we supposed to be on break, M−… Twilight?”
“Not anymore,” she said, cantering back into the living room. “I need you to help me find that book on prophecies and predictions.”
“Any one within the past dozen-gross years will do,” she said offhoofedly, her dwimmer shimmer already calling forth several books from the shelves of several bookcases.
By Spike’s own admission, his own capacity for help was miniscule when Twilight was in the zone. She could use her dwimmer shimmer to hold at least a gross of books on an easy day. Still, she was just a single pony − a brilliant mare, but a lone mare nonetheless − and she could only peruse one book at a time. Any help to sift through the books for what she was looking for was a blessing.
Still, a meggrossium of prophecies was a large area to cast one’s net into.
“Any prophecy in particular?” Spike dared to venture.
“The Mare In The Moon,” Twilight said shortly, a half-dozen books circling around her head.
As it just so happened, Spike had pulled a dusty old tome out from the back of a bookshelf, and the dust made him sneeze. Thankfully, it was not a sparky sneeze (his nickname for a sneeze that produced fire), so the book did not ignite. He did drop it, though, and it just so happened to open up to a particular page. In a flash, Spike saw the words Mare In The Moon as the header. He picked it up eagerly, accidentally shutting it in the process.
“I found it!”
In a flash, Spike found the book locked in Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer, his underbelly dragging along the blue-tiled floor as his caretaker pulled the book to her. By reflex, Spike let the book go, and he heard the muffled sounds of hardcovers of various sorts hitting the floor. Spike groaned internally.
Guess who’s on clean-up duty, he thought sullenly as his surrogate mother started sifting through the book.
“Aha! The Mare In The Moon (aka: the Shadowmare, NightMare Moon)! I thought that I’d read that name somewhere before!” Twilight scratched her chin thoughtfully. “Though… I don’t think I knew Old Equus at the time that I’d read this, so I’d dismissed the prophecy in question.”
“Why didn’t they bother translating it to begin with?” Spike asked, holding a stack of at least a dozen books.
“The author notes that Forget-Me-Not, the prophet who made this prediction, specifically requested that it be transcribed exactly as she’d dictated, so that no meaning would be lost. I’ll see if I can glean as much meaning from it into Modern Equus…”
Twilight squinted down at the faded Old Equus calligraphy.
“Ofer sixtwelf-scora ġēar… Okay, so that’s ‘after six-dozen-score years’ in Modern Equus.”
“That means a megagross years, or a meggrossium in our modern language. ‘A score’ means two-dozen.”
“So, you’re…” Spike counted on his claws from his precarious spot on top of a rolling ladder, having placed the books back on the proper shelves. “A score years old minus two, Twilight?”
“That would be correct, Spike,” she said curtly, “Though it’s not polite to comment on a mare’s age.”
“Sorry, M− ...Twilight.”
Twilight turned back to her translation.
“‘After six-dozen-score years have passed…’ ‘seo…’” Twilight’s eyes narrowed upon the next word. “…’Niht-Cwen’…?”
“Neat guin…?” Spike echoed, forgetting his task and walking to Twilight’s side, looking down on the faded words.
“I don’t quite understand it, either,” Twilight muttered. “And it’s in all capital letters, which means that it’s a crucial element of this prophecy. I know that niht means night in Modern Equus, and cwen means queen. The Night Queen…?”
Spike snapped his claws. “The Queen of the Night!”
Twilight nodded. “That makes sense. The Queen of the Night is…” She stopped abruptly. “Wait. The Queen of the Night is the Alicorn who ruled alongside Queen Celestia when this Diarchy was established… before becoming NightMare Moon and being sealed in the Moon for threatening to bring about eternal night.”
“What’s so bad about that?” Spike asked in an offclaw fashion. “Then you could sleep in as late as you want. I mean, sure, sundials would be useless, but―”
“No, Spike!” Twilight almost shouted, her ears going flat against her head, actually kneeling down and almost pressing her nose to Spike’s. The young drake took an involuntary step back. “Everlasting night would have catastrophic consequences for everyone on the planet! The climate would become colder than Tartarus’s deepest circle. Snow and hail would be all the precipitation we’d ever know. Rivers and lakes would freeze. Crops would die out without the Sun.” Twilight’s purple eyes twitched over to the agave and cactus out the window, just barely visible from her position. “In short, all the world would be thrown into ruin. And that’s not even considering the everlasting day the other half of the planet would be forced to endure…!”
“Okay, okay! I get it!” Spike waved his forelimbs about defensively. “Unending night equals bad news! But it’s alright, isn’t it? I mean, you said it yourself. The Queen of the Night is sealed in the Moon.”
“We haven’t finished reading this prophecy, though, Spike,” Twilight pointed out, returning to the desk she’d placed the tome upon. Her eyes darted back and forth across the lines in Old Equus, apparently translating to herself in silence. Spike found himself becoming very edgy watching Twilight reading so quietly. He wished he knew what was going on in Twilight’s head, but he knew it couldn’t be good. She was becoming increasingly horrorstruck as she read further and further down the prophecy.
Finally, after an eternity of silence, Twilight’s alicorn lit up, and her dwimmer shimmer closed the book.
“Uhh… Mom?” Spike asked nervously.
“Spike… This is worse than anything we could have imagined,” she said lowly. She turned to face her drake ward. Her round pupils were narrowed to points, and her face looked pale.
“What…?” Spike asked. If Twilight did not automatically correct his addressing of her as Mom, it must have been really, truly, very bad.
“I just translated the whole prophecy, and… I wish that I hadn’t. We − and when I say that, I don’t mean ‘just you and I’, I mean the whole wide world of Harmonia − are in a great deal of trouble.”
“Wh-what did the prophecy say?” asked Spike fearfully.
Twilight opened her mouth, and recited her translation of the ancient prophecy:
After six-dozen-score years have passed
Since the QUEEN OF THE NIGHT's interment,
The stars will undo her shackles
On the longest day of the year,
And she will descend from her celestial cell,
And darken the Sun,
And turn the Moon to blood.
Unless she is cleansed by the Six Dwimmercrafts,
She will bring nighttime eternal,
And all life will perish.
Twilight’s legs shook, and she collapsed onto her belly. Her ears drooped, and her tail swooped around her left side.
Spike trotted slowly up to Twilight, reaching his right foreclaw towards her.
“What… what are the ‘Six Dwimmercrafts’?” Spike questioned.
“I think that it means the Elements of Harmony,” Twilight said distantly, “The force that sealed NightMare Moon in the Moon to begin with. But I don’t know where they are, or how they work, or even what they do!”
“What’re we gonna do…?” Spike asked feebly, nuzzling into the voluminous tuft at the end of Twilight’s tail, colored and styled just like her mane. “Nopony alive today was there when she was beaten before…”
“Actually, there is, Spike,” Twilight said, and Spike looked up and was astonished to see Twilight smiling.
Twilight jumped up to her hooves, and Spike was flung into the air, landing on her back, as she paced around the hourglass centerpiece.
“Who else, Spike, but Queen Celestia herself!” Twilight said brightly. “She’s beaten NightMare Moon before. I just need to tell her that NightMare Moon is coming back, and she should be able to put down the Queen of the Night once and for all!”
She dug in her forehooves, and bucked her hips upwards, sending Spike into the air. To his credit, she’d done this many times before, and he had long since worked out how to land safely.
“Take a note for the Queen, Spike,” she said brightly.
“Are you sure, Twilight?” said Spike, producing a quill and a scroll from a desk drawer. “I mean, she’s pretty busy right now as it is. I mean, today’s the dozen-second of Solis. The day after tomorrow is the Summer Sun Celebration, and she’s gotta be pretty busy with―”
“This is more important than the Summer Sun Celebration, Spike!” Twilight shouted. “Didn’t you hear the prophecy? It said that the Queen of the Night − NightMare Moon − would escape her imprisonment on the longest day of the year a millennium after her banishment. This will be the megagrosseth Summer Sun Celebration since then, the megagrosseth summer solstice. It is absolutely imperative that the Queen be informed right away!”
Spike saluted, taking care not to stab himself with the quill. “Okie dokie, Mom! …Err, I mean, Twilight!” He put the quill to the scroll.
Twilight dictated exactly what she wanted Spike to write to Queen Celestia, and though Spike needed to be told how to spell certain more complicated words, he wrote down what she said masterfully. She had considered, and quickly dismissed, the idea of recalling Her Highness’s history with NightMare Moon, but she had no idea what relationship they’d had before the banishment, only that they were very close. Twilight had no idea if they were friends, or soul-mates, or wives, or even sisters. Her letter to the Queen was as follows:
Dear Queen Celestia,
I have come upon an unsettling prophecy that indicates that we, Equestria − neigh, Harmonia − stand upon the very precipice of disaster. This prophecy, told by the late Forget-Me-Not, indicates that the Queen of the Night, who we can only assume is a reference to NightMare Moon, will return on the longest day of the megagrosseth year since her banishment, and bring forth nighttime eternal if she is not stopped. Something must be done to assure that this prophecy does not come true. I await your quick reply.
Your faithful student,
Twilight then took the parchment and quill in her dwimmer shimmer, once she’d been sure that Spike was finished transcribing, and added her signature before rolling up the parchment and sealing it with the seal of the House of Twilight. She then returned the parchment to Spike’s claws.
“Now, send it.”
Spike hesitated for a moment, then took a deep breath, and exhaled his green fire again. This time, though, the parchment did not ignite. Instead, it glowed with bright-yellow sparkles and seemed to disappear into the fire, which became a trail of bright-green smoke which flew out the window and out of sight.
“So… Twilight…?” Spike said awkwardly. He crossed his forelimbs behind his back, kicking at nothing with one of his hindclaws. “Don’t you want to sit down, have something to eat? I mean, it’s not like she’s gonna reply right awa―”
For the third time that day, Spike found himself interrupted, but for the first time, it was not Twilight. Rather, Spike had interrupted himself with a loud belch, which produced a bright-green cloud of smoke that coalesced into a regal white scroll, bound with a red ribbon and a seal showing half of the radiant Sun and half of the crescent Moon.
“There,” Twilight said simply, with a faint hint of a smug smile. “I knew that Queen Celestia would trust my judgment and take prompt action.”
Meanwhile, Spike had unfurled the scroll.
“I never did understand why Queen Celestia wrote her little ‘s’s so weird,” he muttered.
“The long ‘s’, also known as the medial s or descending s, was retired two-gross years ago because too many ponies kept mistaking it for lower-case ‘f’s,” explained Twilight, “and Queen Celestia is very old, Spike. Old habits die hard. Now, if you would kindly proceed…”
“Oh, right!” Spike said, just before he cleared his throat and began to read Queen Celestia’s missive.
“My deareſt and moſt faithful ſtudent Twilight Sparkle,” he began, “You know that I value your diligence, and that I truſt you completely…”
Twilight nodded approvingly. This was going swimmingly. She had successfully nipped this potential cataclysm in the bud. The Queen would commend her for her timely discovery and utilize the power of the Elements of Harmony to finish the job she had started a meggrossium ago, whereupon she would grant Twilight Sparkle access to even more complicated tomes of magic, and bestow upon her even more intricate feats of thaumaturgy to practice than she was already adept at, and she would be able to return her parents to their original pony forms, and everything would be just fine, and why had Spike stopped reading?
Twilight cleared her throat. “Go on, Spike,” she said, her smile betrayed by a shadow of impatience in her tone.
Spike glanced at Twilight nervously, before flipping the Queen’s parchment around, so that Twilight could see the ten little words that Her Majesty had written that put a frog in Spike’s throat:
...but you ſimply muſt ſtop reading thoſe duſty old books!
Twilight was seething. She was, as the Pegasus saying went, on cloud nine, and then Queen Celestia of all ponies yanked out the rug from under her. Yesterday, she thought that she would be spending this day learning the absolute deepest secrets of magic from the Queen as a reward for cutting NightMare Moon’s revenge short.
But instead, she found herself in a chariot being pulled by two Pegasus Royal Guards, with her parents the agave and cactus, and Spike, rereading the Queen’s letter.
“‘My deareſt Twilight, there is far more to a pony’s life than ſtudying’,” he read, “‘So, I’m ſending you to this year’s location for the Summer Sun Celebration: Ponyville.’”
The chariot ride would not be very long; Ponyville was the very same hamlet in the Saddle Valley which rested on the edge of the dreaded Everfree Forest. Twilight knew very little about it, only that it was established by Earth Ponies within the past gross years, that it had a population of barely three-gross, and that it had developed an affinity for ponies of mixed blood. It was not uncommon anymore for the three pony races to mix, so there could be Earth Ponies and Pegasi who had the leonine tails or cloven hooves and unshorn fetlocks of Unicorns, or Earth Ponies and Unicorns with the feathered fetlocks and chest feathers of Pegasi, or Unicorns and Pegasi who had the short fetlocks of most Earth Ponies. Though they had these mixed physical attributes, though, nopony ever inherited the magic of any of the three races save the race they were born as. Each pony of mixed race was just as capable as any other full-blooded pony of her or his race. Only Queen Celestia bore the physical attributes and magical abilities of all three pony races.
As far as Twilight was concerned, though, being relocated to this hamlet was a severe blunder for the part of her mentor. She held the key to preventing nighttime eternal falling upon Harmonia, and the Queen saw fit to positioning her right within the very epicenter of the problem.
Spike continued to read, “‘And I have an even more eßential taſk for you to complete:’” The final three words, apart from the Queen’s loopy signature, were written in a surprisingly bold font, and underlined three times. “‘Make ſome friends’.”
Twilight groaned. Why was it that everypony was now trying to push her into having social interaction? Getting to know ponies, letting them into her heart, was only ever the path to pain and heartbreak. Books were a more reliable tool to get through life by far. At least there was no ambiguity there.
Spike rolled up the Queen’s scroll and resealed. He put a claw to her shoulder. “Aww, c’mon, Twilight. Chin up! Look on the bright side. The Queen arranged for you to stay at Ponyville’s library, the Golden Oak. Doesn’t that make you happy?”
Twilight was quiet for several more moments…
Then she perked up, her ears sticking straight into the air. They were coming in for a landing in the main square of Ponyville, right beside the town hall (known locally as the Gazebo). She could make out individual thatched rooftops by this point, and a few cloud-houses for the few all-Pegasus families that called Ponyville home.
“Yes! As a matter of fact, I am. You know why? Because I’m right. I’ll be sure to find a book out here that will back me up in reaffirming NightMare Moon’s return. The proof is in the printed pudding!”
“So… When are you going to make friends, like the Queen said you should?”
Twilight scoffed. “Come on, Spike. Friends? Please. She told me to supervise the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration, and that’s just what I’ll do. As soon as I’m finished, I’ll head straight back to the library, find some additional proof of NightMare Moon’s impending return, and inform the Queen of it right away. The fate of the world can’t possibly rest on me making friends.”
“But are you sure you’ll find something that important out here? I mean, Ponyville’s pretty much the sticks, isn’t it?”
“Can’t get much stickier than this,” Twilight droned as the chariot made landfall, the pair of Pegasus Royal Guards slowing their midair gallops to a canter, then a trot, then rearing up with mutual whinnies as they came to a stop. Twilight disembarked, as did Spike. The pair of them staggered slightly; they’d both lost some of their sense of balance on solid land somewhere in the flight.
“Thank you, kind sirs,” Twilight said brightly to nearest Royal Guard.
“Think nothing of it, Lady Twilight,” said the alabaster stallion. “Shall we take your plants to the Golden Oak Library?”
“Yes, please,” said Twilight, raising a hoof in concern. “And do be careful with them, would you kindly? I’m taking very good care of them while I study how to fix them.”
The stallions glanced at each other in confusion, not quite aware of Twilight’s checkered history of control of her own magic. After a moment, the pair of them shrugged, and galloped in the direction of the library.
“Well, now to get that Summer Sun Celebration overseeing over with,” Twilight said flatly, walking in the opposite direction from the chariot. She kept glancing back, as if she were afraid that they would blink out of existence the moment she looked away.
“Come on, Twilight,” said Spike, who produced the overseer’s checklist. “You gotta keep in high spirits. Try to make some small talk on the way. I mean, it’s not like Ponyville’s ponies have nothing interesting to talk about, right?”
Spike glanced about, and his eyes settled on one particular mare, cantering along with a bounce in her step.
“Why don’t you try talking to her, Twilight?”
She had a pale pink coat of fur, and a brilliant deep-pink mane and tail that both looked impossibly frizzy and poofy. She had very vibrant cerulean eyes, and her cutie mark was a baby-yellow balloon with a baby-blue string flanked by two baby-blue balloons with baby-yellow strings. She had an aura of seemingly perpetual energy about her, as though she was the absolutely happiest mare in the world and wanted to share that joy with everypony. As she got closer, Twilight could see that this mare had bright pink feathers matching her mane and tail color around her fetlocks and chest. She had a Pegasus at least two generations back in her bloodline.
“Come on, Twilight!” Spike said with a degree of impatience. The pink mare was about to pass them by. “Just try!”
Against her better judgment, Twilight conceded.
The result was completely unexpected. The pink mare turned at the sound of the hello, and the instant that the o in hello had finished being said, seemed to float up in the air as some unearthly sound escaped her throat. Twilight only just registered that sound as an exaggerated gasp before the pink Earth Pony mare seemed to dart off down the thoroughfare. In midair.
“Well, that was interesting,” Twilight said, blinking at the yellow flash down the street as the pink pony left her sight. “I might even say that that pony was special.”
Spike could only sigh. This was going to take a while.
“Okay,” said Spike, clearing his throat as he read the overseer’s checklist again. The first stop on the overseer’s checklist was of the banquet preparations. Granted, the banquet would not unfold until after sunrise the next day, but a sampling of the wares that would be provided was necessary.
Though if the food turns out to be bad, Twilight thought, Everypony will need to rush to find a suitable replacement. This food might very well be eaten by the Queen… if NightMare Moon hasn’t snuffed out the Sun by then.
The trek to the location of the banquet preparations actually took them out of Ponyville, rather uncomfortably close to the Everfree Forest. What Twilight had taken to be a rather gutsy home placement within the edge of the Forest was actually a large grove of apple trees, along with a barn that seemed to pull double-duty as a farmhouse. The path Twilight and Spike trotted down took them to a shoulder-height fence, broken by a gateway with a sign emblazoned with a large engraved apple, and the phrase SWEET APPLE ACRES: est 2561 ER.
“Sweet Apple Acres,” Twilight read aloud. “Well, might as well find the banquet preparations.”
She had barely crossed the threshold before almost being bowled over by a great orange blur shouting “Yeehaw!”, which then made contact with one of the apple trees. Each and every apple in the branches fell down into cleverly placed buckets that Twilight just noticed around the trunk. Now that the blur had stopped, Twilight made out a towering mare with a long blonde mane and tail, both of which were tied off at the ends with red hairbands. She was wearing a worn leathery Stetson. Her legs ended in long, blonde fetlocks (she had to have some draft horse in her blood), and her right legs were currently crossed in front of the left ones. Her cutie mark was a set of three vibrant red apples. She was very large, the largest mare that Twilight had ever seen, and she was powerfully built too, with muscles rippling under her coat. Twilight winced a little at the sight of jaw-shaped scars across the apple-mare’s back; what sort of monsters from the Everfree tried to attack Sweet Apple Acres?
But Twilight cleared her throat to get this mare’s attention, hoping that this mare was not aggravant. She didn’t want to be split in half on the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration. And this mare looked easily capable of it.
“G-good afternoon,” she stammered, bowing and closing her eyes. “M-m-my name is T-Twilight Sparkle…”
Twilight felt like her right foreleg was about to be ripped out, and she wondered how she’d offended this powerful mare. But she opened her eyes, and she saw that the apple-mare was smiling a very irreverent smile, and shaking her forehoof very vigorously. With both of her own forehooves. From the front, she could see that this mare had deep emerald eyes, many white freckles across her cheeks and muzzle… and two deep scars running across the bridge of her nose.
“Well, howdy-doo there, Miss Twilight Sparkle!” she said, and she had a powerful country twang. “Pleasure to make yer acquaintance. Mah name’s Applejack. We Apples sure do love makin’ new friends!”
“‘Friends’?” Twilight said, her voice shaking because Applejack just kept on shaking and shaking and shaking and shaking and shaking. “Actually, I’m―”
Applejack winked one of those emerald eyes. “So, what can I do you for?”
Twilight realized that this ‘Applejack’ had let go of her foreleg, which was stuck pointing straight ahead because of muscle strain. Smiling nervously, and ignoring Spike’s snickering, Twilight brought her leg down with her left. She’d be feeling sore in that leg during the Summer Sun Celebration.
“Err, well, Applejack,” Twilight began, “you see, I am the pupil of Queen Celestia, and I have been sent here to supervise the food preparation. You got the Queen’s letter of notice, I take it?”
“Eeyup, we sure as sugar did!” Applejack said brightly. “Now, wouldja care to sample some vittles?”
Although Twilight had grown up amidst the high class of Canterlot, she had no fear or disdain for the so-called “rabble”. Granted, she did not understand some of their slang when she saw some selling their wares in Canterlot, but that was because she’d never read a book on slang.
“Well, as long as it doesn’t take too long. I have to be back at Golden Oak Library before sundown, and―”
“No sweat there, sugarcube,” said Applejack, and Twilight couldn’t help but blush a little at the pet name. “Last Ah checked, the family’d just finished workin’ out the practice batch. Ah’ll call ‘em out right now!”
She kicked a large frying pan hanging from a nearby post, which let out a deafening CLANG that forced Twilight’s ears against her skull.
Applejack bellowed joyfully, “TH’OVERSEER’S HERE, EVERYPONY!”
And Twilight and Spike found themselves swept up in a stampeding herd that seemed to come out of nowhere. Once she’d regained her bearings, she found herself at a rectangular wooden table set out in a plain patch, surrounded by trees. A herd of scores of ponies, mostly Earth Ponies of all sorts of colors, at all sorts of ages, stood in a circle around her. And they all had the same irreverent smile.
“Ah’d like to introduce y’all to my family: the Apples!”
Twilight laughed nervously, “Th-that won’t be nece―”
And then Applejack named each Apple in turn, and as each Apple was named, she or he bolted up to Twilight, placed a food dish on the table in front of her, and then returned to her or his previous spot. Twilight could not help but notice that each Apple had baked an apple-based treat based off of her or his name. Apple Tart, Apple Strudel, Apple Brioche, Apple Cinnamon Crisp, Apple Fritter, Apple Bumpkin… some were named after apples themselves, like Red Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Ballarat Seedling, Braeburn… some of them were barely apple-related, like Mosely Orange and Valencia Orange and their elder daughter Sunflower (a Pegasus, and Ballarat Seedling’s elder sister). But Twilight would not have been able to recall any names or faces afterwards if she did not have an eidetic memory. She never forgot anything. Ever.
After reciting almost a dozen-dozen names, Applejack finally took a breath.
“And lastly… mah direct kin!” she said. A red stallion with a bright orange mane and short tail, and a green apple cutie mark approached. He was even bigger than Applejack, and looked just as scarred. He too had white freckles across his muzzle, his fetlocks were a shaggy dark-red, and he wore a hitchcollar. His green eyes were the same as his sister’s.
“Mah big brother, Big McIntosh! We call ‘im Big Mac for short. He’s the strong silent type. Aintcha, Big Mac?”
“Eeyup,” said Big McIntosh. His voice was deep and resonant, and held Applejack’s same farm accent.
Applejack smiled lovingly up at her brother, before a little filly galloped into the closing circle on her tiny legs. She had a very bright yellow coat, a bouncy red mane and tail the same color as her brother’s coat, bright-red freckles across the bridge of her nose, and a large pink bow tied into her mane that even Twilight had to admit was adorable. Her left hind leg had a different color: sugary-white, with the same furry fetlock as her big sister. She had bright peach-colored eyes that sparkled with the vim and vigor that only came from youth. She had no cutie mark, which meant that she likely had not found her special talent yet.
“Mah little sister, Apple Bloom! She’s a right little sprout straight outta Heaven, f’you ask anypony in Ponyville or the Apple family.”
“Applejack!” Apple Bloom whined, kicking a tiny little foreleg at Applejack, though Applejack’s size meant that she barely reached her big sister’s elbow.
Twilight giggled to herself, a hoof over her mouth. Spike dug an elbow into her side.
“Watch out; somepony’s having fun,” Spike said in a sing-song voice which earned him a glare.
“And last, but not least in the slightest… the matriarch of the whole Apple family... Granny Smith!”
Into the circle trotted an elderly mare with a pale-green coat color, and a gray mane and tail both done into buns. Trotted being a relative term; she looked positively ancient. If Twilight didn’t know any better, she would have wagered that this Granny Smith was present at the very founding of Ponyville. She had the same peach-colored eyes as Apple Bloom, and an apple pie cutie mark. She wore an orange neckerchief speckled with red apples.
“Ahh, quitcher shoutin’ there, AJ! Ah cin hear just fine without mah hearin’ trumpet!” Granny snapped, though there was a bit of a playful edge to her tone.
Applejack laughed, a deep hearty laugh that suited her.
“Ah gotcha, Granny Smith. Ah gotcha.”
Twilight, who had started off by eating an apple fritter at that moment, suddenly felt like every Apple was training their eyes upon her. It really was delicious, and Queen Celestia had always had a preference for simpler food wares, despite the elitist attitudes of the high-class ponies who surrounded her. Twilight nodded her approval. The Apples cheered.
“How ‘bout that? Looks like we’ve got ourselves another Apple, folks! She's part o' the family already!”
As the Apples let out a collective Yeehaw!, Twilight spat out her second bite of apple fritter in shock. This was going too fast! She was here to supervise the Summer Sun Celebration wares, then to further research NightMare Moon’s return, not to do social interaction. She had to get out of here, and quick!
“Well, I can see the food situation is taken care of, so…” Twilight laughed nervously. “I really think I’d better go.”
“Aren’tcha gonna stay fer brunch?” Apple Bloom said meekly, her bottom lip quivering as her ears drooped. “Ah thought Ah’d gotten anuther big sister…”
Twilight’s heart ached. “Sorry,” she said, trying not to feel too conflicted about leaving. “But I have a lot of activities to supervise before the day is out.”
The Apple family, to their credit, were not an angry sort. The whole of the family prided themselves on their closeness to one another; it was almost an Apple family motto to say that one was an “Apple to the core”. Even the Oranges did not sever all ties to the family; when they’d heard that Queen Celestia herself would be at the Summer Sun Celebration, they came with full speed to help with the proceedings. The collective Apple family let out a low disappointed sigh.
In the face of such sunken spirits, Twilight felt absolutely wretched. Though she feared she would regret it, she only had one word to say:
For the third time, the Apples cheered.
“Ugh… I ate too much pie…” Twilight felt like she was going to explode. She had never eaten so much food in her life. She had to have eaten at least a week’s worth of food of all sorts in the span of a single “brunch”. She just couldn’t refuse any food offered to her, or she’d feel like she had let the Apple family down. There were so many different types of apple-based foods she’d not heard of before, and many she was positive did not exist until that morning. It was all delicious, but it was all just too much. Twilight only hoped that nopony offer her so much as a wafer-thin mint before the day was out.
“What’s next on the list?” Twilight sighed, hoping that it was nothing too taxing to her gastrointestinal system.
Spike looked over the overseer’s checklist. “Looks like… weather! There’s supposed to be a Pegasus mare named Rainbow Dash clearing the clouds.”
Twilight and Spike looked up at the high noon sky. Though the sky was somewhat clear, it was only somewhat clear. There were clouds dotted here and there overhead. There was apparently no wind scheduled for today by the local weather team, so the clouds remained stationary.
Twilight scoffed, “Well, doesn’t look like she’s done a good job, does it?”
Twilight found herself face-down in a puddle of mud. Her stomach was screaming in protest of the severe blow she’d taken to the gut, and she was quite sure she looked ridiculous with her tail pointing straight into the air. Something, or more specifically somepony, had crashed into her.
And not just any somepony.
It was a Pegasus.
A Pegasus who was giving a light and irreverent laugh in a high and scratchy voice that grated at Twilight’s ears.
“Uhh… excuse me,” said the Pegasus as Twilight turned herself over, to get a good look at the crasher. It was a light-blue Pegasus with a scruffy rainbow-colored mane - red-orange-yellow across the top, green-blue-purple at the back. Her tail progressed from purple just below her tail-feathers to red, a reverse rainbow. She had rainbow-colored feather fetlocks, chest feathers, and rainbow feathers over her tail. She was small, lean, and wiry, with a feral look to her, and she had a cocky grin that revealed long fangs. One rainbow eyebrow was cocked upwards over her bright-pink eyes. Her cutie mark was a cloud with a tricolor lightning bolt − red, yellow, blue − protruding from the bottom.
Twilight merely growled. This could only be…
“Let me help you with that,” said the rainbow Pegasus with a haughty snicker, and Twilight had a strong suspicion as to why: she was absolutely covered in mud by the crash. Before Twilight could say I have no words, the rainbow Pegasus was back with a spare raincloud, placing it at a spot some six hooves over the prone Twilight’s head. With a deceptively innocent smile, she jumped up onto the cloud, and pounced upon the cloud over and over, releasing a downpour onto Twilight.
By the time it was finished, Twilight was clean of the mud, but soaked to the bone, and absolutely incensed.
“Whoops,” smirked the rainbow pony. “Guess I overdid it, huh?”
Of course you didn’t, Twilight didn’t say. I absolutely need to be even more thoroughly drenched.
“So, how about this?”
Whatever it is, how about No.
Before she knew what was going on, Twilight found herself wrapped up in a rainbow-colored tornado.
“Just a little something I whipped up for just such occasions!”
The tornado stopped, and the rainbow Pegasus stopped on the spot, posing like some sort of superstar.
“My very own, patent pending, Rainblowdry! Oh no, you don’t need to thank me. You’re quite welco…”
Twilight knew exactly why her assailant had stopped talking: after such thorough abuse − mud tackle, drenching downpour, and now being caught in a gale of a twister by an overzealous Pegasus − her mane and tail were both absolutely tangled and messy, her coat sticking straight out, making her look like a partial transfiguration of a pony-porcupine.
It seemed like this was too much for the rowdy Pegasus to bear, and she collapsed in a tearful laughing fit. There was something absolutely grating about the way that she laughed in a way that made her speaking voice sound positively cultured.
And then Spike had to join Rainbow Dash in the laughter.
Yes. There could be nopony else that this rainbow mare was.
“Let me guess… You’re Rainbow Dash,” Twilight murmured.
In an instant, there was a significant change in the rainbow Pegasus mare. She went from laying on her back, forehooves on her belly as she guffawed at Twilight’s ridiculous new manestyle, to standing up with her wings unfurled fully, a forehoof on her chest. Spike coughed the last few laughs out.
“The one and only!” said Rainbow Dash with every degree of arrogance and self-assuredness that made Twilight want to hate the mare with all the intensity of the inferno of the Concord Flame. Rainbow Dash flapped into the air, pressing her nose to Twilight’s; Rainbow Dash’s pupils were oval-shaped, Twilight noted. “Why, you heard of me?”
Twilight engulfed Rainbow Dash in her dwimmer shimmer, and levitated her away; her breath smelled terrible.
“I’m Twilight Sparkle, I was sent by my teacher, Queen Celestia, to supervise preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration…” Twilight sighed, taking the forgotten overseer’s checklist from Spike’s side, using her dwimmer shimmer to point the quill at the words weather control. “And I heard that you were supposed to be keeping the sky clear, so that everypony can see the sunrise clearly when the Celebration of the summer solstice begins tomorrow morning.”
Rainbow Dash waved a hoof dismissively. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get on it. I just gotta finish practicin’ my sick moves!”
“Sick moves like ‘Cover-Everypony-In-Mud-By-Crashing-Straight-Into-Them’?”
“Hey, practice makes perfect. I gotta make sure I got all my maneuvers down pat for the Wonderbolts! They’re performing at the Summer Sun Celebration, and I’ll show them my moves!”
Twilight cocked a deep-sapphire eyebrow. “The Wonderbolts? You seriously think that the most big-time group of the most magically powerful Pegasi in all of Equestria − in all of Harmonia − are going to seriously consider letting a slacker like you join the force?”
Rainbow Dash grinned, showing off her canine and wolf teeth. “You seriously think I’m a slacker? You sure you didn’t bump your head in that crash?”
“Well, you might hit hard, but you can’t even keep the sky clear for one day!”
Rainbow Dash flapped up into the air, alighting upon the cloud she’d used to downpour on Twilight.
“Spoiler alert, Twilight Sparkle: the Summer Sun Celebration’s tomorrow! Their performance is this time tomorrow, a whole two-dozen hours away! I got time to clear the sky! And when I do it, I’ll clear it in Ten. Seconds. Flat.”
Twilight decided to throw down the gauntlet, make this blustering Pegasus put her bits where her mouth was.
As soon as Twilight finished saying the word it in Prove it, Rainbow Dash bolted into the sky, leaving a prismatic trail of light behind her, some artifact of her inborn Pegasus atmokinetic magic. Twilight’s smugness immediately took a sharp plummet at Rainbow Dash’s movements in the sky. Even somepony like Twilight who had no experience with flight − and no chance of having personal experience, being a Unicorn − could tell that Rainbow Dash was a flight prodigy. She didn’t waste a single movement, her wings and tail feathers angling her just the right amount to beeline straight at each cloud, dispersing each one with a swift midair buck. And she was fast, faster than any Pegasus that Twilight Sparkle had ever seen, faster than any she’d ever read about in any of her books. She wondered if even General Firefly, the very first Wonderbolt, would have been able to match Rainbow Dash’s speed in a competition. Almost as soon as Rainbow Dash had bucked one cloud, she was already beelining straight for another, as though she had a sixth sense for where every cloud in the sky was. She was almost too fast for Twilight’s eyes to follow, and she literally seemed to cross from one side of Ponyville to the other in a blink of the eye.
Almost before Twilight’s brain caught up with her eyes, Rainbow Dash was sitting back on the cloud she’d started on. She wasn’t sweating. She wasn’t even out of breath. She was grinning down at Twilight again, her eyes sparkling with mirth.
And the sky, as far as Twilight Sparkle could see, had not a single cloud anywhere over the Saddle Valley.
“See? I wasn’t pulling your leg, Twilight Sparkle! Ten. Seconds. Flat!”
It was indeed ten seconds. Or close enough. If anything, Rainbow Dash had actually come under ten seconds, if only by a dozisecond or two.
Rainbow Dash floated the cloud down to Twilight’s eye level. “Did you really think that I’m, just some showpony who boasts faster than she flies? I’d never tell anypony something that ain’t so.”
And then Rainbow Dash started snickering again, and this time, Twilight had no idea why. “You should see the look on your face!” It was only when Twilight felt Spike grabbing her jaw and pushing her mouth shut that she realized her jaw had dropped at some point during that spectacle.
“You’re a real laugh, you know that, TS? We should totally hang sometime!”
And in a flash of rainbow light, Rainbow Dash was already gone.
Spike was gaping after the rainbow pony. “Wasn’t she amazing?” he asked, looking up at Twilight.
He started biting his lip when he saw her mane.
“Come on! It looks nice when you get used to it!”
Their next stop, as it turned out, was Town Hall itself, where the opening ceremony of the Summer Sun Celebration would unfold. Retrospectively, they probably should have made this the first stop on their trip. But the past was the past. No point fussing over should-have-beens. A Unicorn mare, Rarity of Carousel Couture, was cited as being the pony responsible for this third stop of the overseer’s checklist: decorations.
Upon entering the hall, Twilight could see why this place was chosen for the opening ceremony. The double-doors leading into Town Hall was on the west side of the building, and the atrium had a large window facing to the east, so that the sunrise would always be seen to anypony entering through the front doors. It was an ideal locale for the celebration of the longest day of the year.
She heard Spike gasp at her side, “Beautiful…”
She could only agree. Twilight was no connoisseur of decor, but the curtains and ribbons and drapes and such were all so well-placed that she had to find Rarity and offer her sincerest compliments to the mare in question. After the exhausting meeting with Applejack and her family of Apples, and the frustrating encounter with Rainbow Dash, she only hoped that she could make it through this meeting unscathed.
For the moment, Twilight merely nodded, soaking in the details all around her. “I agree. The decorations are very lovely, Spike.”
“Not the decor… Her!”
Twilight looked down at her young dragon companion, and he was gazing dreamily at the podium at the head of the atrium, a claw pointed in that same direction. His grip on the overseer’s checklist and quill were both slack. There, up behind the podium, below a balcony flanked by a pair of regal curtains respectively decorated with the Sun and Moon, adjusting some ribbons and bows in her periwinkle dwimmer shimmer, was a slender Unicorn mare who could only be Rarity. She had a sleek alabaster coat, with not a single hair out of place. Her mane and the skirt at the end of her tail were a rich, deep purple, curled in thin spirals at the ends. Her cutie mark was three pale-blue diamonds. Her almond-shaped eyes were azure, and framed by very prominent eyelashes. Curiously, for a Unicorn, her back was darkly dappled − perhaps she had an Earth Pony in her immediate heritage?
Immediately, Spike dropped the quill and parchment and got to work adjusting his frills and spines.
“Twilight, tell me! Are my spines straight? Do I look good? Do I―”
Twilight rolled her eyes and approached the podium.
“Ah-ah-ah,” said Rarity, not even looking the way of her addressee. She spoke with a refined and cultured accent that Twilight could only assume was put on out here in Ponyville. “Just a moment, if you will. I am, as the common phrase goes, ‘in the zone’.”
Rarity cocked an amethyst eyebrow, looking pensively at one particular bow tied around a support beam. After a moment, she closed her eyes, revealing pale-blue eyeshadow, and her horn flashed periwinkle. Blinking the spots out of her eyes, Twilight saw that all of the decorations around Town Hall were now sparkling, as though each ribbon and bow were studded with a million diamonds.
“Ah yes!” smiled Rarity triumphantly. “Sparkles always do the trick. Why, Rarity Belle, you are a talent. Now, how can I help yo…”
Rarity began to turn to Twilight, and her query quickly degenerated into an astonished cry.
“Good Heavens, darling! Whatever happened to your coiffure?”
With a start, Twilight realized that she had not tidied her mane since her less-than-pleasant encounter with Rainbow Dash.
“It’s a long story,” she said flatly. Hoping she did not come across as too cross, she tried to lighten her tone as she continued, “But I’m just here to check on the decorations. It all looks to be in order, so I’ll just get out of your hair now and―”
“My hair? What about your hair?” cried Rarity, diving down from the podium to Twilight’s side. She began to butt her head into Twilight’s side, pushing her fellow Unicorn towards the main doors. Spike followed dreamily. Twilight hastily dwimmer-shimmered the overseer’s checklist and quill to her side.
“Wh-where are you taking me?” she asked the fashion mare.
“I am taking you to my boutique, Carousel Couture, for a makeover! I simply cannot allow such a travesty to befall such lovely mane colours in my presence!”
“N-no, really, it’s alright! I can fix it myself!” Twilight said hastily, trying to flatten her mane with a forehoof. It refused to cooperate.
“Oh, nonononononononono, dear!” Rarity said emphatically. “If it’s price you’re worried about, put those worries aside! This one’s on the house! I simply will have you looking more beautiful than you’ve ever been!”
Carousel Couture was a circular building, shaped and decorated almost like an upscale circus tent. Above the canopied front door was a symbol of a carousel horse, and a pair of carousel mannequins circled around the top story. It almost looked like it did not belong in Ponyville, with how high and cultured an appearance that it presented. Twilight had little time to absorb every detail before she was shoved through the door by the surprisingly forceful Rarity.
Inside, Twilight found her mane and tail were sorted out within the first two-dozen minutes, but for the remaining three-quarters of the hour, Rarity had experimented on several more manestyles. And for the next several hours, Rarity pulled a veritable cornucopia of dresses of all manner of styles to test upon Twilight. During this high-speed fitting session with no end in sight, Twilight observed the workroom of Carousel Couture. The outermost hoof’s length of the workroom’s circumference was devoted to a circle of mannequins fit onto poles that actually rotated about the room like a carousel as Rarity’s dwimmer shimmer glimmered. Each mannequin was fitted with a dress of some sort. There were mirrors and screens for changing into dresses and observing one’s attire. There was another door that led away from the workroom to some other room Twilight was oblivious to the purpose of, though it was possible Rarity lived here. Any attempts to get Spike’s attention were curtailed by his obvious infatuation with Rarity.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Rarity had found a dress that she seemed to think suited Twilight quite well. Twilight had to admit she looked quite stylish in it, though the bridle was perhaps a little flowery for her tastes. The emerald in her chest might have been pushing it as well.
“Now, do go on, my dear,” Rarity said, taking the corset’s laces in her dwimmer shimmer. “Where did you say you were from?”
“I didn’t,” said Twilight, who gasped sharply as Rarity tightened the corset. “I… was sent from Canterlot to…”
Rarity released the corset laces abruptly, and Twilight fell onto her chest as Rarity began to canter gaily about Twilight.
“Did you say Canterlot? Such a truly lovely locale! The glamour! The sophistication! I’ve always dreamed of living there!”
Twilight picked herself up off of the ground, just as Rarity cantered right up to her and nuzzled her. Twilight flushed at such closeness of another pony.
“I can already tell that you and I will be the best of friends!”
Again with the whole ‘friend’ deal? And she’s a social climber, by the looks of it...
With a start, Rarity glowered at the emerald in Twilight’s dress.
“Emerald? What was I thinking? Let’s get you a ruby!”
That was it. She’d wasted enough time here at Carousel Couture. She needed to leave now, before Rarity decided to dye her coat a new color or something. As soon as Rarity closed the door out of the workroom, Twilight caught Spike in her dwimmer shimmer and galloped out the front door, leaving the dress behind.
Spike sighed from his spot on Twilight’s back. “Wasn’t she just wonderful?”
Twilight gave him a weary smile. Carousel Couture was far behind them, and Rarity was the last thing that Twilight wanted on her mind. “Focus, Casanova. We’ve still got one last thing to check off of the checklist. And that is…”
Spike shook his head back and forth, smacking his cheeks with his claws, clearing his throat as he stood on Twilight’s back with the parchment.
“The last thing on the checklist is: music! It should be a chorus of birds being conducted by a Pegasus mare named―”
Twilight shushed Spike. She thought she’d heard something. Her ears twitched as she listened in for whatever she thought she’d heard. After a moment or two of attention, she heard it: faint, a minute’s further walk out of Ponyville, was the sound of a menagerie of birds chirping, whistling, twittering, cheeping in sequence. It was some of the most lovely music that Twilight had ever heard, and she was getting closer to it. With a bright smile, Twilight cantered down the road towards the source of the bird chorus.
Within a minute, Twilight reached a small tree, each branch seated with every manner of bird she could imagine. Robins, bluebirds, pigeons, canaries, doves, cockatiels, cuckoos, macaws… The sound they were making was just so magical. But… one of the bluebirds seemed just a bit off. Spike slid off Twilight’s back, hiding behind a nearby bush so as not to frighten off the birds; a dragon was more off-putting than a pony to a bunch of birds.
In an instant, Twilight heard the soft chirping of a bird she’d never heard before. She imagined some lovely, angelic swan of a dove making the sweet accent to this orchestra… But the birds had stopped singing. In swept from the top of the tree behind Twilight a butter-yellow Pegasus mare with long, slender legs, a long, slender neck, and a sweeping pink mane and tail. She had the modest fetlocks and chest fur of an Earth Pony − was a parent of hers an Earth Pony? − and her cutie mark was of three pink butterflies. Astonishingly to Twilight, despite her small, lithe build, this Pegasus had a startling number of scars and bite marks across her deerlike body, moreso than even Applejack had.
And this yellow mare was the one who was chirping.
She could talk to birds.
She was talking to the one bluebird whose tempo was off… Was she informing of his mistake? She seemed to be, as it was nodding slowly. She flapped back, chirped a couple more times, then said in a soft, sweet voice, “A-one, a-two, a-one-two-three…”
“Hello,” Twilight ventured before she could help herself. Maybe it was the approachability of this mare compared to the extreme personalities of the other ponies she’d seen so far today. Maybe she was emboldened by the glorious chorus of birds that she’d been privy to. In either case, the word Hello was out of her mouth before her brain caught up to what she was doing. In a split-second, the birds scattered to all manner of different trees, and the yellow mare gasped sharply before fluttering to the ground before Twilight, hiding her face behind her long mane.
“I… I’m sorry I scared your birds off,” Twilight started awkwardly. “I mean, it sounded beautiful and all that. I just… I had to say something.”
Twilight offered a smile she hoped was endearing, even comforting, but the yellow Pegasus mare withdrew even further behind her mane.
After another moment’s awkward silence, Twilight held out a hoof. “I’m Twilight Sparkle. What’s your name?”
Glancing out from behind her rosy curtain of a mane, the withdrawn Pegasus mare looked at Twilight with a cyan eye. “Umm… I’m Fluttershy.”
“I’m sorry, what was that?” Twilight asked, taking a step forward.
“Umm…” the shy Pegasus mare took two steps back. “My name is… Fluttershy.”
Twilight smiled ingratiatingly, though she was inwardly starting to find this mare aggravatingly quiet. “Didn’t quite catch that, either.”
The yellow Pegasus whimpered.
Twilight cast her eyes about, looking for some topic, any topic other than this reticent Pegasus’s name, which seemed to be a real challenge to dig out.
“…Well, it looks like your birds are back now,” she said brightly, pointing up at the tree over the yellow pony’s shoulder, where many of the birds had started to perch back on the branches. “So… I guess you guys can get back to… practice? Keep up the good… work?”
But with each successive word, Twilight’s conversation partner retreated further and further back, receding more and more behind her own mane.
“Ohhh-kayyy,” Twilight said, turning back to face Spike, who had emerged from behind the bush, shrugging. “Well, that was riveting conversation.”
Twilight heard a very loud gasp. For a moment, she thought that the pink Earth Pony from that morning had followed her here, but when she heard the delighted cry of “A baby dragon!”, she realized that it was the pony she’d been trying to talk to this whole time! And she nearly bowled Twilight over trying to meet Spike face-to-face.
“I’ve never seen a baby dragon before. He’s so cute!”
Spike glanced over his shoulder at Twilight, who was staring at the Pegasus in alarm. “Well, well, well. All that talk, and it takes just a little bit of dragon action.”
“Oh my!” the Pegasus gasped. “I didn’t know that dragons could talk.” She fluttered into the air again, her eyes closed in glee. “That’s just so incredible, I − I just don’t know what to say…!”
“Well, that’s a big surprise, and a real shame,” Twilight said, dwimmer-shimmering Spike up to her back, “Because we really need to get to Golden Oak Library, now.”
“But, wait!” cried the yellow Pegasus. “I want to know his name!”
“Sure thing!” Spike said smilingly. “My name is Spike!”
“Hello, Spike,” said the Pegasus softly. “My name is Fluttershy. I take care of all the critters all around Ponyville, settle disputes between the rabbit and jackalope warrens, make sure beaver dams don’t block off streams to Sweet Apple Acres, and…” She squealed. “Oooh, a talking dragon! I still can’t quite get over it! What do dragons talk about?”
“What do you want to hear me talk about?”
“Absolutely everything!” Fluttershy said brightly.
Twilight groaned. This was going to be a long walk having to listen to every single little detail of Spike’s life, which she herself was already privy to.
“Well, I started out as a cute little purple egg…”
“...and that’s the story of my whole entire life!” Spike finished. Sunset had come and gone, and the sky was the deep royal purple of dusk before the deep blue-black of night. “Well, except for today. Would you like to hear about today?”
“Oh, yes, of course!” said Fluttershy happily, rearing up at the thought. “Whatever brought you two to Ponyville?”
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time,” Twilight said curtly, “but we’ve got to where I’m going to be staying here in Ponyville for the night.”
It was the Golden Oak Library, known locally to some ponies as the “Tree of Knowledge”. A large tree that had been standing since before Ponyville’s founding − if the placard by the door was to be believed − had since been hollowed out and made into a well-stocked library, along with living quarters for whatever lucky librarian happened to call the Golden Oak Library home. The leaves on its branches had been enchanted to retain their color, depending on the season.
“Now, that was really a riveting conversation,” Twilight said in a falsely cheery voice, “but my little dragon here is all tuckered out and needs his rest for tomorrow.”
“Nuh-uh!” Spike said, folding his arms. “I’m not the least bit―whoa!”
Twilight had (she hoped) nonchalantly bucked Spike off of her back and onto the ground. She kneeled down over him, giving him a pitying look as she said in a baby-ish voice, “Aww, wook at dat! He’s so sweepy he can’t even keep his widdle bawance!”
“Oh, you poor little dear,” said Fluttershy, sweeping Spike up into her forelegs and flittering through the door of Golden Oak Library, “We simply must get you into bed.”
Twilight deftly swept past Fluttershy, dwimmer-shimmered Spike out of the Pegasus’s hooves, and none-too-gently pushed the Pegasus out the door.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll get right on it. He’s my little dragon. Good night!”
Twilight slammed the door on Fluttershy, leaving herself and Spike in pitch blackness. Twilight frowned at this; she’d expected somepony to be in Golden Oak Library to show her her living quarters, or at least for the window shades to be opened and let some of the last light of Queen Celestia’s Sun to shine in when she showed up. Dismissing this, she faced Spike, whose eyes she could make out even in this dimness. He was frowning.
“Wow. Rude much?”
“Sorry, Spike, but I have to convince Queen Celestia that NightMare Moon is coming, and we’re running out of time. It’s six in the evening, and we have less than a dozen hours till dawn tomorrow, when NightMare Moon will surely return! I need to be alone so that I can study without a bunch of crazy ponies trying to make friends all the time!” She glanced around; Ponyville had become increasingly sparse as the day progressed, and she couldn’t help but get an ominous feeling in the pit of her belly about it. Maybe it was just paranoia at the impending return of a dark abomination from the past, but she still had to wonder.
“And for that matter, where’s the light?”
In a flash, the lights came on, and Twilight was blind for a second or two. When her vision cleared, she saw that the library was packed full of almost all of the ponies in Ponyville. She could barely make out the bookshelves behind all the rows of ponies of different shapes, sizes, colors, and races. Some Pegasi flew, some walked, but all of the ponies in the room threw confetti into the air and set off party favors that let off surprisingly loud POPs as the ponies all shouted SURPRISE!.
Suddenly, Twilight caught a whiff of cotton candy and found her cheeks being squeezed together by a pair of hooves that definitely seemed to be wearing rubber horseshoes and had no sense of personal space.
And then her vision was filled with a bright pink muzzle, a brilliant pink frizzy mane, and a pair of very bright cerulean eyes that seemed to have spirals swirling from the edge of the irides to the pupils. Their noses were touching.
“SURPRIII~ISE!” sang the pink Earth Pony right into Twilight’s face, and Twilight realized that it was the same Earth Pony whom she’d run into at the start of the day. The pink mare pulled herself up off of her hind legs, but Twilight surprisingly did not bow under the weight of an Earth Pony mare who surely weighed more than she did. It was almost as if she was floating of her own power − it’s probably just some recessive Pegasus magic, Twilight thought nonchalantly − and seemed to do a midair pirouette as she spun around to land in front of Twilight with an uncommonly wide smile filled with very white teeth.
“But my name isn’t Surprise. I mean, that was the name of my Granny Pie, but my Granny Pie taught me that parties like this are the absolutely-dutely best ice-breaker there is! Daddy didn’t agree with a lot of what she told me, but he loves my parties! Everypony loves my parties! ‘Cause nopony has really partied until they’ve partied at a Pinkie Pie party! My name is Pinkie Pie, and I threw this party together just for you! Was it a Granny Pie? No, wait. This party can’t possibly be my Granny Pie. She’s up in the Elysian Fields now, and it couldn’t be possible for one pony to be a party anyway, because a party of one is just sad and boring. What I meant to ask was, was this Granny Pie party a surprise? Was it, was it, huh?”
She said all of it in one breath, and very quickly, and most of it while bouncing around Twilight, cartwheeling and somersaulting, backflipping and frontflipping, bouncing around as if her tail was some sort of spring. She made Rainbow Dash look like a sloth.
“Very surprised,” Twilight said numbly. She’d spent so much time today trying to dodge social interaction in the hopes of getting to the Golden Oak Library to research NightMare Moon, and now she walked right into a party! “Libraries are supposed to be quiet.”
“That’s just silly, filly~!” giggled Pinkie Pie. “What kind of Pinkie Pie welcome party would this be if it were quiet? Duh! Bo~ring!”
With a heaving sigh, Twilight began to trot aimlessly through the party, avoiding eye contact with anypony. She passed all sorts of ponies, with all sorts of different levels of excitement at seeing a Unicorn straight out of Canterlot. All of them attempted to talk to her, or to Spike, but they might as well have tried to talk to a wall. Twilight wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but she was sure she’d know when she got there.
Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie just kept. On. Talking.
“I mean, you remember me from Town Square, don’t you? You were all like Hello! and I was all like−” She did an exaggerated rendition of her already exaggerated gasp from that morning, and Twilight and others looked at her as she floated up, wondering if she was having a seizure… then she dropped back on the ground and continued on without pause, “−remember that? Because I do! I’d never gasped like that before in my life, not even when I saw that rainbow! Y’see, I’d never seen you before, and if I’ve never seen you before, that means that you’re new to Ponyville, because I know everypony in Ponyville, and if you’re new to Ponyville, that means that you don’t have any friends here, and that made me so sad, but then I got really happy and had a great idea that made me feel really glowy, you know, like PING!, and that great idea is why I went−” Exaggerated gasp and gravity-defying act again, “−when I saw you! That great idea that I had was to throw a super-duper-looper-wooper-yooper welcome party just for you where I invited everypony in Ponyville to welcome you and be your new Ponyville friends! Isn’t that just so great? Now you have lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of friends!”
At some point around Pinkie’s second GASP, Twilight had reached a table set with all sorts of drinks and some leftover Apple family food wares. She saw a dark-brown bottle, took it in her dwimmer shimmer, looked at the cups set out around the table… and tipped the whole bottle back into her mouth.
“Wow, you like to drink that, Twilight?” said Pinkie, tilting her head. “I usually like to put a dollop or two on my cupcakes before I eat ‘em, but whatever floats your boat~!”
Twilight’s eyes almost popped out of her head. She only just now realized what she was drinking, and she barely registered Applejack asking, “Sugarcube, are ya alright?” before she tore off across the library towards the stairs in the back, the bottle clattering to the floor. It felt like her mouth was on fire, and she needed water, and she didn’t trust anything that Pinkie Pie set out on the table!
“Aww, she’s so happy she’s crying!” Pinkie squealed. Around her were Spike, Applejack, Rainbow Dash (flying in the air), Rarity, and Fluttershy. With the exception of the smiling and seemingly oblivious Pinkie Pie, all of them were looking concerned for Twilight.
Spike bent down and picked up the bottle that Twilight had dropped. He read the label:
It took Twilight the better part of ten minutes to wash the taste of hot sauce out of her mouth in the bathroom. What kind of insane pony put out hot sauce as a condiment for sweets, in a bottle that one put drinks in? It made absolutely no sense whatsoever! Of all the crazy ponies she had met here in Ponyville, Pinkie Pie was without doubt the most suited for the asylum. Downstairs, she could hear the party had escalated by way of some sort of oompah band working its way around the ground floor. Seriously, what business did a music band have being in a library in any form other than the subject of a book or if they were reading books on music themselves? Angry and weary, Twilight trotted up to the vacant bedroom in the upper levels of the Golden Oak Library.
It was a miniature library of its own, but its book selection was far narrower, and reading the spines told Twilight that she would not find what she wanted up here. A short staircase led up to a mezzanine level that had a single bookcase, a window in front of which sat a very familiar agave and cactus pair − Twilight smiled sadly at them − and a bed.
The Sun was long down by now, and there was no way that Twilight could possibly string together enough thoughts to write a letter to the Queen, and Spike was too busy partying with Pinkie and the others to be helpful. The party down below showed no signs of slowing down at all whenever Twilight poked her head out the door, and she almost got pulled down a few times by Pinkie Pie, but dismissed herself quickly by claiming (truthfully) to have a headache.
The party continued well past midnight and into the wee hours of the morning. Twilight had not stayed awake that late into the Summer Sun Celebration when it was celebrated in Canterlot in her fillyhood; seeing the whole Celebration meant being awake almost two days straight. She had since become accustomed to late nights and being awake for over a day due to her self-imposed crunch study sessions, but this…
She flung herself onto the bed, pulling the pillow down hard over her flattened ears.
Sometime around half-after-two in the morning, Spike had barged into the room, wearing a lampshade over his head. The music intensified with the door’s opening, and Twilight buried her head as deeply as she could in the covers.
“Hey, Twilight! Pinkie’s started up a game of Pin The Tail On The Pony! Wanna play?”
It had been Twilight’s favorite game to play with Spike when he became old enough to understand how to play games. Spike enjoyed it as well, especially when playing it with Twilight.
“No!” Twilight bellowed. “All of the ponies in this town are crazy! Do any of them have any idea what could happen this morning, if there even is a morning?”
“Aww, Mom! …err, Twilight! Lighten up. It’s just a party. But what a party it is! Pinkie Pie wasn’t lying when she said she throws the best parties ever!”
“But Queen Celestia might have―”
“Queen Celestia probably knows what she’s doing, Twilight,” Spike said with surprising sage. “She knows just about everything, doesn’t she?”
Twilight had no answer to that, and Spike decided to rejoin the party while there was still party to be had.
With a heaving frustrated sigh that failed to carry all of the tension that Twilight was carrying, she laid back onto the bed, clutching the pillow in her forehooves.
Here I thought that I was going to find some downtime to study up on NightMare Moon and the Elements of Harmony and have Spike send a letter to Her Majesty the Queen before it’s too late, she thought bitterly, But silly me, all of this stupid friend-making has eaten up any time I could have put towards finding out anything!
She threw the pillow up into the air with her dwimmer shimmer, and punched it repeatedly with her forehooves − her right foreleg was still somewhat sore from Applejack’s overzealous hoofshake. She didn’t know how long she kept it up, but she knew that it outlasted the partygoers’ music-making. She didn’t know how long she laid there sobbing silently. But she knew that it was close to five in the morning − less than an hour to dawn (maybe) − when she looked out the window at the Moon.
The lunar maria and craters took the shape of a Unicorn (or Alicorn) mare in profile seen from the left. Until the past day, she had not given it much thought. Now, she realized, that was probably the likeness of NightMare Moon herself, staring down on Equestria with envious eyes towards Queen Celestia’s throne.
There were four stars around the Moon that glimmered particularly brightly.
“After five-dozen-score years have passed since the Queen of the Night's interment,” Twilight recited to herself, “The stars will undo her shackles on the longest day of the year, and she will descend from her celestial cell, and darken the Sun, and turn the Moon to blood. Unless she is cleansed by the Six Dwimmercrafts, she will bring nighttime eternal, and all life will perish.”
…you simply must stop reading those dusty old books! Queen Celestia’s words echoed in Twilight’s head, and she almost imagined the Queen laughing dismissively as she thought of them.
Twilight looked down to her mother and father. They would be affected more immediately than normal ponies by NightMare Moon’s return, not being ponies anymore.
She looked up at the Moon again, trying to ignore those four stars that seemed to be glowing more brightly than before.
“I hope that Her Majesty is right,” she whispered to herself, slipping down to the floor and placing a hoof around each pot that her parents were in. “I hope that it is just an old breezie-tale…”
The door slammed open. It was Spike, now devoid of the lampshade.
“C’mon, M− Twilight! It’s time to go watch the sunrise!”
The atrium of the Gazebo was larger than the Golden Oak Library’s ground floor, but still was not quite large enough to contain all of the ponies who lived in Ponyville. Many of them had to watch the sunrise from outside the Gazebo. The situation was somewhat exacerbated by those who dared to travel to Ponyville from around Equestria to witness the Summer Sun Celebration firsthoof. All told, there were at least five-gross ponies who were to bear witness to the rising of the Sun on the day of the summer solstice. Which was why it was recommended that ponies attempt to make it to the Gazebo at least an hour before sunrise, so that they would not miss it.
To her own mild astonishment, Twilight Sparkle made it into the atrium of the Gazebo, beside a table set with some Apple family appetizers. To the credit of most Pegasi, though, they had taken flight to allow for more non-flying ponies to fit into the atrium. Sitting on Twilight’s back was Spike; beside her were Pinkie Pie and Applejack, and above her was Rainbow Dash, who seemed to be grinning boldly at Fluttershy. The yellow Pegasus was hovering by her chorus of all sorts of birds behind the podium, idly chirping with them as they warmed up for their impending performance. Rarity was up on the mezzanine by the balcony over the podium. Flanking the podium itself were a number of Royal Guards of all three pony races, their golden armor sparkling amidst the glimmer of Rarity’s decorations.
“Isn’t this exciting?” Pinkie asked Twilight excitedly. “Are you excited? ‘Cause I’m excited! I’ve never been so excited! Well, except for the time I saw you walking into town and I was like −” Gasp and floating, “− but I mean, really, who could top that?”
Twilight cocked an eyebrow at Pinkie Pie, and then the bird chorus rose in volume, chirping out the anthem of the Diarchy of Equestria. In spite of her nerves, and her hoping against hope that she was wrong, Twilight felt a swell of pride at being an Equestrian when she heard that leitmotif.
Stepping up to the podium was a slightly stout middle-aged Earth Pony mare with a pale-amber coat and a wavy silver mane: the Mayor of Ponyville. She had a cutie mark of a rolled-up scroll bound by a blue ribbon, and she wore a pair of pince-museau glasses, a white collar and a bluish-green cravat. Once the anthem was finished, she clacked a forehoof against the floor for silence, though she didn’t need to, as all eyes were on her.
All eyes but Twilight Sparkle’s.
“Fillies and gentlecolts…” the Mayor began. “It is my great pleasure as mayor of Ponyville to announce the beginning of the Summer Sun Celebration!”
Everypony save Twilight began to cheer and, if they could, clop their forehooves against the ground as applause. Twilight was looking out the gap between the pillars above the balcony, through which she could clearly see the Moon.
“It is also my great pleasure to offer my welcome to one Miss Twilight Sparkle −” Twilight started at this mention of her name. “− the star pupil of Queen Celestia herself, who has come to ensure that the Summer Sun Celebration preparations were to the Queen’s standards!”
Ponies applauded more, cheered and whistled, and Pinkie shouted, “Twilight Sparkle over here, everypony!” and soon Twilight was having to wave sheepishly at anypony who looked her way.
The Mayor continued, “Now, in just a few moments, we will watch the magic of the sunrise…”
Twilight’s attention drifted away from the Mayor’s speech; it was the same sort of speech that she’d read in every book about every Summer Sun Celebration ever. She looked back up to the sky. The faintest tint of pink had entered the sky, and a thin sliver of golden sunlight peaked up from the unseen horizon.
Maybe the Queen was right, Twilight thought, closing her eyes and smiling to herself. Not all prophecies come true; you know this, Twilight. Forget-Me-Not’s prophecy won’t come to pass. So just enjoy this Summer Sun Celebration, and leave for Canterlot as soon as it’s ov―
Twilight had reopened her eyes and glanced up at the Moon out the window again. For a moment, she thought nothing of it. Then, in a double-take, Twilight realized in horror…
The four stars around the Moon, and the lunar maria of the Mare In The Moon, were gone.
Twilight’s ears went flat, but it seemed like nopony else had noticed. Why hadn’t anypony else noticed? Surely they had heard her before they’d sprung the surprise party on her. Were they really so enraptured by the idea of seeing the majestic and beautiful Queen Celestia in the flesh that they couldn’t bear her frantic warnings in mind?
“...bringer of harmony to all of Equestria…” the Mayor continued, “The good, the wise…” − Fluttershy chirped a signal to her bird chorus − “Her Majesty, Queen Celestia!”
The curtains of the balcony over the Mayor were drawn back, the bird chorus soared in song, and the ponies cheered and clopped…
And there was nothing there but blackness.
The birds stopped singing, the ponies gasped and started to mutter to one another, and Twilight whispered to herself, “I have a bad feeling about this…”
The Mayor tried to maintain order, despite sounding shaky herself. “Remain calm, everypony. There must be some logical explanation for this.”
“Ooh, ooh! I love guessing games!” Pinkie shouted, but Twilight paid her no mind. “Is she hiding somewhere back there? Come out, come out~, Queenie Celly~”
Rarity, who was the closest to the balcony, had leapt over the balustrade onto the balcony and inspected the dark room behind. She emerged, looking startlingly pale.
“She’s gone!” she called down to the gathered herd.
Whatever semblance of calm there had been before was broken. The nervous mutters became sharp screams of terror, and ponies began to look back and forth amongst one another, wondering what could be done without the Queen.
“Oooh, she’s good!” she said bubbly as she looked up at the balcony where Rarity was.
And screamed in true fear.
Twilight, who had not associated Pinkie Pie with fearful screaming, looked up where the pink pony was looking.
Behind Rarity was coalescing a cloud of sparkling blue mist. It formed together into a solid equine shape, taller than anypony save the Queen. A long, deadly pointed alicorn emerged from a narrow head, chiropteric wings spreading from its back to the ceiling. Shape gave way to form, and an Alicorn as black as the darkest night appeared. She wore a pale-blue battle helmet, a matching armored collar, and armor across her legs. Her mane and tail were comprised of that same mist, and her flank was blotched with nebulous deep-purple shapes, each flank emblazoned with a pale crescent moon. She was built lithe and slim, like a predator. Her alicorn could have gored a buffalo, her wings were a bat’s, and her Unicorn-like tail swished like a snake.
“Oh no…” Twilight whispered in fear.
Spike fainted from her back.
The dark Alicorn’s appearance, following Pinkie’s scream, had petrified the ponies in the atrium. She cast her cyan eyes, pupils slitted like a cat’s, about at her stunned audience.
And when she spoke, it was with a voice like honey coating a silver dagger.
“Oh, my beloved subjects,” she said, smiling down upon them like a predator. Rarity, having finally noticed the dark Alicorn right behind her, turned and stood stock-still, spooked. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your precious little sun-loving faces.” She spat the word Sun as though it were poison.
“What did you do with our Queen?!” demanded Rainbow Dash, who prepared to shoot herself at the dark Alicorn. Applejack threw herself into the air, hurling herself down on Rainbow Dash before she could fly at the intruder.
“Whoa there, Nelly…” hissed Applejack to the prone Pegasus.
The Alicorn chuckled darkly. “Why?” she asked, baring a mouth full of fangs. “Am I not royal enough? Do you not know who I am?”
“Ooh, ooh, more guessing games?” Pinkie asked eagerly. “Lemme guess. Your name is… Hokey Smokes! Nono, how about Queen Meanie? Dis Chord? Or Dat Chord? Black Batty? Ohh! Ohh! I know it! I definitely know it! This one is definitely it! Black Snooty!” Any further guesses by Pinkie were interrupted by Applejack using her tail to flick a slice of apple pie into Pinkie’s mouth.
The dark Alicorn cast a black glare about the room. She leaned in towards Fluttershy, whose wings had locked up in fright (Rainbow Dash looked mutinous). “Does my crown no longer count now that I’ve been imprisoned for six-dozen-score years?” She turned to Rarity, her misty mane that sparkled with the stars reaching down and cupping Rarity’s chin. “Did you not recall the prophecy? Did you not see the signs?”
“I did!” shouted Twilight, who had worked up the nerve to stand up while everypony else cowered. The dark Alicorn cast her devilish gaze upon the lavender Unicorn. Their eyes met, and Twilight glowered in spite of her overwhelming desire to run. “And I know who you are. You’re the Mare In The Moon…
Ponies all about the atrium looked back and forth between Twilight and NightMare Moon in terrified disbelief. There was no gasp or scream which could elucidate the fear that filled each and every pony in the atrium at that moment. A mare who had to have come from Prance shrieked La Jument Séléniaque! in terror before fainting.
NightMare Moon laughed to herself. “Well, well, well. Somepony who remembers me.” Her wings flapped, and the blue starry mist of her mane and tail began to swell and swirl like a typhoon. “Then you should also know why I am here!”
Twilight’s ears drooped, and she felt her willpower sapped. She could see the shoot of sunlight in the sky beyond the pillars diminish and die.
“Y-you’re here to… to…”
NightMare Moon chuckled to herself, raising an armored forehoof.
“Remember this day well, my little ponies,” she said with all of her teeth bared, “for it will be your last.”
With a loud and terrible creaking noise, the roof of the Gazebo was ripped off by the swirling blue mist. The Moon was now directly overhead, and though it was now past the hour of six in the morning, it was as dark as midnight.
“From this moment forth,” NightMare Moon declared, “The night will last FOREVER!”
Her laughter echoed as a legion, compounded by the flashes of lightning and the sound of thunder. And in that moment, every pony felt as though an icicle were plunged into each of their hearts.