For most ponies, the prospect of gathering sufficient party supplies on such short notice would be daunting. For Pinkie Pie, who had been saving party supplies in her closet since foalhood in childish hopes of throwing the world’s most extensive party someday, it wasn’t even an inconvenience.
More worrisome was the prospect of inviting everypony in Ponyville. She didn’t expect them all to come, of course — the idea of fitting that many ponies in the library was laughable — but if previous parties were any indication, at least a dozen of the townsfolk would be lured in.
The library was deserted when she arrived, which was just as well. It would be easier to set everything up that way. With practiced efficiency, she pumped helium into balloons, hung streamers across bookshelves, and set up a table that would remain empty for the time being. She would buy the food later, since fresher was better.
Once the last of the confetti had been put in place, she looked to the clock. 4:28, it read. Twilight must have arrived in town by now, so she figured she should go about inviting everypony. She made for the door, but paused for a moment, considering what to do. Her eyes drifted over the decorations, eventually coming to rest on the spare balloons. Perfect.
When she emerged, it was with a trio of balloons tied around her midsection to match her cutie mark. Just the right touch of festivity. Now, who would she find first …?
“Excuse me?” she called, making a minty-green unicorn jump. “Would you mind spreading the word around that there’s a party tonight? Everypony’s invited!”
The unicorn’s ears perked. “Even me?”
“Especially you.” Pinkie immediately regretted saying that, though she wasn’t sure why.
“That sounds great!” The unicorn smiled. “What’s it for?”
“It’s, uh …” Pinkie wracked her brain. “I can’t tell you. It’s a surprise.”
“... So a surprise party, then?”
“Yes!” She grinned in relief. “It’s for a new pony in town. Purple unicorn with a purple dragon, so actually it’s for more than a pony. You can’t miss them!”
“I’ll make sure those two don’t hear about it,” the unicorn said, winking. “What time?”
Pinkie told her, and soon the unicorn went off on her merry way, stopping a passing earth pony to spread the news. Then Pinkie caught sight of another pony, and she trotted over to repeat her message.
She stood in the library, casting a critical eye over the spread of food. Fresh-baked cupcakes stood watch by the punch bowl, and an assortment of vegetables lay tastefully arranged on a platter. Everything seemed satisfactory, so she plucked a book from a nearby shelf and took a seat.
She hadn’t been reading long when the door burst open. Looking up, she met Thunderlane’s eyes as he trotted into the room, followed by a number of other pegasi. “Is it true?” he asked, face alight with excitement. “Is there really an actual party going on tonight?”
“Yes.” She came over and greeted them, urging them to make themselves comfortable. “I figured, why not?”
“It’s as good a reason as any. Some friends and I were about to do a basic get-together, but this has a lot more thought put into it.” He smiled. “It’s like you knew.”
“You are so funny!” She looked over his shoulder. “Does that guy have cheese puffs?”
Afternoon lagged until evening slunk in, and so far the party was a success. Even though the library wasn’t particularly small, space was still at a premium as more and more guests trickled in. She recognized several faces: Flitter, Cloudchaser, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Applejack, Cobbler … Apparently a few members of the Apple family had decided to break off from their reunion to join in this new festivity. Pinkie wasn’t sure whether to feel guilty or flattered.
Everypony’s conversations died down at the sound of a sharp whistle. “They’re coming!” chirped Scootaloo, who had been on lookout duty. “And Butterfly’s with them!”
Pinkie darted up to the window to confirm this, then herded the ponies away from the door. “Okay, lights are going out! No talking until they come back on!”
The library was cast into darkness. A few scattered giggles were smothered with frantic hushing, and the room grew soft with bated breath. Pinkie leaned forward on tiptoe, waiting, and her ears perked as the door swung open with a comfortable squeak.
“Oh, I, um … it’s so dark.”
“Look, I appreciate a good … listener … hey, you’re right! It is dark in here! What gives?”
“Ugh! Can’t get a moment alone … look, Butterfly, I appreciate that you’re interested in Spike, but we really need some time to relax! I have to stop Nightmare Moon before it’s too late, and we can’t do that if everypony in this town is conspiring to delay us! Now where’s the light switch?”
“!” Twilight jumped, nearly goring the ceiling with her horn. “What!?”
“Surprise!” Pinkie repeated, coming in close. Confetti fluttered around from above. “This is your Welcome-To-Ponyville Party! I knew you were coming, so I got everything ready to make you feel welcome!”
Twilight leaned away. “But I’ve never seen you before in my life!”
Pinkie leaned in. “Are you sure?”
“I think I would remember that mane of yours.”
“Fair point.” She flung a foreleg around Twilight’s shoulders. “But I still knew you were coming! What do you think of Ponyville so far? Is it great? Is it everything you ever dreamed of? Have you met ponies of unfaltering virtue? Have you tried Apple Bloom’s fritter, which isn’t too bad?”
“No!” Twilight nearly headbutted Pinkie, nostrils flaring. Around them, the watching ponies gasped. “No, it isn’t great! I came here on Princess Celestia’s orders, and I expected everything to be up to par for her arrival! But not only is this town full of crazy ponies, apparently they’ve been spying on me, too! Excuse me if I don’t feel comfortable about this place!”
“This is a conspiracy, isn’t it? You’ve been watching me, all of you, and you’re trying to distract me from Nightmare Moon’s return! Well, it’s not going to work! I’m on to you all. The princess is sure to hear about this! And conspiracy or no conspiracy, I’m still going after the Elements of Harmony! Now, stay out of my way!”
She stomped outside. Every eye watched her go; no hoof reached out to restrain her. A few lower lips quivered in sync.
“Twilight …” Pinkie’s voice was soft. “The Elements of Harmony are in the Everfree Forest. Just thought you'd want to know.”
Twilight cast her a look of disdain. “Nice try, traitor.”
Then she was gone. Spike chased after her, protesting.
“... I’m sorry,” Pinkie said, unsure who she was speaking to. She dropped to her haunches, slumped in defeat. “I didn’t mean … I just … I’m sorry. I wanted to fix things, that’s all …”
Nopony said anything. Only an awkward shuffling marked the passage of the guests as they departed one by one. Pinkie, eyes drawn to the floor, caught their hooves at the edge of her peripheral vision, but soon they were nothing but a wet blur. She squeezed her eyes shut, but the tears still dripped onto the wood beneath. Teeth were gritted, holding back a sob.
A hoof poked her, softly. Then it touched her shoulder again, more steady this time. “I wish this didn’t happen,” Fluttershy whispered. “This looked like it would be a nice party. Even with so many ponies, I wouldn’t have minded being here.”
“Indeed.” A tissue, held in unicorn magic, dabbed at Pinkie’s eyes. “I’m not well acquainted with this sort of party, but it still held promise. It was a perfect way to welcome a newcomer … if only …”
Another hoof took hold of her other shoulder. “I’m mighty sorry about this, sugarcube. I mean, I don’ know you real well, but you’ve always seemed like a decent pony when you’re talkin’ to my brother. She didn’ have any reason, shoutin’ at you like that … Maybe I shoulda taken it easy when she came over. Might’ve ticked her off some.”
“...” Wings rustled. “Yeah, you weird me out, but she was still way outta line yelling at you. She deserved that hairstyle I gave her earlier. What a jerk.”
“No.” Pinkie hiccupped. “She’s not a jerk. She’s just stressed. I think she thinks that Nightmare Moon’s return is her responsibility. It’s like she has the weight of the world on her withers.”
There was a brief pause. Then somepony daintily cleared her throat. “What do you mean by Nightmare Moon’s return?”
“You know,” Rarity said faintly, taking careful steps to avoid stepping in muck, “I still don’t understand what we’re doing here.”
“To stop Nightmare Moon, of course!” Pinkie led the way through Everfree, following the route she had previously walked with Twilight. “The Elements of Harmony are the only things that can defeat her. They’re in this giant ruin in the middle of the forest, and I think we can get to them before the stars get her out of the moon.”
“Sure.” Dash’s eyeroll was almost audible. “A huge castle has the key to stopping Nightmare Moon, and it’s practically next door to Ponyville. That makes so much sense.”
“Now, Rainbow Dash.” Fluttershy’s tone was quiet, but firm. “If this makes Pinkie feel better …”
“Yeah, I know. Even though it’s freaking Everfree, we’re just trotting in because she wants us to.” Dash twirled her hoof next to her head when she thought Pinkie wasn’t looking. “I should’ve just had Thunderlane keep the pegasus party going.”
Applejack snorted. “Now stop that, Rainbow. I didn’ hear you complainin’ when I let you use Big Mac’s yoke.”
“I-it was one time! Can’t you just let it go?”
Despite the bickering, Pinkie smiled. It was nice to worry about the fate of the world with friends. It almost made her forget that she was suspiciously death-prone.
… Were they friends? From their point of view, they had never spoken to her before today. Friendship couldn’t really work that way, could it?
“Wait.” Fluttershy’s voice was soft, but Pinkie’s ears perked at the sound. “There’s somepony ahead.”
The ponies paused mid-step. Ahead, the trees fell away, and the ground abruptly ended in a jagged cliff awash in moonlight. There, peering intently into the depths of the forest, stood a familiar unicorn.
Pinkie stared. “Twilight?”
“Gah!” She spun in place, limbs locking in surprise. Then her eyes focused, and her brow furrowed. “Oh, it’s you. Are you following me in hopes of sabotaging everything?”
“We didn’t even know you’d be here!” Pinkie scratched her head. “Why are you here? You didn’t believe me when I said the Elements were in Everfree.”
“I never said that. I just implied it so I could pretend not to be interested in the lead you gave me.” Twilight rolled her eyes, as if that should have been obvious. “Now, stay out of my way.”
“Listen here, you!” Dash snapped, flapping forward to put her nose right in Twilight’s face. “We’re not Nightmare Moon’s spies. Nightmare Moon isn’t even real. We’re just coming with Pinkie so she doesn’t turn psycho or whatever.”
“Aw, thanks, Dash!”
“What Rainbow Dash means to say,” Rarity interjected, pulling the pegasus back a respectable distance, “is that you have no reason to suspect us of anything. What can we do to prove it?”
“What you could’ve done was not jumping in my face like that.” Twilight shot Dash a nasty look. “You pretty much proved you’re all up to something by knowing me right from the start. You’re basically being assassins, except you’re only working for the most evil mare who ever lived. So not really assassins, but still!”
Pinkie clicked her tongue. “So what you’re saying is that if we’d met in Ponyville earlier, you’d know we weren’t spies?”
“Hypothetically. But that’s beside the point. Now, I’m heading off to save the world from your dark mistress, so if you’re going to try to stop me you might as well do it right now.”
With a flick of her tail, Applejack spoke. “Look, hun, the only reason we’d stop you is so we could come along and help keep you safe on this trek thing of yours. But you ain’t givin’ us a reason to care about you in the slightest!”
“I don’t need your fake pity!”
“Stop with the melodrama!”
“Don’t be hypocritical, Rarity.”
“Get back, all of you! I have a horn and I know how to use it!”
“Wait.” Fluttershy looked around, heedless of the argument breaking out around her. “Pinkie? Where are you going?”
“This is getting us nowhere.” Pinkie wandered over to the cliffside, looking about for the makeshift trail that could take her down the slope. “If we want to beat Nightmare Moon, we have to get the Elements now.”
“No buts! If nopony else is coming, then that’s their problem! I …”
Pinkie paused, trailing off. She stared off into the distance, where she could see the faint shape of the castle crouching among the trees. If nopony else would come, how would she get the Elements to work? Didn’t they need multiple ponies to activate?
“And they’re not about to cooperate,” she said to herself. “Did I … did I doom this run from the start?”
What could we have done better?
Then her eyes lit up. “Of course! Twilight just said it a minute ago! Run into her when she gets to Ponyville, make her remember me so the party won’t seem out of nowhere, and she’ll be much easier to handle! Now if only I could reset everything …”
There was a clack as a pebble skipped past her along the hillside. Pinkie looked up.
In retrospect, wanting to redo the loop while standing under an unsteady boulder might not have been the wisest course of action.
Pinkie gasped. She pulled in enough air to make her light-headed, feeling her hooves grow light at some unknowable force lifted her into the air. Her eyes grew wide as she hung there, making her bizarre action as memorable as possible for her audience. The gasp swelled her chest until, in her mind’s ear, she heard the suggestion of faint laughter.
Then she was gone, darting off without so much as looking back. She exhaled deeply as she ran, but that wasn’t enough to obscure a snarky voice behind her.
“Well, that was interesting, all right!”