Repairs to the Diurnann were swift, as there was very little in the way of actual damage dealt to the gates of Canterlot. It was the first true instance of damage being dealt to the Diurnann; not even the violence of NightMare Moon’s insurrection a meggrossium before had reached Canterlot, remaining entirely within and around the palace of Concordia Arbos. There were still scaffolds to be taken down, however, when Twilight Sparkle and a stately Zebra appeared in a pink flash before the Diurnann.
“Twilight Sparkle?” asked one of the guards at the gate.
“What brings you to Canterlot?” asked his compatriot. “And where is Queen Selena?”
“There’s no time to explain,” Twilight answered. “Zecora and I must see Queen Celestia immediately!”
The pair of Royal Guards looked at one another curiously, before providing the secret combination-knock upon the Diurnann gates.
For you see, there is an ancient enchantment upon the Diurnann that prevents any force from opening it forcefully from beyond the capital. The gates can only be opened from within and only by those who wear armor which is enchanted to match the Diurnann. There was no way for NightMare Moon to break this enchantment, so she forced new enchantments over it to transform it into her Moongate, enchantments that had since been broken.
The dual gates of Sun and Moon swung inward, granted Twilight and Zecora entry into the city. The pair of them wasted no further words; they began to gallop straight down the main thoroughfare, beelining for Mane Square.
The streets of Canterlot were far more bustling than they had been under NightMare Moon, and Twilight could avouch for that despite having only truly been inside “Endymion” once. The ivory minarets peaked with gold shone gaily in the fading sunlight and rising moonlight, as though celebrating in the recent return of the Queen of the Night. Wealthy ponies trotted every which way on perfectly paved walkways, with the same elaborate mane- and skirtstyles and haute couture fashion as before that fateful Summer Sun Celebration. The bon vivants and boulevardiers milled this way and that, quite unaware that anything terrible had happened down in Ponyville…
Quite unaware that one of their two Queens was in the hooves of a madmare.
Twilight and Zecora skidded to a halt at the beckoning of a large Unicorn stallion in front of a patrolling squad of Royal Guards. The armor he wore was gold, and marked on his flanks by a six-pointed star.
There was only one pony he could be.
“What are you doing back in Canterlot?” he asked her coolly. “Aren’t you supposed to be transforming NightMare Night down in Ponyville?”
“I am here to see Queen Celestia on a matter most urgent,” pressed Twilight in a level, clinical tone. “Now, if you’ll excuse me and my companion, Captain…”
But the Captain stood in her path.
“One last thing, Sparkle:” he said stoically. Then he offered an exact imitation of a smile. “Good job with NightMare Moon.”
Twilight did not allow herself to feel any joy from the Captain’s compliment.
“I thank you, Captain of the Royal Guard.”
And she and Zecora were off down the thoroughfare once more without any more words exchanged.
‘Twilight Sparkle, there is a mystery I must unmask, regarding the Captain,’ Zecora said as they neared Mane Square and the Royal Castle. ‘May I ask?’
“Yes,” Twilight replied shortly, her forelock shadowing her eyes. “Can’t say if I’ll answer, though.”
Mane Square had been returned to its former decorum, with the familiar banners and tapestries presenting the Sun and Moon, though with one key difference: where once Queen Celestia stood alone, now stood together with a deep-blue Alicorn who could only represent Queen Selena. Similarly, the statue in the center of Mane Square was no more an obsidian statue of NightMare Moon, nor a golden effigy of Queen Celestia in solitude, but a pair of cantering gold and silver statues, respectively Queens Celestia and Selena. Already were there families with young fillies and colts who were showing their children the newly returned Queen, attempting convince themselves more than their children that NightMare Moon was now nothing more than just a nightmare.
The Towers of the Sun and Moon gleamed in the light of the sunset, freed from the shackles of Nox Aeternum, of the Tower of Everlasting Night. The Tower of the Sun, Sol Invictus, shone seemingly of its own light, gold and proud, long and straight with narrow windows. Its counterpart the Tower of the Moon, Selûne Ferratus, was crooked and wicked, seeming to repel light from itself as it never had during Queen Celestia’s sole reign. Long had it been since the Tower of the Moon felt the presence of its greatest inhabitant, and with the return of Selena Artemis di Equestria, it seemed to be celebrating in the return of its dark master.
‘Lothe do I find such darkness to mine eye,’ mused Zecora aloud, the pair slowing to a trot. ‘Are you sure that your Selena’s not a bad guy?’
Twilight swiveled purple eyes to face the Kwato.
“I’m sure of it,” she replied. “Dark magic is not evil magic, not any more than light magic is good magic. Both light and dark have good and evil application, and both branches of magic have forbidden branches of their own. Queen Selena is a master of dark magic, which Queen Celestia has also dabbled in in the grossenturies since NightMare Moon was banished; I have already demonstrated an aptitude for dark magic myself. As for forbidden magic…” Twilight and Zecora paused; they had reached the main gates of the Royal Castle. “That is not something I’d like to know my aptitude for.”
After being admitted into the main castle, Twilight allowed herself a few moments more to marvel at the tapestries depicting the Queens of Equestria meeting with foreign dignitaries across the years since the foundation of the Diarchy, taking in everything that had been missing from Equestria for a dozen grossenturies…
And stepping out onto the purple carpet.
In time, with Zecora close at her heels, Twilight came to the large and ornate double-doors leading into what was once Queen Celestia’s throne room, and which was now the shared audience chamber of both Queens.
‘Twilight Sparkle, you are the Equestrian here,’ queried Zecora. ‘Why did we not to the Queen directly appear?’
“Because,” Twilight explained logically, “Queen Celestia is a very busy mare. She has a great many pressing matters on her hooves, and she should have the right to deny somepony entry.”
Without another word, Twilight brought a hoof up to the door and knocked thrice.
“Enter,” came Queen Celestia’s melodious voice, and the double-doors parted in a glimmer of a pale-golden dwimmer shimmer.
Dim sunlight passed through the stained glass windows to the right, sending a mosaic of burnt colors all along the regally accented carpet leading down the chamber. On both the eastern and western walls of the chamber, behind the rows of benches for the varying courts, and between pillars of solid white marble, there could be seen windows of colored glass depicting the triumphs of Equestria from the year of its foundation. Twilight shuddered as she passed one depicting a creature that almost completely resembled that chaotic statue in the Sculpture Garden, hoisting a pony of each race with puppet strings over a pit of fire. The ponies looked to be in agony, and were depicted very realistically; Twilight could almost hear them screaming. One discrepancy Twilight could note, though, was that its right forelimb resembled an equine leg rather than a lion’s paw. Dismissing this as the work of an overheated stained-glass artist, an abstract depiction of the Age of Discord, Twilight proceeded further down the hall to the throne.
The throne itself had changed as well. While it had previously been a single golden seat coated with a royal-mauve mink, it was now for all intents and purposes a giant scale. On the left, where the Sun would rise, Queen Celestia’s golden throne, emblazoned by her cutie mark of the Sun, sat upon the eastern scale. On the right, where the Sun would set, sat Queen Selena’s silver throne, a crescent moon emblem set above a deep-purple seat. Even as the Sun’s last light left the room, Celestia’s gilded throne slowly lowered while Selena’s argent throne rose up.
Queen Celestia, radiant with her aura of mane and tail-skirt, looked down at the approaching pony and Zebra with kindness marred by curiosity.
“And so the Night Court returns to session…” murmured Steward Kibitz, a pale Unicorn with a bushy mustache that completely covered his mouth. He levitated a quill and parchment in his dwimmer shimmer, and looked down to Twilight Sparkle and Zecora from the dais. “And you two are the only ones in attendance. That is very unusual for NightMare Night. I did not have you penned down, Twilight Sparkle.”
“This is an emergency, Uncle Kibitz,” Twilight said shortly, before turning her attention to Queen Celestia.
“Twilight, what brings you here to Canterlot on such a fine NightMare Night?” she asked curiously. “Is Selena adjusting well to Ponyville now that her Equus has improved?”
“Queen Selena’s been foalnapped,” Twilight said too quickly, her heart pounding in her chest. Now that she was here before the Queen, the full failure of her attempt at rescuing Queen Selena hit her with the force of a cannonball. Queen Celestia would not take it too kindly that Twilight had so easily let her sister slip out of her hooves, and she would then banish Twilight, or imprison her, or imprison her somewhere where she was banished to, or send her back to magic kindergarten, or…!
The lavender Unicorn in question shook her head vigorously at being addressed. Queen Celestia had stepped down from her lowered throne, past Kibitz who looked at her with mildly curious alarm.
“Twilight, tell me how it happened,” Queen Celestia said. Her expression was the last thing that Twilight expected to see on the regal Alicorn. Rather than anger or fury or even disappointment as she’d been expecting, she saw only fear. Raw, undiluted fear was twisting her mentor’s features, drawing back the corners of her mouth and creasing her brow. Her eyes met Twilight’s.
“Twilight, please. Tell me what happened to my little sister.”
Queen Selena floated in a cage of crimson dwimmer-lightning before the Gazebo, the Mayor of Ponyville kept in an iron-wrought cage hanging beside her. The pair of them traded expressions of fear. Dozens of ponies stood around the Town Hall (or, in the case of several Pegasi, flew), wondering as one what to make of the sight before them: a familiar azure Unicorn with a purple wizard’s hat and cape, wearing a strange silver amulet about her neck. Her indigo eyes flashed red as she glanced agitatedly about. Her voice, magically amplified, carried to every corner of the captive Ponyville at whatever pitch she decided to speak in.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie has come to relieve you Ponyvillagers of the disease of democracy!” she hissed gleefully. “It is but a trick of the abhorrent Twilight Sparkle to get other ponies to adore her! How low of her, as usual. You will, every one of you, adore The Great And Powerful Trixie! It is what everypony in Ponyville was born to do!”
A crack of thunder from the dwimmer-dome overhead, and a crimson lightning bolt struck the pinnacle of the Gazebo. There were a number of screams, and airborne Pegasi alighted abruptly upon the ground, the odd rabbit or possum who were within Ponyville limits at the time of the sealing scampering for cover.
“This ain’ right,” mused Applejack, watching the announcement from atop her little sister’s bouncy red forelock. “This just can’ be right at all…”
“It’s gunna be alright, AJ,” replied Apple Bloom, wearing a smile somewhat dissonant with the surroundings. “Miss Twilight’s gunna be back lickety-split an’ fix ev’rything up, jus’ like she did with NightMare Moon!”
“Ah sure hope yer right, Sugar-foot,” Applejack said, looking sadly back at her friends. Pinkie Pie, unable to make so much as a titter and clearly becoming unhinged by her inability to speak; Rainbow Dash, actually struggling against the urge to soar as her wings beat themselves into a frenzy on her belly; and Rarity…
Rarity… she was left an empty shell of her old self… or rather, her young self. But still, Applejack had to respect the alabaster Unicorn. She did not seek any sympathy or aid in her regard, instead extending a wrinkled helping hoof to anypony that she could. Unfortunately, the primary pony whom she did this for, Duke Prince Blueblood, recoiled in horror, nearly retching at her agedness, before seeking the sanctuary of the Oranges who all too eagerly obliged.
Applejack couldn’t help but to smile. Sunflower and Babs were making sassy faces back and forth at each other behind their parents’ backs, mocking how haute-couture their parents pretended to be. The puny palomino could only sympathize; that slip of Aunt Blenheim’s less than an hour before was not the only time that Applejack had heard her natural accent. Every time it had slipped out when she had lived with her aunt and uncle up at the Big Orange − usually related to some bizarre food craving she had received by dint of her pregnancy with the foal who would be Babs − she made Applejack swear to never speak of it whenever they had upper-class company over… or any company, for that matter.
Still, she thought, it’s easy fer Apple Bloom ta not git too worked up about it. She gits ta be th’ big sis fer a change, Ah s’ppose. This can’ be much better’n when th’ Shadowbolts came down on Ponyville, ‘cept… Trixie acts more like kin t’a blowhard th’n anythin’ else.
As Trixie screamed out, “Now, kneel before The Almighty And Legendary Equivoque! KNEEL!”, as the freshly retitled Unicorn sent forth bolts of crimson lightning from alicorn and eyes and mouth, as the denizens of Ponyville lowered to their knees one at a time out of fear for their lives…
Applejack’s thoughts and eyes went up to the distant white metropolis halfway up the face of Alicorn’s Peak.
Ah hope that Queen Celestia’s got a quick fix fer all a’ dis, Twi, she thought morosely.
“I won’t bow down to you, you Unicorn poser!” snapped a young filly’s voice. It was Diamond Tiara, standing at the head of her new little posse.
Trixie (or rather, Equivoque) narrowed her eyes at the small pink filly, a demented grin crossing her face.
“You dare to cross The Almighty And Legendary Equivoque?” she snarled. “Then you do so at your own peril!”
A blinding blood-red beam shot out from her alicorn, directly at the tiara-wearing filly. She and her friends screamed, ducking and covering their heads. Nopony, stallion, mare or foal, made a move to block the blast…
Except for two.
When the momentary blindness passed, everypony stared in shock at the sight. Diamond Tiara was not struck, but two ponies who had jumped between her and the blast had: her father Filthy Stinkin’ Rich, and her old friend Silver Spoon.
The pair had been respectively turned into gold and silver statues, their expressions frozen in shock.
Diamond Tiara and her five-pony posse stared blankly at the statues…
Then Diamond Tiara laughed.
“They look just like statues of blank flanks! I like you, Trixie! You’re a credit to the Unicorn race!”
Trixie sneered at the filly, “You think more highly of yourself than others, and you don’t think of Equivoque as greater than yourself? You deserve no less than they do!”
And the statues of Filthy Rich and Silver Spoon flowed and twisted like metal, the gold forming into a cage not unlike the one which caged the Mayor of Ponyville, while the silver condensed into a very large and ornate key. A crimson dwimmer-shimmer alit around Diamond Tiara − “Hey, let me go!” − and the spoiled filly was flung into the golden cage, the silver key sliding into the lock and forming a padlock.
Diamond Tiara took a few moments to set her namesake properly upon her head as her gilded prison was levitated to the opposite side of Queen Selena from the Mayor, before she furiously wrapped her forelegs around the bars of her cage and began to shake them.
“Daddy deserved this, you know, for trying to take away my allowance! My allowance! And Silvie didn’t stay my friend when Daddy was being mean to me! But I don’t deserve this! I’m the top filly in town! Let me out! Let me out!”
Selena asked the Mayor, ‘‘Tis an ill choice, whether the Unicorn or the foal doth rattle one’s ears more, ist it not, Constable?’
The Mayor only nodded, her pince-museau glasses askew, as Equivoque turned her attention back to the townsfolk.
“And so, with that nuisance out of the way…”
Crimson lightning filled the dwimmer-dome.
And Ponyville obeyed, but not entirely out of fear, although that was still a major deciding factor.
You see, Diamond Tiara continued to fling away any sympathy that she may have had, and nopony wanted to be imprisoned anywhere near to her cacophonous complaints.
“I thought that I’d sensed something amiss in the Valley,” Celestia finally said, flapping her wings as she ascended the shelves of the Royal Canterlot Archives, “but I assumed that it was an aura of Selly’s projected as a part of the celebrations. Now I know that I misjudged that presentiment.”
“So,” Twilight said haltingly, “you’re not mad at me?”
Queen Celestia looked down from her position nearly two-dozen hooves over Twilight’s head. She smiled sadly down at the lavender Unicorn.
“I could never be angry at you, Twilight,” she said softly, her voice carrying through the entire chamber nonetheless, “nor am I disappointed. The only thing which weighs on my mind now is a question: How? Even with her apparent weakness, Selena should be able to withstand any attempts at foalnapping. You said that this Trixie Lulamoon bore a peculiar amulet?”
Twilight nodded up at her mentor, who had continued to browse through the books in this library chamber.
This is where Crescent Rose died, she thought grimly. Pushing this dark train of thought away, Twilight brought herself back to the present and spoke,
“I did. It was… it was silver, with a rhomb-cut ruby set into its middle. And it had a shape like a Unicorn’s head in profile near the top, and wings made from more rubies and silver.”
Queen Celestia’s ears swiveled at the back of her crown. Though Twilight could not see her teacher’s face clearly, the swan-white Alicorn’s pupils constricted.
It can’t be… she thought, horrified. ‘That’ can’t have returned, could ‘it’ have?
Her pale-gold dwimmer shimmer lighting up around the object of her search, Queen Celestia let the book − Fell Artifacts From Another World − fall open at the spine. With the most miniscule flicks of her magic, the most precise number of pages passed by under her eyes until she reached the defining image of her fear.
“The Alicorn Amulet.”
‘Queen Celestia, could you repeat?’ called up Zecora. ‘We cannot hear you so far below your feet.’
Starting slightly − she had not quite forgotten that she had company − Queen Celestia stretched out her wings and ceased flapping, disallowing her flight so that she may glide down, Fell Artifacts in her dwimmer shimmer. Twilight and Zecora awaited her anxiously at the base of the high shelf.
Queen Celestia alighted upon the checkerboard-tiled floor, setting Fell Artifacts upon the nearest table. As Twilight set her eyes upon the page which Celestia had turned to, she saw a rough sketch of a very familiar amulet.
“‘The Alicorn Amulet’,” Queen Celestia read, “‘is a mysterious artifact of staggering power and unknown origin. Anyone who wears the Alicorn Amulet will be granted absolute power, with complete dominion over the world and all makes it. However’…” Queen Celestia hesitated for a moment, and Twilight gave her teacher a fearful glance. The white Alicorn wore a wide-eyed look, her own teeth bared in fear. “‘However, with this great power comes great insanity, and the pony who wears it is eventually’… ‘is eventually consumed by the Amulet.’”
“What…? ‘Consumed’?” Twilight gasped.
“I have never seen it happen before,” answered Celestia, “but I have heard it described to me by numerous witnesses. It is… not pleasant. Do you know how long that this Trixie Lulamoon has worn the Alicorn Amulet?”
Twilight shook her head, and Queen Celestia bowed hers slightly.
“I see. Then we have no idea how far it may have progressed. This is ill news, and my little sister…”
Twilight blinked in shock. Was Queen Celestia crying? Even having seen the Alicorn monarch weep as she did at the touch of the newly redeemed Queen Selena, Twilight Sparkle still could not fathom her mentor allowing herself such weakness. Within moments, though, Celestia had shaken her head slowly, her aurora of a mane barely swishing at all as she did so, her tears drying in an instant.
“But Selly is strong, even now, and she grows stronger every instant. She has always been somewhat of an enigma, honestly, ever since we were young; I have never had a full reckoning of how strong her magic was. But she was always so crafty with her magic, moreso even than I. But this Amulet…
“The earliest reports of a necklace matching the Alicorn Amulet came about less than a grossentury after NightMare Moon was banished. A young Earth Pony stallion, envious of Unicorn magic, sought to use it to impress the Unicorns on my council. Though he succeeded, even earning himself a position on the council… the Amulet had an ill effect on him, though it took years to manifest. His coat paled, and his eyes grew to an icy blue. His body became frail, and eventually, during one meeting of the council…”
But Queen Celestia turned her head aside and said nothing more.
“Do you know if he’s the one who made the Alicorn Amulet, Your Majesty?” Twilight asked, lifting a hoof inquisitively.
Celestia glanced at her lavender student with sad eyes.
“I do not believe that was the case, but it is possible. However, I do not know who made the Alicorn Amulet; nopony and nobody does. It arose suddenly that one day, disappeared for scores of years, and reemerged in the hooves of another, this one a Unicorn. She succumbed to the Alicorn Amulet as well, though about a year more quickly than the first victim.”
‘If this second pony succumbed that much faster, then was her health too weak to outlast her?’
At Zecora’s question, Queen Celestia looked up to the high vaulted ceiling.
“I do not recall. I do not imagine that that would have mattered when set against the Alicorn Amulet. You’ll understand as I tell you more. You must realize, however, that we have never had our hooves on the Amulet for study, so we have no firm idea of how the Alicorn Amulet works. We do have a firm idea, though, and it holds up against more contemporary appearances of the Alicorn Amulet.
It does not, as most parasitic artifacts do, cause any ill effects to the body of the wearer, but the soul. The fell magic of the Amulet ensnares a pony’s soul, slowly enveloping it with its own eldritch essence. The absolute power it grants, it would seem, to distract the pony it wears from the fact that it is slowly eating their soul alive. And, once it has sated itself upon the soul… The pony’s body vanishes, in an instant.”
Twilight’s ears fell limp against her skull. What sort of dreadful artifact was it that Trixie Lulamoon had unearthed? Who was it that had sold it to her, and why? Did they even know what it was that they were peddling to the azure Unicorn in question? Of all the questions swirling around in her mind, though, only one made its way to her mouth:
“Why has something so terrible not been allocated to the Crystal Mountains?” she gasped.
“The Amulet always disappears very quickly after it has consumed a pony, under circumstances that elude reason. As such, we only have the most base knowledge of how the Amulet functions, and none whatsoever on who or what created it. But we do know one thing: It is getting stronger.”
Twilight’s heart pounded against her ribs.
“‘Stronger’ how exactly, Your Majesty?”
Celestia opened her right wing in an inviting gesture, giving Twilight a maternal smile. Accepting the gesture, Twilight allowed herself to be pulled in by the Alicorn’s soft feathers into her warm side. Judging by Zecora’s movement, Celestia had offered the same gesture with her left wing. Smiling, Twilight nuzzled up to the Queen’s side.
“You see, Twilight,” said Celestia, her voice thrumming in Twilight’s left ear as she felt the Queen’s voice reverberate in her chest, “the Alicorn Amulet took several years for its effects to become obvious in its first victim. Its next few victims, may their souls find peace in Elysium, lasted similar lengths of time. However, it became apparent as time passed that the Amulet’s victims were dying sooner and sooner after having first put it on. Its most recent victim, an Earth Pony mare named Sunbeam, only wore it for a week before it claimed her. She was lost only two-dozen years ago. And now, the Alicorn Amulet has ensnared Trixie Lulamoon… or, if our intel is correct, a horse of a different name, though perhaps of not of a different color.”
As if on cue, a mare of the Royal Guard approached from the entryway, holding several files under one of her wings. She snapped to a salute upon reaching Queen Celestia.
“At ease, Grey Guard,” the white Alicorn said gently.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” she said, holding out the files. “I have compiled the dossiers that you’ve requested. Would you like to read them here?”
“Yes, Grey Guard, thank you,” replied Queen Celestia kindly, the folders lighting up in her dwimmer shimmer and settling down upon the table besides Fell Artifacts. Parting from her pupil and the rhyming Zebra, Queen Celestia trotted up to the table with the latter two quick on her heels.
Opening the top folder exposed a multi-page report on a Unicorn mare named Sleight-of-Hoof who had suddenly appeared in Appleloosa at the tail-end of a herd of pink-glowing Buffalo who stampeded up and down the main thoroughfare before being banished to Tartarus by the mare in question. Clipped to the report was a rough sketch of Sleight-of-Hoof, evidently based off of the description by witnesses. She looked uncannily like Trixie.
Wordlessly passing through each of the files, they read of the exploits of identical mares to Trixie Lulamoon and Sleight-of-Hoof, named Smoke-and-Mirrors and Hocus-Pocus and Presty Changey, each one as outlandish and as fishy as the next.
And each one, accompanied by a witness sketch of a mare who bore an extreme resemblance to the self-proclaimed Great And Powerful Trixie.
“These all happened over the past seven years,” Twilight pondered aloud. “And none of them were concurrent with another, so these ‘mares’ are definitely quite possibly the same mare.”
“More than ‘quite possibly’, my dear student,” answered the Queen. “I don’t think that there is any doubt that these mares are all one in the same.”
Twilight and Zecora nodded.
“But what I would like to know is: Why? Why would a mare with such a high opinion of herself constantly change her name? And look at this: ‘The Amazing Hocus-Pocus commands you, alien forces: Leave these ponies be!’. Speaking in the third-pony, just like Trixie.”
‘I will admit, it makes no sense,’ added Zecora, ‘for a mare of who holds such self-importance. Does she know that what she does is wrong? She will not be celebrated in book or in song.’
“I think that, perhaps, she changes names as often as she does in order to evade authorities who may or may not have seen through her acts,” commented Celestia. “There are many ponies who look exactly alike. Perhaps our ‘Trixie’ is hoping that nopony will assume her to be the same pony, or… perhaps she was trying to find some trick that will impress the most ponies, be it alien threats or thaumaturgical…?”
Twilight nodded in a vaguely absentminded fashion. It made a certain amount of sense, but… another question weighed on her mind.
“I would hope that Trixie is not like this,” continued Queen Celestia. :There are some out there who do not understand the kindness of others, thinking them to be acts of folly. They cannot see the world outside of themselves, cannot fathom the idea that ponies would think differently from them. Your assessment of this Trixie seems to verge more towards this, Twilight, but I would hope that, deep down, Trixie Lulamoon is a kind and thoughtful mare.”
“Queen Celestia,” Twilight interjected, “you mentioned that the first victim of the Alicorn Amulet was an Earth Pony. And the second was a Unicorn. Tell me: Does the Amulet’s trail of victims follow the path of pony races?”
Celestia gave her protégée a curious look, before smiling.
“You are a very bright Unicorn, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, and Twilight found herself swelling in pride at the praise of her beloved mentor in spite of the situation. “Yes, indeed, the Alicorn Amulet does indeed follow the cycle of the three pony races, from Earth Pony to Unicorn to Pegasus before repeating itself. Much like the cycle of the Alicorn of Love, actually. But…” The Queen’s features darkened. “The cycle of the Alicorn Amulet troubles me greatly, because of the unbroken pattern of its cycle. It implies that there is a calculating mind behind its movements.”
Twilight felt a chill despite the fact that the Archives were rather toasty to counter the frosty month-of-Hurricane weather.
“But… what sort of pony would make use of something like the Alicorn Amulet?”
Celestia looked ominously down at Fell Artifacts, beside the dossiers for Trixie’s alter-egos.
“I don’t even know if we’re dealing with a pony who’s in control of the Alicorn Amulet…”
‘Well, now we’ve researched, and now we know,’ interrupted Zecora, looking surprisingly agitated. ‘When can we set out and make that mare go?’
Queen Celestia looked to Zecora.
“O daughter of my old friend Malkia… It will not be that simple. I have taken a geis myself, many many moons ago. I made an unbreakable vow to never bring harm to another pony.”
“But, Queen Celestia,” Twilight said, confused. “You’re such a kind and gentle ruler. Why would you need to subject yourself to a geis to force yourself to be what you are?”
The regal white Alicorn bowed her head, her ears actually falling flat as her eyes went dark.
“You don’t know what the Age of Discord was like, Twilight, the era in which I was born. Not even I have a true reckoning of how much time passed in that period when discord reigned. It may have been only a few douzaides, or grossenturies, or maybe even meggrossiums or giggrossiads. I have no idea. Nopony does; no hoof- or dwimmer-written accounts have survived the Age of Discord. And in all of that endless madness… I have stained my hooves in blood, and I can never wash them clean.” She looked down at her forehooves, her teeth bared and her eyes shining with unshed tears. “This geis is my penitence, my desire to never see another pony suffer in my reign.
“My power, Twilight… you don’t understand my power. For all of your brilliance, you can’t comprehend how much power I have compared to you. The flames of the Sun flow through my veins, and it is my sole purpose to move the Sun through the cosmos. My magic is not suited to such fine work as combat, especially with so many witnesses as would be in Ponyville. Were I to descend onto Ponyville, with all the might of the Sun at my beck and call, I could fell the Alicorn Amulet… but at the cost of every life in the Saddle Valley. Tell me, Twilight: Is my magic so reliable a tool in these circumstances?”
Twilight gaped at her Queen. In all the time that she had known her, Twilight had never been privy to such suffering on the part of the Alicorn. She had thought of herself as something of a daughter to Queen Celestia, for she saw the Queen as something of a mother (which, to be fair, was to be expected of most ponies both in Equestria and abroad), and the notion that this was not something that Queen Celestia had deigned to share with her was…
Actually, now that Twilight Sparkle thought more deeply on it, it was exactly what she should have expected of the Queen. Celestia despised more than anything the suffering of ponykind, even more so than poorly brewed tea. Twilight ordinarily despised the withholding of knowledge more than anything, but… the Age of Discord held such a fell ring to it that even Twilight was loath to seek further research into it. And though Twilight knew Queen Celestia to be far more powerful than she could ever be, she knew not the thin line that the Queen walked to ensure that flaming nuclear death did not engulf all of her little ponies.
“I see…” Twilight sighed. “I understand, Your Majesty. I will see to this myself.”
Queen Celestia smiled down at Twilight.
“For your friends?”
Twilight nodded solemnly.
“Your heart shines so much brighter than it had three months ago, my most faithful student. I knew that you had the great potential of a grand friend. But I see distress in your eyes; what ill fate has Trixie foisted upon your loved ones?”
Twilight fought back tears.
“She shrunk Applejack to the size of a Breezie, she stole Pinkie Pie’s voice, she misplaced Rainbow Dash’s wings onto her belly and made it so that she can’t stop flapping them, and Rarity… I tried to reverse the spell, but… I never realized how incomplete our surviving records of age-changing spells are. I didn’t want to do anything that could hurt Rarity more than she already is. You see, Rarity’s…”
She could not stem the flow of fear down her cheeks.
“Rarity is dying.”
Rarity let out a rough fit of coughing as Fluttershy pulled a blanket up over her.
“Thank you kindly for affording me houseroom, Fluttershy darling,” she gasped. “I… I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, Rarity,” replied the kindly Pegasus. “I just couldn’t leave you out there, with the constant demands of your darling Opal. And I know how much you despise your facial hair, so…”
Rarity gave a weak smile which shone all the more brightly on her freshly shaven muzzle, “Thank you, darling.”
“Is Rarity gonna be alright, Fluttershy?” Sweetie Belle asked fearfully, standing by the bed with her saddle-pack set beside it.
Fluttershy turned to the Unicorn filly with a soft smile.
“Oh, umm… of course she’ll be alright. Twilight will handle everything, and you’ll have your big sister back soon. Just you wait. You’ll see.”
Leaving the sisters to her bed-chamber, Fluttershy descended the stairs, taking care as usual to avoid trodding on mice and rats and voles and hamsters and gerbils and squirrels and porcupines and hedgehogs who she gave houseroom to and who she called friends.
Who is old grey mare, Shy-Wings? she heard them whispering to her.
“She is good friend of mine,” Fluttershy explained to them in hedgerow, the common dialect of most brush-animals. “Terrible she-pony makes her old with horn-glow. She stay with us for while.”
Reaching the ground-floor, Fluttershy looked to her darling Rainbow Dash, freshly tied down to a couch by her other houseguest: Spike the Dragon-cub.
“Fluttershy,” Spike said, looking lost and sounding like all the world was gone to him. “How’s Rarity? Is she… gonna be alright?”
“Oh. She’s… of course she’ll be alright. Just you wait. You’ll see.”
“Yeah,” added Rainbow Dash, her wings beating against thin air and causing her voice to reverberate comically. “Twilight’s gonna handle everything, isn’t she, Fluttershy?”
“Oh, yes she is, Dashie,” answered Fluttershy, a rat poking out of her mane and nibbling at a bit of her forelock.
“Hey Spike, why don’tcha run on upstairs and go be a pep squad for Rarity?” said the cerulean Pegasus. “I kinda wanna cuddle with Flutters here.”
Spike flushed, “Eugh, girl cooties!” and darted up the stairs faster than one could say Beware pony shadows near peryton eyries.
Fluttershy gazed up the stairs at Spike hopping from one step to the next, altogether more awkwardly stepping around Fluttershy’s many animal friends than the Pegasus herself.
“He really is just like a pony child, isn’t he?” she mused.
“Flutters, c’mere,” breathed Rainbow Dash, beckoning with a forehoof and a slightly cross expression. Slightly put off by this curious display by her special somepony, Fluttershy approached slowly. As soon as she was within reaching distance, Rainbow Dash threw her hoof around the back of Fluttershy’s neck and pulled her in close. Angel Bunny poked his head out from under the couch, glowering up at the cerulean Pegasus.
“You’d be a terrible Element of Honesty, Flutters,” she hissed into the landlocked Pegasus’s ear. “Everypony knows that Rarity’s not taking well to her oldness at all. You know it, and Twilight has to know it. Why don’t you let Spike know it?”
“I…” Fluttershy did not know what to say. Rainbow Dash was very dear to her, but the cerulean Pegasus was all too canny about when somepony was being even remotely false in her presence. “I… don’t want to break his little heart. You know how much he looks up to her.”
“All the more reason to let him know!” snapped Rainbow Dash. Catching herself, her eyes swiveled up to the ceiling, her ears twitching as she listened for something up above. Fluttershy followed suit, but neither of them seemed to hear anything untoward happening overhead. Their eyes met once more, cerise on cyan, and Rainbow Dash continued at a lower volume, “I mean, he’s crushing on her so hard, right? All the more reason for him to know that if Twilight doesn’t fix this soon, Rarity will die!”
Fluttershy felt an arrow pierce her heart at Rainbow Dash’s last three words. The notion that Rarity would be robbed of her so suddenly…
“Dashie…” Tears pricked at Fluttershy’s eyes. “I… I don’t want to lose her…!”
Rainbow Dash did a double-take. She hadn’t realized what she said until after she’d said it, and now she had gone and gotten her fiancée so shaken and tearful. Cursing her restless wings, she twisted her upper body towards Fluttershy and gave the meek mare a soft hug.
“I’m sorry, Flutters. I just let it slip out. I guess… I guess there really is a time and a place for the truth.”
Fluttershy’s tears fell wet and warm against Rainbow’s shoulder, wracking sobs shaking the both of them.
“Is Rarity really… really going to die, Dashie…?”
Rainbow Dash awkwardly rubbed a forehoof along Fluttershy’s back. Angel Bunny looked torn between comforting his owner and glowering at Rainbow Dash for doing the comforting.
“I don’t know,” the rainbow-maned mare finally answered. “I mean, I hope that Twilight makes it back with Celestia and the two of them put Trixie in her place, but… I don’t know how long Rarity has. I’m a weather-pony, not a doctor. But for now… all we can really do is hope, Flutters.”
“I’ve known her, for as long as we’ve been here. She’s one of the only ponies I met here… who doesn’t terrify me. She knows that I don’t like loud things, and… and…”
“Easy there, Fluttershy. Just think about happy things, like the day you got your cutie mark. I think about my cutie-mark-day whenever I feel down!”
Fluttershy cast her mind back to that day, that fateful day.
“It was the same day you got yours,” she said slowly, a graceful smile crossing her muzzle. “I was there at the starting line, and you stood there against Hoops, Dumbbell and Score. They… you made them swear that if you beat them at a race, that they’d leave me alone. I… After you guys all raced off, it was just me down there, at the starting line drawn in the grass. All the animals started to crowd around me. They didn’t quite know what was going on, but they knew that I was so distressed. I didn’t want you to hurt yourself for me, Dashie.”
Rainbow Dash scoffed, “What kinda pony would I have been to let those dock-heads have their way with you? I may not be the Element of Loyalty, but I’m not gonna leave any of my friends hangin’!”
“So, all of the animals were closing in around me, and I was just… overcome with wonder. I found myself alone with all these wonderful animals, squirrels and bunnies and birds and bees… And then you did your Rainboom. Before I knew it, all of the animals were running afraid, trying to find shelter; they must have thought that it was a storm. But I knew differently, when I saw the rainbow lights in the sky…
“I spent the next several minutes uncovering all of the animals, in the brush, in the treetops, in the burrows, letting them know that it was safe to come out, that there was nothing to be afraid of. And I knew. I knew that this was what I loved more than anything else. I knew exactly where each animal would run, and I knew exactly what to say to comfort them. I knew… I knew how to communicate with animals on a different level than most ponies. And when I felt the heat on my flanks, and the light glowed there… I knew that I’d found my purpose in life.
“And I knew that those rainbow lights couldn’t have been a storm. It was you, Rainbow Dash, and it was your love for me, I knew it even then.”
Rainbow Dash waved a hoof nonchalantly.
“Ahh, it was just something I would do for anypony.”
“Hmm… I’m glad you’ve decided to be honest with me, Rainbow Dash.”
Rainbow Dash blinked.
Fluttershy presently affixed Rainbow with a sharp gaze, the likes of which she had not seen on the mare in a good long while. Rainbow Dash quailed slightly; where had this come from?
“You’re right; you would do the Sonic Rainboom for anypony. You did do it for more ponies than just me.”
Rainbow Dash opened her mouth and closed it a few times, flabbergasted, trying to work a sentence together.
“Well − it’s − I − Rarity’s not my type of pony, Flutters! She’s just too… frilly-frou-frou-fashionista. I just did it because she’s my friend.”
Fluttershy nodded slowly, sagely, with an unsettlingly serene expression suddenly.
“I see… So, I’m just a friend to you?”
“What? No!” Rainbow Dash replied, flustered even more so than before − which, considering that her wings had been magically displaced onto her belly and could not stop flapping, was rather remarkable. “You mean more to me than my other friends, Fluttershy! There’s all sortsa things that we have that normal friends don’t!”
“Oh?” Fluttershy drew away from Rainbow Dash, flapping a hoof’s length off of the floor, looking down on Rainbow Dash with disdain. “Are these… kissy, physical sort of things, Dashie? Is it love? Or are we just friends… with benefits?”
“Fluttershy…” Rainbow Dash looked slightly pained. “Where is this going?”
“Rainbow, I… I think that we rushed into this. When NightMare Moon happened, I was just… so scared to lose you. All those warnings − those… really loud warnings − that Mom and Dad gave me about NightMare Moon eating me in the middle of the night if I was too disobedient… or too loud… or too forward… or too over-confident… I guess that it scared me into proposing to you. I didn’t know if… if NightMare Moon would be the end of us all…”
“So… this is it?” Rainbow Dash said with a venomous edge, belied by the frantic flap of her belly-wings. “We’re calling off the engagement? I’m not getting all the Pegasi of Ponyville to move my house over yours?”
Fluttershy nodded slowly, not meeting Rainbow’s eyes.
“I see,” Rainbow replied sourly. “Can you leave me alone to think?”
“Yes… I think I could do with the same.”
Leaving Rainbow Dash tied to the couch, Fluttershy slid open her front door and strode out to the chicken coop on the left-wing side of her home…
And broke down into tears, not knowing full well that the same was true of the cerulean Pegasus inside. A possum crept in below the bottom rail of her fence and eyed her curiously.
“Blenheim!” cried Granny Smith, raising up her forelegs to bring her youngest daughter in for a hug. “So surprised ta see ya back so soon!”
“It’s ‘Valencia’, Mother,” grumbled Aunt Orange, nonetheless accepting her mother’s embrace. “But, it’s not terribly surprising. Mosely and I were eager to set up a connection with the new Queen of the Night… or, I suppose, the old Queen of the Night, newly returned.”
“Darling?” Uncle Orange asked with a faint shudder, his ears lank. “Will we really be staying in this… this place?”
“Oh come off it, dear,” Aunt Valencia chuckled. “I grew up in this home. It’s… Oh mah stars!” She slipped back to her native drawl as she darted up to a framed picture of her parents and her many siblings. “Ah almost fergot about this! Ah haven’ seen this picture in ages! Ah…” Taking a moment to clear her throat, she continued in her city-folk accent, “I forgot that Bright McIntosh was that high at the withers back then. I…” Her ears fell lank, and her expression darkened. “I really wish that you could see your children, Bright Mac. Your son is an admirable apple-bucker, your first daughter helped to bring back our long-lost Queen of the Night, and your second daughter… well, she has nice friends, doesn’t she?”
“You bet Ah do, Aunt Orange!” squeaked Apple Bloom, crossing one foreleg across the other in a manner not unlike her elder sister… who sat atop her little sister’s head still. “We’ve got ourselves a friend-group goin’: The Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
“An’ yer little gal Babs is a member as well,” added Applejack, waving a minute hoof in the direction of the younger Orange daughter, who withdrew slightly in shyness.
“Really?” asked Uncle Orange curiously. “So you’re finally going to get your cutie mark?”
“Aww, don’t be like dat, Pop,” interjected Sunflower, giving her little sister a rough noogie. “She’s tryin’ da best she can, ain’ she?”
“You bet, Sunny,” murmured Babs with a meek little smile, which Sunflower answered with a wide sloppy one.
“Well, if I may say so,” said Aunt Orange, placing the picture back upon the corner table, “I do hope that you can bring your growing fits under control one of these days. I could care less for all the bills your school sends me for broken chairs and desks.”
“Actually,” cut in Apple Bloom, “Ah heard th’ Cheese Sandwich Band’s song sayin’ that it’s ‘Ah couldn’t care less’, ‘cause sayin’ that ya could care less means that ya do care, at least a little.” She found that she had finished the last few words in the same cadence as was sung by Cheese Sandwich himself.
Aunt Orange scoffed, “What does that yokel know, other than how to play the accordion?”
“Oh, quit bein’ such a spoilspoaht, Mom,” grinned Sunflower, the pink Pegasus in question hovering upside-down in front of her mother’s face. “Dat stallion’s a comic genius, an’ it looks like da apple don’ fall too fah from da tree if mah fav’rite little sugah-footed cuzzin’s a big fan a’ da guy.” Flipping right-side-up, Sunflower applied a noogie to Apple Bloom’s poll with a fierce grin.
Apple Bloom attempted to bat her Pegasus cousin off.
“Sunflower! Git off!”
Sunflower laughed boldly.
“I just love ta heah dat good ol’ country accent!”
“So, if I may ask,” cut in Uncle Mosely, “where shall my wife and I sleep? Can we not stay in the same accommodations as the Duke of Canterlot?”
“Ah don’ think so!” answered Granny Smith in a slightly sing-song voice, leaning forward from her spot on the rocking chair. “Ya got lucky ta be out in th’ Big Orange unner NightMare Moon. Family needs ta stick t’gether durin’ times a’ stress ‘n’ strife. There’s plenny a’ space in th’ farm-house fer all! Sunflower cin take yer ol’ room, Blenheim, the two a’ y’all cin take me an’ ma husband’s ol’ bed, and Babs… ya don’ mind takin’ the room next ta Apple Bloom’s room, do ya?”
Babs perked up mightily at her grandmother addressing her, her green eyes widening eagerly.
“You bet I do, Granny! Dat way, Apple Bloom ‘n’ I can get ta woahk talkin’ ‘bout all soahta Cutie Mahk Crusadah stuff. I’m gunna get my cutie mahk, and I’m gonna show dose dock-heads back at school!”
“Ballarat Seedling!” scolded Aunt Valencia. “Where in the world did you hear such language?”
Both Babs and Sunflower covered their mouths in a mock show of shock, but both Apple Bloom and Applejack noticed a smile on Babs’s muzzle behind her hoof, and it was not unreasonable to think that the same was true with Sunflower.
“Uhh, Ah’m gunna go show Babs a special little thang that Miss Twilight made fer me an’ th’ other Crusaders after that big party up at Canterlot!”
And with that, Apple Bloom tugged at Babs’s tail with her teeth, coaxing the bulky filly into following her up the stairs and into the upstairs corridor. In no time at all, they were in Apple Bloom’s room, and the yellow country filly trotted brightly up to the corner table beside her bed.
“Whoa…” Babs’s eyes roved across the floor. All sorts of odd bits of wood and metal littered the floor, forming some weird little trinkets and flappy little things. “What are all dose things, cuz?”
“Oh, those?” Apple Bloom answered dismissively. “Those’re jus’ little side-project kinda thangs. They don’ mean nuthin’. They ain’ wut Ah was fixin’ ta show ya.”
“But dese ahh seriously da bee’s knees, cuz!” insisted Babs, pointing to a miniscule pony made from bits of wood and bolts. “Ya made dese all by yaself?”
“They ain’ nuthin’,” snapped Apple Bloom. “They’re just a buncha junk. But this is what’s really swell!”
The country filly indicated what looked like an old tin can resting on her bedside table.
Babs cocked an amaranth eyebrow at it.
“Uhh, it’s just a can, cuz.”
“It looks like it’s just a can,” Apple Bloom said with a conspiratorial whisper, “but Miss Twilight enchanted it with her Unicorn magic ta be able ta talk with two other tin cans jus’ like it. An’ Sweetie Belle an’ Scootaloo ‘re th’ ones with th’ other cans!”
“So, youse guys can talk whenevuh youse want, without telephones?”
“Well, they’re… nah, nevuh-mind. Can ya show me dis tin can in action?”
Apple Bloom beamed.
“Ya bet Ah can!”
At the revelation that one of Twilight’s close friends, one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony, was practically at death’s door, Celestia felt a stab of hot fury burbling up in her chest. This Trixie Lulamoon or whatever her name was thought that she could break the heart of her beloved student Twilight Sparkle? How dare she? How dare she? Twilight had suffered enough as it was with her parents being so deprived from her life, but even if her family was still whole and happy this was still...
This was just…
But something else rose up in Celestia’s chest, something more wholesome and less monstrous:
A shoot of love for all pony life.
I cannot risk the lives of all in the Saddle Valley, she thought, just to avenge this sin against my Twilight, kin though she may not be. I love her, far more than I can ever say, but… I love all ponies with all of my heart, and I… I just cannot bear to let myself hurt a pony.
“Her heart is palpitating. Badly,” Twilight sobbed, sinking to her haunches. “She only has weeks. Days, maybe. And it’s all my fault! I ruined Trixie’s life, and now she’s ruining the lives of everypony that I love! It’s my fault that Pinkie can’t speak and that Rainbow can’t fly and that Applejack is bite-sized and that Rarity is…!”
“Twilight, please,” interjected Celestia, placing a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder. Locking eyes with her pupil, Celestia wordlessly levitated her crown off of her head, setting it upon the table. Her royal necklace unbuckled itself and set itself beside the crown, and her regal shoes floated away in a gleaming pale-yellow shine.
And Queen Celestia wrapped her forelegs and wings fully around Twilight.
“Twilight, please, it’s not your fault,” she whispered into Twilight’s ear. “What you did has no bearing on what Trixie did. You didn’t make the decision for Trixie to don the Alicorn Amulet; she did. You had no idea that she would take your actions that night so seriously. All that is left to do… is to react to Trixie’s actions.
“I fear,” Celestia continued as she brought away her forelegs and one of her wings, leaving one large warm wing around Twilight’s back, “that our time is short, and our options limited. With Selena’s powers still lacking, and my own magic ill-suited in its strength, this is something that we must take great care in. Deploying the Royal Guard would cause a great panic here in Canterlot, so this must be something that is restricted to those of us in this circle.”
‘May I ask, O Queen of the Sun,’ said Zecora, ‘what can Twilight and I do to see this done?’
Celestia gave a soft smile to the former princess of Pundamilia.
“The two of you can plan this out, together, as friends and as new residents of Ponyville. It is you and yours who are being so punished by a mare literally driven mad with power. And you two are very bright, in your own ways. I am sure that, together, the pair of you can surmount this conundrum. I know you can do it; you’ve overcome worse.
“But do not underestimate the power of the Alicorn Amulet. When worn by a pony, it grants absolute dominion. I do not fear Trixie, though I fear for her. She does not know what she is wearing, and we ourselves barely know more. And regardless of what her character is, Trixie Lulamoon would not deserve the fate that the Alicorn Amulet would see for her.
“So, Twilight Sparkle, Zecora Mrahaba, I set forth a task for you two: Retrieve the Alicorn Amulet, save your friends and Trixie Lulamoon, and let no more ponies suffer at the hooves of this fell trinket.”
Queen Celestia touched the tip of her alicorn to Twilight’s shoulders, left and right, and then Zecora’s. The pair bowed to the monarch as she drew back.
“We will see this mission through to the best of our abilities, Your Majesty. But, where will Zecora and I be staying until we’re ready to set out?”
At this, Queen Celestia smiled.
“You two shall be staying in my own bed-chamber, or rather in the royal guest wing. Yes, Twilight,” Celestia offered a broader beaming smile at the wondrous joy on the lavender Unicorn’s face, “just like old times. And you shall see the magical brand of fire which Spike lit as well. It still burns, to this very day, from when he first lit it nearly a dozen years ago.”
Twilight nodded, a wide smile splitting her muzzle, “Thank you so much, Your Majesty! And that brand might be useful in more ways than one!”
The tall white Alicorn gave Twilight a proud look.
“I would expect nothing less from you, my faithful student.”
Although the orphanage was the only home that she could remember, Scootaloo preferred to spend her time at the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse. And this was not simply because of the fact that her own possessions disappeared and had to be reclaimed in schoolyard scuffles far more often than she preferred. No. This clubhouse felt more like a home to her than that tiny room at the orphanage ever had. It was something that she and two of the sweetest fillies she had ever known had worked on together, someplace that she had already come to associate with more fond memories than that place for homeless, parentless, unloved foals.
Although, this was a possession that she would not dare to bring to the orphanage, and she valued it about as highly as she valued her scooter (though not perhaps as highly as her helmet).
“Rarity’s looking way prettier without that scraggly beard of hers,” came a tinny echo of Sweetie Belle’s voice from within the tin can atop the upside-down wooden bucket. “And she’s not looking too good, but Miss Fluttershy says she’s gonna be fine.”
“Well, it is Miss Twilight who’s gone out ta try ‘n’ fix this mess,” came Apple Bloom’s tinny drawl, “an’ she’s fixed up th’ whole NightMare Moon sicheeation. Ah bet she’s gonna be here any minute now ta fix yer big sis up.”
“Not ta mention ya own big sis Applejack, cuz,” came the heretofore unprecedented third voice of Babs Seed, the fourth Cutie Mark Crusader.
“And don’t forget about Rainbow Dash,” added Scootaloo, pounding a hoof against the side of the bucket, rattling the tin can. “How can the most awesome pony in Equestria fly with her wings on her belly? It’s just not right! I really wanna be there to help her through it, but I can’t really show her my latest moves if it’s at Fluttershy’s house! That mare’s afraid of her own shadow! Why are they so hot for each other?”
“Scootaloo, please pipe down!” squeaked Sweetie Belle. “Rarity needs her beauty sleep, now more than ever.”
“Yeah, she’s right!” added the indignant voice of Spike the Dragon-cub.
“Spike? Where are you calling from?” Scootaloo asked bemusedly.
“He’s here with me and Rarity!” answered Sweetie. “Isn’t he such a sweetheart?”
The tin can let out a tinny chuckle that sounded remarkably like Spike’s… and then a tremendous burp.
“Eurgh! Who let one rip?” Scootaloo asked with a wrinkled nose.
“That was me,” came Spike’s sheepish response.
“And he burped up all this pretty sparkly green smoke,” Sweetie said, “and it made a piece of paper appear. It’s… It’s a letter from Miss Twilight.”
“From Mom?” Spike asked in surprise. “What’s it say, Sweetie Belle?”
“She says that she’s at Canterlot, and that she knows about the amulet that Unicorn is wearing. She thinks she has an idea for how to get it off!”
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