Twilight Sparkle knew something was off the moment she took a seat outside of Princess Celestia’s personal study. The fact that Celestia had refused to see her for the past two weeks had been odd enough, but what sealed the deal was the pair of changeling drones standing in front of a water cooler near the end of the hall.
Maybe that was why the receptionist had been so reluctant in letting Twilight into the castle in the first place.
As Twilight began to power up her horn and charge at the pair of pleasantly conversing changelings (each with a matching paper-clipped stack of papers held to their sides), she heard something far more pressing through the Princess’ doors.
“And that’s when I reveal myself and attack Luna?”
The voice of Queen Chrysalis.
“Get away from her this instant, you fiend!”
Following the bucking of the double doors right off their hinges, Twilight galloped into the study and pointed a leg at Queen Chrysalis, who viewed her wide-eyed and unsure. To her side stood Princess Celestia, perhaps even more shocked than Chrysalis was, her coat somehow appearing a little paler than usual.
“Oh… crap…” Chrysalis mumbled out.
Twilight fired a blast of magic from her horn which was instantly halted by a spell of Celestia’s.
Twilight gasped. “Queen Chrysalis must’ve hypnotized the Princess! I must get to my friends as soon as—”
Celestia held out a leg. “No, Twilight. That’s not what’s happening here. Let me try my best to explain.” She paused for a moment, mouth stuck in a grimace. “You see… uhh… sometimes ponies…”
Chrysalis chuckled at her. “Let’s see you try to worm your way around this, Princess.”
Celestia shot her a dirty look. “You see, Twilight, Chrysalis and I are actually… lovers! Yes, lovers!”
Chrysalis blanched. “What? Since when?”
With an assured nod, Celestia added, “So that’s why she’s here today! Yep. Nothing else in the works going on here! Just some odd love between responsible adults.” She turned to Chrysalis. “Come here, my little ladybug.”
When Celestia leaned in to give her a kiss, Chrysalis kept her at bay with a hoof to the forehead.
“Knock that off! We are not lovers of any sort!”
Awkwardly, Twilight took another step into the deathly silent room, never taking her eyes off the Queen. “Just what in Equestria is going on here? And why did I see two changelings out in the hall just a moment ago? Are we under attack again? Did we somehow make peace with the changelings without me knowing about it?”
Celestia tried to give her protégée a smile, a deep blush on both cheeks. “Give me just ten minutes and I’ll get back to you with all the answers you want, all right? So why don’t you—”
That was when another door to Celestia’s study opened up and King Sombra casually strolled in, his dark mane rolled up in a bunch of curlers and with the same batch of papers the changelings from before had.
“Can one of you help me with these contact lenses? I have no problem holding them, it’s just when I try to touch my eye—”
King Sombra stopped cold once he took notice of Twilight Sparkle in the room. Balanced on one of his hooves was a red and green contact lens. While one of his eyes was the standard venomous red and green, the other was nothing more than a soft pale blue.
“Oh, crap!” he exclaimed, instantly shaking his head from side to side to rid his mane of all its curlers. Afterwards, he gently tossed the bathrobe he had tied around his waist to the floor.
He lowered to the carpet to bare his teeth at her. His very standard looking teeth.
“Twilight Sparkle! The great King Sombra has returned! Now I shall have… all the crystals I want… and slaves, too! Don’t you dare go forgetting about those!”
He tightly pursed his lips in thought, before closing his eyes with a sigh.
“Sorry, but I’m just terrible at improv. I didn’t think we were doing this thing until well after dress rehearsals. Give me a second to glance over the script.”
With his horn, Sombra levitated his batch of papers off the floor and opened them, skimming some random lines.
By whatever he read, he seemed more enthused. “Hey! Awesome! I actually get some lines this time.” He spun to Celestia, who at that very moment appeared as if contemplating burrowing underground and living out the remainder of her days in the dirt’s soft embrace. “You promised me a back-story last time. Am I finally getting one?”
Celestia brought two hooves to cover her face. “Go to page one-hundred and four; I think that’s where it starts.”
Happily, Sombra sat on the carpet and did just that, chuckling to himself every couple of pages.
By that point in time, Twilight had crossed half the room to glare at her mentor. “Now can you tell me what’s going on? And just why both Queen Chrysalis and King Sombra are in Canterlot? In your own personal study, at that?”
Celestia sighed, then sat on the edge of her desk. Another opened copy of the script sat next to her resting plot, while a finely detailed map of some disastrous battlefield lay spread across the rest of it. Large red Xs dotted the map—the names “CHRYSALIS”, “SOMBRA”, “TIREK”, and many more indicating which X meant who.
“You ever wonder, Twilight,” Celestia began to say tiredly, “just why it seems at the end of every year, you and your friends are faced with more difficult enemies than most, thereby learning the limits of magic and friendship and trust by overcoming them?”
Twilight furrowed her brows as her ears flattened. “Because evil must be stopped no matter what the costs?”
Celestia raised a brow. “But always at the same time every year?”
Twilight didn’t like where this was heading. “Coincidence?”
Celestia continued quietly, “During our first few dozen years as rulers, my sister and I learned a great deal about life and love and friendship through hardship—usually the type of hardship found while pitted against monsters and foes seemingly stronger than we ever thought possible. But, time and again, we did just that. And even if we did not defeat them outright, we instead showed them the true power of friendship and began a peaceful existence between us all. That was just what happened between Chrysalis and her changelings, the first time we all sparred.”
Twilight’s eyes went back and forth from Celestia to Chrysalis.
“So we’re not at war with the changelings? We never were at war with them? And you two are actually friends?”
Chrysalis laughed deeply. “I wouldn’t go as far as to use the term ‘friend,’ but rather ‘warm acquaintance.’ Many years ago, I’d wanted all of Equestria to myself, but was shown the error of my ways. Now my colony lives freely in its own part of the world and thrives better than it ever had, trading what we can while receiving a healthy supply of highly concentrated love from right here in Canterlot.”
Twilight had trouble finding the words to continue the conversation. “So… so that means everything at my brother’s wedding… was… what? An act?”
Chrysalis smirked. “Exactly! And what fun that was! Getting to knock Celestia down like that! You know how many times we went through that part in rehearsals? Like seven times! I kept on breaking character, I was laughing so hard!”
With a snort, Chrysalis brought a hoof to her mouth to try and hold in her giggles.
Twilight turned to Celestia. “So has any of it been real?”
Celestia glanced around the room uneasily. “Most of it, yes. What you and your friends got up to before and after the yearly finales was mostly of your own creations. What my sister and I did… was basically help you fill in the missing villain categories. Since she and I already dealt with them thousands of years ago, we kinda had to improvise a bit.”
“So Luna was in on it, too?”
“Your first battle was against Nightmare Moon, remember? But Luna had a great time clashing with you all. She’s always been more of the combative type.”
On the verge of pulling out every strand of hair from her mane, Twilight tried to subdue that urge by pacing around the room. “So what about Sombra? Or Tirek and Discord? What about them?”
Celestia chuckled dryly. “King Sombra’s been dead for a great many years. He was too vile and too evil to be left alive when he first came to our attention. That’s why we later hired an actor to portray him. That’s Scene Break, over there, if you were wondering. He’s been waiting to portray Sombra again for sometime.”
The stallion dressed up as Sombra pulled himself away from his script, flashing her a grin. “I actually do dinner theater on the weekends. You ever get a chance to see West Side Pony? I was the lead in that. Although it’s nowhere near the same league as Celestia’s productions; I mean… empires made of crystal and giant smoke machines and the super bright power of true love? I love it! It’s fantastic! It’s like acting without a net!”
He asked Celestia, “When’s my costume supposed to be ready? I kinda need at least an hour or so to get in the zone, you know? Get into the head-space of Sombra. Sit in a closet with the lights off; blaring repetitive music on full blast.”
Celestia rolled her eyes. “It won’t be back from the blacksmith until four. Until then, go over your lines and try to fix up your mane.”
With a hoof, Twilight moved Celestia’s head so she was looking at her again.
“Tirek and Discord?” she asked.
A faint, dreamy expression overtook Celestia’s face. “Tirek was an old college friend—played on the hoovesball team and everything. A real jock, you know? I called in a favor and he said he was interested. Discord… well, Discord’s always been in the mood for these big finales. Also, I might have dated him for a bit a few thousands years ago, but let’s not get into that now.”
Twilight shut her eyes and grumbled, “No. Let’s not.”
In a flash of white light, Discord snapped into the room, a large platter of cheese cubes perched on the tips of his eagle’s claws.
“Celestia! We must discuss the state of these so-called cheese platters.”
He angrily threw the dish to the floor.
“If you think for just a second that I’d be able to act with such subpar cheese, then you’re just—”
Discord’s red and yellow eyes finally found the grumbling Twilight. He turned to Celestia, giggling merrily. “Oh, crap! Looks like someone’s in trouble!”
Celestia fixed him a cold stare. “Did everyone need to stumble into my study today by accident?”
Discord busied himself by filing a claw. “Oh, I came here on purpose. When I heard Twilight Sparkle was in here and that all the cats had exploded out of the bag and hit the fan on the ceiling, I knew I had to join in on the surprise.” He chuckled. “But it sure was a good ride while it lasted, wasn’t it?”
Twilight pointed a hoof at each one of the “villains” in turn.
“Discord, Chrysalis, Sombra, those changelings out in the hall…” Exhaling loudly, she asked Celestia, “Just how many villains were supposed to be in this ‘finale,’ exactly?”
With a larger blush than before, Celestia spent her time chewing on her lip.
“All of them?”
At the wide circular table, Twilight Sparkle sat with a deep-set frown, a tall plate of cut up fruits and vegetables close at hoof. (The food had come from the large crafts table just outside the room.) Next to that was her own copy of the finale’s script, titled: “AN END TO ALL HEROES”.
Below that, it read:
Directed by Princess Celestia
Written by Princess Celestia
Story by Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Discord, and A. K. Yearling
Funded by the Canterlot Society of the Performing Arts and the Lifelong Friendship Institute
On the other side of the table, Celestia read on: “This is when Flim and Flam are unexpectedly betrayed by Ahuizotl and flung far off the cliff, disappearing into a pit of darkness.”
Seated two chairs away from Twilight, Flim and Flam read their single word line together:
“Discord enters the scene,” Celestia narrated.
Unable to keep still while delivering his lines, Discord hopped up onto the table with rolled up script in hand.
“Ahuizotl, I presume! I would call you a worthy foe, but I find myself not in the jolliest of moods right this second. Hand over the Crystal Heart you stole and I’ll see to it that you survive my upcoming storm of chaos. But if you don’t—”
Celestia cut him off. “But, unbeknownst even to Discord, Princess Twilight Sparkle patiently waits in the shadows before making herself known.”
All forty-six ponies and creatures seated around the table turned to stare at her.
With a sigh, Twilight crossed two legs across her chest.
“These lines are terrible. I can’t see myself ever saying anything even close to this.”
Celestia gently set down her script. “Well, since we never know exactly what you’ll say on the night, we’ve always just replaced your dialogue with filler speech. Or what we think you might say should the situation arise.”
Twilight stared at her morosely.
Celestia gave her a thin smile. “You did agree to help us with our table read.”
Twilight read the line as flatly as she could, “Stop what you are doing this instant, Discord. I’ll have you know the power of friendship will always overcome your villainous ways, no matter the circumstances. My friends and I have already defeated your robot army and returned from that parallel black and white Equestria you trapped us in. We've also visited Tirek during his time in rehab and helped plan out Trixie's wedding to herself. King Sombra’s secret marriage to Queen Chrysalis may have come as a surprise to us all, but never shall we be made fools of again.”
Twilight looked up.
“’Never shall we be made fools of again’? Really?”
Discord ran a claw across his face.
“Can we get Twilight’s stand-in to read with us again? I’m just not feeling it with her, and I just don’t think I’ll have anything to work with.”
Someone lightly tapped Twilight on the shoulder.
“I can take over, if you want.”
Standing behind her was Derpy Hooves, clad in a tri-colored purple wig with matching tail piece.
Twilight glared at Celestia across the table again.
“Seriously? Like… seriously?” she fumed. “After this is over, you and I are going to have ourselves a very serious discussion, I hope you know.”
Celestia awkwardly took a long sip from her white Diamond Bucks cup.
Then, for the next three and a half hours, Twilight Sparkle sat in the corner and watched in muted awe as Derpy Hooves managed to act more like Twilight Sparkle than even Twilight Sparkle could.
Overall, it was a very bizarre day, indeed.