"Well, that was a productive first meeting..." Twilight remarked, scanning across the large table where, until a few minutes ago, all four Princesses had been seated. Luna and Celestia had left the room to 'get some fresh air', leaving the purple alicorn alone with her former babysitter, Cadence.
"It was rather dull, wasn't it..." The pink mare offered a sympathetic smile. "I don't know why we have to have these weekly sessions now, instead of just convening together whenever there's an emergency. I suppose, after Tirek's almost complete takeover of Equestria, Celestia is only trying to keep more up-to-date with current events. After all, she rarely leaves the castle, and we're her eyes and ears in Ponyville, the Crystal Empire and beyond..."
"Yes, I know that." Twilight sighed. "But when I received the message this morning that there was some 'urgent business' in Canterlot, I assumed it would be something more important than four ponies shuffling papers for two hours, with occasional observations about the weather, and we've got to go through this every seven days? Just when I thought my life couldn't get any duller... Even the Cutie Map seems determined to keep me stuck indoors at the moment..."
"Don't worry, things'll soon liven up again!" Cadence optimistically remarked, putting a hoof around her old friend's neck. "And even if they don't, you've still got me and Shining Armour's visit to look forward to, next week! It'll be nice to spend some time together, provided we don't have to fight any more Tatzlwurms this time. Are you sure you're going to be able to keep Discord on a tighter leash this time...?"
"Well, I don't think it's exactly possible to 'control' Discord... " Twilight pondered, "After all, he is the Master Of Chaos, and he's no longer a statue, so we can't just move him from place to place. After what happened at the Grand Galloping Gala this year though, Fluttershy had a long talk with him, and he seems to be a lot more amenable to leaving his friends alone to spend time by themselves. At least that's what he says..."
Both Princesses gave each other a skeptical look at this point, before Twilight continued. "Look Cadence. It's not like I want disaster to befall Equestria again, I mean I'm enjoying this period of tranquility as much as anypony. I just thought with my castle and my new status, I might have a little more to do in my spare time than sort out books and exchange bad puns with Spike. I mean, I know there was that whole business with Starlight Glimmer, but that seems like ages ago now..."
"Don't worry, Twi." Cadence said with a knowing grin. "I have something extra special planned for my arrival that you're sure to enjoy. A game where the prize is something unbelievable, and you're sure to love! In fact, one could almost call it life-changing..."
But the younger alicorn wasn't listening. Her attention had been drawn to a strange, transparent square which had appeared in front of her, on which a face seemed to be forming. Purple, green, reptilian in appearance...
Cadence, looking on, knew who it was almost immediately. It could only be Twilight's faithful assistant...
"Spike! I thought you said this thing would work..." Rainbow Dash stared impatiently over the shoulder of the diminutive dragon.
"Yeah, yeah." Spike groaned. "Twilight only showed me how to use it once, when she found it in the depths of the castle while exploring. Now, I think you have to press this... Then you have to shake it like so...."
The item in question was none other than a mystical mirror, which had been located in a wooden box covered in runes. Whoever had left it there, and how long it had been undisturbed was lost in the mists of time, but Twilight soon spotted a picture of it in a book while researching the artifact afterwards. Apparently, the way it functioned was that you had to say someone's name while performing a certain ritual, and that individual's face would appear in the glass, allowing a two-way conversation.
Unsure of the safety of such a powerful device, Twilight had made Spike swear a Pinkie Promise that it would only be used in the most dire of circumstances...
Like now, allegedly. Or at least, that's the impression Rainbow Dash had given him...
"Something seems to be happening now, at least..." Spike remarked, as his reflection went all hazy, and became a mosaic of many colours. "Now, let's try the next step... Princess Twilight Sparkle, please!"
There was an instant flash from the mirror, and the burst of light that emerged almost blinded Spike and Dash. With their eyes still recovering from the intense glare, they could just make out the numerous shades in the glass join together as one, to form the features of somepony both knew only too well.
"Spike! I told you only to use that item in the most desperate of situations! This better not be about you running out of emeralds again, or Owlicious pecking you on the head because you interrupted his roost.." The purple alicorn warned, secretly ecstatic that this ancient technology appeared to be functioning perfectly.
"No, no. Of course not!" Spike tried to reassure her. "The reason I'm calling is under a direct order from Applejack, via Rainbow Dash. She says it's an emergency, and you should come back as soon as possible. I'm not sure what it's about. Something to do with a tiara?
"A tiara?" Twilight was stumped for a minute. She only had one of those fancy things which was bestowed upon her the day she was crowned Princess, and being a down-to-earth kind of pony, she only wore it on special occasions, and usually stored it deep inside the recesses of a closet. "Spike, if you've lost or broken that item while cleaning, I am disappointed, but it's not the end of the world. It certainly isn't worth worrying..."
"No, no. You've got it all wrong!..." The dragon waved his claws in protest, at not being understood correctly. "Tiara is a pony, not an object! Do you know who I'm talking about now? ...Oh, hey Cadence!"
Twilight did. Her first reaction was an extended gulp, before she informed her assistant on the magical screen. "Why, what's happened?! Tell me all you... In fact, no. I'm on my way now. Whereabouts should I meet Applejack?"
Spike turned to Rainbow Dash just off-screen to find out that information, before responding to the purple alicorn. "The hospital" came the chilling reply.
Uh-oh, It could be even worst than I thought realised Twilight. She began to panic a little, though not quite at the level of the time she made all of Ponyville infatuated with a stuffed toy.
"I'm on my way!" She turned away from the image, thus severing contact. Spreading her wings wide, she turned to Cadance to offer a quick farewell. " I suppose I'll see you next week, then..." the purple alicorn hastily uttered. "Apologise on my behalf to Luna and Celestia, that I couldn't join them for tea. Honestly, you don't know what it's like, having a little one running around like that, causing trouble, taking up all your spare time..."
Cadence couldn't help but draw parallels between what Twilight had just said, and a major announcement she planned to make in the future. "Actually, funny you should say that..."
But the Princess Of Friendship had already gone.
"So, let me guess, I'm under arrest for ignoring the terms of the injunction against me?" Spoiled remarked, while she trotted alongside Rarity.
Not for the first time, the white unicorn was amazed at how upfront Diamond's mother was at how much trouble she was in. "Well, y-yes, that's part of it. But judging from the state she, and her friend Apple Bloom were in when me and my friends arrived, we were under the distinct impression something more substantial had occurred in there. So we want to look into that, before..."
Rarity's words were cut short by the quiet tittering of Spoiled, who didn't seem in the least concerned about her daughter's mental health. "Oh, I think I know what this is about. My daughter is playing her silly games again! And this time ,she's got one of her... Classmates involved. Don't worry, my dear. All of this can be quite easily straightened out. I won't say anything else for now though, as I assume you've already informed that mousy librarian moonlighting as a princess, of proceedings, and even now she's scampering down here full throttle on those little wings, bless her! Isn't she going to feel stupid when she realises this is all just a waste of time for everypony concerned? I can't wait to see her face. Perhaps I'll bring a camera, for the magic moment..."
Rarity nearly choked on her own words. Never before had she heard such blatant disrespect in all her life. "W-what?! H-how could you talk about her...your Princess... L-like that?!"
Spoiled suddenly stopped in the middle of the corridor for a moment, and afforded the white unicorn a large scowl. "Quite easily, my dear. Didn't you hear me? And she's not my princess, she doesn't represent my ideals, or my vision for this great nation of ours. I most certainly did not vote for her to govern over me. All she is to my eyes is a nerdy little bookworm who brown-nosed with Celestia at an early age, to receive undeserved rewards later on. Why should she have a custom-made castle, all to herself? Why should she have her own faithful servant she never even has to pay, even if it is just a puny lizard? You may think I'm jealous, but I'm not. I'm merely perplexed why somepony so unworthy has been given all of these rewards on a silver platter, without really having to work for them..."
Rarity could hold her tongue no longer. "I'll have you know, Mrs Rich..." She exclaimed. "That my good friend Twilight Sparkle has warranted all the honours bestowed upon her a hundred times over! Why, she's solved friendship problems the world over, saved the world from total destruction at least twice, mastered numerous magic spells and incantations, not to mention being a fine, compassionate mare that I'm proud to call my friend!" It was a most unladylike rant from the white unicorn, but she'd been driven to it by the incessant goading of her companion.
Not that Spoiled seemed put out Rarity's defence of her fellow element carrier, though. "Oh, yes. I've heard all about that 'compassionate' friend of yours, sticking her nose into everypony's affairs all over Equestria. Why can't she just mind her own business? As for 'saving the world', well, she'd be nothing without you five bookends backing her up. What would happen to us all if one of you was incapacitated for some reason? Equestria would be doomed, that's what! What a way to defend a nation! And those spells she's supposedly learnt, I'll grant you she probably did that by herself. But what do you expect? She spends most of her time shut away, like a socially inadequate recluse! What else is she supposed to do, other than read? Its a waste of a perfectly good idea, having a Princess in Ponyville, and giving the job to the worst possible candidate!"
Rarity was not sure she could take much more of this nonsense, which verged on treason. "Okay, Spoiled, do tell..." She inquired, with a hint of malice. "If you were elevated to the esteemed position currently held by Twilight, what would you do with your newfound power and influence?" She was kind of nervous to find out the answer, but she couldn't help but ask.
"Well, for a start, I'd make a lot of new friends..." Spoiled pondered, beginning to walk on once more. "No dirty animal caretakers, all that dander would play havoc with my allergies. No insane party planners, all that noise would echo throughout my mansion, ruining my beauty sleep. And most definitely no disgusting farmers... Need I even explain why? Let's just say, the company I chose to keep would be a little more of your calibre, perhaps a few hundred steps higher in prestige, but you get the general idea. Then, I'd assemble my team, and change the face of Equestria as we know it. I'll save the minute details for my manifesto, but let's just say they'd be a lot less handouts and shacks, and plenty more workhouses and palaces..."
Rarity was sure she was joking. She must be joking, right? It was purely a rhetorical question she'd posed to Spoiled, and yet the serious, considered reply she'd given the white unicorn made it sound like she was seriously considering running for the monarchy.
Celestia help us all if that ever come to pass Rarity grimly thought.
"Anyway, that's the dream..." sighed Spoiled. "Well, it doesn't resemble 'the dream' I had earlier on, that was more of a nightmare. But I'm sure it wouldn't come to pass like that, it was most likely just Luna in my head, having fun at my expense. I do wonder sometimes, if that mare is truly reformed...
A lot more so than you, I'd bet Rarity's private thoughts stuck in her head again, as the two mares approached the front desk, with a much more cheerful Loving Care still on duty.
"Hello there!" The receptionist greeted Rarity with a wide smile. "I just wanted to tell you, your home remedy for tea stain removal worked a treat! I'll be able to read these papers again now, and finish my work for the day! How can I ever thank you?"
"Well..." Rarity was about to tell Loving Care to think nothing of it, when she suddenly had a brainwave. Even though she'd already broken it once, the restraining order Spoiled had imposed on her was still in effect, so the white unicorn couldn't exactly take her to Diamond's hospital room.
By the same token, Rarity didn't want to leave the head of the school board all on her own, lest she change her mind and did a runner. Who knows how much trouble the unicorn would be in with Applejack and company, if Spoiled slipped away before facing what inevitable charges were winging her direction.
No, the best solution came courtesy of something Loving Care had said before, during their first awkward meeting together. "Actually, there is something you can do for me, darling. You remember that security button I saw you almost push earlier on? Well, I'd like you to press it now, please."
The receptionist looked understandably confused. "But why?" She inquired. "You haven't done anything wrong..."
"You're right..." Rarity shot a glance at the poker-faced Spoiled. "I haven't...."
"Take your time, sugarcube. We're all here for you, if you need us..." Applejack offered a comforting reminder.
Diamond surveyed the faces around her. It was a room full of love. Fluttershy. Silver Spoon. Applejack. Even Pinkie Pie, who had somehow grasped that discretion was the better part of valour in this situation, and maintained a quiet facade. At least, for now.
But the one Tiara felt closest to, the one who was giving her the most courage out of everypony present to speak up, the one she'd suffered alongside during her ordeal and the only one there able to fully comprehend exactly what she was going through right now, was Apple Bloom.
Fluttershy may have given her the pep talk, but it was Bloom trotting over to hold her hoof, and whisper it's not your fault in her ear on a reassuring loop, that truly allowed her the freedom to exorcise her demons.
"T-thank you Applejack." Diamond stammered, feeling as if any moment she could collapse like a ton of bricks, if not for the farm filly by her side, propping her up like a homemade crutch. She used to be so strong, so in charge... And now, after everything that had happened, she felt as weak as a newborn kitten.
Would she ever be that strong again?
She tried to speak. "So, y-yes, my mother came into my room, while me and A-Apple Bloom were under the bed..."
Silver Spoon couldn't help but stop her friend there. "What were you two doing under the bed?!" She asked, with a raised eyebrow.
"Silver!" Chastised Bloom. " Can't you see how hard it is for Di to talk to us now as it is, without you interrupting her with your pointless questions? Sorry, Di, please continue..."
"Yeah, sorry..." A shame-faced Spoon looked down at the floor. Some bestie I am, she thought, being chewed out by Apple Bloom of all ponies, like that.
"O-okay. Well, anyway... So we heard them talking..." Diamond continued.
" 'Them' also including a wealthy married couple who'd accompanied Spoiled into the room...." Apple Bloom added helpfully.
"Yes, that's r-right..." Tiara acknowledged, as much as she'd like to forget them. Particularly the mare. "Anyway, they were saying all k-kinds of horrible things about my new f-friends the Crusaders, and Princess Twilight, about how they'd corrupted me, how I was much better when I was c-cruel all the time and how my mother was no longer p-proud to have me as a daughter. Did I miss a-anything out?" She turned to Apple Bloom for support.
"No, you did good..." The farm filly gave her friend a sad smile. "The only thing you didn't mention was the part about how you were somehow going to help either the poor ponies or the well-off ponies take over the universe, because of your cutie mark, but let's put that down to the overactive imagination of Spoiled. Shall we go on?..."
"Hang on just a second..." Applejack stepped over to Diamond, grasped onto her front hooves and stared deep into her eyes. "Now, don't you be fretting about what your mother said about you there, if you ask me she's outta her mind not to appreciate a daughter like you. I'm chuffed to bits that you chose to make a positive decision in your life like that at such a tender age, and you couldn't ask for three more loyal friends than Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and my Apple Bloom. As for Twilight, she cares as deeply about your well-being as I do. Do you understand what I'm saying, sugarcube?"
Wiping a stray tear away, but determined not to launch into another full scale cryfest, Tiara nodded her appreciation to the orange mare. "Yes, A-Applejack, and thank y-you."
"No problem at all. Now, you just go back to telling us your story." Applejack returned to stand next to Fluttershy, as a grateful Tiara resumed talking.
"So a-anyway, I got very cross at this stage, and ran out f-from under the bed to confront her. I-I tried to tell her how I felt, but she just laughed in my f-face, and t-then..."
Diamond visibly grimaced at this point, in no mood to go through the sordid details of the moment she felt the sensation of those hooves around her flank, touching her hind legs, going all the way up her...
Realising her friend was beginning to struggle, Apple Bloom stepped in. "...And then Spoiled started telling all manner of lies about Di's father, about how he always wanted a colt instead, him travelling the world being just an excuse to get away from his daughter, and that Filthy didn't love her at all. That's when I finally snapped, and I gave 'the head of the school board' both barrels. You should have seen me, Applejack. I was on fire! But the most important thing was, we got rid of Spoiled, and that's when you arrived."
Applejack's hatred of Spoiled seem to grow with every passing revelation. "What?!" She removed her hat, and threw it on the ground in disgust. "That Filthy Rich is one of the most stand-up guys I know! Sure, he can be a bit snooty, but he's always been nothing but virtuous in my dealings with him, never tried to cheat us or anything! And he's always banging on about how proud he is of his lil shining Diamond , how he can't wait to train her to be his successor, take her for trips around the world when she's older, how smart she is for just a little filly. That lying mare wants his daughter to believe he's ashamed of her?! It's lucky you were there to get rid of her, Apple Bloom, because if you weren't... Well, let's just say I wouldn't be held accountable for my actions."
Even though the other listeners present seemed equally appalled by what they'd heard, Applejack was taking her resentment to a whole different level. Bloom had hardly ever seen her sister this irate, but she could completely understand the reaction. The farm filly had felt just the same way, during her verbal takedown of the conceited snob.
Tiara sat quietly in contemplation. Despite all the reassurances she was hearing from all and sundry, her faith in her father had still been considerably shaken. All kinds of unwanted, obtrusive questions were beginning to enter her head for the first time, and refusing to go away, such as:
Why does my Daddy spend so much time far away from home...?
Why does he do nothing in response to my Mother constantly bullying me?
What made him marry her in the first place?
She had no idea. She did know one thing though, Her love for him would never felt quite the same again, until she had the answers to all those mysteries.
Diamond was jolted back to reality by the feeling of another hoof this time, a safe one touching her shoulder, on the opposite side of her frame to where Bloom still lingered. She glanced over to it's owner, and it was none other than the reproachable face of Silver Spoon.
"I'm so sorry you had to go through all that Di..." The grey filly wanted to make amends. "I haven't been a very good best friend lately, have I? Only thinking about myself and my needs, without even taking into account your emotions. I knew what was going on between you and your mother, and chose to downplay it. Then, I even wanted to stop you making new friends, so I could have you all to myself! I feel ashamed of how I acted, and I'd like to start making up for it right now. Starting with a sworn promise to be by your side whenever you need me, whatever happens in the future. Now, I've got something to say to your new friend..."
Hearing the term 'promise' caused Pinkie to stir a little where she sat, but she figured one of her special vows was more than enough for Silver Spoon to deal with for one day, so she kept quiet
In the meantime, the grey filly reached over Tiara's form, and grasped Bloom's hoof. "Thank you, Apple Bloom, for taking care of my best friend when I wasn't around. Now that I'm back, we can look after her together, as well as hang out with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle too. I'm sure we'll all get on really well, and form a strong support network for Di as she recovers."
Silver's words sounded pleasant enough , but even as she shook hooves with Spoon, Bloom could have sworn she saw a glint of something resentful in the grey filly's eye. No, surely not. They were all good friends now. It was all just in her head.
While Pinkie continued to watch, beaming at the long-awaited sight of the youngsters making up, Fluttershy had one final question. "Um... If you don't mind me asking... You mentioned something about a married couple being in the room with Spoiled?"
"Yes, that's right?" Bloom wondered why they were being bought up again.
"Well..." The yellow pegasus observed thoughtfully. "You never did tell us what happened to them. Did they leave the room with Spoiled, or did they go earlier?"
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the already uncomfortable Diamond shift even harder in her position at the mere mention of those two, even more so than when discussing her mother. " Er... They left before, but they weren't really important to the events that followed, so we kind of forgot to talk about them again."
"Oh, okay." Fluttershy seemed happy with that answer, and Bloom sighed with relief. The less that pair were bought up, the more relaxed Tiara felt, and that was fine with her.
Besides, a new distraction was about to appear. At roughly the same time, Rarity trod gracefully into view, and at the opposite end of the corridor, Rainbow Dash, blatantly ignoring the numerous 'No Flying' signs, darted around the corner.
All the occupants of that tiny room, save for a pink filly and a yellow filly, ran over to hear the latest news, leaving Apple Bloom to ask Diamond Tiara a simple question, regarding a secret she couldn't even share with Silver Spoon.
"... How long, Di? Before you think you can tell..."
Tiara looked down at the floor, trying to push the flashbacks away, without much success.
"I don't know Apple Bloom. Possibly, never."