• Published 22nd Feb 2012
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My Little Alicorn - InsertAuthorHere



A magical prank backfires, leaving Celestia stuck as a filly and Luna having to take her place.

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Chapter Twelve: Luna's Best/Worst Night Ever

Chapter Twelve

As if acting on some cosmic cue (or just following the schedule to appease their ruler), the first guests arrived at the garden gates at exactly six o’clock. Whether by themselves or as a couple, one upper-crusted pony after another came filing down the carefully-laid paths from the palace entrance, flanked on all sides by all the guards that couldn’t find a good enough excuse to get out of the most boring six hours of their lives.

Fortunately, this convention had not changed in a thousand years. As each guest stopped to bow, Luna greeted them by name, wished them well, and welcomed them within the royal grounds. A few seemed to double-take at the sight of a smiling blue alicorn, but at least they weren’t lobbing insults or calling her by…that name.

Yes, this will be the best night ever.

----------

The small piece of chalk struck itself across the length of the chalkboard, forming a straight line right through the middle. The unicorn controlling the instrument nodded in self-approval, even as she continued to crunch the numbers in her mind. “And so, if we combine Ethereal Storm’s theory on curses and their effect on the pony psyche with Professor Milky Way’s own contributions to the Grand Unified Theory of Magic, we can see a connection between the initial possession and paralysis spells. I think we’re finally making some progress! What do you think, Pinkie?”

The pink pony snapped out of her boredom-induced nap with a snort. Before her on the podium sat the Arcanus E Draconus, its pages opened to the spell that had started all this trouble. The priceless historical – if pure evil – tome now bore traces of the spittle of its writer’s descendant. “Oh…um…four?”

Twilight groaned. She had known going into this that Pinkie was not a student of magic, even with Kuchen’s voice apparently in the back of her head all this time. And yet, every effort the unicorn had made to bring her partner more into the depths of their discussion had met with failure. Being the princess’ personal student and spending all her time surrounded by books and studies on the nature of magic had spoiled her to the point that she had never even bothered to think about how to explain all of this to anypony, especially a non-unicorn like Pinkie.

It was only natural that her nerves would be starting to fray. “Pinkie, you have to pay more attention! There’s a whole lot of material we have to brush you up on before we can even attempt to create a counterspell.”

A smile traced its way across Pinkie’s lips, even as her ears flattened. “O…Of course, Twilight! Whatever you say! After all, you’re in charge of the study group!”

The unicorn could feel a small nerve in her brain twinge slightly as she glanced around the room. “How can I be the leader of a study group if it only has two members?”

“Um….a study pair, then?”

Twilight muttered something halfway between a grunt and a growl. “Pinkie, please…”

A loud knock on the door broke up the scene between the two. A few seconds later, the doors opened to reveal a little alicorn filly. “Good evening. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”

“N-Not at all, your Highness,” Twilight stammered. She even completed the scene with a small curtsy, a telltale sign that things were not going well and she wanted to avoid punishment. “I was just, well, tutoring Pinkie on some of the fundamentals of magic. You know, so we can make things go a little bit easier. Heh heh heeeeeeh?”

Celestia’s eyes locked on the nearby pink pony, who was obviously faking the goofiest smile ever seen since Celestia had first met Lofty. Her vision then gradually drifted down towards the small drool pool on the Arcanus E Draconus’s open page. “I…see. Miss Pie, how much do you know about magic?”

Pinkie tapped her chin, shifting her eyes back and forth between the princess and her friend. “Um, well, I know there’s the kind where you can saw a pony in half. Oh, and you can pull rabbits out of a hat! Although, you really shouldn’t do that with Fluttershy’s friend, Angel. It gets him really angry!”

Twilight slouched the front half of her body against the floor, wrapping her forelegs above her head in sheer, unadulterated, soul-crushing frustration. “ARGH! How are we supposed to get anything done if we aren’t on the same page! At this rate, it’ll take years before we can get even one of the enchantments broken!”

“Perhaps she doesn’t need to know all the particulars. You are talking about some rather weighty subjects, after all,” said Celestia. “Pinkie Pie, how much can you remember of Kuchen’s magic? Not exact names of spells, I mean. Just…how he felt when he would cast a spell, or a few syllables from whatever branch of magic he was using.”

“Um…well…I can get a few things,” Pinkie nodded.

“Perfect!” Celestia exclaimed.

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Perfect? I don’t really see where you’re going with this.”

“I-I’ll explain in a minute,” Celestia said. “In the meantime, care for some tea? I need to talk to you two about something.”

----------

As the last guest arrived, Luna breathed a sigh of relief. It had taken forever to memorize the entire list, and more effort than she had thought possible to recognize everypony from their pictures. She had only met a few nobles and aristocrats outside of her nightly court, and none of those ponies were attending tonight unfortunately.

Satisfied that nopony else was coming, Luna made her way to the party area. Her face beamed with intense hope, something she had not felt for quite a while. So far, not a thing seemed to be going wrong; everypony appeared to be behaving, there were no uninvited guests, and Celestia was nowhere to be seen.

Now, at long last, she would know these ponies for herself. No longer would she had to rely on Celestia’s second-hoof reports of their antics and general ne’er-do-well attitudes. The ones she knew from a thousand years ago may have had their difficulties, but still managed to be of great use to Equestria. These should be no different. She might even get them to like her, perhaps even support her once Celestia was back on her throne.

This is REALLY going to be the best night ever.

----------

“And she said no?” Pinkie responded in astonishment.

Celestia took a sip of her tea before continuing. It was a task easier said than done, seeing as how she had to lean over almost the whole table just to reach her cup. “Yes, she did. I don’t understand what went wrong. I acted just like a filly should. I jumped around, shouted things in excitement, even whimpered and whined a little. I thought such tricks usually worked on one’s caregivers.”

Twilight felt that nerve twinge yet again. “Um…Princess Celestia? Did you ever give in to a filly that jumped around, shouted things excitedly, and then whimpered and whined a little?”

“Well…yes, I did.” Celestia blushed a little under her fur. “You have no idea what Luna was like as a foal. She would always throw the biggest tantrums whenever she didn’t get her way with the slightest thing. Why, back in the first eon, she wanted to stay up all night, and when I told her babies needed their sleep, she spent the entire night screaming and pulling my hair and…trying to eat my ears…”

Twilight raised an eyebrow at this. “She never told me anything like that.”

Celestia shrugged. “I imagine she never told anypony, especially after we became princesses. There’s a certain amount of poise and prestige one must exude in this position, and letting everpony know you used to be a wild child has a tendency to not end well.”

“I-In any case,” Twilight stammered, desperate to get the discussion back on track, “Luna does have a point. We really can’t let anyone else know what’s happened to you. Maybe once we have a cure ready to go…”

The white alicorn slammed both hooves onto the table, shaking the furniture with their tiny impact. Fortunately, her rational side managed to pull itself together before any more damage could be done. “I can’t wait that long! By the time the carnival comes back, I’ll be back to normal. I won’t be able to do any of the things I wanna do by then!”

Twilight coughed on her tea a little. “Did you just say ‘wanna’?”

The filly slank back into her seat. “My apologies. I suppose I got a little worked up over this.”

“But you can still do stuff when you’re a grown up!” Pinkie said. “You can actually do even more cool things once you’re tall enough to get over the line! I mean, you can go on the Ferris Wheel…”

Celestia shook her head. “I weigh too much.’

“…ride the rides…”

“Too tall.”

“…play some games…”

“The vendors think I’ll cheat them and refuse to let me play.”

“…and the food! All those deep-fried snacks…”

“I tried to order a fried candy bar once. My bodyguards immediately closed the booth before it was even finished. They said that they were protecting my royal arteries.”

“…and all the sarsaparilla you can drink!”

“Sarsaparilla has too much sass.”

“…In any case,” said Twilight, “maybe we can figure something out later. But right now, we need to get back to work. Would you like to join us?”

Celestia shrugged. She wasn’t exactly interested in working during her vacation, but time was of the essence. There was no way Luna could survive what was going to happen tonight. “Sure, why not? We might get going a bit faster that way.”

----------

The hour was late, and the party was getting into its full swing. The richest, most powerful ponies in all of Equestria whiled away their evening with small talk and idle gossip. Whether it was the prices on the commodities market, or some rather improper remarks about a mare’s ensemble, no topic was deemed too small in importance for the bored, idle rich. Luna had just barely willed the sun to set, taking great care to avoid looking like she had any difficulty with it whatsoever, and at long last could see first-hoof how the aristocracy had changed in the last thousand years.

She was not impressed.

The notion that tonight was not going to end well first struck her as she was walking towards the hors-d'œuvre table, desperate for some fruit punch. Just as she was willing one of the glasses into the air, her godlike ears managed to pinpoint some chatter from a nearby group of ponies, one of many gathered around the party’s area. A charcoal-coated stallion and two mares, one blue and one golden, had their eyes fixated on an unsuspecting white-and-pink mare on the other side of the field.

“So you say that’s Fancy Pants’ new trophy wife?” said the stallion.

The golden mare chuckled wickedly between sips of her punch. “That’s what I hear. Apparently, she was some kind of model he met during one of his business trips. A few nights later, she’s already flashing that ring he gave her like he’d take it away at any moment.”

“Ugh, the nerve of some ponies,” the blue mare grumbled. “What was he thinking, consorting with somepony of a lower class? Surely a pony of his standing knows that there are some things we simply cannot abide.”

There was a flurry of agreements between all three, their eyes never leaving their dagger-like stare at the unsuspecting mare. If she had any idea that the other guests were busy condemning her, she was far too busy hanging off of the large, well-dressed stallion beside her. Luna groaned at it all, pushing the problems out of her mind by sipping on the punch.

“Good evening, your Highness!”

Luna coughed on the red liquid as another mare loudly – but properly – called her from behind. Turning about, she found herself facing a young, topaz Earth pony, probably no older than Twilight. The surprised princess barely managed to swallow her drink before the awkward pause between sentences became too much. “G-Good evening, Miss…”

“Raisinette,” the Earth pony finished.

The moon princess smiled back, her brain already drawing back on her knowledge of Earth pony naming customs. “So…I take it you are involved in raisin production?”

“‘Involved’ isn’t quite the right word,” the pony corrected. “My family practically runs every grape vineyard in Equestria, and all in one generation to boot. Why, given the time and resources, we could be as wide-spread as the Apple family!”

More than a few ponies glanced at the two’s direction at the last outburst. Blushing, Luna took another sip of punch. “I see. Well, it is good to meet some of the hardworking farm ponies that keep Equestria fed.”

Raisinette let out a low giggle; if Luna didn’t know better, it would have sounded like the Earth pony was taunting her. “Why, thank you, your Highness. Say, how do you feel about raisins?”

Luna shrugged. “I…I really have not had that many. I have eaten grapes, however, and…”

“Let me tell you, nothing’s better on a hot summer day than biting into a sun-dried raisin. And nothing’s better than Raisinette Brand Perfect Raisins! We’re not like those other raisin companies. You know, like the Sour Grapes family. Do you have any idea how many laws they break every day?”

Sweat creased down the princess’ brow as she tried to find some way to escape this conversation. “W-Well, I do see your point, but…”

“And let’s not get started on those Blue Blossoms! Why, they wouldn’t know a raisin from a prune, let me tell ya! I swear, if you just spent a little of our fine government’s time and money, we could have all those good-for-nothings exposed for the cheats and crooks that they are!”

As if to accentuate her last statement, the Earth pony drew herself closer towards the princess, wrapping her foreleg around the ancient mare’s neck in what was probably supposed to be a friendly hug. Luna’s entire face was washed red with a mixture of horror at being so close to a strange mare, and frustration at not being able to escape this conversation. “And let’s not forget the retail market! Why, any reputable wholesaler would never carry something so sub-par as a pack of non-Raisinette Brand raisins, but none of them have the will to say no! But with a ringing endorsement from somepony on top, we just might be able to change that!”

All Luna could tell by this point was that the pony that was now touching her was breaking just about every single etiquette rule ever laid down in the history of Canterlot high society. A thousand years prior, she would have ordered the mare thrown head-first into the nearest dungeon cell for even being this close to her.

Then again, a thousand years ago she had tried to kill everything in Equestria because she didn’t feel appreciated.

Pushing aside her growing nervousness, Luna shyly smiled at her captor. “If….If you have an issue, you can make an appointment with the palace. Anypony is free to voice their issues to the court.”

“Oh, I know that. I’m sure we can talk about it more tomorrow. But just remember, when you bite into a Sour Grapes raisin, that may not be a raisin you’re eating!”

Her sales pitch complete, the mare (thankfully) cantered away. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, Luna raised her cup back to her lips, only to be greeted with nothing. Grumbling, she tilted the glass up to her eyes, and sure enough, it had gone dry. The small patch of red in front of her hooves was a stunning testimony to just where her drink had gone.

“Can you believe Nightmare Moon is hosting tonight?”

Luna’s ears picked up the distant voice almost immediately. She slowly turned her attention towards yet another small huddle of party guests; this time, it was a large, brown unicorn stallion, a green mare, and a smaller, Earth pony brown stallion. Even if they had noticed Luna listening in, it did not seem they would really care that much.

“Can you believe that story she’s throwing around?” said the mare. “Since when has Princess Celestia ever taken a vacation?”

“And so close to tonight, as well,” said the Earth pony. “I swear, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Princess Luna threw her sister out in another bid to take over Equestria!”

“She should have stayed in the moon where she belongs,” the mare grumbled. “When will she learn that nopony wants her around?”

“I can’t see how she and Celestia are even related. Our princess is such a shining example of poise and grace, while her supposed sister can’t go two sentences without barking orders or acting like she’s better than the rest of us.”

“She’s been gone for a thousand years. Equestria doesn’t need two princesses anymore. Even the one we have gets in the way too many times.”

*CRAAACK*

Luna’s attention snapped back to her glass. Or rather, to the shards that had once been her glass. Cursing the link between her emotions and the strength of her telekinesis, the princess discarded the glass in a nearby garbage can. You can do it, Luna. You can do it. You mustn’t let those fools ruin everything for you. It’ll all get better, they will see how wonderful you are, and this will be your best night ever.

----------

Celestia’s hoof traced its way from one end of the sheet to the next, checking and rechecking every variable in Twilight’s equation. The unicorn and Pinkie watched with great anticipation as the princess analyzed what could very well be the key to turning her back. After a long night of studying, everything was going to fall right into place…

“It’s not going to work.”

Twilight’s mood deflated immediately. “What’s wrong?”

“Most of the spells you used are correct for simple spells. But this is entirely different. If last night’s little mishap was any indication, we have to remove each of the spells in order, and without disturbing whatever safeguards Kuchen put in place. I highly doubt we want to repeat that disaster.”

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad,” said Pinkie. “I mean, sure, you got all scared of lightning and everything, but you were so cuuuuute when you were shivering!” A quick death glare from Celestia was all it took to tell Pinkie she should drop the subject before she ended up like her ancestor.

“B-But what’s wrong?” Twilight moaned.

Celestia hopped down from her seat, her hooves clopping loudly as they touched the ground. Twilight and Pinkie walked alongside her as she paced around the room, collecting her thoughts. “Pinkie, we need you to break down every single spell in the sequence, from beginning to end. Even if you don’t know the exact names, a simple description will do.” Pinkie fired off a salute. “Twilight, the counterspell you create will have to respond to every single step of the Youth Restoration Spell. Otherwise, we’ll be right back where we started.”

“Understood, your Highness,” Twilight nodded.

Celestia smiled at the two. She couldn’t help but feel a little confident with how things were now going. “You girls are off to a great start, but we still have a long way to go. If you will excuse me, I must return to my quarters. I fear this body isn’t exactly built for all-nighters.”

“A-ALL-NIGHTERS?!” Pinkie choked. “As in, ALL NIGHT LONG all-nighters!”

The pink pony’s protests stopped as a lavender hoof rested itself upon her shoulder. Pinkie turned to the waiting Twilight, the unicorn’s face a beaming smile. “Isn’t it grand? You’ve taught me all about parties and how fun they can be. Now’s my chance to show how great it is to study! Why, we’ll be up ‘till the wee hours of the morning!”

Celestia wisely closed the door just as Pinkie was screaming for mercy. Her nightly visit complete, she started on her way back to her room. Even as she walked, however, her mind was already creating new schemes to convince Luna to let her go to the carnival tomorrow. Perhaps the puppy dog eyes… No, too obvious.

So wrapped up in her schemes was she that she didn’t notice a green pony looking at her through one of the hall windows…

----------

The actual dinner portion of the party started exactly at exactly eight, as was scheduled. Five minutes prior, everypony made their way to their assigned spots, standing at attention until Luna herself was seated. The moment the sound of dozens upon dozens of ponies sitting in unison echoed through the garden, the servers dashed out the first course: a salad.

Once everypony had been given their portion, and the servants had stepped back until they were needed again, the small crowd began eating. Many a salad fork, whether through magic or years of practice with one’s hooves, scratched against just as many dishes at once, accentuating the awkwardness of the situation. Already, Luna could see the potential problems; one pony stared at another with malicious intent, or glanced darkly at the princess from the corners of their eyes. Either way, the princess could tell that there might be more problems.

“I-If you don’t mind, your Highness, may I ask you a question?”

Luna turned to face her speaker: a young, ocean-blue pegasus mare. She was staring at the red pieces of fruit covering her salad. “Of course. I always have time for my subjects.”

“Well, I was just curious…what is this berry, exactly?” The mare prodded one with her fork, squeezing out a small squirt of crimson juice in the process. “I have never seen anything quite like it.”

A chorus of voices accompanied her question, all of them sharing the same curiosity. More than a few appeared pleasantly surprised at the new taste, while others were either indifferent or afraid to take a bite until they knew this wasn’t a plan to kill them all and eat their bodies. “Well, those are called cranberries. I felt that, since this is a special occasion, the menu should be changed a little.” The less they know about the shipping error, the better.

“Then why have they never been served before?” asked a stallion at the end of the table.

“Because Celestia is not too fond of them, sadly,” Luna sighed. “She does not realize what she is…”

She stopped to a chorus of spits, as pony after pony spat up their half-eaten berries into their napkins. Others either dumped the offending fruit onto the grass, or moved them all to a separate plate. Luna could tell exactly what this was. So, because my dear sister has no taste in food, we cannot enjoy this rare find? Accursed Celes-

“I SHALL ENDURE THIS NO LONGER!”

The length of the table shook as a rather large stallion jumped onto the surface, smashing or displacing quite a bit of the royal china and silverware. The guards charged forward to intercept, but the stallion simply threw them aside like rag dolls. His eyes were fortunately not locked on the princess; rather, they were focused on another stallion directly across from him. Luna rose to speak, but was outspoken by the offending pony. “Lord Huffy! You dare dishonor Canterlot with your vile presence!”

Recognition struck Luna like a bullet. Huffy…then that must be Baron Frazzleberry! Celestia really was telling the truth about them!

Lord Huffy jumped onto the table as well. He was a fair bit shorter than his opponent, but certainly didn’t lack any of his intensity. “How DARE you insult me! Your family has born shame for centuries!”

“Shame at the hands of your family!” the baron snarled. “The day we were foolish enough to ally with the Huffy Clan was the day the Frazzleberry name was made a laughingstock! But today, I shall have my vengeance!”

The Baron flicked his tail upwards, ejecting a small piece of metal that had been tangled inside. Upon gripping it in his mouth, a long blade shot from the object’s edge. Lord Huffy, on the other hoof, shook his forelegs, releasing a pair of metal claws he had hidden in his horseshoes. The guards surrounded the table, but dared not make a move until they were sure no bystanders would be taken out in the crossfire.

The two swung their weapons…

And were stopped cold when both items were transformed into mist. The stunned nobleponies looked about in absolute confusion, before resting their eyes on the thing that had stopped their duel: Princess Luna. The alicorn’s eyes were little more than slits, barely revealing the boiling rage inside her. “How dare you! You both enter my home, insult my food, and then try to kill each other? I have never witnessed such…such…depravity in all my days!”

Lord Huffy nodded and jumped off the table, clearly upset at losing his latest chance to finally bring down the House of Frazzleberry but obviously not wishing to incur the princess’ wrath any further. The Baron, however, was not so smart. “I don’t care who you are! This is a matter for the noble court, not for an upstart princess like you!”

Luna gritted her teeth. She didn’t care how it looked to the other ponies; right now, she was just satisfied she wasn’t throwing the Baron into the dungeon this very moment. “This is your last chance, Frazzleberry! If some injustice has been performed, I shall try to make amends. But until then, you shall – as you ponies are so fond of saying – mind your place!”

Again, however, the Baron’s stupidity was matched only by his big mouth. “I shall do no such thing, NIGHTMARE MOON!

That. IS. ENOUGH!

Luna’s entire body shook with unbridled rage. A fury she had not felt since her descent as Nightmare Moon overtook every fiber of her being, completely closing off any inkling of the poise and stoic elegance she had been trying to emulate. The other ponies shrank away in terror at the sight of the enraged God-Princess, their eyes almost burning from the sheer anger emitting from the alicorn.

“WE HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF THIS FOOLISHNESS!” Luna shouted. Her Royal Canterlot Voice echoed throughout the garden, threatening to deafen everypony within range. At this point, she would have been happy if that really did happen.

One mare poked her head up from beneath the table, if only to keep grass stains off her dress. “B-But your Majesty…”

Luna willed her voice down a few notches, if only so Celestia wouldn’t hear it and try to inquire later. “When this function was first mentioned, I was eager to meet the ponies that help to keep Equestria safe and prosperous. You are all just as much my subjects as anypony else, noble or not. And yet, these last few hours have only served to prove just how low and twisted your positions have become.”

“W-Wait a minute, your Highness!” a brown stallion shouted. “We were invited here by Princess Celestia herself. We don’t have to listen to a traitor such as you!”

Everypony else gasped at his words, and even the stallion realized just how idiotic a thing that was to say. Luna’s face was already twisted in rage, and thus failed to display the exact moment where her self-control snapped like a dried twig beneath a pony’s hoof. “Invited by Princess Celestia, you say? Tell me; just how many of these parties has she actually attended?”

The stallion’s face fell. “Um…none that I can recall…But that was only because she had royal duties to attend to!”

“Royal duties?! HA!” Luna scoffed. “Do you know what she was really doing this whole time? She was avoiding the whole lot of you.”

Murmurs and grumbles broke out between the disheveled ponies almost immediately. None of the land’s elite members wanted to believe it. The night princess could finally see the opening she needed. “Before she left for her vacation, I asked her what to expect of this party. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that you were all a bunch of silver-spooned ponies that would stab each other in the back for her favor. I was even explicitly instructed not to attend, but I mistakenly believed that her claims had been exaggerated.”

The rumbles from the party’s guests only grew in volume. Finally, one of the mares that had been secretly harassing Fleur earlier raised her hoof like a schoolfoal. “That’s not possible! Why would Princess Celestia ever do such a thing?!”

“Because she hates you.”

Everything stopped in an instant. The brain functions of every pony in the audience immediately ceased as Luna’s words came to weight. A few could even be heard sniffing back tears. With the floor still hers, Princess Luna continued. “My sister may be strict, but she is never openly harsh when she can avoid it. Her solutions are always passive in nature, a trait she learned when she was but a small filly. She would never march into a party and declare how much she despises these things, or how ruling over you ungrateful foals has left her drained these past few months. And let us not forget our dear Prince Blueblood, who told me I should murder a village just to save his ego.”

“B-But we’re not Prince Blueblood!” one of the ponies shouted.

“But you are still at fault!” Luna said. “Tonight, I have heard every lie, every betrayal, and every self-promoting act one can think of. I have seen ponies ostracizing somepony else because their great-great-grandparents were not as rich as their own. I have witnessed grown ponies degenerate into foals because of meaningless, centuries-old feuds.”

The princess’ breaths became more labored. “And I have heard many of you call me Nightmare Moon. Did it ever occur to you as to why I became that monster to begin with? It was because of ponies like YOU! Ponies that dismissed everything I tried to accomplish because it did not fit into their own narrow view of the world. The same ponies that dismissed my beautiful nights while accusing me of having no purpose! The night my sister banished me was the worst night in both our lives, and what do you do? You mock her suffering with your very behavior!”

There was nary a peep from the party guests. Even Octavia and her orchestra were shocked by Luna’s growing rage. It was obvious by now that this night was unsalvageable. “I take my leave of all of you. The guards will escort you out when the party is done. Enjoy your dinner.”

----------

Luna could not help but feel a sense of relief as she entered the palace. Her nightly court would already be preparing for the night’s business, and after so many days of failure, she was going to get everything she wanted finished.

That was the only thought that kept her going at this rate.

I have made a mess of everything.

As much as she hated to admit it, there was another reason why Celestia would never directly upset the elite members of Equestrian society. As princess, her actual reach over the kingdom was limited, and no amount of magic could fix that. She needed all those ponies tonight to help finance the country’s projects and operations, manage the local communities, and keep an eye out for anything that might endanger ponies everywhere. As much as somepony would want to hoist them by the throat and drop all of them off a cliff, they were still necessary.

And Luna had just insulted every single one of them.

By the time Luna had reached her court’s meeting room, she could already feel that contemptible sadness welling up inside her, threatening to burst out in the middle of the only ponies that had ever cared what she had to say. She stopped at the door, taking in deep, labored breaths as she tried to refocus herself.

Celestia, how do you do this? How can you be so…perfect with everypony? Why can’t I be like you?

----------

The minute Luna left, so did Blueblood’s spy.

The rest of the guests were still stunned by Luna’s outburst, so the brown Earth pony was more than able to slip out past the guards and through the front gate. Even as he did so, his partner, a green mare, followed him from the other side of the garden. A quick nod to the guards, and she was outside the palace as well.

The two investigators then started trotting down the street, stopping only when they reached a secluded enough alleyway. A quick scan of the area confirmed that there were no other ponies nearby that could disrupt the rest of their business. “Well, I hope you enjoyed yourself,” said the mare. “While you were busy having fun, I had to dig through the royal dumpsters!”

“You still got to see the first half,” said the stallion. “And more importantly, did you find anything?”

The green mare shook her head in defeat. “Nothing that wasn’t slimy, moist, moldy, or some combination of the three. Although…”

The stallion leaned in expectantly. “What is it?”

“Well, I don’t know if it’s important, but while I was digging around, I did get a peek into one of the rooms. Princess Celestia’s room, I think. Anyway, I was rather low to the ground, and I couldn’t quite see all the way, but...I think I saw some filly inside the palace.”

The Earth pony rolled his eyes and sighed. “Really? A filly? That was the best we could find tonight? Blueblood is going to have our-”

“She had wings and a horn.”

The stallion’s jaw dropped so fast, there was an audible crack. “We-Well, she could have just been dressing up as one of the princesses.”

“She also had white fur and rainbow hair. If that was a costume, then I’ll need to hire whoever made it next Nighmare Night.”

The stallion’s words were slurred, as if even he had a hard time believing what he was saying. “Do you mean…Princess Celestia is a filly now?”

The green pony shrugged. “I have no idea. But at least it’s something to tell the prince. We might still get paid for tonight, after all.”

----------

As was tradition, Celestia was the first of the Royal Pony Sisters to arrive for breakfast. Her natural morning cheerfulness, augmented by her newfound youthful energy and exuberance, only made her hasty charge to the table all the faster. Twilight and Pinkie were nowhere to be found; the sun princess had little doubt they would be sleeping in today. That only left Luna.

Sure enough, the blue alicorn groggily stumbled into the dining room a few minutes later. The few hours of sleep she had managed to grab the night before were enough to keep her alive, even if she was obviously wearing down. Celestia’s concern was plastered all over her face. “Are you all right, Luna?”

The night princess nodded as she took her seat. “I am…I am well, sister.”

Celestia cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. Even in this state, she could read her sister’s body language far too well. “What’s really going on? Did you have a bad time at the party last night?”

Luna’s eyes lit up with a fiery rage at the word “party.” “It was terrible. I had no idea things had fallen as badly as they have. Those foals and all their posturing, stupid duels and power plays were just too much for an old mare like us.”

Celestia paused as her plate of scrambled eggs and green peppers was laid before her. She waited until a similar dish had been placed by her sister before continuing. “I told you these parties rarely ended well. I never wished for you to have to endure something so monstrously dull and insulting.”

The night princess poked her own eggs with her fork, not even bothering to float the utensil to her mouth. “There is more to this than that. Things became very heated during the dinner. I may have said some things I should not have said.”

Celestia frowned. “Like what?”

Luna gulped. She could already feel the little filly preparing to drill through her neck with her tiny hooves. “I…I told them how you hated all of them. They know you have been using excuses to avoid going to any of these functions. I….I didn’t mean to tell them all this, but I was so angry that…”

Celestia grumbled and growled at her plate. Luna really had goofed this time. “You’re right. You shouldn’t have said that.”

She sighed. “Still, it’s not anything a little bit of damage control can’t handle. This wouldn’t be the first time one of us has done something upsetting.”

Luna wasn’t listening; her eyes were instead locked on the table’s surface. She couldn’t even bring herself to look at her sister right now. “You win.”

Celestia broke away from her eggs in shock, a few pieces of one bite tumbling out of her mouth from the sudden twist. “What do you mean?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do. You will always be a better princess than I could ever hope to be.”

“Now that’s just not true!” Celestia exclaimed. “Luna, you are a wonderful princess. Never let anypony tell you different. It’s just been a thousand years since you handled many of these duties. You can’t blame yourself for being out of practice.”

“You should have heard them last night.” Luna sniffed back a few tears, as her attention turned inevitably back to last night’s fiasco. “A few were bold enough to even call me a traitor.”

“Ponies have done that before,” Celestia muttered between chomps. She cast her eyes down and away from her sister, as her own guilt over the situation ate away from inside. “I’ve done what I can to stop it, but you did threaten to destroy Equestria. I know it wasn’t your intention, and whatever it was that possessed you is more to blame. But the rest of Equestria still needs to learn that lesson. It’s going to take some time.”

Luna, not feeling very hungry anymore, pushed her plate aside. “That is the same thing you have said every day since my return. And before I became Nightmare Moon. And when we first became princesses.” The moon princess’ teeth ground against each other in a most un-royal way as she spoke. “We have lived for thousands of years, sister, and every year has been worse than the last. Ever since we took the crown, you have been the object of everypony’s worship, while I have been vilified by foals and grown ponies alike!”

Celestia’s eyes grew wide with worry. “L-Luna, please! It’s not like-”

Finally, Luna could hold back no more. “I’m a failure!” Her head slammed onto the table so hard that the entire chamber shook from the impact. “I cannot balance a simple budget, fix the city’s water shortage, or even entertain guests without something going wrong! I-I am unfit to-”

“PRINCESS LUNA!”

Both princesses snapped around towards the dining room doors, just as an exhausted maid came charging through. Her eyes were bloodshot; whatever it was she had seen, it was obviously a shock. “What is it?” Luna asked.

The maid gasped for air, speaking only when her lungs were sufficiently filled. “Th-The palace entry foyer! Y-You have to see this!”

----------

Luna couldn’t believe it. The palace’s entire front foyer was overrun with roses, wreaths, bouquets (both of the edible and inedible variety), and dozens upon dozens of cards, all of them signed by countless ponies. Not to mention the throng of guests still standing by the castle doors. Luna’s eyes narrowed as she recognized the crowd. A few were missing, but there were still enough familiar faces for her to be sure.

They were the same ponies from the previous night.

The night princess cleared her throat, her eyes never wandering from the rather shameful-looking equines before her. “Good morning. Is there something we can help you with?”

The aristocrats were silent. They cast their eyes between each other, as if they were terrified to say whatever it was that had compelled them to return to the castle. Luna had seen enough of that particular emotion to last a million lifetimes, which was conveniently almost as long as she and Celestia had been alive. And from her vantage point behind a pillar, Princess Celestia watched and waited for the inevitable betrayal.

Finally, Raisinette took a few steps forward, her head bowed towards the floor. “Y-Your Majesty, we wished to…to talk to you about last night.”

Luna nodded in acknowledgment, already mentally preparing whatever groveling apology they would no doubt be demanding. “Very well. Please be fast, however. I have quite a bit of business to attend to.”

Celestia winced. She knew where this was going. Luna, you need to get out of there. This is all just a revenge scheme of theirs. It always is.

Another mare stepped forward, her head also bowed. “After you left last night, we all had a little talk about what you said. You remember, about Princess Celestia hating us?”

Luna nodded sadly. Here it comes…

“Well, we looked over some of the things we have done the last few years,” the mare continued. “And...we’re sorry.”

The three ponies glanced about in surprise. None of them had expected anything like that. Luna continued to eye the small group warily. “I-I am afraid I do not understand?”

One of the stallions, the same one that had called her a traitor to Equestria just a night before, was the next to approach. “Princess Celestia has always been a part of our lives. She was there when we were born, when our parents were born, and even before many of our families even came to Equestria.”

Another pony stepped forward. “The princess herself elevated many of our families to power. She gave us land, titles, and responsibilities, in exchange for helping her rule Equestria. But…we haven’t done anything like that in such a long time. The princess runs the country so efficiently that many of us don’t have any purpose anymore.”

And another mare. “All this fighting and scheming you say we did? We only did that because it was what we thought Celestia wanted. She never seemed to openly oppose it. Duels are still legal all over Equestria. My own grandparents destroyed an entire house just so they could get close to the princess.” Her head – and heart – sank even more. “I feel so ashamed of my own bloodline.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “And what does all this discussion mean?”

Raisinette finished. “It means…It means…” She choked back a few tears before continuing. “It means you were right about everything. We were so selfish and pig-headed that we drove away the one pony we all want to impress. We were hoping you could talk to Celestia for us.”

The alicorn was stunned speechless. “And what about the flowers? And these cards?”

“We-We did still remember what Celestia’s favorite flowers were,” muttered another member of Equestria’s disgraced elite. “One of the guards was willing to show us the way to the same flower shop that provided those lovely arrangements from last night, and…”

“A-And she had a lot of ‘We’re Sorry’ cards in the back, and….”

Luna nodded. “I believe I understand now. I shall deliver your message to Celestia when she returns. However, that still does not excuse your behavior towards me last night.”

“We understand that,” said Lord Huffy. “None of us have been particularly good at history, at least when it doesn’t involve our own family line.”

“You are Princess Celestia’s sister,” continued Huffy’s hated rival Baron Frazzleberry. “If she felt she could leave Equestria in your hooves, then we have no room to argue.”

“I- I see,” Luna whispered.

Another mare stepped forward. “That’s why we want to offer you our help. We understand there are situations all over Equestria that need to be resolved. Your orders will be executed to the fullest of our potential.”

“We already run businesses and charities all over Equestria,” said another stallion. “Just give us the word, and we will do what is needed.”

Luna was speechless. On the one hoof, this offer was most certainly more about pleasing Celestia than it was about actually helping Luna manage Equestria. And then again, they do seem somewhat apologetic. Given their behavior last night, I suppose that is the best I can hope for. “Very well. But there shall be some conditions. First, you are to be held to your word, and I shall not waste my time with those that cannot be trusted. And second, please, do not keep referring to me only as ‘Celestia’s sister.’ I have accomplished just as much as she, and deserve the same respect. Understood?”

----------

As the last of the nobleponies filed out of the castle, Luna turned and started on her way towards the throne room. Once the coast was clear, however, she paused by Celestia’s hiding spot. “What do you think, sister? Can we trust them?”

Celestia crossed her eyes. “After all I’ve said the last few days, do you really have to ask that question?”

Luna sighed. “Then I guess I shall have to resort to eavesdropping.”

A moment’s concentration later, Luna’s horn was swashed in a dark blue glow. The light traveled towards the sides of her head, ending its journey nestled in her ear canal. At the same time, her thoughts were focused on the crowd of ponies being slowly escorted outside. Her senses were immediately assaulted with a cacophony of different sounds, from the loudest stomp of a pony’s leg to the gentle rustling of a butterfly’s wings, but the princess soon managed to filter everything but the very thoughts of the ponies out.

“Did you see how she didn’t trust us? I knew turning over a new leaf would be difficult.”

“It must be terrible to have a sister like Celestia. Being compared to somepony like that would drive anypony mad.”

“Nightmare Moon was a traitor…but I just don’t know about Princess Luna.”

“I like tacos.”

“Please don’t be angry with us anymore, Princess Celestia. We can be good ponies, too.”

And so it continued on and on. Luna’s frown soon turned to a smile, confusing the heck out of the filly. “What’s going on, Luna? What are they saying?”

Luna’s eyes opened, filled with new life. The spell dissipated, the last whiffs of blue smoke floating out of the alicorn’s ears like a gentle breeze. “You are not going to believe it, but they appear to be genuine in their intentions.”

“WHAT?!” Celestia’s voice cracked as she exclaimed her disbelief.

“Perhaps some good can come of this mess, after all,” Luna muttered. “If they are willing to listen to me, then perhaps I can actually get something accomplished before the curse is removed. And when you return to the throne, they will be different ponies from when you left.”

Celestia shook her head furiously. “No no no no no! That isn’t going to happen! They are going to stay as rotten as the day they were born! This has been going on for centuries, dear sister, and they are not going to drop their schemes just because m-mommy…”

Luna’s smile grew. “That’s why they’ll change for you. I may have been gone for a thousand years, but you were still here to nurture Equestria. As far as anypony is concerned, we are the mothers of the entire pony species, and that gives one certain…advantages when it comes to communication. And sometimes, when a foal is behaving badly, a mother has to put her hoof down and let them know what they are doing is wrong.”

“B-But…I…I mean…”

“I guess foals just like me more,” Luna said, complete with a wink at her stunned sister. “Now if you will excuse me, I must go attend to my royal duties.”

The night princess turned to leave, only to stop when she heard a whimpering sound coming from behind. The mare spun about, finding herself face to face with a sobbing Princess Celestia. “Wh-What’s wrong? I thought you would be happy about this.”

“Th-They can’t be good ponies,” Celestia whined. “Th-They just can’t. If they could even poss…possibly be redeemed, then…”

The sun princess stopped mid-sentence. She forced her eyes shut even tighter, making her pain even worse. She couldn’t figure out how this had happened. These ponies had made ruling Equestria a living nightmare for generations, and now they were acting like they wanted to be forgiven? There has to be an angle to this S-Some kind of scheme to take over all of Equestria, put everypony into slavery, SOMETHING! I-If they really aren’t all bad, then…

She thought back to her original plan for that party. A few dozen leaves of Poison Joke, carefully laid out on each table. A princess too busy to attend something in her honor. A gathering of Equestria’s biggest wastes of space far too concerned with fighting each other to notice the enchanted plants in front of them. And the next morning, each and every one of them would be inflicted with a curse, seemingly from on high.

And they would finally leave her alone. Oh, she would send them a cure right away, feigning innocence about the whole thing, but the damage would be done. Once they were gone, she would be free to spend more time working on things that actually mattered, rather than try to appease some ungrateful brats that…

Brats. I…I called them brats. I…I…I…

She threw herself onto her sister, wrapping her forelegs around Luna’s chest and pressing her face against the blue alicorn’s fur. The once-younger of the two sat on her haunches and wrapped a leg around Celestia on reflex, pulling her in closer. “C-Celestia?”

The white alicorn filly didn’t answer. She just continued to sob and cough into her sister’s body, shaking with centuries of built-up guilt. Luna was right. I hated them. I actually hated my subjects. I…I was supposed to be a caregiver to all my little ponies, and…and I tried to poison them! Just because I couldn’t stand to be around them!

I-I’m the worst princess ever!

I’M THE WORST MOTHER EVER!

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