• Published 15th Dec 2014
  • 3,078 Views, 82 Comments

Minor Details! - Tchernobog



Applejack and Twilight investigate an old artifact. And then they try again. And try, try, try, try, try again.

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II

“–ow! Celestia damn it!”

“What the – oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there!”

The guardsmare moved to help Applejack, but froze as the earth pony gave her a glare that would have frozen Tirek in his tracks. Grumbling curses that would’ve made even the hardiest soldier blush, Applejack shoved past the guard and made her way to the throne room.

Once again, she found Twilight there, this time pacing back and forth. “Well, Darlin’, that sure didn’t work.”

“We didn’t even do anything!” Twilight said, her pacing uninterrupted. “We barely even got close to it!”

“What kind of idiot makes a doohickey like this anyway?”

“Starswirl, apparently, but I can’t imagine why. What’s the use?”

“Don’t ask me, I dunno.” Applejack glanced around. “Shouldn’t the princesses be arrivin’ by now?”

Seconds later, the ponies in question strode in. “Hello, Twilight.”

“Hi, Princess Celestia! Again.” Twilight grimaced.

Celestia’s eyebrow rose. “Again?”

“Sorry. It’s just, this isn’t the first time we’re talking like this.”

“This isn’t the first time I’ve given you a task either, Twilight.”

“What Twilight is tryin’ t’say, Yer Highness, it’s the third time today we’re talkin’ to you.”

“Third?” Luna blinked. “But–”

“Yes, you haven’t seen us today yet. We know,” Twilight interrupted. “The artifact you're about to ask us to investigate distorts time somehow, so we've already had this conversation twice. We thought it just sent us back in time, but it seems like it's making us repeat time instead.”

“Are you sure?” Celestia asked. “Starswirl never spoke of such a thing.”

“Yes, I’m sure. And you’ll all believe me when Blueblood bursts through that door in five. Four. Three. Two. One!”

Everypony waited, the silence stretching on as nothing happened. Luna frowned, staring down at Twilight. “Twilight, if you don’t want–”

“Aunt Celestia!”

Twilight tisked. “So close.”


Twilight held in her grumbles as Butterfly’s horn shone a light in her eyes, until the unicorn was done. “You’re not going to find anything,” she winced, glaring at the needle in her foreleg.

“At least lemme get some results back before you say that!” Butterfly said, expertly handling the syringes.

“Yer results are gonna be negative.”

Butterfly stuck her tongue out. “Humor me!”

Twilight looked up as the princesses strode in. “Any ideas?”

Celestia shook her head. “Despite knowing of them, I’ve never had to resort to any time manipulation spells. At least, none of this scale. But then again, Luna was always the better spellcaster.”

Despite her dark coat, Luna’s blush was visible. “I may be better, but you’re stronger.” She nodded to Celestia, then faced Twilight. “If you insist these tests won't reveal anything useful–”

“They won’t!”

“–then I have an idea for you.”

Twilight spat out the thermometer that had been floated into her mouth. “Really?”

“Yes. You said you touched the artifact the first time, which sent you back, and the second time, it activated when you got close?”

Twilight nodded. “We’d just gotten to the dig, and it was already charging.”

“Well then, the answer is clear. Do nothing.”

“… excuse me?”

“I believe I know what Luna means, Twilight,” Celestia said. “If contact or physical proximity activates the artifact, staying away from it may negate this entirely. When did you say you arrived at the dig?”

“Um. Several hours from now?”

“Four hours from now, Princess.” Applejack grinned as Twilight stared at her. “I’m a farmer, Darlin’. One good look at the sun and I can tell you the time. Unless, of course, the sun’s been messed with,” she said, glancing at Celestia.

The princess chuckled. “I assure you, Applejack, I keep the sun on a regular schedule.”

“So, we do nothing until five o’clock?” Twilight asked. “That’s fine, but should we do something in the meantime?”

Celestia nodded. “We must attend another meeting; would you join us for lunch after that?”

“Sure! I could eat.”

Twilight stared at Applejack. “You’re hungry again?”

“My stomach’s time travelin’ too, Hon.”

Twilight blinked. “Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, I know!” she exclaimed. “I can go to the Royal Archives and see if I can find anything in there!”

Butterfly stepped up, smiling apologetically at Twilight. “Sorry, Princess Twilight, but I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you’re still under a quarantine until I give the all clear.”

Twilight frowned. “But what about you? And the princesses?” She swept a hoof, encompassing the other ponies in the room.

“We would have been exposed as soon as you met us, Twilight,” Celestia offered. “We’ve restricted access to the castle to prevent any spread.”

“But there’s nothing to spread!” Twilight insisted.

Luna narrowed her eyes. “That is precisely what a contaminated pony would say.”

Twilight groaned, cradling her head in her hooves. "Oh for Celestia's sake–”

“And everypony else's,” Celestia interrupted.

Twilight blushed. “Um. Right.”

“Well…" Butterfly cleared her throat. “I have a few more tests I can run, if Princess Twilight is so sure the results of these ones will be negative.”

“Sounds good t’me,” Applejack said. “What do we need to do?”

“Actually, this is mostly going to be for Princess Twilight.” Butterfly grinned sheepishly. She held up a ball on her hoof. “Crush this ball for me?”

Twilight stared at it, her ears flat. “Ugh. Hello, magical kindergarten…"


“I said, ‘so, you two, when is the wedding?’ ”

Twilight looked up from her long since empty plate to stare at Luna. “How did you…? Oh, right, the earrings.”

Luna nodded. “Indeed. We noticed them earlier, but we had quite a lot on our plate, as it were,” she said, glancing down at her own.

“Right,” Twilight chuckled. “Um. We actually hadn’t decided yet?”

“Twi jus’ proposed last night,” Applejack added. “Yer actually the first we told.”

“Not even your other friends?” Celestia asked.

“Well, we were gonna do that today, but then yer letter arrived.”

“Oh, did we interrupt your plans? I would understand if you would rather be in Ponyville.”

“No, no!” Twilight shook her head. “We’re happy to be here! I was hoping we could make a few wedding arrangements here once this mess is over.”

Applejack frowned, but held her peace. You just didn’t argue with your fiancée in front of the princesses, even if said fiancée was one of them.

Celestia nodded. “If you insist. Canterlot Castle is at your disposal, if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Princess. It’s still scary, you know?”

“How so?” Luna asked. “This should be a happy occasion!”

Twilight raised her hooves in the air. “It is! But… I was nervous enough last night–”

“S’true, she was shakin’ like the leaves of a freshly bucked tree.”

“–and I was hoping that would fade,” Twilight continued, mock-glaring at Applejack. “But I’m just as nervous about the whole wedding, too.” She sighed and looked down at her plate, toying at the food with a fork. “It’s just… scary.” She glanced up as an orange hoof lay over one of her own, and smiled at Applejack.

Luna tilted her head. “Twilight Sparkle, you have stared down Tirek, defeated discord, and challenged many other terrible foes. How can you be scared?”

“I know, I know, I shouldn’t be. It’s just… being marefriends was one thing, but getting married is a huge step! It’s so much responsibility.” Twilight’s wings fluttered as she kept talking. “And speaking of responsibility, as a princess, there’s so much I need to organize and plan for the wedding! I’m not sure I’m ready for all this, and–”

Applejack chuckled as Twilight’s words cut off. An orange hoof in the alicorn’s mouth did wonders for that, but she had to stop her fiancée somehow. “Yer ready, Darlin’. You’ve always been, and if’n you need help, that’s what I’m here for. And our friends. And the princesses. Right?” she said, glancing at the other end of the table. Celestia and Luna nodded, smiling at the couple. “Y’just gotta ask. Share the load, remember?”

“I will.” Twilight grinned back, nuzzling Applejack.

“Speaking of your friends, has Rainbow Dash returned to Ponyville yet?” Celestia asked, missing Luna’s sudden shift of expression.

“No?” Twilight blinked. “I thought she was still at the Wonderbolts’ training area?”

“Ah.” Celestia raised an eyebrow, somehow aimed at her sister despite the lack of movement. “You haven’t told them, Luna?”

“I… have not, no.”

“Told us what?” Applejack asked.

Luna seemed to shrink under her sister’s gaze. “I would have preferred she explain it herself, but if you insist, sister…" She faced Twilight and Applejack directly. “Rainbow Dash is no longer considering a career with the Wonderbolts.”

“What in tarnation–”

“But that’s her dream!”

Was her dream. Dreams can change. Believe me when I tell you I am well versed in them,” Luna said. “She had a major disagreement with the commanding officers. I believe she mentioned politics, and grievances against the captain and her methods. But that is beside the point.” Luna waved a hoof, brushing the matter aside.

“I came to her in her dreams. She was troubled, worrying about her future, and how to face others. Including all of you.” Luna nodded at Twilight and Applejack, who shared a look. “Her dreamscape was a jungle, which I found strange. I remarked upon it, and she told me that she’d just been reading a Daring Do novel before sleeping.”

“Twilight, are you aware that as a military unit, the Wonderbolts fall under our command as well?” Celestia asked, suddenly stepping into Luna’s story.

“Um, yes? But what does that have to do with Dash?”

“This applies to trainees and reserve members as well as full time members. I’ve often assigned them as escorts for foreign diplomats, nobles…"

“Or other, distinguished ponies,” Luna said. “I instructed Rainbow Dash to be present in the castle the next day.”

“Really? Jus’ like that?” Applejack asked. “That don’t sound like the Rainbow I know.”

Luna snorted. “It took some convincing to prove I was not a dream. And even more for her to share her thoughts with me.”

“Okay, that sounds like Rainbow.”

“Indeed. She was punctual, though I believe I caught the tail end of the storm she unleashed on Captain Spitfire. At least, until I introduced her assignment,” Luna giggled. “I've never seen a patch of nimbus brighten up so quickly as Rainbow Dash's face did when Daring Do walked through the door.”

“You didn’t!” Twilight laughed.

“She most certainly did,” Celestia said. She took a sip of her tea before speaking again. “We are both patrons of various digs and expeditions, including Daring’s. What was it exactly you told them, Luna?”

“I insisted Daring needed a little muscle on her next trip. It is quite odd though, she didn’t argue as much as she usually does.” Luna sipped at her own tea, missing the grin Applejack and Twilight shared.

“Are they still on their expedition, then?” Twilight asked.

“Of course!” Luna blurted out, her eyes wide. “Yes. They are. On their expedition. Yes.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow at Luna’s odd reaction. And clearly, Luna’s sister hadn’t missed it either.

“Luna?” Celestia asked. “What are you not telling us?”

Luna looked down at her hooves. “I am not sure I should be the one to tell you this.”

“What?” Twilight gasped. “Did something bad happen? Are they alright?”

“What?” Luna quickly looked up. “Oh! My apologies, I did not mean to scare you. They are doing well. Very well, in fact.”

Applejack raised the other eyebrow. “ ‘N what’s that supposed to mean?”

Luna hesitated again, but gave in to the combined stares of the three ponies around her. “I have peered into their dreams as of late. Dreams often reflect events or situations experienced during waking hours.”

Twilight leaned forward. “Meaning?”

“Meaning I stumbled on, how should I put it… quite a private and intimate scene.”

Silence crashed down around the table for a moment.

“No. Way!” Applejack’s jaw fell open. “Y’mean to tell me Daring and Dash are…?”

Luna nodded. “It may be premature, but… I believe they are courting, yes.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Twilight cheered, clapping her hooves.

“Truthfully, this was not my intention when I assigned them to each other,” Luna said, and smiled. “However, this is not an unpleasant outcome.”

“I’ll say!” Applejack chortled. “ ‘Bout time that filly found herself somepony.”

“Oh gosh, can you imagine what will happen when Pinkie hears about this?” Twilight giggled. “I – Oh no…" she gasped, staring at the princesses.

The other two alicorns had noticed it as well. Every horn had begun arcing, the magic running up and down their length. “My apologies, you two,” Luna said. “I truly believed this would work.”

Twilight shook her head. “It’s okay, this is more data! We’ll–”

“–figure it out,” Twilight groaned, facing the throne once more. “At least let me finish my sentence…”

She snorted, spun around to face the doors, and sat down. Not a minute later, Applejack stepped in, and wordlessly took her place next to her to await the princesses. As soon as the doors swung open, Twilight was on her hooves.

“Princess, we’re looping every five hours or so, but only Applejack and I seem to remember. It was all caused by Starswirl's artifact you’re sending us to investigate in the Foal Mountains. We thought proximity was activating it, so we stayed in Canterlot last loop, but that didn't work, so it’s probably looping around a fixed point in time.”

Twilight stomped her hoof as she plowed on, ignoring Celestia’s attempts to speak. “Now, I know you’ll start believing me once Blueblood steps into this room, and I definitely know one thing for a fact: there’s no need for a quarantine, nor having us examined by Butterfly Stitch, since that’s not going to show any results!”

Twilight gasped for breath as she finished speaking, looking back and forth between the shocked stares of Prime Site and the princesses. With a satisfied nod, she grinned at Applejack. “Did I forget anything?”

“We’re gettin’ married.”

“Oh yeah, that too!”

Aunt Celestia!”


Twilight sat on her haunches, her eyes once again bearing the brunt of Butterfly Stitch’s hornlight. It took all her self control to not furrow her brow.

She blinked as Butterfly dimmed the light. “I ask you,” Twilight said, “what could possibly be in my eye that would explain this?”

“I dunno!” Butterfly giggled. “I’ll tell you when I see something!”

“But you won’t–” Twilight sighed, giving up trying to once again explain everything. She glanced up as the princesses stepped into the room, their brows furrowed in concern. “Is everything okay?”

“We were discussing the issue, Twilight. Or rather, the repercussions,” Celestia said.

“What, that we’re repeating time every five hours until what looks like infinity?”

Celestia nodded. “Amongst other things. How powerful is the spell, exactly?”

“The question is, will we truly repeat time infinitely? And how far does this reach?” Luna asked.

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “At the very least from the Foal Mountains to Canterlot, if not further, since we stayed here and looped anyway.”

“Furthermore, Twilight,” Luna continued. “You said this is the third time you are… looping?”

“Um. Yes? Third loop, fourth time we’ve met you today.”

Luna’s frown deepened. “That ‘today’ is what concerns me. What of the sun and the moon?”

“I fear we may have lost our connection with them,” Celestia said.

Twilight gasped. “Lost?”

“That may be the wrong word,” Celestia shook her head. “But I believe we may not be able to reach out to them.”

“Because of how far the time loop might reach?”

“Precisely. If you’ll excuse me a moment.” Before anypony could answer, Celestia vanished in a bright flash.

Twilight glanced from Applejack to Luna, silently agreeing with her fiancées raised eyebrow.

“It is still day. It is thus far easier for my sister to perform a test,” Luna explained. After a moment’s pause, she tilted her head to the side. “Another thought occurs to me. Could this be the work of Discord?”

Twilight blinked, groaning as she massaged her head with a hoof. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Ain’t he still at Fluttershy’s?” Applejack said.

“I don’t exactly keep track of him. But this sounds like something he’d do.”

As the last word left Twilight’s muzzle, Celestia reappeared, her expression troubled. “Is there trouble, Sister?” Luna asked, stepping up to Celestia’s side.

“No,” Celestia said, “everything is fine.” She glanced up, noticing the confused expressions around her. “The connection is there, and the Sun moved at my command.”

“Then what’s th’problem?” Applejack asked.

“There is none. I had just assumed, with these temporal troubles…" Celestia trailed off. She shook her head and stood taller. “Well, that can be a lesson about making assumptions.”

“Or a lack of such where one should have.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow at her sister. “What do you mean?”

“We were just discussing another possible cause of this… prank.”

Celestia’s other eyebrow rose to join the first. “Discord?”

“Precisely. This all seems to bear his mark, does it not?”

“While I am loath to fling accusations about, you may have a point.” A sheet of paper and a quill floated through the air, shimmering with the princess’s magic. Within a few moments, she’d finished writing, the scroll disappearing in a puff of smoke.

“I thought that only went to Spike?” Applejack asked.

“When a letter I thought was from Twilight ended up chasing me around my room and hitting me repeatedly with a codfish, I realized Discord could access the same magic,” she said, smirking. “I think he appreciated my… explosive response.”

A flash of light preempted any response, quickly resolving into a scroll which fell to the floor. The moment Celestia touched it with her magic, it jumped into the air, shifting its shape until it resembled a familiar snaggle-toothed mouth.

“I’m sorry, the draconequus you are attempting to reach is currently unavailable,” it said, Discord’s voice clearly recognizable. “Please leave a message after the loop. I mean, the tone.”

Celestia opened her mouth to speak, only to immediately be drowned out by what could only be described as a deafening foghorn. Everypony in the room immediately covered their ears, guards bursting through the door only seconds later.

When the noise stopped and the dust settled, Celestia took a moment to rearrange her blown-back mane with magic before waving off the guards. “Discord,” she began, addressing the letter with a frown. “Please come to Canterlot as soon as possible. We need–”

“Just kidding!” the letter cackled. “I can’t save any messages with this! Oh, and as much as I’d like to take credit for this wonderful time loop, such magic is even beyond my powers. I’m afraid you’re on your own, Princess Twilight. Toodles!”

Luna grunted as the letter vanished. “Clearly he knows something. Should I go convince him?”

Twilight shook her head. “If he says he can’t help, then it’s not worth the effort trying to get him to.” She shrugged at the skeptical looks aimed her way. “I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he could do something, he’d probably be here gloating already. And… I’m not sure it would be worth the headache.”

Applejack snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”

“You may be right.” Celestia nodded. “We should move on. Twilight, Applejack, would you join Luna and I for–”

“For lunch? Sure,” Twilight interrupted, then glowered at Butterfly. “As long as somepony doesn’t give me more practical tests to do.”

Butterfly grinned sheepishly, hiding a ball in her tail. “You’re like my sister. She can never sit still either!”

“I’m not normally like that!” Twilight huffed, crossing her forelegs, but raised an eyebrow at Butterfly. “Wait, really? I never pegged Captain Spitfire as restless.”

“Yeah, it kind of makes her a jerk sometimes!” Butterfly giggled, hiding her mouth behind a hoof. She abruptly stopped, gaping at Twilight. “Hey, how’d you know Spitfire is my sister?”

“You told us a few loops ago.”

“Oogh. This loop stuff gives me a headache!”

“How d’you think we feel?” Applejack grunted. “Spitfire sounds a lot like Dash. You think those two woulda gotten along.”

“Are you kidding?” Butterfly blurted out. “Spitty constantly complains about her!” She paused, her eyes wide in shock. “I shouldn’t have said that! I should not have said that…"

Twilight shook her head. “We heard about that too. I don’t suppose you could give us a bit more detail?”

Butterfly squirmed under Applejack and Twilight’s combined gazes. “I-I dunno if I should…"

“I believe Rainbow Dash mentioned something about not wanting to work with somepony who tosses others under a cart to achieve their goals,” Luna cut in. She raised an eyebrow as everypony stared at her instead. “What?”

Celestia shook her head. “A little blunt there, Luna?”

“I merely speak the truth!”

“Actually, that fits Spitty to a T,” Butterfly said. “Or in this case, an S.”

“Yes, well, we are not here to discuss Wonderbolt politics.” Celestia dipped her head in Twilight and Applejack’s direction. “We will see you in a few hours for lunch, then. Let us hope we don’t run short of things to talk about after all these loops.”

“Just let Applejack talk about apples, that’ll cover several.” Twilight rubbed the shoulder Applejack had just jabbed. “In the meantime, we should head to to the Royal Archives.”

“Wait, why the archives? Shouldn’t we head back to take another look at th’ artifact? I mean, we all set out a bit after lunch th’ first time ‘round; if we leave now, we oughta have a couple hours to check it out ‘fore it… does whatever it does.”

Twilight shook her head. “I’ve thought about that. It’s pretty obvious now this whole thing started when we touched the artifact. If we go back, we might accidentally set it off again, and who knows what would happen then. We might end up stuck with an even shorter loop – or worse, what if only one of us touched it and ended up looping alone? No, better to investigate the device as best we can here before we risk going back again.”

“Huh. Okay then, archives it is.”

“To the archives!”

Butterfly cleared her throat. “Sorry, Princess Twilight, but I can’t let you do that.”

“Oh, come on!”


After much grumbling, Twilight’s poor mood had dissipated under Applejack’s repeated nuzzling and occasional kisses. Once pulled out of her rut, Twilight had decided that, if she was trapped in the castle, she might as well make good use of it. She’d realized just how little her fiancée, or even the rest of her friends, had seen of Celestia’s home, despite their repeated visits. And so, she gave Applejack a tour.

Twilight talked about the throne room, how many an important historical event had played out there. She swept through the ballroom, regaling Applejack about the Grand Galloping Gala’s origin as a celebration of the completion of Canterlot’s construction, covering a few of the most notable ones. Their own visit was now counted amongst that vaunted list.

But both those rooms, as well as the kitchen, had previously been graced by the earth pony’s presence. That still left hundreds of other rooms as of yet unexplored.

From her miniature science lab in the dungeons, to the little cubbyhole in the barracks, Twilight wound a path of memories through the castle. In every little nook and cranny she’d explored as a filly, the pair ended up uncovering some book or a scroll she’d hidden there for later reading, a fact which amused Applejack to no end and left Twilight grinning sheepishly.

She even gave Applejack an impromptu tour of one of the broom closets she used to hide from tutors in when she spotted Butterfly Stitch coming around the corner and dragged them both into it. Applejack pointed out that the unicorn was too focused on the plate of jello floating in front of her to notice them, and that they’d finished all the tests this loop in any case, but Twilight maintained that it had been a good idea nonetheless.

Unfortunately, Twilight’s personal tower was outside of the quarantine zone, so she couldn’t show Applejack the place she’d lived at as Celestia’s student. But that setback was more than made up for when they snuck into the royal baths. A good long soak later and they’d both felt alive again, ready to meet the other princesses for lunch.

But despite her best efforts, Twilight couldn’t help listening to the conversation with only half an ear. Hearing the same topic and eating the same meal for the third time tended to do that.

“A bit for your thoughts, Twilight Sparkle?”

Unless, of course, she was addressed directly. “Huh?”

“ ‘A bit for your thoughts’,” Luna repeated. “That is the current expression, is it not?”

“Yes. Um. Sorry, I’m just a little distracted.”

“We noticed, Hon.” Applejack grinned, pointing a hoof.

Twilight blinked, glancing in the direction Applejack had indicated. Princess Celestia froze in mid bite, her mouth wide open ready to devour a piece of strawberry cake. A familiar piece, one that had recently been seen on Twilight’s own plate. “Hey!”

Celestia roughly stuffed the piece in her mouth and devoured it. She smiled serenely, heedless of the stares aimed her way. “Yes. Well,” she cleared her throat, the merest hint of red blossoming on her cheek. “You didn’t look like you were going to eat it.”

“I was!” Twilight pouted. She turned back to Luna. “I’m still trying to figure out how to put a stop to this.” She waved a hoof around helplessly.

“I have given it some thought. Have you considered employing temporal magic?”

“Beggin’ yer pardon, but ain’t that th’problem?” Applejack asked.

Luna nodded. “And it can be the solution. You have attempted to return to the source, or avoid it entirely, without success. Am I correct?”

“Right,” Twilight said. “What are you thinking?”

Luna’s eyes bored into Twilight’s own. “You should travel forward in time.”

“A little heavy on the dramatic emphasis, Lulu?”

Luna raised an eyebrow at her sister. “It seemed appropriate.”

“How’s that gonna work?” Applejack leaned forward. “Ain’t time messed up enough already as is?”

Twilight nodded, the gears turning in her head. “It’s like fighting fire with fire. It could work. We’d basically be skipping the moment the loop starts again.”

Applejack frowned. “An’ it’s safe? Ain’t there somethin’ about meetin’ our future selves?”

“That’s the other direction. Seeing our past selves is bad, but going to the future, we haven’t reached that point already, so we wouldn’t already be there.”

Applejack grinned. “Sounds like a plan, then. What’re we waitin’ for?”

Twilight wordlessly floated a piece of cake towards her, stuffing it whole in her mouth. After a few seconds of munching under the amused gazes of the three other ponies at the table, Twilight finally swallowed. “Okay, I’m ready. Princesses?”

Celestia smiled. “I have nothing to add. Good luck, Twilight.” Beside her, Luna nodded, her expression an odd mixture of grim and hopeful.

Twilight swallowed. “Right.” She closed her eyes, the magic shining as she conjured it from deep within. A swirl of energy began spinning around her horn, quickly growing to encompass Applejack and herself, the light growing brighter until everything disappeared in a flash of white.


“And so, in order to determine how this artifact has been sending Princess Twilight and Miss Applejack back in time, you have been summoned,” Prime Site said, trotting in front of a line of tired and disgruntled ponies.

“Yes, that’s all well and good, but why are we here?” asked an older unicorn. His eyes were bagged from several nights spent not sleeping. “You can’t expect any of us to know about whatever’s happening.”

“As experts in related fields of study, and as professors of Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, you have all been selected to assist Princess Twilight in finding anything in these records that might have to do with the artifact,” Prime explained.

“Shouldn’t we form a committee for this first?” one of the ponies suggested. “It’s standard university protocol to form a reaction committee, chaired by one of the deans or one of the Princesses.” Several of the others gathered murmured and nodded their agreement.

“We don’t have time to go through university protocol.”

“But the Collective Agreement states–”

“There’s no time!” Prime snapped. “Listen, think of yourselves as an ad-hoc committee. You are the response group, and we have limited time before the looping process will start up again.”

“How do we even know that any of this ‘looping’ business is for real?” a haughty voice asked from the back of the group.

Prime Site glared in the direction of the voice. “Are you questioning the word of Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

From their corner of the library, Twilight watched disdainfully while Applejack looked from her fiancée to the group of academics. Twilight sighed and rubbed her temples.

“Everythin’ alright, Sugarcube?”

“No.” Twilight shook her head, glancing up at Applejack before hiding it behind a dense tome. “I told you, Honeycrisp, this isn’t going to end well.”

“Why d’ya say that?” Applejack asked, nudging Twilight’s shoulder with a hoof. “These are smart ponies, right? A bunch o’ them academics should speed things along, shouldn’t they?”

“You’ll see.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow to this, scrutinizing the barest traces of a well-worn scowl on Twilight’s face. She opened her mouth to retort when Prime’s voice drew her attention.

“Now then!” Prime said with the heavy tones of authority. “If there aren’t any more complaints? No? Good. If we could please have Professor Tome Reader please join me over here then we can get started.”

“Professor Tome Reader?” one of the younger ponies gathered asked. From the look of her, Applejack would guess that she was a student. “As in the Professor researching ancient Starswirlian documents Tome Reader?”

“Precisely!” Prime smiled.

“Oh,” the student said, “he’s on sabbatical.”

“Wh-wh-what?” Prime’s eyes widened and his throat bobbed uselessly. “W-well, where is he?”

The student shrugged. “I don’t know. He left on Monday and nopony’s seen him since. I heard he might be going out of the country to visit family.”

Prime’s face fell. “Darn, he was my best hope at finding anything useful quickly…" Clearing his throat, Prime asked, “Alright, then what about Professor Stone Myth? From the Department of Archaeology? If I recall, she had recently participated in a conference regarding the ancient thaumaturges of the pre-Starswirlian era in relation to the importance of archaeological preservation and excavation.”

“Stone?” one of the older professors chuckled. “She’s been in Neighcaragua for the last month and a half doing field work!”

“What? Why wasn’t I informed?!”

“There, there, Prime,” a chestnut mare with a blonde mane said. “I’m sure we can make do with those of us that are here.”

“Yes… yes… you’re right, Scribble.” Prime coughed into his hoof and straightened his mane. “Forgive me, I had hoped that those two might be present to help us with this crisis. Now then, shall we get started, everypony?”

“Told you,” Twilight said without looking up from her book.

“Told me what? There were jus’ a couple mishaps.” Applejack shrugged. “Happens to everypony.”

“Excuse me? But has anypony seen Professor Sandy Veil?” Prime asked, surveying the ponies spread out across the library. “She was supposed to have been summoned. Don’t tell me she’s on sabbatical too.”

“She isn’t,” Scribble Scroll said from a nearby table.

“Oh thank heavens,” Prime sighed and placed a hoof over his chest. “I suppose she must be on her way, then.”

Twilight snorted and levitated a small pile of books over to Applejack. Applejack’s face fell as the stack landed with a thud in front of her. “Why don’t you help me out with these?”

“T-that many?”

“Trust me, they’re not going to get anything done,” Twilight said, jerking her head in the direction of the professors grabbing books of their own off of the library shelves. “So we may as well prepare to do everything ourselves.”

“I don’t get why–”

The library doors were shoved open and a guard trotted in. “Sir, I have a message from Professor Sandy Veil’s office. Her secretary says, and I quote, that ‘she is on her lunch break and will arrive when convenient.’ ”

What?!” Prime gaped, his eye twitched and a vein throbbed in his neck dangerously. “Find her! Get her up here immediately! I don’t care if she shows up with half a daffodil sandwich! Threaten to throw her in the dungeons if you must!”

“Told you…" Twilight mumbled, not even bothering to lift her head from her reading. Applejack glanced at her, then back at Prime.

“I can’t do that, sir,” the guard replied simply.

“And why, pray tell, can’t you?” Prime asked, his voice dangerously low.

“Professor Sandy Veil has tenure. I couldn’t do anything even if I wanted to, sir.”

“I… But… She… You…” Prime babbled as he wrung his hat in his hooves. His mouth opened and closed several times until, suddenly, he seemed to visibly deflate. “Horseapples.”

“Are you alright, Prime?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine,” Prime said unconvincingly. “Let’s just get down to work, Scribble. We have a lot to do, and we’re missing our leading experts. I never would have thought organizing professors was like herding cats.”

Applejack grimaced as Prime’s head hit the table with a muffled thump. “The poor guy.”

“See? I tried to warn him,” Twilight said from behind her book. “I’ve worked with these ponies before, Applejack. They may be leading experts in their field, but they’re unreliable and all hate each other. And the few who can actually get anything done usually spend most of their time in the field actually getting things done.”

Applejack turned her attention back to the crowd of ponies in the library. Scribble was awkwardly patting Prime Site on the back as he repeatedly hit his head on the table.


Applejack closed her book and reached for another. She nosed it open, glancing up to check her surroundings. On the one side, Prime Site sat next to a bookshelf, a small stack of books piled next to his hooves. Once they’d yet again finished explaining the situation to the princesses and finally managing to talk them out of the quarantine, the stallion had volunteered to help them with their research.

His offer to draft some academics to help had been quickly, and quite loudly, shot down.

Applejack glanced at her pile of reading material. So far, she’d only gone through two books, and she had an entire row of bookshelves to go through. Still, she was at least mostly keeping up with Prime Site, who’d barely started on his fourth.

‘This is the Starswirl the Bearded wing’, Twilight had said. ‘Every document he ever published, or was mentioned in, is supposedly in here. There’s bound to be something about that artifact in here.’

The sight on the other side of the room brought a smile to Applejack’s face. Twilight had once again surrounded herself with a veritable fortress of books, speeding through them with a skill born from years of practice. The alicorn was in her element, a small smile on her face as she finished one book and started another.

It was a familiar picture, and one that made Applejack want to sidle up to Twilight and cuddle. It sure wouldn’t be the first time, and if they weren’t in such dire straits, she’d do it anyway. Sighing at what was clearly a terrible burden, she made herself comfortable and resumed reading.

It is a little known fact that I, Starswirl the Bearded, did not first set out to be a great wizard as a foal. My greatest desire was to be a barber. And as such, I applied myself to learning the best methods to manipulate manes and tails. It was during this time period when, in my discovery of how to manipulate individual hair follicles, my talent in magical manipulation and invention made itself known. In this book, I shall cover the many ways to style and fashion one’s mane and tail using magic.

Applejack lifted the cover of the book and eyed its title. Starswirl: The Beard Chronicles. She sighed once again. She’d bet the farm that she wouldn’t find anything on the artifact in this book, but Twilight had insisted that everything be read from cover to cover – as she had pointed out, they were desperately short on information, whereas time was something they seemed to have unlimited quantities of.

Thankfully, a welcome interruption appeared. “Hello, Twilight, Applejack,” Celestia said as she walked in, nodding to Prime Site as the stallion stood up to bow. “Would you care for some tea?”

Applejack grinned, nodding eagerly. “Shucks, Princess. That’s mighty nice of ya.”

“It’s the least I could do, after all those exams you tell me I’ve put you through.”

“Well, I sure appreciate it.”

“Think nothing of it. Prime?”

“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess,” Prime replied, bowing once more.

Celestia nodded and turned to the last pony in the room. “Twilight?” She waited for an answer, catching Applejack’s amused grin as Twilight remained lost in her own world. “Twilight?” she asked again, more loudly.

Applejack giggled as Twilight remained silent. “Y’gotta poke her, Princess.”

“I have a better idea.” Celestia’s horn shone with golden light, and a matching glow shimmered around the book in Twilight’s hooves. The younger princess yelped as it floated out of her reach, jumping up to grab it and knocking down her book fortress.

Applejack burst out laughing as Celestia dangled the tome just out of Twilight’s grasp. The sound snapped Twilight out of her trance, her cheeks reddening as she realized what she’d been doing. “Um. Hello, Princess.”

“Hello, Twilight,” Celestia said, floating the book back into Twilight’s hooves. “How goes the search?”

Twilight’s rump hit the ground as she slumped. “Nothing yet. But we only just started a loop ago.” She glanced up at the taller princess, hope shimmering in her eyes. “Do you remember reading anything that might help us?”

Celestia shook her head. “I have not read any of these in a long, long time. But perhaps some tea will help you focus?”

“I think she needs somethin’ a lil’ stronger than tea,” Applejack said, winking at Celestia.

“Oh, a stiff drink does sound good!”

Applejack’s shocked expression mirrored Celestia’s own as the alicorn spoke. “This early in the day?”

“It’s never too early for a coffee!”

“Ah. Of course. Two teas and a coffee, then?” she asked, to a trio of nods. “I’ll have that sent up shortly.”

“Thank you, Princess!” Twilight called out as Celestia left. She turned her head and came face to face with Applejack. “Hey, you.”

“Hey yourself.” Applejack leaned in and nuzzled Twilight. “How ya doin’?”

“Well…" Twilight looked down at the book in her hooves. “I’m a bit sad.”

“How come?” Applejack sat down against Twilight. “Y’wanna talk about it?”

“Hm?” Twilight blinked in confusion. “Oh! Nothing like that. I just wish I could actually spend the time to properly read these.” She waved a hoof around at the bookshelves. “Instead, I’m just speed-reading them.”

“There’s a difference?” Applejack asked, chortling as Twilight gently elbowed her. “Tell ya what. Why don’t ya take a day off when we get out of this? Y’can stay here all day.”

Twilight smiled. “I’d like that. How’s tomorrow sound?”

“Somepony sounds confident.”

“Oh, please.” She once again waved a hoof around. “We’re surrounded by everything Starswirl the Bearded ever wrote. This won’t take long at all!”

“If’n ya think so…"

“I do. Just watch, I bet it’s in this book!”

Hedge trimming, to many, is merely a necessity. Few realize it can be a true artform, once one applies arcane mathematics and magics to its care. I, Starswirl the Bearded, have devised ways to trim hedges to such perfect edges that a pony could cut themself on them – a fact to which I can personally attest.

“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”

“Sure thing, Princess.”

“Prime?”

“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess,” Prime said, bowing.

“Twilight?”

“I think she’ll take a coffee, right, Twi?” Applejack asked. She cleared her throat as the silence stretched on. “Twi?”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should–”

“Don’tcha worry, I got this.” Applejack grabbed her hat off her head, and flung it in Twilight’s direction.

Her aim was true, and the hat landed on top of Twilight’s head, earning a yelp from the startled alicorn. “What the – Applejack?” Twilight glanced in the direction Applejack was pointing, her eyes widening slightly at the princess.

“Coffee?”

“Um. A cappuccino, please?”

“I’ll have that sent up shortly.”

“Thank you, Princess!” She called out as Celestia left. A purple glow surrounded Applejack’s hat, floating it back to its owner as Twilight mock glared at her fiancée. “I know, I know. I’ll pay attention next time.”

“You better!”

Gravity spells have many uses, and the most underestimated ones are to be found in a kitchen. I, Starswirl the Bearded, am, amongst other things, a skilled chef, and have put such spells to great use while cooking many a meal. Skilled application of quick and repeated gravity shifts have proven to be a superior shaking method than simply moving the object back and forth. In fact–

“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”

“I would, thank ya Princess.”

“Of course. Prime?”

“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess.”

“Twilight?”

“A double shot cappuccino, please.”

“I’ll have that sent up shortly.”

“Thanks, Princess!”

Applejack chortled as Twilight stuck her tongue out at her.

“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”

“Sure thing.”

“Prime?”

“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess.”

“Twilight?”

“A tripl– no, a quintuple cappuccino, please.”

“I’ll… have that sent up shortly.”

“Thanks!”

“Twilight?”

“Brandy. Or vodka. Something strong. I don’t care.”

Celestia blinked. “I take it the search is not going well?”

“We’ve spent the last… six or seven loops looking, and there’s nothing yet,” she groaned, hiding her eyes under her hooves. “I tell you, if we don’t find something soon, I’m gonna lose it. Go nuts. Crazy. Insane. Bonzo. No longer in possession of my faculties, three fries short of a hayburger meal, wacko!” she cried out, punctuating the last word by flailing her hooves.

Celestia stared as Twilight panted, catching her breath after her rant. “I believe a nice, soothing tea would be in order right now, don’t you think?”

“… probably a good idea,” Twilight grudgingly admitted. She sighed, grabbing the next book from her pile, and buried her nose in it.

Celestia frowned, gently shaking her head. “And how are you, Applejack?”

“Other than bein’ bored outta my skull, I’m alright, Princess,” Applejack said, forcing herself to tear her gaze away from Twilight. “Better than some, I reckon.”

Celestia nodded, and turned to leave. “I’ll have your tea sent up shortly. But if I may offer some advice?” she asked, pausing as she stood in the doorway. “Take a break. No one will hold it against you.”

Applejack chuckled. “Maybe in a lil’. Thank you, Princess,” she said to the departing alicorn. She glanced back down at the book in her hooves, determined to keep plugging away at the task.

Many ponies will tell you that soap and elbow grease are the best way to clean a bathroom. Many an earth pony and pegasus will grumble in jealousy at the ease with which a unicorn can go about the task, easily manipulating any brushes, sponges, or whatever other tool you might name. I, Starswirl the Bearded, am here to tell you force fields are inherently superior to all of the above.

With the correct application and designated target, a forcefield can be manipulated to either simply push any filth and dust into a corner, or for a unicorn of sufficient power, even go so far as to disintegrate it entirely.

The text vanished from Applejack’s sight as her forehead met paper. She sighed, wondering for the tenth time if Starswirl hadn’t had a few screws loose in his head. She let her eyes close, allowing herself to relax for a few minutes.

Applejack lifted her head back up, settling herself in to keep reading for however many more hours were left in the loop. She glanced at Twilight, her eyebrows raising in surprise at finding her fiancée not reading, but instead staring out of a window. Applejack got to her hooves and quietly approached Twilight. “You alright, Darlin’?”

“Who-wha-huh-augh!” Twilight jumped to her hooves and almost fell back to the floor.

“Whoa Nelly!” Applejack sprang forward, grabbing Twilight by the hoof and stabilizing her. “You okay, Hon?”

Twilight nodded gratefully. “Y-yeah. I was just thinking. You just startled me,” she said, playfully swatting Applejack.

“Twi, yer always thinkin’, and I ain’t never seen you jump like that.”

Twilight blushed. “Yeah, well I… I’m just tired. Like I’ve been awake for weeks.” She leaned in, resting her head against Applejack’s neck. “And you know what’s the worst part?”

“What’s that?”

“Because of the time loop, that’s not even real!”

Applejack pulled away to look at Twilight. She lifted a hoof to cup her fiancées cheek and smiled as Twilight nuzzled it. “Feels plenty real t’me.”

“I know you are,” Twilight grinned. “I mean, each time we loop, our bodies lose all the exhaustion and tiredness. But up here?” She lifted a hoof and tapped her head. “It still feels like mush.”

“I know a good way t’fix that. Y’need to relax, Hon. Heck, even Princess Celestia said as much. Y’need to–”

“Let’s take a break.”

“–just sit back fer–” Applejack blinked. “Wait, what?”

“I need to clear my head a bit.” Twilight stood up and trotted towards the door. “Let’s take this loop off.”

Shrugging at the unexpected ease of the discussion, Applejack scrambled to her hooves and chased after Twilight.

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