• Published 12th May 2014
  • 3,550 Views, 194 Comments

The Elements of Friendship, Book I: Harmony - Amras Felagund

Twilight fails to defeat NightMare Moon, and the world is plunged into eternal night. Twilight must travel the world with her friends to unlock the secrets of the Elements of Harmony.

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CHAPTER xx: Halcyon

Blackness surrounded Twilight Sparkle, though it was a warm blackness. Everything was a scattered puzzle, giving Twilight only the vaguest idea of who she was and what she had done. She had a feeling that there were other ponies around her, but it was so nice to just lie there on the cobblestone that the bookish Unicorn saw little point to moving.

“Where are our saviors?” asked one snobbish voice of a mare. “And what are these proletariat doing in the middle of Mane Square? Have they overpowered the Queen’s apprentice and made her one of their own…?”

“How could they have possibly come into possession of such fine jewelry?” questioned another mare. “It is wasted on such peasantry.”

“Do you think that their plebeianness is contagious…?” mused yet another fearfully.

“Don’t worry, darling,” replied a stallion’s snooty voice. “So long as you don’t make eye-contact, your thoughts shall be your own.”

“Wait! Stand back!” said the first mare’s voice. “They’re waking up. If we pretend not to see them, they might not notice us.”

Hearing the voices around her and the bodies stirring about her, Twilight Sparkle slowly blinked her eyes open.

She lay down at the base of the statue of NightMare Moon at the center of Mane Square. There were scores of mares and stallions and other sorts around them, many of them heavily dressed in excessively fancy dress- and suit-saddles, some with extremely elaborate manestyles that gave a good number of extra hooves to their heights, others still half-dressed in the garb of the Nightmare Guard. Now that Twilight looked about, she saw a guillotine and gallows flanking the NightMare Moon statue that had not been there under Queen Celestia’s rule.

“Ev’rypony okay?” Applejack asked groggily, the Element of Loyalty still gleaming red on her neck. Weary nods and groans of assent came from the five around her.

“Such an uncultured country accent!” a pale-olive Unicorn mare gasped, evidently the third mare to have spoken. Her pale-indigo mane swept over eyes framed by cyan eyeshadow. “What have these serfs done to our noble white-collar heroes?”

“Excuse me,” cut in Spitfire, descending from the sky with her team of Wonderbolts in their tattered war-torn uniforms landing in a perfect circle around Twilight and her fellow Bearers, “but these six are your saviors. They used the Elements of Harmony to defeat NightMare Moon, and the Elements aren’t so choosy about noble lineage.”

“‘Elements of Harmony’?” asked the gray Unicorn stallion by the olive mare, his dark-gray mane bobbing in confusion as he glanced about for six other, more apparently cultured Bearers. “I’ve never heard of such fancies. Is that some sort of Wonderbolt magic?”

Spitfire shook her head, “I cannot confirm or deny such a statement. But wouldn’t questions regarding the Elements of Harmony be better directed towards the Bearers?” She waved a foreleg in the direction on the six mares inside the Wonderbolts’ circle.

Many of the surrounding bourgeoisie recoiled at the notion of speaking with commoners; this was something that one of them would hire an aide for. A white Unicorn stallion with a wavy pale-blue mane and mustache approached; he was accompanied by a stunning mare with a marble-white coat and pale-violet mane who batted almond-shaped eyes alluringly. The stallion drew a monocle out from a breast pocket with his yellow dwimmer-shimmer, wordlessly appraising Twilight Sparkle and her band.

“Well… I must say, Twilight Sparkle,” he said with a smile and a surprisingly down-to-earth tone, “you keep some charmingly rustic company. I imagine that the lot of you have quite the tale to tell.”

Twilight sighed in relief; she had never met this stallion before, but she had heard numerous allusions to Fancy Pants, supposedly the most well-connected pony in all of Canterlot. If his appraisal was anything to go by, he approved of Twilight’s company… which meant that the other white-collar Canterlotians would soon be changing their tunes regarding the Ponyvillagers accompanying Twilight.

Sure enough, the very same Unicorn couple who had earlier dismissed Twilight’s company as rabble suddenly looked upon them with much more fondness.

“Well then, noble companions of Twilight Sparkle,” the mare said with unironic kindness, “my husband Jet Set and I have always been great admirers of Twilight Sparkle. My name is Upper Crust, and I would like to be the first to query as to how this all came to be.”

Twilight felt bile building up in her throat. Pinkie Pie’s gumball-radio had told tales of the nobility very quickly making efforts to kiss up to NightMare Moon within hours of her establishing her rule over Canterlot, seemingly forgetting their former idolization of Queen Celestia almost literally overnight. Alienating those at the top of the pyramid of Equestrian society was not wise, though; they could control the press if they so pleased, and Twilight did not want her friends to become reviled, so she swallowed the bile and put on a white-collar smile, taking a step past Spitfire and addressing the masses of the rich as a whole,

“Well, I for one would like to say, as a protégée of Queen Celestia, that I would never have been able to do this alone. I needed my friends at my side to make this possible, and I just cannot thank them enough for standing by my side for so long. I would never have thought it possible at the outset, but I think the six of us really do represent the Elements of Harmony.”

“Indeed you do.”

Everyone in Mane Square − ponies, Zebras, Centaurs, all − turned their heads skyward at the beautiful heavenly voice which spoke. It seemed to come from the very air around them, rather than from one definite source.

And far off to the East, the Sun rose. A wave of light and warmth swept down the eastward thoroughfare and touched everyone who stood there, the sky brightening in an instant to vibrant blue. Eyes widened in wonder as the Sun swept through the sky towards high noon in a matter of moments, as though attempting to make up for long-lost time. The black metal which had acted as reinforcements to the battlements evaporated into dark mist as the sunlight touched it, the Tower of Everlasting Night crumbling into black shards and releasing the Towers of the Sun and Moon.

A fragment of sunlight split off from the Sun and descended upon Mane Square, the statue of NightMare Moon shifting from black to white as the entire square filled with brilliant light. In moments, the light was too close and too bright to stare at, and most everyone averted or shielded their eyes.

The light flashed brightly, and then dimmed. The sound of hooves against stone came from the dais where the statue had stood, and eyes slowly returned towards the place where the piece of sunshine had descended. Gasps filled the air.

Glorious and beautiful beyond compare, untouched by age and time, there stood Queen Celestia Apolinaria di Equestria. Her coat almost literally glowed white, as did the sun-shaped cutie mark on her flanks. Her mane and the skirt of her leonine tail were both a flowing aurora, shifting from cerulean to turquoise, from light cobalt to pale heliotrope. Her wings were broad and majestic, every feather perfectly groomed and purest swan-white, save her secondaries which were the deep cornflower-blue of night, twinkling with starry sparkles. She wore a high and intricate golden crown set with a single purple lozenge diamond, a necklace set with the same, and elaborate golden shoes. Her alicorn was almost as long as a mare’s spine, and her pale-magenta eyes shone with long memory and fathomless compassion.

The Alicorn Queen looked down upon those in Mane Square with a gentle loving smile, and everyone was overcome with reverence. Ponies, Centaurs and Zebras sank to their knees, Minotaurs inclined their heads, all paying homage to the return of the rightful Queen.

Twilight Sparkle’s face lit up in such joy that none of her friends had ever seen before, galloping brightly towards the queenly Alicorn.

Queen Celestia!”

The Queen’s smile brightened significantly at the sight of Twilight Sparkle, kneeling her head down to nuzzle the lavender Unicorn who returned the gesture.

“O Twilight Sparkle,” she said in a low voice that overflowed with her love and goodwill, “my most faithful student.” Her eyes met Twilight’s, and she had never seen such overwhelming joy in her teacher’s eyes before. “I knew that you could do it.”

Twilight glanced back to her friends in deference.

“Well… I couldn’t have done it alone. But…”

Twilight set her eyes back upon Celestia, feelings of anger starting to bubble up from her heart.

“But you told me that NightMare Moon was just an old breezie-tale.”

Celestia shook her head slowly, her smile never wavering.

“No, Twilight. I only said that you needed to make some friends. I had long since foreseen the fulfillment of Forget-Me-Not’s prophecy, the return of NightMare Moon, and I knew that no force could defeat her apart from the Elements of Harmony. I would have faced her myself, but in my banishment of her to the Moon…” Celestia’s eyes drifted down to her hooves, her smile fading and giving way to a somber look. “I had caused a splinter to develop in the Elements, nullifying their powers, as I had banished the one who had used them with me to end the Age of Discord. I knew that the only way that the six could be used again, would be if they came into the possession of six who shared the same bond as we who made the Elements. And I knew that you, my beloved and most faithful student, had the magic in you to defeat NightMare Moon. But the true strength of your magic could not be unleashed unless you let true friendship into your heart.”

Celestia looked down at the five mares who had accompanied her pupil for so long. All five, who had risen from their bows, started at being gazed upon directly by the Queen, and made to bow once more.

Celestia laughed merrily, a bright sound like tinkling bells.

“Oh no, my little ponies,” she said with shining eyes. “You bow not to me.”

And to the astonishment of everyone present, Celestia bowed to the Bearers.

If the bourgeoisie held any reservations for their Queen bowing to a group that was five-sixths proletariat, they did not show it. After a moment’s hesitance, Fancy Pants and his wife both sank to their knees as well, and a wave of Canterlotians eager to please the Queen propagated outwards in a successive series of bows.

Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie Pie slowly trotted over towards the dais where Queen Celestia and Twilight stood, staring in awe at the ponies and all other sorts of people who bowed to them.

Queen Celestia’s ears perked up, and she looked up to the balcony at the peak of the Tower of the Moon. Twilight followed her teacher’s gaze.

“You let friendship into your heart, that much is true, Twilight Sparkle,” Queen Celestia said with an unsettling tone of dread behind her words. “Now, if only another would as well.”

Without another word, Twilight and her five fellow Bearers were swept up in a bright-golden dwimmer shimmer, cradled by a maternal warmth as though they were the most delicate of infants. Queen Celestia unfurled her wings to their fullest, and such majestic and massive wings they were that in a single flap they carried the queenly Alicorn nearly a third of the way up the height of the two Towers of the Nychthemeron! The Bearers floated up alongside the Queen as she made a beeline for the peak of the Tower of the Moon. Looking about, Twilight saw that the manticore’s share of her friends bore mildly puzzled looks, though Pinkie Pie was flipping freely about within her bubble of dwimmer shimmer.

Queen Celestia alighted upon the dark balcony flanked by torches lit with blue fire, and when Twilight and her friends crested the balustrade they saw the fractured shards of NightMare Moon’s pale-blue armor, dark smoke rising up from the insides. Past the balcony, they could see the dark cornflower blue hind legs of a pony with a crescent moon cutie mark. Her leonine tail, marked at the place it connected to her body by Bat Pony-like fins, ended in a long and voluminous light-azure skirt.

Twilight and her band felt their hooves touch down on the balcony and the dwimmer shimmer dissipate from around them. Wordlessly, they followed Queen Celestia into the chamber within the top floor of the Tower of the Moon − was it a bed-chamber? − and took in a fuller view of the emancipated Queen of the Night.

She was stunningly beautiful, albeit less so than the radiant Queen Celestia. Her light-azure mane was voluminous and slightly wavy, and would have easily reached down to the tips of her hooves had she been conscious and standing. Her coat changed dramatically from front to back; her head, front legs, chest and the underside of her barrel were a pale gray-blue, while her back, wings and hind legs were the same blackish cornflower blue as NightMare Moon’s coat. On her right cheek was a patch of sapphire-blue fur shaped like a five-pointed star. Her alicorn was not quite so long as Celestia’s, though still far longer than any Unicorn’s. Her wavy fetlocks were the same light-azure as her mane and skirt. Her wings and ears were rather like those of the Bat Ponies, albeit feathered, and like Queen Celestia, her secondaries were a different color from the rest of her feathers: in her case, a bright swan-white. Unlike Celestia, who was sturdily built and stolid, she was lean and sleek, like a predator.

Celestia knelt her head down to the unconscious Queen of the Night, and spoke the dark Alicorn’s name:

“Queen Selena.”

The fallen Alicorn’s eyes shot open, her irises the same cyan as NightMare Moon’s but framing oval-shaped black pupils. A sharp gasp escaped her lips. She rolled over onto her belly and looked up to see Queen Celestia, whose eyes swam with unshed tears as she knelt down to her smaller counterpart.

“It has been a dozen-gross years since I have seen thee like this,” Celestia said, “and I am filled with such mingled joy and sorrow at the sight of thee that if I do not burst it shall be a marvel. But it is time to let things pass between us. Let not the past be a straitjacket. We were meant to rule together, younger sister.”


Twilight gasped to herself; the Queen of the Night, Selena, was Queen Celestia’s younger sister? All this time, Twilight had idly mused as to the relationship the Queens of Day and Night had shared, in the hopes that that insight would offer some key to NightMare Moon’s defeat. No such revelation came, and Twilight eventually shelved any thought as to divining whether the Alicorn Queens were siblings, wives or blood-sisters. But to realize that Celestia and Selena were sisters, divided by such strife…

What is wrong with this world if family must always turn against itself…? Twilight thought solemnly.

Queen Celestia stood back to her full height, her eyes never leaving her younger sister’s face.

“Wilt thou accept my most sincere apologies, my sorrow, and my friendship?”

Queen Selena bowed her head, her forelock falling over her eyes. Twilight recalled the words of Crescent Rose, who stated that Miasmata could psychically dominate their prey if it was wallowing in anger or rage. The Miasma known as NightMare Moon might have twisted Selena to its will, but Selena’s feelings of resentment and bitterness were her own to be twisted to do the Miasma’s bidding. She may have been purged of the Miasma’s corrupting influence, but would she be so willing to look her big sister in the face after feeling so outshone…?

Selena bit her lips, revealing the same vampiric fangs as a Bat Pony. Tears slid down her muzzle, but were they tears of sorrow, joy… or rage?

Abruptly, the Queen of the Night stood up, tearfully nuzzling up to Celestia. She barely reached the withers of her big sister.

‘I am ſo ſorry!’ she said emphatically. ‘I have mißed þē ſo muċ, mine elder ſiſter!’

Celestia smiled affectionately down at her sister, tears no longer withheld as she allowed herself to let go of the grief she had held for a megagross years. She rested her head against her sister’s poll.

“I have missed thee, too. So much. And… I am so sorry.”

Selena leaned back, cyan eyes meeting purple.

‘O lovèd ſiſter… I am ſo ſorry to have ſuccumbed. I ƿould never alloƿ my reſentment to ariſe againſt þē on its oƿn. My fury has ſurely taken many lives, þough, not þe leaſt þoſe of my Droƿ.’

Celestia closed her eyes slowly, reaching a wing around to her sister.

“We shall endure this, little sister. I shall make a plea to the Cosmic Council to allow thee a place at my side on the world stage, and let it be known to all on Harmonia that the past meggrossium was not of thy doing.”

Selena smiled up at her sister gratefully.

‘O Celeſtia…!’

Both of Selena’s feathered bat-wings reached around Celestia’s forelegs, her light-sapphire eyelids closing delightedly over her eyes. Celestia’s wings enclosed around her little sister, glad to have her back at last.

Tears swept down the faces of the six other mares present, who despite their lack of present acknowledgement by the Queens, felt a great warmth sweep them nevertheless. Spitfire and her squad of Wonderbolts flew up to the airspace in front of the Tower of the Moon, Spitfire herself alighting at the edge of the balcony and saluting Queen Celestia.

“Captain Spitfire, I am glad to see that you are alright,” said Celestia.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” replied Spitfire.

“At ease, Captain.”

Spitfire relaxed her upright posture slightly, a slightly dark expression crossing her face.

“You look troubled, Spitfire,” Queen Celestia ventured, looking slightly anxious. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Your Majesty,” the fiery Pegasus said lowly, “the Shadowbolts have been… well, they’ve been unmade. The moment that NightMare Moon was struck by the Elements of Harmony, they began to convulse, and when your fellow Queen was freed, they just… dissolved into mist.”

Queen Celestia looked down to her little sister, who looked slightly puzzled.

‘“Ʃadoƿbolts”?’ queried Queen Selena in mild confusion, leaning against her elder sister’s barrel for support. ‘Ƿhat in þe ƿide ƿorld of Harmonia are þese bolts of ʃadoƿ?’

“The Shadowbolts,” answered her elder sister, “were a team of flyers loyal to NightMare Moon, in opposition to Equestria’s own team of elite flyers the Wonderbolts. Our friend Firefly founded them four-dozen-and-one-gross-one-dozen-and-seven years ago to prepare light-magic to counter NightMare Moon’s own dark brand of taboo magic. We do not know if the Shadowbolts were ponies possessed by the Miasma which controlled you, little sister, or if they were mere extensions of the Miasma’s will that took the shape of ponies. We may never know. So do not let your mind become dark with these thoughts, Captain Spitfire. You and your team have lived up to Firefly’s standards, and you have done Equestria a great service.”

Spitfire bowed deeply to Queen Celestia.

“Permission to take leave, Your Majesty?”

Queen Celestia beamed.

“But of course, Spitfire. You’ve earned it with flying colors!”

Spitfire smiled back at the white Queen and took flight without another word, her fellow Wonderbolts following.

Celestia faced the six Bearers, “And to you six, I also have eternal gratitude. You do not know how much this means to me. You have done what I could not; you freed my sister from the pall of obsessive destruction. Perhaps, my little ponies, you would like to be properly introduced to her?”

“Ooh, I always love making new friends!” Pinkie Pie squealed, pronking with joy.

‘Doſt þou?’ Queen Selena replied faintly, a little offput by the pink Earth Pony’s exuberance.

“Please don’t let her excitement fool you,” Twilight cut in. “She really does mean good for everypony she knows. But onto the introductions. My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I am the pupil of your sister the Queen.”

‘“Þe Queen”…’ echoed Selena. ‘For too loŋ has Equeſtria had but one Queen. Ƿas it þou ƿho foreſaw þe fulfillment of þe prophecy?’

Twilight nodded.

‘I ſee. And þou beareſt þe Element of Magick. Þou hað performed admirably.’

“And I’m Pinkie Pie, and I like parties!” piped in Pinkie, bouncing gaily about the pair of Alicorn Queens. “I really love to make ponies laugh and smile and feel good about things like themselves and the world, I build all sorts of special contraptions to help make entertaining ponies easier and easier, my family runs a rock farm down the way near the Descort Fields and…!”

‘Halt a moment, þou roſy Earð Pony,’ interrupted Queen Selena, eyes widening slightly. ‘Didſt þou ſayeſt “þe Deſcort Fields”?’

“I did indeedy~!” Pinkie replied cheerily.

Queen Celestia shared a look of significance with her little sister, and it looked as though they were speaking without words. How much time had they spent together that they could have such conversations between one another without drawing breath? Or was it something in their nature as Alicorns…?

“Uhh, Your Majesty…?” Twilight ventured. “What is it about the Descort Fields that’s so important?”

Queens Celestia and Selena broke eye contact, the former looking upon her dear pupil with gentle eyes.

“It was the sight of a fateful battle, my dear Twilight, one that proved decisive for the fate not just of Equestria, but all of Harmonia, everything under the Firmament. It was this same battle that saw the first usage of the Elements of Harmony by myself, my sister and our four old friends.”

‘‘Twas a time of great ſtreſs and ſtrife,’ continued Queen Selena, looking at the Element of Magic upon Twilight’s head. ‘Eldritċ chaos þat ƿould have ended your ƿorld ƿhiċ could only be conſtrained by þe magick of harmonious friendʃip.’

Twilight felt a shiver at the word chaos. “What eldritch chaos? Was that… the despot from beyond the Firmament?”

Queen Celestia looked down to the floor before her hooves.

“I would not darken your day by discussing that day any further. Let it be known that fell deeds came to an end, and we should hope that there shall not be a second Age of Discord.”

But far from being wholly assuaged, Twilight felt a dark foreboding at Celestia’s cryptic statements and the odd looks that the Queens wore as they looked from each other to Pinkie and back.

“Uhh, excuse me and all that jazz,” interjected Rainbow Dash, “but aren’t we supposed to be all introducing ourselves to Selena and all that?”

Queen Selena looked at Rainbow Dash crossly, though it was hard to judge how cross the dark Alicorn was by dint of her sapped energy.

‘Þou ʃould ʃoƿ þy Queen of þe Night her proper reſpect,’ she hissed hotly. ‘Þou ʃalt addreſs her as Queen, Your Maȝeſty, or Queen Selena! Is þat underſtood, þou hoof-biter?’

The cerulean Pegasus grinned nervously, her ears slack against her head, “Uh-huh, yeah, sorry ‘bout that. I think I got that, but − no offense − butcha kinda don’t speak Equus.”

‘None taken, þou Bearer of Honeſty. Your Queen hað been… ƿiðheld for perſonal reaſons, and modern language is as foreign to her as light to a cave.’

“Reading you loud and clear… I think. Anyway, Queen Selena, I’m Rainbow Dash, the most awesome flyer that Ponyville has ever seen!”

‘“Ponyville”?’ repeated Queen Selena with an arched eyebrow. ‘Has ponydom truly tapped þe true depðs of titles for þeir places of reſidence? And hark! Noƿ that your Queen takes a ſecond glance, þou verily hað a priſmatic mane. Couldſt þou be of blood to our old friend Firefly, ƿho herſelf bore a mane of many hues?’

Rainbow Dash shrugged, “I don’t really know, Queen. My parents never really talked about things like that. It really would explain how awesome I am, though!”

Queen Selena gave Rainbow Dash a narrow-eyed look, ‘Þou continually uſeð þat ƿord. Þy Queen of þe Night is not ſure þat þat ƿord means ƿhat þou doð believe it to mean.’

Twilight interceded, “You’ll have to excuse Rainbow Dash. She’s big-headed.”


Selena tilted her head in confusion.

‘But… her head appears to be quite ſimilar in ſize to þine oƿn, Tƿilight Sparkle. Art þou ƿell?’

Twilight blinked; the phrase bigheaded could not have existed a dozen-gross years ago. “Err, what I meant, Your Majesty, is that Rainbow Dash has a large ego.”


‘Ahh,’ Queen Selena nodded in acknowledgement. ‘I ſee. And ʃe beareð þe Element of Honeſty… Intriguiŋ. And… ƿho is þis oþer Pegaſus ƿið her? Is ʃe your ƿarrior?’

Fluttershy startled at being addressed so suddenly, withdrawing behind her mane at the gaze of the Queen of the Night. “Oh… No, these scars aren’t from fights… well, not really. I’m… I’m an animal caretaker for Ponyville and… my name… my name is Fluttershy.”

Twilight resisted the urge to palm her face in a cloven hoof. The scarred yellow Pegasus was experiencing the same sheer intimidation from the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration. It really should not have surprised her; Queen Selena had formerly been NightMare Moon, and all of Fluttershy’s efforts to come out of her shell the past two months could not have prepared her for coming face-to-face in such casual fashion with the former night despot.

Selena’s bat ears flicked.

‘Þou ſay þat þy name is Flutterʃy? And your Queen of þe Night ſees þat þou beareð þe Element of Kindneſs. To bear ſuċ ſcars for þe beaſts ƿhiċ þou ſo clearly love… þine heart doð ſurely overfloƿ ƿið gentility.’

Fluttershy withdrew slightly at having been overheard despite how quiet she had spoken, before nodding hastily with sweat beading on her forehead.

“Umm, yes. My… my name is… is that. And I… I…”

She shuddered under the gaze of the slightly befuddled Queen of the Night, inching towards Rainbow Dash.

Queen Selena gave the pair of Pegasi a curious look. ‘Ladies Flutterʃy and Rainboƿ Daʃ, you tƿo are ƿives? You tƿo have my deepeſt and moſt ſincere ƿiʃes of goodƿill.’

Rainbow Dash put a hoof around Fluttershy’s shoulder, the yellow Pegasus looking away shyly and flushing darkly.

“Well, actually, we’re just engaged,” Rainbow Dash answered. “Flutters here proposed just after we got outta the Everfree with Twilight.”

‘Truly? It was þen?’ Queen Selena replied. ‘Ƿell þen, ƿe extend to ye our moſt deep ƿell-ƿiʃes.’

Rarity stepped forward daintily and bowed before the Alicorn Queens. Celestia inclined her head mildly, as did Selena.

“My salutations to you, Queen Selena,” she said with a warm smile. “I am Rarity, also known as Rarity Belle of Carousel Couture, the place to go to in Ponyville if you want something that is chic, unique, and magnifique!”

Queen Selena tilted her head, one of her ears flopping.

‘Ƿið ƿhat accent doð þou ſpeakeſt?’

Rarity’s smile did not falter for an instant, but she did blink twice in shock.

“Beg pardon?”

‘Þou doð put on a falſe accent. Is þis merely for pretence, or is þere a more… ulterior motive?’

Rarity faltered, her body language becoming less assured and slightly more constricted. Her teeth clenched as she averted her eyes.

“I…” Rarity began slowly. “I feel as if I was born into the wrong caste, my Queen. I love my parents, and I love my darling little sister more than I can ever say, but ever since I was a little filly, I have had higher aspirations. I looked to Canterlot, that lofty pinnacle of class and well-to-do-ness, and I saw the place where I’d want to be. I was taken by the sophistication of the lives that ponies led there, the style of the fashion that was to be found there…! It has been my dream for some time now to find my special somepony here in Canterlot, somepony of high stature, such that our marriage would pull myself and my family up, so that we could lead a life of luxury that they have not even dreamed of!”

The Queens gave Rarity differing looks; Queen Selena gave the alabaster Unicorn a look of astonishment, while Queen Celestia’s was an expression of fondness and love. Twilight, for her part, thought back to her first meeting with Rarity. The fashion mare’s reaction to her having come from Canterlot was significantly more substantial than she thought she would receive, and upon catching wind of Rarity’s yearning for a higher platform on which to live, she initially dismissed the alabaster Unicorn’s feelings as being similar to those of Moondancer’s. A simple lust for power was a motive that she had all too deeply ascribed to moving up the social ladder. But as Twilight Sparkle came to know Rarity Belle better, the less likely it seemed that such a base motive was the cause of her aspirations. And now, hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, it was all too clear everypony involved what Rarity’s true desire was.

A small smile graced Queen Selena’s muzzle.

‘Þou ƿeareð þe Element of Generoſity quite ƿell. Þine heart ʃineð ƿið beauty nigh eclipsiŋ þine outer radiance.’

Rarity tilted her head to avoid the Queen’s warm look, smiling embarrassed as her ears flattened against her head.

“Y-You’re too kind, Your Majesty. I only want what is best for my family.”

Applejack smiled, doffing her Stetson in Rarity’s direction.

“Ah really took th’ wrong measure a’ yer character, Rarity. Ah always got th’ impression that th’ reason ya wanted inta Canterlot society so bad was ta git rich fer yerself. But… Ah don’ know if Ah’d wander over yonder ta Canterlot jus’ on th’ off-chance that Ah’d snag a decently rich pony ta git hitched with. Ah cin git bah jus’ fine down at Sweet Apple Acres, tendin’ to th’ apple crops an’ such ta keep th’ Apple family in th’ black.”

Queen Selena turned her gaze upon the palomino farmer.

‘Þou art a procurer of apples? But of courſe, þy talent brand ſpeakeð truly of it. For an inſtant, I nearly took þē for a warrior.’

Applejack felt at the long scar on her right foreleg, matching the nightly Alicorn’s gaze.

“Sweet Apple Acres is set up right at th’ border of th’ Everfree Forest, an’ the Apple family’s seen its share a’ pain on account a’ th’ untamed beasts there.”

‘Þe Everfree?’ echoed Queen Selena in astonishment. ‘It remains unċanged, and continues to haraſs þe ponies of Equeſtria?’

“Sadly, it is true, little sister,” answered Queen Celestia. “Not only has the Everfree survived in thy megagross-year absence, but it has grown from its birthplace at the edge of the Descort Fields to the very doorstep of Canterlot.”

Queen Selena’s eyes darkened.

‘Þe arm of Chaos hað groƿn loŋ indeed. Doſt þou feareſt His reaƿakeniŋ?’

Queen Celestia’s look hardened to a stony resolve.

“I do not fear His return. Whether it comes in a year, or a gross-of-gross, I shall not fear Him, for that is what He would want. I will never allow Him to hurt my little ponies − our little ponies − even if the end of all days should fall upon us.”

‘I feel þe ſame, elder ſiſter,’ answered Selena, before turning towards Applejack. ‘But alack and alas! Your Queen knoƿeð not your name yet, fair Earð Pony. Forſooð, it hað eſcaped our minds to aſk it of þē, and þou art the laſt of þe Bearers. Pleaſe telleſt it to þy Queen of the Night, O Bearer of þe Element of Loyalty.’

“Well, sure thing, Yer Majesty,” Applejack smiled. “Mah name is Applejack, and Ah gotta say, Ah’m rightly honored that this here Element,” she brought a hoof up to the ruby apple over her chest, “thinks that mah homegrown Apple family loyalty’s fit ta match up with it.”

‘Þy family prideð þemſelves upon þeir fidelity to þeir own and oþers? Þen þy loyalty muſt truly ʃineð above oþer ponies’. And þy deſire to protect þy loved ones ʃoweð in every ſcar þat þou beareſt.’

Applejack ruefully rubbed the scar on her right foreleg again.

“Ah jus’ do what Ah gotta do, Yer Majesty. Ah ain’ th’ sort ta jus’ cut an’ run with mah tail between mah legs. T’s why Ah went with Twilight. Ah couldn’ rightly let her git hurt tryin’ ta save th’ world, an’ Ah wouldn’ be doin’ mah kin any favors bah jus’ campin’ away at mah family’s farm.”

Queen Selena gave a prideful smile to the Earth Pony farmer, before taking a step back − still leaning against one of her sister’s great legs − and looked about at the six Bearers with eyes shining with joy.

‘Þe new Bearers of þe Elements of Harmony… Þy ċoice in þe Bearer of Magick was very ƿiſe, elder ſiſter. Hoƿ ʃe remindeð me of myſelf in my youð! I ƿas þe firſt Bearer of þe Element of Magick, my little ponies, and Celeſtia ƿas þe firſt Bearer of Generoſity,’ Queen Selena added as an aside. ‘But þe paſt is þe paſt. You ſix have freed me from an abomination, and for þat, you have þe eternal gratitude of þe night. I hope to make amends ƿið ye and yours.’

“I don’t know if that will be so easy, Your Majesty,” Twilight replied morosely. “We’re glad to have you back, don’t get us wrong. But… some ponies might not see it quite the same way, especially ponies who lost somepony they love under NightMare Moon.”

Queen Selena’s ears twitched slightly.

‘Þy Queen is accuſtomed to feeliŋ underappreciated, Tƿilight Sparkle. Ʃe ʃall endureð þe ſliŋs and arroƿs of miſaimed ƿrað, and ʃe ʃall never flag in makiŋ amends, even if it takeð her until þe day þat þe Sun burneð out!’

Celestia laughed nervously.

“Let us hope that it does not take thee that long, Selly.”

To the astonishment of the six Bearers, Queen Selena flushed beet-red, her lips quivering in restrained laughter.

‘Sayeſt not þat ſobriquet around þe commoners, Celie!’

Celestia could not contain it anymore. She laughed merrily, and despite her attempts to maintain a façade of indignity, Selena too began to laugh, and it was remarkable how silvery her laugh was compared to Celestia’s; though it was still beautiful to listen to, Celestia’s laugh sounded less beautiful than her little sister’s.

“Well,” Twilight attempted to cut in, “perhaps you’d like to start in Ponyville, the town that was to hold the Summer Sun Celebration? Most of these ponies who bear the Elements of Harmony with me, we all call Ponyville home. It seems as good a spot as any for you to begin your tour of Equestria to show your… well, not exactly your reformation, but your―”

‘Þy Queen underſtands þy ƿords, Tƿilight Sparkle. Ponyville, þe hamlet ſleepiŋ beneað Canterlot? Your Queen ƿould be fain to ȝoin ye!’

Weeks passed in a blur from the dissolution of the Moon Monarchy, and the sharp sting of seemingly eternal day and night gradually faded from each hemisphere of the planet Harmonia. The isolationist policies of NightMare Moon were abolished and annulled, opening the gates for emergency supplies to make their way to the various nations afflicted by the stagnated seasons under NightMare Moon’s reign. Nations such as Manada and Prance, and Qín and Neighpon, were located near enough to the so-called Twilight Zone that they needed very little in the way of such supplies, but they gladly acted as intermediaries to pass even more supplies along to nations that had suffered more greatly such as Hrenway, Maretonia, Orlalvov and Saddle Arabia. It took surprisingly little time for the seasons to return to their ordinary states, the snow dissipating into the soil and feeding the freshly planted seeds that quickly produced flowers and grass anew. The megagrosses who had died as a result of the protracted day and night of a world under NightMare Moon had been buried, those who died fighting the NightMare Empire being posthumously awarded Medals of Harmony by the Cosmic Council. The recovery effort was not, however, without its political ramifications.

“The Griffons of Orlalvov had apparently never believed that Queen Celestia really controlled the movements of the Sun and Moon,” Twilight explained, “and she never really felt the need to prove it to them. According to what I’ve read, the Republic of the United Soviet States of Orlalvov has taught their cubs for grossenturies that Harmonia goes around the Sun, and that Harmonia actually isn’t the center of the universe.”

“What? For reals? That’s just crazy!” Rainbow Dash replied.

They were all seated in the center room of the Golden Oak Library in Ponyville, the table in the middle cleared of all its books and set up for a casual lunchtime between the Bearers, their little sisters, and Spike. With the current turn towards politics in the grown-ups’ conversation, though, the Cutie Mark Crusaders were presently attempting to find books, with help from Spike, that could assist them in their acquisition of their cutie marks. In the time that Twilight had spent in Ponyville following the restoration of the Throne of the Queen of the Night, she had personally seen to rearranging the books of Golden Oak Library to more accurately reflect on the Dewy Decimal System (though in the case of books that were not registered in the system, Twilight simply filed them away on an alphabetical set of shelves). A well-cared-for agave and a well-tended-to cactus sat side-by-side by the sunlit window, Owlowiscious seated on a perch not too far away.

“Ah’ll say,” added Applejack, in response to Rainbow Dash’s assertion. “So, how did them good-fer-nuthin’ revvies try ta spin th’ past two months?”

“That’s the thing,” Twilight answered, wearing a dark look. “It doesn’t seem like they can spin this in a way that fits their ideology. Pyotr, the Perviy − the leader of the RUSSO, basically − has come out rather aggressively against Queens Celestia and Selena at the Cosmic Council of late.”

“He has?” Rarity said curiously, sipping from her teacup. “That has not come up on any of the radio stations or in the newspapers.”

“That’s because Queen Celestia told me personally. I suppose being the student of a member of the Cosmic Council has its perks… though I don’t really see fear of the prospect of war with the Griffons to be a perk.”

War?” Fluttershy gasped. “You really think it will come to… war?”

Twilight closed her eyes slowly.

“I don’t want to think about it. I hope that it doesn’t.”

“Aww, c’mon everypony,” Pinkie piped up, throwing her forelegs around Twilight and Fluttershy’s shoulders. “We brought back the Queen of the Night back from some creepy creep from outer space! We oughta be smiling and laughing and crying in joy that she came back!” As she said it, Pinkie began to cry herself, tears pouring down her face. “Two sisters, torn apart by strife and war, and now they’re back together…! It’s so… I can’t take it…!”

And so Pinkie collapsed onto the table with a blubbering smile on her face, a puddle of tears spreading out from under her.

Twilight smiled nervously, patting the pink Earth Pony on the back.

“There there, Pinkie. Everything’s fine. Equestria and the RUSSO have always been tense towards each other. We’ve been far closer to war with the Griffons over smaller issues than this. Everything is going to be fine.”

With a hoof still on Pinkie’s back, Twilight faced her friends brightly.

“I mean, Orlalvov aside, it seems like the other members of the Cosmic Council are seeing reason. King Leo of Aquastria sees no reason to disallow Queen Selena a spot on the Council, and neither does the Crystal Queen. Tiamat of Banefold offers Queen Selena her vote of confidence, but only because her Dragons were not harmed by NightMare Moon. The Mikado of Neighpon abstains from voting, but Koriel of Qín will allow Queen Celestia’s request. Asterion of the Minotaurs and the representatives of Maretonia have thrown their support behind the decision as well, so… it looks like the Griffons will have to swallow their pride and realize that they can’t fight the world.”

Pinkie looked up at Twilight; despite her tears, her coat was still as rosy as ever, and her mane still as frizzy. She nodded at Twilight, her spirally blue eyes still shimmering.

“So, if I may ask, darling,” Rarity interjected, “when may we expect Queen Selena for the final NightMare Night preparations?”

Twilight paused slightly to look at the clock. NightMare Night had been a holiday established a long time ago, long before NightMare Moon and retroactively named after the miasmic Alicorn a dozen-gross years ago. The disappearance of a dozen foals from the old capital on night of the Dozen-Fourth of the month of Hurricane, two-and-a-half-megagross years ago, had led to the custom of fillies and colts dressing up in costumes at night to avoid being nabbed and eaten by horrible beasts. In time, the custom of collecting candy became a part of NightMare Night, and offering them into an effigy of NightMare Moon that was then bust open on the following sunrise came even later.

“She should be here within the hour,” she answered. “It’s a dozen-to-three right now, and Queen Celestia told me that her little sister would be here by dozen-three-to-three.”

“You so sure about that, TS?” asked Rainbow Dash, looking up from her copy of Daring Do and the Marked Thief of Marapore. “I mean, she’s kinda a dozen-gross years behind the times. I mean, did you hear how she spoke? Is anypony else weirded out by the fact that she talks in some freaky-deaky Germaneian?”

Twilight gave the cerulean Pegasus a cross look.

“Firstly, it’s Germane, not Germaneian. Secondly, punctuality has nothing to do with how somepony speaks. Queen Selena maintained the Nychthemeron alongside Queen Celestia for dozen-three-gross years, never missing a single night of the lunar cycle. Nopony must know punctuality better than the Alicorn Queens.

“And thirdly, Equus has not been the same language for all this time. A megagross years ago, Equus was rather more like Germane, and three-megagross years ago, there was no distinction between the two. Queen Selena’s been imprisoned within her own body for a meggrossium; I doubt she had much opportunity to allow her dialect to change in the same way as Queen Celestia.”

“But how come that snake-in-th’-grass NightMare Moon didn’ talk like that?” Applejack asked.

Twilight rubbed the back of her hoof on her chin.

“That is something of a headscratcher right there, Applejack,” she answered. “I mean, NightMare Moon wasn’t Queen Selena, but the form the Miasma took after possessing her and enslaving her powers. Perhaps the Miasma calling itself NightMare Moon bent its mind upon Equestria, learning the language of the land as it changed…? I don’t know. We may never know. We may never know what forces brought the Headless Horse into the real world, either. But we can only be glad that it and the Shadowbolts will never bother Equestria again, not with NightMare Moon gone.”

The sound of a hoof rapping against the library door brought the six mares out of their reverie, as well as the three fillies and the drake huddled around Branding Your Talent: What Your Cutie Mark Really Means, as Sweetie Belle leapt up to her hooves and called out, “There’s somepony at the door, Rarity!”

“I quite know, Sweetie Belle,” replied the alabaster Unicorn, standing up from her cushion.

“No no no, don’t get up, Rarity,” Twilight cut in. “You girls are my guests here, so I should really answer the door myself.”

So the lavender Unicorn trotted towards the door, her mulberry drake son following a pace or two behind her as her pink dwimmer shimmer lit up the twin handles of the double-doors of the Golden Oak Library.

Standing at the threshold were a brown-speckled Deer stag with a thick growth of dark-brown fur between his tall and curved antlers, a larger and burlier dark-furred stag without antlers, a pale-coated doe, and a pale-yellow Earth Pony colt wearing a bare stag’s antler tied to the top of his head.

“So, we heard that there was a new Queen up in Canterlot?” asked Fuzzhead genially.

Despite the protestations of the bourgeoisie of Canterlot, Queen Selena was all too eager to begin her trip to Ponyville down in the Saddle Valley below. An old chariot had been drawn out from the chambers underneath the Tower of the Moon, dark and ominous and bristling with silvery shears. Queen Selena smiled at the sight of it, which made Fluttershy quiver and most everypony else question just how much of that grim taste in decor was from NightMare Moon and how much was from Queen Selena. In mere minutes, a pair of dark-coated Pegasi of the Royal Guard had been hitched up and began to draw the chariot with its seven passengers out of Canterlot, into the airspace over the Saddle Valley, planning to angle down slowly towards Ponyville so many grosses of hooves below.

“So, Queen Selena?” asked Rainbow Dash abruptly.

‘Yes, fair Rainboƿ Daʃ?’ the Alicorn of night replied evenly.

“There was something you mentioned to your big sis back there. Something called ‘Drow’. What are they?”

Queen Selena looked down through the gap between the Pegasi drawing the chariot, towards the hamlet down below.

‘Þe Droƿ are þe batlike ponies ƿhich I hað created großenturies ago. Þey hað been faiðful to my memory, I aßume. And… I remember one ƿhom NightMare Moon hað brought to an end. I remember þy face in conjunction ƿið hers, Tƿilight Sparkle. Didſt þou knoƿeſt her?’

Twilight felt an ache in her heart.

“She was Crescent Rose. She was a Bat Pony − a Drow, I suppose − of the Night Guard. She was able to fight NightMare Moon’s hypnosis spell, but…”

Twilight’s eyes burned, and she could not continue. Queen Selena, however, nodded solemnly.

‘I ſee. Ʃe cannot have been þe ſole victim of NightMare Moon. Your Queen Selena hað a great and hard pað to folloƿ.’

Twilight offered a cloven hoof to Queen Selena’s own.

“Well, we’ll all follow you on that path, Your Majesty. You’re not alone. If I learned anything in the past two months, it is that nopony should be alone.”

Queen Selena smiled back at the lavender Unicorn.

‘I ðank þē, Tƿilight Sparkle. It is hearteniŋ to knoƿ þat I am not alone.’

Twilight bowed her head.

“A dozen-gross years may have passed for you, Your Majesty, but I’m sure that the ponies of Equestria will love you just the same.”

‘Ƿill þey? Or ƿill þey fear þat I ʃall once more turn?’

Twilight replied emphatically, “Don’t think that way, Queen Selena. Even with NightMare Moon’s eternal night, ponies still have much to look forward to when the night comes. Ponies take to viewing nighttime meteor showers, shooting stars, the great nebulae shimmering between the planets and the stars…”

Queen Selena looked quite wondrous.

‘Meteor ʃoƿers? Ʃootiŋ ſtars? Dear Celeſtia hað implemented mine olden ideas for þe night?’

“I think that they’re beautiful, Queen Selena. I have seen my fair share of meteor showers and shooting stars the past two months, and I must admit that I had quite overlooked how beautiful it could be, as wearisome as an everlasting night would be. I think I’d nearly forgotten the simple joy of looking to the night sky with my telescope.”

‘Ƿhat is a teleſcope?’ asked Queen Selena.

“Oh, that’s right. It was only invented a little over two-gross years ago. Well, it’s… it’s hard to explain. But I’m sure that there are several down in Ponyville. You’ll just love them. Oh! And you’ll get to meet my son down there in Ponyville, too!”

‘Þou haveſt a ſon?’

Twilight shrugged slightly, “Well, he’s not my son in a biological sense, but this adventure made me realize just how dear he is to me. We should be coming in for a landing soon.”

The individual thatched rooftops of Ponyville had once more come into view, Pegasi flapping their wings in the direction of the snow and hastening the speed by which it melted. Quite suddenly, Twilight was almost overwhelmed by a feeling of déjà vu. It was now nearly two months to the day since the Summer Sun Celebration, and she was returning to Ponyville along much the same path that she had followed on that day. Already was the return of the Sun bringing a far more wholesome climate to the region. Down below she could see a great number of ponies milling about down in the streets, a hoofful of whom had begun to notice the incoming chariot… some rather offput or even outwardly frightened by the ominous features of such.

Queen Selena looked out to the east at the expanse of the Everfree.

‘O Concordia Arbos!’ she mused aloud, ‘þou hað fallen far indeed. Þou ƿert indeed a mighty fortreſs, and it is an ill omen þat þe Everfree ʃould have ſo eclipſed þē.’

“Concordia Arbos?” asked Applejack.

‘‘Tis þe Palace in ƿhiċ Celeſtia and I reigned up till þe concluſion of þe conſtruction of Canterlot… Alas, nearly four-dozen-and-tƿo-ſcore agone. A meggroßium of mißed time ʃalt be difficult to reconcile. But ‘tƿas Concordia Arbos ƿhere Celeſtia and I kept þe Elements, aƿay from þe pryiŋ eyes of ponies, to be utiliſed only at þe utmoſt end of need.’

“That’s where we found the Elements!” Pinkie squealed.

‘Ay. I imagine it was. But ‘tƿas alſo ƿhere Celie and I… had our final quarrel. Ay, it ſeems to be but yeſterday to me, ƿhen truly a dozen-groſs years have gone by… A dozen-megagroſs moons…’

There was nothing that anypony around the nightly Queen that could be said to sympathize. Nopony present had been alive for much more than dozen-eight years, and the longest period of time that any of them had been away from some place was Pinkie Pie, who had not been to her family’s rock farm in five years. She had been keeping in regular contact, however, so it was not quite the same.

“Well, there’s no way we can sympathize with that, Queen Selena,” Rainbow Dash said bluntly.

Her ears slack against her light-azure mane, Queen Selena glanced at the cerulean Pegasus out of the corner of her eyes.

‘Þy ƿords ſtiŋ, but þey riŋ true, Honeſt Rainboƿ Daʃ. Nopony can ſympaðiſe ſave mine elder ſiſter. Þere may be oþers, but all þat can be done for noƿ is to take þeſe amends ſloƿly and aßuredly.’

“That’s the spirit, Queenie~!” piped in Pinkie Pie, and she received a smile from the Queen of the Night.

Touching down in Town Square was not terribly difficult, as a great many ponies had given the incoming chariot a wide berth with its dark colors and its silvery blades. The Pegasus Guards hitched into the front gave inquisitive looks about the Ponyvillagers, as though uncertain as to what could have given the others pause. There were, however, a relatively small number of ponies who approached eagerly at the sight of the passengers.

Or rather, ponies and a mulberry drake.

Mom!” cried Spike, tears streaming down his face as he charged at the chariot as fast as his legs could carry him.

Spike!” Twilight cried in return, tears springing anew from her own eyes as she leapt down from the chariot and scooped up Spike in a single cloven hoof.

“Who-whooo, who-whoo!” hooted a tawny owl which flapped over Spike and Twilight’s heads before perching on Twilight’s crown the Element of Magic.

“I missed you, too, Owlowiscious,” Twilight smiled.

Queen Selena disembarked from the chariot, followed by her five other fellow passengers. She blinked in wonder at Spike.

‘Þy ċild is a Dragon, a ſcion of Tiamat?’

Giving Spike one last little squeeze, Twilight turned to face the Queen of the Night once more.

“Queen Selena, this is my adoptive son, Spike the Dragon,” she said in a bright and casual tone. “Spike, this is Queen Selena, Queen Celestia’s younger sister, formerly a captive of NightMare Moon.”

Queen Selena extended a hoof towards Spike, not to shake his claw, but for a kiss of fealty, ‘Ċarmed.’

Spike withdrew in slight alarm at the unfamiliar Alicorn with her wild wavy mane and batlike wings. Queen Selena looked mildly hurt, but not terribly shocked.

Twilight’s five fellow Bearers stepped around Queen Selena, each looking about with fresh wonder at the houses and buildings of Ponyville, long since bereft of sunlight now gleaming anew.


Rainbow Dash!


A trio of fillies charged up from the small group of ponies closest to the chariot, each tackling one of the three ponies whose names they cried out.

“Ah’m so glad yer safe, Applejack!” cried Apple Bloom, her big bow barely reaching Applejack’s chin. Applejack placed a hoof on her little sister’s head and ruffled her mane playfully.

“An’ Ah’m glad that Ah lived ta see ya in daylight again, Sugar-foot,” beamed the palomino.

“An’ Ah’d wager we’re glad we cin say th’ same to you, mah little apple-seed,” interjected Granny Smith as she approached with Big McIntosh. She swelled with such pride that it almost seemed as though she had Burgeoning powers herself. “Ye’ve done th’ Apple family proud, darlin’, an’ ya’ve set a fine example fer Earth Ponies around th’ world.”

“Eeyup,” agreed Big Mac.

Applejack turned her head aside in embarrassment at the praise, pulling her Stetson down over her flushing face.

“I knew you could do it, Rainbow Dash! Nopony can keep you down!” shouted Scootaloo, fighting hard not to let her tears show.

Rainbow Dash smiled at the rambunctious little Pegasus.

“C’mon, squirt. If you gotta cry, cry. Don’t keep a lid on it, or you’ll explode, and that wouldn’t be cool.”

Scootaloo looked sad and confused.

“But… I thought that crying wasn’t cool. I’ve never seen you cry, Rainbow Dash.”

“Just because you haven’t seen me cry, doesn’t mean it isn’t so. But really, nopony likes a crybaby, but everypony hates a liar. Being fake isn’t the same as being cool.”

Scootaloo looked up at her idol in wonder, her eyes shimmering with admiration…

Then she collapsed into Rainbow Dash’s chest, and the prismatic feathers there became damp with tears.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were getting married?” came the filly’s muffled sobs.

Rainbow Dash’s ears twitched.

“Guess the secret’s out now. I wanted to tell you, kid, really I did. But it just came up so quickly, and I didn’t have the time to tell anypony, really.”

“You told Apple Bloom’s big brother!”

“I didn’t tell him; he was there when Fluttershy proposed.”

Scootaloo looked at Rainbow Dash with a baffled expression.

Fluttershy proposed to you?”

“Always the tone of surprise,” Rainbow Dash grumbled. “But yeah, she did. She acts like she hates all the romance, but she really loves all the attention. And she’s got a bit of a soft spot for Daring Do, too, so that’s a bonus!”

“‘Daring Do’…? Wait. You can read, Rainbow Dash? I thought you were too cool for reading!”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Ehh, I guess all the kick-flank adventuring drew me in. (Fluttershy likes all the animals in it; she thinks nature’s fascinating or something.) Did you know that A.K. Yearling has black belts in karatei and chāquán and used them for all of Daring Do’s fight scenes?”

Scootaloo’s eyes widened in excitement.

“No way! Really? I’ve always been into all those sorts of sweet moves!”

“I know; you watch me fly all the time, kid. Tell ya what; I’ll try to pull rank with this baby right here,” Rainbow Dash puffed out her chest, the Element of Honesty’s citrine lightning-bolt flashing white in the sun, “and see if I can take ya to see one of those Qílín martial-arts films they’re showing off in Manehattan.”

Scootaloo squeezed her cheeks, grinning broadly.

“You’d really do that…?”

Rainbow Dash smirked smartly, “So am I forgiven for getting engaged behind my number one fan’s back?”

Scootaloo hugged one of Rainbow Dash’s forelegs tightly, her tiny little wings beating like a hummingbird’s.

“You’re the best Pegasus ever, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow settled down onto her haunches and extended a wing around the small filly, running an alula through Scootaloo’s mane.

“You still look so pretty, Rarity!” squeaked Sweetie Belle. “I thought that you’d look like a big old mess when you got back!”

Rarity smiled nervously, “Well, if I may be frank… I did.”

“What? Really? I can’t even tell. How’d you fix yourself up so fast?”

“Well, I really must give my thanks to this glorious little fancy here!” Rarity presented the lozenge-cut gemstone in her Element of Generosity. “It has glamorous effects on one’s person, as it transpires. I mean, apart from the target…” She glanced back at Queen Selena.

Sweetie Belle followed her big sister’s eyes.

“Is that NightMare Moon?” she asked in wondrous fear.

“I don’t think so,” answered Rarity. “So far as I know, Queen Selena was a puppet of the abominable NightMare Moon.”

“Really? I think she looks really pretty!”

“Well, she is Queen Celestia’s younger sister, after all.”

“Wow… She’s sisters, just like you and me!”

“Yes indeed, Sweetie Belle. And one day, I’m sure, you will be a more beautiful mare than me.”

Sweetie Belle blushed furiously, “Aww, you’re just saying that, Rarity!”

“She is sayin’ it,” cut in Hondo Flanks as he approached with Pearl Bubbles, “but that don’ mean that it ain’ true.”

“Yer such a cutie pie that it’d be criminal fer you ta not be as beautiful as yer big sis,” beamed Pearl, and Sweetie Belle and Rarity smiled at their parents.

“You all came… But how, pray tell, is Opal?”

“Oh, that precious little kitty-cat’s all tuckered out,” answered Pearl. “She’s probably nappin’ in one a’ da sunbeams through da windows.”

Or scratching up your curtains even as we speak, Rarity thought darkly.

“Miss Fluttershy,” said the chocolate-colored Pegasus stallion named Stellar Eclipse, his wheelchair squeaking slightly behind him as he approached with what looked like a cat-carrier held under one wing. He looked utterly miserable, and his ears were slack. “As it turns out, I’m not really good with rabbits. They’re not like chickens after all.”

Fluttershy slid open the cat-carrier, and out hopped a rather plump-looking white rabbit, leaping up onto the patch of pink feathers along Fluttershy’s back. He snapped his fingers irately at his owner, and when she turned to face him, he pouted and turned away.

“I’m so terribly sorry, Angel Bunny,” Fluttershy said softly. “I had to make sure you stayed well-fed while I went to help out Rainbow Dash and Twilight. Please don’t be mad at me.”

Angel Bunny looked at Fluttershy out of the corner of his eye, before turning his nose up at her.

Fluttershy looked desperately at her darling Rainbow Dash, hoping for some coaxing by the cerulean Pegasus. The filly named Scootaloo was embracing Rainbow Dash, the pair of them looking so happy together.

So in their own little world.

If Dashie can let herself be so vulnerable…

Fluttershy’s eyebrows furrowed.

Then I can be strong!

She turned her head back to Angel Bunny, her eyes filled with determination.

“Now you listen here, young man! I could have just let you starve in my cottage while I was off saving the world, but out of the goodness of my heart I left you in somepony else’s care. And when I take you back, you give me lip?”

Angel Bunny recoiled in alarm at Fluttershy’s tongue-lashing, attempting to turn his head away from those eyes…

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!” Angel Bunny’s eyes locked with Fluttershy’s, and he froze in place. “Do you have any idea how worried I was about you the whole time that I was with Dashie and Twilight saving the cycle of day and night? I did not come back to Ponyville for you to give me sass! If you keep that up, then you get no lettuce for a month. And don’t think that you can go to any warrens to get your paws on some, because I’ll tell them not to let you have any!”

Angel Bunny did not think himself an unreasonable rabbit. He simply thought that his caretaker Fluttershy was so easy to wrap around his little finger that he could have his way about the cottage without her raising a fuss about his so-called unruliness. But this willfulness was new; what had changed with his caretaker in the past two months? He had never been subject to her Firm-Standing-Gaze, though he had seen her practice it upon restive chickens such as Elizabeak, and now Fluttershy seemed to be the size of a planet and himself the size of a speck of dust. It just would not do to defy her will.

Also, the prospect of no flayrah for hrair Inlé made him feel quite tharn.

Squeaking brightly, Angel Bunny beamed and snapped to a cheery salute towards Fluttershy, who nodded with a smile, her gaze lessening.

“Thank you, Angel Bunny,” she said sweetly. “I always knew you were such a sweetheart deep down.”

“Wow, you really have a way with rabbits,” commented Stellar Eclipse, looking over Fluttershy’s shoulder at the now-placated rabbit. “But I think I’ll stick with chicken statues.”

Fluttershy smiled at the chocolate-colored Pegasus. “Thank you for your trouble, sir. How many bits will suffice for your troubles?”

Stellar Eclipse waved a hoof casually. “No payment is necessary. My special somepony’s in the Search and Rescue Guard squad, and she gets plenty of pay to cover everything we need.” His magenta eyes flicked back towards his wheelchair, a sad smile on his face. Fluttershy figured that it wasn’t her place to ask why he needed it.

“But… it just doesn’t feel right to not give you anything, Mister Stellar Eclipse. I feel like I should repay you somehow.”

The wheelchair-bound Pegasus rubbed his chin thoughtfully, his eyes drifting idly about Town Square. “Y’know, how about a hayburger over at Hay Burger’s? Then we’re even.”

Fluttershy stammered, feeling suddenly flustered, “Umm, but sir… I’m already spoken for.”

Stellar Eclipse laughed brightly, “Oh no, nothing like that. Just between friends. I’d never try to break my Night Lark’s heart.”

“Oh…” Fluttershy sighed quietly in relief, hoping that Rainbow Dash did not witness this exchange; as dear as Dashie was, Fluttershy feared the prospect of misinterpretation greatly. “Okay then. And… I was wondering, Stellar Eclipse: what exactly is an eclipse?”

The disabled Pegasus stallion blinked slowly in confusion.

“Uhh… I don’t really know,” he replied cautiously. “I think you’d have to ask my parents, but… they’re in a better place right now.”

“Oh my… I’m so sorry, Stellar.”

“It’s okay. I know that wherever they are, it’s become a better place with them being there.”

Fluttershy and Stellar Eclipse shared warm friendly smiles.

“Hey there, Mr. Cake and Mrs. Cake~!” cried Pinkie Pie joyously, throwing her forelegs around the necks of her two employers… despite the fact that they had each given her quite the wide enough berth that nopony could have reached both of them.

Nopony but Pinkie Pie.

Mr. and Mrs. Cake gave their chief baker and surrogate daughter parental smiles.

“Welcome back, Pinkie Pie,” replied Carrot Cake with a slightly nervous lilt. “Ponyville hasn’t been quite the same without you.”

“Why? What happened while I was gone?” Pinkie asked with a slightly panicked tone. “Did Ponyville forget what it’s like to smile and laugh and have a good time? Have I gone too many chapters without throwing a big old-fashioned hoedown in Town Square?”

“Well, I don’t think that things got quite that miserable here,” answered Cup Cake, rubbing a hoof along her heavily pregnant belly, “but the Nightmare Guard made it quite difficult to have any semblance of our old lives. We baked while thinking of you, and the two little brothers or sisters you would have when you got back.”

“Oh, I’m not gonna have two little sisters,” Pinkie said casually. “I felt my small intestine uncoiling a while ago, and I don’t think that’s Pinkie Sense for ‘a mommy figure in my life is having twin girls’, ‘cause that’s my liver squirming, and I felt that just before my Mommy had Marble and me.”

Carrot Cake placed a hoof on his wife’s belly.

“So… we’re going to have twin colts…?”

“Or a colt and a filly~!” Pinkie piped in. “Ooh, I hope that it’s a colt and a filly, ‘cause I want a little brother and sister who can be two peas in a pod, two lumps on a Camel, a dynamic duo, a pair of underwear~!

“A… pair of underwear is one thing, Pinkie,” replied Carrot Cake nervously.

As the individual reunions wound down, the Ponyvillagers slowly turned their attention towards the new arrival: Queen Selena. The dark Alicorn raised a foreleg to her chest nervously, her eyes squinting slightly in the sunlight. A great many ponies wore expressions of fear still as they looked at her, though the Bat Ponies who had been hypnotized Nightmare guards in Ponyville knelt to their knees and bowed their heads at the sight of her. Stellar Eclipse beside Fluttershy inclined his head to the ground along with a smattering of Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi who must have served in the Night Guard, and the guarded posture of Queen Selena relaxed, and she smiled out at them.

‘Humble denizens of Ponyville, you ſtand noƿ in þe preſence of Queen Selena Artemis di Equeſtria, younger ſiſter to Queen Celeſtia Apolinaria di Equeſtria,’ she said with a rising degree of boldness. ‘Ƿould þe conſtable of Ponyville let her or himſelf come forƿard to þe Queen of þe Night?’

Several ponies withdrew in slight confusion at the antiquated accent which Queen Selena spoke with. Some of the more intelligent ponies in Ponyville, though, were able to discern her message, and the Mayor stepped forward from the herd, attempting and failing miserably to shift her mane and tail in such a way that the bright-pink roots did not catch the light. To her credit, though, Queen Selena did not betray any derision or amusement if she felt any.

“W-well, Your Majesty,” stuttered the Mayor, trying to withhold her vestigial fear, “I am the Mayor of Ponyville, and I would like to welcome you to our humble little hamlet. Despite our… trepidations, I assure you that we hope you have a wonderful time here in Ponyville.”

Queen Selena looked mildly perplexed.

‘Þy Queen of þe Night ðanks þē, Conſtable, but ƿhy doſt þou addreſs þy Queen as þough ʃe is multiple ponies? Hað þe Royal Ƿe been expanded upon to become þe Royal You as ƿell?’

It was now the Mayor’s turn to show confusion.

“I… don’t quite know what you mean, Your Majesty.”

“I think I might, Miss Mayor,” Twilight Sparkle cut in. “You see, Queen Selena, grossenturies ago, the words thou, thee and thy were retired from the Equus language. Now we just use the word you for every second-pony pronoun.”

Queen Selena arched a light-azure eyebrow.

‘So… hoƿ doſt þou interpret þe times ƿhen one refers to one or ſeveral ponies? Doſt þat not confuſe þē and oþers?’

Twilight shrugged. “We manage. I’ll show you.” She turned back to her band. “Spike, could you come over here?”

Spike tilted his head in confusion, “I don’t know, Mom. Should I bring all of our pony friends along with me, or should I just come alone?”

Twilight did not know whether to laugh or to boop Spike on the forehead for that remark.

“Nopony likes sarcasm, Spike. Now get your scaly little butt over here, young drake.”

Spike stepped forward on three legs; one of his foreclaws was over his mouth to help restrain his chuckles. Twilight smiled; she could not stay cross at him forever. She patted him on the head and faced Selena again.

“See, Queen Selena? It’s easy as three-point-one-eight-four-eight-zero-nine-four-nine-three-eleven-nine Pi!”

Queen Selena’s eyes glimmered at that last word, and she avoided Twilight’s curious gaze.

‘Pi… I ſee þat þat number, irrational þough it be, hað been reclaimed by minds of reaſon and ſanity. But þy Queen underſtands þe modern uſage of you, and ʃe thinks ʃe ƿill perſevere.’ She faced the Mayor once more. ‘Now, Conſtable, perhaps our talks can reſume aneƿ. Ʃalt þy giveſt þy neƿly reſtored Queen Selena a tour of þine hamlet of Ponyville?’

The Mayor smiled and bowed, eyes closed behind pince-museau glasses.

“But of course, Your Majesty. When shall we begin?”

‘Anon. …At once,’ she added at the quizzical look on the Mayor’s face. ‘And mayhap ƿe can raiſe a dialogue to returneð þy Queen Selena to a place of gladneſs in þe hearts of her little ponies.’

“Yes, I am sure we all hope for that, Majesty,” replied the Mayor kindly, “though it may not be easy.”

‘Baniʃ forðƿið any peradventure, dear Conſtable,’ replied Queen Selena. ‘Þy Queen hað ſpent a meggrossium ċained by an abomination, ƿronged by þe ſins of a beaſt. Ʃe ƿill ƿork ſteadfaſtly to reſtore her proper place, noƿ þat ʃe is in a place ƿherein ʃe can.’

“You speak real pretty!” piped in Sweetie Belle, stepping forward and past Rarity’s reach. Before the alabaster Unicorn could draw her back with her dwimmer shimmer, Queen Selena turned upon the small filly, eyes wide with something resembling alarm. She smiled nervously, revealing elongated vampiric fangs.

Some ponies screamed in terror at the flash in Queen Selena’s mouth, one or two even bolting. Before Queen Selena could do much more than unfurl her feathered batwings and reach out imploringly, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo dove in front of Sweetie Belle, each wearing fierce expressions.

“Ya ain’ gunna git any closer ta Sweetie Belle, NightMare Moon!” Apple Bloom snarled.

“If you’re gonna eat Sweetie Belle, then you’re gonna eat all three of us!” Scootaloo growled.

“Apple Bloom, gitcher rump back here!” Applejack snapped.

“You show everypony how much of a bad bronco you are, Scootaloo!” cheered on Rainbow Dash, earning an elbow in the side.

Her bat-ears drooping slightly, Queen Selena approached the three fillies slowly, letting her head fall low to the ground to the level of the three fillies. The Cutie Mark Crusaders stepped backwards in fear, but backed into the forelegs of each of their elder sisters (or big-sister figure, in the case of Scootaloo). Looking up plaintively for help, they saw only broad and gentle smiles. One by one, the three fillies turned their eyes nervously back to the dark Alicorn, who was now less than half her own body’s length from them.

‘Fret not, ċildren,’ said Queen Selena with every ounce of gentility she could muster. ‘Your Queen of þe Night is of ſound mind once more, ʃe ſƿeareð by þe Moon þat þis is true. Ƿe ȝuſt hope to briŋ beautiful nights þat you ʃall remember ƿið bliſs. Ƿouldſt ye aßeſs your Queen of þe Night ſo harʃly?’

The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked back and forth at each other in confusion.

“Uhh, does she even speak Equus?” Scootaloo asked bluntly.

“She does, apparently, Scoots,” replied Rainbow Dash, looked back and forth between the little filly and the Queen of the Night. “She just speaks a really, really old Equus that nopony speaks anymore… except maybe at old folks’ homes.”

“But… what was she saying?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“Queen Selena is saying,” explained Rarity, “that she is no longer under the influence of NightMare Moon, and wishes to become friends.”

“‘Friends’?” echoed Apple Bloom, looking up in wonder at the hopeful Selena. “Ah didn’ think that royal folk liked makin’ friends.”

“Oh they like makin’ friends jus’ fine,” Applejack answered, “jus’ s’ long as those friends think exactly th’ same as they do. But Ah reckon that Queen Selena wants ta make sum fer-real friends with some a’ us common folk.”

“She does?” cried Sweetie Belle, looking quite over the Moon with joy. “I knew that I liked how you speak! You’re really pretty, too, not like my big sister Rarity, but in a really messy kinda way!”

Queen Selena smiled and blushed pale-blue, her ears flopping as she averted her eyes from Sweetie Belle.

‘I ðank þē, darliŋ filly. I aßure þē, þough, þat my true compoſure hað not been reached. Þe Miaſma hað ſapped muċ of mine oƿn magick for its ill ends. As time paßes, þy Queen of the Night ʃall become more ſtately and ʃow her true inner poƿer.’

“What sorta pony are you, anyway?” Scootaloo asked, pointing from black feathered batwings to gray-blue alicorn. “You got wings and a horn. Are you some kind of… a Pegacorn or something?”

‘Neigh, ċild,’ Queen Selena said, bristling slightly at the word Pegacorn, before standing to her fullest height and unfurling her wings to their fullest extent, thus allowing her swan-white secondaries to gleam in the sun. ‘Mine elder ſiſter and I are Alicorns, þe epitome of þy race. Ƿe repreſent, in body, ſoul and magick, all ðree races of ponykind. Ƿiðin us pulſes þe ſteady magick of þe Earð, þe eluſive magick of þe Mind, and þe erratic magick of þe Air. Ƿho better to repreſent þy race in its entirety?’

“Wow…” gaped Apple Bloom. “How many other Alicorns are there like you an’ yer big sister?”

‘Þere is þe ever-reincarnatiŋ Alicorn of Love in þe Cryſtal Empire, but oþer þan ʃe…’ Queen Selena looked down at her forehooves, her forelock shading her face. ‘Þere are only myſelf and Celeſtia.’

The Cutie Mark Crusaders gave Queen Selena sympathetic looks.

“Don’t talk to them, Night Queen!” cried out a small filly’s voice, and Diamond Tiara pushed her way through the herd to get to the front. “They’re just a bunch of no-good blank-flanks. You deserve better company than them!”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders glowered at the pink Earth Pony filly and the posse behind her, before glancing fearfully back up to Queen Selena. Diamond Tiara definitely looked the part of royal companion far more than they did. She wore a diamond-encrusted tiara upon her head that exactly matched the mark on her flanks, and her mane and tail were elegantly curled.

But Queen Selena was smiling down at the Cutie Mark Crusaders, winking slightly before turning her eyes upon the querulous filly.

‘Ċild, ƿhy doſt þou quarrel? Þou hadſt no talent brand afore. Even þy Queens once bore no mark upon þeir flanks,’ Queen Selena spoke with every appearance of reasonability, turning her own hindquarters slightly so that her crescent-shaped mark could be seen.

Diamond Tiara wrinkled her nose, “Things are different from when you were little, Queen. Ponies don’t have talent brands anymore; they have cutie marks. A pony that doesn’t have a cutie mark doesn’t have what it takes to make it. And these three are the only ones in our class that don’t have their marks yet. That makes them stupid, and you’ll get the stupid-cooties from them!”

“Yeah!” echoed the five foals behind her.

Queen Selena narrowed her eyes at Diamond Tiara.

‘Þou doſt place ƿalls betƿeen þyſelf and ones ƿho þou ƿert þyſelf akin to. Talent brand or cutie mark, þe ſymbol is þe ſame. Potential ſpeaks volumes more þan any mark. And þine oƿn talent… pryþee tell us ƿhat it is.’

Diamond Tiara hesitated, her ears flattening and her teeth clenching nervously at Selena’s question. Her posse looked to her expectantly, anticipating her to say something.

“I… you…” The pink filly scowled. “This is Equestria! Speak Equestrian!”

In an instant it was clear that Diamond Tiara had taken a step too far. Queen Selena reared back and flapped her wings ominously, a flash in her eyes as she bared her teeth.

‘And so, ċild, þou hað ʃown þat þy company is leſs þan preferable to þy Queens. You… Þou hað offended Queen Selena Artemis di Equeſtria, and ʃe doð not ſuffer offence lightly. Þough ʃe ƿill keep þy dreams ſafe from þe nameleſs beaſts ƿhiċ proƿl þe Oneiron, þe Queen of Dreams ʃall enſure þat þou ʃalt knoƿ no reſt. Þou ʃalt learn reſpect for þy ſuperiors, and þine oƿn nightmares ʃall be þy teaċer!’

Diamond Tiara cowered under the shadow of Queen Selena, her eyes wide with terror. The roll of thunder seemed to fill the Saddle Valley, and even the Ponyvillagers who had no love lost for the filly formerly known as Dégueulis Dazzle Rich cowered as the Queen of Dreams seemed to tower even higher than she normally stood. The Sun almost seemed to blot out, leaving just the gleam of Queen Selena’s eyes.

Quickly but not quietly, Diamond Tiara made a sharp about-face and bolted back into the herd, followed by her posse of five fellow bullies, the six vanishing quickly from sight.

Almost immediately Queen Selena sank to her knees, her forelock damp with sweat and her ears and wings sagging. The light returned to the world, and Twilight approached the Queen in alarm.

“Queen Selena! Are you alright?”

‘Þy Queen is fine,’ panted Selena. ‘Ʃe is ȝuſt… unaccuſtomed to beiŋ ſo weak. The Miaſma took more of my magick þan I had gueßed.’

“We are terribly sorry for that filly’s behavior, Your Majesty,” said the Mayor. “She thinks that she is entitled to great things because her father is one of the richest ponies in town. A mayor never speaks ill of her constituents, so I would not dare to say that she is a spoiled brat.”

Queen Selena smiled wryly, pulling herself to her hooves once more.

‘Þy hamlet ʃalt not ſuffer any furþer terror at my hoof, Conſtable. I abſolutely adore foals. Ƿould þat I could befriend þem all…’

“We’ll be yer friends, Queen Selena! Ah’m Apple Bloom!” cried the small yellow filly at her hooves.

“And I’m Sweetie Belle!”

“I’m Scootaloo!”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders danced about Queen Selena brightly, the dark Alicorn glancing about her hooves in curiosity.

‘Am I not þe firſt Queen þat you foals have ſeen?’ she asked.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders nodded.

‘But… Ƿere not you ðree afraid of beiŋ devoured not a dozen minutes ago?’

At once, the three fillies winced as if struck, each rubbing a foreleg fearfully.

Queen Selena looked about the Ponyvillagers inquisitively, ‘Ƿhence came þeſe fillies’ ſpecific fear of beiŋ eaten by myſelf?’

Numerous ponies looked about one another in confusion or nervousness, each pondering which one would be the one to break the news of a certain holiday to Queen Selena.

“Umm, Queen Selena…?” began the voice of an alabaster Unicorn who stepped forward with an air of trepidation. “Perhaps you’ve never heard of the holiday NightMare Night?”

The visitors from Harthind sat themselves around the table with Twilight Sparkle and her groups of friends. Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders set the books aside and joined them at the table; the latter were especially fascinated by the fact that a pony was living with Deer.

As it turned out, Fuzzhead had barely been dealt any issue by NightMare Moon, as had Harthind itself following the band of Bearers winking out back to Ponyville; the miasmic Alicorn and her Shadowbolts had given pursuit almost immediately after it became clear that Twilight’s company had left. Not too long afterwards, Fuzzhead had been admitted into Cobnut and Strawberry’s family as a sort of surrogate brother to Butter-And-Eggs. Only a week or so after the defeat of NightMare Moon, Cobnut’s remaining antler fell off, and he passed it down to Butter-And-Eggs, to wear in lieu of a branch.

“Now my son is that much more of a stag!” boasted the dark stag, running a hoof through Butter-And-Eggs’s pale mane.

The loss of Madam Oleander had not proven to be detrimental to the administration of Harthind in the slightest, as the remaining quart were able to handle the load that had been added from the demise of the turncoat doe. Perhaps most tellingly, though, Madam Rosemary had taken to asking Fuzzhead to be a scribe and advisor for the village elders, giving them input on the thoughts of the villagers and enabling them to make decisions with a direct liaison from the Deer of Harthind.

“That is certainly fascinating,” mused Rarity. “I have never much been a mare of politics, but I for one feel that the customer is always right.”

“I… don’t really see how that fits in with politics, Rarity,” said Rainbow Dash.

“No, I think I see Rarity’s point,” Twilight cut in, looking about the folks at the table around her. “Ponies should have a say in what their government is going to do for them, or else it’s nothing more than a dictatorship. That’s the beauty of what Queen Celestia has done here in Equestria; she might be the absolute authority, but she is kind and thoughtful, and always listens to anypony who raises their voice. This is what Manadans call a dictablanda.”

“A dick-tuh-what?” asked Applejack.

“It’s a bit of a clever pun, really, and it really has no firm Equus translation,” Twilight explained. “See, the Manadan word for a dictatorship is dictadura, and dura means hard in Manadan. Blanda is Manadan for soft. So, dictablanda is the widely accepted term for a dictatorship with a strongly benevolent leader. I mean, who else but Queen Celestia would allow for representatives to be elected for us in our cities, towns and villages?”

“Queen Selena?” piped in Sweetie Belle.

“Ooh, I think Sweetie Belle’s got you beat there, Twilight~!” agreed Pinkie Pie.

“Well, it’s… definitely too early to tell what Queen Selena’s policies are like, though she seems certainly more militant. And she doesn’t even have all of her magic back yet. But it definitely seems like there’s a real bond of love between her and Queen Celestia. I can only see Equestria being stronger for this…”

The Golden Oak Library’s doors thumped with a knock once more. Owlowiscious fluttered off of his perch in mild irritation, hooting slightly in annoyance.

Dozen-two pairs of eyes turned towards the doors, and Twilight slowly rose from the table and once more found herself answering the door.

A hooded figure in a brown cloak stood at the doorstep. It drew back its hood with its left foreleg bearing five golden rings, revealing a black-and-white-striped equine wearing five more golden rings around her slightly elongated neck. Large golden loops hung from her ears, and her eyes shimmered with a familiar glint.

Twilight gasped happily.


The Princess of Pundamilia offered a small incline of her head in Twilight’s direction, her earrings bobbing slightly.

‘It has been a long time, Twilight, my friend,’ said Zecora. ‘I am glad that our world has not come to an end.’

“No way! Is that a Zebra?” Scootaloo cried out excitedly, attempting to flap into the air from Rainbow Dash’s side.

‘Indeed I am, young foal of orange hue. And where I am from, I was a Princess, too.’

“That’s amazing!” Butter-And-Eggs shouted between his parents. “We’re gonna see so much royalty here, aren’t we?”

“I don’t think so, darling,” answered Strawberry. “I believe she said was a Princess.”

“‘Was’?” echoed Apple Bloom. “Why wouldn’ she be a Princess anymore?”

Zecora replied, ‘My right to the throne I did abdicate, for there are others more suited to adjudicate.’

“But you’re the sole heir to the Pundamilian throne!” gasped Twilight. “Without you to act as their Queen, what will happen to your fellow Zebras?”

‘For Pundamilia, you need not fear. I have been planning this for many a year. From the moment I knew my mother would die, my crown was something I only could decry. There is a new system now in the land of my kin, one for which blood will never run thin.’

“What happened back in Pundamilia?” asked Fluttershy.

‘I did formulate a new constitution, to fulfill the royal bloodline’s absolution. For too long has the crown sat on one head, to last until only that zebra is dead. I loved my dear mother, but she was not kind; faults in her reign would not be hard to find. I will not bore you with all the details, but many common decencies did she assail. The masses now control the rule of the land, where the ruler is chosen by herd and by band.’

“A democracy?” Twilight mused. “I didn’t think that anyone would actually enact it at such a high level with the intent of seeing it work in practice as it does on paper. You do know about the rigged electoral system that the Griffons have, don’t you?”

Zecora pawed at the ground lightly, ‘No love do I have for those Griffon folk, where the vote is achieved by dagger and cloak. But my zebras have shown their purity of heart, and I doubt not that they’ll play well their parts.’

“Well, if you trust ‘em, Zecora, we’ll trust ‘em, too!” smiled Applejack. “So what brings ya over here ta Equestria?”

Zecora stepped across the threshold.

‘I have known few friends in my time back in the nest; I have more of them here who are sitting abreast. So I threw down my crown and then I set sail, to settle with my friends in the Untamed Vale.’

Zecora looked about the Golden Oak Library at the dozen-two about the main room: at the five Bearers currently seated around the table with Spike The Dragon, three little fillies whom she did not know, and a family of Deer and a Pony colt wearing a stag’s antler on his head, and then finally settled her eyes upon Twilight Sparkle, who smiled warmly at her Zebra friend.

“I’m sure we would all love another friend living with us here in Ponyville! And you’ve arrived just in time for Queen Selena to assist in the NightMare Night preparations. She’s looking to help repair her image which the holiday had… well, not been terribly kind to. Would you like to help out?”

Zecora returned Twilight’s smile.

‘To one whose graciousness knows no true measure, I tell you that nothing else would be my pleasure!’

To put it mildly, Queen Selena looked troubled.

If Twilight Sparkle could say so, she had every right to be. It was not every day when you were told that a lapse of bad judgment in your (relative) youth coupled with a bout of insanity several grossenturies later would lead to the development of a holiday that involved turning you into a bogey-pony that foals were taught to fear, under pain of being taken away and eaten.

‘O þoſe poor unfortunate foals,’ Selena sighed, idly tracing a crescent shape in the dirt. ‘I believed I ƿas doiŋ good by þem, rippiŋ þem from lives þat could have become ſo fulfilliŋ. O þat ſuċ ƿoe ʃould reaċ out acroſs þe ſtream of time and haunt me! May þe ſouls of þoſe foals find peace… But ƿould þat I ʃould repair my image ƿið foals. Þough, perhaps time may be on my ſide. Like mine elder ſiſter, I am immortal. It may take generations, but I am prepared for þis!’

“And we’ll be there to help with you every step of the way,” offered Twilight.

Queen Selena smiled at the lavender Unicorn.

‘On ƿhat day doð þis “NightMare Night” fall?’

“The Dozen-Fourth of Hurricane!” answered Pinkie Pie, pronking happily. “I love NightMare Night, because I always get tons and tons and tons of candy and I love candy and I can’t wait till NightMare Night is all about candy and not about offering it to a scary NightMare Moon statue because I love holidays that are all about giving things that make ponies happy and I―…!”

“Thank you, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight laughed. “I think we get the idea.”

“Oh, come on, Mom, lighten up,” Spike said. “Let Pinkie have her fun; all this NightMare Night planning is bound to get real boring.”

“‘Boring’? Not with Pinkie Pie~!”

“My point exactly,” Twilight smirked, and Spike playfully stuck a forked tongue in her direction.

Selena looked down at Spike curiously.

‘Tell me, Tƿilight Sparkle. Hoƿ did þou come to be Spike þe Dragon’s moþer?’

Twilight looked up at Queen Selena quizzically.

“I hatched him at Queen Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns,” she explained. “I had to magically incubate his egg for my entry test. I… I don’t really remember what happened, but… the next thing I know, my parents were an agave and a cactus, and Spike’s egg was hatched.”

‘Transformed…?’ Selena gasped. ‘Þou actually transformed þy parents into plants?’

Twilight’s eyes burned.

“Yes. I brought them with me to Ponyville, and they’ve survived the Endless Night. I hope to turn them back one day, but I need something more. Maybe the Elements…? No, that doesn’t feel right.”

‘Ay, þe Elements ƿould likely not ƿork to help þy mother and father. But tell me. Ƿas þis teſt unique to þē, Tƿilight Sparkle?’

Twilight shook her head.

“No. Every filly and colt has to, though I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a student with a Dragon of their own. I was told that each hatched Dragon is returned to Banefold.”

Queen Selena made a puzzled noise in her throat. ‘Intriguing… Noƿ tell me. Ƿhat colour did his egg take? Ƿas it purple, ƿið green ſpots?’

Twilight blinked.

“It… yes it was. Exactly like that! But… how did you know?”

But Queen Selena looked away from Twilight, off to the shining white capital of Canterlot.

‘Tƿilight Sparkle, I believe þat þou repreſent a font of magick heretofore unſeen in a ſingle Unicorn. But… I ƿill need to converſe ƿið mine elder ſiſter regardiŋ þis matter afore I inform þē of my ðoughts.

‘Suċ as it is, ƿe ſtill have nigh on tƿo fortnights afore NightMare Night. Þe planniŋ can ƿait until þe comiŋ of þe end of þe ƿeek. Until þen, I invite all of you ƿho can attend to a grand celebration in þe Canterlot Sculpture Garden! Tonight ʃall be þe beſt night any of you have ever ſeen!’

At the last, Queen Selena raised herself up into the air with a flap of her wings, pale sparkles emanating from the white secondaries as she beamed down at the citizens of Ponyville. For their part, the Ponyvillagers’ reaction was rather more subdued than it would have been in more ordinary circumstances, for the upturn in Queen Selena’s speech was rather unanticipated.

For a moment.

“Hey everypony! She means that she’s inviting us to a party!” Pinkie Pie interjected, bouncing about excitedly. “A big party up at Canterlot! We’re gonna be rubbin’ elbows with the nobles, playing Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Pony with the nobles, sharing apple fritters with the nobles, doing the Pony Pokey with the nobles…! This is gonna be so much fun!”

The realization that there was a party invitation hanging in the air sank in gradually, and very soon a great cheer bubbled up from every Earth Pony and Unicorn and Pegasus of every age and gender who called her or himself a Ponyvillager. Queen Selena cast eyes wide with joy about at her subjects, who all started to call out to her along the lines of,

We would love to go!

Transporting the three-score-and-five ponies who could make the trip from Ponyville to Canterlot was not difficult, nor was it a mean feat. Though Queen Selena evidently winked out back to Canterlot to inform her elder sister of the snap decision she’d made, preparations by the others in the capital afterwards were evidently slowed by bourgeoisie fearful of an uprising of the rabble. Nevertheless, various carriages straight from Canterlot began to arrive by the halfway point of the second hour after Queen Selena’s departure. (For efficiency’s sake, Pegasi were advised to fly there in carriages of the sky, though mixed families were permitted to take the land-based carriages.) It was the first time that these particular carriages were used for such citizenry, as they were ordinarily accustomed to transporting the elite.

Twilight Sparkle and her party decided to remain together in a single carriage. It would have been simple for Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy to fly off on their own and arrive at Canterlot ahead of the rest of their band, but it was a mutual, unspoken decision that the seven of them remain in one group. They had begun this together, and they would see its end together.

All told, the grand party celebrating the return of Queen Selena proceeded from inception to initiation in a rather rapid three hours, with the festivities beginning around seven in the evening. Chefs in the royal kitchen pulled out all the stops, throwing out the mightiest banquet the capital had seen in decades in record time. Royal Guard duty was temporarily dismissed, for many of the Royal Guard − Day and Night − who were imprisoned in the dungeons were still weak from the lack of light and the poor food. The gates of the Diurnann were flung wide open, admitting one and all to the festivities.

Though the festivities did not include Pinkie’s lauded Pin-The-Tail-On-The-Pony, she did dance a very hyperactive rendition of the Pony Pokey for what seemed to be hours, and the sheer endurance that she showed proved to be more amusing than the Pony Pokey itself. A great many nobles who had attended with the intend to curry favor with Queen Selena found themselves frightened by the presence of the “peons” of Ponyville.

Twilight paid them no mind, for she was in the presence of her friends.

Brushing past the Duke of Canterlot with nary a glance and slipping past the roving eyes of the Captain of the Royal Guard without a second look, Twilight brought herself into the presence of Kibitz, and the Steward was astonished to see her, more astonished still to hear her refer to him as Uncle. Professor Inkwell, Twilight’s favorite teacher from Queen Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and a longtime friend of Queen Celestia’s, greeted Twilight favorably several times, leaving Twilight to depart sadly.

Unfortunately, senility was no longer an act for dear Inkwell.

Leaving Spike with Applejack, Twilight dismissed herself to another section of the Sculpture Garden, looking for somepony else.

Somepony she needed to talk to.

“Well, I’m not surprised to see you here, Sparkle.”

Moondancer was not whom she needed to talk to.

The pink-maned Unicorn was dressed in one of her fancier dress-saddles, though Twilight admitted to herself that she’d seen fancier. Her mane and the skirt of her leonine tail were both slightly wavy, and her eyes half-lidded in lack of amusement were lined in night-blue eyeshadow.

Twilight gave Moondancer a curious glance, “Frankly, I’m not surprised to see you here, either. But… why are you so glum?”

“I did not want to come, but… Mother insisted.”

“Your mother? Where is she?”

“She’s… around. And before you ask, my brothers and sisters are not here. They are… at home.”

“I see… Well, I’m glad that you’re doing well after the Headless Horse chased us away.”

Moondancer looked slightly pained.

“I’m really sorry about that, Twilight. Mother brought us up to respect the terror of the legend of the Headless Horse, and I just… lost my head, so to speak. I hope you understand that I’m not a hero. I’m not like you.”

Twilight shook her head.

“You’re wrong. I’m not a hero, either.”

“Then what are you?”

Twilight beamed.

“A student.”

Moondancer rolled her eyes.

“Well, take care of yourself, Twilight.”

“You take care of yourself, Moondancer.”

That does seem to be what you’re best at.

Moondancer slipped past Twilight towards an archway into the palace, the glower on her face all too clear that she intuited what Twilight’s thoughts were.

Who put vinegar in her cider? Twilight pondered, but when she turned to call after Moondancer, she was gone.

Twilight blinked slowly, jaw agape. After a few moments, she shook her head. Maybe she just lost track of time as she thought about Moondancer’s sudden bitterness. Yes. That seemed to be it. And… maybe Moondancer’s bitterness stemmed from Twilight choosing Ponyvillagers for friends over her.

Well, that was really Moondancer’s loss.

Pressing on to her destination, Twilight eventually found it: the only statue in the Sculpture Garden that did not represent the shape of a pony or a group of ponies. It was a long reptilian creature standing upright, none of whose limbs matched each other. It had its right forelimb, a lion’s paw, crossed onto its belly in a deep laugh, and its left forelimb, an eagle’s claw, outstretched as if amusement. Its draconic head was split open almost in twain by jaws evidently representing a deafening laugh.

She had seen this statue many times in this garden.

It definitely earned its reputation for representing discord.

And seated in front of it, staring up at the ominous sculpture, was Queen Celestia. Perched on the dais of the sculpture was Celestia’s pet phoenix, Philomena, her head regally turning every which way.

Twilight approached slowly.

“I know you’re there, Twilight,” Celestia said brightly, turning away from the statue and trotting up to her beloved pupil.

Twilight smiled in return.

“I can’t get a single trick past you, can I, Your Majesty?”

The pair nuzzled for several seconds, before Queen Celestia planted a maternal kiss on her student’s forehead and settled on her haunches.

“All teachers have a way of reading their students’ every move.”

“So… you know what I’m going to ask right now?”

Queen Celestia’s smile took on a slightly sly edge.

“Perhaps. But would you indulge me by asking anyway?”

“Well, I really have two, but… I think I’ll start with the one.”

“As you wish, Twilight.”

Twilight felt suddenly nervous and small. She pawed slowly at the ground, staring at the grass.

“Well… you see, Your Majesty… I don’t want to live in Canterlot anymore.”

She looked up at Celestia, but the beautiful Queen kept her same expression as before: gentle compassion.

“Go on, my dear Twilight.”

“Well, I… I don’t like the idea of living here anymore. It has too many painful memories. But Ponyville… I feel more at home there than I’ve ever felt here in Canterlot. I don’t want to go back to my ivory tower; I feel so much better in that library-tree, with its enchanting wooden smell and its small intimate spaces. I hope that… that you’re not too disappointed in me for this decision.”

Casting her eyes back up to Queen Celestia, Twilight Sparkle found herself astonished to see Queen Celestia smiling more broadly than she’d ever seen on the Queen.

“This is about your friends, isn’t it?”

Twilight smiled, the nighttime suddenly seeming so much brighter.

“Yes. It’s exactly because of them, Queen Celestia. I never want to be apart from them. I love Applejack and her steadfastness, her readiness to be at my side through hail or high water. I love Rainbow Dash and her forthrightness, how she tells me what I need to hear, even if I don’t know I need to. I love Rarity and her selfless heart, shining as beautifully as her looks. I love Fluttershy and her empathy, her gentility and the steel will she conceals. And… I love Pinkie Pie, for bringing humor to my dry life.”

“And Spike?”

Twilight felt tears of joy in her eyes.

“I love him. He’s my son. I want him to live in a better home than here. And I can’t think of a better home to bring him up in, than Ponyville.”

“Then it’s settled,” beamed Queen Celestia. “You shall call Ponyville your residence from here onward.”

“What? Really?

“Of course. How could I deny my most faithful student anything, after she did what I could not and saved my beloved little sister? I am eternally indebted to you for this kindness, Twilight, for rectifying my single greatest mistake.”

The Queen was herself crying now, resting her head against Twilight’s shoulder. Smiling sadly, Twilight raised a hoof and laid it upon Celestia’s downy back. She ran her foreleg up and down her teacher’s back slowly, lovingly, until Queen Celestia’s sobs abated.

“Thank you, Twilight.”

“No. Thank you, Queen Celestia.”

Celestia smiled.

“Now, as I recall, you had a second question, my dear student.”

“Oh. Umm… well, it’s… kind of a bit of a big question…”

“That remains to be seen, Twilight. Why not ask me? If I can, I will answer it.”

Twilight gulped.

“Okay. I just want to know; Why did you make it so difficult?”

Queen Celestia tilted her head, wearing the same joyous smile as Philomena gave a soft caw behind her.

“Friendship is not something which can be commanded into being, dear. Not even a geis can force friendships into existence. Friendship, harmony, love… these are all facets of the heart than must grow on their own terms, and they cannot be constrained by any force in the universe. I had to make it difficult for you, so that you would hopefully bond with your fellow travelers in friendship. It takes a group of six friends to utilize the Elements of Harmony to their fullest effect; two would find it difficult, and one alone would have no chance.”

“You knew that I was the Bearer of the Element of Magic, right?”

“That is a third question, but yes, I had an inkling. My old friend Malkia, a third party as it were, was able to see it more keenly than I, who was too close to the Elements, and to you.” Her eyes swam with pain. “I only wish that she could have lived to see Selie again.”

“She was glad, you know, to have passed on the knowledge. She wanted to make the world a better place for her daughter.”

Queen Celestia’s tears ran with sunshine.

“Malkia was a ruthless ruler, but she meant well for her Zebras, for she saw them as her kin. The same as I see you and all of my little ponies. I would give my life to save any one of you.”

“I know, and I you.”

Celestia’s face was wrought with sorrow.

“Oh no, Twilight. I’m not worthy of such self-sacrifice.”


“You’ll understand in time.”

Twilight burned to persist, but the light in Celestia’s pale-magenta eyes told her that this was not a line of questioning to follow. But there was one more that she needed to ask before this conversation could end.

“Queen Celestia… did you know that my friends would be… my friends?”

Celestia gave an ambiguous smile.

“I may have. But enough of the heavy questions for one night, Twilight. This is a celebration of my little sister’s return! We simply must rejoin the festivities before all the cake is gone. Time is a-wasting, my little pony!”

And as Queen Celestia cantered off with intermittent flaps of her wings, happier than Twilight could ever remember seeing her, she herself galloped off to join her teacher and her friends amidst the joy and jubilation.

Queen Selena was right.

This really was the best night ever!


Moondancer stepped away from the festivities and slunk off down an unlit corridor. In a wavering shimmer, her dress-saddle faded away, giving Moondancer a moment to stretch. Such attire really was restricting, but she had an image to present amongst… them. Savoring the moment of freedom, Moondancer quickly drew a dark cloak out of the shadows themselves, wrapping herself in it tightly. Inwardly she thanked the Moon and stars that Twilight Sparkle had not questioned her ability to wink out. It would not do for the lavender Unicorn to realize that Moondancer was a far more capable mage than she really was.

Perhaps more capable than any on all of Harmonia.

Her alicorn lit up bluebell, and she blinked out, reappearing in a circular room of stone with a high ceiling lost in darkness. A chandelier hung in midair, lit by pale-blue flames, illuminating a dozen-sided table. Eleven other ponies were seated around it, themselves wrapped in dark cloaks. Her sisters and brothers awaited her already. She twitched a little underneath the dark cloak she herself wore; after all this time, she still found them itchy.

Moondancer stepped into the dark circle under the chandelier as she took her position at the dozenal table. A plate of fresh-baked cookies sat in front of her, and she smiled; her big sister made such lovely cookies. Levitating one in her bluebell dwimmer shimmer, Moondancer ate it in one bite.

Juicy, and the choco-chips melted right in her mouth!

Passing the plate of cookies to her right, Moondancer repressed her beaming smile and assumed a more serious demeanor.

The High Council was now in session.

“I have returned from Equestria, brothers, sisters,” she began. Eleven cloaked heads inclined themselves toward her. Taking a deep breath, Moondancer continued.

“I’m afraid that I have heavy news: It would seem that the Elements have found new Bearers and been revitalized. The Sun shines upon Equestria once more.”

This incited a flurry of discourse amongst the circle.

“So, NightMare Moon has been defeated?” one of her Unicorn brothers queried. Moondancer only nodded.

“It’s a good thing we planned for this eventuality,” added the Pegasus stallion to Moondancer’s right after swallowing a cookie. “NightMare Moon was never our ace in the hole. Nor the Headless Horse. It pays to have backups to the master plan.”

“And backup master plans are your bread and butter, aren’t they?” the Pegasus mare across from him said as she waved a white hoof mischievously. “I always love a good fly-by-night operation.”

The two Pegasi smirked in knowingness. The Earth Pony stallion to her left looked up from his position, his parchment-colored mane bouncing slightly.

“While this does set us back somewhat, I shall see to it that everypony’s morale remains unaffected. The plan goes ahead as we have discussed.”

Those in the circle around him nodded in agreement.

“Speaking of the plan,” one Earth Pony mare asked of her other Pegasus brother, the pony to Moondancer’s left, as she passed the plate along to the right, “what do the whispering winds say of our agents?”

“No change in their status; they remain undetected. All these grossenturies of toil and strife are leading up to our certain victory.” He grinned, and his Earth Pony brother to his left rustled slightly, turning his head to face him.

“This scheme may yet not see completion for another grossentury or two, brother.”

“But if it sees completion in a year or a meggrossium, does it matter?” interjected the eldest, sitting to his left, her alicorn glowing harlequin as she transcribed the meeting with paper and quill. “Regardless of how long it takes, we will have eternity beyond that.”

“We have eternity already, don’t we?” queried his other Pegasus sister, beside the first Earth Pony mare. “We haven’t aged a day since―…”

“That is but a technicality, sister,” cut in the other Earth Pony mare, her voluminous mane falling over one of her eyes.

“I guess…”

“In any case, the finer details of this plan have been set for grossenturies,” said the other Unicorn stallion decisively, his alicorn crackling with dwimmer-lightning. “The Elements of Harmony will be a boon, eliminating any threats to our regime. And when the Behemoth arises from Tartarus and has been defeated as the geis entails…”

Each member of the High Council nodded in unison, each one smiling in childlike eagerness.

They knew what would befall Harmonia then:

Their new Monarchy.


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