• Published 13th Feb 2015
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Twilight, Good Night - Carapace



To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

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11: A Bevy of Fairest Mares

Luna allowed herself a smile as the rustic, straw rooftops of Ponyville came into view. From her seat in the carriage, with Erebos and Moondancer on either side of her for the duration of the flight, she gazed down upon the tiny village and smiled.

“Almost there,” she muttered, squeezing her wing around her seneschal a bit, almost like a mother pegasus comforting a foal. “We’ll have your hooves on the ground soon enough.”

When Twilight’s invitation arrived, giddy didn’t come close to describing the feeling that flooded her being; Luna had simply floated through her daily activities, to the point that even Erebos could only raise a brow toward her.

She brought a hoof to her lips, stifling a giggle as she glanced to her trusted Captain’s face. The memory of how his jaw dropped when she turned and directed a most improper raspberry toward him while he silently questioned her little dance of joy played in her thoughts. The look on his face was, as these modern ponies say, priceless!

“Still walking on cloud nine, Princess?” He asked, cutting through her reverie. “Or is there something else that amuses you now?”

A playful grin crossed her muzzle. “Just the memory of the silly look you had when Twilight’s letter came,” she replied, her grin widening at the way his mouth set into a thin line and his scruffy, black tail flicked irritably. “Oh, away with that look, Erebos! You love your teasing well enough, learn to accept the reciprocal like a big stallion!”

Erebos leveled her with a sidelong look. “I didn’t say anything, Princess.”

“If you say so. But what do you think, Moondancer?” Luna gave the little unicorn a nudge with her shoulder. “Does the good Captain not seem a bit rankled by the memory of his own folly?”

“Before you answer,” Erebos cut in, turning to fix Moondancer with a little smirk, “just remember, I have stories from that night in Berry’s Punch.” His eyes gleamed, he leaned on, almost moving across Luna’s chest to loom over his victim. “In fact, why don’t we make another stop there tonight? I’m sure we could have a lot of fun!”

Moondancer squeaked, her muzzle taking on a deep red hue. “N-No! I think I’ll pass on the cider tonight, C-Captain Erebos!” In a rare bout of courage—or, perhaps, her Night Guard’s taste for mischief had finally rubbed off on the little mare—she turned to Luna and gave a small smile of her own. “To answer your question, Princess, he does seem just a bit ruffled.”

Both Luna and Erebos stared a moment, before turning to look at one another. Almost as one, they threw back their heads and laughed.

“Splendid!” Luna cried, giving a merry stop of her hooves. “At last, she plays along!” Wrapping her wing tighter, she surprised the little mare with a nuzzle. “Erebos and I wondered when you might join us in our play, but it seems that I have lost our little wager!”

“W-What?”

With a roll of his eyes, Erebos gave a sharp whistle to the twins. “Land in front of Sugarcube Corner, not the library!”

“Yes, Captain!” They shouted back, adjusting their flight path accordingly.

Turning back to the girls, he nodded to Luna. “Princess Luna and I had a bit of a wager going on the side: I bet that I could get you to play along this time if I poked you a little. So, she owes us a little pocket money for a night on the town.”

“Us?” Moondancer blinked, tilting her head to the side.

“The pair of you and the twins, yes,” Luna nodded. “I can hardly ask Strider and Star to stand guard outside the Cakes’ place of business and turn ponies away, and I am loathe to make Twilight or her friends uncomfortable with their presence. No offense intended,” she said, smiling ruefully, “but I would rather they not get the sense that saying the wrong thing might land them in prison. Tia recounted a certain story about that mischievous phoenix of hers playing a rather nasty trick on fair Fluttershy.”

The ponies at her side winced, each sharing looks of sympathy.

“In that case, we’ll make ourselves scarce,” Erebos said slowly, “but within distance to come if needed. Given some of the things that have gone on in this town, I don’t feel quite so comfortable with the three of us being too far away, Princess.”

A fair point, one I can’t easily refute. “I understand entirely, Captain. While I doubt there will be much cause for alarm, I am sure the four of you can find a spot nearby. I believe there is a small café in the area.”

“There is,” he nodded, “we passed it on the way to Berry’s Punch during our last visit. If that’s where you want us to stay. It might be a bit more closer to Miss Moondancer’s tastes, anyway. Otherwise—” his grin returned in full force, the late afternoon sunlight gleaming off his pointed fangs “—she’d be at a pub with three soldiers. I guess we’ll save that for another day.”

Luna’s ear flicked toward Moondancer, hearing the little mare squeak and quail beneath that teasing grin. “You are a terrible, terrible pony, Captain Erebos,” she said in spite of the smile playing upon her lips. Her eyes went wide as they made their final approach to Ponyville, she drummed her hooves excitedly.

For once, she was not visiting in the dead of night, when other ponies were at home or sleeping in the little town. Night time was still hours away; her magic and senses had not yet reached their zenith.

In the light, Equestria was still her sister’s domain.

Still, there was no hesitation, no crippling sense of unease that she should wait until the land was blanketed in her night before approaching. These ponies, the very same who had fled in fear of her on Nightmare Night, had come to accept her.

I can only hope that the rest will follow their example.

The chariot bumped and jostled as its wheels touched down on Ponyville’s dirt road. Strider and Shooting Star slowed to a trot, stopping just in front of the walkway to Sugarcube Corner. A precise landing, placed exactly so she would only have a minimal walk to the door.

They coddle me so, these guards of mine. Her ears flicked, the sounds of ponies whispering excitedly reaching her. Glancing around to check the area, she found a crowd of ponies, curious as to the surprise arrival of their princess.

From the oldest stallion to the youngest foal able to recognize her figure, all stopped whatever they’d been doing to stare, whisper, and bow as her eyes swept over them.

Luna smiled, her tail flicking anxiously as she raised a hoof and offered a shy wave. At least they aren’t cowering in fear this time. “Good tidings upon you this eve, my ponies!” she greeted, allowing herself to slip back into the more formal greeting. “Be not alarmed, I am merely here upon the invitation of Twilight Sparkle! Please, do not interrupt your evening business on my account.”

Turning away from the crowd, she faced her trusted guards and seneschal. “Strider, Star,” she said, the pair snapping to attention as she addressed them, “thank you for the smooth flight. Your efforts are much appreciated.”

The twins bowed low and replied in unison. “Thank you, Princess! We are happy to escort you!”

Erebos took two steps forward and turned to face his subordinates. “Right, you two. Princess Luna has asked for privacy while she’s with her friends, so we’ll make ourselves scarce. The four of us,” he gestured to the group, “will head over to the café until she’s done. Miss Moondancer,” he faced her, giving a kind smile and bow as he waved her on, “after you.”

“Of course!” she squeaked, hastily bowing to Luna. “Have a good time, Princess!”

Luna inclined her head. “Thank you, dear. You four enjoy yourselves as well. And—” she smirked at the guards before stage whispering to Moondancer “—be sure to keep these three in line for me. I’d hate to find my foals in gilded dress causing trouble!”

The mares shared a giggle at the looks of indignation that crossed the trio’s muzzles. Moondancer gave a mock salute before marching away stifle, her poorly restrained laughter making her shoulders shake as she lead the trio of disgruntled Night Guards away.

Sometimes, I must play on the same side as my fellow mare. Turning away from the quartet, Luna trotted up the dirt path to the main entrance of the gingerbread house, a chuckle escaped her lips. What a fitting design. Though, I must wonder how many a little colt or filly have tried to take a bite out of the building before they realized it was just painted.

She pushed the door open, the store bell chimed out, a happy cry to the owners that a patron was visiting.

“Oh my gosh! She’s here! She’s here!” Luna scarcely had the chance to take a step onto the tile floor before she found herself muzzle-to-muzzle with the ever-excitable Pinkie Pie. The earth pony’s smile seemed to split her face, those bright blue eyes shone with unbridled joy.

Luna was swept into a hug, her midsection squeezed tightly by Pinkie’s surprisingly strong grip. “Miss—urk!—Miss Pie!” she wheezed, the breath rushing from her lungs. “Please loosen your grip!”

“Huh?” Pinkie pulled back, tilting her head to the side. “Is something wrong—eep!” She yelped as Twilight’s magic engulfed her and pulled her back, setting her down a couple paces from the startled princess.

Her breath hitched in her throat, Luna could only stare ahead, her heart racing furiously in her chest. She hugged me… out of nowhere.

“Honestly, Pinkie! At least give Luna a chance to get in the door before you start!” Luna’s smile returned, her breath came easier as Twilight stepped into view; her normally kind face creased into a stern frown and hard look to her longtime friend. “Remember what we talked about? Giving ponies a little bit of space and letting them get comfortable before badgering them?”

“But Twiliiiiiiight!” Pinkie whined. “We’ve been waiting days for Princess Luna to come and visit! That’s practically forever!”

Twilight’s brows furrowed, her tail swished behind her as she trotted forward to stand beside her friend. “Yes, and you were supposed to give her a chance to at least say hi first!” She turned to Luna and fixed a rather strained smile on her face. “Sorry, Luna,” she said, giving a small bow of her head, “you’ll have to excuse Pinkie. She gets rather excited to meet new ponies—especially when it comes to making those ponies her friend.”

Breathe. She commanded. Smile, accept the apology. Move on. You are among friends, you silly mare. Grinding a hoof against the tile, Luna forced her lips to curve upward, a weak, shaky smile pasted upon her muzzle. “I-It’s quite alright, Twilight. Miss Pie simply caught me off guard. No real harm done, I assure you.”

There was a beat of silence. Twilight’s brow arched high, disappearing under her mane. She stepped past Pinkie, closer to Luna herself. The magenta glow of her magic wreathed around her horn and pulled the door shut.

As the latch clicked into place, Twilight reared up and wrapped her hooves around Luna’s neck. “If you’re sure, then fine,” she whispered. “I’m glad you agreed to come. I was worried you’d get cold hooves.

The musty scent of books and biting iron of ink wafted into her nose. Any small remnants of nerves at the prospect of sitting with Twilight’s friends vanished, just the warmth and presence of the little mare could set her at ease. “I gave my word that I would join you,” Luna whispered her reply, “out of practice though I may be, I am not so easily frightened that I would go against a promise to a friend.”

“Well, then,” Twilight pulled back, setting her hooves on the floor with a smile and nodded toward the table, where the rest of her friends sat. “Care to join us? Rarity insisted on having tea and Pinkie and the Cakes might have gotten a bit excited for your visit…”

Luna arched an eyebrow. “Oh? And why, pray tell, would you say that?”

Sighing, the town librarian nodded to her friend, who gave a happy squeal and zipped off. The only sign of her former presence a mere puff of smoke in the shape of her outline. Her ears pricked up at the sound of a two way door flapping back and forth. Turning to glance to her left, Luna gave an amused snort at the kitchen door flipping back and forth.

“My, how quickly she moves!” she glanced to the girls and smiled. “Has your exuberant friend ever competed in the marathon? Or perhaps done guard reserve training?”

Five sets of eyes stared blankly at her. The group of friends slowly turned to one another, smiles slowly spread across their muzzles as their cheeks puffed out with poorly restrained laughter.

Something she’d said? Why would training with the reserves be amusing? Luna wondered, tilting her head to the side. ’Tis a great honor to serve with either branch of the Guard, even more so for those who consent to acting in support during times of need. “Have I misspoken? What is so funny about being trained?”

Applejack was the first to recover. She choked back her laughter, speaking in strained tones, “N-No, Princess, we aren’t laughin’ at trainin’ with the Royal Guard—I don’t think anypony would! It’s just… none of us can imagine Pinkie Pie in uniform. She’s a bit too bouncy for them.”

“A bit?” Rainbow drawled, leaning back in her cushion. “I’m pretty sure her picture’s right next to the word ‘bouncy’ in the dictionary! Twilight, can we get a confirmation on that?”

Shaking her head, Twilight just gestured for Luna to take a seat on a cushion between Fluttershy and an empty one.

Luna took the cue, giving a pleased hum as Twilight trotted over to occupy the empty one at her side. A glance to Fluttershy, turned that hum into a full-blown smile—the nervous little pegasus, the same one who’d cowered before her on Nightmare Night, didn’t flinch or shy away from her. Certainly, there was the slight hint of that nervousness in her eyes, but not fear.

Not this time. “Fair Fluttershy, I am quite pleased to see you again,” she greeted with a nod, “your lesson on proper, er, volume for polite conversations has proven most helpful in my reintegration!”

“O-Oh! I’m glad to hear that, er, Princess,” Fluttershy replied, barely above a whisper. She offered a small smile to the visiting princess and ducked her head. “It’s very nice to see you again. I hope you’ve been well.”

Luna beamed. “Verily! I find myself quite happy, of late! In large part, due to the efforts of our mutual friend,” she broke off, glancing out of the corner of her eye toward Twilight. Her grin faltered at the little blush and awkward shuffle her words brought forth.

Again? Is it the compilment or, rather, the attention it brought. Surveying the group as a whole, she noted the little smirks and knowing looks levied toward her friend. Almost as though they’d expected something to that effect. Later. I shall look into it later. Now is the time for fun and making merry with friends.

Or, rather, making merry with those she hoped to call friends.

Voices, muffled through the two way door, drew her attention. Her left ear flicked to the side, Luna turned, blinking and tilting her head as the voices grew louder. They were about to come out.

“—you were supposed to tell us when she was going to get here!” A mare’s voice hissed. “We don’t have anything ready!”

“But Princess Luna just walked right in like a normal pony! And then my Pinkie Sense went off, telling me that there was a princess coming in but she was gonna act like a run-of-the-mill pony instead of coming in with trumpets and escorts and shiny things and all that stuff!”

Luna had to bite her lip to withhold laughter. By the stars and moon, that mare!

If the matching groans from the kitchen were any indication, her sentiment wasn’t shared. Somepony else sighed, a stallion spoke up, his tone told of one long-weary of similar discussions. “Pinkie, we wanted to have everything set up first, remember? So she wouldn’t have to wait on anything…”

“Oh!” Pinkie chirped. “That’s no problem-o! She’s already talking with the girls and everything! Here, take a look!”

Quickly schooling her expression, Luna inclined her head and gave a kind smile as Pinkie pushed the proprietors of Sugarcube Corner were pushed through the kitchen door; a pleasantly plump mare, with blue coat and cotton candy pink mane, and her husband, a rather skinny stallion, especially for an earth pony, with tangerine coat and deep orange mane, approached, each carrying a tray of confections upon their back; their mouths curved upward into matching grins, the kind that seemed awkward and strained and didn’t meet their eyes. Pinkie trotted behind them, a bright grin splitting her face, and trotting as though she were carrying something as well.

What it was, Luna couldn’t quite see through her large, poofy mane and the married couple standing before her. Rather, her eyes were drawn to the nervous couple themselves.

They are nervous, frightened even. She ground a hoof into her cushion, the frustration set in. This fear, the way they look upon me like I were about to cast them into the dungeons—is it for me or the crown upon my head?

“Good evening to you, my ponies,” she spoke, casting aside her irritation in favor of politeness. She held up a hoof, stopping them before they could bow and spill their cargo. “Please, not on my account! I am a mere visitor this eve, a patron. Truly, I would that you treat me as such.”

Their unease didn’t abate, only exaggerated by the dumbfounded stares, rapid blinking, and anxious flicking of their tails. Uncertainty evident in their eyes, the pair forced smiles and gave little bows of their heads, despite her wishes. “Y-Your Highness, we couldn’t possibly—I mean, to just, um,” Mrs. Cake stammered, trailing off into a mumble. She edged closer to the table, her gaze dropping low as she deposited a tray of chocolate chip cookies onto the table and pushed it to the center.

“I think what my wife means to say,” Mr. Cake began as he shakily placed a second tray of cookies—peanut butter judging by the scent—onto the table, “is that we couldn’t possible just ignore that you’re a princess… er… Princess.”

Very well, pomp and circumstance it is, I suppose. “Very well,” she nodded, “if it bothers you so, I shan’t prod. I thank you for the fare, and for hosting me in your establishment.” Luna let her eyes wander over the main dining area. It’s exterior design was certainly vibrant and lively, matched by the interior itself. But, the materials used… to call them “humble” would be generous, given what she’d picked up in passing comments or reading through critiques.

For a small town, though, it was perfect. Made with simple materials, furnished practically, designed to catch the eye and run by ponies who understood their target market came for the product and good company.

Pragmatic, much like the earth ponies of old. Her eyes flitted toward Pinkie. Well, perhaps one could call it pragmatic with a flair for the eccentric.

She shook herself, breaking her brief reverie to focus on the pair again. She held up a hoof to forestall any assurances they might offer. “Please, none of that. If you must insist on treating me as royalty, then I must insist, in kind, that you accept my gratitude with grace,” with a meaningful glance to Twilight, Luna gave a small smile and continued, “as one of our number has recently learned.”

Twilight’s muzzle colored, her ears pinned back as she ducked her head and covered her muzzle with her hooves. “Luna!” she whined piteously.

“Hush, my friend, the point is valid.” Her ear flicked toward Rainbow Dash, the poorly-stifled snicker and subsequent scolding, courtesy of Rarity, made that tiny smile broaden. It would seem that the execution of my teasing continues to improve. Very good, very good indeed. Smiling, she turned her attention back to the pair before her. “Well, then, will you accept it?”

Biting their lips, the Cakes shared uneasy looks with one another before giving stiff nods.

“Please forgive us, Princess Luna,” Mr. Cake began, bowing low before the Princess of the Night, “we don’t mean to seem rude. We just wanted to put our best hoof forward for your visit—despite the limitations Twilight up on that front.”

Luna had to stifle a giggle, a job made harder by Twilight huffing at her side and muttering, “I just said to keep it casual!”

It would seem that somepony wanted to ensure that all of her friends would be comfortable rather than try to impress me. Very good. Twilight Sparkle was learning to treat her as a friend first and a princess second, one little step at a time.

“The accommodations are most welcoming, Mr. Cake,” she said. “Truly, I am pleased.”

Woohoo!” Pinkie cheered, bouncing—quite literally—around her employers to stand next to the table. “Now that all the silly-serious business is out of the way, I’ve got two veeeeeeeeeery special ponies you’ve just gotta meet!” Without waiting for any reply, she craned her neck and leaned to the side, beaming at something.

Or, as Luna was quick to notice, somepony. Two someponies, to be precise.

A pair of foals; one a cute little pegasus colt, the other an adorable unicorn filly. The little ones stared at Luna, their eyes wide with wonder.

“Princess Luna, meet Pound,” Pinkie said, nuzzling the little colt, “and Pumpkin Cake,” she paused to nuzzle the filly, who giggled and returned the gesture. “Pound, Pumpkin, this is Princess Luna—she’s in charge of the night and raising the moon and stuff! Say hi!”

The foals kept stared, blinking owlishly at her as if trying to piece together what was standing before them.

Luna, meanwhile, bit her lip, forcing a little coo of adoration down before she could do anything to embarrass herself in front of the group. They were just so tiny! Even more so than little Pipsqueak, the colt who named her his favorite princess on Nightmare Night!

Be still, my heart, they have found my weakness! Cute. Far too cute for words. Barely suppressing the urge to squeal, she gave a little wave and spoke softly, “Hello, Pound and Pumpkin!”

Their eyes went wider, their tiny jaws dropping into small ‘o’ shapes at the sound of her voice. Slowly, smiles creased their muzzles. Pound raised a hoof, pointing directly at Luna and proudly stating, “Luna’s big Pwincess pony! Big, big, big Pwincess pony!”

It took a moment for his words to register. Luna sucked in her lips and bit down. Do not laugh. Do not laugh or make any silly noises. “Y-Yes, little one,” she said, pointedly ignoring the round of snickers from the mares, or, in Pinkie’s case, raucous laughter. “I am, indeed, quite big.”

“Big Pwincess pony eats big cake!” Pumpkin said, turning to her brother with a solemn nod. “Lotsa, lotsa cake! Yum!”

Luna snorted, wrapping her hooves around her midsection to hold her aching sides. Oh, the things little foals say! “N-Nay, Pumpkin,” she replied, her voice straining to stay level. “’Tis not I who eat the bulk of the cake in my family! That would be my sister!”

The little filly blinked and cocked her head to the side. “No cake?” she scrunched up her nose, as if the mere thought were foreign to her.

“Big Pwincess pony not like cake?” Pound mirrored her expression, blinking rapidly. “Cake good!”

“I do like cake well enough, but my sister, Princess Celestia, favors it more than I,” Luna said placatingly. “’Tis not to say that I do not enjoy sweets, though.”

Twilight gave a little prod to her side. “Interrogated by a pair of foals, huh?”

“Hush, you!” She returned the prod with a little bump of her shoulder, smirking playfully at the smaller mare. “I seem to recall that somepony wished to avoid the wrath of my little tricks! Shall I invite your friends to share in the fun?”

“Don’t. You. Dare!”

With low chuckle, reminiscent of her act from Nightmare Night, she returned her gaze to the twins. She raised a brow as they seemed to go between staring at her, with a hoof in their respective mouths, to looking at one another; almost as though they were holding some sort of silent conversation.

“No cake. Big Pwincess pony Luna like sweets,” Pumpkin hummed to herself. She blinked, looking over to the table, her eyes locking on the cookie tray, and then turned back to Luna with a triumphant smile. “Cookie! Big Pwincess pony Luna eats cookie!”

The dam burst. Luna doubled over in laughter, her tail flicking behind her as she struggled to get her amusement under control. She jammed a hoof into her mouth, her cheeks puffed up and eyes clenched shut as she fought it down. And the innocent bluntness of foals hits home. “Y-Yes, Pumpkin Cake,” she forced out in between bouts. “I do find cookies quite enjoyable—specifically, chocolate chip.” she said, levitating a pair of chocolate chip cookies off the tray and over to the foals, who gleefully snatched them out of the air and took big bites.

His smile straining further, Mr. Cake deftly swiped the pair happy foals off of Pinkie’s back, much to the apprentice baker’s disappointment. “W-Well, Cup and I don’t want to take up too much of your evening, Princess! We promised to take the twins and meet up with Roseluck and Post Haste. You girls all have fun—Pinkie, please don’t make a mess of things!”

“Okie dokey loki!” she chirped and snapped a sharp salute. “Well,” she hummed, bringing a hoof to her chin and scrunching up her nose, “I can’t promise that if Princess Luna tells me to make a mess. Then it’s a royal order, and disobeying a royal order is a really, really, really bad thing! And—“

A cookie wrapped in soft blue magic soared through the air and was stuffed into her mouth. “We’ll keep an eye on her, Mr. Cake,” Rarity said, giving a small smile and a little shooing motion with her hooves. “You go have fun! And say hi to Rosie and Post from us!”

Nodding in turn, the pair stepped away from the table and bowed low—though Mr. Cake took care not to shift himself too far forward, lest he dump the foals onto the tile. “Pound, Pumpkin,” he began, speaking softly as he stood to full height, “say ‘goodbye, Princess’.”

Still nibbling on their cookies, the foals waved, mumbling incoherently through mouthfuls of their tasty treat as their parents trotted out the door.

Luna turned back to the group, her smile still in place. “Well,” she began, claiming a cookie as her own, “they certainly seemed amicable, if a bit skittish.”

“They like to make customers happy, it goes double for you, since you’re a princess,” Applejack said with a little shrug. “You shoulda seen ‘em when Princess Celestia came for a visit—trippin’ over their hooves like ducks on an iced pond!”

Rainbow Dash turned to fix her with a critical look. “Uh, what winter do you see every year? There’s not a duck in sight by the time the ponds freeze over!” She ducked a swipe of Applejack’s hoof and stuck out her tongue. “Swinging just means you’ve got nothing! I win!”

“Aw, shut your trap, you big-mouthed feather duster!” Applejack retorted, rolling her eyes. “Mouthin’ off like that, just you see if I save you any cider next season!”

“I take it back! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

The sight of Rainbow Dash, the brash little mare who spent Nightmare Night scaring ponies with a storm cloud and was ready to attack her at full power, throwing herself down at Applejack’s side and clasping her hooves together, a look of utter terror plastered upon her face drove Luna into another fit of laughter.

By the stars and moon, my poor sides! “The pair of you are far too much,” she snickered. “Is it true, though? Did the Cake family truly ‘fall over themselves’ that badly?”

“Well, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think it was all that unnecessary,” Rarity huffed. She lit up her horn, levitating the teapot over and pouring herself a cup before turning to offer some to Pinkie. “One sugar, dear—we don’t need a repeat of last time. As I was saying, the Cakes did a wonderful job decorating everything and preparing the best of their confections for Princess Celestia’s visit. It went well, er, for the most part,” she trailed off, glancing to Fluttershy and Twilight. “There was… a bit of an incident with her pet phoenix.”

“Oh, dear.” She grimaced, glancing to Twilight and speaking, “The burning day trick?”

“You know that one?”

“Unfortunately, yes.” Confound that phoenix! She groaned internally. Bringing a hoof up to massage her forehead, Luna turned to face Fluttershy. “I do hope that my sister explained everything. Philomena might not intend it, but ’tis a very cruel prank.”

The shy little pegasus gave a strained smile, her feathers ruffled up at the memory. “Y-Yes. She told me that Philomena can be a bit, um, playful,” she broke off, rubbing a hoof against her shin and dropping her gaze to the table. “I was still afraid I’d hurt her, though…”

Perhaps it was sympathy for her fellow pony being fooled by her feathered nemesis. Or, maybe, Twilight Sparkle’s affection and dedication to helping her friends rubbed off on her. Either way, Luna wasn’t quite sure when she’d done it, but, on a whim, she wrapped her wing around Fluttershy’s smaller frame and gave a little squeeze.

Blinking, her gaze flitted to each mare at the table. All eyes were on her, some surprised, some amused. Twilight, though, seemed almost… a mix? Happily surprised, was it? Do not pull away. Pulling away might cheapen your words and make it seem as though you are of weak constitution. “If it might serve as any consolation, Tia did give Philomena a rather stern talking to upon their return that evening.”

“W-Well, I don’t want there to be too much trouble,” Fluttershy mumbled, “but she really shouldn’t be doing things like that… if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Be at ease, fair Fluttershy, your sentiments are shared by a great many ponies. I cannot begin to tell you how many a Captain of my sister’s Day Guard have frothed at the mouth, shouting curses at that insufferable bird for her pranks. She is, admittedly, a product of Tia’s little habit of doting on those she loves most.” A fleeting glance to Twilight, the memory of her sister’s tale of how she arranged to bring “pancake day” to the castle for a much younger Twilight’s benefit.

Indeed, that is one habit I doubt you will ever be able to shake, sister of mine.

After a moment, she released Fluttershy from her feathery embrace and folded her wing up against her side. “Now, then, with that taken care of, what does one do during one of these ‘mares’ nights’,” she made air quotes with her hooves, wrinkling her nose at the unfamiliar phrasing from Twilight’s most recent letter.

Rainbow gave a non-committed shrug. “It kinda depends. We each take turns deciding—sometimes we tell stories, sometimes Rarity insists that we let her give us makeovers, sometimes we listen to music—“

“Really?” Luna perked up, her tail swishing and a broad grin creasing her muzzle. “What sorts? Do you listen to classical Equestrian composition, or do you favor a more modernist style?”

“Uh…” Rainbow shifted in her seat, her muzzle creased into a frown. “We usually just bring random stuff. Like, I bring my rock records, AJ brings a few of those country folk songs, Fluttershy brings these really mellow new age things… Just whatever we feel like, really.”

“Yeah! And I bring my favorite party mix!” Pinkie cheered. “But, not tonight. Twilight gets to pick tonight, and she didn’t send out anything for us to bring records yesterday, and she definitely didn’t remind us whenever she saw us earlier today!”

“I’m not that bad!” Twilight whined, her ears pinning back as she raised her cup to her lips. At the round of stares and knowing smirks, she quailed under their gaze. “I’m not!” she insisted, pouting piteously.

Luna suppressed a grin, ruffling her wings as she gave the little mare a supportive pat on the back. “Verily, I am sure you are… every bit as insistent on organization as your friends say.”

Whipping her head around, Twilight gaped at Luna, her eyes wide with shock at the apparent betrayal. “Hey!” she cried, stomping a hoof into her cushion.

“Ha! She’s got you pegged, Twi!” Rainbow cackled and pumped a hoof into the air. “Princess, if there was ever any doubt that you were cool after Nightmare Night, it’s gone!”

What? Blinking twice, Luna pasted a smile on her face and nodded as though she understood. Somehow, I doubt she was referring to my bodily temperature… Confound it, I will have to speak with somepony about these modern phrases. They make no sense in the slightest!

Somehow, she had the notion that if she told Celestia, she’d be pushed to speak with Cadence. Again.

Shuddering, Luna resolved to find her own information on the matter. Preferably before she was pushed to have another awkward conversation with her surrogate niece. Erebos. By the stars, please, let Erebos or Moondancer have the time.

She shoved those thoughts from the forefront of her mind and faced Twilight. “Well, then, what shall we do this eve, my friend? If not music, what choice have you made?”

The pout and pinned ears were replaced, almost instantaneously, by a bright smile and happily swishing tail. “I thought we might do something a little different tonight,” Twilight began, her horn alight with magic as she levitated a box from under the table, “instead of music or a game, I thought we could all sit down and work on a puzzle together—like my family used to when I was little.”

“A puzzle, huh?” Applejack hummed. She took her cup in her hooves and raised it to her lips, tilting it back as though she were taking a shot of cider. Shrugging, she placed it down on the table. “I s’pose that’ll do fine. Haven’t done one in a while, though. Must’ve been way back when Mac ’n me were little ‘uns.”

“What’s the picture of?” Fluttershy leaned forward to inspect the box, but Twilight pulled it just out of view.

Smiling awkwardly, she fiddled with her hooves. “Er, if it’s all the same, we sort of didn’t look at the picture so we couldn’t cheat. Mom and dad liked to make Shiny and I really think through stuff like this…”

Uncomfortable again. Luna placed a hoof upon Twilight’s shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze, wincing herself at the tension in her friend’s posture. “Worry not, Twilight Sparkle. ’Tis but a puzzle, nothing too terribly difficult. Your family’s tradition will simply make our endeavor a bit more interesting.”

“Yeah, what Princess Luna said,” Rainbow threw in, leaning back in her cushion and propping her head up in her hooves. “So, we gotta do a little puzzle, big whoop! It’s small potatoes compared to saving Equestria—uh, no offense, Princess.”

“I hold no grudge, Rainbow Dash. Only my undying gratitude remains.”

Smile straining, the brash pegasus ruffled her feathers and glanced away. “Right… so… Twi! How many pieces is this thing? A couple hundred?”

“Uh… more like five thousand,” Twilight squeaked and raised the box as if to shield herself from her friends’ stares.

Silence reigned over the table, save for the sound of Pinkie Pie munching innocently on a cookie and humming her own little tune. Luna let her gaze wander to each mare in turn, eager to see how they might react to Twilight’s selection. Support or derision? Which will it be?

Rarity raised an eyebrow and sipped lightly at her tea, but nodded all the same. “Well, dear, it is your night to decide, so let’s have at it.”

The little mare peaked over the edge of the box. “Really?”

“Yes, silly-billy, really,” Pinkie chimed in. “Come on, come on! Hurry up so we can put it together and see the picture you won’t let us see just yet!”

“I don’t mind,” Fluttershy gave a small smile. “It’ll give us all some time to talk while we work on things.”

Rainbow, on the other hoof, grimaced and wrinkled her muzzle. But as she leaned in to whisper to Applejack and cupped a hoof to her mouth, Luna managed to catch the slightest hint of a playful gleam in her eyes.

“Hey, AJ,” she stage whispered, “got any cider? I’m gonna need something a lot stronger than tea if I’m gonna make it through one of egghead’s puzzles!”

Snorting, Applejack gave a half-hearted shove that sent her friend sprawling back onto her own cushion. “No, and, even if I did, you ain’t gettin’ sloshed here, Dash. We sat through about two hours of that pre-show for the Wonderbolts Derby last month before sittin’ through the entire thing,” she grumbled, furrowing her brows. “If Rarity can do that without goin’ on about how ‘uncouth’ you were durin’ those ponies babblin’, you can last through a lil’ ol’ puzzle!”

Luna let their good-natured teasing fade into background noise in favor of letting her eyes flit toward Twilight once again, happily noting that the younger mare had ceased hiding behind the puzzle box with her head ducked.

Perking up her ears and giving her tail a merry swish, Twilight sat up straight, the tension in her shoulders eased. “Well, if there’s no complaints,” she said, pulling the top off the box with her magic and placing it face down on the table, “let’s get started!”

Just before it touched the table, though, Luna’s keen eyes caught a flash of midnight blue background and a structure, windows alight with the soft, golden glow of candles from within.

Interesting. She raised a brow, her eyes resting on the overturned box top. I wonder what scenery she has picked.

Her attention shifted to the pieces floated out of the box to hover above the table, held aloft in the magenta glow of Twilight’s magic. She had to bite her lip, holding back a smile at the way Twilight’s eyes narrowed in concentration as she set about dividing the floating pile of puzzle pieces into separate parts.

Five thousand pieces, seven ways… She blinked and tilted her head. Not an even division. Somepony will be stuck with an extra, even if she were to count every pice out as she separates them. Making as though to raise a hoof and object, she stopped just short. Twilight wasn’t counting anything out.

Rather, her concentration was focused on maintaining each group of pieces as she doled them out and set them down before her friends, each of whom began flipping them over and organizing them into stacks.

None of the mares even bothered counting or asking about the number, though Rainbow did throw in a half-hearted glare and teasing “I’m so making you run a marathon next time” for her troubles. But, that aside, they didn’t ask.

Because the equality of their number is not the important part—they value that they do this together. Luna stared at her stack, idly flipping a couple pieces over with her hooves instead of magic. The midnight blue background had some sort of puffy, grayish ball of fluff in one corner and a small white dot peaking out from behind it. Just what was the image supposed to be?

Setting her jaw, Luna joined in the arduous task of organizing her portion of the puzzle. There is only one way to find out. Let us see what you have in store this eve, Twilight Sparkle.

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