• Published 26th Mar 2015
  • 19,943 Views, 1,185 Comments

The Road Home - Pen Stroke


Discord tosses Twilight and her family into an unexpected adventure while the rest of Twilight's friend get to work on the new crystal palace. All together, they'll do everything to ensure that Twilight and her family have a place to call home.

  • ...
49
 1,185
 19,943

Different Time

The Road Home

By Pen Stroke

Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By

Illustrious Q, BronyWriter, SaturnStar14, Applejack-fan

=====================================================================

Chapter 10

Different Time

====================

All night. It had taken all night but they had them cornered, and Duke was going to make those ponies pay.

He popped out of the diamond dog hole, right eye swollen shut and with a cut just above his eyebrow. Both injuries were a result of the gem thrown by one of two cursed brothers, but now they had them. It had taken all night. Through the use of fake trails, creeks, and levitation the four ponies had managed to elude capture, but with some pack coordination, they had managed to herd the ponies up against some cliffs. The same ridge that their precious trains chugged across on a weekly basis.

Pushing a tree branch out of the way, Duke caught sight of the four ponies. The two unicorns had thrown up a green colored shield, surrounding themselves on all sides with a domed half circle and a flat floor. They were protecting themselves, but the shield was only delaying the inevitable. His dogs were pounding the magical barrier with sticks, rocks, and their bare paws, and small cracks were beginning to show.

A smile pulled at Duke’s lips as he got closer. The ponies didn’t look much better off than him. They had small scrapes and cuts from running through the forest’s underbrush, and the brothers wobbled whenever the barrier was struck with a particularly hard blow. They would not last long, and Duke’s smile only grew as he came to a stop in plain view of the ponies.

“Did ponies have a nice midnight run? Did you get your exercise?” The smile fell from Duke’s face. He pulled back his fist, then punched the exterior of the barrier firmly. “Because when we get in there, I’m going to break your legs and snap your horns.”

“Now, there’s no need to be so violent,” Flim said before wincing as one dog, wielding a stone the size of a watermelon, smashed the rock against the barrier. “Surely we can all sit down and discuss things like civilized creatures.”

“How about a deal? We’re talented inventor ponies after all. Why, if there’s a little something you’ve always wanted, we could whip it up in a flash,” Flam said, forcing a smile.

“You could have your own gem magnetizer.”

“Or how about an automatic gem polisher?”

“What about a—” Flim and Flam’s back and forth was abruptly cut off by Duke punching the barrier again, his fist managing to leave a small crack behind.

“What we want is the filly and the dragon. What we want is the ransom from the ponies for their little princess. You two almost prevented that, and we diamond dogs don’t take kindly to ponies stealing what’s ours.” Duke reared back and punched the barrier again, the crack widening. More and more cracks were forming as the auras of magic around Flim and Flam’s horns began to flicker and fade. “So I am going to break your legs. I am going to snap your horns, and by the time I’m done, you're going to wish you had never been born.”

The sound of shattering reached Duke’s ears, and the smile on his face returned. One of his dogs had breached the barrier spell, managing to smash a hole in it with a thick tree branch. The cracks from that one hole began to spread and spiderweb across the barrier. The magic from Flim and Flam’s horns was all but gone. Only a few final trailing wisps remained. Duke snapped his paw, getting the attention of the other dogs and getting them to stop. He then reared back, twiddling his fingers once before reforming his fist.

He threw his punch, a fast right jab that Duke put all of his weight behind. The barrier would shatter under the blow. It would pop like a glass bulb thrown against a hard stone floor. The others watched with smiles of their own. The grips on their sticks and stones tightened, ready to jump the ponies in an instant.

A loud pang cut through the forest, and it was followed shortly by a loud stream of cursing.

Duke jumped up and down, holding his paw before snarling and glaring back at the ponies. The green barrier, which should have crumbled under the flick of a claw, had been reinforced. The cracks were filled with a dark indigo magic. Immediately, Duke’s eyes flicked to the filly, a deep growl in his throat. “Smash it open!”

The dogs resumed their assault, battering the shield. Spike was next to Nyx, trying to keep her upright as her legs began to give out from under her. With every blow against the green shield, more of her indigo magic tried to fill in the cracks, but the signs of exhaustion were setting in quickly. Her horn flickered, the whole barrier itself shifting and threatening to collapse from the loss of the additional support.

Once more, a loud sound cut through the forest, but this time it was not a pang. It was a chorus of shatters as the barrier fell apart, the many tiny fragments of magic disappearing into thin air. The three horned ponies fell to their knees, panting as their horns sparked and fizzled with their attempts to reform the barrier. Duke smiled as his dogs moved in, circling around with menacing smiles. The dogs began to reach out for Spike and Nyx, even as the little dragon tried to breathe fire at a few of the grubby, grasping paws.

Then there was a rush of air and a blur of color. Duke saw it, and turned his head quickly to try and glimpse what it was. The blur was gone just as quickly as it had appeared, but the effects of its presence remained. One of his dogs toppled over, unconscious. The others took a sudden step back, unsure how one of their comrades had been felled. “Don’t stop you fools, get the—” Duke tried to spit out the order, but the blur zipped past them again and another dog fell.

“Pegasus!” one of his dogs shouted, pointing skyward where an orangish armored pony was banking around. He was coming in for a dive again, dropping from the sky like a falcon on the hunt. Duke growled as he shook out his still tingling paw. “Don’t let him hit you!”

The wailing yip of another dog drew Duke’s attention from the sky back to the forest. There were three more ponies, glittering crystal ponies, each in armor and wielding large, pointed branches as weapons. They had managed to catch one of his dogs in the side, drawing blood with a stick’s sharp point. All of his pack turned quickly to face the new opponents, only for one more of them to be knocked unconscious by the pegasus. Another still began to yip and shout, his tail burning with a green dragon’s fire.

The tide of battle had turned so quickly, his pack couldn’t help but get overwhelmed in panic.

“Let’s get out of here!”

“No! No!” Duke shouted, trying to rally his retreating dogs. He turned to glare down all the ponies, only to be struck square in his one good eye by a well-thrown rock. He toppled over, falling into the arms of the dutiful Buck, who quickly picked Duke up and began to run away. All the while Duke screamed and flailed.

“They’re just ponies! Turn around and fight them like dogs!”

~~~

The seven ponies and one dragon stopped in the shade of the trees, resting weary legs and fighting off long yawns. They had been following the flow of a small creek as it spilled across stone, dirt, and sand on its way through the mountains. Flash Sentry assured them the creek offered them the most defined path back to the crystal locomotive. If they kept pace, they could be back at the train in a few hours. A faster alternative than waiting for Flash to rest enough to safely airlift six ponies and a dragon up a cliffside one at a time.


But keeping pace was not easy for the two groups of ponies who had been denied a restful night’s sleep.

“This is a good place to rest for a while,” Lapis Lance said, surveying the area for a moment. “The creek water pools here enough for us to refresh our canteens, and the wild vegetation is plentiful. We’ll take a couple hours. We’ll eat, water up, rest, and then get back on the trail.”

“Let’s focus on the resting part first. Right, brother of mine?” Flam removed the gem-laden bags from his back before looking to his clean shaven brother. Flim was woozier. He lifted a hoof and opened his mouth to answer, but the words died in his throat and he simply collapsed onto the soft grass. “Can’t argue with you on that, Flim,” Flam said before flopping into a sitting position.

“Are we sure it’s going to be safe?” Nyx asked. She and Spike had been allowed to ride on the backs of the guards. Nyx had been carried by Gem Shield while Ardent had transported Spike, and managed to get an autograph or two for his trouble.

Flash Sentry, who had been flying just above the group, landed and put a reassuring hoof on Nyx’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Princess Nyx. Your and Spike’s safety is our utmost priority. We’ll get you safely to Lumberton, and then resume the search for Princess Twilight, Princess Cadance, and Prince Armor as well as the other pony, Maud, that you said is with them.”


Flash’s assurances didn’t seem to affect Nyx much. Flam even believed he saw something of a frown on her lips. Still, she did not say anything to Flash. She just got down from Gem Shield’s back and walked towards the creek. The guards huddled to plan their next move. Spike sat and leaned against the base of a tree, his eyes quickly drooping as he fell into the gentle embrace of sleep.

“What’s eating you, kid?” Flam asked as Nyx drank from the creek and he went from sitting to lying in the grass. “The crystal guard has saved us. They’re treating you and the dragon like royalty, letting you ride on their backs. Not a lot of reasons to frown, unless you're worried about Princess Twilight.”

Nyx took a few final gulps of water before lifting her head from the creek. She rubbed the excess liquid from her mouth, then turned to face Flam. “I am a little worried about Twilight, but I know she, Uncle Shining, and Aunt Cadance can take care of themselves. They also have Maud with them, and from what I’ve heard, she can take care of herself too.”

“Then why the frown?” Flam asked. “Flim and I sure wouldn’t be complaining if we got to ride on somepony else's back.”

“I don’t like being treated like a princess.” Nyx sat down beside Flam, facing the creek so that her back was to the guards. Flam snorted and rolled his eyes. “What?” Nyx asked as she looked at Flam, snapping out the word with a bit of exhaustion induced irritation.

“You. Nopony doesn’t like being treated like royalty,” Flam said with complete certainty. “You get pampered, ponies listen and do what you tell them, you are a must invite to any high class event, and my favorite part, you get the financial perks. I can tell you, my brother and I sure wouldn’t be trying to make a living on the road. If it’s a monthly stipend, it’s got to be fat, and if it’s a government credit line, that’s even better. That reminds me, you wouldn’t happen to know how much Princess Celestia has in the bank, do you? I have a running bet with my brother. Winner gets a hundred bits.”

Nyx looked away from Flam and back to the creek before laying down on the grass as well. “All that isn’t fun if everypony is treating you different.”

“What, are you talking about that whole business when you were the scary queen of the country? I doubt anyone’s treating you that way now.”

“No,” Nyx said, drawing her forehooves up closer to her chest. “But things changed when Twilight became a princess. It was just little things at first, but I didn’t think much of it. Not until one day at school. Me and my friends had started working together to learn new skills from Twilight. We called it Twilight Time.”

~~~

“Because if she is, maybe you can meet up with us while we hang out with a bunch of famous celebrities.”

It was the midday recess, and everything had been going wonderfully. Nyx was waiting to be picked up from school by Twilight, and was passing the time taking turns on a swing with Twist. Nearby, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Pipsqueak had been playing four square. It was going to be another wonderful day, where her four filly friends came to learn things from Twilight.

It was hard to remember how it all started, what had prompted her friends to learn something with Twilight. But Nyx didn’t really care how it had started. All she knew was that learning new things with her mother and her friends was even more fun than just doing it with Twilight. Together, they could all celebrate their triumphs, and together, they could help one another through the difficult parts.

Yes, everything had been wonderful until a pair of familiar dark clouds had decided to float nearby. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were in the afternoon class now, but that still meant the two groups of fillies could cross paths at noon, when the morning class was waiting to leave and the afternoon class was beginning to arrive.

Like so many other days, Diamond had basically bought the admiration of both classes of little ponies. She had promised some acrobatic display, but had reneged on her promise just to have her butler do it. Still, almost everypony in the two classes flocked to them like they were the world’s greatest circus performers. Normally that would be it, Nyx and her friends would just have to endure Diamond and Silver at a distance.

Today, however, the pair had decided to make a personal visit, asking Sweetie Belle if she’d be in Manehatten anytime soon. It was an oddly generous offer, something Apple Bloom had already pointed out. Nyx’s personal choice would have been not to answer. Something didn’t sound right to her, but Sweetie Belle chose to give an honest answer. “Actually, my sister hasn't offered to take me to Manehattan anytime soon.”

“Yeah, we figured.”

There was the low blow Diamond Tiara was infamous for, and Sweetie Belle walked straight into it. Now she and Silver were doing their silly special hoofshake. Nyx could only shake her head at the pair, happy that they didn’t have to be around one another in the morning class anymore. Nyx would have been happy to let things drop right there.

Sweetie Belle, however, had decided to strike back.

“Oh, yeah?! Well, I don't have to go all the way to Manehattan to hang out with the famous and super cool ponies! Me and my friends hang out with Princess Twilight all the time!”

Diamond’s expression soured, and she snapped back at Sweetie Belle. “She doesn’t count!”

All five fillies glanced at one another before looking back at Diamond. Apple Bloom had an eyebrow arched in confusion. “Why doesn’t she count?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo added with a nod. “Princesses are the coolest, biggest celebrities in Equestria, right next to Rainbow Dash. Everypony knows who the princesses are, and Twilight is no exception.”

“You’re just saying that because she got you grounded,” Twist said, all five of them having heard what happened to Diamond after her and Silver’s not so harmless prank against Nyx.

“Dia, maybe we should...” Silver had put a hoof on Diamond’s shoulder, but it was quickly knocked away. Diamond took a step forward, stomping as she glared down Nyx and her four friends before pointing a hoof at Nyx.

“No, I’m saying that because no real princess would be willing to keep someone like her as a daughter.”

Nyx glared back at Diamond. The insult wasn’t something entirely new. While Diamond always took the time to point out Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle’s blank flanks, she also made an effort to make verbal stabs at Nyx on a regular basis. She had spread rumors about Nyx eating pony meat, about her stealing candy, and targeting every little thing she could to remind everyone at school Nyx was the same pony who had conquered Equestria as Nightmare Moon.

Those insults Nyx had learned to put up with, but jabs at her mother were something she couldn’t stand for. “Twilight is too a real princess.”

“Yeah, and so is Nyx!”

A dead silence fell over all the fillies as every eye turned to Twist. “No she’s not!” Diamond spat, as if the very idea left a bad taste in her mouth. For once, Nyx found herself actually sharing an opinion with Diamond Tiara. She didn’t think of herself as a princess, even if she was an alicorn.

“Twist, I really don’t think I’m—” Nyx tried to correct, but was quickly cut off by Sweetie Belle, who was grinning ear to ear.

“You know what, I think she is.” Sweetie Belle moved up beside Nyx. She didn’t bother going to school in a vest anymore, but she kept her glasses. The Nightmare Moon eyes still made some of her classmates uncomfortable. Her wings, however, were Sweetie Belle’s focus. She pulled at the tip of one wing so it extended into view. “Why don’t we go down the checklist? She has wings and a horn. That makes her an alicorn, and every alicorn I know is a princess. Isn’t that right, Scootaloo?”

Scootaloo gave a firm nod of her head, now sharing Sweetie Belle’s almost triumphant grin. “Yeah, and her mom’s a princess. So even if she wasn’t an alicorn, I’m pretty sure having a royal parent makes you royalty.”

“At least as royal as that prince Rarity used to have a crush on,” Sweetie Belle added.

“Girls, really, I’d rather not—” Nyx tried to interrupt, but Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were like a steam locomotive charging down the track at full speed. There was almost no stopping them.

“So, not only do we get to learn cool things from Princess Twilight, but we’re also friends with Princess Nyx,” Sweetie Belle said, getting right up in Diamond’s face. “So go have fun in Manehatten. I’d rather stay here and hang out with two of Equestria’s five princesses right here in Ponyville.”

Diamond was seething, her eyes darting around frantically as if searching for something. She glanced back, then swung her forehoof around so quickly to point at her butler that she almost struck Silver in the head. “Y-yeah well... Nyx doesn’t have a butler that does tricks.”

“She doesn’t need a butler to do her tricks for her, she’s getting her super amazing magic back. She can do tricks ten times better than anything your butler can do.” Sweetie Belle’s shout was loud enough to draw the attention of everypony else from the two classes. Even Diamond’s butler had stopped his ball-balancing and juggling act to see what was going on. But unlike a moment before, Diamond Tiara was now grinning, as if she was a cat that caught a mouse in the corner.

“All right then, if Nyx knows such cool magic, why doesn’t she show us a trick? I mean, if she’s a super cool princess, she has to be able to do at least one trick, right?” Diamond’s questions started a murmur around the rest of the students as they were gathering closer. Most seemed excited, a few were nervous, but one fact was uniform amongst all of them. They were all looking to Nyx, staring with expectant gazes.

“I... I don’t...” Nyx tried to answer, only to feel a hoof on her neck.

“Excuse us for a moment.”

Sweetie Belle yanked Nyx to the side, all five fillies quickly collapsing into a huddle. “Nyx, you’ve got to do this,” Sweetie Belle said. “This is a golden opportunity. This is our chance to be the popular ones in school. All you need to do is one little trick.”

“Girls, I don’t really think this is a good idea. Aren’t we just stooping to their level?”

“No,” Scootaloo answered without a moment’s hesitation. “They’re always bragging about all these famous ponies they know but we never meet. They're always using their money or their butlers to make everypony like them.”

“I think Diamond only has one butler,” Twist pointed out.

Scootaloo rolled her eyes and made a small grunt. “That’s not the point. The point is we can finally give them a taste of their own medicine. All we need is for Nyx to do a little levitation. Just levitate some balls around in some fancy shmancy way.”

Apple Bloom, who had been largely silent and calm during the whole argument, looked over to Nyx with a small smile. “It would be nice to be the center of attention for once because of something good. We didn’t even get to enjoy being nominated Ponyville’s flag carrying team. Diamond wore that fancy new dress to school that Monday and that was all anypony could talk about.”

Nyx glanced back and forth between all of her friends, feeling a knot forming in her stomach. It would be nice to finally get one over Diamond, but she didn’t like everypony thinking about her as a princess. She sure didn’t think of herself that way.

“We’re waiting!”

Diamond’s words carried every drop of her smug attitude. Nyx could just picture the smile on her face. At this point, if she didn’t do something, Diamond would be intolerable for at least the rest of the week if not longer. Compared to that, doing a trick in front of the class and not disappointing her friends was easily the lesser of the two evils.

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

~~~

Nyx sat, eating lunch with her friends a few days later at school. They’d eat lunch, then get to play on the playground until they were picked up or were supposed to leave to go home. She had a daisy sandwich, an apple, and some celery for lunch with a little bag of gummy bears for dessert. She was sitting and eating with her friends at their favorite spot outside. It should have been normal and easy.

Everyone else in the class had a different idea.

A flash of light signified another camera going off, and Nyx had to wince at the bright light before shooting a glare at the little colt who had taken it. With her levitation trick, she and her friends had usurped Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon as the most popular kids at school. Nyx wouldn't deny, it maybe had been a tiny bit fun finally putting the pair in their place. But now she wasn’t Nyx anymore to everyone else in class. She was now Princess Nyx, a turn of phrase that just didn’t ring well in her ears.

Another flash of light, someone else taking a photo, but this time Nyx glared over at Scootaloo. “Why do you keep doing that?” Nyx snapped.

Scootaloo was caught with a big, wide smile as she had been striking a pose for the shot. “What?” she asked as she settled back into her seat at one of the school’s few lunch tables. “If I don’t pose in a picture, I look sad.”

“Then look sad. You’re only encouraging them.” Nyx winced as another camera flash went off. She didn’t know why it wasn’t bothering her friends more. Maybe her eyes were just more sensitive to light, some other aspect of her origins that was currently far more a curse than a blessing.

“Nyx, relax, this is a good thing. We are the biggest of the big shots at school right now,” Sweetie said, triumphantly managing to levitate a single little baby carrot to her mouth before chomping down on it. “Besides, they have to run out of film sometime.”

“I don’t know about that,” Twist said, her words garbled a little as she was speaking around a half-eaten peppermint stick. “I think I saw some of them replace their rolls.”

The prospect of having to deal with the camera flashes for even longer made Nyx frown. She began to pack up her lunch, having hardly nibbled at anything. The only thing she kept out was the gummy bears, which she kept held in her magic as she got up from the table. “Look, girls, I think I’m just going to take my lunch and eat back at the library. I’ll see you tomorrow, okay.”

“Doesn’t Twilight usually like to come pick you up though?” Apple Bloom asked.

“She always uses the same route. I’ll just meet her halfway and say Cheerilee let us out a little early,” Nyx answered before popping a gummy bear into her mouth and walking away.

“Well, all right. See you tomorrow,” Apple Bloom said, the four friends watching Nyx leave before glancing back at one another. None of them really had anything to say, and even if they did, they weren’t given the opportunity. As soon as Nyx was out of sight all the other students swarmed the table, each talking a mile a minute and asking dozens of questions.

“What’s it like being friends with a princess?”

“Do you think you can ask Princess Nyx to do that levitation trick again?”

“Can you get me Princess Nyx’s autograph?”

There was a pause amongst all the other little ponies at the mention of an autograph, as if the idea was a bolt of lightning leaping between them. They then resumed their clamoring, pressing to the table with even greater fervor. Each was hoping for an autograph of some kind, either on the pictures they had just been taking or on other random things such as hats, saddlebags, and foreheads.

“Whoa whoa, we can’t get Nyx to sign all that stuff for you,” Apple Bloom tried to say.

“Why not?”

The new voice caused the crowd to part, allowing Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon to move closer. They had been in their usual spot, which was all the more secluded from the rest of the playground when they didn’t have somepony fawning over them. “I mean, she is your friend. Surely she would, as your friend, be willing to sign autographs. Unless, of course, you aren’t really as buddy-buddy as you’d have us all believe.”

“Hey!” Twist said, her peppermint stick still in her mouth. “We are Nyx’s friends.”

“Besides,” Sweetie Belle added through a forced laugh. “It’s not like we can just ask her to sign all this. It... uh... It has to be a special occasion. You know, like a grand opening or—”

“I’m opening my new lemonade stand tomorrow!” Pipsqueak spoke out, managing to muscle through a few ponies to get to the center of the crowd. “Princess Nyx could sign autographs there, and maybe you could ask Princess Twilight to come along too.”

The four fillies all glanced between one another. There was a moment’s hesitation, a moment of uncertainty.

“Well, just so everyone knows, I’ll be having a pool party at my mansion, and everypony is invited. Well, everypony except for you four blank-flanked friend-fibbers,” Diamond said with a triumphant smile as she directed her accusation at Twist, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom. Diamond then began to walk away. The crowd chattered and moved to follow, their excitement shifting from getting autographs to getting to enjoy a pool party at a mansion.

“Wait!” Sweetie Belle shouted, jumping up onto the table to get the crowd’s attention once more. “Princess Nyx and her best friends, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, will be there at the lemonade stand opening, and she’ll sign all the autographs you could want.”

Apple Bloom put her forehooves up on the table. “What are you doing? We can’t promise that.”

“Don’t worry, I know exactly how to handle this.”

~~~

“A school project?” Nyx and Twilight said in unison as they walked along with Nyx’s friends, heading towards another part of town.

“Oh yeah, it’s a lesson on the basics of business,” Sweetie Belle answered. “You know profits, costs, and figuring out what the market needs. Cheerilee passed out the notes after lunch yesterday. Cheerilee had just totally forgotten to hand them out to us. Mistakes happen, you know. Still, Pipsqueak was already opening a lemonade stand, so Cheerilee let him do it for the project. And while he’s doing that, the rest of us are doing our part of the assignment. We see what our fellow students are doing, and write little reviews on things like pricing, product quality, and service. And since we had to come here anyway, how about we buy you some lemonade to thank you for all the lessons you’ve given us during Twilight Time.”

“A glass of lemonade does sound nice, and it sounds like a fun little project too,” Twilight said, a smile spreading onto her lips as she contemplated the assignment. “A basic level introduction to the concepts of business as well as the influence of public opinion on that business's success. I imagine that the reviews from other students account for a portion of the grade.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Scootaloo said, glancing back at Twilight and Nyx a moment with a forced smile before turning her head back forward. “I was thinking about doing scooter lessons, and Apple Bloom I think was going to sell some apples, like her sister.”

“I have to hand it to Cheerilee, she thinks of some wonderful class projects,” Twilight said. “Though, Apple Bloom, if you are going to sell apples, be sure that Applejack doesn’t just give them to you. If you want to really get a good grade, you should buy the apples from your sister at a wholesale cost. Also sell close to lunch time, or even go the extra step and try selling baked goods. I’m sure buying the extra materials and calculating the cost per unit would really impress Cheerilee.”

Apple Bloom mimicked Scootaloo’s previous maneuver. She forced a smile as she glanced back. “Thanks, Twilight. I’ll keep that in mind,” she said before looking ahead again. “Oh look, we’re here.”

Pipsqueak’s lemonade stand was really popular, it would seem. The young pinto colt was behind the stand constructed of wooden boards, exchanging bits for glasses of lemonade. Twilight was surveying the scene, already taking little notes of her own.

“He’s using glassware, a bit risky considering the age of his clientele, but that means he’s saving bits on paper cups. The cost of washing them up at his house is probably negligible enough to be written off, though if he really wants to do it right he should maybe pay his parents a rental fee. That would look nice in his books.”

It was only then that Twilight took notice of how silent things had become. Every eye was turned on her and Nyx, as if they had just sprouted elephant trunks and were trumpeting the Griffin Empire anthem. Considering it had been a while since she had seen Discord, Twilight wouldn’t have been entirely surprised. Still, after a few tense moments, the deluge began. The fillies and colts rushed the two, holding out pictures as they chattered and bounced for joy.

“You want autographs? I’ve never really given an autograph before, but I guess it couldn’t hurt. As soon as I’m done, though, you should get back to your class assignments. And Nyx, be sure to get a glass of lemonade so that you can write your classmate a proper review before we start brainstorming for your idea.”

“Okay, Twilight,” she said, even as some of her classmates were asking for her to sign the pictures from lunch the day before, most of which were of her glaring at Scootaloo for posing when said photographs were taken.

~~~

Diamond Tiara looked on from the crest of a hill, glaring through a pair of binoculars as she spied on the lemonade stand. Twilight and Nyx had made their appearance, as promised, and had then left. Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Twist were lingering behind, soaking in the praise, adoration, and favors that came with being the most popular ponies in school. They were sipping free lemonade, Bedazzle was bedazzling Apple Bloom’s bow, and Scootaloo was getting her hooves shined to near perfection.

They were all things she should have been enjoying if her pool party hadn’t failed to compete with an autograph session with a pair of fake princesses.

Lowering the binoculars, Diamond resorted to glaring down at the ponies below with her own two eyes as she waited. She had sent Silver Spoon down there to mingle, and now her friend was coming back up the hill. From the small frown on her lips, Diamond could already tell the mingling hadn’t born any real fruit, but that didn’t stop her from asking.

“How did it go?”

“The lemonade was okay,” Silver answered with a shrug as she refused to make eye contact with Diamond. “Not cold enough if you ask me, and a bit too bitter.”

Diamond stepped around Silver, forcing herself into her friend’s field of view. “I don’t care about the lemonade! How did those four get Twilight and Nyx to show up? They couldn’t have just shown up because they asked.”

“I don’t know, Di, the Cutie Mark Crusaders weren’t talking about that. They were answering questions about Twilight and Nyx while getting free stuff. Sweetie Belle was drinking lemonade like it might vanish from the face of Equestria. Scootaloo was getting her hoof polished, and Apple Bloom was getting her bow bedazzled. The only two not getting anything were Nyx and Twilight, except maybe one free glass of lemonade each."

“The only odd thing I heard was that some of the others were confused why Twilight told them to get back to their class assignments,” Silver finished as Diamond went back to glaring down at the crowd through her binoculars. “Look, Di, I know it bites but what can we do to compete with two princesses? We’re still the most popular fillies in the afternoon class.”

“That’s not good enough!” she snapped back at Silver, though she did not take her eyes away from the binoculars. “Those blank flanks cannot take away everything we’ve worked to build after so long. We are the most popular fillies in school, not them and especially not ‘Princess’ Nyx. I mean, we’re popular because we have things they want and sometimes we let them get a taste of the good life. I have my butler do tricks. We throw parties at my family’s private pool. You come up with most of our best plans.”

Diamond lowered the binoculars and pointed a hoof at the crowd below. “But those five didn’t do anything. Twilight finished some spell and saved Equestria, so maybe she deserves to be a princess. But the rest of them haven’t done anything. They’re just riding Princess Twilight’s tail, and she doesn’t even realize it. Why, I bet if she knew...”

The rest of Diamond’s rant died, her voice growing silent as she just looked at the fillies and colts below, sipping their lemonade. She then turned around, walking back towards Silver with a smile on her lips. “Silver, do you remember what happened to me when my dad found out what we did to Nyx?”

“Yeah, you got grounded, just like I did when your parents talked to mine.”

“I think it’s time a certain princess found out just what’s been going on at school.”

~~~

“I hope Twilight isn’t mad that we didn’t get that much practice in with our new skills this week,” Sweetie Belle said. She, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, Twist, and Nyx were all walking from her house towards the library. It was almost Twilight Time, and after experiencing the hecticness of being popular, even she was looking forward to getting away from the rest of their classmates. “I never knew being popular could be so demanding.”

“Yeah, but it sure is nice. Look, my hooves are still shiny from yesterday,” Scootaloo said, pausing a moment to show off one of her forehooves before the group continued heading towards the library, starting to get near the center of town.

“Nice for you guys,” Nyx said with a sharp bite to her words. “All I got yesterday was a headache from using too much magic signing all those autographs, and now Twilight is expecting me to do some school project on economics. What am I supposed to do for that, and what am I supposed to tell her when she asks what kind of grade I got on it?”

“I know you haven’t been having as much fun as us, Nyx,” Apple Bloom said. “But we appreciate you putting up with it. We really owe you one, and I bet it will get better. I mean, Diamond and Silver weren’t constantly swamped like we’ve been this last week.”

Sweetie Belle gave her head a firm nod. “Apple Bloom’s right. I’m entirely sure that everything will start quieting down and settling into a nice new school order after today.”

Twist was the first to make the last turn they needed to take to get to the library. The grand old oak came into view, but Twist stopped dead in her tracks. She tilted her head in the direction of her friends, but did not take her eyes off what she saw down the street. “I think you may have spoken too soon.”

When all five managed to get around the corner, they saw Twilight was waiting outside the library for them. This itself wasn’t so out of the ordinary, but Twilight’s expression was. There was no smile or warm greeting wave. Instead she wore a firm frown as her disapproving gaze reached down the street, carrying with it almost as much power as Fluttershy’s stare.

Scootaloo lifted a hoof to retreat, but didn’t even get to take the first step. In a flash of magic all five of them were teleported into the library, landing squarely in the center of the room. At the same time, the door to the library opened. Twilight trotted in, and with a flare of her magic shut the door behind her as she glared disapprovingly at all five fillies at much shorter range.

“A school project, huh?” Twilight said firmly, cluing the five fillies into exactly why they were in trouble.

Sweetie Belle hurriedly lifted her hoof. “We can explain!”

“Really? Then please, go right ahead.”

Sweetie Belle opened her mouth to say something, but she couldn’t manage a single word. She looked to the others. Nyx was looking away from Twilight, incapable of meeting her mother’s gaze. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were trying to make themselves as small as possible, and Twist was a single step behind them, as if that might spare her in some way.

“I... got nothing,” Sweetie Belle finally admitted.

Twilight called on her magic, lifting up an unfolded scroll. “I found this in the mail today, and it was very enlightening. Now I’ll admit, when I saw who it was from, I didn’t want to believe it. Diamond Tiara isn’t a filly I would normally put a lot of trust in. But then I went and spoke with some of your classmates. They said how happy they were to do you all sorts of favors just because you know two princesses and get to hang out with them regularly. Well, that’s going to stop for now. Twilight Time is cancelled until further notice, and Nyx, you're grounded.”

“But I was just starting to get good at potion making!” Apple Bloom said. She turned to look at the chemistry set up on one side of the room.

“I’m so close to levitating that broom.” Sweetie Belle called on her magic, as if to prove how good she had gotten at her spell. She managed to lift the broom a little, but it then fell back to where it had been leaning against the wall.

“I know, but you all need to realize why what you did was wrong. You are not special just because you know a princess.”

“But... but it’s not like we did anything Diamond doesn’t do,” Sweetie Belle tried to argue. “She makes everypony think she’s special just because she knows famous celebrities and has a butler that does tricks. How come she gets to be popular that way while we can’t?”

Twilight sighed. She turned, took a step back, and opened the door so that Twist, Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle all had a clear path out of the library. “Sometimes things aren’t fair, and in time I’m sure Diamond Tiara will learn having fans instead of friends comes with its own consequences. But for right now, I have to ask you all to leave.”

“Sorry, Twilight,” Apple Bloom said, hanging her head and starting to head for the door. Twist, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle followed soon after, each muttering their own apology as they began to head towards the door. Sweetie Belle couldn’t bring herself to really look at anything but the floor. She felt horrible, and was realizing now exactly what they had been doing wrong. It had just been so good to be popular for once, but tricking Twilight and pressuring Nyx was not worth it.

“Now, Nyx, I think you and I need to have a discussion of what it means to be a princess.”

Twilight's words rang in Sweetie Belle’s ears, and she couldn’t stop herself. She spun around and galloped back into the library. “Wait! Don’t be mad at Nyx.”

Twilight, who had been facing Nyx, glanced over her shoulder with a raised eyebrow. “Oh, and why’s that?”

“It wasn’t her fault. She didn’t want to do it from the start,” Scootaloo said as she, Apple Bloom, and Twist grouped up with Sweetie Belle. “We asked her to do the levitation trick at school, and she didn’t know anything about the lemonade stand.”

“She didn’t even like the pictures everypony else was taking,” Apple Bloom said. “She only put up with it because of us, and she still left lunch early because of it.”

“We got so wrapped up in being popular, in being special because we knew somepony special, that we forgot why she’s special,” Twist said. “Why you’re both special.”

“You’re special, Twilight, because you took the time to teach us wonderful new things,” Apple Bloom said.

Scootaloo took a step away from the group, moving over to and looking apologetically to Nyx. “You’re special because, when we’re having trouble with our homework, you help us figure it out.”

“And you’re both special because you’re our friends,” Sweetie Belle said in conclusion. “And we’re truly, deeply sorry that we got our priorities mixed up. But please, don’t be mad at Nyx, Twilight. It was all us.”

Twilight looked over the five fillies, the frown lingering on her lips for a few moments before a smile spread onto her lips. “I think you four learned something really important today, something I think you should put in the journal me and my friends have been working on. But we can save that for a little later.”

“Because you want us to leave now?” Twist asked.

“No,” Twilight answered with a shake of her head. “Because we’ve wasted enough Twilight Time on this. Now go get your things.”

Smiles burst onto Twist, Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo’s faces, the four fillies leaping for joy and shouting “Thank you, Twilight,” in perfect unison. They then rushed off to get their things, a sight that made Twilight smile as she looked back at Nyx. “And did you learn something too, Nyx?”

“It’s okay to do things for your friends,” she said, managing to smile a little as well as she thought of how all four of her friends had jumped up to defend her. “But you shouldn’t take advantage of them, or make them do things they don’t enjoy. And if your friends are making you feel pressured to do something, you should talk to them about it so they understand how you’re feeling. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to them earlier, Twilight.”

Twilight put a hoof on Nyx’s shoulder and gave her a quick hug. “I’m just glad to hear my little princess wasn’t trying to abuse her title.”

“Am I really a princess?”

“Only if you want to be,” Twilight assured.

“I think I’d like to just be Nyx,” she said as she hugged Twilight back. “Ponies take way too many pictures around you when you're a princess.”

Those final words left a giggle in Twilight’s throat. She hugged Nyx a little tighter, then released her embrace so the pair could join Nyx’s friends. Already her friends were hard at work. Apple Bloom was checking ingredient measurements. Scootaloo was laying out all the pieces of her unicycle. Sweetie Belle had fetched her practice broom, and Twist had gotten a mirror to practice her pronunciations. And for Nyx, she quickly found her latest puzzle, a trinket Twilight had enchanted for her. After all, she figured the best avenue for learning and regaining some of her previous magical prowess was being able to understand and analyze magic on a fundamental level.

~~~

“Things were never really the same after that,” Nyx said as she concluded her story, her gaze lingering on the calm, pristine creek pool. “Everypony at school just started treating me differently. Some just started trying to be nice to me so they could say I was their friend, and others started siding with Diamond, saying I didn’t deserve to be a princess. All I really want is to be like everypony else.”

“So you want a mustache?”

Nyx snapped her head up then to the right, one eyebrow arched as high as it possibly could on her face as she looked to Flam. “What?”

“You just said you wanted to be like everyone else, and that means you want to be like me. So, that means you want a macho mustache like mine. That also means you want to be a dragon like Spike over there, and a crystal pony like our valiant saviors,” Flam said as he used one hoof to gently smooth and stroke his mustache.

A frustrated grunt escaped Nyx’s throat. “I don’t want any of that. You’re missing the point.”

“No, I get the point. You and your friends had a rough spot, but you sorted it out. Trust me, if I had a bit every time that happened to me and my brother, then we’d be one rich pair of salesponies. Sure, the problem might have started because your mother is a princess. That does technically make you a princess, but this whole little story time started just because you don’t like getting the royal treatment.”

“Yeah, I don’t like being treated differently.”

“Everypony gets treated differently,” Flam said. “That’s because we’re all different. Even my brother and I have our differences. Even those guards over there have their differences. Everypony is different, so of course everypony is going to be treated at least somewhat differently. And let’s face it kid, you’re in an exclusive club with currently five members. Some ponies are never going to be able to see past that. But personally, I think the only reason you don’t like being treated like an alicorn princess is because it reminds you of when you were a queen.”

Nyx’s voice went up a few pitches with frustration. “Isn’t that a good enough reason to not like something?”

“Not if it’s just so you can forget everything that happened,” Flam said as he got up from the grass, stretching and popping his leg. He then knelt down, taking a bite from the grass he hadn’t been lying on before continuing to speak through his occupied mouth. “Do my brother and I try to forget what happened at Sweet Apple Acres with our Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000? No, we remember what happened and try to do better."

Flam gave his mouthful of grass a few more chews before swallowing. He then licked his teeth, getting a few final traces of vegetation that hadn’t gotten swept down into his stomach with all the rest. “You’re no queen anymore, and you’re no dark, vengeful terror that stalks the night. But you can’t just sweep all that under the rug and forget about it. How else will you ever know you’ve gotten better unless you remember where you came from?”

Nyx turned away from Flam, choosing to glare at the pond in disagreement since it couldn’t argue back. “You just don’t understand.”

“Well, obviously,” Flam said before running his tongue across the interior of his mouth again. “Darn it, I hate eating raw grass. It always gets stuck in my teeth.”

Author's Note:

Sorry the chapters are coming a little slower as of late. I'm running out of buffer and haven't had as much time to write as I would have hoped this past summer. Still, as usual, please PM any typos you see and I hope you enjoy the chapter.