• Published 26th Mar 2015
  • 19,646 Views, 1,175 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.

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Plans and Diversions

The Road Home

By Pen Stroke

Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By

Illustrious Q, BronyWriter, SaturnStar14, Applejack-fan, JustAnotherTimeLord

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Chapter 2

Plans and Diversions

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

“Never again.”

“I’m sure yesterday wasn’t that bad.” Fluttershy walked alongside Applejack, the pair heading to town together. The sun had cleared the horizon and was beginning its ascent into the sky. The weather team’s schedule had it being partly cloudy for most of the day, with a breeze here or there. Overall, it was going to be a wonderfully pleasant day.

Which was a stark contrast to Applejack’s current mood.

“Fluttershy, do you want to hear what happened yesterday?” Applejack asked, struggling to not grit her teeth at the memory alone. “First, before we even got to work taking measurements, he’s got me picking curtains while wearing some cheesy suit and talking like everything was some sort of game. When I finally picked a curtain, my ‘prize’ was something he called a 'Barrel of Ponies'. Which I guess equates to Discord making I don’t know how many copies of me like I had just nose-dived into the Mirror Pool.

“But was that all? No, he then had my clones go and start measuring the castle.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Fluttershy commented.

Applejack snarled. “Discord had them using their tongues.”

Fluttershy instinctively rolled her tongue in her mouth, as if trying to wipe away some bad taste. “Their tongues?”

“Yeah. It was an army of clones of me pulling on each others tongues. They were stretching them out longer than any pony’s tongue should ever stretch and using them to measure the castle. All the while he had every clone acting like his little puppets saying ‘Yes sir, Mr. Discord, sir.’”

“Oh my. But... you still got the floor plans for the palace, didn’t you?”

“It’s about the only good thing that came out of the whole mess. I dropped them off with Rarity after you had left to feed your animals,” Applejack said as she and Fluttershy began to reach the outskirts of town, passing by a few other ponies going about their business. Their chosen path was taking them straight in the direction of Twilight’s new palace, which was easily visible from any part of town.

“I know it must have been frustrating, but if you look at it another way, Discord did do all the work,” Fluttershy delicately pointed out. “All those copies were just his magic. It sounds like you didn’t even have to lift a hoof.”

“If that’s true, why didn’t he just go and do it himself and leave me out of it?”

“Would you have been happy if he left you there to finish the whole castle by yourself?”

Applejack huffed but shook her head. “No, I suppose I wouldn’t.”

“See, you made the job enjoyable for him by staying. Yes, it may have been the teensy bit annoying, but that’s just the way Discord is. It’s kind of like how, sometimes, you’ll find Pinkie’s pranks a little annoying, but you know it’s all in good fun.”

Applejack and Fluttershy drew closer to the castle, beginning to climb the steps that led to the large, yellow front doors. “I know you mean well, Fluttershy.” Applejack put a hoof on the door, pushing it open slowly. “But sometimes, I think you do a little too good of a job covering for Discord.”

“Oh, Applejack, don’t tell me you're still miffed about the whole tongue thing from yesterday.” The doors to the castle opened, revealing Discord standing on just the other side of the threshold. He was holding a tray in his paw and a pair of metal tongs in his claw. “It was all just a playful joke. Now, would either of you like a cinnamon roll?”

“That depends. Did you make them?” Applejack asked.

“No, I just provided the place settings.” Discord motioned behind himself. Set up in the overwhelmingly empty main foyer of the castle was a large wooden table filled to the brim with tea cups and teapots in various sizes, shapes, and colors. “Pinkie Pie brought the cinnamon rolls.”

“They’re super-special friends-meeting-to-help-another-friend cinnamon rolls!” Pinkie Pie sat up in her seat at the table, appearing from behind a large teapot that matched the shape of her head. She waved her hoof excitedly. “Come in and have one!”

Rainbow Dash, who was sitting opposite of Pinkie Pie, turned around in her seat to look at the front door. “Yeah, they’re great.” She promptly took another bite of her own cinnamon roll, the heavy frosting smearing her lips and she chewed contently.

“I would love to have one,” Fluttershy said with a smile. Discord nodded, using the tongs to take a cinnamon roll from the tray. At the same time, one of the plates from the table sprang to life, floated over, and hovered like a patient cloud until Discord deposited a roll on its clean surface.

“And what about you, Applejack?” Discord asked while Fluttershy flew over to the table with her plate.

Applejack looked to her friends for a moment before focusing back on Discord. “Alright, I’ll have one, but I thought we were here to talk about what we’re going to do for Twilight’s palace, not to have breakfast.”

“We are, darling; I was just waiting for everypony to arrive.” Rarity came out from one of the archways that boarded the staircase at the rear of the foyer. She was using her magic to push along what resembled a large schoolhouse chalkboard on wheels that had been covered with a sheet. She positioned it to face the table, then smiled. “My friends, tha... oh, Discord? Would you be a dear and maybe move all your lovely tea sets out of the way? I don’t think Applejack and Rainbow can see.”

“But of course,” Discord said. He snapped his tail, causing himself and Applejack to disappear from the door. Applejack reappeared in the seat next to Rainbow Dash, a warm cinnamon roll on the plate in front of her. Discord popped back into existence, floating a few feet above the table, where he reached out and plucked a small cork from the spout of a teapot. Air began to leak from the spout, and as it did, all of the tea sets deflated like they had been one large balloon.

The deflation continued until the teapots and cups became a tablecloth, resting beneath the few lingering plates. Discord then snapped his claw again, disappearing one moment only to reappear in the seat at the head of the table next to Fluttershy and Applejack.

Rarity gave a smile and a thankful nod before clearing her voice and continuing. “My friends, thanks to the floor plan Discord and Applejack provided me, I have come up with a brilliant design for the palace. I was up most of the night working on it. The elegant architectural beauty of the plans just inspired me in so many ways. So, without further ado, allow me to share with you... my vision.”

Rarity pulled the sheet away, revealing what was in fact a wheeled cork board. To the board numerous paper designs and concepts had been pinned carefully in place. At the center of it all was a large front-perspective sketch of the castle which showed several small cutaways of the interior.

“Now, while I still need to work out many of the details, I see the castle being broken into three areas.” Rarity cast a small spell, causing a thin, focused beam of light to shoot from her horn to the papers on the cork board. “One section will be devoted to being a library. I recalled just how elegant the library in the crystal empire looked, and I thought we can achieve something just as wonderful here. That, I think we can all agree, is something Twilight would really appreciate.”

The four other mares and one draconequus nodded in agreement.

“Now,” Rarity continued, moving her magical pointer to another part of the floor plan. “the palace is of course a palace and it will likely have royal duties. I don’t quite know what it means for Twilight to be the Princess of Friendship, nor am I sure how we contribute to that, but I believe this section of the castle would be best suited for such duties. After all, it is where the throne room is.”

“So where exactly are Twilight, Nyx, and Spike going to be living?” Rainbow Dash asked through a mouthful of cinnamon roll. “That’s the whole reason we’re doing all of this, isn’t it?”

Rarity moved her magical pointer once more, using it to circle a few of the cutaways she had drawn on her sketch of the castle. “That would be this part here. Considering the three of them all used to share a bedroom and a bathroom at the old library, even this modest increase in space is going to feel very different. But, I’ll admit, to pull off what I have planned there and for the rest of the castle, we’ll need to do more than just bring in furniture.”

Applejack swallowed the small nibble she had taken from her cinnamon roll, cautious of it being some sort of chaotic trap. “How much more, exactly?”

“We were already going to face a big challenge putting in basic utilities, Applejack. Because of that, I thought it wouldn’t be too much more trouble to maybe... knock down a few walls and put up some others up. I mean, there is no ballroom. Every palace simply must have a suitably sized ballroom.”

Rarity levitated a few of the other sketches off the cork board, floating them over to her friends. The drawings showed different room concepts. Bedrooms, bathrooms, the library, as well as the proposed ballroom were depicted with Rarity’s usual style. “I mean, just look. Won’t it be simply fabulous?”

“Rarity, not to let the air out of your balloon, but we can’t hope to have all that done before Spike and Nyx come back,” Applejack said as she stood up from the table. “I thought we were just going to be making this place livable. I mean, the small part you have planned just for Twilight, Spike, and Nyx is fine. We could maybe get that done in a few days if we all hunker down and we get enough help. The rest is too much. We can’t do it all!”

“But Applejack,” Rarity pouted, “this isn’t like an outfit where I can just make the hat and do the dress later. This is a palace. Doing a few rooms and then leaving the rest vacant just isn’t proper. What if Twilight had to host some visiting delegates? She’d be a laughing stock on the international stage for having such a poorly prepared palace.”

Applejack took a calming breath, trying to remain sympathetic and understanding. “I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think Princess Celestia would ask Twilight to host any important visitor before this place was ready. I’m just saying we need to prioritize. Twilight, Spike, and Nyx need beds for sleeping, a kitchen, and a bathroom. If we can get more than that done, then fine, but Nyx and Spike are coming back tomorrow evening. We’d be lucky to get a few rooms fully furnished before then.”

“Oh! Oh!” Pinkie Pie had her hoof in the air, waving it like a school-age filly needing to use the bathroom.

“Yes, Pinkie, do you have a something you’d like to add?” Rarity asked.

“First, can somepony pass me another cinnamon roll please?”

Discord picked up another roll with the serving tongs. “But of course.” He then smiled, snapping his talons. With his characteristic pop, Discord was suddenly wearing broad shoulder pads and a helmet. “Go long!”

Pinkie was out of her chair in a moment, running to the far wall of the castle’s foyer with her plate in her mouth. As she ran Discord chucked the cinnamon roll, causing the pastry to spiral perfectly in the air. Rarity audibly gasped as the roll soared through the air, threatening to spread it’s sticky frosting across the crystalline walls.

Still, with a great leap, Pinkie Pie got into the path of the roll, catching it on her plate. She then landed and bent her head forward, catching one final dribble of frosting that had come free of the roll. It was a perfect catch, and Discord celebrated the achievement by suddenly appearing next to her. He wore a black-and-white striped jersey and threw his arms above his head in two straight lines while blowing on a whistle.

“You two done?” Applejack asked flatly.

Pinkie Pie and Discord glanced at one another, then shrugged before returning to the table. Pinkie set down her plate and retook her seat as she spoke. “Second, what if Nyx and Spike weren’t coming home tomorrow night?”

Rainbow Dash wiped the frosting from her mouth with a crumpled up napkin before dropping it on her plate. “What do you mean? Did Twilight tell you something?”

“No, but that’s good thinking, Rainbow.”

“It is?”

Pinkie Pie nodded her head firmly. “You bet! If Twilight was around Ponyville, she’d find out what we were doing and ruin the surprise. And a ruined surprise is worse than cake being accidentally left out in the rain. That’s why we should get Twilight to leave, and then Nyx and Spike can go to wherever she is, and then all three of them can come back in a week instead of tomorrow night.”

Rarity smiled as she looked back at her designs with renewed hope. “Yes, I see. You mean we should send Twilight off to someplace with Nyx and Spike. Basically distract them so we can work on the palace. It would give us the time we’d need.”

“Even with a week, it would take an army of ponies to get this all done,” Applejack said. “We also can’t expect the ponies in Ponyville to donate all the supplies we’d need to furnish the entire castle.”

Fluttershy finished the last nibble of her cinnamon roll, leaving only a few tiny crumbs behind and a pristine, unneeded napkin. “Maybe we could ask around outside of Ponyville.”

“But how are we going to get the message out?”

“Well, not to point a claw, but there are two mares at this table who might have a knack for drumming up volunteers. One who’s the self-proclaimed ‘fastest flier in all of Equestria', and another who is able to inspire ponies to join in on large song and dance numbers.” Discord said, even as he made flashing magical signs appear above Rainbow and Pinkie’s heads. “And, to borrow your honesty for a moment, may I make an honest observation? Applejack, why are you being such a downer? Don’t you want to help your friend?”

“Of course I want to help Twilight, and don’t you ever go saying otherwise ,” Applejack said, She almost stomped her hoof, but she managed to reign in her temper and speak calmly. “I’m just saying these are things we have to think about. Otherwise, this will all just turn into a big mess and we’ll end up making things worse instead of better. I’m just worried, that’s all.”

“I think we get that, but come on. It’s not like we haven’t done crazier things.” Rainbow Dash motioned towards Discord. “I mean, we reformed him.”

“And I’m sure Discord would be happy to help anyway he can,” Fluttershy added. “Isn’t that right?”

“But of course,” Discord said with an overly toothy grin. “It would be my pleasure to help Twilight feel more at home in this beautiful palace. I think Applejack and I could really do some great work if we collaborated again. Wouldn’t you agree?” he asked as he looked at Applejack.

“I think we worked together more than enough yesterday,” Applejack said. “Still, if y’all are dead set at trying to get all of this done in just a week, then a few things are going to need to happen pretty fast. The first thing needs to be buying us this extra time y’all keep talking about. We need to get Twilight out of Ponyville and keep her, Nyx, and Spike distracted. For that, we’d need...”

Applejack first looked to Pinkie Pie, but then paused. Slowly, a mischievous smirk spread on her lips as she looked away from Pinkie Pie and focused instead on Discord. “We’d need someone who really knows how to cause a little chaos.”

~~~

Discord popped into existence outside Applejack’s barn. He was rubbing his paw and claw together, dancing a little on his hind legs. He was like a colt that had been told he could get as much candy from the candy store as he could carry, and he was going to be taking advantage of every moment. Still, after expressing his elation, the spirit of chaos shook his shoulders, coughed into his claw, and then politely knocked on the barn door.

“Darn it!”

Twilight’s shout of aggravation came moments before the princess threw open the door with her magic. Her mane was disheveled, and her eyes were bloodshot from a lack of sleep. “Do you realize what you just did?”

“I knocked,” Discord answered plainly. “After all, isn’t it rude to enter into a princess’s bedroom unannounced, even if it is temporarily in her friend’s barn?”

Twilight moaned, turning to go going back inside. She was glaring daggers at a pile of ash on her work bench, the same pile she had been struggling with for days. “I was so close to fixing this book. All I needed to do was put on the finishing spell, and you broke my concentration!”

“Well, I would apologize, but you can’t really blame me this time.” Discord reached into Twilight’s ear, digging around for a moment with his claw before pulling out a scroll. “With your usual scaled mailbox out of town, Princess Celestia asked if I’d drop this by. Must be something important if she asked me to get it to you. Though, one could easily argue that it may not be important because of the simple fact she entrusted me to deliver it. It’s equally important as it is unimportant until it is opened. Reminds me of a cat I once knew. Anyway, I doubt it’s anything dangerous. Maybe it’s just a friendly hello? Maybe she’s asking you if you like the new castle? Maybe—”

“Maybe we should just read it.” Twilight snatched the message out of Discord’s claw. She undid the seal, unfurled the message, and began to read down the elegant cursive that was Princess Celestia’s writing.

Dear Twilight,

I am sorry I could not write you regarding this matter sooner. I wanted to verify some information before getting your hopes up, a task I was able to accomplish this morning. There was once a very powerful repair spell known to lands beyond Equestria. A spell capable of undoing the damage done to almost anything. I believed the knowledge of the spell was lost hundreds of years ago, but it may still exist within the library of the Crystal Empire.

The only clue I can give you beyond that is the spells’ name, which is itself in a long forgotten dialect of the griffin empire. The spell was developed as a means of swiftly repairing castles during one of the more violent times eras of their history.

The name of the spell is “Yllissi Thgi Liwt.”

I hope this helps.

Sincerely,
Princess Celestia

Twilight’s eyes glimmered as if she had rediscovered the magic of friendship all over again. “There’s a spell.” She turned the scroll around, shoving the message into Discord’s face. “There’s another spell! Do you know what that means?”

“That you wasted all this time trying to perfect the spell you’ve been working on, and now you're not going to use it?”

A sound that was part laugh, part annoyed moan escaped Twilight’s lips. “Yes, I suppose that is true, but this also means there is a spell out there that can fix the library. One that won’t require me to sift through a ton of ash and splinters!” Twilight began moving about the room. She levitated an old pair of saddlebags from a hook on the wall, placed them on her back, and began to fill them with scrolls, quills, ink bottles, and other basic supplies.

“Well, this certainly is a fortuitous turn of events, but why are you packing your bags?” Discord asked as he, instead of reading the letter, began folding it over and over again.

Twilight began pulling books from the small pile of tomes that had survived the library’s destruction largely unharmed. “I’ll need to go to the Crystal Empire to track down the spell.”

Discord twisted and bent the scroll, the many folds beginning to form the shape of a winged creature. “Certainly doesn’t seem like you're planning a short trip. Should I ask Applejack or one of your other friends to keep an eye on Spike and Nyx when they come home tomorrow?”

Twilight paused, her eyes wandering to the ceiling before she shook her head. “No. I don’t want them coming home until I have learned this new spell and fixed the library. In fact, Cadance and Shining Armor were going to leave Canterlot for the Crystal Empire tomorrow morning. If I get to Canterlot today, then we can all take the train together. That would be nice after all the crazy that’s been going on.”

“It certainly sounds like a delightful family train trip. And, if I’m not mistaken, you might even be able catch the noon hour train to Canterlot.” Discord snapped his claw, making a large grandfather clock drop from thin air and land beside Twilight. The sudden impact startled her, but her eyes quickly moved to the clock’s face, which showed it was still about fifteen minutes before noon. “I’m sure they could make space if a princess really wanted a ride. That, or you could just fly.

“Though, doesn’t the noon hour train have lunch service?” Discord mused as he began making the final few folds to his origami masterpiece.

The mention of food made Twilight’s stomach audibly grumble, which she followed with a small laugh of embarrassment. Still, Twilight quickly regained her composure, closed the flaps of the old saddlebags, and trotted towards the door. “Yes, I believe it does,” Twilight said. “You’ll tell my friends where I went?”

“But of course. It’s always been my dream to be a messenger boy for princesses,” Discord sassed as he used a pair of tweezers to make some microscopic folds to finalize his origami. “But yes, I’ll tell Fluttershy when we have tea this afternoon.”

Twilight pushed open the barn door, wincing as the bright, sunny day assaulted her eyes. It took a few moments for her sight to adjust, but once it did, Twilight took a step outside. She called on her magic to shut the door, but before she did, she turned back and looked at Discord.

“Just in case you have any funny ideas, let me say this. You aren’t to touch anything in this barn until I get back. Get it?”

“Got it.” Discord lifted his feet off the ground and floated mid air, though his attention remained focused on his creation.

“Good. I’ll be back in a few days tops.” At that, Twilight pulled the barn door shut. Discord remained where he was for just a few moments, but then floated lazily over to a window. He saw Twilight taking off and flying towards Ponyville. He then looked down into his claw, smiling at the miniature, origami Fluttershy he had managed to fold out of the scroll.

“Now what was the code message again? Oh yes, the apple is out of the tree.”

“The apple is out of the tree,” the little paper Fluttershy replied in the pegasus’ own voice. It spread its little wings and fluttered out of Discord’s claw like a butterfly. Discord cracked open the window, allowing his little message to get outside and begin its journey. He watched it fly for a few moments before pulling the window shut.

He put the talons of his claw together, preparing to snap himself away from the barn when he paused. Discord looked around once, twice, and then a third time. He then smiled, reached out, and nudged one of Twilight’s quills out of place. A moment later, Discord was gone, laughing to himself as his mind got to work.

After all, he still had so much chaos to sow in the name of friendship.

~~~

“The apple is out of the tree.”

“I can’t believe she bought that!” Rainbow Dash said as she held the origami Fluttershy in one hoof. She and Applejack were overlooking the barn from the Apple family’s orchards. They were supposed to be Discord’s backup in case Twilight figured out he had faked Celestia’s note. Rarity was at the boutique, further developing her designs for the palace with Fluttershy. Pinkie Pie was already on the parade path to get volunteers for the project.

Applejack leaned against a nearby tree, smiling. “Well, I’m glad she did. It just let us buck two trees with one kick.“

“Yeah, sure,” Rainbow said as she poked at the origami Fluttershy, which giggled as if ticklish. Rainbow then abruptly turned her head to look at Applejack, eyebrows cocked in confusion. “Wait, what? We just got Twilight, Spike, and Nyx out of town for a week? How is that two trees? Don’t you mean three?”

“It’s two because they’re out of town and Discord’s got something to work on. Something that doesn’t involve being a pain in our flanks.”

Rainbow Dash snerked, containing a few laughs just behind her teeth. “Wow, he must have really got on your nerves yesterday.”

“You have no idea,” Applejack said. She shifted, taking her weight off the nearby tree and standing upright. She then tossed her head, motioning for Rainbow Dash to follow her. “Come on, we’d best get back. There’s lots of work of do, and the first thing I need is for you to fly to the Crystal Empire.”

Dash hopped into the air, hovering beside Applejack as she still held the paper Fluttershy in one hoof. “Right now?”

“Yes, right now. I need you to ask around the empire for something. All their homes are made out of crystal, so they may be the only ponies that can tell us how to build and take down walls in the new palace. Since, you know, it must have a ballroom.” Applejack shifted her voice into a mocking, high-society tone. “What kind of a palace would it be if Rarity couldn’t attend froofy parties in pretty dresses?”

Rainbow Dash allowed her laughter to flow freely. “I hear that.” She then cleared her throat before sticking her nose in the air. “Oh, Lady Applejack, could you just imagine this castle being worth anything at all without a ballroom?”

Applejack stopped, putting a forehoof to her head, continuing her own mocking voice. “Oh, the thought alone leaves me in need of a fainting couch.”

“Why, can you just imagine what some ruffians might do with the space otherwise. They’d turn it into a sweaty gym, or a...” Rainbow Dash stopped, her smile growing as her voice returned to normal. “We should put in a pool!”

“Now you're the one that’s gone off her rocker. Where are we going to put a pool?”

Rainbow Dash circled around Applejack, hovering in front of the mare. “It doesn’t have to be inside. We can put it outside, behind the trunk or something. Some of those balconies would make killer diving boards, and we could put in an awesome slide too. I mean, we’re going to have to do something with the backyard anyway.”

“What backyard?”

“Duh, the big grassy meadow behind it,” Rainbow Dash said, using her free forehoof to point in the direction of the palace. “That’s just begging to be turned into a backyard pool. Come on, you know it sounds cool.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “As cool as it may sound, it ain’t happening. Now come on, get flying.”

“Fine,” Rainbow Dash said with a groan before holding out the origami Fluttershy. “Take this.”

“Why should I take it?”

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it? It’s still moving.”

“Just crumple it up and throw it away,” Applejack said.

Rainbow glanced down at the paper, and moved her free forehoof into position to crush it, but the little origami Fluttershy cowered at its imminent demise. Rainbow tried to force herself to continue, but she groaned and held it out to Applejack again. “Look, just give it to Fluttershy or something. She’ll think it’s cute.”

“I suppose so.” Applejack gingerly took the paper pony, holding it as if it was a ticking bomb of chaos. “Now go on and get flying. You’re burning daylight.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Rainbow Dash turned and flew skyward. She blew through a stray cloud, did a loop, then got her bearings and began flying north. Still, even as she flew, Rainbow Dash’s mind returned to a previous thought. One that left her grumbling and bursting through clouds trying to vent her frustration.

“A pool is too a cool idea,” she said to herself. “Even Canterlot Castle doesn’t have a pool. All it has are gardens like the statue garden or the animal garden or the garden party garden. I bet if Rarity thought of stuff like that we’d be building a backyard.”

Rainbow Dash’s frown shifted into a grin. “Yeah... you can’t have a palace without royal gardens. Where would you hold the garden parties, and pool parties can be high class events.” She leaned a bit more into the wind, finding the motivation to try and make the trip to the Crystal Empire in record time.

After all, she needed to talk to Rarity as soon as she got back.

~~~

“The last of the tests came back normal. You and the foal are perfectly healthy, Your Highness.”

Shining Armor and Cadance both breathed a sigh of relief. They were in a room of Canterlot’s most renowned hospital. Cadance laid on the bed, resting on her side while Shining Armor stood nearby. They had been holding forehooves when the doctor came in, but with her words, that touch evolved. Shining leaned into Cadance, embracing her and placing a hoof on her side as, together, they bathed in their relief.

They had been so worried, so fearful, that Tirek’s rampage had put more than just Cadance’s life at risk. After Cadance had been saved from Tartarus, Shining took her straight to the hospital. Every test the doctors could think to do was done. Her body had been examined from the point of her horn to the tips of her rear hooves at least three times over, but it was all okay.

“Shining, did you feel that kick?”

Grinning ear to ear, Shining nodded and gently rubbed the side of Cadance’s gravid belly. “I did.”

The doctor chuckled as she held her clipboard in her magic. “I think that’s your foal telling you that you need to stop worrying. Now, you've already been discharged, so you’re free to leave whenever you want. Also, as a little side benefit to this battery of tests, we’ve confirmed your due date. You’ll be having that little filly or colt in about four weeks.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

The doctor bowed to the royal couple before turning towards the door. “Just doing my job, Your Highness,” she said before walking out of the room.

Shining Armor placed a kiss on Cadance’s neck as he began to slowly pull away from their embrace. “You want to wait a little while before we leave?”

“No,” Cadance answered with a shake of her head. “I think I’ve been cooped up in this hospital room long enough. Besides, we should go tell your parents the good news. They’ve been just as worried.”

Shining nodded. “Okay, I’ll pack your things. You take all the time you need getting up.”

Getting up, one of many things that had become much more challenging in recent months. Still, Cadance began to work herself closer to the edge of the bed, pulling some of the sheets with her. She had to pause once, as her unborn foal delivered a powerful kick to her insides. They had elected not to know the gender of their child until he or she was delivered, but with how strong the kicks were sometimes, Cadance was placing her bet on a healthy, strong colt.

Still, with another tug, Cadance had perched herself on the edge of the bed. Now came a slow, ginger slide. Bracing herself with a little of her own magic, Cadance lowered herself to the floor. The long stay in the hospital had, at the very least, given her hooves some time to recover. They had been aching so badly before Tirek’s attack. Cadance imagined it wouldn’t be long before they were hurting again, but she’d gladly enjoy the respite while it lasted.

But while her hooves had been allowed to rest, Cadance couldn’t help but feel other parts of her had suffered. Yes, she knew part of it was her hormones talking, but she felt so much bigger than she had been. She didn’t even want to think about stepping on a scale. She’d probably gained five pounds between lying around all day, the hospital meals, and her cravings for pastries from a nearby corner bakery.

“You ready, honey?”

Cadance looked over at Shining, her eyes wandering to his saddle bags, a bit bewildered. “You already have everything packed?”

“I had a few things put away before the doctor came in, but yeah, we’re ready to go.”

“Sorry, guess the mountain is moving slow today,” Cadance joked, shifting on her hooves and moving to Shining. She planted a kiss on his lips before starting to head towards the door. “Do you mind if we stop by the corner bakery before we go to your parents’ house? I want to get one more of their chocolate croissants before we go back home.”

“You sure?” Shining asked as he followed Cadance out of the room. “My mom will probably have lunch on the table by the time we get to their house.”

“A pregnant mare is allowed to have dessert before lunch if she wants.”

~~~

Twilight twirled her tongue, shifting the sweet peppermint candy to the other side of her mouth as she flew over Canterlot. The lunch on the train had been great: a sandwich with a salad and lemonade. It had been enough food to sate her hunger, and it had helped to pass a good chunk of her time on the train along with the Ponyville newspaper. Of course, even days after everything had happened, there had still been an article about the palace. The paper was also still running her personal ad asking anypony that had checked out a book to return it to Applejack’s barn.

Still, she’d be able to put all of that behind her once she had the repair spell. She had written it down as soon as she reached the train station. She then memorized and figured out multiple pronunciations of the words on the train itself. After all, she didn’t want to end up with a spell for growing bigger vegetables by accident when she spoke with the librarian in the Crystal Empire.

Rolling the peppermint candy with her tongue again, Twilight banked to catch a small breeze before beginning her descent. Her landing was gentle, though perhaps not perfect. She carried a bit too much forward momentum, forcing her to skip a few times before coming to a complete stop. “Still can’t stick the landing,” she laughed to herself, feeling better just getting out of the barn and chasing this new, much more promising possibility. Looking back, she had been beating her head against the wall trying to sift through a pile of ashes just to repair one book.

That previous spell she had been researching just wasn’t sensible, and she’d have to be sure to thank Princess Celestia if this new course of research bore fruit.

All that, however, would have to wait until she got to the Crystal Empire, which would be sometime the next day. She had already checked at the train station. The magical, crystalline locomotive of the empire would be arriving bright and early the next morning. It would be pulling Cadance and Shining’s royal car, which had more than enough room for a few extra passengers. It would be a pleasant ride up, and then Spike and Nyx could spend time with Cadance and Shining while she did her research. It was a practically perfect plan in every way.

Swallowing the last little chunk of the peppermint, Twilight trotted up the walk to her parents’ front door. She knocked a few times, just to be polite, but then cracked it open and took a step inside. “Hey, is anypony here?”

The loud patter of hooves drew Twilight’s attention to the stairs, where a familiar filly skidded to a stop on the smooth wooden floor. Nyx looked through the gaps of the staircase railing, smiling before scrambling down the stairs. “Twilight!”

“Hey, Nyx!” Twilight stepped all the way inside, shut the door, and spread her hooves just in time to receive a big, welcoming hug. She squeezed Nyx back, squishing her daughter tightly against her chest. “Oh I missed you. Have you been having fun?”

“Lots of fun!”

“She and Spike have been reading his old comic book collection,” Velvet said, coming out of the kitchen with Night Light and Shining Armor following in her wake. The older mare reached Twilight and gave her daughter a welcoming hug, not unlike the one Twilight had just given to Nyx. “You didn’t tell us you were coming.”

“Well, it was kind of last minute,” Twilight said as she switched from hugging her mother to hugging her father. “I need to do some research in the Crystal Empire, and I was hoping I could ride north with Cadance and Shining.”

Shining was last to hug Twilight. “What kind of research? Don’t tell me Equestria needs saving a second time in a week,” he joked.

Twilight patted Shining reassuringly on the back before pulling out of his hug. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing that bad, I promise. Now, where’s Cadance and Spike?”

“I’m up here,” Spike called, waving from the far side of the staircase banister before he began coming down the stairs. “Just needed to put my comic book away. Still, Twilight, does this mean the library—”

“Has gotten that new shipment of books.” Twilight jogged over to the base of the staircase, using her hoof to quickly gesture to Spike to zip his lips before putting a smile back on her own. “No, it hasn’t, but I’ve told the post office to hold onto everything until we get back.”

Spike reached the bottom step, forcing a smile of his own as he gave an awkward thumbs up. “Oh, that’s... great.”

“What’s great?”

Twilight and everypony else turned, looking to Cadance who had made her way out of the kitchen. Twilight quickly went up to her sister-in-law, pulling her into a hug, though it was gentler than the one she had given the rest of her family. “That you look so great,” Twilight said. “So, I guess this means the doctors gave you a clean bill of health.”

“Yes, we’re both doing fine.” Cadance used a forehoof to gently tap on her gravid belly. “Nothing’s changed as far as the doctors can tell. My due date hasn’t even— ow... moved. Unlike this foal, who hasn’t stopped since we finished lunch.”

“Can I feel again?” Nyx asked, walking up beside Twilight and Cadance.

“Okay, but remember to be gentle.”

Nyx nodded, moving to Cadance’s side and putting her small hoof gingerly against the swollen, pink-furred mass that was her aunt’s belly. Nyx stood there a few seconds, her ears turned forward and her body perfectly still. She then smiled as her stillness was rewarded. The foal kicked near her hoof.

“Knowing how curious Nyx is, I’m surprised she hasn’t asked where foals come from,” Shining said quietly to Twilight as he, Velvet, Spike, and Night Light watched Nyx’s smile grow wider with each kick she felt through Cadance’s tummy.

“Oh, she asked that as soon as we got back to Ponyville after Hearth’s Warming,” Twilight said. “And, unlike our parents, I couldn’t tell her a story about how foals magically appear. Doesn’t work as well when the filly you're trying to explain things to actually did come into existence because of a spell.”

“What did you tell her?”

“The truth.”

Shining, Velvet, and Night Light looked at Twilight in disbelief, mouths hanging open slightly. “You had the talk with her?” Velvet said, like she needed to scold her daughter for her parenting decisions.

“Oh no! No no no no,” Twilight said, waving a forehoof back and forth. “I didn’t have that talk with her. I just told her that foals grow inside a mare’s womb until they are ready to be born, and that they start growing when a stallion and mare really love each other. Please, give me some credit.”

“Does anyone else want to feel?” Cadance asked, interrupting the conversation. “It’s probably the best time. This foal is kicking up a storm right now.”

“She, or he, is probably just trying to impress her cousin,” Shining joked as he stepped up beside Nyx and put his hoof next to hers. He then laughed again. “Wow, you aren’t kidding.”

Twilight, Velvet, and Night Light moved to Cadance’s other side, each putting a hoof on her belly and smiling as they felt the foal inside squirming. The only one who didn’t come closer was Spike. “Don’t you want to feel the foal kick?” Twilight asked.

Spike put up his claws and shook his head. “Thanks, but no thanks. Maybe it’s because I hatched from an egg, but I don’t get the appeal of feeling a baby kick. I think I’m just going to go back upstairs. Nyx, I’m going to pull out the next comic. Should I wait for you?”

“Yes, I’ll be up in a second,” Nyx answered, though she did so without removing her hoof from Cadance’s side. Spike nodded to this, heading back upstairs while the rest of the family remained in the hallway, continuing to feel the foal kick. Each of them was wearing a smile, except for Cadance, whose joy was interrupted by winces of pain whenever her unborn foal kicked at her sensitive internal organs.