• Published 26th Mar 2015
  • 19,626 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.

  • ...
49
 1,175
 19,626

A New Direction

The Road Home

By Pen Stroke

Preread, Edited, and Reviewed By

Illustrious Q, BronyWriter, SaturnStar14, Applejack-fan

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

Chapter 9

A New Direction

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

“Morning, Applejack!”

Applejack reached the foot of the crystal palace’s steps. Though she was not proud of how she stormed off the previous day, it had helped calm her down. Apple bucking always would be one of her favorite ways to vent frustration that was still a productive use of her time. Still, all that was behind her and she gave a smile to Pinkie Pie, who was standing halfway up the steps and holding a baking tray. “Morning, Pinkie. What are you doing here so early?”

“Wanted you to try one of these,” Pinkie said, lowering the baking sheet enough to reveal its contents. Laid out in three near-perfect rows of four were twelve apple danishes, and they were a beautiful sight to Applejack. The smell was dancing in her nose, a sweet mixture of apple and cinnamon. Oh, she knew these danishes well. It was Pinkie’s unique recipe, where she prepared the bread part of the danish like a cinnamon roll. It was a treat for almost all the senses. The warm, soft bread, the sweet smells, the beautiful swirl, and the delectable taste.

If the danishes could only serenade the ears, then no sense would go unused.

“They look amazing, Pinkie. Better than usual,” Applejack said as she picked one up from the tray and took a bite. A shiver ran down her spine, and she instinctively licked her lips to catch any fleeting crumb. “Whoa...”

“I know!” Pinkie said with a hop, though she was careful not to jostle the baked goods. “These are the best Cinnamon Swirl Apple Danishes I’ve ever made! That new oven is amazing.”

“The Cakes got a new oven? I didn’t hear anything about that,” Applejack said before letting her mouth once more enjoy the apple-tastic party of flavor that was the danish.

Pinkie Pie giggled, before turning and heading up the steps. “It’s not the Cakes,” she said in a sing-song manner. Applejack arched an eyebrow, but had another chomp of her danish before setting what little remained on the brim of her hat. She then followed behind Pinkie, who was climbing up the interior, spiraling staircase with the baking sheet balanced perfectly on her back.

“Oh, then who got a new oven? I bet they asked you to help them try it out,” Applejack said. She paused for a moment, removing and taking another bite from her danish. She then replaced it back on the rim of her hat and trotted to catch up with Pinkie Pie. “Let me guess. It was Rarity. She likes getting those fancy new gizmos for her kitchen, even though she hardly uses them.”

Pinkie Pie giggled and shook her head.

“Okay, then who would it be?” Applejack asked herself. “Was it Candy Dandy, the owner of the candy shop? He’s always talked about getting some fancy oven for the front of his shop so ponies could make their own candy.”

“Nope.”

The pair reached the top of the stairs, and began walking the halls of the palace part of the pseudo crystal treehouse. Applejack’s brow furrowed, and she looked to the floor as her mind tried to grasp for the answer. “Okay, then it had to have been... Bon Bon. I saw her getting a whole slew of new pots and pans last week. New pots and pans for the new oven, right?”

“You’re right!” Pinkie Pie cheered, then giggled. “Or at least, half right. Bon Bon did get a new oven, but I didn’t use her oven to bake these delicious danishes.”

“All right, then I give up. Whose oven did you use?”

“The castle’s!” Pinkie Pie turned, heading through a doorway into one of the rooms adjacent to the corridor. It was a room Applejack knew too well. The previous evening, her night shift crew had wasted their time taking out a wall in what was supposed to just be a sitting room. The room itself had been largely empty the last time she saw it.

It was not empty anymore. In fact, the room looked finished.

It was a kitchen, fully furnished and carrying the smell of the danishes. It was of the same style and size of the Canterlot Castle’s kitchen. There were three industrial ovens, and some crystal walls had been grown in the corner and affixed with the necessary machinery to create a walk in refrigerator. Pinkie Pie was beaming as she set the cookie sheet of danishes down on a counter and looked back at Applejack.

“Isn’t it wonderful!? With this kitchen, we’ll never have to worry about food in any parties we throw, even if we fill the ballroom with ponies. And look, look at the ovens. They’re crystal ovens. We grew them with that silly sticky paint like everything else, and they work so well! It hardly took them any time at all to warm up. I mean, you tasted these danishes.”

“It... was you?” Applejack said, her pleasant mood withering like an apple being sucked dry by a vampire fruit bat. “You were the one that pulled the night shift off what they were supposed to be doing?” She took the last piece of danish from the brim of her hat, staring at it for a moment before glaring back at Pinkie Pie. “You made these to butter me up, didn’t you?”

“No, I made them to sweeten you up!” Pinkie giggled at her own joke, but her laughter died quickly as she saw the frown and furrowed brow growing on Applejack’s face. “I mean, we were going to have to do this part of the castle anyway, I just had your volunteers work on it sooner rather than later. And come on, a super fun kitchen like this for throwing super fun parties is way better than a sitting room.”

“Pinkie, you just... you’ve..” Applejack grunted in frustration. “That doesn’t make it okay!” She threw the last of her danish on the ground like the bribery it was, turned, and stormed out of the room. In one fell swoop, her frustration had returned, and she needed to go someplace else before she did something she’d regret.

~~~

With a sigh of exhaustion, Flash delivered the last of his comrades to the top of the cliff. He then landed, nearly collapsing on his own hooves. He finally gave in and allowed himself to sit like the others as they all rested in the slowly growing light of dawn.

They had been up all night in a panic, working feverishly to ensure whether or not they had bad news to report back to the Crystal Empire. After finding the diamond dog holes, they had begun searching the nearby area. They checked forest trails, the tracks, and Flash did an aerial sweep. That was when he saw it. The wrecked royal carriage at the bottom of a tall cliff.

The four guard ponies had spent all night, working under the light of crystals and Luna’s moon, to search the wreckage. They overturned every piece of crystal and shattered remains of furniture. They found a broken pair of glasses and a few stray playing cards. They found tuffs of diamond dog hair. Yet the thing they hoped not to find, but searched diligently for, were the ponies and dragon they, as guards, were sworn to protect.

Thankfully, they could find no bodies amongst the mangled train car.

“We should go check on the train and then try to get a few hours of sleep.” Gem Shield tried to pull himself back to his hooves, but ended up back where he started, sitting on the ground with his head turned skyward.

“The train’s right here, Gem Shield. We moved it closer when we found the wreckage,” Lapis said. He was laying on his side, but he managed enough energy to point at the small, crystal engine that was sitting just a few dozen feet away. “You were the one that suggested it.”

“I am sorry that I don’t recall everything I said after working from dusk till dawn moving heavy crystal and worrying that I’d find our princess squashed like a bug!”

“Easy, Gem. We’re all tired,” Flash said, managing to get back to his hooves. “But we’re guard ponies. We’ve pulled all nighters before. We will survive. But you’re right, let’s catch a few winks before we get back to our search,” he said mostly for himself. While the others could take turns dozing in the train car, he had to keep airborne. He wouldn’t be fit to fly safely without at least a few hours of sleep.

Ardent groaned as he rubbed his eyes. “I hate trying to sleep during the day. All I end up doing is just lying there, staring at the back of my eyelids and never actually getting any sleep.” He sat up from the dirt, patting off one side of his coat before forcing himself to stand. A morning breeze blew across the group, a bit of cool relief after an evening of hard labor. Yet, as the wind gusted, Ardent turned his face and ears to the horizon.

“Did any of you hear that?”

Flash, Lapis, and Gem turned, looking to their comrade who was now standing on the very edge of the cliff. His ears were forward, and he was hardly breathing as he looked towards the horizon. Flash strained his own ears, but couldn’t hear anything except the occasional rustle of trees when the wind gusted. From the looks on Lapis and Gem’s faces, they couldn’t hear anything either.

“There it was again.” Ardent raised up onto his back hooves, trying to raise his ears higher and looking like a meerkat in the process. “I think... I think I heard the Great and Honorable Spike’s voice.”

Flash took to his wings, hovering a few yards in the air while Lapis and Gem moved up beside Ardent. They all turned their ears forward, trying to hear what he did. Yet, the forest only gave its audience its usual symphony. The birds chirped and the trees rustled. Everything with the world seemed right. Even the sunrise was picture perfect, worthy of being captured by a painter or a photographer. The warm light in the east and the trees casting long shadows against one another, as if trying to harbor the last moments of night from burning away.

“What was that?”

Gem pointed his hoof, and the other three focused their vision in that direction. “What did you see?” Lapis asked.

“I don’t know. That’s why I asked ‘what was that?’” Gem snapped, though he was now starting to trot along the edge of the cliff, trying to change his perspective on the forest below them. “But... I thought I saw a flash, or maybe I just blinked. I just don’t know.”

“Wait, I just saw it too,” Ardent claimed, the energy in the group returning despite their exhaustion. “A green flash of light?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Gem nodded his head, then snapped his ears forward. “And I just heard something. It was a scream. It was definitely a scream. High pitched, like a filly.”

The four guards were now moving together along the edge of the cliff, slowly accelerating to a steady gallop as they kept their eyes on the forest. “Do you think it’s them? Princess Twilight does have her daughter with her,” Lapis said.

“But none of them have green magic?” Gem Shield said. “What would have made that green flash of light? It wasn’t the right color for Spike’s dragon fire.”

“I know one thing that could have done it.” Flash swoop down and picked Ardent up by the shoulders. He then began gliding along the cliff face. “Lapis, Gem, keep running along up here. I’ll come back to get you in a second. But we need to move on this now, stallions. The royal family may be being pursued by something dangerous, and I can only think of one such threat that uses green magic.”

The other three guards nodded in agreement, feeling their hooves gain speed as urgency filled their chests.

~~~

“Organize things for us, Applejack. Only you can do it, Applejack. Help us even though we keep doing things to make your job harder, Applejack.” She grumbled and cursed, venting her frustration with her hat pushed down over her eyes and her chin resting on the picnic table. She had walked to one of Ponyville’s often less populated parks, and went to a picnic table she knew was rarely used. It was tucked away, quiet, and a good place for her to stew.

The project had turned into a larger headache than she could have guessed, even with Discord off to keep Twilight distracted. She never expected everything to go perfectly smoothly. She expected there to be hiccups and hold ups. But what she didn’t expect was... sabotage. Yes, she knew her friends weren’t being malicious, but the results were the same. Pinkie Pie got her fancy kitchen while delaying other parts of the castle. Fluttershy unwittingly unleashed the Angel Bunny Army and shut down the project. Even Rarity had set them up for failure at the start. The project would be several times easier if they had just focused on the essentials.

The only one that hadn’t caused trouble was Rainbow Dash, and that wasn’t for lack of trying to get her backyard pool.

“Sorry, didn’t think anyone else would be here.”

Applejack turned her head, just enough so she could see out from under the brim of her hat. A pony had come around the tree that hid the secluded picnic table from the rest of the park. The stallion was carrying a lunch, and was starting to back away when Applejack sat up and fixed her hat. “Hey, Silver Shill, didn’t know you were in town.”

“Oh, Applejack, it’s you.” Silver stopped retreating and resumed his approach, taking a seat across from the mare at the table. “I didn’t recognize you, but I guess you can’t blame me too much. All I could see from over there was somepony trying to nap under her hat.” He began unpacking his lunch, a simple meal of a sandwich, celery, and a big, Sweet Apple Acres apple. “So, what are you doing out here?”

“Trying to clear my head.” Applejack sank back into her seat, letting her hat cover her eyes again. Maybe it was rude to Silver Shill, but she couldn’t care less at the moment about decorum.

Shill took a small bite of his sandwich, chewed, and swallowed. “I guess all the work on the palace isn’t going so well. That’s why I’m in town. I’ve been helping up at Night Stone Castle with your friend, Pinkie Pie. Boy, isn’t she a bundle of energy?”

Applejack sighed, the mention of Pinkie Pie reminding her of exactly what she was trying to clear out of her head. “That’s one way to describe her.”

Shill ate a few more bites of his sandwich, eyes wandering as the conversation withered like a dry plant under a hot sun. He took a bite of his apple, crunched on some celery, and then managed to find something else to say. “So, are you taking a lunch break? I’m eating before I start my shift at the castle.”

Applejack just shook her head, resulting in her rolling it back and forth across the table.

A single dry, forced chuckle escaped Shill’s mouth before he promptly filled it with another bite of his sandwich. He then crunched on his celery, and was about to chase that with a bite from his apple. He then paused, turning the pristine, red-skinned fruit in his hoof a moment. “You and your family really do grow great apples. I’ve been having one of these a day ever since I got here. I can’t get enough of them.”

The topic changing to something other than the palace was enough for Applejack to sit up. She straightened her hat, and even managed a little smile as she watched Shill bite into the apple. “Yeah, nothing beats an Apple family apple, and we put a lot of work in to make sure of that. We tend the trees. We harvest at just the right time, and we do all the honest work it takes to make them apples honestly good.”

“Honest work to make them honestly good." Shill smiled a little as he swallowed. "That almost sounds like a marketing slogan the Flim Flam Brothers would think up. Good or bad intentions, you have to give those two that much credit. They sure knew how to sell things.”

“How’d you get mixed up with those two in the first place?” Applejack asked as she leaned her head on her hoof. Without a lunch of her own to eat, all she could really do was talk and watch Shill enjoy his.

“It’s actually a funny story. I’ve always wanted to be a salespony, but I never really got the hoof of it. I was fired more times than I care to count from different shops because I couldn’t manage to make sales. But then Flim and Flam came into town. Other ponies were enthralled by their miracle elixir, but what I saw was a pair of grade A sales ponies. I approached them after their show, and asked if they had any openings. They weren't keen on it at first, but then they hired me to be their plant pony.”

“I never heard of anything like that before.”

Shill shrugged. “I hadn’t heard of it either, and I think those two may have made the name up to make me feel more important than I was. Still, it somewhat makes sense. I was the pony they were planting in the crowd to help make more sales. Though it didn’t work as well as we hoped the first few times. I was this close to losing that job.” Shill put his hooves about an inch apart for emphasis.

“Well, in the end, I’m glad you didn’t. That coin you gave me ended up being real helpful,” Applejack said with a little chuckle. “Still, what were you doing that got under Flim and Flam’s fur? From what I remember of those two, a tornado could be blowing around their heads and they’d still be keeping up their routine.”

“It wasn’t me, or at least it wasn’t all my fault. They were trying a bit too hard to control what I did. They were telling me which costume to use and how to fake my injuries. They wanted it spot on, and all that pressure was making my acting less than convincing. But then one night, they were too busy making more elixir and told me to just take care of it myself. That’s when things turned around. I had the freedom to do the act in a way I was comfortable. After that, picking the best costume and character for the audience became my responsibility. It was my contribution to the show, and the brothers trusted me to do it, even when I wanted to try out new props or costumes.”

Shill crunched down the last bite of his celery, chuckling a little as he did. “Now, thanks to the time I spent with them, I’ve started my own costume shop, a good honest place a few towns over.”

“I’m real glad to hear that, Shill,” Applejack said, the story rolling around in her head. For a moment the pair were silent. Shill was nearing the end of his lunch, and Applejack’s frustration had been vented away. It was now just two ponies sitting while one enjoyed an early lunch.

“So, what part are you doing for yourself?”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “What do ya mean?”

“Well, I heard from somepony that Pinkie Pie was making this big kitchen so she could use it to throw some super fun parties. It sounds like just the thing she’d do for her part of the palace.”

“None of us really have parts of the palace,” Applejack said, chuckling a little at the notion. “It’s Twilight’s new home. She’s the Princess of Friendship.”

“But didn’t Celestia say something different? I read it in the newspaper.” Shill paused a moment, eyes wandering before his mind managed to capture the memory. “Yeah, Princess Celestia was interviewed about the new palace and she said it was a perfect place for Princess Twilight and her friends. It even had a picture of the throne room, and it had a seat for all seven of you.”

Applejack laughed a little at the thought, but then she got quiet. Shill’s story and question were swimming and merging together in her mind. Applejack then shook her head before lifting a hoof and securing her hat on her head. “I suppose you got a point there, Shill. Now, hate to run off, but all this talking has helped me get my head on straight.”

~~~

“Applejack, is this really an appropriate time for this?” Rarity asked as she, Fluttershy, and Rainbow followed their friend through the castle. Her disappearance earlier that morning had been a major disruption to the work on the palace. Ponies had swarmed Rarity and Fluttershy in the design tent, asking questions they had no answers to. Where were the volunteers supposed to be working? Where was the crystal mortar? Where were they installing the plumbing? What smelled so delicious?

“I promise, we’ll get right back on track. I just need to settle something with y’all,” Applejack said before making a left turn, arriving back at the place where her frustration had reached a breaking point earlier that day. The ballroom kitchen, however, was nearly filled to capacity. Every counter space was stacked with plates of cookies and apple fritters. There were easily enough desserts to feed a small army, and the amount was only increasing. Pinkie Pie was at the oven, trading out a pair of cookie sheets while another half dozen apple fritters fried up in a pot of hot oil on the stovetop.

Rainbow landed, moving over to one of the plates and sniffing at the deserts. She couldn’t help but lick her lips. “Hey, Pinkie, what’s all this for?”

“Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie Pie yelped as if she had been caught planning a surprise party. Her eyes then flicked to Applejack before narrowing to dots. “Applejack! Oh no! My super duper apology isn’t ready yet! I still have ten dozen more cookies to bake and twelve dozen more fritters to fry before I can make my ultimate I’m sorry apple gift basket.”

“With all this, I think you mean gift wagon,” Rarity said. “What exactly are you apologizing for?”

“She was the one that hijacked the night shift the last couple days,” Applejack said as she trotted up to Pinkie Pie. With a quick twist of her hoof she turned the stove’s burners off before doing the same to the oven. “And, well, I didn’t take too kindly to the news when I found out this morning.”

“That was you! You ruined my lovely sitting room.”

Pinkie Pie opened her mouth, but Applejack stepped between her and Rarity, breaking the line of sight. “Ruined is a bit of a strong word, and if anything I’ve been the one making things difficult.”

“How is any of this your fault, Applejack?” Fluttershy asked. “I mean, it was my animals that caused the mess in the backyard.”

“I haven’t had my head in the right place for this project since day one. All I saw was the job you all wanted me to do and all the work that had to be done. But somepony helped me realize a few things. This isn’t a job, and though y’all put your faith in me, I shouldn’t be the one bossing everypony around. All five of us should be working together. We should be making decisions together, and doing things that get us excited about this project.

“I mean, look at what Pinkie got done,” Applejack said, sweeping her hoof through the air as she drew attention to the room. “This here is one of the best kitchens I’ve ever seen, and she got it done by just taking some ponies off the night shift. Sure, it kind of put a wrench in some other things, but the palace wouldn’t have this room if she hadn’t put her heart into it.

“And that’s something else I haven’t been thinking about. We all have seats in the throne room. This is going to be Twilight’s home, but this palace also represents our friendship. Heck, Twilight would probably making a fuss right now that all we’ve been focusing on is her.

“So, do you know what we’re going to do?” Applejack asked, to which her friends could only shake their heads. “I’ll tell ya what we’re going to do. We’re going to have fun with this and work together, like we should have been from the start. Rarity’s going to have her ballroom with this great kitchen of Pinkie Pie’s to make any delicious treat anypony could ask for.”

Rarity began to smile, nodding her head. “I do suppose this is a better use of space, and honestly, between all six of us who’s really going to sit in a sitting room long enough to make it worthwhile?”

“That’s the spirit,” Applejack said with a firm nod. “And Fluttershy, we’re going to have those palace gardens with room for plenty of nice little critters, but we’re also going to have Rainbow Dash’s pool.”

“What? Really!?” Rainbow grabbed Applejack by the shoulders, looking the mare dead in the eye. “You aren’t pulling my leg, right? I can actually have the pool?”

“Eeyup,” Applejack said, chuckling a little at how much she had sounded like her big brother. Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, somersaulting a few times in celebration to the amusement of her friends below.

“But what about you Applejack?” Fluttershy asked. “If we’re getting all these things, it would be a shame for you not to add something to the palace.”

“Honestly, the part I want to do is where Twilight, Spike, and Nyx are actually going to live. Those three deserve someplace nice and comfortable, a real place to hang their hats.” She then shrugged her shoulders. “And, if I find the time, I wouldn’t mind trying to plant a golden apple tree in the garden. I want ta see if I can put Celestia's to shame.”

“That all sounds well and good, Applejack, but what if we don’t get done?” Rarity asked. “Do we really want to go adding things now? What about getting done before Twilight gets back? And how are we going to organize all this?”

“I think the six of us will still need to keep ahold of the reigns of this wagon, but a lot of our volunteers are smart ponies. They came here to help, no matter their reason. If we break this project into a lot of smaller bits, I believe we can trust all them ponies to work together and get everything done. Sure, it will be a lot more hectic. There'll be more feathers and fur flying than if ya dropped a fox in a hen house. Why, I imagine Discord would be grinning ear to toe hearing what I’m proposing.”

“Don’t you mean ear to ear?” Rarity asked.

A small chuckle escaped Applejack’s lips. “Knowing Discord, I meant exactly what I said. Anyway, ponies do their best work when they’re doing what they have a passion for. Some hate painting with the crystal mortar, but others like it. Why not let those who aren’t having fun go outside and help in the garden or help tear down some other wall. It’s not like that’s the only job that needs doing.

“So what do y’all say?” Applejack asked, extending her hoof. “No more boss Applejack. Now we’re working together, and succeed or fail, let’s have fun doing it.”

The other four mares nodded, adding their hooves to Applejack’s before all five raised them upward in a unified cheer. Applejack then picked up one of the plates of cookies Pinkie Pie had baked and motioned towards the door. “Now come on y’all, let’s go take these treats to all those hard working ponies outside and tell them how things are going to work.”

“Only if you have one apple fritter right now,” Pinkie Pie said, holding the freshest fritter in her hoof. “Because I really am sorry I made you mad.”

Applejack chuckled, and then like a shark emerging from the water, chomped down the whole fritter in a single bite. The mares began to laugh together, gathering up the baked goods in preparation for taking them outside. All the while, no one noticed a particular origami pony sneaking out of Fluttershy’s mane and flittering out the nearest open window.

~~~

“Spell Nexus?”

The dark blue unicorn with light gray mane didn’t look up from his desk as a few papers floated by. For several months he had been maintaining his position as Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorn’s headmaster. After his run-in with Nyx over Hearth’s Warmings, he had finally been able to get his own life back on track. He was still a few pounds heavier than he once was, and there were perhaps a few wrinkles that had not been there before. Still, things had regained an old normalcy. Perhaps a tad mundane compared to being the leader of a cult, but he wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.

“Yes?” he asked before applying his signature to another form that required it.

“I know you’re busy, but we had a small disturbance on campus. Three fillies got separated from their parents, and started crying. Some students brought them here to the front office, and we’ve been trying to get them reunited with their families.”

Nexus nodded, giving a small wave with his quill while still focusing on his work. “That’s very good. Glad to hear the situation was resolved.”

“Well, it isn’t resolved, sir. The fillies won’t tell us their names or anything. They just keep saying they need to talk to you.”

Spell Nexus looked up from his desk for the first time, seeing his secretary standing just behind the chairs on the opposite side of his desk. There, beside her, were three little fillies with saddlebags, smiling and waving. Three little fillies he recognized all too well. “I see,” he said as he dropped his quill into the inkwell. “Don’t worry, I know these fillies and their families. Please give us a moment, and then we’ll get them back on the train to Ponyville.”

The secretary nodded, stepping out of the room and pulling the doors shut as she left. Spell Nexus then leveled his gaze at Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom as the three fillies made themselves comfortable in the cushions on the opposite side of his desk. “I’m surprised you three didn’t sneak in here in the brown paper bag I use for lunch.”

“That was what I thought we should do,” Scootaloo said, she and Apple Bloom sitting on one of the cushions while Sweetie Belle sat on the other. “But Sweetie Belle thought this would work better.”

“Of course, because nopony is going to just ignore three crying fillies,” Spell Nexus surmised.

“Oh no, it was just Sweetie screaming,” Apple Bloom said. “Trust me, she was doing more than enough screaming for the three of us.”

Scootaloo nodded before rubbing a hoof against one ear. “I think my ears are still ringing.”

Spell Nexus chuckled as he folded his hooves on top of the desk. “So what’s the mission this time, Cutie Mark Crusaders? I don’t think there’s anypony that needs rescuing here at Celestia’s school, and all three of you are a little young to be applying for admittance. That and won’t your families be a bit concerned when they realize you're missing? ”

“We need to talk to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,” Apple Bloom said. “It’s urgent.”

“Has something happened in Ponyville?” Nexus asked, a twinge of true concern filling his voice. He rose from his desk, and took one step to the side. “Are Twilight and her friends in danger? Did something else get out of Tartarus?”

“No, nothing like that,” Scootaloo said. “Twilight, Nyx, and Spike are being kept busy in the Crystal Empire while everypony else is working on her new palace.”

“That sounds very nice,” Spell Nexus said as he slowly returned to his seat with an arched eyebrow. “That, however, doesn’t seem entirely urgent, or something that demands the princesses’ attention. If Twilight’s friends needed the princesses’ help, I’m sure they would have come and asked for it themselves.”

“They don’t need the help, but we do,” Apple Bloom said as she opened her saddlebags. She held the flap while Scootaloo removed a book and placed it on Spell Nexus’s desk. He looked at the book for a few moments, then drew it closer so he could properly read the title.

“You need help with one hundred and one superior sugar sweet recipes?”

“No, we need help with what’s on the inside.”

Spell Nexus made a nod. Though not entirely interested in the crazy scheme being presented to him, he was willing to humor the girls for the time being. He cracked open the cover, and was surprised to see the book was hollow. A somewhat clean rectangle had been cut out of the thick pages inside, and the gap was filled with several small bits and bobs. “What is this?” he asked as he levitated a few items out to inspect them more closely.

“Did you know about Nyx’s treasure book?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“No, it doesn’t ring a bell.”

“It was a green book that Nyx hollowed out. She made it just like that one, a little secret treasure box.”

Spell Nexus stared at the three fillies, his mind tripping back. In the interleaving months, he had recalled more clearly what he had done while ‘blessed’ by Nightmare Moon’s poisonous drive and thirst for revenge. The thought, the memory of a green book bubbled to the surface. There was one green book he remembered clearly, one he had been so happy to turn over to his queen, The book she had them retrieve from Twilight’s library. The book he had been told contained dark plans for the future of Equestria.

He almost wanted to smile at the thought that Nyx had used him under such false pretenses to secure such a precious item.

“It’s a lovely book girls, but I’m afraid that still doesn’t explain why you’re here.”

“Nyx’s old treasure book got destroyed with the rest of the library,” Scootaloo said while Spell Nexus continued to pick through the contents of the book. He drew out the red crusader cape and the kazoo, a chuckle on his lips as he took in each item. “We’ve been making her this new one, but it’s missing something.”

“We need a picture from Twilight’s coronation,” Sweetie Belle said.

“Well, there were a lot of photos taken that day. Wouldn’t it be easier to go talk to somepony at the Canterlot newspaper?” Spell Nexus asked. He began putting the book back into order, returning all the items to the interior piece by piece.

Apple Bloom shook her head firmly. “No, it wasn’t just any picture. It was a special one. It had Nyx, Twilight, Spike, Prince Armor, Princess Cadance, Twilight's parents, Princess Celestia, and Princess Luna all standing in the same room where the wedding happened. When Nyx showed us the picture, it was the only time we’d seen one like it. Our sisters don’t even have that picture.”

“It must have been just one for the immediate family and the princesses then,” Spell Nexus mused as he closed the cover on the book. He then smiled, levitating the book back into Apple Bloom’s bag as he got up from his desk. “I can’t make any promises they’ll have a copy they can spare, but I don’t think the princesses will mind if we pop over to the castle for a moment. But then it’s straight back to Ponyville for you three. Am I understood?”

“Yes.”

“Of course.”

“Eeyup.”

~~~

“... and have a pleasant afternoon.”

Celestia shut the doors to the small meeting room, letting the smile fade from her face as she turned around. Luna was standing up from her seat at the table as well, stretching her legs and wings before shaking her body like a dog trying to dry off from the rain. While they were both tired, Luna looked particularly exhausted as she had been working against her normal sleep schedule. She was up all day, asleep all night, and was barely able to attend to any of the many feverish nightmares spawned by Tirek.

“What’s next after this, Sister?” Luna asked as she rolled her neck, her words carrying her dread of what the answer might be.

“The Equestrian Farmer’s Union have a meeting to express their concerns about the recent attack by Tirek, just like the Weather Pegasi’s Union before that, and just like the Zebra Delegation before that.” Celestia moved over to a window, looking outside and feeling the temptation of an early fall breeze. The windows were just big enough. If she and Luna truly wished, they could just escape into the sky, but that would only cause more headaches down the line.

“I do not recall the population of Equestria being so skittish a thousand years ago,” Luna said as she moved up beside Celestia, looking out a neighboring window. “It seems all we’ve done since Tirek’s defeat is reassure all these different groups that he is not a threat they need to concern themselves with.”

“It’s been an unusually turbulent few years, so I can’t blame them for being concerned,” Celestia said as she watched the comings and goings of Canterlot. Ponies strode the streets and flew the skies. From her view, Equestria was peaceful and happy, as it was supposed to be. “Most citizens were reassured by the articles that were printed in the kingdom’s newspapers. But there are always some, like these union groups and the delegations, that feel like they can’t believe what they’re being told unless it comes straight out of a princess’s mouth.”

Luna chuckled as she looked over to Celestia. “Well, let me offer my apologies.”

“For what?” Celestia asked.

“For the intolerable stream of meetings you undoubtedly endured when I came back from the moon.”

Celestia laughed openly, Luna’s words striking an odd chord in her mind. “Oh yes, I have some particularly clear memories from those days. There was one group from Applewood who wanted to make a movie about the whole thing. They even had a draft of a script they had hurriedly typed up on the train ride to Canterlot.”

“Was it any good?” Luna asked as she began heading back to her seat at the meeting table in preparation for their next visitors.

“The play performed in Ponyville last year was more accurate, more respectful, and overall more entertaining.” Celestia took a step to follow Luna’s lead and return to her seat when the door to the meeting room cracked open. A guard poked his head in, short on breath as if he had been galloping.

“Your Highnesses, I know you are busy, but we could use your assistance in the castle gardens.”

Luna rose from the cushion she had only just gotten comfortable in and strode around the table to approach the guard. “What’s happened?”

The guard opened the door further, and gave a respectful bow as he reported. “As you have been informed, the cooks have been reporting some loss of food from the pantry. This was assumed to be the result of rats, but the true culprit was revealed just minutes ago.”

“That sounds like good news,” Celestia said as she came to a stop next to Luna, the pair standing shoulder to shoulder as they listened to the soldier. “I assume something happened when this culprit was discovered.”

The guard nodded. “Yes, and it is why your presence is requested in the gardens. The guard believes we can contain the situation given enough time, but the longer the culprit goes undefeated the more collateral damage the castle will suffer.”

“Who exactly is this culprit?” Luna asked, a question that left the guard struck silent for a moment. He opened his mouth once, then made a small popping noise with his lips as his mind searched for the best way to describe what they were facing. He then looked back to the princesses, his lips caught somewhere between a frown and a smile.

“Your Highnesses, do you recall when Discord gave legs to some brownies at the Hearth’s Warming party?”

~~~

Celestia couldn’t deny, it was a sight to behold. Standing in the gardens of Canterlot Castle was a giant brownie creature, roaring and writhing as it dripped pure, melted chocolate from its mouth like saliva. It was the shape of a dragon, but instead of breathing fire, it was capable of spitting a stream of solid milk chocolate. Several guards had already been turned into decadent statues, and amongst the victims were three fillies and one particular stallion.

“I didn’t imagine our next meeting would be so sweet, Nexus. What’s the occasion?” Celestia asked, her words ringing with a small chuckle as she used her magic to free Nexus’s head from the chocolate. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m fine. The chocolate isn’t even hot,” he answered as he was freed chunk by chunk from the sweet statue prison. “But these three certainly seem like magnets for chaos. I’d almost call it a special talent.”

“Cutie Mark Crusaders... Chaos Detectors?” Apple Bloom said as she, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle were freed by Luna. “I wonder what that cutie mark would look like.”

“Yes, I’ve heard a few interesting stories about these three from Twilight,” Celestia said quietly to Nexus, as to not offend the small fillies. She then let her voice return to its normal volume as she looked at the brownie dragon. “Though, special talent or not, I suppose it is better they discovered this particular pest before it got much bigger. Luna, would you like to dispel it or shall I?”

“Allow me, Sister,” Luna said as she spread her wings and called on her magic, a smile on her lips. “I’ll gladly slay this beast, and revel in the chaos as I do so.” With a single beat of her wings Luna was airborne, charging at the brownie dragon with what could only be described as a joyful battle cry. “Have at thee!”

“You two seem entirely too happy to see us,” Spell Nexus said as he was freed from the last of the chocolate.

“Let’s just say Luna and I can both appreciate this variety of relatively harmless chaos after the past few days,” she said as she watched Luna battle with the dragon. She had summoned her twin swords, and was swooping around the creature while cleaving off near perfect brownie squares with each pass. “So, what brings you four to the castle?”

“We need a picture!” Sweetie Belle said with a big grin before the three crusaders launched into an elaborate explanation of what had been going on in Ponyville. They told of the castle and its renovations, of their efforts to rebuild Nyx’s treasure book, and how they had arrived at the castle. It was an amusing story, and one Celestia gladly listened to. It was a welcome interruption to the schedule of meetings she and Luna had been enduring.

With the way Luna was fighting with the brownie dragon, Celestia knew her sister felt the same way. One spell and they could have cleaned up the whole mess in under a minute, but Luna was dedicated to slaying the dragon properly, downing it by the blades of her swords and nothing else. So far she had managed to lop off several sizable chunks, but had yet to land the brownie-killing blow. For a walking pile of soft, moist, chocolatey dessert, the dragon was very nimble.

“I wish Luna and I had been informed of the project sooner. We would have gladly come and joined in the efforts to renovate the palace,” she said as she watched Luna slice away one of the dragon’s solid chocolate horns. “Still, at the very least, I know we can assist with your contribution. That was the second of two pictures taken before Princess Twilight made her first public appearance. The first photo was just us four princesses. In any case, it will be simple enough to make a copy of the second photo for you to add to Nyx’s book.”

“Thanks so much, Princess,” all three fillies said in unison.

“It’s no trouble at all. It’s the least we can do to thank you for uncovering this little surprise.” Celestia motioned to the dragon. “I do wonder how it was stealing food from the kitchen at its size.”

“It was really small before we cornered it,” Scootaloo said. “So maybe it can make itself smaller.”

Celestia gave a small nod. “That would make as much sense as any other explanation for one of Discord’s creations.” A final roar brought the ponies’ attention back to the fight, and Luna was wearing a great smile as she landed next to them. She had the head of the brownie dragon levitated in her magic while, behind her, much of the body had been almost surgically cut into piles of servable brownie squares. “You’ve got some chocolate in your wing, Luna.”

“Yes, the confectionery creature managed to graze me as I flew, but that was the only blow it was able to land.” Luna levitated the dragon head a little higher. “The head seems to be made of particularly delicious brownie. I was thinking we could carve it up in front of the griffin delegates next week. Lady Razor Beak has a weakness for brownie, and the whole delegation would surely be delighted by such a well shaped sculpture.”

“That is a marvelous idea,” Celestia said, using her magic to take the dragon’s head from Luna and hold it out to Spell Nexus. “If you wouldn’t mind, Nexus, please take this into the kitchen with the fillies. Luna and I will help tidy up what’s left of the dragon, and then join you there.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Spell Nexus said, replacing Celestia’s levitation spell with his own. He held the brownie dragon’s head at hoof’s length, but began to head inside with Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Apple Bloom following in his wake, chattering about how amazing Luna was for slaying the dragon. It left the two royal sisters smiling as they remained on the balcony.

Luna dematerialized her swords, and began using magic to remove the chocolate from her wing. “That was a delightful distraction. Remind me to thank Discord next time I see him. Yes, perhaps it would have been better if his little legged brownie hadn’t managed to grow to such proportions. Compared to some of his other chaotic calamities, however, this one was most enjoyable. That and I believe just about everypony in the castle will be able to take a plate of brownies home this evening. A wonderful boost to morale.”

Celestia nodded her head. “Yes, though I imagine some of the guards who became chocolate statues may not be so keen to take bits of the beast home to their friends and family.” She called on her magic, managing to levitate one of the perfectly square brownie bits from the top of a pile. She brought it close to her mouth, taking a greedy bite and delighting at the flavor as it danced across her tongue. “How did you get such perfect cuts?”

“The dragon was falling apart that way. I can only guess that it is another aspect granted to the creature by Discord’s magic.” Luna finished cleaning her wing and folded it back against her side before turning to head back into the castle. “Though, I suppose with the beast slain, we must be returning to our duties. The next meeting won’t attend itself.”

“That is true, but I’d argue they aren’t our priority at the moment.” Celestia chomped down the last of the brownie morsel.

Luna turned around, looking to Celestia as she arched an eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

Celestia swallowed and then licked her tongue around her mouth, getting the last crumbs of the brownie as she began to walk into the gardens to help expedite the cleanup. “Didn’t you hear, our presence is needed in Ponyville. The new palace is undergoing renovations without a princess to oversee and ensure it is a suitable representation of Equestria as a kingdom. In fact, considering they’ve been working unsupervised for at least a few days, it may very well take two princesses to correct any mistakes.”

Celestia glanced back at Luna, seeing doubt flash onto Luna’s face, but then her sister’s lips blossomed with an understanding smile. “Of course, Sister, and we must not forget the three young fillies. We should escort them home immediately. Their families must be worried. We really haven’t a moment to spare, even to tell Kibitz of our change in schedule.”

“We’ll leave him a note,” Celestia said as her magic began to break apart the remaining body of the dragon. “After all, Kibitz is a busy stallion as well. I’d hate to interrupt him just to tell him we’re leaving.

Author's Note:

Another chapter, another big shout out to the four people who are helping clean this story up before it hits the public. As usual, please PM typo corrections that you wish to share. Also, this will be the last chapter for the side plots. We'll see these ponies again once the main plot swing back to Ponyville.

Work has been crazy for me, but I hope that the next chapter will be out once more in two to three weeks time. (I'm running out of buffer chapters so I may start delaying these chapters a little so I can make sure there isn't some big delay later on.)