• Published 28th Feb 2020
  • 4,302 Views, 150 Comments

Ring Around The Moon -- Part II - Lets Do This



The Sun Celebration has arrived. The Nightmare returns. And with the help of some extra friends, Twilight, Tempest, and their fellow students are about to discover just how far the Dark Mare will go to have her revenge...

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The Last Day

The morning dawned bright and warm, the skies brilliant blue and scattered with leftover cloud from the cleansing rain overnight. And all of Canterlot, indeed all of Equestria, woke to face the day with a chill in their hearts. This was it, the last day before the summer solstice. And if legend held true, the last day of the millennium.

The last day... before the Return.

As ponies in Canterlot awoke and set about their tasks, preparing for the grand royal Summer Sun Celebration proper, they all wondered:

What will tomorrow bring? And will there even be one?

------------------------------

Tempest trotted in through the entry doors of the tower room, then shut them firmly behind her. She stared at the doors doubtfully, as if uncertain how resiliant they were. Then she turned and headed up the stairs and across the silent main room. Passing through the library stacks, she came at last to the makeshift bunkroom beyond.

Originally it had been little more than a large storage closet. Twilight had set up a small cot next to its sole window as a place to crash whenever her obsessive studying kept her up late. Over time, seeing no objection, she'd gradually taken up residence, eventually moving in a small but comfortable bed and setting Spike's wicker basket near its foot. She needed little else; practically everything she considered hers was sitting on a bookshelf somewhere.

With its extra occupants, the room was more than a little crowded, but Twilight didn't mind. To her, it was like a secret clubhouse, or a never-ending slumber party.

And that's why we all like her, Tempest thought. To Twilight, everything's an opportunity to look on the bright side...

As Tempest stepped into the room she swung a hoof, gently kicking the open barrel that lay on its side next to her cot. Grubber snorted, then jolted awake, staring around worriedly. And then the hedgehog began carefully extricating himself from the den of blankets he bundled himself up in at night.

To the right side of the room was the pair of bunks that Starlight and Trixie used. Starlight was in the upper bunk and Trixie the lower. To preserve everyone's sanity Starlight had a hoofkerchief tied around her snout to help keep her bear-like snoring to a minimum. And Trixie had her forehooves stuck in a hoof-trap. They'd discovered by accident it was an effective way of keeping her from giving performances in her sleep. Trixie's theory was that it tricked her subconscious into thinking she was performing a daring escape routine, for which she normally maintained strict silence.

On the left side of the room Moondancer lay on the lower bunk, one forehoof dangling over its edge as if reaching for something. And there was a small plush bear lying on the floor beneath it. With a smile, Tempest scooped up the bear and resettled Moondancer's hoof around it. Hugging it, Moondancer rolled over and settled comfortably back to sleep.

On the bunk above, Sunset was sprawled on her back, droning deeply and groggily. She was definitely a night owl, and tended to be the last one awake in the morning.

Finally, Tempest came to Twilight's bed, near the window. The lavender unicorn lay back on her pillow, totally relaxed and gently snoring. She looked so peaceful, Tempest was inclined to just turn around and leave again. Reluctantly, she shrugged a forehoof out of its armored shoe and gently reached out to nudge her friend awake.

"Rise and shine, sleepyhead..." she whispered.

"Mrm... hmm... wha...?" Twilight muttered. And then her eyes shot open. "I don't know!" she gasped confusedly. "I don't know what happened to the dictionary, mommy! I didn't eat it! I... uhh..."

Tempest raised an eyebrow, smirking at her.

"Oh." Twilight sat up, and rubbed her eyes. "Morning, Tempest. Um, what's up? Is something wrong?"

Tempest thought for a moment. Then she tilted her head, giving Twilight an amused look.

"That depends..." she replied. "Define wrong."

------------------------------

Several minutes later, the still-sleepy ponies were all gathered on the balcony atop the tower's stairs, looking down at the quad below... and at the huge crowd that had gathered there, practically overnight. Many had set up camp, with tents and blankets. And some simply sat there, on chairs or on the lawn itself, looking up towards the tower in eager anticipation.

"Who are they?" Twilight gasped, staring. "Where'd they all come from?"

"Out of town, mostly, from what the guards say," Tempest replied. "They're here for the Celebration."

Spotting Twilight, the crowd let out a loud, exuberant cheer, waving enthusiastically.

"And hoping to catch a glimpse of Equestria's defenders," Tempest added.

Twilight hunched, eyes wide. "Gah! What do we do, Tempest?"

"What else? Smile and wave, Twilight," Tempest suggested calmly. "Smile and wave."

Twilight did so, feeling seriously out of her element. It provoked an even louder roar from the crowd. The other ponies joined her, and hesitantly waved as well, adding to the applause. They all glanced at each other, uneasily.

"This... is gonna make getting around a bit more complicated," Starlight said.

"Ha! You think?" Sunset said with a grin.

"It'll be all right," Tempest said. "Grubber and I have experience with getting into and out of places without being seen."

"That we do, boss!" The hedgehog nodded proudly.

"And if need be," Tempest went on, "we can always ask the Guard to provide an escort. It does mean we'll want to exercise caution. Crowds like this always bring out the crazies." She glared around at her friends. "So no wandering around by yourselves -- and be careful when talking with ponies you don't know. Understood?"

The others nodded.

Twilight just stared down at the excited faces below, a small, frightened look on her face. Then she drew herself up, put on a determined expression, and swung round to face the others.

"All right, everypony!" she said. "Let's not let this distract us. We've got work to do. Let's go have breakfast, and then get to it."

------------------------------

There was silence in the tall, glass-domed gallery: the silence of libraries... or of tombs.

Sunset Shimmer sat alone in the main gallery of the museum at the Canterlot Archives. Outside, the guards were firmly keeping back curious onlookers, both guests and staff, allowing Sunset to have the room.

Much good that it does me, she thought morosely.

She sat in the middle of the marble floor, staring up at the tree-like clockwork orrery with its five stone orbs, set on their individual sconces, each orb with its own unique embossed icon.

And she sighed.

"Kindness..." she said, pointing a hoof to each of them in turn. "Laughter. Generosity. Honesty. Loyalty. And the sixth, most mysterious element, the one that summons them, and binds them together: Magic..."

"Sunset?"

Turning, Sunset saw Twilight Sparkle peering in through the doorway.

"Hey, Twilight."

"Spike said you'd headed over here," Twilight trotted over to sit beside her. "Are these...?"

"Yeah, they are. I figured I'd give it one last try, just for old time's sake." Sunset gestured with a hoof at the silent orbs. "But no dice. I still can't reactivate the Elements. They're pretty much just museum pieces now."

"Well, then it's good Celestia had them moved here," Twilight said. "You didn't have to traipse all the way through the Everfree Forest to get to them."

Sunset stared up at the silent orbs.

"I would've," she whispered. "If that was what was needed..."

"What's wrong, Sunset?"

"Nothing." Sunset shook her head. "It's silly..."

"No, come on. Tell me."

Sunset looked at her. "I wanted to be Princess, Twilight. I thought I deserved it, that reactivating the Elements would prove it -- prove I was worthy to be Princess." She gazed up at the Elements again. "I can't help but feel I've failed somehow. Yeah, I know. With the Field of Harmony we don't really need the Elements any longer, but I can't help feeling like... uhm..."

"... like we should need them? Like something's still missing?"

"Yeah."

"Join the club." Twilight nodded. "I feel the same way. I keep telling myself it's just nerves. But I'm still not sure." Then she put a hoof on Sunset's shoulder. "But don't ever think you've failed us, Sunset. Without you, we might not have realized we were going in the wrong direction. We might not have the Field spell at all. And besides which, I just can't imagine having to deal with, well... everything we're dealing with here, without you backing me up."

Twilight stared up at the Elements herself. "You don't have anything to prove, Sunset," she said. "You're already such a good friend!"

"Thanks, Twilight," Sunset said, smiling. "Hadn't realized how much I needed to hear somepony say that."

And then she stared at Twilight. "How do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Say just the right thing, at the right moment, without even trying? Seriously! You're caring when it's what we need, and bluntly truthful when that's what we need, and smart, and funny, and... I dunno! Everything!"

Twilight shrugged. "Whatever I am, I've picked up from being with all of you. You've all taught me so much, being my friends."

"But you know how to use it, Twilight. You know how to give it back, in lots of little ways. And not just occasionally... all the time! You're always there for us, keeping us together, helping us find the way to go."

"I'm the Princess's student. I guess I feel it's my responsibility to apply what she's taught me, in everything I say and everything I do. I try to do as she'd do, live up to the example she's set for all of us."

Sunset nodded. "And you sure do, a lot better than I could. I only wanted to be a Princess, Twilight -- but you... you know how to act like one!"

Twilight looked uncomfortable at that.

"What is it?" Sunset asked.

Twilight shook her head. "Nothing. Just... got a lot on my mind right now. Look, if we can tear you away? We were just about to go check on the preparations for the Sun Celebration."

Sunset looked over her shoulder, saw the other ponies standing in the hallway outside, looking in at them. "Oh, geez! I haven't been keeping you all waiting, have I?"

Twilight shook her head. "You looked like you needed a minute. We didn't want to rush you."

"Well," Sunset said, standing up, "enough of this sitting around fretting over what might have been. Time to step up and deal with what is. Right?"

"Absolutely!"

Together, they strode out of the gallery and rejoined the others, leaving the clockwork tree and its silent orbs behind...

... and thus failed to notice a faint, flickering shimmer that briefly played across the surface of the stone spheres...

------------------------------

As Twilight and her friends trotted along Diamond Avenue, heading for the Celebration area, they could all sense it: the tension in the air, the looks of anxiety and resigned dread in the faces of ponies all around them... as well as the hopeful glances shown to Twilight's group, the bowed and respectful heads as they passed by...

"Woah..." Moondancer said. "They all look so frightened!"

"No kidding," Sunset agreed. "It's like the end of the world out here. And I can't say I blame 'em. I mean, I've got the map, and I'm worried!"

"Then isn't it lucky for them," Trixie asked, in her familiar, lofty tones, "that they have the Grrreat and Powerful... er..." She suddenly glanced around and dropped the act. "It's good they have all of us to rely on, isn't it?"

"You said it," Starlight nudged her. "No pressure on us, eh, bestie?"

Trixie managed a weak smile in return.

Spike looked up at the nearly cloud-free sky. "At least the day's starting out nice."

"Hmph..." Tempest glanced up at it herself, doubtfully. "Seems like it's always unreasonably nice... right before the big storm hits."

"Oh, come on, ponies!" Cheese Sandwich sprang in the air, turned a backflip, and landed right in front of the group trotting backwards. His curly hair was frizzy with excitement. "What's with the long faces? This is it! The day we've been waiting for! The day we show the world the kind of ponies we really are!"

From nowhere, music began playing, and he launched into song:

It's time to party-party-party,
Like you've never done before!
Grab a friend, let's not pretend!
It's what we've waited for!

A brand new day!
We'll show the way!
A smile, a laugh, a grand HOORAY!
Show these ponies it's okay,
We're here, it's now,
and we all sayyyy...

There is no better world,
There is no better time,
There is no better place to be
Then here right now!
You and me!
We're here, it's now...
It's timmmme!

Let's PARRRR-TYYYY!

Cheese pulled out an accordion and began playing it with abandon. He danced on down the street like a one-pony marching band, waving children and trades-ponies over to join in and dance and sing with him, as he invented verse after verse on the spot, off the top of his head. Even the stuffiest of the nobles were at least nodding their heads to the beat and giving indulgent smiles, as he swept blithely past them.

Despite their worries, Twilight and the others smiled too. There was just something about Cheese's unhinged enthusiasm, his over-the-top optimism, that made it impossible to stay gloomy watching him caper about.

"You know what?" Twilight said, "He's right. We're not just organizing the Celebration. We need to reassure everypony as well. Let them know it's okay, let them know that they should feel like celebrating, today of all days."

"And how do we do that?" Starlight asked.

"By showing the colors," Tempest said. "We're their protectors, after all. They'll take their cue from us."

"Right!" Twilight said. "They need to see us, need to see that we're okay, and we've got it together, so they don't have to worry."

"Good idea," Sunset said. "We should split up, mingle with the crowds, quarter the city. Let ponies see us around and about doing stuff, talking to everyone. Let them see that we're on the case, making it happen."

This suggestion at first appeared to make Tempest uncomfortable, but then she nodded.

"So long as each of you has a Guard escort," she said. "We don't need anypony going missing, today of all days. And no running off on your own, or you'll have me to deal with. Got it?"

They all nodded.

"But," Spike said, "what about checking on the preparations?" He held up the scroll the Chief Steward had given them.

Sunset trotted over to him. "Let Spike and me handle that. Cheese needs to work on decorating the main Celebration area anyway... as well as arranging our little surprise for later. Spike and I can cover everything else on the list. That leaves the rest of you free to work on circulating, keeping everypony's spirits up."

"You sure about that, Sunset?" Twilight asked, uneasily. "We don't want to load it all on you."

"Hey, I'm your backup, Twilight! I got this! Just think of me as like, virtual you... from another dimension." She grinned.

"Okay, then!" Twilight said. "Let's do this! We'll all meet back at the Celebration area for the opening ceremonies. Sound good, everypony?"

The others nodded. Tempest quickly assigned Guard escorts for each of them, and then the group split up, setting off in various directions to cover the most ground.

And Sunset looked to Spike.

"Okay, so what's first on our list?"

"Uh... banquet preparations!" he read.