• Published 19th Apr 2013
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MLP Time Loops - Saphroneth



Twilight Sparkle has been here before. In fact, she's been here so often she's thoroughly bored. Time Loop stories for Equestria.

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Loops 8

8.1


“Well, this sucks.” An earth pony with a pink mane kicked at the moon’s surface. “Looks like they weren’t lying…”


The remaining two ponies from that group stared at the Elements of Harmony.

“…really?” the orange pegasus asked, like someone who had given up all hope and who was now seeing a chance again.

“Hn.” The black unicorn from the group put in. “Nice to see someone can control Sakura.”

Twilight blushed, as she and the other five Elements powered down. “Thank you. But we said this was a safe Loop, and we meant it.”

The orange pegasus beat the air with his wings and took off. “I’m going to go spend the entire loop doing something nice and safe. Like sculpting. Clouds. Later, Sasuke!”

Sasuke considered. “Yeah, I agree with Naruto. Any calm, safe, boring things we could do?”

Fluttershy hummed. “Your speciality is… lightning, I think?” Sasuke nodded. “Then perhaps you could do transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. You know, little electrical shocks to help with therapy.”

“…that doesn’t sound that bad, actually.” Sasuke said.


8.2

Rainbow Dash Awoke, and saw Fluttershy falling in front of her. The pegasus paused, taking a fraction of a second to check the others via her link to Loyalty.

All six of them were here, and Awake.

Excellent.

She dove into a stoop, wings whirring. “I’m coming, Fluttershy!”

They’d discussed what to do next time this particular variant loop came up…

Rainbow Dash hit mach one, broke the sound barrier, and was engulfed in a flash of prismatic light.


Twilight looked determinedly at the egg. Right.

The first time, it had taken the boost from the Rainboom to hatch Spike. The second time… it had been easier.

The third time, Twilight poured as much magic as she could muster into the egg. There was a crackling boom, and half the wall was pushed aside by Spike’s body as he exploded from egg to young adult dragon in an instant.

Twilight wobbled on her hooves. “Ooh… I don’t feel so well…” and fell backwards. “Wow… hey, cool. Look, Mum, Dad! I’ve got wings!” She fluttered them. “They’re pretty!”

Twilight Twinkle and Night Light exchanged a look. The look spoke eloquently of the need for alcohol.

Princess Celestia galloped into the room. “What happened? I heard the wall collapse-” she saw the dragon trying to extract himself gently from the wall, and the filly alicorn in front of the hole, and her brain went blank. “Huh.”

“Oh, wow!” Twilight said, stumbling back to her feet. “Princess Celestia!” She gave a bow. “It’s nice to meet you, your highness.”

“…yes. Nice to meet you.” Celestia managed.


“Are you okay?” Gilda asked, backwinging hard to land next to the tangle of pegasi. “Dash? That was awesome, but I hope you managed to slow down…”

A blue wing twitched feebly, then Fluttershy extricated herself from Rainbow Dash and started to help her get back on her feet. “Um… thank you, Dash. For saving me.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Dash muttered, rubbing her forehead. “I wish those butterflies had slowed us down more, though… at least I cushioned you.”

Now that her friend was clearly out of danger, Gilda relaxed. “That was cool, like I said. You broke the flippin’ sound barrier, Dash! I – wait, what’s that on your forehead?”

“Huh?” Dash reached up and felt it. When her hair moved aside, it was clearly a short horn – like one might find on a unicorn.

Gilda boggled. “You been hidin’ things, Dash?”

“No, this is new.” Dash said, sounding bewildered. “And I – hey, Flutters! You’ve got your cutie mark!”

“So have you.” Fluttershy said.

“And you’ve got a horn too, what was it - Fluttershy?” Gilda looked completely lost. “Is that something that happens to all you pegasus ponies? Or just the ones that hit the ground after a rainboom?”

“Hay if I know.” Dash wobbled on her feet slightly, steadied, and gave her wings an experimental flap. “Okay, I think I can fly now. Let’s go back up there.”


“Mum! Dad!” Rarity shouted. “Look what I made!”

“Wow!” Rarity’s mother said, looking at the dress Rarity hovered up for her. “That’s very impressive. What’s it made of?”

“Water.” Rarity replied. “I did magic on it.”

“Oh, and did you do the same for the costume you’re wearing?” her father said. “Did you do magic on that too? You’ve worked very fast. I guess we found your special talent.”

Rarity inclined her head. “Nah, these aren’t a costume.” Her parents’ eyes widened as she spread the wings they’d thought were fake, and hovered up to eye level. “They just came from somewhere. Is this one of those things you said you’d explain when I was older, like where my sister came from?”


“Huh.” Clyde said, watching as his daughter took to the air and began casting spells. “I ain’t as surprised as I might be.”

“She always did have her head in the clouds,” his wife nodded.

“Oh, you.” Clyde gave her a look.


Valencia Orange jumped as Applejack materialized next to her in a flash of orange magic. “Hi, Auntie! Fer some reason ah got a horn an’ wings, an’ so ah’m going to commute!”

“…what?” Valencia said, her urbane nature completely deserting her.

“Well, ah saw this big flash o’ light in the sky as ah was decidin’ to go back to Sweet Apple Acres, and then ah got my cutie mark,” she showed it off to the staggered mare, “And then ah just… found ah had wings. And a horn.”

Applejack shrugged, bouncing around. “Ah don’t know where they came from, but ah worked out how t’ teleport easy! So, anyway, ah can come over here whenever ah feel like it! Ah don’t have t’ choose!”

“…okay.” Valencia managed. “Hold on a minute, Applejack, I have to go and… calm my nerves.”

Applejack nodded. “Okay!”

Wonder if she’s going to have a brandy…


“Right.” Celestia said, looking slightly awkwardly over the half-dozen alicorn fillies sitting in front of her. “I don’t know why, but all six of you became alicorns at more-or-less the same time last week. I realize you might be having some trouble fitting in with your peers after… what happened,” that was probably a considerable understatement, “and so I’ve asked someone else who has also been through something like this to help you through it. Any of you can speak to her if you have trouble, over anything – not just what is related directly to your transformation.”

Celestia gestured. “Cadence, if you would.”

The eighth and last alicorn in the room stepped forward. “Hello. My name is Cadence, and I used to be a pegasus until about two years ago. It’s nice to meet you all.”

“Hello, Cadence.” Five fillies chorused.

Twilight, meanwhile, was sniggering. “I know you! You’re my foalsitter. And my brother has a photo of you that he keeps trying to hide from me!”

Cadence flushed, and the rest of the fillies started giggling as well.


“Well, this seems to be working out well.” Rarity said, sipping some juice.

“Yep!” Pinkie agreed. “This is the earliest we’ve ever been introduced to each other!”


8.3 (continuation of 7.14)


“Princess?” Twilight’s voice asked.

Celestia mumbled something from beneath her pillow.

“We’d like to come in and apologize.”

Celestia thought it over. On the one hand, the corrupted version of Twilight had sounded just like that… but on the other hand, if there were seven evil alicorns after her they could probably have demolished the castle, whatever Celestia answered. “Alright, come in,” she said, pulling the nails out of the planks across her door.

One by one, the ponies outside filed in. Luna was back to normal, but the Elements of Harmony were all… different, was the best way to put it. They still had their horns and wings, and were their normal colours.

“Okay.” Twilight said, once they’d all entered. “Basically, there’s a strange phenomenon that’s been going on for a long time…”


“Did you have to promise that?” Dash asked.

“Well, we did scare her quite badly…” Twilight replied. “And when you think about it, she’s been working for over a thousand years without a break.”

“Yeah, I suppose.” The alicorn rustled her wings. “I could have done without us becoming the government this time, though. I did have a plan…”

Twilight shrugged. “At least there’s seven of us to spread the load.”

“True.”

Pinkie grinned. “I’ve never seen a coronation ceremony happen so fast! She got all six of us confirmed as Princesses Regnant in five minutes flat!”


Discord’s statue shattered open. “Right, time for some fun… where’s Celly, she’s usually good for a laugh… oh.” He looked around. “Are alicorns more common these days?”

Princess Twilight nodded. “Pretty much.”

The others moved into position.

Fluttershy spoke up. “Now, mister Discord, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, or the angry way.”

“You really want to take the easy way.” Twilight confided.

“Hmmm…” Discord pulled an application form out of thin air. “Where’s the small print?”

“The easy way is that you don’t get all chaotic.” Rarity started. “Then we see if you’re willing to learn about friendship.”

“Hm…” the draconequus tapped his beard. “Boring. What’s the hard way?”

Five necklaces and a crown flashed into existence.

“Right, right. More statue time. I think I’ve had my fill of that for now. What’s the angry way?”

Most of the alicorns dove for cover.

Fluttershy blinked. Once, twice… and then she smiled.

It wasn’t a nice smile. There were too many teeth for that.


Discord hovered past Twilight, dropping his tattered application form.

She picked it up. The box for ‘easy way’ was ticked three times, and had a note attached saying ‘for the love of me, easy waaaaay’.

“That’s nice of him.” Twilight mused, grinning. “Okay, ‘shy, you can stop now.”

Flying Hatred reverted instantly to Princess Fluttershy. “Okay. I hope I wasn’t too hard on him…”


Dear Princess Celestia.

Discord tried to escape. Can you believe it? Fortunately, we were all ready for him, and he’s doing community service – mainly in local classrooms. Apparently he’s demonstrating what physics isn’t.

I liked the last postcard of yours. It looks like there’s a lovely view from the top of that mountain.

I’m glad you’re enjoying your holiday. Might I suggest the griffin lands next? I’ve heard there are some canyons there where the wind plays a tune as it blows through the rocks.


Disguised as a common guard, Chrysalis of the Changelings waited for her chance to strike. She’d spent the past month learning the routine and personality of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, and the time was ripe for her to replace the fool pony and usurp her place at the wedding in a months’ time.

“Oh, that’s nice.” She heard her target say. “Shining, your sister says she’s visiting with her friends.”

Chrysalis’ ears pricked. Another distraction. Another wait.

“Did she say when she’s coming?” The unicorn asked.

“Er… right now.”

Chrysalis nearly fell over as a huge flash of teleportation magic erupted not a length from where her disguised self was standing. When she’d recovered somewhat, she looked and felt for whoever this sister was-

And saw no fewer than six more alicorns standing there.

Quietly planning to fire her spies – possibly out of a cannon – she sent an abort signal through the changeling empathic network and started planning how to leave the country.

Fast.

One alicorn, she’d be able to deal with if she had the element of surprise. The country’s ruler, the thousands-of-years-old Celestia? Surprise and a great deal of magic from Shining Armor.

Six at once? Buck that.


8.4


“Sorry,” Cadence said awkwardly. “I’m afraid this is how this loop looks like going.”

Prince Shining Armor shrugged. “At least I get paper based magic. Shields are nice, but I sometimes want a little more variety.”

The six ponies normally known as the Elements of Harmony stared at Cadence with fixed expressions for another moment. Then Twilight (also known as the Deva Path of Love, this Loop) shook her head wearily. “Whatever. I do notice everyone in Naruto’s Loop seems to have been turned into a pony in some way… he’s not around, in case you were wondering. I checked.”

Akatsuki looked even stranger than normal when they were ponies wearing matching cloaks. Rarity looked like she was barely restraining a redesign fit.

“Er… so who’s Naruto been replaced by?” Animal Path Fluttershy asked.


A dozen Village Hidden in the Everfree ponies jumped after the local troublemaker.

“Ha!” he shouted, snapping his fingers and materializing a large trampoline. Most of them bounced off it, flying out of the village entirely, but one pony snapped out her wings and flew around it.

“Huh?” With a thud, Scootaloo body-checked the joker into the ground. “Awww…”

“Discord,” she shook her head. “Right, you’re cleaning up the monument. And without magic.”

“Do I get chocolate milk afterwards?” Discord asked.

“Alright,” she sighed.


Discord sat in the corner of the classroom, waiting for their teacher to show up. He’d enjoyed his meals with Scootaloo and the other two academy teachers, and of course he’d passed his test… but apparently you got points off for pranks.

So he’d barely passed. (It was a good thing that point deductions couldn’t result in a failing grade, or he’d have got negative eight hundred and twenty three percent.) And that got him on the team with the unicorn and the changeling making goo-goo eyes at one another while they waited.

Then the door opened, and a blue-black pony stepped through. “Sorry I’m late. I got stuck on the moon after the Hokage got annoyed. I’m Luna, and I’ll be your teacher. Come on.”


Twilight ended the scrying spell, and the eight alicorns took deep breaths.

“Discord. Discord is Naruto.” Cadence threw up her hooves. “Well, we’re doomed. He’s going to have to teach us the power of chaos, or something.”

“Who’s the Hokage?” the Pony path, Dash, asked.

“Celestia, of course.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “That one was obvious. But I checked – aside from the CMC being academy teachers like I showed you, no Mizuki, and us, we’ve seen all the changes. Orochimaru is as per normal, just a pony.”

“Ew.” Everypony said.

“Oh, that reminds me.” Cadence got out a notebook. “My current motivation is that an old friend of mine didn’t get married. Because of that, I want to make sure everyone in the elemental nations gets hooked up – and to do that, I will build the Dating Simulator.”

“…did I imagine those capital letters?” asked Twilight.

“Nope.” Cadence grinned.

“Well, this’ll be fun…” the Paths of Love chorused.


8.5 (L337 m4n)


Berry Punch walked into a bar, like she did most days, and asked one of her favourite questions. “Bartender… give me the hardest liquor you got!”

The bartender shrugged. “Sorry but we ran out of Liquor, Wine, and Ale… would you like a warm glass of milk instead?”


Berry came awake with a violent start, stifling a scream. No alcohol?

After a moment, she realized where she was, and went downstairs to get herself a nightcap to steady her nerves.


Twilight Sparkle walked into a large library, found herself a book to read, and sat down. Opening it, she was startled to find herself looking at blank pages.

Blinking, she looked down the page, then rifled through the book. A feeling of dread building, she grabbed two more books from the case – only to see the same thing – before screaming “Where are the words!"

Twilight woke up sweating and ran downstairs to her library. It took her four novels before she was certain her books were still fine.


"Rather crude Luna. Messing with the dreams of our citizens," Celestia admonished, before turning her attention back to the nightmares.

"Sister, given how many times I have been told they pranked me, I feel I deserve one night of revenge. Now be quiet, I plan to mess with a certain apple for that bucking one loop." Luna looked into each dream, then gained a grin that would look more fitting on Nightmare Moon.


Applejack came out to the front door of her farm, to find a number of ponies wearing black suits busily stripping it down.

"Hey, what are you doin’?" Applejack protested, getting in the way of one.

"We're the Internal Revenue Service and you owe us back taxes for seven years… your assets are being liquidated," the pony in black stated calmly.

Applejack gave the biggest scream yet, startling her siblings, and looked out every window in the house to check for tax ponies before finally going back to bed with the shakes.

"Yes, oh yes! Next one on the revenge list is… Pinkie! She'll be the next to fall for her constant parties that one loop. So much cake… so much," Luna brooded, thinking about the picture she’d been shown of how much weight she’d gained that Loop.


8.6 (continuation of 7.13)


“That’s right,” Celestia said. “Just one attack, nothing major.”

The individual she was talking to twitched his nose.

“No, you don’t need to actually kill anyone.” Seeing his reaction, the alicorn frowned. “Though I suppose you can threaten it if you feel like it.”

After a moment, Angel Bunny rubbed the fingers of his forepaw against his thumb.

“Five carts,” Celestia offered.

Angel turned away in a huff.

“Six?”

The rabbit looked over his shoulder, and made a circling gesture with his hand.

“All right, seven then.”

Nods.

“Right. I need to go contact the Golden Harvest family, they’re the only ones with that many carrots.” Celestia pointed a hoof. “You are a harsh negotiator for a lagomorph.”

Angel shrugged.


Celestia counted in her head. Right. One rabbit attack, then a couple of timber wolf attacks… that sea serpent… a manticore… and, finally…

This would cause her student to awaken the Elements if anything would. Admittedly, she wouldn’t have even tried this if it were not for how Twilight had gone exploring and found the things, but they still needed to be usable for Equestria to be safe. And with Luna out having a beach holiday, there had to be some other kind of threat.

Which led to why the alicorn of the Sun was poking an Ursa Major with a stick.

The enormous beast finally snorted, opened an eye… grabbed Celestia in a massive paw, and rolled over back to sleep with its new ‘soft toy’.


Twilight scanned the Everfree forest, homing in on her mentor’s magical signature. She’d already contacted the Awake Luna, and knew it wasn’t her doing that the sun hadn’t come up yet – but a missing Celestia could be a serious problem.

Possibly it was connected to why Angel Bunny had somehow demolished the town hall…

Finally finding the right place, she cautiously entered the cave.


“While I’m sure you’re amused, Twilight,” Celestia said with her precious little remaining dignity, “I do rather need help. Ursa Major are so resistant to magic I can’t teleport out.”

Twilight rolled around on the floor, still giggling. Every time she’d tried to come to her hooves, she’d caught sight of the complete opposite of ‘a pony with a teddy bear’ and gone right back to laughing herself silly.


8.7 (L33t M4n)


"Girls! I thought of something for this loop to prepare for the changelings. The idea came to me after that time I accidentally caused a Soviet victory in that Loop with Einstein." Pinkie bounced happily along before pulling a projector out of nowhere and setting the film up.

"Fellow ponies! There is an enemy hidden amongst us! CHANGELINGS! Trying to steal our home, the changelings lurk in the background!" the narrator showed a scene of shadowy eyes peering from the dark.

"But how do you recognize those dangerous fiends? With a simple question."

An earth pony with a shovel appeared on the screen.

"Do you like working Lucy?"

"Yes, sir!" Lucy saluted with shovel in hoof.

The camera panned right. Next to her was a pegasus in horrible changeling make-up

"And do you like working…?" the narrator paused while a close up was used on the changeling.

"Huuh…" she spoke unconvincingly before the scene shifted to the Equestrian flag.

"If her answer is anything but a yes, she is a CHANGELING!"


8.8 (Chojomeka)

"Just get it over with already, Ikari," growled the light coated Diamond Dog.

"…Well I guess the universe just decided to show you as you are in this loop, Asuka…” a tan pegasus replied. “You know… as a bitch?"

If Shinji's grin were any bigger it would have split his face in two.


8.9 (Belgarion213)


“My dear Twilight, there is more to a young pony's life than studying, so I'm sending you to supervise the preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration in this year's location: Ponyville. And, I have an even more essential task for you to complete: make some friends!”

Spike was about to counsel the miserable Twilight Sparkle after the princess’s words, but paused. He had been with the purple Unicorn since he was hatched at her entrance to the prestigious Academy she attended, but the almost unholy light that shone in those eyes… it worried him.

He shrugged it off. After all, what was the worst that could happen?

“Make friends,” he could hear Twilight muse, “…Spike! That just might work!”

…Why did he ask these questions?


Dear Princess Celestia,

I have arrived in Ponyville and am continuing my supervision for the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration. Ms Applejack of Sweet Apple Acres has assured me that the food is coming along swimmingly, while Rainbow Dash, leader of Weather Ponies in Ponyville, has been maintaining a clear sky. Ms Rarity has created some impeccable decorations, awaiting your arrival, while Ms Fluttershy has orchestrated a truly magical orchestra.

I have made some few suggestions and eagerly await your arrival for the Summer Sun Celebration.

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle.

PS: I am running into problems keeping the spark of life in the animated golems from escaping. Do you have any suggestions for how I can keep the mana flow variation within safe parameters without using self-perpetuating seal script? I dislike the thought of using that option because of the problems Starswirl encountered in his examination with the ‘Tribbles’ but I cannot seem to get the mana flowing safely without it. These won’t be very good friends with that level of instability.

Princess Celestia lowered the letter for a moment and stared into the distance. “…I didn’t mean it that way,” she said weakly. She supposed she should have been more direct to poor Twilight. A brilliant Unicorn but sometimes so distressingly literal minded.


“I don’t know about you,” Rainbow Dash said, edging away from ‘Bright Wind’, “But they give me the creeps.” There was something about the friends of this newcomer, ‘Twilight Sparkle’, which just put her on edge. Maybe it was the way they didn’t seem to blink?


“…are you sure this is what the Princess wanted you to do?” Spike asked his friend nervously, staring far below him at the giant pit of boiling metal. He didn’t know why the Ponyville library had a shaft that lead to what he assumed was Equestria’s mantle, or how Twilight had found it, but even a Dragon was a bit frightened of the level of heat down there.

“Of course Spike!” Twilight said, a dizzying number of glyphs floating around her in interlocking circles, half of them rotating clockwise, the other half counter-clockwise as her horn glowed almost scalding white and she wrote script directly onto raw metal refined from that furnace far below. “I can’t believe that I didn’t see it before! It’s obvious this is what she means!”

“I don’t know….” Spike said slowly.

Twilight kept smiling, while writing with a fine touch that only experience could bring on the metal far below. Of course she knew this wasn’t what Celestia had meant, but well there were needs.

The dimensional pocket that she had learned (and dissected the spell array for) from one of the older Loopers was impressive, very impressive. It was obvious that it had been an incredible spell at its beginning, but centuries – perhaps millennia – had gone into increasing the efficiency it had, allowing her to sustain a small, self contained universe from her own power. One that would follow her between loops.

That meant she could carry things between them, and Twilight Sparkle was a Mage. After that Star Wars loop and the millions of Pinkie Pies, the hostile Pinkie Pies… she would never feel safe again without her own subordinates.

Most of the older Loopers used clones. They were useful, but Twilight kept trying to micromanage the sensory input and motor control of all of her bodies, not letting ‘shadows’ of her mind form. A habit most mages really interested in the workings of magic had, though it could be worked around according to Lina anyway.

Twilight Sparkle spun the metal in the air, as script so tiny and so dense that it looked like two giant swathes of purple magic formed over the glowing white piece… she fought the desire to cackle. She was not the cackling kind of Pony!


8.10 (Stainless Steel Fox)

(Note: this ficlet assumes a “Dumbledore” or “manipulative-in-the-name-of-the-greater-good” Celestia.)


Turning the Tables part 2

Celestia caught the arriving scroll effortlessly as it flashed into existence. Philomena was perched on a stand in front of her as she took mid-afternoon tea in her private quarters. She noted the seal on it and smiled at the phoenix.

“It seems my favourite student has found the Legend of the Two Sisters, and drawn the correct conclusions. Now all I need to do is get her to Ponyville.”

She took a sip of tea and opened the scroll. Seconds later, the phoenix squawked in distress as she got doused in hot tea, courtesy of the Princess’s absolutely spectacular spit-take.

“But… she…” Celestia stared at the scroll wide-eyed, as if continued observation would make the words on it change. “Going to a party with Spike? Just to make him happy?”

Philomena flared up, instantly drying herself and chattered at the Princess.

“Yes, it is a worthy thing to do, and I’m proud she showed consideration, but she couldn’t have chosen a worse time! If I send her to Ponyville without knowledge of the legend, she won’t know what she needs to do…”

The phoenix chattered again.

“Too clever for my own good am I?” Celestia looked distant. “I knew from the moment I saw and felt that rainbow shock-wave of magic that the spirits of the Elements of Harmony had arisen once again in the souls of ponies. I felt Twilight's magic resonate with it, so strongly, I knew she was the missing element, the one who could bring the others together, use them to their full potential for the first time since…”

She shook her head. “I felt the other elements being touched, connected by that rainbow wave, and I've since felt them congregating in Ponyville. While I no longer have power over them, I still remember the sense of their magic. I'm sure they're being drawn to one another, and if I can just put Twilight in close proximity, she should act as the focus, awaken them with the spark of friendship. But she'll need the husks of the crystals that once housed them as well, to store the awakened elements.

“That was why I laid down those clues so many centuries ago, so they could be discovered at our old palace at the right time, to bring together the elements in the right way. I had worried that the element of magic might not be studious, but Twilight seemed perfect in that regard. They were cryptic against the possibility that the bearer might on realising the power they would come to wield, decide to use it for selfish reasons.”

The phoenix gave a flaming snort, and series of squawks.

“No, I don't think Twilight would misuse them either. She has consistently exceeded my expectations in every area, except that she could be more social. At any other time, going to that party with Spike would have been a good thing; it's only the timing that is inconvenient. Maybe I should have told her more directly, but everything seemed to be going so well without any further intervention. Now I may have no choice.”

There was an interrogative cluck from Philomena.

“I will summon her here, and tell her what she needs to know about my sister's banishment. Then I will tell her I need her to find the Elements, that they were hidden from me, but that I believe there may be records in Ponyville library. Then I will suggest she go in undercover as the overseer for the Summer Sun Celebration. That should put things back on the rails.”

Philomena fluffed up and gave her another chattering telling off.

The alicorn shook her head. “Tell her everything? I don't want to burden her with anything more than I have to. She can start out believing she merely has to find them, that she will ultimately have to wield them is something best left until she's had a chance to adapt. Maybe she could handle it all, but why take a chance? It's the same reason she can't know I intend to be captured. With the power of the conjunction, Nightmare Moon can overpower me, but keeping me from escaping the sun will weaken her greatly. So she won't be able to simply overpower Twilight and the other spirits before they can reactivate the husks. She'll have to use guile, and thankfully that isn't her strong point.”

Celestia sighed. “I could have gotten everything prepared months in advance, but I couldn't risk the possibility that Nightmare Moon might be able to sense the spirits or the husks of the elements. Luna was once connected to them too, remember? The wild magic of the Everfree hides them, and Nightmare Moon will come after me, even if she senses the spirits in Ponyville, because – as far as she knows – I’m the bearer, and the only one who could use them against her.”

The phoenix made a rasping sound.

“You still think I should have told Twilight some of this, don't you? In hindsight, maybe I could have, but my original plan has been working up until now, and I'd prefer not to change Wonderbolts in mid race.” Princess Celestia's horn glowed, and a quill and sheet of parchment appeared in front of her. “The less of all this I have to put in a letter, the better.”

She smiled at her own unintentional poetry, and set to work, ignoring that Philomena had put a wing across her eyes and beak, clearly unhappy with the decided course of action.


Twilight had millennia of real experience of social situations from her many loops, including the loops where she'd substituted for Celestia. Adding background memories from those same loops expanded that even further. So she was no longer the socially awkward filly she'd started out as in the base time-line. Indeed, she could duplicate her mentor's air of sangfroid quite easily. Added to her own talent and understanding of the magic of friendship, she could have had the entire party eating out of her hoof in five minutes.

Of course, being the sort of pony who could gain her alicorn-hood through her understanding of friendship, the idea of ponies worshipping her like that was repugnant. In all her loops, that was the one thing she'd never attempted. However, that didn't mean she wouldn't use her abilities to help Spike and accomplish her overall plan. Though in part, that meant hiding her abilities, and reacting more like base time-line Twilight would have.

So when her appearance at the entrance to the west castle courtyard with Spike on her back caused the conversations to quieten down, and most of the eyes of the mares and stallions assembled to turn on her, she made herself flinch with a nervousness she didn't actually feel, then visibly stiffened her shoulders and her resolve and headed for Moondancer, lowering Spike gently to her side.

Trotting over to the white unicorn, she said, “Uh… hi, Twinkleshine told me about your party, and Spike wanted to come, and I felt I should come with him. I know you didn't exactly invite me directly, but Twinkleshine implied it'd be okay…”

Clearly, the white unicorn opposite her was still stunned by the fact that Twilight Sparkle, the Princess's own student, and the pony who never came to parties, was at hers. It would be a considerable social coup for her.

Twilight reacted the way she once would have, starting to speed up her words, and glance around nervously. “…if it's a problem, I'm sorry I intruded on your party, I didn't mean to cause problems, I really have to be getting back now I've seen Spike safely here, I feel guilty enough that I told the princess I was taking time off to do this and I should go now before I make myself look any more foalish…”

Twilight started to turn away only to hear, “Wait! I'm very happy to have you here! I was just surprised. You don't normally come to any-pony's parties!”

She let herself visibly relax, smiling at the other pony. “That's why I thought maybe I should start. I'm good with magic, other ponies… not so much. I was reading some ancient legends about Starswirl the Bearded… I'm sorry, I'm babbling, and Spike wanted to come see you especially.”

That got the dragon exclaiming “Twilight!” in an embarrassed tone of voice, which made the other ponies giggle. Twilight had used magic and memory retention techniques to sharpen her already excellent memory to near perfect recall, but she'd actually forgotten that before Spike had gone gaga over Rarity, he'd been crushing on the pony in front of her.

Still, the little dragon came forward and handed over his gift. Shyly, he said, “I got this for you, I hope you like it.”

Twilight decided to make it up to her companion by tweaking it with a very low power want-it, need-it spell, synchronised to Moondancer. It would decay to untraceable levels in a few moments, and leave no permanent effect other than a vague fondness for the object. Moondancer reacted by hugging the teddy bear to her, and squealing “I love it!”

Spike got picked up in her telekinesis too, and got a big kiss on the cheek. He floated away with hearts in his eyes. Towards the buffet table, of course, even romance didn't interfere with his appetite. Meanwhile Twilight was introduced around, Moondancer and Twinkleshine somehow coming to a time-sharing arrangement of some kind, possibly by telepathy.

Twilight found she was enjoying herself immensely. For a looper, especially one as experienced as she was, novelty was more precious than gold… or, in her case, books. And yet here were dozens of ponies who before now she’d known only as part of the background, each with their own histories, ideas and quirks.

Of course, they wanted to ask her things, about the princess, about problems they were having with some of the tougher parts of their studies, and a surprising number of them about her brother. It seemed that the Captain of the Guard had a lot of admirers, not all of them mares. It was something of a shock to find at least a couple of stallions, and one mare who were more interested in her as well. Those she deflected as gently and nicely as possible.

She did her best to answer ponies' questions where she could, but mostly she asked her own questions, and listened. Centuries of experience had shown her that you could be accounted a great conversationalist simply by getting other ponies (and most other sentient beings) to talk about themselves, and listening. Of course, all this new information was also like fine wine or new book, to be drunk in and filed carefully in her highly organised memory.

In the cases of the people asking her for help, her questions explored what they did understand, and helped them to see what they didn’t. Something she’d learned from Princess Celestia was that guiding ponies to understanding something on their own made it stick far better than simply telling them. She’d wondered if that was part of the reason Princess Celestia had handled the quest for the Elements of Harmony the way she had, but the cases weren’t parallel. There was more at stake than just Twilight’s development as a pony, and while she was a bit awed that the Princess might have put that much value on it, she disagreed.

She did play one small prank. While she’d finally forgiven her brother for all the past times that he hadn’t let her know about the wedding until the very last minute (after all, from his point of view, it was just the once) that didn’t mean she couldn’t prank him. Ponies asking about her brother were informed of his weakness for double chocolate cookies, though in fairness, she did tell the stallions that she was sure her brother didn’t walk that side of the paddock.

It was working with no more than her base time-line self would have known, but the results should be that over the next couple of months, Shining Armour should end up getting a lot of love letters and boxes of cookies, not to mention approaches of varying directness. Before the end of it, he’d probably be sick of them.

Of course, there was always some-pony ready to upset the apple cart.

“Look at her, that stuck up little bookworm finally deigned to come mingle with the rest of us! Swanning around, showing off how smart she is!”

It was a unicorn who went by the name Sharp Retort. While she had considerable talent as an alchemist, her magic scores, both theory and practical, were generally near the bottom of the table. Twilight had never really met her, but she’d heard the other defining characteristic of this pony was her sharp tongue, and her desire to make a big splash socially.

In other words, she was a marginally more adult unicorn version of that evil minded little filly, Diamond Tiara, though with at least some actual redeeming features. After centuries of observation, Twilight had come to the conclusion that the only thing DT was good for was as a bad example.

Twilight apologised to the mare she was helping to understand Marelin’s theory of Morphic Fungibility, and turned to face the other unicorn, who was also wearing a fancier dress than most of the ponies there. “That’s not how I’d have put it, but I assume you have a reason for saying so?”

“You shouldn’t be here!” Sharp Retort sneered, “Go back to your books, it’s where you belong!”

Base time-line Twilight would have bailed at this point, so she flinched, ears flicking back. She took a step back, then she visibly steadied herself. She glanced around and saw that most of the ponies, other than a couple who were obviously Sharp Retort’s pals, were looking on with sympathy or encouragement for her, or annoyance at Sharp Retort.

Taking a deep breath, she replied, “Still not hearing a reason for your aggressiveness, but based on your test scores, attire and general attitude, it could be one of three possibilities. Either you are jealous of my academic achievements, my proximity to the Princess, or that you hoped to be the centre of attention here and my arrival spoiled that. Or it could be varying degrees of all three.”

Sharp Retort’s body language told her she’d zapped the alchemist's weather-pony right between the wings. “Why you… why should I be jealous of a pathetic little bookworm like you? You don’t have any real friends, or any real life! You're just a bunch of books in the shape of a unicorn!”

That got a number of looks of shock and disgust from her new friends, and she saw Spike, who’d been relaxing on a recliner by the buffet table, being fed tid-bits by a number of mares, jump up and start over, little arms swinging belligerently.

The comment would have hurt base-line Twilight deeply. She gave another wince, then took a deep breath, speaking calmly. “You know, you’re absolutely right. It is rather sad that until today, the only thing I knew about most of the ponies around us were their test scores. Thank you for reminding me exactly why coming to this party was such a good idea. On that basis, you have nothing to be jealous of. So why are you?”

“I'm not jealous! I can't believe you're all falling for her innocent act!” Sharp Retort looked around, but seeing no support from any-pony except her book ends, she gave a growl of annoyance and flounced out.

Twilight went over to the host of the party, head slightly bowed. “I’m sorry, Moondancer, I didn’t mean to cause a scene.”

“You weren’t the one causing it.” The other unicorn reassured her. “I’m sorry you had to deal with all that. That was just plain mean.”

“However, she had a point.” Twilight sighed. “I should be getting back to my studies. I still feel really guilty that I went to this party without the Princess okaying it.”

Spike had come up and hugged her leg. “C’mon Twi, we’re on break! I’m sure she won’t mind you taking one night off.”

“Yes, surely you’re learning stuff here too?” Moondancer asked.

Twilight decided they deserved a proper answer. While any-pony could generate a heart-song, it only happened when they were in the grip of some deep emotion. It had taken many loops to learn Pinkie Pie’s music-on-demand ability, but it was worth it for universes with a musical component, such as Equestria. “Oh yes, so much…”

“My researches they were enough,

And keeping my work up to snuff,

Ponies as friends I did not miss,

But I wasn’t prepared for this…

“Who’d have thought that chatting was such fun,

Learning about ponies one by one,

Sharing memories and helping them out,

It’s a wonderful new feeling without doubt!

“Companionship that I did dismiss,

Now I know that it’s simply bliss.

Making some new friends,

Helping ponies,

Seeing what life sends,

Not books only,

I want to do more of this!”

She had some idea of the workings of narrative causality from her long study of many universes, and there was no way the fates would let something like that pass without reacting. Cue Spike burping up a scroll with the Princess’s own seal. Depending on what was on it, the prank might end right here. Had Celestia learned that not providing enough information or guidance risked things going badly wrong, or was she still convinced that only she had the need to see the full picture?

‘Twilight, my faithful student,

I need to see you on a matter of great urgency. Come immediately to my chambers.

Princess Celestia.’

Apparently not. Twilight let the scroll drop to the floor, face an expression of shock. “It’s from the Princess, she wants to see me right away!”

Spike shrugged. “Okay, so what’s the problem? You love spending time with her.”

“Oh Spike, don’t you see? I said I’d come here rather than continue working! She must think I’m not taking my studies seriously!”

She was a bit embarrassed about acting like this, or rather the fact that she’d originally acted like this for real over a simple late letter. However, it was how she would have reacted back then, or rather how she believed she would have reacted. So she paced around, acting fuming and flustered, ears twiching.

“What if she gives me a test on what I was supposed to be learning? What if I fail? You know what teachers do to students who fail? They send them back a grade!”

“But Twilight, this was your project in the first place, and you’re not even in a grade!”

“No, you’re right! She may just send me back to magic kindergarten!” Creating an illusion of herself sitting in a tiny desk seat, being laughed at by colts was easy enough, while she did her best impression of a thousand yard stare. ”No, she’ll probably dismiss me as her student altogether!!!”

She was rather proud of managing to put three exclamation marks into a spoken sentence. Now it was time to put the cherry on top of this particular piece of humble pie. Before Spike could act as the voice of sanity, she teleported away to her tower study. She had a lot of things to do to enact the next part of her plan, and very little time to do them in.

Moondancer looked confused. “What… just happened?”

“Twilight’s off on one of her things again.” Spike sighed. “Maybe it’s because she’s so smart. She can find things to worry about that no-pony else would even think about. The Princess probably just wanted to ask her how she enjoyed the party. I’ll go find her and calm her down. She’s probably in her study… frantically studying whatever it was she thinks she was to be tested on.”

After he’d left, the party was a bit subdued, but soon got back into full swing. Said swing came to a dead stop when Princess Celestia herself flashed into existence at the entrance to the courtyard. Every-pony turned towards her and bowed deeply.

“Thank you, my little ponies.” The princess said with her usual grace. “I did not wish to interrupt your party, but I’m looking for Twilight Sparkle. I summoned her some time ago, and she had said she was at this party. Does any-pony know where she is now?”

Moondancer answered, a bit nervously. “When she saw your letter, she…”

“Freaked out!” Some-pony else said, after an awkward silence.

“… freaked out. She was going on about you dismissing her as a student because she came here rather than studying.” The white unicorn took a few seconds to work up his nerve, then asked, “You, you wouldn't really do that, would you?”

“Of course not!” Celestia was genuinely shocked. “I'm pleased to see her making new friends, I just needed her for an important job.”

“Spike did say she did this kind of thing occasionally. He said he was going back to her study to calm her down.”

Celestia’s mind was set at ease now that she knew where to find her errant student. However, she was curious, in part because how Twilight did here would be a good indicator of how she might do in Ponyville. “Twilight is not the most social of ponies. Was she enjoying herself up until my message?”

“If you call singing about it enjoying yourself, then yes I think she did.” Moondancer smirked. One way or another this party would be the most talked about of the year.

“Twilight? Singing?” In her millennia of experience, she'd had many surprises, but she’d never have imagined Twilight engaging in a heart-song, unless it was about a new book. “I see I may have to apologise to her, I had no idea she was that engaged in this party. Thank you all for making her welcome.”

“Oh, it wasn’t all one way, your highness.” Twinkleshine responded. “I mean, she was shy to start with, but as soon as she got talking… after five minutes you felt like you’d known her for ages.”

There was a general agreement from the ponies around her. One of the stallions added, “She really helped me too. You hear that she’s this magical prodigy, but it’s another thing to actually see it.”

“How so… Flash Card, isn’t it?”

“Yes, your highness.” He looked a bit nervous when the princess turned her attention to him, but carried on. “I’ve been having trouble understanding amniomorphic spells, I can do them, but I have trouble with the theory side. Or rather, I did until I talked to Twilight. Professor Speller’s taken me through it, but I could never get what he was going on about. However, Twilight managed to figure out where I was going wrong, and show me. She did it all in about ten minutes, and she didn’t make me feel like an idiot for not understanding it already.”

Celestia was impressed, not just at the level of skill his tale suggested, but that these ponies were all willing to come to Twilight’s support. As she knew herself, simply because you knew a subject didn’t mean you could teach it effectively. Once again, she wouldn’t have pegged Twilight as being one of the ones who could. She made a graceful departure, and headed for Twilight’s private tower, her confidence restored. It seemed, if anything, that her student was even more suited for her task than she’d imagined.

As she flew up to the entrance to Twilight’s study, she composed herself to help Spike perform any remaining calming down that needed doing. When she reached the door, it was ajar, which seemed odd, so she went straight in. Spike was sitting in the middle of the room, staring blankly at the opened letter that was clutched in his paw..

Another sealed letter sat on Twilight’s work table, with the seal that showed it was for Celestia’s eyes only. She picked it up and opened it, her earlier confidence replaced by worry. The writing was Twilight’s, but it was not her usual immaculate cursive script. The shakiness was slight, but it was clear her telekinesis had been disturbed by some great emotion.

‘Dear Princess Celestia,

I most humbly apologise for neglecting my studies in favour of socialising. I honestly believed a few hours delay in doing that research would make no difference. I will endeavour to avoid friendships in future as they are clearly too distracting. I so enjoyed myself that for some time I completely forgot about my work, something that is clearly unacceptable.

However, that does not excuse my error. I have failed you, and as ruler of Equestria, you can not let that go unpunished. To save you the embarrassment of having to dismiss me, and myself the shame, I hereby submit my withdrawal from Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. I will leave quietly, and find some other position. I hope you can eventually forgive me for not living up to your standards.
I remain your most devoted and faithful subject,

Your ex-student,
Twilight Sparkle.’

Celestia had experienced much in her vast lifespan, but she’d rarely felt the shock she did right then. Twilight had left? Her telekinesis snatched Spike’s letter from his paws, desperate to find any further scrap of information as to where she might be.

‘Dear Spike,

I have to leave for a while. I’m sorry to leave so abruptly, without saying good bye or explaining in person, but I have no choice. I’ve disgraced myself, disappointed the Princess, so I can no longer stay here. I can't return to my parents house either, not after this. Leaving you there was one of the hardest parts of my decision to do so. I would have taken you with me, but I shall have to find a new place to live, some other way to support myself, and in the meantime, things are likely to be tough.

I can hear you as if you’re standing there in front of me, saying it doesn’t matter. Best of dragons, it does to me and I couldn’t ask you to share the hardships I’ve brought on myself. Princess Celestia will care for you, I'm sure. As soon as I have somewhere to live, some way to provide for us both, I will let you know. If you still want to be assistant and best friend to a plain old unicorn, rather than Celestia’s favourite student, I certainly want you to be with me.

Your friend,
Twilight Sparkle.’

Having his letter taken off him had broken Spike out of his trance. He noticed Celestia for the first time, and his expression crumpled. “She was already gone when I got here!”

He ran over to her, and she patted his back as he hugged her leg tightly. “Do not worry, this is all a silly misunderstanding, one that will be fixed as soon as I talk to her. I only needed her to undertake an important mission.”

“But she's gone!” Spike cried out.

“Not for long. Canterlot isn't Manehattan you know. I shall have Shining Armour and the entire Royal Guard comb the city for her. I'm sure they will find her within the hour, and then we can put this whole unfortunate incident behind us.”

She placed him on her back, and carried him out of the tower, mind whirring. She considered the dragon on her back, and what she'd found out earlier. “Tell me Spike, does Twilight truly see me as so strict? I would never punish her so harshly, even if I felt her taking time off from her studies to make new friends to be a bad thing, which I don't.”

“Maybe you should have told her that!” Spike snapped, then looked away, ashamed. “I'm sorry, Princess.”

“Never be ashamed of speaking your mind.” Her magic gently brought his chin up. “Your loyalty to her does her credit, and you too. Now, please tell me your mind.”

Spike was clearly debating with himself on exactly what to say, loyalty warring with honesty. “No, it's sort of… You know she's kind of nuts about getting everything just right. She worships you, too. When she's pushing herself with another all-nighter, I think she uses the idea that it's what you expect of her to push herself that bit more. She invents these over the top punishments because to her, pleasing you is the most important thing in the world. So failing is the worst crime, and deserves the worst punishment.”

“So she projects her own desire for perfection onto me?” Celestia was feeling rather guilty as she flew towards the Royal Guard barracks. She'd left well enough alone because a studious Twilight was exactly what she needed the sixth element to be. It sounded like Twilight had been heading down the wrong path that Starswirl the Bearded had once trod. Maybe if she'd encouraged her to have more of a social life outside her studies, she'd have been less likely to see it as a failing.

In an immortal, self honesty was even more important than in most ponies. The accumulated subconscious garbage of facts you kept yourself from acknowledging as the centuries piled up could send you into madness as surely as Discord. So when she realised something she had hidden from herself, she faced it squarely.

It was clear now that she'd made not one but two grave errors. Firstly, she had focussed on developing Twilight's magical abilities and studious nature in preparation for her destiny as the Bearer of the Element of Magic, and in the process unconsciously dismissed her development in other areas as unimportant. As long as Twilight was able to make friends with the other bearers and was loyal to Celestia, that was enough.

It was not something she'd have ever decided consciously, indeed the idea of using a pony like that horrified her. Twilight was more to her than some magical super-weapon, even without her destiny, Celestia would still have taken her on as a personal student, as someone with that sort of raw magical potential and desire to learn came along once in a millennium (and she was one of very few ponies who could confirm that from personal experience). She was dear to Celestia, and the alicorn princess only wanted the best things for her.

But the fact that she hadn't consciously considered what that meant, that she'd assumed that everything was working out well had led to this mess. Now that that unconscious assumption had been brought out into the light, she could easily pick it apart. Without prior experience of making friends, how would Twilight have even the tools needed to make those vital friendships, or understand their importance in the first place? While Twilight seemed to have avoided that, from her performance at the party, the very fact that her existing social circle was so sparse and her development in other areas so limited had left her without other sources of strength, without the more balanced appreciation of things when her very loyalty and over-commitment had made her turn a minor incident into a huge betrayal.

It was symptomatic of a larger problem, the way she'd approached both the task of Twilight's personal development and the restoration of the Elements. She'd ruled for millennia, and in that time, she'd formulated some basic guidelines for successful rulership, the most important of which was not to do anything unless it was absolutely needed. As her Appleoosian subjects would say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

She could so easily have become a tyrant, not in the manner of King Sombra, but simply by helping out her subjects too much, making them any more dependant on her and not able to solve their own problems, or grow from that experience. Yes, she could have made Equestria a place where no-pony ever wanted for anything or had to do anything other than exist and fill their time with parties and play, but she'd rather go Nightmare herself than live in such a 'utopia'.

As a result, she'd become master of the subtle nudge, the indirect approach, never acting directly where she could get other ponies to do it, or even find a solution for themselves. Most of her direct actions apart from raising the sun were stopping some-pony from doing something self-aggrandising, or that while appearing good in the short term would have long term negative consequences. But while her breadth of knowledge and long term viewpoint gave her a degree of wisdom, she was neither omnipotent nor omniscient. Philomena's arguments came back to her, and Spike's outburst. After so long she'd become set in her ways, and been unable to realise that this situation required a different approach. After so many centuries as the subtle manipulator, when a situation came up that did require a more horn-on approach, she hadn't recognised the fact, content to let things develop as they'd seemed to be working out.

She resolved to make it up to Twilight when she next saw her. She'd done what was easy rather than what was needed and it had cost her, and possibly many others including Twilight and her sister. She could have made the argument that she'd trusted Twilight to figure out what to do on her own, but the case could also be made that she'd showed a lack of trust in not believing Twilight could handle the information, a lack of faith that the unicorn could accept the responsibility without being tricked into it. When she next saw Twilight, there would be full disclosure, and a serious apology. She was Princess Celestia, and she would make things right.

“Don't worry Spike. I will fix this.” She landed in the courtyard of the barracks, taking the startled salute of the guards training there. “I need to see Captain Shining Amour, at once!”

Author's Note:

Yeah, this is ridiculously soon. Apparently it was a productive weekend for posters on the SpaceBattles thread...

If the characterization of Celestia in the Turning the Tables Loop is a bit off to you, then just assume it's a slight variant of the normal loop. Those do happen.
I mention it because Stainless Steel fox specifically mentioned it was getting a bit serious for the tone of the rest of the Loops, and wondered if it would fit.
We've had a bit of a discussion about the characterization, because it does feel a BIT off to me but not enough that I can actually pinpoint anything about it. (Well, except that Celestia would probably have managed things successfully if she'd been dealing with the Twilight she thought she knew rather than a Looper explicitly trying to screw with her plans...)

The other thing to say: Sakura is the "go to" example of a Looper whose mind couldn't take it. She basically went nuts for a long, long time - even by Loop standards.

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