An Unepic Pony War In The Non-Distant Future

by anowack

First published

Ponyville hosts the 1003rd Summer Sun Celebration. Celestia and Luna are taking a vacation. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria...

One week ago, Twilight Sparkle was crowned the fourth Princess of Equestria. Tonight, Ponyville hosts the 1003rd Summer Sun Celebration, and Princess Celestia and Princess Luna want a vacation. With two fine young princesses like Cadance and Twilight to take over for them, nothing could possibly go wrong.

(Title image hacked together from vectors by sakatagintoki117 and Chrome-MMVII.)

An Unepic Pony War In The Non-Distant Future

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An Unepic Pony War In The Non-Distant Future

Not for the first or last time, the recently renamed Ponyville Public Library And Royal Palace was hosting an event of historic importance. It was questionable whether any of the participants realized the significance of this moment. Still, as the nearly full moon followed its course toward the starry western sky over the peaceful village, this was the very first time in Equestria's long and storied history that four alicorn princesses sat around the same table and drank tea together.

This unprecedented convergence had the unfortunate side effect of causing the Royal Dining Hall (until the week prior, merely the nook hosting librarian Twilight Sparkle's kitchen table) to become rather uncomfortably cramped. Even when ordinary ponies gathered around it, Twilight was forced to push her battered table halfway out of the nook so the chair in the back could be comfortably used. Under the onslaught of two mares who stood a head taller than most stallions, another who dwarfed even them, and finally its very tiny feeling owner – who had not yet learned the tricks of keeping her wings out of the way – the nook didn't stand a chance.

“Maybe we should take the tea outside?” Twilight asked after one of her newly acquired appendages nearly slapped Cadance in the face when she reached for a cupcake. The pink mare merely smiled, gently pushing the offending wing aside before taking a sweet for herself.

“That would merely place us back in the hooves of the revelers we fled here to escape. Unless you believe they have calmed themselves, Twilight Sparkle?”

Luna's question was answered by a sudden commotion from outside. The yelling was fairly indistinct, though Twilight felt confident that she heard Rarity demanding her sister put something down before she hurt somepony. Fortunately, the next sounds to penetrate the library were cheers of excitement, rather than screams of terror, so it was probably safe to ignore for the moment.

“They were rather enthusiastic, weren't they?” Celestia said, as calm as ever. Ponyville had taken to the idea of hosting the Summer Sun Celebration again, this time with a princess of its own and – as a very serious mayor had confirmed in a private meeting with said princess a few days ago – no prophesied evil returning to threaten the harmony of Equestria, with a great fervor. Despite the short notice, and a friend-enforced ban on Twilight Sparkle managing the preparations, the festival had come together nicely, dwarfing the event of three years ago. While Twilight was sure in absolute terms the current celebration was smaller, the crowds felt even larger than the massive herd that had attended her coronation in Canterlot.

“My hooves are still sore,” Cadance confessed. “I didn't think I'd get away until I'd shaken the hooves of every Apple, Orange, and Kumquat in Equestria.” The princesses had, in fact, only escaped under the convenient distraction of an impromptu preview of tomorrow's Wonderbolts show, climaxing in an equally unplanned Sonic Rainboom from unexpected guest star, local and national heroine, and likely unrepentant instigator of the entire performance Rainbow Dash.

“If I'd known Ponyville could throw this kind of party,” Celestia said, “I might have stayed the night here last time, too.” She smiled as she sipped her tea. “Though things turned out well enough that I'd be loathe to change anything. Who knows what difference that might have made?”

Twilight reflexively glanced at Luna, sitting opposite Twilight, beside her sister, but the Princess of the Night seemed lost in contemplation of a cupcake decorated with a frosting representation of her cutie mark. She looked up, meeting Twilight's eyes. “Yes?”

“More tea?” Twilight asked quickly, levitating the teapot with her magic. “Anypony?”

“Just a little more, please,” Celestia said, holding out her mug in a golden glow – the predictably pink one Pinkie Pie had given Twilight as a gift at her “Three Months In Ponyville” party, a part of Twilight noticed. Or had it been the “Four Months In Ponyville” party? Maybe the “Three Months and One Week” party?

Twilight shook her head to clear it, then poured the tea. “Is that enough, Prin-” Twilight cut off, taking a deep breath, and finished with a weak, “Celestia?”

Celestia smiled – no doubt full aware of how much effort it took for the youngest alicorn to address the eldest as an equal – and floated her mug back to her waiting hoof. “That's perfect, thank you.”

“We should do it now,” Luna said suddenly, her cupcake vanished.

Celestia made a thoughtful noise, setting her mug down with a solid thud. “Are you suggesting what I'm thinking, sister?” she asked, sounding amused to Twilight.

“Aunt Celestia?” Cadance asked. She at least sounded just as confused as Twilight was.

“Your Summer Sun Celebration seems an appropriate time,” Luna said.

“That it is,” Celestia agreed. She laughed. “My, I haven't done anything this impulsive in centuries.”

“Princess?” Twilight asked worriedly.

“Luna and I,” Celestia said, “are taking a vacation.”

Twilight and Cadance blinked in unison.

“Can... can princesses even do that?” Twilight asked.

“But, what about -” Cadance started over her.

“It shall only be a short diversion,” Luna assured them. “No more than a decade.”

“So, you two will be in charge until we get back.” Celestia smiled, then calmly lifted her mug once more and took another sip of tea.

“What.” Cadance and Twilight stated flatly, in unison once again.

Celestia's smile only widened. “Which one of you gets the sun?”

There was dead silence, interrupted only by a furious scream from outside – Rarity again, and this time Twilight distinctly heard the white unicorn promising that, if three certain fillies didn't sit down right now, they wouldn't even have flanks to get cutie marks on by the time she was through. That was enough to shake Twilight from her stupor, and after a moment's thought she laughed, a little weakly in her own ears. “All right, you got me, P- Celestia. For a minute there I actually thought that you and Luna were going to go off to Zebrica or something and leave Cadance and I to be the Diarchs of Equestria despite that fact that I am thoroughly under-qualified and would probably mess up and start a war with the griffons or the dragons or maybe the changelings would come back and -”

“Deep breaths, Twilight,” Cadance interrupted.

Twilight took her old foal-sitter's advice. “Right,” she said once she had calmed down, chuckling nervously. “But in any case, then you asked which one of us wanted to raise the sun, and I realized the whole idea was ridiculous.”

“What's ridiculous is the idea that we'd go to Zebrica for our vacation,” Luna said. “We've been there. Twice. That newfound Maribbean Sea, on the other hand -”

“The Maribbean islands were first explored by Sunset Seeker in the six hundreds,” Twilight said automatically.

“Yes, and?” Luna prompted.

“Oh, right,” Twilight said, feeling her cheeks heat. “Can you believe I actually forgot for a moment? You've only been back for three years, but I can't imagine Equestria without you anymore.”

Twilight suddenly found herself smothered in a firm embrace. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna murmured.

“Can't... breathe...”

“I've found that breathing is optional for us, Twilight,” Cadance stated. “Rather disconcerting, actually. Almost as disconcerting as that joke, Aunt Celestia.”

The Princess of the Sun pushed her sister to release Twilight with one hoof, then snagged the last cupcake – previously blocked by Luna's cross-table hug – with another. “What joke?”

Twilight took several gasping breaths, not quite trusting Cadance's casual statement, though she took a mental note to find the time to sit down and have a long, long discussion about the differences between an alicorn and an ordinary pony with the only other pony who'd been both in living memory. “The one about taking a vacation and leaving us in charge?” Twilight said once she'd caught her breath.

“Right,” Cadance said. “Shining and I have only just gotten our hooves under us running the Crystal Empire. I know I don't feel ready to rule all of Equestria.”

“You under-estimate Twilight and yourself, Cadance,” Celestia said. “Between the two of you, I don't think there's anything that you can't handle.” She swallowed her cupcake – one decorated with Twilight's starbust cutie mark – in one gulp.

“But that doesn't matter, because we won't ever be ruling Equestria, or not for a long, long time, right?” Twilight said, a sinking feeling settling into her stomach.

“Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia stated, sounding a little upset, “have I ever lied to you?”

Twilight swallowed once. “No?”

“You can't be serious, Aunt Celestia,” Cadance said.

“My sister is quite serious,” Luna announced. “It has been more than a thousand years since she had a vacation.”

“Princess?” Twilight asked weakly.

“We don't intend to just leave tonight,” Celestia said reassuringly, “and I doubt we'll be gone for ten years, but now that Luna has suggested it, the Summer Sun Celebration does seem an appropriate time to make the announcement and hand over our astronomical duties.”

There was dead silence again. This time it was Applejack who broke it, declaring her intention to buck a certain scooter so hard it would be banished to the moon for a thousand years.

This was actually happening, Twilight realized. Beside her, she heard Cadance hyperventilating. “Deep breaths,” Twilight said, as much for herself as for the other young princess.

“Right. Thank you, Twilight.” The pink alicorn calmed herself.

“Is... is it even possible for us to -” Twilight began.

“Of course it is,” Luna declared. “Before our reign, ordinary unicorns moved the sun and moon across the heavens. You are both alicorn princesses; the task is well within your abilities.”

“So,” Celestia said, smiling. “Which one of you gets the sun?” She raised her mug and drank deeply as she waited for a reply.

Cadance answered first, but only after looking at Twilight for several long moments. “I... I guess the answer is obvious,” she said.

Twilight nodded her head. “Yes. It only makes sense.”

Cadance smiled. “I'm glad we agree. It'd be terrible to start our... stars above, our reign... with a childish disagreement.”

“Yes,” Twilight said, smiling. “Think of poor Shining getting caught in between us.”

Cadance laughed.

Luna blinked. “Which... which one do you two mean will take over raising the sun from my sister?”

“I will.”

The younger two alicorns had spoken in unison once again, and instantly they fixed each other with first shocked looks, then glares. Celestia sipped her tea.

“Twilight,” Cadance said. “Be reasonable. I'm the elder sister... in-law, and more experienced. It only makes sense for -”

“For Princess Celestia's student to take her sun,” Twilight interrupted, her hooves hitting the table forcefully.

Luna's hooves hit the table a moment later, knocking three, fortunately almost empty, mugs over. (Celestia's pink mug, unnoticed by the other princesses, was saved by a golden glow.) “Are we to conclude that the moon is unworthy of thy attentions, Mi Amore Cadenza? Twilight Sparkle?

“I'm... I'm sorry, Princess,” Twilight said. “But... but that's just why Cadance should take the moon. Because she is the elder and more experienced! That would show that the moon is just as important as the sun, not a lesser position for the junior princess!”

Luna settled back into her seat. “Your argument is not without merit, Twilight Sparkle, but I suspect it is a justification for your desire, not a reason for it.”

Twilight looked away, not quite meeting her gaze. “I'm sorry,” she said again, “but raising the sun has been my dream since I was a little filly, since the first time I attended the Summer Sun Celebration.”

“I know, Twilight,” Cadance said – far from unkindly. “You're not the only pony who has had that dream, though,” she added, more than a hint of longing in her voice.

“Well, sister?” Luna asked. “It's your sun.”

Celestia shook her head. “I think this is something Twilight and Cadance need to decide for themselves.”

Cadance looked uncertain.

Twilight steeled herself. “All right, then. There's only one way to settle this, Cadance, and I think you know what it is.”

The pink princess blinked several times. “Are you serious, Twilight? Surely we can talk this out like the mature, rational, adult mares we are instead of -”

“No,” Twilight said. “This is how we've always settled our differences; neither of us could challenge the result.” Luna gave Celestia a questioning look, but the eldest princess just smiled and shrugged.

“That was when you were...” Cadance trailed off, then laughed. “I don't see why I'm arguing. You've never defeated me.”

“That was before,” Twilight said. “There was a gap between us I couldn't bridge, but now... now I have the same advantages as you.” She reared up, extending her wings to their full length... or at least as far as she could before bumping into the wooden walls of the nook.

There was silence as Twilight sheepishly brought her wings back to her side.

“You don't have the experience I do,” Cadance warned.

“You know how quickly I learn.” Twilight smiled.

After a moment, Cadance matched her grin, a dangerous light in her eyes. “Very well. I will require time to prepare myself, Twilight Sparkle.”

“We have three hours before the sun is to rise,” Twilight stated. “I will meet you on the field of battle then.”

“Agreed,” Cadance said, and she stood. “Until then.”

Once she was gone, Twilight bowed slightly in her seat to the other two princesses, the slid out past Cadance's vacated chair.

“Twilight -” Luna began.

“I have my own preparations to make,” Twilight interrupted, her mind already on the glorious battle to come. “I'll see you two in three hours.”

Then she left, leaving Celestia and Luna alone in her kitchen.

Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria, there were two regal sisters who ruled together, and created harmony for all the land. But, one fateful night, the younger sister refused to allow the elder to raise the sun, and the two sisters warred for control of the heavens.

It was one of the greatest tragedies in pony history.

Or at least it was the first time it happened.

Celestia lifted the teapot with her magic, refilling her mug before straightening Luna's and floating the pot over to it. “More tea?” she asked. “I think Twilight's been practicing. She always used to steep the green tea for too long.”

Luna had eyes only for the door the two younger princesses had vanished through. “Should we do something, sister?” she asked.

Celestia looked thoughtful for just a moment. “Why should we?” she asked cheerfully. “They seem like they're having a lot of fun.”

Twilight had much to do, and far too little time to do it in. She was out of practice; it had been years since she had fought a duel like this, and never for such stakes. It was no time for half measures; this was her chance to avenge an entire childhood of ignominious defeats.

And, also, to get to raise the sun. She couldn't forget that.

“Spike!” she yelled as she opened the door to the bedroom they shared. “Are you in here? Spike!”

As she probably should have predicted, the young dragon was nowhere to be seen. She'd been proud of his plan to take a nap in the early evening so he could attend the height of the celebration in these hours before dawn without wiping himself out the next day. It showed an admirable, mature ability to plan ahead and foresee the consequences of his actions. Even if he'd justified it in terms of owing Future Spike for last time, it was still a sign he was growing up.

It was just a little inconvenient right now, since otherwise her number one assistant might have been resting in his bed where she could get her hooves on him.

“Oh well,” Twilight said. “I do still know how to write a letter myself.” She giggled a moment, then the glow of her magic flickered about the room, locating quill, ink, and parchment in short order.

“Dearest brother, my best friend forever,” she dictated aloud as she wrote, the habit ingrained into her even though there was nopony to hear.

“It has come to pass that Cadance and I have reached an irreconcilable difference that can only be resolved through strength of will and magic. She will no doubt inform you of the particulars of our forthcoming battle shortly.

“I have no desire for a repeat of the circumstances leading to the fall of Fort Book. While I cannot command and do not expect your support, I respectfully request your neutrality.

“Should self-preservation and our shared bond not be enough to compel you to stay out of a duel between alicorn princesses, I regret to inform you that, upon my last visit home, I recovered certain photographs from our youth that as of yet have escaped your wife's notice. Rest assured that I am prepared to deploy them if necessary, despite the potential for my own embarrassment.

“Love, your favorite sister, H.R.H. Twilight Sparkle.”

She thought for a moment, then giggled again before adding. “Postscript: Brother, blackmail is such an ugly word.”

Then she rolled up the scroll. Now to get it to her brother. She peeked out her bedroom window to ensure the coast was relatively clear. Then she opened it. “Owlowiscious?” she called out.

Her number two assistant glided through the window on silent wings moments later. Twilight frowned as she watched the bird settle onto a perch on her desk. “That was fast,” she said. “Remind me to devise a thorough series of tests to determine if you have a variant of the Pinkie Sense.”

Owlowiscious just looked at her.

Twilight floated her rolled up letter toward the bird. “Do you think you can take this to my brother, please?” she asked.


Twilight groaned. “I am not going there. Do I look like a purple baby dragon?”

Owlowiscious gave her another look.

“All right, I am purple at least,” Twilight agreed. “But I'm one hundred percent equine.”

The owl took to the air, and after a short hop, landed on Twilight's back. He pecked briefly at her wings.

“I have absolutely no idea what you're trying to tell me,” Twilight said, then floated her letter back toward them. “Can you take this to my brother or not?”

“Hey, Twilight. What's up?”

The purple alicorn jumped into the air in startlement, throwing off the owl. Owlowiscious, hooting in annoyance, caught himself with a beat of his wings, then flew back to the desk.

Twilight's own wings acted reflexively, opening in surprise and fluttering wildly. This only succeeded in slowing her descent unexpectedly. Equestria's newest princess lost her balance, landing flat on her face.

A moment later, her scroll hit her on the head.

Accompanied by the sound of choking laughter, Twilight found her feet and turned back to her window. “It's not that funny,” she said sourly.

The blue pegasus finished pulling herself in through the window, landed far more elegantly on the floor, then brought one hoof to her chin before twisting her face into a parody of thoughtfulness. “Nah, I'm pretty sure that was just proven all scientific like to be hilarious.” Rainbow Dash grinned at her friend.

“I thought you were with the Wonderbolts,” Twilight said.

“Yeah, for a bit. You saw that amazing stunt we pulled, right?!” Rainbow launched into the air, her wings flapping rapidly. “They were all, like,” she began, then started to roll, “and I was all -”

Twilight caught the pegasus in her magic and deposited her safely on the floor before the inevitable collisions could begin. “I saw. It was pretty... cool?”

“Cool?” Rainbow asked sourly. “Cool?! That was not merely cool. It was awesome.

“One day, Rainbow, we will sit down with a dictionary and a thesaurus and I will teach you all about synonyms.”

“That sounds pretty boring. Hey, is the next -”

“No,” Twilight said. “She just announced that the next Daring Do won't be out until winter.” Rainbow sighed in discontent.

“Have you seen my brother?” Twilight asked the other mare after a moment. “I was just about to send Owlowiscious out after him with this.” Her magic grabbed the loose scroll off the floor.

“Yeah,” Rainbow said. “He was hangin' over at Applejack's farm with Big Mac and my dad.”

“Your dad's here?” Twilight asked. She wasn't sure she'd ever met the stallion.

Rainbow laughed. “Half of Cloudsdale flew on down for this party.”

“I suppose,” Twilight said. She glanced at Owlowiscious. “Will you -”

“He'd better hurry, though,” Rainbow said. “I think your brother won't be there long; before I came up here I saw Princess Cadance beating wing in that direction.”

“Horsefeathers,” Twilight swore, drawing a startled look from the pegasus. Blackmail wouldn't help her any if Cadance extracted a promise of aid from Shining Armor before he got her letter. She gave Rainbow an appraising glance, then almost flung the scroll at her. “Can you beat Cadance out to Sweet Apple Acres?” she asked. “It's vital that Shining read this before she gets there.”

“Whoa, slow down, Twilight!” Rainbow said. She froze. “I cannot believe I just said that.”

Twilight laughed.

“Seriously, Twilight, is she like... a changeling again, or something?”

“No, nothing like that. It's... a prank. Yes, a prank. I'll explain when there's more time. Can you beat her, Rainbow?”

“You're kidding, right?” Rainbow asked, grabbing the scroll in her teeth.

“Thanks, Rainbow,” Twilight said, and in a prismatic burst of motion the pegasus was out the window.

“Who,” Owlowiscious said.

“Sorry,” Twilight apologized. “But you can't break the sound barrier. She can.”


“Using magic is not cheating, Owlowiscious.”


“Now, that's just rude.”

Rainbow Dash grinned as she flew through the warm night air toward the sinking, bright moon. Twilight Sparkle was plotting a prank. Twilight Sparkle! Uptight egghead supreme! (Not that there was anyth... much wrong with that.) And Fluttershy's mom called Rainbow a bad influence! Hah!

Without slowing, Rainbow flipped over onto her back, and dropped the scroll into waiting hooves. Her grin turned wicked and she unrolled the parchment.

A few moments later, she stopped dead in the air, only an occasional, slow beat of her wings keeping her aloft. “This... this is bad,” she said to herself. “Blackmail is such an ugly word? That's... that's exactly the kind of thing Professor Monocle would say!” (In fact, Daring Do's unicorn archaeological arch-nemesis said it once a book, on average.)

Rainbow rolled up the scroll carefully. “Twilight... she can't have turned... evil? Right?”

She threw a worried glance back at the library/palace, then flew toward Sweet Apple Acres with renewed speed.

“Shining Armor neutralized, check,” Twilight Sparkle declared to her empty bedroom (having sent Owlowiscious on his way with a treat as an apology). She mentally placed a bright green checkmark beside the first item on an imaginary checklist. It was perhaps a little preemptive, but Rainbow would pull through.

“Step Two, research!” The best step in any plan, really. And she had just the book, too. Now, where was it?

It was only after fifteen precious minutes of searching that she remembered that it was down in the basement, because she'd been intending to practice those spells anyway. (She'd had... plans for unleashing them, but this was a better debut anyway.)

She made her way back downstairs, glancing toward her kitchen nook as she did. She stopped as she saw it empty. “Prin- Celestia? Luna?” she called out. There was no answer.

For just a moment, idle thoughts made the quiet library seem creepy, but it didn't even take the continuing sounds of celebration outside to shake Twilight from the dark musings. For one, jumping to the conclusion that the two elder Princesses had been... kidnapped or something, was honestly ridiculous. For another, Twilight had noticed the note left on the table.

She grabbed it with her magic and read it as she continued on her way to the basement. “Twilight,” it began. “I just realized that Luna has never had Zap Apple jam, and that simply will not stand. Also, Luna thinks you and Cadance need a Royal Dueling Circle, so I told her she can see if Applejack minds her tearing up one of the fields for it. Therefore, we shall brave the gauntlet of our loyal subjects and journey to yon Sweet Apple Acres, to quote my sister (who has no idea why I am giggling).”

The image made Twilight giggle herself, distracting her enough that only her protruding horn saved her from planting her face into the basement door. This drew a rather unregal squeak of surprise, and Twilight imagined the faint sound of mocking laughter. “Forget flying and reading,” she muttered to herself, “I apparently still need to work on walking and reading.”

The imaginary laughter snickered. “Oh shut up,” Twilight said. Then she covered her face with one hoof, used her magic to roll up the note and open the door, and made her way safely down the stairs before she unrolled the paper and finished Celestia's message.

There wasn't much more. “We'll see you at the farm thirty minutes before the sun-raising for your thing with Cadance. Good luck, and have fun!” The letter was signed simply, “Your friend, Celestia.”

Twilight smiled, her cheeks heating a little at the familiar closing, then floated the note over to rest safely on one of her work desks before proceeding to tear the basement laboratory apart for looking for her target.

A quarter hour later, a black volume grasped in the purple glow of her magic and a newly messy basement behind her (where was Spike when she needed him?), Twilight made her way back upstairs. She resisted the urge to open the book on the way up the stairs.

She'd have plenty of time to review the book's spells before the duel without risking another embarrassing collision, after all. So long as she didn't get distracted, anyway.

There was a loud knocking from upstairs. Somepony was at the front door. Twilight sighed as she finished climbing the stairs. She'd had to tempt fate, hadn't she? She swore, if this pony was looking for an autograph or something – ignoring the “Do Not Disturb” note on the door, signed with the cutie marks of all four Princesses of Equestria – she was going to... going to... well, honestly, sign whatever it was and send him or her off as quickly as she could without being impolite.

Princesses didn't lose their tempers in public.

That didn't keep Twilight from stomping a little as she made her way to the door, the sound of her hooves matching the continuing knocking. “I'm coming!” Twilight yelled. The book of spells floated, half-forgotten, behind her.

Twilight took a moment to compose herself before flinging the heavy door open with a burst of magic. “What is it?” she demanded.

Rarity took a couple nervous steps backward. “Is... is this a bad time, Twilight?”

Twilight blinked. “Sorry,” she said. “I thought... oh, never mind. Please come in.” Twilight stepped aside so the white unicorn could enter, a little embarrassed that her anger at an imaginary over-eager fan had been obvious enough to scare her friend.

Rarity didn't move for a moment, then shook her head and stepped past Twilight.

Twilight shut the door behind her, then started leading the way back to the kitchen. She only remembered that she still had the spell book she'd retrieved from the basement floating by her side when she caught Rarity looking at it.

“One Hundred And One Spells To Torment Your Friends?” Rarity read the title aloud.

Twilight floated it over to rest on a side table. “Yes.” She saw the look on Rarity's face. “Oh, don't worry. I'd never use any of those spells on you. I just got it out for this... thing with Cadance.” She really did not want to try explaining the whole 'Celestia and Luna are going on vacation and Cadance won't let me be the one to raise the sun like I obviously should be' thing right now. “It's not important,” she lied.

“It... it looks like it's bound in... leather...”

“Yes, yes it does,” Twilight said, a little proudly. When word had leaked that the limited collector's edition would have the macabre faux leather binding, it had sold out almost instantly. She could have sold it on the second-hoof market for enough bits to support her book habit for a whole month. (Needless to say, this was a considerable sum.)

“Why... why do you even have a book like that, Twilight?”

“Oh, well... I was thinking of getting Rainbow and Pinkie back for the itching powder incident last month,” Twilight admitted. “But... that's not really the sort of thing a princess should do, I guess.” She sighed. She'd been looking forward to the look on their faces, too. “Anyway,” she said, starting to move toward the kitchen again, “would you like some tea?” She could reheat whatever Celestia had left with a simple spell.

“Umm... no,” Rarity answered after a moment. “That's not necessary.”

“Alright,” Twilight said, turning back to her friend. “So, what do you need?”

“I was... wondering if I could... borrow the Elements?”

Twilight blinked. Twice. “What for?” she asked.

“Oh,” Rarity said quickly. “I was just chatting with the girls and I thought I could make some necklaces based on them for us to wear to the sun-raising. You know, to match your crown.”

Twilight had almost forgotten she was wearing the thing, the design of which had indeed been based off of her Element of Magic. It was rather surprising how quickly she'd grown used to the weight, though she'd still be glad when everything calmed down and she didn't have to wear it to some formal event every day.

“And I wanted to have a good look at the real things for reference,” Rarity added.

“You're going to make five necklaces in the next two hours?” Twilight asked dubiously.

Rarity laughed a little. “You know me, Twilight. When I'm 'in the zone'...”

“Right,” Twilight said, chuckling. She headed to the display case containing the Elements and opened the glass with one hoof. (The mayor had once asked her whether it was really safe to have the most powerful artifacts in Equestria just sitting out like that. Twilight had truthfully reassured her that if anypony or anything beside the Bearers, the Princesses, or Spike tried to open the case, the defenses would make the next few minutes of their life quite exciting.)

Twilight's magic floated the five necklaces over to Rarity, who took them in her own magic's grasp. “Thank you,” she said, sounding a little surprised.

“They're you girls' Elements,” Twilight said. “I'm just keeping them safe for you.” She shut the glass case over her suddenly lonely looking tiara with a loud thud. For just a moment, she felt a bizarre impulse to apologize to the Element of Magic for cheating on it with her new crown, and she chuckled again.

“Right,” Rarity said, her magic tightening around the other five elements. “Wasn't there... a book on them?” she asked. “The one we found the night we...”

“The Elements of Harmony: A Reference Guide,” Twilight confirmed. She certainly approved of the thoroughness of Rarity's research plan! No doubt she intended that the ornamental necklaces should also reflect the forms the Elements had taken when Celestia and Luna had borne them. “It should be right over here, under Artifacts and Talismans.”

A minute later: “Maybe we put it under Equestrian History in the last reorganization?”

“Or it could be with the encyclopedias, since it is a reference guide,” Twilight pondered aloud a moment after that.

“Maybe I should just be going?” Rarity asked. “It's not really -”

“No, no, I've got this,” Twilight interrupted, her wings fluttering in irritation. “I know I saw that book recently. Where is it?!”

Some ponies new to Ponyville occasionally commented that, strictly speaking, Twilight Sparkle was not a particularly good librarian. They were quickly informed that Twilight was a nice young mare who enjoyed her work, was always willing to help a patron, and – unlike her predecessor – didn't insist on organizing non-fiction alphabetically by title. And, though she did insist on reorganizing the library on a near monthly basis, most frequent visitors agreed that she was generally making improvements.

Finally, though, complainers were quietly let in on the secret that Spike the dragon usually had a better grasp than his pony guardian on where any given volume was stored at the moment.

Had he been in the library now, Twilight would not have had to lead Rarity through every room in the tree until coming back to the front room, where now she stood, embarrassed, in front of the special shelf of books related to the Summer Sun Celebration she'd set up earlier in the month.

“Here you go,” Twilight muttered, floating the book over to the unicorn.

“Thanks,” Rarity said, accepting the book. “Well... I guess I'll be going then.” She laughed. “Have to... get to work on those necklaces, you know.”

Twilight smiled. “Of course.” She followed Rarity over to the front door and opened it for her friend.

“Thank you,” Rarity said, stepping outside.

“You're welcome. Oh... I do hope your sister isn't hurt?” Twilight remembered to ask before shutting the door.

Rarity started. “What? What do you -”

“You were yelling at her,” Twilight said. She raised a hoof to her ear. “We heard you through the walls. And Applejack was going to buck Scootaloo's scooter to the moon?”

“Oh, that.” Rarity sighed. “I thought.... never mind.”

“What happened?”

“Three bored fillies met an unattended cart of fireworks.” Rarity shuddered theatrically.

Twilight's eyes widened. “Was anypony hurt?” she asked.

“Only their manes,” Rarity reassured her. “And their ears, once Applejack was done yelling.”

“That's good,” Twilight said in relief. Then she glanced up at the setting moon, and realized that she was running out of time to prepare. “Well, you'd better be going if you want to get those necklaces made,” she said.

“Yes, quite,” Rarity said. The bundle of Elements and book she held in her magic floated a little closer to her flank.

“I'll see you in a couple hours at the sun-raising,” Twilight said, and then she shut the door. Now, where had she put that spellbook again?

Out beyond the west orchard of Sweet Apple Acres, on the edges of the property, was a fallow field. Big McIntosh's fiscal forecasts indicated the budget would be available to expand and plant at least two dozen new apple trees there in three years, or two with good harvests. (When she had happened to come across the meticulously written, triple-checked accounting worksheets containing five-year forecasts under a wide range of assumptions of the farm's yield and Equestria's economic performance, Twilight Sparkle had proposed marriage on the spot. Since she was drunk on cider at the time, the red stallion hadn't bothered to reply.)

Big Mac found himself silently bemused that his nice new plow was breaking up the dry, tough soil far ahead of that schedule. It was nearly worthy of comment that – rather than trusty earth pony muscle – the blue magic of the Princess of the Night was pushing the plow across the field.

The fact that Princess Celestia, the Bringer of Harmony to All Equestria, was currently sitting on a cloud she'd brought down from high above, watching her sister work while eating some of the last of this year's Zap Apple jam straight out of the jar, was almost enough to make Big Mac wax polysyllabic.


He would never admit it, but after the past three years, it was something of a point of pride on his part to take in stride all the weirdness his own sister's part-time job (as he tried to think of it) brought into his life. That part of him wanted to go back to the farmhouse like there was nothing unusual going on here.

“Could you please move your big fat rump, sister?” Princess Luna demanded irritably as she made the plow turn in place, digging a sharp angle through the soil. “You're blocking my moonlight.”

Celestia spooned out a large dollop of jam. “I'm busy. Why don't you just raise the moon some? Or lower it.”

The rest of Big Mac – as disturbing and vaguely heretical as it was – couldn't tear himself away from watching the two ancient royal sisters bicker like a pair of fillies.

“Or you could get down here and help me finish this circle before Twilight and Cadance get here!”

Celestia swallowed the jam and laughed. “I don't even remember how to make a Royal Dueling Circle. There hasn't been much call for those for a while. Unicorns don't even use rune circles anymore.”

“Then learn,” Luna snapped. “Why aren't you taking this seriously, sister? You know what can happen when alicorns clash without proper protection.” She raised one hoof, and Big Mac's gaze followed it to the shadow on the horizon.

He blinked once.

“I really doubt Cadance and Twilight are going to turn Sweet Apple Acres into another Everfree Forest,” Celestia observed. “Why don't you relax and have some more of this jam?”

“If you don't get down here this instant and start helping, I swear -”

“Fine, fine.” Celestia somehow chugged the remainder of the jar of jam, then descended with an elegant flap of her wings. A passing blow from her rear hooves scattered the cloud, and as the moon shone down on the pattern Luna had been digging, the broken-up earth began to glow silver, like moonlight was pooling in the shallow ditch.

Big Mac's eyes widened fractionally.

“Now,” Luna demanded, “if your senile mind hasn't forgotten how, could you please start stabilizing the north edge?”

Celestia sighed loudly as she landed beside Big Mac, then floated the empty jam jar over to him. He took it nervously in one hoof. He had thought the princesses had forgotten he was there.

“Thank you very much for the jam,” the white alicorn told him. “I hope this all isn't too much trouble.”

“Nope.” A moment later, his mind caught up with his tongue, and he remembered who he was speaking to. “I mean -”

Celestia just smiled. “Don't worry. Your great-grandmother Smith was actively rude to me, and I only banished her a little bit.”

Big Mac had never heard that particular wrinkle in the Apple Family's origin story before, but now that his vocal cords were loosened a little, another question fought its way out on top of the numerous ones that tidbit raised. “Ah... Princess, what you said about -”

“Don't worry, Big McIntosh,” Celestia said again. Then she whistled for a moment. “I know for absolute certain, that everything is certainly fine.”

“Stop singing and get over here, sister!” Luna demanded.

Celestia laughed. “Don't let us keep you from the celebration any longer,” she told Big Mac, “although you should come back a half-hour before sunrise if you want an amusing show.”

Twilight Sparkle suspected that the range of her teleportation had increased from its – not inconsiderable – maximum of a week ago, but even under generous assumptions, Sweet Apple Acres was still well outside of her reach. Flying was simply not an option, unless she was interested in testing the limits of her newly gained earth pony vitality through repeated blunt trauma administered via collision with the ground.

So it had been with great relief, when she opened her door an hour before sunrise to sneak past the still-celebrating crowds, that she found a pair of pegasus guards playing cards beside her royal chariot. (Just when had Celestia had that made, anyway?) After a brief conversation, she'd returned to her studies for a while before setting out.

So it came to pass that Princess Twilight Sparkle arrived at the site of her duel with her royal sister-in-law in grand style. The guards swung the ornate chariot around the Apples' west orchard in a wide circle as they descended. Below, an elaborate pattern (a real rune circle, Twilight's inner arcane historian squealed in glee) glowed silver to match the bright, spotless moon, which had stopped its descent to the horizon.

If she lost this duel, Twilight realized, she would be the one to finish lowering the moon. That was... a little crazy. This whole week had been crazy, though.

The chariot landed on the edge of the circle. “Thank you,” Twilight told the pegasi. “I shouldn't be needing a return flight.” Celestia would no doubt teleport them all back to Ponyville in time for the sun-raising ceremony.

“A pleasure, Princess,” one of the pair said, and she bowed slightly in her harness. Then they returned to the air, circling once more before heading back toward the village.

Cadance was waiting for her, inside one of two smaller circles inscribed on the east and west edges of the large, primary circle. The duelist's starting positions, Twilight recalled. “This is your last chance to back down, Twilight.” Twilight just grinned at her, before stepping into the opposite small circle.

Celestia and Luna stood across the dueling circle from each each other, at the north and south edges. Celestia waved a hoof in greeting. Luna just studied Twilight seriously, making the new princess shift uncomfortably. “Surely there is a better way to resolve this,” Luna said.

Twilight thought about it for a moment. “No, I think this works. Cadance?”

“I always win,” the pink alicorn reminded her old charge.

“There's no stopping them when they get like this, Princess.” Twilight looked up at the new voice, finding her brother standing against the fence marking the edge of the Apple Family's property. Beside him stood Big Mac. Twilight was actually a little disappointed not to see Rainbow Dash's father. Maybe he'd gone off with his daughter after she'd delivered Twilight's letter?

“Shining Armor,” Twilight said, putting a threat and a question into her voice.

The unicorn took a step back, hitting the fence. “I got your letter,” he assured her desperately. “I'm staying out of this one.” Big Mac looked at the other stallion curiously, and a part of Twilight desperately prayed to... whoever Princesses prayed to... that he didn't think to share what had happened that time she'd gotten drunk. (Twilight didn't actually know what she'd done, but the look on Applejack's face when she lied and said that Twilight hadn't done anything embarrassing...)

Cadance gave Twilight a curious look of her own. “I think we need to have a long talk when this is over, Twilight,” she said mischievously.

“No,” Twilight returned, “it's much more useful if you don't know.” Also, those photos were more than a little humiliating to her also. “Let's get this over with.”

“Do you know the rules of a Unicorns' Duel, Twilight Sparkle? Mi Amore Cadenza?”

Twilight searched her memory. “The fighters charge the circle with their magics to prevent leakage. When the two magics meet, the duel begins, and continues until one unicorn is unable to continue or admits defeat by returning to her starting circle.”

“No lethal magics,” Luna added. “Any attempt to kill, breach the circle, or prevent your opponent from withdrawing is an immediate forfeit, one I will intervene to enforce. Do you both understand and accept the rules?”

Both younger princesses nodded. “Are you ready, Twilight?” Cadance asked, her horn glowing a pale blue.

Twilight just lit her own horn in answer and lowered her head, the tip almost touching the silver light of the rune circle. She glanced up, meeting Cadance's eyes. The other alicorn smiled.

“Hold it right there, Nightmare Twilight!”

Twilight blinked, releasing her magic. “That's not funny, Rainbow D-” she began, looking up and turning around. She froze as she saw her five friends charging out of the west orchard toward the rune circle. The Elements of Harmony hung around their necks, the bright moonlight making them almost seem to glow.

“Cadance,” Twilight said dangerously. “What did you tell them?

“I may have mentioned that you were refusing to lower the moon so I could raise the sun,” Cadance admitted cheerfully.

As her friends drew near, Twilight threw her mentor a desperate glance. “Princess Celestia?” she asked.

When the scrolls were laid out end to end, miles of bad verse had been written on the mysterious beauty of the Sun Princess's enigmatic smiles. Clearly none of those poets had grown up as Celestia's student, because Twilight had – as a necessary survival trait – compiled an authoritative listing of smile interpretations long ago. The one Celestia gave her now was a bona fide Number Six: “Now, Twilight. You got into this mess yourself; you can get yourself out of it also. You can't expect me to clean up after you all the time. “

Alternately, it was a particularly pained Number Two: “I need to go use the big princesses' room, but this is much too important and/or fascinating to miss.”

Either way, there was no hope of aid from her. Twilight looked at the final princess, but Luna was just staring at Celestia, looking a little confused. No luck there either.

Twilight sighed, turning back to her friends and throwing up one hoof. “Just... just stop. Please.”

In a surprise victory for Twilight's wavering conviction that she lived in a rational universe, her friends slowed to a halt a few dozen paces away. “Good. Now -”

Pinkie Pie waved a hoof. “Hi, Nightmare Twilight! I'm Pinkie Pie!”

Twilight stared at the pink pony for several heartbeats. “...I know, Pinkie.”

“Oh, are you the same Nightmare as Nightmare Moon was, Nightmare Twilight?” Pinkie asked. Then she frowned. “Does that question even make sense?”

“No, Pinkie. No, it doesn't.” Twilight was relieved to see her other friends nodding.

Rainbow Dash tossed her head impatiently. “Stop wasting time! Let's just blast her now!” The Element of Loyalty began to glow a fierce red.

“...seriously?” Twilight asked. “You girls remember that the Elements only work in harmony, right? You need all six.”

Someone whimpered. Twilight looked at Fluttershy, but she just looked determined, her necklace glowing. Then she looked behind Fluttershy, at the blue unicorn who was hiding behind both the yellow pegasus and a Don't-Notice-Me spell.

“Is that Trixie?” Twilight asked incredulously. “What is she doing here? And what is she wearing?” The tiara looked like her Element, but it cast no light.

“Formation, girls,” Applejack said grimly. “We can do this.” The Elements were blazing beacons, and even Trixie stood straight, her horn gleaming.

“Wait.” Fluttershy's soft anti-yell stopped all the mares in their tracks. The gathering light died.

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief as Fluttershy took the air, hovering between her and the rest of her friends (and also Trixie). “Thank you, Fluttersh-”

“Umm... excuse me, Miss Nightmare Twilight?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight stared at her.

Fluttershy gave a quiet “Eek!” Her wings beat furiously, propelling her up and backward away from Twilight.

Maybe it had been more of a glare than a stare, really. “Twilight, Fluttershy. Just Twilight. Or Twilight Sparkle.”

When Twilight didn't say anything more or do anything more aggressive that glaring, Fluttershy slowly drifted a little closer. “Umm... I was wondering... if you could please let... umm... Not-Nightmare Twilight out for just a little, teeny-tiny bit, so she can tell us how the get the Elements to be set to 'make-good-again' instead of 'turn-to-stone' or 'banish-to-the-moon'?”

Twilight just kept staring.

The yellow pegasus retreated again. “If that's not too much trouble, I mean.”

“Oh, for the love of –” Twilight did something she never imagined she would do when she woke up this morning. She planted one hoof in her face and paraphrased Discord. “Just go ahead. Try to use the Elements. 'Friend' me.” Maybe once that was out of the way they would be able to have a rational conversation.

“Fine,” Applejack said, and as Fluttershy returned to the others, the Elements began to glow once more. A brilliant white light began to shine.

And promptly flickered and died. The Bearers of the Elements of Harmony (or five of them, anyway) blinked rapidly, momentarily disoriented and confused.

“Are we done?” Twilight asked irritably.

Trixie prostrated herself. “Please don't kill me, Princess Twilight! They made me do it.”

Part of Twilight Sparkle thought this entire crazy situation was worth it just for that. (Even princesses weren't perfect.) “I'm not going to kill anypony. Just... give me that.” Her magic snatched the tiara from Trixie's head.

“I have two very important questions, girls,” Twilight said after a moment's observation. “One, when did they start making cheap plastic copies of my Element? Two, why did you think it would work?”

Rarity shifted uncomfortably. “The book just says that when the five Elements are present, a spark will make the sixth Element appear.”

“Ain't nothin' that says it can only happen once,” Applejack finished.

“I can answer the other question!” Pinkie said cheerfully. “Canterlot Toys and Games started making them for the Summer Sun Celebration last year! I got the whole set, see?” She pulled out five plastic, golden-colored necklaces from somewhere.

Then she frowned. “Wait, this is the real one.” Pinkie swapped it with the necklace she was wearing.

“Remind me to double-check Laughter before I put them back in the case,” Twilight asked her friends.

Rainbow Dash was suddenly in her face, hovering a foot or so off the ground. “Hold on! Give up and give us back real Twilight, Nightmare Twilight!”

Twilight sighed. “I am the real Twilight, Rainbow.”

Rainbow frowned. “That's just what a Nightmare would say.”

“There's no such thing as a Nightmare,” Twilight complained. “There was only one.”

“So, wait, Nightmare Twilight is the same Nightmare as Nightmare Moon after all?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight twitched several times, a pained noise escaping her lips. She looked behind her, searching for help.

Luna had switched positions, now standing beside her sister, her face expressionless.... for a moment. Then she shook her head, snickering. Celestia had switched to the rare smile Number Twenty-Three: “I am desperately trying to come up with an excuse to immortalize this in stained glass.”

Cadance had abandoned the Royal Dueling Circle and joined her husband by the fence, a bucket of popcorn floating in the soft aura of her magic. She tossed a handful into her mouth, chewing loudly. Shining Armor shrugged apologetically, but made no move to assist his sister. (He did help himself to some popcorn.)

Big McIntosh just looked... Big McIntoshy.

“My vengeance,” Twilight informed them all seriously, “will be slow but sure.”

“See!” Rainbow Dash proclaimed. “She's still evil! That's definitely an Ahuizotl kind of line!”

“ read my letter, didn't you?”

Rainbow blinked. “Duh.”

“So you all believed Cadance when she implied I'd gone insane and was trying to bring about eternal night because Rainbow Dash thought that I was turning into Professor Monocle. This is an actual thing that happened.”

“There's a little more than that, sugar,” Applejack said.

“Like that book of black magic.” Rarity shuddered.

Twilight stared at her. “Rarity, One Hundred And One Spells To Torment Your Friends is a book of pranks.”


“Prove it,” Rainbow Dash demanded.

Twilight's horn glowed.

Rainbow looked around frantically. “What did she do? What did she do?”

Rarity started to giggle. Applejack's snicker was less ladylike. Trixie snorted.

“Do me next! Do me next!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.

“Please don't do me,” Fluttershy whispered.

“Come on! What did she do?” Rainbow darted around frantically, as though that would somehow reveal what had happened.

Trixie finally summoned a large mirror right in front of her. The pegasus slammed into it head-first. “Ow,” she complained, before taking a good look.

To be honest, anyone who didn't know Rainbow Dash at least a little would not have understood why it was funny. Her shortcut mane had turned into a mass of curls, and a large pink bow rested on the end of her many-colored tail. Rainbow's face was hardly recognizable under layers of makeup – lipstick, eyeliner, blush, and half-dozen other things that Twilight barely understood but Rarity certainly did.

Rainbow Dash blinked, suddenly-long eyelashes gently rising and falling. “Okay, very funny, Twilight,” she said, raising a hoof to try and wipe some of the makeup off her face.

Twilight had felt a little cheated that the book had counted a standard beautician's illusion with an explanation to try using it on stallions among its one hundred and one prank spells. So she had made a few modifications.

As Rainbow's hoof neared, the makeup melted away, condensing into the image of a bright red pegasus on her left cheek. She stared at it in the mirror for a moment, then moved her hoof to try to touch it.

The smaller pegasus stuck out its tongue at her and escaped down her neck and along her flank. “Hey, get back here!” Rainbow demanded, and soon she was spinning in place, trying to catch the crimson pegasus mockingly flying all over her body.

It wasn't unlike Winona chasing her tail. Except Winona didn't have a pink bow hypnotically bouncing up and down at the end of her tail.

It was too much, and Twilight Sparkle slowly started to laugh.

“And I win again,” Cadance gloated as she gently settled to the ground beside Twilight. She smiled at the other mares. “I hope you all will enjoy my sunrise.”

Twilight stopped laughing.

“Wait,” Applejack said. “Y'all really were fighting about raising the sun?”

“We're not fighting over whether the sun will be raised,” Twilight explained. “Just over who will do it.”

“Isn't that Princess Celestia's job?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight sighed, and started to explain the whole 'Celestia and Luna are taking a vacation and leaving us in charge' mess as Rainbow Dash kept trying to somehow catch the illusory red pegasus. (Pinkie Pie joined in the effort, with predictably counter-productive results.)

The elder two Princesses, and the two elder brothers, had joined the group by the time Cadance and Twilight finished.

“I don't understand why you said you won, though,” Rarity told Cadance. Reminded of this, Twilight shot the pink alicorn an irritated glare.

“Well, you see,” Cadance said, grinning wickedly, “I know it may be a shock to learn, but when Twilight was a little filly, she could be just a mite stubborn and inflexible.”

Rarity laughed. “Princesses forbid,” she murmured in mock surprise.

“I tried,” Celestia interjected.

Rarity flushed, but it was nothing compared to the heat on Twilight's cheeks. “Princess Celestia!” she protested. That only drew a laugh from her mentor, and snickering from her friends (and Trixie).

At least Trixie looked a little afraid and embarrassed a moment later when she remembered she was laughing at a Princess of Equestria.

“Umm... but why does that mean you win?” Fluttershy asked.

Twilight groaned. “Because when we fought, we'd always settle it with a tickle fight. First one to laugh would have to give in.”

“And I always win,” Cadance gloated again.

“Because you cheat,” Twilight complained.

“You of all ponies should accept that using the power of friendship is not cheating,” Cadance countered, leaning a moment against Shining Armor.

The male unicorn grinned. “She's got you there, Twily.”

“I still have those photos, brother,” Twilight reminded him. He shut up.

Luna's eyes narrowed. “Somepony is going to pay for worrying me and making me go to the effort of building a Royal Dueling Circle without explaining exactly what kind of duel was about to happen.” Celestia grinned.

“Sorry, Pr- Luna,” Twilight said. “We got into the habit of kind of talking about the tickle fights like they were epic duels because we... well, it was funny.”

“And also, Twilight got A Filly's History Of Unicorns' Duels for her birthday the year I started foal-sitting her,” Cadance added.

Twilight groaned. Luna smiled, then glanced back at the still-glowing circle. “It is almost a shame the circle wasn't even used. I understand nopony has even made a rune circle in centuries.”

Twilight's eyes narrowed. “That's it!” Everyone looked at her, and she pointed a hoof a Cadance. “You haven't won yet!”

“You laughed, Twilight,” Cadance reminded her. “There's nothing in our rules about how I have to make you laugh.”

“No,” Twilight admitted, “but you agreed to the rules of a Unicorns' Duel also!”

Celestia laughed, and Luna smiled. “The duel does not begin until the opponents charge the circle and their magics touch,” the dark princess observed. “Twilight Sparkle is correct.”

Cadance frowned, then shook her head. “Fine,” she said, turning back toward the circle. “It's not like you've ever won that way either, Twilight.”

“But this time we both have feathers!” Twilight declared triumphantly.

“Hold on just a moment,” Applejack protested. “Y'all are gonna decide who raises the sun by a tickle fight?”

Pinkie Pie looked up from where she had Rainbow Dash pinned and had been fruitlessly chasing the red pegasus illusion across the struggling mare's back with her hooves. “Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.”

“I guess it is kind of silly,” Twilight said, then paused to dismiss the illusion with a glow of her horn. “But it works. How else do you propose we settle it? I don't think either of us is going to just give up.” Cadance nodded.

Applejack was silent a moment, then she pulled out a golden coin. “I dunno if they have 'em in a fancy place like Canterlot, but this here is what we simple Ponyville ponies call a ten-bit piece. It's got the sun on one side, and the moon on the other, see? Sometimes, when we have to pick randomly between two options, we do what we call flippin' -”

“We get the picture,” Twilight interrupted. (Only she was allowed to lecture in this group of friends.)

“I guess that is simpler,” Cadance considered.

“And fairer,” Twilight muttered. “Fine. Let's do it.” Luna pouted. “Could you leave the circle here, though, Luna? After I raise the sun, I'd love the chance to study a rune circle with somepony who knows how to make them. And maybe use it for a little spell practice?”

Luna smiled. “I would be delighted, Twilight Sparkle.”

“All right,” Applejack said, holding out the bit coin. “Sun or moon?”

“Sun,” Twilight and Cadance said in unison. Their eyes met for a moment, then as one they started galloping for the Royal Dueling Circle.

Applejack stared after them. “Oh, for cryin' out loud.”