Twilight and Minuette are perfectly happy and just want to be left alone. Unfortunately, Ponyville is particularly prone to mysteries and disasters, and -somepony- has to deal with the mess.
Minuette likes strong drinks, good-looking stallions, and Twilight Sparkle (who upon occasion has been known to be a good-looking stallion). Oh, and she's the physical embodiment of the metaphysical concept of 'Time'.
Twilight Sparkle likes books, rationally-developed hypotheses, and Minuette (in any form). Plus, she happens to be the incredibly powerful alicorn Princess of Science (totally a real thing).
Together, they have a perfectly happy (if complicated) relationship. But Ponyville has more than its fair share of mysteries, and when trouble comes knocking... Minuette is there to pretend she's not home.
This story is a continuation of sorts to A Stallion for the Time Being, though reading it is not strictly necessary. These short standalone stories are a change of pace for me, focused on Twilight and Minuette dealing with a variety of supernatural shenanigans. More to come as ideas strike me!
It never failed. Every time Twilight Sparkle managed to set aside a clearly demarcated period of time for personal relaxation (literary), something would interrupt. It hadn’t been more than thirty seconds since she had opened her book!
Well, saying every time ignored a fair amount of confirmation bias, but it was true in principle. Twilight estimated at least thirty percent of her pre-scheduled reading periods found themselves interrupted by some—
Knock! Knock knock! Knock!
Oh, right, the door.
“Spike!” she called out, hopefully. He was nowhere in sight, but he could be in the back dusting shelves like she had asked a few days ago.
“I don’t think he’s here,” Minuette said. She was lazily sprawled out on the couch next to Twilight, an open book lying on her chest, though she seemed closer to taking a nap than reading. “I haven’t seen him all day.”
Twilight frowned. “You didn’t...”
“No, I didn’t send him out to buy liquor again,” Minuette said, rolling her eyes. “Besides, they confiscated his fake ID last time he tried.”
Knock! K-knock knock knock! Knock!
Twilight sighed and set down her book, carefully marking the page with a bookmark. She trotted to the door, already having a good idea of who was there.
You could tell a lot from a knock – there weren’t a lot of ponies who knocked so erratically, as if getting distracted halfway through, then working double-time to catch back up.
A magenta aura flared around her horn as she opened the door with her magic. “Hello, Pinkie Pie.”
Barely had the door swung open before Pinkie was in the room and inches from Twilight’s face. Her eyes were wide and round. “Twilight! It’s a disaster! An emergency! A... a... a...”
“I think we have a thesaurus somewhere,” Minuette said, not bothering to get up from the couch.
“Yes, there it is,” Minuette said, “and it talks too!”
Twilight stuck her tongue out at Minuette, but her attention was soon recaptured by a Pinkie Pie that was visibly vibrating with panicked energy. “All of those!” she shouted. “It’s Gummy!”
Taking a closer look, Twilight saw that the baby alligator was clamped onto Pinkie’s head in a manner that was pretty ordinary. “Gummy? What’s wrong with him?”
“He has... turned.” The last word was spoken in a hushed whisper, laced with meaning.
Meaning to Pinkie, perhaps. Twilight just found herself confused. “What?”
“Can’t you see?” Pinkie asked. “He’s become... a zombie!” Seeing Twilight’s blank expression, Pinkie continued on. “Look at how he’s turned green! See the vacant blankness in his eyes? And he’s clearly hungering after brains!”
Minuette snickered, eyeing the alligator who was still clamped on Pinkie’s skull. “He’s not going to find any there, at least.”
“Minuette!” Twilight said sharply. “Anyways, Pinkie... I think he’s fine, but I’ll check I guess?” With a flash of magenta, Gummy was lifted up in the air and Twilight closed her eyes to feel the flow of Gummy’s natural magic, the same magic that sustained any living creature.
After a moment, she opened her eyes, satisfied, and Gummy floated down to Pinkie’s head where he perched in her poofy fuchsia mane.
“He’s fine,” Twilight said. “Pinkie, remember how we talked about exaggerating problems?”
A big smile flashed across Pinkie Pie’s face. “Oh, that’s such a relief! I was really worried!”
“Uh-huh,” Twilight said. “Glad we took care of it. Now I have a book—”
“‘Cause when I saw all of Fluttershy’s animals marching into the Everfree Forest with swirly-twirly eyes, I thought for sure it meant they were all zombies!”
Twilight blinked. “What!?”
“Oh, you know. I’ve been watching Fluttershy’s animals for her.” Pinkie smiled cheerfully. “And I was just headed over to check on them for today when I saw them all in a single-file line headed into the Everfree, and none of them so much as squeaked at me, which probably should have told me that they weren’t zombies because zombies say ‘Braaains’ or ‘Aaaaargh’. Or was that pirates? Either way, everything is fine now, right?”
Twilight shook her head. “So Fluttershy’s animals... are gone?”
“Oh. Yes!” Pinkie Pie frowned. “That’s probably bad!”
Twilight looked wistfully back at her book sitting on the table. But some things took precedence.
“Don’t worry Pinkie! We’ll get to the bottom of this.” Twilight raised one hoof in the air, pointed to the sky. “Let’s go!”
They dashed out of the library, the door slamming shut behind them.
A moment passed.
Then the library’s door flew open again, and an annoyed Twilight Sparkle glared inwards.
“Oh, you want me to come too?” Minuette asked.
Fluttershy’s house was indeed empty.
Twilight paced back and forth in the front room past birdhouses and doghouses and... squirrelhouses? Each was completely lacking in its normal inhabitants. Anxious for clues, she peered down at a food dish to find that it still held the remains of some carrots. A sniff showed that they were still mostly fresh – whatever had happened, Pinkie was probably telling the truth about it being recent.
She walked over to the window to peek her head out into the backyard.
“See anything, Pinkie?” she called out, hopefully.
Pinkie’s head popped out of a tiny window in the small building out there. “Nope!” she cried out. “The chickens have all flown the coop!”
Pulling back inside, Twilight called out again. “Minuette?”
“Nothing,” Minuette said, followed by the sound of a cabinet closing. “There’s nothing in this house to drink. Oh, and no animals either.”
Twilight sighed. They could be anywhere in the Everfree Forest by now! If only she had some clues!
“Hi Zecora!” Pinkie’s voice was as loud as usual as it filtered in through the window.
Perfect! Twilight hurried to gallop outside, finding the familiar zebra waiting on the road right in front of Fluttershy’s cottage, at the fork between heading to town and heading into the Everfree. If there was anypony who might know where the animals could have gone, it was Zecora.
“Twilight Sparkle! I hope you’re well,” Zecora said, her voice dark and portentous. “Because it is a dark and dreadful tale that I bear.”
Twilight frowned, momentarily confused.
Taking her silence for a sign to proceed, the zebra’s eyes flashed as she leaned forward, one hoof raised against her head. “I sense black magic. Listen well, we must act fast or the consequences will be tragic!”
“Wait a minute,” she said.
“The pegasus’s creatures, you wish to find them. Before an evil power binds them!”
Twilight bit her lip. “Okay, that’s at least a secondary...” she muttered.
“Seek out the ingredients from this list. And bring them to the center of the forest!”
Twilight grimaced as Zecora hoofed over a small scroll bound with a wax seal of a spider.
“So to my words, observe and hear. It is great fortune I found you here!” Zecora reared up and then stomped the ground, right as a peal of thunder sounded and a cloud of smoke billowed all around her.
Twilight coughed as the smoke cleared, revealing that the zebra had vanished. Behind her, Minuette poked her head out of Fluttershy’s cottage, and Pinkie trotted up, curious at the commotion.
Twilight carefully broke the seal and unrolled the scroll, finding a list of potion ingredients. The other two mares jostled for position trying to read over her shoulder.
“Hm,” Twilight said. “Black pepper is easy. And I know those herbs, this shouldn’t be hard...”
“Uh. Except for this?” Minuette pointed a hoof at the last item on the list. “The heart of an orphan (freshly harvested),” she read out loud.
Pinkie gasped. “I told you Zecora was eeeeevil!”
The three ponies trotted through the Everfree Forest. By the time they had managed to gather everything that they needed, it was already dark, a full moon appearing over the horizon.
The forest was eerily silent, but the Everfree was always eerie. Twilight found she preferred generic mysterious silence over the much more specific howling from dangerous predators.
They weren’t quite sure where to go, but picking the most-overgrown paths eventually led them to a glen where tendrils of mist coiled around ancient stones laid into the soft earth.
There, Zecora was waiting, shrouded in her cloak. A cauldron boiled and bubbled at the very center of the clearing, next to a wicker cage that held a small purple dragon.
“Spike?” Twilight said.
“Hi Twilight! Spike cheerfully replied. “Sorry I haven’t been around all day. I’ve been hypnotized!”
The trio trotted forwards, and Twilight set down the burlap sack she had been carrying.
“You’re hypnotized,” Minuette said, skeptically.
“Yeah,” Spike smiled. “There was this big ruby on a string, and then I started drooling and my stomach felt all funny and Zecora said I was hypnotized and had to listen to her.”
Twilight sighed. “That’s not hypnosis. That’s you being hungry.”
“Oh.” Spike frowned. “Well, I’m in a cage now!” He shook the bars to helpfully demonstrate.
“I can see that,” Twilight said. “Zecora, what’s the meaning of— Hey!”
The zebra had snuck around the cauldron and trotted off with the burlap sack they had brought. “Thanks for this, you foalish fools! Now I shall be the one to make the rules!”
Pinkie gasped loudly. “Eeeevil!”
“The pink one has got it right. You’ve given me what I need to rule the night!” Zecora raised the bag high in one hoof, the moonlight framing her menacing figure.
“Oh no!” Pinkie cried out, biting her hooves.
“Oh no!” Twilight said, eyes wide.
Twilight elbowed Minuette in the side.
“Oh no,” Minuette said in a tremendously bored tone.
“For you see...” Zecora’s grin took on a menacing and malicious shape. “I am not Zecora!”
A brief silence fell.
“Yep! We know!” Pinkie said.
Zecora paused, her hoof lowering. “Wait, really? But my disguise was perfect. It took me forever to paint on a new cutie mark.”
Twilight coughed nervously. “Well, visually, it’s spot on, but there were certain irregularities in—”
“You suck at rhyming,” Minuette said.
The zebra’s mouth fell open. “What? No, I’m certain I—”
Twilight cut in. “To be precise, couplets take more than just matching the last syllable. Zecora does occasionally play fast and loose with the rules, but she at least makes an attempt at harmonizing. Your meter on the other hand has been completely lacking in terms of stressed and unstressed—”
“Basically you suck at rhyming,” Minuette repeated. “Twilight can do the long version but we’ll be here all night.”
“She rhymed ‘hear’ with ‘here’,” Twilight muttered. “That’s... you can’t do that!”
“No matter!” The zebra regained her booming voice. “For I am Zomera, Zecora’s long-forsaken sister, here to take my vengeance! And I shall do so with the materials you have unwittingly brought to me!”
“Or, y’know, not,” Minuette said. “There’s three of us and one of you.”
“You wish to defy me?” Zomera flicked her head haughtily. “Very well! Minions! To me!”
The forest all around them erupted into a sudden cacophony of noise. Twilight, Pinkie, and Minuette turned back-to-back in a circle, trying to keep an eye on every inch of the forest as they awaited the arrival of a new enemy.
Then a rabbit hopped out from behind a tree. Followed by a squirrel. They kept coming, until the three ponies were ringed by a huge assortment of woodland critters, including chickens, songbirds, chipmunks, and a confused-looking housecat.
“This is your army of evil?” Twilight said, doubtfully.
Zomera flushed. “This is just the beginning! Once I have created and consumed the concoction of ultimate power, I will be able to rule the minds of ponies across all of Equestria!”
“Okay, but still,” Minuette said. “There’s still three of us and one of you. And the Princess over here could probably toast half the forest with magic if she wanted to.”
“Yes! Kerpow!” Pinkie said. She grinned gleefully for a moment before a thought arrived, causing her eyes to grow huge. "Wait, no! Twilight, please don’t blow up Fluttershy’s animals. I don’t think she’ll let me pet-sit anymore.”
Twilight frowned. “Pinkie’s right. I can’t risk harming any innocent critters.”
“Aw,” Minuette scowled at the small bunny who was at the head of the pack. “What if you just exploded the rabbit, and maybe that’d scare the rest off?”
“What?!” Twilight said. “No!”
“No,” Pinkie rubbed her chin. “Minuette might be onto something.” Twilight glared fiercely at her. “Hey, I’ve been pet-sitting Angel for three whole days now. Do you know what that’s been like?”
“I kept Opalescence while Rarity was in Canterlot for that fashion show last month.” Twilight closed her eyes, suppressing certain memories. “For a week.”
Pinkie silently leaned over to lay a consoling hoof on Twilight's back.
“Ahem,” Zomera said. “If you three are finished, I have an ancient ritual to complete?”
“Yeah, go ahead,” Minuette said, waving a hoof.
Zomera nodded, and reached down into the burlap sack. She began chanting as she added herbs to the cauldron.
“Thistleweed and Seed of Oak, Angel’s Tear and Poison Joke!”
With a plop, flowers, blossoms, and seeds fell into the boiling liquid.
“Add a silenced Mandrake Root!”
A brownish oblong tuber fell in with a big splash.
“Complement with Eye of Newt!”
A jar of small greenish orbs emptied into the cauldron.
“And last, with darkness coalesce, the heart of one who’s fatherless!”
Reaching into the bag, Zomera raised a squishy object high overhead, red liquid leaking onto her hooves. With a roar, she flung it into the cauldron.
“And now,” she said, breathing heavily, “We heat with dragonfire.”
“Huh?” Spike said. “Actually, I don’t really want to, and maybe Twilight’s right about me not being hypnotized...”
Grumbling, Zomera reached into the bag to grab the shaker of black pepper and emptied it over Spike’s cage.
“—Aaaachooo!” A gout of flame burst from Spike’s mouth and swirled around the black cauldron.
“Sorry Twilight,” he said morosely.
Twilight smiled. “You tried. I’m still proud of you.”
“Silence,” Zomera cried out. “Now, I will partake in this brew and gain that which I deserve!”
She retrieved a ladle from her cloak and slowly brought a spoonful to her lips.
Everypony in the clearing was silent, attentively watching as Zomera drank deeply.
“I can feel it!” she cried out. “Mystical power! Finally! Muah-hah-hah-hah!”
Minuette looked at Twilight Sparkle and shrugged.
“Now all shall tremble before—” Zomera smacked her lips. “Wait a minute, this doesn’t taste right.” She stared at the three ponies still being carefully guarded by a platoon of critters. “What did you do?”
Twilight smiled. “Oh, we made a few adjustments in the recipe.”
“What?!” Zomera clenched her teeth. “What did you... No! The mandrake root?”
“Was a potato, yes,” Twilight said.
“And we didn’t have any available newts, so they claimed my emergency martini olives,” Minuette grumbled.
Zomera gulped. A bright red dot appeared on her face. “A-and the heart of an orphan?”
“Oh, me me me!” Pinkie said cheerfully. “So a couple of days ago I got this great idea to have open mic comedy night at Sugarcube Corner! Only no one really wanted to go first, so I did, and I’ve been practicing super hard for the baby Cakes, so I’m pretty great, but then I think everyone was still uncertain because no one was laughing even though it was amazingly funny! I mean, don’t you think that—”
Twilight nudged her gently.
“Oh, right! Anyways, then somepony threw a tomato at me and I caught it because hey! Free tomato! Only it was a little bit rotten and that was a couple of days ago so...”
Zomera took a step back. “S-so then, my concoction of ultimate power was... was...”
“Vegetable stew,” Twilight said.
“But... but...” Another bright red spot broke out on Zomera’s coat, followed soon by a third and fourth. “But I’m allergic to tomatoes!”
All across Zomera’s body, bright red dots blossomed and she fell backwards with a groan. As she lost consciousness, the swirly eyes of the many forest critters faded away, leaving them to blink in confusion before scampering away into the woods.
“Good job, Twilight!” Pinkie said. “Hey, this gives me a great idea for a joke! What’s black and white and red all over?”
Minuette opened her mouth, but Twilight raised a hoof, shaking her head. “What, Pinkie?”
“A penguin with a sunburn! Hey, do you think Zomera will mind if I eat some of this stew?”
“No, wait, there’s poison jo—”
Before Twilight could say anything further, Pinkie had stuck her hoof in the liquid and licked at it. “Needs more salt! And less rotten tomato. And maybe somppbhth blpppbth! Blpppth!
Twilight sighed. “Well, looks like everything’s back to normal.”
“Could somepony let me out of this cage?” Spike asked.
Twilight blinked. “That’s different! They don’t turn into bats. And I’m pretty sure they don’t drink blood either.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Minuette gestured at the pony softly sleeping on the hospital bed in front of them. He was a portly stallion with wisps of grey in his shaggy mane and matching beard, but his normally tan coat was several shades paler than usual. An IV in his leg carefully regulated the flow of additional blood back into his body, restoring him back to health.
And, most notably, he had two distinct holes on his neck.
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Twilight said. “Other than maybe that whoever did this has also been reading too many books about mythical creatures. What’s important is that we find the culprit before they have a chance to strike again.”
Minuette sighed in resignation. “Sure, but I’m telling you: I know what’s going on here. And I have a plan to stop it.”
“Really?” Twilight brightened up. “What?”
“Get really really drunk,” Minuette said firmly.
Twilight’s hoof hit her forehead. “I should have known better.”
Minuette shrugged, muttering something inaudible to herself.
“Look,” Twilight’s expression became deadly serious. “Vampony or no vampony, ponies are being attacked in my town, and we’re going to do something about it. Namely, head to the scene of the crime to investigate. Which means...”
A broad grin formed on Minuette’s face as she gestured at the overflowing stein that was Pale Ale’s cutie mark.
“To the bar!” she cried out, happily.
“Give me your strongest drink,” Minuette said. “In the largest glass you have. Oh, and put a little paper umbrella in it.”
The mare behind the bar blinked. “Pale Ale handles mixing drinks. I just serve them.”
“It’s okay,” Twilight said. “We just wanted to ask you a few questions. We’re not here to drink.”
“Speak for yourself,” Minuette grumbled. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.” Before the mare could protest, Minuette was on the other side of the bar, casually searching through the bottles lined up against the wall.
Twilight waved a hoof dismissively. “She’s fine, I’ll pay for whatever. But I wanted to ask you about your boss, Miss...”
“Honey Mead,” she said. She frowned, her brow wrinkled with concern. “How is he doing? I’ve been so worried!”
Twilight patted her other foreleg comfortingly. “Nurse Redheart says he’s doing just fine. He’ll be back in here in no time.”
“What a relief!” Honey closed her eyes. “When I found him in here, slumped over on the counter, I thought for sure he was dead!”
“He was found in the bar?” Twilight asked.
“Oh, yes, when I came in this morning I was surprised to find the back door still unlocked. He was right here, barely breathing. I called for the hospital as soon as I could!”
“There was nopony else around?”
Honey thought for a moment. “No, nopony.”
Twilight’s eyes roamed around the small establishment. It’d be easy to blend in as one of the crowd in the evenings, when the place was busy, but in the afternoon like now, there weren’t many places to hide in the ramshackle bar.
“Okay, well, what about in the past few days? Has there been anything suspicious, or unusual?”
“Not any moreso than normal.” Honey frowned. “Hm... oh, but that’s hardly important.”
“What?” Twilight said. “Anything you know could be vital to our investigation.”
“For example: do you have any more gin?” Minuette piped up. Twilight sighed as she looked over to see Minuette surrounded by no-longer-full bottles.
“No, what were you going to say?” Twilight said, insistently.
Honey bit her lip. “Well, we rarely get more than the die-hard regulars until later in the day. But yesterday Cheerilee came by first thing in the morning to talk to Pale Ale. I’m not sure what they discussed, but they seemed to argue for a while.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Cheerilee?”
“Right, that’s why I said it wasn’t important. I’m sure she didn’t have anything to do with the... the... attack.”
Twilight nodded. “Still, it is worth noting. As it has been said: Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be—”
“Five-hundred proof!” Minuette said, gesturing towards a glass filled with a murky liquid. “See, if I put in one-hundred proof whiskey, and some single-malt scotch, a dash of vodka, and this funny green bottle with the faded label, that all adds up to five-hundred proof.” She grinned proudly. “I call it the Timewrecker.”
“Minuette, no, just...” Twilight sighed as her marefriend chugged the glass.
The glass clinked down against the bar, completely empty.
“That... that was the worst thing I have ever tasted,” Minuette said. “I think... think... I’m gonna have to try again. As soon as the room stops spinning.”
“Twilight!” a high-pitched voice called out with urgency. “There you are!”
Twilight turned to see a yellow filly galloping in from the street. “Apple Bloom? You shouldn’t be in here, you know.”
“It’s an emergency!” Apple Bloom cried out. “It’s Big Mac! He collapsed! Applejack is running to the hospital, but she said to come find you!”
Minuette sighed and turned to Honey Mead. “D’ you have a to-go cup? Wait, actually, I’ll take the bottle. Bottles.”
Apple Bloom was the first to dart down the stairs into Sweet Apple Acres’ cider cellar, but Twilight was close behind. Minuette chose to be a little more cautious at the prospect of descending, given that each step had chosen to start swaying back and forth underhoof.
“See?” Apple Bloom said, rushing over to where Bic McIntosh was collapsed in a big red heap. “What could have happened?!”
“Vamponies,” Minuette said firmly, still halfway up the stairs.
Apple Bloom gasped.
“There’s no such thing as vamponies,” Twilight said. She gulped nervously and took a closer look at Big Mac’s neck. Two punctured holes. And from the paleness of his normally bright red coat and his shallow breathing, he too was suffering from anemia brought on by rapid blood loss. “At least... I think.” A note of uncertainty had entered into her tone.
Apple Bloom shivered. “M-m-maybe he was just working too hard. Ever since Miss Cheerilee came over yesterday, he’s been pretty excitable.”
“Cheerilee?” Twilight said, suddenly alert.
“Yeah! She said she had to talk to Granny about something, and I thought for sure it was about the last time we went crusading and accidentally burned down the—” Apple Bloom abruptly stopped. “Ah mean, er, about our homework. But then she just talked to Mac and left.”
“Hmm.” Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Minuette, are you thinking what I’m— Minuette!”
Minuette turned guiltily away from a big barrel of cider, where she had been drinking straight from the spigot. “W-whaaat? I’m fine. Everythingsh ay oh-kay.”
Twilight glared, and Minuette stepped away from the barrel. As soon as Twilight turned back to Apple Bloom, Minuette pulled out a bottle from her saddlebags and slipped a swirly straw in it.
“Apple Bloom, this is important: Has Cheerilee been acting any differently lately?”
Apple Bloom frowned and twirled around in circles as she thought. “Oh!” she said. “You mean, like, has she been lurking around in the bushes outside of Berry Punch’s house waiting for her to leave so she could crawl in through the window?”
“That’s remarkably specific,” Twilight said.
“Yeah! We were gonna go ask Ruby Pinch to help us be Cutie Mark Crusader Barbershop Quartet Singers, when we saw Miss Cheerilee being all sneaky.”
Twilight felt a cold chill. “Minuette, have you seen Berry Punch any time in the past couple of days?”
“Naw thanksh,” Minuette said. “I’ve still got some whiskey. I’m fish. Fine.”
“No, Berry Punch the pony. Have you seen her?”
Minuette frowned, taking a very long moment before the question percolated up. “Naw. I don’t think sho. She’d be at the bar, right?”
Twilight thought back. There had been no ponies at all at the bar when they were just there.
“I think...” Twilight paused grimly. “Cheerilee is our ‘vampony’.”
“Dun dun duuuuuuun!”
Apple Bloom and Twilight peered at Minuette curiously. “What?” she said. “That totally needed shome dramatic music.”
After leaving Apple Bloom and Big Mac in the hooves of Applejack – Apple Bloom particularly disappointed at not getting a chance at Cutie Mark Crusader Vampony Hunting – Twilight Sparkle and Minuette finally arrived in front of the small cottage that was Cheerilee’s home.
Twilight was not in a particularly good mood, a feeling intensified by having to carry Minuette on her back for the last half of the way there. She roughly dumped the other pony off, and after a few clumsy attempts, Minuette managed to stand up and remain vertical for a good thirty seconds.
“‘Kay,” she said. “Let’sh go!” She thrust a hoof forward towards the door, then fell over once the difficulty of standing on three hooves caught up with her. A moment later she popped back upright. “I’m good!”
Twilight heaved another sigh and knocked sharply on the door.
“Coming!” a cheerful voice called out.
As soon as the door swung open, Cheerilee’s happy expression froze. She stared with wide eyes at Twilight’s lowered head, horn crackling with energy as it pointed right in her direction. “P-Princess Sparkle?” Cheerilee said.
“Cheerilee, you are under suspicion of assault and desanguination of three ponies. Back up into the house, nice and slow. Keep your hooves where I can see them.”
“There must be some mistake!” Cheerilee took a faltering step back, then another, more out of terror than obedience to Twilight’s commands.
“Keep walking,” Twilight growled. She followed Cheerilee inside, moving forward until Cheerilee felt a wall at her back.
The door slammed shut. “Minuette, you cover her as well,” Twilight said, keeping both eyes on the frightened teacher.
There was no reply. “Minuette?”
A moment later the door opened and Twilight heard hoofsteps behind her. “S’ry,” Minuette said. “Forgot what side of the door I was supposhed to be on.”
Twilight felt her head start to ache, entirely unrelated to the vast quantities of magic she was focusing through it.
“Please,” Cheerilee said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about! I swear!”
“Oh really?” Twilight said. “Then why is it that Pale Ale and Big McIntosh were both seen talking to you shortly before being attacked? And what were you doing skulking around in the bushes outside of Berry Punch’s house? What have you done with her?”
Cheerilee blinked. “W-w-what?”
“Do you have her stored in a coffin somewhere? Are you saving her for later? Or have you already sucked her blood?!”
Cheerilee’s eyes bugged out of her head. “What?! No! I can explain everything. I was trying to help Berry! I would never hurt her.”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “Go on...”
“Well...” Cheerilee took a deep breath. “As I’m sure you’re aware, Berry Punch has a bit of a drinking problem.”
“Nuh-uh,” Minuette said. “She’s really really good at drinking! Better ‘n me, even! But I’m almosht out of liquor. D’you have any wine or somethin’?”
A concerned frown crossed Cheerilee’s face as she glanced in Minuette’s direction. “Is she okay?” she asked.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Ignore her. Back to Berry Punch.”
“Right, so, I figured what she really needed was some practical help. It’s a hard thing to quit cold turkey. That’s what I was doing at her house. I... sort of snuck in and emptied out her liquor cabinet.”
“You... you monster,” Minuette said.
“Okay, then why were you talking to Pale Ale and Big Mac?”
“I knew Berry had plenty of other sources. It took some doing to convince Pale Ale to refuse service to his best customer, but eventually he agreed. I think it helped that she’s behind a bit on her bar tab. And when Berry couldn’t get anything from the bar, I knew she’d try to sweet-talk Mac into parting with some cider. So, I let him know about the plan too.”
Twilight frowned with suspicion.
“That’s it, I swear!”
Cheerilee’s eyes were wide and honest, and Twilight did know that the schoolteacher had always been a perfectly nice pony who took good care of the children. She sighed and lifted her head, the magical power fading from her horn.
“I don’t understand, then. Who did attack Mac and Pale Ale?”
The room seemed to darken as a flock of bats flew through the door, squeaking and chittering over the beating of their leathery wings. They swirled together in a cloud of darkness, closer and closer until the form of a pony appeared.
Twilight and Cheerilee gasped. Minuette said “Gasphf!”
A deep laughter rumbled out of the pony’s mouth. Her mane and coat were purple, but her eyes shone with an unearthly red light, and two wickedly sharp fangs protruded from her mouth. On her back was a black silk cloak that swirled around her form.
“Berry?!” Cheerilee cried out.
“No! The pony you knew as Berry Punch is no more. I am Pinot Noir, Dark Mistress of the Night!”
“Gasphf!” Minuette said again, for good measure. “That’sh a way better name.”
Pinot Noir smiled wickedly. “And now all of you shall be my next meal! My thirst is forevermore unquenchable, but upon your blood, my desires shall I slake!”
Twilight smiled grimly. “I don’t think so. I came prepared.” With a glow of magenta, her saddlebags opened and a wooden stake floated up.
“No!” Cheerilee shouted. “It’s still Berry under there. You can’t kill her!”
“She’s a vampony,” Twilight replied.
“Are you going to be the one to tell Ruby that you just slew her mother?”
“Well... But... Vampony!”
“Relacksh you two,” Minuette said. “I got thish.”
She stood up straight and tall, swaying gently as if in a heavy breeze. “You!” she exclaimed. After a moment of silence, she realized she was facing a potted plant and turned to reorient herself in the direction of Pinot Noir.
“You!” Minuette said. “I have a proposhal. We play a game. If you win, you get to drink my blood or whatev’r, I dunno. If I win, you have to stop bein’ evil and be normal ‘gain and stuffsh.”
Pinot Noir drew her cloak around her body, a fangy smile flashing. “And by what means do you wish to challenge me?”
Minuette blinked. “Oh, yeah. Um. How ‘bout I think of a number ‘tween one an’ ten and you guess what it ish?”
Twilight planted her hoof against her face. Cheerilee and Pinot Noir just stared at Minuette.
“Oh, wait, yeah. That’sh not fair, izzit? Can’t vamponiesh read minds or somthin’?” Minuette tried to tap her chin thoughtfully with a hoof but missed. “Uhm. ‘Kay, you think of a number ‘tween one and ten and I’ll guess. An’ no cheating.”
“Minuette—” Twilight said.
“Shushhh!” Minuette immediately interrupted.
Pinot Noir could not hide her devious grin. “Very well. Choose your number... and your fate!”
Minuette’s mouth formed shapes as she thought through her options. After an agonizingly long silence, she suddenly spoke up. “Sixty-two!” she proclaimed.
“That’s not even between one and ten,” the vampony said, her sonorous voice dropping to a normal register out of confusion.
“Yesh, because I know you’d try to trick me!”
“Well, wrong! It was three!”
Minuette frowned. “Darn. Well fair’sh fair.” She tilted her neck invitingly, and stumbled several steps to the side as the movement put her off balance.
“Minuette!” Twilight cried out, but before she could move, Pinot Noir had glided across the floor, hooves not even touching the ground, to embrace the blue unicorn.
“No!” Twilight shouted.
In a smooth movement, Pinot Noir released Minuette and she slumped to the floor, two holes visible in her slender neck and her coat already turning a pale hue.
“Delicious!” the vampony exclaimed. “And now, which of you...”
Pinot Noir blinked.
“Which of you two... *hic* Which of you two ponies is necksht.”
Pinot Noir’s eyes slowly crossed and she hiccuped another time.
The red glow burning in them faded and her hooves slowly drifted down to the ground.
“...Cheers? Princess Sparkle? W-what’s going on?”
“Berry!” Cheerilee cried out, running over to wrap the other pony in a tight hug. “I am so so sorry!”
“What happened?” Berry said. “Why am I wearing a cape? I can’t remember anything but being really really thirsty, and going to my cabinet and not being able to find anything.”
Twilight ignored the two, rushing to Minuette’s side. “Minuette! Speak to me! Are you okay?”
The unicorn looked up from her slumped position on the floor and smiled. “See? I toldjsha I knew what I was doin’.”
Twilight squeezed her eyes closed as tears formed. She hugged Minuette tightly to her chest.
“Yeah, I love ya too. Now... I think I need a blood transhfusion. Anna liver transplant.” She paused for a moment. “An’ another drink. Not neccesharily in that order.”
“Don’t worry,” Twilight said. “We’ll get you to the hospital really soon.”
"Thanks for coming, Twi'," Applejack said. The pleasant smile faded as she saw the blue mare trailing along behind her alicorn friend. Her voice turned cold. "An’ you brought company. How nice."
“Oh, be reasonable, Applejack,” Twilight Sparkle chided. “I know you aren’t on the best terms but if you took the time to actually get to know Minuette, I’m sure you two would be fast friends. After all, you both like… Um...” She paused, thinking. “Okay, nevermind. But you certainly get along well with Rarity, and what do you have in common with her?”
“That’s different. Rares’ and I have an understanding and—”
“Understanding?” Minuette butted in. “I thought you farm-folk just called it a ‘roll in the hay’.”
Applejack’s face flushed bright red. “Hey! It ain’t like that.”
Minuette’s nose wrinkled as she lifted a hoof and tried in vain to shake some dirt off it. “Fine. A roll in the mud.”
Applejack’s eyes flared and Twilight hurriedly interspersed herself between the two. “Wait wait wait.” Her eyes narrowed briefly as she shot Minuette a stern glance. The other mare just rolled her eyes and turned away as Twilight looked back to Applejack with a pleading expression. “Come on, at least try to be nice? For me?”
Applejack sighed. “Alright. I’ll be civil.” She glanced past Twilight over at Minuette, who had taken the opportunity of being out of Twilight’s sight to stick her tongue out. “But I ain’t gotta like her,” she muttered under her breath.
Twilight’s horn lit up. “Ouch!” Minuette said, jumping as something pinched her hard in the flank.
“You behave too,” Twilight said sternly.
“You didn’t even see me doing anything!”
“Reasonable inference.” Twilight smiled brightly, ignoring Minuette’s grumbling. “Now Applejack, what did you need from me, anyways?”
“Well. There’s been a problem an’...” Applejack took her hat off, then reconsidered and put it back on. “Shoot. I don’t know quite how to put it, but I think the farm’s haunted.”
“Okay,” Twilight said.
Applejack blinked. “Okay? I thought ya woulda laughed at that. Or gone on about how there ain’t no such thing as ghosts using a lot of big fancy words.”
Twilight bit her lip. “Well. Normally, yes. But you’re not exactly the kind of pony who’d make up a prank like that. Plus, given some of the strangeness I’ve been through recently, I’m willing to accept that there are some things that currently exist outside the scope of recorded scientific knowledge.” Her hoof tapped against the ground as she thought. “Though I admit that Occam’s razor indicates that the most likely situation is a coincidental combination of sensory stimuli easily mistaken as paranormal activity.”
“There’s the Twilight I know,” Applejack said.
“Whatever. It’s probably an owl or something,” Minuette muttered.
“I got good reason to believe it ain’t.” A smile flickered on Applejack’s face. “Actually. You willin’ to put a wager down on it?”
“I’d feel bad taking your bits,” Minuette shot back.
“Then how ‘bout this. Applebuck season’s coming up right fast. If I’m right and it’s a ghost, you come by and help us for… how ‘bout a week? And if I’m wrong, well. I’ll deliver a barrel of our finest cider, free a’ charge.”
“Gee,” Applejack said stonily. “I can’t for the life of me see why we aren’t best friends.”
“Fine.” Minuette sniffed. “I’ll take your bet, and then sell your barrel of cider and buy something real to drink.”
Applejack spat on her hoof and then raised it for a shake. She took one look at Minuette’s raised eyebrow and shook her head as she lowered her hoof back to the ground. “Fine. Let’s go. The darn thing’s probably causin’ a ruckus in the ol’ barn in the east fields again.”
“We should have come earlier,” Twilight murmured to herself as they approached the barn. Unlike the bright red buildings that served as the Apple family’s home, this barn looked to have been around a while. The elements had worn the paint down to spotty slivers of rusty brown, and the barn’s door had been broken off long ago, leaving only a portal into darkness that looked uncomfortably like a mouth. The lengthening shadows didn’t help – the sun was almost hidden behind the rows of apple trees in the distance, leaving only an orange haze in the sky. Somewhere far away a lone timberwolf howled and the alicorn flinched.
“Naw,” Applejack said, trotting forward unperturbed. “It don’t start movin’ around much till it gets dark anyhow.”
Minuette followed. “Yes. Let’s go catch this ‘ghostly’ raccoon or mouse or whatever and move on with our lives.”
Twilight hesitantly followed, taking a deep breath as they moved forward into the darkness of the barn. She stuck close to Minuette, taking some comfort in the other mare’s coat against hers even as she tried to put on a brave face. “It’s… awfully dark in here,” she said. Applejack stepped away from the light coming in the doorway and into the gloom and Twilight lost sight of her entirely.
There was another clatter that set her heart racing faster, followed by some muttered curses. Minuette shifted, and Twilight almost jumped as something touched her before realizing the other mare had just put one foreleg across her shoulders reassuringly.
Light suddenly flared up and Twilight let out her breath. Applejack was standing there, having located and lit an old oil lantern. The farmpony raised an eyebrow. “Thought y’all unicorns could just do a light spell thing.”
Twilight blushed. “Oh. Right.” As Applejack trotted over to hang the lantern on a hook against one wall, Twilight concentrated and the tip of her horn started glowing. A wan light supplemented the lantern and revealed the spacious interior of the barn.
Twilight kept her horn down and ready as she slowly scanned the room. It was clear that this barn was used more for storage than anything else. Hay bales were piled up in neat order next to stacks of lumber and tools.
In the corner, a flash of movement caught her eye and she jerked her head in that direction, increasing her light to try and penetrate the gloom. “Stop right— Oh.” She sighed out in relief at seeing an equine shape wearing an oversized bow. “You almost scared me to death, Apple Bloom!”
“Sugarcube,” Applejack said evenly. “Apple Bloom and the Crusaders are spending the night at Rarity’s tonight.”
The figure moved forward and Twilight realized with a chill that it was much larger than a filly. It wasn’t even moving its legs. It was simply floating forward, all four hooves an inch off the ground.
It moved into the light and Twilight saw with horror that the creature’s eyes were gaping black sockets. Its mouth opened impossibly high, and then it wailed, an otherworldly cry that was quickly joined by screams from Twilight and Minuette both.
Twilight stumbled as she tried to run in reverse and her butt hit the ground just as the ghost darted forward with uncanny speed, swooping through the air and right at her. She couldn’t look away as the ghost charged, but instead of crashing into her, the creature flew through her body, leaving only a creeping chill behind.
Twilight screamed again for good measure, as the ghost began flying around them in circles, herding the three ponies to the center of the barn. The lantern’s flame flickered in the sudden wind, painting the walls of the barn with eerily dancing shadows.
“A g-g-ghost!” Twilight gasped out.
“Yeah,” Applejack said. “That’s why I asked ya to come, remember?”
Minuette seemed on the verge of tears. “I’m going to have to do work!” she wailed. “I hate work!”
“I can— We can—” Twilight gulped, trying to figure out a plan.
“Aaaapplejaaack,” the spirit moaned. “Aaaaaapplejaaaaack, my daaaaaughter.”
Twilight felt her blood run cold. “It’s… it’s…”
Her mouth couldn’t form the words, but something in her head clicked. The bow - it was the same bow that Apple Bloom wore. And this barn, which the Apples seemed to purposefully use less than any other, in one of their smaller fields. There had to have been a reason for that. Maybe this had even been the very place that… As the pieces all lined up, she felt even more sure. This is where an untimely accident must have occurred.
Applejack sighed. She took off her hat and swatted it at the ghost irritably. “Y’all quit that already.”
The ghost howled in an agonizing pitch and sped up, whirling around them as the very barn itself began groaning and creaking under paranormal stress.
“Applejack, you’re upsetting it!” Twilight thought back to the myths and legends she had read. Science may not have had much to say on the subject, but folklore was a predecessor to science, to some extent. Accumulated knowledge passed down over generations. She shivered. “It must have unfinished business here. You have to talk to it… To her.”
“Alright,” Applejack said. “Hey, you, ghosty thing! Shoo! Beat it already!” She grimaced. “The cows can’t get a lick of sleep with you makin’ all this racket and they’re a whole two fields over.”
Twilight turned to Minuette, trying to give her a meaningful look. “She doesn’t realize,” she whispered. Minuette frowned, nodding slightly.
Twilight took a deep breath. “Applejack,” she started, “I don’t know quite how to say this, and I know it’s not what you want to hear, but—”
“That’s the ghost of your dead mom,” Minuette said. “There. Not so hard.”
Applejack froze, hat still in an upraised hoof from where she was waving it at the ghost. She turned to the other two ponies. And then to both of their surprise, she laughed, a series of loud barks that rang out to echo in the barn.
Twilight and Minuette both stopped to stare at their friend. Even the ghost stopped its swirling and hovered, its head tilted.
Applejack managed to get ahold of herself. “No it ain’t,” she said, grinning. “Ma ain’t dead.”
Twilight bit her lip. “Now, I know everypony experiences the cycle of grief in a different manner and on their own schedule, but you have to realize that—”
“Naw,” Applejack cut in. “She’s livin’ with Pa in a nature commune up near Whinnyapolis.”
Twilight blinked. “Seriously?”
“Seriously?” Minuette echoed.
“Seeeeeeriously?” the ghost chimed in.
Applejack placed her hat back on her head. “Yup. Unless she ate the wrong kinda mushrooms and fell in a well or something since I saw her last Hearth’s Warming. But I don’t think they even have a well.”
Minuette frowned. “I think what my lovely and well-educated partner is trying to say is… Why haven’t we ever seen them? Why aren’t they here, in Ponyville?”
Applejack shrugged. “They’ve been gone since I wasn’t more than a little filly. Said they wanted to get more in touch with nature.”
“You live on a farm,” Minuette said.
“Ya ain’t saying anything I didn’t point out myself.” Applejack rolled her eyes. “Apparently farming’s a crime against the Mother Earthmare, all carvin’ up the earth to plant seeds and pulling out weeds and whatnot. Not to mention sellin’ your crops is supportive of the bourgeois capitalist system aimed at keeping down the common pony. Least they had sense enough to leave me, Bloom, and Mac with Granny to be raised normal and all.” She sighed loudly. “Trust me, visiting them once a year is plenty. Ain’t much more than a hooful of skinny ponies who haven’t taken a bath in a decade.”
“But…” Twilight’s brain and mouth finally hit sync. “But everyone in town thinks you’re an orphan!”
“Twilight,” Applejack said. “My parents are hippies. I’d rather ponies just think they were dead.”
Minuette raised one hoof to press against her forehead. “Okay, okay. But then… what exactly is that?” She flung a hoof out at the ghostly figure, still floating in confusion near the three of them.
“How the hay am I supposed to know?” Applejack said. “Some kinda ghost. That’s why I asked y’all to help get rid of it. Shouldn’t you have some sorta book on exorcisms or somethin’?”
“There’s really no established scientific protocol for dealing with a paranormal disturbance,” Twilight said, using her patient lecturer voice, “and most of the existing literature is highly contradictory and untested.”
“Can you just blow it up?” Minuette asked.
“Oh.” Twilight hummed to herself. “Probably.”
“That’ll do.” Applejack looked around the barn. “Just don’t make too big a mess.”
“Get ‘em, Twilight!” Minuette said. “Science it right in the face!”
Twilight’s horn lit up with a huge crackle of energy as magenta arcs of power traveled up and down its length. She lowered her head, taking aim at the spectre that had frozen, eye sockets growing wide.
“Hoooooold ooo—” Not seeing Twilight flinch as the noise of the spell grew to a fever pitch, the ghost coughed and waved its hooves. “Wait wait wait,” it said, voice notably less sonorous and more squeaky. “Stop. Let’s talk about this.”
Twilight’s eyes narrowed but her head tilted up slightly. “You’re haunting my friend’s barn. And apparently impersonating her mother.”
“An’ doing an awful job of it,” Applejack muttered. “Ma hates runnin’ around in circles wailin’.”
“Well, yes. I’m a ghost.” The figure leaned back to cross its forelegs, sternly glaring at the three. “I don’t go around threatening to explode you living ponies up for… for… breathing air and circulating blood.”
“Then why here?” Minuette asked. “This has got to be the most boring place to haunt in all Equestria.” Applejack shot her a look, but she held her ground. “I’m not making fun of your stupid farm. It’s a barn.”
“It’s nice and roomy,” the ghost said. “And I really thought the dead mother thing was going to be a classic touch, up until the part where she wasn’t dead yet.” The ghost sighed, the sound coming out in a mournful wail. “I’m kind of sick of ponies anyways. The last place I was in kept getting ghost hunters showing up with cameras and stuff and really, that’s just tacky.”
Twilight tapped her chin. “Wait… oh! You were the ghost from the old mansion on the outskirts of town? I know they just tore that down.”
“To put in a new Barnyard Bargains,” the ghost groused. “And I didn’t want to be stuck haunting the toilet paper aisle so here I am. I guess I’ll have to figure out somewhere else to go.”
“And scare some other pony?” Minuette said.
The ghost shrugged. “It’s an unliving.”
“Hold on,” Twilight said. “Maybe we can work something out. Applejack? Minuette?” The three of them gathered together, putting their heads down as they whispered furiously in conference. The ghost floated a little closer, tattered ears perked up to listen in until Twilight looked up to stare sternly in its direction. It morosely floated back.
After another moment or two of dialogue, Twilight nodded and turned back to the ghost. “Okay, uh… We might have a deal for you.”
“I’m listening,” the ghost said cautiously.
“So,” Twilight said. “This should be to everypony’s mutual benefit.” Applejack grumbled something under her breath and Twilight reached over to poke her in the side. “My friend Applejack here is offering to let you stay in this barn, under certain conditions. First of all, no loud noises or scaring bystanders.”
“But that’s what I do,” the ghost said. “I can’t not do it.”
“You haven’t heard all the conditions. Second, you help out in the nearby fields to scare off any crows or rabbits or fruit-bats that might try to eat the crops.”
The ghost perked up. “Oh. Oh, that sounds fun.”
“And third, you allow me to come by and run some rudimentary tests on you. Just enough to publish a small scholarly article. I’ll keep all information private, of course.”
The ghost hesitated, bobbing up and down as it considered the deal. “I don’t know. I don’t really like instruments and measurements and science things.”
“Or she could just blow you up after all,” Minuette said.
“On second thought, your offer sounds great!” the ghost said.
“But remember, no banging on things and causing a racket in here,” Applejack said.
“Not even a little chain-rattling?” the ghost said.
Applejack’s eyes narrowed as she frowned. “Can ya keep it quiet?” The ghost nodded enthusiastically, and Applejack sighed. “Fine. But if I hear the cows complainin’ again…”
“Hooray!” the ghost said. “I mean… Hoooooooooraaaay.” It swirled around the room in one final circuit before swooping up to vanish in the darkness of the hayloft above. After a moment of silence, the ponies below heard the very faint clinking of a section of chain being gingerly shaken.
Applejack smiled. “Ain’t how I figured that would go, but thanks for settlin’ it, Twi.”
“I always have time for a friend. And I love it when there’s a solution that means everypony gains something in the end.”
“I didn’t get anything out of that,” Minuette grumbled.
“Yes you did.” Twilight threw one foreleg across Minuette’s back to pull her into a side-hug. “You learned a lesson about making unfortunate bets and will soon have all the benefits of a week of good honest labour.”
“Eeyup,” Applejack said. “I figure we’ll start nice and early next Monday.”
Minuette’s hoof hit her face. “Forget the stupid ghost. You two are the scary ones here.”
Twilight stirred the soup slowly, staring at the dark red liquid with suspicion. It should have been boiling by now. She frowned and her hoof hovered over the dial on the stove as she considered turning up the heat, but… it wasn’t worth the risk. She already had to throw out one pot of burnt soup, and she didn’t have the time – she chuckled to herself – to waste making a third.
She glanced over to the one wall of the small kitchen. A clock in the shape of a black cat hung on the wall, its eyes and tail swinging back and forth as it ticked and tocked. It was a silly thing, and she didn’t quite know why Minuette had gotten it. As far as she knew, her marefriend only barely tolerated cats, and that mostly because they weren’t dogs, and typically had the sense to leave her alone. But that was Minuette, alright, always finding some way to surprise Twilight, just when she thought she had things figured out.
Of course, the clock’s minute hand was currently spinning around backwards, but Twilight ignored that as she went back to stirring the soup, humming to herself cheerfully. This time she had a good feeling about the soup.
The oven dinged, causing Twilight to jump. She stepped away from her soup and cautiously approached, her eyes narrowed. She sniffed once, twice at the air. It smelled like… cookies?
Yup. Upon opening the oven door, she found herself face-to-face with a pan of chocolate chip cookies. She groaned.
“I’m making soup,” she said out loud. “She can’t have cookies, no matter how cute she can be when she begs!”
They said that talking to yourself was a clear sign that you were going crazy. Twilight didn’t quite believe that. But talking to a future version of yourself who wasn’t exactly able to answer back? Maybe a liiittle bit crazy. She groaned again.
Now she was going to have to find some cookie dough and chocolate chips to start baking in about an hour. And if Minuette didn’t have any in her house, she would have to run out and grab some, and that’d take even more time and… She walked over and brushed aside the curtains on the kitchen window.
The wall of pale magenta flickering right on the other side cast a weird light over the kitchen. Oh. Right. Her shield in the way. Twilight nosed the curtains back in place. Presumably Minuette did have the ingredients, then. Well, there was no sense leaving them in the oven. She took the tray out and set in on the counter.
A burbling sound directed her attention back to the pot of soup, which had come to a boil. She trotted over, grabbing a spoon to have a taste.
The spoon flew across the room as she dashed over to turn the sink on and stick her tongue under the water. That soup was hot! She gingerly touched her tongue against the roof of her mouth, wincing at the burn.
...Which meant that she was close to burning the soup again. She was ready this time, though. She grabbed the kitchen rag in her mouth and carefully moved the pot from one burner to the other, before reaching over to turn the heat off entirely
She smiled, and then trotted over to open a cabinet and grab a bowl and spoon.
She grabbed a whole stack of bowls and rested them on her back. She nodded to herself, smiling. Always better to be prepared! Then rag again, and pot carefully gripped in her mouth... She paused, looking around to make sure she was ready to go and hadn’t forgotten anything.
And then sighed around the handle of the pot, using her magic to float a paper towel over to wrap around a couple of chocolate chip cookies.
As she made her way through the small house, her ears perked up. She rounded a corner to see the stairway up to the second floor.
Another Twilight Sparkle appeared, suddenly coming into existence without even a flash or pop or other visible sign. She wasn’t there, and then she simply was there.
The second Twilight Sparkle didn’t even glance to the side. She kept her head straight forward as she marched up the stairs, mouth set in a worried frown. Twilight peered up, watching as her double got to the top and then froze, one hoof in the air. “Whoops!” the other Twilight said. And then she made her way back down the stairs, every previous motion in reverse, until she was standing at the bottom again. She disappeared.
Twilight took that as her cue and hurried up the stairs as fast as she could without risking spilling the hot soup. It had taken forever to get out of that particular time loop, and she wasn’t eager to be caught again.
The second floor was much smaller than the first, and Twilight didn’t have to go far down the short hall to poke her nose into Minuette’s room. Her marefriend looked to be in the same condition as before, lying in her bed in a twisted tangle of sheets, her hair a matted mess and her coat slick with sweat. Minuette groaned softly, and Twilight tiphoofed in.
She sat the soup and the stack of bowls down on a desk over to the side, next to where a pitcher of water was already waiting, and then trotted over to the bed.
“Hey there,” she said gently. “How are you feeling?”
Minuette mumbled something and rolled over to look at Twilight, her eyes halfway unfocused. “Twilight?” she said. “I’m—” She coughed, and Twilight flinched slightly. “I’m doing better, I think?”
“Good to hear.” Twilight kept her voice low and calm. “I made you some soup. Do you think you can eat?”
At the sound of food, Minuette’s stomach answered for her with a loud rumble. “What kind of soup?” she said suspiciously.
“Ughhhh.” Minuette rested one forehoof against her head at the injustice.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Stop being dramatic. You like tomato soup.” She turned back to the desk and carefully poured out a bowl.
“I’m sick of sick pony food,” Minuette groused. “I want some ice cream.”
“I could make some hot tea,” Twilight offered.
“With whiskey in it?”
“What do you think?”
“Ugh.” Minuette grunted and scooted back until her back rested against the headboard of the bed, allowing her to sit up. Twilight brought the bowl of soup over, setting it in front of her.
Twilight turned again, heading to get a glass of water.
“Ah-choo!” she heard from behind. She winced. A moment later, Minuette followed up with a plaintive “Twiiiiliiiiiight.”
Twilight finished pouring the glass and turned back, suppressing a sigh. Minuette sat in her bed with a bowl of fresh, ripe tomatoes sitting in front of her.
“It’s okay,” Twilight said. “I made extra.”
Minuette stared at the fruits in front of her. “Maybe I can fix it,” she muttered.
Before Twilight could protest more, Minuette glared hard at the tomatoes and there was a soft, wet squish sound. The tomatoes disappeared. Minuette peered down into the bowl to see a handful of tomato seeds. “Darn,” she said.
Twilight chuckled a bit to herself as she went to get another bowl, bringing it and a spoon over. “Let me help,” she said.
“What do you—” Minuette blinked. “Oh, no. No no no.”
Twilight ignored her, and floated the spoon into the bowl of soup and up. She blew on it gently and then levitated it over to Minuette.
Minuette flushed red, but opened her mouth. She refused to meet Twilight’s eyes as she continued to spoon-feed her the soup.
“You’re just gonna get sick too,” Minuette said, once she had a minute to get a word in edgewise.
“Maybe!” Twilight leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Will you take care of me if I do?”
Minuette ate another spoonful of soup. “I don’t know. Will all the science go crazy? Will the boiling points of argon and xenon suddenly switch?”
Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Gosh, I hope not. That’d be a disaster. Did you know that—” She paused, sternly looking at Minuette. “That was a joke, wasn’t it? You are feeling better.”
Minuette smirked. “Oh, no, I’m totally concerned about—” She was cut off by a coughing fit, jerking forward and accidentally sending the spoon falling to the ground. It took a moment to compose herself, and when she did she saw Twilight staring at the spoon.
It was stuck, frozen mid-fall above the floor. And without Twilight’s magic aura around it.
“We’ll… just leave that alone, then,” Twilight said. She looked over to the desk and floated a second spoon to them, dipping it back in the bowl of soup. “Is it good?”
Minuette sighed. “It’s… pretty tasty actually,” she admitted. “You’re too good to me, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight looked away, smiling a little. “Just what did you do last time you got sick, anyways?”
“Last time?” Minuette twiddled her hooves, straightening out the bedsheets around her. “This is the first time.”
The spoon froze in midair, still full of tomato soup, as Twilight blinked. “What? You’ve never gotten sick before?”
Minuette looked at her funny. “Not in as far back as I can remember. Is that weird?”
“That’s totally weird!” Twilight paused. “Just how far back do you remember?”
“Twiiiiliiiight,” Minuette whined. “Can’t this wait until I feel better?” She coughed again, trying to sound pathetic.
Twilight frowned and poked her in the side. “That’s what you always say. You always have an excuse or suddenly have to go somewhere. Now I’ve got you cornered.”
“There are laws against this, I think,” Minuette said.
Twilight smirked. “What if I offered a trade?” She floated the napkin over, and revealed its contents. Two chocolate chip cookies.
Minuette gasped. “You’re evil.”
“So is it a deal?”
“Aaaah?” Twilight leaned closer, a grin spreading across her face.
Twilight grunted as she stumbled, landing on her rear on soft grass. Her eyes went wide as she looked around her.
The bedroom was gone. She was in the middle of a forest, trees with trunks as big around as her old library surrounding her, even the undergrowth towering at twice her height. Only a single beam of sunlight pierced the thick canopy above to give light to the small clearing.
With a screech, a tiny frilled lizard ran out from the undergrowth, taking one long look at her before scampering away. She didn’t even need the dramatic emphasis. She wasn’t dumb, she clearly knew that the leaf structure of the nearby ferns was native only to the late Cretaceous period.
Minuette rolled over, twisting the sheets in her legs as she groaned.
Wub wub vraaaooorrrrr
She jammed her hooves over her flattened ears, curling up to bury her head in her pillow.
For a moment, she thought it had worked. Blessed silence reigned. She even gingerly lifted one hoof, the ear flicking up tentatively.
Then the beat dropped, and the bass returned with enough force to shake the entire bed. This time, it was accompanied with the dulcet tones of what could only be a high-powered drill. Minuette screamed in frustration, and barely heard herself over the racket. She flailed out her limbs, nearly hitting the pony next to her.
Visible by the soft light of a low-power luminescence spell, Twilight’s tail flicked as she turned to the next page in her book. She glanced over at Minuette, and slid her earmuffs down slightly. “Sorry, is my light keeping you up?”
“Yes.” Minuette gritted her teeth. “That’s the problem here.”
Twilight reached over to bop her on the nose. “No need to be sarcastic. It is a bit loud, alright.”
“A bit?” Minuette shifted into her best whine. “Twiiiliiiight. Go over there and be a princess at them. You can make them stop, right?”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “I think that’d be an abuse of power.”
“Well, what else is power for?”
“Helping ponies?” Twilight saw Minuette’s eyes light up and she hastily added, “Ponies in general. Not specific grumpy blue unicorns.”
“You don’t know what it’s like,” Minuette groused. “Ever since they’ve started, I haven’t gotten a wink of sleep. You, on the other hoof, get to go back to your nice quiet treebrary on the other side of town.”
“I’m here now.”
“Yeah, and you’re not helping.”
“Well, maybe you should have thought a little harder before moving next to Ponyville’s only 24-hour dance club.”
Minuette blinked, trying to push the memory through her frazzled brain. “It wasn’t here when I moved in! Why would I have possibly moved here if it was?”
“And Rave New World has been there for as long as I’ve ever been in Ponyville.” Twilight crossed her forelegs. “You’re just being overdramatic.”
Minuette rubbed her eyes. “No, it hasn’t. I bet you a million bits it hasn’t.”
“Don’t be silly. You don’t have a million—”
“Twilight,” Minuette said, “normally I find your pedantry to be one more adorable part of the entire package, but I feel quite certain that this noise is going to drive me to murder somepony. And you’re the only one in this room.”
Twilight beamed. “You used ‘pedantry’. You’ve been using the word-a-day calendar I bought you.”
Minuette groaned again. “I’m serious. I bet you uh… that I’d do all of Spike’s work for a month. Can’t you teleport us back to your place?”
“It’s still not new. I really would have thought you would be used to the noise by now.”
Twilight cut her off with a quick nuzzle, and in a flash of purple light and moment of stomach swirling panic, they appeared a few inches above an entirely different bed in an entirely different place.
Minuette landed with a soft ‘oof’, a huge smile spreading across her face at the quiet. She had already wrapped herself around a pillow and burrowed into a blanket by the time Twilight gracefully flapped her wings to settle down next to her.
The last thing she heard before unconsciousness hit her like a train was Twilight saying, “But it really has been there for a long time...”
When Minuette descended the stairs of Twilight’s treebrary, blanket still wrapped around her barrel and dragging behind her, the sun had already passed far beyond the center of the sky. She found Twilight waiting for her in the kitchen, sitting at the table with two magically warmed mugs of tea and an impossibly big grin.
“Oh no,” Minuette said. “No no no. Nothing good can come from this.”
“Oh, you.” Twilight giggled. “Here, have a seat. Good morning!”
Minuette gingerly sat down, laying her ears flat and curling the blanket around her. “Okay. What’s the deal?”
“What makes you think there’s a deal?”
“You are literally bouncing up and down right now.”
Twilight froze. “Oh. Well. Do you remember our conversation last night?”
Minuette took a sip of tea, replaying it in her head. “I…” She winced. “Oh, about that horrible awful noise factory place. I said—”
“You said it was new, that it hadn’t been there very long. And you said you’d stake a month of Spike’s chores on it.” Twilight frowned. “And it’s hardly just noise. I’ll have you know that ‘wubstep’ is a rather sophisticated genre that encompasses a lot of real talent, as any fairly discerning listener could tell you.”
“A listener such as you? I’ve seen you dance,” Minuette said darkly.
“Well, surely you’ve heard of DJ P0n-3?”
“I—” Minuette blinked. “Actually I have. Though I don’t know how or why.”
“Hmm,” Twilight said, hiding a smile.
“That’s not important. The point is, I was wrong. And I don’t say that lightly. I must have been way too tired, because now that I think about it, of course it’s been there. But you can hardly hold me to a bet I made when I was half out of my mind with sleep deprivation.”
“That’s just it,” Twilight said, her eyes sparkling. “You’re not wrong. I think.”
“I’m not?” Minuette blinked. “No, I totally am.”
“See, that’s what I thought. And that’s why I woke up this morning and went down to Ponyville City Hall. I helped them with a new filing system a few months ago, and it was a cinch to look up the original property registration and cross-reference it with the zoning plan. And you won’t believe what I discovered…”
Minuette yawned, not bothering to hide it. “You were wrong about it always being there?”
“Nope! I was right!”
Minuette screwed her eyes shut. “Hurrah. Just when I thought this story was boring, it turns out it’s confusing too. Did you hit your head or something on a file cabinet down there?”
“No, see, I found the original document filed on behalf of Rave New World, dated at 894 A.L. Two years before—”
“Before Ponyville was even founded. There was probably a typo and it was supposed to be 994. An obscure bureaucratic error, I don’t see why—” Minuette sighed. “Nevermind. I see exactly why you’re so excited.”
“That’s not the point though. I was planning on taking the registration up to the Department of Corrections, of course—”
“—of course—” Minuette blandly contributed.
“—but I needed to find when the club had actually opened. And so I started looking through the archives of the Ponyville Express and couldn’t find anything at all around 994. Or any other year. I couldn’t find a reference to Rave New World anywhere! So I figured to tackle the problem from another direction and ask a resident expert in Ponyville history, right?”
Minuette had entirely retreated into the warmth of her blanket and was considering if Twilight would get particularly mad if she fell back asleep when a sepia-toned photograph skidded across the table.
It was faded, but she could make out a young mare with old-fashioned braided hair, rearing back cheerfully next to an apple tree on a hill. Not far in the distance and completely out of place sitting upon untouched rolling meadows, she could see a squat concrete building with a gaudy sign.
She blinked. “It was there…?”
“Yup,” Twilight said. “Rave New World apparently existed over a hundred years ago. But I was also wrong, because something is clearly suspicious. There’s strange magick afoot, Minuette, maybe even affecting the fabric of reality, and it’s up to us to find out just what.”
Minuette laid her head down on the table. “I’m going back to bed.”
Convincing Minuette that they should actually go investigate the club hadn’t been too difficult once Twilight reminded her that she otherwise would have plenty more nights of nonstop wubstep. Getting into the club had been trickier. Even at three in the afternoon, the line in front of the club stretched all the way down the block, with ponies already gyrating to the thump of the bass leaking out.
A little ingenuity brought them around back and through an unmarked but unlocked door into the backstage, all dimly lit concrete hallways with flickering lights. And that’s where they saw a white pony with bright blue hair and a pair of ridiculous sunshades sneaking down the hallway.
Twilight clutched Minuette’s foreleg tightly. “That’s… that’s her! DJ P0n-3!”
The pony jerked her head up, catching sight of them, and fled. Minuette took off in pursuit, for no real reason other than it seemed appropriate, only to find a dressing-room door slammed in her face.
“No fans!” a muffled voice yelled through. “No autographs, no pictures, no signing any anatomy whatsoever. Go away!”
“We’re not fans,” Minuette said.
Twilight shuffled in place. “Right. Just. Um. Appreciative listeners.”
“...Are you from the government? Is this about the taxes again?”
“I’m here to talk about that godawful racket,” Minuette said. “And I’m not going away until you agree to knock it off. Oh, and maybe there’s weird reality magic or something to discuss too but whatever.”
There was a pause. The door creaked open a sliver. “You’re really not a fan? You don’t like my music?”
“It’s hot garbage,” Minuette said firmly.
The door swung open and she found herself squeezed tight in a hug. “Thank Celestia! Come in, and hurry!”
The pony dragged Minuette inside, Twilight following, and pushed them towards a lumpy couch. “Can I get you anything? Fruit plate? Bottled water?” The mare gestured towards a heap of plastic and sickly-smelling plant matter. “They keep delivering this junk to the room and I don’t know how to get them to stop.”
Minuette raised an eyebrow. “No thanks, Ms… Ponethree?”
“Call me Vinyl. Vinyl Scratch.”
Vinyl shivered. “You don’t know how long it’s been since somepony’s called me that. Not since I last saw…” Her ears drooped as she trailed off. She glanced over at Twilight. “But maybe you two... You’re Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Science, right?”
Twilight’s eyes lit up and she fluffed her wings out, grinning. “Yes. Yes I am!”
“So that means you know Celestia and Luna. Can you get them a message? I need some serious help here, like big leagues stuff.”
Twilight shot daggers with her eyes. Minuette hastily jumped in. “Maybe we can help. Tell us what’s going on.”
“What’s going on?” Vinyl flailed her hooves. “I’m going nuts, that’s what’s going on! At first the club was awesome and everypony loved it and it was great, but then they want me on the stage, like, all the time, and these ponies are crazy. I had to hire bouncers to keep ponies from rushing the stage and that costs bits and we should be making money but I don’t know where the bits are going anymore and these tax ponies keep coming around and so far I’ve been able to distract them with autographs but I think they’re going to eventually catch on and break my legs! Can they do that? I don’t think they should be able to do that.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Twilight said. “Take it easy. Let’s start from the beginning.”
“Right.” Vinyl trotted over to an askew painting on the wall and pulled it off to reveal a safe. Her horn lit up, spinning the dial to open the door. With her magic she floated out a weird-shaped object of tarnished bronze.
“So, the beginning. I found this old backscratcher, see?”
Twilight already had her hoof to her forehead. “It’s not a backscratcher. It’s a lamp. This is suddenly making a lot of sense.”
“I don’t know,” Minuette mused. “I’m with Vinyl here. Lamps have like… candles.”
“An oil lamp.”
“Anyways, I found this… thing, right? And, well, it might just be better to show you.” Vinyl floated the lamp over and whisked her tail across its surface. One end began spewing out a purple cloud that quickly filled the room with thick smoke.
As Twilight and Minuette coughed, the smoke cleared, only to reveal there were now four ponies in the room. The newest arrival yawned, stretching out his forehooves. “Aaaugh. What dost thou want now? Can’t a guy get a couple of decades of rest? Jeez.”
Minuette blinked. She nudged Twilight. “Hey.”
“Mmm?” Twilight said. She had her eyes half closed and hoof still on her forehead, in the way she did when she felt a headache coming on.
“That pony just poofed into existence, right?”
“And he’s wearing a turban.”
“And his hind legs abruptly terminate, as it were, into a small cloud of that same purple smoke.”
“I think,” Minuette said gravely, “we might be dealing with a genie.”
“Djinn,” Twilight said.
“No thank you, it’s a little too early to be drinking.”
Twilight let out an exasperated half-laugh. “No, not gin, I said djinn. It’s a kind of—” She turned to glance sharply at Minuette. “Wait, you’re messing with me on purpose, huh?”
“Yup!” Minuette grinned, nuzzling her. “You’re getting a little too stressed.”
“You’re right.” Twilight took a deep breath. “It’s just annoying. Djinns? Seriously? That’s what we’re having to deal with now?”
“Ahem,” the djinn said, face twisted in annoyance. “I’m floating right here.”
“Right, sorry.” Minuette glanced over at Vinyl. “This does explain a lot”
Vinyl’s head drooped. “Yeah. I made a couple of wishes and it really got out of hoof somehow.”
A broad grin split the djinn’s face. “What can I say? Seven hundred years and I still haven’t lost my touch.”
Twilight frowned. “See, djinns grant wishes, traditionally three per master. But they always do so with some form of unfortunate ironic twist.”
Vinyl gasped, pointing a hoof at the djinn. “You never told me that!”
“If I had, would thou hast wished for something?”
“Well there you go.” The djinn turned to Twilight. “Thou knowest much about my kind. I am impressed.”
“Yeah,” Minuette tilted her head. “I would have expected you to think djinns were some kind of big hoax.”
“Well,” Twilight said. “After the ghost and the vampony and everything, I decided to do some reading on speculative mythology.”
“So,” Vinyl said, musing, “when I wished for fame…”
The djinn smiled. “Thou became famous but lost all privacy and personal time.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “That’s not really ironic, per se. Just kind of incidental.”
“And when I wished for wealth, in order to build the club and stop touring everywhere all the time…”
The djinn folded his forelegs. “You received a fine sum of money, but with taxes and debt to go along with it.”
“That’s not ironic either!” Twilight jabbed a hoof towards the djinn. “That’s just unfortunate!”
“Hey, who’s the djinn here? You? I don’t think so.”
“Yeah,” Minuette chimed in. “It’s ironic, like rain on your wedding day.”
“You be quiet.” Twilight poked her in the side. “Don’t encourage the slow degradation of language.”
“Yes, because that’s literally the problem we should be focusing on at the moment.”
Twilight groaned. “You— Let’s just solve this then. I will need to run back to the library for a couple of legal reference volumes. I’m certain that I can draft a sufficiently comprehensive wish such that we can eliminate or safely anticipate any negative side-effects.”
Minuette stood up, reaching out with a forehoof to pluck the lamp out of the air of Vinyl’s magic. “That’ll take all day. I got this.”
“I wish that all wishes pertaining to one Miss Vinyl Scratch alias Deejay Ponethree were henceforth unwished fully and completely, etcetera etcetera, vis a vis, yada yada.”
Twilight stared in horror. Vinyl raised an eyebrow. The djinn grinned, and then wiggled his nose.
Suddenly the room seemed a lot quieter. Minuette realized it was because the thrumming bass and yelling crowds elsewhere in the building had vanished. “No fame.” Then in a poof, purple smoke filled the room again, quickly dispersing to reveal that it had shifted into a janitor’s closet. “No wealth.”
Vinyl let out a breath. “Thank Celestia.”
“Thank Minuette,” Minuette grumbled.
The door creaked open. “Vinyl?” A grey earth pony poked her head in. Her face brightened, and she pushed the door open hard, cantering over in a rush to Vinyl.
“Tavi!” Vinyl said in return, as they nuzzled one another affectionately. “You don’t know how much I’ve missed you. I’ve been going crazy without you!”
“Uh oh,” Twilight whispered. “I know her too, she’s a famous cellist. What did you do, Vinyl?”
Octavia looked up, seeing the djinn for the first time. “W-what?” She stepped in front of Vinyl her eyes blazing. “What’s the meaning of this? What’s going on here?”
Minuette winced. “Please, no. Vinyl, please tell me you didn’t use your third wish to make her…”
Vinyl gulped, her pale face growing paler. “What? No!”
“Wealth, fame, and love,” Twilight said. “That’s the normal three, isn’t it?”
“What are you talking about?” Octavia said hotly. “My Vinyl would never.”
Minuette and Twilight shared a grimace.
“I wouldn’t, really!” Vinyl exclaimed. “That wasn’t my third wish, I swear!”
“Then what was?”
A moment of silence stretched out between them. “I wished for these sweet shades,” Vinyl said, pointing at her purple glasses.
“Yeah. Awesome, huh? But I think they’re the wrong prescription. I keep getting these headaches.”
“Ironic!” the djinn sung out.
“That’s not ironic, just annoying!” Twilight snapped.
The djinn shrugged, and wiggled his nose. The shades disappeared in a poof off of Vinyl’s face.
“So,” Octavia said in a calm, careful voice. “That means everything is back to normal? I think you can be on your way, djinn.”
“Not quite.” The smile on the djinn’s face turned malicious. “I believe the wish in question was to unwish all wishes pertaining to Vinyl Scratch, yes?”
The djinn wiggled his nose one more time. Vinyl looked down to see her hooves slowly beginning to fade. “Wait! I don’t understand. I only wished for three things!”
“Vinyl!” Octavia wrapped both forelegs around her “No! Stop!”
“I…” Vinyl Scratch had become entirely translucent. “I don’t feel so good, Tavi. I—”
With a sound like a soap bubble popping, Vinyl disappeared. Octavia collapsed on the floor, sobbing.
“Now,” the djinn said, lifting his head up with a frown, “why don’t you ponies leave me alone for a few decades? I’m really getting sick of all the drama.”
Minuette stared at the spot of floor that Vinyl had previously occupied. “What— What just happened?”
Octavia’s sobs died away into sniffles. She stood up, wiping one hoof across her muzzle. “I… I found the lamp at a garage sale. I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.”
“...What?” Twilight gaped.
“I was just so lonely,” Octavia said. “I wished for somepony to love me, somepony beautiful and musical and cheerful.” A wry look crossed her face. “I got Vinyl. And she was all of those things, but she drove me crazy too. But I did love her, so much. I just didn’t recognize it until all of this club and touring stuff meant I couldn’t see her anymore. And now… just as I realize that she was everything I wanted, now she’s gone.”
“Okay,” Minuette said. “That’s kind of ironic.”
“You!” Octavia’s eyes flared and she marched across the room to Minuette, who still held the lamp. “You give me that lamp right this instant. Or I’ll… I’ll… bite you!”
“No!” Twilight exclaimed. “The wish won’t help. She’ll come back as a zombie, or something even worse.”
Octavia’s head slumped. “Then what? What can we do?”
Twilight bit her lip. “I could try writing a wish with no room for error. It’ll just take time.”
“You really think you can?”
“I have to try.”
“Augh,” the djinn groaned. “That’s going to take forever, and I can tell you right now, it won’t work. You ponies are going to just keep making bigger and bigger messes and wasting all my time with wishes. Can’t you just leave me in peace?”
“Well, if you want to be left alone, why don’t you try helping?” Twilight griped. “Let’s work something out that benefits everypony here.”
The djinn frowned. “It’s not up to me. There are rules about this kind of thing. You might as well ask the sky to be purple.”
Twilight pursed her lips. “Well, if one were to replace the current atmosphere with a certain combination of gases—”
“Or cast an illusion spell,” Minuette chimed in.
“Well yes, but that’s easy.”
“Thou art missing the point,” the djinn said. “Sometimes you have to live with the consequences of your actions. Sometimes you can’t rely on others to take care of everything for you.”
Minuette tapped a hoof against her chin, thinking. “Nah. I rely on other ponies like all the time and it usually works out fine.”
Octavia’s head tilted. “Because friendship is magic?”
“No,” Twilight said. “Because she’s lazy.”
“Exactly!” Minuette grinned, and lifted the lamp up. “I wish you, djinn-guy, would just make a wish to solve the problem.”
Twilight’s hoof thunked against her face. “Oh no.”
The djinn grinned hugely. “Oh yes.” His nose wiggled. “But thou forgot the ironic twist. Now I get to make a wish, but you didn’t specify which problem you wanted me to solve. And I think I want to solve my problem. I wish that all you ponies would leave me alone!”
Twilight and Octavia gasped. Minuette rolled her eyes.
The djinn’s nose wiggled. The room filled with purple smoke for a third time.
“Minuette, I can’t believe you!” Twilight said, waiting for the smoke to clear. “Didn’t you learn your lesson the first time?”
The smoke drifted away. The djinn was gone, but the lamp still sat in Minuette’s hooves. Next to her was a very confused-looking Vinyl Scratch.
“Vinyl!” Octavia shouted, tackling her into a hug.
“See, the djinn wished for us to stop bothering him.” Minuette grinned. “But he forgot about his own ironic twist. One way for us to definitely not need to bother him anymore was just to make everything okay again. Now we can toss the lamp into the ocean or something, he can get a century or so of rest, and we can go about our lives in peace.”
“Huh,” Twilight said. “That’s… rather clever. How did you figure that out?”
“Well, there was this one story about Daring Do and the Monkey’s Paw…”
Twilight blinked. “I’ve read all the Daring Do stories and I don’t recall that at all. Unless… No.”
“Ugh, are you kidding?”
Minuette beamed. “We were just saved by volume seven, chapter sixteen of Rainbow Dash’s ongoing fanfic! I keep telling you, it’s better than you expect.”
“Uh huh. Was this before or after the self-insert OC sex scene with Daring?”
Minuette narrowed her eyes, thinking. “Which one?”
“Rarity? I’m back from the bakery tour, and I saved you some free samples!”
Pinkie Pie knew there was something wrong as soon as she stepped across the threshold and into the hotel room. This knowledge came in part through her Pinkie Sense: a left hoof twitchy twitch followed by a tail twerk and two alternating ear floppies meant that a friend needed cheering up.
But then, since she had stepped right into an empty travel-sized container of vanilla oat swirl, and given that she could hear Rarity wailing from the other room, it wasn’t a particularly difficult conclusion to draw.
Hastily cantering in, Pinkie found Rarity sprawled out on her emergency chaise lounge, brought along with her luggage just for such a circumstance. The wailing and moaning redoubled as the unicorn noticed she had an audience.
“Rarity!” Pinkie cried out. “What’s wrong?”
“Disaster, Pinkie!” Rarity threw a hoof across her forehead. “Calamity! Of all the worst possible things that could happen, this is the Worst. Possible. Thing!”
Pinkie gasped. “Oh no! Queen Chrysalis has led an army of changelings on Canterlot, and has enslaved the population to feast on their love?”
Rarity blinked. “No.”
“Tirek is back, and he’s sucked the magic out of the Princesses and is even now rampaging across the countryside?”
“Also no.” Rarity crossed her arms, pursing her lips. “Pinkie…”
“Oh,” Pinkie said. “Oooh. Um. Cosmarepolitan magazine has declared that green is ‘in’ for the fall fashion season?”
Rarity smiled ever so briefly before dramatically swooning back onto the couch. “Far, far worse, though I know that’s hard to even believe!”
“Oh gee!” Pinkie’s eyes went wide. “That really must be bad!”
“I just heard from Coco Pommel—”
“Oh! About our tickets to the opening of the musical tomorrow night? I can’t wait! I read in a newspaper that Spider-Mare: Turn Down for What is expected to be ‘a blistering assault upon the senses of any pony with good taste’, and I love tasting spicy things.”
“That’s just it,” Rarity moaned. “The premiere has been canceled. In fact, the whole production has been postponed indefinitely. And this was meant to be the launching point for poor Coco’s entire career!”
Rarity’s eyes darted back and forth. She motioned Pinkie to step closer, and then whispered, “According to Coco, there’s a ghost haunting the theatre.”
Pinkie’s eyes went wide. She straightened up to look down at Rarity, wallowing on her chaise lounge next to a pile of empty ice cream cartons that indicated she had made it all the way through her travel supply and dipped into the hotel mini-fridge. Pinkie stomped one hoof down. “No ghost is going to make a friend of mine upset. This will not stand!”
Rarity sat up as Pinkie marched over to the room’s phone. “Wait! What are you doing, Pinkie? There’s something strange in this neighborhood. There’s something weird and it doesn’t look good! Who are you going to call?”
Pinkie picked up the receiver with finality. “A taxi!”
“I’m so glad you could come,” Coco Pommel said. “You’ve done so much for me, Miss Rarity. But I really don’t know if you can help with this.”
Rarity straightened up, squaring her shoulders. “I’m not sure we can either, darling, but we are certainly going to try.” She glanced around the darkened stage, where Coco had nervously brought her and Pinkie. “Tell us, what exactly has been going on?”
Coco shivered. “Well, this theatre hasn’t been open for decades. Originally there had been plans on tearing it down to build condominiums, but instead we got a grant from the city to renovate and open it back up for business. This was supposed to be the first show, too. But things have been going… wrong.”
“Hmm,” Pinkie said, tapping a hoof against her chin. “Mysterious sabotage, cold drafty breezes, strange noises?”
“Exactly,” Coco said. “Particularly down in the orchestra pit. That’s where they say you can see the… g-g-ghost.”
“Ooh, a three G ghost.” Pinkie nodded sternly. “That’s pretty bad.”
“I’m sure that Pinkie and myself can investigate,” Rarity said. “In fact, I suspect that this ghost might be entirely imaginary.”
“I know all about how this goes,” Pinkie proclaimed. “See, we’ll start looking into the case, and come across a whole cast of shady characters with different motives for wanting the show to be canceled. Then, in a sudden twist we’ll find an important clue, right before running into the ghost itself. We’ll have a wacky chase scene—oh, do you have one of those hallways with a lot of doors so we can run in and out a whole bunch?”
“Um,” Coco said. “No?”
“Well anyways, we’ll have the chase and then I’ll improvise some sort of trap and we’ll catch the ghost. Only it turns out to not be real, and instead it’s just a pony wearing a rubber mask and Rarity will say ‘Jinkies!’ and it’ll turn out to be the pony we least expect. Which means…” Pinkie gasped. “Wait, Coco! Were you the ghost this whole time? How could you?!”
Coco stood frozen, staring at Pinkie Pie.
“Pinkie, you’re scaring her,” Rarity said reproachfully. “And I don’t think I’ve ever said the word ‘Jinkies’ in my life, thank you very much.”
“Well, you have now.”
Rarity frowned. “Be that as it may, I do agree that it’s most likely that the ghost is fake.”
“Let me assure you, the apparition is unfortunately quite real,” a voice enunciated from the shadows of the stage.
Pinkie whirled around. “And who are you?”
A brown earth pony walked out of the shadows. She wore a purple blazer, a pink scarf, and an expression of infinitely comprehensive disapproval. “I am Ms. Harshwhinny, and I am in charge of the production here.”
“Oh, yes.” Rarity smiled. “I believe we met in connection with the Equestrian Games in the Crystal Kingdom?”
Ms. Harshwhinny turned her nose up, and trotted to the center of the stage, ignoring Rarity entirely. “When we first began plans to renovate the theatre, we of course brought in the usual exterminators and exorcists. Old theatres are lousy with ghosts. And termites. But the termites at least have the decency to stay quiet. This ghost slipped through the cracks somehow. In the first week of work, we had no less than six different job-related injuries.”
“That’s amazing…” Pinkie whispered.
Rarity frowned. “Pinkie!”
“No, I mean her face. Do you think she could teach me how to make my face do that too?”
“That’s when they brought me in. Because they needed a professional,” she said, attacking each syllable of the word like it had personally done her wrong.
There was a sudden snap high in the rafters.
“Look out!” Pinkie cried out, as a sandbag tumbled down straight towards Ms. Harshwhinny’s head.
Ms. Harshwhinny raised an eyebrow. And then the bag came to a jerking halt above her. “Backup safety ropes. See, I take everything into consideration.”
There was another snapping sound, and the bag jerked downwards another few hoofsbreadths before halting again. She sighed deeply and took a few steps over to the side, just as a third snapping sound came and the bag landed on the floor. “Though we are approximately 3014% over budget on safety mechanisms. But this? This isn’t the problem.”
“It isn’t?” Pinkie asked.
“No. As Miss Pommel has indicated, the orchestra pit is the problem. The ghost appears to have chosen it as its home. Cows, as I’m sure you are aware, are quite superstitious.”
“Cows?” Pinkie whispered to Rarity.
“Cows are excellent classical musicians,” Rarity whispered back. “Nearly all the greatest composers. You know... Beefthoven? Tchaicowsky? Brahmans?”
“Never heard of them. What about whoever wrote the birthday song?”
“Uh. Sure, let’s say that was a cow too, yes.”
“Ahem,” Ms. Harshwhinny said. “And while we can account for any kind of mechanical malfunctions, it is quite impossible to have a musical without music. Our orchestra is quite simply refusing to play.”
Rarity nodded, pursing her lips. “Then we shall have to call up this ghost and see if we can resolve whatever unfinished business she might have. Pinkie, it’s time for a séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said.
“No, a séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said again, shrugging.
Rarity sighed, raising a hoof to her forehead. “No, darling, it’s a word for a kind of mystical ceremony by which living ponies may seek to speak to spirits who have departed this mortal plane. I’m pretty certain you’ve even done this before. A séance.”
“Ahntz,” Pinkie said.
“Just go get your crystal ball and turban,” Rarity snapped.
They had to move some chairs to set up the table in the orchestra pit. After Pinkie had plunked down her crystal ball in the center, and they had scrounged up an appropriately eldritch number of candles to provide the general ambiance, the four all sat in a circle, watching the ball with expressions ranging from Coco’s general terror to Ms. Harshwhinny’s vague disgust.
“Now join hooves,” Madame Pinkie said in her spookiest voice, having already donned her gypsy garb.
Rarity reached out to do so. She realized that it really was rather dark in the theatre, with the only lights coming from the candles, and shivered slightly.
Pinkie’s eyes slid shut, and she let slip a deep moan. “Spiiiiriiits of the beyoooond. We summon you!”
The candles flickered, causing Coco to let out a squeak.
“From beyond the grave, heed our call and answer us! Come forward so that we might cower before your great and terrible ghostliness!”
At first Rarity thought it had to be someone else making the quiet moaning sound. But Coco seemed completely petrified, Pinkie was still intoning solemn entreaties, and she didn’t think Ms. Harshwhinny knew the meaning of the phrase ‘practical joke’. Or ‘joke’, for that matter. Though she clearly had a handle on ‘practical’.
But the point of the matter was that someone was saying ‘oooo’ right in Rarity’s ear, and when she turned her head to see who, she fell right out of her seat at seeing a white-cloaked lumpy creature wearing a mask.
“Aaaaaaaah!” Coco screamed, ducking under the table.
Pinkie’s whole face lit up. “Hooray! It worked!”
And then Ms. Harshwhinny calmly stood up, pulled a newspaper out of her blazer pocket, and rolled it up to thwap the ghost on the head.
“Bad ghost!” she said firmly. “Go away!”
Rarity dazedly got back to her hooves before taking a seat again. Ms. Harshwhinny was busy chasing the ghost in circles around the table, still bopping it with the rolled-up newspaper. “Uh. Pinkie?” Rarity said.
Pinkie nodded. “Hold it!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.
The ghost and Ms. Harshwhinny both stopped in place. Even Coco poked her head out from under the table, before seeing the ghost and retreating once again.
“Now then,” Pinkie said calmly. “That’s not solving anything. Let’s take a moment and talk this over like respectable adults.”
“Ooo,” the ghost said. For the first time, Rarity got a good look at it. It was much bigger than a pony, and distinctly oddly shaped, but it really did look just like someone had tossed a sheet over a lumpy couch. On what she supposed was the front of the thing was a white mask with two dark eye sockets and a mouth stretched into a big grin.
“Now then,” Pinkie said. “Mr. Ghost, what’s your story?”
The ghost pulled itself together, raising hoof-like appendages high. Its mask flipped over to reveal a new one on the other side, very similar except with the mouth curving downwards instead. “OoooOOOooooOOO!” it cried out, as a rumble of thunder shook the entire building and all the candles flickered at once, sending crazy shadows dancing across the orchestra pit.
“He says he’s the ghost of drama,” Pinkie said.
Rarity blinked. “You can understand it?”
“Well, you said he was probably imaginary.“ Pinkie shrugged. “When I was growing up, most of my best friends were imaginary!”
Rarity frowned, torn between wanting to point out how little sense that made and wanting to give Pinkie a big hug. She filed both thoughts away for later action. “Okay then.”
“Not okay,” Ms. Harshwhinny spoke up. “A ghost of drama? That's a metaphorical concept, not a pony!”
“Well, actually...” Rarity started.
“And why would it be making a fuss here, in an old Manehattan theatre that has been closed for ages?”
“You make a good point,” Pinkie said. “And if he's a ghost, that means that drama is dead. And I mean, Rarity is like right here.”
Pinkie narrowed her eyes, peering at the be-sheeted apparition. “Mr. Ghost, are you sure you’re telling the truth?”
The ghost shuffled its appendages. “Oooooooooo,” it moaned, sheepishly.
“He says no, but it sounded better that way. I guess that is pretty dramatic.”
“Oooooo,” the ghost said. Its head swung back and forth. “OoooOOoooOOO.”
Pinkie’s eyes widened. “Wow. So, he was an actor almost a hundred years ago, when this place was still new. This was one of the few theatres that would allow non-pony actors, and he was the best dramatist in the entire city.” She let out a giggle. “In fact, you could say he was—”
“Ooh, ooh,” Rarity said. “A drama llama?”
Pinkie grinned. “Nope. A camel. Or should I say… A drama-dery!”
The ghost flipped back to its laughing mask. Ms. Harshwhinny seemed less than amused.
“OooooooOOOoooooooooooo,” the ghost howled.
“And he died in a mysterious tragedy, murdered when his own understudy poisoned the wine he drank during act three of Humplet.”
“Ooo,” the ghost finished.
“And ever since then he has wandered the halls of this place, waiting for the theatre to return once again. But that this new production is not true drama. Drama is about well-mannered scripting, and stagecraft, and most importantly of all, the actor bringing to life the words of the writer, demonstrating a full range of tragic and comedic emotions through a complete command of presence and commitment to the role! Not flashy songs and ponies wearing spider costumes swinging from wires.”
“...That’s what he just said?” Rarity asked.
The ghost nodded vigorously.
Rarity frowned. Then she stood up, sweeping one hoof through her mane. “I think I know how to deal with this. Mr. Ghost… you say that you care about drama. About the art of the theatre. But you are stuck in the past! Ahem, I suppose that is in part literal and not your fault. No offense.”
The ghost shrugged.
“What I mean is that the musical is if anything the culmination of centuries of artistic effort. What is a song, other than the purest form of stagecraft? Demanding a performance by the actor that is able to resonate with the emotions of the audience, emphasizing and livening the monologue, never destroying it! Sure, some art may aim for more nobler goals than others, but even in a story about… Uh.”
“Alternate universes collide, and all the Spider-mares are forced to compete in a dancing competition to save their respective realities and the neighborhood recreational facility,” Ms. Harshwhinny filled in.
Rarity grimaced. “Ehem. Yes. Even in such a story there’s still drama! Think of the stakes! And beyond mere plot, there’s hard-working actors grasping at this opportunity to become a star, giving their all, their sweat and tears and blood each and every night. Musicals, my good apparition, are nothing but drama. Can you really say that you are acting in good faith in disrupting the performance of art, purely based on your own subjective standards?”
The ghost’s shoulders slumped. “Oooooooo,” it moaned.
“Wow! Your words have touched his heart!” Pinkie exclaimed.
The ghost flipped back to its frowning mask. “OoooooooOOoooo,” it said, pointing at Miss Harshwhinny.
“But it still doesn’t like her very much. He’s gonna keep haunting everything.”
Rarity sighed. She bent down to where Coco was cowering under the table. “Sorry dear. I tried my best.”
“Wait!” Pinkie chirped out. “I might have a solution that makes everypony happy. What if we simply got Mr. Ghost to haunt somewhere else more to his liking?”
The ghost crossed his arms. “Ooooooo.”
“I know, I know, you’re not going anywhere unless it’s suitably dramatic. That’s just the thing.” A huge smile split Pinkie’s face. “I’ve got the perfect solution.”
Miss Harshwhinny furrowed her brow. “Most of the shows on Bridleway are musicals. We could locate a more classical theatre but it’d take time.”
“That’s okay. In the meantime, I’ve got something else in mind, something positively dripping with drama. Rarity?”
“Go get your chaise lounge.”
Rarity and Pinkie sat on top of the satin cushions of her chaise lounge. It itself sat in the middle of the front row of the theatre, right next to where several cows in bow-ties were filing into the orchestra pit. “Oooooo,” the fabric underneath them moaned softly, but more out of anticipation than any kind of ill intent.
“I’m so glad he agreed to at least watch the show,” Pinkie said, bouncing up and down.
Rarity’s smile was a little forced. “And just how long is he going to be inhabiting my furniture again?” she asked.
“Just until we find a proper place for him to go!”
“Mmhmm.” Rarity’s gaze swept across the theatre. It was really a lovely old building, and filling up fast as a sold-out crowd moved in to take their seats. She looked forward again at the big red curtains, and then down to where the cows near them were tuning their instruments. “I just can’t believe this all worked out. And I’m not particularly sure that I care for the way in which it did. Surely, there had to be a less… inconvenient option.”
Pinkie Pie rolled her eyes. “I think you just need to look at this in a different light. It’s exactly like everypony always says!”
Rarity blinked. Her eyes moved from the cow musicians to the chaise lounge she was sitting on. Right on cue, it let out another gentle “Ooooooooo” right underneath her flank. “How?” Rarity asked, though she already knew she was dreading the answer. “How is this like what anypony has ever said?”