The Princess of Books

by anowack

First published

Luna didn't like a novel somepony wrote about Nightmare Moon. Somehow, this is Twilight Sparkle's problem.

Celestia had a problem. Somepony wrote a novel about Nightmare Moon's rebellion. This made Luna quite unhappy, and unfortunately for her sister, Luna has not yet gotten the hang of modern traditions like freedom of speech, the abolition of the death penalty, and not bothering Princess Celestia when she's trying to sleep.

Fortunately, Celestia also had a faithful student, one who is now a Princess with an ill-defined portfolio and perfectly capable of dispensing justice by the laws of both today and one thousand years ago.

Now Twilight Sparkle has a problem.

(Title image hacked together from vectors by Martinnus1, Hawk9mm, and Paulie15.)

Part One

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Twilight Sparkle paced nervously across her bedroom, her still-unfamiliar wings fluttering wildly in distress. “Deep breaths,” she told herself, but her lungs refused to take her advice. “You can do this,” she lied to herself, hoping that repeating it would make it truth.

“Of course you can, Twilight!” Spike said. “You've done it before!” One of his claws impatiently tapped an entry on the open pages of the book the dragon held out for her inspection.

Grateful for the distraction, Twilight turned her attention back to Hirsute Lip's Omnibus Catalog Of The Mustache. “That's the one you want, Spike?” she asked.

“Definitely!” he replied. “I need a regal mustache like this one for tonight.”

Twilight Sparkle – for once in her knowledge-hungry life – had no desire to find out what made a dragon think a particular mustache was regal. Fortunately, she didn't need to know that. A half-second's purple glow and one sadly familiar spell later, the deed was done.

Spike dashed to the mirror over Twilight's dresser, twirled one curly edge, then gave a thumbs up. “See, Twilight? No problem!”

Twilight chuckled despite herself. “I wasn't worried about that, and you know that,” she said

Spike grinned unrepentantly at her, then opened her bottom dresser drawer. “I'll go get things started. You need to hurry and get dressed!” He pulled out a small brass horn, then kicked the drawer shut. When had he gotten a horn, and who was to blame, Twilight wondered, but that question was drowned out by dawning panic as the dragon raced for the door.

“Spike!” Twilight almost yelled. “Wai-” She cut off after the door shut behind her assistant.

Deafening silence filled the air as the crowd gathered in the library below that Twilight had been making herself ignore hushed itself. A few inexpert, jarringly off-tune notes played on a horn broke the sudden quiet. (A few ponies were excited enough to stamp their hooves in applause anyway.)

“Oh no,” Twilight breathed. This was actually happening. She galloped the short distance to her unmade bed, her magic snatching up her crown and depositing it on her head before she forced herself to lift the next item. The golden necklace hung before her, similar in design to Celestia's, though the gem's color was lighter to match her crown. A half-dozen enchantments woven into necklace gently pushed back against her magic's grasp.

It was a gift, of course; Twilight would never have imagined commissioning a piece like this. Rarity had presented it to her only a few hours ago, neatly ruining her half-formed plans to partially defuse this horribly embarrassing night by not dressing in formal regalia. Twilight wouldn't have bet against her timing the gift for precisely that reason. Twilight loved the white unicorn like a sister, but sometimes...

“Hear ye; hear ye!” Spike called, and Twilight jumped, reflexively lowering the necklace onto her shoulders. She was running out of time. “It is my honor to announce the opening of the inaugural Golden Oaks Court.” Twilight had resisted the suggestions of... well, everypony, to use her own name or a close substitute like Dusk in favor of using the name of her library home. “Presenting Her Royal Highness, the Princess Twilight Sparkle!”

Twilight teleported the golden shoes onto her hooves and took a deep breath. Slowly, deliberately she approached her bedroom door, opened it, and stepped outside. It took her only a few seconds to travel the familiar path to the top of the stairs, and there she stared down in dull shock at what the library's main room had transformed into.

Somepony – Rarity again, no doubt – had hung lavender curtains over all the bookshelves. A similarly colored rug covered the floor, and Twilight thought she spied her own cutie mark in its center, but she couldn't tell for certain because of all the ponies standing on top of it.

They stared back at her. So did the dozen or two pegasi hovering above them.

It wasn't everypony in Ponyville, Twilight reminded herself. They wouldn't all fit, which was why Twilight had insisted on holding this ridiculous thing here instead of at the town hall like Mayor Mare had suggested.

Besides – theoretically – anypony who had a petition for the Princess of... whatever Twilight was the Princess of, it was just Twilight's friends, and any of their friends they had chosen to invite.

The front door of the library and all the windows were open, and Twilight realized she heard the murmuring of a herd trying to be quiet through them. Twilight remembered that one of the friends she had given permission to extend invitations was Pinkie Pie. probably was everypony in Ponyville out there, wasn't it? Ponyfeathers.

Standing halfway down the stairs, Spike gave another few awkward blasts of his horn, then looked expectantly back up at Twilight.

Okay. She could do this. She'd seen Celestia open her daily court hundreds of times. All she had to do was welcome everypony and thank them for coming. That wasn't hard.

“Um.... hi?” was what came – squeakily – out of her mouth. Something captured and amplified her voice, making the word echo off the wooden library walls. Twilight glanced down at the unfamiliar necklace and resisted the urge to swear. She looked back up and gave a wave of her hoof that couldn't possibly have looked as awkward as it felt. Her cheeks heated.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pinkie Pie hollered back up at her, jumping out of the crowd. She landed on a large white stallion's back.

He was the first to stamp his hoof, and shortly the sound of polite applause filled the air. Spike beckoned at Twilight, and that shook her out of her embarrassed stupor. Twilight gingerly made her way down the stairs, resisting the unthinking urge to bolt back to her room and lock the door. Spike gave her another thumbs up as she passed him, then started blowing his instrument again and following her the rest of the way down.

As she reached the bottom, the crowd shifted, clearing a path to the wall opposite the stairs. One of Twilight's kitchen chairs stood there, covered in cushions in a futile attempt to look grand. Rarity had probably run out of time and one of the others had provided the “throne” instead.

Well, she wouldn't need that anyway. Twilight made her way toward the center of the room, the other ponies quickly making way for her. She stopped there, glanced out the open door at the crowd outside, then sighed and started heading for the exit.

A surprisingly few minutes later, they were all outside, and Twilight was standing on a convenient discarded soapbox. It was a cloudy evening, but her namesake was still bright enough that it was easy to see her. “Hello, everypony,” she said the words coming more easily this time. This time, she knew to expect the boost from her necklace and spoke in a normal tone of voice, letting the words easily carry to the edges of the crowd. “Thank you all for coming.”

Standing beside Twilight, Spike raised his horn again. Twilight quickly shook her head. These ponies had already endured enough of that. The young dragon pouted, but he put the instrument away.

Twilight took another deep breath, and asked, “Does anypony have a petition to be heard at this court?” When her mentor asked the question at her Day Court, it was formality; thousands of petitioners approached her every year, and it was a rare day that somepony wasn't asked to return tomorrow for lack of time. When Twilight asked the question tonight, it was equally a formality, because who could possibly have a petition for her? Princess or not, she was still just Twilight Sparkle.


Twilight caught movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned her head to see a grinning Applejack gently pushing another mare into the empty space that had naturally been cleared before Twilight's impromptu dais. The orange-maned mare stumbled slightly, then caught herself and – after only a brief hesitation – walked forward to stand before Twilight. Two more ponies followed her.

“Golden Harvest, you have a petition?” Twilight, surprised, asked the mare. While Twilight waited for an answer, she gave the carrot farmer's husband a polite nod and spared a smile for the unicorn filly who – after nearly bouncing across the short distance – now was hiding behind her parents' legs.

“Ah... yes, Your Highness,” Golden Harvest said, and it was actually somewhat a relief that she seemed about as nervous as Twilight was feeling. The watching crowd was quiet, but Twilight could feel every eye.

She could also feel her cheeks redden. “Please... just call me Twilight,” she said.

“Yes, Y... Twilight,” the other mare said.

There was a long silence, and Twilight finally had to ask. “Your petition?”

Golden Harvest shifted, and Twilight finally noticed the bundle secured on her back. Golden's husband moved, his horn alight, untying and lifting it, prompting a sudden wail from the contents: the final member of their family, a newborn filly. “I... we...” Golden Harvest stammered. Twilight could guess what she wanted, but it seemed best to wait for the yellow mare to collect herself and voice her request. “Could you please give her your blessing, You- Twilight?”

It wasn't an uncommon request for Princess Celestia, and Twilight had seen it made to Cadance more than once growing up. No doubt Princess Luna got her fair share again now as well. Nothing Twilight had read or heard from any of the Princesses suggested there was any real mystical effect, but the idea that an alicorn's blessing could provide some protection to a newborn foal was one that had been old before Nightmare Moon.

Twilight started to shake her head to clear it of the barely relevant digression, but thankfully stopped herself before the waiting mother could see and misinterpret the motion. She took a deep breath, and said the only thing she could. “Of course I will.”

Heart pounding in her chest, Twilight stepped down off the soapbox, her wings starting to open in nervousness before she forced them to stay still. The father floated his younger daughter closer, and after a moment to steel herself, Twilight cradled the filly in her own magic, gently taking over without a bump what the stallion released his grasp.

Twilight brought in the bundle, pushing aside the blankets to get a good look at the baby earth pony. “What is her name?” she asked quietly.

“Ah... Carrot Top,” Golden Harvest said.

Twilight wasn't able to stop herself from laughing, and the other mare looked away, embarrassed. “I'm sorry,” Twilight apologized, turning back to the newborn – who looked so much like a baby version of her mother that it wasn't hard to imagine why she'd been named after the farmer's nickname.

Twilight brought the baby even closer, and carefully extended one wing, hiding her from view. Twilight lowered her head, and the filly's wide green eyes locked onto her glowing horn. Twilight froze for a moment. For all that she'd seen Celestia give her blessing dozens of times, she'd never thought to ask what the Princess actually did.

Without any other option, Twilight just did what came naturally. She bent in, lightly kissed the baby on her forehead, and whispered, “Welcome to Equestria, Carrot Top.” The filly giggled, and Twilight couldn't help smiling as she raised her wing and floated the baby back to her father.

Golden Harvest bowed deeply. “Thank you, Your Highness.”

Twilight started to protest the title, then thought better of it, and just said, “You're welcome.” Golden Harvest bowed again, and she and her family backed away into the crowd. Twilight waited a moment, but nopony else came forward. “I guess that's it, then,” Twilight said. Everypony else kept watching her. “Um... have a good night?”

That drew laughter, and Twilight smiled despite herself. Somehow, it wasn't a surprise when Pinkie Pie jumped up out of the crowd again, landing on the same white stallion she'd stood on back in the library. “That it means it's party time!” the pink earth pony declared, punctuated by a pair of confetti explosions.

Her surprisingly undisturbed steed reared up, tiny wings flapping. “YEAH!”

A few hours after that, Twilight Sparkle was feeling much better. Things had dissolved into a more typical Pinkie party, which she'd become shockingly comfortable with in the years since her first one had sent her fleeing to her new bedroom. Most of the ponies who had come to see her embarrass herself were gone now, and Twilight and her friends were gathered near her front door as the last stragglers left. Spike, exhausted from partying, rested on Twilight's back, idly toying with his brass horn.

“Best party this week!” Pinkie declared happily. “We should do this again sometime!”

“Well, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna hold court every day,” Rarity mused.

No,” Twilight Sparkle said firmly. (Thankfully, once she'd had a moment to examine the necklace, figuring out how to turn off the voice amplification spell was easy enough.) “Once a week is more than enough.” If it hadn't been for Rarity bringing out the puppy dog eyes, she wouldn't have agreed to even that much. Well, if she was being honest, she still would have agreed to hold a court, since Princess Celestia had said it was a good idea, but she would have at least fought a little more.

Pinkie rubbed her forehooves together. “A week, huh?” she asked dangerously.

Twilight didn't want to know what her pink friend was planning. “Please don't invite the entire town again, Pinkie,” she pleaded. “That's not what I meant when I said you could invite your friends.”

“Aw,” Pinkie whined, but she was drowned out by snickering from above.

They all looked up at Rainbow Dash, perched on one of the library tree's overhanging branches. “I thought you were supposed to be the smart one, Twilight,” she said.

“That's not very nice, Rainbow Dash,” Fluttershy chided.

“But it's true,” the blue pegasus protested. “What did she think Pinkie was going to do?”

“Well... yes,” Fluttershy admitted, “but it still isn't nice to say it.”

Twilight sighed, but then she laughed a little. “Thanks, girls,” she said. “I know you all put in a lot of work for tonight, and I wasn't very... helpful.”

Spike stirred on her back. “It was almost half a tardy incident this morning,” he announced, drawing shudders from the other girls. “She was looking up the griffons' political asylum laws.”

“Go back to sleep, traitor,” Twilight muttered – not quietly enough, because her friends chuckled. Twilight gave a rueful smile. “Seriously, though. Thank you all.”

“It wasn't hardly anything,” Applejack drawled. “I am sorry for springin' Carrot To – I guess I hafta say Golden Harvest now – on you like that. I didn't even know she was thinkin' about it until she asked me if it was okay at the market this afternoon.”

Twilight shook her head. “Don't apologize. It was clearly important to her, so it's fine.” She smiled. “And it probably was good that I did at least one thing in my first court, such as it was.”

Rarity chuckled. “I think it turned out rather well myself. The reporter from Canterlot got a good look at my decorations, and all those ruffians barely had a moment to dirty them with their filthy hooves.” She shuddered in exaggerated horror.

“I guess I don't need to apologize for not using them, then,” Twilight observed. Everypony, including Rarity, laughed.

“I don't even know where you found the time to do them,” Twilight continued, “if you were working on this.” She nodded her head down at the golden necklace. “I hope you didn't spend too much money on the enchantments.”

Rarity sniffed. “I could hardly aspire to make dresses for the gentlemares of Canterlot if I couldn't manage a little enchantment with my own horn.”

“It's not just a little enchantment,” Twilight said. “Six spells, right? And I'm pretty sure one of them is a copy of my brother's shield.”

Rarity shifted. “Princess Celestia helped, I think,” Spike interjected.

Twilight stared in horror at the necklace. “That's why you went to Canterlot last week?” she asked. “Rarity, you can't just ask the Princess to -”

“She volunteered,” Spike said.


“I had Spikey send her a letter asking what kind of spells would be useful,” Rarity explained, “and she sent one back offering to help make it.” She shifted again, grinning sheepishly. “You weren't supposed to know about it, though.”

“Rarity,” Pinkie said dangerously.

“It wasn't a Pinkie Promise!” Rarity said quickly, and Twilight laughed despite herself.

“I guess I should get going,” Rainbow Dash said. “Weather team's got a thunderstorm planned for tonight that we had to put off for this. Are you going to be able to get home in time, Fluttershy?”

The yellow pegasus made a quiet noise.

“You can use my spare bed,” Twilight offered. “Make it a sleepover.”

Rarity and Applejack traded smiles. “Be careful not to knock any trees through Twilight's windows this time,” Applejack warned Rainbow.

That was when Spike started to cough, sparks of green flame swirling around his mouth. He quickly turned aside to avoid burning anypony, and let loose a brief fiery burst. The bright flames condensed into a scroll, which Twilight quickly caught.

Twilight unwrapped the scroll with her magic. “It's a letter from Princess Celestia,” she said unnecessarily. It took her but a moment to read it, and it made her frown.

“What's it say?” Fluttershy asked.

“I'm sorry,” Twilight said.

“For what?” Applejack said.

“No, that's what it says.” Twilight turned the letter around so her friends could see. The two words were clearly Celestia's writing, though hurried and sloppy. Twilight shivered, and not from the wind. “Spike, maybe you should go grab the Elements just in case.” Her hoof reached up to touch her crown, secure on her head.

Spike jumped off her back, saluted, and raced into the library. A burst of thunder covered the noise of the door slamming shut behind him.

Rainbow Dash launched off of her branch, wings beating wildly. “We're not supposed to start until everypony had a chance to get home!” she said, flying a little higher. “Thunderlane!” she roared. “If that's you I'm going to -”

There was another thunderous noise, and the bank of waiting stormclouds on the eastern horizon scattered, revealing the newly risen moon. The sudden bright light was blinding, and Twilight raised a leg to cover her eyes.

When she lowered it, Princess Luna stood before her. “Twilight Sparkle!” the larger alicorn proclaimed, loud enough that half of Ponyville probably heard. Fluttershy jumped up high enough that she was briefly eye to eye with Rainbow Dash.

“Hi, Princess Luna!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. “I saved you some cake!”

Luna, perhaps wisely, ignored the earth pony. “I hope I am not too late to present my petition to your Dusk Court!

“Golden Oaks Court,” Twilight protested unthinkingly. Why did everypony think she'd name her court after herself? It wasn't like there was a “Celestia Court” or a “Luna Court.” And whatever she was Princess of, it wasn't going to be twilight. The Princess of Magic had a nice ring to it, she thought.

You have a petition, Princess?” Applejack asked. Behind her, Fluttershy slowly settled to ground. “Can't you just grant yourself whatever you want?”

“My sister decreed this a matter for the Princess of Books to decide.”

“The... the Princess of B... books?” Twilight sputtered. That was going to be her portfolio? Day, Night, Love, and Books?

The library door swung open, revealing Spike carrying five small necklaces. “I got them!” Luna glanced down at the dragon, then took a careful step back.

Rarity glanced between the two princesses. “Maybe we should take this inside?” she suggested.

“That... sounds like a good idea,” Twilight said weakly.

A few moments later, they were all indoors. Princess Luna took in the decorations and nodded. “Very nice,” she proclaimed.

“Thank you,” Rarity said.

Twilight just sighed. “All right. What's this about, Princess?”

“Yes,” Luna said. Her dark-colored magic swirled, revealing a thin, blue book. “I demand that this trash be dealt with appropriately.”

Twilight Sparkle could feel a headache coming on. “Trash?”

“This so-called novel is treasonous sedition,” Luna explained.

Yes, that was definitely a headache. “And?” Twilight asked. Not that she really wanted to know the answer.

Luna stared at her blankly. “That is what Celestia said at first as well,” she said. “It is treason. All the copies should be burnt and the author put to death. What makes this complicated?”

Twilight desperately looked to her friends for help.

“Ah, Princess,” Applejack said after a moment. “I don't think you can just declare a book treason and execute the author.”

“Yes, yes,” Luna said. “My sister explained. As the matter falls under her domain, it is Twilight Sparkle's privilege to make the appropriate decree.”

Everypony looked at her and Twilight groaned. It was way too late to deal with this right now. “No, Princess.” Luna looked at her quizzically. What did she expect? Freedom of speech had been a bedrock principle of Equestrian law since at least the eighth century... after Nightmare Moon's banishment, Twilight realized with a sinking feeling.

“What is wrong, Twilight Sparkle?” Luna asked, and Twilight groaned again.

Right now, she just wanted this problem to go away. “Look, I'm not going to... to make any decrees about a book I haven't read, before I've heard the author's defense.” Not as though that defense would be very complicated in any modern court of law.

There is no defense for -

“Um... excuse me?” Fluttershy interrupted, hovering nervously a short distance above the furious princess.


“This... this is Twilight's court? So... I think maybe she gets to decide what the rules are... if that's not a problem?”

Princess Luna stared at her. “You are quite correct, Fluttershy,” she said after a moment. She turned to Twilight. “I apologize, Princess,” she said, bowing very slightly.

Twilight raised her hoof to her forehead. This headache just wasn't going away. “Look... just give me the book and come back next week, all right, Princess?”

Luna hesitated, then – her face grim – she sent the slim volume over to Twilight. She took it, and glanced at the cover briefly. The only writing was the title – Nightmare Moon – in cursive silver letters.

Twilight thought she had a guess at why Luna was so angry. She handed the book off to Spike. “Look, Princess. I understand that you're upset, but it's not fair to make any decision on one pony's word, even if that pony is a Princess. All right?”

Luna paused. “Very well. I understand. I shall return to see justice done next week.” The moon shone brightly through an open window, and when the silver light faded the Princess of the Night was gone.

Twilight let out a quiet moan. She staggered over to the cushioned “throne” and collapsed into it. “Oh, horseapples.”

“You okay, Twilight?” Applejack asked worriedly.

“What do you think?” She now had a week to figure out how she was going to explain to Luna that there was no way somepony could be executed for writing a book that said mean things about her. She groaned again. “Thank you for the save, Fluttershy.” The yellow pegasus just rubbed her hooves nervously.

“What is this book, anyway?” Rainbow Dash asked, flying over to Spike. The dragon held it up for her inspection. “Eh, looks boring,” she said. “Look, the rest of the weather team is waiting on me. Are we cool?”

Twilight sighed. “No,” she said, “but nothing's going to happen tonight.”

Rainbow nodded. “Okay; see ya tomorrow.” She was out the window.

“I should get going too,” Applejack said. “Applebuck Season is starting up, and we have to get ready.”

“You can all go,” Twilight said. “Thanks for all your help tonight, again.”

Thunder rolled in the distance. “Uh... can I still -” Fluttershy began.

“Of course,” Twilight said. “Spike, fetch the covers for the spare bed, please.”

“Okay,” the baby dragon agreed.

“Actually... wait just a moment,” Twilight said. He stopped dead. “Spike, take a letter for Princess Celestia.”

“You got it!” Spike said eagerly, racing off and returning in a moment with a scroll and quill. “Ready!”

“You'd better be,” Twilight dictated.

Spike waited expectantly.

“That's the message,” Twilight said. “Send it.”

Part Two

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Twilight Sparkle's ordinary morning routine had not changed very much since becoming a Princess. The only major addition was that she – at least most mornings, when she didn't oversleep and did remember – spent an extra quarter-hour taking care of her wings. Rainbow Dash had given her several passionate lectures on the subject, which reminded Twilight of nothing more than Rarity's discourses on proper mane care. Beyond that, though, she did not suddenly need to help raise the sun, put away the stars, or drop by the Gates of Tartarus any more frequently than normal. (Once a month, so Cerberus wouldn't get lonely again.)

Instead, once she had finished taking care of her personal hygiene, she merely went down to the kitchen like always, put on a pot of water for tea – replaced with coffee if and only if she had fewer than six hours of sleep – made breakfast, and ate it. Then it was only a matter of waking Spike and selecting a book for morning reading before she was ready to unlock the front door and flip the sign to indicate that the Golden Oaks Library was open.

Although Twilight Sparkle was always one to recommend that ponies read more, she couldn't be completely sad that on a typical day patrons were few enough that she usually had several hours of uninterrupted reading time. Yesterday had, unsurprisingly, been an exception. It had been a few hours before Fluttershy was safely on her way back to her cottage, and shortly afterward Twlight had been called to reassure the Mayor that Princess Luna hadn't been shouting about anything important. (Like a plan to plunge Equestria into Eternal Night again, again.) And then she'd needed to get all the decorations down....

Well, needless to say Spike had been forced to staff the library for all but a couple hours. She'd given him today off to compensate, and he was out the door almost before he was done eating his own breakfast. Twilight made a mental note to buy a few gems off of Rarity as an additional thanks, if she had any of the dragon's favorites available.

Today, fortunately, was more typical, and Twilight had settled down with her chosen book right on schedule. She just wished that book had been her current pleasure read (the great pegasus philosopher Fancy Flight's Thus Spake Celestia), instead of the book Luna had left her.

A more thorough inspection didn't leave her any more enlightened than the cursory one the night before last. The only writing on the covers was indeed the title, Nightmare Moon, with no sign of the author's name. She flipped through the opening pages, finding that it had been published recently in Canterlot by a mid-sized publisher she was quite familiar with. She also found that it was a numbered limited edition – this copy was the first of five hundred, oddly enough.

That at least raised the hopes that this mess could be dealt with quietly, but... had the author actually sent this copy to Princess Luna, then? Twilight frowned, flipping back through the opening pages and confirming that no author was listed. Why? If she feared retaliation, why give the Princess a copy; if she didn't, why publish anonymously? Something wasn't adding up.

The library door opened, and Twilight had to break for a few minutes to fetch Mrs. Cake her reserved copies of Help, My Foal Is Flying! and Help, My Foal Is Glowing!. Twilight doubted the newly published guides would contain much the Cakes and Pinkie hadn't already learned, but it could be comforting to get more confirmation that they weren't missing something important, she supposed.

Twilight returned to Nightmare Moon, and turned the page to the simple, short dedication. “For her,” she muttered aloud. She had a feeling this author, whoever she was, enjoyed being cryptic. Twilight normally enjoyed a good puzzle, but she wasn't really in the mood right now.

So she just turned the page and started to read the story proper. The main character seemed to be North Star, a pegasus mare in the Night Guard, and seemed to be set either almost a century before Nightmare Moon, or the reference to the “newly finished Castle Canterlot” was an anachronism. Twilight forced her pedantic irritation aside, and kept on reading.

There was only a couple more major interruptions. Around page one hundred, Rarity dropped by to check for any damage to her decorations and warn her that there was a new pegasus couple in town picking a spot to have a cloud home built, so a Pinkie Party could be expected sometime in the afternoon, or earlier if the newcomers stopped by Sugarcube Corner. The second interruption was a couple hours and several hundred pages later, when Twilight took a break for lunch before returning to her post in the front room to polish off Nightmare Moon.

Twilight let out a thoughtful noise as she finished the final scene, North Star's tearful conversation with the victorious Celestia, and shut the back cover. It hadn't been what she'd expected, really. The history had been a tad rough, but as an adventure story it wasn't bad. She didn't really see anything overly objectionable in its content, but even as a Princess herself it wasn't really her place to tell Princess Luna what she could find offensive. That didn't mean she wasn't still going to have to figure out how this nonsense could be settled without anypony getting executed. Ideally, it wouldn't leave Princess Luna angry at her either.

“Dear Princess Celestia, this friendship problem is left as an exercise for the reader,” she tested on the empty library. Then she half-chuckled, half-sighed. Like it or not, Princess Celestia had given her this task, and she wasn't going to let her first assignment as a Princess be a failure.

The first step, she supposed, was going to be to track down the author. Unless her read of the author was drastically incorrect, she probably wouldn't object to offering an apology or something. It felt a little wrong to be thinking of asking a novelist to apologize to a Princess for her work, but it would probably go a long way to getting Luna into a mood conducive to not killing anypony.

Behind her, the door to the library tree's small kitchen opened. Twilight almost jumped in the air, her wings briefly opening uncontrollably in surprise. She turned to look, only to be confronted by a bouncing wall of pink.

“Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, Twilighttwilighttwilight,” the pink vibrated. “Hey, your name is pretty funny sounding, Twilight!”

Twilight blinked twice, slowly. “If you say so, Pinkie Pie.”

“I'm pretty sure I did say so,” Pinkie Pie said, “but I can say it again if we're not sure. Hey, your name -”

“Pinkie Pie Welcome Party in... an hour?” Twilight guessed, trying to get the conversation back on something resembling solid ground.

“No, silly. It's a Pinkie Pie Pre-Welcome Party. They aren't moving here for another few months... hey, how did you already know about Fast Breeze and Stormforge?”

Twilight couldn't stop a grin. “The Royal Pinkie Pie Party Early Warning System?” she offered. Pinkie stared at her dubiously. “...all right, Rarity came by and mentioned that she'd seen two new ponies in town.”

“Anyway, if you're done being silly...” Pinkie proclaimed. Twilight giggled. “...I was wondering if I could throw the party here again?”

“Sure,” Twilight agreed. “Just help Spike and me clean up afterward.”

“Okie-dokie!” the earth pony agreed. “Back in an hour with the cupcakes!” She bounced out the front door, giving a happy wave as it shut behind her.

Twilight looked back at her open kitchen door. Her mouth opened, and then she shook her head. “I'm probably better off not knowing,” she decided, and then she started her own party-hosting preparations.

She was partway through making sure all the doors to the private areas of the tree were shut – more so she didn't have to straighten them up than from fear of intrusive party guests – when she heard the front door open again.

“Twilight!” came Spike's familiar, worried voice. “Pinkie Pie said she's throwing –”

“I know!” Twilight called back. “I said it was okay.” She made her way back to the main room of the library.

“We're not going to be cleaning up all night again, are we?” Spike asked, just like he did every time this happened.

“You're never going to forgive me for that second night here,” Twilight said, then she shook her head. “No, Pinkie agreed to stay and help pick up the mess again.” She probably would have after that eventful Summer Sun Celebration if Twilight had thought to ask.

Spike relaxed. “All right, what can I do to help?”

“Can you grab a couple packages of napkins out of the basement?” Twilight asked. Then a thought occurred to her. She ran down her schedule for the rest of the week quickly, before Spike vanished down the stairs. “And also... when you get a chance, can you send a quick note off to Canterlot asking for my chariot to pick me up tomorrow?”

Spike paused. “Am I going to have to run the library again?” he asked, sounding a little disappointed.

Twilight thought about it a moment. It really wasn't fair to ask him to do that again so soon. “I'll try to get one of the others to sit in, or we can close it if we have to. This is technically official Princess business, after all. Do you want to come with me?”

“Thanks,” Spike said, “but I'm going gem hunting with Rarity tomorrow.” Twilight could almost see the hearts in his eyes.

She giggled. “Have fun,” she said, and then she went to the kitchen to find the punch bowl.

The reply confirming that her chariot would be in Ponyville an hour after breakfast – getting letters addressed to “Your Highness” still made her feel like she was a little filly snooping in Celestia's mail again – came only a few moments before Pinkie Pie made it back with her cupcakes. After that, Twilight put the matter of Nightmare Moon out of her head and concentrated on preparing her library home for the coming storm.

A short while later, the party was in full swing. Twilight stayed in the background as best she could – after a brief awkward conversation it was clear that the pegasus couple found having an alicorn princess attending their Pre-Welcome Party even more disconcerting than being dragged to such a party in the first place. Golden Harvest and her filly Carrot Top were present, probably swept up when Pinkie Pie collected the market square, and Twilight spent a pleasant few minutes visiting with the foal.

“Excuse me, Miss Sparkle?”

The voice distracted Twilight from her very important game of Royal Peek-A-Boo, and to the foal's brief discontent she closed her wing and turned to the new pony. “Good afternoon, Cheerilee,” Twilight said, smiling at the schoolteacher. She had a soft spot for anypony who subscribed to the Communications of the Royal Academy of the Arcana and Sciences. Golden Harvest made her excuses and faded away into the party crowd with her foal.

“I just wanted to give you a warning,” the dark pink mare told Twilight. “I plan to assign my class a short paper on the Griffon Kingdoms tomorrow, so you can expect my students to keep you busy when I let them go in the afternoon.”

“Thanks for letting me know,” Twilight said. “Any topic about the griffons in particular?”

“No, just covering them in general,” Cheerilee said. “I did warn them not to just try to reword the encyclopedia entry, though.”

Twilight nodded, then froze. “I forgot. I'm actually heading to Canterlot tomorrow; I don't know if I'll be back before you let the class out.” Cheerilee frowned, and Twilight quickly added. “The library will be open; I just need to see if one of my friends can cover me or if I'll owe Spike even more gems.”

Cheerilee nodded. “Fair enough,” she said. “If it's absolutely necessary, I can take care of it.”

“I'm sure that won't be necessary,” Twilight said. “Let me go see right now.” Twilight quickly ran down the possibilities as she searched the crowd for her friends. Applejack would have been her first choice, but after what had happened during Twilight's first weeks in Ponyville, she and everypony else knew better than to ask Applejack for help during Applebuck Season. Pinkie Pie hadn't even been upset when she didn't show up for this party.

Twilight found Rarity and a hovering Rainbow Dash first, chatting about something.

“Excuse me, girls,” Twilight said, interrupting what sounded like a passionate argument about the merits of Prench cuisine.

“What's up, Twilight?” Rainbow said quickly, clearly glad for the distraction.

Twilight explained her problem. “I was checking to see if one of you could cover me at the library tomorrow afternoon. You won't have to do much; just point the fillies and colts at the right section and stop them from doing any damage.”

“I was planning to stock up on gems tomorrow, so the shop was already going to be closed,” Rarity said. “I suppose I could -”

Twilight groaned. “I forgot Spike mentioned that. Sorry, Rarity, I appreciate the offer, but I don't want to disappoint him.”

“Of course,” Rarity said. “I understand.” She laughed. “I'll make sure he enjoys his day off and doesn't work too hard trying to help me.”

Twilight gave her a grateful smile. “Thanks.” Both of them turned to look at Rainbow Dash.

The pegasus stared back at them. “Fine,” she said after a moment. “I guess we don't have any real weather work scheduled for tomorrow.”

“I owe you one,” Twilight said.

“Flying lessons.” Rainbow Dash grinned.

Twilight's wings fluttered. “,” she finally said. She could already feel the pain coming.

Rarity giggled. “You must really need to go to Canterlot, darling. Is it anything serious?”

“Just that mess with Princess Luna from the other night.”

“That book thing?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Twilight nodded. “The author is anonymous, but I've got a source with her publisher. Somepony at Canterhorn Books has to know who she is.”

Rainbow frowned. “Canterhorn... why does that sound familiar?”

Rarity laughed. “Well, it is a big mountain,” she said. Rainbow glared at the unicorn.

“It's on the spine of every Daring Do novel,” Twilight told the pegasus.

Rainbow's head whipped around to her, wings beating wildly enough to lift her another foot in the air. “Daring Do?” she asked. “ don't think your source could get me a meeting with the author?” she asked. “I'd take that over the flying lessons!”

Twilight was tempted for just a moment. “No, sorry.”

Rainbow deflated. “You're sure?”

Her suddenly miserable expression was almost too much. “Sorry, Rainbow, but I made a promise.” Twilight realized her mistake just a moment too late.

“Wait,” Rainbow said, her wings starting to beat faster again. “You know the author of Daring Do?”

Rarity blinked once. “Even I know that she's very private,” she said slowly. “Aren't the books written under a pen name so she can keep her identity secret?”

Twilight planted a hoof in her face. “Look, yes, I know. But I promised not to tell anypony. Please don't make a big deal about this, Rainbow, all right?”

“Promise or Pinkie Promise?” Rainbow asked.

“Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said warningly.

The pegasus laughed once. “All right.” She rubbed her hooves together. “Say, you don't think you could get me an autographed copy for Hearth's Warming Eve, though?”

“ promises,” Twilight said. “But I'll try.”

“You are now officially my favorite Princess,” Rainbow said. “Anyway, it looks like Pinkie Pie has finally let this Fast Breeze go, so I need to go see if she has any airspeed or if that's just a name.” She flew off before Rarity or Twilight could respond.

“I wasn't her favorite Princess already?” Twilight asked grumpily.

Rarity just laughed.

Twilight Sparkle's day-to-day life might not have changed very much since her coronation as a Princess of Equestria. That title might have brought more annoyances than anything else so far. Not least among those annoyances might have been the errand that brought her to Canterlot this morning.

Yet, with all that one side of the scales, at the moment it almost felt to Equestria's youngest alicorn that the convenience of having a sky-chariot under her command outweighed it all. By land, the trip from Ponyville to Canterlot was far more of a journey than a naive glance at the short distance between them on a map might lead a pony to believe. Outgrowths of the dangerous Everfree Forest lengthened the roads leaving Twilight's home village, while the capital city was built high on the slopes of the Canterhorn. On hoof, the trip was long and tiring; by train it was best taken overnight.

In her chariot, Twilight Sparkle returned to the city of her birth after only a couple of hours in the air, well before lunchtime. She landed directly in a small courtyard behind the main palace, instead of needing to trot her way up through the entire city. It was almost enough to make her not regret agreeing to take Rainbow Dash's flying lessons.

She settled her saddlebags onto her back and thanked the pegasus guards who had flown her, letting them know that she would need a trip back home before dinner. After that, she turned her attention to the gray-coated stallion who was patiently waiting by the doorway into the palace proper.

“Your Highness,” he said, bowing. Twilight felt herself blush uncontrollably, and she waited awkwardly for the stallion to rise. “Princess Celestia has a few minutes to speak with you before opening the Day Court.”

Twilight hadn't actually been intending to intrude on her mentor, but she wasn't going to pass up the opportunity. “Thank you,” she told the stallion. “Is she in her chambers, or her office off of the throne room?”

“Ah... her chambers, Your Highness. I can lead you –”

“I know the way,” Twilight said. “No need to take up more of your time.” Once inside, she slipped into a semi-hidden servants' stairway, passed a couple of startled stallions who for some reason were lugging a sofa up the stairs, darted across the Pillared Hall in front of a bored janitor who barely noticed, then headed down a flight of another set of servants' stairs, and she was outside Celestia's private chambers.

She nodded once at the two guardsmares posted outside the gold-inlaid wooden doors, knocked once, and entered without waiting to be answered. In the back of her mind, she knew that this was probably unusual, even for another Princess, but she had been in and out of these rooms so often as a filly that they held no fear or mystery to her.

She found Celestia in her study, though at a glance the only thing she was studying was only a new naval adventure novel. The white alicorn set her book down and stood, turning to face her student. “The Princess of the Sun is pleased to receive the Princess of Books,” she intoned gravely.

Twilight Sparkle wasn't sure what to say.

Finally, Celestia broke into snickering laughter. “The look on your face, Twilight,” she said.

“Am... am I really supposed to be the Princess of Books now?” Twilight asked after a moment.

Celestia chuckled. “Not unless you want to be,” she said. “But it was the fastest way to get Luna out of my mane so I could go back to sleep.” Her face turned serious for a moment. “About the note you sent back, though...”

Twilight laughed nervously. She really should have stopped herself, shouldn't she? Even if they were both Princesses, this was still Celestia. “I -” she began.

Celestia bowed her head. “I do apologize for dumping that little problem on you without warning. It's hardly the kind of matter I'd have liked to handle during my first court, either.”

Twilight's mind took a moment to change gears. “Oh... um... apology accepted?” she said.

“I'm glad,” Celestia said. “I'm also glad that you seem to have handled it well. I haven't heard any more threats to burn down the Canterhorn Books offices.”

Celestia thought Luna's problem was settled? Twilight felt familiar stirrings of panic in her gut, that she had to hide from her mentor that all she'd done so far was kick the can down the road.

“Is something wrong, Twilight?”

The younger alicorn took a deep, calming breath. “I... haven't really resolved Luna's petition,” she said when she'd managed to force ridiculous punishment scenarios out of her imagination. “I just asked her to come back next week when I'd had a chance to read the book.”

Twilight couldn't read Celestia's expression. “I'll handle it!” she said quickly. “I just needed some time to think over my strategy.”

“Are you certain, Twilight Sparkle?” Celestia asked. “I can speak with my sister about this.”

“I'm sure,” Twilight answered, trying to sound confident. This was the first real thing she'd tried to handle as a princess. She didn't want to – couldn't – let Celestia down. “I just need to find the book's author, and –”

There was a light knocking from the front door to Celestia's chambers. “It seems it is time for my court,” Celestia said. “You're sure you don't want me to deal with this... issue, Twilight?” she asked again.

Twilight made herself nod. “If Princess Luna gets angry, better at me than you, right?” she asked.

Celestia looked at her for a long moment. “All right. I'll trust your judgment,” she said. There was another knocking on the door, and Celestia smiled. “I don't suppose I can delegate all my petitions to you?” she asked plaintively.

Twilight laughed. “I think this one petition is enough for now.” She just hoped she wasn't making a mistake not handing this one back.

Celestia smiled. “I wish we had more time to talk,” she said, starting to walk for the exit. Twilight followed her, and the larger alicorn paused before opening the doors. “Was there anything else you needed from me?”

Twilight started to shake her head, then remembered something. “I did have one other petition,” she began, and explained what she had done for Golden Harvest's filly. “Is there something specific I should have done?”

“No,” Celestia said with a laugh. “That's about what I do.” Her golden magic flickered over the doors, opening them moments before the gray pony who had met Twilight earlier could knock again. “Do let me know if there's anything at all I can do to help with Luna, Twilight,” Celestia said, and then she was gone.

Twilight took a deep breath, closed the doors behind her with her own magic, and then she was on her way to her parents' home. (Another quick jaunt through the palace to the School For Gifted Unicorns, cut across the campus, a brief stop at Donut Joe's to say hello, take the back road down to the Upper East neighborhood, and then she was only a few minutes' trot from her parent's door.) It was a path she'd traveled hundreds of times before, and at this hour of the day it should have only taken about twenty minutes, plus whatever time she spent chatting with Donut Joe.

It took closer to two hours. Canterlot ponies might have been too self-possessed to simply mob her like the citizens of Ponyville had when she'd first returned home from her coronation, but that didn't stop her intended brief visit to the donut shop from turning into a zoo. Apparently, while interrupting an alicorn princess on the road would have been uncouth, swarming the store where she stopped and almost fighting to get close enough to be able to casually say hello was appropriate behavior. At least Donut Joe appreciated the business.

It took the intervention of a guard patrol to extract her from that mess, but fortunately once they had escorted her to her old neighborhood she was able to make the rest of the journey in peace. Twilight supposed that after Cadance, the ponies who lived there were probably used to alicorn princesses coming and going. Either that, or her mother had given one of her little speeches at the homeowner's association meeting again.

When she reached her destination, she knocked on the door, and – unlike with Celestia's chambers, a part of her noted in amusement – she waited patiently for one of her parents to answer. A few of the neighbors emerged from their homes, pointedly busying themselves with some chore or another while managing to look up at Twilight far too often for comfort. She shifted uncomfortably, fighting to keep her wings still.

It was her mother who finally came to the door, and she broke into a smile almost instantly. “Twilight?” she asked, clearly surprised at the unannounced visit.

Twilight's eyes traced the smearing of what had to be cake batter smeared across her mother's muzzle and down her flank. “...are you baking, Mom?” she asked.

Twilight Velvet quickly rubbed at her cheek, but succeeded only in spreading the mess further. Then she looked over her daughter's shoulder, at the watching ponies. Her face hardened, though the expression looked a little absurd decorated with batter. “Come inside, sweetie, and let me wash up.”

A few minutes later when her mother joined her in the living room, Twilight's mind was still on something other than the purpose of her visit. “Why were you trying to bake?” she asked, turning away from the – rather embarrassingly crowded – wall of various honors her family had received.

Her mother was coming out of the kitchen, a couple of glasses of lemonade cradled in her magic. Another brief glow shut the door behind her, before Twilight could get a good look at what was left of the kitchen. “I think a mother should be able to bake a cake for her daughter-in-law's baby shower,” she commented, as she floated one glass over to her daughter.

For the first time since before she'd gotten her cutie mark, Twilight fumbled her levitation, letting the glass plummet to the ground, shattering and spilling her drink all over the rug. “Cadance is pregnant?” she asked. She wasn't ready to be an aunt!

“...well, it has to happen eventually, and they are coming to visit next week, so she might be,” Twilight Velvet observed, staring at the spreading pool of lemonade.

“Sorry,” Twilight said. “I'll get some paper towels.”


Twilight opened the kitchen door, then shut it firmly, turning around and pressing her back firmly against it, her wings spreading reflexively. “Mom, did you have help from Discord in there?” It was a sad day when he was the sanest explanation.

Her mother laughed awkwardly.

Twilight took a deep breath. “Okay. There are spells for this. We can fix everything.” Except the memory of what she had seen.

“I knew all that tuition we paid to Princess Celestia's school would have a return someday.”

“The School For Gifted Unicorns doesn't have tuition, Mom.” Everypony who attended heard at least once a month that lecture about why the school needed students to help tend the grounds, sweep the hallways, and (ugh) clean the bathrooms. And even though she'd listed it as her first choice every semester, Twilight never got assigned to help in the library. (It was probably Princess Celestia's fault.)

Still, the experience had given her – and most other graduates – a very formidable practical education in the oft-neglected field of janitorial magic. Those battle-forged spells, the product of the combined wisdom of generations of Equestria's most talented young unicorns, had – in Twilight's senior year – triumphed over even the colt's dormitory second-floor restroom, widely agreed to be a Class-S arcano-biological hazard site.

This would be nothing.

A half-hour later, Twilight collapsed into the new couch her parents had bought last Hearth's Warming Eve. “Mother,” she said seriously. “I am making an Official Princess Decree.” She tried to pronounce the capitalization, so the importance of the matter could be understood.

“Yes, sweetie?” Twilight Velvet asked as she shut the door to the kitchen (which nopony could guarantee was one hundred percent composed of materials originating in this universe anymore).

“You are hereby forbidden from baking until Pinkie Pie has certified you as not a threat to yourself or those around you,” the tired princess proclaimed. “So let it be written, etcetera, etcetera, by decree of Her Royal Highness Twilight Sparkle.”

Her mother just laughed.

“You think I'm joking,” Twilight Sparkle said, managing to sit up after a brief effort. “I can banish ponies to the moon, you know. I worked out how the other week, and the girls wouldn't even ask why.”

“That's nice, sweetie,” her mother said, sitting down beside her.

Twilight sighed, and then she laughed herself. “Seriously, though; if you want to learn to bake, I'm sure Pinkie would be thrilled to give you lessons, and I'd love to see you more often.”

“We'll see,” her mother said. “Ponyville is a little far to go for baking lessons.”

“I suppose,” Twilight said. “Though I do have my very own sky-chariot now, you know.”

Her mother laughed again, then her face turned serious. “I have a feeling you didn't just come to help me clean,” she said.

Twilight had almost entirely forgotten her original purpose. “Right,” she said, straightening. “I assume Dad isn't home, since he hasn't come down to see what all the noise is?”

“He disappeared for some reason around the same time I started looking for the flour,” her mother admitted.

“Wise stallion,” Twilight quipped, then she shook her head, forcing herself back on topic. “I need to get an off-the-record conversation with one of the editors at Canterhorn,” she said.

Twilight Velvet blinked. “That's an odd request.”

“I need to talk to the author of a book they published anonymously,” Twilight said. She started to explain the situation, only to be stopped by her mother almost as soon as she said Princess Luna's name.

“What book are you talking about?” Twilight Velvet asked, her voice controlled.

Twilight searched for her saddlebags, finding them where she'd dropped them by the door. A flicker of magenta light opened the clasp and pulled out the book. “It's called Nightmare Moon,” she said as the slim volume floated over to the couch.

Her mother didn't reach for the book. “You don't need to talk to an editor,” she said. “I can tell you who wrote that.”

“Really? That saves me... no.” Twilight froze, the book hanging in the air in front of the two mares. “You're joking.”

“He didn't release it under the usual name because he's curious how it will be received on its own merit,” Twilight Velvet said. “I'm guessing Princess Luna wasn't a fan?” she asked, her voice still calm.

“You... could say that,” Twilight said. “I was going to...” She trailed off, really considering what she had been planning to do. A Princess of Equestria was angry about a book, a novel. Twilight Sparkle had been planning to track down the author, and ask her... him to apologize, so Luna wouldn't want him executed.

What if the apology wasn't accepted? If she was there alone with a furious Luna and the author... her father?

And what if the apology was accepted? It didn't actually solve anything. It just kicked the can down the road again. This time, the author probably wouldn't mind making the apology, and it might even settle this incident. Yet, what lesson would Luna learn? What would happen the next time somepony wrote something that offended her, somepony that wouldn't back down?

She felt sick to her stomach, and she stood suddenly.

“Twilight, sweetie?” her mother asked cautiously.

“It'll be be fine,” Twilight said. “Don't worry about it, and don't tell Dad.”

“Twilight –”

She smiled thinly. “I'll take care of this, Mother. I promise.”

“Take care of... what did Princess Luna –”

“You don't need to worry about it,” Twilight said again. “I'm sorry, but I need to get going.” She turned for the door, the copy of Nightmare Moon flinging back into her bags.

“Twilight Sparkle.” Her mother's voice stopped her. “What are you going to do?”

“Princess Luna and I are going to have a little talk about freedom of speech,” Twilight said. “That's all.” And if the talk didn't go the right way... well, Luna wasn't about to try to hurt her, and she had to accept Twilight's judgment, right? The petitioner had no right of appeal from the Princess's ruling.

And if she got angry about it, like Twilight had told Princess Celestia, it was better for Luna to be angry at Twilight than anypony else.

“All right,” her mother said finally. “Take care.”

“You too,” Twilight said, and then her bags followed her out the door.

A four-pony guard squad was too-casually waiting on the fringes of the neighborhood and “volunteered” to escort her back to the castle. Twilight barely paid them any mind, but the walk helped to calm her racing thoughts.

She'd half-intended to go storming into Luna's chambers, wake the Princess of the Night, and have the whole matter settled by sundown, but by the time she reached the castle she realized that was a poor idea. The intrusion would only make Luna defensive and angry, hardly the proper frame of mind to encourage her to back down. Later in the week, at the library, at her court, it would be different. Luna would be in the role of supplicant awaiting Twilight's ruling, not in her own place of power dealing with an unexpected challenge.

Yes, if there was any hope of a satisfactory resolution, it was if Twilight just waited for that moment. It would have to be a private session, with no audience to make Luna feel the need to defend her pride. Twilight had almost a whole week to prepare her argument. It would be fine, she told herself. Luna was a grown mare, and she knew that Equestria was different than it had been a thousand years ago. Once the matter was explained to her, she'd see reason.

It really wasn't that different from Nightmare Night, and that had ended perfectly well.

...except it hadn't been her father's life on the line that night, an unhelpful part of Twilight's mind reminded her.

“Princess?” one of the guards asked, just a hint of worry in her voice, and Twilight realized that she'd been standing in one of the palace courtyards, staring at the tower that held Luna's quarters, for several minutes.

“I'm sorry,” Twilight said automatically. “My mind was somewhere else. I'll be taking my chariot back to Ponyville now; thank you all for the escort.”

The guards murmured acceptance of her gratitude and left, and not long afterward Twilight was in the air again, reversing the journey she'd taken that morning. The trip was less enjoyable, her mind already busy pondering rhetoric to convince Princess Luna, but there was a good wind and before she knew it they were landing behind her library home.

It was still the early afternoon. After she pointed the pegasus guards who had ferried her at Sugarcube Corner as a place to grab something to eat before the flight back to Canterlot, her own stomach started to rumble, reminding her that she'd had nothing substantial to eat since breakfast. She pondered heading to visit Pinkie Pie herself, but then she remembered the too-many donuts she'd eaten while stuck at Donut Joe's. The last thing she needed was more sweets.

With a sigh, Twilight instead headed to her tree home.

When the door opened, she half-expected to find a disaster. Instead the library looked much the same as when she'd left it, though a glance toward the appropriate section showed that the books on griffons had been thoroughly picked over.

“Hey, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, glancing up from the copy of Daring Do and the Onyx Hoof she had open on the table she was standing beside. “You're back early.”

“You seem to have grown a filly,” Twilight said after a moment, walking up and gently poking the sleeping orange filly on Rainbow's back with one hoof.

Scootaloo mumbled something that sounded like it ended in “Dash,” but the legs wrapped around the older pegasus didn't relax their grip.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “It is a very, very boring story.” Twilight laughed, and Rainbow flipped the book – the library's copy, not her own – closed. “Now that you're here to take over the librarian-ing, I've got to deliver her back to her parents. I'll be back in just a minute, okay?”

“Sure, Rainbow. I need to eat something anyway.” Twilight set her saddlebags down by the table, then made her way to the kitchen as Rainbow let herself out.

She'd finished her sandwich and gone back to the main room to start straightening up when Rainbow came back in through an open window. “So, how did it go?” she asked as she settled back down to the ground.

Twilight felt herself stiffen. She sighed. “Well, I found out who the author is.”

“That's good, right?” Rainbow asked. “So she can come to your thing next week?”

“No, he's not,” Twilight said.

“Wasn't that why... well, whatever,” the pegasus said. “Anyway, you went to the publisher, right? You didn't see anything about Heart of the Everfree, did you?”

Twilight really could not care less about the next Daring Do book right now. “No,” she snapped. “I had more important things on my mind.”

Her friend blinked. “What's got you so worked up?”

Almost without thinking, Twilight used her magic to pull Nightmare Moon back out of her saddlebags and shove it onto the table. It hit the Daring Do book Rainbow had left there, almost knocking it onto the floor before the blue mare caught it with one hoof, pushing it back to safety.

“Twilight, are you okay?” Rainbow asked worriedly.

The alicorn took a deep breath, calming herself. “Not really,” Twilight admitted. “My dad wrote that stupid book.”

“Your dad?” Rainbow looked confused for a moment. “Wait, wasn't Princess Luna talking about –”

“Executing him, yes,” Twilight said.

“That's messed up.”

“Yes,” Twilight agreed vehemently. Then she sighed. “Look, I'm kind of tired, and I need to start planning how I'm going to handle Luna next week. Did anything happen when all the children were here that I need to know about?”

Rainbow frowned for a moment. “No, it was all cool,” she said. She stared for a moment at the two books on the table. Her wings opened, then shut rapidly. “You know that we'll all do anything you need to help, right?” she asked.

“I know,” Twilight said. “I think this is something I need to handle on my own.”

“...all right,” Rainbow said. She headed for the door, then stopped, looking back.

“Is something wrong?” Twilight asked her.

“No,” Rainbow said after a moment. “Just don't forget you owe me for watching the library. Flying lessons start tomorrow.”

Part Three

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“Spike,” Twilight said. “Take a letter for Princess Luna.”

“Ready,” the small dragon said after a moment spent retrieving scroll and quill.

“Her Highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle, summons you to a private session of the Golden Oaks Court to resolve your petition,” Twilight said. It was best to put her in a formal frame of mind to start with, she had decided over a week of agonizing. The only power she really had to force Luna to accept her judgment was the other princess's respect for... well, the title of Princess. “Knowing your own many duties,” Twilight continued, “you may come at your convenience any time this evening.” A little bit of respect, without compromising the notion that Twilight stood over Luna in this tiny domain, would hopefully ensure Luna arrived in a good mood.

“Is that it?” Spike asked when Twilight was silent for several moments.

“I think so,” Twilight said. “Sign it, seal it with my cutie mark, and send it.”

Before he could, there was a knocking on the door – which Twilight had already placed a “Do Not Disturb” sign on. “Who is it going to be this time?” she groused as she started to make her way to open it.

“I think it must be Rainbow Dash,” Spike said. “Everypony else already came by, except for –”

“Applejack!” Twilight said in surprise as she opened the door.

The orange mare smiled tiredly as she stepped inside. “Howdy, sugar.” She looked around. “I'd thought Rarity'd have all those hangings and things up again for ya.”

“She tried,” Twilight said. “And then Pinkie Pie came offering to make a cake. I thought it might be coincidence when Fluttershy came by to ask if I wanted anypony here tonight, but now I know there's a conspiracy.”

“How's that?” Applejack asked.

Twilight stared at her. “You're taking time off from Applebuck Season,” Spike interjected, still holding the scroll with Luna's summons on it.

The farmer let out a bark of laughter. “It's not so bad I can't take one night off. At least when my brother ain't gotten hurt doing something I can't say 'cause I promised not to anymore.”

Twilight kept staring. “Applejack,” she said, “that only happened the one year. You still usually aren't seen in town until every last apple is off the trees. Pinkie Pie hasn't even invited you to her last three parties.”

There was silence for a moment. “Your pa,” Applejack finally said. “He's your family, and you're my family. That makes him my family too.”

Twilight groaned. “Let me guess, Rainbow Dash told you also?”

“I'm serious,” the other mare said. “Twilight, you're the one who taught me three years ago that it's okay to ask for help. You don't have to do this by yourself.”

“I know,” Twilight said, and she smiled. “I really do appreciate it, but this will go better if it's just Luna and me.”

Applejack frowned, studying Twilight for a moment. The purple alicorn did her best to look calm and collected. “All right, then,” Applejack said. “The girls and I are gonna be at Sugarcube Corner. We'll be ready if you need us, and you can come over to celebrate afterward if you don't.”

“Thanks,” Twilight said, and then she hugged her friend. When she released the embrace, she asked, “Should I expect Rainbow to come by next?”

“I don't rightly know,” Applejack said. “I ain't seen her yet today.”

“That's a little worrying,” Twilight said.

Applejack smiled slightly. “I'll try to round her up and get her safely at the Corner for you.”

“Thanks, Applejack,” Twilight said again. As soon as her friend let herself out, she turned to Spike. “Send the letter, please.”

“Already done, Twilight,” Spike said, blowing a wisp of green flame away from his fingers. “I'll go get my horn!”

“Spike, don't...” Twilight trailed off, the dragon already vanished up the stairs. One hoof met her face. “Oh well. Maybe the Princess will like his playing.”

As if on cue, the rising moon shone brightly through an upper window, and the library lights flickered. When they returned to normal, Princess Luna stood in front of Twilight.

She looked around quizzically. “Am I early, Twilight Sparkle?” she asked.

“No,” Twilight said. “I didn't bother with all the decorations because this will be just the two of us.”

The Princess of the Night frowned. “I had thought you would summon the author of that abomination to face justice,” she stated.

Twilight took a deep breath. “No,” she said. “He isn't coming.”

The dark-coated alicorn's wings shifted. “What do you mean?”

Before Twilight could answer, the door to her bedroom opened. “Found it!” Spike shouted, waving his instrument at the top of his arms. He started a little when he saw Luna on the floor below, but quickly put the mouthpiece to his lips and let loose with an... inventive sequence of almost-notes. Both princesses stared at him. He laughed nervously, lowering the horn.

Twilight smiled slightly, actually glad for the distraction. “Would you like some tea?” she offered to Luna, forcing herself not to add “Princess” or “Your Highness” to the end of the sentence.

The larger mare's lips pressed tightly for a moment. “I see you are truly my sister's student,” she said after a moment.

“Princess?” Twilight asked, forgetting herself.

“That is what she says,” Luna answered, “before she tells me something she knows I won't want to hear.”

There was a tense moment, Twilight struggling not to look nervous. She supposed she had seen her mentor make the same offer she was trying to let somepony down gently. It hadn't been a conscious imitation, though.

Luna sighed. “Very well, Twilight Sparkle. I will have tea.”

Twilight couldn't stop from sighing herself in relief. “Spike?” she asked.

“Right!” he said, dropping his brass horn and darting for the kitchen.

“I am certain that you have a very good reason why the peddler of this treasonous story should escape our fury,” Luna stated. Twilight shifted nervously.

Spike emerged from the kitchen, carefully carrying a tray with two steaming mugs on it. “Here you go, Princess... and Princess, I guess.”

Luna actually smiled slightly.

That was when the window over her head burst open. A multicolored blur slammed into the floor between the two alicorns, knocking the tray from Spike's hands, then staggered to her feet.

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight demanded. “What are you doing?” Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a midnight blue aura encasing the falling mugs and settling them safely on a side table.

The pegasus shook her head, as though to clear it. She was dressed in – of all the crazy things – gray barding, and she ignored Twilight's question, instead staring up at Luna. “I challenge you, Princess Luna!”

Both princesses blinked. “What do you mean, Rainbow Dash?” Luna asked.

“Trial by combat!” she stated. Twilight's mouth fell open, and she stood by, paralyzed by shock.

Luna filled the silence. “Surely you are not the one responsible for that trash?”

“No,” Rainbow admitted. “But I will champion him!”

Twilight's mouth moved up and down.

“Hah!” Luna's bark of laughter echoed off the library walls. “I understand now. Very well, Rainbow Dash!” She grinned. “I know not your reasons, but we can discuss that after. As the challenged mare, I may choose the form of the test, but I see no reason not to accept what you offer. Aerial jousting, yes?”

Rainbow seemed taken aback for just a moment. “Right, Your Highness!” she said after a heartbeat.

“Excellent! The best two of three falls should suffice, I believe. I shall meet you outside!” Luna's form turned to blue-tinged shadow and flowed out the window Rainbow Dash had forced open.

Twilight finally found her voice. “Rainbow Dash,” she hissed, planting one hoof firmly on the pegasus's back to keep her from flying off, “what in Tartarus do you think you're doing?”

Rainbow's wings fluttered. “I figured it out, Twilight!”

“I have no idea what you mean right now,” Twilight said.

“Me neither,” Spike chimed in.

“Your dad wrote Daring Do, right, Twilight?” Rainbow said. Twilight stared at her. “It all fits! You know the author but promised not to tell, and your dad writes for the same publisher!”

Twilight could just about follow the leap of logic. It would have been ridiculous... if it wasn't also correct. “That doesn't explain what you're doing.”

“I'm facing Luna in a trial by combat... if you'd just let me go.” Rainbow squirmed under Twilight's hoof. “When did you get so strong?”

“...why are you doing this?” Twilight asked. Her friend looked back at her. “Please tell me you're not doing this just so you can read more Daring Do books,” she pleaded.

“No!” Rainbow said. Twilight looked at her. “Well, not just that,” she admitted. “I'm trying to help! How is this any worse than you fighting her alone?”

Twilight blinked. “I was going to talk to her and explain the idea of freedom of speech,” she said.

“Oh,” Rainbow said. “It... probably wouldn't have worked anyway?” Twilight glared at her. “Look, all I've got to do is win this, and your dad is safe, right?”

“And what do you think is going to happen to him when the alicorn princess who's slain dragons wins?” Twilight growled out.

Rainbow let out a little laugh. “I can win!” she promised.

“Have you ever jousted before?” Twilight demanded. Rainbow opened her mouth. “Fluttershy doesn't count!” Twilight added, and Rainbow shut up. “This is not happening,” Twilight told her firmly.

“Rainbow Dash!” Luna's voice came from outside. “We had not thought you a coward!”

Rainbow stiffened. “Oh, it's on,” she growled, and with a burst of strength she pulled herself free, and then she was gone, out the window.

“Oh no no no,” Twilight moaned. “What am I going to do?” She galloped toward the exit, barely noticing Spike instead racing back toward the stairs before she was out the door.

The rest of her friends met her a few paces past her doorstep. “Girls,” she exclaimed breathlessly, “Rainbow Dash is –”

“We noticed, darling,” Rarity said, throwing her head up.

Twilight's followed the gesture to find Rainbow Dash and Luna facing each other in the air over the Golden Oaks Library. The princess wore silver armor that glowed with moonlight, and both mares had found blunted lances somewhere.

“Sorry, Twilight,” Applejack apologized. “I couldn't find her before she burst in on you.”

Twilight didn't even turn to look at her. “No no no,” she recited. “I have to stop them.” Her wings spread.

“Umm... Twilight,” Fluttershy said. “I know you've been practicing but isn't that... a little, teensy bit high?”

Twilight jumped, her wings beating frantically. A trail of green flame shot from a window of the tree, and above, the two jousting mares hurled toward each other as though that was an arranged signal.

Twilight missed a wingbeat, and landed roughly, losing her feet. A second later, Rainbow Dash crashed to the ground in front of her, lance plowing a furrow in the dirt. “That was a lucky shot!” she said, shaking her head woozily, and the pegasus was back in the air before anypony could stop her.

Pinkie Pie helped Twilight stand. “I could get a party cannon,” she offered.

“You are not firing Twilight out of a cannon, Pinkie,” Applejack said firmly.

Twilight's gaze was still locked on the air. “No no no,” she said again. “This is all wrong.”

Rainbow Dash started to climb. In answer, Luna let herself fall some, positioning underneath her opponent.

Rarity's eyes widened. “Oh no,” she breathed. “That's not... no, it is.” She covered her eyes with one hoof.

Rainbow Dash plummeted, lightning crackling around her falling form for an instant before rings of prismatic light exploded around her, a loud boom roaring over quiet Ponyville.

“That's a Sonic Rainboom, yep,” Applejack said, covering her own eyes to shield them from the rainbow trail, painfully bright in the dim evening light. The tip of Rainbow's lance shone like a multicolored sun, streams of brilliant color trailing off of it.

Luna launched upward to meet the falling Rainbow. At the last moment, the alicorn shifted slightly in the air to avoid her foe, her lance darting out to lightly touch the prismatic blur as Rainbow fell past her.

Rainbow spun out of control, her wings spreading to shed speed, but she still hit the ground with enough force to kick up a massive cloud of dust.

“Rainbow!” Fluttershy shouted – for her, anyway – taking to the air and flying over to the other pegasus.

Luna settled to the ground beside them. “Well fought, Rainbow Dash, but I am victorious.”

Rainbow staggered to her feet, almost shoving Fluttershy aside. “Best three out of five!” she demanded.

Luna laughed. “I am enjoying myself, but I've no desire to hurt you, Rainbow Dash.”

Twilight raced over. “Rainbow Dash! I told you not to –”

Pink light flared in between her and Luna, unfolding into a bright heart that lit up the night, casting strange shadows and revealing ponies gathering on the edges of the town square.

Twilight stopped short of the pink energy.

The heart unfolded, and three ponies stood inside it. The light flared, then died. “Auntie Celestia makes it look so easy,” Cadance said woozily, and then the pink princess collapsed. Fluttershy was at her side in a moment, but Twilight paid more attention to the two ponies she had brought.

“Hi, Twilight,” her father said nervously. “We came as soon as we could when we got Spike's letter.”

“What are you doing here?” Twilight demanded. “Get out of here before Luna sees you!” Fortunately, Luna seemed to be paying more attention to Twilight's mother, though no recognition showed in her face. The pale mare stood only paces away from the Night Princess. Twilight's eyes widened when she saw the golden barding Twilight Velvet wore. “Oh no,” she moaned. “No, no, no!”

“I tried to stop her?” her father offered. Twilight just moaned again.

“One of my sister's guard?” Luna asked.

“Retired,” the much smaller mare stated.

“What business have you with me, then?” Luna's eyes narrowed.

“While we appreciate the spirit in which it was offered,” Twilight Velvet began, “Rainbow Dash did not have our permission to champion our cause. If you would have a trial by combat, Your Highness, you must face me.”

“And why do you defend this... writer?” Luna demanded.

“He is my husband,” was the firmly stated answer.

“A fair answer.” Luna's wings spread, though she didn't leave the ground. Her horn shone darkly, and she detached her lance, plunging it into the ground. “A duel of magic, then?” Twilight Velvet's horn glowed an answering pale light, and three crystal blades appeared in the air around her air, pointed at the Princess. Luna laughed. “A mare after my own heart!”

Bursts of white light sent the crystals hurling through the air at Luna. Black discs caught each blade, halting them in midair. Dark lightning arced down the weapons and back at Twilight's mother. The unicorn danced aside, letting the bolts hit the ground, blowing small craters in the dirt by her hooves. The blades clattered to the ground.

Twilight Velvet shook her head, and light trailed her horn, forming an arc that she flung at the princess. Luna lowered her own head, and a beam of silver erupted out of her horn, consuming the oncoming attack and lancing toward the unicorn. There was a popping noise, and Twilight's mother vanished before the onslaught, reappearing in the air over her foe. She fell, one hoof raised to strike.

Luna rolled aside, and Twilight Velvet hit the ground hard, forced to gallop several steps to avoid losing her feet. Blue magic grasped one of the unicorn's fallen crystal blades, almost under her hooves, and launched it upward.

Twilight Velvet threw herself backward, barely avoiding the weapon, then she spun about, her magic grabbing the other two blades. They darted at Luna, who summoned another shield. The weapons vanished a heartbeat before hitting it, then reappeared on the other side. One blade missed; the other passed through the princess's starry mane, cutting loose a few glowing blue strands.

Luna laughed loudly. “I have not had such fun in ages, brave soldier!” she exclaimed. “I shall count that as first blood, but you shall not triumph with such tactics a second time. Come!” Her horn began to glow ever more brightly.

Twilight Velvet was trembling from exertion, Twilight Sparkle realized, and that was enough to shake her from her stupor. She was pawing at the ground, Twilight realized, and she forced herself to stillness for just a moment as Luna charged.

Twilight's own horn flared, and she appeared, hovering in mid-air with her wings spread, in between the two combatants. Luna skidded to a halt. Almost unthinkingly Twilight's magic searched her home, finding six familiar wells of power. The crown settled onto Twilight's brow, while she wrapped five necklaces around five necks, then brought her friends to stand behind her. “Stop,” she ordered, in a credible imitation of the Royal Canterlot Voice.

“Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said nervously. “Why do you interrupt this –”

You will not hurt either of my parents,” Twilight demanded.

Luna blinked once. “Your... what?” She stared past Twilight, probably at her mother, and her eyes widened. “Oh no,” she breathed. The light on her horn vanished, and she started to back away.

Yes,” Twilight said.

“I withdraw my petition,” Luna said quickly.

No,” Twilight said firmly. “You asked for my judgment.”

“Stop!” Her father's voice rang out clearly, making Twilight look away from Luna for the first time since taking action.

The stallion galloped up, then knelt before Luna. Shocked, Twilight felt herself settle to the ground. “Princess,” he said. “I am Night Light, the author of Nightmare Moon. Please accept my humble apologies. I –”

No,” Twilight said. “Don't apologize to her.

Her father looked up, then shied away, fear in his eyes.

Dad, wh–” Twilight finally realized she was basically shouting and managed to control her voice. “What's wrong?”

“You're still kind of... glowy, sugar,” Applejack said from behind her.

Twilight turned her head to look back at her friends. The Elements on their necks shined with flickering light. Behind them, watching townsponies scattered for some reason. Even her mother looked nervous.

“You really should wear the full regalia if you're going to do this,” Rarity sniffed, though it seemed forced.

“Do what?” Twilight asked.

“Look!” Pinkie Pie said, pulling a mirror out of her mane and clenching the handle in her teeth.

Glowing, featureless white eyes stared back at Twilight. Her mane seemed to have a life of its own, moving to an unseen wind, the pink stripe like a blazing brand in an inky dark void. The gem set in her crown burned with power, pure magic boiling off of it in streams that hung unnaturally still in the air.

The instant she saw this, Twilight lost hold of the power she hadn't realized was welling up inside of her. It faded, and soon all she saw in the mirror was the plain old ordinary Twilight Sparkle. Well, the alicorn-princess-with-wings kind of ordinary Twilight Sparkle, anyway.

The light flickering on her friends necklaces faded away. Everypony seemed to sigh in relief, and Twilight staggered.

“Easy, there,” Cadance said, coming out of nowhere to catch her. “It's rough the first time.”

“What was that?” Twilight hadn't even noticed her getting up.

“Later,” Cadance said, gesturing with her head back at Luna.

Night Light still knelt before her. “I had no intention to offend you, Princess.”

“No intention to offend me?” Luna's voice rose. “How could you think it would not?” Her wings spread.

Twilight forced herself to rise, shrugging off Cadance's attempt to help her. “Princess Luna,” she started.

Luna's wings snapped back to her side. “I have said that I withdraw my petition,” she said to Twilight. “The matter is ended.”

“No, it isn't,” Twilight's father insisted. “I want... I need to know what I did wrong, Your Highness.”

“You didn't do anything wrong!” Twilight shouted – normally. Her own wings opened in irritation.

“Have you read your sire's book?” Luna asked, disbelief in her voice. “He dares to suggest that the fault for my deeds lies with my sister, and he compounds the insult by slandering our Night Guard!”

“The Night Guard?” Twilight's father echoed weakly.

Luna's lips pressed together. “Understand, Night Light, even if perhaps the history thou know does not include it. We commanded fully half the armies of Equestria. Each mare and stallion swore to obey our commands, even unto death.

“To a pony they abandoned that oath, refused to serve us in our madness, and stood by our sister. To a pony, they are heroes, and thy 'North Star' is an insult to their memory.”

“Oh,” Night Light said, his voice weak. “I didn't realize... I never meant to...”

“Wait just a minute,” Applejack said. “This whole mess is because that book is too nice to Nightmare Moon?”

“Yes!” Luna shouted.

Rarity had a hoof at her face. “I see why, but...”

“I understand,” Twilight's father said calmly, bowing his head almost to the ground. “Only a limited edition has been published. I will stop the wide release and recall as many copies as I can.”

Luna glanced nervously at Twilight. “That will not be necessary,” she said. “I do not demand this. Your understanding of ou... my distress is enough.”

“No,” Night Light said, staying knelt. “This is for myself. I never meant to hurt you, Your Highness, or to reflect poorly on the Night Guard of the time. My aim was to help you and honor them. I failed in that. I cannot allow the book to be published.”

There was silence for a moment. “Then we are more than satisfied,” Luna said. “Please rise, Night Light.” The stallion stood on shaky legs.

“This calls for a party!” Pinkie proclaimed predictably.

Luna looked about, settling on somepony over Twilight's shoulder. “I should also apologize for any injury I dealt you, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Velvet. I...”

“No!” Twilight shouted, her wings spreading again. Everypony turned to look at her.

“Twilight Sparkle, I –” Luna began.

“No,” Twilight said, walking up to her. “This is not over, Princess. You were going to have my father executed, over a story you didn't like.”

“I would not have had I known the author was –”

“That makes it worse!” Twilight said.

Her father cleared his throat. “Twilight,” he said, “you don't need to –”

“Yes, I do.” Twilight's voice was hard.

Luna lowered her head. “I... do not believe I would have truly insisted on death,” she said. “Even had we uncovered the author and he was not your father.”

Twilight took a deep breath, forcing calm into her voice. “You acknowledged me as the Princess of Books,” she said, “and submitted this matter to my judgment. I do not accept your request to withdraw your petition. Will you hear my ruling, Princess Luna?”

“...yes,” the larger alicorn said.

It actually took Twilight a moment to decide. “I have three books back in the library on the inalienable rights of all ponies recognized by the Equestrian Throne.” She'd intended to loan them to Luna after the calm, rational discussion she'd wanted to settle this with. “I want... I order you to read them all, with a particular focus on freedom of speech. You're assigned a five page paper, summarizing how these traditions developed over the past millennium, due at my court two weeks from today.”

Somepony, probably Cadance, laughed. Twilight ignored her.

“Very well,” Luna said.

“I am not done,” Twilight said. “Second, if I know my father, he is already planning another book, one that will try to correct what he thinks went wrong with this one.”

Night Light smiled weakly. “Yes.”

“Princess Luna, I also order you to assist him in this. As your duties permit, you must answer whatever questions he may have about what happened a thousand years ago, but you are not to attempt to exercise any veto on what he writes.” That would help prevent this from happening again.

Luna nodded. “Yes,” she said.

Twilight frowned. “And one more thing,” she said. Luna looked at her expectantly. “Father, you're allowed to cancel the wide release of Nightmare Moon, but you can't recall any of the copies that are out there. Not even any advanced readers' copies.”

He winced. “Twilight,” he protested, his voice pained.

“I know,” Twilight said. “I'm sorry, but Princess Luna needs to learn... really learn... why censorship is a bad idea.” Night Light winced.

“I don't understand,” Luna said.

Twilight smiled thinly. “You will soon enough.”

A few hours afterward, Rainbow Dash settled into her cloud bed, more than little sore. She paid no attention to the pain, though. It had been worth it, after all.

Besides the sheer awesomeness of jousting with a Sonic Rainboom, against a Princess even... she'd managed to get her hooves on the real prize. She had a new book by Daring Do's author. Not only a new book, but a new book that was limited to only five hundred copies, ever. And hers was Number One.

Twilight had dragged her aside and forced a Pinkie Promise not to reveal that her father was the author, but she hadn't said anything about the book when she'd given it to Rainbow. She giggled to herself as she opened the cover. Just wait until the Daring Do Fanclub heard about this...


View Online

Twilight Sparkle kept an eye out her open window on the heavens as she paced about her bedroom. She was already in her full regalia – just imagining Rarity's puppy dog eyes was enough not to risk going without – and she already had a headache. “Okay, run this by me again,” she asked Spike.

The baby dragon nodded, going back to the top of the letter. “Your most learned highness,” he began.

“Skip that stuff,” Twilight said, having already heard it twice. “What does this pony want me to do?”

Spike skimmed the letter again. “Blah, blah, blah,” he muttered, then picked up the thread near the bottom. “Having shown that the thief’s so-called theory of differentials is naught but a web of lies and deceit around a shameless pilfering of my own method of fluxions, I have no doubt that the heart of the Princess of Books beats with a desire for justice. I will be visiting my cousin in Ponyville on the night of your Dusk Court two weeks hence, and should you summon the blackguard from Canterlot, we may confront him with the proof of his crimes together. Your loyal subject, Falling Apple.”

Twilight spent a few moments enjoying the image of a mathematician wearing a stetson hat delivering a lecture in Applejack's accent, then sighed. “Okay, Spike. One question. Does he say anything about how a decades-old mathematical theory can plagiarize a treatise he published last year?”

Spike scanned the text again. “I don't see anything, Twilight,” he answered.

“Right,” Twilight mumbled. “Okay, just put it on my to-do pile and remind me to ask Applejack about this cousin of hers.” She turned in her pacing. “And who told him I was the Princess of Books?” she grumbled. “If that little joke means I'm going to start being asked to arbitrate every petty academic dispute in Equestria...” She trailed off as she glanced to the window, catching the moon rising into place.

“Do you think she's going to come?” Spike asked. It had been two weeks since she'd made her judgment on the matter of Nightmare Moon, and a certain paper was due tonight.

The spotless moon's light brightened, pouring in through the window. “I think so,” Twilight said, shielding her eyes. A moment later, she lowered her leg, and Princess Luna stood in the center of her bedroom. She bowed her head briefly.

“Good evening,” Twilight said after a moment, when it became clear the larger alicorn was waiting for her to say something.

“I hope you do not mind my early arrival,” Luna said, and without waiting for an answer, her magic pulsed. A bundle of papers floated over to Twilight's desk in a dark blue aura. “I believe you should find that satisfactory,” she said.

Twilight nodded. “I'm sure.”

“Perhaps you might be able to explain why your sister Cadenza seemed incredibly concerned that a pack of diamond dogs might steal and consume my work,” Luna said.

Twilight fought not to snicker, and managed to only let out a slight chuckle. “It's... a modern education joke,” she said. “Don't worry about it.”

“I see,” Luna said, in a voice that made it clear she did not.

Twilight glanced at the paper, but made no move to start rifling through it. She would eventually – as much out of curiosity than anything else – but it existed for Luna's benefit, not her own. “Did you learn anything?” she asked cautiously, almost wincing at how patronizing the question sounded in her own ears.

Luna grimaced, but the frown didn't seem directed at Twilight. “I did,” she said, “and probably more than I would have without the... practical lesson of your final decree.”

“Huh?” Spike asked.

Luna glanced at the dragon, but kept addressing Twilight. “In the past two weeks, I have had no fewer than ten petitioners come to request that I sign your sire's novel. Five wished to gift me copies, and two of those suggested I should confront my sister about why she was suppressing the story. Three ponies came merely to ask what 'really' happened between North Star and myself that night in the cave, as though the book were a history. Even the captain of my own guard asked if I wished some memorial to be held for her.

“There are only five hundred copies of the cursed thing,” Luna finished. “And yet it already spread so far, so fast.”

“Part of that is my fault,” Twilight admitted. “I ensured that word of Nightmare Moon got out among my father's fans quickly.” She sensed another hoof at work for so much to happen so soon, though, and added it to her mental list of things to ask Celestia about the next time they spoke privately.

“I suspected as much,” Luna said, “but it only accelerated matters, did it not?” There was actually probably a good chance that, without intervention, a very limited edition of a just published work by an anonymous author who actively wished it forgotten might have indeed have vanished without a trace, but Twilight still nodded. It was true in principle.

“It was different a thousand years ago,” Luna said. “For the most part, only the nobility could read, and among them only a few scholars read much. A story like Nightmare Moon would have been a play.”

“There was no mass publication,” Twilight began, “and it is hard for a theater to put on a performance covertly. It would have been easy to stop some play from spreading.”

“Yes, though such was hardly needed,” Luna said. “Most every playwright, even those peddling cheap entertainment for the masses, had my sister as her patron.”

Twilight nodded, the conclusion obvious. Spike looked a little confused, so she said aloud, “A word – or even a hint – of disapproval would have been enough to make a writer abandon a play.”

Somepony knocked on the front door below. “Spike, that's probably Rarity here to finish setting up the decorations.” Twilight didn't really see the point, but everypony seemed to expect the library to be transformed into a throne room whenever she held court. “Why don't you go let her in and see if she needs any help?”

Spike was gone almost before the words left her mouth. Luna looked puzzled. “Is there some reason he was so eager to be gone from my presence?” she asked, glancing at Twilight's bedroom mirror as though to reassure herself she hadn't grown fangs.

“It's not that,” Twilight reassured her. She smiled slightly. “It was who he's going to, not who he's leaving.”

Luna still looked a little confused. “I feel as though I am missing something.”

Twilight just smiled. “I'm afraid I can't say more,” she said. “It was a promise.” The last thing she needed was for Pinkie Pie to inexplicably burst in on this conversation. “We were talking about how it was easier to suppress stories you didn't like a thousand years ago,” Twilight prompted.

“It wasn't something we... I thought of in such terms at the time,” Luna said, “but yes.” She shook her said. “I considered, no doubt as you intended, when each of those petitioners came to my court bearing that book, what it would have truly taken to eliminate that story now. I could have ordered those copies confiscated, but there were more out there. I could have ordered my guard to seek out all five hundred, but that would have only spread the word of the book's existence.”

Twilight nodded. “Even now,” she said, “there's probably at least a hundred illicit copies out there.” The magic to copy writing from one book into a fresh volume was easy enough, though time-consuming. “If the guard was to actively try to round up every copy of the book, there would be ten times that number or more in a matter of weeks.”

Luna winced. “So many?” she asked.

“Right now, the rarity gives the story value,” Twilight said. “Ponies are enjoying being one of the few who've read it. It's spreading, but slowly.” She shook her head. “If it was being actively suppressed, some of those ponies would want to get thousands of copies out there just as a matter of principle. More and more ponies would hear about it and want a copy, and for every pony that got one another dozen would learn the story by word of mouth.”

“Worse than futile, then,” Luna said, “as I expected.” She sighed. “You may consider the lesson learned, Twilight Sparkle.”

“Is that all you learned?” Twilight asked cautiously.

Luna grimaced. “I learned that I am not so adjusted to this era as I thought, if that is what you mean.” She sighed. “And also, even if this were a thousand years ago and none of these rights the books you gave me spoke of existed, I should still be capable of discerning the difference between intentional insult and well-meant mistake. I allowed my anger to blind me.” She bowed her head again. “Is that what you wish to hear, Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight considered her words carefully. “I am glad to hear you recognize that,” she said, “but those are not the only things I wanted you to learn.”

Luna's wings shifted slightly. “What further failure of mine have I failed to see?” she asked.

“No,” Twilight said quickly. “Not that.” Luna raised her head, looking at Twilight. “None of those ponies who came to your court about Nightmare Moon came intending to hurt you,” she said.

“I know this,” Luna said. “I have no anger toward them.”

Twilight shook her head, searching for words again. The idea had seemed so simple in her head, but it took effort to find a good way to say it. “They were all ready, eager, to believe in my father's version of Nightmare Moon.”

“We noticed,” Luna said. “Foals. The Nightmare Moon of that book is a lie, as you of all ponies should be most aware.” She snorted, stamping one hoof. “That... fantasy rebelled out of more than jealousy and pride, believed that she could make Equestria thrive beneath her Eternal Night.”

“Could you have?” Twilight asked unthinkingly, and moments later she wished she could take the distracting question back.

Luna blinked once. “Perhaps some small shadow could have survived,” she said slowly, “if I had exerted a great deal of magic to protect it.” Luna shook her head. “There was nothing but hatred in Nightmare Moon's heart. All Equestria would have died, starving and freezing, and their Princess would have only laughed and considered her vengeance complete.” Twilight swallowed once. “Twilight Sparkle, Nightmare Moon... I was a monster, and neither you nor anypony else should forget that.”

“We want to,” Twilight said. Luna stared at her, and Twilight swallowed again. “You learned before how the Nightmare Moon of legend that we all grew up fearing is a terror that we enjoy.” Twilight smiled softly. “I'm afraid to ask Princess Celestia how much of that was a deliberate plan,” she said, then she shook her head. “Either way, that's beside the point.

“Princess, Luna,” she said. “Believing, really understanding, that you could have been a true monster is hard.” Twilight smiled. “It's easier to forget, to believe in fantasies like my father's story.”

Luna shook. “A kind lie does not change the hard truth.”

“It doesn't,” Twilight agreed. “I'm not arguing that it would be better for the truth to be forgotten. It is more than a little foalish. I understand, a little, how it can hurt you, but... I want you to try to look at it from a different perspective, Luna. If those ponies hated you, if they had not forgiven you for Nightmare Moon, if they saw her rage and jealousy in you, they would have hated my father's story. They would never have believed it.”

“Twilight Sparkle...” Luna said.

“When ponies race to believe a story like Nightmare Moon, it's because they... because we love you.”

“I...” Luna was quiet for a long moment, then she crossed the short distance between them and hugged Twilight. “Thank you,” she said.

Somepony knocked on Twilight's bedroom door. “Twilight, sugar?” came Applejack's voice.

Luna released Twilight, and the younger alicorn caught her breath. “Come in; it isn't locked.”

The door opened. “It's gettin' close to time,” the farmer said. Then she noticed Princess Luna and bowed quickly. “Princess.” Spike, who was riding on the her back, jumped off and bowed also.

Luna smiled, tossing her head at Twilight. “I believe somepony else has primacy here,” she said.

Applejack glanced at Twilight and flushed. “Ah...”

Twilight snickered. “Oh, get up.”

Applejack smiled and stood. “There's a ton of ponies waitin' outside,” she said. “Are you ready?”

“Why so many tonight?” Twilight asked. Surely by now the novelty of having a resident Princess was starting to wear out. “Did Pinkie –”

“Ah, this one may be my fault,” Applejack said, flushing again. Spike laughed. “I may have mentioned in passin' at the market that I was making a whole bunch of fresh apple fritters out of the best fruit of the harvest for tonight.”

Twilight sighed, then laughed. “I suppose I can't blame them,” she said. “I guess it is past time to start.”

Spike was over by a bookshelf. “Where'd you put the catalog?” he asked. “I need to pick a romantic mustache quickly!”

Twilight laughed again, then she glanced at Luna. “You're welcome to stay.”

The older princess smiled. “I had best be going,” she said. “My own court is to begin shortly, and I believe your sire has a list of questions waiting for me after that.”

Twilight nodded. “Some other time, then.”

“Before I depart,” Luna said. “One last matter, Twilight Sparkle.” She bowed her head. “We truly thank you for everything you have done for us.” Her magic pulsed again, revealing a sealed scroll. “You may consider this both an expression of our gratitude and a belated gift of congratulations on your ascension.” Twilight took the scroll. “I'm not sure why my sister hasn't taken care of this already, but I'm glad to have the chance.” Before Twilight could ask what Luna meant. the moonlight streaming in through her bedroom window brightened momentarily, and then Luna was gone.

Spike ran up, holding open the Omnibus Catalog Of The Mustache. “Here! Twilight, quickly!” Applejack shook her head, holding in laughter.

“Just a moment, Spike,” Twilight said, unrolling the scroll and scanning it quickly. “...oh, ponyfeathers,” she swore.

“What is it, Twilight?” Applejack asked worriedly.

Twilight shook her head. “Read it yourself,” she said, floating the scroll over to her friend.

Spike tapped his foot impatiently. “What are we waiting for?” he demanded. Glad of the distraction, Twilight glanced at the – indistinguishable, so far as she could tell – mustache and cast the familiar spell while Applejack read aloud.

“By our authority as Princess of Equestria,” she recited, “in recognition for innumerable services rendered to the Night Throne and to all ponykind, the village of Ponyville and all land held by the Crown within two days' trot of it are...” Applejack trailed off for a moment.

That was enough to distract Spike from his new mustache. “What?” he asked.

“...are granted to the Princess Twilight Sparkle in perpetuity as her personal demesne, along with suzerainty over all vassals of the Crown within those borders,” Applejack finished. “What the hay?”

Twilight sighed, bringing a hoof to her face. “I'll take care of it. Spike, put it on my to-do pile with a note to find a couple good histories about the end of the feudal system.”