Applejack and Twilight investigate an old artifact. And then they try again. And try, try, try, try, try again.
Princess Celestia has asked Twilight and Applejack to investigate an ancient artifact in the Foal Mountains. However, trouble arises, and their efforts prove to be in vain. But as an old saying goes: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try, try again.
If only this wasn't messing with their wedding plans.
Nice and warm. Cuddly. And soft. And, if she was honest, maybe a little rank too. That was to be expected after the previous night’s activities.
Applejack didn’t feel like moving an inch. But her internal clock had woken her up, and she never had been able to go back to sleep easily, unlike a certain blue-feathered friend of hers.
Cracking an eye open, her vision was filled with feathers of another color – these were purple, which was much better. She nuzzled them, inhaling the scent of the pony they belonged to, and hugged tightly.
Perhaps a bit too tightly, as it resulted in an annoyed grumble. “Ugh…"
“Sorry, Hon. Did I wake ya?”
“I’ll forgive your assassination attempt, if you just let me breathe…"
“Good mornin’ to you too, Twi’,” Applejack chuckled, briefly hugging Twilight tighter before relaxing her hold.
“Oh sweet Celestia, air!” Twilight gasped, taking a deep breath. She exhaled with a long sigh, flipping onto her other side to face Applejack. “Couldn’t you have waited until after we got married to try to kill me?” she asked, and leaned in to kiss her fiancée.
“Nah. I figured, ya proposed last night, so yer guard would be down. No better time!”
Twilight nodded. “Good strategy, but you wouldn’t get anything I own until we sign the papers.”
Applejack lifted a hoof to her forehead. “Dangit! Knew I shoulda waited.” She rolled her eyes at the mare in her hooves. “Granny always said I was a li’l impatient.”
“Let that be a lesson for next time, then,” Twilight said, standing up to stretch. Applejack admired the view, grinning back at Twilight as the princess noticed Applejack’s gaze. “Hungry?”
“I could eat…"
“Your turn, then, ” Twilight giggled, flicking her tail. She bent back and sniffed at her side, wrinkling her nose. “I need a shower first.”
Applejack grunted her assent, her eyes glued to Twilight’s rear until the mare disappeared into the bathroom. She rolled out of bed and trotted out of the room, her hooves clacking loudly on the castle’s crystalline floor. Once she reached the room they’d appropriated as a kitchen, she grabbed a few pieces of bread and slapped together a few sandwiches. She’d just set the plates on the table when Twilight walked in.
“ ‘Whatcha’?” Applejack repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Darlin’, you been spendin’ too much time around Pinkie again?” She pushed a plate closer to Twilight, sitting down in front of her own.
“Oh, hush.” Twilight levitated the sandwich to her mouth and took a big bite, sighing in bliss as she chewed. “Dandelion and… cucumber? Applejack, you’re too good to me.”
Applejack grinned around her mouthful. “I try,” she said, then swallowed loudly. “So what’s planned fer today?”
“Well, I was thinking we should tell the girls. Maybe Rarity first–”
“I like my ears in one piece, thank ya kindly,” Applejack interrupted, prompting a confused expression from her fiancée. “Can ya imagine the sound she’ll make when we tell her?” Applejack chewed her lip in thought. “Pinkie, too.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide and she slowly blinked, reminding Applejack of Owlowiscious. “On second thought, maybe not Rarity first. How about–”
“Twilight? You home?”
“We’re in the kitchen, Spike!” Twilight yelled, sharing a confused glance with Applejack. The farmer shrugged, just as lost. They’d sent Spike to the farm for the night, to give themselves a little privacy for the previous day’s date, and hadn’t expected him back for some hours yet.
Not just a date… Applejack thought, glancing at one of Twilight’s ears. After the dinner and the movie, they’d had a little picnic in the meadows near White Tail Woods. The alicorn had surprised her twice. The first surprise had been the cake Twilight had baked for her – it had been edible, and had even tasted good, which had been a shock in and of itself; Twilight had later admitted having gotten lessons from Pinkie – but the second surprise had, well, taken the cake.
She’d found a little bag on top of the cake, opening it at Twilight’s prompting. In it, she’d found two earrings. The gemstones were arranged in two distinct shapes she’d recognized immediately.
Twilight’s cutie mark, and her own.
Seconds later, she’d kissed her marefriend-cum-fiancée fiercely.
As Applejack munched on her sandwich, she marvelled at how much change a year could bring. She recalled how a still-unicorn Twilight had approached her, telling Applejack how much she depended on the farmer’s smarts and level headedness. I hope ya don’t just like me for my brain, Sugarcube, Applejack had teased. She’d expected a giggle, but Twilight had instead blurted out that she found Applejack stunningly gorgeous. A few blush-filled minutes later, Applejack had found herself set up with a date later that evening.
Now, that unicorn librarian was an alicorn princess, but she had never left Applejack’s side. She was still the same friend the farmer had first met so long ago, now closer to her heart than ever before.
“There you are,” Spike said as he stepped into the kitchen, snapping Applejack out of her daydream.
“Howdy Spike. Whatcha got there?” she asked, waving a hoof at the scroll in Spike’s claws. She blinked innocently as Twilight narrowed her eyes at her.
Spike let go of the letter as Twilight took hold of it with her magic. “Letter from Princess Celestia. Something about Twilight investigating some magical toy.”
“It’s a magical artifact, Spike, not a toy,” Twilight said as she scanned the letter. “Oooh. She wants me to investigate this new artifact the archeological society just discovered! Apparently it was made by Starswirl the Bearded!”
“An’ since yer the leading expert on ol’ Beardy, yer the best one for the job?” Applejack asked.
“Well, maybe not expert.” Twilight blushed, peeking over the letter. “But something like that. Oh!” Twilight gasped, grinning. “We can tell her first!”
“Tell who? What?” Spike blinked. “Oh, you asked her? Did she say yes?”
“See for yourself.” Twilight grinned, tilting her head to show off an earring adorned ear.
“Awesome!” The dragon ran over to Applejack and hugged her tightly. “So does this make you my sister-in-law?”
“Guess so!” Applejack laughed, ruffling Spike's crest. “So you knew 'bout her plan?”
“Who do you think ran interference while I was getting baking lessons?”
“That’s not a word, Spike,” Twilight giggled. “I meant we could tell Princess Celestia first.”
“We?” Applejack repeated.
“I can’t show off my fiancée without my fiancée, can I?”
“Y’got a point.” Applejack grinned. “But what about the artifact thingy? S’not like I’ll be much help with that.”
“Oh please,” Twilight scoffed. “You’re a great assistant! You’ve hung around me for so long you could practically get a doctorate in magic yourself.” She smirked at Applejack, her eyes lidded. “And you’re much nicer to look at than anypony else I could get.”
“Glad to know some parts of me are appreciated.”
“What about me?” Spike joked. “Aren’t I your number one assistant?”
“You are!” Twilight nodded, floating Spike out of Applejack’s grasp to hug him. “But I need you to go find the girls and tell them to meet us tomorrow. We should be back by then, so we can tell them all at the same time. Oh, and can you send this?” she asked, levitating a scroll she’d just scribbled on.
“Sure thing!” With a puff of flame, the scroll was sent off to Canterlot. He saluted the pair, grinning as Twilight floated a few bits in his direction. “Cupcakes?”
“Awesome!” Spike said, turning tail to rush out of the room.
“Spike, wait a tick!” Applejack called out, hoof in the air. The dragon skidded to a halt, looking back at her. “Can ya tell Big Mac I’ll be gone for th’day?”
“You can count on me!”
“I know I can. Now go get those cupcakes!” Applejack grinned, shaking her head in amusement as Spike disappeared around the corner. “So when are we leavin’?”
“I think the next train is in half an hour. Enough time for me to pack!” Twilight quickly trotted to the stairs.
“Pack? I thought ya said we’d be back tonight.”
Twilight paused with a hoof over the steps, staring at Applejack in shock. “And leave without any instruments?”
Applejack bit her lip as she walked along Canterlot’s streets, desperately trying to keep her giggles in. Twilight, however, was making that so very hard to do. “Y’sure ya need all that stuff?”
“For the third time, yes,” Twilight grumbled, swaying under the weight of her bulging saddlebags.
“I mean, y’don’t even know what exactly you’re gonna be lookin’ at…"
“A magical artifact, so I need this thaumometer!”
“And the telescope?”
“Starswirl the Bearded was the leading figure of his time in astronomy! I might need it!”
“And the anemo… wind thingy?”
“Anemometer?” Twilight blinked. “I don’t need that.”
“Y’still packed one,” Applejack said, pointing at the instrument sticking out of Twilight’s bag. “Admit it, you just threw everythin’ you could get yer hooves on in there.”
Twilight blushed. “I… fine. I just want to be prepared!”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, Darlin’.” Applejack leaned into Twilight to stop her from tipping over. “Just need a lil’ moderation. Fer that matter, can’t ya carry all this in your magic?”
Twilight shook her head. “The calibrations could be affected by long exposure to magical auras. I have to carry them by hoof.”
“If ya say so…" Applejack chuckled, and nuzzled Twilight’s cheek. “Just lemme carry some next time.”
“Will do.” Twilight beamed. She glanced ahead and nodded to the Castle Guards.
The guards saluted, one of them stepping forward to speak. “Princess Celestia is currently in a meeting. She asks that you await her in the Hall of Heroes.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“I’ll meet ya there, Hon. Gotta go to the little filly’s room.” Applejack trotted off down another hallway. After all the times she’d visited, she knew the way to the Hall practically like the back of her hoof – it was just so dang big, it still took forever to get anywhere. Nonetheless, she soon found what she was looking for, took care of her business, and washed her hooves. Once done, she stepped back towards the corridor, only to reel back as the door swung open, smacking her in the muzzle.
“What the – Oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there!”
Applejack shook herself, her eyes crossing as she stared down at her muzzle. She gave it a soft rub. “I’m alright… Muzzle ain’t bleedin’, is it?”
The guardsmare stepped closer, peering at Applejack. “Lemme see… No, you look okay. Again, I’m so sorry!”
“No harm done, Sugarcube. I’ll just be out of yer mane now.” With a grin and a nod, she stepped out of the bathroom, ignoring the ache in her jaw. Shortly thereafter, she stepped into the throne room, pausing as she found Twilight.
Her fiancée stood with her back to the door, staring up at the vacant throne. Quietly, Applejack walked up to Twilight, and sat down next to her. She stared at the throne as well, and leaned towards Twilight. “Y’know, no one would say anything if ya sat on it.”
“I know, but…"
“Yer a princess, Hon. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with ya sittin’ on the throne.”
“But it’s Princess Celestia’s throne! And Luna’s. It’s not right for me to sit there.”
“There’s a castle in Ponyville with yer cutie mark on it. Y’got a throne there, means y’got just as much right to sit on this one as that one.”
Twilight frowned, looking at Applejack. “You’ve got a throne there too, remember? Are you saying you can sit here too?”
Applejack chortled. “Nah, that’s what yer crown is for. But if ya insist, then you can call me the princess of Sweet Apple Acres,” she said, then jumped as somepony spoke up behind them.
“Then I welcome you to Canterlot, O Princess of the Acres.”
Celestia strode into the room, with Luna at her side. A middle aged unicorn stallion followed them a few steps behind, dipping his head towards Twilight.
“Princess Celestia!” Twilight cried out happily, trotting forward to hug her mentor. She broke the hug after only a short moment, and moved to hug Luna as well.
“Howdy, Your Highnesses!” Applejack said, bowing to the elder princesses.
“Please rise, Princess Applejack,” Celestia said, nodding to the earth pony. “There is no need for formality among princesses.”
“I was jus’ kiddin’ about that…"
“Perhaps, but you will soon have the title, if not the rank. When is the wedding?”
“Wedding?” Applejack blinked. “Oh! The wedding! How’d ya know?”
“Your earrings,” Luna said, glancing between the two smaller ponies. “My sister is correct. Uniting with Princess Twilight Sparkle through marriage would make you a princess as well, just as Shining Armor gained the title of Prince.”
“Well I’ll be…" Applejack tilted up her hat, and nudged Twilight with an elbow as she returned to her side. “Whatcha think I’ll be princess of? Princess o’ apple brown betties? Princess o’ applebucking?” She smirked and leaned in to whisper into Twilight’s ear. “Or how ‘bout princess of lassoing excitable alicorns?”
“A-Applejack!” Twilight stammered, swatting Applejack’s shoulder with a hoof, her face turning beet red. As her fiancée chortled, she faced the princesses, unable to look Applejack in the eye at that moment. “U-um. We hadn’t decided yet.”
Applejack nodded. “Missy here only jus’ proposed last night.”
“ ‘Only’?” Twilight blinked, her embarrassment forgotten as she stared at Applejack with a raised eyebrow. “You were expecting this sooner?”
“Hon, if y’all hadn’t, I’d’ve done it myself ‘fore too long.”
“Well, it seems celebrations are in order, Twilight,” Celestia interrupted, smiling at the pair. “Are you sure you want to take up this task? You are my first choice, but other ponies can take care of this if you would rather spend time–”
“No!” Twilight blurted. “Er. No, that’s fine. As long as we have each other, we’re fine,” she said, nuzzling Applejack’s cheek. “Plus, we can look into wedding arrangements while we’re in Canterlot.”
Applejack blinked, raising an eyebrow at Twilight. She opened her mouth, but thought better of it as she glanced at the other princesses.
Celestia nodded. “As you wish. Allow me to intro–”
“Aunt Celestia!” a voice interrupted her. Blueblood stood in the doorway, his mane plastered to his head, dripping water all over the floor.
Celestia closed her eyes before speaking. “Yes, Blueblood?”
“It’s an emergency!”
“What is it this time, Blueblood?”
“We are out of royal shampoo!” he cried out, stamping a hoof and sending water spraying everywhere.
“Yes! I cannot take a shower without it.”
“Then why didn’t you inform one of the maids, Blueblood?” Luna asked.
“Because it’s too important to wait!” he answered, somehow missing the audible strain in Luna’s voice.
“We will inform them when we are done with this meeting, then,” she sighed, closing her eyes.
“When we are done.”
Blueblood paused, his expression growing slack as Luna’s tone registered. “I – uh, th-thank you, Aunt Luna,” he said, his wet hooves slipping on the floor as he scampered backwards, disappearing from view as Luna’s magic pushed the doors closed.
Luna shook her head, staring at Applejack with a pleading look. “Please be a better princess than him.”
Applejack shrugged. “I dunno, he’s got the prissy part down pretty well…"
Celestia snorted, then quickly cleared her throat. “As I was saying. Allow me to introduce Prime Site, my Royal Historian. He will give you more details about what you’ll be investigating.”
“Princess Twilight, it is an honor to finally meet you in person,” the grey stallion said, stepping forward and bowing.
Twilight dipped her head, smiling. “The honor is mine. I’ve read your paper on Starswirl the Bearded’s influence and impact in the early Post-Unification period. It was fascinating!”
“She means she was gushing like a filly about it fer days,” Applejack said. Twilight’s blush made her grin.
“Again, you do me honor,” Prime Site replied, smiling at the praise. “I based it off my graduate thesis while I attended Hooverton University.”
“Ooh, I’ve heard about the University’s library! I would love to visit it someday!” Twilight blinked, suddenly becoming aware of the amused look Princess Celestia was giving her, and cleared her throat. “But we can talk about that later. What exactly did you find?”
“Alas, I did not discover it myself,” Prime said, floating a picture towards Twilight. It showed a large cube covered by runes and symbols, sitting on a short platform. “We uncovered the item at a dig near the Foal Mountains.” He pointed a hoof to point at the base of the picture. “We found Starswirl’s cutie mark engraved on the platform – reason to believe that he either made or discovered this artifact. There are markings covering every side of the cube, which seem to be a form of runic circles and glyphs. We’ve attempted to match them to known examples, but with no success. Also, we believe it’s nigh indestructible.”
Twilight looked up from the picture. “Indestructible?”
“We ran some magical scans on it – it appears to be made from a compound of maginium, skystone, and marble.”
“Skystone and mar– is that even possible?” Twilight blinked, looking to the other princesses.
Celestia shook her head. “It seems Starswirl took some secrets to the grave. I have not heard of anything like this before.”
“That’s great!” Twilight beamed. When Luna raised a brow, she chuckled nervously. “I mean, this could be a very important discovery, if only for that material! Not to mention whatever else the artifact does…”
Celestia nodded. “And that is why you are the perfect pony for the job, Twilight. You know as much about Starswirl as anypony alive, excluding my sister and myself. And as a distinguished mage and scientist, I can think of no better pony to investigate this object.”
“That is, of course, if you accept,” Luna interjected.
“Of course I–” Twilight started, only to pause when her eyes met Applejack’s. “Um. If you don’t mind?”
Applejack grinned back. “Ya already asked me in Ponyville, Sugarcube. Ain’t this what we’re here for?”
“You’re the best.” Twilight nuzzled Applejack before turning to the other princesses. “When do we leave?”
“I have a meeting to attend to, but I was hoping you’d join my sister and myself for lunch?”
Applejack nodded. “I could eat.”
“Didn’t we just eat?” Twilight asked, staring at Applejack.
“Hon, that train ride took two hours, and we ate sandwiches. Now, I don’t know ‘bout you, but these applebuckin’ legs need a little more than that.”
“Then it is decided,” Luna declared. “We meet in a few hours to feed Applejack’s shapely legs!”
Twilight frowned. “Hey!”
Hoof on her hat, Applejack leaned into Twilight. She still occasionally felt queasy about flying, but having her lover close by helped ease her nerves. Plus, with her so close, they could talk without the pegasi pulling the chariot hearing them. “So… wedding preparations?”
“Huh?” Twilight said, looking up from the notes. “Oh, sure! We can do that when we get back.”
“Ain’t it a bit early to be thinkin’ ‘bout that? Ya just proposed last night!”
“I thought you said I took my time?” Twilight grinned. “You know me. It’s never too early to be prepared.”
Applejack chortled. “Ain’t that the truth. Y’know, we should do it when the granny smiths are ripe. That’ll save us a bundle on the caterin’.”
“Isn’t she already ripe?”
“Har har.” Applejack rolled her eyes. “Ya know as well as I do I meant the apple.”
Twilight’s grin just got bigger. “But isn’t she an–”
“The ones ya eat!”
Twilight snorted, covering her muzzle with both hooves to stop her giggles.
Applejack blinked, her muzzle crinkling as she realized what she’d said. “Thanks. Now I got that image in my mind. You’ve been hangin’ around Dash fer too long.”
“Guilty as charged.” Twilight smirked. “So, next fall? I was thinking more late spring, maybe early summer.”
“Eh? I meant this fall. Month or two from now.”
“A-a month? So soon? I mean – that’s nowhere near enough time! Do you know what planning a state wedding takes? Booking the castle alone would take months!”
“State weddin’?” Applejack blinked. “That why you wanna prepare in Canterlot? I kinda figured we’d get married in Ponyville.”
“Well, yeah. I’m kind of a princess.”
“Y’don’t say! I hadn’t noticed.”
Twilight giggled. “Hush. You remember my brother’s wedding?”
“Honey, I think everypony in Equestria remembers that one.”
“I don’t mean the changelings,” Twilight replied. “You saw how many guests attended.”
“S’not like Ponyville don’t have the space!”
“Not nearly as much, and I don’t think the diplomats would appreciate Ponyville in the same way as Canterlot.”
Applejack frowned. “Diplomats? Can’t it jus’ be friends and family?”
Twilight shook her head. “Given my position as a princess, and the fact we’re both national heroes, other nations are bound to send some representatives – and it would be a diplomatic incident to say no – so we need room for them, their security details, our friends, my family, and yours.” Twilight grinned, nudging Applejack’s side. “I don’t think Ponyville has the space for all of that.”
“I still don’t see why we need them diplomats,” Applejack grumbled. “And we got all we need in Ponyville, Sug’. Rarity can make the dresses, the Cakes can cater if my family don’t get there first, and Pinkie can host the reception. I jus’ don’t see why Canterlot is such a big deal.”
“Because we’re a big deal to Equestria, A.J..” Twilight leaned in to kiss Applejack’s cheek. “No matter what we do, it’s gonna get some attention.”
Applejack nuzzled back, but sighed as she pulled away. “I get that, but that ain’t important to us. The wedding’s about th’two of us. An’ Ponyville’s home. Doesn’t that mean anythin’?”
“Of course it–” Twilight gasped as the chariot angled downwards. “Oh, we’re nearly there!” She glanced at Applejack. “Let’s talk about this later, okay?”
Applejack frowned, but ultimately sighed. “Alright. We got more pressin’ stuff to do.”
The chariot jolted as they landed, rolling to a halt in a clearing bordering the woods. As they jumped off, the pegasus guards unhitched themselves, one of them calling out to them as the other trotted into the forest. “This way, Your Highness.”
Applejack shook her head in amusement as she watched Twilight. There was a bounce in her fiancée’s step, and just seeing her excitement made Applejack forget about her worries.
They emerged into the dig site after an hour of walking. Twilight gasped. “It’s so much bigger than in the picture!”
Applejack snorted, desperately trying to keep her expression neutral. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed both guards having similar troubles and thanked Celestia that Rainbow wasn’t here. Once she’d gotten control of herself, she glanced down at the artifact.
The hole took up most of the space between the trees, offering no room for a chariot to land. It wasn’t very deep, but it looked like it had been carefully dug – no rough edges or stray piles of dirt. It was several pony lengths wide, just as long, and perhaps two pony lengths deep, with a short ladder easing the way down. “How long’s this thing been here?” Applejack asked as she glanced around.
“The notes said about a thousand years, based on the sediment analysis. That puts it around the time Starswirl was alive.”
“That’s pretty deep fer a thousand years, ain’t it?”
Twilight walked around the hole, looking at the object from all angles. “There’s a river nearby, I think. This must’ve happened before it changed course.”
“Makes sense. How’d they even find this thing?”
One of the guards spoke up. “The local force told us some foals found it while playing. They dug it up a little and went home. It’s only when they told their parents that it came to our attention.”
Twilight frowned. “That could’ve been dangerous. Starswirl dealt with many powerful objects. Who knows what could’ve happened?”
“Ain’t that what we’re here for, Darlin’?” Applejack asked.
Twilight grinned. “You’re right. Let’s get closer.” She rushed to the ladder, eager to close the distance between her and the artifact.
“Careful, don’t go too fast!”
“I’m fine, see?”
“Yer also carryin’ some pretty heavy bags there. Watch yerself.”
“I’m already down, it’s all fi– whoa!” Twilight cried out, disappearing over the edge of the dig. The cry was shortly followed by a dull thud. “Ow!”
Instantly, Applejack rushed forward, leaping down without a concern for her own safety. “Twilight!”
“I’m okay!” Twilight groaned, hooves in the air as she lay on her back. “I just slipped on the last rung…"
“What’d I tell you?”
“Are you alright, Princess?” The guards stood at the edge of the pit, ready to jump down.
“Yes, I just banged my shoulder on–” Twilight paused, cocking her head to the side. “Do you hear a humming noise?”
“I do, an’ I got a better question for ya.”
“What’s that?” Twilight grunted as she tried to right herself.
“That thing supposed to be glowin’?”
“Huh?” Twilight glanced at the artifact, which was indeed glowing. The runes shone with a white light, which was steadily glowing brighter. “Uh-oh.”
“Princess, please move away from that!”
Before either Twilight or Applejack could move, however, the artifact pulsed with magic, its light almost blinding. A beam of magic shot from it, encasing them both in a bubble of magic, crackling with raw arcane power.
From the corner of her eye, Applejack saw the guards jump, and in the next moment, everything went white.
Twilight shook her head, her eyes screwed shut. Her ears perked up as she noticed the lack of humming. Had the artifact stopped? She slowly opened her eyes, holding a hoof up to shield them, just in case.
The sudden lack of a dig site – in fact, the lack of a forest – certainly explained why she’d also noticed a lack of wildlife noise. Her hoof fell to the ground and her brows knit in confusion as she stared, once again, at the empty Canterlot throne.
It must be a long distance teleportation device! She thought, but frowned as she looked around. If it had teleported them, where was Applejack? All she could see were her saddlebags on the floor next to her.
Panic gripped her heart as worst-case scenarios sprang to mind. All teleportations were based on a pony’s memory and knowledge of a place, and their visual representation of where they’d appear. In early times, before failsafe teleport spells had been developed, it hadn’t been unknown to find a unicorn who had teleported themselves into the ground or intersected a tree, with tragic results.
This was now a cornerstone of modern unicorn teleportation, but who knew if the device had such a failsafe built in? For all she knew, Applejack might be stuck in the Castle walls, or deep within the floor.
Just as she sprang up to her hooves, ready to cast a finder-seeker spell, the doors opened and Applejack stepped inside, grumbling to herself as she rubbed her muzzle.
“There you are,” Twilight cried out, rushing over to Applejack’s side and hugging her tightly. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, jus’ bumped into a door. Again.” Applejack hugged back. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost. And what’re we doin’ back here?”
“I think we just got teleported, and I was scared you’d landed inside the wall or something.” Twilight blinked. “Wait, ‘again’?”
“I wasn’t in a wall, I was back in th’ restroom. Somepony opened th’door in my face when I went there earlier,” Applejack grumbled as she rubbed her jaw again. “And she jus’ did it again!”
Applejack nodded. “Same dang pony smacked my face with a door as soon as I opened my eyes. And then she acted like she hadn’t done it the first time!”
Twilight rubbed her chin. “That’s strange…"
“More like rude,” Applejack snorted. “Whatever. I jus’ gave her a stern talkin’ to.” She paused, looking around. “Say, where’d those guards go?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the artifact didn’t affect them?” Twilight shrugged. “We should probably tell Princess Celestia about it.”
“Can we do that after dinner?”
“You’re hungry again?”
“We jus’ spent an hour walkin’ through the woods! Granny says I have the appetite of a full grown stallion, but I tell you, Big Mac’s worse.”
“I can imagine!” Twilight giggled. Her laughter stopped as the doors swung open once again. “Oh there you are, Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!”
Celestia smiled at the younger alicorn as she strode in, Luna and Prime Site in tow. “I apologize, Princess Twilight, our meetings ran a little late. How are you today?”
“We’re fine, thank you. Just a little startled by the trip.”
“Really? I didn’t realize taking the train was so startling.”
“Train? No, I mean the–”
“Oh!” Luna leaned forwards, staring at Twilight and Applejack’s ears. “I see congratulations are in order. When is the wedding?”
Twilight blinked. “Uh. We already told you earlier? We haven’t decided yet.”
“Told us, Twilight Sparkle?” Luna stared at Twilight. “This is the first we’ve heard of it.”
“But we told you hours ago,” Twilight said. “Don’t you remember?”
“Twilight,” Celestia interjected, “this is the first we’ve seen you today.”
“Aunt Celestia!” a voice cried out from the entrance. There stood Blueblood in the doorway, his mane plastered to his head, dripping water all over the floor.
Celestia closed her eyes before speaking. “Yes, Blueblood?”
“It’s an emergency!”
“What is it this time, Blueblood?”
“We’re out of–”
“Royal shampoo.” Twilight and Applejack spoke in unison, their eyes going wide.
“I…" Blueblood faltered. “Uh, yes. Exactly! And it’s too important to wait for!”
“Have the maids refill it,” Celestia said, her eyes fixed on Twilight. “Now, please leave, you’re interrupting a very important meeting.”
“I – uh, of course, Aunt Celestia,” he said, his wet hooves slipping on the floor as he scampered backwards, disappearing from view as Celestia’s magic pushed the doors closed.
“Now then, Twilight, Applejack. How did you know what he was going to say?”
“ ‘Cause he barged in earlier and said the exact same thing!” Applejack said. “Princess Luna even promised him she’d tell the maids about it.”
“I’ve promised no such thing!”
“Oh no…" Twilight gasped, her eyes wide.
She felt Applejack lean against her. “Twi? You alright?”
“I’m okay.” Twilight nuzzled Applejack gratefully. She took a deep breath and faced the princesses. “I think I know what’s going on.”
“Please, shed some light on this, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, waving a hoof.
Twilight nodded. “Princess Celestia, you’re about to send us to the Foal Mountain to investigate an artifact, presumably handled by Starswirl the Bearded. It’s a cube, on a platform, it’s covered with runes and glyphs, and it’s made out of an alloy of skystone, maginium, and marble. Am I right?”
The royal historian and both princesses stared at Twilight in shock. Celestia was the first to get her bearings. “How do you know this, Twilight? We’ve not told anypony else.”
“Because you told us this hours ago. I believe Starswirl’s artifact sent us back in time.”
Luna frowned. “But that’s impossible. Starswirl’s time travel magic only lasts for a minute at most. We have been talking for longer than that as it is.”
“I know; I used it myself once a few years ago.” Twilight nodded. “Yet here I am. I mean, here we are.”
“ ‘We’? Applejack, you are affected too?” Celestia asked.
“I reckon so, Yer Highness. One second we were at that dig, the next we’re back here in Canterlot.”
Luna’s brow furrowed as she glanced at Celestia. “We should quarantine them.”
“Quarantine?” Twilight cried out. “But why?”
“My knowledge of time spells is vast, Twilight Sparkle, and I have never before discovered one that affects a pony other than the caster.” Luna’s gaze bore into Twilight’s. “If both you and Applejack have been sent back in time, that means this is something outside of my experience. Until we know what we are dealing with, we should minimize the number of ponies who might potentially be affected.” She glanced back at Celestia. “Sister, should we summon the royal physician?
“I think that’s prudent.” Celestia nodded. “I’m sorry, Twilight, Applejack. Until we know more, it’s safer to have you examined.”
“O-of course.” Twilight gulped, leaning into Applejack as the earth pony put a hoof around her shoulders.
“So how long can they keep us here for?” Applejack asked, eyeing the clock as the seconds ticked by.
Twilight glanced up as well. It’s been half an hour already. What are they doing? “As long as they feel it’s necessary, really. They are the princesses,” Twilight said, slumped on a couch. Thankfully, they’d not been locked away in a cell, or even a medical ward, but instead one of the windowless, closed-in waiting rooms Princess Celestia liked using when the more annoying nobles happened to visit. No matter how often they’d told her they were mildly claustrophobic, she kept ‘forgetting’ that particular detail.
The guards posted outside were just a formality, as Twilight knew she could easily teleport Applejack and herself anywhere she cared to. But the princesses were right – until they knew more, it was safer to keep them quarantined.
She just wished she could do something, instead of waiting.
“Speakin’ of waitin’,” Applejack said, as if she’d read Twilight’s mind. “Why next summer for the weddin’?”
Twilight frowned. “I told you, there’s a lot to do. Things that will take a while!”
“Well, I haven’t properly researched it yet, but off the top of my head, there’s invitations, dresses, venues, entertainment, catering, decorations, not to mention all the ponies we have to ask or hire to do all of those things, and we might want to pick a theme for the wedding, and we'll need to look into all the legal paperwork, and of course there's–”
“I get the picture, Twi.”
Twilight blushed and her mouth snapped shut. “Er. Right. I just mean – well, there’s a lot to plan, and this is an important step for both of us! I just… don’t want to rush it.”
The door crashed open right at that moment, startling them both out of their seats. “Sorry that took so long! I – um, are you alright?”
As they picked themselves off the floor, Applejack and Twilight glanced at the newcomer. A young mare strode in, a head mirror wrapped around her short cropped orange mane, right under her horn, and a white doctor’s coat draped over her natural yellow one.
“Jus’ startled,” Applejack said, brushing herself off. “You here to examine us?”
“Yep! The name’s Butterfly Stitch.”
“Butterfly? Ain’t that a pegasus name?”
Butterfly nodded. “My parents are pegasi, and they wanted a second child. I guess they didn’t expect great-great-grandaddy’s genes to show up when they named me early!” she giggled. “It’s okay, my big sister’s got enough pegasus in her for both of us.”
“Well, she’s Captain of the Wonderbolts, so I’m pretty sure she got my share!”
Twilight smacked one hoof on top of the other. “I knew you looked familiar! You look a lot like Captain Spitfire.”
“That’s her!” Butterfly giggled. “So! Who wants to go first?”
Twilight stepped forward. “I guess that’ll be me. Did Princess Celestia explain the situation to you?”
“Yep, gave me a full briefing! Starswirl the Bearded and a time spell, huh? I like it it! See, that’s why you’re my favorite princess!”
“I am?” Twilight blinked. She hadn’t even realized ponies had favorites. “Uhh, thank you, I guess? But why me?”
“ ‘Cause you’re exciting! All those adventures! And battles!” She sighed. Twilight and Applejack shared a glance, jumping as Butterfly snapped out of her trance. “Anyway! Applejack, you can step forward too,” she said, levitating two sets of instruments. “I can do both of you at the same time aaaaand I probably should have phrased that differently. Um.”
Applejack snorted, pointing at a blushing Twilight. “I dunno, this one’s a hoofful.”
“Ooh, you’re fun, too! Okay, open up!” Butterfly said, shoving thermometers into her patients’ mouths. “And while we wait for that, this!”
Twilight eyed the syringes Butterfly was holding up. “Wh’ts th’t for?”
“Sorry, princesses’ orders. Um, the other princesses.” With practiced ease, she stuck a syringe into the crook of each pony’s foreleg, and gently drew out some blood. Once done, she set them on a tray, and took out the thermometers. She jotted down the numbers, then took stepped up to Applejack. “Open your eyes wide!”
Applejack complied, resisting the urge to blink as Butterfly’s horn shone a light into her eyes. She blinked the glare away as the unicorn moved on to Twilight, repeating the process.
“Okay!” Butterfly said, writing down some final notes. “Stay right here, I’ll be back as soon as I scan these. Unless Princess Celestia finds you first! Anyway, toodles!”
Twilight shook her head as the door swung shut. “And now I know what Pinkie would be like as a doctor.”
Applejack chuckled. “Now that y’mention it…"
“So, how about lunch?”
“Ain’t it dinnertime?”
“Not anymore, remember?”
“And that’s why earth ponies don’t mess with time travel.”
“That’s obviously the only reason,” Twilight giggled. “Lemme see about room service…"
Twilight leaned back, sighing in satisfaction as she finished her meal. On the other side of the tea cart, Applejack mirrored her and added a quiet belch. Twilight rolled her eyes, grinning at her fiancée. “I take it you’re happy.”
“I sure ain’t complainin’.” Applejack shrugged. “Still don’t hold a candle to Granny’s cookin’ though.”
“Now I want some apple pie. Thanks, Dear.”
Twilight’s ears twitched as she heard the door open, letting in the two elder princesses. “Any results from Butterfly Stitch?”
“Yep!” Butterfly replied, bouncing in from behind Luna. “Your physicals look great, and the magicals are all clear too, save for a minor amount of unidentified magic in your blood analysis!”
Twilight frowned. “Unidentified magic?”
“Reaaaaaally small amounts. Probably just a leftover from whatever the artifact did!”
“Okay…" Twilight nodded, then faced Celestia once more. “Princess, let us go re-examine it!”
Celestia didn’t mask her surprise. “Twilight?”
“We never really got the chance to analyze it when we got there, and with something of this power, we should make sure we take the steps to do so correctly.”
“What impeded you, Twilight Sparkle?” Luna asked.
“I, uh, kinda fell into the hole the artifact was in and turned it on by mistake,” Twilight replied, ignoring the giggles coming from Applejack. “Which is why I want to do it right this time.”
Luna wrinkled her muzzle “We are hesitant to put you in danger.”
“That’s exactly why we should analyze it! If it’s dangerous, we need to secure it. Perhaps even bring it back to Canterlot. Store it in the vaults.”
Celestia opened her eyes, nodding as she made her decision. “Very well, Twilight.”
Celestia lifted a hoof. “On two conditions.”
Twilight, being a mare of logic, completely understood and even agreed with the first condition, and she glanced around as they flew alongside her chariot in chariots of their own: a platoon’s worth of unicorn guards, and the pegasus guards to pull them.
There was no fault in letting extra muscle, both physical and magical, tag along for the ride. Just in case.
She let her gaze fall back on Applejack, watching the mare's mane billowing in the wind, her eyes closed and face raised up to the sky to soak up the sun’s rays. Despite her eagerness to go examine the artifact, she realized that she’d much rather be spending more private time with her fiancée.
As if she’d sensed Twilight’s gaze, Applejack cracked open an eye and met Twilight’s. She smiled, winking at the alicorn. Twilight couldn’t help but smile back, her heart swelling with love for Applejack.
“Y’know, I’ve never actually been to the foal mountains! This is great!” Butterfly said, peering over the edge of the chariot at the landscape passing by.
Twilight held in a sigh that wouldn’t even have been heard over the sound of the wind. The second condition rode along with them, sharing their own chariot. Not that she had anything against the mare, and there was some logic behind the ‘Perhaps I can find a cause at the source!’ argument Butterfly had brought forward. Twilight narrowed her eyes as Butterfly jostled her instruments pack.
Far too soon for her liking, the chariots started their descent, landing on the same edge of the forest that they’d landed at what felt like hours ago. Which technically, they had, but hadn’t anymore. Twilight dismissed that thought, lest she spend the foreseeable future trying to figure out the correct phrasing.
The next hour’s march passed by quickly. The guards chatted, but kept a wary eye, and Applejack struck up a conversation with Butterfly about their siblings, comparing stories of their childhoods, sharing any and every embarrassing story they could think of. Twilight listened in with half an ear, too busy trying to consider the mechanics behind the temporal travel the artifact seemed to achieve, when she suddenly heard a shout from ahead. A pegasus came swooping in, saluting her as he landed in front of her.
“The artifact has been spotted, ma’am. But it’s already glowing.”
“What? But we haven’t touched it!” Twilight stared ahead, already seeing hints of the artifact’s building magical glow.
“Twi! Yer horn’s sparking!”
Twilight blinked as she looked at Applejack, then glanced upwards. Applejack was right – not only was her horn crawling with little arcs of power, a quick glance towards the rest of the group showed her that every unicorn’s horn was doing the same. Most had now noticed, as the magic sparked with increasing frequency, at the same time as the glow from the dig grew brighter still.
“What the – oh! I’m so sorry! I didn’t see you there!”
The guardsmare moved to help Applejack, but froze as the earth pony gave her a glare that would have frozen Tirek in his tracks. Grumbling curses that would’ve made even the hardiest soldier blush, Applejack shoved past the guard and made her way to the throne room.
Once again, she found Twilight there, this time pacing back and forth. “Well, Darlin’, that sure didn’t work.”
“We didn’t even do anything!” Twilight said, her pacing uninterrupted. “We barely even got close to it!”
“What kind of idiot makes a doohickey like this anyway?”
“Starswirl, apparently, but I can’t imagine why. What’s the use?”
“Don’t ask me, I dunno.” Applejack glanced around. “Shouldn’t the princesses be arrivin’ by now?”
Seconds later, the ponies in question strode in. “Hello, Twilight.”
“Sorry. It’s just, this isn’t the first time we’re talking like this.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve given you a task either, Twilight.”
“What Twilight is tryin’ t’say, Yer Highness, it’s the third time today we’re talkin’ to you.”
“Third?” Luna blinked. “But–”
“Yes, you haven’t seen us today yet. We know,” Twilight interrupted. “The artifact you're about to ask us to investigate distorts time somehow, so we've already had this conversation twice. We thought it just sent us back in time, but it seems like it's making us repeat time instead.”
“Are you sure?” Celestia asked. “Starswirl never spoke of such a thing.”
“Yes, I’m sure. And you’ll all believe me when Blueblood bursts through that door in five. Four. Three. Two. One!”
Everypony waited, the silence stretching on as nothing happened. Luna frowned, staring down at Twilight. “Twilight, if you don’t want–”
Twilight tisked. “So close.”
Twilight held in her grumbles as Butterfly’s horn shone a light in her eyes, until the unicorn was done. “You’re not going to find anything,” she winced, glaring at the needle in her foreleg.
“At least lemme get some results back before you say that!” Butterfly said, expertly handling the syringes.
“Yer results are gonna be negative.”
Butterfly stuck her tongue out. “Humor me!”
Twilight looked up as the princesses strode in. “Any ideas?”
Celestia shook her head. “Despite knowing of them, I’ve never had to resort to any time manipulation spells. At least, none of this scale. But then again, Luna was always the better spellcaster.”
Despite her dark coat, Luna’s blush was visible. “I may be better, but you’re stronger.” She nodded to Celestia, then faced Twilight. “If you insist these tests won't reveal anything useful–”
“–then I have an idea for you.”
Twilight spat out the thermometer that had been floated into her mouth. “Really?”
“Yes. You said you touched the artifact the first time, which sent you back, and the second time, it activated when you got close?”
Twilight nodded. “We’d just gotten to the dig, and it was already charging.”
“Well then, the answer is clear. Do nothing.”
“… excuse me?”
“I believe I know what Luna means, Twilight,” Celestia said. “If contact or physical proximity activates the artifact, staying away from it may negate this entirely. When did you say you arrived at the dig?”
“Um. Several hours from now?”
“Four hours from now, Princess.” Applejack grinned as Twilight stared at her. “I’m a farmer, Darlin’. One good look at the sun and I can tell you the time. Unless, of course, the sun’s been messed with,” she said, glancing at Celestia.
The princess chuckled. “I assure you, Applejack, I keep the sun on a regular schedule.”
“So, we do nothing until five o’clock?” Twilight asked. “That’s fine, but should we do something in the meantime?”
Celestia nodded. “We must attend another meeting; would you join us for lunch after that?”
“Sure! I could eat.”
Twilight stared at Applejack. “You’re hungry again?”
“My stomach’s time travelin’ too, Hon.”
Twilight blinked. “Why didn’t I think of that? Oh, I know!” she exclaimed. “I can go to the Royal Archives and see if I can find anything in there!”
Butterfly stepped up, smiling apologetically at Twilight. “Sorry, Princess Twilight, but I can’t let you do that.”
“Well, you’re still under a quarantine until I give the all clear.”
Twilight frowned. “But what about you? And the princesses?” She swept a hoof, encompassing the other ponies in the room.
“We would have been exposed as soon as you met us, Twilight,” Celestia offered. “We’ve restricted access to the castle to prevent any spread.”
Luna narrowed her eyes. “That is precisely what a contaminated pony would say.”
Twilight groaned, cradling her head in her hooves. "Oh for Celestia's sake–”
“And everypony else's,” Celestia interrupted.
Twilight blushed. “Um. Right.”
“Well…" Butterfly cleared her throat. “I have a few more tests I can run, if Princess Twilight is so sure the results of these ones will be negative.”
“Sounds good t’me,” Applejack said. “What do we need to do?”
“Actually, this is mostly going to be for Princess Twilight.” Butterfly grinned sheepishly. She held up a ball on her hoof. “Crush this ball for me?”
Twilight stared at it, her ears flat. “Ugh. Hello, magical kindergarten…"
“I said, ‘so, you two, when is the wedding?’ ”
Twilight looked up from her long since empty plate to stare at Luna. “How did you…? Oh, right, the earrings.”
Luna nodded. “Indeed. We noticed them earlier, but we had quite a lot on our plate, as it were,” she said, glancing down at her own.
“Right,” Twilight chuckled. “Um. We actually hadn’t decided yet?”
“Twi jus’ proposed last night,” Applejack added. “Yer actually the first we told.”
“Not even your other friends?” Celestia asked.
“Well, we were gonna do that today, but then yer letter arrived.”
“Oh, did we interrupt your plans? I would understand if you would rather be in Ponyville.”
“No, no!” Twilight shook her head. “We’re happy to be here! I was hoping we could make a few wedding arrangements here once this mess is over.”
Applejack frowned, but held her peace. You just didn’t argue with your fiancée in front of the princesses, even if said fiancée was one of them.
Celestia nodded. “If you insist. Canterlot Castle is at your disposal, if you’d like.”
“Thank you, Princess. It’s still scary, you know?”
“How so?” Luna asked. “This should be a happy occasion!”
Twilight raised her hooves in the air. “It is! But… I was nervous enough last night–”
“S’true, she was shakin’ like the leaves of a freshly bucked tree.”
“–and I was hoping that would fade,” Twilight continued, mock-glaring at Applejack. “But I’m just as nervous about the whole wedding, too.” She sighed and looked down at her plate, toying at the food with a fork. “It’s just… scary.” She glanced up as an orange hoof lay over one of her own, and smiled at Applejack.
Luna tilted her head. “Twilight Sparkle, you have stared down Tirek, defeated discord, and challenged many other terrible foes. How can you be scared?”
“I know, I know, I shouldn’t be. It’s just… being marefriends was one thing, but getting married is a huge step! It’s so much responsibility.” Twilight’s wings fluttered as she kept talking. “And speaking of responsibility, as a princess, there’s so much I need to organize and plan for the wedding! I’m not sure I’m ready for all this, and–”
Applejack chuckled as Twilight’s words cut off. An orange hoof in the alicorn’s mouth did wonders for that, but she had to stop her fiancée somehow. “Yer ready, Darlin’. You’ve always been, and if’n you need help, that’s what I’m here for. And our friends. And the princesses. Right?” she said, glancing at the other end of the table. Celestia and Luna nodded, smiling at the couple. “Y’just gotta ask. Share the load, remember?”
“Speaking of your friends, has Rainbow Dash returned to Ponyville yet?” Celestia asked, missing Luna’s sudden shift of expression.
“No?” Twilight blinked. “I thought she was still at the Wonderbolts’ training area?”
“Ah.” Celestia raised an eyebrow, somehow aimed at her sister despite the lack of movement. “You haven’t told them, Luna?”
“I… have not, no.”
“Told us what?” Applejack asked.
Luna seemed to shrink under her sister’s gaze. “I would have preferred she explain it herself, but if you insist, sister…" She faced Twilight and Applejack directly. “Rainbow Dash is no longer considering a career with the Wonderbolts.”
“What in tarnation–”
“But that’s her dream!”
“Was her dream. Dreams can change. Believe me when I tell you I am well versed in them,” Luna said. “She had a major disagreement with the commanding officers. I believe she mentioned politics, and grievances against the captain and her methods. But that is beside the point.” Luna waved a hoof, brushing the matter aside.
“I came to her in her dreams. She was troubled, worrying about her future, and how to face others. Including all of you.” Luna nodded at Twilight and Applejack, who shared a look. “Her dreamscape was a jungle, which I found strange. I remarked upon it, and she told me that she’d just been reading a Daring Do novel before sleeping.”
“Twilight, are you aware that as a military unit, the Wonderbolts fall under our command as well?” Celestia asked, suddenly stepping into Luna’s story.
“Um, yes? But what does that have to do with Dash?”
“This applies to trainees and reserve members as well as full time members. I’ve often assigned them as escorts for foreign diplomats, nobles…"
“Or other, distinguished ponies,” Luna said. “I instructed Rainbow Dash to be present in the castle the next day.”
“Really? Jus’ like that?” Applejack asked. “That don’t sound like the Rainbow I know.”
Luna snorted. “It took some convincing to prove I was not a dream. And even more for her to share her thoughts with me.”
“Okay, that sounds like Rainbow.”
“Indeed. She was punctual, though I believe I caught the tail end of the storm she unleashed on Captain Spitfire. At least, until I introduced her assignment,” Luna giggled. “I've never seen a patch of nimbus brighten up so quickly as Rainbow Dash's face did when Daring Do walked through the door.”
“You didn’t!” Twilight laughed.
“She most certainly did,” Celestia said. She took a sip of her tea before speaking again. “We are both patrons of various digs and expeditions, including Daring’s. What was it exactly you told them, Luna?”
“I insisted Daring needed a little muscle on her next trip. It is quite odd though, she didn’t argue as much as she usually does.” Luna sipped at her own tea, missing the grin Applejack and Twilight shared.
“Are they still on their expedition, then?” Twilight asked.
“Of course!” Luna blurted out, her eyes wide. “Yes. They are. On their expedition. Yes.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow at Luna’s odd reaction. And clearly, Luna’s sister hadn’t missed it either.
“Luna?” Celestia asked. “What are you not telling us?”
Luna looked down at her hooves. “I am not sure I should be the one to tell you this.”
“What?” Twilight gasped. “Did something bad happen? Are they alright?”
“What?” Luna quickly looked up. “Oh! My apologies, I did not mean to scare you. They are doing well. Very well, in fact.”
Applejack raised the other eyebrow. “ ‘N what’s that supposed to mean?”
Luna hesitated again, but gave in to the combined stares of the three ponies around her. “I have peered into their dreams as of late. Dreams often reflect events or situations experienced during waking hours.”
Twilight leaned forward. “Meaning?”
“Meaning I stumbled on, how should I put it… quite a private and intimate scene.”
Silence crashed down around the table for a moment.
“No. Way!” Applejack’s jaw fell open. “Y’mean to tell me Daring and Dash are…?”
Luna nodded. “It may be premature, but… I believe they are courting, yes.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Twilight cheered, clapping her hooves.
“Truthfully, this was not my intention when I assigned them to each other,” Luna said, and smiled. “However, this is not an unpleasant outcome.”
“I’ll say!” Applejack chortled. “ ‘Bout time that filly found herself somepony.”
“Oh gosh, can you imagine what will happen when Pinkie hears about this?” Twilight giggled. “I – Oh no…" she gasped, staring at the princesses.
The other two alicorns had noticed it as well. Every horn had begun arcing, the magic running up and down their length. “My apologies, you two,” Luna said. “I truly believed this would work.”
Twilight shook her head. “It’s okay, this is more data! We’ll–”
“–figure it out,” Twilight groaned, facing the throne once more. “At least let me finish my sentence…”
She snorted, spun around to face the doors, and sat down. Not a minute later, Applejack stepped in, and wordlessly took her place next to her to await the princesses. As soon as the doors swung open, Twilight was on her hooves.
“Princess, we’re looping every five hours or so, but only Applejack and I seem to remember. It was all caused by Starswirl's artifact you’re sending us to investigate in the Foal Mountains. We thought proximity was activating it, so we stayed in Canterlot last loop, but that didn't work, so it’s probably looping around a fixed point in time.”
Twilight stomped her hoof as she plowed on, ignoring Celestia’s attempts to speak. “Now, I know you’ll start believing me once Blueblood steps into this room, and I definitely know one thing for a fact: there’s no need for a quarantine, nor having us examined by Butterfly Stitch, since that’s not going to show any results!”
Twilight gasped for breath as she finished speaking, looking back and forth between the shocked stares of Prime Site and the princesses. With a satisfied nod, she grinned at Applejack. “Did I forget anything?”
“We’re gettin’ married.”
“Oh yeah, that too!”
Twilight sat on her haunches, her eyes once again bearing the brunt of Butterfly Stitch’s hornlight. It took all her self control to not furrow her brow.
She blinked as Butterfly dimmed the light. “I ask you,” Twilight said, “what could possibly be in my eye that would explain this?”
“I dunno!” Butterfly giggled. “I’ll tell you when I see something!”
“But you won’t–” Twilight sighed, giving up trying to once again explain everything. She glanced up as the princesses stepped into the room, their brows furrowed in concern. “Is everything okay?”
“We were discussing the issue, Twilight. Or rather, the repercussions,” Celestia said.
“What, that we’re repeating time every five hours until what looks like infinity?”
Celestia nodded. “Amongst other things. How powerful is the spell, exactly?”
“The question is, will we truly repeat time infinitely? And how far does this reach?” Luna asked.
“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “At the very least from the Foal Mountains to Canterlot, if not further, since we stayed here and looped anyway.”
“Furthermore, Twilight,” Luna continued. “You said this is the third time you are… looping?”
“Um. Yes? Third loop, fourth time we’ve met you today.”
Luna’s frown deepened. “That ‘today’ is what concerns me. What of the sun and the moon?”
“I fear we may have lost our connection with them,” Celestia said.
Twilight gasped. “Lost?”
“That may be the wrong word,” Celestia shook her head. “But I believe we may not be able to reach out to them.”
“Because of how far the time loop might reach?”
“Precisely. If you’ll excuse me a moment.” Before anypony could answer, Celestia vanished in a bright flash.
Twilight glanced from Applejack to Luna, silently agreeing with her fiancées raised eyebrow.
“It is still day. It is thus far easier for my sister to perform a test,” Luna explained. After a moment’s pause, she tilted her head to the side. “Another thought occurs to me. Could this be the work of Discord?”
Twilight blinked, groaning as she massaged her head with a hoof. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Ain’t he still at Fluttershy’s?” Applejack said.
“I don’t exactly keep track of him. But this sounds like something he’d do.”
As the last word left Twilight’s muzzle, Celestia reappeared, her expression troubled. “Is there trouble, Sister?” Luna asked, stepping up to Celestia’s side.
“No,” Celestia said, “everything is fine.” She glanced up, noticing the confused expressions around her. “The connection is there, and the Sun moved at my command.”
“Then what’s th’problem?” Applejack asked.
“There is none. I had just assumed, with these temporal troubles…" Celestia trailed off. She shook her head and stood taller. “Well, that can be a lesson about making assumptions.”
“Or a lack of such where one should have.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow at her sister. “What do you mean?”
“We were just discussing another possible cause of this… prank.”
Celestia’s other eyebrow rose to join the first. “Discord?”
“Precisely. This all seems to bear his mark, does it not?”
“While I am loath to fling accusations about, you may have a point.” A sheet of paper and a quill floated through the air, shimmering with the princess’s magic. Within a few moments, she’d finished writing, the scroll disappearing in a puff of smoke.
“I thought that only went to Spike?” Applejack asked.
“When a letter I thought was from Twilight ended up chasing me around my room and hitting me repeatedly with a codfish, I realized Discord could access the same magic,” she said, smirking. “I think he appreciated my… explosive response.”
A flash of light preempted any response, quickly resolving into a scroll which fell to the floor. The moment Celestia touched it with her magic, it jumped into the air, shifting its shape until it resembled a familiar snaggle-toothed mouth.
“I’m sorry, the draconequus you are attempting to reach is currently unavailable,” it said, Discord’s voice clearly recognizable. “Please leave a message after the loop. I mean, the tone.”
Celestia opened her mouth to speak, only to immediately be drowned out by what could only be described as a deafening foghorn. Everypony in the room immediately covered their ears, guards bursting through the door only seconds later.
When the noise stopped and the dust settled, Celestia took a moment to rearrange her blown-back mane with magic before waving off the guards. “Discord,” she began, addressing the letter with a frown. “Please come to Canterlot as soon as possible. We need–”
“Just kidding!” the letter cackled. “I can’t save any messages with this! Oh, and as much as I’d like to take credit for this wonderful time loop, such magic is even beyond my powers. I’m afraid you’re on your own, Princess Twilight. Toodles!”
Luna grunted as the letter vanished. “Clearly he knows something. Should I go convince him?”
Twilight shook her head. “If he says he can’t help, then it’s not worth the effort trying to get him to.” She shrugged at the skeptical looks aimed her way. “I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. If he could do something, he’d probably be here gloating already. And… I’m not sure it would be worth the headache.”
Applejack snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”
“You may be right.” Celestia nodded. “We should move on. Twilight, Applejack, would you join Luna and I for–”
“For lunch? Sure,” Twilight interrupted, then glowered at Butterfly. “As long as somepony doesn’t give me more practical tests to do.”
Butterfly grinned sheepishly, hiding a ball in her tail. “You’re like my sister. She can never sit still either!”
“I’m not normally like that!” Twilight huffed, crossing her forelegs, but raised an eyebrow at Butterfly. “Wait, really? I never pegged Captain Spitfire as restless.”
“Yeah, it kind of makes her a jerk sometimes!” Butterfly giggled, hiding her mouth behind a hoof. She abruptly stopped, gaping at Twilight. “Hey, how’d you know Spitfire is my sister?”
“You told us a few loops ago.”
“Oogh. This loop stuff gives me a headache!”
“How d’you think we feel?” Applejack grunted. “Spitfire sounds a lot like Dash. You think those two woulda gotten along.”
“Are you kidding?” Butterfly blurted out. “Spitty constantly complains about her!” She paused, her eyes wide in shock. “I shouldn’t have said that! I should not have said that…"
Twilight shook her head. “We heard about that too. I don’t suppose you could give us a bit more detail?”
Butterfly squirmed under Applejack and Twilight’s combined gazes. “I-I dunno if I should…"
“I believe Rainbow Dash mentioned something about not wanting to work with somepony who tosses others under a cart to achieve their goals,” Luna cut in. She raised an eyebrow as everypony stared at her instead. “What?”
Celestia shook her head. “A little blunt there, Luna?”
“I merely speak the truth!”
“Actually, that fits Spitty to a T,” Butterfly said. “Or in this case, an S.”
“Yes, well, we are not here to discuss Wonderbolt politics.” Celestia dipped her head in Twilight and Applejack’s direction. “We will see you in a few hours for lunch, then. Let us hope we don’t run short of things to talk about after all these loops.”
“Just let Applejack talk about apples, that’ll cover several.” Twilight rubbed the shoulder Applejack had just jabbed. “In the meantime, we should head to to the Royal Archives.”
“Wait, why the archives? Shouldn’t we head back to take another look at th’ artifact? I mean, we all set out a bit after lunch th’ first time ‘round; if we leave now, we oughta have a couple hours to check it out ‘fore it… does whatever it does.”
Twilight shook her head. “I’ve thought about that. It’s pretty obvious now this whole thing started when we touched the artifact. If we go back, we might accidentally set it off again, and who knows what would happen then. We might end up stuck with an even shorter loop – or worse, what if only one of us touched it and ended up looping alone? No, better to investigate the device as best we can here before we risk going back again.”
“Huh. Okay then, archives it is.”
“To the archives!”
Butterfly cleared her throat. “Sorry, Princess Twilight, but I can’t let you do that.”
“Oh, come on!”
After much grumbling, Twilight’s poor mood had dissipated under Applejack’s repeated nuzzling and occasional kisses. Once pulled out of her rut, Twilight had decided that, if she was trapped in the castle, she might as well make good use of it. She’d realized just how little her fiancée, or even the rest of her friends, had seen of Celestia’s home, despite their repeated visits. And so, she gave Applejack a tour.
Twilight talked about the throne room, how many an important historical event had played out there. She swept through the ballroom, regaling Applejack about the Grand Galloping Gala’s origin as a celebration of the completion of Canterlot’s construction, covering a few of the most notable ones. Their own visit was now counted amongst that vaunted list.
But both those rooms, as well as the kitchen, had previously been graced by the earth pony’s presence. That still left hundreds of other rooms as of yet unexplored.
From her miniature science lab in the dungeons, to the little cubbyhole in the barracks, Twilight wound a path of memories through the castle. In every little nook and cranny she’d explored as a filly, the pair ended up uncovering some book or a scroll she’d hidden there for later reading, a fact which amused Applejack to no end and left Twilight grinning sheepishly.
She even gave Applejack an impromptu tour of one of the broom closets she used to hide from tutors in when she spotted Butterfly Stitch coming around the corner and dragged them both into it. Applejack pointed out that the unicorn was too focused on the plate of jello floating in front of her to notice them, and that they’d finished all the tests this loop in any case, but Twilight maintained that it had been a good idea nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Twilight’s personal tower was outside of the quarantine zone, so she couldn’t show Applejack the place she’d lived at as Celestia’s student. But that setback was more than made up for when they snuck into the royal baths. A good long soak later and they’d both felt alive again, ready to meet the other princesses for lunch.
But despite her best efforts, Twilight couldn’t help listening to the conversation with only half an ear. Hearing the same topic and eating the same meal for the third time tended to do that.
“A bit for your thoughts, Twilight Sparkle?”
Unless, of course, she was addressed directly. “Huh?”
“ ‘A bit for your thoughts’,” Luna repeated. “That is the current expression, is it not?”
“Yes. Um. Sorry, I’m just a little distracted.”
“We noticed, Hon.” Applejack grinned, pointing a hoof.
Twilight blinked, glancing in the direction Applejack had indicated. Princess Celestia froze in mid bite, her mouth wide open ready to devour a piece of strawberry cake. A familiar piece, one that had recently been seen on Twilight’s own plate. “Hey!”
Celestia roughly stuffed the piece in her mouth and devoured it. She smiled serenely, heedless of the stares aimed her way. “Yes. Well,” she cleared her throat, the merest hint of red blossoming on her cheek. “You didn’t look like you were going to eat it.”
“I was!” Twilight pouted. She turned back to Luna. “I’m still trying to figure out how to put a stop to this.” She waved a hoof around helplessly.
“I have given it some thought. Have you considered employing temporal magic?”
“Beggin’ yer pardon, but ain’t that th’problem?” Applejack asked.
Luna nodded. “And it can be the solution. You have attempted to return to the source, or avoid it entirely, without success. Am I correct?”
“Right,” Twilight said. “What are you thinking?”
Luna’s eyes bored into Twilight’s own. “You should travel forward in time.”
“A little heavy on the dramatic emphasis, Lulu?”
Luna raised an eyebrow at her sister. “It seemed appropriate.”
“How’s that gonna work?” Applejack leaned forward. “Ain’t time messed up enough already as is?”
Twilight nodded, the gears turning in her head. “It’s like fighting fire with fire. It could work. We’d basically be skipping the moment the loop starts again.”
Applejack frowned. “An’ it’s safe? Ain’t there somethin’ about meetin’ our future selves?”
“That’s the other direction. Seeing our past selves is bad, but going to the future, we haven’t reached that point already, so we wouldn’t already be there.”
Applejack grinned. “Sounds like a plan, then. What’re we waitin’ for?”
Twilight wordlessly floated a piece of cake towards her, stuffing it whole in her mouth. After a few seconds of munching under the amused gazes of the three other ponies at the table, Twilight finally swallowed. “Okay, I’m ready. Princesses?”
Celestia smiled. “I have nothing to add. Good luck, Twilight.” Beside her, Luna nodded, her expression an odd mixture of grim and hopeful.
Twilight swallowed. “Right.” She closed her eyes, the magic shining as she conjured it from deep within. A swirl of energy began spinning around her horn, quickly growing to encompass Applejack and herself, the light growing brighter until everything disappeared in a flash of white.
“And so, in order to determine how this artifact has been sending Princess Twilight and Miss Applejack back in time, you have been summoned,” Prime Site said, trotting in front of a line of tired and disgruntled ponies.
“Yes, that’s all well and good, but why are we here?” asked an older unicorn. His eyes were bagged from several nights spent not sleeping. “You can’t expect any of us to know about whatever’s happening.”
“As experts in related fields of study, and as professors of Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, you have all been selected to assist Princess Twilight in finding anything in these records that might have to do with the artifact,” Prime explained.
“Shouldn’t we form a committee for this first?” one of the ponies suggested. “It’s standard university protocol to form a reaction committee, chaired by one of the deans or one of the Princesses.” Several of the others gathered murmured and nodded their agreement.
“We don’t have time to go through university protocol.”
“But the Collective Agreement states–”
“There’s no time!” Prime snapped. “Listen, think of yourselves as an ad-hoc committee. You are the response group, and we have limited time before the looping process will start up again.”
“How do we even know that any of this ‘looping’ business is for real?” a haughty voice asked from the back of the group.
Prime Site glared in the direction of the voice. “Are you questioning the word of Princess Twilight Sparkle?”
From their corner of the library, Twilight watched disdainfully while Applejack looked from her fiancée to the group of academics. Twilight sighed and rubbed her temples.
“Everythin’ alright, Sugarcube?”
“No.” Twilight shook her head, glancing up at Applejack before hiding it behind a dense tome. “I told you, Honeycrisp, this isn’t going to end well.”
“Why d’ya say that?” Applejack asked, nudging Twilight’s shoulder with a hoof. “These are smart ponies, right? A bunch o’ them academics should speed things along, shouldn’t they?”
Applejack raised an eyebrow to this, scrutinizing the barest traces of a well-worn scowl on Twilight’s face. She opened her mouth to retort when Prime’s voice drew her attention.
“Now then!” Prime said with the heavy tones of authority. “If there aren’t any more complaints? No? Good. If we could please have Professor Tome Reader please join me over here then we can get started.”
“Professor Tome Reader?” one of the younger ponies gathered asked. From the look of her, Applejack would guess that she was a student. “As in the Professor researching ancient Starswirlian documents Tome Reader?”
“Precisely!” Prime smiled.
“Oh,” the student said, “he’s on sabbatical.”
“Wh-wh-what?” Prime’s eyes widened and his throat bobbed uselessly. “W-well, where is he?”
The student shrugged. “I don’t know. He left on Monday and nopony’s seen him since. I heard he might be going out of the country to visit family.”
Prime’s face fell. “Darn, he was my best hope at finding anything useful quickly…" Clearing his throat, Prime asked, “Alright, then what about Professor Stone Myth? From the Department of Archaeology? If I recall, she had recently participated in a conference regarding the ancient thaumaturges of the pre-Starswirlian era in relation to the importance of archaeological preservation and excavation.”
“Stone?” one of the older professors chuckled. “She’s been in Neighcaragua for the last month and a half doing field work!”
“What? Why wasn’t I informed?!”
“There, there, Prime,” a chestnut mare with a blonde mane said. “I’m sure we can make do with those of us that are here.”
“Yes… yes… you’re right, Scribble.” Prime coughed into his hoof and straightened his mane. “Forgive me, I had hoped that those two might be present to help us with this crisis. Now then, shall we get started, everypony?”
“Told you,” Twilight said without looking up from her book.
“Told me what? There were jus’ a couple mishaps.” Applejack shrugged. “Happens to everypony.”
“Excuse me? But has anypony seen Professor Sandy Veil?” Prime asked, surveying the ponies spread out across the library. “She was supposed to have been summoned. Don’t tell me she’s on sabbatical too.”
“She isn’t,” Scribble Scroll said from a nearby table.
“Oh thank heavens,” Prime sighed and placed a hoof over his chest. “I suppose she must be on her way, then.”
Twilight snorted and levitated a small pile of books over to Applejack. Applejack’s face fell as the stack landed with a thud in front of her. “Why don’t you help me out with these?”
“Trust me, they’re not going to get anything done,” Twilight said, jerking her head in the direction of the professors grabbing books of their own off of the library shelves. “So we may as well prepare to do everything ourselves.”
“I don’t get why–”
The library doors were shoved open and a guard trotted in. “Sir, I have a message from Professor Sandy Veil’s office. Her secretary says, and I quote, that ‘she is on her lunch break and will arrive when convenient.’ ”
“What?!” Prime gaped, his eye twitched and a vein throbbed in his neck dangerously. “Find her! Get her up here immediately! I don’t care if she shows up with half a daffodil sandwich! Threaten to throw her in the dungeons if you must!”
“Told you…" Twilight mumbled, not even bothering to lift her head from her reading. Applejack glanced at her, then back at Prime.
“I can’t do that, sir,” the guard replied simply.
“And why, pray tell, can’t you?” Prime asked, his voice dangerously low.
“Professor Sandy Veil has tenure. I couldn’t do anything even if I wanted to, sir.”
“I… But… She… You…” Prime babbled as he wrung his hat in his hooves. His mouth opened and closed several times until, suddenly, he seemed to visibly deflate. “Horseapples.”
“Are you alright, Prime?”
“Yes, I’ll be fine,” Prime said unconvincingly. “Let’s just get down to work, Scribble. We have a lot to do, and we’re missing our leading experts. I never would have thought organizing professors was like herding cats.”
Applejack grimaced as Prime’s head hit the table with a muffled thump. “The poor guy.”
“See? I tried to warn him,” Twilight said from behind her book. “I’ve worked with these ponies before, Applejack. They may be leading experts in their field, but they’re unreliable and all hate each other. And the few who can actually get anything done usually spend most of their time in the field actually getting things done.”
Applejack turned her attention back to the crowd of ponies in the library. Scribble was awkwardly patting Prime Site on the back as he repeatedly hit his head on the table.
Applejack closed her book and reached for another. She nosed it open, glancing up to check her surroundings. On the one side, Prime Site sat next to a bookshelf, a small stack of books piled next to his hooves. Once they’d yet again finished explaining the situation to the princesses and finally managing to talk them out of the quarantine, the stallion had volunteered to help them with their research.
His offer to draft some academics to help had been quickly, and quite loudly, shot down.
Applejack glanced at her pile of reading material. So far, she’d only gone through two books, and she had an entire row of bookshelves to go through. Still, she was at least mostly keeping up with Prime Site, who’d barely started on his fourth.
‘This is the Starswirl the Bearded wing’, Twilight had said. ‘Every document he ever published, or was mentioned in, is supposedly in here. There’s bound to be something about that artifact in here.’
The sight on the other side of the room brought a smile to Applejack’s face. Twilight had once again surrounded herself with a veritable fortress of books, speeding through them with a skill born from years of practice. The alicorn was in her element, a small smile on her face as she finished one book and started another.
It was a familiar picture, and one that made Applejack want to sidle up to Twilight and cuddle. It sure wouldn’t be the first time, and if they weren’t in such dire straits, she’d do it anyway. Sighing at what was clearly a terrible burden, she made herself comfortable and resumed reading.
It is a little known fact that I, Starswirl the Bearded, did not first set out to be a great wizard as a foal. My greatest desire was to be a barber. And as such, I applied myself to learning the best methods to manipulate manes and tails. It was during this time period when, in my discovery of how to manipulate individual hair follicles, my talent in magical manipulation and invention made itself known. In this book, I shall cover the many ways to style and fashion one’s mane and tail using magic.
Applejack lifted the cover of the book and eyed its title. Starswirl: The Beard Chronicles. She sighed once again. She’d bet the farm that she wouldn’t find anything on the artifact in this book, but Twilight had insisted that everything be read from cover to cover – as she had pointed out, they were desperately short on information, whereas time was something they seemed to have unlimited quantities of.
Thankfully, a welcome interruption appeared. “Hello, Twilight, Applejack,” Celestia said as she walked in, nodding to Prime Site as the stallion stood up to bow. “Would you care for some tea?”
“It’s the least I could do, after all those exams you tell me I’ve put you through.”
“Well, I sure appreciate it.”
“Think nothing of it. Prime?”
“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess,” Prime replied, bowing once more.
Celestia nodded and turned to the last pony in the room. “Twilight?” She waited for an answer, catching Applejack’s amused grin as Twilight remained lost in her own world. “Twilight?” she asked again, more loudly.
Applejack giggled as Twilight remained silent. “Y’gotta poke her, Princess.”
“I have a better idea.” Celestia’s horn shone with golden light, and a matching glow shimmered around the book in Twilight’s hooves. The younger princess yelped as it floated out of her reach, jumping up to grab it and knocking down her book fortress.
Applejack burst out laughing as Celestia dangled the tome just out of Twilight’s grasp. The sound snapped Twilight out of her trance, her cheeks reddening as she realized what she’d been doing. “Um. Hello, Princess.”
“Hello, Twilight,” Celestia said, floating the book back into Twilight’s hooves. “How goes the search?”
Twilight’s rump hit the ground as she slumped. “Nothing yet. But we only just started a loop ago.” She glanced up at the taller princess, hope shimmering in her eyes. “Do you remember reading anything that might help us?”
Celestia shook her head. “I have not read any of these in a long, long time. But perhaps some tea will help you focus?”
“I think she needs somethin’ a lil’ stronger than tea,” Applejack said, winking at Celestia.
“Oh, a stiff drink does sound good!”
Applejack’s shocked expression mirrored Celestia’s own as the alicorn spoke. “This early in the day?”
“It’s never too early for a coffee!”
“Ah. Of course. Two teas and a coffee, then?” she asked, to a trio of nods. “I’ll have that sent up shortly.”
“Thank you, Princess!” Twilight called out as Celestia left. She turned her head and came face to face with Applejack. “Hey, you.”
“Hey yourself.” Applejack leaned in and nuzzled Twilight. “How ya doin’?”
“Well…" Twilight looked down at the book in her hooves. “I’m a bit sad.”
“How come?” Applejack sat down against Twilight. “Y’wanna talk about it?”
“Hm?” Twilight blinked in confusion. “Oh! Nothing like that. I just wish I could actually spend the time to properly read these.” She waved a hoof around at the bookshelves. “Instead, I’m just speed-reading them.”
“There’s a difference?” Applejack asked, chortling as Twilight gently elbowed her. “Tell ya what. Why don’t ya take a day off when we get out of this? Y’can stay here all day.”
Twilight smiled. “I’d like that. How’s tomorrow sound?”
“Somepony sounds confident.”
“Oh, please.” She once again waved a hoof around. “We’re surrounded by everything Starswirl the Bearded ever wrote. This won’t take long at all!”
“If’n ya think so…"
“I do. Just watch, I bet it’s in this book!”
Hedge trimming, to many, is merely a necessity. Few realize it can be a true artform, once one applies arcane mathematics and magics to its care. I, Starswirl the Bearded, have devised ways to trim hedges to such perfect edges that a pony could cut themself on them – a fact to which I can personally attest.
“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”
“Sure thing, Princess.”
“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess,” Prime said, bowing.
“I think she’ll take a coffee, right, Twi?” Applejack asked. She cleared her throat as the silence stretched on. “Twi?”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps I should–”
“Don’tcha worry, I got this.” Applejack grabbed her hat off her head, and flung it in Twilight’s direction.
Her aim was true, and the hat landed on top of Twilight’s head, earning a yelp from the startled alicorn. “What the – Applejack?” Twilight glanced in the direction Applejack was pointing, her eyes widening slightly at the princess.
“Um. A cappuccino, please?”
“I’ll have that sent up shortly.”
“Thank you, Princess!” She called out as Celestia left. A purple glow surrounded Applejack’s hat, floating it back to its owner as Twilight mock glared at her fiancée. “I know, I know. I’ll pay attention next time.”
Gravity spells have many uses, and the most underestimated ones are to be found in a kitchen. I, Starswirl the Bearded, am, amongst other things, a skilled chef, and have put such spells to great use while cooking many a meal. Skilled application of quick and repeated gravity shifts have proven to be a superior shaking method than simply moving the object back and forth. In fact–
“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”
“I would, thank ya Princess.”
“Of course. Prime?”
“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess.”
“A double shot cappuccino, please.”
“I’ll have that sent up shortly.”
Applejack chortled as Twilight stuck her tongue out at her.
“Hello Twilight, Applejack. Would you care for some tea?”
“Tea sounds lovely, thank you, Princess.”
“A tripl– no, a quintuple cappuccino, please.”
“I’ll… have that sent up shortly.”
“Brandy. Or vodka. Something strong. I don’t care.”
Celestia blinked. “I take it the search is not going well?”
“We’ve spent the last… six or seven loops looking, and there’s nothing yet,” she groaned, hiding her eyes under her hooves. “I tell you, if we don’t find something soon, I’m gonna lose it. Go nuts. Crazy. Insane. Bonzo. No longer in possession of my faculties, three fries short of a hayburger meal, wacko!” she cried out, punctuating the last word by flailing her hooves.
Celestia stared as Twilight panted, catching her breath after her rant. “I believe a nice, soothing tea would be in order right now, don’t you think?”
“… probably a good idea,” Twilight grudgingly admitted. She sighed, grabbing the next book from her pile, and buried her nose in it.
Celestia frowned, gently shaking her head. “And how are you, Applejack?”
“Other than bein’ bored outta my skull, I’m alright, Princess,” Applejack said, forcing herself to tear her gaze away from Twilight. “Better than some, I reckon.”
Celestia nodded, and turned to leave. “I’ll have your tea sent up shortly. But if I may offer some advice?” she asked, pausing as she stood in the doorway. “Take a break. No one will hold it against you.”
Applejack chuckled. “Maybe in a lil’. Thank you, Princess,” she said to the departing alicorn. She glanced back down at the book in her hooves, determined to keep plugging away at the task.
Many ponies will tell you that soap and elbow grease are the best way to clean a bathroom. Many an earth pony and pegasus will grumble in jealousy at the ease with which a unicorn can go about the task, easily manipulating any brushes, sponges, or whatever other tool you might name. I, Starswirl the Bearded, am here to tell you force fields are inherently superior to all of the above.
With the correct application and designated target, a forcefield can be manipulated to either simply push any filth and dust into a corner, or for a unicorn of sufficient power, even go so far as to disintegrate it entirely.
The text vanished from Applejack’s sight as her forehead met paper. She sighed, wondering for the tenth time if Starswirl hadn’t had a few screws loose in his head. She let her eyes close, allowing herself to relax for a few minutes.
Applejack lifted her head back up, settling herself in to keep reading for however many more hours were left in the loop. She glanced at Twilight, her eyebrows raising in surprise at finding her fiancée not reading, but instead staring out of a window. Applejack got to her hooves and quietly approached Twilight. “You alright, Darlin’?”
“Who-wha-huh-augh!” Twilight jumped to her hooves and almost fell back to the floor.
“Whoa Nelly!” Applejack sprang forward, grabbing Twilight by the hoof and stabilizing her. “You okay, Hon?”
Twilight nodded gratefully. “Y-yeah. I was just thinking. You just startled me,” she said, playfully swatting Applejack.
“Twi, yer always thinkin’, and I ain’t never seen you jump like that.”
Twilight blushed. “Yeah, well I… I’m just tired. Like I’ve been awake for weeks.” She leaned in, resting her head against Applejack’s neck. “And you know what’s the worst part?”
“Because of the time loop, that’s not even real!”
Applejack pulled away to look at Twilight. She lifted a hoof to cup her fiancées cheek and smiled as Twilight nuzzled it. “Feels plenty real t’me.”
“I know you are,” Twilight grinned. “I mean, each time we loop, our bodies lose all the exhaustion and tiredness. But up here?” She lifted a hoof and tapped her head. “It still feels like mush.”
“I know a good way t’fix that. Y’need to relax, Hon. Heck, even Princess Celestia said as much. Y’need to–”
“Let’s take a break.”
“–just sit back fer–” Applejack blinked. “Wait, what?”
“I need to clear my head a bit.” Twilight stood up and trotted towards the door. “Let’s take this loop off.”
Shrugging at the unexpected ease of the discussion, Applejack scrambled to her hooves and chased after Twilight.
Applejack quietly followed Twilight as she trotted through the castle. She seemed to know where she was going, intent on some destination only she knew about. Applejack didn’t ask. She knew they’d get there eventually.
She squinted as they exited the castle’s interior, stepping into the Royal Gardens. She stuck by Twilight’s side as they weaved past the trees and flowerbeds until they reached a small copse. She ducked under the low branches, coming to a halt as Twilight stopped.
Applejack watched her fiancée close her eyes and sit down. Twilight took a deep breath, holding it in for a few moments and then expelling it. “Feelin’ better?” Applejack asked.
“Much.” Twilight smiled, leaning against Applejack. She looked around the copse as if seeing it for the first time. “Gosh, I haven’t been here in years.”
“I’m guessing this is some hidey-hole o’ yours?”
Twilight nodded. “I used to come here as a filly when I didn’t want to spend all day reading in the castle.” Twilight chuckled as Applejack raised an eyebrow at her. “I may have been reading here too. Shut up.”
“I didn’t say nothin’,” Applejack chortled.
“You implied it,” Twilight shot back. She tilted her head to the side. “How’d you know?”
“Every lil’ colt an’ filly has a hidin’ place, Twi. Places we think our elders don’t know about.”
Twilight groaned. “Don’t remind me. I used to wonder how I always found Shiny or Cadance nearby.” She giggled. “I thought that Princess Celestia had some guards spying on me. Which, come to think of it, was probably not far off the mark.”
“The Castle gardens ain’t exactly far afield, Hon.” Applejack grinned as Twilight stuck her tongue out at her. “Granny always used’ta find mine. An’ Apple Bloom still thinks I don’t know ‘bout that lil’ cave of theirs.” Applejack gently nudged Twilight with a shoulder. “Got any more hidin’ places?”
“A few, but why should I show them to you? You’re just making fun of me,” Twilight said, her nose up in the air. She held the pose for a few seconds before they both burst into giggles. “C’mon.”
Applejack eagerly took her place next to Twilight, following the alicorn’s gaze as she pointed something out every so often.
“I used to hide behind that statue… and in those bushes, oh! And under that bench!”
However, Applejack could see a definite trend. “Twi, Darlin’. Do you have any hidin’ spots that ain’t on the Castle grounds?” she asked, fighting to keep a grin off her face. Despite her best efforts, Twilight still blushed.
“Uhm. Lemme think.” Twilight raised a hoof to her chin in thought, a habit Applejack found adorable no matter how often she saw it. “Well, there’s Pony Joe’s, but we’ve been there already…"
“Wouldn’t mind goin’ again, I’m gettin’ kinda hungry.”
Twilight raised an incredulous eyebrow. “Didn’t we just have lunch?”
“That was the last loop, Hon.”
“Okay, okay, let’s go to – wait!” Twilight gasped. “I know the perfect place!”
Twilight bit back a laugh. “Later. I wanna show you something first!”
Applejack’s eyebrows shot up as Twilight galloped away, speeding off at a pace that would’ve looked good in the Running of the Leaves. Not one for letting her admittedly not-so-athletic fiancée beat her, she tore after Twilight, catching up quickly. “So where we goin’?”
Applejack nearly stumbled but caught herself immediately, shaking her head at the pony next to her. “Now why ain’t I surprised?”
“Oh shush. This one’s special!” Twilight panted lightly as she slowed down to a trot, her head shifting back and forth. “This way!”
“Slow down, s’not like we ain’t got plenty of time!” Applejack called out as Twilight set off on a gallop. The alicorn did however slow down, easing into a brisk trot. “What’s so special ‘bout this one?”
“It’s where Princess Celestia took me on my first birthday after becoming her student. Well,” Twilight hesitated, “more like the day after. She insisted I stick with my family on my birthdays.”
“Knew I liked her for a reason.”
“I bet.” Twilight grinned. “They all bought me science and spellcasting books. Princess Celestia bought me my first Daring Do book.”
“Guess Dash oughta thank her next time she sees her, then?”
“Yup! Ah, here we are!”
Applejack glanced up at the sign above her head. “ ‘Tomes-A-Trillion’?” she read, her eyebrow raised high. “Do they really have that many?”
“I’ve asked, and Weathered Page never gave me a straight answer!” Twilight huffed.
“The owner. I wonder if she’s still here.” Her horn glowed and the door swung open, setting off a little bell.
Behind the counter, a wizened old mare turned to face them. “Ah, hello there, welcome to my– ” She paused, her eyes widening in surprise. “As I live and breathe, Twilight Sparkle, is that you?”
“Page!” Twilight waved gleefully. “How are you?”
“Better than some of these moldy old tomes, I assure you!” the older pony chuckled. “And you? Still in Whatsit-ville?”
“Ponyville, yes. It’s my home, now.”
“Is it now?” Page asked, raising an eyebrow. “That whole Element of Harmony business, isn’t it?”
Twilight nodded. “All my friends are there.” She glanced back at Applejack, who’d been browsing the shelves. “And more.”
“More? What else has my best customer been up to?” Page leaned conspiratorially in the direction of Applejack, who’d just trotted up to join Twilight. “She’d spend all her pocket money on books, every time.”
Applejack grinned back at the older pony. “She still does.”
“Do not!” Twilight pouted.
“Do too,” Applejack and Page replied simultaneously, before bursting into laughter.
Twilight sighed, the corner of her lips pointing upwards. “Why am I marrying you again?”
“Because you love me, Darlin’.” Applejack leaned in to quickly peck Twilight on the mouth.
“So that’s what you’ve been up to, then?”
Twilight blinked, blushing as she turned towards the momentarily forgotten Weathered Page. “Eheh. Page, meet Applejack. My fiancée.”
“It’s a pleasure t’meetcha!” Applejack extended her hoof to shake the older pony’s.
“Likewise. I’ve heard much about you.”
“You have?” Applejack tilted her head, wracking her mind for a time where somepony might have mentioned the old shopkeeper.
“Yes, Princess Celestia mentions you and your friends whenever she stops by to get a book for a certain somepony.”
“Would you like to attend the wedding?” Twilight blurted out. “I’d love to have you there!” Twilight glanced at Applejack, her eyes pleading.
Applejack shrugged. “Yer an old friend of Twi’s. We’d be glad to have ya.”
“It would be my honor, then,” Page replied, bowing to the pair and fixing them with a pensive stare. “You’re not having the wedding in Canterlot, are you?”
“Um. We’re thinking about it.” Twilight frowned. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“It's bad luck, don't you know?”
“Really?” Applejack asked. “How so?”
“Don’t you remember changeling incident?”
Twilight laughed. “Do we? That was my brother’s wedding. We were in the middle of it.”
“Oh, but that’s just the latest. There was the wedding of Prince Gilded Gold – that was Prince Blueblood's father. Two of the groomstallions got into a fight over a bridesmare they were both trying to seduce, and it spread into a riot that took two days to end.”
“Two days…?” Applejack mumbled, her eyes growing wider with Weathered Page’s every word.
“And then there was the Gryphon Pass Incident.”
“Wasn’t that th’closest thing Equestria's had to a war in about six hundred years?” Applejack mused.
Weathered Page nodded. “What most ponies don't know is that that broke out three days before the wedding of Prince Sterling Silver and Lady Bella Donna was scheduled. The wedding was cancelled, and they ended up getting married by a Justice of the Peace during the march to the pass.”
Twilight frowned. “But what does that have to do with anything? That just sounds like bad luck.”
Weathered Page smirked. “But do you remember what caused it?”
“Sure, Wing General Blacktalon got drunk and punched out Lord Hoofington… at… the…"
“At the royal wedding of Prince Copper Field and Lady Direction, exactly. Nopony warned him that the cider was alcoholic – what Gryphonians call 'cider' is just unclarified apple juice.”
Twilight held up a hoof, cutting off Weathered Page before she could continue. “Okay, okay, we’ll… take it into consideration,” she said, rubbing the same hoof on her forehead.
“That’s all I was hoping for.” The old mare smiled at them. “Now, is there anything I can help you two with? Are you looking for something?”
Applejack shook her head. “Nothin’ we can use right now, sorry.”
“What?” Twilight asked. “What’re you…" She trailed off, her hoof meeting her forehead. “Right. That.” Twilight smiled apologetically at Page. “Sorry to run out on you like this. We’ll be back another time, okay?”
The old mare nodded. “Of course. I’m always happy to see you, Twilight. Come back soon, you hear?”
Applejack silently followed Twilight as she wandered through the city. A few minutes after they’d left the shop, they arrived at a little park, barely large enough to fit a few families’ picnics. Twilight ignored the activity around her and made a beeline for the only bench around, which was empty, surprisingly.
Applejack sat next to Twilight as the alicorn stared up at the clouds, waiting for her to speak up. After so much time spent together, she’d learned Twilight would do so on her own, often without the prompting Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash subjected her to. It just took a while to formulate her thoughts.
“I used to read here as a filly,” Twilight murmured. “Nopony else knew about it. I guess that’s changed now,” she said, her lips curling up into a smile as she watched the foals play with their parents. The smile dropped as she glanced back at Applejack. “I’m sorry.”
Applejack scooted closer to throw a foreleg around Twilight’s shoulders, holding her mare close. “ ‘Bout what, Darlin’?”
“About not asking you before I invited Page.” Twilight stared at her hooves. “I should’ve–”
“She seemed like a nice pony,” Applejack interrupted, her smile turning sly. “An’ it’s not like you don’t need to even th’numbers a bit. I still got plenty more Apples on my list.”
Twilight snorted. “I’d have to invite half of Canterlot to make it even.”
“Nah, just a quarter.”
“Oh, of course. My mistake.”
Applejack grinned. “And don’t ya forget it.” She studied Twilight a moment, hugging her tighter. “Wanna head back?”
“Sure.” Twilight stood up, stretching her back and wings. She grinned at Applejack, running a wingtip over the earth pony’s cutie mark. Applejack walked close to her, her coat brushing against Twilight’s with every step.
It was a shame that little intimate moments like those always got interrupted. Applejack blushed as she twisted her head back to look at her stomach, glaring at it. She smiled as Twilight giggled. “Yeah, I’m still hungry.”
“I think we can have a pit stop first, if you want. How abou–” Twilight gasped, staring down the street. “We can go there!”
Applejack blinked, peering in the direction Twilight was pointing at. “I only see a weddin’ dress shop.”
Applejack blinked again, eyeing Twilight sideways. “I could’a sworn I was gettin’ married to Twilight Sparkle, not Rarity,” she said, shuddering as she briefly considered the idea.
“Bah,” Twilight bah’d. “We can get measured while we’re here. And maybe get some ideas for what to pick!”
“But Rarity can do that! Heck, she did it for yer brother’s weddin’!”
“True, but she’s not here, is she? C’mon, let’s…" Twilight trailed off as Applejack’s gaze shifted from her eyes to a point slightly above, and groaned. “It’s sparking, isn’t it?”
“Of all the times to–”
“Okay, fine! We’ll skip the dresses for now,” Twilight grumbled as they walked through the Castle halls, missing Applejack’s sigh of relief. “Let’s get back to the important things first.”
“Y’got that right. Wanna head back to the archi–”
“What should we do about the dinner rehearsal?”
Applejack’s frown at being interrupted turned into one of confusion. “What?”
“I mean, considering how big the wedding’s going to be, I think the Treasury will handle the cost of that.”
“So, traditionally, that means it’s your family that will handle the dinner, right?”
“We could have it at the royal castle.” Twilight’s face lit up briefly. “Or my parents’ place! What do you think?”
Applejack raised a hoof and placed it on Twilight’s chest, stopping her in the middle of the corridor. “Now hol’ on a second. If’n we’re the ones doin’ this, why not do it at the farm? Or even yer own castle?”
“Practicality!” Twilight exclaimed, pointing a hoof in the air. “Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are already here, so are my parents. Shiny and Cadance can just take the train here, too.”
“Not all that practical. Since we’re doin’ the organizin’, that means we’ll be doin’ the cookin’, right?” Applejack asked, not waiting for Twilight’s response. “Then we’re gonna be haulin’ all th’food from Ponyville! An’ I don’t rightly know if Granny can handle a trip like that.”
“Are we talking about the same Granny Smith here?” Twilight asked. “Didn’t she win first place in the Ponyville swim meet a year ago?”
Applejack felt one of her ears starting to flick. “Well, yeah… An’ what about our friends? An’ the rest of my family? I was thinkin’ Uncle and Aunt Orange could attend the dinner rehearsal. It’s a long trip for them too.”
“The train from Manehattan stops at Canterlot first, Applejack.” Twilight grinned. “And Ponyville’s a stone’s throw away. We’d be the least inconvenienced.”
“Not if ya count everypony from Appleloosa and Las Pegasus. That train goes through Ponyville.” Applejack shook her head in frustration. “We're thinkin' of all this sideways; it don't make sense to have the rehearsal dinner in a whole different town than where we're havin' the weddin', an' we sure as heck ain't decided we're havin' it in Canterlot."
“Well, we haven’t decided we’re having it in Ponyville, either.”
Applejack closed her eyes and took a deep breath, calming herself down before she said something she’d regret. “How ‘bout we work on somethin’ else for a bit? Give us time t’cool off a lil’.”
Twilight sighed. “You’re right. We can figure it out later. What did you have in mind?”
She’d been ready to suggest returning to the archives, but as she took stock of Twilight’s haggard expression, she realized her fiancée could still use some time off. “How ‘bout the wedding bands?”
Twilight blinked. “You mean the music?”
“The things on our ears, Hon.”
“Oh!” Twilight grinned sheepishly. “I got those in Ponyville. I figured we could go to the same place.”
“Yeah, well. The shop owner ain’t here, is he?”
“I had the perfect idea, right on the tip of my tongue!” Twilight growled. “And then he started screaming!”
Applejack placed a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “To be fair, Hon, all the horns in the shop were sparkin’ like crazy.”
“Like he’d never seen uncontrolled magic before…" Twilight mumbled. She frowned as Applejack stared at her. “What?”
“Y’said you had an idea.”
“Oh. Well, I was thinking about these.” She lifted a hoof to point at the apple-shaped earring. “I don’t really feel like getting one of those gem hoofbands. Too big and unwieldy and ugh.”
“Impractical?” Applejack offered.
Twilight nodded. “Exactly. So how about we just combine these? One earring, with both our cutie marks together.”
“I like it. Nice and simple.” Applejack leaned in and kissed Twilight’s cheek. “So what next?”
“How about… from wedding bands to music bands?”
“How long were you waitin’ to say that?”
“About five seconds, to be honest.”
“Uh huh.” Applejack smirked. “So I was thinkin’… how about a mariachi band?”
“You have got to be kidding.”
“I still think we should jus’ do a hoedown!”
“And I want to keep you alive. Rarity would kill you if you tried that.”
Applejack snorted. “Okay, maybe y’got a point.” She stretched, working out stress she knew shouldn’t have been there, but felt like it was anyway. “So, wanna head back to the arch–”
“Photographers!” Twilight exclaimed.
Applejack frowned again. That was starting to get annoying. “Who in the what now?”
“We need photographers!”
“Don’t we have some in Ponyville? If we’re havin’ the weddin’ there, why find em here?”
“If we want the best photographers, and if we decide to have the wedding in Ponyville, it’ll be worth having them commute!”
“Oh fer Pete’s sake…"
“Hon, I think it’s time we–”
“–found some florists. I agree.”
“No, I–” Applejack sighed. “Alright, fine. Florists. I was hungry anyway.”
“Not for eating!”
“Do we really need manedressers?”
“Of course.” Twilight grinned. “We have to look our best on that day, remember?”
“But I mean, why look for them now? S’not like we even need em until the day proper! We ain’t even figured out where we’re gettin’ married yet!”
“Well, yes, but with these loops we can try different manecuts over and over again!”
“Okay, so if we count Princess Celestia as the officiant, we’ve got the catering, the flowers…"
Applejack grunted. “That was what, five loops? I know my stomach's loopin’ every time but I'm not even hungry anymore.”
“We've been to the manedressers, the photographers, and we’ve got a printer for the invitations.”
“How long we been at this? I've lost count and you don't seem to care none."
“Oh, the honeymoon!” Twilight grinned as her left eye twitched. “Gosh, there’s still so much to do!”
“We don't necessarily need to go anywhere and just spend time together back home, but I've always wanted to see Las Pegasus–”
“Though that might be a little ritzy, maybe Neighagra Falls? Or even Rainbow Falls; I really liked that town when we were there, though we were distracted by all the training and–”
“Dangit, Twi, listen to yourself!” Applejack barked, her voice reverberating in the empty corridor. But it had finally stopped Twilight’s tirade. The alicorn was staring at her, eyes wide at Applejack’s tone. “None of this matters!”
“Wh-what do you mean, it doesn’t matter?” Twilight sputtered indignantly. “Of course it matters! It’s our wedding! Or don’t you even care?”
Applejack glared at the accusation. “I cared for the first forty loops. But we ain’t plannin’ anymore, we’re just goin’ in circles!”
“We’re not ‘going in circles,’ we’re just being thorough because I want everything to be perfect! And, it’s only been twenty-five loops!”
Applejack growled in frustration. “That ain't even the danged point, Twi, 'cause even if we did pick everythin' out exactly as we want it, we'd still be spinnin' our wheels 'cause every Celestia damned day is the same!” She pointed a hoof at Twilight. “It ain't that I don't care, it's that you don't care! Wha’ happened to fixin’ this loop thing?”
“… Of course I care,” Twilight muttered, glaring at the ground.
“Yeah? You got a funny way a' showin' it.”
“I’m sorry, okay?” Twilight suddenly yelled, whipping her head up at the wincing Applejack. “I'm so sorry I haven't gotten us out! I just want – I need more time to organize our wedding!”
“An’ why can’t we do that tomorrow, Twilight?”
“Because it needs to be perfect! I know what I want, I just need to organize everything first!”
Twilight stomped her hoof. “And that means the wedding will be in Canterlot! And that’s final!”
Applejack stared in mute horror, a frown slowly forming on her face. “So you want the weddin' in Canterlot and that makes it final, huh?” Applejack snorted. “I kinda thought it was two ponies gettin' married here, but y'know what? Fine,” she said, turning away from Twilight. “Make yer decisions, simmer down, and lemme know when ya' want to focus on the real problem!”
She didn’t even glance back as she walked away, disappearing down the Castle’s corridors.
She hadn’t lied, really. The longer she’d let Twilight’s wedding preparation craze go, the more annoyed Applejack had become. Her stomach had felt like it was filled with lead, roiling around to the point of nearly making her sick.
But as she trotted through the Castle halls, she felt herself gradually calming down with every step, and that weight vanishing. This left her quite hungry, as she usually was at this point in the loop. Figuring that food would take her mind off of things, she set a path towards the castle kitchens.
She hadn’t expected to find a crowd of guards peeking around the corners of the royal dining room, but find one she did. She opened her mouth to ask a question, but was immediately drowned out by a gleeful cackle from within the room, followed by an indignant sputter.
“Princess Luna, I demand you cease fire!”
The cackling redoubled, evidently coming from the lunar princess. “Never!”
“Princess Celestia!” a third voice cried out, filled with a hint of desperation and a bucketload of confusion. “Can you please control your sister!”
“Not unless you both agree to the trade agreements!” Celestia called back, her answer quickly followed by the sound of something soft and squishy impacting something else.
“Then you leave us no choice but to retaliate!” the first voice growled, just as Applejack pushed herself through the crowd to finally see what was going on.
This left her right in the path of a delicious strawberry cheesecake, flung by the hand of a minotaur ambassador. While this solved her food problem, she still didn’t know what was going on.
“Ha! You have arms and hands and you can’t even aim!” Luna taunted. She glanced at the path the cheesecake had taken and noticed Applejack licking her own face clean. “Ah, fair Applejack! Come come, join us!”
Applejack quickly complied, though due less to being asked and more to wanting to get out of the path of further projectile delicacies, despite her hunger. Plus, it seemed the princesses had plenty of grub of their own, so a small amount of ammunition wouldn’t be missed.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, Your Highnesses, but what in Equestria’s name is goin’ on?”
Celestia nodded at Applejack, smoothly avoiding a slice of pie that had been sailing in her direction. “We are simply taking your advice, Applejack, and have decided to–”
“Let loose!” Luna cried out, flinging a bowl of salad, tisking at the inevitable uselessness of her projectile. “Or is that not the correct term these days?”
“Plus, it lets my sister release some stress. Did you know she hasn’t taken a vacation in two hundred years?” Luna leaned down towards Applejack to whisper conspiratorially, loud enough for even the ambassadors to hear.
Applejack could only stare in confusion as Celestia frowned at her sister. “Advice? What advice–” She trailed off as her mind drifted back to the start of the current loop.
Applejack trotted through the Castle corridors, wrinkling her muzzle in an effort to work the ache out of it. She’d have imagined that she’d get used to having a door hit her face, but no, it hurt just as much every time.
She rounded a corner, cutting off the princesses as she had the last ten times. She barely even noticed their looks of surprise anymore.
“Oh! Hello, Applej–”
“Howdy, Yer Highnesses, Prime. Yes, we’re doin’ fine. No, I’m not angry, jus’ annoyed. Why? ‘Cause we’re stuck in a time loop because of that Starswirl doodad ya want us to look at.”
Both princesses blinked. Luna lifted a hoof, ready to ask a question.
“We done tried doin’ nothin’, Princess Luna. And that. And that too. And before ya ask, Discord ain’t of any help either.” She tipped her hat, her smile tight and strained. “Now if’n you’ll excuse me, I need to go waste time plannin’ my weddin’ with Twi, since she don’t feel like botherin’ tryin to fix this thing.”
“I know, Princess, ya don’t believe me.” She nodded to the eldest princess, who had attempted to get a word in edgewise. “Ya will when Prince Blueblood comes around that corner complainin’ about shampoo. Ask him if he remembers Twilight tryin’ to force feed him his mane. Oh, and we know about Dash and Darin’.” She smirked at Luna, whose eyes had grown wide. “Y’all can jus’ do whatever. ’S’not like it’s gonna matter in a few hours anyway.”
Applejack blinked. “Seriously?”
“Is something the matter?” Celestia asked.
“I'm sorry Princess, but I jus’ can't believe you'd just do this off what I said. I reckon I wouldn't believe m’self.”
“You are one of the most honest ponies we know, Applejack. I do not believe you would lie about this matter. You also predicted Blueblood’s arrival, and all of my suggestions as I thought of them. That was convincing enough for me." Luna shrugged. “And after three days of meetings with the buffoons at this table–”
“The Minotaur Kingdom resents that!”
“As does the Griffonian Empire!”
Luna lifted a platter to block an incoming meringue pie. “–If somepony tells us none of this matters? We are not going to waste time on it.”
“Oh come off it, Luna,” Celestia chuckled and leaned close to Applejack. “She cracked first and threw the fruit bowl.”
“It's not like they were slow to respond!” Luna countered, then yelped as a tomato splattered the side of her horn. “See?”
“Luna, you had to smack Ambassador Günther in the face with a cucumber before they responded.”
The griffon in question stood up, banging the table he was leaning on with a claw. “Minor details that show that you, Princess Luna, lack hono–”
His tirade was suddenly interrupted by a chocolate cake.
“Ha! Your father was a rooster and your mother smells of elderberries!”
“Luna, no need to taunt them. And I thought I told you not to throw the chocolate cake.”
“Apologies, sister! It was the closest thing at hoof.”
Applejack could only shake her head, her mind still trying to catch up with one situation after another. She jumped when a large, white wing draped over her.
“I sense there is more that worries you than our culinary warfare, Applejack,” Celestia said, forming a small shield of energy around the pair, warding off any delicious projectiles. And if the sudden quiet was any indication, she’d given them a bit of privacy too. “Please tell us what troubles you.”
Applejack snorted, looking away from the princess. “It’s Twilight.”
“Is she well?”
“I can think of a few words to describe her right now, and that one ain’t at the top of my list.” She shook her head. “I mean, she ain’t sick, but… I told you we’re gettin’ married, right?”
“You did.” Celestia nodded. “I would have imagined this was a good thing.”
“Yeah, me too, if’n we could get out of this loop. But she’s not even tryin’ anymore!”
“ ‘Anymore’?” Celestia repeated.
Applejack nodded. “Like I told ya, we tried doin’ nothin’, then skippin’ forward. When that didn’t work, we went to Starswirl’s archives to try to find somethin’ there.”
“That does sound like my student,” Celestia said, chuckling to herself. “I take it that didn’t go so well?”
“We spent ‘bout a dozen loops findin’ nothin’ before she finally took a break. Figured we’d just do a lil’ weddin’ preparation while we had the time, if you’ll pardon the pun.”
“Pun pardoned. But I fail to see the issue.”
“Now every loop she just goes back to the weddin’ plannin’! She don’t listen when I tell her we need to get back to the archives! She just wants her stupid perfect weddin’. It’s like nothin’ else matters.” Applejack stomped a hoof. “And the worst part? She ain’t even listenin’ to me, she’s just doin’ all the plannin’ herself!”
“I say ‘let’s go to the archives,’ she says ‘dresses!’. I say ‘let’s go back,’ she says ‘photographers!’ Or ‘florists’!” Applejack growled. “Anythin’ but gettin’ back to work. And then she just decided to have the weddin’ in Canterlot and wouldn’t hear a word against it.”
“I take it you had other ideas?”
“Darn tootin’!” Applejack said. “I ain’t got nothin’ against Canterlot, but Ponyville is home, ya get me? I just want this day over with so I can sit down and talk with her.”
Celestia nodded, her wing hugging Applejack closer. “Tell me, how do you feel about the wedding itself, Applejack?”
Applejack blinked. “Wha?”
“Ignore the loop for now. How do you feel about Twilight?”
After a few moments of silence, Applejack said, “I love her, Princess. More than anythin’.” She smirked. “Even when she gets a lil’ pig-headed.”
“And the wedding?”
“I kinda don’t want to think about it anymore,” Applejack grumbled. She shook her head as Celestia raised an eyebrow. “I mean, I still want to marry her. But I want her to listen t’me too. I feel like it’s gonna be her wedding, not ours.”
Celestia nodded. “What about beyond that?”
“Beyond the frustration. Beyond any anger you may have. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the wedding?”
Applejack’s gaze fell to the floor as the the thought struck her. “I’m scared,” she murmured.
Celestia lifted Applejack’s chin with a hoof. “And if you are scared, how do you think Twilight feels?”
“She’s… I reckon she’s terrified.”
Celestia nodded. “She has grown so much since her arrival in Ponyville. All because of you and your friends. And maybe a bit more because of you.” She winked at Applejack. “But she still has much to learn. She still tries to carry everything on her shoulders.”
“She taught me to ask for help when I need it.” Applejack shook her head. “But she rarely does herself.”
“That’s why you must be there to remind her, Applejack. Sometimes, she forgets to listen.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Applejack snorted. She smirked up at the princess. “I’ll make her listen. Once we get out of this stupid loop.”
“Good luck.” Celestia nodded, and the glow around her horn began to fade as she dismissed the shield she’d summoned. “Now, let us see how the battle fares–”
“Not well, clearly,” Celestia sighed, wiping a banana sundae off her cheek.
“Of course not, 'Tia! I've been fighting alone!”
“Surrender now, Princesses,” the minotaur yelled, “and we'll be merciful!”
Celestia grinned and shot a look at her sister. “Luna? I do believe we've just been challenged.”
“We have indeed! Let us respond in kind!” Luna’s gleeful grin lit up her face as she levitated more food. “Have at you, fiend! Feel the wrath of the Night!”
“Just a moment,” Celestia said, and turned to face Applejack. With a quick swipe of her magic, the food clinging to Applejack’s face vanished. “I believe she’ll take you more seriously now.”
“Thankya, Princess. And don’tcha worry about that. I’ve never been more serious in my life.”
“Good. Go now, we’ll give you cover.” Celestia’s magic surrounded her next projectile, lifting it above their entrenchment.
As Applejack rushed out of the room, she heard a gasp from a familiar yellow unicorn.
“Not the jello!”
Applejack found her fiancée exactly where she expected: in her office. Though Twilight had insisted that she had one in Ponyville and didn’t need another, her regular trips to Canterlot had made it a necessity.
Applejack sighed as she watched her, flitting from one side of the room to the other, peering at the guestlist and floorplans she’d drawn up to figure out the seat placement, leaving the instruments she’d lugged around that morning to sit forgotten in a corner.
Every single loop, she’d do it again, just to have a physical reference on hoof, even if it vanished with the reset.
“Twilight?” Applejack spoke up, hoping against hope that she’d be heard. “Twilight!” she shouted as the alicorn ignored her, lost in her own little world.
And still, Twilight offered no reply.
“Hard way it is,” Applejack sighed. She closed the distance, and with a deft twist, she leaned in and grabbed Twilight’s tail in her mouth, earning a startled squawk.
“What the – Applejack! What’re you–”
“Yer comin’ with me.” Applejack tugged at Twilight’s tail, dragging her towards the door.
Applejack spat Twilight’s tail out and lifted a hoof to silence Twilight. “No talkin’. You’re comin’ with me, even if I have to drag you there by your horn.”
Twilight opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again as she looked at Applejack’s eyes. Wordlessly, she followed Applejack out of her office, but the silence only lasted a minute. “Where are we going?”
Applejack remained silent, Twilight’s annoyed huff ignored as she stared straight ahead. Ponies they passed jumped out of their way, more intimidated by Applejack’s expression than the presence of one of their princesses.
Twilight broke the silence again as they arrived at the entrance of the Royal Archives. “The archives? We don’t have time for this, not when we still have preparations to–”
“We don’t have time?” Applejack repeated incredulously. “We got too much time, and we ain’t spendin’ enough of it on fixin’ the artifact!”
“It’s not broken.”
“I said it isn’t broken. Or we wouldn’t be in this loop.” Twilight held a hoof to her forehead, massaging it gently. “Let’s just go back to the preparations, okay?”
“No, it’s not okay!” Applejack shouted. “What’s gotten into you? Snap out of it.”
“Snap out of what? I’m fine!”
“No you ain’t! You’re doin’ the wrong things!” Applejack prodded Twilight’s chest with a hoof. “It’s like you’ve given up on this! You never give up on anythin’ without a fight. And it’s not like you’ve figured it out already. So why now?”
Applejack stared at Twilight, waiting for her to answer. Waiting for her to frown, and maybe stomp her hoof like she always did in these situations. She looked into the eyes of the one she knew so well.
Her breath caught when those eyes broke contact with hers, looking away.
“You have,” Applejack said, her voice flat. “Y’figured this out. How?” she asked. “When?”
“I… Does it matter? We should go back to–”
“Don’t,” Applejack spat. “That ain’t what I wanna hear. When, Twilight?”
Twilight turned her head, facing Applejack with a glare. “Right before we first took a break, okay? I found one of Starswirl’s journals, and it was all in there.”
“Why didn’t you say anythin’?” Applejack shook her head. “Consarn’ it, Twilight, we’ve been stuck in here for ages!” she said, glaring when Twilight remained silent. “Well?”
Twilight wavered under Applejack's gaze until her muzzle wrinkled in a snarl. “Because it’s my fault, okay?” Twilight yelled back. “Starswirl made it so that it only activates when an earth pony, a pegasus and a unicorn touch it at the same time.” She lifted a hoof, sweeping it across herself. “And since I’m all three…"
“So it turned on when ya fell on it?” Applejack grunted as Twilight nodded. “Why’d he even make this stupid doohickey anyway?”
“It’s not stupid! It’s how he made so many spells. To everyone else in the world, he’d take minutes to come up with something new, even if it really took him hours! It’s a brilliant piece of magic, even with the drawback!”
“The loop affects a bubble about the size of Equestria. And everything outside just keeps going. Time moves normally.”
“I know I don’t get all this timey-wimey stuff, but even I understand that’s bad!” Applejack stomped a hoof. “Why’d you let it happen?”
“What would you do if you just found out you’d put your entire country in danger?” Twilight asked quietly. “I just… couldn’t deal with it back then. I just wanted to relax a bit. Maybe have a little fun.”
“Fun?” Applejack stared at Twilight. “Y’call this mess fun?”
“Yes! I just wanted to spend a loop or two making sure that our wedding would be fun. That it’d be perfect! So we can’t stop now!”
“We’ve got to finish the plans! Once we’re done, we can shut this off.”
“Wh– no! How can ya even think that?” Applejack prodded Twilight’s chest with a hoof. “The world ain’t loopin’ with us. Who knows what mess you’ve made already? We gotta shut this off now!”
“But we’re almost done with the preparations!”
“We are not!” Applejack snapped, throwing her hat to the floor. “You're never gonna be done, Twi! You're tryin’ to plan somethin’ perfect, but I got news for ya: nothin’ is ever perfect! You're always gonna find somethin’ to change or t’fix!”
Twilight’s ears fell flat. “No I wo–”
“You will. I know ya too well.” Applejack stepped up to Twilight, their snouts nearly touching. “You're always gonna try to get your plans working. Not ours. Yours.”
“I get it, Twi. You're scared. Well, newsflash, I’m scared too.” Applejack leaned away, snorting angrily. “I'm scared about the weddin’, and I'm scared we'll never actually get there if ya don't get us out. I'm scared that I'm not gonna be marryin’ my Twilight.” She shook her head. “I don't rightly know if she's still there.”
Twilight blinked, flinching backwards. “Wh-what?”
“You sure haven’t been actin’ like the Twilight I fell in love with. She wouldn’t act like this.”
“Wh-what are you saying?” Twilight asked, choking on the words.
Applejack turned her head, facing away.
Twilight took a step backwards, then another, her breathing coming in short, shaky pants. “I… I had to, Applejack. I j-just thought I'd do a loop or t-two.” She shook her head, her gaze on the ground, hiding from Applejack, still backing up slowly. “Th-then it turned into three. Then t-ten. And then I lost count.”
Applejack snorted. “No kiddin’.”
Twilight jumped as her rump hit the wall, stopping her backward motion. She lifted her head back up, staring at her fiancée, her eyes swimming with tears. “I know I could've stopped it at any time. I know I sh-should have. I just… d-didn't want to.”
Twilight fell to the floor, her forelegs crossed over her eyes. “I p-put everypony at risk, and for what? For nothing? I j-just… didn't want to come back empty hoofed!” She pulled herself back up, a sob escaping her throat. “I want… I need everything perfect for us. You're my everything, Applejack. I need this!” she said, and broke into tears.
Applejack silently stared at Twilight, her ears flat, trying to block out the wails. It tore at her to listen to Twilight’s pain. But all she could hear were a few words in her mind, from not so long ago.
“She taught me to ask for help when I need it. But she rarely does herself.”
“That’s why you must be there to remind her, Applejack. Sometimes, she forgets to listen.”
As Twilight lay there, sobbing into her hooves, Applejack felt her anger bleed away.
“No ya don't.”
Twilight blinked. “Huh?” She flinched as Applejack stepped closer, nearly curling up on herself until Applejack threw her forelegs around Twilight, hugging her tightly.
“You don’t need it, Sugarcube,” Applejack whispered. “You just need me. And I need you,” she said, squeezing tighter. “We need each other. And we’ll get through this.”
“Tomorrow,” Twilight sighed as she hugged Applejack back. “I just hope it’s not too late…"
“Not too late at all. We got all the time in the world, Sug.”
“It took me hours to fix the Crusaders’ dresses! Hours! That I could have spent on getting everything just right!”
Applejack couldn’t stop grinning, not that she wanted to. “We did tell ya to take it easy, Rarity.”
“Pish posh! It’s your big day! I wouldn’t consider myself a friend if I didn’t try my damndest to make it perfect!”
The news of their wedding had been a bigger event that either had expected. Every nation, every city had wanted to be there, to celebrate the union of two heroes. Applejack had reluctantly agreed that Canterlot just had more space to accommodate everyone. Despite everything, some of Twilight’s plans were salvaged.
Twilight giggled. “I tried, Rarity, remember? You know how that turned out.”
“Well yes, but I’m willing to bet you didn’t plan for your brothers losing their ties in a bet!” Rarity harrumphed, glaring at an elk with a tie on each antler.
“We also expected a summer weddin’.” Applejack commented, glancing out the windows at the falling autumn leaves. “Not that I mind.”
“Or the earrings!” Rarity cried out. “I nearly had a heart attack!”
“S-sorry…" Spike mumbled, slumping down in his chair in an attempt to hide.
“Don’t you worry your scales off, Sugarcube,” Applejack chortled, fondly rubbing Spike’s crest. “Ya found them in the end, didn’t you?”
“And then Fluttershy’s birds developed a cough…" Rarity pressed a hoof to her forehead. “I swear, if anything else goes wrong, I will start ripping out my mane.”
“Excuse me, Miss Rarity?”
“Yes?” She glanced to the side. A young waiter stood to attention, sweating bullets as he tried to avoid meeting Rarity’s gaze.
He shuffled on his hooves, slowly inching away. “We’ve, um, we’ve run out of salad.”
Rarity’s left eye twitched dangerously. “We only just served it. How can we have run out already?”
Twilight giggled as Rarity ran off towards the kitchen, passing by Pinkie and Butterfly Stitch going head to head in a jello eating competition. “I don’t think she’s going to listen. Do you?” she said, wrapping a wing around Applejack.
Applejack shook her head. “Naw. We warned her. Ain’t no skin off my nose if she put herself in a tizzy about it.”
“It sounds like you took what you learned to heart,” interrupted a new voice.
Twilight blushed, smiling up at Celestia. “We did. I just wish I could’ve helped you these last few months.”
Celestia shook her head with a grin. “You know as well as I how the other heads-of-state would have reacted. It was best to let them cool off before you met them. After all, they did spend more than a month under the sun.”
Twilight’s ears drooped. “Still…"
“I am always and forever connected to the sun, guiding it along its course. When time rewound itself in the bubble, my control was rewound as well, pulling the sun back to where it had begun. I'm told it was quite an unusual sight, the sun zipping along five hours of motion in seconds.”
Twilight’s ears drooped lower still. “Oh boy.”
“Most of our allies were satisfied with the explanation.” Celestia blinked. “Except the Sarosian Colony. They were most cross to be stuck in their caves for a month. They still won’t speak to me.”
“But it was my fault! I–”
“Twilight.” Celestia lifted a hoof, instantly silencing the smaller princess. “This is your wedding. Leave those other concerns aside for now.”
“Also, I may have forgotten to mention your name when explaining the situation to the other regents. Consider that a wedding gift.” She smiled at the pair’s shocked expressions. “In any case, Luna has been acting as a middlemare to the Sarosians. And thanks to the support of the Griffonian Empire and the Minotaur Kingdom, we have come to an agreement.” She swept a hoof towards another table seating the two dignitaries and Princess Luna. “The artifact will be kept under lock and key, and dismantled as soon as we figure out how.”
Applejack rolled her eyes as she watched Luna accept the Minotaur ambassador’s hoof wrestling challenge, much to the delight of the Griffonian ambassador, who’d started taking bets on the pair. “I swear, I’ll never understand politics.”
Celestia grinned, leaning closer to the pair. “I still learn new things, even at my age.”
Twilight sighed happily as she leaned against her wife, settling into the couple’s seat. “You were right, Honeycrisp. This is perfect.”
Applejack raised an eyebrow and prodded Twilight’s side with a hoof. “I thought we didn’t want perfect?”
“It isn’t.” Twilight shook her head. “So much went wrong. But that made it better. It made it perfect.”
“Wave your rump in the air like you don’t care, glide by the fillies as they start to look and stare! Do your dance, do your dance, do your dance quick! Mama, come on baby tell me what’s the word, Word Up!”
Twilight winced, staring at Rainbow Dash and Daring Do, as the pair danced and sung on a table covered with suspiciously empty punch bowls.
“Well. Mostly perfect.”
“And that makes it better, right?” Applejack asked.
Twilight nodded, leaning in to kiss Applejack. “That makes it better.”