“And you say they were looking at my flank?” Rarity asked. “Rainbow Dash and Applejack? At my flank?”
“Yes,” Twilight said. “Overtly.”
There was a little pause.
“Well. Good for them!” Rarity said.
And that was it.
That was honestly how it all started.
It is often said that the best thing about gossipping is never the gossip, it's the company. This is true, as long as your gossip is really boring.
This one wasn't boring.
“Good for them?” Twilight asked, frowning a little. She had been modelling for two hours, waiting for the perfect moment to share this with Rarity. “Really? That’s all?”
“Well, what can I say, I am flattered.” Rarity rubbed her chin and pushed Twilight to the side. “Turn around that way, please? Thanks.”
“Uh, right.” Twilight turned. Rarity started working on her left side, stitching things here and there. “Also, I don’t think that’s quite the reaction you should have. Don’t you think they were kind of rude?”
Rarity looked at her friend’s face for a second before going back to the dress. “My dear, I don’t find what you’re telling me surprising, exactly, to be quite honest. You’ve never seen me wearing high heels, have you?”
“Uh, no. We have hooves.”
“It’s physically impossible for us to wear high heels.”
Twilight frowned. “I feel like I’m missing the point somehow.”
“You don’t quite look at my flank while I walk, do you, Twilight?” Rarity chuckled, and then she moved to the right side of the dress. It was a wonderful disaster. “I feel you’d understand if you did that. Especially if I am wearing high heels—they, ah, exaggerate the motion a little bit.”
“Well.” Twilight tried to look at Rarity, but her neck wasn’t long enough, so she ended up looking at a random point to her right. Close enough. “I try to look at ponies’ faces when I talk to them, actually.”
“Wonderfully quaint of you, but entertain me for a second, please?”
And then Rarity stepped away from Twilight, made sure to put on her shoes, and just walked around the store.
“And that’s that!” Off with the shoes, in with the dress. Rarity went to the right side again. Still a disaster, but less wonderful this time. “What do you think?”
Twilight was focusing on the vague point to her right again. “Uh,” she said. “I-uh. Uh.”
“I make it work, don’t I?”
“I’m taking that as a yes.” Rarity chuckled again, and snatched a button off the dress. “Off with you. Why did I even put you in here? Bah. Anyway. What happened next?”
Twilight shook her head. “Uh. Sorry, what? Those shoes are nice. What?”
“After they stared,” Rarity said. “What did they do?”
“Ah. Dash and Applejack?” Twilight looked up, thought about it. “Well. They hoof-bumped.”
Rarity looked at Twilight’s face. “Hoof-bumped?”
“I have no idea. I think they were just celebrating the abstract idea of your flank, to be completely honest. Uh—okay, I have to ask. Is all that stuff you do with your tail necessary? Like, when you walk to the right and then you flick it and…?”
Rarity smiled. “Depends.”
“On if ponies are watching. So Applejack and Rainbow Dash are no strangers to my charms, hmmm?” Right side of the dress done. It looked horrible. Absolutely horrible. Ponies who didn’t know anything about fashion would love it. “I have to say, it’s almost a shame. Those two are perfect for each other.”
Twilight frowned. “You think?”
“Hmm-hmm. Absolutely. Put this on. Careful—it’s delicate.” Rarity handed Twilight the wig. “And those two? Dear, they are already dating, really—they just don’t quite know it. Just give them enough time.”
“What?” Twilight put the wig on. It was big, and red, and peanut-shaped. Looked horrible. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “Also, what?”
“Please, Twilight. I know.” Rarity winked. “And they are dating. They’re together every day, tell each other everything…”
“Because they’re best friends!” Twilight said. She couldn’t quite move, what with all the modelling she was doing, so she tried to give her voice as much inflection as possible. “That’s—you’re describing friendship! How do you get dating out of that?”
“Sweetheart, best friends behave a certain way,” Rarity said. Her horn flashed. The wig turned lime-green. “And that is not it.”
“Well." Twilight frowned. "That’s just wrong. I think you’re looking too much into it.”
“Twilight, dear, you’re an impossibly intelligent mare, and I love you dearly,” Rarity said. “But I’m afraid you know nothing of the matters of the heart.”
“Hmm.” Rarity flashed her horn once more, and the wig turned green.
And then, the dress was done.
It was, truly, the worst thing Rarity had created in a long time. To the untrained eye, it looked avant-garde. To the trained eye, it looked insulting. It was asymmetrically symmetrical, it was puffy in all the wrong places, and the colors would have been deemed tacky seven seasons ago. It looked like a kid’s revenge after the fashion police killed her parents.
Twilight kind of liked it.
“Right, exactly what I wanted. Also.” Rarity looked at Twilight. “You know? It’s funny,” she mused. “The way you’re wording that, dear? You almost make it sound like a challenge.”
“Truth or Dare!” Pinkie Pie chirped.
And that was the rest of the party right there.
Life with Pinkie Pie wasn’t easy. It had its upsides—she was a darling—but it wasn’t easy. And yet, the Cakes had managed, they’d managed for years, by following a really simple set of rules:
- Ignore the accordion that plays itself in the closet. Ignore the closet altogether, especially late at night. It’s not safe.
- Don’t ask about the canned laughter. Don’t ask about the canned laughter.
- Smile when you’re happy! Cry when you’re sad! Feelings are good, and no matter what, Pinkie Pie is there to help!
- Do not ask about the canned laughter.
Surprisingly easy, as long as you didn’t really think about it. Little by little, the Cakes had managed, and they had come to love their life.
And then they’d had children.
The twins loved Pinkie Pie—they adored her—but you couldn’t really lay down the harsh realities of the world to a pair of toddlers and hope they buckle up. The canned laughter and the smiles, they had no problem with, babies are dumb. But the accordion? There was no way around the accordion.
So Sugarcube Corner had become soundproof, for the sake of the Cakes’ sanity.
Which meant it was amazing for parties that lasted all night.
“And now we’re going to play Truth or Dare!” Pinkie chirped once more, not so much walking as she bippity-bopped all over the place. “Get the cushions! The cushions! We need to sit on a circle!”
“This is dumb,” Applejack was saying as she obeyed Pinkie’s orders. “No offense, but this game’s dumb. Where’s the challenge? Just say ‘Truth’ every time!”
“Nah, say ‘Dare’ every time,” Dash said, rolling her eyes. “Best case scenario, you get Fluttershy and she dares you to look at yourself in the mirror.”
“Well.” Fluttershy sat down on the first cushion. “It’s hard for me. I keep crying.”
“And worst case scenario, you get Pinkie, and she asks you to open her closet.” Dash sat down, too, next to Fluttershy. “And you wake up three hours later just fine, so. Hey. Free nap.”
“Hahah. You’re strong! You can take it. That’s why we’re friends!”
“Um. I’m pretty sure naps are free anyway, Dash.”
“Ah still think Truth is better.” Applejack sat down, too—her cushion was custom-made, in the shape of an apple—and she did so right next to Dash, to follow the conversation. “Cause all Rarity asks is for your most intimate secrets, and Ah share those all the time. Did you know Ah’ve got abandonment issues? It’s an Apple tradition!”
“Yeah. You do that, like, four times a week, actually.”
“Oh.” Applejack frowned. Then, she smiled. “Want me to tell you again?”
And in the background, Rarity looked at Twilight, and nodded towards the two. “See what I mean?” she whispered.
“Twilight, dear, have you perhaps missed every single word they’ve said by accident, or…?”
“What? No!” Twilight scoffed and grabbed her cushion. “That was friendship. That’s what friendship sounds like.”
“Darling.” Rarity wasn’t wearing glasses. So she flashed her horn, summoned her sewing spectacles, put them on, and then looked at Twilight over the top of them. “Darling.”
And Twilight made a pout. “Don’t darling me,” she said. “Here, I’ll show you.”
They sat down, and Truth or Dare started, and it went exactly as these games tend to go.
“My turn!” Twilight said, and she looked at Rarity with confidence before addressing the entire group. “Okay. Applejack! Truth or—”
“—Dare—okay you could at least let me finish there.”
“Nah. Truth me.”
“Hmm.” Twilight scanned the room once more. They were all looking with a surprising amount with expectation. Truth or Dare with Applejack was less about the answer and more about the question. “So, if you were to kiss one of your best friends, who would you choose?”
That got a reaction out of the audience. Rainbow Dash laughed, and elbowed Applejack. Pinkie Pie giggled and bobbed up and down, and Fluttershy looked at AJ with genuine interest.
Rarity just smirked, though
“Kiss?” Applejack asked, cocking her head to the side. “Y’mean like, outta the six of us?”
“Five of us,” Twilight said. “Well, unless you’d rather kiss yourself, but that would mean you’re Dash.”
“I would take that as an insult if it weren’t so true,” Dash said, winking at Twilight. Then her smile faded. “No, but, seriously. I’m awesome.”
“Yes, Dash, we know.”
“Sometimes it pains me just how great I am.”
“It pains me, too,” Fluttershy said, little smile on. “If that helps?”
“It actually does!”
“Okay.” Applejack scratched her muzzle. “So, outta the five of y’all—‘cause Ah’m not a self-grandiose bonehead—who would Ah kiss?”
“Yeah!” Twilight replied, grinning. “Now—I understand this is a difficult question, so you can take a little bit of time if you—”
“Rarity. Next one?”
“What.” Applejack looked at them all, deadpan. “C’mon. It’s gotta be Rarity.”
“Yep.” Dash looked at Applejack, then at Rarity, then back at Applejack. “Can confirm. I’d also kiss Rarity. Uh, no offense.”
“Oh, dear, none taken,” Rarity said, smiling wide. “I’m really flattered by what you just said, I have to say. I take great pains to look like this, you know?”
“And it shows!” Applejack said, tipping her hat at Rarity. “Really nice, that face of yours. Ah’d smooch ya. Whose turn it is?”
Pinkie and Fluttershy were giggling, now, and then Dash started giggling, too, and Applejack just looked at them. “What?” she asked. “What did Ah say? Ah mean, Ah’d smooch ya too if Ah had to, but Rarity’s got a really nice face!”
And in the background, Twilight elbowed Rarity. “See?” she whispered, trying not to smile too hard. “Not that much into Rainbow Dash, don’t you think? She didn’t even mention her!”
“Why, and aren’t I glad she didn’t,” Rarity said, smiling back. “It’s always nice to be appreciated.”
“…Right. But, I win, right?” Twilight asked. “They aren’t going to end together. You saw how Dash reacted!”
“Oh, I sure did. And they did miss the chance to be romantic, didn’t they? But…” Rarity looked at Dash and Applejack, thinking face on. “I think the question might have not helped, dear. May I?”
“May you what?”
“Try myself. Let’s give them a second chance.” Rarity winked at Twilight. “Just you wait and see, it’ll be our little secret. Ahem.” Then, louder: “Say, Pinkie?”
“Teee-heeeh. Teee-heeeh-heeeh. Yes?” Pinkie stood up to attention, ears perking up. “What’s the matter?”
“It’s my turn, dear, that’s the matter,” Rarity said. “Little question—does the double rule still apply to this little game of ours?”
“Yeah!” Pinkie said. By now the giggles were down, so she could make sure everypony was listening. “You can ask two questions, but then you’ll be dared twice next time!”
“Good. Then, I take double Truth or Dare. Both to Dash and Applejack.” Then she batted her eyelashes really, really hard, and she put on her most beautiful face. “Is that allowed?”
“Not really! But I don’t think—”
“Truth,” said Applejack.
“Dare!” said Dash.
“—they’regonnamind yeah see?” Pinkie looked at her friends. “Truth and Dare with this group is predictable.”
“I like it,” Fluttershy muttered, snuggling up on her cushion. “It makes it safe. Games that are too exciting are scary.”
“Well then,” Rarity said, looking upwards, faking a moment of deep thought. Then, she readjusted her sewing glasses. “Applejack, I want you to say which stallion you’d kiss, if you had to kiss a stallion. And Dash, I dare you to say the same.”
Pinkie was quick to the update. “Hey! That’s against the rul—”
“You’re on!” Dash yelled.
“Soarin,” Applejack said.
“—les I don’t know why I bother,” Pinkie finished, deadpan. “Well. At least we’re having fun!”
“Soarin,” Applejack said again. “That was easy. Next!”
“Yeah, you were fast,” Dash said, looking at her. Then, she frowned. “So… A stallion, huh? That’s—I mean, I’m gonna do it, but it’s a little bit…”
“Please, Dash.” Rarity smiled at her, tapped her hoof. “If you’re secure enough on your sexuality, there’s nothing weird about this. It’s just a game.”
“Hmm.” Dash frowned harder. “I guess. Well, then I… Uh…” The frown turned into a squint. “I guess… Braeburn? Yeah, probably Braeburn.”
Applejack blinked. “My cousin?”
“Yeah, he looks like he’s got, I don’t know. Charm? Or something? I don’t know, don’t think hard about it.” She poked Applejack. “Why did you choose Soarin?”
“He’s got money and would help at the farm.” Applejack shrugged. “And Ah don’t know many stallions that aren’t part of my family.” Pause. “And we’re not that close-knit a family, thank you very much.”
“Right, right, of course.” Rarity’s smile would have outshined a million stars. “As I said, it’s just a hypothetical. A blue Wonderbolt, and an orange earth pony of the Apple family. Really good choices.”
By her right, Twilight was fuming. She had just the cutest little pout on her face. “Doesn’t count,” she said. “Means nothing.”
“Sure it doesn’t, darling,” Rarity said, patting Twilight’s head.
“Okay! My turn!” Applejack said. “And Ah ask Rarity!”
“Then I ask too. Because double dare.” Dash looked at Pinkie. “That allowed?”
“Do you care?”
“Then it’s allowed!” Pinkie giggled, then leaned towards Fluttershy. “I don’t actually know the rules of this game!” she whispered. “I’ve been winging it all this time! ‘Cause it’s much more fun that way!”
“…Pinkie, the one rule is right there on the name,” Fluttershy said. “It’s, um. It’s Truth or Dare. You ask for a Truth, or you ask for a Dare. How can you possibly—”
“Much more fun that way!”
“Right, never mind.”
“Okay then.” Applejack looked at Dash, grinned, and then looked at Rarity. “Ah dare you,” she said, “to wear high heels for the remainder of the game!”
“And I dare you,” Dash said, subtly hoof-bumping Applejack as she talked, “to walk in circles around the room nonstop for at least an hour starting now.”
“My. You two.” Rarity winked at them—earning more open giggles from Pinkie and Fluttershy, and some hidden ones from Dash and AJ—and then glanced at Twilight. “Ah, my dear,” she said in a singsong voice. “The things I do for love!”
Then she put on her shoes, and she started walking in that way only Rarity could walk.
And they all had a wonderful time.
The sky above Sweet Apple Acres was perfectly clear and blue, except for one tiny spot.
“My, my,” Rarity purred. “I have to say, I would have never expected you’d go this far, Twilight, dear.”
“Well, we do have something to tell them, so we might as well…”
“It almost looks like you’re in for something, are you not?” Rarity arched an eyebrow, in that delicious way of hers. “Is there anything in this little endeavor of ours that I’m missing, perhaps? Because spying your friends to prove a point? Oh, that is bold.”
“Says the one with a snooping cloud,” Twilight whispered as they moved slowly across the sky. “How did you even get a snooping cloud?”
“Twilight, dear,” Rarity said, smiling sweetly. “I’m best friends with Fluttershy.”
“…And Fluttershy likes to snoop on other ponies?”
“Oh, of course not! But, see, she’s also best friends with me.”
The cloud was white, cotton-like, and comfortable enough to lay on it for hours without getting sore. It was small, however—small enough to fit only one pony. So Twilight hugged it from above, and moved it with lazy wingflaps, and Rarity simply laid on top of Twilight.
“I trust I’m not bothering you, dear? Fluttershy never complains about my weight, but you know how she is. She would stay quiet even if my hooves were made of spikes.”
“…How often do you use this cloud, again?”
“Oh, please. You don’t want to know.” Then Rarity’s ears perked up. “Oh! Over there! Darling, over there, over there!”
“I think I’m going to have a little chat with Fluttershy tomorrow.”
They went over there.
Sweet Apple Acres was sweet, appley, and went on for acres, because an Apple named it. It made it beautiful to walk around, but also surprisingly good for hiding—and it had taken Twilight and Rarity almost an hour to find their friends.
But now they did—Applejack was resting under a particularly beautiful apple tree, and Dash was napping on the branches above. Applejack was looking at something on her hooves.
“Oh, my,” Rarity said once they moved close enough. “Just look at them, darling. Look at them.”
Twilight looked. “Uh,” she said. “Okay?”
“The fire in their eyes! The passion in their posture! The sensuality in their kinship! This? This, my dear, this is true love!”
“…Rarity, they’re not even sitting together.”
“I could cut the romantic tension in the air with a knife!”
Applejack was sitting under the biggest tree in the orchard, the one that sat atop the hill, and Dash was laying on the lowest branch. They weren’t talking, or looking at each other—Applejack was busy with something on her hooves, and Dash was—
“Sleeping,” Twilight said, frowning. “Rainbow Dash is actually sleeping. Wow.” She looked at Rarity. “Yeah, I think I see what you mean. I can just taste the romance.”
Rarity rolled her eyes. “Now, Twilight, dear, what I meant—”
“I’m pretty sure Applejack doesn’t even know Dash is there. Which I guess is the ideal date, if your significant other is Rainbow Dash, but that’s beside the point.”
“No. No, look, listen, I just—”
“Also, hey, that means we’re also on a date with Applejack! Dang.” Twilight squinted. “She’s good.”
“…Okay.” Rarity poked Twilight’s head. It was easy, she was still laying on top of her. “Are you done being sarcastic, dear, or do you need another minute?”
“I could go on for hours, really.”
“Wonderful.” Rarity pointed at the sleeping Rainbow Dash, the busy Applejack. “That?” she said. “That is not a date. That’s even better.”
Twilight looked at her two friends. Then, she looked at Rarity. Then, she arched an eyebrow. “Um, Rarity,” she said. “You’re aware that’s not what ‘sleeping with somepony’ actually means, right? Do you need the talk about the birds and the bees, or…?”
“Okay, no, you just said you were done being sarcastic.”
“I said the exact opposite, technically.”
“Shush.” Rarity covered Twilight’s mouth with a hoof. “Now,” she continued. “A date, my dear, is what happens when—don’t nibble, please, I’m sensitive—it’s what happens when two ponies make the conscious decision to hang out on a specific date, in a specific place. Hence the name. But this is different.”
“Yes, indeed. This?” Rarity pointed again, with the hoof that wasn’t silencing Twilight. “This is routine, my dear. What we have in front of us are two ponies who are alone together every single day of the week, just to enjoy each other’s company. They don’t even need dates anymore. Now go and tell me that isn’t romantic.”
Rarity thought about it. “Well,” she said. “Just don’t make me regret this, darling.”
“Mmmmpf-agh!” Twilights’ mouth was left free. “Whew.” She shook her head. “Right. So. Rarity, I guess I really don’t know about romance, because if what you’re saying is true you’re technically dating your cat. But, hey! I’m not going to ju—mmmmpf!”
“Aaand you immediately made me regret it. See? This is why we aren’t as close as them.”
“Because they are!” Rarity chuckled. “See—to talk, to have an actual conversation, you need chemistry. But for your every day, to be comfortable with each other, even in utmost silence?” Rarity let out a wishful sigh. “Oh, for that you need so much more, my dear.”
“Mmmpf. Mmmmmmpf mmpf?”
“No?” Rarity patted Twilight’s head. “Oh, my dear, you’re adorable when you think you know better than me.” She fixed her mane. “I guess we can just check, can we not? After all, we do have a message to send…”
Twilight’s eyes widened, then became two thin lines. “Mmmpfff…”
So two minutes passed.
“…Twilight?” Applejack stopped fiddling with whatever was in her hooves, got up, and looked at them, confused. Then, she looked around. “Uh. What? How did you two make it heeeeeeeeeeeee—”
Rarity kept gratuitously shaking her hips left and right. “My, this is good exercise. You think that’s enough, dear?”
Twilight looked at Applejack, inquisitive. “Hmmm…”
“…Okay, yeah, that’s enough. You can stop shaking.”
“Sure!” Rarity smiled at her. “Aaaaand one for luck!” And with a bam she stopped, and then stood still. “All yours.”
“Right. Hey, Applejack. Applejack.”
“—eeee—what? What?” Applejack blinked, eyes dazed. “Uh—wha? Right. Um. What was Ah talkin’ about?”
“Nothing important,” Twilight said, trotting all the way up the hill. Rarity followed. “Hi! What are you doing?”
“Oh, uh.” Applejack cleared her throat with a cough, then gave Twilight a bright smile. “It’s a puzzle! See?” She showed them the thing she was holding. It was a bright-colored cube with dozens of moving parts, and it looked like quite a mess. “Ah’ve been tryin’ to solve it.”
“Ah, I used to have one of those as a kid, too,” Rarity said by Twilight’s side. “Awfully complicated?”
“Yeah. Big Mac got it for Apple Bloom, but Ah want to make sure Ah know how to solve it first.” Applejack spoke matter-of-factly. “’Cause she won’t. And she’ll ask for help.”
“And you want to make it look easy?” Rarity asked.
“Yes, I can relate to that.” Rarity rolled her eyes. “Celestia knows I do the same with everything I give to Sweetie Belle. We don’t want them to stop idolizing us, do we?”
“You got it!”
“What?” Twilight looked at her friends. “You know the answers beforehand? Isn’t that cheating?”
“Twilight, dear.” Rarity smiled at her. “Didn’t you ever ask your brother for help as a kid, whenever you were stuck in a game?”
“Well, yeah, but that’s just because he’s really good at puzzles. He always found the answer in less than a minute. He’s amazing!”
“Yeah, he’s great.” Applejack went back to her puzzle. “So Ah’m stuck, Ah guess. Apple Bloom ain’t gonna get her birthday present in a while, looks like.”
“Well.” Twilight took a step towards Applejack, held a hoof up. “Those puzzles are really simple once you know the trick, in fact. Here, let me just—”
“Actually!” Applejack held the puzzle out of Twilight’s reach. “Let me try by myself? Ah wanna see if Ah can solve it without help. Don’t wanna cheat!”
“Oh.” Twilight put the hoof down. “Sure!”
“My.” Rarity was smiling behind Twilight. It was clear just by her voice. “How honorable.”
“So, what are you two doin’ in here?” Applejack asked them, sitting down once more. She rested her back on the trunk of the tree. “Ah mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see you—but this is a weird place to take a stroll.”
“Oh.” Twilight looked at Rarity. “Um, actually, mind if we wake Dash up first? It’s important.”
Applejack cocked her head to the side. “Dash?”
“Yeah, she’s, you know.” Twilight pointed upwards. “Sleeping up there?”
“What? She is?” Applejack looked, and immediately she frowned. “Well, what in tarnation—Dash! Hey, Dash! Ah told you not to sleep up there! You make the apples taste all funny!”
Dash muttered something, and rolled around, still asleep.
“Ah swear to Celestia, one day Ah’ll get my lasso, and…”
“Wait,” Twilight said, raising a hoof, awfully cheery. “You didn’t even know she was up there?”
“‘Course Ah didn’t! That mare’s only quiet when she’s sleepin’! HEY! Y’ALL UP THERE GET DOWN RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!”
“See?” Twilight quickly turned around and hushed at Rarity. “It wasn’t romantic at all—she didn’t even know Dash was there!”
“And yet they were resting exactly under the same tree. What a wonderful coincidence, don’t you think?”
“Come on, just accept you were wrong.”
Rarity nodded, but she kept looking at Applejack with a pensive face. “Give me another try,” she said. “Or give it to them, one can say. Whatever you choose, darling.”
“I’m asking you to stay and listen, dear.” Rarity winked at Twilight. “You look far better when you do that.”
“OKAY, DASH, AH’M GONNA GET THE LASSO. ANY MOMENT NOW. LASSO ‘ROUND YOUR NECK.”
“Grrrmph.” Dash finally got up, yawned. “G’morning, Applejack,” she muttered, tone drowsy. Then, without ever opening her eyes, she jumped down and rubbed her face. “What time is it?”
“TIME TO NOT SLEEP ON MY TREES.”
“Right, so four o’clock. Sweet.” Another yawn, and Dash finally noticed who was there. “Ah. Hey, you two. How’s it going?”
“Wonderfully, Dash,” Rarity said with a smile. “Are you awake yet? Important business awaits, I think.”
“…Yeah, sure.” Dash frowned, here, and the sleepiness went away from her eyes. By her side, Applejack also looked sharp. “What’s the matter?”
Nopony said anything for a moment or two, and then Rarity elbowed Twilight. “Ah! What? I—oh, right. Um.” Twilight smiled at Dash and AJ. “Actually, it’s about tomorrow. We have to go to Canterlot.”
Applejack’s frown was identical to Dash’s. “Canterlot? Why for?”
“I don’t know. Princess Celestia asked for our presence, so we should take the first train tomorrow. It sounded important.”
“World-saving important?” Dash asked. “It’s been a while since we saved the world.”
“Sounded like that, yeah.”
“Well.” Applejack put the puzzle down. “Ah’ll be darned. Ah guess Ah’ll tell Big Mac he has to work my share tomorrow. He won’t like it.”
“I’m sure we’ll be okay,” Twilight said, confidence in her voice. “We’ll meet up at the station tomorrow morning. Is that good?”
“No problem here.”
“Well then, we must go,” Rarity said. “We still haven’t told Pinkie Pie, and this is not the kind of thing you should tell by letter, don’t you think?” And then she put an arm over Twilight’s shoulders and dragged her away, to the surprise of everypony around. “See you later, girls. And good luck with that puzzle of yours, Applejack, dear.”
“Right.” Applejack nodded. “Thanks!”
Rainbow Dash blinked twice. “Puzzle?” she asked.
“Yeah! It’s for Apple Bloom, but Ah can’t solve it myself. It’s really hard!” AJ threw it at Dash, who caught it on the fly at once. “‘Ere, give it a try, see if you can do it.”
And that’s when Twilight stopped dead in her tracks. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah, Applejack,” Rarity said, speaking slowly. “I thought you wanted to solve the puzzle yourself?”
Applejack and Dash were just staring at them, face blank. “Wha?”
“Because otherwise it would be cheating?” Rarity added.
Applejack was looking at them like they were talking a different language, and then understanding came. “Oh!” she said. “Oh, right, Ah did say that, didn’t Ah?” She looked at Dash, then at the puzzle, then shrugged. “Meh. Dash doesn’t count.”
Dash frowned. “I don’t?”
“Nah. You’re like, you come with the package or somethin’. Not cheatin’ if Ah was gonna ask you anyway.”
“You have a really interesting way to define ‘cheating’, AJ.”
“Look, you wanna help with the puzzle or what.”
“Sure, sure.” Dash sat down by the tree, right next to Applejack, and started fiddling with the cube. “Okay, so what are we supposed to do? Line up the dots?”
“Then we can just do this, right? And then—wait.”
“Yeah, if you do that, that bit moves too. Ah’ve no idea what to do with this. Usually Ah deal with mental conundrums by kickin’ ‘em.”
“Have you tried kicking the puzzle really hard?”
Pause. Applejack took her hat off. “Huh,” she said. “Y’know, Ah actually haven’t!”
“Well, then we know what to do.”
“And Rainbow Dash doesn’t count,” Rarity said as she walked downhill—Twilight followed her—swinging her hips with glee, “because they’re a set, see? They might as well be just one pony, dear.”
Twilight sighed. “I mean,” she said, making sure to look at Rarity’s face. “She still didn’t know Rainbow Dash was up that tree, right? So, technically, I win!”
“You are grasping at straws, are you not?”
“Hey! Still counts.” Twilight made a cute little pout. “Plus, you just got lucky with the puzzle.”
“Oh, if it hadn’t been the puzzle, it would have been literally anything else, dear,” Rarity said, smiling at her. “See, Applejack did know Dash was up there. Even if she didn’t. It’s like how they’re dating already, even if they aren’t.”
“…What? I, uh.” Twilight squinted. “I don’t follow.”
“Hmm.” Rarity smiled at her. “I told you, dear. You know nothing of the matters of the heart. Oh, and tomorrow we’re going to Canterlot! The most romantic city in Equestria! Why, I shudder only from thinking of what we might see there, darling.”
Twilight was looking through a pair of white binoculars. “I mean, aren’t they just talking?” she asked as she leaned out the window. “I think they’re just talking.”
“No, no. See?” Rarity was looking through a pair of purple binoculars. “They are talking intimately, dear.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Why, that they only have eyes for each other! Right now, for Rainbow Dash, the only thing in this world are Applejack’s words!”
“Uh. You’re describing something called ‘paying attention’, actually. It’s literally how every conversation ever works.”
“Has Rainbow Dash ever paid attention to you?”
There was a lot of cantering going on in Canterlot, even though it hadn’t been named by the Apples.
The city was white and stone all over, in a way that could only be described as beautiful—and nowhere was this beauty as obvious as from the Castle, where huge balconies oversaw the entirety of Canterlot for all the ponies to see.
The balconies had been built in there, thousands of years ago, to give Celestia a way to look upon their subjects with a modicum of privacy.
They were also really good for spying on whoever friends were out on a date.
“It’s not a date,” Twilight said for the nth time. “They’re just hanging out!”
“I’d ask for there to be a limit on how dense you can be sometimes, Twilight,” Rarity said, taking her eyes off the binoculars for a moment and looking at Twilight, “if it weren’t because it’s so fun to prove you wrong.”
“Joke’s on you—so far they’re just walking.” Twilight also took her eyes off the binoculars—this time, to stare. “Are you going to tell me walking is romantic, now?”
“Oh, puh-lease, Twilight Sparkle.” Rarity pointed at the scenery that laid behind them at the other side of the window. “This is Canterlot! The City in Love! Anything can be romantic if you do it here! Even eating pancakes can be made charming if it happens in Canterlot, and you know it!”
Twilight wanted to argue this, but she had been born and raised in Canterlot. Memories of heart-shaped greasy burgers came to mind, and she chose a different angle. “Yes,” she said. “Okay, good point—but this is Rainbow Dash and Applejack we’re talking about.”
Rarity frowned, but didn’t look away from Twilight. “Yeees. I… suppose they are, yes. I don’t see your point, however.”
“My point is that everything can be romantic in Canterlot—but that’s the thing. It can, if you make an effort. Even if they’re dating, and they’re not, can you picture any of these two doing anything remotely romantic by their own will?”
“…Well, Applejack considers apples romantic, if I remember correctly.”
“Yeah, my point exactly.” Twilight snorted. “Can you imagine, getting an apple for Hearts and Hooves Day? Not even a fancy apple, or one with a ribbon—just, a piece of fruit.”
Rarity snorted, too. And it was such an unladylike sound that Twilight snorted even louder, and before they knew it, they were in the middle of a laughing fit.
Princess Luna laughed.
They all laughed.
Rarity and Twilight screamed.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle. And Rarity.” Princess Luna smiled at them atop the yelling, but her eyes were serious. “I am afraid I have an important message for you. And Rarity.”
“AAAAAAAAAAA—aaaaa-haaah, right, right. Ahem.” Twilight had almost jumped off the balcony in surprise, so she landed before speaking. “Um,” she finally said. “Uh, good afternoon, Princess Luna. We—uh, sorry for the yelling. We didn’t know you were here.” Pause. “Rarity.”
“You can let me go now.”
“Yes, dear.” Rarity unwrapped her arms from Twilight’s neck and shoulders, and then gave Princess Luna an embarrassed smile. “Ehehehe. My apologies, Princess. We, um, we were a bit surprised.”
“I see. Good afternoon to you too, Twilight Sparkle. And Rarity,” Luna said, nodding. “I expected Twilight Sparkle to be alone, but I suppose you can be here, too, to hear my tale.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Rarity took a deep breath, and rested her back on the balcony. “That is wonderf—oh?” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something. “Twilight?”
“I think our two little lovers are entering a café now? A wonderfully elegant one, I must say!”
“What?! No way!” Twilight put the binoculars on and looked down the balcony… Then she paused. “Uh,” she said, looking at Luna. “Right, Princess, um. Your tale? What do you mean? I guess—ah! I see them!”
Luna nodded sagely. “Yes, Twilight Sparkle. My Sister’s advice was true: great danger is coming to Equestria. But I fear, while she did tell you everything she knows, she did not tell you everything I know.”
“Wait, how is that romantic?” Twilight asked, frowning through the binoculars. “That’s just Pony Joe’s!”
“Wonderfully charming in an old-timey sort of way.”
“You can literally see the grease on the walls from the street, Rarity.”
“Just like in the old times.”
“…Right.” Luna said, squinting. “Rrrright. Twilight Sparkle—and, uh, Rarity—great danger threatens Equestria. A curse was cast upon us in the past, by forces long since gone.”
“Right. Old curse.” Twilight nodded, still looking through the binoculars. “Got it. Ah! They’re sitting by the window!”
“And I couldn’t help but notice…” Rarity took the binoculars off and smirked at Twilight. “That they’re sitting together, are they not?”
“…Were you actually expecting them to go to Joe’s together and then sit apart? Rarity, are you sure you know how friendship works?”
“And when day and night become one and the same, Equinox will come. And with her—okay.” Luna stomped on the ground, making both Twilight and Rarity yelp in surprise. “I am not blind, Twilight Sparkle. Clearly, something is distracting you. What is there so important that the fate of Equestria is not enough to hold your attention?”
Twilight immediately blushed and looked away from Luna. “U-um,” she said. “I’m sorry, Princess Luna. We were just—”
“The fault is mine, Princess Luna,” Rarity said, swiftly stepping in front of Twilight, shielding her with a hoof. “We have a little, ah, competition going on, and I’m afraid I got Twilight wrapped up in—”
“A competition?” Luna asked, eyes shifty. “What kind of competition?”
“Well, I guess ‘competition’ might be too strong a word to—”
“It’s more like an ongoing bet?” Twilight said, looking at Rarity. Rarity shrugged. “Yeah, okay, that works. We just—we’re arguing if, um, if Rainbow Dash and Applejack are… Well. Interested in each other. I say they’re just friends, and Rarity says…”
“You’re arguing if your friends are romantically interested?” Luna asked, eyes wide.
“…Yeah.” Twilight blushed even harder. “I guess it’s not really—”
“That’s surprising,” Luna mused. Her horn flashed, and a pair of blue binoculars appeared in front of her. “I thought they were already dating, Twilight Sparkle.”
“HAH!” Rarity grinned at Twilight. “I told you!”
“Oh, come on.”
“Indeed, this is something I would not have imagined, even in my wildest dreams.” Luna leaned over the balcony too, and peered towards Pony Joe’s with her binoculars. “Ah, I see,” she said. “They are sharing one doughnut pastry. A romantic gesture, if one wills it to be.”
“Okay, she said ‘if one wills it to be’, which means that it’s still up in the air.” Twilight leaned over the balcony, too. “Do you think they’re being sappy?”
“I do not know, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said. “Perhaps. The doughnut pastry appears to be tasty.”
“Yeah, Pony Joe’s is good.”
“Well, I think they’re heads over heels for each other, personally,” Rarity said. To say that she was also leaning over the balcony and looking through her binoculars would be unnecessary, so it will not be pointed out. “Look at them! They’re lost in each other’s eyes!”
“I’d rather say they’re lost in the doughnut, to be honest.”
“Is sharing one doughnut pastry perhaps a romantic gesture?” Luna looked at Twilight and Rarity. “I believe knowing that would clear our doubts.”
“It can be, I guess,” Twilight said, squinting. “But I think they’re just trying to save bits. Canterlot is expensive.”
“…I honestly wouldn’t put that past those two,” Rarity admitted. “But! We can’t be sure, can we? Oooh, if only we could hear what they’re saying! Are you sure that’s impossible, Twilight?”
“I told you.” Twilight clicked her tongue. “There are spells that could do it, I suppose, but they’re too far away. I don’t even know if such a spell is possible.”
“Oh, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, taking off her binoculars. “Everything is possible.”
A blink. Twilight and Rarity both looked at Luna, with wonder and hope alike. “…You mean there’s a way?” Twilight asked. “A spell?”
“There is always a way, Twilight Sparkle. That is something I learned myself, through many years of hardships.” Luna smiled, and behind that smile there was power, there was might. Her horn glimmered. Her eyes sparkled white. “For nothing can stand before you and your goals, if your will is strong enough. If your magic is strong enough. If you’re not scared of using whatever means necessary…”
Ten minutes passed.
“And this I call,” Luna said, “my snooping cloud!”
“Well, there’s nothing quite as elegant as a snooping cloud, I believe,” Rarity said. The cloud was still too small, so she was laying on top of Twilight—who was lying on top of Luna. “It’s such a wonderful device.”
“Indeed!” Luna said, smiling wildly. “You say wise things. I like you, Miss Rarity. Now quiet. We are approaching!”
Canterlot’s skies weren’t as clear as the ones back in Ponyville, but the snooping cloud was still floating in the middle of the street, right in front of Pony Joe’s. Still, nopony looked at it twice.
“It’s illegal to do so,” Princess Luna explained when Twilight asked about it. “By Royal Decree.”
“You’ve forced your subjects to not notice your snooping cloud by law?”
“Well.” Rarity patted Twilight’s head—mostly because there was little else she could do, in such a compromising position. “You must admit it works.”
And then they stopped talking, because they were right in front of Pony Joe’s, and Applejack and Dash were talking.
They were sitting right next to the window—table for two, one in front of the other, donut long gone and nothing between them except for the table. They paid no heed to the giant cotton-like cloud floating nearby.
“—and Ah guess she went to the, what’s it called? School of Fashion?”
“Canterlot School of Fashion,” Dash said. She nodded towards the window, but didn’t look through it. “It’s by North Street, right? The fancy building.”
“Right, that. Canterlot School of Fashion.” Applejack squinted and tapped the table twice with a hoof, to give her next words the proper weight. “But here’s the thing, right. You don’t just get into Canterlot School of Fashion like that.”
“Nah, Rarity’s said it’s really hard. She had to learn everythin’ there’s to learn ‘bout fashion before passin’ the exam.”
“And she passed?”
“Ah mean, Ah guess?”
By the cloud, Twilight looked at Rarity. “They’re talking about you?” she whispered.
“So it seems,” Rarity said. “Seemingly we always end up here, don’t we?”
“This doesn’t count as romantic talk, by the way.”
“I do not know,” Princess Luna said, frowning. “I suppose they might be participating in the art of gossipping. Which is something lovers often do, to feel superior to everypony else. Right?”
“Yes.” Luna nodded. “I knew it. Some things never change.”
“Friends also do this, though,” Twilight pointed out. “I mean, we’re in a snooping cloud as we speak, and last time I checked we weren’t in a three-way relationship.” Pause. “…We are not in a three-way relationship, right?”
“I do not believe my sister would approve of that, Twilight Sparkle.”
“Yeah, well, just making sure.”
“Shush,” Rarity said, frowning at them both. “I’m trying to be indiscreet, if you two don’t mind?”
“—and that’s the thing!” Applejack was saying now. “If Rarity had to know everythin’ there’s to know ‘bout fashion before enterin’…”
“What is there to know about fashion anyway?” Rainbow asked, frowning. “Sewing?”
“Ah guess? That sounds ‘bout right.” Applejack thought about it. “And colors. Knowin’ colors.”
“Are you sure? Because I know how to sew, and I know all the names of the colors, and I know nothing about fashion.”
“No, no. You just know some colors. Ah guess Rarity knows, like, the best ones.” Applejack nodded in appreciation of her own wisdom. “Like, the best red. And—wait, you know how to sew?”
“Well, yeah. I’m friends with both Rarity and Fluttershy, I sorta picked it up.” Dash blinked. “Wait. You don’t?”
“You’re friends wi—Ah’m friends with them too, and Ah’ve no idea how to do that!”
“What?” Rainbow Dash arched an eyebrow. “You live in a farm! How are you even surviving if you don’t know how to sew? Like, what if a curtain breaks or something? How do you fix it?”
“Ah literally just ask Rarity or Shy to do it for me?”
A moment of silence.
“Well.” Dash rested her back on the chair and crossed her legs. “You got me there, I guess.”
“You’re a weird one, Dash.” Applejack shook her head. “Friends, she says. Ah’m friends with Twilight and Ah’ve no idea how to shoot lasers.”
“Hey, not my fault I’m smarter than you.”
“In your dreams, Sugarcube.” Applejack smirked at Dash, here. Dash smirked back. “But Ah was talkin’ somethin’ important. See, if Rarity—she had to learn everythin’ there’s to know about fashion before enterin’ that fancy school, right?”
“Right.” Applejack leaned over the table now, and stared deeply into Dash’s eyes. “Then what did she even learn in there?”
And the silence that followed was like the beating of a million drums.
“…Woah,” Dash eventually said, her pupils the size of watermelons. “Oh my gosh. Applejack.”
Applejack was grinning. “Eeeyup.”
“That’s—I don’t even know what to think.”
“We’re through the lookin’ glass, Dash.” Applejack tipped her hat upwards, so more of her face could be seen. “Y’know what Ah think? She did learn somethin’ in that school—just not ‘bout colors or sewin’.”
“Right.” Dash nodded. “I’m listening.”
“Okay. So.” Applejack joined both hooves under her chin. “Think ‘bout this: martial arts.”
“Oh my gosh,” Dash said.
“Oh, my gosh,” Rarity said, by the cloud.
“Yep.” Twilight said. “Yyyyep. This is being a really productive afternoon, all right.”
“These are our friends, Twilight. We’re friends with these ponies.”
“Please, do stay quiet, Miss Rarity,” Luna hushed, staring intently into the window of Pony Joe’s. “It is getting interesting.”
“Oh my gosh,” Dash repeated, back in Pony Joe’s. “Of course! It’s the only thing that makes sense! She learns how to fight in that school, and then—”
“And then she can open her Boutique,” Applejack continued. “‘Cause she can defend it!”
“Yeah, but defend it against what?”
“Well, Ah dunno. Other students of that school?”
“Right! Of course!” Dash’s wings fluttered with excitement. “That’s why you need to graduate in Canterlot School of Fashion to have a store—because otherwise the students go there and kick your butt!”
Applejack nodded. “It’s the perfect plan.”
“No wonders they have a monopoly on the fashion industry,” Dash mused. “And Rarity does move in funny ways now and then, have you noticed?”
“Yeah, Ah’m sure she had to get some trainin’ to do that. Ah mean, have you seen those hips?”
Dash smirked. “Oh, I have.”
And in the cloud, both Luna and Twilight were staring at Rarity.
Rarity noticed. “…What?” she eventually asked. “What? Why are you—okay. I swear to Celestia. If you two are even thinking of asking me about whatever they’re talking, I am going to break you.”
“I mean,” Twilight said, “say whatever you want, but I’ve seen you kick ponies in the face, and you never explained where you learned to do that.” She shrugged, but there was a hint of a smile in her face. “Also, I think we can rule out the romance for now? They haven’t said anything remotely sappy so far.”
“Give them time,” Rarity said. “We just have to wait. I’m sure of it.”
“I have to admit,” Luna muttered. “I am growing tired of waiting. Perhaps we should take the matter in our hooves, don’t you think? Just a simple—”
“Hey,” Dash said suddenly. “We haven’t ordered anything in ages, and Joe is looking funny at us.”
Applejack looked at the pony by the counter. “Huh,” she said. “He is.”
“Wanna share a smoothie between the two? We can ask for two straws.”
“HAH!” The snooping cloud trembled with Rarity’s screamy whisper. “I knew it! They’re sharing a drink now—with two straws, no less—while alone in a romantic place like this! Twilight, dear, even you will have to admit that this is—”
“Ah mean, this place is expensive,” Applejack continued. “No way Ah’m payin’ for one by myself.”
“Yeah, and they’re big anyway. That’ll save up some bits.” Dash raised a hoof and waved it. “Hey, Joe! Take our order?”
“HAH!” Now it was Twilight’s turn to make the cloud tremble. “They’re just saving up some money! See? There’s nothing between them!”
“Hmph.” Rarity made a pout. “Well, we don’t know, I suppose. Maybe they’re just embarrassed, dear. They are sharing a drink, after all. That’s an intimate gesture.”
“No, no, you can’t say that. They literally just said—”
“Hello!” Princess Luna yelled. She was inside Pony Joe’s, now, staring right at Applejack and Dash. Applejack and Dash replied by screaming in surprise. “I have arrived! Good afternoon, Applejack and Rainbow Dash!”
And then she looked straight into the snooping cloud and winked.
Twilight didn’t wink back. “Uh,” she said. “How… How did she get in there?”
“Oh, she’s good,” Rarity said, squinting. Then, her ears perked up. “Wait. How did she sneak up on you? Weren’t you laying directly on top of her?”
Pause. Twilight looked down. She was just laying on the snooping cloud, now.
Then she squinted. “Oh,” she said. “She is good.”
“Uh. Hello there, Princess,” Dash said. “…Nice to see you?”
“Yes!” Princess Luna said. “It is, indeed, nice to see me. And it is nice to see you, too! For the first time, since you held audience with my sister!”
And then she winked at the snooping cloud again.
“…Why are you doin' that? Wait. Why is there a cloud in there.”
“I am here, you see—no don’t do that that’s illegal—I am here because I have to ask a question,” Luna explained. “See, it is a matter of my curiosity if you two share a special bond with each other?”
Dash blinked. “What? Bond?”
Applejack blinked harder. “What? Illegal?”
“Indeed!” Luna repeated, stomping on the ground for effect. “To both of you! A special bond, an intimate relationship, a particular affection!” She smiled brightly. “And yes, illegal, don’t look at the snooping cloud.”
“Intimate relationship?” Dash arched an eyebrow and looked at Applejack. “Us two?”
And back in the cloud, Twilight and Rarity held their breath.
Not hard enough to avoid Rarity making a quip, however. “She might not be the most subtle of ponies,” she whispered, “but one has to admit Princess Luna goes straight to the point, dear.”
“Yeeeeeah, I guess this beats the kung-fu talk.”
“Ah mean,” Applejack said, sharing another awkward look with Rainbow Dash. “Ah don’t think we’re really sharin’ anything particularly special.”
“Yeah,” Dash said. “We… I mean, we aren’t dating, Princess.” She squinted. “We’re… sorry? For that? I guess?”
Luna frowned. “Oh.”
And Twilight grinned. “Told you!”
“But,” Luna said, frown immediately going away. “You did agree to share a drink, did you not?”
“…Right,” Dash said. “But that’s not—”
“Does that mean, then,” Luna interrupted, “that you would share a drink with anypony?” She thought about it, and then added: “With me, perhaps?”
And she winked at the cloud a third time.
“What?” Applejack scooted away from the Princess, ever so slightly. “Uh, Ah—Ah mean, that’s kind of—”
“Weird,” Dash said. “That’s really weird.”
“Yeah. No offense, but—Ah don’t think Ah could do that, Princess.”
Luna nodded. “But you are willing to do that with each other.”
“Sure, but I mean, come on.” Dash pointed. “It’s Applejack! It’s not weird if it’s Applejack.” Pause. She looked at AJ. “I mean, it’s not, right?”
“Nah, Ah don’t think it is. Doesn’t count with us two.”
“Yeah, see? What she said.”
Rarity didn’t say anything to Twilight—but she gave her the most brilliant, most beautiful, smuggest smile she could possibly come up with.
And Luna nodded, happy again. “I see!” she said. “I will order my own drink, then.” She sat down at the table, and rested her chin on her hoof, staring at Applejack. “Now tell me more about that fighting fashion school theory of yours. It is relevant to our interests.”
“Aaand just like that,” Rarity said, “this entire scene lost all interest for me.”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “It sounds like it can be fun?”
“Okay, okay.” Twilight rolled her eyes, but she started flapping her wings, moving the cloud away lazily. “As you wish. But what we saw is still not enough to prove anything. Maybe they’re just really close.”
“Hey, you know what we could do?” Twilight’s ears perked up. “We could go for greasy burgers. I’ve been craving them for a while. My treat?”
Rarity made a face. “…I don’t know, dear. I mean, burgers are not really my—”
“Oh.” Rarity blinked. “Well, then, of course! That sounds wonderful, my dear. Your treat.”
You should never stare at Rarity’s hips while fighting a monster, lest you get distracted.
“DASH! LOOK OUT! THE MONSTER!”
“Sorry, what? I’m distracted staring at Rarity’s hips!”
And Rainbow Dash was slapped all across the room.
“Yep.” In the background, Twilight and Rarity were sitting together. “Yyyyyep. She stared.” Twilight looked at Rarity. “My win.”
“Oh, darling. You’re adorable.” Rarity was wiggling with vigor, determination shining on her face. “Watch and learn.”
“DASH!” FOR CELESTIA’S SAKE!” Applejack yelled, stepping up to the monster. “THERE’S GOT TO BE A LIMIT AT JUST HOW DUMB YOU CAN B—oh hey. That thing with the tail’s pretty nice. What were we talkin’ about?”
And Applejack was slapped across the room.
“See? Soulmates, darling. They’re soulmates.”
Saving the world is mostly about priorities.
There was a monster inside Canterlot Castle, and the monster’s name was Equinox. She was big, and strong, and horse-shaped. She could move fast and kick hard, and her only instinct was to destroy everything in sight.
And that right there was one of the two reasons why Equinox was busy trying to tear down the Throne Room.
The other was that Equinox couldn’t really get out of the Throne Room. She was trapped in there, because Twilight had locked them all inside and asked her friends to try to seize the monster—but not to hurt her. Never to hurt her.
“Um.” Fluttershy squinted. “Even if she’s slapping Rainbow Dash?”
“Especially if she’s slapping Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said. She pointed at one of the pictures in her book. “That’s the Princesses.”
And in the background, Equinox slapped Rainbow Dash again.
“Wow,” Pinkie said. “She’s good at this.”
“The Princesses?” Rarity asked, sitting down next to Twilight and offering her best shocked expression. “But—but how? Princess Luna and Celestia are wonderful, rational ladies, if I’ve ever seen one! I cannot believe they would ever become such a mindless beast just because—”
Twilight raised a hoof to shut her up. “Fluttershy,” she said. “You have the best eyesight out of the four of us, right?”
“Um.” Fluttershy frowned. “I-I think so?”
Twilight nodded, not breaking eye contact with Rarity. “Look at Equinox’s face.”
And Fluttershy did.
“…Oh,” she said after a moment. “She’s, uh.” A squint. “I think Equinox is wearing a monocle?”
“Okay, I was wrong, that’s definitely the Princesses fused together.”
“Thank you.” Twilight sighed and tapped her old book. “It’s all written in here,” she explained. “It’s an old curse. I’m not really familiar with how these things go, but I think they’ve become one single being.” She looked at Equinox. She was currently smashing her head against one of the walls. “…And I guess the sheer raw power of that new form is a little too overwhelming for them.”
“Aaaw. That sounds bad.” Pinkie said. She looked at Twilight. “Is it bad?”
“It is bad.”
“Ah-hah. I knew it.”
“I—Um, I also think that sounds bad,” Fluttershy whispered, shrinking and hiding under her mane. “I like the Princesses. They’re nice. I wouldn’t want them to go crazy.” She rubbed her forelegs and looked at Equinox, currently smashing Applejack against one of the walls. “Is there anything we can do?”
“I don’t know. I’m looking for ways to lift the curse, but, well…” Twilight closed the book and showed them the cover; “Curses and Hexes: Evil Spells for Evil Ponies” “I’m not really used to this kind of magic. All I know is that friendship and lasers are not going to cut it this time.”
Pinkie cocked her head to the side. “What about friendship lasers?”
“Twice as useless.”
“Yeah, this is advanced material.”
“So our usual method won’t work?” Rarity asked, surprised. You could tell, because her eyebrows were up, and not in a particularly elegant way. “Why, I don’t think asking Applejack and Rainbow Dash to take care of Equinox was the brightest idea, then. They’re not exactly good at dealing with problems they can’t simply kick away.”
The four ponies paused, and looked at the fight in the background.
Equinox was smashing Applejack to the ground to nail her there face-first. Rainbow Dash was acting as the unwilling hammer in this metaphor.
“…They’re struggling a bit, yes,” Twilight admitted.
“Perhaps they could use a little bit of help?” Rarity said. Everypony immediately looked at her, and she reacted by arching an eyebrow. “Why, not moi, of course. I need to stay here and guard Twilight, so she can keep looking for a solution in this marvelous book of hers.”
“Uh-huh,” Fluttershy said.
“Right,” Pinkie said.
“RAAAAAARGH!” roared Equinox in the background.
“…Well, those responses are just offensive.” Rarity pressed a hoof against her chest in offended fashion. “I’ll let you know, I’m perfectly capable of protecting Twilight, thank you very much. I am not just looking for ways to avoid the fight myself.” She looked at Twilight. “Dear?”
“She has a point,” Twilight said. “Equinox is still the Princesses, deep down—and right now they’re mostly a threat to themselves, not to us. Applejack and Dash are a little rough for situations like these, but maybe you two could be of use?”
“See?” Rarity smiled at Twilight, and then looked at Pinkie and Shy with more of a stern expression. “This is a serious situation, girls. There is simply no time to waste. Isn’t that right?”
“That is right,” Twilight said.
“Ah-hah. I knew it.”
“Hey!” said Pinkie—but Fluttershy put a hoof on her shoulder, and shook her head. So Pinkie shrugged and winked at them. “Oh, well. Okay! I’m sure it’ll be fine, somehow! HEY, APPLEJACK! I’M HELPING YOU NOW! ISN’T THAT GREAT?!”
“AH’M IN AGONY!”
“Um,” Fluttershy said. She looked at Pinkie, then at Equinox—triumphant, glorious, tenderizing Dash with punch alone—and then at Rarity.
Rarity pursed her lips with just the slightest hint of disapproval.
Fluttershy swallowed. “Pinkie Pie!” she said, turning around and flying away. “W-wait! I’m coming with you!”
And they left, leaving Twilight and Rarity alone, right next to the door, and safely away from Equinox and the increasingly messy fight that was going on by the Throne.
Twilight looked at Rarity. “Wow,” she said. “Fluttershy is terrified of you, isn’t she?”
“Yes.” No doubt in Rarity’s voice.
“I was under the impression you two were best friends?”
“Oh, we are! That’s why she’s terrified.”
“Ah. Well.” Twilight shrugged and opened the book of curses once more. “Okay, then. Also, I’m just going to assume that you asked them to go away so we could gossip in private?”
Rarity sat down right next to Twilight. “They looked at me weird when I wiggled, yes.”
“Right. So.” Twilight browsed through the pages of the book, making a point of looking at it and nothing else. “Just for the record—this is an extremely serious problem we’re facing, and I’m doing the responsible thing and dedicating all my efforts looking for a solution. I do need to look for a way to lift the curse.”
Rarity just smiled lazily. “Of course, dear,” she said, patting Twilight’s hoof. “I expect nothing less.”
“Yes. So, I’m not using this entire situation to gossip about Applejack and Rainbow Dash anymore. That’s clear, right?”
“Good. Good.” Twilight nodded, and kept browsing through the book.
Two seconds passed.
And then Twilight raised her eyes from the book. “Now, that said—”
“Darling, this is why I love being friends with you so much.”
“—Applejack is totally going to—hey!”
“No, no.” Rarity shook her head and waved a hoof, smile still on her face. “By all means, go on. Don’t let me distract you.”
Twilight squinted at Rarity—she even flattened her ears against her head so the squint would look more intense—and then went back to her book. “Never mind,” she grumbled. “I’ve got work to do. Just—keep an eye on them and tell me if anything interesting happens?”
Rarity giggled, and patted Twilight’s hoof once more. “Sure, dear. Sure.”
“And no cheating!”
“Why, I would never.” Rarity rolled her eyes and proceeded to observe the fight. “I’m sure I won’t need to. I highly doubt it’ll take long.”
And she was absolutely right.
It was only three minutes later that Fluttershy felt the need to stop hiding behind Rainbow Dash and look at Equinox. “Um,” she said, causing Dash to look at her. “Twilight… Twilight said the Princesses fused together into this monster.”
And Dash frowned. “What?”
“So… Maybe Equinox isn’t really evil?” Fluttershy swallowed and flapped her wings, taking flight and getting closer to the monster. “I mean, she’s wearing a monocle. That means she can’t be that bad, right? Maybe we can still talk to the Princesses? Ask them to be nice?”
There was a pause.
“That thing has tried to kill me at least seven times in the last two minutes.”
“Uh.” Fluttershy squinted and looked at Equinox. “Well. Maybe she’s just scared and confused? Have you tried talking to her? Hearing her version of the story?”
Dash frowned. “Well, yes,” she said. “She said ‘raaaargh’, and then she tried to kill me.”
“Yeah, see? Exactly like th—OH MY GOSH FLUTTERSHY GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
Some really confusing seconds followed, and then Rarity caught Twilight’s ears perking up. “That noise was Equinox trying to kill Fluttershy, dear,” she explained.
“Ah.” Twilight looked away from the book for a fraction of a second—just enough to smile at Rarity as a thank you—and then went back to business. “Right, good. Tell me if something important happens.”
Twilight stopped reading and frowned. “Wait a minute.”
“Equinox didn’t catch Fluttershy, of course,” Rarity said then, rolling her eyes as she nudged Twilight ever-so-slightly. “Dash was fast enough to push her out of the way.”
“Of course, she wasn’t fast enough to push herself out of the way too, but I’m sure that’s a sacrifice she was willing to make.” Rarity squinted. “I mean, from here it looks like she’s breathing, anyway.”
“Well, that’s… That’s… Oh?” Twilight’s eyes went wide, and she turned three pages in a row. Her muzzle was so close to the book she wasn’t reading it as much as she was breathing it. “I see. I see… Also, uh.” She blinked, looked at Rarity. “That’s good, I guess. I hope she’s fine.”
“So do I, actually. Let me check.” Rarity cleared her throat with a cough. “Dash! Rainbow Dash, darling, are you okay?”
“DO YOU THINK I’M OKAY?!”
“Good to know!” Twilight frowned, turned another page, frowned harder. “Really… really good to know. Rarity?” She raised her eyes from the book and looked at her friend. “I think I might have found something. Something important.”
Rarity nodded, not really paying attention. “Hmm-hmm,” she said. “Funny, so have I.”
“Fluttershy is not a fast learner.”
“MISS EQUINOX, I KNOW YOU’RE GOOD DEEP INSIDE! I BELIEVE IN YOU!”
“FLUTTERSHY FOR THE LOVE OF CELESTIA CAN YOU AT LEAST GO BACK TO BEING A COWARD.”
“NO, DASH! I MUST BE NICE!”
“And Dash is still not fast enough. Oh, well.” Rarity batted her eyelashes and turned towards Twilight, resting her chin on her hoof. “You were saying, darling?”
And Twilight nodded, eyes sparkling. “I was saying!” she said. “We might be able to lift the curse with normal magic!” She nudged Rarity so she’d get closer and then pointed at one line in the book. “Here, see? It says that the skies are important for curses and powerful hexes.”
Rarity smiled, but then her right ear perked up, and she looked back at the battlefield. “…I see,” she said anyway. “Of course, darling. The skies. That makes sense, doesn’t it?.”
“Yeah! This is a curse that’s lasted for millennia, and it affects both Princess Luna and Princess Celestia, so it had to affect the sky, too!” Twilight pointed at three different bits of the book, and smiled even harder. “If we can find what’s changed, and fix it, the curse should be lifted!”
“Well, that’s wonderful news,” Rarity said. She looked back at Twilight, now, and her face mellowed. “Wonderful. And you did a great job finding the solution so soon. But, ah.” And her smile tensed up a bit. “Would it be possible to lift the curse immediately, now that we know how to do it?”
“I need a telescope, a map of the sky, and seven hours of checking the charts. So, no.”
“Right.” Rarity nodded. “Then I’m afraid I have bad news for you.”
And Twilight frowned. “Bad news? What do you mean?”
“Over there, darling. Look at Applejack.”
Who had stepped up to Equinox, holding her hat in place with a hoof, fierce face on. “Well, this ‘no harm’ business ain’t payin’ off!” she yelled. Equinox immediately turned to her. “If she wants to play rough, then we’re playin’ rough! HEY, PINKIE PIE!”
And Pinkie popped up from behind the throne. She was carrying her party cannon. “Yep?”
Equinox grumbled and got closer to Applejack. AJ didn’t seem to mind this. She never broke eye contact with the monster, but she clearly spoke to Pinkie. “YOU READY YET?” she yelled.
Quick as lightning, Pinkie produced a million pastries out of seemingly nowhere, and loaded the cannon with them. “Yep!”
And in the background, Rarity sucked air through her teeth. “Oooof. That is not going to work.”
“That is not going to work,” Twilight said, nodding.
“This is totally going to work!” Pinkie chirped.
And then, she fired.
And the sound alone made the world tremble.
Some ponies were under the impression that the party cannon was harmless, because Pinkie only used it in cute ways. This line of thought was as logical as believing stabbing isn’t painful because sometimes clowns juggle knives.
Party cannons were giant metal tubes full of gunpowder. If there was ever something like an inherently dangerous tool, that was the party cannon. It was something that made Pinkie Pie marginally more dangerous for the average pony—and if you knew Pinkie Pie, that prospect was terrifying.
So Pinkie Pie fired, and she hit Equinox point-blank.
And it did absolutely nothing.
“Oh, wow. She’s just eating the pastries.” Pinkie frowned, and looked at the party cannon. “Hey, you know what could have worked in here? Actual ammunition. I don’t understand why we didn’t think of that. HEY, APPLEJACK! WHY DIDN’T WE THINK OF—”
“—THAToh right yeah the monster. Hi there!”
And Rarity and Twilight both flinched, and suck air through their teeth.
“Ouch,” Twilight said. “That has to—ouch.”
“Indeed. Ouch.” Rarity averted her eyes—after making sure Applejack was still breathing—and perked up her ears. “However,” she said in a singsong voice, “I can’t help but notice a pattern here, dear. What’s that I said earlier, about those two? That they were soulmates?”
“Waaait. Wait, wait, wait, wait. No.” Twilight closed the book and gave Rarity a sharp look. “Nuh-uh, I’m not letting you use this as a sign that Applejack and Dash are made for each other.”
“They both did exactly the same thing in the exact same situation, dear.”
“Yeah, because otherwise Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy would have died. Like, immediately.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “You can’t go and say that’s romantic, that’s just common—okay, give me a moment. PINKIE!”
“WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON THE IDEA OF SELF-PRESERVATION?”
“AMBIVALENCE AT BEST!”
“OKAY, THANKS! There, see?” Twilight looked at Rarity. “They would have died. If anything, they’re making sure we don’t think of them as lovers. I didn’t see Applejack care for Dash when she was the one being slapped.”
“Ah-hah!” And here Rarity pointed at Twilight, and there was more drama in that gesture than in a thousand classic theatre plays. “That’s it, my dear! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! That’s real love!”
“You know?” Twilight asked, squinting. “The more you talk about romance, the more I believe your ideal lover is a total sociopath.”
“Oh, please.” Rarity waved a hoof, grabbed Twilight’s chin, and made her look at the battle. “Darling,” she said, pressing her cheek against Twilight’s. “Can’t you see? They’re equals!”
Twilight looked at the battle. Equinox was kneading her friends like bread dough. “Uh-huh,” she said. “So they’re not saving each other’s lives even though they could.”
And Rarity beamed. “Indeed, dear. That’s the power of love.”
“The power of love compels Dash to not care when someone else is beating up Applejack.”
Rarity beamed even harder. “Indeed again! Because, unlike Fluttershy, Applejack can take care of herself! See, that’s what Rainbow Dash values in a pony. That’s why they’re perfect for each other.”
“Are you sure Rainbow Dash doesn’t hate Applejack in this scenario? Because I think right now you’re describing hatred.” Pause. Twilight frowned. “Or first degree murder. Depends on the beating.”
“Well, now you’re just being obtuse, darling.” Rarity huffed and took a step away from Twilight. “I personally think my explanation is perfectly reasonable.”
“And I honestly think you’re reaching. I mean, look at that.” Twilight pointed. In the background, Equinox was smashing Dash’s face against the ground repeatedly. “Applejack isn’t even blinking. Sure doesn’t look like high-octane romance to me.”
“Why, it’s just the opposite!” Rarity said, lightly poking Twilight’s shoulder. “I think that’s exactly how high-octane romance looks, darling.”
“CAN SOMEONE JUST HELP ME ALREADY, PLEASE?!” Dash yelled in the background.
“WAIT NO I DIDN’T MEAN YOU I DIDN’T MEAN YOU I DIDN’T—”
Rarity puckered her lips playfully as the semi-unconscious figure of Dash flew across the room and ended up smashed against one of the walls. “Well,” Rarity said after a while. “I suppose we’re just encountering a slight disagreement in our interpretations of the events.”
“Yeah.” Twilight shook her head and looked at Rarity. “We have. I say we go Princess Luna on it.”
And Rarity made a face. “Hmm,” she said. “That is a solution, yes.”
“Perfect!” Twilight turned to Equinox. “HEY, APPLEJACK!”
“HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOUR ACTIONS DURING THIS FIGHT REFLECT YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT RAINBOW DASH?”
“YEAH! LIKE, DO YOU THINK THEY COME FROM A PLACE OF APPRECIATION, OR IS THIS MORE FIRST-DEGREE-MURDER-LIKE?”
“Call me a hopeless romantic, dear,” Rarity said, shaking her head as she leaned on Twilight and looked at the scene with a sad face, “but I can’t help but feel that Princess Luna ruined gossiping for me. Where’s the mystery? The speculation? The thrill of observing without being observed?”
Twilight smiled at her. “Can’t argue with results, though.”
“Oh, no, definitely. If anything, this is efficient.”
“NOW WHAT IN TARNATION ARE YOU TALKIN’ AB—Woah! ” Applejack barely missed Equinox, and had to pick her hat off the ground and put it once again before stepping to the side. “OKAY! SO FIRST OF ALL, YOU’RE TALKIN’ MANSLAUGHTER, NOT FIRST-DEGREE MURDER!”
“NO, I’M PRETTY SURE IT’S FIRST-DEGREE MURDER! MANSLAUGHTER IS IF YOU’RE BEING NEGLIGENT!”
“She dodged the question,” Rarity pointed out.
“True. ALSO, YOU DODGED THE QUESTION!”
“AH DIDN’T DODGE NOTHIN’, YOU WERE JUST WRONG!” Applejack jumped to the side to make sure Equinox didn’t kill her. “FIRST DEGREE IS IF AH REFUSE TO HELP OR KILL BY INACTION! IF AH DON’T NOTICE DASH IS BEIN’ HIT AND THEN SHE DIES AH’M COMMITIN’ MANSLAUGHTER!”
“RIGHT, BUT IN THIS SITUATION YOU’RE AWARE SHE’S BEING BRUTALLY BEATEN UP!”
“ARE YOU SURE?”
“What the—OF COURSE I’M SURE! HOW CAN I NOT—OKAY!” Twilight cleared up her throat with a cough. “APPLEJACK!”
“RAINBOW DASH IS BEING BRUTALLY BEATEN UP! DID YOU KNOW THAT?”
“…AH MEAN, YES?”
“GOOD! SO NOW WE’RE TALKING FIRST-DEGREE MURDER! NOW DO YOU CARE ABOUT HER, OR NOT?”
“AH FEEL LIKE BY CATEGORIZIN’ THIS AS FIRST-DEGREE MURDER YOU’RE ROBBIN’ EQUINOX OF AGENCY! WOULDN’T SHE BE COMMITTIN’ FIRST-DEGREE MURDER, WITH ME CLAIMIN’ SELF-DEFENSE NOT TO HELP?”
“IN THIS CASE YOU’D BE IGNORING YOUR DUTY TO RESCUE!” Twilight yelled. “WHILE USUALLY THAT IS NOT CONSIDERED FIRST-DEGREE MURDER, THIS IS CLEARLY KILLING BY INACTION! IT’S LIKE NOT GIVING HER THE ANTIDOTE AFTER SHE’S BEEN POISONED!”
“SEE, BUT NOW YOU’RE EQUALLIN’ EQUINOX TO SOMETHIN’ THAT CAN’T BE CONTROLLED OR REASONED WITH!”
Twilight blinked. “YOU’VE GOT TO—ARE YOU CONTROLLING EQUINOX?”
“ARE YOU REASONING WITH HER?”
“WELL THEN YOU’RE CLEARLY COMMITTING FIRST-DEGREE MURDER!”
“AH DISAGREE!” Appleack dodged again. “ALSO, AH CARE ABOUT DASH! AH JUST KNOW SHE CAN TAKE A HIT!”
“Oh, finally.” Rarity rolled her eyes. “Princess Luna is better than you at this, dear.”
“Look, I’m not going to sit idly while Applejack of all ponies argues I don’t know my first-degree murders.”
“ALSO,” Appplejack continued, “AH’M GETTIN’ KIND TIRED OF THIS! SO IF YOU TWO COULD DO SOMETHIN’ THAT’D BE GREAT!”
“You’re fed-up too?” Dash—moving a little slower than earlier—landed right by Applejack’s. She had a black eye, and a killer glare. “Because I think I’m about to start getting serious.”
“Hey there.” AJ tipped her hat. “Where’s Fluttershy?”
“I used a curtain to hide her, she’ll be safe. Pinkie?”
“Ah used a curtain too.”
“Ooh, nice. Where is she hiding?”
“Nowhere.” Applejack pointed. “She’s tied up over that corner.”
“Hi, Dashie! Applejack said I’m helping now that I can’t move!”
“Huh.” Dash shrugged, and hoof-bumped Applejack. They both faced Equinox at the same time. “I am not gonna lie—I’m surprised it took you this long.”
“Why, would you look at that.” At the other side of the room, Rarity elbowed Twilight and gave her a little grin. “They teamed up, darling.”
Twilight crossed her legs. “Hrmph.”
“I suppose this means I win?”
“I don’t think you can just—”
“Yeah, Ah think playin’ nice ain’t the way to do it,” Applejack said, and something in her voice made Rarity and Twilight stop. “We ain’t thinkin’ right about this.”
“We aren’t?” Rainbow asked. Equinox charged at them again, but they both got out of the way in time. “What do you mean?”
“Oh, come on, Dash. You know what Ah’m thinkin’. This?” Applejack put her hat on again, and pointed at Equinox, defiance in her eyes. “This right here’s a problem.”
Slowly, really slowly, a grin made it to Rainbow Dash’s battered face.
And slowly, really slowly, Rarity’s got serious. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, dear.”
“What?” Twilight frowned, looked at Rarity. “What—is that bad news?”
“Well… depends on, ah, your definition of bad news?” Rarity bit her lip. “I think we kind of forgot how Applejack stopped not trying to hurt Equinox somewhere down the line?”
And the color left Twilight’s face. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, Celestia.”
“Yeah!” said Applejack, face fierce. “That right there’s one big problem, Dash. And how do we deal with problems?”
“We kick them,” Dash muttered. Her face looked pretty much like Applejack’s. “We kick them good till they drop.”
And at the other side of the room, Rarity and Twilight looked at this, and then looked at each other.
Twilight talked. “…They won’t kick her, will they?” she asked. “I mean, that’s the Princesses right there. We specifically asked them not to do this. They can’t kick her. Nopony is this dumb. Right?”
“I just want to say—first, I absolutely called this scenario, so, go me.” She squinted. “Second, this is Applejack and Rainbow Dash we’re talking about.”
“OH MY GOSH THEY ARE GOING TO KILL THE PRINCESSES.”
“TWILIGHT, WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!”
“Dash!” In the background, Equinox raged again and charged towards AJ and Rainbow. The former bent her knees slightly and bared her teeth. “On three!”
“THE SKY!” Twilight’s eyes were wide. She looked up, pointed her horn at the ceiling, and blew it up to pieces. “LOOK AT THE SKY! LOOK FOR ANYTHING WEIRD, WE HAVE TO LIFT THE CURSE!”
Equinox got close.
“LIFT THE CURSE, RIGHT, YES, OF C—SORRY, HOW DO WE LIFT THE CURSE AGAIN?”
“ANYTHING WEIRD, WE FIX!” Twilight yelled. “LOOK HARD!”
“DARLING, I DON’T KNOW IF IT’S POSSIBLE TO SCOUT THE ENTIRETY OF THE SKY IN JUST—”
“IT’S EITHER THIS OR REASONING WITH DASH!”
“I’M LOOKING! I’M LOOKING!”
Equinox got closer.
Rarity pointed. “TWILIGHT, THE MOON! IT’S ON FIRE! I THINK THE MOON IS—”
“—FUSING WITH THE SUN OF COURSE WE HAVE TO STOP THEM WE HAVE TO PULL THEM APART SO THE CURSE IS LIFTED WE HAVE TO—”
“Wait a minute. How is the sun…? I was under the impression the sun was much larger than the moon?”
“RARITY REALLY NOT THE MOMENT.”
“YES SORRY SORRY I’M HELPING I’M—”
Applejack and Rainbow Dash jumped.
Rarity and Twilight flashed their horns.
There was the sound of a kick, the sound of magic exploding, and the sound of a beast yelling in pain, surprise, and fear.
Equinox raged, one last time.
And everything went white.
The smoke cleared, after a while.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash landed, somewhat gracefully. Twilight and Rarity fell to the ground, horns burning and head throbbing. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were perfectly fine, if slightly bored. Up in the sky, the sun and the moon were clearly apart, even if the moon was slightly tilted to the side.
And in the center of the room:
“Princess Celestia!” Pinkie said, and you could hear the smile in her voice. “Princess Luna! You’re okay!”
Equinox had been banished.
The princesses stood at the center of the room, slightly confused, slightly ruffled, but ultimately okay. Luna was scratching the right side of her head—almost as if, say, two particularly buff ponies had kicked her really hard in there—while Princess Celestia was rubbing the left side of hers.
Both wore identical smiles, though, when everypony ran to them and squeezed them in a group hug.
“Princess!” Twilight said, nuzzling Celestia as hard as she could. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re okay! I wasn’t sure if we could ever lift the curse!”
Celestia chuckled. “My dear Twilight Sparkle,” she said, voice warm. “The curse was strong, indeed—but there was something stronger. Something so powerful, no dark magic could ever prevail against it.”
Dash blinked, and grinned. “Oh, yes. Kicks to the face. Those solve everything.”
“…Not quite. That, ah. Helped?” Celestia’s smile got a little stiff. “Let’s go with that.”
“But what I am talking is not that. I am talking about the most powerful force in this world. The one that will always, always win.” And here, Celestia looked at every single one of them, although she might have looked at Rainbow Dash and Applejack slightly harder. “The power of love.”
And the mammoth grin on Rarity’s face when she turned around after hearing this was the single most horrible thing Twilight had ever seen.
But that wasn’t the end of it.
“Why, of course it isn’t, darling!” Rarity said, all bright smiles and happy steps as they made their way to the Hall. “This has just started! You know, my favorite part was how Princess Celestia put it, personally. How was it? The most powerful—”
Twilight was squinting so hard her eyes could barely be seen. “Shut up.”
“—force in this world.”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up.”
“The one that will always win.” Rarity had no right to look this good while putting on a smug face. “That will aaaaaalways win, my dear.”
“Oh my gosh.” Twilight massaged her temples and looked down, face full of pain. “This is never going to end, is it.”
“Oh, Twilight. Dear. Darling.” Rarity patted Twilight’s head. “No. No, it is not.”
Canterlot is to parties what Ponyville is to screaming—they are good at it, and they do it often because Pinkie Pie is there, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy it.
There’s talent in taking something as inherently fun as a party and then turning it boring with such precise efficiency, but the Canterlot nobles somehow managed. The celebration for Equinox’s downfall happened in the Castle, and so far, it was exactly like the Grand Galloping Gala, only with slightly different dresses.
“So we might as well just sit here until the good stuff starts,” Dash said, nodding towards one of the tables. The others followed her. “How long do you think we’ll have to wait till something dumb happens and the party is ruined forever?”
Everypony looked at Pinkie Pie.
“Hey! I don’t ruin parties!” Pinkie said, frowning. “I ruin evenings, sure. And formal dinners, maybe. But never parties!”
“Somethin’ dumb is gonna happen, though” Applejack said.
“Oh, sure, in about twenty minutes. I brought explosive cake!”
“…I’m just saying.” Twilight and Rarity had been walking slightly slower than the others, because Rarity was wearing high heels. And everypony was grateful for that. “I guess you were kind of right,” Twilight continued. “In a way. But do you really need to remind me every few seconds?”
“Don’t you think that’s kind of petty?”
“Me? Oh, please, Twilight. Please.” Rarity scoffed as they finally sat down, and then fixed her skirt to make sure it was looking right. “I am not petty, I am merely pointing out the truth.” Then she looked at everypony else. “Ah. What are we talking about?”
“Somethin’ dumb,” AJ said.
“Explosive cakes!” Pinkie chirped.
“Um, Pinkie is going to ruin the evening, but not the party,” Fluttershy said.
“So,” Rarity said, arching an eyebrow. “Absolutely nothing new, I see.”
“I mean,” Twilight mused. “We don’t have the most original of friends, but at least I guess they’re consistent.”
“Hey, don’t give us that!” Dash was sitting right next to Rarity, so she leaned closer and punched her shoulder. “What were you talking about?”
And Rarity glared. “I,” she said, “am not petty.”
“You totally are.”
“Well,” Rarity huffed. “Now I’m just offended. Just because I like to remind you how consistently I turn out to be right doesn’t mean that—”
“Wait, wait.” Twilight held a hoof up, looking into the distance. “Hold that thought for a moment, and look over there.”
They all looked. Fluttershy frowned. “Is that…?”
“Prince Blueblood,” Twilight said, “yeah.”
“Oh.” Fluttershy frowned slightly harder. “What is he wearing?”
“It’s avant-garde!” Blueblood’s voice came from the other side of the room. “That’s why it looks like this. It’s got the best colors! Oh, and just look at this peanut-shaped wig!”
“Your highness, are you sure that isn’t a mare’s dress? Because it really looks like—”
“Nonsense! I got this from the best of boutiques—you, my friend, simply don’t understand fashion as well as I do!”
Everypony looked at Rarity, who arched an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”
“I’m almost tempted to say Prince Blueblood doesn’t count, to be honest,” Twilight said, smirking. “But you have to admit—”
“I am never going to stop talking about the power of love now, darling.”
“—it’stemptingtooooh shoot.” Twilight squinted. “Really?”
“Nopony to blame but yourself.”
“...Um.” Fluttershy had been looking at them for a while, now, and finally she managed to speak. “Um. What are you talking about?”
Rarity and Twilight both looked at Shy at the same time. “Hmm?”
“You keep repeating what Princess Celestia said,” Fluttershy said, pointing at Rarity. Then, she pointed at Twilight. “And you’re really grumpy.”
“I’m not grumpy.”
“Oh. Sure. But I am petty.” Rarity slapped Twilight’s shoulder ever-so-slightly.
“You do realize that is literally the pettiest thing you could possibly say, right?”
“So.” Fluttershy just kept talking. “Is… Is there anything you want to tell us, or…?”
And here Rarity and Twilight took a moment and looked at each other. “Well,” Rarity said. “I suppose it’s about time we tell you. Twilight and I have been—”
“They’ve been sneakily spying on us and asking about romance for weeks,” Dash said, still looking over at Blueblood with a squinty face. “Then Princess Celestia agreed with Rarity and now she’s rubbing it in.”
“Pettily,” Applejack added.
“I am not being pe—wait.” Rarity blinked, and her ears twitched slightly. “…You knew?”
“Rares.” Applejack smiled at her. “You weren’t exactly subtle.”
“Wow.” Twilight frowned, and rested her back on the chair. “That’s… I mean, I’d say that was surprising, but we did resort to literally yelling questions at you at some point, didn’t we?”
“Yeah. You ain’t subtle.”
“…Yeah, we really aren’t.”
“I don’t even know why you tried to hide it,” Dash said, shrugging. She finally turned around to look at them, now, little smile on her face. “We really don’t care. How long have you two been dating anyway?”
And that was it.
Pinkie and Fluttershy opened their eyes wide and leaned in, paying a lot of attention all of a sudden.
That comment by Dash? That’s when the evening truly began.
Because that’s when the shoe dropped.
“…Uh.” And Twilight was the first one to react. She didn’t quite frown, she didn’t quite squint either. It was more of a mixture between the two. “We’re not dating.”
“Sure,” Dash said. “Right.”
“No, we’re not, it’s you two who are—are we doing this?” She looked at Rarity, who was rubbing the space between her eyes. “Are we really doing this?”
“What? Datin’?” Applejack cocked her head to the side. “Ah don’t know. Are you?”
“…No.” Twilight sighed. “No, Applejack, we are not. You are.” She nodded towards Rainbow. “With her.”
Applejack squinted. “Dash?”
“Are we datin’?”
“We’re not dating.”
“Right, just makin’ sure.” AJ looked at Twilight. “We’re not datin’.”
“Yes, darling, wonderfully convincing argument.” Rarity stopped rubbing and just looked at her friends with tired eyes. “What our dear Twilight is saying, girls, is that you two are obviously in love, even if you don’t realize it.”
Dash just arched an eyebrow. “Are you sure you aren’t projecting?”
“Trust me, darling, I know what I’m talking about.” Rarity smiled. “Twilight and I have done nothing but confirm that you two are soulmates for these last two weeks—”
“You’re projectin’,” AJ said.
“—and I was perfectly r—sorry, dear?” Rarity blinked. “You said?”
“That’s projectin’,” AJ repeated. “Ah think? You two have been askin’ us about romance ‘cause you wanted to see if you were a good couple. Right?”
“You thought we were asking you for relationship advice?” Rarity asked.
“You thought I.” Rarity pointed at herself. “Needed romantic advice from you.”
Applejack nodded. “Yeah!”
“Applejack, darling, that’s adorable on your part, but I really doubt you will ever know half of what I’ve forgotten about rela—”
“—tionships THAT DOESN’T COUNT.”
Twilight just arched an eyebrow and looked at Rarity. “Nopony ever does, with you.”
“Okay. Twilight. Darling.” Rarity glared. “Who are you siding with in this argument, again?”
“Oh, right. Sorry.” Twilight looked at AJ. “Applejack, we weren’t asking you for advice in a convoluted way—we were trying to see if you two were in love with each other. Rarity said that you were, and you just didn’t know. I said you weren’t.”
Rarity nodded. “And I was proven right, even if you disagree, girls. Didn’t you hear what Princess Celestia said?” And a predatory smile made it to her face. “The power of love is what defeated Equinox, right?”
“Yeah.” Applejack nodded. “The power of love between you two.”
“And our kick,” Dash added. “The kick helped.”
“The kick didn’t help,” Twilight said.
“It totally did.”
“It totally didn’t.”
“Applejack, darling.” Rarity shook her head and tapped Applejack’s hoof. “I understand you yourself haven’t realized this yet, but Rainbow Dash and you are made for each other. And you clearly love her! Why, you brought her as your plus one to this party, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, and you brought Twi.” Applejack nodded towards Twilight. “If anythin’, now you’re projectin’ even harder.”
In the background, something exploded.
Pinkie looked to the side. “Oh, hey!” she said, poking Fluttershy on the shoulder. “Look! About time. Do you want to go check it out?”
“I don’t think so.” Fluttershy squinted and looked at Pinkie. “Um. Pinkie?”
“Am I your plus one?”
“Nope!” Pinkie reached for something under the table. “I thought every single one of us got an invite?”
“Yeah, that’s why I’m asking.” Fluttershy blinked. “Is that popcorn?”
“It is! Want some?”
“Twilight, Twilight, Twilight.” Dash crossed her legs and shook her head, cocky smile on. “Princess Celestia herself said the kick helped. Kicks to the face always help.”
“Okay.” Twilight frowned. “First, no. Second, also no. You said two things, and both were wrong. The kick had nothing to do with the defeat.”
“That’s not what Princess Celestia said.”
“That is exactly what Princess Celestia said.”
“And she was talking about the power of love between you two, darling,” Rarity said, still looking at Applejack. “I understand that you are a little too, ah, shy to truly recognize it, but—”
“Ah don’t know. Are you sure of that?” Applejack shook her head and looked at Dash before going back to Rarity. “Ah mean, Ah thought it was fairly straightforward. You’ve been alone with Twilight a lot lately. You even spent the whole fight protectin’ her!”
“Darling, we both know that was just an excuse to gossip. About you two, in fact.”
“Yeah, so you just spent some quality time with her. Instead of helpin’ us.” Pause. “Also, thanks for that.”
“You’re welcome, dear.”
“Ah was bein’ sarcastic.”
“I know. I was not.”
“Rainbow Dash.” Twilight was glaring. “The kick didn’t just not help, it was literally the single most stupid thing you could have done. You attacked the princesses!”
“Yeah, but now Equinox is gone, right?”
“Yes, because of the power of love!” Twilight pointed at Dash, then at Applejack. “What you two did was to, I don’t know.” She looked at Rarity. “What did they do again?”
“They teamed up, darling. Love in the battlefield, two hearts beating as one, trusting each other with their life, etcetera.”
“Right, that. You did that.” Twilight pointed at Rarity. “What she just said. And that defeated Equinox. The kick had nothing to do with it.”
Dash frowned, and looked at Applejack. “Did I trust you with my life?” she asked.
“Ah don’t know. You got slapped a lot.”
“Yeah, it’s what I was thinking about.”
“The question, dear,” Rarity said, “is not if you did trust her with her life. The question is if you would.”
And Dash frowned a little bit harder, and made a pout. “Well,” she said. “Of course I would. She’s my friend! That’s what friendship means, right?”
“Ah.” Rarity arched an eyebrow. “You say that. But you would you trust all your friends with your life? Would you trust Fluttershy?”
Everypony looked at Fluttershy.
Fluttershy, who was chewing popcorn at the moment, widened her eyes and swallowed. “Um,” she said. “I am not taking part in this conversation.”
“…Right.” Dash looked at Rarity. “I mean, are we talking if I trust she’d try to save my life or…?”
“If you would actually physically trust Fluttershy would keep you alive, darling.”
“Okay, that’s a trick question and you know it.”
“Yes. That’s why I’m the best at the matters of the heart.”
“What Rarity means,” Twilight said, “is that you two share a special bond, whether you know it or not. And that’s what saved Princess Celestia—the fact that you used that bond to fight Equinox. The power of love.”
“Wait, but how do you know that?” Applejack asked. “You and Rares also did that thing with the moon, right? Maybe that was the power of love, and the trustin’ and the bondin’.”
“No, no. We’re pretty sure it was you.”
Dash smiled. “So it was the kick!”
“It was th—okay, what is it with the kicking that amazes you so much?” Twilight asked, glaring at Dash. “Stop trying to justify kicking Princess Celestia!”
“No, no, no. See, you just said it.” Dash grabbed Applejack by the shoulder. “It was our fighting, right? Teaming up and all that?”
“And,” Rainbow Dash interrupted, “we teamed up for the kick. So it was the kick.”
“…No, it was the power of love.”
“No, no, see, listen.” Dash wiggled Applejack a little. “If it was you two who did it, right? Then it was the moon thing. Because you used the power of love. But if it was us, as you keep saying? It was totally the kick. Totally the kick to the face.”
What followed was the kind of silence that feels louder than it should.
In the background, ponies were yelling, and throwing water at all the tables on fire. Some cakes were still exploding.
Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were eating popcorn with a little more intensity than before.
Rarity was looking at Twilight, curious.
And Applejack looked at Dash’s hoof over her shoulders, and then at Dash herself. “Wait a moment,” she said. “So we love each other?”
Dash thought about it. “I mean. That was a really awesome kick.”
“It was, yeah.”
“Okay.” Twilight’s voice made everypony flinch. It was way too intense for such a small word. “Rarity.”
Rarity’s ears perked up. “…Yes?”
“We’re in love. We have to kiss now.”
It took Rarity a moment.
“We’re in love.” Twilight looked at Rarity, frowning. “It was us defeating Equinox. We should kiss now. Also, you’re wearing high heels right now, and I’m all up for that.”
“I—uh. Um.” Rarity blinked. “I—darling, this is really flattering, but I don’t quite follow—”
“Rarity.” Twilight grabbed Rarity’s shoulders and looked her eye to eye. “Listen to me. You’re a petty mare. You know how this works.” She frowned harder. “What is more likely? Us being in love without realizing it, or Rainbow Dash actually being right for once?”
The question echoed across the room, loud like the sound of ice creaking under your hooves.
The thing about finally seeing something that’s been in front of you all along is—you can’t unsee it afterwards. It’s always there, in the corner of your eye. Its obviousness becomes painful in hindsight.
Rarity was an expert on the matter of the heart. And she knew that the best thing about gossipping is not the gossip.
It’s the company.
So she grabbed Twilight’s face. “I,” she said, “am not petty.”
And then they kissed.
They kissed like swans sing—with their life on the line. They kissed like tigers leap—out for blood. They kissed like lovers fight—not with anger, but with passion.
And Dash and Applejack just stared with varying degrees of interest as the kiss went on, and on, and on, and on.
“…So they’re datin’ now?” AJ eventually asked, once they got bored. Dash was still hugging her by the shoulders. “Is that what this is?”
Dash let her go. “I guess?”
“So they were projectin’.”
Applejack frowned. “Doesn’t that mean we are also in love?”
Dash looked at her.
AJ looked at Dash.
They both looked at Twilight and Rarity, still kissing.
“Well, they look like they’re havin’ fun.” AJ shook her head. “You know what annoys me? Ah really do think it was the kick that made it.”
“Right?! Of course it was!”
Then they kissed, too.
And this is honestly how it all ended.
So that’s how the evening went on. That’s how dawn found them, hours later. With something dumb happening in the background. With the princesses saved, and Equinox gone. With Twilight and Rarity wrapped in each other’s arms, and AJ and Dash doing more or less the same.
And with Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy looking at them and eating popcorn, completely forgotten.
“That was fun!” Pinkie said after a while. AJ and Dash seemed to agree. “Hey, Shy?”
“Hmm?” Fluttershy swallowed the popcorn. “Yes?”
“Do you know if we can keep looking at Rarity’s hips now that she’s dating Twilight?”
Fluttershy didn’t immediately reply. She grabbed some more popcorn first, and chewed it really slowly.
“I don’t know,” she finally said, never looking away from the show her friends were putting up in front of them. “But I don’t think I’m going to stop.”