A Second Chance

by Jay David

First published

Twilight gets the chance to re-live the last few years of her life

What would you do if, by some miracle, you knew exactly how your life was going to play out? All of the choices you made, the mistakes, the missed opportunities, the things you should have done, the things you should have said, and so much more. What if you had the chance to re-live the most important years of your life?

For Twilight, a young unicorn preparing to journey to the tiny village of Ponyville, that's exactly the opportunity she's about to be given.


When people dream, they never know where they might end up. One's imagination can conjure many amazing things, from far-off lands to exciting adventures. But then, there are the dreams that take us by surprise. The dreams that make no sense. The dreams that scare us. As Twilight Sparkle, personal protégé of Princess Celestia, slept soundly in her bed in her chambers at the Royal Palace Library, her mind was conjuring forth what her waking mind would describe as a most unusual scenario. There was no solid mass here to speak of, no floor upon which to walk. No walls and, for a time, nopony to speak to. All around there were many shades of purple, from dark to bright, shifting and swirling with every passing moment. And in the middle of it was Twilight herself, walking in this place in a wary manner. She was not the kind of mare to be frightened by mere strange images, for deep down, she knew this was a dream. But, even so, her presence in this place disturbed her greatly.

"Hello? Is anypony there?"

Her calls received no answer, and her mind raced with the possibilities of her being here. What is this place? A dream most likely. I remember going to sleep not long ago. That's it then, this is a dream. So there's nothing to worry about. However, regardless of what the more rational parts of her mind might had said, there was nevertheless a sense of foreboding in this place, made worse by the sudden arrival of a very distinct sound. Her ears perking up, Twilight realised immediately that the sound she was hearing was hoofsteps, and, more importantly, that they were getting closer. Looking around, she tried to see where it was coming from, but her surroundings were like fog, obscuring her sight greatly. However, as the sound grew louder still, something began to emerge from the gloom. Squinting her eyes, Twilight looked on to see a figure, clad in a dark cloak, approach her. It was doubtless a pony, though one somewhat taller than most, but it's face was obscured, shadowed by the hood of the cloak.

In time, the figure stopped waking towards the young unicorn, and for a while, there was silence between them. Twilight's nerves grew with every moment, but she nevertheless remained still, growing ever more curious about this new arrival. Her chance to make the first move was soon lost however, as the figure finally began to speak.

"It has been a long time since I have seen that face."

The voice was feminine and, more importantly, very familiar to Twilight's ears, though she could not put a hoof exactly where she'd heard it. Regardless, the new arrival had deigned to speak with her, and Twilight would offer her the same courtesy.

"Um...hello? My name is..."

"Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight stopped at the utterance of her name, looking on with some worry as the mysterious figure remained still before her.

"You...you know me?"

The hood lowered and rose, indicating a nod.

"I do...perhaps better than anypony."

Needless to say, a phrase like that can make a pony nervous. Twilight strained her eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of who or what was underneath that hood. But for now, the figure merely turned away, denying her that opportunity.

"You're frightened. Confused. You have every right to be. But know that I do not come here to harm you, or cause you grief. I merely come...with an offer."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that. This whole thing seems like one of those fairy-tale stories Mothers tell their colts and fillies, she thought. Stories of mysterious figures coming to offer boons at a price, or something like that. Even a fool would be wary at all this. Narrowing her eyes slightly, Twilight took a single step forward.

"And, if I may ask...what kind of offer are you...er...offering?"

The figure chuckled at the young unicorn's attempt at sounding cautious, but nevertheless gave her an answer.

"Before I make this offer, I want you to know something very important, Twilight. What I am about to do might be the single most dangerous thing any user of magic has ever attempted before. If this fails...then I don't know what kind of damage could be caused."

Twilight felt a pang of fear after hearing that. If this person wants me to take them up to this deal, they’re doing a pretty lousy job of making it sound appealing. But, even with that thought on her mind, Twilight stayed silent, allowing the figure to continue speaking. But first, they let out a sigh.

"As I said, I know you. And as such...I know you will never make an agreement without knowing everything...including...who you are dealing with."

The young unicorn took a step back with those words, and watched with rapture as the figure raised a hoof, placing it on the side of her hood. With one motion, the hood was lowered, and when it did, Twilight stood aghast at what she saw. Or, rather, who she saw. The figure was a mare, with lavender fur and a long, dark-purple mane, with a single long horn protruding from her forehead. It...it can't be, Twilight kept telling herself. She's...she's...me?! Indeed, the mare that now stood apart from Twilight was very nearly a mirror duplicate of her. There were, however, distinct differences, most notably their proportions. This other Twilight was quite taller than her, almost by a full foot. Her mane was much longer, and flowed, even in the absence of wind. And then, there was her face. Though identical to Twilight's, it bore a look of both grace and age. The look of somepony who had seen much and knew even more. That...that's the same expression Princess Celestia has!

As her mind raced with this new knowledge, she tried her best to make sense of it all, tried figuring out if this was still a creation of her mind in it's sleeping state, or if this was indeed some other version of her. Eventually, one thought was brought forth in her mind. One thought that was able to make sense of everything she was seeing.

"You...you've travelled through time?"

The other Twilight though, merely shook her head.

"Not in the traditional sense. I am still where I was before, which, as I'm sure you've guessed, is in your future. But my mind...that I was able to send back."

The younger unicorn shook her head at that.

"And you entered my dreams too?"

A sly smile crept onto the face of her older self.

"One thing you'll come to learn, my little pony, is that entering a pony's dreams is not quite as unprecedented as you might think."

Twilight, still struggling to come to terms with all of this, was only able to get out one question.

"But...why? Why have you done this?"

The older Twilight looked away, as if not wishing her younger self to see her. For a brief moment, Twilight could have sworn that she saw a look of conflict upon the older mare's face. In time, the latter finally answered.

"I never thought I would say this...but you'll understand when you're older. You come to look back on all the things you've done in your life, and wonder if they were the best choices. You'll come to regret missed opportunities, missed chances to say and do the things that truly mattered."

Turning again, the older Twilight looked straight into the eyes of her younger counterpart.

"And that is why I'm here...to make that offer."

Twilight took a step back, her mind finally putting all the pieces together.

"You...you want to change history? Are you crazy?! It completely...!"

But she didn’t have the chance to finish, as the older mare raised a hoof, much like how Celestia might do to make herself heard. And, much like with her beloved mentor, Twilight instinctively sopped talking, and simply listened.

"I know. Like I said, it's a risk. It goes against every law of what we know of time travel. But you need to trust me when I say that it's important that this be done."

Twilight, still unsure about all this, cleared her throat a little before speaking.

"So...what is it you want to do, exactly?"

Seeing that her younger self was beginning to open up to the proposal, the older Twilight let out another sigh before speaking.

"A spell. One very complicated and very powerful. A spell that, at you current level, you could not even hope to cast yourself. A spell that, when finished...will let you know everything I know. And I do mean everything, Twilight."

The young unicorn let out a gasp at hearing that.

"Everything?! You...you mean...?"

The older Twilight gave a serious nod.

"Yes. You will be granted complete foreknowledge of everything that is going to happen between now and the time you grow to be my age. As you've probably guessed, this will also allow you to learn all of the magical tricks I've picked up over the years."

Upon hearing that latter part of the offer, Twilight's inner student practically leaped in joy. The chance to gain potentially decades of magical knowledge in an instant? How could I say no to that? However, the more serious parts of her mind quickly shouted down the more enthusiastic. But...I have to think about the potential consequences! I'd be made privy to everything that's going to happen to me in future, and possibly everypony else close to me too! I can understand why she seemed so worried about this, it could change everything! But then...if she is me...then she wouldn't be doing something this risky unless she...I...we...unless we were absolutely sure it was the right thing to do. At least, I hope I wouldn't. The older Twilight stayed silent, watching her younger counterpart mentally wrestle with the enormous opportunity that had been offered to her on a silver plate. Sensing the worry and hesitation, the elder mare cleared her throat, gaining the younger's attention. The former gave a small but reassuring smile as she began to speak in a calm, almost motherly tone.

"Twilight...if you say no to this, I will understand. What I'm asking of you is no small thing, and it will no doubt completely change the course of your life, though I cannot say how much. I will not force you to do this if you truly don't want to. All I ask...is that you trust me."

The way she'd said those words, it made Twilight feel like a little filly again. A little filly who was worried about something, only for Princess Celestia to come in and help her in whatever way she needed. It did much to alleviate her fears and concerns, and as such, Twilight was left largely with the earlier excitement at getting the chance to learn so much in so little time. Besides, she told herself, if I say no, I’ll probably come to really regret it once I get to being her age. Looking up, Twilight looked deep into her counterpart’s eyes, trying to see any hint of deception, of malice, or perhaps even trickery there. But, after a time, she was content that there was none, and so let out a sigh. Putting on a small smile, Twilight gave a single nod to her elder self, to which the latter smiled even wider than before, as well as letting out a sigh of relief. Wow, Twilight thought, she was really hoping I would do this. Staying still, Twilight watched as the older Twilight began to step forward.

"If you accept, then I'll begin the spell. We need only touch her horns for my knowledge to pass to you."

The young Twilight nodded at that, starting to walk forward also. Eventually, the two were just a few feet away from each other, and the elder lowered her head to bring it to the younger. Taking a deep breath, the young Twilight tried calming herself, readying herself for what was about to happen. A glow began to form around the elder's horn, and Twilight immediately felt a tingle from it. The aura was most familiar to her, as she had felt it many times before. Definitely mine, she noted. If ever there was doubt as to who this elder mare was, they were now gone. So, calmly, Twilight stayed still as her elder version concentrated hard, her magic glowing brighter and brighter with the passing moments. In time, Twilight began to feel something in her mind. Images, faces she didn't recognise, which was undoubtedly the new knowledge that was being offered. As time passed, the images came faster, and more intensely, and it was here that something else happened. The elder Twilight raised a hoof and unclasped her cloak, letting it fall to the ground. The young Twilight opened her eyes, which then widened with shock as she saw, to her amazement, that her elder counterpart now stretched out a par of magnificent wings. Utterly awe-struck by the sight, Twilight did not have the words to say.

"You...I'm...you mean we...?"

The elder, seeing the amazement of the younger, merely smiled.

"Be calm, Twilight Sparkle...for your second chance...begins today."

And with that, there was a blinding flash of light, causing Twilight to shield her eyes. But, rather than the light dying down, Twilight instead woke up from her dream, immediately sitting upright in her bed with a cold sweat running down her face. Snapping her head around, she saw that she was once more in the safety and familiarity of her sleeping chambers in the Canterlot Royal Library. She looked around, seeing all of her books and furniture, and, more importantly, her travel bags, all packed and ready for her journey tomorrow. A loud snoring to her left caused her to turn, seeing the still-sleeping form of her number one assistant, Spike, laying peacefully in his basket. But, Twilight knew things were different now. Her mind was flooded with new thoughts, new ideas. Memories of things that had yet to happen. Faces of ponies she hadn't met yet, but now felt as if she'd known them her entire life. She felt it all. Excitement, relief, confusion, and so many other feelings that came with this great change. An entire lifetime had been given to her. A lifetime that she now had the power to change, for the better. Looking down at her assistant, she began to smile in a truly affectionate manner.

"I...I know what I need to do."

The Morning After

The first thing that woke her was the bright light of the sun pouring in through her window. Slowly, Twilight opened her eyes, rubbing them as she took in her surroundings. She was still in her room, but given her early wake-up call last night, she was far from rested. Ugh, I feel like I've had two tonnes of books dumped on my head. However, as the seconds passed, her eyes began to snap open. I...I remember! The dream, or vision or whatever it was! I remember...things that haven't happened. All my friends! Wait...I'm going to have friends? Yes, lots of them! And I love them, or...will love them, or...ugh, this is going to get confusing. Wait, what was I doing today? Turning, she looked upon the already-prepared travel bags beside her bed, leading to a small smile creeping onto her face. Of course! The journey to Ponyville! Wow...I've never been, but...I know it like the back of my hoof now. This is amazing! All these thoughts! Her expression then changed to one to joy as her mind conjured forth even more images and knowledge. And the spells! I...I never knew I could know so many!

With her smile turning somewhat mischievous, she threw back her covers and hopped out of bed, landing on all fours before looking around. Soon, she caught sight of a nearby table, and upon it lay a bowl of fruits, apples, pears and the like. Still smiling, Twilight walked over and picked up an apple, placing it carefully at the side of the bowl. Okay, let's see if I can do this. Taking a few deep breaths, Twilight closed her eyes, concentrating hard on her magic, at which point her horn began to glow. As it became brighter and brighter, she lowered her head, aiming the horn right at the apple. In an instant, she let forth her magic, and the apple was engulfed in her bright purple aura. Opening her eyes, Twilight broke out into a massive smile as she saw that there, lying in the spot where the apple once stood, was now a fresh orange. Success! I can't believe it! I've never even attempted a transmogrifying spell before, but now, it's like I know it by heart! I can't wait to try out all the rest of it!

However, moments after thinking that, the young unicorn suddenly felt very tired, even more so than when she first woke. Raising a hoof to her head, she took a few deep breaths to recover. Whoa...I've never had a spell take that much out of me before. But then, I guess it was a pretty advanced spell. And that was one of the lesser ones I know now too. I'd better hold off on trying out the bigger spells for now. Lowering her hoof again, Twilight smiled as she looked at her successfully-transformed fruit. The older me probably wouldn't even have to break a sweat casting stuff like this, being an alicorn and all. At that thought, Twilight's eyes snapped open. An...an alicorn?! Oh my gosh, I get to be an alicorn?! I mean...I remember becoming one, even though I haven't technically become one yet, but...

"Ugh! This is going to give me a lot of headaches, I just know it!"

Before she could dwell on that, however, she was alerted to the sound of creaking in front of her. Looking up, she saw that Spike had now entered her chambers, looking upon her with some concern.


The young unicorn looked at him, and in an instant, her mind became flooded with memories that had yet to occur. Images of her tiny dragon growing to the size of a near-skyscraper, going on a rampage. Images of a crush on a certain white unicorn. Images of an Empire, saved from the clutches of a dark King. When Twilight looked upon her assistant now, it was with that knowledge, and she took a step backwards as new thoughts and feelings and ideas grew within her.


The young dragon hesitantly entered the room, closing the door behind him.

"When I saw that you weren't waking up as usual, I thought I'd just let you sleep in today. I just came up to see if you were finally up and-ARGH!!!"

Before he could react, he was taken aback by his lifelong friend lunging towards him, wrapping her forelegs around him and holding him close in a warm hug. Needless to say, Spike regarded this out-of-nowhere behaviour with some concern. Twilight, by contrast, could not have looked happier, as she held her friend close, tears welling up in her eyes.

"Spike...I'm so happy you're here."

The young dragon darted his eyes from left to right, not quite knowing how to respond to a statement like that.

"Um...thanks, I guess?"

Finally letting go, Twilight took a step back and placed a single hoof upon her assistant's shoulder.

"Spike. You really are my number one assistant. You know that, right?"

Feeling more than a little pride at hearing his favourite title, Spike smiled back at her.

"Sure I do!"

Twilight smiled even more affectionately.

"I appreciate everything you do. Truly, no mare could ask for a better friend."

Spike's smile faded, but only a little.

"Er...okay? That's great and all, but..."

Before he could finish, he watched as a lavender hoof was placed upon his lips.

"No...this needs to be said, Spike. You're more than a friend to me. You're family. And like family..."

Her eyes still welling somewhat, Twilight brought her head forward, gently placing it against Spike's.

"...I love you."

Spike's eyes widened with shock after hearing that. There was silence between the two, and for a brief moment, Spike wondered if he'd just entered some kind of topsy-turvy world. A world where his friend, Twilight, a mare known mostly for scheduling and seriousness, had somehow come over as a complete sentimental. Not that he didn't appreciate the affection though. Far from it. In fact, from the way he began to grown an affectionate smile of his own, it was clear that this gesture from Twilight had touched him deeply. It was a sentiment shared by his next words to her.

"Thank you, Twilight. I...I love you too."

As the two parted, the young dragon blushed a little and scratched the back of his head.

"Though, come to think of it, I don't think I've ever said it before now."

Twilight let out a little chuckle at hearing that.

"Well...that changes now. Because I will keep on saying it. Because I mean it, Spike, I really do. It's something I should have said long before now."

Once again, the young unicorn placed a hoof upon her assistant's shoulder.

"And I want you to remember. No matter what happens from this point onwards...I will never stop loving you."

Looking upon his unicorn friend, Spike tilted his head somewhat, regaining just a little bit of his earlier worry.

"Twilight...is everything okay? I mean, I know you're not that happy about going to Ponyville, but..."

Twilight's mind began to race as her assistant spoke hose words. That's right! As far as Spike's concerned, it's just been a few hours since I said how unhappy I was about going. In truth, I actually can’t wait to go there and see all my friends again...well...rather, for the first time. I wonder...no. I can't tell him. If I start going around telling ponies that I was given a vision of the future by myself from a few decades down the line, they'd call me a lunatic. Still...I have to make him think that everything's fine with me. But how? Thinking her options over for a bit, Twilight soon cleared her throat and put on a smile.

"Well, Spike, I had some time to think about this assignment the Princess gave us, and I think I was too quick to dismiss it."

Spike raised an eyebrow at that.


Twilight smiled and nodded.

"Really. I've never really been out of Canterlot before, so I figured it might be good for the two of us to get out and see a bit more of Equestria."

Apparently satisfied with her answer, Spike began to smile again.

"Great! And you're sure everything's okay?"

Twilight let out a chuckle and began to walk past her assistant, towards her travel bags.

"Yes, Spike. Everything's okay."

But, before she reached for her bags, she stopped, and thought hard for a moment. Spike looked on at this moment of hesitancy, seeing a smile creep upon her face. As she turned to face him once more, Spike looked upon an expression of confidence that he could not recall ever seeing on her before today.

"Actually...it'll be more than okay. I'll be great! No! It'll be perfect!"

Spike, momentarily taking in by the confidence his friend was displaying, found himself briefly awe-struck by her. Seeing this look, Twilight giggled a little before lighting up her horn, levitating the bags so they were now floating beside her. Twilight smiled to herself now, knowing everything she needed to. All the spells, all the events that had yet to happen, the knowledge of the friends she had yet to meet. Her older self had given her the chance to live a whole lifetime over again. A second chance. How many in this world would kill to have that kind of opportunity? Imagine all the good I could do, all the great things I can make happen, all the ponies I can help? This is great! As a yet another yet-to-be-memory came to mind, Twilight found herself having a mental chuckle. This is, as Rarity might say, the…best…possible…thing. Looking to her friend, Twilight gave a simple but affectionate smile, gesturing to the door beside her.

"Come on, Spike. We've got a chariot to get to."

Arrival in Ponyville

The air blew past them both as they flew swiftly through the skies of Equestria. Twilight and Spike were sitting within a magnificent golden chariot, pulled along by a pair of young pegasi stallions of the royal guard. With them were merely a few small travel bags, overnight items and such. Twilight was looking far ahead, straining her eyes to look through the clouds to what inevitably laid ahead. As for Spike, he was busy reading off a letter sent to them by Princess Celestia. As he spoke, Twilight was thinking things over in her mind. So...Ponyville will be around soon enough. It'll be strange, going there for the first time when I know it so well now. But, I'll see all my friends...who don't even know me yet. I have to be careful. I can't just go up to them and start talking to them like I've known them my whole life. Got to be more subtle than that. She turned looking as Spike carried on reading the letter aloud. And then there's Nightmare Moon. Hard to imagine the monster of foals' stories is Princess Celestia's sister. But she'll be here tonight, and I have to be the one to deal with it.

"...make some friends!"

Twilight's head snapped in Spike's direction as he finished saying that, putting on a small smile for his benefit. Make friends? Oh, trust me, I have every intention of that, Spike. Celestia has no idea what I know now. She'll just think I'll be against the idea. Well...I guess I was...or would have been. Ugh, these past and future tenses are getting annoying now. Regardless, the plan is clear. Meet the girls, get the Summer Sun Celebration sorted out, then deal with Nightmare Moon. Twilight sighed as she thought that over, knowing the challenge that laid ahead of her. But then, as she thought on it, the clouds before them began to part, revealing what lay below. Twilight's eyes widened as she moved forward to lean over the edge of the chariot. Her face, seeing the sight before her, broke into a massive smile. Ponyville! Sure enough, there was the village she now knew so well. Buildings that this version of her had never laid eyes on, and yet was already so familiar with. There's Sugar Cube Corner! And the Mayor's office! And over there, Sweet Apple Acres!

As she looked around though, her eyes then drifted to a nearby lake and waterfall which, at this moment, had completely vacant land surrounding it. No castle...yet. However, she was jolted from that train of thought as the chariot began to descend. Bracing themselves, Twilight and Spike held on as the pegasi brought them both down to the ground. Hopping out, Spike began to stretch his legs after the long journey, while Twilight walked around to face the two guards accompanying them.

"Thank you, Sirs."

The guards nodded in appreciation before stretching out their wings and flapping, sending them flying off into the skies once more. Twilight watched them, waiting until they were beyond her sight, before looking down to see Spike before her.

"Well, you heard what Princess Celestia said. You need to start making some friends while you're here. So, let's go and find some!"

As Spike walked away, Twilight chuckled and rolled her eyes, somewhat amused by Spike's obliviousness of her intentions. I'll make friends alright, Spike. Just you watch. And so, the two of them started walking together, looking around at all the ponies around and about the town. Twilight kept on wearing a big smile upon her face as she saw them, appearing very happy as she regarded each and every mare and stallion she saw in this place. They're here, all of them! Look, there's Mr and Mrs Cakes! And Lyra! Bonbon! Ditzy! Miss Cheerilee! I...I know I've never seen them, but...I know them...all of them.


The mare's head turned to face Spike, who was currently looking at her with a raised eyebrow.

"You...er...you're kinda looking a bit...happy. In a weird way. I mean, it's a nice place and all, but..."

Twilight blushed a little and let out a nervous laugh.

"Oh...yeah! I'm just...er...excited to see a new place, that's all."

Spike kept watching her for a time, Twilight coughing nervously every once in a while, before he eventually just shrugged his shoulders and looked away. Mentally, Twilight chastised herself over this. You've got to be more careful, Twilight! Remember, as far as Spike or anypony else is concerned, you've never been here or met anypony who lives here. They may be lifelong friends to you, but you're not one to them. Not yet. With her self-lecture over, Twilight continued to look ahead as she and Spike walked together, only to stop as Spike suddenly ceased walking right in front of her. Turning around, he put his hands on his hips before smiling at her.

"Okay then, time for you to start making some friends."

Twilight let out a chuckle at that.

"Thank you, Spike, but I'm pretty sure I can handle it."

This time, it was Spike's turn to chuckle.

"No offense, Twilight, but you spent most of your time cooped up in libraries. You're gonna need some help on the whole friend front."

The mare had to resist the urge to roll her eyes again. If only he knew. So, she simply watched as Spike looked around for a bit, after which he stopped with a big smile on his face.

"Alright, let's start by just saying "hello" to that mare over there!"

Twilight turned her head to where her assistant was pointing, and when she did, she froze. There, walking happily along the street towards them, was a pink earth pony mare. Twilight stood in place, mouth hanging open as she approached. It's...it's her! Pinkie! I know the memories, but...now I can see her with my own eyes! My friend! Always there to make others happy, who lives to see them smile! Oh, Pinkie, I can't tell you how happy I am to see you! But, her smile faded as a stark realisation began to sink in for her. But...I can't just say all that. She doesn't know me. To her, I'm a stranger. She'll be my friend before this is done, I know that, but for now...I have to play it safe. So, Twilight watched as her pink friend finally came close enough to really notice her and Spike. Pinkie looked them over with a blank expression, to which Twilight smiled at. Looking down, she saw Spike gesture to the mare, silently telling Twilight to introduce herself. I know what's going to happen next. But this time...I'm ready.


Before Twilight or Spike could say anything further, the mare leapt up into the air, letting out a massive gasp at the sight of them both. She spun around, and Twilight knew that she was getting ready to leave. Not this time, Twilight thought. So, as Pinkie took no more than a step away from them, Twilight stood firm and called out.


With that one utterance, Pinkie, quite literally, screeched to a halt, with Spike and Twilight wincing at the sound of the high-pitched screech itself. Behind the pink mare was a pair of skid marks on the ground from where she'd stopped, and in an instant, she turned around, tilting her head at the loud command that had just been thrown her way. And it was here that Twilight looked around, noticing that a few of the other ponies had turned to face her, somewhat taken aback at the loudness she'd brought forth. Blushing, Twilight let out a nervous chuckle while Spike buried his face in his claws. Well, so much for playing it safe. Clearing her throat, Twilight took a few steps towards Pinkie, before addressing her properly.

"Sorry about that. I didn't mean to sound rude. I just...wanted to introduce myself properly."

Pinkie looked at her carefully, at the nervous way that Twilight looked and held herself. After a few moments of silence, the mare bounced around and was once again wearing a happy smile.

"Well why didn't you say so?! I'm Pinkie Pie! Welcome to Ponyville!"

That last few words has been uttered with a grand gesture of Pinkie's hoof towards the rest of the town. Twilight sighed after hearing her new friend speak this way. She's not upset with me. Good. Now we can do things right. Clearing her throat again, Twilight place a hoof to her chest before speaking.

"Nice to meet you, Pinkie. I'm Twilight Sparkle, from Canterlot. And this is my good friend, Spike."

Pinkie looked from Twilight to the small dragon accompanying her, who then gave a short bow in greeting. It was a gesture that Twilight felt no problem rolling her eyes at this time. Moments afterwards, however, Pinkie began to jump up repeatedly in place.

"Oh! You must be here for the Summer Sun Celebration, right? It'll be so great having it here in Ponyville this year! Are you going to help with the party?"

Twilight smiled and nodded at that.

"Among other things, yes."

Pinkie smiled even wider at that, oblivious to Twilight's thoughts on the matter. She doesn't know about what's going to happen tonight. None of them do. No need to make them worry prematurely though. So, Twilight just kept on Smiling.

"I look forward to seeing everypony enjoy it tonight. I hope to see you there too!"

Pinkie then began to giggle.

"Silly! You're new to Ponyville! And that means you get one of my patented super-special-awesome-welcome-to-Ponyville-parties! Oh, er, where are you staying tonight?"

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but Pinkie merely placed a hoof upon her mouth.

"Never mind! I'll find out! I love surprises! Well, got a party to plan, so see ya!"

Before Twilight or Spike could stop her, Pinkie suddenly darted off, leaving a Pinkie-shaped cloud of smoke in her wake, which soon dissipated. Looking at his friend after that strange display, Spike shrugged his shoulders.

"Well...I guess this town's got quite a few...interesting folks about."

Twilight chuckled at that.

"Oh, I'm sure she's fine, Spike."

Feeling content at having met the first of her many friends, Twilight turned and looked down the street, towards the vast apple orchards at the far end of the town. Smiling, she started walking towards it.

"Besides, we've got work to do. We need to meet the other ponies helping out in the celebration. Let's start with the caterers."

Spike nodded and started jogging beside her, and as Twilight kept on walking, she smiled as a single thought took precedent in her mind; one down, four to go.

Apples and Rainbows

As Twilight and Spike stepped beyond the boundaries of Ponyville, they entered a lush green orchard, filled with row upon row of apple trees, all fully laden and ready for bucking. As Spike walked ahead of his friend, he was oblivious to the look of sheer joy upon her face. It's...beautiful! I've never been outside of Canterlot until today, and we never had so many trees like this. And the smell! Taking a deep breath through her nose, Twilight let out a sigh of contentment. The apples. I never knew fruit could smell so wonderful. However, her smile then faded somewhat. The other me...the one from the future...she never appreciated this the first time around. When she first came to Ponyville, she wanted nothing more than to leave it. But now...now I get the chance to see this place for how special it truly is. Her smile returned, though, as she continued walking, she looked around at the place, tilting her head a little. Hmmm...lacking the irrigation systems it'll have in future. Irrigation I make for Applejack. Maybe I could...no! Apocalypse-bringing mare of darkness first, improvements to Ponyville later.

Turning ahead, Twilight smiled even wider as she looked upon the now-familiar redness of the Apple family barn. She let out a brief chuckle at the sight of it, after which she began to look around for the one she knew would be here. Spike was still busying himself with reading their to-do list, and so wasn't looking up as a bright orange figure began galloping along. In an instant, Twilight used her magic to levitate her assistant out of the way, watching as her soon-to-be-friend, Applejack, let out a howl as she ran towards a nearby tree, bucking it with all her might and letting dozens of apples fall to the basket below. Seeing her friend at last, Twilight smiled as she lowered her assistant back to the ground, finally walking towards the farm mare. Clearing her throat, she immediately gained Applejack's attention, who regarded the two carefully before giving a friendly smile. Twilight returned the smile before starting to introduce herself.

"Hello! My name is Twilight Sparkle. And this is Spike. You're Applejack, yes?"

The earth pony gave a chuckle and a nod before walking forward, grabbing onto Twilight's hoof and shaking it vigorously.

"Well, howdy there, Twilight! Y'all must be here for the celebration, right? Let me tell you, y'all won't be disappointed with what we Apples have got prepared for ya!"

Twilight, having finally been let go, chuckled at that.

"Oh, I'm sure I won't, Miss Apples."

A thought then came to Twilight, at which point she put on a somewhat sly mile.

"I think I heard other ponies around. I'm guessing it's the rest of your family?"

A look of realisation then crossed Applejack's face as she heard those words.

"Shoot! Thanks fer remindin me!"

Galloping away to a nearby hanging triangle, Applejack enthusiastically began to ring it, sending it's sound across what must have been many acres, after which she let out a loud call.


Knowing what was coming next, Twilight once more levitated Spike out of the way, watching as the ponies she knew as the massive Apple family began galloping en masse towards them. Standing aside, Twilight watched as the dozens of mares and stallions passed her, regarding each and every one of them. I know AJ introduces me...but aside from her immediate family, Babs and Braeburn, I never really got to know any of these ponies all that well. A look of determination crossed her face with that thought. Well, better put that on my to-do list for after the Nightmare Moon incident. Realisation then crossed her face, and then a look of slight embarrassment. Additional...also remember to actually make a to-do list for after the Nightmare Moon incident. Shaking herself out of that thought, she lowered Spike again and looked around, seeing the many Apples that now surrounded her. All of them were smiling at her in a welcoming way, and Twilight simply smiled back, after which Applejack approached her and slapped a hoof down on her shoulder before gesturing to the rest of the group.

"Mah whole family!"

As the orange mare began to point to each and every one of them, she sounded off their names. Here we go, Twilight thought.

"This here's Apple Fritter, Apple Bumpkin, Red Gala, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Caramel Apple, Apple Strudel, Apple Tart, Baked Apples, Apple Brioche, Apple Cinnamon Crisp..."

Applejack then took a deep breath before pointing her hoof towards the three ponies Twilight knew best out of all of them. Ponies she smiled at warmly as Applejack sounded off again.

"...and then there's mah brother, Big Macintosh. Mah sister, Apple Bloom, and the oldest of us, Granny Smith!"

The elder mare, as Twilight expected, was sound asleep, rocking gently in her chair. Applejack stepped forward, ready to, as Twilight foresaw, to wake her Grandmother up to greet their two guests. However, jumping ahead of her friend, Twilight stopped her.

"Um...that's okay! You don't need to wake her on our behalf."

Applejack stopped and regarded her carefully, raising an eyebrow at her words. For a moment, Twilight was worried that she might have offended her, but that fear was soon undermined by Applejack letting out a good hearty laugh, complete with slapping her hoof down on Twilight's shoulder again, much to the latter's chagrin.

"Well shoot, Twilight! That's mighty decent of y'all!"

Twilight laughed nervously at that, but mentally, she was more than a little relieved. I guess I should have expected that. Applejack values her family above everything else. If I showed I had the wellbeing of one of them in mind, she would have naturally appreciated that. Smiling to herself, Twilight walked alongside Applejack as the latter brought her to a nearby table, wherein her relatives had all prepared a number of delicious-looking apple-based foods to eat.

"We were just about to tuck in to some grub when y'all showed up. Why don't y'all and the little feller join in?"

The unicorn smiled at that, having every intention of joining them willingly this time. The Apples are some of the friendliest ponies in Equestria. No way am I going to appear ungrateful this time. Besides, even if I did, that sister of hers would just land me with that look that could melt even Cranky's heart. Nodding to Applejack, Twilight took her place at the table, wherein she saw that Spike was already drooling at the sight of all the food that was before him. Chuckling at that sight, Twilight turned to Applejack again before speaking in a soft and respectful manner.

"We would be honoured to join you, Applejack."

Letting out another "yeehaw" the orange mare gave a firm pat on Twilight's back before sitting down next to her. In moments, the entire Apple family were preparing their own tables and chairs, taking whatever food they wanted and starting to eat heartily. But, none stuffed their mouth more than Spike, who was starting to look more like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter, which Twilight couldn't help but giggle at. Letting out a sigh, she began her own meal, though ate nowhere near as much as everypony else. Earth ponies always did have more of an appetite than us unicorns, she mused. Nevertheless, she ate her meal, grateful at all the hospitality she was being shown. So good! I never told Applejack how much of a great cook she was. That'll be something I'll do right this time. So, eating her food, and loving every bite, Twilight and Spike were soon looked upon with great favour by the Apple family, all of whom regarded them with warm looks as they showed open appreciation for the meals they'd made.

In time, however, the food was no more, and both Twilight and Spike were comfortably full from their time there. Knowing that they had other business to tend to, the two began to make their way away from the Apple's home, giving all of them a friendly wave goodbye as they left. All of the Apples, Applejack especially, returned the wave even more enthusiastically, and the young unicorn smiled as she turned away and began heading back to Ponyville. With full stomachs, however, the trip was longer this time, with Spike especially letting out occasional groans from having eaten so much, perhaps more than any pony had done, even Big Mac. Twilight chuckled at this, but soon focused herself as they finally entered the town proper. Okay, she thought to herself, Rainbow Dash will be coming in fast soon. Got to be careful. I don't want our first meeting to be a crash this time around. Craning her neck upwards, she looked at the sky, seeing all the clouds that had yet to be cleared. Okay, if I remember right, Rainbow should be coming in...from...there!

With quick movements, Twilight side-stepped just in time to have a cyan blur fly right past her. Knowing that her friend was destined to land head-first into a puddle of mud, Twilight's horn lit up and engulfed the pegasus in her aura, stopping her in mid-flight, with her mizzle just an inch away from the puddle in question. Seeing how close she was to the ground, Rainbow's eyes snapped open, after which she looked around to see Twilight, who was smiling at her. Chuckling nervously, Rainbow began to struggle in the hold of the magic, to which Twilight simply released her. Now safely landing on all four hooves, Rainbow patted herself down a bit before examining Twilight carefully. Within moments, however, she broke into a smirk before pointing straight at her.

"Well, that would have been embarrassing! Thanks for the save...er...?"

Understanding her friend's confusion, Twilight chuckled a little before placing a hoof to her chest.

"Oh! I'm Twilight. And this is Spike."

The young dragon gave a salute to the pegasus, which the latter returned with a chuckle of her own, before looking to the young unicorn.

"Twilight, eh?"

She seemed to be deep in thought over something, but then broke out into a smile before pointing to Twilight once more.

"Oh yeah! You're that unicorn from Canterlot, right? Here to check up on the party tonight? Well, you've got no worries here, buddy! Rainbow Dash is weather mare of Ponyville, and these skies will be crystal clear by the time Princess Celestia arrives."

Twilight smiled at that. Oh, I know, Rainbow. However, as she looked up, Twilight once more saw the clouds that were still floating around everywhere. Okay, got to be careful. My first meeting with her was more like a confrontation. I don't want that to be how things start between us this time. Got to do it differently. But how? Think, Twilight! Think of the kind of mare Rainbow is. As she dwelt on this, however, she looked up again to see that Rainbow had flown upwards, taking a spot on a nearby small cloud, relaxing comfortably upon it, letting out a sigh as she did so. Seeing her friend up there, Twilight cleared her throat a little.

"Um...I don't mean to sound rude...but shouldn't you be clearing the clouds?”

Rainbow waved a hoof at that.

"Yeah, yeah! I'll get to it. But I’m kinda busy right now. I'm practising for my flying today."

Twilight's face cracked into a smile at that. That's it! How could I not see it before? Smirking a little, Twilight looked up at Rainbow and started speaking in a somewhat forcefully-ignorant manner.

"Practicing your flying? But the only flying team that could properly use a pegasus as fast as you is...well...the Wonderbolts!"

Upon hearing that name, Rainbow immediately sat upright on her cloud, after which she flew up and spun around, looking down at Twilight with a somewhat cocky smile on her face.

"Heck yeah, the Wonderbolts! I like the way you think, Twilight! I've been training day and night to get myself ready for them. I just can't wait to get my chance!"

Twilight smiled at seeing her friend like this. So confident, so sure of herself and what she can do. There's the Rainbow Dash I know and love! Okay, I've got my hoof in the door, now I just need to go with it.

"You know...the Wonderbolts really admire skill and dedication. If you could show you're the kind of mare who could, say, clear up the skies in ten seconds flat, that'd be pretty impressive to them."

It was a proposition that caused Rainbow to pause for a few moments, thinking over the unicorn's words for a moment before breaking out into yet another confident smile.

"You know, Twilight...I think you and I are gonna get on just fine!"

Twilight smiled at her friend’s words, and then watched as the young pegasus landed on her cloud again, assuming the same kind of position one would when getting ready for a race. Rainbow licked her lips a little before flapping her wings hard, sending herself fast into the sky before her. Both Spike and Twilight watched in awe as she moved with a speed greater than they had ever seen from any Canterlot Pegasus, reaching each and every cloud in sight with ease, and bucking them into oblivion even easier than that. With a few spins, twirls and kicks, Rainbow, true to Twilight's suggestion, had the sky completely clear in ten seconds flat. Looking around, Twilight put on a face that made it clear she was impressed with her friend's work, which she genuinely was. Even knowing she could do it, and would have done it, it's still amazing to actually see her in action. Turning to Rainbow, Twilight smiled at her, and Rainbow returned the smile as she hovered lower to the ground.

"Been good meeting you, Twilight. See ya at the celebration tonight!"

With a nod from Twilight, Rainbow gave her own little salute before flapping her wings and sending her off elsewhere, thought to do what, Twilight didn't know. With her friend now gone, Twilight let out a sigh. So far, so good. Looking down at her assistant, she gently placed a hoof upon his shoulder.

"Come on, Spike. Time to go to the Town Hall. Got to check up on the decorations."

Spike smiled and nodded at that before starting to jog off in the direction of the obvious Hall in the middle of town. Seeing him go, Twilight mentally giggled to herself. Next comes Rarity. Oh Spike...you have no idea.

Diamonds and Butterflies

The two friends walked with a skip in their step towards the Town Hall of Ponyville, Twilight feeling more than a little pleased with herself after everything that had happened so far. Alright, all of my first meetings have been going well thus far. Only two more to go. As the two of them approached the doors of the Hall, Twilight looked down at her draconian friend, who, unlike her, was completely oblivious to what was about to happen. Using all her might, Twilight fought against the urge to giggle. Oh Spike, if only you knew just how much you'll come to love this next moment of your life. Turning to the doors, Twilight lit up her horn to start opening them magically, after which they both entered, doors closing behind them. Okay, Twilight thought, when this first played out, Rarity was obsessing on getting my mane fixed after Rainbow crashed into me. Since that's not going to happen, let's see how this goes. After walking for a few moments within the hall, Twilight looked around, seeing many of the decorations already prepared. It'll be a good-looking celebration, I'll say that much.

However, her expression then darkened somewhat as she looked up to the balcony on the second level of the grand entrance hall, which was currently obscured by a large pair of curtains. That's it. The place Lu...no...Nightmare Moon will make herself known. She let out a sigh at that thought. She's a good mare, I know. But when she sees me, it will be at a time when her heart is consumed by darkness. She and I are friends in the future, but tonight? Tonight we'll be deadly enemies. It was a difficult though, no question, and one that caused a somewhat pained expression for Twilight. However, as Spike turned to look at her, the young unicorn quickly put on a smile for his benefit, which he promptly returned. And it was here that there two of them finally started to hear mumbling up ahead. Looking forward, Twilight smiled when she saw her friend, Rarity, at work looking over the various decorations that had yet to be chosen for the evening. She didn't even notice the two of them approach her, allowing Twilight a moment to look down at Spike. Sure enough, he was enraptured by the sight of the mare before him, utterly transfixed at her beauty. At this, Twilight allowed herself a mental giggle. And it starts.

Taking a few steps forward, Twilight watched as Rarity was dismissing a number of colourful ribbons, looking at them in a disapproving manner before her face finally lit up at a purple-coloured one. Having finally gone close enough for her liking, Twilight cleared her throat, at which point Rarity turned to her with a slight degree of surprise on her face.

"Oh! I do so apologise! I didn't hear you come in!"

Twilight raised a hoof and shook her head at that.

"No need to apologise. I'm sorry to disturb your decorations, but I was sent to make sure everything was in order here. You're Miss Rarity, correct?"

Smiling, Rarity puffed out her chest a little and swept back some of her mane, a motion which caused Spike to actually start drooling at this point. Clearing her own throat, Rarity began to speak back.

"Yes, indeed I am! I do hope you approve of what I've done so far, Miss...?"

Twilight gave a small smile at that.

"Twilight Sparkle. And this...gentledrake is Spike."

Only now did the alabaster unicorn really notice Spike, and upon seeing him, she was more than a little taken aback.

"Oh my! A dragon! How exotic!"

Upon finally being addressed, Spike shook his head to get himself out of his self-inflicted trance, at which point he coughed nervously and started speaking back, all while puffing out his own chest in a manner that made it clear he was trying to look more impressive than he really was.

"Well...erm...it's great to meet, you, Miss Rarity! You've done great work here!"

Twilight rolled her eyes at her assistant's attempts at looking impressive. Rarity, on the other hoof, merely let out a short squeak as she patted the young drake on the head.

"Oh, you are just the most precious little thing!"

Under normal circumstances, Spike would not have appreciated being spoken to like a child. With Rarity doing it, however, he seemed to have changed his tune, as he became quite weak at the knees at feeling her hoof upon his head. Twilight stifled the need to giggle at the sight of him like this. Spike, Spike, Spike. Believe it or not, this will happen more than a few times in your future. A moment of concern crossed her face as she considered that. He'll be pining for Rarity for years. Not even future me really knew if it was worth trying to talk him out of it. I know she's a lot older than he is, but...I suppose it wouldn't hurt to let him keep feeling that way about her. Putting on a smile, Twilight cleared her throat again. Well, better tell Rarity that everything's fine here. I still have Fluttershy to meet after all. However, before she got the chance to say anything, Rarity herself spoke up.

"I must say, I've never met a dragon before. Where was it you said the two of you came from?"

Twilight froze in place after hearing those words. Oh, right. I remember what happens when Rarity finds that out. She let out a mental sigh. Well, if I'm going to be friends with her, I can't exactly keep that kind of thing a secret. After a few moments of hesitancy, Twilight finally gave an answer.

"Well...we come from...er...Canterlot?"

There was silence between the two mares for a time, but eventually, Rarity's face slowly broke into an enormously wide smile, with her eyes practically filled with sparkles. Well, here we go, Twilight thought. Sure enough, Rarity let out a near ear-piercing squeal of joy as she lunged forward, her face mere millimetres away from Twilight's.


The young unicorn took a well-earned step back away from the star-struck mare, as the latter began gushing fiercely about what Twilight knew was her favourite place in all the world.

"Oh! I can just see it now! The glitz! The glamour! The nobility! Oh! You simply must tell me everything you know about that place!"

Twilight chuckled nervously at that.

"Well, I appreciate that you respect my hometown so much...but it really isn't as perfect as you think it is."

Rarity merely scoffed at that.

"Oh please! I'm well aware that every place has it's imperfections, naturally. But still, it's the beating heart of our nation! The seat of power for Princess Celestia herself! If a place like that isn't worth talking about, I don't know what is!"

Well, can't argue with that logic, Twilight mused. In moments though, Rarity began speaking yet again.

"Oh, please, Twilight! It's always been my dream to go to a place like Canterlot one day! Ooh! I actually have a nice pot of tea ready backstage. How about you join me and we'll discuss it?"

Twilight considered that offer carefully. Well, I want her to be my friend, just like she's supposed to. So I guess having a friendly tea break together and talking about home would be a pretty good ice-breaker. Besides, I've still got plenty of time before I need to check up on Fluttershy. Looking down, she saw that Spike was looking up at her, his eyes wide and pleasing. Twilight chuckled at the sight of him like this. Besides, Spike would never forgive me if I say no to a chance for us to spend more time with his first crush. Turning back to Rarity, Twilight gave a smile and a nod, granting her friend the permission she needed. Letting out another happy squeak, the white unicorn gestured to the backstage door, after which she began to walk towards it, with Twilight and Spike in-tow. As promised, there were cups of tea already prepared back there on a small table, which Rarity then filled by way of using her magic to lift the nearby pot. After offering it to the young unicorn, Rarity watched her with eagerness, Twilight chuckling nervously as she did so.

And so it was that the two spent a good chunk of time discussing everything Rarity wished to know. From the most prominent locations of Canterlot, to all the streets and venues where fashion was most practiced, which was something Rarity took particular interest in. Twilight gave honest answers to all of them, all while Spike kept his eyes on Rarity, utterly awe-struck by her. In time, Rarity had no more questions to ask, and Twilight was finally free to move on elsewhere. After giving an appreciative goodbye wave, Rarity resumed her work decorating the Town Hall, at which point Twilight began to finally leave the place. Spike, on the other hoof, was practically rooted in place, still staring at his new crush. Letting out a groan of frustration, Twilight engulfed him in her magic, levitating him wholesale and bringing him along with her as she left. It was only after they'd walked a few blocks down the street that the young dragon finally snapped out of it, and at that point, here chuckled nervously at Twilight, to which the latter simply couldn't be mad at him for. He'd never appreciate me saying this, but he does look very adorable when he gets that way around her.

As the two journeyed towards the other end of town, the houses became increasingly sparse, and the place gave way to vast fields of green grass and colourful flowers. She's around here somewhere, Twilight thought. This'll probably be the hardest of all. Fluttershy barely spoke to me the first time around. Heck, she barely even got out her name! It was only because Spike came into view that she even got out a full sentence. Upon dwelling on that thought, Twilight turned to see her young friend, still walking beside her, before putting on a mischievous smirk. Well then, I guess I should keep him close this time around. However, that thought was then interrupted as Twilight began to hear a distant chorus of songs. Turning, she looked ahead, seeing a large section of bushes before her. Rearing onto her hind legs, she looked over and saw, as expected, a small tree, upon which were dozens of colourful birds, all singing well together. And there, flying beside the tree, was Fluttershy herself. Twilight smiled at seeing her, hearing her talking to one of the bird in particular about being off-key.

Letting out a sigh, Twilight walked out from behind the bushes, with Spike close behind her. She did not call out, not like the first time around. Instead, she simply walked closer, and as she did so, one of the birds tilted their head to look at her, which alerted Fluttershy to her approaching presence. Slowly, the timid Pegasus spun around, finally seeing Twilight. The birds, not having been scared off this time, nevertheless seemed nervous at the new arrival. Okay, things are going smoothly so far. Clearing her throat a little, Twilight finally spoke.


Fluttershy hovered closer to the ground before looking away from Twilight somewhat.


The words had been spoke so quietly that they were barely above a whisper. At least she said hello back this time, Twilight thought. After a brief pause, Twilight took a deep breath before speaking.

"You're the one in charge of the music tonight? Miss Fluttershy, I presume? My name is Twilight. It's nice to meet you."

Fluttershy gained a slight blush upon hearing her name spoken by this strange, shifting slightly so that some of her mane began to fall on one side of her face. Twilight's smile faded a little at seeing this.

"That, er...that singing from your birds sounded wonderful! You should be proud!"

The praise, unfortunately, didn't seem to coax Fluttershy into any sort of response. Twilight, upon seeing this, let out another sigh. Well, guess it's time to use my trump card. Turning, the lavender unicorn gestured to Spike, who had been standing quietly beside her this whole time.

"Oh, I almost forgot! This is my good friend, Spike!"

As she said that, Fluttershy finally noticed the young dragon beside Twilight, and when she did, her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates, and she flapped her wings to launch herself into the air, all while wearing an enormous smile.


The usually-timid mare zoomed forward, but, much like with Rainbow Dash earlier, Twilight made an immediate side-step to avoid being impacted by the Pegasus. With her face now a mere inch away from Spike's, Fluttershy began to fawn all over him.

"Oh! He's so cute!"

Spike looked at twilight with a somewhat cocky look, as if to say "look at me getting all the mares today!" Twilight merely rolled her eyes at that. Yeah, yeah, Spike. Trust me, you'd be nothing but a puddle right now if it was Rarity doing that. Fluttershy, though, was oblivious to Twilight's inner grumblings, and simply kept on smiling at the young drake.

"I've never met a baby dragon before! Tell me everything about you!"

Looking ever so pleased with himself, Spike cleared his throat before starting to speak.

"Well, it all began years ago when I was hatched in Canterlot..."

Twilight chuckled at seeing things go so well. Fluttershy was happy being around them, and all the other mares had been met and introduced to her. So far, everything was going as it was supposed to. Feeling happy about everything, Twilight levitated Spike upon her back, all while he continued speaking to Fluttershy about the two of them. Staring to walk back into town, Twilight chuckled at the sight of her newest friend so enraptured with meeting Spike. But, as ever, a sense of foreboding gnawed at Twilight during all this. It won't be long now. Nightmare Moon will arrive soon. I'll have to fight her, me and the other girls. She let out a sigh at that. Relax, Twilight. You know everything you need to. You know what to do when this crisis has passed. It'll be a lot of work, but I'm sure I'll be able to make things better than they ever were the first time around. Looking up, a sense of determination passed her face. This time...I'll be ready for all of it.

However, as she dwelt on that, a small smile formed upon her face as she let out a chuckle.

But for now…I guess I’d better get to my “surprise” party.

A Home, Restored

The sun was just starting to set by the time Twilight and her two friends finally made it back to the centre of town. However, despite the passage of all that time, Spike's enthusiasm for discussing his whole life had not diminished in the slightest. Although somewhat amused by hearing him continue to talk about it, Twilight wondered to herself how he could go on for so long about it. More to the point, she mused, how does he even remember all this stuff? A thought then occurred to her. Then again, I do have a whole extra lifetime's worth of memories myself at this point, so who am I to complain? Still, as she looked back, watching as Fluttershy was utterly transfixed on the tiny dragon speaking to her, Twilight let out a chuckle. Well, at least this helped bring Fluttershy out of her shell a little. I'll have to remember to help her out with that more when things have settled down later. So, she continued walking, listening to everything Spike was saying.

"...and that's pretty much the story of my whole life until today. Oh! Do you want to hear about today?"

Fluttershy smiled enthusiastically at that.

"Oh, that sounds wonderful!"

Spike smiled proudly at that before clearing his throat, ready to continue speaking. However, before he got the chance to do so, he was stopped by a sudden jolt, as Twilight came to a complete stop. Fluttershy too was taken aback by this abrupt end to their walk, and as Spike recovered from it, he turned around, looking rather annoyed at this. However, his annoyance soon disappeared as he saw the look on Twilight's face. She was utterly focused on what lay before them, her mouth hanging open. Looking forward, Spike saw what she had seen, a massive tree in the middle of Ponyville, with what looked like a house built into it. Although he was confused as to why Twilight was behaving this way, the unicorn herself was completely lost in her own thoughts. It's...it's here! The Golden Oaks Library! My...my home! It's here! It's whole! No burns. No destruction. It's like nopony has ever made a scratch on it. This...this place...it'll mean more to me than any home I have ever lived in. I never appreciated it until it was gone. But this time...this time no monster will ever take it away from us!

Her memories of her life that had yet-to-be once more resurfaced. Memories of happy times in this place. This place, where she had never set hoof before today, carrying with it a lifetime of joy and feelings of belonging. A feeling she had never known before she came to this town. This is my home. And it will be my home for as long as I can keep it. This...I swear! As the happy memories of this place flooded over her, Twilight failed to notice that, not only had she broken into a soft and affectionate smile, but her eyes had started to well up with tears. As the first of them finally started to fall down her cheeks, only now did she notice that Spike had hopped off her and was now starting to stare at her, worried at why she was crying. Concern gripped Twilight's heart as she considered this. You fool, Twilight! You can't go around acting this way! Spike and everypony else will think something's wrong with you if you keep losing yourself like this! Get yourself together! Quickly, Twilight began wiping her tears away, all while Spike looked up at her, maintaining his earlier sense of concern.

"Twilight? Are you okay? Why are you crying?"

As Twilight continued to wipe her tears away, Fluttershy began to speak up in her usual meek manner.

"Oh! It was my fault, wasn't it? I knew I shouldn't have followed you like this!"

Chuckling a little at that, Twilight looked at both of them nervously before focusing her attention on Spike.

"It's nothing, really. It's just...well...you know I love books, so...I guess I got worked up about being near a library."

Spike raised his eyebrow at that, regarding those words carefully. For a moment, Twilight was worried that he might try and press the manner, given her, abnormal behaviour just now. However, thankfully, he didn't, instead looking away from her, albeit reluctantly. He knows I’m keeping something from him, she thought. It was a difficult thing to consider, that Twilight had just deliberately deceived him like that, and that he perhaps knew it. Even so, Twilight tried to shake herself out of that thought, instead returning her attention to the library. Her ears began to perk up as she began to hear sounds coming from within. Guess Pinkie's already invited everypony in. Clearing her throat, Twilight addressed her two friends.

"Well...it sounds like there's quite a party going on in there. It'd be rude to keep them waiting. Oh, and Fluttershy? You're welcome to join us, if you want."

The timid Pegasus looked down at the ground after hearing that request, considering it carefully before looking up again. It was clear to Twilight that she was still at a point in her life when she was uncomfortable around others, but even so, she'd managed to create at least a semblance of a friendship with her this afternoon, and it seemed to be enough to cause Fluttershy to give a small smile and nod. Smiling back, Twilight turned to look at Spike, who was already waiting at the door and ready to go in. The two mares soon joined him and, after opening the doors, they entered together. In an instant, Twilight was immediately swamped with many of the town's residents, all of whom had been gathered by Pinkie to greet Ponyville's newest arrival. Okay, Twilight thought, make a good impression this time. So, putting on her most convincing smile, Twilight began to shake hooves and offer greetings to everypony she encountered here. All of them welcomed her with the kind of friendliness that Twilight had not known before today, at least, not in the original life. But now, she knew these ponies, and seeing them again, for the first time, brought a deep warmth to her.

All of them...they don't know me, at least not beyond this meeting. But that'll change soon enough. Still wearing her smile, Twilight soon found that she had offered greeting to everypony that had come here, and soon, she caught sight of her best friends. Aside from Fluttershy, who was quietly standing to one side trying to avoid eye contact with others, there was Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow, all of whom, were mingling with others. Smiling at the sight of them, Twilight began to walk towards them, eager to get the group together. However, she was soon intercepted by Pinkie, who leapt out of nowhere and surprised the young unicorn.


Needless to say, this caught Twilight off-guard somewhat, but she nevertheless caught her breath and let out a chuckle as she regarded her most energetic of friends.

"Pinkie! Hello! Wow, this party is wonderful! I can’t thank you enough for throwing it for me!"

Pinkie smiled even more widely than normal after hearing that, after which she embraced Twilight in a hug.

"Aw! Don't mention it! After all, we're friends now, right?"

As the pink earth pony backed away from Twilight, the latter heard those words and let them sink in deep. Friends...yes. Yes, Pinkie, we are friends. You don't know it yet, but I'll consider you one of my closest companions, along with all the others. But, she didn't say those things, and instead simply gave a small smile and placed a hoof upon Pinkie's shoulder, acknowledging her point. Pinkie smiled yet again before bouncing off elsewhere to make sure everypony else was having a fun time here. Twilight chuckled at that, walking over to a nearby bowl of fruit punch, ready to take a drink. However, her future memories kicked in yet again, and a sly smile crept onto her face. Well...maybe I'll stick to water tonight. Using her magic, she levitated a nearby glass of cool water over, taking a single sip before turning around. She looked all over, knowing this place would be a beloved home to her for many years to come, and smiled contentedly. My first night here...the first of many happy times.

Looking down, she watched as Pinkie was darting all over the place, trying to convince the other mares to start dancing. Fluttershy, of course, was terrified about doing to in public, but others, like Applejack, were more than willing to go along with it. As Twilight watched her friends start to get along on this night, her smile remained. However, in this moment of solitude, she had the opportunity to take full account of why she was here, and not just regarding the return of Nightmare Moon. Other thoughts and memories flooded her mind, threatening to bring her down from this moment of joy. They're here. All of them. My friends. The best friends I ever had. They're happy. They’re content. Not a care in the world. None of them have any idea the kinds of things that will happen in future. The dark moments, the days of heartbreak. All the foes that will come to try and drive us apart, or worse. A grim look crossed her eyes as her memories delved even further than that. And none of them know, that one day...one day...they'll...


The unicorn was shaken out of that train of thought as she heard her name, looking down to see Spike who, as expected, was currently wearing a lampshade over his head, looking up at her eagerly. Giggling at the sight of him like this, Twilight listened as he spoke.

"Come on! Everypony's dancing! Let's join in!"

Twilight regarded her number one assistant, giving him a gentle pat on the top of his head, before nodding to him.

"Sure, Spike. I'd love to."

Spike smiled at that before getting back to everypony else, and Twilight kept on her smile, pushing aside those grim memories for the time being. I know things won't always be this good, this happy. I know many things lie ahead that I'll have to deal with. But...right now...

She sighed.

"...everything...is perfect."

The Nightmare Returns

Night had fallen, and the moon and stars were out, lighting the darkness and illuminating Twilight's way to the Town Hall. Spike was riding atop her back, as usual, already pumped up for whatever celebration was about to happen. Twilight, on the other hoof, could not have been more nervous. In the first timeline, I only suspected that Nightmare Moon was going to make an appearance. It's one of the few times in my life when I wished I was wrong about something. But now? Now...I know it's a certainty. She'll be here, and everypony will look at her as a monster, the kidnapper of Princess Celestia. They'll be in a panic, all of them. Looking up, she glanced at the moon itself, now full and brilliantly bright. It's strange, to see Luna's face still on it. I'd gone my whole life seeing that image upon the moon, and everypony thought it was weird when it wasn't there anymore. But for me, seeing it bare like that just meant a good pony was finally free. Now...now I know what it means for it to be up there. She looked beyond the moon, seeing the four stars already approaching it. Don't worry, Luna. You won't be alone for much longer.

Looking ahead, Twilight saw the Hall, and everypony in town gathering to celebrate the raising of the sun. Sighing, she entered the building, and, as she looked around at the fullness of the place, she couldn't help but feel her foreknowledge gnaw at her from within. I know bad things are going to happen, and I know there are some things that can be prevented. But this? This has to happen. I can’t stop Nightmare Moon from returning, but I can make her Luna again. A grimace crossed her face as she considered that. I just hope I won't have to use force this time to do it. Glancing upwards, Twilight watched as she saw several of her friends dotted about the place, with Fluttershy beside her birds, ready to sing, and Rarity up on the balcony, ready to present Celestia herself. As for Pinkie Pie, she had taken position right next to Twilight, looking as excited as ever for what she thought was going to happen, even going off and taking about how excited she was.

The Mayor had already taken up position at the head of the group, with a collection of stallions from the royal guard already beside her. As Ponyville's leader began speaking, Twilight was barely listening to her, as her mind was awash with everything that was about to go wrong here. Turning her head, she looked upon the stars that surrounded the moon, watching as they grew closer and closer. With baited breath, Twilight bit her lip as she finally saw them reach the moon itself. A bright and distant light occurred, after which the moon became what Twilight now knew it destined to be, bare, and without the image of a mare on it's surface. She's free, Twilight thought. What was to happen, at the end of this night, was the first great battle Twilight had ever known. One she came out of victorious, alongside her friends. Guilt clawed at her as she considered that. Luna...I did what I had to. I'm sorry I had to use such power against you. But this time...I promise I'll find a way to help you.

Looking around, Twilight looked on as the Mayor continued speaking to the crowd, all while keeping her eyes on the balcony above. Here it comes. And finally, the Mayor reached the end of her speech.

"...the good, the wise, the bringer of harmony to all of Equestria...Princess Celestia!"

With those words, the curtains were drawn back, and light shone upon the spot where their beloved monarch was supposed to be. Instead, as Twilight knew, there was nopony at all, and everypony there began chatting in a nervous and fearful manner. Twilight looked at them all, seeing the worry on their faces. Look at them. They've spent their whole lives being told that Celestia would be there for them. And now...she will be absent on a day when they needed her guidance more than ever. The young unicorn narrowed her eyes, watching as the Mayor fumbled in her current position.

"Remain calm, everypony! There must be a reasonable explanation!"

There is, Twilight thought. But you're not going to like it. Before she could say anything, she turned as Pinkie started speaking up.

"Ooh! Ooh! I love guessing games! Is she hiding?"

Twilight shook her head in a grim manner.

"If only..."

Moments after she uttered those words, Twilight looked on to see Rarity, who had earlier gone behind the curtains to see what was going on, finally return, looking more than a little hesitant to speak.

"She's...she's gone!"

While everypony else gasped with shock at that statement, Pinkie, by contrast, remained pretty calm about the whole thing.

"Oh, she's good!"

Knowing that everything was going to be alright at the end, Twilight felt incredibly tempted at this point to roll her eyes at her friend's words. However, she knew she couldn't allow herself to appear as though she was anything other than concerned, and so kept that exact look on her face as she continued watching the balcony, ready for what she knew was going to happen next. With Twilight not acknowledging her point, Pinkie instead looked where she was looking, and soon let out a gasp of her own as something began to happen. Twilight's body tensed as she saw the familiar blue and ethereal force that grew there, recognising the magic of the night all-too well now. I...I can't do it! I can't bear to see Luna like this! A force of destruction, of fear and terror! That isn't her! But...nopony else knows that except for me and Celestia! I know I can help her. I just...I just wish this hadn't happened. But happen it did, as the blue magic finally took shape, parting to reveal the dark alicorn mare within, clad in armour and looking upon all of the ponies there with both amusement and contempt. Many of them had begun to back away fearfully, but Twilight stood her ground, her eyes never straying from the mare once known as Luna. In time, the dark mare finally spoke.

"Oh, my beloved subjects! It's been so long since I've seen your precious, sun-loving faces!"

Almost everypony gathered here was starting to cower in fear over that declaration, and for a moment, Twilight caught sight of three fillies in particular, currently taking shelter beneath a table. Poor fillies. They won't even remember this as their first meeting. It was only after thinking that when Twilight finally looked back to Nightmare Moon. The bitterness and anger in her voice was apparent, and it broke Twilight's heart to hear it. Just a little bit longer, Luna, and you'll be free of that darkness. Other ponies, however, were not so considerate, as Rainbow Dash leapt up to speak out against the intruder.

"What did you do with our Princess?!"

As befitting of Rainbow, she immediately launched herself forward, no doubt ready to outright attack Nightmare Moon, regardless of how dangerous she thought it would be. However, ever the most level-headed of them, Applejack soon bit down onto the brash pegasi's tail, dragging her down while speaking in a somewhat muffled voice.

"Whoa there, Nelly!"

Rainbow looked down at her friend, showing clear annoyance at her being restrained like this. Nightmare Moon, by contrast, simply chuckled at this display, especially with regards to Rainbow's words against her

"Why? Am I not royal enough for you?"

The dark mare's eyes then narrowed at all who were gathered below.

"Do you not know who I am?"

Her words were bellowed out like the roar of an enraged animal, prompting even further fear amongst the assembled ponies. All, that is, except Pinkie, who looked at Nightmare Moon with her usual smile. Twilight, knowing how these events played out, understood that Pinkie was going to make light of the situation, as usual, even making a guessing game out of discovering the mare's name. Before she even had the chance to get out a single word, Twilight muffled her with a hoof to her mouth, lest she accidentally anger Nightmare Moon further. Without further interruptions, the imposing alicorn looked around, catching sight of Fluttershy. The shy pegasus withdrew into a near-foetal position as Nightmare approached her, looking down at her with aggression in her voice.

"Does my crown no longer count now that I have been imprisoned for a thousand years?"

Fluttershy merely let out a terrified whimper at those words, avoiding eye contact with her aggressor at all costs. Chuckling at the clearly-fearful mare, Nightmare Moon instead turned her attention to Rarity, speaking to her in a more mocking voice than she had done with Fluttershy.

"Did you not recall the legend? Did you not see the signs?"

This is it, Twilight thought. Stepping forward, Twilight stood firm and spoke out, loud enough for all, including Nightmare Moon, to hear her.

"I did! And I know who you are! You're the mare in the moon...Nightmare Moon!"

This revelation sent the expected wave of shock and awe all around the Hall, causing more than a few gasps from other ponies. I shouldn't be surprised at this reaction, Twilight thought. After all, this mare has become the darkest of our legends. The monster that parents tell young foals about to get them to behave. If I didn't know what I know, I'd be quaking just as much as the rest of them right now. As for Nightmare Moon, she had finally noticed the young unicorn, and had begun regarding her carefully, like an insect caught under a magnifying glass. Twilight felt as if her very being was being weighed and assessed by the alicorn, sending a shiver right through her. But, even in spite of that, she stood her ground, never giving way or showing even an ounce of fear. Nightmare Moon raised an eyebrow at this, as if this was the first time in history that somepony had not shown fear before her. Then again...that's probably the case. Regardless, Nightmare Moon let out a chuckle at Twilight before finally addressing her.

"Well, well, well. Somepony who remembers me."

The dark mare stood as tall as she could, looking down at Twilight with perhaps even greater contempt than she had anypony else tonight.

"Then you also know why I'm here?"

Twilight gave a single grim nod.

"I do."

The certainty with which Twilight had spoken that seemed to catch Nightmare Moon off-guard, but only a little, for moments later, she had regained her previous smirk, chuckling somewhat.

"Then remember this day, little ponies, for it was your last! From this moment forth, the night...will last...FOREVER!!!"

Nightmare Moon let out a howl of laughter, sending her ethereal mane in a magical spiral above her, causing gusts of wind and bolts of lightning streaming in every direction. It was, needless to say, an intimidating sight, one that caused nearly everypony there to scream and shudder with fear. But, through it all, Twilight stayed still, keeping her defiant glare on the dark alicorn above.

Forever...may not be as long as you think, Luna.

Gathering Friends

The laughter of Nightmare Moon was heard, not only in the Town Hall, but beyond. Many of the ponies gathered there had already started to flee, screaming and panicking into the streets. If Twilight didn't know what she knew, she might have been among them. Instead, she just kept her eyes on the mare she knew would one day be her friend, now consumed with darkness and jealousy. A thousand years...this hate has grown in your for centuries, Luna. But I promise, I'll get you out of it. Her expression was one of determination, never straying from her spot as pony after pony ran past her in a desperate bid to escape. But, it was here that somepony did indeed take action, as Twilight turned to see the Mayor herself point up towards Nightmare Moon in an angry manner, while flanked by several of the royal guards.

"Seize her! She knows where the Princess is!""

Twilight's eyes widened with horror over what had just been said, and she stretched out a hoof towards the mare.

"No! Don't!"

But it was too late, for the collection of winged stallions were already launching themselves into the air, ready to engage Nightmare Moon in battle. The dark alicorn, by contrast, merely watched the approaching force with amusement.

"Stand back, you foals!"

With a single gesture, the fallen Princess sent another burst of lighting in the direction of the guards, striking them hard and sending them crashing back down to the ground. Twilight watched with worry as the stallions laid there, the sides of their bodies mildly singed from the lightning, before looking up at Nightmare Moon once more. Another wicked cackle escaped her, and in moments, her ethereal mane had engulfed her yet again, transforming her into a form of pure blue magic. Twilight watched as this force swirled around for a while before darting out of the open doors of the Hall, flying off to who knows where. Knowing what was to happen, Twilight turned to see Rainbow Dash, having wrestled her way out of Applejack's grip, now flying out to follow their enemy. Twilight wanted to call out, but knew that, like the Mayor, she wouldn't listen. Instead, she simply ran out, following her pegasi friend into the streets, and seeing her fly off as best she could before losing sight of Nightmare Moon. Rainbow, understandably, looked more than a little irritated at this loss, but her attention was then drawn to the ground as a voice called up to her.


Looking down, the rainbow-maned mare raised an eyebrow to see that it was none other than Twilight who had called to her.

"What the...Twilight?"

Seeing the unicorn gesture for her to come down, Rainbow frowned a little before doing as asked, and within moments, she hand landed, looking upon Twilight as the latter let out a sigh. Turning, Twilight saw that all of the others, Applejack, Pinkie, Rarity, Fluttershy and even Spike, had all come out to join her, bearing looks of great concern. They don't know what to do, Twilight thought. I have to guide them in this. Taking a deep breath, Twilight addressed them all.

"Girls...I need you to come back with me to the library. There's a lot I need to fill you in on."

Needless to say, all of the mares gave each other looks of uncertainty at that, for which Twilight could not blame them for. After everything that's just happened, I can understand their need to be the tiniest bit suspicious at this. For a moment, she feared that they might even turn her down outright at this request, prompting her to wait with baited breath. In time, however, they all turned to look back at her, and Applejack stepped forward and gave a short but serious nod. They've agreed! Twilight offered a small smile at that, hoping to show her appreciation, before turning and starting to run in the direction of the Golden Oak. The other mares and Spike soon joined her, keeping pace with her as they made their way through Ponyville. All over, Twilight could see other ponies, mares, stallions, colts and fillies, all retreating into their homes, terrified at what was happening. It was a sight that caused her to narrow her eyes somewhat, her resolve more clear than ever to her. Eventually, they made their way back to the library, and Twilight used her magic to open the door, holding it open for the rest of them to enter first.

After entering herself, Twilight closed the door behind her before turning towards the group, all of whom were looking at her expectantly. They know I know something. However, before she spoke to them, she noticed Spike, who was not only worried at everything, but was also looking more than a little tired. Letting out a sigh, Twilight spoke to him first.

"Spike...it's late. You need to get some sleep."

The young dragon watched her carefully, looking just the slightest bit concerned at her words. I know him. He'll want to help. Even if I tell him where I’ll be going, he'll want to go with me, no matter how dangerous. But I can't risk it. Seeing him open his mouth, ready to dispute her point, Twilight raised a hoof, silencing him.

"I'll be fine, Spike."

Spike looked at her, seeing the honesty in her eyes as she spoke that, before hesitantly making his way towards the stairs leading to their bedroom. He stopped for a moment, giving her another look of worry, to which she returned with a reassuring smile. Although clearly still concerned for her, Spike nevertheless continued upstairs, closing the door of their bedroom after entering. Now, it was just Twilight and the other mares, with Rainbow in particular looking rather impatient that she hadn't explained anything yet. Well...I guess I'd better get on with it. Taking another deep breath, she finally spoke.

"Look...this isn't going to be easy for me. But...you've probably guessed by now that...I knew Nightmare Moon was going to be here tonight."

Rainbow Dash stepped forward after hearing that, her eyes ablaze with anger

"Yeah! We noticed! And just how did you know, huh?"

Twilight stepped back at her future friend's harshness, which actually seemed fiercer than it did the first time around. Thankfully, Applejack raised a hoof and barred Rainbow's path, giving her a look that quickly silenced her. Letting out a huff, Rainbow looked away, giving Twilight a chance to continue.

"I've been studying this for some time now, noticed the signs and predicted her return."

I'm not lying to them, Twilight reasoned. I did indeed research this on the day before my future self came into all this. Even so, the fact that she was deliberately withholding the real truth of her foreknowledge didn't sit well with her one bit, as evidenced by the look of discomfort on her face. Even so, she took a calming breath before continuing.

"Princess Celestia dismissed my concerns before sending me here. I would have told you sooner...but if I'd gone around, saying that the dark mare of legend was coming back tonight...would any of you have believed me?"

The mares all looked to each other, silently asking both themselves and their cohorts that same question. Would they have believed me? I want to believe they would have done. But then...they've only known me for a day. After some time, all of the other mares, even Rainbow, turned to her with somewhat guilty looks, a clear sign of their answer. Letting her ears drop down somewhat, Twilight looked down at the ground. Guess that's a no. After a few more moments of silence, Twilight looked back at them, this time bearing a look of certainty.

"Look...I know this is bad...but I think we might be able to stop Nightmare Moon."

All of them turned to her with renewed interest, walking closer to her, ready to hear what she had to say. Clearing her throat, Twilight gave them their answer.

"We have to use...the Elements of Harmony."

While most of them looked confused at that statement, Pinkie let out a gasp before speaking in her usual loud manner.

"Of course! The Elements of Harmony!"

Silence fell yet again as the other mares looked to her. After a few more moments of awkwardness, Pinkie finally turned to Rarity and began loudly whispering to her.

"What's an Element of Harmony?"

Twilight chuckled in spite of herself. Typical Pinkie. Oh, I've missed those moments. Looking to the rest of the group, it was obvious that they shared the same confusion over this, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"The Elements were a collection of magical artefacts that were used a thousand years to seal Nightmare Moon away."

Applejack nodded at that.

"So...if we find those Elements...we could send her away this time too?"

Twilight nodded in response to that. Send her away? I have no intention of that. Then again, if they knew my real plans, there's no way they'd be willing to help me. However, there was another issue that Twilight knew she would have to deal with now. Sighing, she looked away from them somewhat before speaking up again.

"There's...one more thing I need to tell you. During my research, I discovered where they can be found. But, I'll warn you now...you won't like it."

The way she'd spoken that send a visible wave of worry through the entire group, with even Pinkie looking concerned at this point. Steeling herself for the inevitable reaction, Twilight finally continued.

"They’re located...in the Everfree Forest."

As expected, all of them, even the brash Rainbow, let out loud gasps after hearing that. I can't blame them for feeling this way, Twilight thought. Even in the most distant corners of Equestria, the Everfree Forest is known as one of the most dangerous and foreboding places in our nation. And Ponyville is right next to it, too! Who knows what kinds of myths and cautionary tales they've made about that place over the years. The only way I could have made this less appealing is if I'd told them the Elements were it Tartarus or something. Letting out another sigh, Twilight looked down at the ground. If I didn't think my friends were needed for this, I'd never let them join me on such a dangerous journey. But...they are needed. And if my first plan doesn't work, then I'll have to use the Elements. Besides, it's this journey that helps us to come together as friends. However, Twilight knew that the most difficult part of all this right now was convincing them to go with her. No easy task, she knew.

"Girls...I truly am sorry to ask this...but I need your help."

The mares looked to each other, showing more than a little confusion at this, which Applejack soon voiced.

"Shoot, Twi. Y'all say this'll help stop Nightmare Moon and save Equestria? Y'all don't even need to ask."

The honest smile the earth pony gave with that did a lot to help put Twilight at ease somewhat. Good old Applejack. However, that smile soon faded. They're my friends...my true friends...one day. But right now...

"I appreciate that, Applejack. Really, I do. But...surely you know this is going to be dangerous? You've only known me for a day...and you have no reason to trust me or anything I've said to you. And you’ll really follow me into that place?"

Applejack opened her mouth to speak, but it was Rarity who gave the answer.

"Darling, while I'll be the first to admit that going into a place as dreadful as Everfree isn't particularly high on my to-do list...I simply couldn't let anypony go there to try and save the day without offering my help."

Twilight smiled at that, after which she turned to see Rainbow, whose earlier aggression had been shoved aside in favour of a more confident smile.

"Heck yeah! You say it's an adventure to kick an evil-doer's butt? Then count me in!"

Pinkie then bounced into view and gave her thoughts on the matter.

"Besides, you've been nothing but super nice and friendly to everypony in town so far! It'd be really mean of us to just let you go alone!"

The young unicorn looked to her, hearing the honesty in her voice, and turned to look at each of them in-turn. Rainbow, Pinkie, Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy, all smiling at her, letting her know that, despite the danger they knew they'd face, they were going with her. Twilight felt, yet again, a sudden need to well up, which she soon held back. My friends...even this early...they're with me. I can't believe I never appreciated this the first time. I was a fool. I should have seen how special they were a lot sooner than I did. But...I know better now. We'll go together, and we'll do this right. Looking up at them all, Twilight put on a smile and a look of determination in her eyes.

"Very well then...to the Everfree!"

Forest Without Trials

So...here it is. Twilight stood alongside all of her friends, looking up and the dark and grim entrance to the Everfree Forest. With it's old and gnarled trees, gloomy interior and the constant sounds of the animals within, it was an intimidating sight for anypony, even her. It's strange, all the times I'll come back here. One of the worst places in the world and yet the girls and I keep ending up having to come in here for one reason or another. She looked to her sides, seeing the fearful looks on each of the mare's faces. I'll have to do something about getting them used to being here. Maybe Zecora could help? A thought then occurred to her, her eyes widening as she considered it. Also, must remember to arrange introductions with Zecora earlier than planned. Looking ahead, she took a deep breath before taking her first step, choosing to take charge this time, rather than let the others go ahead. As the rest of them watched her, entering this feared place without hesitation, they looked to each other with looks of both being impressed and fearful all at once.

Eventually, they broke out of this, galloping off to join Twilight, which thankfully didn’t take long. As the group ventured deeper and deeper into the entrance area of the forest, Fluttershy was meekly following close to Rainbow, jumping at every hiss or broken twig she came across, much to the latter's chagrin. Twilight, though, simply smiled at that. Those two...friends since foalhood. Out of all of us, they were probably the closest. But Twilight knew that now was not the time for nostalgia, and so looked ahead with grim determination. Time passed and, eventually, they entered an area that was clear of trees. However, to Twilight's expectation, it was also a high cliff area, leading to quite a steep drop beside it. Here it is, she mused. The first place where Nightmare Moon intervenes on our journey. I remember it like it was yesterday. She'll come along in the shadows, trying everything in her power to stop us. Here, she'll make us fall, and Applejack will help me first. But Twilight prevented herself from smiling at the known certainty of this, instead, turning to hear her friends. She knew that it was a question of hers that started this off, and so cleared her throat before giving it.

"So...none of you have ever been here before?"

Rarity turned to her, looking utterly aghast at the suggestion.

"Heavens, no! Just look at it! It's dreadful!"

Applejack nodded at that, turning to face Twilight as she gave her own thought.

"And it ain't natural. Folks say it don't work the same way as the rest of Equestria."

Although Twilight understood that perfectly, she nevertheless feigned ignorance on the matter.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Rainbow, hearing this, turned to Twilight and the others with a mischievous smirk upon her face.

"Nopony knows! You know why?"

Applejack frowned at this behaviour.

"Rainbow! Quit it!"

But Rainbow wasn't listening. Instead, she approached Twilight, Fluttershy and Rarity, like a cat about to pounce on a mouse.

"Cause everypony who's ever come in here...has never...come...OUT!!!"

Her final word was punctuated by her leaping into the air, spreading her wings apart in an attempt to look intimidating. Rarity and Fluttershy both squeaked in a fearful manner, but Twilight merely braced herself for what she knew was about to happen, the collapse of the edge they were standing on. Closing her eyes, she waited. One second, then two, then three, then four. On and on she waited, and yet, as she slowly cracked her eyes open, she saw, to her amazement, that nothing had happened. No cracks in the ground, no collapsing earth, no plummet down below. Nothing. As Rainbow was busy laughing at the fear her friends had shown, Twilight was in somewhat of a panic. Wha...what?! There's supposed to be a collapse here! I remember it! Nightmare Moon made the ground give way! Raising her hoof, she stomped down on the ground below, but yet again, it held firm. This...this isn't how it's supposed to go! Where is she? As she stayed there, wondering what was going on, she failed to notice that the rest had moved on, with only Applejack staying back to call to her.

"Y'all okay there, sugarcube?"

Only now did Twilight realise how she might have looked during all this, and so quickly put on a smile for Applejack's benefit.

"Oh! Yeah! Everthing's fine, Applejack. No need to worry!"

The earth pony watched her carefully, before giving a small smile and nod, after which she turned to re-join the group. Twilight, however, was still unsure about all this, and as she galloped to catch up to the group, her mind became wracked with concern. Something's happened. I know how this was supposed to go, and this isn't it. However, as they carried on, she looked up to see a narrow passage that they would have to walk through to continue, and her face lit up at the sight of it. Yes! The manticore! It'll jump out to try and fight us, then Fluttershy will calm it down! Okay, this time, everything will go as it's supposed to! So, she walked, putting on a false face of concern, trying to match the rest of them. But, as she walked through the passage, Twilight was struck by the very stark realisation that there was no manticore here, nor any other Everfree creature for that matter. Now it was true concern she was feeling now. No, no, no, no, no! This isn't right! This isn't like the memories at all! How...how could it not be happening?

It was a thought that repeated itself over and over in her mind, and as she dwelt on it, the rest of the group began to enter a more wooded area of the forest, filled with particularly thick-trunked trees. Twilight herself finally noticed them, a small smile creeping onto her face. Ah! I remember this! Nightmare Moon makes these things look terrifying, and Pinkie comes to help us laugh about it! Okay, the first two hurdles didn't happen, but that's no reason to assume that everything else won't play out as it's supposed to. However, as the group carried on, Twilight kept her eyes on the trees, waiting for just one of them to suddenly gain a horrific-looking face. And yet, as they carried on, like before, nothing happened. No overt darkness, no creepy faces or anything remotely terrifying. The young unicorn was starting to breathe more heavily now. This...this isn't right! A pang of fear struck her heart as she began to consider something. Could...could Nightmare Moon just not be here. Is that it? What are we going to do if she doesn't show up at the end? It was a worry that carried on for some time as the group kept walking, eventually reaching a large and flowing river.

As the other mares looked at it carefully, Twilight was darting her head left and right in a frantic manner. Okay, Mr sea-serpent! Where are you? Oh, please tell me you're going to be here! But no. There was no sign of a serpent, and the waters before them remained calm and still. Beads of sweat were flowing down Twilight's face as all this sank in. I don't understand it! The memories are as clear as day! Nightmare Moon is supposed to be trying to stop us every step of this journey! So where is she?! As that thought rolled around in her head, her eyes widened with shock as a terrible new thought came to mind. Could...could it be my fault? I know I’ve been making changes here and there, but...I haven't changed anything monumental, at least not yet. But still...what if what I've done so far has changed things enough so that Nightmare Moon isn't following us this time? I don’t understand how that could happen. Unless...unless she has something else in mind this time. But if that's true...what could it be? However, as Twilight considered that, she was soon drawn to the sound of somepony clearing their throat. Turning, Twilight looked on to see Rarity, giving her a raised eyebrow.

"Um, darling? Didn’t you hear me?

Twilight was taken aback somewhat by that.

"Er, what?"

The alabaster unicorn pointed to the river before them.

"I said we need to think of a way over there! Rainbow and Fluttershy can make it over without a problem, but the rest of us aren't so lucky."

Twilight nodded at that, looking around to see how they could cross without the aid of the serpent. Walking to the side, she peered into the water, which was clear thanks to a lack of frantic splashing. Hmmm...not too deep. Retreating from the edge, the unicorn began looking around again, and her face lit up as she saw, not far from them, were a number of large rocks, small boulders that stood near one of the trees. Running to it, Twilight closed her eyes and began to focus, her magical aura starting to illuminate the stone. The others looked to her, watching from afar as, to their amazement, the rocks began to move. From the strain on Twilight's face, it was clear that this was exhausting for her, and so all of them ran to the boulder, pushing it to aid Twilight's magic. The lavender mare smiled at this, seeing her friends aid her, before concentrating once more on the magic, eventually causing the boulder to roll off the edge and into the river. As expected, it sank immediately, allowing enough of itself to stay above the water line, creating a stepping stone.

Returning to the other rocks, Twilight repeated the process, with her friends aiding her every step of the way. In time, and after much balance work and wading, they'd managed to create a crude path across the water. However, rather than simply cross right away, the mares all collapsed, tired from their efforts. Twilight in particular had quite a headache from all this, rubbing the side of her head as she tried catching her breath. Seems this stronger magic is still tiring to me. My magical reserves need some growth yet before I try out the stronger stuff. Even thinking on that, Twilight smiled as she looked at the bridge her friends and she had made, seeming quite pleased with herself. However, that moment was spoiled somewhat as Pinkie then spoke up.

"Um...couldn't we have just had Rainbow and Flutterhsy carry us over?"

All of the other mares lost the smiles on their faces as they turned to their friend Twilight especially seeming more than a little embarrassed after hearing that.

"For the sake of our sanity...let's just pretend that wouldn't have been a better and simpler idea."

"Agreed!" the other four mares said in unison.

Thankfully, Pinkie didn't get their sentiment, and in a few minutes, all of them were recovered enough to make their way across the stepping stones. With all of them on the other side, they continued on walking for some time before, as Twilight expected, they found themselves at a deep ravine, filled with mist and fog. There was the remains of an old bridge, worn and broken with time, and collapsed to them. However, that was not what Twilight concerned herself with. Instead, she looked down at the ravine itself, struggling to see past the fog. Somewhere, down here...lies the Tree of Harmony. One day I'll have to return it's Elements, to make it strong and healthy again. But right now, they're needed. Looking up, Twilight glanced across to the other side, wherein she noticed the vague outline of what she knew was the castle where Celestia and Luna once lived. Looking back at the ruins of the bridge, she placed a hoof upon it before turning to Rainbow.

"Care to do the honours?"

Rainbow turned to her, seeing her hoof upon the ruined bridge, before putting on a sly smirk. After giving a nod, the young pegasus took position on the edge before giving an overly-dramatic leap down, right into the fog. After looking down for a few moments, the other mares breathed a collective sigh of relief as Rainbow flew back up, the other end of the fallen bridge clutched in her mouth. They watched as she flew to the other side, ready to tie it to the other end, but Twilight was instead focusing on what was around her. Okay...let's see if this at least stays the same. And so she waited, squinting to see if she could catch sight of any other ponies on the other side. However, in a matter of moments, Rainbow retuned, looking pretty cocky at what she'd just done. But Twilight kept her expression of concern as she walked up to her.

"Any trouble?"

Rainbow merely shook her head at that.

"Nope! Smooth sailing all the way!"

That’s what I was afraid of, Twilight thought. Still, she put on a smile and patted Rainbow on the shoulder, showing her appreciation. After Rainbow smiled back at her, she turned and started flying back across the bridge, with the other mares close behind. But Twilight stayed behind, looking ahead with worry on her face as her eyes never left the castle before her.

Okay...time to find out what the hay is going on here.

Confronting a Fallen Princess

Though it creaked and swayed, the bridge nevertheless held true as Twilight made her way over. Now, she was here, staring at the castle of the two sisters, dark and menacing in the night. In time, she knew she'd become quite familiar with this place, but for now, she had work to do. As she entered, she and her friends gazed upon the ancient and crumbling ruin, with it's shattered windows and cracked columns. Fluttershy and Rarity in particular looked quite fearful of this place, glancing at every shadow as if some monster hid within it. Twilight, by contrast, kept her eyes forward, navigating the group through the intricate maze of hallways and corners, until eventually, she came upon the room she knew was there. A vast chamber, littered with many broken pieces of the walls and ceiling, and there, in the middle, lay the resting place of the Elements themselves, still in their original spherical forms. Looking up, Twilight glanced at the massive and gaping hole there. This is where it happened. Where Luna and Celestia fought. Her heart sank as she thought on it. Siblings shouldn’t' fight like that.

However, her melancholy was, for the time being, cast aside, as she instead focused on the task at hoof, walking to the Elements and pointing to them. Getting the message, Rainbow gave a salute, as she and Fluttershy then busied themselves with lifting up the ancient stones and carefully placing them on the ground before Twilight. The young unicorn looked at them, still pondering her situation. It's hard to believe they stayed here, in this place. I always wondered why Celestia never moved them when Canterlot was built. Surely they could have been used for good things in those centuries? However, she let out a sigh, dropping to her knees as she narrowed her eyes at the lifeless Elements. I know what happened the first time. I try and use my magic to awaken them. But I know that doesn't do any good. It's my friendships that do that. Still, it's only when they leave me alone for a while that Nightmare Moon comes to isolate me. But...if all the rest has already changed...what if that doesn't happen either? The worry on her face was clear, leading to Fluttershy placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"Um...Twilight? Are you okay?"

The unicorn glanced up at her, putting on a smile to keep her at ease.

"I'm fine, Fluttershy. I guess I'm just a little nervous about trying to get these things to work."

That, at least, I know is the truth. Turning to the stones, she gently poked one of them, perhaps hoping to get some kind of reaction. But, as expected, there was nothing, and it was here that Rainbow Dash gave her thoughts on the matter.

"So...you are going to be able to make this happen, right?"

Twilight looked up at her, giving a single, serious nod in response. Returning to look at the stones again, she took a deep breath before lowering her horn, causing it to glow as she focused her magic. The others looked on warily, already aware of how powerful her magic was after the river incident. Applejack, perhaps realising that this was a delicate moment, cleared her throat, gaining the attention of the other four mares. With her head, she gestured to the entrance of the chamber, and the rest of them nodded, silently understanding her meaning. So, Twilight heard their hoofsteps as they left, knowing they intended to give her some space as she worked her spell. But, in truth, there was no spell to be concentrated. This is just a show, to make things happen as they should. I doubt that Nightmare Moon will show if they're all here. As she kept her eyes closed, she was unaware that, from one of the holes in the ceiling, a swirling mass of blue magic emerged, heading straight for the six stones. A chill went down Twilight's spine as it approached. That feeling...she's here!

Even knowing that, Twilight kept her eyes closed, waiting patiently as she began to hear what was happening right in front of her. It was as if a great gust of wind had come, engulfing the Elements and ready to carry them off elsewhere in the castle. And it was here that Twilight finally opened her eyes, seeing the magical vortex before her. This is it! Narrowing her eyes, she took an almighty leap within the swirling mass, and as such, both she and the Elements were taken together, hoisted away by the power of the fallen Luna. The young unicorn didn't know how long she was being transported, only that it was a most unpleasant experience. Feels completely different to my own teleportation spell. The influence of dark magic no doubt. However, it wasn't long after that thought that Twilight felt the impact against the cold stone of the floor. After a brief moment of recovery, she looked up, her eyes widening with genuine shock as to what lay before her. There she is...with the Elements. Sure enough, Nightmare Moon stood at the end of this new and distant chamber, looking down at Twilight with triumph upon her face.

"You've done well to get here...but I'm afraid this is where it ends!"

Rearing up high, the dark alicorn slammed her hooves into the ground, shattering the ancient stones and leaving them as little more than cold fragments. Twilight, confident that they would not remain that way for long, nevertheless put on a look of horror, to which Nightmare Moon merely chuckled at.

"Did you think me a fool? I knew the Elements were the only way you could vanquish me! And I will suffer no rival!"

Twilight looked up at her, feeling a true sense of confusion at her words.

"But...if you knew what we were doing...why didn't you stop us? You could have halted our journey here a dozen times by now!"

Nightmare Moon gave a single nod at that as she started to walk towards Twilight.

"Indeed. And in truth, I was most tempted to do so. However...I realised that...I actually wanted you to arrive in this place."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that. She wanted me here? Well, I guess that explains why it's been so easy getting here. But...why? Almost sensing her unspoken question, Nightmare Moon gave her answer.

"When I saw you, back in the village, I knew there was something different about you. Something that set you apart from the other ponies. When I appeared, you were not shocked. When I bellowed, you did not flinch. When I threatened, you stood your ground."

For a moment, a pang of fear struck the heart of the lavender mare. Oh no! Does she...does she know? But still, she remained silent, watching as the dark alicorn drew ever nearer.

"It is a rare thing, to meet a pony with such steel in her heart. And more than that, you knew who I was when nopony else did. Needless to say...you've piqued my curiosity."

As Nightmare Moon came within a few feet of her, finally stopping, Twilight stayed still, never giving an inch. Seeing this display, the alicorn narrowed her eyes.

"So tell me, young one...who are you?"

Twilight took a deep breath. Okay...I have to play this carefully.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle."

Raising an eyebrow, the elder mare regarded the younger, examining her face carefully and seeing the honesty there.

"Then tell me, Twilight Sparkle...how is it that you came to know of me and my return?"

Twilight's expression became more serious as she considered her options. If my plan is going to work, I need to get her attention. And there’s only one way I know for certain that can do that.

"I know more than that. I know...you're Celestia's sister."

Exactly as Twilight predicted, Nightmare Moon's eyes widened with shock after hearing that, to the point where she actually took a step backwards from her. The look on the elder mare's face told the whole story. Look at her. She never even considered that I might know that. She's completely at a loss on how to respond to this. I wonder how long it has been since somepony took her by surprise like this? A long and uncomfortable silence fell between them, and Nightmare Moon had more than a few false starts during that time. Eventually, her expression became more steely as she appeared deep in thought over something.

"Yes...it makes sense now. You are an acolyte of hers, aren't you? I should have sensed my sister's influence on you from the start!"

As Nightmare Moon grew increasingly angry, Twilight remained calm, taking a single step forward.

"I am Celestia's student, yes. But I didn't learn about you from her."

That caught Nightmare Moon's interest immediately, as she looked to Twilight with curiosity upon her face. Staying calm and collected, Twilight began to explain herself.

"The ancient story of the two sisters. One raising the sun, the other raising the moon. At the end of their conflict, the elder sister remained to raise them both. In all of Equestria’s history, only one mare has ever done that, and that's Celestia. Once I understood that, it wasn't much of a leap to figure out who you were."

So much so that I'm a little ashamed I didn't figure it out the first time in fact. With her explanation given, Twilight watched as Nightmare Moon regarded her carefully, weighing and assessing the young unicorn before assuming her previous imposing stance. Putting on a smirk, she let out a chuckle as she finally spoke, her voice full of power and authority.

"So then, student of the sun...what is it to be? Shall you represent your great teacher on the field of battle, to duel me for the sake of Equestria?"

But Twilight did not fight. She did not threaten. She did not make any kind of challenge whatsoever. Instead, to the utter shock of Nightmare Moon, she simply let out a sigh and carefully knelt on all four knees, looking at her opponent with a soft and understanding expression.

"No, Princess. I'm going...to talk to you."


The words the young unicorn had spoken hung in the air for a long time, almost echoed by the surrounding age-old walls. Nightmare Moon stood there, looking almost aghast at what had just been said to her. It was a reaction Twilight could not hold against her. She expected force, or some kind of fight. And here I am, simply trying to talk to her. Her reaction is telling. Just how many times in Equestria's past has some attempt at peace descended into fighting? Her eyes narrowed somewhat. But I won't fight her...not unless I have to. I can do this. I can convincer to give up this plan of eternal night. I can make her be the way she once was...if she's willing to listen. Nightmare Moon remained in place, and in this utter silence, she regarded Twilight carefully, perhaps waiting to see if this was all some kind of joke. But, one look at the seriousness on the unicorn's face made it abundantly clear that this was no jest on her part. She'd meant every word of it. As that thought sank in, the menacing glare she'd had on her face began to fade, and in it's place, a new look emerged. However, to Twilight's slight surprise, it was a look of amusement. In moments, the dark mare threw back her head and let out a howl of laughter.

"Ha! Talk?! You?! You think to simply convince me to give up my goals? With simple words?!"

Twilight gave a single nod at that.

"If I can...yes."

Another hearty chuckle escaped Nightmare Moon before taking a step closer.

"You're a bold one, I'll give you that much. I can see now why Celestia chose you as a student. She always did have a liking for the brave ones."

Twilight narrowed her eyes at that, clearing her throat before speaking up again.

"Are you willing to hear what I have to say?"

Nightmare Moon rolled her eyes at that.

"And why, exactly, should I do so? The Elements are gone, as is Celestia. Equestria is mine to do with as I see fit! I have already won, child! There is nothing for me to gain from hearing you."

A small smirk appeared on Twilight's face as she considered that.

"In that case...there's nothing for you to lose, either."

The mocking look faded from the dark alicorn's face, and instead she raised an eyebrow at Twilight.

"...Clever, young one."

After a moment's pause, Nightmare let out a brief chuckle before facing Twilight completely, raising a hoof towards her.

"Very well, then. I will hear what you have to say. But I warn you, Twilight...I will only grant so much of my time."

Twilight nodded at that before taking a deep breath. Okay, Twilight. You've been given a chance here. Make it count. So, she thought long and hard, as she had been doing ever since the journey through the Everfree had begun, thinking back on everything she knew of Luna and her fall. I know why she did what she did, and why she feels the way she feels. I have to use that. But...more than that...I have to make her understand that she isn't unappreciated. Make her understand the night is not shunned. Looking up, she saw the still-waiting face of her adversary, and so let out a sigh as she finally began speaking to her.

"A thousand years ago...you were overshadowed. Everypony around you praised Celestia, showing her with love and glory, and all the while...you were neglected."

Nightmare Moon narrowed her eyes at that bitter memory, turning her head away. But even in spite of that, Twilight kept on speaking.

"I'm a younger sister too."

The elder mare's ears perked up after hearing that, and she turned ever so slightly back in Twilight's direction, a sign of curiosity upon her face as the younger mare continued.

"I have a brother, older by a few years. Before I become Celestia's student, I spent most of my time cooped up with books, learning as much as I could about magic. But him? He was out there, training, getting ready for enlisting in the royal guard. And when he got in, my parents and all our friends and neighbours were so proud of him."

Twilight looked down at the ground a little, allowing herself a brief moment to let the nostalgia of those memories wash over her.

"But as for me? I loved my brother...with all my heart. But...sometimes...I felt that maybe I just couldn't measure up to him. No matter how hard I tried, or what new magical trick I learned...I couldn't compete. My parents loved us both equally, I know that now. But back then...it was hard for a little filly to not feel...just a little bit like she didn't matter as much."

Nightmare Moon's expression softened a bit, and for a moment, Twilight's heart lifted. I'm getting through to her! But, that moment was fleeting, as the dark alicorn's face became a harsh one once more.

"Is there a point to this story, young one? Or are you simply trying to tell me that you know what it's like to be ignored outright by one's own people?"

Twilight fought against the urge to look angry at her response, and so took another calming breath before continuing.

"The point...is that there came a time when I was no longer in anypony's shadow. The day your sister took me on as her apprentice. When that happened, a whole new opportunity opened up to me. People were so happy for me, and I felt...for the first time in my life...special. And I assure you, nopony was more proud of me than my brother."

Smiling, Twilight looked right into the other mare's eyes.

"Just because things seemed bad back then...doesn't mean it wouldn't have become better one day...or that you and your night wouldn't receive admiration."

Nightmare Moon let out a huff at that, clearly unconvinced. Then maybe it's time I let her know how much things have changed.

"Now, perhaps more than ever before, ponies love the night. They no longer wait for the sun to rise to appreciate what is around them. They have fun, spend time with friends, and even work in the dark hours, regardless of whether the sun is out."

Raising an eyebrow, Nightmare Moon showed a degree of confusion at those words, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"And as for your night sky...we do love it, Princess. There are times when ponies will stay out all night to watch the auroras, or just a clear night when the stars and moon are out together. They're just as beautiful now as they ever were."

Lifting her hoof, Twilight placed it to her chest.

"As for me, one of my fondest memories from when I was a filly was when my parents went to take me to see the meteor showed that crosses the minotaur constellation."

Nightmare Moon stood there, her mouth hanging open slightly, as the young unicorn’s words sank in.

"You...you know about the minotaur meteor shower?"

Twilight smiled and nodded her head enthusiastically.

"I do. I remember telling my Mother how pretty it was, and I was looking forward to seeing it again."

A chuckle escaped Twilight as she thought back on that memory.

"I was so upset when she told me it only happened every fifty years. Still, I marked it on my calendar so I wouldn't miss it next time around. And that's just one of many things that I appreciate about the night. I always wanted to thank whoever did all those wonderful things...so now...I'm thanking you."

The look Nightmare Moon gave her told all. It was as if somepony had told her the sky was purple or something. What she had just heard was not only unexpected, it was completely anathema to her. And for a time, she struggled to get any words out. When she finally did so, they were slow and quiet, with many pauses between them.

"You...you're the first pony who has ever...thanked me for that. Not since...not since Celestia, over a thousand years ago."

Twilight gave a soft smile at that.

"Your sister loves you, Princess. And, if you allow them...so will everypony else. Eternal night won't make them appreciate you or the night. It'll just make them fear you both. You don't want that, I know you don't."

Nightmare Moon looked away, looking as if she was almost ashamed at hearing Twilight's words. She needs a gentle hoof right now, Twilight thought. She's coming around, but I have to make her understand. Getting up onto all four hooves, Twilight stepped forward, gaining Nightmare Moon's attention. Only a few feet away from each other now, Twilight offered a hoof to her, still smiling.

"It's never too late, Princess. You have the power to end this...the power to be a force for good again...the power to accept the friendship of others."

The elder mare looked down at the offered hoof before her, almost afraid of it. Please, Luna...please do this. You don't have to embrace the darkness. You don't have to make others fear you. I promise you, things will be better than they were a thousand years ago. You won't have to be alone anymore. Slowly, the dark alicorn lifted a hoof, which was almost shaking, an odd sight, considering her intimidating appearance and reputation. But, as she did this, Nightmare Moon's expression began to soften, and she looked into Twilight's eyes, who promptly gave her a friendly smile. Closer and closer, her hoof moved to Twilight's, and for a moment, the young unicorn's heart lifted yet again, seeing her plan come to fruition. However, with their hooves just an inch away from each other, both of them were taken aback by the sudden and swift arrivals of a broken piece of grey brick, flying right through the air and towards Nightmare Moon's head. In an instant, the cold stone collided with the side of her face, causing her to yelp out in pain, reeling back from Twilight. Shocked by this, Twilight spun around to see none other than her friends, who had gathered at the entrance to the chamber, with Rainbow at their head, clutching yet another stone, ready to throw it.


Twilight, seeing the anger on Rainbow's face, felt nothing but dread and fear at what had just transpired. No! No, no, no, no, no! Rainbow?! What have you done?! Turning, Twilight saw the dark alicorn spread her wings apart in a threatening manner, looking down at Twilight with utter venom.

"So! A deception! I should have rid myself of you from the start!"

Twilight raised a hoof, desperately wanting her to calm down.

"No! They don’t understand! They're just worried about me!"

Nightmare Moon glared angrily at her.


Before Twilight could react, Nightmare Moon made an almighty flap of her wings, sending a strong gust of wind her way, which sent her flying backwards. Thankfully for her, her friends were there, and soon intercepted her before she collided with the stone walls behind her. As she recovered, she looked up to see Rainbow Dash, launching forward with the intent of attacking Nightmare Moon. The dark alicorn also took flight, and within moments, the two were circling and chasing one another in a dogfight high above the rest of them. As most of them watched with anticipation, Twilight felt sheer devastation. No! This isn't right! I almost had it! We didn't have to fight her! She'll never listen to me now! So, she watched as Nightmare Moon tried shooting Rainbow down with magical blasts from her horn, which the young pegasi quickly managed to dodge each and every time. She won't be able to hold out for long, Twilight thought. And it was here that understanding dawned on her, as she looked down to the spot at the other side of the chamber. There, she saw the fragmented remains of the Elements, and a feeling of great disappointment gripped her heart.

I'm sorry, Luna...but I've been left no choice.

A Nightmare, Vanquished

On and on, the two fliers circled one another. Nightmare Moon, enraged over her perceived deception, hurling lightning and blasts of magic at her opponent. Rainbow Dash, quick and agile enough to dodge and weave her way past each and every one of her incoming attacks. And through it all, her friends down below watched on with fear and concern, not knowing how this was going to play out. Twilight, watching this with more sadness than any other, glanced back down to the ruins of the Elements, making sure Nightmare Moon wasn't watching her before making a break for it. Her friends saw her, but to try and keep the dark alicorn from noticing, they silently agreed that it might be better not to go en masse to them. So, Twilight went alone, soon reaching the shattered stones. Dropping to her knees, she soon placed a hoof upon them, melancholy running all the way through her. I'm sorry, Luna. I tried to help you the right way. Now...it seems I've been denied that chance. An angry snort escaped her as she dwelt on this. I sought to change history...but it looks like history is going to be difficult about it.

Calming herself, she focused once more on the Elements. Okay...I can do this. The Elements work for those who bear the traits they’re named after. That's why they gravitated to my friends in the first place. And I know they're my friends already. I haven't gained the spark in this moment, like last time, but I still feel it. Feel it from years and years of being with them, loving them. They...are...my...friends. But, as she looked at the Elements, she saw, to her dismay, that nothing was happening. Her face became one of worry as her thoughts raced on the matter. Why? Why isn't it working? What could possibly have...? But then, her eyes widened with shock and horror as a terrible realisation came to her. Could it be...the trials of the Everfree? Nightmare Moon never tried to stop us, so my friends never had the chance to display the traits that the Elements desired. Is that it? Has my interference in history done this? Have I...have I doomed us all? Looking down at the stone shards, she poked them time after time, hoping that something, anything would happen. But, to her disappointment, nothing did.

No...this isn't right! It can't end this way! Eternal night...eternal darkness and misery. Am I responsible for it now? Turning, she looked upon her friends, many of whom were looking to her, their eyes pleading with her, begging her to come up with a solution to all this. And, as she glanced up, she saw Rainbow, whose face made it clear that she was becoming exhausted from her efforts to elude Nightmare Moon. Breathing hard now, Twilight spun her head around, looking down at the elements once more. Please! You have to work! My friends...my family...my people...they're all in danger if you don't give us your power! But still, the stones remained unresponsive. Narrowing her eyes, Twilight's thoughts soon took on a more aggressive feeling. You can't refuse us because of this! My friends would never have done those things if they weren't already the kinds of ponies who embodied those traits! Applejack is already honest. Fluttershy is already kind. Rarity is already generous. Pinkie already uses laughter to help ponies out of whatever bad place they're in. And Rainbow...

She paused at that thought, thinking over what had just happened moments ago. Rainbow...made things worse just now, I know that. But even so, you and I both know that she only did that because she was loyal to me, as she's loyal to all her friends. If friendship didn't already exist between us, they'd never have trusted me, or followed me, or come to help me. They are the bearers you seek, and no amount of missing trials is going to change that! But still, Twilight looked on to see the stones remained utterly lifeless. As this seeming hopelessness began to sink in, Twilight's melancholy and fear began to give way to something new, something different. It was anger. Anger at the stones for letting her down. Anger that they were not doing what they should be doing. Anger that, in this moment of darkness, the ultimate power of light was nowhere to aid them. So, standing up on all four hooves, Twilight looked down at the broken stones with fury in her eyes.

I am Twilight Sparkle. Student of Princess Celestia. Future alicorn and Princess of Equestria. And I ask...no...I am DEMANDING that you give us the power to overcome this darkness!

For a moment, it seemed as if her rage would yield no fruit, as the broken Elements, yet again, gave no response. Tears began to well in Twilight's eyes, a sense of utter defeat seeping into her. This...this can't be the end. As she began to collapse to her knees, a strange sound caught her attention. Lifting her head up, Twilight's eyes widened to see that, to her disbelief, the stone fragments began to move, lifting off the ground as they were engulfed in a magical glow. Her mouth hanging open, Twilight stood tall again, backing away as the stones continued to rise. As their light became brighter and brighter, all of the mares, Nightmare Moon, included, began to finally notice this, with the latter gaining a look of terror upon her face. With Twilight backing up, the rest of the group soon joined her, and they looked on together as the light grew to it's apex, after which, the stone fragments shot forward, with several groups of them starting to circle each of Twilights' five friends. A smile crept onto the young unicorn's face as she considered this. It's...it's working!

Nightmare Moon, knowing full well the power of the Elements, took position at the end of the hall, striking a gesture of attack, ready for battle. But Twilight did not notice her. Instead, she watched with amazement as, just like her memories, the stones soon transformed themselves, now bearing the appearance of shining golden necklaces, each adorned with the jewelled cutie mark of their respective bearer. As for Twilight, her Element too came into view, and she looked up to see a crown, bearing her star mark, descend towards her, resting upon her head. A crown...I should have seen the signs sooner than I did. With the Elements now summoned, a great surge of power began to course through the six mares, engulfing them in a bright glow. But, as this great magic grew, Twilight began to feel just the tiniest bit uneasy. This...this is the power of the Elements, I know it. But...something feels...different. Regardless, the power reached it's inevitable conclusion, as a rainbow spiral was shot upwards, reaching all the way to the ceiling before finally shooting down at Nightmare Moon.

Within moments, the dark alicorn was surrounded by this intense power, consumed by it until she was no longer visible. For several seconds, this went on, until finally there was another near-blinding flash of light, signifying the Elements completion of their work. When the light died down, all six of the mares looked to see their new situation, each bearing their destined Elements. While most of them looked on with excitement and joy over having overcome this darkness, Twilight stood worried, levitating her crown down to get a closer look at it. It looks the same, but...I could have sworn the crystal segment was a shade or two lighter than this. However, that thought had to take a backseat, as the young unicorn looked up to see, on the other side of the chamber, was a young-looking blue alicorn, lying motionless upon he ground, with wisps of dark magic leaving her. Luna! Twilight began to charge forward to help the Princess of the night, when she was suddenly stopped by the arrival of a light to her left.

Turning, she saw, as expected, the sun had begun to rise at last. And as she and her friends watched it creep over the horizon, they also noticed a strange magical orb approaching them. Here she comes, Twilight thought. Facing the window fully now, Twilight watched as the orb passed through it, yielding a bright flash before revealing itself to be none other than Princess Celestia herself, whose wrings were spread out in a majestic manner. As expected, her friends all bowed before the great alicorn, showing great respect to their monarch. As for Twilight, she began to walk forward, a smile growing on her face as she looked upon her beloved teacher. But then, he stopped. For a moment, her mind was flooded with conflicting thoughts as she looked upon the Princess. Celestia...my teacher. Always kind, always wise, always...there for me. But...what I know now...it's not the same. Images were conjured up, new feelings she'd never had before when seeing Celestia. I...I couldn't possibly think that way about her...could I? But...when the time came...she...she couldn't...

But the lavender mare instead focused on the Princess right before her, who looked upon her student with great affection. However, Twilight's earlier smile began to fade, and instead of running towards her and embracing her, as history dictated, she instead closed her eyes and stayed where she was, giving a single bow.

"Greetings, Princess."

The words were not unkind or aggressive. And yet, there was no warmth to them. No joy, nor excitement. It was the kind of formal greeting Celestia was used to from, quite frankly, a pony who had never met her before. Celestia's face took on a note of slight confusion, and also a tint of worry, before finally speaking to her student.

"It's good to see you, Twilight. I knew you could do it."

You knew? I doubt that. But, Twilight nevertheless rose, staying silent and waiting for Celestia to continue speaking.

"Through your journey, you have accomplished a great thing. Darkness has been defeated this day, and through it all, you have gained something truly precious...friendships."

I always had that, Princess, Twilight thought to herself. Even so, she put on a smile for the Princess' benefit, which was promptly returned. However, that smile soon faded as Celestia turned, looking upon the still-unmoving form of her sister. Twilight and her friends looked on as she approached Luna, who was finally awakening. For a moment, the younger alicorn looked up in fear as Celestia drew closer. But, the elder sister merely looked upon her defeated sibling with both affection and melancholy.

"Princess Luna. It has been a long time since I've seen you this way."

As Luna looked away, Celestia fell to her knees before her.

"It is time to put our differences aside. We were meant to rule together, little sister."

The mares beside Twilight let out a gasp at that.

"Sister?!" they said in unison.

Twilight had to fight the urge to roll her eyes at her friends catching up like that, but instead looked on as the two sisters continued with each other.

"Will you accept my friendship?"

Luna kept looking away for a few moments before finally turning, looking up at her sister, who awaited her answer. Twilight too was waiting with baited breath. I know how this is supposed to go...but please...accept her offer, Luna. Nothing is more painful than when siblings stay apart, believe me. So, after many moments of silence, Luna finally broke into tears, charging forward and affectionately nuzzling her sister.

"I'm so sorry! I've missed you so much, big sister!"

Celestia too began to break down, tears flowing down her cheeks as she looked upon her younger sibling with affection.

"I've missed you too."

In spite of what she might have felt earlier, Twilight nevertheless felt more than a little touched at this display, as indeed, did everypony else, with many of them sobbing over the affectionate reunion. The road may have taken a turn for the unexpected...but at least this is moment how it should be. As usual, however, Pinkie was quite a bit more overt with her sentiment, releasing torrents of tears after seeing this. However, she quickly snapped out of that, looking to her friends with a look that made it clear that she just had a great idea.

"Hey! You know what this calls for?"

Twilight turned to her with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

"Let me guess...a party?"

Pinkie raised a hoof to her chin and pondered that for a few moments, after which she broke out into a massive smile.

"Well, I was gonna say having a great big cake-making contest, but you're idea sounds way better!"

Living Arrangements

If one were to look at Ponyville now, they'd never assume that, just a few short hours ago, everypony was in a state of utter panic. But now, things were completely different. Not only had the sun taken it's rightful place in the sky, but all over, there were mares, stallions, colts and fillies, all playing and having a good time in the massive party that Pinkie Pie had arranged. Twilight looked upon it all, the streamers, the balloons, the vast buffet that the Apple family had put together, all the games everypony was playing, and it warmed her heart to see. This is more like it. No danger. No threats. Just everypony being happy. Oh, how I've missed these moments. Looking to her side, she watched as Spike walked up to her, clutching a massive ice cream in his claws and licking it enthusiastically. In spite of everything that had happened, Twilight couldn't help but giggle at the sight. Oh Spike, don't ever change. But, her attention was then drawn to what was, undoubtedly, the centrepiece of the whole affair. For there, standing in the middle of the town square, was Celestia and Luna themselves, smiling to each other for the first time in centuries.

It brought another smile to Twilight's face. All those years alone, and now, Luna has a chance to be happy again. All of Equestria has heard of her return now. Most didn't even know Celestia had a sister, much less that she was another Princess. What I wouldn’t give to see the reaction on some of their faces when they heard of it. She chuckled at that thought, looking around as everypony around walked up to the two sisters to pay their respect, with Luna especially being given a pretty-looking flower necklace in greeting. And then, there were Twilight's friends, all of whom were busying themselves with the rest of the town, mingling with their other neighbours and making it very clear that they too were having a nice time here today. You'd almost think last night had never happened. However, Twilight's smile faded a little as she noticed that one of her friends was approaching her. It was Rainbow Dash, who walked up to her with a confident smirk on her face. As the Pegasus took position next to Twilight, she pointed out to the crowd before them.

"Pretty sweet, eh? Bad guy defeated, a new Princess for Equestria, and to top it all off, we get a killer party to enjoy. Awesome, right?"

Twilight nodded at that, but on the inside, she was more than a little conflicted. I tried to avoid using force. I wanted to talk Luna out of her darkness. Rainbow meant well, I know that...but her actions left me no choice but to fight. Turning, she looked upon her friend, who was looking out at the party with a smile on her face, oblivious to Twilight's concerns. However, after much back-and-forth, the young unicorn finally let out a sigh before addressing her.


The cyan pegasus turned to her after hearing her name, watching with interest as Twilight spoke further.

"..when you and the others came to help me, back at the castle...there was no need to fight Nightmare Moon like that."

Rainbow raised an eyebrow at that, displaying clear confusion, which prompted Twilight to explain herself further.

"Before you arrived...I was planning...to talk her out of her plan."

Twilight turned to see Rainbow staring at her, looking as if she'd just been told the most ridiculous thing in the world. Her voice matched that sentiment.

"Talk? Are you crazy?! Twilight, she was a bad guy who tried bringing eternal night. She threatened all of us. When I saw her that close to you, how was I supposed to know she was going to do anything other than hurt you?"

Twilight thought n those words for a long time. They didn't know Luna like I did. I can’t expect them to understand why I tried doing what I planned. Letting out a sigh, Twilight put on a smile for Rainbow.

"I appreciate what you did, Rainbow Truly, I do. I just wish...things didn't have to go like that."

Rainbow's expression softened somewhat after hearing the sincerity in Twilight's voice. For a moment, the pegasus looked just the tiniest bit guilty at what she'd both said and done. However, in the silence of this moment, she too put on a smile, placing her hoof on Twilight's shoulder. And in an instant, the young unicorn got what she was implying. She still doesn't agree with what I did...but she understands. Given everything they knew about Nightmare Moon, I guess that's the best I could hope for. I wish it wasn’t the case...but I'll probably be disappointed in her for this for some time. But, she's my friend. I can't forget that. Chuckling a little, Twilight turned to see the rest of the party-goers, all of whom were still enjoying themselves. Rainbow gestured to them, silently inviting Twilight along, and while the unicorn hesitated, it was only for a moment, as a smile crept onto her face yet again. So, the two mares made their way over, with Spike in-tow. There was a great deal of celebration in that time, dancing and singing and general merry-making.

It was a pleasant time, and one that helped Twilight to be put at ease with everything that had happened. Nightmare Moon is vanquished, and Luna has returned. That's what's important. In time, however, Twilight's attention was drawn to another figure, standing on the fringes of the party. The young unicorn's expression hardened somewhat as she looked upon her mentor, Princess Celestia, who bore a look that made it obvious she wanted to speak with her. Thinking things over, Twilight began to walk over, and as she did so, she caught the attention of all her friends, who gave each other a look before walking off to join her. Eventually, the student and her teacher met up, and after some time when there was nothing but silence, Celestia finally spoke.

"My student. You have accomplished much this day. You have not only returned my sister to me, but have also awakened the power of the Elements. These were no small feats, and for that, I thank you."

The Princess gave a respectful bow of her head, and Twilight, in spite of whatever else she might have been feeling towards her teacher right now, returned the gesture. As the two of them rose, however, Celestia put on a small smile.

"This has been a long day. I imagine you'll be eager to get back home to Canterlot."

That was the plan the first time around, Twilight thought. Defeat Nightmare Moon and go home, after which I never wanted to leave this place. But things have changed. Her face becoming one of seriousness, Twilight stood firm as she spoke, her voice clear and unhesitant.

"Princess...I won’t be returning to Canterlot."

That statement caused a blanket of silence to fall over everypony there, Celestia especially. The way Twilight had spoken mirrored her tone from when the two met at the castle earlier. It wasn't angry, but it was clear that, behind her words, there was no room for negotiation. Celestia regarded her pupil, never losing her smile while she did so. She always did have the best poker face in Equestria. I wonder if this is what she planned for me, even the first time around? It wouldn't surprise me. After some time, the great alicorn let out a chuckle before speaking again.

"May I ask why, my student?"

Twilight turned, looking upon her friends. I already know what to say. And I mean it now, more than ever.

"Princess...before you gave me this assignment, friends were the furthest things from my mind. But now...now, I couldn't imagine my life without them."

All of her friends looked at her, warm smiles upon their faces, which Twilight eagerly returned. The sound of somepony clearing their throat caused her to turn around again, wherein she saw Celestia, still smiling herself.

"Very well then. Then let it be known that, from this time forward, Twilight Sparkle shall continue to learn about the magic of friendship...from her new home, here in Ponyville."

All of her friends, Spike especially, let out calls and cheers of joy over hearing that. And while Twilight appreciated the sentiment they were showing, she nevertheless kept her eye on Celestia. Learn about friendship? I already know more than you could imagine, Princess. More than even you could ever know. But she never let those thoughts seep out onto her expression, instead putting on a smile to show her appreciation. And so, here I am. Ponyville. My true home. All the adventures and good times I’m to have here, I remember them all. I cannot wait to try and make things better this time around. However, as she dwelt on that, Twilight's eyes drifted to the side, wherein she saw a pair of royal guards, currently carrying a large and ornate golden box. I know that case, she thought. The Elements. Celestia's planning on taking them back to Canterlot, for safe keeping. Not this time. Focusing, Twilight's horn began to glow and, to the shock of everypony there, she immediately teleported, showing up moments later right in front of the guards, barring their path from the chariot they were walking to. They looked on nervously at the unicorn, who stood there, unmoving, and moments later, Celestia herself walked over with concern on her face.


Her student turned to her, her face softening a little before giving an explanation.

"Apologies, Princess...but if I might make a request...I think it would be wiser to keep the Elements here, with us."

Celestia was quite taken aback by that request, and it was a reaction Twilight did not ignore. She didn't think us capable of keeping them, at least not yet. After some time, and much discomfort on the part of Twilight's friends, Celestia finally spoke up.

"My student...I realise that you must feel emboldened by your victory today, but I feel it is in the best..."

"I insist."

Everypony within earshot looked upon Twilight with utter shock, completely astounded that she had interrupted Celestia herself. The Princess regarded Twilight carefully, examining her for a time, all while the latter kept her ground. She has no idea how to react to this. It's the first time I've ever spoken to her in this way. Perhaps...the first time anypony has done so in a very long time. In time, Celestia cleared her throat, her expression gaining a touch of seriousness about it.

"May I ask why, Twilight?"

Twilight gave a nod at that before stepping forward.

"My understanding of ancient magical artefacts makes it clear to me that objects like the Elements cannot be used by anypony other than the bearers they've been bonded to, correct?"

After a few moments of stoic silence, Celestia nodded, prompting Twilight to continue.

"In that case, with all due respect...would it not make more sense to keep them here, where those bearers live?"

Celestia looked deep in thought at that, taking her student's words seriously for some time. That is an honest reason that I’m doing this, Twilight thought. But...I have far bigger plans for the Elements that just having them close at hoof. Looking back to Celestia, Twilight watched as she finally gave her student her full focus, after which she gave a short but serious nod.

"Very well, Twilight. If this is what you want...I will trust you with this."

Twilight gave another bow to her, showing her appreciation, and Celestia gestured to the two guards, who nodded in response before lowering the box to the ground. After they saluted and flew off, it was now just Twilight and Celestia, the latter of whom stared at Twilight carefully, looking more than a little concerned.

"Twilight...if ever you need me...don't hesitate to ask."

The sentiment in her words was genuine, and it affected Twilight deeply. So, for the first time since this began, Twilight smiled truly towards her mentor, which Celestia soon returned before giving another bow of her head. With the arrangements made, the elder Princess turned, starting to walk back to the party, where her sister was still being swamped with eager and curious young ponies. Twilight let out a sigh after seeing her go. I honestly thought she was going to refuse me. But the Elements need to be here. If my magic is going to progress and grow stronger, I'm going to need them close to study and understand their own powers better. Twilight turned to her friends, many of whom still had their mouths agape at the way their monarch had just been spoken to by their new friend. Putting on a genuine blush, Twilight chuckled nervously before starting to walk towards them, ready to join them in continuing the celebrations. Spike, who was close to her the whole time, looked up at her.

"Twilight? Are we going to be okay, living in Ponyville?"

Twilight looked down at him, putting on an affectionate smile before reaching forward and nuzzling him gently.

"Trust me, Spike...the good times for Ponyville have only just begun."

But, as Spike happily embraced her in a hug, Twilight's expression became more serious.

Even if I have to drag history kicking and screaming to do it.

Tea for a Princess

It was the quiet, early hours of the morning, and Spike was sleeping soundly in his basket, which he had placed right next to Twilight's much larger bed. A contended smile was upon his face, showing the signs of a good night's rest. However, no sooner had the far-away rooster call of morning been sounded, when a sudden and very loud crashing noise permeated the whole of the library, jarring Spike immediately. Although in a slight state of panic at first, it quickly died down as he looked around the room. Oh, just one quiet night, is that too much to ask? Turning, he looked upon Twilight's bed, which was empty, it's covers thrown back. Huh, guess she's already up. After letting out a yawn and stretching his arms a little, Spike got out of his basket, wherein, to his dismay, the loud noise from earlier began anew. Sounds like a construction site or something, he mused, and it was not long before he began to make his way downstairs. As he passed by the various rooms of this place, he couldn't help but smile. Feels weird living somewhere new like this. Still, Twilight likes it, so I guess it can't be all bad.

Eventually, he managed to find his way down to the main floor, where he scoured around for Twilight. However, his oldest friend was nowhere to be seen, prompting him to walk further into the room. After looking around for some time, he instead tried focusing on the loud noise that had continued throughout it all. Wait...that's coming from inside. Turning, he looked upon a door that, frankly, he'd never noticed until now, right on the side of the main staircase he'd just come down. Raising an eyebrow, he began to walk towards it. However, as he raised a claw to open it, he was taken aback as the door opened without him. Taking a step backwards, the young dragon looked on as Twilight herself walked out, looking quite surprised to see her number one assistant there waiting for her.

"Oh, Spike! I didn't know you were up."

Spike folded his arms after hearing that.

"Kinda hard to stay sleeping with all that racket."

Understanding dawned on Twilight's face as she took that in, blushing slightly.

"Oh...right. Sorry about that. I just had a lot of work to do down in the basement."

Spike's eyes widened after hearing that.

"We have a basement?"

Twilight smiled and gave a short nod.

"We do. It was pretty empty though, full of cobwebs and dust. I doubt anypony's been down there in years. But, I needed a place to do some of my research and magic practice, so I figured I'd get the place fixed up."

Spike nodded in kind after hearing that. Makes sense. Twilight's not gonna stop practicing magic just because she's moved. And it'd be pretty dangerous for her to do it with all these books around. Still...I'm more than a little curious to see what she's done so far. Looking past her, Spike began to take a step towards the open basement door, only to be barred by Twilight's hoof.

"Sorry, Spike. but I'm still doing a lot of work down there. It won't be ready for some time."

The young dragon looked up at her, looking more than a little annoyed at that.

"What specifically are you doing down there that's so important that it couldn't wait until I'd woken up?"

Twilight's face became one of utter seriousness as she answered.

"The Elements."

One look at Twilight's face said it all. Ah, so this is where she's going to be keeping them. Tilting his head, Spike looked upon the unassuming door, knowing that, just down those steps, were the most powerful magical artifacts in Equestrian history. Kinda scary to have them so close. Still, Twilight thinks they're okay here, so I guess that's fine. Looking up at his friend, Spike let out a sigh, showing his acceptance of her wishes, before putting on a smile. Returning the gesture, Twilight placed a hoof upon his shoulder for a few moments before turning, ready to head back down the basement. However, before she did so, there was a knocking sound on the door. Both of them looked at each other with confusion on their faces, after which, Spike walked over to the door himself, reaching up and turning the knob. After opening the door, Spike's eyes widened to the size of dinner plates, as there, standing before him, was none other than Princess Luna. Smiling, the younger alicorn sister cleared her throat somewhat before addressing him.

"Greetings, Spike the dragon! We have come to participate in the ritual of morning tea with your keeper, Twilight Sparkle!"

But the young dragon merely stood there, mouth agape, for some time, before eventually shaking his head to get himself out of it. Turning, he looked upon Twilight with an utterly deadpan expression, which was mirrored in his voice.

"Twilight...the Princess of the night has arrived to have tea...apparently."

Upon seeing the Princess, Twilight's face immediately broke out into a massive smile, and she galloped forward, stopping just short of the door.

"Luna! It's so good to see you!"

The blue alicorn gave a smile and a short bow of her head in greeting to that.

"Good morrow to thee, Twilight Sparkle! We are pleased to see thee again. Though, in truth, we were quite surprised to receive your invitation."

Spike raised an eyebrow at that. An invitation? To Luna herself? Since when does Twilight just ask Princesses around for tea so casually? A frown then formed on his face, albeit very briefly. Would have been nice to be told this kinda stuff before visitors actually arrive at the front door. However, Twilight was rather oblivious to her assistant's concerns, as she stood aside, allowing the Princess to enter. After taking a moment to look around at the main portion of the library, Luna looked upon Twilight with an appreciative smile. Twilight returned the smile prior to closing the door, after which she turned to Spike with a look on her face that Spike knew all too well. The young dragon shrugged his shoulders a little and chuckled.

"Sure. I'll get the kettle boiling."

As the two mares waited for Spike to bring the tea, they sat on either end of a table Twilight prepared for them. The young unicorn smiled as she gazed upon her royal friend. Still looking like she did after the darkness was purged from her. It'll probably take a while before her magic recovers enough for her to assume her regular appearance. After taking position, Twilight cleared her throat a little before addressing the younger sister.

"I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to speak to you at the party. It's just...well...you seemed pretty swamped with ponies at the time."

Luna smiled and shook her head.

"Think nothing of it, Twilight. We are simply pleased we get this chance to visit."

Twilight chuckled a little at that. Still referring to herself in the third person. Wonder how long it'll take for her to work out of that? Turning, Twilight looked on as Spike finally arrived, carefully carrying a tray with three cups of tea resting upon it. The two mares watched as he brought it to the table, laying it down before getting a chair of his own to join them. As the young dragon got started with his own cup, Twilight began to notice that Luna had been staring at him the whole time. After several moments of silence, Luna finally spoke.

"If I may ask...what exactly is the relationship between yourself and the young drake here?"

Twilight looked to her as if she'd just asked the easiest question in the world.

"Spike? Well...he's my best friend. My number one assistant."

Spike smiled and puffed out his chest with pride after hearing that, prompting Twilight to roll her eyes at his reaction. Luna, by contrast, raised an eyebrow at that.

"But you are also his caretaker, yes? You look after him in lieu of his own blood kin?"

Twilight paused for a moment before answering that.


Luna kept her eyebrow up.

"Forgive me, but it's hard to imagine one so young being an adopted Mother."

At those words, both Twilight and Spike simultaneously spat out their tea, making sure to avoid hitting Luna with it as they did so. After wiping the last drops form their mouths, Twilight began frantically waving her hooves.

"M...M...Mother?! I...I wouldn't go that far!"

Spike nodded at those words.

"Yeah! I mean, Twilight's great, but it'd just be weird to call her "Mom" or something!"

Twilight nodded in agreement.

"Besides, I've just had him with me for the last couple of years. Celestia did most of the rearing."

Luna looked at the two in silence for a time, before, to the surprise of both of them, starting to giggle.

"Forgive us. But, after seeing what we have of you two, it is hard to not also be reminded of Mothers and their sons elsewhere in the world."

The two looked at each other after hearing that. Well, Twilight thought, I'm not against the idea of being a parent. And, I guess, Spike has been my charge for a while now. Faust knows how he must be thinking about this suggestion. However, as her thoughts began to truly sink in, her look of panic began to fade somewhat. Still...Spike...as a son? In time, she was interrupted from that train of thought by the sound of Luna clearing her throat.

"I must confess, Twilight, it is strange to see pony and dragon living together like this. Our two races usually have very little in common."

The young unicorn smiled at that, silently thanking the opportunity to change the subject at last.

"Spike's been with me for as long as I can remember. When I was trying to enter Celestia's school for gifted unicorns, they gave us a test to see how we would cope with trying to hatch a dragon egg. Of course, they never expected young colts and fillies to actually be able to do it, they just wanted to see what kinds of magic we had up our sleeves for the attempt."

Twilight looked upon Spike, her mind awash with feelings of nostalgia for those early days.

"But then, something happened. I entered a kind of trance-like state, sending magic everywhere around me. That caused Spike's egg to hatch. Celestia raised him for a time until I was old enough, after which he became my assistant."

I still remember being terrified of going into that state. I'd never been afraid of magic until that moment. Never knew how powerful it could be. Then again, I'd never be where I am today if it hadn't happened. A small smile crept onto Twilight's face. Mental note, remember to thank Rainbow for her rainboom sparking it off. Meanwhile, Luna stared at Twilight, her face making it clear she was impressed with the story.

"Hatching a dragon egg? As a filly? Twas powerful magic indeed, Twilight. We can see why our sister chose thee as her apprentice."

Although she would have wanted to put on a smile for Luna's benefit, Twilight, just for a moment, took on a somewhat steely look in her eyes. She turned, hoping that Luna would avoid seeing it, and instead focused on drinking her tea. However, every once in a while, Twilight glanced back in her direction, only to see Luna looking at her with a curious face. Celestia is her sister. I have to remember that. She wouldn't understand. She doesn't know what I know. Clearing her throat, Twilight decided that, perhaps, it might be better to simply change the subject.

"Tell me...how are you coping with Equestria since your return?"

It took a while, but Luna broke out into a small smile, one that Twilight narrowed her eyes at slightly. That's a forced smile. I've used it enough times myself by now to recognise it.

"We are...dealing with it. In truth, it is hard to truly accept all the changes that have occurred during our absence. The new national capital, Canterlot? That city did not even exist when we were banished. Rivers have dried up, towns have disappeared...so much has changed."

Twilight's ears dropped a little. Great work, Twilight, she thought sarcastically, you've gone and made her feel worse. She's probably thinking about all the friends that have died in the last thousand years right now. This was supposed to be a happy visit! Quick! Change the subject! Twilight thought hard for a few moments before smiling and looking up at Luna again.

"Um...I'm sure everypony will do what they can to make you feel right at home, Luna!"

The Princess of the night looked at the young unicorn for a time, before eventually putting on another small smile. Thankfully, this one seemed far more genuine.

"We thank thee, Twilight. We are sure that everypony at the palace and everywhere else will help. They have been most accommodating so far. And in truth, we look forward to assuming our duties once more. No offense to our sister, but her night skies lack a certain...artistry."

The two mares both giggled at that, with much of the tension leaving them from it. This is much better, Twilight thought. All Luna needs is somepony to help her along. She'll be back on her hooves and assuming her duties in no time. I can't wait to see how happy she'll be working on the night skies and seeing everypony enjoy them, and helping along with their dreams. However, as she dwelt on that, a look of utter horror crossed Twilight's face. Thankfully, she managed to change it to a smile again before Luna took notice, but on the inside, her mind was racing. That's right! How could I forget? She can see into ponies' dreams! If she sees mine, and finds out what I know, who knows what might happen? Looking up, Twilight studied the alicorn's face carefully as she drank her tea. Luna is my friend, but I can't let her or anypony else know what I know...at least not yet. I have to find some way to safeguard my dreams. Taking another sip of her tea, Twilight sat in silence for a moment before starting to think on other matters. Eventually, her face took on a more serious tone.

"Luna...I wanted to apologise for what happened back at the castle."

The Princess of the night looked at her with some confusion, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"I wasn't expecting my friends to come in and try to help me. I wanted to help you without having to fight you. And I'm sorry you got hurt at the end of it."

Luna, thinking on that, raised a hoof to the side of her face, the spot where Rainbow had struck her with the stone, which showed no sign of damage at this time, before letting out a sigh and smiling.

"There is no need to apologise, Twilight. You should be proud of having friends who held your well-being in such high regard. Rainbow is the bearer of loyalty. And loyalty, as we know full well, can often lead one to brash action. Still, you are to be commended. Few would have tried taking to their enemies. And in that darkness, your words cut through to me. It was a welcome feeling."

Twilight smiled at that, as did Luna, and the two mares sat in silence, enjoying this moment of understanding with each other. This is good, Twilight thought. Luna's adjusting, she bears no ill will against me or my friends. Everything is going great. However, as Twilight dwelt on that, she could not help but notice a look of melancholy upon Luna's face. After watching her for some time, she looked on as she began to speak.

"It is a shame, that our old home should be such a ruin. Still, it was the sight of both our banishment and our salvation. Perhaps we should push it from our thoughts."

Those words struck a chord in Twilight, causing her to think for a moment. Believe me, Luna...I know how painful it is to see a home destroyed. But, as she considered that, a new thought emerged. Should I tell her? I suppose it's only fair. It was her home after all.

"Actually...I'm planning on going back there in the near future."

Upon hearing that, both Luna and Spike turned to her, looking as if she'd suddenly grown a second head.

"Go back? Prithee, Twilight, explain why thou would wish to return to such a place?"

Twilight put on a small smile before starting to explain herself.

"That place is old, and no doubt has many relics and tomes that haven't been seen by pony eyes for centuries. It's my intention to bring them back here to Ponyville. Both to keep them safe, and to further my own magical training."

Luna watched the young unicorn carefully, seeing the clear enthusiasm in her eyes.

"Twilight...it is obvious that we cannot dissuade thee from thy goal. And thy words are true, there is indeed much lost knowledge in those crumbling ruins. Knowledge that ponykind has not known for many years. To return it is a noble goal. And we commend thee for thy ambition in furthering thy studies."

Twilight smiled at that, but it faded a little as Luna's face became more serious.

"But take these words to heart, young one. Tread carefully. Your raw talent in magic is powerful, but do not let overconfidence in your abilities lead you to take unnecessary risks."

Twilight looked upon the elder mare, putting on a reassuring smile for her before reaching forward and placing a hoof upon hers.

"Thank you, Princess. But I promise you, I'll be careful."

Luna stared at her for some time, measuring her words and her expression, before letting out a sigh and smiling in return. Satisfied with the young unicorns' words, the Princess got back to her tea, as did Spike, who had been looking more than a little uncomfortable with all this. Twilight, drinking her own tea, was nevertheless thinking many things over. Trust me, Luna...I know what I'm doing.

The Tickets

Of all the days I had to start doing this, why did it have to be on the hottest day of the month? Twilight grunted in an annoyed manner as she walked towards her home, pulling a medium-sized cart, fully laden with items covered by a single white tarp. The sweat was rolling down her forehead as she finally reached her home, wherein she took a moment to catch her breath. Oh, I can't wait for my magical reserves to get bigger. Then, boom! Teleport from there to here! Chuckling to herself, Twilight put a hoof to her forehead. Okay, calm down, Twilight. Remember, this is important. She turned to the cart, looking upon a spot where the tarp gave way, revealing a pile of books underneath. These old tomes will be useful for helping me with my spells. I already know them of course, or rather, my future self made me know them, but still, the chance to see the source they were drawn from, that'll be a big help. Smiling a little, Twilight reached forward and grabbed onto the knob of her door, opening it and starting to walk inside. As she did so, she struggled a little to get the cart in with her.

In time, however, she managed to get inside, after which she finally started using her magic, lifting the tarp off to reveal many ancient-looking books and artefacts. A look of pride formed on her face as she looked upon them all. So much magic is contained in these old things, I can feel it. Spells and enchantments that ponykind has forgotten even exists. Even the brightest minds of Canterlot's best arcane orders would be flummoxed by some of this stuff. Stepping forward, Twilight brushed aside some of the dust covering the book at the top of the pile. As she looked upon it, she called forth her memories of old languages to decipher the glyphs that adorned it. Hmmm...How to Double Your Spells with Half the Effort? Sounds promising. Though I will say those old unicorns back then certainly needed help with making titles. Turning around again, she pulled the cart over to the door of the basement, using her magic to open it before starting to enter. However, it was here that she stopped, hearing a voice from above her.

"You're back!"

Looking up, Twilight smiled to see Spike coming down the stairs. When he finally reached her, he looked at her with great enthusiasm.

"How was the forest? Still scary?"

Twilight giggled a little, patting him on the head slightly before giving him an answer.

"It's not so bad in the daytime, Spike. Besides, I wasn't alone."

Spike gave a nod to that before turning to see that cart she'd brought in. Curiosity gripped the young dragon as he walked over to it, eying the strange books and items that laid there. Twilight let out a sigh as she watched him. It's good that Zecora was there on that path. I wasn't planning on meeting her just yet. Still, best to get these introductions done early I suppose. Having her as a guide certainly helped. Besides, it'll be good for when I take her to see the others. Once Spike had seen enough of the books and other relics, Twilight began moving forward again, ready to enter the basement. However, she was stopped yet again by the sound of knocking on the front door. Turning, she raised an eyebrow before unbuckling herself from the cart, walking over to the door and opening it. Her eyes widened with surprise to see that it was Applejack, waiting there with a smile on her face.

"Howdy, Twi!"

Although taken aback by the sudden arrival of her friend, Twilight was nevertheless pleased to see her, and put on a genuine smile for her. Standing aside, she used a hoof to gesture for her to come in, which she did. After closing the door again, Twilight faced her friend completely before speaking.

"What's up, Applejack?"

The earth pony titled her head a little before answering.

"Don't ya remember? Y'all said you'd help me with picking apples today."

Twilight's eyes snapped fully open, her head spinning into the direction of a nearby calendar. Sure enough, today's date had the words "help AJ" written in bright red pen. Looking back to her friend, Twilight slapped her forehead with frustration and let out a grunt of annoyance.

"Ugh! I am so sorry, Applejack! I guess I just got caught up in my work today!"

But, in contrast to how she thought Applejack would react, the farmer merely chuckled.

"Heck, it ain't no worry, Twi! Ah just popped over to see where ya were. There are still some trees untouched if y'all are available now."

Twilight smiled at that nodding her head.

"I'd like that, Applejack."

However, a look of realisation crossed her face as she considered that.

"Oh! Spike? Would you mind putting those things down in the basement for me while I'm gone? I may be some time."

The young dragon gave a salute at that, after which he began to move towards the cart. It was in this moment that Applejack herself actually noticed the thing, prompting her to look at it with some curiosity. However, before either she or Twilight could talk about it, they were stopped as Spike suddenly clutched his stomach, his cheeks swelling up like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. Twilight knew what this meant, and so took a step forwards, ready to receive what came next. Sure enough, Spike let out an almighty belch of green flame, which immediately became a scroll, bound with the royal seal. Twilights looked upon the scroll with a look of utter disdain. Oh no! Applejack needing help on her farm, and now this? I know what that scroll says. As she dwelt on that, her young dragon assistant instinctively took the parchment, opening it and reading it's contents out loud.

"Hear ye, hear ye. Her Grand Royal Highness, Princess Celestia of Equestria, is pleased to announce The Grand Galloping Gala to be held in the magnificent capital city of Canterlot, on the twenty-first day of, eh, yadda yadda yadda, cordially extends an invitation to Twilight Sparkle plus one guest."

To emphasise that final point, Spike picked up two shining golden tickets, which had come with the scroll, and waved them in front of the two mares. Twilight, however, was not pleased. The Gala? Ugh! I still remember how sore my hoof felt at the end of it the first time around. Turning, Twilight looked upon Applejack, whose face had broken out into a massive smile, all while she seemed to be daydreaming about something. Here we go. She's probably imagining all the money she can make to help her family. I know her heart is in in the right place, but she has no idea what she's getting into. Turning away from her, Twilight let out a sigh. None of them get it, at least not yet. The first time this happened, it was a near disaster for me, even more so when we actually got there. A steely look crossed her face. Not this time. Clearing her throat, Twilight soon gained Applejack's attention, after which the young unicorn began to speak up.

"From the look on your face, I'm guessing you want to go?"

Oblivious to the dour tone in which Twilight had said that, Applejack simply smiled and nodded her head.

"Sure do!"

Twilight let out another sigh before turning to Spike.

"I think the cart will have to wait, Spike. Right now, I need you to go out and fetch the others. Tell them I need to meet them here as soon as possible."

Although confused at this reaction, Spike nevertheless nodded and started walking out of the door, leaving behind both an annoyed Twilight and an also-confused Applejack. Well, Twilight thought, let's see if they'll listen to me.

It took a while, but Spike eventually managed to find all five of Twilight's friends, all of whom were now waiting in the main chamber of her library, bearing looks of great confusion. It was not something she could really blame them for. I know they're friends, but having me ask them all to come here unannounced and without explanation? It's not the kind of thing I want to do on a regular basis. However, that concern was swept aside by the far larger one she knew she had to deal with. Look at them all. When I tell them about this, they're each going to come up with what they think is going to be their dream night. A night of wonder and happiness, where all their fantasies come true. And here I am, the one that’s going to dash those dreams completely. She sighed as she thought on that. But I have to do it. It's for their own good. If they knew this party like I did, they'd thank me for this. Turning, she looked upon each of her friends, several of which were becoming visibly impatient at this point. Well...no point putting it off any longer.

"Okay...a few hours ago, I received a letter from Princess Celestia. It was an invitation...to the Grand Galloping Gala."

Immediately, all of the mares' faces lit up, displaying their clear excitement, even Applejack, despite already knowing about it. It was not something that made Twilight feel any better about this. Quite the reverse in fact. Still, she waited for the excitement to die down a little before speaking up again.

"I was also given a second ticket, to give to whomever I chose. With you being my closest friends, you are the ones I would most likely wish to invite along."

The glimmer in their eyes only brightened after hearing that, prompting Twilight's ears to drop down somewhat. I know Celestia would be willing to send extra tickets, but I'm not going to allow that to happen. The Gala will just make them all miserable, and I'm not willing to allow that just because almighty sun-butt wants some excitement that night. Frowning a little, Twilight continued.

"You should know...I'm going to say no to the invitation."

And in that moment, the smiles simply vanished from the mares' faces. They looked to each other as if their unicorn friend had gone mad. In time, it was Rarity who spoke first.

"You're...you're...you're going to refuse?! Darling! What in the world would compel you to do such a thing?!"

Twilight looked away slightly, thinking over the words she would use here.

"I've never wanted to go. And I say this to all of you...I don't think you should go either."

However, much to Twilight's surprise, she heard a laugh at that, causing her to turn and see Rainbow Dash, who was smirking at her.

"No offense, Twilight, but are you nuts? This is the biggest party of the year? Why wouldn't we want to go?"

Twilight frowned once more.

"I've never been...but my brother has. He works security detail there every year and it's clear from what he's told me about it that it's the last place I’d want to go to."

Applejack raised an eyebrow at that.

"Y'all have a brother?"

Twilight nodded.

"Shining Armour."

She then looked to Rarity, who spoke up next.

"And you say he works security. Is he...oh my...he is, isn't he? He's a royal guard?!"

The others all looked to Twilight with shock on their faces, and while she would have loved nothing more than to downplay her brother’s position, Spike, sadly, got his word in first.

"Not just any guard! He's the Captain!"

Twilight glared at him, letting him know right away that he'd just made a serious blunder there. By contrast, Twilight's friends all let out gasps, with Rainbow looking particularly impressed.

"Okay...so you're from Canterlot...you're Celestia's student...you have super-strong magic...and now you have a brother who acts as Equestria's top military stallion?! Seriously, Twilight, every time I learn more about you, you become even more awesome!"

The young unicorn fought against the blush that threatened to arise on her face, instead trying her best to focus and get back to the matter at hoof.

"Yes, well...regardless, you should take my word that this Gala isn't something you’d want to be a part of."

But, despite her words, it was clear from the looks on their faces that none of them were buying it. Twilight let out a sigh at that. Well...guess I'll have to make it even clearer than that. Looking up, she glanced at each of her friends, eventually settling on Applejack, before speaking up again.

"Applejack, I want you to tell me why you want to go to the Gala."

The earth pony put on a smile before giving Twilight her answer.

"Land sakes, if ah had an apple stand set up, ponies would be chowin our tasty vittles till the cows came home. Do y'all have any idea how much business ah could drum up for Sweet Apple Acres? Why, with all that money, we could do a heap of fixin up round here. We could replace that saggy old roof, and Big Mac could replace that saggy old plough, and Granny Smith could replace that saggy old hip. It'd just help mah family something fierce, Twi."

Twilight gave a small smile at that. The same reasons as before. She really thinks she'll be able to go some good there. Turning, she then looked upon Rainbow.

"Rainbow? Your reason for wanting to go?"

Puffing out her chest, the Pegasus began explaining herself.

"The Wonderbolts perform at The Grand Galloping Gala every year. I can see it now. Everypony would be watching the sky. Their eyes riveted on The Wonderbolts, but then in would fly Rainbow Dash! I would draw their attention with my Super Speed Strut! Then, I would mesmerize em with my Fantastic Filly Flash. And for my grand finale, The Buccaneer Blaze! The ponies would go wild! The Wonderbolts would insist that my signature moves be incorporated into their routine, and then welcome me as their newest member. Don't you see, Twilight? This could be my one chance to show em my stuff!"

Every one of Rainbow's descriptions had been punctuated with a dramatic motion, showing the kinds of moves she hand in mind. Still, Twilight had not said a word through it all, and instead gave her friend a nod before turning to Pinkie, who enthusiastically began speaking without Twilight asking her.

"It's the most amazing incredible tremendous super-fun wonderful terrifically humongous party in all of Equestria! I've always, always, always wanted to go!"

Seeing the massive grin on her friend's face made Twilight smile herself, albeit in a much smaller manner. Always in it for the fun, aren't you, Pinkie? Turning, Twilight looked at Rarity, who understood this as her chance to explain herself. So, clearing her throat a little, that was exactly what she did.

"I design ensembles for the Gala every year, but I've never had the opportunity to attend. Oh, the society, the culture, the glamour! It's where I truly belong, and where I'm destined to meet...him!"

Pinkie turned to her and raised an eyebrow.

"Him? Him who?"

Twilight put a hoof to her forehead at that. Oh no. Here we go. Rarity, oblivious to her friend's frustration, answered Pinkie's question.

"Him! I would stroll through the gala, and everypony would wonder, "who is that mysterious mare?" They would never guess that I was just a simple pony from little old Ponyville. Why, I would cause such a sensation that I would be invited for an audience with Princess Celestia herself, and the Princess would be so taken with the style and elegance that she would introduce me to him, her nephew: the most handsome, eligible unicorn stallion in Canterlot. Our eyes would meet, our hearts would melt. Our courtship would be magnificent. He would ask for my hoof in marriage, and of course I would say, "yes!" We would have a royal wedding, befitting a Princess, which is what I would become upon marrying HIM, the stallion of my dreams!"

At this present moment, Rarity looked as if she'd utterly fallen into a dream-like state and as such some completely unaware of her friends, all of whom were looking at her nervously, even taking a step back from her slightly. Twilight, rolling her eyes a little, turned to the last of their number, Fluttershy. As expected, the timid pegasi mare took a moment to get going.

"You see, it's not so much The Grand Galloping Gala as it is the wondrous private gated garden that surrounds the dance. The flowers are said to be the most beautiful and fragrant in all of Equestria. For the night of the Gala, and that night alone, would they all be in bloom... and that's just the flora! Don't get me started on the fauna. There's loons and toucans and bitterns, oh my! Hummingbirds that can really hum, and buzzards that can really buzz. White-blue jays, and red jays, and green jays, pink jays and pink flamingos!"

As usual, the enthusiasm for animals was apparent on Fluttershy's face, which at this point was bearing a smile unrivalled by any she'd had since Twilight first arrived. Regardless, her friends had all said their piece, and were now looking at Twilight expectantly, waiting to hear what she had to say. Or, to be more precise, they were waiting for her to say which of them had the most worthy reason to go. So, she stood there in silence, thinking over how she would go about this. I have to be careful. I don't want to ruin their fantasies like this, but if it spares them having to endure one of the most unpleasant nights of their life, it's a choice I'll have to make. Looking up, she turned to Applejack.

"Applejack...you're not going to sell anything at the Gala."

The orange mare raised an eyebrow at that, prompting Twilight to explain further.

"Look...your food is wonderful. Some of the best I've ever had. But the Gala will be catered by some of the most famed and respected chefs in Canterlot. And please remember that it'll be nobles that attend this thing. No matter how good your food is, to them, you won’t be a cook worth paying attention to. They'll ignore you, thinking of you as somepony who doesn't even deserve to be there, much less give them food. It's wrong, and it's unfair...but it's the way they are."

Applejack saw her friend, recognising honesty when she saw it, and her ears dropped down. Twilight, seeing the clear disappointment in her friend, felt more than a little guilty at having done this, but she nevertheless steeled herself and turned to Rainbow.

"Rainbow...if you go around and interrupt the Wonderbolts' performance like that, it's more than likely that they'd just arrest you for it. No matter what your intent was, or how impressive, they'll just look at you as some attention-seeker. Worst case scenario, it'll be a stunt that'll keep the Wonderbolts from ever wanting you near them!"

The cyan Pegasus took in those words as if they were the most terrifying thing she'd ever heard. However, in moments, she seemed to accept that truth, and so gave a grim and solemn nod. Twilight nodded back before turning to Pinkie.

"Pinkie...when you think of a party, what's the first thing that comes to mind?"

Pinkie smiled at that.

"Well duh! Fun of course!"

But Twilight wasn't smiling, and instead maintained her look of seriousness.

"That is about as far removed from the Gala as you can get. The main reason anypony goes there is to lord it over everypony else. It's a gathering of some of the most snobbish, uptight and stuck-up mares and stallions you could ever meet. They wouldn't know fun if it came up to them and punched them in the face. Trust me, Pinkie. That event doesn't even deserve to be called a party, much less one that you should go to."

Much like Applejack, Pinkie Pie's ears dropped a little after hearing that. Every time her friends put on that sad face, Twilight felt worse and worse about it. But, as ever, she kept telling herself the same thing. It's for their own good. Next, it was Rarity's turn.

"Rarity...let me take a guess here. The Princess' nephew, Blueblood. I imagine everything you know about him is from magazines about Canterlot? Perhaps stories you've heard from your clients and other hearsay like that?"

Although looking somewhat guilty about that, Rarity nevertheless gave a short nod, prompting Twilight to continue.

"Then I can safely say you'll be disappointed. It didn't happen often, thankfully, but I've actually met Blueblood. And believe me when I say that you could not find a more egotistical, self-absorbed, uncaring and vain stallion as him. He treats everypony like they're a piece of mud he’s just happened to walk through, and it's an attitude not even Celestia has been able to get out of him. On the off-chance he actually stayed with you, and you were able to put up with him, you'd regret it for the rest of your life."

Rarity stood there, aghast at hearing those words about her fairy tale Prince. In time, however, she took on a look of disappointment, prompting Twilight to sigh. She's probably built up that guy for a while now. I'm sorry, Rarity. But you can do much better than him. Finally, it was Fluttershy's turn.

"Fluttershy...the animals near the Gala aren't the kind that should be approached. They come in from all over the world, mostly from places that barely ever sees a pony. They had to be handle delicately to even be brought here to Equestria, and are very skittish as a result. If you go to them, chances are you'd terrify the poor things, traumatize them even. And I’m sorry to say this…but not even your ability with animals would change that."

The yellow pegasus put her hooves to her mouth, shocked at the prospect that she, of all ponies, might actually frighten an animal. However, much like Applejack, she saw that Twilight was not lying about this, as evidenced by the seriousness she had on her face. And so it was that all of Twilight's friends looked utterly crestfallen, leaving Twilight feeling extremely guilty about all this.

"Girls...I'm sorry I had to tell you this...it's just..."

But, much to her surprise, she was stopped by a raised hoof from Applejack.

"No, Twi. Y'all have done good by us today. If what y'all say is true, we'd probably just end up miserable over there. So...thank ya."

Twilight looked at her with surprised, and as the moments passed, she looked to each of her friends, all of whom were giving her smiles of appreciation. It was a gesture that touched her a great deal, and soon she broke out into a smile of her own. I honestly didn't think they'd believe me about all this. But they do. Guess I can add that to my list. Successfully helped my friends avoid an unpleasant night. Chuckling to herself, Twilight looked down at a nearby table, where the two golden tickets laid silently. Frowning at them both, Twilight turned to Spike.

"Spike...take a message for me."

The young dragon nodded before fetching a nearby quill and parchment. Looking at his friend, he waited patiently for her to think up what she needed to say, which wasn't long.

"Dear Princess Celestia. While I appreciate your invitation, I regret to inform you that neither I nor my friends wish to attend the Gala this year. I apologise in advance if you're disappointed by this, but our decision stands. You will therefore have to find somepony else to give the tickets to. Regards, Twilight Sparkle."

Looking down, Twilight watched as Spike finished writing, after which he took the two tickets and rolled them up in the scroll, before taking a deep breath and blowing fire on it. As usual, the parchment was engulfed briefly before magically disappearing. However, with that deed done, Twilight's assistant looked up at her with some concern.

"Um...Twilight? I get you didn't want to go and all...but don't you think that message was a bit...you know...harsh?"

Twilight's expression softened for the sake of her assistant, and she patted his head once more.

"Sometimes, Spike...that's what it takes."

Pride and Apples

"Come on, Twilight!"

The enthusiasm in Spike's voice was evident as he stood there, smiling at Twilight while pointing to a large boulder beside him. Both he and Twilight were standing on the outskirts of Ponyville, just short of the Everfree Forest, and the latter was looking upon her young assistant with a look of exasperation upon her face. He’ll never stop until I do it, she thought. So, letting out a sigh, she turned to the boulder, glaring at it with intent. If rocks could sweat, that boulder would have been shedding bucket-loads at this point under Twilight's gaze. As the young unicorn focused, her horn began to glow, and as it did so, she aimed it downwards, right at the rock. Spike, knowing what was about to happen, stood a good distance away, watching intently as his friend cast her spell. Within moments, it was struck, as a massive jolt of purple magic erupted out of Twilight's horn, striking the boulder ferociously. In an instant, the mighty stone cracked and shattered into a million pieces, all of which flew in about a hundred different directions, though thankfully nowhere near either Twilight, Spike or any nearby homes. Seeing the destruction unfold before him, Spike, who stood there with his mouth agape, had only one thing to say.


He jumped up and down like a child at Hearth's Warming Eve, and it was a sight Twilight couldn't help but chuckle at. I'm glad he's enjoying the light show. Turning, she looked upon the still-smouldering spot where the boulder had once been, her eyes narrowing somewhat. I'd never even tried offensive magic before I moved here. Hard to imagine how difficult it was when I first tried it. But now...well...I think it's safe to say I've become better at it. There are probably members of the royal guard unicorn platoons that can't blast as strongly as that, not even Shining. Steeping forward, Twilight looked down at a tiny fragment of the boulder. My magic is getting stronger. No doubt about that now. Pretty soon, I’ll be adept enough to handle all of the problems I know are coming. A thought crossed her mind as she considered that, and she began looking around. Matter of act...I believe one such problem should be coming right...about...


Twilight spun around upon hearing Rainbow Dash's voice, a smirk appearing on her face. Right on cue. Charging forward, Twilight began to head back into Ponyville, with Spike doing his best to catch up. As the young unicorn passed through the main streets, she looked on to see every mare, stallion and colt in sight fleeing into their homes, terrified of what they knew was coming. Frowning, Twilight stepped up the pace and ran even faster, eventually reaching a small bridge, one which crossed a nearby river and served as a gateway into Ponyville. Taking position on the opposite side of the river, Twilight looked on to see, sure enough, that there was indeed a stampede of rampaging cows on the move, heading straight for the town. Twilight turned, seeing Spike standing behind her, looking terrified at what was going on. A gesture form Twilight made it clear she wanted him to back up, which he did, though not without continuing to look worried for her.

Returning to look at the approaching cows, Twilight stood her ground, waiting for them to arrive, and it was here that she saw, in the corner of her eye, her friend, Applejack, standing in a nearby hill, looking down at Twilight with the same concern as Spike had done. The earth pony began to move as if she was about to intervene herself, and Twilight knew that was what she was destined to do, but this time, it was Twilight herself who took action, raising a hoof and silently gesturing for Applejack to stay put. Don't worry, AJ. I've got it this time. Although taken aback by this, the orange mare took one look at Twilight's serious face, and knew that she knew what she was doing. So, now confident that nopony would interfere, Twilight lowered her horn, concentrating her magic, before shooting off a spell. In an instant, she was now engulfed in as bright pink dome-shaped shield, one that completely blocked off the bridge. As the cows got closer and closer, Twilight heard a voice from behind. One she recognised as Rarity's.

"Twilight! You have to get out of there! A shield won't stop them!"

Although the lavender unicorn knew her friend meant well, she merely smirked at those words, speaking in a hushed tone.

"Maybe yours won't, but mine...?"

Staying perfectly still, Twilight and everypony watched as the cows finally charged right into the shield. The moment they collided, there was a bright flash, indicating the impact, and while the shield did indeed flex with the immense force of so many strong cows smashing against it, it nevertheless held true, eventually forcing them back. Like a line of dominoes, the cows at the front fell backwards, leading to those behind also falling back, and so on and so forth. Eventually, the entire herd had been stopped dead in it's tracks, and not one of them had managed to get within a hair's breadth of Ponyville. Satisfied that her shield had done it's work well, Twilight relaxed, allowing the magical dome to finally dissipate. She watched as the cows began to recover, getting themselves off the ground after having fallen. However, as Twilight turned around to make sure everypony was safe, her face erupted into a blush as she saw pretty much the whole town standing there, mouths agape, at the magical spectacle they'd just witnessed. Oh, right, I'm supposed to be embarrassed about showing off my magic at this time...oops.

"Um...everypony okay?"

But, rather than meekly nodding to let her know they were fine, which is what she expected, the whole town burst into cheers, charging forward to meet her. Taking a step backwards, Twilight was soon swamped with ponies form all over Ponyville, none more so than her friends, who looked at her as if she were the most amazing mare in Equestria.

"That was awesome! That shield didn't even budge!" Rainbow remarked.

"Indeed, darling. You were most heroic," Rarity added.

Blushing fiercely now, Twilight tired looking away from her adoring crowd, only to notice Applejack, who was currently speaking to what seemed like the leader of the cows. Taking a moment to walk away from the other ponies, Twilight met up with her earth pony friend, who turned to her with a smile.

"Well shoot, Twi. Y'all did some pretty fancy stuff back there."

Twilight smiled at that.

"Thanks, Applejack. But it's nothing you wouldn't have done in my place."

Applejack chuckled at her friend's words before turning back to the cow.

"Anyways, turns out one of them cow was spooked by a snake or something. Sent the whole herd into a frenzy."

The nearest cow nodded and looked upon both mares in an apologetic manner.

"I do apologise for this, Applejack. We'll try and be more careful next time."

Applejack gave a tip of her hat to that, at which point the cows began to make their way back along the river, ready to return to, presumably, where they came from. With that matter dealt with, both Applejack and Twilight turned, only to see that none other than Mayor Mare was approaching them, along with the rest of their friends.

"Twilight, I cannot thank you enough for saving our town. You should be praised and rewarded for your efforts. And I suggest we throw a..."

But the older mare was stopped by a raised hoof from Twilight, who looked on with a nervous smile. When AJ did this, they threw her a whole party. I know they appreciate what I did. After all, I appreciated Applejack when it was her in my place. But I don't want them praising me like this. I don't want them seeing me as some kind of heroine. I've had enough of that kind of treatment.

"Thank you, Mayor...but I don't think any reward is necessary. I was just doing my duty as a citizen here. I thank you for your kind words, but believe me, I don't need anything in return for this."

The Mayor looked at her, seeming more than a little surprised, before turning to the others. Rainbow especially looked flabbergasted at what Twilight just said. This is still early days for her. The idea of not wanting to be praised for one's actions is probably anathema to her at this point. Nevertheless, the Mayor and all the rest of them turned back to her, with the former giving a smile and a nod, indicating her acceptance of Twilight's wishes. Twilight smiled back before the other mares started walking off, leaving her alone with Applejack. Turning, she started speaking up to her friend.

"So anyway, Applejack, it's been a while. Been busy the last few days?"

I know exactly what she's been doing. Still, better make it seem like news to me. Applejack smiled at her friend before replying.

"Sure have! It's applebuck season. The time when mah family harvests our orchards. And ah've got plenty of work to do, what with mah brother out of commission."

Twilight nodded at that.

"You know...I've got a pretty clear afternoon. If you like I could help you with that."

Applejack looked at her and, for a brief moment, Twilight could have sworn she saw the kind of look that usually meant somepony had just been insulted. However, for her friend, Applejack put on a smile.

"Thank ya kindly, Twilight. But ah can do this mahself. Ah don't need no help."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that. That stubborn pride. It's been a while since I've seen it in earnest. Applejack will be struggling with that side of herself all her life, and not even this issue's resolution with ease it off entirely. Letting out a sigh, Twilight's expression softened considerably before she raised a hoof, putting it on to her friend's shoulder.

"Applejack...your family's orchards are enormous. I know you think you can do this, but you must know that, with Big Mac unavailable, your workload is going to be at least twice as large as it usually is. There's no shame in getting help."

And it was here that Applejack finally put on as frown.

"Ah told ya, Twilight...ah don't need no help! Now, if y'all will excuse me, ah've got work to do!"

Twilight knew that she didn't mean to sound as aggressive as she did. But even so, she was somewhat taken aback by the manner in which she'd just been talked back to. Applejack, seeing this look on her face, realised what she'd just said and softened a great deal, her frown now completely disappearing. She gave another tip of her hat before turning around, galloping off back in the direction of Sweet Apple Acres. Twilight just stood there, keeping her eyes locked onto her friend until she could no longer see her. Applebuck season. Oh, AJ. If only you knew how much stress this would do for you. I'm going to help you whether you like it or not. But, for now, I have to let it play out. You won’t accept my help at first...not until your mistakes start. I just hope you're willing to listen.

Much time had passed before Twilight last came to see Applejack face-to-face, but even so, she'd heard much of her friend in that time. But, she'd remained out of her business, keeping at a distance while Applejack’s actions had their destined consequences. But now, she knew the time had come, and so was now marching with great intent for Sweet Apple Acres. As she walked, she looked around at the many apple trees here. Despite all the time that her friend had put into the harvest, there remained more than two thirds of the place still untouched. Applejack, in her current state, was getting nowhere fast, and Twilight knew it. Narrowing her eyes, she walked around, searching high and low for her friend, until eventually, she finally caught sight of her. The orange mare was busying herself, bucking a tree that, unbeknownst to her, was completely devoid of apples. Shaking her head at this sorry sight, Twilight marched on over, clearing her throat as she did so. Her ears perking up, Applejack turned to see her friend, but when she saw the look on her face, it was clear to her why Twilight had come here.

"Ah told ya, Twilight. Ah don't need no help from..."

But she didn't get the chance to finish, as Twilight raised a hoof to stop her.

"Applejack...you need help."

The other mare frowned at that.

"Didn't y'all hear what ah just said?"

Twilight nodded.

"Oh, I heard you alright. And I hate to be the one to tell you this...but you're wrong. You need help, and no amount of you saying otherwise is going to change that."

Still frowning, Applejack walked over to Twilight, her face barely an inch from hers.

"Now y'all listen here, Twilight! Apples have been buckin an harvestin these orchards for generations now. Who are ya to come on in here and tell me how ta do mah job?"

Twilight stood there, taking in every word, before her expression started to soften considerably.

"I'm your friend...that's who."

Hearing the sincerity in Twilight's voice, Applejack's face too began to soften, though she still remained somewhat upset, as evidenced by her tone as she spoke.

"Ah know ya are, Twi. And ah appreciate that y'all want to help. But this is something ah gotta do mahself!"

Twilight let out a sigh at that. Well, as Fluttershy will come to learn one day...tough love.

"Applejack, you are the bearer of the Element of honesty. Are you really being honest with me or yourself right now?"

Applejack looked at her as if she'd just been slapped in the face.

"Are ya trying to tell me that ah, Applejack, am lying?!"

Twilight shook her head.

"No...but you are being stubborn. That you try to do all this yourself is admirable, but you have to understand when you can't do something without help."

Applejack let out a snort at that, clearly unimpressed by hr friend's words. Seeing this display, Twilight frowned at her.

"Do you know where Rainbow Dash is right now?"

The orange mare shook her head, looking away slightly, prompting Twilight to continue.

"She's at home resting after crashing into my home after that little stunt you pulled with her."

The steel in Twilight's voice was clear, as was the brutal honesty in it. Applejack turned, as look of concern crossing her face. No matter how proud she may be, she never wants her friends hurt, I'll say that much.

"You were so unfocused and tired, you didn't know what you were doing. Rainbow was sent flying straight into my tree. It's a good thing she's as good a flier as she is, because she was able to right herself just in time. If she'd have been just an inch off, she could have broken a leg or a wing, certainly enough to put her in a hospital."

Applejack stood there, aghast at hearing this, and immediately, she put on a look of guilt, looking away from Twilight once more.

"Twilight...ah...ah didn't want that! Ah just...ah just wanted to help!"

Upon seeing the genuinely apologetic look on her friend's face, Twilight's expression softened yet again, and she raised a hoof to place it upon Applejack's shoulder.

"I know you do. But when you're as tired as this, you can't help anypony. Not in the way you should. Do you know what might have happened if you'd have gone in this state to help Pinkie with her cooking? Who knows what terrible thing you might have come up with?"

Looking more ashamed than before, Applejack looked to her friend.

"Ah just...ah'm the one ponies come to fer help, Twi. Ah can't be going an askin fer help from others."

There it is, that pride again. She sees herself as the one who helps, the one the others can come to if they're in trouble. She's had that image of herself for so long, it's small wonder her stubbornness is as...well...stubborn as it is. Sighing, Twilight smiled at her.

"Applejack...remember when I stopped the stampede?"

Applejack nodded at that, leading to Twilight continuing to speak.

"Well...I only did that because I was confident I could do it. If I'd thought, even for one moment, that I couldn't hold them off...you are the one I'd have come to for help."

The look Applejack gave her was one of utter shock.

"What? But...why?"

Twilight missed further at that.

"Because I know that...no matter how good I thought I was...if I thought I could fail...there were far bigger stakes that keeping up my pride. The safety of the town was at risk, and I wasn't about to put that on the line just because of confidence in myself. I know there are others, like you, who could have done it, others I would have been happy to give the reins to in a crisis. I just did it myself because I was there at the time."

And there's my trump card, Twilight thought to herself. If that doesn't convince her, nothing will. Watching Applejack silently, Twilight looked on as she started slowly walking away, heading straight for another apple tree. This one actually had apples in it, and the farmer gave it a long, hard look. She was clearly thinking deeply about this matter, and as such, Twilight gave her the space she needed, never saying a word. In time, however, the earth pony turned around, giving her friend a very serious look.

"Twi...yer right. Ah wasn't bein honest with mahself about this. And y'all are mighty noble to come clean about needing help yerself just now."

Twilight chuckled at that.

"Like I told the Mayor...I'm just trying to help."

Applejack joined in on the chuckle, and as the two mares laughed together, much of the earlier tension began to fade. This is good, Twilight thought. Ponyville was in much more dire straits the first time around. In time, the laughter died down, and Applejack spoke up herself.

"Ya know, Ah'm willing to accept yer help...if y'all can show ya can harvest with the best of em."

Twilight raised an eyebrow and put on a mischievous smirk.

"Is that a challenge?"

Applejack put on a smirk of her own and nodded, giving her the answer she needed. Giggling somewhat, Twilight turned around, scouring the area for what she wanted. Eventually, her eyes laid upon a collection of nearby trees, all fully-laden with apples, with the baskets already set up below. Smiling, she began walking over to them with Applejack close behind. When they finally reached the trees, Twilight looked up at them, looking at where each apple was and how many, all while Applejack watched her friend carefully. Twilight closed her eyes, her horn starting to glow, and Applejack took a step back, already having seen a recent display of her friend's magical power this week. Within moments, Twilight's horn grew brighter, and her aura was enveloping all of the apples in the trees. With amazement, Applejack looked on as each of them began to disappear, only to appear moments later in the baskets below. When Twilight finally opened, she looked upon her good work, with her teleportation spell having filled every single basket in sight. Turning, she glanced at her friend, who stood there with her mouth agape. Eventually she shook herself out of it, coughing nervously before forcing a serious face.

"Alright...yer hired."

Old Friends (Edited)

Under normal circumstances, Twilight would have loved nothing more than a nice, quiet afternoon in her home, sitting with a good book to read. And while she had indeed been doing that, at this particular moment, she was instead focused on something else altogether. For she and Spike were not alone in the library right now. Pinkie was there too, marching up and down in a frustrated manner, her expression one of anger. Twilight, never taking her eyes off the pink mare, was thinking things over. So, this is it. The visit from Rainbow's less-than-friendly old friend, Gilda. I never spoke her that much the first time around, and quite frankly, I'm glad of that. Rainbow was wise not to involve herself with her after the party, but until then, everypony else had to put up with her and her poor attitude, especially Pinkie here. Still, even now, it's weird to see her so upset. Even knowing her as I do, to see her like this, when she's usually so happy, it's just...wrong. But, as she was thinking that, Twilight never stopped listening to what her friend had to say. The only way Rainbow is going to understand what's been going on recently, is by seeing it for herself.

"Pinkie...are you sure this friend of Rainbow's is as mean as you say?"

The pink mare turned to her and rolled her eyes.

"Um, yeah! She keeps stealing Rainbow Dash away, she pops my balloons, and she told me to buzz off. I've never met a griffon this mean. Well, actually, I've never met a griffon at all, but I bet if I had, she wouldn't have been as mean and grumpy as Gilda!"

Twilight nodded at that. Believe me, Pinkie, I know that better that you do right now. Gilda won't get better, at least not for a while yet. Letting out a sigh, Twilight closed her book before standing up, walking over to Pinkie and putting a hoof upon her shoulder.

"Pinkie...think about this. Gilda has been a friend to Rainbow long before Rainbow was a friend to either of us. They haven't seen each other in a long time. Don't you think it's understandable that Rainbow might want to catch up with her? I mean, we're practically neighbours, but Gilda lives all the way on the other side of Equestria. Is it really fair to them for any of us to butt into their time together when her visit might be so brief?"

Pinkie turned to her, raised a hoof and opened her mouth, ready to come up with a counter-argument that Twilight knew full well she wanted to give right now. However, after having a few false starts, the earth pony let out a huff of annoyance before slumping onto the ground, looking more than a little frustrated.

"Argh! I hate it when you make sense like that! Now I feel bad!"

Twilight's expression was soft, and she offered her friend her hoof. Taking it, Pinkie was hoisted off the ground by the unicorn, who looked at her carefully.

"Believe me, Pinkie. Sometimes, a pony just needs space."

As Pinkie seemed to be deep in thought on that matter, Twilight herself was also thinking about the situation. I don’t feel comfortable about this, but perhaps it’s the best way to get Rainbow to see the truth.

"Pinkie. I have an idea!"

The other mare turned to her, tilting her head somewhat in a show of curiosity, and listening well as Twilight continued.

"Why don't you go to Rainbow and suggest that she finish up her weather duties quickly so that she and Gilda can go into town for a lunch or something? It'll be nice for them to have a quiet moment to catch up."

At first, Pinkie looked aghast at the idea. I don't blame her. Gilda's as bad-tempered as they come. Having someone like her near any one of my friends for any length of time wouldn't sit well with me either. It's sad, to think that Gilda can be better...but just can't right now. She won't become a better person for some time. Still, this has to happen, if Rainbow is going to understand the what her old friend has been doing when she's not looking. Putting on a smile, Twilight tried her best to reassure her.

"Pinkie, if you truly consider yourself to be Rainbow's friend, you have to show that you're willing to allow her to be friends with others also."

Pinkie looked away for a moment, mulling over Twilight's words. For a brief moment, the young unicorn feared that her friend might refuse her outright, albeit in her usual, Pinkie Pie way. However, thankfully, the other mare simply turned and smiled. Not the same bubbly smile she was used to, but rather a smaller and gentler one. She gave a single nod, showing her acceptance of Twilight's words, and Twilight smiled back, watching as her friend made her way out of the library, no doubt to find Rainbow and let her know of the arrangement. However, as soon as Pinkie had closed the door behind her, Twilight felt a great deal of guilt at this. I'm sorry Pinkie. What happens now will be difficult, for all of us. But...it's for Rainbow's own good.

"Um...Twilight? Why are we here?"

Pinkie looked to her friend as they walked down the streets of Ponyville, walking by all the other ponies there. Twilight turned to her with a confident smile upon her face.

"I think it'll be good for you to see how Rainbow and Gilda are getting along. It might make you feel better about the whole thing."

Pinkie let out a huff at that, like a small child accepting that the might have to do chores.

"Okay! Fine!"

It's still strange seeing Pinkie act so upset. Still, this will resolve the Gilda problem pretty quickly. Twilight's ears began to drop a little after thinking that. I just wish I didn't have to go about it like this. However, she put on a more cheerful face as Pinkie looked her way, not wanting her friend to see her down. After smiling to her, Twilight scoured the area, looking for their quarry. Eventually, the young unicorn caught sight of both Rainbow and Gilda, both of whom were further along the street from them. Giving Pinkie a nudge, she pointed in their direction, letting her know where they were. After silently gesturing to her, Twilight and Pinkie stood still on the side, near a fruit stand, watching the two old friends as they made their way down the street. Eventually, they came upon another stand, one that Applejack's Grandmother, Granny Smith, was standing next to. Both Twilight and Pinkie watched as Gilda gained a mischievous look in her eyes, whispering something to Dash. The pegasus seemed to be confused about her friend's words, prompting Gilda to act on her own. So, quietly, Gilda used her tail and poked it out of the other side of the stand, right in front of Granny Smith's face. As Twilight knew, the elder mare ran off, screaming her head off about a snake. Gilda laughed a great deal at this, but Rainbow was less than amused.

"See that, Twilight?! That was a mean trick to play on poor Granny Smith!" Pinkie remarked.

Twilight nodded at that.

"I know. But we have to trust Rainbow on this. Do you think she'd go along with Gilda if she goes too far?"

Pinkie thought on that for a moment before dropping her ears down slightly.

"No," she admitted reluctantly.

Twilight nodded, looking back to the other two. Sure enough, they were walking, with the mood between them considerably cooler than before. Stealthily, Pinkie and Twilight followed them, keeping their eyes out for anything else. In time, they watched as Gilda passed by another fruit stand and, while she was still walking, used her tail to grab a nearby apple before the vendor realised it. Pinkie gasped at this blatant act of theft, but a hoof to her mouth silenced her. Turning, she looked on as Twilight gestured to the other two. As expected, Rainbow soon caught sight of the apple, and immediately began talking to Gilda about it. From the look on her face, it was clear she was unhappy about her friend's actions, as evidenced by her pointing to the fruit stand in an angry fashion. Gilda was also becoming annoyed at this point, taking a big bite out of the apple to emphasise her frustrations. Rainbow watched in seeming disbelief as her old friend walked by, not even showing to care about what had just been said between them. Letting go of Pinkie, Twilight gave her a silent nod, and for once, Pinkie seemed to understand, saying nothing but returning the nod, with a look of utter seriousness upon her face.

So, they carried on, watching as the two friends walked, no jokes or laughter passing between them. However well their meeting might have gone, now it seemed to be turning sour. Looking further ahead, Twilight saw, as she already knew, that Fluttershy was there also, walking backwards as she led a convoy of ducks along the street. Twilight grimaced at this. I'm sorry, Fluttershy. Unable to see where she was going, the timid Pegasus walked right into Gilda, prompting the latter to start speaking aggressively to her. At this distance, Twilight could not hear what was being said, but it was clear from the look on Fluttershy's face that it wasn't anything good. However, upsetting ponies didn't seem to bother Gilda in the slightest, as she upped her overly-hostile behaviour, approaching Fluttershy in a very intimidating manner. As the yellow mare backed away, whimpering, Gilda was halted by the arrival of Rainbow, who now stood between her and Fluttershy. Gilda seemed taken aback by this, but soon her expression turned to anger as she started speaking to her old friend.

However, Twilight knew exactly where this was going. No matter what happens, or who she meets, Rainbow Dash will never tolerate a bully. Her prediction soon came true, as Gilda's continued remarks towards Fluttershy, which Twilight still couldn't hear, were being defended against by Rainbow, who spread out her wings in a threatening manner, even getting right up to Gilda’s face as she spoke her own words against her. There was a moment of silence between the two, and for as moment, both Twilight and everypony else feared that a full-on fight might break out between the two. However, instead, Gilda simply took a step backwards, letting out a snort before flapping her wings and flying off. Twilight had no idea what words had passed between them, but they definitely seemed to be of a final nature. Turning, she looked over to Pinkie, who had been staring with a look of shock at the whole thing. There was a time when Gilda was a victim of harassment herself...and now she just dishes out such behaviour without regard for others' feelings. I know she gets better one day, but right now...that kind of attitude is unforgiveable. Letting out a sigh, Twilight nudged her before gesturing to Rainbow. Nodding back, Pinkie and her both ran towards the two pegasi. When they finally reached them, Twilight spoke up.

"Rainbow? What happened?"

Rainbow turned to her, still looking angry.

"I can't believe her! The stuff she did! The things she said to Fluttershy! I swear, she never used to be like that! How...how could she have changed so much?"

Pinkie looked on in a sad manner before walking forward, placing a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Rainbow. I kinda hoped things would be okay between you and Gilda."

Twilight turned, surprised to hear honesty in her words as she said that. Guess that, no matter how much trouble between them there was, Pinkie truly did want what was best for her. As for Gilda...well...it'll take some time for her to see things the same way. However, as she dwelt on that, the three finally heard Fluttershy, who meekly stood out from behind Rainbow.

"Um...I'm sorry if I caused so much trouble."

Rainbow turned to her with a raised eyebrow, before eventually breaking out into a smile and chuckling.

"Don't you apologise, Fluttershy. You did nothing wrong."

To emphasise her words, Rainbow wrapped a hoof around Fluttershy, holding her close. The two friends both started laughing together, with Fluttershy seeming far less worried about the whole thing. It was a sight Twilight couldn't help but smile at, and she watched as Rainbow turned to Pinkie.

"I'm sorry I didn't see it sooner, Pinkie. I know what a real friend is...and Gilda isn't one of them."

Smiling widely, Pinkie leaped forward, embracing Rainbow in a hug that threatened to knock the wind out of her. Twilight giggled yet again at this sight, all while Rainbow chuckled nervously. Looking away, Twilight gazed upon the area of the sky where Gilda had flown off to. You and Rainbow will be friends again, Gilda, I promise you that. You will come to realise what real friends are and how much they mean to you. But right now...you will be alone...and I'm sorry.

New Unicorn on the Block

Ah, now this is more like it. Twilight sat on her balcony, looking out on the beautiful views of Ponyville, sitting quietly with one of her favourite books. After everything that's happened recently, I could really do with more moments like this. Turning another page, she became more and more engrossed in her literature. I always loved this one. I know it's purely fictional, but it's nice to see Starswirl being portrayed in other ways. Recruiting twelve dogs and a Breezie to kick a dragon out of a mountain? Ridiculous I know, but entertaining all the same. Still, I wonder what the author would think of the dragon my friends and I will have to fight one day? Turning another page, Twilight chuckled to herself. Oh dear, looks like the party have got themselves caught by a trio of manticores. Here's hoping that little Breezie can save them before they're all eaten up. However, her smile faded somewhat as she began to look up, hearing a sound off in the distance. Looking down from her balcony, Twilight saw that there were many ponies all running towards the town square.

Hmmm...they don't appear to be in a panic. So I guess it's no disaster or anything. If it's a party, I'd have thought Pinkie would have told me about it by now. Letting out a sigh, she shrugged her shoulders. It's probably nothing. Remember, Twilight, this is supposed to be a relaxing moment. Don't concern yourself until the issue outright bursts in on you. However, at that moment, Spike immediately burst into the balcony area, huffing and panting from what seemed to be a long run. Frowning, Twilight used her magic to close her book. Well, it was a nice moment while it lasted. Putting her book away, she got up onto all four hooves and turned to Spike. Wow, he's really exhausted. Turning to her left, she looked down at a nearby glass of water she'd prepared for herself, magically levitating it in front of the young dragon, who gladly took it from her and began gulping it down enthusiastically. After finishing the last drop, and catching his breath, he finally managed to get out some words, each punctuated by more, albeit smaller pants.

"Twilight! You...gotta...come! There's...a new...unicorn...in town! She's...doing tricks! We've...gotta watch!"

Twilight rolled her eyes at that.

"A magic performer? Really, Spike, there's no need for..."

But, as she started speaking those words, memories of her future once more made themselves known in her mind. Images of a blue mare, one that she would contend with on more than one occasion. A bitter rivalry that she never asked for nor wanted. Trixie. It's her. She's here. I know this well. The showmare's actions, and her great dislike of Twilight, were just as fresh in her mind as if it had happened yesterday. This time...I’ll stop this before it begins. Turning, back to her assistant, Twilight put on a smile for him.

"You know what, Spike? I think it would be good for us to go out and watch this new unicorn."

Spike smiled at that, and Twilight smiled back, patting him on the head as she did so. So, with a skip in his step, Spike walked out, with his friend in tow. But, unbeknownst to him, Twilight's expression was harsher than normal, her mind awash with plans on what she was going to do. They made their way out of the house, walking down the street where everypony else had gone, and soon enough, they found themselves along with all the others, in the town square. Sure enough, a massive stage had been set up, and Twilight's friends were all in the forefront of the crowd, waiting for the main act. Twilight sighed as she approached them, taking her place beside Rarity. The alabaster unicorn turned to her and smiled in greeting, which Twilight returned, but their attention was then drawn to the stage, as a mass of fireworks erupted, sending a barrage of light and colour all over, All of the ponies there, save for Twilight and her friends, were in awe at this, and after a bright flash of light, there stood, at the centre of the stage, the mare that Twilight already knew so well.

"Come one, come all! Come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie!"

As usual with these kinds of performances, the audience was already enraptured, looking upon the new mare with awe. For the time being, though, Twilight's friends were less than enthralled, and so simply kept watching as Trixie continued.

"Watch in awe as the Great and Powerful Trixie performs the most spectacular feats of magic ever witnessed by pony eyes!"

With those words, Trixie sent off another round of fireworks, complete with a fair amount of fanfare. The audience, as before, cheered this display, thought Rarity simply rolled her eyes at it.

"Ugh! That mare is foolish if she thinks such displays can impress the likes of me!"

Turning, she looked upon Twilight, whispering to her

"Twilight...you could perform circles around her! Go up there and show her what real magic look like!"

Twilight let out a grunt at that. When I showed off my magic to defend against the cows, I had a feeling it would come back to bite me. But I'm not going to cause a scene here.

"Rarity, I'm not going to show off here. My magic is used for real purposes. I don't use it just to impress."

Rarity looked to her friend, seeming slightly disappointed, but nevertheless nodded, accepting her decision. Turning back to the performance, they watched as Trixie continued casting spells, conjuring a brand new bouquet of flowers, much to the amazement of the crowd. Rainbow, seeing the behaviour of her fellow ponies, let out a scoff at it.

"Seriously? After seeing what Twilight can do, how can any of these guys be impressed by...that?!"

Rarity turned to her.

"Easily impressed, perhaps?"

It was here that Applejack finally stepped in with her own opinion on the matter.

"Well, personally, ah can't stand it when ponies talk themselves up like that. That Trixie is actin like a school filly with fancy new ribbons."

Twilight frowned at her friend's words.

"Applejack, she's a performer. Making herself seem more impressive than she actually is in reality is part of her job. Like a salespony talking up how good their product is to get ponies to buy them. We can't look down on her for that!"

The farmer let out a huff at that, clearly not swayed by her friend's words. Twilight shook her head at this, turning to look upon Trixie once more. All I need to do here is make it so that nopony challenges her. As long as I can do that, then there's no need for...

"Boo! Your act sucks!"

Snapping her head to the left, Twilight looked on with shock at Rainbow Dash, who was glaring angrily at Trixie. Slapping a hoof to her forehead, Twilight watched the inevitable fallout as the blue unicorn finally turned her attention to the group.

"Well, well...it seems like we have some neigh-sayers in the audience!"

Those words prompted yet another slap-to-the-forehead from Twilight. Ugh...even knowing that pun was coming, it still hurts. Lowering her hoof yet again, Twilight looked on as Trixie continued her tirade.

"Who is so ignorant as to challenge the magical ability of the Great and Powerful Trixie? Do they not know that they're in the presence of the most magical unicorn in all of Equestria?"

Twilight looked to her friends, all of whom were opening their mouths, ready to say their piece to the showmare. However, before any of them could get a word out, Twilight concentrated on her own magic, casting her teleportation spell and appearing right in front of all of them. Taken aback by this display, all of Twilight’s friends stood there in silence while the lavender unicorn turned to Trixie.

"Nopony! Nopony is going to challenge you! We're not here to cause any trouble!"

But, contrary to how Twilight might have expected Trixie to respond to those words, the showmare instead looked at Twilight with what could only be described as awe.

"You...you know teleportation magic?"

Twilight's eyes widened at that. Oh no! Looking on, she saw Trixie narrow her eyes at that.

"So...you have come to challenge Trixie!"

Twilight waved her hooves in a desperate bid to get everypony to calm down, but, unbeknownst to her, Applejack ran straight past her, right for the stage. Both Twilight and Trixie watched with some degree of shock as the farmer leapt up, landing on all four hooves on the stage with ease. The magician eyed the newcomer carefully, and as Applejack glared angrily at her, the former recognised an opponent when she saw one, smirking as she looked to her. Gesturing with her hoof, Trixie allowed Applejack to proceed with whatever she had planned, to which the latter merely chuckled before pulling out a nearby lasso. Twilight put a hoof over her eyes after seeing this. Here we go. Applejack, as expected, started performing a number of impressive rodeo tricks, jumping through her lasso in a big display of acrobatics and athleticism. Many in the crowd were impressed, as was Twilight to be honest. But, as Applejack stopped, looking more than a little smug, Trixie merely smirked, lighting up her horn and causing the rope to come to life, wrapping all around Applejack and hogtying her. Now helpless and virtually humiliated, Applejack remained on the stage as Trixie approached, after which the latter placed a hoof upon her tied-up prize and called out to the crowd.

"Do you see now? Nopony can match the Great and Powerful Trixie! No lowly pony like this fool here could even come close to it!"

Applejack continued to fume in her bindings, but, while everypony's attention was on her, they failed to notice Twilight. The young unicorn stood there, in utter silence, staring intently at Trixie, seething at what was happening before her. So, quietly and without announcement, she began to slowly walk forward. And as she did so, the others finally began to take notice. I tried to do this the easy way. I tried to keep the peace. But no...it seems I have to resort to more direct measures. Trixie, watching the rival unicorn appear, merely scoffed. But, as Twilight approached, the smirk faded somewhat as, with a glow of her horn, Twilight, somehow, began to conjure clouds above and around them all. Looking up with shock, and more than a little worry, the other ponies gazed upon the now-darkening clouds, many of which were rumbling with the threat of lightning. Trixie watched this, clearly taken aback to see a unicorn with control over weather like this, and so cleared her throat before lighting up her own horn, hoping to use Twilight's spell against her, much like she'd used Applejack's rope earlier.

But, much to the shock of the showmare, nothing happened. She could not influence Twilight's spell, and as the latter began to become almost bathed in her own magical aura, the showmare took a step backwards, showing outward fear at this point. Finally, Twilight began to approach her in earnest, her aura continuing to shine and the clouds continuing to rumble.

"I am willing to allow many things, Trixie. But I am not willing to allow the humiliation of those close to me. You think you know magic? You thing you know power? You...know...nothing!"

Trixie kept stepping backwards, fearful of the approaching mare. Indeed, many in the audience were also looking on with great concern, watching Twilight as if Celestia herself had entered their presence. Trixie, having gone as far back as she could without falling off the stage, instead dropped to her knees, whimpering as Twilight came to within a metre of her.

"And now, Trixie...it seems there is only one thing...that this situation calls for."

Twilight raised a hoof, and out of sheer reflex, Trixie covered her eyes, waiting for some kind of strike against her. However, as she stayed there with her eyes shut tightly, time passed, yet nothing happened. She counted the moments, eventually reaching a point where she finally started to open her eyes again. To her amazement, there was no attack, nor any kind of move against her. Instead, Twilight's clouds had disappeared, as had her aura. The hoof she'd raised was, rather than being used to attack, instead being offered to her. As Trixie watched with confusion, Twilight looked at her with a gentle smile.

"I’m going...to ask you to come and live with me."

"What?!" she exclaimed.

"What?!" Twilight friends all spike in unison.

"WHAT?!" the crowd all chimed in.

But Twilight stood there, her hoof still outstretched, looking down at Trixie with no hint of deception or trickery in her eyes.

"I mean it. You have exceptional talent in the field of magic, Trixie, Your abilities are something you should be proud of. But...you don't need all this to feel special."

Trixie looked at her, confusion still plastering her face, prompting Twilight to explain.

"When I look at you, I see a mare who loves, above all else, to be appreciated for what she does. For you, your talent in magic is your gateway to that. To be cheered on, adored by others, that is what you live for. But...you could be so much more than that. You don't have to live a life where you puff yourself up, or put others down. And so...I'm offering you a better way."

Slowly, the showmare got back to her hooves, still wary of the offered hoof.


Twilight chuckled at that.

"When I came to live here, in Ponyville, my task was not just to further my magical studies, but to learn all I can about friendship. I can think of no better way to do that than by helping another to learn what I've learned."

Trixie raised an eyebrow.

"You...want Trixie...as an apprentice?!"

Unexpected, I know. But believe me, I've given a lot more thought on this matter than you could possibly know, Trixie. But, rather than say all that out loud, Twilight merely smiled softly again.

"I do. I want to give you the chance...to become as great as you've always said you are. To help you, not only in your magic, but in making friends. What say you?"

Trixie stood there, disbelieving at what was going on in front of her. But, as she stood there in silence, Twilight's friends looked to her as if she'd gone insane. If Trixie accepts, it'll be difficult. There's already bad blood between her and the rest of my friends, so this needs to be done delicately. But...I know it can be done. Trixie has it in her to recognise when she's done something wrong, to be the better mare, I’ve seen it. I just need to help her recognise it sooner. So, remaining silent, Twilight watched as Trixie finally seemed to be finished with her thoughts. Slowly, the showmare reached out a hoof, nervously putting it upon Twilight's, leading to a massive smile from the latter. Whether Trixie was doing this out of a genuine wish to learn and grow, or perhaps because she was simply intimidated, Twilight could not say. Still, she’s accepted. That’s a step in the right direction at least. Trixie chuckled nervously at all this, which Twilight couldn't blame her for. I'd be willing to bet anything that she wasn’t expecting her day to go like this. After shaking hooves, the two parted, and Twilight cleared her throat a little.

"My friend and I live at the Golden Oak Library, just down the road from here."

Trixie nodded at that.

"Well then...I suppose Trixie had better start unpacking."

The two nodded at each other, Trixie starting to move off the stage and towards her caravan, which was placed nearby. Turning, Twilight too began to walk off-stage, moving towards her friends, including Applejack, who had been helped out of the rope earlier. All of them stood there with their mouths agape as she neared them.

"Um, Twilight? Are you sure about this?" Fluttershy asked.

Twilight nodded.

"I am. Despite what you might think, Trixie isn't a bad mare. She can be a friend...if we let her."

The group looked to each other, unsure about all this, but nevertheless seemed willing to accept their friend's decision. Although, as Rainbow folded her hooves, she seemed less than enthusiastic about the whole thing.

"Okay...but you gotta admit, it's not gonna be easy living near a mare who does nothing but talk about how great she is all the time."

Rarity looked to her pegasus friend with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes, we've never had to deal with that, now have we?"

As Twilight rolled her eyes at her friends' remarks to each other, she turned, looking on as Trixie was busying herself with the preparations to her caravan. And so...the student becomes the teacher...sooner than Celestia planned.

Where There's Smoke...

It was a place that, until recently, nopony had laid eyes on for many years. The basement of the Golden Oak Library. In years gone by, this place would have been filled to the brim with all sorts of literature, ready to give out to the public as needed. Sadly, as time goes on, such places become neglected, and like the library itself, the basement of the place had fallen into emptiness and disrepair. However, that all changed when Twilight entered the picture. The library's new carer had seen fit to turn the basement into her own personal workshop, and now it stood as a testament to her goal of continued magical improvement. There were shelves upon shelves of magical tomes, both from her own collection and what she could find in the castle of the two sisters. Many strange and mysterious artefacts from that place had also been put here, contained in specially-made glass containers, lest anypony get too curious about them. There were desks, laden with many notes that had been scrawled on hastily, the clear sign of many late-night study sessions. And lastly, there were wider spaces, cleared away to give the new tenant the area she need to try out her latest spells.

Indeed, this was the kind of personal chamber that any devout pursuer of magical knowledge would have foamed at the mouth to see. But Twilight, at this very moment, was focused on other things. For, in the furthest corner of the basement, she stood there, motionless, looking into a particularly special glass case. There, lying in an open chest within the glass, were the fabled Elements of Harmony, the very tools she and her friends had used to thwart Nightmare Moon and save Equestria. Twilight stared at them with intent, narrowing her eyes as she gazed upon the crown, her own Element. Hmmm...still darker than I remember. I wonder why? Was it because of what I did, changing history? The power felt different that time too. Stronger, more focused. It was strange. I wasn't in the happiest of moods when I used them. Maybe that has something to do with it? Regardless, their power is still great. Trying to mimic their power has benefited me greatly so far. My magical reserves have been growing with every passing day. My friends would probably be worried to learn that I've been using the crown in secret like this. Still...it's for the best.

Turning, she looked upon a nearby open book, which was currently resting upon a desk. Moving to it, Twilight began to use her magic to flip through the pages. A record of known magical artefacts. Gathered from the old castle. And yet...nothing. No record of the Elements or what they could do. Twilight frowned at this. Did Celestia never ask questions about them? Did she never try and understand them beyond their power to seal Discord away? They were the most powerful objects known to ponykind, and she just locked them up, never once wondering about them. How...short-sighted. However, that train of thought was interrupted by a sudden and loud crashing sound from upstairs. Turning, Twilight closed the book before running up the stairs. Bursting through the door, she looked around, trying to see what had caused the noise. When she finally found it, she raised an eyebrow. For there, having tripped over her own luggage, was Trixie.

"Ugh! It'd be so much easier if Trixie could fit her whole caravan in here!"

Twilight rolled her eyes at that.

"Need some help, Trixie?"

The blue unicorn, upon seeing her new teacher, immediately righted herself, brushing off some dust before clearing her throat.

"Um...no. Trixie is fine. But...erm...where will she be sleeping?"

Twilight chuckled at that before turning around, pointing to the staircase beside her.

"There's a spare room upstairs. First door on your right."

Trixie nodded at that before using her magic to levitate her belongings, though with such a heavy bag it was no easy task. Twilight stood aside, letting her student walk by as she made her way up the stairs. However, as she watched her go, she was then distracted by a poking sensation to her right. Looking down, Twilight saw that it was Spike, looking up at her with some concern.

"Twilight? Are you sure it's gonna be okay having her live here? She's not exactly the easiest mare to get along with."

Twilight chuckled at that, patting her assistant on the head.

"Don't worry Spike. She may appear overly self-assured, and a bit of a braggart sometimes, but I guarantee that, with time, she’ll come to be a friend to all of us."

Spike seemed to ease off at that, though he still seemed to have some concerns, which he was not hesitant to voice.

"But...how are you going to be a teacher to her? I mean, no offense, but aren't you a student yourself right now?"

Upon hearing that, Twilight frowned, looking away from her young friend.

"I assure you, Spike, I'm perfectly capable of teaching magic and friendship to somepony else. Besides, I think I've learned enough from her royal highness to perform such a duty without help."

Spike looked at her, clearly taken aback by her words, though Twilight had little difficulty in figuring out why.

"Twilight? Are...are you angry at the Princess? It's just...every time we talk about her, you seem so upset. And back when Luna got free, you seemed like you didn't like Celestia at all."

Twilight let out a sigh as she took in his words. For as long as he's known me, I've done nothing but praise Celestia and talk about how great she is. Nowadays though...things are different. He wouldn't understand if I tried to explain it. Besides...he probably still thinks the world of Celestia. She did raise him for a time after all. Hearing me talk about her like this might be pretty hard for him. Think, Twilight...how to make a child understand. Mulling the matter over, Twilight's expression began to soften, and she looked down at her assistant, gently placing a hoof upon his shoulder.

"Spike...you know how Rarity is always going on about how great Canterlot is?"

As expected when the subject of Rarity came up, Spike smiled and nodded enthusiastically. Smiling, Twilight continued.

"She thinks it's the most wonderful place in all of Equestria. And yet...she's never been there. She's grown up hearing stories of it's beauty, it's prestige, and has built up this image of it as a perfect place. But you and I grew up there. We know it's not perfect."

Her expression became somewhat harsher as she continued to speak.

"Celestia is the same. Ponies from all over Equestria think of her as this perfect, benevolent mare who can do no wrong. But, like Canterlot, if you get close enough...you can start to see the cracks. I used to be like so many others. But now...I guess being away from her after so long has finally given me a new perspective of things."

Spike looked down at the ground, visibly shaken by the way his friend was talking about her once-beloved mentor. Seeing this reaction, Twilight softened again, putting a hoof to the side of his face. Looking up, Spike watched her as she spoke up again.

"Don't misunderstand me, Spike. Celestia has done wonderful things. For one thing, she let me raise you after you were old enough."

Spike smiled and chuckled at that, as did Twilight, before the latter continued.

"And if it wasn't for her teachings, I would be where I am today. I owe her a lot, and for that I will always respect her."

Spike nodded at that, seemingly satisfied at what he'd heard. Smiling, Twilight watched as he began to make his way upstairs, perhaps to help Trixie with her luggage. However, once he was out of sight, her smile faded. Respect her? Yes...I do respect her. But...I don't think I can ever love her. Not after...what happened. Letting out a sigh, Twilight turned, ready to head back into the basement again. However, through the corner of her eye, she noticed something. Turning her head around, she gazed out of the window to get a proper look. With her eyes widening, she bolted for the door, opening it and taking a step outside. She looked upwards, far beyond the borders of Ponyville, to the great mountain that stood beside the town. At it's peak, Twilight saw, even from this distance, that a small wisp of smoke had emerged. Narrowing her eyes, Twilight knew immediately what this meant. So...that overgrown lizard has arrived at last. Celestia will be sending her message soon enough. Thinking on this, a smirk appeared on the young unicorn's face. But this time...it'll go differently. Returning into her home, Twilight ran up the stairs, eventually finding Spike again. As predicted, he was helping Trixie, but turned to his carer when she entered. Although confused at her arrival, he took on a look of understanding as she began to speak.

"Spike...I need you to send a letter."

Dutifully, Spike produced a quill and parchment from a nearby table, and began writing, speaking aloud as he did so.

"Dear Princess..."


Spike looked up, surprised at Twilight's interruption. But Twilight cleared her throat a little before carrying on.

"I'm sorry, Spike. But, this letter isn't for the Princess. I need you to send it to the barracks of the royal guard."

Both Spike and Trixie looked at her with shock on their faces, though Twilight merely smiled as she took on a determined expression.

"I think it's time to take on some...family help."

...There's Dragons

It was, at this point, expected amongst everypony that, whenever Twilight Sparkle called them all together, it wasn't for anything good. And so it was that Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack and Pinkie Pie had all been gathered, standing there in the middle of the main chamber of the Library. Many of them were nervous about what their friend had called them here for. Others, like Applejack, were instead focusing on the presence of a certain blue unicorn mare, who was trying to read a magical tome in the corner while attempting to avoid the earth pony's gaze. Needless to say, this didn't work, as the two mares’ bitter experience with one another still seemed to be at the forefront at their minds. Thankfully for Trixie, it was here that Twilight finally arrived, coming down the stairs with Spike close behind her. All of them turned to her, looking at the serious look on her face, and knew one thing; this wasn't going to be good. Once at the bottom of the stairs, Twilight looked to each of her friends, sighing before turning to Spike, who was holding a scroll in his claws.

"I'm sure all of you have noticed the massive pillar of smoke rising from the nearby mountain. As much as I don't want to worry you...that smoke is coming from a dragon."

That revelation sent the immediate plethora of reactions that Twilight expected. All of them seemed shocked by this news, none more so than Fluttershy, who immediately darted behind Rainbow Dash and hid under her tail, much to the cyan pegasus' annoyance. Twilight took on a look of concern at this display. She'd always be afraid of them. Even after experiencing them as many times as she did...that fear will never truly leave her. Taking a deep breath, Twilight turned to the scroll in Spike's claws, using her magic to levitate it so that it was now hovering right in front of her.

"This message came from Princess Celestia not long ago. She's tasked the six of us to go up there and deal with the problem."

Upon hearing that, there was a wide variety of expressions. Fluttershy, as expected, seemed even more fearful than before. Pinkie was excited, much like she was about everything, while Rarity seemed to have a genuine concern about this task. As for Rainbow and Applejack, they gave each other a smirk before turning to Twilight, Rainbow speaking up first.

"Heck yeah! The chance to take on a fire-breathing dragon! Count me in! Think of the fame! Think how awesome it'll be to..."

"You're not coming."

Everypony there stood still, utterly silenced by Twilight's declaration. They looked to her, seeing the steel in her eyes, and knew immediately that she wasn't joking about this. As they looked to each other, it was clear to all of them that there was little room for negotiation on this matter. However, Applejack tried regardless.

"But...ain't this a task from Celestia herself? We can't just refuse her!"

Twilight’s eyes narrowed at that.

"Yes...we can. And we will!"

As usual when the subject of Celestia came up, Twilight looked as if she was furious about something, but, also as usual, her friends could not fathom why. They looked to each other, perhaps silently hoping one of them would come forward and try to talk her out of this course she'd chosen. And as they did this, Twilight's mind was racing. These are my friends. The ponies I care about more than any, aside from my own family. I am not willing to let Celestia turn them into her own personal taskforce. She looked down at the ground as she considered her situation. I know that, the first time around, my friends and I were able to deal with the dragon. Well, Fluttershy more than the rest of us. But...I've already changed so much. Things are different from how they were. Perhaps Fluttershy and the rest still have it in them to pull this off if we go together...or perhaps they don't. Regardless, if there's even a chance that the changes I've made will result in them not succeeding, or worse, having the dragon outright attack them...I can't allow them to put themselves in danger like that. Sighing, she looked up at her friends once more.

"While I don't want you coming with me, there is still something important that you can do."

They looked to her, listening intently as she spoke.

"Everypony in Ponyvillle is going to be scared when they see the smoke and realise what's going on. I need you all here to keep things calm while I go up there for the dragon."

Her friends stood there, mouths agape, as they heard that. Even Trixie was shocked after having heard all of this. In time, and after a great deal of uncomfortable silence, it was, of all ponies, Fluttershy who spoke up.

"You’re...you're still going up there? Without us?!"

Twilight nodded, her face still one of grim determination. Aghast at that, Rarity chimed in herself.

"Darling! I don't mean to sound rude, but...are you insane?!"

The lavender unicorn shook her head at that.

"No. Trust me when I say that I’ve thought this through."

Rainbow let out a dry laugh at that before adding her own voice to the mix.

"Seriously?! Look, Twi, I now you have all that awesome magic and junk, but do you really think you can hold your own against a bucking dragon?!"

Twilight turned to her Pegasus friend, her face still as serious as ever.

"Yes...I can."

There was something in her voice, something about the way she'd spoken those words that sent a shiver, not just down Rainbow's spine, but everypony else's too. Twilight looked away from a brief moment, looking out of the window. Sure enough, the smoke was still rising from the top of the mountain. I'm hoping diplomacy will work this time. If not...then I know I'll be ready for the alternative. However, her attention was drawn to her friends once more, as Applejack cleared her throat, looking just as serious as Twilight was.

"Begging yer pardon, Twilight...but nopony in history has ever taken on a dragon without at least a small army behind them! And you'll be on yer own out there!"

Twilight opened her mouth to reply to that, only to be stopped when she started to hear some sort of commotion outside. Turning, she saw, through the window, that several mares and stallions out in the street had stopped in their tracks, looking upwards in awe at something. Realisation crossed her face as she turned back to her friends, breaking into a small smile.

"No...I won't be."

The other look at her with confusion before, to their surprise, she began to race outside. After looking to each other, they soon followed, as did Spike and Trixie. Once outside, they all looked to see that Twilight, much like everypony else, was staring up into the sky. They turned, looking in the same direction as the others, and when they did, their eyes widened with shock. For there, heading straight to Ponyville, was a collection of about six golden chariots, pulled by members of the royal guard themselves. The ponies of Ponyville watched in awe as the proud stallions made landing, wherein it was revealed that, not only were there pegasi pulling the chariots, but that there were also members of the royal unicorn platoons within them. Overall, there seemed to be over a dozen of the guard present here. Needless to say, the unannounced arrival of numerous armed guards in Ponyville sent everypony into a frenzy of chatter amongst themselves. As for Twilight’s friends, they turned to their lavender companion, seeing the smile upon her face, and knew, deep down, that she had something to do with this.

However, before they had the chance to ask her about all this, they watched as she began to approach one of the chariots. Like all the others, there were several unicorn stallions disembarking from the thing, but one of them noticeably stood out from the rest. He was larger than the others, clad in distinct purple armour, with bright white fur and a blue mane. He scoured the area, looking around for something, and when he caught sight of Twilight, he broke out into a smile. The two ponies began to approach one another, and when they came to within about a metre of one another, the stallion saluted.

"Reporting for duty, Ma'am!"

Twilight smiled and giggled a little at this display, but before she could open her mouth to reply, she soon noticed that she was surrounded by all of her friends, all of whom were giving her clear looks of "what they hay is going on here?" She opened her mouth to speak, but Rarity interrupted her, whispering in her ear while keeping her eyes on the guard's leader.

"Twilight! Where in Equestria did you manage to find a fine guard stallion like that?!"

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that, but was once more interrupted, as Rainbow took position on the other side of her, whispering just like Rarity.

"Seriously, this guy is hot!"

Yet again, Twilight was taken aback by those words, and looked around to see that all the rest of her friends seemed to be similarly enamoured with the stallion to one degree or another. In fairness, Shining always did come off as the kind of fairy tale knight young fillies dream of. Still, consider yourselves lucky his marefriend didn't hear that. Letting out a groan of annoyance at all this, Twilight stepped forward, breaking free of the hold her friends had on her and walking towards the stallion, who had lowered his hoof from the salute. Twilight took a position right next to him and pointed a hoof to him before addressing her friends.

"Girls, this is Shining Armour. Captain of the royal guard...and my brother."

The mares all stared at her, seeing the clear “keep your hooves off him” look on her face. At this point, they were no doubt remembering what she'd told them about having a brother in the royal guard, and in time, they all looked more than a little embarrassed about having said what they'd said, with Rainbow being the one to voice what they were all thinking.

"Well...this is awkward."

Shaking her head at that, Twilight turned to her brother, and the two siblings smiled warmly at one another before embracing in a hug.

"It's good to see you, Twily," Shining remarked.

Twilight giggled at that.

"You too, BBBFF."

Upon hearing his old nickname, Shining chuckled heartily, before parting from his sister, the latter turning to her friends.

"These are the friends I've been telling you about in my letters. Applejack, Rainbow, Rarity, Pinkie, Fluttershy...and Trixie."

Shining looked to all of them, giving a smile and a nod to all of them, which they returned in kind. When it came to Trixie, however, he regarded her more carefully, having been made fully aware of the circumstances in which they met. Nevertheless, he gave her just as warm a smile and nod as he had for the others, with the blue mare chuckling nervously before waving a little in return. With the greetings over and done with, Shining turned to his troops, raising a hoof and pointing to a nearby clearing. They saluted in kind before making their way over, lining up as if for inspection. Shining walked over to them, looking ready to give some kind of motivational speech, all while Twilight stood there and watched. In time, she looked back to her friends, who were glancing at her with a great deal of concern. Wanting nothing more than to make them feel comfortable, Twilight put on a reassuring smile for them.

"Don't worry. I'll be fine."

They still looked concerned, but nevertheless smiled in return. However, as Twilight looked towards the mountain, seeing the smoke still fuming from the top, her smile faded.

But the dragon? Not so much.

A Brief Catch-Up

Although she had only experienced it a few times in her life, Twilight always enjoyed a ride on a flying chariot. The way the wind coursed through her mane, the way she could look down on all the beautiful scenery below. It was a wonderful experience, each and every time. So, as she looked down upon the forests and fields below, she smiled to herself. Of course, there was no need for these things once I became an alicorn. Turning, she looked upon her brother, who was still looking straight forward. The two were sharing the same chariot, flying along with all the others in a close formation, having left Ponyville not long ago. To think, if I'd done it Celestia's way, my friends and I would have had to trek up the entire mountain. A slight look of sadness crossed her face as she considered that. They're probably upset at me for not letting them come. But they have to understand, I do this for their benefit. Looking around, the young unicorn narrowed her eyes as she saw the mountain fast approaching, the cavern at the top still billowing plenty of smoke. That dragon's rest here will be short-lived, make no mistake about that. Turning back to her brother, Twilight spoke up.

"Shining, I appreciate you coming to help me like this."

The stallion looked to her with a smile on his face.

"You're my sister. I'll always be there for you."

Twilight smiled warmly at that, gently placing a hoof on her brother's shoulder.

"And I appreciate that. But...aren't you worried about leaving Canterlot to do this? I mean...coming over here to help me with Celestia's task might not earn you many favours back home."

Shining let out a dry chortle at that, striking a somewhat heroic-looking pose.

"Well...I am the Captain of the royal guard. It is my sworn duty to safeguard ponykind, be they in Canterlot or anywhere else. True, I may not have been specifically assigned to this, but if, say, a citizen of Equerstria were to come to me and request aid against a dangerous beast near their village, it would be well within my authority to give such aid."

Twilight smiled at the stallion once more, raising an eyebrow as she did so.

"Well...if others in the guard won't give you grief over leaving the city unannounced...your marefriend might."

"True, but I doubt she..."

In an instant, Shining turned to his sister, who, at this point, was wearing quite a mischievous look on her face. If it was possible, Shining's face became even whiter than normal as he looked to her with shock.


Giggling slightly, Twilight looked at him with a softer expression.

"There were a couple of touches in your last few letters. Signs of being distracted about something. It was something you also showed last time we met in Canterlot. The only time I've seen a stallion act that way is when they've got romance on the brain."

Shining, understandably, looked quite taken aback at having been caught out like this, and was frantically darting his eyes back and forth, most likely to avoid his sister's gaze. Twilight, by contrast, was enjoying this, perhaps more than she should have been. That's right, BBBFF. No sneaking a relationship past me until the last minute this time.

"So...who's the lucky mare?"

Visibly sweating now, Shining cleared his throat and tried his best to compose himself.

"Okay...promise you won't freak out?"

Twilight simply raised an eyebrow and shook her head, giving a clear answer to that question. Letting out a groan, Shining slumped his shoulders in defeat before finally coming clean.

"It's...Cadence. Your old foal-sitter."

Not wanting to appear overly-accepting too soon, Twilight put on a face of confusion, acting as if she was having difficulty coming to terms with this. On the inside, however, she was as giddy as anything. I still remember how excited I was when I first found out about it. One of my best friends from foalhood, marrying by brother. That day would have been so happy for me...had it not been for a certain oversized bug. However, Twilight did her best to stifle those less pleasant thoughts, instead finally allowing herself to put on a massive smile for her brother, leaping forward and wrapping her forelegs around him in a big hug. Although somewhat winded by this, Shining nevertheless let out a brief laugh at his sister's reaction, shortly before Twilight let out her own thoughts on the matter.

"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh! You and Cadence?! I'm so happy for you!"

The two parted, still smiling widely at each other, with Shining speaking up.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I just...wanted to wait until the right moment."

There's such a thing as waiting too long on that count, Brother. Your wedding would be a pretty good example of that. However, rather than speak those thoughts, Twilight simply kept grinning.

"Don't worry about it. But, when this is all done, I want you to tell me everything. How you met, when you started dating, the works!"

Shining, understandably was smiling nervously at all this. However, Twilight's eyes widened as a new thought came to her.

"In fact, I have something for you."

Shining raised an eyebrow at that, watching as his sister turned around and began rummaging around in one of the saddle-bags she'd brought with her. After some time going through her things, the young unicorn smiled again as she used her magic to pull out a small item. When she looked back to Shining, she presented it to him; a small, unremarkable pendant, possessing a strange sheen to it. Shining, understandably, looked at the thing with some confusion, looking to his sister for some clarification. Letting out another brief giggle, Twilight gladly began to explain herself.

"I had a feeling that you had a marefriend back home, so, in the event you were able to come to Ponyville, I prepared this. I want you to give it to her when you go back. A gift from her coltfriend's sister. Just to let you both know I’m happy for you."

Shining took the pendant into his hooves, eyeing it curiously.

"You...prepared a gift for a marefriend you didn't even know for certain that I had?"

However, the confusion from his face soon vanished, replaced with realisation, giving himself a face-hoof in the process.

"Oh, wait, I should have known. This is my sister, Twilight Sparkle I'm talking about. Of course you were able to figure this stuff out and make a plan for it."

Oh Brother, you have no idea.

"But I had no idea it was Cadence! That just makes this all the better! Do you think she'll like it?"

Shining looked to the pendant, then back to his sister, breaking out into a warm smile as he did so.

"I think she'll love it. Thank you, Twily."

The two siblings embraced each other in a loving hug once more. But, while her face was hidden from her brother, Twilight's expression took on a more serious tone. It is a gift, that much is true. But...I can't tell you how important it is that Cadence keep it, Brother. I was lucky to have found it in the castle of the two sisters. Thanks to a little enchantment I put on the thing, Cadence will have everything she needs to ensure her safety from certain...Queenly problems. What I wouldn't give to be there when that insect tries, and fails, to capture her target. Oh, what trouble she'll be in then. Letting out a dry laugh at that thought, Twilight finally parted from her brother once more, still smiling at him. However, it was there that their little family moment was interrupted, as they turned upon hearing one of the pegasi ahead clearing their throat. They looked on with all seriousness to see that they had finally arrived. The peak of the mountain was right before them, the smoke pillar even larger than ever. After scouring the area, Shining spotted an area near the cave, large and flat enough to land the chariots, and so pointed to it, giving his soldiers the direction they needed.

With both speed and silence, the chariots made their way down, landing as quietly as possible to avoid waking the slumbering beast within the cave. As Twilight, Shining and the other guards disembarked, the Captain pointed to various locations around the cave entrance. Instinctively, the guards saluted, making their way over and taking up position, with the unicorns division aiming their horns right at the entrance. Turning to his sister, Shining's face was one of concern.

"This is it, Sister. Are you ready?"

Keeping her eyes on the cave entrance, Twilight gave a single, grim nod.

"I am...more than you can possibly know."

Into the Cave

Caves. Why does it always have to be caves? Twilight's expression was one of seriousness as she took step after step within the dark and dank entrance at the top of the mountain. She and her brother moved cautiously, looking around at the claw marks on the cave walls, not to mention keeping their nostrils closed, lest they inhale the foul smell of the dragon within, which frankly was something of a bother even before they entered. Looking over her shoulder, Twilight looked upon the unicorn guards, all of whom still had their horns trained on the entrance, just in case the dragon emerged during their expedition within. Letting out a sigh, Twilight's nerves were clear and it did not escape her brother's notice. He turned to her, offering a reassuring smile, which the younger unicorn promptly returned. If nothing else, at least this gave me the chance to spend more time with my brother, she mused. But, her expression hardened once more, as she began to hear the distinct sound of snoring up ahead. Not long now. I wonder if he really was as big as my memories led me to believe?

She soon got her answer, for after a few more steps forward, the two unicorn siblings stopped, looking on in awe at what lay before them. Yep...definitely as big. The dragon before them was enormous, no question, easily the size of at least half of Ponyville, of not more so. His red scales, the colour of blood, were visible even in the gloom of the cave, and the smoke billowing out of his nose as he snored was becoming more and more frequent. However, Twilight's eyes darted downwards, as she looked upon a perhaps greater sight. A vast pile of treasure, with every kind of gold, silver and jewel a pony could imagine. A sly smile crept onto Twilight's face as she considered that. Oh, what Rarity wouldn’t give to be here for a chance at one of those diamonds. However, she frowned yet again as she looked up at the dragon, who was thankfully still oblivious to his two guests. Turning, she gave her brother a pat on his shoulder gaining his attention. Affording him a small smile, Twilight began to approach the slumbering beast, all while Shining looked on with appropriate concern.

Once Twilight was within just a few metres of the creature, she cleared her throat in an attempt to gain it's attention. However, it was clear that did little to wake it, and so she did so again, only louder this time. When that too failed to work, she narrowed her yes. Well, might as well be more direct about this.

"Excuse me, Sir?!"

Her voice was loud and firm, yet not aggressive. However, it was also enough to do what it needed to, as, for the first time, the dragon began to rouse, it's eyes twitching somewhat before the lids finally lifted. As expected of one who had just woken, the eye moved around, trying to take in it’s surroundings. In time, however, it lowered, looking straight at Twilight, who remained there with a serious look on her face. At seeing the intruder, the dragon widened both eyes, glaring at the young unicorn before it. There was a low rumbling from the beast, at which point Shining lowered his horn in a battle-ready stance. However, Twilight, upon seeing this reaction from her brother, raised a hoof to silently stop him. Although hesitant, the older stallion reluctantly nodded back, assuming his previous stance. Now, with her quarry awake and alert, Twilight cleared her throat yet again, ready to get down to business.

"I apologise for waking you, Sir. But we have important matters to discuss."

The dragon raised an eyebrow, prompting Twilight to continue.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle, and I have been charged with asking you to leave this cave. Your snoring is producing a vast quantity of smoke, and if it does not stop, then a good deal of Equestria could be threatened by it."

Having heard her words, the massive beast merely let out a deep and dry laugh, after which it deliberately let out a puff of smoke, right at Twilight's face. After coughing a little and brushing aside the stray bits of soot on her face, Twilight frowned at the dragon, speaking up in a clearer and louder tone.

"Sir! I understand this may be inconvenient to you, but you have to understand that it's dangerous for my people for you to remain here. Surely you realise that?"

Glaring down at her, the enormous drake finally spoke.

"Oh, I understand...I merely don't care! You say your people are in danger? What else is new? I'm a dragon, in case you hadn't noticed. And your people's concerns are not my own."

Twilight frowned at that, the disinterest very clear in the dragon's voice. Seeing this expression on her, he let out another laugh before continuing.

"Leave, pony. I have no time for you. Now go, lest I change my mind about being such a gracious host."

Turning, Twilight looked upon her brother, who was looking just as concerned about all this as she was. Negotiation isn't working. Sometimes, I wonder why I bother. Steeling herself, Twilight turned to the dragon once more.

"I'm afraid I'm not leaving...not until you do!"

The anger in her voice was evident, much as it was in her expression, and the dragon knew this well. He frowned at the small pony standing in front of him, seeing the way she stood her ground, and had to fight the urge to laugh once more.

"And if I don't, what then? Will you force me out, little pony?"

Twilight narrowed her eyes.

"If I have to."

If there is one thing a dragon does not appreciate, it's a challenge. The young unicorn's words struck a chord in the beast, and not a good one. Slowly, a low rumbling could be heard yet again, and he lifted his head above his treasure horde, his eyes never straying from Twilight. Shining assumed his battle-stance yet again, but Twilight raised a hoof to stop him yet again. Showing clear confusion at this, Shining watched as his little sister took a step forward, her own horn glowing in preparation for a spell. The dragon laughed at this as he began to spread his wings, the mere motion of which sent a gust forward, threatening to knock the two unicorns back. But, always, Twilight stood her ground, watching intently as the dragon reared to it's full height, all the way to the top of the cave. Her horn continued to glow, and she stood motionless as the beast took in a massive breath, it's chest starting to glow from within. Twilight knew what this meant, and so narrowed her eyes at it. Shining, meanwhile, could no longer restrain himself, and leapt forward, ready to defend his sister.

As expected, the dragon opened his mouth wide, unleashing a torrent of flame towards the two. Shining's horn began to glow, ready to protect his family, but, to his shock, it appeared as if he did not need to. For, without noticing, the stallion finally realised that there was already a protective shield spell around both of them, shining brightly and fending off any and all fire that was aimed at them. He turned to his sister, the caster of the spell, and saw, to even further amazement, that she wasn't even breaking a sweat at this. The spell was not tiring her out in the least. In fact, she simply looked frustrated during all this, glaring angrily at the dragon as it continued throwing this inferno at them. In time, however, the dragon ceased it's fire-breathing, and instead resorted to more direct means of attack, raising a single claw and bringing it down with tremendous force. However, much like the fire, this didn't even dent the shield, and instead seemed to even slightly singe the claw that struck it, causing a brief yelp of pain from the massive reptile.

Now furious at what was going on, the dragon opened it's mouth wide again, bearing it's teeth and ready to lunge forward and bite. However, before it even got near to them, Twilight, in a move that shocked her brother, dissipated her shield, instead focusing on a new spell. Seeing the shield gone, the dragon lunged, ready to snuff out the defiant ponies before it. However, yet again, it was stopped. But this time, instead of a shield, Twilight sent a massive burst of magic straight for the creature's head, striking it and forcing it back, right into the wall of the cave. The impact was huge, and stones began to fall from the ceiling all over. Although it took a few moments, the dragon soon recovered from this attack, nursing the sore spot on it's head where it had met the rock. He looked upon Twilight with utter fury, releasing a near ear-piercing roar before lunging forward a second time. But, as always, Twilight was ready for it, sending forth another magic blast. But this one did not simply knock it back, but rather formed into a massive clawed hand, not unlike a dragons, that gripped the creature's neck mid-lunge.

The beast tried to pry itself free form the magical hold, but to no avail, and Twilight, seeing her grip secure, focused on her magic, using that ethereal hand to force the dragon back into the stone wall, causing yet another rumble throughout the cave. As always, the creature struggled, but could not break free of his bindings. He opened his mouth to roar, but Twilight merely narrowed her eyes, using her magic to tighten the grip around his neck, silencing him. Again and again she did this, forcing it back into the rock, smashing his head against cold stone repeatedly, all while Shining watched with equal parts awe and disbelief. Twilight, without even showing much effort, was single-hoofedly taking down one of the most fearsome beasts known to ponykind. And this went on for some time, with the dragon taking these attacks with a feared look upon his face. Eventually, Twilight grew tired of this, and used her magic to make the grip force the dragon's face into the dirt of the cave floor, forcing him down so it could not stand himself up again.

So, Twilight stood there, a look of disdain upon her face, as she kept watching the struggling beast. Now you see, don't you? It's not nice when others make you feel weak, is it? But, rather than speak those words, the young unicorn merely watched as, through his struggling, the dragon finally managed to get some words out.

"I...I...I yield."

Twilight narrowed her eyes at that, taking a step forward.

"You agree to our terms?"

Another nod from the dragon.

"Yes...by dragon law, you have proved your strength."

Shining turned, looking upon his sister, and finding her expression utterly impossible to read. In time, Twilight's became one of seriousness as she took another step forward, looking right into the dragon's eyes.

"Say it...loudly and clearly."

The dragon, clearly not used to being spoken in this, way, was nevertheless in an impossible position with Twilight's magic still overpowering him. After a few false starts, he gave Twilight the words she wanted to hear.

"I...I acknowledge your power. You are the greater...and I am the lesser. All that I am is vanquished. All that I have is yours...including my life, if you so choose."

Twilight rolled her eyes at that.

"I have no need of your life. But you will heed my command. You are to leave this cave and never return. You will fly as far as your wings will carry you. You will never again venture near pony lands. And if you encounter any others of your kind, tell them this..."

The dragon watched as his captor gave him a look that sent a shiver down his spine, listening as she spoke her words carefully.

"...I will not tolerate any threat by a dragon towards ponykind. If your people ever think of harming us...I will be there."

Her words cut deep, and for the first time in his life, Shining Armour looked upon a dragon that was utterly terrified. Twilight watched as her captive nodded, acknowledging her command and agreeing to it. She watched him carefully, trying to see any hint of deception or trickery in him. When she was satisfied that there was none, she gave a single nod, finally releasing her magical hold. As the ethereal claw vanished, the massive beast reared it's head up at long last. For a brief moment, Shining worried that he may take this chance to go back on his word. Instead, he watched with disbelief as the dragon spread his wings, giving an almighty flap before launching forward, straight out of the cave and into the bright blue skies beyond. The unicorns and pegasi stationed at the cave entrance only just managed to move aside in time, and they were soon joined by their Captain, who watched the flying drake for ages, until finally, he could no longer be seen. In time, the stallion turned, looking upon his little sister with his mouth agape. Smiling nervously, Twilight blushed a little before her brother began to speak up.

"Twilight. That...that was incredible!"

The young mare looked to her brother, still smiling.

"Thanks, BBBFF."

Her expression then became a serious one as she looked to the sky.

"Think he'll come back?"

Shining frowned a little before joining her in looking upwards.

"Not a chance. After what you did to him, he'll probably be having nightmares about you for years."

Turning back to his sister, the Captain smiled.

"Ponyville owes you a debt of gratitude, sister. And so do my troops. I shudder to think how bad this would have gone if we'd actually had to fight that thing."

Twilight nodded, looking over to the other stallions, who, understandably, were looking quite relieved at all this. However, her attention was then drawn to her brother once more, as he began to speak up yet again.

"You know...as Captain...it'll be my duty to report all this to Celestia."

Twilight's face took on a note of seriousness at that, thinking the matter over. Eventually, she let out a sigh, putting on a small smile for her brother's benefit.

"It's fine. Besides, it'd be pretty hard to hide this kind of thing from her."

Shining nodded at that, turning to join the rest of his guards. However, he was stopped by a hoof from Twilight. Turning back, Shining noted that she was looking more than a little nervous about something. In time, she managed to get her words together.

"Actually...when you go back to Canterlot, could you do me a favour? I need you to deliver something."

Shining raised an eyebrow at that, and watched as Twilight looked back to her saddle-bags. Using her magic, she opened one of them up and began to levitate something out of it. Shining looked on with curiosity to see that it was, in fact, a rolled up parchment. Twilight took it into one of her hooves, looking from it to her brother and then back again, all while keeping that same nervous expression. Eventually, she offered it to her brother, who hesitantly accepted it. Slowly, he began to unroll the parchment and began to read. Twilight watched as his eyes darted from left to right as he took in every word on that paper. Eventually, and as she expected, her brother's eyes widened with utter shock, and he looked back to his sister, his voice filled with disbelief.

"Twily? Are...are you serious?"

Twilight nodded at that.

"I am. I've been thinking about this a lot, and...I've decided to go ahead with it."

Shining looked back to the parchment, still taken aback by what he'd just read.

"It's...well...it's a big change. I mean...I'm happy for you...if this is what you want, that is."

Twilight smiled warmly, giving her brother a single nod.

"I am...more than I've wanted anything else."

It took a while, but Shining eventually broke out into a similar smile. He rolled up the parchment and carefully placed it into his own saddle-bag, before turning to his sister and embracing her in a warm hug. It was a pleasant moment between the two siblings, and when they parted, they kept that same warm smile throughout. Trust me, brother...I know I can handle this. Eventually though, Shining simply gave his sister a nod before turning to his troops and walking off to join them, ready to give their next commands. Twilight remained where she was, thinking over everything that had happened. So...that proves it. I really can take down a dragon. Nopony other than the alicorns themselves have ever done so alone, and here I am, doing it without exhausting myself at all. Even I didn't think my magical training had advanced that much. Looking back to the sky, her eyes narrowed. With any luck, my message will spread. Hopefully, the dragons will heed it so I don't have to resort to that kind of thing too often. However, her attention was then drawn to a very familiar voice from behind.


Spinning around, Twilight saw that, as she feared, it was Rainbow Dash, staring at her friend with the biggest grin she'd ever seen. Twilight, as one might expect, was shocked to see her friend here. However, in time, that expression morphed into one of anger, as she stomped towards her friend with intent.

"Rainbow?! What are you doing here?! I told you and the others to stay in Ponyville!"

Rainbow let out a snort at that.

"Yeah, right! As if you could keep me away from something like this! I saw what you did to that dragon. You were amazing! You were like, whoosh! And he was like, wham! And...and...it was so cool!"

Putting a hoof to her forehead, Twilight let out a groan at that.

"Rainbow! I didn't do this to impress anypony! The dragon was a menace and needed to be dealt with!"

Rainbow rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, maybe. But face it, Twi, you'll be a national hero after this!"

A dark pit opened in Twilight's stomach as she considered that. No thanks. I've had enough hero-worship to last me a lifetime. As she looked to her friend, her expression eventually softened. Well...she is the bearer of the Element of loyalty. I guess it was too much to think she'd stay away. Eventually, Twilight let out a sigh, turning away from her pegasi friend.

"Well...thank you for coming anyway. In truth, I actually could use some help at this point."

Rainbow raised her eyebrow at that.

"Help? With what?"

As Twilight walked forward, she took position in front of the cave, looking to the vast pile of treasure within.

"Well...let's just say I may need help moving some things."

Concerns of a Princess

"She...she did what?!"

Celestia looked upon her Captain of the guard, Shining Armour, with a look of utter shock. Currently, the two of them were in her personal chambers, at the royal palace of Canterlot. It was, by stark contrast to the royal trappings of the throne room, quite comfortable, and even homely. There was old and soft furniture throughout, a number of bookshelves containing magical tomes, and a large balcony to the side, looking out upon the city below. But by far the biggest attraction to this place was the massive fireplace, which blazed and lit the room well, even now, in the middle of the night. As for Celestia, she was sitting on her usual, large cushion, looking as if she was ready for a calm and quiet evening. However, that turned out to not be the case, as she stared intently at her Captain, who stood there, at attention, giving her a standard salute. In time, the stallion broke the silence between them.

"It's true, your majesty. Twilight's magic was unlike anything I'd ever seen. She threw that beast around like it was a ragdoll. It didn't even stand a chance against her."

Shining lowered his hoof from it's salute before puffing out his chest with pride, a smile forming upon his face.

"Truly, our family was blessed to have you accept her as a student, Princess. Your teachings have served her well."

Celestia looked away from him, keeping her voice hushed and calm.

"Yes...my teachings."

However, in mere moments, she cleared her throat, turning to the Captain and putting on a smile for him.

"Thank you for your report, Captain. And congratulations on a job well done. I would not have asked you to participate in this, but it seems to have turned out for the best. You are dismissed."

Shining gave another salute at that before turning around, making his way outside. Now, Celestia was alone, thinking over everything she'd just been told. So...she chose to do this without her friends. Celestia let out a sigh. Not only does my student go against what I asked of her...she seems to have become more powerful than I expected. A look of sadness crossed her face as that knowledge sank in. Have I truly become so out-of-touch with her? Time was, she couldn't go anywhere or do anything without me being aware of it. But now? Now I don't know what to think. As she sat there thinking on those matters, she did not notice the silent movement from her balcony, as her sister, Princess Luna gracefully landed upon it, walking towards her elder with a look of concern. Eventually, Celestia finally took note of her younger sibling, smiling warmly as she entered.

"Your night sky is beautiful tonight, Luna."

The blue alicorn smiled and bowed her head slightly.

"Thank you, sister. But I did not come here for compliments. I sensed that you are worried about something."

Putting on a brave face for her sister, Celestia looked away slightly.

"It's nothing, Luna. I'm fine."

Luna raised an eyebrow at that, after which she walked over to Celestia, kneeling beside her. The elder alicorn watched as her young sister placed a hoof upon hers before speaking gently.

"Sister...I know better than anypony how bad it is to keep one's concerns bottled-up. Please...let me help you."

Celestia looked to her, seeing the sincerity and genuine desire to help, and let out a sigh, forming a warm smile on her face. However, that smile faded when she actually started to speak.

"It's...it's Twilight."

Luna nodded at that, listening carefully as her sister continued.

"Ever since she moved to Ponyville, it's like...it's like there's some kind of rift between us. I don't know what it is. I can't put my hoof on it, but it's there."

The Princess of the sun looked down to the ground as she continued, her tone one of melancholy.

"When we last met, after you gained your freedom...I've never seen her act that way. The way she spoke, the way she looked at me...it was like I was seeing a completely different mare."

Luna thought on that before smiling to her sister, wrapping a warm and comforting wing around her.

"I know little of the modern world, but it's my understanding that many youngsters change when they experience great shift in their lives. Consider what Twilight went through before you saw her. She had just been through a rather difficult battle, and I should know."

Celestia nodded briefly, but still looked deep in thought.

"I thought about that. And at the time, that's what I used to reassure myself. I kept telling myself Twilight was just harrowed by her experiences, and that she'd get better."

Luna watched as her sister fell silent, not wanting to rush her in any way. But, eventually, she looked on as Celestia's horn lit up, and nearby, a chest of drawers began to open. Luna observed with some curiosity as a roll of parchment began to float out from it, levitating towards the two Princesses. Seeing the paper hovering in front of her, Luna looked from it to Celestia before eventually taking it into her hooves. After reading it for a little while, she turned to her elder sister with a degree of confusion on her face.

"A letter from Twilight?"

Celestia nodded.

"It's one of the friendship reports she sent to me not long after she moved to Ponyville. Tell me, Luna...what do you make of it?"

Luna looked to the paper again, still not sure where her sister was going with this. It took a few minutes of silence, but eventually, the younger alicorn turned back to Celestia, a look of uncertainty still evident on her.

"I do not understand, sister. There doesn't appear to be anything wrong here. It's written well, the lesson is fine. Nothing is unclear. Is...is there something I'm not seeing?"

Celestia shook her head.

"No. What you see is true. It's just...I've been Twilight's teacher for a long time now. I know her many works well from those years she studied under me. Every essay, every project she wrote always had such passion put into it, like she was completely in love with whatever it was she'd learned about."

Turning, Celestia pointed to the letter in Luna's hooves.

"But these...there's no love there. They seem so...cold. So to-the-point. It's like...it's like she writes them just to satisfy me."

Luna, raising an eyebrow, turned to the letter once more, looking it over carefully before turning back to Celestia, her expression now softened somewhat.

"Actually...now that you mention it...that does seem to be the case."

Celestia turned and let out a sigh.

"Perhaps I'm just reading too much into this. After all, Twilight's living in a whole new place now. The youth of our world often change when they gain independence like that. Maybe this is all just part of her growing up and I’m overreacting."

Luna raised an eyebrow at that.

"Sister...which of us are you really trying to convince of that?"

Silently, Celestia cursed. There are times when I wish Luna wasn't as perceptive as she is. Slumping her shoulders in a gesture of defeat, Celestia raised a hoof and began rubbing her temples.

"I...I just don't know what to think, Luna. By all accounts, Twilight has done nothing wrong since she moved to Ponyville. She's been proactive, she's been taking the initiative, and from what her brother tells me, it seems her training in magic has progressed well. There is nothing overtly wrong with anything she's done. And yet...I can't stop thinking about it."

The two sisters sat together, in utter silence, thinking the matter over. However, in time, Celestia looked to Luna, looking almost guilty about what she was thinking. Eventually, and after a few false starts, the elder sister finally spoke up.

"Luna...I...I would not normally ask this of you..."

The younger alicorn turned to her sister with curiosity upon her face, listening as Celestia carried on.

"...but, might you, in your night-time duties, have perhaps glimpsed any insight into Twilight's mind?"

Luna seemed utterly taken aback by that.

"Celestia...not once have you ever asked me to divulge a pony's innermost thoughts like that before. You must truly be concerned for her if you are willing to consider such an option."

Like before, a look of guilt crossed Celestia's face as she looked away, almost ashamed to look her sister in the eye at this point. However, it was not long before she was drawn to look upon Luna again, as the latter gently placed a hoof upon her shoulder. Although, when Celestia looked to her, she found, to her surprise, that she seemed to be concerned about something.

"In truth...I doubt I could offer you such help, even if I wanted to."

Celestia's expression became one of confusion, prompting Luna to explain herself.

"Look...I didn't want to give you cause to worry, but..."

Letting out a sigh, Luna took a moment to compose herself before carrying on.

"After I gained my freedom and took on my night duties again, I made it a point to try and visit the dreams of the mares who had released me. I thought that it's only fitting to get to know them better since they saved me. I learned so much about them, Rainbow, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pinkie and Applejack. Good mares, all of them, with much love and potential for friendships within their hearts. But..."

Luna showed hesitancy, as if scared to tell Celestia what happened. However, in time, she finally managed to get her words out.

"...when I got to Twilight, I...I couldn’t see anything!"

Celestia's eye widened with shock after hearing that.

"Wha...what do you mean you couldn't see anything?"

Luna shook her head.

"I mean exactly that! I was able to see into the minds of all of her friends. But when it came to Twilight herself...I saw nothing! It was as if...I was being prevented from peering into her mind."

Celestia looked aghast at hearing that.

"But...no magic in history has ever been able to keep you out of a pony's dreams like that. How...how could Twilight have learned such a spell?"

Luna looked to her sister.

"She told me she was going to study tomes and artefacts from our old castle, back in the Everfree. I thought it acceptable at the time but...it never occurred to me that she could learn something like this!"

Celestia's eyes widened upon hearing that. Twilight has been researching the magic of the old castle? Well, I guess that explains where her newfound magical strength has come from. Still...the power that resides in that old place is advanced, far more so than what most unicorns would be capable of wielding. I know Twilight is skilled, but...is she pushing herself too fast by tapping into such ancient powers? However, the Princess of the sun remained silent, watching as her sister continued to explain herself. A frown formed on the younger alicorn's face as she considered what she'd already said.

"More to the point...how did she learn I could see into dreams to begin with? I don't remember ever telling her."

Celestia nodded.

"Nor did I. I suppose...it's possible she learned of such a talent from the castle, and then took steps to protect herself from it, perhaps not knowing that you had the ability yourself."

Luna thought on Celestia's words for a moment, her expression softening somewhat.

"I suppose...still...the notion that one so young could have such power."

Celestia nodded again.

"I know. Still...her talent is magic. I suppose it's to be expected that her power would grow to be as strong as this one day."

The two sisters sat there, their conversation sinking in, but neither of them looking particularly happy about what they'd been discussing. In time, Celestia let out a sigh again.

"Twilight is a good mare. I've known her most of her life. I refuse to believe she would do anything wrong. I have to trust her to make the right decisions in her life."

Luan looked to her sister, and for a brief moment, she wondered if this was another case of Celestia trying to convince herself. Looking to her younger sibling, Celestia put on a warm smile, one that was promptly returned. So, the two Princesses stayed together for some time, before Luna eventually had to part yet again to assume her night-time duties. When Celestia was alone, however, she once more gained a look of concern. She rose to her hooves, walking out onto the balcony and looking out across the vast countryside beyond the city. Sadness crossed her face as she was left alone with her thoughts once more. Somewhere, out there, is my beloved student. Twilight, I know you can’t hear me, but I hope you know that I only want what's best for you. You've been such a wonderful student. And...whatever path your life in Ponyville takes you...know that I believe you do it for the right reasons. Looking to the ground, a small smile formed on her face. Just...remember who your friends are.


Whatever sunlight that might have lit the ground below had long since been covered by the numerous and dull-grey clouds than now covered the daytime sky. A light rain had begun to fall upon the ground, and the wind was cold, yet gentle. Atop a small green hill, in the middle of a vast field, was a single headstone, adorned with the cutie mark of one who had passed. The earth beside it was freshly dug, and presumably, also freshly-filled. But the most striking thing about this place was who it was that stood beside it. An alicorn mare, taller than anypony else, who was possessed of a shining lavender coat and flowing purple mane. With a golden crown upon her head, she was the very embodiment of regal grace and nobility. And yet, when she looked upon the stone before her, the look on her face was not one that most would see on a monarch. It was a look of sadness, of melancholy, and of utter heartbreak. A single tear was flowing down from her cheek as she raised a hoof, gently placing it upon the stone.

"I wish...this would just stop."

So engrossed with the stone was she, the alicorn failed to notice the sound of flapping wings beside her. However, when hooves made contact with the soft grass below, and steps towards her could be heard, only now did the lavender Princess look up, her eyes ablaze with anger.

"Why? Why have you come here?"

There was a silence after that moment, and for a time, one wondered if there would be any reply. But, inevitably, there was, as a calm and motherly voice began to speak up.

"Twilight...I came to see how you were doing."

The younger Princess narrowed her eyes at that, finally turning to look upon the newcomer. Sure enough, there she was. Princess Celestia, monarch of the sun, and her once-mentor. But it was clear to all with eyes that there was no love here between them. No warmth. When Twilight looked upon her, it was as if she was looking upon an enemy. Celestia, by contrast, gazed at her former student with sadness and regret.

"Twilight...I know how you..."

But the sun Princess was silenced by a raised hoof from Twilight, who spoke to her with venom in her voice.

"No! I don't want to hear it! Every time this happens, it's always the same! You say I'll recover, that it'll get better. But it never does!"

Twilight spun around, looking at the cold and lonely headstone beside her, with her expression becoming a pained one.

"When I became what I am all those years ago...I believed what you told me. I believed I would take on this burden like you could. When my frie..."

Her eyes shut tight, another tear escaping them to flow down her cheek.

"...when bearers of the Elements passed, one-by-one...I wanted to believe what you said. And I knew there was truth to it. I would make more friends, and they would love me as I loved them. For a time...that was true."

Still keeping her eyes away from the elder alicorn, Twilight's face became more fierce as her words rang throughout her being.

"But...it just kept on happening. Friend after friend. Comrade after comrade. Generation after generation. It...kept...happening."

Finally, she turned, looking upon Celestia with fury.

"And always...I remained. The one pony that stays on the train while others come and go. The only constant in my life...was you...the one who put me here."

Celestia turned away, unable to bear the look her former student was giving her.

"Twilight...I never intended for you to endure such heartache. I never...I never wanted this to be all you took from your ascension."

The younger Princess frowned at that.

"No...you didn't intend his for me. But you intended everything else, didn't you? The great puppet-master, pulling the strings of her little unicorn student...making her just like yourself! It never even occurred to you that I would hate having centuries forced on me like this!"

Celestia looked to her, tears forming in her eyes.


But the other alicorn looked away, her eyes shutting tightly one more.

"No...I'm done with you."

Celestia raised a hoof, wanting more than anything to call out to her. But her words would not come. Instead, she watched as her once-beloved student, who at one point regarded her with such admiration, turned away and ran from her as if she were a monster. Alone, Celestia finally let loose, collapsing to all four knees and weeping, the rain around her mingling with her tears as it fell to her face. And as for Twilight, she just kept on galloping, crying herself, yet always retaining that look of anger. She didn't know where she was going, and she didn't care. She just needed to get away from Celestia, away from everything. Hours passed as she ran, and in time, she finally exhausted herself, falling by a small woodland. Like Celestia, she too broke down, weeping uncontrollably as her thoughts and words and memories filled her mind, never letting her rest.

"I...I can't! I can't keep going through this! I don't want eternity! Why?! Why didn't I keep them closer? Why didn't I love them as much as I could have done? What can I..."

Opening her eyes at last, Twilight's expression became a steely one as she looked ahead to nowhere in particular.

"I...I...I just wish...I could do it again."

Twilight awoke with a start, letting out a gasp as she sat up straight in her bed. Her breathing was heavy, and her chest rose and fell rapidly as she did her best to calm down. Cold sweat was running down her face as she took in her surroundings. Her bedroom, back at the Golden Oak Library. Immediately, she looked down, seeing the basket beside her bed. Sure enough, Spike was sound asleep within it, and thankfully, he had not been woken by her gasping. With her breathing slowly steadying itself, Twilight raised a hoof to her face, placing it below her eye. As she expected, there was signs of crying in her sleep, and she let out a sigh from this. That nightmare again. Every night. Why? Why can't it just let me be? Lowering her hoof, she looked around, seeing the door to her bedroom. Moving with utter silence, the young unicorn threw back the covers and got out, doing everything in her power to avoid waking her assistant. Eventually, she made her way out of her room, quietly closing the door behind her.

Even through the darkness, Twilight was able to find her way to the bathroom of this place, closing the door afterwards to assure she got some privacy. Moving over to the nearby sink, she turned the tap on and filled the basin with water, after which she took her hooves together and splashed water over her face, hoping to wash away both the sweat and the tears. With water now dripping down her nose and chin, Twilight looked up, right at a mirror. I look terrible. Like I haven't had a good night's sleep in ages. Then again...I probably haven't. Exhaling, Twilight raised a hoof and began nursing her temples. However, as she did this, the memories of her future self continued to pour into her mind, and in time, despite her best efforts, she began to cry again. Why? Why do I feel this way? I...I know why my future self feels it. I see her memories as if they'd already happened. But...I don't want to feel that way! I don't want to feel such anger. Such bitterness. Such resentment. And I don't...

Looking, she saw her reflection, and the tears streaming down her face.

"...I don't want to feel that way about Celestia."

She shut her eyes tightly, not wanting to look at herself. She's my mentor. My teacher. She gave me everything! Without her, I'd have never come to Ponyville, made friends or had all the wonderful experiences I had! And yet...in the future...I feel nothing by anger towards her. Clenching her hooves tightly, Twilight let out a single sob. No! I don't want to hate her! I refuse to hate her! She's...she's like a second mother to me! I love her like my own family! And the way I acted towards her...she probably wants nothing to do with me now. Slowly, Twilight finally opened her eyes. Seeing the grief-stricken face in the mirror.

"What...what have I done?"

Gradually, she narrowed her eyes at her reflection. What you've done? What you've done is act without thinking. Did you honestly think accepting the memories of the future would make everything better? She warned you, Twilight. Your future self warned you that you would gain the good and the bad, but you didn't listen. You just took it as a chance to learn, never once considering the consequences of it. You were a fool! A child! And now, look at yourself, unable to decide whose thoughts you wish to follow! You know exactly why that future Twilight feels the way she does, and why she made this offer. Turning, Twilight looked away from the mirror. It doesn't matter! That was another Twilight! I have her memories...but I refuse to let them dictate what I do or who I love! I...I should have thought this offer through better, I realise that now. My life in the future is a good one, and maybe the future me simply forgot that. She spent so long dwelling on the bad...that she forgot the good. And most of all...

"...I forgot how much Celestia cares for me."

Guilt filled Twilight's heart as she considered that. I...I have to make it right between us. I don't want this rift between us. She's my teacher. My friend since foalhood. I don't want to lose her from my life. I want her to be there for me. I know bad things happen in the future, just like they happen for everypony else, and I was wrong to let that change the way I respect her, and feel close to her. My future self blamed her for all the bad…but that was wrong! It wasn’t Celestia’s fault! She never meant for any of that loss! I was a fool for ever putting that blame on her! And the way I’ve been talking about her…I never…I just keep making mistake after mistake! Realisation crossed Twilight's face as she considered that. Celestia is due to visit Ponyville soon. I'll go to her then. I'll make everything right. I just hope...

She turned, looking right into the eyes of her reflection, a brief glimmer of worry in her eyes.

"...that she'll forgive me."

Slumber Party

"A...slumber party?"

Rarity's incredulity was clear form her voice, much like it was in her expression, complete with a raised eyebrow. She and Applejack were currently standing in the doorway of the Golden Oak Library, standing before Twilight, who wore a massive smile on her face. Beyond the library, a massive storm was raging, with thunder, lightning and rain abound in every direction. Everypony else had fled to their own homes, save for these two. Twilight, seeing the less-than-thrilled looks her friends were giving each other, let out a sigh before stepping aside, allowing them further in.

"Look...I know it's not exactly your cup of tea, but I think it'll be good for us. A chance to get to know one another better."

Applejack and Rarity glanced at each other, still unsure about all this. As for Twilight, her mind was thinking things over very carefully. They never got on until that disaster with the tree. Hopefully, I can ease things off this time around. Her expression then became something of a shamed one. I can't believe I didn't see that kind of animosity the first time. It was as plain as the nose on my face, and I just overlooked it. Not this time. Putting on a smile, she walked past her friends, using her magic to levitate a few towels over to them, which they gracious accepted. After having dried themselves off, Applejack was the first to speak.

"Ah appreciate the offer, Twi. But...do y'all think it'd be good fer us to be in a slumber party like that?"

Twilight nodded.

"It may not seem like a good idea, but remember, that storm out there has you guys trapped here until it passes. We don’t know when that'll be, so we might as well have fun while we're here."

The two other mares looked to each other, clearly unable to come up with a counter-argument for that, before sighing in defeat. Smiling, Twilight walked over to her kitchen, ready to get some food for the three of them. However, it was here that a noise was heard to her right. Turning, she saw that it was none other than Trixie, who was making her way down the stairs, a book of magic levitating in front of her face as she walked.

"Hmmm...Miss Sparkle? If Trixie could be so bold as to ask, how did you first manage to pull off this spell here? It looks quite complicated."

Twilight smiled at that. She's willing to ask for help now. That's a big step forward for her. However, that smile soon faded ad she heard the distinct sound of somepony clearing their throats. Turning, Twilight looked on to see both of her friends, their eyes fixed on Trixie as she continued walking down the stairs. It was only here that Twilight rolled her eyes. Oh...right. The girls and Trixie haven't really spoken to each other all that much since I took her in. I should have seen this coming. Looking towards her student once more, Twilight saw that she too had noticed that they had guests tonight, and was looking quite unsure about it. The blue unicorn turned to her teacher, perhaps looking for guidance, and Twilight took a few deep breaths before moving over to her friends.

"Look...I know you guys don't really get along all that much. I understand that. But I want you to trust me when I say that Trixie is better than you might think of her. Just...give her a chance...please?"

Applejack and Rarity turned to each other, silently regarding the other as they thought the matter over. Twilight stared at them in this silence, her expression a pleading one. Eventually, the two mares both slumped their shoulders a little, putting on small smiles and nodding to their unicorn friend, agreeing to her request. Breaking out into a massive smile, Twilight leapt forward, embracing them in an unexpected hug. Although taken aback by this, both of the mares smiled nervously to each other. When Twilight parted, she spun around and resumed her previous plan of going to get food for all of them. Trixie, in the meantime, reached the ground fully now, making her way over to a nearby chair and sat upon it, doing her best to focus on her book instead of the two mares. Likewise, Applejack and Rarity, not wanting to start anything, looked away from Trixie, instead making their way to another part of the room, near a table, waiting for Twilight to bring the food. Eventually, their lavender friend returned, levitating a plate of cookies for them.

"Dinner is served!"

The other mares giggled slightly at this as Twilight lowered the plate onto the table, after which they began to tuck in. After her second cookie, Twilight looked over to Trixie, who was still trying to avoid eye contact with the others. Hmmm...maybe it'd be good for me to get them to talk to one another. Clearing her throat, Twilight caught Trixie's attention, and the latter watched as the former gestured for her to come over. Trixie seemed unsure about this, as did Rarity and Applejack after noticing what Twilight had done. However, in time, Trixie let out a sigh before putting her book down, after which she began to walk over to them. Twilight stepped aside, making room for her student to stand beside them all. After reaching the table, Trixie looked to all of them before hesitantly reaching for a cookie. As she ate it in silence, Twilight looked to her two friends. Given how much they dislike Trixie, it could well be that their own differences have been overruled in favour of their common animosity towards her. I guess that means I can rule out any conflict between those two tonight, which is good. Still, it's be nice if all of them could be more friendly to each other. Understanding this, she cleared her throat again.

"Well...this is nice. All of us here...eating stuff."

Applejack rolled her eyes at that.


Twilight frowned a little at her friend's reaction, thinking the situation over. Okay, Twilight, think. You've got to try and break the ice somehow. After a few minutes of pondering, a lightbulb-worthy look appeared on her face.

"Say, Trixie...why don't you tell us about yourself?"

The blue mare turned to her, clearly taken aback by that.

"Wha...didn't Trixie already tell you?"

Twilight nodded.

"You did. But I figured these two might want to know a little bit more about you, since you'll be living in Ponyville for a while."

Trixie turned to the others, both of whom wore looks that made it clear that they most definitely did not want to learn more about her. However, from the encouraging looks her mentor was giving her, it was obvious to Trixie that Twilight wasn't going to let up on this matter. So exhaling deeply, she began to speak up.

"Well...Trixie was born in Canterlot, first of all..."

That knowledge perked up Rarity's ears, to which Twilight had to resist the urge to smirk a little. I had a feeling that her being a Canterlot native would get Rarity interest. It did when she found out Spike and me were from there. But, she said nothing, as Trixie continued.

"...when she was old enough, Trixie auditioned for a role in Celestia's school for gifted unicorns. Naturally, she got in."

Although that remark earned another rolling of eyes from Applejack, Trixie's words nevertheless caught her interest.

"Wait...y'all were Celestia's student too? So y'all and Twi met before?"

Trixie shook her head.

"No. The school may be run by Celestia but she rarely teaches the students personally, save for a few classes here and there. Only her personal protégé's, like Twilight here, got to be tutored by her directly. As for others, like Trixie, we remain with the regular unicorn teachers. So...the two of us never met until recently."

Both Applejack and Rarity nodded at that, seeming to be far more interested than they first were at the unicorn's story. However, a look of curiosity appeared on Rarity's face as she thought of all of this.

"What of your parents? I imagine they were quite proud to have their daughter accepted into such a prestigious academy?"

Trixie's expression, in stark contrast to her usual demeanour, became a slightly pained one, and she looked away from the alabaster unicorn. Twilight, likewise, was looking rather uncomfortable with the way the conversation had gone. Rarity took on an expression of confusion as she looked to the two, and in time, Trixie finally managed to get her words out.

"Trixie...never knew her parents. She spent her childhood in an orphanage before enlisting with the school."

The looks on Rarity and Applejack's face made it clear that they knew they'd overstepped, and immediately, they looked to each other with guilty faces. Applejack especially seemed to have been saddened most by what she'd just heard, and Twilight looked to her with understanding. You know what it's like to grow up without a mother and father too, don't you, Applejack? However, like before, she remained silent, instead watching as Rarity cleared her throat a little before replying to Trixie.

"I'm...I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have..."

But she was stopped by a raised hoof from Trixie.

"No...it's fine. Trixie came to terms with it years ago. But...thank you, all the same."

Rarity looked to Trixie, seeing the soft expression on her face, and for the first time since this whole thing began, the two actually gave each other a genuine smile. Twilight, seeing this, couldn't help but smile herself. Well, we're heading in the right direction. I wish it could have avoided painful pasts to get there, but still, it's a start. After having thought that, Twilight looked up as Applejack began to speak up.

"So...how does a filly from Celestia's school end up on the road as a performer?"

Trixie let out a dry laugh at that.

"The lessons they taught at that school were hardly ground-breaking, Applejack. They were so...dull! Trixie wanted excitement! She wanted ponies to see her works and love them! And there was very little chance of me getting to know that by learning all the boring stuff they had to teach in the classroom. So, as soon as she was old enough, Trixie left Canterlot and headed out to her first performance. It was a small one at first, but ponies seemed to enjoy it. So...the rest is history."

Rarity raised an eyebrow.

"Well, I certainly can't look down on a self-made mare. But...if you never completed your training at the school, where did you learn all those fancy tricks you did at the show? Making flowers from nothing and all the rest of it?"

Trixie gained her usual look of pride, placing a hoof upon her chest.

"Why...Trixie taught herself, of course! It took a while...a long while actually...but she did!"

Despite the kind of boasting that had once earned Trixie such scorn from these two, now, they were looking at her with some semblance of genuine awe.

"Ya mean...y'all taught yerself? With no help from nopony?"

Trixie nodded, prompting the two mares to look to each other. In time, they looked to her once again, Rarity giving a sly smile.

"Well...if I may say so...colour me impressed."

The blue unicorn looked at them, clearly taken aback at actually being spoken to in that manner by them. However, eventually, she broke out into a smile, as did the other two. Trixie, to the surprise of all of them, seemed to look a little bit nervous about something, before eventually managing to get her words out.

"Um...would it be alright if...Trixie asked...a little bit about you two?"

Both Rarity and Applejack seemed genuinely shocked at having been asked that by her, as did Twilight for that matter. However, after giving each other a glance, the two mares smiled at Trixie, leaning forward and giving her a single nod, accepting her request. Twilight, seeing this, grinned widely. However, rather than say anything, she used her magic to levitate the now-empty cookie plate, gesturing to the others that she was going off to get more. As she moved off and into the kitchen, she looked back over her shoulder, seeing her friends, and her one-time rival, conversing with each other in a truly friendly manner. Giggling slightly at this, Twilight let out a sigh. It's just a start...but it's a good one.

Difficult Introductions

"Spike. Would you be so kind as to fetch us some more tea?"

The young dragon nodded enthusiastically as he leapt down from his chair, marching of with purpose as he made his way to the kitchen. Twilight was sitting beside the main table of the central chamber of the library, carefully sipping the last of her tea cup. But, unlike so many other quiet afternoons like this, she was not alone. For there, sitting opposite her, was a mare unlike anypony else in Ponyville. She bore stripes of black and white, was possessed of a striking mohawk mane and was adorned in several golden bracelets. On top of all that, she was wearing a simple brown robe, complete with hood, which was lowered down at this time. She was a zebra, which was a rare sight in any part of Equestria, and yet, Twilight looked upon her as she would an old friend. Then again, she sort of was. Smiling, Twilight looked to her companion.

"Thank you for all the help you've been giving me, Zecora. Without you, I doubt I'd have been able to find so many ingredients for my experiments."

The zebra mare smiled back at that.

"Your words are kind, but are not needed by me. For I would have helped anypony through the Everfree."

Twilight giggled at that. Its strange how used to that rhyming I got. Strange...but still sorely missed. Turning, Twilight watched as her young assistant returned, complete with a fresh tray of teacups. Using her magic, Twilight levitated the first of them in front of Zecora, who graciously accepted it before giving a respectful bow. As Twilight busied herself with her own tea, her mind was thinking many things over. I'd have been able to find what I needed even without her. But still, I had to make those introductions early if I was going to get my friends to warm up top her sooner. However, as she began to take another sip of her drink, Twilight's thoughts were interrupted by the distinct sound of somepony knocking on her door. Turning towards it, she smiled. Well, speak of the devil. Putting her cup down, Twilight walked over to her door and began to open it by way of her magic. Sure enough, all five of her friends were there, smiling warmly at her. As Twilight smiled back, Rarity was the first to speak.

"Good morning, Twilight. I know this is rather sudden, but we were wondering if you'd care to join us for tea at the Cakes' today?"

Twilight let out a brief giggle at that before shaking her head a little.

"Thanks for the offer, girls. But I'm afraid I'm already having a tea visit today."

That got their interest immediately, as all of them turned to each other with a great deal of curiosity upon their faces. Letting out a hearty laugh, Applejack stepped forward and spoke up next.

"Well shoot, sugarcube, why didn't ya say so? Care to introduce us?"

Oh Applejack, you have no idea. Clearing her throat, Twilight kept on smiling as she stood aside, raising a hoof and pointing it to her visitor.

"Girls. This is Zecora."

The striped mare smiled at Twilight's friends, giving another bow of her head in greeting. Turning, Twilight smiled faded somewhat as she saw, much like she expected, that her friends' smiles had all vanished. Instead, they looked to the zebra as if they'd just seen a ghost, with Pinkie and Fluttershy especially shaking where they stood. Others, like Rarity and Applejack, tried to open their mouths to speak, but found that they couldn’t, instead turning to each other, hoping that one of them would speak first. In time, a reaction did happen, but, much to Twilight's surprise, it wasn’t what she expected. Instead of speaking, Applejack lunged forward, grabbing both of Twilight's forehooves before pulling her out with one almighty yank. Immediately afterwards, Rarity used her own magic to slam the door closed. After recovering from this pull, Twilight, now outside with her friends, looked at them with utter confusion, even though, deep down, she knew what this was about.

"Wha...what's going on?"

Applejack approached her, placing a hoof squarely towards her door as she spoke.

"Twilight! Don't y'all know who it is ya got in there?"

The young unicorn turned to her door before looking back to her friend, eyebrow raised.

"Yes...it's Zecora. Just like I said a moment ago."

She looked to each of them with an expression that made it clear that she wanted them to explain their behaviour. Many of them seemed to have difficulty getting the words out, but eventually, Rainbow Dash, in her usual manner, simply blurted it out.

"Exactly! It’s Zecora! She's dangerous!"

Twilight frowned at that.

"Zecora is nothing of the sort! I've been with her to the Everfree many times now and..."

But, Twilight was stopped from finishing by Rarity, who gasped at her words before speaking up herself.

"Darling! You...you've been going into the Everfree?! With nopony but...but...her?!"

Twilight turned to her fellow unicorn, still frowning.

"Yes, I have. She's the one who's been helping me find alchemical ingredients for my experiments. I don't know what you think of her, but I assure you, she's just like any of us."

Pinkie bounced out of nowhere, getting right up to Twilight's face, before throwing her own words into the mix.

"She is most definitely not like us! I even wrote a song about it!"

The pink mare opened her mouth wide, taking in a massive gulp of air, ready to bellow out what Twilight knew was an irritating, yet somehow incredibly catchy musical number. However, Twilight was too quick for her, stopping her with a hoof to her mouth, leaving Pinkie looking like a squirrel trying to store nuts in its cheeks for the winter. Moments later, Twilight released her, allowing Pinkie to let out all of that air. Sighing at this, Twilight looked to her friends.

"Look...I realise that Zecora might not be what you're all used to seeing, given that it's mostly just been ponies out here. But she's a good mare, I promise you."

The looks on their faces made it clear to Twilight that they weren't entirely convinced. If I had to guess, I'd say they're just humouring me at this point. Frowning yet again, Twilight took a deep breath and exhaled, her irritation dropping from the effort. The calming trick. Always works. Mental note, remember to thank Cadence for that later...after she's taught it to me of course. Putting her attention on her friends again, Twilight spoke up to them.

"Okay, tell you what. If you can tell me one thing, and I mean one thing Zecora has done to you or anypony else in this town, I'll believe you when you say she's a problem."

Realising that they'd been given a way to convince her, they all looked to each other with looks of determination. Clearing her throat, Rarity went first.

"Well, dear, there was the time she came into town and dug a hole in the street!"

Twilight stood there in silence for a few moments, before raising an eyebrow.


Rarity opened her mouth to reply, only to be struck with a look of uncertainty.


Although taken aback that the torch had been passed to her, the earth pony tried wracking her brain for an answer to give Twilight.

"Well...er...she comes off as real scary like!"

Twilight's eyebrow was, as expected, kept all the way up at that.

"So was Luna at one point, yet I don't hear you complaining about me being friends with her."

Applejack's expression at this point was a clear "I hadn't thought of that" look, and she turned to Fluttershy, who, as one would predict, couldn't even get a single word out after becoming the centre of attention. She, in turn, looked to Rainbow, who had no such qualms about speaking up.

"She lives all the way in that creepy Everfree Forest. Even you gotta know that after having spent so much time with her!"

Twilight nodded.

"Indeed. She truly does live in a forest filled with dangerous wildlife, where no sane pony would want to be for too long."

Rainbow's chest swelled out with pride, perhaps thinking that she'd finally convinced Twilight. However, that look soon faded with Twilight’s next words.

"Then again...maybe the reason she can live there is not because she's weird enough...but rather brave enough. After all, a mare who can live near manticores, giant alligators and chimeras has got to be pretty fearless, like an adventurer, or daredevil."

Rainbow's eyes widened at that, thinking over her friend's words. It was a sight Twilight couldn't help but smirk at. Look at her. She got the same way when she realised how impressive Daring Do books are. Now, with all of her friends having said what they could, they looked to each other. Some were disappointed that they couldn't come up with a convincing argument, while others actually seemed ashamed, for which Twilight understood. They've probably never had anypony talk to them about this before. Now that they have to put their dislike into words, they realise there's no reason. I know getting rid of a prejudice you've lived with for so long can't be wiped away with one conversation, but even so, first steps like this are vital all the same. Exhaling deeply, Twilight stepped forward, gaining the attention of all of them, before speaking up.

"Look...I understand that accepting new and different things can be difficult. Believe me, I felt something similar when I first arrived in Ponyville. I was an outsider, and like Zecora, some of you treated me with suspicion for a time..."

Rainbow looked away at that, looking more than a little ashamed, before Twilight continued.

"...and yet, you eventually accepted me as one of your own. Zecora is a good person. And...I want you to trust me on this."

The other mares all looked to each other yet again, seeing the uncertainty they all expressed. Twilight watched each of them, seeing the silent glances they all gave each other, before they finally turned to her. There were no words for a time, but eventually, Applejack gave a single nod, an unspoken acceptance of what she'd asked of them. Twilight gave a small smile at that and finally, after all this time, turned around and opened her door again. Walking inside, she looked on as Spike and Zecora were still sitting beside the table, watching her enter with some degree of concern.

"Twilight? Is everything okay?" Spike asked.

Twilight nodded at that.

"Everything's fine, Spike."

Turning, Twilight stood aside as each of her friends entered, all of whom were looking nervously at Zecora. As for the latter, she simply smiled warmly at each of them, though watched them carefully all the same. I wonder if she always suspected their fear of her, Twilight thought. Taking a step forward, Twilight stood between her friends and Zecora, clearing her throat.

"Zecora...these are my friends."

The zebra got up, giving yet another bow in greeting. Hesitantly, the other mares gave her a simple wave, before Twilight, in an irritated manner, poked Applejack on her side, gesturing with her head towards Zecora. After letting out a nervous cough, Applejack finally got some words out.

"So...er...how y'all doin?"

Zecora smiled at that.

"I am well, can you not tell?"

Twilight giggled slightly as she saw her friends each react in their own way to discovering Zecora's unique way of speaking. Don't worry, Twilight, if you can get your friends to like Trixie, you can get them to like Zecora too. Besides, at least this, way, I don't have to put up with a floppy horn all day. However, as Twilight’s friends began to approach their new acquaintance, her own expression became somewhat more serious, as she looked out of her door once more, gazing up at the sky. It’s important I get this matter settled. Because it won’t be long before Celestia’s visit. Thinking that over, Twilight let out a sigh. And when that happens…there’ll be things I need to speak with her about.

The Princess' Visit

"Well, Twilight...what do you think?"

The young unicorn sat there as Rarity's question sank in. She was there with her, in the Carousel Boutique, right in the room where Rarity created all of her dresses. But the two of them were not alone here today. For there, in-between them, was Rainbow Dash, looking very unhappy. And it didn't take a genius to figure out why. For at this moment, the cyan pegasus was wearing one of Rarity's creations, a massive dress that would not be out-of-place at a centuries-old royal ball, complete with a massive white wig. Being barely able to move in the thing, Rainbow was, understandably, quite frustrated with her predicament. As for Rarity, she was simply pointing to the outfit she made, beaming at it while waiting for Twilight to give her answer. Twilight, during all of this, looked at the thing and felt, quite frankly, stuck. I know Rarity has a real eye for fashion...so I'm left wondering how she could ever have thought something like this would ever be remotely pleasing to look at, much less wear. I know she has a thing for nobility and all, but there is such a thing as going overboard with it. However, knowing her friend was waiting for an answer, Twilight simply cleared her throat before giving one.

"It's...definitely a sight."

Rarity, perhaps oblivious to the unspoken implications of her friend's words, squealed with joy over her assessment of it, turning to Rainbow and, much to the latter's chagrin, started tightening the dress even more. While Rainbow gasped for air, Rarity continued to smile for Twilight.

"Yes, I’m rather proud of it myself! I'm hoping to showcase it during the Princess' visit today."

Twilight's eyes narrowed at that. Yes...the visit. Today is when it happens, and when it does...she and I need to have words. However, Twilight buried that thought for the time being, putting on a smile as her alabaster friend turned to her once more. However, before either of them could say anything else, they turned as they heard the door open. There she is, Twilight thought. Sure enough, it was Fluttershy, walking in and looking as if she was very happy about something. And I know what it is. However, Twilight kept on smiling as her shy friend approached the group, before finally laying eyes on Rainbow Dash.

"Oh my! I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

Rainbow opened her mouth, perhaps ready to plead for help in this situation, but was silenced as Rarity tightened the dress yet again. As Rainbow continued to struggle against her clothing, Rarity and Twilight walked up to Fluttershy.

"Oh darling! You're just in time I was hoping you could help me with...um...oh my!"

Fluttershy saw the look on Rarity’s face, how she seemed to be transfixed on something just behind her. Turning around, Fluttershy broke out into a smile as she saw that it was a small object moving in her pink mane. Twilight, by contrast, narrowed her eyes at it. Okay, here it comes. As expected, moments later, a small creature popped out of the pegasus mare's mane. A tiny ball, with wings like a dragonfly and possessing massive eyes. Immediately, Rarity began squealing with delight over the tiny thing.

"Oh, but that is just the sweetest little thing I've ever seen in my life!"

Fluttershy, beaming at that remark, began nuzzling the tiny creature.

"Isn't he, though? I found him while I was picking flowers by the Everfree."

While both her, Rarity and even Rainbow began to look at the creature with interest, Twilight walked up to her friend whilst scowling at it. Noticing this, Fluttershy looked up to Twilight with curiosity, prompting Twilight to let out a sigh before speaking.

"Fluttershy...that creature can't stay in Ponyville."

As expected, the yellow pegasus let out an "eep" at that, and the other two looked to Twilight with raised eyebrows.

"What?! Why not?" Rainbow asked.

Twilight pointed her hoof straight at the small passenger in Fluttershy's mane.

"It's a parasprite. I've heard about them before. If you let them in here, pretty soon we'll have swarms of them eating crops and everypony's food. They multiply out of control, and we need to get it back to the Everfree before it's too late!"

Rainbow chuckled at that, as did Rarity. Fluttershy, but contrast, looked at Twilight with worry.

"But...but...it's all alone! We can't just let it go to that dangerous place!"

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped by a sudden buzzing from Fluttershy's mane. The latter looked down and saw, to her shock, that there were now three parasprites emerging from her mane, buzzing about around her head after leaving it. Seeing this, both of the other mares stopped laughing, before turning to Twilight.

"Er...what was that you said about multiplying, darling?" Rarity enquired.

Twilight turned from her to Fluttershy, and saw, as always, that she was regarding these creatures with the same motherly concern she did to all of her animals. Tough love, Fluttershy. Trust me, you'll come to understand that yourself one day. Stepping forward, she gently placed a hoof upon her friend's shoulder.

"Fluttershy...I need you to listen to me. These creatures can't be here in Ponyville. They belong in the Everfree. They can survive out there, trust me. You're not dooming them by letting them go there."

The timid mare looked form Twilight, to the parasprites, and then back to Twilight, looking deep in thought over what she'd been told. This'll be hard for her, but she has to bear it, Twilight thought. In time, Fluttershy gained a look of sadness, looking away from her friend somewhat.

"If...if you think it’s for the best, then...do it."

Twilight exhaled after hearing that, putting on a small smile for her friend. I'm sorry, Fluttershy. But there are some animals that were not meant to ever be near ponies. Slowly, Fluttershy began to step away from the three tiny parasprites, as did Rarity and Rainbow. Stepping forward, Twilight narrowed her eyes at them, who all looked at her in that oblivious way that only insects could do. Concentrating, her horn began to glow, and in mere moments, it wasn't long before the bugs were bathed in her aura. There was a brief flash of light and, when it died down, everypony saw that the parasprites had vanished. Seeing this, Twilight let out a sigh of relief. Back to the Everfree, where they belong. I can feel it now. My teleportation spells are working better and better these days. Turning, she looked out of the still-open doors of the boutique. I hope my message got out to the Mayor of Fillydelphia. With any luck, they'll take my advice on-board to deal with their own infestation. The last thing I need is for Celestia's visit to be cut short this time around. However, she then looked to her friend, Fluttershy, who was staring at the ground, still quite saddened by this. Approaching her, Twilight placed a hoof upon her shoulder, before giving her a smile.

"Don't worry, Fluttershy...they'll be alright."

It took a while, but Fluttershy eventually broke out into a similar smile, nodding in response to Twilight's words. However, the moment was interrupted rather suddenly, as a pink blur zoomed in past all of them, taking them aback and leading to Fluttershy letting out another "eep" of fear. Turning, Twilight saw that it was Pinkie Pie, who was currently panting furiously.

"You...guys! It's...the...Princess!"

Twilight's eyes widened at that. She's here? Already? But the visit wasn't supposed to happen until tomorrow! Turning, Twilight immediately began galloping out of the boutique, with Pinkie Pie in-tow. Rainbow, desperate to get out at this point, practically ripped herself out of her dress to fly off, much to Rarity's horror. Fuming, the white unicorn galloped after her, and it wasn't long before Fluttershy also joined them. With the five on the move, they made their way through the main street of Ponyville, where they soon bumped into Applejack. There were no words shared between them, but one nod from her made it clear to Twilight that she too had heard the news. With all of her friends now together, Twilight led the charge, running off towards the edge of the town, where Celestia was due to land. Many of the other ponies watched them go, looking nervous as the rumours of an early visit began to spread. In time, Twilight and the others reached their destination, and just in time. For there, flying straight to Ponyville, was the golden chariot of Celestia, pulled by the traditional pair of pegasus royal guards.

"This is it," Twilight thought out loud.

Turning to her friends, she gave a solemn nod before looking back to the skies. In just under a minute afterwards, Celestia's chariot made landfall, and soon came to a halt afterwards. Twilight and the others instinctively gave a sweeping bow in greeting to their monarch, and as Celestia walked off her chariot and towards them, she regarded each of them carefully. None more so that Twilight, who even now felt a slight chill go down her spine. You'd think I'd have grown out of feeling nervous around her after so many years. However, it was here that Twilight's thoughts were interrupted by the distinct sound of somepony clearing their throat. Looking up, Twilight saw that Celestia was smiling down on her. In stark contrast to how the two had last left each other, Twilight too began to smile, lifting herself up from her bow. It was not long before her friends followed suit, and with all of them here, Celestia finally broke the silence.

"My student...it has been a while."

Twilight nodded at that.

"Likewise, Princess."

For a moment, Celestia actually seemed surprised at the warmth in which Twilight had spoken to her. Nevertheless, Celestia continued to watch her student with her usual affection.

"I apologise for arriving so early, but Luna offered to take on some extra duties today. As such, I found myself with a whole extra day to spend here. I hope this won't be too much of an issue for you?"

Twilight shook her head.

"No, not at all! We here in Ponyville would be honoured to have you here with us."

Looking up, Celestia watched as each of Twilight's friends nodded enthusiastically at those words. However, as she looked back down, she saw, to her confusion, that Twilight seemed to be uncomfortable about something. However, rather than enquire outright about it, Celestia remained silent, instead waiting for her student to speak up of her own accord. As for Twilight, her mind was racing. I know what I need to say, but...not here. Not while the others are watching. After a few false starts, Twilight looked up at her mentor yet again, her voice filled with nervousness.

"Um...Princess? Would it be alright if I had a word with you...in private?"

Celestia seemed quite taken aback by that request, as indeed were all of Twilight's friends. It took a few moments of uncomfortable silence, but eventually, the monarch of the sun gave a single, serious nod, giving her student the permission she needed. Nodding back, Twilight immediately turned around, and began walking back in the direction she'd come from, with Celestia not far behind her. The guards began to join them, but a single look from the Princess made it clear that they were to remain where they were for the time being. The other mares watched as their lavender friend and the Princess walked off, a look of concern crossing some of their faces. As Twilight and Celestia continued to walk through the town, they earned more than their fair share of odd looks. After all, this was the Princess in Ponyville, so this sort of thing was to be expected. Eventually, the two of them reached the Golden Oak Library, and Twilight opened the door before stepping aside, allowing Celestia in first. Entering, the Princess looked around, a small smile forming upon her face.

"I do believe this is the first time I've been in here. It suits you, Twilight."

Twilight smiled at that, but only briefly, for as she closed the door behind her, she walked right past Celestia, her mind still awash with everything she was planning to do and say. Celestia, during all of this, remained quiet, letting her student have all the time she needed to get her words out. After a massive length of silence, the young unicorn finally began to speak, and when she did, Celestia was surprised to hear a wobble in her voice.

"I...I...I need to say..."

Twilight spun around, and to Celestia's utter shock, she saw that tears had begun flowing down her cheeks.

"...I'm so sorry!"

Before the Princess could react, Twilight leapt forward, embracing her teacher in a warm hug. Although confused at this sudden behaviour, Celestia nevertheless began to get emotional herself, though not to the extent that Twilight was. Tears were there, but they did not fall. And, in that caring and nurturing way she was famous for, Celestia's wings stretched forward, holding Twilight close.

"Oh, my dear student...what's wrong?"

Twilight pulled away from her slightly, her cheeks still stained with tears.

"I'm just...I'm sorry! Everything I've said and done to you! Disobeying your commands! Talking to you like you were a stranger! I'm...I'm just sorry for all of it!"

Celestia looked down at her protégé, smiling warmly as she did so.

"Oh, Twilight. There's no need for apologies. You haven’t done anything wrong. You've gone through a lot of changes recently. I can't expect you to be the exact same kind of mare that you were when you left Canterlot. Whatever thing you think you did wrong, I assure you, it's nothing to get this upset about."

But, contrary to what Celestia might have expected, her words did not soothe Twilight. If anything, it made her feel worse. She doesn't know. And like an idiot I chose to keep it from her! I isolate myself in my lab, making my plans, trying to change the future, and all the while I let those memories of the future poison the kind of connection we had. But no more! I swear it. I allowed myself to let a rift form between me and her, and while she can’t see it...she will now. Looking up at her teacher yet again, Twilight shook her head at her words.

"No, Princess. I am a different kind of mare. More different than you could possibly understand. There's...there's something about me I haven't told you about. Something I should have told you from the start."

Celestia tilted her head, looking more than a little confused at Twilight's words. Taking a deep breath, the young unicorn steeled herself, looking at Celestia with determination blazing in her eyes.

"I'm going to tell you...everything."


If somepony were asked to describe the perfect definition for the word "uncomfortable", the image they'd have in mind would not be too far from what was now transpiring in the Golden Oak Library. Twilight sat at her table, staring at her mentor, Princess Celestia, who was sitting opposite her. There was a definite silence between them as they looked into each other's eyes. Celestia, through all this, had the most profound look of shock Twilight had ever seen her wear, while she herself looked more than a little ashamed, not only for what she'd just done, but for everything that had happened until that point. Well...it's done. I've told her. She knows why I've been acting so different. She knows why I've been going against her requests and all the rest of it. How is she going to react to this? From the looks of things, I'd say it won't be a happy response. I just...I just wish she would speak to me. But then, almost as if the universe itself had heard her, Celestia finally broke the silence, clearing her throat somewhat before speaking up at long last.

"The...the future?"

Twilight nodded at that, her gaze straying from that of her mentor. After a few more moments of silence, Twilight heard Celestia let out a long sigh.

"Forgive me, Twilight...it's just...this is a lot to take in."

I'm not going to speak up yet. Not until she's finished what she has to say to me, Twilight thought. It did not take long for her teacher to continue afterwards.

"Well...at the very least, this explains everything that's been going on with you. But, I must confess, I never expected this to be the reason."

Looking down at the ground, Twilight finally spoke, albeit in a hushed tone.

"Are you angry with me?"

Celestia looked at her, with her expression making it clear that she was deep in thought over this matter.

"It depends. There are a few questions I need to ask you."

Twilight looked up at her teacher, her eyes almost pleading with her.

"Yes! Please, I'll answer any question you have!"

Celestia raised a hoof, tempering her student's enthusiasm for the moment. After thinking over things for a while, Celestia composed herself before starting the first of her questions.

"First and foremost...why did you accept the offer?"

With her ears drooping, Twilight regained her previous look of shame, her voice quiet as she answered.

"I...I just...I thought it would be a good opportunity for me. My future self was offering so much, and not just memories. To know spells and histories I’d never even heard of. I..."

But, she was stopped by another raised hoof from Celestia, who, to Twilight's surprise, actually smiled a little at her student's words.

"There she is. There's the Twilight I know and love. You took a massive risk...all so you could learn more? I suppose I should have predicted that was the answer."

In spite of how tense this moment had started out, Twilight actually giggled a little, her heart lifting, albeit only briefly. Clearing her throat yet again, Celestia continued.

"Alright then. Your future self...why did she do this?"

That caused Twilight's smile to fade completely, and she looked away, not wanting to look her teacher in the eye.

"She...she'd grown angry. Angry and hurt. Ever since becoming an alicorn and a Princess, she felt as if she bore the weight of the whole world on her shoulders. She lived on for so long...watching friends, family, everypony she knew and cared about grow old and die. And all the while, she was expected to lead. She was expected to be the one others looked to for guidance, even after so much grief had piled on in her heart."

Celestia looked away as her student explained herself, though Twilight didn't take long to figure out why. Celestia and the others have been alicorns far longer than I would be. She probably knows this feeling better than anypony. Even in spite of that knowledge, Twilight continued, though this time, she seemed far more uncomfortable about it.

"In time, she...she began to blame you."

That caught Celestia's attention, and she turned back to Twilight, watching and listening intently.

"She saw you as the one who put her on that path, and thus, the one who caused all the heartache she’d endured. So...she vowed never to have anything to do with you anymore."

Celestia looked down at the table before her, with her expression becoming one of obvious pain. Seeing this, Twilight reached forward, lacing a hoof upon hers.

"I'm sorry! I wish the truth was something else, I really do, but..."

But, she was stopped once more by a glance from Celestia.

"No, my student. You have nothing to apologise for. Those feelings are the feelings of somepony else. They are not your feelings."

Twilight began to form tears in her eyes, and shortly afterwards she began to shake her head.

"But they are my thoughts! Or...the thoughts of the mare I'll become! Ever since I agreed to this, it's like...it's like I've been walking around with a whole other mare inside my head. Somepony who isn't me, and yet...is me. It's been...so difficult to separate what I feel about you and what she felt."

Celestia raised an eyebrow at that.

"Is that why you wanted to come clean to me about that?"

Twilight, with her eyes still welling up, gave a single nod.

"Yes. These memories of the future...they've been like a rot. Tainting the way I see you. I didn't want that. I guess...I just wanted to prove, to myself if nopony else...that I'm not willing to let those thoughts make me hate you."

Celestia considered that for a few moments before, to Twilight's relief, breaking out into a small smile.

"My student...that you have come forward to me about this is proof enough that you meant only the best."

Although feeling a great deal of tension leave her at those words, Twilight nevertheless remained nervous in her demeanour. Wanting to put her at ease, Celestia sighed a little before continuing with her questions.

"Tell me...what did your future self hope to accomplish with all this? Did she, perhaps, wish to avert the future deaths of your friends?"

Twilight shook her head.

"No. In the years to come, my friends don't pass because of some great battle, nor terrible monster nor even in a fight against any force of evil. It was just...time. In the end...it was simply old age that claimed them. Them...and every other friend that future Twilight made afterwards. And she knew, even with her great power, that nothing could change that, not even knowing about it ahead of time."

Celestia tilted her head, showing clear confusion.

"But...if she knew that...then why do this?"

Twilight looked down at the ground, a look of sadness filling her eyes.

"As time passed...she came to look upon these early years of her life in Ponyville as the happiest in her life. No matter what came before or afterwards, this was the time she viewed as the most beloved, the most sacred in her eyes. But, in her later life, she came to dwell on all the bad, all the negative. She regretted not embracing the friendships as much as she should have done. She regretted every missed opportunity. She...she wanted to do it again, knowing how precious those moments were, and to appreciate the time she spent with her friends, more than she did the first time."

Celestia frowned slightly, though still looking a little confused.

"So...she used this great spell...risked changing the entire history of Equestria...just to make you love and appreciate your friends more?"

Although looking somewhat ashamed, Twilight nevertheless nodded. She kept her gaze away from Celestia, imagining all the things going through her head. She'll be angry with me, I know it! She'll say I was irresponsible with time, that I risked too much for something so comparatively small. And she's right! Future me knows that her time her was good, but she overlooked all of it because she just wasn't satisfied. Celestia will be so disappointed in how I turned out! But, to Twilight's utter shock, she heard no anger nor a berating voice from her mentor, but rather, laughter. Raising an eyebrow, Twilight looked up, seeing Celestia put a hoof to her mouth to stifle the giggles that were coming out of her. Seeing the look of confusion upon her student's face, Celestia calmed herself down a little before explaining herself.

"Oh, Twilight. Do forgive me, but...that is so...you!"

Twilight looked taken aback by that, prompting Celestia to explain herself.

"Using magic that powerful, trying to re-write history...just so you could get it better the second time around. If there is a more Twilight-y thing out there, I don't know of it."

With her eyes shifting a bit, Twilight, while still looking apprehensive, began to speak up in a quiet tone.

"So...you're not angry with me?"

Wiping away the last tear that had come with her laughter, Celestia shook her head.

"No, my dear student. I know now why you've been the way you've been lately. Everything that's happened has all been because of your love for your friends, and wanting what's best for them. If anything, I'm proud that you regarded such connections so highly. Though, I'll be the first to admit that I would never have expected you to go this far for them."

A brief giggle escaped Twilight at that, but it died down a little as a new thought came to mind for her.

"So...what should I do now? I still have all this knowledge, and all those memories. What path should I take?"

Celestia's smile faded after hearing that question, and she raised a hoof to her chin and pondered that question. After a minute or two of silence, a small smile appeared on her face as she spoke up.

"Well, firstly, I want you to know that I don't want to know it myself...nor do I think you should tell your friends."

Twilight's eyes widened with shock after hearing that.

"But...I trust you and my friends with my life! Why wouldn't I tell you or them about all the things I know?"

Celestia's expression became one of seriousness as she answered.

"Because you should know by now that knowledge of the future can be a dangerous prospect. Having one pony know it is one thing, but many? There is little telling what damage could be wrought if such things were to be known. As for me...well...for me, it's simply a case of not wanting any surprises spoiled."

In spite of herself, Twilight giggled yet again at her mentor's rather jovial approach to the whole thing. But that laughter stopped when Celestia spoke again.

"As for you...I know you've been using this foreknowledge to do what you think is right. Your goal in this, right from the start, is to use the memories and powers you've gained to help others, your friends most of all. I can think of nopony better than you to bear such a task. So, if you are willing, then continue in your quest, Twilight. I have the uttermost confidence that you will succeed in making the future brighter than how your future self left it."

In moments, Twilight felt her heart lift. I...I have her blessing. She doesn't hate me and she thinks I'm doing the right thing. She let out a sigh. I can't remember the last time I felt this relieved over something. Smiling up at her teacher, Twilight watched as Celestia finally got up from her chair, walking around to gently place a hoof upon her shoulder.

"It will be most interesting to see what path you set for history, Twilight. And through it all, I want you to know that I trust you completely to make the right choices here."

Still smiling, Twilight once more began to form tears in her eyes. Though this time, they were tears of joy, as she leapt forward and embraced her teacher in a warm hug, one which Celestia gladly returned.

"Always remember this, Twilight. You became my student, not just because of your skill in magic, but because I could see the kind of mare you'd become. I saw compassion, a willingness to help others above yourself, a burning desire to do what was right. Those were the qualities that drew me to you, and those are the qualities that I know will make you the perfect mare to carry what you know."

Twilight pulled away slightly, tears still streaming down her face as she smiled.

"Thank you, Princess. But...erm...will you tell Luna I’m sorry for blocking her out of my mind? I'd tell her myself, but..."

Celestia smiled back and nodded.

"Of course. She'll understand when I explain the situation. And I assure you that, like me, she can keep a secret this big."

Nodding back, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief, and the two parted fully from their hug. Well...that went a lot better than I expected. But then, this is Celestia after all. I guess I was kinda silly to think she'd outright reject me or something because of this. Looking around, Twilight gazed out of the window and out into the streets of Ponyville. I guess a lot of ponies out there will be wondering what I'm doing with her in here. Better get back out there before they get worried. Turning back to Celestia, Twilight put on a smile as she began to lead her monarch towards the door. However, before she reached it, there was, to her surprise, a knocking sound. Although confused as to who it was, that confusion soon disappeared as Twilight used her magic to open the door, revealing that it was none other than Trixie waiting on the other side.

"Sorry for interrupting, Miss Twilight, but Trixie was wondering if...she...could..."

After just one second of looking past Twilight, and seeing who it was that was with her in the library, Trixie immediately prostrated herself on the ground, much to Twilight's slight amusement.

"Trixie apologises for disturbing you, Princess Celestia! Please forgive her!"

Twilight gave herself a well-earned face-hoof at that, and Celestia briefly laughed before a look of recognition crossed her face.

"Wait...don't I know you?"

Trixie looked up briefly, but then went right back to staring at the ground.

"Um...Trixie is nopony important, your majesty."

Twilight seemed shocked at those words. Did Trixie just say she wasn't important? Wow, that's a pretty big thing for her to have said. Then again, Celestia always did have that kind of effect on ponies. However, Twilight remained silent as the Princess stepped forward.

"Yes...I remember you. You were one of the students at my school some years ago, weren't you?"

Slowly, the former show-mare got up onto her hooves, still looking nervous at being near the Princess, but nevertheless shocked to hear that she recognised her.

"Er...yes, your majesty. Though it is Twilight that I now call my teacher these days."

Oh, right. I guess I have left a few things out of my explanations to Celestia. Gaining a blush, Twilight slowly turned, seeing combination of mischievousness and curiosity upon Celestia's face.

"Well well, a student of your own? I see you've indeed been getting up to all sorts of things in your time here, haven't you, Twilight? I hope you'll be sure to tell me about all the rest of it."

Letting out a brief and nervous laugh, Twilight soon calmed herself, looking up at her teacher and, for the first time in a very long time, looked comfortable around her.

"Of course, Princess."

Last Day of Winter

The cold air blew on her face as she smiled, staring up into the sky. It's strange. You plan for the days of winter to come along, and then, before you know it, they're gone, ready for warmth to come again. A brief chortle escaped her as that thought sank in. It's a good thing I keep thoughts like that to myself. If I started speaking stuff like that out loud, people might start thinking of me like a mini-Celestia. Looking down from the sky, Twilight looked out upon Ponyville before her, currently covered in snow. Everypony there was garbed in their winter clothes, scarves and the like, and everywhere she turned, she saw the three separate groups ready to begin their assigned tasks. Animal care, snow ploughing, preparing the weather. All these things and more were needed before everypony was able to send winter away, and usher in the new spring. Letting out a sigh, Twilight began to walk towards the centre of town. There's to be no blunders this time. No attempts to try and fail at these other tasks. Without my magic, I am suited to one thing above all else.


Turning, Twilight smiled as she saw Spike running towards her, a single blue scarf wrapped around his neck. When he reached her, he took a few moments to catch his breath before speaking up again.

"I've been looking all over for you. Whatcha up to?"

Twilight turned from her assistant and towards the direction of the town hall.

"I'm going to speak to the Mayor. There's something important I need to discuss with her."

Spike nodded at that.

"Is it alright if I come with you? Nopony else seems to need me right now."

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

"I thought you were going off to help Rarity with her nest-building?"

A sudden look of embarrassment crossed the young dragon's face as he heard that.

"Yeah...about that."

He looked up at Twilight, who was clearly waiting for an answer. Before he gave one however, he took out a handkerchief from within his scarf and blew into his nose. Even after pulling the cloth back, he was still dripping like an untightened water tap.

"Well...you know this cold I've got? It kinda flared up when I was helping her and...well...let's just say that nests and sneeze-induced flames don't mix well."

Slapping a hoof to her forehead, Twilight couldn't help but laugh in an embarrassed manner, to which Spike soon found himself joining in on, despite his worry over the situation. After her laughter had died down, Twilight leaned forward, gently nuzzling her head against the side of Spike's.

"Of course you can come with me. There's nopony I'd rather have with me today."

Spike beamed at that, hugging her warmly, after which the two began to make their way over to the town hall. During the journey, they saw several of their friends working with their respective groups here and there. Applejack was leading the other earth ponies to get their equipment ready for the ploughing, Fluttershy on her own trying to coax the various animals out of their hibernation holes, and every once in a while they'd catch a glimpse of Pinkie Pie, skating about as she headed towards the local ponds. Smiling at all this, Twilight nevertheless remained focused on her goal. Had I joined in like I'm supposed to, it’d just be a disaster. It's shameful, really, that I was so helpless without my magic. Still, I guess I'd never have realised my other talent if I hadn't gone through it all. In time, the two of them finally found their way to the hall, and as expected, the Mayor was outside, speaking to a number of team leaders. As Twilight approached, she saw, even from this distance, that the Mayor was looking more than a little stressed. Believe me, Mayor, I know how tense a leadership role can be. Still...it occurs to me how stressful her job must have been with all the disasters Ponyville has played host to over the years. I shudder to think how much paperwork she's got stuffed in her office for all of that.

Soon enough, the young unicorn and her assistant finally reached the Mayor, just after the other team members had been sent off elsewhere. The Mayor, understandably, let out a deep breath of air before raising a hoof to her temples to nurse some kind of headache. Now there's a familiar sight, Twilight thought. Although not wanting to disturb what had to be the only moment of peace the Mayor had experienced today, Twilight nevertheless cleared her throat, gaining her attention. Seeing Ponyville's librarian before her, the Mayor quickly composed herself before putting on a smile.

"Oh! Miss Twilight! What a pleasure to see you! Is there something I can help with?"

Twilight smiled at that.

"Actually, I was hoping if I could help you!"

Although slightly confused at that offer, the Mayor still kept on smiling.

"Thank you, Twilight, but I already have almost everypony in town contributing to clearing up the winter. One more set of hooves isn't really going to put much of a dent in the work."

The young unicorn gave a nod.

"I understand. But I was actually considering helping with...well...your side of things."

The Mayor raised an eyebrow at that, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"Look...I know you don't want this to be known, but I know Ponyville has been behind on its winter schedule for the last few years..."

The older mare's eyes widened with horror upon hearing that, which was something Twilight understood. One thing leaders don't like is when problems in their administration become public knowledge. Even so, Twilight carried on.

"...but that's not your fault. Everypony knows you're doing the best you can with a hard job. That's why I'm here. I know you don't want any other winters to go badly, so I figured you could use some assistance."

The Mayor looked away slightly, not wanting to look Twilight in the eye.

"I just...there's always so much to do...and everypony always expects me to be on top of it. But this town...it's like a magnet for trouble. Just today we've had ten ponies unavailable because of sickness and we've had a shortage of materials for the nests. I just...I don't want everypony thinking I'm..."

She didn't finish her words, but then, she didn't need to, for Twilight understood immediately what was going on in the older mare's head. You don't want people to think their leader has let them down. Believe me, I know that feeling more than you know. However, after letting out a sigh, Twilight approached the Mayor and placed a hoof upon her shoulder, gaining her attention.

"It's fine. Something I told my friend Applejack once...there's no shame in asking for help when you need it."

There was silence between the two for a while, and for a brief moment, Twilight wondered if the Mayor would still reject her offer of assistance. But, much to Twilight's relief, the other mare's expression softened, and she put on a more genuine smile.

"Alright...I'll give you a shot. But this is not an easy task, Twilight. Do you think you can handle it?"

Twilight giggled slightly at that.

"I was once tasked with re-organizing the entire royal library of Canterlot. If I could pull that off, then I assure you, I can handle your winter."

The Mayor let out a dry laugh at that, though still smiling.

"If you succeed in this, I promise you that you'll have the biggest post-winter party we can throw!"

Twilight's eyes widened at that.


The Mayor was greatly taken aback by that, as was Spike, leading to Twilight laughing nervously before clearing her throat.

"Um...thank you, but I don't need any celebration for this. Helping Ponyville is all the reward I need."

The Mayor regarded the younger mare for a moment before smiling and shaking her head.

"First the cow stampede, and now this? Humility is a fine thing, Twilight, but don't be afraid to let others show you a little appreciation every once in a while."

Twilight considered that for a moment before smiling at the Mayor yet again.

"Has anypony ever told you that you're pretty wise when you need to be?"

The Mayor rolled her eyes.

"Not nearly enough, if you ask me."

In spite of the stress the older mare had been feeling some time ago, both she and Twilight laughed together at that little joke, after which the Mayor sighed and went over to a nearby table, grabbing a single clip-board from it and returning to Twilight with it. Twilight looked at it, and understood. The list of things needed for winter to be wrapped-up successfully. She gave an appreciative smile to the Mayor before levitating the board out of the latter's hooves with her magic. The Mayor nodded in appreciation to the unicorn before turning around, ready to go back to the town hall. Spike, having been silent this whole time, gestured to Twilight that he wanted to follow the other mare. Guess he wants to help her with paperwork or something, Twilight mused. Well, nopony is better suited to that kind of help than Spike, and the Mayor probably needs all the help she can get with that right now. Nodding, Twilight gave Spike the permission he needed, and soon, the young dragon was running off to join the Mayor in her hall. Smiling at that, Twilight turned around, looking upon the rest of Ponyville with her head held high.

"Prepare yourself, Ponyville...winter is leaving."

Crusaders Rise

"Darling, what in Equestria are were going here for?"

Twilight let out a brief chortle at her friend's question as the two of them began to make their way towards Sweet Apple Acres, passing by many a laden apple tree as they walked.

"Applejack invited me over for lunch today, and I figured this would be a good chance for you to ask her about that fall line you were making. You said you wanted more of an autumn look for this right? I'm guessing Applejack would be more than willing to have you look around the farm and pick up some colour ideas."

Rarity considered that for a moment before eventually putting on a smile, nodding in agreement to Twilight's plan. Twilight herself nodded before looking forward again, and shortly afterwards, the distinct red barn of the Apple family began to come into view. I'm not lying to her, but I need her to come with me. Because, if I'm right, there's a little filly here who's going to need Rarity's involvement. But, she remained silent, instead just walking as they finally approached the front door of Applejack's home. Twilight was the one to give a knock, and after a minute or two of waiting, the door finally opened, revealing Applejack on the other side. The farm mare smiled at Twilight, but seemed rather surprised to see Rarity there as well. However, this soon passed and, as usual, Applejack gave a friendly nod to the alabaster unicorn. Nodding in response, Rarity watched as Applejack stood aside, allowing both her and Twilight indoors. As the two entered, Twilight looked around. Okay...I know she's in here somewhere. However, she was prevented from seeking out her quarry as Applejack spoke up.

"Well, it's good to see y'all here today. Glad ya could make it!"

Twilight turned and smiled to her.

"Likewise, AJ."

The orange earth pony then turned to Rarity.

"Gotta admit, ah was surprise to see ya here, Rares."

Although somewhat irritated at that nickname, Rarity nevertheless kept on smiling graciously.

"Well, I have a new line of dresses coming up and Twilight here came upon a brilliant idea for me to observe your trees during the turn to fall. If that's okay with you of course, darling."

Applejack gave a hearty laugh at that.

"Shoot, Rarity, it's alright with me. But, do y'all want something to drink first? Ah gotta kettle boilin fer some tea if ya like."

Rarity’s smile grew even wider upon hearing that.

"Oh, Applejack, I would love one!"

Applejack nodded at that before turning, gesturing to a nearby table, to which Rarity and Twilight soon made their way towards. With the two of them seated, Applejack began to busy herself with making the tea. However, as the two unicorns waited, it was here that Twilight began to hear the sound of somepony walking down the stairs. Turning, she smiled as she saw that it was none other than Apple Bloom. There she is, Twilight thought.

"Good afternoon, Apple Bloom!"

The young filly turned, seeing the two guests in her home, before breaking out into a smile herself.

"Howdy! Y'all here fer lunch?"

Twilight nodded at that, at which point Applejack came over, carrying a tray of tea cups and gently placing them upon the table. After that, she turned to her younger sister.

"Y'all off to meet up with Twist, sis?"

Apple Bloom nodded enthusiastically at that, before Applejack smiled and gave her a friendly pat on the head. With that done, the young filly began to walk past her, right towards a saddle bag on the side of the kitchen wall. Twilight watched her carefully as she did this, all while sipping her tea. Okay, Twilight, play this carefully.

"So, Apple Bloom...how's school been?"

Upon hearing that, Apple Bloom froze, and for a moment, she hesitated to answer. In time, however, she put on a smile, though one that Twilight raised an eyebrow at. There's a forced smile if ever there was one. But, she kept quiet, instead staying in her seat as the young filly began to speak up.

"Oh, er...everything's fine! Miss Cheerilee's go some really fun lessons fer us this week, so everything's peachy!"

However, in contrast to how most would expect her to act after hearing that, Applejack turned to her sister with a slight frown.

"Now, Apple bloom. We don't go saying dishonest things in the Apple family. Things are not peachy, are they?"

There was a moment where the young filly looked as if she wanted to speak up and dispute her sister's point, but one look from Applejack silenced her, and she looked down at the ground, almost ashamed at what she'd done. Turning to the other mares, Applejack began to explain things.

"There's been some trouble at school lately. Apparently some high an mighty filly got her cutie mark the other day and is giving Bloom here some grief."

Twilight nodded at that, a look of understanding crossing her face. Rarity, by contrast, seemed aghast at what she'd heard.

"But that's just dreadful! Hasn't the teacher done anything about it?"

Applejack nodded.

"She has. But she can't be everywhere at once. Mostly that pompous Diamond goes after Bloom when nopony's lookin."

Turning from her friend, Twilight looked right at Apple Bloom, looking more than a little sympathetic.

"Is there anything we can do, Apple Bloom?"

The young filly looked up, an appreciative smile creeping onto her face.

"Thank ya, Miss Twilight, but ah don't think y'all could help."

Twilight put a hoof to her chin after hearing that. I know she’ll eventually ask me to use my magic to conjure a mark for her, but that’s not an option. Besides, I’ve had more than my fill of mark-altering magic. Okay, I've got to make this look like I've just come up with the idea. She gained a ponderous look for a few moments before putting on a smile that wouldn't have looked out of place with a lightbulb above it. Rarity and Applejack turned to each other, each looking confused, before turning back to their lavender friend, who spoke up in an excited manner.

"What you need, Apple Bloom, is somepony your age who is going through the same thing."

Apple Bloom tilted her head at that.

"But...ah already have Twist. Who else is there?"

Twilight nodded at that, turning to the other mares.

"Rarity, do you know of any other colts or fillies in town that don't have their cutie marks yet? Maybe Apple Bloom could talk to one of them about all this."

Rarity seemed taken aback by that question, but then looked as if she'd suddenly realised something important.

"Actually, I'm surprised I didn't think of the sooner, but my sister doesn't have her mark yet."

Applejack turned to her with a smile.

"Ya mean Sweetie Belle? Shoot, ah plum forgot about her!"

Before any of them could speak up again, they were shocked to find Apple Bloom had nestled herself in-between them, looking at them with excitement plastered all over her face.

"What?! There's another filly with no cutie mark?!"

Rarity nodded at that.

"Indeed there is, and you know, I think you and her will get along famously."

After hearing that, Apple Bloom broke out into the biggest smile Twilight had ever seen on her, prompting her to giggle somewhat. However, her attention was then diverted to Applejack, who seemed just as deep in thought on this matter as Rarity was.

"Come to think of it...ain't there a little pegasus filly who goes following Rainbow around like a lost puppy all the time?"

Rarity nodded to her farmer friend.

"Oh, you mean Scootaloo? Yes, I think she too is without a mark. It is rather strange I hadn't thought about her in all this time."

Before any of them could speak up on that matter, Apple Bloom began to bounce around the table in a circle, squealing the word "yes" over and over again. It prompted feelings of nostalgia in Twilight as she smiled down at the filly. Look at her. The prospect of meeting somepony in her position has her just as excited as I was when I first became Celestia's student. However, as she considered that, a whole new thought began to make itself known it Twilight's mind.

"Actually...why don't we bring Spike into the mix too?"

Rarity and Applejack turned to her with clear confusion on their faces, with the former speaking up first.

"Um...I do beg your pardon, Twilight, but Spike is never going to get a cutie mark, nor do I think he's that bothered about the whole thing."

Twilight let out a brief laugh at that.

"I know, Rarity. But I’ve come to realise that Spike has no friends outside of us, Pinkie, Rainbow and Fluttershy. I’m the one who looks after him, and thus it’s my responsibility to see that he goes out and meets ponies just like I do. So I think it'd be good for him to get out into Ponyville and make some friends his own age."

The other two mares looked to each other, a look of agreement passing between them, to which Twilight smiled. It's something I'm a little ashamed of for having neglected the first time around. Spike is a child. Children need to be with other children, not just other adults. And maybe it was because he was always so wrapped up in the work I gave him, but I always failed to recognise that he needed to make friends of his own, not just be friends with the mares his carer had grown close to. And if Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle form their little group again, I can think of nopony I'd rather have him be friends with. With that thought over and done, Twilight turned to the young filly, who had begun to get back to her saddle bags, perhaps ready to seek out these new fillies she'd been told about. Giggling slightly, Twilight returned to her tea and took a single sip. So, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are formed. A bit earlier than the first time around, but, at least this way, Apple Bloom doesn't have to face that pompous little Tiara filly at that party and get humiliated, at least not without backup.


The young unicorn looked up from her tea, right at Rarity.


Rarity hesitated for a moment before speaking.

"Well...please don't take this the wrong way, but do you think that...maybe...this little get-together you’re planning might divert Spike’s attention away from...well..."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that.

"...From you?"

Rarity looked a little ashamed for a moment before giving a single nod. Twilight, by contrast, seemed to understand perfectly. Rarity likes Spike as a friend, and always has done. His crush on her was not something she ever wanted him to feel. I know it was harmless, but she only saw him as a friend, and that would mean heartache down the line for him. He's young, and he doesn't know what real love is, at least not yet, so having him pine after an adult like Rarity will never end well. I know I wasn't willing to end this crush of his when I first came to Ponyville, but maybe...maybe it's for his own good that I do so now, before he gets too caught up in it. And maybe she's right. Spending time with others his age might divert attention away from her. And this way, she'll be able to do it without outright turning him down. Thinking the matter over, Twilight let out a sigh before putting on a small smile.

"Maybe you're right, Rarity. That might be good for him."

Rarity breathed a sigh of relief at that, at which point Twilight couldn't help but put on a mischievous smile.

"Besides...he may find more suitable options in this little gathering we're planning."

Rarity nodded in agreement before sipping her tea, all while Twilight watched her carefully, waiting for her to understand what she'd just said. After a full minute of waiting, Twilight's patience was rewarded as her alabaster friend's eyes bulged out and she spat out her tea, right before turning to Twilight with shock on her face.


An Autumn Moon

The air was cool, but not overly so, and with every breeze, a colourful leaf fell from the tree she was sitting beside. Twilight, comfortable from her look-out position, watched from the top of the hill at what took place before her. Down below, there was a vast woodland, where all the trees had turned their leaves into the usual colours of autumn, red, orange and yellow. It was, needless to say, a beautiful sight. She smiled as she looked upon it. One of my favourite times of the year. Such a shame it never lasts too long. Turning, she gazed as a call could be heard from one end of the woodland, wherein she smiled as she saw a huge collection of ponies gathering at what was unmistakeably a starting line. The running of the leaves. Racing ponies charging forth to help the leaves fall in time for winter. A fine tradition, practised everywhere in Equestria, at least where there are mostly earth ponies. A brief giggle escaped her. I swear, sometimes they're all as stubborn as Applejack. One good spell and the leaves would be gone. But, I guess I can't fault them for wanting to do stuff themselves. That is, after all, exactly what I've been doing myself the last few weeks.

But then, her attention was diverted down to a particular pair of mares who were lining up along with the rest. Even from this distance, Twilight could see who it was. Applejack and Rainbow Dash, ready to duke it out and discover who is Ponyville's best athlete. A smile crept onto her face as the memory of this event washed over her. All those events with them trying to compete was quite something to watch. The scientist in me has often wondered which of the two is more proud, but then, there are probably some things in this world that even I don't want to know the true extent of. A chortle passed her lips with that thought, and she settled into her spot to watch as her friends joined in on the race, which was still being prepared for. However, it was here that Twilight's ears perked up, as the distinct sound of somepony approaching could be heard from behind. Turning, Twilights eyes widened with shock as she saw, to her amazement, that it was none other than Princess Luna, walking as gracefully as ever towards her. Instinctively, she got up onto all four hooves, ready to give a bow. But, she was stopped by a single raised hoof from Luna, who looked at her with a smile.

"There is no need for that, Twilight. We are simply happy to see thee today."

It took a moment, but Twilight broke out into a small smile at that, briefly nodding with her head at the Princess. Celestia would have surely told her by now. So, apart from her, Luna is the only one who knows what I've done, what I know. A look of nervousness passed Twilight's face as she considered that. I...I wonder if she's angry with me about anything? Clearing her throat, Twilight looked at the blue alicorn again before speaking up herself.

"It's good to see you too, Luna. But, I must say, I'm surprised to see you here."

Luna nodded at that before walking beside Twilight, pointing down at the gathered ponies below.

"We have come to observe the running of the leaves. Our sister has encouraged us to get out a bit more. The night court can only acclimate us so much after all."

Twilight smiled a little before looking down at the sight before them. For a while, there was silence between the two mares, until, eventually, it was broken by Luna.

"Our sister has told us...everything."

The young unicorn hung her head low after hearing that.

"I’m sorry."

But, as she looked up to see Luna, she saw, to her surprise, that the alicorn bore no anger in her face, only a simple smile.

"Nay, Twilight. There is no need for apologies. Our sister told you this already. Thou committed this act for good reason. And like our sister, we also believe that thou will use this knowledge for good."

However, in spite of those words, Twilight still looked concerned over something.

"Thank you, but...I'm still sorry...for blocking you out of my dreams."

Luna nodded at that.

"Think nothing of it. It was a wise precaution. And In truth, we are grateful, knowing thy reasons. Doubtless, knowledge of the future would have been quite a shock for us. So, consider the matter, as modern ponies say, no harm no foul."

A sigh of relief escaped from Twilight after hearing that, though it was short-lived, as Luna’s expression took on a more serious tone.

"However, we are curious...is thy foreknowledge the reason thou attempted to talk us down in the old castle, rather than do battle?"

There was another silence for a time, but eventually, Twilight nodded.

"Yes. I spent so many years...or rather...I would have spent years, dwelling on that moment, regretting the fact that our first meeting resulted in a fight. I hoped to avoid violence with you this time around."

Luna regarded the young unicorn for a moment before breaking out into an appreciative smile.

"We understand. Had our positions been reversed, we like to think we too would have tried diplomacy. If ever we needed proof that thou will try and sway history on a proper path, that would most surely be it."

Twilight was briefly taken aback by that before nodding at Luna's words. With the tension now gone for the time being, they instead turned their gaze down towards the race. And it was here that the thing finally started, with all of the assembled mares beginning their run through the woodland. Looking up, Twilight smiled as she caught sight of Pinkie Pie, hovering in a balloon above the racetrack, who was currently giving her particular brand of commentary regarding the race below. After a few minutes of watching the event, Luna broke the silence between them once more.

"Tell us, where is thy young drake companion?"

Turning to the older mare, Twilight briefly giggled at that before giving her answer.

"Oh, Spike's back in town at the moment. He's been spending some time with a few of the fillies from the local school, including Applejack and Rarity's sisters."

Luna nodded that, looking interested at that information. But as she turned to the race yet again, Twilight thought more on what she'd just said. I didn't know how things would turn out, but it seems like him and the fillies have really hit it off. Hopefully, he'll be able to keep them out of trouble. Compared to them, he always was the cautious one...except when he isn't. A grimace crossed her face as she considered that. Hmmm...better keep a closer eye on them, just in case this actually makes things worse for them. However, her train of thought ended there when she looked up and noticed that Luna was pointing to the racers below, who were well past the halfway point on the track by now.

"Tell us...did thou not wish to participate in the run?"

Twilight shook her head at that.

"Not this time."

Luna turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

"Ah...so this is a change to history that thou art performing here?"

Twilight nodded in response.

"It is. The first time, I did participate, and actually did pretty well. But lately...I don't know...I guess after everything I know about...I've sort of lost taste for awards and praise."

Luna watched her carefully before giving a slight nod, and a look of understanding. Twilight, rather hesitantly, looked to her blue companion for a few moments before, after a few false starts, speaking up to her.

"Do you...do you ever struggle...with your position?"

The Princess of the moon considered that carefully for a few moments, after which, to Twilight's surprised, she let out a small laugh.

"Interesting. Thou feels the weight of leadership perhaps?"

Twilight turned away, looking back to the racers, before letting out a long sigh.

"It's just...ever since I made this pact with my future self...and gained these memories...it's like...it's like I've been given this massive responsibility."

Luna turned to her, never saying a word, but instead, listening carefully to everything the young unicorn had to say.

"I know I'm no real leader. Not yet. My role as Princess and alicorn hasn't arrived yet, if it arrives at all. And yet...knowing what I know...I feel like I've separated myself from everypony else. I look down there and I see ponies that I've charged myself with guiding in the right direction. I know it's not the same as what you or Princess Celestia do as leaders, but..."

"Thou feels isolated."

Twilight turned, surprised at the interruption, but nevertheless intrigued as to what Luna was about to say next. It took a few moments but the other mare finally began to speak.

"Thy feelings are as if everypony around thee is of another world. That you and yours are somehow separate. That the charge thou has placed upon thyself makes it difficult to connect to others. And knowing this...there is a feeling of loneliness."

The young unicorn suddenly felt a small measure of shame after hearing this. Of course...Luna would know that kind of feeling better than anypony. But, contrary to how Twilight might have expected Luna to act, she saw that the moon Princess was merely smiling at her.

"There is no need for sadness, Twilight. Take solace in the knowledge that thy task is a noble one. A position such as this may be difficult, but if thou art indeed destined to rise to Princess, then we are confident that thou will cope. Besides...thy friends are there for thee. They may not know what you know, but they will be there all the same."

Twilight smiled at that, as did Luna, and together the two turned to look upon the race once more. I forgot how wise Luna is, Twilight thought. Equestria really did lose a great mare during that thousand years. However, after that thought had begun to sink in, Twilight's eyes widened as she saw that many of the mares below had begun to arrive at the other side of the racetrack. Okay, it won't be long before Applejack and Rainbow Dash stumble over the finish line. Better get down there to meet them before Celestia arrives. It'd be good for me to see her again. I can't wait to hear what's been going on in Canterlot recently, especially if she has any juicy gossip about my brother and future sister-in-law. That thought in particular prompted a giggle from her before she started to move herself. As Twilight got up, Luna looked to her with a raised eyebrow.

"Time for thine intervention, we assume?"

Twilight nodded.

"Yeah. I may already know everything my friends are going to learn, but that doesn't mean I shouldn’t be there to tell them when they need to hear it."

Luna nodded at that and gave a respectful bow, which Twilight returned, before the latter began to make her way down the hill to meet with her friends. However, when she was far enough away, and out of earshot, Luna brought a hoof to her mouth and let out a giggle.

"It is true what we suspected...young Twilight really is starting to sound like our sister."

Another giggle escaped her before she had a chance to stifle it.

"A miniature Celestia...now there's a nightmare if ever we heard one!"

Rainbow Revelation

If there's one thing I enjoy more than anything else in the world, it's moments like this. Twilight smiled as she gazed upon her current surroundings, the main chamber of the Golden Oak Library. She and her six friends were all sitting around a round table near the middle of the room, having come over for a visit. Some, like Rainbow and Pinkie, were enjoying a soda, which was gulped down vigorously. Others, like Twilight and Rarity, kept to simple cups of tea, which they partook in a more moderate fashion. As for Applejack and Fluttershy, they were busy nursing down hot cups of cocoa. Last, but not least, there was Trixie. Although the show-mare had most definitely started things off in a tense manner with her friends, lately, things seemed to have cooled off, much to Twilight's delight. She, like Twilight, was currently drinking some tea, but rather than talking with the others, she was hard at work studying a nearby open spellbook. Twilight shook her head at that. I admire dedication as much as the next mare, but even I know there's a time to relax every once in a while. However, rather than speak up such a thought, Twilight instead chose to keep the peace and go back to her drink.

The whole scene was calm and relaxing, and one which caused a sigh of contentment from Twilight. This is the life. No threats. No dangers to the world. Just me and my friends. It doesn't get better than this. However, as she took another sip of her tea, her ears perked up as she saw, to the side of the room, that they were not alone in the library today. Smiling, the young unicorn looked upon her assistant, Spike, who was currently playing a board game of some sort with Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom. From the looks of things, Spike was losing.

"Now girls, be nice to him," Twilight called out.

Spike folded his arms and huffed at his carer's protectiveness, while the fillies merely turned to her with the most forced looks of innocence Twilight had ever seen, complete with halos above their heads. Hmmm...I never did ask how they ever managed to make those things. Regardless, Twilight merely shrugged her shoulders and got back to her tea, but it was here that she noticed Applejack, who leaned in closer and began to whisper to her.

"Ah reckon those kids are gettin along famously, Twi. That was a good call of addin Spike to the mix."

Twilight smiled and nodded at that.

"Thanks, Applejack. I'm glad he has a chance to play with other children for once. Don't want him overworked after all."

Applejack let out a dry laugh at that, but then her smile faded a little as she looked from Spike and then back to Twilight, speaking up in a more hushed tone.

"Just so ya know...I'll be drawin a line if he ever suggests playin Twister with em or something."

Both she and Twilight giggled at that notion, doing their best to keep the noise down, lest the youngsters notice them. Unfortunately, they did end up catching Rarity's attention, who looked at the two of them with a raised eyebrow. Stifling their laughter for the time being, Twilight and Applejack instead focused on their drinks while their unicorn friend cleared her throat.

"Well, Twilight, I must say this is a very pleasant little get together you've prepared for us."

Twilight gave a nod to that.

"Don't mention it, Rarity. I know you and the others have been doing a lot of work lately. I figured you needed a break from it all."

Rarity nodded in agreement over that, but then turned her attention to Trixie, who was still nose-deep in her book.

"I say, Trixie, you really should relax a little."

Only now did the blue unicorn look up from her book, noticing the mares around her, who were all glancing in her direction. Blushing somewhat, Trixie fumbled her words a little before getting out a coherent sentence.

"Well...Trixie didn't want to intrude on your personal time together."

Sounds genuine, Twilight thought. She really is coming a long way. Twilight smiled at that, but it was Applejack who beat her in speaking up first.

"Shoot, Trixie, Y'all are part of the group now. There's no need ta bury yerself in books all the time!"

Trixie looked at Applejack in surprise, to which Twilight could not blame her. When she first moved in here, Applejack was probably the most vocal in showing her animosity towards her. Now, it seems as if everypony is really getting along. Twilight's smile widened at that thought. Good to know my changes are having a positive effect like this. It took a few moments, but Trixie soon broke out into a smile of her own, closing her book before being dragged willingly into a conversation with Pinkie Pie. Twilight chuckled and shook her head at the sight of Trixie trying to understand all the things Pinkie was blaring at her, before taking another sip of her drink. However, after a few moments of this, she turned to see Rarity leaning over to her.

"I meant what I said before, Twilight. Thank you for arranging this. I've had so many dress orders lately, I could really do with a break like this."

Twilight nodded and patted her friend on the shoulder showing her appreciation. After the two smiled at each other, Rarity turned, getting back to a conversation she'd been having with Rainbow Dash prior to her thanks to Twilight. But, while she was looking away, Twilight's mind was awash with her words. Believe me, Rarity, your workload would be even worse if I hadn't intervened in history. Now's about the time she'd have been making those dresses for our visit to the Grand Galloping Gala. But, since we're not going this time, she gets to have some much-needed time off. However, a grimace crossed Twilight's face with that notion. I can't believe how much of a bother I was to Rarity back then. All those demands, all that micromanagement. She was under so much stress to make us happy and I didn't see it. Well, now that the Gala is no longer an option, me and the others won’t be made to sink that low again. A smile crept onto her face with that thought, and she took another sip of her tea. But, it was after that when Twilight and the other mares turned, seeing the young fillies squealing at something outside the window.

"Wow! Look at that rainbow!" Sweetie commented.

Looking as well as she could, Twilight saw that there was indeed a magnificent rainbow decorating the sky outside. It brought a smile to everypony's face, especially hers. Rainbows. Always a good thing for us. But then, a look of seriousness crossed her face. Hmmm...I wonder. All my friends and the fillies are here together. I wonder if now is the time to get some stories out? As she thought on that, she heard Rarity giggled somewhat.

"Look at them. Every filly and colt in the world absolutely falls in love with rainbows whenever they seem them."

Twilight smiled at that. Yep...now's the time.

"You're not wrong, Rarity. Rainbows were pretty important to me as a child. Well...I say rainbows."

Rarity turned to her, raising an eyebrow and making it clear that she wanted Twilight to elaborate.

"Well...you'll never believe this, but when I was a filly, I actually got to see a sonic rainboom!"

While that statement caused looks of shock from all of the mares, Rainbow Dash had a rather more overt response, spitting out a mouthful of soda, right in Rarity's direction. Fortunately, the latter was able to duck before any of it got on her mane, and after Rainbow had given her a rather apologetic look, she turned to Twilight, looking more than a little nervous.

"Er...did you say...a sonic rainboom?"

Twilight nodded with a smile.

"Yeah. The fabled manoeuvre of the pegasi. A great ring rainbow, spreading out over the sky. I tell you, I doubt I'd be where I am today if it wasn't for that moment."

Needless to say, that earned looks of curiosity from all of them, leading to Twilight explaining herself.

"Well...I was auditioning to enrol in Celestia's school for gifted unicorns, and I was struggling with the entrance exam. But then, out of nowhere, the rainboom happened. The shock of it awakened my magical talent, with spells of all kinds darting in every direction. That got Celestia's attention immediately, and after she'd calmed me down, I became her student. Plus..."

Twilight turned, looking upon the star mark on her hind quarters.

"...it's how I got my cutie mark."

The young unicorn glanced to her side, and sure enough, the mention of cutie marks immediately got the attention of the three fillies, who looked to her with interest. Immediately, they darted off to stand beside the table, much to the annoyance of Spike, who had actually started winning the game for once. With an additional three ponies in her audience, Twilight turned to the rest of her friends before carrying on.

"That rainboom changed my life forever."

The other mares looked to each other, their faces filled with amazement and, in time, feelings of nostalgia. They looked at one another, as if daring them to be the first to speak. However, Pinkie, being oblivious to this, merely blurted out what she was thinking.

"Ooh! That's how I got my mark too!"

The others all turned to her, and Twilight feigned confusion at her words as she continued speaking.

"I was on my family's rock farm, and this huge rainbow explosion happened in the sky! It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. After that, I got it into my head to start throwing parties, so that everypony else could be just as happy as I was!"

Afterwards, Rarity looked to her and spoke up herself.

"Now that you mention it, I swear I saw something similar when I earned my mark!"

Applejack nodded.

"And mine!"

Fluttershy, meekly, nodded in agreement.

"Um...and mine too."

Rainbow, all the while, kept on looking at them in silence, much to Twilight’s confusion. Guess she's nervous about it. I know she got really tense at the prospect of repeating the rainboom later on, so maybe she's not as eager to share this story right now. However, before Twilight could investigate that theory, she was interrupted by Trixie, who spoke up right at her.

"Trixie doesn't believe in coincidences, Twilight, Do you think it was all the same rainboom that you heard?"

Twilight nodded at that.

"I think it might have been. In fact..."

She turned her head, looking right at Rainbow.

"Rainbow. Do you know anything about this?"

The cyan pegasus looked to her as if she was about to choke. After a few false starts, she finally managed to get some words out.

"Er...me? Wha...what makes you think I'd know anything?"

Twilight raised a hoof and carefully pointed to her.

"I did some research on the rainboom after I first saw it. I couldn't get it out of my mind after that moment, so I asked around about anypony else who'd seen it. From what I'd been told, most ponies seem to think it came from around where Cloudsdale was at the time. And you told me that you and Fluttershy were from there, so...did you see anything?”

Rainbow looked around nervously, seeing that the eyes of everypony else, especially the young fillies, were on her. She swallowed a little before opening her mouth, ready to speak. But, before she got the chance, Applejack spoke first.

"Just wait a gosh-darn minute! Didn't y'all used ta say that ya did a sonic rainboom when you were a filly?"

Knowing she was now on the spot, Rainbow laughed nervously before finally speaking up.


There was silence all around, and Twilight looked to each of them in turn to gauge their reactions. As she predicted, most of them were in shock over what they'd just heard. I remember that feeling from the first time around. To know my friends and I had this connection all along, years before we'd even met. It was quite something. And as for Rainbow, I always kept expecting this revelation to make her somewhat egotistical, and yet, it never did. Actually, she seemed more shocked about the whole thing than any of us. Turning, Twilight smiled as she looked down at the fillies, all of whom were utterly enraptured by what Rainbow had admitted to, especially Scootaloo. Look at them all. It’s like they've seen Celestia herself descend from the heavens. I wonder if it's this story that contributed to Scootaloo's hero-worship of Rainbow? However, as Twilight turned back to the group, it was here that the silence finally broke, as Pinkie shot forward, getting to within an inch of Rainbow's face before blurting out her next words.

"OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!!! Rainbow! You're the reason we all have cutie marks! That's super-duper awesome!"

Before Rainbow could react to that, she was taken aback by an impromptu hug from Pinkie, which threatened to squeeze the life out of her. Although amused by this display, the other mares all got out of their chairs and walked over to their pegasus friend, ready to thank her for the part she'd unknowingly played in their lives, and to go into further detail about their own personal cutie mark stories. All except Trixie, who simply sat there with a bemused look on her face. Twilight, after joining in on the group herself, couldn't help but sigh happily.

"Friends before we even knew it. Yeah...that sounds just about right."

A Dragon's Hoard

When one is asked who you'd usually find reading a book in the Golden Oak Library, the first thing they'd give as an answer would be Twilight Sparkle. What they wouldn't normally give as an answer would be her number one assistant, Spike. And yet, there he was, quietly sitting beside the window of the main room of the library, currently engrossed in a book about dragons. It was an old book, even by the standards of the ones kept here, but he nevertheless seemed to be enjoying it. Kinda wish Twilight had taken me with her to see that dragon in the mountain, if only to see her in action when she took it down. That had to be awesome! Still, I guess she had good reason to keep me here. I mean, she kept everypony else away too. As he flipped through the pages of his book, a slight frown appeared on his face. Nothing but recorded encounters with dragons. Nothing on their culture, their habits, nothing. The only decent bit of info here is the annual dragon migration. Centuries of ponies knowing that dragons are out there, and yet they know virtually nothing about them. He slumped his shoulders at that thought. Twilight threatened the last one. Told him to tell other dragons to stay away. I know why she did it, to keep everypony safe and all, but...it would have been nice to at least speak to one of them one day.

Thinking on that, Spike hopped off his chair and walked over to a nearby bookcase, carefully placing his book back into it. Afterwards, he looked around the place, seeing it completely vacant apart from himself. Well, my chores are done, and Twilight is busy in the basement. Nothing else for me to do really. Turning, he looked out of the window, where he could see, in the distance, the local school. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo won't be out of class for a few hours yet, so that's out. Turning again, he looked up towards the staircase of the library. Trixie is probably busy with her studies, and I know she hates being disturbed. Letting out a grunt of annoyance, Spike folded his arms. This sucks! Everypony is either busy or not here! What am I supposed to do? Read?! Well...okay, that makes sense, given that I'm in a library and all, but I'm not interested in that right now! I need to do something or talk to somepony! Then, as he considered that, a new thought crept into his mind, and he turned his head towards the door to the basement. Hmmm...I know Twilight doesn't like me going down there...but I guess one little peek couldn't hurt.

So, his curiosity getting the better of him, Spike made his way over to the old wooden door, reaching up and turning the knob. He'd barely opened it an inch before an almighty creak came from it, causing him to wince. However, no voice came from within telling him to stop, so he figured that Twilight had simply not heard it. Breathing a sigh of relief, Spike opened the door the rest of the way, which thankfully wasn't as loud this time. Carefully, he made his way, slow step by slow step, down to the basement. Huh...this is the first time I've been down here I think, he mused. Eventually, he got down far enough to get a better a look at what was actually down there, and when he did, his eyes widened with shock. There was row upon row of scientific equipment he didn't even know the names of, glass containers containing the various magical artefacts Twilight had gathered form the Everfree castle, and, as expected of her, many bookcases, no doubt containing the tomes from that same castle. Spike took one look at this place and reach a single, inevitable conclusion; Yep, this is Twilight's place alright.

And speaking of whom, it was here that Spike finally noticed his carer, who was sitting at a desk near the far side of the room. Craning his neck, he saw that she had some kind of book there, and she was reading it carefully. However, what caught his interest next was what laid beside the book. His mouth hung open as he saw that there, twinkling in the candle-light of the desk, was the most magnificent blue sapphire he'd ever seen. Immediately, his innermost instincts kicked in, and a growling sound could be heard from his stomach. I...I've never seen a gem so...delicious! So enraptured with the allure of that gem, that Spike failed to pay attention to what he was doing, and soon enough, he took another step down the stairs, onto a particularly creaky wooden panel. The noise echoed all around, snapping Spike out of his trance, with a look of fear upon his face. He looked on with worry as Twilight’s ears immediately perked up, with her head spinning around and catching sight of him almost instantly. Spike looked on, practically paralyzed, and seeing his carer begin to frown at him.

"Um...hi?" he said meekly.

Twilight stared intently at him for a few, agonizing moments of silence, before raising a hoof and gesturing for him to come closer. Gulping, Spike did as he was told, albeit very slowly. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally reached her, and it was here that Twilight finally spike up, with all the authority as a stern schoolmistress.

"Spike. How many times have I told you not to come down here before asking me first?"

The young dragon looked away, his face bearing a look of shame.

"I'm...I'm sorry."

It took a while, but Twilight's expression eventually softened, and she let out a sigh.

"It's alright, you didn't mean any harm. But seriously, Spike. Try knocking next time. I might be doing dangerous stuff down here, and I don't want you to get hurt from it."

Spike nodded, still looking at the ground. Twilight, in time, eventually broke out into a small smile, raising her hoof and patting him on the head. This caused him to look up at her and smile back, with much of the prior tension now relieved. However, it was here that Spike turned his attention to the jewel on her desk.

"So...whatcha up to?"

Twilight turned, placing her hoof upon the sapphire and picking it up.

"I'm just going over a few notes about the gems I found in that dragon cave. There were quite a few of them there, along with all the other gold and silver and stuff. This one, for instance, is quite old. Older than most noble families of Canterlot in fact, if it's composition is anything to go by."

Spike folded his arms and smirked. She always gets invested in this sort of thing. Give her a question to be answered and she'll worked night and day to discover the answer.

"Hard to believe you really own all that treasure," Spike commented.

Twilight nodded.

"Agreed. But, that's what the dragon said. The law of his people states very clearly that, by defeating him in battle, I own everything he owned, which pretty much means the cave and everything in it."

Spike nodded at that. Dragon laws. I'll need to read up on that at some point. Might be interesting. However, as he considered that, a new thought came to mind for him.

"Aren't you worried about robbers and stuff? There's a lot of gold up there. They'd probably be tempted to steal it."

Twilight turned to him with a reassuring smile on her face, giving him another gentle pat on his head.

"Don't worry, Spike. I made sure to erect a barrier around the place, with a few extra enchantments just to be on the safe side. Nopony is getting in there without my knowing about it."

After finishing her words, Twilight gained a look that simply screamed that she'd just thought of something.

"As a matter of fact...there was an attempted robbery of it a few days ago. A band of dogs, gem-hunters, trying to find an easy target."

A quick giggle escaped her at that.

"The moment they touched the barrier, they were sent flying. Probably singed all the fur they had. I doubt they'll be coming back anytime soon, especially after I paid them a…friendly visit."

Spike gained a sudden look of concern.

"Did you...hurt them?"

Twilight turned to him, seeing the worried look he bore, and placed her hoof upon his shoulder.

"Oh, Spike. They’re fine. They’re just aware of the danger of trespassing near Ponyville now, that's all. I'm not going to unleash dragon-level beat-down magic on a bunch of mongrels like that."

Spike nodded, feeling a little relieved at that. I'd heard how strong Twilight was when facing that dragon. If she'd used that same power on the dogs, there'd probably be nothing left of them. But Twilight wouldn't go that far. Not for treasure. She's not that kind of pony. Letting out a sigh of relief, Spike watched as Twilight turned back to her notes, leaving him to look upon the sapphire, which still gleamed in the dim light of the basement. I remember when she and Rainbow Dash brought that one chest of gold and gems down from the mountain. Barely a dent in what was up there, form what I heard, but still way more than anything I've ever seen. However, as that thought sank in, Spike raised an eyebrow, looking back to Twilight.

"Exactly how much treasure do you own now? I mean...how many bits would that be?"

Twilight turned to him and, in stark contrast to her usual confident demeanour, started to look incredibly nervous, complete with a blush upon her cheeks.

"Oh...um...I don't think we need to go into too much detail about that."

Spike frowned at that.

"Okay...now you have to tell me!"

Twilight's eyes darted left and right, a sure sign of somepony who really didn't want to say what they knew. But, under Spike's continual stares, Twilight eventually slumped her shoulders a bit before speaking up.

"Well...after we did some digging in the treasure horde, we discovered that a lot of it was actually covering up an entrance to an even further chamber of the cave, which…kinda had more treasure...filled to the brim with it in fact."

Spike's eyes widened after hearing that. Even more treasure? How much did one dragon need? And why do dragons even need gold to begin with? That always bugged me. I mean...do they go down to the shops and buy scale polish or something? I know we eat gems, but gold is useless to them...unless we're like magpies and just like shiny stuff on principal. A grimace crossed his face with that thought. Ugh, there's a thought. What if I start going around collecting little bits of metal when I grow older or something? Not a nice thought. However, he shook himself out of that and instead tried to focus.

"So how much is all that in bits? A lot, I imagine?"

Twilight nodded, turning back to her notes and using her magic to levitate what Spike recognised immediately as an envelope, already opened. He watched carefully as his carer began to speak up again.

"I sent some of the gems to some ponies in Canterlot who specialize in this sort of thing. They valued it and sent me a rough estimate on how much the whole treasure hoard is worth."

Spike looked to her, seeming more eager than before.

"Well...how much? A million bits?"

Twilight shook her head nervously, prompting Spike to speak up again.

"What...two million?"

Another shake of her head.

"Five million? Six? Ten? Twenty? How much?!"

There was a brief and uncomfortable silence between the two, wherein Twilight kept darting her eyes from the envelope to him, before eventually letting out a sigh of defeat. Using her magic, Twilight levitated the letter over to Spike, who graciously accepted it. Carefully, he opened it up, seeing the words written within. A lot of it was formalities, talking about thanking Twilight for the chance to value it and such. It was only when he reached the bottom that he finally saw a number, and when he saw it, his eyes stretched out to about the size of dinner plates. Wow...I did not know numbers went up that high. His heartbeat began to race as he looked up from the letter, looking Twilight right in the eye.

"This...this...by almighty Faust, Twilight! You could probably buy all of Equestria with this money!"

Twilight scoffed and rolled her eyes at that.

"Oh please! It is nowhere near enough for that!"

Spike exhaled after hearing that, but was prevented from replying when Twilight hastily added an addendum to her previous statement.

"Well...more like half of Equestria...rounding down."

Spike looked to her with his mouth hanging open for some time, which was a sight Twilight couldn't help but giggle at. Putting her hoof under his chin, she gently closed it before continuing.

"Remember, Spike, we don't have all of that money right now, just what we got from that first chest. Still, even that is more than enough for what I plan to do with it."

Spike shook his head from his prior state, now looking at Twilight with great curiosity. She already has a plan for it? Wait...what am I saying? Of course she has a plan. This is Twilight, after all. Laughing a little, the young dragon spoke to her.

"So, what's the plan?"

Twilight smiled at that before turning back to her notes, pointing at one particular page of it, which Spike recognised instantly as a to-do-list. A to-do list for what to do with limitless wealth? Yep, sounds about right for her. But he kept quiet as she finally spoke up.

"Firstly, there's a lot of things I want to do for my friends. Applejack, for instance, said a while back that her Grandmother needs help with her hip, so I figured I’d start there, as well as helping them get new farm equipment. Fluttershy's going to be getting some extra pens and medicine for her animals, Rarity will be getting money for extra storage space to add to her boutique. Plus, I already gave her a few of the gems. She said she wanted to try some new styles out with them, and I had more than enough, so I gave them to her."

Spike nodded at that. Rarity does like using gems for her clothes, that much is obvious. A frown crossed his face as he considered that. I'll never understand that about her. All those wonderful gems and she just wears them? Madness. Looking up, he watched as Twilight continued.

"That still leaves loads from the first chest. So, I decided to do something for the orphanages of Canterlot. From what Trixie said, they've been under-funded for a few years now."

Spike gave another nod. I heard the same. Must have been hard for her, growing up in a place like that. No wonder she wanted better things from life. However, he then looked up to see Twilight looking down on him with excitement.

"Plus, I've been in talks with Mayor Mare to get some of the roads in and out of Ponyville patched up. You and I both know those things are in desperate need of repair."

Another nod from Spiked was followed up by him finally speaking up.

"And...what about you?"

Twilight turned to him with a raised eyebrow

"What do you mean?"

Spike chortled a little before starting to explain himself.

"I mean what I said. You're doing all this for everypony else, so what do you plan to do with it for yourself?"

A look of understanding passed her face as she smiled down at him. After that, she got up from her chair, placing her hoof upon her chest and looking out into the distance while taking in a deep breath. Spike, knowing her all too well at this point, knew that this was the start of some kind of speech. And inevitably, that's exactly what happened next.

"Oh, Spike, I just plan on using it where it's needed most. Money is not something I've ever needed to worry about, and now, probably never will. Having this treasure is good because it means I can help a lot of others. It's my responsibility to help when I can, wherever I can."

There was silence between the two for a while, all while Twilight was looking rather pleased with herself. Spike, after rolling his eyes, spoke up next.

"Yeah...that doesn't mean you can't enjoy yourself every once in a while."

Twilight looked down at him with a slight frown on her face.

"I don’t know how many times I need to keep telling everypony! I don't need rewards for what I've done!"

This time, it was Spike's turn to frown.

"Twilight, you saved Equestria from Nightmare Moon! You saved Ponyville from destruction, first by dragon and then by stampede. You've done nothing but help everypony you've come across, and yet...you never think to take a moment for yourself? You don’t think all those ponies out there that you've helped wouldn't want you to take a day just for you?"

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but could only bring out a few false starts.

"But...I...I just...there's so much..."

But she was stopped by a raised claw from Spike.

"I'm sorry, Twilight, but I'm putting my foot down on this. Now tell me...is there anything you'd really want for yourself at this very moment?"

Twilight looked at him, knowing that there'd be no room for negotiation at this point, and thus let out a sigh of defeat. Looking away from her assistant, she began to ponder in silence for a while, only speaking up again after a good minute or so.

"Well...there is that new restaurant that opened in Ponyville a week ago. I've been meaning to try it out, but..."

But she was stopped yet again by Spike.

"Ah! No buts! You're going to go out there, go to that restaurant, and you're going to enjoy yourself! And you’re going to bring me along with you to make sure you enjoy yourself!"

Seeing the determined look upon Spike's face, Twilight couldn't help but giggle a little. There was another silence between the two for a time until, at last, Twilight gave a nod, signifying her acceptance of his demands. Spike smiled at that, and looked on as Twilight gave him yet another pat on the head for this. I know Applejack can be a stubborn mare, but when the times are right, she's got nothing on Twilight. With the two smiling at one another, Twilight began to make her way away from her desk and towards the staircase, all while Spike watched her. When she was far enough away, Spike glanced back at the desk, specifically to the still-shimmering sapphire upon it. Well...with so many jewels in her possession, I'm sure Twilight wouldn't miss just one. He reached out carefully, his claw just an inch away from the delicious-looking blue stone, before soon hearing the sound of somepony clearing their throat behind him. Turning, Spike looked on nervously as Twilight was there, staring at him with a raised eyebrow. Chuckling nervously, Spike simply shrugged his shoulders.

"Well...can't blame a dragon for trying?"

Twilight after hearing that, simply smirked.

"Oh yes, Spike...I can."

Twitchy Tail

Okay, she'll be coming around here somewhere, Twilight thought to herself. She was walking down the main street of Ponyville, looking right and left while Spike was beside her. In time, the young dragon would occasionally look up at her, seeing the way she was looking around, and gaining an expression than made it clear he was confused with her behaviour. To this, Twilight merely put on a smile for him, which seemed to alleviate his concerns. However, whenever he wasn't looking, the young unicorn just kept on looking around. Okay, Pinkie, where are you? I know you're here, about to dart for cover because you think something's about to fall. And I'll be there with Spike to see you and start off that whole "Pinkie sense" thing. Eventually, Twilight stopped, letting out a sigh, which caught Spike's attention yet again.

"Something wrong, Twilight?"

The unicorn looked down at him, putting on a small smile as she patted his head.

"It's nothing, Spike. Just thinking about some stuff."

After hearing that, Spike gained a look of mischievousness.

"Let me guess...stomach still not settling down after our little restaurant visit?"

Twilight rolled her eyes at that.

"When they said the salad was going to be spicy, I wasn't expecting it to be that spicy!"

Spike did his best to stifle a laugh at that, to which Twilight merely shook her head. However, it was here that Twilight's face lit up, as she saw, at last, that Pinkie had arrived on the scene. The energetic earth pony was darting about, finding whatever cover she could, from carts, to benches, and even a flower pot. Twilight giggled at the sight of her like that. Pinkie sense. I never understood it, and in all the years afterwards, I never did. But...it's part of who she is. Gotta go with the flow sometimes, as Fluttershy's friend Tree Hugger would say. Walking towards her friend, Twilight began to call out.

"Pinkie! Good morning!"

Pinkie, upon hearing that, immediately stopped her frantic search for cover, instead turning towards Twilight and gaining a massive smile on her head, waving her hoof in an energetic manner.

"Hiya, Twilight!"

However, as she did this, her tail began to twitch uncontrollably, causing her to squeak in a manner not unlike Fluttershy, before darting to hide underneath a nearby bush. Rolling her eyes at this, Twilight began to approach Pinkie, all while keeping an eye on things above her. Once she and Spike were beside the bush, she finally spoke up to her friend.

"You okay there, Pinkie?"

Without warning, a bright pink mare's head popped out of the side of the bush, causing the other two to back away slightly.

"It's my Pinkie sense! My tail's twitching! That means something's about to fall!"

Okay, Twilight thought to herself, got to play this right. I don't want to appear as dismissive as I was the first time. But, I can't appear to accept it too easily either. I have to wait for the right moment. However, as she thought this, she head a sound coming from both above and behind her. It was the unmistakeable sound of somepony flapping their wings. A small smile crept onto Twilight's face as she realised that. And here she is. Looking down to the side, Twilight, at that moment, pretended to be interested in having seen something. However, as she moved to inspect whatever it was she made up, she was taken aback by the sound of Spike yelping in surprise. Turning, Twilight saw that, as expected, he had a massive frog covering his face. Giggling at this, Twilight used her magic to levitate the creature and gently lay him down on the ground. After wiping away the frog's slime off his face, both Spike and Twilight looked up to see, as Twilight knew, that Fluttershy was up there, carrying a cart-load of frogs behind her. As the pegasus mare looked down, she seemed truly apologetic.

"Oh! My goodness! I'm so sorry, Spike! I didn't see you there!"

Spike, letting out a sigh, merely shrugged his shoulders, to which Fluttershy smiled. Twilight, looking up at her, began to speak.

"What are you up to, Fluttershy?"

Fluttershy smiled at her unicorn friend before pointing to the frogs behind her.

"Oh, I'm just trying to help these little guys out by escorting them back to their home in the Everfree Forest. It’s a long journey and they're much safer if they travel by air."

Safe for them, but not for you, Twilight thought. But, she kept on smiling as she called up to her friend once more.

"Oh, there's no need for you to do that, Fluttershy. Allow me."

Fluttershy looked down at Twilight, seeming confused about what she meant. However, both she, Spike and Pinkie looked on as Twilight closed her eyes, with her horn beginning to glow. They all knew by now that whenever Twilight cast a spell, something big was going to happen, and so all of them began to back away slightly. However, Fluttershy noted, to her surprise, that soon enough, all of her frogs were becoming bathed in the magical aura of Twilight's power. There was a bright flash of light, and when it died down, they all looked on with shock to discover that the cart was now empty. Twilight, opening her eyes again, smiled when she saw this. The same spell I used on the parasprites. Those frogs will be safe and sound back in their home, and Fluttershy won't have to put herself in the path of a hydra because of this. Looking back up, Twilight called up to her friend.

"I'm sorry for surprising you like that, but I figured I'd help. I know how much you hate going to the Everfree, so I thought it'd be best for me to lend a hoof."

Fluttershy looked from the cart to Twilight, and then gained a look of uncertainty before breaking into a smile, albeit a very small one.

"Oh...um...okay then. I guess I'll take the cart back home. Thank you, Twilight. I appreciate your help."

Twilight smiled at that, watching as Fluttershy began to fly away. Okay, one problem down. Turning, Twilight opened her mouth to speak to Pinkie, but closed it and gained a look of surprise when she saw that the latter was no longer there. Turning her head from left to right, the young unicorn took a few moments to find her, as did Spike. Eventually, they saw her, once again hiding, but this time by trying to stuff herself into a small hole on the side of a nearby tree. Planting a hoof to her face, Twilight let out a sigh before walking up to her, poking her in the flank a little to get her attention.

"Um...Pinkie? You okay in there?"

The back half of the mare, which was all Twilight and Spike could see sticking out of the tree, wiggled about a bit, which seemed to indicate a "yes", at least as far as Twilight could figure. There was a brief struggle on Pinkie's part for a few moments before she finally managed to pull herself out, taking a massive gulp of air. However, this moment was brief, as she turned to Twilight with her usual massive smile.

"I'm great! But there's a lot of falling things today! And my Pinkie sense is in overload!"

Spike looked to her with confusion.

"Er...Pinkie sense?"

Pinkie looked to him and nodded.

"Yep! It's my super-super-special sense that lets me know when stuff is going to happen. Twitching tail means something's gonna fall! And that's just one thing I can sense!"

Twilight looked down to her assistant, who seemed to be very interested in what Pinkie was telling him. She smiled at this. Spike. Always ready to believe in incredible things. I should have learned a thing or two from him the first time around. But, she kept quiet as the young dragon finally spoke up again.

"That sounds awesome, Pinkie! But..."

For a moment, Spike glanced up at Twilight nervously before looking back to Pinkie.

"Is there anything behind your Pinkie sense? Some explanation for how it happens?"

Twilight had to stifle the urge to laugh at what had just happened. Spike knows me all too well. He knows I'd be unwilling to accept Pinkie's explanation and is trying to satisfy me beforehand. Believe me, Spike, I appreciate it. But I know from first-hoof experience that there's no explanation to be had here. Yet again, Twilight stayed silent, watching as Pinkie shook her head at the young dragon.

"Nope! It just kinda...happens!"

The pink mare smiled widely at that, oblivious to the nervous way Spike was glancing from her to Twilight. In time, however, Twilight merely giggled, placing a hoof upon Spike's shoulder.

"It's okay, Spike. I don't need to understand everything about this."

Spike turned to her with a raised eyebrow.

"But...you always try and understand everything about...well...everything!"

Twilight nodded.

"True. But, since coming to Ponyville, I've come to learn that there are a lot of things going on that I don't think I'll ever truly understand or figure out. Why Nightmare Moon returned at that specific moment after a thousand years. Why dragons need so much gold when they have no real use for it. Stuff like that happens a lot around here, so Pinkie's Pinkie sense is just going to have to be one of those things I'll need to accept."

Spike looked to her, still clearly surprised at what he'd just heard. But, Twilight just kept smiling at him. Believe me, Spike, there was a time when I would have more than lived up to your expectations. She fought against the urge to grimace at that thought. I can't believe how unwilling to accept Pinkie's abilities I was back then. I know that, at heart, I'm a scientist, and every fibre of my being wanted to understand every single detail about her sense, but the way I went about it was just plain rude at times. I'll fully admit, to myself if nopony else, that her sense still intrigues me. But, I’m content to just...know that it's there. Besides, at least this way, I won’t have to end up hospitalized after having followed her around like some creepy stalker. Patting her assistant once more on the head, Twilight turned yet again to Pinkie.

"Say, Pinkie? Spike and me were planning on going to the Cakes' for some lunch. Care to join us?"

At the mention of her surrogate family, Pinkie squealed with joy and began bouncing up and down in a frantic manner before darting off in that very direction, leaving a rather bemused Twilight and Spike.

"Well...I'll take that as a yes," Twilight concluded.

As the two of them laughed together, they began to follow Pinkie, and as they did, Spike looked up to Twilight with a smile.

"Pinkie's Pinkie sense sounds incredible! Can you imagine how great it would be to know the future like that?"

But, as he looked forward again, his eyes off Twilight, the latter's smile began to fade after hearing his words.

Great? No, Spike. Not all the time.

A Struggling Flier

Alright, Rainbow...you can do this. The young pegasus flew as hard as her wings would carry her, passing cloud after cloud, flapping hard and breathing harder with every passing moment. Faster and faster she flew, reaching speeds most other pegasi wouldn't even consider approaching. And yet, through it all, she bore a look of utter dissatisfaction. Not good enough. Just...not good enough! That thought passed her mind over and over again, leading to frustration every time she passed a cloud just slightly off, or missed a beat of her wings. To any other pony, what she was doing would have seemed impressive and unrivalled. And yet, to her, all she could do about it was look unhappy. I have to get this right. The young fliers competition is just around the corner. I have to do this, to show them what I can do. If I can't...I don't know what I'll do. Grunting with frustration, she shot down, right to the ground, hoping to accomplish what she set off to do. Okay, this is it. It has to be. Her speed grew ever faster as the ground drew nearer. Okay...almost there...almost there. But, at the last moment, she missed yet another beat of her wings, leading to her eyes widening. No! Pull up! Immediately, she flapped her wings hard, managing to pull from the ground just in time to avoid impact.

But, in her efforts to avoid a direct collision, she failed to notice the nearby collection of trees, and looked on in shock as she shot right through their many branches. It took a while, but the twigs and leaves of those woods eventually slowed her down enough for her to stop herself under her own power. However, as she finally lowered herself to the ground, she found herself an utter mess, with feathers out of place and bits of twigs stuck in her mane. Ugh! This is just perfect! Another failure! What am I supposed to do when I get up to Cloudsdale? I have to pull off that rainboom if the Wonderbolts are even going to consider paying me any attention. As she shook herself, desperately trying to get all the refuse out of her mane, she failed to notice the sound of approaching hoofsteps. But, it was only after that she heard the sound of somepony clearing their throat that her ears perked up. Spinning around, Rainbow's eyes widened as she saw, standing before her, was Twilight. Oh no! How much did she see? Okay, Rainbow, play it cool.

"Er...hey, Twilight! Come to see me do some stunts? Can't say I blame ya. They are pretty awesome after all!"

But Twilight just stood there, with a completely neutral expression, before pointing up to the skies above them.

"Rainbow...you seemed to have some trouble up there. Is everything okay?"

The cyan pegasus rolled her eyes and scoffed at that.

"Trouble? Please! I'm Rainbow Dash! A little scuffle like this isn't going to stop the likes of me!"

Oh please don't let her ask about the stunt. I don't want to talk about it right now! But, as Twilight looked from the sky, to Rainbow, to the fragments of twig still embedded in her mane, Twilight let out a sigh before softening her expression.

"You're trying to pull off the sonic rainboom again, aren't you?"

Rainbow looked at her as if she'd just seen a ghost, her face going pale and shocked.

"I...I...I don't know what you're talking about."

Twilight approached her, placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"Rainbow...it's okay. You can tell me if something is bothering you."

Rainbow frowned at that.

"And I'm telling you that nothing is bothering me!"

But Twilight merely shook her head.

"It's the young fliers competition, isn't it?"

Rainbow looked away, not wanting to look her in the eye. Horsefeathers! How does she always know this stuff! I mean, I know she's super-smart and stuff, but seriously, it's like she can look right into a pony's soul sometimes. But, as she kept her gaze away, Rainbow listened on as Twilight continued to speak.

"You want to pull off the rainboom to impress the Wonderbolts. I can understand why. It's one of the most, if not the most impressive manoeuvres in pegasus flying history. To do it would surely catch their notice."

Rainbow let out a huff at that.

"Yeah...well...you probably already know that I suck at it! I've been trying for ages but it just...won't come to me!"

Twilight let out another sigh.

"Perhaps not now, but I know you can do it."

Rainbow turned to her with a raised eyebrow.


To that, Twilight merely smiled.

"Because you've already done it. If it wasn't for that stunt of yours all those years ago, me and the others would never have earned our cutie marks. And if you can do it once, you can do it again."

Upon hearing those words, Rainbow's expression began to soften a bit. Yeah...I did do it already, didn't I? It still feels weird, to know the girls all saw that. And Twilight...she made it a point to find out where it'd come from. I never really saw it myself, too busy with that race and all. But still...to know it spread that far across Equestria, while I was a filly...that's something special. However, her expression became more down after considering that. And now...I just can't do it. I did it as a filly and yet...it's like I've lost it somehow. Did I not practice enough? Did I just forget how to do it? What's wrong with me? Twilight, in this moment of silence, looked to her friend and saw the look of concern upon her face. Putting on a small smile for her benefit, Twilight cleared her throat again, gaining her attention. After a few moments, Twilight spoke again.

"Believe me, Rainbow...I know what you're going through."

Rainbow raised an eyebrow at that, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"Back when I was a filly, I had to enter Celestia's school by way of a test, as you know. I tried everything on Spike's egg, but it just didn't work. I felt in that moment that everything would go wrong, that my dreams would crash right there before they even began."

Rainbow looked down at the ground. Yep, that's pretty much me right now, Twilight. However, as she looked up again, she saw that Twilight was still smiling at her.

"But...I had help in succeeding."

She took a step forward, placing a hoof squarely in the middle of Rainbow's chest.

"You, Rainbow. If it hadn't been for your rainboom, that test would have been a failure for me."

Her smile grew even wider after saying that.

"You helped me long ago. So now...let me help you."

For a while, Rainbow fell silent, looking back down at the ground. Darn it, Twilight! How do you always know what to say at times like this? After a few moments, Rainbow looked up at her, but her face bore a look of confusion.

"So...are you to use all that fancy magic on me or something?"

Twilight looked to her with an almost-scolding expression.

"No, Rainbow! You know the rules! No magical interference in competitions like this."

Twilight's words caused Rainbow to roll her eyes a little before responding.

"No offense, Twi...but how then? There isn't exactly a school for rainbooms out there."

Twilight giggled at that.

"Maybe not, but I have done some reading about it. The rainboom is a legendary technique, and many a pegasi scholar as studied it, and how to accomplish it over the years. Some have managed to get down some pretty good descriptions on what needs to be done, but the pegasi they tried it on just didn't have the skill to pull it off."

As her expression became something of a smirk, she placed a hoof upon Rainbow's shoulder again.

"You, on the other hoof...could probably do it."

Despite her earlier morose feeling, Rainbow perked up at that, puffing her chest out slightly.

"Yeah...you're not wrong."

Twilight giggled at that before speaking up again.

"So, I'll help you learn what you need to, and then me and the other girls will be right there to cheer you on!"

Rainbow chortled.

"Yeah, it'll be pretty..."

However, her expression soon turned to one of horror yet again.

"...you...you'll what?!"

Twilight turned to her with a reassuring smile.

"I cast a cloud-walking spell on the others, so we'll be there to cheer you on when you perform at the show."

Rainbow began frantically waving her hooves at this point.

"Nononononono! You guys can't be there! What if I fail? What if...!"

But, she was stopped from speaking further by a hoof to her mouth from Twilight. After Rainbow had calmed down a little, the lavender unicorn began to try and explain.

"Rainbow...we're your friends. We're going to be there for you. Besides, you're the bearer of the Element of loyalty. Did you think for one moment that we weren't going to stay loyal to you?"

Rainbow tuned away from her, letting out a grunt of annoyance.

"I knew that was going to come back and bite me one day. Gotta remember to use that on AJ and her honesty at some point."

Looking to her friend, the cyan pegasus stared at her carefully, trying to see if there was any crack in her expression. No...she means what she said. She and the others are going to be there, watching me at every moment, along with everypony else. Ugh! Blast it all, Twilight! Why do you always have to be so...so...helpful?! But, she began to calm herself down a bit with that thought. She...she's my friend. She's trying to help me. And, as much as it pains me to admit, she's right. I'm the Element of loyalty. If one of my friends says they have a way to help, then I guess I've gotta trust them. Ugh, that job is going to be the death of me one day. However, she began to breath out a long sigh. Okay, Rainbow, think about this. This is Twilight we're talking about. The mare who single-hoofedly took on a dragon! And won! When she says she can do something, she means it, so if she says she can help you with the rainboom, chances are that what she's got has gotta be pretty sweet. After a long silence had fallen between the two, Rainbow eventually slumped her shoulders before putting on an appreciative smile.

"Okay...I'll let you help."

Twilight squealed with joy over that, reaching forward and embracing her friend in a manner not too dissimilar from Pinkie. After being taken aback by this, Rainbow chuckled a little before breaking free, after which she planted a hoof square in Twilight's chest.

"But this egg-head research about rainbooms had better work!"

She began to walk off, ready to begin her practice once more. And all the while, Twilight walked behind, smiling in a mischievous manner while speaking in a tone low enough to avoid having Rainbow hear her.

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that...especially since you're the one who'll write it...egg-head."

The young unicorn turned her head away and stifled the need to giggle.

"I've been waiting centuries to say that."

Author's Notes:

Okay, I feel the need to let you guys know ahead of time that I won't be writing about Rainbow actually pulling off the rainboom and winning the competition. I thought about doing it, but then I realised that it'd just be a note-for-note identical scene from the episode, except without Rarity getting into trouble. I figured from that that it'd be a fairly uninteresting chapter, so I'll just say here that, like the official canon, Rainbow does indeed win, albeit with what Twilight taught her.

The Rainboom

Something us unicorns and earth ponies always forget is just how cold it is up here. Twilight looked on, surrounded by the magnificent cloud formations of the Cloudsdale coliseum, which was filled to the brim with hundreds of native pegasi. Beside her were her friends, all held aloft on these soft clouds by way of the spell she'd cast on them some time ago. Far ahead on the other side of the structure was a figure Twilight couldn't help but smile at. Princess Celestia herself, who, after waving to her adoring public, cast a glance over in Twilight's direction, giving her a smile and a nod. The young unicorn promptly returned it before noting, to her surprise, that Celestia was not alone. For there, sitting beside her elder sister, was Luna, who was also receiving many cheers of approval from the crowd. Twilight smiled at this sight. It's good to see Luna out and about like this. Having her interact more with the public must surely be doing wonders for her acclimation to the times. Sighing at this, Twilight looked upon her friends, or, to be more specific, Rarity. The alabaster unicorn was oblivious to Twilight's stares, and was instead focused on the games below. Had I not got my spell right, she'd have entered this herself. Now though, she gets to avoid danger, not to mention avoiding her unknowing increase to Rainbow's nerves.

However, it was after thinking that when Twilight looked down at the pegasi below, smiling as, at long last, she finally caught sight of her cyan friend. As expected, she was meekly getting out onto the starting point, her head darting about at all of the assembled ponies there to see her. It wasn't until Pinkie had let out a particularly loud scream of joy that Rainbow finally noticed them, with all of them waving to her in greeting. Rainbow seemed to smile, but even at this distance, Twilight could tell it was being forced. Don't worry, Rainbow. You can do this. I know you can. Just remember what you learned. Almost as if she'd been heard, Twilight saw Rainbow give a single nod in her direction before turning to take her place on the start point. There was now a hushed silence all around as the pegasi of the coliseum watched this new trainee prepare herself. Twilight, her friends and even the Princesses watched Rainbow carefully. And I thought my audition for Celestia's school was nerve-wracking, Twilight mused. There was a pause in Rainbow's movement, and she seemed to be taking a deep breath. But, when that was done, she finally unfurled he wings and began.

With an almighty thrust of her wings, Rainbow launched herself forward, causing much cheering from the crowds. With every movement Rainbow made, Twilight kept close watch. Okay, that's it! Keep your wings up slightly higher than normal! Make the tips almost meet when you flap down! From this distance, Twilight could see that Rainbow was following those lessons well, her speeds growing with every flap. Even her expression seemed to reflect this, showing more and more confidence as time moved on. Soon enough, the clouds came into view. Alright, Rainbow, remember to tilt your shoulders on approach, but not too late! Sure enough, Rainbow did exactly that, allowing for turns around the clouds that just barely missed them, almost by mere millimetres. This sharpness to her movements seemed to impress judges and audience alike, earning many an "ooh" and "ah" from them. As time passed, Twilight looked on as Rainbow flew past every obstacle, showing expert-level technique, much to her pride. I was worried the lessons wouldn't sink in, but look at her! Flying like the best there ever was! But then, the final stretch of the race began, and Rainbow, for her finishing move began to dart downwards.

All watched with massive gasps as the young pegasus flew down towards the ground, faster and faster. Borrowing a pair of binoculars from one of her friends, Twilight watched as Rainbow moved down below. Okay...yes! Furl your wings for extra streamlining! That's good, Rainbow. Keep it up! And keep it up she did, for as the ground approached her at increasing speeds, Twilight saw, to her amazement, that a multi-coloured, almost magical looking aura began to surround her friend. In moments, there was a massive bang sound, taking everypony aback when it occurred. But, when Twilight glanced down again, she smiled widely at what was down there. She did it! Sure enough, there it was, a ring of rainbow light spreading in every direction, just like the one she saw in foalhood. And as for Rainbow herself, she had full control of her flying at this point, soaring upwards to create a beautiful rainbow right over the coliseum, much to the awe of the ponies watching. As the crowds burst out into frantic applause, one usually-shy pegasus could be heard loudly over all of them.


Giggling at her friend's enthusiasm, Twilight turned to see Rainbow, finally slowing herself down and starting to approach the landing spot once again. Looking around, the rainbow-maned mare was blushing furiously, looking on as pony after pony began to fly or walk down to her, ready to congratulate her for her accomplishment. Twilight and the rest of their friends made their way down there also, looking on as their friend struggled to get past her new fans. Oh, what Scootaloo wouldn't have done to be a part of this, Twilight mused. Still, I'm sure Rainbow will be more than willing to let the little one know what happened here. Laughing to herself at that statement, Twilight approached Rainbow, watching as the fans began to disperse slightly. Rainbow, seeing her, walked towards her, smiling and placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"Thanks, Twilight."

The young unicorn gave a single nod to that.

"You're my friend. That's what we do for one another."

Rainbow smiled even wider at that, but was then diverted from Twilight by the sound of somepony else clearing their throats. As the two turned, they looked on as Spitfire herself, leader of the Wonderbolts, stepped forward, looking at Rainbow with a very clear look of being impressed.

"That was some pretty fancy flying out there, kiddo. You've got real stuff."

Rainbow, desperately trying to stifle whatever fan-girl squeal she had from that statement, instead let out a nervous cough before nodding to the mare before her. Twilight rolled her eyes at this before seeing, to her surprise, that Rainbow instead walked over to her, placing a hoof upon her shoulder before turning back to Spitfire.

"The real props have got to go to my friend here. Twilight Sparkle. If it wasn't for her...I wouldn't be here today."

Taken aback by the praise her friend was heaping on her, Twilight blushed at that as Spitfire regarded her carefully. In time, she broke out into a smile of her own before nodding in a respectful manner towards Twilight.

"If that's true, then you're a good friend, Miss Twilight. Stick with her."

Twilight nodded at that, turning to Rainbow with joy in her expression. Seeing the appreciation Twilight was giving her, Rainbow smiled back, patting her on the shoulders as she did so. However, her attention was then diverted yet again to Spitfire, who, to Rainbow's joy, showed that she had, in her hooves, the very thing Rainbow had been wanting from this whole experience; The golden wreath of the best young flier. Rainbow, no longer able to contain herself, let out an excited squeak as Spitfire placed it upon her head. The fanfare wasn't over after that though, not by a long shot. For within moments, a brand new crowd had emerged from out of nowhere, lifting up Rainbow and carting her off to whatever party had been prepared in honour of the winner. As Rainbow squealed with happiness over this, Twilight watched as Applejack, Flutterhsy, Rarity and Pinkie all walked over to follow her. Now alone on those brilliantly white clouds, Twilight turned to see, as she expected, that Celestia was walking towards her, bearing an affectionate smile.

"It is good to see you again, my student."

Smiling back, Twilight gave a respectful bow to her mentor before rising up again.

"And you, Princess. I'm glad to see Luna was with you today. I hope she enjoyed the show."

Celestia nodded to that.

"Indeed she did. It's good to see her getting more used to this sort of thing. She was always such a recluse, even a thousand years ago. Seeing her be so comfortable around others now...I cannot tell you how happy I that makes me."

Twilight smiled at that. Me too, Princess. But, before she had a chance to speak up again, Twilight watched as Celestia looked over in Rainbow's direction, before speaking up herself in that usual motherly tone of hers.

"Rainbow's impressive technique...your doing, I assume?"

Twilight shook her head.

"It wasn't all me, despite what Rainbow said to Spitfire. From my future memories, I knew she had it in her the whole time. I just...nudged things along a little bit to help her realise it."

Celestia smiled at that, placing a hoof upon her student's shoulder.

"You will be a wise Princess one day, Twilight."

Hearing that that, Twilight seemed to be deep in thought for a few moments. But after that had passed, she looked up to her mentor with a soft and affectionate smile.

"You know...for the first time in all of this...I think I might actually be happy with that."

Author's Notes:

Okay, after a bit of thinking, I decided to finish this little bit after all.


The kitchen of the Golden Oak Library was, at this particular moment, filled with bubbling pots and chopped vegetables. Spike, wearing his usual pink apron, was busy stirring the contents of the pot before him; a rather tasty-looking tomato soup. Every once in a while, he would take out a small spoon and sample the soup itself, muttering a little before shaking his head and resuming his stirring with a separate spoon. No...needs more oregano. Looking around, the young dragon smiled as he caught sight of just such an ingredient, reaching over to pick it up before sprinkling a little into the mixture. As he stirred, he glanced up at the clock before him, seeing that it was getting close to sunset. Hmmm. Twilight's been gone a while. Where was it she said she was going? Oh, yeah. Over to Rarity's. Something about helping Fluttershy and her with a cat or something? He shrugged his shoulders. Whatever. Gives me more chance to catch up on my cooking anyway. I've been pretty lax with that lately. He let out a sigh with that thought. Twilight's been doing so much extra work lately. I don't get to help as much as I used to when she was just doing assignments for Celestia. As he dwelt on that, he turned to read the next step of the currently-open cook book beside the pot. Still...she's doing important work, so I guess I can't complain.

In time, the young dragon finally managed to finish his prepared meal, beaming at it with pride as he carefully carried the pot over to the dining room table. I hope Twilight doesn't take too long getting back. Don't want this soup getting cold. However, almost as if the universe itself had heard him, there was the distinct sound of somepony opening the front door, as evidenced by the incredibly loud creak. Smiling, Spike placed the soup pot down on the table before darting off towards the main entrance chamber. Sure enough, there was Twilight, smiling at him as she entered. However, to his surprise, he saw that she was not alone here. For there, following behind her, were the three fillies, Apple bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. Each of them was looking around slightly before locking their vision onto Spike, after which they waved to him in greeting. Nervously, Spike returned the wave before turning to Twilight, bearing a look of clear confusion upon his face. Seeing this, Twilight giggled somewhat before turning around and closing the door behind her, speaking up to explain herself.

"I'm sorry to break this to you on such short notice, Spike, but the fillies here are going to be spending the night."

Spike raised an eyebrow at that.


Twilight nodded.

"Yep. Rarity was too busy with an order of hers, so there was nopony available to look after them. I mean...Fluttershy did volunteer, but with all the new animals she's begun to take care of, she realised pretty quickly that she wasn't going to have the time on her hooves."

Spike nodded at that. That's right, Fluttershy's got those new pens now for more animals. How that mare can handle so many, I'll never know. Looking to the three fillies, who had made themselves at home by looking around at some of the bookshelves, Spike turned around, at the still-hot pot of soup upon the nearby table.

"I'm going to need to cook more stuff."

Twilight giggled at that before affectionately patting him on the head. Smiling at that, Spike began to walk back in the direction of the kitchen, ready to cook again. I don't mind visitors, but a little warning would have been nice. Still, it's not like I don't like spending time with those fillies. They're pretty fun...if a little too energetic sometimes. As he began to get out a few other vegetables to cook, potatoes and the like, he failed to notice that those very three fillies had, in fact, followed him into the kitchen. It wasn't until he turned around to get some more ingredients that he finally noticed them, yelping out in surprise at seeing them.

"HIYA, SPIKE!!!" they called out in unison.

After clutching his chest, Spike caught his breath after that before looking at them with a slight look of annoyance.

"Um...no offense, girls, but I'm kinda in the middle of something here."

They looked over to what he was doing, seeing the already-prepared vegetables on the counter behind him, before looking back to him. After a few moments, Spike noted that Scootaloo was putting a hoof to her mouth, trying to stifle a giggle. After a brief silence, she finally spoke up.

"Hey...nice apron."

Spike, looking down at his pink attire, looked up to her with a raised eyebrow.

"You should know, only real dragons wear pink."

Scootaloo rolled her eyes at that, after which, Apple Bloom began to wander from the other two, looking around at the kitchen.

"You do a lot of cooking, Spike?"

The young dragon puffed out his chest in a display of pride.

"Yep! Sure do! Twilight gets pretty busy doing other stuff, so I've gotta pick up the slack doing other chores."

He turned, looking back to his vegetables.

"I don't mind it, really. I actually kinda enjoy it."

As he began peeling a few of the potatoes, he saw, to the side, that Sweetie Belle had begun to walk beside him.

"I didn't know dragons ate pony stuff."

Still peeling, Spike shook his head.

"We don't. My dinner is in a gem box on the side over there. Much less time to prepare that, I assure you. This here is all for Twilight. And for you, now."

The fillies all looked to each other after hearing that, gathering together and forming a group huddle. Spike, looking to them, began to hear hushed words being spoken, though he merely raised an eyebrow and let out a sigh at that.

"Girls...please. We both know you're not actually saying anything. You've already decided what you're going to do and you're just going "whisper" over and over again to make it look like you're plotting something."

The fillies, looking a little embarrassed that they'd been found out, chuckled nervously before, at long last, Sweetie Belle spoke up.

"Well...we were thinking...maybe we could help you?"

Spike smiled at that.

"I appreciate the offer, but...have any of you ever cooked anything before today?"

Looking to each other, there was a silence as all of them were clearly waiting for one of their friends to speak up first. When none of them did, they turned to Spike, all shaking their heads together, giving him his answer. Didn't think so, Spike thought. I recall Rarity telling me one time of when her parents once asked Sweetie to try and make breakfast for them. From what I heard, it ended up looking like what would happen if I came along and breathed fire on it. Wonder if Sweetie would ever cook like that again? I shudder to think what Rarity would say if she was on the receiving end of such a meal. However, as he pondered that, he noted that Scootaloo now stepped forward, speaking up on behalf of the whole group.

"But just because we've never done it before doesn't mean we'll never do it. Besides...we might earn our cutie marks this way!"

The mention of their marks, as expected, caused all of them to start jump up and down with joy, much to Spike's chagrin. I swear, every time they squeal like that, I feel like my ears are going to explode. Well...if I actually had ears, that is. Putting a claw to the bridge of his nose, Spike let out a sigh before addressing the fillies.

"Girls? No offense, but is having cutie marks really that big a deal for you?"

The fillies all stopped in their tracks, looking to him as if he'd just said the most ridiculous thing in the world.

"WHAT?! Of course it's important! It's...like...the most important thing us fillies ever get to do!" Scootaloo commented.

Spike, putting down his potato-peeler, folded his arms before replying to that.

"Well...I'll never have a mark, and you don't see me worrying about it."

Apple Bloom raised a hoof and pointed to him.

"Well, it's different for us ponies. If we don't get a cutie mark, we'll be called "blank flanks" forever!"

The fillies all shuddered at that thought, prompting Spike to speak up.

"Sticks and stones. The words of a couple of high-and-mighty fillies like Diamond and Silver aren't really going to hurt you. Besides, you want to talk about standing out? I'm a dragon living among ponies! If I can deal with that, then you can handle not having marks for a little while."

Spike's words seemed to hit home for the fillies, as they all looked to each other with shame on their faces. It was a look that actually caused Spike to feel a small pang of guilt. Oh jeez...I didn't want to make them sad like that. I just...didn't want them obsessing over those marks like they always do. Guess, I kinda messed up in that department. Looking around, Spike began to think hard about this. Okay, gotta make it up to them. I already have everything I need for the cooking, except...yes, that's it! Smiling, Spike turned to the fillies once more, clearing his throat and gaining their attention.

"You know...maybe there is something you can do for me!"

They looked at him, their eyes widening with excitement as he continued to speak up.

"There's an extra box of seasonings stuffed in the closet over in the next room that I need for this meal. If you could get that over here and help me prepare it, it'd be a big help."

The fillies all looked to each other, smiling, before, as Spike expected, they squealed loudly with joy, much to his chagrin. Ugh! Why did I do that? But, as the screaming died down, Spike noted that, as Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were making their way off to the next room, Sweetie Belle remained behind, stepping forward and embracing Spike in a hug to show her appreciation. Spike, taken aback by this, soon found a great deal of blood rushing to his cheeks. A filly is hugging me? Oh sweet Faust, a filly is hugging me! WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?! Hug her back, you idiot! So, slowly, the young dragon raised a clawed hand and nervously patted Sweetie on the back in a pretty pathetic attempt of trying to hug back. Still, she seemed to appreciate it, as evidenced by the smile on her face as she pulled away from him. Moments afterwards, she ran off after her friends, leaving Spike retaining that massive blush on his face. So shocked by this moment was he, that he failed to notice a smirking lavender unicorn in the doorway of the kitchen. It was only when Twilight cleared her throat that Spike was brought out of this shocked state, looking to her and letting his face go pale.

"How...how much did you see?"

Giggling slightly, Twilight began to approach her young friend.


With his embarrassment now reaching critical levels, Spike buried his face in his claws.

"Oh! I'm never going to live this down!"

Twilight, smiling and shaking her head at that, placed a hoof upon his shoulder.

"Well, look at it this way; You have all night to get used to being around her."

If possible, Spike's face became even paler.

Okay...really wish Fluttershy had been available for them tonight.

Planning for the Stage

"Er, Sweetie Belle? How much longer do I have to keep this thing on?"

Through the darkness of his blindfold, Spike could only hear a brief giggle in response to his question. All he could sense, aside from what he heard, was the feeling of the young filly's hoof upon his claw as she carefully guided him to their destination. Throughout it all, the young dragon couldn't help but feel warmth in his cheeks. She's holding my claw. Oh jeez. I'm glad this blindfold is on, otherwise who knows how red my face would be right now. He let out a sigh as he continued to walk with the filly. Okay, Spike, keep calm. You're with a friend. It's Sweetie Belle. A filly just like any other. You don't need to feel nervous...even if she is leading you blindfolded to a secret place that you don't know about. Er...okay, maybe there is a good reason to be nervous after all. But, you shouldn't! Remember what happened last time? Twilight's teasing never ended, especially when Trixie joined in. Just play it cool. He kept telling himself that, over and over, until eventually, he felt that Sweetie Belle had released his claw, causing him to stop walking. As he stretched out his arms in an attempt to feel what was around him, he heard her voice.

"Okay, Spike. You can look now."

Reaching up, the young dragon yanked off his blindfold. After taking a few moments to let his eyes adjust to the light around him, they widened with surprise at what was before him. It was a large tree, right in the middle of the land he knew was a part of Sweet Apple Acres. But, within the tree itself was a bright and colourful tree-house, freshly painted and looking like it was it pretty good condition. Spike stood there, mouth agape, at the sight of it, prompting Sweetie Belle to giggle yet again. Hearing this, Spike promptly shut his mouth and coughed nervously. So much for playing it cool. Still, this is a pretty good job they did here. Last time I saw this place, it was an utter wreck. I know Applejack meant well when she gave it to them and all, but still...yeesh. Stepping forward, Spike looked the place over. New windows, a fully-repaired staircase leading up to the place, and even a few new support beams to help it stay secure in the tree itself. Turning, Spike looked on as Sweetie was bouncing up and down.

"Isn't it great?!" she asked excitedly.

Spike nodded with a smile on his face.

"It sure is! You girls did a great job here!"

Sweetie blushed at that, which was a sight that threatened to cause the redness in Spike's own cheeks to return in earnest. However, before that had a chance to happen, Sweetie spoke up to him.

"Well...it was mostly Apple Bloom. Scootaloo and me just helped bring the materials over."

Spike nodded at that, turning to the tree-house once again. Apple Bloom did all this? By herself? That filly has some real talent with a hammer, I'll say that much. As he thought on that, he heard a sound from up above, and looked up to see, sure enough, that Apple Bloom herself was now exiting the tree-house, with Scootaloo close behind her. As the two looked down, they noticed Spike, who waved in greeting to them. Waving back, the two fillies marched down the stairs to meet both him and Sweetie Belle, with the former speaking up first.

"I heard this was your doing, Bloom?" Spike asked.

The earth pony filly puffed out her chest with pride.

"Eyup. It weren't easy, but ah got it all fixed."

Scootaloo stood beside her, smiling widely as she looked to the young dragon.

"Now the four of us get our own clubhouse!"

Spike nodded to that before looking up at the tree-house.

"You know...you could have asked me to help, if you wanted."

Sweetie stood beside him, placing a hoof upon his shoulder and giving a reassuring smile.

"We know, and thanks for offering. But we know how busy you are with all the chores you do for Twilight, so we figured we'd keep this to ourselves, at least until it was time to surprise you."

Another nod from Spike followed that. Makes sense. Still, we get a new clubhouse out of it, so that's good. Looking down, Spike watched as all three fillies began to enter the house, prompting him to follow in their hoof-steps. In a matter of moments, he was inside, and looked around at what was presented before him. A map of Ponyville, a few motivational posters, and even a podium for assembly speeches. Wow, they really went all out for this, Spike mused. Looking back to the fillies, he watched as Apple Bloom took her place behind the podium while Scootaloo and Sweetie stood before it. Spike walked over, standing in-between the latter two fillies, before Apple Bloom addressed them.

"So, as this is the first official meetin of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, anythin we need to discuss?"

Scootaloo stepped forward, smiling widely.

"You bet! There's that talent show Miss Cheerilee and Twilight told us about!"

The other fillies all smiled at that, but Spike was thinking the matter over. Oh yeah, I heard about that. All the local colts and fillies are going to be showing off to Ponyville in a few days time. It'd be a good way to see what they can do. Guess the girls want to participate. His guess was soon proved to be accurate, as Sweetie Belle then spoke up.

"Ooh! This'll be a great chance for us to earn our cutie marks!"

Apple Bloom nodded.

"Ah'll say. But...what should we do?"

The four of them fell silent with that question, thinking things over until, finally, Scootaloo spoke up.

"I've got it! How about a concert?"

Spike turned to her with a raised eyebrow, but was stopped from speaking when Apple Bloom spoke first.

"That's a great idea! We can put together a concert with singin an dancin, an everypony would see us!"

We'd be sure to get our cutie marks then!" Sweetie Added.

The three fillies started bouncing around at that moment, all squealing with joy over their new idea. Spike, by contrast, just stood there, rather bemused by the whole thing. Well...they're enthusiastic, I'll give them that much. But, if living with Twilight has taught me anything, it's that enthusiasm isn't enough. You've gotta work for it. Looking around, Spike caught sight of Sweetie Belle, and he began to walk towards her, clearing his throat as he did so. Hearing this, Sweetie stopped bouncing and looked to him while tilting her head a little.

"What's wrong, Spike?"

The young dragon let out a sigh at that.

"Sweetie...I don't mean to sound negative..but do you girls actually know how to put on a concert?"

It was a question heard by all of them, and soon enough, both Scootaloo and Apple Bloom had also stopped moving, and turned to their drake friend.

"Well...I know we've got to do a whole bunch of singing and stuff," Scootaloo noted.

"An dancin," Apple Bloom added.

"And props! Lots of props and costumes!" Sweetie concluded.

Spike nodded to all of that.

"Okay then, but the talent show is only in a few days. We'll need to get to work if you're going to be able to pull this off."

The three fillies looked to each other briefly before turning back to him, each bearing looks of determination.

"Then let's get started!" Scootaloo called out.

The three huddled together and started talking, with their barely-contained excitement just brimming under the surface.

"I'll do the props and costumes!" Sweetie stated.

"I'll do the singing!" Scootaloo continued.

"And ah'll get ta work on the dancin moves!" Apple Bloom finished.

Spike raised an eyebrow after hearing that, only to be taken aback as all three of them began to charge past him and towards the door. There were a few false starts on his part, but eventually, Spike just let out a grunt of annoyance, put his claws into his mouth and let out an ear-piercing whistle. Immediately, this caused all three of them to stop dead in their tracks, turning to him with looks of confusion. After going down the steps to follow them, Spike cleared his throat a little before beginning to explain himself.

"I appreciate that you girls are excited about this, but I think you might be better off doing different jobs here."

The fillies seemed even more confused by that statement, prompting Spike to explain further, turning to Apple Bloom first.

"Apple Bloom, I know dancing sounds pretty exciting and stuff, but I think you might be better off doing the props and costumes instead. I mean...just look at this!"

He turned, pointing to the clubhouse to emphasise his point.

"You have a real talent for making stuff. If you put that kind of effort into the stage and props, I guarantee that you'll come up with something great to look at."

Apple bloom gained a look of uncertainty at that, even though the other fillies were nodding in agreement with what had just been said. But, she didn't have a chance to respond, as Spike then turned to Scootaloo.

"Scoots. You should do the choreography. Everypony in Ponyville knows how good you are with acrobatics. Those stunts you do on your scooter? Those are amazing!"

Yet again, the other fillies seemed to agree with him, much to Scootaloo's surprise. The pegasus filly gained a look that was very reminiscent of when Rainbow Dash tries to look modest, at which point, Spike turned to Sweetie Belle. Here though, he gained a slight blush as he spoke.

"And Sweetie? You...erm...well...you have a really nice singing voice."

Those words prompted Sweetie to let out an "aw", much to Spike's embarrassment, leading to him clearing his throat a bit more before continuing.

"You'd best be in the front of the concert, singing as much as you want. We've all heard you do songs before, and we know you can do it well."

Scootaloo and Apple Bloom looked at her, nodding enthusiastically at what had just been said, even though Sweetie herself still looked a little unsure about it all. With his words finished, Spike watched as the three fillies looked to one another, trying to gauge each other's reactions. I don't like telling ponies what they should be doing, but I think this might be good for them. If they'd done it the other way, who knows how bad their final performance might have been? After a few minutes of silence, the fillies turned back to him, with Apple Bloom speaking up.

"Are y'all sure about this, Spike?"

The young dragon nodded.

"I am. You three have real talent in those things, and I think you'd be selling yourselves short if you didn't take advantage of it. If you focus on what we all know you're good at...I think you'll probably blow everypony away at that show."

The fillies all blushed slightly at the praise they were being given, with Sweetie in particular choosing to step forward and place a hoof on Spike's shoulder, giving him a look of appreciation. Now blushing himself, Spike chuckled nervously at this before watching the fillies walk off, hopefully to do what he suggested. It took only moments, but the fillies were fast enough that they were soon out of view completely for the young dragon. Now alone by the clubhouse, Spike smiled to himself. Huh...it's kinda nice to see ponies listening to me like that. I wonder if this is what Twilight feels when she gives advice? A smile crept even wider onto his face as he considered that. Twilight. She'll probably be there at the show. I hope she likes it. The girls will probably be trying really hard to make this work. If they pull together and use those talents of theirs, then this'll be one heck of a concert. A look of pride crossed his face as he began to walk off, ready to join the fillies and help with their preparations. Who knows? Maybe they may even discover their true calling from this. A dry laugh escaped him as he thought about that.

"Yeah, not likely. I mean, I know they're good, and will be great to watch...but what are the chances they'll actually get something like cutie marks out of this?"

The Big Night

The sun had long since fallen by the time the last of the mares and stallions had poured into the town hall. There were many of them, probably half of Ponyville in fact, which was a source of much nerves for the poor colts and fillies that had gathered there to perform. Many in the crowd were chatting amongst themselves, excited at seeing what the foals had arranged for them to see, but behind the curtains of the stage, they were being watched. Spike, peeking out from behind the red drapes, searched amongst the crowd for any familiar faces. Okay...I know you're out there. His eyes widened as he finally caught sight of his quarry. There they are. Sure enough, many of their friends had gathered there tonight. There was Applejack and Rarity if course, here to watch their respective sisters. There was Rainbow, perhaps here at Scootaloo's urging. And then, at last, there was Twilight, standing beside Applejack and talking to her about some matter. Spike, letting out a long sigh, stepped back from the curtain and back into the area behind it. A lot of eyes watching them tonight. I hope the girls will be okay.

"Everything okay, Spike?"

Hearing the familiar voice, the young dragon turned, gaining a look of surprise as he saw Sweetie Belle before him. But, tonight, she was already dressed for the occasion. She wore a dress for one her size and age, a simple light purple that matched her mane. It lacked a lot of the flourishes or design touches that a master dress-maker might add, but it was nevertheless a well-crafted piece of clothing. Apple Bloom did good work there, Spike thought. Seeing the way the drake was watching her, Sweetie Belle blushed slightly before doing a little twirl.

"You like it?"

Spike nodded with a big smile on his face.

"I do. You look great, Sweetie. Here's hoping Bloom's props do just as well."

Sweetie nodded in return to that, before stepping to one side, revealing that Scootaloo was now walking beside her. Spike took a closer look, seeing the outfit that she wore. In stark contrast to Sweetie's attire, this one was less feminine in appearance, and more the kind of clothing that an athlete would wear. Even so, it complimented the filly well, coloured the same as her mane, with enough flexibility in it to allow plenty of movement if needed. She’ll need that if she's going to perform to her usual standards, Spike noted. He opened his mouth to speak, but a quick "psst" from behind caused him to turn. There was Apple Bloom, gesturing for him to come over. Unlike the other two, she did not wear any kind of outfit, and simply appeared as always. Makes sense. She won't be appearing on stage like the other two. Spike walked over to her, as did the other fillies. Apple Bloom put her hoof to her mouth, making a "shush" noise before turning and peeking through the curtains at the side of the stage.

The others followed suit after this, and they saw, out there, that Miss Cheerilee had already begun addressing the crowd, much to the latter's excitement. There was much murmuring amongst the assembled adult ponies, and it was a sight that caused Sweetie Belle to back away slightly, showing clear nervousness at all this. Spike noticed this and reached forward, holding onto her hoof. Seeing this, Sweetie blushed slightly, as did Spike in fact, before the latter gave a reassuring smile. A few moments passed before Sweetie let out a sigh, smiling back to him. So, the two turned back to the stage, seeing the first of the acts arrive. It was Snips and Snails, two of the colts from their class, who seemed to be in the middle of some kind of magic act. Needless to say, they didn’t end up doing too well, and the audience was soon filled with collective groans of discomfort. I don't blame them, Spike thought. That performance was awful. Bet they tried imitating Trixie or something after her last show. Kinda hard to do that when you can't use magic yet, guys.

What followed was a veritable parade of different acts from the other colts and fillies. Diamond and Silver tried doing a musical number together, but, sadly, their voices weren't exactly the most pleasant to listen to, especially when sung loudly, and most ponies just covered their ears from it, causing the fillies to storm out in a huff. Rumble tried pulling off some kind of comedy act, but his jokes failed to get any kind of laugh whatsoever, except form his parents, even though it was clear they were just doing it to avoid having him be upset that nopony was laughing. Featherweight was next, and he was trying to do some impersonations. Sadly for him, nopony could figure out who he was impersonating until he finally relented and explained it, leading to many a revelatory "oh" from the crowd. A few more colts and fillies came on and exited, but as time went on, it was clear that nopony in the audience was liking what they were seeing. Eventually with the night drawing to a close, Cheerilee got up to the stage and called out the final names.

"And now, for our final act, we have a performance by Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo!"

Spike turned, seeing Apple Bloom already preparing a lot of the props and decorations needed for the performance, while Scootaloo stood at one side of the stage, ready for her own part of the act. As for Sweetie, she was standing right in the middle, ready to face the crowd and sing for them, though still looking more than a little nervous. She turned to Spike, who gave her yet another reassuring smile, which she returned, before taking a deep breath. Spike moved, just in time as the curtains began to rise, and the crowd was able to see the fillies behind. As expected, many of them seemed to be completely disinterested, most likely due to the lacklustre performances before. However, as they looked to the stage now, seeing some rather well-made backgrounds, including a brightly-painted backdrop of a scenic countryside, some of them seemed to perk up, albeit only slightly. Sweetie Belle stood there, looking out at the massive crowd before her, and took a few deep breaths to calm herself. Come on, Sweetie...you can do this, Spike thought. And soon enough, she began to sing.

At first, her voice wobbled a little, most likely due to her nerves, but, as the moments passed, and the crowd seemed to grow more interested, those wobbles vanished. Her voice reached high, and there was clear effort behind it, resulting in a pleasant melody, especially with the lyrics she herself had written. Spike looked amongst the assembled ponies, seeing their frowns turn into smiles, and thus smiled himself. As time passed on, and Sweetie's song continued, Scootaloo smirked a little as she knew her time had come, and she leapt out into view. The crowd watched the newly-arrived filly, seeing her run right towards Sweetie. But, instead of stepping aside, the unicorn filly stayed where she was, with Scootaloo almost about to crash into her. There were a few pre-emptive winces from the audience, no doubt expecting an impact, and yet, at the last possible moment, Scootaloo leapt up, using her still-weak wings to lift herself slightly higher than she could normal jump, before doing an impressive forward flip right over Sweetie, landing with grace and flourish on the other side. Many of the audience, surprised by this, cheered on at the sight of it, much to the delight of the fillies.

And this duet carried on for some time, with Sweetie singing beautifully and Scootaloo performing a number of acrobatics around her, including back-flips, twirls and a few improvisational dance moves. All the while, her movements were matched perfectly to the timings of Sweetie's notes, creating a performance that was both impressive to eyes and ears alike. As time went on, Apple Bloom, while remaining out of sight, gradually changed the props on the stage, moving in and out without anypony noticing her. She would roll away the backdrop, revealing a beautifully-pained sunset ocean view behind. She would bring on crafted trees and shrubbery, and all manner of things to give the impression of an outdoors performance. And by this point, the audience was utterly entranced, especially Twilight and her friends. Spike smiled at how much the Crusaders' work was being appreciated, and watched as the fillies neared their climax. This is it. And sure enough, as Sweetie reached for a nearly-impossible high note, Scootaloo landed beside her after another flip, before carefully reaching forward, holding onto her and, in a feat of strength one wouldn’t think a filly capable of, lifted Sweetie high above her head during the latter’s final note.

It was a sight for all to see, and the moment Sweetie stopped singing, everypony there leapt up out of their seats, cheering and clapping their hooves with great fervour. The two fillies on-stage got back onto all four hooves, looking around with fierce blushes as the crowed continued to sing their praises. With the performance now over, Apple Bloom now made herself known, walking out to stand beside her fellow Crusaders. Smiling to each other, the three fillies gave a simultaneous bow at the crowd, prompting yet louder cheers. Looking into the crowd, Spike could see that their friends were cheering louder than any other, with Applejack and Rarity especially, looking like they were almost in tears over how well their sisters had done. As time went on and the cheering continued, the Crusaders made their way off the stage, right towards Spike, who grinned widely as he greeted them.

"You guys were awesome!""

They smiled back at him after that.

"Thanks, Spike!" Apple Bloom remarked.

The young dragon opened his mouth, ready to speak further, but was stopped from doing so when he noticed something going on behind the fillies, back on the stage. Cheerilee had made her way there, carrying a golden envelope in one hoof. There is it. The announcement of who won. Spike pointed to her, at which point the fillies turned, now looking nervous as they realised what was going on. There was a silence over the crowd as Cheerilee began to address them.

"Well, that was quite a night. We've had many acts today, but of course, only one can win. And that act is..."

There was a deathly silence as the mare opened the envelope, pulling out the paper within and reading it, smiling as she did so.

"...the Cutie Mark Crusaders!"

Like before, the hall erupted into loud applause and cheers. Backstage, the three fillies looked to each other with utter disbelief, before breaking out into small smiles and rushing back out onto the stage. Spike stayed where he was, watching as their teacher handed their award to them. They deserved it. All of them. What they did out there...amazing. But, he was then prompted to turn around as he heard hoofsteps approaching him from behind. A smile crept onto his face as he saw that Twilight and the others had now arrived, with Twilight especially stepping forward and placing a hoof upon his shoulder.

"You should be proud, helping them like you did."

Spike nodded.

"I'm happy for them," he replied.

Both he and his carer looked on as, at last, the cheering had begun to die down, and the Crusaders finally made their way backstage again. Spike watched as each of them reunited with their respective elder, all of whom were heaping praise after praise with what they'd done tonight. In time, however, they broke free of them, walking over to Spike before smiling at him in appreciation.

"You should have been out there too, Spike," Sweetie noted.

Spike chuckled.

"Thanks, but I prefer being here, if it's all the same to you."

"Maybe...but we'd have never got it into our heads that this is what we were good at without you," Apple Bloom added.

Spike shook his head.

"I appreciate you saying that, but this night really...belongs...to..."

The young dragon had stopped as he looked past the Crusaders, to something just behind them. His expression was one of utter shock, almost as if he'd just seen a ghost. Is...is that what I think it is? The other ponies looked at him, almost concerned about what it was he'd just seen, leading to the older mares following his line of sight. And when they did, their expressions began to mirror his own. Seeing this, the Crusaders themselves looked to each other with confusion, until finally, they turned their heads around. And what they saw made them stand there with greater shock than they had ever felt in their lives. For there, freshly glowing, were three brand-spanking new cutie marks upon their flanks. Upon Apple Bloom's was a single red apple, in front of which was a hammer. For Sweetie Belle, there was a pink heart with a musical note in front of it. And finally, for Scootaloo, there was unmistakeably a wheel from her scooter, from which emerged a downward-facing purple lightning bolt. There was silence all around, and as the three fillies turned to each other, they very quickly broke out into smiles so massive that they threatened to burst out of their faces.


The simultaneous scream prompted everypony else to cover their ears, but when it died down, and the fillies simply started bouncing up and down in excitement, everypony was with them, chattering excitedly. And it was at this point that the tears finally arrived for Rarity and Applejack, who both hugged their sisters tightly. Spike stood there, watching them with pride, and smiling warmly. They did it. They actually did it. Guess they really were that good. A single chortle escaped him at that, after which Sweetie Belle turned to look at him, her own eyes welling slightly. Before he could react, he was taken aback when the filly leapt forward, embracing him in a hug. The sheer joy she was feeling was as clear as day, as was the nervousness of Spike. When she pulled away from him slightly, her words were hushed, but affectionate.

"Thank you, Spike."

The young dragon opened his mouth to speak, but before he got the chance to do so, Sweetie leaned forward and planted a single, tender kiss upon his cheek. Apparently, everypony else had seen this too, for they all turned to him with looks of either surprise, mischievousness or, in Rarity's case, utter shock. As for Spike, he soon felt all the colour drain from his face with the weight of what had just happened, prompting Sweetie to giggle slightly. When he finally came back to his senses, he looked to her, and then to Twilight, who stood there with a smirk on her face. Letting out a laugh of his own, Spike said the one thing that was on everypony's minds.

"Yeah...best night ever."

Honesty is the Best Policy

It's strange, to think how many changes happen even when I'm not there. But then, I guess that's to be expected. I've already changed so much, it's changed the ones around me too. Luna being more outgoing, and now Spike managing to get the Crusaders their marks, and on their first attempt no less. These changes are going to keep piling up, more and more, and...I guess I'm just going to have to deal with that. Twilight broke out into a small smile. Still...at the very least I get days like today. She looked around, seeing the gloriously bright sun lighting up all of Ponyville, with everypony out and about, enjoying their day. This is what I live for. Those few, pleasant days where everypony is safe, everypony is happy, and nothing bad is happening. Well...almost nothing bad. Her smile faded as she turned, seeing the one who walked beside her. It was Fluttershy, keeping her head down as usual. However, unlike she normally appeared, she was wearing a massive hat, complete with sunglasses to obscure her appearance. Twilight sighed at seeing her like this, prompting Fluttershy herself to speak up.

"You don't think anypony has spotted me, do you?"

Twilight shook her head.

“No, Fluttershy, you're safe."

The pegasus mare sighed at that, making sure to avoid eye-contact with everypony who passed them by. Seeing her like this, Twilight shook her head. Her brief tenure as a fashion model didn't suit her one bit. But, being the mare she is, she could never tell Rarity that it wasn't something she wanted. So, the two of them just stayed quiet, not wanting to disappoint one another. Stubborn. But, that's not the way it's going to happen this time, no Sir. This time, we'll have a nice, friendly chat with one another. As they walked on, it quickly became apparent that they were heading in the direction of the Carousel Boutique, at which point, Fluttershy raised her head with some curiosity upon her face.

"Um...is it really a good idea to bother Rarity right now? I mean...she has those new designs she's making with those gems, isn't she?"

Twilight nodded in confirmation at that. Yes, the gems. Aside from the ones I gave her form that dragon hoard, she also got a few from the outskirts of Ponyville. A smirk crept onto her face as she considered that. A gem-hunt that was rather lacking in canine intrusion, thanks to my earlier...visit to the creatures. Seriously, I wonder if any dangerous creature is even left in the area after everything I've been doing recently. They'd better not be. Ponyville is under my protection, and I will not tolerate threats to it. However, rather than gain the look of determination one normally would with such thoughts, Twilight instead kept on smiling as she turned to her friend.

"I know Rarity is busy...but this is a visit that needs to happen. You and her have to talk about...what's been going on."

Upon hearing that, Fluttershy immediately stopped, looking at Twilight with utter shock.

"But...but...but...but...I can't! You know I can't! She'll be so disappointed in me, after everything she's done to get me here!"

Twilight turned her her, giving her a single nod.

"I know. But you’re unhappy when you're in that spotlight. That's what this all comes back to for me. You need to tell her, and soon."

But Fluttershy remained still, shaking her head furiously as she did so. Frowning, Twilight let out a sigh. She won't come easy, so I guess I'll have to do this the hard way. Her expression softened somewhat. I'm sorry, Fluttershy, but it's for your own good. Besides, I really don't want to have to sabotage you this time around to get you to be honest. Closing her eyes, Twilight began to concentrate on her magic, her horn starting to light up soon afterwards. Fluttershy noticed this and her eyes began to widen with worry, knowing that Twilight's spells usually meant something big was going to happen. Her worry increased when she saw that, soon afterwards, she herself was now bathed in her friend’s magical aura, as was Twilight herself. Before the pegasus could do or say anything, there was a near-blinding flash of light, but only for a brief moment. When it died down, Fluttershy opened her eyes to find, to her utter shock, that they had teleported together to a new location. Unfortunately for Fluttershy, that location was right in the middle of Rarity's dress-making room in the boutique. And speaking of whom, that very unicorn was there now, jumping back with surprise at the sudden and unexpected arrival of her two friends.

"Yah! Wha...Twilight? Fluttershy? What...what are you doing here?!"

The surprise in her tone was obvious to anypony, and Twilight walked towards her with an apologetic look.

"I'm sorry to barge in on you like this, Rarity, but you and Fluttershy have things you need to discuss."

Immediately, the alabaster unicorn's pupils shrank, as realisation began to sink in for her.

"I...I don't know what you're talking about, my dear."

Twilight narrowed her eyes a bit. You're a poor liar, Rarity. Turning, Twilight began to open her mouth, ready to say the same thing to Fluttershy. However, she noted that the latter was instead making a break for the door, no doubt ready to escape from this. Frowning, Twilight's horn began to glow once more, and soon, that door was closed, covered from top to bottom in her magic. Try as she might, Fluttershy couldn't get the thing to budge, and soon turned around again, her eyes almost pleading.


The young unicorn let out another sigh, her expression softening somewhat.

"Fluttershy...you and Rarity need to say this to one another."

Rarity looked from Twilight to Fluttershy, raising her eyebrow.


But Fluttershy was just shaking her head again.

"It's not true! I don't have anything important to tell you, I swear!"

Hearing this, Twilight stamped her hoof down, causing both mares to back away slightly.

"You two are friends! You need to be open with one another! Or have you forgotten that there's a reason why "honesty" is one of the Elements of Harmony?"

Both Fluttershy and Rarity turned to each other, each desperately trying to come up with some kind of counter-argument for that. When none arrived, Twilight continued.

"Just look at each other. Anypony can tell that you're both unhappy right now. If you want that to end...you both know what you have to do!"

There was silence between the three yet again, and Twilight's two friends just stared at each other, neither of them wanting to be the one to say anything. Whether they actually figured out what the other wanted to confess to, nopony could say, but regardless, Twilight stood there, watching both of them in utter silence. Come on, girls! It's like ripping off a Band-Aid. You know you won't like it, but you also know that it's something you have to do. Minute after minute passed, and still no word escaped either mare, at which point Twilight's ears began to drop somewhat. However, as this occurred, both she and Rarity began to hear an unmistakeable whisper on Fluttershy's part. They both looked to her, seeing her struggle with her words. Come on, Fluttershy, you can do it, Twilight thought. Eventually, the timid Pegasus finally managed to get out a coherent sentence.

"Rarity? I...I...I might not be...entirely happy with...what I've been doing."

Rarity stood there, looking more than a little surprised at what she'd just heard, and then starting to look somewhat guilty. Bet you wish you were the first to speak now, don't you, Rarity? A few moments afterwards, the fashionista also began to speak up.

"Well...if we're being totally honest...I may have been somewhat...envious of the attention Photo Finish has been giving you."

Fluttershy's ears perked up after hearing that.

"You...you have?"

Rarity nodded.

"Yes. I know it was selfish of me, but...I was hoping her photo shoot with you might lead her to notice me and my designs afterwards. That she began to focus so much on you...well...I suppose it made me a tad jealous."

Fluttershy seemed to be quiet taken aback by that, prompting her to step forwards a little.

"Oh, Rarity! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to steal your spotlight! It's just...you worked so hard to get me here...I didn't want to let you down!"

Rarity looked up at her with surprise, before eventually breaking out into a small smile.

"Oh, darling! You have nothing to be sorry for! I'm the one who should be sorry! Putting you in the limelight like that. I should have known from the start that you'd be uncomfortable with it!"

Fluttershy shook her head.

"No, no! You're my friend! I'd always be willing to go through that for you!"

Rarity appeared genuinely touched by that sentiment, and the two mares walked towards each other, and moments afterwards, embraced each other in a warm hug. Twilight smiled at that. Like Applejack always says, a little honesty does wonders, even if it is difficult sometimes. She stayed there, seeing them continue to hug, all the while trading back comments on who was more to blame, neither of which being willing to admit to anything less than themselves as the true one at fault. It was a sight that caused Twilight to giggle slightly. I should have done this the first time. Why in Equestria did I stay silent? Before she could ponder any more on that thought, she and the other mares were taken aback to find that Pinkie Pie suddenly burst into the room, panting furiously as if she'd just run a long way. After taking a few moments to catch her breath, she marched over to Twilight and pointed her hoof at her in an accusing manner.

"Twilight! You broke a Pinkie promise!"

Twilight looked around nervously before answering back.

"But...but I didn't make a Pinkie promise!"

Pinkie opened her mouth to reply, only to suddenly seem deep in thought over something. After a while, she broke out into a smile and shrugged her shoulders a little.

"Oh...guess you didn't. Sorry, my mistake. Have a nice day!"

With that, the pink mare darted out of the room once more, leaving three very bemused mares in her wake. In this silence, Twilight placed a hoof to her nose, groaning slightly as she spoke under her breath.

"Oh yeah...that's why I kept quiet. Pinkie promises."

A look of curiosity crossed her face as she considered that.

Hmmm...I wonder if she'd actually put a cupcake in my eye if I broke one?

Plans for Peace, and Plans for the Future

"Er...Twilight? Y'all sure this is a good idea?"

Twilight looked to her friend, Applejack, seeing the clear look of concern upon her face, and gave a reassuring smile, placing her hoof upon her shoulder as she did so. Believe me, Applejack, I know what I'm doing. Turning, the young unicorn looked upon the scene before her, and gained a look of determination. It was a town of many wooden buildings, out in the south-western reaches of Equestria, surrounded by arid and near-barren lands. The town of Appleoosa, populated entirely by earth ponies, and home to a good chunk of Applejack's family. Right now, however, those ponies weren't the only ones here. For there, on the other side of the street, were a collection of very large, and very angry-looking, buffalo. All of them eyed the ponies menacingly, as did the ponies in return. Even a blind foal could see that there was tension here, even though no word had passed between the two groups. Twilight sighed as she looked to all of them. Disputed land, a problem in every part of the world. Neither side willing to back down, all thinking they’re in the right. Conflict brews until it bubbles over to the surface. She narrowed her eyes at both groups. Stubborn, the whole lot of them.

As she stepped forward, both groups began to turn their attention towards her. To Twilight's left were the ponies, headed not only by the town Sheriff, but by Applejack's cousin, Braeburn. To her right were the buffalo, led by Chief Thunderhooves, and his young daughter, Little Strongheart. As Twilight took her place in-between the two groups, she raised a hoof, gesturing to both sets of leaders to come forward. There was a brief and silent pause for a time, but eventually, all four of them began to move towards the unicorn, with the rest staying where they were, keeping an eye on the other group. Tension was abound as Twilight's friends stood aside, watching with baited breath as the leaders finally arrived in the centre. An uncomfortable silence fell over the place, only broken by the occasional ball of tumbleweed flying past, as per cliché. As the Sherriff, Braeburn, Thunderhooves and Strongheart stared at each other, Twilight cleared her throat, gaining their attention.

"So...I think it's safe to say that we all agree that this conflict needs to be brought to an end, correct?"

It took a few moments, but all four of her listeners nodded in agreement. Nodding back, Twilight continued.

"We need to settle things before open fighting breaks out...agreed?"

Another nod.

"We all want peace for our people and each other...correct?"

Another nod.

"Okay then."

Turning, Twilight looked to the buffalo Chief first, speaking in a calm and cordial tone.

"Chief Thunderhooves. I want you to start. Tell us what it is that you and your people want."

The Chief stood as tall as he could, perhaps as a means of intimidation, or perhaps to display his station. Either way, when he spoke, his voice was gruff and commanding.

"My people have charged and herded on these lands for many generations. But this year, we come to find this...place...built on top of it, cutting us off. Trees where there were once open plains. Our traditions and way of life have been uprooted because of these...newcomers."

The venom with which he'd spoken those last few words was clear to everypony, and the two earth pony stallions glared angrily at him. However, they were prevented from speaking back when Twilight raised a hoof, prompting them to close their mouths as she spoke.

"Thank you, Chief. Now then, Sheriff, Mr Apples...tell us what you want."

The Sheriff cleared his throat a little.

"Well, little lady, what we want is to be left in peace to grow our orchards. It took us close to a whole year to get the crop established, not to mention building the town up. We've got dozens, even hundreds of ponies living here now. If we were to give in to the buffalo, we'd all have to move elsewhere. After all the work we've put into this place, we ain't gonna budge!"

The buffalo Chief growled at that, stamping his hoof down in an aggressive gesture, to which both the Sherriff and Braeburn narrowed their eyes. Both groups behind them, the Appleoosa ponies and the other buffalo, began stamping the ground themselves, looking as if a fight was about to break out. However, frowning at all this, Twilight concentrated, focusing her magic and shooting off a single magical blast into the sky. Taken aback by this, both sides looked at her with sock as she turned to each of them, looking more than a little irritated.

"That's enough of that! We're here for peace, not war! Now...if you want this fight to end before it starts...say so."

The Chief looked to her, a slight look of fear filling his eyes. Twilight noted this and thought hard on the matter. The buffalo respect and revere the dragons a great deal. It's more than likely that they’ve heard what I was able to do with one of them. I don't want to have to use intimidation in peace talks like this, but if that's what it takes, then so be it. As the moments passed, the Chief turned to the Sheriff, and eventually sighed a bit before nodding his head, agreeing to wanting the peace. Sometime afterwards, the Sheriff did the same, prompting Twilight to put on a small smile.

"Thank you. Now, I know things are difficult between you, but, if you're willing to listen...I think I have an idea that can solve both of you problems."

Both representatives turned to her, raising their eyebrows in a clear display of confusion. Smiling at this, Twilight began to explain herself.

"Chief, you want your herd to have a means to pass through the orchards like before, yes?"

The Chief nodded, and Twilight turned to the Sheriff.

"I'll be able to let them do that without any harm coming to your orchards," she explained.

"But...how?" the Sheriff asked.

Twilight smirked a little.

"I'll use my magic to move the trees down the middle so that they take new positions on the outside of the established orchards. So, instead of simply uprooting the trees, like you feared, they'll simply be moved to the sides, giving the buffalo a passageway to charge through."

Both the Sherriff and Braeburn looked to each other, a look of incredulity crossing their faces. Eventually, the latter turned to Twilight again, trying to speak as politely as possible.

"Um...beggin yer pardon, ma'am...but do y'all think ya can really pull that off?"

Twilight said nothing, but soon found that she didn't need to. For the moment Braeburn had asked that question, Applejack had walked to the group herself, smiling at the stallion before speaking to him.

"Trust me, cousin, she can do it."

The young unicorn smiled warmly at her friend before turning once more to the two stallions. They looked at each other for a while, whispering to each other for a few moments before eventually letting out a deep sigh. The Sherriff walked forward, approaching the Chief, who simply looked at him in a stoic manner. Silence fell between the two leaders, and for a moment, Twilight feared that, perhaps, her suggestion would be rejected outright. However, gradually, the Sheriff raised a hoof, stretching it out and offering it to the buffalo leader. The Chief stared at it, and looked right into the Sherriff's eyes, trying to see if there was any kind of deception or under-hoofed play at work here. When he saw that there was none, his expression softened, and he turned to his daughter. Little Strongheart gave her father a warm smile, nudging him in a playful manner. That encouragement seemed to be all that the buffalo needed, for he soon raised his own hoof and accepted the Sheriff’s, shaking it cordially. With the agreement reached, Twilight let out a sigh of relief, turning as Applejack walked towards her, placing a hoof upon her shoulder. As the two friends smiled at each other, Twilight turned to the rest of the two groups, seeing that some had started to come together, albeit in a somewhat hesitant manner.

Baby steps, Twilight. Peace may be won in a day...but it takes time to hold.

As Twilight looked out upon the town, she couldn’t help but smile. Her spell had done its work well, and where once there had been vast and uninterrupted expanse of apple trees, now there was a column of open land in-between it, with dozens of buffalo roaming through without any trouble. Every once in a while, one of the herd would break off, wandering over to one of the local ponies, perhaps conversing with them. But there was no hostility there, nor aggression. The tensions seemed to have been alleviated here, and with it, the risk of open conflict had vanished. It was a thought that brought pride to the young unicorn. Success. I’ve brokered peace in the past, but never between entire peoples. A giggle escaped her as she considered that. But then...it will hardly be the last time I'll do something like this. One thing being a Princess always means is that ponies will always want you to end disputes like this. My future will be quite busy. Turning, she looked down the hill from where she was standing, seeing her friends in the distance, speaking with Braeburn over something. Probably getting ready to head on back to Ponyville. Better join them.

However, no sooner had she taken that first step towards them, when she began to feel strange. Her expression became one of uncertainty, and the sensation that now ran through her was not unlike a chill down her spine. This...this feeling. A disturbance in the local magic. She began to look around. The first time history played out I never had this kind of sense. But this time, now that I've exposed myself to the artefacts of the Everfree castle, my connection to magic has become all the stronger. But this feeling now...it's unlike any other ripple in the magic I've ever felt. A look of realisation crossed her face as that thought sank in. And yet...it feels familiar. Understanding dawned on her as her head darted left and right, trying to find the source of the disturbance. As she began to wander around, her senses practically pulled her like a compass in the right direction, heading towards the outskirts of the apple orchards. Once down there, she could feel it growing stronger, but stopped when she noticed a pair of young ponies digging near her, ready to plant yet another apple tree. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but stopped after another nearby pony called them over for a drink.

When those ponies left, Twilight narrowed her eyes as she looked to the hole they'd been digging. She approached it cautiously, looking within it. I don't know what I'll find, but I doubt it'll be anything good. As she looked within, things seemed to be in order, at least at first, However, as she examined the newly-disturbed soil, her eyes widened as she saw something small and black poke out slightly. She reached forward, scraping the soil away with her hoof, before letting out a gasp. Before her, lying there, was an unassuming seed. But this was unlike any plant seed any other pony would have ever seen. For aside from its dark colour, it was also coated in a hard outer layer. Having recovered from the initial shock of seeing it, Twilight's horn lit up, levitating the seed to just an inch or two from her face. Glaring at it angrily, her words were hushed, but harsh.

"A plundervine seed."

Another shiver passed through her as she considered that. Plundervines. Buried by Discord during his reign over Equestria a thousand years ago. Celestia and Luna never knew about them, not until they were abducted by the things some time from now. But...to find them here...it's not something I ever expected. I guess they've spread out pretty far over the last few centuries. Twilight's eyes narrowed. It won't be active for some time, but even so, it's too dangerous to leave it here. So, she simply stared at the thing, deep in thought over what to do with it. However, as time passed, her expression became one of uncertainty, and then, a small smile. Maybe...maybe finding this here is a good thing. If I can find this, then I can find the others. Find them...and destroy them before they cause the trouble they're destined to. I won't be able to go on a task like that just yet. There's still things I need to do. But I know Equestria is better off not going through that crisis. Her expression then lost its smile, with her face suddenly bearing a slight harshness to it. In fact...there's quite a few things I need to go out and do, not just find plundervine seeds. She let out a sigh. I won't have time for all that...at least not until after...certain things have happened. But at least now I know what to do.

Turning back to the seed, she used her magic to levitate it into one of the compartments of the saddle-bag she'd been wearing during all of this. After which, she spun around after hearing a very loud whistle. Her face broke out into another wide smile as she saw Pinkie Pie standing atop the hill from before, waving down to her. Probably time to leave. Better get over there. As she began to gallop towards her friend, Twilight looked back at the orchards behind her.

I'm here to keep the peace for Equestria...and I'll be damned if I allow that peace to fall.

A Phoenix and a Warning

There are many things that one would assume to find in the middle of a local bakery. Cakes. Pastries. Customers looking for something to satisfy their sweet tooth. What they wouldn't expect to finds was a pair of alicorn princesses. And yet, there they were, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, both sitting beside each other on a massive table inside Sugar Cube Corner, being attended to by the bakery's owners, the Cakes. Beside the princesses sat their closest friends here in Ponyville, most notably Twilight and her fellow Element-bearers. The young unicorn turned to her long-time mentor and smiled warmly, which was promptly returned by the elder alicorn sister. This is nice, Twilight thought to herself. No threats. No catastrophes. Just me and her...and our friends of course. As Twilight began to levitate a particularly delicious slice of cake into her mouth, her eyes glanced to the side, seeing Luna conversing happily with Rarity. A smile crossed her face as she saw this. It's good to see Luna interacting more. I can't remember seeing her so happy. And yet, here she is, everypony treating her like the princess she is. A brief laugh escaped her with that thought. Here's hoping we can avoid that unpleasantness with Nightmare Night this year.

As Twilight swallowed the cake in her mouth, she turned as Princess Celestia glanced in her direction.

"I cannot begin to tell you how much I've been looking forward to this visit, Twilight."

Twilight smiled back at her after hearing that.

"Me too, Princess. It's so good to get to talk to you when there isn’t anything crazy going on."

Celestia nodded.

"Indeed. My workload has been getting rather hectic back at the palace. I've been needing to get away for some time. And I can think of no better place to do that than Ponyville."

A small smirk crossed the princess' face after saying that.

"Did I ever tell you about my involvement with this town's founding?"

Gaining a smirk of her own, Twilight leaned in closer, keeping her voice hushed so that nopony else could hear her.

"No...but you will."

A moment or two passed as Celestia took in those words, until finally, a look of understanding crept onto her face, complete with a knowing smile.


The two mares giggled together, sharing their private joke, which did a lot to put Twilight at ease. It's so good, having Celestia know my secret. I can't believe I was foolish enough to hide it from her for as long as I did. I know my future self had her reasons...but she forgot how important it is to have Celestia in her...my...our lives. Sighing at her thoughts, Twilight levitated a nearby glass of water to her mouth, taking a single sip before glancing to her right. There, meekly poking her own cake, was Fluttershy, who had been as quiet as a dormouse during all of this. A look of concern crossed Twilight's face as she regarded her friend. Fluttershy...today was not destined to be a good one for you, not after that bird gave you the run-around. Twilight's eyes narrowed with that thought, turning her head to look upon an ornate golden cage that lay beside Celestia. At this moment, nothing could be seen, but Twilight knew better. Go ahead, Philomena, just try and get the better of my friend, I dare you! As if the bird had actually read her mind, there was a sudden and loud spluttering from the cage, causing many a feather to fly outwards. Twilight narrowed her eyes at this, but Fluttershy looked to the cage with curiosity.

"Um...did that cage just...cough?"

Celestia turned to the timid pegasus and put on a small smile.

"Oh! How rude of me! This is my dear friend, Philomena! Come on now, introduce yourself."

On command, the bird immediately climbed up onto it's stand within the cage, looking just as ragged and half-dead as Twilight remembered. Turning, she saw that Fluttershy was looking at the bird, utterly aghast at what she was seeing. I don't blame you, Fluttershy. The first time around, I was just as unsure about the thing as you were. Now though...I know better. Twilight pondered over the matter for some time, before eventually breaking out into a wide smile, turning to Princess Celestia as she did so.

"I say, Princess? It must be interesting, having a creature as rare as a phoenix be your pet."

Celestia looked at her student, raising an eyebrow over her emphasis of her words. When she saw her face, however, she noted immediately that Twilight's grin was a forced one, and her eyes were darting from her, to Fluttershy and then back again. It took a moment, but Celestia's eyes began to widen, perhaps understanding her student's unspoken message, before putting on another smile.

"Yes, indeed. You can't find them except in very special areas of Equestria. And, of course, owning one is a tremendous responsibility, especially when they reach the end of their regular life-cycles like this."

Fluttershy, having heard that, immediately lost her previous worried look, and instead bore a curious expression as she looked to her diarch.


It was obvious that she didn't understand what was being said, and Celestia giggled slightly before beginning to explain herself.

"Oh, I do apologise, my dear. You see, phoenixes go through several life cycles over many years. They grow physically older and more frail, like Philomena is doing so here, before magically bursting into flames."

As expected, Fluttershy let out an "eep" after hearing that, prompting Celestia to speak in a calmer and more reassuring tone.

"But...from those ashes, the bird rises anew, fresh and healthy again, as if they'd never had a sick day in their entire lives. Why...they're practically immortal."

Fluttershy looked on in awe as Celestia explained that, turning to Philomena. The bird was still coughing and spluttering like before, but this time, Fluttershy seemed less concerned than before.

"So...Philomena will be alright?"

Celestia smiled warmly, speaking with the same kind of caring tone that a Mother would to her child.

"Of course, sweet thing. You have nothing to worry about."

Fluttershy, at first, seemed unsure about that, which was understandable, given the poor state the bird seemed to be in right now. But, one look at Celestia let the young pegasus know that truth had been spoken here, and that Philomena would indeed recover from what she was going through. Letting out a sigh of relief, Fluttershy gave a small smile of appreciation to Celestia before turning back to her own meal, which she began to eat with more enthusiasm before. Twilight, smiling at seeing her friend more perked up than before, turned to her teacher, mouthing a silent "thank you" as she did so. Seeing this, Celestia gave a brief wink before turning to her tea, magically levitating it to her mouth before taking a single sip. With the matter settled, Twilight turned to Philomena, smirking at her as she did so. Not this time, Philomena. Not this time.


The confusion in Twilight's voice was clear, much like it was in her expression. However, as she and Celestia stood together, in a room adjacent to the main festivities of the rest of Sugar Cube Corner, the diarch merely smiled warmly at her apprentice and nodded. She closed her eyes and caused her horn to glow its usual golden colour. There was a brief flash of light and, in an instant, a scroll now hovered before the princess. Twilight watched it carefully as Celestia levitated it closer to her. Nervously, the young unicorn accepted it, using her own magic to open the scroll and read it. As she did so, the princess watched with a knowing smile as Twilight's eyes covered line after line. In time, her expression became one of shock, and a slight blush appeared on her cheeks as she looked up to Celestia. She...she knows? How? Did Shining tell her? No, he wouldn't betray a confidence like that. She had to have found out some other way. Seeing the way her student's eyes were darting about, Celestia giggled slightly, speaking up in a soft and calm manner.

"You should know by now, Twilight. Very little happens in Canterlot without my knowledge. As soon as your brother dropped it off, I was made aware of it by the ones who received it."

Twilight rolled up the parchment, looking away from her mentor, partly out of embarrassment, but also out of shame for having kept her in the dark on this matter. However, the princess stepped forward, placing a hoof gently under her student's chin and guiding her up to look at her again.

"You needn't worry, Twilight. I am not angry at you. Though, I am surprised that you've decided to do this. It's a big change, after all."

Chuckling nervously, Twilight nodded.

"Yeah...Shining said the same thing. But...my decision still stands. I'm going through with it. It's been a long time coming."

Celestia nodded in response to that.

"I can understand that. So...when are you going to tell Spike?"

Twilight sighed, looking at the ground briefly.

"I...I need to wait for the right moment. But it'll be soon, I know that much."

A warm smile crept onto Celestia's face after hearing that, and she gently placed a hoof on her student's shoulder.

"Well...you should know I'm very proud of you, and I hope this decision brings you and him a great deal of happiness."

Twilight smiled at that. Thank you, Princess. That means a lot to me to hear you say that. However, as she considered that, a gnawing feeling began to form in the pit of her stomach. I...I have to tell her. It won't be long now and she needs to prepare. It won't be something she'll want to hear, but she has to. Clearing her throat, Twilight fumbled her words a couple of times before finally managing to get out what she needed to say.

"Princess...can I make a request?"

The diarch of the sun raised an eyebrow at the way her student had said that, but nevertheless nodded her head, prompting Twilight to continue.

"It's just...it might be a good idea for you and Luna to start putting a few protective wards around Canterlot. You know, I case...things happen."

The smile Celestia had worn earlier began to vanish, now replaced by a look of concern.

"I take it this is an...upcoming issue?"

Twilight nodded, leading to Celestia sighing somewhat.

"I see. Very well, I'll speak to Luna about it. Tell me, what kind of magic will we need to protect the city against?"

The words stuck in Twilight's throat, and Celestia could see that she was distressed about something. When she finally did speak, it was not what the princess had been expecting.


There was a still silence in the air as the elder alicorn stared at her pupil. She looked right into Twilight's eyes, seeing nothing but truth there, and her heart sank. Celestia shook her head, very slowly, with realisation covering her face, almost to the point of being horrified, before finally speaking again, albeit in a very hushed tone.

"No...no! That...that can't be! Twilight, my dearest student! Please, in the name of everything good and right in this world, tell me that this is some kind of joke!"

But Twilight merely shook her head.

“I’m sorry...but he is returning, and soon."

Silence fell once more, and Celestia hung her head low, avoiding eye-contact with her student. Guilt overflowed in Twilight's heart as the reality of this sunk in. If there is one thing I hate above everything else, it's giving bad news to those I love. A genuinely apologetic look crossed Twilight’s face as Celestia looked up again, staring at her right in the eye. In time, the princess finally spoke again.


Twilight let out a sigh before answering.

"A few weeks. A month at most."

Celestia nodded at that.

"The Elements..."

But she was stopped from continuing by a raised hoof from Twilight.

"Don’t worry about the Elements. I have that under control."

Celestia saw the look of determination on Twilight's face, knowing her student had meant every word at that, and exhaled deeply. It took some time, but she slowly reached up to her full height again, taking a few breaths to calm herself.

"So...after all these centuries...he is returning."

Twilight remained silent, merely nodding in response. Celestia looked away, a slight frown appearing on her face.

"I suppose it was foolish of me to think he’d be gone forever. Very well, Twilight, I will prepare the city, though I trust you know I won't openly be announcing this."

Twilight nodded again.

"I understand. It’d just put ponies in a panic if either of us did that. We have to keep this under the radar."

Celestia nodded, looking past her student. Twilight turned, seeing the door that led to the main room of the bakery. Behind that door, everypony is still celebrating, without a care in the world. Little do they know that the catalyst for one of the darkest chapters in Equestrian history is about to break free of his prison, ready to wreak havoc just as he did in ages past. Celestia knows him well, and she knows how severe this is. If my plan fails, then either her, Luna or the Elements will be needed. Turning back to her mentor, Twilight placed a hoof up to her shoulder, gaining her attention. It took a while, but the white alicorn eventually smiled down at her.

"Thank you, Twilight...for warning me."

Twilight smiled back, just before Celestia took a deep breath and spoke up again.

"Now then...let's get back to the party. We don't want anypony sending out search parties for us."

Twilight giggled somewhat.

"Lead the way, Princess."

Celestia giggled as well, walking back to the main area of celebration, leaving Twilight behind her. With her teacher no longer looking at her, however, Twilight smile faded as she regarded her. Oh, Princess. You forget...I know a forced smile when I see one now.

Three Fillies and a Drake

The woodlands on the edge of Sweet Apple Acres was a calm and peaceful place at this time of year, filled with not only luscious green-leafed trees, but also the songs of many birds filling the air. Deep within this area, nestled safely among the trees, was an oak, larger than any other, and within its branches was the clubhouse of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. On the outside of the treehouse was Apple Bloom, carefully placing a nail into a loose board on the side of the place, with a hammer in her other hoof. A few calming breaths passed before she struck the nail with her tool, forcing it in perfectly with a single blow. After backing away slightly, she placed her hoof upon the board, feeling how firm it was, and smiled. Another job well done, she thought to herself, and placed her hammer away in a nearby open tool box. To think, makin an buildin stuff was mah talent all along. Ah'd never have thunk it, if it weren't for that talent show. A smile crept onto her face. Scoots an Sweetie got theirs too, on our first try. Seems amazin. But then, ah guess that's the story with everypony's cutie mark. Looking upon her fine repair work, Apple Bloom closed her tool box before making her way inside, wherein she saw Scootaloo, making a few adjustments on the wheels of her scooter.

"Broken?" Apple Bloom asked.

The pegasus filly looked up at her, smiled and then shook her head.

"Nah. Just need to get out a few leaves that got caught in my last stunt. The moves come easy now, but all this junk gets in the way."

Apple Bloom nodded and that, making her way over to the podium at the end of the room. She glanced up at it carefully, sighing to herself. This group was made to help us find our cutie marks. But now...we have em, way sooner than ah thought we would. What do we do now? Give ourselves a new name or somethin?


The earth pony turned, seeing Scootaloo give her a somewhat concerned look.

"You okay there? You kinda spaced out for a moment."

Apple Bloom giggled a little before shaking her head.

"Nah. Ah'm just thinkin. Ya know...about us getting these marks an all."

Scootaloo smiled at that, turning to look upon her own mark, that of a scooter wheel and purple lightning bolt.

"Yeah, they ARE pretty awesome, aren't they? I mean...not as cool as Rainbow's of course, but..."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes after hearing that. Here we go again, with Scoots an her Rainbow Dash obsession. So, the young filly sat down as her friend began listing off all the ways in which she felt Rainbow was the greatest pony in the world. Ah've never seen anypony so devoted ta another than Scoots is to Rainbow. A thought occurred to her in that moment. Then again, it was because of Rainbow that Twilight, Applejack an the others got their cutie marks, so ah guess she's gotta have somethin goin for her. A smile crept onto her face as she dwelt on that. Those were some amazin stories the mares told us. All the trouble they went through to get their marks. Sounds like some tough time fer em. Wonder how much trouble me, Scoots and Sweetie would have had ta go through if we hadn't entered that show? However, after considering that, Apple Bloom's eyes widened as she began looking around, and quickly realised that there were only two fillies here, not three.

"Hey, Scoots? Where's Sweetie?"

Scootaloo stopped her Rainbow-based rant and began looking around, before turning to Apple Bloom with a mischievous smirk on her face.

"Knowing her, she's probably making kissy-faces with her new coltfriend."

Realisation crossed the young filly's face after hearing her friend's words, and soon enough, they both broke down into a bout of giggles. Eyup, her an Spike sure do spend a lot of time together these days. As the laughter died down, the two fillies looked at each other for a while, before Apple Bloom gained a smirk not unlike Scootaloo's. She gestured to the door with her head, and after looking at it herself, Scootaloo smiled and nodded in agreement. So, the two fillies raced out of the treehouse, making their way through the trees in search of their targets. It took a while, but eventually, they began to hear the distinct sound of some singing nearby. Sweet and melodic, they knew exactly who it was, and so rushed off in the direction of those pleasant sounds. After rummaging around in some bushes, they eventually poked their heads out of the other side, and sure enough, there was Sweetie Belle. She was currently standing atop an old tree stump, and before her, was Spike. The young dragon was kneeling down before her, watching with a look of rapture as the unicorn filly sang to him. It was a beautiful sound, and one that the other two fillies couldn’t help but enjoy listening to. In time, the song stopped, and Spike gave out an enthusiastic applause, to which Sweetie blushed. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo watched with held-back giggles as their friend leapt forward, embracing the young drake in a warm hug, before finally finding that they could hold back no more.

"AWWW!!!" they called out in unison.

As expected, the two lovebirds swivelled their heads around, a bright shade of crimson covering their faces as they finally noticed their impromptu audience. As Apple Bloom and Scootaloo emerged from the bushes and walked towards them, Spike stammered his words a little.

"How...how long have you two been there?"

Scootaloo smirked.

"Long enough, Casanova."

Naturally, Spike buried his face in his claws after hearing that, to which Sweetie looked at her friend angrily. However, that anger soon faded with Apple Bloom’s next words.

"That song was really good, Sweetie. Yer getting better an better every day."

A smile crept onto Sweetie's face.

"Thanks. I figured now was a good time to practice, mostly to cheer him up."

The other fillies gained a look of confusion and turned to Spike, who was still hiding his face from them.

"Somethin wrong, Spike?"

The young dragon lowered his hands and let out a sigh.

"It's nothing. It's just...I guess I've been feeling a bit distant from Twilight recently."

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.

"What? You're with her all the time."

Spike nodded.

"Yeah, but it's different to how it used to be. Before we moved to Ponyville, I was by her side all the time, helping her in whatever she needed doing. Now though, she's doing all this stuff I can't help with. Like that ugly black seed she had in her study the other day. She said I wasn't to go anywhere near it. And the stuff I can do, she decides to do herself. I know she thinks she's doing me a favour, giving me less work, but I just...I miss it."

The fillies all saw the look of concern on Spike's face, and knew he meant every word of it. Apple Bloom especially seemed to regard him with worry. Ah guess ah can understand that. If Applejack didn’t want me to do as much to help out on the farm, ah'd be feelin pretty down too. However, a slight look of annoyance then crossed Spike's face, his voice more irritated than before.

"And then...there's her new friend."

The shared look of confusion across the faces of all three fillies prompted Spike to explain himself.

"This owl came by the other night, and Twilight took him in. He's helping her during her night studies, when I'm asleep. And the way she talks about him...ugh...I guess..."

Sweetie looked to him, seeing the discomfort on his face, and walked towards him, placing a hoof upon his shoulder.

"You think she loves you less?"

Spike looked to her, almost shocked by the statement, and immediately shook his head.

"No! I mean...I guess...it just feels like my being an assistant doesn't mean as much as it used to. I know she loves me. I mean, heck, she practically smothers me the rest of the time, like just before we moved to Ponyville. She made this big thing about treating me right and stuff. But when it comes to my helping her...it just feels like she doesn't need me, not like the old days."

Seeing this, Sweetie let out a sigh, embracing him in a warm hug again. This time, instead of blushing fiercely, Spike simply held her in turn as she spoke softly into his ear.

"Don't worry Spike. I'm sure everything will be fine. This is Twilight we're talking about. You know she won't push you away."

Hearing that, the young dragon let out a sigh and put on a small smile, for Sweetie's benefit if nothing else.

"I know. I just...I just wish I felt as important as she tells me I am."


Darkness fell upon Ponyville with the setting of the sun, and all around the town, there were ponies closing up their shops or homes, ready for a pleasant evening in before sleep. But, in the Golden Oak Library, things were less than happy. Twilight, sitting by a window, looked out onto the street, seeing it become more and more empty, before turning. She looked upon her number one assistant, Spike, as he quietly read a book on the other side of the room. The young unicorn let out a sigh at seeing him like this. He's still upset, even after everything I've changed in this situation. A look of sadness crossed her eyes as she looked to the ground. I've refrained from giving Owlowiscious the same kind of high praise that I did the first time around. I've let Spike now that he'll only be my assistant during the night. I even avoided giving Spike that job of getting that book, just so he doesn't have to go through that whole accidental burning thing. And yet...he's still unhappy. I know he was jealous, and he thought I was replacing him, but surely, this time, he knows I wouldn't do that...right? Looking up again, Twilight looked upon her young dragon friend, and noticed at this point that he'd been staring at the same page for the last few minutes.

Sighing, Twilight got off her chair and began walking over to him. It didn't take Spike long to notice this, but he soon got back to his book, trying hard to actually look as if he was interested in reading it. But Twilight knew better, and cleared her throat a little, gaining his attention.

"Is something wrong, Twilight?"

Putting on a small smile, Twilight responded.

"Actually, I was about to ask you that question."

Spike looked away from her, clearly uncomfortable with what had just been asked.

"It's...it's nothing."

Twilight frowned at that, taking another step forward.

"Spike...I know when something's bothering you. Please...you can tell me what it is."

But the drake kept his mouth shut, avoiding eye contact with her, lest this situation become more uncomfortable than it already was. Twilight let out a sigh at this.

"Is it Owlowiscious?"

Only now did Spike turn to her, shaking his head as he did so.

"No...no, I know he's not a problem. I can't be awake all the time and you need the help during the night. And I know you're not replacing me. You'd never do that."

Twilight raised an eyebrow, showing surprise at hearing that. To hear Spike say that...I wasn't expecting it. The first time, he was so worried I might abandon him, leave him. He thought the owl would come and take his place, that I had no further need of him. Now though...that doesn't seem to be the case. He's being honest with me about that, I know that much. Could it be that spending time with the fillies has changed him into accepting this? But...if that's the case...then what is he still upset for? Before she had a chance to ask the question, Spike looked right at her, answering it ahead of time.

"It's just...you don't seem to need me like before. You're doing all these things and...it's like I’m becoming less important to you."

Twilight stood there, mouth agape, with her mind frantic over those words. Less important? How could he possibly think that? But, like before, Spike answered her unspoken question.

"I...I know you love me. I know you think of me as family. I know I'll always have a place in your life. You've said it to me before and I believe you. But...sometimes...I feel like I'm just not...necessary. Like...like you would be no worse off if I weren't here."

There was a still silence between the two, with Spike almost looking as if he were about to break into tears. Twilight, by contrast, remained utterly expressionless, almost as if in shock. She looked at him, seeing nothing but honesty in his face, and a deep sadness. How...how could he ever think that? To have my life without Spike in it...that's not something I'd ever want. Steeling herself, Twilight took another step forward.

“Spike...you've been in my life longer than I can remember. You've been a trusted friend. You've always been there for me. I may do more things myself now, but do not ever think that as meaning that I don't need you in my life! You're important to me!"

The drake turned to her, his eyes still welling up.

"Am I? I know you love me...but how important could I possibly be to a pony who can do so much on her own?"

Melancholy filled Twilight's heart with those words. Does my approval really mean that much to him? Is my opinion of him really the only worth he thinks he has? Possibilities and ideas raced through Twilight's mind as this scenario played out before her, but, eventually, she focused on one thing and one thing only, and turned to the side. There, on the other side of the room, was a chest of drawers, safely locked up. Sighing, Twilight began to walk over to them. I wanted to wait until the right moment...but I guess...this will have to be it. Spike watched her, more than a little curious as to what she was doing, and watched as she used her magic to open the draws. Eventually, Twilight levitated a scroll from within, looking at it intently. The document Celestia gave me. I hope...I truly do hope this will make him understand. Turning back, Twilight walked over to her young friend, using her magic to levitate the scroll so that it was now hovering before him. Spike looked from the scroll to Twilight, a look of confusion across his face. Please, Spike. Take it...and understand. Eventually, Spike finally reached out, taking the scroll and carefully opened it up. There was a great deal of legal jargon upon the page he now read, but his eyes widened as he looked upon the title scroll itself.

"From the Canterlot...adoption registry?"

Spike looked up, seeing Twilight look back at him, bearing a look of worry, before getting back to the scroll, reading it aloud.

"After careful consideration, we at the registry have approved of the adoption request by Miss Twilight Sparkle of Ponyville. And so, from this day onwards, Miss Sparkle's charge, the young dragon, Spike, shall henceforth be known as Spike...Sparkle."

The unicorn's expression was a serious one. I've been planning this for a long time, even before the dragon incident. Shining was able to get it to Canterlot for me, and Celestia brought the response. It took longer than I thought, but still...it's done. Silence had fallen between the two once more during this, and Spike's hands dropped down, all while still clutching the scroll within it. He looked up at Twilight, staring at her intently, all while Twilight's mind raced as usual. Even in the years after this, I never took this action. Spike was always my assistant, and though I often professed him as family, I never acted upon it. I never took the action to make it official, to make him...one of mine. At this point, even Twilight was beginning to well up, and she raised a hoof, gently placing it upon Spike's shoulder as she spoke gently to him.

"You...you do matter to me, Spike. You are necessary. You are more than a friend to me. You're one of the most integral parts of my life. You're family. You're...you're my son. And now...everypony knows it."

But still, Twilight saw that the young dragon remained silent, staying in a state of shock and confusion over what had just occurred. Fear gripped Twilight's heart as she considered this. Have...have I done the right thing here? What if he gets angry because I didn't consult him? What if this pushes him further away? I couldn't bear that. Oh, please, Spike! Please know that I love you! But after much silence between the two, the drake finally moved. He looked up to Twilight, wherein the mare saw that the tears had finally begun to flow. Before she could react, he leapt forward, embracing her tightly, like he never wanted to let go. With tears now flowing down her own cheeks, Twilight dropped to her knees and wrapped him in her forehooves, holding him close. Oh, Spike! My son! I never showed you how much you meant to me in the first history. And I was a fool for it! But not this time! This time...I know what I should have done! Through her thoughts, Twilight heard the still-sobbing dragon begin to speak, his voice wobbling.

"I...I...I don't know what to say. I'm...I'm sorry! I shouldn't have...!"

But he was stopped form speaking by Twilight, who frowned slightly as she held him.

"Don't you dare. Don't you dare apologise! I'm the one who should be sorry! I never saw what was bothering you. And I should have done!"

Needless to say, this was something that continued for some time, each taking the blame for who was ultimately at fault for this brief rift that had occurred moments before. But, in the end, they simply stayed together, crying happily in each other's embrace for who knows how long. Eventually, the two parted, their eyes red and puffy from the tears that had emerged from them, and smiled warmly at each other. Raising a hoof, Twilight carefully patted the top of her newly-adopted son's head.

"You matter to me, Spike. Now and always. I hope...you understand that."

In stark contrast to how he had been acting before, Spike merely smiled back at that.

"I do, more than ever...Mom."

Another tear flowed down Twilight's cheek after hearing that. Mom. I never knew the word could sound so sweet. And with that, she broke out into yet another massive smile, reaching forward and planting a gentle kiss upon Spike’s forehead, before letting out a single sigh.

"I guess that, now...I just need to worry about what my parents are going to say about this."

Party Before the Storm

If there was one thing above all else that Pinkie Pie loved above all else, it's a party. But then, that would be along the same lines as saying that Rainbow Dash loves flying, or Fluttershy loves animals. It's so obvious that there's very little reason to even say it. And yet, despite that, the pink mare's love of such festivities was in the forefront of the gathering here today. Tucked away within the massive red barn of the Apple family, both she and her closest friends had all gathered to celebrate her birthday, with a massive cake right in the middle for all to see. Many of the ponies, Pinkie especially, were in the middle of some vigorous dancing, while others, like Rarity and Fluttershy, simply contented themselves to chatting while drinking some fruit punch. Even Trixie was here, actually seeming to be having a pleasant conversation with Applejack. As for Twilight, she was quietly eating a slice of the cake near the side of the room, watching happily as everypony else enjoyed the party. The look of sheer joy upon Pinkie's face brought a smile to Twilight's own, and as she downed her cake, her mind was thinking this whole thing over. Look at her. You'd think parties were the best thing in the world. Then again, Pinkie practically lives to make others happy, so I guess it's to be expected when she gets the same kind of treatment in return.

The young unicorn smiled silently as she continued on with her cake. I've changed many things recently in this town. I've shielded my friends from many things, and many threats. But today? Today...I don't think there was any needs to change anything at all. Everything is exactly as it was the first time around. As she turned her head, she looked upon the tables where the rest of the party food was located. There, talking amongst themselves, were the Cutie Mark Crusaders and Spike, all of whom seemed happy about being here. A small smile crept onto Twilight's face as she saw them. Well...maybe some things have changed, but the core of it remains. Pinkie is happy, her Birthday celebrations have still gone on, and everypony is enjoying themselves. That's what matters. As she kept her eyes on the youngsters further away, her smile became an affectionate one. It’s good to see Spike getting on so well with them. Can't have the future Princess of Friendship with a son who never had any friends his own age after all.

Her expression became a thoughtful one at that. My son...it still sounds strange to me. All those years where my future self regretted not making the decision to adopt him. More still, I wonder if this is something that, perhaps, Spike wanted all the time, but just never asked? A sigh escaped her as she dwelt on that. I guess...some questions just shouldn't be asked. As she levitated a nearby glass of punch, Twilight was then taken aback by the sudden arrival of Pinkie, who squealed happily before embracing the still-stunned unicorn.

"Isn't this great? All my bestest friends are here on my Birthday and we get a super-awesome party to boot! Whoo!"

Letting out a brief chortle, Twilight returned the hug before answering.

"I'm glad you like it, Pinkie. Me and the others spent a good long while trying to figure out what you'd like. With you being such an expert party planner and all..."

But Pinkie merely scoffed at that.

"Silly! You don't need to worry about my standards of parties! I'm just glad you put the effort in! That's what matters!"

A smile crept onto Twilight's face.

"I appreciate that, Pinkie. I really do."

The smile that Pinkie returned to her was so massive that it threatened to burst forth from her face, but thankfully, she resumed her normal-sized smile shortly before bouncing off to join her friend. Laughing incredulously and shaking her head, Twilight got back to her punch. It's good, seeing her so happy. Hard to imagine, that just a short while ago, she was so down. Upon thinking that, Twilight’s smile faded somewhat. The way she was back then...I couldn't believe it was actually Pinkie. A slight feeling of shame began to grip her heart as she considered that. I've always known that Pinkie had that side of her. That side of moroseness and unhappiness. It never came out, except when things got truly bad, but even so, it's so different from how she normally is that...it's like it's a whole other person. I never paid it much heed the first time around, but maybe, this time, I should. It suggests some part of her that, perhaps, she's struggled with for most of her life, some darker inner self that has been buried under all that fluff and bubbliness. As those thoughts passed through her mind, a brief giggle escaped her. Listen to me, acting like some psychiatrist or something. Whatever is going on with Pinkie, I doubt I'll be able to understand it with just a cursory glance like this. It'll take time.

However, as she looked amongst the crowd, seeing Pinkie there, with her joyous expression, Twilight's face began to soften. But...not today. Today is all about her and her happiness. Don't want to intrude on that with some kind of mental poking after all. She stopped drinking and looked up briefly, seeing the smiles on everypony's faces. All of them are happy, just like her. As far as any of them are concerned, the world is perfect. No problems. No conflicts to resolve. Just peace and friendship. Her smile faded as she turned, looking out of the open barn doors. But it won't stay that way for long. He'll be coming, and soon. I already have plans underway, and my friends will need to be a part of it. I just hope this works. Unfortunately, Twilight's train of thought was then interrupted by the feeling of somepony poking her in the side. Turning around, she glanced down and smiled as she saw that it was none other than Spike himself, who looked up at her with some concern.

"Twi...I mean...Mom? Is everything okay?"

Chuckling briefly at hearing her new title, Twilight raised a hoof and carefully placed it upon her son's head.

"It's nothing, Spike. I'm just a little tired from all this party planning, that's all."

While that statement was certainly true, it wasn't the real reason for her current concern, though she dared not tell her son that. Spike looked to her, still somewhat worried, and gave a single nod. Whether he believed her reasoning or not, she couldn't say. However, the smile he put on for her seemed to suggest that he was at least willing to accept it. Smiling back at him, she patted him again before walking off with him back towards the crowd. As he and Spike re-joined the group, with Pinkie especially seeming happy for them to be here, Twilight kept on smiling, her feelings of worry and foreboding gradually pushed back to the furthest corners of her mind.

Problems will be coming...but right now...I think we all just deserve a party.

Final Preparations

In the dark and somewhat foreboding depths of the Golden Oak Library's basement, Twilight Sparkle was hard at work, going over a few separate pages of notes and equations. The only sounds, aside from her own breathing, was that of the slight flicker of the nearby candle-light, and the tick-tock of the clock on the wall. Every once in a while, she would glance upwards to the latter, staring at it before letting out a sigh, after which she simply got back to her work. Less than a day now. Not long now before that stone prison breaks. Raising a hoof, she gently rubbed her temples, trying to alleviate the stress. How long have I been up? I can't even remember when I started preparing all this stuff. So I guess it's too long, at least that's what Spike would say. Reaching forward, she grabbed onto a small glass of water, lifting to her mouth and taking a single sip before placing it down again. Gotta keep this up. My work isn't finished yet. I can't leave any avenue open for him. He may be chaos, but that's no excuse for me to just give up on trying to get ready for him.

Turning, Twilight narrowed her eyes as she looked towards the corner of the room. There, in a simple glass container, were the fabled Elements of harmony. Getting up and out of her seat, she walked over to them, placing a hoof upon the glass as she stared at the artefacts within. Equestria managed to get by for a thousand years without ever needing these things. And yet, all of a sudden, all these messes keep coming up that require their use. I'd call it fate...if it wasn't for the fact that I know history can be re-written. A frown formed on her face. Okay, Twilight, think! Remember all the things you need for tomorrow. Turning, she began to mumble to herself as she walked back over to her desk.

"Protective wards? Check. Enchantments on myself and the Elements? Check. The spells Celestia will need to use on Canterlot? I haven't asked her if she's done it yet...but I'm hoping check. I guess..."

Her expression softened as she turned to look upon the Elements once more.

"...the only thing I need to do now is give it to them."

However, no sooner had she spoken those words that Twilight began to hear a familiar voice.

"Um...Miss Sparkle?"

Turning, Twilight looked up the stairs and smiled as she saw who had just entered the basement. A blue unicorn mare, looking down at her with some uncertainty in her face. Twilight raised a hoof and gestured to her to come down. The other mare nodded and began walking down, wherein Twilight finally noticed that she was using her magic to levitate a tea tray, complete with an already-filled cup. As the mare reached the bottom of the stairs, she levitated the tray and its contents onto Twilight's desk.

"You've been down here for a while. Trixie figured you needed a break."

Twilight's smile widened at that.

"Thank you, Trixie. I appreciate that."

The blue mare nodded and began to walk around, perhaps ready to leave. However, before she did so, she soon noticed all of the paperwork on Twilight's desk, raising an eyebrow as she began to look at it.

"Working on some new kind of magic?"

Twilight shook her head as she stood alongside her student.

"Not exactly. They're old spells. Theories on stronger shields and such. Nopony has seen this kind of thing in a long time. Even with my magic, some of these enchantments are pretty hard to pull off."

Trixie turned to her, looking more than a little curious.

"Trixie is no expert, but these look like some pretty powerful spells. What are you going to use them for?"

Twilight turned to the papers, her expression somewhat steely.

"Just...being prepared."

There was no explanation after that, but the message was clear; Twilight was planning something, and it was going to be big. Clearing her throat, Trixie began to turn around, but was stopped from doing so when Twilight placed a hoof upon her shoulder, there was a silence between the two until Twilight finally broke it, her expression softer than it had been before.

"Trixie...tell me...are you happy here?"

Trixie raised yet another eyebrow after hearing that.

"Why do you ask?"

Twilight sighed.

"It's just...I want to know if you enjoy all these lessons I've been giving you, and all these chances to make friends and...all of it, really."

For a while, Trixie looked taken aback at being asked a question like that. But, for a moment, she stopped, and appeared deep in thought over the matter. Twilight watched her carefully, not speaking up, but showing a definite interest in what her protégé would say next. In time, the blue unicorn looked at her teacher in a rather sheepish manner before speaking.

"Well...it's been a little strange. Trixie spent so much time on the roads, she never really made any friends before. Whenever she was around lots of other ponies, it was usually at her shows. But since moving here...that's been changing. Ponies have been getting to know Trixie, even liking her. And it's not just because Trixie can make a few fireworks appear, they just...like her."

Twilight smiled at that.

"And...you're happy about that...right?"

Trixie took a while, but eventually, she broke out into a small smile of her own.

"Trixie...I...I am happy, yes. It hasn't always been the easiest thing, but...I'm happy to be here, Twilight."

The mares smiled at each other, with Twilight gently placing a hoof upon her shoulder. I took Trixie as my student, but with all these preparation and other business, I guess I've been somewhat negligent of her. I feared she might not be acclimating well to this new life. Seems I was wrong about that, fortunately. Seeing the look of appreciation Trixie was giving her, Twilight nodded to her, giving her a silent permission to leave at long last. As she watched the blue mare walk away, she was deep in thought over it. There are times when I wonder if my changing history has yielded anything good. But today...I think I can safely say that it has. It may just be one mare learning to make friends...but if there's one thing I've learned myself over the years...that's a reward you just can't undervalue. Sighing in a contended manner, Twilight turned, ready to return to her desk again. However, she was prevented from doing so by a sudden ruckus from upstairs. Spinning around, she watched as Spike had entered the room, apparently having bumped into Trixie. After giving her a silent look of apology and Trixie accepting it, Spike stood aside to let her pass. With Trixie gone, the young dragon looked down the stairs to his adopted Mother, calling out to her.

"Hey, Mom? Applejack and the others are here. Said you called them over?"

Twilight gained a somewhat serous look after hearing that, before nodding back to her son. Spike nodded in return before making his own way out of the basement. Well...guess this is it, Twilight thought. She looked up, seeing the head of her friends poke in through the door, looking down to her. She smiled to them, a silent invitation to come down, to which they promptly began to enter in earnest. They walked down the steps carefully, glancing around with a great deal of curiosity. As expected, Fluttershy was the last in the line, looking more than a little nervous at all the strange and mysterious things down here. Then again, these things are from the Everfree castle after all. It makes sense she'd be worried about them, given her last experiences in that place. Eventually, the five mares made it down, still looking around with interest. Rainbow would occasionally glance at a nearby chalkboard, only to turn away when she looked at the complicated equations upon it. As for the rest, they looked to Twilight with some concern on their faces, until finally, Applejack stepped forward and spoke.

"Y'all wanted ta speak ta us, Twi?"

Twilight nodded. She turned from them and headed back to the container of the Elements, opening it with her magic.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. The battle against Nightmare Moon was not the only time in history that the Elements have been needed. There may come a time when we will need to use their power again. And when that day comes..."

Using her magic, Twilight began to levitate the Elements out of their container, causing them to hover to their respective bearer.

"...it wouldn't do for them to be separate from their bearers."

Rarity looked at her Element and raised an eyebrow at Twilight's words.

"You...you want us to keep them with us?"

Twilight nodded.

"I do. We live in completely separate parts of town, so having them with you would make things easier than having you live away from them."

Before anypony could react to that, Rainbow swooped in, taking her own Element and fastening it to her neck.

"No problems here! This thing is awesome! Count me in!"

Twilight giggled at that, but her smile faded a little as she watched her friends, each of whom seemed more concerned than Rainbow about their friend's request. Even so, one by one, they each took their own Element and placed it carefully around their own necks, a slight shimmer occurring within the jewels as they did so. Tonight is the night that they would have gone to the Grand Galloping Gala. Instead, they'll be preparing for something far more important. A slight pang of guilt gripped Twilight's heart as she considered that. That rejection letter I wrote to Celestia about the tickets...that was far too harsh. I know I was still gripped by those unhappy feelings from my future, but even so, it was just uncalled for. I must remember to apologise to her about that at some point. Glancing at her friends, Twilight saw that they looked to each other, still looking unsure about all this, before looking to her again, Applejack speaking up.

"Is...is something wrong, Twi?"

Twilight looked at her, mulling over her potential responses for a while, before finally sighing and speaking up.

"Better safe than sorry."

None of them asked her what that meant, and given the look of determination she now bore upon her face, none of them actually seemed to want to. However, as Twilight's expression softened, she placed a hoof upon Applejack's shoulder, smiling to her in such a way that gave a very clear message; everything will be fine. There was something about the way those unspoken words came across that seemed to do the job, putting the other mares at ease, and causing them to be smiling back to her. They trust me. On a day like today...that's all I need to see. Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but was stopped when Trixie called in from upstairs, asking if anypony wanted any of the cookies she'd been baking. As one might expect, Pinkie was the first to volunteer, zipping up before anypony else could react. One by one, the rest giggled at this before making their way up to follow her. Applejack was the last, giving Twilight a single glance, showing her concern, before turning back and making her way back up the stairs. Now, Twilight was alone once more, looking back at her own Element. Her eyes focused on the jewel in the crown, darker than it was supposed to be, and glared slightly. I still don't know what that means...but tomorrow is when he breaks free, so I guess we'll find out. Thinking on that, she let out a single sigh.

So then...let's see how the day of chaos plays out.

Author's Notes:

And so, at last, I reach the end of what would have been the first season of the show. I want to take this moment to say thank you to all the people who've been keeping up with this story thus far. I appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy all the future chapters that are coming.

A Chaotic Mind

Darkness. That was all that could be seen around him. An oppressive, endless black that surrounded and pressed into him, like an unwanted blanket. Had anypony else been placed in such a situation for as long as he had, they may have been driven mad. But then, this was not a pony. Let's see now. Day three-hundred-and-sixty-five-thousand, two-hundred and...oh, what was it? Oh yes, seventy three. Could've sworn it was seventy-two, but heck, what do I know? A mental sigh escaped the creature as that thought began to sink in. Okay then, what shall we do today? I feel it should be something special. I know I kind of missed out on the official anniversary of my oh-so glorious imprisonment, but then, missing out on stuff is really the only variation in routine I have to give myself. Ugh, listen to me! Pointing out the blatantly obvious like I'm trying to explain things to an audience that isn't there. Well...maybe they are there and I just don't know it. Or, just maybe, I'm convincing myself of it as some means of staving off boredom. Just like I've done every...single...day.

An unspoken laugh escaped unmoving lips. My dear and precious thoughts. They're all I have now. Trapped within this uncaring stone...such a cruel punishment. I mean, sure, I turned a few...thousand lives upside down. And yes, I may have attempted to claim the world and everypony in it as my personal plaything. And yes I may have eliminated the concept of gravity itself on one or two occasions, but is that really so bad? Those ponies simply don't understand a good thing when it happens to them. I mean, it was hilarious! All those beasts I summoned forth from the darkest depths of their nightmares were such entertaining things, even if they did try and eat the ponies occasionally. Ugh, they're all such sticks-in-the-mud. Still, no point dwelling on it. Best keep my mind on other things. I have an eternity to pass and precious little to do it in. Maybe I can strain my eyes and check out all of the little bumps and irregularities on the stone again? A mental groan came afterwards. Oh joy, I've begun to look forward to staring at rocks now. Perfect. If I wasn't crazy before, I certainly will be after all this.

Still...I guess I don't have anything better to do today. So, let's see now. Um...okay, I think I spot a little bit of elevation there...and a tiny bump there...and I think that patch is slightly less grey than all the other patches around it. Huh...don't think I'd have noticed that one in utter darkness, but then, the light coming from that little crack down there is probably helping. So, anyway...wait...did I say crack? Elation gripped his heart as his free eye darted back to what was seen before. Sure enough, the tiniest sliver of light was seen, the signs of a small gap in the stone. If he could move his lips into a smile, he would have done. Can...can it be? After all these centuries? Do I finally have an out? Okay, Discord, don't get ahead of yourself. Maybe you really have lost your mind and this is all some trick your insanity is playing on you. But...then again...when has that ever stopped me? For the first time in centuries, limbs began to move, struggling against the stone surroundings. His eyes darted left and right, and from within, he began to feel just the tiniest jolt of something that had not been felt in over a millennium. Magic. My magic! Oh, old friend, How I've missed you!

And thus, after one thousand years of imprisonment, the spirit of chaos himself broke free from his bondage. With an almighty push, he tore at the stone, shattering it into a million pieces and scattering the remains all around himself. A massive yawn escaped him before he smiled wickedly, laughing out loud to any who could hear him.

"Ah! After one thousand years, I'm free! It's time to conquer...wait...where is everypony?"

As the ancient spirit finally began to take stock of his surroundings, he saw, to his surprise, that what greeted him here was not some verdant lush garden, but instead a grey drab dungeon interior, with only simply candles here and there to light the way. No windows, and only a single wooden door at one end. The walls around him looked ancient, though not as much as he was, but above all else, what seemed to bother him the most was that there was nopony here with him.

"Huh...I'd have expected dear Celestia to prepare a better welcome for me than this. But, then again, she always did have a rather drab sense of humour. This place actually suits her tastes, now that I think about it."

As he raised a single claw to scratch the side of his face, he was taken aback by the sudden appearance of a bright red glow all around him. A wailing sound, like that of a wounded animal, howled all around him, prompting him to place both hands over his hears.

"By almighty Faust! What is that racket?!"

Though no answer came, something did occur soon afterwards. The walls themselves began to glow that same red, as ancient runes and symbols could now be seen written on their surface. The chaotic spirit looked on with curiosity as, without warning, dozens of bolts of magical lightning poured forth from the walls, striking him and surrounding him, like ethereal chains. They wrapped all around him, holding him tightly and weighing him down to the ground. Now, under these circumstances, many would think this would be cause for distress. However, Discord merely looked at his new bindings with what could only be described as disappointment.

"Really, Celestia? A magical electric binding spell? I thought you were smarter than that. Well...okay, I didn't, but even so, this is pitiful."

Before he could do anything else, however, he was drawn to the door of the chamber, watching as it suddenly burst forth with over a dozen unicorn guards storming in, aiming their horns at him in an aggressive manner. Despite that, this display only managed to cause Discord to smile.

"Ah! Ponies! I never thought I'd miss you guys so much. Do feel free to come over and let me out of here, won't you?"

But instead of obeying that command, one of the stallions turned, looking right at a younger guard behind him before speaking up in a gruff and commanding voice.

"Inform the Princesses! Discord has broken free!"

The other guard gave a dutiful salute before charging off, no doubt to fulfil that task. However, this entire exchange left Discord himself more amused than intimidated.

"Oh, it will be so wonderful to see my old friends again! Well, when I say "friends", I really mean the constant thorns in my side. But as pleasant as it will be to see them..."

The chaotic spirit began to open his mouth, starting to inhale massive quantities of air, all while the stallions watched. They stood there as Discord began to swell up like a balloon, thus forcing his magical bonds to become more and more strained. Eventually, those bonds broke, their magic dissipating almost immediately. Now free of them, Discord let out all the air in his lungs, creating a gust of wind that knocked back a good many of the stallions. As some of them got back to their hooves, the spirit chuckled and tried looking innocent.

"Whoopsie! I do so apologise for that!"

The lead stallion narrowed his eyes at this display.


On that command, the collection of stallions immediately unleashed a barrage of magical blasts at the spirit, who simply stayed in place and took each and every blow. More and more spells were thrown at him, and so powerful was their impact that, eventually, a cloud of steam had begun to form around their target. Seeing this, the commander raised a hoof, causing all of the others to stop shooting. They watched, waiting for the steam to finally clear, but when it did, their eyes widened. For Discord was still there, looking completely disinterested in what had just occurred. There were singes on his body, where the magic had hit him, but a single brush-down by his claw made it look like it was nothing to him, like somepony wiping dust off a suit.

"Well, this has been fun, but after a thousand years of solitary isolation, I feel the need to...get back into my routines a bit."

The lead stallion stamped his hoof in an intimidating fashion.

"You're not going anywhere, monster!"

In stark contrast to how he'd been before, Discord now glared angrily at the guard, and all the rest of them once they began to follow their leader's example. A sly grin began to form on Discord's face, and he raised a single claw, snapping his fingers. There was a bright flash of light and, within moments, all of the stallions had been changed. Now, they were as Discord himself had been mere minutes ago; statues. Now completely unchallenged, Discord hovered over to his now-imprisoned foes and patted their commander's head slightly.

"On the contrary, unicorn. It's you that's not going anywhere!"

Floating right past them, Discord looked left and right after he'd exited the door, seeing nopony there.

"Hmmm...probably a dungeon somewhere. How common."

An idea formed in his mind as he turned his head upwards. Once again, he raised a claw and snapped his fingers, this time surrounding himself in a bright light. An instant passed, and when it did, Discord was now elsewhere, high in the sky above Canterlot. Taking in a deep breath of fresh air, he let out a contented sigh.

"Ah! Now this is more like it!"

Looking, he gazed at the city before him, with its pristine white marble and golden spires. While most would have been in awe at such a sight, Discord merely scoffed.

"Ugh! So clean! So prim and proper! So...so very Celestia!"

Thinking on that, Discord placed his hands on his hips and looked around, seeing nothing but empty sky around him.

"Hmmm...no sign of her yet. Or Luna for that matter. Probably busy trying to undo my handiwork down below. Oh, what I wouldn't give to see the looks on their faces!"

However, it was not long before his expression become somewhat more serious.

"Still...they'll probably still have those bothersome Elements at their disposal. If I'm going to ensure my freedom this time, I'll have to..."

But, he was stopped form continuing as a slight shiver passed through his spine. His whole body practically vibrated from the feeling, causing a look of great discomfort to cross his face.

"Ooh! What...what is that?! It feels...as if Equestria is...off, somehow. I mean...I've felt some magical imbalances in my time...mostly because of me, I'll admit. But this is...different."

He looked around, trying to see the source of the disturbance, but still found nothing but sky.

"It couldn't possibly be a pony doing this...could it? I know they can get into plenty of trouble even when I'm not here, but still..."

As he dwelt on that, the same sly grin from before finally returned.

"Well well...perhaps we have a new player on the board."

A chuckle passed his lips as he once more snapped his fingers, causing a deck-chair to appear out of nowhere. Taking his place on it, he and the chair continued to float in the sky while he mused on present circumstances.

"Just a matter of time. Whoever's causing this will find me eventually. And oh, what a moment that'll be!"

As he continued to laugh at that, his smile faded somewhat.

"Ugh! Still talking to myself. I've got to stop doing that. Well...when I feel like it anyway."

Author's Notes:

I just want to apologise in advance to those among my readers who have taken issue with the inner monologues I've put in my chapters. I knew as I was writing this one that it was going to have quite a lot of it at the start, so I'm sorry if that keeps you from enjoying this chapter.

Summoning the Bearers

Under normal circumstances, the great hallways of the Canterlot royal palace would see few ponies walking through them, save for the occasional guard here and there. However, today, they were the backdrop for a frantic rush forward by Twilight and her friends. The six mares charged forward along the ornate red carpet, passing by many a brightly-coloured stained-glass window. The panting they were doing made it clear that they had run a long way, but even so, they kept on going. The most remarkable thing about that at this present moment was what they wore. For there, hanging from their necks, were the Elements of Harmony. Twilight's own Element, the crown, rested carefully upon her head, staying there even in spite of all this running. Standing at the head of the group, a look of determination was upon Twilight's face. So...he's finally out. Her eyes narrowed at that thought as she continued to run, passing by many a confused servant or guard. As for the rest of her friends, they looked on with concern, especially when they looked to their leader. Twilight tried softening her expression for their sake, but it was of no use. There's no underplaying the severity of this. When they meet Celestia...they'll understand.

And it was not long before that very thing happened in earnest, for the mares burst forth through a door at the end of the long hallway, entering a more grand chamber, at the end of which was the sun princess herself. The elder alicorn watched as her six subjects bowed respectfully towards her, before gesturing for them to rise.

"I'm glad you were able to make it."

Twilight stepped forward, a look of concern upon her face.

"You sent for us, Princess?"

Celestia nodded.


Their diarch gestured with her hoof, giving them a silent command to follow her. The unspoken seriousness of the situation was such that even Pinkie Pie was silent during all this. As all seven mares walked together, they looked on as they entered a room that none had ever seen before, decorated not only in sublime finery, but also more stained-glass windows, though these ones seemed to depict different things to what the other windows of the palace did. Twilight glanced up at them, her face one of seriousness. The great moments of our history. One day...I’ll be up there myself. She let out a sigh at that thought before looking ahead to her teacher, who, at last, stopped walking. The others stopped soon afterwards, and watched with baited breath as Celestia took a few moments to compose herself. When she spoke, her voice was not the calm and motherly tone they were used to, but rather a more commanding and serious-sounding one.

"I'm sure that, by now, you're all aware that strange things have been occurring around Equestria?"

Twilight turned to look at her friends, who, sure enough, were nodding in agreement with that. Rainbow spoke first.

"I'll say! The clouds haven't been doing what we want! It's been impossible to get any weather done right today!"

Applejack chimed in soon afterwards.

"An mah farm has been growin...well...cotton candy! It's crazy!"

Pinkie turned to her, looking aghast at what had just been said.

"Speak for yourself! I absolutely love all that chocolate rain that Ponyville's been getting!"

As expected, the other mares shook their heads at those words, with Twilight especially planting a hoof to her forehead. How Pinkie can always stay so cheerful in times of difficulty like this, I'll never know. But, she stayed silent, instead looking to Celestia, who nodded at all of her subjects' words.

"Well...you should know that there is a good reason all these things have been happening. They are the work of a powerful magic-user. One I had hoped Equestria would never have to see again."

Twilight's friends all looked to each other, some fearful while others seemed curious. As they looked back to their diarch, they watched as she grew deep in thought, speaking in a lower tone as she finally started her story.

"Over a thousand years ago...Equestria was under the absolute rule of a creature called Discord. The spirit of chaos itself, he and his tremendous power dominated this land and its ponies."

Celestia turned, looking up to the window they were all standing next to. The other mares followed suit, and finally took note of the image upon the glass. A creature, cobbled together from many different animals, flying high above three ponies, a unicorn, pegasus and earth pony respectively. He was holding strings above them, like a puppet master, and grinning evilly. As for the ponies beneath him, there was only one way to describe them; miserable. Fluttershy, growing ever more worried at this image, ducked behind Applejack in an attempt to not have to look at it again. Sighing, Celestia continued.

"Under his rule, ponies were tormented day and night, and all for his own amusement. His downfall was only achieved by the power of the Elements of Harmony, wielded by my sister and myself."

Twilight turned to her teacher, raising her eyebrow slightly.

"Um, Princess? Where is Luna right now?"

Celestia nodded at her student, acknowledging her question, before giving a reply to it.

"Luna is out in the streets of Canterlot, doing what she can to calm the citizens. Doubtless the power of Discord's chaotic magic is wreaking havoc down there, and they'll need a princess to guide them right now."

Twilight nodded before turning to her friends, looking at their respective Elements, before looking back to the princess.

"I understand. You want us to use the power of the Elements on Discord once more."

Celestia looked at Twilight, her expression growing softer than it was before

"I do. Though I ask that you be cautious, my student. Discord is an unpredictable creature. I know not where you will find him or what he will try and do. But regardless, since you and your friends are now the ones connected to the Elements, only you can truly stop him."

Before Twilight had a chance to reply to that, Rainbow Dash zoomed past her, giving a salute to their leader.

"You can count on us, Ma'am! That monster won't know what hit him!"

In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Celestia could not help but giggle slightly at her subject's words.

"I appreciate the enthusiasm, Miss Dash. But you must remember..."

Her expression became one of seriousness once more.

"...that Discord is a foe unlike anything that you or your friends have ever faced before. Be careful."

Dash nodded at that, as indeed did everypony else. Without another word, they began to walk together, heading right out of the grand chamber. However, they stopped as soon as they realised that Twilight was staying put. A look of confusion collectively crossed their faces, to which Twilight merely smiled. She raised a hoof and gestured to them, giving a clear-but-unspoken "I'll catch up to you" to them. There was a brief look of uncertainty among the group, but they eventually nodded to her before making their way out. Twilight watched them carefully, seeing them leave the room and close the door behind them, before turning to her mentor. Celestia looked down at her, eyebrow raised, before speaking up to her.

"Something you wish to say to me, Twilight?"

The young unicorn nodded, prompting Celestia to sigh as she turned towards the window yet again.

"I thought as much. Your warning has come true and that monster is free again. Despite my preparations, they did little more than slow him down."

Twilight's expression became one of concern after hearing that.

"Has anypony been hurt?"

Celestia gave a grim nod.

"Unfortunately...yes. The guards that were posted outside of Discord's cell were transformed by his magic into statues. A twisted revenge on his part, I imagine."

Twilight's expression became one of shock, though, as Celesta continued to look to the window, she did not see it. Statues? But...but Discord always said he never turned ponies to stone. Why would he do it this time around? Was he lying about not doing it the last time? Or...or is something else going on here? Before she could enquire further, Celestia turned to her, her expression that of slight relief.

"Fortunately, his magic is not as strong as that of the Elements, so this spell was easily undone once my sister and I arrived on the scene. The guards are recovering in the medical wing of the palace right now."

The young unicorn nodded, a look of concern growing upon her face. I should probably tell her. Ugh, she's not going to be happy about this.

"Um...Princess? There's something you should know."

Celestia turned to her, bearing a look of curiosity. Seeing this, Twilight let out a sigh before beginning to explain herself.

"You see...I'm actually hoping that I won't have to use the Elements on Discord."

Immediately, Celestia's eyes shot open with shock.

"What?! You know this creature from your memories of the future, yes? You know what he’s' capable of. So why, in the name of sanity would you not want to use the Elements?"

Twilight looked down at the ground, a look of slight sadness in her eyes.

"It's just...you're right, I do know Discord. I know what he does and I know what he's capable of. And that mean...I know he can be better."

Celestia raised an eyebrow.

"Better? You...you mean...he actually gives up his chaotic ways?"

In spite of how uncomfortable this conversation had become, Twilight couldn't help but let out a laugh at that.

"Give up? No, he doesn't, at least not entirely. But...he does learn to let friendship into his heart. He starts to live for others instead of just himself. It was an uphill battle the whole time...but he did end up becoming a friend, not only to me, but to you as well."

Celestia stood there, aghast at what she'd heard.

"Me? Friends with...him?"

Twilight smiled at her teacher.

"Believe me, that was pretty much my reaction when you asked us to reform him."

Celestia's head snapped into Twilight's direction.

"I'm the one who asked you to change him?"

Twilight responded to that with a single nod, prompting Celestia to look deep in thought over this matter. After a long silence, the diarch finally spoke.

"Out of curiosity...was I insane at the time?"

Another giggle escaped Twilight after hearing that.

"You know...there are times when I actually wondered that myself."

Another silence followed, after which Celestia hung her head low, letting out a long sigh while Twilight watched her. In time, the regal mare stood tall once more, looking down at her student with all the authority she was known for.

"You are the bearer of the Element of magic. I do not know if this plan of yours will succeed, or if I can even say I'm all that confident in it. But...you have my blessing for it."

Upon hearing that, Twilight smiled in an affectionate manner, moving forward to embrace her teacher in a warm hug, which was soon reciprocated. Thank you, Princess. I know this sounds like a crazy plan, but you have to trust me on this. Eventually, the two parted, and Celestia gave her student a small smile and a nod, giving her permission to leave. Nodding back, Twilight began to gallop in the direction her friends had done, her mind racing the whole time. I don't know if Discord is even capable of becoming friends with us at this earlier stage, but if he is, then I have to try, if only because I know he can do it. As she finally exited the chamber, she looked upon her friends, all of whom were together when they finally noticed her. They gave her expectant look, to which Twilight began to look at them with determination upon her face yet again.

"Come on, girls...we've got a spirit to find.”

Magic Meets Chaos

As Twilight and her friends began to leave the royal palace, they gazed out onto the streets of Canterlot, seeing first-hoof the effect that Discord's power was having on the city. When most ponies hear the word "chaos", they might envisage some kind of riot, or perhaps ponies just not getting along with one another. But the scene that now played out before Twilight was true chaos. Random events of every description were occurring all around them, targeting old and young, male and female, rich and poor alike. Garbage bins suddenly coming to life and trying to eat nearby mares. Clouds of cotton candy floating just above the streets. Ponies themselves suddenly finding that they were floating out of control in the air. These and an assortment of other insane things were going on every other moment, and Twilight and her friends watched with dismay as this disaster unfolded before them. Sheesh. Discord hasn't wasted any time getting on with his usual business, Twilight thought. Ponyville was pretty badly hit the first time, but Canterlot remained fairly free of his influence. Now though...he seems to be targeting it deliberately, and in greater force.

"Girls...we've got to find him."

The other mares all nodded at their leader's determined declaration, but it was Applejack alone who walked up to her, bearing a look of concern.

"Er, Twilight? Not to put a damper on yer plans an all...but...how? We don't have the first idea where this Discord fella will be."

The young unicorn turned to her friend, her expression softening somewhat.

"I was worried about that myself, Applejack. He’s chaos incarnate, which means it's going to be difficult at best to predict where he'll be or what he'll be doing."

Raising a hoof, Twilight pointed straight at the drama going on in the streets below them.

"For all we know, he could be on the other side of the world, inflicting all this on Canterlot with a thought."

Rainbow, upon hearing that, let out a grunt of annoyance.

"Ugh! This sucks! At least Nightmare Moon came out to meet us head-on! If this guy is as slippery as you say, then...argh! It's just gonna drive me nuts!"

Before anypony could respond to that, they were all suddenly taken aback by the sudden arrival of a bag of nuts, popping into existence right above Rainbow's head, before being unceremoniously poured on top of her. It was an annoyance for the pegasus, that much was certain, but, as she brushed the nuts off her mane, she glared angrily all around her, letting out a snort before shouting out.

"Did you hear that, Discord?! Are you here, somewhere?! Then come on out! Let's have a friendly little chat!"

Her words were emphasised by her movements, which included hopping back and forth on her hind legs while giving boxing motions with her forelegs. Twilight planted a hoof to her face at seeing her friend like this.

"I doubt he’s going to just show himself, Rainbow. Don't forget, we're wearing the only things in Equestria that can stop him. He knows the Elements are the only real threat he faces, and even a chaotic mind like his is smart enough to avoid it."

Hearing that caused Rainbow to let out another grunt of annoyance, landing back onto all four hooves before kicking the ground in her frustration. Twilight nodded after seeing this. Believe me, Rainbow, I understand your frustration. Trying to understand chaos. It's...difficult. Twilight sighed deeply, thinking over their situation for a while before, all of a sudden, Pinkie Pie darted ahead of the group and started bouncing up and down.

"Ooh! Ooh! Why don't we just follow the trail?"

All of the other mares, while initially annoyed by her usual Pinkie-style antics, suddenly gained a collective look of confusion after hearing her words. They watched as the pink mare pointed eagerly to their right, prompting them to look in that direction. True to her word, there was indeed a long trail out before them, consisting of many hundreds of tiny pieces of bread, all lined up and leading away from them. Twilight frowned at that. Really, Discord? A literal bread-crumb trail? Since when do you get so literal? Well...okay...you're always literal when it comes to these jokes of yours, but even so, this is just insulting. Walking forward, Twilight looked at the first of the bread crumbs, her eyes narrowing as she did so. As the other mares walked alongside her, Rarity leaned in close, whispering to their leader.

"Um, Twilight? I don't mean to point out the obvious, but...doesn't this look like a trap of some sort?"

Twilight gave a single nod to that question.

"Probably. But then..."

She turned, looking her fashionista friend right in the eye.

"...how else are we going to find him?"

Rarity looked to the other mares, hoping that one of them would be able to come up with a decent answer to Twilight's question. Instead, they all simply gave a shrug of their shoulders, prompting Rarity to turn back to her, hanging her head low somewhat. Sighing, Twilight looked back to the breadcrumbs and began to follow them, with her friends following reluctantly. I know this is dangerous. He's already hurt ponies more than I expected him to. Even so...what choice do we have? So, Twilight and the others walked through the streets of Canterlot, watching the hectic goings on around them. There were all manner of strange creatures popping in and out of existence, chasing ponies or just generally being a nuisance. Inanimate objects were coming to life or just becoming upside-down. Every once in a while, there would even be an occasional spot of chocolate rain, much to Pinkie's delight. However, her friends were always there to stop her from going AWOL and trying to drink it, which disappointed her a great deal.

Eventually, the group came to the outskirts of the city, approaching what all of them knew were the wide garden spaces of the Canterlot; a place where all manner of ornate hedges and beautiful exotic plants were usually found. Today, however, many of those plants now took on a darker colour, with a lot of the formerly-nice-looking plants now appearing manic and feral, like animals, snapping at every passer-by. Fluttershy especially was distressed by his, making sure to stick close to her friends while avoiding the bite of those ferocious flowers. In time, however, the group came to the inevitable end of the bread crumb trail, right in the middle of the gardens. They all swivelled their heads around in a desperate bid to find the spirit of chaos. But, alas, he was nowhere to be seen. Twilight frowned upon seeing nothing at the end of their trail.

"Come on out, Discord! We know you're there!"

Silence was all that could be heard, at least for a while. For soon, the winds began to speed up all around them, and dark clouds formed overhead, prompting the group to huddle together. Twilight stood her ground, watching all this transpire, and in mere moments, there was a blinding flash of light, leading to all of the mares raising hooves to shield their eyes from it. When the light died down, they watched with horror as a massive fire had erupted before them, reaching high into the sky. Seeing this imposing sight, all of the mares, save for Twilight, took a step backwards. But Twilight herself stayed where she was, for she could see a figure in the fire, approaching them in a menacing manner. Soon enough, it emerged, the fire bathing the creature in an evil-looking red glow. He stood tall, with his arms outstretched, and opened his mouth to speak in a loud and booming voice.

"Behold! I am Discord, the spirit of chaos! I come to you now to spread disharmony and chaos wherever I please! All will bow before me as I..."

"Cut the act, Discord! We need to talk!"

The draconequs, right in the middle of his big speech, looked down at the young unicorn before him, seeing absolutely no trace of fear in her eyes. There was an awkward and uncomfortable silence between them, as the other mares watched with worry at having their friend so casually talk down the beast before them. Eventually though, the chaotic spirit slumped his shoulders, letting out a huff before snapping his fingers. There was another flash and, within an instant, the roaring fire behind him had vanished, with the garden now looking as it was before his arrival. Looking at his new opponent, Discord folded his arms and began to pout, like a small child not getting their way.

"You're no fun!"

Twilight frowned at this and took a step forward.

"We're not here for fun, Discord. We're here to stop what you're doing!"

The spirit looked away from her, scratching his chin in a nonchalant manner.

"Yes, yes. I figured as much. You ponies, always so serious. You should learn to relax more, enjoy yourselves."

Twilight narrowed her eyes even further.

"Kinda hard to enjoy ourselves when our world is being turned into some kind of insane funhouse for your amusement!"

A hearty chuckle came from Discord after he heard that.

"Oh, you can't blame me for wanting a bit of fun! I was a statue for over a thousand years!"

"With good reason!" Twilight spat back.

The smile faded from Discord's face as he began to look away from her.

"So...I suppose that's why you're here then? To put me back in my place? Celestia wastes no time, I'll give her that much."

In spite of the clear disrespect she was being given, Twilight's face softened somewhat as she let out a sigh.

"Actually...I'm hoping we won't have to go down that route."

Upon hearing this, Discord's ears perked up as he looked in her direction once more.

"I'm sorry, perhaps I misheard that. Did you say...you don't want to use those precious Elements against me?”

Twilight gave a single nod, oblivious to the incredulous looks her friends were giving her.

"If you're willing...then maybe we can talk this out."

There was silence between the two, each one trying to read the other, with little success. Eventually, the spirit of chaos broke out into a sly smile as he hovered forward, getting barely an inch from Twilight's face.

"Well then...isn't this an interesting turn of events?"


"Twilight?! Are you nuts?!"

Rainbow's words were loud and to the point, as Twilight expected of her. She turned, looking her cyan friend right in the eye, and saw that there was genuine shock there. Looking to each of her friends, it was obvious from the looks on their faces that they too were utterly aghast at what she had just said. Twilight let out a sigh, opening her mouth to explain herself, but before she could, Rainbow flapped her wings and shot forward, getting close to her before speaking loudly.

"This is the bad guy we're talking about! We've gotta use the Elements on him!"

Twilight turned, seeing Discord, who had conjured up a large and comfortable-looking chair to lounge on. As he sat there, he looked to the two mares with amusement plastered all over his face.

"Oh, don't mind me. I do so love seeing friends have their little spats. So, I'll just sit here and watch, if it's all the same to you."

The young unicorn narrowed her eyes at those words, but her expression softened considerably as she looked back to Rainbow.

"Rainbow...I know this sounds like a bad idea, but I think it’s worth a try."

The pegasus scoffed at that.

"But why? You've seen what he's done to Canterlot, right? What he's done to Ponyville! We gotta fight him!"

Twilight’s face became more steely after hearing her friend's reaction.

"I don't like having to fight people, Rainbow. If I can get us through this without having to resort to some kind of battle, I'll consider it a worthwhile effort."

From the look on Rainbow’s face, it was clear that she was not convinced of that plan, and a cursory glance of her friends seemed to suggest that they were of the same mind on this. Letting out a long sigh, Twilight looked her pegasus friend in the eye, speaking softly.

"Rainbow...I lost the chance to talk down an enemy once before. I don't want to lose that chance again."

Immediately, a look of confusion crossed Rainbow's face. But, as time went on, she seemed to struggle to remember what it was that Twilight was taking about. But Twilight knew all too well, as images of a dark and corrupted moon princess filled her mind, along with her failed attempt to sort things out peacefully. After a while, a look of understanding was born on Rainbow's face, followed soon afterwards by a look of guilt. Looking away from Twilight, the young pegasus seemed to be struggling with all this, and so looked past her friend to Discord, who simply smiled and waved at her. Frowning at this, Rainbow looked back to Twilight before letting out a sigh.

"Alright...we'll do it your way."

Twilight smiled, giving a nod of appreciation before gently placing her hoof upon her friend's shoulder. Rainbow smiled back, but it was only a small one, and as Twilight looked past her, she saw the rest of her friends, all of whom seemed to share Rainbow's begrudging acceptance of the situation. Spinning around, Twilight looked upon Discord once more and began to walk towards him. Seeing this, the draconequs got up out of his chair and snapped his fingers, making it disappear. However, shortly after having done that, the spirit began to convulse, shaking about in an uncontrollable manner. Twilight watched this, confusion crossing her face, as Discord struggled to get himself under control. When he finally stopped shaking, he let out a grunt of annoyance.

"Again?! Why now?"

But, after he spoke those words, his eyes shot open, and his head turned towards the unicorn before him.

"...You? You're the one I sensed?!"

Twilight gained a look of shock as Discord's words sank in. That's right. He can detect magical imbalances. Then...can he sense how I've been affected by the power of my future self? Or...or is it the changes to the timeline that he can sense? Before she could speak to enquire further, the spirit himself began to ask questions of his own.

"How did you do that? No mere pony has sent my senses spiralling out of control like that before, not even alicorns."

His eyes narrowed.

"So tell me, my little pony...what are you?"

Twilight's eyes darted left and right, a look of worry upon her face, as her mind wracked itself to look for a suitable answer.

"I...I'm the bearer of the Element of magic. Maybe that is what you're sensing?"

Discord watched her carefully, thinking over what she'd just said to him, before looking away and stroking his goat-like beard.

"Hmmm...maybe you're right. Those wretched Elements always did mess me up in the past. Oh well, never mind."

Twilight had to resist the urge to let out a sigh of relief. If he can sense that I'm different to other ponies, that could be dangerous. It could push him away from what he's supposed to be, maybe even make him worse. And Equestria has already suffered enough from his magic. So, clearing her throat, Twilight opened her mouth to speak to him, only to be stopped when Discord raised a single clawed hand to silence her. Although annoyed by this, Twilight nevertheless remained silent as her opponent snapped his fingers, leading to yet another bright flash of light. When it died down, Twilight saw that, not only was there another big chair for Discord, but another one had been conjured up for her as well. As the spirit took his place within his own chair, he gestured to Twilight's, silently inviting her to sit with him. Needless to say, the young unicorn was not entirely comfortable with this, especially with that sly grin Discord gave. That smile always sends a shiver down my spine, every time. Even so...he seems willing to talk, so that's a plus. Sighing, Twilight walked over to her chair and sat in it, all while her friends watched from nearby with concern on their faces. After some silence, Discord finally spoke up.

"Tell me, Miss Sparkle...would you care for some tea?"

Another snap of his fingers caused, as expected, a whole tea set to appear out of nowhere. Twilight glanced at it briefly before shaking her head.

"Thank you, but I'll pass."

Hearing that, Discord shrugged his shoulders.

"Suit yourself."

Snapping his fingers yet again, he made a new cup appear in his hand, filled with fresh tea, and began to drink. Clearing her throat a little, Twilight spoke up.

"So...first thing's first...are you actually willing to come to some sort of agreement with us?"

The spirit put down his cup and tapped his finger against his chin a few times.

"Hmmm...I'll admit, it's an interesting notion. Most of the time, you ponies just either beg me to stop tormenting you or, in the case of those meddlesome princesses, simply demand I stop. Nopony's ever actually tried negotiating with me before."

A smile crept onto his face.

"It's something new, I'll say that much. So, Twilight Sparkle...let's see what you've got."

Twilight nodded at that. Okay, he seems willing to listen. That's a good first step.

"Alright then. First question...do you have any friends?"

The smile immediately vanished from Discord's face after hearing that question, instead replaced with a look of confusion.

"Friends? Why in Equestria would I want friends? I'm the master of chaos! I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, and I never needed any friends to do it."

Twilight frowned slightly.

"Maybe so...but haven't you ever wanted somepony in your life? Somepony you can share your interests with or, maybe...just have fun with? Without tormenting them in the process?"

Discord looked at her with a raised eyebrow. Look at him, it's almost as if I've just spoken the most ridiculous thing in the world.

"That...is the most ridiculous thing in the world!"

Called it.

"I've lived for countless ages, little unicorn. Not once have I ever needed somepony in my life, not as a friend, nor as anything else...except to play with on occasion."

Those words caused Twilight to frown.

"Discord...friendship is an important thing to have in your life. To have somepony to open up to...to have somepony who...who...who matters to you more than yourself."

This time, it was Discord's turn to frown.

"In all my dealings with you ponies, not once have you ever regarded me as anything other than a nuisance. If I were to go to one of your people now, and offer to be their friend...they'd say no, and you know it."

The young unicorn looked away. I can't deny that. After everything he's been doing to Equestria, if he were to make that offer, most would probably run screaming from him. Maybe...maybe he's just not ready for friendship right now. But, she was stopped from thinking any further on that matter when Discord spoke up again.

"Tell me, Twilight...what pony would ever be willing to speak to me as anything other than an enemy?"

Twilight looked to him, her face one of seriousness.

"I'm speaking to you that way, aren't I?"

Discord opened his mouth, ready to offer some kind of counter-argument, only to stop dead in his tracks with the realisation of what had just been said to him. He stopped for a moment, pondering Twilight's words, before eventually turning back to her with that same sly grin as before.

"Touché, Miss Sparkle...touché."

Twilight smiled at this reaction. Point to me, it would seem. However, that elation was short-lived as Discord's own smile faded somewhat, with him folding his arms and looking away from her.

"But my position still stands. I see no reason for friendship, Twilight. So I'm afraid you're going to have to do better than that if you want me to stop my fun time."

The young unicorn gained a look of concern, prompting her to turn around and look upon her friends, all of whom had been watching this exchange with baited breath. Even Pinkie Pie was sitting unusually still, as if watching some suspenseful performance at a play. Looking back to Discord, Twilight let out a sigh. Guess I'm going to have to go for plan B then.

"Discord...if you are unwilling to allow friends into your heart...then how willing would you be to accept...a truce?"

The spirit turned to her, his ears perking up somewhat. The look on his face screamed "tell me more", which Twilight gladly did.

"You are chaos incarnate. You are neither good nor evil, despite what your actions would lead ponies to believe. You are out for one thing and one thing only...your own amusement. Self-interest is what you exist for, and I think I can come to a suitable agreement if I play to that."

A dry chuckle escaped Discord’s lips after hearing that.

"Aha! Trying to get all conniving and under-hoofed, are we? How very...un-Celestia. I like it! Do continue!"

Twilight's mouth twisted up into a smile before, as requested, she did indeed continue.

"You want a place where you can be free and untethered. A place where you can use your power to bring yourself as much amusement as you please. But, if you were to do that around most places in Equestria, your goal of amusement would no doubt bring misery to everypony around you. So what I propose...is for you to dwell someplace where that won't be an issue."

Discord raised an eyebrow.

"And where, pray tell, would that be?"

Twilight regained her earlier look of determination.

"The Everfree Forest."

At those words, Twilight had gained Discord's full attention, as the spirit seemed rather taken aback by that.

"That old place? Filled with all those dangerous beasts and primordial plants where the growths, weather and animals are all beyond the control of any pony?"

A moment or two passed before a look of sheer joy crossed his face.

"Why didn't I think of that?"

But, before he could say anything further, he was stopped by a raised hoof from Twilight. Although annoyed at being stopped like that, Discord nevertheless kept quiet as the unicorn spoke up.

"You should know, there are places within the Everfree that I think you should refrain from going to."

Discord raised an eyebrow, prompting Twilight to continue.

"The castle of the two sisters and the surrounding area is a very special place to us ponies, so you probably shouldn't go there. In addition, there's a zebra named Zecora dwelling in that forest also. Leave her be, please."

As Twilight stopped speaking, Discord waited a few moments, perhaps expecting her to speak again. When she did not, the spirit began his reply.

"So...you want me to use me to amuse myself by spending the rest of eternity in the Everfree, staying away from your special places and just leave you ponies alone? Forever?"

Twilight nodded.

"It's the best option for all of us. You get to have as much fun as you want in a place we ponies rarely, if ever, go to, and the rest of Equestria becomes free of your influence. What do you say to these terms?"

That same sly smile crept onto Discord's face once more.

"You know...this does make sense. It's well thought out. It accommodates me and you ponies. It helps you to avoid a fight with an immensely powerful foe. This really does seem like the perfect logical solution to all of the problems we have here."

Twilight broke out into a wide smile, her heart filling with hope. But, as Discord looked back to her, a dark look covering his face, that smile faded. The spirit leaned in closer, speaking in a hushed and low tone.

"And that...is why I will not be accepting your offer.”

Discord's Final Choice

The air was still as Twilight looked at her foe. Discord, master of chaos, standing proud and defiant against her, a smug look of superiority upon his face. His rejection had been spoken for all to hear, and while most of Twilight's friends looked on as though this would always have happened, that he could not be reasoned with, Twilight was not of the same mind. She looked at him, half-shocked and half-disbelieving over what she'd just heard, and opened her mouth to speak. She tried, over and over to get the words out, but each time, she couldn't bring herself to speak a single syllable. Discord, watching this, merely conjured a wrist-watch and observed the seconds passing by as Twilight remained silent, growing ever more bored as he did so. In time, Twilight finally spoke, but her words were hushed.


Discord raised an eyebrow at the young unicorn.

"Why? Are you seriously asking me that question? I already told you, your proposal was logical and made absolute sense. And where's the fun in making sense? I'm Discord! Chaos incarnate! The lord and master of all things random and unexpected. And you honestly expected me to follow a plan that had nothing but logic at its core? You are truly the most foolish mare I've ever met."

Twilight stood there, aghast at the words that had been thrown at her.

"But...but...it would have solved everything! You'd have your freedom! We would have our normal lives back! Everypony would have won! I don't care how illogical you are, surely you can see that this plan benefitted everypony, right?"

Discord scoffed.

"Of course I saw it! I'm not an idiot, unicorn. But, if there's one thing you should know about me, it's this; I never let my enemies set the terms of my life. Not Celestia, and certainly not you!"

Twilight looked at him, sadness filling her eyes.

"Discord...please...we don't have to be enemies. We can leave in peace together, if only you'd be willing to do so!"

Yet again, Discord rolled his eyes.

"A passionate plea, my dear...but of little use, I'm afraid. Chaos knows no peace. Chaos knows no limits, no restraints, no borders where it cannot pass. And that's exactly what you wanted of me. But I will not accept that. I go wherever I want, doing whatever I please at whatever time it suits me. I...am...chaos!"

The look of annoyance on his face made it clear that he meant every word of that. He...he won't accept. I offered him a chance and he just rejects it. Does all this disharmony really mean so much to him that he'd rather throw peace back in our faces rather than give it up? Looking down, Twilight hung her head low. Discord, as expected at this point, merely chuckled at the sight of her like this. But, seeing the draconequs mock their friend, the other mares found that they could no longer sit idly by while it happened. They charged forward, each bearing a look of determination, as they stood ahead of Twilight, lined up to form a veritable wall between her and the chaotic spirit. Seeing this, Discord simply laughed out loud even further.

"Oh! How precious! The little ponies coming to save their friend! How sweet!"

Rainbow stamped her hoof down in an imposing manner.

"You'd better watch it! We're not afraid to fight if it comes down to it!"

Yet again, the ancient spirit let out a loud and mocking laughter.

"Fight? You? You are nothing but a handful of meddlesome equines! There was a time when I could have snapped my fingers and turned this entire country of yours into pudding if I so desired. I may be fairly fresh from that accursed stone prison you ponies put me in, but my power has lost none of its potency, I assure you!"

Despite the threat, the mares stood their ground, glaring angrily at their enemy. But, through it all, Twilight watched, saddened by everything that was going on around her. This is wrong. Discord becomes our friend. I know he has it in him to be better. To me, he's been a friend for a long time, and yet...I can't help him. He won't accept friendship. He won't accept peace. He only wants fun for himself, and chaos for everypony else. He doesn't care. But, before she could speak of any of this, Twilight was prevented from doing so by Applejack, who spoke up in a defiant manner towards Discord.

"Ha! Y'all wanna talk bout power? This ere is Equestria's most powerful unicorn! She tossed a dragon about like a ragdoll, and ah'd just love to see what she does to y'all at the end of all this!"

But, rather than intimidate their opponent, the earth pony's words had the opposite effect, as Discord once more let out a bout of howling laughter.

"You compare me to dragons? Silly Applejack! Dragons are nothing but newts to me! Try talking about something dangerous and then we can talk about me feeling worried."

As if on cue, Rainbow took a step forward, snorting loudly before adding her own voice to the mix.

"Don't forget! We still have the Elements!"

At the mention of his ancient bane, Discord's smile vanished, instead replaced by a look of utter contempt.

"Ah yes! I'd almost forgotten about that. Thank you so much for reminding me!"

His tone, and the newly-formed smirk on his face, made it clear to all of them that he intended something nefarious, leading to all of them assuming a defensive stance, with Rainbow especially spreading out her wings in an aggressive manner. Twilight watched with dismay as all this happened. No! We can sill stop this! We don't have to fight! But she was prevented from speaking yet again, when Discord raised his hands and continued smirking at the ponies.

"Let's just see how high and mighty you ponies are...when I send your precious Elements to the four corners of Equestria!"

He snapped his fingers, and all of the mares pre-emptively tensed themselves, waiting for his power to take effect. But, as the moments passed, they each gained looks of confusion, as they found, to their shock, that nothing was happening. No flash of light, no strange occurrences and, most importantly of all, their Elements remained where they were, around their necks and upon Twilight's head. Discord, although initially looking rather smug about his supposed position of power, waited in silence as absolutely nothing happened from his snapping. Eventually, his expression morphed into a look of sheer embarrassment.

"Um...to the four corners of Equestria!"

There was another snap of his fingers, and once again the mares braced themselves. But, like before, nothing came of it. Eventually, the chaotic spirit gained a look of frustration, looking at his fingers angrily.


Time and again, he snapped his fingers, gradually growing faster and faster with each snap. But, after about the hundredth snap or so, he stopped, panting furiously, before turning to the ponies. He looked past their front lines, right at Twilight, who was still looking unhappy with the way things were going. Gradually, his expression became one of anger as he rose up to his full height again, glaring at her in a menacing manner.

"What...did you do?"

Sighing, Twilight walked forward, moving ahead of the rest of her friends before addressing their foe.

"An anti-teleportation enchantment. All of the Elements have them. It was a safeguard I put on them a while back. Powerful and ancient enchantments too. I doubt anypony else has used such magic in a long time."

Discord, upon hearing this, narrowed his eyes at the young unicorn.

"You think this will change anything? You truly think that protecting your little Elements will make me bow down and accept what you offered? You pitiful little filly! I will not accept! I will keep my freedom, my true freedom, no matter what little magic tricks you perform!"

Twilight took another step forward, her expression soft and her voice pleading.

"Discord...please...don't make us do this!"

But the spirit merely snarled at her.

"I...will be free...on my terms. Not yours!"

There was silence between the two, as the other mares looked from one to the other. Nopony knew what was going to happen next, but as Twilight looked at Discord, with his smug grin and defiance filling his eyes, only one thought crossed her mind; I tried...but you give me no choice. So, closing her eyes, Twilight began to concentrate, leaving Discord to raise his eyebrow in confusion. But, that confusion vanished as, all of a sudden, the gem of Twilight's Element began to glow, and soon afterwards, the gems of all the others did too. Discord backed away, showing genuine concern for the first time in this entire exchange. He watched as the Elements grew brighter and brighter, bathing their respective bearers in their power. The mares soon found themselves lifting high above the ground, carried by the power of those ancient artefacts, much to Discord's chagrin. Eventually, they all opened their eyes, revealing the bright glow they had there, and moments afterwards, the Elements unleashed their power, sending a helix of rainbow-hued magic up into the sky. Seeing this, Discord immediately spun around and flew off as fast as he could, desperately trying to escape the power of the Elements.

But, it was too late for him, for the power had already reached its apex, and was now immediately shot down towards him. Try as he might, he could not simply teleport himself away, not with such powerful harmony magic so very close to him. And so, he watched with horror as the power finally struck him, a yelp escaping him as it did so. The magical rainbow swirled around him, encasing him in its power. But, as this happened, Twilight watched, a growing look of concern upon her face. This...this isn't right. Something's different. And sure enough, to her shock, she heard the ancient spirit begin to let out an almighty scream, as if the magic surrounding him was a fire burning his very flesh. His howls of pain carried across the whole area, and soon enough, his body began to change, a surface of stone forming from the base of his tail. Moments after moment passed as the stone continued to grow, with Discord struggling at every moment. But soon, it was at his head, and as he looked back, giving his enemies a final look, he gave Twilight a glare of utter fury as the stone finally covered him. There was a bright flash, spreading all over, covering Canterlot and all the lands beyond. And when that flash died down, the mares opened their eyes to see, to their joy, that everything was back the way it was before, with the garden just as beautiful as it was always meant to be.

They landed back on their hooves, watching with amazement as the final aura of the harmony magic faded, before turning to each other with massive smiles. So great was their relief that they did not notice Twilight, who walked towards the now-imprisoned Discord. The young unicorn looked up at him, and saw what he was now like. His body was twisted in a position to show his clear struggle against the rainbow, but it was his face that made Twilight's heart sink. It wasn't a look of defiance, nor anger, noir shock, but of pain. It was the face of somepony who had just experienced great agony. Stepping forward, Twilight placed a hoof to the stone, feeling the life still within it. So transfixed on this that Twilight did not realise that Rainbow was walking up behind her.

"Isn't this great, Twilight? We won!"

But, as Twilight turned, the cyan pegasus' smile faded, for she now saw that her friend was crying, tear upon tear flowing down her cheek.

"No...we haven't."

A Sense of Failure

A cool wind blew through her mane as she looked out onto the city below. Twilight stood there, on one of the many tower balconies of the royal palace, looking down at the ponies in the streets beneath her. Even from up here, she could see them, happy and celebrating. They were smiling with each other, laughing, enjoying the day, and every once in a while somepony would even break out into song and dance. The whole image made it very clear what was going on; that this was a day to be joyous. But for Twilight, there was no hint of joy in her face, merely sadness. She lowered her head, resting it upon her hooves as they were placed upon the edge of the balcony. Look at them. They're all happy because of me. Celebrating, because of me. They're safe...because of me. And why not? The evil spirit of chaos is vanquished and all of Equestria is free of his dark power. Why wouldn't they want to throw a party or two? Even her mind, the sarcasm of those words rang true. I should be happy...but I'm not. So engrossed was she in her thoughts that Twilight failed to notice the distinct sound of somepony approaching her. Only when this new figure came within a few feet of her did her ears finally perk up, causing her to turn.

"Bit for your thoughts, my student?"

Sure enough, there was Princess Celestia herself, looking as composed and as regal as ever. A true sight to behold, especially with the orange glow of the setting sun. Her words held that same motherly tone Twilight had grown so used to hearing over the years, but today, they seemed to bring no comfort, for the young unicorn merely looked away from her mentor and back to the cityscape before her.

"I'm...I'm fine."

But Celestia merely raised an eyebrow as she took her place alongside her student.

"I mean no offense, Twilight...but you're a poor liar."

Twilight looked up at her, a pang of guilt filling her heart, before looking away again. As she kept her eyes off her, Twilight nevertheless kept on listening as Celestia spoke.

"You were not present at the celebrations earlier. I presented all of your friends to the Canterlot populace to let the people know who it was who had saved them...yet you chose not to be there."

Twilight hung her head lower, letting out a sigh as she did so.

"I'm sorry, Princess. I just...didn't feel like celebrating."

Celestia nodded before raising a hoof and gently placing it upon Twilight's shoulder, gaining her attention.

"You did a good thing today, Twilight. You saved Equestria from having to endure another reign of chaos. I was there the last time Discord ruled this land, and believe me when I say that you have done an immense service to the land by stopping him."

But Twilight merely shook her head at that.

"I know that! I truly do! But...You know what I wanted. I wanted him to accept us, to give up his chaotic ways. I wanted peace between him and us ponies. I know he was capable of friendship...but he wanted none of it."

Looking down at the streets below, Twilight's expression became one of sadness once more.


Celestia saw the pain in her student's eyes and softened her expression, leaning her head close and nuzzling Twilight's in an affectionate manner, like a mother comforting her child.

"You mustn't blame yourself, Twilight. You did not fail anypony."

But Celestia was prevented from saying anything further, as Twilight pulled away from her and began to walk off in a frantic manner.

"But I did fail! One day, I'll be known as the Princess of Friendship. Friendship! How can I ever claim a title like that if I can't help my enemies to accept it into their hearts? Everything I've been doing has been to try and make things better for everypony around me, pony or otherwise. And today...I couldn't do that."

Celestia looked at her, seeing that Twilight was actually in tears over this, leaning on the edge of the balcony yet again. The young unicorn's mind was racing, thinking over everything that had occurred recently. I wanted to give him friendship. But he didn't want it. What if...what if this just makes him worse one day? How am I going to deal with it? What if this makes it impossible for him to ever be friends with anypony? She lowered her head, pressing it against the marble borders of the balcony, and listened as her mentor began to approach, clearing her throat somewhat. After a long silence between the two, Celestia finally spoke.

"A long time ago...there was a mare who always did everything in her power to help those she came across."

Twilight paused for a moment before gradually looking up, seeing Celestia looking out at the horizon while speaking.

"No matter how serious, there didn't seem to be any problem she couldn't solve. Even when she faced enemies, she was almost always able to find a way around the problem, giving them peace instead of war."

There was a flicker of something in her eyes, but it went by so quickly that Twilight didn't have a chance to see what it was. Letting out a sigh, Celestia continued.

"But then...one day...that mare came across a foe unlike anything she had ever faced before. Time and again she tried to reason with her opponent, and time and again the opponent rejected her. There was no peace to be had, no compromise, only victory or defeat."

Celestia looked down at the ground, a slight look of shame crossing her face.

"A battle broke out between them...and in the end...the mare emerged victorious. Even so...it did not feel like a victory. Not to her."

Twilight watched her teacher, enraptured by what was being said, and took a step forward. After a few false starts, the young unicorn finally managed to get out some words.

"This enemy she faced...who was it?"

There was a deathly silence between them, and Celestia's face became a pained one. A sense of foreboding filled Twilight’s heart as realisation began to dawn on her. As her teacher turned to her, she listened as she spoke the answer she already knew was coming.

"The enemy...was her own sister."

Guilt crossed Twilight's face after hearing those words, causing her to turn away from Celestia. Great job, Twilight. Not only did you fail today, you also had your teacher drudge up her most painful memories. Top notch! Celestia, seeing the way her student was deliberately avoiding her gaze, instead put on a small smile and placed her hoof on the underside of Twilight's face, carefully guiding it so that she was looking at her once again.

"When the battle was done, everypony in the land hailed me as a saviour, a heroine, even though such words were the last thing I wanted to hear. My sister was gone, and it was by my failure to reach her that she had to endure her own imprisonment. So believe me...I know what it is you're feeling right now."

With guilt plastered all over her face, Twilight's gaze strayed from Celestia. But, she was forced to look back to her again when she began to carry on speaking.

"Although I considered that day to be my greatest failure, it nevertheless taught me a valuable lesson."

Twilight's tilted her head slightly, displaying her confusion. Seeing this, Celestia's smile widened a bit before she began to explain herself.

"Not every foe can be negotiated with, at least not at first. Some...will simply fight on."

The young unicorn looked away, sadness upon her face yet again. That seems to be the case. Every time I've tried reaching out to those who would harm me...it always descends into battle. The only time that hasn’t been the case is when I encountered Trixie. And even then, I had to show off my power to make her understand. I just...wish that, this time, I could have changed that. But, she looked up again as Celestia cleared her throat. Looking upon her teacher, Twilight remained silent as the latter continued speaking.

"However...do not take my story to mean that such diplomacy should never be attempted. On the contrary. For such efforts are noble in their own right, even if they do not always succeed."

After having said that, Celestia raised her eyebrow slightly.

"I assume that, when the threats of the future rear their ugly heads...you will attempt such peace again?"

There was a pause afterwards, wherein Twilight hesitated to answer. Eventually though, she gave a single nod, to which Celestia merely smiled.

"Do not be ashamed of that, Twilight. That you would wish for peace instead of a fight is the mark of a truly good person. And even though not all will accept that peace, simply wanting it, and trying to achieve it...is worth it."

As Twilight looked away, seeming unsure at those words, Celestia raised her hoof and placed it onto Twilight's shoulder again.

"And remember...you still saved all of Equestria today. Mares, stallion and foals who will all live normal and safe lives because what you and your friends have accomplished. Even if the day did not go the way you wanted...never forget that there is comfort in that at least."

Twilight looked up at her mentor, feeling the sense of guilt and shame from her earlier actions begin to melt away. Her despondent expression began to fall, instead replaced with a warm smile as she gazed upon her diarch. It's strange...how she’s always able to make me feel better like this. How my future self ever forgot to listen to her, I'll never know. Letting out a brief giggle, Twilight moved forward, nuzzling Celestia in that same warm manner that she had been privy to not so long ago. The sun princess, smiling at this, followed suit, and soon the two were together in a warm embrace. But, through it all, Twilight's mind was hard at work. It's like she says...I'll still plan to talk to my enemies if I can. But she's right. Not all of them are going to be willing to talk to me, or even consider the idea of peace. But...if there's one thing I've learned from this entire experience...it's that all that knowledge doesn't always equal wisdom. I thought I could talk to Discord right from the start and make him our friend. But...perhaps it was just too soon for him. Maybe all he needs right now...is time. I fully intend to release him again in future, like he's supposed to, and on that day...I truly do hope we can become the friends we're destined to be.

Eventually, the two mares parted from one another, with Twilight looking far more relaxed than she was before. As Celestia smiled down at her student, she spoke in that same calm tone that ponies so often expected of her.

"Come on. I think it's only fair that the ponies at the party got a look at their true heroine today."

In spite of how she'd been feeling mere minutes ago, Twilight let out a brief giggle at that.

"Well...I hate to disappoint."

And so, the two mares began to walk together towards the entrance of the tower. But, as Celestia moved ahead of her, Twilight slowed down, turning her head and looking out onto the horizon.

I wonder...how many enemies do I have to go through...before one of them accepts friendship with us?

Dreams and Departure

The sun shone brightly down upon the green and grassy hill, the wind blowing fiercely with every moment. Atop that hill stood a creature larger and more imposing than any pony could ever be; a dragon. But this was not the same as all the winged, fire-breathing monsters that so often plagued ponykind. No, this one was different. Covered in light-lavender scales, this drake stood tall upon his hind legs, bearing a suit of silver armour than shone brightly in the light of the sun. Upon his back was a flowing red cape, which billowed in the fierce winds. In his right hand was a magnificent spear, reaching higher than he did and bearing a sharp and dangerous edge. His face was one of bravery and resolve, as he looked out at the town of Ponyville before him. One looked at this drake and knew one thing; that he was a protector. A champion. But, his solitary time atop that hill did not last forever, for soon enough, he was joined by a pony. A young unicorn mare, white in her fur and bearing a mane of both purple and pink. Upon her flank was the mark of a heart with a musical note on top of it. As she approached him, she bore a look of great affection, as she began to speak in a soft tone.

"Oh, Spike! You wonderful, brilliant, handsome drake! We ponies are indebted to you for saving our town and our lives!"

The drake merely let out a hearty chuckle at that, raising a single clawed hand and gently placing it upon the mare's shoulder.

"There's no need for thanks, Sweetie Belle! I'm simply doing my duty to the realm!"

The mare giggled slightly before taking a step forward, her affectionate smile growing with every moment.

"We are so lucky to have you, you flawless knight! Is there nothing we ponies can do to reward your heroism?"

The drake, looking down upon the mare, gained an affectionate look of his own, dropping his spear and getting down on one knee. With one hand he took her hoof and looked lovingly into her eyes.

"I ask for nothing...except perhaps...the heart of the fairest maiden in the land."

Immediately, Sweetie blushed a great deal, turning her head away in an embarrassed manner.

"Oh! But I am but a singer! Surely there are other mares more worthy of your affections, good Sir!"

But Spike just kept on smiling, raising her hoof to his lips and planting a gentle kiss upon it.

"There are none more worthy than you, Sweetie."

The mare turned to him, her expression one of utter love, as was Spike's. There was silence between the two as they stared into each other's eyes, into their very souls. In time, they began to move closer, their eyes slowly closing as they approached one another. Their lips were slightly puckered outwards, ready to make contact in a delicate kiss, when they finally closed their eyes. Spike's heart was beating more and more quickly in anticipation of that moment. But, before their lips could finally meet, he began to hear a sound. Even over the still-fierce winds, he was able to recognise it; a song. Sweet and melodic, it began to fill his senses, calming his heart and leading him to smile.

"You truly sing well, Sweetie...but this is hardly the time for a musical number."

While his eyes were still closed, Spike suddenly felt the mare pull her hoof out of his hand.

"Um...I'm not singing."

Gaining a look of confusion, Spike finally opened his eyes, only to discover that his companion had the right of it. Her mouth was shut closed, and yet that same song could still be heard all around him. Looking around, he tried to find the source of the voice, only to find that it was starting to sound more than a little familiar.

"Huh...kinda sounds like...oh no."

And with that, the scene before him, the sky, the hills, and even Sweetie Belle, all faded away, leaving nothing but darkness as he finally began to realise what all this was.

Being roused from a pleasant dream was, needless to say, not an experience anypony likes. Spike seemed especially annoyed by this, as what was one a nice dreamscape was now replaced by the distinct darkness of him keeping his eyes closed, but nevertheless remaining awake in his small bed. He frowned slightly at having been woken, letting out a slight grunt. Ugh! Always at the best part! Does the universe just hate me or something? But, that anger quickly subsided as he discovered, to his surprise, that the singing he heard from earlier was still going on. It was a pleasing sound, a low melodic hum, occasionally interspersed with what Spike now recognised as the lyrics to a lullaby of some sort. Slowly, he cracked one eye open and saw, there beside his bed, was Twilight. She was looking down at him in an affectionate manner, quietly singing that lullaby while having gently placed a hoof upon his head, carefully stroking the green scales there. Mom? But Spike remained silent for the time being, instead feeling more and more relaxed as his adopted mother continued to be here with him, singing while he lay in his bed. This...this is nice.

Time went on, and eventually, the singing stopped, with Twilight leaning forward and gently nuzzling her son. Only now did Spike fully open his eyes, looking up at Twilight with a smile on his face.


Twilight smiled back.

"Good morning. Sleep well?"

In spite of his earlier annoyance at having his lovely dream prematurely ended, Spike nevertheless nodded in response.

"I did. But...is something wrong?"

Upon hearing that, Twilight's smile faded, but only a little.

"No. It's just..."

The young unicorn let out a sigh before moving her head forward, nuzzling her son's yet again. As she did this, and as Spike enjoyed the warm feeling from it, Twilight began to speak softly to him.

"It's just...I'm going to be going away for a while."

Spike turned to her, a look of curiosity upon his face.

"Away? Where?"

Looking to him, Twilight's expression became one of slight sadness.

"Do you trust me, Spike?"

As one would expect, confusion now plastered Spike's own face after hearing that. After all the time we've known each other, why would she need to ask that question?

"Of...of course I trust you!"

Twilight smiled again, thought it was only a small one.

"Because I need you to believe me when I say that what I'm going to be doing is important. But neither you nor my friends are going to be coming with me."

Spike's face became one of concern as he looked to his adopted mother. If she's going away for something important, why would she look so worried? She's done that before, right? However, a new notion began to make itself known in his mind, though he initially hesitated to speak it. Eventually, the young drake finally got his words out.

"How...how long are you going to be gone?"

Twilight looked away, looking almost shamed at being asked that question. Needless to say, Spike didn't like the look of that one bit, but he kept quiet and waited for his carer to give her response. When she finally did so, her tone was low and hushed.

"At most...maybe a month."

Upon hearing that, Spike's eyes immediately shot open and he sat upright in his bed, bearing a mixed look of both shock and worry.

"A...a month?! But...you've never been away that long!"

Seeing the worry on her son's face, Twilight raised a hoof and carefully placed it upon his shoulder.

"I know this is going to be difficult. But you're not going to be alone. Applejack, Rarity and all the others will be there for you for whatever you need."

With a small smile growing on her face, Twilight leaned forward, planting a gentle kiss upon Spike's forehead.

"And I will be coming back, Spike. I could never leave you."

The moment became a silent one as Spike looked up to her, seeing the honesty in her face. It was clear just from looking that he was still uncomfortable with what he'd just learned, though Twilight could hardly blame him for it. Raising both hands, Spike poked two fingers together in a gesture of nervousness, before moving forward and embracing her in a warm hug. Although she was taken aback by this at first, Twilight soon broke out into an affectionate smile as she returned the embrace. There was a time when the idea of Twilight being my mother was so strange to me. Now...I can't imagine it being anything else. I can't believe I'm going to be without her for a whole month. But...she says she's coming back. I have to trust her. She wouldn't lie to me like that. Eventually, the two parted, and Spike looked to her with a still somewhat concerned look.

"You...you promise you're coming back?"

Smiling affectionately yet again, Twilight placed her hoof upon his head and once more stroked his green scales.

"I promise."

The Student and the Son

"Okay...let's try this again."

Trixie stood there, right on the edges of the Everfree Forest, bearing a look of fierce determination. She closed her eyes, showing concentration into whatever it was she was doing. Within moments, her horn began to glow its usual pale pink colour, the clear signs of her about to cast a spell. She frowned as she concentrated harder and harder, with her aura glowing ever brighter with each passing moment. As if responding to her power, the wind around her began to pick up, with stray leaves blowing all around her hooves. Beads of sweat began to form and fall down her brow as she began to struggle with her spell. Eventually, her aura had reached its apex, resulting in a near-blinding flash of light. This is it...I'm going to do it! But, when the flash finally occurred, what happened next was quite unexpected, as there was a sudden magical blast right where Trixie was standing, sending her flying backwards at great speed. In mere moments, she collided hard with a tree nearby, nearly winding herself before she landed on the ground below. She panted heavily in an attempt to catch her breath, before looking up. She saw, to her chagrin, that the spot where her spell was cast was now nothing but a massive scorch mark. Seeing this, she frowned and let out a loud grunt of annoyance.

"Argh! Every time! Trixie practises every day and what does she have to show for it? Nothing!"


Hearing that new and unexpected voice, the anger faded from the blue mare's face immediately as she began to spin around, wherein she saw the young dragon, Spike, looking up at her with some concern.

"Oh! Er...Spike! What a pleasure it is to see you!"

Spike raised his eyebrow after hearing that.

"You okay? I thought I heard an explosion or something."

But Trixie merely shook her head.

"Nope! No explosions here! It was just...er...the wind."

The young dragon stared at her, with Trixie doing her best to avoid eye-contact. Eventually, Spike broke the silence between the two.

"The wind?"

Trixie nodded with a wide and obviously forced smile, to which Spike merely pointed to something behind her.

"So...the wind caused that smouldering spot there behind you?"

The mare turned, seeing the site of her failed spell, before looking back to him, still struggling to maintain her smile.


But Spike remained unconvinced.

"And I suppose the wind was also responsible for messing up your mane like that?"

Upon hearing that, Trixie's smile vanished, instead replaced with a look of confusion. She darted her head left and right before eventually spotting a nearby small pond. She ran over to it, kneeling beside its closest edge and looking down to the waters. Seeing her reflection in the water's surface, she discovered that, true to Spike's word, her mane was indeed a mess. It had been blown back from the force of the explosion, with stray strands pointing in every possible direction, not to mention a few strands that were still technically on fire. Seeing this, Trixie let out a yelp before using her magic to both put out the small flames and to help put the rest of her mane back into its usual shape. Needless to say, this took quite a while, during which, Spike walked over to her and folded his arms, waiting for her to finish so she could explain herself. But, Trixie seemed more than a little reluctant to do so, avoiding his gaze at every opportunity. However, as Spike's accusatory stares continued, Trixie eventually relented, sighing and slumping her shoulders somewhat before speaking up.

"I was...trying to cast a teleportation spell."

Spike's expression became one of surprise, before turning to look at the still-smoking spot of her failed spell.

"Didn't go as well as you hoped, I take it?"

Trixie got up off her knees and stomped at the ground in an annoyed manner.

"It's just not fair! Before Trixie came to Ponyville, she considered herself the best user of magic in all of Equestria! Now...it's like she's just a child standing among giants!"

Trixie looked away from Spike, hiding her look of anger from him. But, she looked back when he began to speak in a hushed tone.

"Are you...angry at my Mom?"

Seeing the slightly saddened look on the young dragon's face, Trixie's expression softened considerably, before she put on a small smile and placed a hoof upon his shoulder.

"No. Trixie is not angry at her. If anything, Trixie is grateful. Without Twilight teaching her, she'd probably have never even thought to cast a spell like this. It's just...seeing her do all those things, like it comes so naturally to her...it's difficult."

Spike looked up at her, seeing the honesty in her face, and began to smile back at her.

"Mom didn't always find magic easy, you know."

Looking down at him, Trixie gained a look of confusion, prompting the young dragon to explain himself.

"When she was a filly, she sometimes really struggled with casting spells. If she hadn't become Celestia's student, she might have had trouble with it her whole life."

Trixie nodded at that. Yes, Trixie remembers that. The day she got her cutie mark and her true power awakened. Hard to imagine that somepony as powerful as Twilight ever had difficulty with basic spells like that. Then again, she was just a child at the time. Guess it's a testament to hard work and all that good stuff. But...it's like...Twilight is in a whole other league to what Trixie could ever be! Facing down dragons, managing offensive spells like she does, and all the rest of it! It's like...like Trixie is playing catch-up to somepony twice as fast as she is! However, as she dwelt on that, a slight frown appeared on Trixie's face.

"Spike. You have to understand...Trixie's talent is magic too! And she's been practising these advanced spells for ages now! What if she never manages to pull it off? You don't know what that feels like, Spike!"

Hearing that, Spike raised an eyebrow.

"Oh no?"

With some confusion, Trixie watched as Spike turned around, showing her his back.

"Tell me, Trixie...do you see any wings on me?"

The mare stopped, giving the young dragon a look over.


Spike nodded.

"Exactly. I'm the only dragon anypony has ever seen that has no wings. That means that, unlike every other member of my race, I'll never be able to fly. Even if I one day grow to be as big as every other dragon out there, I'll be considered less than them because of that."

As one might expect of this situation, Trixie immediately began to feel a great deal of guilt, hanging her head low and avoiding Spike's gaze yet again. Great. Not only have I failed, but I've made a small child feel bad about himself. Great work there, Trixie! Geez, I wonder if Twilight ever feels like this? Looking up, the blue mare began to bear a greatly apologetic look upon her face.

"Trixie...I...I'm sorry, Spike."

But, contrary to how she might have expected him to react, the young dragon merely smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

"It's no biggie."

Trixie looked up, her face making it clear that she was quite taken aback by those words.

"It's...er...no biggie?"

Spike nodded.

"Yeah! No biggie! I mean, I'm probably never going to go out and live among other dragons, given how much of my life has been among ponies. And even if I did, it's not going to bother me. Wanna know why?"

Although hesitant at first, Trixie eventually nodded, leading to Spike continuing to speak.

"Because it doesn't matter. Not being able to do the same things that others can do doesn't make you somehow worse than them. It doesn't mean you're a failure and it certainly doesn't mean you should feel bad about not being able to pull it off. Everyone, pony or dragon, should learn to be happy with what they know they can do. Otherwise...they'll probably just be miserable all the time."

Trixie stared at the young dragon before her, his words sinking in for a moment. The two stood there in silence, with Spike looking up at Trixie and waiting for her to give some kind of reply to him. In time, she did so, raising an eyebrow and putting on a small smirk as she did so. A child pointing out the obvious while an adult couldn't see it. Guess that's just the kind of place Ponyville is.

"Since when does somepony as young as you get to be that wise?"

Spike let out a brief laugh.

"When you spend your whole life around a mare who seems to do nothing but solve everypony's problems, this kind of stuff just rubs off on you I guess."

The two laughed together, with the discomfort of the past failed spell leaving Trixie rather quickly. She looked back at the scorch marks on the ground, and put on a smile. The kid is right. Trixie may not be able to all the amazing things his mother can...but Trixie will keep on trying. And even if she doesn't succeed, so what? Trixie was amazing ponies with her magic long before she ever came to Ponyville, so clearly there's something special to her, even if she probably isn't the best like she thought she was. Trixie looked down at Spike, seeing him smile at her, before raising a hoof and gently placing it upon his head, patting him there a little. The mare turned, looking back to Ponyville, and gestured to it with her head. Getting the message, Spike nodded at her, and the two began to walk together back into the town. On their way, Trixie looked down at her young companion and spoke softly to him.

"Thank you, Spike. I think...I just needed somepony to talk to about this."

Looking rather proud of himself, Spike nodded in response.

"No problem, Trixie. I mean, with my Mom out of town for a bit, somepony's gotta to be the voice of reason around here."

The Search Begins

The wind was picking up as she continued on her journey, watching with some measure of trepidation as the sun began to sink below the horizon. Darker and darker it became until, at long last, she found she had no choice but to ignite her horn to light her way. Squinting her eyes, Twilight looked ahead, seeing vast woodland before her, its branches and leaves rustling loudly in the strong winds. She looked around, seeing nopony anywhere near her, at least none that she could see, before walking up to the nearest tree. Using her magic, she levitated her pair of saddle-bags from off her back, laying them gently on the ground before moving forward and opening the first of them. After rummaging around with the contents for a few moments, her face broke out into a smile as she finally discovered what she was looking for. Picking it up and out of her bag, Twilight looked upon a small, strange object, foreign to the eyes of most ponies, but something that she was more than familiar with; the seed of a plundervine. After putting her bags back onto her back, her eyes narrowed at the sight of the seed, almost to the point of anger, but she nevertheless kept a hold of it, looking up at the woodland before letting out a deep sigh.

"Alright then...let's see if this works."

Carefully, the young unicorn placed the seed upon the ground, taking a step or two backwards, but always keeping the seed firmly within her line of sight. She lowered her head, and thus her horn along with it, and closed her eyes. As she concentrated, her horn began to glow even brighter, lighting up more of the area around her. But, as her magical aura grew, it began to envelop the seed on the ground, causing it to wobble slightly. A few moments passed but, at the end of it, the seed actually began to levitate, still bathed in the power of Twilight's magic. Opening her eyes again, the mare smiled as she approached the seed once more, giving it a careful look-over, observing the way it continually hovered, the way her magic spell had lingered on it, even after she'd stopped concentrating on it, and gave a single nod. She raised her hoof and, for a moment, gave the seed a careful poke. Some time passed, but nothing happened, leading to Twilight putting on a small, but nevertheless satisfied smile. Alright then...it seems to have worked. Moving forward, she took the seed in earnest, placing it right in the middle of her hoof, and held it up to her eye level.

"Okay now, seed...lead me to the rest."

There was a pause briefly before, all of a sudden, the seed began to glow even brighter, much to Twilight's delight. But, her expression soon changed to one of determination as she cleared her throat, composing herself. She began to swivel around in that same spot, always keeping the seed in front of her. When she moved to the right, she discovered that the glow on the seed actually seemed to fade slightly. But, when she moved back to the left, it became just as bright as before. Smirking at this, Twilight continued to move further and further left, until at last, the seed became as bright as it possibly could. Well, guess it's this way then. And so, she began to walk forward, with the seed kept in front of her by way of her magic. On and on she walked, deeper into the woodland, always making sure to look around her, lest some dangerous beast be roaming about. Whenever the seed began to dim in its brightness, Twilight changed course, always making sure to head wherever the seed shone the most. She didn't know how much time had passed before it happened, but eventually, the seed began to lose all of its light entirely. Although initially fearful at this, Twilight eventually breathed a sigh of relief when she turned around and found that the glow had returned. Looking down at the ground, her face broke out into a smile once more.

"Guess this is it."

After lowering her own seed to the ground, Twilight assumed an aggressive stance, with her legs wide and her horn aimed right down at the ground. Closing her eyes again, her horn began to glow anew, though this time, it became even brighter than before, leading to an almost static sound coming from it. There was a fierce flash, and a bolt of magic burst forth from her horn, striking at the ground, with the impact send great quantities of soil in every direction. With her target having been struck, Twilight opened her eyes and ignited her horn again, looking into the large hole she'd made. Even with the relatively low glow of her horn, she could see that nothing was there, leading to a look of frustration. Needs more. So, she assumed her previous stance and repeated her spell, blasting the ground with another attack. Yet again she looked into the hole and the immediate area, and yet again, there was nothing. And so, she repeated this several times over, with the hole growing deeper and deeper with every attack. But, eventually, when she looked into the hole again, her face lit up as she finally caught sight of her quarry. She leapt into the hole herself and began digging away at the ground, revealing that there, lying dormant, was another plundervine seed. Smiling, Twilight picked the seed up and threw it out of the hole before teleporting out of it herself, after which she glared at the thing.

"For you...a regular spell won't cut it."

Closing her eyes again, she began to concentrate, her horn lighting up in more of her magical aura. Within moments, the newly-discovered seed was also covered in her magic, now levitating above the ground and hovering right in front of her face. As Twilight concentrated, she called forth her magical knowledge. Okay, gotta remember the proper technique here. Destructive magic, but not simply blasting outwards. Got to keep it small, contained, focused on a single spot. And thus, her horn began to glow brighter, and gradually, its hue began to change, from her usual light lavender, to something resembling the colour of fire. The seed also began to be affected, shaking and vibrating mid-air as Twilight's aura changed around it. Destructive magic, like the kind she used before, was being cast onto it. But, just like she wanted, it was being concentrated, focused on that one spot in the air where the seed was. Now condensed into that small place, contained within her aura, the destructive power of her spell had been amplified, utterly overwhelming the seed within. Eventually, and inevitably, the seed began to crack, and soon enough, Twilight's power caused it to shatter, with each individual fragment practically disintegrating under the sheer power of Twilight's magic. When her spell had done its work, she took a calming breath and brought her magic down from that high level, the light of her horn slowly fading away. When the deed was done, and her magical light finally put out, she opened her eyes, seeing that the seed had been destroyed.

"One down."

Turning, she looked upon the other seed. The one that had led her to this place. Reaching forward, she picked it up, looking it over carefully, before sighing and concentrating on her magic, causing it to glow and hover as before. Like the first time, she moved left and right before finally finding the direction in which it glowed brightest, after which she slumped her shoulders slightly.

"This is going to take a while."

But, as she kept on walking, a look of sadness crossed her face, and she began to look behind her, to the way she came.

"I need to do this, Spike. But don't worry...I'll be back as soon as I can."

Nightmare Night

It was dark when Spike and Trixie finally left the Golden Oak Library, both smiling as they did so. Everypony in Ponyville was out and about tonight, all happy and joyous, with the sound of laughter and excited screams filling the air. As the two continued to make their way into the centre of town, they looked up, seeing a well-decorated banner reading the words "Happy Nightmare Night". Spike smiled at the sight of it. Nightmare Night. I always love this time of year. The parties, the candy, the games, the candy, all the fun that everypony has, and of course...the candy. Looking around, he gazed upon how everypony was enjoying the night. Mares, stallions, fillies and colts were all dressed up in whatever costume they wanted, from clowns to monsters to pirates, and all manner of other things. As for him and his companion, Spike was dressed up in a costume made to resemble a purple dragon, like himself. As for Trixie, she was, for the first time since her move to Ponyville, going out in the garb she wore when doing her magical performances, that of a purple hat and cape. As they finally entered the centre of town, and looked out at all the games and stalls already prepared, Spike looked up to the blue mare.

"Isn't this great, Trixie?"

The mare looked out, seeing the happy faces of all those around her.

"Trixie was never usually one to go out on nights like tonight. But...this does look fun."

Smiling at her, Spike began to run off, heading for the nearest game he could find; a bobbing-for-apples. Seeing this, Trixie smiled a little before calling out to him.

"Try not to get in too much trouble, Spike!"

Spike turned while he was running, waving back to her before heading back for the game. As expected, who should be attending such a game, but Applejack herself, dressed up in what appeared to be a scarecrow of some sort. As she noticed the young dragon approaching her, she smiled.

"Well howdy, Spike! Come to take a chance on the bobbin?"

Spike nodded enthusiastically, stepping towards the container of water, and looked upon the many apples already floating there. He licked his lips, ready to open his mouth and dunk his head straight in. But, he was prevented from doing so by the clear sound of somepony clearing their throat behind him. He turned, and when he did, his eyes widened with shock. For there, standing before him and smiling affectionately, was Sweetie Belle. She too was dressed up for the evening, and her costume was that of a fairy tale princess, with a light-blue gown and even a traditional cone-shaped hat. The young dragon's mouth hung open when he saw her like that, leading to Sweetie giggling somewhat.

"I guess that means you like it?"

After a few moments of silence, Spike shook himself out of his trance and looked to his right, wherein he saw Applejack desperately trying to hold back the laughter she felt from seeing him like that. Although annoyed by that, he put on a genuine smile as he looked back to the unicorn filly.

"Yeah...er...you look great, Sweetie."

Blushing, Sweetie looked away slightly.

"Thanks. You're costume looks good too."

This time, it was Spike's turn to blush, as he raised his clawed hand and scratched the back of his head. He walked away from the bobbing-for-apples game, much to Applejack's chagrin, before speaking up to his young friend.

"Apple Bloom and Scootaloo not here?"

Sweetie Belle shook her head.

"Not right now. They went off to the edge of the Everfree with Zecora, along with a whole bunch of candy. But, I wanted to get in some games before I did that myself."

Spike nodded at that, but then he looked up and around, scouring the crowd within view for somepony. After a few moments, he looked back to Sweetie Belle, a look of confusion upon his face.

"By the way...where's Rarity?"

Sweetie turned and pointed her hoof outwards, right towards the Carousel Boutique.

"Oh, she’s busy tonight. Thing about clothes designers is that they tend to get a lot of business on a night like tonight. She probably won't make it out until later."

Spike nodded at that before turning, looking upon Applejack's game, and seeing the mare still eagerly awaiting any customers for it. Smiling at this, Spike walked up to it and took his place beside the water containing, after which he turned and gave a regal-style bow to Sweetie.

"Would you care for a game of bobbing-for-apples, m'lady?"

Raising a hoof to her mouth, Sweetie giggled a little before, in a gesture mirroring Spike's, she too gave a bow in response, after which she began to walk up to the apple container. Spike watched as she propped herself on the side of it, looking down at the apples below. However, before she dunked her own head into it, they both stopped when they realised that something had just happened. The wind, which had been pretty much unnoticed until now, suddenly picked up slightly. But, as time went on, it became more and more fierce, prompting Spike to look upwards. He saw, to his dismay, that there were clouds gathering in the sky above them, growing darker and more foreboding. Oh no! Please don't tell me it's going to rain! Darker and darker the clouds turned, until finally, there was a massive bolt of lightning, sending many ponies running away in fear. As Spike looked upwards, he began to notice something at the centre of it all. As the clouds began to form some kind of spiral, there was some strange shape in the middle, flying down towards them. Within moments, his eyes widened when he realised what it was; a chariot, dark and shaped in a nightmarish fashion, pulled along by two members of what Spike recognised immediately as the night guard.

But, it was the one in the chariot itself that caught his interest. A mare, clad in a dark cloak, looking down at all below her as the chariot finally hovered over the centre of town. There was another flash of lightning before the mare leapt out of the chariot, gently gliding down to the ground below. As many of the ponies gathered, looking on at the new arrival, they watched with surprise as she pulled back her hood, revealing herself to be none other than Princess Luna. Upon seeing this, many in the crowd instinctively gave a bow of respect to the diarch of the night. But, as Spike looked at them, he noted no worry or fear in their faces, as one might expect from a frightening display like this. Instead, some of them actually looked quite happy to see her. As Luna looked around, gazing with some affection at both the town and its citizens, she began to walk forward, only to be greeted by Mayor Mare, who was currently dressed as a clown. Spike walked closer, listening in as the town's Mayor spoke to the princess.

"Your Highness! It’s an honour to welcome you to Ponyville! To what do we owe this visit?"

The princess of the night smiled at the mare before her before speaking softly.

"I felt it was perhaps warranted that I should go out and observe the night that has been dedicated to me over the years. I felt it might be...interesting."

The mayor bowed respectfully at that.

"Of course, Princess. Please, let me know if there's anything you need."

Luna nodded at that before starting to walk off, with her cloak disintegrating into a cloud of bats, which promptly flew off. Many of the ponies smiled and waved to her as she passed, which was something that brought a smile to her face. Seeing this, Spike too found himself smiling. Luna's been visiting Ponyville a few times now. Guess the ponies here are used to her. Eventually, the dark alicorn caught sight of the young drake, and turned to walk towards him. Spike, likewise, moved to approach her, giving a similar bow like everypony else.

"It's nice to see you again, Princess."

But, Luna raised a hoof, stopping him and simultaneously giving him permission to rise.

"There is no need for that, young Spike. The two of us are friends. So please...call me Luna."

Looking up at her, Spike chuckled nervously a little.


Smiling at this, the princess spoke softly to the young drake.

"I'm happy to see you here, even though Twilight is not. I trust you are coping well without her?”

The young dragon gave a nod.

“It’s fine, really. I mean…it’s been kinda weird not having her around but…I know she’s coming back, so I’m good.”

Luna smiled at that before looking up, gazing at the festivities around her.

“I must confess...this seems far more jovial an event than I was expecting."

Spike looked out amongst the rest of the ponies, many of whom seemed to have gone back to what they were doing before Luna's arrival. But the princess had the right of it, as all of them seemed to be very much enjoying themselves with the games and all the rest of it.

"It's one of the most popular holidays of the year. Everypony looks forward to it."

Luna nodded.

"Indeed. I had perhaps...worried...that my past actions would lead it to be a more sombre occasion."

Spike looked up at her, somewhat concerned at hearing that. Seeing this look on his face, Luna put on a smile and placed a hoof upon his shoulder.

"Fear not, young one. It is all in the past now. I am here to...as my sister puts it...have fun. The duties of the night are all well and good, but even I need some time off every once in a while."

The young dragon smiled at that before gaining a look that made it clear that he'd just had an idea. Turning, he took Luna by the hoof and guided her back to the bobbing-for-apples game, where Applejack watched them approach.

"Pleasure ta see ya again, Princess."

Luna nodded at that.

"And you as well, Applejack. Now, tell me...what is the purpose of this game?"

As the orange earth pony began to explain the rules of the game, Spike smiled to himself, only to then realise that there was somepony else in this that had become completely forgotten in the commotion. Turning, he looked upon Sweetie, who was looking at Princess Luna in utter awe. Smiling at this look on her face, Spike walked up to her and poked her in the shoulder a bit, gaining her attention.

"You know...you can talk to her, if you like."

Hearing that, Sweetie shook her head.

"Oh...I can't! I mean...she's a princess!"

Laughing a little at this, Spike reached forward and held onto her hoof, causing her to blush slightly. Although initially hesitant, Sweetie eventually capitulated and began to allow Spike to lead her to the blue alicorn before them. When they finally reached her, Spike forced a cough, gaining Luna's attention, after which he gestured to his still-worried friend.

"Princess Luna, this is Sweetie Belle."

Smiling, Luna took a step towards the young filly and gave a nod.

"Greetings young one. It is always a pleasure to meet my friends' romantic partners."

Upon hearing that, Spike's face immediately became as red as a tomato, leading to Applejack once more giggling to herself behind Luna’s back. As Spike began to fumble his words in response to Luna's declaration, he turned to Sweetie Belle, wherein he noticed that something had changed in her. In stark contrast to how she behaved earlier, Sweetie's expression soon became one of confusion, as she tilted her head slightly to the side. Upon seeing this, Luna gained a slight look of worry before speaking up to her again.

"Is...is something wrong?"

Sweetie shook her head a little.

"No. It's just...well...you kinda sound like my sister."

Sister Problems

Peaceful. That was, by far, the best word to describe what was going on in the confines of the Golden Oak library right now. Spike, sitting upon a wooden chair near the corner, was quietly reading to himself, looking over a small comic book while smiling. Nearby, Trixie too was busy, concentrating on a new spell of hers. Her horn glowed its usual pink as she pointed it to a nearby pot of flowers. There was a brief flash of light and, within moments, the flowers had transformed into a bright green pear. Although an astounding feat of magic, the blue mare nevertheless looked more than a little frustrated at the sight of the fruit, and lit her horn up to try again. Spike, seeing this, shook his head a little before getting back to his comic. She's been trying that spell for ages, but still no orange. Pears, apples, grapes, heck even a pumpkin at one point. But, she'll get it eventually. Well, either that or we'll have to put up with a surplus of fruit in the next few days. Chuckling to himself, he got back to his comic, reading with great anticipation as the heroes within did battle with their foe, only to end up hanging over a cliff. Huh, a literal cliff-hanger to end the story. Neat. As he closed the comic, Spike instead opted to watch as Trixie attempted her spell again, this time choosing to aim at the pear. The young dragon watched with anticipation, but, as the spell was about to be shot, the door flung open.

"My sister is driving me crazy!"

Spike turned to see a very angry-looking Sweetie Belle enter the library, utterly oblivious to what she'd just barged in on. Needless to say, Trixie was distracted just long enough that she accidentally set off her spell, sending it blasting forward and striking a mirror on the nearby wall. The reflective surface sent it flying back, leading to Trixie ducking just in time to avoid being hit. Now, the spell was flying off, shooting right over Sweetie Belle's head and out into the streets of Ponyville behind her. All three watched with some concern as this happened, especially when they began to hear a very concerned voice screaming from outside.

"By all that's holy! Who turned my pineapple cart into a giant pineapple?! That's just mean...and ironic! I hate ironic!"

Looking somewhat guilty, Trixie turned to Spike.

"Um...Trixie will be right back."

Needless to say, the mare immediately sped off, running past Sweetie Belle and out into the streets, no doubt to undo what she'd accidentally unleashed. As for the two youngsters, Spike looked to Sweetie with some uncertainty before, after clearing his throat, finally speaking to her.

"So...er...Sweetie. What's up?"

Using her hind leg, Sweetie slammed the door behind her before walking over to Spike, fuming all the way.

"Rarity is...argh! And then she...ugh! But I just wanted to...gah!"

Seeing this, Spike folded his arms and raised an eyebrow.

"Okay...I'm gonna take a wild stab in the dark here and say that your sister has upset you."

Looking up at the young dragon, Sweetie's expression softened considerably.

"I'm sorry. It's just...things haven't been that great between the two of us lately."

Spike nodded, putting on a small smile before patting the space beside him, inviting Sweetie over. Smiling back, the young filly trotted over before taking a seat next to Spike. There was a brief silence between them, with Spike waiting patiently for Sweetie to say what she needed to. Eventually, the unicorn filly let out a sigh before starting to explain herself.

"My parents are out of town for a bit, so they decided I should stay with Rarity while they're gone. I was really excited and stuff...but..."

A slight frown crossed her brow before she continued.

"...stuff just keeps going wrong! I tried helping her with everything, but none of it is good enough for her! I tried helping to make breakfast, I tried helping to wash her outfits, I even tried making this super-nice picture of her and me. But...she just didn't like any of it!"

The filly slumped, resting her head on her hooves before starting to pout a little.

"She's just...ugh! All she wants is what she wants. When she does want me to help, she always takes over, making sure everything is exactly how she likes it. It's like nothing anypony does is enough!"

Spike watched her, nodding every once in a while. Yeah...Rarity can be a little...demanding at times. A small look of concern appeared on his face as he considered that. To think, I actually used to crush on her. Who knows how much of that kind of behaviour I'd have had to put up with if I'd tried going after her for longer than I did? He turned to Sweetie, seeing how despondent she was, and raised a clawed hand, gently placing it upon her shoulder. When she turned to look at him, she watched as he began to speak softly to her.

"Sweetie...when I was living with Twilight, back in Canterlot, I used to try everything under the sun to help her and be a good assistant."

Sweetie raised an eyebrow, showing clear confusion over where Spike was going with this. Seeing this, the young drake continued.

"Sometimes...I was too eager. I'd do things without thinking and...every once in a while...I just made things worse. Needless to say...Twilight wasn't always happy with what I did."

He looked down at the ground, a slight look of melancholy in his eyes.

"When she scolded me...I got angry. I'd keep telling myself that she didn't appreciate what I was doing."

After having said that, his face softened considerably.

"But...I came to realise that, by trying to help by doing things I couldn’t do...I wasn't helping her at all. I was just...being a nuisance. After that, Twilight helped me to get better. To succeed where I'd failed before. She made me the assistant I am today."

Sweetie frowned after hearing that.

"But this is different! Rarity really isn't appreciating what I do."

Spike turned to her, his face completely neutral.

"When you made her that breakfast...how was it?"

A smile formed on the young filly's face.

"It was delicious!"

There was silence between the two youngsters for a moment, with Spike simply staring at her. In time, Sweetie's smile faded somewhat.

"Well...I mean...it was kinda burned and stuff. But at least I did good at the cleaning!"

Yet again, the drake continued to stare silently, leading to Sweetie darting her eyes left and right.

"I mean...I guess I did kinda ruin it by making it shrink, but...the picture was good!"

And again, more staring.

"Okay! I used up some gems I shouldn’t have been playing with. There! Happy?"

She looked away, seeming to be deep in thought over what she'd just said. Eventually, her expression became one of slight sadness.

"I guess...I kinda messed stuff up, didn't I?"

Spike sighed, nudging her slightly. When she turned to look upon him, she saw that he was wearing a soft smile for her.

"It's okay. I mean...you're her sister. Even if she's upset, she'll know you did it because you love her. Maybe it'll just take time for her to realise that."

Upon hearing that, the filly turned, a look of guilt crossing her face.

"Well...actually...we kinda got into a big fight, and I walked out. I think she hates me right now."

Spike shook his head.

"She doesn't hate you, Sweetie. I know she can seem overbearing...and selfish...and sometimes inconsiderate. And yes, it seems like she's being overly harsh with you, but..."

He paused for a moment. Wait...where am I going with this? Eventually, he just shook his head before carrying on.

"Look, the point is that you're sisters. You know you love each other. This is just a little anger you're both going through. Give it time and things will calm down."

He reached forward, placing a hand upon her shoulder again, causing her to turn in his direction. When she did, he spoke in a somewhat hushed manner.

"Ask yourself...do you really want you and your sister to be at each other's throats forever?"

Sweetie looked down at the ground, saddened by the drake's words, which, needless to say, was a look that caused Spike to feel no end of guilt for having caused. However, after some time had passed, Sweetie let out a sigh before looking up to him again, smiling softly.

"No. I guess...I'd better go back and try and talk to her, shouldn't I?"

Spike smiled and nodded at that, silently voicing his approval of that plan. Sweetie smiled back before hopping off her chair, ready to head on out. However, before doing so, she turned to him, looking more than a little mischievous. Although confused at this, Spike watched as she approached him, leaning forward and planting a tender kiss upon his cheek. As usual with this sort of thing, Spike's face became as red as a tomato, causing Sweetie to giggle happily. She looked at him, giving him a look that shouted "that's for making me feel better", before she spun around and began to run out of the library, closing the door of the place behind her. As Spike came down from his redness, he held a hand to his cheek and smiled. I say again, how I ever crushed on Rarity I'll never know. However, he was interrupted from that line of thought by the sudden sound of somepony opening the door ferociously. Looking up, he saw that Trixie had returned. However, Spike gained a look of great confusion as he saw that, not only was her mane unkempt in appearance, but that she had a fake moustache and beard combo hanging precariously off her face. She turned, seeing the young drake staring at her, before closing the door and then charging forward. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she looked to him.

"If anypony asks, tell them that Trixie is out of town for a few days and that the only pony living here is a stallion called Gutierrez!"

Before Spike could respond to that, the mare rushed upstairs, with the sound of her closing her bedroom door being heard not long afterwards. Needless to say, Spike seemed more than perplexed at this. What in the name of Faust happened out there when I wasn't looking? However, he shook himself from that thought, instead getting off his chair and walking to the nearest window, looking out at Ponyville. More specifically, he watched as Sweetie Belle continued to walk away, heading straight for Carousel Boutique. Seeing this, he began to wear a warm smile.

"Please make things better with your sister, Sweetie. Because trust me..."

He paused, looking over to his right to see a small desk; a place where Twilight usually did her night-time studies. Seeing this, his face became one of sadness.

"...I know how hard it is to have family further away from you."

The Amulet

As the warm light of the sun began to creep over the horizon, the landscape before it began to light up. Fields, hills and woodlands were all revealed as morning finally dawned, with the sound of birdsong filling the air. Although undoubtedly a pleasant sight to behold, it was soon interrupted by the arrival of an unnatural light. On the edges of a small collection of trees, Twilight Sparkle stood vigilant. She glared at the object that now hovered in front of her; a plundervine seed. Encased in a spell of her own making, it began to glow fiercely, like all other seeds before it. Closing her eyes, she began to concentrate on her magic, and within moments, the seed was consumed by powerful destructive magic. Soon afterwards, its surface began to crack, leading to the usual disintegration that had befallen every single seed she had encountered thus far. When the smoke of the spell finally cleared, she opened her eyes, seeing nothing but mere wisps where her spell had been cast. Seeing this, she let out a sigh. Okay then...where is the next one? Turning, she looked upon her saddle-bags, which had been propped up by a nearby tree, and walked towards it. After rummaging around in it for a while, she pulled out what she was looking for. Another seed, but this one whole and possessing a strange sheen to it.

Looking upon the thing, Twilight's eyes narrowed. Tell me, seed. Where to now? She caused her horn to light up, ready to activate the locator spell she'd used before. But, as time went on, a look of confusion crossed her face as she found, to her surprise, that it was not working. The seed merely laid there, without glow, in spite of how many times she attempted her spell. However, in time, her eyes began to widen. Could it...could it be? Is this it? The last of them? Just to make sure, she cast her spell a few more times, and each time, the seed remained inert. A look of sheer elation and excitement crossed her face with that, with her starting to breathe a deep sigh of relief. Oh Faust! How long have I been at this? Two weeks? Three? I lost count at this point. But, her expression soon turned to one of scorn as she looked upon the unmoving seed before her. You served me well in finding your siblings...but now it's time for you to join them. And so, like every seed she'd encountered, Twilight concentrated, encasing the lone seed before her in a bubble of her own magic. Soon afterwards, she used her great power to concentrate her magic within, burning away the seed until, eventually, nothing remained of it. When her magic dissipated, she began to smile, perhaps for the first time in a good long while. And so ends the plundervines.

But, that smile was short-lived as she began to turn, looking upon the landscape below. Off in the distance, starting to glisten in the morning sun, was a town. Although looking like any other Equestrian settlement, Twilight nevertheless looked upon it with concern. Good thing my search ended here, of all places. Because there it is. That's where I'll find it. Frowning, she lit up her horn, causing her saddle-bags to levitate, after which she carefully placed them upon her back. Taking a deep breath, Twilight began to trot off in the direction of the town, with a look of determination upon her face the entire time. Minute after minute, and hour after hour, she stayed her course, watching the town grow larger as she drew closer. In time, she finally reached the place, and began to look around. There were shops, stalls, homes, and of course, ponies, all of whom were smiling to each other and clearly happy just going about their daily business. Twilight looked on at each of them, thinking hard about what it was she was about to do. Look at them. They have no idea what lies here. Looking straight ahead, she caught sight of an entrance to a back-alley, and narrowed her eyes slightly before walking right down it.

It took a few minutes, but that little detour brought her exactly where she needed to be; a small and unassuming shop, hidden in shadows when compared to the rest of the town. Raising a hoof, Twilight pushed the door open, and walked inside. As expected, she was the only pony in here, but that was of little concern to her. For as she walked further in, she looked around at the wares on display on all the shelves around her. Old books. Skulls. Strange concoctions stored in jars. One looked upon this place and the impression they got was clear; this was a place of dark and dangerous magics. Twilight, by contrast, couldn't help but scoff at the sight of most of this. Let's see...plastic skulls...some out-of-date jello in jars...and...yep, a stuffed bird sitting by a candle. Typical pushers of fake magic stuff. No wonder he keeps his shop away from the main streets. Any real magic students would take one look at all this and call him a phoney. However, that smile vanished utterly when she turned and looked upon the shelf behind the desk. There, lying still, was the one thing in this entire place that gave Twilight pause. Forged from dark iron and bearing a bright crimson jewel at its centre, it was a necklace shaped in the image of an alicorn. Twilight felt a shiver go down her spine as she began to approach the item, but was stopped from going any further by the arrival of the store's owner; an older stallion dressed in eastern garb.

"Welcome! It's so rare to actually get a customer these days! Tell me, can I interest you in anything, Miss?"

Twilight kept her eyes on the amulet behind him, opening her mouth to speak.

"Well, I..."

But, she was interrupted when she shopkeeper spoke up, holding a jar of strange-looking liquid before her.

"Perhaps I could interest you in this cure-all fluid from beyond the borders of Griffonstone?"

Twilight shook her head at that.

"Er, no, I'm actually..."

"Then how about this tome of ancient cooking spells, written by the fabled Buzo the Gluttonous?" the stallion urged.

The young unicorn began to narrow her eyes a little.

"No, thank you. I'm actually..."

"How about this ancient stick of...er...stickiness!"


Twilight's words had been harsher than intended, and the shopkeeper took a few steps backwards, watching her with some concern. Realising how aggressive she must have appeared, Twilight quickly composed herself, clearing her throat before putting on a small smile and speaking in a calm tone.

"Thank you for your suggestions, but I’m actually more interested in that."

She raised a hoof, pointing straight at the amulet behind the counter. Seeing this, the stallion smiled, no doubt smelling a sale in the making.

"Ah! I see you have an eye for quality. That there is the fabled alicorn amulet! A magical artefact from before recorded Equestrian history, the amulet is said to bestow great power on those who wear it, though I doubt anypony truly knows the extent of that claim."

Twilight frowned as she looked upon the ancient artefact. Oh, believe me, I know all about what it can do. But, she quickly put on a smile once more as the stallion turned to her.

"I'll take it. How much?"

To Twilight's surprise, the stallion's smile faded somewhat, and he stood beside the amulet, looking more than a little incredulous.

"I'm sorry, Miss, but I doubt anypony such as yourself could possibly afford..."

But he was stopped form speaking any further when Twilight's horn lit up. From out of her saddle-bags, a single brown sack was levitated out, before being unceremoniously dumped onto the counter, as it fell, a stream of bright gold coins flowed from within. As expected from a merchant, this caused the stallion’s eyes to practically leap out of his skull. Now transfixed at the display of wealth before him, he began to almost salivate at the mouth, muttering a little before finally getting out a coherent sentence.

"Um...on second thoughts, perhaps you can afford it."

Twilight smirked at the sight of him like that. Always good to know that dragon's hoard comes in handy from time to time. So, Twilight watched as the stallion hopped up onto a nearby chair, propping himself up as her reached up for the amulet. After carefully bringing it down, he placed it upon the counter, after which he began to wrap it up in a small nearby bag. After having tied it closed, he held the bag up, offering it to Twilight, who took it by way of her magic. With the bag now hovering in front of her, Twilight gave an appreciative smile to the stallion, who now busied himself with staring at that small pile of gold in front of him, before making her way out of the shop. Once outside, Twilight's smile was wiped from her face as she glared angrily at the bag. She looked left and right, making sure that nopony was around to see her, before making her way further into the alleyway. She walked for some time until she finally came upon a dead end, safe from the gaze of anypony nearby. Sighing, Twilight used her magic to cause the bag to twist upside down, and soon enough, the amulet fell out, making a brief clanging noise as it collided with the ground. Looking down upon the amulet, Twilight narrowed her eyes.

"Trixie is my friend. I trust her. The way she is now, I know she would never resort to using you. But even so...she's not the only pony who could. Anypony who wears you becomes corrupted. They become twisted versions of what they should be. You're a blemish on Equestria. A stain of dark magic. And like all such evil power..."

She raised a hoof, eying the amulet menacingly.

"...I will stomp it out."

With an almighty stamp of her hoof, Twilight struck the amulet, immediately cracking the red amulet at its centre and shattering it. After having taken her hoof off, Twilight watched as wisps of red-coloured magic began to rise from the ruined gem, after which they simply faded away, like steam. There goes its power. She sighed a little, but it was short-lived, for she now looked once more upon the fragments of the gem, along with the iron container around it, which had been horribly bent out-of-shape thanks to her assault. Then again...can't be too careful. Lighting her horn up again, she began to levitate one of the fragments up to her, at which point she closed her eyes. Much like with the plundervines, strong magic was being condensed onto that spot, disintegrating the gem fragment within moments. With the deed done, Twilight looked upon the tiny wisp of smoke that remained of it, smiling slightly. I have to make sure nothing remains of this amulet. Not...one...piece. She looked down, gazing at the ruined form of the amulet, before looking up, right at the sky.

"When this is done...only one thing remains before I go home."

Her expression changed, becoming harsh and steely.

"A little visit...to Tartarus."

Bloom's Boom

Upon the grounds of Sweet Apple Acres, many a tree was fully laden with its titular fruits, ready to be bucked out of their branches. Applejack, along with her brother, Mac, smiled as they looked upon their orchards. The sun was shining, the grass was as fresh and green as ever, and all around them they could see nothing but row upon row of healthy trees. Sighing, the orange mare looked to her brother, who smiled down warmly at her. He gave her a brief nod before starting to walk to the nearest tree, after which he began bucking. As expected of a stallion his size, all it took on his part was one kick to send the apples falling into the already-prepared baskets. Applejack too began to assume her duties, lining up a good-sized tree to kick herself. However, before she got the chance to do so, she and her brother were taken aback by the sudden sound of some kind of explosion. Spinning around, they looked on as they began to see a small column of smoke emerging from behind their family barn. Immediately, the two Apple siblings charged forward, ready to find out what it was that had caused this. They ran together, jumping over the white picket fence that surrounded their home, before approaching the barn.

However, as they ran around it, they ground to a halt as they saw what had occurred. There, before them, were the Cutie Mark Crusaders; Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. All three of them had stood to one side, by the barn wall, watching the ground nearby, which now seemed to possess a small crater, still smoking. With a look of worry plastering her face, Applejack ran forward, immediately placing a hoof on the shoulder of her little sister, before speaking up in a fearful manner.

"Apple Bloom! Are ya okay?"

But the young filly merely looked up at her sister with some confusion before putting on a small smile.

"Of course ah'm okay, sis."

Raising an eyebrow, Applejack looked up to the two fillies, both of whom simply smiled at her, before looking back to the nearby crater.

"But...but...what in the hay happened here?"

A wide smile crept onto Apple Bloom's face as she walked away from her sister, pointing to the smoking hole in the ground.

"Well...ya said y'all wanted to deal with that old stump, right? So...ah did!"

As expected, Applejack looked to her sister with a great deal of uncertainty, before starting to gain a look of understanding. Stump? Wait...that’s right! There used to be an old stump there just this mornin. But...what happened to it? She looked to Apple Bloom, who was still looking quite pleased with herself, before fumbling her words somewhat.


The young filly smiled once more, raising a hoof and pointing it to the barn beside them. Turning, Applejack looked upon something she had not noticed until now. A small glass flask, containing some kind of yellowish-green liquid. Hesitantly, she began to approach it, looking at it carefully before looking back to her sister.

"Since when do y'all dabble in potions an the like?"

Apple Bloom turned her head around and pointed to her flank, bearing her cutie mark of a red apple and hammer.

"The other day, ah was in the middle of practisin some woodwork by the clubhouse. But then, Zecora came along, looking fer some herbs an such. We got ta talkin an she started talkin about her potions an stuff. Ah asked if ah could try makin some, so she told me a few recipes."

After having heard all that, the orange earth pony turned, gazing upon the crater. Ever since that little filly got her mark, she's been out an about, makin all kinds of stuff. She fixed the barn roof. Made a brand new swing set fer the school. Heck, she even helped to patch up that broken old plough Big Mac uses. Ain't no doubt in mah mind that she's been mighty useful with her new talent. A small smile crept onto her face with that thought. It's just like all the other Crusaders. Sweetie takin every opportunity to sing as much as possible. Spike sure likes it, that's fer sure. As fer Scootaloo, not a day goes by when that little pegasus isn't scootin about on that scooter. Faust knows how many folks in town she's near-terrorized with those fancy stunts of those. But, her expression became one of slight concern as she considered that. But potion makin? That's somethin else. Ah know it's still makin stuff, but still...sounds strange ta me. After finishing that line of thought, she turned to Apple Bloom, before speaking in a calmer tone.

"An ah reckon that there crater is one of ya potions work?"

Apple Bloom nodded.

"Eyup! Cleared that old stump clean away! Y'all shoulda seen it! It was amazin!"

Seeing the enthusiasm on her sister's face, Applejack couldn't help but smile.

“Ah'm sure it was, Bloom."

Turning, Applejack looked upon her brother, who had been standing there quietly, as usual, and just taking in all of this. After a brief moment, Applejack gave him a nod, silently giving him permission to leave. Although hesitant at first, the older stallion nodded back, turning around and heading back off to continue with his apple-bucking. Now alone with the fillies, Applejack let out a sigh before placing her hoof upon Apple Bloom's shoulder once more.

"Look, sister...ah know y'all wanna practise yer special talent as much as possible, and ah appreciate that y'all have a real gift fer makin stuff...but ya gotta be more careful than that!"

Apple Bloom's ears began to drop somewhat, causing Applejack to feel more than a slight pang of guilt for having caused that.

"Ah know y'all wanted ta help, and ah thank ya fer it. But ya gotta understand...this could've been mighty dangerous for ya."

The young filly looked up from that.

"Ah know. Ah just...really wanted ta see if ah was any good at this."

Seeing the honest look in her sister's face, Applejack sighed before putting on a more affectionate smile.

"It's fine. Just...let me know when y'all wanna do something like this in future, okay? Ah don't want ya getting hurt from it."

Looking up at her sister, Apple Bloom returned the smile and nodded.

"Ah will. Ah promise."

But, no sooner had she said that when her eyes began to light up, looking more excited than she was before.

"Ooh! There's actually this other recipe ah've got brewin right now! Zecora said it'll be good for helping broken bones an such. Is it alright if ah finish makin it?"

Applejack chuckled at that.

"Sounds good. But ah want Zecora here when y'all finish it, just ta make sure it's okay. Besides, ah don't reckon there's much of a hurry to get it done right now anyways."

Apple Bloom nodded, and opened her mouth in readiness to agree to that. However, before she got the chance to do so, all four of them heard a massive cracking sound from far away, leading to them simultaneously turning in it's direction. Without a word, they sped off, heading straight for the source of the sound. In moments, they arrived at the edge of the orchards and looked upon what had happened. It was Big Macintosh, leaning against the nearest apple Tree, his hind leg lifted up as if lowering it was too painful to do so. Beside him was a broken tree branch, with scattered leaves around it, making it clear that it had been a sudden and massive impact with the ground. Putting two and two together, Applejack quickly understood what had just happened, giving her brother a look of both concern and annoyance.

"Again, Mac?"

Smiling nervously, the stallion nodded a little, confirming Applejack's suspicions, causing her to let out a grunt. Ugh! Well...at least it ain't Apple Buck Season this time around. She walked over, helping her bother up and aiding him as the two of them walked towards the family barn, no doubt to get him some bandages. As for the fillies, they remained where they were, with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle looking concerned for Mac's condition. When it came to Apple Bloom, however, the two other fillies watched her with some confusion as, for some reason, she actually had a look of excitement upon her face. However, it wasn't long before they understood why.

"Well ah'll be! Guess ah get to try out that potion after all!"

Hearing that, Scootaloo raised an eyebrow.

"No offense, Apple Bloom...but sometimes...you're pretty twisted."

Author's Notes:

Nothing really special about this one, I just needed something to take the place of "Cutie Pox" in the timeline, since the CMC getting their marks kinda wipes it away.

Also, Applejack? As much as I love you and your family, my spell-checker hates me every time I try and get your accents right.

Alicorns at Night

All was calm at the royal palace of Canterlot. Most of the staff were still asleep, there was only a small contingent of guards patrolling the halls and secure locations, and the whole place had a feeling of stillness to it. But, there was one pony for whom sleep was not on the agenda. For there, standing on a wide balcony, at the top of the palace's tallest tower, was none other than Princess Celestia herself. She looked out, smiling at the beautiful night sky before her, gazing at the bright moon and the occasional shooting star, before letting out a sigh of contentment. As beautiful as ever, Luna. Her eyes drifted downwards, looking upon the still-sleeping city. True, during the daylight hours, the capital of Equestria might indeed be a hub of activity, but, in the dead of night, even this place was quiet and peaceful, save for the occasional moonlight stroll by a pair of lovers. Celestia raised a hoof and gently placed it upon the marble edge of the balcony, smiling sweetly as she looked to all those individual lights, the signs of somepony who was awake, even at this late hour. Moments like these...so peaceful...it's nice. Knowing my little ponies are safe in their homes, among their families...it's what I live for.

Although contented at this thought, she was interrupted from her solitude by the distinct sound of somepony flapping their wings. She did not turn to meet this new arrival, for she had no reason to do so. Celestia knew the sound of those hooves anywhere, and put on a warm smile before speaking in her usual calm tone.

"A pleasant night you have created here, sister."

Sure enough, Princess Luna, diarch of the moon, walked alongside her sister, smiling with her and joining in her observation of the night-time city below.

"I thank you, Celestia. Though I confess I am still somewhat rusty at it."

A small chuckle escaped from the older sister.

"You give yourself too little credit."

Turning, Celestia looked upon her younger sibling with a look of slight curiosity.

"Tell me...how goes your night duties?"

Luna's face lit up after hearing that.

"They go well. The borders of our lands are calmer than I have known them. There is little trouble for me to deal with, thankfully. As for the rest, to visit the dreams of one's subjects is always a pleasure."

A sly smile crept onto her face as she considered that.

"You should see some of the things our dear friends in Ponyville are dreaming of."

Hearing those words, Celestia's eyebrow raised somewhat.

"Oh? Do tell."

With a look of slight mischievousness, Luna gave her sister the answer she sought.

"Well, for one thing, that dress-maker, Rarity, had this rather scandalous desire on some noble stallion from here in Canterlot. She imagined it all, a walk beside a beautiful lake, the sun setting in the distance, their lips growing ever closer..."

Celestia's eyes widened.

"Luna! I hope you didn't stay in such a dream too long, did you?"

The younger alicorn let out a brief giggle.

"Of course not! But, it was rather amusing, to say the least."

In spite of herself, Celestia couldn't help but join in on her sister's laughter. It was, as one might expect, a pleasant moment between the two siblings, and one that put both of them at ease. After some time had passed, however, and the laughter had finally died down, Luna looked to her sister once more.

"But...it is the dream of Rainbow Dash that was the most interesting tonight. Turns out she's actually gained a new companion of her own."

That immediately caught Celestia's attention, as she turned to Luna with eagerness.

"Oh, really? Pray tell, sister, who is the lucky stallion?"

Luna raised a hoof and stifled the laughter that threatened to escape her once more, before shaking her head slightly.

"You misunderstand me, sister. Her new companion is not some lover, but a pet. A tortoise, in fact."

From the look on Celestia's face, it was clear she was taken aback by that.

"A tortoise? For Rainbow Dash? One of the fastest, most speed-obsessed mares in Equestria...chooses one of the slowest possible animals as her pet?"

Luna merely shrugged her shoulders at that, prompting Celestia to raise a hoof and plant it upon her brow before letting out a sigh.

"Sometimes, Luna...I feel like the universe just runs on irony!"

Looking to her sister, Luna put on a slight frown.

"That's not irony! Irony would be if she had to use such a slow creature to go fast."

Celestia turned to her, frowning just as much as she was. She opened her mouth, ready to give some kind of come-back to that statement, before seeming to be deep in thought over something. In time, she simply let out a grunt of annoyance.

"Ugh! You know what? It's just too late to start debating what irony is or isn't!"

After considering that matter herself, Luna gave a small nod, and instead turned to the horizon, still darkened and filled with beautiful starlight. Silence passed between the two sisters, and every once in a while, Celestia would glance sideways at Luna, a look of uncertainty upon her face. Should...should I ask her? After a good minute of back-and-forth questioning of herself, Celestia took a deep breath, steeling herself before finally speaking up to Luna.

"Tell me, Luna. Have you, perhaps, glimpsed the dreams of...Twilight?"

Luna looked to her, seeing the obvious concern upon her face, and her expression softened. She turned away, looking almost ashamed at what she had to say.

"I fear...your student's magic is still just as potent as ever. She continues to shield her mind. I have attempted to sense her a few times...but to no avail."

Celestia looked down at the ground slightly. I suppose it was too much to hope for. However, before the elder princess had a chance to speak, Luna beat her to it.

"I don't suppose...you might have heard word of her?"

In spite of how down she had appeared moments before, the diarch of the sun simply let out a hearty chuckle.

"Oh, I've heard rumours here and there. With Twilight out doing Faust knows what, I always made it a point to keep my ear to the ground, hoping somepony might have seen her. You should hear some of the reports I've been getting. Some say she goes out and beats up manticores with her bare hooves. Others say she transformed herself into a dragon. Some even say they saw her performing...some kind of spell, out where nopony could see her."

However, her expression then became somewhat dour after saying that.

"Most of the time, it's just the occasional report of some lavender unicorn mare passing through a village every once in a while. Not enough to get a real feel of where she is or what she's doing."

Luna nodded at that.

"But...you have known her since she was a small filly, yes? Surely you must have attempted some kind of connection with her?"

Celestia nodded, closing her eyes as she did so.

"Yes. Sometimes...I can almost feel her. It's not communication, exactly. Just...a sense that she’s out there."

She let out a sigh after opening her eyes again.

"Not really useful, at the end of the day."

The princess looked down at the ground once more, only to turn to her sister, once the latter placed her hoof upon her shoulder. As the two siblings looked to each other, Celestia noted the warm smile upon Luna's face.

"Fear not, sister. This is Twilight we're talking about. She faced down a dragon and won. She even defeated Discord! Whatever she's up to, and wherever she is...I'm sure she'll be fine."

It took a while, but Celestia eventually broke into a smile, albeit a very small one. Smiling back at her, Luna stepped forward, and together, the two sisters embraced each other warmly. After some time like this, they parted, and Luna gave her sister a single node before turning around. Celestia watched as she unfurled her wings, giving them an almighty flap before launching herself back into the sky, no doubt going back to resume her duties of the night. Watching, Celestia observed as her sister flew further and further away, growing ever smaller the more she flew. In time, the princess of the moon could no longer be seen, and Celestia was now alone. All she had now were her own thoughts, which were, as expected, hard at work in this new solitude. Luna is right. Twilight is strong and capable. I have to trust that she can cope with whatever it is she's doing out there. She told Spike, her own son, that she knew what she was doing, and I have to believe her when she says that. Letting out a deep sigh, Celestia soon found herself yawning loudly. When that passed, she turned, walking to the entrance back into the tower, ready to get herself some much-needed sleep. After closing the door behind her, she got herself comfortable on her bed, resting her head against the pillow before uttering one final thing.

"Oh, my student...please, be safe."

The Gates of Tartarus

It was the sheer silence of this place that most unnerved her. Twilight, bearing a look of grim determination, walked at a slow and steady pace through the countryside. She passed by fields, hills, woodlands, never straying from her path, even though no sane pony would ever wish to go where she was heading now. The skies grew grey and unpleasant, the winds became cold to the point of bitterness, and as for the grass beneath her hooves, it too began to change, growing more sparse and less fresh as time went on. One only had to take a single glance at this change to the landscape to know one important fact; this was a dead land. But it was the stillness that was ever on her mind. No birdsong, no animals, not even the wind itself made a sound through her journey. It was as if nature itself was afraid to speak up, being so near that accursed place. The only sound that could be heard was that of Twilight's hooves upon the ground as she drew nearer to her destination. And soon enough, it came into view. A solitary mountain, old, grey and cracked, standing in the middle of this decaying land. And, at its base, a large cave entrance, with such darkness within that even bats feared to enter. As she looked upon this foreboding sight, Twilight spoke in a hushed manner, almost to the point of a whisper.

"There is is...Tartarus."

The realm of the dead and the forgotten. The place where those condemned in life dwell for all eternity. But, it was not for those poor souls that Twilight came here today, for this place was also the prison of some of the darkest and most reviled figures in Equestria's history. Cautiously, she approached, her eyes never leaving the cave entrance. It is by way of magic, or the end of one’s life, that those imprisoned within enter this place. As for this cave...it is only for mortals, for the living, to enter and leave. Her eyes narrowed as that very cave grew with her approach. There was a slight breeze flowing within, making a sound almost like a laboured and pained breathing of a wounded animal, and that, coupled with the sheer cold of this place, caused Twilight to shiver somewhat. But, when she finally reached the edge of the cave. She did not enter. She did not gaze within and she did not cast any spells. Instead, she simply sat down and stared at it, as if waiting for something. Alright...it should be around now that he turns up. After all this time...I'll finally find out why. So, she remained here, counting the moments as they passed by. Minute after minute, hour after hour, the time rolled on as the young unicorn remained in the one spot, never letting her eyes drift away from that dark and menacing cave.

But, after a long period of absolutely nothing happening, something finally began to occur. The young unicorn looked on to see, to her surprise, that some kind of animal now leapt out of the entrance to the cave. After getting a good look at it, she realised that it was, in fact, just a squirrel. However, this was not the small, adorable kind like what she may find in Ponyville, but far larger, looking utterly rabid and crazed. She narrowed her eyes at that, but was prevented from doing anything about it by the sudden arrival of yet another creature. Leaping out in a dramatic fashion from the cave, this one though was far larger, high enough to tower over most of the homes in Ponyville. Possessing of a dark coat and bearing three savage and slobbering heads, Twilight knew exactly what this beast was. Cerberus...the guard-hound of Tartarus. Twilight looked on as the massive dog looked down, glaring angrily at the deformed squirrel before it, before snarling loudly. As for the squirrel, it began to blow raspberries at the larger creature, jumping about as if to deliberately goad it. This tactic seemed to work as Cerberus soon began leaping about in an effort to attack the tiny creature. As she watched all this, Twilight bore a look of sheer incredulity. Cerberus...the creature destined to guard the gates of the most terrible place in Equestria...left his post to chase some squirrel?!

She raised a hoof, slapping her forehead with some frustration at the thought of that, before looking up at the chase going on before her. I have to get that thing away from him. But, as she got up onto all four hooves, she stopped. Her eyes widened as, deep within her, her acute magical senses began to tingle slightly. A look of confusion crossed her face as she looked around. Is that...no...it can't be. However, as she dwelt on this, her expression soon turned to one of both shock and understanding, as slowly, she turned to look right at the large squirrel before her, still darting about wildly as Cerberus' massive paws attempted to strike at it. Is that...chaos magic? As she narrowed her eyes, paying close attention to the squirrel, she began to recognise the signs. Larger than average size. Erratic behaviour. A penchant for causing mischief? Yeah...it's definitely Discord's work. But...how? The power of the Elements should have wiped away all traces of his power. But, with that thought now fresh in her mind, her eyes began to widen. Unless...that little creature was already within Tartarus at the time we used the Elements. The powers at work in this place are strong, so...it's not inconceivable that such magic could have shielded it, keeping Discord's magic from being purged from it.

However, her train of thought was promptly interrupted by a loud roar, causing her to look up once again. She watched as Cerberus grew increasingly frustrated at its quarry, which simply refused to be caught. Seeing this, Twilight gained a frown upon her face. Whether Discord caused it or not, I have to stop this. Concentrating, Twilight's horn began to light up, and within moments, the squirrel ahead of her soon found itself bathed in her magical aura, much to its confusion. There was a bright flash of light and, in just a second, the squirrel was now right in front of the young unicorn, barely a foot away from her. It watched her with surprise, spinning around in an effort to get away. But, Twilight was too fast for it. Before the rodent had a chance to flee, her horn lit up again, sending forth a burst of magic straight at the creature. Once again, it was surrounded by her power, leading to yet another flash. When that died down, Twilight looked on with a smile to find that the squirrel was now back to normal, just as small and as calm as she always knew them to be. Thought so. With Discord sealed away, his chaos magic is pretty easy to undo. Besides, Fluttershy would never forgive me if I actually let Cerberus eat this little guy. She raised a hoof, gently patting the small animal on the head, after which it looked up at her with an appreciative expression.

However, that smile soon faded entirely, and the squirrel ran away in terror, causing Twilight to look upwards. Sure enough, Cerberus had arrived, barely a few metres away from her, growling angrily. He had, perhaps, been drawn here by her use of magic, but regardless, Twilight knew she was in danger as long as it was in a bad mood like this. She began to back away slightly, raising a hoof towards the enormous dog as she did so.

"Okay, Cerberus...easy."

But, rather than calm the beast, Twilight's words seemed to further aggravate him, as it slammed a paw down in a menacing fashion, causing something of a mini tremor all around. But, Twilight stood her ground, staring Cerberus right in the eye, showing no fear. The dog of Tartarus barked several times, each one loud enough to near-deafen somepony, but still, Twilight did not back away any further. Eventually, after seeing that its threats were doing no good, Cerberus merely inched its middle head closer, getting within a few feet of Twilight before taking a whiff of her. He had her scent now, and after a while, that anger from before began to vanish, instead replaced with a more docile look as he regarded the small unicorn before him. He flopped down onto his belly, with his tongue hanging out from his mouth, which was a sight that caused no end of amusement for Twilight. As she approached forward, she raised her hoof once more, gently patting a small section of his head.

"There there. You wouldn't attack me, would you? No...you only go after evil."

But, as that thought began to sink in, Twilight's eyes narrowed somewhat. She turned, looking upon the entrance to Tartarus, before looking back to Cerberus, bearing a look of determination once more.

"Okay, boy...let's get you back where you belong."

With that said, Twilight began to walk off, prompting Cerberus to get himself back onto his paws, before dutifully following her. On and on, Twilight marched forward, with the loyal Cerberus not fa behind her. She stopped, right at the edge of the cave entrance, and looked within. It seemed to be nothing but an empty dark chasm leading into nothingness, and yet, she knew better. Taking a deep breath, she took a single step forward, her hoof landing upon a cold and ancient set of stone stairs, leading right down into the darkness. She looked back, seeing Cerberus with his tongue still hanging out, before putting on a smile.

"I'll get you back to your post, Cerberus. And then..."

As she turned, looking within the cave once more, her expression became harsh and steely yet again.

"...I have a prisoner to visit."


She didn't know how long it had been since she first set hoof within that cave, but all Twilight could focus on right now was just how wrong this place felt. It was the kind of place that felt, deep down, like it had never once known an ounce of warmth, and while that might have seemed appropriate, given the kinds of people who dwelt here, it did make it more than an uncomfortable experience for those like Twilight. Eventually, the young unicorn made it to the bottom of the stone stairs, turning to look upon Cerberus, who was not far behind her. She sighed before turning, walking a few steps forward before stopping. It was here that she looked up, gazing at that was unquestionably the entrance to Tartarus proper. It was a massive stone archway, carved in the shape of an open set of jaws, complete with jagged and dangerous-looking teeth. Narrowing her eyes, Twilight paid close attention to what was written atop it, scratched there in ancient times in what was now a long-forgotten language. Even so, Twilight knew enough of ancient Equestria to know exactly what was written there. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. How...appropriate. As she moved closer, she stopped when she began to hear a whining sound. She turned, looking upon Cerberus, as he seemed to show great concern for her. Putting on a small smile, Twilight spoke softly to the ancient guard dog.

"Don't worry, Cerberus. You don't have to go any further. This is your post, after all. As for me..."

Looking back to the archway, Twilight's expression became a harsh one.

"...I know exactly what I'm doing."

Taking a deep breath, Twilight began to walk ahead, not paying any heed to the archway that now passed over her. After that, it did not take her very long to reach what she had been journeying to find for so long. Tartarus. She looked out at this place, a vast chasm so massive in scope that it could well have held some small nations within itself. All around, there were jagged rocks and even small mountains jutting up from the ground below. Looking up, Twilight noted that the ceiling was so high up, and the place so dark, that it actually gave the impression that there was no ceiling, just darkness that went on forever. The air was like ice, as well as still, like no living creature had ever disturbed it in millennia. As Twilight walked upon the narrow stone bridges and paths of this place, she grimaced at how harsh and crumbly those walkways were. This place...it truly is the worst fate anypony can expect. And speaking of ponies, it was not long before Twilight actually caught sight of some. Although, these were not the flesh and blood ponies she knew from the surface, but rather mere shades. They were hoofprints in the sand, echoes of the lives that once were. Mares and stallions who had done great wrongs in their life, now condemned to dwell in this place, with no hope of escape. Twilight looked upon them, her eyes filled with sympathy and pity, listening to their pained words.

"I betrayed...and am now lost," one stallion moaned.

"I hurt...I broke...I...I...I twisted," another mare cried.

"My life led others to suffer...and now...my life is to suffer," another called out from the distance.

Even children were not spared from this place, as the shade of a young filly now walked right past her.

"Mamma didn't love me like I wanted her to. So I...made her go away. Then...I fell sick...and woke up here. Now...I miss Mamma. Where...where is Mamma?"

Tears threatened to form in Twilight's eyes as she looked upon them, dozens upon dozens of ponies, all wandering about, perhaps not even truly realising where they were or what they were at this point. How...how long have these poor souls been here? But, her unspoken question yielded no answers from those forsaken denizens, whose pale green glow was the only true source of light down here. Shutting her eyes tightly, Twilight did her best to drown them out, lest their pain and sorrow overwhelm her. On and on she went, hearing the calls and wails of the damned, until eventually, there was only silence. Nervously, Twilight opened her eyes, and looked upon a part of this barren land that, if possible, seemed even more desolate than the last. There were no fallen souls of ponies here, merely tall stone spires, sharp and imposing, rising up towards the ceiling like grasping fingers. Determination filled Twilight's eyes as she saw this, and for a time, her head began to swivel around, looking upon each spire in turn, clearly looking for something. After some time had passed, her eyes locked onto a lone stony hill in the distance, with an ancient and broken staircase leading up to it. Atop its peak was an object that, even at this distance, Twilight recognised as a cage. She frowned, letting out a snort from her nostrils before making her way towards it.

She never took her eyes off it, not once, and through it all, she felt her heartbeat grow with every step. Up she climbed, looking to the top of the spire, knowing full well who and what it was that she would see there. Eventually, she managed to reach the summit, and when she did, she had to bite her lip to keep herself from screaming with anger. For there, before her, was a creature that none would assume was a threat, but that she knew most definitely was. A centaur, dark in his fur and bearing a long, white beard. His face was bright red, and his nose bore a golden ring pierced right through it. His body was frail, weak and withered, and lay upon the ground in an unmoving fashion. All around this creature was his cage, forged from thick iron, heavy in appearance and shouting to all the world that the being within was a prisoner, and that he wasn't going anywhere. Twilight narrowed her eyes, seeing, even from this distance, that the aged centaur within was struggling with his breathing, as if every inhale was painful to him. Tentatively, she began to walk forward, always sure not to go too fast. Her expression, throughout it all, was one of barely-contained rage, like a cooking pot, with boiling water just beneath its lid. In time, when she reached a satisfactory distance, she stopped, raising a hoof to her mouth and clearing her throat.

The intent was clear, to make it known that she was there, and it achieved that effect almost immediately. The centaur began to rouse, his eyes opening ever so slowly. When they finally opened, they gazed upon the young unicorn just outside of his bars, before snapping even wider. His breathing sounded even more laboured now as he began to lift himself up, which Twilight could see was taking a great deal of effort on his part. A full minute went by before he was at his full height, and even then it was clear that old age had taken his toll, as he bore a very distinct hunch to his posture. He looked upon her, half-angry and half-confused after seeing her, but, as ever, Twilight remained quiet. She did not speak, but instead, looked down slightly, for it was only now, after the creature had stood up, that she noticed what he was wearing. There, hanging from his neck, was a golden pendant of some kind, ancient in its design. Her eyes narrowed at the sight of it. Scorpan...you loved your brother so much, and how did he repay it? With betrayal. He looked upon you as his enemy, and turned his back on you. He is no brother to you, not like brothers should be. Looking up, Twilight stared right into the centaur's eyes, which were black and utterly devoid of pity. A silence passed between the two, until finally, the dark prisoner finally spoke, his words feeble and almost wheezy.

"Well...it has been many ages since I last received a visitor."

The young unicorn said nothing, instead simply resorting to staying her ground, looking right at him. The silence caused the centaur to raise an eyebrow slightly.

"Do you, perhaps, not know who I am, child?"

At this, Twilight gave a single, grim nod.

"Tirek. The devourer of magic. The bane of Equestria's ancient past. Enemy of all ponykind."

Tirek gave a hearty chuckle at that, which soon led to him going through an uncontrollable bout of coughing. Twilight narrowed her eyes at this pitiful sight, but continued to stay silent as he finally spoke up again.

"Well then...it's good to know my reputation precedes me. And who, if I may ask, are you?"

Upon hearing that question, Twilight finally began to move, slowly circling around the cage, all while keeping her sights on him.

"My name is Twilight Sparkle. Student of Princess Celestia."

With the utterance of that name, Tire's ears perked up.

"Ah, then you come as her representative? I suppose it was only a matter of time before the almighty alicorns finally decided to pay me some attention."

The scorn with which he'd spoken of her mentor got under Twilight's skin immediately, causing her to look to him with greater anger in her eyes. But, ever she kept silent, at least, until Tirek began to speak up again.

"Tell me, young one...what is it that you were sent here for?"

Twilight shook her head as she continued to circle around him.

"I wasn't sent by anypony. I come here of my own accord."

The look Tirek bore after hearing that was one of clear curiosity.

"Interesting. In that case...what are you here for?"

Having finally walked a complete circle around him, Twilight stopped at the front of his cage once more, speaking up with a somewhat harsh tone.

"Legends speak much of you, Tirek. What you did...what you planned...who you turned against. I came to ask...do you regret it? Any of it?"

Upon hearing that question, the ancient centaur merely laughed.

"Regret? Why, in all of Equestria would I do that?"

A grimace crossed Twilight's face.

"Why? Why? Just look at where you've ended up! Buried in the realm of the condemned. Cut off from all life, all hope...all family."

That last word caused Tirek to wince somewhat, as he now turned away from her, anger growing in his eyes.

"Family? I assume you refer to my brother, Scorpan? If that is the case, then let me save you the trouble."

He looked back to her, slowly walking to the bars as fast as his tired old legs could carry him. Cautiously, Twilight took a step backwards, always making sure to stay out-of-range of the power she knew he had. When Tirek finally reached those bars, he raised his hands and held onto two of them.

"Yes, I turned against him. But, you know what? I don't care! He betrayed me by choosing your kind over me! We could have conquered your wretched realm, but instead, he decided that being your friend was better. He turned his back to his birthright! Our birthright! Every scrap of magic you accursed ponies have! Were I free, I would lay waste to your homes! I would take what is rightfully mine! And I would looked upon your empty and unmoving bodies with glee! Your kind are less than the mud on my hooves! And my brother...now...he is even less!"

Twilight stayed where she was, watching with a neutral expression as Tirek spat out every word, his voice filled with hatred and venom. Her eyes drifted down to the ground, a small sigh escaping her. I thought as much. Even here...even as low as this...he is beyond help. Looking up again, she gazed at him, where he finally noticed the steely look she was giving him. There was something in her eyes, however brief, that caused him to show, for the first time in all of this, a slight pang of concern. Taking a deep breath, Twilight frowned at the withered creature before her, before starting to light up her horn. Tirek looked to her, showing more than a little worry at this, all while Twilight concentrated. That cage is not mere iron, but magic also. Forged with techniques long lost to ponykind. Nopony knows how to use it...except me. Narrowing her eyes, she caused her horn to glow ever brighter, with Tirek taking a few steps backwards. But, before he could withdraw any further, he was taken aback by something latching onto his wrist. Turning, he looked down to see that, out of nowhere, a metal chain had formed there, binding his wrist and pulling it violently to an upper corner of his cage. Within moments, a second chain appeared, this time repeating the process on his other hand. Then, a third, a fourth, and then two more, each binding itself to his hooves and holding him in place. As he struggled to resist, with his meagre strength doing little to avail him, he looked to Twilight with bile in his expression.

"What is the meaning of this?!"

But Twilight stayed quiet, instead lighting up her horn yet again. Before Tirek realised what was going on, he looked down to find, to his shock, that his golden amulet was being pulled off him. With a single yank, Twilight's magic ripped it off him, causing it to levitate towards her instead. She glanced at it, gazing upon the ancient markings etched into its surface, before glaring back to Tirek.

"This was a gift from your brother. A sign of the love he bore you. But...you don't deserve it. I know what a loving brother is...and you are not one of them!"

Watching, Tirek observed how Twilight levitated the amulet into her saddle-bags, after which she took a step forward, her voice loud and commanding.

"Tirek...I, Twilight Sparkle, now pass judgement on you. You are beyond friendship. Beyond redemption. Beyond even the love of family. You are a wretched, hate-filled creature that has no place in this world. If your time here has not changed you..."

Her eyes narrowed, her voice seethed.

"...then you'll never change."

For the first time in what was undoubtedly a very long while, Tirek actually bore a look of fear as Twilight stared into his eyes. She lit up her horn a third time, and within moments, the magic imbued into the cage began to react to it. Tirek darted his head left and right, trying to see what was going on, before gaining a look of horror when the truth was revealed to him. The bars of the cage were growing, becoming thicker, all around him. It took a minute, but soon, the bars became so wide and thick that they actually began to fuse together, forming an uninterrupted metal surface all around the cage. As the gaps faded, the light within faded with it, and at long last, only one gap remained. Within it, Twilight saw Tirek, and the look of terror upon his face. Slowly, the light finally faded from his face, and the final gap at last vanished. Tirek's cage was now a sealed metal box, with no hope of escaping it. But as she looked upon the creature's new prison, Twilight did not bear any look of triumph, nor satisfaction. Instead, she continued to glare angrily at it, before her eyes drifted to the side of the spire she stood on. Frowning, her horn lit up, soon causing the box to be bathed in her magical aura. After a moment or two, it began to levitate wholesale, with Twilight guiding it right over to the edge. Once there, she looked down, seeing the endless darkness below. This place is made of ancient powers. That chasm down there...it is endless, bottomless. When one falls down there...they never come back up. Looking back to the box, there was a pause, after which she bore a look of utter contempt.

"Never again, Tirek."

With a single, almighty throw, Twilight hurled the box into the chasm, watching as it fell like a rock in a river. It took some time, but the thing finally fell far enough that it was consumed by the darkness, unable to be seen any further. She waited, perhaps expecting to hear some kind of "clang" when it reached some kind of bottom. But, she knew that wasn't going to happen. Instead, she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before releasing a sigh. It's done. He still lives...but in his weakened state, he'll never break free of that. After opening her eyes again, she turned around and began to slowly walk back to the entrance of Tartarus. As she walked, the shades of deceased ponies, which before had given her pause, now passed around and even through her, with her being completely unfazed by them. On and on she walked, for how long, she didn't know. Eventually, she reached that archway, turning to look back at this foul place one last time. Her eyes glared at the spire in the distance, where her enemy had once been, before turning around. Once past the archway, she came across Cerberus, who looked at her, whining slightly. Putting on a small smile, Twilight raised a hoof and patted him on the paw slightly. But, her smile faded when she got back to her journey, walking right past him and back towards the staircase that led to the surface.

Much time passed before she finally reached the top of those stairs, and when she did, she raised a hoof, shielding her eyes from the light of the sun above her. After giving herself some time to adjust to the new light level, she took a few steps forward, after which, she turned, looking upon the open cave behind her. There was a near deathly silence as she regarded this entrance to Tartarus, her expression never betraying her intentions. In her mind, however, things were very different. Cerberus is the eternal protector. He will never need to eat, nor drink, nor even breathe, thanks to the power than birthed him. He can stay at that post for all eternity without ever needing to come to the surface. There was doubt in her eyes, but it did not last long, for soon she looked forward with resolve. Forgive me, Cerberus...but this is for the good of Equestria. She assumed an aggressive stance, aiming her horn at the top of the cave entrance. There was a bright glow about her horn and, within moments, she blasted forth a powerful surge of magic, striking the rock around the cave. Again and again she attacked, and soon enough, the entire entrance began to collapse, like an avalanche, filling in that vast chasm with boulders and stones of every shape and size. But, ever Twilight continued, striking away at it with her magic, until, at long last, the cave was completely filled in.

With the light of her horn dying away, she walked slowly towards it, looking upon her work. There was not a single gap in-between the rocks there that any creature could get past. Only the strongest could even hope to budge even the smallest of the boulders, but Twilight knew in her heart that all that dwelt within Tartarus now was weakness and despair. She let out a sigh for a brief moment, placing her hoof upon one of the stones. Nothing is getting out. Not now...not ever! But, her expression became one of anger as she considered that. And yet...people once thought nothing could escape it before...yet Tirek was able to do so. I...I can't risk that happening! Stepping backwards for a small distance, Twilight's horn glowed once more, and she shot forth a spell towards the nearest stone. But this spell, unlike the last, was not one of destruction, but of enchantment, as the stone before her now glowed slightly before that light faded. Twilight let out a small sigh at this. With that spell, this stone will never be lifted, nor broken. She looked up, seeing the many hundreds of rocks that remained, and narrowed her eyes. And so, she got to work, enchanting every boulder, every stone, every tiny pebble she could find, all in an effort to create the most impregnable barrier this cave could have. And all the while, she kept muttering the same thing, over and over again.

"Never again...never again."

Not a Hero

It was a warm, sunny afternoon in Ponyville, and everypony was happily going about their daily business, shopping, talking with friends, or simply enjoying the beautiful weather. For the most part, the town was fairly quiet. But, at Sugar Cube Corner, there actually seemed to be quite a bit of activity going on. Mares, stallions, colts and fillies were gathered in their dozens outside of that bakery, looking through the window at what lay within. But, while the confectionaries on display were nothing out of the ordinary for this place, it was not the sweet things that the ponies were paying attention to. Instead, their gaze seemed to be on a collection of mares that were currently sitting around a table on the far side of the shop. Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were all busying themselves eating a cake between them, though, given the amount of attention they were receiving, it was difficult to do so. Every once in a while, one of the mare would look up, looking to the crowds outside, but quickly got back to their snack. Fluttershy especially was put off from this, using her long mane to hide her face from the eyes of those outside. As for Rainbow Dash, see seemed to be the most uncomfortable of all, looking down at her cake with a frown upon her face.

"Ugh! Can't they just...I dunno...go away or something?"

Rarity nodded at that slightly.

"Indeed! One can hardly enjoy a pleasant afternoon like this while being gawked at like some zoo animal!"

Applejack looked up to the gathered crowds while speaking up to the rest of her friends.

"Anypony know what they want here, exactly?"

The mares all shook their head, showing their shared confusion at the situation. All, that is, except for Rainbow Dash, who began to look rather nervous about the whole thing. Applejack, before getting back to her cake, noticed this just as the cyan pegasus tried to avoid eye incant. But, before she could enquire further about it, something new began to happen. The five mares all turned in unison to the distinct sound of the shop's front door bell ringing. After looking to the door, they watched as a light-brown stallion, wearing a fedora hat and carrying a camera around his neck, tried his best to squeeze past the crowds outside. When he finally managed to get indoors, he swiftly closed it behind him, panting furiously after doing so. The mares watched him with some confusion, watching as he began to compose himself, after which he began to walk over. As the five friends kept their eyes on this newcomer, they noted, to their confusion, that his gaze was fixed entirely onto Rainbow Dash, prompting the latter to look away immediately. Once the stallion finally arrived at their table, he pulled out a notepad and pencil before finally starting to speak to them.

"Ah, Miss Dash! I've been looking all over Ponyville for you! I'm Papa Razzi, from the Ponyville Express! Would you care to answer a few questions?"

The young pegasus immediately looked to the stallion with scorn in her eyes.

"No! My friends and I are trying to have some cake!"

But, the stallion was not deterred by this.

"Don't worry, it'll only take a moment!"

Rainbow frowned at that, but did nothing as the guy simply kept on speaking.

"Tell me, how did you feel doing what you did earlier today?"

The other mares gained immediate looks of confusion, turning to their friend, making it clear that they wanted her to explain what the guy was talking about. Instead, Rainbow just blushed lightly as she glared at the stallion.

"I'm not talking about it! Just...go away!"

Seeing the anger on her friend's face, Rarity turned to the reporter, speaking in a far calmer tone than Rainbow was.

"I say...what exactly are you talking about, Sir?"

Papa Razzi turned to her, looking more than a little surprised.

"You mean...you don't know? This remarkable mare here saved two kids today! A filly and a foal, both within hours of one another!"

Immediately, all of the mares widened their eyes wish shock, but Rainbow Dash simply started to look embarrassed. As for the stallion, he practically beamed while speaking in an enthusiastic manner.

"Why, she's a hero, I tell ya!"

Upon hearing that, Rainbow's head immediately snapped in his direction, and she spread out her wings in an intimidating manner. With an almighty flap, she launched herself upwards before flying forward, grabbing a hold of Papa and dragging him along, all while her friends watched. The cyan pegasus opened the door of Sugar Cube Corner before unceremoniously throwing the stallion out, watching as he landed on his rump some distance away, before slamming the door behind her. As she turned, she let out a deep sigh, only to be greeted by her friends, who were giving her quizzical looks. Blushing again, Rainbow looked away from them, and after a long and awkward silence, Pinkie spoke up.

"Whatcha do that for, Dashie?"

Applejack then stepped forward, frowning slightly.

"An when, exactly, were y'all plannin on tellin us about all this? What happened?"

There was a pause after those words, during which, Rainbow looked to each of her friends, all of whom seemed to be showing the same eagerness to know. There were signs of resistance on Rainbow's part, after which she simply let out a sigh. She turned, noticing that some of the crowd had dispersed rom outside. Perhaps only now did she feel safe enough to speak out, but whatever the reason, she walked over to her previous chair, soon joined by her friends. With all of them seated around the table, Rainbow Dash finally began to explain herself.

"So...yesterday...I was flying around, doing my usual thing, when I started to hear this call for help. I looked around and found that it was this filly. Somehow, she'd managed to get herself stuck down a well. I flew on down there and...well...saved her. Later on, I saw this carriage tumble down a hill, right towards a cliff. I flew in and stopped it before the foal got hurt. And...ya know...a few ponies saw me do it. Now I've got all of them wanting to thank me for it."

After having heard that, the group all looked to each other, each showing confusion after Rainbow stopped speaking. Eventually, Rarity broke the silence when she turned back to Rainbow, carefully placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"But...Rainbow...that was amazing! You should be proud of yourself for having done that! Those two fillies are alive and safe because of you!"

Applejack then nodded in agreement.

"They sure are! It's like that feller said, yer a hero!"

After having heard that word, Rainbow couldn't help but look away, prompting yet more looks of confusion from her friends. Eventually Rainbow finally spoke up again.

"I'm...I'm glad you guys think that. I mean...the kids' parents already thanked me for it, but...I was just in the right place at the right time. I don't really need all that attention those other ponies keep trying to give me."

Immediately, all of the mare looked at her with incredulity, even the usually-bubbly Pinkie Pie. After some silence, which Rainbow didn't like one bit, Rarity spoke.

"Um...begging your pardon, Rainbow...but are you feeling alright? I mean...not to put too fine a point on it, but...you usually enjoy getting that kind of attention."

Rainbow looked down at her plate, with a slice of cake still upon it, and nodded.

"You're right, I usually do. But lately...I dunno...I guess things have been kinda different for me."

Applejack raised an eyebrow at that.

"Different? How?"

Rainbow looked deep in thought after being asked that question, as if trying to get the right words together. After some time of simply trying to figure it all out she, at last, gave her friends an answer.

"It's like...a while, back, there was nothing I would have loved more than doing something awesome and having ponies praise me for it. But then...Twilight came to town."

As soon as their friend's name was mentioned, every single one of the mares gained an immediate look of understanding, looking to each other and nodding in unison. Every one of them knew where Rainbow was going with this, but even so, they kept silent as she carried on.

"Ever since then...sheesh...she's being doing everything under the sun. Before she arrived, I think it's safe to say that I was pretty much the most awesome mare around."

Understandably, that earned more than a few eye-rolls from her friends, which Rainbow ignored as she continued.

"But...Twilight? She fought off dragons. She found the Elements. She led us against Discord. She saved Ponyville from...well...everything!"

Rainbow turned, looking towards the main window of Sugar Cube Corner.

"And then, there's what she's doing now. Who knows where she is or what it is that she's actually doing out there, but you can bet your flank it's gonna be something pretty big, and more important than what any of us are likely to do anytime soon!"

There was a general murmur of agreement amongst the other mares as Rainbow looked back to them.

"Every problem we've come across in the last few months, Twilight has been there to stop it. She's like...I don't know, a one-mare army or something! Without Twilight...heck...I'd probably have never even managed to pull off my sonic rainboom. In the few months she's been here in Ponyville, she's done more than most of us have in our entire lives. And what's more...what does she ask for in return? Nothing!"

Applejack looked down to the table after hearing that.

"Ah get ya. It's like when she stopped that stampede. The Mayor said she wanted ta throw her a big party...but she just up an said no. Ah don't know if ah'd have done that in her place. Heck, she even missed out on that big party Celestia threw when we beat Discord!"

Pinkie dropped her head down to the table, looking more than a little upset.

"It's so weird! Her not wanting to go to big parties like that? It's just not right!"

The other mares shook their heads at the fact that that was what Pinkie was most concerned about right now. However, the conversation soon got back on track as Rainbow spoke up again.

"It's just...if Twilight can do all that and just want nopony to thank her for it...what kind of mare would I be if I let ponies make me into some kind of hero when I haven't done anywhere near as much?"

Rarity raised an eyebrow at that, opening her mouth to offer some kind of counterpoint. But, Rainbow, perhaps already predicting what she would say, raised a hoof, stopping her from doing so. After being silenced, Rarity looked on as Rainbow began to explain herself.

"I know that what I did was important. Like you guys said, those kids are alive because of me, and I'll always be happy I did that. But..."

She looked down slightly, a silence passing over her, before looking back up with a genuine smile.

"...it's Twilight that deserves to be called the hero of the town, not me."

After thinking that over, she afforded herself a brief laugh before speaking up again, this time in a softer tone.

"And you know what? I'm actually okay with that. After everything she's done, for me, for you guys, for Ponyville, heck, for Equestria...she's earned it."

The mares all looked at her, all reacting in different ways to this massive and unexpected display of humility by their once-cocksure friend. Rarity and Applejack seemed to be in a state of sheer shock, while Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy both smiled to her in an appreciative manner. Needless to say, being stared at like this caused Rainbow to blush slightly, but, since some things never change, she did her best to hide this from the others, prompting many of them to giggle at her reaction. It took a while, but Rainbow herself now joined in on the laughter, and soon enough, much of the tension they’d felt at the start of all this soon began to melt away. When the laughter finally died down, they all did what they'd been hoping to do for some time now, namely, just getting back to their cakes. As they all tucked into their food in various ways, with Pinkie Pie simply throwing her whole piece into her mouth and swallowing, the whole mood was becoming calmer and more peaceful. And through this silence, Rainbow thought long and hard about what had been talked about. Ugh, it feels so weird, me not wanting ponies to love me like that. Still...the way those kids' parents looked at me when I saved their children...that was nice. A small smile crept onto her face. I don't think I'm a hero. But that? That's enough for me. However, she was soon interrupted from that train of thought by Pinkie, who looked at her with some nervousness in her eyes.

"Um...Dashie? I know you don't really want all of Ponyville throwing you a big bonanza for this, but...would it maybe be okay if we throw you a party? You know, a teensy weensy one with just us?"

Rainbow looked at her friend with uncertainty, but soon turned to all of the others. Each of them seemed to share the same approving smile, a clear sign that they were of the same mind on this. Seeing this, Rainbow let out a sigh before looking back to Pinkie, after which she carefully placed a hoof upon her shoulder.

"You know what? Yeah...I think I'd like that."

High Society

As the light of the sun began to pour in through her windows, Rarity couldn't help but breathe a sigh of contentment. At this present moment, she was busy, working on her dresses as usual. Within the confines of her main room in the Carousel Boutique, she felt comfortable here, surrounded by all the trappings of one to whom fashion was a way of life. And before her, there was a great number of mannequins, already decked out in several of the outfits she's prepared. There were all manner of colours, shapes and sizes on display there, and each one of them looked good in their own way. And yet, ever the artist, Rarity simply kept on working on them, always trying out some new potential design or colour combination, never once taking them out into the main public area of her shop until she was absolutely satisfied with what she'd made. One mannequin in particular seemed to be the centre of most of her attention at this present moment however, as she kept looking from it to an open book on a nearby desk. Poking her chin slightly, she kept on humming to herself while thinking over a pile of materials she had on the floor. Oh my! This simply won't do! Twilight's birthday is coming up and I must prepare something extra special for her! I mean, I know she technically won’t be here on her birthday, with her being out of town and all, but sill, that's no excuse to not give her something marvellous when she returns!

She let out a sigh, walking over to her desk and looking over a few colour palettes she had on the side. As she looked them over, she was suddenly distracted by the sound of loud laughter coming from outside. Turning, she walked over to a nearby window, looking out into the streets of Ponyville. After scouring the area for a moment, she caught sight of the source of the laughter. A smile crept onto her face as she discovered that it was none other than her sister, Sweetie Belle, who was in the middle of speaking with Spike. An affectionate smile crossed the fashionista's face as she looked upon them. I say, those two are simply adorable together! I mean...Spike's little crush on me was cute and all, but with my being so ol...I mean...with my being so advan...no...with my being an inappropriate age for him...yes, that'll do...it simply wouldn't be suitable. Now, Sweetie Belle on the other hoof, that's a suitable match! However, her smile faded somewhat as she turned around, seeing a great number of materials and other items strewn about her room. Then again...it was nice having him around to help out as much as he did. Still, he does come over every once in a while to offer his assistance, so I suppose I can't complain.

Walking back over to her desk, she began to think over Twilight’s dress once more. However, this was short-lived as yet another thought began to make itself known in her mind. Wait...wasn't there supposed to be another birthday happening soon? Looking around, she began to walk over to a nearby chest of drawers, which she opened with the use of her magic. A smile crept onto her face as she caught sight of a small note inside. Levitating it out, she began to read it. Dear Rarity, in case I'm not back in time for it, here's the date for Spike's birthday. I hope it's not too much to ask, but I was hoping you and the girls might do something special for him. I hope to see you again soon. Yours sincerely, Twilight. Rarity nodded at that, but stopped when she noted that there was an extra line written at the bottom of the parchment. P.S. Don't give Spike too many presents. I don't want to spoil him. After reading that line a few times, Rarity let out a brief giggle before rolling her eyes. Really, darling? I know it's your job as a mother to raise him responsibly, but I think you can cut loose a little on his birthday of all days. Though, I will need to think of what to get young Spike when it comes along. Soon afterwards, she was halted from that train of thought by a sudden knocking on her door. Turning to it, she raised an eyebrow.

"Goodness. Who could that be?"

Her question was soon answered as the door began to open. When Rarity saw who it was on the other side, she broke out into a smile. For there, standing in the door, was the former show-mare, Trixie. Seeing Rarity, she gave a smile before walking forward, after which, Rarity called out in greeting.

"Trixie, darling! What can I do for you?"

The blue mare then gained a look of slight nervousness as she pointed to the door she'd just entered through.

"Well...it's kind of weird, but this stallion and mare arrived at the Golden Oak today, said Twilight invited them here to meet...well...you."

As expected, Rarity raised an eyebrow at that.

Me? Pray tell, Trixie, who is it?"

Trixie looked from Rarity to the door and then back again before speaking up.

"Well...I get the feeling that you'd know more than I would."

Looking somewhat confused at that, Rarity looked on as Trixie turned around and began to walk out of the door. After a brief pause, the alabaster unicorn started to follow her. It took some time, but the two of them eventually reached the main shop floor of the Carousel Boutique. Rarity looked around for a brief moment before finally catching sight of two ponies, standing just inside the front door. But, when she finally realised who they were, her jaw practically dropped to the ground. It was a white unicorn stallion with a bright blue mane and moustache, dressed in very formal attire, complete with a monocle over one eye. As for his companion, it was a unicorn mare, taller than most, with a flowing pink mane and a sweet smile upon her face. As Rarity gawked at the two of them, Trixie stifled a giggle as she looked at her in this state. Eventually, Rarity shook herself out of this trance and pulled Trixie over to the side before the two visitors could see her. Once out of sight, she whispered to her in an excited manner.

"I...I...I...I...I...I can't believe it! It's...it's...Fancy Pants!"

Trixie stared at her with a completely deadpan expression.

"Okay...for the sake of argument, let's just assume I don't know who that is...which I don't."

After gaining a look of slight embarrassment, Rarity cleared her throat briefly before explaining herself.

"Fancy Pants is one of the most prestigious nobles of all of Canterlot! I mean it when I say that his words carries serious weight over there. You want to know how highly ponies regard him? Princess Celestia hosts a number of functions and parties over the course of the year, and while many nobles get to go to at least one of them, Fancy is the only one she consistently invites to all of them. He is the face of Canterlot nobility!"

Trixie nodded, at last understanding Rarity's eagerness at the guy being here. The latter craned her neck, looking on at the mare standing beside Fancy.

"And that must be his wife, Fleur De Lis. But...what are they doing here?"

Trixie shrugged her shoulders.

"Dunno. They just showed up at the library saying Twilight invited them over."

Rarity nodded.


Trixie then raised an eyebrow.

"You know...you could always talk to them."

Rarity looked to her, and then to the noble couple in her shop, before clearing her throat again. She took a moment to look in a nearby mirror, making sure she looked presentable, before trotting out in as regal a manner as she could. It took only a moment for the two ponies to finally notice her, at which point Fancy gave a smile and a nod.

"Ah! You must be miss Rarity, yes?"

Rarity, upon hearing one of Canterlot's foremost noble stallions speak to her, had the expected reaction to it. Namely, she started fumbling her words almost immediately. As for Fancy, he merely stood there patiently, waiting for his host to compose herself. After finally doing so, Rarity chuckled nervously before starting to speak properly.

"Um...yes! Welcome to Carousel Boutique! I must confess...I had not expected to see a mare and stallion of your calibre here in my humble abode."

Fancy gave a slight bow of his head after hearing that.

"Well...I usually don't go so far out of Canterlot...until we received word from one Twilight Sparkle."

Rarity stood there, looking confused, at which point Miss Fleur finally spoke up.

"Indeed. It seems Miss Sparkle heard word that I was looking for some formal attire for an upcoming function. The dear actually made it a point to write to us and suggested we visit you, since that is your area of expertise and all."

As one might expect, Rarity's jaw was on the verge of colliding with the ground once again, but thankfully, she stopped herself from doing so, finally managing to get some more words out.

"I...I find myself surprised to hear that. Twilight really did that? For me?"

Fleur nodded before turning to one of the dresses on display, after which she put on a genuine smile.

"She did. And, well, when the student of our princess speaks to you, it behoves one to pay attention. She spoke quite highly of your skill, and it seems she was not overstating your talent. This is fine work, Miss Rarity."

A massive blush emerged on Rarity's cheeks, prompting her to look away slightly.

"Oh...you give me too much credit, Miss Fleur. I'm sure you and your Lord husband must feel rather uncomfortable coming to such a rural locale as this simply for a dress."

To her surprise, Fancy let out a hearty laugh at that.

"Nonsense! Why, I actually find myself rather liking this place. It's so...charmingly rustic."

I took a while, but Rarity soon started to bear an affectionate smile, as she then turned to the window at the front of her store, looking out at the streets of Ponyville beyond.

"Yes...I've always been fond of it myself."

She turned again as Fancy began to approach her.

"Well, since my darling wife appears to like what you've made here, I think it's safe to say that we have an arrangement. Here's my card. We'll be in touch, I'm sure."

As he said, the stallion soon reached into his suit pocket and brought out a small card, after which he offered it to her. Rarity was, admittedly, quite nervous about doing so, but she soon accepted the token, at which point Fancy gave her a smile and a nod before starting to head off, with his wife not far behind him. Rarity watched as the two noble ponies walked out of her store, leaving her alone with Trixie in that main room. Looking down, she observed the card in her hooves carefully, seeing that it was indeed Fancy Pants' true address there. There was silence in the Boutique for a time, but eventually, Rarity could hold it in no longer. She let out the most ear-piercing squeal of her life, prompting Trixie to cover her hears with her hooves for fear of going deaf. The former show-mare watched as Rarity practically bounced off the walls in a manner reminiscent of Pinkie Pie, squealing all the way. When she eventually stopped doing so, she looked down at the card once more, bringing it up to her lips and kissing it many times over, which was something Trixie couldn't help but giggle at. However, it was here that Rarity finally turned to look at her, smiling widely. The blue unicorn backed away slightly as Rarity approached, but before long, the latter stopped and spoke up with pure excitement in her voice.

"Okay! That settles it! Just for this, I'm going to make the absolute best dress of my career for Twilight when she gets back! In fact...no...that's not good enough! Let's get the girls together and plan the best and biggest birthday party for her son, Spike! I know she said not to spoil him, but, come on! It's the least I can do to say "thank you" for her doing this! Besides...where's the harm in indulging a child like Spike every once in a while?"

Twilight's Return

She didn't know how long she’d been walking, and quite frankly, she didn't care. All Twilight could think about at this moment was one thing; how much her hooves ached. She let out a groan of annoyance before looking up, glancing at a nearby tree, which wasn't difficult to do, given that she was currently walking right through a large woodland. Once there, she began to sit down, sighing deeply as she let herself rest after so long. As she leaned backwards, resting her head against the trunk of the tree, she allowed herself to close her eyes, the only sound being that of her steady breathing. Eventually, a new sound could be heard, prompting her to open her eyes again. When she did, she smiled as she saw that it was a bird, small and blue, letting out a beautiful song as it flew from tree branch to tree branch. Perhaps it was because of that bird, or maybe it was because she'd finally got herself a bit of rest, but regardless, Twilight now looked upon her surroundings with a genuinely affectionate smile. Its close now...Ponyville. So long since I've seen it. A month, maybe? Maybe a bit longer than that. Regardless, it's too long. But...I'll soon be back, surrounded by my friends, by my home, and...by my son. A brief chuckle escaped her with that, before gaining a look of slight concern. Spike...I hope you've been okay without me.

Thinking on that, Twilight took a deep breath before finally hoisting herself back onto all four hooves. After grunting with the effort to do so, she looked ahead, seeing the sunlight at the end of the shaded woodland path, and smiled. At last, she began to walk again, and, feeling the excitement and anticipation in her heart, actually started to count the moments. Eventually, she reached a clearing, and when she did, her eyes lit up. For there it was; Ponyville. Even as far away as it was, Twilight could make out every single detail of it. Sweet Apple Acres, Carousel Boutique, Fluttershy's cottage, Sugar Cube Corner, the town hall, Rainbow's cloud house and, most importantly of all, her own home; the Golden Oak Library. All these things and more were visible to her, and for a brief moment, her heart skipped a beat. There it is...home. Oh! I've missed that place! You never know what you have until it's out of your life, and this journey of mine took this place away from me for long enough. With that thought fresh in her mind, her expression became somewhat more serious. I...I did what I had to, to make their future safe. Those plundervines will never harm the princesses and nearly consume Equestria. The alicorn amulet will never corrupt Trixie. And as for Tirek...I have made sure he will never violate the magic of any pony ever again. My friends. They are safe, they are secure, they...are protected.

However, no sooner had that thought crossed her mind when, all of a sudden, Twilight was shaken out of this peaceful moment by a sudden loud sound, carried across the wind like a raging wave. She stood there, aghast at the sound she'd just heard, recognising it immediately as a roar. As confusion gave way to understanding, her mind raced with this possibility. No. Oh no! No no no no! Please! Don't let it be true! But, it was not long before the universe itself answered her unspoken question. For she could see, far in the distance, that a massive purple figure now rose from the middle of Ponyville. Bearing gleaming scales and a row of spikey green plates down his spine, it was a dragon, massive and wingless, that now towered over the whole town, letting out yet another deafening roar for all to hear. But, while most would have looked at such a sight with fear, Twilight looked on with utter heartbreak, as tears now formed in her eyes. Spike...no! Not again! How? How could this happen?! She looked on helplessly as the great beast within Ponyville began to get to work, walking over to a nearby water tower before breaking off its top with a single almighty pull. As the water flooded the town streets below, Twilight gained a frown and a look of determination. Don't worry, son...I'm coming!

With that, Twilight began to gallop forward, never letting her eyes stray from either the town or her adopted dragon son. She watched as many ponies began to flee in all directions, each desperate trying to get out of the path of the rampaging dragon. Twilight, after finally crossing the stream bridge that led into the town, looked around to see if she could spot any of her friends. It did not take long as, soon afterwards, she caught sight of Applejack, who was busy trying to direct many of the ponies away from where Spike was. Changing course, Twilight ran right up to her, calling out as she did so.


Hearing her name, the orange mare turned, and her eyes widened with shock to find Twilight approaching her.

"Wha...Twilight?! Yer back?"

The young unicorn nodded before looking upwards to Spike, still several blocks away but still clearly visible, even at this distance.

"What happened? Why is Spike like that?"

Applejack shook her head before joining her friend in looking up at the enormous creature.

"Ah don't know! We were havin this big ole birthday party fer him, when..."

But she was stopped from saying anything further when Twilight started to glare angrily at her.

"Did...did you give him lots of presents?"

Applejack seemed confused by that at first, but, given the way Twilight was looking at her, she quickly started to both look and sound rather nervous.

"Um...well...me an the other girls thought it'd be real nice fer us ta..."

But, yet again, Twilight interrupted her when she brought a hoof up to her own forehead in frustration.

"Applejack! Dragons grow larger because of their inherent greed! If you and the others gave him too much...that would have pushed him over the edge!"

Applejack looked at her friend, surprised at what she'd just heard, before looking up to Spike again. The gigantic dragon had begun to move on from Ponyville, walking towards a nearby mountain. However, it was at this point that something else began to happen. Both Twilight and Applejack looked up to see that it was none other than the Wonderbolts, flying right through the sky to meet with Spike head on. As they began to fly around his head like a trio of annoying flies, Spike, appropriately enough, tried swatting them with a single clawed hand. As Twilight watched, she let out a brief gasp as she saw one of them, she didn’t know which, strike the side of Spike's head with their back legs. Although this ultimately left the dragon unfazed, Twilight nevertheless glared at the unknown pegasus with fury in her eyes

"You...do not...hurt...my...SON!!!"

Before Applejack could stop her, Twilight now charged forward, with her eyes practically blazing with anger. The unicorn galloped as fast as her hooves could take her, passing pony after pony in her efforts to follow Spike's trail. It was not long before she achieved exactly that, as she passed the last house and was now well on her way to catching up with the purple dragon. As for Spike, he had simply had enough of the Wonderbolts' interference at this point, using the water tower top he collected earlier and gathering them all up in it, shortly before he slammed the thing into the side of the mountain. Now without resistance, Spike began to stomp off once more, leading to Twilight looking up at him with worry. Oh no! What do I do! Last time, it was his love for Rarity that snapped him out of it. This time...he doesn't have that! I know there's Sweetie Belle...but I can't risk having a child in the middle of all this! How am I going to help him? She thought long and hard about that for some time, all the while struggling to keep up with her son, as his large strides took him further and further away from her. Eventually, Twilight narrowed her eyes in a show of determination, lighting up her horn and bathing herself in the aura of her magic. There was a bright flash of light and, within moments, she reappeared yet again, this time right on top of Spike's shoulder. Thankfully for her, Spike hadn't noticed this, but that all changed when Twilight finally spoke up to him.

"Spike! It's me! You have to stop this!"

At long last, the dragon stopped, turning his head just enough to see the small unicorn upon his shoulder. There was silence between the two as they stared at each other. Twilight's heart sank as she saw his eyes, primal and full of rage, utterly devoid of the warmth and youth she'd seen in him before. Some time passed before eventually, Spike simply looked away from her, resuming his walk forward. Tears threatened to form in Twilight's eyes upon seeing the uncaring look her son had given her. After steeling herself, she began to cause her horn to light up once more. Forgive me, Spike. Within moments, her spells was cast, and out of nowhere, massive manacles, forged from pure magic, emerged in the air around them. Spike stopped at last, looking to these new arrivals, before finding, to his surprise, that they now shot forward, latching onto his wrists and forcing him backwards, right into the mountain. With him now pinned there, Twilight watched with despair as Spike struggled against his binds, roaring loudly as he did so. She walked along his shoulder, right up to the side of his head, and gently placed a hoof there. As a single tear began to fall down her cheek, she closed her eyes, her voice warm and hushed.

"Shhh...it's okay...Mommy's here."

But, the dragon continued to roar loudly, with Twilight remaining utterly still throughout it all. She did not open her eyes, but instead, in a move that would have shocked anypony who saw her, actually began to sing. Her voice was low and calming, recreating that same lullaby she'd sung for him on the night before she left Ponyville. On and on she sang, putting her very heart and soul into those words. As the moments passed, Spike began to hear her words, and his roars and struggles began to dwindle somewhat. Perhaps, deep down in him, the Spike that was had heard that song, recognising the soothing voice of his mother. However, the dragon still resisted, albeit less than before, all while Twilight kept on singing. Her horn lit up a third time as she sung, opening her eyes at last. Please, Spike...remember. The aura of her horn reached its apex, shining brighter than ever before, and soon enough, Spike's eyes began to glow in unison with it. Within his mind, images and memories flashed before him. Images of him and her, growing up in Canterlot, arriving in Ponyville, the day she told him she'd adopted him, and even, at the very end, the night she sang that lullaby. Those memories repeated themselves in his mind, with Twilights magic keeping them there as she sang, calming him with every passing moment.

In time, Spike's struggles stopped entirely, and Twilight looked on with baited breath, stopping her spell and watching her son carefully. Eventually her eyes widened as she saw that something had begun to change in him. There were slight vibrations on the surface of his scales, as it a small earthquake were occurring within him, and on top of that, his limbs were starting to shrink. Although elated at this, Twilight was soon taken aback when, all of a sudden, his growth began to reverse itself almost in an instant. Before she could react, Spike was back to his regular size, and the two of them were in mid-air together, falling rapidly. Despite being initially frightened by this, Twilight soon leapt into action, using her magic to draw the unmoving form of her son into her hooves. With the two of them now together, her horn lit up yet again, surrounding the two of them in a bright flash. Before they struck the ground, they disappeared, and then reappeared safely on a patch of grass some distance away. Panting heavily, Twilight smiled to see that they had emerged out of this safely, only to lose her smile when she looked down upon Spike. His eyes were still closed, and she raised a hoof, gently placing it upon the side of his face.

Before she could say anything, she looked up to see that all the rest of her friends had arrived. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Applejack and even Trixie all stood there, shocked at what they'd just witnessed, before bearing looks of concern as they looked to Spike. Twilight looked back down at him again, tears forming in her eyes for a second time, before whispering to him.

"Spike...please be okay."

She watched him, counting the moments, before finding her heart leaping for joy when the young dragon finally awoke. As he groggily opened his eyes, they widened when he finally noticed Twilight smiling above him. After a brief pause, he smiled back to her, starting to cry himself, before reaching up to her and placing his hand upon her cheek.

"Mom...you came back."

Twilight nodded, finally allowing herself to weep with joy as she lifted her son up and held him close.

"That's right, Spike...I'm here for you. Now...and forever."


The sun had already begun to slowly fall to the horizon, bathing all of Ponyville in a warm orange glow. Everywhere, mares and stallions alike were getting themselves back into their homes, ready to rest and relax after a long day. But, nowhere was rest more noticeable than within the confines of the Golden Oak Library. For there, at the top level of that tree-house, within the safety and comfort of her room, was Twilight. The young unicorn was, despite this late time of day, not within her own bed, but rather kneeling beside it. There WAS, however, someone in her bed besides her tonight, and that was none other than her adopted son, Spike. The young dragon was fast asleep, breathing steadily as Twilight watched over him. An affectionate smile was plastered all over her face as she gazed upon him, her eyes never straying from his still form. Raising a hoof, she carefully stroked some of the green scales atop his head, like how other mares might to so with the manes of their foals. This gesture caused Spike to move slightly, smiling briefly at feeling his mother's touch. However, gradually, Twilight's smile began to fade as something changed in Spike. He started to clench at his bed sheets his eyes shutting tighter than before. He began to toss and turn, with a cold sweat forming upon his brow. Twilight watched with concern as, at last, Spike bolted upright, waking up and letting out a scream.


Although taken aback by this, Twilight quickly composed herself, reaching forward and placing her hoof upon Spike's shoulder.

"Spike! It's okay! Everything's going to be fine I'm here for you!"

The young dragon turned, seeing Twilight smiling gently at him, before looking down, finally realising whose bed he was in. After a while, he brought his knees up, holding them close while he began to rock back and forth slightly.

"I...I had a nightmare. I was...I did...something terrible."

Twilight gained a concerned look as Spike turned towards her, his eyes practically pleading with her.

"Please...tell me I didn't! Tell me I wasn't doing all those things!"

The young unicorn paused, thinking over how best to word her response. But, the longer she delayed, the more Spike became worried. Eventually, Twilight let out a sigh before, in the end, choosing to simply tell the truth.

"I'm sorry, Spike...but it was no dream. You did grow that large...and you did rampage over Ponyville."

Hearing that brutal honesty from his mother, Spike looked away, with tears forming in his eyes. It broke Twilight’s heart to see him like this, but even more so when he eventually started speaking again, his voice wobbling all the way.

"I...I...I'm a monster!"

Twilight's eyes widened with shock after hearing that, but when she softened, she leaned forward, giving an affectionate nuzzle to the small dragon.

"No, Spike! You are not a monster! You just...couldn’t control yourself. Nopony can blame you for what happened."

But, to Twilight's surprise, Spike simply pushed her aside slightly, turning to her with tear-filled eyes.

"But I am to blame! I did all those things! I stole from everypony, I broke all those houses! I...I..."

A pause followed his words, after which he gained a look of horror upon his face. Slowly, he turned to Twilight once more.

"Did...did I hurt anypony?"

A look of sadness crossed Twilight face before, once again, she elected for honesty and gave a grim nod.

"The Wonderbolts. They tried to stop you, but didn’t last long. They're recovering in Ponyville General."

Spike turned away, reaching up and covering his face with his clawed hands.

"I can't believe I did that! It's just like all those pony stories say! Dragons are dangerous! I'm dangerous!"

But, he was then taken aback when Twilight leaned forward again, embracing him and holding him tightly. Looking up at her, Spike saw that her eyes were also welling up as she spoke, her voice calm and soothing.

"Spike...please listen to me. I know this has been a difficult time for you. I know you scared many ponies today...and I know that you'll probably never forgive yourself for it. But...you have to remember. While this part of yourself is not something you can change, it is something you can fight."

The young dragon looked to her with confusion, prompting Twilight to explain herself.

"Greed is what caused this, Spike. And you can control that. It won't be easy, and you may have to live with such impulses for a long time...but I believe in you. I know you can learn to hold back those instincts."

Sadness and concern filled Spike's face after hearing that.

"But...how? How do you know that?"

Hearing that question, Twilight simply put on a warm smile.

"Because you're my son."

Those words, once uttered, were like a soothing balm over a wound, as Spike's tears soon stopped after hearing it. He closed his eyes tightly, leaning forward and burying his face into the fur on Twilight's chest. Smiling at this, Twilight closed her eyes also, embracing her adopted son and simply staying with him. In this moment, everything was calm and peaceful; the perfect moment. But, Twilight soon looked up when she saw that somepony else had arrived. It was Trixie, who, using her magic, was levitating a tray with a bowl of soup balancing on it. Clearly, she intended to give this to Spike, but, as soon as she caught sight of what was happening in that room, she stopped, realising she’d just walked in on something private. After a brief moment, Twilight smiled to her, and Trixie breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that she wasn't getting into trouble for this. Slowly, the blue mare laid the tray down on the floor beside the door, ready for it to be used when Spiked was ready, before heading back downstairs. With that settled, Twilight returned her attention to Spike, who finally began to part from her. His eyes were red and puffy from having cried as much as he did, but Twilight simply raised a hoof and carefully wiped the remaining tear away. Smiling at this, Spike opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly found himself drained, yawning loudly. Giggling slightly, Twilight spoke.

"It’s okay, Spike. Your experience today took a lot out of you. You'll need to stay in bed for a few days, if not more. But don't worry..."

She leaned in close, giving Spike a single, tender kiss upon his forehead. This did a lot for him, as he smiled back at her while starting to get himself settled into his bed. Leaning back, Twilight carried on speaking.

"...I'll be here the whole time."

Spike nodded at that, and watched as his adopted mother got herself comfortable, pulling up a chair and sitting upon it. But, before she could do anything else, she looked to Spike as the latter spoke up softly.

"I...I missed you...so much!"

Twilight looked at him, smiling while tears formed in her own eyes again. Leaning close, she gently pressed her forehead against his.

"And I missed you. Not a single day went by out there when I didn't think of you. After all that...being able to return to you is a joy I can’t describe."

However, after hearing that, a thought now made itself known in Spike’s mind, though he appeared more than a little hesitant to speak it. Eventually, he mustered up the courage to do so, though his voice was quiet and nervous.

"Um, Mom? Where...where did you go to? And...why were you gone so long?"

The smile vanished from Twilight's face after hearing that, and once more, she found herself deep in thought over what to say and how to say it. Spike watched her, curiosity upon his face, before she finally put on another smile. Raising a hoof, she patted him on the head again before giving him his answer.

"Spike...do you trust me?"

Although taken aback by that, Spike nodded in response, prompting Twilight to continue.

"Then trust me now when I say this. What I did, out there across Equestria, was important. very important. The work I did...I did because I love you all. Applejack, Fluttershy, the rest of the girls, my family, and..."

She looked right into his eyes, her expression one of great affection.

"...and you. What I did...was all for those I love. Can you accept that, son?"

There was silence between the two, and for a moment, Spike seemed confused by what he'd just heard, leading to Twilight seeming somewhat nervous. But, those nerves eventually disappeared as Spike simply smiled and nodded, with Twilight smiling back and giving him another pat on the head. With that settled, the young unicorn watched as the baby dragon before her closed his eyes once more. Minute after minute passed as Twilight kept her eyes on him, waiting until he finally started to sleep, breathing gently and steadily. Letting out a sigh of relief at this, Twilight leaned forward, softly nuzzling her adopted child once more.

"Goodnight, Spike...and have sweet dreams."

Past and Present

Although most ponies would shun cold weather, Twilight actually found herself rather liking the feel of the icy air upon her face. Standing backstage, she stood beside an open window, looking out at the winter weather beyond. The wind blew fiercely, blowing at her mane and sending an occasionally pleasant chill down her spine. But, after having experienced as much of that as she was willing, Twilight let out a sigh, using her magic to carefully close the window. After doing this, she turned, looking upon the massive red curtain before her. Slowly, she approached it, taking a peek from behind the thing and glancing out at what was on the other side. A vast hall, filled to the brim with ponies from all walks of life. But, it was in the middle of such a crowd that Twilight couldn't help but smile at. For there they were; her friends. Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, all still decked out in their various costumes from the performance, and all mingling with the rest of the crowd. Their performance was over, and had been received with great enthusiasm by their audience, which warmed Twilight's heart a great deal. As she looked up, she noticed the massive banner, reading the words "Happy Hearth's Warming Eve", and let out a brief giggle.

"One of my favourite times of the year," she remarked.

"And one of mine, Twilight."

Immediately, Twilight's ears perked up at the unseen voice, prompting her to pull back from the curtain and spin around. Although she knew from the sound of it who it was, she nevertheless smiled as she gazed upon the diarch of the sun herself, Princess Celestia. Without word, and without warning, Twilight immediately leapt forward, embracing her mentor in a hug, which was soon readily returned by the princess. As the two stayed together for some time, Twilight felt much contentment, before, at long last, they parted. Although a silence passed between the two mares, it was a comfortable one, but it was nevertheless eventually broken when Celestia spoke up.

"It is good to see you again, my student. It has been a long time."

Twilight nodded.

"Yeah...too long."

Celestia smiled down at her.

"I'm happy to see you safe and well, Twilight. And I must say, your performance out there with your friends was most entertaining."

The young unicorn gained a slight blush at that.

"Thanks. I'm sure they'd be happy to hear you say that."

However, she soon gained a look of curiosity as she looked up to her long-time teacher.

"But...what are you doing here? Last I checked, you didn't usually attend simple plays like this."

Celestia raised a hoof to her mouth and stifled a small giggle.

"Oh, Twilight...the chance to see my beloved student try her hoof at acting? How could I not watch that? Besides..."

She turned, looking through the gap and out onto the crowd beyond.

"...the story of this nation's founding has always been close to my heart. The past has been such a source of turmoil for our people...it's good to know that some good came of it."

Twilight's smile faded somewhat as she joined Celestia in looking out at the collection of ponies beyond the curtain. Looking down at her, Celestia noted the look of slight discomfort that Twilight now bore, raising an eyebrow at her.

"Something troubles you, my student?"

There was silence between the two mares as Twilight looked to her, with her expression one of uncertainty. Celestia watched as her student seemed to have a mental debate with herself over what kind of answer to give. Eventually, Twilight sighed, and looked Celestia right in the eye before finally speaking up.

"It's just...what you said is true. Equestria's past has a nasty habit of coming back to bite us."

Celestia bore a brief look of confusion, after which she began to look upon Twilight with understanding.

"Ah...I take it this has something to do with your lengthy absence from Ponyville?"

Twilight nodded.

"Yes. I made it a point to travel across Equestria...dealing with the threats I knew would come to harm us. And all of them...were disasters set in motion many centuries ago."

Celestia watched as Twilight turned form her, walking over to the nearby window. The weather outside was still terrible, with that same vast snowstorm raging continuously. Travel would no doubt be difficult in such weather, but thankfully, everypony was safe indoors for the time being. After a lengthy silence between them, Twilight turned to face Celestia once more, speaking softly.

"First...there was Discord."

At the mention of her ancient foe, Celestia's eyes widened, giving Twilight her full attention at this point. Knowing this, Twilight continued.

"In the past, when you battled him, he laid magical seeds that would grow at a later date, causing utter havoc across Equestria, including the kidnap of you and your sister. I found them...and destroyed them."

Celestia's mouth hung open, shocked at heaving heard that. But, even so, Twilight carried on.

"Also...I discovered the alicorn amulet. That ancient artefact which enhances and corrupts the magic of its wearer. That too, I destroyed."

Twilight opened her mouth, ready to speak her final piece, when she hesitated. The memory of that event gave her pause, the face of that dark centaur still fresh in her mind as she passed judgement on him. Eventually, she steeled herself, taking a deep breath before finally speaking once more.

"And finally...there was Tirek."

The utterance of that name caused Celestia to gain a look of utter terror. It was an expression Twilight could not remember ever seeing on her teacher's face, nor was it one she ever wanted to see. She cringed at the sight of her like that, but nevertheless kept speaking.

"I journeyed into Tartarus...passed the shades of the dead...and found him. I gave him a chance, to admit to feeling some measure of guilt for his actions...but he felt none. To ensure he would not break free, as he was destined to do...I took action. He will never surface from that terrible place...ever."

A deathly silence broke out between the two mares once more, with Celestia never letting her eyes stray from her student. She looked to her, trying to see if there was any kind of jest in her face. But, when she saw that there was none, she turned, gazing out of the window and thinking over her words for a long time. As one might expect, this long silence was difficult for both of them, but even so, they endured it. Minutes passed before the silence was broken, and that was when Celestia hung her head slightly and sighed.

"Well...that is...quite a journey you've been on."

Twilight nodded, looking down at the ground slightly. Noting this, Celestia's expression became one of concern.

"Your actions trouble you?"

There was another pause before Twilight simply nodded in response.

"Yes. I was planning on going out and doing those things for a long time, from the day I first got these memories in fact. I thought I'd be ready for some of the stuff I saw...but..."

Celestia nodded.

"You find yourself overwhelmed by the burden...to take the decisions nopony else will?"

Twilight looked to her, and for a brief moment, as they looked into each others' eyes, there was understanding. Soon afterwards, Twilight put on a small smile.

"I guess you've know that kind of thing longer than I have, huh?"

Celestia chuckled slightly.

"Indeed. Though...I will confess that I rarely go out to take such pre-emptive action as you apparently have."

There was a brief bout of dry laughter between the two, but it was short-lived, as Celestia now appeared deep in thought over something. Twilight watched her with some worry, waiting until the elder alicorn finally spoke. Although, as Twilight's instincts foretold, it was not something she wanted to hear.

"Twilight...dare I ask...how you dealt with Tirek?"

The young unicorn looked away, partly afraid and partly ashamed to look Celestia in the eye. The princess said nothing, instead waiting for her student to speak of her own accord. In time, she did so, but her voice was hushed and slightly wobbling.

"I...I'd rather not talk about it."

Celestia looked to her, reading her expression as best she could, but, in recent months, Twilight seemed to have become just as adept at hiding her feelings as Celestia did, as the latter now found herself struggling to understand the meaning behind those words. One thing was clear though, Twilight was not comfortable in speaking about it, and that, along with the uncomfortable silence that followed, was all Celestia needed to know.

"I see. In that case...I will not press you further."

Twilight looked to her, a small smile of appreciation upon her face. However, when Celestia looked back to her, her own face was one of seriousness, which caught Twilight off-guard somewhat. Even more so was what Celestia said soon afterwards.

"I understand full well how difficult decisions can be when you're making them for the greater good. I myself have had to make great sacrifices in my own life to ensure the wellbeing of the ponies under my protection. You say what you did was to help? Then that's all I need to hear to trust your judgement on this."

Although worried at first, Twilight took a few moments to let Celestia's words sink in, after which she returned to smiling at her. Celestia too had resumed her own smile, and gently placed a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder. After a few silent moments between them, however, the young unicorn looked away, her smile fading somewhat.

"There will be others to come. Those who would threaten Equestria. I've already taken steps to ensure their damage is minimal...but I may have to make more decisions on what to do with them in the long run. And...I know it'll be just as hard with them as it was with Tirek."

Celestia regarded her student carefully for a while, recognising immediately the seriousness with which she'd spoken those words. She gazed upon her carefully, seeing just how much her foreknowledge and sense of responsibility was being a burden to her. However, in stark contrast to how Twilight might have expected her teacher to react to such words, Celestia simply let out a brief giggle. Seeing the clear confusion Twilight had at this reaction, Celestia allowed a few moments to let her laughter die down a bit before finally explaining herself.

"Oh, my dear Twilight! If you feel that kind of seriousness, then take solace in that fact that that means you are the best pony to be taking these actions. Although, as much as I adore you...you do tend to make everything sound so ominous these days!"

Although she had been tense and concerned mere moments before, Twilight couldn't help but giggle in unison with her teacher. As one might have expected, this did a lot to relive much of the tension she'd been feeling until this point. As the two mares laughed together, they eventually sighed with contentment, with Twilight looking up to Celestia in an appreciative manner. Celestia smiled, placing a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder once more. As Twilight looked to her, she watched with some surprise to see Celestia begin to walk off. Twilight stopped, looking from Celestia to the red curtain beside her, before clearing her throat, gaining Celestia's attention immediately. Gesturing to the curtain, Twilight gave her mentor a silent invitation to join her in mingling with the rest of the ponies in the hall. But, Celestia, after thinking that offer over for a moment or two, smiled sweetly before shaking her head, politely declining the invitation. Although initially disappointed by this, Twilight consoled herself in the knowledge that the princess most likely had other places to be, or at the very least didn't want to be swamped with adoring fans if she made herself known. So, Twilight simply nodded in response, watching as the princess turned away and walked off, with the ponies nearby never having known she was there.

Chuckling at this, Twilight took a moment to enjoy the silence and peace of being alone back there, before taking a deep breath and passing through the curtain. As she made her way into the crowds, she was immediately met with many who began to praise the performance that she and her other friends had given earlier that night. And while she thanked each and every pony who said so, what she truly wanted right now was to be with her friends. Thankfully for her, she managed to find them even amongst this massive crowd, and, as the other mares turned to her and smiled, Twilight sighed, with one thought now present in her mind.

No matter what I do, no matter what decisions I may regret in my life...seeing my friends safe, happy and smiling...makes it all worth it.

Surprise Visit

Deep within the confines of her basement, Twilight Sparkle was hard at work, looking over page after page of notes regarding magical spells and equations. Tapping her chin with the end of her pencil, she appeared deep in thought, followed soon afterwards by bearing an expression that would not have been out-of-place with a lightbulb floating over her head. As she continued to scribble complicated-looking numbers and formulas down on her parchment, she did not pay any attention to the sudden sound of somepony knocking on the basement door. She focused instead on her work, ignoring the knocking until, at long last, it became too loud to ignore, and she looked up to the door with slight annoyance. However, that annoyance vanished as soon as she saw that it was her son, Spike, who was now poking his head through the door. Twilight smiled affectionately at him, and he at her, before, to Twilight's confusion, Spike stated to look very unsure about something. He opened his mouth several times to speak, but eventually just sighed with defeat before gesturing to something behind him. Raising an eyebrow at this, Twilight got up from her desk and began walking up the stairs to the main chamber of the Golden Oak Library. It didn't take long for her to get there, after which she looked to Spike, hoping he would explain what was going on.

Instead, he remained silent, electing to take action instead of speaking, when he raised his hand and pointed to the nearby window. Growing ever more curious at this behaviour, Twilight began to trot over to that window, and started to peek through it. However, when she did, her eyes widened to the size of dinner plates as she looked on with shock at the ones she saw outside. For there, on the other side of the street, were a collection of ponies she recognised all too well. At the head of the group was a large unicorn stallion with white fur and a blue mane; her brother, Shining Armour. Beside him was a mare with pale fur and a mane bearing both grey and purple; her mother, and namesake, Twilight Velvet. Alongside her was another unicorn stallion, blue in his fur and an even darker blue in his mane; Twilight's father, Night Light. But, it was that one standing on the other side of Shining that most caught Twilight's attention. For it was a sight not often seen here in Ponyville; an alicorn. Bearing bright pink fur and a mane of many colours, as well as a blue heart cutie mark, Twilight recognised this mare immediately, and gained a massive smile upon her face. With the initial shock now gone, Twilight raced to the front door, opening it and rushed outside. Once there, all four of the approaching ponies saw her immediately, smiling warmly at her soon afterwards.

With all of them there, Twilight could feel the tears forming in her eyes. Charging forward, it wasn't long before she soon met up with them, and as soon as she did, she was immediately embraced by her mother, with her father not far behind her on that count.

"Oh, Twilight! I cannot tell you how good it is to see you again!" Twilight Velvet said warmly.

Twilight's smile widened further.

"It's great to see you too, Mom. And you, Dad."

The older stallion chuckled at that as his daughter parted from him and Velvet. With that done, Twilight soon turned to her brother, who, in a similar manner, stepped forward and embraced her.

"I can't tell you how much I've been looking forward to seeing you, Twily."

Laughing at hearing her childhood nickname, Twilight responded in kind.

"You too...BBBFF."

As the two siblings laughed together, it was not long before they too parted. And here, at long last, Twilight gazed upon the new addition to their group, the pink alicorn. The latter smiled at the young unicorn, stepping forward briefly before giving a slight bow.

"It's been a long time, Twilight."

Okay, Twilight, just pretend you don't recognise her at first. So, Twilight squinted her eyes slightly before putting on a false look of surprise.

"Oh my gosh! Cadence?! It's been years!"

The alicorn giggled slightly at that before giving Twilight a wink. Although no words passed between them, the lavender unicorn knew exactly what it meant. In moments, the two approached one another and started skipping slightly in one spot, speaking in unison.

"Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!"

When the two of them finished their little routine, complete with actually clapping of their hooves together, they laughed, as indeed did everypony else nearby. When the laughter died down at last, Twilight turned around, looking upon her home at the library. A smile formed on her face as she gestured to it, silently inviting the group in to join her. There was a general nodding of heads as the other ponies started to follow her. After only a few moments, the group was inside, and Twilight swiftly closed the door behind her. Looking to her family, Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but was soon prevented from doing so when her mother let out an ear-piercing squeal of joy. Although taken aback by this, Twilight soon understood what was going on, as Twilight Velvet rushed forward and snapped up an unwary Spike into her hooves, nuzzling him like a child would to a favourite toy.

"Oh my gosh! Twilight told me about what she did, but this is the first time I get to see you since it happened, Spike! By Faust, I'm a Grandmother!"

Yet again, the elder mare let out a howl of joy, prompting many a nearby pony to fearfully cover their ears. Although somewhat bemused by her mother's reaction to Spike, Twilight looked to the latter, who was silently giving a "please help me" look to her as Velvet continued to hug him tightly. But, Twilight merely giggled at that, turning away from her son and instead moving over to her father.

"As happy as I am to see you all here, I must say, I'm surprised."

Night Light nodded at that.

"I know, sweetie. I know you usually like being told about this sort of thing ahead of time, but...well..."

The elder stallion hesitated for a moment, instead turning to his son, who chuckled slightly before stepping forward.

"We wanted to surprise you. All of us."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that, even though, deep down, she had an inkling as to what this visit was all about. With her mother finally having released Spike, and with the latter doing his best to catch his breath after that impromptu crushing hug, she re-joined the group, joining her husband in looking at both Shining and Cadence. The happy couple looked to each other, each silently urging the other to go first and speak up. But, after a lengthy silence between them, they simply sighed and looked to Twilight, smiling together and speaking in unison.

"We're getting married!"

As expected, Twilight broke out into a massive smile, charring forward and embracing both of them in a warm hug. The parents stood aside, watching with tears in their eyes as this unfolded before them. Twilight, when her hug was finished, squealed with joy in a manner not unlike her mother, before looking to her brother.

"That's amazing! I'm so happy for you two!"

Shining gave a nod and a smile, but was interrupted from answering when Spike poked him in the side, catching his attention. As the stallion looked down, the young dragon looked to him with a happy expression.

"Congratulations, Big S!"

Shining gave a hearty laugh at that.

"Thanks, Little S. Or...should I call you "nephew" now?"

The two laughed at that, but it was not long before Shining turned to his sister.

"I'm glad you're happy about this Twily. I wasn't sure how you'd react."

But Twilight merely shook her head.

"Nonsense! I mean...Cadence becoming my sister-in-law? What's not to love about that?"

It was here that Cadence began to speak up, stepping forward and placing a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder.

"I'm so happy we're going to get to be family, Twilight."

Twilight nodded at that, briefly looking out of the nearby window as she did so. Yeah...family. We so often forget how important it is. Take Apple bloom for instance, she'll be learning just how important hers is when her Grandmother arrives at her school for Family Appreciation Day today. A brief laugh escaped her with that thought, after which she turned to her family. But, before she had a chance to speak, she was stopped when Cadence raised a hoof and began to reach for something underneath her golden choker. Twilight looked on with curiosity, but her eyes widened with surprise when she saw that, underneath that choker, was the very pendant she had given to Shining during the dragon incident. Clearly, he'd successfully managed to give it to his fiancé, and so Twilight looked on as the latter smiled warmly to her.

"I never got the chance to thank you for this gift, Twilight. It's beautiful."

The young unicorn smiled and gave a brief bow of her head.

"Think nothing of it. When I realised my brother had a special somepony, I just knew I would need to send her a token like that."

Cadence smiled back at her former charge, carefully placing the amulet behind the choker once more.

"And I love it! I wear it all the time."

Twilight's smile widened even further after hearing that.

"I'm glad you like it. Wear it as often as you like. I mean, who knows? Maybe it'll bring you luck one day."

The two mares giggled at that, with Twilight’s mind hard at work as they did so. Luck? Oh yes, I have no doubt it'll do that. When the laughter finally died down, Twilight glanced to the side, seeing both her sofa and a collection of chairs. Looking back to her family, she pointed to that furniture, silently inviting them to go over and sit, which they promptly did. As all of the ponies there took their respective positions, Twilight looked to each and every one of them, a look of love and adoration in her eyes. She sighed in a contented manner before starting to move off in the direction of the kitchen, ready to prepare a nice hot pot of tea for them. However, just as she was about to boil the water, she heard her mother calling out to her, sounding more than a little pushy as she did so.

"So, Twilight...when are you going to get yourself a spouse? I mean, no offense, but you're not getting any younger, you know."

Twilight rolled her eyes at that.

"You know...I do know an anti-aging spell these days, Mom."

But, the elder mare, mirroring her daughter, merely rolled her eyes in kind.

"Excuses, excuses!"


If there was one thing Twilight enjoyed above all else, it was a peaceful afternoon. The sun was shining, the weather was beautiful, there were many mares and stallions all going about their day, and the whole place just felt happy. She smiled to herself as she casually trotted down the streets, occasionally giving a wave to those who did so to her as she passed. Eventually, she happened upon a nearby fruit stall, owned by none other than Applejack. The two friends smiled and nodded to each other as Twilight scoured her wares. In just a short time, she picked out a massive and delicious-looking red apple, happily passing a few bits to the orange mare in exchange. With a tip of her hat, Applejack silently gave thanks to Twilight for that, before the latter nodded back and started to head off down the street again. Using her magic, she levitated her newly-purchased fruit up to her mouth and took a bite. As expected of one grown by the Apple family, it was delicious, sweet and succulent. However, it was here that the peace of the moment was disturbed. Because, as Twilight began to pass by the front of the local bakery, Sugar Cube Corner, she began to hear the unmistakeable sound of a pair of foals crying loudly from within. Although taken aback by this, Twilight soon gained a look of understanding, and chuckled slightly before shaking her head.

After swiftly finishing off her apple, she made her way to the front door of the bakery, raising a hoof and gently knocking on it. There was a brief moment of silence after that knock, to which Twilight responded by simply knocking again. This time, it was louder, and as such, it soon yielded results. The door swung open, and while Twilight had been smiling before it had done so, that smile now vanished when she saw what was on the other side. For there she was, Pinkie Pie, a mare known about town for her boundless enthusiasm and endless smiles, now looking ragged, exhausted and, most of all, unhappy. Her face was covered in what Twilight recognised as flour, though she knew not how her friend had got it there. However, it was the fact that Pinkie seemed to be wearing a diaper on her head that caused Twilight to raise an eyebrow. The young unicorn opened her mouth, ready to ask about it, when she was distracted by the loud cries once more. Looking past her friend, she saw the culprits. A pair of foals, twins in fact, a unicorn filly and a pegasus colt. The Cake children, Pumpkin and Pound. Although happy to see them again, having been present not long after their birth, Twilight soon noted the state this place was in, with toys strewn about the place alongside baking materials, messes everywhere you could see. To one known for tidiness, like Twilight, this would not do.

"Pinkie? Wha...what happened here?"

But, rather than simply giving her friend a straight answer, the pink mare instead grabbed Twilight, much to the latter's surprise, and yanked her in, closing the door behind her. Now alone together in this place, Pinkie turned to Twilight, her eyes practically pleading with her.

"Oh, Twilight! It's terrible! Mr and Mrs Cakes had to go out for this big order and they couldn't find a sitter for the twins, so naturally I volunteered thinking it's be great to spend time with the little ones, but I didn't know how hard it'd be to look after them and I tried doing everything but nothing seems to work and I think they're just getting worse no matter what I do and I haven't had any time to rest since I started and they just keep crying and crying and I never asked their parents what to do or how to do it and I think I'm getting to the end of my rope Twilight!"

As expected, Pinkie's tirade had come at a million miles an hour, with Twilight simply staring at her as all this information sank in. When it finally did, Twilight pout on a warm smile and placed a hoof upon her friend's shoulder.

"Pinkie...do you want some help?"

Pinkie nodded rapidly, her eyes practically streaming from finally being given a lifeline in all this. Nodding at that, Twilight began to walk past her, using her magic to start levitating some of the toys back into their respective boxes. But, all the while, she was thinking hard about the situation. Okay...I've got to word it right. Don't offend her this time. Eventually, she turned to Pinkie once more

"You know...you could have always come to one of us."

As Pinkie took the diaper off her head and started wiping the flour off her face, she looked to Twilight in a somewhat sheepish manner.

"Well...yeah... but..."

Twilight turned to her, seeing the mental battle she was having with herself. Understanding dawned on Twilight and she let out a brief sigh.

"You wanted to prove you could do this on your own, didn't you?"

Pinkie looked to her, somewhat embarrassed at having been found out. But, Twilight was far from being upset at her, and instead looked to her with a sympathetic expression.

"There's no shame in asking for help, Pinkie. I told Applejack as much not long after I came to Ponyville. If you say you need help, I'm willing to give it."

Immediately, the pink mare burst out into a massive smile, charging forward and holding her friend close in a crushing hug. Although briefly winded by this, Twilight soon composed herself and let out a somewhat nervous laugh. However, her smile faded somewhat as she appeared deep in thought over something, after which she let out another sigh. Pinkie caught this immediately and looked on with curiosity as she finally released Twilight. After brushing off some of the flour that had been transferred from Pinkie to her, the young unicorn cleared her throat before speaking up again.

"Although...while I'm willing to help you, I think it's important that you still learn how to do this without me."

Pinkie looked utterly aghast at that.

"But...but...but...you can fix everything! You always fix everything!"

Twilight kept a stoic expression after hearing that, giving a single nod.

"I know...but remember, it wasn't too long ago that I was out of Ponyville for a long time. And a day may come when I'll have to do that again. On that day, you won't have me around, and you'll need to be able to sort this kind of thing out yourself. Besides, you gave your word to the Cakes that you could do this. If you can't...they might not be willing to let you look after their children in future."

Pinkie opened her mouth, ready to perhaps offer some form of protest, but when the truth of Twilight's words began to take hold, she began to look away, appearing far more thoughtful than she usually did. When she finally looked back to Twilight, her smile was smaller than normal, and she gave a single nod, acknowledging her point. Twilight smiled back, and soon afterwards, the two mares got back to work, doing their best to pick up whatever mess the twins had made. As for the children themselves, they seemed to have stopped crying for the time being, instead looking on with awe at some of the spells Twilight was using to clear stuff up. When the room was tidy enough, Twilight then turned her attention to the twins, walking over to them and using her magic to levitate them up, which caused more than a few giggles for the foals. It brought a smile to Pinkie's face, seeing the twins happy again, and she followed as Twilight led them to a nearby crib, gently lowering them in and tucking them under their blanket. The foals kept on smiling, reaching up towards the two mares as they looked down on them, and, shortly afterwards, Pinkie looked to Twilight, clearly impressed.

"Wow, Twilight, you sure know how to deal with kids."

Twilight smiled as she looked to her.

"Well...it's actually not my first time dealing with youngsters."

Pinkie nodded at that.

"Oh yeah! You were there when Spike was born, right? That must have been super-hard, a little filly like you looking after a baby dragon while doing all that studying."

Twilight let out a hearty laugh at that, earning her a look of confusion from Pinkie. When the laughter died down, Twilight looked to her friend in earnest.

"Actually, it was Celestia who raised him for the first few years of my life. Like you said, I was too young to do it myself, and with all my studies it would have been impossible to look after a child on top of all that."

Pinkie tilted her head slightly, watching as Twilight began to walk away from the crib. The former soon followed her, and kept her eyes on her as she continued speaking.

"But, every once in a while, Celestia would call me to her chambers for a private study session. It was there that she kept Spike, in his first crib, so she was close at hoof to deal with whatever he needed. But, when I went over, he was upset about something, crying loudly, and Celestia, rather than sort out the matter herself, turned to me and asked me if I could cope with such a situation. I thought it was odd, but I did as I was told, so I went to him. It took a few minutes, but I got him to stop."

Twilight turned away from her friend, a look of nostalgia crossing her face.

"I guess...that was the moment. The moment Celestia decided Spike would go to me when he was old enough. After that, I visited him a few times and helped Celestia out with him, and the rest...well...the rest is history."

Looking back to her friend, Twilight smiled to see that Pinkie was looking at her, utterly enraptured with that story. But, as Twilight opened her mouth to speak, she was interrupted when the Cake twins began to cry again. Naturally, Twilight started to walk over to them, but was stopped for doing so when Pinkie raised a hoof, barring her path. Although confused at this, she looked up to see the look on her friend's face, far more serious than usual.

"Thanks for your help, Twilight, but...I think I should handle this on my own now."

There was silence between the two mares, but, eventually, Twilight broke out into a small smile, nodding to her friend. When Pinkie smiled back, she began to move over to the crib to deal with the children, all while Twilight began to walk away. The young unicorn gave her friend once last glance as she reached into the crib to pick up the foals, before looking out into the streets once more, closing the door behind her. But, instead of simply walking away, Twilight remained, keeping her ear to the door. She waited for the cries of the children, but, after several moment of utter silence, she put on that same satisfied smile, nodding to herself before finally walking away.

"Yeah...she'll be fine."

The Rodeo

With the sun high in the sky, the sheer quantity of heat pouring down onto the ground below was immense. Even in Canterlot, a city situated right in the high mountains, ponies were unable to escape those sweltering temperatures. And yet, the ponies there simply put up with it, for today, they had far more important things on their minds. Namely, the annual Canterlot rodeo, taking place right on the outskirts of the city. Ponies from all walks of life and every corner of Equestria had come to either participate or watch the athletics on display there. Races, tug-O-wars, jumps, and all manner of other games were being set up, with rewards and prestige granted to their respective winners. The stands were absolutely packed with many excited spectators, all cheering their chosen athlete as they participated in the arenas below. As for the participants themselves, they were huffing and puffing in the vast heat of the day, but nevertheless endured as they charged forward, always putting as much effort into their games as possible. Victory meant fame and a substantial sum of reward money for their respective cause, so every mare and stallion put their all into whatever they were doing.

But, out of all of them, there seemed to be one mare that was working harder and running faster than any other. Applejack. The orange mare, at this present moment, was participating in a race with about half a dozen other ponies. It was a long circuit, but she managed to hold her own against the other racers, her eyes never leaving the finish line. Even as her hooves ached and her legs strained, she kept on going. But, even so, she soon found that other ponies managed to get ahead of her, much to her dismay. Although she would often be blessed with a second wind, granting her the much needed energy she needed, even that was not enough, and soon, she found herself coming a close second. The crowds cheered as the winner leapt up, smiling and waving to her fans with a look of sheer joy upon her face. While Applejack was, admittedly, disappointed in her performance, she was, regardless, a good sport about it as always, and so walked up to the winning mare, offering her hoof. Although hesitant at first, the winner soon accepted, shaking Applejack's hoof and showing an appreciative smile to her. Tipping her hat, Applejack moved off, ready to participate in the next event. However, it was here that she stopped, and turned around to see that there, sitting in the stalls, were her five friends; Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity.

Looking away from them, she pulled her hat slightly, partly to obscure her face from them.

"Aw...why they gotta be here, seein me fail like this? Woulda been a lot easier fer me if they'd stayed at Ponyville."

She let out a grunt of annoyance, but soon put that aside as she began to notice an older stallion approach her. Recognising him as a member of the judging panel, Applejack composed herself and watched as the judge ceremoniously handed her an ornate green ribbon, her reward for coming second in the last race. Although frustrated at her earlier failure, Applejack nevertheless accepted the token, smiling genuinely at the stallion before moving off. There was time left in the day for one final event, and thankfully, it was the one she'd been practising for a long time; the obstacle course. Steeling herself, she moved off to join the other contestants, with her friends calling out to her at every opportunity. Applejack narrowed her eyes somewhat, steadying her breathing and focusing on the task at hand. There was a silence over the crowd as the nearby flag-waver raised his titular flag, ready to start the event. With baited breath, Applejack watched as he finally brought that flag down with great enthusiasm, causing both her and everypony else to charge forward. And just like that, everypony in the crowds let out a near-deafening roar of excitement as the racers began the event.

Having gone over this course several times from her preparations back at Sweet Apple Acres, the orange mare felt a rush of confidence as she raced ahead of many of the other ponies there. Within moments, she found herself at the very head of the group, running faster than all others, which led to a smirk forming on her face. But, very soon, the first obstacles appeared in the form of a number of hurdles. Bracing herself, Applejack waited for the right moment before making an almighty leap, passing the first with ease, and earning herself more than a few cheers from her friends. As many of the other racers did their best, with some leaping over and others simply crashing into the hurdles, Applejack stayed true, practically flying past the barriers every single time. However, she eventually found herself running towards the last hurdle, which she knew from experience was both the highest, and thus the most difficult to pass. Continuing her run, she counted the steps she made, until finally choosing her moment, putting all her strength into her back legs and sending herself as high as she could. The crowd watched her with awe, but it was short-lived, as her back hooves just barely scraped the top of that hurdle.

Seeing this, Applejack grunted angrily, but even so, she kept on moving, heading right towards the final part of the event; the bale-of-hay toss. Already ahead of the other contestants, Applejack ground to a halt as she approached her bale, leaning down and grabbing into the rope with her teeth. With that done, she began swinging the thing around as fast as she could, until finally, she released it. She watched eagerly as the thing flew far across the field, before landing hard on the other side. The nearby measurers took note of how far it had gone, all while Applejack stood aside and watched her fellow racers handle their own bales, looking on with concern as one of them actually managed to throw theirs ahead of her own. When the last of them had finally finished, the whistle was blown and the crowds cheered ever louder in honour of the participants. Panting heavily, Applejack watched with some worry as the judges discussed the event amongst themselves. She knew there were several things to consider when picking a winner, from the speed to the distance of the bale to how well they jumped over the hurdles. But eventually, they seemed to finally reach a conclusion, and stepped forward to speak. Once more, a silence fell over the crowd as all watched in anticipation, none more so than Applejack.

"And the winner of the final event...Sandy Pears!"

There was a roar of cheers from the crowd as the winning mare stepped forward, with the judges placing her blue ribbon around her neck. Soon afterwards, Applejack received her own prize, that of a red ribbon, and smiled as she shook the hoof of the judge who'd presented it to her. But, as soon as that stallion turned, Applejack looked down, gazing at her ribbon with great disappointment. However, she was interrupted from that when she heard a call from a distance. Looking up, she put on a smile as she saw her friends all running to greet her. Laughing nervously, she trotted over to meet them, with Pinkie Pie being the first to speak.

"That was super-dooper-awesome, Applejack!"

A blush appeared on the earth pony's face after hearing that.

"Aw shucks, sugarcube! Y'all don't need ta mention that!"

But, there was a general murmur of agreement amongst her friends, with Rainbow especially seeming happy for her.

"Are you kidding? You won more awards there than any other pony!"

Twilight nodded at that.

"She's right, AJ. You should be proud of what you accomplished."

But, Applejack looked away slightly, her look of disappointment returning once more.

"Ah know that's real good an all, what ah've done, but...ah wish ah could've held up Ponyville's name a bit better."

Rarity, upon hearing that, simply rolled her eyes.

"Applejack, I know you pride yourself on being the town's best athlete, but you don't need to worry about representing it. You did marvellously, and far better than any other pony from our town could have done. You did Ponyville proud by working as hard and achieving as much here today!"

Applejack gave another nervous laugh at that.

"Well...it's still a shame ah haven't been able to win any prize money fer the town after all this."

Pinkie Pie let out a brief giggle.

"Silly! Nopony's going to care about that! Ponyville's doing fine without rodeo prize money. Like that hole in the town hall roof? Twilight just paid for that herself with that shiny dragon gold she has."

Twilight, ignoring the contributions that Pinkie had just spotlighted, walked up to her friend and placed a hoof upon her shoulder.

"It's true...you didn't win any blue ribbons. And while you have every right to feel disappointed, given how many you've won in the past...that doesn't matter to US. What matters is that you worked hard here. You achieved more than any other athlete, you showed the world what those from Ponyville can do, and what's more, you gave me and the girls and everypony else one heck of a show while you did it. If that's not something to be proud of...I don't know what is."

Applejack looked to her friend, right into her eyes, and saw nothing but truth there. She had meant every word of it and, after looking to her other friends, it was clear that each of them had been honest with her also. It took some time, but Applejack soon let out a sigh, putting on a smile of appreciation to Twilight. As the two smiled at each other, the other mares moved in, resulting in a warm group hug. In time, they parted from one another, and when they did, Pinkie darted into the middle of the group, pointing at a nearby clock tower. As they turned to it, their eyes widened when they realised how late it was, and so, after giving each other a silent nod, they all ran together in the same direction, right towards the train station. Applejack was at the back of the group, but stopped briefly and looked behind her. As she gazed upon the rodeo, at all the winners, the losers, the happy crowds and even the obstacle course, she couldn't help but put on a genuine smile.

"Well...maybe next year."

Cider Day

While most would agree that Ponyville was a fairly calm and peaceful place, there was also no denying that, when something happens to bring the community together, they really come together. Such was the case today as row upon row of mares and stallions lined up right outside the front gates of Sweet Apple Acres. So vast was the collection of ponies there that the line stretched from those front gates all the way to the other side of town. And among the ponies gathered was every notable member of the community, from local teacher Cheerilee to the Mayor herself. All of them looked ahead with anticipation, licking their lips in an excited manner for what they knew they would get at the end of all of this. For today was the day that the Apple family brought out one of its signature products; their apple cider. Every pony in Ponyville was salivating at the thought of getting to taste it, so much so that some had even camped outside of the Apples' home to get in early on the action. And so, they all continued to wait, with some even skipping in place because of how eager they were. Eventually, their patience was rewarded, and the front doors of the Apple family barn began to swing open. Sure enough, there they were; Applejack, Granny Smith, Apple Bloom and Big Macintosh.

All the ponies of Ponyville cheered as they saw them, and then cheered even louder when they saw that they were all busy carting out massive barrels of cider along with them. Amongst the crowds, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash looked on, with Rainbow especially looking more happy about this than the ponies around her.

"I tell ya, Pinkie, this is the best time of year! Their cider is so delicious, it just makes me want to...want to...ugh! It's just so good!"

Pinkie giggled at her friends words.

"I know it's good, silly! That's why I'm here too!"

The two friends laughed together as they looked ahead, watching as Applejack and her family finished with their preparations. The barrels they brought out had all been stacked up as high as they could, and a table had been placed in front of them, ready to take the custom of the ponies gathered before them. With that work done, Applejack took a seat next to her Grandmother before clearing her throat, letting out a loud call.

"Alright, everypony! The annual cider sale is on!"

As expected, there was a massive cheer of approval from the crowd, and they all began to charge forward, ready to get the cider they'd been waiting all year for. So, ponies approached the Apples' front desk, bits in their mouths, and happily turned it over to Applejack, and soon afterwards, the latter smiled as she brought out a large mug of cider. Accepting it, the customer just drank the whole thing then and there, much to Applejack's amusement, before walking off and making room for the next pony. This went on for several hours, with every member of the Apple family doing their part and handing out the cider to everypony who asked for it. However, after about noon, there inevitably came a time when the last barrel had finally been emptied, only just managing to get out one final mug for the customer that was waiting. Looking upon the empty barrels behind her, Applejack gave a nod to her Grandmother, their expressions not exactly happy, as both of them knew what was coming next. Steeling herself, Applejack stood up from the desk and called out to the crowds, which were sill large in spite of how much time had passed.

"Alright, y'all! That's it! The cider's run out!"

As expected, this caused a general groan of dissatisfaction from the assembled ponies, with Rainbow practically leaping into the air, letting out a loud groan of annoyance. Seeing this, the Apples all turned to one another, looking rather upset that, as always, they were never able to satisfy every pony that had come to them. However, before they had the chance to offer some kind of apology, the moment was interrupted by a new and strange sound from across the horizon. All of the ponies stopped what they were doing and turned in unison to the sound, and when they did, they looked on with both awe and confusion. Coming over the hill, right towards the crowd, was perhaps the strangest thing any of them had ever seen, at least, THIS week anyway. It was clearly a machine of some sort, but one constructed to look as bizarre and complicated as possible, moving along the grassy ground like a train without tracks. A lot of the ponies turned to each other with looks of concern after seeing this thing, none more so than the Apples. But, as they watched the machine finally grind to a halt, it let out a billow of steam, followed soon afterwards by the arrival of two unicorn stallions, who had been piloting the thing. Bearing red manes, with one having an equally red moustache, they were dressed not unlike carnival attendants, and looked out at the crowds with cheesy smiles on their faces.

"Well well, brother...looks like we have ourselves a parched crowd!" the stallion with the moustache said.

"Indeed, brother! Lucky we came long to help!" the other added.

Raising an eyebrow, Applejack got up and out of her chair, and, as she walked towards these new arrivals, she noted that Twilight was approaching from the same hill they had come from, looking at their machine with great interest. But, Applejack turned from her friend and instead continued to approach the two brothers, speaking up when she got close.

"Beggin yer pardon, Sirs...but who are ya?"

The brothers both retained that smile of theirs as they spoke.

"Why, we're the Flim-Flam brothers! We're to satisfy the needs of a thirsty populace with our Super-Easy-Cider-Sqeezy 6000!"

Upon hearing the word "cider" Applejack immediately raised her eyebrow at that.

"Yer sayin this doohicky contraption makes cider?"

The brother with the moustache nodded.

"Indeed it does, little lady. And we're here to show the good citizens of Ponyville that they don't need to wait all year for the paltry amount that your family produces."

As expected, that remark immediately caused Applejack to look at the two stallions with anger. But, it was here that Twilight finally looked away from the machine and towards her friend, seeing the clearly-insulted look on her face. As the orange mare began to step forward, Twilight sensed a conflict brewing in all of this, and so lit up her horn. In moments, there was a bright flash, with Twilight disappearing from where she stood, and then reappearing between Applejack and the Flim-Flam brothers. Although taken aback by the sudden and unexpected arrival of her friend, Applejack's expression softened when the latter finally spoke up.

"Okay, AJ, I know you're upset, and with good reason, but there's no need for a fight."

Applejack looked to Twilight in a rather indignant manner.

"No need?! These fancy-schmancy stallions think they can just waltz on in here an insult mah family an the way we've done this cider business fer generations! Ah ain't gonna sit down and stay quiet with that, Twilight."

Twilight nodded after hearing that.

"Understood. Just...let me talk to them...please."

Applejack looked to her friend and then glanced at the brothers, who, as one might expect, were still wearing those unpleasant smirks on their faces, practically begging her to have at them. Although the air was one of tension, Applejack eventually relented, letting out a sigh before nodding to Twilight. The young unicorn smiled at her friend before turning her attention to the two brothers. She took a moment to compose herself, clearing her throat as she did so, which caused Applejack to roll her eyes somewhat, perhaps expecting her to give one of her now-famous Twilight speeches. However, no sooner had Twilight opened her mouth when everypony was halted by a loud noise. They spun around, just in time to see the Flim-Flam's cider machine become engulfed in a massive explosion. Everypony ducked for cover, including Twilight and her friends, and watched as the machine flew several hundred feet into the air from that massive boom. After a few moments of staying up there, it came crashing back down to the ground and, as one might expect, shattered into a million pieces. As their machine now lay ruined before them, the Flim-Flams looked on with shock at the wreckage, as indeed did Twilight, who clearly hadn't been counted on such a turn of events. As for Applejack, she looked at the whole scene with confusion, before her eyes suddenly widened. Spinning around, she turned to her sister.

"Apple Bloom! Have y'all been leaving yer potions strewn about the field again?"

The young filly peeked out from behind her brother, looking embarrassed and sheepish at having been called out like that. Letting out a sigh, Applejack shook her head in a disapproving manner at her sister before returning to the task at hand. The remnants of the cider machine continued to smoulder before them, with the two brothers picking up a nearby piece of it, only for it to suddenly disintegrate into a pile of ash in their hooves. Meanwhile, Twilight simply stared at this with sheer disbelief upon her face.

"Well...I was not expecting that."

Walking beside her, Applejack looked to the wreckage before turning to the brothers, speaking up in a genuinely apologetic manner.

"Ah'm real sorry what happened ta yer machine, fellers."

The brothers turned to her, appearing quite indignant, and yet somehow maintaining their usually upbeat tone of voice.

"And indeed you should! After all the hard work we put into making that thing for a full...er...brother?"

The other brother pulled out a notepad from his pocket and read over a few lines, after which he turned to his sibling.

"Two hours."

The previous brother then turned to Applejack, still looking irritated.

"You hear that? We spent a whole two hours on this!"

Applejack opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Twilight, who once more situated herself in-between the two.

"Look! Would you, perhaps, be willing to accept some form of compensation for this? I'd be willing to pay on Applejack's behalf."

As expected, the mention of money caused the brothers to look to each other, their eyes lighting up at long last. They turned away from the mares for a moment, whispering amongst themselves in what Twilight could only assume was a discussion on what they should actually be paid. After some time of this, they turned to her, with the younger brother clearing his throat slightly. He smiled to her and offered her his hoof, a sign that he had accepted her offer. Taking his hoof, Twilight shook it, before turning back to Applejack and giving her a look that made it clear that she was going to deal with this situation. Applejack nodded at that, showing an appreciative smile, before seeing her friend walk off with the two stallions. But, after they were all gone, the orange mare turned to see, to her chagrin, that there was still the matter of half the town having gone without cider, as the ones brave enough to remain after the explosion were all looking at her, tapping their hooves in frustration. Although grimacing at this, Applejack was then taken aback when Pinkie popped in from out of nowhere and started speaking in her usual enthusiastic manner.

"Ooh! Ooh! Is it okay if I give the big speech about how the cider is only as special as it is because it's made with love and time and not just churned out by a machine, so they'll all learn to appreciate the fact that you don't have enough of it?"

Applejack looked to her, somewhat surprised how she could still stay as cheerful as she was in spite of everything that had happened, before sighing and shrugging her shoulders.

"Sure, why not?"

Reading Rainbow

Author's Notes:

Let me just say now that I am so sorry about that terrible joke title. But...how could I not make that joke?

Hospitals. While all of them provided a much-needed service to those with illnesses or injuries, there was no escaping the fact that most ponies would just rather not be there. Because, being in that place meant one of two things; either you were in a bad state, or someone you care about was in a bad state. And today, Twilight and her friends found that they were very much in the latter category. In the confines of Ponyville General, the young unicorn and her companions waited patiently in the hall, with some pacing up and down in anticipation of what they knew they had to be here for. Pinkie, so used to being active, had grown so tired of the waiting that she’d actually resorted to counting the tiles on the wall. Looking around, Twilight bore a look of concern, which was appropriate, given what happened. She noted that, nearby, Rarity was looking at their location with some apprehension, for which she could not blame her for. With her friend being such an avid fan of aesthetics, it was hard to condemn her for being in a place that, despite its usefulness, was not exactly the best place to look at. As for Fluttershy, she just meekly sat down in the corner, her eyes never straying from the door beside them. Sighing, Twilight spoke to her in a soft manner.

"Fluttershy...she's going to be okay."

The timid Pegasus looked to her friend, seeing the honesty with which she'd spoken those words, and put on an appreciative smile. However, the relative silence of that moment was interrupted when, at long last, the nearby doors swung open. All five of the mares turned their heads in unison to see that one of the doctors now entered the hallway. It was an earth pony stallion, clad in the usual clinical white garb of the staff here, holding a clip-board and staring at it intently. There was silence for a few moments before he finally looked up, at long last realising that there were ponies waiting for him. Putting the board away, he cleared his throat slightly before giving them a nod, standing aside and giving them silent permission to enter the room. The mares gave each other looks of concern before taking the stallion up on his offer, making their way inside. When they did, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief, for there, lying in bed, was their dear friend, Rainbow Dash. Now wearing a mint-green shirt, as standard for patients of the hospital, Rainbow was lying in a bed, her wings covered in many bandages. At first, she seemed both annoyed and unhappy, but, with the arrival of her friends, she broke out into a smile, waving her hoof and inviting them over. As the mares walked forward and surrounded her bed, Twilight was the first to speak.

"How are you feeling, Rainbow?"

Smiling to her friend, the young pegasus answered, though her voice was devoid of a lot of the usual self-confidence she was known for.

"I've been better. Still...it'll take more than crashing headfirst into the ground to finish me off."

There was a general quiet laughter amongst the group after hearing that dark joke, which did a lot to put the six friends at ease with the situation. But, Rainbow, after the laughter died down, looked to her bandaged wings. In a move that was, perhaps, not the wisest, she stretched one out slightly. As one might expect, this caused her to wince with pain, leading to the others all moving forward briefly, ready to lend her some aid. However, after chuckling nervously, she raised a hoof, stopping them and silently letting them know that she was okay. But, as she looked to her wing again, she sighed before speaking up again.

"Then again...it does kinda suck that I can't fly for a while."

"Indeed, Miss Dash."

Their ears perking up, the mares all turned to see the stallion doctor re-enter the room, having picked up his clip board again. After looking over it for a while, he spoke to Rainbow in a quiet manner.

"Your incident left several bones slightly cracked, and a few more out-of-place. The other doctors and I put everything back where it's supposed to be...but you'll still need to stay still and in bed for a few days to truly recover from it. And you certainly shouldn’t be trying to actually move your wings while you wait."

Blushing slightly at having been caught out, Rainbow looked away from the doctor. As for the stallion himself, he placed the board on the side of Rainbow's bed, giving her friends a casual nod as he made his way out of the ward again. With a look of curiosity upon her face, Twilight leaned in closer to the report the doctor had left, squinting her eyes slightly. In time, they widened as she looked up to her friend again.

"Oh my! The doctor's right, Rainbow! You really did a number on yourself out there!"

Rainbow nodded a little.

"Yeah...guess my reflexes aren't as good as I thought."

Twilight raised an eyebrow at that, surprised at hearing such a negative assessment of Rainbow's abilities coming from the mare herself. However, before she got the chance to speak further on the matter, she was interrupted when Pinkie stepped forward and spoke up.

"Jeez, Dashie! Whatcha gonna do all cooped up in here?"

The cyan pegasus just shrugged her shoulders at that.

"Dunno. Guess I'll just turn the lamp on and off until it gets boring...ugh! That sounds boring even before I've started it!"

Twilight giggled at that before looking to a pair of saddle-bags she'd been wearing the whole time. Many of the group turned to her with confusion, which then became genuine interest as she used her magic to levitate an object out of the bags. To their surprise, it was a book, which now carefully floated over to Rainbow. Although confused at this, Rainbow nevertheless accepted it as Twilight offered it to her. She looked upon the cover, bearing a picture of a pegasus mare swinging on a jungle vine through a dangerous temple. It was clearly some kind of adventure story, and Rainbow looked up with a raised eyebrow. With enthusiasm plastered all over her face, Twilight spoke up.

"It's part of the Daring Do series, one of my favourite books! I figured you might want something to occupy yourself while you were here."

Silence followed those words as Rainbow looked from Twilight, to the book and then back to Twilight. As for the latter, while she wore a smile, she knew deep down how this would go. However, her smile faded somewhat when Rainbow did something quite unexpected. Instead of offering the book back, snorting in an annoyed manner or even badmouthing the book itself, she placed it on her lap and gave it a brief pat with her hoof, after which she looked up to Twilight with a genuinely appreciative smile.

"Thanks, Twilight."

The look on Twilight's face made it clear she was taken aback by that, but, before she had the chance to enquire further about it, she was beaten to that goal by Applejack, who seemed just as disbelieving about it as she was.

"Now hold up there, Dash. Ah that y'all hated books?"

Rainbow nodded at that briefly before looking to the book in her hooves, smiling slightly.

"Yeah...that's true. I mean, normally, I'd probably just say I don't wanna read it because it's "egghead" stuff and all, but..."

Her expression changed, becoming more thoughtful for a moment. And through that silence, Twilight looked on, still somewhat surprised at her friend's current behaviour. Eventually, Rainbow's face became one of contentment.

"...lately...I figured there might actually be something to all that stuff. I mean... everypony else loves books and reading and stuff...so where would be the point in me going against that just to keep up some "cool" or "I'm too awesome" image?"

Needless to say, Twilight was shocked by what she'd just heard, as indeed were many of her friends. However, yet again, she was prevented from saying anything when Rarity stepped forward and spoke up instead.

"Well, Rainbow, I must say that I'm happy to hear you’re being so mature about this."

The young pegasus gave a smile and a nod at that, but, soon afterwards, let out a massive yawn. When that died down, she laughed nervously before looking to her friends.

"Well, it's been great having you guys visit and all...but I'm kinda tired."

The other mares all looked to each other, giving silent nods before turning to their friend, Pinkie and Fluttershy approached her and gave a gentle hug to their friend, making sure not to touch her wings or otherwise hurt her. Rainbow showed an appreciative smile at this after they parted, and when they did, all five of the mares began to leave the ward. However, Twilight was the last one out, and she stopped briefly to turn around and give her injured friend a final look. Rainbow looked to her, still smiling, and gave a simple wave. Smiling back, Twilight returned the wave before finally making her way out of the room, closing the door behind her. Now in the hallway with her friends, Twilight looked around before gesturing to the direction of the exit. Silently nodding once more, the group moved together to head out of the hospital. However, as they walked together, Twilight noted Rarity looking to her, after which she spoke up.

"Isn't it marvellous that our dear Rainbow is acting so sensible these days?"

Although she initially smiled at that, Twilight soon turned away from her friend before putting on a more thoughtful expression.


Couples and Singles

If somepony was asked to describe what the general feel of Ponyville was at this present moment, it would be obvious what word they would choose; loving. And that would be more than appropriate, as this was none other than Hearts and Hooves Day, that special time of year when everypony spends the day with their special someponies, appreciating them all the more. It was a day of love and lovers, and everywhere you went in that town, there could be seen happy couples abound, staring affectionately into each other’s eyes and simply enjoying their company. Even those who were not blessed with somepony special would spend the day attempting to find them, with courtships both successful and not-so-successful being undertaken at every other moment. Indeed, this remarkable day seemed to be the one thing on anypony's mind, and nowhere was that more apparent than in the three fillies that now walked down the main street of the town. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo all looked around, seeing the various couples and dates going on around them. But, rather than be happy for their fellow ponies, such displays actually made them feel all the more down.

"Geez! All these ponies with somepony special...and Miss Cheerilee doesn't have anypony!" Scootaloo commented.

The other fillies nodded at that, with Sweetie Belle speaking up next.

"It makes no sense. She's one of the nicest mares around. She should have somepony special."

Turning to her two friends, Apple Bloom put on an enthusiastic smile.

"An that's exactly what we're gonna do today! We're gonna find her a special somepony!"

The other fillies turned to her, and soon bore smiles as eager as hers. As they continued down the street, they caught sight of a few stallions here and there, many of which appeared to be single. Smiling to each other, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo watched as their unicorn friend hopped onto a nearby empty crate, taking in a deep breath. They knew what was coming next, and so readied themselves to provide a much-needed backup chorus. However, before Sweetie could belt out even the first note of their song, she was interrupted by a sudden yet familiar voice.

"Hi, girls!"

Although initially irritated at being interrupted like that, Sweetie's expression became a genuine smile as she saw that the newcomer was none other than her own special somepony, Spike. Leaping off the crate, she stepped towards him, leaning forward and nuzzling him affectionately. Putting on a fierce blush at that, Spike chuckled nervously, much to the amusement of the other two fillies. Once his fillyfriend finally parted form him, the young dragon looked to the whole group and spoke.

"I've been looking all over for you guys!"

Scootaloo put on a smirk at that.

"Oh yeah? Wanted to get close to your sweetheart on Hearts and Hooves Day?"

Despite the fact that, in the past, Spike would have been too embarrassed to answer, this time, he instead put his hands on his hips and gave a confident nod of his head.


Although Sweetie seemed more than a little enamoured with her coltfriend's words, Scootaloo was the opposite, looking rather annoyed at losing her chance to tease Spike as she used to do. Smiling at this small victory, Spike then cleared his throat before continuing.

"But still, I was actually kinda hoping to hang out with all of you today!"

Apple Bloom, after hearing that, raised a hoof and shook her head slightly.

"No can do, Spike. We've got urgent business to deal with."

As expected, the young dragon raised an eyebrow at that, folding his arms before replying.

"Oh? Like what?"

Sweetie stepped up to him, looking very eager to speak to him. She leaned forward and began whispering into his ear, which was a sight that caused a few giggles for her two friends. As Spike listened to what Sweetie had to say, his eyes began to widen with realisation, which was then followed by him simply raising an eyebrow.

"A special somepony for your teacher? Really?"

Sweetie nodded enthusiastically at that, all while Spike looked at her with some confusion. He let out a sigh and opened his mouth to speak, but was stopped from doing so when Scootaloo grabbed the other fillies and pointed them to something across the street. Turning, Spike, along with the other fillies, saw that it was Twilight, who was walking down the road with a book magically hovering in front of her. Looking to each other, the fillies all exchanged knowing looks, before immediately charging forward before Spike could stop them. As he watched them run, he let out another sigh before grabbing the bridge of his nose in a display of exasperation. But, it wasn't long before he was in pursuit of the three, who had now managed to position themselves right in Twilight’s path. Although the young unicorn was oblivious to them at first, that all changed when Scootaloo cleared her throat, gaining her attention. When she finally looked up from her book, she seemed shocked to see them at first, but then composed herself and put on a smile.

"Good morning, girls! Can I help you?"

The fillies gave each other a knowing look before turning back to Twilight with smiles on their faces, with Apple Bloom taking a step forward and speaking up first.

"Um, Twilight? We were wonderin...do y'all have any idea on how to get somepony a...ya know...special somepony?"

Twilight looked at them after hearing that, and soon appeared to be deep in thought over something. It was not the kind of expression the fillies expected her to have, given the kind of question they'd asked. Even so, they waited, not noticing that Spike had caught up to them and was now waiting silently behind them. But, it was here that Twilight spoke, her face plastered in a look that made it clear that she didn't have happy news.

"I'm sorry girls, but I'm not exactly an expert in relationships. I'm afraid I can't help you."

As expected after getting an answer like that, the ears of the fillies all collectively dropped. However, while this was a sad sight, Twilight was then taken aback when Scootaloo popped back up, actually managing to look more excited than before.

"Ooh! Then maybe you have some super-special magic stuff that can help?"

For a brief moment, Twilight's eyes darted to the book she was carrying, before looking back to the fillies and shaking her head.

"I'm sorry...but magic shouldn't be used to force love. It just...isn't right."

Yet again, the fillies looked disappointed at hearing that, prompting Twilight to place her hoof upon Apple Bloom's shoulder. The filly looked up to her, seeing that Twilight was somewhat upset at not being able to help them, and put on a small smile, which let the unicorn mare know that it wasn't that big a problem. Smiling back, Twilight resumed her travels, giving a silent nod to her adopted son as she passed him by. With Twilight now gone, Spike looked to the fillies, who were still looking rather down about all this. He raised a clawed hand and began scratching his chin, clearly thinking about a way to cheer them up. After a few moments of silence, he looked to them and took a step forward.

"You know...maybe you don't have to help Cheerilee find a special somepony?"

The fillies all looked to him, seeming incredulous at that idea.

"What? But...but she's so great! She deserves to be happy!” Sweetie Belle answered.

Spike nodded.

"I know you want to help her, but...is she unhappy? I mean...did she actually say anything or act as if being single bothered her?"

The fillies, after hearing that, all looked to each other, looking slightly embarrassed about something. However, Spike didn't really know what it was until Scootaloo spoke next.

"Well...I guess...she did kinda say she was fine with it."

Hearing that, Spike nodded, and shortly afterwards, turned to Sweetie Belle.

"Sweetie...at the risk of saying something incredibly stupid on my part...were you or I unhappy, back before we got together?"

The unicorn filly looked quite taken aback by that, opening her mouth and ready to give some kind of answer. But, as Spike's words began to sink in, she stopped, looking away from him and thinking the matter over for a few moments of silence. Then, she gained a look that seemed to suggest that she'd just been told something obvious for the first time in her entire life. Looking back to him, she slowly shook her head, silently giving him his answer. The young dragon put on a warm smile for her after seeing that, at which point he then turned to the other fillies.

"And you two... are you unhappy with not having special someponies?"

Much like with Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo turned to each other, thinking the matter over for a few moments. And, also like Sweetie Belle, realisation dawned on their faces as they too shook their heads in response to Spike's question. Seeing all this, Spike gave a single nod before finally speaking up again.

"Look...I'm sure Miss Cheerilee would really appreciate that you girls are going to so much trouble for her. But...if she's happy with the way things are right now...maybe you should learn to do the same."

There was silence between the four youths, with the Crusaders all looking to one another after taking in their friend's words. Spike looked to each of them in turn, silently worrying that he might have, perhaps, offended them in saying what he'd said. However, in time, he breathed a sigh of relief when he saw them all put on small smiles, looking to him and giving nods of agreement. Letting out a brief bout of nervous laughter, Spike scratched the back of his head, after which he watched as Sweetie Belle walked to stand beside him. As the two youngsters looked into each other’s eyes, Spike was slightly taken aback when Sweetie leaned forward and gave him a brief kiss on the cheek, and while the other two giggled at this as usual, he didn't care. He was simply happy that she'd done it. It was not long after that, however, that Sweetie spoke up to him.

"You know...with all that talk of ponies being happy being single...I hope that doesn’t mean you don't want to spend the day with me."

Hearing that, Spike let out a hearty chuckle.

"Are you kidding? I’m not an idiot!"

Bad Omens

Things were tense in the Golden Oak Library as Twilight sat alone in her basement. She was at her desk, scouring through an ancient and poorly-kept book. It was the kind of thing that you knew had to be handled with care, lest it disintegrate in your hooves. And so it was that, ever so slowly, Twilight turned page after page of the thing, looking upon the centuries-old inscriptions and paragraphs. Her eyes were narrowed and she showed great focus as she was reading it. But, unlike many other such study sessions, this one seemed to affect her somewhat differently. There was none of the usual enthusiasm or joy that was usually plastered over her face during such sessions. Instead, she looked, for lack of a better word, worried. When she looked to the pages before her, their surface lit by the flickering candle-flames nearby, she read carefully about its contents; ancient magical artefacts. It was, like many of the items she held securely down here, from the castle of the two sisters, nestled deep in the Everfree Forest, and as such, she knew it was dangerous. But danger seemed to be the furthest thing on her mind as she read passage after passage. Eventually, after reading quite a bit of it, she stopped for a while, raising her hoof and gently massaging her temples. When finished with that, she turned, and looked upon the display in the corner of the basement.

It was the container of the Elements of Harmony, which shined and sparkled even in the dim light of this basement. Twilight frowned slightly as she got up from her chair, walking carefully towards those Elements. When she finally reached them, she stopped, and stared at the thing in utter silence. It was an uncomfortable moment as she looked to them, glancing at each one in turn. The Element of loyalty, shining and glistening brightly, like it was supposed to. The Element of honesty, also shining brightly. Laughter, kindness, generosity, all of those five looked as they were meant to, pristine, pure and harmonious. And then, Twilight looked to her own; magic. It was not pristine. Its gem was as it had been since she first obtained it in this timeline, dark and foreboding. Her expression became one of concern as she looked to it, her mind conjuring forth the times in which she'd used its power. On the day Nightmare Moon was vanquished, it had felt somehow wrong as its power flowed through her. And as or Discord, his expression was one of utter agony as the Elements' power descended on him. Somehow, no doubt through her actions, her Element had been changed, but, no matter how many books she read, she could not fathom why, for no such texts contained any advice on artefacts such as these, or how they could be changed as they had been.

Steeling herself, Twilight reached forward with her hoof, slowly opening the glass container. She paused for a moment as her eyes never left her respective Element. Counting her breaths, Twilight eventually sighed before reaching forward yet again, ready to do something she had not attempted since first she obtained that crown; she would touch the gem itself. It took a few slow moments, but eventually, her hoof came into contact with the darkened purple star. For a time, there was no reaction, and thus, Twilight felt some small measure of relief. However, this calmness was short-lived, as all of a sudden, she began to feel something. It wasn't thought, but emotion that now poured through her mind as she touched that gem. It was raw, massive, and, to her shock, a very familiar feeling. There was rage there, and unhappiness. Resentment, fear, loss, and many other negative feelings now poured through her. She bit her lip, as if trying to hold back a scream, and soon afterwards, she pulled her hoof away. Immediately, the sensation stopped, and she finally had a moment of peace once more. She panted heavily from the experience, looking upon her Element with a look that was borderline fearful. Carefully, she took a step forward, ready to observe it once more. But, before she got the chance, she was interrupted by a loud and bubbly voice behind her.

"Hiya, Twilight!"

The young unicorn practically leapt out of her fur after hearing that, after which she spun around, only to see the smiling face of her dear friend, Pinkie Pie. It took a moment, But Twilight finally responded, albeit in a less-than-friendly manner.

"Wha...Pinkie?! What are you doing down here?!"

Only afterwards did Twilight realise how harsh she'd sounded, as her pink friend looked taken aback by her reaction. Letting out a sigh, Twilight took a few seconds to clam herself, after which she spoke up again, but in a far more reserved tone.

"I'm...I'm sorry, Pinkie. It's just...I was doing some sensitive work down here."

Pinkie looked to her friend, seeing the serious look on her face, as well as the clear signs of stress, and began to look genuinely apologetic. As one might expect, seeing a mare who was as abundantly energetic and cheerful as Pinkie suddenly become that down was an image that caused no end of guilt for Twilight. Raising a hoof, Twilight gently placed it upon her friend's shoulder, prompting the latter to look up at her. There was a moment of understanding between the two mares, during which, Pinkie regained her smile. With the tension between them defused, Twilight turned back to the glass container behind her, closing it once more before looking back to Pinkie.

"Now then, what can I do for you?"

Pinkie's smile widened further before she raised her own hoof and pointed upwards, to the door leading out of the basement.

"Did you know there's a new donkey in Ponyville? His name is Cranky and I've been trying to give him a proper welcome into town."

Twilight eyes winded as a look of understanding crossed her face. Briefly, she put on a knowing smile before clearing her throat a little.

"Really? What's he like?"

Upon hearing that question, Pinkie's smile faded, albeit only a small amount, as she thought that over for a moment. In time, she finally spoke up.

"Well...he's not exactly cheery. He's actually kinda grumpy. I tried a few times to get him to smile, but he's not budging!"

Twilight chuckled a little before looking to her friend in earnest.

"Pinkie, consider how difficult this move might be to him. He's in a new place, surrounded by strangers, none of which are his own kind. Maybe...he just feels overwhelmed by it all."

Pinkie looked to her, thinking hard over what her friend had just told her. As she looked to Pinkie, Twilight was thinking hard on something also, as evidenced by the look on her face. In time, however, she broke out into a smile as she cleared her throat again, gaining Pinkie's attention.

"You know...it might help his transition into the community if there was another donkey for him to talk to. I think I've seen one, a Jenny, around the market sometimes."

Immediately, Pinkie's face lit up as she, without warning, reached forward and grabbed Twilight's own face, bringing their snouts together as she spoke in her usual fast-paced and upbeat tone.

"Ooh! You mean Matilda! That's a great idea! Why didn't I think of that?! Thanks, Twilight!"

Letting go of Twilight, Pinkie said no further words, instead darting off in the direction of the stairs. After taking a moment to recover from her friend's forwardness, Twilight watched as the pink mare darted up the stairs, stopping just short of the exit. She paused for a moment, looking as if she'd just remembered something important, before turning and looking down to Twilight again. Putting on her biggest smile, she waved ferociously in a display of thanks, to which Twilight merely giggled slightly before waving back. With that done, Pinkie then returned to what she was doing before, and charged out of the door with full speed, closing it behind her. Now alone, Twilight sighed in a contented manner, silently happy in what she knew she'd just helped to happen. However, that smile faded as realisation dawned on her once more, and she turned around, looking yet again upon the Elements of Harmony. Narrowing her eyes, she stepped closer, once more raising her hoof and placing it upon the glass container. In the silence of this place, she stared at her own Element, at its darkened gem, and, just for a moment, she had this deep and uncomfortable feeling that, just maybe, it was staring right back at her. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant feeling, especially when she thought back to what she'd felt when she touched it. All those unhappy and angry feelings coursing through her, it was a shock to say the least. But, even so, she did not back away, but rather, in a surprising move, leaned forward and actually began to speak to her Element, albeit in a hushed manner.

"I know you can't answer...I know you can't hear me...but...I know those feelings. That anger. That sadness. Those dark impulses I felt within you...I know them. I...I remember them."

Her expression changed, becoming one of melancholy and regret, as she closed her eyes and carefully leaned her forehead against the glass.

"Those feelings...you got them from me, didn't you?"


The Ponyville market was, at its height, a hub of activity for the town. Earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns alike all gathered here to buy whatever they needed, be it food, clothing, or perhaps a nice-looking trinket to decorate their homes. The stalls were full of fine wares for sale, and their vendors were calling out anypony who would listen. Amongst all of the prospective customers and simple passers-by was Fluttershy, bearing a pair of saddle-bags upon her back. She walked from stall to stall, looking at all the foods and other items on display, thinking over what to buy for herself. Eventually, she caught sight of a particular display of fruits, including many fine cherries, both red and yellow. Smiling at seeing this, she trotted over, looking the fruit over before looking up to the vendor. It was a burly stallion who, quite frankly, looked as if he hadn't even noticed her. She opened her mouth, attempting to speak up, but her words were hushed and barely audible, which was certainly not enough to get the guy's attention. In the end, she simply squeaked a little after fearing she wasn't going to get noticed, which, ironically, is what ended up causing the stallion to finally turn towards her. When he caught sight of her, his eyes snapped open and he put on a massive smile before speaking up in a cheerful manner.

"Well howdy, little lady! This ere is the best bumper crop of cherries you'll ever see! Brought in all the way from the great Cherry Jubilee orchards of Dodge Junction! Can ah interest y'all in a maybe two sacks to take with ya?"

Fluttershy's eyes widened with the prospect of taking that many cherries home with her, and tried talking the guy into offering less. However, yet again, her words were quiet, and as the stallion started filling up one massive sack full of his cherries, she grew increasingly worried.

"Um...I...er...I don't..."

Only when he turned to offer the sack to her did he finally notice her unhappy look, at which point she simply looked away, almost ashamed at having him look at her. Raising an eyebrow at that, the stallion scratched his head briefly before speaking up to her.

"Er...Miss? Are ya okay?"

Fluttershy looked to him again, opening her mouth to speak. But, even more hushed words were her response, and the stallion struggled to understand even the smallest of the words he was hearing. With a blush of embarrassment crossing her face, Fluttershy simply squeaked again before, to the stallion's surprise, swiftly charging away from his stall, leaving him quite confused. As for the mare herself, she continued running through the crowds, with many of them showing confusion as to what she was running from, while others simply ignored her. Eventually, she happened upon a currently-unused stall, darting behind it and crouching down to the ground, hidden from everypony else. The young pegasus was, in all honesty, right on the verge of hyperventilating from her experience. However, as she tried to steady her breathing, it was here that a familiar voice called to her.


Her eyes snapped open as she looked to her left, and there, standing with worried look on their faces, were three of her friends; Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Trixie. They all gave each other concerned looks before rushing forward, moving to meet her. When they arrived, Rarity buckled down to Fluttershy's level before placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"Good heavens, Darling! What in Equestria happened to you?"

Fluttershy's response was little more than a whimper on her part, and yet, her friends stood by her, patiently waiting for her to let them know what was wrong. Eventually, while looking to the ground in shame, Fluttershy nervously raised a hoof and pointed around the corner, to the vendor she'd spoken to, who, at this point, had got himself another customer. Looking to the stallion, understanding crossed Rarity's face as she gave a slight nod, turning back to Fluttershy.

"Darling, there's no need to feel ashamed at this. If you feel uncomfortable talking to him, then you feel uncomfortable."

Hearing those words, Trixie raised an eyebrow before adding her own voice to the mix.

"Um...is talking to the guy really that hard?"

Rarity's head snapped in her direction and, almost immediately, she rose up and moved Trixie aside, whispering to her so Fluttershy couldn't hear, all while the latter was now being comforted by Pinkie Pie.

"Look, I know you're new to Ponyville and all, Trixie, but you have to understand something important. Fluttershy is...well...not that good as speaking to ponies. Unless you're a close friend, like she is with us, she can barely get a word out."

Trixie looked to the timid mare before turning back to Rarity.

"I...guess I've noticed that, but...I never realised it was this bad."

Rarity gave a solemn nod at that.

"She's always been like this, for about as long as I've known her. It's something she's always struggled with. Rainbow and Applejack have tried helping her on occasion, but..."

The fashionista didn't finish that sentence, but then, she didn't need to, for her meaning was as plain as day; Fluttershy had never managed to overcome her fears. Looking to the yellow mare, Trixie appeared deep in thought over the matter, before eventually sighing. Her expression softened and she walked right past Rarity, with the latter watching her carefully. Trixie moved right up to Fluttershy, gaining her attention, before dropping down to her own knees and speaking softly to her.

"Look...I can't claim to know just how bad this is for you, but...I remember when I was afraid to go in front of others too."

Fluttershy looked to her, curiosity all over her face, prompting Trixie to explain herself.

"You see...before I became the show-mare that you all saw in my first visit to Ponyville, I was actually not all that good on the stage. I'd choke, forget my lines, sometimes I'd even mis-cast a spell because I was so nervous. But, I kept at it, and do you know why?"

Silently, Fluttershy shook her head, which led to Trixie smiling slightly.

"Because I knew that, if I didn't, then nothing was going to go well for me. And when I realised that, I knew that standing my ground was the only way I was ever going to get anywhere."

Fluttershy looked to her, thinking over those words a great deal. However, before Trixie had a chance to say anything else, she was interrupted when Pinkie Pie spoke up in her usual bubbly manner.

"But this is really difficult for her! I mean, she goes up to some stallion and tries talking to him, but her words just get all stuck in her mouth as his eyes are on her, staring into her soul and making her feel..."

"PINKIE!!!" Trixie and Rarity called out at once.

The pink mare stopped, looking confused briefly before slowly turning, wherein she found that Fluttershy had become borderline catatonic over her friend's vivid description of her anxiety. Giggling nervously, Pinkie took on a genuinely apologetic look before silently slinking off to the side. Shaking her head at this, Rarity stepped forward, gently placing her hoof upon Fluttershy's shoulder in an attempt to calm her.

"As hesitant as I am to make you feel uncomfortable, dear...perhaps Trixie is right about this."

The way the young pegasus looked to her unicorn friend made it clear that she felt she had a point, but, as always, was loathe to actually SAY anything about it. Seeing this reaction, Trixie sighed slightly before looking as if she'd just gained an idea. She cleared her throat, gaining the other three mares' attention, before quietly pointing to another nearby vendor, a mare this time. They looked to her with confusion, while she returned that look with a knowing smile, after which she began to walk off towards the vendor. Eventually, she arrived there and began to look at her wares, a selection of vegetables, most notably some potatoes and carrots. The blue unicorn used her magic to pick one up, carefully inspecting it, at which point the sales-mare finally noticed her. Much the like the previous vendor, she put on a smile that was common amongst those trying to sell something, but remained silent as her prospective customer continued to examine her carrot. After a long moment of silence between the two, with the other three mares still watching carefully, Trixie gave a single nod before placing the carrot upon the front desk, at which point, she finally spoke.

"Yes...this is a suitable carrot. I will give you three bits for it."

Upon hearing that, the mare's smile faded somewhat.

"Um...I'm sorry, Miss, but the standard price for one of our carrots is five bits."

Trixie frowned slightly.

"Yes, I know. However, I noticed that this one has a few bruises on it, and is, in fact, quite old, yes?"

Looking nervously, the mare began to look at the carrot carefully, at which point she realised that the vegetable was indeed in the state that Trixie described it.

"Well...so it is. I...er...I suppose I could always sell it to you for four bits."

Trixie raised an eyebrow at that.

"Indeed? You expect this condition to warrant a reduction of only one?"

At this point, the other mare was looking somewhat indignant.

"Look, Miss, I'm sure there are plenty of other ponies who'd be happy to buy this carrot at the stated price.

Those words prompted a chuckle from Trixie.

"Oh? You intend to push a sub-standard carrot on other ponies for full price, then?"

"Yes!" the other mare replied, proudly.

However, that look of pride soon vanished when she realised what she'd just admitted to. Immediately, and rather predictably, she began to speak in a flustered manner, all in a vain attempt to justify or explain away what she was doing, all while Trixie just stood there with a stoic look on her face. In the end, the vendor let out a sigh of defeat and slumped her shoulders, reaching out with her hoof while giving Trixie a somewhat irritated look. Looking more than a little triumphant, Trixie used her magic to levitate three bit coins out of her saddle-bags and into the hooves of the vendor, after which the latter gave her the carrot. After accepting it, Trixie gave a smile and a nod before turning around, heading back to the other mares. When she finally reached them, Fluttershy was staring at her with her mouth agape.

"How...how did you do that?"

Smiling, Trixie put her carrot into her bag before giving the young pegasus her answer.

"Practise, my friend. Practise."

However, Fluttershy immediately gained her usual nervous look, turning away from her.

"Oh! But...I don't think I could do that!"

Smiling softly, Rarity stepped forward and placed her hoof upon her friend's shoulder.

"Maybe not now. But we'll help you. all of us."

Fluttershy looked to her, and then to Pinkie Pie, and then finally to Trixie, seeing the nods and smiles of agreement they all wore. It took some time, but eventually, she put on an appreciative smile, returning their nod. As one might expect after a situation like this, Pinkie immediately began an unannounced group hug, embracing Fluttershy with the other two not far behind. It was, needless to say, a sweet and tender moment between the four mares, but, like all good things, it eventually came to an end. However, when it did, Fluttershy turned as she heard Trixie clear her throat. Without saying a word, the former show-mare pointed to yet another vendor, this one a stallion who appeared to be selling some second-hoof books on his stall. She said nothing, but the message was still clear; that this guy should be somepony that Fluttershy attempted her assertiveness on. Looking at the guy, Fluttershy took a deep breath and, with her friends close behind her, stepped forward to begin her practise.

Consequences Yet to Come

Although Ponyville had been witness to many strange sights over the last year or so, most of those events had usually been followed by crowds of mares and stallions screaming in terror or simply looking confused and bewildered. Almost never had something unexpected happened that actually caused ponies to smile and smirk, and yet, that was exactly what was happening now, as many a mare or stallion walking down the main street laid eyes on something that, quite frankly, would not have been seen anywhere else in Equestria; a pony and a dragon on a date. Spike, adopted son of local librarian, Twilight Sparkle, and Sweetie Belle, younger sister of Rarity, were walking down the road together, with the former gently holding onto the latter's hoof as they strolled. Everywhere they went, there was either adolescent snickering at this young relationship, some general surprise, or, in the case of many of the more romantically-minded mares, a barrage of "awwws". Regardless of how ponies reacted to them, they clearly didn't care. Instead, they simply smiled sweetly to each other as they approached their destination; the Golden Oak Library. Upon finally arriving at the front door of the place, they stopped, and thus began that age-old tradition of young lovers, staring affectionately into each others' eyes. Only after they'd done a full minute of this did Sweetie finally break the silence.

"I really had a nice time with you today, Spike."

Placing a clawed hand behind him, Spike scratched the back of his head a little as he gave a small chuckle.

"Heh...thanks. I had a nice time too."

Sweetie giggled at that before gaining a look that, to Spike's surprise, seemed a tad more amorous than somepony her age was supposed to look. Although gulping nervously, he soon watched as the young filly stepped closer with that eyes-half-lidded look, before giving him a tender kiss upon his cheek. As usual in this situation, Spike's cheeks soon burned red, prompting yet another fit of giggles from Sweetie. This time though, Spike soon joined in on the laughter and, in a move that mirrored Sweetie's, leaned in and gave a quick kiss on HER cheek. Her reaction was, more-or-less, the same as Spike, prompting the young dragon to give a somewhat triumphant look. Although rather irritated by this, Sweetie nevertheless smiled back at him before giving a playful nudge of her hoof. The two youngsters enjoyed this moment together before a look appeared on Sweetie's face that made it clear that she just remembered something important. Realising this, Spike gave her a silent nod, a permission to go, which earned him an appreciative smile from her before she finally started running off, giving a wave to him as she did so. Waving back, Spike waited and watched as she moved further and further away from him. Only when she was out of sight did he finally turn to his front door and open it. Upon entering the library, he found it empty, leading to a raised eyebrow.

"Mom? Trixie? I'm home!"

Sadly, silence was his only answer, and so he shrugged his shoulders, assuming that the two mares must be out in Ponyville somewhere. As such, he began to move to the kitchen, after which he simply poured himself a cool and refreshing glass of water, a welcome thing, given how hot it was today. After drinking it, he let out a sigh of satisfaction before moving back into the main chamber of the library, at which point he started to move to a collection of comic books that he kept on the side for his own personal use, smiling all the way. However, before he picked up the first comic, he started to hear something, like static, coming from somewhere near him. He turned, looking around, and yet, finding nothing there. He was ready to give up on the matter then and there, when he suddenly heard it again. Although showing confusion at this, he began to look concerned as he realised that the sound was coming from the basement door. Approaching it, Spike became wary, knowing full well that he wasn't supposed to go there without Twilight's permission. And yet, as he looked down, seeing a strange purple glow emerging from the gap beneath the door, he couldn't help but feel his curiosity taking hold of him, almost begging him to come closer. Despite that though, being the responsible drake that he was, he simply turned around and silently willed himself not to go.

However, that resolve was short-lived, for no sooner had he taken one step forward when a new sound began to make itself known. He spun around, telling himself he must have been hearing things, and yet, he soon found himself with his non-existent ears pressed up against the door itself. There was still that static sound there, but now, mixed in with it, was a groan of some sort, the distinct sound of somepony in pain. His eyes widening at this, he frowned and reached forward, pulling the door open and brazenly taking a step inside. Although the fear of being in trouble for coming here was still fresh in his mind, Spike was not one to simply hear a groan of pain and leave it alone, and so he stepped further and further into the basement, shivering slightly at just how much colder it was down here than upstairs. Eventually, he got far enough down the stairs to get a good view of what was going on, and when he did, his eyes shot open. For there, standing in the middle of the basement, was his adopted mother, Twilight. She was shaking at the knees, her eyes shut tight, and with a look of near-agony upon her face. But, what shocked Spike most of all was that she bore her crown, the Element of magic, upon her head. Sparks of magic flew from its gem in every direction, and with every one, Twilight seemed to struggle more and more.

The young dragon said nothing, but immediately leapt into action, charging down the stairs as fast as he could. Within moments, he met up with his mother and, in a move he wasn't quite sure of, simply leapt up into the air and knocked the crown off her head. As it fell to the floor, totally unharmed by the impact, Twilight buckled, collapsing to her knees and starting to pant furiously. Spike watched as beads of sweat rapidly fell down her brow, at which point she finally opened her eyes. When she turned to look at him, Spike noted how incredibly TIRED she looked, as if she hadn't slept in weeks, complete with dark circles under her eyes. It took a few moments, but Twilight eventually composed herself enough to get a feel for her surroundings, at which point, her eyes widened as she looked upon her son.

"Wha...Spike? What...what happened?!"

The young dragon angrily pointed to the discarded crown.

"That thing was doing something to you! There were sparks flying everywhere and...and you were in pain and...I didn't know what to do! So...I knocked it off you!"

Twilight turned, looking upon the crown that now lay upon the ground. She winced slightly, raising a hoof and rubbing the side of her temples, as if to alleviate a massive headache. As she did this, Spike looked to her with worry.

"Mom...what...what happened here?"

The young unicorn looked up to her son, seeing the genuine concern there, and thought long and hard on his question. She was still tired, as evidenced by the way she carried herself, but, even more so by the way she talked.

"My Element...had to test...without honesty, kindness or the others...had to feel...had to know."

Spike watched, still thoroughly confused as to what Twilight was talking about, but, simply remained silent as she kept on trying to explain things. However, in time, Twilight attempted to stand up on her hooves again. Although things started off well, she soon buckled once more, landing on her knees and scraping them slightly on the cold stone floor of the basement. Seeing this, Spike rushed to her side, his expression a determined one.

"Okay, that's it! You're going to bed and getting some rest!"

Twilight turned to him, mouth open and ready to provide some kind of counter-point or resistance to his suggestion, but, a sudden bout of tiredness washed over her yet again, and thus, she began to see the wisdom of her son's words. With great care, Spike lifted up one of Twilights forehooves, wrapping it around his shoulder and helping her up the stairs. Every step was difficult, so much so that he didn't really know how long it took before he finally got back to the main room again. Fortunately, as soon as he did, he looked up to see that Trixie had returned from wherever she'd been during all this. Although looking content at first, one look at Spike and Twilight immediately sent her into a panic, as she charged forward and helped the dragon in propping Twilight up. Slowly they carried her up the stairs, slow step by slow step, and eventually, they managed to get her into her room, after which they helped her into her bed. They covered most of her body with a blanket, after which, Trixie looked to Spike briefly, with the latter giving her a nod. The former show-mare soon got the message, and thus left the two alone, making her way out of the room as quietly as possible. Now alone together, Spike looked to the now-resting mare before letting out a deep sigh.

"Mom...I know your work is important...but you've gotta cut back on it if it's going to be doing...doing...this to you!"

The exhausted mare turned to her son, seeing the love and compassion he had for her blazing in his eyes, and put on a smile. Weakly, she raised a hoof, prompting him to take it carefully into his hands, after which she spoke softly.

"I promise Spike. I'll be more careful."

Realising that their usual relationship of "carer and cared-for" had been reversed all of a sudden, the two laughed together, albeit in a dry manner, with Spike calming down from his earlier panic. He leaned in closer, giving her a quick kiss on her forehead, which she seemed to show great appreciation for, after which, he tucked her in, ready for her to have a nice restful night's sleep.

"I can't ever understand all that magic stuff. It just...scares me sometimes. Just...please be careful."

Hearing that, Twilight simply gave her son an affectionate smile.

"I will. And...Spike? Thank you...for what you did down there."

Although somewhat embarrassed at the praise, Spike simply nodded to her in acknowledgement. Yet again, Twilight gave a nod to him in response, which was responded to with a small smile on his part. He stayed with her for several moments, watching as her eyes steadily became heaver, until finally, they closed. Sighing, he turned around, starting to make his way towards the door of her room. When he arrived at it, he turned to give her one final look, before finally closing the door behind him. However, as the sound of him walking down the stairs could be heard, Twilight's eyes now opened once more, and a look of sadness now crossed her face.

"Oh, Spike...I mean what I said. But no promise I make is going to change anything. Sooner or later...danger will find me."

She stared up at the ceiling, her eyes narrowing as she did so.

"Because I know now...I...I understand. The changes I've made...the corruption of my Element...I know what it's started."

Melancholy began to grip her as she considered that, and tears began to form in her eyes.

"The countdown has begun for me...until the day...that inevitable day...when the Elements are used one last time...with me at their centre."

A sigh escaped her after that.

"And in that moment...I'll know. I will ascend..."

At long last, a tear began to flow down her cheek, with her next words betraying the wobble in her voice.

"...or...I'll fall."

Dragons, No More

Under normal circumstances, one would expect that, on a bright and sunny day, most ponies would be out and about trying to enjoy it, maybe spending time with friends or loved ones, perhaps even going shopping. And yet, despite such glorious weather and clear skies, all of the homes in Ponyville were shut tight, their doors locked, their windows covered, and nopony about on the streets. To the casual observer, the place would look like an utter ghost town. And yet, despite appearances, there was activity, albeit beyond the boundaries of the town itself. For a large and deep trench had been dug several hundred feet away from the town borders, with several rows of barbed wire just to be on the safe side. Within the trench itself were six mares, Twilight, Rainbow, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Trixie, all looking to the skies with both fear and anticipation. Beside them stood Spike, who was currently busy preparing a plate of piping-hot cookies to serve to everypony, all while wearing his usual attire for such work, that of a pink apron. While he was busy with that, the mares beside him kept looking to the skies, with Rainbow Dash looking particularly irritated about something. She folded her hooves and looked to Twilight, who was wearing a pair of binoculars as she scoured the sky. In time, with all this silence, she simply let out a groan of annoyance.

"Ugh! This sucks! We've been here for hours, and yet, no dragons! Well…apart from you, Spike."

The young dragon gave a nod of acknowledgement at that, and shortly afterwards got back to his duties. However, after a few more moments, he stopped, and looked to Twilight. As the other mares were busy looking upwards, Spike gained a look of concern before taking a few steps forward. When he finally reached his adopted mother, he gave her a gentle poke in her side, gaining her attention. When she looked down to him, Spike was poking his two index fingers against one another in a clear display of nervousness, before speaking up to her in a hushed tone.

"Er...Mom? Are you sure you're okay to be up and out doing this today?"

A look of understanding and appreciation crossed Twilight's face, leading her to raising a hoof and gently patting the top of Spike's head.

"Don't worry, Spike. I'm feeling a lot better today. But still, thank you for worrying about me."

There was a look of uncertainty in the young dragon's eyes. But, in time, he eventually conceded his mother's point, giving her a single nod before turning to what he was doing before. As Twilight looked back to the sky, she turned to Rainbow, who seemed to be growing ever more impatient with this distinct lack of activity.

"Do you think that threat you made against that dragon really has spread through the others?"

Twilight shrugged her shoulders.

"It’s possible. I told him to keep his people away from Ponyville. Given what I did to him, it could well be that the dragons don't come anywhere near us."

Rainbow looked away from her, looking more than a little disappointed in hearing that, for which Twilight could not blame her. After all, the great dragon migration was a rare event, often avoided by ponies due to how dangerous the creatures were known for being. Even so, both she and the others kept their vigil, trying to see any sign of the now-late beasts. During this, Applejack began to look around down on their level, letting out a sigh before turning to Rarity.

"It's mighty sad that Flutters couldn't be here with us today."

Rarity nodded at that.

"Agreed, darling. But...you know how she is. Afraid of dragons, always has been."

Applejack returned the nod before looking to Rainbow, where she noted that the cyan pegasus was sporting a rather nasty bump on the back of her head. The farm mare silently chuckled with the thought of just how much trouble she had to go through to convince Fluttershy to join them, only to come out of it with nothing but that. Still, she said nothing, and instead re-joined the rest of her friends in looking around. However, this was short-lived as most of the mares then turned to hear Pinkie Pie leaping about and going "ooh", like a school student trying to get the attention of their teacher. She was pointing enthusiastically in a completely different direction to where everypony else was looking, prompting a few looks of confusion from her friends. Although unsure of this, one look at Pinkie's enthusiastic expression gave Twilight pause to consider what was going on, and so lifted her binoculars to her eyes and began looking in the direction she was pointing to. When she did, she let out a gasp of surprise, prompting the other mares to look at her. Turning to them, she offered her binoculars, firstly to Rainbow, who graciously accepted them. When the young pegasus looked through them, she finally saw it; the dragon migration. It was not flying over Ponyville as expected, but rather circumnavigating around the place before resuming their usual journey.

"Wow, Twi...you really did scare all of them!”

Twilight nodded at that, still somewhat shocked to see the impact that her encounter with a dragon had made on the rest of them. To have an entire migration now avoid a single Equestrian town just because of her, it was a sobering thought to say the least. Still, at the very least, they all got to see the dragons in the end, even if it was at such a long distance away. However, while she was still relieved to see such a thing, her mind then turned to Spike, who was still busy preparing a few drinks for all of them. Twilight became deep in thought over the matter, especially after seeing that the young drake appeared to have no interest in seeing others of his kind. Frowning slightly, Twilight spoke to him in a soft and considerate manner.

"Um...Spike? Don't you want to look at the dragons?"

Spike turned to her, taking a token glance at the far-away creatures, before looking back to her and shaking his head.

"Thanks for the offer, Mom...but...I don't think it's for me."

Twilight looked at him with surprise plastered all over her face.

"I'm...I'm surprised to hear you say that. I'd have thought you'd be all over this."

He gave a slight nod in response to that.

"Sure...I used to be. But..."

He looked away slightly, looking as if he was, for some reason, ashamed of what he was thinking about. Twilight gained a look of concern after seeing this, stepping forward and gently placing a hoof upon her shoulder. As he looked up to her, he saw her gentle expression. She spoke no words, but her message was nevertheless clear; whatever it is, you can tell me. Sighing, Spike began to speak, albeit in a quiet way.

"It's just...back then...I think I used to obsess over dragons because...well...I was one. I’d never met another like me before, and I'd only ever known ponies. I felt...that no matter how many friends I made...I was still an outsider."

Twilight nodded at that, a look of understanding upon her. After all, she had been there to witness his life amongst ponies first-hoof. She knew it all, from the way those in Canterlot would sometimes give him strange looks, to the fact that he only had a hoof-full of friends here and there before their move to Ponyville. There was no doubt in Twilight's mind that Spike meant every word that he'd just said. And yet, she remained silent, giving her son all the time he needed to get this off his chest. And so it was that he continued speaking, but this time, with a small smile forming on his face as he did so.

"But...you and everypony else has made me feel so welcome. It's like...it's like I don't need to know about dragons to feel good about myself. I have you. I have a family now. I'm happier than I've ever been. So what if I never meet another dragon? So what if I'm more like a pony than one of them? I don't care. I'm just...happy."

Twilight stood there, almost aghast at what Spike had just said to her. But, after looking at his face, at his eyes, she saw that there was no lie there. He had spoken from the heart, and she knew he meant it when he said he was happy. Although not entirely sure on what she thought about him outright rejecting other dragons in this manner, it would have been an utter lie to say that she wasn't pleased to see her son so content in his life, not wanting it to change or become something else. She stepped forward, dropping down to her knees and planting a gentle kiss upon his forehead. This, as one might expect, caused him to smile wider than before, and soon afterwards, he stepped forward, embracing her in a warm hug. As they stayed this way, many of the other mares noticed them, smiling at this heart-warming sight. But, rather than disturb them, they simply turned away, remaining silent, which actually required them to hold Pinkie's mouth shut quite frankly. Even so, the two remained undisturbed, and, as they stayed together, Twilight whispered to him.

"I love you Spike. Never stop being happy with who you are."

Spike held her tighter, as if never wanting to let her go.

"I won't Mom...not ever."

When the two finally parted, they each noted that the other had been forming tears in their eyes, prompting both of them to laugh nervously as they wiped theirs away. When that was all said and done, they stood up once more, re-joining the group, who were looking to each other with knowing smiles, and got back to watching the far-away migration. And through it all, Twilight smiled to herself, knowing that, unlike what the rest of his kind would want, she and her friends would make sure that her son would never be made to feel like he didn't belong.

Reservoir Dash

"A present?"

Spike bore a look of confusion as he sat in his usual chair on the Golden Oak Library, looking up at Twilight, whose expression made it clear that she was quite excited about something. She nodded in response to his remark and started to move off, all while Spike watched with curiosity, as well as eagerness to see what his carer had got for him. Upon a nearby table was a box, carefully locked and secured, but, with a simple glow of Twilight's horn, it began to open, albeit very slowly. Like a child on the morning of Hearth's Warming Eve, Spike looked on, excitement just bubbling below the surface. However, his smile gave way to yet further confusion when he finally saw what it was that Twilight was levitating out of the box. It was, without a doubt, an egg of some sort, and yet, Spike could not remember ever seeing such a thing before. It was far larger than that of a chicken, and bore a strange, almost fire-like orange and red pattern across its surface. Carefully, Twilight levitated it into Spike's claws, after which he looked upon it, all while doing his best to make sure he didn't drop it. Eventually, after much silence between the two, Spike eventually just spoke.

"Well...thanks. But...what is it?"

Giggling slightly, Twilight pointed to the egg in his hands.

"It's a phoenix egg."

Immediately, Spike's eyes snapped open wide as he looked from her to the egg.

"A phoenix?! You mean...like what Celestia has as a pet?"

Twilight nodded.

"Yep. I got in contact with her some time ago about where I might find one. Had to deal with a trio of miscreants to get it, but it was no real issue for me. I've been waiting for the right moment to give it to you, since I figured you were old enough to have a pet of your own now."

As expected after hearing that, Spike could barely contain the massive smile that now grew upon his face. Ever so slowly, the young dragon moved over to another nearby table, taking the cushion he'd been sitting on and placing it upon its surface, after which, he gently laid the egg down on it. After making doubly sure that it wasn't going to roll off, Spike turned to Twilight and rushed forward, embracing her in a hug.

"Thank you! This is the best present ever!"

A warm smile crept onto Twilight's face as she returned the embrace, taking the time to enjoy this tender moment between her and her son. She didn't know how much time had passed, and quite frankly, she didn't care. But, the hug did indeed come to an end, and as the two parted from one another, they kept on smiling. However, Twilight's smile faded as she took on a look of realisation. Turning, she glanced up at a nearby wall-clock, and her eyes widened. When she looked back to Spike, she bore a look that the young dragon had seen many times in his life; a sudden need to be somewhere else. Chuckling at this, he gave her a nod, silently letting her go, to which she smiled in return. After spinning around, she made her way to her door, rushing through it and closing it behind her, after which she began to run down the main street of Ponyville. And it was here that she began to notice a great deal of activity in the skies above her. Virtually every pegasus pony in the town were all flying in the same direction, which, incidentally, was also where she was heading. It took a while, but eventually, she managed to reach her destination; a large reservoir on the outskirts of the town. There, many of the pegasi were landing and talking amongst themselves, while Twilight scoured the crowd for somepony in particular.

Soon enough, she found her; her dear friend, Rainbow Dash. Smiling, Twilight trotted forward, calling out her name, which gained her attention immediately. The cyan pegasus smiled at her friend's approach, and Twilight spoke up as soon as she was close enough.

"You all set for today?"

Rainbow nodded at that.

"Yep. Just got to do a head count of the volunteers."

Twilight turned and looked upon the many pegasi here, some of which were looking quite nervous. And indeed they should have been, for this was no ordinary weather patrol, but the time of year when Cloudsdale itself required vast amounts of water for its future weather activities. And this year, it was Ponyville's turn to contribute. Turning her head to the sky, Twilight hoped, perhaps in vain, that she might actually get to see Cloudsdale flying overhead at some point. But, at least for the time being, the great city of the pegasi was nowhere to be seen. In spite of this, Twilight was not in the least bit down, and then turned to Rainbow with confidence in her expression.

"Think your pegasi have got it in them to do good this year?"

Rainbow turned to her and nodded.

"I'll say! Some of these guys have been practising all year for this. Gotta admire that."

Twilight nodded in agreement over that, and before long, a sly smile appeared on her face.

"You know...I'll bet you're looking forward to breaking that all-time record, right Rainbow?"

Immediately, Rainbow stopped her counting of the pegasi, turning to Twilight with a look that was half-confused and half-worried.


Hearing that response from her friend, Twilight's smile faded, and she seemed to be equally confused as her.

"What? I mean that record for pulling this off faster than anypony else, and with more wing power. You do know about that, right?"

Taken aback by what Twilight had just said to her, Rainbow paused for a moment before, to Twilight's surprise, looking away from her.

"Well...yeah, I know about it. I just...wasn't really planning to try and break it."

Needless to say, Twilight was rather shocked to hear that.

"Really? Wow...I guess...I just kinda figured that you of all ponies would try something like that. I mean...isn't that Wonderbolt leader, Spitfire, coming to oversee this thing?"

Rainbow nodded, looking decidedly more uncomfortable than she usually appeared.

"Yeah...I'll be honest, Twilight...I'm not really all that bothered about impressing her. I mean...we've got more than enough pegasi here to get the job done, so we don't need to be all flashy and record-breaky about it. Heck, I even asked a couple of my old friends from Cloudsdale to come over and help, just in case somepony here in Ponyville couldn't make it."

The young unicorn stood there, mouth hanging open in surprise at what Rainbow had just said to her. For her, having somepony like Rainbow, who for so long had been such a brash and eager-to-impress mare, to start talking in this way, and even go out and ask for somepony else's help, it was a shock to say the least. But, rather than simply try and talk her into doing anything further, she silently felt that, perhaps, it might be better to simply let Rainbow make this choice. After all, if Rainbow had openly stated that she was not going to bother impressing the Wonderbolts when they came to see her work, who was she to suggest that she do otherwise? However, after considering that, a new thought began to make itself known in Twilight's mind, as she now craned her neck and scoured the crowd of pegasi nearby. There were many familiar names there, like Thunderlane, Cloudchaser, even Derpy. And yet, there was one pegasus that was notably absent from this line-up, prompting Twilight to turn to Rainbow again.

"Rainbow? Where's Fluttershy?"

Rainbow looked to her, then turned to the Fluttershy-less crowd before her, before looking back to the former.

"You know how she is. She gets really nervous about being in crowds and performing under pressure. I did ask her if she wanted to take part, but she said she didn't want to. So...I said that was fine."

Yet again, Twilight found herself shocked at hearing this.

"But...but...isn't this important?"

Rainbow nodded.

"Yeah...but she's not really needed here. Like I said, we have all the pegasi we need here to get the job done. Fluttershy wouldn't really add all that much. Besides..."

She turned, looking somewhat angry about something.

"...I've known her a long time, Twi. She's never been a strong flier. And every time she's tried to fly as well as others, they just make fun of her for it, even if I'm there to try and stop them. I'm her friend, and have been since we were foals, and I am not going to put her through that again, especially if she's outright said she doesn't want to be a part of this."

Seeing the look of determination upon Rainbow's face, it was clear to Twilight that there was not going to be any room for negotiation on this. When Rainbow turned to look at her again, Twilight let out a sigh and slumped her shoulders again.

"Well...okay, if that's your decision."

Rainbow nodded in confirmation of that, after which she put on a small smile and placed a hoof upon Twilight's shoulder, silently thanking her for being so understanding. Twilight smiled back, but soon noted that several of the pegasi were starting to stir for some reason. She and Rainbow turned, seeing, to their surprise, that Spitfire herself had just landed nearby, no doubt ready to observe this event. Twilight turned back to Rainbow, and saw, to her shock, that she didn't appear as awe-struck at the sight of a Wonderbolt like she used to be. She watched as Rainbow stepped forward, ready to greet the great flier, at which point, the young unicorn started to step back, ready and waiting to see this transfer of water take place. As she watched the many pegasi get themselves ready, her eyes never left Rainbow, who was starting to talk to Spitfire. And all the while, her mind kept conjuring up the words her friend had just said to her, the words that so contrasted with how she was on the day Twilight first came to Ponyville. In the past, she would have done everything in her power to appear as impressive and talented as possible. Now though, being impressive seemed to be the furthest thing from her mind, and simply being professional and ensuring a job-well-done was foremost in the young pegasi's goals, which, while certainly admirable, was a far cry from how she once was. Bearing a look of slight worry, Twilight let out a sigh as she spoke, her words somewhat hushed.

"Well...that's one change I wasn't expecting."

Author's Notes:

I just want to say thank you to all the people in the comments who talked about Peewee in the last chapter. I'd completely forgotten about the little guy I'm afraid. So thanks for reminding me.

Bad Press

If there was one thing about youngsters that virtually everypony could agree on, it’s that they were possessed of boundless energy. And so it was that Spike, having prepared himself for his coming day, began to leap out of the bedroom he and Twilight shared, before making a break for the stairs. After nearly crashing into Trixie as she came out of her own room, Spike darted past and leapt down the stairs, practically sliding down the railing as he did so. Once he landed at the bottom, he raced for the front door, ready to leave the library and greet the day. However, before his claw managed to reach it, he was stopped dead in his tracks, and now found himself bathed in a distinct and familiar purple glow. Knowing exactly who was responsible for this, Spike slumped his shoulders as the magical aura both lifted him off the ground and started to turn him in the opposite direction. Once he was turned, he found that, as expected, Twilight was there, bearing quite the mischievous smirk upon her face. Rolling his eyes at that, Spike waited patiently before his adopted mother lowered him back down to the ground, which, thankfully, she did soon afterwards. Now free of her magic, Spike watched as she approached, and noticed at last that she was levitating a scroll of parchment beside her.

"Sorry to interrupt your day, Spike, but I need you to send this message to Princess Celestia."

Instinctively, the young dragon held out his clawed hands and watched as the scroll was lowered into it. He stared at the thing carefully, knowing that it looked even more official than Twilight's other letters, even being used with the good ribbons today. Looking up at her, Spike raised an eyebrow.

"What is it?"

Twilight thought long and hard over that before, eventually, simply breaking out into a small smile.

"Just a little something I think she'd be interested to know."

Spike kept his eyebrow as high as it would go after hearing that, not really feeling comfortable whenever Twilight acted in her, as some of their friends had put it, "cloak and dagger" manner. Nevertheless, he sighed and relented, taking in a deep breath before blowing on the parchment. As had occurred a thousand times before, a sparkling green flame erupted from his mouth and enveloped it, immediately transporting it by way of magic to wherever Princess Celestia was at this moment. With that done, Spike gestured to the door behind him with a slightly annoyed look, prompting Twilight to give him a silent nod, thus allowing him to leave at last. Smiling widely at that, Spike spun around and immediately darted outside, closing the door behind him as he did so. Now outside at long last, he ran down the main street of Ponyville, waving in greeting to anypony who said "good morning" to him on the way. Eventually, he caught sight of his destination; Ponyville Elementary, the town's only school. Smiling at this, he changed course and headed straight for the schoolhouse. Once he’d finally reached the place, he started glancing around, seeing a few colts and fillies here and there, but nopony he wanted. Then, finally, he managed to spot his quarry, and began running off yet again.

The targets in question were none other than the Cutie Mark Crusaders; Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Spike's special somepony, Sweetie Belle. All three of them were sitting beside one of the wooden tables scattered around the school grounds, all looking as bored as Spike had ever seen them. When he got close enough, the young fillies finally noticed him, with Sweetie, naturally, being the most pleased to see him. She rushed forward and embraced him in a hug, which, quite frankly, was more of a tackle, which almost sent the young drake to the ground. As one might expect, this affectionate display earned them both a fit of giggles from Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, who always took amusement from their little get-togethers. Although appreciating the embrace of the filly, Spike then parted from her, looking to the others and placing his hands upon his hips.

"So...what's up for today?"

Hearing that question, Sweetie slumped her shoulders a little and let out a grunt of annoyance.

"Ugh! Not much! Me and the girls got this new assignment from our school newspaper. We've got to get really juicy stories. Otherwise...nopony's going to want to read it!"

Looking to his fillyfriend, Spike tilted his head somewhat.

"You know...most ponies don't really take school newspapers that seriously."

Sweetie turned to him, frowning slightly.

"I know that! But that's no excuse for us not to try!"

Spike nodded slightly, finding little means, or even cause, to argue with a point like that.

"Alright then...so...these stories...just how juicy are we talking?"

Scootaloo shrugged her shoulders.

"Ya got us! It seems like there's just nothing going on in Ponyville that would make an interesting newspaper article."

Spike gave a brief and hearty chuckle at that.

"Nothing? Just wait. Something good usually happens every week around here. Though...I do admit that usually only last about twenty minutes or so. Maybe forty on special occasions."

The fillies all looked at him, showing equal confusion about how he seemed to be talking in a Pinkie-style out-there manner. Realising this himself, Spike soon shook himself from that state, turning to the fillies as a whole.

"Look...the point is, there's gotta be something going on you can report on."

Hearing that, Apple Bloom started to look somewhat nervous.

"Well...our new editor did say we should get...ya know...real personal stories an such. Ya know, the kind they'd keep behind closed doors an stuff?"

Spike looked to the filly with another raised eyebrow.

"Really? That doesn't sound like something an editor should encourage. Who is it?"

Sweetie turned to him and grimaced slightly before giving him his answer.

"Diamond Tiara."

Upon hearing that name, Spike immediately felt a shiver of intense dislike travel up his spine, to which the Crusaders looked to him with clear understanding. After recovering from that shiver, he looked to each of them in turn, expressing a massive amount of confusion.

"Diamond? She's the one you're taking orders from? Why, in the name of all things holy, would you want to do what she says?!"

Scootaloo shrugged her shoulders again.

"Well...she's the editor. And we want to work for the newspaper, so...that pretty much means she's the boss of us for now."

With those words, the group all shared yet another unpleasant sensation running through them, this time simultaneously, given the unfortunate circumstances they'd found themselves in. Shaking his head slightly, Spike turned to Sweetie.

"How did that arrogant, self-important, vain, narcissistic, shallow, kick-a-pony-when-they're-down, entitled, spoiled..."

His expression then became one of confusion.

"Um...where was I going with this?"

Sweetie smirked slightly as she gave him a gentle nudge on the side of his arm.

"I think you were going to ask how she got in charge."

Spike immediately snapped his fingers after hearing that, during which he gave an appreciative smile to his sweetheart, and afterwards got right back on track.

"Right! So...how did she get in charge?"

Sighing slightly, Sweetie gave his answer.

"Miss Cheerilee put her in control. She said it was her turn, and then...she just left her there."

Spike turned to her, clearly surprised at that.

"So...Cheerilee just put her in charge...and then didn't stick around to see what she was doing?"

Collectively, the fillies all shook their heads, which prompted Spike to start scratching his chin as he thought over this whole matter.

"So...you have to work for somepony you don't like, doing something you don't like, with that something being probably very intrusive and not what you agree with, with you not really likely to get anything out of it except doubt as to whether or not you’ve done the right thing...and the teacher isn't here to make sure this isn't getting out of hoof?"

Although they paused for a moment, the girls all looked to each other, as if daring the other to be the first to answer back to that. In the end, they all simply nodded to him at once, giving him his answer. After raising a clawed hand and scratching the top of his head, Spike spoke up again.

"Well...couldn't you just tell Cheerilee what’s going on? Just tell her you're not okay with this?"

The girls, yet again, looked to each other, as if they'd just been told that the sky was blue and were only now realising it. After a long and very awkward silence, they looked back to Spike, with Apple Bloom speaking up.

"Why didn't we think of that?"

Scootaloo then stood up afterwards, looking more than a little angry.

"Yeah! Why are we putting up with Diamond after everything she's done to us? We should have quit the moment we found out who was editor!"

There was a general chorus of approval amongst all of them, and Apple Bloom and Scootaloo then started trotting off, perhaps to either tell Diamond that they were quitting being her lackeys, or perhaps to inform Cheerilee of everything the former had been doing behind her back. However, Sweetie Belle stayed behind, looking to Spike and giving him a massive smile of appreciation. The young drake watched as his fillyfriend leaned forward and gave a tender kiss upon his cheek, which, as usual, caused him to go as red as a tomato. Turning around, Sweetie started running off, no doubt to re-join her friends, leaving Spike looking rather pleased with himself, as he then placed his hands upon his hips.

"Eyup, solving problems every day. I wonder if this is what Mom feels like when she helps ponies?"

A Call to Cake...and to Action

To make something truly special, something that you have put your heart and soul into, something you know that everypony is going to be pleased to see, is something to be proud of. And so it was that Ponyville's local bakers, Mr and Mrs Cakes, created just such a thing; a cake, naturally, bigger than any other they had made in their respective careers, and that was saying something. It stood taller than anypony could reach, and was made from layer upon layer of carefully crafted and cooked round segments, doused in expertly-arranged decorations and frosting. It was, needless to say, a treat for the eyes, and, with any luck, one for the stomach soon enough. The happily-married couple looked to each other with pride as they saw their creation, with their nearby children, Pound and Pumpkin, giggling in a cheery manner at seeing the delicious and massive confectionary. But, by far the most excited about this was their employee, and tenant, Pinkie Pie. The energetic mare kept on darting around the thing, practically salivating at the mouth as she looked upon it. But, as tempting as it might have been, she did not partake, nor would anypony else until it reached its destination; the national cake championship, all the way in Canterlot. And that long journey, as one might expect, gave way to a rather interesting dilemma; how to get the cake to the train station.

It was quite the task, to say the last, and one which required a bit of muscle to get going. And so it was that Applejack's older brother, Big Macintosh, was brought on to help carry the colossal cake, resting carefully upon his back. Mac was, as all in Ponyville knew, perhaps the strongest stallion around, and yet, even he seemed to struggle with carrying this thing around, as evidenced by the massive strained expression upon his face, as well as the many beads of sweat that now rolled down his brow. Taking careful step after careful step, he began to make his way out of Sugar Cube Corner and down the main street of Ponyville, heading straight for the town's station. Pinkie, as well as Mr and Mrs Cakes, were escorting him, their eyes never straying from the cake as he walked. With every step he made, and thus every wobble that step caused in the cake, they winced, pre-emptively expecting the whole thing to come crashing down. So, they walked alongside him, each with one hoof outstretched to steady the cake as they made the slow journey. Pinkie, seeing that Mac's help alone would not be enough, scoured the town around her for somepony, with her face breaking out into a massive smile as she caught sight of Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, who were talking to each other and enjoying some tea at a nearby cafe.

Seeing the plight their friend was in, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash immediately leapt into action, flapping their wings and flying upwards, towards the top of the cake. And there they stayed, keeping an eye on the uppermost layers of the thing, making sure to steady it as Mac continued to walk forward. Eventually, even Applejack was drafted into this, both to lend Mac a hoof and carrying the thing upon her back, sharing the weight with her brother, with the stallion giving his sister a truly appreciative smile over it. And so, with all these ponies working together, it looked as if the cake would actually manage to reach its destination. And soon, it came into view, with many of the other ponies in the street politely stepping aside as this group-cake-carrying-effort passed by. The strain upon Mac and Applejack's face was growing more with every passing moment, but that expression soon gave way to hope as they looked upon an already-waiting train on the station's platform. The whole group broke into big smiles as they saw it, especially when the nearest door sprang open, as if to greet them after this long journey. However, just when Mac was about to take his first step into the train, they were all halted when a familiar voice began to call out to them. Turning, they saw that it was Twilight, galloping towards them as fast as her legs could carry her.

Seeing this, they stopped, much to Mac and Applejack's chagrin, and watched as Twilight ground to a halt before them, catching her breath as best she could before finally starting to explain herself.

"I just got word. The cake contest has been cancelled!"

As one might expect, this caused all of them to look at her with shock, none more so than Pinkie Pie, who now rushed forward and grabbed her by the face.

"WHAT?! Cancelled?! Why?! Why would they do something so mean and horrible like that?!"

As soon as Pinkie let go of her face, Twilight's expression became one of utter seriousness, with her words reflecting that.

"Because...Canterlot has just been attacked."

With the utterance of those words, it was as if all of time had stopped. Everypony within earshot, the Cakes, Rainbow, Mac, Fluttershy, Applejack and even Pinkie all looked to her with shocked expressions. Not only that, but many of the passers-by on the platform, who had managed to hear those words, also stood aghast at this revelation. So silent was this place that you could probably have heard a pin drop, it was that silent. Twilight’s friends all looked to her, seeing the look in her eyes, and they saw that this was no joke. She'd meant every word of it. Rainbow opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when she saw that there were a couple of new arrivals suddenly charging out onto the platform to join them; Rarity and Spike. From the looks on their faces, it was clear that Twilight had already told both of them the bad news. Applejack, after finally shaking herself out of her trance-like state of shock, immediately moved out from under the cake to meet with Twilight, which was a particularly bad thing for Mac, as all of the weight of that cake was now upon his shoulders alone once more, with even more strain in his face than before. However, ignoring her brother's plight, the farm mare simply looked to Twilight, her expression one of disbelief, and spoke in a hushed manner.

"Wha...what do ya mean Canterlot was attacked?!"

Twilight's expression became one of sadness as she looked to the ground.

"It's true. I received a letter from Princess Celestia. She's called for me to go there immediately."

Twilight's friends, and everypony else, all looked to each other with worry and concern. Rainbow, frowning at all this, finally landed herself on the ground and stepped forward, placing a hoof upon her shoulder.

"If you’re going, then we're coming with you!"

There was a general call of approval amongst the other mares at hearing that. However, Twilight simply frowned at that, shaking her head.

"No...I need you to stay here."

The mares all stood there, quite taken aback at hearing that. But Twilight, with a look of determination upon her face, continued speaking.

"Look...I...I don't know what's going to happen by the time I arrive in Canterlot. I don't know how dangerous it's going to be. If there's even a chance that you could..."

Her voice was wobbling, and the earlier resolve she had was beginning to falter. In her face, her friends saw a look they had rarely, if ever, seen in her; doubt. It was clear at this point that, no matter what Twilight was professing, she was worried about what she would find over at Canterlot. She opened her mouth to continue, but, this time, she was stopped, when Rainbow raised a hoof and placed it over her mouth. Needless to say, Twilight was rather shocked by this, but even more so when she saw the equally determined look upon Rainbow's face.

"Twilight...I know that going off and being the hero is what you do. Heck, it's what you've always done, ever since you arrived in Ponyville! You told us to stay behind once before. You took the burden of protecting ponies all by yourself on that day. But...we're your friends...and we're here to help you. Just...please...for once...let us. That's what friends do."

As Rainbow dropped her hoof, Twilight looked to each of them, seeing the sentiment now shared amongst them. The camaraderie, the united agreement to come with her. Deep down, she knew that nothing she said was going to dissuade them from coming with her. Silence fell upon her when she realised that, and she looked to the ground. When she finally looked up, her friends looked on with surprise that there were actually tears in her eyes, the result of just how overwhelmed she was with this display of loyalty that her friends were showing. Without warning, she leapt forward, embracing Rainbow in a hug. Although taken aback by this, the cyan pegasus then chuckled nervously as she returned the embrace, which, naturally, led to all of them getting together in a group hug. When they eventually parted from one another, Twilight wiped a tear from her eye before looking to the train beside her. It was still open and waiting for them, and she turned to her friends and gave a single smile and a nod, which was promptly returned by all of them. And so, steeling herself, Twilight soon got on board the train, with her friends not far behind her. All that, is, except Spike, whom Twilight halted with that same motherly look of concern she always wore around him. Although somewhat annoyed by this, the young dragon eventually relented, sighing and giving her a nod.

And so it was that Twilight and the others boarded the train, with the massive locomotive soon departing the station. As it moved, with a huge billow of steam emerging form its top, Twilight's eyes never left her adopted son, who watched with worry as she got further and further away from him. Eventually, the train had travelled so far away that nopony could see them, leading to an eerie silence on the platform. However, that silence was interrupted with the sound of a laboured grunt, causing all of the remaining ponies to turn towards it. Sure enough, there was Mac, still struggling to cold that gigantic cake on his back all by himself. Looking guilty about having forgotten about him, the Cakes both looked to each other before Mrs Cakes spoke to him sweetly.

"Um...dear? I think you can drop that now."

The Fallen Queen

The train journey was, as one might expect under the circumstances, a silent one. Though nopony could deny the need to speak up and perhaps comfort their friends over what they may or may not see at the end of this, nopony said a word. Instead, they simply sat beside one another in their carriage, staring out of the window. They watched without comment as towns, villages, trees, fields and hills passed them by, never even uttering a whisper. It was the nerves, that much was certain, that silent fear that they were about to enter what could be a dangerous situation. Every once in a while, Twilight would turn, seeing her friends give each other looks of concern, and she would let out a sigh at it. But, at that moment, she looked up to see the one sitting beside her; Pinkie Pie. The energetic earth pony was smiling to her, albeit in a far smaller way than she normally would, and placed a hoof upon her shoulder. Twilight smiled back at this, silently appreciating her attempt to cheer her up. Even so, this pleasant moment between the two was short lived, as Rainbow Dash then leapt out of her seat and moved to the nearby window, prompting the others to join her soon afterwards. Sure enough, they looked out to see that the landscape had given way to vast mountains, and that, as everypony knew, meant one thing; Canterlot was nearby.

Taking a deep breath, Twilight craned her neck, trying to see far enough to perhaps catch an early sight of her hometown. Within moments, she got her wish, as the magnificent spires and bejewelled palaces of Equestria's capital came into view soon afterwards. However, as soon as it did, Twilight looked on with both surprise and recognition. For there, covering the entirety of the city, was a massive pink bubble, clearly forged of powerful magic; a barrier spell. Exhaling at last, Twilight gave a small smile, knowing full well what having that spell up and running still meant, and who it meant was still in action. She turned away, with the others keeping an eye on her as she returned to her seat. They looked to each other, as if daring them to be the first to speak. But, almost as soon as they'd all silently agreed on Applejack to take that role, they found that the farm mare didn't get the chance to say anything. For it was now that the train began to pass through the protective shield, taking all of the other mares by surprise, with many of them shivering slightly from the experience. Knowing they were now in, Twilight got off her seat again and began moving towards the compartment door, ready to disembark. Her friends soon joined her, each mentally preparing themselves in their own way. Fluttershy was more nervous than any other, but, a comforting nudge form Rainbow seemed to put her at ease, at least for the time being.

Unfortunately, for all of them, that nervousness was about to get much worse, for no sooner had they taken one step from the train when they finally noticed their surroundings. The royal guard, in their dozens, were lining the station, posted at every entrance, every door, every place where somepony could get either in or out, all the while bearing that grim and stoic look they were famous for. As one might expect, the mares all looked to each other in worried manners. But Twilight kept her previous serious expression, walking forward and practically ignoring the guards around her. As her friends followed, all six of them discovered, to their surprise, that the two guards poised outside the gates to Canterlot proper now began to move, standing on either side of Twilight. They said nothing, but their purpose was clear; they were an escort. Sighing, Twilight carried on, with her friends not far behind her. And so it was that they left the station, and thus looked upon the grandeur of Canterlot, and it was here that all of them stood aghast at what they were now seeing. On the entire journey, they had all conjured up similar mental images of what this city would look like after an attack. Broken buildings, scattered and screaming ponies, and just a general sense of danger. And yet, when they looked to it now, there was none of that. No damage, no fearful ponies, nothing.

It was almost as if the place hadn't even been touched. Twilight looked at this sight with both surprise and confusion, especially when she looked around to see how the ponies about on the streets seemed to be acting as though everything was fine. She turned to her friends, giving them a quick glance before looking forward again. And so it was that she continued her march forward, with her two guards sticking close to her. All of them moved through the city, passing street after street, until, at long last, they reached the road that they knew from experience led to the royal palace itself. And it was here, at long last, that they finally caught sight of something strange. For, as they turned to their left, they noticed two long lines of royal guards, all from the unicorn platoons, standing all the way on either side of a nearby street, holding their traditional spears. But, it was what was occurring within the two lines that most took them aback. There was a steady line of creatures that five of those six mares had never laid eyes upon, and yet Twilight knew all too well, as evidenced by the frown she bore. The same size of ponies, they bore a black carapace, and seemed more like insects, complete with blue and expressionless eyes. Changelings. However, as the mares looked down, they noticed that each one of them had chains around their hooves as they walked along the street.

"I say! What are those...those...ghastly things?!" Rarity exclaimed.

Twilight turned to her friend and answered.

"They're Changelings. Creatures that can mimic the appearance of others...and feed on their love."

As expected, the whole group turned to her, looking terrified at that prospect, with Applejack being the next to speak.

"Changelins? Ya mean...like those old mare's tales? Ah...ah though they weren't real?"

Twilight turned to the chained drones once more, narrowing her eyes as she did so.

"They look real enough to me."


The second voice caught all of them off-guard, and they snapped their heads in the direction of the great palace before them. Sure enough, there he was, Shining Armour, captain of the royal guard, and Twilight’s older brother. Smiling widely, Twilight ran forward, with her two guards merely staying put and saluting in the presence of their commanding officer. The two siblings embraced, smiling warmly as they did so, before eventually parting.

"It's so good to see you again. Did you have any trouble on the way here?"

Twilight shook her head.

"No. No problems. But...I guess I was kinda expecting things to be worse here. I mean...Celestia said in her letter that there was an attack?"

The smile from Shining's face disappeared as he gave a single, grim nod, turning to the line of changelings far away.

"There was. The princess got an anonymous tip that a swarm of those things was preparing to attack the city. So, we made all the necessary preparations, including my shield up there. We expected them to take their time and wait for a moment of vulnerability to attack. But..."

Turning back to his sister, Shining gained a look of concern.

"...instead...they simply struck at us. They just charged, crashing against the shield, utterly desperate to get in. As you might expect, with a barrier that strong, they didn’t get far, and our pegasi platoons took them by surprise during their attempt to get in. It was a hard fight, but we won, and now...they're our prisoners."

Twilight, after hearing her brother's story, looked back to the chained changelings, frowning as she did so.

"But...why would they act in such a rash manner?"

She looked back to Shining, who was bearing a grim look, especially when he turned form her and looked to the palace behind him.

"Because...we have their leader."

With that explanation, all of Twilight's friends looked to each other, looking equally fearful at the manner in which Shining had spoken those words. As for Twilight, she shared her brother's determination about all this, walking forward and standing beside him as she too looked upon the grand castle. The two siblings turned to each other, giving a silent nod, before looking forward once more and starting to walk towards the enormous building, with both the guards and Twilight's friends close behind. They made their way up the steps to the large ornate wooden door to the palace, and it was here that the guards finally left their company, instead taking their respective places on either side of that gateway. Using their magic, they began to open it for the other seven ponies, and as they entered, they now looked upon the elaborate and regal entrance hall of the palace, which, as usual, earned a stifled squeal from Rarity. However, the mood then turned more serious as they saw, right at the end of the hall, were the three alicorn princesses of Equestria; Celestia, Luna and Cadence. Seeing her long-time mentor, Twilight rushed forward, meeting with her and embracing her, which the elder mare gladly returned. As they stayed together, the other ponies soon joined the group, which was the point when the two finally parted.

"Princess! I got your letter! Are you and everypony else alright?"

Celestia smiled warmly at her student's concern before giving a nod.

"I'm fine, Twilight. And so is everypony else."

Twilight nodded at that, and shortly afterwards, she turned to Cadence. The two future sister-in-laws stepped closer, embracing each other as Twilight just did with Celestia. Under normal circumstances, they might have partaken of their childhood pastime of dancing and singing in greeting. But, both of them knew that this day was far too sobering for that. Instead, once Twilight parted form her, she looked back to Celestia.

"So...I hear we have a prisoner?"

This time, it was not Celestia that answered, but Cadence.

"Yes. It was quite shocking. I was in my chambers, going over a few dress ideas I wanted to see for the upcoming wedding, when one of my hoof-maidens entered. She said she wanted to help me, but..."

A look of disbelief crossed the young alicorn's face as she conjured forth the memories of that day.

"...something happened. That amulet you gave me? Your gift? It began to glow and, for some reason, my hoof-maiden suddenly started writing in agony on the ground. I tried to help her, but, then, she became covered in green fire. When it died down, she was...she was..."

She didn’t finish her words, but then, Twilight didn’t need to hear the rest. For she knew full well what would have occurred. Instead, she look on as Celestia spoke up again.

"With the impostor paralyzed, the guards soon rushed in and apprehended her. And that's when the changelings tried attacking the city."

Twilight nodded, now secure in her mental image of what transpired in this city. However, as she kept her eyes on her teacher, her words were serious and to-the-point.

"Can...can I see her?"

Celestia's smile faded, and she gave a grim nod in response to her protégé’s question. The group all watched as Equestria's diarch began to make her way off, leading to the rest of them following her shortly afterwards. She led them, in utter silence, through hall after hall, and, in time, the grandeur of this place began to give way to more practical-looking rooms, and as they did, the number of guards grew with every passing step. Needless to say, this created a very uncomfortable atmosphere for all concerned. Eventually, the princess of the sun reached an old and foreboding door, and stood beside it, looking right at Twilight. Raising a hoof, the elder alicorn pointed it to Twilight's friends, as well as both Shining and the other princesses. She said nothing, but her intent was clear; she was going to take Twilight alone into this place. Rainbow Dash, who was more than likely concerned with Twilight's well-being, stepped forward, perhaps to protest this. But, Twilight stopped her, giving a look that showed she was both appreciative of her concern for her, but also showing that it might be best to do what Celestia says, at least for the time being. Being the kind of mare that Rainbow was, she didn’t seem to like this one bit, but nevertheless relented as she slumped her shoulders. Twilight gave one final look to each of her friends and family, before looking back to Celestia.

Nodding, Twilight's teacher used her magic to open the door beside her, after which, Twilight entered. She had never been here before, and yet, she nevertheless knew where she was; the dungeons of Canterlot. In her time, she had, thankfully, never known of anypony actually being put down here, as only the worst of the worst were considered worth locking up in a place like this. It was dark, and cold, and utterly devoid of any trait a pony would want to find themselves in. And yet, as Celestia joined her and closed the door behind them, Twilight knew that she had to be here. Steeling herself, Twilight took a step forward, starting to make her way down the long stairs, taking her and her mentor deeper and deeper beneath the city. As expected of a place like this, there were many guards, each of whom salute their princess as she passed. But Twilight wasn't paying attention to them at this point. Instead, her eyes were placed squarely at what now emerged from the gloom ahead of her. A door, older than any other she had passed thus far, clad in iron bars and guarded by two of the biggest and strongest-looking royal guards she had ever seen. This was the place of a terrible prisoner, that much was certain. And so it was that Twilight found herself growing more and more nervous the closer she got to it, until, at long last, she stopped just a few feet away.

There was silence here, as indeed there had been on this entire journey, as Twilight simply stared at the door for a long time. She counted the moments, feeling the fear inside her already, knowing full-well who was on the other side. It was almost too much to bear, but then, to her surprise, she found a pristine white hoof upon her shoulder. Turning, Twilight looked up to see Celestia, giving her an encouraging smile, no doubt trying to alleviate her concerns. It was a gesture that sent Twilight's mind back, to the days when she first became Celestia's pupil. Back then, no matter how hard a task she was given, that smile would always give her the encouragement she needed. So, turning back to the door, Twilight raised a hoof and pushed it open, during which it let out a loud creak, a clear sign of its age. As it opened, light began to pour into the darkened cell within, revealing several iron bars that stretched from one side of the room to the other. As Twilight entered, and looked upon those bars, she finally caught sight of the one beyond. Like any other changeling, she bore a black carapace, and insect-like wings. But, she was taller, about the same height as an alicorn, and had a flowing sickly-green mane. But it was her eyes that Twilight could not look away from. Those piercing, almost predatory eyes.

Queen Chrysalis, the leader of the changelings.

However, this formidable foe was clearly in no position to be any kind of threat to anypony. All around her, there were chains binding her to the stone walls and floor around her, around her hooves, her midriff, and any joint her captors could find. Her near-see-through wings were bound to her body by yet further chains, wrapped around her several times over. But it was her horn that drew Twilight's attention most of all at this point. It was clear that, during her brief time in paralysis, Chrysalis had been fitted with several magical inhibitor rings, each of which now snugly held onto her hoof, no doubt making it impossible for her to cast any kind of magic. With any luck, that would also hinder her ability to change her appearance. Given all these precautions, the many guards posted from here to the outside, plus the fact that, in this timeline, she had not been able to draw on any love energy from Shining, it was clear to all that Chrysalis wasn't going anywhere. And so it was that Twilight stepped closer, Celestia making sure to stick close to her, until she reached just a few short feet away from the bars. There was silence as the young unicorn gazed into the eyes of the changeling Queen, so utterly without pity or remorse. For a while, it looked as if this silence would prevail for a long time. But, inevitably, it did not.

"Well well...so my captors finally decide to pay me a visit."

Twilight had to resist the urge to wince at hearing that voice, so cold and calculating. She remembered it well, though would never seek to hear it again. But, she stood her ground, frowning slightly, but never letting anger seep into her voice as she spoke.

"You attempted to invade our capital."

The Queen chuckled slightly at that.

"How very perceptive, young one. What tipped you off? My infiltration, or the thousands of soldiers I had stationed outside your city’s borders?"

Twilight narrowed her eyes slightly.

"I only said that in the hopes that you would understand just how serious a crime you've committed. Many would have been hurt if you'd succeeded. I trust...you know that this is not something we'll take lightly."

The changeling looked away, still smirking in that way that always got under Twilight's nerves. She would have spoken further, except that she was not given the chance, as Celestia herself now took her place beside her student.

“What you and your people did today was an act of war. A war which, I’m sure you'll notice...you lost. Rather quickly too, I might add."

Only now did Chrysalis look back, an expression of anger in her eyes. But, she kept quiet, waiting as Celestia carried on.

"We have thousands of your people in chains, Chrysalis. From what we can gather, that's your entire race we have in captivity now. Do you have nothing to say on their behalf? No pleas of mercy or call for leniency?"

The changeling Queen glared angrily at her before speaking.

"You condemn us? All we wanted was to feed. That is hardly a crime, Celestia."

"But you've done terrible things to do it...haven't you?"

Twilight's voice was a surprise to both of them, as Chrysalis now turned her full attention to the young unicorn before her, who spoke softly, yet bore and edge to her voice.

"There have been many times in Equestria's history when stories of face-changers come, only to leave ruin in their wake. Great kingdoms brought down, mighty leaders vanquished. Your people were born from darkness...that, even the great Starswirl the Bearded knew it when he first encountered the place of your birth. Your people come, and like locusts, they take what they need...leaving only death and destruction behind them."

Chrysalis raised an eyebrow at that.

"You know much, young one. It is rare to find a pony with such understanding of our kind."

Twilight's eyes narrowed.

"Look deep in enough in Equestria's history books and you'll be sure to find your name...followed by a list of the dead."

Chrysalis let out a dry laugh at that.

"Guilty, as charged."

Twilight stepped forward in an aggressive manner, ready to talk down the changeling for her nonchalant approach to such dire histories. And yet, she was stopped, as Celestia barred her path with her hoof, looking down on her in that same concerned look she always wore.

"You need not worry yourself over this, Twilight. People like her are not worth your time."

The young unicorn let out a sigh at that, but, it was here that Chrysalis spoke up again, her expression having changed to one of curiosity.

"Twilight? As in...Twilight Sparkle?"

Both Twilight and Celestia looked to her, each surprised that she would know of Twilight's name like that. There was, for a time, some hesitancy on Twilight's part, but, after a few moments, she eventually gave the prisoner her answer, giving a single nod in response. As the Queen took in that information, her expression became one of thoughtfulness, and then, to anger.

"So...I see it is to be death for me, then."

Immediately, Twilight bore a look of both shock and confusion, as she darted her head back and forth between Celestia and Chrysalis.

"What...what do you mean, death?"

Chrysalis narrowed her eyes.

"Those of the...darker forces of this world are not without ears. Rumours began to spread of a young unicorn, great in her power, who has been a thorn in the sides of many for some time now. Righting wrongs wherever she finds them. A unicorn powerful enough to best even a dragon in single combat."

Twilight looked away, knowing full well where Chrysalis was going with this. And so it was that the captured Queen carried on.

"There are even tales...of her journey into the forbidden realm of Tartarus...and coming out alive. What she did there, we do not know...only that, according to what we've heard...even the spirits themselves whisper her name...Twilight Sparkle."

The young unicorn looked to the prisoner, who was still staring at her intently. Yet again, she remained silent as Chrysalis continued.

"If you are indeed the one we have heard of...then it seems my fate is certain."

Celestia stepped forward, narrowing her eyes as she did so.

"We are not killers, Chrysalis. You and your people will not lose their lives at our hooves."

The changeling snorted at that.

"You'll forgive me if I do not believe you."

She turned from the sun princess, looking instead at Twilight once more.

"Tell me, O great Twilight Sparkle...what is it to be? Hanging? Beheading? Perhaps burning at the stake?"

Twilight had to resist the urge to wince at those suggestions, lest the Queen see weakness in her. Instead, she cleared her throat, attempting to look as calm and collected as possible.

"You will not experience any of those things, Chrysalis. You and your people have done terrible things to mine, all throughout history. You have lied, ravaged, destroyed...and yet...there is one thing, and one thing only...that that shows you are not complete monsters."

Needless to say, Chrysalis looked rather intrigued by that statement, looking to the young unicorn with a raised eyebrow. She remained silent as she watched her continue.

"You care for your people. Everything you do, you do to feed them. You even put yourself at risk by coming alone to Canterlot to infiltrate, just so you could get them the love they need. That kind of care for one's people is not the trait a monster would have. And it is for that reason that you will be shown a measure of leniency by us ponies."

Chrysalis kept quiet, watching as Twilight took on a more steely look.

"And yet...you have wronged our people, many times. Your need to feed on love means you can never truly live amongst us. Were we to let you go, there is no doubt in my mind that you would attempt such an invasion again...and again...and again...until you got what you wanted."

Only now did the changeling Queen speak up, though not without snorting before she did so.

"For the first time...one of you ponies says something I can agree with. So then...what is our fate to be?"

Twilight looked unsure how to answer that, with Chrysalis' predatory eyes boring into her, making her concerned as to what to truly do in all this. Instead, she looked up to her mentor, who had been quietly watching the back-and-forth between the two this whole time. Now seeing her student's eyes upon her, she took a step forward, looking straight at Chrysalis and speaking in that stern and regal tone that always carried such authority.

"There are places in Equestria, out in the more desolate lands of our realm, where, in ancient times, prisoners of war would be housed. Those places can still be used, and WILL be, for you and your people. There you will remain, under guard by hundreds, if not thousands of our soldiers. It will be impossible for you to break out of such places, given the enchantments that were placed upon them all those centuries ago. We will not kill you, Chrysalis...but neither can we ever allow you your freedom."

The changeling Queen glanced angrily at the princess.

"So...instead of commending us to a quick death...you will give us a slow one. Remember, Celestia, my people feed on love. If we have none...we will perish."

Celestia shook her head at that.

"We have considered that, and we have a solution to it. A spell, originally created to aid those who were gravely injured in battle, so they could remain asleep while others worked to heal them. Such a spell can be used on you and yours...to keep you in a state of sleep. It will be like the hibernation of a dragon. From what we have learned of your kind, you will not need to feed as long as you are under that enchantment."

Chrysalis considered that for a while, looking from Celestia to Twilight and then back again, before putting on a small smirk.

"So...we are to be imprisoned forever? Locked away, never to see the sun again? Asleep...never to wake? I see I gave you ponies too much credit. Such mercy will be the death of you one day, Princess. No prison has ever held us, not once. One day we will be free again, and on that day...you will wish you'd killed us."

The mocking way in which she'd spoken those words got under Celestia's skin in a big way. However, it was not she who gave an answer to that, but rather Twilight, who now looked right into Chrysalis' eyes before speaking in a hushed manner.

"Perhaps...but that day is not today."

The Queen narrowed her eyes at that, with no laugher nor smirk following the young unicorn's words. Instead, she simply sat there, watching in silence as both Twilight and Celestia slowly turned around, and thus, began to walk away. It was a slow walk, but they soon made it outside the cell once more, and Twilight stopped to give their captured enemy another glance. Chrysalis was still there, her eyes never leaving Twilight, and as the door began to finally close behind her, the light fading from inside the cell, the last thing Twilight saw within it were those same fearsome eyes, glaring at her, as if to make a silent promise that this would not be the last time she saw them. But, the door soon closed afterwards, and now, it was merely Twilight and Celestia alone together, aside from the two guards outside of the cell's door. The stress of that meeting, and the knowledge that the one she hated so much was just a few short feet from her, finally started to get To Twilight, and she let out a deep sigh, as well as showing that she was wobbling in the knees slightly. Seeing this, Celestia put on that same motherly smile from before, stepping towards her student and placing a reassuring hoof upon her shoulder. No words passed between them, merely small smiles.

And so it was that Twilight and Celestia began to make their way back up the stone stairs, and within a few minutes, they were out of the dungeon, where all of their friends were waiting for them. The mares and Shining looked to Twilight, seeing the stress of this situation plastered all over her face, and looked on with concern. Twilight’s brother stepped forward, holding his sister close in an embrace, which the young unicorn eagerly returned. When they finally parted, he looked to her and spoke softly.

"Are you okay, Twily?"

It took a while, but Twilight eventually smiled back at her brother and nodded.

"Everypony's okay, brother. And that...is all that matters."

Before the Wedding

She looked out from the balcony, gazing upon the calm streets below. There were many ponies down there, mares and stallions all simply going about their day, chatting with each other and, on occasion, looking quite excited. Twilight smiled to herself as she regarded them, knowing full well what it was that they were so looking forward to. After all, it was, at the end of the day, what she herself now had to be a part of; her brother's wedding. At this present moment, however, she was not near the palace, where the ceremony was to take place, but rather, in a location she had not been to in a long time; her old home, in the old Canterlot library. She looked around, her mind awash with nostalgic feelings for this place, the many days she would spend studying here. This was, during her time as Celestia's student, her home, after she'd moved away from her family's house. It was the place she lived in when Spike was first given to her to serve as her assistant. And it was here that she left on that day she first arrived in Ponyville. A smile crept onto her face as she allowed this place to take up her thoughts. Although, those memoires were somewhat soured by the fact that nopony seemed to have used this place since she'd left, as evidenced by the layers of dust around. Needless to say, an avid book-lover like Twilight was rather peeved at such disregard for literature as this.

However, that train of thought was interrupted by the arrival of a new voice.

"I had a feeling I'd find you here."

A warm smile returned to her face as she heard that voice, knowing well who it belonged to. Turning from the many book-cases of this place, she looked on as her brother, Shining Armour, entered in through the chamber door, smiling to her as he did so. As the two of them drew closer, Twilight regarded his appearance. As befitting of one about to be married, he was clad in an ornate outfit, in this case, the traditional dress uniform of the royal guard, a bright and blazing red, with his chest adorned with the many medals he'd earned during the course of his career. Upon his shoulders were a pair of golden epaulettes, and all throughout the outfit, there were tiny touches here and there that did not seem to be standard on a uniform such as this. Twilight smiled slightly, having made a pretty good guess who could have made such changes to his uniform, but nevertheless stayed silent as she finally neared him, embracing him slightly before finally speaking up.

"Looking good, BBBFF."

Shining chuckled slightly before answering.

"Thanks. Your friend, Rarity, certainly made this old thing more comfortable to wear."

Twilight smirked slightly while her face was obscured from her brother, silently applauding herself on a correct guess. But, she kept quiet as her brother finally parted from her, after which he raised a hoof and gestured to her.

"Though, I have to say, you're looking pretty good yourself, Twily."

Twilight smiled as she looked down to her own attire; a pink and blue dress, again made by Rarity, complete with a small flower wreath worn atop her head. As she adjusted the latter slightly, she looked on as Shining began to gaze upon their current surroundings.

"Must be strange to be back here after all you've been through."

Twilight nodded at that before looking around the place herself.

"Yeah...but it's still nice to come back to it. It was my home, after all."

The older stallion looked down to her, his expression becoming less jovial over time. When Twilight noticed this, she gained a look of concern, as she patiently waited for her brother to say what he obviously needed to. Eventually, he finally spoke.

"Twilight...I want...to thank you...for saving Cadence."

The young unicorn knew exactly what her brother was talking about, but nevertheless shook a hoof in front of him.

"You don't need to thank me, Shining. I'm just happy it all worked out."

But, Shining merely shook his head.

"But I do need to thank you. If it wasn't for your gift...I shudder to think what that monster would have done to her. I wasn't there to protect her...and I wish I had been. So...I thank you...for saving the love of my life."

Despite her earlier protest, Twilight couldn't help but smile warmly at her brother, and, as one might expect, it wasn't long before the two were hugging once more, this time staying together far longer than before. In time, however, they inevitably parted, though Shining's expression was still somewhat stern. Twilight's mirrored his own at this point, and, without saying a word to one another, they began to move in unison towards the balcony of the tower library. When they finally reached it, they looked down to the streets below. Sure enough, they caught sight of what they knew they'd see down there. It was a small platoon of royal guards, numbering about two dozen, all in a somewhat circular formation. Within the circle was a collection of changeling drones, all bound in chains, being escorted down the main streets. Many of the ponies there got out their way, looking upon the fearsome creatures with worry. But Twilight and Shining merely watched them with intent, as Twilight spoke in a hushed manner.

"That's the last of them?"

Shining nodded.

"Yeah. All of them are en route to that prison now, near the Badlands. Princess Luna herself set out to lead the first few group, and is now waiting there to oversee their sleep spell."

He narrowed his eyes.

"This isn't a permanent solution, sister, you know that. We ponies can't simply watch over them while they sleep for the rest of time."

Twilight nodded.

"I know. But their whole race feeds off love, and were they free...they'd take it from us...willingly or otherwise. For now...this is the best option we have."

She closed her eyes, thinking back to the moment Celestia had made that decision, and the doubt she'd felt. She and her brother were of the same mind on this, that this was no true answer. It would keep them from harming anypony, that much was certain. And yet, the problem remained, and would stay there until a true answer presented itself. Even with all her knowledge and experience of the future, it was one problem for which Twilight had no solution. That is, except, the solution Chrysalis herself had suggested in that cell; to simply end the life of her and her people. But Twilight grimaced at that thought, pushing it from her mind. She was no killer, and neither would she let herself become one. She may have done things that she did not always take pride in, but she knew that, at the very least, that was the one line she would not cross. However, as those thoughts sank into her mind, she put on a smile, turning to her brother and holding his hoof. Although initially taken aback by his sister’s behaviour, Shining nevertheless kept quiet as she spoke to him.

"But let's not talk about that right now. We have happier things to talk about...like the fact that I'm going to have Cadence as a sister-in-law!"

Shining chuckled and rolled his eyes at that.

"It’s great alright. Just don't start acting like Mom and asking when me and her are having kids!"

Twilight giggled upon hearing that, after which she and her brother started moving away from the balcony. As they did so, the stallion turned to her with a soft expression.

"I hear Spike made it over from Ponyville?"

Twilight nodded.

"Yeah. After I told him what happened he was pretty worried about me. He's calmed down now, thankfully. I'm just glad I hadn't brought him here with me that day. Who knows how he might have reacted to seeing all of that."

Shining looked away from her and sighed.

"Given the kinds of stuff that's been happening to you, sister, I can't say I don't share his concerns. Had I known all the danger you'd face...I might never have let you go to Ponyville in the first place."

Twilight looked to him, quite taken aback to hear something like that. And yet, as time passed, a knowing smirk crossed her face.

"You've been wanting to play the "overprotective-big-brother" part for a while now, haven't you?"

Despite the stoic façade he'd tried maintaining, Shining broke out into a dry laugh.

"That obvious, is it?"

And so the two siblings laughed together, with much of the tension and stress of the last few days starting to melt away from them. As they approached the exit of the library, Twilight stopped, giving her brother a look that let him know that she just needed to go back and get something. Smiling at that, Shining gave a single nod before starting to make his way out. Twilight stayed there and watched as he finally left, closing the door behind him. Now alone, her face became one of seriousness as she turned, looking out towards the window and towards the horizon to the north.

"I'm sorry, brother...but you and I aren't out of the woods yet. For soon...we'll have to face an old empire...and its dark king."

An Empire Returns

The royal throne room of Canterlot was a quiet place today, as all within it could feel the tension in the air. Many of the guards looked to each other nervously, not saying a word, and yet, all of them knew that what was about to occur was a matter of grave importance. Celestia was there, sitting upon her throne, watching the other side of the hall intently. Though silent, her eyes never left the doors leading into this vast chamber, and silently counted the moments as they passed by. She turned briefly, looking out of the nearby windows, to the northern parts of the skies, and sighed, knowing what was about to happen. However, she was jarred from that as a loud creak could now be heard. Turning, she looked on with some relief as Twilight, her faithful student, finally entered the chambers, escorted by a pair of pegasi guards. They brought her along the hall and before the steps leading up to the great throne, after which, Twilight gave a respectful bow. Celestia smiled and nodded at this, after which she looked to the two escorts and waved a hoof, giving them permission to leave. As had happened hundreds of time