True multi-presence, the practice of occupying more than one place at the same time, was the sort of magic typically classified under 'not impossible, but also not advisable.' It was the sort of thing that could be done, through the use of magical cloning ponds or perhaps creative applications of closed-loop time travel, but all the research showed that those methods tended to end very, very badly.
Instead, Princess Twilight Sparkle made do with a combination of teleportation, flight, and old-fashioned panicked galloping in order to cover as much distance as she could in the shortest amount of time.
“Decorations, check. Refreshments, check. Triple-reinforced etheric omni-ward, check.” Twilight's voice echoed through the halls of her palace, while Spike dutifully went down the carefully prepared checklist.
“That's it!” Spike yelled out. He'd given up trying to follow Twilight's mad dashing-- just watching her zap herself from one place to another was enough to make him dizzy.
With a 'bamf' and the smell of seared ozone, Twilight materialized in front of her little brother/ward/assistant. “That's it?” She said, and levitated the strip of paper out of Spike's clawed hands.
“Yep. The whole checklist. We've gone over it three times now.”
“Oh.” Twilight said. Sure enough, the final two boxes at the bottom 'Repeat' and 'Repeat Again' had the obligatory checkmarks next to them, signalling their completeness. “Think we should do it again? I mean, I'd hate to think I missed something … what if I miss something? Princess Celestia would be so disappointed in me!” Twilight's eyes went wide in terror. “What if I disappoint Princess Celestia and then she revokes my princess-hood and then I won't be allowed to have any friends anymore and I'll have to go live in a scary wizard tower?”
“Twilight? You're doing that thing again.”
“What thing? Is it a Princess-deposing thing?”
“You know, that thing where you start talking too fast and the corner of your eye starts to twitch and the next thing you know everything is on fire?”
“Oh. That thing.” Twilight splayed her ears back. “Sorry. Sorry. It's just … this sort of thing's unprecedented! I mean, I can manage having Cadance visit, or Princess Celestia, or even Princess Luna … but all of them? At the same time?” Twilight shifted on her hooves, nervous.
“What's the big deal? It's not like it's the first time you guys have had a princess party or whatever. You'll just talk about stuff and maybe sing a song and then maybe you'll have to fight a monster wizard or whatever.” Spike scratched his head.
“But we've never had a princess party here. In Ponyville! These sort of things are supposed to take place in Canterlot, or the Crystal empire! They have palaces and stuff!”
“Uh. You do know we live in a magical friendship castle, right? If that's not the place for a princess party, I don't know what is.”
“I guess you're right, Spike.” Twilight rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “It's just … it's something I wasn't expecting! And Princess Celestia even said it was going to be 'princesses only' which makes me wonder if things are going to get political or maybe they're going to teach me some kind of strange princess-only secrets or what if this meeting is about political secrets that are also magical?”
“Look.” Spike grabbed Twilight by the cheeks and turned her towards a marble pillar that had been polished to reflective smoothness. “Eye twitch again.”
“Oh. Right.” Twilight pulled in a deep breath. “Well, whatever the purpose of this meeting is, I'll just have to be brave and see it through to the end, no matter what happens.”
“And remember to have fun.” Spike added.
“And remember to have--” Twilight stopped mid-sentence, and scooped up her checklist again. “I didn't put 'have fun' on the checklist! I knew I forgot something! We've got to start all over!”
“It'll be fine, Twilight. I promise.” Spike said, soothingly. “Besides, you don't have time for it anyway. Princess Celestia's already here.”
“Hello, Twilight.” Celestia said from the doorway leading into the main ballroom.
“Have fun at your princess party! Bye!” Spike said, and made a quick exit.
Twilight flailed her wings like a startled canary, and spun around. “P-p-princess!? What're you doing here?”
“Oh, sorry.” The nigh-immortal goddess-ruler of all Equestria smiled. “I let myself in. I didn't want to trouble you with fanfare or anything. This is supposed to be a casual evening, after all.”
“Casual. Right.” Twilight said, with the feeling that something was somehow terribly … off. A moment later, Twilight realized that Princess Celestia wasn't wearing her crown, or any other royal jewelry, for that matter. Princess Celestia was naked.
“You're--” Twilight fumbled her suddenly dry mouth. “You're early!” she blurted.
“Like I said, casual.” Celestia said. “The court puts entirely too much weight on matters of timing-- who has to wait for how long before I grant them an audience, that sort of thing. Which in turn leads to nothing ever starting when it really should. It's honestly refreshing to be punctual, just for one evening.”
“Oh, uh … wow. I never would have thought of that.” Twilight Sparkle pried her eyes away from the nape of Celestia's bare neck. It felt somehow scandalous to see that usually covered but otherwise unremarkable stretch of spotless white coat.
“It's just one of those silly little things that builds up after the first few centuries.” Celestia said with an elegant shrug. “In any case, I trust there are refreshments somewhere? It's been a long day, and the flight over didn't help.”
“Oh, uh, right!” Twilight Sparkle trotted over towards the buffet she'd laid out. “Pinkie Pie made a special batch of cupcakes, and I mixed up a bowl of punch, and Rarity insisted I have a few bottles of--”
“Wine.” Celestia smiled, and took up the bottle to examine the label. “And a good year, too. Your friend Rarity has excellent taste.”
“She mentions that a lot.” Twilight deadpanned.
Celestia popped the cork and poured two glasses of red wine, one of which she foisted onto Twilight. “Cheers.” She clinked her goblet against Twilight's, and kicked back half her glass in a single gulp.
“Uh. Cheers?” Twilight said, and took a much smaller sip. Thankfully, she had remembered to eat a large sandwich before setting out the evening's libations. “So, um. Princess? Just … what's the agenda for tonight?”
“Agenda? You make it sound like we're having a board meeting.”
“Well, uh, you said it was a very important, 'princesses only' sort of thing.”
“Oh, it is important.” Celestia took another sip from her wineglass, and then trotted over to a plush, high-backed chair next to a large, round table. “A princess doesn't get to let her mane down very often. And even if she does get the chance … well, there are certain things that only another princess could understand. You've come a long way, Twilight, but there are still many things you have yet to learn. So, when I saw a gap in my schedule, I thought it'd be a good idea to take an evening to just … talk.”
“Talk? About what?”
“Anything, really. I'm sure there are many questions you'd like to ask me or my--”
“Sister!” Princess Luna may have left her royal crown and gorget behind, but the Royal Canterlot Voice was not so easily abandoned. Twilight nearly spilled her wine as Luna's volume hit her. The Princess of the Night strode boldly into the ballroom, which suddenly seemed much, much smaller. “Thou didst not wake me when I bid you so!”
“Luna, you're using the voice again.” Celestia said, unpeturbed.
“Am I?” Luna blinked. “I suppose I am. My apologies, Twilight. I am wont to lapse into old habits, especially when I've freshly woke.”
“I should be the one apologizing.” Celestia said. “It's true. I was running early, and you looked so comfortable, I didn't want to wake you. Here, let me pour you a drink.”
Luna folded her wings neatly against her back, and her lips curled up in a smile. “I suppose that's one way of making amends.” She accepted the wineglass Celestia passed over, and drained it in a single go. “Ah! A fine vintage! I commend your sommelier, Twilight.”
“I'll … I'll tell Rarity you said that.” Twilight said. As she watched Luna pour herself a second glass, a realization sparked at the back of Twilight's brain, followed quickly by the feeling she'd be doing a lot of realizing before the night was over. “Wait. Didn't you say you just woke up? Can I get you something a little more, um … appropriate?”
“More appropriate? Well, I could do with something stronger, should you have it. A port, perhaps? Or maybe some of your friend's apple brandy?” Luna sank down into a chair next to Celestia's.
“I … do have some brandy, somewhere.” Twilight said. “But I was thinking more along the lines of coffee. Or orange juice. Or something, you know … non alcoholic?”
Princess Luna fixed Twilight with a puzzled look. “And what would be the point of that?”
Celestia hid her grin behind her wineglass.
“Well, uh, don't you normally have a lot to do at night? You know, with the moon rising, and the dream patrols, and all that?”
“Your point?” Luna said. “I've found it's quite helpful to have something rather … bracing before hunting dream-phantasms. There have occasionally been times where I've indulged myself while a-questing. Battling Mind-Phantoms from the Otherrealm can be thirsty work.”
“Luna,” Twilight said, very carefully, “ … are you telling me you drink on the job?”
“Only occasionally.” Luna said.
“Twilight,” Princess Celestia lapsed into her gentle and familiar teacher's tone. “Have you ever had a dream that was inexplicably surreal? Something so bizarre that it leaves you absolutely baffled in the morning?”
“Like the time I dreamed I had to write a musical about pies for a school project?” Twilight blurted.
“I may have been hungry at the time.” Luna said with a little shrug.
“Then … “ Twilight's cheeks began to darken in a blush as the wheels turned in her head. “What about the one dream I had where Flash-- I mean, where somepony from the Royal Guard took me to the beach and--” upon recognizing the blank, perplexed look on Luna's face, Twilight let herself trail off.
“You do realize I don't craft every dream in all of Equestria, yes? Particularly … “ Luna made a vague gesture with one hoof. “Licentious ones.”
“Oh. Uh. Well.” For lack of a proper response, Twilight took another sip of her wine, only to find she'd just about drained her glass. She poured herself another, only to realize that the few bottles of wine Rarity had provided were beginning to empty at an alarming rate. Which made sense, Twilight mused, as Luna and Celestia were both larger than the typical pony, and that was before one took into consideration potential supernatural fortitude.
“Who's licentious?” Princess Cadance swooped down into the main hall through one of the windows Twilight habitually left open for Rainbow Dash. Like the other Princesses, she hadn't bothered with her crown-- though she did wear a pair of large-lensed sunglasses. An uncorked bottle of champagne floated along with her,caught up in her telekinetic aura.
“Nobody's licentious!” Twilight blurted.
“Aw.” Cadance said. She landed next to Twilight and pulled her in for an enthusiastic hug. Twilight smiled, and returned the embrace-- though she blinked as she caught a whiff of something unexpected on her breath.
“Um. Cadance?” Twilight said. “Have you been drinking?”
“Damn yes!” Cadance said, and trotted over towards the buffet, where she poured champagne into a wineglass 'til the foam crested the rim. “I don't usually pre-game like this, but this is the first time I've been away from Shining Armor and Flurry Heart in … well, ever. Thought I'd celebrate.” She gulped down her fizzy drink. “And when you've got a first class train ticket from the Crystal Empire, they give you all the champagne you want!”
“Oh, uh. Wow. I never knew you liked … champagne.” Twilight said.
“There's a lot of stuff you don't know about me, Twilight. I guess it just didn't come up, you know?” Cadance said. “But yeah, I love the stuff. Like, there was this one time Shining Armor got a bottle and then fired up the hot tub and then--” It took Cadance a moment, but even in her slightly inebriated state, she was able to recognize the dawning look of horror on Twilight's face. “And then you probably don't want to know what happened next.”
“Thank you.” Twilight's ears splayed back in relief.
“Wouldn't want to corrupt sweet, innocent Twilight!” Cadance said, and threw a foreleg around Twilight's shoulders. “Especially since she's probably doing a good enough job of that herself.”
“W-what?” Twilight sputtered.
“Oh, c'mon. I know you've been reading those trashy romance novels for years.”
“They're not trashy!” Twilight squeaked.
“Mmmmhmm. Sure they're not. I'm sure there's an entirely good reason you always kept them hidden under your mattress.”
“I … I couldn't think of where to put them in the regular shelves, that's all! Because they're not quite general fiction and some of them are arguably historical fiction, and I wanted to figure out the best way to integrate them into the library since just exiling them to a designated 'romance' shelf is just putting them in a genre ghetto, you know?”
“You're the only pony I know who'd get so worked up about genre definitions, Twilight.” Cadance said with a smile.
“Well, those things are important.” Twilight turned her chin up at a defiant angle.
“I'm glad you could make it, Cadance.” Celestia raised her glass in greeting.
“Indeed.” Luna did the same. “'tis a rare thing, to have every princess in the realm in the same place at the same time.”
“Save Princess Flurry Heart.” Luna noted.
“Thankfully.” Cadance's shoulders slumped. “I mean … I love her, and she's adorable, but … she's exhausting. But I guess all babies are, huh?” Cadance took another pull of her champagne.
“I wouldn't know.” Luna said. “To be honest, I've never even considered having a child. You're a braver mare than I, Cadance.”
“Oh, you're just saying that.” Cadance looked down at the table, suddenly modest.
“'tis true! I could not fathom matrimony.” Luna said.
“Well, uh, I'm sure you were really busy, and it just didn't come up?” Twilight offered.
“In a manner of speaking.” Luna poured herself another glass.
“Traditionally,” Celestia said, “Princesses don't marry. At least, neither Luna or I did, and after a few centuries it … became tradition.”
“Which makes me a rebel, I guess.” Cadance nudged Twilight, smiling. “Cool!”
“Oh wow. That … that must have been lonely.” Twilight said. “All those centuries, just … alone?”
“Not exactly … “ Celestia said with a knowing grin. “As, well … here's another little thing you need to learn about being a princess.”
“Oh?” Twilight leaned forward, and immediately wished she had pen and paper at hoof in order to take notes. “What's that?”
“It is a rare thing for a princess to marry. But--” she held up a hoof. “Should she choose to take a consort? That's another matter entirely.”
“A … consort?” Twilight felt the word out in her mouth. She knew what it meant-- or at least, she thought she did.
“A consort.” Luna nodded. “'Tis better to leave the matter at that. My dear sister can get maudlin when she's into her cups.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about.” Celestia said, and drained her wineglass.
“Then why don't you tell Twilight about Heartseeker, then?”
Celestia's eyes widened at the name.
“Who's Heartseeker?” Twilight asked, against her better judgement.
“He was a rogue and a thief and a mercenary and a cutthroat.” Princess Celestia sniffled, and slumped her chin down against the table. “And I loved him.”
“We kept odd company in our younger years.” Luna noted.
“Don't put all of this on me. I know what you and Catsclaw were up to.” Celestia shot a glare of sisterly annoyance at Luna.
Luna sputtered a little. “I have no idea what you're talking about.”
“Please. The two of you slipping off to study 'astronomy?'” Celestia said. “More like you were studying anatomy.”
“Oooooh, buuuuuurn.” Cadance dumped the last of her champagne into her wineglass, and then dumped said wineglass down her throat with practiced skill. She floated another bottle of wine over, opened it, and poured herself a glass of white wine without taking her eyes off of the two sisters.
“My dalliances are no concern of yours, sister!” Luna sat up taller, and the force of her voice alone was enough to topple the rapidly-growing collection of empty wine bottles on the table. Cadance and Twilight cringed back in their chairs, but Celestia remained unphased.
“Uh. Should we do something?” Twilight asided to Cadance. “Like … this isn't how Luna turned into Nightmare Moon, is it?”
“Nah, it's fine. I've seen this happen before. Celestia's a sad drunk, and Luna just gets … fighty. They'll hug it out before long.”
“You're right, Luna.” Celestia said. “It isn't any of my business. I just … “ Celestia sighed, and reached for another drink, this time not bothering with the glass at all. “I miss those days. I miss him.”
“I know.” Luna's voice softened, as did her stance. At some wordless signal, Celestia passed the bottle to Luna, who swigged from it in a decidedly un-royal manner. “We both knew they'd never stay long. Do you really think a pair of scoundrels such as those two would ever settle down? Even with the likes of us?”
“No.” Celestia said, glumly. Luna passed the bottle back. “But … did you ever wonder what it'd be like if we went with them? We could just roam the world, looking for treasure and adventure?”
“Occasionally.” Luna said. “But it wouldn't have worked, and we both know that. The kingdom needed us, and thus we stayed.”
“True.” Celestia slumped back in her chair. “That doesn't make it any better.” She sniffed again, and wiped the corner of one eye. She blinked, and then looked back at Cadance and Twilight. “I … I'm sorry, you two. I wanted this to be a celebration. Not to bore you two with old stories.”
“I … I kind of like old stories, actually.” Twilight tried (without much success) not to let her academic curiosity get the better of her. “Especially since I've never seen either Heartseeker or Catsclaw mentioned in any of my history books.“
“For good reason.” Celestia said, a wan smile finally beginning to cross her features. “Scandals are a pain to deal with. There's another princess lesson for you. By now, I imagine Luna and I are the only ponies left alive who even remember Heartseeker and Catsclaw's names … ”
“Alright!” Cadance planted her front hooves on the table, and then tipped her sunglasses downwards so she could glare at Celestia and Luna both. “You two are gonna traumatize Twilight at this rate, telling her all about broken hearts and lost love and royal duties and all that junk! I say, we go off, the four of us, and do something fun.”
“Thank you, Cadance.” Celestia's smile warmed. “You're absolutely right. This is supposed to be a celebration. We should find something to take our minds off … heavier matters.”
“Right!” Twilight nodded. “So, uh, what do you guys want to do? I've got a bunch of board games, or we could give each other makeovers, or … shoot, where'd I put my sleepover book?”
“No need.” Luna leaned forward. “An evening in is all and good, but all this talk of the old days has me thinking of … a quest.” She savored the 'q' word, eyes gleaming with eagerness.
“A quest?” Twilight felt her stomach twist in anticipation of what might come next. “For what? There's not some previously unknown ancient evil that I wasn't aware of that you guys saved up for me to fight as some kind of princessly initiation ritual, is there?”
“No, Twilight.” Celestia fixed the purple princess with a familiar, grave look. “The problem we face is much more immediate, and therefore, much more important.”
“What is it?” Twilight said, mouth going dry.
“We are out of liquor.” Celestia said. And, sure enough, the small selection of bottles Twilight had laid out were all empty.
“Beer run, woo!” Cadance said, and pushed her sunglasses back into place.
“Tally ho!” Luna took to the air and bolted out the high open window.
“But … but … what?” Twilight could only stare.
“Call it a girl's night out.” Celestia said, and made for the window herself.
“Wait for me!” Twilight scrambled out of her chair and followed on slightly shaky wings.
And so, four not-entirely-sober princesses set out for Ponyville.
Four princesses flew in sloppy formation towards the quiet, unsuspecting town of Ponyville. Moonlight and shadows rippled over their outstretched wings as they coasted on the warm summer air.
“Twilight!” Luna said, looking over her shoulder at the purple pony princess. “Direct us to the local tavern!”
“Oh no. No no no no no.” Twilight shook her head. “We can't!”
“Why not?” Luna said. “Ponyville's not filled with teetotalers, is it?”
“Not with the amount of cider they drink.” Cadance noted with a grin.
“It's not that, it's just … remember what you said before? About your, uh … consorts? And scandals and stuff? What do you think they're going to say if a bunch of princesses just bust into some bar somewhere and start drinking?”
“A valid point.” Luna said. “I hadn't considered that.”
“But … “ Cadance chimed in, “what if they don't know we're princesses?”
“What? How?” Twilight sputtered. “I mean, we could use minor polymorphic spells on ourselves, but those require constant attention in order to stay active. Which … might not mix well with all the alcohol. Or theoretically a low level memory charm could work, but that would be immoral-- not to mention dangerous to work on so many ponies at the same time.”
“Oh, Twilight.” Cadance banked slightly, bringing herself close enough to Twilight to ruffle her hair. “That's just like you, trying to solve a problem with magic, when there's a prefectly--” Cadance furrowed her brow, and corrected herself. “Perfectly normal solution available.”
“There's no way four princesses are going to go anywhere in ponyville without being noticed.” Twilight said.
“But what if they don't know we're princesses?” Cadance smiled.
“Between the horns and the wings, it's pretty obvious.”
“Which is why we're going to wear hats.” Cadance said.
“Brilliant!” Luna chimed in.
“Hats? You … you can't be serious.” Twilight said.
“Without the horns, we're just pegasi!” Cadance did a little barrel roll, just to illustrate her point. “All we need to do is cover them up.”
“Brilliant!” Luna cried. “Why, sister, 'tis just like the time we disguised ourselves to infiltrate the Skull Cult of Thoth A-Mane!”
Celestia, who had remained quiet for most of the flight, merely smiled. “Hopefully tonight won't be as bloody.”
“The night is yet young, sister.” Luna spread her wings out proudly. “Now, to the haberdashery!”
“Oh! Well, I'm sorry, Ponyville doesn't have a haberdasher.” Twilight said, quickly. “I mean, it's a much smaller town than what you guys are used to in Canterlot or the Crystal Empire, so I guess that means no hats, which means we can't go to the bar, which means we should just turn around and go back to my castle and maybe play a board game or something. Doesn't that sound fun?”
“What about your friend Rarity?” Cadance said. “Doesn't she run a boutique?”
“Well, yes.” Twilight admitted with a wince. “But don't you think it's a little … late to be paying her a visit?”
“Aw, c'mon! She'll be thrilled to see us! I'm sure she'll be thrilled to help us out! Aren't you always going on about how generous she is?”
“Then it's settled!” Luna cheered. “Lead on, Princess Twilight!”
Against her better judgement (much like everything else that'd happened that evening) Twilight flew to the Carousel Boutique. She stumbled a few steps upon hitting the ground, then looked over her shoulder to see the other three princesses land perfectly. Twilight felt a twinge of annoyance at the fact that the other princesses could fly better tipsy than she could sober-- but then again, they had years and years of practice on her.
“Rarity likes to get her beauty sleep, so can everyone please be quiet?”
“Shhhhhhh.” Cadance held a hoof to her lips, and giggled. “We'll be quiet. Like ninjas.”
Twilight shook her head, and then carefully made her way to the door to Carousel Boutique. The lights were off, and the place was quiet-- which gave Twilight a faint feeling of hope. If Rarity wasn't home, or if she was asleep, that would put a halt on this mad 'disguise' plan, and then Twilight could wrangle the princesses back to her castle without anypony being the wiser. Disaster averted.
Gently, she rapped on Rarity's door.
“Look at that!” Twilight said with a nervous laugh. “Rarity must not be home! Oh well, guess that means no hats for us! Which means no bar hopping. Oh well!” She looked back at her friends and forced a grin.
That grin faded as Twilight saw a blur of pink sailing through the air at her. She squeaked in dismay and ducked beneath Cadance's flying lunge.
“NINJA KICK WHACHAAAAAH!” Cadance slammed a back hoof into Rarity's door, shattering the wood in a single blow.
“Cadance! What are you doing?” Twilight said.
“You told me to be like a ninja. Seemed like the right thing to do.”
“I told you to be quiet.”
“Ninjas are quiet.”
“Not when they're kicking in doors!” Twilight reached out and shook Cadance.
“Aw, c'mon. Can you honestly tell me nopony's ever kicked in Rarity's door before? What's a little property damage between friends?”
“That … that's beside the point! Besides, Rarity's not even home, so--”
“Fiends!” A familiar, shrill, and panicked voice echoed from upstairs. Hooves clattered upon the stairs, and soon Rarity came charging downwards. A far cry from her elegant self, her mane was set in curlers, her body wrapped in a frizzy nightgown, and her horn glowed with magical energy. “Ruffians! Thieves!” She skidded to a halt, however, as she saw the nature of the intruders. “Princesses?”
“Hi Rarity!” Cadance waved a hoof. “Sorry about the door. Just knocked a little too hard, is all.”
“Wha … wha?” The focused magic around her horn fizzled off into nothingness.
“Rarity,” Twilight said, “I am so, so sorry. There's a perfectly rational explanation for--”
“We need hats.” Luna said as she ducked beneath the doorway to Carousel boutique, and Celestia followed.
Rarity blinked, torn between her normal awe in the presence of royalty and a greater (and more justified) sense of befuddlement. “You need … hats.”
“Indeed.” Luna nodded.
“At this hour?”
“Yep!” Cadance said.
Rarity blinked a few more times, and rubbed at the corner of her eye. “Dare I ask … why?”
“It honestly wouldn't make any sense if you did.” Twilight grumbled.
“I assure you, Rarity, 'tis a matter of great importance.” Luna rumbled, gravely.
“Oh. Well then. If you put it that way, I'd be happy to help.” Rarity rubbed at her chin, allowing her more artistic instincts to take over. “Now then, Princess Luna … how do you feel about feathers?”
“I can't believe this is happening.” Twilight grumbled.
“You're just mad 'cause you didn't get a hat.” Cadance shifted her bowler slightly, making sure it covered her horn entirely.
“Indeed. Your friend Rarity has quite the talent.” Luna said. She pushed the wide brim of her plumed swashbuckler's hat upwards, out of her eyes. “Does she have any experience as an armorer? I've been meaning to have a new set of barding commissioned.”
“What do you need a new set of barding for? Equestria's not gone to war in centuries.” Celestia said. The black silken top hat perched on her head at a rakish angle should have made her look ridiculous, but somehow Celestia was able to pull the look off naturally.
“Um.” Twilight held up a hoof. “I'm … just going to throw this out there, but do any of you really think that just covering up your horns and pretending to be pegasi will fool anyone? I mean, we're all kind of … distinctive. Once somepony sees your cutie mark, they'll know who you are for sure!”
“Why Twilight,” Cadance nudged her friend conspiratorially. “Are you saying that everyone's going to be looking at our flanks?”
“Yes! I mean, no! Not like that.” Twilight blushed.
“Buzzkill.” Cadance grinned, and then perked her ears. “Oh! This is the place, isn't it?” Ponyville's bar didn't really have a name-- the town was small enough to really only warrant one such establishment, and thus everypony had taken to calling it 'The Bar.'
“Um, yes.” Twilight said, wincing. “I mean, this is really the only bar in Ponyville, and it's Tuesday night anyway, so nothing's going on, so why don't we just go home now?” Twilight said, hopeful.
“After all the trouble we went through to get these hats? No way.” Cadance said.
“Fine. Fine.” Twilight rubbed at the bridge of her nose. “I guess one drink couldn't hurt. But I'm telling you, you'll probably get bored before you even finish that.”
“We'll see.” Cadance said, smiling.
Twilight braced herself, and pushed the door to the bar open.
She wasn't sure what hit her first-- the barrage of sound, or the pink-hued blur of her friend. Apparently, for all its humble appearance, the bar had a surprisingly soundproof door.
“Twilight!” Pinkie Pie spoke louder than usual to be heard over the din off laughter and applause coming from within the bar. “This is so great! I thought you were gonna be busy princess-ing, but you made it!”
“Made it to … what, exactly?”
“KARAOKE NIGHT! WOO!” Pinkie Pie pulled Twilight into a celebratory hug-- and then blinked, finally registering the three be-hatted princesses standing just outside the door.
“Oh! Twilight! Who are your friends?”
“My … oh. Oh.” Twilight, panicked, looked between Pinkie and the trio. “Uh. You see, there's a perfectly rational explanation for this--”
“We're Twilight's friends.” Cadance said, tipping her bowler as she trotted into the bar. “Pegasus friends. From Cloudsdale.” She flared her wings out a little, just to make her point.
“Oh wow, nice to meetcha!” Pinkie Pie shook Cadance's hoof eagerly. “My name's Pinkie Pie! What's yours?”
Cadance's satisfied grin fell as Pinkie Pie asked the question. “Uh.” Cadance said. “Cloud … chaser. Yes. And these are my friends, Cloudbreaker, and Cloudsweeper.” She gestured to Celestia and Luna in turn.
“Nice to meetcha!” Pinkie Pie paused, and then squinted at the three 'disguised' princesses. “Saaaaay, you guys look a little taller than most pegasuses I've met.”
“We work out.” Cadance blurted. “Like. A lot.”
“Neat!” Pinkie Pie's guileless smile returned. “You guys should meet my friend Rainbow Dash sometime! She's an athlete too!”
“Looking forward to it.” Cadance said.
“Now c'mon in, you guys! You're letting all the fun out!”
Baffled, Twilight could only follow her friends inside. The bar, quite simply, was packed. Thankfully, the lighting was terrible, casting the many ponies within with long, dark shadows. Even still, the princesses stood taller than everyone else in the bar, and their ostentatious headwear didn't seem to help much. The silver lining (such as it was), that most everypony's attention was trained on the stage at the far end of the room, where a succession of ponies in varying states of sobriety with varying degrees of talent howled out karaoke staples.
Somehow, Pinkie Pie found the quartet an empty table. No sooner had they settled in, a harried looking blue pony in a waitress' apron set a tall pitcher of lime-green margarita and several salt-encrusted mugs before them.
“Courtesy of the gents at the end of the bar.” She nodded over her shoulder, and several colts wearing too much hair gel and too many gold necklaces waved back, smirking.
“Hey sweet, free drinks!” Cadance said.
“Tell me, friend Pinkie. What is this 'karaoke?'” Luna asked. “Some sort of festival?”
“In a matter of speaking, yes.” Twilight said.
“It's only the best thing ever!” Pinkie Pie squeaked. “It's great! All you have to do is pick a song out of the book--” She dumped an impressively thick binder onto the table. “And then you write a little note telling the DJ you wanna sing it, and then your turn comes up and you go up on stage and sing! And then everypony claps and cheers and it's the best thing ever!”
A muffled, nigh-unintelligible voice echoed over the sound system, and Pinkie Pie perked her ears. “Oh! That's my turn! Sorry guys, but I have a song to sing!”
Pinkie Pie bounced away from the table, and bounded onto the stage. She reared up on her hind legs, grabbed the microphone, and immediately started singing “PARTY PARTY PARTY PARTY” over and over again at the loudest possible volume.
“Twilight.” Luna said. “Has Pinkie been trained in the Royal Canterlot Voice?”
Twilight winced. “She's naturally like that.”
“Impressive.” Luna said.
“Oh hey!” Cadance said, fixing on one page of the Karaoke binder. “They've got 'Shave 'em Dry!' I love that song!”
“Shaving?” Twilight rubbed her chin self-consciously. “That … that song isn't about beards, is it?”
“Nope!” Cadance immediately grabbed a pencil and scrap paper to scribble her request down. “No beards. It's … well, it's easier if I just sing the song.”
“Why do I get the feeling this is a bad idea?” Twilight's voice cracked.
“Don't worry, Twilight, it'll be educational!”
A minute or two later, Pinkie Pie ended her song with an incoherent scream and threw herself into the crowd. Ponies rushed to hold her up, and Pinkie Pie crowd-surfed her way all the way back to Twilight's table.
“Hey guys!” Pinkie said as she plopped down next to her friend. “Who's next?”
“I got this.” Cadance said with the sort of grin that worried Twilight.
Cadance took up her slip of paper and trotted over to where Vinyl Scratch helmed the DJ booth. She passed the note over to the blue maned unicorn, who peered dubiously at Cadance from over the rims of her sunglasses. Cadance said something Twilight couldn't hear over the general din of the bar.
Vinyl Scratch shrugged, and then pulled a record from her collection. She blew the dust from the old LP, set it on the turntable, and soon a methodical blues riff blasted from the speakers.
Cadance strutted up on stage, scooped up the microphone, and sang.
“I'm gonna turn mattress.
Let you oil my springs.
I want you to grind me baby,
'til the bells do ring!”
“Ride me honey, shave 'em dry!”
“I'll buck you honey-- baby I'll make you cry!”
Twilight gaped. Twilight blushed. Twilight briefly wondered if there was a proper way to portmanteau the two words together, but 'gushing' just sounded dirty. Not as dirty, however, as the song that Cadance proudly belted out from the other side of the room. Twilight watched in mortified horror as Cadance sang verse after verse, each one filthier and more obscene than the one before. Finally, Cadance wrapped the song up, and bowed to the cheering and whooping audience as if she'd just finished a recital at Carneighy Hall.
At least she kept her hat on, thus preserving her ostensible disguise, Twilight reflected.
One had to look for the silver lining in this sort of situation. Optimism.
Luna and Celestia applauded politely as Cadance made it back to the table.
“What … what was that?” Twilight sputtered.
“Only my favorite karaoke song.” Cadance said.
“KARAOKE! WOO!” Pinkie high-hooved Cadance.
“But … but that song is obscene.”
“I know.” Cadance poured herself another margarita from the pitcher. “Isn't it great?”
“I … I don't understand.” Twilight said.
“It's like this.” Cadance leaned forward, leaning against the table perhaps a little harder than she should have. “Remember all that stuff I told you about how love is patient and kind and understanding?”
“Um. Yes?” Twilight offered.
“Well, all of that is still true. It's just that sometimes, love is nasty.” Cadance licked her lips, unconsciously. “It's sticky, and sweaty, and sometimes it leaves you kind of sore in the morning.”
“Like this one time, I dug out my old cheerleader uniform, and--”
Twilight clapped her hooves over her ears. “LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING.”
“Oh, right. That's your brother.” Cadance leaned back in her chair. “Sorry, didn't mean to get all TMI.”
“Brother?” Pinkie Pie squeaked. “You're doin' it with Twilight's brother?”
Cadance paused, realizing the gap in her cover story. “Uh. Well. Funny story--”
“Twilight!” Pinkie Pie rounded on her bestest friend. “How come you didn't tell me you had another brother!? And how come you didn't tell me both your brothers had a thing for tall pink ponies with fabulous hair?” Pinkie Pie looked over to Cadance for a moment. “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Princess Cadance?”
Cadance just laughed. “I've just got that kinda face, I guess.”
“Pinkie, what are you … are you really … I don't … argh!” Twilight's brain sputtered along like an engine with a misfiring cylinder.
“Have another drink, Twilight.” Celestia helpfully pushed a mug in front of her favorite student. Twilight winced slightly less after taking a much-needed sip.
“Cheer up!” Pinkie said, beaming, “It's not like you're secretly taking a bunch of immortal magic princesses to karaoke night in disguise so they can avoid the ponyrazzi photographers and learn how normal ponies live!” She made a show of winking to her friend.
“Uh.” Twilight said.
“Because if you were, you'd be doing a pretty terrible job of it. I mean, nopony's ever called me normal, but that's fine by me!”
Twilight poured herself another glass.
“On we sweep! With threshing oar! Our only goal will be the western shore!”
The force of Luna's voice was enough to blow speakers and send ponies in the first few rows tumbling over each other.
The crowd loved it.
“At least she's not singing about sex.” Twilight mused. Optimism.
While Luna performed on stage, Cadance and Pinkie sat in a corner, exchanging increasingly ribald jokes. Celestia, however, kept her eyes fixed on her glass, only looking up to refill it. Which she did with mechanical regularity.
“Uh.” Twilight scooted closer. “Are you okay?” She asked.
“Hm?” Celestia looked up, adjusted her top hat. “Oh, I'm fine. Really. It's just … “
“It … it reminds me of Heartseeker.” Celestia sniffled delicately. ”He used to love the old rowing chants. We didn't have electric guitars back then, though.”
“Oh. Um. I'm sorry.” Twilight scratched at the back of her neck. “Do you … do you wanna talk about it? I mean, all these years, I've confided in you. The least I can do is try to help you the same way? Would it be easier if you wrote a letter?” Twilight started looking around. “We've got cocktail napkins, and there's probably a pen around here somewhere … “
Celestia's sad smile turned a little less so. “Thank you, Twilight, but a letter won't be necessary.”
“Right! Because we're both here, and sending letters back and forth when we're at the same table would be silly!”
“Any sillier than putting on silly hats and taking over the local pub on karaoke night?”
“Yes! I mean, no!” Twilight shook her head, and winced as she felt the room tilt at a dutch angle. Too many margaritas, no doubt. “I … I honestly don't know what to think! I can't believe any of this is happening, or that you would go along with it in the first place! I mean, sure, Ca-- my sister in law is young, and your sister is … unique, but … you're just indulging them, right?”
“Actually.” Celestia drained the last of her drink, and set her mug upside-down on the table. “I was planning on singing next.”
“What?!” Twilight said.
Before she could protest any more, Luna hopped off the stage, leaving ringing ears and damaged speakers in her wake.
“Your turn, sister!” she said, tossing the microphone (stand included) to Celestia.
Celestia caught the mic effortlessly, and made her way up to the stage. She nodded to Vinyl Scratch, who in turn cued up the next record. A slow, minor keyed guitar began to play. To Twilight's surprise (and somewhat existential horror), Princess Celestia flubbed the first verse of the song-- it was the first time she'd actually seen Celestia present herself as anything less than regal. The first time Celestia had really failed at something. (Underhanded ambushes by various magical monsters notwithstanding).
And yet, the pained quaver in Celestia's voice made the lyrics hit all the harder, once Twilight made them out over the din of the bar.
“--but you're not here.
To make my sad songs more sincere.
No one will ever love you honestly.
No one will ever love you, for your honesty.”
Celestia sang on. It wasn't a long song, but by the time she finished her ballad, there nearly every pony in the bar was sniffling and dabbing tears from their eyes. Twilight dabbed at her eyes with a napkin in a vain attempt to keep her composure, but Pinkie Pie bawled as if her eyes were connected to a faucet.
Celestia neatly put the microphone stand back in its proper place, tipped her horn-concealing top hat to the audience, and stepped off the stage to rapturous (if tear stained) applause.
“Are you okay?” Twilight materialized at Celestia's side. “Tell me you're okay. Please.”
“Just fine. I've always liked that song. It's … cathartic.”
“But … but it's so sad!”
“Which is the point.”
“But … did you mean it? The part about nobody ever loving you? I mean, you were pretty much singing about yourself, weren't you?” Twilight felt her stomach churn. “I mean, you're up on this pedestal, and you've got so much history, so there's no way that anyone could ever … “
“Twilight.” Celestia patted her favorite student on the shoulder. “It's fine. It's honestly something I came to terms with a long, long time ago.
“Are you sure there isn't anything you'd like to do about it? I mean, we might be able to use time travel magic so you could go back and get some closure.”
“Or just get some!” Pinkie Pie popped up on the other side of Celestia, and made an obscene gesture with her hooves.
Celestia laughed softly, and shook her head. “The thought may have crossed my mind before. But it'd be pointless in the end. Heartseeker just … left. There was nothing I could do about it then, and nothing I can do about it now. Except sing a song. But sometimes, a song's all you need.”
Meanwhile, across the bar, the colt with the most gel in his hair and the most gold chains around his neck sidled up next to Cadance.
“How you doin'.”
“Pretty good!” Cadance said, looking away from Pinkie for just a moment.
“I liked your song up there.” Gel-and-chains said.
“But I was wonderin' … “ He passed a hoof over his shellacked mane. “Were you just singin', or are you really that much of a freak?”
“I'm--” Cadance took a moment to register the colt's intentions. “Married, actually.”
“Well, I don't see your husband here, right?”
“It's a girl's night out.”
“You know what they say, what happens in Ponyville, stays in Ponyville.”
“They don't say that.”
“Listen, you stuck up tramp, I've been buying you drinks all night, and I'm tired of you ignoring me and leading me on. You'd better start paying attention, if you know what I mean.” He reached out with one leg, attempting to hook it around Cadance's and pull her closer.
Cadance blinked her wide eyes at the be-gelled colt. “Oh. Oooooh. It's gonna be like that.” She rolled her neck, and somehow the cracking of her vertebrae cut through the usual background noise of the bar. “Cool.”
The pick up pony smiled an oily smile. “That's right, it'll be--”
“NINJA STRIKE! WHACHAAAAH!” Cadance's left cross sent gel-and-chains staggering, and then she wheeled around to hit him with both back hooves, sending him flying across the bar and into his companions. They tumbled to the floor in a calamity of swearing and breaking glass, but managed to stand up a moment later.
“Cadance!” Luna looked up. “You didn't start a melee without me, did you?”
“They're still standing.” Cadance said, panting slightly.
“Then I shall remedy this!" Luna stomped a hoof upon the floorboards in her eagerness, cracking it like so much dry kindling. "Have at you!"
To Luna's credit, she didn't kill them.
The Warrior-Princess of Dreams and Darkness struck the knot of pick-up ponies like a thunderbolt. She lowered her shoulder as she barreled into the lot of them, striking with enough force to smash through the wall of the bar. Outside, the unfortunate ponies groaned, and then scattered in all directions in a panic.
“What? No more?” Luna scoffed, as if personally affronted. “Then run, cowards! Run, and tell this tale as a warning to others!”
“That's it. I'm putting my hoof down.” Twilight stood up, set her jaw, and looked up at Celestia. “We need to go.”
Celestia just watched the chaos with a wan smile. “Let me get another drink, first.”
Twilight wasn't sure if it was better or worse that they left through the door, and not the breach Luna had smashed through the side of the bar. They ambled down the streets of Ponyville, in what Twilight hoped was the vague direction of her castle.
“Gives a whole new meaning to 'Hole In the Wall,' get it?” Pinkie Pie nudged Twilight, and broke down into helpless giggles.
“Hah! A merry jest.” Luna said, and took a swig from a bottle of rum.
Twilight winced at the pun, and then again as she saw Luna carting a bottle about. “Where did you get that?”
“Spoils of war.” Luna smiled, showing gleaming white, nigh-predatory teeth.
“But … but we're not at war!” Twilight said.
Pinkie Pie, in the meanwhile, neatly took the bottle from Luna and swigged without breaking stride. “That's okay! It's not spoiled, either!”
“... I'll just add it to the repair bill.” Twilight said, looking over her shoulder, just in case an angry bartender were to come chasing after her.
“Still don't see why we had to leave.” Cadance grumbled. “That barely even counted as a fight!”
“A very thorough thrashing.” Luna said, with no small degree of pride in her voice.
“I think one fight is enough for an evening.” Twilight said. “Besides, I really doubt anypony's going to even come near us after what you did back there.”
“The night is yet young!” Luna said.
Something above their heads squeaked, and the four princesses (plus Pinkie) looked up. A sizable bat flapped down out of the sky on leathery wings, finally coming to land upon Luna's swashbuckler hat. It dangled upside-down from the hat's brim, directly in front of Luna's eyes.
Luna merely nodded, and used her magic to levitate a tiny scroll from a case on the bat's leg. She unrolled the strip of paper and and read it silently-- though there was a subtle shift in her stance as she did so, as she stood a little taller, a little more ready.
“'Twould seem,” Luna said, looking up from the message, “there is a Phantasm of some sort marauding about the dreamscape. A foe not much more powerful than those scoundrels we trounced earlier this evening, but a pest that requires dealing with, nonetheless. Would any of you care to accompany me on this task?”
“I think I'll pass.” Twilight said, and cast a worried look at the rest of her friends. What kind of trouble would Celestia and Cadance and Pinkie get into without her supervision?
“Sounds fun, but I've gotta work tomorrow!” Pinkie Pie said.
“You always enjoyed flying alone on your dream-jaunts, Luna.” Celestia said.
“And I'm kinda drunk.” Cadance belched loud enough to rattle nearby windowpanes. “Okay, maybe a little more than 'kinda.'”
“In that case, I bid you all farewell.” Luna bowed, courtly and gallant. “'Til we meet again!” she said, and took to the sky. Magic crackled over her sleek body, and she disappeared in a burst of moonlight.
“Guess I'd better get home too!” Pinkie Pie said. “Big batch of cupcakes to bake tomorrow, so I'd better rest up! Byyyyyye!” The pink pony set about bouncing away down a side-street, back towards Cupcake Corner.
“And then there were three.” Princess Celestia said.
“Don't say that!” Twilight blurted, only to realize she'd tried to give commands to an immortal sun-princess. “I mean. Uh. You might not want to put it like that, because that almost makes it sound like we're getting killed off one by one.”
“Been reading parlor mysteries again, Twilight?” Celestia said.
Twilight scratched at the back of her neck, embarrassed. “Maybe?”
“Shoulda stuck to the smutty romances.” Cadance said.
The rest of the walk back to Twilight's castle was uneventful, except Cadance's singing.
Twilight winced as Cadance belted out another filthy verse of “Oh Roll Your Leg Over (It's Better That Way).” If nothing else, Twilight mused, Cadance's voice could scare off any nocturnal predators through sheer volume alone.
By the time she pushed open the doors to her castle, Twilight's hooves were aching, her head was throbbing, and her eyes were bleary from the night's misadventures. She made it a point not to look at the clock-- she already knew she was way, way off her normal schedule. Knowing exactly how late it was would only make her feel worse.
“I don't know about you guys, but I'm exhausted.” Twilight said. “I mean … I guess this has been fun, but I'm sure you two have lots of important stuff to do tomorrow.”
“I believe you're right.” Celestia yawned, and daintily covered her mouth with one hoof.
“That's it? Pssh. Lightweights.” Cadance said. “Back when I was in college, there were nights I didn't get to bed 'til the sun came up!”
“Which is something Princess Celestia has to tend to tomorrow morning.” Twilight nodded.
“Oh. Right.” Cadance said. “Well, I guess you can go to bed, but I'm gonna--” In the early-morning quiet of the castle, the burbling noise from within Cadance's stomach echoed off the walls. Her pink complexion shifted to more of a green tone. “--I'm just gonna go find a bathroom.” And Cadance bolted down the hallway.
“Third door on the left!” Twilight called out, thankfully.
Cadance barged through said door-- and a moment later, Cadance's retching echoed through the normally quiet halls of the castle.
Twilight hoped Spike was asleep by now.
“I'll look after her.” Celestia said. “You go on and get to bed.”
“Oh! I couldn't!” Twilight said. “I mean, you're my guest! If anyone's going to hold Cadance's mane while she's sick, it's going to be me.” She nodded, resolute.
“Very well then.” Celestia said, in the sort of tone that made Twilight beam with pride. “In that case, I'll be getting to bed.”
Twilight nodded. “My room's just down the hall--”
Princess Celestia arched a brow.
“I mean! Uh. You can sleep in my bed!” Twilight blurted, cheeks going crimson. “Without me in it, that is! You know, like how in medieval times whenever a feudal lord visits one of their vassals, that means the lord gets the best bedroom in the castle, and everyone else just shifts down a notch. Thankfully it's just me and Spike here so it's not like we don't have extra bedrooms, so it all works out!”
“I appreciate the thought, Twilight, but a guest bedroom will do just fine, thank you.” She smiled, and trotted down the hall. “Honestly, I'd even settle for a couch at this point.”
Twilight opened her mouth to protest, but soon she heard Cadance again, and shook her head. At least it sounded like the worst of it was past.
Princess Celestia woke with a pain in her neck and a top hat pulled down over her eyes.
She groaned, and rolled off the couch she'd sprawled upon. It had seemed a good idea at the time, to sprawl out on the couch in a way totally unbecoming of a princess, the sort of thing she could never get away with back in Canterlot. Sadly, the couch she'd chosen to sprawl on wasn't scaled for ponies of Celestia's stature, and so she'd spent those fitful few hours of sleep with her neck bunched up at an odd angle against the sofa's armrest.
Celestia slowly rolled off the couch, feeling entirely too many of her joints pop and crackle in protest. She shook the top hat off of her head, only to immediately wish she hadn't as she got an eyeful of morning sunlight.
“Good morning!” Twilight trotted into the sitting room, levitating a platter with two steaming mugs of coffee balanced atop it. “Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough.” Celestia picked up a mug of coffee and took a bracing sip. Twilight had put far too much (read: any) milk and sugar in it, but at that moment, Celestia knew she needed the caffeine. She studied Twilight for a moment-- the young princess looked a little tired, but she stood prouder and smiled wider than she'd ever seen her favorite student do so before. Even if the very tips of her wings appeared to be singed.
“Great! I know this probably isn't as nice as things are back in Canterlot or even the Crystal Empire, but I'm really glad you guys stayed over. Cadance is still sleeping off her hangover-- I made sure she drank a bunch of water before she went to bed, so I'm sure after she has a little orange juice and gets in a hot shower, she'll be fine!”
“Good to hear.” Princess Celestia glanced to the sun streaming in through the window.
Twilight followed Celestia's gaze, and perked her ears up. “Oh! I almost forgot! I need to thank you!”
Celestia blinked, and drank down some more coffee.
Twilight went on without prompting. “When you and Luna and Cadance just wanted to spend the night going out drinking and fighting and singing and stuff, I was kind of concerned! But now, I see you had something in mind all along! You took me out of my comfort zone to push my limits, just like when you told me I had to move to Ponyville.” Twilight trotted over to the window, and spread the curtains wider, causing more bright morning sunlight to stream in.
“I was going to wake you up a lot earlier, but when I saw you sleeping on the couch so peacefully, I realized that you were really just testing me! You and the other princesses willingly (if safely) incapacitated yourselves so that nopony was around to raise the sun in the morning … except for me!” Twilight laughed a little. “It was really, really hard, and I miiiiight have gotten a little too close to the sun in the process, but it was worth it!” Twilight puffed out her singed wings, and looked up at the clear blue skies outside with no small degree of satisfaction. “So now we all know Equestria will stay safe and sunny in case anything ever happened to you. Which it won't, I know, because you're so strong and wise and powerful! But, you know, the next time you want to take a vacation, or just sleep in a little bit, I've got you covered!” Twilight turned back to Celestia. “Just, um, maybe give me a little warning, next time?”
Celestia looked down at her coffee. Then out the window. Then to her smiling student. Then back to her coffee again.
“Yes.” Princess Celestia said. She forced herself to sound her normal gentle, serene self, despite the ache in her neck and the throbbing behind her eyes. “That's exactly what I had in mind. Good job, Twilight.”
Of all the things Princess Celestia had taught her favorite student, she was glad that lie detection wasn't one of them.