Spike put a finishing touch on the letter as Twilight frantically ran through the library behind him. "Spike!" she called out, levitating numerous books at the same time and frantically stuffing them within her saddlebags. "Did you finish the letter?"
Spike jumped down from the pedestal he'd been using. "Yep! Got it right here." He said, and scanned over the page once more. "Heading to Canterlot, check. Getting Princess' help, check. Will come back when we have answers, check." He looked up from the note to address Twilight. "I'll go drop this off at Rarity's, then?"
"No time," she yelled. "The last train is leaving in... oh no! We've got to go now!"
"What about the note?" Spike asked, as he ran behind the frantic pony.
"Just post it on the door! Now let's go!"
The princess of the night smiled as she heard her sister use the old, familiar pet name. It was a term of endearment, but Celestia often used it when she wanted something from the younger alicorn. Luna wondered if Celestia even realized this. "Yes, 'Tia?"
"Twilight Sparkle will arrive at the palace tomorrow. I will be spending time with her doing some magical research, and I was wondering..."
"You have need of my help?" the dark alicorn asked, frowning. "'Tia, you know how behind I am on such matters these days..."
Celestia shook her head, smiling. "No, I had something else in mind. Since I will be occupied, the throne will be vacant." She trailed off, grinning as she caught her sister's expression.
"You want me to..." Luna gasped, shocked. Upon her return from exile, they had both agreed that she needed time to acclimatize herself to the changed times. Ponies had changed in a thousand years, more than she had thought possible. Where they had once slept the night away, which had once partially been responsible for her downfall, they now enjoyed the later hours, some ponies even spending their waking hours in her darkness. But these were the least of the changes. Their civilization had transformed, along with everything that went with it: entertainment, agriculture, science, magic, politics... just to name a few.
And it seemed like she was about to get a taste of the last one.
"You've asked me several times lately," the elder alicorn replied, nodding. "I believe this is a perfect opportunity for you to try your hoof at ruling."
"Oh thank you, 'Tia!" Luna said, sitting on her haunches to ecstatically clap her front hooves together. "I cannot wait!"
"You won't have to," Celestia said, nodding her head towards a window, where the sun was dipping closer to the horizon. "I must prepare for Twilight's arrival. You can start right after you raise the moon."
Luna stood up, smiling widely at her sister. "You won't be disappointed in me, sister! I know exactly what I'm going to do!" she said, then ran off to find a balcony. She had a moon to raise.
Celestia stared at the vanishing contrail of stars. Luna had not said 'what to do', but 'what I'm going to do'. She sighed softly, shaking her head. This was her sister, after all. Surely things would be all right.
It took all of Applejack's self control to not slam the door as she arrived at her home. Applebloom and Granny Smith were asleep, after all, and it would just not do to wake them up. Even if she felt like kicking something into next week. She made her way to the kitchen, and sat down at the table, sighing as she let her head rest on its flat surface.
What little peace she was feeling was shattered when somepony made themselves heard.
"Applejack? Are you okay?" the quiet voice asked. Lifting her head off the table, Applejack saw the concern on Fluttershy's face. Big Macintosh stood next to her, his face as impassive as ever, but she could see the worry in his eyes.
"What do you think, Fluttershy?" she snapped, more harshly than she intended. "Ah just found out that Pinkie thinks ah been makin' eyes at a pony ah can't even think 'bout right now without gettin' madder than a wet hen. Honestly," she asked, planting a hoof on her face. "Where in the hay did she get that idea from?"
The two other ponies shared a glance, and pressed on. "Can you really blame her, Applejack?" Fluttershy asked, sitting at the table. "You two have been nearly inseparable for ages..."
"Only because she can't fly home!" Applejack retorted, frowning. "What kind of pony would ah be if ah refused to let her stay?" But Fluttershy's words had struck a nerve. Since Rainbow Dash started staying at the farm... Applejack was hard pressed to think of a moment the two hadn't spent together.
"I don't just mean since... all this happened." Fluttershy answered, waving a hoof at the pair of blue wings. "You two always hang out together."
Applejack shook her head. "Nah, not that often..." The little private contests, the snacks at Sugarcube corner...
"It's weird to not see you two together, Sis." Big Macintosh added, nodding. When Applejack stared at him, he simply shrugged. "Ah ain't the sharpest tool in the shed, but it ain't hard to see..."
"Even when it's all six of us together... you two are in your own world." Fluttershy continued. "I used to wonder why, but now..."
"Wh-what... Can't friends hang out together without ponies thinking somethin' is going on?" All of Pinkie's parties... they never were far from each other.
Fluttershy put a hoof on her friend's back. "Applejack... I've known Rainbow for a long time. I'm her oldest friend." She stopped, a small smile on her face. "But I'm not her best friend. You are."
The orange farmpony stared at Fluttershy and Big Macintosh, then shifted her gaze to the ground. More images flitted through her mind, just adding to her confusion. Rainbow Dash casually draped on her back while Pinkie marched the Parasprites out of town. Rainbow Dash finally released from Discord's control, and launching herself at Applejack. Running side by side with Rainbow Dash, leaves falling all around them.
Rainbow Dash, tears in her eyes, as she left the farm in a fury.
Ah... Ah can't think straight.
Applejack abruptly stood up, startling Fluttershy. "Ah'm sorry. Ah... can't think right now. Ah'm going to bed." She made her way to the door, where she paused, still staring forwards. "Thanks for stopping by... Ah'll be all right." she mumbled, and left the kitchen, leaving two worried ponies behind.
Twilight launched herself off the train as it ground to a halt, not waiting for the machine to stop before rushing off towards the palace. She ignored the complaints of the baby dragon on her back as he clung on for dear life as she made her way through the streets of Canterlot.
She realized it was late at night, and there was no true need to rush, but something beyond her control drove her legs forwards at a brisk gallop. Before she knew it, she had arrived at the palace gates, and slid to a stop, ejecting Spike from her back onto the ground. He came to a stop at the feet of what had caused Twilight's abrupt stop.
Sitting at the gates were not just the usual pair of guards, but Princess Celestia herself, in all her regal glory and poise. The Princess smiled down at Spike, lifting him back to his feet with her magic, then faced Twilight.
"Twilight, my dearest student! It is good to see you."
"P-Princess?" Twilight stammered, not believing her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
Celestia raised an eyebrow as she pondered the question. "I do believe this is my palace, can I not choose to go where I wish?"
Twilight blushed at the statement. "W-well yes, but I meant-"
The words died in her mouth as her mentor laughed. "I thought you might want to get started as soon as possible, Twilight." she said, as if that explained everything. She opened her mouth to say something more, but was interrupted by a sound that drowned out her voice.
"THUS, NOW AND FOREVERMORE, UPON EVERY SUNDAY... THE PALACE CAFETERIA SHALL SERVE APPLE SALAD! LET THIS TERRIBLE SUBSTANCE CALLED TOFU CURSE OUR PLATE NO FURTHER! SO WE HAVE SPOKEN, SO MOTE IT BE!"
"... and I wanted to escape that." Celestia muttered, then cleared her throat. "I do believe the western wing should give us a modicum of peace and quiet. How about you guide me through the process?" She asked, to which Twilight nodded eagerly.
Spike followed them as the two mares made their way through the palace hallways. "Apple Salad sounds good right now..." he mused, as he listened to his grumbling stomach.
"...WHAT DOTH THOU MEAN, 'PAPERWORK'?"
In the Apple farmhouse, ponies slept, and ponies dreamed. The innocent dreams of the young filled Applebloom's head, taking her on adventures with her friends. The dreams of the old mare wandered through the memories of her youth. The stallion had not started dreaming yet, still lying awake, trying to count sheep. But he was too worried, and wasn't having much success. Sighing, he got up and headed to the bathroom. On his way there, he heard the sound of somepony muttering. It was coming from... Applejack's room?
Curiosity getting the better of him, he approached the room and put an ear to the door.
"Consarn it, Dash... not now!"
Big Macintosh blinked, pulling his head from the door. He wasn't expecting to hear something like that. Especially not the giggle that followed. Unable to help himself, he bent closer again.
"Don't make me get mah rope!" He heard. She now sounded angry. "You're not helping..." she continued, then devolved into alternatively moaning or growling the pegasus' name. Cheeks burning, Big Macintosh resolved himself to knock. As much as he valued everypony's privacy, especially his family's... Applejack was getting a bit too loud. Applebloom didn't need to hear any of this.
He lifted a hoof, and quietly knocked on the door. He blinked again as he heard a muffled thud and an cry of shock.
"Sis?" he asked, before opening the door. Big Macintosh raised an eyebrow as he took in the scene: his sister upside down on the floor, tangled up in her sheets.
"You need help getting out of that?"
After a moment of struggling, Applejack sighed. "...Yep."
"So, what happened?" he asked as he grabbed one edge of the sheets with his teeth, and gave a hard yank. The motion spun Applejack around, freeing her but sending her eyes spinning.
"Um... A nightmare?" she replied, holding a hoof to the side of her head.
Somehow, Big Macintosh's eyebrow rose even further. "You're all sweaty. So is your bed."
Applejack hoped the darkness hid her blush. "Yeah, it was a bad one."
"And your wings are stiff." He added, nodding to the appendages flaring out from Applejack's back.
"...Ah told you, it was a nightmare!"
"Ah thought ah heard you calling out Miss Dash's name..."
"It. Was. A. Nightmare."
He stared quietly at his sister, who was glaring daggers at him. He let the silence hang for a few moments longer, then shrugged. "A nightmare. Right. Well, ah'm going back to bed. So should you." He turned around and left the room, closing the door behind him. Before it had fully closed, he heard a final mutter from his sister, which made him grin.
"...Stupid sexy Dash..."
"See? You two are adorable!"
Rainbow Dash's mind kept repeating Pinkie's words as she made her way to Fluttershy's home. She couldn't even begin to imagine the thought process behind the statement. Not that this was saying much, considering it was Pinkie, but this...
"You two make such a cute couple!"
It was something else entirely, and she just couldn't understand it. Arriving at the cottage, she simply flopped back onto the couch she had rudely been awakened from, letting out a massive yawn. No point in thinking about it now, she thought. A good night's rest would help clear her mind. If, of course, she managed to fall asleep in the first place. The way the entire conversation kept floating through her head might complicate that.
In fact, it was completely impossible to fall asleep. Her mind was simply not letting what had just happened go.
Why had Pinkie even said that? Nothing came to Rainbow Dash's mind. Even thinking of the farmpony made her mad right now. Not like there's anything good about her anyway!
Nevermind her amazing work ethic, so at odds with Dash's own. Sure, she was passionate when the occasion called for it, but Applejack was the most hard working pony in Ponyville, bar none.
Nevermind the fact she was one of the friendliest ponies anywhere, always eager to help others... even to the detriment of her own health.
Nor the fact that, when it looked like Applejack would not come back from her rodeo contest, Dash had been the most desperate of them all to get her back, at one point leaving Rarity and Pinkie behind. She'd even let tears flow when the farmer had been reunited with her friends for good.
Forget how Applejack was always up for some fun. The friendly challenges, the athletic competitions... the Iron Pony contest.
And... just how amazing Applejack looked. While nothing like Rainbow Dash's chromatic self, which was impossible to match, Applejack's simple style shone past the rest of their friends. The ever-present hat, covering a mane with a golden hue that put Rainbow's own swath of yellow to shame. The green eyes that could almost let you see her innermost thoughts.
The orange coat, covering the well toned body Applejack had obtained from years of farmwork. Watching her applebucking was like watching a mastercraftspony at work, and it had been a joy to see when Applejack had been teaching her the finer points of applebucking. Rainbow Dash had felt it first-hoof, when she had given Applejack that massage. That had been... more enjoyable to do than Dash was willing to admit. Far more enjoyable, in fact.
Dash blinked, and turned her head towards her tail. She wasn't really up-to-date on earth pony body language - Pegasi tended to express things with their wings for things Unicorns and Earth Ponies displayed with tail and leg - but... I hope that doesn't mean what I think it means, she thought, staring at the now rigid yellow tail. Stupid sexy Applejack.
Cheeks burning hot, she looked around for anything to change the path her traitorous mind seem set on. Anything at all. Anything to escape the ache that seemed to gnaw at her stomach whenever she thought of the farmpony.
As she looked out of the window, she noticed a dark shape that seemed out of place, and gasped as she recognized it. She'd forgotten all about it in her pursuit and the ensuing situation, but there it was.
Luna's glare was so intense, it could have set fire to whatever fell under her gaze. In fact, her desire to burn what she was staring at was very, very strong indeed.
"When We last ruled at Our sister's side, there were some 30 pages of documents each day which required Our personal attention. In these thousand years, the realm has grown a third again as large. Allowing for a further 100% increase due to the greater industry of these times, We should see some 80 pages now."
Luna paused, glancing at the assistant that had materialized with the paperwork. "You have brought Us 300." She lifted her gaze to the sky, as if beseeching the heavens. "Things were so much simpler before you invented writing..." Sighing, she levitated the first few pages and started reading. After a mere half dozen pages, Luna's horn suddenly flared with magic, sending the stacks of paper flying into the middle of the throne room, where they landed in a jumbled mess.
"This... is the current system? We almost fell asleep a dozen times while reading those few pages, and it is nighttime! No," she said, slamming a hoof onto the floor. "These abominations shall not stand!" Her horn flashed, and the papers caught fire.
Luna spread her wings, lifting herself off the ground, raising her forehooves in the air as her eyes glowed with conviction. "WE... SHALL FIX THIS."
On the other end of the palace, Celestia smiled to herself. One of the lesser known perks of an alicorn was being blessed with fantastic hearing. Things are going swimmingly, she thought, having heard Luna's words.
Celestia noticed with relief that Twilight did not seem to share her gift of hearing, as the smaller mare nodded off, then jerked herself awake. The poor thing was spent, having driven herself to exhaustion in her desperation to help her friends. "Twilight?" she said, nudging her student with a hoof. Her student snapped awake, staring around in confusion before settling on her mentor.
"Oh Princess I'm sorry! I fell asleep and-" she started, before being interrupted by a hoof on her muzzle.
"Twilight, you're exhausted. Go to sleep."
"No buts, Twilight." The princess said, shaking her head. "You're of no use if you're tired. I can make that a royal order, if needed." Celestia added, seeing how Twilight seemed about to argue. "We will resume this in the morning."
Mollified by the promise, Twilight finally nodded and pulled herself to her hooves. Bidding the Princess goodnight, she made her way to her quarters, carrying an already fast asleep Spike on her back.
Applejack stared in shock as the rope unfurled itself from Rainbow Dash's body. Free from the restraints, the pegasus grinned and leapt into the skies in an attempt to win the Running of the Leaves. The two had mostly been neck and neck the entire race, apart from a few delays caused by the other. But with Dash's wings free, she'd be able to pull ahead in a heartbeat.
Making a split second decision, Applejack leapt as Rainbow took to the skies, crashing into the pegasus and sending both crashing into the ground. They both continued to tussle, trading blows on the move until they'd somehow crossed the finish line. Applejack stood over Rainbow Dash, triumphantly holding her head high.
"Ha! Ah won!"
"Only because you cheated, you thief!" Rainbow spat, glaring at the farmpony.
"Cheated? Thief? What the hay are you on about, Rainbow?" she asked, before blinking at the strangest sensation on her back. Like part of her body was moving... Turning her head, she gasped at the pair of blue wings on her body.
Turning back to Rainbow Dash, she looked around in confusion at her friend's sudden disappearance. In Rainbow Dash's stead, dozens of pegasi stood around Applejack, staring at her with star-struck expressions.
"Did you see that?" She heard one voice say. "She overpowered Rainbow Dash!"
"Oh my Celestia!" Another voice gushed. "She's so... strong! And dreamy!"
Applejack wheeled about as the pegasi kept talking, desperately trying to escape. But she was surrounded by ponies... no, by wings. All the ponies had disappeared, leaving dozens of wings flying around on their own.
Now utterly terrified, Applejack made a break for it, and attempted to run away from the wings. But they followed her relentlessly, keeping pace with her.
Suddenly, Applejack spotted the Princess, who had arrived to observe the Running of the Leaves. As Applejack opened her mouth to cry out for help, the Princess just vanished, leaving behind the biggest pair of wings of them all.
With nowhere to run, Applejack tried to grind to a halt, but felt no grip. She looked down and saw only blackness, and first felt a falling sensation... then a sharp pain to her head.
Applejack's eyes flew open, finding herself staring once more at the ceiling of her room. She looked left and right, making sure that it had all been a dream, and sighed in relief. Thank Celestia, she thought, that was just a normal nightmare for once. She relaxed, still in her fallen position, then frowned as a thought struck her.
Wait... since when was that a normal nightmare?
Applejack sighed, putting a hoof to her forehead. This was going to be a long, long night.
Twilight steadied herself, sparing a glance at the two ponies beside her. On her left stood Applejack, her eyes wandering all over the place before catching Twilight's gaze. The farm pony smiled, settling down. Her fluttering wings belied her understandable nervousness, and she didn't attempt to hide it.
On Twilight's right, Rainbow Dash made a stark contrast. She stood rigidly, staring straight ahead, a determined look on her face. But underneath the stoic demeanor, Twilight could see the facade's cracks. If you looked long enough, you could see the pegasus trembling. She was scared, and that was something she would never admit to.
No sense in dragging it out any longer, Twilight thought. "Okay girls," she said, causing the other ponies to flinch. "I'm going to start."
Twilight took one last look at her friends before closing her eyes, and willed her magic into existence. The now intimately familiar feel of the teleportation spell filled her consciousness, its power building at the tip of her horn. Concentrating, she let the magic take its course, the teleportation bubble descending until it touched the ground. At that precise moment, she wove a new layer into the spell, modifying it slightly to, hopefully, get the results she wanted. A sharp intake of breath was heard from both her sides, extending into infinity as reality twisted itself to accommodate the spell's power. What felt like an eternity lasted only a split second, the magic releasing itself from her grip as she ended the spell.
Twilight released the breath she had been holding, and cracked her eyes open. She spun her head to face Applejack, to see the fruits of her labor.
She found... nothing. Applejack was nowhere to be seen. Twilight turned to face her other side, her bewilderment increasing as she saw the complete lack of her pegasus friend. Somehow, both ponies had disappeared.
Oh no... she thought, with mounting panic. Did I send them somewhere? Are they all right? What happened?
Twilight frantically ran around the library, calling out to her friends in a desperate hope of getting an answer. To her dismay, only silence answered her. She was about to rush outside to get help, when she suddenly felt a breeze. She paused in mid-stride, utterly confused at its source: all windows had been shut to lessen the risk of any outdoor interruption. There should not have been even the slightest breath of wind.
And just beneath the sound of the wind, she heard what sounded... like a faint whispering. She couldn't make out any words, but it was distinctive enough to not mistake it for the wind. "Applejack?" she called out, hoping it was merely her friends playing a prank on her. "Rainbow Dash?"
A flash of color appeared at the corner of her eye, making her whirl around. Whatever it had been had vanished, leaving her trying to process exactly what she had seen at the edge of her vision. But she could make no sense of it.
The gust of wind made itself felt again, even stronger than before. Twilight squinted as it rose to near gale force, sending books and pages in every direction. Suddenly, a bright flash of light lit the room, momentarily blinding her. She squeezed her eyes shut, but could still make out the sounds of of fluttering pieces of paper as the wind died down, and... the sound of breathing that wasn't her own. Twilight cracked one eye open, looking at the source of the noise... and stared in shock.
Before her stood... a pony. Or something looking like one. She didn't know what part of it to look at first, as everything seemed to clash with itself. The pony's coat was a mess of color, a mixture of orange and cerulean blue which was constantly shifting under her gaze. A pair of wings jutted from the pony's sides, the only part of its body that did not shift color. One stayed orange, the other, blue.
The mane and the tail seemed split in half, partially rainbow colored on one side, a bright blonde on the other. And finally, the pony's eyes... the upper half was green, but faded into magenta on the bottom half. Its gaze bore into her, staring into her soul.
It spoke, sending her mind reeling as she recognized two familiar voices speaking as one.
"I/we am/are Appledash..."
The princess of the night grinned as she peered into the dreams of her sister's favored student, bursting into outright giggles as she heard a distant scream of terror as Twilight Sparkle woke up, fleeing the words her nightmare had conjured.
Luna quickly quelled her laughter, chiding herself for it. This was clearly an important issue for Twilight, and Luna should not be laughing at her plight. Especially considering that the unicorn was one of those responsible for freeing her from what she had become. Perhaps the most responsible, as a matter of fact. She should, and did, feel eternally grateful for what the little pony and her friends had done.
Yet... the dream was simply irresistible. Her mouth quirked upwards as an idea formed. Silently, she tapped into one of her lesser known powers, diverting Twilight's dream towards another's sleeping mind.
Within a few minutes, another scream made itself heard, this time from Celestia's royal quarters. Luna abandoned any attempt at control, breaking down into a fit of laughter as Celestia woke up from the dream, terrified at the thought of two Elements of Harmony being fused into one being, and what repercussions it could bring.
And that's for not warning me about the paperwork, Luna thought, devolving into another fit of giggles.
Rainbow Dash breathed in deeply, savoring the cold air. It had taken her a few tries, but she was finally airborne, and in decent control of Pinkie's copter. The first thing she had done was shoot straight up, flying as high as possible. She kept pedalling, maintaining what she felt was a good altitude.
Flying... this is what she needed. The breeze, the clouds, the night sky, everything was there.
Except... not everything was. Something is missing, she thought. Something important.
The itch wasn't getting scratched. She needed more. More height, more wind, more adrenaline...