Hi everyone! Here's a new story from me based on the season six finale : ) It's a slice of life oneshot looking at the aftermath of Chrysalis's defeat. Enjoy and please review if you can!
(or Where to Where and Back Again Ends)
"Ugh…" Discord blinked a few times. "Where am I?" The first thing he noticed was that his voice had a faint, almost echo-ish sound. The second thing was that when he tried to move his paw up to rub his head, he couldn't: almost like some strong force was keeping him from completing the motion despite his best effort. The third thing was that everything appeared to be in a green haze…oh, and hanging upside down over a large stone cavern.
And the fourth thing he noticed was a (likewise faint and echo-ish) voice saying… "Discord?"
Able to shift his gaze at least, Discord glanced over and let his vision adjust to the green substance around him.
"Discord?" the somewhat familiar voice repeated.
His eyes focused in on a large blur of white and…there was Celestia, eyes half opened, ethereal hair unmoving, and hanging upside down in a translucent cocoon just like he was.
And that was when it all came back to the chaos master. 'Oh poo, I've been captured by the changelings. Well, I'm never going to hear the end of this at the next villain reunion, am I?'
"Discord…is that you?" Celestia's mouth barely moved as she said the words.
Discord blinked again then tried to speak too—a difficult but doable process. …And as long as he could talk, might as well go for a joke. "No, Celestia—this is all just an elaborate dream. And I'm here now to give you a hoof massage and praise you on your paperwork-filling-out skills. Then we'll all have some cake, and you can wake up."
She smiled. "It is you. Only you would make jokes at a time like this."
"Hey," Discord cracked a smile too, "you should have seen me outside of the throne room earlier putting on a comedy show for the changelings as a distraction—definitely better than that act I put on at your Gala."
The sun princess shook her head slightly and tried to laugh, but she quickly started coughing from the green fluid surrounding her.
Discord sighed. "Okay, I doubt I'll ever say this again, but no more jokes. This green goo's clearly bad for the health, and I am not going to let you give that overgrown wasp of darkness down there the satisfaction of being the one to take you down: if I'm not allowed to do it myself, then no one is. And I'm not allowed anymore, so…all hail and long live Celestia, I suppose." He went to snap, but then realized he couldn't move his fingers fast enough and also recalled that he still couldn't use magic. He sighed again. "Sorry—I was going to snap up a flag with your face on it to wave but…well…you know."
Celestia's coughing had ceased now, and she managed a small smile again. "It's all right. I'm sorry you got caught, but I'm glad Chrysalis put someone else close enough for me to talk to. Luna's on the other side of me, but...visiting the land of dreams to warn Starlight about the invasion took a lot out of her. She's been sleeping ever since."
"Do you know if any of the others are okay? Is Fluttershy okay?" The chaos master didn't even try to hide the desperation in his tone.
Celestia smiled a little more. "They're all like us: very weak and trapped. But no one's been hurt, Discord. And no one's love has been drained yet."
"Okay." Discord let out a deep breath. "Okay. Good. That's very good." He closed his eyes. "I wish I could talk to her though."
"I know she's important to you, so I wish you could too, Discord. But I'm still glad you're here talking with me. It helps to hear a friend's voice," she replied gently.
Discord opened his eyes. "I didn't mean …It's not that it's not good to see you, it's just…Fluttershy…she's the reason I came, and…"
"I know, Discord." Celestia nodded in understanding. "She's your first friend—your best friend. It's okay that you came for Fluttershy, Discord. I'm happy you value her so much."
"No…it's not just that." Discord tried to angle his eyes to see Fluttershy, but looking past Celestia only made everything seem green and blurry. "You and Luna and Twilight…you're powerful. You're like me: you can protect yourselves. Fluttershy's got a strong spirit, and she's fine when she's with her friends, but…she must have been so frightened when she was captured and stuck in one of these magic prisons all alone. I should have been there for her." He cringed. "You could fight this place, Celestia—you fought me once after all. But she…could get hurt." He looked back to the sun princess now to see her frowning.
"Discord," Celestia started gently, "it won't help to worry yourself so much. Believe me. Just have faith in your friends and do your best to help them when you can. I know that might not seem like much, but it's a powerful thing. That faith has helped me many times."
Discord just sighed with a dull look. "Well, I suppose at this point I don't have much of a choice. Only instead of 'believing in' Fluttershy and the girls, I have to believe in Twilight's little student, and that magician pony, and the unusually kind changeling with the glittery wings."
"Glittery wings?" Celestia raised an eyebrow. "You mean…Thorax's wings have stayed crystalized even after leaving the Crystal Empire? Cadance and I just thought it was an effect of the Crystal Heart…"
"Oh, who knows what's going on in this insane asylum?" He pouted and regretted being unable to cross his arms too. "This place is some sort of hub of weirdly monotone chaos, and I'm not a fan. I knew there was a reason I never teamed up with Changelings in the past. I've had a bad feeling about this hive from the moment I walked in here; emphasis on the word 'walked'—it felt like I went on for miles without my magic."
"But you still did it," Celestia assured. "You put yourself through a lot today. And even though it was mostly to save Fluttershy, you were still part of the attempt to save all of us. Thank you. And please know that if you're ever captured by anypony, the other princesses and I will be happy to return the favor."
He cracked a smile again. "Captured by another villain and saved by Equestria's four princesses? I'm not sure if reality could sustain that ironic of an ending to my legacy, Celestia."
"You can bend reality with your magic, Discord." She smiled more. "We'll make it work."
Discord tried to laugh but found himself suddenly coughing against the fluid.
"You really can't laugh here, Discord. Just smile," the sun princess advised. "Besides, if Chrysalis hears us, she'll use her magic against us." She frowned. "She already shot a beam at Luna when she realized she was warning Starlight: I think that's part of what weakened my sister so much. So try to preserve your strength. I really…really don't want to lose another pony to talk to."
"Why?" Discord's coughing finished, and he grinned. "Would you miss the sound of your own self-righteousness or something?"
However, Celestia didn't grin in return. "Actually I…Please don't ever tell the others this, but I'm a little frightened, Discord."
The chaos master's eyes went wide.
Celestia just looked back at him. "There are always signs or prophecies of attacks coming against Equestria, so I always have at least some chance to plan. But this attack was…unexpected. And almost everyone I love, everyone who could help, is trapped right here along with me. I don't know how to make my friends or my little ponies safe. That's frightening to me, Discord."
He could have made another joke to lighten the mood, he supposed, but instead the chaos master frowned and replied, "I…know what you mean, I think, Celestia."
She raised an eyebrow.
He swallowed. "I wasn't able to keep Fluttershy safe, and I suppose that frightens me…and I guess it must be pretty obvious or the changelings wouldn't have used it against me."
As she tilted her head slightly, Discord cleared his throat to explain. "I, um…I got caught because I ran off with the throne room guards chasing me as a distraction, and I thought I'd lost them. But then I ran into 'Fluttershy'. Not the real Fluttershy of course, just some horrible buggy actress pretending to be her in distress. I told her I wasn't buying it, but then I turned around and…Celestia there were dozens of them, all disguised as Fluttershy, all crying out for help…and the first one said that maybe the real one was there but…I wouldn't know unless I helped them all, would I? It was too much." He scowled and closed his eyes. "I couldn't bear the thought of her maybe being there in pain. So…I froze and…and then the swarm came at me, still all looking like her. And now I'm here." His eyes opened with a dull look. "I'm an idiot. I should have just shoved all of them aside and made a run for it."
"Discord, you're not an idiot." Celestia's tone was firm. "Anyone would feel awful looking at their best friend in that situation. That's what Chrysalis has the changelings do—they manipulate the love in your heart to control you. You did your best. And I'm sorry you had to go through that."
The chaos master looked over to see her frowning. "Thanks." As the word left him, he blinked and cleared his throat. "So, um, anyway…how did you get captured?"
Celestia blinked too. She smiled again. "You'll think it's silly."
"Oh come on, I could use some entertainment." He grinned. "This conversation has been dangerously emotional and sappy so far. If it gets any worse, Chrissy will fly up here and drain us both like a midday milkshake."
Celestia almost laughed again but quickly stopped herself before any coughing could start. "Chrysalis herself came and got me…"
"Let me guess—she disguised herself as Luna?"
"No." She managed to shake her head. "I think she learned her lesson after what happened with Cadance—if you replace a pony and try to trick someone who knows them very, very well, you're bound to make a mistake that tips them off. Twilight saw through Chrysalis's Cadance impersonation in an instant because of how close they used to be, and Shining Armor was only fooled because he was brainwashed over time. Tricking me by pretending to be Luna or tricking Luna by pretending to be me would have been a mistake: we're too close. So she tricked Luna by disguising herself as Twilight—a pony Luna trusts even if she doesn't get to see her too often. So by the time Luna realized something was wrong, it was too late and she was captured."
"You're talking an awful lot and still not telling me what disguise she used to trick you, you know." He smirked.
The sun princess gave him a dry look with a small smile. "She used you."
"Me?" His eyes went wide.
Celestia sighed. "I told you—they use friends you trust but who you don't get to see often. It takes longer for you to pick up on their mannerisms being off."
"Oh, you must trust me bad for me to be Chrysalis's top choice as bait." Discord smirked.
She only smiled more. "Yes, I do, Discord. I actually thought it was nice—you popping in and wanting to spend time together and work on our friendship. An interesting afternoon talking about chaos sounded like fun."
"You've gotten weirdly excitable about chaos ever since I was reformed, you do know that, right?" He raised an eyebrow and grinned more. "I mean, you should not have been giggling and smiling when I flooded your gala with smooze over the summer."
Celestia resisted the urge to laugh. "I've just been very happy to see you in such a better place, Discord. And chaos seems so fun the way you do it now. So I was looking forward to you sharing with me and maybe getting the chance to discuss magic and your time with the girls." She gave a slight shrug. "Chrysalis convinced me that she was you just long enough...and by the time I realized something was wrong, the changeling swarm had me."
"What gave me away?"
Celestia's gaze went a little dry. "Five straight minutes of conversation and you didn't snap your fingers once for some kind of visual gag. Either you were seriously ill or…"
"A changeling. Right, right…" His eyes hazed. "Wow…what a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into this time, huh?"
"It definitely hasn't felt like my finest our these last few days." She sighed.
"You know what the worst part of things will be if she wins?" Celestia raised an eyebrow, and Discord went on with a smirk. "Listening to her maniacal rants. She'll talk for days at a time with a captive audience like us."
Celestia finally couldn't help a laugh which quickly sent her into some coughing.
"WHAT IS GOING ON UP THERE?"
Celestia and Discord's eyes went wide, and they froze. As they heard the sound of Chrysalis's fluttering wings approaching, they looked to each other, nodded, and then closed their eyes, feigning sleep.
Suddenly Discord could hear the wings buzzing right around them and the changeling queen's voice right near his ear as she hissed, "Hmm…whether you two are awake or not is no matter—you'll find it impossible to escape these bindings. And soon you will all serve as a delicacy for me to feast upon! I must simply wait a few more minutes to end the efforts of the changeling traitor and that little pony student, and then my revenge shall he complete."
The buzzing of her wings faded as she descended back to her throne.
Several seconds passed, and then Celestia and Discord finally opened their eyes again. They kept their voices very quiet.
Discord pouted. "I really don't like her. Have I mentioned that?"
"Believe me, she's not my favorite person at the moment either." Celestia's eyes hazed dully. "This is the second time in my life she's strung me up from a ceiling like this in front of everypony, and I'm getting a little tired of it."
Discord raised an eyebrow. "Cadance's wedding?"
"Don't remind me." Yet she couldn't help smiling a little.
He smiled too. "When we get out of this, you and I really should spend an afternoon together…plotting how to show up Madame Crazy Crown once and for all."
"Discord, I can't do that." Celestia rolled her eyes to the side. "I'm a princess—we don't seek revenge."
"Well in that case, I know what to get somepony for her next birthdaaay…." His voice had a singsong tone. "A certain buggy queen strung up in the Canterlot throne room: the gift that keeps on giving, at least to you and I."
It took a lot of willpower for Celestia not to laugh. "Discord…"
"Of course, the one downside would be having to hear her going off into speeches of unstable paranoia as she swears vengeance on us, but I'll just put a silence bubble around her. It'll be a fun time for everyone." He winked.
She sighed and shook her head slightly.
"Of course," the chaos master went on, "letting her go at the end will be tricky. How about I cut her loose, and you zap her straight off into the horizon? Like batting away a big bug?"
A small laugh or two couldn't help escaping Celestia again. "Discord, shh, no more jokes. Really: we can't laugh anymore."
He sighed but nodded. "Very well. It felt good though, after a day like this."
"Yes," Celestia nodded too. "I know what you mean." Her smile fell again…and didn't come back. "It's been a very, very long day…for everyone."
"Celestia…" Discord's tone lowered; his own smile left for the moment, "all joking aside, Starlight and Trixie and Thorax really are going to get us out of this, just like you said. Believe me, I've seen much more scattered, wing-and-a-prayer operations from your side succeed. We'll all be okay, and then you can get right back to taking care of your ponies and everyone else. Don't be such a worrywart." He tried to snap again but then sighed. "Great, and here I was going to give you a big wart on your forehead to humorously illustrate my point. Oh well—you know what I mean."
"Yes, I do." She nodded, and her smile returned again. "And thank you. I know, Discord—they'll save us. I'm just not exactly sure how for once." Her gaze softened. "But you're right, it'll be okay and we don't have to be frightened. …And you'll be out of here and hugging Fluttershy soon. I promise."
"Never had a doubt." He grinned a little and gave her a wink.
The sun princess's smile warmed.
Then a grumble and the murmurs of a familiar voice from behind Discord broke the moment. "Mmmm… Mmm… the Great and Powerful, Trixie…is not surprised that even in a captivity…you still do not shut your mouth, Discord. Keep it down."
Discord's eyes widened slightly, and he shifted his gaze to his other side…where he was surprised to find Trixie hanging upside down in her own stasis cocoon, her eyes closed with a scowl.
"Trixie? They got you too? But…" And then he scowled as her comment processed. "Oh, and ha, ha, very funny. Now ix-nay on the omplaints-kay, or we're all going to get bug zapped! …Trixie?" He could just make out that the unicorn had lost her scowl and gone still again. He finally noticed her eyes were closed. "She's asleep?" The sight of her made him blink once, and then he suddenly yawned.
Celestia spoke from his other side. "I'm not surprised. This green substance—it's designed to put creatures to sleep. You already felt its effects, and they should be returning soon." She yawned. "And I can't resist it again much longer myself."
Discord's eyes went back over to Celestia. "But we can't just sleep at a time like…" he yawned again, "like this. It's the final battle…I have to save…or somebody has to…Fluttershy…" Yet he felt his head start to cloud; his vision began to haze.
"Discord…" Celestia's sleepy eyes met his, "there's nothing we can do right now. At least if we conserve our strength for later, that's something. Believe in friendship, Discord. Everything will be okay. Fluttershy too."
With a slight frown, Discord nodded and let his eyes drift closed as Celestia did. He heard the buzz of Chrysalis's wings nearby again and then some sounds below, but sleep took over before he could register much more. His thoughts remained on Fluttershy until darkness took over.
Soon, of course, good triumphed over evil, the changelings were changed in a very special way, and Chrysalis had fled into the badlands, leaving everyone free to return to Equestria and rejoice in their victory together. And what better way to celebrate then with a conveniently timed Sunset Festival taking place in the old village of one of the day's heroes?
…And as everyone walked down the path to approach the festival, laughing and chatting and reveling in the return of their happiness, a certain blue pony couldn't help but address a certain purple princess pony rather persistently.
"Come on, 'Princess' Twilight Sparkle, say it…."
"Trixie, now is really not the time. We just escaped, and…"
Trixie grinned and tossed her mane with a hoof. "Well, unless you're that jealous of the fact that I saved the day by performing princess-level heroics, and you didn't…"
Twilight rolled her eyes to the side. "Trixie, I'm not jealous, I'm just tired—you try being kidnapped by changelings for a few days."
"Say it…" Trixie insisted again with a smirk. "Say that the Great and Powerful Trixie is just as good a pony as you are, Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight sighed very deeply. "Trixie, I never thought I was a better pony than you. More responsible—yes. Less of a show off—yes. But that's all in the past." She waved her hoof with a smile.
"Then I really don't see why you're having such a problem saying it." Trixie narrowed her eyes and leaned in close to Twilight.
Twilight sighed, and her gaze and tone warmed as she replied, "Because saying that you're as good a pony as I am isn't the right thing to say at all. The right thing to say is that I'm proud of you, Trixie, and grateful. You were very brave, you saved Equestria…and you brought me back to my student. You're a hero, Trixie. I couldn't have done a better job myself." The friendship princess couldn't help a small smug grin coming to her own face as Trixie's eyes suddenly went wide and she froze on the spot.
Twilight paused alongside her. "Trixie? Are you okay?"
Trixie was silent for another moment. "I, uh…the Great and Powerful…You really think all of that about me, Twilight? Even though I've been your enemy and I ruined that dinner you set up with Celestia last month and even though I'm clearly closer friends with your student than you are?"
Twilight just smiled more to herself and nodded. "No matter what you've done or what our disagreements, you did a good thing today, Trixie. And I'm happy to let you know it."
A small, rare, humble smile came to Trixie's features. "Thanks, Twilight." She blinked. "I mean, erm, the Great and Powerful Trixie knows she did good, of course, but it's just nice to finally hear you admit it." She smiled warmly.
Twilight returned the warm smile. "Of course."
Then Trixie quickly cleared her throat and looked ahead. "Well, erm…come on, the Great and Powerful Trixie wants to get to the festival soon. I'm starving." She proceeded forward again, her purple alicorn companion following alongside her.
A little of Twilight's smirk returned as she cleared her throat as well and added, "Oh, and I've been watching how you handle Discord—I don't think I've ever seen any pony talk back to him like you do or get under his skin so much. It's very refreshing. I'll really have to invite you over the next time he pays he a visit."
Trixie waved her off. "Oh, he's not so tough. Klutzy draconequus…" She laughed to herself.
Twilight raised an eyebrow.
"Private joke." Trixie shrugged.
Twilight smiled again. "Well, the point is, you all worked together as a group, brought out the best in each other, and used friendship to save the day."
"Yes," Trixie nodded as she held her head high, "and you can feel free to bask in the bright glow of Trixie's success for as long as you like, Twilight Sparkle." She brought a hoof to her chest and added, "And you can also remember that for your first adventure battling Nightmare Moon you needed five friends to save the day while all I needed were three to defeat Queen Chrysalis."
The friendship princess sighed. "I'll keep that in mind, Trixie."
"And you needed some of Equestria's most powerful magic while we didn't have any fancy Elements of Harmony or magic to help us at all!"
"Yes, that's very impressive, Trixie."
"And you might have been facing one princess villain, but we were facing a queen AND her entire army!"
"I know, Trixie…"
"Indeed—perhaps the Great and Powerful Trixie would make a fine princess one day!" Trixie looked out to the horizon with a determined gaze.
"Maybe you would, Trixie…"
Trixie blinked and nearly stumbled over her own cape as she squeaked out, "Really?"
Twilight nodded, helping her straighten her hat and cape as they continued walking. "Sure. In fact, I don't think there's a rule saying I couldn't have two students. Not that I'm training Starlight to be a princess, but, well, working under a princess is how I started out. So if you wanted to join us, we'd love to have you…" Trixie was smiling now as Twilight went on (with a slight smirk), "…It'll be nice to have another pony for rising early each morning to hear friendship lectures, reading large books on spell theory and the history of the Elements of Harmony, going around town offering assistance to anypony in need, reporting to me everyday with what you learned as homework, running drills to practice fighting monsters and villains—a lot of them even scarier than changelings. I guess all that would make some good stories for an audience, but you won't be able to think about your act much since the most important thing will be your studies." Her smile brightened.
Trixie's eyes had been going wide in some dread, and now she held up a hoof to stop Twilight. "Uh…on second thought…the Great and Powerful Trixie is too much of a free spirit to be a student again. We'll just leave the princessing to you and show up to save the day when it's necessary." Her confident grin returned, and she adjusted her hat. "Besides, I can't deny my presence to my eager public all over Equestria."
Twilight smiled warmly again and nodded. "Okay, Trixie. But please do stay around Ponyville as much as you want. Starlight really likes having you as a friend."
"Oh, yes, well…I like having her as a friend too." Trixie's smile softened, and her gaze lowered slightly. "Thanks for, er…bringing her around so we could meet. I guess she and I wouldn't be friends if it weren't for you, friendship princess." She gave Twilight a playful nudge.
Twilight blinked then nodded. "It's my pleasure, Trixie." She held out her hoof.
Trixie looked at the hoof hesitantly but then put out hers.
Then they looked forward.
Ahead of them were the rest of the girls and Starlight all laughing and chatting as they walked toward the village.
"If you want to join your student and your friends, Twilight Sparkle, please do," Trixie added. "The Great and Powerful Trixie understands—perhaps I'll hang back a bit and take the time to bother Discord some more." She grinned.
Twilight grinned back at her. "If I'm joining my friends and my student, then so are you—they're your friends too."
Trixie blinked. "Really?"
"Sure." The friendship princess nodded. "Come on: if Starlight's taught us anything it's that there's always room for one more." She gestured forward then galloped ahead.
Trixie's look brightened as she galloped after her. "Oh very well, the Great and Powerful Trixie will grace all of you with her presence!"
Twilight laughed as the mares finally joined their friends; the smiles and talking and revelry continued and grew as the village entrance came into view.
Once everyone entered in the village and Starlight's guests were welcomed into the festivities of the final day of the Sunset Festival, a grand time proceeded to be had by all. There were games and crafts and food and singing and dancing—such joyful event for friends to share in after a harrowing adventure.
Though, since it was a festival centered around the sun and occurring in the middle of the day, the festival was arguably a bit more joyful for some than others. Specifically, Princess Luna, though she liked seeing all the ponies so happy, couldn't help hiding yawns as drowsiness threatened to overtake her. After all, Chrysalis had come for them during the morning, waking Luna from the start of a sound sleep, and then of course while captured the night princess had spent a lot of energy breaking through the changeling Queen's barriers to warn Starlight. So now, despite the fun to be had all around her, the moon princess couldn't help but wish most of all for her dark room and a warm bed.
Luna sighed to herself as she observed the ponies playing while she sat in a shadow under a nearby tree. "Celestia and Twilight can handle things. No one would notice if I rested. And besides, celebrations such as these are always a little overwhelming for me—I prefer quiet, formal gatherings, or at least Nightmare Night." She lay down behind the tree where the shadow was thickest and rested her head on her hooves. Her eyes closed as she yawned. "Just five minutes would be fine, I'm sure…"
Luna blinked then raised her head. "Starlight?" And sure enough, there before her stood the pale purple pony. The night princess cleared her throat. "Pardon me, I was just resting my eyes—I'm not used to being awake so late in the day. And then after the harrowing ordeal we've had…"
"Oh, no." Starlight frowned and held up a hoof. "Don't apologize. I'm just sorry I woke you up. I didn't mean to." She cleared her throat and took a few steps back. "I can come back later, really. But can I get you anything first? Some cider? A cupcake?" She blinked. "Oh, wait, you're trying to sleep, and sugar probably wouldn't help with that, would it? Well…I could get you a blanket or something, or you could even take a nap in my old house." Then she blinked again and smacked a hoof to her forehead. "Wait, I haven't even bowed to you yet." She quickly lowered her head, then sighed as she raised it up. "Sorry." She smiled a little. "Like you said, you went through a lot today. I'll just…um…I'll go now and let you rest in privacy."
"Starlight Glimmer." Luna sat up.
"Yes?" Starlight hesitated.
She smiled gently. "Do you have something on your mind?"
Starlight let out a deep breath. "Yes…I mean, no…I mean…" She sighed. "I just wanted to say, I…I…" she tried to resist but then suddenly leapt forward and tackled Luna in a big hug, "I'm so glad you're safe, Princess Luna!"
"Oh!" Luna nearly fell backward but managed to keep herself and the clinging purple pony upright. "Well, er…I am very glad you're safe too, Starlight Glimmer." She smiled and awkwardly patted the mare's mane. "You and our friends and the changelings now as well. Incidentally, have you hugged all of them like this?" She smiled more.
Starlight sighed and pulled back with a big smile of her own. "No. I mean, I'm glad they're all safe too of course. It's just…well, you…" Her smile became sheepish. "I admire you a lot, Princess Luna. In my nightmare when you came to help you said you saw a lot of yourself in me. Well, I see a lot of myself in you—or, I see the type of pony I'd like to be." Her eyes went low though her smile remained. "You're inspirational to me, Princess Luna. What you've overcome gives me hope that I can overcome my mistakes and learn to be a pony worth admiring too. So I'm especially glad you're back and safe, and probably for the same reason Twilight's especially glad Celestia is back and safe—because you're like my hero." She looked up, blushing a little. "And I really hope that doesn't sound as corny as I think it did."
Luna just looked back at her with wide eyes. But then the moon princess blinked a few times as a gentle smile returned to her lips. "Starlight Glimmer…"
"Yes?" Starlight rubbed the back of her neck.
Luna came forward and wrapped a foreleg around her in a hug. "I am very glad you are safe as well." She pulled back. "And your words do not sound 'corny.' In fact I'm rather flattered." She blushed lightly. "No pony has ever called me her hero before. I did not realize that I had inspired you so much."
Starlight smiled more. "Are you kidding? You've only been back a few years, Princess, but already it's like you never left: ponies love you and respect you and want to be your friend. And I think I speak for all of us when I say I wouldn't know what to do without you around to take care of us in our dreams when we need you at night." She swallowed. "Thank you for trusting me to save all of you. I know you could have picked any pony in Equestria to visit for help, but you picked me, and…the thought of that really helped keep me going. After all, if a pony as special as you believed in me, how could I help but try and make you proud?" Her smile turned a little sheepish as she added, "I mean, if there was one big sign to me that I just needed to trust myself, it was the fact that one of the original leaders of Equestria trusted me with her life and the safety of the entire nation."
Luna's eyes hazed in warmth. "Starlight Glimmer, you were my first choice for salvation when I realized I could get through to one pony in the land of dreams. And as for trusting yourself…" her smile grew, "at first you were fearful of returning to your former evil ways if you took on a role of leadership, but by trusting yourself you actually led yourself as well as three other former ne'er-do-wells to help good triumph over evil. You recognized the magic of friendship and let it guide you and all of Equestria to safety." She gave a slight bow of her head. "Thank you for saving us, Starlight. I never doubted you."
Starlight blinked then swallowed bowed her head in return. "Thank you, Princess Luna." She raised her head. "And, again, it's…it's good to know that you're okay now." As Luna's eyes brightened, Starlight cleared her throat with a sheepish smile and took a step back. "Anyway, I'll leave you to your nap. I know you must be tired. But are you sure you don't want me to take you back to the bed in my old house? It'll be quieter and darker in there, and I could make you some tea, and on the way I could introduce you to some ponies. I know they'd all be honored to meet you."
Luna smiled softly. "I appreciate the offer, Starlight. And I would indeed enjoy resting in a dark room more than resting out here under the light of day. But I would prefer to avoid being introduced to ponies. At events like a Sunset Festival my sister tends to shine more." She glanced down to the town, and Starlight's gaze followed—indeed, Celestia stood out as a smiling central figure while ponies crowded around her and offered her decorations and refreshments. When Starlight turned back to Luna with a frown, the moon princess only continued smiling and went on. "I am not disappointed, Starlight. Naturally the sun princess is central to a celebration of the sun. And perhaps one day as I continue to guide my ponies well during my new reign, there will be festivals of the moon and night where I will shine most brightly. And I look forward to that time."
Starlight's smile grew. "Well, I for one think that time should come very, very soon. And I also think that the only reason so many ponies are around Celestia right now is because you're not down there for them to be around too. Sunset Festival, Shmunset Festival—that just happens to be the name of the yearly event that takes place this week. The real celebration down there is about friendship and love and winning out over the forces of evil to keep Equestria safe. And guess what—none of that could have happened today without you risking your safety to warn me about the changelings in my dream. So let me have the honor of taking the princess of the night to a comfortable place to sleep, and we don't even have to introduce you to any ponies along the way—but I guarantee they'll flock around you too once we're in town. Plus we could get you a snack before bedtime." She held out her hoof. "What do you say?"
Luna blinked but then nodded and took Starlight's hoof to stand. "The night princess at a sunset festival—well, stranger things certainly have happened today." She yawned. "And a snack before bed really does sound nice. And I would not mind the chance to join in your victory celebration, even for a few moments, Starlight. Let us go." She started forward, her head held high.
Starlight happily followed alongside her.
"Your nightmare about these ponies made them out to be quite judgmental but they seem very kind and welcoming," Luna observed, her gaze upon the celebrating town. "I am glad. The forgiveness of others can go a long way to helping a pony forgive herself."
Starlight nodded. "Yeah, I think so too. And they're good ponies. I'm glad we can be friends now. But I was lucky when I first came back here—I had a friend by my side to support me; Trixie. Twilight told me how you went all by yourself to Ponyville for your first Nightmare Night. That was brave, Princess Luna."
"I have never been more nervous about doing a single thing in my entire life," Luna admitted softly with a small smile. "Only Twilight Sparkle's friendship helped me succeed in that early endeavor. I realized then what my sister saw in her as a student. And I see what Twilight Sparkle sees in you as one. To be honest…if Twilight had not felt ready to take on a pupil and if I had felt ready myself…I would have gladly accepted you as my own student, Starlight Glimmer."
Starlight's eyes widened, and her purplish cheeks blushed.
Luna smiled more. "You are smart, magically gifted, eager to learn, a pony with a troubled past but a bright future, and your name and cutie mark bear a relationship to the night. And, as I said, I see a lot of myself in you. I believe we would have gotten on quite well. But you thrive with the friendship princess—Twilight is your best teacher. Though I'm glad to call you friend just the same."
Starlight blinked a few times then smiled and nodded. "I'm glad to call you friend too, Princess Luna." She swallowed. "And you really think I'm thriving?"
Luna nodded. "On top of saving us, you gave the changelings new hope for their future and freed them from the tyranny of a poor leader. You even set an excellent example by trying to befriend your enemy in the end even though she rejected your offer. Look at the good you're spreading already: I expect wonderful things from you, Starlight Glimmer."
Starlight's smile grew completely. "Well, in that case, expect one of those wonderful things I do one day to be me establishing a 'Moonrise' festival. You've already earned it, Princess Luna, and I won't take no for an answer."
"A Moonrise Festival." Luna's eyes brightened. "I would like one of those very much, yes."
"Great. I'll show you some of my ideas next time we're in my dreams together. But for now…" They had just reached the edge of the celebration, and Starlight gestured forward, "Are you in the mood for cake, cupcakes, or muffins as a midday snack? We have all three."
"Do you have any recommendations?" Luna tilted her head with an eager glint in her eye.
"Well, Sugar Belle does make a mean double chocolate chunk cookie…" Starlight grinned.
Luna held a hoof high with a determined look and smile. "Then cookies it shall be! Lead on, Starlight!"
Starlight laughed and led them forward to the cookie table.
And as predicted, many ponies were very happy to see and greet Luna—just as many has had greeted Celestia. The night princess said her hellos, got her snack, then let Starlight lead her to a dark room, a warm bed, and a fresh pot of tea.
Princess Luna fell asleep with a light heart dreaming of a Moonrise Festival. And Starlight finally felt completely relaxed in her new role as a savior of Equestria, fully able to appreciate all of the progress she had made. She rejoined the festival, deeply appreciating every moment of happiness with all of her friends.
The final day of the festival continued as the afternoon wore on, and some participants gradually found other amusements to pursue besides celebrating the sun.
"Okay, Flurry Heart," a certain purple dragon smiled down at the little filly lying in the grass before him, "I know you can do this—just think about you and me and Thorax. Thorax, remember? That big guy with the black body and blue wings who would change into different ponies to make you smile…only now he's all colorful and tall? Anyway just think really hard about him and me and you, and use your alicorn magic, okay?"
Spike smiled down at Flurry Heart, who gurgled and clapped her hooves together in response. Her horn started to glow.
Spike smiled more then finished jotting something down on a scroll and rolled it up. "Great! Now, zap the scroll—but don't blow it up this time. Please?" He rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin and glanced quickly at the pile of fresh embers beside them before turning his hopeful gaze back to Flurry.
Flurry Heart's tongue popped out and she made a raspberry sound in reply.
Spike sighed and smiled more. "All right, here goes nothing." He tossed the scroll up in the air.
Flurry Heart shot a beam of light at the scroll…
…and the scroll promptly exploded.
Spike sighed as the ashes dropped to the ground. "Aw…"
The baby alicorn giggled and clapped her hooves together at first. But when she saw Spike's frown, she frowned too and her upper lip trembled.
Spike noticed and smiled again. "Aw, hey, don't worry about it, Flurry, I know you're trying. We'll figure it out." He patted her mane, then blew magical fire onto the ashes—the scroll rematerialized, leaving behind some extra ashes on the original pile. "And if worse comes to worse, I can ask Twilight to help me later when she's not busy."
Flurry Heart smiled and gurgled again.
"Spike!" Suddenly Cadance approached followed by Shining Armor. "We noticed some beams of Flurry's magic. Is everything okay?"
Shining Armor nodded. "Yeah, she's not using you for target practice or anything, is she?" He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry—it's hard to keep her magic under control sometimes without Sunburst here."
Cadance smiled. "We appreciate you looking after her for a bit so we could eat and greet the other ponies, Spike, but if she's getting to be too much we can take over again."
"Aw, don't worry," Spike waved them off, "she's being really good. Actually, it's sort of nice to have someone close to my size to play with. But she wasn't aiming at me anyway." He shrugged sheepishly and raised up the reincarnated scroll. "I was trying to get her to enchant this so I could breathe fire on it and send it to Thorax. I didn't want to bother you or the other princesses about it while you were enjoying the festival."
"A letter to Thorax?" Cadance smiled more.
"Yeah." Spike nodded. "I just thought he could use a little encouragement. I know he'll probably have to deal with a lot now that he's king of the changelings, and I wanted to remind him that I'm here if he ever needs someone to talk to." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Twilight needed someone to talk to a lot when she became a princess and changed into an alicorn, and Thorax is going through something a lot like both of those things. I just want him to remember that he's got a friend rooting for him."
Cadance and Shining Armor looked to each other and smiled more then looked back to Spike.
Shining Armor spoke. "Well, as someone who became prince of an empire pretty suddenly, I know what it's like to feel a little overwhelmed. Thankfully I had Cadance to talk to. So I think it's great you want to be there for Thorax—sort of like a pen pal."
"Yes," the love princess nodded, "and I'd be happy to enchant your letter so that you can send it to Thorax, Spike."
Spike's eyes brightened. "Thanks, Cadance!" He turned to Flurry Heart. "And Flurry, thanks for trying. I already wrote to Thorax in my letter that you miss him. And I know he'll miss you too, Flurry Heart. Maybe he'll visit you soon or you'll even get to see the hive one day when you're older." He tickled her under the chin, and she smiled more as she giggled. "That's right," he cooed, "you could see him and all the other colorful glittery changelings too. You'd like that, wouldn't you, Flurry? Uh…Flurry?" Spike stepped back—Flurry's eyes had suddenly gone bright, and her horn glowed with magic sparks.
"Uh…Flurry girl?" Shining Armor took a hesitant step forward, then… "Whoa!" Everyone ducked down as Flurry rose up and shot a blinding beam of magic at the scroll.
But instead of glowing with enchantment, the scroll disappeared…and in the air suddenly appeared a shimmering window of magic showing Thorax's face with the hive in the background.
Thorax gasped. "Huh, what's…wait…Cadance, Shining Armor, Spike?!" His eyes brightened at the sound of some gurgling, and he smiled. "And Flurry Heart!"
Flurry Heart giggled and flew over to touch the shimmering image for a moment.
Thorax chuckled as she pulled back. "Aw, I miss you too!" He looked to his other friends. "It's so great to see you all again, but how did this happen?"
Spike dashed over to the window. "I was trying to get Flurry Heart to help me send a letter to you, and I guess she got carried away. But it's so great to see you too, Thorax! How are things at the hive? Is everything okay? Are you guys getting used to looking so different? And I know we were just there, but can I come visit sometime soon?" He beamed.
Thorax chuckled. "Things are okay here, Spike, thank you. Everyone doesn't feel hungry for the first time in ages—it's a great relief. And I think we're all ready to work together to figure out where to go from here. And you and everyone else can visit anytime. And I'm doing my best with the new color scheme." He held out his hoof to look at it. "But we're all used to changing form all the time anyway, so it's actually not so bad—I'm just glad Flurry Heart recognizes me." He glanced to the tiny princess again. "Thank you for not forgetting old Thorax even though he doesn't look like old Thorax." He used his magic to put himself into his former changeling form for a moment and then changed back to his new colorful appearance. Flurry giggled more then flew over to land on her mother's back and cuddle into her mane as she continued to watch the window.
The changeling king chuckled again then looked to Spike. "So, did you need anything, Spike? Is that why you wanted to get in touch with me so quickly?" He frowned. "There hasn't been a sighting of Chrysalis, has there?"
Spike shook his head. "No, everything's fine here. I just wanted to make sure you were okay." He frowned a little. "A lot's changed for you, Thorax. And I know you need to work it out for yourself, but I wanted to remind you that I'm here for you if you ever need a friend to talk to."
Thorax's smile warmed. "Thank you, Spike. I'd like that." He sighed. "I'm really not sure how to be a king; it'll be nice to talk to a friend who isn't expecting me to be one for him."
Shining Armor's smile warmed as he stepped forward. "And Cadance and I know the Crystal Empire is pretty far from the hive, Thorax, but if you ever want to get away and visit friends for a few days, you're welcome to stay at our palace."
Cadance nodded and stepped forward too. "We can't tell you how to be a king, Thorax, or how the changelings should run their hive. But if you want to observe how Shining Armor and I lead the crystal ponies and also want a chance to say hi to some old friends, you know where to find us."
"Yeah, and Flurry'll love to see you." Shining Armor chuckled as Flurry Heart flew onto his head now and started sucking on his ear. "And I know Sunburst'll miss having his partner for games of crystal chess. And if he and Flurry wanted to visit you at the hive or a weekend once things have settled down, I think that would be nice. Ow!" Flurry gave a yank to his mane and giggled. He smiled sheepishly. "Actually, that would be wonderful. Cadance and I would love a weekend alone. Please."
Thorax's smile grew. "Well, sure, I—whoa!"
Suddenly with a giggle another bright beam of magic shot out of Flurry's horn, and another magical window appeared, revealing…Sunburst!
"Wha—?!" Sunburst tripped over his cape then blinked a few times. "What is that? I-I mean, who goes there? I mean…Flurry…is that you?" His smile brightened as Flurry squealed and clapped her hooves together at him.
His whole look softened, and he cooed to her. "Oh, what magical shenanigans is our little princess up to now, hmm?" As Flurry Heart flew up and reached out to try and touch the image of his beard, Sunburst playfully tried to tap her back. "Ooo, I almost got you, ah, and now you almost got me. Oh, you're getting so good at flying."
Flurry Heart finally giggled and flew back over to her parents to cuddle against their front hooves on the ground.
The Crystal Prince and Princess, meanwhile, were trying not to laugh as Sunburst suddenly noticed them and went wide-eyed. "Oh, erm, sorry—hello there, your highnesses." He bowed, nearly tripped over his cape again, then straightened his glasses with a sheepish grin. "So glad that Chrysalis was defeated and everything's okay—your letter about what happened arrived a little while ago."
Cadance smiled. "Thank you, Sunburst. And thank you again for sending Thorax to try and get help from Twilight and the girls after we were taken."
"Yeah," Shining Armor nodded. "But, like we keep saying, you really don't have to call us 'your highness'. You're practically family, after all. It's just Cadance and Shining Armor to you." He shrugged. "And thanks for agreeing to keep an eye on things at the palace for now. We should be back by nightfall."
"Of course, Prin—I-I mean, Shining Armor, Cadance." Sunburst nodded, then his eyes finally noticed another member of the party. "Spike! Hey, glad to see you." He glanced at the edges of the magical window. "And speaking of seeing you, I'm guessing we have Flurry Heart to thank for this?"
Spike waved. "Glad to see you too. And yeah, it's a long story—we were talking to Thorax, then you came up, and I guess she wanted to see you too."
"Thorax!" Sunburst grinned and glanced around. "Where is he?"
Then his eyes found Thorax's magical window.
He was just silent for a moment while Thorax swallowed and gave a small smile and a little wave with his new bright green hoof. "Heh…uh…hi."
"Whoa…" Sunburst adjusted his glasses. "Thorax…?"
"Surprise." Thorax gave a sheepish grin.
"This is…wow…" With a burst of magic, Sunburst made half a dozen open books appear floating around him. "This is incredible! The magical properties that must have transmuted, the polar shift of power that must have occurred, the sudden elemental infusion of love and friendship that must have taken place! I…" Then he blinked and dropped the books. "Wait, what am I saying? Forget about all of that now." He shook his head and moved closer to the window. "Thorax, I can't believe everything you must have gone through! It must have been crazier than the day I became Flurry's Crystaller. I'm so proud of you! How do you feel?"
Thorax smiled softly. "Feel? I…" He looked down in thought. "I feel warm. And full. And safe. I feel like life is good." He looked to his friend again. "And I think the other changelings feel the same. You should see them—they're rebuilding the whole hive and talking and laughing and smiling and even playing. This whole place feels good now…like home. I feel like I'm home."
Sunburst's gaze softened. "I'm glad for you, Thorax. That's how I felt when I found a place here at the crystal palace helping the prince and princess watch over Flurry Heart. And that's how I felt when I reconnected with Starlight. I feel like my life's full of love, and I'm glad you do now too."
Thorax nodded. Then his smile picked up a little on one side. "By the way, um…Starlight was glad you hadn't been kidnapped too. She mentioned it a couple of times when we were sneaking through the hive."
"Oh…" Sunburst cleared his throat (and blushed a little) as he rubbed his neck with his hoof, "That's nice to know." He frowned slightly. "She really is okay, right?"
Thorax nodded. "She's perfectly fine. I promise."
A sigh of relief left Sunburst. "Great. I-I mean, you know, good to know." He grinned sheepishly.
Thorax chuckled. "And she was an amazing leader. I'll be happy if I can be half as good a one as she was."
Sunburst's smile practically beamed…and then he finally recalled that Cadance, Shining Armor, Spike and Flurry Heart were watching. He glanced over, and sure enough the three grown beings were smiling with hazed eyes while Flurry giggled.
The orange pony quickly cleared his throat and grinned sheepishly. "Heh…yes, well, anyway…it'll be nice to have Flurry back soon, and of course you too, Cadance and Shining Armor." He managed a bow without tripping over his cape then glanced back to his friend again. "And, Thorax, I'll be sad to see you leave, but I hope we can all visit each other very soon."
"Actually, we were all just talking about that." Spike looked to Sunburst. "We figured once the hive's set up, you could bring Flurry Heart, and I'll bring Big Mac and Discord, and then after we get Flurry to bed for the night and Thorax is done with royal stuff we can do guys night!" He pumped a claw in the air. "The three of us never got the chance to play Ogres and Oubliettes together—you'll both love it. Or even if you guys just want to share some love changeling-style and talk about magic unicorn-style, that's cool too."
Sunburst nodded with a warm smile. "I'd like that a lot, Spike. I'll be looking forward to it."
Thorax's smile warmed as well. "I'd love that too, Spike. Thank you." He glanced to Cadance and Shining Armor. "And thank you, Prince and Princess, for your offer earlier—I'd be honored to visit the empire whether as a guest or as a political ambassador. And Flurry Heart…" she gurgled as he looked to her, "thank you for letting me see everyone. It's been a long day—I needed that."
"King Thorax!" a voice called from off screen. "The council meeting is starting now! We need you!"
Thorax turned toward the voice. "Coming!" He looked back to his friends. "Sorry, I have to go now. Goodbye, Sunburst. And Prince, Princess, Spike, please say hi to everybody else for me and especially Starlight and Discord and Trixie! The hive wouldn't be okay without them."
"Will do!" Spike called back as he and the others waved.
Thorax gave them a wave in return. Then Flurry flew up and hugged Thorax's shimmering portal until it disappeared into a burst of magic sparks that she rolled in through the air with happy gurgles.
"Crystaller Sunburst!" a voice suddenly called off screen in Sunburst's magical window now. "You're needed at the changing of the guard and to approve the menu for tonight's dinner!"
Sunburst blinked and glanced behind him. "Oh yes, of course! Coming!" He turned back. "I guess I should get going too. Goodbye, everyone! Enjoy the festival!" He set his sights on Flurry Heart. "Bye, Flurry! I'll see you soon, and I'll have lots of bedtime stories ready for you for tonight."
Flurry Heart flew at his magical window and hugged it until it burst into bright sparks too. She kept herself aloft for a moment as the magic around her faded, and then suddenly a yawn escaped her. Slowly she descended and eventually came to rest in the grass in front of Spike. She blinked a few times in sleepiness.
Spike picked her up and cradled her in his arms. "Aw, it's okay, Flurry Heart. No wonder you're sleepy—you had a long day, and it took a lot of magic for you to let us see Thorax and Sunburst. Come on, we'll find a nice place for you to have a nap." Flurry Heart snuggled against him and closed her eyes.
Cadance smiled. "I'll teleport her bassinet over from the Crystal Empire, and she can rest under those trees by the picnic tables." She gestured forward. "The festival should be over soon, and we can teleport her right to her room when we're all done here."
"Thank you again for looking after her, Spike," Shining Armor added. "Cadance and I really enjoyed getting to go around the festival together for a little while."
"No problem." Spike smiled down at Flurry Heart more as the party headed toward the picnic benches. "She's really cute. And besides, it gives me a taste of what it must have been like for Twilight to raise me. At least Flurry didn't set my homework on fire."
Cadance giggled. "I remember that. How many times do you do that to poor Twilight just after you hatched—three?"
"Five, actually." Spike sighed sheepishly.
Shining Armor chuckled. "Well, you're great with Flurry, Spike. We'd be happy if you wanted to babysit her sometime, in the Crystal Empire or at the hive." He raised an eyebrow. "Have you ever watched foals before? You seem so good at it."
"Nah," Spike waved him off, "But I've watched the girls' pets before. If I can handle six animals, I can totally handle Flurry Heart. At least if she tricks me into a train ride to the Crystal Empire, all she'll really be doing is helping me bring her home, and then we could just use her magic or her wings to get back to Ponyville if we had to."
"What?" Cadance and Shining Armor said at once, their eyes wide.
Spike blinked then grinned sheepishly. "Uh… nothing! Never mind! Heh…It's just a figure of speech." He quickly cleared his throat and went on. "Sure, I'd love to watch Flurry sometimes, especially as part of guys night at the hive." He rocked her a little, and she yawned in her sleep.
Cadance chuckled quietly. "Whatever you say, Spike."
Shining Armor sighed. "Guys night at the hive. Now that you mention it that does sound kind of fun." He glanced at Cadance. "Maybe one day I could take Flurry's place on a trip like that, and you two could have a mommy daughter weekend?" He shrugged with innocent smile.
Cadance glanced back at him with a grin, her eyes hazed. "Only if you'll have a daddy daughter weekend with her after that so I can have a mares weekend with Twilight and Auntie Celestia and Luna."
He chuckled and nodded. "Fair enough."
Cadance laughed softly too.
They were in sight of the picnic table now, and Cadance used her magic to make Flurry's bassinet appear beneath the shade of a tree.
Spike whispered down to the sleeping baby in his arms. "Come on, Flurry, let's get you to bed. And I'll save you a cupcake from the festival for when you wake up." He dashed over to the bassinet and leaned up to put her inside.
Cadance and Shining Armor paused and watched him put the baby to bed.
Then Shining Armor frowned. "Cadance…" he kept his voice low, "this might sound silly, but…I think I'm more worried about Chrysalis now than I was when she had a whole army behind her. She's…pretty angry, isn't she?"
Cadance swallowed and nodded, her voice low too. "Yes, she is. And I know what you mean." She touched her hoof to his on the ground. "It's okay, though. We'll face her when the time comes—all of us together."
"I know. It's just…" Shining Armor's eyes went down. "I know you're a princess, Cadance, but still I'm your husband and Flurry's father—I should have been able to protect you both. But she just came in the night and…this is the second time I let them take you away from me. And now Flurry…. Cadance, I'm so sorry…"
"Shining Armor…" Cadance put a hoof over his lips: she looked into his eyes. "You and I might be responsible for protecting the crystal ponies, but when it comes to our family we're all responsible for each other. The changelings came, and nobody could help it. But now we're back and they're good. And our family is perfectly fine." She lowered her hoof and smiled softly. "If there's one thing I've learned from being a leader of ponies, it's that even though it comes with the reward of helping others it also comes with risks. And those risks are nobody's fault. So let's not let Chrysalis or any pony make us doubt ourselves or take away our happiness now that we have it back, okay?" Cadance nuzzled him. "We are all safe now, and we are going to stay that way because we have each other and friendship and love. Believe in that with me, Shining Armor, and everything will be okay."
Shining Armor let out a gentle sigh. Then he smiled and out a foreleg over her in a hug. "Yes…I believe in us and friendship and love. Thank you, Cadance."
Cadance just smiled more and hugged him in return.
They finally separated and shared a warm look.
"Now," Cadance glanced forward, "come on, let's help Spike rock Flurry to sleep. Then maybe when we get home Sunburst will look after her for the rest of the night, and you and I can have an evening to ourselves."
Shining Armor blushed a little but grinned goofily and nodded. "I'd like that. A lot"
Cadance giggled and led them forward.
Soon they were all at the picnic table, enjoying cool lemonade and sweet treats with Spike while Flurry dozed and the happy afternoon continued.
Celestia breathed a sigh of relief as she moved away from the center of the slowly-winding-down festival toward the outskirts of town. It was nice to be around so many loyal subjects and celebrating with friends, and especially at a celebration for the sun, but still… "I'm glad Luna coming through the crowd took some of the attention off of me earlier. And now I could use a nice quiet moment alone to think. It's been a very full day." With a smile she started down a path leading toward a clearing behind some houses.
And then she heard voices.
"Discord, I promise I'm okay."
"You're not okay until I say you're okay."
"Okay, Discord. If you insist."
She approached and saw, not too far off, Discord and Fluttershy in a clearing. Fluttershy was standing still with a small smile while Discord, wearing a white doctor's coat and a stethoscope, flew around her checking her wings and ears and joints randomly.
"Discord, um...do you even have a medical degree?"
"I've got a PhD in cheese making—close enough."
Finally he landed before her and snapped the medical gear away. "Very well, my exam is complete, and you are 100% healthy." He slapped a sticker onto her forehead that said GRADE A before disappearing in a poof of magic.
Fluttershy smiled. "See, I told you, Discord. I'm perfectly, fine just like you. Now can we go back to the festival? I'd really like to see the end and to say goodbye to all of Starlight's friends."
The chaos master frowned and put his hands on her shoulders. "Not so fast. Let's go over the new safety protocols one more time."
"Discord…" She gave him a dry look now.
"Please." He looked into her eyes. "For me."
Her gaze softened, and she nodded. "Okay Discord."
"Excellent." The chaos master smiled again and clapped his hands together. "Now then, you are to write to me immediately if you have even the slightest suspicion that Chrysalis is out and about in your area."
"And our Tuesday tea will be at my cottage every other week, and you're one of the few people I'm entrusting with a set of keys to that place. So if you don't show up or can't get in, I'll know something's up…"
"And if you suspect any villainous activity at all, you are to stay put and call out to me, and I'll escort you wherever you need to go…"
"And you are not to unnecessarily risk your life for anything unless you have a princess or me on call just in case…"
"Hmm…you know, maybe we should just move you into my house permanently. I do have a spare room…."
Discord sighed. "Oh fine." He crossed his arms. "Then can we at least decide on our changeling secret code phrase to use in case we suspect that Chrysalis has secretly replaced one of us? It worked great for me and Twilight's student and that loud-mouthed magician and the goody-goody changeling."
Fluttershy nodded and smiled again. "Yes, Discord, we can do that. It's actually a very good idea."
"Of course it is." Discord grinned. "Now, let's see. What phrase shall we pick? Ah, I've got it. I say 'best', and you say…." He leaned down and brought his paw to his ear with an eager smile.
Fluttershy considered, then replied, "Kumquat."
"Kumquat?" Discord pulled back and blinked. "Not…'friend'…as in 'best friend'?"
Fluttershy smiled more. " 'Best friend' is a pretty common phrase, Discord. A changeling might accidentally guess it. But 'kumquat' is a very random reply to the word 'best'. Plus I know that you like how chaotic that word sounds."
"True, true." Discord chuckled. "Very well, 'best kumquat' it is. Now, that secret phrase is just between you and me, right?" He winked.
Fluttershy nodded. "Absolutely." Then she came closer and put a foreleg around him in a hug. "And thank you for saving everypony, Discord. I knew you'd come—it was the last thought I had before I passed out when the changelings took me."
The chaos master's eyes widened. He looked down to her; his voice softened. "I'll always come for you, dear Fluttershy." He swallowed. "And you're really sure you're not injured at all?"
Fluttershy nodded. "Promise. Oh!"
Discord suddenly wrapped her up in a tight hug by circling his body around her completely. "Good. Then I don't have to hold back with this."
The two friends shared a moment together.
Finally Discord sighed and released her. "Now then, before things get too sappy, you head back to the festival for the final wrap up. I, er…have something in my eye." He snapped and wiped at the corner of his eye with a plaid hanky as he straightened up. "It'll just take me a moment to get it out, and then I'll join you."
Fluttershy smiled warmly. "Of course, Discord. I'll see you back at the festival." She trotted up the path back into the heart of town…and then of course noticed a familiar face. "Oh, hello, Princess Celestia."
Celestia cleared her throat and smiled. "Hello, Fluttershy. I hope you're enjoying the festival."
"Very much, thank you. And I hope you are too."
"I'm having a wonderful time. Thank you for asking."
Fluttershy nodded and then trotted away to join her friends back with the celebration.
Discord, meanwhile, just stood there with his eyes wide as Celestia looked at him with a warm gaze.
She approached. "I'm sorry, Discord, I didn't realize anyone was over here."
He instantly snapped away the hanky, whipped around, and towered over her with narrowed eyes (and a light blush). "What did you see?"
Celestia blinked but then just smiled gently. "Nothing I'll ever tell anyone else."
The chaos master eyed her for a moment longer but then just sighed and moved back. "Oh whatever. I've already embarrassed myself enough by saving the day, a little more humiliation won't kill me." He glanced back at her with a scowl and pout. "But seriously, all of this stays between us, and especially the 'best kumquat' thing—that's just a safety situation."
"Of course, Discord." She nodded. "You have my word."
"Good." He sighed. "So, speaking of safety, you're aware that when that changeling queen attacks again, she's going to hit hard, right? It'll be a while, but when it finally comes, it'll be big."
"Of course." Celestia's look fell a little. "But at least this time we can prepare."
Discord gave her a half grin. "Are you saying you want to come up with a secret changeling code word for the two of us?"
She smiled again. "Actually I thought it'd be nice if we could just talk."
"Really? In what context?"
Her smile grew. "Well, Chrysalis was able to trick me by impersonating you because I trust you but don't spend a lot of time with you. I'd like to change that. I'd like to make sure that all of our friends know each other so well that a cheap disguise won't fool us very easily. And I'd like to start with the two of us getting closer." Her shrugged sheepishly. "Besides, when the changeling Discord said we should do something together it really did sound like fun."
"You want to hang out? You actually consider yourself capable of entertaining me?" The chaos master smirked and crossed his arms. "And you're actually admitting chaos sounds like fun?"
"I consider myself capable of being better friends with you and I consider you capable of the same thing towards me, Discord. And yes, I'm admitting chaos seems like fun." Celestia's smile warmed. "My point is it's about time we got to know each other, not just as the sun princess and the chaos master, but as good friends. And after all of the danger we faced today, I'm just grateful we still have the chance to. What do you say, Discord?" She held out a hoof.
He tilted his head at the sight, and his grin picked up on one side. "I'm not going to turn into some creature of bright colors and glitter wings if I agree to this, right?" He reached out his paw.
"Not unless you really want to." The sun princess winked.
They shared a warm laugh as they shook.
Discord sighed as they separated. "So, what shall we do together as we attempt to bond as new good buddies? Send chain letter scrolls to strangers? Swap friendship lectures? Or I have a really fun game I like to play in your hedge maze…." He smirked.
Celestine smirked a little in return. "Why don't we start with lunch and go from there?"
"You provide the royal atmosphere, I'll provide the cotton candy and chocolate milk for dessert?"
"Sounds lovely, Discord. Let's try for next week."
"Very well." The chaos master nodded. "But if Fluttershy needs me, I'm afraid I'll have to cancel. She takes priority: that's nonnegotiable."
Celestia nodded. "Of course. I understand." She looked forward to the bright sky and verdant fields: the sun was gradually shifting toward the end of the day. "She really is special to you, isn't she, Discord?"
"Best friends usually are." Discord looked forward too, his voice quiet. "I told you, it hurt me that I couldn't keep her safe. I have to make sure that nothing like that can happen ever again."
"Safety is never something you can guarantee." A faraway look came to Celestia's eyes. "Believe me, it would make my job a lot easier if I could guarantee safety for my subjects." She glanced at him, and her smile returned. "But it's good you're preparing yourself and her for whatever might come. Even the simple act of caring goes a long way toward keeping Equestria's magic strong."
"I care too much," Discord replied, his brow furrowed. As Celestia raised an eyebrow, he went on. "First there was Fluttershy, then the rest of the girls, then Cadance…and now I care about Starlight and Thorax and Trixie and Luna and even you." He swallowed. "You told me a secret when we were strung up in that hive: you said you were frightened. Well, I have a secret for you too." He gave her a small grin and shrugged. "I can't not care anymore. I don't know how to go back to the way I used to be even if I wanted to. But…I actually like caring—friendship shenanigans, villainous ambushes, and all. I think I'm actually happy now. Go figure." And then he rolled his eyes to the side. "Oh Celestia, don't look at me like that."
Celestia was practically beaming at his little confession. She laughed softly and blinked a few times (and actually wiped a tear from the corner of her eye with her hoof). "I'm sorry, Discord, I'm just so happy for you. And it's okay, you care as much as you need to—I really won't tell anyone."
The chaos master blushed and cleared his throat. "Yeah, well…thanks, but, uh, we're getting off topic."
"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "And what were we supposed to be discussing?"
He pouted. "Maybe Chrysalis…and if she's ready to be reformed. Or if she even can be reformed."
"Do you think there are some creatures who can't be reformed?" The sun princess raised an eyebrow.
Discord crossed his arms. "I don't know."
Celestia nodded. "I don't know either."
He raised an eyebrow. "You seemed to know about me…"
"I had a good feeling about you." She smiled. "I always suspected you wanted to care even if you never did."
"Because of how much you liked to laugh," she explained. "That might not seem like much, but there's a glimmer of hope in something like laughter." Then she sighed; her smile fell. "My glimmer of hope for Chrysalis was her devotion to the welfare of her people. But the fact that she overlooked what was best for them today in favor of revenge, and the fact that she no longer has their welfare to consider…" She shook her head. "I'm not sure how much hope there is anymore for her. And I'm not sure just how much evil she's willing to let consume her for revenge. "
Discord nodded. "The right pony would have to touch her and soon. But even then, you're right, it's a long shot at this point. She's got nothing to lose, and she's so full of rage. I haven't been full of that much rage in a while, but I remember how it consumes you…" He furrowed his brow. "I'll do what I can to help with things when the next attack comes. She and I still have a score to settle about Fluttershy." He grinned a little again as he added, "And of course I did promise to try and get Miss Hiss hanging from the ceiling of your throne room for your next birthday."
Celestia laughed softly. "Your help's appreciated, Discord, but also just do your best to rely on your friends. I hope that if you've taken away anything from today it's that we're all stronger when we work together."
Discord sighed and rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I absorbed that moral eventually. And I admit our ragtag group was more effective than I could have been on my own in that situation." He glanced at her—she was smiling at him in a weird way. He raised an eyebrow. "What?"
Celestia shrugged. "Well, you weren't just part of saving Fluttershy or me, you were part of saving all my little ponies." She sighed. "And after seeing you with Fluttershy just now…you wouldn't indulge me in a hug, would you, Discord?"
Discord looked at her with wide eyes for a moment. But then sighed and threw his arms up into the air. "Oh why not? The day's shot anyway. Bring it in, you annoyingly perfect sun princess." He opened his arms wide.
Celestia came forward and wrapped a foreleg around him in a hug while Discord just sighed and patted her head and tried not to smile too much. "You're aware we're not making this a regular thing, right?"
"Just for special occasions like today." Celestia nodded.
They separated with smiles.
Then they heard voices approaching.
"Hey, Fluttershy said Discord was over here—come on, let's go tease him about saving the day. It'll be awesome!"
"Personally I think we the first thing we should do is thank him for getting us out of that tacky hive—Chrysalis picked the worst color scheme."
"I just want to make sure he doesn't miss out on the end of the party! Plus, I think Trixie finally got Twilight to agree to be her special assistant for the magic show she wants to put on as a grand finale to the festival—I know he'll want to see that!"
"Yeah, I reckon he's earned some celebrating after everything he and Starlight and Trixie and Thorax did today. And I think we all want to watch that magic show."
Discord rolled his eyes but couldn't help smiling as he mumbled to Celestia, "And queue my little friendship brigade. Honestly, half the challenge about being reformed has been just getting a moment's peace. But I suppose friends to laugh with is what I've always wanted deep down…or something mushy like that." He cleared his throat and called out to Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, and Applejack. "Over here, ladies. Celestia was just offering to make me a princess after my heroics today. We're negotiating what I should rule over. I was thinking some sort of combination of apple trees, baked goods, fashion, and the air space above Ponyville. What do you all think?"
The girls all just smiled at him as they finished their approach.
"Ha ha, Discord, you're a riot."
"Very droll, Discord."
"I bet you'd throw awesome parties as a princess!"
"Very funny—I already had to deal with Flim and Flam trying to horn in on my apples once, and that's more than enough interfering for me for one lifetime."
Celestia laughed softly. "Actually I was just thanking Discord for all of his bravery today. And now I should personally thank Trixie and Starlight too, I think. And draft a letter of thanks to King Thorax. And I'd like to try a few more cakes at the Sunshine festival before they run out."
Discord clapped his hands together. "Well then, what are we waiting for? Let's all get back to the party!"
The girls cheered and trotted back to the celebration.
Discord looked at Celestia. "Race you—last one there gets last pick of the cake." He held up his fingers to snap.
She grinned. "You're on, Discord." Her horn started to glow.
"But first," he flew closer to her, "you're all better from that green goo, you're not injured from getting captured, and you're relaxed and not frightened anymore, right?"
Celestia blinked then nodded. "Yes, Discord, I feel perfectly fine now."
"Good." He shrugged. "Not that I care, it's just, well, like I said, if I'm not allowed to take you down anymore then no one is. And of course I want to make sure that you're in peak form like myself so that our race is a fair one." He grinned again. "Now then, ready…set…go!"
With a chuckle Discord snapped his fingers to disappear as Celestia laughed and used her magic to teleport away and back into the thick of the glorious festival as it prepared to come to its grand close with the coming of sunset.
Hidden in a dark forest and using a magical window of her own, Chrysalis had watched it all play out, every interaction in that happy little town in that happy little valley filled with happy little ponies and friends all celebrating the happy continuation of their perfectly happy little lives as though victory was their destiny and defeat her fate…as though what was right had been restored and what was wrong had been banished…as though they had found a final peace and she wasn't waiting in the shadows to end them with all the darkness and pain she could bring.
So many villains before her, and so many mistakes…
Nightmare Moon had gotten cocky—she'd played with her food before devouring it, and her food had turned around and devoured all of her delicious darkness instead.
Sombra had been too predictable—he'd relied so much on dark magic that any student with time for the quick study of a few forbidden texts could have conquered him.
Discord had grown into a sentimental old fool—friends with ponies; he was a disgusting disgrace, a distracted silly shadow of his former self.
Tirek had underestimated his opponents—oh, he had almost pulled things off, but his gravest error had been not destroying his foes immediately after acquiring total power. The fool.
And she herself had made some mistakes too—moving too slowly, letting a rogue subject leave the hive without punishment, failing to replace every pony with even the faint potential of importance.
Failing to replace Starlight Glimmer.
(Chrysalis's magic brought the focus of the window to Starlight's smiling face at the festival).
The changeling queen bared her teeth.
There would be no more mistakes now—none at all. Equestria's peace would fall, and a new order would rise.
Yes, she, Chrysalis, had learned from her errors and from all of the errors of the villains past, and now she was ready to conquer and win.
"…And I will not rest until my Kingdom and power are restored to me…not until my enemies cry out in agony and beg for mercy at my hooves…not until I mount that traitor king's new horns over my future throne…and not until I break the little student pony who had the nerve to try and break me…"
The words left her throat in a dark grumble as she hid among thick trees while twilight descended. Her green eyes narrowed, boring into the image Starlight's smiling face in the magic window. She hissed and spoke, though Starlight couldn't see or hear her.
"Who do you think you are?"
Starlight laughed at a pony's joke.
"How did you dare to challenge me?"
Starlight turned and gave Trixie and Twilight (a little wobbly after helping Trixie with her 'saw a pony in half' trick) a hug.
"Do you know what awaits you?"
Starlight ate a cookie.
"Can you imagine my REVENGE!? I WILL RUIN YOU!"
Panting, Chrysalis was still met only with silence as Starlight continued enjoying time with her friends, oblivious to her observer.
The changeling queen let out a final acidic sigh and banished the magic portal away with a swipe of her hoof. She looked around at the dark forest, snarling to herself. "Every single one of those who went against me will suffer. But the first one, oh the first one shall be the one who represents my greatest mistake—Starlight Glimmer. Weak creature who fell to friendship…and who had the nerve to lead the attack on me as though she were worthy." Eyes glowing evilly, she smirked to herself with fangs bared. "You can't imagine how, but I'll come for you first…and then your precious friendship teacher Twilight as she grieves…and then the pony sisters as they grieve…. I'll work my way on my own through everypony, and I will save THORAX," she spit the name, "for last."
She hissed, her eyes aflame, then laughed in a cold way that echoed around her. "All of you think you can stop me? Me!? I've nearly ripped this perfect little world apart twice, and this world STILL hasn't seen me at my most vile and glorious!" She held her head high. "I will not have my way of life changed, I will not break with tradition, and I will not let the way of these ponies run my people's lives. We are changelings, we are proud, and we do not yield! Love is ours by right, not to share with others but to take all for ourselves. Only we truly appreciate it, only we truly need it to survive, only we were given the ability to siphon it off for ourselves!" She stomped a hoof into the ground. "And only I have the right to lead the changelings, to control the magic of the hive, to be at the center of all of their gathered love, to feel all of the emotion they take!" She nodded with a grim glare.
A roll of thunder came from the darkening sky overhead, and Chrysalis glanced around at the woods and then moved forward. "…Starlight thinks I'll break being all alone, but she's wrong. I won't be alone forever. I'll get my changelings back, I'll feel their love again, I'll matter most to them again…" Her eyes lowered, her voice quivered. "As though there was every any chance, even for a moment, that I was going to take her hoof on that ledge, give in to giving love, join everypony…" Suddenly, she shook her head. "I won't be alone like this forever. I won't. Not forever. And I'll return the changelings to their full glory and rightful place as rulers of all Equestria!"
With a determined nod she galloped her way through some final underbrush and finally came out on the edge of the forest.
A twisted smile returned to her features.
There before her stood the ruin of a large castle—the former palace of the pony sisters.
"Ah, it looks like it's gone through a little fixing up. But clearly still abandoned: perfect. Hmm, hmm…" She narrowed her eyes as the sun started to set and dark clouds rolled in overhead. "Royalty deserves a castle, and since no one's using this one, what a perfect place for me. I can feed off of the residual love of the sisters from so long ago and the love they bore for their subjects and that their subjects granted them in return. And if some more ponies drop by to fix it up—say Twilight and her little court and her precious little student—hmm, well, no reason I can't do a bit of eavesdropping…and drain just a little bit of love at the same time."
She approached the castle. "Staying here also puts me right near the Tree of Harmony. That's worth a few experiments, absolutely. What a perfect place to study the magic of Equestria; to blacken it and make it mine."
She walked across the bridge and looked up to the looming castle doors. "And, most important, this castle puts me very close to Starlight Glimmer." Her voice was lilting, almost maniacal. "I will take everything from her until she begs me to take all of the love in her heart and finish her off as well!" She used her magic to appear on a balcony of the castle.
Overlooking the Everfree Forest, Chrysalis could just see Ponyville in the distance, illuminated as a bolt of lightning cracked overhead in the grey sky. "Enjoy your peace, Equestria! Its time is almost up. And your new Queen grows ready to rule." Wicked laughter burst from her throat as she turned and headed into the shadows of the castle, dark and mysterious. A cold rain began to pour in her wake.
Another saved day ended in Equestria. For now all was well.
Thanks for reading! If I can't get the next Donut Nights story written and posted this month, then the next project I think I'm going to work on is the MCNE sequel. So stay tuned ^_^