“How much longer?”
“We’ve passed this bookcase four times already!”
“How do you know? They all look the same!”
“Honey, hurry up!”
Under the twilit sky, four arguing foals made their way through a labyrinth of bookshelves, searching and searching and searching for the missing princess of old. The youngest, trailing behind, carried with her a small saddlebag where she’d stored the Elements of Harmony—the only objects capable of defeating the Spirit of olde.
“Honey!” a colt called, and she quickly picked up her pace, unaware of the cloaked pony quietly following them from atop the bookcases.
Just as they turned a corner, a loud chime rang out, putting them on high alert. They immediately looked up, and lo and behold, to their audible dismay, two pegasi carrying a bookcase flew over and placed it before them, blocking their path.
“Awwww, again?!” whined the colt. “That wasn’t half an hour!”
“Come on, Doodle,” an older filly said, “let’s just go back the other way.”
As the foals turned around and went back whence they came, the cloaked pony used the reprieve to scan the area, briefly observing the dozen or so other fully cloaked ponies walking atop bookcases, each and every single one following the various foals and ponies trying to figure their way out of the maze.
She looked back towards her foals and continued to follow them around, deftly moving away whenever they looked up to try and catch her in the act.
“This is the last group, ain’t it?”
She turned around to find another cloaked pony walking next to her, joining her in following the foals.
“Is it? What time is it?”
“Time for you to high-tail it out of here before you-know-who comes hollering.” She gestured to the foals. “Reckon’ they could use a good spook, don’t’cha think?”
In almost complete synchronization, the two mares picked up their pace and then jumped down in front of the foals, who quickly backtracked, shrieking as they did so.
“Hurry, hurry, Sorbet!” one of them whispered, watching as the two cloaked ponies stalked closer. “The candlestick!”
Frantic, a colt rushed in front of his friends and brandished a toy candelabra, just in time for the four of them to yell, “Star! Light, please!”
Instantly, the two cloaked ponies stepped back, and when the foals pressed themselves against the bookcases, they bowed their heads and walked past them.
“Wa…Wait!” Honey gasped suddenly, pointing to the bottom of one of the cloaks. “Look!”
The other three foals did as told, noticing that while one cloak bore the traditional full moon cutie mark present in all Hollow Shades’ cloaks, the other one bore a very different design: three blue diamonds.
“Princess Twilight!” the littlest one exclaimed.
“Get her!” bellowed the other three when their target rushed off into the tunnel.
She ran, and ran, turning around a corner and then practically screeching to a halt when a bookcase materialized right before her. The foals caught up moments later, yelling victoriously at the sight of their trapped target.
Their victory cries quickly died, however, when she laughed.
“Since when can a bookcase stop a spirit?”
That said, she rushed towards the bookcase and went through it, the foals groaning and whining in the background.
Safe from her persecutors, Twilight took her hood off and looked up, waving at the cloaked pony standing atop the nearby bookcase.
“That was a great illusion!”
The pony harrumphed. “Rarity did hire the greatest and most powerful illusionist in Equestria, Princess!” she proclaimed. “Speaking of, when am I supposed to replace you?”
“Soon. Applejack said they’re the last group.” She looked up towards the sky. “Themis!”
Moments later, Themis emerged from a nearby aisle, hooting at his master.
“Find the foals I was with and take them to my room, please!”
When he flew off to find them, she put her hood back on and made her way through the labyrinth, eventually reaching a small room made entirely from bookshelves. She took her hood off again and waited a few more minutes until Themis emerged, followed by the four foals from before.
“We found you!” they gasped in unison, rushing to her.
“And we found the elements!” the little one exclaimed, reaching for two gemstones inside her saddlebag and proudly presenting them to the princess. “See?!”
“So you did!” Twilight exclaimed, moving forward and picking the rocks up in her magic, making a show out of looking impressed. “Even I could never find them! The Element of Magic, and the Element of Resolve!”
The colt giggled. “But Rainbow Dash said it was called the Element of Awesome!”
“Rainbow Dash is wrong.”
“Trust me.” She gave them back their gemstones and then conspiratorially looked from side to side. “You better run off, now! The more you stay here, the more likely the Spirit will find you and steal your Elements!”
After a quick succession of goodbyes, the foals rushed off. When she was alone, Twilight turned to Themis.
“One last run-through of the festival, maybe?”
She grinned when he hooted in reply, taking her saddlebags and then flying off alongside him.
The first thing she flew past was the food fair, which smelled fantastic enough she wished she had time to fly down and join the hundreds of ponies partaking in the festivities. Pinkie had been in charge of catering the event, hiring vendors from all over Equestria.
Forcing herself to move away before she followed her stomach’s protests, she moved on to Princess Celestia’s Waterfall Spectacular—a truly massive inflatable pool, waterfall included. Foals and adults of all ages splashed in the water, the foals diving down to retrieve treasures at the bottom. A smile pushed its way onto her lips at the sight of the Cutie Mark Crusaders racing—and beating—adults as Elder Moonshine tried not to cheer hard enough, else her Celestia wig might fall off.
A distant roar caught her attention, and she moved on from the waterfall and ended up at what she called Spike’s Valley, an area near Hollow Shades where he’d stomped down the forest trees to make himself a home.
“Climb, kids!” Rainbow Dash bellowed. “Climb!”
Below her was Spike, the dragon roaring as harnessed foals—and some very excited adults—climbed up the many ropes tied to his spikes, giggling when he’d gently try to shake them loose.
“Don’t let him kick you off, kids!” Rainbow continued to yell, pumping her hoof in the air. “We won’t lose to the dumbest dragon ever!”
“Dumbest dragon ever?!” he bellowed, aghast, before roaring again and breathing out fire, much to the delighted gasps and screams of the foals. “I’m Spike the Dragon! Undefeatable! Unextinguishable! Unforgettable! Rooooooar!”
Rainbow Dash rubbed her hooves together. “Don’t worry, everypony! I’ll protect you!” she promised before flying over to Spike’s head and socking him. “Take that!”
“Hey!” he protested, losing his bravado. “That hurt!”
“So,” Twilight said, flying down to join them, “you two are having fun.”
“She keeps punching me!” Spike whined to Twilight. “Hard!”
Rainbow Dash brushed him off with a gesture. “Oh, come on. You’re a dragon! You can take it, ya big baby!”
After glaring at his friend, he turned to Twilight. “What are you doing here? Isn’t it supposed to start soon?”
“I still have time,” Twilight replied. “I wanted to do one last run-through to make sure everything is going well, and then I need to get Incantation.” She flapped her wings and prepared to take off, grinning to Rainbow. “Try not to keep punching him too hard.”
“Okay, so, she wasn’t punching me that hard,” Spike quickly said, trying to act cool. “I’m fine, actually, Twilight. I couldn’t even feel her punches. They were baby punches.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah?” She quickly flew towards the kids, raising her forehooves to her mouth. “Oh no, everypony! The big, mean dragon threatened to eat us all! Let’s beat him up before he can!”
A bloody collective war cry rang out into the air, and Twilight laughed as poor Spike scrambled in circles, yelping at all the tiny hooves punching his body.
“Hey, twenty against one isn’t fair!”
Twilight and Themis flew off after this, leaving Spike and Rainbow to their games. They stopped briefly to watch some foals light up nightmare bombs, and then made their last stop at town hall. Rather than attempt to push her way through the crowd gathered near the front, she snuck in through an open window near the back.
Once inside, she beamed at the sight of all the ciphers she’d made pasted on the walls, designed to help the foals identify the “real” Princess Cadance and get two Elements from her. Originally, she’d wanted to encrypt them in the Shugborouneigh method, but then Rarity pointed out that a method the foals couldn’t even properly pronounce might not be the best idea.
Maybe next year.
“Hi, Princess Twilight!”
A Cadance popped up from behind a wall, waving brightly at her.
And then another walked in from the room next door. “Heya, Princess Twilight!”
And finally, a third peeked her head in from a hallway. “Oh! Hello, Princess Twilight!”
“Hello, Cadances,” Twilight greeted. “How’s everything going?”
“Everything’s swell!” they said in perfect unison.
“Are you here to get Incantation?” asked one.
“She’s in the next room over,” another said.
“Sulking,” a third elaborated with a giggle.
Twilight took this in. “And where’s—”
Frantic yells interrupted her, and when she turned to look, she saw a group of foals running past the room, followed moments later by none other than—
The Spirit of Chaos himself, practically slamming to a halt as soon as he saw the princess. Surprised, eyes trained on her, he stepped into the room and blinked.
On instinct, Twilight stepped back, her heart racing in her chest, her stomach somersaulting inside her. She noticed the Cadances’ eyes were trained on her, attentive and wary, their soldier instincts readying them to act if necessary.
And yet, with all the will in the world, Twilight held her ground. She had agreed to this, and even more so, she had insisted she’d be fine even when Rarity was furiously opposed to the idea.
After all, if they wanted to protect these foals against him, she’d told Rarity, then it was only right they knew exactly what he looked like, no?
She forced herself to step forward, focusing on the sensation of her hoof touching the floor, and then smiled, poisoned words once familiar leaving her lips, “Hello, Discord.”
And so, Discord, in reply, immediately broke into a salute. “Princess Twilight!” He faltered for a moment and looked himself over. “I’m sorry, should I change—” He interrupted himself, and did as much, revealing himself as Rift Shield.
“No, no!” Twilight said, dismayed. “It’s fine, Rift. You didn’t have to do that.” She glanced at the Cadances, all three of them as concerned as he. “I’m fine. It was my idea, remember?”
“…Right,” Rift said, and after a moment’s hesitation, transformed back into the Spirit of Chaos, awkwardly clearing his throat. “I should go.” He saluted again before running off. “Good luck, Princess!”
Shaking off the encounter, Twilight bid the Cadances goodbye before moving on to the next room, where she found the real “Princess Cadance” looking absolutely bored as she leaned against a makeshift copy of Shining Armor’s shield.
“Having fun, Ink?” Twilight asked, laughing at the changeling’s exasperated groan.
“No! I wanted to be the Spirit! That’s way more fun!” She rested her chin on top of the shield and frowned. “Ugh. Boss is punishing me for slacking off, isn’t she?”
Twilight smiled sympathetically. “How many groups do you have left?”
“Just one more. After that, Rosetta is replacing me and I’ll head over so we can get it over with.”
Twilight tilted her head, surprised. “Get it over with? You don’t want to do it anymore?”
“No, I do!” Ink quickly said. She then paused and added, quietly, “I just… I hope it works.”
“The teddy bears?”
Ink nodded. “All of this. Everything Rarity’s done.” At the princess’s expression, she continued, “I was talking to her, and she’s so worried, I think it’s rubbing off on me.”
Twilight frowned. “Did she say something specific? Is she worried about what will happen if it doesn’t work?”
A silence followed after this, Incantantion’s brow furrowing as she set her eyes on Twilight. After a moment, she spoke up.
“Yeah, but…” She lifted her chin off the shield, chewing down on her lips before slowly saying, “I think… I think she’s more worried about how it might affect you, Princess.”
Twilight paused. “…Me?” she asked, affection for Rarity overtaking her at the idea she was the unicorn’s first priority.
“Maybe? I mean, probably not, actually,” Incantation said quickly. “I’m probably wrong. I just thought—You know, maybe because Princess Luna is your friend, and—Nevermind. I don’t know.”
“Ink,” Twilight interrupted, smiling confidently. “It’ll work.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“Then Rarity and I will figure something out.” Twilight replied without missing a beat.
And they would, Twilight thought as she and Themis finally headed to the Dreamland. No plan survives first contact, but with Rarity there to support her, adapting and powering through didn’t feel impossible.
A crowd of foals and their parents had already gathered outside the Dreamland by the time she’d arrived, the former excitedly discussing their plans to help Princess Luna while the latter couldn’t wait to be free of their children for a few hours.
Twilight snuck in through the backdoor, walking into the lobby to find Rarity, Pinkie and Professor Awe, all cloaked.
“Oh, Princess Twilight!” Pinkie greeted, waving excitedly. “You’re here!”
“Where’s Incantation?” Rarity asked, alarmed. “Please somepony tell me she didn’t forget.”
“She’s coming soon,” Twilight reassured her, joining them. She turned to the professor. “Did you bring the device?”
The professor nodded, lifting a strange rectangular device with antennas, a light-bulb, and a glass covered indicator with an arrow for measuring something.
“That’s going to detect chaos magic levels?” she asked, taking it in her magic.
“We’ve actually been using this for the last two years,” Rarity elaborated, “back when we first realized chaos magic is the reason nopony believes in Princess Luna.”
The professor nodded. “I’ll use this to write down the foals’s individuals levels, and after our experiment is done, we’ll simply have to try and trigger the chaos magic and pray that the teddy bears will work as immunity against it.”
“Can I see how it works?”
“I don’t see why not. But before I give it to you…” He turned to Rarity. “Your necklace still has chaos magic inside of it, yes? If so…”
After she gave him the necklace and he inserted into the device, he gave it to Twilight to inspect.
The back door slammed open moments after, and Incantation rushed in, tangled up in a lasso. “I’m here, I’m here! I couldn’t find my lasso!” she blurted, running towards them. “Are we ready?”
Rarity nodded. “We are now.” She took one last breath and then clapped her hoof on the ground, yelling out. “Showtime, everypony!”
With this call to action, everyone scrambled to their positions, Pinkie rushing into Cadance’s theatre, Incantation and the professor heading to the bakery, and Twilight and Rarity opening the doors to let in the crowd, the foals immediately surrounding the princess.
“Rarity,” a mother asked, “are you sure you don’t mind handling them all for tonight?”
“But of course, of course! We’re more than happy to take care of them while you enjoy the late-night festivities!” Rarity reassured her and the other parents listening in. She called for Incantation, asking her to distract the children, and when she did so, she turned back to the adults. She cleared her throat and carefully said, “Now, before we begin, I’d like to verify something. You all remember the slips I gave you last week?”
The parents looked at each other, amused.
“About Princess Luna’s visiting them and giving them toys?”
“To help defeat ‘the chaos magic’ of Hollow Shades?”
Rarity cleared her throat. “Yes. That. Well, this means we’ll also be scanning them with a harmless magic detecting device, as I mentioned, which you are free to inspect for yourself.”
“Oh, actually,” Twilight said, realizing she had the device with her still. “Here.”
A mare took it and looked it over.
“It’s very interesting, actually,” Twilight said. “You’d think it’d be a complicated machine, but it actually works by detecting the fluctuations of the residues in—”
“Look, honey!” the mare interrupted, pointing the device at her husband. “You’re a ten!”
“Well, fine,” Twilight muttered.
Afterwards, the mare gave it back to Rarity. “Well, be sure to tell me what my kids’ chaos levels are! That’ll probably explain why they’re such a hoof-full!”
“Of course, but…” Rarity continued, opening her mouth to continue until a parent stopped her.
“We have no concerns, Rarity. Really,” he said, not forceful but almost. “It’s cute that you’re doing all of this for the kids. They’re really falling for it.”
One giggled at Twilight. “They’re already so excited they found ‘Princess Twilight’!”
“I’m fine with it,” another said, and so did others echo this sentiment, smiling.
Rarity smiled thinly, clearly not wanting to push the issue further and risk the chaos magic actually, well, doing something.
“Well, all right… Regardless, the activity ends at midnight, but we’ll be open until three in the morning, so feel free to pick them up at any time. You’re also quite welcome to check in on them if you’re worried.”
A stallion laughed at that. “Worried? The only thing I’m worried about is getting my kids to leave this place!” he said, and Twilight beamed when another added, “You and Pinkie can be strange sometimes, but you do have something really special here.”
Rarity bowed her head, offering a reserved smile. “Ahh, well, it really is our pleasure.”
“And, by the way,” he whispered, turning to Twilight, “you still have to teach me how to build those mechanical wings of yours, ‘Princess’ Twilight.”
Twilight smiled awkwardly. “Oh. Yes. I will!” she said, hoping they’d somehow free the adults of their chaos magic lest she actually might have to come up with a design for mechanical wings.
Which, actually, would be an interesting engineering exercise, especially if she could find a way to generate lift—
“Now, say goodbye, kids!” Rarity exclaimed, interrupting Twilight’s train of thought.
When the parents went off to their kids, Rarity turned to Twilight, concerned.
“Well, they still didn’t believe me,” she said. “But at least nobody can say that I didn’t try.”
“That’s the best we can do, Rarity.”
“I suppose so.” When she noticed all the parents had left, and the foals were all staring at them expectantly, she nodded. “You know what to do.”
Rarity leaned in for a quick kiss—rolling her eyes when a chorus of “ewwwwws” sounded out—and then rushed into the theatre, leaving Twilight with the foals.
“All right, everypony,” she exclaimed, “form a line and—one line, not three—and follo—that’s still three lines! Everypony get behind Minty!” She waited until they formed what could somewhat be called a single file and then continued. “And now…”
To the gasps of the children, the doors to the theatre opened up all by themselves.
The foals huddled behind her, Twilight’s horn began to glow, and she led them inside the pitch black theatre, stiffling a giggle at their urgent whisperings.
“What’s going on?!”
“Why’s it dark?!”
“What’s on the floor? It’s soft! Can I step on it?!”
“Dusk, can I jump on it?!”
“Don’t jump on that, Rhy!”
Their whisperings devolved into a yelp when the doors closed behind them, and before they could try and figure out what was happening, BOOM! Stage lights beamed to life, drawing their attention to the two cloaked ponies on opposite sides of the stage, their hoods obscuring their faces.
“Foals of Hollow Shades!” Rarity exclaimed.
“Welcome,” Pinkie continued, “to Princess Luna’s Dreamtime Spectacular!”
Boom! The stagelights turned off, a faint crack following soon after, and Rarity spoke up again, the foals scrambling as her voice suddenly sounded off behind them.
“You have been selected for a very special mission!”
“A super duper special mission! It’ll be dangerous!”
Boom! The stagelights returned and focused on Daring Do, whipping her lasso around as the foals cheered.
“A top secret mission!” Rarity warned, and at the sound of her voice did the stagelights go off, turning back on to reveal a ninja, looking around suspiciously and then scrambling in place at having been revealed.
“And most of all,” Pinkie continued, the stagelights turning off again, “it’ll help Princess Luna!”
The stagelights returned and Twilight’s heart squeezed at the sight of the moon princess herself, standing on stage—stoic, determined, fierce.
Rarity’s voice picked up, now moving across the room. “Princess Luna, as you all know, has been trapped by the dastardly Spirit of Discord and Disharmony, which means…”
“She can’t have any fun on Seeking Night! Or ever!” Pinkie continued, and as she spoke so did Luna’s ears drop, her determination and fierceness melting into loneliness as she looked away from the foals.
“So it’s up to you to help her!” Pinkie insisted. “The more ponies believe in her, the better her chances to escape!”
One crack sounded off in the room, and Twilight teleported next to Luna, stepping forward to address the foals, echoing her speech from the day before.
“Listen to me, everypony! I’m here now because of foals like you who believed in me! Will you help Princess Luna, too?!”
When the foals all cheered, Rarity and Pinkie joined Twilight and Incantation under the spotlight.
“In that case,” they said in unison, stepping forward, “it’s time for…” Finally, the entire room lit up now, revealing the dozens of mattresses and blankets scattered around. “A Sleepover!”
Chaos filled the dreamland as foals rushed to pick a mattress, trying to sleep next to their friends or near Twilight and the others. As they did so, Twilight turned to look at the others, her grin matching theirs at the sight of their plan truly and fully materializing.
“Oki-doki-loki, everypony! Princess Twilight and me are going to be in your dreams too so we can help with Princess Luna!” Pinkie exclaimed, clapping her hooves together. “But first, since she’s trapped in dreams, we have to sleep to find her! Like this!”
No sooner had she said so, she literally fell completely asleep in place, the foals giggling at her snores.
Twilight and Rarity exchanged amused glances before the latter cleared her throat and addressed the foals again.
“…Anyhow! Before you sleep, Professor Awe will go to each one and measure your chaos levels.” She noticed somepony raising their hoof. “Yes, Dusk?”
“What’s chaos levels?”
“Chaos levels represents the level of resistance you have against chaos magic,” Twilight explained. “Measuring it will help us see how ready you are to remember Princess Luna even when you’re awake. Are you fine with us doing that?” When the foals nodded, she added, “You can ask the professor anything you want, too, okay?”
Just as she said, the professor and Incantation walked in moments later and made their way around the room, the professor jotting down the foals’ individual chaos levels while she offered them milk and cookies.
Rarity hummed, looking over the scene. “I was hoping we wouldn’t need a sleeping spell to put them to bed, but seeing how excited they are…”
“It’s a perfectly safe spell, Rarity. I used it on Spike when he was little. And we did tell their parents,” she reassured her, but when Rarity’s nod seemed more nervous and stressed than reassured, she leaned in to nuzzle her. “Rarity, it’ll be fine.”
Rarity tried to smile. “I know, darling, but I just want this to be over.”
Once the foals were snuggled in bed, the lights were turned off, and they had all been shushed multiple times, Rarity signaled Twilight and her horn glowed, a soft aura spreading over the room as one by one the foals fell asleep.
Leaving Pinkie to sleep on stage, the rest of the crew then exited the room and went up to the second floor stairs.
If the first floor was overrun by foals, the second floor was overrun by seamstresses and their sewing machines, Fluttershy at their lead. More than a dozen mares were spread throughout the place, and surrounding them were piles and piles of fabrics and materials of all sizes, colors, and textures, designed to create absolutely anything a foal might dream up for the dozens of teddy bears spilling out of bags.
“It’s done,” Rarity announced. “They’re asleep. Now comes the real challenge.” She looked at Twilight and then gestured to her workshop. “After you, your highness.”
One by one, all eyes drifted to Twilight and she tried not to feel the pressure as she made her way into Rarity’s workshop. Once there, Rarity closed the door behind them while she settled on a floor cushion prepared for her.
When there was nothing else to do but start, Twilight swallowed.
“Wish me luck?”
“Success, darling. Princess Luna once told me: luck is arbitrary. Success is a choice.” She lifted Twilight’s chin with her hoof. “I wish you success.”
Twilight closed her eyes. “Can you put—”
Immediately she heard the faint sound of Rarity’s gramophone beginning to play, soft lounge jazz tinkling into the parlor.
As always, Rarity was one step ahead.
With a smile, she took a breath and did her best to relax, her horn lighting up as she fell into a dreamstate.
Her eyes opened a few moments later as she found herself inside the realm of dreams, the music still faintly filling the background. A few couple doors could be found scattered around, but as she walked up to them, her ears lowered at realizing not a single one bore the cutie marks of the foals in the Dreamland.
Did something go wrong? Was Princess Luna not able to create a shared dream? Where was she, even? And where were all the foals’ doors?
“I guess we could go to each foal’s dream individually,” she muttered, already working on a solution. “That’ll take longer, though.”
Her machinations whirred to life in her head only to abruptly stop when her eyes landed on a door in the distance. Specifically, a humongous white double door bearing the missing cutie marks of the Dreamland foals.
She rushed up to the towering doors, pushed them open and before she could voice her excitement, she had to practically throw herself out of the way of a stampede of roaring quinticorns, a foal guiding them all.
“Hi, Princess Twilight!” he yelled, waving at her as his personal stampede directed him towards the complete pandemonium that was this dream, filled with olympic vanilla-shake pools, towers of ice cream and cake, and foals laughing and chasing each other around in costumes, completely changing the dream to their every whim.
And at the center of it all was Pinkie, delighting the foals by giving herself—admittedly disturbing—extending legs and then slipping on banana peels in slow motion. Twilight watched this with faint amusement for a few minutes, but forced herself to move on when banana peels started slipping on Pinkie.
She looked around and finally found her target in the shape of Princess Luna, watching from a distance as Pinkie played with the foals.
“Princess Luna!” Twilight called out to her. “You did it! A shared dream! It looks amazing!”
The Princess smiled. “Thank you, Twilight. It is nothing.”
“No, this is amazing, Princess,” Twilight insisted, because it was. It was exciting, and amazing, and real. This was hope given life. She couldn’t help an excited giggle. “It’s happening.”
The princess returned the gesture. “I am trying not to get my hopes up, but this is encouraging, is it not?”
“What do you mean not getting your hopes up?!”
They looked down to see Pinkie had joined them, now transformed into a filly. She put her hoof against her mouth and blew, transforming back into a mare and then hopped in circles around the two alicorns. “We’re getting you out! We’re getting you out!”
“Hope,” said the princess carefully, “is a dangerous thing.”
“It’s the best thing!” Pinkie retorted. “Right, Princess Twilight?”
“We’re going to do it, Princess Luna. We are getting you out of wherever you are.”
Princess Luna laughed softly. “That would be nice, Twilight Sparkle.”
They walked around after that, taking a dozen or so minutes to not only play with the foals, but to find their first and most important target.
“Dusk Star,” Princess Luna called, rousing the attention of the colt. “Approach us.” When the colt rushed over, she leaned down to speak with him. “Your birthday is in a few days, is it not?”
“Mm-hmm! I’m going to be ten!”
“And do you believe in me? Do you believe that I am real?”
Dusk snorted. “Yeah!”
She nodded, satisfied, and leaned back. “I have a gift for you and the other foals. A guardian.”
“Something that will watch over you when I cannot, and will remind you I am real and will always be with you.”
Twilight’s ears perked up when the princess materialized a teddy bear, and she then quietly moved behind Dusk, ready to see and remember everything he saw.
“Uhm. That’s just a teddy bear?”
The princess shook her head. “Not just any teddy bear. One that will be of your own design.” She met Twilight’s eyes briefly before looking back to him. “What would you like it to have?”
He fell to his haunches, deep in thought.
“Mmmm… Dragon wings!” he exclaimed.
And so Twilight made sure to carefully observe the details of the blue dragon wings that sprouted from the bear’s back, and then the green armor, the spiky red helmet, and the yellow and blue pouch hanging from its waist.
The most important part, however, was the symbol of a sword patched onto its back, hidden beneath the armor.
“Cool!” he exclaimed when it was done, reaching for the bear and looking him over. “Thank you, Princess Luna!”
The princess bowed her head. “It is nothing.” She gestured to Twilight. “Why not let Princess Twilight see it?”
“Oh, yeah!” He turned to her, practically shoving it against her chest. “Look, Princess Twilight! Do you like it?!”
“Oh, wow!” she exclaimed, taking the bear in her hoof and turning it upside-down, sideways, diagonally, imprinting every single aspect of it into her brain. “What a great teddy bear, Dusk!”
When she handed it back to him, he rushed off to show it to his friends, leaving Twilight and Princess Luna alone.
“Soooo,” Twilight said, “I should—”
Princess Luna’s horn flashed, and Twilight blinked to find herself alone in Rarity’s workshop.
One, two, three seconds went by until she practically launched herself at the door, slammed it open, and rushed out upon which every single mare in the room fell dead silent, eyes wide.
“I have one!” she exclaimed. “Dusk Star!”
“Dusk Star,” Rarity repeated quietly, before whipping around, screeching like a banshee. “Quick! Where’s my sketchbook?!” The second somepony threw it at her, she rushed to Twilight. “Go, go, go!”
“I’m going!” Twilight blurted out, her horn lighting up, followed by her necklace. She closed her eyes, hearing Rarity’s own necklace ping seconds later, signaling her to start picturing the bear in her head. She did her best to conjure it up and couldn’t help a smile when this was quickly followed by the sound of a pencil scratching paper.
After about a minute, the connection abruptly cut off, and she opened her eyes to see several sketches on the floor, all of them depicting in detail the teddy bear’s different angles. Rarity grabbed the sketches from the floor with her magic and then pinned them onto a corkboard that had been lifted high up for all to see.
“Now!” she thundered. “Delegate! Pick something and start!”
One by one, the sewing machines whirred to life, their owners calling out different parts of the bear. “I’m doing the wings!” yelled one, rushing to the blue fabrics, while another waved to Fluttershy, calling for “quick! I can do the helmet! Can you do the spikes?!”
“Sew, ladies!” Rarity yelled, jumping atop a table. “Sew like your life depends on it!”
In the middle of this thrilling, stressed chaos, Rarity turned to Twilight and gestured to her workshop.
“Off you go, darling. It’s going to be a long evening.”
They fell into a rhythm, Twilight going back and forth between dreams and reality and bringing back designs—from teddy bears with two heads to teddy bears with long flowing dresses and golden hair—while downstairs, Incantantion watched over the foals, greeting parents who stopped by to see their foals.
Eventually, as midnight approached, new orders came farther and father in between, until they finally stopped entirely. Soon enough, the exhausted but exhilarated seamstresses were sprawled on cushions throughout the room, admiring their pile of transformed teddy bears.
“Ladies,” Rarity said, drinking from a glass of wine, “twenty-three bears in a single evening. Bravo.”
“So, when are we testing if this worked or not?” Rainbow Dash asked, having joined them alongside Applejack, Pinkie and the professor for the final act. She grabbed one of the bears and looked it over. “Can’t we, like, wake up one of the kids and just get it over with?”
Twilight shook her head. “No. They need to remember the teddy bear when they wake up, so the more time we give Princess Luna to make sure they play with them, the better.”
“How’d you reckon’ we’re going to trigger the chaos magic?” Applejack asked. “The birthday thingamajigger?”
The professor nodded, looking over his notes. “In theory, yes. The real test to see if this worked will be when Dusk Star is told Princess Luna—and Princess Twilight, as well—aren’t real during Elder Moonshine’s visit on his birthday. However.” He put his notes away and adjusted his glasses. “We’re also administering a preliminary test today. Something to try and trigger it while I measure their levels.”
“Do you think they’ll have gone down?” Fluttershy asked.
He shrugged. “Possible, but unlikely. As far as I’m concerned, if it’s unchanged, I’m calling that a win.”
“Hello?” a voice called from the floor below, and before anyone could go down to look, Incantation came running up.
“A mom is here!” she whispered urgently. “For Dusk and Rhinestone.”
Rarity smiled. “Oh, good,” she said, immediately afterwards drinking up the entirety of the fresh glass of wine she’d just poured herself. “Mmm. I shouldn’t have done that. Anywho!” She put the glass down and followed after Ink. “To fetch him I shall go! And I expect to have a third glass prepared for my return!”
An oppressive silence followed this, Twilight noticed, nopony apparently having anything better to do than wait, and wait, and wait.
Eventually, Dusk and Rarity’s voices broke the silence, drifting closer and closer. Everyone’s eyes darted straight to the stairs.
“Really? How dazzling! And then what happened?”
“And then! And then, I told Tumble to throw me, and he threw me, like, a bajillion feet up in the air!” the foal rambled on, walking up the stairs with Rarity.
“A bajillion?!” she gasped, following up after him.
“Mm-hmm! And then, I got dragon wings, and I was like fwoosh!” He jumped up two stairs, presumably demonstrating his flying, and then saw most of the Dreamland crew gathered around, blinking at him. He blinked back, suddenly shy. “Oh, uhm. Hello.”
Immediately, and terribly, most of the ponies scrambled away, pretending oh so very hard to be otherwise engaged that Twilight couldn’t help but roll her eyes.
“Hi, Dusk!” Pinkie greeted, moving forward.
“Pinkie!” he exclaimed, suddenly delighted. “You were in my dream! And you too, Princess Twilight! Just like you said you would be! And Princess Luna, too! And…” He drifted off. “Oh… Something cool happened, but I can’t remember it… Uhm, wait…”
Rarity cleared her throat. “Princess Luna gave you something, didn’t she?” she asked, walking over and sitting next to Twilight. “A guardian, you told me?”
“O-Oh, yeah! It was really cool! It had dragon wings, and red helmet with spikes, and then—”
And so his ramble was cut short when, before his very wide eyes, Twilight levitated a very familiar teddy bear.
“It… It’s Mister Dragon!” he gasped, rushing forward to grab it. “But—! But he was in my—! How did—!”
“It’s a present from Princess Luna,” Twilight said. “She asked us to make it for you.”
“Wait, wait!” he blurted, moving the fabric of the armor. “Does it have—” A shocked gasp left his lips, and he turned it over for everyone to see the sword patched onto its back, right beneath the armor. “It has my sword! It has my sword!” He hugged it to his chest, running to the stairs. “Princess Luna’s the best! Mom! Rhy!”
“Ah ah ah,” Professor Awe quickly said, levitating the foal away from the stairs and back towards them. “We need to check your chaos levels first.”
“My chao—Oh, ‘cuz of the spirit!” He quickly stood up straight, prepared. “Okay, I’m ready!”
Slowly, inch by inch, everypony in the room dropped any pretense of not caring as the professor took out his device. Rarity, in turn, took off her necklace and gave it to him, later pressing herself against Twilight when the alicorn draped her with a reassuring wing.
“Very well.” The professor glanced at his notes one last time, before clicking the machine on, and approaching the foal. “Very well.” He cleared his throat, glancing back at everypony else, before pointing it towards Dusk. “Now, Dusk, I’m going to ask you several ques—Hng.”
Suddenly he cut himself off, without reason or explanation, and Twilight felt Rarity press herself more against her body, practically burying her face in Twilight’s chest.
“What’s wrong?” Dusk asked, voicing the common thought of the entire room. He turned to the others, seeking an answer, and then back to Awe, nervous. “Did I mess up or something?”
The professor stared at the device for agonizingly slow seconds before clearing his throat.
“No, no, not at all. I was just looking at something, nothing is wrong,” he said, as if indeed nothing was wrong. “Now, I’m going to ask you something and I need you to answer truthfully. Do you believe Princess Luna is real, and that she and Princess Twilight are indeed the princesses of legend?”
Dusk snorted. “Yeah, duh! Of course they’re real!” he exclaimed, hugging his teddy bear.
“Good. Good!” The professor shut down the device. “That will be all.”
“That’s it?” Twilight blurted out, despite herself. She quickly cleared her throat and nervously continued, “I was under the impression you’d ask more questions, Professor.”
“Oh, I changed my mind,” he said, quickly.
“Ha ha…!” Pinkie said. “Are you sure, Professor? Super duper sure? Maybe you bonked your—”
And Twilight’s heart constricted at that. This was… Well, this was bad. If he didn’t even feel the need to ask questions, then that meant…
“How did it go?” Dusk asked, standing on the tip of his hooves. “Am I better now?!”
The professor hummed.
“Let’s see. When I first measured you earlier today, your chaos levels were at four ticks. It has changed since then,” he said, and Twilight tightened her wing against Rarity. Without further ado, he whipped the machine around for all to see. “See for yourself.”
And so did they see in stunned silence as Dusk cheered, “It went down! I’m a two now! I’m a two! My guardian is protecting me!”
Rarity was the first to react, moving her head away from Twilight to whisper, “it went down?”
Twilight was next, moving away from Rarity entirely to grab the device and see this for herself, make sure for herself, that this was real and there.
And it was.
And she said as much as she turned to everyone else, gawking at her for confirmation, and repeated, “It went down.”
Numb as she said, “It worked.”
And now Pinkie reacted next, her gentle laughter becoming a full on cheer as she rushed forward to swing Dusk in her forelegs, tears in her eyes.
“It worked! It worked!” she cheered on and on and on, as the delighted foal celebrated what he thought was a game.
“We should get my mom and Rhy!” he asked, and so Pinkie rushed down the stairs, both of them yelling at the top of her lungs.
“Mom, it WORKED!”
“Dusk’s Mom! It WORKED!”
Cheers erupted in the room after that, ponies hugging each other, Dash rushing to the window to holler the result to Spike, everything spinning and turning and delirious and happening. Such was the merriment, intensified when Dusk’s sister came up to fetch her own teddy bear, that no one noticed Rarity quietly slip away to her workshop.
Except for Twilight, of course.
“Rarity?” she asked, stepping into the workshop to find her marefriend sitting in the middle of the room, idly toying with her necklace. After closing the door behind her, Twilight stepped towards her, concerned. “Is something wrong?”
“It worked,” Rarity said, and Twilight couldn’t help a smile.
“It did, didn’t it? It worked,” the unicorn repeated. “It really did work. It worked. It actually worked. It worked! It worked!”
Her screech filled the room as she rushed to Twilight, practically toppling her to the floor in a hug, lost in a chorus of it worked, it worked, it worked, it worked, because it had somehow actually worked.
“Oh, thank the stars,” she said eventually, voice lowering, a tearful whisper as she buried her face in the crook of Twilight’s neck. “Thank the stars it worked.”
When she pulled away, wiping off her tears but not her delirious smile, she stood proud before Twilight.
“My! My, that was certainly something, wasn’t it?”
“You did it,” Twilight replied, matching her grin. “See? I told you to trust me when I said you could pull this off.”
Rarity laughed, affection seeping every note. “You did, didn’t you?” she said, moving forward, her hoof playing with Twilight’s necklace. “Look at me, Seeking Night Planner extraordinaire!”
Smitten, Twilight took advantage of their closeness to lean in for a kiss, which Rarity more than enthusiastically reciprocated. When they pulled back, Rarity sighed contentedly, lifting her hoof to brush back Twilight’s bangs.
“Happy meeting-anniversary, Twilight.”
A giddy laugh left Twilight’s lips. “Happy meeting-anniversary, Rarity,” she repeated, grateful for the mare that had stepped into her life exactly three years ago.
Now, everything was fine. This was it. The breakthrough.
Rarity was finally okay.
“Come on,” Twilight said, stepping back and heading towards the door. “We should tell the others.”
“Wait, Twilight,” Rarity quickly said, a forehoof pressing against Twilight before she could move away.
“What is it?” Twilight asked, going back to her previous position.
There was a moment of pause, Rarity’s cheer fading as she idly toyed with Twilight’s necklace, staring at it as she did so.
Eventually, she met Twilight’s gaze.
“You have my permission.”
Twilight frowned. “Permission? Permission for wha—” Her eyes grew wide, her heart now thundering in her chest. “Wait. You mean…?”
“Yes,” she said. “You have my permission to help me with my nightmares.”
An explosion of emotions flooded Twilight, and yet she had to be sure. There could be no doubt here.
“Are you sure?” she asked, putting her hoof over Rarity’s. “Are you really sure? I—” She paused, trying to figure out how to say it. “I don’t care if you’re not ready. That’s fine. I don’t want you to say yes if you’re not ready, Rarity. You need to be sure.”
Another pause, and eventually she opened her mouth to speak..
“And I mean really sure,” Twilight interrupted before Rarity could speak, drawing a laugh from her marefriend.
“Twi-light Sparkle, darling, dearest, sweetheart. I am.” She leaned in, gently tugging on the alicorn’s necklace. “You did tell me to trust you, did you not?”