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    For the first time in centuries, or perhaps even since its founding, the town of Hollow Shades closed its doors to visitors. Dozens and dozens of royal guards were posted around the town’s forested entrances, politely keeping outsiders out and explaining that the large domed barrier visible for miles was currently being investigated. 

    Thank you for understanding, they’d say. Everything is fine. Hollow Shades will be open to visitors soon. 

    Ordinarily, a statement of this sort would arouse suspicion. Many ponies had seen the barrier for miles around, and the locals worried about the sleepy forest town and their own communities. 

    After all, for as long as anypony remembered, nothing like this had ever happened in Equestria. 

    Some ponies embarked on the weeks-long journey to the capital, hoping to alert Princess Denza of the danger. Other braver ponies ventured towards the forest, only to find a massive rampaging dragon circling the entire town, desperately attacking the barrier over and over. As the ponies ran away in fear, they’d all wish luck to the frazzled cyan pegasus stupidly trying to reason with the beast. 

    This is all to say that something had happened, and it had been seen. 

    But let’s go back to the guards. 

    As I said, dear reader—I hope you don’t mind being acknowledged since things are very different now for you, me, and the ponies we’ve been following—when all these worried ponies came over to try and check up on their neighbors and were confronted with guards turning them back… 

    Well, the most curious thing ponies noticed was the expression of the guards. 

    Sure, they were stoic, and yes, they were firm, but beneath it all, sewn into their tone, sparkling in their eyes, there was joy. There was relief. 

    There was hope. 

    And not just within them, but beyond them too, living and breathing in the sleepy town that was now wide, wide awake.

    A jolt of excitement sparkled through the town, electrifying and vivid, its inhabitants now free of the chaos magic that had poisoned them for generations upon generations. A town famed for being a tourist trap, for mocking anypony who believed in fairytales, had in one fell swoop changed, remembering that once upon a time, they’d all believed in fairytales too. 

    Like Heart’s Shine, for example, desperately trying to converse with Princess Luna over the dozen or so foals that crowded the alicorn at all times. 

    “Princess Luna!” exclaimed a unicorn mare, shouting over the alicorn’s breathing, giggling, and living moat. “Uhm…” She hesitated, shy, briefly resembling the foals before her. “Will you be coming to dinner tonight?” 

    “Of course, Heart,” Princess Luna replied, her voice only somewhat strained from shouting over The Gaggle all week. “After the town meeting, correct?”

    Heart’s Shine nodded eagerly. “Yes! But, uhm.” Her eyes flitted down towards The Gaggle. “It’s just you, right?”

    Yes,” replied the princess, expertly hiding the desperation in the statement, which in turn was softened by The Gaggle ‘aw’ing plaintively. “Yes, of course. Only I.”

    The mare grinned. “Great! I’m looking forward to it.”

    Princess Luna and her captors-slash-admirers watched the mare go, and it was only after she was gone that the princess sighed and looked to The Gaggle. 

    “Children,” she said, kindly. “I have matters to attend to.” When The Gaggle nodded, still in place, she continued, “Alone.”

    “Oooooooh!” replied The Gaggle in uneven pitches, its various members nodding seriously at each other and then at the Princess. She visibly relaxed, too, until one of the leaders of The Gaggle gave out marching orders. “You heard her, everypony! We gotta make sure no one bothers us or Princess Luna, ‘kay?!”

    The Princess smiled at them, and then looked towards the horizon with great, great resignation. “Ah, to be so loved.”

    “Twilight, do you want us to have foals?”

    Sitting a ways away, Rarity the unicorn—always charming, at times histrionic, mostly heroic, still recovering from last week and the past two years—quietly contemplated Princess Luna as she negotiated her freedom with her captors. 

    Next to her sat Princess Twilight Sparkle—always beautiful, at times anxiety-prone, mostly valiant, still recovering from last week as well as her entire life thus far—stared at her partner with boggled eyes, blurting out an appropriate response to such an out of nowhere question. 

    “Excuse me, what? Foals?” she stammered, at a loss. “No? I mean. I don’t know? What? Rarity, until last year, I didn’t think I’d ever actually grow old and have a life.” She paused, a horrifying thought occurring to her—not the thought itself, mind, but the timeline per se. “Wait, do you want us to have foals?”

    The slightly panicked ‘As in, now? Now now?’ went unsaid and was ultimately, thankfully, unneeded at Rarity’s prompt reply. 

    “Oh, hum. Well, I’ve thought of it,” she said leisurely, her eyes following The Gaggle as they haunted the approaching Princess Luna. “But, I must confess, after this entire Dreamland affair, maybe I’ve changed my mind.”

    Relieved, but ever herself, Twilight rolled her eyes. “I think it might be too early to be making decisions on that.” She then directed her attention to Princess Luna, who’d come to a stop several foals away, throwing Rarity an agonized look.

    Rarity giggled, taking pity on her. She cleared her throat and looked at the foals. “All right, children, let’s practice social etiquette and let the poor princess have some personal space, hm?”


    She raised an eyebrow, and immediately The Gaggle relented. 

    “…Yes, Miss Rarity.”

    About ten minutes of individual goodbyes later, Princess Luna finally sat down on the ground, exhaling deeply. “Twilight Sparkle, remind me, when are we leaving for Canterlot?”

    Twilight hummed thoughtfully. “Tomorrow at noon.” 

    “Thank the Gods.

    “Though I think we should be leaving the day after tomorrow,” Twilight continued. “In case tonight’s event doesn’t go as planned and we need to handle that.” 

    Rarity frowned. “Doesn’t go as planned? How could it not go as planned? The entire thing is mostly a formality at this point. Frankly, after the entire Nightmare Moon fiasco, I rather think everyone will be amenable and eager for things to work out.” She glanced at Princess Luna. “Not to be insensitive, of course.” 

    Princess Luna waved her off. “Who will be doing the address? You two, yes?” When they nodded, the Princess continued. “And the elder?” 

    “She’ll be there for support,” Twilight said. 

    It should be clarified that the event the three were discussing was quite simply dealing with the fact that an entire town of ponies now knew the legend was real. 

    “What do you mean you hadn’t thought about it?” Twilight’d asked Rarity a few days back, the two of them in bed, still recovering from the nightmarish events of the day before. 

    “I hadn’t!” poor Rarity’d blurted out, feeling a little put on the spot. “My priority was getting Princess Luna out, period, which I already thought was a pipe dream. I wasn’t exactly thinking of what to do after she was freed, let alone plan for the socio-political consequences!” She turned on Twilight. “Why didn’t you think about it?! Hmmmmm?!” 

    “…Well. Er. Hrm. Look. Uh.” 

    Rarity grinned. “That’s what I thought.” 

    Princess Luna stood up, gathering herself. “Very well. I have ample trust in your abilities.” She paused and asked, “Do you have an idea of what you’ll say?” 

    Rarity smiled, a mischievous glint in her eye. “Well, truth be told, we won’t be doing much of the talking.” 

    Princess Luna frowned. “…You won’t?” 

    Twilight shook her head, amused. “No.” She waved her hoof around vaguely. “Well, we’re going to set it up, but we’re bringing in an expert to do most of the talking.” 

    “Most of the talking?” Princess Luna asked, severely. “What is there to talk about? We only need them to be quiet about us, and that’s it. Is that not the plan?” When the couple’s smiles broadened, her frown deepened. “… Strange, I feel myself growing rapidly concerned.” 

    “Princess,” Rarity said, soothing. “Really, there’s no need for that! Don’t you trust us? I’d imagine you would, considering you and everypony else hadn’t even thought about dealing with the repercussions until we brought it up and then had no problem letting us figure it out.” 

    “That was because Twilight Sparkle demanded to be the one to plan it, and most importantly, I thought I was made aware of the details of the plan.” 

    “Plans change,” Twilight mused politely.

    “They do!” Rarity added. “All the time!”

    “Is the two of you acting like coy and duplicitous twins a new habit of yours? I hope not.” 

    “No,” a slightly embarrassed Twilight replied just as Rarity answered, “Absolutely.” 

    “Princess,” Twilight continued, clearing her throat and affecting a more serious tone. “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t think you’d like it.” 

    “You’re correct. I don’t.” 

    Rarity arched an eyebrow. “You don’t even know what we changed! Really!”

    “You’re correct. And yet, I still don’t like it.”

    “But I need you to trust me,” Twilight continued, and she placed a hoof over her necklace. “Trust us.” 

    Princess Luna stared at the couple, her narrowed eyes flitting back and forth before she finally relented: “…Very well. I trust you both.” 

    Twilight’s ears perked up, and she bowed her head deferentially. “Thank you, Princess.” 

    “So, what is your plan?” Princess Luna asked. And who is this expert you’re summoning to speak? What are they experts at?” 

    “History and science,” Twilight promptly replied, just as Rarity snorted and said, “Sounding like a raving lunatic.” 

    As the princess’ frown returned, deeper than before, Twilight turned to Rarity, her chastising tone sounding ever so slightly amused. 

    “That’s not very nice, Rarity.”

    “What! I didn’t say he was a raving lunatic!” Rarity protested, then offered her most charming smile. “Just that he often sounds like one.” 

    “After some consideration,” Princess Luna interrupted, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t trust either of you.”

    Despite this, however, hours later, Princess Luna stood by the couple atop the makeshift stage set up in Hollow Shade’s main square, a few feet away from Princess Luna’s statue. 

    The entire town had gathered for the meeting, surrounding the platform on all sides and in various stages of excited conversation. Applejack, Fluttershy, Elder Moonshine, and Pinkie were standing to the side, the former three waiting patiently for everything to start, a truly enormous stack of pamphlets beside them. The latter excitedly chattered into an empty can tied to a long string that snaked and disappeared into town, which she insisted would carry her voice over to Spike’s can attached to the other side of the string. 

    After a few more minutes, Rarity, sandwiched on stage between Twilight and Princess Luna, cleared her throat and smiled at her quickly quieting audience. 

    “Hello, everypony,” she began, “I’m sure you’re all very anxious to know what’s happening.”

    “Yeah!” a voice chimed in from the crowd. “We are!”

    Rarity elected to ignore Rainbow Dash and continued, “As you all know by now, the…” She faltered, trying not to hurt a certain pony’s feelings. “The— Ah, well, the—Because of Princess Luna’s… Incident—

    “Several towns in the vicinity of Hollow Shades saw the barrier I constructed during my meltdown,” Princess Luna interrupted, sparing poor Rarity her struggles. “We would like to ask for your assistance in dealing with the repercussions of that.”

    A great murmur washed over the crowd, ponies commenting with varying degrees of surprise. Thankfully, to Rarity’s relief, the vast majority seemed to be nodding at the prospect, eager to help. 

    So far so good. 

    “So what’d ya’ want us to do, or what?!” Rainbow Dash asked again, who had apparently misunderstood the request of ‘stay close and watch’ as ‘do a terrible job at not looking like an audience plant no one asked for’. 

    At Rainbow’s question, the crowd turned back to Rarity and the Princesses with anxious, bated breaths. 

    It was Twilight who spoke, smiling politely as she said: 

    “You’re going to help spread a conspiracy theory.”

    There was a moment of silence, which was promptly broken by Rainbow Dash. 

    “Wait, are you serious? What does that mean?” she asked, not literally those words, but Rarity elected to pretend she had said that rather than the expletive-laden questions she’d actually posed.

    “I understand you have questions!” Rarity exclaimed over the sound of several dozen ponies talking, which immediately hushed at her voice. “But rest assured, we have brought in an expert on conspiracy theories to guide you through our proposal.”

    In perfect unison, the three speakers stepped back just as Twilight’s horn lit up, and a chalkboard appeared on stage. This was promptly followed by the esteemed Professor Brazened Awe walking up on stage, levitating a chalk with him. While he used it to write two single sentences on the board, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Elder Moonshine made their way through the crowd, handing pamphlets.  


    A study in being right

    “As you all know,” he began, pacing alongside the chalkboard as he spoke, “a legend Equestria has largely believed to be a foal’s bedtime story is very, very real. For the past three years, only a select few ponies knew it was true. And as of a few days ago, an entire town of ponies found this out, as well as—and crucially—the entire vicinity of towns surrounding it. And!” He stopped and turned to the crowd. “And to some extent, the rest of the kingdom, and even kingdoms far beyond the reaches of Equestria, thanks to the thousands of additional stars now present in our night sky.”

    He took a breath. 

    “Ordinarily, this would be a cause for celebration. A great joy for the kingdom, as well as the reinstatement of certain ponies back into the academic circles who’d cry at realizing how stu—

    Rarity cleared her throat. Loudly. 

    “But let us consider the facts.”

    The sound of chalk filled the air. 


    “We have a third princess still trapped somewhere in Equestria,” he continued. “Her location unknown save for a few hints gathered throughout the last thousand years. And, furthermore—”

    Again, he turned to the chalkboard and with the slightest hint of hesitation, wrote again. 


    “The Spirit,” he said, hiding the nerve that Rarity, Twilight, and the others in the know were struggling to keep at bay, “is still at large.”

    No sooner had the words left his mouth, the crowd erupted in surprised, frightened chatter. 

    “Wait, but—!” A mare chimed in. “Didn’t we stop him?!”

    Professor Awe cleared his throat. “…In a manner of speaking, yes. Make no mistake, we defeated the Spirit, but we defeated… a part of him. It has become increasingly clear that remnants of his will, manifested through his magic, have plagued Equestria for millennia. But. That was not him. The reality of the matter is—” There was a hitch in his voice, but he steeled himself and continued, “We do not know at this time where he is. Or even if he is still in Equestria.”

    This was evidently a lie, Rarity knew. She knew this personally, having had the displeasure of speaking with him in person, and so did Twilight, having seen him in her library the day she freed herself. 

    Audible fear spread through the crowd, louder and louder still, as panicked questions were thrown around until Twilight stepped forward. 

    “We also know,” she said, her voice calm and composed and reassuring, the crowd falling silent but only just, “that for a thousand years, he hasn’t acted in any meaningful, harmful way.”

    “In a thousand years,” the Professor resumed, “Equestria has been at peace, save for a few diplomatic incidents here and there. If he had the inclination to harm Equestria, he would have done so by now.”

    “Did he change his mind?” a hopeful mare asked.

    “He might be good, now?” a hopeful stallion called out,  this one looking straight at Twilight. 

    And though it went unnoticed by everypony save for Rarity, Twilight hesitated. 

    “W-Well, right now, that’s irrelevant,” she said, finally, holding her nerve even though she could feel Rarity’s hard stare on her back. “We can’t get caught up in speculation. He may have reformed, or he may not have.” Again, the hesitation. “Anything is possible, but we need to focus on what we need to do next.” She cleared her throat and gestured to the Professor. “Er, continue, please.”

    With a shaky breath, she stepped back next to Rarity and stared intently at the crowd. Rarity elected not to say anything, and Twilight was grateful for it. 

    “Look at your reaction just now,” the Professor continued, gathering the crowd’s attention. “Imagine that reaction all over Equestria. The fact of the matter is we cannot allow this to be confirmed until we have more information, or at the very least until the last remaining princess is freed, and we can rely on her strength against him.” He put the chalk down on the board, taking on a grave tone. “We cannot risk provoking him more than we already are rescuing the princesses.”

    “Does… Does Princess Denza know? Why isn’t she here?” another mare asked. “Does she know they’re real? Has…” She swallowed. “Has she always known?”

    The Professor took a beat and then shook his head. 

    “No,” he replied. “She knows now, but as far as we’re aware, this is entirely new information to her.”

    This had been, perhaps, one of the most ardent points of discussion. 

    “We’re expected to lie about that?! About what she is?” The Professor had fumed in the Dreamland’s war room, appalled. “I can… I can accept her lying about it for millennia due to her condition, but to keep lying about it?! Forever?! I cannot in good conscience agree to this. I refuse.

    “There’s no harm in it!” Rarity insisted, equally fuming. She stamped her hoof on the table. “All of Equestria thinks the original Princess Cadance died centuries ago! There is simply no need to reveal the truth about her!” 

    “He has a point, Rarity,” Twilight said, quietly. 

    “No, he does not,” Rarity retorted. “Putting aside the guilt I’m certain she already feels at lying to Equestria for hundreds of years, it would make any and all plans we have to get anypony on our side impossible! Or, what, pray tell? We’ll reveal to them they’ve been lied to for centuries, and I’m sure they’ll be delighted to still go along with our plans, won’t they? Surely they will trust us, hm?”

    The Professor stared daggers at her, clearly intent on throwing back a reply, but all he could do was growl in frustration and turn away. 

    “What about after? Once everypony is freed?” Twilight suggested. She saw Rarity’s mouth open and looked at her firmly. “He has a point, Rarity. I think you’re right we shouldn’t say anything about her yet, but… ponies have a right to know who exactly is ruling them.”

    “Yes,” the professor agreed. “And she must accept the consequences.”

    “Consequences? What consequences? Even if we do this, which we shouldn’t, I’m sure they’d forgive her,” Rarity said. “She’s been a fantastic ruler!”

    “Nopony is saying she hasn’t,” Twilight replied. “But that doesn’t—”

    “What about the changelings?”

    All three turned to Incantation, who’d requested to be present for talks about Princess Cadance. 

    Her voice was small. Careful. Her wings fidgeting at her side, her eyes having a hard time making eye contact with anypony else. 

    “I mean. We’ve been helping her, too? We’ve been lying for as long as she has because we wanted to help her and because she’s kept us safe and alive. We owe everything to her, but…” She swallowed. “If the truth comes out about her, then doesn’t that mean it’ll come out about us? And we’re not ponies. Won’t that make us everything ponies are afraid we are? You—”

    Her voice trembled. 

    “I’m sorry, I—I don’t want to be ungrateful, but—Even now, I’ve been living here almost two years and tried my best to show changelings are good, but even now some ponies still think I’m a… I’m bad, or…” She finally looked at them. “Ponies might forgive her, but… I’m not sure they’ll forgive us, and we—We don’t have a home outside Equestria.”

    The silence was deafening. 

    And then Professor Awe spoke: 

    Fine,” he said. “I will lie for now, but a solution has to be found.”

    “Princess Denza,” he continued, “is not here because she is, understandably, dealing with the repercussions of all this. Princess Twilight and Princess Luna will be traveling to Canterlot tomorrow to formally meet her and assist where they can.” He hesitated, then continued decisively, “Our princess has never given us a reason to doubt her intentions regarding our kingdom, so we must put our faith in her, as we always have.”

    One by one, the crowd nodded in agreement, everypony complicit in the lie exhaling with guilty relief. 

    The Professor cleared his throat. 

    “Now, as I was saying, while we intend on keeping it a secret officially, this does not mean we don’t want to prepare Equestria for what’s coming, so we must ask all of you to become very bad liars. In the upcoming days, as Hollow Shades opens again, ponies will be asking about what happened here, and though you will never explicitly say, you must give the impression something is being hidden. Anypony and everypony who speaks with you on the matter must leave the conversation convinced something happened.”

    “But you literally just said nopony can know,” Rainbow Dash retorted. 

    “I did, Miss Dash,” he replied, “and that’s not what I’m saying here. We cannot lie about something not having happened, as it was seen miles around Hollow Shades, but we can omit the truth. Just enough, of course, that rumors spread. Harmless rumors of something being hidden that I’m sure ponies will have their own theories on, but that will make it so when the day comes Equestria must be told, we will have one vital thing working in our favor.”

    “What’s that?” a stallion asked. 

    The Professor smiled. “Simple. Everyone loves a good scandal they’ll be inclined to want to hear and believe after theorizing about it for months.”

    Again, hesitant chatter erupted among the crowd, coming to an abrupt stop when Princess Luna stepped forward. Rarity and Twilight had noticed this in the past days, in fact. Whenever Princess Luna spoke, all of Hollow Shades listened. 

    “My children,” she began, “it has been my privilege to watch over your nightmares for as long as I have been trapped. Even in the darkest of times, I found peace in the warmth and acceptance all of you showed me not just as foals, but days ago, when you all saved me from my own nightmare.” 

    She paused a moment. 

    Then stepped forward again. 

    “I will not plead on behalf of Princess Denza, or even Twilight Sparkle or even myself. I plead on behalf of our town and its future, and ask that as you have placed your trust in me to guard your dreams, you once again place your trust in our mission. Trust that we will collect the information we need not just to free my sister, but to finally banish the Spirit for good.”

    A final chatter erupted amongst the crowd, and a gentle smile formed on the princess’ lips when the crowd made their choice, nodding at her and the others, some crying various forms of agreeance and excited suggestions of lies they could tell, as well as ideas for fake memorabilia to sell tourists. 

    Rarity leaned towards Twilight, amused. “It would seem that though you can take the non-believer out of Hollow Shades, you clearly can not take the tourist trap out.”

    “Excellent!” exclaimed the professor, grabbing his chalk and pointing to the board. Now, you’ve all been given pamphlets with a few ideas and some more pointers on how to go about this, including the ‘official’ version going out. Let’s take a look at section…”

    As the Professor rambled on to the eager crowd, Twilight finally let her guard down, exhaling the breath she’d been carrying the entire time. 

    “See!” Rarity whispered. “I told you it would go well. And it did! Trivially easy, just like whatever’s left to do.”

    Twilight snorted, playfully rolling her eyes. “Like rescuing Princess Celestia and Cadance? And then finding and stopping Discord? Oh, and also finding how to activate Rainbow Dash’s element? And after all that, figuring out what we’re going to do about Cadance and the changelings? Easy.”

    “Trivially! After all—” she fluttered her eyelashes. “I’ll have you know I’ve rescued two princesses in a few years. I’m practically an expert at all this.” She interlaced her tail with Twilight’s. “Aren’t you lucky to have me?”

    Twilight laughed. “Let me get back to you on that,” she teased, only for her eyes to land back on the crowd, her pleasant mood fading just as a big lump formed in the pit of her stomach. “Princesses. I hope we won’t regret this.”

    “We won’t,” Rarity said firmly. Then added, “Besides, what’s the worst that could happen?”

    What’s the worst—? Rarity, why would you say that? That’s literally asking for it to go wrong. Haven’t you read a book?”

    “Twilight, darling, it was a jo—”

    “Great, now I’m thinking about—”


    “–All the ways it—”


    “–could go wrong. Oh, princesses, what if—”

    “Princess Luna, say something to her, dear sta—”

    “Ah, how interesting. Suddenly, somehow, I am deaf. Oh well.”

    As always, thank you for your support, and thank you to my supporters on Ko-Fi and Patreon who help me make this possible.

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    1. Dimbulb
      May 14, '24 at 11:35 pm

      “After some consideration,” Princess Luna interrupted, “I’ve changed my mind. I don’t trust either of you.”

      “Ah, how interesting. Suddenly, somehow, I am deaf. Oh well.”

      God, Luna’s lines are the best here.

    2. JMP
      May 14, '24 at 9:33 pm

      This was an incredible chapter. I was laughing for nearly the whole time. I do really like the points brought up in the more serious scenes, though. Discord is out there and needs to be dealt with in some way, and Cadance will need to face her subjects for her deception, well-intentioned as it was.

    3. SigmasonicX
      May 13, '24 at 11:15 pm

      Great stuff! Loved how sassy Luna is here, and the foals surrounding her was cute. Also loved Rarity bringing up having foals of their own and Twilight’s reaction.

      It’s interesting how much of a bigger deal Luna’s escape is in this version of the story.

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