be sure to check out Joan's latest on her website:

be sure to check out Joan's latest on her website: (usually she updates her blog every Sunday evening but she can and will surprise you) **Special Note: all of Joan's archives are now up--almost ten years of 'bitter girl.' As Joan says, go wild!**

Friday, November 4, 2011

A New Day in Equestria

Rainbow Dash knocks very softly on Twilight Sparkle’s abode. Though she is expected, the hour is late, and she doesn’t want to disturb any of Twi’s neighbors. Presently Twilight opens the door. “Hi Rainbow,” she greets her friend. “Thanks for coming.”

“Hi Twi,” R.D. returns the salutation while looking around for someone about waist high. “No problem. Where’s Spike?”

“I sent him on an errand,” Twilight quietly explains as she closes her entrance behind Dash. “The others are in here.”

“Hi gang,” R.D. says to the other assembled ponies once they reach the library.

“Hey Dash,” Apple Jack speaks up in her southwestern twang.

“Hi Rainbow,” Pinkie Pie contributes, waving. “Want something to drink?”

“Hello Rainbow Dash,” Rarity contributes from her lounge.

“Hi Dash,” Fluttershy softly enunciates with care.

“Hi y’all,” R.D. repeats in her nervousness. “Sure Pinkie—thanks. Whatever you’re having.”

Once Twilight and Pinkie are heading for the kitchen and out of the room, Rarity asks Dash, “So Twi tells us she’s already approached you.”

Rainbow Dash nods. “Yeah—a few days ago.”

Fluttershy and Apple Jack silently hang on her every word, with eyes wide as saucers, until A.J. clears her throat and inquires, “Feel like cluing us in, sugar cube?”

R.D. shrugs. “Celestia’s not going to be in charge anymore,” she simply throws out. “Luna is.”

“Only if all of you agree,” Twilight adds as she and Pinkie reenter the room and the latter hands Dash her drink. “If any of you say no, I’ve already told Luna this whole thing ends right here and now.”

“Oh wow,” Fluttershy interjects while lowering her gaze. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t beat around the bush about it.”

“No more Princess Celestia?” Pinkie Pie repeats after she sits down in their circle.

“Where would she go?” Rarity inquires, sitting back up herself. “What would she do?”

“Luna says,” Twilight explains at length after all eyes fall upon her. “That she wouldn’t be banished. She could even stay in the castle if she wanted; she just wouldn’t have any power. All that would reside with Luna. And us.”

Comprehension begins to set in on every pony’s visage; it’s been common knowledge for a few weeks that Twi and Luna have been spending a lot of time together. “So Luna would be in charge,” Rarity repeats from her place on her couch. “What would that make us, pray tell?”

“We would run everything outside of Canterlot,” Twi expostulates, meeting every pony’s eyes for emphasis. “Ponyville and the rest of Equestria. Luna would assume day-to-day command of the castle and the surrounding grounds; I would help her—on occasion.”

“So you’d be in the castle with Luna,” A.J. sums up while looking at R.D. “And all of us would be out here.”

Twi blinks before she answers. “Sometimes—yes I would,” she admits, realizing how bad this sounds. “And sometimes I would be here—working with y’all.” She pauses for a moment before she continues to lay out her plan. “Pinkie—you, Rarity and Apple Jack would work with all the small businesses as they make the transition from a day-based economy to a night-based one. Fluttershy—you’d be at the school with the new educational policy of indoctrinating the students to our way of thinking. Dash would continue coordinating with the Wonderbolts and the weather. And Spike would stay on as my assistant.”

“Does this mean I’d have to give up my own business?” Rarity buttonholes the purple unicorn.

T.S. shrugs as R.D. had. “Not necessarily—but you probably would need some pony to run it for you. Make no mistake ladies—what I’m suggesting here would be a lot of work. For all of us.”

“So Ah couldn’t work on my family’s farm anymore,” A.J. surmises at length. “Especially around harvest time.”

Twi shakes her head. “No—you’d probably have to hire some pony. To help you out.”

“Assuming Celestia relinquishes power without a fight,” F.S. now quietly offers as counterpoint. “What makes you think she’ll go along with all this—just hand everything over to Luna?”

“That is something we’d have to deal with,” Twilight admits in a level voice. “If the time comes.” She waits again prior to spelling out her terms. “I don’t want answers from any of you right now. I want all of you to think about it—at least overnight—before you decide.”

“Wow,” Pinkie breathes out while scanning every other pony’s countenance for other reactions. “Nothing like planning a party for a power grab.”

“It wouldn’t be a power grab,” T.S. disagrees. “It would be a new day for Equestria. We would help to usher in the night—in the form of the new Lunar Republic.”

“It’s also treason,” Apple Jack pronounces in contrast. “Of the highest order.”

Twi blinks before she honestly responds, “Yes, it is. If this blows up in our faces, we could be plunging ourselves and everything around us into civil war.”

“So I would get the school, huh?” Fluttershy quietly ruminates to herself in the silence that ensues as all take in that last ramification. “What if I needed help?”

T.S. shrugs once more. “Then either Pinkie or I would come to your aid,” she levelly replies.

“Or me,” Rarity volunteers. “If I wasn’t busy.”

“Let’s make sure I have this straight,” Rainbow Dash throws out for discussion. “Would Pinkie or Rarity need your permission before either one—or even me—were to help Fluttershy out, for example?”

“No,” Twilight immediately responds as she shakes her head. “It wouldn’t be that formal. But let’s say there was a strike by the—I don’t know—the garbage ponies and Luna told me to get on it. Then if I needed help, I might dragoon one or two or all of you to help me. And let’s just say Fluttershy needed help at the school at the same time; well, the garbage strike would have to take precedence over the school, until that was settled, type of thing. Then we would all do whatever we needed to at the school to get that on track. There would be priorities—dictated by Luna. Not by me.”

“It’s a lot to think about,” Rarity observes as she sips her drink.

“It sure is,” A.J. wholeheartedly agrees.

“Remember—if even one of you disagrees, the whole thing is off,” Twi emphasizes. “The elements of harmony are useless without all of us in accord.”

“I’d miss the Princess,” Fluttershy sadly admits.

T.S. blinks at this, holding back tears herself. “I would too. But nothing lasts forever, and if it is Luna’s time, then we could make that happen. We—the elements of harmony—could initiate the new era.” She waits again before she wraps up. “Well. Thank you all for coming and please—don’t breathe a word of this to any pony. I realize you’re probably going to be talking among yourselves but I ask you—be discreet.” She finally lowers her own gaze, drinking from her own glass.

High atop her castle, alone in her darkened viewing room, Princess Celestia permits herself the smallest of smiles as she listens and watches the aforementioned scene end. “So,” the Princess muses out loud. “Luna and Twilight think they can defeat me and usher in a new era—with the night eclipsing the dawn. Well—we shall see whose curtain is coming down upon whom.” And she visibly restrains herself from the requisite evil laugh tag.

Early the next morning, Rainbow Dash heads over to Apple Jack’s place to sound her out. “Apple Bloom needs more to do around here, that’s the bottom line,” A.J. sums up as she surveys the family farm. “She’s getting a bit too snarky for her own good, and more responsibility sounds to me like a good cure for that.”

R.D. nods in concordance. “Maybe I can prevail on Scootaloo to help out also,” the butch pegasus theorizes. “Come on—let’s go talk to your grandmother about the money situation. Maybe she can just hire some pony.”

Similarly, Pinkie Pie stops by Rarity’s shop and the two of them go out to canvass some local businesses that would be most affected by the proposed change. Fluttershy cruises the school to see what the deal is there, to talk to some teachers and study with the students.

Luna swings by Twi’s place. “Where’s Spike?” she asks at the door.

“Covering for Rarity,” T.S. explains to the Princess as the purple unicorn closes her entranceway and maneuvers Luna into a corner. “She and Pinkie are out and about.”

When they finally break their kiss, Luna breathes out, “I take it things went well last night.”

Twi nods as she nuzzles Luna’s shoulder. “Yeah,” she responds in a barely audible voice while gravitating lower down the Princess’s body. “They’re thinking about it.”

“And all I can think about is you,” Luna manages to enunciate as she reciprocates T.S.’s caresses and tenders of affection.

Afterwards Twilight volunteers, “I think they’re concerned about you and me; how all ponies would be equal but some ponies would be more equal than others.”

Luna considers this before she offers, “Want me to talk to them?”

Twi shakes her head. “Not right now—maybe later. Let me do this my way for the time being.”

Meanwhile, Princess Celestia strolls outside into her garden in the midmorning sun. “Ah, what a beautiful day,” she sings to herself as she luxuriantly stretches at her regal leisure, the royal gaze resting at last on her favorite large white statue of paranoid terror. “Oh Discord my pet—I thought it such a shame when you relapsed and Twilight and her friends sent you back here, encased once again in your eternal alchemy of granite and clay; now I see that it was all kismet. It’s high time for a little fun—just you and me.”

Rarity and Pinkie Pie return to the former’s shop a few hours later. “Well Spike,” the marshmallow-white unicorn begins. “How many orders did I miss while we were away?”

“Hardly any, Miss Rarity,” the purple and green baby dragon responds as he throws her the clipboard. “I wrote everything down.”

Pinkie Pie intercepts the flying cardboard sheath of papers with a deft swipe of her hoof. “Keep away!” she yells in triumph as she motions for Spike to go long.

“Give me that!” Rarity screeches at both of them in equally determined fashion. “You ruffians—that’s money!"

“Not yet, it isn’t,” Spike replies as Rarity backs him into a corner. “Give me a kiss first.”

“I’ll give you a slap!" Rarity asserts as she tries her best to block any passing angle back to Pinkie.

Who sees Rarity’s strategy and grabs her from behind. “O.K. Spike,” Pinkie roars above Rarity’s squeals of hostage terror and torture. “Go for it—she’s all yours.”

Spike allows himself a short peck on her cute little snout as he hands Rarity her precious clipboard. “Enough frivolity, fillies,” he casually pronounces as he bids them both good day. “I have more of Twilight’s evil bidding to accomplish elsewheres anyways.”

“The very idea,” Rarity is gassing on as she fixes her mane in the mirror while her front door slams in the purple baby dragon’s wake. “Thank you Spike!”

“You’re not welcome!” he thunders in response from outside.

When Fluttershy finishes up her day at the school, she cruises by Twilight’s place with wondrous tales of her day’s adventures. “I love it!” F.S. enthuses in conclusion. “And I already know who I want on my team—Octavia for the music and art students. And Doctor Whooves if I can convince him—for history and social science.”

“Sounds great Shy,” T.S. replies in equal emotion. “Have you talked to them yet?”

“Oh—yes. Maybe that’s a good idea,” Fluttershy responds when the light bulb clicks on over her head. “And Angel Bunny too—he can hang with the kindergartners.”

“Keep ‘em coming Shy—we need all the inspiration we can get,” Twilight confirms as she practically pushes her friend away from her. “Maybe I better see how Rarity and Pinkie did.”

“Just talked to Fluttershy,” she regales Rarity and Pinkie Pie at the former’s shop. “And she’s already putting her team together.”

“Team?” Rarity repeats, as does Pinkie a beat later. “Who said anything about a team? You never told us we could have a team if we wanted.”

“Better hurry girls,” Twi warns her partners in crime with an arched eyebrow. “If you wait too much longer, pretty soon all the good ponies will be taken—part of some other pony’s transition; you snooze, you lose.”

“Where’s Spike? I need him back this instant!” Rarity is gassing on, sputtering in full gear at the thought of being surpassed by one of her friends, especially Fluttershy. “I was just on my way to see Mayor Mare when you walked in Twilight. Pinkie and I need to hit the road. Come along Pinkie.”

And T.S. is hustling both ponies out the door, assuring Rarity that she’ll watch the shop for her till Spike shows up and that she’s calling him now, et cetera and blah blah blah.

Once on the street, Pinkie is about to follow Rarity down the avenue but she is stopped by a business she hadn’t noticed before: Trixie’s Magic Emporium/Gala Grand Opening Soon. “Hey Rarity—look. A new shop,” she observes, but by now she’s talking to herself, as Rarity is, headed the other way.

Pinkie Pie bounces across the street and enters the storefront. “Hi,” some pony who’s wearing a blue wizard’s hat greets her from behind a sea of cardboard boxes. “We’re not open yet.”

“Hi,” Pinkie returns the salutation from her end. “I know—I’m not here to buy anything. I’m the welcoming committee.”

“Hello there,” the same blue pony addresses Pinkie again. “Thanks for the welcome and in return, welcome to my shop. I’m the great and powerful Trixie. Are you also here to help?”

Pinkie blinks, as the question catches her unawares. “Sure. I’m Pinkamena Diane Pie, but everyone calls me Pinkie. Do you need any help?” is her eventual rejoinder.

“You saw the sign, didn’t you?” Trixie inquires, finally coming into full view.

Pinkie surveys the front store window and observes a Help Wanted notice that had previously escaped her perusal. “Oh yeah—the sign. Guess you need help unpacking all these boxes, huh?”

As an answer, Trixie takes a few moments to gaze upon all the merchandise that awaits her. “You could say that,” she eventually allows. “Say—haven’t we met before?”

“Don’t think so,” is Pinkie’s automatic reply without even considering the possibility. “So—where should I start?”

A few hours later, after Pinkie leaves, a familiar form emerges from the shadows in the rear of the shop. “Well?”

Trixie closes her eyes and deeply bows. “Pinkie’s hooked, Your Highness. She’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Excellent,” Princess Celestia replies with relish.

Rainbow Dash and Apple Jack both swing by Rarity’s shop the same evening. “We were looking for Rarity and Pinkie,” Dash explains to T.S., surveying the establishment. “But I guess you’ll do.”

A.J. continues. “Both of us talked to the owner of the green grocer and actually his brother needs a job—just something not indoors, so we got to horse-trading and it turns out he’s actually expanding with the bakery and they can use a lot more fresh fruits—not just apples, but that’s a start. He has no problem with staying open later, if the traffic warrants, so he’s on board, I reckon. And the owner’s brother, we’re going to start him tomorrow on the farm and see how he works out.”

“Great,” Twilight enthuses, bubbling with good news of her own. “Fluttershy’s so excited about the school—she’s asking Octavia, Doctor Whooves and I think she also said something about Zecora for a cooking class—you know, home ec and all that. And Rarity and Pinkie are out talking to the mayor right now.”

R.D. nods in agreement. “Sounds like it’s all coming together.”

Indeed, as the days progress, other pieces of the plan fall in place, so much so that Twilight’s overall good mood, irreversible forward slant and boundless sense of rosy optimism are all the more rudely shattered by the arrival of a missive from the Princess: for her to appear before Her Royal Highness, alone.

Twi walks down the long marble hallway, her hoofsteps echoing at every clop. She knows there must be guards and centurions beyond what is visible but their apparent absence only heightens her trepidation.

Tentatively, she knocks on the door to the Royal Chamber; she’s been here only once before and never alone. She raps again, more loudly this time, when there is no answer.

The high oak double doors creak as they simultaneously open. “Come in Twilight,” Princess Celestia’s monarchic voice both purrs and commands her.

“Good morning Your Highness,” Twilight levelly greets her leader. “I came as soon as I received your summons.”

“Good morning. You can relax,” the Princess intones. “We’re alone here. Come forward.”

Twilight advances and slowly her eyes begin to adjust to the shadows; the Princess’s regal form finally manifests itself out of the dark. “What can I do for you?” is Twilight’s eventual query.

“Sit,” the Princess simply replies as she indicates a chair in front of her royal lounge. “Be comfortable.”

After T.S. settles in, again after waiting so long for Celestia to make herself clear, finally she inquires, “How are you?”

“I’m well, Twilight,” the royal answer returns at length. “How’s everything with you?”

“About the same,” Twi responds. “Same old thing.”

“Yes,” the Princess drawls out. “I know. Same old, same old. I suppose what I meant was, are you happy with your life, Twilight Sparkle? Do you like the things that Equestria is showing you?”

She knows, Twilight adroitly deduces from this attempt at poetry. Somehow she’s ascertained what we’re up to. “I like it well enough, Your Highness. But you know lately I’ve begun to give serious consideration to my future and my friends’ future here in Equestria. Where things are going.”

“Where are things going, Twilight?”

T.S. sets her jaw. “Relentlessly forward,” is her reasoned judgment.

“Good answer, my faithful student,” Princess Celestia mirthlessly chortles as her ghastly bad humor pulls the rug out from underneath any semblance of their normal cordial banter.

“Thanks,” Twilight herself drolly retorts.

“You’re entirely welcome.”

Twilight draws up in her own impatience. “Princess, what can I do for you?”

“You can tell me why you’re so unhappy, for one,” Celestia nearly roars in purple rage at what she perceives as the other’s insolence. “You can explain to me why, if something was bothering you, you didn’t simply come to me with your concerns. You may attempt, if you are able, to justify your OUTRIGHT TREASON BEHIND MY BACK!"

Twi takes a breath before she ventures, “It isn’t treason to suggest that your time may be past, Your Highness.”

“I am the Princess!" Celestia explodes, still red-faced in hysteria. “I will decide what is treason and what is not!”

Twilight Sparkle sighs. “Are you finished now?” she lightly inquires of her Princess. “Are you all done? Do you feel better?”

“Twilight, I realize I never told you this, but I had big plans for you,” Celestia now admits in a more conversational tone. “Here, in this castle, with me.”

“Uh-huh,” T.S. eventually responds. “How generous of you.”

Celestia takes a different tack. “How are you and Luna getting along these days?”

Twilight lifts her head to address this subject. “Is that what this is all about? You being jealous?”

“If you and I were intimate, would that endear you more to my cause?”

Twilight’s had her fill of this for one day; she rises to leave. “Princess, y'know, maybe I’d just better go.”

“Not yet. I have something to show you first. Two things, actually.” A curtain withdraws along a nearby wall to reveal a portal. “This is my viewing screen; from here, Equestria comes to me.”

Twilight watches with undisturbed concentration as the scene changes from her meeting with her friends the other night, to Rarity speaking to Mayor Mare, to Fluttershy at the school, to Rainbow Dash and Apple Jack together, while Celestia narrates, “I can see and hear anything, past or present—any pony or ponies within my realm. Whether comedy, drama or tragedy, high or low estate, treason or loyalty—it’s all at my disposal.”

“I’ve seen enough; you can shut it off now,” Twi demurs after a while.

Presently the scene shifts to that of Twilight and Luna in the throes of unrestrained rapture. “But what about your first embrace with my sister? How tender, how passionate were your cries! How many tears you shed, how many confessions you made!” the Princess catalogs in histrionic detail.

T.S. is nonplussed as well as entirely embarrassed. “It wasn't like that and you know it,” she manages to articulate. "Invading your own sister's privacy."

“What’s the matter, Twilight—don’t you like to watch?” is Celestia’s snarky answer to the accusation.

“No,” Twi immediately replies. “That would be you.”

The viewing portal image freezes and the sound stops. The Princess also rises from her lounge, still smoldering in volcanic rage. “Walk me out; I won’t take any more of your precious time.”

Twilight doesn’t say anything nor does she make eye contact with the older alicorn as they descend together. Once down in the garden, Celestia draws up. “I’m making a speech this Saturday at dusk to all of Equestria; you and your friends are all invited. Luna will be there also; I’ll announce that I’m taking an indefinite leave of absence. Until or unless I return, Luna will rule in my stead.”

Twilight is staring at the empty marble pedestal that once held a large statue. “Where’s—?”

“Discord?” the Princess finishes for her. “Oh, he’s around here somewhere.”

On cue, the tall anthropomorphic bundle of joy appears from behind some bushes. “Hi Twilight—bye Twilight,” he greets and dismisses the startled purple unicorn in staccato fashion.

“Yes ta-ta my dear; we have much to plan,” the Princess segues. “Discord will be accompanying me on my extended vacation—one that I’ve earned, over the years. Anything interesting happens, I’ll send you a postcard. Now run along.”

Once T.S. makes a hasty exit, Discord complains, “So you’re just going to hand over everything to Luna without a fight? What kind of an evil plan is that?”

The Princess dismisses this with a wave of her royal hoof and laughs a syllable. “Oh my pet—your most recent era in stone has made you so myopic. I assure you—we’ll have plenty of time for dirty tricks here later. First though I want them both to fall on their faces of their own accord; thinking it's so easy to run the show. Only then will their humiliation be complete.  But in the meanwhile, the entire universe is at our beck and call; let’s explore it! For instance, I’ve spotted a little slice of heaven where you and I can have the most uproarious fun; it’s the third satellite in a solar system called Sol. The planet is named Earth.”

Discord is all ears. “Do tell!” he mirthfully encourages her to dish.

“Well, it has all sorts of opportunities for both of us; there’s this one area they call the Middle East; lots of interesting goings on and hilarity afoot. So we’ll start there and make our way.”

Discord rubs his paws in evil glee. “Sounds delightful!” he wholeheartedly concurs.

As expected, Twilight relates this unanticipated turn of events to her friends and Luna with substantial apprehension; after all, if Discord is loose, can trouble be far behind?

This and more they discuss at their next strategy meeting:

Rainbow Dash is the least concerned of the bunch. “What the hay—we beat him before; we can lick him again.” She hits on her drink while she waits for some pony to contradict her.

“That was Discord by himself--not Discord with Celestia,” Rarity points out in characteristically histrionic manner. “And how do we know she’ll keep her word, about peacefully giving up? It could all be a ruse, you know. We’d be all together. If she were planning something nefarious, it would be the perfect opportunity.”

Luna takes this. “What do you suggest, Rarity? Not attend? How would that look if on the other hand she’s—how does the phrase go—on the level?”

Twilight attempts to mediate. “Both of you raise valid points; I still say all we can do is prepare for either outcome. I hate to admit it, but I think the Princess has successfully boxed us in.”

“If she does turn on us, we could be in big trouble,” Apple Jack observes from her place in the circle. “Her and Discord both—that would be one battle royal for sure.”

Fluttershy nods in accord. “You guys can count on me, if the time comes,” she declares in resolve, as she’s learned from her time at the school that if she doesn’t speak up, she’ll be called upon. “What do you think, Pinkie?”

Pinkie glances up from her drink. “I think if we’re going to do this, then let’s do it. If she’s bluffing, then let’s call her bluff. If she’s serious and she tries to pull a fast one on us, then it’ll be up to all of us to support you and Twilight, Luna.”

Luna nods from her position in the circle. “I appreciate every pony’s loyalty and I swear by all that is holy in Equestria I won’t let any of you down,” is her heartfelt vow.

“How’s everything going at the magic shop?” Twilight follows up with Pinkie after she nods in accord with Luna’s sentiments.

“Simply fabulous,” Pinkie relates. “The great and powerful Trixie still thinks we can open on Sunday; I guess it depends on if we get all of our Pony Express shipments soon.”

“Think we should approach G&P Trixie?” Rainbow Dash throws out for discussion.

“About joining us?” Twi clarifies, shifting in her place.

“Perhaps later,” Luna now speaks up once she drags on her drink. “This wouldn’t be the best time to bring some new pony on board.”

“Speaking of which,” Twilight segues. “What’s the latest on Doctor Whooves, Fluttershy?”

“He still wants to see what happens on Saturday,” Shy relates. “He says that if there’s any violence, he won’t be a party to either side.”

“But he’s cool if Celestia peacefully abdicates,” Twi elaborates and then continues when she sees others not comprehending that last word. “You know; steps aside. As she says she will.”

F.S. nods. “Then he’s on board.”

T.S. turns to Luna. “A time lord could be useful,” she offers. “In the future, I mean.”

The Dark Princess concurs. “Yes, the back door approach works well with some personalities. The school first and then perhaps with us. Good work Fluttershy.”

“Thank you, Your Highness,” Shy respectfully replies.

“How’s everything on your farm, A.J.?” Twilight continues.

“Not too shabby,” Apple Jack drawls out, next to R.D. in their circle. “New pony’s working out; gets along well with Big Mac.”

“Glad to hear it,” is Luna’s comment.

“Good news all around,” Rarity supplies after she takes a sip herself. “I’ve got Spike almost trained; he’s been spending so much time at my shop, helping me out.”

“Yeah,” A.J. continues. “Apple Bloom and Scootaloo on the other hand aren’t the happiest of campers, but give them time; every pony takes to hard work in a different way.”

“Maybe Sweetie Belle might round out their group,” Pinkie postulates, referring to the last of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.

Rainbow Dash considers this and why it hadn’t previously occurred to her. “Yeah, it’s a thought. You know how misery loves company.”

“What about Carrot Top?” F.S. speculates.

Twilight ruminates after hitting on her own glass, “Yeah, she’s a little older, but not as old as us. I don’t know as she’d want to get her hooves dirty, though.”

“Why don’t you approach her, Shy?” Luna suggests. “At the school.”

“Sure,” F.S. affably agrees. “I can sound her out.”

“Sounds like a deal,” Apple Jack volunteers after glancing at R.D. for her opinion.

“And I’ll talk to Sweetie Belle,” Pinkie concludes.

“Excellent,” Luna and Twilight both agree.

The day after the next, Carrot Top arrives at A.J.’s farm to find the CMC together. “Hey y’all,” C.T. greets them amiably enough.

“What are you doing here?” Scootaloo bluntly inquires, dispensing with the pleasantries.

“Danged if I know,” Carrot Top readily concedes. “Fluttershy asked me to come over and check up on you guys; make sure you weren’t goofing off.”

Apple Bloom volunteers, “We’re supposed to be getting a berry greenhouse together; blueberries, strawberries, raspberries—all that kind of stuff for the pies the grocer in town is going to be selling along with our apples. All hydroponics—no messy or dirty soil. And no icky pests.”

“Sounds like a lot of work to me,” Sweetie Belle dejectedly contributes, indicating the clear plastic materials, housing supports and other supplies that are still on the ground before the group.

“All part of the new regime. The New Lunar Republic,” C.T. confirms in dismay. “Now I don’t like this whole thing any better than you ponies do, but it has to get done and the sooner we start, the sooner we can all leave. Come on; help me with the frames to begin with.”

Later that same day in the magic shop, Pinkie calls out to Trixie, “Hey boss; watch me—I think I have it now.”

Trixie steps from around some cardboard boxes in time to see Pinkie Pie juggling three balls in the air while attempting to pull something out of a top hat; whatever’s inside resists emerging and in her clumsiness all three balls fall to the floor.

“Guess I need more practice, huh?” Pinkie ventures as she kneels to scoop up the balls from where they’ve scattered.

“Yeah,” Trixie responds while returning to her previous project. “Keep working on that.”

That Saturday, every pony gathers at the castle to hear Princess Celestia deliver her speech:

“Citizens of Equestria,” she begins from her tower balcony above the hushed crowd. “I address you today on the verge of a great change. As most of you know, I have ruled this land for over a thousand years, and most if not all have prospered under my stewardship, but nothing is forever. If history has taught us only one thing, it’s that change is the only constant in the universe. And those that don’t learn from history are destined—no, condemned to repeat it. There is nothing that I love more than Equestria and my place in it, but the winds of change sweep through our land. Whether this change is for the good or the bad does not nor should not concern us today but is simply for us to recognize. Nothing is forever; things change is the world’s sad secret.

“But it need not always be sad, for if change is confronted with the proper attitude, then reason can prevail over chaos and entropy. The past is merely prologue; only fools live for yesterday. The future is where promise lies. So tonight, I give you—I offer you my formal proclamation: that I am taking an indefinite leave of absence as ruler of Equestria, effective immediately, until or unless I return, and in my stead, I present my sister, Princess Luna. Obey her as you would me. Fillies and gentlecolts, denizens of Canterlot and all of Equestria, I give you your new ruler: Princess Luna, Empress of the Night.”

The cheers are stupendous and Luna waves to the crowd even as the sun winks out along the horizon, the new leader waiting for the roars to diminish before she addresses every pony.

From down in the crowd, over the tumult, Apple Jack interjects, “Listen to that.”

Twilight meets her friend’s eyes in recognition and response. “I know,” she replies. “Sounds good so far.”

“My royal subjects,” Luna finally intones after the applause eventually dies down, which serves to only rekindle it again. “MY FELLOW EQUESTRIANS!” she corrects herself above their clamor, to even greater volume in response. “The day is over. But the night has only just begun.”

And from there she elaborates in soaring rhetoric on her new economic plan, with the night eclipsing the day, the moon lording over the sun and all the rest of it. Initially, the new directives are met with enthusiasm but of course as time slogs on, there are inherent difficulties in the inevitable backlash:

Twilight looks up from her place in the circle, the bags heavy under her eyes as she concludes, “I guess where I’m going with this is that the only way we can continue to subsidize the night and its necessary additional expenditures of energy are the proposed new factories, outside of Ponyville.” She sets aside her notes as she awaits what she knows will be the storm of protest to that last analysis.

Fluttershy lets her group leader have it with both barrels. “And what of all the wildlife in and around those areas?” she inquires not only of Twilight but of all the ponies in attendance. “My educational initiatives will be the laughingstock of the school if we are shown to be hypocritical on those fronts.”

Twi sets down her drink to address F.S.’s valid concerns, one at a time. “O.K. Shy,” she concedes. “Maybe I was a little too hasty there. Rainbow, where are we with the photovoltaic cells initiative?”

R.D. in turn rummages through her own paperwork. “We are currently at—forty-two per cent of all structures in Ponyville retrofitted with sodium wafers. From those that are in place right now, the latest readings are forty watts per day per structure.”

“And how much are we currently expending, above last year?” T.S. follows up with.

“Well over a hundred,” is Rainbow Dash’s eventual response after the consultation of much further paperwork. “And that’s with the new austerity program. And it raining only at night.”

“Which no pony likes,” Rarity contributes from her place, referring to the former much-maligned austerity program, her own eye bags no more attractive than any other pony’s in attendance.

“Is it my turn yet?” Pinkie Pie inquires of no pony in particular, trying to wedge a word in edgewise. “Because I can tell you the merchants' association isn’t too thrilled with us either; I’ve got a whole list of complaints from our last meeting.”

Both Luna and Twilight wave Pinkie off. “We’ll get to it, Pinkie,” Luna wearily promises the pink-maned pony. “But first we need to address this factory question. Which I don’t see as we have any choice in the matter.”

Twi shrugs and ventures, “Maybe you should make your case then.”

The Princess draws up to begin, “Well, let me state for the record that I too underestimated the extent to which we all depend on the sun for energy, and how expensive it is to replace that free source. Having said that, however, the factories are the perfect solution to our problems; we manufacture the toys that we ourselves create the demand for. It’s a win-win situation all around. This not only brings us badly needed new revenue streams but also opens up new markets for us to trade with further. Also any of these businesses that can’t survive or make the transition to the new era—they will provide us with the labor force for these factories. So every pony will have a choice. And Fluttershy—before you say another word on this subject, I understand your concerns with the school; believe me, I am the last pony that wishes to appear in the role of a hypocrite. That is why we are rolling out the new factories deal with the new conservation initiative in conjunction with the school; the students themselves will help us move the affected wildlife. This will placate every pony.”

“What new school initiative?” Twilight crossly queries Luna while all the other ponies in the room express similar sentiments. “You never said anything about this to me.”

“I am telling you now,” is Luna’s arched response to Twilight’s question and accusation. “I am telling all of you right now about it—before I announce it to the general public.”

“How considerate of you,” Apple Jack dejectedly mutters from her place in the circle while simultaneously rolling her eyes heavenward and throwing her pencil down.

“Uh-oh,” Rarity murmurs to herself under her breath, of Twi and Luna. “Looks like there may be trouble in paradise.”

“When are the students supposed to find the time for this?” Fluttershy questions any pony that will listen in retort while, in fact, all are engaged in speaking themselves around her. “We already have them working after school.”

“All right, ALL RIGHT,” Twi breaks in as she raises her voice to restore if not order then at least general civility to the proceedings. “Every pony—quiet down.”

“This is great,” Discord enthuses to Celestia from his front-row seat as he munches on some popcorn. “This is the perfect time to reenter the fray.”

Celestia waves a disdainful hoof in front of the viewer to disagree. “Are you kidding me? This is only the beginning; if you want chaos, I’ve got chaos for you. You just wait.”

This sets Discord off as nothing else could. “I want, I want!” he exclaims in gleeful anticipation, jumping up and down on the Princess’s lounge and spilling most of his popcorn over both of them. “I live for chaos!”

Celestia flashes her bedroom eyes at him while she shares his anticipation. “But of course you do,” she growls in kindred evil response even as she munches on a stray kernel.

Later on in the week the CMC along with Carrot Top gather as they do every day after school at A.J.’s farm:

“Boy, this just keeps getting better and better,” Scootaloo complains to no pony in particular as they enter the greenhouse structure.

“Yeah,” Sweetie Belle picks it up, dragging as well. “I thought just doing this was bad enough. Now we have to help clear away for where the factory’s going to be.”

“We’re lucky they can afford only one of those,” Apple Bloom contributes from her end. “I heard they wanted to build three.”

“Hey guys—looks like we got our first strawberry,” Carrot Top cheerfully observes, rather than add to the others’ weeping and wailing.

“Thrillsville,” Scootaloo sarcastically comments from the blueberry plants.

“Whoop-de-doo,” Sweetie Belle agrees from the raspberries.

Busy in her own work area, Apple Bloom doesn’t even deign to answer.

Well, I tried, C.T. thinks before she pops the lone red ripe sweet succulent fruit into her mouth. Delicious.

High above Ponyville, in Cloudsdale, Rainbow Dash arrives in time for her night shift. “Hi Soarin’,” she greets her opposite number.

“Hey Dash—thank Celestia you’re here,” R.D.’s day shift counterpart returns the salutation.

“Yeah, here I be; bigger than life and twice as ugly,” Rainbow confirms, glancing around. “Anything happening?”

“Not a whole lot,” Soarin’ allows as he prepares to leave. “Had another griffon test our air space earlier; nothing after that but some thunderstorms I chased away over yonder.” He indicates to the east.

“Was it Gilda?” Dash inquires of the intruder.

“Hard to say,” is the uninterested lackadaisical response. “Didn’t get close enough for a proper ID; pretty much like the other times. Well I’m out of here. Happy trails.”

R.D. salutes back before the other Wonderbolt cruises. “See ya.”

When Soarin’ fades from view, Rainbow Dash surveys the darkening sky. She realizes she’s lucky she’s friends with Twilight; if she’d been any other pegasus, she’d be exclusively on night duty till she was no longer low pony on the totem pole. As it is, with her being in charge of the photovoltaic initiative, she pulls overnights on a rotating basis, the same as any other Wonderbolt. Well, in the absence of any other more pressing options, she still has to round up all the storm clouds that were earlier banished. She flies off into the east.

As R.D. is gathering all the weather that is currently banned during the day, she happens to see something or someone streaking across the sky to the north. She sets the clouds aside to investigate.

As Dash approaches whatever or whoever it is, the object changes course enough times to establish that it’s alive. Finally she catches up to her old friend.

“Hey Gilda,” Rainbow Dash yells over the rush of air between them.

“Hi Rainbow,” Gilda returns the greeting in a similar fashion.

“You know you’re not supposed to be in our airspace,” R.D. cautions the other.

“Really?” Gilda asks with feigned innocence. “I didn’t know.”

“Well,” Dash continues. “Now you do.”

“Guess so,” Gilda readily agrees.

“So take off,” Rainbow follows up with.

“No, you take off,” is Gilda’s clever rejoinder.

“This is my beat,” R.D. responds.

“This is my beat too.”

“Say what?”

“I have my orders.”

“Yeah, and who gave them?”

“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

“Quit playing games Gilda—I’m totally serious. Princess Luna has closed this airspace to all those except ponies.”

“I don’t take orders from Princess Luna.”

“Well, I do—so vamoose.”

“Ta-ta Rainbow. I’ll be back.”

“And I’ll be here.” But by now Gilda has streaked away in the opposite direction.

R.D. discusses this with Twi the next time she runs into the purple unicorn. “She was probably just yanking you.”

Rainbow Dash considers the likelihood of this possibility. “Yeah, probably. But she did say she was under orders; I was thinking maybe Celestia’s up to something. Just thought I’d let you know.”

“Appreciate it,” Twi relates as she nods. “I’ll bounce it off Luna when I see her.”

When she does, the Dark Princess doesn’t react well. “No,” she thunders from her high-backed ancestral throne. “The integrity of our airspace must be maintained at all costs. Commend Rainbow Dash for her valiant work with that griffon and have her alert you to any future sightings.”

Twi looks down. “O.K. Your Empress—if that’s your order. I’ll tell Dash.” And she turns to leave, not wanting to remain even one second beyond what is necessary.

“Twilight—wait,” Luna responds in a much softer tone as she rises from her seat and advances toward the other. “Wait. Don't go yet. I want to talk to you." She closes her eyes in pain before she draws up. "This isn’t the way I want things to be—I mean between you and me. I don’t know what’s happened between us but I know I don’t like it.”

T.S. finally meets the Princess’s insistent gaze even as the latter moves even closer to the former. “Luna, why did you close the airspace to begin with? For what conceivable reason? We’re not at war with anyone; at least, not yet. Why give the Wonderbolts one more thing to do on top of everything else?”

“I thought it was necessary,” Luna admits with tears welling up in her eyes. “With Tia acting all weird and Discord on the loose, I thought it the prudent thing to do. Don't yell at me.”

“Oh, sweetie,” Twilight exclaims in an honest rush of emotion as she takes Luna in her arms and they embrace for the first time in a while.

“I just wanted to do a good job,” the Princess confesses as Twi holds her. “I didn’t want Tia to think I couldn’t handle it. I just want every pony to be happy.”

“Luna,” Twilight replies. “Tia had a thousand years to learn the ropes; you’ve been ruler for only a few months. Of course there are going to be bumps in the road—anything new is always difficult to get used to.”

“Twilight,” the Princess segues as she sniffs aloud, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. “What do you think we should do about the airspace? I don’t trust my own judgment anymore.”

“Well,” T.S. begins as she thinks. “Why don’t we leave the policy the way it is for right now, but have Dash engage Gilda if and when she returns. That way, if Tia is up to something sneaky, maybe Dash can draw it out of her—Gilda, I mean.”

“That sounds good,” Luna decides, finally wiping away her tears at last. “You know, I never could have done this if it hadn’t been for you.”

“Luna, you have been doing a great job,” T.S. advises her Princess in honest sincerity. “The new factory will be opening in a few days and if it’s successful, then we can go back to Pony Bank and ask them for an even bigger loan to expand. But downtown is happening—the ponies are enjoying the night. And that was your goal all along. The austerity program won’t be forever; that’s what most ponies are complaining about, anyway.”

“Thank you Twilight,” the Princess expresses her own heartfelt feelings aloud. “For everything.”

“Boring,” Discord pronounces from his place on Celestia’s couch in front of her viewing screen as he spitefully throws popcorn toward the image. “Let’s watch the two of them have rough angry sex again—that was such a treat.”

“Discord,” Celestia snaps at him, not unmoved by the scene they’ve just witnessed. “Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?”

“Constantly,” Discord relates as he begins poking the Princess. “But I never pay any attention to idle gossip—there’s too much fun to be had in the meantime; you were the one who wanted me 'reformed.'”

“Keep your paws to YOURSELF,” Celestia intones in imitation of how her sister, as Nightmare Moon, sometimes would enunciate her proclamations even as she pokes Discord in return. “Or face a royal SPANKING.”

“Promises, promises,” Discord jubilantly sings as their poking game degenerates into a wrestling match.

A few days after the factory opens, Fluttershy arranges for a couple of guest speakers in a special event at the school:

“I am the great and powerful Trixie,” the proprietor of the new magic shop introduces herself before the assembled foals.

“And I am the equally immodest and amazing Pinkie Pie,” her assistant continues from the other side of the stage. “Hey Trixie—watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. Nothing up my sleeve—presto!” And she extracts not a bunny but a fanciful bouquet from her chopine.

“Is this a magic act or a stand-up comedy act, Pinkie Pie?” Trixie inquires aloud as a sprinkling of the students in attendance twitter.

“It’s both!” Pinkie Pie exclaims much to the delight of the audience as she successfully juggles three balls in the air. “Are you going to talk all day or are you going to perform some magic already?”

About an hour later, they wrap it up. “And so students—remember: Trixie’s Magic Emporium, for all of your magic needs. Right Pinkie Pie?”

“Right, Trixie!” Pinkie enthusiastically confirms in return. “We’ll see all of you ponies real soon. Bye-bye!”

In another month:

“Apple Jack, what’s the latest on the factory?” Twi kicks off the ponies’ latest strategy meeting with.

“Well,” A.J. drawls out. “Ah keep expecting Discord to show up any time now; so far, hide nor hair though. We’ll see—tomorrow is a brand new day; et cetera et cetera.”

“Yeah,” Pinkie picks it up. “Where is he? I’d expected something by now. Unless Fluttershy's hiding him.”

"I am not!" F.S. lashes back at the other with uncharacteristic hostility and volume as she slaps her hand palm down on the table in front of her to punctuate that last word. "No pony was sadder than me when Dizzy relapsed into the excitement junkie he always was and always will be, but that doesn't mean I'd have any truck with him until he learned to behave himself again. Let's search your place, now that you mention it, Miss Pinkamena Diane Pie; been getting all the chocolate rain you could eat lately, honey?"

Luna rolls her eyes heavenward to convey that she's not inclined to hear any more of this jealousy or intrigue, so Twilight simply cans the whole affair before Pinkie can sass back by pointing out, "Shy's right; Discord was just too good at his work for him not to return to it at some point, but I'm sure she would tell us if she's seen him around. What else on the factory, A.J.?”

“We got out almost a thousand units since we opened,” Apple Jack recites after shrugging in a what-the-hay manner; T.S. practically lives at the factory, as she does, so she should know what the score is. “Every pony’s pulling together—we’re getting better and better organized.”

“Rarity, how are sales going?” Twi continues as she nods.

The marshmallow-white unicorn flips through some paperwork before she replies, “Have only preliminary numbers so far, but every pony I’ve talked to is excited. I’d say things are looking good; guarded optimism and all that.”

“Carrot Top?” Twilight segues next. “How are the berries doing?”

“Nice and big and juicy; just the way I like them,” C.T. confirms in accord. “And the kids are coming along too—have to use psychology with them, but slowly and surely, they’re getting the hang of it.”

“And the bakery?” Luna prompts when T.S. makes a hoof gesture, as if to say, Go on.

“I’m sorry,” Carrot Top apologizes as she hoof-palms her face. “The bakery says they’re selling like hotcakes; every pony loves fresh pies, I guess. Can’t keep them in stock.”

“It’s O.K.,” Twilight assures the younger pony. “You’re still new. No problems.”

“All right—NOW it has to be time,” Discord is exclaiming, all but beside himself with incredulity as he and Celestia view the aforementioned scene. “This is honestly too much. I feel like I’m getting diabetes here.”

“You’re right, Discord my sweet,” the Princess decides with resolve. “It is time. But you on the other hand have two choices—either stick with the Palestinians or my garden again. Which shall it be?”

“Oh, are we parting now, with such sweet sorrow, my darling Celestia?” Discord croons to her in animated imitation of real emotion. “With flights of pegasi to wing me on my merry way?”

“Yes—as the great Twilight Sparkle once observed: nothing is forever,” the Princess rejoins her paramour. “Change is the only constant. So which shall it be?”

“Well I don’t honestly think I’ll ever finish with the Palestinians—they are so much fun,” Discord rambles on. “But I’ll be back Tia—rest assured you haven’t seen the last of me. Yet.”

“Go play in your garden,” Celestia archly instructs her erstwhile companion. “And allow me to prepare for your triumphant return.”

“Your wish is my command, O Exalted One,” is Discord’s farewell utterance. “Ciao.”

The following Saturday morning, bright and early, all the ponies of the kingdom gather at the palace:

“My fellow citizens,” Luna begins, again on the same balcony as before. “A new day has dawned for Equestria. For on this glorious morning, I join you in welcoming my sister back to the royal castle and to this fair land. Ponies of Canterlot—I give you Princess Celestia: ruler of our nation.”

“Thank you Princess Luna,” Celestia graciously responds as Luna physically and symbolically steps aside. “But I will humbly accept this position on one condition and one condition only, so I ask you now, with all these ponies as witnesses: will you lead Equestria with me, by my side as equal and co-leader?”

“My sister,” Luna replies with tears of happiness in her eyes, even as the hushed crowd awaits her answer. “Tia, I would be honored.”

“My fellow citizens,” Celestia continues while Luna takes a moment to compose herself. “The new initiatives of the last few months will remain in place, as all pegasi, unicorns and Earth ponies of our land work together, to make our Equestria the paradise that it has been destined to be. Today the day joins with the night as we celebrate the best of both worlds.”

“I never thought I’d see it,” Scootaloo ruefully surmises as she shakes her head, trying to make herself heard to Apple Bloom above the roar of the crowd. “Grown-ups, learning how to play nice together and get along.”

A.B. agrees. “It has been a while coming,” she sagely observes at length.

Dear Princess Celestia

This is a confession: I love you, more than I can say. But my heart belongs to Luna. If you try to come between us, neither of you will ever see me again. I am completely and totally serious.

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle

Twilight knocks on the same two wooden oak double doors as when she had previously been summoned before Celestia. The entranceway yields without any pause.

“Come in Twilight,” the Princess of the Light entreats in casual easy fashion. “The Doctor’s already here.”

“Thank you. Hi Doctor Whooves,” Twi responds and greets the aforementioned time lord.

“Hello Twilight,” the Doctor returns. “Nice to see you again. I talk to Fluttershy all the time, but hardly you at all.”

“I know,” T.S. commiserates in sympathy. “The factory’s keeping me pretty busy these days.”

“Twi, would you like something to drink?” Luna inquires.

“Sure sweets,” Twilight answers the Dark Princess. “The usual.”

“Well,” Celestia draws up. “What would every pony say to a nice round of Monopoly?”

“Sounds good to me,” the Doctor replies.

“O.K., fine,” Twi agrees.

“Tia always wins,” Luna confides as they sit down to play. “That’s why she likes this game.”

“We’ll see about that,” the Doctor predicts as he winks at Twilight, who smiles herself at the prospect of friendly and spirited competition.

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