Much Ahoof About Nothing Part 4 starring Princess Celestia and her faithful student Twilight Sparkle
Moments later, there was a loud whoosh as a multi-coloured streak flew overhead and Rainbow Dash came in to land on the cloud not far away from the assembled group and quickly trotted up to them.
"It's so awesome that you guys could all come!" she said, grinning at her friends. Then she bowed to Celestia and Luna, saying "Spitfire sends her apologies, Your Highnesses - she's still not happy with some of the choreography and she wants to fit in as much rehearsal as possible before tonight."
Celestia smiled. "It sounds as if you have a wonderful show prepared for us tonight."
Rainbow nodded enthusiastically, but then frowned suddenly. "I just hope everything goes according to plan…" …and nopony screws anything up! A vision of a certain blonde-maned Pegasus pony with quizzical eyes appeared before her and she resisted groaning out loud.
But Rainbow didn't have time to worry about Derpy for long, as Rarity cantered up to her and threw her forelegs around her neck.
"Oh Rainbow," she said. "We're so glad you're here! We've all missed you terribly." The unicorn looked meaningfully at Twilight, who blinked at her, uncomprehending.
Rainbow chuckled somewhat nervously as she extricated herself from Rarity's perfumed embrace. "He he he – thanks Rarity," she said. "It's just been a week, though. I've been away for longer than that before."
Rarity's face took on a pained expression. "But without you around, we've all felt so empty! Haven't we, Twilight?" She again turned to the unicorn pony and leaned forward, coaxing.
Twilight frowned at her. "Excuse me?"
"Oh, you know," said Rarity, arching her eyebrows. "As if we were missing something?"
Pinkie suddenly interposed herself between the two unicorns. "Oh, I know!" she said, bobbing her head up and down. "I've totally missed Dashie and our little pranking sessions."
"Pinkie, darling, I don't think…" began Rarity, but Pinkie was already bouncing around, lost in her own little world.
"Oh oh oh! And there's all this rainbow Castella left over at Sugarcube Corner, 'cos you're not around to eat it!" She brought a hoof to her chin and looked thoughtful for a moment, "No, wait a second! I ate all that left over Castella." She rubbed her head sheepishly. "Sorry!"
Rainbow shrugged, a polite smile on her face. "Aw, don't worry about it Pinkie Pie. They've been feeding me well here in Canterlot." She patted her stomach. "I've got to be careful though – the reason the 'Bolts needed me was because Soarin went on a pie binge and got too fat to fit into his costume. Just how he got the keys to the Royal storeroom, I have no idea."
Celestia looked sideways through narrowed eyes at Luna, who shrugged. "He kept complaining of feeling hungry," said the Princess of the Night. "And Canterlot is famous for its delightful pastries, is it not? I was merely trying to make him feel at home."
"So you guys have really been missing me?" Rainbow's rose-coloured eyes glistened with emotion.
"Oh yes," said Fluttershy, but before she could continue Rarity jumped in between her and Rainbow.
"Of course, darling!" said the unicorn. "Why, just the other day Twilight was mentioning how much she was looking forward to watching the aerial spectacular you have organised for tonight. It's all she's been talking about recently."
"Really?" Rainbow turned to the lavender-coated unicorn and grinned at her. "Thanks Twilight – I promise I totally won't let you down."
Twilight looked at the Pegasus, confusion reigning on her face. "Uh, but I…"
"Now then," said Applejack. "Why don' we continue this romantical conversation over vittles!"
"'Romantical'?" frowned Twilight.
Celestia's eyes flickered from Twilight to Rainbow and she smiled. "An excellent idea, Applejack," she said. "You must all be hungry after your exciting journey. Please be seated, everypony."
"Please, sister! You must sit here," said Luna, pulling the chair at the head of the table out with her telekinetic magic.
Celestia stared at the glowing chair. "Thank you, Luna – but the position of honour must…"
Luna rolled her eyes. "Oh Tia! I thought you said we'd be dispensing with all that tiresome formality today. I shall be perfectly happy at your other side. Besides, I am sure that you and Twilight Sparkle have many things to talk over!" And with that she helped the lavender-coated unicorn sit down beside the Princess of the Sun.
Rarity winked at Applejack and with a sparkle of magical energy she pulled the chair on the other side of Twilight away just as Pinkie Pie was about to sit down on it. The little pink pony fell rump-first onto the fluffy white surface of the cloud and bounced away a short distance.
"Oh dear!" said Rarity, trotting over to her and helping her to her feet. "My apologies, Pinkie Pie, but I need you to sit next to me so that we can have a nice chat about…" She lifted her eyes and darted them back and forth as she tried to come up with a plausible subject. "Why yes, of course. Baking!"
"Baking? Oooh!" And with that Pinkie jumped back onto her hooves and sat down in the proffered seat while Rarity took the one next to her.
Rarity shook her head. Baking? Oh dear Celestia, what had she just got herself into!
"Now Rainbow, here's your seat," said Applejack, pulling out the chair that was next to Twilight. "An' ah'll jus' set myself down here…"
Rainbow began to protest, but Applejack brought a hoof to the Pegasus' lips.
"Now no need ta thank me," she said. "It ain't no hassle whatsoever."
"My, what courtly manners," said Rarity as the earth pony sat down next to her. "Darling Applejack, you've outdone yourself!"
"Aw shucks," said Applejack, and Rarity looked with such sudden heat into her green eyes that she blushed.
Fluttershy and Spike, meanwhile, had sat themselves down on the other side of the table and with everypony now seated, Luna levitated a glass of sarsaparilla up into the air and tapped it with a spoon.
"Everypony, if I can have your attention," said Luna. She turned to Celestia. "I hope my sister does not mind me taking the initiative and saying a few words."
Celestia smiled. "Not at all, Luna. Today is your special day, after all."
"I'd just like to thank you all for coming," said Luna, her eyes going from pony to pony. "You have all performed numerous services on my behalf, from rescuing me from the prison of my anger and jealousy, Nightmare Moon, to helping me to reintegrate into modern Equestrian society."
"Disintegrate?" stuttered Pinkie Pie, her eyes going wide in horror.
Rarity placed a forehoof softly on Pinkie's to calm her. "Re-integrate, darling," she explained. "It means to be reintroduced."
Luna continued. "As I can no longer consider you my subjects, but my friends, I hereby propose a toast – a toast to the magic of friendship!"
"To the magic of friendship!" everypony said in unison as they leaned forwards and clinked their glasses together.
The high tea got underway, and once everypony had finished their sarsaparilla, Princess Celestia floated an ornate china tea pot about the table, filling everypony's cups with hot fragrant tea.
"What tea is this, Princess?" asked Fluttershy, taking a dainty sniff of the steaming cup. "It smells delicious!"
"It's from the aurora tea-bush," Twilight told her. "camellia effulgens, which grows only in the Sunrise Mountains. It's the Princess's favourite." But then she looked towards Celestia and blushed deeply, suddenly self-conscious that she'd answered for her.
Celestia laughed. "You know me so well, Twilight Sparkle!" She levitated the tea-pot back to her place at the table and finally poured cups for Luna and herself. "It is my favourite, although I do love all the other wonderful teas that Equestria has to offer."
Everypony took a sip, and even those who didn't usually drink tea agreed that it was, indeed, delicious.
"Luna informs me that she has quite a marvellous evening organised for us," said Celestia, turning to her little sister, who gave a jaunty salute with a forehoof.
"I've been in training for this evening for a long while," explained Luna. "The moon shall be in marvellous form tonight. And as you all are aware, the Wonderbolts are in charge of the fireworks this year." She turned to Rainbow Dash, who was already half-way through a cupcake.
The Pegasus put the treat back down on her plate, her mouth still covered in crumbs as she grinned hugely. "We've got a little surprise in store for you guys," she said. "It's gearing up to be the best Spring Moon Celebration ever!"
"It all sounds marvellous!" said Celestia. She turned to the others. "I do so hope none of you had any other plans for this evening. It completely skipped my mind to ask you all to bring a date if you wished."
"A date?" Twilight's face became suddenly troubled.
Celestia's noticed the look and her heart sank. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Twilight Sparkle. You had a date for this evening and…"
Twilight smiled, shaking her head. "Oh no, Princess. I'm not dating anypony at the moment. It was just that..."
"Oh?" Celestia managed to hide the look of relief on her face as soon as it appeared. "You haven't met any nice stallions or mares in Ponyville?"
"Well," said Twilight, embarrassed. "It's not that I haven't met anypony nice…"
Applejack discretely jabbed an elbow into Rarity's side. The unicorn grimaced, but she ignored the pain and managed to turn and smile sweetly at Twilight.
"Why of course you have, darling," she said. "I mean, Ponyville is home to some of the fastest and bravest ponies after all. Who wouldn't find their head turned by some beauty or another, with a gorgeous body toned by athleticism and eyes aglow with determination?"
"Eyes aglow with… what?" said Twilight, her brow furrowing in confusion.
"Well, I most certainly do not have a date either," said Luna, raising her snout in the air. "I have yet to find anypony suitable."
"What do you look for in a partner, Princess?" It was Fluttershy's shy little voice, suddenly piping up for the first time. She had been listening to the conversation intently, her cyan eyes flicking back and forth from speaker to speaker. But when everypony looked at her she blushed. "I mean, if you don't mind me asking."
"Oh, of course not," said Luna. "It is the perfect time to be talking about matters of the heart." She suddenly looked serious. "I would need to meet somepony like my first love."
Everypony looked at each other in surprise, but it was Pinkie, of course, who dared asked the question that was on everypony's lips.
"Who was it?" babbled the little pink pony, bubbling in excitement and almost bouncing out of her seat. "Oh, please tell us, Princess! Prettyprettyprettypretty pleeeeeeease!"
Luna looked at her, a look of bewilderment on her face. But then she shrugged. "Why, of course. It is, after all, no secret." She sighed. "It was the great Darkmane."
Twilight almost spat out her tea. "Darkmane?" she yelped. "The great tyrant who ruled over the Eastern Plains between the First and Second Griffon Wars?"
Luna managed to look hurt. "A tyrant?" she said. But then her face softened. "Well, perhaps he was a little tyrannical. But you need to understand that there was so much more to his personality…"
Celestia took a sip of tea, clearly trying to hide a smile.
Twilight's eyes were wide. "But he enslaved the ponies of Hoofington and made them build him a statue of himself over forty feet high!"
Luna sighed. "Darkmane always was a bit of a narcissist, it is true. But he had the heart of a poet." Her lips quivered into a soppy smile.
Celestia took a sip of her tea. "You should tell everypony about the poem he wrote you, Lulu."
Luna was scandalised. "Tia!"
Celestia chuckled. "Oh, it's alright. You're among friends here – your reputation is safe."
"Darkmane wrote you a poem?" Twilight asked in disbelief.
Rarity's eyes were wide. "How romantic!"
Fluttershy nodded. "Oh, I just love poetry."
"Ooh ooh!" piped up Pinkie Pie. "Was it a good poem? Did it rhyme? Was it a limerick or a haiku or a-"
Luna looked at the bouncing pink pony with a measure of annoyance. "It was a most excellent poem, and it did rhyme. But it was neither a haiku nor a lim, a lim…" She looked to Celestia for help with the unfamiliar word.
"A limerick," said Celestia. "It's an amusing anapestic poem. They've become most popular in Equestria."
"Yes! Yes!" cried Pinkie. "O, limericks are the most funnest and most rhymingest of all poems! Would you like to hear one, Princess?"
Luna blinked at her. "Well, I-"
But Pinkie was already on top of the table singing:
"There once was a pony called Pinkie,
Who ate the most ginormous twinkie,"
And then she stopped. "Oh, there are hardly any words that rhyme with Pinkie!" she said with a frown. Then a fresh smile burst onto her face. "Ooh ooh, this one is much better!"
"There once was a Princess called Luna,"
Twilight covered her face with her forehooves. "Oh, please no..."
But nothing was going to stop the little pony now!
"Who wanted the night to come sooner.
So 'round about noon,
She raised up the moon,
Which could only ever happen in a cartoon-a!
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Pinkie Pie, I don't think…"
"A most excellent limerick!" said Celestia with a smile, and Pinkie beamed hugely at the compliment.
But Luna was still deep in reminiscence and hadn't really been listening. "Yes, it was most amusing. And Darkmane – well, he was brave and strong as well, you know," she said. "I once saw him fight a dozen ursa majors at the same time! With his bare hooves!" Her eyes went wide. "And we used to dance up above the storm clouds of an evening." She sighed deeply. "It was… delightful."
"So what happened to this Darkmane fella?" asked Applejack.
"Nopony knows," said Twilight. "One day he just... vanished."
"Without leaving me so much as a goodbye note!" cried Luna, and it was almost as if tears would start at the corners of her teal eyes. She floated a handkerchief over and began to dab at her face with it.
While the others were distracted by the Princess of the Moon's reaction and trying to console her, Twilight slid her head close to Celestia's and whispered. "Did… did you have something to do with Darkmane's disappearance, Princess?"
Twilight felt Celestia's lips open in a smile and her coat tingling under the sudden touch of the Princess's hot, sweetly-scented breath. "I did," she said.
"Did… did you send him to the moon?" whispered Twilight.
Celestia shook her head, and her mane brushed softly against the unicorn's face. "No – but let's just say the fact that there's a comet called 'Darkmane' that visits Equestria every hundred years is not a coincidence."
Twilight shivered. The Princess was always so jovial and kind that Twilight often forgot that she was a being of colossal power, capable of great feats of magic.
Seeing her student's reaction, Celestia quickly said "Oh, but you must remember he deserved it, Twilight Sparkle. You know your history, of course."
Twilight nodded. After all the terrible things he'd done,Darkmane had deserved it, admittedly. But still...
The Princess sighed. "Maybe after another hundred years he'll have learned the error of his ways. I shall have to go and ask him myself, I suppose. I can't ask you to deal with all the individuals I've exiled on my behalf, my dear Twilight Sparkle – although you have proven yourself more than capable of doing it." She chuckled. "You know, I have no idea what I would do without you."
The little unicorn blushed.
"Well, I agree with Princess Luna," said Fluttershy suddenly. "I'd love to meet somepony like Darkmane."
"Wh-whatever do you mean, darling?" asked Rarity, shocked.
"Oh, I don't mean somepony tyrannical," Fluttershy said, shaking her head. "I mean somepony who's brave and strong - but they would need to be kind, as well." Her face glowed with enthusiasm.
"Oh, kind. Yes," said Luna, still sniffing behind her handkerchief. "Kindness is very important too, of course."
"And how about you, Twilight?" asked Spike, who had been listening to the conversation in interest but had not had anything to say.
"Me?" asked the lavender-coated unicorn, suddenly cagey. "Oh, I haven't ever really thought about…"
"Oh darling, what rubbish!" said Rarity. "Everypony thinks about romance."
"Some ponies more th'n others," muttered Applejack cheerfully.
Twilight turned to Celestia for help, but the Princess was looking at her in interest just like the others.
She sighed. "Well, OK – maybe I have thought about it." She lifted her eyes to gaze across the glistening sunlit landscape of Equestria and smiled shyly. "Just a little bit."
"And?" said Spike. He'd never heard Twilight talk about this sort of thing before. It wasn't that she didn't have her admirers – over the past months, he'd had to apologise to a number of Ponyville's bachelors and spinsters at the front door to the Library, explaining that Twilight Sparkle was too busy to see them. And it seemed like every second week Derpy would arrive on the front doorstep – well, crash into it, rather – with another box of chocolates or flowers from some admirer or other. But Twilight had shown no interest in any of them.
And all eyes were on Twilight now, so she coughed and said, "Well, they – this hypothetical pony, I mean – they would have to be-"
Rarity's eyes went large in expectation. "Yes, darling?"
"-they would have to be kind, of course…"
"Oh, of course!" said Rarity, her eyes darting from Twilight to look at Rainbow, who was listening with some interest.
"Oh, most definitely!" exclaimed Rarity, clopping her hooves together.
Rarity looked towards Rainbow and frowned. "Oh, yes, well…"
"-and interested in studying-"
Rarity frowned even deeper. "Studying? But don't you think-?"
"-oh, and-" Twilight said, remembering suddenly. "-she would have to be graceful, too." Her ears turned back and she blushed.
Rarity looked at Rainbow Dash, who was now bored with the conversation and was scratching herself behind an ear, and sighed.
Luna clopped her hooves together. "A most appropriate answer!" she said. "Don't you agree, sister?"
"Of, I would have expected nothing else from my favourite student," said Celestia. Twilight lifted her blushing face just long enough for the Princess to notice, and Celestia, feeling her own cheeks grow hot, quickly continued: "But I must admit to being a little surprised that 'gracefulness' was one of your requirements, Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight looked up at her. "W-well, we were talking about my ideal partner, right?" She looked out across the landscape again. "I mean, it would be nice if she were graceful – I mean, I'm not graceful myself and…"
"Oh, but you are graceful, darling," said Rarity, a little uncomfortably.
"Oh c'mon Rarity," said Spike. "You've seen Twilight dance, right?"
The white-coated unicorn looked at the little purple dragon sternly. "Twilight has a most natural manner, young Spike."
"What about you, Rainbow?" asked Applejack, turning to the Pegasus. "Don'tcha jus' find that sometimes it's the quiet ponies that are the most intriguing-like?"
"Intriguing… like?" repeated Rainbow, a quizzical smile on her face. "Well, I don't really know about all that romance stuff. Seems to me that it just gets in the way of achieving your dreams."
Rarity was scandalised. "But surely finding the pony who is your perfect match is just as important, Rainbow, as any other dream you might have?"
Rainbow was just about to reply when Pinkie Pie piped up. "Well, I hope I never find the pony of my dreams," she said, her mouth full of cucumber sandwiches.
"What in Equestria do you mean, darling?" said Rarity, annoyed by the distraction just as the conversation was going in the direction she wanted.
"Well!" said Pinkie, swallowing hurriedly and leaping into her story. "A few nights ago I was working late at Sugarcube Corner, throwing out the expired apple danishes that I'd found hiding in a corner of the pantry…"
"'Throwin' out?'" said Applejack, her eyes narrowed as she looked at the little pink pony in suspicion. "You, Pinkie Pie, throwin' out food?"
Pinkie's eyes darted left and right. "Well, maybe I ate one or ten of them– but it was late and some of them weren't all that moldy or dusty. So anyway, I was working so hard that I fell asleep and I had this mysterious dream! Well, actually it was more spooooooooky than mysterious…"
"Oh brother," said Twilight, rolling her eyes.
"Let us hear about this dream," said Luna, suddenly curious. "It sounds most delightful!"
"Okie dokie lokie!" said Pinkie Pie happily. "But I must warn you, it's totally spookeriffic!"
"Just tell the story, darling!" said Rarity in irritation.
Pinkie took a deep breath and began her story. "I was walking in a strange forest – it might have been the Everfree forest, but it was even stranger than that super-strange and spooky forest! There were muffins and danishes growing from the trees, and the path I was walking along was covered with powdered sugar…"
Rainbow Dash burst out laughing. "Sounds like your ideal forest, Pinkie Pie!"
Pinkie nodded. "Oh, it would have been! I even found a river filled with hot cocoa and there were all these marshmallows floating along it. I leaned forward to take just the teenie-tiniest little Pinkie Pie taste when I suddenly saw the most strangest stallion I've ever seen in my little pinkie life!" Her eyes bugged out in alarm.
"Wh-what did it look like, Pinkie?" asked Spike, his own eyes going wide.
"Oh, he was totally dark and mysterious," explained Pinkie. "He was an alicorn, but he had the claws of a griffon and bat wings and he had a craaaaazy cutie mark - it was a sword surrounded in flames with three lightning bolts bursting out of it!"
"How ostentatious!" sniffed Rarity, unimpressed.
"That's not all, though!" Pinkie continued, getting more and more excited. "He had these marking on his face like a wolf's and he had long fangs and... oh, he had spiky hair, and some of it was brushed down over his eyes making him look totally mysterious. And his eyes were dragons' eyes, just like Spikey Wikey's! And he shot lightning out of his eyes and he had the power to freeze things with his breath and and and…"
It was all too much for Fluttershy, who flew under the table with a yelp.
"Oh, don't be so silly Fluttershy," said Twilight. "There are no records of such a ridiculous pony ever having existed in Equestria, even back in the Dark Ages. It's just a figment of Pinkie Pie's tainted-apple-danish-fuelled imagination."
Fluttershy nodded, but it was only with some gentle coaxing from Spike and Luna that she at last came out from under the table.
"I remember the last time we met, dear Fluttershy," said Luna suddenly. "Are you really so fearful that mere words can scare you?"
Fluttershy nodded. "Oh, yes." She lifted her eyes and counted off in her head. "Words, loud noises, sudden movements, anything I'm not expecting, actually. Ever since I was a little filly I've been afraid of my own shadow."
Luna laughed. "Afraid of your own shadow? That charming silhouette?" She waved a forehoof towards where Fluttershy's shadow was splayed along the surface of the cloud behind her.
The Pegasus blushed deeply. "Well, I suppose it doesn't look at all that scary right now," she said. "But sometimes…"
Everypony was looking at her shadow when it suddenly grew larger, like a balloon filling with air, and the larger it got, the more grotesque its appearance became, as it grew spines and spurs and a huge maw of shadowy teeth. Then it snapped off from the real Fluttershy and leaped at the seated ponies, scattering them even as it dissipated into a purple mist.
Fluttershy fell off her seat sideways, and lay on the cloud mewling in terror, while Rainbow Dash jumped onto the table to interpose herself between the monster and her friends. Rarity had leaped into Applejack's arms and was clinging to her, shivering, and Spike was cowering under the table where he had crawled as soon as the shadow had appeared.
Twilight, however, was clopping her hooves together in delight. "Umbramorphic magic!" she cried. "Oh, I've only ever read about it in books. I never thought I'd ever get to see it."
Celestia was far less pleased and leveled a dark look at her little sister. "Luna, can we perhaps for once have a meal without some trick of yours?"
Luna lowered her face, chastised. "I'm sorry sister. I just wanted to make everypony laugh." She looked across at where Fluttershy was still cowering and she reached down and drew her up onto her hooves again. "My sincerest apologies. I did not mean to terrify you so – I only wished to amuse you."
"Oh, it was very… funny, Princess," said Fluttershy, smiling weakly as she took her seat again. But she was still shivering.
Luna looked at the Pegasus mare's wide eyes and the fine sheen of sweat on her face and suddenly felt remorseful. With a quick sparkle of magic she conjured up a yellow rose from thin air and levitated it over to her.
"I hope we can still be friends," said Luna.
"Oh, thank you Princess," said Fluttershy, snatching the flower from the air. "It's… beautiful. But - how… how did you know that I love flowers?"
"I suppose I can see it in your eyes," said the Princess cryptically. Then an almost imperceptible smile settled upon her lips. "Which reminds me! Since you love flowers, I have no doubt you know that the Canterlot tulips have just come into bloom..."
"Oh yes," said Fluttershy, her eyes growing wide in excitement. "I've heard they're most beautiful during the Spring Moon."
"Indeed they are," said Luna. "But maybe you did not know that I have the largest collection of them in all of Equestria in my private garden. You would be most welcome to view them, of course."
"Oh, I'd love to," said Fluttershy. "As long as it's alright with you…"
"It would be our pleasure!" said Luna with a wink. "Think of it as an apology for my earlier joke."
"It was a totally awesome prank, Princess " said Rainbow, who was still chuckling at the memory. She turned to Pinkie. "But don't think that that prank is going to let you get out of telling us about the sort of pony you really like, Pinkie Pie!"
"Well," said Pinkie, bringing a forehoof to her chin. "Just like I like all sorts of baked treats, I like all kinds of ponies."
"Now Pinkie, darling," said Rarity. "I'm not sure if that comparison is at all appropriate."
"Oh, but it is!" replied the little pink pony, grinning. "You see, romance is just like baking a cake..."
Rarity snorted. "Oh, how in Equestria can romance be like baking a cake, darling?"
"Well," said Pinkie earnestly. "Making a cake is all about choosing the right ingredients. First you have to take some flour, and then add some butter and eggs - oh oh oh! – and some sugar. You mix it into a super-sticky batter and then you put it in an oven at…"
"Ah don' see how this has anythin' ta do with romance," said Applejack.
"'Romance'?" repeated Pinkie, blinking. Then her eyes sparkled. "Oh, yes! Romance! Well, a good romance needs just the right ingredients as well." She started to count off things on one hoof. "You need to have some things in common. Maybe just teeny-tiny little things, but they're super important!"
"What kind of things, Pinkie Pie?" asked Spike.
"Well, say I was to end up in a romance with somepony," said Pinkie. "If they either liked cupcakes or sarsaparilla or pranking or pink or…" She giggle. "Well, you get the idea! But if they didn't like any of those things, well – things probably wouldn't work out."
"But what if they didn't like parties?" asked Fluttershy. "Wouldn't that make things really, really difficult?" She smiled shyly. "I mean, with you being Ponyville's premier party pony and all."
Pinkie nodded. "Oh, exactamondo Fluttershy! I was just getting to that. It's just like when you're making a cake the recipe asks for almonds and you only have peanuts – if you add peanuts the cake will turn out different, but it's still going to turn out absotively scrumptious! But if you put something craaaaazy like earthworms in it-"
Everypony's eyes looked at Applejack, who grinned in sudden embarrassment.
"-well, you're going to end up with a baked bad!" finished the little pink pony. "So if a pony didn't like parties, well - somethings just aren't meant to go together!"
"Ah ain't never going ta live down those baked bads, am ah?" muttered Applejack to nopony in particular.
"Well, I thought they were delicious," said Spike. "Say Pinkie Pie – why don't you whip us up a batch when we get back to Ponyville?"
Celestia brought her head close to Twilight's and asked discretely "What are these 'baked bads' your friends are talking about? I've never heard you mention them in any of your reports."
"It's a long story, Princess," replied Twilight, a little uncomfortably. "It's one of those things that I didn't think was important enough to bother you with."
"But they sound so amusing!" continued Celestia. She sighed. "I suddenly realise that there's so much about your everyday life in Ponyville that I know nothing about."
"I'll be happy to tell you whatever you want to know, Princess," said Twilight with a blush.
Pinkie was still in full flight. "….and of course the temperature of the oven is super important as well. So if they love each other toooo much, then things can end up all burnt! But if they don't love each other enough, then the whole cake can end up wet and soggy."
Spike's mouth was hanging open. "Wow," he said. "Romance sure sounds complicated!"
"That it can be, young Spike," said Rarity with a chiming laugh. "But it is worth the trouble." She slipped a forehoof into Applejack's under the table, making the earth pony flush red, and then turned to Pinkie. "I sincerely apologise, Pinkie Pie – your analogy was most fitting."
"Oh, I don't have any allergies," said Pinkie happily. "Except maybe sneezing powder."
The conversation had however raised Luna's spirits and she clopped her hooves together in delight. "Never before have I heard love described in such succinct terms!" She leaned across the table to Pinkie. "I must say that all this talk of baking has suddenly reminded me, Pinkie Pie. We have all sorts of delectable sweetmeats ready for our little soiree tonight - the staff of the Castle kitchens have been hard at work making sure that everything is just so!"
"Really?" Pinkie's ears flicked up. "Sweet treats?"
"They have?" asked Celestia, raising an eyebrow. There was something about the smile on Luna's face that she didn't quite trust.
Luna nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes. At my personal request. Recently I have gained quite a sweet tooth. Pies, cakes, doughnuts." She turned back to Spike and Pinkie, who were both salivating. "I heard that they initially had some trouble getting all the razzleberry jam into the doubleberry jam explosions, but it seems like they solved the problem – when I checked on things this morning, I saw that there was already a veritable mountain of the treats!"
"A… a mountain?" repeated Spike, his green eyes wide. "A mountain of donuts?"
"Doubleberry jam explosions?" said Pinkie, the final word almost a shriek in her excitement.
"Oh yes!" said Luna, chuckling. "And there are extra-sprinkled triple chocolate crullers as well. Or so the cooks told me – I am afraid I am no expert when it comes to donuts. Perhaps you should investigate and see whether everything is to your liking later."
Pinkie and Spike both looked at each other, excitement glittering in their eyes.
"Oh Pinkie Pie darling," said Rarity with a sigh. "Thinking about your stomach on tonight, the most romantic of all nights!"
"Oh, but it's so hard to be romantic on an empty stomach," said Pinkie thoughtfully. "Your tummy keeps distracting your heart from being romantic with all its grrr-grrr-grrring and rumble-rumble-rumbling! But if it's full, it gets happy and sleepy and then you can be as romantic as you want without your tummy getting in the way."
Luna smiled at the little pink pony. "Why, Pinkie Pie, once again you've reminded me of something else that may be of interest to you all." Her eyes flickered towards Rarity and Applejack. "By chance I was walking on the Eastern Battlements this afternoon and I realised that it's simply the most romantic part of the whole Castle. And so few prying eyes as well! Why, there's never been the need to have guards stationed there, seeing as how it's so remote from everywhere vital to the castle. It would the perfect spot for a romantic assignation…"
"Remote? Romantic? Assignation?" repeated Rarity, her eyes glowing. She turned and whispered to Applejack. "Darling, this is our chance! We must investigate this spot – it would be perfect for setting up a meeting between our two love birds." She looked across the table at Twilight, who was in the middle of taking a sip of tea, and Rainbow, who was busy chewing on a cucumber sandwich, and smiled simperingly.
Twilight frowned and turned to whisper to Rainbow. "Is it just me, or is there something going on with Rarity and Applejack? They've been behaving a bit strangely, don't you think?"
Rainbow shrugged. "You know those two," she replied. "They're always up to something."
On the other side of the table Rarity nudged Applejack and almost made her choke on the cupcake she was eating. "Oh, my mare's intuition is never wrong, darling Applejack! Just look at the two of them together."
Applejack looked across to see Twilight and Rainbow laughing together, and she whispered back to Rarity hoarsely. "Y'know, ah didn't really believe it before, but now that ah lookit them – they're as thick as thieves, ain't they?" She sighed.
Luna, meanwhile, had turned to Rainbow. "So, Rainbow Dash - how are things looking for tonight's display? I've heard from Spitfire that we can expect some astounding feats from the Aerobatics Performance Team."
"Everypony is totally ready and raring to go, Princess," said Rainbow proudly. "Sure, they're a bunch of amateurs, but I think you'll all be surprised by the tricks they're able to pull off!"
"It must have been such a wonderful opportunity to train with Spitfire," said Luna. "She's a marvellous flier, isn't she? So powerful, yet so graceful." She took a sip of tea. "But I must say that you've been an amazing help to her, especially with regards to the last minute rehearsals. When Soarin became... indisposed, Spitfire was quite at her wit's end about how she was going to get everything ready in time. Why, just earlier today she said that she couldn't have done anything without you!"
"She did?" asked Rainbow, her eyes going wide.
Luna nodded. "I'm very much looking forward to what the two of you have in store for us all tonight."
Rainbow didn't reply, but stared off into the distance in the direction of Canterlot peak, where the tiny dots of the Aerobatic Performance Team could be seen spiralling around each other. "I hope Derpy hasn't been causing her any trouble…"
Luna levitated her cup to her lips so that nopony could see the self-satisfied smile that had slipped across them.
And so the high tea slowly came to an end as the sun began to approach the western horizon. The mountains of cucumber sandwiches and snacks had dwindled away into hills and finally molehills, with the ones closest to Pinkie dwindling at a far quicker rate than the others. Twilight and Celestia were deep in discussion about the intricacies of umbramorphic magic, Applejack and Rarity were still feverishly planning, heads glued together, while Fluttershy and Luna were chatting about the correct cultivation of flowers. Pinkie, meanwhile, was busy sneakily taking snacks from the still-full platters on the other side of the table with her serpentine tongue, and Spike had fallen asleep, his face on his chest and half a cream-cake still clutched in a little, clawed hand. And all this time Rainbow was looking forlornly across the landscape at the little black dots, trying to spot which one was Spitfire.
At last Luna stood up and tapped a spoon against the teapot, and once she had everypony's attention she said: "I do so hope everypony has enjoyed our little tea. But my sister's sun is now low on the horizon, so the time has come for me to leave you all and prepare for the rising of the Spring Moon." She turned to Celestia. "Tia, if you would be so kind?"
Celestia nodded and with a brilliant flash of pure white light that radiated from the tip of her horn, the cloud, the darkening landscape, the tables and chairs and all the empty plates and cups and platters all vanished and everypony found themselves back in the inner courtyard of the castle, now lit with torches to ward off the deepening shadows. Beyond the walls the murmuring of crowds could now be heard, indicating that the festival had already begun in the streets of the city.
"Shall we all meet together again on the Royal Lawn as soon as night falls?" asked Luna. "It offers a most excellent vantage point for the fireworks, and I've organised a little picnic so that we shall not go hungry. So please enjoy the evening until then!" She smiled enigmatically. "You'll find that Canterlot is extremely lively during the festival. I trust everypony has some activity to distract themselves with until then?"
Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie, Spike, Rainbow and Fluttershy all nodded enthusiastically.
"I'm going to check out the Castle kitchens!" cried Pinkie Pie. She leaned close to Spike. "I mean, those cucumber sandwiches were perfectly scrumptious, but I think my tummy wants to do a bit more snacking!"
"I know what you mean, Pinkie Pie," said Spike. "I'll come with you - I've got a hankering for some good, old-fashioned Canterlot doughnuts!"
"You really need to get that monkey off your back, Spike," said Pinkie seriously.
"M...monkey?" yelped the little dragon, but Pinkie had already grabbed him and in a pink and purple blur they were gone.
"I think I'll take a walk in your garden and see the tulips," said Fluttershy. "I mean, if that's still alright with you, Princess Luna…"
"Oh, please do," replied Luna. "You'll find my private garden not far from the others. If you get lost, merely ask any of the guards - they will show you the way."
Fluttershy blushed a deep red, and she waved goodbye as she disappeared through the archway that she knew led to the Royal Gardens.
Rarity slipped across to where Rainbow Dash was staring distractedly into the sky. "Rainbow, darling! Perhaps you'd like to show Twilight some of your moves before this evening's entertainment, Rainbow?" she suggested.
"Oh, that would be super cool, Rarity," Rainbow replied. "But I've got to go check if Spitfire needs some help dealing with those amateurs," She frowned. "–especially that Ditzy Doo! Well, see you guys later!" And with that she swept into the air and was gone.
Applejack and Rarity both looked at each other, then at Twilight, then back at each other again.
"Well, I think that I shall take a walk on the Eastern Battlements," said Rarity. "I'm perspiring after all that hot tea and the cool mountain air should prove most refreshing for my complexion!"
Applejack looked left and right. "Uh, ah think ah'll join you, Rarity, on account o' that air being refreshin' an all," she muttered. And then the two of them waved goodbye, with a final bow to the Princesses.
Luna smiled to herself as she watched the two troublemakers leave, and then turned to where Celestia and Twilight were standing, not sure what to do. "My apologies, sister, Twilight Sparkle," she said with a bow. "I must fly. I have some final preparations to attend to before raising the moon. As you know, it has been most mischievous lately and-"
Celestia smiled affectionately at her. "Oh of course, Lulu," she said. "We shall see you at the Royal Gardens later." She winked. "Break a leg!"
Luna grinned at her older sister and unfurled her wings. Then, with a single graceful leap, she flew into the air and was soon enveloped by the approaching darkness.
Celestia turned to Twilight in the now empty courtyard. "So that just leaves you and I, Twilight Sparkle." The Princess smiled, but the smile was masking a nervousness that all of a sudden was swelling up within her.
Twilight looked back at her bashfully. "I guess so, Princess."
Celestia didn't reply, but when the silence became a little uncomfortable, she said "You don't have any plans?"
"Oh no, Princess." Twilight lowered her eyes and stared at the cobblestones beneath her hooves. "I'm just happy to have the chance to talk to you face-to-face rather than via letters!"
Celestia nodded. "So perhaps you'd like to join me for a little walk through the city, then?"
Twilight's heart leaped into her throat as she lifted her eyes and saw her teacher's smiling face. "Oh, yes please!"
to be continued