Luna hummed to herself as she made her way through the vast and winding halls of Canterlot castle. Guards, maids and servants of all sorts either snapped to attention or curtseyed as she passed. She grumbled inwardly at their behavior. She'd had a number of discussions with the staff since her return about there being no need for such decorum around her. Despite having been assured that changes would be made to the staff's behavior, it was clear that most of the castle's inhabitants still felt it necessary to go to great lengths in order to not incur her ire.
She quickly put the pet peeve out of her mind as she continued to enjoy her walk. As soon as Celestia had finished with sunrise that day, she had sent summons for her younger sister to meet her in the throne room. Eager to spend even a few moments with her older sister, Luna had immediately set out for the heart of the castle after receiving the message. As she approached the massive double doors to the throne room, the two unicorn guards that stood on either side of the doorway snapped to attention and used their magic to open the way for her. Inside, Celestia stood at the base of the stairs leading to her throne. She turned and smiled warmly at Luna as she entered the room.
"Good morning, little sister," Celestia said serenely. "You seem to be in rather good spirits today."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Luna asked with a brilliant smile. "Given what day it is, I'd say I've got quite a lot to be happy about."
Celestia smiled and did her best to feign ignorance at what Luna meant. "Really? I wonder why that would be?" she asked with a playful glint in her eyes.
Luna smirked at her sister. "Don't look at me like that, Tia. You know very well what day it is."
"Yes, Luna, of course I do."
"I should hope so."
"It's Wednesday, after all. Such a wonderful day of the week."
"Don't you just love the sound of that word?"
"Wednesday," Celestia said, saying the name of the day in a long and drawn out manner. "You know it's an oddly spelled word for how it sounds. I mean, what's with that first 'd' in the word? You don't even pronounce it. No one says Wed-ness-day, after all."
Luna chortled and rolled her eyes at her sister. "You know, I'd accuse you of playing dumb, but I know better."
"I should hope you do," Celestia said, her voice filled with laughter.
"Yes. After all, you've never had to pretend in order to act dumb."
Celestia narrowed her eyes at her younger sister, who simply stuck her tongue out at her.
"…okay, I'll give you that one," Celestia told her, sounding not at all amused. "But only because I walked into it."
Luna laughed heartily at her. "Just walked? More like you galloped into it screaming 'Wheee!' at the top of your lungs."
"Are you quite done now?"
"For the moment, I guess. That is, if you're done giving me material to work with."
Celestia shook her head and motioned to Luna to fall in alongside her, which she quickly did.
"In all seriousness, I know very well what day today is and why you're so happy, Luna," Celestia said as they walked through the throne room. "It's the day of the Summer Sun Celebration. More importantly, it's the one-year anniversary of the defeat of Nightmare Moon and your return to my side."
"Words can't express how happy and grateful I am to be able to celebrate this anniversary, sister," Luna told her. "I'm really looking forward to the celebration tonight, as well as your rising of the sun tomorrow."
Celestia nodded in agreement with her sister. "It will be a celebration to remember to be sure, but I summoned you here because I wanted to talk to you about your plans for the rest of the day today."
"I must admit, I was hoping you and I could spend some time together today," Luna admitted a bit timidly. "I know you're normally busy during the day, Tia, but I was hoping that given the significance of this day you might be able to make some time."
"As much as I would love nothing more, I'm afraid there are a number of things I must see to leading up to the celebration tonight and tomorrow's sunrise. What's more, I have a task for you to see to as well."
"Oh," Luna said. The tone of her voice expressed her disappointment at not being able to spend the day with her sister in the manner that she had wanted. "I suppose it can't be helped then. Well, however I can be of service to you, sister, I'll be happy to oblige."
"I appreciate the sentiment, Luna, but it's not my service you'll be in."
"Come again?" Luna asked, suddenly a bit confused.
"Do you recall the promise you made to Twilight Sparkle and her friends after last year's Grand Galloping Gala?" Celestia asked as she stopped and looked at her sister.
"Of course I do," Luna said, her thoughts turning back to the events of that very night.
It was the night of the Grand Galloping Gala. Luna had just finished setting the last of the stars in the night sky and was heading back to the castle when she spotted her sister winging her way to an all-too familiar spot: Pony Joe's Donut Café. Shaking her head at catching her sister indulging her sweet tooth once again, Luna followed her down and walked into the shop only to find her sister sitting among six well-dressed (albeit looking a bit disheveled for some reason) and very familiar ponies, all of whom were laughing around a table.
"Oh, Luna dear," Celestia said, spotting her sister. "Do come in. I was just chatting with my student and her friends here."
The other six ponies looked at Luna in surprise as they saw her enter. Luna approached the table and, fighting waves of nervousness at encountering her saviors once again, smiled genuinely at them. For as worried as she was about how they still perceived her, she was honestly thankful for the opportunity to see them once again.
"Is everything alright, sister?" Luna asked, looking at Celestia. "Shouldn't you be at the Gala?"
"Oh, the Gala is pretty much wrapping up at this point," Celestia told her, not wanting to go into what had happened. "Besides, it was getting a bit stuffy in there if you know what I mean."
"You trashed the party again, didn't you?" Luna asked in a flat tone.
"I did no such thing," Celestia said indignantly as the six other mares present looked at her in curiosity.
"Uh huh," Luna said suspiciously, drawing the attention of the six gown-wearing mares back to her. "Just like the time when a swarm of parasprites got loose in the grand ballroom?"
"There was never any proof that I was involved in that," Celestia said defensively as her student and friends looked to her again.
"And the time all the punch bowls were spiked with concentrated rainbow extract?" Luna asked accusingly, which pulled the group's attention back to her.
"Anypony could have snuck a flask of that in with them," Celestia said, feigning innocence once again as the six turned back to look at her.
"And the time the path to the castle was lined in poison joke?" Luna asked, drawing the six mares' attention back to her yet again.
"Hey, you helped with that one!" Celestia shot back. It was only as she saw the Elements of Harmony looking curiously at her that she realized she'd implicated herself in her last outburst. She could only laugh nervously and try to avoid eye contact with them as Luna giggled at her.
"Please don't bear my sister any ill will," Luna said to the six as she turned her attention to them. "The truth is it's actually something of a tradition for the Gala to end up being ruined somehow. You should actually feel honored to be a part of it. Not many get to say they were a part of one of the most elaborate and high-profile pranks of the year."
"Hear that Pinkie?" Rainbow Dash said, grinning as she looked across the table at the pink party pony. "We were prankin' and didn't even know it!"
"Imagine what we could do next year at the Gala when we're pranking and do know about it," Pinkie replied, grinning from ear to ear.
"Assumin' we get invited again, that is," Applejack told them, killing their buzz a bit. "I reckon the kinda folks that go to the Gala might not cotton to seein' the likes 'o us again."
"And even if we do, I'll thank you to leave me out of your machinations," Rarity added. "Though I admit it does shed a whole new light on why I always end up with so many repair jobs on Gala dresses immediately after the event."
"Princess Luna," Fluttershy said in her usual soft and demure tone, "how have you been? If you don't mind my asking that is. I always wonder if you're feeling well or if, well, you're at all feeling sad for what happened. Or even if you're at all bitter at us. Since, you know, the last time we saw you was…well…"
"I'm doing quite well," Luna replied with a warm smile. "To tell the truth, I've been happy simply to be back. I don't get out of the castle much except for doing my nightly duties, though, but maybe someday I'll feel the need to stretch my wings and legs again. Just being home is plenty to make me happy. As for how I feel about the six of you, to be honest I've been hoping for an opportunity to tell you all in person."
The six mares all traded nervous glances as Luna took a deep breath and then bowed low, showing them the same deference that they typically showed her older sister when graced with her presence.
"Thank you all," Luna told them. "If it weren't for you and your courage, I shudder to think what horrible fate I, as Nightmare Moon, would have brought to Equestria. I owe each of you a debt of thanks."
"Your highness, really," Twilight said, feeling incredibly self-conscious about Luna's words. "We only did what we had to in order to save both Equestia and you. We don't need anything in return for it."
"I expected you would say as much," Luna told her, rising to her full height once again. "But just because you feel you don't need such a favor doesn't mean you don't deserve it anyway. Furthermore, I simply won't feel right until I've made it up to you all for what I put you through. So please accept my sentiment, Elements of Harmony, and know that I owe each of you a favor. Ask anything you want of me, and I will do everything in my power to fulfill your wishes."
The six mares were clearly uneasy about the offer, but nonetheless accepted Luna's offer and all promised to someday call upon Luna for her assistance.
"I can only assume you'd bring that up because the Elements have something they want my help with," Luna said to Celestia as she finished reminiscing about that night.
"Specifically two of them," Celestia said, turning to face her sister. "The two known as Rarity and Applejack. They both have younger sisters who happen to be a bit…precocious. Both Rarity and Applejack have some important matters that require their undivided attention today and it would be best if their sisters were kept otherwise occupied for the day. So they have asked if you could keep the two of them company for the day."
A skeptical expression crossed Luna's face as she considered the task. "Much as I hate to take issue with their request, is this really the best use they could find for a favor from one of the rulers of Equestria?"
"To hear Twilight Sparkle talk about these two fillies, they are really quite the hooffull," Celestia informed her. "They both have yet to acquire their cutie marks and have been applying some rather unorthodox methods to try and discover their talents. Rarity and Applejack thought that while you watched them for the day you could perhaps give their sisters a different perspective on the matter. Plus, they've never met royalty before and it would be a great experience for them."
"Hmm…" Luna hummed as she pondered Celestia's points. "I suppose there is a fair bit of merit in their request after all. And I did say I would do whatever they asked of me. It wouldn't be right for me to take exception to their request just because it's not the sort of thing I expected. Very well; if this is what they'd like me to do I will comply with their wishes."
"Thank you, Luna," Celestia said, levitating a map over to Luna. "This map will lead you to the treehouse the fillies use as the base for their daily activities."
Luna took control of the map and, after rolling it up and thanking Celestia for it, took flight for Ponyville. As soon as Celestia lost sight of her, she levitated a scroll and quill over to herself.
"My most faithful student, Twilight Sparkle," she said, dictating the letter to her animated quill. "The plan is now officially in motion. Please tell your friend Pinkie Pie to begin preparations for this evening in earnest. Your mentor, Princess Celestia."
With a simple nod, the scroll evaporated into thin air to be delivered to Spike. Celestia then turned to set to the official matters she needed to complete before she could begin her own preparations for the evening.
Luna soared through the skies far above Ponyville, being careful not to be seen by anypony as she traveled. Presenting herself to a pair of fillies who likely didn't know her or her past was one thing, but simply coming down in the middle of Ponyville around dozens of townsponies who very likely did know those things didn't seem like a very good idea. She quickly unfurled the map that was still levitating near her and made sure she was headed in the right direction. Assured that she was on the right track, she rolled the map back up and tucked it under her necklace for safekeeping.
As she began diverting to a dirt road leading out of town, she took notice of something streaking towards the same road. She came down just enough to make out that it seemed to be an orange Pegasus filly with a pinkish-purple mane and tail and she was speeding along on a scooter. Unfortunately, coming down close enough to see her meant Luna was also spotted by the very same filly.
"Whoa," Scootaloo said under her breath as she looked up at Luna flying not far above her. Luna glided down closer to the filly as they both continued along the path.
"I've never seen a pony like you before," Scootaloo said to her in amazement. "Aside from the princess, that is."
"Is that so?" Luna asked, amused at the filly's observation. "Do I resemble her at all?"
"No way! You look way cooler. At least twenty percent cooler, as Rainbow Dash would say."
"You're familiar with Rainbow Dash?"
"I wouldn't say that, but she is, like, my idol. She's the absolute coolest pony in all of Equestria!"
"Oh really? And what about me?"
"Oh, you're easily a close second. Don't get me wrong. But Rainbow Dash is just cool on a whole different level from other ponies."
"Well hopefully I'll have a chance to meet her myself sometime to see if that's true. Where are you headed, by the way?"
"Me? I'm headin' to meet my two friends at our clubhouse. We've got a full day planned today."
"Would these friends of yours happen to be the younger sisters of a couple of ponies named Rarity and Applejack?"
Scootaloo's eyes widened. "How'd you know that?"
Luna smiled brightly at her. "I happen to be heading to see them myself as well."
"Oh really…" Scootaloo said with a devilish smile crossing her face. "You wanna race the rest of the way there?"
"Race?" Luna repeated, cocking an eyebrow at the filly. "Are you really sure? I have a bit of an advantage since I can fly, after all."
"Hey, if you're just chicken I understand."
Luna laughed heartily at Scootaloo's attempt at egging her on. For such a small filly she had quite a bit of moxie.
"Very well, then." Luna said, landing alongside Scootaloo. She continued to match the filly's speed easily even though she was on the ground now.
"It. Is. ON." Scootaloo said eagerly. "Three…two…one…GO!"
On the word "go", Scootaloo's wings buzzed even more furiously and shot her past Luna with a speed the moon princess hadn't thought her capable of attaining.
Luna quickened her pace and managed to fall in behind her, but nonetheless found it hard to keep pace with her so long as she was holding herself back as much as she was. Scootaloo saw her coming up behind her and began maneuvering her scooter to keep her blocked off; doing tricks and jumps over tree roots and around bushes as they went. She bore her head down, trying to gain a little more speed as she saw the end of the road approaching, but just before she reached it she saw a family of ducks crossing the road. She swerved to avoid them and hit a tree root in just the right way to propel her through the air into a batch of trees. Luna quickly followed her and found the filly sitting dazed beneath a tree, covered in leaves and tree sap.
"Are you all right?" Luna asked worriedly as she looked her over.
"Yeah…" Scootaloo said dejectedly as she tried to shake some sap from one of her front hooves. "This kinda thing happens to me pretty often."
Scootaloo stood up and began trying to wipe the sticky sap off of herself, but suddenly panicked and began looking around wildly. "My scooter! Where is it?"
Luna looked around as well and, fortunately, quickly found it sticking out from a nearby bush. Unfortunately, it was rather thoroughly broken. She nudged the pieces out of the bush and stood back as Scootaloo looked over them, her lower lip quivering and tears forming in her eyes. Luna didn't need to ask to understand that it was clearly an important thing to the filly and stepped back alongside her. She lowered her head, her horn glowing gently with power. Scootaloo watched in awe as the pieces of her scooter levitated slightly into the air and then magically fused back together right before her eyes. The scooter was set back down in front of her in good-as-new condition.
"Thank you so so much!" Scootaloo said, hugging her scooter tightly. "I take it back; you're definitely tied with Rainbow Dash for being the coolest pony in Equestria!"
Luna laughed gently and nodded to her. "I'm flattered to hear that. Now, what say we finish getting to your clubhouse and meet your friends?"
"Sure thing. I can finish getting cleaned up there. Oh, by the way, I'm Scootaloo. Sorry I didn't introduce myself before, but, well, we were kinda really moving pretty fast."
"I understand, Scootaloo. Please call me Luna, if you will."
Scootaloo put a hoof to her chin in thought. "Luna…huh. I feel like I know that name from somewhere. Eh, it'll come to me later. Let's go!"
It wasn't but a few minutes more of travel time and Scootaloo and Luna arrived at the clubhouse. Scootaloo parked her scooter at the base of the ramp and led Luna up to the entrance. No sooner did she poke her head in the door than she saw both Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle pacing the room and looking incredibly nervous.
"Hey guys, something wrong?" she asked as she pranced over to her friends.
"About time ya got here, Scootaloo," Apple Bloom said in annoyance. "We've got company comin' an' we gotta be on our best behavior fer 'em!"
"Yeah, our sisters told us that-" Sweetie Belle was cut off mid-sentence before she could tell Scootaloo who was coming as she saw Luna enter the clubhouse right behind her orange Pegasus friend. Both she and Apple Bloom went into full panic and quickly bowed down as Luna stepped up alongside Scootaloo.
"What's with you guys?" Scootaloo asked. "I was gonna introduce you to my new friend Luna here. I met her on the way over."
"Scootaloo!" Sweetie Belle said, quickly grabbing her and pushing her down to the floor in a similar pose as what she and Apple Bloom had adopted. "Do you have any idea who that is?"
"Like I said, her name's Luna. She's a totally cool pony! She raced with me and even fixed my scooter when it got all busted up."
"Scoot, don'tcha reco'nize her name?" Apple Bloom asked her. "Not ta mention she's an alicorn like Princess Celestia?"
Scootaloo simply looked at her country friend in puzzlement. "Well, yeah, but so what? That does remind me, though…I keep feeling like I've heard her name somewhere before. Luna…Luna…"
Sweetie Belle sighed in frustration and leaned in close to whisper to the Pegasus filly. "Scoot, what's Princess Celestia's sister's name?"
"Duh. It's…oh." Scootaloo's face changed to an expression of utter panic as she backed across the room and into a corner. "!"
Luna just smiled and approached Scootaloo again, nudging her with her muzzle so that she stood back up again. She then did the same to Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle as well.
"It's okay, girls," she told them pleasantly. "My sister and I are really not much for decorum. Please do relax."
"Princess Luna, I'm so so sorry!" Scootaloo said, still quivering on the inside. "If I'd taken a moment to think I would've known it was you and I would never have asked you to race me!"
"Oh the contrary, Scootaloo, I really enjoyed it," Luna told her with a smile. "It's been a long time since I really stretched my legs, and you are quite the speedy pony. Now why don't you go and clean the rest of that tree sap off before it gets matted in your coat?"
With her emotions in a complete whirl inside of her, Scootaloo simply nodded and quickly headed out around the outside of the clubhouse to clean up. Luna, meanwhile, turned her attention to the other two fillies and sat down in front of them as they both still struggled with what to say to her.
"You girls don't have to worry so much," Luna told them. "When your sisters asked me to accompany you for the day, I was happy to oblige them. They have done so much for me and the kingdom in the past, after all. So please, do relax and go about your day as you had it planned."
"Actually, ma'am," Apple Bloom said meekly, "I was wonderin' if you could answer a question fer us."
"Apple Bloom!" Sweetie Belle said in shock, knowing exactly where her friend was going with her question. "We can't ask her that! We got away with asking our sisters and their friends, but she's a princess!"
"Ask me what?" Luna asked, now genuinely curious.
Sweetie Belle turned nervously back to Luna and swallowed hard as she fought to get the words out.
"We were, um…" she said timidly, "we were wondering if you could, uh…tell us about how you got your cutie mark…"
Luna smiled once again. Celestia had been right about the girls and their fixation on their cutie marks. It was an odd thing to be so focused on to be sure, but nonetheless quite adorable to her.
"I suppose I could tell you that," Luna told them. "But it's a story from a very long time ago. It might not be all that interesting."
"Are you kiddin'?" Apple Bloom said, quickly sitting down closer to the moon princess. "I mean…I think we'd actually find it really interestin' ma'am."
"We're really working hard to find our true talents and get our own cutie marks," Sweetie Belle added as she sat alongside Apple Bloom. "I'm sure hearing your story would help us out a lot, Princess Luna."
Luna smiled and nodded at the two. "Very well, but we should wait for-"
"Wait for me! I'm coming!" Scootaloo cried out as she came charging back into the clubhouse. She skidded to a stop and sat on the opposite side of Apple Bloom from Sweetie Belle. "I wouldn't miss this for anything!"
Luna laughed for a bit and, once the girls were settled, cast her thoughts back to a time long ago. Long before Ponyville, before Nightmare Moon, before anything that any pony alive would regard as being anything but ancient history.
My sister Celestia and I weren't always the rulers of Equestria. Before we assumed control, we were simply two sisters of royal descent who were tasked with the rising and setting of the sun and moon. Celestia, being the older one, had originally been tasked with both duties. After I was born, though, it was decided that I would be given dominion over the moon and the night sky. Of course, the amount of magic power needed to raise the moon is considerable and was well outside my capability when I was just a filly. So for many years, Celestia would raise the moon and I would handle setting the stars in the sky. We went day after day like this for a long time. Of course, when you live as long as we alicorns do, you do have to find other ways to pass the time. My sister and not only passed our time but also bonded through a longtime tradition amongst the royal family.
"Lunaaaaaa!" A younger Celestia cried as she came bursting into the kitchen kicking her legs wildly.
A young filly Luna looked up from the wood fired oven she stood in front of and watched in amusement as her sister alternated kicking her legs in all directions. Over her hooves were a set of dark blue socks with moon and star patterns all over them.
"What's the matter, Tia?" Luna asked impishly. "Did you have a good nap?"
"I was until I woke up and found these on me!" Celestia said, looking with disdain at the socks that she simply could not kick off of her hooves.
Luna tried to contain her laughter, but still giggled a bit at her sister's reaction. "Oh, but they look so cute on you!"
Celestia glared at her sister. "I hate socks. You know this."
"Oh fine. Hang on a sec."
Luna pointed her horn at Celestia's hooves and, moments later, the socks disappeared. Celestia breathed a sigh of relief that the wooly abominations were no longer on her.
"Honestly I will never understand your fascination with those things," she told Luna as she used her magic to fill a bowl with some water to drink.
"They keep my hoofsies warm when I sleep, and especially in the winter," Luna replied. "And they're cute too!"
"If you say so. What are you doing in here anyway?"
"I wanted to try my hoof at baking. I thought I'd make some muffins for us."
"Sounds tasty," Celestia said. She sniffed the air a bit. "And they do smell good as well. How much longer will they be?"
"I was just about to check on them before you came. Hang on and I'll see."
Luna levitated the sheet of muffins out of the oven and onto the counter. She then levitated a toothpick over and poked one of the muffins with it. The toothpick came out clean, which brought a smile to her face.
"All set!" she said cheerily.
She took one of the muffins aside and took a small nibble from it. Only moments later, the color of her face shifted through every color of the rainbow as her senses were assaulted with spiciness. She quickly darted over to the bowl of water Celestia had just drawn and dunked her head into it while Celestia laughed raucously at her. Luna came up for air a few moments later and looked up at her sister crossly.
"You laced one of my ingredients with concentrated rainbow extract, didn't you?" she asked.
"The milk," Celestia admitted, still giggling madly. "I honestly just thought you'd drink it and find out, but baking with it? That was just priceless."
"That was a good one, sis," Luna admitted. A devilish smile came across her face then. "You know, there's plenty of muffins left…"
"Luna!" Celestia said indignantly. "You'd have us offer these delicious-looking yet horribly spicy baked goods to unsuspecting ponies just to see their reactions after biting into them?"
"You can drop the act, Tia. I know you're in."
"Hey, if you hadn't said anything I would have."
We pranked each other and most of the ponies in the castle on a regular basis. It was all in good fun though, and we made sure not to do it every day either so there would be no hard feelings about it. Of course, all the diversions in the world weren't enough to keep me from remembering that ever since I had been given dominion over the night I hadn't once managed to raise the moon on my own. I knew it was expected of me, and every night I tried my hardest to do it, but after decades of practice I still felt no closer to actually doing it than the day I had first been given the responsibility. As the evening drew near that day, Celestia could tell it was on my mind and she took me aside to talk about it.
"You'll get it eventually, Luna," Celestia told her as they looked down at the castle from one of its ramparts. "You were born for this."
"Isn't there something else I could do instead?" Luna asked in a voice filled with anxiety. "I'm sure there are other things I could do quite well that would still be respectable. Not to mention earn me my cutie mark."
"This is what you're meant to do, little sister. You know this. You can't deny it just because you don't like it."
"It's not that I don't like it, Tia! I'm just no good at it! I can't raise the moon because I'm not strong enough, and I know all the ponies at court talk about it all the time. I'm better off doing something that won't disgrace our family."
"Luna…" Celestia said her name tenderly as she extended one of her wings over her to pull her sister alongside her. "Don't give those nasty court ponies a second thought. They're all nothing but self-important, arrogant louts who take any chance they get to point out the failings of others. As for you, you're magnificent at decorating the night sky with your stars. If only you had the time to hear how everypony looks up at the night sky and marvels at the constellations you put on display for them you would know that. Your work is appreciated far more than I think you'll ever know, dear sister, and one day when you do raise the moon on your own, the night and all of its majesty will be all yours."
Luna smiled and sniffled a little as she nudged her head up against her sister, who nuzzled her in return.
"Thank you, Tia," she said in gratitude. "It means a lot to me to hear that. I suppose we should get going, though. It's about time to set the night sky."
"It is, but tonight Luna I really want you to give it your all," Celestia told her as they both rose to their full height. "Just believe in yourself. I know you can do it."
"I'll try," Luna told her. "Sis…do you believe in me?"
"With all my heart, my dear little sister."
I have told my sister this many times since that day, but her words then meant more to me than any amount of praise from anypony else in the world. They fueled my determination, and that night in front of all of the ponies who assembled just to see me fail again I pushed myself farther and harder than I ever had before. I raised the moon all on my own, much to their shock and dismay. It was only after I finished with the rest of the night sky and landed in front of them again that we all noticed my cutie mark had appeared. The celebration in honor of its appearance lasted the rest of the night and was one of the best nights of my entire life.
With her story finished, Luna fell silent as she let the three fillies process all they'd been told. Naturally, the girls had found the story entertaining and interesting, but they couldn't shake a sense of confusion at how the story had played out. Luna could read the confusion in their expressions and furrowed her brow a bit.
"Is something wrong?" she asked. "I admit I'm not much of a storyteller."
"The story was great, Princess," Sweetie Belle told her. She traded looks with her two friends, who both nodded to her as if to say that they shared what was on her mind. "It's just…we don't get why you didn't get your cutie mark for so long. I mean, you knew all along what your special talent was and what you were meant to do. Why didn't it just show up?"
"In my case, it wasn't just about finding my talent," Luna told her. "For the longest time, I didn't have any confidence that I could actually do it. That, in turn, led me to think that maybe it wasn't supposed to be my talent at all. It was only after I believed in myself and gained some confidence in my ability to do it that I was able to accept it as what I was meant to do. I suspect that might be the problem you three are really facing. You may already know what your talents are, but you're having a hard time accepting them for some reason or another. Maybe you don't think it's anything all that special, or maybe you don't think you're good enough at it for it to really be your talent just like how I felt when I was a filly."
Luna frowned a bit as it seemed her words had only further confused the three fillies. They all stayed silent and either traded glances with each other or studied the floor as they were lost in thought.
"I'm really sorry, girls," she said apologetically. "I didn't mean to trouble you all even more about something that is clearly such a concern for you."
"It's alright, ma'am," Apple Bloom told her as she and her two friends stood back up. "If anythin', we 'preciate your point 'o view on it."
"Yeah, most ponies just tell us something like, 'You'll get your cutie mark when the time is right' or something like that," Scootaloo added. "Hearing something so different is just…"
"It's given us all a lot to think about is all," Sweetie Belle said, chiming in to add her part. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo both nodded in agreement with her. "But we really did like your story, princess."
"Yeah, especially all the pranks you and Princess Celestia pulled!" Scootaloo said energetically. "That sounded awesome!"
"They were pretty amusing at the time to us," Luna admitted, cracking a smile once again. "So, is there anything else you girls wanted to do today?"
"Tarnation!" Apple Bloom said, suddenly remembering something at Luna's question. "We're s'posed to go take care 'o Fluttershy's critters fer her today!"
"Oh my gosh, that's right!" Sweetie Belle said. She was also alarmed at having forgotten the promise. "Fluttershy said she needed to go into town for some personal matters today and asked us to feed and care for her animals."
"Well I'd be happy to accompany you all," Luna told them as she stood up.
"We'd better get a move on then," Scootaloo said, with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle nodding in agreement with her. Luna then saw all three of them take a deep breath and only barely managed to brace herself as they all cried out at the top of their lungs.
"CUTIE MARK CRUSADER CRITTER CAREGIVERS! YAY!"
After announcing themselves and their task, the girls shot out the front door of the clubhouse and down the ramp. Luna stepped out of the house just in time to see Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle jump into a wagon that Scootaloo hooked up to her scooter. Scootaloo then hopped onto the scooter and, after getting her wings going, sped down the road that led to Fluttershy's cottage. Luna immediately took wing and followed the girls from overhead, happy to see them getting back to what she assumed was how they normally acted. As she followed them, she wondered to herself if this would end up giving her the opportunity to once again see the pony she knew represented the Element of Kindness.
Upon arriving at Fluttershy's cottage, the Cutie Mark Crusaders ran up to the front door only to find it locked and with a note tacked to it. Luna landed just behind them and levitated the note from the door over to herself to read it to them.
"Dear Crusaders," she read aloud. "I'm so very sorry I can't be here for when you arrive, but I really must get into town soon. I have left detailed instructions on the other side of this note for how you should go about feeding my animals in the back. Please be sure to follow them to the letter and take your time. When you're done, come find me at Sugar Cube Corner and I'll treat you to some cookies. Your friend, Fluttershy."
"Rats!" Scootaloo cursed. "We missed her!"
"Ain't nothin' t'be done 'bout it now," Apple Bloom told her. "Let's jest make sure we do a good job takin' care 'o them critters."
"Princess, may I have the note please?" Sweetie Belle asked. "This is really our task, and I wouldn't want to inconvenience you here."
"If you insist, my dear, but if you need help with something don't hesitate to ask for it," Luna told her. She levitated the note over to the unicorn filly who snatched it in her mouth and carried it with her as they all headed to the back of the house where Fluttershy's animal pens were.
"Okay, what's first Sweetie Belle?" Scootaloo asked eagerly.
Sweetie Belle put the note on the ground and looked it over. "Let's see…Fluttershy says, 'The chickens should be fed first. There are some chicken feed bags next to the coop. Only use half of a bag to feed them.'"
"Easy 'nuff," Apple Bloom said as she grabbed one of the feed bags in her teeth and dragged it into the coop.
"However," Sweetie Belle said, still reading and not realizing that Apple Bloom was already inside the coop, "make sure to let the chickens out of the coop before you feed them or they're likely to get a bit anxious about eating."
"Ow! OW! Quit it ya darn chikins! I'm feedin' ya alrea- OWWW!" came the sounds of Apple Bloom being pecked at from inside the coop. A few moments later, the red-maned earth pony filly emerged from the coop with several scratches and a few holes in her hair bow.
"Could ya try readin' faster next time, Sweetie?" she said, sounding irritated with the unicorn filly.
"Hey, you're the one who went in there before I was finished!" Sweetie Belle retorted. "Besides, Fluttershy said we should take our time doing these things."
"Here, I'll read the next one." Scootaloo said, taking the note from Sweetie Belle. "You go next, Sweetie Belle."
Sweetie Belle nodded and got ready to do her task. "Okay, what's it say?"
"Fill the bird feeder with the bird seed that's next to the bird bath," Scootaloo told her.
Sweetie Belle spotted the bird seed and walked over to it, but then stopped and looked back at Scootaloo. "Is that all that's written for that step?" she asked carefully.
Scootaloo nodded to her. "Yup."
"Aw sure, she gets th' easy one," Apple Bloom complained.
"Now where's that bird feeder…" Sweetie Belle wondered aloud. She looked all around but didn't spot anything until she looked up. The feeder was hanging off of a tree branch that, while it was probably easy for Fluttershy to reach, was well out of range for a grounded unicorn filly.
Sweetie Belle considered for a moment how to go about filling the feeder. The branch it hung from wasn't all that far off of the ground, so she decided to climb the tree and bring it down to fill it. Then she'd simply climb back up and put it back.
"Um, Sweetie Belle," Luna said as she watched her grasp the tree with her front hooves and begin scaling it. "Don't you think that's a bit of a dangerous idea?"
"I'm actually pretty *oof* good at climbing trees *ugh*," Sweetie Belle told her, grunting as she went from the effort it took to climb. "Just gotta get *urg* up to this *nnf* branch and…there!"
Sweetie Belle grasped the branch between all four of her legs and slowly dragged herself across it towards the bird feeder. Once she reached it, she began trying to figure out how to get it off of the branch. Unfortunately, it was hanging by a piece of wire that she couldn't separate from the feeder.
"Fluttershy must've been flying when she put this feeder up here originally," she said, thinking out loud. "I'll just have to slide it all the way off of the branch."
"Uh, Sweetie Belle, I reckon ya prolly shouldn't go much further along that there branch," Apple Bloom warned her.
"Oh it's not a big deal," Sweetie Belle replied as she continued to work her way along the branch with the feeder.
It only took a few more slides, however, for her weight to begin stressing the branch. Sure enough, by the time she registered the sound of cracking wood it was too late. The branch snapped several feet behind her and sent her plummeting to the ground, resulting in a bone-jarring crash. Sweetie Belle stood up almost immediately, her eyes spinning from the impact.
"At least we can fill the bird feeder now," she said. Her eyes swirled in a daze and she stumbled back and forth as she tried to reach where the bird seed was. "And don't worry about the tree branch, I can still fix it!" she added as she collapsed dizzily to the ground.
Luna kept her amusement at the girls' clumsiness at their tasks to herself, though she found it both somewhat funny and completely adorable. After they had filled the bird feeder, she flew it up to a new branch for them instead of sending Sweetie Belle climbing yet again.
"This is taking way longer than I thought it would," Scootaloo complained. "We've got to pick up the pace."
"I don't think that's such a good idea, Scootaloo," Sweetie Belle told her after she finally recovered her senses from her fall. "Fluttershy wanted us to take our time doing these things for her."
"At the rate we're going she'll be back by the time we're done." Scootaloo retorted. "And I don't know about you girls, but I really want cookies. So it's time to kick this into gear. What's next?"
"Let's see…" Apple Bloom said, looking the note over. "It says, 'Open up the bunny hutch to let the bunnies out to feed.'"
"Bunny hutch, got it!" Scootaloo said, darting over to it.
"Scootaloo, wait!" Apple Bloom said, calling after her in a panic. It was too late, though. Scootaloo threw open the door to the hutch and watched happily as the bunnies began hopping slowly out of it one by one.
"No big deal," Scootaloo said proudly. "Now we just gotta feed 'em."
"Ya didn't let me finish!" Apple Bloom told her as she ran up to her. "Have ya seen that bunny Fluttershy calls 'Angel' around?"
Scootaloo thought for a moment. "I don't think so. Why?"
Apple Bloom looked around the yard quickly. "In the note she says ta make sure Angel's locked up in the cottage before ya open the hutch or else…"
As if on cue, a pure white bunny hopped up between the two fillies. He sat back on his haunches and, using one of his paws, whistled loudly at the remaining bunnies in the hutch. Scootaloo tried to close the hutch door again, but the sudden flood of bunnies sent the door flying off of its hinges.
"STAMPEDE!" Apple Bloom cried out as the horde of bunnies charged forth from the hutch led by Angel. They tore past Sweetie Belle and Luna and began making their way towards Ponyville.
"This is bad!" Sweetie Belle said as she watched the mob of bunnies speed away from them. "We can't let them reach Ponyville!"
"Scootaloo, come with me," Luna told them. "We need to catch up to them and redirect them back here. Apple Bloom, can you do something about the hutch door?"
"I'm on it!" Apple Bloom said, already working on repairing it.
"What should I do?" Sweetie Belle asked.
"Think of a way to calm those bunnies down once we get them back here," Luna told her before she took to the air. Scootaloo followed right behind her on her scooter, which she'd freed from the wagon.
From the air, Luna caught up to the stampeding bunnies quickly. They were closing in on Ponyville quickly. Action would have to be taken soon or they'd be tearing through the middle of town in a matter of minutes. She spotted Scootaloo catching up to the pack and making her way around it.
"Scootaloo, try to get out in front of them!" Luna called out to her. "If you can, you can use your stunts to redirect them away from town!"
Scootaloo acknowledged Luna's suggestion with a nod and flapped her wings as fast as she could make them go, propelling her to the head of the pack within a few moments. Once there, she pulled up hard on her scooter, skidding and slowing down to pull herself back into the pack. The bunnies reacted by shifting to the right, which was what Scootaloo had hoped they'd do. She dropped back along the left side of the pack and rode close to the edge of the mob, nudging them slightly to make them turn even more to the right.
While Scootaloo continued to push and divert the crash of bunnies with various stunts and tricks, Luna took up the opposite side of the group to make sure they stayed together. She flared her wings out a few times, which startled the bunnies on her side enough to keep them with the pack. After a couple of minutes of their combined efforts, they had successfully altered the stampede's course back towards Fluttershy's cottage. Scootaloo raced up past the pack as they approached the back side of the cottage. As she approached it, she saw that Apple Bloom had not only fixed the hutch door but had also set up a couple makeshift barricades so as to funnel the bunnies back into the hutch. She knew exactly what to do.
At the last moment, Scootaloo veered off to the right, letting the bunnies pour back into the yard. Luna, meanwhile, swooped down and caught Angel in her teeth by the scruff of his neck. The rest of the bunnies found themselves directed right back into their hutch thanks to Apple Bloom's barricades. As soon as the last bunny was back inside, Apple Bloom swung the door closed and nudged the padlock she'd added to lock the door tightly.
"There ya go, Sweetie Belle!" Apple Bloom called out. "One captive audience! Hit 'em with yer best shot!"
Sweetie Belle hopped up to the hutch, which was now shaking and shuddering from being full of hyperactive bunnies. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes; letting the familiar words to the lullaby she knew so well flow through her mind. This time, however, instead of the energetic and soulful version she'd once sung for Fluttershy, she sang the more traditional version in soothing and dulcet tones.
"Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head," she sang. "Hush now quiet now it's time to go to bed. Drift, drift off to sleep, exciting day behind you. Drift, drift off to sleep, let the joy of dreamland find you. Hush now, quiet now, it's time to lay your sleepy head. Hush now quiet now…it's time to go to bed."
By the time Sweetie Belle had finished her lullaby, every single bunny in the hutch had fallen fast asleep. Several other animals nearby had also settled down into a pleasant sleep. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo uncovered their ears, not wanting to chance falling asleep themselves. They knew all too well the potency Sweetie Belle's singing voice had. Luna, meanwhile, dropped Angel unceremoniously by the back door to the cottage. The snarky little bunny tried to look tough at her, but one glare accompanied by spreading her wings to their full span was more than enough to send him scampering through the pet door and inside. Luna used a bit of magic to seal the pet door temporarily, ensuring that he wouldn't be coming back out the same way until Fluttershy was back home to deal with him herself. She then turned back to the three fillies, who were celebrating their success.
"I must say, that was impressive work by all of you," Luna told them proudly. "You really fixed that door quite well, Apple Bloom. And your barricades worked perfectly to get the bunnies back into their hutch."
"Aw, t'weren't nuthin' nopony else couldn't have come up with," Apple Bloom said, blushing at the compliment.
"Scootaloo," Luna said, turning her attention to the Pegasus filly, "you did a fantastic job of herding the bunnies back here. That was some very skillful maneuvering."
"Th-thanks!" Scootaloo stammered, unaccustomed to such praise.
"And Sweetie Belle," Luna said, smiling at the unicorn filly. "It's been ages since I heard such a marvelous singing voice as yours. Your song was simply beautiful."
"Um…thank you, princess," Sweetie Belle said, a timid smile on her face.
Luna smiled warmly at all three of them then. "You are three incredibly talented fillies, girls. Don't ever let anypony ever make you think otherwise just because you haven't gotten your cutie marks yet. Someday, you three will do great things; of this I am certain."
The three fillies looked at each other and then ran over to Luna, all putting their front hooves around her in a massive hug. For her part, Luna couldn't remember the last time she had felt so happy. She brought her wings around to hug the three fillies as well. Despite their being so much younger than her, Luna now felt rather fond of the three and could only hope that they now thought of her more as a friend than as a princess.
"It's just a little bit farther, princess," Sweetie Belle said as she helped lead Luna along.
By the time they had properly finished all the chores given to them at Fluttershy's cottage, the sun was beginning to set and the girls had suggested to Luna that they all head into town and meet up with Fluttershy for some treats at Sugar Cube Corner. As they had neared the town, however, the girls had asked Luna to close her eyes and let them lead her into town. They had promised a bit of a surprise for her. Not seeing any reason to mistrust the fillies at this point, Luna had complied and let herself be led into town.
"Not that I'm not looking forward to whatever this surprise is, girls," Luna told them, "but this is a bit disorienting."
"Trust us, princess," Scootaloo told her. "It'll be worth the wait."
"Boy howdy!" Apple Bloom added energetically, agreeing with Scootaloo's statement.
Luna couldn't help but giggle at the girls' words as she continued on in blindness. A few moments later, she felt the three girls stop her and turn her to her right. She could only presume she was wherever they meant to take her.
"Okay, you can open your eyes, princess," Scootaloo told her.
Luna opened her eyes and received the biggest, most emphatic cheer she could ever remember getting. The entire population of Ponyville stood around her cheering, including the six Elements of Harmony and even her sister, who stepped up alongside her along with Twilight Sparkle.
"Welcome to your party, Princess Luna!" Twilight told her.
"My…party?" Luna asked in stunned confusion. "But…this is the night of the Summer Sun Celebration. Shouldn't this party be for my sister?"
"Normally yes," Celestia told her. "But considering that it's also the anniversary of your freedom from captivity, dear sister, it was decided that this year's Summer Sun Celebration would be held in your honor."
"So that's why I was asked to watch the girls, then?" Luna asked, looking over at Rarity and Applejack.
"Partly," Rarity admitted. "We truly wanted the party to be a surprise for you, princess."
"Plus, our sisters really can be quite the hooffull," Applejack added. "So we jest killed two birds with one stone."
Luna chuckled to herself and then looked back at the three young fillies. "And were you all in on it as well?"
"Well…sorta," Apple Bloom admitted. "Our sisters asked us to keep ya company while they got the celebration all ready."
"Though we didn't intend for everything that happened at Fluttershy's cottage to happen," Sweetie Belle told her. "That was just our usual dumb luck."
"You two coulda told me about it ahead of time," Scootaloo complained. "I was just as in the dark about it as Princess Luna was."
"Sorry, Scootaloo," Sweetie Belle apologized. "But there just wasn't enough time to fill you in. This all came together kind of last minute."
"So, dear sister," Celestia said, getting Luna's attention once again. "What do you think of your party?"
"I think this is the best way to end what has easily been one of the best days of my life," Luna said, still a bit overwhelmed by the whole scene. "You did a tremendous job organizing this party, sister."
"Oh, I had nothing to do with the party organization," Celestia told her. "That was all-"
"Meeee!" Pinkie Pie said, springing up between the two princesses in a shower of confetti. "Princess Celestia asked me specifically to throw the party! And I was all like, 'Omigosh I'll totally make it the totally best Summer Sun Celebration ever!' We've got cakes and drinks and games and music and everything anypony could ever need to party all night long until it's time for sunrise! C'mon, Princess Luna! We've got a conga line to get started!"
"But what about the moon and stars?" Luna asked worriedly as Pinkie began nudging her with her head. "I still need to tend to my duties tonight…"
"Oh I think I can take care of that for you for once, Luna," Celestia told her. "You deserve a night to relax and have fun."
"And that's that!" Pinkie said, now tugging at one of Luna's wings. "Let's get to dancing!"
"Hold on, give me one more moment please Pinkie Pie," Luna pleaded. Pinkie just nodded and hopped off as Luna addressed Celestia again. "Sister, I have a request to make."
"Oh?" Celestia asked. "What would that be?"
Luna smiled up at her sister. "With your permission, I would like to take on a mentorship role similar to your mentoring of Twilight Sparkle."
Celestia was truly surprised at the request. "Really? And who would be your student?"
"Not just one student, sister," Luna told her as she cast her eyes over to the three fillies who were now dancing with Pinkie Pie. "Three."
"You want to mentor the Cutie Mark Crusaders?" Twilight asked, cocking an eyebrow in surprise.
"They are three amazingly talented fillies," Luna told her. "And even though I've only known them for a day, I feel I have a bond with them already. I want to help them grow into the magnificent ponies I know they will one day become."
"I admire your sentiment, Luna," Celestia told her. "But they cannot come with you to Canterlot. Ponyville is their home."
"Then I suppose I'll simply have to make more frequent trips to Ponyville," Luna replied simply. "Would that be a problem, Twilight Sparkle?"
"Not at all, princess," Twilight told her warmly. "We'd be honored to have you visit us anytime."
"Then I think it's settled," Celestia said. "Now why don't you go and enjoy the party with your new students, Luna?"
"I will," Luna said, feeling like she could simply burst with her elation. "Thank you so much, big sister. I couldn't possibly be any happier than I am right now."
Celestia just smiled as Luna headed off to join the party and then turned to see a rather curious look on Twilight's face.
"Is something on your mind, my faithful student?" Celestia asked.
"I was realizing that Princess Luna just taught me another lesson about friendship," Twilight replied.
"Oh?" Celestia asked in amusement. "Would you care to report your finding to me, then?"
Twilight nodded as she looked up at her mentor. "Absolutely, princess. I've learned that friendship creates a powerful connection that can exist between ponies of all kinds. It doesn't matter what kind of pony you are, what your age is, or even what your status in society may be; ponies of all kinds can be friends with each other. Friendship is a bond that truly transcends all boundaries."
"I think that is a wonderful point indeed," Celestia said as they both went back to observing Luna and the Cutie Mark Crusaders enjoying themselves. "And I can't think of another pony I would rather have had remind me of it."