The white pony walked in and straight up to the princesses. "Forgive us Princess Celestia, but it has become necessary to temporarily take control of your castle while you are in, shall we say, poor judgment."
Cheerilee smiled. "Prime Minister, Lily Weather, you came just in time. I guess I stalled long enough?"
"Perfectly." Lily Weather stepped beside Cheerilee. "So you must be the famous Ms. Plum those fillies have told me so much about."
Plum stuttered as she backed away from the two pegasi who were standing next to the princesses. "Wha-wha-wha-what the heck is going on? What happened?"
"Plum, in the name of both Ponyland and Equestria, I am placing you under arrest for kidnapping, traitorous acts, and attempt of international takeover."
"Who me? I would never do that."
"I've been standing on the other side of the door for some time now. I just heard you admit the accuracy of Cheerilee's accusations."
Plum gaped. "Celestia, call the guards!"
"Guards!" Celestia called. Several moments passed…
A lone earth pony stepped into the chamber. "Its done ma'am," the pony addressed Lily. "All the guards who weren't affected by the gas have been detained."
"Good work. Seems we've been a bit luckier than I imagined." The Prime Minister sighed in relief. "The guards are unharmed, correct?"
"Well, the guards are quite loyal. It's taking quite a bit to restrain them. We had to resort to using more gas."
"I suppose I should have expected no less of Equestria's elite. This has been no easy task, Cheerilee, let me tell you."
"Sorry. I know it was a lot to ask, especially considering…"
But Lily Weather shook her head. "It can't be helped. We can discuss this later. Now… as for you…," she said to Plum.
Plum looked around as several of the foreign ponies started to close in on her. Slowly backing away, she suddenly screamed, "All of you, fight to the last breath!"
"Oh no," Lily said as Twilight and her friends started to move against her team of ponies. Celestia and Luna bucked like mad ponies as several pegasi tried to keep them under control. "Remember, don't hurt them if you can! Especially the princesses!"
"Ma'am, that pony is making a break for it!"
Plum jumped down from the pedestal where the throne sat and darted into a side hall.
"We can't let her get away! She could take control of others!" But the team that had come with Lily had their hooves full holding back the princesses and six other ponies in the room. That's when the white earth pony noticed another pony leaving the room. "Cheerilee, wait! It could be dangerous!" However, Cheerilee didn't hear her. She was already through the door after Plum, determined to set things right.
Cheerilee raced down the hall. Her plan had worked surprisingly well. Using homemade gas bombs made of some funny looking flowers that grew just outside of Sweet Apple Acres, had been surprisingly effective on the guards. They could barely tell which way was up after the gas had settled around them. Fortunately, the effects were temporary and all the guards would be back to normal in an hour or two. Hopefully, that would give the Prime Minister enough time to explain why they had had to force their way in. How else could they possibly overcome the ponies in Plum's control? They were a formidable force together.
Now the only thing left to do was catch Plum. She had done a bit of damage around Ponyville and Canterlot with her crazy ambitions and Cheerilee wasn't about to let her get away. Besides, she was the only one wearing any kind of protection against Plum's earrings.
At the end of the hall, Cheerilee came to a single open door. Inside was an elaborate room that probably belonged to Celestia. The enormous bed and beautiful tapestries were enough of a clue to make it a likely possibility. Only one thing in the room didn't belong. A tan earth pony, desperately trying to unlock the doors to the balcony.
Plum whirled around as soon as Cheerilee called. "You…" Plum grit her teeth and glared. If she had been a unicorn, Cheerilee imagined that Plum would have been in danger of bursting into flames.
"Give up, Plum. It's over. You have nowhere to go and everypony will know who you are soon enough even if you did. Surrendering quietly is your best choice of action."
"Curse you! Everything was going perfectly and then you…" She pointed menacingly.
"Does this mean you don't give up yet?"
"I can't lose now! Not after everything I went through!"
Cheerilee sighed. "I see. I guess I have no choice then." Cheerilee began walking to Plum. The poor schemer backed against the balcony doors and raised her hooves to her earrings. A bright red light emanated from her eyes, aimed directly at Cheerilee. However, the ex-teacher's eyes only filled with pity behind her protective glasses. Plum refused to let go of her red stare until Cheerilee was standing only two feet in front of her.
"There's two ways to do this, Plum. The easy way or the hard way."
"Curse you!" Plum screamed out in frustration.
"I guess that means the hard way," Cheerilee said with a sigh. "If I must, I must."
"I don't believe this. All my plans… all my dreams… ruined! How? How did you do this? You're just a teacher."
"No, Plum. I'm not just a teacher." Abruptly, Cheerilee stood upright. "I'm a teacher who worked through college as a professional wrestler."
Cheerilee reached out with her front hooves and forced Plum's head down before wrapping her forelegs around it. The shocked pony suddenly found herself picked up and hurled over Cheerilee in a vertical suplex. She cried out as she slammed her back on the carpeted floor.
"This is for my students that you terrorized." Without letting go, Cheerilee twisted around, held Plum down on her stomach, and grabbed her back hoof, pulling her leg back.
"Ow, ow! What are you…? Oooooow! That's not supposed to bend that way! Oooow!"
Cheerilee let go and jumped on the bed. "This is for taking control of innocent ponies." She performed a beautiful back flip and landed full body on the pony beneath her with perfect precision, forcing the wind out of Plum. The tan pony desperately tried to suck in air as Cheerilee calmly stood up and took a position in front of her. When she finally regained her breath, Plum cringed under Cheerilee's glare.
Cheerilee raised an eyebrow. "And this is for almost making Kickerbuck starve to death." Standing on her back hooves, the magenta earth pony reached down and picked up Plum, holding her upside-down. With a surprisingly powerful leap, she jumped in the air. Plum screamed the whole way, as Cheerilee came back down in a spinning pile driver. Cheerilee held on for a few moments before releasing her grip and letting Plum fall limply on the floor.
"TKO," Cheerilee said and gave her opponent a dismissive nod.
"Whoa!" a voice from the doorway said in excitement. Cheerilee looked to find three familiar fillies poking their heads into the room.
"What was that, Ms. Cheerilee?" Apple Bloom asked.
Cheerilee blushed. "Ask your brother about it sometime." They had been quite a formidable tag team back in those days. "What are you doing in here anyway? We told you to stay outside."
"Cutie Mark Crusaders, super spies!" they cried as they looked at their flanks but… nothing…
"Twilight!" Spike ran over and embraced the lavender unicorn.
"I'm glad to see you too, Spike," Twilight replied as she hugged him back.
As soon as Cheerilee had removed Plum's earrings, the spell she held over the others had been broken. The ponies were all present, all of them relieved that they had their own freewill again. Fortunately, they were only a little battered from their attempt to follow Plum's last request. Even Celestia and Luna hadn't come out completely unscathed, both of them sporting dirty fur and ruffled manes. The Prime Minister's team had faired far worse, some of them limping and others bruised and aching from a swift kick or stab of a unicorn horn. Celestia had assured them they would be compensated in fully paid medical bills. As for the incident of taking over Canterlot, Lily Weather had already explained everything to the princesses and all had been forgiven. Peace would continue between the two countries.
"What a nightmare. And I don't mean that ironically," Luna said, glancing briefly at the mural of the defeat of her alter ego. "I can't believe we could be so careless."
"Don't blame yourself, Princess. We're just as much to blame for falling into her trap as you are," Twilight said.
"That's exactly what I mean. We should have figured something was wrong when you showed up at such a weird hour."
"It is what it is, dear sister," Celestia said calmly. "Somehow, Plum knew we would have our guard down around Twilight and the others. I never even imagined anypony would use that against me. As for these…" Celestia held up the pair of red earrings with her magic. "Perhaps this time they should be disposed of properly."
"What do you mean, this time?" Twilight asked.
"It's not the first time I've seen these. I was under the assumption they couldn't be used anymore. It seems time tells a different story."
"What are you going to do with them?" Spike asked.
"If at all possible, have them destroyed. We can't have this kind of power falling into the wrong hooves again. We had far too close of a call."
"It could have been much worse had Plum been more prepared. Fortunately for us, she didn't tell you what to do in case you were attacked. Otherwise we never would have succeeded at capturing you," Lily Weather put in.
"Fortunate indeed," Celestia answered, nodding her head. "The fact she was able to get as far as she did is quite shaming in itself. I really must thank you for coming to our rescue."
"I would have been caught too if it hadn't been for her." Lily pointed at Cheerilee who turned a little red at the sudden attention.
"Please. I didn't really do that much. You did all the work."
"Nonsense. It was your plan that made all this possible. You even showed us how to make those gas bombs. Besides, you were the one who caught Plum." Lily pointed to the tied up pony who was only just then regaining consciousness.
"Huh? Where am I? What happened? Is it Thursday yet?"
"What did you do to her anyway?" Applejack suddenly asked.
Cheerilee turned a deeper shade of red. "Ask your brother sometime."
"Big Macintosh? What's he got to do with anything?"
"Well, he's the one who found that job."
"Just ask him about Lady and the Tramp. He'll know what it means." Applejack gave her a weird look as Cheerilee turned back to the Prime Minister in hopes of changing the subject.
"Letting some secrets out can't hurt too much. Especially that one." Lily giggled.
"You know Cheerilee?" Twilight asked her.
"Oh, yes. Not from that job, but we go way back."
"I'm surprised, Cheerilee. How do you even know the Prime Minister?" Spike asked.
Cheerilee smiled. "Well Spike, Ponyland is quite different from Equestria. You see, they believe in democracy and elect all their officials, including the position of Prime Minister. As it happens, before Lily Weather was elected, she was a teacher."
Twilight went wide-eyed. "Wait… you mean…?"
"Have I ever told you about the year I studied abroad in Ponyland?"
"I don't believe it. You're kidding."
"She's not," Lily answered with a smile. "Cheerilee was one of the most enthusiastic students I've ever had the pleasure of teaching. I was certainly surprised to receive a letter from her out of the blue like that, especially with such unbelievable accusations. Had she been any other pony, I don't know if I would have taken it as seriously."
"That's a heck of a coincidence. Lucky for us too," Applejack commented.
"Very lucky," Celestia said, turning to address Cheerilee. "It seems we'll have to add another stained glass memorial to the castle."
"Celebrating the continued peace of Equestria and Ponyland?"
"No. Commemorating you."
"Wait… for me?" Cheerilee gasped. "But… but I haven't really…,"
"As Lily Weather just said, it was your plan that saved us all. Had it not been for you, Plum would have won."
"But… but I… I mean…"
"You deserve it, Cheerilee. You saved us too," Twilight said with a cheerful glamour.
"I guess we can let you have the spotlight just this once," Rainbow admitted.
"Thank you, Cheerilee," Fluttershy said quietly.
"I… I don't know what to say," Cheerilee said, rubbing her front hoof over her other one.
"Then let it be so," Celestia said as her horn lit up and a new stained glass portrait appeared in the castle window.
"I… really don't know what to say." Cheerilee grimaced. The glass depicted her pile driving Plum. How had Celestia even known?
"Wow Cheerilee, you saved Equestria!" Apple Bloom said excitedly from the corner where she, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle had been trying to practice Cheerilee's pile driver on each other.
"And you beat Plum with that cool move!" Scootaloo chimed in.
"And you staged a hostile takeover!" Sweetie Belle added.
"You're the coolest teacher ever!" they all screamed together.
Cheerilee grimaced again. "But I'm not a teacher. Not anymore. I lost my job, remember?"
"Cheerilee, did you forget? That was that evil Plum's doing," Rarity explained. "I'm sure the Principal will be happy to rehire you and the other teachers once we get back to Ponyville. And if he doesn't, he'll have to answer to us. We've had quite enough of over the top homework assignments."
"Agreed," Twilight and Applejack echoed.
Cheerilee smiled holding back tears. "That would be the best reward I could ask for. Thank you everypony."
"It's supposed to be the other way around!" Pinkie blurted. "Wait till you see the party I'm devising in my head right now. It'll be a real doozy. I'm going to get my party cannon as soon as I get home."
"Speaking of home, Big Macintosh is probably still looking for all of you. We should go back to Ponyville and find him. I hope he's not still in Everfree."
"Big Macintosh is tough. I'm sure he won't get into any trouble in there. All the same, I would like to get back," Applejack said, yawning a little. "I feel like I've been asleep for days, but at the same time I just want to go to bed."
"Maybe we could delay the party a day or two?" Twilight asked Pinkie.
"Awwww. But I was just coming up with the perfect party entertainment. Guess I might need time to train the dancing hamsters though. Does anypony know where I can find two hundred and thirty six hamster-size tuxedoes on short notice?"
As Pinkie continued to blurt out a myriad of other party supplies, the other ponies laughed and promised Cheerilee that they wouldn't let the party get too crazy. Easier said than done when it came to Pinkie, but it was a promise.
"Speaking of delays…," Celestia interrupted. "Prime Minister Lily Weather, I hope you can understand if we postpone our meeting until tomorrow."
"Certainly. You must be exhausted after that ordeal. Truly, Plum is an ambitious pony."
"And evil!" Scootaloo chimed in. "Who tries to take over the world?"
"Well if I was goin' to do it, I'd want to do it like Cheerilee did," Apple Bloom put in.
"Pardon? When did I… oh… the hostile takeover…" Cheerilee rubbed the back of her head nervously. "It wasn't really that hostile was it? I thought it was rather passive with the gas and all…"
"That would be really cool!" Scootaloo continued.
"We could totally pull that off. Maybe it could be our special talent," Sweetie Belle suggested.
"Cutie Mark Crusaders, World Conquers!"
Three seconds of awkward silence and strange stares later…
"Uh… on second thought, maybe that wouldn't be such a great idea," Apple Bloom said, smiling apologetically. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement.
Celestia had sent Twilight, Cheerilee and the others home quite a while ago. Afternoon was coming to an end but Celestia couldn't relax. She paced back and forth as she listened to Luna rant about the security of the castle. Unfortunately, she was also abusing the royal Canterlot voice in her anger.
"We need to keep alert. Even if Twilight and the others introduce us to a new pony, we should make sure to have a full background check just to make sure. In fact, we need some sort of failsafe security in place just in case something like this happens again. You know we have always been in favor of using a specialized task force whose sole purpose is to collect all pertinent information from around Equestria to discover hidden plots and rumored uprisings. We might have prevented this if such a task force had been in place in Ponyville to study the odd happenings around that school. It is unbearable to think that such an atrocity happened right here under our noses. She even made us do her bidding. She took us away from everything important." Then her tone changed to a higher, more melodious and playful pitch as she turned to a giant black dog that was lying next to her. "Isn't that right, Sophocles? Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy?"
"Woff," the dog replied lazily as Luna scratched his belly.
"Yes…," Celestia said slowly. "That may be a bit extreme but I agree that something must be done." The regal princess stopped pacing and moved to the window.
"Is something troubling you?" Luna asked, dropping the royal voice.
"I'm just thinking about something related to what you're talking about. Don't mind me. Please continue."
Luna watched Celestia stand there with a far more serious expression than she usually donned. Considering all that had happened, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but Celestia was known for staying calm in bad situations. She hardly ever frowned.
"So sister, what did you do with Plum? Lock her in the dungeon? Sent her to the moon?"
Celestia shook her head and spoke without looking at her younger sister. "The worst punishment that she could imagine. I made her go back to her old job." Luna looked at Celestia with surprise. "You see, it seems she is a rare pony who is quite dissatisfied with her special talent. As a sad result, her job made her quite miserable."
"And what is her job? I couldn't figure out what her cutie mark meant."
"Her cutie mark represents the lines of a music sheet. It seems she was a lyricist for a group of wandering minstrels. Since minstrels sing of all sorts of lore, her knowledge of the world was really quite vast, hence her knowledge of the Earrings of Somnambula."
"A minstrel? They still have those? So something has survived from the old days." Luna sounded a bit happier than she meant too. How nostalgic would it be to listen to a troupe of minstrels singing stories of a thousand years ago? It might be interesting to hear what old tales remained of Night Mare Moon before her horrible transformation. Luna had only managed to find a few documents of those times. But that would have to wait for later.
"I see. If it does make her so miserable then perhaps it is a fitting punishment after all." To think a simple minstrel could be capable of plotting something as grand as world conquest… and almost succeed at that. Heck, the fact that Plum had managed to do it all by herself… "Wait a minute. Those minstrels you mentioned…"
"I know exactly what you're thinking." Celestia stared out the window of her balcony. "There's another reason I made Plum go back to them. They were seen around Ponyville throughout the week but apparently disappeared after somepony chased them off, or so the reports say. Since then, there has been no sign of them anywhere."
Both royal sisters were quiet for a moment before Luna spoke again. "Do you think those wandering minstrels helped Plum steal the earrings?"
"That's what I'm hoping to investigate. Plum used the earrings to escape the museum unnoticed, but further investigation of the museum has just recently concluded that more than one pony broke in, so she must have had help. But who it was… if Plum can get in contact with the minstrels, then maybe we can find the answer to that question."
Luna slowly rubbed Sophocles' ears. "If it hadn't been for that teacher, Plum would have had us. She got to us so easily. How did she even know those earrings would work?"
"That's the other troubling thing. They shouldn't have. I broke their magical properties centuries ago. I didn't even know it was possible to restore their magic. How did she know?"
"It sounds to me like there is something more to Plum or even this group of minstrels."
"You read my mind." It was almost time for Luna to bring on the night. Celestia looked at the orange glow of the sunset she would be controlling in a few minutes. Two days… for two whole days, the control of day and night had been under the command of a seemingly single-minded earth pony. Magic long lost had suddenly resurfaced and caused havoc that even the bearers of the Elements of Harmony had no power to stop. A twist in fate had saved them, but what if that wasn't the end of it? Did the minstrels help Plum steal the earrings? If so, why hadn't they stayed involved? Were they mind controlled as well or was it something more? How deeply were they involved if at all? It was troubling, but for the moment, there was nothing to do but wait and see what the investigation turned up.