PART THREE – Treats

"Tell me again why we're hidin' from Rarity?" asked Applejack, surveying the cluttered basement in which she and her costumed friends had taken refuge. "I mean, sure, she knows a little Karate, but she ain't exactly what I'd call fer-middable. Couldn't we just, ya know, grab 'er, and head back to Ponyville where things make sense?"

Twilight Sparkle gasped. "Don't be ridiculous! We can't assail the Pumpkin Queen directly!"

Applejack tilted her stitched-burlap head. "…We can't?"

Twilight magicked up her staff. The gem at its tip glowed purple as she used it to draw shapes in the air.

"Of course not! First we have to get past her hordes of minions…" Twilight drew a series of hostile stick figures. "…Then we storm her stronghold…" She sketched out an ominous tower. "…and confront her loyal second-in-command…" Twilight added a tiny Pegasus to the top of the tower. "And then we face the Pumpkin Queen!" She doodled a quick portrait of their finely-dressed friend. "You see?"

"Oh my," said Fluttershy from the building's back yard. She had hunched over to peer into the basement's small window. "That sounds pretty scary."

"Scary…but fun! *B-KAWK!*" said Pinkie Pie.

Applejack frowned. "We gotta do all that?"

"Most definitely!" Twilight insisted. "It's the only way!"

"Well, if'n that's how it's gotta be…" said Applejack, still clearly unconvinced.

"Excellent!" said Twilight, her enthusiasm still at full bore. She turned to face the basement stairs. "C'mon, girls – it's time for some adventuring!" She gestured emphatically with her levitating staff and strode forth.

The chicken and scarecrow trotted into step behind the wizard as she headed upstairs. The tree straightened and lumbered over to meet them outside.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The potion-frazzled crowd of townsponies clustered in small groups around Ponyville's town square, staring up at the sky and hooting, hollering and stomping applause.

Far above them a pair of blazing comets streaked through the night sky trailing tails of shimmering light – one deep blue, the other gold-tinged pink. The orbs of light clashed again and again, battling like a pair of angry hornets. Each time the orbs contacted, a burst of fireworks lit up the sky.

"ALL HAIL PRINCESS CELESTIA!" shouted one group of Ponies.

"LONG LIVE THE NIGHT!" answered another group. Pipsqueak briefly hopped into view near the centre of that group, swinging a rubbery sword in his teeth.

"PUMPKINS!" shouted a walleyed, paper-bag-clad grey Pegasus as she took advantage of the unattended punkin-chunkin rigs.

Once a flurry of wildly-misaimed gourds finished smashing into the area, Zecora peeked out from the mouth of the alleyway into which she'd run and cast her gaze skyward.

"I hoped it would not come to this," she whispered in awe, "but such a sight one should not miss!"

"YeahIagreeit'!" yammered Spike as he streaked past at top speed. A few moments later he completed a lap of the town and scampered past again.

The glowing lights in the sky clashed again, and Zecora found herself joining the crowd in an awestruck Oooohhh! as another starburst exploded across the sky.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Twilight, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy trotted up to the crest of a hill near the middle of Halloween Town and looked down the street.

Ahead, dozens of ghoulish town residents were adding black and purple ribbons to streetlamps and door-frames, applying gemstones to jack-o'-lanterns, and otherwise decorating the town to match its new overlord's macabre yet fabulous sensibilities. In the middle distance, a tall tower loomed forebodingly.

"Hrmm…" said Twilight, tapping her chin with a hoof. "They'll never let us pass – they'll know we're here to take down their new Queen. So…looks like it's time for step one: defeat the minions."

"B-but there's so many of them..!" said Fluttershy. She scuffed at the ground nervously with her branches.

"Not to worry," replied Twilight. "This encounter must have a secret solution of some kind." She began looking around, poking at jutting bricks with her staff and stepping firmly on partially-dislodged cobbles. "Maybe a shortcut, or a sewer entrance?" she mused, mostly to herself. "There's always a sewer entrance…"

Twilight's companions joined her in her search, despite the fact that were clearly unsure just what they were looking for.

"Ooh, look!" said Pinkie Pie, pointing up at the sinister-looking wooden sign for the Black Dragon Tavern, "A dragon! *RRRAAAWWWWR!*"

"WHERE?" said Twilight and Fluttershy in unison. Twilight ignited her horn and staff and assumed a defensive stance, while Fluttershy seized up in fright…and tipped over.

The fallen tree squealed in panic as she tumbled down the steep hill like a rolling log, bowling over every Halloween Town citizen in her path. She finally came to rest several blocks away at the bottom of the hill, a trail of dazed and senseless "minions" left in her wake. She stumbled back onto her branches and roots and surveyed the havoc she'd wrought. "Oh, dear!" she said. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!"

"…Timber?" said Pinkie in mild embarrassment.

"…Ah," said Twilight, "I guess that works, too. Onward!"

The group trotted down the inclined street to join Fluttershy, carefully avoiding stepping on the bruised townsfolk underhoof.

For a time their progress was blessedly swift, and the tall building the Pumpkin Queen had claimed as her own soon rose up ahead of them, only a block or two away.

"Woohoo!" said Pinkie, flapping her wings. "Everything's working out GREATI"

Pinkie shrill voice echoed off the surrounding walls. A sudden chorus of hoarse caws and squawks answered back. In moments the dark sky had grown darker still, filled as it was with a vast unkindness of ravens.

"Blast!" cursed Twilight. "There's too many to zap them individually, and we're in too close quarters for me to use any AoE!"

"Aioli?" said Pinkie. "Yum! I love garlic!"

The purple Unicorn groaned. "Not aioli, EHH, OHH – DUCK!" A swooping swarm of angry ravens cut Twilight off in mid-explanation. She and Pinkie dived for cover.

"P-Please, birdies...we don't want any trouble…" Fluttershy implored. "Can't we all just get along?" Squawks and caws all but drowned out the timid tree's voice. Several ravens dive-bombed her, eliciting a terrified squeak.

"OH-kay…" said Applejack sternly. "Ah think that'll be just about enough o'that!" She stomped into the middle of the street-crossing in which the group had stopped, fixed her stance, adjusted her straw hat, cleared her throat, and:

"Boo."

The black birds froze – many in midair – and stared down wide-eyed at the harbinger of terror beneath them. After the span of a single breath, the flock cawed in panic and scattered away into the night sky.

Applejack flicked her straw hat proudly. "Heh. An' Big Mac said this costume wasn't scary enough!"

Pinkie Pie peeked out from underneath a pile of bagged dry leaves. She giggled. "Are you kidding? That was terrifying! *B-KAWK!*"

Twilight stared, deadpan. "...Yes. Horrific. Anyway, looks like we've got a clear path to the Pumpkin Queen's stronghold. Shall we?"

The adventurers had just crossed the threshold onto the tower's grounds when a further unwelcome – though not unexpected – impediment made its presence known:

"Not so fast, Goody-Four-Shoes!"

With a dusky flash of rainbow-accented darkness, the Pumpkin Queen's favoured lieutenant swooped down from the top of the tower and alighted on the stone walk leading up to its front doors. She hoofed at the ground menacingly. "If you wanna face down the Pumpkin Queen, you're gonna hafta go through the Speed Queen!" She grinned wickedly.

Twilight's staff lit up. "Let's see how fast you are under two hundred scintillas of Web Spell!" She pointed the implement, and a glowing reddish-purple tangle streaked out toward the dark-clad Pegasus.

She lunged to the side, and the sticky spell scattered harmlessly. "Ha! Nice try, slowpoke!"

Shadow Dash flew in close to Twilight and raced in tight circles around the Unicorn. A small whirlwind spun Twilight at dizzying speed until the wizard collapsed, her eyes turning in opposing circles.

"Tarnation, Dash! We ain't got time fer this!" Applejack charged the sinister Pegasus, intending to grab her in a flying tackle. Dash had other plans.

With a flap of her wings she deftly evaded the scarecrow's dive, leaving Applejack with a brick wall as her only target. There was a loud crash and a burst of straw as the Earth Pony found herself reduced to a pile of rough cloth and spilt stuffing. "….Aww, horseapples," said her once-more disembodied head from its resting place in the gutter.

"Rainbow Dash! How could you?" Fluttershy lumbered forward and bore down on the Pegasus with a righteous gleam in her eyes. "I had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but you leave me no choice!" Fluttershy spread her branches wide and unleashed the paralyzingly-intense onslaught that was The Stare…directly into the Shadowbolt's mirrored golden goggles.

Dash collapsed in mocking laughter as the tree before her gasped in terror at the sight of her own reflection and froze as still as any tree in Everfree.

"HEY, you big meaniepants!" Pinkie called out from across the street. "Why don't you try picking on a fellow bird?" She grinned, spread her wings and gave a few flaps for emphasis.

Shadow Dash got to her hooves and turned to face her challenger. "Whah…? I'm not a bird! I'm a Shadowbolt!"

"Close enough!" insisted Pinkie. "Betcha can't catch me!" She let out a quick meep-meep! and took off like a shot, her clawed feet kicking up puffs of dust from the worn stone streets.

Shadow Dash growled "You're ON!" and streaked after the party-chicken like a multicoloured cannonball.

"Now just whut is that silly filly plannin' ta do?" asked Applejack's head.

"Urrgh…I have no idea," said Twilight, fighting back a surge of nausea. "Here, let me help you." She staggered halfway up onto her hooves, but then her stomach gurgled and her cheeks ballooned. She sat back down, swallowed hard and added: "…in a minute."

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Lock and Barrel watched their compatriot warily, each adjusting his position in turn so as to be the one farther away from her.

"Umm…" said Barrel. He scuffed the floor with a bare foot.

"Uhhh…?" agreed Lock. He wrung the pointed tail of his Devil costume in his hands.

Shock looked up from her project and shot her allies a fierce stare. "…What? Haven't you ever seen somebody building a Pony Trapper before?"

"No!" they replied in unison.

"We only just found out what a Pony was!" said Barrel.

"And plus…you can't trap the Pumpkin Queen!" added Lock.

"Yeah!" said Barrel. "This isn't like that bunny or the old guy! She's important!"

"I'm not going to trap the Pumpkin Queen," Shock said with a grin.

"Umm…" said Lock and Barrel.

Shock groaned in irritation. "Weren't you two dummies watching at the announcement? There are more of them now!" She hefted her creation in both hands, testing its weight. It resembled a bulky crossbow in profile, but its bundled payload was far, far larger than an arrow. "I'm gonna trap a different Pony!"

"Ohhhhh," said Shock's cohorts. "That's different!"

The three trick-or-treaters shared a sinister chuckle.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Pinkie Pie scampered through the streets of Halloween Town at incredible speed, pausing now and then to stare at interesting decorations or peck at fallen candy in the streets.

Shadow Dash was hot on her trail, her multi-hued contrail standing out sharply against the grey and black backdrop of the town. She was more than a match for her quarry on a straightaway, but those were few and far between in Halloween Town.

"Can't catch me! Hee hee hee!" said Pinkie over her shoulder.

Shadow Dash gritted her teeth and poured on still more speed.

Despite Pinkie's best efforts, her Pegasus pursuer slowly closed the gap between them. Bit by bit the Shadowbolt drew nearer to the chicken. They were soon close enough that Dash could slap at Pinkie's tail feathers with her front hooves. Catching her seemed all but inevitable. But then a voice from the edge of a nearby rooftop shouted:

"GOTCHA!"

With an echoing twang a large rope net ensnared both Ponies. Their momentum carried them into a tumbling roll, and the whole mess crashed through the front door of a nearby shop.

"Smashing pumpkins!" Lock swore. "I can't believe that thing worked!"

"Why wouldn't it work?" replied Shock huffily. "The bathtub works!"

"You just found that on a trash heap!" said Barrel.

"I also housebroke it, thank you very much!" Shock set down her Pony-Trapper and headed for the building's fire escape. "Come on – it's time to nab some Ponies!"

"Wait!" said Lock. "You can't!" He pointed down at the shop's sign.

Shock peered over the roof's edge and sighed in frustration. "Oh raisins," she swore, "a costume shop!"

"Can't do mischief in a costume shop," said Barrel. He unwrapped a piece of taffy and popped it into his wide mouth. "Iss hwwly grnnd."

"I know, I know," said Shock. "Well, they can't stay in there forever. And when they come out, we'll be waiting!"

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Applejack's repaired top and bottom halves hung in midair, suspended by Twilight's magic. The Unicorn floated the last of the Earth Pony scarecrow's straw back into place and then started sewing her back together with conjured thread.

"H-Hay! Careful! That t-tickles somethin' f-fierce!" Applejack squirmed and kicked at the air.

"Sorry…!" said Twilight. "I may be an arch-wizard, but sewing is really more Rarity's specialty."

Once Twilight completed her work, she set her restored companion back down on her hooves.

"That's more like it!" said Applejack, rearing and kicking experimentally.

"…yay," said Fluttershy weakly, still somewhat shaken by her brush with her own Stare.

Twilight jabbed her staff into the ground imperiously. "Okay! Pinkie has drawn away the Pumpkin Queen's second-in-command, so the way is clear. It's time for…an epic confrontation!" She posed courageously for a moment, and then turned to face the tower. She magicked open its sizable front doors, and strode forth. Her fellow party members followed.

The interior of the tower was festooned with black and purple ribbons and gemstones, and fancifully-carved pumpkins lit with violet faerie-fire rested on every available surface. The sound of the adventurers' hoofsteps (and branchsteps) echoed in the eerie silence.

"That way," said Twilight, gesturing to a grand spiral staircase. "She'll be at the top of the tower."

"How do ya know that?" asked Applejack.

"The Dark Queen is always at the top of the tower," replied Twilight, as if it was the most obvious fact in the world. "You martial types really ought to brush up on your lore skills."

"But lore skills cost double for warriors!" interjected Fluttershy. Applejack and Twilight stared at the tree in mild disbelief.

"Um, I mean, we should hurry!"

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

"*Hnng!* Get offa me!"

"G't ywr hff ow'ah mh mouff!"

Shadow Dash and Pinkie Pie struggled to escape from the net. Almost in unison, Dash freed her wings and Pinkie freed her feet. They immediately started pulling in opposite directions.

Pinkie's head popped partway through a space in the net. The tight fit pulled at her costume as she strained to break free. On the other side of the net, the ropes creaked as Dash flapped her wings faster and faster.

With a final snap and tear the net gave way, and the two Ponies crashed into opposite sides of the room. Pinkie rolled under a pile of wooden boxes, while Dash struck and tipped over a shelf of wigs and dye.

Pinkie popped up from between the boxes, her eyes dazedly rolling. She shook her head until it rattled, and came to her senses.

"Hey!" she said. "My costume tore off!" An Earth Pony once more, the former chicken hopped out of the pile of boxes and trotted over to the demolished far side of the room. She peered down at the pile of fallen wigs and spilled dyes. "Are you okay, Dashie?" Pinkie hoofed aside the broken remains of the shelf, revealing her erstwhile enemy.

"Okay?" said Dash, her voice oddly high-pitched. "I'm more than okay – I'm SUPER-DEE-DUPER!"

Outside the shop, the three trick-or-treaters paced in varying amounts of impatience.

Shock, who had been pacing with the most speed and the least calm, finally stopped and clenched her fists. "*Rrrgh!* I can't take it!"

She ran up to the shop's smashed front door and pounded a fist on the frame. "COME OUT, PONIES! WE KNOW YOU'RE IN THERE!"

Two pairs of wide, shining eyes came into view in the shadowy depths of the costume shop. The owners of the eyes paused, and spoke:

"Looks like we have guests."

"We sure do!"

"And you know what that means?"

"Yup!"

"…What?" asked Shock, an edge of nervousness creeping into her voice.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The tall double doors to the Pumpkin Queen's inner sanctum glowed red and then swung inward, revealing a Wizard, a Scarecrow and a Tree.

"Come home, Pumpkin Queen!" Twilight bellowed, pointing her staff. "You don't belong in this world!"

Rarity tittered from the black iron throne upon which she was lounging. "It was not by my hoof that I found myself here!" She levitated a glass of Halloween punch and took a dainty sip. "I was called here by creatures who wish to pay me tribute!"

Twilight stepped forward. "Tribute? You stole these folks' attention, and made them your slaves!"

Rarity scoffed. "I suppose the same could be said of all holidays..."

Applejack leaned over to Fluttershy and whispered: "Ummmwhut are they talkin' about?"

Fluttershy shrugged. "I have no idea…"

Twilight pounded her staff against the stone floor. "Your words are as empty as your bookshelf! This town ill-needs a ruler such as you!"

"What is a wizard?" Rarity tossed aside her glass, letting it shatter on the floor. "A miserable little pile of bad fashion sense! But enough talk... Have at you!" She leaped to her hooves and ignited her horn.

The chamber's stone walls took on the blue glow of Rarity's magic, and began to reconfigure themselves. In moments the throne room had blossomed open into a wide arena open to the night sky. Curved pillars topped with jack-o'-lanterns provided eerie mood lighting.

Twilight squared off with her nemesis on the windy platform, her own horn glowing under her hat and her staff held up defensively. Far below, a gathering crowd of Halloween Town resident stared up in fascination.

With a mutual battle cry, the two Unicorns began their duel.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

"RUN FASTER!" screamed Lock as he skidded around a corner and charged down Halloween Town's main street. Shock and Barrel followed close on his heels.

"They're MONSTERS!" wailed Barrel.

"H-How do th-they keep gaining on us?" asked Shock breathlessly.

"I dunno! RUN!" Lock looked to the side and then leaped away in terror. "Not that way! The OTHER way!" The young mischief-maker scrambled to change directions.

Barrel pointed down a side street. "That way! To the tower!"

The trio ran toward the tower as fast as their legs could carry them, their path a zig-zag of starts and frights at every dark alley and large object. They pushed their way through the crowd surrounding the tower and started climbing the spiral staircase.

Behind them, high-pitched giggles echoed off the stone walls.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Explosions of red and blue turned night into day on the platform. Magical constructs shaped like bats, wolves, dragons, ghosts, Pony skeletons and creatures still more bizarre fought in twos and threes around the clashing Unicorns. With every defeated construct and every blazing burst of magic, the crowd below cheered, ooohed and ahhhed.

"You'll never take me back!" shouted the Pumkpin Queen as she conjured a roaring Werewolf.

Her wizardly opponent countered with a phantom Manticore. "Don't be so sure!"

"That's th'spirit!" cheered Applejack. "Show that fancy filly whut's whut!"

"Yeah! But, um, just don't hurt her, okay?" said Fluttershy.

Before the clashing Unicorns could bring further battle magic to bear, the rattling sound of scampering feet rose up from the stairwell. Three panicking trick-or-treaters dressed as a Devil, a Witch and a Skeleton leaped through the entryway – now set in the floor – and slammed the doors.

The Unicorns' magical constructs paused. "What is the meaning of this interruption?" asked Rarity.

"You gotta hide us!" begged Barrel.

"They're crazy!" insisted Lock.

"You look great in that dress?" added Shock hesitantly.

The white Unicorn blushed demurely and tittered behind a hoof. "It is lovely, isn't it?" She shook her head. "But that's beside the point! What are you three yammering on about? I happen to be engaged in an epic confrontation, here!" She pointed to Twilight, who was waiting politely for the duel to continue.

"Don't mind me!" said the purple Unicorn. "Talking is a free action, after all."

"Well, it's still awfully rude," continued Rarity. "Instead of whatever all this is, you should be busying yourselves planning my coronation party!"

"NOOOOO!" screamed Lock, Shock and Barrel.

"…Did somepony say PARTY?"

The doors upon which Lock, Shock and Barrel were huddled burst open, sending the three young rascals flying. A pair of party-Ponies climbed up onto the stone platform, wheeling a blue cannon between them.

One was the unmistakable and irrepressible Pinkie Pie…and so was the other.

"What the…?" said Applejack, Fluttershy, Twilight and Rarity.

As the assembled Ponies stared, the differences between the two revelers became more apparent. For one thing, the Pinkie on the right's hide was somewhat unevenly-pink, and marked with thin seams. And her frizzy mane was off-center and styled in a slightly different mess of curls. In addition, she seemed to be wearing a pair of blue-painted goggles. And lastly, she had wings.

"…Dash?" said Twilight in disbelief. "What happened to you?"

The Pinkies giggled and snorted in stereo. "Oh, Twilight," they said in unison. "You're so silly! I'm not Dash…I'm Pinkie Pie!" The Pinkies pointed the cannon at Fluttershy, and fired.

The tree yelped in fear and covered her eyes, but when she hazarded a peek she found that her branches were now garlanded with festive black and orange ribbons and small pumpkin-shaped ornaments.

"Ohthis isn't so bad!" she said.

"Do you mind?" asked Rarity. "Epic confrontation? Magical duel? We're a bit busy, here."

In the distance, a bell began tolling.

"Ohhhhh….don't mind me!" said both Pinkies. "Just pretend I'm not here!" They fired the cannon again, festooning a pillar with confetti and streamers. Rarity groaned and slid a front hoof down her face.

Twilight pondered for a moment, and then inspiration brightened her features. She stepped forward.

"Mighty Pumpkin Queen," she said sternly, "I cannot continue this duel. I am no match for your magical prowess, and I have the good grace to know when I am bested. I doff my hat to the better Pony." Twilight knelt on bended knee and magicked off her bell-trimmed wizard hat.

Rarity beamed. "I applaud your sage and accurate decision," she said, and removed her tiara as she gave Twilight a small curtsey.

Both Unicorns staggered dazedly for a moment, and shook their heads.

"Were…were we engaged in certamen?" asked Twilight.

"Are there…two Pinkies?" added Rarity. She moved to put the hovering tiara back on her head.

"Oh no ya don't!" said Applejack. She surged forward and snatched up the tiara in her jaws. "Y'll 'rrn't crezzy anym'rr, so w'rr gww'n h'mm!"

"Yay! Home!" said both Pinkies.

As the distant bell tolled for the twelfth time, Halloween Town's rotund Mayor popped up through the platform's hatch.

"Well done, well done!" he said, his friendly face turned firmly forward. "This was a most exciting Halloween celebration!" He pottered over to the edge of the platform and raised a megaphone to his mouth.

"THE PUMPKIN QUEEN IS DEFEATED!" he bellowed to the crowd below. "LONG LIVE THE PUMPKIN KING!" The gathered throng exploded into raucous cheering and applause.

Rarity gasped. "But wait! Where is the Pumpkin King? Where's Jack?"

The Mayor turned to face her. "Don't you remember? You were a key part of his plan!" the Mayor pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket.

The white Unicorn stared. "Jack…planned…all of this?"

The Mayor chuckled. "Of course! No one can create a Halloween event quite like Jack! I get nervous every year, but that Skeleton never fails to create something spectacular!" The Mayor's head clanked around to show his unhappy face. "Oh no! I've got to start preparing for next Halloween! So little time!" He headed for the hatch.

"Time!" said Twilight with a start. "We're running out of time! C'mon, everypony! We've got to get back to that tree-door!"

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

The two Alicorns faced each other on opposite sides of Ponyville's town square. Magical energy rose off their hides like steam.

"Foolish Day-Mare!" said Luna, her booming voice echoing off the surrounding buildings. "You fight in vain! Darkness and candy shall be the order of the day…or rather, night!" She laughed an evil laugh.

Several of the foals watching the exchange cheered.

"We think not, our wayward Sister!" Celestia replied in a rare exercise of the Royal Canterlot Voice. "We decree that these Ponies should rest at night, so they have plenty of energy for chores and schoolwork come daybreak!"

Other, more studious-looking foals – and more than a few of the older Ponies – cheered.

The Alicorns hoofed at the ground and lowered their heads, locking their gazes. A moment later, they charged.

"WAAAAIT!" cried a breathless voice from down the street.

The entreaty came too late, however, and the royal Ponies crashed together in a blinding flash of magic.

As the light faded, Princess Luna staggered back theatrically. "Zounds! We are defeated! Oh, cruel fate!" The dark Alicorn put a hoof to her brow. "Do not falter, O lovers of candy and fun – We will be back…next year!" Luna took a few steps, spun in a half-turn and collapsed, igniting her horn as she fell. When she hit the ground she burst into a swarm of bats, which scattered away into the black sky.

Celestia hung her head in mock sorrow for a moment, and then looked to the heavens. Her horn blazed golden, and the dawn came in mere moments. Once the sun was high in the sky, the alabaster Alicorn turned to face the group of panting Ponies staggering up to her.

The Ponyville Six seemed tired but well – save for the yellow Pegasus bringing up the rear, who wore an almost mournful expression and sighed wistfully as she hovered along and tugged the twigs out of her ribbon-braided mane.

"P-Princess," gasped Twilight. "We came back as quickly as we could. Will Luna be okay?"

Celestia smiled. "Oh, Twilight – of course she will. This was all part of the festivities!"

"It was?"

The Princess chuckled. "We had to keep everypony celebrating Nightmare Night somehow, now didn't we?"

Zecora approached the group. Spike was slung over her back, fast asleep. "A fine job You did, Your Majesty – it truly was a sight to see!"

Celestia nodded appreciatively. "I'm just glad you Ponies got back to Equestria safe and sound. Halloween Town can be a scary place!"

"Princess!" said Rarity. "You've been to Halloween Town?"

"Well, I wouldn't be a very responsible ruler if I let a whole orchard of doors to other worlds sit in the middle of Equestria without knowing where they all go, now would I?" She grinned. "But that's a tale for another time. For now, I think it's time for a certain question."

"It sure is!" said Rainbow Dash. "…Why am I dressed as Pinkie Pie?"

The gathered Ponies shared a laugh.

·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•·•

Dear Princess Celestia,

I am pleased to tell you that Your subjects' first visit to Halloween Town went over excellently. Judging from the lack of panic in the streets, they managed to create a most enjoyable Halloween night celebration for the townsfolk. And that means I got to do something I haven't done in quite some time –

Take the night off.

"Jack…don't tell me you're doing paperwork!"

The Skeleton looked up from his writing. Before him stood an absolute vision of loveliness.

Sally's crude threadwork had been replaced with Rarity's nearly-invisible stitching, and instead of her plain peasant's dress she now wore an elegant, ankle-length, one-shouldered black gown with a high slit and a dropped waist. Her hair was pulled back and held in a bun with a pair of chopstick-thin bones. A black ribbon choker set with a pumpkin-shaped cameo hugged her neck.

Jack smiled so widely we worried his jaw would drop off. "Wouldn't dream of it, my dear. Just sending off a quick thank-you letter."

I'd rather not take up any more of said night in writing, so let me close by saying that after this, I may well take You up on Your suggestion that I visit someday.

Your old friend,

Jack Skellington.

Jack folded the letter and tossed it into the gaping fiery maw of a nearby jack-o'-lantern. He stood up, straightened his brand-new tuxedo and walked to the middle of the wooded clearing where his lady love stood waiting to dance, a black rose clenched in her teeth.

THE END