Chapter Ten - The Longest Night - Part Three


This time there was no dream waiting for me. The moment before, I’d been awake, and the next, I was asleep but conscious. That only ever happened when Luna was waiting for me to fall asleep. She usually just checked every once in a while.

Luna was probably just eager to talk, but I’d take it as a Hearth’s Warming present nonetheless. My subconscious wouldn’t have a chance to torment me this time.

“Twilight,” Luna said. I turned toward her voice and saw her walking and fading into view. “Are you ready to talk about what happened?”

“I am.” There was no point in putting this off, and I really did need somepony I could really talk to, somepony I could tell the entire truth to.

“Good. First, let me state the obvious so you won’t run your head in circles like you usually do.”

How rude…but true.

“I am not going to abandon you over this. I still care for you as I always have. That said, there are a lot of ponies rather upset with, and I quote, my baby pet monster. Telling them that I don’t know what happened hasn’t exactly helped matters. I didn’t want to do this to you tonight, but–”

“It’s okay, Luna.” It really was. That she still both wanted to and could spend the solstice with me was plenty already, even if we had to fill some or all of it with business.

“Have you talked with any of the changelings yet?” I asked.

Luna made a face like I’d just forced her to eat festering hay. “No, and I do not care to ever visit another one of their dreams ever again. The hive mind – let’s just say that their dreamscapes are distasteful and leave it at that. One star.”

I cocked my head to the side. “How many stars is that out of? One? Two?”

“As many stars as there are in the sky, Twilight. And that one star is Saiph, the star I put in the wrong place and forgot to fix.”

Luna had managed to keep a straight face throughout her answer and for a short time after. I had not. The way she had managed to say that as if she were explaining the simplest thing in the world to me was just so – so – Equestrian lacked the perfect word. Comedy magic could approximate it, perhaps.

Recovering much quicker, Luna said, “Anyway, I’ve managed to piece together a general idea of what happened–”

Well duh. Even if I wasn’t quite…all there at the time, Luna had just spent a morning comforting me. That sort of implied she knew something of the events.

“–and I have several guesses, but I would like to hear the full story from you directly. We can discuss what you did wrong while we go, too.”

I gave Luna a faint smile in thanks. Finally, a pony who would tell me to my face that this was my fault without…verbal or physical assault. I’d managed to run into a few changelings vacating the castle while on a food run who had been less understanding than Chzix.

Although, Queen Chrysalis at least, I couldn’t blame at all for getting emotional.

“Where do you want me to start?”

“At the beginning.” What an unhelpful answer. When I opened my mouth, Luna added, “Whatever you think is the beginning.”

Nodding, I took a deep breath and began the story. “So going over what you already know quickly, Queen Chrysalis and I had our plan to get Cadance – what’s the term – wasted at my family’s Hearth’s Warming Eve party.

“We were going to…you know…wreck my friendship with her. We just had to get her mad and drunk, which isn’t that hard during those kinds of parties when you’re trying. Cadance wouldn’t have been able to put herself in the same room as me – or my replacement – for years.”

On a less professional note, I was glad we didn’t have to do that anymore. Disregarding the other problems I’d caused, Cadance had a completely different kind of guilt, which while no easier on her, at least left us as friends. She’d even have the chance to move past it while I was gone with Pupa being able to spend time with her.

It was possible we might not even have to tell her the truth ever. Well maybe not ever ever, since eternity, but it was possible I might not have to tell her I’d ever left for a long time.

No, on second thought…just no. That wouldn’t work out. Ignoring the promises I’d made to Queen Chrysalis to get Cadance to help them prosper – even Cadance could put two and two together given enough time and information as she’d demonstrated yesterday – Pupa deserved the recognition.

“Twilight,” Luna called, bringing me out of my thoughts. “Do try not to get absorbed in your thoughts while you’re telling a story.”

“Ah, sorry.”

Smiling, Luna said, “It’s fine. You have more than enough talents at your age. We can work on bard, skald, jester–”

“I get the point,” I interrupted, much to Luna’s apparent amusement. “Anyway, I tried getting a head start using Trixie–”

“Which was a good idea,” Luna interjected. “Do not let the results tell you otherwise.”

“Right, well, apparently Cadance and Celestia identified me as a suspect for giving Trixie information. And I still don’t know exactly what she found out.”

Luna added, “Neither do I.”

“So Cadance came over to have a discussion about it with me and caught me after or during my…episode concerning Sunset Shimmer.”

Holding up a hoof, Luna took a minute or two to think about something. Perhaps she was updating her guesses on what happened. Eventually, she merely said, “Continue.”

I sighed. “The exact details are lost to time. I don’t know if it was bad timing, or if Cadance was shocked by my appearance and couldn’t figure out what to do, or if she was deciding whether or not to wake me up, or whatever, but she must have overheard me mumble something important.

“When I did wake up, her behavior was obviously off. It took me a while to figure out why, but as soon as I was sure, I…flew into a panic. The flare was an accident, even if it was a predictable one. I tried to make the best of the situation and erased their memories.”

Uttering what could only be described as a long-suffering sigh, Luna asked, “Did you bother to find out if either of them had sent a message to my sister?”

“I…” I buried my face in my hooves. “No. I didn’t. I don’t think she did–”

Interrupting, Luna said without hesitation, “She did. The probability she didn’t is astronomically low.”

“But Celestia didn’t–”

Luna gave me a glare that said, ‘Stop being stupid.’

Had I admitted to more than I thought when I spoke with Celestia? But she hadn’t thrown me into the dungeon, and she had saved me instead of just throwing me off the Canterhorn.

No, no. Celestia didn’t kill foals.

But she had assigned Shining as my parole officer. She’d worded it nicely enough, but that described the situation perfectly. And Cadance would be spending a lot of time around me – well, Pupa – too.

But if Celestia already knew about me, then Pupa’s sacrifice was pointless. She’d just go retrieve the elements immediately and never let them out of her sight.

“Luna, have we lost?”

“No, Twilight.” Luna was obviously losing her patience with me. “Try again.”

That – something I believed was wrong. Luna asserted that Cadance had sent the message, so that wasn’t it. I didn’t see how we could possibly win if Celestia knew about our connection, so that couldn’t be it either. The only fact stringing them together was–

I facehoofed. “I think I owe Queen Chrysalis too much.”

“Yes, you do. Be sure to thank her for intercepting that message for us.”

She didn’t say them, but the two worst words in Equestrian were hanging in the air: I’m disappointed.

“I, uh…anyway,” I said, not really caring how gracefully I moved the conversation on so long as it moved on, “after that–”

“We’re not done yet, Twilight. What did you plan to do after you erased their memories?”

“I – I don’t know,” I mumbled, unable to look Luna in the eye.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know! I wasn’t thinking! But I would’ve had hours to come up with something.”

“You would’ve had hours,” Luna repeated. “Did you take that into account at the time, or are you just justifying your actions now in hindsight?”

Huh? What did that matter? “I…probably knew it at the time – perhaps in the background of my other thoughts. I was pretty distracted.”

Luna sighed, and I took a quick glance at her out of the corner of my eye. She caught me looking and gave me a small smile.

“Why don’t we declare your decision to immediately pounce neutral for now. If you really did think at least a little bit ahead, that is.”

“R-really? It wasn’t stupid?”

“Oh, no. It was stupid, but it was understandably stupid. However, you didn’t hesitate to do what you had to when your hoof was forced. That’s something, at least.”

Ugh. Way to build my hopes up and knock them down. Understandably stupid was still stupid, regardless of whatever virtue it had incidentally displayed.

“What should I have done?” I asked. More of my disappointment in myself leaked out than I’d expected, and Luna’s smile faded with it.

“I suppose I’ll have to ask for your forgiveness here, Twilight.”

What? What, what, what?

“You absorb theory and learn so quickly that I’ve forgotten how much you need raw experience. All the knowledge in the world won’t help you if you don’t know how to apply it.”

Oh. This was an ‘I’m over a hundred times older than you’ kind of thing.

Luna was completely right, though; I needed more hooves-on application slash practical experience. I’ve been improvising well, but now that she’d pointed it out, it was obvious that was really the only thing I knew how to do when I didn’t have hours or days to plan things out.

“I’ll take a week or two to revise your lesson plan accordingly so we can instill some decent instincts in you,” Luna continued, “but for now, why not ask yourself why you didn’t utilize a place you specifically built to flare in.”

Stars above, I was an idiot.

I had an entire cave system below Canterlot that I knew how to teleport into, a cave system which Shining and Cadance had no idea how to leave. I would’ve had all the time in the world to deal with them. I might’ve even been able to avoid flaring, although it wouldn’t really have mattered down there if I did.

Even if I didn’t have the crystal mine available, I could have teleported the three of us literally anywhere else in the world. Shining might have been able to counter my teleports after the first half-dozen or so, but he probably would’ve been too surprised to do it. And by then, I would’ve had them at the base of the Canterhorn where I could also work in peace.

Ugh, I was so stupid. I could have avoided…avoided destroying a large chunk of Canterlot if I had just stopped to think. Thinking was supposed to be what I did best!

A hoof rubbing my mane broke me out of my thoughts.

“Try not to blame yourself too much, Twilight. It’s unhealthy, and you’re learning.”

Sighing, I took a moment to lean into the affection. I really didn’t deserve it, but it was an irresistible siren call.

“We can move on now, Twilight. What happened next?”

“Well, I was unconscious for a while, so I’m working from the…emotionally charged version of events that I got from Queen Chrysalis. Everypony else’s story supported hers, though. Cadance in particular–”

“Twilight, while I am thrilled you have taken the time to cite sources and to analyze their biases, that will only distract you from the goal of this retelling. Please skip it.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. “My flare destroyed my house and… Horseapples! I never closed off the tunnel from my house to the mines. If anypony finds it–” I looked up at Luna, who looked unconcerned. “It’s…buried in rubble, isn’t it?”

“Probably. If not, it would be a very small hole set in a rugged mountainside that somepony important who had nothing better to do would have to notice. I wouldn’t imagine there are a large number of such ponies.”

“Right… Sorry for overreacting. Would you remind me to deal with that after I escape the castle?”

Luna shrugged that special way that said, ‘Sure, why not?’

Now that I’d noticed one of them, I knew I needed to spend a few hours thinking over all the little problems. I didn’t know how closely Celestia would be keeping her eye on me, but I couldn’t afford to leave any small clues lying around in the aftermath of the disaster.

Speaking of which, it was a good thing I didn’t have anything irreplaceable – like Luna’s research books – in my house yesterday. I doubted anything would’ve survived the fall.

“Thanks, Luna. So anyway, my house…fell on me. Obviously, I survived.”

Hmm… Luna had explicitly asked me not to die the morning before. What irony. I couldn’t help wondering what her initial reaction to this was. Disappointment? Concern?

I didn’t know which I’d prefer. Disappointment sort of implied she believed in me enough to naturally think I couldn’t have died, but it was still disappointment.

Well, whatever it was, Luna didn’t seem interested in sharing anything beyond a frown.

Skipping over how I survived, I said, “My flare apparently hit some of the main supporting structures of Canterlot. I made a quick trip to the archives, and…well, I kind of have a hard time believing something like this hasn’t happened before. I know it’s still my fault, and I don’t know what I would’ve done if anypony had actually” – I gulped – “died…but Canterlot isn’t very difficult to destroy. Not even the parts that rest directly on the cliff face.”

“And what would you recommend, Twilight?”

In no uncertain terms, I said, “Move the capital.”

Luna smiled. “That’s great to hear. I feared you might protest on sentimental grounds.”

“What? You are planning to move it? Where to? Certainly not back to the old castle, right?”

Waving her hoof dismissively, Luna said, “No, no. The old castle is finished. That is something my sister and I are in full agreement on. Rather, a few decades ago, a delightful little town named Hollow Shades was founded, and I quite fancy the atmosphere.”

Hollow Shades? I’d never heard of… Wait, wasn’t that the place in that forest? “Did it just recently get a connection to the Equestrian Railway?”

“Indeed. It’s west of Manehattan in the…” Luna’s eyes lit up in recognition, and she giggled for a moment. “Wow, I can’t believe I never made the connection.”

Oh, great. Here it came.

“I suppose I’ve just demonstrated that even I can miss things once in a while.”

Ugh! Just get on with it!

“Anyway, it’s west of Manehattan in the” – Luna snickered – “Twilight Forest.”

“Ugggggh! Not you, too. Please.”

“Oh?” Luna said, eyebrow raised. “While I would love to hear the story behind your distress, we should return to our primary topic.”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. “Where were we?”

“You were casually destroying Canterlot.”

Oh. Right. That. I blushed and turned away. “So…I ended up in the castle hospital with Cadance and Shining. Cadance recovered quickly. Shining…didn’t. There were a lot of other ponies injured, too. Shining said nopony died, but…but I really hope he wasn’t lying to me. He didn’t look like it, but he’d tell me the same thing whether or no–”

“Twilight. Facts. Chronological order.”

“Sorry, I just–” Falling to my haunch, I continued, “Nevermind. Just before Cadance got back on her hooves, Queen Chrysalis swapped Pupa and me. From my understanding of it, she told Cadance whatever the doctors would have told her and that ‘I’ was suffering from some other magical problem they couldn’t quite identify.”

“Which my niece,” Luna interjected, “interpreted as you having none of the emotional bonds she expected to find. Very clever. Please pass on my compliments. I assume she did not take it well.”

Sighing, I half-whispered, “The words distraught and hysterical came up when I talked to Squama – the changeling who actually made the swaps.”

“That’s not surprising. She is young for a pony and even younger for an alicorn.” After humming to herself, Luna continued, “I believe I can make a comparison you could fully appreciate.

“Post-ascension, I have no doubt you’ll be able to ‘see’ the magic in ponies. Suppose you ran into a pony who had no magic. Not suppressed, but simply not present.”

I shivered, knowing more or less that what Luna was going to say next would be horrifying. Not that having zero magic wasn’t already a horrifying thought.

“Now imagine you were the one that caused that…wrongness in the pony. That you had reached inside them, had torn their magic to shreds, and had simply erased it. That they’d lost something that you’d come to view as a core, defining part of what it means to be a pony. Something which a pony cannot be without and which cannot be without a pony. And you couldn’t even remember why you had done it. To a loved one, no less.”

Wow…

Wow.

That was such a different way of looking at it. I’d been thinking of Cadance’s powers in moral and existential terms. The way Luna presented them, it sounded like Cadance believed she had…what? Killed me and brought me back? It wasn’t a perfect comparison, but it was close. To Cadance, I was Twilight iff I had Twilight’s emotional attachments.

What was I supposed to do with that? Just how traumatized was Cadance over this? Over something she hadn’t even done?

Very, obviously. I’d seen just how horribly lost she’d been – and still was – firsthoof.

“Luna…” The question died on my lips.

“Yes, Twilight?”

I dared to look Luna in her eyes and ended up trapped. They said so much for her. I had to ask the question.

“Are we – are we bad ponies?”

Luna sighed.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “This isn’t how I wanted to spend the solstice with you.”

“I know, Twilight. But we can still have fun after we finish this. To answer your question, disregarding recent events, do you believe we are evil or in the wrong?”

“No.” That much I was sure of. I’d had to perform some somewhat morally questionable acts, but I hadn’t had much of a choice, considering how much time was at my disposal. And nopony ever got hurt. And ultimately, I’d even helped a bunch of ponies, too!

“Good. Now I assume you’ve played chess before–”

No. Chess is stupid. It’s all about who can memorize the most board positions.”

Luna suppressed a laugh and said, “Oh dear, somepony here is a sore loser, I believe.”

“It’s true!” Luna did not appear convinced. Sighing, I conceded, “I know how to play the game.”

“Then you know what a forced move is, correct?”

I nodded. I probably knew where Luna was going with this, but I wasn’t sure how to feel about it as an argument.

“The thing about forced moves, Twilight, is that you have to make them if you want to keep playing. You made some mistakes today which led us into a few forced moves, and we chose to continue the game. Think of it this way: if we did not, you would be dead right now.”

“But you said Celestia–”

“Yes, but you would be out of the game and stuck mortal. I won’t go so far as to say mortals are all already dead – something doesn’t have to last forever to have meaning – but you would die. Or do you believe my sister would ever agree to let you ascend?”

That was a simple question that needed no answer.

“Better to let your dear foalsitter have a finite depression – no matter how long – than for you to give up eternity. She will forgive and forget eventually, and she will be ecstatic that you are with her when she does.”

Something about that sounded – eyes widening, I asked “Does that mean you will – eventually – forgive–”

Luna’s scowl could’ve curdled milk.

“Yes, Twilight. You will, too. But the keyword is eventually.” With a snort of pure anger – or perhaps pure frustration – Luna readopted a smile. It was a small thing, but it was a smile. “Would you mind if we moved on?”

“No, that’s – that’s fine. So Cadance did her thing, and now Pupa is a perfect substitute for me.” And was going through an identity crisis. “After that, Pupa and I were swapped back.

“Next, I think Cadance and Celestia shared information with each other. Or maybe it was before. I don’t know for sure, and it didn’t seem important enough to ask about. I slept for a while, woke up, talked about what happened a bit, and then went back to sleep. Nothing important, really.”

Now, had anything important happened between then and when I next woke up?

Hmm… Not that I knew of. That may have been when Cadance ‘volunteered’ to help Shining recover, but that would be better discussed when I found out, rather than when it occurred.

“I next woke up to Cadance and Celestia.”

“Just to be clear,” Luna began, “you mean they were in the room together with you?”

I nodded, although I didn’t really get why that mattered.

“Please keep that to an absolute minimum. Pass that advice on to Pupa as well.”

“Um…sorry if this is a stupid question, but why?”

“I’m unsure of the exact details of how my niece interacts with her domain, but the more often you are in the same room as my sister, the more likely she will be to notice that you know me on a very personal level.”

“Oh,” I said flatly. “Yes, I’ll do that. That sounds very important.”

“It is. You might be able to pass it off as pining for somepony to defeat my sister for you–”

Especially if only gullible old Cadance were involved.

“–but that is, of course, a last resort.”

No doubt. Cadance was gullible, but even she was only willing to believe so much. Although it was a great desperation plan. There were plenty of stories of ponies falling in love with perfect, idealized versions of other ponies they’d built up in their imagination. It was hard to believe, but not impossible.

The worst part was I wasn’t even sure if it was easier or more difficult to believe that of somepony like myself. I did tend to get caught up in my imagination. Oh well.

“I’ll tell Pupa that, too,” I said. “But after I woke up, Cadance left the room posthaste. Once she was gone, the interrogation began. Celestia had found out I’ve been using dark magic from my medical examination. I guess Queen Chrysalis either didn’t know about it, had an incomplete examination to tell Cadance, was pressed for time–”

Seeing Luna’s recently very familiar ‘get on with it’ face, I said, “Ehem. Queen Chrysalis didn’t manage to intercept that information for me. That questioning ended with Shining – and Cadance to some degree – becoming my parole officer. More or less. With the promise of some future conversation after Shining heals…

“I don’t envy Pupa my life.”

Ignoring the snickering, I continued, “After that, and in the context of Trixie, Celestia asked me how much I knew about…you.”

After a terrible silence, one far longer than Luna had ever stopped to think before, she finally said, “Interesting…”

“You’re not mad?”

“I am annoyed that my sister was reminded that you know about me. You will need to be careful to see that she isn’t spying on you in the coming weeks before you depart Equus. Still, that, at least, is not your fault. Rather, I’m far more interested in what exactly Trixie knows.”

“If anything anymore,” I commented.

It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Celestia would let Trixie stay in the know, but it seemed unlikely. She probably only let me go free because she’d have to erase over a year of my memory, and because Cadance certainly wouldn’t be happy about that.

“Quite,” Luna mumbled. “But if she does know part of my sister’s plans now, we have quite an opportunity laid before us.”

“I’ll get right on it!”

After all, Trixie was in the castle. I was in the castle. Why, it would be simply improbable if we didn’t bump into each other and have a heart-to-heart conversation after everything that had happened. Unbelievable even.

So long as Celestia hadn’t told Trixie to stay away from me, that was. That could prove problematic, although I could claim ignorance of such a command.

“And by right on it, I meant after I wake up.”

Nodding, Luna asked, “So was that everything important?”

“Except for one thing, yes. At some point, Cadance decided to take the entire blame upon herself, which I understand why more now. She’s effectively being sent back to – well, she never actually attended it before, being a former pegasus and all. She’s basically being sent to magic kindergarten. Among other things.”

“Oh my,” Luna said, eyes wide. “And at her age. How embarrassing.”

“I know, right?” It was my fault, but I still couldn’t help but laugh. “It sounds like a nightmare.”

Luna dramatically looked from side to side and sidled up to me. “I heard her parents were neglectful,” she whispered.

I gasped. “No way! You’re saying–”

“They never taught her unicorn magic.”

“Oh, the scandal! What kind of world do we live in these days where fillies are so uneducated?”

“A truly terrible one. Why if I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d never had the chance to learn how to preen.”

Oh, stars. That had certainly been one of our more intimate moments. Luna had caught me in the midst of a dream about flying, and one thing had led to another. Preening had turned out to be a really personal act.

Chuckling at my embarrassment, Luna said, “Well, it is true that she needs to learn more non-pegasus, non-alicorn magic.”

“It must be pretty embarrassing being a goddess without knowing how to smite ponies,” I said, recovering enough to keep the joke going.

“Not that somepony of her temperament has much smiting to get in.”

“To be fair, she’s known to make ponies smitten on occasion.”

“I thought the only pony she’d smote was herself with your brother.”

“Hey! That conjugation doesn’t work!”

“Oh? I say it does.”

“Does not!”

“And just who is the authority figure here?”

I suppressed a laugh as I watched Luna fall to the ground, now filly-sized and looking absolutely ridiculous.

“I believe that would be me,” I answered. “It is my dream, after all.”

Luna rose to her hooves with a grunt. “I think you’re looking to be smote yourself.”

“Maaaaaybe, but” – I teleported directly in front of Luna and bopped her on the nose – “you’ll have to catch me first. You’re it.”

Jumping into the air, I materialized a pair of wings for myself and flew off.

After a few seconds, I turned my head back to see how closely Luna was following; she was by far my senior in flying. I slowed down when I found her missing. And then grunted when I bumped into her.

“You’re it,” Luna said, her voice barely recognizable as a filly. She promptly disappeared in a flash of magic.

“Wha…” It took a half-second for what had happened to click in my mind. “Lunaaaaa! Teleporting is cheating!”

I heard a giggle from…nowhere. Or maybe it was everywhere. “Apparently not. It is your dream, after all.”

Rolling my eyes, I changed my dream’s logic to disallow unicorn magic. It only took me a second to spot Luna flailing around above me and to my right. It would seem I’d just knocked her out of an interesting spell that I’d have to ask about later.

I dashed toward her before she could recover.

And ran into a dark gray storm cloud.

As I coughed up water and struggled out of the cloud, Luna bucked it back out of existence, thus sending me tumbling downward, still soaked.

“You’ve got a lot to learn about pegasus magic, Twilight.”

I spread my wings and pulled out of a nosedive with more stress than I would’ve liked. My wings probably weren’t big enough for the really crazy tricks, but that meant Luna’s weren’t either. Then again, she had infinitely more experience than me.

This might be difficult.

Luna wasn’t even bothering to fly anymore as I pursued her. Instead, she hopped from cloud to cloud, each one forming at her hooves at the base of her jump. It was definitely slower than flying.

“And more maneuverable,” I grumbled as I flew right past Luna. She had simply stopped fleeing and, very casually, had sidestepped me, evading my outstretched hoof by the tiniest distance.

I turned back around and found Luna lazing around on a particularly large cloud, feigning disinterest. I made a beeline toward her, but kept my speed slow enough so I’d be able to make a sharp turn this time.

And as I suspected, when I got close enough, Luna let herself fall into the cloud. The last time she had disappeared, it had been to my right, so I gambled on her doing that again and veered right and down. A moment later, I got lucky and ran straight into Luna. Well, maybe it was a bit unlucky; we bumped heads and wings, which sent us spinning off through the air in a tangled mess.

We landed on a cloud – Luna must have made it – and tumbled head over tail once or twice.

Dazed, I mumbled, “You’re it.”

A hoof gently nudged me; Luna had recovered annoyingly quickly.

“You’re it.”

I lifted my head to find Luna. She wasn’t very far away. I could probably reach out and touch her, although she’d likely just dodge. Collapsing back onto the cloud, my breathing ragged, I said, “You win.”

“Ah ha! And with that I score a double victory!”

“‘Had smote’ is still incorrect.”

Tickling me with her wings, Luna asked, “What was that?”

“‘H-had s-smote’ is s-still wr-wr–”

I lost it as Luna redoubled her efforts to tickle me into submission. And it worked.

“I give! I give!”

As I struggled to catch my breath, Luna said, “As it should be! Try again in a couple centuries, and maybe you’ll have a chance.”

“Well, sorry,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I didn’t – didn’t know you spent so much time practicing tag.”

Luna smirked and stretched out her wings again menacingly.

“Wait, wait! I’m sorry! Just let me – let me catch my breath first.”

Giggling herself, Luna said, “Very well. I shall grant you your reprieve.” Sighing, she continued, “Oh, how long has it been since I last played tag? I must have been less than two centuries old. That was so long ago. Perhaps we should make something of a tradition of the game in place of the Summer Sun Festival.”

Sitting up – just barely – I asked, “How so? Alicorns against Equestria?”

“Or maybe Equestria against Alicorns. It’d be a lot fairer for us if we didn’t have to hunt down every last Equestrian to win.”

“But it’s not really fair to them if we just make a one AU jump off-planet.”

“Well, perhaps we could have some sort of strange abstract concept thing that limits what actions are available to us. But what ever could we possibly call that mysterious phenomenon of self-restriction?”

“Blegh,” I said, collapsing again. I was done with that conversation.

“Still, you surprised me, Twilight. I didn’t know you had such an energetic side to you.”

“I guess.” It’d just felt like it’d be fun. And it had been. Maybe I was subconsciously just trying to forget my problems and move on for the moment, but whatever. I was in too good of a mood to wax melancholic right now.

“But I don’t think I’d make this an everyday kind of thing. Sparring is already more than enough exercise for me, even if it’s all just in my mind.”

“Oh, Twilight,” Luna said. “You’re so lazy.”

“Humph! I prefer the term ‘sedentary’.”

“Heh. I don’t believe that’s any more flattering a word.”

“Wanna bet?” I asked, instantly regretting my words. I’d just invited round two upon myself.

Luna flew past me, tagging me with her hoof.

“You’re it.”