" And the next thing I knew, the spaceponies were on top of me! They captured me with their immobilizing ion ray, hoisted me on to their mysterious whirring spaceship, and strapped me to a table! I had to just lie there while they probed me with their-"
"Watt," Cloudcover interrupted. "By any chance, are you making this up as you go along?"
"Well, yeah," Watt said. "But I really did get abducted by spaceponies one time! It's just, instead of spiriting me away to their ship and performing horrific experiments, we just went out and got pizza and saw a movie. But c'mon, what kind of freaky science fiction story can I make out of that?"
Cloudcover had no response, so instead he changed the subject.
"Oh look Watt, we're here."
The sun was already ducking behind the horizon as the two stallions once again trotted up to the door of Equestria Speedy Shipping Services. A note was tacked to the outside.
Watt, Cloudcover, and Glow, please report to me immediately upon returning from your assignments.
"That's peculiar," Cloudcover admitted. "Let's check in with the boss and see what's up."
In a moment, both ponies were entering the office of Candyfloss, who was busy paging through some records.
"Hiya, Dr. C!" Watt proclaimed. "You wanted to see us?"
"Ah, hello you two," Candyfloss said. "I hate to keep you, since it's already getting late, but a matter of severe importance has come up, and I need you two to aid Ditzy and Breeze with an emergency assignment."
"What sort of assignment?" Cloudcover asked.
Candyfloss described the situation at hoof, and how Ditzy and Breeze were still working with Princess Luna. Cloudcover's expression filled with surprise, and Watt's with sheer excitement.
"I need you two to report to Canterlot immediately to help with this cause," Candyfloss finished. "Any questions?"
"One, actually," said Cloudcover. "Has Glow already been dispatched on this mission?"
Candyfloss frowned deeply. "Glow has not returned from what I expected to be a simple daily assignment," he mumbled.
Cloudcover looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Sir
" he began hesitantly. "Would you even consider that perhaps
perhaps Glow doesn't always have the company's best interests in mind?"
Candyfloss let loose a huge sigh. "To rephrase your question, Cloudcover, you suspect Glow of attempting to impede Ditzy and Breeze's mission, am I correct?"
" Cloudcover stuttered. "I mean
given the circumstances
Candyfloss nodded solemnly. "I am aware of Glow's less then friendly attitude toward the rest of you, and particularly towards Ditzy Doo, but I've been cutting her some slack since she's such a wonderful shipper. I don't want to believe it, but it is quite possible that she's attempting to compromise the success of the assignment, in which case I must urge the two of you to make haste in getting to Ditzy and Breeze's side."
"Will do, sir!" Watt said, and he and his companion turned to go.
Suddenly, Candyfloss sat bolt upright in his chair; colored sparks arced from his horn and danced through the air.
"Boss?" asked Cloudcover questioningly. "Are you okay?"
"My arbitrary shipping senses are trying to tell me something," Candyfloss whispered. "You know, the senses that tell me what to do to help a random somepony find the mare or stallion they're looking for."
The unicorn sat quietly for a moment before speaking again. "I need you two to do a small favor for me. Just don't ask for the logic behind it; as always, I have no idea how this action will lead to somepony's successful relationship."
"Well, what is it?" the pegasus asked.
Candyfloss paused before speaking.
"Cloudcover, you are familiar with Ditzy's daughter Dinky, right?"
"Take her with you to Canterlot."
Cloudcover started. "Wh-what?"
"Please." Candyfloss insisted.
Bewildered, Cloudcover nodded slowly and left, with Watt trailing behind. The latter called out "You're the boss, Candyfloss!" as he vanished from the room.
"Sometimes I baffle even myself," Candyfloss whispered as he watched his employees leave. "But I'm sure this will somehow lead to a positive result. It always does."
The unicorn glanced down at the records he had been perusing; there was Glow's smug face, smiling up from the picture.
A thought struck the stallion, and he turned to glance at the shipping hotline telephone on his desk.
I need to get to the bottom of all this. It's time to make a few calls.
The royal ballroom was decorated so lavishly, it was as if preparations were underway for the Grand Galloping Gala. No average pony would suspect all this adornment was simply for a small party hosted by Princess Luna, with only six guests on the invitees' list.
Ditzy and Breeze hovered near the ceiling, securing another long, beautiful banner into place between two columns. For the umpteenth time, both ponies scanned the room for any sign of the malicious unicorn they suspected was still lurking nearby. But there was no sign of Glow; she had vanished after her brief confrontation with Breeze, and hadn't reappeared yet. But the pegasi were growing increasingly wary.
Princess Luna, on the other hoof, was still not aware that anything was wrong. She hummed loudly to herself as she examined the contents of the long tables, checking to assure all the food and ornaments she wished to provide were present and accounted for. Her pegasus assistants floated down to join her as she stood back and admired her handiwork.
"I do hope Twilight Sparkle and her friends enjoy the party," the princess said quietly. "It is imperative that I leave a good impression on all of them, since I am certain that at least a few of them are uncertain about being in my presence."
"Everything looks lovely, princess," Ditzy said. "I'm sure they'll all have a great time."
"They should be here any minute," Breeze reminded the princess.
Luna realized the time and gasped, rushing to the door to wait to greet her guests. Ditzy and Breeze were given a final moment for a private discussion.
"Still no sign of Glow, huh?" Breeze whispered.
"Nope," said Ditzy. "Maybe she's going to leave us alone?"
"I wish I could believe that," Breeze said. "But more likely she's hidden somewhere, waiting for the party to start."
she could be right behind us, and we wouldn't know it," Ditzy realized. "Why does she have to be a unicorn? We can fly, but she can use all sorts of sneaky and unpredictable techniques against us."
"Just relax for now, and keep an eye out," Breeze said. "I think Watt and Cloudcover will be here soon; we just need to keep things under control for a little while longer."
There was a great commotion at the door as a cacophony of voices approached. The pegasi could hear the high pitched yammering of Pinkie Pie and the arguing voices of Applejack and Rainbow Dash. Rarity could be heard loudly gushing about the beauty of Canterlot, and Twilight and Fluttershy's quiet voices even carried in the large, echoing hall.
"Come on, we have to go to the kitchen and get our disguises again," Breeze said, motioning toward the swinging double doors. Quickly, the two ponies disappeared through the doors as Luna's guests entered the hall.
"Welcome, Twilight Sparkle, and her most esteemed companions," Luna said. "Is has been far too long since all of us came together at a happy occasion such as this. To show my appreciation for all of you, and the things you have done for me in the past, I have decided to throw you a most splendid party. I do hope you enjoy it."
Pinkie Pie gasped as she gazed past Luna at the lavishly decorated hall.
this is an amazing party! Even I have to work pretty hard to set up a party like this one!"
"I agree, it looks
" Fluttershy squeaked, equally amazed by the scene set before her despite her lingering apprehension of the Princess.
"See girls," said Twilight, turning to her friends. "I told you this would be just fine. Now let's just have some fun and enjoy Princess Luna's hospitality!"
"Yes!" Luna agreed. "And feel free to ask the staff members for aid if anything is not to your liking."
The six ponies and their princess trotted into the hall and soon were celebrating merrily, eating, dancing, and playing games with one another.
From the kitchen, Ditzy and Breeze watched, scanning the room again and again for any sign of something amiss. Breeze glanced at the clock; it was six in the evening, and the party was scheduled to go until nine.
These are going to be the longest three hours of my life, the red pegasus thought to himself. Watt, Cloudcover, where are you?
The Canterlot express chugged along the mountainous track, bound for Equestria's capitol city. Seated in one passenger car was a white pegasus, a yellow earth pony, and a young, purple-grey unicorn.
"I've got to say, Dinky," Cloudcover said. "I didn't expect you to just come along with us on a whim so easily. I mean, we don't even know why we're bringing you, except that Candyfloss told us to."
Dinky smiled. "Well, it's not a school night anyway, and you aren't a stranger or anything; I'm sure mom would be okay with it. In fact, we're going to the same place she's at anyway, aren't we?"
"That's true," said Cloudcover thoughtfully. "I guess I shouldn't have doubted that you'd want to come along; your mom's always telling Breeze and I about how interested you are in the shipping business. And if Candyfloss sensed that you could help, I should have assumed that everything would work out. His shipping senses don't activate if there's going to be any resistance; they must have known you'd be willing to come along."
Watt glanced out the window. "I just hope we get there in time to help," he said. "Cloudcover, you and I could have been there by now if we didn't have to pick up the little squirt here, and then take the train."
"Oh, well excuse me for not being able to keep up with an adult pegasus and the world's fastest earth pony," Dinky said, a bit sassily.
There was a brief pause, and then both the filly and Watt chuckled.
"You're all right, kid," Watt said. "Not afraid to put your opinion out there, just like your mom."
"Watt has a point, though," Cloudcover said. "Dinky, all we know is that your presence will help somepony, somewhere, with their relationship. I just hope we haven't ruined our chances of fulfilling the princess's request by honoring this one."
"Eh, Dr. C has never steered us wrong before, I guess," Watt said, putting his forehooves behind his head in a reclined position. "Besides, how much trouble could Cosmo possibly stir up, anyhow?"
Cloudcover wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer as he stared at the castle's silhouette on the horizon.
Darkness covered the castle grounds. Cosmic Glow slunk along, staying low to the ground, avoiding the gaze of the nearby night guards. The purple disaster-for-hire Screwball trotted along obliviously behind her.
"For Celestia's sake, Screwball," Glow whispered. "Can't you at least try to stay hidden? You're going to get us caught."
"Hidden?" asked Screwball. "Okay!"
With a tiny, gleeful hop, she leapt into the air, and landed perfectly in one of Glow's saddlebags. She was far too big to fit, but, never one to obey the laws of physics, she disappeared into its tiny interior, not even causing the bag to bulge.
Her weight, unfortunately, did not change, and Glow staggered sideways from the sudden sensation of supporting another whole pony.
"That's not going to work," she hissed. "I'm too off balance with you in there."
There was a moment of shuffling, and then Glow watched as Screwball's back legs, hindquarters, and tail climbed out of the bag, strode across her back, and leapt into the other bag. Disturbing as the spectacle was, it did provide a much more even distribution of weight.
"Alright, fine. Whatever," said Glow, already getting fed up with the creature she'd only known for a few hours. "Let's just get inside."
Again, Glow turned herself invisible. She was no virtuoso of the magical arts, but this was one trick she had mastered, and she was particularly fond of it. Sneaking between two bored-looking castle guards proved to be a simple task.
Dropping the cloaking spell, Glow trotted quietly through the dim halls of the castle, making her way towards the ballroom. Within a few minutes, she reached its huge wooden doors; music, talking, and laughter could be heard coming from the other side.
"Ditzy and Breeze are going to be on the lookout for us," Glow whispered to her companion. "We need a secret way in."
Screwball did not respond. Glow turned to stare quizzically at her saddlebags; both were still weighed down, so why wasn't Screwball responding.
The unicorn lifted the flap on each bag, and sighed. One bag was stuffed to the brim with spiral screws; the other was packed with baseballs. But the pony that had inhabited them before was nowhere to be found.
Figures, Glow thought. I knew I couldn't trust Discord to give me decent help.
Suddenly, one of the gleaming floor tiles burst from the floor; Screwball climbed out from the crawlspace beneath it.
"Secret!" she whispered excitedly, motioning wildly to the tiny passageway.
Glow poked her head into the filthy space beneath the floor. It was small, but still big enough for a pony to squeeze through. Plus, it led right underneath the ballroom. Glow glanced at Screwball, impressed.
"You aren't as useless as you look!"
The unicorn stepped down into the opening, motioning for Screwball to follow.
"Alright then," she whispered. "Let's start crashing a party. Ready to cause a little chaos, Screwball?"
Screwball nodded eagerly.
"Good," Glow whispered, chuckling darkly. "Very good
"Rarity, if it's not too much of a bother, could you get me some more punch?"
"Of course, Fluttershy, darling."
Rarity sauntered over to the table, carrying both hers and Fluttershy's glasses in her magic's aura. She was completely unaware of the new arrivals, who were now crouched beneath the long table, hidden by the long, dangling tablecloth.
"Okay, Screwball," Glow whispered. "Do something. Anything."
Screwball appeared to be concentrating intently, but it was hard to tell considering her eyes contained only swirls. She waited until Rarity had moved to a certain position, then suddenly jerked upward, slamming her head against the underside of the table. This caused the punch bowl directly above to fly up in a graceful arc, and land upside down on Rarity's head, covering her pristine white coat with purple punch.
Rarity's shrill cry immediately caught the attention of the other partygoers. They raced to her side as the unicorn shook violently, trying to throw the dark liquid from her coat.
"Rarity! What happened?" Twilight asked.
"I have no idea!" Rarity wailed. "The punch just
flew into the air! And now I'm covered in it!"
"Relax," said Rainbow Dash. "Just go wash it out. It's just punch; it's not like it'll stain your fur."
Rarity laughed nervously. "Yes, you're right Rainbow. I'll just
just go wash up
Rarity trotted to the restrooms, and after a moment, the other ponies began to return to their previous festive mood as a janitor arrived to mop up the punch. He dipped his mop into the puddle, then moved it to the bucket to rinse it. But, strangely, once submerged, the mop remained purple.
"Now what do you make of that?" the janitor said to Twilight, who was standing nearby. "It's almost like the punch has some kinda' permanent color."
Twilight's pupils contracted. "Uh-oh
The scream that issued from the washroom a moment later was even shriller than the earlier one. All the ponies and the princess rushed to aid Rarity, who doubtlessly was discovering that her coat was now a new permanent color.
Glow turned to Screwball with an impressed expression. "You enchanted the punch with permanent color? Brilliant!"
Screwball just grinned, and her propeller beanie spun wildly.
Standing in the kitchen door, Ditzy and Breeze exchanged glances.
"You think that was Glow?" Ditzy asked.
"Might be," said Breeze. "We'd better go investigate."
As the two pegasi approached the table, a flash erupted from beneath it. Somepony had just teleported.
"Crud," said Breeze. "It is Glow. Dang it, where in Equestria are Watt and Cloudcover? We need them before things get really out of hoof!"
Luna emerged from the washrooms first, looking worried. She approached Ditzy and Breeze.
"Twilight and her friends are still trying to comfort Rarity," she said. "Do you know what happened to the punch?"
Breeze sighed, realizing it was time to come clean. He turned back to Luna and took a deep breath before speaking.
"Princess, I'm afraid somepony is trying to sabotage the party."
The Princess's expression remained unreadable. "Then you must take care of this saboteur before he or she ruins the evening." she said.
The shippers did not expect such a straightforward response. "We're
we're trying," Breeze stuttered.
"That's not good enough," said Luna levelly. "The description of the services your company provides includes any and all behind-the-scenes work for the benefit of the client and their pony of interest."
" said Breeze. "And?"
" Luna continued. "That means that you are fully responsible for handling the situation, no matter how serious it may be. You will NOT allow this saboteur to ruin the party, if you have any hope of earning a reward. Am I making myself clear?"
"Crystal clear, princess," Ditzy said.
Luna nodded curtly and proceeded to the table to wait for the others to return from the washroom. Ditzy and Breeze breathed worried sighs; there were still over two hours to go. Could they hope to keep the party from descending into complete chaos for that long?
The evening went downhill more quickly than anypony had expected.
Glow, who was now crouched in her passageway beneath the floor again, was quite intrigued by Screwball's abilities; sure, the unicorn could easily have used her magic to dump punch on somepony's head, but she couldn't have made it stain permanently like the little creature of chaos had. Now Rarity was complaining that she would have to shave her coat, and hide in her boutique for weeks until it re-grew. Her generally dour mood was putting a damper on the festive mood of the party; in other words, Glow's plan was beginning to work.
It was equally fun for Glow to watch Ditzy and Breeze scamper about, trying desperately to find her without alerting the party guests that anything was wrong. They were failing, of course, but perhaps they'd do better once Cloudcover and Watt arrived. Glow decided to launch another prank before that happened.
"Screwball," she whispered, pointing out of the gap in the tiles to a yellow pony she had been observing for the last few minutes. "That yellow pegasus seems pretty jumpy. See if you can do something to give her a good scare, since she doesn't look like she can take it."
Screwball smiled and motioned to the balloons tied to the railing nearby. "Kaboom!" she squealed excitedly.
Glow looked skeptical. "You're
going to make the balloons pop? I guess that works, I just figured you'd be more
Screwball wasn't listening. She watched intently until Fluttershy was near a stray balloon. Then the chaos pony clapped her front hooves together.
The balloon not only burst, it blew forth an enormous sound, as loud as a cannon blast, right behind Fluttershy. The pegasus shrieked and jumped ten feet in the air, floating for an instant right next to a whole cluster of balloons.
Again, Screwball clapped her front hooves.
The resulting sound as all the balloons magically burst was deafening. Fluttershy was literally blown to the ground by a sound as loud as a bomb. Completely unable to move, the pegasus simply lied there, her usually butter yellow coat gone almost completely white with fear, and her whole body quivering like gelatin.
Glow had to shove a hoof into her own mouth to avoid bursting into laughter as all the other startled ponies rushed to Fluttershy's side.
"Fluttershy! Are you okay, sugarcube?" Applejack asked with concern.
Fluttershy didn't respond; she stared at the ceiling, her eyes wide and unblinking. She continued to shake violently all over.
"Princess," asked Twilight. "What happened? What was in those balloons?"
"I don't know!" The princess responded defensively. "Perhaps there was some mixup with the compressed helium and some other, more volatile gas? I'm
I'm certain it was a simple misunderstanding
"Here, Fluttershy," Pinkie said. "Let me get you some water."
The pink pony hoped over to the table and filled a cup for her friend. She also snatched up a couple of cupcakes for herself.
Screwball pointed excitedly from their hiding spot. Glow looked at Pinkie Pie, unsure what Screwball was planning.
"Whatever you're asking to do, go ahead and do it." Glow said. "I'm sure it will be hilarious."
Up above, the pink earth pony returned to her group of friends, carefully administering the water to Fluttershy. The pegasus gave a little gasp and finally came to her senses, but it was obvious that it would be a while before she calmed down.
"There you go, Flutters," said Pinkie. "You're looking better already!"
With a grin, Pinkie tossed one of the cupcakes into her mouth, chewed briefly and swallowed contently. A split second passed, and suddenly, the hyper mare's happy expression changed to one of surprise and disgust.
"No! It can't be!" she cried suddenly, startling the others, who were still clustered around Fluttershy. Desperately, she tore open the other cupcake, and looked on in horror as the contents she suspected became visible; a greenish-grey cake substance, crawling with earthworms.
"The Baked Bads! They have returned from beyond the grave!" Pinkie wailed, falling dramatically over backwards. Already, the poor mare could feel her stomach cramping from the one she had consumed; Baked Bads had a nasty track record for upsetting the stomach of anypony (save for Spike) who dared to devour them.
"But that's impossible!" said Applejack, cringing as she remembered her involvement in the original Baked Bads incident. Delicately, she lifted the tainted treat. A slimy worm poked its head out and peered at her. The earth pony dropped the cupcake in disgust.
"Maybe there was some sort of
problem in the kitchen," Luna said apologetically. "Please excuse me while I speak with the chefs."
"Take your time
" said Pinkie weakly, who was beginning to turn green as she suppressed the growing urge to vomit.
Luna cantered into the kitchen, quickly coming face to face with two very concerned looking pegasi.
"You two had best sort this mess out very soon," the princess warned. "I mean, what kind of assistants are you? You didn't even notice when somepony switched out the cupcakes for that trash?"
"Nopony touched the cupcakes!" Ditzy insisted. "The bad ingredients must have been magically placed there."
"Impossible!" Luna declared. "Nopony can simply alter the structure of food like that; it's simply not in the realm of unicorn ability. Now, I don't care what you have to do; take care of this threat before the party is ruined, or so help me
Luna didn't finish her sentence. She just turned in a huff and marched back outside.
The party was beginning to lose what little energy it had left. Rarity still looked mopey, Fluttershy was barely able to stand, and Pinkie Pie was gagging and clutching a paper bag in case she couldn't overcome the nausea. The princess sighed and racked her brain for a way to liven things up.
"Why don't we move on and play some games," she asked. "Maybe it will take everypony's minds off all these accidents?"
"That sounds like a good idea," Twilight said. "Anypony up for it?"
Applejack and Rainbow Dash nodded. After much coaxing, Rarity convinced Fluttershy to pick herself up and join in. Pinkie, not wanting to be a party pooper, hobbled over as well.
Somepony had set up a pin-the-tail-on-the-pony poster. It was a fairly generic pastime, to be sure, but at this point, Luna was looking for something distracting and mind-numbing to alleviate the lingering hard feelings. Glow, however, had other plans.
"Listen closely, Screwball," she whispered. "I have a good plan to mess this one up." She whispered her idea to the pinkish pony, who simply nodded. The two mischief makers waited until it was the princess's turn.
Gingerly, Luna stepped forward, trying to find the spot to place the fake tail despite the blindfold she wore. But suddenly, a few blocks of stone in the floor, manipulated from afar by Screwball, caused the princess to lose her balance and stagger sideways toward the watching friends.
Applejack ducked just in time as Luna swung her head in an attempt to keep her balance. The earth pony avoided any injury
but her hat wasn't so lucky. Applejack's favorite accessory wound up skewered on Luna's horn as the princess finally failed to maintain her balance and fell over.
"What happened?" she asked bluntly, removing the blindfold.
"Consarn' it!" Applejack cursed. "You darn near killed me, Princess! And look at what'cha did to my hat!
Luna glanced up at Applejack's signature headgear, torn and dangling pathetically from her horn. "I'm so sorry, Applejack," she apologized. "I don't know what happened, I just lost my balance."
"Let's not get too worked up over a little accident," Twilight implored. "Everypony's fine, and Applejack has more hats at home, don't you AJ?"
"Yeah, I guess," Applejack said. She sat down, grumpily.
"This'n was my favorite, though."
"Perhaps we should play something else," said Luna. "Would anypony like to try to break the piñata?"
"Ooh! Me!" Pinkie Pie jumped up excitedly, but the action did not sit well with her stomach, and she quickly sat back down, looking queasy.
"Let me at it!" Rainbow Dash declared. "I'll wreck the thing in ten seconds flat!"
Rainbow Dash was led to the dangling piñata and blindfolded. The pegasus hovered in the air, swinging a bat forcefully at the colorful, treat filled paper craft.
"We haven't done a thing to that pony yet," Glow observed. "Go ahead Screwball. You pick what kind of chaos we use this time."
Rainbow laughed as she whizzed through the air, missing the piñata by inches again and again. Finally, she floated right in front of her target.
"I've got you now!"
Rainbow wound up and took a mighty swing, the bat connecting dead center with the piñata.
To everypony's surprise, the piñata burst open, and deposited an anvil right on top of poor Rainbow Dash, who plummeted to the ground under its weight.
Glow couldn't take it anymore; she buried her face in her hooves, trying to stifle the fit of laughter.
Rainbow Dash's friends immediately rushed over to lift the heavy object off of their friend. Luckily, Rainbow was able to stand, but she definitely looked like she was in pain.
"What's the big idea, princess?" Rainbow growled. "What kind of wacko puts an anvil in a piñata?"
Luna looked more dumbfounded than anything else. "I
it was full of candy before, I swear
"Yeah, sure," Rainbow said sarcastically. "I'm all for a good prank, princess, but that was taking it a bit far, don't you think?"
To illustrate her point, Rainbow winced as she tried to take a step.
"Sweet Celestia, this is gonna' hurt in the morning."
The guests were all beginning to look to Luna rather uncomfortably. Applejack and Rainbow, quicker to accuse then the rest, just looked outright angry.
The princess bit her lip in frustration. She was on very thin ice now; if anything else went wrong, she was certain the others would turn on her and everything would be ruined.
Where is this blasted party crasher? Luna thought. And why can't my hired help stop her?
Watt screeched to a halt, skidding several feet on the cobblestone streets of downtown Canterlot. Cloudcover caught up a moment later, with Dinky trailing behind, panting as she tried to keep up.
Finally, the three of them had reached their destination; at the end of the street sat the grand entrance to Canterlot castle, gleaming in the moonlight.
"Whoa," Dinky breathed. "That place is huge."
"What did you expect?" Watt asked. "You can see it from Ponyville."
"Come on!" Cloudcover urged. "We're behind schedule. Let's get up there!"
The two stallions dashed ahead, and Dinky, eager to see what kind of situation was unfolding, followed as quickly as her little legs would carry her. Upon arriving at the castle, a guard directed them to the back entrance to the kitchen behind the ballroom, and they stepped inside, immediately catching sight of the disguised Ditzy and Breeze, who were still watching the unfolding scene outside through the window in the kitchen doors.
"Did somepony call for backup?" Watt asked.
Startled, the two pegasi turned around. "There you guys are!" Breeze said. "What the hay took you so long?"
"Candyfloss instructed us to bring a
a passenger," Cloudcover said, stepping aside to reveal the filly behind him.
"Hi, mom!" Dinky chirped.
Ditzy's jaw dropped at the sight of her daughter. "Dinky? But
what?" She babbled incoherently. "Wait, Candyfloss sent you? Why?"
Cloudcover shrugged. "You know how he is. Apparently, Dinky being in Canterlot tonight will help somepony with a relationship situation. We can only hope it's this one, but Candyfloss doesn't know for sure."
Ditzy frowned. "Alright," she said finally. "But Dinky needs to stay back here, where it's safe. We don't know what else Glow is planning."
"So ol' Cosmo is up to no good then?" Watt asked. "We figured as much."
"She's becoming quite a nuisance, actually," Breeze admitted. "And we can't stop her. She's completely hidden, wherever she is. And the methods she's using to ruin the party
they just don't make any sense. No unicorn should be able to do some of the stuff that's been happening."
"Hey!" Watt said suddenly. "Maybe Dinky can help us find her!"
Cloudcover shook his head. "Dinky doesn't know any magic, remember?"
A pang of dread struck Ditzy as Cloudcover's words reminded her of Dinky's rejection from the Academy, and, by extension, the looming debt. Dinky still didn't know about these circumstances herself, but Ditzy's last chance of escaping from at least one of them was rapidly fading as Luna's party deteriorated.
"Get your disguises on," Ditzy commanded the two other shippers. "Maybe the four of us can still find Glow before it's too late."
A shrill cry pierced the air; somepony in the ballroom had screamed.
"It might already be too late," Breeze said, rushing to the doors with the rest of the shippers to see what had happened.
Glow watched in shock; Screwball had outdone herself this time.
As Luna and her guests congregated around the table to cut the cake, the chaos pony had worked her magic once again. It was a simple prank this time; with a wave of her hoof, she had caused the multi-layered cake to fly into the air, and drop down right onto the head of Twilight Sparkle.
What impressed Glow about this was the extra touch Screwball had added. Before the cake was launched, Screwball had taken the time to surround it in an artificial, midnight blue aura, so that it appeared to everypony in the room that Luna herself had dropped the cake on her friend.
Glow smiled devilishly. This was it; she was certain that now, the battle was won.
All of Twilight's friends looked at Luna in shock as the young unicorn struggled to shake off all the cake. Luna, as utterly baffled as the rest of them, sputtered some incoherent phrases, riddled with a mixture of confused and apologetic elements.
"Twilight! I'm sorry
I mean, it wasn't me... I know, it looked like it was me, but that was
I mean, this is a mistake
Slowly, Twilight turned to look at Luna, attempting to brush a few more gobs of icing out of her mane. Her eyes were full of disappointment.
"You know what, princess Luna?" she asked softly. "I know that you were hoping this party would help us all become better friends. And I know sometimes, figuring out the ways of friendship is very hard; believe me, I've been through it all myself."
She sighed before continuing. "But tonight
tonight, we've all just been sullied, scared, sickened, offended, injured, and generally humiliated. I don't know how, I don't know why, and I don't know how much of it had to do with you. But there's simply been too many 'accidents' to pass this all off as coincidence."
Twilight looked at the floor sadly. "So, princess, if you don't mind, I think the six of us will get going. We've all had enough of this for one night; we just want to go back to Ponyville."
"But-" Luna attempted.
Twilight held up a hoof. "I'm sorry, princess, but we just can't. Just
just leave us be for today, okay?"
The unicorn turned to her equally frustrated friends. "Come on, girls. Let's go."
Luna could only watch as the six ponies she'd hoped to impress and befriend made for the door. Some of them glared, others cast only sorrowful glances. But all of them looked thoroughly ready to get away from the princess of the night.
Twilight was at the back of the group. As the others disappeared, she turned one more time to the princess.
"One word of advice, Princess Luna," she said softly. "I still can't say for sure what happened here tonight. It might have been your fault, and it might not. But, if you'll pardon my honesty, your highness
if a series of cruel jokes is how you expected to successfully break the ice among a group of prospective friends
then you know even less about friendship than I did a few years ago."
Luna was silent. Twilight shook her head sadly, and turned to follow her friends.
With a groan of despair, Ditzy Doo sank to the floor, covering her face with her hooves. The other shippers looked sullen as well.
"It's over," she sobbed. "Glow ruined everything."
"Dr. Candyfloss won't be pleased," Cloudcover said. "This mission wasn't supposed to fail."
Sympathetically, Dinky trotted over to the mare slumped on the floor and gave her mother a comforting nuzzle. "It's okay, mommy," she said. "You and Mr. Breeze tried your best. It's not the end of the world if you fail an assignment, right? You told me you've failed before
Ditzy wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at her daughter. The filly always tried so hard to be helpful and supportive; Ditzy positively dreaded the idea of breaking her positive spirit with the bad news.
"Dinky dear, listen, there's something I have to tell you," she began quietly. "Late last night, my old friend Raindrops came by with some news
The kitchen doors flew open so forcefully they very nearly broke off the hinges. Behind them stood the princess, shaking and seething with anger. Dinky yelped and hid behind the adults.
"YOU BUFFOONS!" Luna bellowed. "This should have been a simple matter for you! Beyond simple, even! But no, you let some mischievous little prankster get away with a whole series of little disturbances! Twilight and her friends now want nothing to do with me!"
She glanced at the stallions behind Ditzy and Breeze. "I see your 'backup' has arrived. Too bad it's far too little, far too late. What kind of company are you, sending reinforcements hours after they are needed?"
The princess snorted indignantly at the lack of response. "Out of my sight, all of you. Don't even think about asking for compensation for this fiasco. You're lucky I have decided not to issue a decree to have your worthless company shut down right now!"
Luna turned and began to storm out.
Surprised, Ditzy, Cloudcover, Watt, and Dinky all glanced at Breeze, who had spoken out despite the princess's verbal beat-down. Princess Luna turned around, gazing at Breeze curiously.
"Now hang on just a second, princess," Breeze said, trotting right up to Luna and looking her straight in the eye, not intimidated by her superior stature. "We never guaranteed success. We did what we could, and things didn't work out as we planned. But you know what? There may be a way to fix this yet, if you'll just listen to our advice."
The other shippers' jaws dropped. Breeze was taking a chance, addressing the already angry princess in such a bold fashion. Luna, however, seemed more intrigued by Breeze's words than enraged by them.
"Explain yourself!" Luna commanded. "How could there possibly be a way to bring this night back from this disaster?"
"It's actually simpler than you might think," Breeze said. "This party was an elaborate attempt to show Twilight Sparkle and her friends that you appreciated them and wanted them to appreciate you. And it would have worked if not for all the chaos that disrupted it. So now, it's time to turn away from the lavish decorations and massive celebrations. It's time to be sincere. Catch up with them before they get off the castle grounds, and apologize. Don't offer them anything more, don't try to make it up to them, don't even claim that this wasn't your fault."
"But it wasn't!" Luna insisted.
"You know that, and I know that, but they aren't so sure, and there's really no way to prove it," Breeze said. "But princess, something tells me they will understand. My partner Ditzy here has worked with all of these ponies in the past, and from what I've heard, they're all very sensible and forgiving mares. And right now, the events that transpired tonight combined with the way you reacted to them has led those mares to believe that you are thoughtless and overbearing. And there's no better way to get them to understand that you really are a friendly and caring pony than to offer them a simple, sincere apology, and express your wish to remain their friend."
Luna blinked. "And
if it doesn't work?"
"It's not like it will do any additional harm," Breeze said casually. "And if it fails, then we've truly failed in our attempt to help you. But who knows
if you do this right, it might have just as powerful an effect as the party would have, had it been successful. A little outright, unveiled sincerity can go a long way."
Luna nodded. "I see your point, my friend. I shall try your suggestion. And I hope you will try to hold off that pony who seems to intent on ruining my evening, if she's still around."
The princess sighed. "I must hurry and catch up to the others. Good luck to us all."
And with that, she trotted swiftly from the room.
"Alright, guys," Breeze said, as soon as she had left. "We have one last chance. We have to take care of Glow before she ruins the princess's apology."
"Let's split up and search the grounds around the entry pathway," Watt said. "I'm glad I brought the walkie-talkies from HQ. They're a little dusty, since it's been a while since we had a joint mission, but they should still work."
"Brilliant, Watt!" Cloudcover declared, grabbing one of the handheld radios. "If anypony finds her, report in with these immediately and we'll all come running."
Ditzy stared at her walkie-talkie, not sure what to think. Breeze glanced in her direction and saw her uncertainty.
"Ditzy," he said quietly. "Don't worry. We can do this, I know we can."
Ditzy couldn't help but smile at her friend's confident expression.
A crackling, fizzing sound suddenly filled the room. The four shippers and the filly were startled, wheeling to look at the source. A sphere of magical energy coursed briefly across the room, and a blue unicorn materialized within it.
"Gah!" Glow gasped in surprise when she found herself face-to-face with the others. "You're all still here?"
Before anypony could speak, all four of Glow's coworkers were charging forward in an effort to subdue her. Breeze was the first to reach her; but when he was just inches away from tackling the villain, he collided suddenly with a reflective magical shield. The ponies stood helplessly on the other side of the translucent wall, scowling as Glow smirked at them.
"Well, Ditzy," Glow said, ignoring the others completely. "It looks like you won't be catching up to me after all. What a shame. But to be fair, dear, you can't say I didn't warn you."
"I've told you a thousand times, Glow, I don't care about passing your record!" Ditzy screamed. "But what you don't seem to be aware of is that this assignment is my only chance of avoiding a seriously terrible event in my personal life right now."
"I don't care what's going on," Glow said. "You were given plenty of warning. You brought this on yourself. I'm in charge here, Ditzy. Go back to being a two-bit mailmare."
Ditzy said nothing. She just glared at her long-time rival.
"The joke's on you, Cosmo," Watt said. "Luna's going to fix everything. She's doing it right now, actually."
Glow laughed. "Oh Watt. Simple, simple Watt. I'm completely aware of your little plan to have Luna apologize. My wonderful assistant is already poised to take care of the problem."
"Assistant?" Breeze asked. "You're working with somepony?"
"The best of the best," Glow bragged. "Discord's own little helper, Screwball."
"That explains all the bizarre pranks!" Ditzy gasped. "You've been relying on chaos magic!"
"Come on, we need to go stop her," Breeze said. "Watt, Cloudcover, make sure Glow doesn't get away."
"Nopony is going anywhere!" Glow announced. With a flourish of her magic, she lifted all four of her coworkers into the air, suspending them there against their will.
"Let's see how much help you can be from the princess once I teleport you all back to Ponyville!" Glow laughed.
The suspended ponies struggled, but could do nothing against Glow's power.
Everypony turned to the source of the voice. Little Dinky had jumped up onto one of the counters, and was glaring at Glow. The blue unicorn laughed once again.
"Run along and play, kid," she said passively. "The grown-ups are busy now."
Glow's magic intensified, preparing to transport her competition away.
"I said STOP!"
On the word 'stop', a bright yellow shockwave erupted from Dinky's small body. It wasn't felt by anypony as it passed, but it instantly negated Glow's spells; the four suspended ponies dropped to the floor, and the shield shattered.
Absolutely shocked, Ditzy stared wide-eyed at her daughter.
"Dinky," she gasped. "I thought
I thought you didn't know any magic!"
"I didn't use magic!" The filly insisted. "Or at least I
I didn't try to. It just happened!"
Glow looked outraged. "Oh, so that's how you want to play it, you little brat?" she hissed. "You think you can out-magic me?"
what?" asked Dinky. "That magic was an accident, I swear!"
"Well then," Glow said with a smirk. "The odds of that happening again are minimal at best. I don't need to worry about some filly's little magic tricks anyway."
Glow's horn lit up again; it was easy enough for the adult unicorn to simply restore her magical defenses.
I've got to do something, Dinky thought. Mom and the others have to help the princess! There must be something I can do to help fight this mean unicorn!
Dinky concentrated hard, trying to figure out what force deep in the recesses of her body she had called upon to produce that spell. It had happened accidentally, but there had to be a way to do it on purpose.
I was totally focused on saving mom and her friends, she realized. If I can focus my own thoughts on my goal strongly enough, my unicorn magic can do the rest!
Dinky slammed her eyes shut and concentrated with all her might on her mother and the danger she was in. She imagined shattering Glow's spell once again.
The filly didn't even have to open her eyes; the sound of the shattering shield, and of suspended ponies falling again to the floor was enough to tell her she had once again been successful.
"I knew it," Glow sneered. "You little liar. I'll teach you to interrupt my magic!"
This time, Glow used her spell to hold Dinky in place instead. As much as the filly tried, she was firmly anchored to the ground.
"Hey, let me go!"
As expected, Ditzy's temper immediately flared.
"Glow," she said, her voice shaking. "Let her go. I'm not a violent pony, but if you hurt her, I promise you that I will personally rip you apart."
Glow chuckled. "It's so fun to watch you get all bent out of shape when your daughter enters the equation," she laughed. "You know you can't do anything to me; I can just put my shield back up, even if the little squirt knocks it down."
Glow smiled at the pegasus leering at her from the other side of the shield. She moved to step forward to look her rival right in the face
but strangely, her hooves wouldn't leave the ground.
what is this?" asked Glow in confusion.
Now it was Dinky's turn to laugh, her own little horn glowing with an intense yellow aura. "Pretty simple spell you're using there, Glow," she giggled. "In only took me a couple seconds to figure out how to copy it and use it on you!"
Glow growled angrily, but was unable to break out of Dinky's enchantment. The two unicorns held each other still.
"Mom," said Dinky. "And the rest of you, too. Please, you need to hurry and help Princess Luna."
"What?" Ditzy gasped. "I'm not leaving you in here with this traitor!"
"It's under control!" Dinky insisted. "I may be really new to magic, but it turns out it's a little easier than I thought it would be. I can hold her. Really!"
I can't just leave you here," Ditzy insisted. "What if she-"
"Mom!" Dinky interrupted. "You're running out of time! You've just got to trust me! I'm not a baby anymore, and I can help make sure you guys succeed in your assignment. Please, let me handle it alone!"
Breeze put a hoof on Ditzy's shoulder. "There's nothing we can help with anyway," he said quietly. "Glow's powers make her untouchable as far as us pegasi are concerned."
"Besides," he continued in a whisper. "Glow won't actually hurt anypony. It's not her style. She'd rather cause misery than pain."
Ditzy bit her lip, but finally she nodded. "Well
alright. Be careful, Dinky."
Dinky smiled, even though she couldn't turn her head for her mother to see. "Thanks, mom. Now get going!"
Despite Glow's enraged outcries, the four ponies raced from the kitchen, on one final mission to stop Screwball from ruining Luna's last chance for redemption.
A bizarre purple pony-like creature sat perched above the huge stone archway over the castle's front doors, poorly attempting to mimic a gargoyle as she waited for her target to appear.
The six ponies from earlier appeared, trudging slowly down the long stone pathway leading to the edge of the castle grounds. None of them seemed to be in a big hurry; in fact, they all appeared rather forlorn.
Screwball briefly pondered this. It was certainly strange. After all, she'd been dishing out dose after dose of wonderfully fun chaos all night; by now, those ponies should have been having the time of their lives.
She chalked it up to it just being a bad day and waited patiently for her other target to appear.
The six ponies had nearly reached the end of the long walkway when Princess Luna suddenly shot forth from the castle, taking to the air to catch up quickly to the others. She landed near them, and Screwball watched them turn around to face their princess.
"Wait, Twilight Sparkle, and the rest of you, please," she said desperately.
The group of ponies sighed collectively. "Princess Luna, I told you already," Twilight said. "We've had enough of this for tonight. Just let us-"
"I know you have," Luna said, cutting Twilight off. "I'm not trying to get you to come back, or anything. I just
want to apologize."
Some distance away, Screwball watched, not sure what the princess and her friends were up to. But whatever it was, certainly some chaos would spice it up!
Screwball was so intent on her next bit of magic that she didn't even notice four more ponies dashing out the front doors.
"Listen up, everypony," said Breeze. "Keep in contact with the walkie-talkies. If you see any sign of chaos, counter it with any means necessary. And if you find Screwball, subdue her and contact the rest of us immediately. Got it?"
"Roger!" said Watt. Ditzy and Cloudcover just nodded. The four ponies split up and ran in different directions.
Up above, Screwball prepared to unleash her next prank. A few large trees surrounded the pathway near where that group of ponies was standing; it would sure be funny once those trees hog-tied the ponies with their roots. Screwball waved her hoof to animate the plants while Luna, oblivious to the change, continued with her apology.
"Apologize?" Twilight asked.
"Yes," said Luna. "Because I know all of you suffered tonight. I know how much of this evening's events were my fault, but I don't feel trying to convince you of anything will help either of us, so I will leave each of you to believe what you will. After all, the point is not what happened this evening; it's how terrible I feel about it all."
As Luna spoke, several dozen roots began to poke tentatively out of the ground, twisting as if they were observing their surroundings. Then they began to creep towards the ponies on the path, all of whom were unaware of their presence.
Luckily, Breeze caught sight of the strange event from his aerial position.
"We've got trouble," he said into the walkie-talkie. "The trees around the princess and the others are up to no good."
"I'm on it," Watt's voice replied through the speaker. "The rest of you guys keep looking for Screwball."
The earth pony took off at breakneck speed, dashing towards the dancing plant tendrils more quickly than any earth pony should be capable. He didn't slow down as he reached the site; he simply dashed right on through, moving so quickly that the roots he passed over were cleaved cleanly in half. The injured tendrils sank morosely back into the ground, and since Watt had handled the problem before it even broke forth from the treeline, the ponies on the path had no idea anything had happened.
From her perch on the grand archway, Screwball pouted. That mean old earth pony had killed her little roots. The chaos pony shrugged it off and decided to whip up an old favorite instead; Discord's signature chocolate rainclouds. Licking her lips at the thought of the delicious and senseless weather pattern, she began to wave her hooves dramatically in the air, causing the fluffy pink clouds, laden with chocolate, to materialize and grow.
The conversation continued unhindered on the pathway by the gates.
"I understand that you are all upset," the princess said. "But that was never my intention; regardless of how things may have happened, I just wanted to become more friendly with you six. A large portion of my subjects still fear me; it's an unfortunate after effect of the Nightmare Moon incident. I just hoped that a group of ponies that represent friendship itself would be able to understand that I no longer mean any harm. But
everything went wrong, and now I'm afraid I've lost the trust of even the most forgiving ponies in this kingdom."
Above, Cloudcover caught sight of the armada of cotton candy clouds drifting lazily toward Luna. "Incoming inclement weather!" he announced into his radio. "Leave this one to me."
The pegasus swooped in and quickly rounded up the clouds, forcing them toward the back of the grounds and away from their target. Twilight and her friends, who were quite used to seeing pegasi round up clouds, had no idea anything out of the ordinary was going on.
Cloudcover pushed cloud after cloud back into the bundle he had created, but individual dollops of pink kept escaping, causing him to dart around constantly to keep the unruly clouds in check.
"Cloudcover," Watt called through his radio. "They're cotton candy clouds! If you can't control them, just start eating them!"
Surprised at Watt's sound advice, Cloudcover began to do just that.
Now Screwball was getting really ticked off. Why didn't these ponies want her to cause her beautiful chaos? It was time to cause an event so powerful, not even they could stop it!
The purple chaos pony planted all four hooves firmly on the stone. The tiny propeller on her beanie began to spin. Faster and faster it whirled, finally beginning to affect the air around it. A small whirlwind appeared over Screwball's head, rapidly escalating into a full-blown tornado.
Ditzy caught sight of the growing threat this time, and by extension, finally located Screwball. "Uh, guys," she mumbled. "We have a big problem above the doorway."
"I see it," Breeze said. "Watt and Cloudcover are still managing the roots and the clouds. You and I will have to take this one. I'll stop the tornado; you do something about Screwball."
Breeze beat his wings powerfully and flew straight into the tornado, much to the surprise of Screwball. Doing his best to fly against the powerful gusts, the strong pegasus began to slow the flow of the tornado.
"Stop," Screwball whined indignantly as she watched. But the pegasus didn't listen to her. She frowned as her raging whirlwind became little more than a few leaves and bits of debris spinning in place.
Screwball then observed another pegasus approaching; this time it was a grey one, and it was coming right at her.
To Ditzy's surprise, Screwball made no motion of resistance. She sat quietly, simply watching as Ditzy alighted on the stone next to her. The chaotic creature didn't look hostile at all; she just looked kind of sad.
Taking advantage of the momentary lapse in action, Ditzy glanced over to see how the princess was doing.
Luna waited silently as Twilight and her friends all exchanged glances. Finally, Twilight spoke up.
don't be so hard on yourself," she said with a small smile. "Everypony makes mistakes, and I don't think it's right for any of us here to hold a grudge. I can tell you're sincere, so, in the spirit of friendship, I think we can call it all water under the bridge. Right guys?"
The other ponies smiled and nodded as well. "It wasn't very neighborly of us to be so accusin' either," Applejack said. "I guess we're all in the wrong, tonight."
"It wasn't a total loss!" Pinkie Pie pointed out. "After all, tonight might not have been pleasant, but it sure as sugar was a good icebreaker. I know I don't think of you as such a formal and aloof pony anymore!"
Luna smiled. "Perhaps you're right, Pinkie Pie." She looked at each of her friends in turn. "So
have you forgiven me?"
"Of course, princess," Twilight said with a giggle. "But let's just meet somewhere more casually in Ponyville next time."
Luna returned the giggle. "I would like that, Twilight Sparkle. I would like that very much."
Ditzy breathed a sigh of relief. At least that part of the night had gone well. Whether or not Luna was willing to give them any sort of reward, however, remained to be seen. Now, while her coworkers quelled the last of the chaos, Ditzy turned back to Screwball.
you're not trying to hurt anypony, are you?" she asked tentatively.
Screwball shook her head. "Just chaos!" she insisted, as if there was nothing wrong with that.
"Yes, I know you made the chaos," Ditzy said. "But not everypony wants there to be chaos all the time. It's fun once in a while, but sometimes, we like a little order too. I know that might be hard for you to understand."
Screwball did indeed look confused, but she nodded.
"So you'll stop causing troub-
I mean, stop making chaos tonight? We would all really appreciate it."
Ditzy's coworkers fluttered over (or, in Watt's case, scrambled up the sheer stone wall) to listen in on the encounter. Screwball glanced about curiously at all of them; she pondered Ditzy's words for a second, and then nodded, but she looked disappointed that her fun had to end.
"Actually," Ditzy said, coming to a sudden realization. "What about your friend Glow? I don't think she's had her share of chaos yet."
Screwball suddenly looked excited. After all, she had to reward the pony who had given her the chance to cause all this mayhem in the first place.
Ditzy turned to lead Screwball into the castle, but the chaos pony tapped her on the shoulder with a hoof.
The pegasus turned around. "What is it?"
Screwball grinned. "I like your eyes," she giggled.
Ditzy laughed, and her surrounding friends laughed with her. "Thanks!"she replied. "You know what? I like yours too. Now come on; let's go give a certain blue unicorn what's coming to her!"