Chapter 1: The Longest Day
Royal Ponyville Library.
Twenty hours after the Hole.
"Aarrgh!" Twilight screamed in frustration, before letting her head flop onto the desk in front of her. "It's no use! We've been at this all night and there's just no way—"
Her rant was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"I'll get it." Scootaloo hopped up from the couch in the library where she'd been doing her own research. "Discord?" she said, surprised to see the former Lord of Chaos waiting at the entrance.
"Yes, 'tis I," lamented the draconequus. "Though perhaps 'Minor Incongruence' might be a better name now. Can you believe I had to walkall the way over here?"
"Having a tough time without your magic?"
"You know, you never really appreciate having instantaneous travel through a dimension of milk and cookies until you've lost it."
"Uh huh," Twilight said. "I'm sure it must be tough being confined to a normal existence like the rest of us."
Discord rolled his eyes. "Says the magical alicorn princess."
Twilight smiled softly. "Touchè." She'd been having these verbal sparring matches with Discord for years now. While she was never as close of a companion to him as Fluttershy was, they'd been reasonably good friends in the time since his reformation, and that friendship had come to express itself in sarcastic and witty digs at one another. She was glad to see him still trying to be jovial, even though it was clear the loss of his magic was going to take some real adjustment on his part.
"Well, don't let me interrupt," Discord said, waving a paw dismissively. "Please, continue with whatever nerdery you two bookworms were up to. I believe it was something involving frustrated screams and, if I'm not mistaken, the distinct sound of a head hitting a desk. I do wonder, whatever could cause such concern?"
Twilight's smile faded as she recalled the seriousness of the situation. After Celestia had blocked Nemesis's star with her own sun, the magic absorption of the anomaly had surrounded the sun itself. Celestia had poured incredible amounts of her own magic into it just to keep the sun in place in the sky as it absorbed the physical impact, as only a tiny fraction made it through, while the rest was sucked into the Hole. Doing so had cost her dearly, and she had tapped into her own lifeforce to finish the deed and save the world. Now, her own magic connection to the sun had been nearly severed, with just enough remaining to keep Nemesis confined, but leaving her unable to control the sun's movement at all.
"...and that's where the immediate problems start," Twilight said, after explaining the situation to Discord.
"Well, the day has seemed a tad long," he said.
"Yeah," Scootaloo said. "Try twenty-one hours too long!"
"And if we don't fix it soon," Twilight added. "Half the world is going to freeze, while the other half practically melts."
"So fix it," Discord said, gesticulating with his paws. "Harmony it up and get things rolling!"
"Weren't you listening?" Scootaloo said, raising her voice. "We can't! Celestia can't move the sun. Twilight can't! Luna can't! Any magic that tries to touch it just gets consumed by that stupid hole! We've been up all night—and I use the term loosely—trying to figure out how to do it, but we've got nothing!"
"Whoa there. Hold your horses! I'm on your side, remember?" Discord said, before beginning to tap a claw against his chin in thought. "So, everything will die because you can't spin the sun around the world?"
"Yes!" Scootaloo said, frustrated.
"So why don't you spin the world around the sun instead?"
"Why don't we..." Scootaloo's rant trailed off as the thought penetrated her mind and was actually considered. When it reached the core, it clicked into place. There, new ideas connected, ready, waiting to go from the years of physics research and study she'd done. She looked at Twilight, a lopsided grin on her face as it all came together in her head.
"That might actually work..." Twilight said, as similar ideas permeated her own mind.
Discord grinned. "And here I thought you two were supposed to be some of the smartest ponies in Equestria!"
"Yeah, yeah... " Twilight said, smiling in return. "Seriously though, if this works, everypony in the world will owe you a debt of gratitude for saving their lives."
"Two, actually." The draconequus held up a pair of talons. "Celestia knows I didn't walk here for my health!"
"Okay, yes," Twilight giggled. "You gave up your magic to save all of us, so we'll count this as number two."
"Why did you come over here, anyway?" Scootaloo asked.
Discord's smile faded and he sighed. "Fluttershy and I... we kind of had it out earlier."
"I'm sorry," Scootaloo said. "What happened?"
Twilight's first reaction was to chide Scootaloo for wasting time. The world was on the verge of destruction—again—and there was no time to waste. But she bit down on that instinct. There was never time... unless you made it.
Over the years, she'd been Celestia's personal student, the Element of Magic, a Princess of Equestria, and many other things. She'd faced villains on a regular basis, ancient evil more times than she could count, and the end of the world—or at least life as ponies knew it—many times over. Through it all, she'd come to a rather irregular conclusion: The world would always need help, but if you didn't make time for your friends when they needed help, then what was the point? With that in mind, she mentally set aside all her thoughts of orbital mechanics, and focused on her friend.
"Yeah," Twilight said. "Tell us what's wrong."
"It's nothing," Discord said. "She's just... just blaming me for the way she looks now. She says she 'never asked for this' and won't stop crying. I mean, I tried to tell her I didn't care if her limbs were all symmetrical, she still looked good to me. But then she just started throwing things. I'm not used to blocking projectiles with parts of my own body, so I left."
Scootaloo and Twilight looked at each other, and Scootaloo spoke up first.
"You know," she said, "have you tried looking at it from her perspective?"
Discord slammed a fist down on a nearby table. "Of course I have! I've spent a dozen years trying to see things like you ponies do! But every time I think I've figured her out, she turns out to be so impossibly unpredictable!"
Twilight smirked. "Says the former embodiment of chaos."
Discord gave a wan smile, though it never quite reached his eyes. "I just don't understand, though. I gave her everything... everything I possibly could. It literally saved the world. But now she's mad—at me—for what I've done?"
Twilight walked over to Discord, looking him in the eyes. "She is grateful for what you did. We all are. I promise. But for her entire life, Fluttershy has been a quiet pegasus, finding solace with her animals and a relatively simple life. But in a single day, she becomes an alicorn, and then a... whatever sort of hybrid she is now." Twilight probably had more questions than Fluttershy herself on exactly what happened with that, but those could wait until after they'd fixed the sun.
"Yeah," Scootaloo said. "Twilight's right. I don't think she's really mad at you, she's just scared. I remember how frightened I was when I first learned I wasn't a normal pony, but at least I still looked like myself. Fluttershy's been changed twice in a day though. I can only imagine how scary that must be."
"So if she's not really mad at me..." Discord said, letting the question trail off.
"Go to her, you dolt!" Twilight said, putting a hoof on Discord's slumping shoulder. "Let her throw things if she must, but be there for her when she's done."
"You're right! Once more unto the breach!" Discord said, rising and holding out a paw as if it had a saber in it. When none appeared though, he slouched and resumed his frown. "It's just not the same without the props."
"You'll live," Twilight said. "And so will Fluttershy."
Discord nodded, then quirked an eyebrow. "Speaking of living, shouldn't you be rushing off to save the world or something, before you run out of time?"
The former unicorn, alicorn, princess, librarian, Element of Harmony, and little sister best friend forever rolled her eyes with a smile. "Don't worry, there's always time if you make it."
Canterlot Castle, Throne Room.
"So you're suggesting we spin the planet around the sun?" Celestia said, her wrinkled eyes still bright and fierce beneath her gray mane. Luna had brought her back to the Castle after the confrontation, and it had taken hours for her to regain consciousness, but she'd insisted on being a part of the planning the moment she could stand. No pony in the castle could bring themselves to object.
"Technically," Scootaloo said, "it's called an orbit."
"But you want to spin it as well as 'orbit' it, yes?"
"Right," Twilight said. "The spin will provide a rough approximation of the day/night cycle we're used to. The orbit is needed so that we can keep the world close enough to the sun without it falling in."
Scotaloo jumped in. "With the Hole, the light coming from the sun is much less than it used to be. Right now, it's toasting one side of the planet, but if we get it spinning, there actually won't be enough warmth for the whole world unless we move it closer."
"They speak truth, sister," Luna said. "I wish there was some other option, but I see none. Already crops are dying and it's only been a day and a half."
Celestia let her head droop. While she was far from dead, her considerable age had caught up with her, and she couldn't deny the toll it took. The other ponies looked at her with concern before she finally spoke up. "I just worry that if we sacrifice the magic of our world for a little warmth now, we may never recover it."
"I know, Tia." Luna put a wing around her sister. "But the world will slowly freeze if we don't bring it closer to the sun... and the Hole. Twilight and I have both run the calculations several times; being close enough to keep the world alive means being well inside the Hole's zone of influence. If we remain outside it, however, we have only a week or two at best before all the crops fail and ponies begin to starve."
The Queen sighed. "But a world without magic..."
"Not without magic," Twilight said. "Just... weakened magic."
"How weak do you think it will be?"
"It's hard to say, but I would start by evacuating Cloudsdale and the other pegasi cities... just in case."
Twilight shook her head. "I can't say for certain, but my estimates suggest that pegasi will have almost no control over clouds, rain, or other weather. We'll be subject to free range, unmoderated weather like the Everfree and other wild zones."
"Wait," Scootaloo said. "What about seasons then? If the pegasi can't manage the weather, then how do we handle Winter Wrap-Up and such?"
"That's a long-term variation," Twilight said. "If we plan things precisely, we can have an almost universally spring-like weather pattern through most of the central latitudes."
"Yes," Luna said. "But if I'm understanding the plan correctly, we've only one attempt at this endeavor. Once we set the world on its course, we'll have only the most limited control of it when it gets closer and our magic diminishes. While Equestria may survive a year or so without seasons, what if our hardship must be endured for longer?"
Twilight laughed nervously. "Surely we'll find a proper solution before then?"
"But what if we can't?" Scootaloo said, looking at the purple alicorn with a determined glare. "What if it's really that bad?"
"Scootaloo is correct," Luna said. "While I am ever optimistic, I feel it is only prudent to prepare for the worst."
"But how?" Twilight said. "While a lot of Winter Wrap-Up is about earth pony, non-magical duties, none of it would ever work without pegasi magic behind it all, shifting the temperatures and weather from cold to warm."
Celestia lifted her head, a lopsided and weary smile gracing her face. "Tilt."
"Excuse me?" Twilight said.
"Tilt it," the Queen said. "Tilt the world. If you're orbiting it, then the top half will get more daylight for half the year, while the lower half gets proportionally more darkness. As it moves around the sun, that will shift and reverse though."
Both Twilight and Scootaloo looked toward the ceiling for a second, their lips and eyebrows twitching as they ran calculations in their heads. Luna, however, saw it almost instantly. "Tia, you're a genius," she said, grinning.
"But," Twilight said, reaching for an objection. "That would mean it was winter in parts of the world while it was mid-summer in others. The seasons would be completely opposite depending on where a pony was in the world!"
"But there would still be seasons!" Scootaloo said, impressed with the idea. "It'd be weird to get used to, but it just might work! Well, if the orbital period we need for proper warmth is close enough to a year long."
"Even if it is not," Luna said. "Some seasonal variation is surely better than none."
Twilight smooshed her hooves into her eyes and face, rubbing them; thirty six hours without sleep now, and her sense of "crazy" was getting blurrier all the time. "So we've got to spin up the world, tilt the axis at a precise angle, orbit the moon around that in some stable manner, and send the entire system on a hyper-accurate orbital insertion toward the sun, knowing that we'll lose magical control of everything as we get closer, and thus will be limited to only the most minor of corrections near the end?"
"Piece of cake, huh?" Scootaloo joked, elbowing Twilight in the ribs.
"If only," Twilight said. "I actually know a pony who's an expert on cake."
Outside Fluttershy's Cottage.
"Wheeee!" Pinkie Pie shrieked, as she did yet another vertical loop in the sky. "Come on, Fluttershy, get up here!"
"Umm, I don't really think I—" Fluttershy was interrupted as Pinkie swooped in and grabbed her by a forepaw. "Eeep!"
Her instinct to hover kicked in as Pinkie dragged her up into the sky, and the two mares hung face to face at treetop level.
"See," Pinkie said. "Isn't this fun!"
"I just..." Fluttershy said. "I don't feel right being up here... like this."
"Like what, silly?"
"You know," Fluttershy wiggled her toes and talons, and pointed to her antlers as well. "Like this."
"You mean the most totally awesome, bad-ass, completely symmetrical, and amazing alicorn-draconequus hybrid ever?"
Fluttershy blushed. "I don't think you should say that word."
"It's okay, some of my best friends are donkeys. Besides, your coltfriend said it!"
The yellow pony hybrid gasped. "How do you know that?"
"So Discord is your coltfriend!" Pinkie said, doing a mid-air prance with her hooves. "I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!"
"Shhh!" Fluttershy said, looking around for witnesses as she clamped a paw over Pinkie's snout. "Stop shouting that!"
"I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!" Pinkie Pie continued in a loud whisper once Fluttershy let go of her face. Seeing that her friend still wasn't smiling though, she stopped and tilted her head to the side. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
"I... I just don't know. It's all so confusing. One day everything is safe and normal. Then suddenly I'm watching my friends about to be killed by some big evil pony, and there's Dizzy in the middle of it all, telling me he loves me. Then he gives me his magic and now I'm not even me anymore!"
"Of course you're still you, silly! If you weren't you then you'd be somepony else, and somepony else would be you. But you're not somepony else, and somepony else isn't you, so you have to be you since you are you!"
Maybe it was the sheer enthusiasm of the delivery, Fluttershy thought, but the pronoun soup actually seemed to help. "I guess you're right," she admitted.
"Of course I'm right. If I wasn't right, I'd be wrong, but I'm not wrong, I'm Pinkie Pie. So if I'm not wrong, that means I'm right!"
Fluttershy laughed. Even after years together, she still had trouble telling when her pink friend was being sincere, or was just putting on an act to cheer somepony up. In the end, she supposed, it didn't really matter, and that's what made Pinkie Pie's talent so special.
"It's just that so many things changed so fast," Fluttershy said. "I don't know what to do. I'm just... just so scared by it all."
"I know," Pinkie said as she wrapped her friend in a hug. "But it'll be okay. You know that, right?"
"Good! Now let's turn that frown," Pinkie Pie rolled so she was hovering inverted, "upside down!" When Fluttershy didn't follow suit, she grabbed the hybrid by the antlers and started to roll her herself. "I said... 'Uuuupsiiide doooownnnn...'"
The two were interrupted by Applejack. "What in tarnation are ya'll up to?" she said, stopping mid-trot on her way up the path to the cottage and staring into the air at the two.
"Eeep!" Fluttershy shrieked, dropping to the ground as her wings slammed reflexively to her sides in surprise.
"Oh hey, AJ!" Pinkie said, swooping down to greet the farm pony. "I was just explaining to Fluttershy that there's no need to be scared." Pinkie looked at the tangled mass of paws, talons, antlers, tail, and snout that was the crashed Fluttershy. "Though it doesn't seem to be working like I hoped..."
"Ya don't say."
"Oh! Did you come out here to fly with us? Have you figured out loops yet? They're so much fun! I'm all..."
"...and then it's just 'Wheee!' because I'm upside down but it still feels like I'm right side up..."
"...so maybe Dash can show me how she does that one with the..."
Applejack took a deep breath to compose herself and mentally lowered the volume. "I'm sorry, but I ain't here ta fly with ya'll. The Queen's asked us all ta come to Canterlot immediately. Apparently this thing with the sun ain't over."
"What's wrong?" Fluttershy said, having untangled her limbs and joined the conversation. "It's not because... I mean... he's not back, is he?"
"Nemesis?" Applejack said. Fluttershy nodded. "Naw. I suspect it's got somethin' to do with the sun still bein' up."
Both Pinkie and Fluttershy looked at Applejack with confusion.
"Neither a ya'll noticed? It's been daylight for goin' on forty hours now."
"Oh my!" Fluttershy said. "After I fought with Dizzy and he left, I... well, I just cried until I fell asleep. I thought I just slept all the way through the night."
Applejack looked at Pinkie. "What?" the party pony said. "I lost my watch, so I had no idea what time it was."
"Ya don't wear a watch, Pinkie."
"I know! I lost it!"
"I mean, you have never worn a watch for as long as I've known ya."
"I know," Pinkie said, using the same slow enunciation Applejack had. "I lost it."
"How did you lose it if you never had it?"
"I had it until I lost it!"
"I didn't know you had a watch, Pinkie," Fluttershy said. "When did you lose it?"
"Oh," Pinkie said, back to her normal, chipper voice, "on the rock farm when I was eight."
Applejack attempted to plant a hoof on her forehead, only to have it clonk awkwardly against her new horn. She sighed. It was bad enough that the hat didn't sit right anymore, but this was just turning into "one o' those days."
Just as she was about to suggest they all get moving toward Canterlot, Discord came walking up the path. Fluttershy saw him, then looked away to avoid eye contact, so Applejack spoke up. "Heya, Discord. Ya comin' with us to Canterlot?"
"Actually," he said. "Why don't you two go on ahead. I need to talk to Fluttershy."
"Well, the Queen said she wants all of—" Applejack said, but was cut off by Pinkie.
"That's a great idea! Come on AJ, let's fly there now!"
"But I'm supposed ta bring all ya'll with—"
"I said, 'Come on AJ, let's fly there now.'" Pinkie made several large and not-so-subtle gestures to get her point across.
"Oh," Applejack said, getting the hint. "Right then. We'll just be on our way and see ya'll there." She trotted past Discord and on down the path as Pinkie followed above.
After they were beyond earshot of Discord and Fluttershy, Pinkie looked down at Applejack, who continued to gallop back toward Ponyville. "Where are we going, AJ?"
"Like I said, the Queen wants us in Canterlot."
"But Canterlot is that way!" Pinkie pointed at the mountain on the horizon to the right.
"And the train is waitin' for us in Ponyville."
"You don't need a train, silly! You've got these!" Pinkie said, gliding lower and poking Applejack's wing with a hoof. Applejack ignored her and continued running. Pinkie flew above her, and rolled inverted, letting her face drop down right beside Applejack's. "Why aren't you flying?"
Applejack tried juking left and right to avoid Pinkie's stare, but the party pony was quick and coordinated, even when upside down. Finally, Applejack skidded to a halt.
"Dang it, Pinkie! I just don't like flyin', okay?"
"But it's so much fun!"
"Not fer me, it ain't. I get all woozy with nothin' under mah hooves, and every time I look down, I feel like I'm about to fall."
Pinkie thought about this for moment. To her, the woozy feelings in your stomach when you did loops and went upside down were the best part. It was like your own personal roller coaster. But she knew not everypony liked roller coasters either. "It's okay, AJ. We can take the train if you want."
Applejack sighed. "No Pinkie, you're right. Flyin' there's much quicker. I can't let my own fears get in the way when the fate o' the world might be at stake." Applejack leaped into the air and started pumping her wings. "Come on, let's go before I change my mind."
"Wait!" Pinkie shouted, causing Applejack to drop to the ground in surprise. "I've got an even better, super faster idea for how to get there!"
"I just remembered, we're alicorns now! We got wings, and we got horns. We can just zap ourselves to Canterlot!"
Applejack looked at her with a not inconsiderable amount of trepidation. "I don't know about that... I'm pretty sure I've heard Twilight saying that teleportin' was a mite dangerous if a pony don't know what she was doin'."
"It can't be that hard!" Pinkie said, starting to scrunch up her brow in her idea of concentration. "Now I bet if I just think like really, really, really hard about how much I want to be in Canterlot—like right now and not having to fly all the way—that..."
"Ahhhh!" Applejack screamed. She wasn't sure what was worse, the distinct impression that she'd been turned inside out at least twice over, or that she now found herself clinging to a weather vane on the top of a very high castle tower.
"Hehehe!" Pinkie laughed nearby. She was dangling from one rear hoof which was caught in the rain gutter of another parapet nearby. "Guess maybe it does take a bit of practice."
"Pinkie Pie!" Applejack yelled, closing her eyes and grabbing the weather vane even tighter as it broke loose under her weight, causing her to slip to the edge of the roof. "Get me down from here!"
She opened her eyes a moment later, when she felt a hoof poking her... in her wing. "Silly Applejack!" Pinkie said, then leaped off the roof and glided to the ground. Applejack swallowed her pride—and fear—then followed shortly after.
Canterlot Castle, Throne Room.
A few minutes—and one minor crash-landing—later.
Applejack was still pulling the last bits of courtyard grass from her mane and feathers as she and Pinkie trotted into the throne room.
"Greetings Applejack, Pinkie Pie," Luna said. "My apologies, but the others have not yet arrived."
Applejack laughed nervously. "Yeah, Pinkie here found us a bit of a shortcut."
"So my guards inform me," Luna said, smiling. "Do not fret; I'm assured the repair shall be trivial."
Applejack blushed, knowing now that there had been witnesses to her rooftop humiliation. "Yeah, uh... sorry 'bout that."
Three loud pops sounded behind Luna, and the ponies turned to see that Twilight had arrived with Spike and Scootaloo. As greetings were being exchanged, there was a loud thud against one of the larger stained glass windows. A vaguely pony-shaped outline could be seen through the glass as it slid off the window to the ground. Scootaloo looked askance at Twilight, who explained that since every other villain seemed to always make a dramatic entrance through the glass, they'd finally decided to shore things up with a couple of reinforcement spells. "I put the same spells on the library in Ponyville too," Twilight added. "It does wonders for encouraging the proper use of doors." She winked as a slightly dazed Rainbow Dash walked in, then turned to talk to Luna.
"Hey, squirt!" Dash said, pretending nothing had happened as she trotted over to Scootaloo. "You won't believe how fast this new alicorn magic lets me go! I just raced from Manehatten to Los Pegasus... twice!"
A smirk crossed Scootaloo's face. "What was your best time?"
Dash was surprised. "I uh... wasn't timing it. But wait, you've done that already?"
"Sure! We've raced it quite a few times. The coast-to-coast atmospheric record is forty three minutes, eighteen seconds. But that was after we decided using the jet stream was cheating. I made something like thirty seven minutes before that. And of course sub-orbital time is even faster, but we're still figuring out the rules for that."
"Hang on there, Scoots. You found another pegasus that can keep up with you?"
"Not a pegasus." Scootaloo grinned, enjoying the way she could keep Dash guessing.
"Who's this 'we' you're talking about then?"
Dash opened her mouth to say something, but paused with her jaw agape and scratched her head. "Okay, I give up. Explain."
Scootaloo laughed. "Well, we've kinda been keeping it a secret so we could do a big reveal when everything was finished, but seeing as the world's about to end, might as well let you in on it now." She draped a wing over Dash's shoulders, leaning in to whisper conspiratorially. "I've got two words that are going to change your life, Dash: Rocket Science."
Scootaloo's explanation was interrupted as Celestia walked in, followed by Rarity, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle, all fresh from Ponyville. "Thank you all for coming," she said. "I hope you've all had a chance to rest since we last talked, as I'm afraid we have another major challenge in front of us now."
There was one more pair of pops, revealing Fluttershy and Discord. The hybrid pony's eyes were a bit bloodshot and swollen. It was clear that she'd been crying, but her friends were glad to see she was smiling as well, and as Discord had an arm draped over her back, it looked like the two had made up.
"Umm, sorry we're late," Fluttershy said. "We, umm, had some stuff to take care of and..."
"Think nothing of it, my little pony," Celestia said. "Or should I say, Princess?"
Fluttershy blushed. "Oh my, I don't..."
"Yes, a good point, sister!" Luna said, stepping up beside the Queen. "The five of you are now alicorns, and with that comes the title of—"
"Nuh uh!" Applejack said, making a cut-it motion with her forehoof. "Not doin' it. I ain't no princess, and you ain't gonna make me one!"
"But Applejack—" Twilight started to say.
"Not up for debate, Twi. Look, I love ya all dearly, and you girls are the best friends a pony could ever ask for. Ya can all be princesses if ya want and I'll be happy for ya. Heck, ya all deserve to be princesses! But that ain't me. Personally, I think Equestria's got enough princesses as it is—no offense, yer majesties—but even if that weren't the case, I don't want no fancy title in front of my name, even if I do got wings, and a horn on my head now."
"But you have saved the world in stopping Nemesis," Luna said. "That accomplishment deserves recognition and title."
"The world ain't saved yet, or we wouldn't be here. Besides, Discord did more than I did this last go. Why don't ya let him be a princess instead?"
"Oooh, I always wanted to be a pretty, pretty princess," Discord said, posing demurely with a leg kicked up behind him, pretending to twirl a parasol over his head. Fluttershy rolled her eyes at him, and he returned her gaze with a puppy dog stare. She gave in, snapping her fingers to make a parasol and tiara appear for the draconequus. "Thank you, deary," he said, the guise complete.
Twilight ignored the garish display, and stepped closer to Applejack. "Why does this bother you so much, AJ? It's not like anypony is gonna make you move to a castle or take on extra responsibilities. It's not going to change anything important."
"I know, Twi, but it just don't feel right for a pony to be thinkin' of herself as above other ponies." Realizing she'd just said that in the presence of at least half the nation's royalty, Applejack quickly corrected. "I mean... it don't feel right for me to be thinkin' of myself as above other ponies."
"Applejack," Twilight said. "Nopony is going to think differently of you. I remember how I worried about that when I first became a princess, but after I got used to it, I learned it didn't really change anything."
"It did though, Twi. It did. I'm not sayin' it was a bad change, mind ya. But that's 'cause you were always meant for this sorta thing. Yer a born leader, Twilight. Being a princess is part of your destiny. But it ain't mine."
"No, she's right," Queen Celestia said. "Titles carry weight, even if nothing else changes." She looked at Twilight and Luna, a soft smile showing through wrinkled lips as she continued. "If they didn't, you two would never have teamed up with Cadance to insist I take the title of Queen."
"But that's different," Twilight said. "It was just a change to—"
"Yes, you had very convincing arguments for it, and as you'll recall, I did acquiesce. But the point remains; even though 'nothing important changed' there is still a very distinct difference now in being called Queen than when I was called Princess. I cannot fault Applejack for not wanting that sort of burden."
"Thank you, yer majesty," Applejack said, nodding in a slight bow.
Celestia nodded in return. "Case in point. As for the rest of you, I suggest we table the discussion of titles until the current crisis has been averted."
"Right!" Dash said, stepping forward. "So what do we do to fix the sun?"
"I'm afraid we still don't have an answer for that," Twilight said. "For now, we're just trying to keep the world from dying."
"What do you mean? Don't we have to get rid of the Hole for that?"
"Eventually, yes, but for now all we can do is..."
The ponies in the room spent the next several hours going over the plan.
Sixty-one hours after the Hole.
The Crusaders popped into existence on the porch as Sweetie Belle teleported them back to their headquarters. Looking down from their post high in the branches of Rupert, the three ponies looked across the orchards and hills at the sunset, still panting with exhaustion. They'd spent the past day and a half helping to evacuate Cloudsdale, while the various alicorns had started to rotate the planet. The former pegasus city was now sitting in a field on the far side of Canterlot, its inhabitants safely relocated to terrestrial locations.
"I never thought I'd be so glad to see the sun go down," Sweetie Belle said, letting the breeze dry her sweat-plastered mane.
"Yeah," Scootaloo said. "This feels like it's been the longest day ever!"
The other two glared at her, as they dripped with sweat from the sauna-like weather three full days of sunlight had brought on.
"What?" Scootaloo said, grinning. "Somepony had to make that joke!"
"Could be worse," Sweetie said. "Just imagine how cold it must be in Saddle Arabia right now. I heard it even snowed."
"Don't know about ya'll," Apple Bloom said, wiping sweat off her own forehead, "but I wouldn't mind a bit o' snow right now."
The others nodded in agreement. A moment later, Apple Bloom turned and went into the clubhouse. "I'm gonna see how the others are gettin' on."
She pulled out the dragonstone from her desk. It was one of the early models, about the size of a plate, and not exactly hoof-portable like the newer ones, but it was a gift from Gunnar—the Caribou High Chieftain she'd met the day she got her cutie mark—and it was perfectly serviceable as a desk unit. She tapped the activation symbol, and the green, heatless flame of dragonfire sprung into existence above the stone. She then tapped the runes to activate the royal channels that had been woven into this particular stone by the Queen herself, letting her access the same communications that Twilight, Luna, and the other alicorns were using to coordinate their efforts around the world.
Luna had stationed herself at the north pole, while Twilight had gone to the south. The other alicorns, including Cadance, were spread more or less evenly around the world's equator. The two at the poles were combining their powers to orbit the moon around the world several times per hour. The tidal drag from the moon was slowly imparting inertia to spin up the planet, but the resulting tides limited how low—and thus how powerful—the acceleration could be. Unicorns throughout the world had been stationed near particularly vulnerable parts of the coastlines, and were attempting to fight off the worst of the tides.
Meanwhile, the alicorns along the equator were using their magic to push and tilt the axis of the planet itself. They would push northward for part of a rotation, then southward on the opposite side, the timing of their actions coordinated by Luna and Twilight, who were making precise observations of the night skies to track the planet's shift. After each push, they'd move some miles east, to once again be in prime location for another push. After the set up had been explained in the throne room, Rainbow Dash had described it "like some sort of weird, slow-motion, magic jump rope with the moon."
The dragonfire crackled with sound. "Okay Fluttershy, that's good. Stop and move to the next location." The voice belonged to Twilight, though as the vibrations were magically transmitted through the trapped dragonfire, they lost some of the lower and higher frequencies, making her voice sound tinny and small.
"Okay, Twilight." If Twilight's voice was tinny and small over the dragonstone, then Fluttershy's was almost microscopic.
"Where's she at?" Scootaloo asked, standing now behind Apple Bloom.
"I think she's supposed to be somewhere in the desert near Saddle Arabia." Apple Bloom dug out the copy of the plan's map, and pointed. "Yeah, she should be moving from here to her next point here."
"Ask her if it's snowing there!"
"Nuh uh," Apple Bloom said. "I've got it on receive only. We shouldn't interrupt."
"Yeah, Scoots," Sweetie said. "They've got enough work to do without us pestering them."
The dragonfire crackled again, this time with with the voice of Luna. "Okay, Rainbow Dash, prepare to push south on my mark."
"Roger that," Dash replied.
"In 3... 2... 1... Go."
"Good. Hold for at least nine minutes if you can. I'll signal again when it is finished."
"Can do," Dash said, though it was clear, even over the dragonstone, that she was straining with the effort.
"I can't believe they've been at this for seventeen hours already," Apple Bloom said.
Sweetie nodded. "And another ten to go at least."
Fluttershy's voice came through again. "Umm... Twilight?"
"Not ready for you again yet, Fluttershy." Twilight responded.
"No, umm... it's not that."
"I can, umm, sense something weird. I think maybe I can feel something with Dizzy's magic "
The three Crusaders looked at each other, curious, before leaning closer to the flame to listen.
"Is something wrong?" Twilight asked again.
"No, well, not really. But now I see some sort of tomb thing a little bit north of here. It really feels all cold and scary like Nemesis. Maybe somepony can come take a look?"
"I'm sorry Fluttershy, but we need everypony where they are for now."
Dash broke into the conversation, her voice sounding even more strained. "Yeah, some of us are kinda busy here, Flutters."
"Oh, well, okay... I just thought that since we'd talked about those black tower things in that book Dashie mentioned that maybe—"
Scootaloo leaned past Apple Bloom and hit the rune to transmit. "We're on our way, Fluttershy!"
Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle looked at their friend. "We are?"
"What?" Scootaloo said. "It's not like we have anything better to do."
The other two shrugged, then smiled. Who needed sleep anyway?
The three-way hoofbump was completed with "Cutie Mark Crusaders: Tomb Raiders!" then Sweetie's horn glowed, and there was a loud pop as the trio vanished. Only a faint "Eeep!" could be heard through the dragonstone as Fluttershy was surprised by the arrival of three unexpected companions.
First off, my apologies for how long it took to get this chapter finished. I went through some of the weirdest flavors of writer's block while writing this. I had to struggle to eek out every paragraph here, while at the same time, ideas for all the future stuff in this story flowed like water. That means great news for the pace of future chapters, but I was cursing my muse for giving this story to me practically in reverse here at this early stage. If anything seems a tad disjointed in this chapter because of it, I apologize, but at least you know why. That said, thank you all so much for your patience and comments over the past couple of weeks.
Also, I did everything I could think of to canon-proof this story, but who would've thought the season would open with the mane 6 giving up the Elements of Harmony? For now, I'm continuing on the assumption that things may go back to how they were (or something similar enough to be easily explained away.) If not, I may revise this story, think of something really clever in a later chapter, or just slap an "alternate universe" tag on it. Hopefully the incongruity doesn't bother too many of you for now.
Next update will be "Chapter 2: Tomb Raiders" and should have a bit more action in it as focus shifts back to our favorite Crusading trio. No promises on the release schedule, but I've got a start on it already, and hope to finish much quicker than I did with this first chapter. What I can promise is that it'll go up as soon as it's ready, even if (like this one) that means the wee hours of a Thursday morning.