Twilight had an itch. A painful itch. An itch that kept her up at night in agony. An itch that made her waking moments torturous. With each passing second, she could feel that itch wearing down her force of will and distracting her from her duties as the princess of magic. It was an itch she needed to deal with, badly, but it was an itch with which she had no experience herself. An itch she would need help soothing. An itch that only one or two of her closest friends could be trusted to deal with in confidence.
Twilight was molting.
It was her first time, her first summer since acquiring the wings that made her the alicorn princess she had become, and, as that was the case, she had no idea how to tend to the stinging itch of the loose and prickly feathers that jabbed into her wings with every minute motion. It had been a simple ordeal at first. A powerful flap could dislodge a feather or two that had been shed. Now that the summer heat was in full and her plumage was replacing itself en masse, however, the burning, stinging itch of the needle-like feathers was becoming unbearable.
She had sought the advice of her mentor, only to find her always busy with dignitaries and contractors and politicians. The princess of the night was equally unavailable during the day, and at night she was never anywhere to be found. Her new sister-in-law was a few hundred miles away, and busy with her own kingdom to conduct.
Twilight paced in her bedchamber, glaring out her window at the grand vista afforded the residents of Canterlot. Had she been a braver pony, one of less selectively delicate sensibilities, she might have asked one of the many Pegasus guards that accompanied her during her brief stay in the royal city. She cursed the seemingly random things that her mind had elected were taboo – the things that others discussed with such ease. She supposed embarrassment in this case was in part for the sake of maintaining her regality in the eyes of her new subjects, but, she suspected, she would have been just as irked before receiving her royal title to ask for help with something so simple.
She stopped her pacing, stomping a hoof on the marble floor, and set her jaw just as she set her eyes on the tiny speck in the distance that she called home. She stepped out onto the balcony, the mountain wind catching her mane and throwing it to one side, then closed her eyes and vanished from her perch with a brilliant flash of light.
When she opened her eyes again, she was in Ponyville. The streets were full of mares and stallions going about their business, some stopping suddenly as the most recently added member of the royal family appeared before them. Some ponies dipped their heads as they passed, others outright bowing to the young alicorn, and Twilight shifted awkwardly and greeted them as they did.
It was something she had yet to become used to, royalty. Respect from members of the academic field, she was used to, but veneration from the general populace was another matter. She made her way through the streets of town, nodding and waving to the people that addressed her. Some she had known for years, who paid her little attention when she was but the town librarian, had become her most devoted of subjects judging by the way the acted around her. She smiled awkwardly and turned down gifts of fruits and an invitation into the town’s spa (with a pang of remorse afterward), and continued on her way toward the edge of town.
Twilight twitched in pain as the itch persisted, keeping her wings slightly unfurled to prevent putting pressure on the little pins that stuck into her. She glanced around as she walked, worried that some might think she held such a pose to display her wings – that her newfound royalty had made her headstrong and boastful. It was a sill fear to have of course, and with any thought she would have realized this fact, but the distracting itch and her lack of composure made the most outlandish of fantasies seem like inevitabilities in her overtaxed mind.
Soon she had cleared the edge of the town, marched her way over the short bridge that marked the end of its territory, and started to approach her true destination. She could see it, hanging low in the sky to the North of the small town. Twilight grinned at her luck in finding the ornate cloud-house where sat, casting its long shadow over a small yellow cottage at the edge of the Everfree Forest. If her timing was right, she may even have the chance to get two perspectives, two unique methods of dealing with her problem.
Her timing could not have been better. As Twilight approached, she could hear conversation, idle words thrown back and forth with a fair amount of volume. Rainbow Dash, evidently, was lazing about at the edge of her home while Fluttershy took care of some business around her yard. The alicorn’s pace quickened, the rush of wind agitating her sore wings, and she called out to her friends as she made her way around the small building between them and her.
“Twilight?” a confused Rainbow Dash greeted her. “Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be in Canterlot?”
“Well yes, but...” Twilight blushed, squirming as the breeze from Rainbow’s descent rustled her feathers. “I need your help.”
Rainbow Dash touched down and folded her wings, frowning sideways at her yellow companion as she set down a watering tin and landed as well.
“What’s wrong, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked with her usual breathy tone of concern.
Twilight motioned to respond but found she couldn’t think of words to convey her issue. She shifted her weight from one side to the other, awkwardly rolling her jaw as she tried to make herself speak the issue at hand.
“I...think there’s something wrong with my wings,” she finally managed. “They’re all...prickly and itchy.”
Dash and Fluttershy both stared at their mutual friend before exchanging an amused grin.
“Well yeah,” the blue Pegasus shrugged, “it’s summer.”
Twilight winced, unsure if her friends truly understood her plight. “So?”
“So you’re molting, dummy,” Dash chuckled. “I know you’re new to the whole ‘wings’ thing, but you have to know about molting, right?”
“Of course I know about molting!” Twilight snapped, “But what in the hay do I do about it?”
Now the pegasi seemed confused. They exchanged another glance, a hint of worry on both their faces.
“Well...you preen,” Fluttershy offered, her voice laden with concern. Twilight’s own worried expression made Fluttershy’s brow lower, a hoof lifting to her face in surprise. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to preen.”
Twilight sighed, dropping onto her rear and stretching out her itching wings. “Why would I know how to do that? I haven’t molted before and I just got these things a few months ago.”
“She does deserve a little slack,” Dash conceded. “If we suddenly grew horns, I doubt we’d know how to take care of ‘em.” She sat down as well and stretched out her own wings. “Still though, there isn’t much to preening. I’d have thought someone would’ve told you about it by now.”
“Me too,” Twilight groaned. “I guess I should’ve asked sooner. I just hadn’t considered they would need any more maintenance than my horn.”
She thoughtfully reached up and tapped her horn as she mentioned it, straining to see how much it had grown since she’d last checked. It was a quirk, or a perk rather, as Rarity had impressed upon her, that her horn should grow much longer as an alicorn, but the effect was evidently quite slow in her case.
“No time like the present though, I suppose,” she sighed, turning her focus back to her friends. “This itching is driving me crazy.”
“It is pretty late in the season to be preening,” Fluttershy informed her. “I usually do it in the first week or so.”
“Me too,” Dash nodded. “I think most ponies do. Better to get the feathers while their just loose and not just hanging on.”
Twilight shuddered as another breeze sent those freely hanging feathers rustling through her wings. “I’ll be sure to remember that, but can you just tell me what to do about them?”
“Welll...” Fluttershy started, lifting a wing to demonstrate, “All you really need to do is reach over and pull out the loose feathers. Like this.” She leaned sideways, bringing the wing closer to her face, then straightened again, a single yellow feather hanging from her lips.
“Seriously?” Twilight mused. “That’s it?”
“Mm hm,” Fluttershy nodded. “You try.”
Twilight took a breath and brought her left wing up beside her head, then turned and pulled a feather out, yelping in pain as she did and thrusting the wing away from herself. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash both jumped, the yellow Pegasus dropping the feather from her mouth, and hissed as they realized what she’d done.
“No no no, Twilight, careful!” Dash urged, stepping closer to her friend. “You can’t just rip feathers out at random! There’s blood flowing in those things, you know!”
Twilight flinched and glanced sideways at her wing, wincing as she noticed a thin red line making its way down her purple plumage. “But you said—“
“It’s not actually that simple,” Dash cut her off. “It...kind of seems that way I guess, growing up doing it,” she mused, glancing at Fluttershy, who nodded in abashed confirmation, “but there’s some...nuance to it.”
Twilight groaned and let her wings fall at her sides. “Uggghhh, I just want to stop being itchyyyy,” she complained.
“Well you should’ve thought—actually, I guess we really should’ve said something,” Dash confessed, averting her gaze. “Didn’t really think of I guess...”
Twilight looked down from her skyward lament and offered her friends a weak smile. “Don’t worry about it. Just help me, please.”
Dash nodded and stepped up beside her. “Alright. So, really the first step is finding out which feathers are actually loose. Usually this is the longest step, but it’s pretty obvious by now, right?”
“Painfully so,” Twilight nodded.
“Right. Well, I guess not entirely, you missed on the first one. But that’s okay!” she said quickly. “Lots of fillies have trouble preening their first time.”
Twilight glared sidelong at her friend as she snickered at the comment. This was part of what Twilight had been afraid of in asking for assistance with this issue. She knew that her friends would be more understanding of her naiveté than some random guard from the palace, but it was still embarrassing to admit to having a knowledge of her own anatomy that was rivaled by that of a schoolfilly.
“What you want to do,” Fluttershy said, turning Twilight’s focus to her, “Is use your nose to ruffle your feathers. You can feel the loose one move on your wing and on your snout. The ones that aren’t won’t move as much or just won’t move at all,” she explained.
Twilight nodded, glad to have some useful information at last, and returned to her sore wing. She pressed the tip of her snout into her plumage, shifting it side to side, then paused as one of the feathers rotated with her movement and pricked into her skin.
“Found one,” she announced, keeping her head in place. “What now?”
“Now you pull it out,” Dash said, her face poking around the wing that filled Twilight’s vision. “Gently. With your lips, not your teeth.”
Twilight frowned, tilting her head as tried to catch the flat feather in her lips. She struggled for a moment, attempting to suck it into her mouth, but quickly discerned that she needed to scoop it up using her tongue. The feather now held firmly in her puckered lips, she withdrew her head, slowly, until she felt a very tiny give in her skin and the little resistance the feather offered fall away. She paused, then lifted her head and crossed her eyes looking down at the feather caught in her mouth.
“You did it!” Fluttershy said excitedly.
“Yeah, not bad,” Dash agreed, patting the alicorn’s shoulder. “Took me a bit longer to figure out the tongue thing.”
Twilight looked back and forth between them, the feather still hanging from her lips, then slouched with an annoyed frown.
“This is gonna take all day, isn’t it?”
The two pegasi held their excited expressions but slowly turned their eyes away from their friend.
“I mean, it’s pretty late to be getting to this now...” Fluttershy murmured.
“You only have to do a few a day at the start of the season...” Dash mused across from her.
Twilight felt her eyes droop closed as the tedious nature of her task became apparent, and the realization that relief from her itch would likely not be immediate following its completion. She lowered her head, letting the feather fall from her mouth, and let out a long, labored sigh.
’Princesses shouldn’t have to deal with this horseshit...’
“...Or we could go to the spa,” Fluttershy offered.
Twilight opened her eyes, slowly lifted her head, and turned her focus to her smiling yellow friend.
“The spa has a preening service,” Dash explained. “I don’t like to use it, but Fluttershy usually gets it done on her weekly spa visits with Rarity.”
“Actually, I don’t think I’ve been to a spa that didn’t have a preening service,” Fluttershy mused. “It’s a big money maker from what I hear. I’d be surprised if the royal spa didn’t have something like...um, Twilight? Are you okay?”
Twilight stared past her friend into the yawning void that had suddenly opened up in her mind’s eye. Her eye twitched, her jaw rolling, and her head slowly lifted as she prepared to speak.
“I’ve been laying awake in agony,” she started in a hushed tone, “tossing and turning and kicking and screaming, and losing time from my studies while being distracted by this burning, pricking, stabbing, fucking itching...for three weeks...WHEN I COULD’VE GONE TO ANY SPA IN EQUESTRIA AND HAD THEM FIX ME IN A COUPLE OF HOURS!?”
Dash took the air, Fluttershy rushing up to hide behind her. Twilight grit her teeth, her throat now sore from having spontaneously learned to use the Royal Canterlot Voice, then took a quick, deep breath and straightened up.
“Thank you for teaching me how to preen,” she said with a slight bow, sounding more official and cordial than actually calmed. “I think I’ll let the spa do the rest of the work.”
Fluttershy leaned out from behind Rainbow Dash, hesitating for a moment, then decided to give Twilight the bad news before she had to find out herself.
“The...The spa closes at five,” she said meekly.
Twilight’s eyes flew open. It was almost four fifty by the time she’d arrived at Fluttershy’s cabin. Thinking back, she remembered that the twins that ran the spa looked as though they were closing up shop when they’d offered to take her, probably extending their hours to accommodate the newly crowned princess.
That newly crowned princess sucked air in through her teeth, a shiver running down her spine from her shaking jaw, and let loose the very beginning of a sharp scream before vanishing in a flash of lavender. Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash looked at each other nervously, simultaneously feeling relieved for themselves and sorry for whoever Twilight might encounter at her destination.
Twilight burst into existence once again, dropping a few inches as she settled back onto the balcony she had left previously, and finished her enraged shriek in the privacy of her quarters. The second she’d shut herself up, however, a duo of stallions in armor threw open her doors and rushed into the room.
“Princess Twilight! What’s wrong!?” one of them asked, turning as he entered.
Twilight whipped around to face them, catching the two guards off-guard with angered expression, then lashed an accusing hoof at them.
“YOU!!” she roared, making them drop their spears, “TAKE ME TO THE SPA!!”
The two guard ponies shared an anxious glance. “B-but those facilities are reserved for Princess Celest—“
Spike made another uncertain turn, nervously rubbing his claws together as he attempted to navigate the labyrinthine inner palace. One of the guards had directed him in this direction, but he was no longer sure he’d made the right turns at the right times. As he rounded another corner, however, he saw the small contingent of guards stationed outside of the room he’d been searching for. He wandered closer, looking from one guard to the other, wincing as he heard strange exclamations from within, then flinched as one of the guards looked over at him.
“Uh...I’m looking for Twilight?” he offered.
The other guards glanced at him, then averted their attentions as another drawn out moan echoed out of the room they guarded.
“Can you do something about her?” one of them asked quietly. “She’s been in there for hours.”
Spike sighed and nodded, stepping up to the doors as the guards lifted their spears from his path, and slowly, cautiously entered the room.
Heat and moisture met him immediately, then the smell of lavender, and finally the sight of his caretaker, sprawled out on her back on a massage table. She squirmed and moaned as a spa worker leaned into her right wing, grinding her elbow into the flesh near its base, then slowly worked her way toward the joint and forced out a loud pop from the stiffened appendage. Her head lulled to one side, the masseuse lathering her hooves with another coat of scented oils, then let out a long sigh as the other pony began forcefully rubbing the oils into her wing.
Spike raised a concerned eyebrow. From the guard’s works and the slick sheen on Twilight’s coat, this apparently wasn’t the first pass the masseuse had made at massaging Twilight’s wings. A glance toward the corner of the room found another spa worker laying exhausted against the wall, evidently having worn herself out doing what her assumed replacement was doing now. Spike frowned, making his way over to the table, and snapped his fingers by Twilight’s head.
The lavender alicorn let out another moan as she tuned her focus into the room once again, finding, much to her surprise, that her assistant was now with her.
“Osspike,” she mumbled, struggling to gain control of her voice. “Where’ve youbin?”
“I was...” Spike shook his head, “Twilight, what’re you doing in here? This is Princess Celestia’s bath—“
“Ohh th’princ’ss,” Twilight slurred, pausing to squeal as another pop was drawn from her wing. “Spike, take e’letter.”
Spike winced about to argue, but found a scroll and quill suddenly pushed into his hands. He looked down at them in surprise, then up at the pony at his side that had given them to him. The secretary-like pony retreated from his side, leaving him to watch her return to her previously unnoticed position by the door before he looked back down at the utensils in his hands. He sighed, shaking the scroll to straighten it out despite the humidity already starting to ruin it, then turned his focus to Twilight.
The purple alicorn took a moment to instruct the masseuse to switch to her other wing before clearing her throat and beginning to dictate. “Dear Princess Celestia, Todaaaaaaeeeeaoooooohhhhhh,” she moaned as her massager brought her elbow down on her other wing.
Spike touched the quill to the paper, hesitating, then lifted it off with a sigh. “I d...I don’t know how to spell that,” he complained.
He looked up to Twilight for assistance, but knew she was in no state to give him any. He looked back at the scroll, his quill hovering above for a moment, then, with a sigh, he sribbled a note onto it and turned to leave. He palmed his face in embarrassment as Twilight let out a long, throaty moan behind him, and quickly shut the door once he was outside. He looked around at the guards, frowning apologetically as they looked to him with pleas to remove his caretaker and themselves from their predicament. Instead, with a remorseful groan and whispered apology, he turned and tacked the scroll to the door with the point of the sharpened quill, then quickly scurried away.
In that same moment, none other than Princess Celestia turned the corner at the opposite end of the hall. She raised an eyebrow at the small dragon as he disappeared from sight, then the other at the troupe of guards stationed outside her private bath. She approached them in silence, noting their surprise and anxious aversion to eye contact with their sovereign. As she stepped up to the doors, she took note of the parchment stuck to their surface, and lifted it to her face with her magic to read.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Do not disturb.