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The story's cover art
|Date published||December 23, 2012|
|Type/genre||Slice of Life|
|Part of||In The Family|
|Related to||Past Sins |
Winter Bells is the third installment of Pen Stroke's In The Family side story trilogy of Past Sins (along with Nightmare or Nyx? and Trinkets). In the story, Twilight Sparkle decides to take Nyx to visit her relatives in Canterlot for Hearths Warming's eve.
The story is written in the third-person, present tense, from varying perspectives. Mostly it involves Twilight Sparkle, however sometimes it may switches to some other character. Curiously enough, Pen Stroke is posting the story chapter by chapter as he writes them, something he actively doesn't do on purpose.
Home for the Holidays
The story starts with Applejack seeing Rarity about getting a re-size on their Hearths Warming's Eve performance costumes. During their idle conversation, Applejack finds out Twilight has taken Nyx and Spike to Canterlot in advance, to properly introduce Nyx to her parents.
The scene then cuts to the trio in question riding the train to Canterlot. Before arriving at the station, they notice a swarm of reporters at the platform. With Nyx and Spike on her back, Twilight transfigures a disguise to slip past the reporters, and rendezvous with her dad, Night Light, keeping up the disguise until they're inside her parents' house.
Two of the reporters working for a newspaper, the unicorn Column and his pegasus photographer Quick Snap, discuss how Column's source, a castle servant, said that Twilight is bringing Nightmare Moon to Canterlot. Column is determined to prove that Nyx is not imprisoned as many assumed.
Twilight's initial fears that her parents would be un-accepting of Nyx are proven wrong, however after Spike leads Nyx into the kitchen for milk and holiday cookies, she finds that they still think that she is too young to be raising a child. Twilight on the other hand insists that she has every reason to be doing so, and is confident that she can still change their minds on that opinion.
The rest of day is spent frosting cookies, helping Nyx build a snowpony, a snowball fight, then cooking dinner and a board game in the living room. Before putting her to bed in her old room, Twilight assures Nyx that once Shining Armor gets to know her, he'll let go of his resentment and accept her into the family.
During the night, Shining and Princess Cadance are sharing an intimate moment on their own train ride from the Crystal Empire. Shining asks his wife to be careful around the house because of Nyx's presence. Cadance reiterates past discussions between them about Nyx, saying that ever since her aunts pardoned Nyx nothing negative has happened and doesn't believe that the youngest alicorn is dangerous. Shining mentions that his sister and Celestia has assured him of the same thing, but says that Twilight had a gut feeling about something wrong with Queen Chrysalis; he states that he has similar feelings about trusting Nyx. He dreads the possibilities of what Nightmare Moon could of ordered him to do to capture Cadance, and his wife understands that he wants to be careful but asks that he not become paranoid and ruin Hearths Warming. Cadance gets a promise from Shining that he'll try to get along with Nyx as Twilight wishes. After Cadence goes to sleep however, Shining Armor pulls out and reads a medical report detailing his psychological status after a second requested examination, from having been infected by Nightmare Moon's blessing.
A Day with Family
Before they go meet up with Shining Armor and Princess Cadence at the station in the morning, Twilight Velvet asks her daughter to have Nyx wear a pre-arranged disguise, an enchanted headband. Nyx is reluctant, but highlighting the unexpected reporters, Twilight explains that she wants Nyx to experience the holiday like anypony else can; she just doesn't need to wear it at the house and the party at the castle. The disguise, modified from the whole body illusion spell of the royal guards, turns Nyx into a regular white unicorn pony.
The royal couple arrive at Canterlot to give the exact reactions that were foreshadowed on the train ride. Despite his promise, Shining Armor shuns Nyx while Princess Cadence tries to make friendly conversation which somehow brings up mention of the rebel army she was building during Nightmare Moon's reign.
The group makes their way to their favored tree and log lot so Night Light can buy their Hearth’s Warming logs for the fireplace. There, Nyx meets the jovial lot owner, Lumber Jack, who gives her his customary treatment on meeting new foals, like he did with Twilight and Shining when first introduced. He holds her upside down from one hind leg, gives her a nickname, Little Snowflake (although she protests "that's not my name"), and tells her a story which details his business at the same time. The logs he sells are burned to make colorful fires. Twilight's father picks a pink fire every year, a traditional pink like the spell Clover the Clever cast, and the stack he picks from is then sold to other customers at a premium price. Twilight allows Nyx to pick out a small log of her own that she can have burned in the backyard grill.
After they pick their logs, the family heads to the city's Hearth’s Warming Festival to grab a quick lunch from the food stalls before going caroling. While waiting in line, Cadence, Twilight, and Nyx are then ambushed by Column and Quick Snap, who are there to harass the Princess. Shining Armor roughs them up and sends them off, but makes it clear to Nyx that he holds her responsible for the incident without letting anypony else know.
Dinner at the Pranceston
In the evening, the family goes to a dinner event at a famous hotel hosted by Equestria Publications, the publishing company that prints Twilight Velvet's mystery series. Nyx is forced to wear an uncomfortable, itchy dress picked out by Twilight Velvet rather than one Rarity made for her. When they arrive, Velvet ascertains that company president Print Press's family is sharing the same table as them, and the executive editor is sitting at a different one, which pleases her. It doesn't take Twilight too long to figure out that her mother is trying to appeal to Print Press in the hopes that her latest story won't get turned away by the executive editor, who thinks the ending is too predictable. The dress Twilight Velvet got for Nyx is clearly a knockoff of the Hoity Toity original that Print Press's daughter Green Ink is wearing. Twilight takes her mother aside and confronts her about this and after a short argument, she is still not pleased but silently agrees to play along.
During the first course of fancy salad that she doesn't enjoy, Nyx ends up talking with Green Ink, who is like Diamond Tiara (only not quite as rude). Green Ink explains how her dress is the original to the knockoff Nyx is wearing. When Nyx mentions her preferred dress by Rarity, Green Ink spouts off the opinion of a fashion designer friend of Print Press rather than her own, that Rarity is a hack that only found success from working in a community like Ponyville. Spike defends Rarity, noting that she made the dresses for Cadance's wedding, but Green Ink decides that was only due to her being a family friend, and not to any actual skill. Nyx and Spike shout at her to take that back, drawing the attention of the adults. Twilight Velvet bids that Nyx and Spike should move to the kids' tables, even though they are a bit old for it. Nyx learns that the children's menu has regular, non-fancy food that she prefers, so asks to go anyway when Twilight moves to intervene. After this, Print Press seems intent on starting an argument by picking up sensitive topics. However, Twilight Velvet does everything in her power to ensure that the dinner goes by smoothly.
By the end of the dinner, Print Press takes Twilight Velvet aside and tells her that she has been the one turning down her story, not the editor. She also voices her disappointment in the fact that Twilight's mother, one of her successful and experienced authors, would stoop so low as to her actions during dinner; she had been trying to be the worse table guest she could be on purpose, but Twilight Velvet censored her family's reactions. She is certain that Velvet's latest work can become the #1 bestseller she's always wanted, but Print Press stresses that it must finish as strong as the rest of the story is. Print Press then threatens to drop her contract if she does something similar in the future, and demands that Twilight Velvet's newest draft be submitted to her editor a week into the new year: a draft Velvet has no idea how to start, and knows she cannot finish in time.
At midnight, Column and Quick Snap covertly break into the train station, and find passenger records stating the purchase of three tickets using a royally approved government travel account from Ponyville, for the train Twilight was supposed to be on. Having figured out that the filly they saw at the festival could not belong to Cadance and Shining Armor, Column concludes that the other two tickets could only be for Spike and Nyx.
The next morning, Twilight's family reflects on how Twilight Velvet was nearly hysterical on the cab ride home, worrying about inconsequential things, and spouting off insanely ridiculous scenarios ending in losing the family home. While Twilight Velvet stays in bed, the other adults go out to complete Twilight Velvet's to-do-list for the large Hearth’s Warming Eve luncheon with Twilight's friends the next day, picking up new dinnerware, glasses, an extension for the dining table, and grocery shopping. Spike and Nyx stay at home. Nyx then delivers a sandwich lunch to Twilight Velvet made by Spike. Twilight Velvet however, doesn't feel altogether comfortable with Nyx watching her eat, as she's waiting to take the dishes back down to the kitchen for Spike, and so shows her the picture album Night Light had used to calm her down the night prior to entertain the little filly. She shares the stories behind many of the pictures in the album. When they come across a picture of Twilight when she first received her Smarty Pants doll, Nyx tells her that Twilight had given her Smarty Pants. Twilight Velvet is shocked, as her daughter was extremely attached to the doll, and had taken steps to ensure that it wouldn't be given away after Velvet tried to donate it to charity. This leaves a deep impression on Twilight Velvet, and she allows Nyx to call her "grandma", finding herself becoming rather attached to Nyx.
Later, the family comes back home to find Twilight Velvet up and about, something they all were not expecting. Shining Armor has suspicions that Nyx brainwashed his mother into liking her. After putting all the shopping away, they prepare to light the logs they bought in the fireplace. However, while they wait for Night Light to stack them to his satisfaction, Twilight, Cadence, and Nyx decide to burn Nyx's small log in the charcoal grill out back. The log burns red and white and smells like candy canes, which reminded Nyx of the peppermint stick Twist gave her after she found her crying under the willow tree, but she doesn't specify this to Twilight and Cadance. They then hear the castle bells faintly ringing out the Hearth's Warming carol. Cadance teasingly tells Nyx that Twilight "has a thing for bells." Twilight clarifies that she enjoys them during the holiday, and explains to Nyx that to her, bells represent the spirit of the season; only a variety of bells, not one, can make music and when they play carols, it’s like the sky and wind are singing along. For Twilight, the bells playing also symbolize the Hearth’s Warming legend, in how it was not one pony tribe, but all three together that created Equestria and "different kinds, big and small, coming together to face adversity in the name of peace and harmony."
When Night Light calls them in, Cadence puts out the fire and goes in last. Night Light makes a speech, a tradition started by his grandfather and done before lighting the Hearth's Warming logs the night before Hearth's Warming Eve, and welcomes Cadance and Nyx into the family. In the meantime, Column and Quick Snap then pop out of the snow they were hiding in after Cadance went inside. Column uses a spell to decompress the snow of their hoofprints, leaving no evidence of their presence. Quick Snap complains about the cold, but Column overheard Nyx's name, which he happily explains can be used to search for her public records and dig up some dirt on her. However, as Column sets about eavesdropping on the family, Quick Snap finds that the log in the grill still has glowing embers and uses his wings to reignite it in an attempt to warm himself. Column doesn't take kindly to this as the firelight could give them away, and throws the lit log into the snow. It unexpectedly bounces off the frame of a lawn chair and falls under the flammable tarp covering the family's large pile of Hearth's Warming logs, and soon enough there is a massive tower of pink flame in the backyard. Fortunately, Night Light had finished his speech, lit the fireplace and settled in with his wife when he notices the flames. As he and the rest of the family rush outside to put it out, the two reporters escape unnoticed in the chaos.
It's Heath's Warming Eve, and Twilight happily welcomes her friends for the luncheon her mother planned. Applejack and Pinkie Pie immediately go to the kitchen to help with the cooking, while Rainbow Dash and Rarity set the table. Fluttershy brought a birdseed bell she made, which Twilight hangs in the backyard. With four of her friends, along with Twilight Velvet already cooking and Shining and Night Light doing dishes taking care of lunch, Fluttershy relaxes in the living room with Cadance, who was shooed there by her mother-in-law. Being taller, she kept hitting her horn on the upper cabinets while working over the counter, eventually dropping an egg. Fluttershy notes the Hearth's Warming logs having been stacked in one corner, some of the furniture having been shoved out of the way to make room. Twilight tells her friend how the logs caught fire; Shining had sealed the wood in an air-tight force field to choke out the flames, and Night Light decided to move them indoors to not risk losing them again. Spike and Nyx show up from upstairs, having found candlesticks that Velvet sent them for, with Spike interjecting that he found a book with a cleaning spell to clear out the smoke smell. Rarity takes the candlesticks to decorate the table, and asks Fluttershy to fold table napkins while Spike follows to assist Rarity. Nyx asks Fluttershy to teach her, her mother and aunt how to fold them, Nyx managing to hold one midair after a moment.
As lunch is being enjoyed, Column has spent his morning in the Central Records Office, searching for any records stating that Nyx and Nightmare Moon are the same pony. However, everything he's found only states one name or the other. At the last minute, he has a realization and finds Nyx's official, royally-endorsed letter of pardon: it states Nyx's name, but lists the crimes she committed as Nightmare Moon. He tells Quick Snap, waiting outside for him, that all they need now is a picture of her without her disguise. Column explains that he has the beginnings of a plan: they already know that the Element bearers will be reprising their roles in Canterlot Castle's Hearth’s Warming pageant, along with Cadance and Shining Armor and therefore, Night Light and Twilight Velvet will be in the audience... so who's going to be keeping an eye on Nyx?
Later at the castle, Princess Celestia is in the middle of her favorite Hearth’s Warming activity: directing the castle's Hearth’s Warming pageant. It's the dress rehearsal, and Celestia pauses to demonstrate to Cadance, playing a windigo, how to properly whinny like one. Twilight suggests that with her skill, she should also perform in the pageant. Celestia would like that, but explains that she has responsibilities, such as the meet and greet at the pre-pageant reception and sitting with dignitaries during the show. Sometimes it gets so bad that she can't direct some years, and can't even properly enjoy the cast party this year, only making an appearance before she and Luna are needed at another function. However, the only thing scheduled for Hearth’s Warming is the party so the princesses can meet the families of the other Element bearers. The princess wonders where Twilight's parents are, to which she explains that they stayed behind to clean up after lunch, and Velvet wanted to prepare for Twilight's friends all staying in her old bedroom. She thanks Celestia for letting Nyx sit with her during rehearsal, who is studying a copy of the script. Before getting back to rehearsal Celestia asks how the holiday has been going for Nyx. Twilight admits they've had "a few rough spots", but things have been pretty smooth.
Elsewhere, Quick Snap meets up with Column at a cafe, having found the rental company that the castle is renting tables, centerpieces, and the like from for the pre-pageant reception. Column reveals that he's brought costumes matching the rental company's uniform: they will intercept the employees' delivery cart on the way to the castle and claim to be temps sent to help with set up. It'll be their ticket into the castle. As for finding Nyx during rehearsal without suspicion, Column has a second set of different costumes.
Starting the final run-through of the pageant before dinner for the cast and crew, Celestia asks Nyx herself about how her holiday is going, noticing from the filly's summary that Shining Armor hasn't been interacting with her. When asked, Nyx excuses Shining as having been too busy to do so.