Princess Luna sat on the new Palace balcony overlooking the bluffs and cliff-faces of Canterlot. She leaned on her haunches, her head tilted up in a meditative pose. Slowly, her glittering mane hair billowed in an invisible wind. Her horn was absorbed in an aura of darkness as specks of silver light rose off her coat, starting with her cutie mark, and then spreading all across her body.
Countless fathoms away, across a solid black horizon, the moon rose under her command. Its silver beams swam their way gently over the rolling emerald hills and plains of Equestria. Lakes glittered and rivers gleamed with white luminescence as the younger sibling performed her nightly task.
Once her labors were complete, she opened her blue eyes and gazed softly over her shoulder and into the torchlit center of the royal porch.
Celestia sat across from a petite unicorn mare. The two were concentrating on a beam of light as a liquid globule of gold and red floated magically between them.
“That's it, Felicity,” Celestia spoke encouragingly to her pupil. “Concentrate. Don't force it. Allow the currents of energy to flow through your leylines and into the metal.”
“Nnnngh...” The green unicorn's ruby mane billowed behind her as her horn glowed brighter and brighter. She had her eyes clenched shut as she mentally forced the floating metal to take shape before her. “This... is a lot tougher than the alchemical spells we went over last month!”
“You're doing fine. Don't throw your concentration off by thinking of the past or future. Focus on the now, and remember the shape that I imprinted in your mind.”
“Yes, your Highness. It's forming together. I can feel it.” Felicity bit her lip, strained, and fell back with a huge exhale.
There was a bright flash of platinum light. When the glow dissipated, a starry crown was gently floating down to a cushion amidst a shower of sparkles.
“Amazing...” Celestia murmured. She smiled brilliantly at her student. “Felicity, open your eyes!”
The unicorn did so. Instantly, her sweat dried and her pained creases disappeared from her gasping face. “I... I did it!”
“This is a historic occasion!” Celestia proclaimed joyfully. She stood up, levitating the crown in a telekinetic grasp. “We now have a vessel for the first and most important element manifested for ponydom: the Element of Magic.”
“I... I can't believe I did it...” Felicity held a hoof over her mouth as her eyes welled up with tears. She was smiling the whole time, cracking forth a chuckle as she sniffed and gazed in awe at the reflective surface of the article. “Oh, Princess Celestia! You've worked and planned so long for this!”
“We've worked so long, my good and faithful student,” Celestia said. “During which time you've mastered the most difficult and dazzling of spells. I cannot begin to tell you how much your impact will have on Canterlot, or all of Equestria's well-being for that matter. We're just one hoofstep closer to constructing a magical enchantment to banish evil and maintain harmony in this land, and we owe it all to you, Felicity. I am so proud.”
Felicity sniffled and put on a brave face despite her tears. “I'm just... just so happy to hear you say that, Celes—” She went wide-eyed and covered her face. Blushing, she winced and squeaked forth, “I-I mean your Highness.”
“Hmmmm...” Celestia chuckled and reached down to nuzzle the unicorn. “It's quite alright, Felicity. You've been more than a pupil to me. You've been a close confidant, a friend. And what's more, I can't think of any pony more qualified...”
“Qualified?” Felicity blinked curiously. “For what?”
Celestia winked and levitated the crown directly in front of her. “For being the first to wear this kingdom's newest key to prosperity.”
Felicity's jaw hung agape. She gazed in disbelief at the crown, then at her mentor. She stammered, “You mean for real? I... I can...?”
“Go ahead, Felicity.” Celestia squinted playfully. “Before I change my mind!”
“Eeep!” The unicorn jumped up. She gnawed on her lip, then gently took the Element of Magic from Celestia in a translucent green grip. With a deep breath, she lowered it to her head, just above her horn. “Eheheh...” She stifled a foalish giggle, cleared her throat, and asked, “How does it look?”
“You tell me yourself.” Celestia gestured towards a potted plant in the corner of the moonlit patio. “Or does my expert apprentice forget a simple transmogrification spell?”
“Heh! Not in a thousand years!” Felicity trotted over towards the plant. She tightened her jaw, squinted her eyes, and shot a bolt of magic out through her horn. Instantly, the potted plant turned into a looking glass. She stood before the mirror, seeing Celestia positioned next to her. The glittering sight of the Element of Magic shone between them in the pale glow from the moon-lit sky beyond. “It's... It's incredible...”
“Mmmm... Yes, indeed,” Celestia said with a slow nod.
Felicity lingered on a breath, then added, “Incredibly, goofily big! I mean... look at this thing! Heeheehee!”
Celestia joined daintily in the laughter. The two mares—mortal and immortal—became one in the levity and joy of the moment. Slowly, Celestia's eyes wandered to the very edge of the mirror, where she caught the reflection of Luna's calm, night-colored gaze meeting hers.
Slowly, Celestia's smile left her, melting away like candles lining a grave. Her face paled, curving painfully, and not for the first time in her life. She slowly stepped back from the mirror, her gaze bowed toward the polished marble floor of the palace abode.
Felicity was still giggling. She wiped a tear of happiness from her face and glanced into the mirror. Celestia wasn't there. She blinked, then turned around. At the sight of the alicorn's calm stature, her smile went away under a flutter of winks.
“Y-your Highness?” Felicity murmured. “Is... Is something the matter?”
Celestia took a deep breath. She raised her face bravely to meet Felicity's eyes. Her smile was as soft as a cloudbank, and just as fleeting. “Hardly, my dear apprentice. As a matter of fact, everything is as it should be.”
“I... I don't understand...”
“When I adopted you as my apprentice, I told you something. Do you remember what it was?”
“Uhm...” Felicity shifted nervously, suddenly having to reach into the past for something as familiar as her own name. “You told me that I had 'amazing talents in magic, but they were raw and needed to be tamed for greater focus and mastery.'”
“And just what have you proven here today?”
“Well, heehee!” Felicity lifted the crown off her head and held it in two bright hooves. “We made the first in the line of several Elements that can help defend Equestria from dark magic and—” She paused once again upon seeing Celestia's piercing gaze. She blinked, and her facial muscles went limp. “I... I-I've become a master...”
Celestia nodded slowly. “And a master is no longer a student.”
Felicity's face scrunched at that. She searched the lengths of the room, and slowly her breaths started coming faster and faster. When she next looked up at her Princess and spoke, her voice came in a foalish squeak, “Your Highness? Does this mean—?”
“You are a beautiful, gifted, adult mare, Felicity.” Celestia took a hoofstep for every word until she stood directly before her pupil. She rested a hoof on her shoulder and gazed deep in her eyes. “Oh, how far you have come from the little foal who used to prance around my study each time she learned a new spell. Every day I spent with you was filled with joy and wonder, for I got to experience them through your eyes, just like all of my apprentices that came before you.” She took a deep breath, one that tore at her gut, before she finally said, “And that makes what happens now as difficult as it is necessary.”
“You...” Felicity fell upon the crest of hyperventilation. “You're s-sending me away?”
Celestia once again caught the gaze of Luna in her peripheral vision. She steeled herself and said, “Felicity, I have told you time and time again about the Rite of a Master's Journey—”
“But... But so soon?!” Felicity's face grimaced as the tears reformed in her eyes. “Princess—”
“As our Father left my sister and I to govern Equestria on our lonesome, we must leave those in our apprenticeship to go forth on their own and practice what they've learned, untainted and pure in form and beauty.”
“But there's so much more that we can learn together!” Felicity whimpered, her shoulders heaving. By now, she was hugging the crown to her chest and shivering. “Please! Not this soon, your Highness! Imagine all the years we can spend discovering more Elements—”
“Shhhh...” Celestia knelt down and brushed a hoof across Felicity's cheek, drying it. She smiled dearly. “Dearest Felicity, imagine all the more years you now have to discover yourself.” She clutched her shoulders tenderly. “You are an adult, a sorcerer supreme, and yet you are not even halfway towards the glowing horizon of your journey. There are so many possibilities for you. So many memories to be had, and not all of them alone.”
Felicity choked. She clenched her eyes shut and hung her head.
“Felicity...” Celestia tilted her chin up. “Look at me.”
The Princess' apprentice obeyed her last command.
Celestia whispered, “I have and shall always love you, always cherish you, until the end of time—for it shall be my time. Now, I must send you forth to experience your time. For that is the way of the Rite of a Master's Journey. And I know that you are ready.”
Felicity took a shivering breath and murmured, “I know that I am r-ready now t-too, my Princess.” She smiled crookedly, but genuinely. “I am forever in your debt.”
“No Felicity.” Celestia shook her head, smiling. “You are forever in my heart.”
Felicity tried to smile back, but the next sob was coming on too strong. She almost collapsed, only Celestia was there to hug her, a final hug, the last contact they would ever make. By next morning, when the sun was raised, Felicity would depart from the Palace, never to return.
Celestia knew it, which is why as soon as her expression was out of range of Felicity's foggy vision, she allowed her face to break under the pressure that had built up for so many minutes, hours, days, months, years. This moment had fallen into her lap far sooner than she had hoped, but she wasn't about to tell Felicity. Instead she showed her, holding her tightly and stroking the tiny pony's back, like a treasure that would be lost just beyond the burning edge of a dismal morning.
“I will follow your wisdom to the very end, my Princess,” Felicity breathily exclaimed. “Please, I beg of you, don't be mad at me for wanting to stay your apprentice longer.”
Celestia lovingly stroked her mane. “Never,” she breathed, speaking with the eloquence of a eulogy. She steeled her shaking lungs for Felicity's sake. And when she looked out upon the veil of stars...