Trumpets blared in the courtyard of Canterlot Castle as Daring Do presented the Griffon’s Goblet to its rightful owner. Ambassador Hawkwing accepted the goblet on behalf of his people, accompanied by approving roars from the griffons assembled behind him. The ambassador extended a taloned hand and shook Daring’s hoof firmly. “Thank you, Daring Do! Who knows what Ahuitzotl would have done to our people if he had kept this, our most sacred artefact? You are truly a credit to Equestria and to ponies everywhere.”
“Hey, it was all in a day’s work,” replied Daring modestly, giving the ambassador a wide grin. “Another day, another dungeon, right?”
“This was no ordinary day, and you are no ordinary hero,” said Princess Celestia, standing to one side of the transfer of the goblet. “You have foiled a plot that might have plunged our two great nations into a terrible war, to say nothing of Ahuitzotl’s plans for us both. That is why I have called for a celebration tonight, to commemorate your heroism and the peace between ponies and griffons!”
It was a good party, no doubt about that. For what must have been the tenth time since beginning her career as an adventuring archaeologist, Daring Do was the toast of Canterlot. Everypony she met wanted to be her friend, to press her for autographs or photo opportunities, or to hear tales of her dashing exploits. All of Daring’s close friends had turned out to celebrate her victory as well, and spending time with her friends always put a smile on Daring’s face.
Nevertheless, Daring found herself sitting on a cloud a short distance away from Canterlot at dusk, even while the party was still in full swing behind her. She rested her head on her hooves and sighed heavily, watching the sun’s red rays light up the clouds at the horizon.
“At least the sunsets are still pretty,” she murmured, flicking a grey strand of mane out of her eyes dejectedly.
“Thank you, I do my best,” came a voice from behind her. Daring twisted her head around to see Princess Celestia settling down on the cloud behind her, folding her wings and making herself comfortable.
“Princess! Uh, I’m sorry I left the party without telling anypony, it’s a great party, honest!” Daring started to scramble to her hooves, before Princess Celestia smiled and shook her head.
“Please, don’t get up on my account, Daring. I only came up here to see if you were alright.” She indicated the partying ponies on the ground with a nod of her head. “They all love you, you know. So many fillies look up to you, and want to be like you when they grow up.”
“I know,” replied Daring, managing to force a smile onto her face. “It’s great! I love having so many fans.”
Princess Celestia turned back to face Daring with a concerned frown on her muzzle. “I’m worried about you, Daring. You carry so much weight on your withers, but I don’t think you even talk to your friends about it. Are you happy, Daring Do?”
Daring forced her smile even wider. “Of course I’m happy! Why in the world would I not be happy? I’m the great Daring Do! I’ve got an awesome career and lots of great friends and thousands of fans! No offence, Princess, but I really don’t need you trying to get inside my head and figure me out. I’m fine. Everything’s fine.”
The princess looked uncertain for a few moments, but finally nodded her head. “Very well. Just remember that I am always nearby if you need me. Take care, Daring Do.” She picked herself up off the cloud and swooped gracefully back down to join the party in Canterlot.
Daring Do waited until the princess was out of sight, then buried her face in the cloud again. She knew that Celestia meant well, but she could never understand how Daring felt. Daring didn’t understand it herself. Everything was going her way. Her fans loved her, her university career was skyrocketing, Ahuitzotl was afraid of her, her friends were always there for her...
So why did she feel so miserable?
Daring Do felt tears pooling at the corners of her eyes, despite her best efforts to cheer herself up. “Great,” she said to herself. “Now I’m crying, and over what? Over nothing.” She pushed herself upright and started pacing around the cloud, trying to clear her head.
Instead, she found herself staring at the cloud as her tears ran down her muzzle and dripped down to merge with the cloud matter. As she stared, she felt a song rise to her lips. Not a joyous, upbeat song celebrating friendship or a holiday, but a song that more properly reflected her mood.
“No-one’s in a fix like I am,
Nopony has the luck I do,
No-one has the sickness I have,
Look where life has led me to!
Nothing I can see can help me,
And with all that I’ve come through,
Nopony else would dare fight Ahuitzotl,
But what good will daring do?”
Daring kicked morosely at a section of cloud, and sent it scooting off into the darkness. “I can’t just keep feeling sorry for myself,” she muttered, dragging her fetlock across her eyes. She paced around the cloud and went to stare over the lights of Canterlot. “I’ve got too much to do. I have to teach my class again next week, and my friends are going to wonder where I am if I don’t get back to Canterlot tonight. And I just know Ahuitzotl is up to something else, and who else is going to stop him if I don’t? Nopony, that’s who.”
With an anguished cry, she threw herself back down on the cloud.
“Nothing I can see can help me,
Somepony will save me? Who?
There’s not a quest out there I wouldn’t dare take,
But what good will daring do?”
Daring flapped her wings to set the cloud flying on a course away from Canterlot, then burrowed into it until all she could see was white. Maybe, if she was lucky, the rest of the world would just go away.
Rainbow Dash flitted around the library nervously as Twilight Sparkle finished reading the scroll in front of her. “Well?” she asked, anxiously. “What do you think?”
“I’m... not sure,” admitted Twilight, chewing her lip awkwardly. “It’s... certainly, your spelling and grammar have improved a lot since your last story. I can’t fault your use of apostrophes either...”
Rainbow groaned. “Come on, Twilight! If I wanted to know about my spelling, I’d have given it to Cheerilee to grade. What do you think of the story?”
Twilight eyed the scroll again, thinking hard on her answer. “I... like it, I think? I do feel bad for Daring. I just don’t think I understand it. It’s like she said. She has everything going for her – friends, fame, her career. What possible reason would she have to be sad?”
“Maybe she doesn’t need a reason,” said Rainbow, starting to fly in circles around the library again. “Maybe ponies can just be sad sometimes, and that’s okay. She doesn’t owe it to anypony else to be happy all the time, does she?”
Twilight’s eyes widened in comprehension, and she started watching Rainbow intently, not interrupting her speech.
“Maybe it’s just something that happens to some ponies! Or maybe being Daring Do isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. What if she doesn’t want to be Daring Do all the time? Loyal, dependable, unstoppable, always saves the day, never leaves Ponyville hanging Daring Do?”
“I guess that might not be all that great after all,” admitted Twilight quietly. “Maybe she needs to take a holiday. A real holiday, without anypony else depending on her.”
“That... might be nice,” said Rainbow, hovering in front of Twilight. “But what about all of her responsibilities? She can’t just abandon her friends and her classes and stuff. And what if Ahuitzotl tries to take over the world again?”
“I think Daring’s friends can live without her for a few weeks, and saving the world from Ahuitzotl shouldn’t always be down to just her. Her friends can cover for her while she’s away.”
“I guess so,” Rainbow said hesitantly. “A holiday might do her some good. You know. In my next story.”
Twilight nodded. “I think that would be very good for her. Or maybe she could talk to one of her friends about how she feels?”
Rainbow just shook her head, tears glistening at the corners of her eyes.
“Alright, then, just a holiday,” Twilight said hurriedly. “I hope she enjoys it.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Rainbow Dash. “Hey, uh, I was thinking. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Little Strongheart and Braeburn. Maybe I could go hang out at Appleloosa for a few weeks. You know, catch up with them, see if there’s anything I can do for them. Not like I need a break or anything.”
“Of course not, Rainbow,” Twilight agreed, trying not to grin. “Have fun!”
“I will!” Rainbow called as she flitted out of Twilight’s window. “See you in a few weeks!”
Twilight waved, then turned her attention back to the story on her desk. She read the first few paragraphs again, before a rainbow blur shot through her window and wrapped its front legs tightly around her.
“Thank you,” Rainbow whispered, pressing her tear-streaked face to Twilight’s neck. “And please don’t tell the others.”
“I won't, Rainbow Dash. I promise. Now you go and have a good time in Appleloosa. I’ll see you when you get back.”
Once Twilight was sure that Rainbow Dash was well and truly gone, she finished reading the story again, then got out a fresh scroll. She chewed thoughtfully on the end of her quill, then began to write.
“Dear Princess Celestia,
I learnt a very important lesson about friendship today, but this letter isn’t about me. I know that I’m your student and you’re my teacher, but I wanted you to know that I’m here to listen to you if you ever need to talk. You do so much for me and for Equestria, and I’m just a little bit worried about you.