Celestia drifted into consciousness feeling rested and relaxed, a far cry from her mood the night before. Twilight lay by her side, still quietly slumbering. Having her here, still by her side and loyal, made all the difference.
She glanced at her clock, only to find a note hanging just underneath it.
Do not be alarmed at the time. I have risen the sun for you this morning, and will be taking over your duties for the day. After such an ordeal, you deserve a day of peace.
P.S.: The ones known as Octavia and Vinyl Scratch are now invited to play at all major Canterlot events due to their skill, but they are forever forbidden from entering the royal labyrinth.
Looking up at the clock, Celestia was surprised to see that the sun had indeed been scheduled to rise an hour ago. For a few moments she pondered not letting her younger sister take on the day’s duties, but decided against it. She was being offered a day off after over a thousand years, she could take advantage of it.
She looked over at her sleeping student, still nuzzled at her side. At that moment, Celestia almost forgot she was a full grown mare, seeing the little filly she used to teach and train all those years ago.
At that moment, said unicorn began to stir, and her eyes fluttered open. She slowly lifted her head, taking in her surroundings.
“Good morning, my little pony.”
Stifling a yawn, Twilight looked her mentor. “Good morning, Princess. Are you feeling better?”
Celestia gave a smile. “Much. Thank you.”
“I should be thanking you,” Twilight said simply. “I really needed this, too. I just needed some assurance that we were...back to normal.”
“Of course, Twilight. Why would I be mad at you now?”
Twilight looked at the ground in response. “Can I ask you something?”
Celestia tilted her head at a worried angle. “Of course, anything.”
“If I had been wrong...you know, about the fake Cadence… would you have forgiven me?”
Much to Twilight’s surprise, Celestia spoke her next sentence in an amused tone. “Twilight, I forgave my sister for trying to bring on the Eternal Night, and that would have destroyed life in Equestria. I think I could forgive you for a single temper tantrum.”
The unicorn looked at her mentor with wide eyes. Then, she hung her head and laid it back on her pillow.
“Twilight?” Celestia asked worriedly. She leaned down and nuzzled her side. “What’s bothering you?”
“It’s...there I go again,” she said quietly. “Worrying about something I shouldn’t be worrying about. That’s why nopony believed me, isn’t it?”
Celestia sighed. “Twilight, I’m not going to lie. Yes, you do have a tendency to overreact to things, and maybe it did contribute to us not listening to you. But you really must have more faith in yourself than that. We were just as much to blame for not listening to you.”
“For all your faults you are a good pony, and a great friend. Your attitude towards Cadence caught me by surprise, and should have aroused my suspicions. We were on high alert, remember? That was a time any accusation from a trusted source needed to be checked on. It would have taken me only a moment to examine your brother’s head for any effects of brainwashing. I made a mistake. An understandable one, maybe, but not an acceptable one. Not from me.”
“Princess, please. After the Smartypants incident...”
“You weren’t in your right mind then. Had I thought you were, you would not have been excused so lightly.”
“Well...even so, I still don’t blame you for not believing me,” she said sadly. “Given my track record. But...Princess, I’m sorry...I have to know. How much faith do you have in me?”
Celestia gave her a warm smile. “Plenty. Despite all your overreactions, I still have great pride in your reasoning. You deduced the return of Nightmare Moon long after I had successfully relegated it to a myth in the eyes of the mortals. You’ve skillfully led the other Bearers on every mission I’ve sent them on. You pulled yourself out of Discord’s taint with a mere reminder of the good times you and your friends had.”
She looked at her student and saw something that made her pause. She was crying.
“You have faith in me...but I don’t have faith in you. I’m always worried you’re going to punish me for the most trivial things. I’m sorry for that, I just...”
Celestia responded by draping a wing over her charge and pulling her in close. “Yes, you do that sometimes. And it breaks my heart every time. I don’t want you to fear me, I don’t want anypony to fear me. I want to be loved, and while my subjects do revere me, it’s as a ruler, not a friend. I only have my sister...and you.”
“What about my friends? Don’t you have them?”
“I suppose we’re getting there, but they still see me more as an authority figure than a friend. And Spike is with me as well. I want my subjects to see me as an ordinary pony sometimes, especially you. I love you, Twilight. Never forget that."
Still crying, the smaller pony rubbed her head against her mentor’s neck. “I’m sorry.”
Celestia nuzzled her back, her own tears forming. “I think we both grew a little yesterday. And I want you to know, for all the mistakes you made, I’m proud of you. Even though I broke your heart, you remained loyal to me. You rushed to my side when I had fallen. That took great character.”
“Princess, I...I am a little angry with everypony. I mean, I know it makes no sense to be, but...”
“Twilight, that’s perfectly natural to be upset with us, but you haven’t let your anger with us taint your heart. That’s more than a lot of ponies can say. Don’t be ashamed of feeling that way.”
They stayed together for a few minutes, each enjoying the other’s company. Finally, Twilight spoke. “Princess? I was wondering...why do you keep the Elements in that vault anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to wear them at all times?”
Celestia paused for a moment, in internal debate with herself. Finally, she spoke. “What I’m about to tell you remains between us. You may tell your friends, but do even that with caution.”
The unicorn’s ears picked up, but she nodded.
“It’s possible for the Elements of Harmony to be corrupted. Not permanently, of course, they will always triumph over evil in the end, but said corruption could last nearly a century. If that were that to happen, I shudder to think of the consequences. It would be Discord’s reign all over again.”
“Why didn’t Discord corrupt them then?”
“I’m not sure he’s aware,” the Princess answered, shaking his head. “He’s not as clever as he likes to think he is. If he knew, he likely considered it amusing to keep them whole, if for no other reason than to mock you.”
“So there’s no other way?”
“There is a spell I knew far back when my sister and I wielded them that would have allowed you to absorb them into your bodies until they are needed. Sadly, I lost track of that spell some six hundred years ago. I have some of my best magicians working on rediscovering it.”
Now Twilight looked hurt. “I thought I was one of your best...”
“You are. But you had just made friends, finally after all those years. Friends which, I needn’t remind you, you needed to stay close to in order for the Elements to work. I wasn’t going to give you any task that could detract from allowing your friendship to grow.”
“I...guess that makes sense,” Twilight conceded.
Smiling, Celestia leaned down and kissed Twilight’s head. “You needn’t worry about it. We’ll find it before too long. In the meantime, perhaps it’s best you have another talk with your friends. I’m sure they’ve done some thinking of their own.
Applejack trotted down the hallway, her head still pounding from the night before. She was grateful that Pinkie and Fluttershy had volunteered to watch the Cutie Mark Crusaders while she packed, she didn’t think she could take their latest plans to be Cutie Mark Crusader Baggage Packers or whatever in her current state.
However, her gratefulness for loud noises being absent disappeared when Rarity came bounding down the halls. “Applejack!”
The farm pony cringed. “What is it Rare? You chip a hoof or somin?”
“Twilight is missing! She’s not in her room!” she gasped.
The earth pony rolled her eyes. “She prob’ly just got up real early an’...
“No, Spike says she never came to her room last night!”
That set off some warning bells.
“What if the changelings came back and got her? What if she’s stuck back in those horrible caves? Or in an ice block somewhere up north? Or in that icky bog outside of Ponyville where it’s so muddy and the humidity gives a pony as many split ends as you have!”
Applejack arched an annoyed eyebrow. “Uh...I’m pretty sure it ain’t as bad as all that,” she deadpanned.
“You are correct,” Luna’s voice confirmed. Both mares turned to see the Princess of the Night walk calmly down the hallway.
“Princess...you’re still up?” Applejack asked, confused.
“Yes, I felt my sister would need her rest after yesterday’s trials, so I’m taking her shift today. As for Twilight Sparkle, I sent her to comfort my sister last night, and she ended up falling asleep at her side. She is perfectly unharmed, I assure you.”
“So, even Celestia was feelin’ bad about not listening to Twi, huh?”
“Indeed,” Luna sighed. “I believe these feelings will linger for quite a while.”
“We were all going to speak with her again on the train ride home,” Rarity explained. “We all had time to think last night, and we’ve decided we all have more to say.”
“And I’m sure Twilight Sparkle has more to say to you,” the alicorn nodded. “I overheard your apology last night while on patrol. I’m pleased to hear reconciliation came so easy.”
The two mortal ponies looked at each other for a moment before turning back to their superior. “Your highness, we must ask...” Rarity began.
“If I would have believed Twilight Sparkle?” The stunned unicorn nodded. “I shall tell you what I told my sister. I do not know if I would have believed her, since I was not there and she has now been proven correct. However, I would like to think I would have, since after her treatment of me on Nightmare Night, it would likely have aroused my suspicions if she got confrontational with anypony.”
Applejack sighed. “Yeah, I thought of that last night too.”
“Well, do not blame yourself. If everypony had the same view as they did in hindsight, there would be no need to me and my sister to govern you.”
“I figure...I just wanna get the talk over and done with,” the earth pony sighed.
“Indeed,” Rarity concurred. “Well then, we better get packed and on the train. The sooner we take off, the sooner we can settle this.”
As it turned out, Spike had managed to get to the guards shouting frantic cries that Twilight was missing before Rarity could inform him otherwise, leading to a very tedious interrogation sequence where the other Bearer’s had to recount several details of their lives to ensure they were not changelings. Fortunately, Luna stepped in after her amusement over the whole incident faded.
The train left that afternoon. Twilight had spent most of the time before with her mentor, simply drinking some tea and chatting on a casual level, something they had not been able to do for quite some time.
Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders took another car, with the three young fillies trying to keep their friend distracted by playing cards. It didn’t seem to be working.
The six Bearers shared another car, with luxurious accommodations for the trip back. After all, Twilight was a member of the Royal Family now. As the train lurched forward, Rarity nodded to Applejack, who turned to look at her friend. “Twilight...I know we already did this, but...we want to talk.”
“That’s fine,” she said. “I wanted to talk with you all too. I just...”
“Did a lot of thinkin’ last night? Us too.”
They all sat on the floor of the car in a circle, getting comfortable for what was sure to be a long talk. Twilight spoke first. “Alright, I want to hear what you all have to say first.”
“Twi, what we wanted to talk to you about is how you feel about this whole thing.”
Twilight was a bit caught off guard by this, but immediately realized that she shouldn’t be.
“What do you mean?”
Rarity spoke. “Twilight, yesterday you listened to us tell you about how we feel. What we should have been doing is asking how you feel. Is everything alright?”
Twilight shifted a bit, unsure of how to voice her concerns without upsetting them. “Not really,” she said at least. “I mean…I guess everything that happened…”
“Well, tell us,” Rarity insisted.
“I’m not sure how to say this,” the unicorn admitted. “Because…well, it might upset you all to…”
“Twilight, we’ve put you through a lot this week,” Rainbow Dash said bluntly. “I think we can take a little thrown our way.”
“As crudely as she put it, I agree,” Rarity said simply, “Dear, are you angry with us at all?”
She looked away from them. “…Yes,” she said finally. “I know I shouldn’t be, but…”
At that moment, Applejack rose to her hooves and walked over to her friend, sitting back down at her side. “You’ve told us we shouldn’t be feelin’ guilty, but we do,” she said simply. “Ain’t nothin’ wrong with being sore at us right now.”
Pinkie took the space to her other side, giving her friend two walls of support. “We let you down,” she said, unusually serious. “Whatever you say, we were still mean to you.”
Twilight spoke with a strained voice. “Maybe, but you were right to think I was just jealous. Do you guys remember Gilda?”
“Of course,” Rainbow Dash noted, her voice becoming heavy. “My closest friend before you guys turns out to be a complete jerk.”
“Well then, do you remember how you reacted to her acting that way?”
The pegasus nodded. “I told her I wouldn’t let her treat you guys that way. Then she blew up at me and flew off.”
“Exactly. You wouldn’t let her be that way, so I shouldn’t have expected you to...to let me act that way,” Twilight finished sadly.
“But we should’a known better than to think you’d be actin’ like that.”
“Yeah, you should have,” Twilight snapped. But she immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I..I just...”
“Don’t you dare stop,” Applejack said, both she and Pinkie pressing closer to her. “If you keep this bottled up, it’s just gonna get worse. We’re givin’ you a chance to say anything you want. Just say it.”
The unicorn remained silent for a moment. Then, she gritted her teeth. “Yes, I’m mad at you, okay? You completely dismissed me for somepony you just met. And somepony who had been mean to you this whole time! I...it hurt, okay?” She glared daggers at her friends across from her, with Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Rarity leaning back a little. “I…I…” she stuttered through her anger.
After a moment, however, she sighed and leaned against Applejack, burying her face in her neck. “But more than angry...I’m scared.”
This caused her companions to blink in surprised. “Whatever of, darling?” Rarity asked.
“Guys...I know I flip out over things a lot. But I still thought...” she paused for a moment. “I already asked Celestia this question, and I need an answer from all of you too. Do you have faith in me?”
“Of course, dear,” Rarity assured. “I know what you’re talking about, and yes, that can grate on us sometimes. But as I’m sure Celestia told you, we still shouldn’t have used that as grounds to dismiss you. Whenever you...’flip out’ as you put it, it’s hardly on that level. The worst you ever got was the Smartypants incident, and we try not to hold that against you.”
This did a little to alleviate Twilight. “Well...I still get pretty crazy. And...well, a lot of that happens because I was worried about losing you guys. It only got worse after Discord. But this time, you all really left me. No brainwashing or anything. What if...what if this just makes me worse? What if I slip into ‘Smartypants Mode’ again?”
“Then we’ll help you get through it,” Applejack assured. “This wouldn’t be the first time we helped a friend through something.”
“Our own flaws have caused us to seriously hurt each other,” Rarity said. “My vanity and fussiness has caused problems, so has Applejack’s stubborn pride. Pinkie has hurt ponies due to lack of control, Rainbow Dash can have too much of an ego and be too hotheaded, and Fluttershy has the reverse problem. You see, we all have our own flaws to overcome, and we do it together.”
Twilight stayed nuzzled into her friends for a few seconds. She lifted her head up and looked at her friends again. “...You guys...” she said weakly. “Ever since I uncovered the changeling’s plot, you all have been telling me how wrong you all were to ignore me. And every time you do...it makes me feel sick.”
Five sets of jaws nearly hit the floor. “W-what do you mean?” Rainbow Dash demanded.
“Every time you do, it reminds me what great friends you are. And then I think...dear Celestia, what if I had been wrong? I...I would have lost all of you. Uh, this must be what Spike feels like when he’s about to throw up,” she moaned.
Applejack nuzzled her friend again. “Easy, Sugarcube,” she said gently. “It ain’t all that bad.”
“Yes it is! What if my next freakout ends up doing something to get you all really mad at me?”
To Twilight’s surprise, Pinkie giggled. “Isn’t it obvious, silly?”
Twilight looked at her like she had sprouted an extra head. “Wh...what?”
Rarity smiled. “Darling, I think we need to remind you of a few things.”
And so they did. First of the conflict that broke out, how Twilight’s five newly acquired friends argued over who got her extra ticket to the Grand Galloping Gala, how she eventually broke into a frustrated rant about how she wanted to please them all but couldn’t. They realized their mistake and each relinquished their claim, and Twilight decided she didn’t want to go if she couldn’t take them all, sending her tickets back.
Then of Applejack’s stubborn pride during Applebuck Season, where she worked herself into a deluded exhaustion, causing many ponies to get hurt or sick around the town. Finally, Twilight pushed far enough that she broke down and accepted help, deflating her ego but inflating her knowledge.
Twilight’s first slumber party, where Applejack and Rarity’s agreement to get along fell apart through their constant bickering, breaking Twilight’s heart. Then a tree fell into the library, and they worked together to fix it. The night ended with them giggling and laughing, for the first time as friends, not simply ponies with a mutual friend.
The Winter Wrap Up, where Twilight’s poorly thought out use of magic ruined others’ hard work, and Applejack’s publicly chewed her out, sending her running off crying. The two reconciled later, the cowpony apologizing for snapping at her, the bookworm apologizing for breaking the rules. They both lay in the grass awhile, enjoying the newly come spring.
The Young Fliers Competition, where Rarity let her temporary wings go to her head and entered, worsening Rainbow Dash’s already serious stage fright. The end result was Rarity needing to be saved, and her humbly apologizing to her friend. For the first time since the group was formed, the two really felt close.
Twilight getting Owloysius as a second assistant, with Spike getting irrationally jealous, fearing it was taking his place in Twilight’s heart. She dismissed these worries as something that would pass in time. Things boiled over, and Spike ran away. When she caught up, they both apologized, with Twilight assuring him that she would always love him.
Twilight’s post-Discord breakdown, where all her friends laughed at her worries, as justified as they were in believing them trivial. After the resulting disaster, they all rushed to her defense, blaming themselves for being such poor friends.
Rainbow Dash’s ego getting out of control, prompting the creation of the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well to try and teach her humility. She learned her lesson, and the others later apologized as well, acknowledging that perhaps they didn’t go about it the right way.
Fluttershy taking Iron Will’s assertive seminar, which worked too well, turned her into a bully, sending Pinkie and Rarity off crying. She was instantly horrified at herself, locking herself in her home. The three of them reconciled, with Fluttershy coming out a stronger and wiser mare.
The train ride to the Dessert Competition, where Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity ruined months of hard work by giving into temptation. Pinkie was quick to forgive them, perhaps too quick, but they were more careful in how they treated her in the future.
As they finished off their stories, Twilight couldn’t help but smile. “Well, alright, but what was the point of all that?”
“Twilight, all those incidents ended with good memories, but they only came after bad ones,” Rarity reminded her.
“Yeah, and that’s the point we’re tryin’ to make,” Applejack finished. “We’ve all hurt each other, acted stubborn and stupid. But we’ve all forgiven each other, even if we had to knock the other one down a bit to do it. That’s just part of havin’ friends, Twi. It can...no, it will be painful. We are all going to hurt each other even more over the years. But every time we do, we’re just going to be all the stronger for it.”
“We were all going to talk to you after the reception,” Fluttershy promised. “We weren’t just going to abandon you after everything we’ve been through together.”
Pinkie chuckled. “We were only mad, silly. We didn’t forget how much we love you.”
Twilight was crying again, though not out of sadness. “You guys...”
Applejack nuzzled her again. “Twi, before you came along...well, we were just ordinary country ponies.”
“Speak for yourself,” Rainbow Dash teased playfully. The others couldn’t help but crack a grin.
“But thanks to you, we got the Elements of Harmony. We’ve done more since than most ponies ever even dream of, and it looks like there’s going to be much more. And if it weren’t for you, we probably wouldn’t be as we are. You’ve made us worthwhile, Twi. Never forget that.”
Twilight smiled...and then shook her head. “You’re wrong.”
All of them reared back and stared at their friend, their mouths hanging open. She went on.
“I’ve learned so much from all of you ever since we met. Growing up, I learned a lot from Shining Armor and Cadence...and Princess Celestia. And I even learned a lot from Spike while I raised him. Everything that I’ve ever done worth bragging about is because I’ve had one of you at my side, keeping me strong. It isn’t me that makes all of you worthwhile...it’s the other way around. I don’t want you to ever forget that.”
Almost instantly the unicorn found herself in the embrace of her five best friends, each one crying at her words. She just smiled and allowed herself to enjoy the attention.
Finally, they split apart. It was Pinkie who spoke first.
“Ooh! How about a slumber party tonight! We could play Truth or Dare and Twenty Questions, and make s’mores, and then Rainbow Dash can pull a prank that causes us to all gang up on her during the pillow fight, and...
“That sounds fun,” Twilight said. “But...”
They all stopped, turning to Twilight again, looking a bit alarmed. “Is something else wrong?” Rarity asked.
“Not with me, don’t worry,” she assured. “It’s Spike. Haven’t you noticed something’s wrong?”
Rainbow rubbed her chin. “Come to think of it, he wasn’t around when we all went up to apologize last night.”
“And he was avoiding me at the reception,” Twilight said worriedly. “I know he’s feeling guilty about not believing me. I need to talk to him and let him know everything’s okay. That’s my top priority.”
“I suppose,” Rarity agreed. “But let’s all go get breakfast tomorrow. I would truly appreciate spending some time together.”
“That sounds nice,” Twilight agreed, and the others nodded in agreement.
After a moment, Rainbow Dash spoke up. “Uh...Applejack? Rarity?”
Her friends looked at her. “What’s wrong, sugar?” Applejack asked
“Have you guys noticed anything...unusual about Scootaloo?”
The unicorn and earth pony looked at each other, then looked back at their friend. “Whatever do you mean?” Rarity asked.
The pegasus quickly told her friends about what had happened last night with her number one fan. When she finished, it was Applejack who spoke up.
“You know, this could just be one of those things fillies get themselves in a twist about.”
“We assumed Twilight’s freak out was just jealousy, and look what happened,” Rainbow Dash reminded. “I’m not taking any chances.”
“Well, Scootaloo seemed just fine every time I saw her,” Rarity said. “She never seemed like anything was troubling her.”
“I ain’t seen nothin’ either,” Applejack said. But then she thought a bit. “Well...”
“What?” Rainbow Dash asked, getting alarmed.
“The one time I met her parents, it was when they came by the farm to take her home. She seemed mighty antsy then. At the time, I was just thinkin’ she didn’t wanna leave her friends, but...”
“Oh my,” Fluttershy said. “You don’t think they’re being mean to her, do you?”
“If you do, make sure you do the accusation better than I did,” Twilight said bitterly.
“Maybe. But...I just don’t know how to talk to her about this,” the pegasus sighed, rubbing her head with her front hoof.
“Why not just ask her?” Pinkie suggested, stating the simple solution as always.
“Darling, if she was unwilling to speak last night she won’t be willing to speak now,” Rarity reminded her. “You need to just spend time with her, Rainbow. Be her friend. You can get her to open up is you show her you’ll be there for her.”
“I guess that’s a start,” the pegasus sighed.
“After I talk to Spike, I’ll take a look at a few law books to find out what to do if her parents really are the problem,” Twilight promised. “Hopefully it won’t come to that, but best be prepared.”
“And me an’ Rarity’ll make sure our sisters are busy one day when you’re ready, to give you a chance to talk with her alone,” Applejack chimed in.
“Can you make it tomorrow? I’ve still got off the Weather Patrol then,” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Ain’t no problem. I’ll just give Apple Bloom some extra chores,” the cowpony assured.
“And I’ll ask Sweetie to help me around the Boutique after breakfast,” Rarity assured. “She always jumps at the chance to help me.”
Rainbow Dash sighed. “Thanks. Hopefully, this is just nothing, but I’m feeling nervous after this weekend.”
“No one’s blaming you there,” Twilight assured. “Well, does anypony have any happy news? Come on, I’m getting sick of all this gloomy talk.”
“Why yes, Fancypants commissioned me for six new dresses for a charity auction he’s holding! Which reminds me, the next time you see Zecora...”
Normally one to revel in good news, Pinkie’s mind drifted. She remembered her talk with Princess Luna the previous night, of the Pinkie Promise she had made. She debated telling her friends now. But no, the Cakes deserved to know first. She would tell them, then her friends, whenever she worked up the courage.
By the time the train entered Ponyville, Celestia’s sun was setting on the horizon, allowing Luna’s stars to shine through. As they left the train, Twilight, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie’s minds raced with their problems.
Whatever problems the wedding had brought up, they were only getting started.
TO BE CONTINUED