You flipped through the pages of one your favorite scrapbooks, eyeing every photo you see with a sense of nostalgic contentment as the memories came flooding back. Much of the album consisted of pictures of Flurry Heart growing up with all the trials and tribulations that came with that. She was a teenager now so still not technically “grown up”, but she’s certainly no tiny foal anymore.
You placed a hoof over your mouth as a chuckle escaped when you flipped to a picture of your daughter as a grinning toddler with spaghetti spilled over her mane and face. She may be an alicorn, but even they have to endure foalhood like anypony else.
You flipped to the next page, which donned a photo of an eight-year-old Flurry, yourself, and Shining Armor standing with wide smiles in front of the majestic Mount Aris within the Hippogriff Kingdom. Now that was a great vacation. This was met with a pleasant warm fuzzy sensation in your stomach as you reminisced about exploring the mysterious but exalted place. The imposing but friendly Hippogriff and Seapony locals, the cuisine, the alone time with Shining…
Another sigh of contentment left your lips with a smile.
He really is the best stallion anypony could ask for in all of Equestria. Not to mention they also don't make just anypony Captain of the Royal Guard.
You looked up from the book and up at the ceiling as you lie on top of the shimmery blue covers of your bed. Your bedchamber was certainly one of the most splendid in the Crystal Empire, probably all of Equestria actually. With its dazzling cerulean, azure, and any other shade of blue crystal walls and columns that surrounded you, you stared at the sparkly ceiling thirty feet above typical of the Crystal Castle.
You were Princess Cadance, known throughout the land as one of the four alicorn princesses and rulers of Equestria, as well as being co-ruler of the Crystal Empire with your husband and love of your life, the revered unicorn stallion Shining Armor.
Everything about your life was wonderful, with only a few small hiccups along the way. Growing up with your amazing friends and family, meeting Shining Armor and the resulting courtship and marriage to him, having Flurry Heart, all the adventures and misadventures over the years. Your life was a life worth celebrating.
In recent times, however, something troubled you deep down. You were considered to be a goddess of love, with a cutie mark to match and your marriage to Shining essentially the model for a perfect storybook-ending ‘happily-ever-after’ kind of romance. And your love for one-another had never faltered in the twenty or so years you’d been married.
But that was exactly the problem that nopony else seemed to realize or at least ever bring up publicly.
You were old enough to be considered middle-aged at this point to the average pony, but for you, that didn’t matter. As an alicorn princess, just like Celestia and Luna, you didn’t age once you became a full-grown mare. You were to be immortal just like them and Princess Twilight and presumably your daughter as well. You would stay young and beautiful forever. But none of that mattered to you right now. In fact, you knew the opposite was true.
Shining Armor… that was another story.
As regal and robust as he was, a pang of anxiety replaced the warm fuzziness in your stomach as you turned onto your side and stared at his pillow beside yours. You hated to think of him as... lesser than you in any way, but the reality was he was no alicorn. He was just a unicorn.
And that meant…
You closed your eyes and shook your head, trying to rid yourself of those thoughts. But it was no use these days. While Shining was still a strong, very capable prince, he did show some small signs of age. A gray hair here and there in his mane and tail, slightly decreased athletic capabilities, you couldn’t help but notice it as his wife. And while you knew it should have meant nothing, it was a chilling reminder to yourself that your perfect love with him couldn’t last forever. It felt selfish, even. Feelings of guilt and shame overcame yourself as you knew that nopony except an alicorn's love could last forever. But you couldn’t help feeling this way. Love could be a funny thing, even for the Princess of Love yourself. Capable of producing the highest of highs and lowest of lows.
Why do all good things have to come to an end?
Shining Armor was currently away on some royal business to Yakyakistan, apparently helping a convoy of Crystal Ponies who had been marooned there after a large avalanche blocked the notoriously rigorous and dangerous path connecting the two countries. He’d been gone for a week which really didn’t help your new anxiety about him, becoming especially relentless in the last few days. He’d be back tomorrow, however.
When you were young, these kind of thoughts were unthinkable and you knew it. And really, they still should be. You still certainly had many years left with the love of your life. But again, you couldn’t help it. True love wasn’t always rational… even for alicorn princesses.
You sighed as you levitated the scrapbook onto the bedside table, hoisting yourself with help from your wings onto the crystal floor. It was evening, and today had been like any other average day in the Empire, having completed some typical royal business for the day. Most of which consisted of meeting with a royal delegation from Saddle-Arabia with hopes to increase Equestria’s ties with the far-off land. But even then the same anxiety about your Shining Armor was present deep down.
In the past few weeks, it was pretty much always present, in fact.
Though you were excellent at hiding it. Nopony, including Flurry Heart or Shining Armor, suspected a thing had changed about you as you continued to act like the delightful, friendly, and calm mare and mother everypony knew and expected you to be. The thought of you ever having emotional problems like this was clearly unthinkable to anypony. But the reality of your life had slowly changed recently as this realization of immortality and its implications washed over you.
You sighed again as you desperately tried to push these selfish and terrible thoughts out of your mind. You sauntered towards a large double-door exit to the royal bedchamber leading to your large outdoor balcony overlooking the Empire. Maybe some fresh air would calm your nerves.
Why have these terrible thoughts taken over my mind? We’re not even that old! He’s not even that old! This is just silliness. Especially for a princess! I’m Cadance for pony’s sake!
Opening the doors with your magic, you walked outside and immediately felt a slight but still refreshing cool breeze blow into your face and through your long multi-colored coiffure. Celestia’s sun had set for the night, but it was still early in the evening as you gazed down at the city below you. It spread out from the castle in an almost spiderweb-like pattern, with sparkly homes and other crystal buildings of varying hues dotting the landscape.
It was really like any other evening in the Empire, with its signature crystal resident ponies out in full force tonight. Nopony was going to miss out on thislovely evening. Everypony except yourself, it seemed.
You jumped up onto the side of the balcony with your front hooves, placing one on each cheek as you stared down at the joyful sight below you. It was a sight that for most of your life would put you into a gleeful mood. And tonight was no exception.
You could felt your heart melt a little as you viewed the crystal ponies dotting the streets, most of them adorning smiles as they enjoyed the pleasant evening. Of course, you couldn’t help but notice the many couples of all ages as well. Some were enjoying a glass of cider in patios of local restaurants, some partook in the local activities such as watching a jousting match, and some simply enjoyed one another’s company as they walked the glittering streets. You knew Flurry Heart was out there too somewhere, maybe enjoying a stallion’s presence too.
Even the elderly couples share their love here without worries about the future. Why can’t I?
The sight made you wish for Shining’s company like you had many times right in this spot, longing for your prince to drape his large muscular hoof over your back in a comforting embrace. To be there to tell you everything will always be alright even when she knew it wouldn’t.
But it wasn’t meant to be. He wasn’t here right now. Simple as that.
Feelings of sadness over the realities of someday living an eternity without him washed over you again. You thought you felt a small tear forming in your left eye, but you weren’t sure.
Desperate to rid yourself of these relentless negative emotions, your eyes averted to a small group of teenage crystal ponies, not too different from Flurry Heart, conversing on a small residential street close to the castle. They were just so young. You couldn’t help a sense of envy as, despite their eventual fate, they hadn’t a care in the world. Youthful innocence was indeed a beautiful thing.
Oh how I’d long to feel like that again. If not just for a day.
As you watched the foals play with a pleasant sense of nostalgia, it suddenly hit you. You stepped down from the balcony ledge, now staring up at Luna’s glistening moon.
Maybe... I can.
You knew this was crazy, especially for a princess, but you were desperate. Shining would understand. And nopony else would find out. You needed this right now.
You knew this was forbidden, even having a friend Starlight Glimmer learn her lesson from it once with Sunburst. You didn’t know how to do it yourself as it was very advanced magic, but you knew the exact place to find out how covertly.
You opened your magenta wings to their full width and took into the air from the balcony, your attention now fully on this impromptu plan. Competing feelings of guilt and hope made their presence known as you glided off in the direction of Canterlot, the gravity of what you were about to do beginning to set in.
Age spells were not something to be taken lightly.
There you stood, the Starswirl the Bearded wing of the Canterlot Archives directly in front of you. Your rather lengthy flight to Canterlot in the dark had thankfully gone unnoticed, and here you were, walking as nonchalantly as possible down an empty cobblestone Canterlot street towards the entrance to the restricted magical spell archive.
Starswirl himself would be upset with me for what I’m about to do…
If you got caught, you couldn’t imagine what your daughter not to mention all the ponies of Equestria would think.
You shuddered at the thought, but this needed to be done for your own mental state going forward.
Desperate times call for desperate measures... right?
You knew there were sporadic Royal Canterlot Guards in and around the building, so you’d have to teleport inside. It would definitely be difficult to reasonably explain to anypony why you’d ever need to be here especially of all places in the middle of the night. You hated being reduced to this, pretty much stealing, but you wanted this escape with Shining so badly.
Sneakiness is key.
Your horn lit up, and with a flash, you appeared in the middle of the archive. The medium-sized room had a large hourglass at its center since this was most famously the location of time spells as well. But this archive stored all sorts of forbidden spells, including age spells. Your heart was now beating nearly out of your chest as you scanned your surroundings for any guards, but thankfully none were to be seen in this room.
You weren’t really sure what you were looking for, just something that could make you and Shining, well, temporarily younger. Your teen years would be ideal, the magical days of your early courtship with Shining Armor was very much something you’d love to feel again just one more time.
You quickly but quietly levitated yourself with your wings so as to make as little noise as possible and began searching the numerous bookcases containing books and scrolls around the room. Each bookcase was composed of three or four shelves.
Time spells, banishment to Tartarus, where are the age spells?! Why aren’t these really organized?!
Spending a few more minutes sifting through various scrolls, eventually, something interesting caught your magenta eyes.
On the top shelf of a bookcase like any other in the room, you opened up a small scroll like any other with your magic. Your eyes lit up as you saw the title and contents:
This spell allows you and one other pony to return to the age of ten for one hour
May only be used once
You didn’t even know Shining Armor yet at that age, and you were ready to place the scroll back in its place and continue searching. Suddenly, you heard a noise come from the direction of the metal gate that guarded the entrance.
Instinctively, you immediately teleported out of the building with the scroll in-hoof.
This will have to do. At least I didn’t get caught… And besides. Surely with becoming that young again, a more innocent blissful mindset comes with it. Right? How could it not?
You were certainly ashamed about the uncharacteristic act you just committed, as well as wished you had found something better during your brief period in the room. But this was certainly better than nothing. it would all be worth it as you continued to rationalize the positives of this plan over the negatives flying back towards the Empire.
The next day once again was like any other, with continued talks with the Saddle-Arabian delegation. Various subjects of business were discussed with the peculiarly dressed ponies, including exchanges of goods and culture. While you kept your cool with them like always at this table, you could feel an excitement in your stomach brewing as Shining Armor came home tonight. Quite soon, actually. And thus, you could unveil your plan which he was sureto enjoy.
You and Shining Armor certainly enjoyed something exciting now and again.
As the talks concluded around sunset, after a brief conversation with Flurry instructing the young mare to be careful out on the town, you made your way up to the bedchamber just like the previous evening. As you opened the large double doors with magic and entered, you excitedly trotted up to your dresser on the right side of the sizeable room. The ornate dresser, like nearly everything in the aptly-named Crystal Empire, was made of light-red crystal and contained five drawers.
Opening the second drawer down, you levitated the scroll out of its hiding place among various ornate royal dresses. You trotted with a smile over to the bed, laying the scroll onto Shining’s side of the covers and jumping onto your side beside it, a wide grin glued to your face. You knew he’d be home any minute now as feelings of elation you hadn’t experienced seemingly in months overtook your senses. Even without the spell, you felt like a giddy schoolfilly again.
Shiny will love this! What older pony wouldn’t want the chance to be young again, even for an hour?
You weren’t exactly sure what you were going to do as ten-year-old foals, but if nothing else it should be a brief respite from your woes no matter what. A temporary new beginning to share with the stallion you loved. That certainly was better than nothing, despite what you had to do for this to happen in the first place. That was all ancient history now. Nopony found out, so no harm was done. You and Shining were so like-minded, this was sure to work.
Suddenly, you heard hoofsteps. Familiar hoofsteps that could only originate from a single pony.
Oh, he’s gonna love this surprise! Won’t I be the mare, or I guess filly, of the hour…
You levitated the scroll into the air as the hoofsteps approached the door, ready to cast the spell. As the doors began to crack open, you grinned deviously as your husband’s head poked through the door.
“Cadance! I’m bac—”
The stallion prince became wide-eyed as your horn sparkled and both made eye-contact and levitated into the air, and within a second, you were both enveloped in a blue aura as you floated above the ground. You lost sight of one another for a few moments, before slowly floating back to the ground in very changed forms.
As the magical aura disappeared, your husband became visible once again. You made brief eye-contact again before Shining looked down at his hooves, then down the side of his body, a look of shock now plastered onto his face. Not quite what you were expecting.
Without a word, he ran to the mirror located over his own matching dresser next to yours. His jaw dropped as peered into his very colt-like face.
“Cadance… What did you do?!” Shining uttered in a much higher tone than his typical gruff and raspy voice.
Giggling, you trotted over to the side of your once again youthful prince and jumped onto his side with your much smaller hooves. You gazed into the same mirror with a large smile, admiring not just Shining’s but your own appearance as well. You now looked exactly like how you were when you were ten, your mane done-up in a pony-tail and all. You were still wearing your crown, however.
“It worked!” you uttered with glee in a much higher pitch as well. You were now both foals just like you’d hoped.
Confusingly, Shining quickly shifted beneath you, knocking your tiny hooves off his back before galloping towards the open bedroom door. He levitated them shut with magic, before galloping back to the bed and levitating the scroll up to his face.
A look of anger now replaced his look of shock as the colt turned to face you, pointing a hoof up at the scroll.
“You used an age spell on us?!”
Now not feeling quite as good, you managed to maintain your wide smile as you locked eyes.
“Yeah Shiny! Isn’t this wonderful? Now we’re young again without a care in the world! Now we can—”
“But Cadance, you can’t do this!” Shining interrupted as he continued to stare daggers at you, “Don’t you know why these are locked up and forbidden? Did you get this from the Canterlot archives?”
Your heart began to sink into your stomach as, to your horror, all your recent anxieties as a mare came flooding back, as well as a few new ones. Filly or not, it rapidly became apparent to you this wasn’t turning out quite as you expected. You still had the same thoughts and memories.
You sat down onto your miniature flank. “Well, yes. But I thought just this once—”
“These are only for ponies like Starswirl, and only for research purposes! If this fell into the wrong hooves, it could drive a pony into madness! Even age spells are only temporary!”
With no response, you just sat there, sniffling as you began to realize your what might have been a huge mistake.
“Not to mention what would somepony think if they saw us like this? What would Flurry Heart think?”
You looked away towards the mirror again, feelings of despair like never before overtook your youthful filly alicorn form. “But…”
“At least it only lasts an hour, so we should be able to lay low before it wears off. What were you thinking Cadance? This is so unlike you!”
Tears welled up in your eyes as you looked down at the ground, watching a tear fall to the blue crystal floor as shame overtook you. You could hear his small hoofsteps approach, ready for more daggers to be blasted into your heart by your Shining Armor.
“I… I just…”
The flood gates opened as you started bawling, all the pent up negative emotions over the previous weeks reared their ugly head and exploded out. It felt like your heart had broken in two as you closed your eyes, too ashamed to even look at your Shining Armor. There was no questioning it, this was the biggest mistake of your life. Your marriage was over. Everything was now falling apart.
How could I have been so stupid? This was so stupid! He must think I’m a crazy pony now!
The hoofsteps stopped close by as you continued to sob, a small pool of tears forming on the floor below you.
A few more moments of silence passed. Then, unexpectedly, you felt a hoof on your back. Even in this form, you knew it could only belong to one pony.
“Honey… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just… this was all so… sudden is all. I just don’t understand what you were seeking to accomplish by doing this.”
He pulled his hoof up over your back, over your mane, horn, and face, and placed it under your chin. He gently lifted your head up towards the ceiling. You opened your watery eyes as you stared directly into your husband’s not a foot away. His cerulean pupils seemed to sparkle in a way you’d never seen before, not all that different from your Crystal Castle surroundings.
“What’s wrong, Cadance? What compelled you to do this?" the colt inquired in a much softer and comforting tone.
You weren’t sure what to say, everything was just so confusing right now. But you knew you had to do something.
You abruptly lifted both of your tiny front hooves and wrapped them around Shining’s back and thrust your wet face into his chest, tears continuing to well up. Your mind, however, seemed just a tad clearer now.
“I… I… I don’t want to lose you…” you mumbled almost inaudibly with a sniffle.
“I can’t lose you, Shining!”
The stallion once again placed his hoof on your back and pulled me closer. “Lose me? What are you talking about? I’m not going anywhere.”
You looked up at his face again. “Don’t you get it? I’m going to live forever and you won’t. You’re going to grow old and frail and I won’t. I’ll never be happy without you, Shiny. I love you so much! It isn’t fair.”
A few moments of silence.
“Oh,” Shining replied softly.
“I just thought… maybe for a little while I could forget about my terrible reality if we became young again. Like life could be like those days again. I know it's crazy, but I miss the carefree days of our youth so much...”
For a few moments, you simply embraced on the floor next to the bed, now perhaps feeling a little better. At least he wasn’t still mad at you.
“Cadance… nopony can stop the inevitable. It’s, well, inevitable. I’m no alicorn, so yes I will be gone one day.”
Not at all what you wanted to hear as you continued to sniffle and gaze into one another’s eyes.
“But that doesn’t mean it’ll happen today, tomorrow, in a month, or even many years from now. In fact, I'm pretty sure I still have at least half my life to live yet. While I do think what you’ve done here is a bit crazy, I can understand where you're coming from since your worries do seem kinda unique. That doesn’t mean you’ll never be happy again without me, though.”
The prince smiled. “Time heals all wounds. And for one, you’ll always have Flurry Heart.”
For whatever reason, that fact had mostly slipped your mind recently. A lot more than it should have, you realized.
“Think of her as apart of me and our love that will always live on. Oh, and you’ll always have the other alicorn princesses that I know will always love you to pieces. As well as many other friends I’m sure you’ll always have. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with a pony as amazing as you?”
You could feel a flood of tears flowing as you continued to gaze up at your miniature husband.
“And I know you’ll never forget me. That alone is comforting whenever the occasional thought of you or Twily being immortal comes up.”
Your eyes widened. “You’ve had thoughts of this too?”
“Of course,” the colt chuckled, “pretty much since the day I met you. But like any non-alicorn, I didn’t let a technically limited amount of time with the mare of my dreams get to my head. No matter what, you’re worth it, Cadance. Though I’d rather it hadn’t been this way, I’m glad you did tell me all this. I can’t allow my beautiful wife to be unhappy now, can I?”
You weren’t sure how to feel, at first. This was all so unexpected. Despite what you had done, he continued to love you unconditionally. He really was the most amazing stallion, or colt now, in Equestria. Vivid memories of why you fell for him in the first place all those years ago raced through your head.
Shining’s smile grew wider.
“Say, honey. As bizarre as this is, well, I guess we have an hour to burn like this in here. If we’re going to be young again one more time, why shouldn’t we at least enjoy this one-time experience like we did way back when while it lasts? Make the best of it?”
You didn’t know what to say as Shining released you and stood on all fours. He spun around and trotted towards the turntable in the corner of the room. You simply watched the colt as a warm tingly sensation overtook your body.
You stared as the prince levitated a vinyl out of a small box sitting adjacent, placing it onto the turntable. Neither of you had used that thing in forever…
Suddenly, a very familiar tune graced your ears.
Love is in Bloom!
The song Twilight had sung at your… unexpectedly eventful but still eventually marvelous wedding so long ago played as Shining Armor once again approached you. Stopping a few feet away, he held out a hoof in front of your face and dawned perhaps the widest smile you’d ever seen on the unicorn.
You couldn’t help but smile too as memories of that day poured through your mind. Without a word, you rose up to all fours and took his hoof with your own. Despite being foals, almost nothing had ever felt more right. You were still the same ponies, and always would be. Your heart melted as feelings of your early romance with your husband returned as you spun around and danced with one another in the exact same fashion as on your wedding day.
Shining twirled you around before grasping you tightly and holding you below himself with both hooves. Unlike on your wedding day, however, he pecked you on the cheek.
No… that wasn’t enough for you this time around. With an almost devious smile, you brought your lips up to your Shining Armor and planted them on his. Closing your eyes, you kissed the groom as passionately, if not more so, than that fateful day. Shining returned the kiss in earnest, passion overtaking both of you.
Eventually, you were forced to break the kiss for air. Once again your eyes met Shining’s, doing nothing but simply gazing into your lover’s eyes as the song came to a close.
For the rest of the hour, without another word spoken, the two of you continued to dance around the bedroom to songs you both enjoyed together in your youth. Who needed words anyway. A mutual love for one another was all either of you needed thisevening.
Eventually, the spell wore off. Just like earlier, both of you levitated off the ground as a blue aura surrounded your bodies. Unlike earlier, however, you were embracing with your front hooves as it happened. You never disconnected as your body features returned to their former normal selves.
As you both returned to the ground, another idea hit you.
Nothing would be better…
To the once-again stallion’s surprise, you abruptly broke his embrace. Turning towards the balcony doors, you slowly cantered your way over to the entrance. Levitating the doors open, you stepped outside.
Nothing was different than last night out here. A cool wind passed through your mane as you approached and stood up on the balcony edge. The crystal ponies down below cheerfully walked the streets enjoying one another’s company, and Luna’s beautiful moon sat in exactly the same place up in the sky... But then something different did happen.
As expected, you heard familiar hoofsteps behind you. Then a large muscular hoof draped around your back in another embrace. You leaned your head into your husband’s neck and mane as the two of you gazed down at the jovial scene below you.
It really wasn’t all that different, actually. Both of you had done this so many times before. You grinned as you reminisced about the events of the last 24 hours.
It was probably the worst most dimwitted mistake you’d ever made in your life. It was utterly crazy and you’d certainly never do it again. But, in a way, your silly plan had worked. All the worry and fear about the future had disappeared. Just not quite in the mysterious way you expected. In fact, you weren’t sure why you had become so worked up about all this in the first place. A life lived worrying about the far-off inevitable wasn’t a life worth living. You knew that...
You were glad this wonderful stallion was here to remind you of that from now on, no matter how long you may have lived.
"You know, in Yakyakistan, they really don't take kindly to theft. Even by royalty." Shining Armor muttered with a small chuckle.
Your expression didn't change, only averting your eyes upwards through the magical forcefield towards the dark snow-covered mountains of the frigid country to the north.