Dusky Rose stepped through the portal to the balcony where her mistress stood in meditative silence, gazing at the stars. The moon was well up now, and below them she could see Equestria bathed in silver silence. She curtsied. "A fine night, my lady."
Princess Twilight tilted her head at the night sky, eyeing it critically. "Not bad," she conceded. "A bit quiet, though. Winter nights I can understand, but somehow I always feel summer nights should be, well, livelier." She turned to her young pupil, and smiled a little. "Still, it is a nice night."
The young pony moved to the edge of the balcony, and gazed out over the landscape. "I love summer nights," she smiled. "When I was young, my friends and I would run around, chasing the fireflies and playing games til it was too dark to see. It was always nice and warm, and our parents would sit outside and visit each other..." She sighed, drifting back into a velvet cloud of memory.
The princess nodded. "Ah, yes. I remember how it was for me, too. Of course, I didn't play much as a child, being involved in my studies and so on. But back in Ponyville..." She craned her neck, gazing out at the landscape before her; if she squinted, she could just make herself believe she could see the familiar shapes of her former home. "I remember the outdoor cafes, summer dances, the evenings we shared..."
For a while, there was silence. Then the younger of the two moved a little closer. "You still think of them a lot, don't you, Princess?"
Twilight nodded. "Oh, always. They were the first real friends I'd had, you know. Before then I'd always been the lonely scholar, slaving away at my books. It was Celestia that sent me to them, you know. She felt I needed to learn a few things about friendship." She chuckled a bit. "And indeed I did, though being Celestia she had another motive in mind as well." She smiled down at her ward. "But it was for the best, and I must say it was the most wonderful time in my life."
They watched the stars together in silence. Then: "My Lady?"
"If you miss them so much, why did you not grant them immortality? It seems to me that if I had the gift, I would certainly--"
"Ah, but I did, young pupil. Oh, yes. Every one of them. And they each lived as long as their heart desired and no less. Those were... good days, too."
The young pony tilted her head in surprise. "You mean... you gave them immortality, but they died willingly anyway? But why, mistress? If I had immortality I'd never give it up, not for anything!"
The princess laughed softly. "Easy to say that now. But you are young, and life stretches out before you. When you have been alive for as long as I, time tends to hang heavy. Too many faces disappear. Too much familiar giving way to unfamiliar. The world moves on, and you are still there. There's not many that can take more than a few hundred years, really."
Twilight shifted her stance, looking back up into the sky. "I remember Pinky was the first to go. One day she just announced she wanted to 'see what it was like', and off she went." She chuckled to herself. "But I suppose that was Pinky all over."
"Then there was Rainbow and Apple Jack. Oh, those two..." She closed her eyes, smiling at the memory. "'One last adventure,' they called it. I can still seem them now laying together under the canopy, gazes fixed on each other, the words they saved for their very last breath..."
She sighed. "It was very beautiful, really. The bond between them." She looked down. Her voice, when it came again, was a whisper. "Sometimes, I quite envy them."
"Really, Ladyship?" The younger pony blinked. "You make it sound as if they were..."
"Well, of course they were, my girl. Who do you think presided at their wedding?"
"But... well, all the stories you've told about them! It always sounded like they were bitter rivals!"
The elder pony laughed. "Oh, yes! Always." She shook her head. "Those two, always showing off around each other. It's amazing they didn't see it themselves sooner." She winked at her younger charge. "Heaven knows, the rest of us did."
Dusky nodded. "I see, Ladyship. And the others?"
"Oh, they all went, each in their own time. They could not have forever, but I gave them all the time in this world they could desire. I admit I miss them, and it is hard to be in a world without them, but I wouldn't trade the times we had for anything."
The younger pony thought about this for a while. "Still," she said, "It does seem awfully sad. I mean, being so close for so long and then losing them all..."
Twilight nodded. "It is. Indeed it is. But:" She smiled, and turned to the girl, giving her a nuzzle. "In those days I learned the importance of forming bonds between ponies. And while it is true that a princess does not get much in the way of friends, I may say that I have never in my time here been alone."
Dusky sighed, her ears drooping a bit. "I wish I understood better, Ladyship."
The princess smiled. "You will." She brushed a reassuring hoof over the girl's mane. "Soon, my most faithful student, the time will come when I send you out into the world to learn its ways. In that time, I believe, you will discover many great and wonderful truths about friendship. But allow me to give you the first lesson now.”
"It is this: that all things pass in the course of time, that forever does not exist. That every Hello contains within itself the echoes of its own Goodbye. That for every person you come to know in your journey through life, no matter how long you know them, there will always come a day when you will see them for the last time. And yet..."
"And yet... it is all worth it." The princess looked back up at the stars, the light from the moon reflecting in her eyes. "The time between Hello and Goodbye, if you fill it properly, will sustain you through all your days. Every shared moment, every laugh, every precious sliver of time spent with someone you care for is a treasure, to be kept safe forever."
She allowed herself a small smile. "Some day, and that day is a long time coming, I shall step down as did Luna before me, and hand my burden to a worthy successor. When that day comes, I will join my friends in wherever their journey has taken them, of this I am certain."
The younger pony shivered. "Please, Ladyship," she whispered. "I do not like to hear you speak of such things."
"And why not?" She patted the girl reassuringly. "Such is the way of the world. We are born, we die. What could be more natural? And in the time between, we do what we can." She smiled gently. "Now, then: was there something you were needing?"
"Oh! Yes!" The girl fumbled in her saddlebag for a moment, then retrieved a slip of paper. "Lady Cloudwhirl said to tell you that they're supposed to have a storm over Paddock Ridge tomorrow, but they're right in the middle of mowing season. She says if the pegasi go ahead, we'll be up to our fetlocks in wet hay."
"Really? Dear me. Go see Spike, will you? Have him sort it out. Run along, now."
Princess Twilight watched her young charge gallop back into the palace on her errand, then turned back to the sky. The starts were particularly bright, she noted. Perhaps...
She let her attention focus on The Great Mare, followed the line from its tail down past Aeon's Wing. There, just above the horizon, a small group of stars, easily missed by anyone who wasn't looking for them. Five stars forming a rough circle, and right at the top a space, just room for one more. She allowed herself a smile. Orbis Amicitia. The Circle of Friends.
"Oh, yes," she whispered. "We do what we can."
The princess turned, and walked back into the palace. The Mare on the Moon continued her journey across the ebon sky. And in an unregarded corner of the sky, five friends danced and twinkled through eternity.