The door opened, spilling sunset light into the hall. Twilight looked up with a start, suddenly blinded.
“You can come in, now,” said the young nurse who had stepped into the dark hallway. “She’s ready for you.”
“Thank you,” said Twilight, standing from her cramped position on a stone bench across from the door. She shook her mane gingerly, trying not to upset the headache that had taken up residence behind her eyes.
“The pleasure is mine, Your Highness. Come right in.” The mare stepped aside from the door, revealing a room still bright to Twilight’s unadjusted eyes. The blurry shapes and vivid colors gradually resolved into streamers, balloons, and cheery banners written in a shaky hand.
“She’ll wake up soon,” whispered the nurse. “It’s not quite... It’s not her time yet.”
“Thank you,” said Twilight, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. She stepped across the polished white marble floor to the wide window and stood, watching the sunset over the forest. As the door swung silently shut, a broken sigh escaped her.
The sky blazed pink and orange, shifting to darker blue as the sun sank lower. Halos of clouds ringed the horizon, glowing with the same bright hues as the sky.
“They look just like cotton candy,” said a voice from behind her. Twilight turned quickly and stepped toward the tall four-poster in the center of the room. The sole occupant of the bed smiled up at her, and as frail and thin as she was, her smile was still as wide and bright as a filly’s.
“Oh, Pinkie.” Twilight knelt down by the bed on a cushion, smiling sadly down at the mare.
“Hiya, Twi,” Pinkie said. She coughed and heaved a raspy breath. “Thanks for coming to my party.”
Twilight fought back a sudden sob. “You know I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Pinkie unfurled her veined hoof from the thick blanket wrapped around her and gently touched Twilight’s muzzle. “Hey, don’t cry. You know how much I hate it when other ponies are sad, especially because of me.”
Twilight smiled bitterly and said, “Well, it’s not easy. This is—” she stopped herself again to rub her hoof roughly across her muzzle. “This is a goodbye party, after all.”
Pinkie Pie sighed, frowning, and said, “Twilight, stop this for a sec. Okay? Just listen to me.” With a comforting pat of her hoof, she gestured to the space beside her.
Twilight dropped her head onto the bed, eyes squeezed shut to prevent any tears from leaking out. “Stop what?”
“You still act so much like a filly, Twi. You still look like one, too.” Pinkie chuckled softly, her bright blue eyes still twinkling in spite her age. “You need to remember that death is as essential to existence as life.”
“When did you get so serious, Pinkie?” Twilight’s words sounded almost accusatory, but the tone didn’t affect Pinkie in the way she intended.
“When I got old, Twilight,” she giggled. “We all got old. We all learned; we all changed.” She paused. “Well, all of us except you. When you became a princess, you got more than a pair of wings.”
“Yeah, I got cursed with immortality,” Twilight sniffed. Twilight’s spite at the thought was almost palpable. The occupants of the sunlit room both paused.
Blowing from an an open window high above, a breeze rustled the drawn-back velvet curtains of the four-poster. A streamer on the other side of the room slowly twisted and untwisted in the soft wind.
Pinkie’s sweet voice broke the silence of the room. “Twilight? Do you know why we started having goodbye parties?”
Twilight stopped for a second, forcing herself to remember. “Well, when Applejack was... when Applejack was going, we decided to get together, all as a group, one last time.” Her voice broke at the word “last.” She shut her eyes tightly again. “We wanted to see A.J. off.”
“Well, that was our stated reason, Twi.” Twilight raised her head, looking confusedly at the old pink mare. “Here’s a secret. You probably wouldn’t know this, not having the benefit of age the same way we all did.” She sat up a bit, curling her hind legs closer to her and shrugging her shoulder against the piled cushions. “Goodbye parties aren’t for the ponies going away. They’re for the ones who have to stay behind.”
Twilight’s confusion temporarily overcame her sadness. “What,” she began shakily. “What does that even mean?”
Nuzzling Twilight’s mane, Pinkie said simply, “These parties were for you, Twilight. Not for us, for you.”
The sun’s last rays shot over the horizon, bending through the glass panes of the window and warming Twilight’s back. She spread her shaking wings and draped them over Pinkie’s frail form, as if that would somehow stop what was coming.
“Twilight. You have to be strong. For me.” She lifted Twilight’s head with a hoof. “For us, for Celestia and Luna, and for your people.”
“I don’t think I can go on. Not without you. Not without them.” She didn’t sob or whimper, but even so, her voice held sadness mingled with fear.
“Shut up, Twilight,” Pinkie said lovingly. “You’re a strong mare. With us, you’ve fought Discord, defeated Nightmare Moon, banished the Changelings, killed the Kraken, and dispelled the plague, among countless other things. You brought us together, you led us, and you eventually became something greater because of it.”
A single tear leaked from Twilight’s eye as Pinkie continued, “When you say that you can’t go on, that means a lot of things. It means you don’t care enough about our friendship between the six of us to try to share it.”
“Wait, that’s not what I mean—” Twilight said, a note of panic in her voice. Pinkie cut her off, continuing.
“That’s the worst part about it, too. If you really don’t think you can go on, then you won’t try to. You’ll be hurt.” Pinkie put her hoof next to Twilight’s ear, drawing her closer to her frail face and now-watery eyes. “And Twilight, if you’re hurt, then there’s nothing I can do. Nothing any of us, not Applejack, Rainbow, Fluttershy, Rarity, or me, can do. They all had to leave, and now I have to, too.”
“Pinkie, I’m so sorry—” She was stopped by Pinkie, who was crying openly now, tears gleaming in her baby blue eyes.
“No, Twilight! That’s the part that hurts the most! I know you don’t mean to be hurtful on purpose, but this hurts me as much as anything! We don’t want you to be miserable, and if you’re miserable when we’re all gone, then we can’t do anything to help you!” Pinkie rested her head and still-fluffy pink mane on Twilight’s wing.
“Twilight. We all love you. We don’t want you to forget us, but moving on isn’t forgetting us. It’s honoring us. It shows the value of what we had together, the six of us!”
“Pinkie—” Twilight said, wings wrapped tightly around the pink mare. “Pinkie,” she sobbed. “Don’t leave me.”
“I have to, Twi. It’s an essential part of life. Everyone has to say goodbye sometime.”
“But I don’t want to!” She hiccoughed, her tears staining the bedsheets. “I don’t want to be alone.”
The sun had set completely now, and the last light was fading from the sky. Stars danced and twirled, spinning across the sky like fireworks, but Twilight didn’t notice.
“Reach behind my pillow, Twilight.” Pinkie shifted, taking as much of her weight as possible to allow Twilight room. “There’s something for you from all of us.”
“Pinkie, don’t do this,” Twilight sobbed. “Don’t.”
Pinkie raised a shaking hoof and placed it on Twilight’s face, wiping the tears. “Hush, Twilight. It’s time.”
Still sobbing, Twilight reached a hoof behind Pinkie’s pillow, quickly feeling a package wrapped in brown paper and string.
Pinkie smiled, whispering, “You can open it, Twilight.” The lavender glow of Twilight’s magic illuminated the dark room, casting shifting patterns of purple on the wall like the sun through water. As she pulled the paper apart, two things fell out: a leather book, wide and thin with a locked metal clasp, and a letter on faded white paper.
“We did this for you a long time ago, Twi, right after you became a princess. We knew you’d need these things sometime, when we were all... gone.”
Sensing the slightly fearful tone of her friend, Twilight dropped the items on the bed and embraced Pinkie with her hooves and wings. “Oh, Pinkie.” She withdrew and looked into Pinkie’s eyes. “Are you afraid?”
Pinkie shook her head slowly and weakly. “No, not really. I know that I’ll be happy later.” She sniffed, and Twilight nuzzled her. “When it’s over. I just hope it doesn’t hurt.”
“How do you know, Pinkie? How do you know you’ll be happy?”
“Because I know I’ll be with my friends. They’re waiting for me.” She squeezed Twilight’s hoof with her own frail one. “You’ll know too, when it’s your time.”
“Oh, Pinkie, don’t leave. Don’t leave,” Twilight cried, gripping her friend’s hoof. “I’m not ready.”
Pinkie smiled a bittersweet smile. “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me,” she quoted. “I can’t wait any longer, Twilight. Our friends are waiting, and when I get there, we’ll all wait for you, together.” Struggling with another breath, she closed her eyes. “Hold my hoof, Twi,” she whispered, sounding nowhere near as sure as she had been.
“Okay, Pinkie. Just relax. Just breathe,” Twilight whispered. Pinkie’s chest rose with a raspy noise, and fell again. “Pinkie, Pinkie,” she sobbed again.
“Goodbye, Twilight,” came the final whisper.
Twilight collapsed onto the side of the bed, sobbing with raspy, heaving tears. She clung to the blankets, and as she finally fell to the ivory floor, she pulled the book and the letter off on top of her.
With a furious kick of her forehoof, she sent the book flying into the door. The metal clasp popped open, and the book spilled paper everywhere.
“Why did you have to leave me?” Twilight’s voice was barely a whisper through her tears. She stepped over to the book lying facedown on the floor and lifted it in her magic.
In it, her friend’s faces smiled back at her. She almost dropped the book—the photo album—in surprise. She quickly leafed through the pages. It looked like every event in their lives as friends had been catalogued, in pictures, words, and even her old friendship reports.
Still crying, she smiled. Scooping up the fallen papers, Twilight gently placed the book on a table. Averting her eyes from the bed, she gently lifted the letter from the ground and levitated it in front of her eyes.
“Dear Twilight,” it read.
“Life is just one great adventure, and, like any adventure, the most important part of it is who you spend it with. You were the best partner, leader, and friend anypony could ask for in life.
“But like all things, life has to end sometime. For us, it ended at a normal time, but for you, it could extend for centuries more. Our adventures are over, for now, but yours are just beginning.
“So, as your friends, we have this to say to you: have more adventures. Live life to the fullest. Don’t forget us. And when you’re ready, we’ll be waiting, happy to adventure with you again, forever.”
“Your truest friends, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy.”
Twilight carefully tucked the letter inside the photo album and paused, standing in front of the window. There was no trace of the sun anymore, but instead of looking bleak, the darkness looked welcoming. The moon shined brightly, illuminating the forest below and the balloons inside the room.
Slowly stepping to Pinkie’s bed, Twilight straitened the sheets, and kissed Pinkie’s head, staining it with her tears. She stepped back, watching as the velvet red curtains swayed in the slight breeze.
“Goodbye, Pinkie.” She picked up the book with the letter inside it, and stepped to the door. Looking down and scraping her hoof against the polished marble, she added, “See you later.”