Chapter 1: All Hail the Princess
“But princess, this could revolutionize how we power our homes!”
I carefully kept my expression unreadable as I looked over the documents presented to me. “I agree Magister Twinkle, but I see nothing to convince me that such an endeavor would be beneficial. For example,” I used a breath of magic to flick out a document and held it up, “these schematics tell me that use of magis nuclei for a reactor would produce a significant risk to anypony near the facility, as the radiation alone would do harm to any living thing nearby without adequate shielding. Furthermore, within a decade, we would have a surplus of depleted, radioactive materials with no safe place to store them.”
The gray-blue mare tipped her glasses further up on her muzzle before sputtering, “B-but-”
I shook my head. “I understand the risks involved, and there is simply no use for such a thing. The negatives far outweigh the positives, and the renewable refineries we have now are more than capable of providing enough energy to the populace. True that a fusion reactor would reduce the amount of refineries we need, but the idea is not to leave a lasting effect on the environment, or the ponies in the area. I am sorry, but your appeal has been denied.”
She gathered up the documents and bowed before leaving the audience chamber, and I couldn’t help but think it would not be the last time I heard from that particular pony. She may have the best interests of the United Equestrian Kingdoms in mind, but she had a tendency to overlook the risks. Still, she was nothing if not persistent, so I allowed myself a small smile as I gathered my things and prepared to make my way to the dining hall for evening meals.
As I walked through the winding hallways of the Old Palace, I couldn’t help but think of how much had changed over the years. In the distance, I could see the tower I had stayed in as a filly when I was under the tutelage of Celestia. What was once my safe haven was now a lab where young unicorns were supervised as they developed their magic skills. The hedge maze of the Royal Gardens still held the statues of the different villains that had been vanquished, but it was now open to the public at all times, as was most of the rest of the palace. In fact, the only part of the palace grounds that were private was the royal quarters, where my room was relocated many years ago. It was still strange sometimes, seeing so many common ponies and so few visible guards, but I forced myself to remember that we were at peace, and had been for nearly three-hundred years now.
After the Great Changeling Coup had come and gone, life as a whole had calmed down.
Discord had even completely reformed himself, no longer even calling himself by his past name. Instead, he became Concord, and worked on creating harmony wherever he could. He still enjoyed pranks and would occasionally play a joke on me or the other princesses, but as a whole he sought to right the wrongs of his past by creating a harmonious lifestyle for all ponies. With his new direction, his body also changed to match his heart, and he became a sky serpent of shimmering colors, as beautiful as he was powerful.
While I enjoyed the peace bestowed upon us all, I couldn’t help but feel bored lately. As I trotted toward my room, I held the selfish hope that something would happen that would require action. I thought that with my analytical, logical thinking, I would enjoy repetition and habit. Lately however, I found myself wishing for a change.
“Something on your mind, princess?” spoke an unmistakably cheery voice from beside me.
I smiled as I turned to Cadence, one of my closest friends in this changing world. “Hello, empress. How does the day find you?”
We always greeted each other formally, just to see which one of us would crack first.
I burst out into laughter under the unflinching gaze of the Crystal Empress, and was joined by her laughter only a second later. It seemed that even as the centuries had passed, we always reverted to our younger days when I was simply Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia’s student, and she was one of my best friends in the entire world.
Time, it seems, hadn’t changed how we felt about one another.
Our laughter eventually died down, but I was forced to lean against my larger friend for support, as I always laughed hard enough to pass out when I was with her. Once I finally had my breathing under control, I let an unbidden smile cross my face as I leaned against her, and didn’t care to move away anytime soon.
Eventually the two of us stood again and trotted down the long corridor leading to the residential quarter of the palace. I was not able to see Cadence as often as I would have liked, usually only once every four or five months, but time that I spent with her was always a joy. With her and the princesses, I didn’t have to be Princess Twilight Sparkle...I could just be Twilight, and that was good enough.
“So how have you been, Twilight?” Cadence asked with a warm grin.
I shrugged. “A little bored lately, but otherwise alright. You?”
Cadence flipped her silky mane away from her face as she sighed. “Not as well as I had hoped. It appears an ancient sect has been causing trouble lately, and it has made things stressful to say the least.”
My giddiness was replaced with concern, and I asked, “Who are they?”
“They call themselves the Red Dawn,” she explained with a frown, “and they aim to spread anarchy and chaos whenever and wherever they can. They believe it is wrong for us to rule over ponies, that instead all ponies should be ‘free from the chains of oppression’ to do as they please with little or no consequences.”
I rolled my eyes in annoyance. “It sounds like they weren’t hugged enough as foals. I mean, they seem to be making it sound as if our subjects are our slaves or something.”
“That’s the way they see it.” she replied disdainfully.
I raised my eyebrow as I asked, “Why have I not heard of them before?”
Cadence shook her head. “I am unsure, but I think at the moment it is because they are not strong enough or bold enough to run operations within Equestria, where they would have to face down three alicorns at once.”
“So they chose the path of least resistance.” I mused, and Cadence nodded. I chuckled lightly. “Apparently they don’t know you very well.”
She shook her head with a sigh. “They do not. Unfortunately, they are also careful, usually using other ponies to do their bidding by casting a mind-controlling spell upon them. Upon the pony completing their given mission or being captured, the spell wipes their mind of all recent memories, making interrogations pointless.”
As we continued walking, I thought a bit on the matter. “Hmm...that is a rather tricky issue. Have you tried infiltration?”
“Nopony knows where they’re based, who their members are, or how to find said members. We’ve hit a bit of a wall with investigations.” Cadence explained in frustration.
I pursed my lips and nodded. “Well, I have in my employ a group of very special ponies that works on cases like this, often coming to a positive resolution when no others can. I have trained them myself, and I trust them to do what’s right. Would you be up to allowing them to operate within your borders?”
Cadence raised her eyebrow skeptically. “And who might I be expecting?”
I shook my head wearily. “I apologize, but for the safety of them and their work, I cannot reveal who they are, what they look like, or where they will be. Just...please trust me.”
She studied me for a few moments before shrugging with a sigh. “I suppose I can trust them if you do.”
I nodded with a relaxed smile. “Great. I’ll send them as soon as possible. Look for update reports under the moniker ‘Sunshine’ to arrive. Let your couriers know so they don’t throw them away or something.”
She nodded as well, her demeanor relaxing a great deal. “Thank you, Twilight. I knew I could count on you.”
I leaned forward and nuzzled my close friend, replying, “Of course you can, Cadence.” I broke the contact and continued walking with Cadence. “So where were you headed?”
“To see you, actually. I’m free until this evening, as that’s when me and Centurion Spear will be returning home.” she explained.
“Great,” I replied happily, “I was just off to get something to eat. Care to join me?”
She smiled wide and nodded. “That sounds great, Twilight.”
Two hours later, the sun had begun to descend from the sky past the midpoint, meaning that it was still only early afternoon. Still, most of the things I had planned today could be pushed back, so I allotted time for Cadence, as I always did when she visited.
The two of us were resting in my room watching a movie on my new TV, which was double the size of my old one, nearly filling the small wall it was anchored to. As we sat next to each other and enjoyed the show, I couldn’t help but marvel at how much technology had advanced. Magic was still the basis for our society, as it would likely always be, but technology had opened up many possibilities in how that magic could be used.
I still remember when the first television set was unveiled, I spent days studying it, trying to pick apart just how it worked and why. At the end of my investigation, I couldn’t help but think, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Still, it was an enjoyable invention, and it changed the way ponies relaxed around the world.
Along with that one initial invention came many others, including telephones (which cut down on tree-cutting for parchment), microscopes, mechanized carriages, and even a magical power grid. The use of magic as an energy source was a paramount discovery by Magister Shining Spark, and it changed the lives of ponies worldwide. Now, instead of relying on the iceponies to deliver ice blocks for our cold boxes, we could now keep them cool in a magically-cooled refrigerator with no need for a block of ice to be delivered every day. No longer did ponies suffer during the hottest days of summer and the coolest nights of winter, for now we had magical cooling and heating machines that would keep a home as cool or as warm as was needed. Candles had also been phased out as a whole, as now we had bulbs of light-producing magic spells that were mass-produced to run off of the new power grid.
And of course my favorite development, the music-players.
Vinyl records as a whole had fallen as a casualty to the times, as they were simply too fragile and too large to be practical once compact discs were created. Just as the name suggested, compact discs were much smaller than a record, being only a sixth of the size and weight. Instead of a needle running across it to create the sound, magic pickup devices “read” the music and projected it through speakers, another wonderful creation. True that many other things had come about during the last few centuries, but the ability to listen to music while I was reading or working without the need to wind a record player was amazing, and it vastly improved my productivity.
Still, as I sat beside Cadence and watched the epic adventure movie The Nightmare, I couldn’t help but smile at my favorite thing about the times...us. Cadence, me, Celestia, and Luna were the most important things in the world to me, and that would never change. Even through all the hardship that had befallen us with the loss of the other Elements, the loss of Shining Armor, the Changeling War, and many other obstacles, we had leaned on each other for strength, and had all become much closer as a result.
Thinking of the two princesses made me remember all they’d done for me, the most important of which was comforting me and making sure I knew I was loved and cared for...that I wasn’t alone. The pain from the loss of my friends and my brother had stuck with me over the years, but somehow Cadence had taken it quite differently. Instead of misery, she felt joy whenever she spoke of her late husband. Whenever the subject of Shining Armor would somehow come up, her face lit up in happiness at the memories that would surge forth.
“How do you do it?” I asked without thinking.
Cadence brought her head up off of her hooves and looked at me in confusion. “Do what?”
I turned my eyes to her and asked, “How do you get over somepony when they’re gone?”
She pushed herself up off the floor and scooted back to sit with me. “Where is this coming from, Twilight?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s just...I’ve always noticed that whenever we talk about Shining Armor, you never seem to break down...”
“You mean like you do sometimes about Rainbow Dash or the others.” she said knowingly.
It was true. Though I no longer was reduced to a sobbing wreck, the mere mention of my friends could often put a damper on my mood. It was frustrating, because with all of my intellect and research done, I just couldn’t seem to find a way to not be sad that they were gone, that I’d never again see their faces, hear their voices, or feel the love they had for me.
I nodded solemnly. “Yeah.”
Cadence thought for a moment before standing. “We need ice cream. Wait here.”
I didn’t have time to form a rebuttal before she had already trotted out of the room, closing the door behind her.
I had gotten bored of waiting, and so had pulled out different reports from my top researchers to go over while I waited for Cadence to return. Most I simply looked over, giving a slight nod to myself at the progress made, but one in particular caught my eye. It was on the medical side of research, and focused on advanced healing, more specifically, the regrowing or reshaping of damaged or destroyed limbs. It was a study that had been going on nearly as long as I had been alive, which at this point in time was nearing six-hundred years, but only recently had it begun to show promise. I realized this was something I would have to keep a close eye on, as it could give certain ponies their life back ‒ unicorns that had lost their horns, or pegasi that had lost one or both wings, for example.
The door opened just as I finished reading the report, and I neatly levitated and stacked the papers on my writing desk, closing it up and locking it as I did so. I turned my eyes to see Cadence slightly frowning as she levitated two pints of ice cream over.
“Do you ever stop working?” she asked as she sat down on the fluffy carpet next to me, floating a pint of vanilla bean ice cream over.
I giggled and shook my head. “Not if I can help it. Celestia and Luna seemed to be always busy when they were training me to take up royal duties, so I feel like I need to work extra hard to give them some much-needed time to themselves. No matter what they might say, they need it.”
“But so do you.” Cadence insisted. “No matter what you might say, you’re not a machine. You need to let yourself relax too. It does you no good to work yourself so hard, Twilight.” She then opened her tub of sweet, creamy goodness and dug a spoonful out, lifting it to her lips.
I stared at her before opening my own tub and dipping a spoon in. “So why the ice cream?”
Cadence grinned as she swallowed the mouthful. “Trust me, this is an ‘ice cream talk’.” She took another bite before leveling her gaze with me. “So you were wondering how I got over Shining Armor being gone, hm?”
I nodded. “Well yeah. I mean if I didn’t know any better I’d think he was still around somewhere, and you were just counting the minutes until you can see him again...you know, like you used to.”
For the first time, I could see Cadence’s face just...crack a little, and it scared me. She took a deep sigh before pointing her spoon at me. “Eat. Don’t let that go to waste.” I did as she said and waited for her to continue, and after taking another bite of her own tub, she did. “So you think that I just ‘got over’ Shiny...that I just ‘got over’ the best thing that ever happened to me?” Her tone had changed, and I knew at that moment I was in for quite the lecture, so I got more comfortable. She sighed and said, “What you don’t know is that for the first hundred years after his death, I cried myself to sleep every night...every night.”
I swallowed the current spoonful of ice cream a little too quickly, wincing as it chilled my throat. “I-I didn’t know that.”
Cadence shook her head with a frown. “Nopony does, not even the Equestrian Princesses. As the Princess of Love, I naturally form a much stronger bond with my mate than most ponies can even imagine possible. It was like when he passed on, he took a piece of my soul with him...and it’s never stopped hurting.” Her eyes then turned to me, and seemed to bore into my very soul. “You want to know how I go on? I force myself to think of all the good times instead of the bad. I think of what he left me to remember him by, instead of the fact he’s gone.”
I must have eaten more than I thought in the few minutes we’d been talking, because suddenly I was scraping the bottom of the container. I set it down and met eyes with her again, asking, “Does it ever get any better?”
Cadence’s smile was back, and she tilted her head ever so slightly. “It does if you want it to.” She scooted closer to me and extended a wing across my back. “Forgetting the pain of them being gone does not mean forgetting them, Twilight...and I doubt they would want you to continue to feel sad over their loss after all this time.”
I dropped my eyes to the floor and sighed. “I don’t know how easy it will be to forget the pain when I lay in bed at night on her birthday, knowing that the only thing I have to hug and kiss goodnight is a pillow.”
She giggled slightly and said, “Yes...I’ve done that too, so don’t feel bad. The fact of the matter is that there will always be certain things and certain times that will bring back the pain, but you know how I fight it back?” I shook my head, and Cadence smiled gently. “I remember that Shiny wanted me to be happy all the time. Letting his death ruin me would be an insult to his memory, and I have a feeling Rainbow Dash and the rest of your friends felt the same way about you.”
I nodded my head in defeat. “Yeah, you’re right.”
Cadence’s gentle smile did not abate as she nudged me gently. “Glad you finally figured that out, Ladybug.”
The rest of the night had been wonderful, and Cadence’s presence had allowed me to find solace in such a way that I was usually only able to find with Celestia and Luna, but she also allowed me to find an answer to a problem I’d had for a long time, and I felt like I could finally let go of the pain that tied me to the past, looking to the future with excitement and wonder again.
As the crescent moon crested the horizon, I smiled at the hour of twilight...my hour. The rainbow of hues caused me to smile at the gift Luna had insisted to give to me, and I knew what I had to do now.
I turned and began trotting through the Royal Gardens, towards the northeast corner that held the palace cemetery. I felt horrible as I did so, as it was a place I had only visited once in six centuries, simply because of the fact I had believed it would be too painful to do so. Now however, I was prepared to face it...to finally put them all to rest. They deserved it, I deserved it, and I needed the closure to move on and live my life.
The first glimpse of headstones caused my steps to falter, but only for a moment as my strides became stronger, and more determined. The field was vast, clearly holding several centuries worth of important ponies, but the very rear of the field was my destination, so I quickly passed the rest by with subtle nods of respect.
As I crested the small hill, five statues stood tall in a semicircle, their marble surfaces kept clean and in good condition by the groundskeepers.
To the far left was an earth pony. The strength and pride was somehow captured in her likeness by the sculptor, and as I looked upon it, I almost expected to hear the warm chuckle I was always so fond of. The familiar stetson hat atop her head had been passed on through her family after her death, her first niece receiving it in her will. The hat was a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the Apple family, that even to this day spanned all of Equestria. Applejack had been a proud, yet loving pony, who placed more value on family and friends than materialistic things...a trait so rare these days. She had been taken so soon from us, at the age of forty-four, and it was a tragedy in itself to see one so young leave us.
Next to Applejack was her wife, Rarity, one of the most elegant and generous ponies the world had ever known. As if suffering from a broken heart, she passed on only a week after her wife, eager to join her in the afterlife. True to her nature, she had left all of her fortune to charity in her will, and left her business to her apprentice, who loved making dresses nearly as much as Rarity did. The statue itself captured her beauty perfectly, and her left eye always seemed to be on the verge of an affectionate wink towards me.
On the other side, to the far right, was another earth pony, this one with a wildly curly mane and tail and a smile plastered on her face. It seemed that even in death, her joy could not be contained, and I half-expected her to burst forth from the stone with giggles abound before she wrapped me up in a bone-crushing hug. Even in the visage of stone, she seemed to be bouncing a bit in joy. It was strange, really. Though Pinkie had been the last to leave this world, she did so quietly, which went against nearly every Pinkie-rule the young version of her would have had. Instead of the demand for a party, she had simply asked for a quiet burial next to her husband, and for everypony in attendance to remember the joy she brought. She expected tears...in her maturity, she no longer held the foalish belief that to cry would be an insult, but she asked that we kept in mind that she wanted us to smile and be happy. And so, we did.
Next to her was a soft-spoken pegasus mare by the name of Fluttershy, her gentle features and demeanor seemingly imprinted upon the stone itself, and a soft, loving smile forever etched onto her face. Fluttershy’s passing was one of the hardest to deal with, taking place only a few years after that of Applejack and Rarity. In her maturity, she had become less concerned with safety around the larger animals she cared for, and her failing vision and hearing didn’t help matters. Her husband, Big Macintosh, had still allowed her to do what she was passionate about, however, because as he explained it, to keep her from doing so would be killing her before she was gone. A manticore had been her demise, one that was nearly as aged as she was. Likely, it had been startled because of its loss of hearing and her suddenly appearing in front of it, and so had reactined as a frightened predator should. Big Mac took things surprisingly well, shedding only what tears were called for at her funeral, and pushing forth to continue the Apple family legacy with the youngsters. Fluttershy’s house seemed to have been claimed by the forest her animal friends called home, with vines and trees overtaking the gentle cottage. It almost seemed as if in some way, the Everfree itself was calling home one of its own, a kindred spirit that understood the animals within it like no other. Part of what had made her passing so difficult was the fact that it came before anypony really had time to finish mourning the loss of Applejack and Rarity, but it was also the fact that she had been taken before her time, being the second-youngest of us.
In the center of the small field, was the last of us...Rainbow Dash. With wings flared, she stood proud and tall amongst the placid cemetery, as if itching to prove her loyalty once more by protecting those in need. She had been laid to rest with the others in Ponyville, but had been buried with full military honors, awarded the Solar Shield posthumously for laying down her life for another. I always found it slightly humorous, that fact, for though death had not taken her before that time, she had put her life on the line so many, many times before for her friends and comrades. Her brother-in-arms, Flicker, had made sure to tell everypony he knew that he had lived because of her; even though he could not speak of their work, he wanted...no, needed the world to know that he lived because of her. The world would never know much else about what they did besides the fact that they worked directly for the princesses of Equestria, but what the world did know was that she was loyal to the end, willingly laying down her life for a friend.
Even though my friends weren’t actually buried here ‒ they had been put to rest in Ponyville ‒ I always felt somehow closer to them in this place, as if the stone bodies had somehow held a part of who they were more than the simple graves themselves. It was part of the reason I had avoided this place for so long, for with that closer bond I felt came an ill feeling in my stomach and a tightness in my chest.
No matter...this needed to be done.
I stepped forward to the plaque on the ground, and read it aloud:
“The Elements of Harmony:
Applejack Apple, Element of Honesty
Rarity Belle-Apple, Element of Generosity
Rainbow Dawn Dasher, Element of Loyalty
Fluttershy Aegis-Apple, Element of Kindness
Pinkamena Pie, Element of Laughter
Princess Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic
These six souls were chosen to defend Equestria by powers beyond comprehension, and they did so dutifully. In life, they were loved. In passing, they are remembered and revered. May the sun, moon, and stars guide them to the great beyond to find their rightful place, wherever that may be. May she who remains be forever honored for uniting them all.
May peace reign, and the great power of the Elements slumber forevermore.”
I remember the day this plaque was made. Spike himself had commissioned it, finding the words and wisdom to put upon it. It was a reminder to all future generations of just how important these five mares were, as well as a reminder that time itself had continued because we had willed it so. Eventually, all things would come to an end. While the princesses of Equestria would probably forever remain, our beloved nation may very well cease to exist with time. However, all the work and all the sacrifice had been worth it. Even if it were for just one more generation...one more laugh of a foal or kiss from a lover’s lips...it had been worth it. Should the day ever come when harmony waned, I had no doubt in my mind that the magic that bound us would give birth to new Element bearers to carry on the legacy.
For now though, I lay to rest the past.
I move closer to the plaque and sit down only a few inches from it, and let a deep shuddering sigh pass my lips. “Hi girls...it’s been a long time.”
I swallowed thickly as I thought of what to say to them, as they deserved only the best, and I had postponed for far too long. So, I said the only thing I could think of.
“I was scared.”
It was true, in the simplest form. I had been afraid of the pain that came with actually saying goodbye. In hindsight, the lack of true closure had hurt as well, but I hadn’t been thinking clearly. Grief can do strange things to one’s rationale, and I was far from an exception. As I sat there, alone and broken, I couldn’t help but realize the true reason I hadn’t visited in so long.
As the years had passed, my memories never faded. Any memories I had were as crisp and as fresh as the day they were made, forever preserved by whatever magic kept me alive. I had come to believe, however, that it was the pain I felt from the loss of all my friends that kept those memories alive. I foolishly believed that if the pain stopped, so too would the memories I had of Shining Armor, and the girls. Losing that time I’d spent with all of them would destroy me.
If anything could kill an alicorn, I imagine that would be it.
“I don’t want to say goodbye to all of you.” I muttered painfully. “I never did...it’s just so unfair. Why do I have to stick around while you all get to rest? Why me?” I couldn’t stop myself as the pain quickly changed to rage and I gritted my teeth. “What did I do to deserve this? Was it because I wasn’t a good enough student to Celestia? Maybe it was because I wasn’t as good a friend as I should have been...” My anger petered out into sorrow once again, and all I could feel was regret now. “I wish I’d never completed that spell. I wish I could’ve grown old and died like you all did.”
It then occurred to me that not once had I truly come to terms with what I was, and what my life had become. For a startlingly long amount of time, I had simply been numb to it all. Had I faked my relationships with the princesses and Cadence? How much had I been dishonest to them about how I felt? How much had I lied to myself?
It all burst forth at once, and I poured all of my anger, my frustration, and my sorrow into the painful tears that sprang forth from my eyes. I roared in agony and rage, the booming sound of my “royal” voice causing the grass to flatten and the clouds above me to dash away from the force.
I knew the reasoning behind it all. I knew that I was chosen, likely before I was even born, to become the next princess of Equestria. From a young age, I was molded and grown to become a great leader. Princess Celestia, and later Luna, worked tirelessly to be sure I would be ready for such a life, and that I could bring Equestria to an unprecedented period of prosperity and peace.
My emotions didn’t care, however.
I didn’t want this. I hadn’t wanted to outlive everyone I’d ever cared about. I hadn’t wanted to become an embarrassment to my parents. But most of all, I hadn’t wanted to be special.
I had wanted to just be regular Twilight Sparkle. I had wanted to just be a regular pony, with regular friends and a (mostly) regular life. I had wanted to make my parents proud of me.
Most of all, I had wanted to love Rainbow to the fullest, grow old with her, and take my last breath in her embrace.
It isn’t fair, and I don’t want this anymore.