Senseless. Barbaric. Humiliating. Heart-wrenching. Yet the frenzied crowd didn’t see any of that. They only saw a noose and the pegasus waiting beneath it, legs and wings bound by iron bands.
Clover saw it for what it was. Though tears obscured her vision, she knew this was only a senseless display of violence meant to distract her people from the eternally falling snow around them.
She stood off to the side, horn locked by a suppression ring, and two guards flanking her just as an extra measure. She kept her teeth clenched, her lips pulled back in a vicious sneer, trying to look threatening. But the tears streaming down her face and her choked sobs told anypony paying attention another story.
The pegasus on trial looked to her and smiled sadly. “It’ll be okay,” he mouthed. A lie. A boldfaced, desperate, delusional lie. But a lie Clover appreciated.
The boos and jeers of the crowd turned to cries of elation as another pony stepped on stage. Dressed in her finest regalia, purple silk cloak billowing in the winter wind, and a silver crown upon her head, Princess Platinum addressed the crowd.
“My dear unicorns, today I present to you, a villain of the foulest breed!” The crowd’s cheers turned to boos once more, and Platinum smiled in satisfaction. “This cloud loving pegasus,” she spat, “has weaseled his way not only into our kingdom, but into the bed of one of our own!”
The roar of the crowd reached a fervent pitch, and several objects were thrown onto the stage. Two rocks hit the pegasus in the face, leaving a bloody gash beneath his eye.
“That’s right! He has consorted with our proud and pure race, tricking a poor mare and taking her to bed, no doubt to defile our race and learn of our secrets.”
“That’s a lie!” Clover screamed. Her guards held her in place as she strained her neck like she could close the distance. “That’s a lie and you know it!”
Princess Platinum ignored her and turned her attention on the pegasus. “Silver Wing, if that is your real name, how do you plead to these accusations?”
The light gray stallion bowed his head, eyes hidden beneath his black bangs. He chanced a quick look at Clover, smiling at her one last time. He raised his head and looked at the crowd without a trace of fear in his eyes. “Guilty.”
Clover’s shriek of “No” was lost to the crowds excited acclimation. They stamped their hooves in a steady beat as the executioner came up and fit the noose around Silver Wing’s neck.
“You can’t do this!” Clover yelled. “He’s innocent! I love him, I love him!”
Her pained cries fell on deaf ears. With the noose securely fastened, Platinum raised a hoof. “He has pled guilty! For your crimes against the unicorn kingdom, I, Princess Platinum sentence you, Silver Wing to death!”
“Starswirl won’t let you get away with this!” Clover tried, using her last desperate card.
Platinum finally looked at her, a detached look in her eye. “Starswirl is not here,” she said. She brought her hoof down.
The noose went up, along with Silver Wing.
Clover screamed and looked away. Had she watched for a second longer, she would have seen Silver’s lips form the words, “I love you, too.”
The whipping and swirling motion that engulfed Sunset Shimmer’s body never got any easier. Neither did the distorting stretching and tingling sensation that overtook her entire being. She imagined this as similar to being flushed down a toilet, only less wet and more magical.
In a few seconds, the ride ended, and the mirror portal spat her out onto a cool crystal floor, where she landed right in front of familiar purple hooves. They helped Sunset up, and she found herself muzzle to muzzle with Princess Twilight Sparkle.
“H-hey, Twi,” Sunset said, leaning back so she wasn’t violating the princess’s royal space.
Twilight, however, wrapped her hooves around Sunset and pulled her in for a hug. “It’s so nice to see you again,” she said.
Sunset leaned into the hug and sighed contently. “It’s nice to see you, too.” Truth be told, Sunset had missed the princess a lot—far more than usual. And there wasn’t even an impending crisis to deal with. She spent nearly every day with her friends in the human world, yet there was still a Twilight shaped void in her heart. Not even the other Twilight could fill it; in fact, Sunset felt ashamed she had even tried.
She didn’t know if it was puppy love or just anxiety over being away from her best friend. Either way, she was glad Twilight kept their embrace going for what seemed like minutes on end. When they finally broke apart, they were both red in the face.
“So…” Twilight cleared her throat. “Aside from the dreams, how are you?”
Sunset made short laps around the library, getting readjusted to her hooves and using basic levitation on the books to flex her magic. “I’m good. Hanging out with the girls whenever I’m not studying.”
Twilight giggled. “You sound like me.”
Sunset smiled at her. “Well, we’re cut from the same cloth, right?”
“Yeah, I guess we are.” Twilight walked over to the crystal table sitting in the center of the library. “I’m glad everything’s going okay for you.” She fidgeted her wings and started randomly leafing through one of the books she had piled up. “So, how’s… the other me doing?”
With a flick of her magic, Sunset returned the four books she was juggling back to their shelves. “She still has nightmares,” Sunset said gingerly. “She knows we’re here to support her, but, you know.” Sunset took a seat next to Twilight. “Turning into a demon tends to leave a few scars.”
Twilight reached for Sunset’s hoof and gave it a squeeze. It was enough to relieve the tension in Sunset’s shoulders. She had proven she was stronger than the darkness she had once succumbed to, but seeing Human Twilight slouched and introverted reminded Sunset of the weight she had to carry after her own transformation.
Subsequently, Princess Twilight reminded Sunset there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Sunset would help Human Twilight find that light, just like the princess did for her.
Her hoof still over Sunset’s, Twilight said, “You’re also an angel.” After a slight pause, Twilight retracted her hoof and quickly said, “I mean, you turned into an angel! You have very angelic features! Or had—I wasn’t there to actually see it! But, I bet you looked very angelic! Not that you don’t anymore! Um, I should just stop talking now.”
Sunset couldn’t help but laugh as Twilight duck her head. “It’s okay, I know what you mean.” When she closed her eyes sometimes, she could still feel that heavenly power coursing through her. “I’m still surprised I could do that, with everything I’ve done before.”
Twilight lifted her head up. “You’ve come a long way from then, Sunset. What you did at the games proves it.” She spread one of her wings. “I think you’d make a great princess yourself.”
Like usual, Sunset wanted to protest that she still had a lot to learn, but knew it would fall on deaf ears. Besides, who was she to argue with the Princess of Friendship?
“Let’s move on, shall we?” Sunset said, getting comfortable on her pillow. She looked out the window, seeing Ponyville basking under the noon sun. “Where’s Spike and Starlight?”
“I sent them out and about today so it’d just be the two of us.” Twilight went rigid and quickly turned away. “Umm… that wasn’t… a bad idea, was it?”
“No, no!” Sunset said quickly. “I’m totally fine with just us. I mean, this is kinda personal.”
Twilight turned toward her again, her cheeks still pink. “Right, of course.” She pulled one of the books off the pile toward herself. With a small spark of her horn, a notebook appeared next to her. “So, my dreams started just under a month ago, after I came to see you about the Friendship Games.”
Sunset nodded. “From what I can remember, that’s when mine started, too.” The dreams had started innocent enough. Sunset found herself as a pony, only she wasn’t herself. She was in somepony else’s body, looking through their eyes as they spent time with a close friend, often a lover. Most nights, the scenes were warm and tender, and in the morning left Sunset with a happy smile on her face and a strong urge to be with Twilight. However, once in awhile, the dreams turned dark, and Sunset would bear witness to the death of her dream pony’s significant other or herself.
The dreams would then start again, only Sunset was in a different body with a different lover. After three weeks of the same type of dream, Sunset finally wrote to Twilight about it, both relieved and curious when she found out Twilight had been experiencing the same thing.
Twilight flipped through her notebook. “Can you recall the first dream? The first set of ponies that were in it?”
Sunset closed her eyes and placed a hoof on her temple. “It was… it was Clover the Clever. I remember because she’s the only pony I recognize from history. But that’s who I was looking at. In the dreams, I was…” She blushed. “I was a stallion. My name was Silver Wing, I think.”
Twilight lowered her notebook and locked her violet eyes with Sunset’s teals. “See, in my dream… I was Clover. I…” Her eyes grew misty. “I watched you… I watched Silver Wing hang.”
Sunset hated to see Twilight sad, but her eyes had an extra sparkle to them when they were misted. Stretching her hoof out, Sunset clumsily pulled Twilight into a half hug, still getting a feel for her old body. “It’s okay, it was just a dream.”
“That’s just it.” Twilight wiped her eyes. “I don’t think they are. First, tell me about the next set of ponies you dreamt about.”
“Umm… I was… an earth pony named Onyx. And my best friend was Clear Cut.” She looked at Twilight for confirmation, and she nodded her head.
“I was Clear Cut. It was around then that I realized the dreams were too vivid to be, well… dreams, at least ordinary ones. So, I asked Princess Luna to observe one.”
On Sunset’s last visit, shortly after the Friendship Games, Sunset had finally reunited with Princess Celestia, and met Princess Luna. Sunset was surprised to find Luna was nothing like her Nightmare Moon counterpart Sunset had feared growing up. While initially serious upon their first encounter, Luna quickly warmed up to Sunset and was particularly adamant about spending more time with her. Perhaps she felt a kinship with their shared troubled past.
“So, what did she find?” Sunset asked.
Twilight flipped through her notes again. “She said the nature of the dream was closer to a memory. It was too coherent, too well-played out, too focused to be a normal dream.”
Sunset hummed. “So, we’re remembering things from other ponies? Why? And, why are we having near identical dreams, just from different perspectives?”
“Unfortunately, Luna couldn’t give me a definite answer. She said that two ponies can be close enough to share dreams, but there’s an entire dimension between us. And she said she’s never seen two ponies share a dream of a memory before like we have.”
With a sigh and a slump forward, Sunset said, “Great. So where does that leave us?”
Twilight closed her notebook and gestured to the books on the table. “I’ve compiled some books for us to go through. A few are on dream theory, while others are more obscure historical texts. I thought first, we could try and find out more about some of these other ponies we’ve been dreaming about. Maybe it’ll give us a clue.”
A teal light enveloped one of the history books and brought it over to Sunset. “Well, I’ll let you cover dream theory. That’s probably over my head since I dropped out of my magical studies.”
An excited light switched on in Twilight’s eye, telling Sunset she had made the right choice. Twilight picked up the book in front of her and cleared her throat. “Well, if you insist.” She gave Sunset a waggish smile. “Although, if you ask nicely, I’d be more than happy to give you a few magic lessons.”
Sunset returned her smile. “I might have to take you up on that,” she said before she began to read.
Even on the one hill that rose above the thick forest surrounding Hollow Shades, blessed by the warm light of the sun, the wind was still cool, blowing in from the Celestial Sea.
Still, Onyx grinned and bared it. It was leagues warmer than under the endless canopy of trees. And with Clear Cut lying right next to him, it was a slice of paradise.
Onyx stretched his charcoal colored hooves to the sky and let out a yawn. He moved them behind his shaggy blonde mane, nudging Clear Cut in the shoulder.
Clear Cut snorted and opened an eye. “What time is it?” he said groggily.
“Seriously?” Onyx tilted his head. “You’ve been asleep this whole time?”
“Just a quick nap.” Clear Cut sat up, brushing his green mane out of his eyes.
Onyx turned his nose up. “That’s what you always say. You’re the laziest pony in Hollow Shades.”
“That’s really not saying much. Everypony in Hollow Shades is lazy.”
Clear wasn’t wrong. Hollow Shades was an old and quiet town, where the most exciting thing happening was whatever the foals were up to that day. That, or whenever something exploded in Onyx’s forge, which only seemed to happen when Clear was there.
“So…” Clear settled down again, this time resting his head on Onyx’s stomach. “What do you want to do today?”
Onyx smirked and pushed Clear off before rolling to his hooves. “Well, I was going to go work on some horseshoes later on.”
Clear jumped up, brushing the grass off his brown coat. “Cool, can I come watch?”
Onyx gave him a deadpan stare.
“From a distance?” Clear added with a smile.
Onyx raised an eyebrow.
“Fine,” Clear said, his ears dropping. “Why do you blame me every time something blows up?”
“Because it only happens when you’re around.” Onyx punched him in the shoulder. “Stop pouting you big baby. I said I’d do that later.” He hooked Clear around the neck and brought their cheeks together. “In the meantime, you wanna throw acorns at ole Miss Weaver’s window and make her think the squirrels are attacking again?”
Clear grinned. “You’re reading my mind again.”
With laughs that echoed over the forest, the duo started down the hill, descending into the never-ending shade. Only tiny trickles of sunlight reached the forest floor, just enough to make out one’s immediate surroundings. The trees stood close enough that navigating anywhere off the path guaranteed you would get bark and leaves in your mane.
Aside from the dirt and leaves crunching beneath the colts’ hooves, the forest was eerily quiet today. A single bird twittered in the branches, then stopped abruptly and flew away. Termites stopped chittering, and the very air became tense.
Clear stopped moving, his ears standing upright. “Something’s wrong.”
The hairs on the back of Onyx’s neck stood in agreement. “Yeah, but what is it?”
They had a split second to leap apart as two timberwolves broke through the trees and landed on the path, each facing one of the ponies.
“I regret asking,” Onyx said, crouching low. The timberwolf facing him growled and charged forward, making a wide swipe with its needle-sharp wooden claws. Onyx ducked to the side, twisted, and bucked his hind legs into its shoulder.
There was a satisfying crack, and the timberwolf fell onto its side, snarling in pain. Onyx didn’t stop to gloat, he turned and bucked the wolf advancing on Clear, sending it back into the bushes. Onyx took Clear’s hoof and ran, kicking up a cloud of dirt.
“You okay?” Clear asked.
“Yeah, I’m good. You?”
“Getting more exercise than I planned.”
The road twisted through the trees, and all around them, they could hear a chorus of hungry growls. “Great Royal Sisters,” Onyx cursed, “I think it’s a whole pack!”
“We can’t lead them to the village! It’ll be a disaster!”
Onyx ground to a halt. Clear was right. Hollow Shades was still pretty small, and while timberwolves normally wouldn’t come too close, a whole horde chasing prey toward more food was another story. The wolves were bound to get away with something.
Yellow eyes, hungry and predatorial appeared in the darkness, accompanying the snarls and creaking wood. Onyx took another step back. “Well, unless you want to set the forest on fire, you better come up with a plan so we don’t get eaten.”
Clear whipped his head back and forth. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking!” He looked up and pointed a hoof. “There! Of course! The branches at the top of the tree are sturdy enough to hold us for a while. We can wait out the wolves up there.”
Onyx made no arguments; he picked a tree and climbed, slipping a few times on the trunk before he got up to the first branch. Clear joined him just as the first timberwolves jumped out of the brush and nipped at their tails. The timberwolves’ claws tore into the bark of the tree, and they craned their necks to snap up the ponies before they were out of reach.
One managed to take out some of Onyx’s tail. He yipped as the hairs were violently yanked out, but spurred on to climb faster. Their predators tried to pursue them, but couldn't get very far up the tree before falling to the forest floor, usually on top of another wolf.
Clear and Onyx made it to the higher branches, resting on a pair horizontal to each other. They leaned against the base, catching their breath.
“How long do you think they’ll stay down there?” Onyx asked.
“They should get bored pretty soon. Then, we’ll wait a few extra minutes to make sure they disperse.” The tree gave a shake as another wolf made an attempt to climb after them. Clear bit his hoof. “Or, they might stick around for a while.”
Onyx snatched a nut from the branch and hurled it down, nailing one of the climbing wolves in the eye, and sending it tumbling back to the ground. The remaining dozen bared their teeth.
“Maybe you shouldn’t antagonize them,” Clear said.
“Why? It’s not like it can make the situation any worse.”
Three more latched onto the tree and attempted to climb, keeping their eyes locked on Onyx.
Clear scooted a little closer to the tree base. “These are the most determined timberwolves I’ve ever seen. It’s almost unnatural.” For several minutes, neither of them said anything. They watched the timberwolves make multiple attempts to climb the tree, as even more circled around the trunk, watching, waiting. “Onyx,” Clear said, his voice soft and hesitant, “if we don’t make it out of here… there’s something I want you to know.”
Onyx shook his head. “Don’t talk like that, buddy. We’re going to make it home.” He smiled at Clear. “Then you can tell me over the forge fire.”
Clear nodded. “I’d like that. I’d really—”
Both of them froze, staring at the branch Clear sat on. Onyx slowly raised a hoof. “Okay. Just don’t make any sudden move—”
Tears and regret filled Clear’s eyes. His branched sagged dangerously.“Onyx, I—”
“It’s okay, Clear. You just have to—”
Onyx made a fruitless grab for Clear Cut, snatching only air. Clear dropped to the ground, his vacant eyes never leaving Onyx. He hit one of the weaker branches, snapping through it before three timberwolves reached up and grabbed onto him.
Two screams tore through the forest, dragging on for minutes before everything went silent.
It was slow going, reading through pages and pages of historical texts to find names Sunset recognized from her dreams. Half an hour ago, she had found Clear Cut and Onyx in some documents from Hollow Shades, proving they had indeed been real ponies.
Twilight, meanwhile, was having an even harder time, finding nothing that would explain why she and Sunset had interconnected dreams.
“Do you think maybe it’s some sort of Element of Harmony thing?” Sunset asked, her nose still in her book.
“No,” Twilight said from the other side of the table. “I’ve never shared dreams with any of the other girls, not counting the Tantabus incident with Luna.”
Sunset knew it was a longshot, but she had to throw it out there. She turned the page in her book, speed reading through the paragraphs for any familiar names. It took another forty-five minutes, but she finally found a pony from her dreams.
Spear Runner had been a Royal Guard during the first years after Luna’s banishment. The text Sunset found him in didn’t say much, just that he had been a casualty during the construction of Canterlot Castle. Sunset recalled the finer details from her dream.
She had played the part of Spear Runner, which meant Twilight had been Gem Cutter, Spear’s fiancé and a construction worker for the castle. Spear had been off duty, and had gone to visit Gem while she overlooked the construction of one of the high towers.
It had been a particularly hot summer day, and one of the unicorns levitating a cinder block collapsed. The block fell from two stories, and Spear had shoved Gem out of the way.
Sunset shuddered, remembering waking up in a cold sweat just as the cinder block connected with Spear. Why do these all end in tragedy? She lifted her head to tell Twilight of her findings, but paused.
Twilight read with her head tilted at a slight angle, her bangs falling to one side. Her violet eyes darted back and forth across the lines while she chewed her lip thoughtfully. Sunset didn’t know what it was, but something about the sight made her breath catch in her throat.
When did the room warm up?
Twilight flicked her eyes toward Sunset. “Everything okay?”
“Wah!” The magic Sunset had around her book flickered in and out for a second before she caught it. “Y-yeah. I just, uh, I found Spear Runner in this book. So he and Gem Cutter were real, too.”
“Nice work, Sunset.” Twilight straightened up. “Okay, that’s three out of four sets of ponies we’ve dreamt about. I think it’s safe to say, they were all real.” She placed a hoof under her chin. “And in our dreams, one of them always…”
“Dies,” Sunset finished with a grim sigh.
“Shared dreams from different perspectives… ponies from the past…” Twilight gently closed the book she had been reading. “Sunset, do you believe in reincarnation?” Twilight asked slowly.
“Hmmm…” Sunset closed her eyes. Being reborn after one life ended? A never-ending cycle of life and death? “I suppose it’s possible. I never really thought much of it.”
Twilight stood and walked to the nearest window. Outside, the sun had nearly set, blanketing the world in the soothing colors of dusk. Purple and black overtook orange as the sun melted beyond the horizon. “Maybe these really aren’t just dreams we’re having,” Twilight said. “Maybe we’re looking into our past lives.”
Sunset joined her by the window, wanting to be close, but keeping a respectful distance. “It’s a possibility. But why now? And why are we having them at the same time?” Sunset kept the question of why their past lives seemed to always be involved with each other to herself. Truth be told, she really didn’t mind it.
“I might have a theory. But we’ll have to wait until morning to see it. There’s a book in the Castle of the Two Sisters. It might have the answers we need.” She looked at Sunset, a faint blush on her cheeks. “You don’t mind spending the night, do you?”
“No, of course!” Sunset said a little too quickly for her liking. “I mean, you know, as long as I’m not putting you out or anything.”
Twilight lidded her eyes. “Sunset, in case you haven't noticed, I live in a giant castle that’s still incredibly empty. Putting me out is the last thing you could possibly do.”
Sunset rubbed the back of her mane, smiling sheepishly. “Right. Well… you know.”
Twilight smiled and put a wing over Sunset, leading her out of the library. “Thank you for being considerate, though. Come on, I’ll show you to the guest rooms.”
“Thanks, Twilight.” Sunset breathed deep through her nose, trying to get her heart back to regular speed. Twilight’s intoxicating lavender and new book perfume made it increasingly difficult.
The ragged cough coming from the other room made it hard for Cumulous not to drip tears into the soup. There was no point in blaming the onions; he knew damn well why he was crying. He stirred the pot a few more times, then lifted the ladle to his mouth, blowing off the steam before tasting it. Despite the extra melancholy, it tasted great.
Cumulous poured a bowl and set it on a tray. He laid out some saltine crackers and a glass of orange juice, then carried it to the bedroom. His heart twisted at the sight before him. Lying in bed, breath haggard and sweating profusely, was Cumulous’ wife Alexandrite. Her black mane was plastered to her pale face. Her coat, once a vibrant green, was dulled.
Steeling himself, Cumulous glided over and set the tray down. He took the wet towel off Alexandrite’s face and dipped it in the cold water bucket again before reapplying it. She opened her eyes, her pupils wildly moving, unfocused.
“Cume?” she said, her voice weak and raspy from little use. “Is that you?”
“Yes, I’m here,” Cumulous whispered. He reached down and took her hoof. “I brought you some lunch.”
Alexandrite smiled. “Thank you. But I’m not hungry.” She closed her eyes and shivered.
Cumulous brought the blankets up to her chin. “You need to eat something. Come on, I made your favorite soup. It’ll help you get your strength back.”
She cracked an eye open. “Cume… you know what the doctor said.”
“The doctor’s wrong!” Cumulous took a deep breath and brought his voice down. “He’s wrong. You’re going to get better. You’ll get better, and I won’t leave your side until you do.”
“You’re… so sweet.” With some struggle, Alexandrite lifted a hoof up to brush Cumulous’ white coat. “That’s why I married you.”
It was hard, but Cumulous smiled too. “You also married me for my cooking. Come on, eat. Just one bite.”
Alexandrite nodded. “Okay. One bite.”
Cumulous brought the tray over, carefully setting it on the bed. He held the bowl in one hoof and the spoon in the other. He started with just broth, knowing her stomach would reject anything else if she went too fast. When the spoonful was cool, he tipped it into her mouth, making sure she didn’t have to work anymore than necessary.
It took seconds for Alexandrite to swallow, cringing at the motion. She smacked her lips and smiled. “It tastes so good.”
“Would you like some more?”
She nodded again. “Yes, please.”
Cumulous slowly fed her spoonfuls of broth. After a few, he slipped her a soggy carrot piece. Alexandrite chewed once before swallowing, wincing in pain, but smiling again afterwards.
See? Cumulous thought, Those doctors were wrong! She’s going to get better, slowly but surely. We just have to be patient, go slow.
His happy thoughts were short lived. Alexandrite’s face paled further, and her lips trembled. “C-Cume,” she gasped.
Cumulous quickly grabbed the bucket by the bedside and dragged it closer, just in time for Alexandrite to throw her head over the side and retch into it. Cumulous put one hoof on her back, while he kept his other over his heart. He could see blood mixed in with the sick and soup.
When he was sure Alexandrite had stopped, he carefully pulled her back into bed and made her comfortable again. He got a fresh washcloth and placed it on her head. “It’s okay. We’ll get through this,” he said.
But Alexandrite was already asleep, her breathing labored.
Cumulous cleaned up her face before taking the tray back to the kitchen. “Everything will be all right,” he murmured. He made a bowl for himself and sat at the kitchen table, angled so he could see into the bedroom. “Everything will be fine.”
The tears falling into his soup knew better than he did.
Twilight and Sunset had gotten an early start that morning. They grabbed a quick breakfast at Sugarcube Corner and said hello to Pinkie. She had been excited to see Sunset again, and wanted to come along on their expedition. Even when Twilight told her it was just to do some book research, Pinkie’s enthusiasm didn’t wane. Twilight had to tell her it was private research before Pinkie got the memo.
With scones in their bellies, Twilight and Sunset left behind Ponyville and headed into the Everfree Forest, following the trail to the old castle. Dense foliage surrounded them on all sides. It reminded Twilight of the forest around Hollow Shades from her dream, or perhaps, her memory.
She had been Clear Cut, the poor earth pony who had fallen to his death. Twilight took a shuddering breath, feeling her stomach churn as she remembered his final moments. The last things she had seen—the last thing Clear Cut had seen was Onyx’s horrified face.
Clear Cut had feelings for Onyx, feelings that would never be expressed. Feelings that, perhaps, Twilight could relate to. From the corner of her eye, she looked at Sunset, head held high, looking stunning and confident. She knew how to carry herself as a pony and a human.
Twilight had felt terrible for not getting Sunset’s messages in time for the Friendship Games. She had left her friends to fend for themselves, Sunset in particular. Even when Twilight explained what had happened and Sunset said she understood, Twilight remained guilty. Truth be told, she had been looking for an excuse to go back to the human world after the Battle of the Bands. She wanted to see Sunset and her human friends again, learn more about their world. But as time passed, Twilight found herself wanting to be with Sunset more than anything else.
Maybe it was the level of intellect they shared. Though, Starlight had proven herself quite capable in keeping up with Twilight’s lectures and theories. Maybe it was having shared a teacher in Princess Celestia. Maybe it was the compassion Sunset had stored within her. Whatever it was, Twilight felt pulled to Sunset unlike anypony else, even Flash. Even if it was just another passing crush, Twilight enjoyed Sunset’s presence. It was warm water to her soul.
“Twilight?” Sunset waved a hoof in front of her face.
“Huh? What, what is it?” Twilight looked around, finding they had stopped at a fork in the road.
“I was asking you which way we go. You zoned out there for a moment.”
“Did I?” Twilight asked, her voice an octave higher than normal. “Hahaha, silly me! Must have been lost in thought again.” She cleared her throat and pointed to the right. “It’s this way.” She took the lead, hoping it would give her incentive not to get distracted anymore.
They came to the ravine, The Castle of the Two Sisters looming on the other side. Reconstruction had staggered in recent months with Twilight tutoring Starlight and other obligations, but it was still in better conditions than the first night Twilight and her friends had ventured into it.
A piece of the outer wall cracked and fell to the ground with a thud.
Twilight laughed nervously. “It looks better on the inside, trust me.” She set out over the bridge, feeling it sway beneath her, the planks more rickety and worn looking than the last time she had come.
Just as Twilight stepped off the bridge, there were two loud cracks followed by the shattering of wood. Twilight spun around in time to see Sunset fall through the broken planks with only a shout of surprise. She scrabbled for the edge, only to scrape at the wood before plummeting into the ravine.
“Sunset!” Twilight dove off the cliff, spreading her wings. Sunset’s horn flickered like she was trying to cast a spell, but nothing happened. She resorted to flailing her hooves until Twilight was close enough to grab her around the middle. Twilight’s wings strained under Sunset’s weight, and she realized they were losing more altitude than they were gaining. Drawing on her magic, she simplified the situation by pulling her aura over both of them, and teleporting to the front of the castle. They reappeared five feet over the ground, and fell into a tangled heap.
Twilight rolled off of Sunset and helped her to her hooves. “Are you okay?”
Sunset dusted herself off and shook out her mane, taking slow, deep breaths. “Yeah, just a little shaken up. No big deal. You good?”
“Yeah.” Twilight looked back at the bridge. “It’s a couple years old, but I didn’t think it was that unstable. I’ll have to remember to get it fixed soon.”
All of the debris had been cleared from the entrance hall, and the broken window panes had been removed. Tarps hung over the holes in the roof and sagged with old rainwater. Cobwebs and numerous holes and cracks covered the walls, but Twilight thought they were making good progress.
Sunset twisted her head left and right as they walked along the corridors. “I can’t believe this is where Celestia and Luna grew up.”
“I know, right?” Twilight hopped in excitement. “We’re literally walking through a piece of history! It’s so great! I’d love to show you all of the secret rooms and passages I’ve found!”
Sunset smiled, but her eyes were uncertain. “That sounds like fun.”
Twilight’s flight of fancy vanished in a puff of smoke. “What’s wrong? You don’t really want to do it?”
“No, it’s not that. This place looks super exciting. It’s just that, it feels so…” They walked into the old throne room, the yellow and blue thrones still sitting atop of the dais. While the carpet and tapestry had been restored, all of the damage from Celestia and Nightmare Moon’s historic battle remained. Twilight followed Sunset’s eyes to the great hole where Twilight had witnessed the moon eclipse the sun just before Luna transformed.
“...Sad,” Sunset finished.
Even with the restoration she and her friends had started, Twilight could feel the melancholy in the room. It had sat there for a thousand years. A little nip and tuck wouldn’t be enough to take it away.
“It just…” Twilight perked her ears up. “It just needs some new memories!” She gently tugged on Sunset with her magic and led her down an adjoining corridor. “Come on, I want to show you something.”
Twilight didn’t let go until she brought Sunset into the library. Unlike the rest of the castle that had undergone minor restoration, the library looked good as new. All of the cracks and holes were gone, the floor was freshly polished, and all of the books were neatly shelved.
Sunset stared, open-mouthed at the immaculate work that had gone into to repairing one room. She ran a hoof over a collection of books and chuckled quietly to herself. “I don’t know why I’m surprised.” She looked over her shoulder to Twilight, her teals eyes shining. “I hope you didn’t do this all by yourself.”
Twilight blushed. “I mean, Spike helped a little.”
Sunset laughed again, a delightful and sincere chime. A complete turnaround from the sinister snicker she had once given Twilight. “You’re crazy, Twi.”
Coming from Sunset, Twilight knew it was a compliment.
“So, what are we looking for?” Sunset asked.
Twilight walked over to the fiction section. “It’s called Old World Folk Tales and Fantasies. I remember briefly glancing through it when I was organizing all the books.”
“Be honest, Twi, you glanced through all the books while you were shelving, didn’t you?”
Twilight chose not to dignify that with an answer. “In the table of contents, I saw a story called “The Tale of the Eternal Lovers’.”
Sunset moved to the other side of the shelf. “You think that story has the answer we’re looking for?”
“Yes. I believe it’s the original version of a fairy tale called, ‘Eternal Love’. If we stick with our reincarnation theory, than I think this book is the last piece of the puzzle we need.”
“Hmm, I think I’ve heard of that story before,” Sunset said. “It’s been a while though…”
Twilight’s heart quivered in her chest. She remembered that story. And if anything in there was true, it meant she and Sunset were…
Another blush crept onto her cheeks. Still, she couldn’t get too excited just yet. She wanted to see what the original story said before she came to any conclusions.
“Twilight, I think I found it!” Sunset shouted. She came around the corner, holding a very old and battered book in her magic. The cover was a moldy brown, and the pages were yellow and stiff.
“Yes, that’s it!” Twilight gently took it from Sunset. “Okay, grab some pillows from the reading corner.”
“Reading corner?” Sunset turned her head to the far corner, where pillows were stacked next to a small desk with a candelabra. “Of course.” She picked up four pillows and followed Twilight back to the throne room. They settled down at the dais, in front of the bridge that connected the two thrones.
Before Twilight opened the book, Sunset asked, “So, why couldn’t we just read the modern version?”
“Because the modern version always takes out details that were in the original, and we need all the information we can get,” Twilight said. Very carefully, she opened the book, dust particles rising into the air. “This story is from before Celestia and Luna, before the Windigos even. This is the Tale of the Eternal Lovers.”
“Long ago, before the Great Divide, when all three tribes of pony lived as one, there were two unicorns, a colt and a filly, who played together every day. Purus and Amore were their names. They did everything together, playing and laughing like friends do. They fought sometimes, but they always made up before the day was finished.
“As time passed, and they grew up, they realized the feelings they had for each other went beyond just friendship. But Amore was already to be wed to another pony, as per the laws of the village. Purus pleaded with the elders, but the decision was final.
“Refusing to be separated, Amare and Purus ran away together, leaving in the dead of night. Together, they traveled the world, sharing their happiness with everyone they came across. Even as lovers, they remained best friends, partners. They were a team.
“They were soulmates.
“As they continued their journey, they came across an unusual unicorn. She described herself as a witch. Everypony feared her power and avoided her, despite her assurances that she meant no harm to anyone. Amore and Purus showed sympathy and allowed her to join them. The witch was overjoyed! She finally had friends!
“They traveled together as a trio from then on. The witch would watch as the couple shared their love with other strangers and entire villages. She was happy of the love they had also shared with her, but the more she watched the couple and their display of true love, the more envious she became.
“One night as they were making camp, Purus and the witch went to gather firewood. ‘Why do you love Amore so?’ the witch asked.
“‘She’s kind and smart and strong-willed,’ Purus replied. ‘Nopony understands me as much as she does. It’s like our souls are connected.’
“The witch pondered this. Could two souls really be connected? If so, could you disconnect them? For the longer the witch stayed with them, the more she realized she was falling in love with Purus. If she could connect her soul with his, maybe he would leave Amore for her.
“On another night, Amore had gone into a nearby village for supplies, leaving Purus and the witch alone again. ‘Do you truly love her?’ the witch asked.
“‘With all of my heart,’ Purus said. ‘We’re soulmates.’
“The witch brought out her crystal ball. ‘Perhaps you feel that way, but she seems to take your love for granted.’ She showed him an image of Amore passionately kissing another stallion in the village.
“Purus stumbled, clutching a hoof to his heart. ‘I don’t understand. How could she do this to me?’
“The witch pulled him into a comforting embrace. ‘Your souls just weren’t as connected as you thought. But join with me and I promise I’ll never be unfaithful.’
“Purus, however, refused. “I won’t leave her over one incident. We’ll work this out together.’
“Enraged, the witch showed him the image again. “But she’s unfaithful! Who knows how many times she’s done this? She isn’t worthy of your love—of your soul!’
“Just then, Amore returned, proving the image in the crystal ball had been a lie. ‘Why would you do this?’ Purus asked.
“‘Because I deserve you more than she does! I love you!’ the witch exclaimed.
“Purus moved closer to Amore. ‘I’m sorry, but my heart belongs to her.’
“‘This jealousy is unbecoming,’ Amore said. ‘If you cannot accept our courtship, perhaps it would be better that you leave.’
“But the witch would not go without a fight. ‘You two believe yours souls to be joined? Then let’s see if that’s true in death!’ She prepared a lethal spell and fired it Amore, but Purus stepped in front of her, taking it for himself.
“‘Purus!’ Amore yelled as he lay dying.
“With his final breath, Purus said, ‘I promise you, as long as our souls are intertwined, I will find you in every lifetime, so that we may be together.’
Amore kissed him. “And I will do the same for you. I give you my Eternal Love.’
“Her plans ruined, the witch screamed in frustration, a black aura engulfing her entire body. ‘Then if you swear your souls to each other, I swear mine to the blackest arts! I curse your souls until the end of time! Your love shall never last! Whenever your souls are united, tragedy will strike again and again, until one of you lies dying!’
“With her curse complete, the witch faded into nothing, leaving Amore alone. ‘You may curse us as much as you like,’ she said, ‘but a lifetime will come when we overcome your hate.’”
Twilight closed the book and rested it on the pillow next to her. She kept her eyes on the ground. “That’s the real story of Purus and Amore,” she said softly. Her throat was parched from reading aloud.
Sunset hadn’t said a word since Twilight started, and didn’t say anything for minutes after. Every time Twilight tried to lift her head up, her nerves failed, and she stared back at the red carpet. Finally, Sunset asked, “So, what happened in the modern story?”
“Oh.” Twilight flicked her ears, uncertain if she was happy or sad Sunset was dodging the elephant in the room. “In the new version, Amore’s love for Purus brings him back to life and together, they defeat the witch. There was never any mention of a curse.”
Twilight finally worked up her courage and lifted her head. Sunset’s face was bright red, and she looked right at Twilight. They stared at each other, saying nothing with neither their mouths nor eyes. Once again, it was Sunset who broke the silence.
“So… you think we’re…” She gestured a hoof between the two of them. “You think we’re Purus and Amore reincarnated?”
“It makes sense, doesn’t it? The dreams of ponies from history, all of them ending with one of them dying…” Twilight broke eye contact. “And… Sunset, I have to be honest with you. Lately… I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I really missed you after the Battle of the Bands, and I love spending time with you. So I really think… maybe… maybe we are soulmates.”
It sat on the table now, and all Twilight could do was wait for Sunset’s response. Would she laugh and call Twilight silly for believing in a fairytale? A few years ago, Twilight would have dismissed it as well, but with everything that had happened to her, she knew every story had some truth to it, and she couldn’t believe her feeling for Sunset were a coincidence.
Sunset traced a circle on the rug. “Honestly, Twilight…”
Twilight inhaled sharply.
“I’ve… been having similar feelings for you, too.” Sunset scooted closer. “I love my friends in the human world, but you’re… you’re the only one I can really relate to. I wanted to see you so bad during the Friendship Games, not just for advice, but for comfort too. You always know what to do.” She pinned her ears back. “But, Twilight, are we really feelings these things, or is it just our souls remembering something from the past?”
Twilight thought for a moment, patiently swishing her tail back and forth. “I really think these feelings I have are mine. And our souls are the truest forms of ourselves. They’re what make us us, right?” She smiled at Sunset, the simple action removing the stress that had been building in her chest since she started the story. “I really like you, Sunset. Not just because I did in a past life, but because I like you.”
Sunset giggled. “Maybe we are supposed to be together. I really like you too, Twilight.” She closed the distance between them. “But I still want to build an actual relationship. Someday I’ll scream my love for you from the mountaintops, but first… I just want to see where this goes.”
With Sunset mere inches away, Twilight could smell sweet cinnamon dancing off her mane. It made her breath shorten and her heart race. “So, where do we go from this?”
Sunset leaned forward, a vixenish smile on her lips. “I think this is a good place to start.” She bumped noses with Twilight, then closed her eyes and tilted her head. Twilight followed her lead, stomach fluttering in anticipation.
A quick jolt rocked the castle, pulling Sunset and Twilight apart. The sound of crumbling stone came from above them, and they looked up to see part of the roof fall down upon their heads.
“Twilight!” Two hooves slammed into her side and pushed her across the floor. Twilight skidded against the carpet and landed on her side. Behind her, she heard the concrete hit the ground, and a plume of dust rolled over her.
She blew the dust away with her wings, and sprinted over to the pile of rubble sitting where she and Sunset had been seconds before. “Sunset! Sunset!” She levitated the rocks away, carelessly throwing them over her shoulder. When they were all cleared, all she found were the tattered pillows, and the now demolished book. “What…”
A pop came from behind her, and Twilight swung around, finding Sunset doubled over, panting in exhaustion. She took a sigh of relief when she saw Twilight. “Thank Celestia, you’re okay.”
Twilight threw her hooves around Sunset’s neck. “I’m okay? I thought you got crushed! You scared me!” Tears welled up in her eyes.
Sunset rubbed a hoof against her back. “I’m sorry. I tried to teleport both of us, but I kinda shoved you too hard and only took myself. I was scared I let you die for a moment.”
“No, I’m okay.” Twilight pressed her face into Sunset’s shoulder. “We’re both okay.”
“For now.” Sunset gently pulled Twilight away so she could look directly at her. “The end of the story, about the curse. Do you think that could be true, too?”
Images of all the ways she and Sunset had died in their past lives sped through her mind. If the part about them being reincarnated lovers was true, then… “It’s a possibility,” she said simply.
Sunset looked back at the rubble. “I think it’s a bit more than a ‘possibility’.”
Twilight cringed. “How about we get out of here and talk more about it on the way home.”
“That’s probably for the best.” Sunset took the lead, quickly trotting out of the throne room.
Pausing at the threshold, Twilight looked back at the tattered hall. So much for making new good memories. She followed Sunset out, wincing at the sudden sunlight. The afternoon breeze was crisp and refreshing, however.
They teleported across the bridge, not wanting to take any chances. The sun disappeared over the dark eaves of the Everfree Forest, leaving the ground cool and damp.
Sunset kicked a pebble off the path. “So, if we really are cursed… what do we do?”
Did Twilight believe in curses? She hadn’t when all her friends were convinced Zecora had hexed them, and she had been right. But Sombra had cursed the Crystal Empire to vanish with him for a thousand years.
So far, all of the evidence lined up that Twilight and Sunset were the souls of Amore and Purus. Each life they had seen in their dreams ended in tragedy. If they were souls meant to eternally be together, didn’t that also mean a curse for them to always be driven apart by death existed as well?
Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know. I want to say it’s ridiculous, but if everything else is true...” She stopped walking. “I don’t want to lose you, Sunset.”
Sunset stepped toward her and nuzzled her neck. “I don’t want to lose you again either.”
Both of their ears flicked up. There was another soft crunch of grass from nearby. A low growl rose from a patch of river weeds.
“Oh no,” Twilight whispered.
“What, what is it?” Sunset asked, backing up.
Snapping its massive jaws, a large cragadile sprung from the weeds. Its teeth were jagged and viscous, with two large fangs protruding up from its lower jaw. Its yellow eyes shone bright with hunger as bore down upon Sunset.
Twilight blasted its underbelly, the only soft spot on the rock-hard beast, and knocked it to the side. Sunset snapped out of her stunned stupor, her horrified eyes narrowing in anger. She followed-up Twilight’s attack with a spell of her own, pushing the cragadile back further.
It roared in annoyance, then charged again, proving it was fast for its bulky size. Twilight moved out of the way, but was hit by its solid tail and sent careening into a tree.
“Twilight!” she heard Sunset yell. “Back off you stupid monster!” Twilight could hear a spell going off, and the cragadile roaring in pain. She opened her eyes and saw one of its legs was charred black.
The beast looked between Sunset and Twilight, then looked at its own leg. Deciding they weren’t worth it, the cragadile snapped its jaws one last time, then retreated into the brush. When its growls could no longer be heard, Sunset ran over and helped Twilight sit up. “Are you okay?”
Twilight winced at the sharp, burning sensation in her core. “I’m fine. I think I’m just bruised. Let’s just get home before something else goes wrong.”
Sunset nodded solemnly. “I think I can teleport us to the edge of town. Hang onto me.” She hoisted Twilight up, letting her drape a hoof over her shoulder. Twilight watched Sunset’s horn shimmer a beautiful teal before they were both pulled into warp, the whole world twisting around them until Twilight could no longer see the forest scenery.
Fresh bandages covered Twilight’s chest, wrapped at an odd angle so her wings still had mobility. She and Sunset sat in the library, a pot of hot tea on the table between them. A warm sunbeam made its way inside through the window and onto the table.
“Think about it,” Twilight said softly, looking mournfully into her tea, “the bad things only happen when we’re together. That was three incidents today that one of us almost died.”
Sunset crossed her hooves. “To be fair, you and the other girls get into dangerous stuff all the time.”
“Because we’re the Elements of Harmony. We have to go fight evil. You and I just went to look at an old book—”
“In a crumbling ruin in the wildest forest in Equestria,” Sunset said with a smirk.
Twilight smiled in spite of herself, though it was brief. “Sunset—”
“Twilight,” Sunset cut her off again, her voice serious now, “I know there’s a curse. But I’m not going to let it dictate my life. I want to be with you.”
“I want to be with you too,” Twilight said. She looked up from her cup, eyes wet. “But, Sunset, you know as well as I do that… I mean based on what we’ve seen before…”
Sunset’s shoulders fell. “Yeah, we haven’t had a happy ending. But, Amore said in one lifetime, love would beat the witch’s hate. Maybe this is that lifetime.”
“Maybe.” Twilight wanted to hope, wanted to believe that she and Sunset could succeed where all their past lives had failed. “But how?”
“I don’t know.” Sunset sat up. “But we have to try, don’t we?” In her eyes was a spark of resolve, the same spark Twilight had seen at the Battle of the Bands, when she stood up to the sirens.
Twilight’s gut told her this was a bad idea, but she couldn’t say no to that spark. “Okay, we can try. We’ve overcome worse things, right?”
Sunset moved over to Twilight’s side of the table and nuzzled up against her. Twilight’s fears burned away from the heat in her chest. She and Sunset locked gazes and brushed muzzles. As their lips drew near, a loud rumble came from just below Twilight’s bandages.
“Ehehe.” Twilight bowed away. “I just realized I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Oh?” Sunset stood and made an exaggerated bow. “Then if my princess is hungry, mayhaps I may treat her to dinner?”
The theatrical bow and fake noble voice elicited a laugh instead of protest from Twilight. “Are you sure?”
Sunset rose. “Yeah, of course. It’ll be, you know, a date.”
A date. Twilight’s smile threatened to split her face before it melted into a look of horror. “I’ve never been on a date before! Oh gosh! I need to read up on proper date edicate! I need to get something to wear! Ow!” A quick step forward resulted in a sharp pain from her ribs.
Sunset placed a hoof on her back. “Take it easy, Twi. We’re just going out for dinner. It’s just like normal, only you and I flirt more.”
“Normal.” Twilight breathed in and out slowly. “I can do that.”
They took off from the castle, sneaking past Spike and Starlight who were reading comics in one of the sitting rooms and started down the road back to town. The sun sat low in the sky, just starting its slow transition to night.
Twilight and Sunset trotted close together, their tails brushing against one another. The tickling sensation kept a smile on both their faces.
Since Sunset only had a vague idea of Ponyville’s layout and eateries, Twilight had to choose where they dined for dinner. She started toward the local café, not wanting Sunset to pay too much, but Sunset insisted that money was no object. So, Twilight picked a restaurant Rarity frequented and raved about.
La Goulette sat on Ponyville’s east side near the park, and was painted white and blue, reminding Twilight of many of Canterlot’s buildings. Soft blue carpet greeted their hooves upon entering while their eyes adjusted to the dim lighting the candles provided.
The maitre de gasped as Twilight stepped up to the podium. “Princess, welcome!” he gushed. “How can we help you this evening?”
“Table for two, please,” Twilight said, her cheeks reddening. She had long since gotten used to ponies calling her by her title, but having Sunset next to her resurfaced the bubbling embarrassment in her stomach.
“Of course! Right this way,” the unicorn said, levitating two menus and gesturing enthusiastically. He led them to a table next to a large window looking out to the little river that ran through the park. Sunset pulled out Twilight’s chair and tucked her in. The maitre de winked as he sat down the menus and cantered away.
Twilight flipped her menu opened and glossed over the selections. She shifted in her seat and flipped her mane back over her shoulder, then looked down again only to glance up at Sunset a moment later. She was absorbed in the wide range of food the restaurant had to offer. Twilight tried to do the same, tried to ignore the little prickle on the back of her neck. But not even the rumble of her stomach could drive away the paranoia creeping behind her.
Sunset lifted her head, her excited eyes clouded by scrutiny. “Twilight, are you fidgeting?”
“I’m sorry.” Twilight glanced out the window, watching the fading sunlight dance through the tree leaves. “I just can't help but worry. I want this to work, but… I’m scared.”
Sunset reached a hoof across the table and laid it over Twilight’s. “Relax, Sparky. We’re better than whatever curse might be on us. We’re just here for dinner, so unless a giant bird comes through the window and snatches one of us away, it’ll be all right.”
Twilight tried to smile, enough to convince Sunset she was fine. She appreciated Sunset’s attempts at humor, but it did little to disperse the dread hanging over her. But Sunset did have a point. The universe hadn't been trying to kill their predecessors at every waking moment. Surely, she and Sunset could get through one evening.
Her shoulders relaxed, and she made a small squee. I’m on my first date with Sunset!
Their waitress arrived with water and took their orders. Twilight’s tongue salivated, eager to try the mushroom and herb fettuccine. In the meantime, her eyes dined on Sunset, the gold light of the sun hitting her so she glowed like the angel Twilight knew her to be.
Sunset brushed a bang out of her face. “You know, you’re more like Celestia than you think.”
Twilight perked her ears up. “Really? How so?”
“You’re the only other pony who can make me feel special with just a look.”
Quick, think of something equally romantic to say! Twilight wracked her brain for the perfect line, regretting she hadn’t gotten a chance to read her date book. She opened her mouth, hoping something other than gibbering nonsense would spill out.
Twilight closed her mouth and swiveled her head when she realized that hadn’t come from her. Adjacent to them, smoke rose from the kitchen door, quickly creating a cloud that hung over the dining room. Screams erupted from the patrons below, and the mad scramble to evacuate began.
Sunset whipped her horn toward the glass window and shattered it with a single spell, sending shards of glass spraying across the table. She reached for Twilight’s hoof and jerked her head toward their exit. Twilight allowed herself to be pulled away, dazed by the quick turn of events. Was the fire just an accident? Or was it caused by her and Sunset being there, together? Were innocent bystanders at risk because of their union and the curse trying to drive them apart?
Her hooves touched grass, and she came back to reality. She made careful to step around the glass buried around her, and followed Sunset around to the front, where everypony was gathered. Twilight could see the wood roof already in flames and smoke spiraling into the sky.
She brought a hoof to her chest, breathed in, then pushed it away as she exhaled. With a light flap of her wings as not to agitate her wound, she jumped to the front of the crowd. “Has everyone gotten out all right?”
“No!” The maitre de pushed his way to the front. “Souffle, our head chef! He tried to put the fire out before it spread too far, and I don’t see him anywhere!”
Twilight bit her lip. “D-don’t worry. I’m sure the fire department will…” Her words faded out as she watched Sunset break free from the crowd and run into the burning building. They returned in a hysteric yell. “Sunset, what are you doing?”
Sunset didn’t answer, she had already vanished into the smoke. The crowd muttered and whispered, but all Twilight could hear was the thumping of her own heart, and the ominus cracking the wood roof made.
Sunset, why? You knew… what if you don’t… The idea was too painful to finish, but the possibility crackled in front of Twilight. Would this romance, like every one before it, end in tragedy? Would Sunset charging into the curtain of smoke be the last image Twilight saw of her?
The fire spread with ferocious speed, consuming the entire roof within minutes. With every crack and pop of the burning wood, Twilight’s heart raced faster, and her breath shortened. Pegasi hovered overhead, gathering clouds from the Everfree forest as fast as they could to prepare a deluge.
Finally, as the roof made a heart-stopping snap, there was a pop and a burst of blue light to Twilight’s left. There was Sunset, coughing and covered in soot, but still alive. On her back was an unconscious earth-pony with several burns. As Sunset gently lowered him to the floor, Twilight could see an angry welt just above her heart.
The crowd cheered and tried to gather around Sunset before the paramedics waved them off. She declined any help after Souffle had been carried away and instead brought herself over to Twilight devoid of the sheepish, victorious smile she had given the crowd.
Twilight’s eyes hovered over Sunset’s burn mark. She then carefully maneuvered her hooves around Sunset’s neck and hugged her.
“I’m sorry,” Sunset whispered.
Twilight buried her face in Sunset’s soot filled mane. “Let’s just go home.”
They sat in silence, leaving their newest batch of tea untouched. The sun fell lower until night settled over them. The lights of the tree came on automatically, illuminating the library.
Twilight felt full now. She still hadn’t eaten anything, but she was no longer hungry. Fear, guilt, sadness, and a little anger all filled her stomach. It wasn’t fair! Even just a simple evening out jeopardized not only their lives, but the lives of the ponies around them.
“I’m sorry,” Sunset repeated for the fifth time. “I knew it would be dangerous. I just… I couldn’t just sit there and not do something.”
“I’m not blaming you, Sunset.” Trying to do the right thing? Twilight could never fault a pony for that. “You wanted to help; that’s another thing I really like about you. You care. It’s just…” Twilight looked at the welt on Sunset’s chest. “I was so scared.”
Sunset traced a hoof over it. “I know. I—” She let the words die and lowered her eyes to her cold tea. “What now?”
Twilight had asked herself that question on their way back to the castle. She tried to come up with ways around this curse, but found nothing that didn’t involve tremendous risk, or staying locked up where it was safe. Admitting it was like having a sword thrust into her heart, but maybe there were some things you just couldn’t fight. Now, she only had one solution.
“Sunset,” she said, her voice still quiet, “I can’t watch you die again. Especially now that I know what the cause is. We tried but… it’s not just us in danger. It could be everypony close to us.”
“What are you saying?”
Twilight got up and walked over to the mirror portal, turning it on. Tears ran down her cheeks, and her heart ached even before the words left her mouth. “I’m saying, we can’t be together. Not physically.”
Sunset jumped up and ran over to her. “But, Twilight—”
“This is the only way both of us can stay safe,” Twilight said, raising her voice. “If we aren’t near each other, than the curse won’t hurt us. Until I can find a way to break it… we can’t see each other.”
Sunset looked at the glowing portal, then at Twilight, tears in her own eyes. “I don’t know if I can do that, Twilight. Friend or marefriend… not seeing you again isn’t something I could stand.”
“We’ll have the journals,” Twilight said with false optimism. Her spurious smile fell. “I know it isn’t fair.” She fought back a sob. “But I don’t want you to die.”
“I don’t want you to die either.”
Twilight squeezed her eyes shut. “Then we can’t be together.” A sob broke through, and she raised a hoof to cover her mouth. Another hoof gently pulled it away, and when Twilight opened her eyes, she could see her reflection in Sunset’s overflowing pools.
Sunset moved her hoof under Twilight’s chin and pulled her closer, pressing their lips together. Twilight could taste the salt that had made its way down Sunset’s cheeks. She could smell the cinnamon in her hair. She could feel the heartbreak in their kiss.
Twilight put her hooves around Sunset’s neck and kissed back as hard as she could. It felt so familiar, so right, like kissing Sunset was the most natural thing in the world. They stayed locked in place while the word melted around them, leaving just two souls tangled in loving embrace. If the world came to a crashing end right then, Twilight wouldn’t have had any objections.
Minutes, hours, maybe even a few days passed between them before they broke apart, gasping for breath. Tears still poured down their face, and Sunset gave Twilight a smaller, softer kiss before stepping back. “I…” Her mouth formed a word, but instead she said, “I’ll miss you.”
Twilight stepped back as well, furthering the distance between them. “I’ll miss you too.”
They kept their eyes on each other as Sunset backed into the portal. She smiled one last time at Twilight before her beautiful amber coat and locks of crimson and gold disappeared into the swirling pink maelstrom. Twilight watched the portal, half-hoping Sunset would burst out again and argue with her about staying.
When she did not, Twilight shut the portal off, watching it turn into smooth glass once more. She stepped onto the dais and leaned her back against it. Somehow, she knew Sunset was doing the same thing on the other side.
“Perhaps in the next lifetime.”