• Published 19th Jun 2012
  • 1,757 Views, 155 Comments

Cutting Ties - fic Write Off

  • ...


It was the first time Celestia ever cried. She knelt at Prism Shine's side, her foalish limbs quaking with every sob that came out of her petite lungs. She clung desperately to her dear friend's wrinkled neck, trying desperately to make sense with her weeping breath what all her immortal words failed to convey.

An emerald glen circled the dew-laden bed of soft leaves and grass upon which Prism Shine lay. Everywhere around them, the eternal forest hummed with life, brimming with spiraling orbs of iridescent light still settling from the dawn of Creation. The air of the world was crisp and new, and it echoed with every rasping breath Prism Shine had to give. A circle of brightly colored fillies and colts surrounded the scene from a distance, their glossy eyes absorbing a new and somber shade of beauty that was just now drawing black lines across the immaculate face of the earth.

“Prism...” Celestia choked, her voice coming out in childish squeaks. “Prism, I am so sorry. I should have seen this was coming. I should have prepared you. I should have—”

“Shhhh...” Prism's gray eyes squinted through a mucousy film. A weak smile graced her alabaster face beneath a mane of rainbow strands. “Your M-Majesty...” She reached a shaking hoof up. Celestia gripped it in earnest as Prism Shine wheezed and fought the shivers to say, “You have... g-given me everything.” A single tear of jaundice bled from her sockets. Her horn shook, a fragmented thing reduced to calcified dust. “You have made the world. You have carved the oceans. All of my life, I have been surrounded by you... blessed by you. I've breathed in your glory and laughed in your divine c-company...” She coughed as her thin eyes tensed in a wave of fitful pain. “I do not know where I am going, my Princess. But wherever it is... you have prepared me.” She smiled as the scarlet in her cheeks showed for one last time. “You have... you h-have...”

“Don't... Don't sp-speak like you're just one of my subjects!” Celestia whimpered. A silver tiara rattled around her horn, almost too large for her tiny head. The Princess hissed through clenched teeth and fought to say, “You're more than the rest of Creation! You're my friend! You're my everything...”

“I... am happy to have been your fr-friend...” Prism Shine hoarsely said. She gazed past Celestia and smiled faintly at the silent ponies of the First Age. “But your everything w-waits for you and you alone, your Majesty...”

“No... No!” Celestia's bright pink mane shook in the glow of the new world. She collapsed, huddling by Prism Shine's side as her face glistened with tears. “Not without you! The world won't be the same!”

“No...” Prism Shine dizzily shook her head, gulped, and said, “It will be different, Princess. And it will be glorious... so long as your light is there to sh-shine on it...”

Celestia sniffled. She cupped Prism Shine's weak hoof to her face and nuzzled it, christening the elder's dry flesh with her tears. “Prism Shine...” She shuddered. “Please, tell me. Tell me what you want me to do.”

Prism Shine took a deep breath. A sudden jolt ran through her frail body. Her eyes briefly widened, grasping an invisible darkness that loomed above the zenith of all Creation. For once, she trembled like an infant. Her aged lips moved slowly. “Stay with me, my princess,” she dryly exhaled. “Don't leave my side, please.”

Celestia gulped and smiled at her. “Never,” she said.

Celestia's friend grinned, and then she did nothing. The world went silent as her body deflated like a dry pile of leaves, and Prism Shine was as still as the shadows of the heavy forest looming all around.

Celestia blinked. Her lips quivered. Her eyes clouded over with tears as she shook her head, thrashed, and buried her face into the unicorn's neck. “Nnngh-No! Prism Shine! Prism Shine, don't leave me!” Her sobs were fitful little explosions at first, but then they collected into grand wails that shook the foliage all around. Leaves scattered from overhead branches and flowers bent over on themselves. The ring of young ponies bowed their heads and trotted away from their mourning ruler, especially as a divine shadow settled upon the scene.

A glittering miasma of dull shades coalesced slowly on the far end of the glen. Hoofprints formed in the soil, around which fresh flowers of red and yellow and blue materialized and then burned to ash with each subsequent impression. Billowing upwards like a plume of smoke, a cosmic figure took shape. A glorious alicorn stood above Celestia's weeping form. His sprouting wings were colored with the brilliance of stars, and when he spoke it was as if thunder was rolling backwards into the heavens.

“Why is it that you weep, Celestia?” He orbited the earthen bed upon which the aged unicorn's body rested. A crater of growing and dying grass formed a shifting circle of life around the center of the glen. “Did I not foretell that this would happen? Were my warnings not enough to reach you through these bright decades of discovery?”

Celestia hiccuped, sobbed, and gazed up at him with pleading eyes. “Father! Father, please! Bring her back!”

A pair of eyes stared down at her, brighter than the birthplace of all stars. “I cannot, dear daughter.” The voice was neither joyous nor mournful. His breath carried the majestic indifference of crumbling mountains. “She was born unto nothing, and must return to nothing.”

“But why?!” Celestia whimpered. She wiped her face with a forelimb and gazed in anguish at Prism Shine's limp body and colorful mane. “She was so precious. So beautiful. Why must this be the fate of our subjects? Why must ponies come into being... only to someday not be?”

“Dearest Celestia...” He trotted over towards her and enfolded a wing of sparkling bands about her petite figure. She closed her eyes and nuzzled his effluent touch as he spoke into her ear. “There is one constant in the universe, and that is magic. This world we've created will never run out of it, but it will always run out of souls who can use it.” He raised her chin with a translucent hoof, forcing their eyes to connect. “We are the exception, daughter. We are eternally bound by magic, as magic has bound us to make order out of chaos. It is in our essence to maintain the balance of things. For that reason, we can only possess half of the reserves that the cosmos grant us. To carry any greater shares, to upset the order of birth and decay, would only make the heavens collapse in on themselves.”

“But...” Celestia's lips quivered as she gazed deeply into the eternal well of his mighty visage. “Why must there be death? I do not understand, Father.”

His eyes burned with immutable wisdom. “We are immortal, Celestia. It is not our place to learn, but to provide.” He turned and gestured towards the line of ponies watching from afar. “We must be a bastion of strength for them, my daughter. For it will be mortals like who determine the glory of this world, and how it chooses to blossom in the order that we have maintained.”

Celestia breathed slowly, her tears drying. Still, her face hung in a pained expression as she gazed lovingly at Prism Shine once more. “If I had known what I know now...” She shuddered. “I would have given her a sweeter taste of Creation. She was the first to walk this world we made, and the first to die on it. More than anything I have ever shone light on, she deserves permanence.”

“My daughter, look at me.”

Celestia obeyed with a pair of humble eyes.

“I love you, and I wish the best for you in the eons of labor you have yet to endure. So heed my words...” His shadow encompassed her as he gravely added, “When we planted light upon the fields of Creation, Celestia, it was a divine thing. But there will come a time when our brilliance won't be enough. It will take a great, unknowable darkness to test the luminescence that we have bequeathed life. That is an abyss that we can never, ever follow our children down, no matter how much we love them.”

Princess Celestia's rosy-colored eyes reflected the endless barren plains of the Equestrian Desert. She stood upon the port side deck of the Dawnmist as the gallant, royal dirigible carried her and dozens of her royal subjects, guards, and soldiers eastward towards Canterlot.

Far below, the rocky landscape stretched on forever beneath a bright, morning sun. There was no single scrap of green vegetation to be seen. It would be at least another two hundred miles before the arid rock gave way to the rolling plains and dense woods of the kingdom's capital.

In twelve short millennia, half of the gorgeous forests of Equestria had receded, so that the rougher skin of the world rose craggily to the surface, sucking the moisture from the air and choking the wind of all rain from horizon to horizon.

While Celestia gazed thoughtfully into the brown expanse, her mane of pastel shades billowing in the high atmosphere, Princess Luna marched forward and stood by her side.

“It's been two days since the Summer Sun Celebration, beloved sister,” Luna dryly stated. “Shouldn't you be resting for the duration of this trip home?”

“I was merely thinking...” Celestia murmured.

Luna gazed up at her. “And what travails upon your mind?”

“The colors of this world.” Celestia answered. Her nostrils slowly flared. “Sometimes it feels as though, with each passing solstice that I raise the Sun, there are fewer shades of them left to shine on.”

Luna emotionlessly hummed. “The Celebration was in Appleloosa this year. One can forgive your divine right of ennui. It's certainly not a very extravagant city.”

Celestia cast Luna a lethargic glance. “You know better than to question how I cherish the cities of our kingdom equally, dear sister.”

“I merely question your countenance.” Luna spoke as a heavy breeze kicked at their manes and the support ropes of the airship around them. “It has been somewhat jaded as of late.”

“Most things have been,” Celestia said with a nod. “But most things cannot be helped.” She turned and marched slowly across the deck of the Dawnmist as several servants and shipmates galloped from post to post around them. “I am glad to have orchestrated a peaceful Summer Sun Celebration this year But as much as it has thrilled our subjects, it hasn't done a thing to eliminate our problems. It's been yet another decade, and still the elusive army of dissident changelings has not been uprooted. Furthermore, the ratification of this latest treaty with the Mountain Griffons has vexed me to no end.”

“It is times like these when I count our blessings for being immortal,” Luna said. Her expression was as neutral as ever, but her voice trailed with the slightest ring of amusement, a tone that only her older sibling could detect. “Stress is only as everlasting as the adversaries of Equestria would trick ponies into believing. Our subjects will be safe so long as they have alicorns wise enough to protect them from despair.”

“I acknowledge despair,” Celestia said, her voice rising sharply for a brief moment. “But I do not acknowledge 'adversaries.'” She cast a glare in Luna's direction. “There was a time, Princess Luna, at the beginning of everything, when all life was at peace, when we communed under the shade of luscious gardens. I respect all creatures no less now than I did then, even in spite of their foolish treachery as of late.”

“I have always admired your penchant for adoration, dear sister,” Luna said. Her next expression had a glint of razor-sharp seriousness. “But that is not the only quality of yours I've come to respect.”

Celestia said nothing to that. She gazed down at her gold-plated hooves. Her pale coat had the same immaculate shine as when she first descended upon the blossoming world. Celestia knew that every subject under her command saw an immaculate goddess when she graced their presence. However, when she looked upon her own visage, she felt the same as when she gazed at the arid deserts blurring beneath the Dawnmist.

Just then, an elder mare in silver-plated armor marched up. Her faded orange wings folded respectfully at her side as she bowed before the two Princesses. “Your Majesty,” she spoke to Celestia first and foremost. “We are crossing past Zebra territory. Should we pay a customary visit to the King of Shadows?”

“Negative, Admiral,” Celestia said, eliciting a curious glance from Luna. “Make haste for Canterlot. There is much planning to be done in the defense of the Equestrian homeland, and I've tarried enough as it is for the sake of the Celebration.”

“Very well, your Highness,” the Admiral said with yet another bow. “I shall put the crew on double-shifts.”

“Be mindful that you do not overwork them,” Celestia said. “We are returning from a festival, after all. My subjects deserve to smile as much as they toil.”

The aged Admiral trotted away, barking orders towards her helmspony and fellow crew-mates.

Luna trotted to a perpendicular position next to Celestia. “Impatience is unbecoming of you, sister. I thought you greatly enjoyed the Zebra King's company.”

“And I have many years left to enjoy it even more,” Celestia said. “And so does he. Currently, our kingdom has several pressing issues. It takes planning and grace to know when to balance diplomacy with restraint.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Do you think me a stranger to such qualities?”

Celestia sighed. “I did not mean to imply that, sister. It's just that—” Her rosy eyes twitched. A brilliant glow illuminated across her horn. In the span of three seconds, the strobe ended as swiftly as it had begun.

“Sister?” Luna remarked in a curious tone. “What is it?”

“A presence...” Celestia murmured. She slowly pivoted about as her gaze scanned the desolate horizon. “A source of raw magical talent, the likes of which I haven't sensed in years...”

At precisely that moment, a soldier's voice shouted, “Hydra! Twenty-five degrees off the port deck!”

The Admiral fluttered over towards the shouting guard on the left edge of the hovering airship. “Such a creature?!” she exclaimed. “This deep into the desert?! How large is it?”

“I judge it incapable of harming the vessel, Sir!” The young pegasus replied. Nevertheless, he shook at the frightful sight down below and swallowed his courage. “However, there's more! Look! Do you see, sir?”

“Good heavens!” another soldier shouted. “A unicorn!”

“He's all alone!” yet another hollered. “How old is he?”

“I can't tell from this far,” the Admiral breathlessly exclaimed. Her violet eyes flashed wide beneath her helmet as she gazed the Royal Sisters' way. “Your Highnesses...”

Celestia and Luna were already trotting briskly towards the edge of the ship. From their vantage point, they could easily spot a hulking reptile with four heads down below, towering over a tiny gray speck. That very same speck was currently scuffling on four little legs in a desperate attempt to avoid the beast's razor sharp strikes. However, there was one thing the petite figure refused to do...

“He's not running away!” a guard exclaimed. “He will be hydra food in seconds!” Several pegasi unsheathed their spears immediately and began stretching their muscular wings.

“Soldiers!” The Admiral called out. Everypony stood dead still as she raised her hoof, then looked humbly over at the princesses. “Your Highnesses, shall I send my forces down?”

Luna looked towards Celestia, who was still gazing at the tiny figure. Just then, a spark of brilliant flame erupted magically between the unicorn and the roaring hydra above him. The desert rumbled from the sheer output of mana that the petite equine was producing. It was at that point that Celestia's brow furrowed, and she spoke. “No...”

“No, Your Majesty?”

“Stay here on deck, but lower the ship.” Celestia flapped her wings and took off in a gentle hover. Luna silently did the same, following her lead. “Slow to a stop and await our orders,” Celestia said. “We shall take care of this. There will be no need for the spilling of blood today, no matter how vile.”

“Understood, Your Highness.”

Celestia and Luna were already gliding down towards the frightful struggle. The closer they approached the fight, the slimmer the sweating unicorn's chances appeared as the hydra bore down on him and his flames.

“It looks like this fight has been taking place for far longer than we have witnessed,” Luna said.

“It would only waste valuable time to guess,” Celestia calmly replied. She glanced aside at her sister in mid-descent. “Would you like to do the honors, Luna?”

“Verily.” Luna's eyes burned white-hot as she blurred forward in a dark streak. With a crash of thunder, she landed directly in front of the hydra, forming a deep crater. She stood like a resonating black monolith before the monster's four gasping heads. “Foul wretch!” Princess Luna bellowed with the volume of a hundred wailing voices. “If thou wouldst spill the blood of even one of our beloved subjects, thou wouldst incur the wrath of all the world's shadows at our command! Begone, or we shalt toss thee to the moon in pieces!”

All four hydra skulls quaked in fear. The creature spun in its heavy tracks and fled, whimpering like a puppy into the nook of a deep crevice beyond a hill of arid stone. High above, the crew of the Dawnmist cheered and waved at the sight of the running beast. The vessel lowered to the earth, and upon Luna's signal the Admiral and her fellow guards flew down to join the alicorns' sides.

In the meantime, Celestia had quietly trotted up to the tiny, panting unicorn that had—until that very moment—been struggling just to stay alive. Upon close examination, it turned out to be a very young unicorn, a colt at that. A stone-black mane clung to his sweaty neck as he limped and crawled over the dirt, panting with exhaustion.

The closer Celestia moved towards him, the more he desperately clamored to get away. The foal was blinded by sweat and dust in his eyes. Celestia realized he couldn't tell the difference between her hooves and the rampaging talons of a ravenous hydra.

“Fear not, little one,” Celestia calmly said. She reached a hoof out to hold him still. “You are no longer in danger. You need not struggle any further—”

“Nnngh—No!” He shrieked, spun around, and flew open his eyes. Two orbs of brilliant plasma erupted atop his face. With a beam of light, his horn summoned a burning ball of energy between them. In the span of a single second, Celestia was covered from head to hooves in flames.

“Sister!” Luna called out. Frowning, she raced over to Celestia's side. By the time she got there, the cloud of ash had settled.

Celestia stood calmly, a shield of translucent energy erected around her. Puffs of smoke and trailing embers fell harmlessly to the ground around her unblemished features. She held a hoof out to calm her younger sister, all the while staring at the colt's writhing form.

“Fascinating...” Was all Celestia murmured. “A remarkable show of magical strength, to say the least.”

“Also volatile,” Luna droned. “Sister, perhaps we should—”

“Shhh!” Celestia suddenly hissed. She stared at the colt. The glow had left his visage. He stared up at the two princesses, his red eyes streaming with tears. Soon, his hyperventilation got the best of him. He collapsed in the dust, twitching fitfully in an unconscious stupor. The tell-tale signs of days of anguish stained his figure in the forms of scrapes, bruises, and dirty splotches. Along his rear flank was the image of a burning flame encircled with cosmic bands.

“Sister?” Luna gazed at Celestia, at the colt, and at Celestia again. “What are you thinking now?”

Celestia exhaled softly as she absorbed the frail image of the young unicorn. Her eyes closed.

When they reopened, they were brimming with tears. Holding her sobbing breaths in, the alicorn filly trotted gracefully down the golden halls of the Holy Palace. She levitated the brittle body of Star Bliss in her cradling magic. His breaths were spreading further and further apart, so she held him closer in mid-stride, nuzzling her pale cheek against his brown wrinkles.

Finally, they entered the patio of the Palace's west wing. The room was open, and beyond several platinum pillars there stretched a field of bright flowers that danced in the crimson kiss of a setting sun. Evening was falling across the virgin fields of Equestria. The distant roar of sapphiric waterfalls danced over the tall grass, casting a fine mist across the landscape and ultimately condensing over the polished marble of the Palace floors.

This patio was Star Bliss' favorite place to be. He spent days, weeks, months, years there: reading books and concocting the first spells to ever be committed to Equestrian parchment. Celestia knew this, for she spent every single precious decade with him, sitting with him, talking with him, teaching him.

Today, she laid him down on a bed of velvet cushions in the penumbra of the evening's dying shadows. His body was as light as feathers, his skin as thin as glass. When he stirred, his muscles resembled coiled rope shifting under loosely crumpled paper.

“We... we are in the reading hall,” Star Bliss said in a whispering breath. His dry lips cracked into a wrinkling smile. “I love this place...”

Celestia sniffled. She swallowed a lump bravely down her throat and pressed her forehead to his. “I know you do, my faithful student,” she murmured against his cheek. Her words and kisses were separated only by the breadth of warm tears. “You brought glory and wisdom to my Father's house. These hallowed halls belong to you as much as they do to us.”

“I was... blessed to have served you, my liege...” He coughed, sputtered. As Celestia gazed at him with breathless worry, he winced and added, “I am the last of a generation to commune with both the Father and Daughters of Creation. There... is no gr-greater glory...”

The princess shuddered. Smiling painfully, she brushed his straw-like mane out from his brow. “There are greater glories, beloved Star. There always shall be.” She winced briefly and whispered, “But none shall match your brilliance, your preciousness to me...”

Star Bliss gasped, his fragile body briefly heaving in a wave of pain. His face tightened, and then relaxed in a series of heavy exhales.

Celestia gnawed on her lip. There was a murmuring sound from behind her.


Ever so briefly, the princess glanced over her shoulder.

A tiny foal with a midnight-black coat stood pensively behind a pillar. A dark tiara hung loosely over a pair of worrisome blue eyes as the little alicorn gazed at the somber scene.

Celestia instantly looked away. With a forelimb, she dried her face, put on a brave countenance, and faced her younger sibling directly. “Come forth, Princess Luna. You...You must attend this.”

The foal merely shifted where she stood.

Celestia took a deep breath and smiled. In a gentler voice, she cooed, “Come, Woona. Come sit with Tia and Star Bliss.”

Nervously, Luna trotted over on tiny hooves. By the time she reached her sister's side, her eyes had glossed over. Her gaze remained locked on the dying sight of Star Bliss.

The elder unicorn turned over, trembled, and managed a weak smile. “Princess Luna? Is that you, your Highness? I am...” He coughed, hacked, and wheezed. “...bl-blessed by your presence.”

All Luna could manage was a tiny little whimper. Celestia cuddled her tight with her left forelimb. Quietly, she turned to face the unicorn once again and said, “Star Bliss, do you remember the first spell I ever taught you?”

“Yes, your Majesty,” he breathed. He squirmed deeper into the velvet cushions. The purple shadows of night's descent lingered as the two alicorns hovered about his passing. “It was a simple trans-location spell. You told me that magic is never created nor destroyed. It...” He coughed. “It's always there, waiting to be discovered, to be respected, and even to be mastered...”

“And what a fine master you've become, Star Bliss,” Celestia said, stroking his cheek as Luna trembled against her side. She smiled sweetly and added, “Thanks to you, the ponies of Equestria can control mana like a conductor and his orchestra. Teaching you was like a symphony in the making.”

“Your eyes...” Star Bliss remarked in a gasp, reaching a hoof up that Celestia instantly clasped. “When... When I mastered the spells, your eyes sparkled. There was magic there too, Your Highness...” He coughed, hissed in pain, the whimpered. “No. No, it was more than magic. For I remember that same sparkle... in my mother's eyes...” He swallowed and smiled as a tear rolled down his wrinkled cheek. “...as it was in my daughter's. You...” He stretched his hoof further, quivering, until at last it touched Celestia's immaculate cheek. “You are as beautiful as I remember them... Then, now, and forever, my Liege...”

Celestia shuddered before nuzzling the end of his hoof. She stared into his eyes and said, “You tell them that when you see them, my good and faithful student.”

Star Bliss' breaths were now coming in fitful gasps. In between the last of them, he managed to spit forth, “Will... you f-forget me...?”

Celestia kissed his hoof. She breathed back, “Never.”

His ears flicked upon hearing that, then went limp. As the seconds trailed on the end of Star Bliss' last breath, Luna began to murmur in a low voice.


Celestia took a heavy breath. She lowered his hoof gently beside him on the cushions. “He's gone, Woona. Star Bliss has left us.”

Luna bit her lip. Tears began welling in her deep blue eyes. “Forever?”

Celestia slowly nodded and nuzzled her.

As a breeze from the distant waterfalls brushed over the two sisters, Luna buried her face in the older sibling's pink mane and murmured, “Did he go to the same pl-place that Father went?”

At that, Celestia clenched her eyes shut. It took all of her young strength to choke back a sob as she held Luna close.

“I don't know, Woona.”

She reached out and stroked Star Bliss one last time, smoothing his wrinkled brown coat to a pure shine. The shadows of the Palace gathered over his pale eyes.

“I don't know.”

The unicorn foal murmured unintelligible words as an ivory field of magic floated his unconscious body gently down into the satin covers of a large bed. Celestia stood above him in the royal cabin of the Dawnmist. An emotionless expression hung over her pale features as she stretched the comforter over him.

Halfway through, Celestia paused. Her vision lingered on the many bruises and splotches of dirt dotting the colt's exhausted body. It wasn't until a full minute had passed that she broke from her stupor. With a deep sigh, she lifted a basin of water from a nearby table. As the wooden body of the Dawnmist rocked from the outside winds, she dipped a cloth into the water and dabbed it over the colt's body, wiping the dirt of the desert away and cleaning out his wounds.

Minutes passed, and she had cleaned his gray coat to a pure shine. As she placed the basin and cloth away, she paused. She slowly turned to gaze deeply at his slumbering figure. The tiny unicorn's facial muscles were spasming, as if in the throes of a terrible dream. A tiny drop of moisture formed along the crease of his eyelids.

Celestia blinked, and she realized that her hoof had moved over to dry his cheek. Her heart stopped, as if suffering the stings of arrows as old as time, as old as herself. Her gaze fell from her horn to the mysterious cutie mark along his flank. She thought of the flame that had erupted between them, and how it tasted of the very same furnaces that spawned the firmaments of the world. Existence would likely last the span of a billion dying stars, and still she could not shake the embers of earth's foundation from her nose.

“Perhaps he would require sustenance at this point in time,” Luna's voice said from directly behind her sister.

Celestia jumped. She fumed angrily for a few seconds, straightened her mane, then calmly glanced back at her. “Sister, surely you know it is most uncouth to sneak up on your elder.”

“I did not realize that we had resorted once more to the rank of age,” Luna said with a raised eyebrow. “You do know that sooner than later in the course of things, your five hundred meager years of seniority will become moot.”

“Please, Luna, swiftly state your business.”

“Very well then.” Luna trotted up to the bed and gazed down at the sleeping colt. “I've told the Admiral to bring us back on course. We should reach Canterlot by late tomorrow evening, provided we are graced with a fair wind.”

“The pegasi will surely attend to that if need be.”

“Your desire to state the obvious, sister, suggests that your mind is elsewhere.”

“I did not ask to be analyzed by your audacious assumptions, Luna,” Celestia murmured. “I am merely concerned for the well-being of our new passenger.” She stared down at the stirring unicorn. “It's absolutely appalling to have found such an innocent soul in the middle of utter desolation. I can't imagine what pony under our rule would have been so cruel to have abandoned this child. I can only suspect that his family fell under tragic circumstances. On top of that, his display of magic is absolutely exceptional. Has it occurred to you that he is far too young to be bearing a cutie mark, much less one of such a dazzling design?”

“No,” Luna said, shaking her head. “However, it has occurred to me that you've ignored the substance of my inquisition.” She stared steadily at her sister. “I doubt very much that this colt is the sole reason for your distractions.”

Celestia slowly tilted her face up. She answered with a cold, silent deadpan.

“You know what's happening this week, Celestia,” Luna said in a low voice. “You've read the same letters I did before we even set course for Appleloosa. There is still time to change course from Canterlot—”

“Luna, we have been through this.”

“I know that I have been through this, but do you? I daresay you've pretended that those letters were never even written—”


“Things are different from what they were thousands of years ago. You've changed, Celestia, and sometimes I wonder if it was ever a good change. I know your mind is bent on protecting Equestria's interests. But your heart—”

“My heart...” Celestia flashed Luna an angry glare. “...is employed in the preservation of this kingdom with no less fervor! And so long as you and I continue to perform the will of our Father on this earth, I must not let myself stray from that path! We are headed to Canterlot, and I do not wish to hear any more arguments in favor of the contrary! Do you understand me?”

Luna replied with a calm stare. Slowly, she said, “What I understand, dear sister, is that one time you could raise more than just the sun.” She made to trot out of the cabin, but not without gesturing once more toward the bed. “After all, is it too much straying to assist a mere foal in need? What part does he fulfill in our 'path,' I wonder?”

Celestia sighed, running a hoof over her face. “Are you quite finished, Luna?”

“Sustenance.” Luna repeated herself from earlier. “I give you that parting suggestion.” She was gone.

Celestia gazed into the shadows of Luna's absence. She looked once more upon the frail colt's body, then across the room towards where a table of prepared vegetables was lying in wait. With a soft breath, she trotted..

...across the granite floor of the Palace Sepulcher and stood in silent reverence before the tomb. A fresh stretch of polished marble rested before young Celestia's shining figure. Her mane had changed over the centuries, casting a prismatic luminescence across the rows of stacked graves. In the center was a brand new slab with a shiny bronze plaque reading one name and a lifespan that ended that very same calender year.

Celestia took a deep breath. Try as she might, she couldn't fight off the wavering shudder as she exhaled. Her face contorted in sorrow. She teetered upon the brink of sobs, but reined it in with remarkable grace. Swallowing, she read the name on the amber plaque over and over again until her lips finally produced the holy sound it demanded.

“'Dusk Song...'” It tasted just like yesterday. The Princess gulped and tightened her jaw. Her eyes moistened, then dried on their own. Despite the courageous feat, she whimpered aside, “Luna, I don't know how many more times I can do this.”

A young filly with a flowing blue mane stood beside her older, taller sister. “Then don't,” Luna said bluntly. “I've seen it. It tears at you. And yet you do it again and again.”

Celestia gazed and gazed at Dusk Song's name, until her pale face reflected in the surface. Suddenly she frowned and marched down the mausoleum hallway. “I have no choice.”

“You're the Princess of the Sun!” Luna called after her. “You always have a choice! You always have the authority!” She trotted quickly to catch up with her sister's furious gait. Together, the two marched swiftly down rows upon rows of graves. Bright red torches cast brown shadows as purple twilight lingered beyond the gold-plated windows. “Do you simply forget who you are every time you raise the Sun in the morning?”

“No, sister, I do not forget,” Celestia grumbled. “I remember who I am. Once more, I remember what our dear Father charged us with.”

“Celestia, our dear father,” Luna drawled, “abandoned us to a world cast amidst the cold-hearted dichotomy of life and death!”

“He did not abandon us!” Celestia turned to frown at her younger sister. “He left us in charge of enormous responsibilities befitting immortal alicorns! I do sincerely wish you would stop punishing the memory of him!”

“Sister, I barely have any memory of him to punish,” Luna said. “But I do know you, and I love you. And I would very much wish that you would not punish yourself.”

“It is not punishment!” Celestia hissed. She winced as her voice coldly bounced off of the maze of tombs surrounding them. She sighed and said in a calmer, quieter voice. “I cannot control the sun and maintain the realm of magic all on my lonesome. Neither can you master the moon and keep record of spells at the same time. We are not here to simply rule over these mortals. We have always been meant to commune with them, to nurture them, to help them in their fragile lives of discovery and understanding.”

“An impossible feat for even one immortal,” Luna said. “Much less a pair of them. I know you care about our Father's wishes, but can't magic be left well enough alone?”

“Of course it can't!” Celestia's voice rose again. The torches danced and billowed with scarlet fervor around the royal siblings. “We are not the only stewards this earth can afford, Luna. There may come a time when there's a force too great for even you and I to master. When that time comes, we'll need our royal subjects in possession of the elements of this world to combat any evil when or if it shows.”

“The only evil I've witnessed, Celestia, is the decay that gnaws on this kingdom we've established decade after decade, century after century. Look where we are...” Luna pointed towards the halls and towering stacks of graves. “Dusk Song isn't the first pony to make permanent residence in this place. A thousand years ago, our Father built this Palace to be a gathering of mortals and immortals alike. I swear, the only reason it's ever expanded to such an enormous size is to house sepulchers like this one. And it will not end, Celestia, no matter how much you and your faithful apprentices tame magic.”

“I know that it is endless, Luna,” Celestia said. Her majestic body slumped with a sigh as she gazed beyond the torches. “I thought that, with time, I would become used to it. I thought I would gain the neutrality and wisdom I witnessed in Father before he left the earth for greater things. But in so many centuries upon centuries, that hasn't happened. I can't pretend to change the way of all things. I just wished that all things would be easier. I wished that fate would fall differently on the apprentices I come to foster and adore.”

Luna stared at the rows of graves beyond them. She murmured aside, “Perhaps what you should address is that adoration to begin with.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. She looked over at Luna. “Sister...?”

The younger sibling coldly returned the gaze. “You love and cherish those whom you mentor, Celestia. But perhaps that is your one timeless mistake. I would be lying if I said that there weren't occasions when I wanted to interrupt your magic lessons with Equestria's greatest sorcerers and attempt to diffuse the bond you have formed with them.”

“Luna...!” Celestia gasped as if struck with a dagger.

“Do not pretend that I am suggesting something obscene.”

“I care for each and every one of our subjects like they were—”

“Were what?” Luna's eyes hardened. “Our children? Do not be so naïve, sister. I may be younger than you, but that hasn't made me perceive the passage of time any differently. Dusk Song was once a young colt, studying in our largest libraries, giggling as he filled his eager mind with endless banks of knowledge. Then, in a blink, he was a frail soul clinging to you as you led him to the infirmary, just like all of the generations of pupils before him. I don't know how you do it either, Celestia, but I pray—in my sleep and in my dreams—I pray that you come to realize what is the true nature of our situation. We cannot call these mortals our 'children.' At best, we can only afford them as pets.”

Celestia grimaced upon hearing those last words. She looked ready to angrily retort, but backed off with a drooping of her ears. It was a foalish expression, like a pale shade of herself that had once collapsed upon a green field at time's beginning.

Luna took a deep breath and walked over to her. “Forgive the extreme color of my speech, dear sister. But I care for you. I barely see you in between the small gaps in time between the rising of the sun and moon. Those moments afford me dreadful pictures of a sad princess bathed in twilight. I do not wish to see that horrible visage any longer. I wish to see my sister again, as bright and as cheerful as the morning.”

Celestia's gaze fell to the floor as she muttered, “I fear that I no longer have it within me to be bright, Luna.”

“You can be bright, dear sister,” Luna said. “You just need to know where to position the veil, and it's come time you shrouded someone else than yourself.”

Celestia looked up at her. “I do not think I quite read you.”

Luna paced past a series of coffins, gently brushing her hoof across the plaques and names and dates that lined up like copper teeth beyond them. “The next time you foster an apprentice—and we both know very well that there will be a next time—I suggest that you impose a new order. Once you have sufficiently taught your student the ways of proper sorcery, you must make the bold move of severing all ties with said unicorn. From then on, your lives—both mortal and otherwise—will pursue separate courses, unbound by each other's joys or sorrows.”

“How...” Celestia wasn't protesting, she was merely curious. She squinted quizzically at her younger sister. “How could I possibly go about forcing such a separation?”

Luna stared at the floor for a prolonged time. She blinked, then glanced up at Celestia. “A fabrication.”

“You suggest that I lie to my very own students?”

“I suggest that you invent a necessary artifice that will legitimize your perpetual parting of ways,” Luna said, trotting slowly towards her. “After all, it wouldn't be the first time we've augmented the truth that we bequeath to our royal subjects. We have and always shall consider their safety above all.”

“But I do not think I could weather a personal breach of honesty with my very own personal protege—”

“And what would you rather do? Hmmm?” Luna's dark eyes were piercing, like knife edges. “Dusk Song died alone, childless, and in utter solitude.”

“Untrue! He had us—”

“He had timeless alicorns, Celestia,” Luna said firmly. “No matter how desperately we attempt to paint the truth otherwise, we are no family for a mortal. When these unicorns become the bridge between our realm and Equestria—when they carry the same burden that our Father has left us—they sacrifice whatever peaceful lives they could have enjoyed in the company of their fellow peers. We bless them with knowledge, and yet we curse them with destiny. Has that ever occurred to you, even once in all of these centuries?”

Celestia staggered back from that. She bumped into a wall of tombs and gazed up, breathless, as if all of the graves were caving in on her. She ran a hoof over her face as tears welled up in her eyes. Slowly, Equestria's Princess fell to her haunches and heaved through a slew of blossoming sobs.

“I never... never meant for any of this... for all of this to be so... so...”

“Dearest Celestia...” Luna was already nuzzling her, gazing warmly into her elder's distraught face. “We may be timeless, but we are not formless. It is never too late to change. That is the single, most dear message I wish to convey to you.”

Celestia's tears were flowing, but her face tightened upon a solid resoluteness she hadn't felt in a long time. In a firm breath, she...

...reached over and brushed the leafy edge of the celery stalk against the tiny colt's mouth. The little unicorn murmured in his slumber. His nostrils flared as he sniffed the fresh, crisp vegetable. His mouth watered, and his opening jaws pulled him out of sleep. With his eyes closed, he nibbled at the celery at first, then took a few healthy bites, then grasped the entire stalk with his forelimbs before finishing the rest of it fervently.

Once it was in his belly, he rolled over in the royal bedsheets and fluttered his eyes open. After one blink, he shot up, gasping.

“Be at peace,” Celestia said. She was sitting beside the bed in the Dawnmist's cabin, a plate of vegetables floating in a stream of white magic beside her. “You are safe in my royal vessel, young one.” Her voice was soothing, but unmelodious. The tone was only soft from its whispery edge alone. She emotionlessly lifted another leafy morsel from the platter and raised it before him. “Your body may be exhausted, but your stomach betrays what you really need. Please... eat heartily. It's the best grown celery in all of Equestria.”

The colt glanced at the green offering, then at the Princess. Gratefully, he reached two trembling hooves up and grasped the stalk. He chewed on it vigorously, filling his empty stomach. For several minutes and a few more helpings, he nourished himself in the presence of Equestria's ruler, until a healthy shade of red flushed across his cheeks, and he sat up in the bed bright and alert... but still pensive.

“There is more where that came from, in case you haven't actually had your fill.” Celestia found the words coming out of her mouth as if on their own volition. It felt as though deep banks in her mind were donating the sentences to her, a programmed act of fostering. She threw her wayward, analytical thoughts against the walls with a clearing of her throat as she placed the platter down and gazed calmly at the foal. “Do you have a name, young one?”

The tiny unicorn avoided her gaze, nervously running a hoof through his black mane.

Celestia stared at him. Liquidly, she gave a practiced grin. “I'll have you know, I am the Princess of Equestria. I could have you thrown into the royal dungeons if I so desired.”

He merely squinted at her. “Really?” his high-pitched voice squeaked.

Celestia blinked. It had been several decades since she last practiced humor. She suddenly remembered why. “Ahem.” She shifted where she sat on folded legs. “I wouldn't even think of it. Do forgive my awkward lack of grace, dear child. I am... quite simply flabbergasted to have found a young, talented unicorn such as yourself out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Talented?” The unicorn remarked with a scrunched face.

“Mmmmhmmm. Not even the largest, strongest, bravest stallion in Equestria is a match for a hydra. And there you were in the middle of the desert, fending him off on your lonesome, using remarkably advanced fire spells, no less.”

“Oh, right, that.” He winced and scrunched down in the bed, hiding his face behind a length of folds in the comforter. “Mmmmf... I'm sorry about that.”

“Sorry?” Celestia cocked her head to the side. She reached a hoof up and gently moved the sheet so that his face was no longer obscured. “Whatever for, young one?”

“Mmmm...” He stirred, glancing with nervous, darting eyes towards the walls of the place. “This is an airship...”

“Yes. Yes it is.”

“...and it's made out of wood?”

Celestia merely nodded.

“Yeah...” The unicorn hissed through wincing teeth. “You might wanna get me off this thing as soon as possible.”

“Hmmm...” Celestia gave a humored smile. “My young sir, I assure you, though I admit that you have remarkable spells, I swear to you that there is no single source of magic on this earth—equine or otherwise—that I would not be able to suppress in the event of an emergency.”

“Oh yeah?” He glanced up at her, his gray ears twitching. “You mean like changelings and the like?”

Celestia opened her mouth... but lingered. She wasn't quick enough to save her smile from fading.

He saw it, and his tiny ears then drooped. “Oh...” He slumped back down onto the bed. “I didn't think so.”

Celestia swallowed gently. She reached over and gently brushed the bangs of his mane. “Little one, tell me. Why are you so alone?”

His eyes clenched shut. His little body rose and fell with a sad sigh. “My parents died right after I was foaled. I barely got a chance to know them.”

“How, if I may be so bold to ask?”

“The war, of course,” he muttered, his jaw tightening. “Changelings got 'em. They got all the big ponies where I lived.”

Celestia murmured without stopping herself, “Las Pegasus...”

A tiny sound came from deep in his throat. He nodded his head, trembling, without opening his eyes.

The Princess bowed her head gravely. Her hoof rested tenderly on his shoulder. “You have no idea how it pains me to hear that. I have fought for so long to drive the changeling broods out of this kingdom. I had hoped to keep young, innocent ponies like you from sufferi—”

“The worse part was when they put me in this foster home,” he grunted. It wasn't an anger at Celestia, but a different kind of frustration. Something that had been fermenting deep inside him, hotter than the desert that they had found him in. “That's when things started catching on fire around me. That's also when they started calling me names.”


“The other fillies and colts I lived with. They called me 'Bad Spark,' 'Changeling Breath,' 'Ash and Stink.'”

“Those are such terrible, cruel things to call an innocent pony.”

“I'm not innocent!” He suddenly barked, his eyes flaring as he glared up at her. Vapors lifted from his horn. The flowers in a nearby vase wilted as the temperature in the room raised by about ten degrees instantly. “I make bad stuff happen! I catch things on fire!”

Celestia's face was stone-still. She stared directly at him, all the while pressing softly against his shoulder.

The unicorn hissed and heaved, but ultimately melted from her gaze and firm touch. He squatted back on the bed as the temperature in the room fell back to normal.

Celestia looked briefly at his flaming cutie mark, then back at his sad face. “Tell me, if you will, what is your real name? The one that your parents lovingly gave you, child?”

He sighed long and hard. The breath that came out of him choked a bit. “N-Nova. Nova Stare.”

She smiled. “That... is a very handsome name, Nova.”

He sniffed. He gazed up at her with moist eyes. “You... You really think so?”

She felt a chuckle coming out of her breath, unbecoming of a princess, but befitting the tenderness of the moment. “Yes. Your parents were undoubtedly very loving, and I know that they had every reason to be proud of you.”

“Wh-what for?” Nova Stare shuddered, sniffling again as he gazed out the darkening windows of the ship's cabin. “All I do is cause trouble. Back home, the more things I set on fire, the more the other ponies got mad at me and made fun of me. I tried to get away from them. I tried running... but then suddenly there were flames everywhere, and I was someplace else! And I still don't know why!”

“You...” Celestia's eyes narrowed. “You teleported? To the middle of the desert?”

“I dunno!” Nova whimpered, covering his little face with his hooves. “I don't know anything anymore! All I know is that I was glad to be alone, cuz I didn't have any ponies to make fun of me or worry about burning all at once! But then I was really really scared, cuz I didn't know where I was and I was hungry and... and... and...”

“Shhhh...” She brushed his hooves away and tilted his chin up so that his tear-stained face could absorb her gaze. “It takes strength to admit that one is scared, Nova. As a matter of fact, you have even more strengths. You have an amazing gift for pyrokinesis.”

“Pyro... what?” He sniffed and blinked.

“Hmmmmmm...” She crested the warm edge of a chuckle yet again. “It means 'a telepathic control over the animation of elemental flame.' I daresay, you have many talents in that department.”

“I... I do?” His tail flicked upon the exclamation.

“Very much so. But they are raw talents. Untapped. Unfiltered. What you need to do is learn how to tame these raw abilities and focus...” Her words lingered off as a painful expression wracked her face. Her pupils shrunk, as if bearing down the enormity of time's deathly hall of mirrors.

Nova Stare leaned his head curiously to the side. “Uhm... Your Highness?”

That address only shook Celestia even more. “Ahem. I... erm...” She shuddered and tried to compose herself. “What I mean to say is...” She looked at him. “Your powers can be tamed. And then you can live in peace again. I... We will find you a new home where you won't have to worry about causing accidents ever again, and where ponies will love you for who you are, and not for what they fear.”

Nova breathed easier upon hearing that news, but a part of his eyes lost their color, as if brought upon the brink of something spectacular, only to be dropped back into shadows.

“Well...” He gulped and smiled as his tears began drying. “That's... that's pretty swell, I guess.”

“Yes...” Celestia murmured, her voice distant. “It is... for the best...” She gazed woefully out the cabin windows of the Dawnmist. Outside, night was falling, and a pale shine was cast across the wooden panes.

Princess Luna sat on the new Palace balcony overlooking the bluffs and cliff-faces of Canterlot. She leaned on her haunches, her head tilted up in a meditative pose. Slowly, her glittering mane hair billowed in an invisible wind. Her horn was absorbed in an aura of darkness as specks of silver light rose off her coat, starting with her cutie mark, and then spreading all across her body.

Countless fathoms away, across a solid black horizon, the moon rose under her command. Its silver beams swam their way gently over the rolling emerald hills and plains of Equestria. Lakes glittered and rivers gleamed with white luminescence as the younger sibling performed her nightly task.

Once her labors were complete, she opened her blue eyes and gazed softly over her shoulder and into the torchlit center of the royal porch.

Celestia sat across from a petite alicorn mare. The two were concentrating on a beam of light as a liquid globule of gold and blue metals floated magically between them.

“That's it, Felicity,” Celestia spoke encouragingly to her pupil. “Concentrate. Don't force it. Allow the currents of energy to flow through your leylines and into the metal.”

“Nnnngh...” The green unicorn's ruby mane billowed behind her as her horn glowed hotter and hotter. She had her eyes clenched shut as she mentally forced the floating metal to take shape before her. “This... is a lot tougher than the alchemic spells we went over last month!”

“You're doing fine. Don't throw your concentration off by thinking of the past or future. Focus on the now, and remember the shape that I imprinted in your mind.”

“Yes, your Highness. It's forming together. I can feel it.” Felicity bit her lip, strained, and fell back with a huge exhale.

There was a bright flash of platinum light. When the glow dissipated, a starry crown was gently floating down to a cushion amidst a shower of sparkles.

“Amazing...” Celestia murmured. She smiled brilliantly at her student. “Felicity, open your eyes!”

The unicorn did so. Instantly, her sweat dried and her pained creases disappeared from her gasping face. “I... I did it!”

“This is a historic occasion!” Celestia proclaimed joyfully. She stood up, levitating the crown in a telekinetic grasp. “We now have a vessel for the first and most important element manifested for ponydom: the Element of Magic.”

“I... I can't believe I did it...” Felicity held a hoof over her mouth as her eyes welled up with tears. She was smiling the whole time, cracking forth a chuckle as she sniffed and gazed in awe at the reflective surface of the article. “Oh, Princess Celestia! You've worked and planned so long for this!”

“We've worked so long, my good and faithful student,” Celestia said. “During which time you've mastered the most difficult and dazzling of spells. I cannot begin to tell you how much your impact has had on Canterlot's security, or all of Equestria's well-being for that matter. We're just one hoofstep closer to constructing a magical enchantment to banish evil and maintain harmony in this land, and we owe it all to you, Felicity. I am so proud of you.”

Felicity sniffled and put on a brave face despite her tears. “I'm just... just so happy to hear you say that, Celes—” She went wide-eyed and covered her face. Blushing, she winced and squeaked forth, “I-I mean your Highness.”

“Hmmmm...” Celestia chuckled and reached down to nuzzle the unicorn. “It's quite alright, Felicity. You've been more than a pupil to me. You've been a close confidant, a friend. And what's more, I can't think of any pony more qualified...”

“Qualified?” Felicity blinked curiously. “For what?”

Celestia winked and levitated the crown directly in front of her. “For being the first to wear this kingdom's newest key to prosperity.”

Felicity's jaw hung agape. She gazed in disbelief at the crown, then at her mentor. She stammered, “You mean for real? I... I can...?”

“Go ahead, Felicity.” Celestia squinted playfully. “Before I change my mind!”

“Eeep!” The unicorn jumped up. She gnawed on her lip. She gently took the Element of Magic from Celestia in a translucent green grip. She took a deep breath, then lowered it to her head, just above her crown. “Eheheh...” She stifled a foalish giggle at the last second, cleared her throat, and asked, “How does it look?”

“You tell me yourself.” Celestia gestured towards a potted plant in the corner of the moonlit patio. “Or does my expert apprentice forget a simple transmogrification spell?”

“Heh! Not in a thousand years!” Felicity trotted over towards the plant. She tightened her jaw, squinted her eyes, and shot a bolt of magic out through her horn. Instantly, the potted plant turned into a looking glass. She stood before the mirror, seeing Celestia positioned next to her. The glittering sight of the Element of Magic shone between them in the pale light from the night's sky beyond. “It's... It's incredible...”

“Mmmm... Yes, indeed,” Celestia said with a slow nod.

Felicity lingered on a breath, then added, “Incredibly, goofily big! I mean... look at this thing! Heeheehee!”

Celestia joined daintily in the laughter. The two mares—mortal and immortal—became one in the levity and joy of the moment. Slowly, Celestia's eyes wandered to the very edge of the mirror, where she caught the reflection of Luna's calm, night-colored gaze meeting hers.

Slowly, Celestia's smile left her, melting away like candles lining a grave. Her face paled, curving painfully, and not for the first time in her life. She slowly stepped back from the mirror, her gaze bowed toward the polished marble floor of the Canterlot abode.

Felicity was still giggling. She wiped a tear of happiness from her face and glanced into the mirror. Celestia wasn't there. She blinked, then turned around. At the sight of the alicorn's calm stature, her smile went away under a flutter of winks.

“Y-your Highness?” Felicity murmured. “Is... Is something the matter?”

Celestia took a deep breath. She raised her face bravely to meet Felicity's eyes. Her smile was as soft as a cloudbank, and just as fleeting. “Hardly, my dear apprentice. As a matter of fact, everything is as it should be.”

“I... I don't understand...”

“When I adopted you as my apprentice, I told you something. Do you remember what it was?”

“Uhm...” Felicity shifted nervously where she stood as she suddenly had to reach into the past for something as familiar as her own name. “You told me that I had 'amazing talents in magic, but they were raw and needed to tamed for greater focus and mastery.'”

“And just what have you proven here today?”

“Well, heehee!” Felicity lifted the crown off her head and held it in two bright hooves. “We made the first in the line of several Elements that can help defend Equestria from dark magic and—” She paused once again upon seeing Celestia's piercing gaze. She blinked, and her facial muscles went limp. “I... I-I've become a master...”

Celestia nodded slowly. “And a master is no longer a student.”

Felicity's face scrunched at that. She searched the lengths of the room, and slowly her breaths started coming faster and faster. When she next looked up at her Princess and spoke, her voice came in a foalish squeak, “Your Highness? Does this mean—?”

“You are a beautiful, gifted, adult mare, Felicity.” Celestia took a hoofstep for every word until she stood directly before her pupil. She rested a hoof on her shoulder and gazed deep in her eyes. “Oh, how far you have come from the little foal who used to prance around my study each time she learned a new spell. Every day I spent with you was filled with joy and wonder, for I got to experience them through your eyes, just like all of my apprentices that came before you.” She took a deep breath, one that tore at her gut, before she finally said, “And that makes what happens now as difficult as it is necessary.”

“You...” Felicity fell upon the crest of hyperventilation. “You're s-sending me away?”

Celestia once again caught the gaze of Luna in her peripheral vision. She steeled herself and said, “Felicity, I have told you time and time again about the Rite of a Master's Journey—”

“But... But so soon?!” Felicity's face grimaced as the tears reformed in her eyes. “Princess—”

“As our Father left my sister and I to govern Equestria on our lonesome, we must leave those in our apprenticeship to go forth on their own and practice what they've learned, untainted and pure in form and beauty.”

“But there's so much more we can learn together!” Felicity whimpered, her shoulders heaving. By now, she was hugging the crown to her chest and shivering. “Please! Not this soon, your Highness! Imagine all the years we can spend discovering more Elements—”

“Shhhh...” Celestia knelt down and brushed a hoof across Felicity's cheek, drying it. She smiled dearly. “Dearest Felicity, imagine all the more years you now have to discover yourself.” She clutched her shoulders tenderly. “You are an adult, a sorcerer supreme, and yet you are not even halfway towards the glowing horizon of your journey. There are so many possibilities for you. So many memories to be had, and not all of them alone.”

Felicity choked. She clenched her eyes shut and hung her head.

“Felicity...” Celestia tilted her chin up. “Look at me.”

The Princess' apprentice obeyed her last command.

Celestia whispered, “I have and shall always love you, always cherish you, until the end of time—for it shall be my time. Now, I must send you forth to experience your time. For that is the way of the Rite of a Master's Journey. And I know that you are ready.”

Felicity took a shivering breath and murmured, “I know that I am r-ready now t-too, my Princess.” She smiled crookedly, but genuinely. “I am forever in your debt.”

“No Felicity.” Celestia shook her head, smiling. “You are forever in my heart.”

Felicity tried to smile back, but the next sob was coming on too strong. She almost collapsed, only Celestia was there to hug her, a final hug, the last contact they would ever make. By next morning, when the sun was raised, Felicity would depart from the Palace, never to return.

Celestia knew it, which is why as soon as her expression was out of range of Felicity's foggy vision, she allowed her face to break under the pressure that had built up for so many minutes, hours, days, months, years. This moment had fallen into her lap far sooner than she had hoped, but she wasn't about to tell Felicity. Instead she showed her, holding her tightly and stroking the tiny pony's back, like a treasure that would be lost just beyond the burning edge of a dismal morning.

“I will follow your wisdom to the very end, my Princess,” Felicity breathily exclaimed. “Please, I beg of you, don't be mad at me for wanting to stay your apprentice longer.”

Celestia lovingly stroked her mane. “Never,” she breathed, speaking with the eloquence of a eulogy. She steeled her shaking lungs for Felicity's sake. And when she looked out upon the veil of stars...

...they all seemed somehow closer than every apprentice she had ever once held, and just as numerous. Princess Celestia stood on the bow of the Dawnmist, staring out at the gray expanse into which her Father once dove, never to return, so that she wondered if she too had become the master of a domain as insignificant as a blink in a cosmic equine's eye.

So transfixed was she on the roof of the world that she barely noticed the hoofsteps of the Admiral until the aged pegasus came to a stop and cleared her throat.

Celestia slowly turned and gazed down at her. “Yes, Admiral?”

“I am terribly sorry to bother you, your Highness,” the Admiral bowed while speaking. “I only felt it was my duty to report that we are making decent headway. The royal navigator says that we shall reach Canterlot by noon tomorrow, provided that you raise the Sun as regularly scheduled.”

The corner of Celestia's pale mouth curved slightly. “And what makes you think that I would ever be tardy?”

The Admiral's wrinkled cheeks blushed a bit. “Do forgive my careless speech, your Majesty. That was unbecoming of me—”

“I am pleased to elicit many emotions from my subjects, the least of which is guilt.” Celestia turned and strolled past the Admiral, heading towards the royal cabins below. “I encourage you to speak your peace around me as you would with any peer. Carry on.”

The Admiral stood anxiously in place.

Somehow, Celestia sensed the unease. She stopped and turned around. “Yes?”

The Admiral glanced nervously at her.

“Is there something on your mind, Admiral?”

The armored pegasus turned towards the Princess, all the while keeping her head low. “If I am allowed to speak my peace, then perhaps I should express what I believe to be a valid concern.”

“Absolutely,” Celestia said, gazing at her patiently.

The Admiral's violet tail-hairs fluttered in the high winds around the Dawnmist. “It's the crew, Your Majesty. I have tried to keep them silently focused on their duties. I have used every extent of my authority to discipline them. However, I have failed constantly as of late to suppress an unfounded rumor spreading through the ranks.”

“What rumor is this, Admiral?”

“Well, your Majesty,” the pegasus struggled to say, “They're afraid. They do not know if they will make it safely home.”

“Fear is hardly a surprise in this day and age,” Celestia said with a nod. “After all, Equestrians have contended with the likes of conniving changelings and brutish griffons the majority of their generation.”

“The guards and soldiers do not fear our enemies, your Majesty.” The Admiral stirred awkwardly, then gave the Princess a courageous glance. “They fear for you.”

Celestia's eyes narrowed.

The pegasus continued, “They spread rumors of your ill-countenance. Many of the crew feel as if you have become afflicted with a horrible alicorn ailment. Some are even foolish enough to think that this sparks the end of the world, for if the Princess of the Sun is under the weather, what does it spell for Equestria's future?”

“Even if I was to meet such a paradoxical end, my dear Admiral,” Celestia remarked with a placid smile, “I trust my sister would be strong enough to handle the celestial bodies in my place.”

The Admiral nodded slowly. “You need not convince me of your well-being, your Majesty. I fear, however, that I am lacking in the necessary conviction to reach my crew as intimately as you could.”

“I assure you, I am not depleted of my usual energy, wit, or wisdom. If anything, I am merely...” Celestia fumbled for words. She bit her lip and gazed at the desert horizon beneath the field of stars. Rising and falling mountains sliced into the constellations like the bitter, black hooves of time. “Admiral...”

“Yes, your Highness?”

Celestia gazed steadily at her. “Do you have any children?”

The Admiral took a deep breath. She shifted in her armor and said, “I have foaled three times in my life.” Her face tilted up and gave a weathered smiled. “And of my children, two of them have also foaled.”

Celestia's lips pursed. “You are a grandmother...? That had not occurred to me, Admiral.”

The pegasus gave a dry chuckle. “I have much strength, but I also have many years. One, I am more apt to brag about than the other, your Majesty.”

Celestia's eyes fell to the airship's deck. She saw a frailty to the shape of the Admiral's hooves. It pained her to think that just yesterday those very same limbs were young and muscular. It pained her even more to realize she hadn't bothered to keep track of the Admiral's natural change. Life was too fragile to bother measuring in any breaths but Celestia's own.

“You must not see them that often.”

“Your Majesty...?”

Celestia's eyes raised to look at the Admiral's face once again. “Your children and grandchildren,” she said. “With all of the aerial missions I've made you perform these last few decades, it must be difficult to commune with your descendants.”

“What I do for your glorious kingdom, I do with utmost gratitude and honor, your Highness,” the Admiral said firmly. “I am blessed to serve under your command, for it means the protection of Equestria and all of your subjects, especially those who fall in my bloodline.”

“And your loved ones...?” Celestia heard herself murmuring towards the air. “Are they content to live on their own, fully knowing that their grandmother, the strong and beloved matriarch upon which their family rests, is so often absent?”

The Admiral stared at the Princess. In the glint of the pale moon, her regal armor was immaculate and impenetrable. Suddenly, though, all of it wasn't enough to shield the slightest shiver overcoming the pegasus' body. Her violet eyes became moist, but she said in a firm voice, “Their contentment... is n-not as important as their safety.”

Celestia gazed painfully at her. “Do you believe that?” she murmured.

“I shall always believe in what is necessary, your Highness,” she said. “What I give up is not nearly important as what I preserve.”

Celestia nodded quietly. “It is a very convenient truth, is it not?”

The Admiral said nothing. She darted her eyes towards the ship's deck. Her helmet looked like it weighed three times as much.

Celestia felt as if she had tortured the honorable guard enough. “You may continue with your duties, Admiral.”

“By your c-command,” the pegasus bowed, and marched off towards the front of the ship.

Celestia closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. The wind blew at her mane with a brief gale, as if carrying all the chaff of twelve-thousand years. It carried the sound of a giggling colt's voice.

Celestia's eyes fluttered open. She gazed down at the lit crease beneath the door to the royal cabins. Slowly, she turned around and marched down...

...into the central study of the Canterlot Royal Palace. Princess Luna was trailing after her, levitating a bundle of scrolls between them both while frowning.

“Sister! I insist! You must read these!”

“I am busy at the moment, Luna,” Celestia said in a tight, angry voice. She marched furiously towards a polished table covered in maps, data sheets, royal decrees, and architectural designs.

Outside the balcony window to her Palace study, half of Canterlot had fallen to ruin. Crumbled debris smoked as dozens of unicorns gathered in circles, conjuring water spells to stoke the flames. In the distance, several identical plumes of black vapor rose from random, battle-strewn spots in Equestria. The smoldering sky was buzzing with pegasi detachments who were working around the clock to put out the blazes.

“This is the fifth letter in a week!” Luna exclaimed, shuffling through the many sealed parchments in front of her. “How long must you ignore them? Or ignore me?!” She frowned, her eyes turning into boiling pools of blue fury. “Celestia, answer me!”

“Dear Sister!” Celestia stomped her hoof, frowning at her. “Does it look like I have time to bother with anything else at the moment?!” She gestured towards the table full of important ledgers and memos. “Half of Equestria is still on fire. The damage dealt by Discord has been phenomenal, beyond anything you or I could have ever conceived! Renovating this landscape will take more than the power of the six elements, much less a single alicorn. If you care at all about me or about this land of ours, you will stop your inane nonsense and lend your skills to the cause of reconstruction at once!”

“Nonsense?!” Luna made a face. “Sister, this is about Glowing Jade! She is dying...”

“I knew that her time would come sooner than later,” Celestia said in a cold murmur as she perused the many complicated battle reports before her. “It is a miracle that she survived long enough to see peace restored to the land that Discored had so mercilessly ravaged. If anything, we should be rejoicing...”

“For once, I am not concerned about what we feel,” Luna said, her eyes round and imploring. “Beloved sister, answer me. Have you read a single letter that has been sent to us?”

Celestia said nothing. She continued with her frantic study of the latest marks made on the Equestrian map.

“It's Glowing Jade's family, Celestia,” Luna said. “They are asking us—no—begging that you and I go visit her at her death bed.”

“Luna, I loved Glowing Jade dearly,” Celestia calmly responded. “I still do. But long ago, we cut ties with my faithful apprentice for a reason. You and I cannot afford to be distracted by personal bias when the entire fate of Equestria is at stake. Utilizing the Rite of a Master's Journey—however contrived—has been necessary in preserving the fragile balance that has allowed the Elements of Harmony to be forged over the past three hundred years. I assure you, long after Glowing Jade is gone, her contributions to capturing the Element of Loyalty will not be forgotten, especially considering how timely it was in ensuring Discord's defeat.”

“Celestia, do you...” Luna dropped the scrolls like they were dead leaves. With an incredulous expression, she softly trotted towards her elder. “Do you even hear yourself? Glowing Jade mastered the Element of Loyalty for a reason. She saw such power within us, within you. Or, at least, she thought it was there. Now, in her time of desperation and darkness, we are to ignore her in such a way as she never fathomed forsaking us?”

“The letters were written by her family, were they not?” Celestia muttered. “I imagine they are far too easily clouded by their own emotions to bother accurately reflecting her will—”

“Sister, these mortals and their emotions are the same! And they are just as fragile! Yes, Equestria has suffered great turmoil. Yes, there is a great deal of damage to be repaired. But you and I have thousands upon thousands of lifetimes to make things beautiful again. Glowing Jade and her family? They only have one, and it is about to come to a bitter end. Must we let them wallow in shadows alone?”

Celestia cast Luna a bitter glance. “You surprise me, Luna. Have you truly become so fickle to have gone back on your own wisdom? After all, the utilization of the Rite of a Master's Journey was your idea—”

“And I was wrong, sister!” Luna shouted. The shadows of the room doubled as the walls briefly shook. “I see that now! Why can't you?!”

Celestia's jaw fell as her eyes narrowed upon this angry alicorn suddenly standing in front of her. “What has gotten into you? I cannot afford to have you losing control of your passion in this time of—”

“Discord nearly tore this land asunder!” Luna said in a deep, angry voice. “You and I are the only Equestrian souls old enough to remember what it was like to breathe the crisp, golden air of Creation. In just half a decade alone, nearly all of that burned in ash and chaos. Never in my darkest of dreams could I have imagined our Father's land coming to an end, and yet it almost did!”

“Is there a moment when it will travail upon you to tell me something I do not know?”

“It is not a matter of what you do not know, sister!” Luna snarled. “It is what you do not feel! What you fail to see! You have been deeply courageous and strong these last few centuries, but I do not like the price that it has cost you, that it has cost me! I feel as though this is all my fault!”

“And why should you feel guilty for the preservation of this kingdom?” Celestia replied, her voice growing louder to match Luna's. “Sister, what we have done throughout the years with the apprentices in our employ: it has saved this land from eternal darkness! Everything you have feared, we have avoided because of our necessary aloofness—”

“Not everything I've feared, dear sister,” Luna said in a suddenly sad voice. She inhaled deeply and pointed out the window towards the ruins beyond. “There is more to that land out there than security and preservation!”

“Please, Luna...” Celestia sighed and ran a hoof over her brow. “I have important business to attend to. I have magic spells to cast and—”

“That will be a hollow magic,” Luna said bluntly.

Celestia glared at her. “I beg your pardon?”

“Father was right when he told us that there will always be magic,” Luna said. “However, magic is empty without the love and companionship of these fragile mortals who make it something worthy of respect. Without the communion of souls, magic will be as dead to this world as the blackness between stars.”

“I fear your eternal shepherding of the night's sky has made you put too much weight into darkness,” Celestia said with a slight chuckle. She turned away...

But Luna yanked her back, forcing their eyes to meet. “You think I do not know that?” The younger alicorn's frown was vicious. “You think I do not see you, day after day, century after century, millennium after millennium, enjoying the crux Equestrian life in the glory of the sun? The same glory that has been robbed from me by the very nature of my nocturnal task? You have it in your hooves to be a beacon of inspiration to these mortals, Celestia. Long ago, I suggested that you maintain a divine distance. I was concerned for the well-being of my sister. But now, after Discord has nearly turned this world to the same dust it was before Father breathed upon it, I know that you and I do not deserve any concern or pity. It's these souls, Celestia. It's these souls who deserve joy and glory for the meager lengths of their days. And what have we done to assure that over the eons? What have you done? I swear, if I had the same opportunities you do to reach out to these royal subjects and show them the true light of existence—”

“You would do what, beloved sister?” Celestia coolly retorted. “I fear your jealousy has driven your senses mad.”

Luna's teeth showed. The world outside suddenly fluctuated in wavering bands of twilight. Guard ponies and firefighting unicorns gasped in fright. Even Celestia was startled as she gazed out at the darkening sky, only to see the distortion vanishing as soon as it had begun.

“There are fates worse than madness,” Luna said, her voice briefly taking a ghostly tone. She calmed and closed her glowing eyes as she said, “Judge me as you wish for my jealousy, dear sister, but do not forget to look at yourself as well. I fear for the direction towards which our rule is heading. Magic, for all of its complexities, is but a word. Even in the brightest sunlight, there can be terrible darkness. I do not want to lose you to it.”

“Then don't,” Celestia said in a quiet breath, her eyes locked on Luna's melancholic expression. “Join with me. Stay with me. Help me rebuild this sundered kingdom.”

Luna opened her eyes. A tear fell down her cheek. “I cannot,” she said, and trotted out of the Palace room. “I have an old, dying friend to visit.”

Celestia stood alone, flanked by the fluttering sheets of her endless, royal duties. Solemnly, she turned around...

...and gazed into the candle-lit depths of the Dawnmist's cabin. She quietly watched Princess Luna as she knelt by Nova Stare's bedside, stretching a wing of midnight-blue wings around the tiny unicorn's shoulders and patting him encouragingly.

“That is a most brilliant sphere of flame you have conjured, young one,” she said in her deep, booming voice. She stared in wonderment at a floating orb of billowing plasma before the two of them. “Now, see if you are capable of altering the shape into something else with your thoughts.”

Nova Stare squatted on the very edge of the bed, his entire face tense with concentration. “I... dunno... if I-I can...”

“What is important is that you make an attempt, child. We very well cannot test the limits of ourselves by succumbing to fear and uncertainty.” Luna smiled softly and steadied his shoulders with a pair of gentle hooves. “Imagine as though you are molding a sand castle with your forelimbs.”

“The bullies... at my school said... that I could never go to the beach,” Nova sweated and stammered. “They said I'd just make... all the f-fish blow up.”

“Hmmm. How poetic.” Luna nodded. “Imagine you are molding the bullies' craniums instead.”

“Heeheehee!” Nova suddenly giggled. The ball of fire branched out like a bursting star in front of them. “Wh-whoah!” He gasped and flailed back upon the bed.

Luna erected a protection field of magic just in the nick of time. The fireball erupted, only to settle in an ineffectual puff of fluttering ash and ethereal shadows.

“Awwwwwwwww poop.” Nova pouted, folding his front legs against his chest. “I'm never gonna master anything.”

“I am most certain that you will, child,” Luna said with a soft smile. “Given enough time and application.”

“What about you, your Highness?” Nova looked up at her. “What kind of fire spells do you make?”

“Hmmm...” Luna shook a length of shimmering mane hair out from her brow as she gazed at the ashes. “Not very impressive ones, I'm afraid.”

“No?” Nova Stare blinked crookedly. “But... But your are an alicorn!”

“Just because I am immortal does not necessarily mean that I am omnipotent,” Luna stated. “It so happens that flame spells don't fall within my expertise.” She glanced ever so briefly into the shadowed foyer of the room.

Princess Celestia gazed back, holding her breath.

“However...” Luna cleared her throat and looked back at the young unicorn. “If you were ever wishing to learn elemental spells of frost or water, then I would be more than capable of teaching you several volumes worth of mastery.”

“Awwwww... Well that's too bad.” Nova licked his lips and tried to start a floating plume of flame in front of him. “Cuz I'd really like to get this fire stuff down. The Princess—erm... the other Princess, your sister—she says that I could master my talents if I learned to focus and stuff.”

“She is right about that. You would do well to listen to her wisdom, far more than mine. You see, I have lacked in the area of magical proficiency as of late. There was a time when I could have covered the entire sky of Equestria with a blizzard in a single blink.”

“Really? That sounds so cool!”

“Your witticism is as swift as it is juvenile.”

“Heehee. But... really...” Nova sweated as his eyes darted from the blossoming plume of flame to Luna's face. “What made you stop practicing magic so much?”

“Oh, it is a terribly long story...”

“Celestia says you're all taking me to a new home. I'm never going to have a chance to chat with the Princesses of Equestria again.”

“Hmmm... Indeed.” Luna leaned against the bed and stared into the tiny flame that the young colt was struggling to conjure. “Surely you are familiar with the malevolent entity named Discord.”

“Ew, him? Yeah. All the foals sing nasty songs about him. He wasn't a very nice guy.”

“No. He most certainly was not very nice,” Luna murmured. “He covered this land in chaos and destruction. He had no motive, save for the proliferation of suffering and anguish. He enjoyed causing harm, and he treated the fragility of life as a mere game. I detested him greatly.”

“But... But you and your sister got rid of him, right?”

“Yes. That we did. But it was only after much struggle and turmoil, during which we had to finish manufacturing the vessels for the Elements of Harmony. Those were bleak times, young one. Many ponies died, and the face of the Equestrian landscape was scarred forever.” She paused slightly, her face briefly blending in the shadows of the room. “I used magic as a weapon for the first time in those years,” she said. “All of my life, I had made it my duty to preserve order. Never in five thousand years did I imagine that I would have to wield magic destructively to protect that which I held dear. It... changed me.” She swallowed deeply. “When Discord was defeated, I awoke as if from a deep slumber, and I realized that Equestria had changed as well, and if I didn't do something drastic, then something that was precious and innocent about this fragile landscape would be hopelessly lost, even long after Discord's imprisonment.”

“Did you?” Nova murmured as the flame before him started to take shape. “Did you do something drastic?”

Luna's nostrils flared. She merely smiled at him. “Even immortals are capable of making terrible mistakes, young one. You are not the only soul in this world to have come so far, watching so many things burn.”

“Yeah...” Nova lowered his gaze. The fire began to fluctuate. “I wish I wasn't such a total klutz...”

The flames spat, flickered, and began to disappear. At the very last second, a platinum sphere of energy encased it. Princess Celestia marched into the light with a glowing horn. “Magic is never something harmful or awkward,” she said. “So long as there is somepony proficient in teaching it to you properly.”

“Your Highness!” Nova Stare glanced up at her, his jaw dropped as he watched how easily she preserved the flame. “Heeheehee! That's so amazing!”

“I see that you have decided to start your lessons early,” Celestia said as she paced around the locked flame. “It is awfully late for such an exercise, wouldn't you think?”

Nova's ears drooped. He gazed down at the side of the bed. “I'm sorry, your Majesty...”

“Don't be,” Celestia murmured. “I am hardly mad at you.” That said, she cast Luna a sharp but silent glare.

Luna merely smiled. “I think...” She stood up briskly. “...that I shall go and check on the moon. Heaven forbid that I should let it fall from the sky yet again.” She brushed past Celestia with a deliberate flick of her majestic tail. “I trust, dear sister, that you have the wherewithal to entertain our young guest.”

Celestia stammered to say something. She watched in a stupor as her younger sister swiftly exited the cabin and shut the door behind, leaving a master and apprentice together with their flame.

“She doesn't talk a whole lot,” Nova said in a gentle voice. “But when she does, I kind of like hearing what she has to say.”

Celestia took a deep breath and smirked slightly. “Yes. She has her own unique sense of... charm.” Clearing her throat, she knelt down and levitated the sphere of flame closer towards Nova Stare. “She does not give herself enough credit in her arts. Containing an element such as flame is simple for her, and I suspect it will come naturally to you.”

“But your Majesty, I was barely able to keep the fires afloat for half-a-minute without her help! How could I be a 'natural' at this?”

“Magic isn't something that belongs only to alicorns, child,” Celestia said gently to him. The stars rocked and danced softly outside the windows of the Dawnmist behind them. “As my Father once told me, it belonged to all life. Alicorns are merely entrusted with a larger share.”

“You have a Father?” Nova Stare remarked with a gasp.

Celestia hesitated. Eventually, she nodded. “Indeed. He and I built this world together. When Luna was born, he had her paint the canvas of the night. We wanted to build a world that was peaceful and full of order. Though my Father never said it, I truly believe he wanted there to be beauty in Equestria as well. Otherwise, he would have departed for the cosmos much sooner than he actually did.”

“He...” Nova squinted up at her. “He left you?” His throat gulped a sore lump down. “If it was after the creation of everything, then that had to have been a long, long time ago...”

Celestia's rosy eyes reflected the flame icily. “Yes. It has been a very long time.”

Nova Stare suddenly smiled, his black tail flicking. “He must have loved you very much.”

At that, Celestia's immaculate eyes twitched. She gazed from the flame and stared at the young colt. “You don't say?”

He slowly nodded. “Cuz you love your royal subjects so very much. Why else would you be taking care of Equestria after so many years, and making magic look so good and bright? It's kind of like your Father is loving all of us through you and Princess Luna, isn't it?”

Celestia breathed in deeply, her face lengthening as she digested those words. Gently, she smiled, then shuffled closer to the bed. Spreading one of her wings, she held Nova close while she raised the sphere of brightening flames in front of him.

“Nova Stare. Take hold of the fire.”

“Wh-what?!” He gasped suddenly, gazing with frightened, twitching eyes at the flames. “But... But that's way too big! I've never conjured that much before! How could you possibly expect me to maintain all that magic?”

“Shhh... Nova, tell me, from the bottom of your heart.” Celestia gazed deeply at him. “Did your parents love you before they died?”

His lip quivered. His eyes moistened. “Y-yes,” he whimpered.

She whispered. “Show me.” In that instant, she dropped the protection field. The ball of fire exploded right in front of them.

Nova squeaked in fright. His body twitched, flinching away from the shimmering tongues of heat. Panting, he realized that he wasn't on fire. His eyes opened, and he saw that there was another glow. His horn had become a brilliant strobe, masterfully controlling the twirling globe of plasma in front of him. The sphere was immaculate, without blemish, like a pure pearl of golden sunlight.

“It's beautiful...” He murmured, his eyes wide and awestruck. “Am... am I doing this?”

Celestia moved in closer to stare at the flames alongside him. “We all are, Nova. We are all fragile, all unique, and all made strong in the company of each other. Magic is an amazing thing, but it is only a projection of a substance that is far more precious and dazzling. There will always be magic in this world. However, the lives of those whom we love and cherish is as fleeting as dust, but immeasurably priceless and powerful. What your parents made together, what they gave you, is something no spell or incantation can ever hope to emulate. Once you realize that, once you've gained sight of all that is righteous in this world, then you can master even the most complex of magics, for you will have mastered the heart of life itself.”

Nova stared into the flame, and yet his tears were still streaming down his face.

Celestia looked at him gently. “What are you thinking, young one?”

He choked back a sob and murmured, “I had my doubts for so long. But... but now it's so clear.” He shuddered and smiled as the tears doubled. “They would be proud of me...”

“Hmmm...” Celestia reached her hoof over and dried his tears. “Yes. As I know... that my Father would be proud of me.”

He did something then that she hadn't expected. He leaned against her hoof and nuzzled it, his moist eyes shut as he smiled in the bliss of his epiphany. All the while, his concentration never wavered. The glowing sphere of flame remained as solid as ever, doubling in brilliance.

Celestia gazed at his tiny face's contact with her hoof. She then looked deeply into the fire as her expression paled over like a gloss of ice.

She sat on her throne, emotionless, lifeless. There were no guards present. None of the torches along the Palace walls were lit. Princess Celestia of Equestria was alone.

Through the walls of Canterlot Castle, the loud noise of roaring cheers and booming orchestras shook the foundation. From a great distance, a strobe of light kissed the shadowed hallways leading to the throne room.

For once, Celestia stirred. Her white wings flexed and unflexed. In a melancholic slump, she gazed at the far end of the room. Eventually, she came out of her stupor, trotting down the steps and crossing the distance from the throne to the chamber beyond.

Through the dark and abandoned hallways of Canterlot Castle, Celestia marched. Her hoofsteps made ghostly echoes against the rows and rows of shadowed pillars. Soon, though, even her graceful shuffle was masked by a loud noise of righteous euphoria emanating from beyond.

All of the guards and royal servants had been granted the week off. Any pony that could have been filling the halls of the Royal Palace were absent. As Celestia stepped out upon the balcony and graced a warm, shimmering glow, she was reminded as to why.

The entire city of Celestia was full of ponies from all walks of life. They were holding a candlelight vigil, filling every street and alleyway and corridor of the mountainous city with a lively glow under the purple shroud of night. Dancing hues of red and yellow and blue flickered as far as Celestia's rosy eyes could see.

In the center of the mass—heralded by hymns as old as time—an ornate, burgundy balloon was being lifted high into the starry sky. Hanging from the balloon was a bright platform, flickering. It was a funeral pyre, and the remains of one unicorn soul turned to ash and smoke from deep within the levitating blaze.

All over Equestria, ponies honored the memory of Starswirl the Bearded. In the far distance, just beneath the edge of the black horizon, similar celebrations were being held. The stretching, emerald fields came alive, sparkling in random clusters of rainbow-colored light. Several bright orbs lifted against the constellations as every city in the kingdom released burning balloons of their own in respect for the greatest sorcerer who had ever lived.

Celestia heard and witnessed it all, and nowhere in that grand reverie was there a single lament or a single wailing sob. As Starswirl's ashes billowed into the sky to join the dust of the cosmos, Celestia felt her breaths becoming shorter.

Everypony shared the same breath, the same song. Equestria was alive in the utter essence of communion. There was more magic there in the streets of Canterlot than there ever was at the foundation of the world.

The glorious sight of it all wasn't what made Celestia collapse. Neither did she weep when the glow of Starswirl's balloon finally died out. The Princess gazed up towards the heavens. She saw the Mare in the Moon. In a lonely breath of bittersweet release, she allowed the tears to fall as she spoke to the glowing body that was as far from her as her heart had long flown.

“You were right, dear sister.” She cried, and yet she smiled. Everything was somehow warm once again. “You were right all along.”

“His name was Starswirl the Bearded,” Princess Celestia said, her voice drifting past the candle-light to softly grace Nova Stare's twitching ears. “He became famous as the father of the amniomorphic spell. In his lifetime, he mastered chronotonic sorcery, allowing himself to live longer than any other pony in existence. In all the decades he was blessed to trot this earth, he spent every waking moment improving life for his fellow Equestrians. He was crucial in imprisoning the beasts of Discord's army within Tartarus, and he helped settle peace between the Minotaurs of Green Valley.”

“Wow...” Nova Stare cooed. He was lying on his side, halfway beneath the covers of the bed. He gazed peacefully at the Princess, his tired eyelids hanging low. “He sounds like a really spectacular unicorn.”

“Mmmmm... He was indeed,” she said with a nod. She stood beside him in the gentle rocking cabin. “But, just like all of my students before him, there was a time when he was no older than you, when he too listened to me tell remarkable tales of the past under the hush of candlelight.”

“Was he your last apprentice?” Nova asked.

Celestia's face grew long. She exhaled softly into the shadows. “No. No he wasn't...”

Nova blinked, yawned, and curled his legs against his chest as he murmured, “You taught him all you knew, didn't you?”

“Yes. That I did.”

“So, as awesome as he got in his magical talents, it was all because you shared it with him?”

“No, Nova,” Celestia said. “That would be a false assumption. You see, unlike all of my students before him, Starswirl knew that the only way to make magic stronger was to use it for the benefit of all ponies around him. This was something he elected to do on his own, long after I parted ways with him.”

“You and him stopped seeing each other?” Nova Stare blinked awkwardly. “Why? Did you two get into a fight?”

Celestia snapped him a surprised look. “No,” she breathed. “What would make you think that? I loved each and every one of my apprentices. I still do, even though they are no longer with me.”

“Then... why did you stop seeing him?” Nova asked.

“Because...” Celestia began, but fumbled. She tucked her large wings tightly along her pale sides. It was a foalish gesture, and she refused to look at the bed, for fear that an emerald glen my surround it in a blink. “Because I knew, Nova. I knew that there would come a time... when he would no longer be with me, no matter what either of us wanted.”

Silence filled the room, lulled to softness by the amber dance of the candles.

“They used to sing to me at night.”

Celestia glanced up curiously.

“My mom and dad,” Nova said. He stifled a yawn, stirred amidst the covers, and murmured, “Even long after they put me to bed. They sang me lullabies. Funny how easily I remember it now. It used to bother me a little bit. But I guess it wasn't because they were trying to put me to sleep faster. I think they just wanted to be with me a little bit longer. They had to do a lot of busy stuff during the day. Even when they were alive, we didn't see each other too much.”

“You were very precious to them, Nova.”

“But... even they had to know...”

“Had to know what?”

Nova bit his lip and gazed up at her. “That I would no longer be with them either.”

Celestia's eyes narrowed.

“It's... It's almost as if they knew somehow that they were going to die from the Changelings way before it even happened,” he said. “But... But if that's true, then it didn't seem to bother them. They wanted to be around me as much as they could. I guess it shows just how much I meant to them.”

“Losing a child...” Celestia slowly murmured. “...is the worst thing a parent can go through. Some parents, Nova, are unfortunate enough to not experience such pain once...” She gulped. “But several times...”

He gazed up at her with soft eyes. “Why would those parents not want to be with their kids anyways? Like... every moment is precious, isn't it?”

Celestia's eyes grew moist. She gently brushed his mane aside. “Yes, Nova. Every moment is certainly precious.”

“Hmmm... Maybe...” Nova yawned and closed his eyes as he surrendered to the warm crater his body had made in the sheets. “M-Maybe that's why Starswirl mastered time spells... cuz he wanted to live even longer... so that h-he could have more of those moments with you...”

Celestia breathed in sharply. She gazed into the covers past him as her vision blurred.

“Mmmm...” Nova's voice was like a distant ship on the horizon. “Pr-Princess...?”

“Yes, young one?”

“Are you still there...?” He yawned one last time.

“I am here, Nova.”

“Will you... Will you b-be here when I wake up...?”

Celestia's lips hung open. Her face quivered. The world around her had turned milky white, like the gloss that had covered Prism Shine's dying eyes.

“G-go to sleep, Nova,” she eventually stammered. “It is... very late...”

He said nothing. He was long gone. The smile on his face had vanished, instead replaced by a gaping expression as he fell deep into the well of slumber.

Celestia felt her heart quickening. She was as wise as a dozen millennia could ever shape a pony to be, and still she felt the incessant need to touch the base of his neck. She did so, and his pulse was as real as the palpitations of her own heart. She clenched her eyes shut as the moisture sprang from her lids. She ran her hoof over her face and shuddered, for it was too late. The dam had broken, and...

...she was standing on the far side of the library, her body straight and resolute, as she spoke across the dusty interior.

“You have learned more than mere magic, my good and faithful student. You have learned how to live, and how to be in communion with your fellow peers. That is the key to a special kind of magic that can never be learned in books, or from my very own lessons. In all the years that we've known each other, it had been my desire to teach you all the lessons in life by allowing you to teach yourself. And you have gone above and beyond my expectations, dear pupil. You are more than ready to be a master of sorcery, for you have so many blessed acquaintances to share your gifts with, as well as yourself.”

“But your Majesty,” Twilight Sparkle gasped, staring wide-eyed up at Celestia. “There's no need for you to do this!” The adult unicorn shuddered where she stood. The library wall behind her was covered with accolades and Equestrian medals, as well as various detailed photos taken of her and her close friends in Ponyville. “I've grown to understand so many things! I know all about the Rite of a Master's Journey! What I don't understand is what you hope to accomplish with such a ritual—or what you've ever hoped to accomplish!”

“My dear Twilight...” Celestia smiled gently as she trotted over towards her. “If you have lived as long as I have, then perhaps you would understand. There are some lessons that only an immortal can learn. And then there are lessons that are meant for mortals, that the likes of Luna and I will forever be alien to, for we must be.”

“It just doesn't make any sense!” Twilight exclaimed, her eyes turning moist. “Princess Celestia, because of your guidance, I've learned that friendship is the most powerful thing in the world! How can I believe that and yet accept that you must leave me! I know you are my royal teacher but... but...”

“Shhh...” Celestia leaned over and nuzzled the adult unicorn. She wrapped a wing around her and murmured closely to her ear. “Twilight, our friendship will last forever, but our years together won't. I've made the mistake in the past of assuming that my apprentices could thrive on my wisdom and mentor-ship alone. But I was wrong, and when I sent them on their personal journeys, they had no other ponies to go to, for I had inadvertently encumbered them with all of my selfishness and need for attention.”

“You h-haven't encumbered me with anything, your Highness,” Twilight said in a wavering voice.

“That is because I let your spirit bloom with other ponies that love and cherish you as much as I do, my dear student, rather than lock you up within the bowers of my royal archives.” Celestia stood up and gazed lovingly down at her. “Twilight, I knew that this day would come, just as I knew that the moment would come when a single spark would imbue you with the magic to cleanse my sister Luna of her madness. Your magic is something built out of friendship, a harmony that is more beautiful and supreme than all of time itself.”

Twilight sniffled and gazed sadly up at her mentor. “A lot of that magic will die, your Highness, once you are gone from my life.”

Celestia's wings flexed, and for a brief moment her voice carried the neutral and majestic power of thunder rolling backwards. “Magic has always been and always will be. Cherish the few things that are eternal, especially then they've become a part of you.”

Twilight's lungs heaved a few times, but she slowly calmed down. She gazed over at the photos along her walls, at the many colorful faces of friends. She cracked a smile, briefly breaking the tributary of tears cascading down her face.

“Friendship...” Twilight cooed. “Has there ever been a more enchanting spell, your Highness?”

Princess Celestia held her breath, for she was already channeling the teleportation spell that would sever her ties with Twilight for good. She gazed longingly at her pupil, savoring the eternal image of her, frozen in time.

“Never,” she said.

Celestia's eyes were shut. A billowing wind blew at the duller shades of her mane. With a deep breath, she tilted her head back and pursed her lips. Slowly, her wings folded out, and the tips of her alabaster feathers glowed hotter and hotter.

At that very moment, the eastern horizon burned ahead of the Dawnmist. The morning sun rose over rolling, dew-laden hills as the airship finally entered the green kingdom of Equestria.

Celestia's body relaxed as she exhaled upon the completion of her task. As the glow of her horn dissipated, Luna was revealed to be standing right beside her.

“You always make it look so much more graceful when you do it.”

Celestia calmly smiled, her eyes still closed. “Please, sister. I only put on a show at each year's Celebration.”

“You may fool the common masses with that false humility, but not me,” Luna said with the barest hint of a smirk. “Every morning is a celebration when you shine light on it.” She exhaled softly. “I wished I could say the same for your every waking hour.”

Celestia's eyes opened thinly. She gazed lonesomely at the rolling green hills below the ship. “Dearest sister...”

“Yes, Celestia?”

“I did read the letters before we set course for Appleloosa,” she said.

Luna was silent for a moment. Eventually, she shuffled until she squatted directly beside her elder. “Did you, now?”

“I've never forsaken a chance to read any of those parchments,” Celestia said. “Does that surprise you?”

“As a matter of fact, no,” Luna said. “However, after all these years, I've known better than to expect you to respond to them.”

“Why is that?”

“You are asking me, sister?”

“Yes, I am.” Celestia looked directly at her. “Why, do you think, have I continued to do what I do, even after your return?”

“Do you want an honest answer?”


“You've been afraid.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Afraid?”


“We are immortal, Luna. How can we possibly be afraid?”

“Quite easily,” Luna said, staring fearlessly into the sun's brilliant glow. “Fear, after all, is merely a different shade of loneliness.” She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I... have been afraid for a terribly long time.”

Celestia looked away, her face pale. “I know, sister...”

“But...” Luna reopened her eyes and gazed warmly at her again. “I fear you have been lonely much longer than I.”

“How could you possibly say that?”

“The rosy shade of banishment, Celestia, is at least it has a name,” Luna said.

Celestia's rosy eyes reflected the glimmer of the sun as she said, “I am starting to think that Father was afraid too, when he left us. If only he had known that we could have alleviated that fear, if only he had the faith to be with us longer.”

“Do you think he could afford to?” Luna remarked.

Celestia sighed. “I don't know, Luna.” Her jaw tightened as she suddenly stood up. “But I'm starting to learn just what I can afford.”

Luna watched curiously as Celestia marched towards the front of the ship. She got up for a better look. Soon, the elder Princess was approaching the Admiral and her helmspony.

“Admiral—” Celestia began.

“Ah! Your Highness!” The orange pegasus' armor rattled as she trotted over and bowed. “Great timing! We should be approaching Canterlot airspace soon—”

“Admiral Scootaloo,” Celestia said forcefully.

The Admiral froze in mid-speech. She gazed up at the Princess, blinking curiously. “Y-your Majesty?”

“Adjust your course. The Dawnmist is heading south.”

“S-south, your Highness?”

“Swiftly, please. Time is of the essence.”

Admiral Scootaloo jolted where she stood. The old mare saluted with a graying hoof. “Aye, Princess!” She turned around and shouted several commands to the crew on deck. Ponies and guards scuffled all around.

Luna marched up, gazing at the hustle and bustle as the ship veered hard to starboard. She gazed up at her sister. Celestia said nothing. She merely stood still, watching as the burning horizon spun around them.

Hours passed. The Princess' sun rose high in the sky. The Dawnmist's shadow coasted over hills, trees, rivers, and finally a sea of golden-thatched roofs. A quaint village stretched beneath the vessel as it slowly descended into a green field beyond.

When the Dawnmist made anchorage, Celestia flew to the earth. Her hooves touched down on springy grass. As soon as she folded her wings, she gazed ahead to see an enormous crowd of ponies gathered in the center of the village's downtown. They were all holding candles as they stood about, humming an ancient hymn. As Celestia marched past them, they each bowed in succession, but they gave no speech. She was not the spirit whom they were honoring that day, and she couldn't even think of protesting it.

She made straightway for the heart of the village. In the center, a gigantic stone tower stood. It was a fantastic sight, for at random intervals along its cylindrical height a dazzling array of leafy branches were sticking out, as if the structure had been magically grown out of the natural body of an ancient tree.

The crowd was thickest here, gathering in a thick circle of silent reverence as they all faced the tower. Only in one spot did the mass of ponies break up, and it was to make room for a gigantic purple dragon who stood as tall as the tower itself. Upon sight of the Celestia's approach, his green eye-slits widened. He bowed with as much space as was afforded him, murmuring in a booming voice, “Your Majesty...”

“Spike...” She merely nodded her horn in his direction. Solemnly, she approached the door to the tower. Spike reached over and opened it for her. She gently touched his scaled wrist, shared a mutual glance, and disappeared into the body of the structure.

Celestia's hooves echoed as she marched up the winding stairway. All around her, shelves and stacks of books stretched along the walls of the building's interior. Several ancient artifacts, magical relics, and marvelous inventions hung from silken strings. Maps and globes and illustrations of faraway lands dotted the walls. The further Celestia ascended the steps, the walls glossed over instead with photographs of ponies, dear friends who aged gracefully one frame at a time, diminishing in number upon each progressive flight of the stairs.

Through a final door, Celestia marched, until she entered a domed chamber at the very top of the tower. A doctor was there; his face was grave. A few elder mares stood along the edges of the room. A large window stretched open, through which Spike silently peered through from the outside. In the center of the luxurious dwelling was a bed of velvet cushions, beside which stood an frail orange farm mare. She turned to look at Celestia—and immediately gasped, lowering her brown hat.

“Heavens to Betsy,” she exhaled, her frail form jittering. “Yer Highness...”

“At ease, Applejack,” Celestia spoke. She smiled and placed a gentle hoof on the earth pony's shoulder. “Am I too late?”

Applejack's wrinkled face smiled dearly. Her green eyes watered as she shook her head. “No. Reckon there's still time. Not much, but just enough.”

“I'm sorry that I did not reply to the letters.”

“Don't sweat it, yer Majesty...” Applejack's voice lingered. She swallowed for composure as a tear streaked down her face. “She... She would very much like to see you...”

“She is not alone,” Celestia said. She took the bravest breath of her immortal existence and gently brushed past Applejack. She approached the bed, her eyes searching the purple cushions, until she was pained to see a wrinkled shape in the center of them that was barely stirring. She smiled regardless, bringing a glow to the room, both warm and pale all at once. “My good and faithful student...”

“Pr-Princess Celestia...” A smile shone back, one that was laced with dust and gray wrinkles. Most of her mane was gone. Her eyes were sunken in. She shivered constantly, her hooves curled inward like that of a little foal's. “I... I had hoped that I would see you again, your Highness. But... But I thought...”

“Shhh...” Celestia squatted down on folded legs and brushed the unicorn's shivering cheek. “Eternity is full of thoughts, dear Twilight. Do not question the power of what we must feel...”

Twilight Sparkle wheezed. Her glossy eyes reflected the lengths of the room around her, laced with every manuscript and treatise she had ever gifted Equestria with. “I... I wanted to see you... I wanted to thank you...”

“Thank me, Twilight?” Celestia breathed.

“You... You have given me so much,” Twilight said. “You have shown me the power of friendship, the love of one's peers, the lengths to which magic can fill lives with meaning and purpose.” She sputtered, coughed, and struggled to speak through clenched teeth. “I can understand why you had to let me go...”

“Twilight...” Celestia stroked her cheek lovingly. “The reason I let you go was because I was afraid... that you would not understand, and that you would not be thanking me like you are now.”

Twilight's moist eyes twitched and quivered. “How... How could I not thank you?” Her lips briefly spat, and she almost had to blurt out, “I love you. I always have...”

“And I always will,” Celestia cooed. “Forever and ever.”

Twilight smiled. Just then, her body started to spasm. Her eyes rolled back as she clenched her jaws tight.

Applejack flinched. Outside the window, Spike's face turned white.

“Twilight...” Celestia leaned closer and held the dying unicorn's face in her hooves. “Can you hear me...?”

“I c-can hear you...” Twilight whimpered. “But I can't see you.” She gulped hard as the spasms grew harder. “Ohhhh, after all my years of learning...” She moaned. “Nnnngh... Oh, it's so dark. It's so dark, Princess. Where is the light? I-I can't see...”

“Shhhhh...” Celestia leaned over and nuzzled Twilight before kissing her on the forehead. She breathed into her ear. “You are the light. Go forth and sparkle, my good and faithful student.”

Twilight heaved, heaved... and smiled. Her tears trickled into Celestia's hooves, and her limp face followed them. She lay still on the bed as a gentle breeze fluttered through the room, and then settled.

Applejack sniffled. She hugged her hat to her chest while hanging her head. A gentle sob rose through the ponies in attendance as Spike covered his face with a shaking hand of claws outside.

As for Celestia, she embraced Twilight's body with her wings and held her close. If she was crying, nopony could see through the glow her horn was giving off, announcing the passage of a sorcerer supreme to the rest of Ponyville below.

That night, as the melting sun set on a mourning Equestria, Ponyville responded with a dazzling light of its own. Ponies with candles gathered around a field as Twilight's burning body was lifted by a burgundy balloon high up into the air. Across the fields of the kingdom that stretched beyond, several identical lights rose in the somber air. With the death of something beautiful there was born a legacy as equally glorious. The villagers of Ponyville anointed the moment with a warm hymn, filling the air with a vibration of life not unlike the electricity that had hung low at the dawn of time.

Princess Celestia and Luna watched it all from the deck of the Dawnmist. Above and around them, lights glittered as the memory of Twilight Sparkle's life was celebrated across the face of the globe.

Celestia was calm, meditative, as resolute and regal as ever. She barely stirred, even as Luna leaned in and gently spoke.

“Spike told me how things proceeded,” she said. “I always said that you were capable of raising more than the sun, beloved sister.”

“I only wish more things in this world came back at dawn,” Celestia quietly replied.

Luna gazed at her sympathetically. “Do you feel regret, Celestia?”

“I will always regret,” Celestia said, gazing at the balloon. Twilight's ashes turned to bright embers and flew magically into the wind. “As I will always live.”

“Father would be proud of how strong you've become,” Luna said.

“He would be proud of both of us, but not for our strength, dear sister,” Celestia said, her eyes rising to meet the countless stars above. “He was right when he told us that there will always be magic. What he neglected to mention is that there will always be pain. That is something we had to learn on our own. Perhaps he knew that from the beginning.”

“Could that be why he left us?” Luna asked.

“If it is, then I might finally understand his reasoning... as well as his folly.”


Celestia swallowed gently and said, “All this time, I thought I was doing the right thing by cutting ties with my mortal apprentices. Only now, after so many millennia, I realize that the only way to maintain harmony and order among our subjects is to cut ties with ourselves. It is our burden to bare as immortals, after all. We must let our subjects experience the glory that can be gained in the brief fragility that is life. If they are to die, it is only right that we die with them, little by little, if only we can come to understand what it's like to be such precious vignettes of beauty. Maybe then, in the grand purview of all our impossible friendships, we'll finally learn where the magic is taking us at the end of all things.”

Luna bore a painful smile, gazing at the lights populating the dark skies of the endless horizon surrounding them. “I used to believe that there was another way,” she softly said. “That life could somehow be rid of both magic and pain, that all of the nightmares and darkness of uncertainty could be absorbed through a simple channel. My assumptions only caused this world even more heartache. Alas, it took me a thousand years to learn the truth you now know, dear sister.”

Celestia nodded. “And it's taken me twelve thousand,” she said somberly. She gazed over at Luna. She leaned over and nuzzled her lovingly.

Luna warmly returned the gesture, rubbing her cheek against Celestia's slender neck. With a shuddering breath, she gazed at all the lights and spoke. “I must raise the moon soon...”

“Yes,” Celestia whispered, still nuzzling her younger half. “As is your duty.”

“And what about your duty?” Luna returned.

Celestia took a deep breath. She stood up. “I know what it is, dear sister.” She trotted off, and as she did so, Luna could only smile.

Celestia approached the royal cabins of the Dawnmist. Along the way, she passed by a grave-looking pegasus.

“Your Majesty,” the Admiral turned towards Celestia and bowed. “Are... are you retiring for the night?”

“More or less. You're relieved of duty for the next three months, Admiral,” Celestia firmly said.

The old mare did a double-take. She took her helmet off and rubbed her violet eyes before blinking them crookedly. “Your Highness? I-I don't understand! Have... Have I transgressed?”

“Nothing of the sort.” Celestia paused by the door. “You are to take an extended leave. Go and be with your family.”

“But... But Princess! I have a duty to serve and protect you in all times, no matter how—”

“Go home, Scootaloo,” Celestia turned. She smiled sweetly. “Be with friends and family. Be with those who love you. I shall call upon your most esteemed services when they are desired, and I will expect you not to be tardy.”

Scootaloo's wrinkled face slowly warmed. Her eyes glistened as she tilted her head forward. “Thank you... Your Majesty...” She trotted off and fluttered her wings to join the crowd honoring Twilight's presence.

Celestia entered the cabin. She found Nova Stare standing at the head of the bed, peering out through the Dawnmist's windows at all of the lights and burning candles.

“Princess! Princess!” He exclaimed, trembling with excitement. “Something's happening outside! It looks like some sort of celebration!”

“Young one, what are you doing standing up?” Celestia gently chided. “I do not think you have yet properly recovered from your ordeal in the desert.”

He immediately squatted down on the bed, reeling slightly with dizziness but trying his best to hide it. “I just... I just wanted to know what was going on outside.”

“It is only the first day of remembrance. It will last into the next two days, as it did for Starswirl the Bearded.” Celestia sat down beside the bed. Her eyes darted left and right as she thought hard, then eventually said, “Most definitely, I will show you the sights tomorrow.”

“You... You will?” Nova Stare blinked wide, his tail flicking. “But... But I thought you were gonna take me to Canterlot. I thought you were gonna find me a new foster home where ponies won't make fun of me for burning stuff.”

“Mmmm... Indeed.” She took a deep breath and smiled at him. “But one thing at a time, dear student. It would be best that we got your body as well as your mind properly nourished.”

“Well, I guess so, but—” He stopped in mid-speech, his face scrunching. “Uhm... Princess?”

“Yes, Nova?”

“Did... Did you just call me 'student?'”

“Why? Would you rather I call you something else?”

His mouth hung agape as his eyes narrowed. “I... I don't understand...”

“Would you like to understand, Nova Stare?” She lowered her face down to stare squarely at him. “Would you like to see the sights and colors of this world? Would you like to explore the horizons, to smell the winds from the four corners of the globe and bask in the shores of every majestic ocean carved into the earth?”

“I... I...” He gulped. “Well, sure! If it means learning all about magic and history and...” He bit his lip. “But... But how?”

She reached a hoof out and brushed his mane lovingly. Her eyes were moist, but the warmth of her smile melted any tears away. “I can show you.”

“Show me...?”

“I can help you master your magic skills. I can help you become the most powerful and majestic sorcerer this age will ever know.” She took a shuddering breath and added, “I can help you find love, friendship, and a place to call home... if you would let me...”

His lips quivered. Tears started to form in the corners of his eyes. “Your... Your Majesty...” He hiccuped back a sob and hugged himself. “I... I don't know what to say...”

“Say what you feel. Say everything you hate, everything you love, everything you're afraid of, everything you look forward to,” she said. “Share it all with me, so that as you learn about the blessings in life, I may too learn, and be blessed too.”

He smiled. It was painful as it was relieving. He sniffled and ran a hoof across his moist cheek. “You mean... You mean you're not going to leave me? You're not going to just dr-drop me off somewhere and go away?”

“Oh Nova Stare...”

She reached over and scooped his tiny, happy body into her forelimbs. She hugged him dearly, her eyes closed as she nuzzled him close, as if embracing a sunrise just at the tail end of another day's righteous death.


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