• Published 24th Oct 2012
  • 1,752 Views, 206 Comments

Absolution - BlackRoseRaven

A pony begins a journey to find his parents, lost heroes who vanished years ago.

  • ...

Closure And Comfort

Chapter Thirty Two: Closure And Comfort

In the early hours of the morning, Antares and Prestige crawled out of bed together, yawning and smiling at each other before sharing a quick kiss, and an affectionate nuzzle. The young stallion gazed over her warmly, feeling lighter than he had been in days before he reached up and stroked her face quietly, murmuring: “You can go back to bed if you want, Prestige.”

“No, hero. I think I want to stay up with you, if you don't mind.” Prestige smiled after a moment, shaking her head slowly before she added softly: “Besides. Now that... things are calming down... I was hoping we could head into town together early, get back to work on that meteor project. I can just imagine how... anxious you must be to find Clockwork World, especially now.”

“I... yeah.” Antares admitted, and then he shook his head a bit as he reached up and awkwardly toyed with his necklace, mumbling: “I wish you wouldn't call me that. Or you know, read my mind like you seem to be able to. Is that how other people feel when I read into them?”

Prestige only laughed and shook her head, then smiled as she glanced to the side, picking up Antares' pocketwatch from where it was resting on the table, and the young stallion blushed deeply as she slipped the silver chain gently around his neck, saying softly: “We need to get you a proper holder for this, hero. You look silly with both those things around your neck.”

“That's why I was going to leave the pocketwatch here.” Antares said mildly, and when Prestige gave him an amused look, he grumbled but then nodded, reaching up to silently touch the silver metal before his eyes roved awkwardly to Prestige. “About... about Rosewood...”

“Don't worry. My things are on their way and Scutum agreed to help her set up in Canterlot. It's strange, but I think he's proud of her... of course, anything that upsets the Mayor has always seemed to please the eccentric Colonel Scutum as well.” Prestige said wryly, and Antares laughed and shook his head before she smiled across at him softly. “You should keep your treasures close, Antares. Otherwise greedy gremlins may steal it.”

“Is that another northern legend?” Antares asked with entertainment, as Prestige flicked her horn to open the door, and the young mare only smiled at him amusedly as she strode by.

“I find it amusing that you used to take such issue with all my stories, and now here you are, wanting to know more about unicorn culture and folklore.” Prestige said wryly, and as the two strode down the hall, she glanced up and smiled at the sight of Burning Desire and Twilight, who were both resting in front of the fireplace. “Good morning.”

Twilight blushed a bit, reaching up to absently touch her chest: there was more stitching than usual, and still discolored patches here and there where her body was still transforming. But Burning Desire only smiled warmly in return, winking at Prestige and Antares as he asked cheerfully: “Good morning indeed! You two look like you've finally gone and done just what you young, stupid ponies are supposed to do and indulged in the pleasures that two ponies can make when they-”

Twilight punched the demon lightly in the shoulder, and the fiery stallion winced and huffed at her before the violet mare said softly: “It's good to see you two. I think Celestia and Discombobulation already left for Ponyville... we were talking about heading in a little early ourselves. But do you want breakfast or anything, first?”

“Maybe we could just pick up something in town. Prestige had the idea that we could go work on the meteor some... you know, keep things moving, since... Celestia trusts her Yamato to look for Cancer, and I... I know I have to keep myself focused on the end goal, not just let myself get distracted by... him.” Antares said quietly, nodding a little, and then he smiled a bit. “I know after everything that's happened I... can't give in to the desire to just run out and take revenge. I need to... I need to be like Rusty was, do what he did, and keep moving forwards. Create and protect, not... destroy. Not even if the reason seems good.”

“You're a good pony, Antares. Better than any mortal I've ever met.” Burning Desire smiled slightly, winking over at Twilight and nudging her lightly. “But I only say that, my darling violet, because you are no mortal. You're the sweetest and most blessed of angels.”

“The deadest, too.” Twilight said dryly, and Burning Desire laughed as Prestige and Antares both smiled despite themselves, and then the violet mare nodded hesitantly, saying finally: “I guess it wouldn't hurt to keep busy, and... that was admittedly where I was going to head myself. I can't use too much magic right now with my body still adjusting, but I can at least help sort out the pieces and everything. I know it's important.”

“And Sleipnir and I are apparently supposed to go tracking Cancer in the wilderness, but I have the feeling that the oversized lout just wants to go for a hike in the forest. He seems a little... unconcerned over things.” Burning Desire paused, then added softly: “And that comforts me, to be honest. His instincts are good, and he's more than just a handsome face.”

“Which is a lot more than I can say for you.” Twilight said mildly, and Burning Desire nodded cheerfully, then frowned suddenly before glaring at her as he realized what she meant. But the Lich turned her eyes over to Antares with a smile and a shrug, saying softly: “Well, when you're ready, then, we can go ahead into Ponyville.”

Antares and Prestige nodded and smiled, and then the young, glossy-black stallion shrugged as he looked at his marefriend warmly before answering: “Then I guess we might as well get going.”

The next few days passed in comfort as Ponyville slowly returned to calm and found closure. The marks of battle outside the village were taken care of little by little once repairs inside the town had been completed, and ponies recovered from the ordeals they had faced, and surmounted sorrow, suffering, and loss in the company of friends and family.

Fluttershy was helping take care of the injured, looking a little awkward at the attention she was getting after she had demonstrated her prowess on the battlefield with a little help from Nirvana's hypnosis. Avalon was again training under her with renewed passion and respect, and the young Pegasus had visibly learned much from Rustproof's sacrifice about what she was fighting for, and what responsibilities came with her strength... but then again, they all had.

Meadowlark was continuing to work with Zecora, who was helping out at the medical clinic treating those who had been wounded in the battle with Griselda. Thankfully, even though they were facing another bout of illnesses and infections, they were much easier to treat this time: the bug-creatures didn't seem to carry the same ever-evolving-and-mutating plague that Cancer himself did, even if some of the diseases they were forced to treat were particularly resistant ones.

Scarlet Sage wanted to help, too, but Apple Bloom was firmly keeping her wife at home and in bed, the Pegasus mumbling complaints that she was fine despite the fact she still looked under the weather from the mental attack she had suffered. Antares made sure to visit her and scold her a little himself, but he was proud of his sister... even if she had clearly shown that just like the rest of her family, she had a bit of a self-destructive streak.

Aphrodisia and Pinkamena were keeping busy with their own talents, patrolling the outskirts for any signs of Cancer, running errands between Subterra and Ponyville, and helping out as was necessary with other little chores here and there. Apps seemed the least affected of them all... but when Antares spent some time alone with her, she had just walked over, hugged him tightly, and refused to let go for the longest time as she'd shivered and hidden her face against his neck, and he knew that maybe the demon was the one with the deepest reaching emotions after all.

Selene had returned to Subterra to continue her administration, after stopping in long enough to give a gentle apology to Antares that had made him feel oddly unsettled, for some reason; he had the sense she was apologizing for something apart from catching him in her gravitational blast, and it lingered even now. Discord had also gone on his way, although no one was quite sure where the Draconequus had vanished off to, and Discombobulation had just grumbled that Discord would be back sooner or later to stir up more trouble, or when he could conveniently save all their lives from certain doom or something ridiculous like that.

Cowlick and Ross, with the help of their friends, were slowly beginning to put the pieces back together, and find their way forward. Ross still sometimes quietly wondered if he would see Rustproof 'tomorrow,' but Cowlick only reassured him gently that one day they would. To Ross, after all, 'tomorrow' could mean any time in the future.

Both of the ponies had nearly regressed: Cowlick to her old, overaggressive, everything-abusing self and Ross had almost let himself drop back into the broken jumble of mixed-up-everything he had fought so hard to crawl out of. But Rustproof had given himself up to save them, to save his family even more than Ponyville, and they were both determined to honor that. To not forget him, to cherish his memory, and to follow through with the last silent wish of their son.

The engineer was working slowly but steadily, and putting all the strength she could into refreshing her old skills and getting back her cherished dexterity and talent with her hooves. And little by little, she was doing it: even more important than that, as she began to work slowly through making her hooves remember what they had lost, the more came back to her, the easier it became to do harder things. Little-by-little, she knew she'd regain all the talent and ability she'd once had... although she found that having a cigarette steadied her hooves and helped her work.

Ross was helping out as well: it was common to see him working around the facility, doing math calculations for Cowlick's various projects, including the reconstruction of the meteor probe. The unicorn would sometimes seem to vanish from the work site, however, and Cowlick would go downstairs and usually find him in the assembly room, where Ross would smile at her and say quietly: “I was just talking with Rustproof.”

Cowlick had always smiled faintly: she often talked to Rustproof herself while she was working alone, or having a cigarette. Sometimes she'd talk to her father, too, and wonder aloud how they were treating each other, wherever they were... but one day when she'd gone down to fetch Ross, the unicorn had glanced up from the table with a smile and gestured at a half-assembled engine, saying softly: “Rustproof was just teaching me about the pistons, Cowlick. They're really interesting. He's really smart to have figured all this stuff out.”

And Cowlick had just stared at the engine for the longest time, walking over to it and touching it silently as she studied it. She knew no Architect had been in here, and no matter how savvy the other Nibelung workers were, none of them had the talent or the vision to put together something like this. It was a design like she had never seen, complete enough she could guess how the other parts were supposed to fit in place, even expand on it if she wanted to... and the engineer had closed her eyes before she murmured softly: “He ain't just smart, Ross. He's dedicated as hell... but you know that too, huh?”

Ross had only smiled, in that way he did that made everything better, and after that Cowlick had felt at peace. Felt like wherever Rustproof was, he was watching over them quietly, he was there to make sure his parents didn't do anything stupid. And it was what gave her the strength and the drive to work as hard as she could on her projects, and what made her desire all the more to help create this link to Clockwork World: to help give Antares the closure he deserved, whether it was finding his parents alive, or helping him work through their loss and understand they had died for the same reasons that Rustproof had, and that he could survive and keep moving towards the future without them.

The meteor probe itself was coming across very well, and Kvasir himself had stopped to take a curious look over it, remarking that it looked like the Strange Ones had provided the beginnings of a channeling altar as well to further enhance the probe's signal and power, and make it easier to trace to wherever Clockwork World was. He had also done them the courtesy of providing them with the little information he had managed to gather together about what they might expect in Decretum, Valthrudnir's world of absolute order, which Antares had appreciated more than he could express.

They didn't entirely know what they would be getting into: from the few and far-between encounters with Clockwork Ponies they had endured after Luna and Scrivener had attacked Decretum, they knew that the Clockwork King and the Prophet had both been defeated, and they knew that the gears of their mechanical empire had ground to a halt. But they knew little else: entire armies of Clockwork Ponies and monsters might remain, Tyrant Wyrms might freely wander the world, and it was impossible to say for sure whether or not they would be going into a world that was in ruin or an empire that had already reinstated some new mechanical overlord to try and keep Valthrudnir's ambitions ever in motion.

Antares didn't want to think about it, but he knew he had to, just like he had forced himself to finally try and consider the idea that they might finally reach Clockwork World at the end of the long journey only to find his parents... couldn't be saved. But he was determined to try his damnedest... and while he had forced himself to think about it, he couldn't believe or stomach the thought that they could reach Clockwork World and find his parents...

Antares shook his head hurriedly, and then he shifted a bit before reaching up to absently rub sweat from his brow, taking a few steps backwards as he called loudly at the enormous explosion-proofed windows: “I'm going to take a breather for a minute!”

From the other side of the glass, Cowlick rose a hoof and waved at him, and Antares smiled as he glanced out into the hangar for a moment: Prestige, Twilight, Greece, and several Nibelung Architects were all diligently fitting pieces of crystal inside of a large, cradling metal bowl structure, around a central core made up of six glowing rods caging a single ominous, rune-covered obelisk. It was much harder work than it looked at first: each crystal had a specific place and angle to fit into the cradle at, according to the markings on the bottom of each gemstone. But it was the last part of the work: crystalline batteries had already been locked into place in even intervals around the cradle, and the cradle itself was locked down into the channeling altar that had been constructed beneath it in the middle of this wide steel hangar. All they had to do was finish putting these puzzle pieces in place, and then they could finally run a charge through the reconstructed probe and hope like hell it worked properly.

Cowlick, Ross, and Celestia were all still figuring out how much of a charge to power the device with: Cowlick's argument was for one big blast, reasoning that so long as it sent out a pulse and established a connection, the fancy instruments she was going to set up everywhere and the channeling altar would be enough for them to lock on to Clockwork World's coordinates. Celestia, on the other hoof, wanted to start small and build steadily up. And Ross, meanwhile, was just scrabbling away with chaos theory and seemingly-random calculations in an attempt to figure out the exact charge necessary.

The young stallion gazed quietly over the channeling altar, feeling a small thrill despite himself as he turned around and approached the heavy, secure vault door leading out: the hangar here was in the fortified research wing, and only so many ponies had access to this area. The doors were all sealed shut with gemstone eyes powered by unicorn magic and Nibelung craft: only ponies recognized by the gemstones could unlock the doors from one side.

Antares flicked his horn, spinning the valve on the back of the door with telekinesis and sending up a loud hiss as it swung open, and he strode calmly out before glancing over his shoulder and pushing it closed. It clanked loudly shut, hissing as the valve spun back in place and the gemstone eye set high up in the top of the plated door seeming to stare out at him, and the young stallion couldn't help but study this for a moment before he mumbled: “Cowlick comes up with really weird stuff.”

“That wasn't entirely Cowlick. I believe Tenochtitlan had something to do with it as well.” remarked a voice and Antares looked sharply forwards, then let out a wheeze of relief at the sight of Allonym, who was leaning casually against another sealed door with his cane grasped in one hand. “This is the control room, right? I can't get inside.”

“How did you get in here at all? The whole wing is supposed to be secure.” Antares said flatly, and the Draconequus looked at the young stallion mildly before the glossy-black stallion sighed, asking wryly: “So chaos means that you can only sneak by some security protocols and not others?”

“That, and a Nibelung held the door open for me. Greece, I believe it was. Very nice fellow, I'm glad not all the Nibelung are complete jerks.” Allonym replied dryly, and Antares sighed again after a moment before the Draconequus hesitated, then shook his head slowly, adding quietly: “And Antares... you remember what I said, right? You have to stop Cancer before you go to Clockwork World. If you don't... bad things will happen.”

“I know. I remember, I do, and... I'm going to. But this is important too.” Antares stopped, then he shook his head slowly. “And for more reasons than just... because it's part of finding my parents, and getting them back. It's important to Cowlick, and it's important to me, and it's... moving forwards, moving ahead, without destroying. Yeah, I want to stop Cancer but... I... I need to do it right, don't I?”

“Maybe you're smarter than I thought.” Allonym smiled after a moment, and then he nodded a little, standing up and leaning on his cane. Antares studied him curiously, ignoring the slight jibe before he frowned a little as something tickled at his senses, his gaze sharpening a bit: Allonym was no longer in bandages, had only a few visible bruises over his frame, and yet... “Hey, don't give me that look, there's nothing here except what you see.”

“What I see isn't like what everypony else sees, Allonym.” Antares said quietly, and Allonym grimaced a bit, seeming to search for a response before the young stallion tilted his head slowly. “Why are you so low on energy? What were you doing?”

Allonym only mumbled, and then he paused before leaning slowly forwards and saying seriously: “I was out hunting wabbits.”

Antares looked at the Draconequus mildly for a few moments, and then he said dryly: “You know, for some reason, it's really not quite as funny when you dodge the question with references like Discombobulation does.”

“You know what was cute? When you were a baby and you dragged yourself around on your bum.” Allonym remarked, and Antares winced and turned beet-red, fumbling for a response before the Draconequus glanced to the side and asked casually: “So do you know how much dangerous stuff is in here? And precisely why, of all the places in town, Cancer keeps getting drawn to this place?”

The young stallion frowned through his still-visible embarrassment, shifting a little before he followed the Draconequus' gaze towards another locked vault door, that had a sign above declaring it clearly as 'SECURE STORAGE 3.' for a few moments, the young stallion looked at this, and then he said slowly: “Because this is where everything ends up if it's not destroyed... Clockwork technology, weapons, artifacts... but it's got something to do with Clockwork World, right? Cancer is being drawn to something dangerous we have here, something that was recovered during the war with Decretum that would... make him stronger, I'm guessing, right?”

But when Antares looked forwards, the Draconequus was gone, and the glossy-black unicorn made a face before he frowned curiously and looked down at the ground as something caught his eye. His horn glowed, lifting the object carefully, and he realized with surprise that it was a notebook of some kind: he opened it to the first page, and tilted his head curiously as he murmured: “These look like... coordinates or something...”

The young stallion closed it after a moment, then approached the door to the control room and knocked twice before leaning up to look directly into the crystal eye: it reacted to his proximity, lighting up as it detected him before the armored door clicked loudly and swung slightly ajar, and Antares hauled it the rest of the way open with telekinesis as Cowlick looked up from where she was leaning over her desk, saying grouchily: “Hey, we're kind of in the middle of something here, Mir, and you've totally used up your five minute break.”

“What's that?” Celestia asked curiously, glancing at the book floating beside Antares, and the young stallion shrugged as he passed it to her, Celestia taking it with her own psychic grip to open it and frown thoughtfully over the numbers and strange words on the pages.

“I dunno. Allonym was just outside...” Antares ignored Cowlick when she scrambled past him, glaring back and forth. “But when he vanished, he left this behind. It looks like... a star chart or something, doesn't it?”

“No, it's not. It's a map of sorts...” Celestia said softly, and Antares looked up in surprise as the ivory winged unicorn nodded, smiling slowly. “It's coded, and written out in words, but this is a navigational map. I need a piece of graphing paper or anything we can divide into segments... it needs to be a hundred by a hundred, at least.”

“Oh, I can do that! Yep yep, just like quiet time in the center, when they had us sit down and work by ourselves on things.” Ross smiled warmly, turning and glancing back and forth before frowning a little, but Cowlick only shook her head as she walked back into the room, as the unicorn murmured: “Where'd the paper go...”

“Come on, Ross. You can do it, you know this.” Cowlick said gently, and Ross glanced up and across at Cowlick hesitantly, before he nodded a little when she gave him an encouraging look, and the unicorn turned and studied the cupboards almost nervously. Then he reached out and carefully pulled open one of the lower drawers... and smiled happily when he looked inside to see the drafting paper and tools stored there. “See? Good work, handsome. All the stuff should be in there. You wanna do it or should I?”

“I can do it, Cowlick.” Ross replied with a smile as he pulled out the paper and drawing kit, and he turned to the cluttered table before wincing when Cowlick reached forwards and simply swept everything off, saying awkwardly: “That wasn't very nice.”

“Yeah, but it wasn't mean either, was it? We're all way more eager for this.” Cowlick replied with a shrug, and Ross nodded thoughtfully before he quickly laid several sheets of paper out. He glanced over them, then smiled as he flipped the sheets over and arranged them with blank sides up before hurriedly taping along their backs, and when he flipped the sheets back over, he had created one large, one hundred-by-one hundred square grid as the engineer muttered: “Perfect overlap. How the hell do you do it, Ross?”

Ross only smiled, and then he picked up a sketching pencil, and Celestia looked surprised at this before she started to open her mouth. Immediately, however, Cowlick glared at her, and the ivory equine actually winced a bit at the boiling expression in the engineer's eyes before she said finally: “The first point is ninety-five, ninety-eight, and the indication to the next point is three hundred degrees to the southwest, three spaces.”

“Three spaces.” Ross murmured, putting the mark on the grid and then simply tracing a quick line downwards, and Celestia winced... then looked surprised as she leaned forwards, realizing Ross had either traced the line dead on or gotten damned close. Close enough she felt confident about continuing, watching as Ross traced lines long and short with the same ease, never hesitating as he went from point to point.

Then Celestia asked him to switch to a different colored pencil, which caused him a bit of confusion before Cowlick explained quickly that it was a different part of the picture, so he needed to use a different color. Ross had nodded a few times with a smile, and by now, Prestige, Twilight, and Greece were all curiously standing at the window, watching with interest as Ross made several more points along the image he had drawn.

Then he smiled, leaning back after Celestia read off the last point, and he said softly: “Yep, you were right, it is different, really different! It's not happened yet, that's it, isn't it? The first part of the picture is all real stuff, but the new part of the picture is stuff that's not real, not yet. Right, Cowlick?”

“Yeah, but we're gonna damn well make it happen.” Cowlick muttered, nodding slowly as she reached out and tapped the map slowly: the coordinates hadn't just created an outline, but had formed into little images here and there over the map, giving them an idea of the basic topography and points of interest, like the little crown that Antares was willing to bet represented a castle. The route in red went through this, and along what looked like the remains of what could possibly be a bridge... except the bridge-shape ended, but the red line continued to that strange circle.

Antares studied the map silently, touching it quietly before he looked up at Celestia and said softly: “That's why Allonym was so tired-looking when I saw him. He found his way back to Clockwork World... he mapped it out for us. I don't know why he didn't just leave us the map himself, though...”

“I think because he's worried about interfering too much with us, Antares. I think this is his way of trying to get us to figure things out for ourselves, while giving us the tools to find the answers we need.” Celestia replied quietly, studying the map silently before she glanced across at Ross, adding softly: “You did a wonderful job. Thank you, Ross... you may be as good as my sister at art.”

“That wasn't art, though, that was just following instructions.” Ross smiled at this, looking up and nodding, and Celestia smiled despite herself before the unicorn looked back down and added thoughtfully: “But it looks big, real big. It looks scary, too... and all the coordinates are wrong, that's silly.”

Celestia frowned curiously at this, but Ross was oblivious to Celestia's expression, only continuing to look at the map before Cowlick asked gently: “What do you mean, Ross? What's wrong about 'em, and why do you think it's scary?”

“Because it's like I drew our home, but not our home, you see?” Ross replied with surprise, reaching forwards and tapping the map as he nodded rapidly a few times. “All these numbers are all way off because of that. It's not really one to a hundred at all. That's silly.”

“Like our home...” Celestia frowned thoughtfully at the map as Ross nodded a few times, and Cowlick was rubbing at her own muzzle meditatively before the ivory equine looked up, asking quickly: “Ross, would it be possible for you to plot this map with the actual coordinates it should have, assuming that this is a mirror of Equestria?”

“Well, it's only part of Equestria. That's Canterlot, right there. But not-Canterlot. That's Canterlot but not-Canterlot, that's what I think anyway.” Ross replied with a nod, tapping the crown on the map a few times before he smiled after a moment. “And I can do that, yes I can, but that means I gotta get rid of the old numbers, first!”

Cowlick, however, quickly held up a hoof, saying quickly: “Wait, Ross, I got a better idea. Let's you and me go up to one of the Architect's labs and we'll get us some big mapping paper and a set of maps of this region, and make us a real map out of this. How's that sound?”

Ross nodded a few times, and Celestia nodded in agreement as well, saying softly: “Thank you, Cowlick. I'm glad you're so willing to help.”

“Who am I helping right now, you or Ross?” Cowlick replied mildly, and Celestia couldn't help but smile again before the engineer grunted and nodded. “Right. Besides, this is my territory, I call the shots and I gotta take care of my workers. And right now that includes even you Baroness, and we still gotta figure out how much kick we're gonna have to give that meteor.”

The engineer paused, then glared at the window wall, and the three staring in all winced when she shouted: “And will you jerks get back to work? Enough bein' so damn lazy, I already got Mir sitting on his butt in here when he should be out working!”

Ross winced a bit at this and shrank his head back, and Cowlick sighed before mumbling: “Sorry, Ross. Okay, come on, let's get our own flanks moving. This is a good thing though, you nail this down and we'll another worry off the list, assuming we can trust Allonym.”

The unicorn nodded quickly, brightening again as he answered: “I think we can trust him, Cowlick, he seems like a silly person, but I think he means well.”

Cowlick only shook her head, smiling as she bustled past with Ross following after her, and Celestia watched the two leave before the ivory winged unicorn sighed a little and dropped her head forwards. Antares laughed awkwardly, glancing lamely up at his aunt, but she only shook her head, mumbling: “It's funny, Antares. Most ponies I wish would treat me with a little less deference. But when it comes to Kilby Kwolek, I always find myself hoping that she'll find a way to both be herself and be a little more polite than usual.”

Antares only shrugged at this, then he began to turn away, but Celestia called him back, the young stallion glancing over his shoulder curiously as the winged unicorn flicked her horn to lift the swept-off papers up from the ground. “I could use your help with something else, Antares. I don't want to work on the calculations while Cowlick and Ross are absent, but we have another difficulty to deal with in terms of Clockwork World that we haven't yet touched upon, and now seems a good time to do so.”

Celestia paused, then glanced quietly up at the window wall, but Twilight, Prestige, and Greece had gone back to work on the meteor, and the ivory winged unicorn smiled for a moment before her eyes drew back to Antares, saying quietly: “We... no, you, Antares, have to decide on who you're going to take with you to Clockwork World. Who is going to make up that convoy. We cannot march an army through the Bifrost, but if I may make a suggestion, we should be able to bring twenty or so ponies, and the supply carriage that Luna and Scrivener used themselves while traveling between layers.

“But in the end, this... this isn't my choice to make. Returning to Clockwork World, finding your parents... it's your mission, and I respect that.” Celestia fell quiet, closing her eyes and bowing her head forwards. “A large part of me does want to take over, yes. To handle everything from this point on... but it wouldn't be fair to you, Antares, and it wouldn't be fair to your parents, who I know have entrusted you with their legacy. And it would be wrong, because of all of us, you're the one who's always pushed for us to find a way back to Clockwork World, who kept faith in the belief that either Luna and Scrivener would return, or you would go out and find them yourself. You've earned both the privileges and the responsibilities that come with the end of this mission.”

The young stallion nodded slowly, looking down for a moment as Celestia neatened the papers she had placed over the table, then drew a blank page towards her as she picked up a nearby pen with telekinesis, asking softly: “Give me a list, Antares. And remember, we'll be spending a week in Clockwork World, in an unknown, possibly-hostile environment. We need a group that can handle that.”

The glossy-black young unicorn grimaced, nodding after a moment as he reached up and touched his own face, murmuring quietly: “Right, because the Bifrost will need at least that long to regenerate. And... well... I am open to suggestions, Celestia.”

“I'll be coming with you, no matter what else you may decide.” Celestia said calmly, and Antares looked up with a small smile before the ivory winged unicorn shrugged slowly. “My duties as Baroness are far less important than my duties as big sister and friend... your parents are... are more important to me than the politics of the Royal Council. Than many things, as a matter of fact.”

Antares smiled faintly, then he closed his eyes and bowed his head forwards, murmuring quietly: “And Mom and Dad... they'll be honored to hear it, Celestia. I don't think you ever really realized how important you were to them both. How much they both adored you... Mom looked up to you, no matter how she acted, and Dad had nothing but respect for you.”

“I know, and I didn't deserve it.” Celestia closed her eyes, saying quietly: “It was amazing, Antares, how your father... how I heard so much more respect in his voice when he called me casually by my name or 'sister' than when he used my title. But your parents...” Celestia smiled softly, glancing up. “I look forwards to seeing them. Soon.”

Antares smiled wider at this, looking up as he heard the faith in Celestia's voice... and yet for a moment, he felt a strange chill as well. Then he shook his head quickly, deciding it was just a moment of anxiety as he asked hesitantly: “Could Twilight make the journey?”

Celestia hesitated, and then she tilted her head back and forth, saying after a moment: “I don't know. It would be dangerous, Antares... she would have to bring her phylactery with her, and it would have to be shielded carefully inside the carriage to make sure it wasn't damaged. But at the same time, if Twilight desires it and you want her to come with us... I won't argue. I know that... this has been even harder on her than it has been on me.”

The ivory winged unicorn looked down, shaking her head slowly and murmuring: “But I'm not even sure how well Twilight's body would be able to handle the energies of the Bifrost, passing between worlds... but I suppose if Luna's story about bringing Velites across the Bifrost was true, then Twilight should be more than capable of surviving as well. I'm just... protective of her, Antares.”

“I am too. She's my Mom.” Antares smiled a little, glancing up at Celestia, who nodded after a moment with a bit of a smile in return. “But I know it would hurt her to have to stay behind again... I think sometimes she wishes...”

Antares fell quiet, and Celestia laughed softly before murmuring: “Don't worry about those wishes, Antares... I've had them myself from time-to-time, after all. Besides, if everything works out as we're hoping it will, those wishes will be just like the memories of all the years we've had to spend without your parents around... in the past.”

The young stallion nodded hesitantly, looking down for a few moments before he said quietly: “Prestige, Avalon, Meadowlark, and Aphrodisia all have to come with me. We're all young, but... they told me, back on my sixteenth birthday, they were going to come with me when I went looking for my parents. It's the whole reason we started training so hard together, working to really... become... more. I can't take that away from them, Aunt Tia, even if a big part of me is scared that...”

He broke off, and Celestia nodded slowly, before she said quietly: “I understand. But you know that means their parents and protectors are going to want to come too.”

Antares nodded, glancing up and saying quietly: “I know. And I know that Pinkamena will have to come, no matter what... she was Dad's best friend. I think... Dad still is her best friend, even though she's hard for me to read. But she's my aunt and like another big sister to me. I don't think Sleipnir should come, though... I'm really worried about how Clockwork World could affect him. Nature is his best friend here, and he has a powerful connection to the earth: but if everything in Clockwork World is... well...”

He broke off, but Celestia nodded slowly in return, saying quietly: “Good. You're thinking ahead. What about Applejack and Rainbow Dash?”

“Rainbow Dash, yeah. He and Avalon can keep an eye on things for us, but... Applejack, no. I want to say yes, and I know she's gonna be upset, but... her lungs and everything.” Antares hesitated, and then he continued quietly: “Scarlet Sage, and I'm going to offer a spot to Cowlick, too, because... she deserves it, and Rusty deserves it. I don't know if I should ask Burning Desire, though... it feels like it would be cruel.”

“He would come to support Twilight, though. Let her mention it to him if she decides to come with us, and let them talk about it. Demon or not, he has an enormous respect for love and life in all its forms... I think he would regret more not being given the chance to help make Twilight truly happy.” Celestia stopped, then looked away and said softly: “Imagine loving someone like that, Antares, with all your heart, but knowing you were destined to one day... part, knowing you weren't truly the one for them, no matter how much they were the one for you. And yet doing it anyway. Burning Desire is more courageous than I could ever be.”

“I don't know about that. Look at you and Bob.” Antares smiled a little, but Celestia only smiled softly back, shaking her head slowly.

“It's different, Antares. Neither of us expects it to last forever... as a matter of fact, I don't think either of us even wants things to last forever. Just... for long enough.” Celestia nodded slowly, looking down thoughtfully as she murmured: “But I do care very deeply for him, and he does for me. And I know we always will, too. It's just that things between us can't last.”

Antares shifted awkwardly, and then Celestia shook her head slowly before saying quietly: “You may want to consider bringing Hevatica as well, and perhaps Atrus. They're both very loyal to your parents, and to you as well.”

“That would be...” Antares mumbled names to himself, tapping his hoof against the table to try and keep count. “Fifteen, I think, including us, and assuming Burning Desire wants to come. Should I look into a few others, get it up to twenty? Or do you think that's enough?”

Celestia only shook her head, saying gently: “Trust in your instincts, Antares, this is your mission, not mine. And to be honest, I'm not as concerned as I could be about Clockwork World. Considering the behavior of the few Clockwork Ponies we've seen since the war with Decretum, we're more likely to enter a desolate and broken-down wasteland than we are a well-defended, organized enemy empire. We need to be prepared and not underestimate what we're walking into, but we need to make sure not to over-prepare either: the last thing we need to do is strip Ponyville of all its resources and leave it defenseless. With the way our luck has run in the past, we'll come back to find a war band burning the village to the ground, and that's not the welcome I want your parents to receive.”

“I dunno, Mom might not mind. She always was a little... big on fighting and stuff.” Antares replied, and Celestia chuckled and shook her head slowly, looking entertained despite herself. “Aunt Tia... I... thank you. For believing in me, and... believing in my parents.”

“I have many reasons to believe in your parents, Antares... I should be the one thanking both you and them for always believing in me.” Celestia replied softly, and the young stallion smiled warmly up at the ivory equine. “But I'm curious about your thoughts on Allonym. Do you think that he'll offer any further aid once we're in Clockwork World?”

“I don't honestly know... he seems to help when he wants, and that's that.” Antares shook his head a bit before murmuring: “But he must have plotted out this map for us, and I know that's a big start. Now we have a heading, even if I... I always felt that the moment I set hoof in Clockwork World, I'd be able to find my parents, you know?”

Celestia smiled after a moment at this, nodding slowly as she said quietly: “I do, Antares, and I believe that as well... but knowing the route will help. And if Ross is able to figure out the coordinates that should be on the map of this reflected Equestria, then maybe we can even skip ahead a little. It's very difficult to open the Bifrost in a specific area, but working alongside Twilight and others, we should be able to get relatively close to any point we desire.”

Antares nodded slowly, rubbing at his face apprehensively before he murmured: “I just hope we don't come out overtop an army or something, then, or worse, a chasm... I don't want to guess what all those extra lines here and there were, you know?”

“It was strange map. Equestria but not Equestria... Valthrudnir must have done terrible things to the layer he took over.” Celestia said softly, shaking her head slowly. “We'll need to bring as much equipment as possible in the little room we have. And everypony will need to carry some of their own supplies.”

She stopped, then looked up silently towards the window wall, the two sitting for a few moments as Antares looked up at her and the winged unicorn simply watched the probe slowly coming together in the hangar, piece-by-piece. The young stallion softened after a few moments as he watched the way she shifted, saw the things she knew she had to say even if she didn't want to, and he lowered his head forwards as he murmured: “It's okay, Aunt Tia. I know. I know that we could... we could find something that neither of us wants to when we get to Clockwork World. And I'm scared, but... I know we also both believe we're going to save my parents. But I do know that we might not, too, as hard as that is for me to think about, as much as I just... I refuse to accept that. But all the same I have considered it, I just... can't... believe it.”

“And I can't either. Still, we have to both keep in mind that... something may have happened.” Celestia quieted, looking down before she glanced up and asked softly: “Do you remember the story 'Because Love Conquers All,' Antares? The story that Discombobulation told, and your father wrote down?”

“I do, yeah. I read it again sometime last year, I think it was, because... I could understand more of it.” Antares smiled awkwardly, then he glanced down and shook his head, saying softly: “It was Gymbr's story, I remember that, too. Sometimes I remember him, Aunt Tia, and he was always so... so sad, beneath everything. I don't know a better word than that, although Dad probably does.”

“Your father once said that sometimes the best words are the simplest ones.” Celestia replied gently, and then she hesitated before saying quietly: “Did you understand how that could have been all of us... that the only exception was you?”

“I think Midnight Hour was me. Was what I could have been... and that scares me.” Antares replied quietly, and Celestia frowned as she tilted her head curiously, the young stallion closing his eyes and shaking his head with a faint laugh. “Celestia, I'm not as... not as pure and good as everypony thinks I am. I'm no chosen one, no savior, no saint, no... nothing but another pony. Yeah, I try my hardest to be good, to be honorable, to be what my parents wanted me to be and yet... I fall so short, so often. I get so scared, and I get so angry, and I feel like I've changed from my experiences, but not for the better. I'm not the brightest, or the strongest, or anything but... just... able to read people really well, you know?”

He glanced down silently, breathing slowly before looking up quietly: “And yet I'm lucky because of that. Because look at Midnight Hour... he started off as... perfect. He was a true prodigy, he was powerful, he was... smart, and strong, and brave. He could do anything, and he wanted to grow up to be just like his parents, just like me... except... his parents were... lost.”

Antares looked down, rubbing slowly at his face as he said quietly: “And like you've seen... sometimes I act like Mom or Dad myself. In good ways and bad ways. Midnight Hour... grew up just like his parents did, inherited the good and the bad from both of them, but in that story, there was a lot more bad, there was a lot more pressure, and because he was so good at everything... he thought he was better than everypony else. And the scary thing is... he was right.”

Celestia frowned curiously at this, as Antares looked up with a faint smile. “He wasn't a pony, or a Tyrant Wyrm. He was this... thing, supposed-savior, born of two self-proclaimed 'gods.' He could do anything, anything, he set his mind to. He controlled what we perceive as time itself. His touch alone could steal a person's strength, life, and powers, making him even stronger, better. He was better than everypony else, he was, strictly-speaking, a superior, ultimate being. And I can't begin to express how glad I am that... I used to scoot around on my butt in diapers and I'm just the same as everypony else.”

The ivory winged unicorn nodded after a moment in understanding, and for a few moments there was silence before the young, glossy-black stallion looked up and said quietly: “I know that Mom and Dad have a darkness inside them. I know my mother is Nightmare Moon, and that you believe my father might be a Clockwork Pony, transformed into one of them by the corruption or... something. Because Decretum was trying to spread their influence to other worlds or... I don't know. But what I do know is Mom and Dad are still my Mom and Dad, no matter what. They aren't... Evil Luna and Tyrant Scrivener. And Celestia, even if something did happen, they went... bad...” Antares closed his eyes and smiled faintly. “They wouldn't've left us here alone for all these years, would've they?”

Celestia looked down silently, then she closed her eyes and smiled faintly, murmuring softly: “You're right, Antares. And for some reason... I find that an incredibly comforting thought. Maybe because I know it must mean that your parents are... stuck somewhere, or maybe because I just... like to believe that no matter what, your parents would still come for us, always cared for us no matter what, and always wanted us to stand alongside them.”

There was silence for a few minutes, the two only sitting and thinking in the quiet before Celestia looked up as there was a knock at the door before it clicked, then swung open. Antares smiled after a moment at Prestige, the young unicorn mare shifting awkwardly before Celestia smiled. “It's alright. You're not interrupting anything; what is it, Prestige Luster?”

“Twilight and Greece are going to keep working on the meteor, but... Antares, would you like to join me for lunch? I'd appreciate the company.” Prestige said softly, then she added quickly: “As long as you're not busy, of course.”

Antares glanced at Celestia questioningly, but the ivory mare only shook her head with a soft smile, gesturing at him with a hoof. “I'll go ahead and put together an equipment list, Antares, and I'll speak to the others you chose for our mission to Clockwork World. It's the least I can do... and besides, you've been here every day, helping out. Take the rest of today off, both of you. Enjoy yourselves together: it might be weeks before you get the chance to relax again.”

The young stallion hesitated, but when Prestige gave him a gently-imploring look, he sighed a little before nodding and saying finally: “Alright. I... you're right, Celestia. Things are going to start moving fast once we find Cancer, I know... and Clockwork World is going to require both a lot of preparation and a lot of work. Are you sure you want to talk to everypony, though? Maybe I should go talk to Mom right now...”

“No, I'd... it would mean a lot to me if you could let me handle that.” Celestia said quietly, and Antares tilted his head curiously, but when Celestia only remained silent, her amethyst gaze steady, he finally nodded slowly, and she smiled across at him. “Thank you. Go on, now, both of you. Enjoy yourselves.”

“We will.” Prestige promised, smiling across at Antares, who shifted awkwardly before nodding lamely when Celestia laughed and shook her head slowly. Then the young stallion hurried to his hooves before striding quickly over to the young mare, and he let Prestige take the lead even as he gave her a mild look.

Prestige ignored this pointedly, however, striding easily through the halls of the facility, but she remained quiet until they were outside of the engineering building and making their way down the street. Then she suddenly turned towards him, and Antares winced a bit in surprise as she asked curiously: “And where are we headed, Antares Mīrus?”

“Uh. Library?” Antares suggested lamely, and Prestige nodded with a smile, gazing over him thoughtfully and making the glossy-black young stallion glower a little. “I hate it when you give me that look. I always feel like you're sizing me up for something. Like I'm your prey and you're just waiting for a chance to eat my head.”

“All stallions are the prey of pretty mares. That is true of every class and species.” Prestige replied comfortably, and Antares rolled his eyes as he fell in pace beside her before the young unicorn smiled over at him softly. “I was just thinking of how handsome you'd look in a suit, that's all. A traditional unicorn suit, perhaps made by that pretty unicorn Rarity... tell me, is she pureblooded?”

“Why, because that would make the suit even better?” Antares asked dryly, giving the young mare a pointed look, but Prestige only nudged him firmly with her shoulder as she smiled and blushed a little.

“No, because... pure-blooded unicorns tend to live longer. Unicorns live long lives, and I was thinking of her and her husband...” Prestige looked ahead, the young stallion looking surprised. “They would have been utterly reviled in the North. Yet all the same... they did it for each other, didn't they? Doesn't it strike you as foolish, giving up so much for each other?”

Antares, however, smiled as he looked ahead, replying quietly: “And you gave up a life of immense luxury and power to be a normal pony, living beside me, Prestige. What's silly, giving up a short life of immense pleasure or a long life that would have been spent mostly in solitude and as an outcast, since Spike was raised by ponies, like a pony, and comes from an entirely different layer than these much rougher dragons of Looking Glass World? Who, need I remind you, also seem to like living either in solitude or in crowded, very closed-in nests.”

Prestige dropped her head forwards thoughtfully, murmuring: “I didn't think of it like that before... but who knows what the future could have held? Perhaps Spike would have been king of the dragons had he not married Rarity. And perhaps I would have been thrown in a dungeon during an uprising by treacherous Pegasi who finally realized that the unicorns who paid their wages are almost all as defenseless as drunken kittens.”

“Drunken kittens. You got some weird forms of entertainment up north.” Antares remarked, and Prestige laughed and shoved him as the young stallion grinned and staggered, adding mildly: “And what, you couldn't blast your way out of a dungeon?”

“Not if I had become a noble. I'm sure I would have been much weaker... would have forgotten all but the showiest of my magic, lost my stamina and strength, and...” Prestige quieted, then she looked down before suddenly leaning up and kissing Antares' cheek firmly, making him glance up in surprise. “Thank you.”

Antares only blinked dumbly, and Prestige smiled at him as they continued on their way before the young mare brightened at the sight of several earth ponies in brown uniforms unloading wrapped objects, boxes, and furniture from several wagons. She bounced forwards, and Burning Desire looked up with a smile from where he was directing the ponies, saying easily: “And look, there she is now! I was just about to come and find you, Prestige, it seems all these things here are for you.”

“This stuff is definitely not going to fit in my room.” Antares remarked dryly, wincing as he looked back and forth through the myriad of things that the workers had unloaded so far. Prestige, meanwhile, began to glance back and forth through the piles of boxes and furnishings as the workers finished unloading the variety of things, Antares moodily approaching and poking at a large dresser with a gorgeous framed mirror. “Is that real silver? Please tell me this is not real silver.”

Prestige only smiled amusedly over her shoulder, then glanced up as an earth pony approached warily with a clipboard: but when Prestige took it and signed with a smile and a 'thank you,' the earth pony visibly loosened up a little. Not that Antares could blame them for being suspicious: from their rugged looks and darker coat colors, they were likely from the far north, and had been expecting to deliver this to some obnoxious unicorn noble. Then Antares paused meditatively, thinking about how in some ways Prestige was still an obnoxious unicorn noble as he strode carefully past a stack of boxes to poke at an antique wardrobe made of polished oak, examining the incredibly-complex designs detailed across the doors as he asked flatly: “Just how much money did you have, Prestige?”

“More than a mudwalker like you has ever seen.” Prestige retorted, and the three earth ponies all glared at her before staring when the unicorn mare hopped quickly through the piles of stuff to hug Antares fiercely around the neck, making him laugh and smile despite himself. “And none of it matters anymore. Besides, Antares, some of your old, clunky things need to be replaced, and we can sell some of this... you there, earth ponies!”

The earth ponies looked apprehensively at Prestige as the young mare pulled away from the glossy-black unicorn and strode quickly towards the workers, looking over them meditatively before she asked in a serious voice: “Have you been paid for your services?”

The workers traded looks, and then one stepped forwards, saying awkwardly: “Uh, no, ma'am, we were just told to deliver this to you, and then we'd be paid in Canterlot by Lady Rosewood.”

“Wait here.” Prestige turned and strode quickly to the library, Burning Desire cocking his head with interest as the earth ponies shifted uneasily, one of them stealing nervous looks every so often at the demonic unicorn and another looking curiously at Antares. It was only a few seconds before Prestige returned, however, tossing a small bag of bits towards one of the earth ponies, who caught it in his hooves and looked down in surprise. “There are thirty or so bits in there, take it and... thank you, earth ponies. I appreciate your efforts.”

The three earth ponies looked stunned, and even Antares stared with surprise at Prestige as she nodded once, then rose her head proudly before turning around and flicking her horn, easily lifting a cluster of boxes with telekinesis to carry them into the library. Burning Desire snorted in amusement, and then he grinned and shook his head, saying mildly: “Incredible. And to think, once upon a time that little runt made us unicorns from the old days seem as welcoming as old friends.”

The demon paused, then he glanced curiously over at Antares as the earth ponies hurriedly went about packing up their wagon to move on, likely not wanting to risk sticking around in case Prestige changed her mind. “Antares, should I move some of these things out to the cottage? I can teleport at least a few of the objects.”

“Don't ask me, ask Prestige, I guess.” Antares said lamely, and then he winced as he looked over the piles of things, mumbling: “But seriously, there's a lot here. Not all this stuff is going to fit in the cottage, much less my room.”

“Then maybe it's time you and Prestige found a home of your own.” Burning Desire suggested kindly, and Antares looked up in dumb surprise, blushing a bit before the fiery stallion smiled softly. “You care for each other, don't you? And oh sure, you're young, but that argument bores me. In my day and age you two would have had at least one foal by now.”

“I...” Antares only blushed deeper, not knowing how to respond to this before he shook his head violently, then stumbled to change the subject, saying awkwardly: “I want to talk to you about something, by the way-”

“Well, Antares, I would recommend starting slow. Kiss her gently, first, then trace kisses down the side of her neck, she seems to have a sensitive spot right about here.” Burning Desire said kindly, reaching up and touching just above the junction of shoulder and throat as Antares stared blankly and slowly processed what the demon was explaining. “And grasp into her. Not so gentle she can't feel it, not so firm it's like you're trying to control her. Let your body-”

“Not that!” Antares shouted, and then he winced as several ponies halted to stare at him, clearing his throat hurriedly before the young stallion scrambled forwards and glared up at Burning Desire, whispering fiercely: “I don't need any tips about that, thank you very much. I wanted to talk to you about-”

“About Twilight Sparkle, I'm guessing. Or rather, Twilight Sparkle and your parents.” Burning Desire said gently, as his smile dwindled down a little, but it still remained as the fiery stallion reached up and took Antares' shoulders gently, the glossy black unicorn falling quiet. “That is between myself and Twilight, Antares Mīrus, so don't you worry your handsome head about it, okay? Love comes, love goes, and that is simply the way of the world... fools fight it, and the greedy refuse to take less than they desire, never realizing what idiocy that is, and ending up like me... cursed to long forever, because they just couldn't be satisfied with what they had, never realized that at the end of the day, they were the ones responsible for their own misery. Oh, sure, it will be bittersweet... but sometimes there's no greater pleasure than the pleasures that have a little pain.”

Antares fell quiet, and then he simply nodded slowly: he didn't completely understand what the fiery stallion meant, but he did get the message clearly enough. He would let Twilight ask Burning Desire... and for a few moments, the two looked at each other before the demon winked and said cheerfully: “But on much more important matters, Antares, you should know that the most important thing is not to be a selfish lover. You're not selfish with her, are you, Antares?”

“I'm going inside now.” Antares mumbled, turning quickly away, and Burning Desire grinned at this, following after the young stallion into the library.

“Prestige, apparently Antares wants to go inside. Can I watch?” he quipped as he strode through the doorway, and Antares groaned and dropped his head forwards as Prestige only grumbled from where she was digging through a box. “Or maybe I can go inside myself, how would you like that?”

Prestige glanced up, then her horn glowed brightly before she flicked it firmly, and Burning Desire yelped as there was a flash of bright light before the demon spun around and leapt away, bursting apart into flames that quickly reformed into a firebird and shot through the open door. Antares looked dumbly over his shoulder, and then he returned his eyes to Prestige as the young mare muttered: “A simple exorcism to cleanse a home of unwanted spirits. Just enough to push most demons out the door for a little while.”

“You're learning really fast, Prestige.” Antares looked awkwardly over his shoulder, feeling the thrum of energy through the floorboards before he smiled a little as he approached, asking quietly: “So uh, Prestige, about your things...”

“I just need to see what's here, and then we can figure out what to do, Antares. I do hope Celestia doesn't mind me storing some of them in here for now, though... at least until I can sell off what we can't store elsewhere.” Prestige said softly, and then she glanced up in surprise as Antares reached up and gently touched her foreleg.

The two looked at each other for a few moments, and then the glossy-black young stallion smiled faintly before he said quietly: “Prestige. I've been thinking, and... well... looking around at everything, thinking about us...” He hesitated, then asked finally: “Do you want to find a place to move in together?”

She looked at him with surprise, leaning back as her eyes locked with his, and Antares hesitated before plunging on: “Look, we've... been together for a while now. I love you, and I still don't know... entirely... where our future is headed, but I do know that you make me happy. That I want that future to be... with you, and I know we can work through almost anything together. I know we've both changed for each other, and... grown together. As it is, we already live together, pretty much, and... I was thinking that... maybe we should try living together on our own, without Twilight or Celestia or anyone else around, in our own place, and it would really help... settle things for us. It would help us both really settle on what the future can hold for us. Because Prestige, it's not that I'm scared of spending the rest of my life with you... it's that I'm scared you're going to realize you can probably do better than me, and I'm not the hero everyone thinks I am.”

Prestige only smiled softly at this, however, reaching up to take his face silently in her hooves as she leaned forwards and murmured: “Antares... I don't call you 'hero' because of the burden that's on your shoulders, because of the faith everypony has in you... I call you hero because you're my hero. And I think you always will be.”

They gazed at each other quietly, then shared a short, soft kiss for a few moments before parting, the two smiling at one-another before Prestige asked hesitantly: “But... what about your parents, Antares? I don't... desire to make you choose...”

“I never have to choose between them and you, Prestige.” Antares reached up, taking her hoof quietly. “I'm going to spend a lot of time with them, yeah, and I want you to spend time with them, too, I want you to know them and see my Mom and Dad like I do. But I also know and understand that I have to live my own life, make my own decisions, and that... I can't just pretend to be a foal again and get all those years back when they come back. I can spend time with them, I can be their son, I can hang out in my room and what will always, always be my home... but I need to move forwards with life, too, not backwards. You helped me see that... that maybe I don't need to let go, but I do need to carry on, one way or another. And I'm going to. I love you.”

“I love you too, hero.” Prestige said softly, and they shared another slow kiss, followed by a fierce, tight embrace. For a little while, they just rested together in silence, holding each other close as time spun out around them, and nothing else mattered. There was just them, and their future, young lovers who were ready to walk side-by-side through a life they were ready to share together.