• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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The Crystalling

How long had it been since we last reconvened with our former teacher? I knew Cadence and Shining Armor were having a baby, but after hearing the news of a baby now available for all soon to see, it was somewhat exhilarating, to say the least. Personally, I didn't really have much experience with seeing longtime friends grow up, but this was the closest. Although there was a large gap between, I've known Cadence since I was a kid. She was obviously a lot older than me, but it still felt kind of weird yet exciting to see her "growing up", so to speak.

Everyone already seemed to have ideas on what kind of gifts they were going to give for the "Crystalling" Shining Armor and Cadence were going to have, but I was kind of drawing blanks. Everyone else was practically making their own gift, so I would feel bad if I was the only one who bought something from the store. The only thing I could think of doing to help relieve the guilt was helping the others with their gifts, but I knew they could have done it easily on their own.

I decided to share some of my worries and stress with Fluttershy as she ironically sewed her gift in front of me. Nevertheless, she intently listened to every word I said and proceeded to offer her thoughts on the manner.

"I understand that you might feel like you need to bring something too, but the truth is, I'm sure Shining Armor and Princess Cadence will be absolutely happy just to see you there." She continued poking the needle through a stuffed replica of Angel and repeated her weaving movements as she tightened each piece of fabric together.

"Yeah, I know that." I answered as I rubbed the back of my mane a little harshly. "It just seems like something you have to do, if that makes sense? I know they won't get mad or anything if I don't bring something of my own, but still, it feels kind of wrong to be the only one not contributing."

"If it bothers you that much, why don't we do this?" She cut the thread she had been using with her sewing needle and turned over the stuffed animal to give me a full-frontal look. "This can be from the two of us."

"But you did all the work…" I averted my eyes in shame.

"Who's the one that went to town to buy me the fabric, hm?" She returned an adorable and confident smile.

"I did…" I felt my cheeks glow in heat as another arrow struck my heart, joining the crowd that was well over the occupancy limit. "But, that really isn't anything special."

"Any little thing you do counts, sweetie." I felt a heart skip a beat as she calmly spoke. "You of all ponies should know that. You think you might not do much, but I can tell you right now that, because you're here, I feel like I was able to put in a lot more love into this gift." She held up the stuffed bunny and extended its arms out in front of me as she curved her smile over its shoulder. "Come on. I know you can't say no to being a poppa to this little bundle of joy."

Right in the feels… There's no way I can resist.

Despite how sad or worried I might have been, my lips ended up forking over a genuine grin. "Okay, okay, Fluttershy. If you really don't mind, then I'll take you up on your offer."

She placed her gift down on the table and surprised me when she scooched up closer to me. She rested her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes while holding on to her soft smile. "I can't help but wonder how it would feel like."

"How what would feel like?" I asked.

"To have a foal." She answered, causing another bump within my heart.

"I would think it's sort of the same thing with your animals." I assumed a little nervously. "You feed them, nurture, you know, all that stuff."

"That's true." She opened her eyes but seemed to keep her sight on the floor. "But, I know it's a little different with a foal. To know that they come from you. You spend your whole life with them, and you watch them grow up. Unlike with animals, you know that eventually, they leave their nest."

"Yeah… Guess I'm curious too." I mentioned before a peaceful silence began to envelop us.

It wasn't too long until there was a knock on her door.

"I'll get it." I offered and planted my hooves on the floor. I approached the door and opened it to find a couple of different shaded eyes making contact with mine.

"I thought you might be busy." She said. "Twilight wanted to know if you and Fluttershy were ready to get going.

"I think so." I looked over my shoulder to see Fluttershy observing our interaction out of curiosity. "Fluttershy, are you ready to start heading on over to the Crystal Empire?"

"Mm-hm." She nodded and carefully tugged on her stuffed animal, so she could nestle it around her wing. When she came over at my side, she seemed to have noticed something different about me. She stopped to take a look and ended up patting a hoof behind my head. From what I could tell, she appeared to take a moment to fix my hair, and I heard my sister giggle at the sight of this, causing me to look slightly away in embarrassment. "There you go." She smiled and turned over to notice our visitor. "Hello, Athena. How are you doing?"

"I'm doing great, thanks." Athena seemed to almost timidly respond back. "What about you, Fluttershy?"

"Absolutely wonderful. Thank you." Fluttershy answered back with an extremely bright yet soft grin.

It was especially delightful to see the two of them getting along with each other, not that Athena doesn't get along with the others as well. Ever since she had spilled the beans about everything between us, Athena walked around as if a giant load had been taken off her back. However, besides Pinkie Pie, she was still kind of getting used to being friendly with the others. Nevertheless, it was nice to see her enjoying herself.

At the train station, we met back with Twilight and the others. Of course, they all had been carrying their gifts with them. The biggest one was Applejack's cradle that she had been covering with a blanket and bow. It was a nice way to keep it a surprise. If I hadn't already known what she had been building, I didn't think I'd be able to guess what it was. Either way, I was just about to offer her some help in getting it on the train until somepony else offered first.

"Do you need any help with that, Applejack?" Athena asked with a sweet smile.

"That's mighty kind of you to ask, Sugarcube." Applejack responded. "But, I can carry this fine on my own."

"It's going to be kind of a tight fit for the train." Athena pointed out. "At least let me help you bring it in?"

Applejack scratched her chin with her hoof until she finally nodded. "In that case, I suppose I wouldn't mind a little help. I really appreciate it!"

"Not a problem at all!" Athena's engines revved up as she energetically accompanied Applejack with her cradle.

Noticing everyone beginning to enter the train one by one, I glanced over to Fluttershy and nudged my head forwards with a stretching smile. I had already started to walk on ahead, but just as I turned my head back towards the door, I unexpectedly bumped onto somepony else. I had to pause momentarily to rub my horn and give my head a little shake before I opened my eyes and found the pony in front of my doing the same.

"Oh, sorry!" It had been Starlight Glimmer, and she appeared to be rather anxious as she frantically apologized. "Why don't you go on ahead?"

"It's okay." I assured and waved my hoof inwards towards the open door. "Ladies first."

"Pssh." She lightheartedly flicked her hoof while throwing her head carelessly to the side. "You don't need to do something like that. You were already heading inside before me. You go first."

"It's really no big deal…" I answered. I knew I could have easily gone in and put an end to this silly impasse, but I suppose the 'gentlestallion' inside me wanted to see Starlight go in first. "After you."

"I really think you should. After all—"

"Uh, you guys want to get your butts in here?" We heard from one of the windows on our side of the train. I turned to notice Rainbow Dash looking at us with an impatient expression on her face. "The train's gonna get going any minute now."

"S-sorry!" Starlight Glimmer apologized once again before she bowed in front of me. "If you insist, then I'll go in first. Unless…you want to—"

"No, no." I immediately answered before we'd risk getting left behind. "Please, go in."

She flashed me an awkward grin before finally trotting inside. "…right."

After escorting Fluttershy inside, we reconvened with the others as they sat right by their gifts. Starlight Glimmer had taken a seat next to Twilight, whom already had been flipping through the pages of her guide to foals by the second. Fluttershy and I found a seat to relax on and patiently waited for the time the train would begin moving.

Fluttershy recovered the stuffed animal that had been nestled carefully under her wing and brought it out into the light. Nevertheless, she held a hoof around it as if to keep it from suddenly falling. She studied her gift for a moment before she turned towards me with a gentle beam of her lips.

"What?" I curiously asked, finding her exact expression a little unusual.

"Oh, nothing." She returned as if she had been burying a certain thought in her mind. At the same time, she softly brushed her hoof against her homemade bunny as if it had been the real thing. "For some reason, this is reminding of our train time together way back when. Even the time when we weren't, you know, together…"

"Really?" I asked and took some time to think about it. It wasn't like it had been years since we were last on a train together like this. Was it because I hadn't really been spending as much time with her as I used to? I'd always try to make time with her whenever I could, but I'm sure the both of us noticed that there was something different about those times when you compared it back to when we first started seeing each other. I didn't want to believe that our love was 'dying out' or anything. If that was the case, I wouldn't still feel butterflies every now and then anytime I saw her. However, maybe this 'change' happened when I got my horn and wings. It was something all new to me, and to be honest, it was something I wasn't sure I wanted. Or, maybe it could have been when Twilight and I were instated to royalty. There were a lot of things and events that came to mind which could have caused this 'difference' I had been going over, but I didn't realize that I had been utterly enveloped in silence until Fluttershy snapped me out of my thoughts.

"You okay, sweetie?"

I swung my thoughts out of my mind and unintentionally shook my head in the process. Ironically, I nodded my head afterward in order to answer her question. "Yeah, I'm fine. I was just thinking about what you said and how maybe you might have had a better time back then…"

"What do you mean?" She asked, her lips now folding downwards as her eyebrows drew together in concern.

"I don't know." I began diving back into my thoughts. "It's just, I can't help but feel like there's something that changed between us, and I don't mean that in a bad way. When I think about how it used to be when we first starting seeing each other, it felt like I could be with you without a single care about anything else in the world. Nowadays, I always feel like there's something in the back of my mind whenever I'm with you. Well, not just when I'm with you, but…ugh." I rubbed my hooves against my face and felt my words begin to mess up and splatter all over my mental space. "I don't know how to describe it. I guess the best way I can put it is that I sort of feel like there are so many responsibilities and duties I need to worry about, and even though I can still spend time with you, those same things in my head keep me from really spending time with you, you know?"

"You don't need to worry about me so much, Alex." She quickly nestled her head lovingly into my chest and smiled warmly. "I understand that you'll be busy a lot of times, and I don't want you to feel pressured into seeing me whenever you can. If I have to be honest, there are some things I wish we could do together that you aren't necessarily able to do right now, but I'll gladly wait until you feel like you're ready or have the time."

"Thanks, Fluttershy." I expressed with not as much enthusiasm as I would have liked to and returned her affectionate gesture by rubbing my coat against hers. The question is…when will I feel like I'm ready? When will I feel like there's nothing itching at the back of my mind for once?

I heard a pair of hooves grow closer until they stopped near our seat. I turned to find Athena slightly looking away with a small blush as she rubbed her front leg with the opposite hoof. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"

"No, not really." I answered, seeing as we had just finished conversing about what had been in my thoughts. "What's going on?"

She took a seat by me and faced a little more towards the other direction. "Hey. What do you think about Starlight Glimmer?" She asked with a soft voice as she looked towards the seat the subject of the question had been sitting at.

"What do I think of her?" I repeated with unclarity. "What do you mean?"

"Well, do you still think she's a bad pony or something?" She somewhat clarified.

I thought about my answer for a moment. If I could be honest, I didn't think of her as a bad pony whatsoever. Not anymore, at least. At first, I was a little hesitant about Twilight letting her stay over at the castle, but having experienced her behavior for myself after the whole "time" dilemma, I figured that she was sincerely trying to make up for her past misdeeds. In fact, I could confidently say that I'd rather trust my life with Starlight Glimmer than Discord. It didn't look like Starlight Glimmer was going to end up needing a third chance, but I suppose time would be ultimately the judge of that. "No, I don't." I answered. "Why? Do you still find something wrong with her?"

Athena shook her head. "I just wanted to know what you thought of her. I can tell she's dealing with a lot of pain or some kind of guilt. And if you ask me, I'm pretty sure it's because of everything that happened before. You know how I stuck with Twilight while you were at Fluttershy's? Well, I noticed that she was going out of her way to make sure I didn't feel uncomfortable or anything. Like, she would ask if I was hungry, and if I was, she'd offer to get me something to eat. I'd tell her that I was fine, but she really insisted on doing something for me."

"Oh, really…?" I responded. "I think I can see what you mean."

Athena wasn't the only one Starlight Glimmer was being overly nice with after all.

"That's not all." Athena continued. "Since she's studying under Twilight now, Twilight came up with a friendship lesson for her, and she is absolutely terrified. Remember when Twilight told us the reason why Starlight had been so angry at us? Besides us 'ruining her village' and yadda? Well, Twilight thought it would be best for her to meet up with her old friend back when she was a filly. Starlight isn't so fond of that idea, and I can see why."

"Isn't that kind of a good thing?" I questioned, understanding Twilight's point. "If the real reason behind the whole cutie mark incident was about losing her friend, then wouldn't reuniting with that same friend help patch things up?"

"Except you're forgetting one thing." Athena turned to me with serious and furrowed eyebrows. "Her friend, Sunburst, went on ahead to study magic at the same school Twilight went to. Meanwhile, Starlight lost herself to the pent-up aggression inside and tried to enslave a whole village. How do you think she's going to keep something like that from her friend?"

I wanted to tell Athena that she didn't have to keep it from her friend, but before I could blurt it out, I immediately thought about it a little longer. I had no clue on what kind of friend this Sunburst was to her. He could have easily been one of those friends who left you during the bad times. In other words, he could not have been a true friend at all. In turn, this realization caused to me go over my answer and think of another way to respond to Athena, but she called me out before I could get too far into the process.

"You don't have to answer that." Athena assured. "What I'm trying to say is that…maybe…you should try to talking to her."

"What do you mean?" I asked, having had no expectation of that kind of suggestion.

"You know exactly what I mean." She returned with unquivering eyes. "I'm not saying that you should go out of your way or anything. It's just…" She turned back to Starlight Glimmer, and as I followed her eyes with my own, I suddenly got an uneasy vibe coming from her object of focus. Starlight had been staring outside her window, and based off of my own experiences, it was pretty clear to me that most of her attention had been in her own head. "…she looks like she could use someone to talk to and give her advice."

"Don't take this the wrong way…" I clarified before I continued. "But, why don't you do that? I get the feeling that the two of you would get along with each other pretty well."

"I'm just barely trying to get to know your friends on my own, Alex." She reminded with a harsh whisper. "It's hard enough to do that. I don't want to mess anything up, is all I'm trying to say."

I didn't want to make any excuses, as I didn't want to sound like I was too lazy to talk to her or something. Honestly, I wouldn't mind getting to know her a little more personally anyway, but I just wasn't sure I was going to do it.

"Alright." I accepted Athena's suggestion. "I'll see what I can do."

After a hefty show and tell from Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash that revolved around their gifts, I got to witness an attempt of stalling from Starlight Glimmer when it came to her friendship lesson. Had Athena not caught me up to speed, I was sure that I wouldn't have noticed it. Twilight didn't notice it either, and I found it questionable since she was Starlight's teacher after all.

At that time, I tried to understand what had been going through Starlight's head. If it was me, I would have been straight up with Twilight, but there laid the key point. If it was me. Maybe Starlight was still afraid of what Twilight would think, and I supposed it couldn't hurt to help nudge her into being more honest. I was kind of the same way with Athena, but then again, she had been holding back a bunch of mind-blowing secrets. I don't think that was the same case with Starlight.

I listened in on Twilight's guidance when the train came to a stop and everyone else was lining up towards the exit. Athena made her way to Applejack to offer her help with the cradle again, so it was only Fluttershy and me that was at the back of the group. Nevertheless, Twilight had been holding a huge and unfolded checklist, and I was surprised no pony else had tripped over it as it had been dragged across the floor of the train. At the same time, she had been loyally reading off the list as Starlight followed behind and looked nowhere near as excited as Twilight did. Nevertheless, Twilight had only made it to the second step before her voice was cut short.

She had been unaware of the properly built stallion in front of her and found herself dropping her list as she bumped into him. While Twilight had a second to study who had been standing in front of her, a bright grin immediately splattered on her face.

"Shining Armor!"

"Twilight...!" Her brother answered rather exhaustively as he pulled her in for a warm embrace.

From all the other times we had seen him, he was always so attentive. In fact, he always gave off this protective and strong aura that complimented his role as the captain of the Royal Guard. In this one case, it was the complete opposite. His mane was an absolute mess, and his eyelids were screaming for help, almost as if they had been tortured by a long staring contest. His posture was unbalanced, to say the least, and I think it was safe to say that he "wasn't all there".

"I didn't know you were meeting us!" Twilight raised the question, seeing as none of us had been informed that we would be escorted into the castle from the train station.

"Of course I am!" He answered as his eyes literally spaced out into their respective corners. "It's me, right here. Here I am. Why wouldn't I come meet my sister? Though we have met before, heh-heh..."

As I silently observed his behavior, I placed a hoof to my chin and thought to myself momentarily. They just had the baby, right? I think it was a no-brainer that he hadn't gotten any sleep since then. I can't imagine what he and Cadence had to go through just for one baby. Geez, am I going to turn out just like him if Fluttershy and I…?

I caught myself slowly turning towards Fluttershy who stood beside me. She caught me glancing at her, and as soon as I had realized what I had been telling myself, I immediately shook my head. This caused Fluttershy to raise her eyebrow and look at me with a puzzled look.

"What is it?" She asked.

"Nothing…" I quickly turned back to pay attention to Twilight and Shining Armor's conversation.

"Are you all right?" Twilight noticed Shining Armor's behavior.

"Never better! Being a father is amazing!" Shining Armor referenced as he swung his head around a bit exaggeratedly, reminding of an old scary tale from a book about a pony who danced in the streets at night and pointed his head straight at the sky with a big freaky grin on its face. "And wonderful, and amazing, and confusing, and amazing, but surprising too, you know? I mean, not that you'd know. You wouldn't know, I know... You know?" I could hear him almost gasping for air between pauses. Just what had he been through? Everyone in our group looked little freaked out, so he apologized shortly afterward. "Sorry. I haven't really slept since Cadence had the baby. Come to think of it, she hasn't either. It sure would be great to get a break."

"Oh, of course!" His sister recognized. "I don't know what I was thinking! You two probably need all kinds of help!" She turned and faced her newly appointed student. "I'm sorry, Starlight, but I guess combining your first lesson with this visit wasn't such a good idea."

"Oh, uh, don't be ridiculous!" Starlight's face noticeably lit up. "You're an aunt now! That's way more important than some friendship lesson."

"I just wish there was a way to do both." Twilight appeared to search for another possible solution, but Spike unexpectedly spoke up.

"Maybe there is! You've already done the work for Starlight's lesson with this list. All we have to do is follow it!"

An audible sound of a slap followed as Starlight's face had been pressed against her own hoof.

"Spike, you're a genius!" Twilight praised.

"Yeah..." Starlight nervously laughed before her teeth nearly grinded against each other. "…genius…"

"Then it's settled! Shining Armor and I will head straight to the castle, and you two can head straight to Sunburst's!" Twilight pointed out, earning a salute from Spike.

"Aye-aye, Princess!" He replied before marching off ahead.

"Uh-huh." With a shaky voice, Starlight nodded her head before following Spike.

"Alright, big brother, let's go see this amazing baby pony!" Twilight turned back to her brother, only to find him having dozed off completely while she had been straightening things out with Starlight.

As Twilight attempted to subtly wake him back up, Athena approached me by my side. "Do you think you might want to go along with Starlight instead?" She asked.

"I know you wanted me to talk to her and all that, but I don't exactly want to get in the way of her lesson." I responded with. "If we have any free time before the actual Crystalling, and Starlight's still having trouble with her lesson, then I'll see what I can do from there on." I began to tap my hoof against my chin as I recalled the events that were scheduled for us today. "Besides, I think Tia and Luna are supposed to be with Cadence and the baby right now, right? It's been a while since I've actually seen them. Now that I think about it, especially with all this baby business, Luna's probably itching to see me." As I almost began to spiral into a ramble of reasons for focusing more on this Crystalling, my eyes suddenly widened in realization. "Wait a minute! That's right!"

"W-what?!" Athena returned an almost frightened expression on her face as her body jolted backward with one of her hooves curling up in front of her chest.

"You've never actually officially met, have you?!" I referred to both her and Luna. "We definitely have to go see the baby. I can't wait to see the look on her face when she finds out that she has a daughter too!"

"Are you kidding?" Athena appeared to be rather bothered by the idea. "She'll never believe you. You don't have to tell her that I'm her daughter. Just leave it the way it is. There's no point."

"No way! That's what you get for being my sly twin sister!" I pointed a hoof towards her face in a playful kind of manner. "What kind of daughter would you be if you didn't even acknowledge your own mother?" I was really pushing her buttons now.

"Urghh!" Athena groaned as she shook her red-hot face. "You're so dumb!" She walked off ahead, even though Twilight had just managed to shake Shining Armor out of his slumber so that he would escort us to the castle.

"Where is she going…?" Fluttershy asked me, everypony taking notice of her sudden leave.

"I don't really know." I responded with a small shrug, having no clue on where she thought she would go.

Of course, as Shining Armor had been leading us towards the castle, I managed to find her standing patiently on the side of the path we took. She had been obviously waiting for me, but it was clear that she didn't want to admit it. She averted her eyes to the side, unwilling to look at me as a troubled frown remained glued to her face. Despite her clear expression, she immediately joined me at my side as I passed by, but she didn't say anything at all.

"You know I was just messing around with you, right?" I mentioned.

"Hmph." She turned her head away and puffed out her cheeks. "You owe me something sweet for that."

"I'll give you whatever you want if you let me introduce you to Luna." I offered. "Deal?"

She decided to open one eye towards me. "Why are you making such a big deal about this? I told you that you don't have to do that."

"Athena," I began to address her a little more seriously, "You've never really gotten to experience the closest to what it feels like in having a real mother, right? We've already kind of missed out on it when we were foals, but don't you want to at least have some sort of idea now? I kind of get what you're saying about there being no point, but you never know. I can't really be with Luna every day, but I'm still glad to be with her on occasions like this. She might not even feel like a mother to you, but the longer you spend time with her, the more that'll change."

Athena sighed heavily and slowed down her walking pace, having me match with hers, so I could keep up with her. "For the entire time I've been breathing, I've pretty much dealt with having no parents, even back when we were little. That's why I've always counted on you. You were my family. You were all I needed. I can understand why she'd be crazy about you, considering that she got to see your face before you were sent off to our other family. She doesn't even know I exist. What makes you think she'll be so accepting of me?"

"I guess I can't say that she'll hug you to death and cry endlessly, but I think she needs to know." I suggested. "It sort of feels wrong if we keep something like this from her. All I'm saying is that it doesn't hurt to just, you know, introduce yourself. We'll deal with whatever happens afterward."

Athena sighed once more. "Fine. I'll do it. But, if anything bad happens, I'm going inside you, and I'm not going to come out for days."

"Alright, alright." I accepted. "You got it, drama queen."

When we arrived at a specific room in the castle, Shining Armor made sure to give us an odd warning about the baby for some reason.

"Before we go in, I should probably tell you. Seeing the baby might be a bit of a shock."

This opened up a gateway of imaginative thoughts in my mind. Was something wrong with the baby? Did the baby have some kind of condition that was uncommon? Did the baby not even look like either the mother or father? That would certainly be shocking.

Nevertheless, Twilight didn't take her brother's remark too seriously, and she decided to open up the door to the room without thinking twice about preparing herself for the unexpected.

"Come on, big brother. I've met babies before. I expect meeting this one won't be any different."

We followed Twilight inside, and I immediately noticed every one of the princesses standing by the bed where the baby was. I gave a little wave to them, but curiosity had me turning up to the baby's bedside before making any conversation with them. Their baby was all bundled up in a light blue blanket, and the horn on its head was easily noticed.

So, their baby was a unicorn. I assumed that that was the most likely scenario, considering that Shining Armor was a unicorn and Cadence was an Alicorn. I didn't know any of the in-depth science when it came to biology and all that, but I figured it would take the most common trait between the two parents. That was having the ability to perform magic, of course. Despite the horn, one look at the baby and it was easy to establish that their child had Cadence's looks. I assumed the baby was a girl, but I wasn't totally sure until I was able to receive some kind of confirmation first.

When Shining Armor said that seeing the baby would be a shock, I had actually been somewhat expecting for the baby to look nothing like either of them. It was a bigger shock with the Cakes' babies, seeing as one was a unicorn and another was a Pegasus when neither of their parents was either. The baby obviously looked like Cadence, so that was out of the window. What exactly was the "shock" Shining Armor was warning us about?

The blanket the baby had been wrapped in suddenly came loose, and when we noticed the cause of it, we found a pair of wings stretching out from the baby's body. I had to take an unintentional closer look as the baby cooed to make sure that these wings were actually attached to the baby's body.

"Of course, I could be wrong." Twilight turned towards her brother and sister-in-law with an expression of shock that the two of them most likely had been expecting. "The baby is an Alicorn?!"

"It looks that way." Cadence responded, revealing a great tone of exhaustion from her vocal chords.

"But... But... But I thought Alicorn wings had to be earned by accomplishing some great, princess-worthy deed!" Rarity brought up, referencing Twilight's ascension to the state of royalty.

"Or, they could just appear out of nowhere and try to take the spotlight out of somepony else's awesomeness…" Rainbow Dash crossed her forelegs as she judged me in the corner of her eyes.

"I didn't ask for this." I argued against her comment. "They're here now. Deal with it."

"Don't forget I'm still cool though."

"Before we get off track…" Applejack eyed Rainbow Dash for her unnecessary brash remark before she turned back to the baby. "How is it that a baby can just be born with them? Is it because Princess Cadence is an Alicorn?"

"I cannot say for certain." Tia responded with. "The birth of an Alicorn is something Equestria has never seen."

"When Alexander was born, he didn't have any kind of wings or magic." Luna mentioned, offering some input from experience. "At the same time, he wasn't exactly created in the same kind of means as this little one. It is beyond even our understanding."

"So," Pinkie loudly chimed in, "What you're saying is that she could be a super-strong flyer and have crazy baby magic!?"

"Well, I know all about super-strong flying!" Rainbow Dash mentioned as she gave a short somersault midair.

"And I can help keep tabs on her magic!" Twilight offered.

I would say that they were the best for the job.

"Coochie coochie coo!" Pinkie Pie tickled their baby until her face unexpectedly began scrunching together. It was clear that she was about to sneeze, but none of us had been expecting what came afterward.

As soon she sneezed out loud, a gigantic ray of magic shot out from the tip of her horn and literally broke through floors of the castle, having another resident poke out and stare back down in astonishment from the upper levels. If I wasn't mistaken, I believed that this kind of magic was possibly even more powerful, if not as powerful, than the magic Twilight and I had been given when the news of Tirek's escape surfaced. Having been just born, the baby took this behavior lightly and drifted off back to sleep.

"It appears her magic is more powerful than that of a newborn unicorn!" Tia analyzed after having gently petted the foal.

"The crowds have already started to gather." Luna mentioned after taking a look out the window.

"This Crystalling is gonna be some party!" Pinkie declared excitedly, blowing up a balloon in the process.

"Do you think we should call it off?" Cadence seemed to suggest hesitantly.

As the others offered their inputs on Cadence's suggestion, I took a little time to think silently to myself and turned over to Athena. I wanted to introduce her to her royal family as planned, but I hadn't expected any of this at all. Just by the vibe I got from inside the room, it seemed like everypony was going to be busy, especially with the Crystalling business going on. It was probably best that I'd leave introductions for afterward.

Athena caught me practically starring at her. She cocked her head to the side and shrugged. She probably thought I was trying to get answers from her about the baby's situation, but my stare was more of an unintentional one.

"In light of the little one's abilities, this Crystalling might be more important than ever." I heard Tia say. "Perhaps you should address your subjects and remind them of that."

I took particular notice of Cadence's exhausted face as she nodded in agreement. I hated to say this, even if it's to myself, but the state of her complexion was absolutely at a low point. I was worried that she was in no condition to be doing any kind of addressing. I began to wonder if there was anything any of us could do to help, but seeing as we hardly had any experience or knowledge with the customs here, I figured we couldn't do much.

Once Cadence kissed her baby goodbye, she walked out of the room with Tia and Luna following behind, leaving her husband snoring heavily on top of the baby's bed. I noticed Luna take a short glance over to me, but it seemed she didn't have any spare time for greetings, proving my point that this wasn't an appropriate time to bring up Athena.

"Shining Armor! Do you have everything you need for the ceremony?" Twilight asked as she tapped him awake.

His eyelids fought to lift up until his eyes were suddenly shot wide open. "Huh? Oh, no!" He backed away from the baby and anxiously jogged in place. "I still have to interview the honor guards, choose the purity crystal, and pick a crystaller!" He appeared to lose all strength in his legs and sat down with pursed and quivering lips. This stallion was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. I suppose I was grateful I wasn't in his position.

"Alright, take it easy." Twilight calmed him. "Pinkie can stay here with me and keep an eye on the baby."

Pinkie turned towards us to reveal that she had already been keeping the baby busy with her silly antics. The baby had been clutching Pinkie's eyes in enjoyment, but Pinkie being Pinkie, it didn't seem she felt any pain or discomfort from that.

"And we'll all help you with everythin' else." Applejack offered.

Despite his former worries, Shining Armor was quick to fall flat on the floor and snore loudly once more.

"That is, if you can stay awake long enough to tell us how." Rarity mentioned at the sight of him.

Twilight tapped his hooves until he mumbled some and slowly opened his eyes to look around the room. "Come on, Shining Armor. I know you're tired, and we're here to help. Just tell us what you need to do and we'll make sure this Crystalling gets done. After that, you can sleep all you want."

"Ugh." Shining Armor pushed himself up from the ground and planted a moderately trembling hoof to his temple. "Okay. First, I need to line up the honor guards. I don't know if there's enough time to interview each one of them, so I might just have to make a decision on the spot."

"I can totally help with that." Rainbow Dash less-than-modestly proclaimed. "I have eye for picking out what's awesome and what's not."

"And then there's picking the purity crystal…" Shining Armor counted with his hoof.

"If any pony can help with that, it's certainly me." Rarity stepped forward as she luxuriously gave a wave of her mane.

"I still need to pick a crystaller." Shining Armor brought up and tapped his hoof against his chin for a moment. "But, now that I think about it, I think I know somepony fit for the job."

"Then, it's settled!" Twilight acknowledged out loud. "Pinkie and I will stay with the baby. After all, Pinkie's has experience with babysitting, and I can keep her magic under control."

"You need any help?" I asked, approaching Twilight by her side. "Fluttershy can help keep the baby a little more occupied, and I can probably help you with her magic."

Twilight thought about it for a moment before she gave a light shake of her head. "As we all noticed before, her magic is pretty powerful. I don't want to risk have either of you getting hurt by it. I think Pinkie and I can handle her just fine, right Pinkie?"

"Yeparooni!" Pinkie sent back, continuing to enthusiastically keep the baby busy.

"Why don't you guys go and help Shining Armor with what he needs to do?" Twilight advised and moved her lips close to my ear. "He looks like he's about to lose it, after all..." She whispered.

I nodded. "Alright."

Earning a closed-eye beam from her, the rest of us decided to follow Shining Armor outside of the castle, so we could start working on making thisCrystalling happen.

There had been a grand curtain that separated our party from the princesses making their announcements to the crystal ponies outside. Here, Shining Armor had managed to line up the honor guards he had been talking about. I wasn't sure if there were more guards capable of the task, or if he just randomly picked out a few and brought them here to "interview".

As we heard Cadence speak on the other side of the curtains, Shining Armor was noticeably growing more panicky and anxious.

"I'm not ready!" He cried out with labored breathing.

"Take it easy! Just pick whoever looks the most like honor guard material." Rainbow Dash shoved a couple of helmets his way, turning him in the direction of his row of assorted guards.

"Right... right." Shining Armor responded and carried the helmets with his magic. Without a moment to think, he seemed to pick the first two guards he laid his eyes on. As the two guards were blinded by the helmets covering their face, the others stepped backward in shame. "I'm sorry." He apologized for his behavior. "Fatherhood is way more stressful than I ever thought."

"I can only imagine." Fluttershy and I found ourselves saying in unison with somewhat contradicting tones in our voice. The two of looked at each other for a moment before we slowly turned away in slight embarrassment.

"Now, I know choosing the crystal of purity is a very important decision." Rarity stepped forward as she held a lavish jewelry casket in front of Shining Armor. "So, I have gone through the trouble of arranging them in order from incredibly pure to outrageously pure."

Fluttershy leaned in to take a look at the crystals for herself until she brought something up to mind. "Um, Rarity, don't they all sort of look the same?"

"Oh, well, to the untrained eye, perhaps. What do you think, Shining Armor?" Rarity asked.

Shining Armor's pupils dilated as he bit his lower lip. There was a heavy amount of incoherent stammering before he shouted out loud. "I don't know!" Afterwards, he fell to the ground and covered his eyes with his hooves.

If I was ever to have a kid, I didn't think I'd have to go through this kind of formal process. Then again, I wasn't exactly sure. Since I am technically royalty, is there something that needs to be done for me on such an occasion? I could only hope that I wouldn't have to go through the same struggles that Shining Armor was going through.

"I hope Twilight and Pinkie are having better luck with the baby!" I could hear Rarity say in a hushed tone.

I sighed heavily and stepped towards Shining Armor. I didn't want to say anything since it absolutely wasn't my place to. It wasn't my Crystalling. It was Shining Armor and Cadence's. However, I couldn't stand seeing Shining Armor losing it every few seconds.

"I know this is important to you, Shining Armor, but I think you might be taking this a little over the top." I turned towards the small casket Rarity held open and brought it over closer to him. "Rarity already did most of the work. If you ask me, just pick something from here. I don't think it's going to make a difference."

"Okay, okay…" Shining Armor removed the hooves from his eyes and took a peek at the crystals in front of him. "Okay, let's see… Eenie, meenie, miniy, mo…" It was a little weird to see someone like our prince here using such a matter to pick out a crystal, but whatever worked as long as it got him to progress through this circumstance.

It honestly took him longer than expected to finally pick out a crystal, but when he did, it seemed that we were able to check off everything that needed to be done. Noticing the messy presentation Shining Armor had given, Rarity went on ahead to grab a brush, along with a few other things, to help freshen him up a bit. Despite the progress we had made, he still was still breathing a little heavily as Rarity brushed down his mane.

Eventually, Cadence, along with Tia and Luna, approached us nearby from within the castle. Shining Armor quickly met up with Cadence to give a report on the preparations for the Crystalling. "Okay. I chose the honor guard, picked the purity crystal, and I know exactly who I want to be our crystaller. So, all we need is..." He paused to look back and rub his hoof against his chin.

"The baby?" Cadence answered for him.

Shining Armor was shocked for a moment to realize that he had forgotten such an essential part, but to his relief, we heard Twilight calling out in response.

"We're here!"

Twilight had been holding a magic bubble with both Pinkie and the baby inside. The baby continued to drag Pinkie around in flight as Pinkie had held on to the baby's legs firmly. That baby must have been really strong too.

"She's a really strong flyer!" Pinkie mentioned, confirming my thoughts.

As Cadence moved forward to retrieve her daughter, I felt a hoof being placed on my shoulder. I turned to find Luna gazing happily at me before she pulled me in for a hug.

"I'm glad you could make it."

"Of course. This isn't something Twilight and I would want to miss, after all." I responded. "Besides, there's someone I want to introduce to you. You've seen her before, but you won't believe the words that are about to come out of my mouth."

"Someone you wish to introduce to me?" Luna repeated in confusion. "Who could this pony be?"

I quickly searched around for the subject of our conversation. It wasn't a surprise when I found her attempting to slowly slip out of sight. "Athena, come over here." I called.

With a light sigh, she walked over to us as she dragged her hooves across the ground and held her head down low. Once she entered our conversing bubble, I began to finally formally introduce the two of them.

"Mom. I'd like you to meet Athena. She's your—"


We heard the sharp and extremely loud sound of a baby crying. We turned to find the source sending out sound waves that could nearly shatter every piece of glass in this empire, even something like…

A distinct crackling came from the center of the area. Each one of us noticed the Crystal Heart now looked completely different. From being a firm symbol of great love, it was now riddled with cracks like a shattered mirror. It was only a few seconds before a million pieces from the heart fell towards the floor. For the longest time, only silence enveloped any kind of sound around us.

Applejack was the one pony who mustered up the courage to break the silence and say something. "I'm guessin' that's gonna make it harder to do the Crystalling."

"It's worse than that!" Twilight dashed over to the curtains to take a peek outside. "Without the Heart, the Crystal Empire's about to be buried under a mountain of ice and snow!" She pulled open the curtains, revealing the clouds that were slowly but surely building up over the Crystal Empire.

Well, shoot…

"So... not only can we not take part in a fabulous ancient ceremony, but we're also about to be frozen solid!" Rarity repeated the unnecessary detail of the devastating winter storm that was soon to come.

"But what about when King Sombra ruled the Crystal Empire and the Crystal Heart was missin'?" Applejack reminded us, but she had either forgotten one crucial thing or was never told about it in the first place. "The city wasn't covered in snow then!"

"The Heart wasn't missing." Twilight explained. "It was still in the castle. King Sombra had just hidden it."

"I'm afraid Twilight is correct, and the storm clouds are already forming." Princess Celestia brought up, gesturing her head towards the blackest storm clouds I had ever seen outside.

"I can totally fly up there and bust those puppies! No problem!" Rainbow Dash jabbed her hooves midair. She was just about to take off before Celestia stopped her by closing the curtains on her.

"I wouldn't advise it, Rainbow Dash. Those storm clouds are not like the ones you know." Tia's face had slightly scrunched up in worry. It wasn't the first time that we had seen this kind of worried look, but we knew that our problem wasn't going to be easy to fix as long as that expression remained on her face.

"This far north, the weather has a will of its own, and now it will only grow stronger, enveloping everything in its path." Luna added, the panic within our group beginning to ironically snowball down a slope of distress.

"Including the Crystal Empire!" Cadence cried out, her foal completely oblivious to the kind of peril her home was threatened with.

"And us along with it!" Twilight stepped in, earning a shivering embrace from Pinkie Pie.

"So, what can we do?" Athena asked, holding a hoof to her lips and her eyebrows drawing together in worry. "Are you saying that this storm is literally going to wipe this empire off the face of the earth?"

"The only thing we know that keeps that storm away is the Crystal Heart." Cadence mentioned. "If we want any chance of driving it away in time, we need to fix the Heart as soon as possible. If we can't find a way to do that in time, we're going to have to start evacuating everyone!"

A heavy wind found its way through the curtain that had been shielding us for the most part and inflicted a cold shiver among everypony. Taking note of Fluttershy's somewhat vulnerable reaction, I quickly stepped towards her and wrapped a wing around her. None of us knew that the weather would turn out to be this bad, otherwise, I'm sure we would have had our winter gear to help us endure the cold.

"So, Cadence," I spoke after making sure I was warming Fluttershy with my coat as much as I could, "You don't already know how the Crystal Heart can be fixed?"

"W-well…" Cadence seemed to stutter a bit, causing me to worry that I may have embarrassed her since this was her Empire after all. "This hasn't ever happened before. It was one thing when the Crystal Heart was missing, but all we had to do was find it! I can't say I ever thought that the Heart could actually be broken."

"There has to be a spell or something that can patch up the Heart!" Twilight advised, rubbing her trembling legs for warmth. It was a shame I couldn't help keep everyone warm as much as possible. "There's no way I can believe that there isn't a way to fix it if it can just break like that."

"There may very well be." Celestia responded after thinking silently for a moment.

"But it isn't something that either of us know." Luna informed.

"The library here at the castle is nearly as extensive as the one in Canterlot." Cadence brought up. "If there is a spell that can fix the Crystal Heart, there's a good chance we can find something there!"

"What about the storm?" Twilight reminded. "Can any of you hold it off?"

"Yes. Only for a short time." Luna stated. "But even our magic will eventually succumb to the power of the Frozen North."

Celestia expanded her wings and readied herself to fly in the direction of the storm clouds as her sister joined her. "We will do what we can, but you must hurry."

"Hold on!" I almost stepped away from keeping Fluttershy covered. "Is there anything I can do to help? Like, try to hold off the storm with you guys?"

"Absolutely not!" Luna responded rather sternly. "I will not allow any room for you to be harmed. Leave this to us."

"Right…" I returned a little gloomily after witnessing Luna's almost scorning reaction. I only stood in silence as I watched the two sisters leave the area to focus on their intention of delaying the storms. I knew she didn't mean to make me feel bad or anything. I knew she just wanted to keep me safe, but it still hurt to see how serious she was about this.

Noting my expression, Twilight approached me and placed a hoof on my shoulder. "I don't know how long it will take to find the right spell, but you should probably tell the crowd outside to get somewhere warm." She directed to those that were willing to take the job.

"And try not to mention the Crystal Heart." Cadence advised. "We don't want to start a panic."

"We can handle it." Applejack returned proudly and directed her attention over to Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. "C'mon, girls!"

Fluttershy was just about to join them as they galloped past the curtain, but I felt the need to stop her all of a sudden.

"Are sure you'll be alright out there?" I asked.

Fluttershy nodded her head as she attempted to assure me with a sweet smile. "Of course." I sent her a hesitant tilt of my head, causing her to caress my cheek gently with her hoof. "You don't need to worry. I promise I will be absolutely fine. Applejack and Rainbow Dash will be out there with me after all."

I didn't want to keep her from doing her job, so I decided to let her go, despite how uneasy I felt about it. "Alright…"

"I understand that you're worried, Alex, but I'm going to need all your help with the library." Twilight told me. "The place is enormous, and we need to find something as quickly as we can!"

"You can count on us, Twily!" Shining Armor assured, grabbing ahold of their foal from Cadence until she suddenly disappeared out of thin air.

She reappeared on Pinkie's face like a giant spider, but Pinkie Pie clearly hadn't been expecting it. In an immediate reaction, Pinkie shrieked and unintentionally threw the baby away from her face. Shining Armor immediately dove towards the ground to catch her, but just as she was about to land in his hooves, she disappeared yet again. However, the difference this time was that she didn't reappear in our sights.

"Where'd she go?!" Shining Armor cried out in fright.

A distant giggling of a baby girl caused Cadence's ears to perk up, allowing her to head in the direction of the sound and lead the rest of us. "This way!" She pointed back towards the interior of the castle.

What happened next was what I could only describe as utter chaos mixed into a frying pan of pressure. Seeing as Athena and I weren't too familiar with what kind of spell we were supposed to look for, we decided to help Shining Armor and the others in trying to catch the baby, and that proved to be a major challenge itself.

While Twilight and Cadence were speedreading through books, flipping through pages like there was no tomorrow, Shining Armor, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Athena, and I tried to catch our target by using whatever we had at our disposal. But, this baby was fast! Even when we managed to catch her with our own hooves, she would easily just teleport out and pop at some other random place. The baby was taking this entire "scurrying around the library" as a game. Wasn't there any way that Shining Armor and Cadence could keep the baby's magic under control? Because that would help out a lot.

As Twilight read out various book titles, her voice noticeably grew more distressed, and this, in turn, caused morale to shift more towards the negative side. For me, the longer it took to find some kind of spell to repair the Crystal Heart, the more I panicked inside my body at the thought of Tia and Luna being overpowered by the Frozen North. In a way, I began worrying that maybe there wasn't any hope, but if there was any good thing about chasing their baby, it was that it kept my mind off those kinds of thoughts in the first place.

In the midst of all the chasing/semi-warzone, Starlight Glimmer had arrived at the castle library with Spike. I believed I was relieved to see her, trusting that she may be able to help find some kind of spell that Twilight and Cadence were looking for.

"What is going on?!" She asked after just barely ducking down under a beam of magic from the troublesome baby.

"You want the long or the short version?" Pinkie replied as she was being dragged across the floor with one leg by the baby herself.


Seeing as the baby had been distracted with Pinkie during the moment, I turned over to Athena, who had already been at the point of catching her breath, and silently signaled her for the two of us to coordinate something together. Despite continuing to pant a little, she nodded and turned her attention over to Pinkie's dragging body.

"The baby's an Alicorn and she accidentally destroyed the Crystal Heart, so Twilight and Cadance are looking for a spell to put it back together and save the Crystal Empire from turning into a giant wasteland of ice and snow." Pinkie explained with a fast tongue.

I threw the tip of my hoof forwards, signaling for Athena to simultaneously jump in and try to catch the baby together with me. However, I wasn't surprised when this baby apparently pulled up a sixth sense and avoided our capture like nothing. In turn, this left Pinkie, Athena, and I apparently in the middle of a game of twisted limbs and legs. When I was finally able to slip through and free myself, I quickly helped the two of them up.

"Are you okay?" I asked, feeling my voice on the verge of shaking with how messy things were.

"Yuppie!" Pinkie shook the stars off her head and prepared to charge after the baby that flew away from our vicinity. "Come back here, baby! Auntie Pinkie Pie just wants to hug you!"

"Alex, my stomach feels like it's in knots right now…" Athena worriedly expressed.

"Sorry." I apologized, lowering my head in guilt. "That's probably because of me. So much is going on, and all this happened out of nowhere. I just wish we had a moment of silence to take in and think for a minute."

"Is there any way we can help?" Starlight approached as Spike tagged along.

I immediately remembered about the newfound hope with her arrival and placed my hooves on her shoulders without thinking. "Starlight! Your magic is like top tier, right?! Can you help Twilight and Cadence look for a spell to fix the Crystal Heart?! Or maybe you already know one?!"

I found Starlight's eyes widening at my nearly desperate request. "I-I don't know any spell that can fix something like that, but I'd love to help Twilight look for one if it can make a difference."

Before I could exaggerate how much of a difference she could make, I unexpectedly heard Cadence call out a name for everyone to hear. "What about this? Trotter's Tome of Reliquary?" She brought over the book to Twilight, who quickly skimmed through it.

"I think this is it!" Twilight exclaimed, turning over the book to allow Cadence to take a look.

"'Spell of Relic Reconstitution'!" Cadence read the words on the page out loud. "I can't believe we found it!"

"It's a good thing, too!" Twilight closed the book shut and formed a reassuring smile. "Without this, I don't know what we'd do!"

Just as my heart was about to leap out of my chest in joy, I approached them with the intention of fixing this crisis as soon as possible. "Let's get to it then." I advised. "The quicker we can fix the Crystal Heart, the quicker we can start the—"

Before I could finish, a baby suddenly appeared directly in front of me and began toppling the books that Twilight and Cadence had stacked on the nearby table. Pinkie Pie took another shot at catching the baby. She unexpectedly had success with her attempt, but it came with an immediate price. Even though the foal didn't escape from Pinkie's legs, she actually sneezed, causing a bright and powerful beam to shoot out from the tip of her horn.

It went on to ricochet off Rarity's mirror, Shining Armor's magical shield, and the bubble that Starlight formed around Spike and her. Before we knew it, the beam was headed straight in our direction, and our first thought was to duck out of its path. As soon we got back up, a loud and sharp gasp came from Twilight. In a matter of seconds, everyone in the room, including me, noticed the insanely large searing hole through the entire book that Twilight had been holding.

"Oops." Pinkie slipped after having witnessed the book for herself as the baby finally calmly remained within her hooves.

Twilight spent a minute closely observing the book, almost as if she was in complete denial in regards to a huge gaping and burning hole smack dab in the middle of the book. She laughed somewhat nervously and exchanged a grin with each one of us. "This is fine. Heh heh heh. This is totally okay. No problem here."

"I'm so sorry, Twilight!" Starlight Glimmer immediately came up and took the blame for herself.

Twilight sighed lightly and stared at the now worthless book. She shook it a little, but with any little motion, more and more piles of ashes fell towards the floor. "Don't blame yourself, Starlight. It's not like any of us knew that this was going to happen."

"Do you think you can remember the spell?" Cadence asked.

Twilight's body lurched backward at Cadence's inquiry. "I only read it through once!" She responded as if she couldn't believe the words that had come out of Cadence's mouth.

"Is that like the only copy in here?" I couldn't help but ask.

"Even if there is, I don't know if there's enough time to look for one." Cadence returned, glancing towards the hole in the wall that her baby had caused. The storms were quickly approaching together for an eventual joint attack.

"Well, if anypony can exactly remember something she read for the first time two minutes ago, it's you, Twilight." Rarity believed.

"I'll try. But I'm not sure how long it'll take." Twilight opened the book and flipped through it. I wasn't sure if there was even any point in looking through it now. "At the very least, maybe there's some remnant of the spell left. Anything to help me remember it."

"You know, uh, not to rush you or anything, but, um, can you do it super-duper fast?" Pinkie asked right after a heavy wind had infiltrated our momentarily safe quarters.

"I'll do what I can, but we should evacuate the city just in case we run out of time." Cadence suggested. "Everypony's safety here is the top priority!" She turned towards Shining Armor and retrieved the baby that had been sitting on his back. "Shining Armor, you and everyone else need to get everypony to the train station before the tracks freeze over!"

"We've got that covered." Shining Armor returned a confident nod. "But, I'm sure you and Twilight will remember the spell."

I wasn't sure what part I wanted to play in this. Once again, so many things were happening all of a sudden, and they were piling onto a list I still needed to sort out. Considering that I was an Alicorn, I decided that it was probably best to stick around Twilight and Cadence for the spell that they'd been trying to figure out.

"I don't know if I'll be any help, but I'll stick here. Just let me know what I can do to help." I almost felt myself begging.

Shining Armor nodded once more and turned towards Rarity and Pinkie Pie. "Let's round up everypony in the city and get them to the train station!"

Starlight Glimmer was the only pony left, along with Spike, that stuck around as the other group left.

"I just hope this spell is the only one we need…" Twilight told herself as she pulled out an empty scroll and quill. As soon as she had looked back to gather her thoughts, Starlight stepped up to approach her at the table.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" She asked.

"I don't think so. I'm just sorry about your lesson." Twilight responded, pausing whenever she seemed to remember a piece of the spell and wrote it down.

"Oh, that doesn't matter now." Starlight shook her head. "Sunburst and I don't have anything in common anyway. He's a big important wizard! And I'm re-learning everything I ever thought I knew."

A big important wizard? Like Starswirl level? How haven't I heard of him before Starlight joined us?

"Sunburst?" Cadence repeated, revealing an obvious interest in Starlight's description. "I don't recognize the name, but if he's an important wizard, you should bring him here. Maybe he'll know what to do if the spell fails."

With our current given situation, Cadence's suggestion was a really good one. Nevertheless, it didn't exactly provide me with a firm amount of relief, unlike Starlight.

"Of course!" She exclaimed with a sharp gasp and immediately ran out of the room with a swishing tail.

"You better go with her, Spike." Twilight recommended, earning a nod from Spike before he left after her.

As soon as they had both left, thunder clapped loudly outside. Each of us turned towards the hole in the library and noticed Celestia and Luna working tirelessly to push back the storm clouds that endlessly advanced. However, eventually, they were overrun and were no longer in sight. I felt my hooves begin to lift off the ground, but then Luna's words began to flood my mind.

She didn't want me out there for any reason, and I believed that now wasn't the time to act so carelessly. Nevertheless, I found my hooves were now tapping anxiously, and I couldn't help but pace around while I thought over their current wellbeing.

Cadence seemed to notice my constant uneasiness because she began speaking rather negatively afterward. "I'm sorry, everyone. I'm starting to think…maybe this is all because of me."

"What?!" Twilight stopped in the middle of her writing to turn directly towards Cadence. "Why on earth would you think that?!"

Cadence sighed and turned towards her child, who had been riding innocently on top of her back. "Obviously, this is the first time I've ever had a baby. Maybe there were some things I was supposed to know beforehoof. I tried to read up and prepare myself, but I never thought the baby would be an Alicorn. If I had just done a little more research, maybe I would have found a way to have a handle on her power. If I had, the Crystal Heart never would have been shattered, and we'd all be having an amazing Crystalling right about now."

"Don't go blaming yourself for any of this." Twilight somewhat both barked and pleaded. "No one is at fault for this."

"You can't expect anyone to predict the future and do something to prevent a problem like this." I mentioned, despite continuously tapping my hoof in worry. "Look, I'm on the verge of blaming myself for not helping Celestia and Luna right now. I'm scared to death that something might happen because I'm not there with them. I don't know what's going to happen, but I can only stick to my faith and stop myself from blaming myself whenever the idea comes up."

Slightly behind me, I noticed Athena kicking her hoof against the ground as if she had been stuck in hesitant thought.

"He's right." Twilight agreed and turned back to her work to write some more. "Things happen that we don't like, and we can't expect them not to happen. It's all a part of life, and it's what makes us stronger in the end. We've overcome so many obstacles in the past, and we just have to remember to keep believing that'll we'll pull through anything that's thrown against us, even if we have to force ourselves."

Cadence sighed and nodded. "You two are right. Please, if there's anything I can do to help right now, I'd like to know."

"Same here." I stepped up to Cadence's side. "I've gotta do something to know that I'm at least doing something. Anything that'll help, please."

Twilight stopped writing for a second and tapped the quill against her forehead. "I don't think any of you have read the spell before, otherwise I'd ask you to help me piece it together. The only thing I can think of is asking you to see if you can find another copy of this book." She held up whatever was left of the book and hovered it towards us. "I don't think I'll be needing this anymore."

"We'll do our best." Cadence's eyebrows furrowed as she firmly nodded. "Let us know if you think you've finished the spell." She turned her head towards me and gestured it up the staircase. "Let's go, Alex."

Cadence directed me to look in one section they hadn't previously looked in before while she looked in another. As I quickly skimmed through the enormous number of books on the many bookshelves, I used the destroyed book Twilight had given us as a reference on what to look for what.

"You know…" Athena mentioned, causing me to catch her staring despondently at the floor. "If things get absolutely worse, like bad of the bad, I could…maybe…" Her eyes averted away. She hadn't specified on what she suggested on doing, but for some reason, I was immediately able to catch on.

"No." I practically ordered. "I know what you can do, but I also know that you hate using that power in the first place. Even if it's something small, I don't ever want you to go through that same kind of pain like you did before. We've been able to get through problems without it, and I'm sure we won't ever need to use it in the future."

"How can you be so sure of that?" Athena asked. "Think about it. If I hadn't used it before, things would probably be so much different than they are now. Who's to say that that timeline wasn't supposed to be our timeline…?"

"Look, I don't have the answers to everything." I admitted, feeling the thumping in my brain grow due to Athena's line of questioning. "I wish I did, but I don't. I can't tell you why things ended up the way they did, or how they would be if they didn't, but all I know is that we have to focus on the present now. No matter how bad things are, I personally think you should never try to go back and change things. Time is a really tricky thing, and who knows what kind of harm you can do, even you intend to do more good than bad."

"Believe me, Alex. I get that." Athena assured. "I know firsthoof how changing time could mess anything up, but I'm just saying…what if we're in a predicament where…I'm…about to…lose you?"

She struggled with releasing her last few words, and I could immediately understand why once she had finished speaking. I still didn't know what kind of answer to give her, especially under the pressuring situation we had currently been in.

"I don't know what to tell you…" I ceased my search and gave it to her straight. "All I can do is hope that it never comes to something like that. But, I don't know, maybe things that are meant to happen will always happen no matter what. Just like that time when Twilight had gone back in time to stop herself from worrying about the future. All it did was actually start that weird paradox in the first place. I have no idea how, but that just proves my point on how time is so tricky."

"I guess so…" Athena looked away sadly as she massaged her left foreleg with her right.

I should have been doing what Twilight had tasked me to do, but I couldn't help but stray away from it and approach Athena. It looked like she needed it, so I decided to wrap my forelegs around her and give her a warm embrace to battle this surrounding cold. She gasped softly by my sudden behavior, but she returned the motion nevertheless.

"I know you're worried about it, but let's just focus on this right now. We can talk about that another time." I advised.

"Okay." She answered as she lowered and then lifted her head on my shoulder.

Athena helped me look through the bookshelves, but we had no such luck finding another copy of the book we were looking for. I started thinking that no such copy existed in the Crystal Empire, but in order to keep morale up, I had to keep imagining a copy being hidden somewhere around.

"Find anything?" Cadence landed her hooves near us, but all we could do was return shaking heads.

Just before all hope might have seemed to be lost, we heard Twilight shouting from downstairs. We immediately followed her voice and approached her at the desk she had been writing on.

"Did you guys find anything?" Twilight repeated the question, causing us to repeat our disappointing answer. Either way, Twilight didn't look too defeated once she focused back on her spell recovery. "I think I might be just about done with this. I can't say for sure if it's the right spell, but we might as well head back to the Crystal Heart to try it out."

"Let's go." I felt the need to impatiently emphasize, remembering all of our loved ones being out in the freezing cold in order to help save the Empire.

Outside, Cadence began pacing around as Twilight took an extra few minutes to put the finishing touches on her work. Watching Cadence pace around like that caused me to follow along as well. In turn, I unintentionally shared my anxiety with Athena. Despite all the troubled ponies in the vicinity, Cadence's foal continued to suck her hoof on top of her mother's back while her eyes roamed around and coos came out of her mouth.

Twilight finally pulled the quill away from her face and stretched out the opened scroll before her. "Uh, I think that's everything?"

Cadence took a look for herself and offered a brief response. "It looks right to me, but... there's only one way to find out."

In the next second, both of them stood at opposite sides of the Crystal Heart. Twilight fired a shot of her magic towards the broken artifact. The pieces lifted upwards together, but they remained unconnected. This is when Cadence fired a beam of her own, and, in turn, seemed to glue the pieces together. Despite having obvious unfixable cracks, the Crystal Heart seemed to stand strong in its place.

Everypony's smiles seemed to stretch out when it looked like our job had finally been finished. However, before I could burst into a hop, skip, and a jump, the Heart wavered back and forth until every glued piece fell back towards the floor. At the sight of this major failure, everypony else's smiles had been turned upside down.

Despite the sight, I tried to believe that maybe it would still work somehow.

"Hey, hold on. Maybe if I help with my magic, it'll work this time?" I offered almost desperately.

Cadence solemnly shook her head. "It's the spell. It isn't meant to fix something like this."

"So, that's it?" I questioned, my voice nearly quivering with fear. "There's nothing we can do?"

"The spell failed." Twilight repeated and reminded as she lowered her head in shame. "I don't know what else to do."

We were at an absolute loss. Our only hope was that this spell would fix the Crystal Heart and ultimately everything else. Even though Twilight was able to pull off remembering the spell, it still didn't work. What in Equestria were we supposed to do now with nothing else to go on? Was Athena right? Were there going to be times where she'd have to do something she swore she never wanted to do again?

"An old student of mine believes he does." We suddenly heard, causing our heads to jerk towards the curtains that were keeping most of the cold outside.

We first noticed all of the ponies that had separated from us reconvene back with us, especially Tia and Luna. Just the sight of seeing them all appear to be just fine made my heart skip from relief. Tia and Luna looked a little banged up from the winter snow, but they definitely didn't look to be hurt whatsoever. Nevertheless, the two of them pulled away from each other to reveal a new face I hadn't seen before.

Once taking notice of the shattered pieces among our hooves, his eyes widened and looked rather shocked. "The baby did this?!"

Twilight pulled up the failed spell and allowed him to take a look at it. "I tried putting it back together with—"

"The spell of Relic Reconstitution." He finished for her and simply crumbled it up and tossed it away. "No, that won't do it." He turned towards the saddlebag he had been wearing and pulled out a book. The Crystal Heart's been around for millennia. Restoring a relic like this is way beyond one spell." Just hearing him talk like he already knew what he was doing made me feel a bit skeptical yet relieved. It seemed too good to be true that someone with the answer we had been looking for the entire time would appear out of nowhere like this. Nevertheless, I was completely open to anything if it meant this blizzard of a nightmare would be over soon. He flipped through the pages and even offered a look towards Twilight as he continued to explain his reasoning rather quickly. "You need to combine it with something else. Something unique to the relic itself. Something that strengthens it and provides it with power...?"

It seemed that this fellow had been giving Twilight hints to what had been the answer to everything all along instead of pointing out an untested theory. Twilight took a second look at his book and thought intensively for a moment before she reached a proper response. "The Crystalling!"

"Wait, you mean that ceremony we've been holding off because we were trying to fix the Crystal Heart in the first place?" I inquired for clarification.

"Precisely!" The stallion pointed out eagerly. "Combining that spell with the light and love of everypony gathered for the ceremony, together with..." He approached Starlight Glimmer and pushed a certain book her way. "Somnambula's Weather Abjuration to clear away the snow..." He then turned towards Shining Armor and Cadence to exchange a certain spell with them. "And a little Fledgling's Forbearance for the parents..." With a short chuckle, he leaned in towards their foal and petted her lightly. This caused a small giggle to come from her jubilant smile. "That should curb the little one's power fluctuations."

No way. Was this all for real? If this guy really was the answer to everything all along…then he's really…awesome…! Just who is he?!

"You must be Sunburst." Cadence mentioned, almost if she had read my mind like an open book. "Starlight said you were a powerful wizard."

Wait. This was Sunburst? The pony that Starlight had lost for a time being?

"Oh, I'm no wizard." Sunburst simply answered as he fixed his glasses.

Everypony was completely taken aback and shocked at his answer. There were sharp gasps all around me, and Starlight Glimmer quickly spoke up as if she felt the need to come to his defense. "But he studied magic his whole life! You should see his house! And since nobody has any better ideas, what do we have to lose?!"

She was right. We had nothing better in mind. Despite still feeling as if there was some sort of hidden catch, I decided to voice out my opinion on the matter. "Starlight's right. This is the only thing we have left, and I say he seems to know exactly what he's talking about."

If anypony had concerns, I suppose I understood them. It was almost like trusting your life to someone who wasn't an official doctor, despite how much said pony knew. Seeing as the entirety of today revolved around Shining Armor and Cadence's foal, I wouldn't be surprised if they were hesitant about following Sunburst's instructions. However, they seemed to find him trustworthy enough to follow through.

"I had planned on asking Twilight to be our crystaller." Shining Armor delicately retrieved the baby from Cadence. "But since it seems like she'll be busy..." He hovered their babbling foal over Sunburst's hooves to hold.

"I-I'd be honored!" He accepted with the utmost grace.

"Well, what are we waiting for?!" Twilight excitedly asked before getting everyone involved with the main ceremony outside the curtains.

Twilight, Luna, Celestia, and Starlight stayed inside, so they could work on getting the Crystal Heart pieced back together. Even though I was pretty much the novice in the room, I decided that I wanted to help them as well.

Realizing I was going to stick with them, Starlight shared the spell we'd be using with me as Twilight prepared to use her magic. "Follow my lead!" She advised before firing a ray of magic towards the shards. Just like previously, they lifted up and reunited in a loose manner. However, Luna and Tia soon joined in, helping keep the Heart in place.

Starlight and I exchanged a somewhat hesitant and even worried look with each other, but added in our own magic either way. Hoping that reading over the spell once would be enough, I tried keeping my magic locked onto the target. However, I still felt like the runt of the litter, so to speak.

As much as I tried to remind myself that this was for the greater good, each of us shared a pretty heavy burden. In fact, if I could compare it something, it was like all of us had been working together to lift something that weighed a ton off the ground. I personally didn't know how long I could keep going, but thankfully, it wasn't too long before Sunburst had come running in with some kind of glowing crystal. In the next second, he inserted this crystal into the Heart, and we were soon able to release our magic from it. From what we could see, the Crystal Heart appeared to become transparent, and it spun rapidly unlike our first attempt.

Before we knew it, a glow radiated and shot out from within the Heart, immediately changing our appearances as soon as it touched us. This was all familiar, but to some, like Starlight, it was something jaw-dropping.

There was an extremely noticeable rise in temperature, and I quickly galloped towards the curtains to take a look outside. A rainbow had shot up from the top of the castle, and I couldn't describe the kind of relief that had bathed throughout my entire body when I saw the sunny sky once again. Aside from the weather, I took particular notice at Shining Armor and Cadence. They held their baby close to their faces, and I could only imagine that they were experiencing a feeling that was only unique to newfound parents.

"How's that for motivation?" I suddenly heard to my right, causing my coat to slightly jump.

It was Twilight, and she had been sending me a somewhat mischievous grin. It appeared she had noticed me staring at Shining Armor and Cadence for quite a while. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Just thought you might have been picturing yourself with a certain other pony up there." Twilight's smile transformed into a slightly smug grin.

Realizing what she was getting on, I quickly looked away from her gaze whilst feeling a small heated glow radiate within my cheeks. "Yeah, whatever."

Taking a glance at the other side of me, I found Athena staring directly up to where Cadence and Shining Armor stood, almost like I had been doing just a moment ago.

"It's so beautiful…" She allowed to slip past her lips. "I think I finally get it, Alex. I don't know how I didn't see it before."

"Huh?" I questioned her confusing remark.

She turned towards me and allowed me to get a better look at her sparkling eyes and formally styled mane. It had actually been the first time I saw her in her "crystal form", considering that she hadn't been physically outside of me the other times. "If I had ended up manipulating time to where all of this never happened, things wouldn't have turned out as great as they did right now. Sure, there probably would have been a Crystalling, but not like this. Everyone worked together to make this Crystalling happen, and that's the beauty of it. It's like what you always tell yourself and others, isn't it? Things always happen for a reason!"

For some reason, I was slightly taken back by her epiphany, but I managed to form a soft grin in response. "Yeah. You're getting it."

The sound of a pair of hooves clacked on the floor behind us before a new voice spoke between us. "Now, what was it that you wanted to tell me?"

Athena and I turned back to find Luna patiently waiting for my response. I had almost completely forgotten about my attempt to introduce Athena and Luna to each other. Since I had been so unprepared at the moment, I couldn't help but stumble over my words. "Oh, right. That." For some reason, I felt like I was having second thoughts. After everything we had just been through today, I started wondering if it would have been best to slip the news a little later in time. However, before I could make a decision, Athena returned an answer for me.

"Hi…" She appeared to nervously brush her hair as she averted her eyes towards the floor. "Um. I know we haven't really spoken before, but…my name's Athena. And, well…" She lightly sucked in her lips and lowered her eyelids in hesitation. "This is going to sound really crazy, but heh heh… I'm, um, kind of your daughter…"

"My daughter…?" Luna's eyebrows drew together as she didn't appear to take Athena's claim lightly. "But, how?"

"It's a really long story." I tried to explain, "But, you were supposed to have a pair of twins. Due to certain circumstances, I was the only one who apparently made it through, physically, of course."

"You could say that I'm the light that protects him." Athena added with a soft yet anxious smile.

It was clear that Luna was having a bit of trouble comprehending the situation. She appeared to unintentionally stare silently for a long period of time before any pieces of words came out of her mouth. "Forgive me. I don't understand this at all." She turned to me for answers. "How do you know this, Alexander?"

"A while back, Twilight and I went through some time traveling weirdness. Long story short, I found out that Athena here is actually my sister. This is going to sound crazy, but in this other timeline, we were actually twins. Although, as you can see now, we're pretty much different as night and day."

"'Night and day'?" Luna repeated before taking another close look at Athena. In response, Athena embarrassingly turned her head away with a small blush. "Just like my sister and me…" She continued studying Athena for a moment before she shook her head and turned back to me. "Are you certain you are telling the truth, Alex? This isn't what you'd call a 'prank'?"

"I promise you." I swore as I placed a hoof on my chest. "Don't worry. It was a little too much to take in all at once for me too, but I think you'll grow into it."

"I-I see…" Luna hovered a hoof over her lips as if she had been growing somewhat uneasy and worried. She turned to Athena and cleared her throat. "Um, in that case, I'm pleased to make your acquaintance." Luna quickly shook her head as if she had said something wrong. "Err, please forgive me. I do not know how to react properly to this new information. If you are indeed truly my daughter, I wholeheartedly wish to treat you as such, but, I…Mm…"

Athena shook her head. "Don't worry. I understand. I've had to pretty much live my whole life without any parents to look up to." She then glanced towards me and smiled. "I've only ever had Alex, so in a way, I wouldn't know how to treat you either as a mom. Believe me, I know it's hard to accept, and if I had just found out like you did right now, I'd have trouble believing it myself." She paused to lower her head and lightly kicked her hoof against the floor. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, you don't need to act all motherly to me. I don't need you to shower me with hugs and kisses and all that. Alex said that it would be best for you to know that I, at the very least, existed, and after thinking about that for a while, I figured he was right. After all, for a long time, I wanted Alex to know who I was instead of just some 'Spirit', but I was too afraid of the consequences that would bring. So far, things seem to be okay, and I'm trying not to hide from the world anymore." Athena paused for a moment and seemed to realize how much had come out of her mouth. She chuckled from embarrassment and rubbed the back of her head. "Sorry, I don't usually talk so much."

She gasped shortly when she was unexpectedly pulled in for a warm hug by Luna. Despite possibly being in a state of utter confusion, Luna smiled in a similar manner like she always did with me. "Even so, if Alex looks to you as a sister, then I have no issue looking to you as a daughter. I'd like to welcome you to the family."

Athena didn't respond right away to this invitation. Instead, she remained looking ahead in some kind of state of disbelief. Nevertheless, she allowed herself to melt into the earnest embrace and closed her eyes delicately. "Yeah. That's fine with me."

Shining Armor, Cadence, and their baby, along with Sunburst, joined us at the train station once we were finally ready to head back to Ponyville. As we waited for our train to arrive, I found Athena slightly waving her hips in a light dance as she hummed happily with closed eyes.

"You're in a good mood." I acknowledged publicly.

"So, what?" Athena returned as a light shade of red formed within her cheeks. "A lot of amazing things happened today."

"You sure it's not just because you got to meet our mom for real this time?" I teased.

"Oh, come on." She slightly turned away while rubbing her right cheek with her hoof. "Let a girl enjoy her day for once." She paused for a second and then turned back to me. "You still owe me, remember?!"

I believed she had been referring to the offer I made in exchange for her willingness to be introduced to Luna. I didn't remember her ever officially and specifically agreeing to that certain offer, but I had no issue with following through either way. She did great today, and I was proud of her for it. "Yeah, I know. Whatever you want when we get back home."

She stretched out a beaming grin until a screeching sound interrupted any kind of small talk or conversation around us. We turned towards the doors and watched as ponies stepped off the train. Eventually, a couple of ponies had caught my attention. They looked around for some time before they noticed the huge group we had formed together.

"You would not believe the crazy weather that delayed our train. Came out of nowhere."

It had been Twilight's father who had been speaking towards us. Accompanying him was his wife, Twilight's mother. I was sure he had been referring to the weather that Cadence's and Shining Armor's baby had ironically unintentionally caused.

"But it was all worth it to see this peaceful little angel!" Twilight's mom leaned in to take a closer look at the baby. "Awww, so sweet! Come to your grandmare!" She encouraged, earning a giggle and playful extending arms from the child.

"Yeah, peaceful now, anyway." Applejack commented with a relieved grin.

"I suppose that spell really did the trick!" Twilight mentioned.

As soon as Twilight had said that, their baby began inhaling oddly as if she was about to sneeze, and due to earlier experiences, the majority of the girls shrieked and braced for a magical explosion. However, there was only a small sneeze and nothing else. Thank goodness. We didn't seem to have to worry about crazy magic blowing up all over the place.

"We have Sunburst to thank for that." Shining Armor explained after the short scare.

"I hope he takes his role as crystaller seriously." Cadence acknowledged. "Something tells me the baby will need a pony like him to look to for magical advice."

Twilight's mother carefully took the baby into her hooves with her magic and asked a question I hadn't thought of to ask myself. "Cadence, darling, aren't we gonna name the poor little dear, or are we gonna spend our entire visit just calling her 'the baby'?"

The two parents looked at each other for a short moment before Cadence responded. "We were thinking... 'Flurry Heart'."

"You know, to remember the occasion."

Rarity chuckled sharply at that. "Oh, goodness, how could anypony forget?"

True that.

"I think it's lovely." Twilight voiced her thoughts before kissing her niece on the cheek.

After sharing a brief greeting with Twilight's parents, and a brief goodbye towards Shining Armor, Cadence, and even Sunburst, I joined the others as we boarded the train. I sat with Fluttershy and Athena once again. I noticed Twilight had been alone as she sat across Spike, but I was pretty sure she waiting for Starlight Glimmer to hop on with us.

I took a look outside and noticed Starlight exchanging a few more words with Sunburst. I could only assume that her 'friendship lesson' went well, and I was pretty glad that she didn't need any of my help in the process. Still…

"Just because she didn't need you this time doesn't mean you can't still give her advice every now and then." Athena mentioned towards me with a small smirk.

"Yeah, I know." I turned towards the door to find Starlight coincidentally walking between our seats. "Hey, Starlight. Come over here a sec."

She had come to a sudden halt in her walk and looked towards me with a questioning expression. Despite the abrupt request, she abided and joined us across our seat. "Yes? Did you need something?"

I shook my head. "Not exactly." I decided to momentarily stand up from my seat and join her by her side. I was hoping she'd feel like she was talking with a friend, rather than a boss of some sort. "Listen, I know that you've been having a bit of trouble adjusting to life in the castle with us. I just wanted you to know that, if you ever find yourself stressing out, feel free to come talk to me. I get certain things might be hard to express to Twilight, seeing as she's your 'teacher' and all, so if you have anything that you're afraid to talk to Twilight about, don't be afraid to come to me, okay?"

"O-oh, really?" Starlight appeared to be rather surprised by my sudden extension of a helping hoof. "I wasn't sure if, you know, I was in any right to talk to you after doing what I did…" She brought up as she lightly scratched her cheek with her hoof. "Asking for help after nearly ruining all of your lives? What kind of pony would that make me?"

"It seems pretty clear how much you've changed." I acknowledged, taking a particular glance at her hair. "A lot of us have made mistakes, but I want you to know that you shouldn't be afraid to talk to your friends. We are friends, right?"

"Y-yeah…" Starlight looked away with a slightly reddened face. "Yeah, we are."

"Then, I'm willing to listen whenever you need somepony to talk to, alright?"

"Uh-huh." She nodded her head. "Thank you. I'll make sure to keep that in mind."

Afterwards, I returned back to my original seat as she stood back up and joined Twilight nearby. As I took a moment to think about it, I found that it was still somewhat hard to believe that we had been enemies not too long ago. It was amazing to see how the hidden magic of friendship could change anything for the better.

Athena returned a jubilant grin in response towards my performance, and I was left wondering what I'd be treating to her back home. Once the train sounded off and began to move, I took a short glance out the window. I noticed Starlight's friend, and savior of the day, remain at the station. He continued looking our way until he raised a hoof and waved. I turned towards Starlight and found her happily waving back. Finding the sight heartwarming, I relaxed my back against the seat and stretched out a relieved smile across my lips.

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