• Published 28th Jun 2012
  • 17,953 Views, 1,427 Comments

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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Once Upon a Zeppelin

Placing the last sheet of paper I had scribbled in onto its designated area, I took a glance at the large pile Twilight and I had constantly been taking unending stacks of paper from and sighed heavily. Granted, the "complete" pile was much larger than the "incomplete" pile, but I was nearly at the point of calling it quits.

"I told you that you didn't have to help me with this paperwork." Twilight noticed the exhausted look on my face and smirked lightly. "You know I have a knack for doing these kinds of things."

"There's only so much you can do of something before it starts eating away at your enthusiasm." I told her, reluctantly sliding another piece of paper in front of me before I began scribbling at it once again. "Besides, what kind of a prince and partner would I be if I just let you do all this work on your own?"

"You don't have to keep up with my pace, you know." She mentioned. "I've kind of been doing this way longer than you have. Why don't you take a break?"

After finishing the last piece in front of my hooves, I placed it on its appropriate pile and decided to rest my head on top of my forelegs laying on the table. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea. I think I'm starting to feel a little braindead."

"You can go to sleep if you want." Twilight suggested. "I think I'll be alright on my own finishing the rest of these papers."

"I'll go to sleep when you're done." I told her and began to watch her work for a while.

"Suit yourself." She sent me a sly and playful glance before turning back to focus on the remaining paperwork.

I continued silently observing the way she swiftly handled every paper that came across her line of sight. It was almost unreal. In fact, she nearly looked like she had been her own assembly line. A paper would fly in, she'd make several scribbles on it, and then she'd put it away to repeat the process over and over. As for me, I'd spend too much time worrying and making sure that I wasn't making any mistakes. After all, a simple mistake with this kind of paperwork could easily lead to drastic consequences.

"Either way, I'm glad you're here with me." Twilight unexpectedly shared as she continued to focus her gaze on the paperwork in front of her. "If it was just me, I'm pretty sure, just like you said, I would've gotten bored doing the same thing over and over. It's one thing to go out and actively do research while writing a report on your findings, but it's another to just sit here and sign things all day long."

"Well, at least it gives us time to catch our breath, right? Especially considering what we went through this past week." My eyes turned away as I caught myself recalling the stressful events from the past few days. As a result, I inadvertently shook my head at the images that came to mind. "Seeing Fluttershy so sick like that…I was honestly scared. Really scared. Having you there with us helped me keep my cool for the most part. I've got to thank you for that."

"No thanks needed." She responded with a warm smile. "I'm just glad Fluttershy was able to find a cure for Zecora and herself. I was just as afraid as you were, but you have to admit, she's gotten so strong compared to our first days being friends, don't you think?"

"Definitely." I absentmindedly stared at the tip of my hoof as I lightly scratched the surface of the table. "Almost makes me worry that she'll become too independent that she won't want to be with me anymore." I couldn't help but chuckle after saying that.

"Sure." Twilight's grin stretched as she lightly scoffed. "That'll happen the day Applejack decides she wants to be a runway model in Manehattan."

"Don't jinx it now." I joked and laughed a little more. "Still…I should really come up with something to do for her. After everything she's done and been through, she deserves something nice."

"Maybe start with picking out a ring to put on her hoof?" Twilight raised an eyebrow as her lips curled to one side.

"Heh. Maybe…" I returned tiredly. My eyelids began to grow heavy, and it wasn't long before they soon began closing in front of me. At that time, I decided that it wouldn't hurt to rest my eyes for just a little while.

However, within the span of what felt like a few minutes, I heard slightly faint voices that grew clearer as the lids of my eyes opened up.

"Spike, you know I can't do that. I've still got a whole bunch of other duties besides finishing the rest of this paperwork."

"Come on, Twilight. Even Princess Celestia takes a break sometimes, and she raises the sun."

I lightly groaned before I stretched out my neck and gently rubbed my eyes. "What's going on?" I asked a bit drowsily.

"Twilight's parents won a zeppelin cruise, and the whole family is invited to go!" Spike's voice chimed in. "Help me out, will you? I'm trying to convince her to go. She could really use a vacation." He paused for a short moment and gave me a quick look over. "Both of you actually."

"I've got an entire list that I still need to do. Who's going to do that if I'm not here?" She asked worriedly.

"I've got it covered." Spike offered. "Keeping track of the friendship log, boosting community morale, and answering fan mail for a few days isn't too hard."

"But, Spike, you're as much a part of my family as anypony. I can't just leave you here to do all that work."

"Psh." Spike scoffed as he brushed the issue off with his claws. "It's no biggie. I've been meaning to get a guy's night going lately. Only when the duties for the day are done, of course."

"Well…if you're really sure…I guess I could use a little time off from being a princess. You're the best, Spike!"

"I know." Spike answered with a bit of a smug smile as he began to take over the small amount of paperwork left on the table.

"You could have just left it to me." I told her. "It'd probably be a little hard, but…if it means you get to go on a trip with your family…"

"What are you talking about? You're coming too!" She extended the invitation cheerfully.

"Huh?" I tilted my head slightly in confusion.

"The whole family, remember?" Twilight reminded. "Plus, you better not challenge me when it comes to the technical aspects of what you consider 'family'. If you're going to bring up that I'm 'technically' not your sister, I've still got you on the fact that my brother, Shining Armor, is married to your cousin, Cadence, so that already makes us cousins-in-law by default."

It was hard to make a response at that moment after having witnessed her unwavering determination. "Wow, you're really prepared for anything, aren't you?"

"Yep, and speaking of being prepared, I'm gonna go pack everything neatly into one suitcase! You better get packing too! Oh! And you should totally bring Fluttershy along. She is going to be a part of the family too soon enough, am I right?"

She playfully nudged me before trotting on ahead to her room.

"You're really sure you want to take over the duties for these next few days, Spike?" I asked.

"Of course! Besides…"

"Cruises have activities, right?!" We suddenly heard Twilight Sparkle shout from presumably her room. "I should probably make a schedule?!"

"How could you say no to that?" He smiled warmly as he turned to the table to get started on writing.

"Well, thanks a lot, Spike." I genuinely expressed. "We'll get packing then."

Just before I could start on packing my own things, I took note of what the time was outside. It wasn't too late, so I figured I could make a stop at Fluttershy's and let her know about the sudden but welcoming invitation for this family cruise.

We felt a pleasant warmth latch onto our coats from the morning sun hanging over our heads. Besides us, there had been an entire line calmly making their way towards the huge zeppelin that had been parked right outside of Canterlot. It was almost a strange thing to witness, especially since the closest thing I've ever seen to one, much less ridden, was a gigantic hot air balloon back in Ponyville.

"Oh, my. There's even a pool at the back right there." Fluttershy pointed it out with her hoof. "I'm really curious. Is there an entire difference compared to swimming on the ground?"

"I guess we'll find out soon enough." I replied, noticing the line ahead of us continue to shorten by the second as ponies boarded the giant airship.

"That reminds me. Is Athena joining us later?" She asked, being firmly aware that Athena could technically pop in at any time.

"I don't think so." I answered, recalling the last time we had spoken with each other. "She made plans to help the Crusaders with some kind of a camp for those that didn't have cutie marks."

"That's really nice of her. I'm sure she would have enjoyed coming with us."

"She probably would have wanted to give us our space anyway." I mentioned, finding the thought of it a bit funny.

"We should definitely bring back a souvenir for her."

"That's not a bad idea at all, Flutters." I praised, later enjoying a sweet and adorable smile that protruded from her lips.

We managed to make it onto the ship within a short amount of time, standing just behind Cadence, Shining Armor, and their baby Flurry Heart.

"At any case, I'm really looking forward to spending time together with you." Fluttershy shared softly after taking a look around the semi-packed ship.

Before either of us could say anymore, a high-pitched sound screeched from the intercom speakers above us. "I hope you ponies feel welcomed aboard, because you are!"

"Huh?" Fluttershy's ears perked up as she raised her head towards the direction of the speakers.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Is it just me…or does that voice sound familiar?"

Replaying what I could remember hearing from just a moment ago in my head, I started getting the itching feeling that she was right. For some reason, I felt it was definitely a voice I've heard before, but even after going over recent events, I couldn't put a name to it at all.

"No, I think you're right." I answered. "But I can't think of who it's from."

We stood there thinking for a while until we heard a few loud noises coming from the docks. We quickly turned to find the ropes keeping the ship stationed being removed. It was only a matter of time before we started drifting away from Canterlot.

"Oh!" Fluttershy raced over to the edge of the ship and watched everything in awe. I joined her and felt the ship pick up speed before we soon were passing through the clouds and climbing altitude from the already distant ground. For some reason, Fluttershy giggled in response to this. "I know we can already fly, but for some reason, there's just something magical about this."

"Maybe it's because we don't have to do anything?" I assumed. "It's like taking a ship out to sea instead of swimming there."

"Or, like taking a train?" Fluttershy blushed lightly and closed her eyes as if she was reminiscing something sweet. "This could just be like that one time we stayed together overnight on a train to Canterlot. Oh, I'm so excited!"

"You and me both." I agreed wholeheartedly. "After all, you really deserve it."

Before our conversation could drag on, I felt a light tap on my shoulder.

"We're about to get shown to our rooms. You don't want to stay behind and miss it, do you?"

It was Twilight, and I couldn't help but sense her sending teasing signals since Fluttershy and I had been alone together for the short moment.

"Heh. Yeah. Let's go, Fluttershy." I told her.

I knew Twilight and I lived in a castle, but I had to admit that our room looked really incredible. It was almost like staying at an inn, but it was perhaps even more luxurious than that. The room itself consisted of a whole bunch of interlocking rooms, considering that it was fit for an entire family.

The first part of the room we entered was the common area, and there was a whole bunch of furniture like sofas, refreshments, even knick-knacks to make it feel warm and cozy. Looking around, we found several other doorways that led into separate bedrooms. However, Twilight's family seemed fascinated enough with the common area.

"Guess this is what it's like to be big-time prize winners." Her father tested the pillow on the sofa with his hoof and chuckled happily. "I just wish I could remember what contest we won."

I was hoping that I wasn't the only one who was surprised to hear that last comment he made.

"Wait." Twilight seemed to have caught on. "You don't know where this prize came from?"

"When somepony offers you a free vacation, you just sign the paperwork and don't ask questions!" Her mom explained nonchalantly.

"I'm not so sure that's the best thing to do when something like that happens…" I couldn't help but say. I almost wanted to be much blunter about the situation, but it was Twilight's side of the family. I didn't want to be rude.

"I'm sure it was one of those 'automatic submission' contests that we just so happened to win." Twilight's dad hypothesized. "There are so many other ponies on board with us after all. With that being said, what should we do first?"

It didn't seem Twilight felt the need to question their judgement any further. It wasn't like there wasn't a cruise, to begin with. After all, we did depart from Canterlot, so it did seem legit. However, I still couldn't get over how fishy the entire situation was. I never really cared about these kinds of contests and sweepstakes, so it may have just been due to my lack of experience. But, still…

"Well, I did categorize the ship's activities and make a schedule organized by each of our interests." Twilight pulled out a lengthy piece of paper from her saddlebag and unfolded it in front of us. "Dad, you're easy. Bingo competition right here."

"Oh, I just love how the numbers and letters are organized in their little boxes." Her dad took a closer look at the printed color-coded bars she had been pointing at with a small rod. "It's so satisfying."

"Shining Armor, they've got a tiny boat race in a tiny pool here." She continued as she moved down the list.

"Aw, sis. Only you would remember I love tiny things." Shining Armor mentioned as he gently rubbed his hoof against Flurry.

"And Cadence, there's a Peewee Princess Playtime here that Flurry's gonna love!" Twilight presented the schedule to her next.

"Oh, wonderful!" Cadence reacted gleefully.

Twilight turned to Fluttershy and me, but she returned a different kind of look to us. Her eyes were half-lidded, and it didn't seem she had much to say.

"Don't worry. I thought it would be best to let you two explore and decide what to do on your own."

On the other hoof, Twilight's mom seemed to eye something on the map Twilight had been holding in particular with great interest. "Ooh! This barrel jumping at Neighagra Falls sounds interesting."

It didn't look like something that was on her agenda, but she didn't seem to have anything against making a small change to it. "Eh." She took out a quill and wrote in the new request. Afterwards, she tacked the paper onto the wall for all of us to see whenever we wanted. "I just want to see you all have a good time. And this works out perfectly because we have room for the one thing I wanna do!" She proceeded to pull out a book that she had packed with her and opened its contents to reveal a particular geographic page towards us. "Our ship passes the Frozen North at sunset, which is the only time you can see the astrological phenomenon known as the Northern Stars. It's like the stars are shooting out of the setting sun!"

"That definitely seems like something you'd be into." I smirked lightly at her quite fitting ample reaction.

"And we definitely don't want to miss that." Cadence included.

"Then it's settled!" Twilight happily concluded before she spun around to face her schedule closely. "Hmm. But we don't have anything to do right now. Any suggestions?"

We were only given a second to think before another screeching sound came from the speakers inside the room.

"Attention, cruise ponies! Don't let this zeppelin be a bore! Leave your room and see the tour!"

"A tour could be fun." Cadence decided based on the convenient suggestion that was so happened coincidentally offered to us.

Everyone already began leaving the room, but I noticed Fluttershy stay behind to stare at the loudspeaker the voice had come from.

"I was only curious before, but now I really want to know who that is." Fluttershy spoke her mind.

"Yeah. I think I feel the same way. Twilight's parents just happened to win a free vacation without even entering anything?" I scrolled through my thoughts. "This actually reeks of Flim and Flam, but, obviously, that voice isn't them. So, who is it?"

"Mm…" Fluttershy finally pulled her gaze away from the loudspeaker and instead seemed to hang her head in guilt. "Maybe we're just overthinking things. I know the free vacation is a little fishy, but maybe someone wanted to give Twilight and her family a chance to relax, considering how much she's helped saved Equestria?"

"I guess you have a point…" I somewhat wanted to accept. "Maybe the voice is actually from somepony we've helped before? Still, it's hard to imagine a voice like that belonging to anypony that we've met in the past…"

Fluttershy approached me and placed a caring hoof on my shoulder. "I'm sure we'll meet the pony in charge soon enough. Then, we can clear up our doubts about this free vacation. For now, we should probably enjoy ourselves, don't you think?"

"Sure." I nodded my head. "Wouldn't want to bring Twilight and her family's good time down anyway."

With that being said, we left the room to regroup with the others.

Just as we arrived on the deck, we noticed Shining Armor looking a little sick as he hurried back inside the ship with Flurry Heart. He didn't give us anytime to ask what was wrong, so we could only wonder what could have happened for him to be in such a hurry with a nauseated look on his face.

"Oh, my. You think he's airsick?" Fluttershy asked.

"That, or Flurry Heart may have had an 'accident'." I mentioned.

Once again, our conversation was short-lived due to the shrieking feedback coming from the intercom above us. "Far to our right, you can just make out the white tufts of Cloudsdale, where Princess Twilight Sparkle once toured the weather factory."

Turning to our right, we had a full view of Cloudsdale. It was a perfectly normal thing to point out on something like a cruise, but why specifically include Twilight all of sudden? It's not like she accomplished some great and noteworthy feat there. In fact, it would have made more sense for Rainbow Dash to be brought up for the time she did a sonic rainboom in front of everypony.

"Is he talking about when we were in Cloudsdale for Rainbow Dash's competition?" Fluttershy questioned.

"I think…? But why bring up something like that?" I wondered.

Fluttershy gasped lightly. "Maybe the pony in charge is from Cloudsdale and met Twilight there?"

"Mm." I merely shrugged. Nothing was really making any sense to me.

"We are now high enough to see all of Canterlot, even the royal tree where Princess Twilight and her brother Shining Armor were born!" The voice from the loudspeaker announced next.

"…what?" I was absolutely boggled. I wasn't aware of any of this.

"Huh? Twilight was born on a tree?" Fluttershy was just as confused as I was.

I lightly shook my head. "Let's go find her and see what the heck is going on."

It wasn't hard to find Twilight and her family on top of the deck, but things were noticeably different for some reason now. The majority of ponies on board, if not all, were staring at Twilight and Cadence pretty frequently that Fluttershy and I felt uncomfortable joining them.

"Twilight, were you actually born on a tree?" Fluttershy asked.

"H-Huh? Of course not!" Twilight refuted immediately. "I don't know why the cruise announcer is bringing up these things about me that obviously aren't even true! I mean, why is he even talking about me in the first place?"

"On our route north, we will pass the spires of the Crystal Empire, where Princess Cadence rescued her Alicorn baby Spike from a monster made of fire!" The announcer was heard sharing another false fact yet again.

"Well, that doesn't even make sense." Cadence shared my thoughts exactly.

"Spike's not even a pony. He's a dragon." I mentioned. "I would think that anypony that knows about us would know at least that."

"Um, Twilight…" Fluttershy spoke softly as she took a look around us. "Everypony seems to be acting a bit strange…"

We took a look for ourselves and noticed the strange behavior Fluttershy had been talking about. For one, an entire group of ponies had been snapping photographs of Twilight's parents. If that wasn't odd enough, many of the others seemed to have been gawking specifically at Cadence and Twilight. If I was seeing correctly, practically every one of them had been wearing some kind of attire with Twilight or Cadence themselves on it. In fact, what appeared to be a filly came up and asked Cadence for an autograph while wearing a really creepy cut-out mask of her. The sight of it even freaked out Cadence herself.

"Alright, something is definitely up with this cruise." I finally declared.

"Okay, that's it! Does anypony know where the cruise announcer is?" Twilight asked everyone around her, to which they all responded by pointing their hooves straight towards what looked like to be the captain's cabin.

I was surprised to find Fluttershy spreading her wings and taking the lead for the investigation. It was almost as if she had a personal tie to this case, despite Twilight being the subject of falsely stated facts. Twilight and I followed behind her, each of us having our reasons for wanting to know who had been behind the wheel for this cruise.

"Excuse me." Fluttershy spoke once making her way inside. "I'd like to have a word with you, sir."

Whoever had been deciding the course for the cruise was way too big to be any kind of pony. However, it wasn't until he turned around to speak with us directly where our questions to his identity had finally been answered.

"You can call Iron Will "Iron Will"!"

Each one of us gasped sharply.

I remembered now! This had been the minotaur that nearly ruined the kind of pony Fluttershy had been and had the nerve to demand money for it!

"It's you!" Fluttershy remembered immediately.

"Well, well! What do we have here? If it isn't Fluttershy! And I see my assertiveness seminar paid off! A doormat wouldn't have barged into Iron Will's space like that!"

"I'm afraid you're wrong." Fluttershy sent back a serious and somewhat unamused look. "Your assertiveness seminar has nothing to do with the kind of pony I am now. But, I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here for my friend Twilight."

"Ah, yes! The Princess! What about her?"

"Why do you keep announcing random things about me and my family?" Twilight asked. "In fact, what are you even doing here? What happened to those 'seminars' you did?"

"The assertiveness seminar market dried up, so Iron Will started a new career organizing themed vacation packages!" He explained.

"…and what exactly is the theme of this vacation?"

In response to Twilight's question, Iron Will hovered over a microphone and pressed a large button next to it. "Everypony, stomp your hooves if you are here for the premiere Cruise of the Princesses Experience!"

Outside, banners of both Twilight and Cadence unraveled, earning applause and cheers from everypony down on the deck.

"W-What?!" Twilight cried out after witnessing the scene below us and proceeded to face Iron Will angrily. "Iron Will, my family and I need an explanation for all of this!"

"Iron Will will be pleased to explain all the details clearly if it means you'll fulfill your side of the contract!"

"H-Hold on! Contract?!" Twilight exchanged a puzzled and worried look with us, but Iron Will had already been leaving the room.

We had no other choice but to follow him out.

Iron Will ended up having us all gather together at our room, including the entirety of Twilight's family. It was bad enough that we had an entire group of ponies at our tails trying to get back here. At that moment, I believed it was apparent to each of us that we'd be finding the catch behind this "free vacation" soon enough.

"So, let me get this straight. The only reason we're on this 'cruise' is that we're the main attraction?" Twilight questioned angrily.

"Correct!" Iron Will answered proudly.

"But, you offered this cruise vacation to my family without even telling us that the other ponies are only here to see us! That's completely dishonest and unethical!" She argued.

"That is where you are mistaken, princess. Iron Will outlined all the details of the cruise in the Prize Acceptance and Consent Form that you signed." He pulled out a few sheets of worn out paper and held them over Twilight's mom.

"Well, when somepony offers you a free vacation, who reads the fine print…?" Her mother merely responded with a sheepish smile.

You should especially read the fine print if you're given anything for free!

"This isn't right, Iron Will!" Fluttershy stepped up next. "You haven't given Twilight and her family a vacation at all! You're only using them for your own profit!"

"It's called compromise." Iron Will answered without any kind of guilt or doubt in his mind. "Iron Will did give you a free vacation, and it's only at the cost of the princesses pleasing their fans. Iron Will is not stopping Twilight and her family from enjoying the vacation."

"And how exactly are we supposed to 'enjoy' the vacation if we're too busy with the other ponies on board?" Twilight asked.

"Iron Will prides himself on providing a quality vacation experience. But if Twilight Sparkle and her family don't want it, Iron Will can cancel the cruise and break the hearts of every princess-adoring pony on board."

As usual, Iron Will couldn't seem to keep himself from showing off his masculine form by flexing every now and then. Twilight, on the other hoof, could only sigh helplessly as a random pony pressed herself against our window.

"I love you, Princess Twilight!" She screamed from outside, causing Twilight to quickly turn around and close the open curtains.

"As much as I want a family vacation, I don't think I could entertain all these cruise ponies." Cadence voiced her thoughts. "My hooves are pretty full taking care of Flurry Heart."

"Well, you've still got me." I offered. "I know this is exactly what we were taking a break from back home, but if I can help keep these ponies busy, we don't have to—"

"No can do!" Iron Will suddenly interrupted.

"What?" I immediately turned to him.

"Iron Will is saying that the agreement does not include you and for a very good reason."

"What are you talking about?" I questioned, finding his response extremely puzzling. "Weren't you just saying that the other ponies on this cruise bought tickets just to see us?"

"Wrong!" He firmly pointed out. "Iron Will said that the other ponies are here to see the princesses. No prince included."

"Wait, what?" Twilight found the idea particularly confusing. "Only us? Why?"

"It's actually very simple." Iron Will pulled out a long sheet of paper this time, it's length similar to Twilight's initial schedule for this cruise. "According to recent polls and surveys, your friend there is not very popular with everypony." Fluttershy, Twilight, Cadence, and I couldn't help but take a closer look out of curiosity. On the paper was your usual color-coded graph. There was Twilight, who was represented by a purple bar. Cadence was a pink bar. And, I was shown to be a blue bar. Well…a very tiny sliver of blue compared to the other two.

"There's no way this is real." Twilight proved to be extremely skeptical.

"Indeed, it is. Allow Iron Will to explain." He proceeded to point towards various points on the graph and give us brief explanations for them. "Princess Twilight and Princess Cadence are extremely popular. That is a fact. However, compared to you two princesses, your friend there, the prince, is only about five percent of that. What Iron Will found during these studies was that the majority of that five percentage was made up of mares, a lot of those mares being personal acquaintances of his. Any stallion only makes up an extremely small minority of that already tiny percentage. Iron Will checked previous studies and found that the numbers used to be much higher, but those numbers started hitting rock bottom when many of the mares that made those high numbers learned that you already had a special somepony." He then proceeded to point directly at me. "Iron Will's point is that you are not remotely as popular as these two other princesses and therefore aren't worth spending the time and money advertising on a free cruise."

"W-Well, that's just plain rude!" Fluttershy angrily stomped her hoof and seemed to look offended on my behalf.

"So, you were willing to go through those lengths to do some hefty amount of research for how popular we are to everypony, but you couldn't even spend a little time getting some facts about us right?" Twilight mentioned.

"Iron Will cares only about what will get him more bits, not some measly trivia." He stated as he rolled up his data.

"I'm sorry, honey." Twilight's mom apologized from the sofa. "I guess we were just so excited by the idea of a family cruise."

Her father sighed heavily and approached Iron Will. "All right. I guess we better turn this ship around."

In a sea of frowns and disappointed faces, Iron Will was just about to make his way to the door, but Twilight called out and stopped him all of a sudden. "Wait! Iron Will, what if I offered you a deal? If I agree to do whatever princess activities you want, will you promise that my family gets to do the activities they want?"

"Sis, you don't have to do that." Shining Armor mentioned worriedly. "We want you to enjoy yourself, too."

"Every one of you was so excited for this cruise. Honestly, to see each and every one of you so happy made me happy. I don't want the vacation to end now or let down all these ponies who were looking forward to seeing us. If all I have to do is the same thing I've done back home, then I think it's worth everyone else having a good time." Twilight then flew up towards Iron Will to look him square in the eye with an extended hoof. "So, what do you say, Iron Will? Do we have a deal?"

"Princess Twilight has a deal!" Iron Will shook her hoof tightly, causing her to pull it back as soon as she could to rub the sore area.

"Great!" She returned to the floor and approached her father. "So, it looks like we have some time before Dad plays Bingo."

"Actually, we have just enough to pick the winner of our grand-prize raffle." Iron Will intervened as he began pushing her towards the door.

"Oh. Well…who doesn't like prizes?" She said as she revealed an unconfident grin.

Fluttershy and I lingered in the room for a little while longer despite everyone else following Twilight and Iron Will to the deck outside.

"Do you really think that her doing whatever Iron Will wants is a good idea?" Fluttershy asked as she shared the worried look on her face.

"Not really." I answered bluntly. "You and I already know what kind of a monst – minotaur Iron Will is, right? He doesn't really look out for anyone else but himself, and the fact that he knowingly roped us into something like this proves that he hasn't really changed all that much."

"What should we do?"

"I don't really know." I reluctantly answered. "Twilight already made a deal with Iron Will that she was going to do whatever activities that he wants her to do as long as all of us stay here. At this point, I think we can only hope that these 'activities' don't take up too much time of hers."

"And, I'm sure she wouldn't want us worrying over her like this…" Fluttershy admitted with a frown and sighed. "So much for a relaxing cruise."

I couldn't help but feel extremely guilty when I heard her say that. "…sorry." I apologized softly.

Fluttershy widened her eyes once she had caught on to how I had reacted. "N-No, no!" She shook her head fervently. "It's not your fault! It's just…" She paused as if she needed a moment to get her words together, but she ultimately sighed lightly in defeat. "Maybe we should just make sure Twilight doesn't overdo anything for right now."

All I could really do was nod before leaving the room to join Twilight in whatever it was that Iron Will had planned for her.

We all thought that Twilight needed to only announce the winner of this "grand-prize raffle" that Iron Will had set up, but just like with the cruise itself, none of us knew the catch behind the raffle. That catch was Twilight literally being the prize of the raffle, and a pony called Star Tracker had won that prize. So, not only did it seem like Twilight would be hosting these ridiculous events for Iron Will, but she also had to drag around a big fan who nervously didn't leave her much space to herself under the guise of being an "honorary family member".

"Really, don't worry about me." Twilight tried to tell Fluttershy and me. "I'm still going to be able to do stuff like play bingo with my dad. It'll just be from a…different perspective."

If it wasn't enough that Star Track had nearly been breathing down her neck, Iron Will was also proving to be quite on her case.

"It's time to move, Princess Twilight! You don't want to keep your fans over at the bingo table waiting, do you?" He pressured.

"Well, looks like it time to go. You two go on and have fun. We'll do something later, okay? After all, I'm definitely not missing the Northern Stars tonight!"

"I don't want to miss them either." Her follower mumbled from behind.

Twilight seemed to force out a chuckle before she proceeded to walk past us. "Well, see you tonight then!"

Twilight left us to do whatever we wanted, and I was sure that one of the reasons why she took on the responsibility of entertaining the other ponies on board was so that she could give us well-deserved time with each other. Despite the variety of activities on this cruise ship that would have been exciting to do under normal circumstances, neither of us could truly enjoy them. Not while knowing that Twilight was the only one not enjoying the vacation that she was initially supposed to have. It just wasn't right.

Fluttershy and I remained outside on the deck of the ship where we laid on lounge chairs. There was a gentle breeze, and the warmth the sun above us gave our coats felt great. But, I was too focused on worrying over Twilight and her duties. In fact, it didn't help that every now and then, we'd hear her voice being broadcasted over the loudspeakers and remind us of the events that she was practically forced to host.

"Ooh…" Fluttershy sighed sadly as she turned from her back onto her stomach. "There's no point being on the cruise if Twilight can't enjoy it with us."

"Yeah, you're right." I agreed, scratching my hoof against the wooden surface of the ship. "I get where she's coming from when she wants us to have a good time, but it's obvious we can't when we know she's out there working when she shouldn't be. To be honest, I would've taken her spot or at least helped her because I think she deserves this cruise way more than I do. Too bad I'm not popular enough."

"That chart isn't bothering you, is it?" She felt the need the ask.

"No. I'm just frustrated over everything in general. Couldn't care less about some stupid chart." I finally flipped over from my stomach and onto my back so that I was facing the sky. "I just wish…this was a normal cruise." Looking at the quite attractive clouds in the sky reminded me of a particular subject. "You remember what she was saying when we first got here, right? The thing she wants to do most is to watch the Northern Stars, and that's just what she's expecting to do tonight. But, what if she doesn't? I mean, she was expecting to be on a normal family cruise with all of us, but Iron Will already tossed out that dream. What if she can't even do the one thing she really wants to do because Iron Will cares more about selling her image?"

"We have to do something then." Fluttershy sat up from the chair and faced me with her brow furrowing in determination. "There's no way in Equestria I'm going to stand by and watch Iron Will treat Twilight like that."

"What do you expect we do though?" I asked, feeling not as fired up as she was since I had been looking at things in a little more realistic manner. "Twilight already made a deal with Iron Will. She does princess activities he wants her to do, and her family, including us, does the things we want to do. If there's no princess, then there's no cruise."

Fluttershy laid herself back down, but she didn't look like she necessarily lost hope. "There has to be something… A loophole of some kind. Iron Will prides himself in what he does so much that he doesn't really expect a different outcome other than what he's already looking for. After all, he thought that his 'assertiveness seminars' would satisfy ponies so much that he promised their money back if they weren't completely satisfied. So, all I had to do was say no and that was that. Maybe there's something he's overlooking this time too?"

"Possibly…but can we figure out what that might be before tonight?" I thought for a moment, but ultimately sighed when I came up short. I lowered my gaze from the sky onto the deck of the ship where I saw different ponies taking part in different smaller activities. For some reason, my attention had been caught by the sight of a foal getting her face painted. As expected, she had been trying to color her coat the same color as Twilight. Around her was the filly we had seen wearing a cutout mask of Cadence. One could only assume she was going to take Cadence's colors instead.

"Huh… You think…?" I nearly mumbled incoherently to myself as something, in particular, came faintly to mind.

"What?" Fluttershy sat up and stared back at me in soft anticipation.

"I wonder…" I continued silently thinking to myself before we heard a sudden and loud announcement.

"It's your last chance. Come get in line if you want the princess to sign!" Iron Will's voice boomed out of what sounded like a megaphone.

All the ponies that had been partaking in various activities in front of us gasped and exchanged looks of excitement with each other before disappearing in a split second.

Realizing this next event was nearby, Fluttershy and I removed ourselves from the lounge chairs we had been resting on and decided to take a look out of curiosity. Before we could even find where Twilight had been, we had bumped into somepony at the end of an extremely long line. From what we could see, this line had been heading in the direction of the other side of the ship.

In order to get a better view, the two of us took to the skies for a short minute to realize that the line had been much longer than we had anticipated. The line was so long that ponies had to make some kind of snake-like pattern in order to even fit in the same area. Practically everypony must've been in line, and Twilight had been at the very end of the ship at a long table.

That wasn't the only bothering thing we had noticed. At a section above the deck, close to the cabin where Iron Will had been steering the ship, I noticed the minotaur himself walking and whistling back towards the opposite side of the ship.

Fluttershy and I followed him to find him stretching out a lounge chair of his own with one of his goat buddies beside him. To put it simply, he, the captain of the ship, was pretty much lying on the job while Twilight took all of the heat by signing an autograph for everypony. Fluttershy and I exchanged a look with each other before we nodded and headed down to speak with him.

"What do you think you're doing?" I asked.

"Iron Will is getting ready for the Northern Stars." He answered nonchalantly as he pulled up a pineapple cup with a swirly straw towards his face. "Iron Will's not going to miss something like this."

"So, you're leaving Twilight to do all that work?" Fluttershy stretched out her foreleg towards the other side of the ship angrily.

"You heard the princess. She agreed to Iron Will's terms. Iron Will has lived to his side of the bargain, so Princess Twilight must abide by the agreement."

"How is she supposed to get a chance to see the Northern Stars if you just keep lining her schedule up with princess work?" I argued.

"Iron Will suggests you calm down, little ponies. Princess Twilight has only one thing left to do for the day, and she is doing just that. Princess Twilight can watch her precious Northern Stars when she is finished."

With the kind of line Twilight had waiting for her, we weren't sure if she'd end up having the chance to see what she was looking forward to the most. And, we knew that Iron Will wasn't going to budge whatsoever, especially looking back to our past experience with him.

"Fine. Have it your way." I settled before heading back down to the deck.

Fluttershy hesitantly followed me before asking me a question with a face full of worry. "You're not really just going to let him do what he wants, are you?"

I took a look around the empty area and finally found the paint they had been using for the fillies earlier.

"Not really." I answered, borrowing a couple of cans and preparing to take them back to our room with me. I then turned towards Fluttershy with what I could only assume was an extremely serious look. "I'll need your help, Fluttershy. Mind giving me a hoof?"

"Of course." She firmly nodded. "But, what are you going to do?"

Taking a quick look at the palette I now had before me, I answered her with a sense of confidence.

"If it's Princess Twilight he wants, then it's Princess Twilight he'll get."

Seeing the promised Princess Twilight right in front of me, it was extremely uncanny. Everything I did, she did as well. Every particular motion, whether it was my hoof or my own eyes, was replicated perfectly. It was as if we were one in the same. Well, I supposed that that was true in more ways than one, but as of right now, it was literally the case.

"I guess it was a good thing that Rarity pushed me into borrowing some of her makeup for this trip." Fluttershy said as she looked her all over. "Are you really sure this is the best thing to do?"

"You saw how dark it's getting." I reminded her. "And that line doesn't look like it's going to get any shorter."

Past the mirror, Princess Twilight spoke with the utmost uncertainty, and it was all spelled out through a frown on her face. Unfortunately, her voice was a little too deep to fit the job well.

"Twilight's been spending the entire day for our sake when she should be enjoying it with us." I finally turned away from the mirror and faced Fluttershy directly. "The Northern Stars are the one thing she's been dying to see, and I don't want to imagine the look on her face when she misses out because she's been too busy keeping her side of the deal with Iron Will."

"But what if he finds out that Twilight isn't actually the one signing autographs outside?"

"Nothing wrong with that." I believed confidently. "The deal was that Princess Twilight was to do whatever princess stuff Iron Will wanted her to do. He didn't say that somepony else couldn't pretend to be Princess Twilight in her place."

"I don't think he was expecting anypony to go that far though…" Fluttershy tapped her hooves together a bit uncertainly.

"I don't care." I answered, still annoyed about the last conversation we had with him. "You were looking for some kind of loophole earlier, right? He wants to pull a fast one on her parents? What's the harm in taking her place for just a little while? After all, I'm sure all he cares about is the profit behind it anyway. As long as no one pays too much attention, we should be able to pull it off. That is…if you're willing to keep helping me."

"Of course, I'll help you." She stepped up and acknowledged as she looked me in the eyes.

"If you do, you'll most likely miss the Northern Stars too. Are you okay with that?" I asked.

She nodded her head. "I would've liked to see them, but I'd rather miss them and help you when you need me. There's no way I would've been able to watch them without you, after all."

I felt a little guilty for bringing her with me, and I also felt like I needed to share that with her. "It's just, you've been through so much lately. Building that animal sanctuary. And everything you did to help Zecora? You could've been seriously hurt. In fact, I was so worried about losing you. You've really grown so much, you know? That's why I wanted you on this cruise because I thought you really deserved it."

Fluttershy kept her gaze locked onto me, and a small yet appreciative smile stretched from her soft lips. "Thank you, but both of us have been through a lot together, remember? You and Twilight were with me when Zecora needed help, and that is why I'm willing to do whatever it takes to help you and Twilight right now. The Northern Stars may be a sight to remember, but our relationships are what really matter. Right now, Twilight could definitely use our help, and I know you'll need mine to do it."

I lightly nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Thanks, Fluttershy."

As much as I still wished she didn't have to miss out on time she really deserved, I understood how much she was willing to commit when it came to me. After all, if I had been in her place, I would've done the same thing.

I was just about to stretch my neck forward in order to make an attempt at expressing that love and appreciation I had for her, but she unexpectedly placed a hoof on my own lips before I could get any closer.

"Um, maybe we should leave that for afterwards…" She suggested, lightly turning away in a small state of embarrassment. "You know…when you've washed off."

"Oh, right…" I finally pulled away, feeling a bit embarrassed as well. "I almost forgot." I then tried shaking the moment away by getting back into the business of things. "Alright. Do you think you can convince Twilight to take a break? Just come up with something that'll get her over to the other side of the ship but won't make the ponies think that she's actually done for the night. I'll come in whenever she's out of the picture."

Fluttershy nodded confidently in response. "You've got it! I've got just the thing!"

Afterward, she began making her way outside, and I stayed in the common area of our room to try to look out the window and keep an eye out on what was going on outside.

From what I was able to see, it looked like Fluttershy had been able to get Twilight out without any problems, but I didn't know for sure until she had come back to get me.

"I told the other ponies that Twilight would be taking a short break, but let's try to wrap this up as soon as possible." Fluttershy told me as she escorted me out of our room. It was almost surprising to hear her have such a confident and energetic voice when it came to carrying out this plan we barely scrapped together. To be honest, she almost sounded like she could've been my manager or something. "I'm hoping nothing goes wrong, but if the same ponies getting an autograph later find Twilight watching Northern Stars, they might start to wonder how she got over there so fast. Although, I'm really hoping that if they do, they don't make a big deal about it or maybe they'll think that's how great she is or something."

"I'm kind of thinking they'll too busy watching the Northern Stars too." I shared my own input. "By the time it ends, I don't think they'll think anything of Twilight being there."

"Oh, one more thing." Fluttershy suddenly pointed out.

"What?" I replied.

"You might not want to talk at all. I can't imagine how awkward it'll be if a fan hears their favorite princess with a…out of place voice." She advised.

"Oh, right." I slightly widened my eyes in surprise. "I almost forgot about that. Good catch, Fluttershy."

She merely returned a cheery closed-eye look before we reached the deck and were within view of the other ponies that were still standing in line to get an autograph.

By the time we made it back to the signing table, Fluttershy was quick to make the announcement.

"Sorry for that, everypony! Your favorite princess is back and is ready to sign some more signatures!"

The surprisingly patient crowd returned a fairly loud cheer before the first pony in line came up to the table with an excited grin plastered on her face.

Fluttershy proceeded to slip a piece of blank paper over to me, which was what I was supposed to sign apparently. I went on to pick up the nearby quill and dip it into the ink when I suddenly realized that I had to copy Twilight's signature.

Fluttershy must have noticed my momentarily panicked expression because she unexpectedly slipped me another paper and swiftly winked. It was a piece of paper just like the others I was supposed to be signing, but it wasn't blank. Instead, it was actually already signed. I supposed Fluttershy had managed to somehow save a signed paper from Twilight before she left. However, whatever the case was, I was grateful for it.

I tried to keep the signed copy beside me as slyly as I could as I began working on signing the new fresh copy.

I knew to forge someone's signature was a bad thing, but there's no real harm in doing it during a circumstance like this, right? After all, I'm technically just helping Twilight out with something she had already been doing in the first place.

"Oh, I love you so much, Princess Twilight!" The pony in front of me blurted out happily.

I was just about to say something in response to show my "appreciation" for her comment, but Fluttershy immediately intervened.

"Unfortunately, her voice is a little hoarse right now, but she wants you to know that she appreciates your support!"

As for me, it was fortunately enough to keep the unsuspecting pony unaware and off on her merry way.

Thanks to Fluttershy's dedicated assistance, getting through these signatures should most likely be a breeze.

To be honest, "signing" signatures didn't feel like it took all that long to do. In fact, there had been no pony left in line before we knew it, and we were allowed to take a huge breather. However, we managed to notice some kind of glow coming from a part of the sky, but it quickly faded away. Because of the side of the ship we were in, our view had been obscured. I wasn't sure how long this had been going on, or if it had been near completion.

"Hey! Maybe we can still make it!" Fluttershy seemed to find the thought exciting.

I couldn't help but chuckle lightly. "Looking like this? It's going to take some time washing all this off."

"Oh, right…" Fluttershy's excitement simmered down as she noticed the sight of me.

"You can go on ahead though." I offered. "If you can still make it, then you should try and have a look for yourself."

"Mm-mm." She shook her head and then seemed to look slightly away from me with her cheeks scrawled in red. "After all, who's going to help you take all that paint off?"

It was clear that she wasn't going to take the chance of seeing the Northern Stars for herself if I wasn't there, so I didn't argue against it. After all, she seemed more than content with just sticking by me until the very end.

"I'll be right back." Fluttershy told me as she left for the bedroom she had left her saddlebag in. "I've got some wipes that should take the makeup off quite easily."

"Got it." I returned with a nod and began quietly looking over myself for sometime until she left. I turned over to the mirror we had used before and couldn't help but laugh at myself. "I never thought I'd do something as ridiculous as this…"

Looking like Twilight ended up ironically taking a lot of work, but I didn't really regret doing any of it, especially if Fluttershy felt the same way. It was crazy how things played out quite perfectly from Fluttershy having the makeup necessary to pull off the more feminine features of Twilight to the wigs of her mane that they had been selling on this cruise. Whatever the case was, I was glad that I was finally done with it. The only thing that bothered me was that me doing this didn't necessary "fix" the main issue. Twilight got to see the Northern Lights. I'm glad for that. But, is she still going to have to do so much more princess stuff for the rest of the cruise?

There was a sudden knock at the door, causing me to quickly turn back with a wide-eyed expression.

"Alex? Fluttershy? Are you in he—"

Before I knew it, I had suddenly been faced with a spitting image of myself. Well, technically, it was the other way around.

"…aa…ah…" Twilight marveled at the sight of me. She had been stricken with so much confusion and shock that she couldn't even talk right. In fact, both of us were speechless at the sight of each other for different reasons.

I hadn't planned for her seeing me like this, and I wasn't sure what to do at the moment. The two of us only continued staring at each other dumbfoundedly. I wasn't willing to try to pull off some kind of charade with her like pretending to be her reflection or telling her it was only a dream. I wanted to come clean, but how exactly was I supposed to do it now?

"Uh… I can explain."

It was the first thing I could come up with.

To make matters worse, everyone else that had been with her came strolling in. That is until the sight of me froze them in their tracks.

"After we get you cleaned up, we can finally—Oh!" Fluttershy walked back in next, being heavily surprised as soon as she noticed the unexpected group at the door.

Everyone stood in silence for what seemed like a long while, but somewhere between the still and uncomfortable silence, Flurry was heard babbling as she pointed a tiny hoof towards me.

It was a really rough start, but Fluttershy and I were able to get into the swing of things when it came to that explanation I had awkwardly promised. Fluttershy was able to clean up the majority of my face after tossing away the wig on my head, but I was still left with a lavender-coated body and a painted and straightened tail.

"Wait. Let me get this straight…" Twilight responded as she seemed to try to make heads and tails out of the words that came out of my mouth. "You're telling me that you were doing all of this the entire time we had been watching the Northern Stars?!"

She honestly looked a little upset, and I was afraid she'd reprimand me for pretty much impersonating her without her permission.

"Sorry…" Fluttershy and I apologized simultaneously.

"We just wanted you to have a break for once. We didn't mean any harm out of it." I added.

Twilight lightly sighed and shook her head. "I can't believe it."

At that point, I felt an overwhelming weight of guilt hang over my head.

"This whole time…" She continued. "I thought you had been watching the Northern Stars somewhere on your own. It was the perfect chance for you to spend such a romantic moment together. And you decided to worry about me instead? This is exactly what I didn't want."

We were stunned to find tears forming at the corner of her eyes, and they soon began to roll down her cheeks.

"Twilight…!" Fluttershy stepped up once seeing the tearjerking look on her face. "Don't be sad! I know you wanted us to see the Northern Stars too, but we were more concerned about you. Working all day to make every pony happy. You didn't deserve to miss the one thing you were looking forward to. We're okay missing it. Honest."

"The whole reason I made that deal with Iron Will was so that the rest of you could still have the vacation you deserved…but if all you did was just worry about me…then…" She sniffed as another tear of hers escaped her eyes.

"Twilight." Cadence spoke up now. "You've been focusing on pleasing every pony on this ship, but what is it that you want?"

"I just want everypony to be happy…" She answered despondently. "I'm a princess after all. And, everyone here looks up to me. I can't let them all down by not doing what they came here for."

"Well, sometimes ponies want more from a princess than you can give, and it can be hard to know where to draw the line. Being a princess means you have to balance what you want with what others want. You'll never be happy if you just focus on everypony but yourself all the time."

"Hm. You seem to know pretty well."

"Once I had Flurry Heart, the line was easier for me to see." Cadence stated as she shared a warm smile to her precious and bubbly daughter. "You will always have obligations as a princess, but you also have an obligation to yourself."

"She's right, dearie." Twilight's mother chipped in. "This is supposed to be your vacation too, remember?"

"Your mother's right. Personally, I don't need a cruise if it means we can't spend it like a family." Her father said next.

"Wow. I had no idea what was going on, Princess Twilight." The contest winner that had been following her around mentioned as he looked away with a guilty face. "This whole time, I was only focused on having the best time ever, but I never even thought about how you felt." He turned slightly to find Twilight looking at him, which ended up causing him to react extremely nervously. "Y-You know, forget about the contest. You should have a good time with your real family!"

Just as he was about to rush out, Twilight stopped him.

"Star Tracker. Wait." She called out to him, causing him to cease his motions and turn back to her. "I haven't exactly been the best kind of pony either. To be completely honest, all throughout today you were hanging around way too close to me, and I found it…well…a little annoying. I should've said something. I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry!" He apologized. "I just…never thought I'd get so close to a princess…and w-well…"

Twilight shook her head and turned towards us all.

"You know what? You're right, everypony. I think I need to set some boundaries. But, first, we have to do one more thing together as a family before the day ends." She glanced over at Star Tracker and smiled. "Honorary family members included."

Fortunately, Twilight seemed to have gone through some sort of resolve, but I was still a little worried about what she'd do with the whole Iron Will situation. Nevertheless, that didn't seem to be much of a bother to her when she took us out on the deck. There was an ice cream stand, and she treated every one of us to a cone. Except for Shining Armor. He didn't look so good, but Flurry Heart seemed to enjoy the sweet treat happily.

"…so how are you feeling?" I couldn't help but worriedly asked as she passed a cone to Fluttershy and me.

She giggled softly as she seemed to observe my coat. "You know, I had no idea you liked to dress up and be me every now and then." She joked.

I groaned, unwilling to remember what I had done. "I actually kind of want to forget about all that."

"Good luck trying to make this pony forget." She teased some more, earning a chuckle from Fluttershy as well.

Star Tracker, the contest winner from before, approached Twilight. "You and your family have been really kind to include me, but you deserve your own vacation together. I think I've had way more than I could have ever dreamed of."

Twilight withdrew a small yet appreciative smile. "If that's really how you feel, then I appreciate the thought, Star Tracker. Thanks for understanding."

She moved a little closer to him, immediately causing him to laugh nervously. "And I'm really glad we met, too!"

Twilight exchanged a momentary hug with him, enabling him to leave with a bright smile on his face like a happy little camper. However, he hadn't exactly been looking at where he was going, so he ended up bumping into a certain minotaur we didn't really want to see.

"Attention, cruise ponies! If it's your dream, come to the deck for ice cream!" We heard his voice broadcast loudly, gathering the attention of everypony on board.

"Hey! I thought you said she was done after signing autographs!" I pointed out angrily.

Technically, Fluttershy and I had finished that task, but he didn't need to know that.

Iron Will pushed the microphone away from his mouth and addressed the matter towards us. "Iron Will made no guarantees to the number of princess activities Princess Twilight would have to participate in."

"Oh, no! Leave the princess alone!" Star Tracker retaliated bravely.

Iron Will bent over to face this pony directly. "What did you say to Iron Will?"

Star Tracker immediately flinched back at the sight of him.

By my side, Fluttershy grew a quite aggressive and dissatisfied look on her face. As everypony else on the ship drew near, she looked like she was ready to step up and give him a piece of her mind. However, Twilight suddenly grabbed a hold of the microphone Iron Will wore and used it for herself.

"It's okay, everypony." Clearing her throat for a quick second, she began to address the crowd that appeared before her. "First, I want to thank all of you for coming. It means a lot that you'd spend your hard-earned bits just to be with us. But I honestly came on this cruise to take some time off from being a princess. I'm just a pony, too, after all. And even though I want everypony here to be happy, I'd really like to spend the rest of the cruise relaxing with my family."

"Of course, Princess Twilight." One of her fanatics took surprisingly well.

"But why was this trip advertised as a Cruise of the Princesses if you just wanted to get away?" Another questioned.

"That's a good question." Twilight raised an eyebrow and turned towards Iron Will. "Why was this trip advertised as a 'Cruise of the Princesses'?"

On the other hoof, Iron Will only whistled innocently by the edge of the ship. It wasn't until everypony's eyes were on him that he finally explained himself by pulling out a bunch papers with a magnifying glass directed at a particular part of the page.

"Iron Will's Cruise of the Princesses makes no guarantees as to the participation of actual princesses."


Every one of the cruise ponies immediately rose and struck up a mutiny against the ship's captain, causing him to back away a bit slowly. "But Iron Will learned his lesson before. Satisfaction not guaranteed." He unexpectedly jumped over the side and disappeared out of sight. "No refuuuuuuunds!" We could hear his voice echoing as it grew further away from us.

Everypony that witnessed this gasped and immediately rushed over to the side to take a look for themselves at the fleeing minotaur. He was the size of an ant after a measly few seconds, but it wasn't long before a huge parachute obscured our view of him. Instead, we were given an eyeful of him swimming in his riches. It was only a moment of time before this parachute shrunk until it was no longer in sight.

"Wow." Shining Armor simply reacted in what sounded like a bit of disbelief. "He may be pushy and manipulative, but nopony can say that minotaur isn't prepared."

"Wait." I mentioned, realizing something after considering what we had all just seen with our own eyes. "If the ship's captain just bailed on us, what are we supposed to do with the cruise now?"

"I guess we'll have to turn this ship around and head back to Canterlot." Twilight suggested. "We…might have to explain what happened there. But for now, that doesn't mean we can't keep enjoying ourselves till we get back, right?"

Even though it seemed like our vacation would be getting cut short, I, for one, was at least glad we could truly relax for once without having to worry about Iron Will and his unethical gimmicks.

Fluttershy and I had spent some time together in our room until she ended up dozing off. I wasn't exactly sleepy, so after I put her to bed, I decided to enjoy the weather outside aboard the ship. It was probably around midnight, if not past, so there were hardly any other ponies out.

I hung my hooves over the side of the ship and observed the night sky hosting the bright full moon. I couldn't help but think about Luna and wonder if she would have enjoyed a cruise like this too. But, I also didn't know her or Celestia's schedule, and I could only imagine that they had it harder than us.

For some reason, thinking about them made me begin thinking about what laid ahead in the future. For a moment, I somewhat began feeling scared. I wasn't shaking or shivering by the thought of it. I just felt…uneasy. It was the same kind of uneasiness I remembered feeling before not too long ago. I don't know what it was, but there was just something lingering in the dark parts of my mind. And, despite the fact we were supposed to be on a vacation, I felt like I couldn't truly be at ease no matter how much I tried to distract myself from it.

"Couldn't sleep?" I heard behind me.

"Something like that." I briefly answered, finding Twilight joining me by my side. As soon as I saw her, I immediately felt a welcoming kind of relief. Like if I was hoping that she would show up.

"I didn't really get to see it before, but without Iron Will's voice hammering my ears, I can finally appreciate the view of the night sky." She said as her gaze fixated on the stars above us. "I guess it just goes to show you that you can always find some kind of hope in the worst situations, huh?"

"Since when did you get all philosophical?" I lightly joked.

"Maybe it's just the you part of me talking." She giggled.

"Yeah, maybe." I simply responded with, feeling an unexpected bit of dread shadow my heart for a short moment.

"Um. I don't think I really got to tell you this before…but thank you." She expressed, seizing my gaze. "It's true. All I really wanted was for everypony to be happy, but knowing what you and Fluttershy did to make me happy? Well, I don't know what else to say other than it makes me feel extremely glad. I still wish that you two would've been able to see the Northern Stars, but I like to think that we'll get to see them again together sometime soon."

"Hm." I couldn't bring myself to feel the same kind of hope she apparently seemed to have been feeling. "You ever wonder if, maybe, things don't always work out well in the end for everypony? Like, maybe some ponies just aren't meant to be happy?"

Based on the expression that formed on her face, it was heavily apparent that she wasn't expecting that kind of question to come from me. "What kind of question is that? Are you feeling okay?"

I shook my head. "Sorry. I guess I'm just tired or something. Forget about it."

"Maybe you should try getting some sleep again." She suggested. "After all, we've only got tomorrow to make the most out of this cruise."

I simply nodded. "Guess so."

As I turned to leave, I heard her call my name.


I silently faced her and patiently waited to hear what she wanted to say.

"Just so you know… If there ever comes a time when you think you're stuck in the dark, I'll come looking for you. So, to answer your question, I'd come and give you a reason to be happy." She drew closer to me and looked at me gently in the eyes. "We've got a special thing going on between us, you know? In more ways than one. What you did today reminded me of that. This is probably going to sound a bit dramatic, but I'm willing to put my life on the line for you. So, just like you've told me before, don't ever be afraid of doing anything alone. Whatever it is, even if it's the most dangerous thing ever, I'll be there. And telling me to back down because it's too dangerous won't stop me. Got it?"

Just as her name went, the warm smile that stretched out from her lips at the time was something that could be seen through any kind of darkness. Because of that, I suddenly felt a small warmth inside of me. It didn't completely overturn the weird mood I had been feeling, but it gave me a reason to feel as if everything was going to be alright.

"I got it. I'm counting on you then." I answered with a small smile of my own.

She pressed her chest against mine and wrapped her hooves around my neck.

We stood there for a moment together. As much as I appreciated her words and actions, they also unexpectedly made me feel a little scared. I shouldn't have thought like this, but for some reason, it was almost like I had been saying goodbye.

And, I guess I just needed a little more than words to convince me otherwise.

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