• Published 1st Mar 2013
  • 2,101 Views, 62 Comments

No Regrets - Ficta_Scriptor

After Twilight becomes an alicorn, the notion of immortality dawns on her and she is plagued by doubts. Distressed, she finds solace with the Element of Honesty. To have no regrets would mean the world.

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Chapter 1 - Bonds

Chapter 1 – Bonds

Five years later

For centuries, the Grand Galloping Gala was organised by Princess Celestia and her personal assistants. However, for the first time ever, that job had been handed to somepony else. Princess Twilight Sparkle had been given total control of the affair after proving her worth when helping Celestia the previous year.

She had made some slight changes to the usual proceedings, though nothing too drastic. For once, foals were allowed to attend. While this was met with some concerns from her subjects, ultimately, her word would always win over theirs and the new rule was pushed forward. This meant that Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo and Applebloom could be present, though Applebloom had decided not to come for one reason or another. It was a shame, but Twilight was sure that she would be able to make an appearance next year.

As the alicorn put on her royal attire — an exact replica of the gown that she’d adorned during her coronation¬ — the memory of her first trip to the Gala flooded her mind. She couldn’t help but chuckle as she remembered the pure terror of finding the main hall wrecked by her friends, followed quickly by a sterling appraisal from Celestia herself. It was funny how things worked out the way they did.

“Almost done,” she muttered to herself as she carefully adjusted her crown. It was necessary to be extremely precise when doing this or it was in danger of falling off, something which had happened during a visit to the Crystal Empire whilst giving a speech on maintaining stability, of all things. Her royal guff was only outmatched by Cadence’s impromptu fit of giggles, a moment that would be remembered by many as ‘The day the world saw how juvenile princesses could be.’

Satisfied that she was now ready for the eyes of the public, Twilight took a deep breath and left her personal quarters. She was met by her two personal guards — Scimitar and Claymore — who stood to attention and smiled as she passed them by.

Scimitar had a full-white pelt and soft red mane, and was the younger of the two. He was a little more talkative, and appeared to genuinely love his job for what it was, more so than the ramifications of protecting royalty. While Twilight had never had the opportunity to see him outside of his current role, she imagined him to be a bit of a joker judging by his occasionally cheeky grin.

Claymore had a light-grey pelt and black mane and was a lot more serious than his colleague. In many ways, he respected her the most, and was undoubtedly devoted to his work. He had worked for Princess Celestia for many years and had come with the highest of recommendations, though he wasn’t the best of ponies when it came to lightening the mood. Still, he was what most guards should strive to be.

It had taken a little while for her to get used to the idea of bodyguards, and the two pegasus stallions had initially acted incredibly formal at all times, sometimes not so much as saying a word unless she asked them a question beforehoof. It was awkward in those days, but after some time together and a bit of hard work, she managed to get them to loosen up just a little. Still, there were some days where she wondered how they would treat her if she wasn’t a princess, if they were just friends. Would they laugh and joke alongside her, no longer being afraid of saying something out of line?

If I wasn’t a princess

“Evening, Princess,” Claymore greeted with a quick nod. “Ready to meet our guests?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied, slowly trotting her way down the marbled hallways of Canterlot Palace. “I take it that all the preparations have gone according to plan?”

“Yes, your highness,” Scimitar answered. “Everything’s gone without a hitch. I believe your friends are waiting for you in the lobby. Thankfully, they haven’t started a fight this time.”

Claymore gave his colleague a stern look but Twilight merely chuckled at the remark. She could remember last year when Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust met once again, the wavy blonde-haired pegasus starting out on a heated rant. Despite trying her best to ignore the threats, Rainbow Dash’s brash nature lead to her pushing the mare away, accidentally sending her flying into a nearby buffet table. From here, Lightning Dust went all out, and the two ponies had to be broken up by the royal guards.

“Yes, well we wouldn’t want that to happen again,” Twilight grinned. “Though I’m guessing Miss Dust won’t be making an appearance any time soon.”

“Of course not, your highness,” Scimitar answered again. “There are strict orders to detain her on sight.”


The three ponies made their way down a large staircase that led to the main foyer. It was here that Twilight had experienced her ‘worst night ever’, and had been stuck greeting guests alongside her idol and mentor for almost the entire evening. However, this was her Grand Galloping Gala, and there was no way that she would resign herself to a glorified receptionist. If anything, she would want to be a part of the festivities as much as anypony else.

A large crowd had already gathered, mostly residents of Canterlot (made obvious by their ‘prim and proper’ demeanour more so than their attire) followed by a few cardinals, countesses and chancellors, and finally a few visitors from afar. The turnout appeared to be even greater than previous years, which Twilight supposed could only be a good thing.

Two trumpeters awaited her at either sides of the staircase and let out a short burst of fanfare, gaining everypony’s attention.

“Presenting her royal highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle!” one of them chanted, resulting in a string of bows and murmurs of approval from the crowd. Twilight smiled and raised a foreleg in salute, her silver horseshoes gleaming in the light from the surrounding chandeliers. A silence came over the room and she took a step forward to address her guests.

“It is with great pleasure and honour that I welcome you all to the annual Grand Galloping Gala. I hereby wish for you all to have the best night ever, so please enjoy yourselves! I know that I shall be doing the same.”

Her statement was followed by a round of applause and smiles all around. Taking her cue, Twilight slowly began to make her way down the steps, her two guards at her side. Everypony around her looked ecstatic to merely even be in her presence. She was adored and revered in more ways than one, though this was merely commonplace for her nowadays.

“There’s no need to stay by my side for now,” she told Scimitar and Claymore, looking to each of them in turn. “All I require is your protection. I have no doubt that you can do so from a veritable distance.”

“Yes, Princess,” the two guards answered in unison, taking a bow and hanging back while she sauntered through the restless sea of ponies. She would be approached by many a delighted citizen that night, but none were as important as the five friends waiting anxiously in the courtyard. It wasn’t often that she had the chance to spend time with them all at once, and at such a momentous occasion.

Of course, there were times when she wished she could go back to the days of old, living happily in Golden Oaks library. It fell far short of the wondrous collection of tomes in the Canterlot archives, but it was quaint — homely even. Still, she couldn’t be prouder to stand as one of the pillars of Equestria alongside Celestia, Luna and Cadence. It genuinely was a dream come true.

Twilight trotted through the main foyer doors — smiling politely to everypony on her way — when she was startled by a pony barrelling down from the skies and landing right in front of her.

“Gee, what took you so long?” Rainbow Dash teased, shaking her head with a smirk across her face. “Who knew the royal underpants took three weeks to put on? Must be a new record.”

“Nice to see you too,” Twilight replied, rolling her eyes. “I see you’ve not changed a bit.”

“Me? Change? I’m too fast for change!”

“I guess…” Since when does that make sense? Twilight mused, but said nothing of it. Truth be told, she was simply thrilled to see her daring friend again. She noticed that Rainbow Dash was wearing a new outfit that bore some resemblance to traditional Wonderbolt attire, but the fabric had a reflective property to it, and darker streaks of blue.

“I know, pretty cool, right?” Rainbow Dash commented as she saw Twilight looking over her. “It’s made from this new fibre-mesh stuff that’s totally snug and reduces wind resistance. But enough about me, are you gonna join our friends or what?”

“I’d like nothing more,” Twilight answered, and spread her wings. Flying wasn’t something she had much opportunity to do anymore, but it quickly came back to her as she glided over the crowds after her impatient friend.

The courtyard decorations certainly made for an interesting sight; it wasn’t often that the outside of the palace was lit up in this way. More to the point, the steady hum of chatter and smell of freshly cooked food from the buffet tables awakened her senses. The air somehow felt cleaner today, as if every breath invigorated her more than usual.

After a fairly short flight, Twilight eventually saw her friends huddled in a group at the far side. Celestia was with them, speaking to Applejack and Fluttershy who were listening attentively. Pinkie Pie was shovelling cake down her gullet and attempting to get Rarity to try some, but the dainty unicorn was merely wincing uncomfortably. Not far from them, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle and Spike were chatting away feverishly, cheerful grins on their faces. The three of them had grown so much in just a few years, and Spike now stood at the height of a typical pony.

Spike was still her faithful assistant, but he no longer dogged her as he did once before. His duties were split between all three Princesses living in Canterlot, and he even had a dorm to himself. Twilight wasn’t sure, but recently he’d been going through his ‘teenage years’, getting restless and grumpy. On the flipside, he was more outgoing, and appeared to have a soft spot for Sweetie Belle. His fondness for Rarity had dwindled ever since the mare’s first string of colt-friends, (something that Twilight didn’t know very much about, but had no interest in finding out. She considered that it was probably better not to know) but had made good friends with the Cutie Mark Crusaders during his occasional visits back to Ponyville. Whether Sweetie Belle might actually feel the same was less of a cute thought now than it was a possible concern. Not that she wanted to know about any of that either.

“Look who I found prancing about,” Rainbow Dash announced as she touched down beside the group.

“Twilight!” Pinkie yelled, and managed to leap twenty feet into the air and grab the startled alicorn to the ground. The excitable earth pony wrapped her forelegs around into an even tighter hug. “I’ve missed you so much! I can’t wait to tell you about all the fun I’ve been having! Did you hear that Sugarcube Corner got an award for best cakes? It was amazing! I haven’t calmed down since!”

“I’m… happy to… see you to…” Twilight managed to gasp out, using her magic to pry away the party pony. Pinkie’s hugs needed an insurmountable amount of magic to break. “But I’m also happy when I can breathe.”

Catching her breath, Twilight took a moment to gaze over her friends, each of them wearing beautiful dresses crafted by none other than Rarity. The exception was Spike, who was wearing a dashing tuxedo especially tailored for him by one of the Royal dressmakers. Given his rapid growth, maintaining his selection of outfits was almost a full-time job in itself.

“Perhaps I should take my leave, my little ponies,” Celestia announced. “By the way, Twilight, I am most impressed with the festivities. Your organisational skills are truly second to none.”

“Thank you, Princess,” Twilight said, blushing at her mentor’s compliment.

“Perhaps next time you can manage it and be on time,” Celestia added.

“Huh!? I’m… I’m sorry for—” For a moment, Twilight thought that she was being disciplined, but Celestia’s smirk told her that it was just a friendly bout of poking fun, something that was fairly rare for the Princess of the Sun. It had only really become apparent during the last few years, now that they were both practically equals. “Sure, I get it,” Twilight finally stated, offering a sheepish grin. “I guess I did get a bit carried away with trying to make sure everything went according to plan when I should have been worrying more about meeting up with my friends.”

“Oh, it’s OK, Twilight,” Fluttershy said as she stepped forward, wrapping a hoof around Twilight’s neck. “We know you wanted this to be perfect, and it is! Everything is so beautiful here.”

Twilight’s other friends quickly gathered round into an intense group hug. The bond between them was as strong as ever; it was as if she’d never left Ponyville in the first place. With Sweetie Belle’s encouragement, Spike begrudgingly entered the fray, ushering a few giggles from the surrounding mares as he pretended not to enjoy the moment.

“It’s great to be back together again,” Applejack commented with a nod, ruffling Twilight’s mane playfully. The lavender alicorn couldn’t help but get flustered, basking in the fulfilling glow of her friends’ company. “Now what’s say we get this party started?”

“Oh, Applejack!” Pinkie exclaimed, looking strangely cross. “That’s my line! I’m the party pony around here! You’d better not be trying to steal my destiny!”

“Gee, Pinkie, Ah’m sorry,” Applejack replied, stifling a giggle. “The party don’t start ‘til you say so.”

“Darn straight!” Pinkie bellowed, stomping a hoof down defiantly. “And thusly I decree that this party has now… started!” Her usually cheerful demeanour quickly returned as she bounced around giddily, almost knocking over an elderly stallion who was walking by.

“Hey, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash whispered. “On your six. I think there’s somepony who liiiiiiiikes you! He’s been checking you out this whole time!”

Twilight blushed, but turned around anyway to see what Dash was getting at. As soon as she realised who the mare was referring to, she immediately face-hoofed. “Rainbow, you do realise that Scimitar’s my personal guard? It’s his job to watch over me.”

“I… I knew that!” the pegasus stammered, trying to retain an air of confidence. “But… but who’s to say I’m wrong?”

“I must admit,” Rarity began, gazing wearily into thin air. “It would be quite the romantic dream, would it not? The lowly guard bottling up his feelings for the one he serves, desperately building up the courage to express his love. He’d write you the most beautiful poetry, shower you with gifts that even the most regal of ponies could not acquire, and you’d fly happily into the sunset…”

“Hate to break it to you, Rarity,” Rainbow Dash chided. “Do you know how ridiculous and cliché that sounds? And for the record, I’m not sure Twilight should be taking relationship advice from someone with so many notches on her bedposts that she’s practically sleeping on a pile of sawdust.”

“How dare you!?” Rarity exclaimed, poking a hoof in Dash’s face. She apparently hadn’t noticed Sweetie Belle and Spike bursting into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. “And who are you to say such things? Are you saying that you could give out better advice than me? Hmm!?”

“I never said that,” Rainbow Dash argued, seeming content with how her little joke went down. “If anything, Fluttershy and Pinkie would make better role models.”

Fluttershy visibly shook with terror, quickly leaping behind Pinkie Pie. “Leave me out of this!” she shrieked.

“Don’t be so shy, Fluttershy!” Pinkie said cheerfully. “Oh wait, except that the word ‘shy’ is in your name. If you weren’t shy then I wouldn’t have to be pink, and I love being pink! It’s like the best colour ever!”

As her friends chatted away, Twilight couldn’t help but chuckle to herself, slowly garnering the attention of everypony else.

“What’cha laughin’ at, sugarcube?” Applejack asked.

“It’s nothing, don’t worry,” Twilight replied, bringing her laughter under control. In truth, simply watching her friends bicker and joke made her happy, in a funny sort of way. She was reminded that despite everything that had changed over the years, her friends were still the same loving, dysfunctional band of merry ponies that they ever were. After so long since the last time they’d been together like this, she was touched by how natural it felt to be in their presence, as if they’d been beside her each and every day.

It was still strange, and often endearing to think of how much her friends had achieved over these few years, things that she wouldn’t have even imagined back in the day. About two years ago, Fluttershy and Big Mac got married. It turned out that the two of them had been having a relationship in secret for a while, and when word first got out that they were together everypony assumed that they had only just begun to meet up, prompting a string of ‘sagely advice’ — primarily from Rarity — on how best to pursue this relationship. Under immense pressure from her friends, Fluttershy let slip that she’d been dating Big Mac for a long time and had managed everything all on her own. Everypony was shocked, especially Applejack, who didn’t seem especially pleased that she of all ponies had been kept in the dark. However, the two mares quickly made up and became even closer friends.

Pinkie wasn’t yet married, but it seemed like an eventual inevitability. Just over a year ago was the Equestrian Bake-Off — a contest for aspiring bakers and pastry chefs alike — Pinkie’s main competition came in the form of an earth pony stallion by the name of Chocolate Chip. Despite being intense rivals to begin with — hurling abuse at each other and doing their best to psyche one another out — everything changed when Chip’s entry was ruined by an ant infestation. He was so distraught that Pinkie couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, eventually agreeing to help him bake something even better. Chip’s ‘crazy cookie’ as it was called eventually won the contest, but he dedicated his prize to Pinkie, and the two of them kissed on the spot. (Though perhaps a little too passionately for the foals who were present)

At least, Twilight assumed that this was all true. She’d not been there to witness it. It was a shame, but as long as her friends were happy, that meant everything.

“So what do you say we get this show on the road?” chimed Pinkie Pie, leaping into the air with untold fervour. “We ain’t got all day! First stop, the buffet!”

“Sheesh, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash scoffed, rolling her eyes. “You’ve practically cleared entire tables of buffet food. How can you even think about more food?”

“’Cause… what goes in must come out, Dashie!”

The rest of the group exchanged a series of uncomfortable looks. “I don’t even wanna know how that’s your explanation,” Rainbow said with a sigh.

“Actually, I was thinking of having a dance,” Twilight suggested. She noticed Rarity smiling sheepishly at the thought. “And don’t worry, I’ve improved a lot since that one time.”

“Well thank heavens,” Rarity let out unsubtly, looking physically relieved. “I dare say a dance sounds like an excellent idea. Who knows, I could meet my Mister Right!”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash gave each other a knowing look, trying their best not to laugh. Everypony hurried along to the dance-floor except for Spike, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. “We’ll catch you guys later, OK!?” the purple dragon called over.

“Sure thing,” Twilight replied. “Just keep yourselves out of trouble, OK?”

“No worries,” Spike shot back, waving casually. The two teenage mares said their goodbyes and began walking alongside their draconian friend. “Remember,” he whispered. “If anypony asks, you’re both eighteen. Got it?”

“Wait, what was that?” Rarity asked the group, her ears pricked up. “Did he just… are they…!?”

“Ah’m pretty sure they’re just tryin’ their hoof and claw at getting’ some punch,” Applejack said with a sly grin. “Can’t say Ah never tried the same thing when Ah was their age, an’ Ah’ve loved cider ever since!”

Rainbow Dash grabbed the stock still unicorn by the tail and dragged her along, etching deep hoof-marks into the soft ground. Twilight’s group of friends were garnering a few discerning looks from the surrounding ponies, but the Princess wasn’t in the mood for caring about public appearance. Strutting off towards the ballroom housing the world famous Treble-Clef Orchestra, she was determined to have a night to remember. And for all the right reasons, she thought to herself.

The night got off to a good start — Rarity had finally begun moving again by the time they’d reached the dance-floor — as the six friends started up a conga line and prompted others to join. While at first a little sceptical, the Elements of Harmony did manage to invite (and coerce) others to join their line. It wasn’t every day that somepony got to dance with a princess, a Wonderbolt, a famous fashion designer, a province-renowned pastry chef and… well, the other two.

Twilight thought for a moment as she considered each of her friends. In their own way, they had all managed something remarkable. Despite not gaining any kind of monetary or fame-filled achievement, Fluttershy was still the first to find love and the first to get married. And if Twilight’s guess was as good as she thought it was, she’d also be the first to bear a foal. It was a fitting endeavour for such a kind-hearted mare. Spike had turned out to be an excellent assistant for every royal in Canterlot and Applejack…

Twilight paused for a second — momentarily disrupting the conga line — as she thought about her farm-pony friend. For all of Applejack’s good deeds over the years and her cherished support towards all of her friends, the orange earth pony was still doing as she had always done. She ran the farm, she bucked apples… Nothing had really changed. And yet, of all the ponies in this tightly knit group, Twilight couldn’t help but think that she deserved the most. It was true that she’d seen less of Applejack than the others, though not for a lack of trying on the country mare’s part.

After an exhausting few minutes the conga line dispersed, leaving behind a volley of laughter between the usual stuck-up Canterlot crowd. (Not that Twilight was privy to insults and generalisations, mind you) The musicians — who had taken it upon themselves to perform a unique and fast-paced melody for the occasion — took a bow as an applause emerged, gradually building up to cheers of approval. They took to their seats once again and started with a softer, more notably ‘classic’ symphony.

“OK, now let’s do it again, but backwards!” Pinkie bellowed, receiving only looks of dread and mirth. Disappointed by the reaction, Pinkie folded her forelegs together and frowned. “Seriously guys!? The reverse conga is Chip’s favourite! Or is it the reverse co—”

“Well I must say, that was quite the workout,” Rarity exclaimed, fanning herself dramatically. Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to comment but was quickly cut off by Applejack’s swift hoof. “I daresay you should host more events like this, Twilight.”

“Well I can’t make any promises, but I’ll see what I can do.” Twilight ruffled her wings and stretched out her limbs. It wasn’t often that she would engage in physically strenuous activities, and the need to take a pew struck her like a lightning bolt. “I think I’d better take a breather for now,” she sighed, relaxing against one of the cushioned white-oak seats that lined the edge of the ballroom.

“Pfft! What a wuss!” Rainbow scoffed as she leapt into the air and performed a quadruple loop-de-loop, landing with untold grace and looking as if she’d expended but a single drop of energy. “Just because you’re a princess doesn’t mean you have an excuse to be lazy!”

That is no way to speak to royalty,” Rarity piped up, having had enough of Rainbow Dash’s behaviour that evening. “Or indeed a friend who just happens to be royalty. If Twilight should indeed wish to put her hooves up we should accommodate that need.”

“No need to put it quite like that,” Twilight said with a blush. “I’m not here to chain anypony down.”

“Well I think perhaps you expect too little from us, dear Twilight. However, you can rest assured that I wouldn’t dare stray from your imposed ideals if my lif—” Rarity stopped mid-sentence and bolted from the group with hurricane-like speed, stopping on a dime next to a familiar, high-class unicorn. “Fancy Pants? Well fancy meeting you here?”

Rainbow Dash sighed, gesturing towards her as if to say, ‘you see?’ “Well I’d hate to be a party pooper—”

“They’re the worst ponies ever!” Pinkie interrupted, waving a hoof angrily.

“—but I’d rather keep the party swinging than take a break. Grand Galloping Gala is only once a year, right?” The pegasus took to the air, a mischievous grin on her face. “Let’s tear this place up!”

“Let the tearing commence!” Pinkie yelled, leaping up and giving Rainbow Dash a bro-hoof. The two ponies barrelled excitedly towards the door, knocking over an entire platter of hors d'oeuvres from an unsuspecting waiter — which Pinkie then caught in her mouth, munching away with swollen cheeks.

“Want me to lasso ‘em?” Applejack asked half-jokingly, rolling her eyes as Twilight face-hoofed. “You’d have thought they’d grown outta that by now, shucks.”

“It’s alright,” the alicorn replied, taking a deep, calming breath. Cadence’s old trick was just as useful as it had been since day one. “It can’t possibly end as badly as last time.”

Fluttershy had bashfully trotted through the two mares’ path of destruction, offering a sincere apology to anypony that had been knocked over or left in a distressed state, of which there were many. Twilight marvelled at how much the timid little pegasus had grown. The memory of their first meeting — with Fluttershy unable to even introduce herself — passed before her eyes. Everything was simple back then, wasn’t it? So much has changed. So much, except…

“Applejack, how have you been?”

“Can’t complain,” the farm pony remarked casually, casting a disapproving glance towards Rarity, who was practically draping herself over Fancy Pants. “Same old, same old, Ah guess.”

“And you’re OK with that?”

Twilight’s response caught Applejack by surprise, the earth pony turning to give her full attention. “Ah don’t quite see what yer gettin’ at.”

Twilight sighed, motioning for her friend to take a seat next to her. Applejack did so hesitantly, as if expecting some kind of bad news. Observing the look on the mare’s face, Twilight stretched her lips into a sincere, friendly smile. “Applejack, we don’t really get much chance to talk like we used to.”

“Same fer all of us though, ain’t it?” she shot back, almost a little too quickly.

“Very true, but I’ve probably spoken to you the least.”

“Well Ah do apologise on account of those tress in need of buckin’. Ah’ll certainly try harder in future.”

“That’s… that’s not what I was getting at. How can I put this…?” Twilight scratched her forehead, as if trying to extract her very thoughts. “Even with all my duties as Princess I still think about you all. That’s something that’s not left me ever since I ascended. But I… I’m worried about you, Applejack.”

“Worried?” The earth pony blushed, shifting her gaze away momentarily. “Ah appreciate your concern but Ah don’t really know what yer talkin’ about.”

“Maybe I really do have nothing to worry about, but I’d rather be sure than just assume something like that.”

Applejack nodded solemnly. “Can’t argue with that Ah guess.”

“Good. Now I don’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything, but Applejack…” Twilight took a deep breath, placing a hoof on the mare’s shoulder. “Do you need help?”

“Help? With what?”

“Perhaps you can tell me.”

Applejack paused for a moment, her face bearing an incalculable emotion. “Ah’m confused.”

“Are you happy with your life, Applejack?” Twilight blurted out. “Don’t you wonder if you deserve something more? I want what’s best for you, really, and well… The rest have us have done so much, and I can’t help but feel that you’re—”

“Ah don’t know if Ah like what I’m hearin’,” Applejack huffed with a flash of anger, pushing away Twilight’s hoof. “You pityin’ me? Is that it? Poor old Applejack wastin’ her life away on the farm? Ah guess you think you’re better than me!”

“That’s not what I’m saying at all!” Twilight exclaimed, garnering the attention of a few passing ponies. Still, she didn’t care about that. “Applejack, I want you to look me dead in the eyes and tell me with complete honesty that you’re happy with your life, that you don’t wish for something more. If you can do that then I’ll drop this subject and never speak of it again. You have my word.”

For almost a minute nothing was said between them, the two mares staring off into the crowd as everypony else was enraptured in conversation. Rarity seemed to be receiving some desired attention from Fancy Pants, while Claymore and Scimitar stood diligently at the other side of the ballroom. Finally, Applejack took a deep breath and spoke.

“Why d’you have to bring up somethin’ like this now, Twi?” she asked in a half-whisper, twiddling her hooves awkwardly. “Ain’t today about just havin’ a good time?”

“Maybe I thought some things needed to be said, regardless of what’s going on. And how often do I get a chance to speak to you one-on-one like this?”

The earth pony shuffled in her seat. “Ah guess so. It’s just… ponies helpin’ me out? Ain’t somethin’ Ah’d like to get used to, ya know.” She smiled to herself, bringing her gaze back up to the concerned alicorn.

“Some things never change,” Twilight grinned. “So I’m guessing there’s something you want to tell me?”

“Not sure if Ah want to, but what the hay, Ah don’t seem to have much choice in the matter. And you’re right, anyway.”

“About what?”

“Certain things,” Applejack replied sourly, appearing lost in thought. “Things Ah maybe haven’t thought of in a long while. Can we… can we maybe talk somewhere a bit quieter?”

Twilight nodded, leading the way outside. Perhaps the most fitting place would be none other than the Royal Canterlot Gardens, she concluded. Applejack plodded by her side, looking very much unlike the confident, brazen mare that usually inhabited the farm pony’s body. But this was all for a good cause.

Though the Royal Complex was certainly buzzing with activity, the gardens were practically empty save for the odd couple taking a romantic stroll. It was a shame really, since this was the time of year when the gardens were at their most beautiful. Lining some of the trees were magical lanterns that slowly shifted through different colours. The gardeners had kept the topiary sculptures in tip-top condition, and with the distant chatter and occasional bouts of classical music coming from the main palace, everything cohered into a most pleasant atmosphere.

The two ponies took to a lone bench under a towering chestnut tree. While they weren’t completely alone — Twilight’s personal guards stationed themselves at a respectable distance away — Applejack was already appearing more at ease, a relaxed sigh escaping her mouth.

“Ah’ve gotta admit, this place makes me kinda jealous,” the farm pony remarked, taking a look at her surroundings. “Best Ah can do with a hedge is tear at it like a weed.”

“There goes my plan to employ you as head gardener,” Twilight joked. “Now… What did you want to tell me?”

The farm pony took a deep breath, the smile dropping from her face. “This is kinda hard for me to put into words — Ah never was a champion linguist as you can prob’ly guess — but Ah’ll give it mah best shot.”

“Take your time,” Twilight said softly.

“Right. Well, you were askin’ me about if Ah was happy with everythin’ in mah life, and Ah can’t say Ah’m not, but then again, it’s about more than that, ain’t it? Ever since mah folks passed on Ah knew Ah wanted to carry on the family tradition and run the farm, just like mah family has done for generations. That side of me ain’t changin’ no time soon. It’d make ‘em proud, you know? But maybe… Oh, Ah don’t know…”

“Know what?”

“When I done accused you of pityin’ me, it was ‘cause Ah’ve done the same thing. There ain’t no use hiding it; you’ve all gone on to do great things. As for Big Mac an’ Fluttershy, darn it, you should see ‘em sometimes. It’s like they ain’t got a care in the world. Ah’m happy with mah life, but… Ah ain’t that happy.”

“So... You want what they have?” Twilight asked, trying to pick her words carefully.

“If you’re talkin’ about findin’ mahself that special somepony, Ah dunno. When Ah was younger it just seemed like the sort of thing that was just gonna happen, like it was just one of those things that was a part of life. Truth be told, Ah can’t bring mahself to find somepony just for the sake of it. Ah’ve been on a few dates in the past couple years, but nothin’ ever came of ‘em. Honestly, Ah only agreed to them ‘cause Ah felt like Ah needed to if Ah wanted to be normal like everypony else.”

“But there’s no need for you to feel pressured into having a relationship.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that Ah do feel that way sometimes,” Applejack said glumly, crossing her forelegs. “Otherwise, Ah’m just doin’ what Ah’ve always done. Just workin’ on the farm, workin’ on the farm. It’s painful for me to even say this, but…” The mare blushed slightly, her gaze drifting off into the distance. “Ah’m jealous of you.”

“Jealous?” Twilight exclaimed.

“Don’t be actin’ so surprised,” Applejack commented. “And it’s not just you. You were right. We’ve all done so much, except for me.”

Twilight could see the earth pony’s eyes begin to water. Without hesitation, she wrapped her hooves around her friend and pulled her into a tight embrace, one that Applejack reciprocated fully, clutching her tightly and resting her head against the alicorn’s shoulder.

“I’m here to help you, Applejack. I want nothing more than for my friends to be happy. Whatever it is you want just tell me and I’ll do everything in my power to make it happen.”

“That’s just it,” Applejack choked, a tear falling down her cheek and onto Twilight’s fur. “Ah don’t know what Ah want.”

The two ponies held each other for another minute or so, both wrestling with their emotions. Twilight had predicted that her friend might have been stuck in a rut, but to see her break down like this tore at her heartstrings. Applejack had always been the boldest, most confident member of the group. Had she been in terrible pain this whole time? Even the Element of Honesty must have secrets, Twilight told herself, holding the distraught mare even tighter.

“Then I’ll help you find what it is that you want,” Twilight said firmly, releasing her grasp a little and looking into her friend’s tear-filled eyes.

“An’ you won’t tell anypony about this, right?” There was a hint of desperation in Applejack’s voice.

“Not if you don’t want me to.”

“Good, ‘cause… Ah think that’s for the best. For now, at least. Ah need to get mah head straight. Some things have got me thinkin’ about the future, what’s gonna happen in fifty years’ time.”

Twilight felt a lump form in her throat.

“Ah don’t wanna look back an’ think that Ah’ve done nothin’ with mah life, ya know?”

Twilight hesitated momentarily, her mind being brought back to Celestia’s book. Nothing had been said since that day; nothing to remind her of the truth. How could she even relate to Applejack’s predicament? She’d almost forgotten about all this, and now…

Twilight snapped herself back to reality, smiling to her friend and nodding sagely. “You don’t need to worry about that. You’ve done more to be proud of than you know.”

“Thanks, Twi.” Applejack gave another quick hug, a small grin appearing on her face. “It feels good to get things off mah chest.” She hopped down from the bench, looking more cheerful than she had that entire evening. “What do ya say we get back to the party? Can’t leave our friends hangin’.”

The rest of the night went smoothly, despite Rainbow Dash almost getting into a fight. (The other mare supposedly ‘turned her nose up at her’ which was enough to get the cocky pegasus riled up) Rarity’s attempts to woo Fancy Pants were cut short once she’d spotted Spike and Sweetie Belle ‘acting suspiciously’, but her accusations were met with the pair admitting that they’d lost Scootaloo to a drink-induced frenzy and were desperately searching for her. Thankfully, the teenager was found with Fluttershy, whose sympathy towards the young pegasus was only matched by her unspoken fury towards Spike and Sweetie Belle for letting this happen at all. Most surprisingly, Pinkie had been behaving herself, subjecting the rest of them to just ‘moderate’ levels of fun.

Applejack stayed at Twilight’s side for the rest of the night. She never was the type to show such obvious signs of thanks and affection, though Twilight guessed that she was never the type to expel her pent-up emotions either. It was only natural that she would feel drawn to the pony doing their best to help her, but that’s what Twilight was afraid of. Being relied upon by the citizens of Equestria to keep the province in check was nothing compared to being relied upon by a friend in need. And this wasn’t some small problem that could be settled by friends working together or with a simple act of kindness. Hay, even the day her friends’ cutie marks switched she had only needed to bring them together and let the rest happen on its own. But this was something that Applejack had entrusted to her, and only to her. A problem with no real answer, and that wasn’t all…

“Ah don’t wanna look back an’ think that Ah’ve done nothin’ with mah life, ya know?”

Twilight took a deep breath. No. She wasn’t about to let her petty inner turmoil ruin the time spent with her friends. After all, that’s what she wanted from this night in the first place, right? To make the most of her time with her friends? In a hundred or so years that’s all she would have to remember—

“My goodness, Princess Twilight! It is a real pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise.” Twilight gestured for the stallion — a white-coated earth pony wearing a tuxedo — to rise.

“My name is Broadsheet, and I was hoping that perhaps I could… Well, if it’s alright with you… Since it would be such an honour and…”

“To the point please,” Twilight said with the utmost politeness.

“M-many apologies,” the stallion stuttered, bowing once again. “I’m a photographer for a local newspaper, you see. I would be thrilled if I could snap a picture of you and your friends. I would even be willing to give all of you a copy, just to show my gratitude.”

“Ooh! A picture!?” Pinkie piped up, leaping out of nearby tree and startling the two of them. “That would be super-duper!”

“That’ll be a yes,” Twilight said with a smirk as the pink menace zoomed across the forecourt, rounding up her friends in a frenzied blur.

“W-where am I?” Rarity asked confusedly, her eyes rolling as she stumbled about dizzily. “Fancy Pants? What have you done with your mane? It looks positively fabulous!”

“Get off!” screamed Rainbow Dash as Rarity brushed a hoof through her mane. “I’m not Fancy Pants, you crazy mare!”

“I think I’m… I’m gonna be sick…” Scootaloo groaned, leaning onto Spike’s shoulder for support.

“What’re you doing!?” the dragon exclaimed. “Don’t be sick on me!”

“Oh, we’re having our photo taken?” Fluttershy whimpered, eyeing Broadsheet’s camera. “Oh no, what if I look hideous? I think my mane is out of shape. Will this photo be all over the newspapers!? Meaning everypony in Equestria will see me like this!?”

“Settle down, everypony!” Twilight ordered, instantly simmering down her crazed mob of friends in one fell swoop.

“Ah do love it when ya do that,” remarked Applejack with a half-grin.

As Twilight and her friends lined up in front of Broadsheet’s camera stand, the young princess took a look from side to side at all of her friends. This was what she treasured most, right? To be alongside the very ponies that had turned her life around, made her into the noble mare she was today?

“OK, everypony. Just move in a little closer.”

Of course, these were the moments that she would remember in years to come, the ones that she would cherish. She had formed unbreakable bonds with these ponies. She relished their company. To be with them was to live life the way she always wanted. What I always wanted…

“Now say cheese!”

So why do I feel so—


There was a brief flash, followed by sighs of relief. Broadsheet tapped a few buttons on the side of the metallic camera box and stood back proudly as several reams of paper slid from a compartment on the back. The stallion held one close to his face with a critical eye, a smile forming on his face.

“They’ve come out wonderfully!” he exclaimed, gazing over it excitedly. “The wonders of modern technology, eh?”

His upbeat comment was met by Scootaloo unceremoniously vomiting across the freshly cut grass. “I don’t feel so good…” she mumbled.

“I hope you’ve learned a lesson today,” scowled Rainbow Dash, looking over her adopted sister. “You need to learn your limits!”

“But I thought you said limits were for losers,” Scootaloo replied groggily.

“Um, did I say that? Oh, well, I uh…”

Twilight fought the urge to face-hoof as Broadsheet looked on at her friends with a degree of disgust. “Here you are, Princess! I do hope you deem it to be acceptable.”

Twilight took the photograph handed to her with her telekinesis and gave a polite nod. “This is more than acceptable. In fact, it looks…”

“Is… Is there something wrong?”

“No, there’s nothing wrong. It honestly looks… wonderful.”

The night was coming to a close. It hadn’t been eventful in the traditional sense, but it had been interesting to say the least. Twilight said her goodbyes, wishing them all a safe return. Pinkie reacted the most irrationally, crying melodramatically into her shoulder and blabbering about something incomprehensible. However, she was instantly brought back to normality at the mere mention of cupcakes.

As Twilight slinked up to her room on the upper floor of the Royal Complex — saying goodnight to Claymore and Scimitar in the process — she looked down upon the photograph that she could barely tear her eyes from. It would be a memento, a sign of time well spent with her friends. Things might have changed, but their friendship was still the same. It was a heart-warming thought.

Pacing into her room, Twilight took a small roll of tape from one of her drawers and stuck the photograph to her bedside mirror. She smiled as she thought of its significance, that she would wake up every morning and see her friends’ faces, albeit without Applebloom or Big Macintosh. It’s such a shame they couldn’t come, she thought to herself as she scooted into bed. It was then that she spotted her other photograph, one that rested on one of her cabinets in a dull and slightly dusty frame. She floated it across to her, remembering the day that it was taken. It was just after she and her friends had defeated Nightmare Moon and brought Luna back to her original splendour. That was so long ago, and yet…

Twilight’s smile faded in an instant. Her hooves shaking, she slipped the old photograph from its frame and brought it up to the mirror, to the photo that had just been taken not more than a few hours ago.


It was the first word to spring to mind. How many years had it been since she’d met her friends? Seven? Eight? It felt as if it had only happened yesterday. But signs of the passage of time were there. Their faces… Oh Celestia, their faces… It was the subtle fading in the shade of their fur, the creases and wrinkles that now adorned their living form. Whittled away… Soon to be dust, soon to be dust, soon to be…

But there was one exception. Twilight looked between the two pictures at her own visage, a lone tear trickling down her left cheek. She was perfect. Flawless. Nothing had been lost. The same youth. The same beauty. In that moment, memories of Celestia’s book flooded back to her. The feelings of remorse and terror that had plagued her — the feelings that had been pushed down for so long now bursting to the surface in a torrent of heart-scathing dejection, every glimmer of happiness drowning in a sea of misery. The Princess had lived countless years without attaining a single mark of aging. But in those photos, her friends… They grew old. And so did the next group of friends. So quickly, in but the blink of an eye to an immortal being. And the next. And the next. And so on and so forth forever and ever and ever and ever and—

There was a knock at the door.

“Twilight? You in there?”

I can’t let her in. I can’t let her see me like this. “Y-yes?”

“Ah just wanted to speak with ya real quick before Ah head back. Hope ya don’t mind but Ah don’t really want the others hearin’ about it.”

The door began to slowly creak open.

No! Don’t come in! “Applejack, I would really love to talk, but—”

“But what? What in the hay is goin’ on in there?”

The door was pushed open further, and Applejack’s curious-looking face peered from behind it. Her demeanour dropped in an instant.

Tell her to leave! She can’t possibly be here at a time like this! Tell her that you’re OK!

“Sugarcube? Oh mah gosh—”

“I’m not OK,” Twilight whimpered. “I’m… I’m really not OK. Applejack…” The alicorn slumped to the floor, sighing deeply. “Looks like we both need help.”

Applejack ran to Twilight’s aid and embraced her, pulling her close into her chest. “It’s gonna be alright, Twi. Just tell me what’s wrong and Ah’ll do mah best. After all, you’re doin’ the same for me.”

Wordlessly, Twilight raised the two photographs with her magic and floated them in front of Applejack. The farm pony took a few moments to look over them before turning back to her friend.

“Ah’m not sure Ah understand.”

“I’m immortal, Applejack,” Twilight whispered. “I’m… I’m going to live forever.”

There was a long silence between the two mares. Finally, Applejack spoke up. “Ah know, sugarcube. Ah wish Ah could say somethin’ but… Ah hoped — we all hoped — that you were OK with that.”

“I thought I was,” Twilight croaked, wiping away another batch of tears. “I had myself convinced for so long. I can’t… I can’t keep lying to myself anymore.”

“You don’t have to. You need somepony to talk to, just say the word. But Ah’m afraid it’ll have to wait for now. Ah… Ah really need to get goin’, sugarcube. Ah’m gonna be late as it is.”

“Please don’t go!” Twilight cried, latching herself onto Applejack’s midsection.

“Ah need to get back home. Ah’m real sorry, an’ Ah promise to—”

Please,” Twilight pleaded, the thoughts of countless centuries spent without her friends flooding her mind. “I don’t want to be alone.”

Applejack took a deep breath, finally conceding. “Alright, Twi. I’ll do this. For you.”

Big Macintosh opened up the front door, an oil lantern held between his teeth. His wife stepped inside with a warm smile.

“How is she?”

Big Mac shook his head sadly, and Fluttershy wrapped her forelegs around him in a loving cuddle. He dropped the lantern to the floor and returned the hug. “Where’s Applejack?”

“I’m sorry,” Fluttershy said glumly. “She wasn’t with me when the rest of us took the train. She said she had to speak to Twilight, so I guess she’s running late.”

“Ah hope she gets here soon. Ah don’t know if she has much time left.”

In the adjacent room Granny Smith was led in a small four poster bed, her head propped up with a mountain of pillows. At her side sat Applebloom, who had one hoof wrapped around her grandmother’s foreleg. The young filly perked up as Big Mac and Fluttershy crept inside, but quickly became concerned with her sister’s absence.

“Who’s there?” Granny Smith rasped, barely finding the strength to turn her head.

“It’s Macintosh and Fluttershy,” Big Mac whispered back, placing the lantern next to the bedside and giving Applebloom a quick hug. “Applejack should be here soon.”

Fluttershy nodded assuredly, doing her best not to be overwrought with emotion at the sight of the withered mare. “Yes, I have a feeling she just missed the train, but there was another one scheduled a little later. She’ll be here, don’t worry.”

“That’s good to hear,” Granny Smith noted, a smile coming to her face. She couldn’t see much beyond a mishmash of colours and three blurry figures, but it was enough to know that she was among family. “I always was a fighter. Don’t think I can’t hold on for little AJ.”

Applebloom buried her face into the bedcovers and began to weep. “Ah don’t w-want you to go…”

“You’ll be fine without me,” Granny Smith said as softly as she could, gently placing a hoof on her granddaughter’s head. “Us Apples take care of our own, an’ you’ve got some o’ the finest siblings you could wish for.”

As the hours passed, the old mare became more delirious, her vision slowly fading. She still kept talking to them as if everything was fine, as if she would be ready to spring out of bed the next day and order them around as she’d always done. Soon, the signs became obvious. Big Mac and Applebloom each said their own personal farewell in turn, telling their Granny how proud they would make her, how much they had learned from her — and most of all — how much they loved her. Eventually, her time came. Big Mac, Applebloom and Fluttershy held each other tightly as Granny Smith’s eyelids fell and she took her final breath.

Applejack never got to say goodbye.