• Published 19th Apr 2013
  • 12,547 Views, 1,099 Comments

Mortal - Benman



Twilight Sparkle's friends have lived long and happy lives. Now their time is coming to an end, but Rainbow Dash, at least, will not go gently. Twilight has the power to save her friend's life. Is it worth violating the natural order?

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Honesty

Beneath the white pavillion, a three-piece string band played while Lyric Heartstrings called out the steps to a lively square dance. Revelers pranced to and fro in a constantly shifting formation. Macintosh and Fluttershy stumbled through the steps with more enthusiasm than grace. Crabapple stalked about the sidelines, glaring at everything and nothing.

At the center of it all, Apple Sprout and Honey Pie were in their own private world. The bride’s veil was gone, and they each wore a slim gold ring over a front hoof. The two of them never broke eye contact as they wove between and around the other couples.

Twilight Sparkle stood on the sidelines and watched three generations pass before her. These ponies were the closest thing she had to a family. Her parents were long gone and her brother had died childless. Twilight’s own years had been spent in study, research, and adventure, leaving no time for marriage or children. No, that wasn’t quite true, she hadn’t wanted any of that. Watching her dearest friends raise their families had been—still was—more than enough.

A memory sprang unbidden to her mind. Immortality means watching your friends and family die, generation after generation, came Princess Celestia’s voice.

It was a bitter thought. She tried to picture Apple Sprout growing old and withering away, like Rarity. Twilight’s prodigious imagination failed her. He looked so impossibly lively, wearing that expression of intense, impetuous infatuation particular to young lovers.

Another partnerless pony sidled up beside Twilight. “You look like you’re somewhere else,” said Rainbow Dash. “Whatcha thinking about?”

The song came to an end. Lyric fell silent as the band moved into an airy waltz. The dancers broke formation and moved closer to their partners.

“You know,” said Twilight. “Life. And age.”

“I hear you. I mean, look at Crabapple. I remember changing his diapers. Now his kid’s just about ready to have kids. How did we get so old?”

“The same way everypony else does,” said Twilight. “Except me, I suppose.”

“About that.” Rainbow lowered her voice. “Did you talk to Princess Celestia?”

“I did,” said Twilight. “It was… not what I expected.”

Rainbow’s eyes lit up. “Does that mean you can do it?”

“It’s more complicated than that. I think it might work if I tried, but I can’t. Immortality is a huge responsibility. It’s not something I can just go doling out.”

“But think about it! You, me, Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rarity, together forever!”

“I want that. You know I do. This is bigger than we are, though. Princesses are an immensely powerful force in Equestrian society, and what’s more, we’re eternal. The effects of our rule are much, much more important than our individual lives. Princess Celestia can’t take chances by adding to our ranks unless she’s certain beyond the shadow of a doubt. If elevating ponies so freely were really a good idea, don’t you think Celestia would be doing it already?”

“I don’t know what the princess thinks. I know you told me you wanted to live with your friends forever.”

“You don’t realize the importance of what you’re asking,” said Twilight. “Turning you into an alicorn would be more significant than anything I’ve done in my life.”

“You’re trotting right it would,” said Rainbow Dash. “I know exactly what I’m asking for, here. It’s a big deal, I get that. I just don’t get why that’s bad. Come on, I’m not asking for anything that you don’t already have.”

“Is that what this is about? Are you just jealous?”

“Of course I’m jealous. I’m going to die. You’re not. I’d be crazy not to be jealous of that.”

“I can understand why you feel that way,” said Twilight. “That’s not a good reason to make you immortal, though. I’d be happy to talk about your feelings, but you need to start by accepting that death is a part of life.”

“It doesn’t have to be! I’m not okay with dying, not if there’s actually something we can do about it!”

Can doesn’t mean should!” Twilight shook her head. “Immortality sounds a lot nicer than it actually is. It gets lonely, watching everypony you know die. Most ponies aren’t cut out to handle it. You know how hard Applejack’s death hit you. I couldn’t put you through that again and again.”

“Excuse me, girls,” said Fluttershy as she made her way over, “maybe now isn’t the best time for you to have this talk.” She glanced meaningfully at the surrounding ponies, many of whom were staring.

Rainbow Dash ignored her. “So how is it okay for you to be immortal? I mean, if that sort of thing would make all this bad stuff happen, then why do you get to do it?”

“You know exactly why!” said Twilight. “A rare few ponies have the skill to help guide Equestria and the fortitude to handle immortality. Celestia chose me to be one of them. If you’d just listen for one—”

“Right, so all your friends have to die so that you can feel special,” said Rainbow.

Fluttershy cleared her throat. “Maybe we should—”

“Hey!” said Twilight. “Don’t make this about me, Dash.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow, “I guess I should leave that to you and the princess. You’ll have plenty of time to practice while the rest of us are rotting in the ground.”

“Oh, that is it!” said Twilight. “I’ve had just about enough of—”

“Girls.” Fluttershy fixed them with a look like an oncoming train. “Not here.”

“Fine.” Twilight nodded. “You’re right. I don’t have to stand here and take this, though.” She beat her wings and took to the air. The crowd began to mutter.

Fluttershy fixed her glare on Rainbow Dash. “There was no need to do that.”

“What?” said Rainbow. “She was the one who—”

“We’ll talk about this later,” said Fluttershy. “I’d like to celebrate my grandson’s wedding now, please.”





“You have to focus,” said Princess Celestia. “You won’t be able to call up your magic if you’re this distracted.”

“I’m trying,” hissed Twilight. She sat facing the last shard of red-gold sunlight where it streamed into her study. “It’s not easy, after what happened at the wedding today.”

“Oh? Is everything okay?”

Twilight sighed. “Rainbow Dash was being a jerk about my immortality. She’s hurt and scared and jealous and she’s lashing out. I can understand that, but it’s just… she’s really good at lashing out.”

“What did she say?”

“Can we talk about this later?” said Twilight. “I kind of wanted to finish the protoluminescent spell today.”

“Your magic depends on your connection to the Elements, Twilight. If you’re fighting against your feelings about your friends, you won’t make any progress.”

“Am I supposed to just ignore how I feel, then?” Twilight wasn’t sure if she could do that.

“That’s the last thing you should do. Remember, this isn’t unicorn magic. You can’t access it by shoving your emotions aside. These thoughts are a part of you, right now. You have to embrace them, good and bad. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, but acknowledging them is the first step to working through your problems.”

“I guess I can do that.”

“Yes. I’m asking you to get in touch with your true self, not your idealized self. Think about Rainbow Dash. Focus on your fear and your frustration. Don’t exaggerate it, but let it in to your mind.”

Twilight grimaced. “Okay. I’ve got it.”

“Hold on to that. Now, recall how much you care about each other. Remember all the sacrifices she made for you. Remember everything you accomplished together. Make sure you’ve got all of that in your mind.”

Twilight shut her eyes and concentrated. She had to struggle to keep both her friendship and her anger with Rainbow Dash in the forefront of her mind, not because the effort was mentally taxing, but because she didn’t want to think about how scared she was of turning her friendship into something else. She forced herself not to shy away from the painful thought. There was an ache deep inside her soul when she contemplated the possibility of driving away one of her oldest, dearest friends. Sitting there, deep in meditation, Twilight Sparkle resolved to repair the breach, no matter what it took.

“Now,” said Princess Celestia. “Focus on your magic.”

Twilight felt as though a dam had burst within her. There was the familiar sensation of power coursing through her thoughts, but it felt suddenly whole, like when she first transformed into her alicorn self. She was used to magic as a force to impose her will on the world, but this was different. Twilight felt in tune with reality, able to weave new patterns across the surface of a tapestry that had suddenly snapped into focus. She opened her mouth to shout her triumph, but all that came out was an unprincesslike squeal of joy.

“Excellent!” Celestia beamed. “I can feel the power flowing from you. This is the strongest you’ve ever been. Try the spell now.”

She reached her thoughts out to the sky. It was well and truly twilight now, when the world above was at its most malleable. Manipulating the sky had been beyond her abilities so far, but this time, the protoluminescent spell took shape. Twilight felt beads of sweat on her forehead, but she also felt a primal light building up in the back of her consciousness. It grew and grew until it burst free and popped into the sky. “Hah!”

“Very good.” Celestia didn’t turn to look at the sky; she didn’t need to. Twilight could see her star, though, her very first. With the barrier between day and night breached, the existing stars slid easily into their accustomed places. Twilight felt their familiar presence like a warm cloak.

In all her years of studying, Twilight had learned everything but the skill of guiding the skies. Now, they would share even this. She was grinning so hard her face hurt.





All this bowing and fawning was a problem, Twilight decided. In Ponyville, it was a mere annoyance, but here in Canterlot, ponies were serious about their royalty, to the point where Twilight could barely move about in public. Right now, she was just trying to drop by the spa to see Fluttershy’s youngest daughter, and she had already spent a quarter of an hour enduring the gushing of the doormare, the receptionist, and two especially forward customers.

“—we here at Soothing Rein would be happy to accommodate you however we can.” The receptionist was a unicorn by the name of Velvet Sheen, and he had been going on like that for some time. “If there’s anything we can do, don’t hesitate to—”

“Enough,” said Twilight, cutting short Velvet’s babbling with a raised hoof. “No. Thank you.” Twilight was trying to emulate Princess Celestia’s infinite patience, but she could tell she fell far short of the mark. “I’m here to see Golden Apple, if she’s not too busy.”

“I’ll fetch her at once,” said Velvet. “She’ll be up front in a moment, you have my—”

“I’ll just go find her. I remember the way.” Twilight brushed past the front desk, rolling her eyes once she was past. Velvet was the same as always.

It wasn’t far to Golden Apple’s office. The door was propped open, revealing pastel-colored walls decorated with a full-length mirror and several posters of ponies who Twilight assumed were Equestria’s trendiest models. Golden Apple’s voice came through the door. “If she can’t be there, then we’ll have to find somepony else to come in.” If Twilight hadn’t known, she would never guess her friend had been born on a farm. Golden Apple spoke with a Canterlot accent, with the flawless pronunciation that no native would have taken the time to perfect. “Oh, hello, Twilight.” She looked at a schedule spread across her polished mahogany desk, then back up at the eager young unicorn she had been speaking to. “I’ll have to cover the second half of her shift myself, it would seem. See if Gallantry can manage the first half.”

Twilight stood back as Golden Apple finished her conversation. Being ignored was strangely refreshing. She felt as though she were a regular person, rather than a pony-shaped mass of nobility.

Eventually the unicorn finished her business and scurried off. Only then did Golden Apple turn to embrace Twilight. She was a middle-aged pegasus with a vibrant green coat and an intricately braided mane the same brilliant gold as her predictably apple-shaped cutie mark. “Twilight! I haven’t seen much of you, lately. I suppose you’ve been rather busy.”

“As always,” said Twilight. “How have you been?”

“You wouldn’t believe it. I leave this place for three days to go to my nephew’s wedding, and the whole thing starts falling into chaos! It’s enough to drive a mare mad.” She shrugged. “Oh, well. It’s always something. In any case, I’m glad you’re here. Will you let me do something about your mane?”

“What?” said Twilight, reflexively looking into the mirror beside the desk. “Why? I’ve worn it this way since before you were born. It’s fine.”

“Precisely. It’s fine. That’s all well and good for somepony like Ma, but you’re a princess.”

“Right,” said Twilight. “Where can I get the conditioner to turn my mane into a nimbus of ethereal starstuff?”

“Hah! I’m afraid you know more about that sort of thing than I. But until you figure out that trick, you’d better let me fix things up. Let’s try little a less Auntie Applejack, a little more Princess Cadence.”

“What’s wrong with keeping it Twilight Sparkle?” she said, too quickly.

“It’s like you said. You’ve worn that style since before I was born. But you’re hardly the same Twilight Sparkle as you were then. Isn’t that so, Your Highness?”

“I…” Twilight’s legs buckled, and she sat down, hard. “I don’t…”

“Oh, dear.” Golden Apple crossed the room and shut the door, then sat on the floor beside her. “We’re not talking about your mane at all, are we?”

Twilight swallowed. “I miss the old Twilight Sparkle. I liked her. Princess Twilight seems like a nice pony, too, but I don’t want to lose who I was. I don’t want to lose the pony Applejack made me.”

“Is it really that bad?”

Twilight nodded. “Yeah. It is. Everywhere I go, I’m always the princess. Everypony acts like the ground I walk upon is holy, and it gets old. There aren’t many ponies left who will let me just be me.”

“But surely that doesn’t apply to your friends? You still have me, and Ma, and Auntie Dash, at the very least. We’re still here, just like always.”

Twilight decided not to say anything about Rainbow Dash. She didn’t need to burden Golden Apple with all of her problems. “It helps,” she said. “Still, it’s hard.”

“Hm. I know this isn’t quite the same, but I’m hardly the pony I was twenty years ago.” Golden Apple reached up and plucked a framed photograph from her desk. It showed a younger Fluttershy and Macintosh, no more than sixty years old, holding a tiny, beaming foal. “Becoming a parent was a big change. Probably as big as becoming a princess, I imagine. I’m quite different as a result, as you well know, and I don’t regret a single bit of it.”

“You’re saying I shouldn’t be afraid of change,” said Twilight.

“Essentially. You will always be Twilight Sparkle at heart, no matter the outward trappings.”

“Well, it’s good to hear I’m still myself in your eyes.” Twilight stood up. “Still, I don’t think I’ll be changing my mane anytime soon.”





“Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy knocked on the door of her friend’s house, softly but insistently. “Are you home?”

As she waited for a response, Fluttershy glanced around at the porch and frowned. When Rainbow had first left Sweet Apple Acres, she made a point of keeping her cloud house scrupulously clean, a remnant of habits Applejack had drilled into her over the decades. Now, however, the fluffy white balcony was streaked with a buildup of brownish haze, visible even in the moonlight.

Fluttershy knocked again, louder this time. Again there was no response. She pushed open the door and went inside. “Rainbow Dash?”

The house was nearly unfurnished. Fluttershy walked through a full-sized living room that was empty save for a single couch covered in a thin layer of dust.

Rainbow Dash stuck her head through a doorway. “Hey. What’s up?”

“There you are,” said Fluttershy. “I’ve been trying to find you. I came to ask if you’re coming to Crabapple’s birthday party next week.”

“I thought he’d be angry with me, after what happened at the wedding.” Rainbow came fully into the living room, closing the door behind her before Fluttershy could see inside her bedroom.

“Oh, he’s furious. I haven’t seen him this mad since Apple Bloom missed Apple Sprout’s cuteceañera. He still wants you there, though. You’re family. Besides, this is your last chance to see Apple Sprout before his honeymoon. He’ll be away for a month, you know.”

“I guess,” said Rainbow. “Well, thanks, but… I dunno.”

“What’s going on? Nopony’s seen you since the wedding, and that was five days ago. What have you been doing all this time?”

Rainbow Dash leaned against the couch’s arm. “You know. Thinking about stuff, I guess.”

“Oh?”

Rainbow sighed. “I think Twilight’s alicorn thing is getting to me. I can’t stop thinking about dying. She could stop it from happening if she wants, but she just… isn’t.”

“Why is this different from how it was before? We were always going to die. It’s not Twilight’s fault.”

“It kind of is. I mean, for the longest time, I was okay with knowing I was gonna die. It was scary, yeah, but I thought it was just how things were and nothing could change that, so why worry, right?” Rainbow Dash started pacing across the room. “And now it turns out that dying is actually a choice! Except it’s Twilight’s choice, not mine, and she’s choosing wrong and there’s nothing I can do!”

“Death is a scary thing,” said Fluttershy. “I know you’re sad about Applejack. I am, too.”

“That’s not it. I mean, yeah, it still hurts. I don’t think that’s ever gonna stop. That’s not what’s different, though. Now I keep thinking about how it’s gonna happen to me. How it’ll to happen to you.” Rainbow swallowed. “Stars and feathers, Twilight can’t really let that happen, can she?”

“I don’t know,” said Fluttershy. “This sort of thing is too much for me. Maybe you’re right. It’s not worth having a big fight with Twilight over it, though. It’s Princess Celestia’s decision, and I don’t think she’ll change her mind.” She paused. “You’ll feel better about it if you get out some instead of brooding in here so much. Please come to the party. I’m worried about you.”

“Well, I guess—” The house shook with the mild tremble that came when a pony landed outside. “Huh,” said Rainbow Dash. “Wonder who it is.”

The two of them made their way to the balcony, where Twilight Sparkle stood gazing at the sky.

“Um, Twilight?” said Fluttershy. “What are you doing?”

Twilight looked their way. “Oh, hi! Sorry, I got distracted. Every time I think I’ve learned all there is to know about the sky…” She cleared her throat. “Sorry. I didn’t come here to talk about stars.”

Rainbow Dash stiffened. “Then why did you come?”

“I came to apologize. I was thinking about what happened at the wedding, and I can see how I was being insensitive. I don’t want this to come between us.”

A grin split Rainbow Dash’s face. She stepped forward and nuzzled Twilight. “Oh, Twilight. I should’ve known better. I don’t know why I was so worried.”

“Heh. I was worried, too. I guess we can both overreact, sometimes.”

“We sure can,” said Rainbow. “So when are we gonna do this alicorn thing?”

“Oh.” Twilight bit her lip. “I think you misunderstand. I didn’t change my mind about that. I just… I was too harsh before, and I wanted to try to be nicer about it.”

“The problem isn’t that you weren’t nice enough, Twilight.”

“Okay,” said Twilight. “Can we try to talk about it calmly, though? I really don’t want to fight.”

“I can do calm,” said Rainbow Dash.

“Maybe I’d better let you two sort this out in private,” said Fluttershy, spreading her wings. “I’ll see you at the party, Rainbow Dash.”

“Sure,” said Rainbow. “Fine.” Fluttershy gave her a brief smile before taking to the air.

Twilight pawed at the cloud. “So,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Rainbow. “I guess you’d better come in.”

Rainbow Dash led Twilight inside and pulled herself atop the couch, sending up a puff of dust. “Right. So. You were saying something about stars?”

“Yeah. I’m finally figuring out how alicorn magic works. I mean really figuring it out.” Twilight sat down beside her friend.

“You said that before,” said Rainbow Dash. “There was the time with the Star Scrolls, and then the time with the griffon university.”

“This is like that, but more. It’s like… like seeing the universe fit together in a new way. I’ve spent fifty years picking up pieces, and now I’m starting to put them together. So many things make more sense now, and the whole thing is just beautiful. Also, I found my special talent.”

“Isn’t magic your special talent?”

“I guess alicorn special talents are bigger. I have dominion over the heavens during dawn and dusk, now.”

“What, like controlling the stars?”

Twilight smiled shyly. “Pretty much.”

“Wow,” said Rainbow Dash. “That’s… wow. I guess you’re a princess for real, huh? That’s awesome. Whatever else happens, this is great.”

“That means a lot.” Twilight let out a breath. “To be honest, I was worried you were upset about what I am.”

“No way. I like it when good things happen to my friends. You’re a princess! That’s, like, the best possible thing. It sounds like it’s even cooler than I imagined, and that’s not easy. I couldn’t be happier for you. It’s just… if it’s that great, shouldn’t Fluttershy be able to have it, too?”

“I wish she could,” Twilight said carefully. “You know that. I don’t know if she’s cut out to go hundreds of years without her friends, though.”

“So don’t make her! It wouldn’t be lonely with the five of us together.”

“Gah!” Twilight massaged her temples. “I can’t just go around doing that to all my friends. How would that be fair? Besides, do you think Pinkie wants to be around when Shepherd dies? Then she’d have to bury the foster kids and Honey Pie and, and… it wouldn’t work.”

“So? You could make her family immortal too,” said Rainbow Dash.

“What are you even saying? Do you realize where that would lead?” Twilight’s voice was edging towards hysteria. “Do you want to make every pony in Equestria immortal?”

Rainbow Dash froze. “Oh my gosh,” she said. A grin spread across her face. “I didn’t even think of that. Oh my gosh. Twilight, you’re a genius! We totally could!”

“What? No! No, we couldn’t! That would totally destroy Equestrian society as we know it!”

“In a good way! You can get rid of death forever!” Rainbow climbed to her hooves. “You just… it’s like you don’t actually care that the rest of us die, since it won’t happen to you.”

Twilight paused long enough to count to ten before responding. “I did ask Celestia about transforming everypony, long ago, but she wouldn’t allow it. You have no idea what a world full of alicorns would be like. Nopony does. It could be a disaster, for all you know. Pony minds aren’t built to live forever and stay sane, and we’d have to feed and house a population that only increased, and who knows what other problems we’d run into? The princess has a point. And besides, she’s the princess.”

“No, Twilight, you are the princess! You don’t have to do what Celestia says if you don’t want to.”

“I have to live with her for the rest of eternity,” Twilight said with forced calm.

“Oh,” said Rainbow. “Oh, I get it. Impressing your teacher is more important to you than saving your friends’ lives.”

“What is your problem? I came here to try to get over our fight! I’m going out of my way to keep things civil, and all you can do is throw it in my face!”

“You’re killing your friends, Twilight! I’m sorry if I’m being rude, but I can’t smile along with this, no matter how nice about it you are. What happened to Applejack was the worst thing in the world. I won’t sit around while you let it happen to the rest of us, too.”

“That’s what this is really about, isn’t it? It’s all about Applejack. You’re broken up about her death, and now you’re blaming me, somehow.”

“What?” Rainbow Dash frowned at that. “Of course I don’t blame you. You didn’t think of it in time, no more than I did.” Her face darkened. “I blame Princess Celestia.”

“How can you even say that? Do you have any idea how much Celestia does for us? How much she did for Applejack?”

“Look, if Celestia wanted Applejack to be alive, she’d be alive. Applejack is dead. Say whatever you want about that.”

“That’s insane,” said Twilight. “By that logic, you could say she’s responsible for killing every pony who ever died.”

“Yeah,” said Rainbow. “Yeah, you could.”

Twilight stood up. “I can’t do this. It was one thing when you were insulting me, but I won’t listen to you talk about Princess Celestia like that. I’m leaving now. You’re scared and you’re lashing out. I can’t talk to you again until you get yourself under control, for both our sakes.”

“Scared? You’re the one who’s running away!” Rainbow Dash rose into the air above Twilight. “Watch who you call scared.”

“What, are you joking?” said Twilight. “Everything you’ve ever done, you did because of fear. When we were young, you were terrified somepony would think you weren’t awesome enough, so you did everything to prove how cool you were. Remember your meltdown at the Best Young Flyers tournament, when you thought you’d fail and ponies would see behind your mask? Then you spent decades clinging to Applejack like a drowning sailor because you were scared of what would happen if she looked away from you for one minute. And, and now you want to tear apart all of Equestria and destroy our friendship because you’re too scared to face your own death!”

Rainbow Dash landed with her muzzle inches away from Twilight’s. “Don’t you talk about me and Applejack,” she said in a voice taut like a steel cable. “You have no idea. No idea! You’ve never been in love, never helped raise kids, nothing! You’ve just been sitting in your empty tree and those shiny towers in Canterlot while the rest of us have been out there doing things! It’s like you started hibernating the same time Spike did. The difference is someday, he’s going to wake up. You, probably not.” She stepped back, out of Twilight’s face. “I don’t know why you’re the one who decides who lives and who dies. You’ve never even lived.”

“That’s enough!” Twilight stalked towards the exit. “Let me know when you’re ready to deal with this like an adult.”





Breathing heavily, Sunstone pulled open the farmhouse door and helped his mother inside. Two ponies looked up from their conversation as the two unicorns entered.

“Oh, good,” said Fluttershy. “You’re here. Let me help you to the sofa.” Despite her age, Fluttershy easily took Rarity’s weight from Sunstone.

As the two friends made their way across the room, Sunstone tried to remember where he had seen the other mare before. She was familiar enough that Sunstone was sure he’d be expected to know her name, but his mind refused to cooperate. She was a reddish earth pony, roughly his own age, with a short yellow-green mane and a thick, muscled body. Her flank marked her as part of the Apple clan, but Sunstone was sure he hadn’t seen her around the farm. She looked at him with a politely puzzled expression that matched his own.

“You must be thirsty from bringing Rarity all this way,” said Fluttershy. “Why don’t we get you some cider?”

Sunstone broke off his impromptu staring contest. “Thank you, Miss Fluttershy. That would be wonderful.”

Fluttershy nodded. “Honeycrisp, you remember Sunstone, right? Why don’t you take him out back and get some cider for the both of you?”

“Of course!” Honeycrisp visibly relaxed. “Sunstone. You were a couple or three years after me in school, right? Sweetie Belle’s class?”

“That’s right.” The memory clicked in his mind like two magnets snapping together. “You were the one who tried to tunnel your way out of the schoolyard in third grade.” He remembered Fluttershy’s child as a lanky blank-flanked filly, not this powerful mare, but it was unmistakably her.

“That was just the once,” said Honeycrisp. “This way.” She led him towards a rear door.

“I think you’ll find you have a lot in common,” said Fluttershy.

“You two have a good time!” called Rarity.

Sunstone found himself in the sprawling field behind the farmhouse. Honeycrisp started towards one of the numerous outbuildings, rolling her eyes as she went. “Sorry about that. I swear, she does this every time I come home.”

“I think I’m missing something,” said Sunstone. “Who does what every time?”

“My ma. Yesterday she was telling me all about Rarity’s son, Equestria’s best jeweler, and did you know he’s not married? Well, like that, except subtle. And now we just happen to find ourselves out on our lonesome.”

“I see,” said Sunstone. “My mom was probably in on it, too. It’s the sort of thing she does.”

“I bet. Moms, right?”

“Yes,” said Sunstone. “Moms.”

They walked in silence for a while.

“So where have you been?” Sunstone said at last. “I haven’t seen you in, what, thirty years?”

“Exploring, mostly. Just got back from six years mapping the wilds beyond Haydrian’s Wall. We got further than anypony before us ever did. I’m just stopping here for a few days on the way over to Baltimare to catch a ship. I know some folk who are putting together an expedition across the Arabian Sea.”

“Wow,” said Sunstone. “That, uh, that’s something.”

“Something, huh? Come on, what were you really gonna say?”

“That’s completely insane,” said Sunstone.

“Ain’t it just! But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Nothing in civilization is half as exciting as being out there with just your wits and a few good ponies.”

“Exciting is nice when you’re young. By the time a pony is our age, though, you need something more tangible to hold onto.” The two of them reached their destination, a small, well-kept shed.

Honeycrisp raised an eyebrow. “You sound like Ma. You sure you ain’t married?” Honeycrisp led the way into the shed. The interior was clean but dim, and rows of casks stacked ceiling-high left little room to maneuver.

“I almost was, once,” Sunstone said as Honeycrisp fetched a pair of mugs and began filling them from a tap. “Didn’t work out. There are other things, though.”

“Like what?”

“For a long time it was my work. Mastering a trade and running a business takes a lot of time and energy. Meeting ponies wasn’t a priority, so it didn’t happen. I eventually slowed down and ran into somepony, and for a while we thought we’d be together forever, but, uh, obviously it didn’t happen. Then my mom got sick, and between taking care of her and keeping the shop open, there hasn’t been room for much else.”

Honeycrisp handed Sunstone a mug full to overflowing. “Ever wish it had gone different?”

Sunstone drained half the mug in one gulp. “Honestly? No. If I wanted a family that badly, I would’ve gone out and got one. I mean, if it works out someday, that’d be nice. If it doesn’t, well, the lack has never bothered me.”

“I hear you,” said Honeycrisp. “Some colt and a couple or three kids wouldn’t be bad, but it ain’t worth giving up everything else.” She paused as she saw Sunstone’s smirk. “What?”

“Oh, nothing. It’s just, when your mom was hoping we’d have something in common, I don’t think this is was she had in mind.”

“Hah! Sure ain’t.” She took a long, slow drink. “You know, you’re not half bad, for a townie. What say we meet up in Ponyville before I head out? I could use some company that ain’t named Apple.”

“I think I’d like that,” said Sunstone.





“Alright, I think I’m prepared. Is it ready?”

“Indeed. Proceed in thy own time.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded and began to focus. The two princesses hovered far, far over Canterlot, where the air was cold enough to leave ice in her mane. Twilight could feel Celestia’s presence above, guiding the sun to its resting place. As the sky dimmed to sapphire blue, Twilight sensed Celestia’s link to the heavens weakening and her own connection growing stronger.

“Okay,” said Twilight. “Here goes.” She let her wings continue to beat automatically while she stretched out her awareness, found the psychic location her mind insisted on thinking of as the place behind the sky, and pushed. An otherworldly tingle passed through her head.

Above, a glowing point of light streaked through the sky, throwing off shining sparkles behind it. Another appeared beside it, and another, and another. By the time the first had faded, the meteor shower had begun in earnest.

“Well done!” said Luna. “I can scarcely do better myself. Thy mastery of these abilities is most impressive.”

“Thanks,” said Twilight. “I guess it’s pretty neat.”

“Thou art not pleased?”

“No, no, this is wonderful,” said Twilight. “It’s magic on a whole new level. It makes me wish I’d learned to paint or something, just so I’d be prepared for this sort of artistry. This night is perfect, really.”

“And yet thou art distracted.”

“I guess,” said Twilight. “I’m running into some trouble with one of my friends. Well, she’s not exactly acting like a friend, lately. It’s hard to stop thinking about it.”

“Ah,” said Luna. “My sister spoke of thy troubles with Rainbow Dash. These friendships of thine have weathered storms time and again. I have no doubt that this one, too, shall pass.”

“Well, I can’t help wondering if I’m the one who’s wrong, here. She wants me to turn her into a princess. Part of me knows that I can’t, that I need to put the good of Equestria before the good of my friends, but… but how can anything be more important than friendship? That flies in the face of everything I’ve ever learned. I don’t know.”

“I see. Fly with me, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna dove, trading altitude for speed, with Twilight close behind. They were still well above the towers of Canterlot when Luna leveled off and made for the mountains behind the city. The peaks rose beneath them as the princesses flew on and on. Twilight heard nothing but the wind and the sound of her own wings. It was nearly an hour later that Luna alighted at the peak of the highest mountain. It was well and truly night, and Twilight felt control of the sky passing to Luna. From here, the lights of Canterlot could have been another cluster of stars. Those of Ponyville, even more distant, blurred together into a single fuzzy galaxy.

“Thou thinkst granting immortality to a common pony would be a great kindness,” said Princess Luna.

“For that one pony, yes, of course it would. Nopony wants to die.”

“Thou art wrong. Few have the fortitude to endure eternal life. Most ponies would suffer from such a fate.”

“But how do you know? Has anypony ever tried?”

“There is a story,” said Luna, “of the six ponies who discovered the Elements of Harmony. One of their number grew to understand friendship so thoroughly that she made their destinies into one, and so became the first alicorn. It was she who created our system of carefully choosing new alicorns, but that was not her first instinct. She was the first Element of Devotion, which you now call Loyalty, and she could not leave the one she loved most. The first princess taught the secret to her younger sister, the Element of Optimism, that they might live forever side by side.

“They were happy for a time, but it did not last. The older sister had discovered the path to immortality with her strength and wisdom. The younger sister was strong, but not strong enough, and so as her friends and family died, she grew lonely. She was wise, but not wise enough. Ponies paid little heed to her words, preferring her sister’s counsel, and she grew jealous. Dost thou recognize this story, Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight nodded mutely.

“I scarce endured a hundred years before I went mad,” continued Luna. “I lacked a princess’s temperament, but I had an alicorn’s power. The battle was a near thing, as I remember it, although my sister disagrees. Perhaps she has the right of it. I was hardly lucid at the time.” She shrugged. “The details are unimportant. She banished me to a thousand years of solitude.

“A thousand years, Twilight Sparkle. I doubt whether thou canst truly understand what that means. When I learned what was to become of me, I begged my sister for death. It would have been a great mercy.”

“Are you sure?” said Twilight. “I mean, I don’t doubt that it was horrible, but you’re much better now. Would you really rather be dead?”

Luna gave her a look. “Hast thou lived a long life?”

“I guess so,” said Twilight. “I certainly feel old.”

“How old art thou? Eighty years?”

“Seventy-four.”

Luna’s voice was flat as a desert plain. Behind her, the stars burned cold and white. “All that thou hast done, every thought and every lesson and every joy, does not come to a twelfth part of the time I spent in exile. For every day thou spent laughing with thy friends, or watching their children grow, or learning from my sister, or mourning thy brother’s death, I spent a fortnight in a barren wasteland with no companion save my own madness. When I returned, I was a sad and broken thing. Were it not for thee, my mind would be shattered still. My life now is pleasant enough, and I have reason to hope it will remain so, but it was not worth it. Nothing could be worth that.”





It had been decades since Pumpkin Cake had built the patio outside Sugarcube Corner, but it was still a recent addition in Rarity’s mind. Regardless, it made for a wonderful place to meet a friend. It was a perfect day: Sunstone was off with that Apple girl, finally, and Rarity was meeting Twilight Sparkle for the first time in far too long. Once Tea Cake brought their lunch and the two friends had some privacy, Rarity spoke up. “I heard what happened between you and Rainbow Dash. I’d hoped the incident at the wedding would be the end of it, but this… well, it’s a terrible shame.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “How did you find out about that? This is stressful enough without it becoming public knowledge.”

“Oh, don’t worry, darling. Rainbow told Fluttershy what happened, and she told me. Nopony knows but us girls. And Center Stage and Macintosh, of course. And Crabapple overheard some, but not very much, I don’t think.”

“That’s not entirely comforting.”

“Do relax, Twilight. It’s not as though the tabloids have their hooves on this,” said Rarity. “It was almost two weeks before I heard of it. If it took me that long, you can be certain news isn't spreading.” She sipped her tea. “Well? Go on, tell me everything.”

Twilight sighed. “It’s frustrating. I went over there to try to patch up our disagreement, but she just wouldn’t leave it alone. I mean, she was completely out of control. She’s Rainbow Dash, so she tried to hide how upset she was, but she’s Rainbow Dash, so it was pretty obvious. The things she said were just so crazy and so hurtful.”

“Mm. I hear you weren’t exactly blameless, yourself.”

“I didn’t say anything that isn’t completely true.”

“Really? Oh, dear,” said Rarity. “This is worse than I thought.”

“Okay, you lost me. Telling the truth is a bad thing, now?”

“Come now, Twilight. Cruel truths hurt far more than cruel lies. If you had simply insulted her, then you could take it back. On the other hoof, if you said something you earnestly believe, well, that can’t be undone. Now she knows what you think, and it may change your relationship permanently.”

“Maybe I was a little harsh with her,” said Twilight. “I tried to stay calm, I really did, but she just kept pushing and pushing until I couldn’t help but push back.” A magenta aura appeared around Twilight’s napkin and crushed it into a ball.

“That does sound like Rainbow Dash. It must be quite the disappointment. So, what are you going to do to set things right?”

“Nothing,” said Twilight. “I tried that, and Rainbow Dash made it clear that she’s not interested. I can’t force her to make peace. When she’s ready, I’ll be happy to talk to her. Until then, all I can do is keep my distance. She obviously needs her space, and I just can’t deal with her while she’s like this.” Twilight’s magic tore tiny shreds from her crumpled napkin, letting them fall to the table one by one.

“That’s a shame,” said Rarity, “but it’s understandable. I’ll try to talk to her. The rest of us aren’t long for this world, and this fight shouldn’t mar your last years with Rainbow Dash.”

Twilight stared at the sky. “Do you think I’m doing the right thing? Would it be wrong to turn all of you into alicorns?”

“That’s not my decision,” said Rarity. “Things like that are up to you and the other princesses.”

“Sure, but if you were a princess and I wasn’t, would you make me an alicorn?”

“Of course I would, Twilight, how can you even ask that?” Rarity paused as she realized what she had just said. “I mean, that’s not to say you’re doing anything wrong, exactly, it’s just that I’d do things differently if it were me, but of course it isn’t me and so—”

“It’s okay, Rarity. If I just wanted somepony to agree with me, I’d talk to the other princesses. Well, actually, I already did that. It did help, in a sad sort of way, but now I want to know what you think. Why would you do things that way?”

Rarity shrugged. “I suppose I don’t see the point of having a gift like that if you can’t share it.”

“It’s more complicated than—”

“I know that, darling. You don’t have to convince me. It really is your decision, and I imagine Celestia groomed you for your role in part because you’re able to make decisions like that. Yes, I’d like to be a princess. I’d like to live forever. I won’t, though, and that’s okay. I’ve had a good life. That’s enough.”

Sunstone came into view, cantering down the street and searching frantically in every direction. There was no sign of Honeycrisp, Rarity noted with disapproval.

Her son caught sight of her and rushed over. “Mom, there you are! I was with Honeycrisp when I heard, and I thought you’d want to know.”

“Know what?” said Rarity.

“It’s Fluttershy,” he said. “She’s in the hospital.”

“What?” said Twilight. “What happened?”

“I don’t know! It’s bad enough that they sent somepony to find Honeycrisp right away!”

The two mares shared a worried glance. “That’s not good,” said Twilight. “We should see what’s going on.”

Rarity nodded. “Thank you for finding us, Sunstone. Twilight, if you would?”

There was a flash of magic, and the two ponies disappeared.

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