The Life That Late He Led

by Dusty Sage

First published

The continuing adventures of Twilight Sparkle and Desert Brush.

The last of the TwiBrush tales finds the Princess and the earth pony together forever -- for certain values of "forever."

Anypony who had a heart

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“Anypony home?”

“Down here.”

Rainbow Dash swooped down from upstairs — she’d apparently not crashed into anything in the bedroom — and greeted the stallion. “Hiya, Brush. Your egghead marefriend around this morning?”

“Not at the moment,” said Desert Brush. “Spa day. Rarity and Fluttershy came to pick her up about an hour ago. Something I can do for you?”

“Nah. Just wanted to see if that new Daring Do book had come in yet.”

“I’ll be happy to check that for you,” Spike said from behind a stack of books.

“Thanks, Spike.” She looked at Brush for a moment. “So, are things different?”

“In what way?” Brush asked, as innocently as possible.

“You know. The wings, the swelled head, all that new princess-y stuff. Is it getting to you yet?”

“To tell you the truth, Miss Dash, I’ve barely noticed,” he replied. “Well, I guess I have noticed the wings. She’s not at all used to them.” He grinned. “And they have their way of making their presence known at, uh, inconvenient moments.”

Rainbow Dash laughed. “You’ve just told me a whole lot more than you think you did.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Brush.

“Probably what she’s having done at the spa right this minute, I’d bet. Getting those wings preened professionally.”

“Is that what you do?”

“Never,” Dash said flatly. “I can always find somepony to do it for me.” She looked up and down at Brush. “You know, if you’re going to live with a pony with wings, you need to learn how to do that for her.”

“I’m sure there’s a book about it somewhere in here,” Brush said.

“This isn’t the kind of thing you can learn from a book,” the pegasus replied. “It takes lots of practice.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Dash stuck her tongue out at him. “I can show you the basics in ten minutes flat.”

He laughed. “Hooves-on training? I’m in. What do I need to do?”

“Stand over here,” she said, partially unfurling her wings. “You start at the outside primaries and work your way in.”

In a matter of minutes, with a combination of muzzle and hoof work, he’d managed to render Rainbow Dash approximately 20 percent less scruffy. “Now maintain that same pressure and slide … slide … slowly… slowly …”


One of the outside primaries hit him in the head. “Whoops! Sorry about that. It wasn’t supposed to happen quite that way.”

“I’ll say it wasn’t,” said a voice from the doorway.

“Twilight! You’re back!” shouted Spike.

“This cannot possibly look good,” moaned Desert Brush.


It had been late in the winter when he had come to Equestria to stay, full of hope and fear and misinformation. If the fear hadn’t entirely subsided, the pony he loved was doing her level best to reorient him, to get him used to a new world so unlike his old one. And gradually, he’d adjusted to his role as a minor official in the Equestrian government. Once a week he took the train to Canterlot and spent the next two days in the nascent Royal Office of New Technology; it would be at least six months, Princess Celestia had told him, before they could hire a full-time staff, what with budget limitations and all, and even then he’d be expected to come in once in a while and fill out the paperwork and whatnot. He said that he was fine with that; what he didn’t say was that deep down inside, he worried that Twilight would eventually get sick of him always being around, and maybe the occasional break would do them both some good. The first official expenditure, therefore, was for a rollaway bed. (The second was for an alarm clock, since his tendency to oversleep exceeded even Spike’s.)

Although he was awake, up and about, sort of, that afternoon Shining Armor came knocking at the door.

“Something I can do for you, Captain?”

The Captain of the Royal Guard shook his head. “Can’t talk now. Just thought you should know, Celestia’s on her way to Ponyville. Some kind of emergency.”

Brush gathered up his personal belongings. “On my way.”

“You can’t, unless you’re going to walk. Celestia has ordered the transportation routes closed.”

“What should I do?”

Shining Armor managed a grin. “Stay put and think good thoughts. I’m sure everything will be under control shortly.” He left in what seemed to be a big hurry, and Brush considered the matter. What sort of catastrophe could be going on that would require Celestia’s immediate attention?

Then it dawned on him. He bent his head forward and spoke softly into the magical stone she’d hung around his neck:

“Twi, whatever it is, I’ll be there for you, though it may take a while. I love you.”

He grabbed his traveling bag, exited the office, and started walking.

By the time he’d cleared Canterlot Mountain, he was in full gallop. He wasn’t sure if he could sustain this sort of pace all the way to Ponyville, normally a half-day journey by train, and he wasn’t as fast as the train; but there wasn’t time to think about that just then. He was a pony on a mission, and the details could be worked out later. And the clouds were clearing, which had to be good news, right?

About fifteen minutes later, he found out: no, he couldn’t sustain this sort of pace all the way to Ponyville. He dropped to the ground to rest, and whispered, “Please, please be all right.”

“I’m fine,” said the voice beside him.

Never was a pony so happy. “Twi!”

She beamed at him. “Uh, you’re going the wrong way. We need to be heading to Canterlot.”

“With pleasure,” Brush said. “Mind telling me what this is all about?”

And so she told him of the assignment, in which Celestia had asked her to try to make some sense out of one of Star Swirl the Bearded’s last spells; how she’d inadvertently cast that spell and screwed up all her friends’ Cutie Marks; how she’d managed to fix the problem with the help of the Elements themselves; and how in so doing, she realized the problem with Star Swirl’s spell and brought it to its proper conclusion. “He had the right recipe,” Twilight Sparkle said, “but he lacked one of the most important ingredients.”

“Been there, done some of that,” said Brush. “Oh, your brother came by to tell me something was up and that Celestia was on the way to take care of it, but that’s all I got out of him.”

Twilight smiled. “And you rushed right down to see what you could do to help.”

“Residual instinct from when I was younger. You never, ever leave your ladylove to fight alone.”

“Even if she can take care of herself?”

“Better to be there and not be needed, than to be needed and not be there.”

“I like that, I think,” Twilight said. “And I wish you could have been there when it started. I was scared out of my mind.”

“I’m pretty good at that moral-support thing, but magic isn’t my strong suit.”

“Don’t feel bad. I’m still learning to fly.” She spread her wings, and then realized that Brush had never seen them before.

Of course, he reacted. “You … you can fly now?”

“Not very well yet,” she said. “Like anything else, it takes practice. But flying will be easy. It’s living up to the title that’s going to be hard.”

“The title?” Brush blanked for a second, then stared. “Oh… Shouldn’t I be, uh, groveling or something?”

Twilight giggled. “You think my brother grovels in front of Cadance?”


“Hold still. I’m going to see if I have enough power now to teleport both of us up to Canterlot. We have a coronation to attend tomorrow, and I need to teach you the protocols.” She frowned for a second. “You do have a suit with you somewhere, don’t you?”

“Hanging in the office,” he said.

“I bet it’s the gray one. I hate that color.”

“Sorry. When I’m working, I’m a gray kind of guy. And nopony’s going to be looking at me anyway.” He grinned. “Go ahead, tell me you’ve got a Quickie Dye Job spell. I can take it.”

“For that,” she said teasingly, “I ought to make you walk.”

“Your wish is my command, my Princess.” He bowed just as stiffly as he possibly could. “Exit, stage left.”

“Stage this,” said Twilight, and an empty space suddenly appeared where the two ponies had stood.


Near the very top of the tree that houses the Golden Oaks Library is Twilight Sparkle’s observatory, perhaps not the highest point in Ponyville, but close enough. It’s a simple place: a wooden platform, a telescope, a small box of astronomy books, and now and again, a young mare’s dreams.

Desert Brush made it to the top of the stairs. “Sheesh. You might as well just hang this thing off the edge of the moon.”

“Stairs are good for you,” Twilight said.

“I’ll tell King Sombra next time he comes by,” Brush snorted. “I hear he’s really into stairs.”

She giggled. “So what brings you up here to the top of the tree? You’re usually fast asleep by now.”

He glanced at one of the books, opened to a star chart. “I don’t get it. If Princess Luna is constantly tinkering with the positions of the stars, what good is a star chart?”

“The chart is enchanted,” said Twilight patiently, as though she were addressing a confused foal. “If Luna moves something in the sky, the chart position moves with it. It’s always up to date.”

“Unlike me,” Brush said, shaking his head. “I’ll never get used to all this magic stuff.”

“Sure you will. It’s no more amazing than the technology you grew up with back home.”

“Home,” he repeated. “Something else I have to get used to.” He pointed a hoof at the star chart. “It’s not even on there, is it? Pretty bad when an earth pony can’t even find earth.”

“Right down there.” She pointed toward the ground.

“No, seriously. Does my old home world even exist in this space?”

“I’m not really sure,” Twilight admitted. “It took a trans-dimensional portal to get you here. If I had to guess, I’d say that this world and that one exist in the same space, but not at the same time; your four dimensions are not the same as our four dimensions, and there are very few points of intersection.”

It took a moment for all this to sink in. “Parallel universes?”

“Not if they intersect,” said Twilight. “Truly parallel universes are entirely separate from one another.”

“But it’s possible to go from one to the other —”

“If there’s an access point that reaches both, yes.”

Brush nodded as though he understood. “What I want to know, I guess, is whether this universe and my old one are parallel.”

“I can’t answer that,” Twilight said. “To prove that they are parallel, you would have to show that there is no point of connection anywhere, and that’s hard to prove.” She looked at him. “Were you planning a trip or something?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Brush answered, flustered. “I have no reason to want to leave. I’m just wondering if…”

“If what?”

“Never mind. It’s not that important.”

“If it matters to you,” said Twilight, “it matters to me.” She peered into his eyes, and saw what she thought was the beginning of a tear. “You miss them?”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t you?”

“I’m sure I would. Do you think your family would accept you now? I mean, you’ve changed quite a bit.”

Brush flicked his tail and laughed. “I suppose I have. And I’m not about to ask them to do the same.” His voice grew wistful. “But it would be nice to see the young’uns again.”

“Maybe someday,” Twilight said. “We’d need a reliable passage before Celestia would even think about allowing visitors, and we don’t have that yet.” She smiled at him. “Some day we will.”

“Yeah. If they can’t see me, at least they can see where I’m buried.”

“Please don’t talk like that. It’s so … morbid.”

“Sorry. It’s just something you think about when you get to be my age.” He looked up toward the moon for a moment. “Or do you not have to think about that anymore?”

She stared at him. “I am not immortal in any sense of the word. Someday I will die, just like everypony else. But I’m not going to spend any time worrying about it.”

“Everypony else? You mean that —”

“Ask them yourself,” Twilight said curtly. “Nothing, and nopony, can last forever. Entropy wins in the end.”

“Entropy,” Brush repeated. “Chaos. Good old Discord. And all he’s got to do is outlast us.” He grinned. “Provided he doesn’t cheese off Celestia.”

“Or Fluttershy,” said Twilight. “I think he’s more afraid of her than he is of Celestia.”

“And thus balance is restored to the universe,” Brush said solemnly. “What am I doing here, anyway?”

“You tell me.”

He whistled. “Tough crowd.”

“The toughest. Ask anypony.”

“Well, there are times when I just have to look at the sky. I figure I owe Luna that much, and besides, she does such a splendid job with it.”

“Go on.”

“And somewhere between downstairs and the sky, there’s the mare of my dreams, whose work I am once again interfering with.” He nuzzled the back of her neck.

“You always think I’m working,” she said.

“Aren’t you?”

“Well, kind of. Sometimes, if I can’t figure out something on my own, and I can’t find the answer in a book, I come up here.”

“I thought everything anypony could ever want to know was in a book,” Brush said teasingly.

“Ten years ago, I probably would have agreed with you. But I was still a filly back then, and you were — what were you, anyway?”

He smiled. “A silly old humanoid who had no idea that his life was going to be changing.”

“For the better, I hope,” Twilight said.

“Easily,” Brush replied. “One of the great human philosophers once complained that you live eighty years, in all that time you get maybe six minutes of pure magic, and then you die. Most days I can beat that before breakfast.”

“This philosopher must have had a sad life.”

“Not really. It turned out that what he did best was complain about things, and he got paid very well for complaining about things. If humans had cutie marks, he’d probably have a cuss word for his.”

Twilight laughed, and Brush started counting.

“What are you doing?”

“You’re laughing,” he said. “I get to count that toward my six minutes.” He rose, gave her a quick kiss on the nose, and headed for the stairs. “But I’m surely keeping you from something important.”

“I’m not —”

But he was already out of earshot.

Twilight beat her forehooves against the floor. “Why does he do this to me?”

Owlowiscious, watching from a branch, duly asked “Who?”

“I wonder sometimes,” she said.


Came the sunrise. Once again, he slept in, and so he wasn’t at all aware that Twilight wasn’t speaking to him. And by the time he’d dragged himself to his hooves, she was gone; she’d left a note that said, curtly, “BACK SOON.”

“Spike! Did Twi tell you where she was going?”

The dragon emerged from the kitchen. “Yes, she did,” he said.

Brush thought he’d heard a note of hostility. “And you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

“No, I’m not.”

Okay, more than just a note. “Not a problem. If anypony needs me, I’ll be at Town Hall. Permits out the wazoo again.”

Spike wanted to ask him “What’s a wazoo?” but thought better of it.

A few blocks away at the Carousel Boutique, Rarity was all smiles. “You’re finally going to order that wedding dress! Oh, it will be an absolute wonder, the envy of every mare from sixteen to sixty.”

Twilight was not smiling.

“Oh, dear. Something has gone awry in the love nest. Tell me, is there anything I can do to help?”

“I don’t know! I’m just so … so frustrated with him sometimes.”

“I’m not surprised,” said Rarity. “You are a rational and sensible mare. And believe me, stallions are seldom rational and hardly ever sensible.” One particular example popped into her head; she dismissed the thought with a toss of her mane. “Sooner or later, they will always let you down.”

“Well, that’s cynical,” Twilight grumbled.

“If I seem cynical, it is because I have earned it. Even unpleasant experiences have valuable lessons to teach us, if we pay proper attention. Now what sort of unpleasant experience have you just had?”

Twilight shook her head. “I’m not sure I can talk about it.”

“Of course you can, darling. It’s just a matter of finding the right words.” Rarity dropped her voice about half an octave. “Is it something … sexual?”

“I can’t believe you actually asked me that!” Twilight wailed.

“We must attack this problem methodically,” said Rarity. “Seriously, how is your lovemaking? Does it go well?”

“It’s … okay.”

“Just okay? Nothing special, not a dream come true or anything like that?”

“How is it supposed to go? I don’t know anything about it except what I’ve read!”

“Oh, my.” Rarity’s eyes opened wide. “You didn’t tell me that he was your first.”

“Well, he wasn’t my first,” Twilight answered. “At least, not technically.”

“Then what did you mean?”

“I mean,” said Twilight, “that he was the first one I actually wanted, and who really wanted me instead of just wanting to use me. But I’m obviously his first pony, and … well, sometimes it’s awkward.”

Rarity leaned forward. “Is it that bipeds do it differently?”

“He’s not a biped anymore. He’s an earth pony. He’s just not all that, I don’t know, earthy.

“So basically, you want to be swept off your hooves like all the mares in all those trashy romance novels?”

“They are not trashy!” said Twilight. “They’re an important window into a part of life too often neglected.”

Rarity laughed. “And what book jacket did you learn that from?”

Twilight slumped to the floor. “All right, maybe I’ve read a few of them. But can you blame me for wanting something … somepony like that?”

“Loincloths, even the good ones, are relatively inexpensive, though a good spear from the mill in Fillydelphia will run you sixty or seventy bits. Plus shipping.”

“Now you’re making fun of me,” Twilight pouted.

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. But I can’t help you unless you tell me everything that’s going on between you and that stallion.” Rarity dropped her voice, as though she thought somepony else might be eavesdropping. “Seriously, how do the two of you fare in the sack?”

Twilight’s expression was somewhere between blank and daft. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, does he at least perform the basics? Can he go the distance?”

“Oh. I thought you were asking if there was a physical problem with me.”

“I can ask that if I have to.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me,” Twilight snapped. “And I don’t think there’s anything physically wrong with him.”

“He has no problem performing, then?”

“He’s very attentive. Spends time on foreplay. Does his best to wait until I’m done. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.”

“How often do you get together?”

“Not enough,” Twilight said. “Maybe twice a week.”

“I assume that he measures up to the task?”

Twilight blinked. “Huh?”

“Equipment, my dear. All stallions have it. However, we can safely say that it’s not evenly distributed, if you know what I mean.”

“Oh. That. Fifty-fifth percentile.”

Rarity laughed. “And you know this how, precisely?”

“He wasn’t always a pony,” said Twilight. “And when they made him into one, they followed my list of specifications.”

“Some mares have all the luck,” Rarity muttered, not quite under her breath.

“What can I say?”

“You chose well. Fifty-five is good. Better than average, but not so much that he’d think he’s better than average.”

“I can’t imagine Brush thinking he’s better than average at anything. I can take only so much of his Ordinary Earth Pony routine.”

“If that’s the only problem,” Rarity said, “you should be able to hoof-wave it away and ignore it from that point forward.”

“It’s not the only problem.” Twilight shook her head. “Maybe I did read too many of those silly stories.”

“Then answer me this: What do those fictional stallions have that Brush doesn’t?”

“It’s not what they have,” said Twilight. “It’s what they do, and when they do it. They take the initiative. They nod in your direction, they say Now, and you can’t help but follow.”

“And he doesn’t do that?”

Twilight sighed. “I’ll be working late on something, and I’ll be bored out of my mind, and he’ll come up behind me. But he won’t really approach. And if I turn around, he’ll look away and then leave the room. Just once I’d like him to tell me to put down that bucking book and come to bed already.”

Rarity’s face lit up. “Oh, you do have the proper instincts after all!”

“I do?”

“Of course you do. You shouldn’t have to do all the work. If he wants you, he should have to put some effort into getting you.”

Twilight frowned. “Last night, I thought he was really going to. He climbed up to the observatory. He never climbs up to the observatory. We talked, he was very sweet, and then suddenly he was gone.”

“Did you give him any indication that you were in the mood?”

“Dammit, I was in heat!” Twilight yelled. “How much indication does he need?”

“Oh, my,” said Rarity. “Then again, you are his first pony. He may not have learned all the subtle signals of estrus.”

“Believe me,” Twilight snickered, “they’re not all that subtle. Mine aren’t, anyway.”

And Rarity laughed. Guffawed, even.

“That was amusing somehow?” Twilight sputtered.

“I’m sorry. It’s just so … unusual to hear you, of all ponies, talking this way about such things.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“To be perfectly frank, darling, we had always assumed that you would be the first pony ever to go through life with no bodily functions whatsoever.” Rarity winked. “I was so jealous.”

Twilight bowed her head. “I … I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I’m supposed to be better than this.”

“Frustration,” said Rarity, “afflicts us all. The question is whether we can deal with it, or it ends up dealing with us.”

“What can I do?” Twilight asked. “I don’t want to break up with him. He gave up his entire life just for me. I can’t throw that away.”

“Perhaps,” Rarity said, “I should have a talk with this stallion. He should be due for a new suit just about now, so I already have my opening gambit.”

“Oh, would you please? I wouldn’t know what to say to him.”

“When in doubt, start with ‘I love you.’ You might be surprised how well it works.”

The best that you can do

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Another BACK SOON note awaited Brush at the door to the library; apparently Twilight and Spike were off on an errand somewhere. He thought of taking it down — if push came to shove, he was perfectly capable of handing over library books to the patrons —

Wait. “Handing” over? Wrong. So wrong. It’s almost the same language, Brush mused, yet it’s totally different.

And while he was wondering what other verbal gaffes he’d committed lately, Rarity burst through the door. “You’re here! How completely and utterly perfect.”

“Good afternoon, Miss Rarity. To what do I owe this honor?”

Rarity was ready. “Twilight tells me that you are long overdue for a new suit, and since I had the afternoon open, I thought I’d take a fresh set of measurements.”

“By the strangest of coincidences,” Brush said, “I also have the afternoon open. But since when do you make house calls?”

“For my best customers,” Rarity proclaimed, “there is nothing I wouldn’t do.”

Brush looked at her quizzically. “We’re your best customers?”

“Certainly among my best customers. And with dear Twilight now ensconced among royalty, I must conclude that your future needs will be extensive.”

“Not to mention expensive,” Brush quipped.

Rarity was undeterred. “The best, you’ll quickly discover, is always worth the price.”

“No doubt,” he agreed.

A measuring tape materialized in front of Rarity. She inspected it briefly, then directed it around various sections of Brush, calling out numbers as it moved. “You know,” she said, “you’re in very good condition for a stallion of … forty-five, was it?”

“It was,” Brush replied. “Once upon a time.”

“Not that I mean to pry or anything, but Twilight once said that you were just about as old as her parents, and Night Light must be pushing sixty by now.” Rarity sighed. “Not that he’ll ever look sixty. That pony …” She left it at that.

Brush grinned. “I’ve pushed past sixty. And before I got here, I looked it.”

“Hmm,” said Rarity. “Do you feel sixty?”

“Not really, no. Whatever they did to make a proper pony out of me, it cleared up a bunch of lingering health issues. I feel pretty good most of the time.” He smiled. “Then again, there’s no keeping up with Twi. She puts in some serious hours. I don’t know how she does it.”

“She is, of course, much younger than you,” Rarity pointed out.

“Indeed she is. But I never had that kind of energy when I was her age. If it’s a pony trait, it’s a good one.”

“You’re still trying to figure us out, aren’t you?”

Brush smiled. “I suppose I am. Sometimes I feel like the most clueless colt in town. A year-old foal is probably better adjusted than I am.”

“Has it been a year already?” asked Rarity innocently.

“Come to think of it,” he said, “we met just about a year ago. I’d almost forgotten how to do the calendar conversion.”

Rarity shook her head. “You’ve known Twilight Sparkle for a whole year?”

“Well, technically, yes, though we didn’t get to spend much time together until I arrived in Equestria, and that didn’t happen until the middle of this past winter.”

“So this will be your first Hearth’s Warming Eve together? How romantic.”

“I … hope so,” he said slowly.

“You’ll forgive me for saying so, I hope, but you don’t sound particularly enthusiastic about it.” Rarity edged a hoof’s width closer to him. “Is there, perhaps, a touch of trouble in the love nest?”

He reddened slightly. “I don’t think she’s about to dump me, if that’s what you mean.”

“Not at all. But usually the stallion who’s smitten is starry-eyed and, if I may say so, frolicsome.” She lowered her voice ever so slightly. “If you don’t mind my asking, how goes the frolic?”

Brush’s face went utterly blank. “I suppose it’s probably about the same as everypony else’s,” he said.

Rarity tossed her mane. “My dear fellow, you’re in a world where the mares outnumber the stallions four to one, and you have a mare all to yourself. You should be doing a great deal better than everypony else.” She winked at him. “And you’re an earth pony. You should be able to overwhelm a mere unicorn with sheer physicality.”

“She’s not a mere unicorn,” Brush protested. “She’s a bucking princess. For all I know, there’s a banishment order out there with my name on it.”

Rarity stared. “My, but things have certainly deteriorated since your, uh, unexpected arrival.” She paused to let that sink in, then continued: “And I know Twilight well enough to say that if you were going to be banished, we would not be having this conversation at all.”

“I’m beginning to wonder,” he said sadly, “if I know her well enough.”

“And I’m beginning to wonder,” she replied, “if you’re bedding her well enough.”

“She’s never complained,” he said.

Not to you, she hasn’t, Rarity thought. “Let me guess: you let her make the first move, right?”

“Well, yeah, I suppose I do. I have no idea when she’ll have the time or the inclination, so I more or less leave that up to her. Usually happens about twice a week.”

“Has it ever occurred to you,” Rarity said, “that perhaps twice a week might not be enough for a mare at the peak of her greatest fertility?” She looked him straight in the eye. “Can you even tell when she’s in heat?”

Brush visibly shuddered. “Usually she puts a scented candle on her desk.”

“That,” declared Rarity, “is not the answer we were looking for.”


She put one foreleg over his neck. “I should not have to point this out to you, dear Brushie, but Twilight Sparkle did not reach halfway across the universe to hire a Number Two assistant.”

“Number Three,” Brush said. “The owl has seniority.”

“Let me start again,” she said icily. “Twilight Sparkle did not reach halfway across the universe to hire a Number Three assistant. She wanted you. Wanted you badly enough to take on the entire Equestrian bureaucracy just to bring you here. The very least you can do is to want her just as much.”

Rarity turned and walked toward the doorway. “Or act like it.”


It was late in the evening when Twilight returned to the library. “Spike, have you seen Brush?”

Spike shrugged. “He left about twenty minutes ago.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

“He didn’t say much of anything,” Spike said. “He did mumble something about daisies, so I guess he was going out for dinner.”


She shook her head. “Sometimes … Spike, you’re in charge until I get back.”

“I thought I was always in charge until you get back,” said the dragon. “Even your coltfriend follows my instructions, most of the time.”

“Well, until I get back, you’re in charge.”

Spike nodded, and Twilight hurried out the door. He couldn’t have gotten far in twenty minutes, she thought.

Within five minutes, she heard Brush’s voice in the back of her head. He’s still wearing the locket. Good sign. She triangulated on the signal, and teleported to its source: a field of wild daisies on Ponyville’s far west side. He was sitting near one corner of it, and he seemed to be fumbling with a flower.

“If you wanted to eat out tonight,” she said to him, “you could have told me.”

“I wasn’t sure you were still speaking to me.”

“Well …” She let that drop. “So what’s with the daisies?”

“A tradition from the Old Country,” he said solemnly. “I wanted to see if it still worked.”

“What sort of tradition?”

“You know how we always said that we didn’t believe in magic? This proves that we lied. A daisy, they say, will determine the state of your relationship.”

“Show me,” Twilight said.

He cupped a single flower in his hooves. “What I wouldn’t give for some good old-fashioned humanoid manual dexterity right about now.”

“Should I fetch Spike? He has claws.”

“No, it’s all right. I can do this. I have to do this.” He managed to get hold of a single petal, tore it off, and declaimed: “She loves me.”

On the second petal, he announced: “She loves me not.” On the third: “She loves me.”

Twilight interrupted: “Uh, there are nine petals on that flower. You’re going to end up with ‘She loves me’.”

He looked into her eyes. “Do you think I’d ever want it any other way?”

And she began to cry. “I’m so sorry. I’m not at all used to this. I’m not at all used to you.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I’m not the easiest pony in the world to put up with.”

“But why do these things have to happen? It doesn’t make any sense.”

He stood up. “I guess it’s because couples aren’t identical twins, and they’re always going to have their disagreements.” He flicked his tail. “If both of us think exactly the same thing all the time,” he said, “clearly one of us is unnecessary.”

“I guess you’re right,” said Twilight. “What do we do now?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps we just push the reset button and start again at the beginning.” He smiled at her. “Miss Sparkle, may I have the honor of this dance?”

She giggled. “But we have no music.”

“Then you’ll just have to endure my hideous croaking,” he said, and began counting: one-two-three, one-two-three…

I’ll always remember

the song they were playing,

The first time we danced and I knew;

As we swayed to the music,

and held to each other,

I fell in love with you.

Could I have this dance

for the rest of my life?

Could you be my partner

every night?

When we’re together

it feels so right…

Could I have this dance

for the rest of my life?

They kissed, and then Twilight said: “And we didn’t even fall down.”

“Says who?” He tumbled to the ground. “Last one down is a blank flank!”

“Right here, right now? Out in the open?”

“I’m sure Princess Luna has seen far worse.”

“Well, then,” Twilight Sparkle said, “we should make it worth her while.”


Hearth’s Warming Eve. The last of the friends had finally departed, and Spike had excused himself for what he had called his own private business.

“He’s taking a nap,” Twilight Sparkle explained. “I’m surprised you’re not taking a nap, considering how much you two had to do to clean up this place.”

“Piece of cake,” said Desert Brush.

“There should be some left in the kitchen.”

Brush did an exaggerated facehoof. “Tripped up by my old language again, I see. ‘Piece of cake’ is an old human idiom meaning that something was easy, though not as easy as ‘easy as pie’.” He grinned. “Or maybe it’s the other way around. I never could figure that one out myself.”

Twilight nodded. “I can see how that might cause confusion.”

“Anyway, I’m not all that tired. I mean, now that I’m settling into this whole earth-pony groove, I’m kind of amazed at how much I can do now in a single day without falling flat on my face. Couldn’t have done that as a featherless biped.”

“You were an old featherless biped,” Twilight pointed out. “You’re barely middle-aged here.”

“How do you mean? My birthdate hasn’t changed. I’m still sixty-one. And ponies don’t usually make it to a hundred and twenty.”

“Tell that to Granny Smith.”

Brush laughed. “I can’t tell Granny Smith anything. She still thinks I’m some young upstart who contrived from Day One to swoop down upon the town and sweep you off your hooves.”

“You want me to tell her I didn’t mind being swept?”

“Granny believes what she wants to believe. It’s something I’ve learned to accept.” He flicked his tail once. “Fortunately, you’re never too old to learn.”

Twilight levitated a small log and dropped it into the fireplace.

“For some reason,” Brush said, “that still strikes me as funny. We’re living in a tree, and we’re burning pieces of another tree to keep warm.”

She stared at him. “That’s an odd statement, coming from an earth pony.”

“I know, I know. Everything goes through the cycle. Seed becomes sapling becomes tree becomes firewood. I keep wondering where I fit in.”

“Are you telling me you want to be cremated?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, no. Well, not today, anyway,” said Brush. “But I wonder if somehow I’ve screwed up the galactic accounting book or something.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I can’t last forever. Sooner or later, preferably later, they’ll be laying me to my rest, or whatever it is they do here. I assume I’ll be buried.”

“You would be correct, unless you requested otherwise.”

“How would you bury a pegasus, anyway? They live up in the clouds.”

Twilight looked properly horrified. “You would never, ever bury a pegasus. It’s considered a grave insult.”

Grave insult? Twi, honey, you’ve been hanging around me too long.”

She blushed. “Oh.”

“Anyway, I assume there’s some sort of afterlife.”

“Oh, the Final Journey.”

“Exactly. Or as exactly as it gets, anyway. I have two distinct sets of loved ones, from two different worlds. Will I ultimately be reunited with the first, with the second — or with None Of The Above?”

Twilight frowned. “I couldn’t tell you that. I don’t know how it works. Princess Celestia says she knows how some of it works, but she can’t tell us.”

“She’s immortal. What difference would it make to her?”

“That doesn’t mean she’s invulnerable. She has great power, but nothing like infinite power.”

Brush pondered. “If the Worst Possible Thing happened, whatever that might be, and the only solution would be for Celestia to die, could she?”

“She could, and she would,” said Twilight. “I think. We’re not in the habit of discussing that sort of thing. And why are we discussing that sort of thing, anyway?”

“It just occurred to me,” Brush explained, “that about this time of year my old human community is celebrating the birth of an immortal, a second aspect of the first — the Son, as distinguished from the Father — who, to fulfill an ancient prophecy, was put to death on a spring afternoon.”

“An actual birth, pregnancy and everything? Was there a physical mother?”

“There was. A human, selected in advance. Her husband-to-be was quite surprised, since he’d had nothing to do with it, but he vowed that they would raise the youngster as their own.”

“Well, good for him,” said Twilight. “No matter what, he would stand beside his bride. I think every filly dreams of somepony like that, somepony who will stick with her no matter what.”

“No actor,” Brush said, “ever had a better cue than this.” He went to the kitchen, and returned with a small silver-colored box. “O Princess of Magic, wouldst thou consent to being stuck with me no matter what?”

Twilight’s heart jumped. “Is … is this what I think it is?”

“We can do it the traditional way, if you prefer.” He dropped to the throw rug in front of the fireplace. “Twilight Sparkle, will you marry me?”

Elapsed time from his last word to her exclamation of “Yes, yes, yes!”: too short to measure.

“You didn’t even look in the box,” Brush said.

“You could have put a donut in there and I still would have said Yes,” she replied. “What is it?”

He popped open the lid, and it was, yes, a ring, with a very simple, very familiar-looking stone. “This looks like a shard from one of Luna’s musical stones.”

“The very same stone,” he said, “that’s worn close to my heart.” He pointed a hoof toward the necklace he always wore. “I asked Luna if she could spare it, and she had one of the Castle craftsponies work up a ring.”

“You haven’t been to the Castle in almost a week.” And then: “Where could you have hidden something in the kitchen for almost a week?”

“If I told you that,” Brush said, “I’d never be able to hide anything anymore.”

She beamed. “I guess we have a little more to celebrate today.”

“We have all we need: a floor, a fire, and each other. And Spike’s sleeping.”

Twilight laughed. “There’s always Owlowiscious.”

“Yeah, but who’s he gonna tell?”

“Whom,” the owl seemed to say.


“You really don’t want to see me get married, do you?” Twilight said crossly.

“As I have said all along,” Celestia replied, “what I want is for you to be happy.”

“And you don’t think I’ll be happy with him?”

“Of course you will. You’ll have your years together, and everything will be wonderful. Then you’ll be confronted with the fact that you will live many years after he’s gone.” The Princess of the Sun sighed. “Mourning for the rest of your life is no way to live.”

“So you’d rather I mourn now?

“Please, Twilight. Don’t put words in my mouth. I will be more than happy to preside over your wedding. And I wish both you and Mr Brush the best. But I ask that you remember that I, too, have loved. And I have lost. And the hurt never quite goes away.”

“I will remember,” said the younger princess. “But I will not forgo happiness today just because tomorrow I will be sad.”


With him, it should have been easier; yet somehow it became more difficult.

“What I’m asking,” Celestia began, “is whether the difference in lifespans makes any difference to you.”

Desert Brush grinned. “If she dies, she dies.”

Seeing Celestia’s expression, he backpedaled. “Sorry. Old human joke. And after all, I used to be an old human.”

“I see,” said the Princess, frost seeming to form on her forehead. “You have thought about the matter?”

“Now and then,” answered Brush. “The only thing I know for sure is that the odds of Twi eventually becoming a widow are somewhere between Very Likely and Almost Entirely Certain. Unless, of course, they come up with something to postpone death.”

“There are incantations,” the Princess said slowly, “spells from the books of Dark Magic, which when wielded carefully can create the appearance of life once it has departed. However, no incantation can prevent the departure of life once it has begun.”

“Which means …?”

“In the event of life-threatening medical emergency, we will of course take all reasonable steps to save you. However, unreasonable steps are out of the question.”

He smiled. “Better to know that now, I guess.”

“Was there anything else on your mind?”

“Well, I was wondering. Just how immortal, if that’s the word, are you and your sister anyway?”

Celestia shook her mane, and he imagined he saw a map of the sky just beyond her head. “Having reached physical maturity, Luna and I do not age in the usual sense. But we know that there are forces in the Universe capable of taking us down.”

He nodded, remembering an incident at a previous Canterlot wedding.

“Which is why we shy away from the word ‘immortal’; it implies that we can survive anything, an implication that has some basis in reality, but one I would not like to put to the test.”

Brush grimaced. “You and me both, Your Highness.”

“There are those,” Celestia said, “who have suggested that Twilight, as a Princess, is of necessity ‘immortal’ herself. I must inform you that this is not precisely true. There exist substantial differences between those of us who were born alicorns and those who raised themselves to that state.”

“And there are — what, just three of you now?”

“Correct, though Princess Skyla is not at all aware of her status. It will be many years before she is able to assume the duties of an alicorn.”

Brush pondered for a moment. “How often are alicorns born? I mean, okay, Cadance and Shining Armor have one, but could they have another?”

“It is not impossible,” the Princess answered, “but it is not very likely. Cadance is actually pegasus dominant over unicorn; Shining Armor carries double unicorn alleles. Skyla’s birth as an alicorn was most unexpected, since normally alicornhood is the result of achievement, as it was for Cadance, as it was for Twilight Sparkle.” She looked at Brush. “If you and Twilight could produce a foal … but the doctors tell me that it cannot happen.”

“Perhaps with her second husband,” Brush said flatly.

The Princess raised an eyebrow. “Would that bother you?”

“If I’m dead and buried, the answer is pretty obviously No.” He shook his head. “Before that — well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

“I’m surprised that you’d even suggest such a thing,” Celestia snapped.

“It’s not something I would expect. I have faith in Twilight. And if she discovered that she was falling for somepony, she’d probably lock herself in the basement and think up ways to blame herself, because that’s not supposed to happen. Not to her, anyway.”

“Hearts are not always wise,” said the Princess.

“As organs go, they’re pretty dumb,” Brush said. “I’m still trying to figure out how all this happened. It’s not every day that an overwrought, flap-eared jerk like me wins the heart of a princess.”

“Or becomes the highest-ranking earth pony in all of Equestrian history,” the Princess replied.

This time Brush raised an eyebrow. “What would Chancellor Puddinghead say? I mean, I’m hardly the leader of the tribe or anything. The earth ponies I know aren’t exactly looking for a leader. And I’m supposed to pass myself off as a prince?”

“But you will be a prince. You’ll be equal in status to Shining Armor, in fact.”

“That hardly seems fair,” said Brush. “Shining Armor has served Equestria with distinction, valor even, for many years. I just kind of stumbled in off the street somewhere.”

“You may as well get used to it,” replied Celestia. “This society runs off protocols and procedures.”

He groaned. “Do I have to put it on my business cards?”

“As though you weren’t instantly recognizable already.”

“Maybe I’ll have one printed up, just in case Blueblood wanders by the office.”

Celestia laughed. “You need not worry about that. You’re in the knowledge business, and if there’s anypony immune to knowledge, it’s Blueblood. Although I’m certain he’s going to resent your presence in the castle.”

“To hear Twi tell it,” Brush said, “Blueblood resents even your presence in the castle.”

“That he does,” said the Princess of the Sun. “You have said that you have faith in Twilight. Do you have faith in yourself?

“In what way?”

“In terms of fidelity. Can you imagine yourself drawn to another mare?”

Brush smiled. “What would I want with another mare? I was lucky enough to get the right one on the first try. And besides, it’s not like anypony is hanging around outside waiting to get a glimpse of me or anything.”

“Again I remind you,” Celestia said, “hearts are not always wise.”

“Perhaps not,” said Brush, “but sometimes they know when they’re well off.”

Always somepony there to remind you

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“Something I’ve been meaning to ask you,” Twilight said after dinner.

He nodded. “Ask away.”

“This is going to be the standard palace wedding, with all the usual rituals.”

“That’s to be expected.”

“But it occurred to me, and I asked Cadance and she agrees with me, that there ought to be something from your old world, something familiar to you. You deserve the same honors as I do.”

“Isn’t it kind of late for that?” Brush grumbled. “The wedding’s next week.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I should have been thinking about this earlier.”

“Well, if you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with Equestrian pomp and circumstance. I don’t have a problem with the standard palace wedding.”

Twilight frowned. “You’re sure?”

He thought for a moment. “Actually, there’s one human ritual I think I should observe, but it wouldn’t take place at the actual ceremony.”

“Oh, good. What do I have to do?”

“Nothing but sit here,” said Brush. “An old tradition holds that it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony. I assume Rarity will be doing the final adjustments?”

“She wouldn’t allow anypony else to get near it,” Twilight chuckled. “She’ll probably be on the train to Canterlot with us.”

“With you, anyway,” he said. “I’m going the day before and putting in my time at the office, the way I always do.”

Twilight’s eyes grew wide. “You’re serious? You actually believe in bad luck?”

“No,” he admitted. “I believe in random events, and I believe that they aren’t necessarily evenly distributed. But bad luck itself? Never heard of it.” He took a sip of water. “I figure, though, that I’m long overdue for a weapons-grade panic attack, and the most likely time for it to happen is the night before the second most important event in my life.”

She stared at him. “Should I ask about the first?”

He flicked his tail at her. “Take a guess.”

“You were fine before the operation. In fact, you spent a lot of time sleeping it off.” She shook her head. “I don’t understand this.”

“It did happen,” he said, “but not here.”

“Tell me.”

“It was the week before you came to fetch me. I’d spent the whole day with the legal beagles, arranging to dispose of my worldly goods.”

“You have canine lawyers?”

“Figure of speech, sweetheart. Figure of speech.” He grinned. “Anyway, we’d gotten all the papers drafted, and they told me to come back in 48 hours and sign everything.” The grin abruptly disappeared. “And then I got home, and I went completely to pieces.”

“What happened?” Twilight asked.

“Something I should have expected. Things were going too well. I never expect things to go too well; I start looking around for reasons why they’re not going to last. I’ve pretty much always been this way.”

“What sort of reasons?”

“You don’t want to know,” Brush said.

“If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t have asked.”

He nodded. “Fair enough. Things went downhill fast. It started out with What would a perfectly wonderful mare like Twilight Sparkle want with the likes of me? and ended up with the mother of all conspiracy theories, in which I’d been forced to imagine the whole thing, remotely transmitted brain waves or something, and was now going to surrender my soul to whoever’s in charge of Tartarus these days.”

To his surprise, Twilight smiled. “Poor you. It never occurred to you that maybe you’re supposed to be happy now and then?”

“I guess I’m not familiar enough with the concept or something. I see a silver lining, I assume there’s a dark cloud in the vicinity.”

“You haven’t been like that since you’ve been here,” said Twilight. “At least, not that I can remember.”

“And I’d like to keep it that way, or at least keep it from showing up in front of you. You definitely wouldn’t want to be around me at times like that.”

“How long do these times last? An hour, a day, a week?”

“That one ran all night, until I fell asleep, exhausted. Woke up about noon.”

“And then?”

“Then I went to sign all that paperwork, and that was the last I’d thought about it, until now.”

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. “So it’s really not a case of cold hooves?”

Brush forced a smile. “I don’t mind telling you, I’m a nervous wreck. But I’d rather my nerves act up before the ceremony, so nopony has to see me go to pieces. Especially you.”

“But if these things happen to you on a regular basis, won’t I end up seeing one eventually?”

Eventually sounds a whole lot better than In front of the whole of Canterlot assembled next week, don’t you think?”

She looked at him sideways. “There’s no chance you’ll actually miss the ceremony, is there?”

“If I haven’t shown up by the beginning of the processional,” he said, “feel free to send your choice of Royal Guards to drag my unworthy plot to the castle. But I promise you, it’s not going to be a problem.”

“I’ll have to study this matter,” said Twilight doubtfully. “It went away, just like that?” She shook her head. “Something about this doesn’t add up.”

“I don’t understand it either. But I admit, I’m a little bit scared. And when you’re scared, you sometimes do things that don’t make a whole lot of sense.”

“Give me a few minutes to think about this.” She turned, headed for the stairs, and disappeared into the laboratory.

It looks darker than usual down there, he thought.


They met halfway up — or halfway down — the stairs.

His face fell. “You’ve been crying.”

“What did you expect?” Twilight said indignantly. “It’s not every day somepony I believe in tries his very hardest to undo that belief.”

He made no reply for a moment, then backed away. “Perhaps I should go.”

“No. You should not go. You should stand here and tell me that once you get this … this madness out of your system, everything is going to be all right.”

“And will you believe me when I tell you that?”

She glared at him. “What choice do I have?”

“Nopony says you have to go through with any of this,” Brush said. “You can put it off for a few days, or a few years; you can have the Crown issue an order for my banishment; you can drag me to the very edge of the world and give me a shove.”

“And if I did those things?”

He blinked. “It will not matter, in the long run. Your life will continue. So will mine, for a while; then it will end, and I will be properly forgotten. I ask only a fleeting thought once in a while, a brief remembrance, perhaps even a kind word or two, for a pony who apparently loved neither wisely nor too well.”

He turned away.

“You don’t fight fair,” said Twilight.

“I work with the weapons I have.”

“Which are?”

“A stubborn streak any mule would envy, and something I thought might have been the key to your heart. Though I could have been wrong.”

“No,” she said. “You were not wrong. I just thought things would be … easier.”

“They’re supposed to get easier with time. That’s what I was always told, anyway.” He pondered for a moment. “Think about Night Mare Moon. For a thousand years, she was the stuff of legend: Celestia knew the whole story, but she wasn’t telling, and it wasn’t until you and the other Elements separated Luna and the spirit that had possessed her that everypony knew the truth of the matter.”

“Are you saying that you’re possessed?

He shook his head. “In my old world, we had, or are supposed to have had anyway, a similar spirit. The version of the story I learned said that he’d managed to get inside the heads of the very first couple — not in quite so dramatic a fashion, but enough to get them to question everything they’d been taught. So they rebelled, and were promptly banished. The spirit, however, left a permanent back door for himself into their hearts and minds, and it was passed down to all their descendants.”

“That makes no sense,” Twilight said. “How could this … this whatever it was, follow you here? Unless you brought it here with you.”

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t have thought it would have any kind of power here. But maybe I still have that back door. My body has changed, but has my soul?”

“Perhaps we can find out. Would you object if I took a look inside you?”

“There’s not much to see, I suspect,” he said.

“No, seriously. I want to run a magical scan. But I can’t do that, legally or ethically, without your permission.”

Finally he smiled. “I guess it’s faster than therapy.”

“Don’t count on it,” said Twilight. “I don’t have a lot of experience with these just yet.” She pointed one hoof toward the sofa. “Lie down and close your eyes. You’ll think you see a light, but it really isn’t.”

Then what is it? he wondered as the room, the town, the world dissolved into brightness, a brightness utterly without warmth. He shivered. Hundreds of thousands of memories from twenty thousand days, some he cherished, some he’d hoped to have buried, seemed to dance through the inside of his head.

Abruptly the parade came to a halt, and the brightness subsided, as though the day had finally ended. He steeled himself for the darkness, which came slowly, inexorably. The background noise — could those be birds? — receded further, then vanished altogether.

Then there she was, the way he’d seen her for the very first time on that hot afternoon in the middle of nowhere, this time with a soft blue glow surrounding her, separating her from the darkness. Blue? he thought. That color belongs to Luna. I must be dreaming.

And so he allowed himself to dream, to gaze upon the beauty that was hers, to give thanks to the world where she was born, the world where he was reborn. The darkness began to melt away.


The Day. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and almost-Prince Consort Desert Brush were hiding out in an anteroom, trying to stay out of the way. Cadance was making minor adjustments to her gown — not, Brush noticed, a Rarity special — while Brush paced enough to wear a slight but noticeable groove into the old wooden floor.

All three Canterlot newspapers had had Royal Wedding stories on the front page, on page two, and in the case of the Express, all the way through page five. “Are they always like this?” Brush grumbled.

“Usually worse,” Cadance said. “When I got pregnant it was front-page news for three days, and the Review sent a reporter to hang around the doctor’s office while I was having the ultrasound. Shining had to threaten to throw him out of a tower to get him to back off.”

“I’d have paid plenty of bits to have seen that.”

“Shining’s normally pretty placid, but if he thinks there’s a threat, he will show no mercy.” She smiled. “Right now he’s probably warning the foalsitter of dire consequences should anything happen to Skyla.”

“I’m kind of surprised you didn’t bring her along. It would be a first to have five Princesses together at the same event.”

“She’s too young,” Cadance said flatly. “Something this big, this noisy, would just upset her, and that would upset Shining, and you don’t want to imagine the rest of it.”

“I suppose I don’t,” said Brush. “And maybe this would go on past her bedtime anyway.”

“This is going past Celestia’s bedtime, and she gets cranky if she hasn’t had her nap.”

Brush laughed. “Must be an alicorn thing.”

“Might be,” Cadance chuckled. “Twilight was the same way. I don’t want to take a nap! she’d whine. And by dinnertime, she’d be fidgety and she’d refuse to eat. Once I was coming through the door and she threw a biscuit at me.”

“And right then, Celestia knew she had a prodigy on her hooves.”

Cadance smiled. “Maybe so. I have no idea what I should expect from Skyla. She was premature to begin with.”

“I did not know that,” said Brush.

“It was scary for the first week or so,” Cadance admitted. “We had to keep her on a ventilator for the first few days, and then she started up with these random magic discharges.”

Brush looked genuinely frightened for a moment. “Did they find out what was causing them?”

“They thought it might have been a secondary resonance in her limbic system. But it went away before they worked up a treatment for it, and it hasn’t come back. And we’d have to bring her here for that kind of medical attention. The Crystal Empire doctors are good, but most of them aren’t trained in advanced unicorn medicine.”

“Why is that?” Brush wondered.

“Most of them are new, hired after King Sombra’s curse was broken. They’ve read the books on the basics, and they know crystal-pony medicine pretty well by now, but there are so few unicorns there that the Royal Medical Office hasn’t seen fit to send them here for additional training. Budgetary limitations, they say.”

“Those, I know about,” said Brush. “I’m still trying to get a staff together.”

“If Shining sprains a knee or something,” Cadance went on, “we’re fine. But anything much more complicated than that, we have to traipse all the way back here.”

“Do you think she’ll be all right?”

“I hope so. So much will be expected of her when she gets older. I just hope she’ll be ready.”

“If there’s anything at all we can do, you know where to find us,” Brush said.

Cadance smiled. “You can’t imagine how happy I am that you’re here.”

“You’re right,” he said. “I can’t.”

“I guess I can tell you this now,” said the Princess. “The second time Twilight came back from your world and came to the Castle to make her report, Celestia asked me to listen in, because I’m supposed to be the expert on emotions and everything.”

“Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?”

“What?” asked a puzzled Cadance.

“A line from a play I once was in, many years ago. And it wasn’t even the character I was playing.”

“I gather that he was hearing something unexpected.”

“You gather correctly,” Brush said. “Please go on.”

“Anyway, Twilight was practically bouncing off the walls. She said that you’d bought her dinner and that you were just incredibly wonderful to her.”

He grinned. “I do try not to be rude. Sometimes I even succeed.”

“And afterward,” Cadance continued, “Celestia took me aside and asked me what I thought, and I said that I couldn’t say she was in love yet, but she was certainly impressed.”

“That seems fair.”

“Celestia looked me in the eye and said that you were going to be a problem, and that I shouldn’t say a word about this to anypony. She wouldn’t tell me why, either.”

“I can see her point of view, I think.” He looked around furtively, as if he suspected somepony else was listening. “And since we’re on the subject: when did you actually find out?”

“The night you went into the hospital,” said Cadance. “Twilight was going to pieces and I was trying to cheer her up. She told me everything, eventually, but I had to pry.”

“There are times,” he said, “when I wonder if maybe I haven’t been more trouble than I’m worth.”

Before he knew it, the Princess was up in his face. “Don’t you dare say that!”

He put up a hoof to put some distance between them, but she didn’t budge. “I’ve known Twilight all her life, and if she didn’t think you were worth the bother, you’d still be sitting on your blank flank on some barren plain where there’s no magic and no harmony and no ponies! Do I make myself clear?”

He nodded. “Consider me told off.”

A member of the Guard entered. “Mr. Brush, sir, you’re wanted in the Main Hall. It’s time.”

“Thank you,” said Brush as he stood up.

And Cadance said: “Just remember that word: wanted. Because you are.”

It's love that really counts

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Despite the hour, highly unusual for a Castle ceremony of any kind, the Main Hall was packed; it was, after all, a Royal Wedding, and nopony ever expects to see more than one in a lifetime. Nor was anypony likely to have forgotten the previous Royal Wedding, or the sudden arrival of hundreds of uninvited guests at the behest of somepony — something? — who was not actually Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, but who had managed to persuade everypony, including Princess Celestia, that she was.

Which is not at all why Princess Luna, rather than Celestia, called the ceremony to order:

“Mares and gentlecolts, we welcome you to this evening’s celebration. It begins now, at the moment of twilight, because the groom so requested: For me, he said, everything begins with Twilight. And so it shall. My sister will arrive shortly, after performing a small favor for me.” Luna smiled. “She is raising the moon. She has assured me that she understands the procedure, and that there will be no problems.”

The crowd murmured for a moment, then broke into applause.

“We are gathered here this evening,” Luna went on, “to celebrate the union of Princess Twilight Sparkle and soon-to-be Prince Desert Brush.” She winked at Brush, who visibly winced a bit.

“From the moment of birth, everypony sets out on a journey. There are rules to learn, paths to follow, ponies to meet. No two journeys will be exactly the same, but every journey has something to make it memorable, something to make it worthwhile.”

Luna paused, glanced at one of the stained-glass windows, noticed it was definitely getting darker outside, and continued. “As we travel, the Magic of Friendship travels with us; the friendships we make along the way bring us joy in our daily lives, and sustain us in our hours of need.”

Still no Celestia. “Not all of us truly understand the Magic of Friendship. It was not so long ago that Twilight Sparkle was sent to the town of Ponyville to study it, to learn of its power. It was that power which freed your Princess of the Night from the curse of the Nightmare. And it was that power, wielded in a way never before seen, that earned her the title of Princess.”

On cue, Fluttershy’s Bird Orchestra struck a chord, and the doors opened.

The buzz from the crowd was loud and grew louder as the Princess, flanked by her parents, walked through the Great Hall. For an occasion like this, surely she would be garbed in the finest gown from the finest designer, elegance on such a scale that every filly in the room would want one for her own wedding.

But not this night. Twilight Sparkle wore a simple white dress and a short veil with a cutout to accommodate her crown, and nothing more. A reporter on the scene would comment later that she didn’t think it was even on par with Brush’s rather humdrum-looking grey suit with blue trim.

The procession arrived, and in a far corner, Princess Celestia materialized.

“Where were you?” Luna whispered as Celestia approached.

“I didn’t want to upstage the bride,” said Celestia rather loudly, and the spectators cheered.

Celestia took the podium. “My sister has spoken of journeys, and how they are all different. It would be difficult to imagine two journeys more different than the ones traveled by this mare and this stallion. Nopony could have predicted that they would ever even meet; their paths would have shown no obvious point of intersection. Yet they did meet, and tonight they vow, in the presence of all of us, that from this moment on, they travel together, side by side.”

A muted “yay” arose from the orchestra, and Fluttershy blushed as only Fluttershy can.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia, “are you prepared to accept the responsibilities of this union?”

“I am,” said Twilight, and turned to Brush. “To you, my beloved, I pledge my unwavering fidelity and my eternal loyalty. I am yours, and you are mine, and we are one.”

And her white gown suddenly was white no longer, but blue with grey trim, the same colors as Brush’s suit.

Twilight Velvet and Night Light stepped forward.

“We honor my mother and my father,” said Twilight Sparkle, “whose colors we are proud to display. Without them, I would be nothing.”

The crowd roared its approval; her parents smiled, and then stepped back into place.

The young princess turned back to her groom. “No power in the universe shall separate us, so long as we shall live; for we have love, and love conquers all.”

“Desert Brush,” said Celestia, “are you prepared to accept the responsibilities of this union?”

“I am,” he said, and turned toward his bride. “To you, my one and only, I pledge my undying devotion and eternal fealty. I am yours, you are mine, and we are one.”

He turned toward the audience. “My parents, I regret to say, have long since passed from the scene. But they were always there when I needed them, and if I may, I wish to observe a moment of silence to honor them.”

Slowly, he turned back to Twilight. “We have love, and love conquers all; we will always be together.” He smiled. “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a cupcake in my eye.”

“YES!” shouted Pinkie Pie from the sidelines, and the crowd roared in assent.

Celestia nodded, and Luna returned to the podium.

“It is done,” said the Princess of the Night. “Let these two be joined together under the laws of Equestria and the customs of all the civilized worlds, and let it be so proclaimed.” She turned to Spike. “May we have the rings, please?”

Spike promptly stepped up. Brush slid a gold band onto Twilight’s horn; she snapped another one onto his neckband, next to the locket he always wore.

And Celestia intoned: “I now pronounce you mare and colt.” Then to the audience: “Mares and gentlecolts, may I present Princess Twilight Sparkle and Prince Desert Brush.”

Neither moved for a second. Then Spike nudged Brush. “That’s your cue.”

“Oh, right,” said the groom.

The newlyweds kissed, and the crowd rose to its hooves.

Windows and doors

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“You realize,” said Twilight Velvet to her newlywed daughter, “that every filly who buys or borrows a copy of Modern Bridle is going to want a dress that changes colors, just like that.”

The young bride smiled. “Believe it or not, it was his idea.”

Night Light turned toward Desert Brush. “For an earth pony, you certainly have a way with magic.”

Brush grinned somewhat sheepishly. “It helps to be working with the best. And anyway, I didn’t actually design it except on paper. I came up with the scheme, but it was Rarity who made it work.”

“She thought you were crazy,” Twilight Sparkle said.

“You mean she and I actually agree on something?”

The princess poked him in the side. “You’re so silly sometimes.”

“Silliness is a virtue,” Brush declared. “I wish I could be silly more often. In a serious sort of way, of course.”

“I’m still getting used to the idea of a son-in-law older than I am,” said Twilight Velvet.

“If it helps, I can try not to act my age,” Brush quipped.

Twilight Velvet smiled. Just like her daughter, thought Brush. “I’m not worried,” she said. “It’s only a couple of years. What matters is how you act in front of our little filly.”

“I am not a little filly,” Twilight Sparkle half-grumbled.

“Sure you are,” said her big brother. “To me you’re always going to be little Twily.”

“I’m okay with that, BBBFF.” She hugged Shining Armor. “Just remember: you answer to three princesses now, not counting the ones you actually work for.”

Shining Armor recoiled in mock horror. “So cruel, this … this …”

“Sibling?” said Brush helpfully.

“You’re not helping,” Twilight Sparkle pointed out.

“I know. I’m just stalling until Cadance shows up. You know, one of the princesses he answers to?”

“Two, if she’s picked up Skyla from the foalsitter.”

“Which she has,” said Shining Armor, pointing toward a small wagon.

“You didn’t send a Royal Coach for her?” Twilight Sparkle demanded.

“There are times when you don’t want to be too conspicuous,” replied the Captain of the Royal Guard. “Not everypony in Canterlot is overjoyed at all the pomp and circumstance.”

“Well, tough turnips,” Brush snorted. “If I have to get used to this royal stuff, so do they.”

“You’re drawing a salary from the Treasury,” Shining Armor replied. “They’re not. You’d be surprised how many ponies think there’s something wrong with that arrangement.”

Brush sighed. “No, actually, I wouldn’t. We had the same sort of issues back where I came from.”

“Where was that, exactly?” Shining Armor asked.

Brush looked off into the distance. “Somewhere … that way.”

“He doesn’t talk about it much,” Twilight said.

Cadance and little Skyla climbed out of the wagon. Skyla took one look at Brush and promptly burst into tears.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with her,” Cadance said. “It’s like she’s afraid of him or something.”

“Well, you know, I’ve been officially part of this family for something like half an hour, and she didn’t see any of it happening.” Brush made what he thought was a funny face at the foal; the foal responded by disgorging some foul-looking, fouler-smelling fluid.

“Yech,” Twilight said.

“Have they invented dry cleaning yet?” Brush asked. “Because this suit is going to have to be scoured down to the molecular level.”

“You’re such a worrywart,” said Twilight, casting a brief spell that collected all the liquid into a small pink sphere, which she then cast upward until it took its highly improper place in the sky.

“Be careful,” Brush said. “She’ll make more.”

“I would say,” Shining Armor announced, “that whatever Skyla’s reaction is, it’s certainly not fear. She’s looking him straight in the eye.”

“Biding her time until she can reload for a second strike? Sounds logical to me.”

“Now stop that,” Cadance demanded. “She’s just a foal. She’s not capable of strategic planning.”

“Technically, this is more tactical than strategic,” Brush replied.

“Whatever,” said Cadance indifferently. “She’ll come around, once she gets used to you.”

“I’ve heard that said before in a totally different context,” Brush grumbled, “and it didn’t work out then either.”

“ENOUGH!” shouted Twilight Sparkle. “This is my wedding day, and none of you are going to spoil it!”

“Including me?” said Brush sheepishly.

Especially you,” she snapped.

“Looks like I earn my stipend for marriage counseling this month,” Cadance said. “Shining, you watch Skyla. Newlyweds? Come with me.”


“It’s a good thing this happened before the reception really got going,” said Cadance crossly. “Not that it’s a good thing at all, but you really don’t want your friends to see you carrying on this way. Now what’s the matter? Twilight, I certainly wouldn’t have expected this of you.”

“Buyer’s remorse,” Brush said. “She’s thinking she might have gotten a better deal elsewhere.”

“I am thinking no such thing,” Twilight said indignantly. “And where do you get off making fun of Skyla? She’s a princess too, you know.”

“Whatever happened with Skyla, I assure you, I came off second best. Maybe third. Unless radioactive puke is normal in these parts.”

“May I remind you,” Cadance interrupted, “that not one hour ago the two of you pledged your undying troth in front of damned near everyone in Canterlot. There’s no excuse for this sort of behavior.”

Twilight whirled. “I just want to know why you wouldn’t have expected this, whatever ‘this’ is, from me. Would you have expected it from him?”

“I would not,” said Cadance. “His commitment runs deeper than yours.”

“Deeper? How so?”

“I’d kind of like to hear that myself,” Brush said.

Cadance sighed. “Isn’t it obvious? Twilight, all you had to do was be there. Brush went through a death-and-life cycle to be here with you. And even if you’d never met, he would still have wanted you.”

Brush raised an eyebrow. “You think?”

“I know,” said Cadance. “I found out while you were being tormented by my daughter.”

“I’m lost,” Brush said.

“Don’t be. If she’s affected by you, to the extent that she wants to fight back, I want to know why.”

“Now I’m lost,” Twilight muttered.

“Skyla can’t control the magic she has,” Cadance explained. “She’s never met Brush, so she has no reason to dislike him, unless something deep inside of her saw a threat.”

“I try not to be threatening,” said Brush.

“And you’re not. I didn’t find anything inside you that should have caused her alarm. But I found something else.”

“Should I be worried?” Twilight asked.

Cadance laughed. “Hardly. I’m just surprised you hadn’t figured this out for yourself by now.” She looked Twilight in the eye. “He is bound to you, and always has been.”

“Bound? How?”

“Inscribed upon the deepest part of his heart,” said Cadance, “you will find what looks like a design for a puzzle. It is not. It is the equivalent of a spell, in an ancient pre-Equestrian tongue.”

“A spell? How is that even possible? They don’t even have magic where he comes from.”

“There are only two explanations. It’s easier to believe that it’s a random design that happens to match a string of old runic characters. But I think it’s a spell, and I can’t pronounce it while he’s here, or something might happen.”

Twilight looked at Brush. “We’ll be right back.” And the two alicorns shimmered out of sight.


“How did you find this?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“Skyla’s reaction was emotional,” said Cadance, “so I went digging into his emotional core.”

“Why wouldn’t I have seen it?”

“You weren’t looking for it. Or you did see it, and you thought it was purely random, not worth bothering with. He’s an earth pony, so you saw the usual earth-pony magic traces, and maybe you figured you didn’t need to look for other sources of magic.”

Twilight hung her head. “You’d think I’d have seen an actual spell.

“Especially one with your name in it,” Cadance replied.

“Wait a minute. My name is in that spell?”

“Mostly,” said Cadance. “For now I am half, but soon to be whole, O light of my life, sparkle of my soul.”

“That’s … beautiful.”

“It is. But there is no explanation for why it is there, except for the obvious one: it was foreordained, at the moment he was born, that he would someday find you and fall in love with you.”

“But that makes no sense!” said Twilight. “He was more than fifty years old before he ever even knew that I existed. How can … oh, no. It can’t be. But … it has to be, doesn’t it?”

Cadance nodded. “This is why all his previous relationships failed. All his life, he’s been waiting for you. He just didn’t know it.”

“I’m not sure I want to ask this, but … ”

“Is there a spell that binds you to him that way? No. Only the pledge you took in the Great Hall this evening.” Cadance smiled. “Which should be enough, don’t you think?”

“I still don’t get it,” Twilight said. “Why would some mysterious mage want to make somepony fall in love with me?”

“Perhaps because she thought nopony else ever would?”

“Seriously? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to put the spell on me?”

“You have magical power and knowledge,” said Cadance. “You could break a spell, given the time and the motivation.”

“I … I guess that’s true.” Twilight shuddered. “What would have happened if we’d never met?”

“I suppose he’d have gone on with his life as it was.”

“And never knowing why. It almost sounds like he was … somepony’s puppet.”

“Having free will doesn’t make you any less predictable,” Cadance said. “This Mysterious Mage, as you call her, may have seen all of this in advance.”

“Do you have any idea who she might be?”

Cadance shook her head. “I haven’t a clue.”

“And should we tell him?”

“I think we have to.”

Twilight flinched. “I still don’t understand how this was supposed to work. He wasn’t a pony when he was born. He knew nothing of us, and we knew nothing of him.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Cadance, “there’s something in his background that might explain it. But we still have to tell him first.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Twilight said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Skyla is family. You responded instinctively to what you thought was a threat to a family member.”

“He wouldn’t have hurt her. He loves foals. He reads to them at the library now and then.”

“I don’t think Skyla would let him read to her,” Cadance said. “There’s something about him that she doesn’t like, and I don’t think it’s just an occasional burst of uncontrolled magic.”

“Well, it’s not like they’re going to see each other all the time,” Twilight retorted. “I mean, you’re running the Crystal Empire, and we’re always down in Ponyville.”

Cadance very visibly choked. “Is something wrong?” Twilight asked.

“I guess she hasn’t told you yet.”

“Told me what?”

“Your royal duties, whatever they are, are about to take precedence over your library duties. Once you two get back from the honeymoon, you’ll be moving up here to Canterlot.”

“Canterlot? But my friends…!

“They’ll be coming by from time to time,” Cadance assured her.

“Who’s going to run the library? Spike?”

“No. Spike’s your Number One assistant. He stays with you.”


“He’s your pet. Why would you not keep him?”

Twilight glared. “So who’s running the library?”

“I d-don’t know,” stammered Cadance. “I assume they’ll reassign a librarian from some other town.” Taking a deep breath, she looked Twilight squarely in the eye. “You didn’t think you were going to stay there forever, did you?”

“I guess,” Twilight said slowly, “I did think that. For a while, anyway.”

“Can Brush run the library?”

“Kind of. He knows the circulation routines and the record-keeping. But he’s never ordered new books or anything like that before.” Twilight stared. “You don’t think that —”

“I think,” said Cadance, “that Celestia will ask him to fill in as the temporary librarian.”

“For how long?”

“For however long it takes to get a new librarian, I suppose. I’ve never worked in the staff pool.”

“Great,” said Twilight dejectedly. “Not only do I have to tell my husband that he’s controlled by a spell, I have to tell him that we’ll be spending even more time apart.” She gave out with a decidedly cacophonous snort. “Some wedding day this is.”


“You’re kidding me, right?” Brush couldn’t quite believe his ears. “My first marriage was doomed because I really wanted a pony I’d never even met?”

“Nopony knew,” said Twilight softly. “It just … happened.”

“Are you angry?” Cadance asked.

“No, not really,” he said, a touch of weariness in his voice. “It’s just that it would have been nice if somepony had told me about it. But that wasn’t in the plan, I guess.”

“And you do love her,” Cadance pointed out.

“That much,” Brush said, “is true.”

“Do things like this happen often in your old species?” asked Twilight.

“There have been examples of prophecy, yes. Usually they didn’t pertain to couples, though, unless they were going to have a child or something.”

“Which we can’t,” said Twilight sadly.

“Would this prophecy, or whatever it is, count as fulfilled if we adopted a foal?” Brush asked.

Cadance shook her head. “We don’t know if that was the purpose of the prophecy.”

“And anyway, it’s a little too early for that,” Twilight said. “We’re not even on our honeymoon yet.”

“We should definitely be getting back to the reception,” Cadance said. “By now everypony is wondering what happened.”

I’m wondering what happened, and I was supposedly here for most of it,” Brush grumbled.


“And now,” Pinkie Pie announced, “the happy couple will have the first dance!”

The spotlight came up on — nopony.

Dead silence.

“Pssst! Over here!” said Brush in a voice somewhere between mock-gruff and asthmatic, and the lights turned toward the corner where the bride and groom had just rematerialized.

Cheers from the crowd, and Twilight smiled. “Nice save.”

“What can I tell you? I’m a nice pony.”

As they reached the center of the Great Hall, the music started, Sweetie Belle launched into “Love Is In Bloom,” and to Brush’s delight, rather a lot of the guests joined in on the chorus.

“I really don’t know what you see in that song,” Twilight said teasingly as she and Brush whirled around the room in something almost, but not quite, approaching synchrony.

“Just seems perfect for a wedding. Except for that ‘handsome groom’ business.”

“Oh, shush,” Twilight replied. “You look fine as frog hair.”

Brush broke into giggles. “Where in the wide, wide world of sports did you pick up that phrase?”

“I can’t help it. You’re starting to rub off on me.”

“That’s a good thing, right?”

“Oh, shush.”

It was just after midnight when Twilight Sparkle pitched the bouquet into the crowd, and about seven tenths of a second later Rarity found something stuck on her horn, of all places.

“I can’t help it,” Rarity said with as little sheepishness as she dared muster. “Beautiful things are just naturally drawn to me, and I to them.”


The newlyweds had their own ceremonial car on the eastbound train, and for the first several minutes, not a word was spoken between them.

“You’re awfully quiet,” said Desert Brush. “I guess it’s been a long day.”

“It has.” She curled up a little closer to him. “And they’re going to get longer.”

“At least until the Summer Sun Celebration, if I remember my foal-level astronomy,” he said.

“There’s more to it than that,” Twilight Sparkle said. “We’ll be leaving Ponyville.”

“Eventually, I suppose we will.”

“If by ‘eventually’ you mean ‘three weeks from today’,” said Twilight sadly.

Brush rolled his eyes. “High-level Princess stuff, I assume?”

“I’m afraid so. I’m not sure how high, but Celestia has been saying I would have greater responsibilities.”

“That’s usually the deal with great power,” Brush said. “So who runs the library?”

“For the moment, Spike does. After that, until they name a permanent replacement, I think you do,” Twilight answered.

“Oh, wow. Is there a pay raise involved?”

“Be serious for once. We’re going to be apart for long periods of time.” The young princess shivered. “I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”

“Twi, dearest, you’ve faced down the scariest situations this world has to offer. Not having to look at me can’t possibly be one of them.”

“That’s not the point. We’ve been married half a day and already we’re being torn apart. Is that fair?”

“We’re not being torn apart. It’s just that there is work to be done, and we can’t do all of it together.” He smiled. “You don’t think Celestia would have any reason to want to break us up, do you?”

She made no reply.

“I didn’t think so. Look, we’ve had a rough day. A few things got said that maybe shouldn’t have been said. Perhaps Celestia, or maybe Cadance, thinks we do better if we’re not constantly under each other’s hooves.”

“Do you think that?”

“I’ve never seen a couple who didn’t have their differences now and then, and I’ll bet you haven’t either.”

Twilight pondered for the moment. “The Cakes, maybe?”

“Maybe. But we never see them behind the scenes, and it’s not like Pinkie’s telling us horror stories about late nights at Sugarcube Corner.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Twilight said doubtfully. “But it’s still not fair. This is supposed to be the happiest day of my life, isn’t it?”

“It’s two in the morning. I think that happiest day was yesterday.” He pulled her closer. “Today we’re on a train to Fillydelphia. Let’s just see what happens tomorrow.”

Such unlikely lovers

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The next day, five friends gathered in Sugarcube Corner.

“Ah don’t know about the rest of you,” drawled Applejack, “but Ah gotta admit, Ah’m awful curious about where they went.”

“So are we all, my dear,” said Rarity. “So are we all. We must trust that they knew what they were doing when they chose not to reveal the location of their honeymoon nest.”

“Ah’m not so sure that was such a good idea.” Applejack took another sip of spring water. “There ain’t a whole lot that’ll scare me, but some parts of Equestria just give me the creeps. And not just the Everfree, neither.”

“The Everfree isn’t so scary,” said Fluttershy. “There’s almost nothing there that really wants to hurt you.”

“Almost nothin’ is an awful long way from nothin’,” Applejack retorted.

“Well, if I were somepony who hadn’t been in Equestria very long, which of course I’m not, and I’d just gotten married,” began Pinkie, “I’d want to go to a place that neither one of us had ever gone to, and if I were a Princess I’d want to go to some place that nopony ever went, just so I could get some peace and quiet.”

“What do you know about peace and quiet?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Nothing,” said Pinkie airily. “But I’m not a Princess so it doesn’t matter.”

Applejack brightened. “Ah think Pinkie might be on to somethin’ there. Where in Equestria could they go that neither one of ‘em has ever seen and that nopony ever goes?”


“So tell me again,” Twilight yawned, “why we’re on the way to Hollow Shades?”

“Because you’ve never been there,” said Desert Brush. “Simple as that.”

“You’ve never been there either,” Twilight replied.

“I’ve never been anywhere, at least not in Equestria.”

“Oh, come on. You’ve been all the way to the western coast. Remember Vanhoover?”

“I’d rather not, if you don’t mind,” Brush said stiffly.

“It’s a very nice place most of the time. We just happened to get caught up in something.”

“Getting caught up in things,” said Brush, “isn’t exactly what I think of as a wonderful experience. Even when it ends happily.”

Twilight rose to her hooves, did a couple of laps around their rail car, and returned to her seat. “As far as I know,” she said, “there’s no place in Equestria where you can guarantee that nothing will happen.”

“Except Blueblood’s office,” Brush quipped.

“Don’t go there,” Twilight warned.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” answered Brush, who got up and stretched his legs a bit. “And Rarity suggested Hollow Shades.”

Rarity did? What was she thinking?”

“Well, she wasn’t actually suggesting it. It just came up in conversation one day. I have no idea what we were talking about at the time.”

“What did she say about it?”

Brush flashed her a grin. “She said it was, and I quote, ‘as close as you can get to a cemetery, but without all those dreadful dead ponies.’ Sounded like peace and quiet to me.”

Twilight laughed. “I guess we’re due for a little peace and quiet.”

“And it’s only a couple of days. After that, we can play it by ear; we can go on to Manehattan, we can take some time off and hike through the woods, or we can backtrack and see Foal Mountain.” He paused. “Why is it called Foal Mountain, anyway?”

“According to legend,” said Twilight, “it was a place of great fertility, and pegasus couples would fly there hoping to conceive.”

“Seriously? Did it ever work?”

“It worked almost all the time. A place of Great Magic, they said. More likely, they felt that by coming to the mountain, the matter was now out of their hooves, and once they quit worrying about it —”

“Hmmmm. Maybe we shouldn’t go to Foal Mountain.”

“Why not? It wouldn’t hurt to try, would it?”

“I suppose not,” said Brush. “But the problem here isn’t a lack of magic.”

“I know,” Twilight whispered, bowing her head. “But those ponies of old, they wanted to believe. And I want to believe.” She gazed at the ceiling of the rail car. “I know I shouldn’t want this. And yet somehow I do.”

“Why shouldn’t you want this?” Brush asked.

“I’ve already done the whole motherhood thing. I’ve raised Spike from an egg. He’s practically a teenager now.”

“Did you not enjoy it?”

Twilight shivered. “I’ve loved every minute of it. But … there was always something missing. It’s like he was given to me for safekeeping, but he wasn’t really…”

“He wasn’t really yours. I think I understand.”

“The part that hurts,” said Twilight, “is knowing some day Spike will ask about his dragon parents, and I won’t know what to tell him. He’ll set off on a quest, because that’s what dragons do, and I’ll never see him again.”

“He went on a quest before, didn’t he? And he came back from that.”

“That’s because he didn’t get the answers he was seeking. Once he gets them, he has no reason to come back.”

“Love will bring him back,” Brush said. “It’s the one thing you can count on.”

“You seem … awfully sure of yourself.”

He swept away a lock of her mane and kissed her. “And I get that from you.”

Twilight smiled. “What happens when he’s too big for his living quarters?”

“Then we all scrunch down a little bit and continue to make him welcome.” Brush did half of a deep-knee bend to illustrate. “I mean, that’s what, fifty or a hundred years from now?”

She gave him that sideways look. “You’re planning to be here for that?”

“I have no idea,” he admitted. “I could hang around for a century or so; I might not make it until sunrise tomorrow. Ultimately, it’s not my call.”

“What do you mean?”

“Apparently my presence here was foreordained sixty-odd years ago, by somepony with a vision. I have to assume that this somepony also knows when I’m going to depart, because I certainly don’t.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Twilight said sheepishly. “But since you brought it up, what do you really think about … that?”

“Does it really matter what I think about it? It simply is. I thought the wording was weird, like something out of Nabokov.”


“Vladimir Nabokov. Human writer from the last century. Best known for a smug little tale of foalcon.” He coughed on that last word. “Bastard was probably in love with her, too.”

“Underage filly?”

“Let’s just say she wasn’t on her way to earning her cutie mark, and leave it at that.”

Twilight nodded.

“Anyway, I can’t complain about having my destiny laid bare. At least it’s a good one.”

“So you’re not angry with Cadance?”

“What’s there to be angry about?” said Brush. “The hoof of the gods, or whatever, comes down and writes You will love a pony. And it turns out that it’s the pony I’m in love with. Now to me, that sounds like the screaming deal of the year.”

She shook her head. “You’re taking this much better than I would.”

“In what way?”

“Well, suppose we’d never met.”

“Okay, we’ll suppose that,” he said. “Since it was, after all, the most likely outcome.”

“What would have happened to you then?”

“The same thing that was happening to me before we met: not much.” He smiled. “It wasn’t a terrible life, really, apart from occasional periods of loneliness. And by then I was used to them.”

Twilight rose to her hooves and walked to the window. “I’m just so … how can I say this? … I guess I’m angry at whoever did this to you.” She stared out the window, as though she expected the culprit to show herself. “It’s wrong, even if it worked out right.” She turned back toward Brush. “And I’m really surprised that you’re not concerned about it.”

“It’s not that I’m not concerned,” he said. “But it’s something I’m not in a position to do anything about.”

“Maybe I can.”

“Maybe you can,” he replied. “But are you sure you want to? Whatever this wacko prophecy means in the long run, it may not be the best idea in the world to mess with it.”

She hung her head. “I guess you’re right. But I hate being at the mercy of forces I can’t control.”

“You’re not at their mercy,” Brush retorted. “I am. And I figure I’m doing pretty well for myself following their instructions.” He yawned. “Can we talk about something other than Brush’s Incredible Destiny? It’s duller than anything this side of drywall, and we all know what I think of drywall.”

Twilight giggled. “It didn’t stop you from signing a subsidy order to produce the stuff in Fillydelphia.”

“So you are reading the paperwork.”

“I am in charge of your office,” Twilight pointed out. “Officially, anyway.”

“And everything in the office has to be official. I’m glad we had this little talk.”

“You’re so silly.” She kissed him on the ear. “What would I do without you?”

“Whatever it is,” he said, “I’m sure it doesn’t involve riding a train into the middle of nowhere.”

“Technically, this isn’t the middle of nowhere. We’re almost halfway to Hollow Shades, which I’m pretty sure is somewhere.”

He got up and clambered over to the window. “How far are we from Foal Mountain?”

She thought for a moment. “Maybe six hours or so. Why?”

“Does the train stop there?”

“At the base of it, yes.” She stared at him. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well, after all this talk of destiny and stuff,” said Brush, “maybe it’s time we dealt with the one question that keeps coming up.”

He didn’t have to look at her: he knew she was crying.

“I thought you wanted this. You certainly seemed to, half an hour ago.”

“We already know the answer to that question,” she whispered. “And we’re not pegasi.”

“It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying, though, does it?”

“No,” said Twilight Sparkle. “No, it doesn’t. But we can do that here.”

This empty place

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The train does stop at Foal Mountain, but there’s no station: only a siding, and not much of one at that, with a little wooden hut that showed no signs of recent occupancy just beyond the far side of the tracks. “It’s not like anypony was expecting us,” Desert Brush quipped as he set down their bags. “We could probably leave all this stuff here and it would never be noticed.”

“Or it would never be seen again,” grumbled Twilight Sparkle. “I’m surprised there’s no storage space.”

“The pegasi fly in,” Brush pointed out. “If there’s any storage space at all, it’s probably on top of the mountain.”

Twilight stared at him. “You think the entire staff is pegasus? Because if they have any unicorns or earth ponies working here, they’re going to have a difficult time getting up that mountain.”

Brush nodded. “Or maybe they live on the premises.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Twilight, spreading her wings. “Maybe I’ll just take a look up there.”

“You do that. I’ll sit here and do whatever it is I do when I’m not doing anything.”

She smiled at him, and took off at an angle so close to vertical he could have sworn she was going straight up.


“So what did you find?” he said as she landed.

“I didn’t see anything up there at all. Not even a window. Just endless stretches of rock.” Twilight shook her head. “Good for an impenetrable fortress, maybe, but not so good for a fertility shrine, or whatever it’s supposed to be.”

Brush grinned. “Evidently the pegasi live by those two ancient human rules. Rule one: never give away all the information.”

“And rule two?”

He just stood there, still grinning.


“Uh, see rule one.”

“Oh.” She summoned up a frown, but it wouldn’t stay in place. “You are a very silly pony sometimes.”

“You’re just now noticing that?”

“What am I going to do with you?” she asked in that fake-sorrowful voice she trotted out for just such occasions as this.

“For that matter,” he said, “what are we going to do? Obviously there’s nothing here for us, and — when’s the next eastbound train?”

Twilight pondered. “About twelve hours, I think. Right after sunrise.”

“I suppose there’s no chance you could talk Celestia into speeding things up?”

“She’d have to have a better reason than this,” Twilight said.

“In that case,” Brush declared, “I say we just sit here and wait.” He backed himself up against the base of the mountain, flicked his tail out of the way, and sat.

And jumped right up again, startled by a whirring noise coming from right behind him.

Twilight pointed to the neat little rectangular opening in the mountain. “Freight elevator. How did you know?”

“What makes you think I knew?” he replied.


Brush read the sign at the office door: “Foal Mountain Clinic. Practice limited to pegasi.” He shook his head. “Do they have to come up the same way we did?”

“I didn’t see any openings anywhere on the mountain,” Twilight answered. “Perhaps they tell you how to get in when you call for an appointment?”

“How would they know if you’re a pegasus over the phone?”

“I assume,” said Twilight, “they’d bring that up before the end of the call.”

“Makes sense to me. What do we do now?”

“This,” she said, pushing the doorbell.

The door popped open, and a dark-grey pegasus with a stern expression inspected the visitors. “You did see the sign, did you not?”

“Uh, we were just passing through,” Brush muttered.

“There’s nothing we can do for you here. Our practice is strictly limited.”

“Let them in,” said a voice from within. “We never get any visitors, and we’re not exactly busy right now.”

“As you wish, Doctor,” the pegasus said, her expression unchanged as she turned back toward the door. “Welcome to our facility. The doctor will see you shortly.”


Inevitably, of course, there was paperwork. Twilight finished hers in silence in a matter of moments; Brush kept asking questions like “What do they mean by that?” and “Is this serious?”

“Is what serious?” she asked.

“Why would they need my parents’ cutie marks, for buck’s sake?”

“To cross-reference with other existing medical records, of course,” Twilight explained. “Just put down that they’re deceased, and leave that part blank.”

“I come from a long line of blank flanks,” he quipped. “What happens after this?”

“I assume they’re going to draw blood, and probably, uh, something else.”

“Oh, my.”

“Oh, your what?” asked the nurse as she reentered the room.

Brush shivered. “We were just discussing the possibility of…”

“Of having bloodwork done,” Twilight interrupted.

“We will be drawing” — she stared at the stallion — “several different bodily fluids, as needed. Does this bother you?”

Brush forced a smile. “I’m willing to pretend that it doesn’t, just to get it over with.”

The nurse gave Twilight the sort of half-frown, half-wink, that could only be interpreted as “You poor filly, I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

“He’ll be fine,” Twilight said. “It’s just that sometimes…”

“Yeah,” Brush grumbled. “Sometimes.”


About an hour later, Dr. Winter entered the examining room. She was, Brush thought, the oldest pegasus he’d ever seen; on the other hoof, he conceded, what he knew about pegasi would probably fit into one of the sample tubes, maybe even the narrow one they used for blood.

“Pegasus medicine,” the doctor began, “derives from a wholly different tradition than those used by other tribes, one which traces its origins to before the first days of Harmony. Unable to wield magic for surgical purposes, pegasi have long treated physical ailments with actual physical treatments: herbs and potions when applicable, body and wing adjustment and manipulation when necessary.”

Brush was sure he’d heard something like that before, in his distant past.

“Pony reproduction, as it happens, is well standardized among the tribes today,” the doctor continued. “The tests you were administered were appropriate for ponies of any tribe, though I must confess that I was not expecting some of the results I received.”

“I can explain that,” Twilight began, but the doctor cut her off. “You’re fine, Miss — Sparkle, is it? Apart from having a horn, which I’ve never seen on anypony who wasn’t royalty, you read like a fairly normal pegasus, though your wing power appears to be somewhat erratic.”

Twilight blushed. “I’m not the greatest flyer.”

“You could be,” said the doctor, “if you could even out your power pulses. You average close to eight wing power, though you’d peak in the upper teens to the low twenties. Few pegasi can manage more than ten for more than a few moments.”

“And you found this out through a blood test?” Twilight asked doubtfully.

“Not the blood. We drew some of the fluid in your limbic system. It showed signs of magical adaptation, which we assume is appropriate to a pegasus with a horn.”

“Is that really relevant to foal-bearing?” asked Twilight.

“In most cases,” said the doctor, “it is not. We did the test for the sake of completeness.” She looked at Twilight, and then over at Brush. “How long have you two been married?”

“Three days,” Brush said.

“Isn’t it a little early to be worried about one’s fertility?”

He shrugged. “I had reason to think that there might be issues, somewhere down the road.”

“Good reason,” said the doctor. “How old are you, Mr. Brush?”

“Sixty-two on my last birthday. About seven moons ago.”

“And how is it that you’ve won the heart of a mare barely one-third your age?”

“I wonder about that myself sometimes,” Brush admitted.

“When was your last medical examination?”

He pondered. “Shortly before Winter Wrap-Up, ten-oh-four.”

“So, sixteen moons, then?”

“Approximately, yes.”

“Did you have major surgery at that time?”

Brush grinned. “You don’t know the half of it.”

The doctor scowled. “I do know, however, one of its effects. We tested your sperm, Mr. Brush.”

“Did it pass?”

For a moment, he thought he saw a smile break across her face; but perhaps he was mistaken. “We found, Mr. Brush, that pregnancy for your lovely bride is out of the question for the immediate future.”

“How immediate are we talking?” Twilight asked.

“At least a decade,” the doctor replied. “Whatever the surgical procedure he underwent, it reset the development timing on all his reproductive cells.”

“I’m lost,” Brush said.

“It’s like this,” said the doctor. “You do have, after a fashion, normal sperm. But they are normal for a colt just barely into his second year of life: extremely immature, wholly incapable of joining with an egg.” She shook her head. “This operation you had must have been extremely serious, and extremely unusual.”

“It was indeed,” he replied.

“I suppose it would be too much to actually tell me what happened?”

“Uh, it’s a Code X2,” said Twilight from the corner. “Experimental medicine, nature and description classified at the request of the Crown.”

“Oh, my goodness,” Dr. Winter said, her voice distinctly softer than before. “A matter of life or death, I assume?”

“I thought it was at the time,” said Brush.

“Were there other side effects?”

“This is the first I’ve heard of.” Brush contemplated for a moment. “And it wasn’t entirely unexpected.”

“Of course not,” said the doctor. “Otherwise you’d never have been desperate enough to seek out a pegasus medical facility based on a two-hundred-year-old legend.”

“We weren’t desperate,” Twilight insisted. “But we’d had this cloud over us, and we just had to know.”

“In about a decade,” the doctor said, “the problem may have solved itself, at the expense of another: budding adolescent sexuality. It’s annoying enough in an actual adolescent; I don’t think it will be much fun for a seventy-year-old stallion.”

“Thank you, Doctor Killjoy,” said Brush.

“This assumes, of course, that the appropriate cells continue to develop at the appropriate pace.”

“I’ll be sure to whip those little swimmers into line,” Brush quipped.

“And if the cells do not develop at the appropriate pace — well, there is a very good orphanage in Hollow Shades.”

“Do they get a lot of referrals from you?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

“More than I’d like,” said Dr. Winter. “Way more than I’d like.”


They stood beside the tracks, waiting for the eastbound train, watching the skies.

“One thing I’ve never figured out,” Brush said. “How is it that sunrises here look so much like sunrises where I used to be? The mechanisms are totally different.”

“Not so different,” Twilight laughed. “The sun and the moon aren’t moved instantaneously. There is some time delay between the time you see the moon lowered and the time you see the moon raised. And this is what it looks like.”

He looked at her, looked away for a second, then turned back toward her. “Did we learn anything today?”

“Only if it’s true that you’re carrying immature sperm cells, and that this will change as you get older.” She frowned. “I would have thought that the Royal Medical Office would have told me about this a long time ago.”

“New discovery, maybe?”

“I don’t know. Usually they’re up on everything. But like Dr. Winter said, the pegasi have a totally different medical tradition, and the Royal Medical Office is much more, uh…”

“Conventional?” he suggested.

“Yes. Conventional. The first time I suggested that a human might be ponified, they, well, let’s just say they took it badly.”

Brush smiled. “I did so enjoy messing with their heads.”

“No, you didn’t,” Twilight said. “You were scared out of your wits the whole time. If any head was messed with, it was your own.”

“Okay, you got me. But now we have a new factor in this equation. Assuming you’re still wanting foals, that is.”

“I do want foals!” she said. “I do! But … maybe not right away.”

“Can you wait ten years for these sperm to smarten up, or whatever the hay it is they’re supposed to do?”

“That,” said Twilight, “I don’t know. Right now it just seems like some indefinite time in the future, and I have all the time in the world, and …”

“And I don’t,” Brush said. “But I don’t have any reason to think I don’t have ten years. Or do I?”

“Nopony has ever gone through this before. There’s no way of knowing.”

Brush pondered. “Didn’t you once tell me that there was a changeling who got transformed into a pegasus? That seems like it ought to have been more difficult than what they did to me.”

“Except,” Twilight pointed out, “that she already had the ability to alter her shape and metabolism. You had neither.”

“Touché,” said Brush. “You win this round.”

“We’re not competing,” Twilight said. “We’re on the same side, remember?” She smiled. “And how do you know the word for scoring in Royal Guard swordplay?”

Desert Brush laughed. “I wasn’t exactly born yesterday, honey.”

Everypony's out of town

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Hollow Shades appears on all the recent maps of Equestria, but none of those maps bothers to make clear whether it’s the name of the forest or of the little village that sits along its southern edge, though The Griffon’s Guide to Equestria, published in Twistedspire in 964 and not updated since, makes the implausible assertion that the town was built first and the forest grew up around it:

A rare unicorn outpost in an area largely controlled by earth ponies, the town of Hollow Shades was founded in 783 by a small band of Canterlot nobles who had chafed under the rule of Princess Celestia and yearned for a place of their own, far from her influence. The spot they chose was roughly halfway between Canterlot and the eastern coast of Equestria, just beyond a minor mountain range, an area of rolling hills and small farms. It is believed that the nobles obtained title to the lands by paying off some of the residents and threatening the rest. In retrospect, it would have been better for them had they retained at least some of the earth ponies as farm workers; as nobles often do, they presumed that anything the commoners could do, they could do better, and they were greatly pained to discover that this was not actually the case. While their architecture, largely copied from Canterlot originals, survives, their agriculture was an abject failure, so poor that most of the original settlers fled to avoid starvation, and in 790, the town was down to a single despairing family. Celestia, visiting the area that year, issued a blanket pardon to the surviving nobles, and then chose to obliterate the now-fallow fields of Hollow Shades by replacing them with a copy of one of the milder sections of the Everfree Forest, south of Canterlot. This action replenished the land, but also made the town virtually unlivable, there being no demand for residences near anything like the Everfree.

References in Equestrian texts, however, show only that the town is located on the edge of the forest, and that there were several periods when nopony at all lived there.


“I don’t like this place,” declared Twilight Sparkle.

“We’re not even off the platform yet,” Desert Brush grumbled. “Kind of early for that sort of decision, don’t you think?”

She stepped off the platform. “I still don’t like this place.”

“Okay, it’s not exactly bustling with activity. But hey, it’s quiet, just like Rarity said it was.”

“Did she say why it was so quiet?”

“I didn’t ask her that,” Brush said sheepishly.

Twilight stared at him.

“Well, I didn’t. Sue me.”

“This isn’t actionable under Equestrian law, so far as I know.”

“Figure of speech, darling. We’ve been through this a few times before. Now what don’t you like about this place?” He looked around. “Other than the fact that it’s seriously creepy-looking, I mean.”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“Should we ask Fluttershy to come out here?”

“Why would we want to do that?” asked Twilight crossly.

Brush pointed a forehoof at the woods. “I’m not your Royal Cartographer or anything, but I’d swear, that looks like the Everfree.”

“It’s certainly dark enough,” Twilight said. “But the Everfree doesn’t come within a day’s journey of here, as far as I know.”

“And if anypony knows about living on the edge of the Everfree, it’s Fluttershy, am I right?”

Twilight shook her head. “We’re not getting anywhere with this. We are not sending for another pony to come join us on what’s supposed to be our honeymoon. Especially one you think is cute.”

“Aren’t they all cute?” asked Brush innocently.

“You’re not helping,” Twilight snapped.

“Sorry. I’m merely insensitive, not blind.”

Twilight mumbled something indistinct under her breath.


Ten minutes of walking brought them to the center of town, and what might have been the old Town Hall.

“It must have been,” said Twilight. “The old borough headquarters in all four quadrants of Canterlot have exactly this same design. Obviously somepony from Canterlot must have settled this place.”

Brush looked puzzled. “Okay, I admit, I’m the new pony in town, but why haven’t I heard about any of these boroughs?”

“Back in the eighth century,” Twilight explained patiently, “Princess Celestia, in an effort to maintain order in a growing Canterlot, subdivided the city into quadrants, and appointed a governor for each. The Noble Houses objected, of course.”

“Of course,” Brush said. “Nobles have a tendency to object to being governed at all.”

Twilight ignored him. “After months of protest and the threat of a general strike, the Princess dissolved the boroughs, and the buildings were sold.”

“That might explain why this place looks like the Canterlot Express building, only creepier.”

She smiled at him. “You know, you’re right. Yellow Ink bought the Northeast Borough office and started publishing his paper there. It’s changed hooves several times since then, but the Express has stayed in that one location for over two hundred years.”

Brush pointed to a corner of the building. “Different stuff growing on the outside, I suspect.”

“What is that stuff?” Twilight approached the building, slowly, tentatively. “It’s not organized enough to be a plant, but it’s not random enough to be mildew either.”

“Whatever it is,” said Brush, “there’s a lot of it.”

“You wouldn’t expect this kind of growth on a building that is regularly used,” Twilight observed.

“None of these buildings look like they’re regularly used.”

“Then why does the train even stop here?”

Brush shrugged. “Tradition?”

“The railroad regulations are quite clear. There must be at least one freight delivery, or two passengers, every other day to justify maintaining a train stop.”

“Assuming you’d call what they do to this place ‘maintenance’,” Brush quipped.

“Tell me this,” Twilight said. “Did you notice anything … peculiar happening when you ordered the train tickets?”

“No weirder than usual,” Brush replied. “You think this is a conspiracy by Equestrian Rail?”

“Well, no,” she admitted. “But why would anyone ever come here voluntarily?”

“There’s supposedly an orphanage here,” Brush pointed out. “I have to assume that the residents have no choice in the matter, but the staff probably wasn’t conscripted.”

“Do you see anything here that looks like an orphanage?”

“I’ve never seen an orphanage, here or anywhere else. What are they supposed to look like?”

“I have no idea,” Twilight began, accompanied by something that sounded very much like giggling.

Brush grinned. “Neat how you can throw your voice.”


Suddenly she turned around and cast a beam of light into a group of overgrown shrubs, and the giggling voice turned into a shriek.

A foal — he couldn’t have been more than four or five years old — froze in terror.

“We’re not going to hurt you,” Twilight said. “We just want to talk to you.” She stopped the light-projection spell. “Can you tell us who you are?”

“Do you live around here?” Brush asked.

Twilight glared at Brush. “Do you think some poor foal would actually visit this place if he didn’t have to?”

The foal saw his chance, and ran.

“I believe we can take that as a No,” Brush said laconically.


They trotted together along what they thought had been the foal’s path. Dark, empty buildings lined the route; most of them exhibited at least some trace of the growth that wasn’t a plant and wasn’t mildew.

“So,” said Brush. “Orphan, or not orphan?”

“If you want to know the truth,” Twilight answered, “I’m not entirely convinced that it was a pony at all.”

Brush stared. “Changeling, maybe?”

“Probably not. For a changeling to duplicate a pony, there must be an actual pony, either nearby or within recent memory. That’s the theory, anyway.”

“So you don’t think this place is at all inhabited by ponies?”

“It surely was at one time,” Twilight said, “but it’s not now.” The faintest of smiles crept across her face. “I think we’ve seen a revenant.”

“A which?”

“A revenant. The animated remains of a pony who has long since passed on.”

Brush shivered. “Some poor colt dies, and his body has to trot around for the rest of eternity?”

“That’s the story, anyway,” said Twilight. “I always thought it was just another old myth, something invented to scare the foals at bedtime.”

“Well, it’s way past my bedtime, and I’m a long way from foalhood,” grumbled Brush. “And I’m scared.”


“What you call a revenant,” he said, “is something like what the humans know as a zombie: it’s kept alive by a witch doctor with some sort of spell for some nefarious purpose.” He shuddered. “No will of its own, but plenty of strength.”

“You’re pretty strong,” Twilight pointed out.

“But I lack the ability to project sheer mindless fury. In the time it takes me to make up my mind, that — that thing could take me out for good.”

“Oh, please,” scoffed Twilight. “You’re sounding mindless yourself.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Brush. “But really, can an undead pony move that fast?”

Twilight pondered. “Maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.”

“There’s a right way?”

“When Celestia brings up the sun, we’ll be able to get a better look at this place. Until then, we should simply bide our time.”

Brush nodded. “I like the idea. How soon is sunrise?”

She calculated, apparently didn’t like the results, stared at a different part of the sky, and calculated again.

“Uh, twenty minutes ago.”

“I’m thinking maybe I like the idea a little less," said Brush.

Everchanging times

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“Wait a minute,” said a puzzled Brush. “Celestia is late with the sun? Since when does that happen?”

“I’m not sure this is Celestia’s doing.” Twilight scanned the sky again. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary up there, so far as I can tell.”

“So do we wait for sunrise, or do we go look for it?”

“I’ll go look for it. You stay put and keep watch. I’ll be back soon enough.” Twilight shimmered out of sight, and Brush shivered just a bit; he was, he thought, getting too old for this sort of thing. Still, he had his instructions, and he would not let her down.

Princess Twilight Sparkle materialized at the Foal Mountain siding, looked up at the sky, and calculated: the sun had risen about twenty minutes ago. Right on schedule.


Again with the giggling. Brush spun around, saw that same foal again, and charged after him. “I don’t care if you are dead, you’re not getting away this time!”

The foal, apparently very much alive, darted off into the woods; Brush followed at the highest speed he dared. Still no sign of the sun. The path was narrow — maybe one and a half ponies wide at best — and twisty; trees and shrubs seemed to have been carefully located to block as much light from Luna’s moon as possible. Try as he might, Brush couldn’t get closer than seven or eight paces.

And then a hedge that wasn’t there before appeared across the path, and the colt smacked into it headfirst. Brush closed in, and suddenly Twilight appeared beside him.

“Nice catch,” she said.

“Nice instant landscaping,” he replied. “I wish I’d thought of that.”

“You did,” said the colt, in an utterly grownup voice.

Twilight looked at the foal sideways. “Weren’t you about four years old half an hour ago?”

“That was … a long time ago.”

“He does seem to have grown a bit,” Brush offered.

“The timelines must be distorted,” said Twilight, “though I can’t imagine how. I’ve never heard of any enchantments that would do this.”

“Then we’re even. I’ve never heard of any enchantments that would allow me to plop down a hedge exactly where I needed one.”

“Can you explain this?” Twilight asked the colt.

“Everything is … as it should be,” he gasped, and suddenly he fell forward. Green liquid trickled from his muzzle.

Brush dropped to the ground, fastened his mouth over the colt’s, and began pushing his hooves into the youngster’s midsection.

Twilight stared, mystified.

Some unknowable period of time elapsed. Finally Brush withdrew. The colt was breathing, but barely. And inexplicably, he seemed bigger.

“I did what I could,” said Brush, wiping a streak of green from the side of his face.

“I think we can eliminate ‘revenant’ as a possibility,” Twilight declared. “But there’s some strange temporal distortion going on here, and that green liquid seems familiar somehow.”

“Looked like the same atomic puke Princess Skyla was hurling at the wedding,” Brush snickered. “Though I’m not in a position to compare flavors, if you know what I mean.”

Twilight pondered. “But Skyla has unicorn magic, at least in the nascent stage. Are you suggesting this foal can wield magic?”

“Look at him,” said Brush. “When we first saw him he was four years old. Now he’s almost twice as big as he was. If this keeps up, he’ll be older than I am by sunrise.” He looked at Twilight. “We do get sunrise here, don’t we?”

“That’s what I mean by temporal distortion. Time flows like it always does, but here its effects are scrambled.”

Brush shook his head. “I’m not following you.”

“Watch this,” Twilight said. She directed a small beam of magic toward the colt: he clambered to his hooves and stood up. “How old are you?” she asked.

“Eleven next week,” he answered.

“Have you seen us before?”

“A long, long time ago. I wasn’t even in kindergarten then.” The colt looked up sadly. “Can I go home now?”

Twilight considered for a moment, then nodded. “Run along. We will not pursue.”

The colt took off down a path that Brush didn’t remember seeing. “Are you telling me we’ve been here six years already?”

“Not six years on our timeline,” Twilight explained. “But six years on theirs. We didn’t see sunrise because it went by faster than we could see it.”

“Wouldn’t it have looked like it was somewhere in between, then? I mean, we had no trouble seeing the moon, except for the occasional cloud now and then.” He paused for a moment. “Those clouds were pretty fast, though.”

“It’s part of your internal brain organization,” said Twilight. “If something happens so fast that you can’t see it, the brain continues to process what it saw first.”

“That still makes no sense,” Brush insisted. “That would mean it took me several weeks to run that foal down, and no way can I run for several weeks at a time.”

“Once you interacted with him, you adjusted to his timeline.”

“Why didn’t he adjust to mine, then?”

“Because,” said Twilight patiently, “this is a magical phenomenon, and apparently it’s beyond the normal limits of regular earth-pony magic.” She looked off into the woods for a moment, as though she were scanning for something. “That green stuff must have had something to do with it, though.”

“Why do you say that?” Brush wondered.

“Skyla. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before.” Twilight visibly shuddered. “Her timeline may have been distorted too.”

“How so?” asked Brush.

“Calculate it yourself. You’ve been here just over a year. Cadance wasn’t pregnant when you arrived. Now Skyla’s four months old.”

“I’m still lost.”

“Normal gestation period is thirteen to fourteen months. It’s possible for foals to be born as early as eight months, but they’re always undersized and underweight. Skyla wasn’t either of those things.”

“Wouldn’t her alicornality, or whatever it is, offset that kind of thing?” Brush asked.

“I don’t think so,” Twilight said. “Then again, how many alicorn foals do we have for comparison?”

“Point taken. So answer me this. What do Skyla and this foal have in common?”

“Two things. They’re both ponies growing up in unusual circumstances. And —” She left it at that.


“And they’ve both come into contact with you. Happy now?”

Brush paled. “You think I could be causing this plutonium-barf stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight admitted. “But we’re going to have to find out, one way or another.”


The edge of town, nearest the railway line, looked much the same as it had before, with one notable exception.

“This stuff wasn’t halfway up the walls when we got here, was it?”

Twilight drew closer to the corner of the structure that looked like the Canterlot Express building but wasn’t. “Not even close,” she said.

“How long before the place is completely engulfed?” Brush asked.

“Several years, I think. Which, to us, might be an afternoon or two.” A brief flash from her horn, and a small glass container materialized before her. “I think I want to examine this material further.”

“Are you sure that’s safe?”

Twilight forced a grin, which did not persuade him at all. “Nothing is ever completely safe. But I don’t have lab facilities with me, so this is going to have to do.”

“You don’t think it will ooze its way out of the bottle, do you?”

“It should grow more slowly, or stop growing completely, once it’s out of this environment.” This time her smile wasn’t forced. “And while I’ve had a wonderful time, I think it’s time we got out of this environment.”

Brush nodded. “No argument from me. Do we know when the train is due?”

“Not for certain, no. But I’m positive it will be worth the wait.”


An hour, or a month, or something, passed by, and the train screeched to a stop. Brush seemed to be staring at the wheels.

“Something bothering you?” Twilight asked.

“I’m just wondering how it is that wooden wheels produce that kind of noise on a metal track.” He smiled. “Sometimes, the laws of physics here seem ever so slightly out of whack to me.”

They clambered aboard. “I don’t have any problems with them. Of course, I was born here.”

“Of course,” he whispered.

She stared at him. “Would you rather things had gone the other way?”

“What things? Which way?” He looked around the car: no other ponies. “Are things about to get Very Serious?”

“I can’t help wondering,” said Twilight slowly, “if it would have been easier if I had become a human and you’d stayed the way you were.”

“Not possible,” Brush said. “In the first place, humans don’t have the technology to deal with ponies on any level, let alone transmogrify them.”


“It’s like shapeshifting, only maybe a little more permanent. Very common in human legends, though nopony — uh, nobody — ever saw it happen: it was always the cousin of a friend of a cousin, and it was always many years ago. Thousands of years ago, sometimes.” He laughed. “But humans can be persuaded to believe anything. One reason I don’t miss them much.”

“But suppose this transwhatever process actually worked, and they made a human out of me. Would things be different between us?”

“Define ‘different’,” he said.

“Would we still be together?”

“Why wouldn’t we be? And what brought this on, anyway?”

She blinked. “Just … thinking.”

“Well, hold that thought for a while. I’m about to fall over.” He yawned, and exaggerated the motions as much as he possibly could. “It’s been a long day, or maybe a long several days.”

Twilight leaned forward and planted a kiss on his muzzle. “I guess we’re both kind of tired.”


He held the door open while she climbed back into the car. “Oh, what a wonderful place!” she was saying. “So many books!” He slid in behind the wheel. “How many of those have you read?”

“I have no idea,” he admitted. “Maybe several hundred, maybe a thousand or so. But I was never really the reader you were.” He turned the key; that annoying chime started up again. “Fasten your seat belt, honey,” he said.

“Sorry.” She pulled the strap over her midsection. “They really fuss over this kind of thing, don’t they?”

He smiled. “Every kind of thing it’s possible to fuss over will be fussed over at some point. Comes with the species, I think.”

“I have so much to get used to.”

“You don’t have to do it all at once,” he pointed out. “For just ten days, I think you’re doing fine.”

“Did you know her?”

“Did I know whom?”

“The older female behind the counter. She was looking at you like you’d forgotten to pay a fine for an overdue book or something.”

“She’d have said something if I had.” A smile broke over his face. “Maybe she was wondering how come this old man who’s been coming here for decades suddenly has a girlfriend. People do notice this sort of thing, though they’re seldom rude enough to say so.”

She laughed. “What if I’d reverted just then?”

“We’d never hear the end of it. Just trying to explain would probably take the rest of my life. ‘Sir, you cannot bring a pony onto the premises,’ she’d say.”

“Even if the pony is a librarian?” she teased.

“Worse. They’d make you shelve books and then they’d throw us out.”

“Canterlot is like that,” she said. “Anything that seems out of place must be corrected At Once.”

He chuckled. “I could get used to that.”

“Yeah, but you would be out of place, just by being there. And I guess I would too.”

“You can always go back to being a pony,” he said.

“I know, I know. It’s just a spell, and spells can be reversed.”

“Getting homesick?”

She nodded. “A little. But I can’t go home now.”

“Damned portals. You can’t ever count on them being there when you need them.”

“It’s not the portal,” she quavered. “I could find another one if I had to.”

“Then what’s the problem? You reponify, you step through the portal, and everything’s back to the way it was before.”

“Except that I’m out of work.” She burst into tears. “And I’m not Princess Celestia’s faithful student anymore.”

He took the next right, pulled into a parking space. “You quit?”

“I was sacked,” she said. “She told me that if I was going to abdicate my responsibilities, then I would be replaced, and that would be the end of that.”

The brake lever lay between them. He pushed it down and took her in his arms. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

“I … I was scared.”

“Of what?” he asked.

“I wanted everything to be like it was before, when we had only a few moments at a time to be together, and either of us could have pulled back at any time.” She blushed. “I guess I wasn’t ready for a permanent commitment.”

“Who is? It’s a scary sort of thing under the best of circumstances.”

“But what happens when my magic fades? I can’t connect to the ley lines here, at least not yet. And when the magic fades, the spell dissipates.”

“So you’ll be a pony again someday. I don’t have a problem with that.”

“But I’ll ruin your life!” she wailed.

“Then let it be ruined,” he said.

This was approximately the same moment he realized that the car was rolling backwards.


Brush awoke, looked around, noticed nothing unusual. Twilight was sleeping in the next seat over; the train was making train-like noises.

“I guess I’m allowed one nightmare now and then,” he said to nopony in particular. “With a small n,” he added quickly.

Long ago tomorrow

View Online

"You seem awfully happy," Twilight Sparkle said as a unicorn bellpony levitated their bags.

Desert Brush grinned. "It's a quarter to midnight and our reservation was still open. Why wouldn't I be pleased?"

"Why wouldn't it be still open? It's a reservation, isn't it?"

"Why, indeed. Let's just say I'm happy to be here." He grinned. "Uh, where exactly is here?"

"Welcome to Fillydelphia," said a passing staff member. "How long will you be staying?"

"Two days," Twilight answered. "Then east to the coast."

The staff member bowed. "We are at your command day and night, Your Highness." He bowed again to Brush. "And yours also, sir."


Three flights of stairs brought the newlyweds to room 402, the Ambassador Suite. The bellpony popped open the door, and Brush, glancing about, put on his Seriously Puzzled expression. "If this is the only actual room on this floor," he said, "why is it 402 and not 400 or even 401?"

The bellpony turned his way. "I can tell you that, sir."

"Please do," said Brush.

"There once were three rooms on this floor: 400, 402 and 404. A ... high-born pony of some notoriety arrived here one week, and complained that his room was far too small for somepony in his position. Management decided he was right, refunded the price of his room, and later combined these three rooms into one single suite, which you see here."

Brush nodded. "Makes sense to me. How much was a single room back then?"

"Fifty-five bits," the bellpony replied. "Same as it is now."

"I do so enjoy the lack of inflation here," said Brush.

"Inflation, sir?" asked the bellpony.

"Never mind. It's something you're better off not thinking about." He stepped back for a moment, then thrust his muzzle into the room. "Twi, what are we paying for these sumptuous quarters?"

"Two hundred bits a night," Twilight replied. "Why do you ask?"

And Brush burst into the sort of hearty guffaw that apparently alarmed sophisticates from Fillydelphia; the young unicorn recoiled in fear. "Gotta love it," Brush said. He reached for a hoofful of bits, but the bellpony waved him off. "No need, sir."

"Oh, come on. You've earned it. Just having to listen to me ought to earn some kind of recompense."

At that moment, Twilight appeared at the door. "What’s going on out here?"

"We're negotiating the amount of his tip," Brush said, looking back at the bellpony.

"Standard is five bits," Twilight said curtly, and retreated back into the room.

Brush looked toward the bellpony, looked at his eyes, looked at the space where Twilight had been, and suddenly he understood.

"I know."


"I remember the first time I saw her. Like nothing — like nopony — I’d ever seen before." Brush smiled. "I'll see that the desk gets something with your name on it. In the meantime, cherish the memory."

"I shall," said the bellpony.


And they slept.

As always, they'd occupied positions on the bed scientifically proven by Twilight Sparkle to provide the maximum available space for each of them, allowing for occasional involuntary movements and maintaining the coolest, therefore healthiest, body temperature. And as always, within half an hour they'd migrated to the very center of the bed, clinging to one another for dear life. The first time it had happened, Twilight awoke puzzled: hadn’t she set things up correctly to begin with? Of course, she had; what she had failed to take into account was that Brush apparently thrashed a bit in his sleep, and whatever motions he made changed the topology of the top of the bed. In the most extreme cases, he came up near the middle, and his weight being somewhat in excess of hers, she was drawn to him by the sheer force of gravity acting on the no-longer-flat surface on which they slept.

So when Twilight awoke, just before dawn, she was unsurprised to see Brush's face barely a hair's breadth from her own. But inexplicably, she'd relocated to the center of the bed; he hadn’t budged at all. It must have been a dream, she thought; but she didn't remember any particular dream taking place, certainly nothing exciting enough to move her body about while she was sleeping. She vowed to think about this some other time, rolled over, and began snoring softly.


After breakfast, the happy couple set out to see the town. The town, however, wasn't going to be seen for a while: a very long parade occupied the full width of Broad Street.

"Funeral procession," Twilight explained. "Must have been somepony important to draw this kind of crowd."

"This is one of the times I'm glad I'm not all that important," Brush said.

Twilight stared at him. "You are a Prince of the Realm. You'll get full Equestrian honors. All of Ponyville and most of Canterlot will come to say goodbye."


She shrugged. "Not everypony gets time off to attend state funerals." She looked down the street. "This is almost as big as a state funeral, right here. Must have been a local dignitary. Maybe a former Mayor."

"Can we find out?" asked Brush.

"We can certainly try," Twilight said, inserting a one-bit coin into a metal box near the hotel entrance. Below the fold on page one of the Daily News was a story about a pony "who spent her three years in Fillydelphia making friends and teaching other ponies how to get along.” She put down the paper. “Sounds like somepony I might have wanted to know."

"Did ponies have trouble getting along in Fillydelphia?" Brush asked.

Twilight laughed. "You don't want to know."

Just then, a mare clad in formal black detached herself from the parade and approached them. "Princess Twilight Sparkle." The mare bowed. "I am Penworthy, Mayor of Fillydelphia. On behalf of the city, I welcome you and your consort."

Twilight smiled. "We are honored to be here." Gesturing toward the funeral procession, she added: "I only wish we could have come at a happier time."

The Mayor nodded. "We will miss Light Flyer greatly. She was the one member of Council who could unite both earth-pony and unicorn factions." She dropped her voice to just above a whisper. "It's not something we like to brag about, but the city is almost evenly divided, and getting ponies to agree to anything is more difficult than I think it ought to be."

"Like Canterlot," said Twilight. "Though there it's mostly noble houses and tradesponies who can't get along."

"We lived in Canterlot when I was a filly," Penworthy said. "They used to go to a lot of trouble to reassure everypony that things were all right, even when they weren't."

"They still do that." The two mares laughed. Brush forced a grin, and Twilight, just for a moment, looked mortified.

"How rude of me," said the Princess. "Madame Mayor, meet Desert Brush, my darling husband, who will glare at me if I introduce him as a Prince of the Realm."

"I would, you know," he said.

"I don’t think we've ever had an earth pony as a Prince of the Realm." Penworthy smiled. "But breaking down barriers is a good thing. We learned that from Light Flyer."

"If you don’t mind my asking," Twilight began, "what happened to her?"

Penworthy shuddered. "This is … not something I can discuss." And she hurried back into the street to rejoin the parade.


"I'm guessing," said Brush as they turned onto North Avenue, "that this trip to the library is not just for funsies."

Twilight looked at him. "Didn't you think it was odd, the way the Mayor could say all those things about what Light Flyer did, and couldn't say anything about who she was?"

"Maybe a little," he admitted. "But politicians always have to walk a narrow line. It comes with the job."

"I don't think it's politics," said Twilight. "There's something very strange going on here."

"Stranger than politics?" Brush laughed. "Not much chance of that."

They reached the great oak doors. "Did you know Light Flyer was a pegasus?"

Brush pondered. "I didn't know it, but it was reasonable to think so."

"And why is that?"

"One," said Brush, "because the Mayor said she brought the earth ponies and the unicorns together, which implies that she wasn't either of them. Two, because 'Light Flyer' is so obviously a pegasus name."

"But this is what you didn’t know. That procession was headed east on Broad Street."


"So the nearest mountains are on the other side of town."

Brush looked blank for a moment; then it came to him. "And you never, ever bury a pegasus."

"Right. Their remains are committed to the sky." Twilight snorted. "Except for this pegasus. It makes no sense."

"Okay, answer me this," Brush said. "How do you know she was a pegasus?"

"That's why we're here," answered Twilight.

It was easy enough to find Light Flyer in the census database. "Immigrant Granted Equestrian Citizenship, one thousand two," Twilight read.

"Big deal," said Brush. "That's what mine says, except for the year. And surely there are pegasi from outside Equestria."

"There are," Twilight said, "though pegasi are seldom migratory. Maybe once in a lifetime they'll move. After that, unless they’re really unhappy, they tend to stay put."

"From what the Mayor said, I suspect she wasn't exactly morose. So where do we go from here?"

"To the death record," said Twilight, pivoting to another screen. "And ... nothing. Sealed by order of Princess Celestia, yesterday’s date."

"You don’t think she was carrying the plague, do you?"

"Even the plague doesn't warrant Royal-level secrecy," Twilight replied.

"So maybe we should be minding our own business, then?"

"You don't get it, do you?"

Brush grimaced. "Get what?"

"Think back," Twilight said. "Back to when we were still talking about turning you into a pony."

"I remember. I think I was there at the time."

"And I said that this had only been done once before: to a pegasus who used to be a changeling.”

"You're saying Light Flyer was that changeling?"

"It fits the known facts," Twilight said. "She didn't receive a proper pegasus funeral, and her death record was sealed by the highest authority."

"Okay, let's say all this is true. As a practical matter, what does this mean?"

"Some days you are just so dense," she said. "She gets turned into a pony, and three years later, she’s dead." Twilight looked him straight in the eye. "How long have you been a pony?"

The last trace of a grin vanished from Brush’s face. "I, uh, see your point."