The Canterlot Royal Hospital sat on the outskirts of Canterlot; its tall, brick red façade a stark contrast to the gleaming white marble of the buildings surrounding it. On this particular day, a flat, pale gray blanket of clouds covered the sky, letting only the feeblest ray of sunshine through and turning the hospital a dark burgundy, the color of blood. The inside, however, was tinted in a delicate palette of yellows and blues, as if to cover up its grimness with a dose of artificial cheer.
Fitting for a sun princess, Twilight thought grimly as she pushed open the door to the VIP (Very Important Pony) ward.
It took her some time to find Celestia’s room, but not enough to prepare her for what she saw.
The Princess of the Sun was a pathetic creature, a shriveled shell of the regal pony she once was. Her white coat had lost its shine, appearing to Twilight’s eyes a pale, dull gray. Her mane, once sparkling and flowing, was now limp, tangled, and not at all glittering. Her wings were folded against her sides, but even then Twilight could easily count her ribs.
It took what seemed like an eternity for Twilight to find her voice again. “Are you okay, Princess?”
“Ah, there you are, Twilight,” she managed to cough. “And to answer your question, I'll be fine; it's just a little virus. The doctors say I should be fully recovered in a few weeks.”
If that's true, then what’s with all of the machines? Twilight had been around the Princess often enough to know when she was lying, but in any case, she knew better than to press the issue. “I brought you Philomena," she said, trying desperately to inject a note of cheer into her voice.
'Thank you, Twilight," Celestia replied. "I needed her with me. Could you please set her over there on the window ledge? She always did love to watch the sunset."
Twilight complied, floating the golden cage and its inhabitant over to the windowsill. At the same moment, the setting sun burst through the clouds, turning them a thousand shades of crimson and pink and Philomena's cage into golden fire.
"Princess?" Twilight said, sitting on the chair. "I've been working on that spell you sent me; the one from Starswirl the Bearded. It's hard work, but I think I'm finally beginning to understand the theory."
"That's wonderful, Twilight," Celestia said. "I knew if anyone could figure out that spell, it would be you. You have no idea just how proud I am of you. If something ever happens to me..."
" Princess!" Twilight exclaimed desperately. "Don't talk like that. You're going to be fine. The doctors said so. It... it has to be true!"
"You don't need to worry about me, Twilight; you're right. I'm going to be just fine," Celestia replied weakly. "But I just want you to know that you are far and away the bravest student I have ever taught. Your courage, dedication, and compassion saw you through Discord and Nightmare Moon: I am confident they'll see you through this. I couldn't have asked for a better student. It's been an honor to guide you, to watch you grow, to be your teacher."
Tears pooled in Twilight's eyes, and a lump the size of Tom hardened in her throat. "It... it wasn't just me. I couldn't have done it without my friends."
Celestia nodded faintly. "Yes. But you haven't been just a student to me, you've... you've been a daughter."
"Oh, 'Tia..." Twilight did not hold back her tears now. She stepped forward to hug the ill princess, wrapping her forelegs around her fragile body. For what seems like an eternity, the two mares, teacher and student, just sat holding each other until the last of the fading sun died.
"All right, visiting hours are over. Time to leave!" The quiet moment was interrupted by the harsh voice of an orderly trotting into the room with dinner on a tray.
Twilight looked up with rivers of tears streaming down her face. "But..."
"No buts. Her Majesty needs her rest."
"Go, Twilight," Celestia's voice broke in. "In my lifetime, I have faced countless wars, famines, Discord, and a demon possessing my younger sister. I think I can face hospital food without your help."
With a sigh, Twilight reluctantly waked out the door. "I'll be back tomorrow!" she called over her shoulder. "With cake!"
* * * * * * * * *
Six anxious faces looked up at Twilight as she stepped into the hospital's cafeteria. On the table in front of them sat eight untouched plates of food. Nopony felt much like eating dinner.
"How is she?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"She says she's fine, but..." Twilight shook her head. "She looks like she's getting sicker and sicker, and I know enough about her illness to know that it isn't that easy to beat. I'm just worried," she said, the words starting to come out in a rush. " What if she dies? She can't die! She rules Equestria! What will we do without her? What... what will I do?" The last line was nearly a whisper.
"You worry to much, Twilight," Spike said, putting a comforting arm around the purple unicorn's foreleg. "Think about it: if Celestia thought she was going to die, would she spend time reassuring you?"
Well, yes, Twilight thought, but she had to admit she had been cheered somewhat by Spike's words. "Thank you, Spike. I needed that." Looking around the table, she said, "Where's Luna? She was here when I left."
Rainbow pointed out the window at the rising moon.
Oh, right, Twilight mentally chided herself.
An uncomfortable silence descended on the group. Despite Spike's optimistic words, Twilight could tell everypony was keenly aware that their princess... No! Don't think like that, Twilight. It's not helping anything.
Rarity's voice snapped Twilight out of her reverie. "Wasn't the sunset just lovely tonight?"
Rainbow shrugged. "Meh. It was alright. Nothing like the ones..."
The words hung unspoken in the air.
Just then, a voice sounded over the intercom, "Code blue. We have a code blue in room 0786. Repeat, we have a code blue..."
"That's Celestia's room!" Twilight exclaimed in horror. "No! She was fine when I left her! This can't be happening!" A bright flash of magenta light announced her departure from the table as Twilight teleported straight past the locked doors of the VIP ward.
* * * * * * * * * *
Twilight hit the slick floor in a full gallop, skidding past corners and knocking orderlies to the floor, all in her desperate haste to reach her mentor. No! She can't be dead! She said she was going to be fine! This can't be happening this can't be happening thiscan'tbehappening...
After what seemed like an eternity, Twilight finally reached her mentor's room. She barged, in, telekinetically shoving the doctors and nurses to the floor to reach the princess' side. "Celestia?" she whispered.
The princess did not respond.
Looking up at the monitor, Twilight understood why.
The line that showed the princess' heartbeat had gone completely flat. Princess Celestia was dead.
"No!" Twilight gasped, taking her mentor's limp, cold hooves in her own. "Celestia, don't do this to me! Equestria needs you! You're their princess! I need you! I can't do this alone! Please come back! Don't leave me alone!"
The princess still did not respond.
Twilight's world ceased to exist. All that was left was her, her grief, and the body of a mare who had, in a very real way, been a second mother to her.
And the only sound was her desperate scream.