When a young Rainbow Dash spotted a mysterious alicorn and unicorn from the future, history was changed.
When a young Rainbow Dash spotted a mysterious alicorn and unicorn from the future, history was changed. Events and lives both big and small have been irrevocably altered, for better and for worse.
This story is an anthology of side stories set in the Little Flashes series, which started with Little Glimpses. None of the material in this story is considered mandatory reading to enjoy the series itself and exists mostly to provide some additional context and detail on characters and events that are too small or too far removed to otherwise fit into the main series.
“Rainbow, come on!” Bow Hothoof called back at Rainbow Dash from several yards ahead, waving at her to get her attention. The call snapped the eight-year-old filly out of her reverie, and her attention returned to her parents, who had both gotten pretty far ahead of her by now. Both of them looked a little concerned by her slow pace, and really, she couldn’t blame them too much. She was normally quite energetic and active and considering where they were...
Bow’s brow furrowed at her hesitation, and he called out again. “We’re going to be late to the performance!”
“And it was your idea we come here!” Windy Whistles, her mother, added while taking a few steps toward her daughter. “Don’t tell me that after asking us for weeks to come, you aren’t excited to see the Wonderbolts in action?”
There was a very special edge to her voice, the kind of tantalizing tone one would use to entice somepony into buying something or going along with a plan. It had the desired effect, making Rainbow raise her head and smile. “Right! Sorry!” she shouted in a hurry before increasing her pace to a brisk canter, trying to put her curiosity and ruminations aside for now in favor of focusing on where she was, and why she was there.
She caught up to her parents quickly enough, and Bow was quick to ruffle her mane before the family of three resumed their journey for the stadium. They were trotting down one of the many busy streets of the port city of Baltimare, only one of the countless groups of ponies that were all heading in one direction. Far ahead, a large stadium stood tall and proud among the brick buildings, silhouetted in stark contrast against the evening sky.
Intense stadium lights could be seen sending bright beams up into the heavens, drawing the attention of everypony in the city. Music could be heard playing within even from this far away, serving as an announcement to all who drew near of the upcoming event. The Wonderbolts were in town, and everypony who could afford a ticket was invited.
For a minute, Rainbow managed to get the eager bounce back in her step, a small, excited smirk appearing on her face while her eyes locked onto the stadium. Large flags suspended on poles billowed in the wind over it, displaying the symbol of the Wonderbolts proudly for the whole city to see. She was finally going to get the chance to see her idols in action for herself, and she couldn’t wait.
“Heh, that’s more like it!” Windy quipped with a playful smirk. She reached down and offered Rainbow an affectionate nuzzle, one which the filly eagerly returned. “Come on! One best performance ever for the best daughter ever, coming right up!”
“Totally!” Rainbow agreed with a sharp nod of her head. “The Wonderbolts! Oh, man! I can’t wait!” But as the stadium slowly loomed ever closer, Rainbow subconsciously began to slow down again as a thought wormed its way out of the very back of her head. It easily drew her mental attention from the upcoming spectacle, no matter how much she tried to put it out of her mind. For the umpteenth time, Rainbow mentally asked herself a question: “Who were they?”
‘They’ was referring to the two mysterious mares that Rainbow had caught sight of during a race against Dumbbell and Hoops back in Cloudsdale. Two mares who had no right to exist there. One of them had been a lilac colored unicorn with a purple mane and tail with bright cyan streaks standing on the clouds. She had been in a great deal of distress at the time, and she had been holding something in her magic.
Now, while seeing non-pegasus ponies in Cloudsdale was uncommon, it wasn’t unheard of. The other mare, though… she had been an alicorn. A lavender alicorn with a small purple lizard on her back. The two mares had been locked in a heated argument over something; or rather, the unicorn had been heated. The alicorn had been trying to approach the other mare carefully and gently, as if not to upset an angry and easily startled animal.
Rainbow had spotted them, just for a second out of the corner of her eye, while picking up the speed she would need to break the sound barrier. She remembered the feeling of the air trying to force her back, and for a split second, she almost faltered due to her distraction. Luckily, she refocused on her race and broke the barrier, transcending sound and thoroughly breaking the visible light spectrum in the process.
It had been her crowning achievement, and with that, she had easily trounced those stupid bullies in their race. Fluttershy’s honor had been protected, Rainbow had shown the world what she could do, and she had earned her cutie mark in the process. It had been easily the most amazing and awesome moment of her life so far.
But then, when she had landed and looked back towards the mares she had seen, they had vanished into thin air. It was as if they had never been there at all. At first, Rainbow had tried to tell herself she had imagined it, that it was just a trick of her mind under the stress of the race. But as time went on, she found herself doubting that sentiment. And once those doubts crept in, she couldn’t help herself…
“Who were those two?” She thought again, her pace slowing back down to a near crawl. “I don’t remember seeing that Alicorn anywhere else… There’s Princess Celestia, there’s Princess Cadance… but who the heck was this one?”
She was so lost in thought that she didn’t notice how thick the crowds were becoming. Not until she walked right into somepony’s flank. With her train of thought disrupted, Rainbow stumbled back and fell to her haunches with a grunt. “Oof!”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” the pony she had walked into said. The soft voice identified her as a mare, and Rainbow looked up to see she was a pegasus with blue fur and striking golden eyes. “I didn’t mean to bump into you. Are you okay, little miss?”
“Er, y-yeah, I’m fine,” Rainbow brushed her off with a nod while standing up. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
The mare nodded, satisfied with Rainbow’s response. She then frowned and looked around at the other ponies. “Alright. Uh, where are your parents?” She asked with a worried look. “This isn’t exactly a thin crowd. Did you get lost?”
Rainbow went stiff at those words and looked around. Her eyes went wide as the realization hit her like a speeding train. “Oh no… darn it!” she growled in frustration. “Mom! Dad?! Where are you guys?!”
Ignoring the protest of the mare she had walked into, Rainbow spread her wings and lifted into the air with a mighty flap. Her keen eyes searched through the sea of faces and hooves for a familiar pair. But there were so many faces, so many ponies, even her eyes were having a hard time sorting through it all. “Darnit, I’m such an idiot!” Rainbow chastised herself while spinning in the air. “Mom?! Dad?!” she called as loud as she could, but her voice was lost in the din of the crowd.
She flew around for a short time and eventually found herself over a small clearing in the crowd. Ahead, she spotted her parents looking around fearfully. They had noticed her disappearance, then, and were looking for her, too. Sighing in relief, Rainbow let herself fall back to the ground and broke into a brisk trot to catch up with them.
That was when everything went wrong.
A painfully loud metallic bang echoed through the air from overhead, making Rainbow’s ears ring from the volume. Wincing in discomfort, she looked up to seek out the cause of the commotion. She saw there were a few buildings undergoing construction along this street, with large metal cranes hauling and lifting iron girders and boxes of supplies. Rainbow Dash felt her blood run cold when she saw that one of those cranes had just snapped in half from the weight of its cargo.
Now, the giant metal arm of the crane and a collection of massive iron beams were falling toward the street where she stood at high speeds.
Screams exploded across the entire area as ponies saw the falling debris. The first girder struck the concrete road with a heavy crunch and metallic shriek only a few feet away from Rainbow, piercing the surface and sticking up out of the pavement like a sword stabbed into a stone. The impact kicked up a large cloud of dust, obscuring Rainbow’s vision and forcing her into a coughing fit. She tumbled back as the ground shook beneath her hooves, and she almost lost her balance.
She took several steps back to get out of the dust and clear her throat, her heart beating frantically with growing horror as more and more metal beams struck the ground like enormous javelins. Some of them toppled over after the initial impact with deafening clatters, while others remained stuck in the concrete like spears, kicking up more dust and making the ground shake.
“RAINBOW DASH!” Bow Hothoof’s voice screamed out, drawing Rainbow’s attention. Through the thickening haze of dust, she saw Bow looking right back at her, his wings spreading wide open. He looked about ready to kick off the ground in a mad sprint to reach her. For a brief moment, Rainbow Dash felt relief. Her dad was on his way, he’d pull her out of this chaos, and she’d be alright.
Movement overhead caught her eye, and she looked up to see the falling arm of the crane. It was directly over her parents.
Neither of them had noticed.
“MOM! DAD! LOOK OUT!” Rainbow screamed in a panic, her own wings springing open. Instinct took over, and she rocketed from her position for her parents, hoping to tackle them out of the way of the falling debris.
She let out a terrified scream as the arm fell upon them. Windy and Bow both looked up as its shadow passed over them, their eyes flying wide open in terror. There was a deafening crash, and another, far larger cloud of dust was kicked up as the crane struck the street. Rainbow was forced to stop in mid-air, throwing her hooves over her face to shield herself from the dust and winds from the impact.
For several seconds, more girders and beams crashed to the ground around her before, finally, the madness came to an end as suddenly as it had started. The dust began to settle, and the intense ringing in Rainbow’s ears began to die down in favor of the frantic beating of her heart and the exclamations of the ponies around her. She timidly lowered her hooves from her eyes, opening them to gaze upon the scene.
As the panic died down, the screams of injured ponies began to fill the air. As her eyes swept over the carnage, she felt her stomach churn at the sight of several ponies pinned beneath girders, sporting severe bruises and worse. She saw ponies rushing to desperately try and pry the slabs of iron off of family members, and she could hear foals and adults alike crying out in the aftermath.
She forced herself to look down at the ground and screwed her eyes shut. It was all she could do to force out the morbid images flooding her mind. Hoping for a distraction, Rainbow then looked up at where the crane had snapped, spotting a pony sitting in the operation seat with a distant and horrified look on his face.
There was still dust in the air, making it somewhat difficult to see very far when she returned her attention to the scene. She could just make out the silhouette of the crane’s arm through the haze, and a few ponies standing around it. Shaking, Rainbow touched down on the ground and began to approach the arm. The sound of her hooves on the street was far louder than they should have been, echoing in her ears like drums in a concert. “Mom…? Dad…?” she called out in a weak voice.
There was no response.
With her heart rate increasing even further, Rainbow broke into a gallop, ignoring everypony else she passed on the way. “Mom?! Dad?!” she called again before sliding to a halt by the metal arm. She waved her hoof to try and clear the remaining dust, peering through the crisscrossing metal bars.
Her heart froze.
There they were. Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles. They were pinned beneath the crane, their bodies utterly still and silent.
“M… M-mom?” Rainbow stuttered weakly, trying to force her head further into the metal to no avail. “Dad?”
Again, there was no answer.
Rainbow blinked, tears starting to come to her eyes. “No… no no no…” she choked out before looking at the crane. She felt her blood go from ice to fire, a spike of adrenaline and desperation flooding her body. Without hesitation, she backed away and then rushed at the crane. She slammed into it with her shoulder, hoping to move it off of her parents. There was a loud clang from the impact, and the nerves on her shoulder erupted into searing agony.
Rainbow fell back to the ground with a scream of pain but was quick to get back to her hooves. ”Ow! GAH! WHY IS THIS STUPID THING SO HEAVY!?” she shouted before trying again. Like before, her efforts were fruitless, and she toppled back to the ground. She was definitely going to bruise, but she couldn’t muster the will to care. “Mom, Dad! Hang in there! I’ll get you out, we can get you help!” She shouted, infuriated, before slamming into it, again and again, each time sending more signals of pain through her shoulder and foreleg.
Over and over she tackled the crane, but her efforts were for nothing. Her anger was beginning to bleed into desperation, her screams of anger turning into desperate wails. All around her, the whole world had gone deathly silent, with many ponies looking on in confusion, shock, horror, or sorrow. Several of them looked amongst themselves, a feeling of helplessness spreading through the crowd.
That is, until one mare broke from them. She came to a stop by Rainbow’s side as she fell to the ground again, offering her hoof. Rainbow saw it and looked up at the blue pegasus from before, who was now smiling down at her in reassurance. “Here, let me help you,” she said firmly, helping Rainbow up. Once the filly was stable on her hooves, the mare went to the side of the crane and knelt down. She curled her hooves under it, starting to lift with all of her might and groaning with effort.
Rainbow watched her for a moment, taken aback. After a moment, though, she shook her head and dismissed her confusion. She then gave her helper a thankful nod before coming to her side and assisting her efforts to lift the crane. It actually budged. A little.
“Come on, lend me a hoof!” Another pony, a unicorn stallion, barked out to a few other ponies behind him as he galloped for the crane as well, his horn sparking into life and enveloping the entire bottom side of the crane. Several ponies behind him wasted no time, all of them coming forward and giving whatever aid they could in getting the crane lifted off of Rainbow’s family.
Bit by bit, the crane began to lift. Their progress was slow, and they only gained a few inches at a time, but progress was progress. The mare grit her teeth from the strain, then looked over to a few other earth ponies who weren’t quite sure how to contribute. “Ack! We c-can’t move this thing any further! Somepony pull them out!” she shouted in a strained voice through grit teeth while the crane was lifted another few inches. The earth ponies nodded and, together with a pegasus from the crowd, they came forward.
The pegasus dipped under the crane and scooted along the ground for Rainbow’s parents, moving as quickly as he could through the confined space, while the earth ponies helped keep it from falling on him.
“COME ON, COME ON!” Rainbow shouted out, watching the pegasus struggle through the incredibly claustrophobic space. “GET THEM OUT OF THERE!”
“I’m trying!” The pegasus shouted back in a young, trembling voice before he managed to squeeze close enough to nudge Windy’s hoof closer to him. With this done, he was able to grab it with both of his forehooves. He went rigid the second he had a grip on her, though, and Rainbow thought she heard him gasp. Before she could think to question it, though, he shouted back at them. “S-somepony pull me out! I got her!”
A unicorn mare, along with a few other ponies, grabbed the pegasus’ tail and hind legs, then swiftly pulled him back out. He dragged Windy along with him, and soon she was out and on the ground behind the ponies still holding up the crane. The pegasus then turned and dove back under, heading for Bow. As he went, more ponies came to help, keeping the crane aloft.
Finally, the pegasus was pulled back out, dragging along Bow Hothoof. The moment they were all sure that the two ponies were clear, everypony quickly backed away from the crane, letting it fall back to the ground with an ear-splitting clatter. For several seconds, everypony was quiet, just catching their breath. The mares and stallions looked back and forth at one another, feeling some small sense of pride in coming together like that to help ponies in need. They began to talk quietly amongst each other, exchanging names and thanks for the aid.
That pride was instantly shattered when Rainbow’s voice spoke in barely even a whisper from the ground. All eyes turned to look at her, and all chatter came to a stop. She was sitting down by her parents’ side, staring at them with hollow eyes. Both of them were completely still; they weren’t even breathing. Rainbow blinked, then propped her hooves on Bow’s chest. She gave him a small shake. “Hey, dad, wake up you dummy… come on…” she croaked out before trying the same thing with Windy. “Mom, come on… come on, you guys, this… this isn’t funny. This isn’t…”
“I’ll go tell the hospital,” A mare said simply before turning and breaking into a sprint down the street for the nearest medical facility.
Rainbow didn’t pay her any attention. For the little filly, the rest of the world was slowly bleeding away as her mind fixated on the sight before her. She shook Windy again, the mare completely unresponsive. “Mom...! P-please, wake up! Wha… w-we still have to go see the Wonderbolts, remember? It’s gonna be awesome! Mom!”
Her words fell on deaf ears, and Rainbow’s resolve was quickly fading away. She moved back to Bow and gave him a hard shake. “Dad! DAD! Dad, please! WAKE UP! YOU TWO HAVE TO WAKE UP!” She went back to Windy. “PLEASE! YOU GUYS, Y-... YOU CAN’T DO THIS! YOU CAN’T!”
“Hey…” The blue pegasus mare tried in a gentle voice. Rainbow turned to look at her, a wordless scream tearing past her lips as tears streamed down her face. The mare backed away, her face twisting with a wide range of emotions.
Rainbow returned to Windy, shaking her as hard as she could. “MOM! DAD! PLEASE! GET UP! DON’T LEAVE ME!” she begged before letting her face drop powerlessly onto her mother’s cold, still chest. “Not like this… not like this…”
The blue pegasus watched Rainbow for several minutes, and more than once tried to offer help or comfort. Every time, she was rebuffed. She even told Rainbow her name, but the grieving filly didn’t hear it. Finally, the pegasus had to leave with all the rest, leaving Rainbow Dash behind on that street, weeping into her mother’s lifeless chest.
Rainbow was only numbly aware of the passing of time. The sun slowly set on the horizon, plunging the world into thick and terrible darkness. Several street lamps had been damaged in the chaos, and so a few of the ponies who had arrived at the scene were keeping things illuminated with their horns. A large emergency wagon arrived on the scene, along with several members of the Baltimare guard. Ponies who had been present were questioned, and the scene cordoned off from the public.
Rainbow knew that several ponies tried to speak with her, but she ignored all of them, keeping her face buried in her mother’s chest fur the entire time. She couldn’t believe they were gone. She refused to believe it. Any minute now, Windy would wake up and tell her everything was going to be okay.
Finally, she felt a pair of hooves gently rest on her shoulders and pull her back. She didn’t have the strength to resist and was brought face to face with an older looking unicorn stallion with a dull brown coat and blue eyes. He was dressed in the deep blue uniform of the Baltimare guard. “Hey, little girl…” he said in a gentle voice. “What’s your name?”
Rainbow stifled a sob and looked down at the ground. “I’m R-Rainbow Dash…” she responded in barely even a whisper.
The pony nodded and leaned back a little bit. “Alright… my name is-”
“I don’t care...” Rainbow dismissed him before turning back around and resting on her mother’s chest again. “Just leave me alone…”
The stallion sighed heavily. “Miss… I am so sorry for your loss… but you can’t stay here… and…” his eyes fell onto the two corpses. His ears fell flat, and he looked away. “And neither can they. Where do you live? Maybe I can take you home?”
“Cloudsdale…” Rainbow replied without looking at him. Her eyes were closed, and her ear was pressed up where Windy’s heart was. “Come on… beat…”
“Oh… I see…” The stallion nodded. “Well, do you have any family or friends here in Baltimare? Anypony who could look after you until we can get all of this sorted out?”
He nodded again. “Alright, then… Well, I need you to come with me, Miss Dash. I need to ask you a few questions and then… well, then we need to figure out where you’re going.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Rainbow shot back, finally looking at him with fresh tears in her eyes. “I can’t leave them! They’re my mom and my dad! They can’t be gone!”
“Just shut up and go away!” Rainbow shouted at him before burying her face into her mother’s chest, openly sobbing all over again. The stallion watched her for several moments, deep sympathy and regret on his face. Then, with a heavy sigh, he stood up and backed away. His horn lit up blue magic.
“I’m so sorry, miss, but you need to come with me,” he said in a slightly more firm voice. “You can’t stay here.”
“Yes, I can!” Rainbow shouted without looking, her hooves curling into Windy’s shirt. “And I will! I’m not leaving!”
The stallion closed his eyes and visibly sagged. “You leave me no choice, then… I am so sorry,” he said regretfully before reaching out with his magic.
The same blue glow from his horn surrounded Rainbow Dash. She felt the tingling sensation on her skin, and her eyes slowly opened in confusion. They then flew wide in horror when she saw that she was being lifted into the air and away from her parents. “What the?! Hey! Stop it! PUT ME DOWN!” she shouted at him, twisting and turning in his grasp.
“Will you come willingly?” The stallion pressed gently.
“I SAID PUT ME DOWN!” Rainbow screamed, thrashing violently and trying to punch him. The stallion frowned and levitated her a ways back so she couldn't hit him, then lowered his head. Muttering another apology, he turned and started to trot across the street, heading for one of the roofed emergency wagons that were present.
All the while, Rainbow was screaming and reaching out for the bodies of her parents. “PUT ME BACK! PLEASE!” she cried desperately. “MOM! DAD!”
She had never felt so helpless before. Her parents were right there, but she was powerless to do anything but drift through the air and watch as ponies came over to remove their bodies from the scene. The image and sensation burned themselves into her mind like a branding iron pressing into her very soul. The powerlessness… the helplessness… the grief, the pain… and her parents, dead.
She was placed into the back of one of the wagons before the door was shut and locked. She rose onto her hind legs and pounded her hooves on the window, shouting all the while. But unfortunately, she wasn’t strong enough to break through the reinforced glass. The wagon started into motion a moment later, and Rainbow was unable to do anything but watch as her only family disappeared into the distance.
Sky Dreamer’s Orphanage. It was a pleasant, four-story building in Cloudsdale alongside a calm but well-kept road. Like most of the architecture in the wandering cloud city, Sky Dreamer’s held a style reminiscent of ancient times, back when the old Pegasi tribes were warriors. Ridged columns lined the front of the building, holding up an extension of the sharp-angled roof that served as a protective canopy. There was a large and well-kept yard of artificial grass around the building, and a tall fence was in place to make sure nopony wandered off unsupervised.
It was maybe thirty minutes before lunch time, and several little fillies and colts could be seen running around in that yard, playing with each other under the watchful eye of Sky Dreamer herself. She was an elderly pegasus mare with pale blue fur and a mane that had long turned grey. Her kind green eyes wandered across the yard, and she gave a charmed smile at the antics of the fillies and colts that were under her care.
That smile faded when she saw two of the foals, a colt, and a filly, break away from the others. They tentatively approached a cyan pegasus filly with a prismatic mane and tail, who had been sitting all on her own and away from the other foals. Her head was tilted down, and if her eyes were open, she was staring hard at the fake grass beneath her hooves.
That filly was Rainbow Dash, the newest arrival at the orphanage. She had been here for a little under a month, now, and some serious concerns were steadily growing among the staff. When she had first arrived, she had barely spoken a word, and she often seemed to be lost in her own little world. Her eyes were often wide and unfocused, and the only indication that she had been paying attention to the adults was the swiveling of her ears.
Dreamer observed with a solemn frown as the filly came up to Rainbow’s side and said something to her. Rainbow slowly looked up at her, narrowed her eyes, then looked back down at the ground, saying something in response. The filly, in turn, looked helplessly over to her friend. The colt said something, putting on a big smile and offering up a ball that he and the filly had been playing with earlier.
Rainbow absently watched as the colt set the ball down in front of her. She stared at the ball, and then at the hopeful and expectant smiles of the foals before her. She then sighed, stood up, and started to walk away. The two foals looked at each other in disappointment and dejectedly dragged themselves back towards the rest of the group.
Dreamer let out a quiet sigh as she saw this. While Rainbow Dash had gotten somewhat better, this was still an all-too-common occurrence. Other foals would try to cheer her up, try to talk to her, try to be her friend. All of them, without fail, were pushed away, be it by silence, a turned back, or a strongly worded ‘leave me alone.’
Dreamer watched as Rainbow found another spot, sat down, and once again assumed her sulking position. Dreamer’s brow furrowed in dismay before she rose to her hooves and trotted slowly across the lawn towards Rainbow. The filly’s ears twitched at her approach, but she otherwise didn’t respond.
“Rainbow? Can I talk to you for a second?” she asked in as soft and gentle a voice as she could muster.
“I saw those two foals talking to you… what did they want, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“They wanted me to play with them. I said no.”
Dreamer sighed and sat down next to Rainbow against the wall, ignoring the curious glances some of the other foals shot them. “It might help you feel a little better if you take them up on that offer, sometime,” she suggested in quiet optimism.
“No. I’m fine,” was Rainbow’s short and clipped response, her shoulders hunching a bit.
Dreamer frowned. “But… aren’t you lonely like this? All of the other foals, laughing and enjoying themselves… surely you want to laugh like that, too?”
“Are you sure?”
Rainbow finally looked back up at Dreamer, an impatient scowl on her face. “Look, can you just leave me alone already?!” she snapped bitterly before shooting up to her hooves and stomping for the main building. She flicked the tip of her tail against Dreamer’s nose like a whip as she passed, drawing a deeply offended frown from the older mare.
“Rainbow Dash…!” Dreamer called after her before giving up. There was no use trying to call Rainbow out on it. Not right now, at least. As rude and unwarranted as that action was, Rainbow was still recovering from severe trauma and grief. More than friends or company, more than a roof over her head, she needed time to cope and come to terms with her situation.
That sentiment was little assurance, though, as Dreamer watched Rainbow disappear back into the confines of the orphanage, slamming the door behind her with an echoing crack.
“Stupid…” Rainbow spat angrily under her breath while glaring out at the afternoon sky from a third story window. The other foals had been recalled a short time ago for lunch, but for the time being, Rainbow opted to ignore the call of food. Her face was marred by a scowl of intense malcontent.
The image of those two foals and Sky Dreamer attempting to talk to her earlier resurfaced in her mind, and she felt her coat bristle with frustration. “Why don’t they get it? I’m fine,” she seethed angrily, pressing her forehead against the glass. “I don’t need their help. I don’t need their pity. I definitely don’t need to be here!”
It had been this way ever since she had gotten to this stupid orphanage. The grown-ups kept trying to shelter her and coddle her like she was some kind of helpless little baby when she was more than capable of looking out for herself. The rules were strict and often nonsensical. The curfews were far earlier than Rainbow could ever like. Plus there were all of these other fillies and colts who kept trying to be her friends when she kept trying to tell them that she just wanted to be left alone.
“Stupid…” Rainbow repeated with a grunt before shoving herself back from the window and flopping down onto her bed to look up at the ceiling. She stayed that way for a long time, letting herself calm down by swimming in her own thoughts.
...Had it really been almost a month? It felt like a lot longer to her. Every day was a drag, and every morning she found it hard to get out of bed. The routine had engraved itself into her mind by sheer repetition, and the monotony only made her hate it all the more. It was such a routine at this point that she almost couldn’t remember what life was like before the orphanage, sometimes.
Sometimes, she wished she didn’t remember.
But in that moment, she did remember. She remembered how things had been before, how happy she had been, and the things she had once had. A small, nostalgic smile appeared on her face as she thought back on her favorite foods, her time spent playing with Fluttershy and Gilda at the flight school, of her ability to effortlessly impress her fellow students with her flying skills.
Her smile began to fade as her thoughts turned to darker things. She tried to stymie the flow but was unable to. She remembered the smiling faces of her parents, two faces that she would never see again. She remembered their proud cheers and extreme support, and how much she would miss it. She remembered the unicorn and alicorn she had seen during the race. She remembered the incident in Baltimare…
She felt tears in her eyes. Her muscles tensed of their own accord, and she quickly shot up to her haunches and started taking deep breaths to try and calm herself down. She wasn’t going to cry; not again. Strong ponies didn’t cry, and she needed to be strong right now. But the more she told herself that, the harder it was to keep it in.
Her thoughts were interrupted when a gentle knocking came to the door before it opened, revealing a young mare, one of the staff, stepping in. She visibly relaxed upon seeing Rainbow Dash there. “Oh, good. There you are,” she said while striding further into the room.
Rainbow quickly looked away to hide the tears in her eyes. “W-what do you want?” she asked, unable to entirely keep the tremble out of her voice.
The mare frowned in concern but chose not to prod. “You didn’t come to lunch…” she said softly before coming up to the side of Rainbow’s bed and letting a platter that Rainbow hadn’t noticed slide off of her back and onto the blankets. It had a pretty boring assortment of foods. A plain muffin, a bundle of salad leaves, an apple, and a cube of jello. “Dreamer asked me to bring this to you. You need to keep yourself fed, you know.”
Rainbow didn’t bother looking and gave a slow nod. “...Fine. Thanks. C-can you go away, please?” she managed to mumble out, still looking away.
The mare watched Rainbow for a few more seconds before backing away and silently heading for the door. She paused in the frame and gazed back at Rainbow one more time, looking like she wanted to say something. Ultimately, she chose to hold her peace, and slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her.
As soon as the mare’s hoofsteps faded away and the silence was restored, Rainbow sagged and let out a heavy sigh. Her eyes fell on the meal, and the audible growling of her stomach informed her of her need for sustenance. Begrudgingly, she set about eating the meal with slow movements and small bites. It tasted just as bland as it always did…
That night, well after dinner had been served and all of the foals were put to bed, Rainbow was the only one still awake in her dorm. Approximately eleven other fillies around her age were sleeping soundly in their beds, snoring softly and murmuring to themselves. Rainbow ignored all of them, sitting upright in her bed by the window and looking out at the city, and the star-filled night sky.
She could run away.
She hated it here. Why would she stay? It would be easy. She could push open this window and fly as far away as she wanted. She was fast enough that by the time any of the staff realized she was gone, it would be too late to find her. She could go wherever she wanted. That only really left the question of what she would do once she was out there.
She let out a small, amused sigh as the ridiculous notion of her joining a circus entered her mind. She could totally do it, she knew. She was fast and acrobatic enough. She could do stunts for a crowd. It’d be a good stepping stone to honing her skills for joining the Wonderbolts some day.
Her smile faded, though. Already, even her young mind could make out several flaws with that plan. First, she would have to find a circus to try and join, and that was likely easier said than done. She didn’t have any idea where to look, and a little rainbow-maned filly asking for directions to the nearest traveling circus would raise some ears.
She had developed a reputation, after all. If word spread that she was looking for a circus, then somepony would probably find her and eventually return her to the orphanage. Rainbow’s face turned bitter as she thought back on a family that had come to interview her only a week after she came here.
Apparently, they had heard about her situation after news of the... ‘incident’ spread. They had wanted to at least make the offer of giving her a good home. She hadn’t been receptive to the idea at all, and they had eventually agreed she wouldn't be a good fit in their home. Too aggressive, too cold…
“Can they really blame me?” Rainbow snarled to herself mentally, her shoulders hunching up. “I’m only a little filly who had to watch her parents die in front of her. I could have saved them, I know I could have, if I had just been a bit faster, I could have pushed them out of the way! If I wasn’t so distracted by that stupid alicorn, maybe my mom and dad would still be here! If...”
Rainbow realized she had quietly started crying when another filly’s voice cut through the air from her left. She looked over and saw another pegasus, this one with a buttery yellow coat and a bright brown mane and tail. Her eyes were a striking gold color, and she had a cutie mark depicting a few sticks of butter in a ceramic mixing bowl. Her name was Butter Blend and was the only other filly in this orphanage that Rainbow knew the name of, if only because they slept next to each other.
“Are you okay?” Butter asked softly, sliding out of her bed and moving closer to Rainbow’s side.
“I’m f-fine,” Rainbow lied in a quivering voice, looking out the window and wiping her hooves over her eyes. “It’s nothing. Leave me alone.”
Butter gingerly placed one of her hooves on the edge of the bed, her eyes boring into the back of Rainbow’s mane. “...Are you sure? If you wanna talk, we’re all here for you. I mean, we’re all orphans, aren’t we? We all understand how you feel-”
“No, you don’t,” Rainbow spat, turning to glare at Butter. “Your parents left you here because they weren’t able to care for you properly, right?”
Butter flinched back, her ears drooping. “Uh… y-yeah… they said they couldn’t give me a good home, so…”
“Well, that’s good for you. Your parents love you and are still out there, somewhere. Alive. Mine…” she stopped and bit her tongue, doing her best to hold back tears. She wasn’t successful, and a few slipped out. She shook her head wildly and looked back out the window to hide her face. “J-just leave m-me alone…”
Butter, taking the hint, slowly withdrew her hoof. “Alright… but even if we don’t understand… you can talk to us, okay?”
Butter gave a slow nod, then returned to her own bed. She watched Rainbow for a long while, able to tell by the shaking of her shoulders and her shallow, ragged breaths that she was crying. It was that sight that Butter fell asleep to that night.
“Rainbow Dash?” Sky Dreamer called from the entrance to the cafeteria, drawing Rainbow’s attention away from her breakfast cereal. The room was packed with dozens of foals of various ages, all talking to one another about the day ahead. Some were drawing on bits of parchment while they ate, and a few others had pulled out some building blocks and were assembling what looked like a big colorful cube.
Rainbow finished off her cereal, slurping down the milk quite noisily before hopping down and trotting over to Dreamer. She had at least some energy today, to her relief. Maybe crying herself to sleep last night had done her some good. Either way, she approached the headmare of the orphanage and gave her an impatient look. “What is it, Sky?” she asked bluntly.
Dreamer, not missing a beat, gave Rainbow a small smile. “There’s a filly here to visit you. She says she’s your friend,” she said, and that immediately got Rainbow's complete attention. Her eyes widened and her ears perked up. Seeing this, Dreamer’s smile grew, and she nodded towards the door behind her. “She and her father are waiting for you in the lobby. Put away your dishes and you can go see them-”
Rainbow turned around and broke into a sprint for the table where she had been sitting. She took the bowl in her mouth, delivered it to the counter that separated the kitchen from the rest of the room, and then shot by Dreamer and out into the hallway beyond. In her excitement, she had started flying about halfway through, which drew an annoyed grimace out of Dreamer. “Rainbow! No flying- oh, what’s the use…?” she tried to call but gave up when she realized that Rainbow had already vanished down the hall.
Fluttershy looked around at the lobby of the orphanage with an uneasy look on her face. It was a spacious room with a high ceiling to facilitate limited airborne play time. All along the bright-blue walls were drawings made by various foals who called this place their home, and each one had a photo of the foal who drew it taped right next to it, signed with their name. It was, all in all, a very welcoming first impression.
The atmosphere was slightly tainted by the presence of a desk off to the right side of the main entrance, where a tired mare sat and went over many sheets of parchment. Her presence added that very slight clinical edge to the room, and that was ultimately what put Fluttershy into such unrest.
She was sitting down on a cushioned bench along the wall directly across from the desk, with her father sitting next to her. She stole a glance at a large clock that hung from the wall across from the door, looking at the time. Almost 11:30 AM.
One of the doors off to the sides swung open, and Rainbow Dash came shooting in, hovering in mid-air and looking around with eager excitement. “Fluttershy?!” she called out, prompting the timid yellow filly to perk up and wave.
“Over here, Rainbow Dash!”
Rainbow looked, saw her, and quickly flew over. Her forelegs wrapped around Fluttershy and lifted her into the air, giving her a tight squeeze and drawing a startled squeak out of her. “Flutters! oh, I am so happy to see you!” Rainbow practically cheered, unaware of the increasingly blue hue of her best friend’s face.
Fluttershy’s father gave a weak chuckle before reaching up and gently tugging on Rainbow’s tail with his hoof. “Uh, Rainbow Dash, it’s lovely to see you, too,” he said in a gentle voice of his own before nodding at Fluttershy. “But, uh…”
Rainbow looked, then let out a gasp when she realized she was strangling Fluttershy. She quickly dropped down and set Fluttershy back onto the bench before releasing her. “Sorry, sorry!”
As soon as Rainbow let her go, Fluttershy gasped in a lungful of sweet, life-giving air. She spent a few moments catching her breath, then offered Rainbow a smile of her own. “Hello, Rainbow. It’s, um, good to see you, too. Sorry, it’s been so long since we visited you. Did we, um, come at a good time?”
“It’s always a good time if you ask me!” Rainbow said emphatically before shooting an irked look at the mare behind the counter. “But some ponies have to make the rules suck.”
“I just work here,” the mare behind the counter deadpanned.
“Whatever,” Rainbow dismissed her with a wave of her hoof before looking back at Fluttershy excitedly. “So, how long can you stay around? I’ve been going out of my mind here!”
“We’ve got about an hour,” Mr. Shy answered softly. “Fluttershy has a dentist appointment later that we need to go to, so she can’t eat anything while she’s here.”
“Ah, I gotcha,” Rainbow gave a nod before finally coming to a landing on the bench next to Fluttershy. “So, what are we gonna do?”
“Well, uh… do you have any board games here?” Fluttershy asked inquisitively. “Maybe we could play one of those?”
Rainbow hummed in thought, then gave a nod. “Sure. There are a few playrooms with board games here. Follow me!” she gestured for the two to follow her, and she led them out of the lobby and back out into the hall, where Sky Dreamer was only just catching up, ready to oversee the unfolding visitation.
The playrooms of Sky Dancer Orphanage were uniform in design, meaning that if somepony saw one, they had seen them all. Each one was fairly spacious, with several tables of varying sizes and designs to accommodate various age groups, from the truly small and young to early teenagers. There were areas sectioned off in two of the corners for playing with toys and using building blocks. Shelves lined the walls, stocked with either board games, basic drawing supplies, or books for foals.
It was at one of the middle-sized tables that the occupants of this playroom were seated, playing a board game that they used to play at the visitor’s home during easier times. They had been here for fifty minutes, now, and had played two rounds. There had been chatter, jokes, laughs, and general friendly interaction. It was the first time that Sky Dreamer had seen Rainbow look even remotely cheerful in all her time here.
“Ha, I win again!” Rainbow proudly announced while slapping down her cards on the board before her. Fluttershy sat across from her and gave Rainbow a smile.
“Oh, congratulations,” she cheered in her traditionally soft voice before setting down her own hoof full of cards. “But, uh, I don’t think we have enough time for another round, do we?”
“She’s right,” Mr. Shy said apologetically from the side, glancing down at a watch just above his left forehoof. “We’ve only got ten more minutes before we have to leave for the appointment. We should probably start getting ready to go, actually.”
“Aww…” Fluttershy protested quietly before giving a sad nod and looking up at Rainbow again. “I’m sorry, Rainbow, but we can come to see you again next week, hopefully,” she said before standing up and looking over at her father.
“Oh… right…” Rainbow mumbled dejectedly, her ears falling flat against her head. She looked down at her hooves, listening as Fluttershy made her way back over to her father, who was now starting to talk with Dreamer about scheduling another visit.
She didn’t want them to go, yet. She hadn’t been in this good of a mood since the last time they visited just over two weeks ago. Really, right now, Fluttershy and her family were the only ones she could feel comfortable around. She knew them so well, after all. Hay, even Zephyr Breeze was better company than the staff and foals here. At least he knew her.
She didn’t want them to go… or, more accurately, she didn’t want to be away from them. She trusted them…
An idea sprang into Rainbow’s mind, and without taking any time to truly study it, she stood upright and looked up at Fluttershy and her father with pleading eyes. “Mr. Shy, wait!” she called out to him, drawing the attention of all of the other ponies.
Fluttershy’s face became worried. “Rainbow? Are you okay?” she asked.
Rainbow shuffled out from her side of the table and slowly trotted up to Mr. Shy. She found it difficult to meet his gaze, no matter how hard she tried. “Um… Mr. Shy… um… I was wondering...”
“What is it, Rainbow? I’m listening,” Mr. Shy said in a kind and reassuring tone while lowering himself down to be at Rainbow’s eye level. Rainbow took a deep breath, then looked into his eyes, albeit timidly.
“Could I, uhm… could you maybe take me with you?”
Off to the side, Dreamer suddenly perked up, her eyes shimmering with hope and anticipation. Fluttershy gasped in surprise, her hooves flying up to her mouth, while her father’s eyes went wide in surprise, and his jaw fell open. After a moment of stunned silence, he cleared his throat and spoke. “Uhm… are you asking me to… adopt you?”
Rainbow looked down. “I guess I am…” she admitted while scuffing one of her hooves on the floor.
Mr. Shy frowned and slowly shifted so he was sitting on his haunches. He looked down at Rainbow for several minutes as he thought the question over. “Why us, if you don’t mind me asking?” he finally managed to question.
Rainbow looked over at Fluttershy, then up at him again. “Because… because I know you guys. And you know me. Fluttershy’s my best friend, and… and I know I’d be happier with you guys than anypony else who comes trotting along talking about sympathy and loving homes,” she explained, her voice gaining a noticeably bitter tone as she went on. “They don’t know me, and I don’t know them. Any affection they show me when interviewing me is just… it’s… With you guys, I know it’s genuine. I can’t think of another place where I’d be happy right now…
“So please. If you can take me out of here, if you can take me with you, then, please… I don’t wanna be here anymore,” Rainbow finished before looking down at the ground and waiting for the reply.
There were several moments of silence before Mr. Shy let out a quiet sigh, then looked over at Fluttershy with an apology in his eyes. He then looked up at Dreamer. “Uh, miss Dreamer? Would you mind leaving us alone for a little bit? So we can talk freely?”
Dreamer frowned a the request. “In most cases, a part of the orphanage staff is supposed to supervise and oversee all visitations, but…” her eyes fell on Rainbow, and a small, hopeful smile formed on her face. “I think this counts more like an interview at this point, doesn’t it?”
As she said this, Dreamer backed away and opened the door. Mr. Shy gave her a wide smile. “Thank you very much,” he called after her.
She smiled. “Think nothing of it…” she said and closed the door behind her, much to the relief of everypony present. While she had been quiet and respectful the whole time they had been visiting, her presence had nonetheless been noticed, and it had put a very slight strain on everypony. With her now gone, Mr. Shy let out a much louder sigh.
“You know, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy actually made that same suggestion to her mother and I a few days ago,” he admitted slowly, reaching up one hoof to scratch the side of his head.
“She did?” Rainbow asked in surprise, looking over at Fluttershy with wide eyes.
Fluttershy gave a slow, hesitant nod. “Um… uh, yes… should I not have?”
“No, no, you’re great!” Rainbow dismissed her with a happy smile before looking up at Mr. Shy in anticipation. ”So, you can do it, right? You can adopt me?”
Mr. Shy frowned and chewed nervously on his lip. He suddenly found it extremely difficult to look into Rainbow’s eyes, and the mood in the room began to plummet. Rainbow took note, and her posture began to sag. “What’s wrong?”
Mr. Shy closed his eyes, nodded to himself, then looked back down at Rainbow in deep sympathy. “Rainbow Dash… my wife and I talked about it long and hard when Fluttershy presented the idea to us. we were all so touched by the sincerity of her request, and she’s not wrong about how close our families are. We would love to adopt you...”
“So you’ll do it?” Rainbow asked with a small bounce, her energy coming right back. She paused when she saw how Mr. Shy hesitated.
Then, her heart felt as if it had been shattered into a million pieces when he shook his head in denial.
“I’m so sorry, Rainbow, but… we can’t.”
Rainbow blinked. She stood perfectly still for a few seconds, trying to wrap her mind around what she had just heard. She licked her suddenly dry lips and spoke in a quivering voice. “W-why not?”
Mr. Shy looked away guiltily, his own ears drooping. “The truth is… as much as we would love to take you in, we’re afraid that we just can’t supply for a third foal… Fluttershy and Zephyr, our two wonderful foals, are as much as we can handle. If we took you in, well… We wouldn’t be able to provide a good and comfortable life for you for long. And that’s not to mention that Zephyr… well…” Mr. Shy closed his eyes. “He means well, but we know that you don’t exactly like him…”
“Hey, I can take it!” Rainbow protested desperately, taking a step forward. “Please, just… th-this place has trial runs or something! They sometimes let orphans stay with families for a few days to see if they’d be a good fit! We could do that! Just to see, you know? Please!”
Mr. Shy frowned down at Rainbow sadly. “Rainbow Dash, please. It’s not about whether or not you’d really get along with all of us. We know you would. It’s because we can’t provide for Fluttershy, Zephyr, and you. We just don’t have enough... Bringing you in would mean having to sacrifice the stability and happiness of our two other foals, and… I can’t do that. We can’t do that. Not to our little foals.”
“I’m so, so, so sorry, Rainbow…” Fluttershy piped up from the side when she noticed the way Rainbow’s eyes were starting to shimmer. “I tried really hard to convince them…”
“And I’m sorry, too, Rainbow…” Mr. Shy continued sadly. He gingerly reached out and pulled Rainbow into a hug, one which the pegasus did not return just yet. “If we could adopt you, we would. We’d take good care of you for Windy and Bow, and we’d make sure you’d grow up into a mare who would make them so, so proud. But we can’t...”
At the mentioning of her parents' names, Rainbow lost whatever restraint she had left. She screwed her eyes shut and began to openly sob into Mr. Shy’s chest, finally returning his hug. He held her close, letting her work it out of her system. Fluttershy joined them without delay, wrapping her own forelegs around Rainbow from behind and giving her reassuring squeezes.
After a short time, Rainbow began to speak through her cries. “It’s not f-fair…” she whimpered, burying herself deeper into the hug. “I d-don’t wanna stay h-here… I wanna go home…”
“I know, Rainbow, I know,” Mr. Shy whispered down to her while patting the top of her head with one hoof. “Somepony else will come along, someday, and soon. I promise…”
Rainbow sniffled. “N-no they won’t… I don’t wanna be with anypony else… I want my mom and dad…”
There was nothing else Mr. Shy or his daughter could say, so they chose to remain quiet, holding onto Rainbow and comforting her as best as they were able as she let out her sorrows.
Several days later, a white-furred pony stared at the orphanage ahead of him in confusion. Why had they come here? It didn’t make any sense, unless some crime had been committed and they were here to investigate and pronounce judgement. He turned and looked up at the tall pony in the chariot that he was hooked up to. “With all due respect, your majesty… are you sure this is the right place?” he asked skeptically.
The regal mare nodded her head at him before rising from her cushioned seat in the chariot and hopping down to the cloudy street, landing with a surreal and graceful elegance that could only come with centuries of practice. “I am quite sure, Stalwart. I’ll be going in alone. Both of you, please remain here.”
“But, your majesty…” Stalwart tried again, but a single glance cut him off. He looked helplessly at his fellow guard, who was also hooked up to the chariot, but got no support or advice. In defeat, he gave a low bow of his head. “My apologies, Princess Celestia. We shall do as you command.”
The alicorn of the sun gave a nod and an understanding smile before gazing back at the orphanage. She set her jaw, put on a gentle smile, and then stepped through the gates of the outer wall.
Princess Celestia gave a smile of approval as she stepped into the entrance lobby of Sky Dreamer’s Orphanage. Her eyes roved over the decorated walls and the numerous drawings and photos of the foals, searching for one in particular. As her eyes passed over the others foals, while she silently offered her sincerest wish that they’d find good, loving homes soon.
Her attention was torn away from the walls by a very unprofessional squawking sound that emanated from her right. Turning, she spotted a dull purple mare with a dark cranberry colored mane and tail looking back at her with wide, disbelieving green eyes. She was seated behind a simple desk and appeared to have just been in the middle of going over some papers when she finally noticed the new arrival.
Celestia gave the receptionist a warm smile before stepping up to the counter and giving a respectful nod of her head. “Hello. I am interested in adopting a foal. May you point me in the direction of who I should speak to about that?” she asked in a gentle and friendly voice.
The receptionist did not seem comforted by the alicorn’s tone. Her brain finally caught up with her eyes, and she suddenly dropped into a deep, deep bow, causing her to disappear behind the desk. “U-u-uh, Y-your Majesty! Wh-what a surprise! I, uh, that is to say, w-we were not-” she began to stammer out in a fearful torrent, to which Celestia only gave a gentle giggle. The sound of amusement cut the mare’s ramblings short, and she anxiously peered up at Celestia.
“Do not be concerned, my little pony. I am not here as your ruler, but merely as another pony. My reasons for being here are entirely my own and have no association with my royal duties. Please, speak to me as you would anypony else,” she assured, her soothing voice finally bringing the receptionist’s terrified trembles to an end.
“Y-yes, of course, my apologies…” the receptionist said before standing back up and straightening her posture. She put on her best friendly smile, though despite Celestia’s assurances, it was perhaps a bit too big to be entirely genuine. “W-well, if you’re here looking to adopt, there are several steps that we would typically need to go through. Background checks and interviews, that sort of thing…
“But, considering who I’m speaking to, I don’t think such measures are necessary. So, you’ll want to speak with Sky Dreamer herself. I can send for her and she’ll be with you shortly, if, uh…” her smile became a touched more strained, and one of her eyes began to twitch. “I-if you don’t mind waiting for a few minutes?”
Celestia just maintained her smile. “That will be no trouble at all. I’ll wait as long as I have to. No need to rush.”
The receptionist gave a shaky nod before turning and heading for one of the doors leading deeper into the orphanage at a brisk trot. “Alright, I’ll go get her. Please wait here,” she said before swiftly departing the room and disappearing deeper into the halls. Her steady pace could be heard accelerating to a frantic gallop once she was out of sight, and Celestia couldn’t help but roll her eyes.
Once the hoof falls faded away, Celestia went back to searching the walls for any sign of the pony she was seeking. Eventually, she found it, tucked near her eye level against the leftmost wall of the room amidst a myriad of others.
It was a photograph depicting a cyan pegasus with deep pink eyes and a messy mane and tail that spanned all the colors of a rainbow. The photo showed her sitting near a group of other foals in what appeared to be a playroom, offering a smile to the camera that Celestia could already tell was as fake and forced as they came.
There was misery in those eyes. A grief and pain which the alicorn could empathize with only all too well. Even through the somewhat low-quality copy of the picture, it was as clear as day. Celestia’s expression darkened with sympathy while her eyes trailed down to the line of text written on the white frame around the picture. ‘Rainbow Dash.’
“Your Highness!” A new, elderly voice called out, drawing Celestia’s attention. She turned and caught sight of an older pegasus mare with pale blue fur and a gray mane and tail trotting into the room, looking more than a little shocked at who she was seeing. “She wasn’t kidding…” she mumbled to herself.
Celestia gave another smile. “Hello. I presume you must be Sky Dreamer?” she asked professionally with another nod of her head.
Dreamer gave a respectful bow of her own. “Yes, that’s me. It is an incredible honor to meet you, Princess,” she said humbly before standing upright.
Celestia shook her head at the greeting. “Please, for this visit, I am just Celestia. No need for any formalities or titles today,” she lightly scolded.
Dreamer looked taken aback by the idea of treating her princess as just another mare, but nevertheless gave a slow nod. “Alright, if you insist. Well, Celestia, ahem, I was told that you’re here looking to adopt a foal?”
Celestia nodded. “Yes, I am. In fact, I already know who I’m interested in,” she acknowledged before turning and pointing at the photo of Rainbow Dash. Dreamer stepped forward to get a better look, squinting her old eyes at the photo.
Her smile gave way to a worried frown. “You’re interested in Rainbow?” she asked in surprise, leaning back from the wall and giving Celestia a questioning look.
Celestia’s expression became curious in return. “Yes, I am. There isn’t a problem with that, is there?”
Dreamer visibly paled and stepped back. “Oh, of c-course not! It’s just, uh, well…” she began in a nervous stutter before Celestia reached out and put a hoof on her shoulder to stop her.
She gave her a reassuring smile before withdrawing her hoof. “As I said, you don’t have to worry about my status during this visit. If there is a problem, then it is only fair that I know what it is.”
Dreamer took some comfort in those words then took a deep breath. She looked over at the photo, and a deep sympathy could be seen in her eyes. “Well, there isn’t so much a problem as… well… the little filly’s had a rough time,” she began slowly. “At this point, we’re pretty sure she’s developed full-on depression. She doesn't have the energy to do anything, she isn’t interested in any families who come to see her, she pushes away the other foals...”
Celestia frowned and looked at the floor. “I have heard of her situation, yes. I cannot say I blame her for being that way. The incident in Baltimare was a tragedy…” she said somberly before lifting her head again.
Dreamer sighed. “Yes… now, uh, Celestia,” her tone turned professional, and she looked right up into Celestia’s eyes. “There are a few questions I will need to ask you before you and Rainbow can speak with each other. If you’ll follow me to my office?”
“Of course. Lead the way,” Celestia agreed with a nod before falling into step behind Dreamer and leaving the lobby behind.
Rainbow did her best to drown out the chatting of the other fillies in the dorm room as she sat on her bed, looking out the window and at the cityscape beyond. Breakfast had been eaten already, and right now there was a gap in the orphanage schedule for the foals to just interact and do as they pleased. Within reason, of course.
She could just make out the voices of five other fillies somewhere behind her, chatting quietly amongst themselves, sometimes giggling as one told a joke or shared a funny thought. Normally, she would find it grating and obnoxious, but today she couldn’t be bothered enough to care. Her mind was preoccupied with other things.
Fluttershy’s family couldn’t take her in. The one family that Rainbow felt she could be happy with, one she already felt she was a part of, could not bring her into their home. She understood why, sure, but that did nothing to soothe the pain that had followed the revelation. It had been crushing at the moment, and since then, a similar weight had been on her shoulders at all times.
It was to a point where she couldn’t even find the energy to get out of bed in the mornings. One of the other fillies, usually Butter Blend, had to shake her and haul her out from under her sheets. She hadn’t thought it was possible, but the food here had started tasting even worse than usual. Actually, no… it’s not that it tasted worse, it’s that it had stopped having a taste.
She was so absorbed in thought that Rainbow almost didn’t notice when a small hoof gingerly rested itself on her shoulder. She blinked and sluggishly turned to look at whoever it was that had disturbed her. It was Butter Blend. There was a worried look on her face, and her posture was hesitant. “Rainbow Dash? Are you feeling alright?” she asked quietly.
Rainbow blinked, shook her head, and then went back to staring out the window without a word. There were a few moments of silence, and only then did Rainbow realize all of the other fillies had stopped talking.
“Leave her alone, Butter,” one of them called in a raspy voice. “You’re not gonna get anywhere.”
Butter glared back at the other filly before blowing a raspberry at her. “Hush, Sandpaper!” she bit before looking back at Rainbow. Her face softened considerably. “So… you’re not okay?”
Rainbow just let out a quiet breath, then shook her head again. “No…”
Butter sagged somewhat, looking away while she got her thoughts together. After a moment, she put her hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder again. “Well… we’re heading out to play some ball. I know you don’t really feel like it, but… I just want you to know that you can join us if you want.”
Rainbow’s eyes flicked back to look at Butter’s pleading face, and then past her at all of the other fillies. Their expressions were harder to read; they looked unsure, hopeful, hesitant, anxious. The whole range. After a few moments, Rainbow looked back at Butter and shrugged. “I might come down in a while…” she mumbled noncommittally.
Butter Blend shifted on her hooves, then nodded. “Alright…” With that, she backed away and followed the rest of the fillies as they left the room. The door silently swung closed, leaving Rainbow alone with her thoughts. She didn’t move for a long while, and she barely breathed. She didn’t like lying to Butter like that, but it would buy her a little bit more time, at least. A bit more time to make up her mind.
There was nothing left for her, here. She couldn’t have cared less about the staff or the other fillies, and she couldn’t stay with Fluttershy and her family. Aside from the fact that this was the only place where she had a roof over her head and food to eat, she had no reason whatsoever to stay.
So why should she?
Almost a minute passed, and her eyes flicked down to the front yard in front of the orphanage. There was nopony there. Rainbow’s eyes then went up to look at the cityscape and the open sky beyond. She noticed a few distant, fuzzy tips of mountains jutting up from the world below. After several more seconds of consideration, Rainbow made up her mind. She rose into a standing position and opened the window.
A cold breeze washed over her, and she felt a little bit of energy seep back into her muscles and mind. She opened her wings to let them catch the wind and gave a few stretches to loosen up her muscles. She briefly glanced over her shoulder at Butter’s bed and sighed. “Sorry, Butter…” she mumbled before bending her legs, ready for takeoff.
She froze when she heard hoof-steps by the door, and the knob starting to turn. It was now or never.
She kicked off of her bed and sailed out of the window as fast as her wings could take her, leaving the startled exclamation of whoever had come to the room behind as she sped off into the city.
Dreamer’s office was a cozy and friendly one. Celestia looked around and drank in the details while waiting for Rainbow to be brought in. There were numerous framed photos on the walls showing happy scenes of Dreamer interacting with foals, and paintings of beautiful landscape views. Accompanying these were old pieces of art made by foals she had once had in her care, including paintings of varying styles and skill levels, to wooden sculptures and makeshift toys.
The desk was decorated with numerous picture books, storybooks, and a few stuffed animals. Dreamer sat behind it, currently going over a sheet of parchment that was covered with the answers Celestia had given to Dreamer’s many questions.
The old mare chewed on her lip for a time before setting the parchment down and giving Celestia a questioning look. “Well, this one’s off the books, but I have one more question for you.”
Celestia perked up and returned her gaze to Dreamer. “I’m listening. What is it?”
Dreamer fidgeted with her hooves for a second, then sighed. “I know it’s not really my place to pry into your personal life, and the answers you’ve given are more than enough for me, but… why are you interested in Rainbow Dash, specifically?”
Celestia blinked and leaned back for a moment, mulling it over. Once she was satisfied with her reasoning, she smiled and met Dreamer’s gaze. “I heard about her after word of the tragedy spread to Canterlot, as I mentioned in the lobby. I learned about how her parents were taken away from her so suddenly, and I will admit, my curiosity was peaked. Something about her seemed familiar.
“After considering it, I remembered. She was the first pony in hundreds of years to fly fast enough to break the sound barrier and create a sonic rainboom. Somepony able to bring such an old legend to life at such a young age… imagine the potential she has… imagine the wonderful things somepony like that could achieve?”
Celestia closed her eyes, her expression turning somber. “And imagine how much of that potential would be lost if she were forced to grow up without a loving family. Without parents to guide and nurture her, to love and care for her, and teach her how to live her life to the fullest. I couldn’t stand the thought of somepony so special losing all of that because of an accident beyond her control…
“But more than all of that, I have been desiring a foal for quite some time,” she continued before opening her eyes. “But finding a lover is, as I am sure you can imagine, more than challenging for somepony like me. The vast majority would love me for my status, rather than for me.”
Dreamer shrugged her shoulders. “I wouldn’t be so bold as to assume, but I see what you mean.”
Celestia shrugged as well. “Regardless, there are too many orphans in the world. So I am more than willing to do my part and give a home to a foal who otherwise would have none. And that foal is Rainbow Dash.”
As if on cue, the door swung open. However, instead of a small pegasus filly, there was the cranberry maned mare from before. She staggered in, gasping heavily as if she had just run a marathon. “D-dreamer! It’s Dash!” she managed to say between her gasps.
Celestia and Dreamer both stood, the latter cantering from around her desk to try and give the other mare some comfort. “What? What happened? Where is Rainbow?”
“She… She’s g-gone!” The mare stated before looking down and quivering under Celestia’s stare.
The room went still.
“What? What do you mean, gone?!” Dreamer asked, her voice shocked and fearful.
“She… guh…” The mare took in one more deep breath before continuing. “She flew out her window. I didn’t have a chance to call out to her, and she disappeared into the city. She’s way too fast. There is no way I could keep up if I went after her.”
Celestia’s frown deepened and she stepped forward. “What direction was she going?” she asked seriously. “Do you have any idea where she was heading?”
The receptionist cowered back. “I don’t know for sure. She went straight out from the front of the orphanage, so somewhere to the west. But... I think she was just running away.”
Dreamer’s ears drooped and she looked up at Celestia. “I… I’m so sorry, Celestia. I-”
“It isn’t your fault,” Celestia cut her off gently, though her face was intense and serious. “I’ll go look for her.”
“I came all this way to meet Rainbow Dash, hoping to take her in,” Celestia said calmly before looking into Dreamer’s eyes with conviction. “And now she has gone missing. I will not sit idly by and allow one of my subjects, a mere filly, to lose herself in the world all on her own.”
With that, Celestia’s horn lit up with a golden light, and she vanished from the room in a brilliant flash, leaving Dreamer and her receptionist to wonder what they were to do next.
It felt amazing to let loose and fly like this again. Rainbow couldn’t help but grin as she shot through the air at such a high speed that all who saw her only caught a brief glimpse of a prismatic blur. The air whipped at her face and swept back her mane, the wind roared in her ears, and the world blurred as she rocketed by. She couldn’t help but let out a wild laugh at the rush of speed that she had missed so much.
After maybe a minute, she determined she had put enough distance between herself and the orphanage to slow down and get her plan together. She slowed her flight to a leisurely pace and looked down at the streets below, scanning them for a secluded spot to hunker down and think. She found it in the form of an isolated back alley and quickly shot down for a landing.
Her hooves touched down gracefully, while the gusts generated by her wing flaps kicked up a small ring of dust around her. She took in a deep breath, then spun in a slow circle to take in her surroundings in detail.
It was a pretty dimly lit alley, as the buildings around it sloped inwards and sat close together, blocking most of the sunlight. There were also several dumpsters full of trash and recyclables, that filled the air with a thick stench. The high-altitude breeze whistle as it passed between the buildings, which appeared to be more than a little rundown. An unpleasant odor swam up Rainbow’s nostrils, making her cringe and her ears splayed back.
Additionally, the cloud surface of the ground was rough and uneven, seeming to have gone without proper maintenance for a long time. A few tufts were actually starting to come loose. Rainbow frowned while absently stomping one such tuft back into place. “Huh… somepony let this alley go a bit,” she grumbled to herself before slinking deeper inside and hiding behind one of the dumpsters.
“Alright, I’m away from the orphanage… now what?” she thought to herself. “Where am I headed…?”
Several minutes ticked by as she ran through the options. Sadly, as she gave the matter more thought, it became more and more apparent that she hadn't really thought this plan through. She had no destination in mind, no end goal. She just wanted to get away from the orphanage.
“Maybe, if I go to the edge of the city, I can look for a town or something on the surface and hide out there...” she mused, thinking it over. Cloudsdale was a traveling city, after all, and it visited many locations in every corner of Equestria in its effort to ensure the cycle of the seasons was on schedule. With its current altitude, if there were any settlements below, Rainbow would be able to see them and make the flight with little to no problems.
Of course, there was the possibility that Cloudsdale was hovering over empty wilderness right now… Rainbow frowned at that thought, then dismissed it with a shake of her head. “One thing at a time, Dash. Let’s just get to the edge of the city and scope it out first.”
With that decided, she stood back up and emerged from behind the dumpster.
“Ah, there you are,” a voice that Rainbow did not recognize said to her left. Startled, she spun on her hooves and flared her wings open aggressively. She was ready to fly away or defend herself in case it was some kind of back-alley thug or something.
To her immense shock, it was possibly worse than some crook.
Standing there, lit from behind by the sunlight in the street, was none other than Princess Celestia. She stood tall and regally, and looked down at Rainbow with an analytical look on her face. That scrutiny blossomed into a warm and friendly smile after a few seconds. “You know, you’re not the easiest pony to track. Your speed is incredible,” Celestia commended heartily.
Rainbow shifted back a few inches while beads of sweat began to form on her brow. “Why is Celestia here?!” she thought in a panic. “Why was she tracking me?!”
Celestia gave a reassuring smile before lowering herself down to the ground so she could look into Rainbow’s eyes better. “You are Rainbow Dash, yes? You look just like you did in the photo on the orphanage wall.”
Rainbow shifted back again, her ears drooping. Celestia had been at the orphanage, then. That meant she had come to bring Rainbow back. She was cornered, and she knew it. With nothing else for it, she drew herself up and stood tall while puffing up her chest. “My p-parents told me not to talk to strangers,” she stated with as much force as she could muster.
Celestia let out a quiet titter of amusement. “And that is a good lesson to learn. But I’m not a stranger, am I? You know who I am,” she pointed out gently once her mirth died down. “Don’t worry. I’m not here to hurt you in any way. I just want to talk.”
Rainbow did not look at all comforted, and her bravado quickly died again. “Um… about what?”
Celestia’s smile fell away, replaced with a frown of concern. “About you, mainly. And why you’re running away from the orphanage,” she stated in a slightly more serious tone. She stood up tall and looked around, subtly taking note of how Rainbow’s appearance became that much more uneasy. “You do realize what part of Cloudsdale you’re in, right?”
“As peaceful and orderly as this city may be, it is not without a seedier side. And you’ve taken shelter in an alley in the middle of one of the shadiest parts of town. What if there were somepony here who wanted to hurt you? What if there was a foal napper? Or a creep? What if you bumped into somepony like that?”
“Hey, I can handle myself!” Rainbow snapped before shaking her head and looking around again. As confident as she was in that assessment, she could not ignore the new feeling of unease that was forming in her chest. The disrepair of the buildings and alley had gained a whole new meaning for her.
Celestia frowned, then turned to look back and forth across the street beyond the alley. “I am sure, but all the same. Please come with me, I’ll lead you back to the-”
Rainbow saw her chance when Celestia turned her back, and she took it. Her wings snapped open and gave a mighty flap, sending her rocketing into the sky at high speeds. She rotated in the air to fly for the edge of the city, then gave her wings another powerful flap.
Only for her to stay right where she was, a golden glow enveloping her body and making her skin tingle.
Her eyes widened, and she took in a shuddering gasp. The world flickered and began to shift and distort while her chest tightened. Her breath started to come in desperate, heaving gasps, while her heart began to beat frantically, so much that it was all she could hear.
Then, a new sound filled her skull as her senses were overwhelmed. She could hear deafening metal clangs that shook her to her core and knocked her clenched teeth together. she could feel the stone shaking beneath her hooves as bits of stray rock and dirt pummeled her body from all sides. She could taste the dust in her mouth and feel the tears rolling down her face. She saw the fallen crane, and the two bodies pinned underneath…
“No, stop! LET GO! PUT ME DOWN!” She screamed at the top of her lungs as the sensations all came flooding back. It was as if she was reliving the moment all over again. It was all so vivid, as vivid and terrifying as when it had first happened. She turned and thrashed as tears spilled down her cheeks, and her vision flickered between watching her dead parents as she was dragged away in a blue aura, and the horrified look of an alabaster alicorn princess who held her in gold.
And then, just as quickly as it had started, it ended. The magic released its hold on Rainbow, and she slumped to the ground in a pitiful, shivering, and crying heap. She shuddered uncontrollably, looked up at Celestia, and quickly scooted back and away from her. Her eyes locked onto the princess with abject terror, a terror that only grew when her back soon hit a wall.
Try as she might, she could not back away any further. So she tried to make herself look as small as possible. “J-just… j-just go a-away…” she whimpered out before looking down, closing her eyes and covering her head with her hooves again. “Leave me alone…”
She sat there for a long, long while, occasionally looking up at the alicorn, who was now watching her with a look of unbounded guilt growing on her face. Every time Rainbow saw her, she shrank down and screwed her eyes shut again.
After a moment, Celestia’s horn lit up with more golden light, and the entire alleyway was encased in a shimmering dome of magic. That done, the alicorn slowly inched forwards. “Rainbow Dash…?” she ventured carefully as if to not spook a broken and terrified animal.
“Go away…” was Rainbow’s quiet croak of a reply.
Celestia continued forwards, one inch at a time. “Rainbow… I am so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you, I swear. Are you okay?” she asked in as soft and soothing a voice as she could manage.
Rainbow looked up at Celestia incredulously. “Am I… Am I o-okay?” she asked through her tears, her voice still shaking. She stood back up, her head hanging low. “No… No, I’m not okay…”
Celestia slowly nodded. “I see… well… if you need to cry, shout, or anything, feel free. The dome over us is a bubble of silence. You can be as loud as you want, and nopony outside will be able to hear it.”
Rainbow glanced up at Celestia. She saw the look on her face, the worry, and the concern. The sympathy, and the understanding. It was the same look that Windy Whistles had given Rainbow whenever something happened at school that bummed her out or made her upset, or whenever she accidentally hurt herself when practicing her flying.
Rainbow looked down as memories began to invade her mind. Memories of a time before the incident, of when she still had a family. She remembered the unfiltered shouts of praise and encouragement both of her parents had given her when she had come home with a new cutie mark. She remembered her mother’s voice shushing her to sleep one day when she was really little, and she remembered playing ball with her father out in their yard.
All of these memories flooding freely through her mind was the last straw. Rainbow looked down at the ground, desperately trying to hold it all in. But the dam had broken, and there was no stopping the flood. She screwed her eyes shut, and with tears spilling down her cheeks, she began to cry. It was loud and unrestrained and would have been audible for many, many blocks, were it not for Celestia’s magic.
Rainbow didn’t even notice when Celestia gingerly lifted her up in her forelegs and held her close to her chest. By instinct, Rainbow wrapped her hooves around the alicorn’s neck while burying her face into her chest fur. She didn’t notice as the alicorn, still keeping the bubble of silence around them, lifted into the air with her wings and began to take them back towards the orphanage.
It had been maybe half an hour since Celestia and Rainbow Dash made it back to the orphanage, and the two had been seated privately in a spacious and warmly lit room for most of that duration. There were soft, cushiony chairs against set against the walls, and a circular wooden table sat in the center of the room. There were a few miscellaneous documents stacked off to one side, though neither pony was paying them any attention.
They had more or less been silent the entire time. For the first ten or so minutes, that quiet had occasionally been disrupted by Rainbow Dash sniffing or taking shaky breaths. But those, too, eventually faded away. Now, the only noise was the almost inaudible rumble of the high-altitude winds outside, and the rhythmic ticking of a clock on the wall.
The two sat on opposite ends of the table from one another. Celestia sat upright and attentive with a gentle, patient expression on her face. She watched Rainbow the whole time but made no attempts to go to her or begin a conversation. She was letting her begin when she was ready.
Rainbow, meanwhile, had her head turned down to stare at her hooves and the floor beneath her chair. She had spared Celestia one or two glances every so often but had always gone right back to staring into the floor.
Finally, Rainbow lifted her head and looked up at Celestia with an unreadable look on her face. “...So… if you don’t mind me asking…” she began slowly, her voice hoarse from her earlier crying. She straightened her posture somewhat and met Celestia’s gaze. “Why are you so interested in me? What do you want?”
Celestia offered a kind smile. “I will be blunt with you; I came here, Rainbow Dash, in the hopes of adopting you,” she said simply.
Rainbow’s eyes widened. “You… you what, now?” she asked in surprise, sitting more upright and eyeing Celestia like she had just grown a set of six new heads. Then she frowned and snorted in irritation. “Okay, I’ve heard rumors that you had a playful side to you, but I am seriously not in the mood for jokes!” she snapped, her voice gaining a bitter edge.
Celestia’s own smile vanished, quickly being replaced by a more sympathetic expression. “I am not joking with you. I am being wholly and completely honest. I came here because I want to adopt you.”
Rainbow blinked, stunned. She then shook her head and leaned back in her seat. “Okay, say I buy that for one minute. Why?” she leveled a hard, skeptical look at Celestia. “Why me? Why not somepony in Canterlot?”
Celestia’s expression softened, a few memories playing out before her mind’s eye. “Because I see so much potential in you, Rainbow Dash. After all, there hasn’t been a single pony, especially a foal, who could pull off a sonic rainboom in hundreds of years.”
Rainbow unconsciously puffed up a little at the mentioning of her crowning achievement. “Heh, yeah… I did do that, didn’t I?” she asked quietly, her eyes glazing over as memories of better times filled her mind.
Celestia nodded. “Indeed you did. For somepony your age, it is an unprecedented and remarkable achievement, something straight out of legend. Considering you are still just a little filly, imagine what else you might be able to achieve with some guidance?”
Rainbow’s smile disappeared, and her face tensed. Her ears fell flat, and a hollow look slipped into her eyes. “Right… guidance…” she mumbled quietly, looking down again.
Celestia looked down as well, then stood up to make her way around the table. Once she was by Rainbow’s side, she rested a hoof on the filly’s shoulder, drawing her attention. She sighed softly and spoke in a gentle, soothing voice. “I know this must be hard for you. You have my deepest condolences for your loss, Rainbow. Believe me… I know how you feel.”
Rainbow’s hollow look suddenly shifted to an agitated scowl, and she shoved Celestia’s hoof off of her shoulder. “Like Tartarus you do!” she snapped, hopping down from her chair. She turned her back on the princess and stormed a few paces away. “Don’t tell me you’re sorry for my loss, don’t tell me it’ll get better! Everypony keeps saying it, and I’m sick of it! I don’t even care if they’re right or not, I just want to stop hearing it! It’s getting real old!”
Celestia flinched back from the outburst, then sighed. She looked down and to one side, her expression becoming strained as a memory replayed itself in her mind. Celestia looked down at her hooves, closed her eyes, and spoke. “Very well, I won’t say it again.”
There was a silence between the two. After a time, Celestia lifted her eyes to stare into the back of Rainbow’s head. “At any rate, Rainbow… what do you say to my proposal?” she asked gingerly, taking a few, hesitant steps forward.
Rainbow glanced back at Celestia over her shoulder. “You mean about you adopting me?” she asked, earning a nod from Celestia. “No, thanks. I’m not gonna let anypony replace my parents.”
Celestia tilted her head, looking confused. “I... never planned to replace them, Rainbow. I know all too well that nothing can fill a hole left behind by lost loved ones, and I am not so bold as to think I would be an exception.”
“Then why are you trying to adopt me?” Rainbow demanded, spinning around to glare up at Celestia. “That’d make you my mom, wouldn’t it?”
“Legally, yes, but I am not Windy Whistles. I’m not trying to replace her or Bow Hothoof…” Celestia countered before sitting down on her haunches. “But I am trying to make sure that a little filly who lost everything through no fault of her own has somewhere she can be safe. A place where she can learn about the world, and grow into a fine mare that her parents would be proud of, if only they could see her.”
Rainbow looked down at the floor, her ears drooping. “If you wanna adopt me so bad, why don’t you just order it or something? You’re the princess. Nopony can say no to you,” she mumbled in resignation.
Celestia frowned and put a hoof on Rainbow’s back. “You can,” she said simply, drawing a confused glance from the filly. “I am not a dictator, Rainbow. And I will not treat you as if you were an idiot. You are your own pony, and I will not take that free will away from you. I am offering to adopt you, and it is entirely up to you if you accept or not.”
Rainbow just stared at her for a little bit, then looked down at the floor again.
Celestia continued. “Take some time and think it over. I’m not in any rush, and you are free to say no. But…” she craned her neck down, catching Rainbow’s eye. “I ask that you give it some very serious thought. This means a great deal to me, and I know how much you hate it here...”
Rainbow hesitated, then gave another nod. “Fine… I’ll think about it…” she mumbled before shrugging off Celestia’s hoof. She dragged herself over to one of the chairs, then hopped up into it and sat down. She closed her eyes and fell into thought.
Celestia watched Rainbow for a few moments. She gave a soft smile, and then silently excused herself from the room.
Rainbow Dash wasn’t entirely sure how long she sat there, considering the alicorn’s proposal. The clock on the wall was the only sound that reached her ears, but even that was lost amidst the tumult of her thoughts. She hadn’t thought this long and hard about one thing in a long time, at least not with the purpose of making such an important decision.
She almost felt guilty to admit it, especially to herself, but the offer was tempting. For one thing, she knew that she would probably never get a chance like this again. Prospective parents come and go, but Rainbow didn’t know any of them. For all she knew, they could be woefully inexperienced, or unfit to raise a foal, or they could even be bad ponies and covering it with a friendly smile.
Celestia was different, in the sense that she had been Equestria’s benevolent ruler for well over a thousand years. She had a reputation of being kind, gentle, and understanding. Of course, there was also a lot of fear of her as well, though Rainbow didn’t know why. Probably had something to do with her being so mind-numbingly powerful.
There was also the fact that Celestia was the ruling princess of Equestria. If Rainbow went with her, she would probably have a roof over her head, great food to eat, a comfy bed, and maybe even servants to boss around.
Of course, that last point put a sickening feeling in Rainbow’s gut and brought up her largest concern. If she went through with this, if she was adopted by Celestia, then she would be a princess, wouldn’t she? She’d suddenly hold a rank and position that had never interested her. She didn’t want to rule, she wanted to fly!
Not to mention she’d probably have to leave Cloudsdale. There was no way Celestia would start living in this city. Canterlot was her seat of power, where she lived. If Rainbow was adopted by her, then that is where she would have to live. Which meant that she would have to abandon all of her friends. Fluttershy and her family, especially.
Rainbow looked down and, for the first time in a long while, sighed. There were so many pros and cons that she could see, and the longer she thought about it, the harder it became to be sure of herself. She let out a quiet growl of frustration when she finally realized that, even after all of this time of deliberation and self-reflection, she had no idea if this was what she really wanted.
She glanced up at the clock and spent a minute or two piecing together the time. Dinner would be in about an hour, and most of the foals would either be in playrooms or in their dorms. Rainbow’s face scrunched with indecision, and then she hopped down from her chair and made her way for the door.
She needed a second opinion.
The dorm room was pretty full when Rainbow finally stepped inside. If she had to guess, about half of the fillies in her age group were in there, chatting in their own little circles, while a couple were taking naps or reading borrowed storybooks. While they were all pegasi, they ran the gamut of colors. A few gave her curious glances as she entered and then went back to their discussions.
“Didn’t you run away?” one filly asked in a raspy and grating voice, the one that Butter had called ‘Sandpaper.’ Rainbow shot her a sideways glance with narrowed eyes, briefly studying her appearance.
Sandpaper was slightly taller than Rainbow but wasn’t exactly in great physical shape. Her coat was a dull dark brown, her mane and tail were a dusty, muted blonde, and her eyes were a strikingly vibrant dark blue. On her flank was a cutie mark depicting a sheet of sandpaper that was partially wrapped behind a smooth wooden chess piece, framing it. She was resting on her side on her bunk, giving Rainbow an inquisitive look.
“Mind your own,” was Rainbow’s simple response before she scanned the room for one filly in particular. She spotted her near the far end of the room, talking with a few other fillies in a small semi-circle with her back to Rainbow. She looked to be having fun with the chat, but at one point her head turned, and Rainbow saw the unquestionably distracted look in her eyes.
Rainbow started forwards and cleared her throat once she was behind the group. Butter spun around to look at her, and her eyes widened. “Wha- Rainbow?!” she squeaked, surprised, before standing up. “I thought you were in trouble or something! Everypony said you had run off, and then that Princess Celestia herself brought you back!”
Rainbow shook her head. “No, not being punished. Though, if they find out I left the room without asking, I probably will be…” she grimaced, looking down at the floor.
“Left the room…?” Butter asked, tilting her head in confusion.
“Butter, look,” Rainbow said suddenly, lifting her eyes to meet Butter’s gaze. “I need to ask you something. I need a second opinion, and… well…” she looked away, looking visibly sheepish. “I don’t wanna ask any grown-ups. I know what they’ll all say. I need to hear it from somepony like me, and you’re the only one who keeps trying to help.”
Butter’s eyes widened. She looked back at her friends as if for aid, then at Rainbow, seemingly dumbstruck. She shook herself, then nodded. “U-uh, sure. What is it?”
Rainbow looked down at the floor again. “So… um… Princess Celestia is here, and, well…” she scuffed the floor with her hoof. “She’s… after me.”
The whole room steadily went quiet as all of the fillies began to take note of Rainbow Dash interacting with one of them on her own. Their conversations died, and they listened with rapt attention as she explained her situation to Butter, outlining her feelings and how conflicted she felt. Finally, when it had all been said, the room was utterly silent.
“So, I just… I don’t wanna turn my back on Windy Whistles. You know, my real mom,” Rainbow began to finish off her story, her ears drooping at the memory of her dead parent. “She, um… s-she brought me into the world. She raised me, and even if I thought she and dad were really embarrassing sometimes, I… w-well, they were my parents, and I cared about them a lot. I don’t wanna betray their memory, or the time they put into raising me. I don’t wanna just trade one family for another. That’s not fair on them, and it makes me feel like I’m not being loyal or something.
“So that’s what I want your opinion on, Butter. I feel like I know you better than all of the other fillies here. If nothing else, I know you wanna help me, so…” Rainbow sighed, sat on her haunches and looked down. “There it is…”
Butter just sat there, staring at Rainbow Dash with wide, unblinking eyes for several moments. The silence was almost tangible like it was suffocating, and Rainbow was beginning to visibly wilt under it. Finally, though, Butter found her faculties, and a warm smile spread on her face. “Well, uh… I think you should go with her,” she finally suggested in a quiet voice.
Rainbow looked up into Butter’s eyes again with a raised eyebrow. “Okay, but, how come?”
Butter just continued to smile. “Well, you’re talking so much about loyalty to your parents, and it just got me thinking about mine, and how they left me here. They knew they couldn’t take care of me themselves, and decided it would be best for me if they let me go. Even though it hurt us all, they willingly gave me up because they knew I would have a better life with somepony else.
“So, I guess I’m just curious… what would Bow and Windy want?” She finally asked her question.
The room was already completely silent, yet somehow it felt even more so when those words fled her lips. Rainbow was taken aback, and her mind started reeling. Her eyes began to shift rapidly as a veritable tsunami of thoughts and ideas raced through her mind.
“Well, uh… They… would want me to be happy, obviously. They’d want me to never give up, to keep trying, and to take pride in even the tiniest accomplishments. They’d want me to be safe and loved, and successful…” she muttered out, her eyes going wide.
Butter nodded. “Uh-huh! So, if you’re worried about betraying their memory, or like you’re being disloyal…” she leaned forward and gave a big, encouraging grin. “Then do what they would want you to do. Let Princess Celestia adopt you. If nothing else, you’d be safe and successful. And if the princess came all this way just for you, then I bet you’ll be happy and loved, too.
“So, if nothing else, do it for them. They’d want you to be taken care of, and I don’t think you’ll find a better opportunity.”
Rainbow sat still for several seconds, her mind going into overdrive. She then looked up at Butter and gave her a small smile. It was the first time she’d given a genuine smile to any of the other fillies, and the sight took Butter and her friends off guard.
“Thanks, Butter… I appreciate it,” Rainbow said softly before standing up and turning around. “I think I’ve made up my mind… I’m gonna go, now.”
With that, she began to walk for the door on the other side of the room. Butter watched her go for a little bit, eyes wide. Then, just as Rainbow was grabbing the handle, she stood up and sprinted over. “W-wait!”
Rainbow paused and looked back at her, confused. “Hm?”
“Can I go with you?” Butter asked, sliding to a stop at Rainbow’s side and taking a breath. “I just… I wanna see.”
Rainbow watched Butter for a few moments, then gave a small shrug. “Sure, if that’s what you wanna do. You’ll have to ask Dreamer, though.”
Together, the two stepped out of the room. When the door closed, everything was plunged into a deep and stunned silence.
The sky was steadily starting to turn a faint shade of yellow as the sun began its long journey for the horizon. Celestia barely even noticed as she set it into motion, her horn glowing softly with golden light. She was currently standing out in front of the orphanage near the carriage she had arrived in, eyes turned up to the sky.
Her guards had been dismissed to a go and grab some food and rest up for a little while when she came back out. She had left them sitting for far longer than originally planned, and this trip was looking like it may take a little bit longer than originally planned.
Finally, the sound of the orphanage door swinging open reached her ears. Celestia released her magic, letting the sun’s momentum carry it the rest of the way. Satisfied that it would be fine without her for now, she slowly turned around and caught sight of Rainbow Dash exiting the building, followed closely by Sky Dreamer. There was another filly with a very yellow color palette, but she stayed on the front porch and watched them from the steps.
“The little one’s come to a decision,” Dreamer beamed with a cheerful smile once they were in earshot. She reached down and lightly nudged Rainbow forward. “Go on, Dashie.”
“Don’t call me that,” Rainbow bit back, though there wasn’t much intensity to her voice. More than anything else, she just sounded tired. She huffed, then came to a stop in front of Celestia. She looked up at her with a still skeptical expression for several moments before finally speaking. “If you adopt me, will that mean I’ll be a princess?”
Celestia nodded without hesitation. “Yes, there sadly is not much I could do about that. You would be a part of the royal family. There would be a few expectations. But…” she lowered herself onto her belly to look directly into Rainbow’s eyes. She gave a kind smile. “I did my research on you before I came here, Rainbow. You don’t want to be a princess, do you?”
Rainbow shook her head. “No, I don’t. I want to fly and be an athlete. I can’t do that if I’m sitting on some throne and giving decrees all day,” she said plainly before looking down. “But I hate it here, and… I think you were being honest with me when you said you weren’t trying to replace my mom. And…” she paused and looked back at the other filly. “And… my real mom and dad would want me to be safe and happy. So, I’ll let you adopt me on two conditions.”
Celestia leaned back, caught off guard by this turn of events. She recovered quickly and gave a small nod. “Very well, I am listening. What are your conditions?”
Rainbow stood upright and spoke with more strength than before. “First, I don’t want to put up with anything to do with being a princess. Keep all of that stuff away from me and just let me be me, alright?”
Celestia gave a slow, thoughtful nod, her brow furrowing. “You won’t have any royal responsibilities at first, save for perhaps appearing alongside me at events from time to time, but…” she smiled. “I can only stop so much, but I promise, I will do everything in my power to make sure your status does not hinder your personal goals and pursuits.”
Rainbow visibly relaxed at that, giving a nod. “Okay… I’m trusting you to keep your word on that.”
“I will do my best. And the second condition?” Celestia pressed, making Rainbow fidget in place.
“My second condition, uh…” she paused, suddenly looking a little timid. “Well… we’re gonna be in Canterlot, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we will,” Celestia answered slowly. “I know you have friends here, and I am sorry that my offer means having to pull you away from them. But, if it makes you feel any better, you are more than welcome to write them letters, and visitation can also be arranged when circumstances permit it.”
Rainbow breathed out a small sigh of relief. “Okay... Well, I’m still gonna be leaving my best friend, Fluttershy, behind. So…” she shook herself and met Celestia’s gaze. “I wanna spend the night with her before we do this thing. I…” she looked down, looking timid again. “I wanna say goodbye to her.”
Celestia watched Rainbow for a few moments then smiled warm and wide. “So long as it is okay with her and her family, then I see no reason to say no to this request.”
Rainbow stood there and stiffly nodded her head. After a moment, she lifted her eyes, just barely peeking out from behind her messy and unkempt mane. There were a lot of things shimmering in those deep pink orbs. Resignation, grief, anxiety… but more than that, there was hope and acceptance. “Alright… then… I guess that’s that.”
Celestia gave a slow nod, then looked past Rainbow at Sky Dreamer, who had a joyful, albeit subdued, grin on her face. “Sky Dreamer, I will be escorting Rainbow to her friend’s house. Then I will be coming back here and we can go through whatever processes remain.”
Dreamer gave a big smile and a respectful bow of her head. “Of course, Celestia. I’ll be here.”
Celestia then stood up and turned slightly, gesturing for Rainbow to step in front of her. “Please, lead the way.”
Rainbow let out a breath and stepped past the gates of the orphanage. She paused briefly and glanced back over her shoulder, locking eyes with the yellow filly on the steps. The two looked at each other for a moment, before Rainbow gave her a small smile and a nod.
The filly, in turn, smiled back and began to wave. She kept it up as Rainbow and Celestia took to the air, and did not stop until they disappeared into the cityscape beyond the orphanage.
Eight years later, two nights before the 1000th Summer Sun Celebration...
The sun had set on the capital city of Canterlot a short while ago, and Rainbow Dash found the darkness of the night to be far more unsettling than usual. Several torches were lit in sconces along the walls, filling the hallways with dancing orange light and the sound of crackling flames. She glanced to her side as she walked, catching sight of the full moon outside, and the Mare in The Moon staring back at her.
A chill ran up her spine. Rainbow and Twilight would be leaving for Ponyville tomorrow morning. Twilight had been given the assignment of overseeing the preparations for the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration, while Rainbow would be in charge of clearing the skies so everypony could see the sunrise.
Of course, there was also the unwritten, and far more serious duty, of keeping Twilight safe when Nightmare Moon emerged. Rainbow cringed at that thought and tore her eyes away from the moon. She then shook her head and scolded herself mentally. “Focus, Rainbow! You’re not here to worry about ancient alicorns!”
She soon came to her destination and turned to her left. There was an ornate double-door there, made of fine wood and decorated with motifs of the sun and moon. It was guarded by two members of the royal guard, one on each side. They nodded at her as she passed, but otherwise did not react to her.
She walked right by her own bedroom and soon found herself staring down the ornate doors that lead to Celestia’s personal bedroom. Her face twisted into an uncertain grimace, and she looked down at the floor. She shook herself and took a deep breath, getting her thoughts together.
She then lifted her hoof and gave a gentle knock. After a moment of silence, she pushed the door open, revealing Celestia’s room. It was a spacious affair, colored with deep golds and rich purples, along with a black and white checkered floor. A fireplace burned in one corner, casting a warm and inviting orange glow across it all.
Celestia herself was laying on a cushion in front of the fireplace. All of her regalias had been taken off for the night, leaving her in a casual and relaxed state that very few ponies ever got to see her in. She looked over at Rainbow and gave her a small smile. “Rainbow Dash, hello,” she greeted softly as the pegasus stepped in.
“Hey,” Rainbow replied before closing the door behind her. She shifted on her hooves, then started to move for the pillow directly next to Celestia’s. “Can we talk?”
“Of course, Rainbow. What is it?” Celestia asked and nodded while extending a wing. She smiled and beckoned for Rainbow to get comfortable under it, and she did not refuse.
Rainbow settled down on her belly by Celestia’s side and felt the wing drape itself over her. Feeling the large appendage that had been used to shield her and serve as a blanket for her many times in the past made her concerns wash away. Combined with the warmth of the fireplace, she let out a sigh and visibly relaxed.
The two were quiet for a short time, just enjoying the moment. Rainbow was here for a reason, though, and cleared her throat. “I, uh… I wanna apologize to you,” she finally admitted, looking down at her hooves.
Celestia tilted her head. “Apologize? How come?”
Rainbow shifted uneasily. “Well… ever since Twilight’s coma, I’ve been pretty cold to you,” she admitted, no small amount of shame in her voice. “Short-tempered, accusatory, blunt, sarcastic. And not in a good way.”
Celestia looked away and gave a small sigh. “You have every reason to be upset with me,” she stated with some regret. After a few seconds, she then returned her gaze to Rainbow and offered her a small smile. “But you don’t have much longer to wait before you get your answers. You have been incredibly patient with me, and I am so proud of you for that.”
Rainbow hummed before lowering her head and resting her chin on her hooves. “Maybe I’ve been patient, and maybe I had a good reason to be upset, but that’s not an excuse for acting the way I have. Plus, Nightmare Moon’s coming back tomorrow night.”
Celestia’s eyes widened slightly in realization. “Rainbow… are you-”
“No!” Rainbow denied the assertion before she even heard it. “I am not scared! Nuh uh, nope!”
Celestia gave her a flat look. “Rainbow.”
Rainbow sighed, her resolve melting away under that knowing look. “...Okay, fine. You never tell anyone I said this, but I am a little scared.”
Rainbow looked away. “That… things might end badly. That I might not get a chance to make up for how I’ve been.”
Celestia was still for a moment and then pulled Rainbow closer with her wing. “Rainbow Dash, again, you don’t have to apologize to me for this. But I appreciate it all the same,” she murmured in a hushed voice while giving Rainbow a loving nuzzle.
Rainbow hesitated, then returned the gesture. Once she pulled back, she gave Celestia another look. “There’s uh… one more thing I kinda wanna bring up with you before Twilight and I go tomorrow,” she said, her expression and voice becoming bashful.
Celestia raised an eyebrow, curious. “Go on,” she encouraged with a soft squeeze of her wing.
Rainbow swallowed her pride and spoke. “I… um… Thank you. Thank you for adopting me and taking care of me. I…” she looked away again, a red tint appearing on her cheeks. “I really, uh… I appreciate it. I think I’d have ended up a whole lot worse if you hadn’t come around when you did. Heck, who knows where I’d be? I was about ready to run off and join a circus or something...”
Celestia’s expression became one of shock. She stared at her daughter for several seconds, and Rainbow continued.
“So, thank you. Thank you for being my mom. If something goes wrong with Nightmare Moon, I…” she met Celestia’s eyes and smiled. “I just want you to know that I am really happy I went with you.”
Celestia just stared at Rainbow, dumbstruck. Her expression then melted into one of unquestionable motherly love. She pulled Rainbow even closer against her side and gave her one more nuzzle. “You are so, so welcome. And thank you for agreeing to let me adopt you in the first place. Having you as my daughter has been a challenge and a joy in so many new and wonderful ways… It is, has been, and always will be, my honor.”
Finally, Rainbow unfolded her own wing and did her best to reciprocate the side hug. The size difference made it a bit of a challenge, but she managed. Once she was comfortable again, she gave a quiet chuckle. “Heh… it’s almost like we’re saying goodbye or something.”
Celestia tittered softly under her breath, then shook her head. “No… not goodbye,” she denied before giving Rainbow a meaningful and knowing smile. One of unbounded confidence and pride. “Because I know that everything is going to be alright.”
Rainbow put on a cocky grin and gave a sharp nod. “Heh, darn straight! If Nightmare tries messing with Twilight, she won’t know what hit her! I’ll keep Twilight safe, I promise.”
Celestia smiled at her even wider. “I know you will... my little filly...”
Rainbow snuggled up to Celestia little bit at that, and the two fell into a serene and companionable silence. They didn’t need to say anything else just then. At that moment, in that place, a mother and daughter were perfectly content to just be in the other’s presence, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the calm of the night.
Time began to pass, the flames watching over them all the way. Celestia felt herself starting to doze off when a sound hit her ears. It was Rainbow Dash… snoring. Celestia shifted and looked down to see that Rainbow had fallen into a peaceful sleep against her side, her mouth hanging open just a little bit.
Celestia giggled quietly under her breath and then set about lifting the sleeping mare onto her back. Moving slowly so as to not disturb her, Celestia left her own room and took Rainbow across the hall to hers. The door swung open with a gentle golden glow and a quiet creak.
With slow and deliberate movements, without using magic, Celestia pulled back the sheets on Rainbow’s bed, then set her down under them. Celestia stood there by Rainbow’s bedside for several minutes, each one feeling like an eternity just watching her adopted daughter sleep. She then looked out the window at the moon.
The Mare in The Moon glared silently at her, and Celestia smiled back. “Luna… it’s almost time for you to come home, little sister…” she whispered before her gaze returned to Rainbow Dash.
Princess Celestia watched with a small smile as the young filly named Twilight Sparkle rocketed from her place by her side on the fire-side cushion. She all but sprinted out of Celestia’s personal bed chambers and turned to head down the hall, ready to return to her own room and begin on her homework for the week.
Before disappearing from view, though, she slid to a halt a few paces out of the door. Her muzzle scrunched up, and she spun around on her hooves to bow deeply before the princess of the sun. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Princess Celestia!” she announced with her head down. “Good night!”
Celestia stifled a laugh behind her hoof, then gave a sage nod. “So you will. Go on, now. Get some rest. I have to lower the sun,” she responded before rising to her hooves. She watched as Twilight gave a sharp nod, then turned and disappeared into the halls. The echoing of her hooves on the floor grew distant, then faded away into silence.
A few seconds later, a white-furred face framed by a golden helmet leaned into view from next to the door. “Should I go with her, your highness?” the guard asked in a gravelly voice, his eyes briefly flicking down the hall that Twilight disappeared down.
Celestia just shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. She knows the way by now,” she said before stretching her back and wings, both having gone stiff after almost three hours spent sitting in one spot and going through the filly’s notes. Her back and shoulders let off a few deeply satisfying pops before she straightened out. “Now, I ask that you leave me to my privacy for now. Do not disturb me unless it is an emergency, understood?”
The guard bowed his head respectfully. “As you command, your highness.”
With that, Celestia used her magic to close the door of her room, leaving her well and truly alone. She stood there for a few moments, the only sound being the snapping and popping of the fireplace that burned not far away from her. The flickering orange light it emitted would be very welcome once the darkness of the night set in.
With a sigh, Celestia turned and lightly pushed open the balcony windows of her room with her magic, allowing the rapidly cooling air to wash over her. She stepped out and took in a long, deep breath through her nose before letting it out through her mouth. Her eyes lazily scanned over the great city of Canterlot below her.
Gazing down into the streets, she spied several ponies going about their days in the waning evening light. Many were talking to friends and neighbors as they came home from work. Others were closing up shop or stepping in for night shifts. Still more were heading out for a late night drink or meal at one of the city’s many fine establishments.
Then, Celestia turned her gaze to stare intently at the distant horizon. The sun rested there, just at the edge, ready to begin its final descent to make way for the night. And so Celestia’s horn lit up with golden light. She reached out, feeling for the specific signature of the distant and enormous mass. Soon, she found it, and began to lower it down below the horizon.
All the while, her eyes would occasionally flick down to the ponies in the streets.
So many of them were friends with one another. She could tell from the way they waved at one another, their body language as they made their way down the streets. It was a truly heartwarming sight. But as the moon rose, and the Mare in The Moon glared angrily back at her from so far away, Celestia’s heart felt anything but warm.
She was running out of time.
Nightmare Moon would only be imprisoned for so long. Celestia knew all too well what would happen in barely eight more years. Nightmare Moon would be released from her thousand-year prison, and then who knew the damage she would cause? Celestia could only imagine...
And with her link to the elements growing weaker day by day, she knew it would not be within her power to stop the Fallen Alicorn. That responsibility would have to fall on others. Celestia bit her lip and looked solemnly down at her hooves as she gave that matter some thought.
She released her hold on the celestial objects after a few minutes, allowing the moon’s momentum to carry it across the heavens. She would not need to attend to either it or the sun until it was time for sunrise.
That was the last thing on her mind, though. Celestia slowly shook her head and gazed up at the moon again, regret and longing in her eyes. “...Oh, sister… Lulu… I wish you were here,” she whispered quietly to herself, although she hoped and wished with all of her heart that her sister could hear her. “And I hope you can forgive me…”
There was no response, of course. The Mare in The Moon was as static as ever, glaring with nothing but vitriol and resentment back into Celestia’s very soul. She tore her eyes away from the depressing reminder of her past failures and instead focused on the streets again. Already, the ponies below were heading back into their homes, preparing to go to bed for the night.
“The Elements of Harmony are powerful…” she whispered to herself. “But they cannot be wielded properly by only one pony… Twilight needs friends if she’s going to be able to stop Nightmare Moon…” her expression almost became frustrated as she thought back on her student. “But she’s so closed off… who knows how many friends she could have made by now if she had just opened up? I need to find some way to get her to put the books aside and talk to some of the other foals…”
She began to pace back and forth as she talked to herself, tuning the rest of the world out as she did so. “Hmmmm. Maybe… maybe I could close the library for the day? Or, maybe I could throw a party in the courtyard? She’d have to interact with other ponies, then…”
For almost a solid minute this continued before Celestia came to a stop and put a hoof to her chin. She then gazed up at the Mare in The Moon, a thought occurring to her.
But before she could open her mouth and speak of it, something happened.
A deep, heavy boom sounded somewhere deep in her skull, and her vision distorted. The sounds of the mountainous winds and the distant chirps of crickets became hazy and muffled, and all sensation in her body became dulled and numb. An impossible weight began to pool inside of Celestia’s legs, as if someone had filled them with solid bricks of cast iron.
As her eyes went wide in shock, her heart began to beat frantically against her ribs. It was impossible to focus her vision, and the world began to spin and become murky. “Wha… what…?” she choked out, though it was almost impossible to speak through the sensations, and she couldn’t even hear the words through the steadily growing ringing in her ears.
She fell heavily to her haunches, her mind racing with panic as white tendrils began to appear and lick at the edges of her vision. Her breath was starting to come in heavier and heavier gasps. She was only just able to lift her gaze to meet that of the Mare in The Moon again.
Then, with a sharp gasp, her forelegs flew up to cover her eyes, and her world was flooded with blinding white.
She was pacing in the throne room of Canterlot Castle, furiously muttering to herself in anxiety. Her hooves twitched with every nervous step she took, and her wings routinely ruffled at her sides. She spun around and began to make her way back the way she had come, more words slipping out of her throat with seemingly no end. “But Ponyville is so far away from here…!” she stated in a jittery and almost fantic voice. “It’s all the way down the mountain. And I wouldn’t be there to make sure everything went well. And the Everfree Forest is right there, and that’s where the Elements are!”
“What am I seeing?” Princess Celestia asked herself as she watched this strange vision unfold, seeing the world through the eyes of herself. But she was not in control of her own actions, only able to watch and listen as the other continued to pace back and forth across the marble floor.
“The forest and castle are filled with dangerous monsters. And what if those rumors of dark magic still being in the castle are true?!” Celestia’s eyes went wide as that horrible thought occurred to her, and her muscles stiffened even as she paced.
“And she’ll have to go through the forest to even get there! What if she runs into a manticore? Or what if she gets pulled into Tartarus? Or worst of all…” she came to a stop in the dead center of the hallway, her hoof flying up to her chattering teeth. “What if she doesn’t get along with anypony?!”
While she stood there, petrified and shaking with an overwhelming anxiety, two guards who stood by her throne could be seen. Celestia just caught them muttering to each other.
“Are we supposed to say something?”
“I don’t think so.”
The vision suddenly went still. Celestia, if she had control over her eyelids, would have blinked in confusion. Several seconds passed in silence. Suddenly, there was a sound like cracking glass, and her vision shattered as if it were a window.
Celestia gave a sharp gasp of shock as reality came rushing back to meet her. She swayed in her sitting position, then threw out her forelegs to catch herself. She remained still for several moments, desperately sucking in lungfuls of air to calm herself down. Eventually, she was able to relax and catch her breath.
She slowly rose to her hooves, and one of them flew up to try and quell the rapidly flaring pain in her skull. She spent almost a solid minute there, just waiting for the pain in her head and the frantic beating of her heart to die down. At last, though, they did, and she allowed herself to quietly sigh in relief as she began to feel normal again.
She then turned to gaze up at the moon, and her expression formed into a frown. “What… was that?” she asked quietly.
But of course, just like always, the silent stare of the moon held no answers.
Celestia sighed and shook her head before turning to head back into her room. A breathy chuckle slipped out of her. Perhaps she was just stressing herself out over Twilight’s future too much. The chuckle quickly petered out into a thoughtful hum as she gave it some more thought. In all of the years of her life, she had never once heard of or experienced stress-induced hallucinations that looked or felt anything like that.
It was a rare thing, and an occurrence that had not transpired since before she was forced to banish Luna, but maybe it was a vision of some kind? But if it was a vision, what could it have meant? In the past, such things had been instinctual warnings of looming threats...
With that troubling thought in her mind, Celestia nestled down under the blankets of her bed, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.
She did not dream that night...
Something was wrong.
Princess Celestia opened her eyes with a sharp intake of breath through her nose. Her eyes darted from side to side as she studied her surroundings, and her brow furrowed at what she saw. A wary and cautious frown spread on her face, and she lifted her head to get a better look.
She was no longer in her bed in her personal chambers. Instead, she found herself resting in the center of some kind of platform made out of purple crystals that reached for about fifteen feet in every direction. Beyond the uneven and jagged edge of the platform, a white void stretched on for as far as the eye could see.
With her ears standing at attention and listening intently for anything that might be a threat, Celestia stood up. Her bare hooves clacked gently against the cool crystal, letting her know that her crown, horseshoes and regalia were not on her body. Frowning, she slowly turned in place, trying to find something of note in the abyss.
Then she saw it.
High above her and completely unfathomable in scale, was a long current of energy comprised of all the colors of the rainbow. It gently danced and undulated in slow motion, and when Celestia looked closer, she realized it was made up of literally countless smaller threads of light.
With her jaw hanging open in mystified wonder, Celestia traced the current with her eyes for a time, following it until she saw its end. When she found it, her jaw clamped shut and her eyes narrowed in confusion.
The current was getting longer. The current was extending at its farthest point, as if a river that had long been dammed was now flowing free again. Looking beyond the break, Celestia could just make out a few dull wisps that looked to be steadily fading away into nothing.
“Can you hear me?” A regal and feminine voice spoke from behind her, echoing in the abyss. Celestia spun on her hooves, her wings flaring open defensively and her horn igniting with golden light. There was nopony there, however.
Celestia scowled, folded her wings at her side, and looked around again. “Who’s there?! Show yourself!” she called out, her heart rate starting to accelerate.
She slowly turned in place, eyes peeled for the speaker. She then held still when she saw several of the small threads from the greater current overhead drifting down for the platform she stood on. She took a few steps back, her eyes tracking the wisps cautiously and her horn ready to fire off a spell at a moment’s notice.
The energy gathered together in front of her, each wisp weaving and sewing together until they assumed a form vaguely shaped like a pony. Their light pulsed and grew many times over in intensity, forcing Celestia to squint and look away. It then dimmed and faded, and Celestia turned to look again.
The light had assumed a fully physical form now, and as she looked upon it, Celestia’s eyes went wide. She took a shocked step back, and began to uselessly mouth like a fish as she desperately tried to find her voice. Nothing came though, and all she could do was stare in abject confusion at the creature before her.
The other pony… it was her. Another Princess Celestia stood directly before her, although the doppelganger was still clad in her royal attire. She had her eyes closed, and a gentle golden glow was steadily fading from her horn. The double then opened her eyes, and looked deep into Celestia’s.
She couldn’t help but wince. There was something deeply unsettling about staring into her own eyes. It wasn’t anything at all like looking into a mirror, as the reflection was flipped. Here, though…
Celestia forced down her anxiety and straightened her posture. “What is happening?” she requested sharply while her wings once again opened up in a defensive posture.
The other Celestia hesitated for a moment at the display, as if she were trying to think of how best to answer the question. Eventually, though, she straightened her posture, cleared her throat, and spoke in a calm and diplomatic tone. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to harm you. I apologize for my sudden appearance; you must be terribly confused. But I must speak with you at once; it is urgent.”
Urgent? Celestia narrowed her eyes. “How come?” she shot back, taking a few steps to the side while watching her doppleganger like a hawk.
Celestia’s double sighed and slowly shook her head. ”It is a very long and complicated story, and-”
Celestia huffed dismissively. “Long and complicated stories are something I am intimately acquainted with,” she countered while slowly folding her wings back up at her sides. “Now tell me who you are, why you’re here, where here is, and why you look exactly like me.”
Celestia’s double blinked at that, before chuckling merrily in amusement. Celestia shifted back a few inches at the sound, her mind continuing to reel from just how off-putting it was to be speaking with another one of herself.
After a moment, her double sobered up and spoke again. “I suppose you are right on that. I am sorry; I guess it just hasn’t hit me yet that I am speaking to myself,” she said in a wistful, almost nostalgic voice. She lifted her gaze and met Celestia’s eye directly.
Celestia shifted on her hooves, one eyebrow flying up to disappear beneath her flowing mane. “I beg your pardon? Speaking to yourself?”
Her double nodded slowly, and her expression became far more serious. “Yes… I am you. More specifically, I am you from about twelve years in the future,” she explained without a hint of hesitation or mirth.
Celestia’s eyebrow was quickly joined by its twin, and her mind was sent reeling. The future? How? It was true that there was a time travel spell, Celestia knew. After all, it was kept in the palace archives and under heavy watch, just like all of Starswirl The Bearded’s works. But that spell could only send somepony back about a week, and only for a few minutes. There was no way that this mare before her could be telling the truth. And yet…
As Celestia looked at her double, and her mind adjusted to seeing itself without being flipped by a mirror, she found she was unwilling, perhaps even unable, to doubt the other alicorn...
When she noticed how thick the silence had become, Celestia shook herself and straightened her posture, regaining some of her fleeting composure. “...How? How did you come back here? And more importantly, why?” she asked carefully, still trying to be skeptical, despite her instincts telling her that she was not being lied to.
“It’s probably because, if this mare is me from the future,” she thought to herself. “Then we are both the same pony. And on some level… we know it.”
Her double quietly sighed at Celestia’s questions, and turned to gaze back up to the prismatic current. Her posture sagged with regret, and her ears drooped. “...I’m contacting you from my time using a somewhat modified version of the spell invented by Starswirl. The closed-loop failsafe has been removed for the sake of making this meeting possible.”
Celestia frowned and took a few steps forward, her own eyes locking onto the current high above their heads. “You are using the power of my…” she paused, and couldn’t help the tiny smirk that formed on her face. “I mean, ‘our’ teacher to contact me… Very well,” she turned her gaze to her double, once more becoming serious. “But that does not explain why you are doing so.”
Her double was quiet for a moment, continuing to stare wistfully at the distant light as she pondered her response. She then lowered her eyes and spoke in a resigned tone. “As I said, it is a long story, and I am not sure how much time I have to speak with you.”
“Then be concise,” Celestia suggested plainly.
Her double huffed quietly in acknowledgement. ”Very well. A few days ago, from my perspective, a powerful unicorn named Starlight Glimmer traveled back into the past to the time and place of the Sonic Rainboom. She was trying to get revenge on Princess Twilight and the other wielders of the Elements by undoing their entire lives. To do this, she had to prevent the Rainboom from ever happening. It was the key event that brought them together, you see.”
Celestia’s brain stalled for a moment as her counterpart spoke. She turned to look at her with her ears standing upright and her eyes wide. “Wait, hold on,” she interrupted abruptly, drawing a confused glance from her future self.
Celestia swallowed a lump in her throat and spoke again. “Did you say… Princess Twilight?” she asked in a hushed voice, the image of a grown up lavender alicorn filling her mind.
Her double blinked in surprise, then gave a quiet and heartfelt titter. “Oh, yes. I suppose that her ascension is still a long ways away for you, isn’t it?”
“She passed her tests?” Celestia pressed, unable to keep the eagerness and hope out of her voice. “She made friends? Awoke the elements?”
Her double’s smile only grew in size, and again, she nodded. “Yes, she did. She did everything right. She is now the Princess of Friendship, and she has done many great things over the last few years…”
Celestia leaned forward, taking a few excited steps towards her double. “Please, tell me! What all has she-”
“I can’t,” her double suddenly cut her off, her tone regretful and her posture moreso. She met Celestia’s gaze and slowly shook her head. “I cannot tell you anything more about the future. The more you know, the greater the risk of the changes growing larger and harder to contain.”
Celestia froze in place, feeling like she had just crashed muzzle first into a brick wall at the end of a very long and exhilarating slide. She took a few steps back and gave a grim nod. “I see… fine, then…”
“I am sorry,” her double apologized weakly before looking back up at the current. “As I was saying… Princess Twilight followed Starlight Glimmer into the past, and did everything she could to put things right. The two of them visited many alternate times in the process, each of them one where the Sonic Rainboom had never happened. They were not overwritten in those alternate times, however. Twilight believes that the Tree of Harmony knew that something was wrong, and used what power it had to preserve the time travelers so they could put things back into order.”
Celestia’s brow furrowed in thought as she heard this. “The Sonic Rainboom… I believe that happened a little over two months ago…” she mused quietly before her double continued.
“Good, that means that the destinies of the future Elements are set,” she said, a notable hint of relief in her voice. She lowered her gaze from the current to look at Celestia again.
“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of ours…”
“What do you mean?”
Celestia’s double visibly wilted before continuing. “Twilight and Starlight came back to our time a few days ago, reporting that the Rainboom had gone uninterrupted, and that all should be back to normal. But…” Celestia’s double slowly lifted her gaze to meet hers, and Celestia froze. The sheer hopelessness in those eyes… it was enough to make her take a few steps back.
Her double continued. “Many of my subjects began to report two sets of memories in their minds. Two lives. And at night, if we look up, we can see the heavens themselves breaking apart and tearing open… and through the gaps, we can see this place,” she gestured up at the void and the current of energy that wound through it.
Celestia looked at her other self curiously. She took a few moments to wrap her head around everything she was hearing, then cleared her throat. “And… what is this place?” she questioned before her eyes locked onto the current again. “I have never seen anything quite like it.”
“Our best guess is that this is the flow of time itself. Or rather, what is,” she gestured with a hoof at the current above their heads. “And what could be,” she then gestured more widely at the empty abyss that surrounded them.
Celestia’s eyes widened somewhat. Her jaw wanted so very much to drop open again, and she found herself unable to stop it as she stared with newfound wonder at the light. “So… I’m looking at all of time?” she whispered slowly.
“To be more accurate, you’re looking at it in its current state,” her double gently corrected before pointing at where the current ended. “And right now... it is broken. The current is not supposed to end there. That is where the Rainboom happened. My time is supposed to extend well beyond that…”
She then pointed towards the wispy light that was drifting and fading away, and Celestia could see now that it had been cut away from the rest of the current.
Her double continued. “But my time is dissolving, and yours is now forming to replace it. History is taking a new direction, the river is finding a new path to flow down…” she set her hoof down and looked helplessly at Celestia. “The pages are being rewritten.”
Celestia blinked and looked at her double again in shock. “What? But, I thought that Princess Twilight had put things back to normal!”
“So we thought…” Her double muttered in a quiet and defeated voice, her ears drooping. “But neither she or Starlight thought to consider the small changes. Something as insignificant as a cloud being moved even one or two inches could, in the long term, have colossal ramifications. Something changed while they were there, no doubt caused by their presence, but it was not a large enough change to prevent the Rainboom.”
“But what about Twilight and Starlight? Can’t they go back and try to put things right again?!” Celestia tried, her voice growing in volume. “They went back before, what’s stopping them now?”
“Our existence is ephemeral,” Her double replied in barely even a whisper. “Right now, we are existing in a dissolving world that may only last for another few days from our perspective. We don’t have a strong enough place as we are to go back again. And even if they did, what would Starlight and Twilight even be able to do? They have no idea what changed, and in trying to put things right, may only make them worse. Besides, the scroll that housed the spell was pulled into the abyss upon their return. We cannot use that version of it again.”
She turned back to Celestia, her expression hardening with conviction. “We are fading, and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. All we can do is reach out and make sure that our new selves are prepared and able to keep things on track.”
The two Celestias were quiet for a short time, both of them looking up at the timeline in deep thought. Eventually, though, one of them had to break the silence. Celestia turned to her future self and frowned. “I see… but why contact me if you do not wish to cause any more changes?”
Her double looked at her firmly. “That is, in part, the point,” she elaborated before turning and trotting along the platform again. “Time has become unstable. At least, that is what we’ve come to believe from Princess Twilight’s observations of the current and her theories. Something changed, and it was a small enough change for the Tree of Harmony to permit the new timeline to override our own. Twilight and Starlight are no longer preserved. However, we can not be certain if the changes will remain small, or in any way favorable.”
She came to a stop at the other side of the platform and then spun around to face Celestia, her expression becoming far more serious. “And so I am contacting you. Twilight will be contacting herself once I have taught her the spell. Although, there is no telling when she will receive the message… She may have gotten it already, or it may still be yet to come.”
Celestia’s brow furrowed as she thought the strange idea over. “...I assume this is because, as you said, time is unstable?” she deduced, drawing a nod from her double.
“Quite, especially on our end. Reaching through a schism in the fabric of time itself to contact your own self in a still forming timeline is more than a little imprecise. Especially when your own time is in the process of fading away.”
Celestia nodded along. “I think I understand…” her expression then turned solemn, and she gazed back up at her other self. “But… are you certain that there nothing that can be done? Nothing to preserve your time, or make it so we can both coexist?”
Her double sagged and shook her head. “No. not that we know of, at least. As far as we understand, it would require meddling in the same event that caused the change to begin with…” her expression hardened again. “So instead, I am entrusting you with ensuring that your new timeline goes as smoothly as possible. Take whatever actions you have to in order to ensure the six new wielders of the Elements are in Ponyville on the night of Nightmare Moon’s return. They must come together.
“But at the same time, you must ensure that you do not reveal your knowledge of what has happened to time. The more ponies whose lives are completely unaffected by this, the better.”
Celestia hummed thoughtfully, her brow furrowing. This was all a lot to take in, but nudging ponies in certain directions and keeping a strong poker face were things she was good at. If things were as her double claimed, this would hopefully not be too difficult. But still… she would need to know more if she wanted to do this effectively. “What specifically changed? Do you know?”
“Only that it was during the race that led to the Sonic Rainboom. You mentioned that it has already happened for you, yes?” Her double questioned, her expression becoming briefly concerned.
Celestia nodded, a small smile spreading on her face. “Yes, it was about two or three months ago, I think. It was what set off the magic surge that let Twilight pass her magic exam and become my student. The little filly who pulled it off was named Rainbow Dash, if I am remembering correctly.”
Her double smiled fondly, no doubt remembering the very same event. “You are. Something small changed in that event. Maybe it was just a cloud being put out of position. Perhaps somepony spotted the conflict between Twilight and Starlight, but did nothing to interfere. It is hard to say, but something changed that day.”
Celestia’s smile slowly faded as she gave that day some more thought. Specifically, she gave the little filly who performed the Rainboom some thought. She thought back on what little she knew of her. She knew that, of all of the candidates for the Elements of Harmony, Rainbow Dash was far and away the most likely one to claim Loyalty at the moment. But more than that, she knew…
Her expression darkened considerably as she recalled the incident that had occured in Baltimare just short of two weeks ago. She had gone to the city itself to address the situation personally. She remembered with sorrow the list of ponies who had died in that disaster, and two names stuck out in her mind.
Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles. The parents of Rainbow Dash...
“Is something wrong?” Celestia’s future self asked with concern when she saw her more grim expression, drawing a long and thoughtful hum from the alicorn. Celestia looked back up at her double before speaking up.
“Tell me... In your time, did Rainbow Dash come to wield the Element of Loyalty?”
“Yes, she did.”
“And was there an accident in Baltimare a couple of months after she performed the Sonic Rainboom? A metal crane snapping under the weight of its cargo, dropping everything onto a crowd of ponies in the streets below?”
Celestia’s double grimaced at the memory before nodding her head. “Yes, that did happen. It was a terrible tragedy…”
Celestia nodded along, her expression turning darker by the second. “And tell me… were Rainbow Dash’s parents among the dead?”
That caught Celestia’s double by complete surprise. She shifted on her hooves while her eyes snapped wide open in horror. Her ears stood at attention, and her wings unfurled from her sides just slightly. “Wha… what? Why are you asking me this?!”
Celestia lowered her hoof and took a deep breath. “...Because for me, they were. They were both crushed to death by the crane itself, and Rainbow Dash has been sent to an orphanage in Cloudsdale, as she has no extended family to take her in.”
There were several seconds of tense silence before Celestia’s double looked down and grimaced. “This is bad… so large a change… To answer your question, no, Rainbow Dash’s parents are still alive and well in my time...” she lifted her eyes back to Celestia. “But at least now you have somewhere to start.”
Celestia’s ears drooped, and she looked away. “Yes, but… what will become of Rainbow Dash, now? The poor filly… nopony deserves to lose their parents…”
Her double shook her head in agreement before stepping forward. “No, they don’t. I wish I could give you some advice, but as of now, you know your situation far better than I do. Your main priority must still be to bring the Elements together in Ponyville for the return of Nightmare Moon. If you must pull some strings, than so be it.”
Celestia’s lips twitched just slightly at that remark. “Pulling strings… I hope I may one day be done with such things,” she noted with a shake of her head. She straightened her posture. “I shall give the matter some thought…”
Her double smiled, then reached out to put her hoof on Celestia’s shoulder. “Good. I know you won’t fail in this.”
Celestia slowly brushed the hoof away and looked back up at the current of time. Her double followed her gaze, and the two fell into a long and contemplative silence.
Eventually, though, Celestia turned back to her double, a question in her eyes. “May I ask you something?”
Her future self turned to look at her and gave a nod. “Of course. I have some time yet before my charge on this spell wears off. If there is anything else I can tell you that may be of assistance, let me know.”
Celestia shrugged absently. “I do not know if it is related or not, but… before I went to bed and woke up here, I had a peculiar vision… I was seeing something happen through my own eyes. I was pacing back and forth, frantically talking to myself about whether or not it would be safe to send Twilight to Ponyville…” she glanced at her other again. “Do you have any theories?”
Celestia’s double raised an eyebrow, then gazed up at the current again. A frown crossed her muzzle, and her brow creased. “Well… it could be something similar to the two sets of memories my subjects have been experiencing. There is probably some overlap between the timelines. After all, if Twilight’s theories are correct, ours will still be fading away from your perspective until you have reached the same point where we ended.”
Celestia gave that some thought. “Hmmm… I’ll have to look into it another time,” she mused before her expression turned somewhat more inquisitive. “May I ask you something else?”
Celestia hesitated, not quite able to meet her double’s eyes. She struggled for a moment to find her words before speaking. “I… I know that you told me you can’t give away details about what Twilight has done or faced, but… I still wish to know more about how she grew up. Can you at least tell me that? Even vague details would be nice. And perhaps the information can serve to guide my actions.”
Celestia’s double frowned in thought for a moment, before she looked up at the current of time again. The silence was back, thicker than before, and Celestia began to fear that her question would be unanswered.
But then her double’s face lit up with a gentle smile. “...Very well. I suppose I can tell you a story, or two… I may not get another chance to speak of it, after all…” she then shifted to look into Celestia’s eyes and gave a warm smile. “And I do not want these memories to be lost when I am gone… Will you carry them in my stead?”
Celestia smiled back at her double and nodded slowly. “Of course. It would be my honor…” she agreed in a soft tone.
Celestia’s double slowly lowered herself into a lying position on her belly. She allowed her left foreleg to dangle over the edge of the crystal platform and gave a quiet sigh. Celestia followed suit, assuming a nearly identical posture. They were quiet for a moment before Celestia’s double closed her eyes and began her first story.
For what felt like hours, the two Celestias, one from a dying future, and one from an uncertain past, spoke at length about the little filly who became the wielder of the Element of Magic, and the Princess of Friendship. While Celestia’s future self was true to her word, and spoke vaguely in every story, there was no denying that the Twilight she knew was a kind, loving, and dependable mare.
But alas, the stories could only be told for so long.
As Celestia’s double finished her final story, the world around them suddenly shuddered. A piece of the crystal platform cracked and broke away into the abyss, the sound almost deafening in the otherwise silent void. Both Celestias rose to their hooves at the sight and sound.
“What has happened?” Celestia asked warily, her posture becoming defensive.
Her double merely looked defeated, and she shook her head in defeat and resignation. “Our time is up…”
Celestia looked back at her double in confusion, then gasped when she saw that she was beginning to lose her shape. The swirling threads of light that had weaved together to form her were starting to come undone, making her appear wispy and transparent. Celestia’s double closed her eyes, a sad smile appearing on her muzzle.
“It is time for me to go back. I can no longer maintain this spell…” she opened her eyes to look into Celestia’s one last time. “At the risk of sounding perhaps a little self absorbed… I have full and complete faith in you…”
Celestia was speechless for a moment. But after a moment, she set her jaw and nodded. “I won’t let you down. I swear it.”
Her double’s smile grew, and she closed her eyes.
And then she faded away. The many ribbons that made her up came completely undone, and returned to the abyss.
Celestia watched them go, flying farther and farther away until they were no longer visible. She then turned her gaze up and stared at the current of time itself. Her expression hardened with resolve as she followed one of the threads in that current continuing to grow and extend. She nodded to herself, resolve burning bright in her belly.
“I won’t let you down…”
The crystal platform beneath her suddenly cracked, and the air was filled with the deafening clatter of shattering glass.
And then she woke up.
Celestia awoke with a shout, a sheen of cold sweat covering her body from horn to hoof. She was gasping heavily, and reached a heavily shaking hoof up to her chest as she tried to get her ragged breathing under control.
Her mind was racing at a breakneck pace, trying to sort through everything that had just been unloaded onto her. It felt almost like a dream, but she knew that it was far too real to be anything but the truth. She took another shaky breath before finally managing to calm down, even if only somewhat. Several minutes passed before, at last, she was able to lean back and relax into her pillow again.
For a long, long time, she just lay there, staring at the ceiling and thinking about what she now knew. At one point, she looked over at the clock that hung against the wall, and she saw that it was almost time for her to raise the sun. She was almost tempted to raise it early and get it out of the way, but she knew her subjects probably wouldn’t care for an unannounced disturbance in their routine.
As she waited for the time to come, she ran over everything that had just happened in great detail. Time was changing, and the future was uncertain. She needed to take actions and ensure that things stayed on course. Specifically, she needed to make sure that the new wielders of the Elements would be in Ponyville when Nightmare Moon returned…
And right now, one of those future wielders had had her entire life flipped on its head and ruined. Rainbow Dash’s parents were dead… if what Celestia’s future self said was reliable, then this was already a huge change to the course of events. Who knew if Rainbow would be able to get to Ponyville on her own, now? Celestia frowned as she gave the matter some thought…
Unfortunately, as much as she wished to just rest and ponder that conundrum, time had other plans. Celestia’s ruminations were interrupted as the alarm on her wall began to emit a deep chiming sound. It came over and over again, a total of seven times, announcing to Celestia that the time had come to raise the sun. With a grimace, she rolled out of bed and stepped back out onto her balcony.
She spent a few moments to just let the cool night air wash over her once she was outside. She closed her eyes, lifted her head, and took a deep breath, allowing the frigid air to fill her lungs and reinvigorate her system. She then opened her eyes and set about the motions of raising the sun. It rose slowly but surely, and as she allowed the first gentle rays of golden morning sunlight to grace the world, her mind was still set on Rainbow Dash and her situation…
“I’ll need to find some way to guide her…” Celestia mused to herself quietly before releasing her magic grip on the sun, letting its momentum carry it for the remainder of the daylight hours. “Ensure that she gets where she needs to go… I should probably check on each of the other candidates and see what is happening in their lives. And there is still the matter of Twilight… if she’s to wield the Element of Magic, she needs friends…”
It was then that a thought occurred to her. Celestia went stiff, and she felt her heart start beating just a little faster in her chest.
Rainbow Dash was now an orphan, and her life was in shambles. She needed guidance…
Twilight Sparkle was fiercely asocial and introverted, two traits that were not ideal for giving her a strong connection to the Elements. She needed to experience friendship and open up…
Maybe Celestia could kill two birds with one stone, as it were? It was a big responsibility, she knew, and it would draw a lot of attention. No doubt the changes would be substantial. But, in her mind, the changes to time were already considerably large and beyond correction. Right then, her main goal was to make sure all of the Elements were together at the appointed time.
As Celestia thought it over more and more, the idea became more and more appealing with every passing second. A small smile spread on her face. Yes, yes, of course! She could bring Rainbow Dash to Canterlot. Celestia would look over her personally, and make sure she was where she needed to be when the time was right. She could also make sure that she and Twilight met, and that they became friends. It would probably help Twilight open up a bit, and-
Celestia stopped herself mid-plan, and her expression hardened. There was a problem with this, and it was a big one. Rainbow Dash was an orphan. Right now, she was no doubt being kept at an orphanage, and was probably still grieving over her loss. Celestia needed to proceed with extreme caution and care. If she went about this the wrong way, Rainbow Dash might wind up feeling like little more than a tool, or a cog in some great machine.
And while she did have a purpose to serve, she was still a pony. She was her own individual with wants and hopes and dreams, and under no circumstances would Celestia allow her own actions to hinder those aspects in any of her subjects.
But what could she do…?
She spent several minutes pondering this, just trying to come up with a good solution. Several ideas came and went in her mind before she finally settled on one.
“...I’ll adopt her,” she whispered to herself softly. “If nopony else has adopted her yet, I will take her in myself… but not so I can groom her to be the Element of Loyalty. If I raise her right, if I take care of her as a loving mother should, then she will get there in the end anyway… she needs a good family...”
Celestia’s eyes shifted, and she caught sight of the moon, which was still in the process of disappearing beneath the horizon. It was only barely visible in the sky, the light of the sun all but washing it out. She saw the Mare in the Moon gazing back at her, and felt a pang of longing in her chest.
“...a good, loving family...” she whispered to herself.
The moon disappeared beneath the horizon, and Celestia swore a silent oath then and there. She would be a good, loving, and caring mother to Rainbow Dash before anything else.
Celestia remained planted in place for several minutes, and another breeze of cool mountain air washed over her, causing her aetherial mane to drift lazily behind her. She took in another long, deep breath, then spun around to head back into the castle.
She still had royal duties to perform, after all, and time would not wait for her.
Before Rainbow Dash was adopted by Princess Celestia…
Before she and Twilight grew up together…
Before the flashes…
...Yet at the same time, after all of them.
Starlight Glimmer’s mouth stretched open into a wide, ugly yawn. Her drowsy eyes closed for a second before opening back up to stare out at the scenery as the Friendship Express carried her and Princess Twilight up to Canterlot. The large rolling foothills at the base of Canterlot Mountain steadily passed them by, and the morning sun could be seen hovering above the horizon, casting its gentle golden glow across the world.
It was a pretty sight, to be sure, but it did little and less to quell Starlight’s drowsiness and displeasure with the situation. She groaned tiredly and rotated in her seat to glare at the happily smiling princess of friendship who sat next to her. “Do you want to explain to me again why we took the earliest train you could book a seat on?” she asked, her tone grouchy and sleepy.
Twilight just shot her a perky smile. “Because Princess Celestia and Princess Luna want to see you, of course!”
Starlight’s expression flattened considerably. “That doesn’t tell me why we left Ponyville at seven in the morning for an appointment in a city just up the mountain,” she grumbled in irritation before another tremendous yawn escaped her. She groaned under her breath and went back to sulking and staring out the window. They were gaining altitude, now, and the hills slowly began to fall away from her line of sight.
“I’m sorry, but they said we should come as soon as it was convenient,” Twilight responded in a gentler voice, reaching a hoof out to pat Starlight on the back. “I can’t say I blame them. If I heard that Spike had gotten caught up in a weird time travel loop, I’d want to see him and prod him for details, too.”
“Oh, that was just for your sake,” Twilight rebuked lightly. “I probably wouldn’t wait at all for Spike.”
“Oh, lucky me,” Starlight deadpanned before a weary sigh slipped out of her. Her shoulders sagged, and she sat back to look at Twilight more directly. “I’m sorry, I’m just anxious is all. And waking up so early to face the source of that anxiety is only making it worse.”
“I understand, and I’m sorry, too,” Twilight continued as well, a look of understanding on her face. “But I just think it would be better to get this out of the way sooner rather than later. If we let it hang over us, it’s only going to get harder and harder to do it. And with the princesses, we don’t want to keep them waiting for too long.”
Starlight just gave a loud and defeated groan, allowing her hooves to fly up and cover her muzzle before turning and looking out the window again. She let her mind wander while these last few minutes of being on the train passed, thinking back on the last few days and just how much her entire life had been flipped around.
Two days ago, she had heard of an upcoming presentation being put on by Twilight Sparkle at Celestia’s School, the topic of which was cutie mark magic and how ponies can be connected to one another by their cutie marks. Yesterday, she had attended that presentation, learned of the Sonic Rainboom, and then went to Ponyville ahead of Twilight to get ready. She used a modified version of a spell by Starswirl the Bearded in combination with Twilight’s ‘Friendship Map,’ then went back into the past to the day of the Rainboom.
From there, she had stopped the Rainboom and watched with a sickening sort of sadistic delight as Twilight tried time and again to stop her, but every effort only ended the same way. No Rainboom, Twilight gets hurled back into the present, comes back to try again, Starlight gets pulled along to stop the Rainboom all over again. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum.
But then Twilight had pulled her back to the present, and she had seen what happened to Equestria because of what she was doing.
She closed her eyes tight and shuddered as the memory of a barren wasteland entered her mind. For as far as the eye could see, the world was devoid of life. Just dead soil and a perpetual wind that lashed at a few empty husks that had once been trees. The sky had been smothered in a thick layer of smog and smoke, filtering away all but the dreariest of colors. The dust picked up by the winds had stung at her face, at her eyes, and had filled her nostrils with a scent she did not dare try to identify.
The sight had been too horrible to comprehend, to horrible to believe or imagine. She’d wanted to deny it and reject it outright, but she had been unable to look away from all of it.
“Is this really what I’m doing?” she had thought, her chest tightening with despair. She had wanted to ruin Twilight’s life, yes, as revenge for ruining everything she had built, but… not Equestria. Not her home.
Thankfully, that tiny seed of doubt was all Twilight needed to talk some sense into her. Starlight had relented, and the two of them had returned to the true present, the Rainboom having gone off without a hitch and ringing in their ears as the tunnel through time closed behind them.
That had been yesterday. And now they were on their way to see the royal sisters, who had been informed of Starlight’s actions by Twilight herself. They wanted to speak with her, and Starlight felt a pit of anxiety and fear growing deeper in her heart at the thought of facing them.
That anxiety only grew several times worse when she heard the wheels of the train screeching through the window. She opened her eyes to see that they had pulled into Canterlot, and the train was coming to a stop at the platform, where a surprisingly small number of ponies were waiting to board.
“Come on, time to go,” Twilight said simply before hopping down from her seat and awaiting Starlight in the central lane.
“Right…” Starlight nodded along. She reluctantly tore herself away from the window and followed her new mentor as they walked side-by-side out of the train, and into the morning streets of Canterlot.
The last time Starlight had been here, she’d been spying on Twilight. Now she was following her through the streets and for the palace. The tall and immaculately constructed structure appeared far more massive than it actually was to her, making her feel like an ant about to be stepped on. Her ears folded back against her head on their own, and she lowered her gaze to the stylishly-paved stone streets, doing her best to reign in her frantic thoughts.
“Okay, Starlight, keep it together,” she thought to herself while taking a few deep breaths. “It’s just a meeting. Twilight told them that you’re better now and that no harm was done. It’s fine, it’s okay. They just want to talk…”
Be that as it may, she began to formulate at least seven different plans of escaping. Just in case things went awry.
The two mares crossed the threshold of the city proper and passed into the front castle courtyard. Stallions with either white or brown dyed coats in gold-colored armor could be seen standing at or making their way to various posts. Normally, this would be nothing to write home about. It was just the solar guard going about their daily duties.
But Starlight found herself taken aback as they trotted into the courtyard when she saw the pony to her immediate right. He looked back at her, and the narrow slit pupils of his icy blue eyes shifted slightly from the movement. Leathery bat wings twitched on his medium gray-colored back, while a short pale-blue tail could be seen poking out from under his dark blue armor. If he had a mane, it was not visible, as he was wearing a helmet that obscured much of his face and head.
Starlight just stared at him for a moment, taken aback. After a second, though, she caught herself and kept moving with an apologetic nod. The stallion didn’t seem to mind her staring too much, or if he did, his stoic expression hid it very well.
Starlight mentally kicked herself in the butt for being so stupid. “It’s still early. I shouldn’t be so surprised to see bat ponies around while the lunar guard is still out and about.”
Another stallion trotted by her, this one a white-coated member of the solar guard. He nodded at Twilight as he passed, gave Starlight a curious look, then made his way for the bat pony that Starlight had passed. “Squall, I’m here to relieve you,” he stated matter of factly, his voice gruff and gravely.
The thestral, now identified as Squall, nodded and visibly relaxed. “Oh, good. My legs were starting to kill me, and I don’t think I would have been very effective today if something went wrong,” he admitted before shuffling to the side to give his relief the post.
“Something bugging you?”
“You could say that. When I woke up this morning, I… I thought my little sister was missing.”
“What? But you don’t have a little sister, do you?”
Starlight tried to tune the conversation out, not wanting to risk getting caught eavesdropping. But she just couldn’t resist. Her curiosity had been peaked. Her pace slowed down, and her ears stood up on their own to listen in.
Squall shook his head while taking his helmet off, revealing a short and neat mane of identical color to his tail. “Not living with me in the city, no. I have three of them, and I thought I had a fourth sister named Wind Whisper, too. I spent all morning looking for her, checking what I thought was her room. I was starting to panic and about ready to run out and look for her in the streets when I realized I don’t have a sister with that name. All of my sisters are back in Hollow Shades, and none of them have that name.”
Starlight’s pace ground to a total halt, her eyes widening somewhat. “Waking up with a false memory?” she thought to herself, her eyes anxiously flicking over her shoulder to look at the two.
The solar guard just rolled his eyes and gave Squall a thump on the shoulder with his hoof. “I think you need more sleep, buddy. Musta just been a dream and some of it carried over when you woke up.”
“You hearing this, too?” Twilight’s voice suddenly said in a quiet whisper next to Starlight, making her jump. She looked over and saw Twilight had backed up so they were side by side, her ears also standing at attention, and a confused look on her face.
Starlight swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and nodded. “Er, yeah, I am…” she replied in an equally hushed voice. “Do you think it’s anything serious?”
Twilight’s frown deepened. “I dunno… only one way to find out, though.”
And with that, Twilight turned and began to head for the two guards at a casual and relaxed pace. They spotted her approach, and both stood at attention without hesitation. “Princess Twilight!” they greeted in unison.
“At ease, gentlecolts,” Twilight said amiably with a smile and a nod. “I’m sorry for eavesdropping, but I overheard you two talking about some kind of memory issue?”
Starlight blinked, then shrugged and made her way over as well. Hey, if Twilight was doing it, and Twilight was leading her, what could it hurt for Starlight to join her?
The bat pony shifted uncomfortably, then nodded. “Er, yes, your highness. I woke up this morning, and… I dunno. It’s strange. I could have sworn that I had a little sister named Wind Whisper who lived with me here in Canterlot, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a pony with that name.”
“He does have sisters,” his solar friend chimed in helpfully.
Twilight glanced at Starlight, then back at Squall. “Do you think it could have been like what your friend suggested? A dream or something that stuck with you after you woke up?”
Squall shrugged his shoulders helplessly. “I don’t know… maybe. I just… I could tell you almost everything about this ‘Wind Whisper’ filly. She was small and didn’t even have a cutie mark. She had this dark green fur, a pale blue mane, and tail, eyes a few shades darker than mine. I could tell you that she’s energetic, hyper, lovable and very persistent, and I know she has anxiety issues. But… she’s not real. And if it was just a dream, it must have been pretty vivid and long for me to know that much.”
Twilight and Starlight shared a curious glance before Twilight cleared her throat and gave the guards an appreciative smile. “Alright, thanks for telling me. I’ll be sure to let Princess Luna know about it. Maybe she can check on you while you sleep and see if there’s a problem?”
Squall and his friend respectfully bowed their heads. “I would appreciate that very much, Princess Twilight,” he said humbly before standing up and straightening himself out. “Is that all? I need to get back home. It’s been a long night, and I’m due for some sleep.”
“Yes, that’s all. As you were,” Twilight acknowledged with a nod before turning to go. She nodded at Starlight, and the two began to trot away. After a few paces, Twilight paused and glanced over her shoulder at the guards one more time. “Have a good day, you two!”
The solar guard puffed up a bit and nodded with a smile, while Squall just let out a chuckle. “No offense, but I’m going to bed.”
“Then I hope you sleep well,” Twilight replied without missing a beat.
Squall chuckled and smiled back at her. “Heh… can do. Thanks, Princess. You have a nice day, too.”
And with that, Squall spread out his leathery wings and took off into the air, soon disappearing into the distance and fading from view.
In a weird way, Starlight found herself thankful that they had bumped into Squall out in the courtyard. His odd predicament was enough to occupy her mind for the entire trip to the throne room, allowing her to put aside her fears and anxieties for the time being.
“I mean, how often do you hear about something like that?” she thought to herself even as the tall and imposing double doors of the throne room loomed over her. “A dream so vivid that you forget it’s a dream after you’ve woken up? And you go on like this long enough to panic when you see that things are different?”
It had happened to some ponies before, she was sure, but it wasn’t exactly a common occurrence. Plus, Squall was a member of the Lunar Guard. Now, she may have been wrong about this, but Starlight suspected that there was some pretty intense mental health screening for would-be recruits. Vivid dreams that could warp somepony’s perception of the waking world that intensely struck her as a particularly noteworthy red flag.
So, either this was a recent development in the thestral, Squall slipped through the cracks somehow, or there was some serious revamping required in the recruitment process for the lunar guard.
“Of course, given how easy it was for me to steal Starswirl's spell, the whole Royal Guard could use a bit of a revamp,” she thought to herself with a small twinkle of vestigial mischievousness in her eyes. “Of course, maybe it’s because I’m just that good. I mean, I’m almost as powerful as Twilight, and she’s an alicorn. The guard is probably not meant to try and stop ponies like me…”
Before Starlight could ponder the matter any further, the loud creaking sound of the throne room doors swinging open in front of her drew her back to the present. She lifted her gaze, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest as she remembered why she was here.
The two royal sisters could be seen on the other end of the room, with Celestia comfortably seated on her throne, and Luna standing beside her. Both of them looked up from a hushed conversation they had been having a moment ago, and their gazes locked onto the approaching mares. More specifically, they locked onto Starlight.
She came to a stop roughly in the middle of the throne room and bowed deeply before the sisters while Twilight took up a position in front of her. The Princess of Friendship cleared her throat, then stepped off to one side and gestured at Starlight. “Celestia, Luna, I came as you requested. This is Starlight Glimmer.”
Luna and Celestia shared a glance. It was Luna who spoke first, one of her eyebrows flying up to become hidden under her starry mane. “You came indeed… far sooner than either of us had thought.”
Twilight’s jaw fell open a little, and Starlight took a moment to selfishly savor the smugly satisfied grin she wore, which was thankfully hidden by the floor. She knew that coming this early wasn’t necessary!
“But we are glad all the same for your expediency,” Celestia spoke next, her tone appreciative and gentle. “Now… Starlight Glimmer, rise.”
Starlight wiped the smug look off her face, swallowed heavily, and did as instructed. She rose to her hooves, though she kept her gaze locked firmly on the floor. There was a moment of silence before she heard Luna clearing her throat. “Look at us, Starlight Glimmer.”
Starlight flinched, but again, did as she had been told. She lifted her eyes, and they were soon met with the sight of two alicorn princesses who were staring at her with no small amount of skepticism and scrutiny. Twilight looked visibly uncomfortable, glancing back and forth between the sisters and Starlight with a restless look on her face.
Celestia rose from her throne with her wings spreading out wide in all of their regal glory. Her movements were slow and deliberate, and every step she took towards Starlight made the unicorn feel more and more like a pitiful gnat among titans. As powerful as she was, she was not so delusional as to think she could hope to defend herself against one of the sisters if they decided to take things seriously, much less both of them.
She shrunk down a little but did her best to keep her gaze locked on Celestia’s as she approached. Twilight lifted a hoof and opened her mouth to say something as Celestia passed, but decided against it for the time being. She set her hoof down and shot Starlight a strained and forced attempt at a reassuring smile
After what felt like an eternity, Celestia stood directly in front of Starlight, gazing down on her with a critical eye and a thin-lipped frown. Starlight shifted uneasily under that piercing gaze, and could no longer look into Celestia’s eyes. She looked down again, a tiny tremor starting to work its way into her body.
That was when the solar princess spoke. Her voice was cool, calm, and calculating. “I have been told, miss Glimmer, that you broke into the private archives here in Canterlot Castle, stole a spell written by my teacher, Starswirl the Bearded, modified it, broke into the castle of Princess Twilight Sparkle, and then used your stolen and vandalized spell in conjunction with her map of Equestria to travel back into the past and prevent the Sonic Rainboom. Is this true?”
Twilight blinked in surprise, but Starlight grimaced in understanding. After a second, she gave a stiff nod of her head. “Yes. Every word… and the spell was destroyed when we finally came back to the present.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow at that but chose not to comment on it for the time being. Instead, she continued on. “I see. I was also told that Princess Twilight visited many alternate worlds during her time trying to stop you. Worlds that came to be, and yet have never been. But they persist in Twilight’s memories, and so to discard them as events that never happened would be a disservice to worlds and ponies now gone.
“I was told of a world where Equestria was in a brutal and prolonged war against King Sombra and the Crystal Empire. I was told of a world where the Changelings successfully overthrew my sister and I, taking over Equestria and crushing all resistance. I was told of a world where Nightmare Moon reigned supreme as a tyrant and brainwasher, and the world was shrouded in eternal night. I was told of a world where there was no life, only a freezing wind, and a barren wasteland.
“All of these worlds, whether they happened or not, survive in the memory of Princess Twilight. To her, they happened. She lived them, and so their existence can not be denied. In a sense, Starlight Glimmer, your actions not only created several worlds but destroyed each of them in turn.”
Every word was like a gavel strike sentencing Starlight to a worse and worse fate. Her ears drooped, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep her hooves under her. Her eyes had long since found a very specific spot on the floor and were studying it with unrivaled intensity.
“Do you have anything to say to me?” Celestia finally asked, taking a step back to give Starlight some room to breathe.
After a moment, Starlight sucked in a deep breath, and then looked up at the princesses. ”...Only that I had no idea what I was doing, and I had no way of knowing how much damage I was causing until…” her gaze drifted from Celestia to rest firmly on Twilight. “...Until Twilight showed me.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Go on,” she urged bluntly, her voice remaining skeptical.
Starlight lowered her gaze again, idly scuffing the red carpet beneath her hoof. “I never saw any of those worlds. Every time Twilight was sent back to the present, I was left behind. Then, when she would come back to try and stop me again, the spell would plant me a few moments before she would show up. I never saw where she went, or what she saw, until she dragged me with her. And… that was the barren world…
“I never wanted to hurt anypony like that,” she went on, her eyes misting up just a little. Her body shuddered involuntarily at the morbid memory, and she found herself in desperate want of a warm, fuzzy blanket. “I… I wanted to hurt Twilight and her friends, yes. I wanted revenge on them for uprooting everything I had spent so many years trying to build. For destroying my way of life… but… I didn’t want innocent bystanders to get caught in the aftermath. I didn’t want Equestria to suffer because of me. I just…”
She closed her eyes and let off a shaky sigh. “I just wanted Twilight to understand what she had put me through. Maybe I was wrong with my village, maybe I wasn’t. That doesn’t really matter anymore… what mattered to me was that I had built it, from scratch, with my own two hooves… and when Twilight and her friends came along, they tore it all away from me… and I was left with nothing. All over again, I was all alone…
“I know that there is no excusing what I’ve done… and I’m not asking for anything… just understanding.”
A heavy silence fell over the throne room as Starlight finished talking. She could just imagine Celestia and Luna sharing a critical gaze, and then a portal opening up to punt her into Tartarus. She could just hear somepony shifting, and she imagined it was Twilight, looking back and forth between the alicorns hopefully.
The silence dragged on and on, and it was feeling more and more like the air was starting to suffocate her. Starlight screwed her eyes shut and tried to keep her breath even and steady, tried to force herself to stay calm and dignified.
Finally, after what felt like forever, the silence was broken. “Under normal circumstances, such testimony would warrant a severe punishment indeed,” Princess Luna said in a voice that was far softer than Starlight was expecting. Starlight’s eyes opened, and she looked up to see Luna trotting up to stand by Celestia’s side. “However, I do not believe these are normal circumstances, are they?”
Starlight blinked, looking back and forth between the two alicorns in shock. “Huh?”
Celestia’s face softened considerably with a small smile. “You are not wrong when you say your actions are not excusable. However, that does not mean they are not redeemable.”
Luna nodded and added in, “And Twilight Sparkle has already vowed to take you under her wing, meaning you are her responsibility now. Your punishment, if there is to be one, will be hers and hers alone to decide.”
Celestia then gave Twilight a sideways glance and a small, knowing nod. “And, if I am recalling her letter correctly… she has already decided what is to be done with you. Is that correct?”
It was only then that Starlight realized that Twilight had been looking increasingly like a statue from a horror book with how pale and mortified she had become. But as the mood in the room suddenly lightened up, so did she. Twilight let off one of the loudest sighs of relief any of them had ever heard and then nodded emphatically.
“Yes, absolutely! Starlight chose her path because, like she said, she was alone. She lost her nearest and dearest friend when she was just a filly, and never made another friend since then because of growing insecurities and a crippling fear of losing them, too. She’s spent so many years completely on her own, and that lack of companionship led her here.
“As Princess, my duty is to spread the magic of friendship wherever I can. With how powerful Starlight is, and with the good mare that I can see in her, I hold no doubts that with the proper guidance, she can become a wonderful friend to many ponies in need, and Equestria will be made all the better for it. That is why she is going to be my student, and I will teach her everything I know about friendship.”
Celestia nodded again, and then returned her gaze to Starlight, who was currently having a hard time processing everything that had just happened. Celestia’s wings slowly folded back up at her sides, making her seem far less threatening. “And there is your sentence, Starlight. I do hope you have no objections?”
There was a moment of profound silence before Starlight found her voice. “N-none.”
Really, it was more of a quiet squeak.
All the same, Celestia smiled brightly. “Then I do not believe there is any further need for my sister and I to hold you here. You are free to go.”
Starlight stood there like a statue, her brain catching up. Finally, with a loud sigh of relief, she crumpled to her haunches. A giddy laugh bubbled out of her without her control, and her hooves flew up to cover her eyes. Her giggles slowly devolved into sobs, though the immense smile lighting up her face made it clear that this was a cry of joy.
While Starlight sat there, taking some time to rejoice the fact that no, she was not going to Tartarus, Twilight just watched her with a charmed smile. Then, she turned and made her way over to Princess Luna, who was watching the scene with a similar look on her face. The dark blue alicorn noticed Twilight’s approach and craned her neck down so the two could speak in hushed voices. “Yes, Twilight?”
“Before Starlight and I go, I just felt I should let you know. On our way in, one of your lunar guards, Squall, told us that he woke up with a set of false memories. We speculated it may have been from a dream that he mistook as being real, but I’m not the expert on sleep or dreams. I told him that I would ask you to look into it.”
Luna’s face hardened in thought. “I see… I will check on him after you and Starlight have departed. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.”
“You’re welcome,” Twilight nodded before turning back to Starlight. She couldn’t help but giggle when she noticed the unicorn had fallen onto her back, still laughing and crying with relief. “Heh. Alright, Starlight, get up. We should probably get you back to Ponyville. I think you could use a little rest after all this.”
Starlight shot her hooves up to point at the ceiling. “Are you kidding?! I feel like I could run a dozen laps around Canterlot right now!” she declared before sitting up, a goofy grin on her face and the tear lines on her cheeks all but forgotten. “Do you have any idea how relieved I am?”
“Careful,” Luna said in a teasing voice. “You don’t want to push your luck too far, do you?”
“After all,” Celestia added in with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “It’s not very polite to roll on the floor laughing and crying in front of royalty who just spared you a terrible fate.”
That was all Starlight needed to hear to clam right up.
That night, Starlight found herself overlooking Ponyville from one of the many balconies that hung off the side of Twilight’s castle. The sun had set a long time ago, and there was nopony else out and about. Twilight and Spike had gone to sleep a while ago, but Starlight had been unable to follow them into the realm of dreams. There was just too much on her mind.
For one thing, she couldn’t help but think back on the questions she had answered up in Canterlot, and how terrified she had been. But after that, her day had gotten so much brighter. Somehow, Pinkie Pie had known where she and Twilight were going and what the outcome was going to be. She had managed to prepare a colossal party to celebrate, and Starlight had met a lot of ponies during the chaos of that.
It had all been a blur, though, and she was ashamed to admit that she couldn’t remember practically any of the new faces she had seen. Not long after, the sun had gone down, and Twilight and Spike turned in for the night. Now, Starlight was alone, wondering what the future had in store for her.
“So… a new beginning, huh?” she whispered quietly to herself while draping her hooves over the rail and resting her chin on them. A new beginning in a new town with new friends.
Friends… real friends. It was still hard to believe that Twilight and her friends had all accepted her so readily. Even after hearing of what she had done, what she had tried to do, they had welcomed her into their lives with open hooves. It had felt nice…
Somewhere deep in her mind, the memory of Sunburst leaving her behind and in the dust resurfaced in her mind. Her ears drooped, and she screwed her eyes shut in an effort to force the thought down. “No!” she scolded herself. “It won’t end that way this time. I won’t let it!”
After a minute or two, she opened her eyes again and looked up at the skies, and at the stars that had served as her namesake. She couldn’t help but crack a tiny, nostalgic smile when she thought back on long nights with her parents where they would sit out on the front lawn, and they would point out the various constellations and stars in the sky. Of course, that had been before her mother had left, and before she had gotten old enough to be… dissatisfied with her father’s childish treatment of her.
But she didn’t let her mind wander to those negative aspects of her foalhood, for now. Instead, she just lay on her back, rested her hooves over her chest and belly, and gazed at the heavens. Every so often, she would recognize a constellation or cluster of stars, and she’d whisper its name while pointing it out.
She was starting to lose track of time. Before she knew it, she’d just been stargazing for over an hour, and she was, at last, starting to fall asleep. A tiny, content smile spread across her face, and even though she wasn’t in her bed or covered in a blanket, she didn’t have it in her to mind just then.
She was just happy to feel like she had a place that she could call home. Whether or not it would work out in the end, she didn’t know, but she supposed it was just like Twilight had said. “It’s up to me to make sure things don’t end the same way…”
With a content home, her eyes slowly began to close, and she felt herself falling into the gentle, soothing embrace of sleep.
But all hopes of rest were dashed when something unfamiliar appeared in the sky overhead.
Confused, Starlight opened her eyes a little wider to get a better look. It was strange. It was as if a long and jagged white crack had appeared across the night sky, contrasting sharply with the blackness of space. Starlight slowly sat up, her face scrunching up and her eyes narrowing. “What the…?”
Her eyes then widened in shock and awe when she realized that the crack was expanding. As it grew, she could see an endless abyss of white on the other side. And in the heart of it all, a long current of multi-colored magic could be seen weaving around in a series of intricate and graceful curves, spirals and loops.
A cold feeling began to spread out from her chest, and Starlight stood up, her ears falling flat against her head and her heart rate suddenly accelerating. “What in the world…?” she choked out. She remained there for a second, her eyes fearfully glued onto the slowly growing chasm in the heavens before she lit up her horn with magic and disappeared from that balcony in a flash of light.
She re-appeared inside of Twilight’s bedroom with a loud burst of sound. The princess, who had been slumbering peacefully, shot upright with a startled shout. She looked around for a moment, then glowered at Starlight as she calmed down. “Ugh… Starlight, what are you doing?” she asked groggily, raising one of her hooves up to rub at her eyes.
Starlight took a deep breath, then affixed Twilight with a firm and intense look. “Twilight, look outside.”
“Ugh, what is taking them so long?” Rainbow Dash groaned impatiently in the air, her wings beating in a steady rhythm and keeping her aloft over the map in Twilight’s throne room. She had a scowl etched onto her face, and her entire body was stiff and twitchy, making it clear just how anxious she was.
Applejack, who had joined the rest of Twilight’s friends around the map, heaved a weary sigh and gave Rainbow Dash a disapproving frown. “Flyin’ in circles and moanin’ about it won’t make ‘em come any faster, ya know,” she scolded sharply.
Rainbow spun around to face Applejack with an annoyed huff, her nostrils flaring. “I know that! But it helps me think, okay?!” she shot back before resuming her flight.
Starlight stood next to Twilight’s throne, the only seat in the room that was empty, and watched the two mares bicker with one another. She couldn’t say she blamed anypony for how they felt right now. The tension was almost palpable, and she was contributing plenty to the mix. It had been a pretty chaotic day, and the rip in the sky had gotten noticeably larger since she had first caught sight of it the previous night.
A few seats over, Rarity echoed Applejack’s previous sigh before leveling a stern look at both of them. “Whatever the reason for the delay is, is simply must be a good one. We all know that Twilight is a very thorough researcher, so she must be making sure she has something meaningful to tell us.”
“I hope it’s good news,” Pinkie pie added in, shifting uncomfortably in her throne and fidgeting with her hooves in front of her chest. “Today’s been nothing but one long super depressing bummer. And my Pinkie Sense is giving me this weird tingle in my chest. I dunno what it means, but I really don’t like it.”
Fluttershy nodded shakily from her own seat, her hooves nervously running through her long pink mane and her wings ruffling uneasily at her sides. “I hope so. I can’t go back to all of my animal friends without knowing what to tell them,” she said to Rarity before her face fell, and her expression became a little more solemn. “They were all so scared...:”
“Well, whenever Twilight and the Princesses come back, we’ll hear what they have to say,” Rarity said in a far gentler and soothing voice before leaning back in her seat. Her eyes drifted up to the roof, idly tracing the various formations of crystal that could be seen up there. “Although even I must admit, this wait is becoming positively draining.”
“See? See?!” Rainbow exclaimed in vindication, gesturing in the fashion designer’s general direction. “It’s not just me!”
Rarity didn’t even miss a beat, and a small smirk spread on her face. “Perhaps not, but I’m not the one complaining about it every five minutes,” she shot back in a teasing and predatory tone.
Rainbow Dash became visibly flustered at this. “But I- you- GUH!” She finally gave up and threw her forelegs into the air in exasperation. She then turned and continued her aerial pacing. Although, Starlight noticed, she was making an active effort to keep the volume of her protests to little more than an irate grumbling this time.
As that train of discussion came to a close, the silence returned, and it was even more oppressive than it had been before Rainbow’s little outburst. Starlight glanced over her shoulder at one of the many doors that led out of the throne room. She subconsciously chewed on her lower lip, and her ears flicked at even the tiniest of noises. “Come on, Twilight,” she all but begged within the privacy of her thoughts. “Get out here. We need to know what’s going on…”
As if on cue, the doors she was looking at finally opened up. Twilight trotted in first, her pace slow, her head hanging low, and her mane looking messy and unkempt. Her hooves dragged beneath her, giving off the impression of a mare carrying an unspeakable level of exhaustion on her shoulders. As she passed, Starlight got a brief glimpse of her eyes and saw puffy bags hanging around underneath them.
Following close behind her were princesses Celestia and Luna. The two of them looked to be in marginally better condition than Twilight did, but were still looking tired and… sad. A lump formed in Starlight’s throat, one she couldn’t quite seem to swallow right now, and she knew right then that something was terribly, terribly wrong.
The alicorns all looked resigned… like they had just been given a piece of news that made them give up on their biggest hopes and dreams.
All eyes became glued onto the entering trio, and all movements from the assembled mares came to a halt. Celestia and Luna took up a position on either side of Twilight’s throne while she hauled herself into her seat. Her eyes remained fixed on the cushion beneath her hooves for a long while, her ears flat against her head. Starlight’s face fell a little when she heard Twilight take in a shuddering breath to calm herself.
She looked so sad. Somewhere, deep in her heart, Starlight felt a stirring, a compulsion to reach over and give her a reassuring pat. However, her hoof only drifted over the crystal floor for a moment before setting back down. “No,” she thought. “That’s not my place. It’s theirs…”
At long last, Twilight lifted her head. Her tired eyes slowly swept across the table, landing on one pony, and then moving on to the next. For each one, she locked gazes with them, drawing their full and undivided attention. Even Rainbow Dash had settled into her seat, her ears at attention and eagerly waiting to hear what Twilight had to say.
She swallowed heavily and took one more deep breath. “Before I talk about what the Princesses and I have uncovered,” she began, her voice slow and tired. “I want to take a minute to just… recap everything that’s happened so far.”
Starlight frowned at that, a little confused. They all knew what had happened up to this point, so what need was there for a recap? Maybe it was just something these ponies did? She’d been spying on them for months, yes, but she never really bothered to absorb their social cues or priorities. She’d been more focused on finding a way to get revenge, after all.
The other mares looked far more attentive and unphased by this, which only helped to confirm Starlight’s theory. She didn’t miss Applejack and Rainbow sharing an impatient look before returning their attention to Twilight.
After a few seconds of silence, Twilight continued, satisfied that she would not be interrupted. “As you all know, last night, at some point after midnight, Starlight here looked up into the night sky and saw some kind of giant crack opening up in the night sky. Through this crack is nothing but white light and a current of multi-colored magic.”
Starlight winced and shrank down a little as several pairs of eyes all zeroed in on her, making her feel uncomfortable from all of the sudden attention. Thankfully, Twilight drew the gazes away when she continued.
“The crack has been growing at a steady rate ever since, and Princess Celestia has taken to calling it the Chasm. At the same time, many ponies in the dream realm were discovered by Luna to have multiple sets of memories, each set depicting a different life.”
Luna stepped forward slightly and nodded as if that was her cue. “Quite. The first example was a member of my lunar guard, a thestral known as Squall Dreamer. In his mind, there now exists several years worth of memories revolving around a filly named Wind Whisper. In these memories, she is a little sister of his that lives with him in Canterlot. However, he has no such sibling in the waking world, and none of his siblings live with him in the city.
“However, his is not the only case. I saw hundreds of dreams affected by this phenomena over the course of the night, and personally visited dozens of them,” Luna paused, her brow furrowing in thought. “As alarming as it already is that ponies are acquiring new memories, it grows even more perplexing. I noticed while jumping from dream to dream that many of them shared numerous... characteristics. One recurring theme was a war with the Changelings, in which Canterlot fell, and Princess Twilight fled to the Crystal Empire with her friends to try and coordinate a counter-attack.”
Twilight nodded and picked up from there, her voice getting a small amount of its strength back, seemingly due to scholarly fascination more than anything else. “Princess Celestia and I discussed a lot of reasons why something like this might be happening, and a few ideas were thrown around,” she said before nodding at the tallest alicorn in the room.
Celestia stepped forward and cleared her throat. “Indeed. Considering the common themes in the various sets of memories, it seemed safe to assume, at least at first, that somehow, a parallel world is colliding with our own, causing some anomalies in our memories. Other versions of ourselves intersecting with us at points, to put it simply.”
Rainbow glanced up at the ceiling, no doubt picturing the rift in the sky. “So, what you’re saying, is that our world is bumping into another one? That’s wild,” she asked slowly, awed at the concept.
Luna’s face darkened somewhat, and her gaze lowered. “No, not quite,” she rebuffed, drawing Rainbow’s attention. “There is another quality to these memories that I discovered while searching the dream realm before this meeting...”
Luna’s expression had turned grim and distant, and Pinkie Pie took notice. “Oh no, I don’t like that look,” she called over from her seat, leaning forward slightly to get a better look at Luna’s face. “That’s not a happy look.”
Luna sighed and lifted her face again. “The sets of memories all share common threads, yes, the changeling invasion being the most prominent one. However, at the same time, many of them outright clash with one another.”
Twilight took that as her cue and continued. “Luna gave me a few examples. There was one where things were more or less the same as they are here, but for whatever reason, Rainbow Dash grew up in Canterlot with me. There was another one where Nightmare Moon won during the thousandth summer sun celebration, and I served at her side, along with Rainbow Dash. There was one where the Changeling invasion of Canterlot went off without a hitch, but we all got away to the Crystal Empire to eventually win, and one where… well…” she looked down, clearly shaken at the prospect.
“One where the empire fell, and you all went with it,” Luna finished, sweeping her gaze across the room.
Rarity politely cleared her throat, and all eyes were on her. Her eyes flicked back and forth from the sudden rush of attention, and she awkwardly rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Oh! Pardon me. I’m terribly sorry for interrupting, and I don’t mean to sound impatient, but…”
“Could you maybe skip to the point?” Rainbow finished bluntly with a roll of her hoof, having had a similar train of thought. “All of this weird other world mumbo jumbo is flying over my head, anyway. Just tell me whose flank I need to kick to close up that rip in the sky and let’s hop to it.”
A heavy silence fell over the three princesses, who all looked between one another anxiously. Starlight watched them for a moment, and when Twilight looked at her directly, she felt her heart skip a beat. The look on Twilight’s face…
Starlight had seen a lot of hopeless ponies in her time running her village. She had gotten good at seeing the signs, to figure out which ponies would be easy targets to recruit. All of those looks, every last one, paled in comparison to the face before her. The look of sheer, utter despair and resignation on Twilight’s face was more intense than any Starlight had seen before.
“Starlight… I am so sorry,” Twilight suddenly said in a quiet whisper, her eyes glistening.
Starlight blinked and leaned her head back. “Huh?”
Twilight didn’t answer her directly. Instead, she looked back at everypony else. “Okay, just follow me for a minute. What we are seeing in the sky and with the memories is similar to another world bumping into ours, but the memories ponies are having seem to clash with one another. This implies that the other ‘world’ is unstable and that things keep changing. From that, we can infer…”
Twilight trailed off when she saw Rainbow just nodding along in a steady rhythm, almost as if she were following a catchy beat. “Yeah, no, go on Twi. I totally understand everything you’re saying right now.”
Twilight frowned and closed her eyes. “Fine… I wanted you to understand why this is happening in detail, but… I guess it doesn’t matter anymore… none of it does…”
That got Rainbow to stop her nodding, her ears folding back while everypony else looked at Twilight with expressions of shock and confusion. Pinkie Pie stood up and trotted a few paces around the map to be closer to Twilight. “Twilight? What’s wrong? Why are you so sad?”
“And what do you mean ‘none of it matters?’” Fluttershy followed up, moving to join Pinkie in comforting their forlorn friend.
Twilight didn’t say anything for a moment, her head bowing down even further. Starlight watched with bated breath and a chill in her veins as Twilight remained perfectly still. Then Twilight lifted her head, and Starlight stifled a gasp when she saw tears rolling down her cheeks. “Girls, I… w-we… I just…” she tried to say, but her voice was shaking too much.
A collection of gasps echoed through the room at the sight, and Pinkie and Fluttershy quickly responded, both of them moving to Twilight’s sides and wrapping her up in a hug. Her words were cut off, and she just stared at something a thousand yards away for a moment. Then, it occurred to her that her friends were holding her, and she quickly pulled them closer with her hooves and wings. If one listened, they could just make out her quiet, muffled sobs from under the veil of feathers.
Celestia sighed at the display, her posture finally losing some of its practiced regality and elegance. She sadly shook her head and then stepped forward a little more. She gave each of the mares still seated an unreadable look and then spoke at a deliberate, even pace. “In short, when Twilight and Starlight came back from the past, something changed… and those changes are catching up with us.”
Everypony looked confused at that, glancing between one another in confusion. Applejack adjusted her hat on her head and leaned forward somewhat. “Beggin’ yer pardon, princess, but what does that mean?” she asked, sounding like she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
But Starlight knew. And for Starlight, the world seemed to stop all at once. Her blood began to run cold in her veins, and a horrible knot formed in the pit of her stomach. Her heart twisted in her chest, and her eyes went wide open and unfocused.
Twilight gently nudged Pinkie and Fluttershy back so she could look up, though she remained tightly clinging to her. She lifted her gaze to Applejack. “It means that the world is changing again… b-but this time, we won’t be protected from it…” she choked out, finally able to find her voice through the tears.
Starlight shuddered, and a shallow gasp slithered its way out of her. Her legs shook beneath her, feeling like they had suddenly turned into jelly. She fell to her haunches as the full weight of what Twilight had just told her began to set in.
“So… what does that mean for us?” Rarity asked carefully.
“It means that our lives are going to be undone,” Luna stated regretfully. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. “In approximately three days, if Twilight’s calculations are correct, the Chasm will grow to the point that it will consume our world. And when it does… everything will disappear. Our lives will cease to exist as they are.”
“Wait, you mean we’re gonna die?!” Applejack asked in a raised voice, moving to stand up. “Isn’t there somethin’ y’all can do to stop it?!”
“Not possible,” Luna said in resignation with a sad shake of her head. “The only copy of the spell we would need for such action is gone. Besides, even if it were still within reach, there is no telling what changed, or how to put it back. For all we know, Twilight and Starlight’s mere presence in the past, even if they went unnoticed by all, caused something to change.”
“Even something as small as a cloud being an inch out of place…” Celestia added in quietly. She paused for a moment to let that sink in before she spoke up again. “Any efforts to undo the changes made would, invariably, create more changes.”
“But wait, wait!” Rainbow shouted, rising into the air with a flap of her wings. “Twilight and Starlight! They were flying all over the past and a bunch of other presents before weren’t they?! They were fine, then! What’s different?”
“The Tree,” Twilight suddenly said, lifting her eyes to meet the pegasus’. When she was met with a perplexed look, she sighed and elaborated. “The Tree of Harmony must be able to see time in a different way than us. Somehow, it knew that something was wrong whenever Spike and I went into an altered world, and the friendship map was waiting for us to send us back. Somehow, the tree knew that we were needed to put things right, and so it… protected us, I guess. We weren’t bound by time the same way everypony else was. We could move through time but still stay ourselves, no matter what changed. We broke time, it was our job to fix it.”
“You mean I broke it!” Starlight wanted to scream. “I went back first! This is my responsibility!” But no matter how hard she tried to form the words, her voice just would not come. All that left her lips was a quiet, strangled whimper of guilt and horror.
“Okay, so…” Rainbow started, fidgeting with her hooves. “What if we made up another copy of the spell, went back and broke something again?” she suggested hopefully, though it was obvious that even she knew how stupid of a plan that was. Nevertheless, desperation drove her to keep talking. “Then we could be ‘protected’ and find a way to fix things-”
“Are you even listening to yourself?!’ Twilight suddenly snapped, rising up to a standing position and causing Pinkie and Fluttershy to back away. She leveled a hard and disapproving glare at Rainbow. “We can’t remake the spell! We don’t have enough time, and without a copy for reference, there’s no way anypony here could recreate it properly! And traveling back to break something?! Deliberately?! How many more timelines have to go through an end like this, Rainbow Dash?! HOW MANY?!”
It was like a bit dropped.
Rainbow slowly dropped out of the air, falling to her haunches on the map with a distant look in her eyes. “Wait… you mean…” she choked out, her voice only audible because of the profound silence.
“Did all of the other worlds go through this…?” Rarity asked in shock, her eyes wide and a hoof covering her mouth. “With the chasm, the memories, and… knowing that it was all over?”
Twilight sighed and slumped back into her seat. “...It seems likely, yes.”
Everypony fell completely silent. Starlight looked back and forth between them all, her mind racing. She took a step back, the gentle clop sounding deafening in the throne room.
Finally, Rainbow lifted her eyes from her hooves to look into Twilight’s again. “Okay, so… give it to us straight… is there something we can do to fix this?”
Twilight paused, hesitated, and then shook her head.
For a moment, Rainbow Dash mouthed like a fish, trying to find something to say. Nothing came, however. So instead, she let her head fall, her posture sagging with defeat. All around her, in their seats, the other ponies in the room showed similar signs of defeat.
Pinkie looked between them all for a moment, then looked up at Princess Celestia. “How… how long do we have?” she asked, her voice quiet and resigned. Her mane visibly deflated somewhat, and her usually bright colors appeared to dull considerably.
Celestia gestured with her head towards Luna. “As my sister said - around three days,” she said softly.
“And that’ll be it, then?” Applejack pressed, her voice equally solemn. “We’ll be dead, and that’ll be that?”
Twilight spoke up again, a small flicker of hope in her eyes. “No, we won't die. Our lives are being rewritten, not cut off or undone. We’ll still be here, we’ll just be… different. Although…” the hope in her face was replaced by fear, and she wilted into her seat. “In the moment… it might feel like we’re dying…”
The silence returned, more oppressive and suffocating than ever. The assembled wielders of the Elements of Harmony looked between one another, no words being spoken. Applejack pulled her hat off of her head and held it over her heart, her eyes closed. Rarity just looked down at her hooves, a distant look in her eyes. Fluttershy sat next to Twilight on her haunches, her head bowed and her mane hiding her face from view.
A quiet sob could be heard from her, and in no time, Pinkie Pie was at her side, wrapping her up in a big hug and whispering to her that everything was going to be alright. Twilight glanced down at them, then closed her eyes and sighed. The remaining alicorns looked at one another helplessly, as if asking the other to say something, anything.
But there was nothing they could say. There was nothing any of them could say that would make this better.
Starlight watched them all for what felt like forever. She took in a nearly silent breath, her entire body shaking before she let it out. “I’m... so sorry…” she choked out.
That phrase, despite being nearly inaudible, was all but deafening in the throne room. All eyes turned to look at her, with a wide range of looks. The one that stood out the most being that of Rainbow Dash, who made eye contact with Starlight.
A chill ran down her spine as she stared into those deep, dark pink pools, and she instinctively took a step back.
The pegasus took in a deep, shaky breath, her pupils dilating and her nostrils flaring. “...Fix it,” she said, barely able to squeeze the words out.
Starlight stepped back again. “I can’t… I’m-”
Rainbow suddenly shot to her hooves, marching across the map towards Starlight. Her expression was twitching, and her lips peeled back into an ugly snarl. “Yes, you can. You find a way to fix this, and you do it RIGHT NOW!”
“Rainbow, please,” Twilight tried to calm her, but Rainbow was having none of it. The pegasus jumped down from the table, continuing to advance on Starlight with flared wings.
“You got us into this, you can get us out!” Rainbow snapped, picking up her pace as Starlight backed away. “I don’t care how you do it, just FIX IT!”
“YES, YOU CAN!” Rainbow all but shouted, her voice cracking. “You HAVE to! We have NOT come this far and done so much just to have it all ripped away by YOU!”
“Rainbow Dash, that’s enough!” Applejack called out, rising from her seat and putting her hat back on her head. “Leave the filly alone! What’s done is done!”
Rainbow spun around to glare angrily at Applejack. “What’s done is done, and I’m not done yet!” she countered, her eyes starting to glisten. She turned back on Starlight, her wings flexing in a barely restrained desire to launch her at the unicorn before her. “I have too much left to do! We ALL do! We can’t just let it all end like this!”
“I wish I could do something!” Starlight responded, her own voice quivering. “But the spell is gone, and I can’t do anything about this from here without it! I’m sorry, I really, really am, but there’s nothing I can do…”
Rainbow stood there for a moment, one of her eyes starting to twitch. She then growled deep in her throat, though she did not charge. Instead, her wings folded back up at her sides, and she slowly turned around. Without a word, she began to trot for one of the exits, not sparing a glance towards any of the other ponies in the room, who all watched her with a wide range of emotions.
As she went, she passed by Twilight, who hesitantly reached out to her. ‘Rainbow-”
“DON’T TOUCH ME!” Rainbow suddenly snapped, violently jerking away from Twilight’s hoof. She then turned and pointed a trembling hoof at Starlight. “And get rid of her! This is all her fault anyway!”
Without another word, Rainbow turned and left the room. The door swung open and then slammed loudly shut behind her, plunging the room into another silence. Starlight’s eyes remained affixed on the door where the pegasus had left, her ears ringing with the echoes of Rainbow’s parting words.
“Ah’ll go after her,” Applejack suddenly said in a tender voice, heading for the same exit. She paused for a moment when she reached the doors and gave Starlight a sideways glance. “...The filly’s upset. But… Ah can’t say Ah blame her for what she said… but it doesn’t matter now.”
And with that, Applejack left as well, closing the door behind her much softer than Rainbow did. That left Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy, Twilight, and the Sisters to all look between one another.
The silence was too much. Starlight couldn’t take it anymore. With a withering cry, her horn lit up, and she suddenly disappeared from the throne room in a flash of light. The last thing she saw before the light consumed her was the widening eyes of everypony present, no doubt surprised by her sudden departure. She couldn’t find it in herself to care what they thought just then, though.
Her teleport carried her to another point in the castle entirely and deposited her onto her bed with a soft thump. She lay there, face down in her pillow for what felt like forever. Her breath was coming in ragged gasps as the weight of it all became too much. She screwed her eyes tightly shut and let out a long, regretful scream as the reality of the situation dawned on her.
She was the one who went back in time with that stupid spell, she was the one who had to go looking for revenge, she was the one who dragged Twilight along to make her watch her destroy her friendships. Starlight had created several new worlds in her mad quest for revenge, and each one was then destroyed because of her… and now it was her turn to watch the world end. Now she got to pay for what she had done.
And the worst part? There was nothing she could do to stop it.
Starlight gazed up at the rift in reality, which was now so large that well over half of the sky had been consumed. The current of magic within was perfectly clear and well-defined now. In the distance, if one were perfectly still and listened closely, they could hear the occasional, low-pitched rumble. One such rumble passed through the air, as if on cue.
It was too audible for Starlight’s taste, and it was only made worse by the profound silence that had fallen over the world. The wind had stopped blowing, water ran slow, and even the birds had opted to silence their songs.
Starlight exhaled quietly, then lowered her eyes from the sky to take in her surroundings. She stood in the middle of one of the many dirt streets of Ponyville, Sugarcube Corner residing not far ahead of her. The plaza was empty of ponies, as were the streets. All of them were inside, spending their last hours with their families.
Starlight had to admit, she had not expected the crowd to react the way it had to the news. When Celestia had given the announcement from Canterlot that the world was due to end, and nothing could be done to stop it, Starlight had anticipated riots, chaos, and utter pandemonium. Shockingly, though, the crowds had remained quiet and motionless, listening to their princess with rapt attention.
When the announcement had been concluded, they had all stood there in silence for a few minutes, and then went home without a word. Shops had been closed, or all of their contents had been put out in front with a makeshift ‘free’ sign planted nearby.
That was just Equestria, though. Ponyville and Canterlot, specifically. She had no way of knowing how the rest of Equestria, or the lands beyond, had reacted to the news, or if they had even heard it. Starlight’s ears drooped at the thought of the Griffins being completely oblivious to why the sky had split open. Her head fell even further so that her eyes were locked onto the dirt below.
An unnaturally chilly wind swept over her, making her shudder and wish for a hoodie or something.
She then glanced back over her shoulder at the castle, its highest spire visible above the roofs of nearby buildings. Celestia was there with Twilight, teaching her some kind of spell. Starlight didn’t really know the details, and at that moment, she was too distracted by everything else to really give it much thought. So, with a deep breath, she returned her attention to the one place of business that was still open.
It may not have been closed, but as she stepped into the front room, she figured it might as well have been. The only pony she could see within the colorful bakery was Pinkie Pie herself. The pink mare stood somewhere behind the counter, working on a tall and delicious looking cake while eyeing it with intense scrutiny. She was so focused on her work that she hadn’t even noticed Starlight enter, or if she did, she made no outward indication of it.
Starlight slowly stepped forwards until she was directly behind the counter, waiting to be noticed. However, it seemed that wouldn’t be happening without some direct intervention. Fighting back an impatient sigh, Starlight lifted a hoof and knocked on the counter three times.
That finally got Pinkie’s attention. She blinked, perked up and tore her eyes away from her project to look at Starlight. Her intense expression softened considerably into a more friendly, if solemn look before she trotted over to the counter. “Oh, hi Starlight! I... wasn’t expecting you,” she greeted, the friendly energy in her voice swiftly fading into uncertainty. She lifted a hoof to scratch at the back of her head and gave an awkward chuckle. “So, what can I get you? Ice cream, cupcake, regular cake?”
Starlight shook her head dismissively. “Nothing, thanks,” she said, glancing over her shoulder and into the streets of Ponyville again.
“You sure?” Pinkie pressed alluringly while reaching under the counter and withdrawing a scrumptious looking cupcake. She waved it back and forth in front of Starlight with a small grin. ‘Everything’s free today~”
Starlight sagged and shook her head again. “I’m not here for food, Pinkie… I want to talk to you,” she explained before meeting Pinkie’s gaze again.
“Oh,” Pinkie glanced at her cupcake, then shrugged. “Suit yourself.” she then opened her mouth and popped it in without a second thought. She then spoke through her mouthful of sweet treat. “So, what do you want to talk about?”
Starlight cringed at that and waited for Pinkie to swallow. Once she had, Starlight opened her mouth to speak, but the words caught in her throat. She paused for a moment, chewing on her lip. Finally, though, she swallowed her trepidation, looked deep into Pinkie’s eyes, and steeled herself. “...I’m sorry.”
Pinkie licked her lips of leftover frosting and then tilted her head inquisitively. “Sorry? For what?”
Starlight shifted on her hooves and gestured out the window. “This.All of this. I… it’s… it’s my fault that this is happening… I was ready to make amends, to do whatever it took to do better and redeem myself for all of the wrongs I did to you and your friends, and for my village, and for everything else, but… It’s too late. I’ll never get the chance to prove that I can be better, so... ” she set her hoof down and closed her eyes. “So… all I can do is tell you that I am so, so sorry…”
Pinkie Pie stared at her for several seconds, her face falling with sorrow. After a moment, though, she shook herself and offered Starlight a small, friendly smile. She moved out from behind the counter, came up to Starlight’s side, and gave her a big, warm hug. Starlight’s eyes snapped open at the unexpected contact, and a startled ‘huh?!’ slipped past her lips.
“It’s okay,” Pinkie Pie whispered to her, giving her a firm and comforting squeeze. She then leaned back and lightly patted Starlight on the head as if to dust her off. “This isn’t the end of the world, you know. We’re all still gonna be here. We’re just changing a little, that’s all.”
Starlight frowned at that, one eyebrow flying up. “But… but…” she tried, but it was harder than she had thought to find her words...
Pinkie just grinned at her before starting to head back behind the counter. “I mean, sure, it’s a little scary because I have no idea how my life’s gonna change. I might never meet any of my friends, or I might still be living on the rock farm. It’s all a mystery, and that’s super duper scary…” she came to a stop by her cake and sized it up again. “But at the same time, I don’t think we have too much to worry about. I mean, if things were gonna go super duper badly, then the Tree would have let you and Twilight fix it. But you’re changing, too, so everything is gonna be just fine. It’s gotta be…”
Starlight felt her heart wilt a little more at those last three words. It sounded more like Pinkie was trying to convince herself rather than Starlight. But, despite that, she couldn’t help but let a tiny smile spread on her face. Pinkie Pie… that crazy mare was able to find a silver lining in every situation.
“An admirable trait…” Starlight thought before standing upright and clearing her throat. “Alright, well… I’m glad to know that you’re able to see a silver lining to all this.”
Pinkie smiled back at her. “I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.”
Starlight, from what she knew of Pinkie, had to concede that point. “Heh, I know. So…” she hesitated, not entirely sure if she should ask. But she just had to... “Apology accepted?” she asked hopefully.
Pinkie grinned and gave her a sharp nod. “Uh-huh!”
Feeling at least a part of the weight on her shoulders being lifted, Starlight gave off a relieved sigh. “Whew, I’m glad to hear it… thank’s Pinkie.”
“No problemo,” Pinkie replied in a chirp. “You were all pouty, and I didn’t like it.”
Starlight frowned at that. “Right… well, I need to get a move on. I need to talk to the others, too. I’ll be seeing you,” she then turned and began to head for the door, but paused when she noticed just how intensely Pinkie was staring at the cake, and the occasional adjustments to the frosting or decorations she was making.
As much as she really needed to get a move on, Starlight just had to ask. She turned to face Pinkie one more time and cleared her throat. “Uh, before I go… you’re really taking that cake seriously. What’s it for?”
Pinkie gave Starlight a knowing look out of the corner of her eye, and her face lit up a little more. “Oh, you know. It’s for me and me,” she sing-songed without missing a beat before taking another bag of frosting in her mouth and starting to apply a ribbon of the sweet substance to the edge of the cake.
Starlight shouldn’t have been surprised. If Pinkie had to go out and had any say as to how she’d go out with a cake in her mouth. Made sense. With a small nod, Starlight turned and finally stepped out of the bakery. She paused briefly on the front steps, thinking of who to go and speak with next…
The front door of the carousel boutique swung open, revealing Rarity on the other side. She looked positively exhausted, but despite that, it was clear that she had gone out of her way to make herself as presentable as always. Her mane was well combed, her coat brushed, and her makeup maintained. Her eyes landed on Starlight’s, and she perked up a little in surprise. “Oh, Starlight. I wasn’t expecting you. I thought you’d be with Twilight all day.”
Starlight shook her head. “No. She’s busy learning a spell from Celestia at the moment, and I didn’t want to interrupt the lesson. I figured I’d take the time and stop by. I’ve already been to see Pinkie, so…” she explained in a somewhat awkward voice, one of her hooves reaching up to rub pensively at her shoulder.
Rarity frowned, her lips pursed in thought. She didn’t keep Starlight waiting for long, and stepped back. “Well, would you like to come in? The weather outside is… less than enjoyable,” she offered, her face contorting with barely restrained dread as she unwittingly reminded herself of the rift in the sky.
Starlight cast a brief glance towards the Chasm, and not wishing to be under that reminder of her terrible mistakes, she gave a grateful nod of her head and stepped inside. “Thank you. I won’t be here long, I promise. I just need to tell you something and then I need to get moving,” she said as the door closed behind her.
“Well, then explain it over a cup of tea,” Rarity advised, leading the way deeper into the boutique and to a room that was reserved for living rather than business. “I just got done making a batch.”
As the duo stepped into the dining room, Starlight spotted Sweetie Belle sitting down at the table, her own cup of tea comfortably nestled between her hooves. She gently blew on it before noticing her big sister returning with a guest. Sweetie lifted her head and frowned curiously at Starlight. She didn’t say anything though and soon went back to her tea.
Starlight winced and looked away. Sweetie must have been told already whose fault this all was, and the emptiness in her eyes only served to add more guilt to Starlight’s conscience. With her hooves feeling notably heavier, now, Starlight took a seat on the opposite side of the table from Sweetie Belle and Rarity, the latter using her magic to levitate over a cup and tea kettle from the counter.
“So, what is it you want to tell me?” Rarity asked conversationally as if trying to forget the inevitable doom that was approaching from beyond her walls.
Starlight took the cup and watched for a moment as the tea was poured in. She could tell from the scent that it was a sweet and fruity variety of tea, and the red coloration helped add to that assessment. She took a testing sip and, finding it to be just a little too hot for the moment, set the cup down. She then cleared her throat and met Rarity’s expectant gaze. “...I’m sorry.”
Rarity tilted her head. “...For?”
Starlight sighed for what felt like the millionth time that day and screwed her eyes shut. “...I’m sorry for the ‘weather,’” she elaborated before taking a deep breath and opening her eyes, although they remained glued to her cup of tea. “I brought this on all of us… I know it’s my fault, and there’s nothing I can do to make amends, no matter how much I want to. All I can do is let everypony I’ve hurt know how deeply, truly sorry I am for what I’ve done… and that’s what I’m doing.”
There was a heavy moment of silence, and so Starlight kept going. “I was short-sighted and stupid, and I didn’t think about how my actions would affect everypony else. I was so focused on just getting some catharsis that I didn’t stop to consider what would happen just by going back in time in the first place. Now, time’s changing, and we have no idea what our new lives are going to be like… and it’s all because of me... I just hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me…”
The silent carried on for what felt like an eternity, and Starlight closed her eyes again. When almost an entire minute passed and neither of the two other ponies in the room spoke, she began to rise to leave. It was pretty clear, in her mind at least, that she was no longer welcome here. “I’m sorry… I’ll just go-”
“Starlight,” Rarity called after her, making Starlight pause mid-step. She bit her lip nervously and looked back at Rarity over her shoulder. The fashionista had draped a foreleg over Sweetie Belle’s shoulders, pulling her into a side hug. Both of them were offering Starlight a small smile. “I think, darling, that you have already made amends with me.”
Sweetie Belle nodded slowly, though she seemed a little less sure then Rarity did. “Yeah, me too.”
Rarity stifled a sad chuckle, and she shook her head. “It’s no small feat to willfully carry such a heavy burden on your shoulders, Starlight. To carry all of the blame for this willingly, and going out of your way to express your regret over it all to the ponies you have hurt, tells me that there truly is a wonderful and responsible mare in you. It may have been buried by resentment and bitterness over perceived wrongs, but that is no longer the case. I gladly accept your apology.”
Starlight was taken aback, but soon relaxed and looked away. “I mean… I just… but…” she stammered for a few seconds before sobering up and looking back at Rarity. “Thank you, Rarity.”
“I haven’t done anything for you,” Rarity countered before standing up and trotting towards the other unicorn, though she was sure to levitate both of their cups of tea along for the ride. “How about we fix that, hmm?”
Starlight raised an eyebrow, taking her cup back in her magic as Rarity presented it to her. “Uh, what do you mean?”
Rarity just beamed at her and walked by. “I had been working on a big project for all of my friends before all of this started…” she began while leading the way towards another room of the boutique. “And even though none of them will exist in the next twenty-four hours, I finished them all this morning. “
They stepped through another doorway and into what Starlight could only describe as a workshop of fabrics. Ponequins were set up everywhere, six of them in fact. Each one was dressed in a magnificent dress, and it wasn’t hard to deduce that each one was meant for a different member of her circle of friends. Rarity trotted by each of them, however, and came to a stop by the one that Starlight figured was for her.
It was a gorgeous blue dress with a subtle sparkle near the bottom rim as if to make it look like the mare wearing it left flashes of light wherever she stepped. The fabric reflected the light in a way similar to silk, and subtly reminded Starlight of a deep ocean. There was a pattern of intricate and abstract curves and spirals that were just barely noticeable if one looked close enough, and around the front of the dress were frills of a lighter shade of purple, forming a series of semicircles beneath the hole where the head comes out.
Rarity set her hoof on the ponequins shoulder before giving Starlight a small smile. “I don’t have the time to make another one of these, and I must admit, as I was making these, I may have let my own vanity get the better of me just a little, and put a tiny bit of additional effort into my own dress…”
“The effort shows. It is beautiful,” Starlight complimented sincerely before sipping down some more of her tea. Her brow furrowed in confusion, and she gave Rarity a queer look. “But… why are you showing me this?”
Rarity set her own tea aside on a nearby desk before, with a graceful flourish, the dress was removed from the ponequin. With deft motions and precision, Rarity folded the dress and each of its various components before carefully depositing them into an opaque plastic bag that Starlight hadn’t noticed. With one last fanciful flourish, the bag was sealed and wrapped with a ribbon the same shade as Starlight’s coat… and then Rarity presented it to her. “Because, my dear, I want you to have it.”
Starlight’s eyes widened, and her brain stalled for a moment. She took a step back, her mouth opening and closing repeatedly for several seconds as she tried to think of what to say. “Wha… but… Rarity, I can’t take your-”
Rarity tutted at the display before lightly setting the bag down on Starlight’s back, ignoring her protests. “Just take it, darling. It is one of my best works yet, and I know it will fit you. It’s adjustable, after all. Besides, if my time is almost up, then let me do this last act of generosity. Please.”
That snapped Starlight out of her stupor, and she looked into Rarity’s eyes. The designer appeared almost... desperate, and there was a clear shimmer of moisture in her eyes. After a few seconds of consideration, Starlight gave her head a stiff nod. “R-right… uh… thank you, Rarity. Thank you very much.”
Rarity just leaned forward and gave Starlight a big hug. “You are very welcome, Starlight Glimmer.”
Starlight hesitated, but eventually returned the hug. The weight of the dress on her back was thankfully little when compared to the other weight she had just been relieved of.
Starlight eyed her next destination with a measure of reluctance, one hoof raised a few inches above the dirt path in mid-step while the other adjusted the dress bag slung over her shoulder.
Fluttershy’s home was one of the few places that almost looked normal. As far as Starlight could tell, it didn’t get very much hoof traffic, so the absence of any ponies near the forest-side shack wasn’t that odd. As a result, Starlight felt an irrational worry whispering into her ear from inside of her own skull. A little voice telling her to just go and leave Fluttershy alone, to not disturb this tiny bubble of normality and stability.
She gave a slow shake of her head, though. It may have looked normal, but Starlight had seen how distraught the pegasus had been when the news had dropped a couple of days prior. And besides, Starlight came all this way. She wasn’t going to get cold hooves now.
She took a deep breath to steady herself and pressed on, crossing the small wooden bridge that went over the pristine stream that ran in front of Fluttershy’s cottage. Her ears perked up as, for the first time that day, she heard the sounds of birds chirping. Granted, the sound was muffled and coming from within the cottage, but it was there all the same, and a welcome change from the unnatural silence and occasional rumble.
With only another second of hesitation, Starlight reached up and knocked on the door a few times. A few seconds passed before the door slowly opened, revealing the yellow mare herself. At the same time, the sound of birds chirping and other animals interacting with one another came through the frame, and Starlight caught a small glimpse of the seemingly organized chaos that was Fluttershy’s home. It also came with the potent smell of animals.
She didn’t really give much attention to that, though, instead choosing to focus on Fluttershy herself. Her posture was sagging, her eyes had dark rings under them, and she looked like she could fall asleep right there. Her mane and tail were both a little messy, and the feathers on her wings looked like they were in desperate need of a good preening. She must have not been sleeping very well.
“Not that I can blame her,” Starlight thought, her eyes briefly flicking up to the Chasm. She could just hear another one of the faint, distant rumbles it emitted. “I haven’t been much better… it’d help if we couldn’t see what was coming at night…”
After a moment, Fluttershy got tired of waiting for Starlight to speak and daintily cleared her throat. “Ahem, Um, Starlight? Uh… is there something I can do for you?” she asked in an even quieter voice than usual.
With a start, Starlight came back to the here and now and returned her attention to the discussion at hoof. “Oh, sorry. I, uh… I’m just coming by to tell you something, that’s all,” she explained simply.
Fluttershy tilted her head to one side. “Oh. Uh, what is it?”
Starlight licked her lips, finding it much easier to say the words now that she’d done it twice already. “I just wanted to come by and let you know that I am sorry for… well, you know. All of this,” she said before gesturing vaguely up and behind herself. Fluttershy followed her gesture and wilted a little more at the sight of the Chasm. “It’s my fault this is happening, and if there were a way to stop this, I would do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t, and I won’t get any chances to make up for it, either… so, from the bottom of my heart, I am so, so sorry.”
Starlight bowed her head and closed her eyes. After a few seconds of silence, she heard a soft thump and then felt a pair of hooves gingerly pulling her into a soft but warm hug. No longer surprised thanks to the other hugs she had received that day, Starlight relaxed into the embrace and returned it, burying her face into Fluttershy’s shoulder.
“I forgive you,” Fluttershy whispered before pulling back and offering Starlight a tiny smile. “I know you didn’t mean for this to happen. But thank you for telling me, anyway. I think…” she sniffled, a tiny bit of moisture building up in her eyes. She frowned at herself and wiped at her face with her hoof to clear away the tears “I think I needed to hear it…”
Starlight gave a slow nod. “You’re welcome… and Thank you, Fluttershy… I hope that, no matter how you change, you remain as kind and forgiving in the new world as you are in this one. The world needs more ponies like you...”
Fluttershy got a distant look on her face, her sad smile growing. She let her hoof fall back and looked deep into Starlight’s eyes. “I hope so, too… and I hope that the new you doesn’t have to be alone as long as you were.”
Starlight’s ears drooped at that. She looked down at the ground for a moment, her mind wandering back to Sunburst, her father, and then her village. After a moment, though, she raised her head again and gave Fluttershy a small smile. “Yeah… I hope so, too.”
It was starting to get pretty far into the afternoon at this point. Starlight paused in the middle of the path leading to Sweet Apple Acres to look up at the sun as it drifted through the heavens. Thankfully, it didn’t seem to be directly affected by the Chasm, and it’s light shone down even as it passed in front of the spreading rip in reality.
She then returned her gaze to the path ahead, catching sight of the farm that was her destination a ways ahead. She hesitated and bit her lip when she spotted four ponies and a dog sitting together the front yard of the home. A large quilt had been laid out, and a few baskets were set around them along with paper plates.
“An end of the world picnic…” Starlight thought solemnly when she watched Applejack pull out a sandwich from one of the baskets and bite into it. She then looked down at Apple Bloom, the two of them speaking in hushed tones. Big Macintosh and Granny Smith both chimed in, and Apple Bloom got an indignant look on her face. Some light-hearted family teasing, no doubt...
Starlight briefly toyed with the idea of leaving them to it. Applejack had a family she was with, after all, and Starlight felt it would be poor of her to intrude on their time.
Any thoughts of leaving were dashed, however, when Applejack’s eyes lowered as if in thought, and caught sight of her. The two locked gazes for a moment, and Starlight’s blood ran cold. Applejack narrowed her eyes, said something to the others, and then rose to her hooves to approach Starlight. Apple Bloom watched after her for a second before returning to looking at the sky.
In no time, Applejack came to a stop maybe ten feet in front of Starlight, a neutral but expectant look on her face. “Well? What do ya want?” she asked simply, her expression not wavering at all.
Starlight swallowed heavily and looked down and away. “I, uh… I just… I wanted to apologize to you,” she managed to stammer out, her confidence wavering even more under the farmer’s scrutiny. She gestured up at the Chasm weakly. “For… you know. This…”
The farmer glanced up at the heavens as Starlight spoke, but did not say a word.
“It’s my fault, and this is all I can do to make it right,” Starlight continued, mustering the courage to look at Applejack again. “I don’t expect you to forgive me… but I just felt you should know how sorry I am. I never wanted this, and-”
“Starlight,” Applejack cut her off in a stern voice. She lowered her gaze back to Starlight, her expression relaxing somewhat. “Ah appreciate what yer tryin’ to do, and ah accept yer apology. But…” she turned in place and nodded back towards her family. “...Ah’m tryin’ to make up for some lost time before the end.”
Starlight followed Applejack’s eyes to the others. They were all watching them curiously, and in Starlight’s mind, judgmentally. She looked down and nodded. “I understand…” she mumbled out, her voice quiet and dejected.
She was about to turn to go when Applejack cleared her throat to ask a surprising question. “What about you? Are ya plannin’ on seein’ yer family?” she asked, her tone notably more gentle.
Starlight winced and turned back to Applejack. Her expression twisted into one of morbid amusement. She gave a quiet, humorless chuckle and shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I don’t have enough time to get to Sire’s Hollow, my home. And besides…” her posture sagged, and she cast a bitter scowl towards the ground. “...I don’t want to spend my last moments with my father. He’s a good stallion, but before I left home, he was still treating me like a little filly. It was insulting and degrading.”
“What about yer mother?” Applejack tried gently, stepping forward a little. “Or siblings? Do ya have any of those?”
Starlight shook her head. “No, I was an only child. As for my mother…” her expression became forlorn and she sighed. “...She left when I was little. Dad never talked about it, and frankly, after Sunburst left, I stopped wanting to know where she went or why. Too many ponies were running out of my life without saying goodbye...”
Applejack’s eyes widened somewhat, and she reached up to pull her hat off of her head. “Ah’m real sorry to hear that, Starlight…” she consoled gently.
Starlight shook her head and waved a hoof in dismissal. “Don’t be. I’ve already got somepony to watch the end of the world with…” she turned and looked back down the trail towards Ponyville again. “In fact, I should probably be getting back. We only have a few more hours, don’t we?”
Applejack was silent for a second, then nodded and replaced her hat on her head. “Yeh. Last ah heard, Celestia and Luna plan to lower the sun and raise the moon at the last second. Somethin’ about harmony and balance…”
“How poetic of them,” Starlight thought before giving a nod. “Right…” she then looked back over at Applejack. “Well… I should get going… see you.”
Applejack sighed, a solemn look on her face. “Right. Ah’ll see ya on the other side, sugarcube… and thanks fer stoppin’ by. It’s nice to know that ya care, even after everythin’ we’ve been through.”
Starlight gave her a tiny smile and then turned to walk away. Applejack waited until she was out of sight and then took her hat off one more time to hold it over her chest. She closed her eyes, mouthed a silent goodbye, and then replaced her hat on her head before returning to her family.
Starlight eventually came to a stop in a small park off to one side of the road. She was in a residential area, now, and looked up to get her bearings. It was just as quiet as before, save for the distant booms and rumbles of the Chasm. They were actually starting to get louder, and Starlight shuddered when one such crack peeled through the air. The dirt beneath her hooves vibrated and rumbled, and she could feel it in her throat.
Her eyes eventually settled on Twilight’s castle in the distance, the tallest spire resembling a beacon or a lighthouse. She stared at it for several seconds, and then set off down the street. Chances were high that Celestia had finished teaching Twilight the spell at this point, or they would be done soon, and Starlight wanted to be in that castle when it was all over. After all, it was the home of the pony and dragon who forgave her before anypony else…
Before she made it very far, though, something caught her eye. The sky had been cleared in its entirety when the news had dropped, at least in Ponyville. There hadn’t been rain or even a single cloud for days, so it was a little odd to Starlight when she caught sight of a small, lone cloud drifting through the air over the park she had stopped in. Curious, she rotated in place to get a better look at it.
There was a rainbow-colored tail hanging off the side of it, occasionally twitching back and forth.
Rainbow Dash… of course she’d choose to spend her last hours in the sky. It only made perfect sense for her. Starlight had also been hoping to not bump into the pegasus on this trek, though. After all, the last time they had seen one another was when Twilight had dropped the news on them, and Rainbow’s anger was still vivid in the unicorn’s mind.
Figuring that it was a safe bet to assume Rainbow’s opinion hadn’t changed, Starlight turned back around to return to the Castle.
“You’ve been busy,” Rainbow’s voice suddenly sliced through the air, making Starlight stop in her tracks with her shoulders hunching up. She shakily glanced back to see that the pegasus had sat up on her cloud, an unreadable look on her face as she glared down at her. “Been all over town. Seeing the sights, since you won’t get another chance?”
The edge to Rainbow’s voice was tangible, and it made Starlight falter and look away again. Eventually, though, she swallowed down the lump in her throat and spoke. “I was apologizing to your friends…”
“And not me?”
Starlight twitched and looked back up at Rainbow. “I just thought, after how our last meeting went, that you wouldn’t want to see me, that you’d want to be left alone,” she admitted quietly, reaching a hoof up to rub at her shoulder.
Rainbow’s intense expression persisted. “Well, you’re not wrong,” she bit back, her eyes narrowing. “But you’re kind of hard to miss. You’re the only other pony out on the streets right now.”
Starlight quietly swore under her breath before looking up at meeting Rainbow’s gaze. “Well… as long as I’m here… I’m sorry, Rainbow.”
Rainbow’s nostrils flare. “And what does being sorry fix?” she demanded, leaning forward slightly.
Starlight didn’t even miss a beat. “It doesn’t fix anything, I know. But what else can I do? I just…” she looked down. “All I can do with the time we have is let ponies know that I never wanted this… and that I am sorry I brought this on all of us. I can’t fix it, I can’t take it back… I can’t do anything about it.”
Several more seconds passed before Rainbow sighed and lowered herself back down onto her cloud, her front legs dangling over the edge. Her expression softened into one of sympathy. “Well… I know how much that feeling sucks…” she said wistfully before setting her chin on her hooves. She stared blankly off into space for a little while before glancing down at Starlight again. “So, you’ve been to see my friends… how are they holding up?”
Starlight looked up at Rainbow again. “They’re… coping as well as they can. Pinkie’s keeping busy by making a cake, Fluttershy’s spending time with her animals, and Rarity and Applejack are with their families.”
Rainbow’s expression darkened somewhat. When Starlight finished, she turned her head to look off towards the distant city of Cloudsdale, just barely visible on the horizon. “...Family huh…?” she muttered before rising back into a standing position and hopping down from her cloud. Starlight stepped back a few paces to give her some space. Once Rainbow touched down, she gave Starlight a sideways glance. “...I haven’t seen mine since Twilight’s castle sprang up… might as well fix that while I still got a chance, eh?”
Starlight blinked in surprise, but then offered a tentative shrug of her shoulders. “I mean… that’s up to you. You have a lot of friends, here…” she pointed out carefully, taking another step back. “And if you go to Cloudsdale, you won’t be with them…”
Rainbow hung her head. “I know… but they’re my folks. I’m not gonna get another chance to see them, so I’m gonna take this one,” she said simply before turning around. “I’m gonna go find Scootaloo and see if she wants to come along. I bet they will get along really well…”
And with that, Rainbow unfurled her wings and shot off into the air, kicking up a cloud of dust as she went. Starlight raised a foreleg to shield her face, coughing a few times before the dust settled and she could see again.
Rainbow Dash had already disappeared.
Only one hour left.
Once Rainbow had left her quite literally in the dust, Starlight had taken some time to make one more trip around Ponyville, taking in the sights and, in her own way, saying goodbye. She hadn’t lived here for more than a couple of days, true, but it was her home, now… a home given to her even when she hadn’t deserved it.
She paused in the middle of the street that led directly to Twilight’s doorstep and gazed up at the heavens once again. Another tremor coursed through the world, making her shudder involuntarily. The Chasm had almost consumed the entire sky at this point, and distant mountain peaks were starting to crumble and dissolve into the abyss.
Standing there, in the middle of the street, Starlight’s view was almost completely unobstructed, to the point that, in her field of vision, there was nothing else except for that abyss. The sheer scale of it… it was truly dawning on her just how tiny she was in comparison. How tiny they all were. But at the same time, despite her dread at what was to come in a little under an hour, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of tranquility…
If nothing else, she could take some comfort and solace in the fact that this wasn’t really the end. Like Pinkie Pie had said, they would still be alive after all of this, just… changed. And there would be a little glimpse of this world in the new one as well, in the form of Starlight and Twilight in Cloudsdale.
So, in that sense, at least a piece of this time and world would survive into the new one. It would be in the form of fleeting glimpses and memories of a small oddity, but it was more than nothing. Thinking of it like that, Starlight couldn’t help but let a quiet smile spread on her face.
Their legacy would live on in that one moment...
A door opened to her right, snapping her out of her trance. Curious as to the disturbance, she looked and saw the occupants of a nearby house silently exiting the building. It was a family consisting of a mare, a stallion, and their two foals, all of them earth ponies. They each gave Starlight a quiet nod before finding a spot not far away and sitting down as well. They all looked up at the Chasm, the foals resting against their parent’s sides while the adults held each other from the sides.
Then another door opened, and another family stepped out. And another, and another. Starlight looked around, completely stunned as what seemed like every single pony in Ponyville silently out of their homes and gathered in the streets, all of them looking up into the sky and the Chasm.
They didn’t say a word or make a sound. They just sat there and watched... Starlight looked around at them all for a few more minutes, then closed her eyes. She took one more deep breath, opened her eyes, rose to her hooves, and began to make her way for the castle.
Princess Celestia was nowhere to be seen when Starlight stepped into the small lounge that she and Twilight had been using for the lesson. There was a collection of notes scattered about on a wooden table that sat in the center of the circular room, and Twilight Sparkle could be seen looking over all of them with a furrowed brow and quirked lips.
Starlight closed the door behind her, trying to keep it down, but it gave off a heavy clunking sound all the same. Twilight glanced up at the noise, her eyes settling on Starlight. her expression lit up just a little bit with recognition and, perhaps, a little bit of relief. “Oh, Starlight. You’re here,” she said, her voice reflecting her expression.
Starlight nodded and strode over to the table, her eyes idly roaming over the notes. They were quite detailed and very elaborate, and a lot of what she was seeing made no sense to her. “Yeah, I am. Where’s Spike?” she asked after a few seconds, her eyes returning to Twilight.
The alicorn’s ears drooped at the drake’s name. “He… went to be with Rarity and Sweetie Belle. He said he had a few last-minute confessions to make…” she explained in a quiet and somber voice before a tiny smirk appeared on her face, and she let out an amused, albeit half-hearted, chuckle. “I think she already knows what he’s going to say… but if nothing else, he should get some closure.”
Starlight hummed quietly in understanding, recalling the absolutely hopeless crush that Spike had on Rarity. She’d seen plenty of it when she’d been spying on them, after all. To be honest, how he had managed to convince himself that it was at all a secret was beyond her. She then glanced back at the notes again, her muzzle scrunching up. “So… what’s all of this?”
“Notes on the spell,” Twilight replied without missing a beat before trotting over to Starlight’s side. She looked over the notes herself for a minute. “It’s really complicated, and I’m not going to have very long to do it. We’ve got maybe forty minutes left, so I need to get started.”
Starlight frowned and looked away ashamedly. “R-right… I’ll get out of your way, then…” she mumbled before dragging herself over to the other side of the table and sitting down on her haunches. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting her mind wander.
A heavy silence hung in the air for several minutes while Twilight went over her notes one last time. She expected Twilight to start casting the spell any minute. But, instead, all movement came to a stop, and Starlight began to feel like she was being watched. She opened up her eyes and saw that Twilight had stopped studying her notes to look at her in thought.
Then, to Starlight’s rapidly swelling confusion, the alicorn began to trot over until she was face-to-face with her. The two looked into each other’s eyes, and Starlight began to feel a little uncomfortable under the scrutiny.
She shifted on her haunches while her expression turned inquisitive. “Twilight?”
Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, a single tear slipping out of the corner of her eye. She then suddenly leaned down and pulled Starlight into a tight, warm hug. Despite being used to receiving impromptu hugs from ponies that day, Starlight was still taken aback from the display of affection.
Twilight didn’t answer immediately. She pulled Starlight a little closer and held her there for several seconds. “Thank you for coming…” She finally said in a hushed voice before leaning back, more tears in her eyes and a sad smile on her lips. “I… I didn’t want to die alone…”
Starlight’s jaw fell open in shock. She wasn’t able to do anything but stare at Twilight for several seconds while her mind caught up with what the alicorn had just said to her.
She then set her jaw and shook her head. “You’re welcome, but we’re not dying, Twilight, you know that,” she rebuked in a disapproving voice. Despite that, though, a smile still appeared on her face. “But… I didn’t want to go alone, either… so thank you for giving me a place to call home…” her expression turned wistful and dry. “Even if it only lasted me a few days…”
Twilight patted Starlight on the shoulder a few times before rising back to a full standing position and trotting back to the table. “You’re very welcome, Starlight. It’s my pleasure…” her eyes fell to her notes, and her expression and tone became serious. “I need to focus. Quiet, please…”
Starlight nodded and clammed up, just watching as Twilight got to work. Time began to pass as the princess read through her notes and practiced the fundamental components of the spell one at a time. She spent almost ten minutes on this, just getting it memorized in her head, leaving them with only thirty minutes before the end.
Once Twilight was satisfied with her grasp of the form of the spell, she found a spot off to the side of her table. She spread out her stance and took a deep breath. She shot Starlight a small smile. “Alright, first try. Wish me luck.”
Starlight was about to do just that when a thought crossed her mind. Her brow furrowed with consideration, and she stood up slightly to shuffle closer. “You know, I don’t actually know what your spell is. I just know that somehow it’s supposed to help us… do you have time to explain it to me?” she asked, an undeniable glint of scholarly interest in her eyes.
“Eeeehhh…” Twilight droned out, looked back and forth for a moment while tapping a hoof thoughtfully to her chin. “Well, I mean, it’s a really complicated spell, but… uh… the bare bones basics is that I’m going to be projecting an image of myself through the Chasm and into the mind of my past self while she’s asleep so I can talk to her and give her a message.”
“From everything we know, it should be possible in theory. Celestia’s probably doing it up in Canterlot right now. We’re trying to make sure that the new timeline doesn’t veer too far off from this one. Celestia’s giving her past self direct instructions, while I’m just… planting a seed. A little nudge that will, hopefully, put things on track,” Twilight explained before setting her hoof down and spreading her stance a little more. “Now back up, please. I’m not sure how this first try’s gonna go, and I don’t want you to get hurt by any mistakes I make.”
Starlight reluctantly did what Twilight asked, and backed a little further away. She watched while holding her breath as Twilight’s horn sparked into life with magenta light, and the floor beneath her hooves began to glow in a circle around her. A few seconds passed, a bead of sweat forming on Twilight’s brow. Her face twisted and contorted with strain, and she gave off a few grunts of effort before cutting off her flow of magic. The spell dispersed with a pop and a small gust of wind, disturbing the notes on the table.
That didn’t look right. Starlight raised an eyebrow and took a few concerned steps forward. “What went wrong?” she asked, running through the failed attempt in her mind to try and find something that stood out.
“Ugh, it’s just a really long distance to throw my magic…” Twilight assured while pressing a hoof to her temple. She let out a huff as her face relaxed back to normal. “I can do it, it’s just gonna hurt until my mind is linked with filly me.”
Starlight’s brow furrowed, and she stepped forwards a little more. “Is there anything I can do to help? Maybe I can give you a power boost or something?” she suggested, her horn already glowing.
Twilight smiled at Starlight but shook her head. “Not a good idea. This is a really loose spell, so any outside tampering, even just an additional source of power, could throw off any number of its components and make casting it impossible.”
Starlight’s frown deepened, and an edge of desperation slid into her voice. “But I want to help! I want to at least do something to make up for what I’ve done! Please, just-”
“Starlight…” Twilight cut her off gently while lifting a hoof. She then gave her a small, gentle smile. “Trust me, just being here with me is more than enough…”
Starlight’s ears stood at attention at that. She took a second to let those words sink in, swallowed heavily, and backed away again. “R-right… well, I’m here if you need me…” she reminded in a murmur before settling back down onto her haunches and watching the scene unfold.
Twilight’s smile grew just a little. “I know.”
Without another word, Twilight plunged back into the spell, and this time held it for far longer. She winced and groaned with pain, and all Starlight could do was watch, wait, and hope with all of her heart that this worked. More than once, Twilight would visibly display signs of intense discomfort and pain, and Starlight had to stop herself from trying to lend a hoof.
It was getting harder and harder to sit still, though. The spell was taking a long time to go through, and the clock was ticking. They were running out of time. Starlight could hear the rumbles of the Chasm even through the thick crystal walls of the castle, now, and she could feel the vibrations in her chest. By her estimate, they had maybe ten minutes left, fifteen at the very most.
But then, Twilight’s pained grimace began to morph into an odd combination of pain and joy. “Aha! There it is! I’m almost there!” she declared, her eyes briefly opening up and flicking over to Starlight. “Try not to say anything while I’m talking to her, okay? I don’t want to lose focus.”
Starlight nodded silently. She watched Twilight continue to struggle, and then finally, with a snap of magic and another rush of air, Twilight’s pain faded. She relaxed, her eyes beginning to glow a bright white. She looked around for a few moments before giving a small nod. She then looked down, and her eyes widened. “...That’s me…” she whispered, and Starlight realized that Twilight must have been seeing another place.
After a few seconds of shifting on her hooves to get used to being a projection, Twilight began to speak to somepony Starlight couldn't see or hear.
“Twilight? Twilight can you hear me?”
She fell silent for a second and took a few cautious steps forward while her wings fanned out behind her. Starlight, noticing that Twilight was about to walk into the table, subtly moved it to one corner of the room with her magic, giving Twilight plenty of free space to move.
An effort that ultimately proved unnecessary, as Twilight came to a stop just shy of where the table had been and continued to talk. “It’s hard to explain, Twilight. And I can’t say much.”
Another moment of silence hung in the air before Twilight raised a hoof and put on a small, reassuring smile. “It’s okay, Twilight… Trust me, it is. I just…” she set her hoof down, her posture sagging. Her smile fell away, and a resigned sigh fled her lips. “...I just wish I had enough time left to see it.”
Starlight had to actively stop herself from saying a word when she saw tears welling up in Twilight’s eyes all over again. She bit down on her tongue, set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. “I can’t interfere,” she reminded herself. “This is her mission…”
“I can’t tell you anything except this: You need to be brave, Twilight. Things have changed for you, and those changes are going to make your future… uncertain… But I know you can do this, Twilight. Just… please…” another few tears fell down Twilight’s cheeks as she spoke. “keep your friends close. Whatever this world throws at you, you must keep your friends close.”
Another pause and Twilight sighed and gave off a humorless chuckle, no doubt as her younger self said something in response to her cryptic message. “I know that’s how you feel. But I also know you’ll change your mind. I had to, after all…” a nostalgic look came over her, and her smile returned. “...I wish I could, Twilight. Just be strong, okay? For our sake…”
Another tremor ran through the castle, and the hairs on the back of Starlight’s neck stood on end. Somehow, in her mind, she just knew. Their time was up. Suppressing the dread she was feeling, she slowly rose to her hooves and cleared her throat as gently as possible. “Twilight?” she called in a soft whisper. “We’re out of time. The Chasm is here.”
Twilight’s eyes flew up to her, and her face contorted as if to protest. She stood motionless for several seconds before she gave a slow, resigned nod. “I’m sorry… I’m truly, truly sorry,” she whispered to Starlight before looking back down. “I’m out of time, Twilight… all of it is yours now. Use it wisely…”
With those parting words, Twilight let the spell fade. The glow vanished from her eyes, and she gingerly ran the back of her hoof over them to wipe away the tears that had accumulated.
After a few seconds, Starlight could bear the silence no longer. “So… that’s it, huh?” she began, taking a few steps closer to Twilight. “Now we just… get to wait for everything to stabilize and hope that that was enough?”
Twilight sighed, and in an exceedingly tired voice, gave her answer. “I’m afraid so…”
Starlight gave off a sigh and screwed her eyes shut before hanging her head in defeat. This was it… the end of the line. Already she could hear the castle outside starting to crumble and fade away. Everypony outside of it was gone, now. It was just them…
Suddenly, the door to the room swung open, and Starlight looked up to see who the intruder could possibly be. Her eyes went wide, as did Twilight’s as they saw the new arrival. “What the?!” Starlight gasped as the sight fully registered within her mind.
Standing there, right in front of them, was another Twilight Sparkle. But something was different about her. She was a few inches shorter than the alicorn Starlight knew, and she was wearing the element of magic on her head. More than that, though, was the striking lack of a pair of wings at her sides. Her form was partially transparent, flickering and distorting periodically. Her eyes flew between Starlight and Twilight, looking just as shocked and confused as Starlight felt.
Starlight turned her eyes to the alicorn in the room, who had just lifted a hoof to cover her chest. “Twilight, what’s happening?!” she asked, her heart hammering in her chest.
Twilight, however, as she gazed at the unicorn, slowly began to relax, her expression shifting from confusion to curiosity, and then to relief. She set her hoof down on the floor and slowly began to walk forwards. “I think I understand,” she whispered, more to herself than anypony.
She came to a stop in front of the unicorn, who looked up into Twilight’s eyes in disbelief and awe. “You… you’re me…” she breathed in awe.
Twilight simply nodded in response. “Yes.”
The unicorn licked her lips, finding her voice a little easier. “...You were just talking to me when I was a filly, weren’t you?”
Again, Twilight nodded, this time without saying a word.
The unicorn fell into a momentary silence, looking like she was connecting a series of dots in her mind. Then her eyes widened and her voice went from awed to desperate for answers. She took a step forward. “What’s happening? What did you mean about, well, everything you said back then? What do you know about what’s been happening to me and Rainbow-”
Twilight rolled her eyes at the rush of questions before lifting a hoof, silencing the unicorn mid-speech. She then closed her eyes and set her hoof down, taking a deep breath. Starlight took this chance to look between the two, and notice a few more differences.
The unicorn was in much better physical shape compared to Twilight, though she still looked to be leagues behind somepony like Rainbow Dash or Applejack. There was also a collection of scratches and scrapes all over her body, as well as a large and nasty bruise on the side of her barrel. Her mane and tail were both a little messy, and she overall looked tired and weary.
“Are things in the new world worse?” Starlight thought fearfully, opening her mouth to say something, to ask if everything was alright. Twilight beat her to it, though.
“...I don’t have time to tell you, Twilight,” she said simply before opening her eyes and looking out and into the hallway behind the unicorn. Another rumble tore through the air, and Starlight’s eyes widened when she realized that she could see the Chasm closing in on them. The castle was crumbling away and vanishing into time…
“But, since you’re here, I think it’s safe to say that you used my time wisely…” Twilight continued, sounding far more at peace than Starlight felt.
The unicorn looked back over her shoulder and gasped in alarm when she saw the Chasm’s approach. She took a fearful step back before Twilight spoke again. “You kept your friends close?”
“Huh?” The unicorn asked, turning back around to face Twilight.
“I told you to keep your friends close. Did you?”
The unicorn looked unsure of herself, and she took a nervous step back. “I… I think so, yes,” she replied slowly.
Twilight’s eyes wandered up to the crown upon the unicorn’s head, and her eyes began to shimmer with tears of fond remembrance as she beheld the Element of Magic one last time. “You found the Elements of Harmony? Became connected to them?”
This time, the unicorn seemed more comfortable making a confident answer. She gave a simple nod of her head. “Yes,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Twilight stared at the unicorn for a moment longer before a sob tried to slip out of her. She lifted a hoof up to her muzzle to try and silence it, though she was not able to stop the tears that were now freely running down her cheeks.
Starlight, seeing this, and still not really understanding what was happening, took a hesitant step forwards. “Twilight?!” she called before her eyes shot up to watch as the Chasm began to consume the very room they were in. The walls were beginning to dissolve away into the white void, and she could see the current of time itself in the distance.
“It’s okay, Starlight. She did good…” Twilight assured her before resting all four of her hooves on the ground and spreading her wings in a regal manner. Her eyes locked onto the unicorn again. “I wish I could ask you all about it, but… well…” the crystal floor beneath her dissolved into dust that swirled and vanished into the void, leaving her floating in the air. “...I’ll just have to settle with the fact that, in a way, I already know…
The unicorn looked around, her own expression becoming fearful as she, too, was left suspended in the void. “What are you talking about?! What’s happening?!”
Twilight closed her eyes as her own body began to dissolve, wisps of color drifting off of her and flowing towards the unicorn. “Celestia will know… and it’s time she told you…” she said softly.
And then she disappeared.
Starlight had to resist the urge to scream out and reach for her as Twilight dissolved into purple colored dust, all of which drifted into the unicorn, merging with her and making her glow. Her physical appearance stopped flickering, and she became solid in the world.
The floor beneath Starlight faded away, and then the unicorn, too, disappeared.
That was it. There was nothing else...
Starlight was left all alone.
...Of course she was the last one to go. She’d been the one to cause all of this, after all. It started with her, it might as well end with her. It was just such a pity that that meant she had to spend her final moments all alone… just like she had been before all of this began...
...Karma was a cruel mistress, wasn’t she?
Starlight slowly turned in place, looking around while desperately panting in terror. Her eyes followed the current of time, and she tried to move, to swim through the void towards it, but there was nothing to move through. Tears started falling from her eyes, though they merely vanished into the void as they dripped from her cheeks. “Is anypony else there?!” she called out, frantically searching for a sign that she wasn’t alone. “SOMEPONY, PLEASE SAY SOMETHING!”
There was no answer, and her own voice echoed around her. She turned in place again, her eyes flying up to look at the current of time as it began to stabilize and repair itself. She reached out for it, crying hysterically. “P-please, don’t do this to me!” she screamed as loud as she could, her throat starting to go raw. “Don’t leave me all alone! Not like this! Not again! PLEASE!”
The void around her shuddered, but beyond that, there was no response. Starlight fell silent, her ears perked up and listening for something, anything else. However, there was nothing. Just silence.
Beginning to sob, Starlight screwed her eyes shut and slowly curled up into a ball, wishing the void would hurry up and claim her already. In the depths of her mind, she couldn’t help but feel a spark of jealousy and envy over how Twilight had gotten to go. She’d looked so happy… peaceful...
“Hey,” a voice, familiar and solemn, suddenly cut through the oppressive silence. Starlight went rigid, her heart skipping a beat in her chest. With a tremor starting to creep into her body, she uncurled her body and rotated in place until she saw two ponies appearing before her.
To her shock, the first one she saw was herself, albeit looking a little different. It was her mane, mostly, and how it had been parted off to one side in the front with a stylish curl, giving her a more demure and kind appearance, as contrasted with the flat and uninteresting bangs that Starlight had not done anything to change yet on her own head.
The other pony was…
“S-sunburst?” Starlight choked out, a whole new wave of tears streaming down her cheeks at the sight of the stallion.
It was really him… all grown up. Starlight hadn’t seen him in so many years since they were both just a couple of little foals... but there was no mistaking the orange hue of his coat, or that white patch of fur on his muzzle, or those geeky glasses he always wore, or his bushy eyebrows… it was him. It was him. Sunburst was here!
Starlight’s double and Sunburst shared a questioning look. They then looked back at Starlight and shared a smile. “In all honesty? We have absolutely no idea,” Sunburst said, and Starlight felt weak in the knees on hearing that voice again.
Her double spoke next. “All I know is that I heard somepony crying out,” she began, lifting a hoof to her chest. “I recognized it as my voice, but it was you...” she said softly, before reaching out a hoof to Starlight.
Starlight’s body began to turn wispy and faint, but that did little to stop the tears streaming out of her eyes. She sniffled, and with a trembling lip, began to drift forward with her own hoof reaching out. She hesitated a few inches away from her counterpart, though. Her eyes drifted over to Sunburst and saw the kind and reassuring smile he was giving her. She swallowed the lump in her throat. There was one thing she needed to know before it ended. She looked at her double and met her gaze.
“Was I alone…?”
Starlight’s other and Sunburst shared a sideways glance, and the two of them gave the other knowing grins. Then they looked back at Starlight.
“Not at all,” her double said softly.
Starlight took a moment to process this… and a crooked smile appeared on her face. Something between a weep and a laugh bubbled up and out of her before she reached out and took her other’s hoof in her own.
And just like that, Starlight Glimmer disappeared, dissolving into dust and stepping into a new life…