The sun hung high over the School of Friendship. The School was awash with the noise of a thousand conversations as students transferred from class to class. The school had been this way for many years now, a celebrated constant amongst the ever-changing former rural town of Ponyville.
The little hand of the clock hit 1.
Within the school itself, a visitor sat in the headmare’s office situated along one of the school’s less-travelled corridors. Well, not really a visitor, more of an old friend. After all, it had been Twilight’s office initially.
Princess Twilight Sparkle examined her old desk. She huffed at the placement of gaudy potted plants over the fine oak wood, but otherwise, her old workplace had not changed much in the preceding years. Its walls were still plastered with pictures of her friends and of the students that had been a part of her life. Twilight smiled happily; her thoughts filled with joyful memories of countless wacky adventures.
It was pleasant to reminisce while she waited. The clock ticked some more, and in entered a distinctly frazzled Flurry Heart.
“Auntie, I’m so sorry I’m late!” she yelled. The young mare carried two saddlebags upon her back. The bags overflowed with a multitude of manuscripts and books. In her magical grip, Flurry Heart possessed a long scroll which dragged along the floor. A quill floated over it, scratching furiously against the parchment.
At seventeen years of age, Flurry looked very much like a young Cadance. Tall, slender, and beautiful, only her milk-white coat and her mane colour distinguished her from Twilight’s former foalsitter. Thankfully, Twilight had grown somewhat in the succeeding years, so, much to her relief, her niece was not yet taller than she was.
“Whoa!” cried Flurry as she tripped over the extended parchment. She would have crashed to the floor, were it not for Twilight’s magical intervention. Flurry blushed and mumbled a thank you as she got back up.
While Flurry looked like Cadence, she bore many of her father’s mannerisms. Charming, if not a slight bit clumsy, but in an endearing way. Obsessive over minute details, yet inherently kind and loyal.
Flurry was slow to make friends, but she still exemplified a lot of the virtuous qualities her father possessed, even though she was still somewhat insecure about her own abilities. Twilight’s smile became lopsided. Flurry perhaps typified more of her favourite aunt’s traits than she was willing to admit.
After all, this was why Twilight was here.
“You’re not late, Flurry. Come, sit.” Twilight motioned to the seat opposite her. Behind her, a kettle whistled.
“But I am!” Flurry countered. The quill continued to scratch relentlessly. “Wait, I need to check my schedule. I hope this little misstep won’t impact my projected arrival time for my next class.” Twilight rose from her seat and levitated the kettle and two sets of cups over to the table. Flurry glanced at her quizzically, but her eyes rapidly lit up as she recognised the familiar kit.
“Don’t worry, Flurry, we won’t be too long. Tea?” Flurry dropped her saddlebags with a thud, rapidly taking her seat.
“Tea!?” The scratching of the quill ceased, and the scroll wrapped into itself to be returned to the overstuffed bag whence it came. “Oh, auntie, you didn’t mention this was a tea session!”
It was arguably the favourite pastime she spent with her aunt, just as it had been Twilight’s when she was Celestia’s student. It was a period for reflection, gossip, and discussion on the theoretical aspects of magic.
“Earl Grey or Jasmine?” asked Twilight as she gently lifted the tea bags over to the desk.
“Earl, please,” Flurry said as she settled into her seat.
It took all of Twilight’s energy not to scoff. She knew from experience that Flurry preferred Earl Grey; at this point, the redundant question was asked more out of habit than anything else. Twilight had already started pouring with the teabag in the cup before Flurry had even answered. Besides, Flurry had always picked the same tea as Twilight.
It was just another reminder of why this meeting had been a long time in coming.
It had all started innocuously enough.
Flurry Heart was only five when Twilight had begun telling her stories of her time in Ponyville. When she was young, Flurry was always insistent on hearing more of her aunt's stories of her travels and quests around the world during Twilight’s frequent visits to the Crystal Empire. Often, when Flurry played amongst her friends, Flurry would act out Twilight’s many adventures. Cadance stated that Flurry would always be upset if she could not play as Twilight.
At the age of eight, Flurry took to dressing as Twilight for Nightmare Night.
Three years in a row.
At age eleven, Flurry was present upon Twilight’s return from an expedition to the far south, chasing a rogue warlock and the treasure of the Toi Uma tribes. Twilight remembered her niece’s awed face as Twilight docked from her airship decked in her fine regalia, looking much like a shining knight from a fairy tale.
At thirteen, Flurry had begged her parents to allow her to study at the School of Friendship. They eventually relented after persistent pestering.
Twilight was more than happy to welcome her niece into the school. Though Twilight was often engaged in Canterlot, their proximity allowed the two to meet more often. What had once been cordial catch-up visits gradually turned into teaching sessions.
At the age of seventeen, under Twilight’s discreet tutelage, Flurry had become a capable mage for her age. She had proven to be an engaged and curious student.
Twilight finished pouring the tea. She then placed one sugar in Flurry’s cup and two in her own. She returned to her seat and smiled at the delighted Flurry Heart. Although the younger mare had tried to keep her expression neutral, Twilight could see the glimmer in Flurry’s eyes and the slight curvature of her lips. Twilight couldn’t help but chuckle; her poker face was worse than her father’s.
Unfortunately, this teatime was reserved for something of a more serious nature.
It was time.
“How are you, Flurry?” Twilight started.
“I’m good, great, in fact! My grades have never been better and my magic is getting stronger. I think I’m ready for the next stage,” said Flurry confidently, her expression almost smug.
“Next stage?” asked Twilight, taken aback; she wasn’t often surprised these days. “Flurry, you do know what’s happening next year.”
Flurry frowned and placed her cup on the table. “I know.”
“You will finish up your studies here, then you will return to the Crystal Empire,” answered Twilight on her niece’s behalf.
Twilight took a long sip from her tea. Flurry’s wing’s ruffled nervously.
“But I don’t want to go back to the Crystal Empire,” Flurry protested.
Twilight placed her cup down. This was expected, of course; it was a confrontation long in the making.
“Flurry,” she began slowly. “Your mother wants you to come home to teach you the ways of the court.”
Flurry’s face twisted into a scowl. “But I already have experience with the Equestrian political system.”
“True,” said Twilight with a nod. “Equestria and the Crystal Empire are similar in terms of political structure, however, they have very different cultural and etiquette requirements.” Twilight let out a deep breath. “You are nearly eighteen and the heir to a princess. It’s time to go home and learn how to rule.”
“But I hate the Crystal Empire!”
“Flurry,” scolded Twilight. There was truly no need to raise their voices lest any passing student hear them.
“All I am is a pretty princess who smiles and waves for all the nobles,” Flurry complained. She had placed her two hooves on the table, frustration and anger visible on her face. “I’m like a doll, there to look nice and be quiet.” Her mouth scrunched up in disgust. “I don’t want that. I want to go on adventures, auntie! I want to stay here with you. I want to go off to see the world! I want to fight dragons, seek treasure, and find romance!”
“Flurry, Cadance is insistent,” said Twilight evenly. “While the Empire is not as…stimulating as your dreams, it is your home. It is where you belong.”
“Not if you say so,” she pleaded, her eyes wide and hopeful, Flurry’s forehooves met her aunt’s. She squeezed tightly upon them. “She’ll listen to you. You’re the ruler of Equestria; you can do whatever you want. I want to stay here and learn under you, and I know you want that, too.”
Twilight looked downward sadly. “Flurry, you’ve learned everything this school has to offer.”
“I can help out in other ways. I can—”
“Flurry...” Twilight rubbed her temples. This had been far more draining than she had envisaged.
“I’m ready!” Flurry continued. “I know I am. I could be your student.”
Twilight looked up at her niece with incredulity.
“I am getting stronger all the time. I want to continue that. I’ll never learn like that if I’m in the Empire.”
“Flurry, I already have a student: Nighttime Glow.”
“I know,” Flurry muttered barely above a whisper, turning away from Twilight. “But she doesn’t understand. I’m a Sparkle! She’ll never be as strong as me! I’m the best in the school!”
“Flurry, enough,” Twilight snapped, her tone bearing a degree of finality.
Her harsh manner seemed to jolt Flurry, who returned to sitting upright, her gaze intently focused on her teacup.
“I understand you, and I know you and Nighttime do not get along.”
“But I didn’t realise that it was because you were jealous of her position.” Twilight looked up to the ceiling in frustration and let herself breathe slowly in and out. “Flurry, you are my niece, and I love you. And I love Nighttime as well. This should not be a competition because it is not a competition.”
Twilight held up her hoof. After a few seconds, she said, “Perhaps it’s time for a story.”
Flurry peered curiously at her aunt. Twilight tried her best not to smile. This was serious, but something about how Flurry could always be coaxed out of a mood with a story, even in her teenage years, warmed Twilight’s heart. Twilight levitated the pot and poured some more tea.
“Once upon a time—”
“You told me the ‘once upon a time’ trope is a sign of poor literary skill. It’s a cliché.”
Twilight couldn’t help but guffaw. Flurry had truly taken after her, down to the little semantics.
“Alright, fine, smarty pants,” chuckled Twilight, rolling her eyes. “Some time ago, I wasn’t Princess Twilight Sparkle.”
Flurry did a mock gasp but was silenced by Twilight’s withering gaze. Now was not the time for interruptions.
“I was just Twilight Sparkle, the unicorn from Canterlot.
“I was always a smart mare, but I was not fast, strong, or even that brave. I always had a problem with my self-confidence. That was until I saw her.”
“‘Her’?” Flurry asked curiously.
“Princess Celestia,” said Twilight with a grin. “It was my first time attending the Summer Sun Celebration.” Twilight leaned back in her chair, a wistful look passing over her face. “Seeing her raise the sun inspired me.”
Twilight sighed. “For the first time in my life, I wanted something other than a book.”
Flurry giggled softly; she was aware of her aunt’s idiosyncrasies surrounding the written word. It had been something of a running joke in the family.
“I wanted to be just like that,” Twilight continued. “She was valiant, she was beautiful, and she was a magician without peer. She was perfect in my young eyes.” Twilight rubbed her hooves awkwardly. “You are not to speak of this next part to your great-aunt.”
“I promise,” said Flurry with a nod.
“Good,” said Twilight, still somewhat flushed. “During those days, I actually wanted a sun of my own so that I could be just like her. And if I couldn’t have that, then I wanted to at least bask in hers.
“I was barely more than eight if I recall correctly, but nothing could deter me. With each book I read about the Princess, the more enamoured I became.
“The day I became her student was the greatest day of my life.”
Twilight closed her eyes to bask in her reverie, almost forgetting that Flurry was present. Flurry just silently sipped from her cup, watching her aunt with eager anticipation. Flurry still hung on her aunt’s story like she was still a wide-eyed and curious filly.
“It still is,” said Twilight as Flurry remained silent. “Out of all the ponies in Equestria, I was her student. And with each day I learned under her wing, the more perfect she became to me. I worshipped her. Truly I did. She was my sun, and if I could spend the rest of my days in her glow, I would die content.”
Twilight sighed deeply and met Flurry’s eyes. She tried to look as authoritative as possible.
“But I was wrong,” Twilight continued.
“It was unhealthy, and it was unnatural. No pony is perfect, Flurry. Some ponies may whisper that we alicorns are gods, but we are oh so fallible, and prone to the same vulnerabilities as anypony.”
She placed her hoof on Flurry’s and squeezed tightly. Flurry returned the gesture.
This was proving to be more difficult than Twilight had thought; she was glad that her niece had such inner strength. Twilight sometimes forgot that she was the elder of the two.
When Twilight spoke again, her voice was but a whisper. “Yes, I worshipped Princess Celestia, Sol Invicta, Ruler of Equestria and Lady of Everfree.
“But I came to love Celestia the pony.”
“Meaning?” Flurry asked.
“Celestia who loved long naps, cake and gardening. Celestia who was afraid of chickens and sometimes feels lonely. Celestia my friend. Not my goddess. No, nothing of the sort; just a terrific but sometimes very silly pony.
“When I stopped seeing her as perfection, I came to appreciate her even more. Our relationship has never been better because we can talk as equals, as friends, and as family, not as subject and sovereign. And I think she feels very much the same.”
Both were very quiet for a moment. Twilight relaxed as she took in the gentle, familiar sounds of the school and the surrounding town. She had often forgotten how peaceful life could be out here, away from the constant drumming noise of Canterlot.
“Auntie? I-I don’t understand what you’re saying,” said Flurry.
Twilight clicked her tongue. Flurry was a bad liar.
“I’m worried, Flurry. Truly, I am.”
Flurry frowned deeply; those wide beautiful eyes filled with concern.
“Flurry, when I look at you sometimes, I see me, the old me, making the same mistakes.
“I’m not perfect, Flurry. I get twitchy when I can’t make up my morning list. I still panic sometimes about trivial stuff. I know that you look at me and see this mighty hero, but that, I am not.”
Flurry attempted to interject, but Twilight was not finished.
“To some, I may be Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, Element of Magic, Lady of Harmony, Ruler of Equestria and Saviour of the World. But I have and always will be Twilight and just Twilight: the bookish unicorn who once dreamed of her own sun.
“I don’t want you to be me. I want you to be you.”
Twilight let out a breath she didn’t realise she was holding. Now began the wait.
Flurry looked away from Twilight, her expression thoughtful.
Twilight could almost imagine the gears turning in her young niece’s head. Twilight smiled, gently refilled her cup, and drank from it, letting the warmth of her tea settle within her.
“But…but I’m just some princess from the Crystal Empire, not born to go on adventures or travel the world,” Flurry said softly, looking at the desk, her voice distant as if she was discussing it with herself rather than with Twilight. “I’m just a living centrepiece. It’s all I’ll ever be. Mom is an alicorn, auntie. Dad just walks up and down the parade ground and salutes. I’ll never run the Empire, at least not without something—”
“Stop,” commanded Twilight. Flurry nodded; it was best not to think of such things. They sat in silence once more.
“I don’t even want the Empire. Not really. I want…”
“You want more,” Twilight completed for Flurry. “I understand.” Twilight stood from her desk, admiring her wall of memorabilia. “When I became a Princess, I had no role and, in many ways, no purpose. Celestia gave me some advice that I believe may be of help to you.” Twilight approached and lifted Flurry’s chin with her hoof. “Your time will come soon.”
“Really?” Flurry whispered, her eyes earnest.
“But how will I know? When will I know? I…I’m just so unsure.”
“You’ll know. I Pinkie Promise.”
Flurry laughed. She was well aware of the binding nature of the Pinkie Promise.
“You will find your way just as I did. Going on adventures is all good and fun, but it is a tiring exercise and not particularly safe.” Twilight scoffed, looking over to her memorabilia once more. “While I cherish those days, I would have gladly traded stopping some horrid monster with my friends in some far-off corner of the world for a day curled up in bed with a book and some coffee.”
“Why?” objected Flurry, half-laughing. “Wasn’t it exciting?! You’d not want to relive that?!”
“Oh yes, fantastic fun—when looking back.” Twilight finally said. “But between you and me, I was making it up as I went along for the most part.”
Flurry gasped. Twilight allowed herself some satisfaction in it. Now that Flurry was older, it would do her no harm to learn of such things.
“Even the best-laid plans often have a frightening tendency of unravelling in the face of world-ending threats. I was often terrified out of my mind. For Equestria, for my friends, even for myself.”
“But you were always so brave.”
Twilight nodded and turned to face Flurry again. “You need to listen to your father more; the only time a pony can be brave is when they are afraid.”
Flurry shook her head as she lifted herself from her seat. “’I’m such a fool. I’m sorry, auntie,” she murmured.
Suddenly, Flurry was swept up into a strong hug, which she gladly leaned into. It was reassuring and it reminded her of younger days when life had been so much simpler.
“Never say that,” whispered Twilight. “I have met a thousand idiots in my time as ruler of Equestria. Do you think I would teach an idiot?”
“Thank you, auntie,” said Flurry as she eventually extracted herself from the hug. “I’m so glad I have you.”
“Not as much as I am glad that I have you.” Twilight motioned her head towards the door. “Now go, this old mare has taken up too much of your time already. You have classes to attend to.”
Flurry nodded; she picked up her bags and made towards the doors. Before she exited, Flurry turned to her aunt once again.
“Will you still teach me magic?” pleaded Flurry.
Twilight scratched beneath her chin with her hoof.
“Cadence told me not to,” Twilight said, “but what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”
Flurry squeed and fluffed her wings in excitement. After calming down, she moved to leave.
Twilight then had a thought. “Flurry!” she called out.
Flurry poked her head back through the office door.
“I’m going west in two months.”
Flurry inhaled; Twilight coughed, trying to seem nonchalant.
“Routine study and containment of some magical artefact predating Equestria, not the most exciting adventure, but I was wondering if you would be inter—”
Twilight was set upon by her niece with a bone-crushing hug. Flurry skipped in place, tightly gripping her struggling aunt.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, Auntie!” Flurry laughed heartily; Twilight wheezed as she was strangled amidst her niece’s exhilaration.
Flurry detangled herself and began to skip somewhat ridiculously around her the office. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Flurry skidded to a sudden stop, her eyes wide. She summoned her discarded list and quill and began scratching upon the parchment once more. “I need to start packing!” The mare bolted towards the exit.
“Flurry, it's not for another two months!” Twilight shouted.
Flurry paid her no heed, her mind was awash with adventure, exotic locations, and danger.
Twilight tutted, yet she couldn’t banish the smile from her lips.
As Flurry moved to depart, she nearly bumped into an entering mare.
“Headmare Starlight, I’m going on an adventure!” Flurry cried as she rushed past the purple mare, her wings abuzz, barely capable of keeping herself on the ground.
Starlight looked to Twilight with a bemused expression. Twilight shrugged. Starlight moved to take up what had just been Flurry’s seat.
“So, how did the talk go?” she asked.
“Better than expected,” said Twilight.
“Better than yours?” retorted Starlight.
Twilight snorted indignantly. “I was relatively calm with Celestia.”
Starlight raised an eyebrow.
“I said ‘relatively’.”
“You were twenty-five,” Starlight said flatly.
Twilight fixed Starlight with a mischievous stare. “And I remember a certain school counsellor who was twenty-eight when she had the teacher-student talk. Not a single tissue was left by the end of my speech.”
Starlight blushed furiously. “Anyway,” she said. “So, you decided to cave in and take the girl on the trip.”
“Celestia wouldn’t stop pestering me to do so!” laughed Twilight. She gestured with her hoof wildly. “You know her and those big, wide, alicorn eyes. How could I say no?”
“Guess the faithful student isn’t fully gone after all,” teased Starlight.
They both shared a hearty laugh at that.