Chapter 35: Through it All, We will Sing Forevermore

I have absolutely no problem admitting that I hate hospitals, and the following months hadn't helped matters.

Apparently, someone that was part of the hospital staff had let slip that I was in a fragile state, and to a certain night princess, no less. This all meant that even though I was walking unassisted and even flying (though only for short times), Luna felt it prudent to stay by my side 24/7, coddling me. Oddly enough, had I been healthy, I would not have minded the attention one bit. However, with me already feeling a bit under the weather, it just made me feel like an invalid. Said behavior became less intense as I continued to improve, but being able to do little more than conjure a light at the tip of my horn for an hour or so urged Luna to still treat me like I was made of glass.

I suppose I really couldn't blame her, however. Only later on did I find out that I was fighting far past the point a normal pony would have collapsed or even died from exhaustion alone, but I kept myself going with magic and my Element. I didn't regret doing what had to be done, but I did regret that the situation had called for it. I had never been an outright fighter, after all - the battles I had fought were born of necessity. I never sought out fights and I generally avoided unneeded confrontations, but the threat of suffering and death to my loved ones brought out the need to protect them by any means possible.

That didn't mean I liked it, though.

Along with the physical wounds came quite a bit in the way of mental and emotional hurt as well. I was plagued by nightmares for the first three weeks after the war was officially declared "over", and though I eventually stopped having them - thanks in no small part to Luna - the memories of said nightmares didn't leave. Let it simply be said that the fear-driven dreams of watching each one of my mares die in horrific ways were disturbing (though the dreams themselves didn't make sense, seeing as how the war was over).

Beyond finding out that Dash no longer wanted to join the Wonderbolts - which was a travesty in itself - the girls and even my brother sported quite a few new scars, the latter of whom had gained them directly from me. While I wasn't vain by any means, and I truly believed that the beauty of the soul far outweighed what one could see on the surface, it was still saddening to see my beautiful girls with such mementos of war, and while my brother and I had our own fair share of scars from each other, I'd never outright tried to kill him before.

All in all though, I couldn't help but smile when they first visited me all together. For those few hours, we were able to forget what we had all gone through as a result of Death's ambitions - we were able to simply be usagain, and I can't explain in words how wonderful it felt. I will admit it was a little difficult to talk with Twilight's tongue stuck in my mouth for a few minutes (which caused quite the embarrassed flush from her), but it had been a long time since we had seen each other anywhere but on the battlefield.

My mother and sister also visited, much to my surprise. It wasn't to say that I thought they shouldn't, but rather that I didn't think they'd be happy to see me. Contrary to what actually happened, I figured my mother at least would be furious with me for rushing headlong into a war with no prior experience and no formal training of any kind. Instead, she only told me how proud of me she was, and told me that no matter what, she would always have my back. She admitted to me that she had been terrified for my safety many times over, but eventually came to terms with the fact that I had to do what I thought was right, and stopping or guilting me into not doing so would be killing the part of me that made me, me. A little dramatic if you ask me, but then again, I had to get my flair for the dramatic from somewhere.

While I focused mostly on just those close to me - whether that be from personal relationships or brothers- and sisters-in-arms - it was truly staggering just how many cared about me. True that I wasn't really unlikable by any terms, but most of the ponies and drakes around Canterlot I had only met in passing here and there.

As Luna and I aimlessly walked through the sprawling streets of Equestria's capital, she explained to me that through mine and Twilight's efforts, the royalty of Equestria had become much more accessible to the general public. Not that they'd ever thought themselves necessarily above other ponies, but their jobs tended to limit their interaction with the public outside of court or formal events. Me though, I was an alicorn that had somehow been basically given royalty, yet I refused to be seen as such - it was a title to me, nothing more. Twilight had gotten with Celestia and Luna's personal advisors and worked out better schedules to give both of them more time to have personal lives of their own, while still keeping Equestria running prosperously.

"Head in the clouds again, Frost?" Luna quipped playfully from beside me, bumping her rump into mine.

I glanced lovingly to her and shook my head. "Just thinking about how much has changed since I've been here."

Luna tilted her head curiously at me. "What do you mean?"

I chuckled with a grin. "You have to remember, parts of your world are shown as a cartoon on Earth. So much of Terra - so many of you all - have changed since I've been here. For example," I extended one of my wings over Luna's back, pulling her close to me, "you were shy, and so awkward in the show. Later on you opened up more, but at your core, that's what you were portrayed as. Now look at you: a year later, and you're not only a fierce warrior, but a loving herdmate and loyal friend to all." I shook my head with conflict in my heart. "I love all of you and am so glad you fetched me from Earth when you did, but sometimes I wonder if things might have been better for you all if I had never come. Things would be different to be sure, but I can't help but feel sometimes my coming here caused needless pain and suffering somehow." I then shook my head with a wry smile. "Wow, this conversation got dark really fast."

"Just because your arrival might be a catalyst for things does not mean this world would have been without strife." Luna countered firmly, nipping at my wingtip affectionately as she did so. "What I do know is that we are happy you are here, and you have helped bring Terra into a new age of prosperity. Regardless of the trials we have endured, Terra has persevered, and you cannot convince me that you do not belong here." She then slapped my side with the arm of her wing, sending a smoky look my way. "You are my love, and I will not let you doubt yourself."

It was no secret to anyone that knew any of my herd that we were all openly physically affectionate with each other, but my marefriends - Luna in particular - had been reticent to get "too rough" with me. With that being the case, I was feeling a little...stifled. However, with Luna once again openly providing the support I needed at just the time I needed it caused a very fluttery warm feeling to erupt within my chest, and I couldn't help myself as I brought my wings up around our heads and pulled her into a deep, sensual kiss.

It had been a long time since we had kissed like this, and though she let out a strangled squeak of surprise, she didn't pull away; instead, she pushed deeper, moaning softly as she did so.

However, since we were in public, Luna pulled away after about fifteen seconds, breathing a little heavily through her nose. Still, she was smiling brightly at me, and giggled before nosing my wings away from us and jerking her head toward the city. "Come Frost, fly with me."

With a smile of my own, I extended my slightly achy wings and took to the air after her, letting out a loud laugh of joy.

Perspective change - Celestia

"Your move, Princess."

I glared down at the chessboard for a few moments, trying my best to try and predict what was going to be my opponent's next move. Contrary to popular belief, I actually wasn't all that skilled in the game of chess, though I did enjoy the challenge. Twilight, for example, had no problem trouncing me every time, but I played for the joy of engaging in mock-battle with another. Besides that though, it made for a great way to pass the time.

I moved my piece, glancing up at my opponent as a smirk crossed her face and she pushed her piece forward with the tip of her hoof. "Checkmate."

Sighing, but still smiling, I knocked over the princess piece and looked to the one across from me. "That makes the seventh win just today. I suppose I am lucky this is not a real battle, Chrysalis."

"Well," she began, laying her head down on her crossed hooves, "if you remember correctly, I nearly overthrew your capital right from under your nose, and you had no idea until it was too late. Had it not been for your student catching on and subsequently helping your niece throw a giant wrench in my plans - using love as a fuel for her spell, no less - I would have taken over your entire kingdom." She then stopped and looked to me quizzically. "With 'kingdom' in mind, why is your land called that if there's no king? Seems that it should be called a 'princess-dom' or something of the sort." She then shrugged, fluttering her large, diaphanous wings. "I would recommend calling it a 'hive' if it weren't for the fact that you are not a queen that powers the birthing process of every pony in your nation."

I raised my brow, cleaning off the chessboard and packing it up. "How exactly does that work, by the way? Do you…?" I let the unanswered question hang in the air, but I knew she would catch on to what I was asking.

The changeling queen grinned and shook her head. "If I personally birthed every changeling for the hive, I wouldn't have time to do anything else. Instead, we have organic, living structures we call 'hatcheries' that produce the eggs that make up the bulk of our number: the drones. Soldiers and other specialized changelings are drone eggs that have been bathed in special hormones that cause them to grow differently to adequately fit their role within the hive." She then lazily pointed a hoof at herself. "While I help supply the love energy to keep said process going, I don't directly have a hoof in creating the numbers of my hive - broodmothers take care of that, and nurse the nymphs to adulthood. The only one of our numbers that I directly create is other queens."

"How many queens have you created?" I questioned, now very interested.

Queen Chrysalis smiled wistfully. "Just one: my daughter, Dragonfly."

I smiled in return, taking the same posture as the changeling across from me. "Will she start her own hive one day?"

While her smile didn't waver, the next words she spoke shocked me to my core. "No...she'll replace me." My surprise was clear to her, and she nodded slowly. "Changelings are a 'burn bright; burn fast' race, Princess. We grow quickly, and so we do not live long. I'll be lucky to have another twenty years in me, and I'll spend that time training Dragonfly for when she must take over as queen." Again she smiled almost wistfully. "She'll be nearly a year old soon; I am so thankful she's being born into a time when my people are well looked after."

Glancing around, almost as if I could see through the walls themselves, I queried, "Is she here in Canterlot?"

The queen nodded to me. "Remember the young nymph with a mane and tail? Only changeling queens grow a mane and tail, so it's an easy way to tell us apart." The two of us lapsed into a brief silence before she broke it with, "In a way, he's the father, you know."

I frowned in confusion, cocking my head to the side curiously as I struggled to understand what I was being told. "Who?"

"You know who." she answered, grinning like a cat.

It took another moment before the pieces clicked into place and I couldn't help but stammer out, "F-Frost?"

With a nod and a grin she answered, "Over eighty percent of the love that went directly into birthing my daughter came from your prince, Princess. Save for directly copulating with me, he couldn't have had more of a hoof in creating her life." Before I could begin stuttering out a long line of questions, Chrysalis waved me away and shook her head. "I'm not asking for anything, Princess. I don't expect Frost to be a father to a changeling he never chose to make - I don't expect anything from him." Again she smiled, and it was warmer than any expression I had seen on her thus far. "He's already given me so much: safety and security for my people, a daughter of my own flesh and blood, and a future for my kind. In fact," she suddenly fixed a very serious stare my way, "I don't want you to tell him of his relationship to her."

Frowning, I crossed my hooves and asked, "Why?"

"Because, I have seen just how much he already takes upon himself." she answered without hesitation. She then smiled gently and added, "When he has a child of his own, it should be one that he knows he helped create, and one that he wanted. I believe he will be a great father to a lucky filly one day, but not now." She then shrugged, and I was honestly disturbed at how little this seemed to bother her. "Changeling queens have a habit of never having fathers, so it's of no consequence. Perhaps later I will tell her, but for now Dragonfly will grow and be raised as I have, and my mother was, and her mother, and her mother...all the way back to the beginning of my hive."

I still didn't like it, and so thought it prudent to confirm. "Are you sure about this?"

She nodded without hesitation. "I am. As I said, he's already given me so much, and I would not impose on the life of one who owes nothing to me. He's kept his end of our bargain and so have you, so we are squared away. I want for nothing more, and only hope that when I leave this world, my people can live in harmony with ponies once and for all."

I couldn't help but blurt out, "We would have helped you, if only you'd asked."

Queen Chrysalis chuckled and shook her head. "Hindsight is 20/20, as they say. My people were starving, and I did what I thought was best at the time. Had I overthrown your rule in Equestria though, we would not have been allied and could not have stood against the might of Death. So, in a way, I am happy that things happened the way they did." She then sighed as her smile dropped slightly, and we shared a few moments of silence before she spoke again. "Do you have any regrets in your life?"

"More than I could ever count." I answered honestly, and without hesitation. "They range in severity from 'I wish I had chosen cake over pie' to, 'I wish it had been me that had been banished'." Another pregnant silence enveloped us before I added, "I still have nightmares about it, you know." Queen Chrysalis glanced to me with a raised brow, prompting me to elaborate. "Luna, and the day I banished her to the moon for a thousand years. I still remember that last moment before she was blasted to Terra's satellite, she had an expression of utter betrayal etched on her face. I still see that expression in my dreams from time to time, and it is that reminder that ensures I will never make the mistake of neglecting those I care for ever again."

The changeling across from me nodded understandingly. "I too have many regrets in my life, but I suppose my greatest failure was not attempting to rekindle the alliance between changelings and ponies long ago." She inclined her head nonspecifically to the stone wall behind me, which bore a small, magical window that was, for all intents and purposes, indestructible. "Many ages ago, we changelings were in alliance with the Crystal City; they provided us with all the love we would ever need, and we protected and taught them how to manipulate the crystals that make up their home. Since we cut ties with them before the time of Sombra, we have become a shunned race in the world - a race to be feared and hated instead of respected and valued." With a wistful sigh she glanced directly at me, an almost sad smile playing at her lips. "I can only hope the future generations can do what I could not, and bring my people back to glory."

"Your hive has earned my support, Chrysalis." I assured, nodding to her in response. "Besides the fact that I am indebted to you for your invaluable support and assistance, Frost would never forgive me if I didn't assure your people's safety and continued existence."

She nodded slowly before asking, "And how are they? Have they settled in nicely?"

I smiled in response to the question, quite pleased with how well things had gone. "Yes, they have. Granted I have been forced to confine them to Ponyville and Canterlot for the time being, but incidents have been few and far in between, especially when I formally announced that any changeling was under our direct protection, and were granted amnesty because of their part in the war. Frost made it quite clear to all that we all live in no small part because of your assistance, and that of your people."

"Consider yourself lucky that he doesn't have a thing for changelings, Princess." the queen quipped with a grin. "I would have no problem whisking him away and showing him just how 'specialized' changelings are."

I couldn't help but cock my head to the side and blurt out, "Did you just call yourself a whorse?"

She snorted a short laugh, and her shoulders shook for a few moments with silent laughter as she hid her face from me. I could do little more than grin like a fool as small titters also escaped my mouth. For the next few minutes, the two of us just laughed quietly at my outburst, which was both unexpected and borderline-offensive, to most. It took some time, but eventually we both calmed down to the point where we were simply wearing soft smiles and closed eyes as we enjoyed the lighter atmosphere that had enveloped us.

"Promise me that you'll look after him, Princess." Queen Chrysalis murmured as she lay her head on her hooves once again, her eyes still closed. "You have a one-in-a-million stallion, and I sense that he can do this world a lot of good, for all of us." Her smile lessened a bit to an almost wistful expression. "Never forget just how valuable an asset he is, because I'm not the only one in this world that's realized how different the prince is...and not all of them have innocent intentions."

I nodded and sagely recited, "So, the Sun must guard the Guardian. Rather fitting, I must say." A familiar tugging at the back of my mind reminded me that the sun needed to be set soon, so I pushed myself to a standing position and stretched my wings before glancing back down at the smaller changeling in front of me. "Regrettably, it's time for me to depart. I thank you for the company, Queen Chrysalis." Glancing around the spartan, yet clean cell, I couldn't help but feel regretful that such measures were required. Still, I knew that many of the civilians still believed the queen needed to serve time to atone for her trespasses, so I tried not to think about it.

That didn't mean I agreed with the methods employed, but in some ways, I was at the mercy of my people, this being one of those times.

I couldn't help but stop near the door as a soft, "How is public opinion looking for me," drifted over.

I turned to Queen Chrysalis, but couldn't help but sigh at the question. "It's...progressing. Slowly, but it is progressing towards a positive end. I promised that I would allow justice to be done, but I cannot turn my back on the public. I imagine it will be some time yet before they feel vindicated."

Queen Chrysalis sighed, but nodded as well. "I knew what I was getting into before I surrendered myself to the mercy of your court. As long as I have a decent amount of time left with my daughter, it will all be worth it."

"You will," I answered firmly, tapping my hoof against the tiled floor of the cell, "I swear that there will be more than enough time for you to teach and spend time with your daughter, but I cannot offer special treatment to an enemy-turned-ally." Shaking my head to move the locks of flowing mane away from my face, I turned my attention to the solitary window before glancing back to the changeling queen still sitting on the floor. "I must take my leave, but I promise to visit again when I can."

Pulling the door open with my magic and reapplying the wards that contained the queen's magic, I stepped outside just in time to hear a soft, "Thank you, Princess Celestia."

Without turning around, I muttered my response with a smile on my face. "It is a pleasure and a privilege, Queen Chrysalis. Until next we meet."

Shutting the plastic and metal door and hearing it click shut behind me, I nodded to the two guards on duty, both of whom returned the nod before taking their places on either side of the clear, acrylic glass cell. It was times like this that I wondered that given an alternate string of circumstances, or even choices taken in the past, how different would our world had been? Was Frost's coming a catalyst for so much change, or was it simply a coincidence? We would never know of course, but a part of me now questioned if given a different set of choices, could Chrysalis been befriended instead of forced to take such drastic measures; could Discord have been reformed? These are questions that will likely remain unanswered, but I would like to think that given the circumstances, Equestria as a whole made good choices.

With a small smile a little bounce in my trot, I made my way back toward my castle in Canterlot.

Perspective change - Vinyl Scratch

I'll be the first to admit that I've never been a morning pony, but whether it's because of my friends - namely Octavia - or the fact that every other pony just loves to play in the sun, I'd had to adapt to getting up early anyway. Coffee was my chosen elixir, and I loved it more than any other drink in the world.

Even with all that being the case, and my love of the concept of just...not getting up in the morning, I'd never actually been able to do it before. Now though, lying in a pile of pretty mares, there was nowhere else I'd rather be. Granted that we were missing a few of our number, but four out of nine wasn't too bad, considering two were ruling princesses, one was a soldier, another was an avatar connected to Luna, and the last was a work-obsessed unicorn who really needed to take some more time for herself...but we could address that later. For now, I just enjoyed the fact that three of the ponies I was closest to in the world had joined me in a giant cuddle-pile in the observation deck of Twilight's library, which since the beginning of our mutual relationship with Frost and each other had become our default hang-out pad. We put a lot of work into the place after all, so why not make it worthwhile?

I'll admit though, it was a little disheartening to see the physical reminders of the war all over Rainbow and Pinkie. Rainbow, for example, had nearly lost her ear along with having her side sliced open, while Pinkie's arms and front hooves were riddled with scars that looked like she had gone through a very long period of self-mutilation. I won't lie: I cried for both of them when I first welcomed them back to Ponyville. While they both assured me that they had gotten off a lot better than many other ponies, it still didn't make me feel any better; with how thick their scars were, I didn't want to imagine the kind of pain they had gone through to get them. It was then that I had that same kind of guilt-ridden terror that Twilight had gotten a few months ago when we reunited - I had truly understood that any one of them could have died at any time in that war, and there wouldn't have been anything I could do about it. I thanked the stars that I hadn't had to hear from one of the others, teary-eyed and broken, that one of my closest friends and herdmates had died in battle.

Let's just say that after that, I made sure I told and showed each and every one of them just how much I appreciated them every day.

Now, for example, the four of us were laying together on something called a futon - which was basically a giant mattress that was able to bend easily - as we for the most part just enjoyed each other's company and made small talk here and there. I'll admit it was a little strange that Dash - who used to be pretty petite, even for a pegasus - was now larger than I was and fully capable of holding me like a teddy bear...like she was currently doing. Sure it was a new sensation, but she was so warm…

I wasn't even paying attention to the conversation, but I heard bits and pieces of Lyra talking to Pinkie about candy or something. Me though, I was focused on just how nice it felt to be held after so many lonely nights; Lyra and Tavi had been busy with the orchestra, and Fluttershy had her hooves full with animals and some volunteer work for the hospital, which meant that more often than not, if I wasn't exhausted from a show I'd DJ'ed at, I ended up laying in bed, alone, wishing someone was there next to me. Before Frost and I got together, I'd never really been the kind of pony to need that comforting warmth next to me, but now I craved it all the time. Maybe the old me would be calling current me a little filly, but all I knew was it felt so nice to have someone there next to me, holding me, that I knew cared about me.
For the longest time I just laid there on the edge of consciousness, eyes closed and breathing deeply, before somepony calling my name brought a confused, "Whuh? Wazzat?" I looked up to find Dash smiling down at me, levitating a scroll in front of my face, which I read out loud.

"To our dear loved ones left to await us,

Following this letter, we will be preparing a much-anticipated return to the only place we have truly felt at home in many years: among all of you. Final preparations have been wrapped up and all delegations have been signed off on, allowing my sister and I time to ourselves for the first time in months.

We ask your forgiveness for the lack of available time to keep the flame of our mutual affection alive, and hope that you have not forgotten us and will forgive us for it. As you have all learned, quite a bit of our lives go into running Equestria, regardless of personal desires. Make no mistake: Equestria is a priority, but our hearts linger on home - on all of you. Finally though, after much work, we can return to be with those who truly mean the most to us.

Frost has been completely released from the hospital's care, and while he is still recovering, is strengthening every day and looks forward to seeing all of you in a more casual environment. Twilight, as well (though we had to practically drag her away from work), is very excited to return home to all of her friends. In addition to this, Second Lieutenant Ditzy Doo is being given a period of personal leave by her superiors - namely, Darkflight - the latter of which realized she is one of the only soldiers who has not taken any sort of break since the war was officially declared over. This means that assuming the four of you in Ponyville are willing, we would like to go on our first (and admittedly long-overdue) date as a herd.

So, please prepare for this evening, as tonight we celebrate not only ourselves, but Equestria's victory as well as the sacrifice of those that gave everything to protect our home and all within it.

With all the love in my heart,

Celestia

PS: Luna requests that Rainbow Dash wears her regalia and crown, since it is likely we may be ambushed by the media at some point; such is the life of a royal, dear."

I glanced up at Dash, only to see her frowning deeply. "I didn't read that last part...geez, where did I even putthat stuff?"

I shrugged, though I didn't leave the embrace of the blue hooves still wrapped around me. "I'unno, either here or at your house. I don't think that'd be the kinda thing you'd just kinda throw around."

"It's in the storage room in the cellar, behind Twilight's chemistry lab inside the locked chest." Lyra broke in with a smile. "Only reacts to Rainbow Dash's magical frequency, so only she can open it. Twilight put the whole thing together as a sort of paranoid security measure against anypony who might try to steal it...as if just by putting it on, ponies would mistake the thief for Rainbow Dash."

Dash just chuckled and shook her head with a grin. "If it weren't for the fact that I've known Twi for years, I'd think that was a little weird."

"Twi's just a big bag of silly, Dashie!" Pinkie chimed in that bubbly way she always did when she was just happy to be with her friends. It was pretty incredible that after all the stuff she must have seen, she was still able to smile and laugh in true Pinkie fashion.

I couldn't help but laugh at Pinkie's observation, since it was true. Twilight might have been a little obsessive and more than a little nerdy, but she was our nerd, and we loved her for it.

Regardless, I knew tonight was going to be a fun time. True that we'd all gone out together in small groups of two or three at a time, but never had we all gone somewhere all together at once, at least not outside the library. That just left one question open: where were we gonna go?

"Any ideas where Celestia and Luna have planned for dinner?" I asked aloud, as I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one thinking it.

Dash shrugged lightly before pulling away from me, and I'll admit that I was a little disappointed. "I figure it's gotta be somewhere that can handle at least the ten of us, and it's gonna be somewhere the staff knows us pretty well. I figure it's either going to be The Haybale or that new place that opened a few months ago; you know, the place Rarity likes - 'Port of Paradise' or something."

Lyra rolled her eyes with a smirk. "It's La Porte du Paradis, Dash - translated to common Equestrian, it means 'the gate to heaven'. It's a Prench restaurant that Fancypants and Fleur de Lis started building shortly after you and Frost tied the knot, and it's gotten pretty good reviews by everypony that goes to it; they even cater to gryphons and dragons."

"Are Darkflight and the rest of them going to be there?" I asked, sitting up in interest at the sound of a place that made food for our omnivorous friends.

Rainbow Dash shrugged once again, stretching her wings out as she stood and shook out her long, lighter-than-it-should-be mane and tail. "I know Spike and Rarity will be there, and so will Venn, Moonfang and Fluttershy, but...I'm not sure about Dark, AJ and Gilda." At my questioning look - and those of Lyra and Pinkie - Dash sighed and shook her head. "Dark's taken a lot longer to recover from everything than any of us thought, and you know Gilda and AJ are going to support him."

The entire room was silent for a long few moments as we thought of our mutual friends, trying to come up with some way to help the situation, if only a little bit.

"We should go see him after dinner tonight." Dash suggested thoughtfully. "If I know him, he'll still be up in Canterlot doing paperwork."

"So wait," I broke in with a frustrated sigh, "he'll work to send Ditzy home, but he'll stay in Canterlot? Kinda hypocritical, if you ask me."

Dash tilted her head in a way that said, 'what can you do?' She stretched out her wings once more, giving them a strong flap before turning back to me. "We all have our ways of coping with stress, Vie. Some of us spend time with ponies we care about and talk it out, others throw themselves into work; at least he's being constructive about it - he could be drinking himself to death, or doing something else destructive."

I cocked my head to the side in confusion from the end of her explanation. "I thought dragons couldn't drink themselves silly, y'know, what with the whole 'fire in the belly' and all."

Dash shook her head before offering her hoof, pulling me up with her. "Apparently that's not true, seeing as how their magical fire is actually a spell that they're casting without knowing it: there aren't any chemical glands in the throat that would be able to create the many different types of fire that Spike and Dark are able to, and their stomachs are pretty much the same as ours, except the acid is a little stronger." She then smiled sheepishly while scratching the back of her neck. "At least, that's what Twilight said."

Doing my own stretches after lounging around for so long, I groaned out, "Good enough for me. So, dinner with everypony, and then be all supportive and stuff to Darkflight; sounds like a good night to me, so long as it ends with all of us together again." I then let out a wistful (yes, WISTFUL!) sigh. "It's been a really long time since the eleven of us were all together - it'll be nice to have the whole gang in one place again."

Dash nudged me with her nose toward the stairs. "Well c'mon then, let's get cleaned up. It wouldn't be very nice to show up with the day on us when we could get clean."

"You just want to see us all wet, don't you?" I countered, bumping into her side as she followed me to the stairs.

Dash followed, but didn't reply immediately. After a few seconds she answered, "I can neither deny nor confirm that accusation. Some more research is required to say whether it's true or not."

With a chuckle and playful swat of my tail, I raced down the stairs toward the washroom with three pretty mares in tow.

Perspective change - Moonfang

"Fluttershy, you look perfect, I promise." I assured gently, trying my best not to groan in frustration.

My mare, by comparison, was a bundle of nerves that rivaled a rabbit in the shadow of a manticore. "Oh dear, oh dear, I...I think this makes me look too fat; does this make me look fat?" She stood on her hind hooves, using her spread wings for balance, and proceeded to poke her...perfectly flat stomach. There was no inkling of any extra mass beyond what was healthy, so I did my best not to groan at the simultaneous annoyance and adoration she caused to blossom within me. While her shyness was an endearing trait, her lack of self-confidence was notably less so; I only wished she could see herself the way that I - and many other males andfemales - did: as an irrefutably beautiful pony, both in body and spirit.

With a deep, calming sigh I placed my clawed hand on her shoulder and pushed her back down to a normal standing position. I then cupped her cheek and gazed deep into her eyes, using my other hand to rub her ear between my thumb and forefinger. "Love, you need to calm down; these are your friends - our friends - and even if you were overweight, which you clearly are not," I punctuated the statement with running my hand down her slender neck, and along her side, "they would not care what you were wearing: they just want to see us all together after so long."

She took a deep breath of her own, before nodding slowly. "You...you're right. I'm sorry, but it's just been so long and…" she slumped to the floor, looking away from me, "I feel like we've grown apart and I'm so scared that they don't want me anymore." Then, a single drop of moisture fell to the ground from her face, and then several more followed the first before she cried out in a broken voice, "I just miss them so much, but so much has changed and I'm so afraid a scaredy-pony who was too afraid to go with them on the battlefield won't be what they want anymore, and-"

"Stop." I ordered firmly, this being one of the unfortunately commonplace moment where I'd had to stop my dear mate from a self-destructive rant upon herself. With a soft stroke through her mane and an affectionate nip at her jawline I lovingly reminded, "You cannot berate yourself for choosing to place yourself where you were most needed, which was the hospital. Fighters fight Fluttershy, while menders heal the wounded fighters; you aren't a fighter, you're a healer. None of your friends expect you to go to war when you would only get yourself hurt or killed, and they will not hate you for it." I then stepped back and reached to the end table next to her bed, upon which was a ribbon-tied scroll with the royal seal on it. Shaking it gently in her face I explained, "Celestia herself requested us - both of us - to be there; she wants you there, as does everyone else. Frost lovesyou dearly, and I know for a fact that everyone that will be there shares his sentiment."

Fluttershy lowered her head and sighed forlornly. "I'm sorry Moony, I know I can be a hoofful to deal with. Sometimes I wonder why you stuck around for so long."

I chuckled softly and grasped her chin, bringing her eyes to look at my own. "I knew what I was getting into when I asked you to be my mate. We all have faults, and one of yours is being far too hard on yourself." I then leaned forward and kissed her nose, giving a tiny lick that caused her to giggle and rub her nose as I brought our foreheads together. "You, my dear, are one of the most beloved ponies in all of Equestria; I hope that one day you come to realize just how valued you are by so many."

She sighed happily before shaking her head against mine. "I don't care what anypony else thinks, so long as all my friends still like me."

"They do," I asserted lovingly, "and I know they are eager to see you after so long."

Glancing back at herself, Fluttershy began to shimmy the yellow sundress off of her body before looking up at me with a bright smile on her face and hooves outstretched. "Carry me?"

Chuckling and nodding, I kneeled down low and helped to pull Fluttershy up onto my back. Ensuring she was well-secured, I stood and quickly made my way down the stairs, offering only a polite wave at Angel before nearly bursting my way out through the front door and taking long, bounding strides toward town. The sound of dainty giggles followed me the whole way, and I couldn't help but grin like a fool the entire way.

Perspective change - Twilight

It felt so nice to be home after so long. True that Canterlot was my home as well for many years, but Ponyville was where I truly felt at home. All my friends were there, I had grown into who I am today because of my experiences there, and the environment was just so...homey. It didn't have the splendor of the ivory towers in Canterlot, and it wasn't the ever-writhing metropolis that was Las Pegasus or Manehatten, but the family-centric atmosphere and friendly ponies abound made Ponyville one of my favorite places to be, and the only place I wanted to live.

Making our way through the calm streets, cold though they were since winter had begun to take hold, I couldn't help but smile as I breathed in the fresh, crisp air. Hooves crunched in the meager layer of snow that was on the ground, and I felt my ears reflexively flick every now and then due to the snow flurries that fell around us.

Celestia walked beside me, her head held high and her wings relaxed against her sides. Even in such a casual atmosphere, she always seemed to exude an aura of regality that no pony else could replicate. Luna, however, had forsaken all sense of royal bearing, and trotted along with an almost fillylike bounce in her steps. Frost, by contrast, was walking slowly and easily, as if he were revelling in every step he took.

And me, I was currently riding atop Frost, enjoying the closeness after so long.

What had once been a simple get-together with my friends in Ponyville had evolved into something much more: Frost's sister and mother would be coming, as would Big Mac, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. Once my parents heard about our dinner together, they contacted me via Spike's "dragon-mail" (as he calls it) and basically guilted me into inviting them as well. Cadance, too, asked to come, saying that she would bring Shiny, which meant that what was once going to just be a herd-date with a few friends had become a veritable party that required nearly the entire restaurant to be reserved.

While it normally would have bothered me that Equestria's princesses had chosen to pick up the tab with their personal stipends, I was too happy to have everypony together to try and fight it. I had spent time with everypony separately at least once since the "Dead War" (as the soldiers referred to it) had officially been declared finished, but this would be the first time all of us were together as a group again, just like the days before this whole terrible war had come about. More than anything though, I was just happy that all of us were alive and mostly whole; I couldn't imagine what it would be like to learn one of the ponies I was closest to had died in battle.

Learning that Frost should have died was enough.

"So, we have a few hours to kill; where to first?" Frost asked jovially, and I could hear the joy in his voice.

I wrapped my arms a little tighter around his neck, nuzzling into his cloudy mane. "Mmm...home sounds good; let's go home, Frost."

I felt the rumble of chuckles before Frost answered, "Home it is, then."

My eyes were closed, so I could only sigh happily with a small giggle as I felt feathers run down my spine, followed by Luna's agreement. "I too agree that some time at the library would do a world of good for all of us. To the library!"

Even though I didn't see it, I imagined Luna's eyes narrowed and hoof extended in a fashion that a pony would usually use for a warcry, and I couldn't help but laugh again.

I had fallen asleep on the journey to Golden Oaks, but I didn't have to be fully awake to recognize the familiar smell of parchment and ink, along with the comforting scent of the girls. Rainbow Dash's spicy, ozone-laden scent permeated the air around me, as it always did, along with a mingling of Lyra's minty candy-like scent, Pinkie's of frosting, and Vinyl's blueberries - the latter of which I always found odd, considering most of her body was stark white. Regardless, these sweet scents were welcoming to me, and I felt more at ease than I had in months now.

I opened my eyes in time to see Rainbow's arms reaching over to lift me off of Frost, bringing me into a strong embrace as the other four joined it. The three other alicorns in the room then wrapped their wings around all eight of us, forming one large pile of hugs and nuzzles full of affection. For the first time in a long time, I truly felt that everything was alright, and that the world was a bright and beautiful place once again.

Within the pony-hug pile, Rainbow's rosy gaze focused on me. She smiled tenderly, which while a recent development, I found incredibly comforting. "Welcome home, Twi."

Home...I was home; we were all home. I didn't even try to stop the few tears of joy that slipped out, and just erupted into giggles as I let the reality of the situation wash over me: we were all home and safe, and regardless of what we had all been through, everything was going to be just fine.

I had no delusions about the future; Ponyville was a disaster-magnet in general, and Terra was not a utopia by any means. The world was a dangerous place at the best of times, and downright deadly at the worst. I knew that in the future we would face other great evils that would seek to destroy what we hold dear.

For now, it was over and we were safe; we had survived and fought back the darkness that threatened to swallow the entire world whole. We had overcome death itself to protect our world, and now it was time to celebrate this great victory.

Against all odds, we were alive, and that was reason enough to be happy.

Perspective change - Frostbreaker

"Frosteee! Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up!" Pinkie's voice chimed into my dream, coupled with a poke for each urging. Stars know I loved her dearly, but I really wished she would let me sleep sometimes; I often had to remind myself that she was not in fact a little filly, and was only a few years younger than me.

She was cute though, so that made up for it...mostly.

"Alright alright, I'm up." I grumbled, opening my eyes and scanning the room.

Like in the past, everyone present had piled on the oversized pallet-like bed that Twilight had in her bedroom, snuggling together in a giant pony-pile of cuddles. While it had only been a little over a year since I had come to Equestria, so much had happened in that time that I actually had a feeling of nostalgia. The calm, relaxing world I had once known seemed to be almost a lifetime ago, but that only meant I appreciated it more because of that.

I turned my attention to Pinkie, who was bouncing slightly on her hooves, an ecstatic grin on her face. "Where are Celestia and Luna?"

Pinkie just kept grinning as she jerked her head to the window. "They left a little bit ago; they're meeting us there along with everypony else. C'mon, we have to get ready!" She then began to pull me out of the pile, waking everypony else in the process, and I just smiled as she did so.

"Ugh, what time is it?" Dash grumbled, pushing herself up to tiredly glare at us.

Seeing her mane stuck in all sorts of different directions, I couldn't help but laugh. See, though for some reason her mane had lengthened to flow better, it hadn't gained the ethereal quality to it that Celestia's or even mine had, meaning that it was still just normal hair; granted it tended to float easier in the air for some reason, but it was still made up of hair follicles instead of magic.

Dash just stared at me - and Pinkie, who was also giggling - and frowned. "What? What are you laughing at?"

I tapered off my laughter enough to stutter out, "G-get in a fight with a storm there, Dash?"

"Did I do what?" Dash asked before looking around and spotting her spiky, disheveled mane sticking up all over the place. With a bark of laughter of her own, she stood up and shook it out before running a film of magic over her mane and tail, straightening every strand in the process. After she was finished, Dash released a long sigh and stood, rolling her shoulders and wings to stretch out. She then ended with a long stretch that reminded me of a cat, then nudged the other mares in bed to rouse them.

With that done, we all made our way to the washroom to get cleaned up, hoping that tonight would be the final closed door to what we had all gone through together.

While I had no qualms admitting I liked being around my loved ones whenever I could, I was also a very independent guy, and preferred to do things on my own whenever possible. That being said, it was still quite nice being bathed by hoof by five pretty mares.

After getting cleaned and groomed, the six of us headed out into the snowy weather, all but me bundled up in winter clothing. Snow was falling at a much faster rate now, leading to a heavy, yet still calm snowfall. I was truly in my element now, and I couldn't help but smile at what I saw.

Ponies everywhere were playing in the snow, whether they be adults or foals. It was nice to see that they still had the ability to laugh and play despite all that had happened in the past year; many of them had lost parents, siblings, or other loved ones to the war, yet they still had the ability to smile and play regardless. It warmed my heart to see the joy and love that the people of Equestria were known for had persevered, which only served to show that they were far more hardy than the other races believed them to be.

Winter in Ponyville was truly a beautiful thing.

Even though I was still a little weaker than I would have liked, I was strong enough to carry Pinkie and Twilight on my back as we trekked through the snow-laden town. Lyra and Vinyl trotted along at my sides, while Dash flitted above us in the snowy sky. When I really thought about it, it was kind of funny to realize that I was in a relationship with mares that were half my size.

With ponies, it was pretty normal for me; the same image as humans would be pretty weird, though.

"I really hope you all don't become the same relative size to me as humans." I mumbled aloud, looking around to see the mares staring at me like I was crazy. "Well, as a human I'm six feet tall, so if you all were the same size relative to me as humans, you all would be maybe three or four feet tall; you'd be midgets."

"Midgets?" Twilight asked from her perch on my back.

I nodded with a chuckle. "Yeah, little people: proportions would be fine, but you'd be really small."

Lyra bobbed her head from side to side in thought. "Hmm...I don't know, that might be cute. I wouldn't mind that."

"Nothing would fit." I deadpanned, hoping she would get the gist of what I meant.

Lyra's brow creased and she just stared at me for a few moments before a blush overtook her face and her mouth dropped open. "O-oh...I see."

"Besides that," I continued, glancing to each mare in turn, "assuming that was the case, everypony but Dash, Celestia and Luna would look like children, and much like Equestria, pedophelia is a crime on Earth. Basically, even if I was just spending time around you girls, sooner or later, someone would call the police on me." I shrugged, rolling my neck around to work out the lingering kinks. "I'll figure out something in a few month's time, as that's when the doctor says I'll be capable of casting more powerful spells again."

"So we're still definitely going?" Dash asked curiously, likely voicing the thoughts of everypony else.

I nodded in response. "Yeah, we are. Celestia and Luna have been working to hire different trusted officials that will take care of affairs until we return, and anything major can be sent to them via dragonfire." I then chuckled, remembering what Luna told me the day I got out of the hospital. "Awhile ago, Celestia apparently had a petitioner in her court blankly say, 'Oh, you're still here; when are you taking your vacation?'"

Vinyl's face twisted up in thought as she said, "I'unno, sounds kinda fishy to me, like they're waiting for you all to leave so they can, like, take over or something."

I shrugged with a small smile. "I thought that too, but from what I can gather, they actually seem genuinely concerned. The royalty of Equestria - barring Dash - hasn't taken a day off since the end of this whole thing; even today Celestia and Luna were working until shortly before we headed to Ponyville, and they'll be at it again tomorrow morning. You have to remember, most of these ponies were either involved in the war, or had family members that were an integral part of it. They watched their rulers fight for them - beside them many times - to ensure our mutual survival. Had Celestia and Luna stood back from the battlefield and issued orders it would be different, but Equestria was shown that their rulers were willing to put their lives and well-being on the line for the ponies they ruled over."

"They were loved before for continually leading Equestria to prosperity," Twilight explained happily, "and now they're loved because they fought with Equestrians to protect us all. Those ponies on the field got to know Celestia and Luna as ponies instead of just rulers, and they came to realize just how little time they take for themselves in comparison to everypony else: they rarely have a 'day off' where they don't have to do anything, so ponies decided after a few thousand years of ruling Equestria, Celestia and Luna are entitled to at least a few months of their own to unwind."

"Yeah," I added with a chuckle, "the nobility actually isn't too bad. You can't get more than maybe a month's vacation on Earth unless you're dead or in the hospital."

"Hey Frost?" Dash called, jerking her head toward the restaurant that was a good distance in front of us. It was already swarming with reporters and regular ponies, which was to my expectations.

I nodded to Dash and closed my eyes for a brief moment, summoning my power over winter and ice. A few moments later I opened my eyes, seeing that my icy peytral and hoof caps were in place, along with a jagged, frosted crown on my head. With that done, I glanced to each mare in turn before striding forward toward the throng of excited ponies, ready to handle whatever they could throw at us. After all, I'd faced down hordes of dead things - reporters and fans weren't anything for me to be afraid of.

"There they are!" one of them shouted, rushing forward with the rest of the swarm to begin asking questions.

I internally sighed, but kept a smile on my face; this was going to take some time.

After nearly a half-hour of being subjected to questions, praises, and even a few hugs from thankful family members, we were released from the group and allowed to enter the restaurant. We were immediately greeted by Celestia and Luna, who had been making sure the guests inside were settled and everything was in order as we arrived. Call me narrow-minded, but at that moment, beyond the love and affection my family and friends were showering upon me and each other, only one thing was on my mind:

Food, and thank the stars, there was plenty prepared for us.

I only caught bits and pieces of the different conversations floating around as I ate, most of it pertaining to the coming holidays and such, along with warm greetings and well-wishes by my friends and family. Fluttershy in particular was quite huggy when she saw me again - her and I had always got on very well, and I couldn't help but imagine that given a different set of circumstances, her and I could have been quite happy together. Still, I could tell just how in love she was with Moonfang, and I was in no way going to take that away from either of them; that didn't mean I couldn't enjoy periodic embraces by one of Equestria's cutest ponies alive, though.

Moonfang and Venn both were quite happy to see me out and about, though I will admit it was both strange and interesting to hear both of them specifically refer to me as their "alpha". I had to remind myself that while I had given them both the gift of speech and higher thinking, much of their thought patterns and instincts were still that of wolves, which meant they thought of all of us as their pack, and I was the leader, or alpha male. To have two such powerful creatures name me their alpha...I'll admit, it was a hell of an ego boost.

Ditzy arrived about halfway through the dinner, looking about as tired as I did, but brightened up immediately after seeing everyone gathered. It was nice to see her after so long, since she had usually been too busy to visit much while I was hospitalized, but I couldn't help but selfishly hope that we'd have more time together from here on out. Nonetheless, it was truly nice to have everyone together, though it took some time to get used to the subtle differences in the personalities of everyone.

This war had affected all of us, no doubt, but it seemed that despite it all, everyone was going to get along just fine because of the love and support of family and friends. We had come from all over to be together - even across different realities - and it was totally worth every second.

As with most of the nights of our mutual past, most of us ended up pretty well buzzed from the alcohol, enough so that Fluttershy and Moonfang were slow-dancing while Octavia and her quartet played music for us all. For the first time in a long time, everyone was relaxing without the shroud of war bearing down upon us.

It was almost strange, in a way: while a year was a short amount of time compared to the twenty some-odd years I'd been alive, it somehow felt like I'd been fighting my entire life. Maybe it was just the fact that I had become accustomed to things no person should ever have to be used to, such as watching others die while you survived, or stepping onto the battlefield countless times, only to know that each instance may be your last day alive. For better or worse, the war had matured me beyond the years of my age, and I felt tired in ways that my magical exhaustion didn't account for.

Recuperation from the whole ordeal was going to take a long time for us all - I had no delusions about that, since I was quite aware of how common it was for soldiers even on Earth to suffer from PTSD and other maladies. It wasn't going to be easy, but as I watched the gentle serenity of Moonfang dancing lovingly with Fluttershy, I knew that we would be okay. Love and the support of family and friends was the key to overcoming such nightmarish memories, and the former was one thing Equestria had in spades.

Still, I was worried about my brother.

"If you keep making that face, it'll stick that way."

I chuckled and shook my head. "I scowled for two months after grandpa died, so I don't think a frown for a few minutes is going to matter, mom." My smile and residual laughter fell away as I sighed and looked out the window of the restaurant, looking for someone who wasn't there. "I'm worried about him."

Even though she was not half my size, it still felt warm and comforting when she took me in her arms, also glancing to the window. "Me too, Drew. He keeps telling me that he's fine, but I know him better than that. Your brother's always had a much bigger heart than he would like others to know, and he's always been more sensitive than you." She then glanced directly to me with a wistful smile. "You remember when he used to cry when I spanked you when you were little?"

I rolled my eyes in spite of the worry I felt. "Mom, I'm grown now; you don't have to constantly remind me of my younger years when I quite literally have my whole life ahead of me."

I felt a light tap to the back of my head. "Hey, you'll always be my son, and no matter what, you're always my little boy. You both are, so I make it a point to remind you of your roots so you don't forget where you came from. You know, to make sure you stay humble and not let your head get too big, mister 'avatar of winter'."

I snorted, smirking at her. "It's not getting a big head if I am the avatar of winter, just like Mason's an Obsidian; neither of us asked for what we have, but we certainly aren't going to downplay it since we have it. You told me once to be proud of who and what I am, since I survived decades to get there, so I am being proud to have a truly important purpose in life now."

"You always had a purpose, son." my mother chided gently, patting my back lightly. "True that it wasn't bringing about winter itself, but being the rock people can cling to when things take a turn for the worst is something to be proud of, because not everyone can do it."

"Which translates to 'everyone brings their problems to me'." I grumbled in frustration. "If you remember, that's the reason many of my past relationships didn't work out, because women would always expect me to either put up with their issues or fix them, and my dumbass couldn't help but try."

She placed a hoof on my shoulder, then gestured to all the ponies and wolves in the room. "They're all going to be fine, but your brother needs you now more than ever."

Thinking for a moment, I nodded before standing and cracking my neck once to the side. With that release of tension, I cleared my throat and announced, "Everyone, thanks so much for coming tonight. I appreciate the support of you, my closest friends and family, and hope that you all care for me as much as I care for all of you."

The area was silent for a moment - even the music had stopped - before Pinkie's shout of, "We love you Frostee!" started a wave of cheers and applause from all present. I smiled at the response, holding a hoof up to quiet the room down as my smile began to fall away.

"But," I began, glancing over all present once again, "there are three who should be present for this celebration, and two of them are there to support the third. Because of this, much as it pains me to do so, I have to take my leave to offer my own hoof in support of my brother."

Dash, who had been serving as a pillow for a passed-out Lyra, lifted her free hoof from her side and pointed to the door with a smile. "Then go, Frost. We'll be okay, but he needs you more than we do. We'll be waiting for you when you all return."

Pinkie trotted up to me and nodded before hugging me tightly around my chest. With her face pressed against the fur of my chest, I heard and felt her say, "Bring them home, Frostee."

I leaned down and gave Pinkie a strong hug before stepping away and heading outside. With only a single look back at the restaurant that was full of ponies that loved and cared for me, I spread my wings and and took to the sky, floating at a leisurely pace to Canterlot.

Canterlot skies were known for being pretty clear because of all the tall buildings, but with the light snowfall drifting through the air, the sky was virtually empty. With it being night as well, I only saw one or two other ponies out and about, which left me to quickly and easily make my way to the royal forge. The small stone building was pretty easy to make out even amongst the flurries, since it was the only building on the royal grounds that wasn't covered in white, fluffy snow.

I dipped my wings and brought myself in for a landing, noticing a familiar brown-and-white figure out front. Her head turned my direction as she shook off the snow covering her fur and feathers, then made her way over to me. She nodded her head to me in greeting, but didn't offer anything more; while Gilda and I seemed to get on just fine, she - and gryphons in general - wasn't too keen on hugs or nuzzles like ponies were. Not that they weren't affectionate, they just had different ways of showing said care than ponies did.

I dipped my head as well. "Hey Gilda, you alright out here?"

She glanced to the sky, her sharp golden eyes blinking at the light snowfall. "Yeah, I'm good. Gotta remember that most of the gryphon territories is made up of mountains, so we're used to cold weather." She then turned her eyes to me with a frown. "You're here to see Dark, aren't you?"

"How is he?" I questioned, looking over to the forge building.

"About the same as he was last week:" she answered, stepping to stand beside me, "throwing himself into his work and avoiding everything else." Gilda then sighed heavily. "He won't listen to me anymore, and I'm afraid of how hard he's pushing himself lately; he hasn't slept a full-night's sleep in over a month, Frost."

"Jesus…" I muttered in worry, "why didn't anyone tell me?"

"You were in the hospital until today," Gilda retorted with a frustrated huff, "and he asked me not to."

I raised my eyebrow and stared at the gryphon beside me. "The war is over, Gilda; he's not your commanding officer right now, he's your friend. If you thought I needed to know my brother was basically driving himself into the ground, you should have told me."

Those bright, eagle-like eyes bored into my own as Gilda growled out, "I was taking care of it. Are we going to play the 'you should have' game, or are you going to help him?"

I sighed heavily and nodded. "I'm sorry, Gilda."

Releasing her own breath, Gilda nodded as well. "Yeah, me too. I'm just worried, and he won't let me help him."

"My brother's never been the kind of person to accept help, even when it's offered." I commented dryly, knowing that if nothing else, now would be the worst time for him to have that trait. Still, I couldn't really fault him for it that much, since I was much the same in that respect. Turning fully to Gilda, I tilted my head toward the steel door that led to the forge. "Is Applejack in there?"

Gilda nodded slowly. "Yeah; she won't leave his side, no matter what. Don't know how though, since it feels like stepping into an oven in there."

Nodding, I let my chilling aura cover me to protect from the heat. "I'll take care of it."

As I wrapped my magic around the door to swing it open, I could already feel the heat emanating from the building, which must have been why no snow could settle on it. The windows that were open around the building probably helped air it out, but damn it was going to be hot in there - there was no getting around that.

"Hey." Gilda called just before I could enter. At my questioning glance, she seemed to shrink away briefly before mumbling, "Tell him...tell him I miss him."

I couldn't help but sense that there was more to the concern Gilda felt for my brother than she was letting on, but that wasn't for me to worry about. Right now, my hardheaded brother needed me to knock some sense into him.

I pulled open the door, feeling the blast of heat attempt to overtake me, only for my chilling field to negate it and keep me cool. I stepped inside the smithy and closed the door behind me, glancing around to see the many different weapons and armor pieces that my brother had made to display. There were weapons of every type, built for every race, as well as armor prototypes that I couldn't even begin to guess at.

As I stepped into the actual forge room, I noticed Applejack sitting on a stone stool over near a window, watching my brother forlornly as he continued to work on what looked like a sword. My brother didn't even notice me stepping into the room with all the noise, but Applejack's head turned toward me as she offered a tired smile. Pushing herself off of the bench, she trotted over to me before throwing her hooves around my neck in a tight hug, sighing from relief that I'm not entirely sure was simply from the chilled air around me.

"Yer outta tha hospital." she murmured, nuzzling around my chest and neck as she held me tighter.

I smiled and leaned down to return the nuzzle, embracing her with one of my own hooves. "Yeah, I just got out today. I missed you all."

"We missed ya too, Frost." she returned, pulling away afterward and shaking the small layer of ice crystals that had begun to gather on her because of the cooled air around me. Jerking her head toward my brother who was further in the forge, she whispered into my ear, "He needs ya, 'cause he ain't listenin' to me no more."

I nodded before gesturing with a hoof toward the door. "I'll take care of it. Take Gilda into the city and get the two of you some cider or something while I deal with this blockhead." Before she could walk away, I stopped her and brushed aside her bangs, which revealed a scar that ran from her scalp to just above her left eye. Rubbing the spot gently and sighing, I nudged her with my nose to the door, lighting my horn to place a tracer on her before she left me alone with my brother.

I approached the tall Obsidian, watching him silently as he mechanically went about heating and hammering the metal in his hands, looking over it with a critical eye that I was positive he never had before coming to Equestria. In some ways the changes in him were for the better, but this recent distancing he'd been doing was one thing I wanted to stop, as it was affecting everyone.

Once I got close enough to feel the heat of the forge even through my chilled air, he muttered, "You're out."

I nodded, though the effort was fruitless since he still hadn't looked at me. "Yeah, just today." I shuffled my hooves a bit before adding, "You weren't there."

A subtle shift of his shoulders that could barely be called a shrug answered me. "I had things to do. Once I knew you were going to be okay, I could focus on restocking the armor and arms for the Guard. 'lot of them were beyond repair, so I had to start from scratch, and it's taken me a long time to even make a dent in it." He dropped the piece of heated metal he was holding into a bucket of water before turning and grabbing a sword off of the wall. "See this? This is what the Guard had to work with before I came here." With a swing of his arm, the sword clacked into the wall and broke immediately, the fallen piece of the blade clattering to the ground off to the side. "I don't know what these ponies thought they were going to do with weapons like these; they're barely passable as practice weapons." He then tossed the broken blade and the piece on the floor into a bin in the corner. "The armor wasn't any better, either. It's not like that magesteel stuff is all that rare either, it's just a pain in the ass to mine. There are enough deposits around to furnish armor for the entire Equestrian military if we had to, but Equestria's been at peace for so long that it was a non-issue until recently."

I took slow steps around the moderately-sized room, looking over all the weapons and armor that hung from the walls or was placed on a ponyquin. I could see that my brother obviously had a lot of inspiration from games we'd played or movies we'd seen in the past, but the weapons he made were created to actually be useful in a battle.

Still…

I pulled an axe off of the wall in front of me with my magic, levitating it over and setting it in my hooves to inspect. "Well, I can appreciate that the military needs high quality weapons and armor to do their job to the fullest extent, but the war is over now; making new gear can wait until-"

"We don't know when the next time something like this is going to crop up." he interrupted with a growl, going back to his work and pulling another long piece of heated steel out of the forge that was glowing with black flames. "A soldier having the proper gear could mean the difference between life and death, so I'm going to make sure we're prepared."

Immediately, I could tell where his mind was going with this, and it worried me. He was basically blaming himself for the deaths of the soldiers in the war, convincing himself that if they had all been using the best weapons and armor - his weapons and armor - they would still be alive. Normally I would see such a view as a form of abject pride, but the results spoke for themselves: out of four hundred soldiers using his equipment, only ten were killed. Regardless, one person, talented though he was, couldn't expect to supply over ten thousand ponies. He needed a break, and if I had to freeze his hands to his ass so I could carry him out, so be it.

"Mace," I began, setting the weapon back in its place on the wall, "everyone else has taken some kind of reprieve, and they're all worried about you. Gilda - hard-ass Gilda - says she misses you, and your girl is worried sick over you practically killing yourself with work." I sighed and shook my head. "Look man, I understand-"

"Don't." he growled out, his voice echoing around the room even though he hadn't raised his volume. "I've had people telling me for the past few months about how they 'understand' how I'm feeling, and I swear that if one more person says it, I'm gonna blow. Just..." smoke was billowing out of his nose, so he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths before continuing, "you don't know what it's like to close your eyes every night and see the faces of the mothers, fathers, siblings and children that you had to tell were going to have to live without someone from now on."

His words caused an irrational spark of irritation to rise in me, but I fought it down as I began speaking slowly and clearly. "Cloudburst, Misty Fly, Rain Dancer, Glitterbug, Shutter Flash, Cryo, Hawkwind, Tracker-"

"What are you doing?" he asked with a raised brow, though I could sense he knew even before he asked.

I pointed to my head as my ears reflexively flattened against my head. "Hundreds of names and faces up here, and for most of them I was there to see them pass; most of them were under my direct command. No matter how much I try, this damned alicorn brain won't let me forget any of them. Every time I close my eyes, their faces are waiting for me; don't you wonder why everyone's been worried about me for so long? I had nightmares every night for weeks, and even though Luna took care of that part, the memories are still there." Advancing on the taller dragon, I poked him hard in the chest with a snarl. "So don't try this shit with me about, 'no one understands what I'm going through, poor me.' I understand perfectly, but sulking and torturing yourself over this all isn't going to bring them back, and it isn't doing anyone any good." I realized at that point that I was near shouting, so I took a few deep breaths before continuing. "Look, I'm not downplaying what you did - personally meeting with all those families to tell them in person that their soldier wasn't coming is something very few people could do - but that was meant to be a day of closure for you. Instead, you're holding onto all this pain like it defines you." I sighed deeply and shook my head. "I couldn't have done that without looking like an ass: my detachment would have made the whole thing very impersonal, so I praise your ability to personally connect with those families in a way I never could. Still, continually mourning and torturing yourself over all these dead people isn't going to bring them back, and it's only going to destroy the relationships you have with people that are still alive."

Baring his teeth back at me he growled out, "So what, you just expect me to forget all about them?"

Flaring my wing and slapping him in the side I retorted, "No you idiot, I'm saying that you need to spend time with the people that care about you and let them help you get past this!" I let out a long sigh of frustration. "Mom's worried sick about you, Applejack's probably silently blaming herself for not being able to bring you out of this, and Gilda's at a loss for what else to do. Right now we're missing a celebration dinner in Ponyville, and so help me I will freeze you in a block of ice and drag you all the way there if I have to. And don't test me, because you know I'll do it."

For the next few moments, we stared each other down, neither looking away or even blinking for fear of showing weakness. Just as my eyes began to water though, my brother slowly nodded with a suddenly ashamed expression.

With a deep, exhausted sigh, he dipped the glowing red piece of metal into the bin of water, rolling his shoulders. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"

"No," I replied firmly, unable to stop a playful smirk from finding its way on my face, "and don't think I won't fly mom up here if I need to, because I will."

Not taking the bait to my threat, he simply brought all the molded strips of metal out of the water bin and patted them down with a towel before pushing them aside. "Alright," he began, grunting as he walked around the room and shut all the windows, "where's AJ and Gilda?"

"Getting a drink in the city. We'll find them and then head back to Ponyville." I replied, lighting my horn to activate the weak tracking spell I had placed on Applejack. "They're not too far away, so we'll be airborne in a few minutes." I turned toward the door and jerked my head, coaxing him forward. "C'mon, let's go get your women."

"Woman; singular there, see?" he answered with a confused expression.

I smirked back. "You sure about that?"

I'll admit it was pretty funny to see the "great" Obsidian become so flustered at what I was insinuating. "There's nothing between Gilda and I, and I don't care who says otherwise."

"Does she know that?" I shot back, my smile growing as he gaped like a fish for a few moments. "Dude, everyone can see she has a thing for you, even if she won't admit it out loud. You're her closest friend besides Dash, and we all know it."

As we exited the forge and my brother locked the door behind us, I watched him carefully to gauge his reaction. What I saw was not shock or even surprise, but rather a sense of shame that should not be there. This only left once conclusion:

"You've known all along." I surmised quietly.

He turned away from the forge with a snort and began traipsing off toward the city. I broke into a trot to keep up with his long strides, but was unable to get him to look at me. Instead, his eyes stayed locked forward as he grumbled out, "So where are they, Mr. Dowsing Rod?"

"Whoa whoa, hold up, we're gonna talk about this." I argued, trotting around to stand in his path.

He just shook his head with another snort, this time with smoke shooting out of his nostrils. "There's nothing to talk about, so leave it alone."

"What's the problem if she likes you, Mace?" I asked curiously, a tad bit of frustration edging into my tone. "The two of you are obviously great friends, and I'm pretty sure Applejack wouldn't mind."

"That's not the point, harem-boy." he snarled out, grabbing the back of my head and pushing me ahead of him. "Now lead the way or I'll kick your tail all the way back to Ponyville; I will beat your cripple ass if I have to."

I walked on, but glanced back at him with a glare. "Unnecessary, good sir."

"Then stop being a prick and mind your own fucking business." he growled, spreading his wings in a threatening way. "I don't butt into your business with your girls, so don't stick your nose in my business."

I turned back around to lead us to the pub that Applejack apparently took Gilda to, but still retorted, "When your business affects my friends, it becomes my business. I might not be as close to Gilda and Applejack as you are, but they're both still my friends, so I'm going to do what I have to in order to look out for them."

There were a long few moments of silence as we walked through the snowy streets of Canterlot before my brother finally relented slightly. "Well what do you want me to say, man? I can't just take to the culture here the same way you did, and I already have AJ. I told her that she was more than enough mare for me, and I meant it."

Glad to finally be making some headway, I trotted a bit faster toward our destination a good ways up ahead. "I've spoken to Applejack about you and her before, and she thinks it's odd that you're hung on just one girl. She can appreciate that it feels weird to you for males to be expected to take more than one girl here, but most of Equestria - hell, most of her own family - are herders, and it's always been that way. Knowing Applejack, she'd be perfectly happy if you decided you wanted to bring someone else into your relationship, so long as she approved of them."

He sighed deeply, moving forward to walk beside me. "I can understand that, but I can't just flip a switch like that and be fine with it. It feels...weird, especially after twenty-something years of being told that's bad. Besides, if you recall, I've had issues in the past where I've tried to be with more than one girl at a time, and it never really worked out."

"Probably because they didn't know about each other, and weren't open to the idea of a polyamorous relationship with each other." I argued, nudging him in the ribs with my wing. "It's like sex, really: the difference between a fetish and a court case is asking permission first." I stopped briefly as I realized how stretched the comparison was. "Well...you know what I'm saying, anyway."

"Your comparisons need some work, you jackass." he snarked with a small smile, which was a good sign, in my opinion.

I followed the subtle pull of my horn until we came upon a pretty seedy looking pub named "The Leaky Barrel", and gestured towards it. "Well, here we are; let's go get your girls."

My brother said nothing except for incoherent grumbles as he pushed open the door and ushered us inside. It was your regular, run-of-the-mill pub that smelled of alcohol and pub food, with a large hearth against one wall and an assortment of different patrons within the place. Being the only gryphon/pony pair in the establishment, Applejack and Gilda were pretty easy to spot, though the state of the two of them left something to be desired.

Piled around the two of them were at least a dozen mugs of some kind of alcoholic drinks, while they both slugged back mugs full of some frothy beverage. I knew a drinking battle when I saw one, but was confused as to exactly how or why such a situation had come about. Nonetheless, I was a fan of the drink myself, so I couldn't really fault them for it, and the two of them were extremely competitive.

The two finished the mugs they were guzzling before reaching for another, only to catch sight of my brother and I as we walked in. Gilda smiled wide before waving to us like a fool. "Hey guys!"

I strode over to them with my brother at my side, frowning as I looked over the dozen or so empty mugs piled around on the table. "You two were only left alone for about twenty minutes; how did you drink this much?"

Applejack smirked back at me. "Practice, sugarcube. Country gals like me work hard, but we play hard, too."

My brother moved forward and extended a hand to push away the mug Applejack was grabbing. "Well c'mon, we're going home now. It's been a long time since you've been back to Ponyville for any length of time, so I'm sure they all miss you." He then glanced to Gilda and added, "And you're coming too."

Gilda took a more refined sip from the mug in her claw before asking, "You want me to come to Ponyville? You do realize that the last time I was there I acted like a big jerk, right?"

My brother placed his hand on Gilda's shoulder, squeezing gently as he offered a reassuring smile. "It'll be fine, I promise. Are you good to fly?"

Smirking and standing up from the table, Gilda shook herself out, fluffing her feathers in the process. "Please; if you think a few mugs of cider are enough to do me in, clearly you need to spend some more time drinking with me."

"I'll take you up on that offer sometime," he replied, leaning down so that Applejack could climb on his back, "but for now, we have somewhere we need to be." He then unclipped the bag at his side and fished out a bit bag, dropping two fifty-bit coins on the table before jerking his head to the door. "C'mon, we need to leave now if we're going to get back at a decent hour. At the moment it's like," he glanced out the window of the pup at the sky, "ten, at least."

"Move your ass then, scales." I chided with a grin, pushing the door open with my magic and heading outside again. I heard the other three arrive outside just after me, so I just took to the sky and began to lead us home.

We touched down in the middle of Ponyville just as the blizzard was hitting its peak, so we retreated to the library instead of the restaurant, since the restaurant had probably been closed. Granted that we had missed the remainder of the dinner, but I knew that the celebration would be continued long into the night at the library.

"Jesus man, what's with the blizzard?" my brother grumbled from beside me, trudging through the snow with Applejack on his back.

I shrugged. "Not my call. Sure I caused it, but the weather factory in Cloudsdale decides how much snowfall and what kind of weather happens here, not me. I can flair it up a bit and make it pretty, but I'm no weather expert, so I let them keep the precipitation levels and such so that we don't cause a drought or something."

He turned and raised a brow at me. "We?"

I chuckled and nodded my head. "Dash handles spring now, remember?"

"Oh," he grinned sheepishly, "right. Forgot that I'm not the only OP OG up in here anymore."

I smirked at him and retorted, "And OP's a faggot, so well done there." My brother opened his mouth as if to say something, only to close it a few moments later as he walked on in silence.

I held my wings open as we walked, enjoying the feeling of the frosty air running through my feathers. Thankfully for Applejack and my brother, we approached our destination fairly quickly, and the lights inside were indeed on and waiting for us.

The front door opened, revealing two multicolored rainbow manes - one of the common colors, and the other a more pastel shade of only four - both of which were blowing around the faces of two concerned ponies.

"Frost, are you alright there?" Dash asked as she trotted over to me, shivering slightly as she did so.

I raised my eyebrow, even as I returned the nuzzle she offered me upon reaching my side. "You do realize that being the avatar of winter makes me, for all intents and purposes, impervious to cold, right?"

"No," Dash clarified, frowning at me as we made our way toward the open library door, "I mean the flight; you flew to Canterlot and back, and while that's not really all that far for the average pegasus, you're still recovering and all that."

I held out my wings and inspected them slowly, shrugging with said wings a moment later. "I'm a little tired from it, but nothing hurts. I'll be fine Dash, I promise. Let's just get the rest of them inside," I jerked my head to the other three behind me, "and then we'll chill for the rest of the night." I then stopped and chuckled briefly before muttering, "Hehe, chill."

Dash just stared blankly at me for a few moments before a smile broke out on her face. She nudged me with her wing and commented, "You're such a dork."

"But I'm your dork." I replied, my smile morphing into a much warmer expression as we looked at each other with adoration.

"Um," my brother sounded from behind us, "I don't mean to break up the moment or anything, but we can still freeze, you know."

I glanced back at Gilda, Applejack and my brother before smiling sheepishly. "Right, let's get inside then. Shake off at the door so we don't track snow inside."

As we all dislodged the snow flurries from our bodies and entered the large tree-building, I was hit with the enticing smell of hot chocolate, cinnamon and peppermint. Everyone was gathered around the large hearth off to one corner of the main room, chatting and trading stories with each other as they, presumably, waited for all of us to arrive - Twilight's parents were even there, which while surprising, was not unwelcome. Everyone was already enjoying the relaxed atmosphere, so I happily joined in after assisting introducing Gilda to the few who didn't know her, or had a bad experience the first time.

Much to her surprise, and my expectation, everyone present assured Gilda that she had more than made up for her past grievances by formally claiming herself an Equestrian, and fighting alongside us in the war. Even Fluttershy, who tended to be more confident whenever Moonfang was around, assured Gilda that she was forgiven for the past, and Fluttershy even thanked her for keeping her friends safe.

It only took a few moments for Gilda and Applejack to pick up the drinking game they had started earlier, dragging Dash into it as well; with that, the celebration was fully underway.

Strange side note: I realized at that moment that I'd never actually gotten around to meeting the families of my other girls. Hm...I'd have to correct that at some point.

Anyhow, I was almost immediately pulled aside by Luna and Celestia, and the two began to preen my wings. While I was perfectly capable of doing it myself, I had been tended to by the two celestial princesses for over a month now, and I had to admit it was extremely relaxing to have someone else preen me. And, of course, they used their mouths to do it; what's not to like?

I had been told by Dash that even though I didn't see it as anything more than mutual grooming, ponies - pegasi in particular - had a much more meaningful understanding of just how intimate preening was. While it wasn't necessarily sexual, you wouldn't see a random stranger offering to preen someone's wings if they looked a little shoddy. Still, I had never been very touch-shy with anyone - strangers or otherwise - so to me, it was only as important as the people providing the service. This outlook, for example, was currently causing Twilight's parents to stare at me as if I was crazy, and I couldn't help but chuckle at their expressions.

As I glanced around the room and reveled in the relaxed atmosphere created by the happiness that flowed in and around everyone, I couldn't help but smile like a fool.

"So, you did it after all." my mother's voice called from off to the side, and I turned my head slightly to see her grinning at me despite the fact that I had not one, but two women tending to my wings in plain view. "One visit from you, and you got your hardheaded brother to realize just how much of a fool he was being."

I just grinned and shook my head. "He's gone through a lot - we all have - but he just made the mistake of trying to deal with it on his own instead of spending time around people who care about him." My smile faded a bit to a more subdued state as I looked over to my brother, who was talking with Twilight's parents happily, a drink in his hand. "He seems to have overlooked the fact that while he may have lost a few dozen lives under his command, his leadership saved millions. Much as I think it's detached and almost robotic to think of it in such a way, war is a numbers game, and we won out very well, all things considered." I sighed and shook my head with a grimace. "True that there are thousands out there that are in mourning for those they have lost, but there are millions more that are thankful their loved ones returned home save, or even just that they're alive. The truth of the matter is that no matter the reason, time or location, war is a situation that causes loss, and we can't escape it."

"We can only ensure their deaths were not in vain, and that anything they taught lives on through us." Celestia broke in briefly, spitting out a feather before going back to her work.

"We could have gotten him here a lot faster if you'd have just asked." I dryly accused, looking back to my mother.

She just smiled. "But what would be the point of that? It's better for him to learn from this instead of just doing what I say." Her happy smile turned slightly wistful as she glanced to my brother. "I've not got too many more years in me, so I have to make sure the two of you are prepared for when I've passed on."

I raised my eyebrow in confusion at her statement. "Are you planning on going somewhere? Ponies live longer than humans do, mom."

"True," she replied as she glanced back to me, her smile still firmly affixed, "but in comparison to the lifespan of you and your brother, it'll seem like you only blinked, and suddenly I'll be gone."

"Just like you blinked one day and we both were grown, right?" I returned, smirking slightly.

My mother just nudged me with a hoof. "When you have children of your own someday, you'll know exactly what that feels like." Her smile then waned a bit to a more neutral expression. "All I'm saying is not to overlook important moments when they come about, because they will only ever happen once."

I opted to only nod in response, closing my eyes as I took in the bit of wisdom passed to me. It was true what she said though: I had the possibility for eternity ahead of me, which meant there were going to be a lot of important moments happening, and it was likely I was going to be involved in them in some way. Needless to say, if my recent memory clarity was any indication, I would be able to recall most if not all of said instances, which meant I needed to be sure I was observant and made good choices.

Speaking of choices…

"I never apologized for what I put all of you through." I commented aloud, though I kept my eyes closed.

I swear I could hear the gears rubbing together in her head before my mother answered, "Apologized for what?"

"Bringing all of you here without your consent." I answered ruefully, feeling like a slab of ice had settled in my stomach. "I just kinda made the decision myself, and I never asked any of you if it was okay; I just kinda told Luna to bring you all along for the ride."

"Son, open your eyes and look at me." she ordered in that, "You're not in trouble, but I'm still upset," tone mothers used when they were about to lay down what was really going on. I did as I was asked without hesitation, only to see her deep eyes just staring at me in an almost pitying way. She motioned to the band that ran around her hoof. "Do you think I regret it? Sure it was very strange at first, and I'll admit there were quite a few things that took getting-used to, but we're all better for it." She pointed to my brother next. "Your brother finally found a woman that he loves more than anything else in the world, and he found a purpose in life besides drinking, partying and establishing conquest over the female population. And Jen…" my mother glanced to my little sister, who was chatting away with a circle of younger ponies, the "Cutie Mark Crusaders" among them, "I've never seen her so happy before. She's vibrant and cheerful, and she's made more true friends than she ever thought possible." My mother's gaze once again focused on me as she poked me in the chest and iterated, "While I can assure you that being impulsive usually causes problems, I know you better than that; I know that you would never do anything that would put our family in jeopardy, and you always have our best interests in mind."

"I think you're putting too much faith on my lack of impulse control." I retorted, though I couldn't help but crack a smile.

"Well," she began, rubbing my forehead gently with a hoof, "your lack of impulse control landed me a great man that loves me and values family above all else, and it allowed me to see my boys grow into strong, respectable men. Knowing that I would be leaving the world with two men that had the potential to bring about real change is all I've ever wanted in life, and I can't help but be thankful that I lived to actually see it."

After I got out of high school, I had become the type of guy that cared little for what other people thought of me. I did and said what I felt was right, regardless of what other people thought, because I knew that inside, I was doing the right thing. Even with that being the case, hearing my mother say that in no uncertain terms she approved of what I had done and what I became…

It was more powerful than I ever thought it could be.

After a few moments of silence between us, I reached forward with one of my hooves and pulled my mother into a tight embrace, smiling brightly as I did so. "I love you, mom."

"I love you too, son." she replied softly, her voice somehow reaching my ears over the background noise of the celebration still happening in the library. "I'm so proud of you; don't ever forget that."

Tears fell from my eyes as I let the realization flood me and burn itself in my memory: above all else and before anything else that might possibly matter in the world, my mother approved of me and who I had become, and that was more than enough for me to live my life with my head held high.

Exhaustion had overtaken me hours ago, and I found myself laying on the observation deck bed while the rest of the guests and my herd enjoyed the celebration. Someone - whether it be one of my girls, my blood family or one of the friends I was closer with among the rest - would check on me from time to time, but for the most part I just drifted in and out of the dream realm.

As the moon climbed higher and higher into the sky and the storm outside picked up, each time I opened my eyes it was to find another mare in my bed, until it was full with nine ponies - eight biological mares and one avatar of night, to be exact. The feeling of all of them around me, showing their affection in subtle ways as they talked the night away, was everything I had been missing for what felt like an eternity now. We were all here, all alive, and while some of us were scarred - whether that be physical or emotional - we still loved each other dearly. I just let myself drift along the line of consciousness and unconsciousness while I enjoyed one simple truth: for now, the fight was over, and life was still good.

No doubt that life's trials were not over, and I knew that we would be fighting once again in the future, but I knew that as long as our bonds of friendship and love held strong, everything would be just fine. There were a great many adventures left to experience and experiences to go through, but I wasn't worried. What I had now was worth fighting for, whether that be my life as a whole or simply the love and support offered to me from nine beautiful mares. I couldn't pretend to know what was going to happen in the future, but I knew one thing above all else:

Regardless of what we would be forced to endure or what evils may try to destroy us, the love we had for each other would give us the strength to overcome it.