A/N: Hey there everyone. Apologies for going so long without an update to the stories, but work's been keeping me rather busy of late, and college is starting soon. Anyway, I thought I'd hook all of you up with this one-shot that I thought up while browsing some deviantART pictures. This one was inspired by "Divine Snuggles" by SilFoe...look it up if you want an accurate representation of the final scene. Anyhow, you all know the rules by now...R&R please, and enjoy.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters associated with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, nor the original story.
I allowed myself a sad smile as I gazed out over the coming dusk...the twilight. Though in truth Luna was the one who brought the time of day about, she always referred to it as my time...and as I let my eyes wander over the familiar violet and indigo hues that the setting sun gave wake to, I remembered why. Luna had once, long ago, wanted to create a whole new constellation of stars in my honor, but we instead managed to compromise on her adding soft violet hues to the sunset.
I never was one for notoriety, after all.
Simply that one decision of Luna's seemed like a lifetime ago, and perhaps it was. Not our lifetimes, but a lifetime of those that have left us. Did we even have such a thing as a lifetime? As more and more of the centuries washed over me, I began to think that no...we did not. Age became irrelevant...merely a way to keep track of what era we were in. The rise and fall of entire civilizations passed in the twinkling of an eye, and I then realized how Luna and Celestia had done it all those years...stayed sane.
Sanity is relative, and I had come to understand that it only applied as far as our connection to reality did...and reality in itself was an interesting concept. Reality could be explained as what was real and concrete...what actually existed and held true. As time passed, I came to understand that such a stance was flawed. After all, "real" is merely an observation brought about by our senses of perception, and since perception could be easily skewed and warped, reality was an illusion. For example, the accepted reality was that every living thing is born, lives, and then dies; everything has a beginning, a middle, and an end.
This, however, was likely untrue.
"Reality" was subjective, and differed from one being to another. For normal ponies, death was as inevitable as life...equal and opposite forces working together. For ones like us though, death may never be an issue. Age did not seem to have an effect on us, and honestly, I was unsure if we even could die, though I was not going to test that theory.
So, does detachment from reality make me insane?
If that is the case, however, insanity didn't seem like all that bad of a state to be in. As I continued to gaze at the coming night sky, I mentally checked over the pros and cons to my life. The pros were easy: I understood far more than I did not about everything as a whole, I had nearly limitless magical potential, I had the direct ability to bring great prosperity to any and all, and I was able to spend nearly every day with Luna and Celestia, the two ponies in my life who I respected the most.
The cons were far more difficult.
The cons were more difficult not to place, but to remember. There were six of them, and each one still haunted me a bit to this day. So many ponies passed by as I walked throughout my seemingly endless life, most of which I couldn't even remember the names of, but those six lives would forever stay with me...stinging me because of their loss.
Shining Armor Sparkle
Rainbow Dawn Dasher
Each name had countless memories attached to it, and along with those memories, a spike of pain that would lance through me. It was a good pain though, because it reminded me of how much I cared, how much I could care. It reminded me that I hadn't become some unemotional monster, who didn't feel pity or remorse for lost lives. Nearly two-hundred years ago, Celestia had explained to me that while all life is precious, all life cannot be special. To treat every single pony we met as a unique and treasured friend was to invite never-ending heartache and pain into us.
It was why we distanced ourselves.
It had been almost four centuries since the last of them passed...the last of my friends and family. Still, even with those many days passed, it still did not dull the ache in my heart. All I can remember about that day is Pinkie's face as she looked up at me from the hospital bed, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She had lived a long and happy life, and she even told me so. There was no fear in her eyes...at the ripe age of ninety-four, she was ready to pass on from the mortal world. I would never forget her last words to me either...
"Never forget your smile, Twilight. Show it proudly, but also keep it safe...sometimes a smile is all we have."
It was one of the saddest days of my entire life. Laughter was gone from the world for months, and it seemed to be grayer and just...less. With the last of my friends gone to the passage of time, the six Elements of Harmony reverted to their dormant form...that of simple orbs of stone. Even my tiara, which marked me as the Element of Magic, had gone cold and dormant. True that my magic had not been dampened by the loss of my Element, but I could now no longer call upon the ancient harmony-inducing magic it held. Even after the Elements' magic allowed me to "ascend", I had still been the same Twilight I had always been...just more princess-y. My friends had been my anchor to a "normal" life, keeping me grounded to my subjects and making sure I didn't forget that everypony mattered and was important. With Pinkie's passing, they became just names and numbers to me. I worried about it at first, but my anxiousness disappeared when I was told that Luna and Celestia felt much the same way.
Each one of my friends gave me a gift, though...each teaching me something that molded me into the princess I was to become. From Applejack, I learned to be honest and dependable, and to always stick by my words, whether they be perceived as good or bad. Rarity taught me to keep an eye out for opportunities to do true good in the world with generosity...sometimes something as simple as a shoulder to cry on can do wonders for a pony. Fluttershy gave me the gift of unabashed kindness, even to strangers. Pinkie, of course, gave me the ability to laugh and smile, even when the world seemed dark and gray.
But that left one more...
Who would have thought, in a million years, that the nerdiest, most bookish pony alive would ever fall in love with a pony who avoided books like they would cut her wings off. Not me, that's who...but it happened, and what's more unbelievable, she loved me back.
As I looked out over the evening sky, I let slip a few tears as I remembered the pony I had loved most in the world.
The rainbow-maned weatherpony had gotten caught in a storm after trying to wrangle a rogue thunderhead from Cloudsdale all on her own...the rest of the weather team had taken shelter. She'd succeeded of course ‒ Dashie had never botched her weather duties ‒ but it had cost her the ability to fly home, as well as her health. I found her in the middle of the night out in the Canterlot Memorial Gardens, shivering violently as she struggled to keep warm in the stinging rain. I thanked the stars that I had been unable to sleep that night, or else she might have died from exposure.
And after that night, I had so much more to be thankful for.
Rainbow was great at a lot of things. She was an incredible flier, a wonderful friend, and an amazing pony overall. One thing she was not, however, was a decent doctor. She wouldn't know the difference between gauze and a pressure bandage if it slapped her in the face...and so, I of course volunteered to do the "doctoring". As I expected, she complained and whined the entire time I was cleaning, drying, and medicating her, but I could also tell that somewhere deep down, she enjoyed it. I hadn't known a lot about her at the time, but I knew that the simple brash, arrogant exterior couldn't be all there was to her.
I was right, of course...thankfully.
After merely a week of tending to the ill pegasus, I began to feel myself growing closer to her...more so than my other friends. It wasn't often, but there were times here and there when her rough façade would crack a bit in times of weakness, and I could see the real pony underneath. Psychology had always been a hobby of mine, as even though I had only fairly recently become interested in making friends and socializing, I had always been intrigued at what made ponies tick...why they did the things they did. With that knowledge gained from my side work, I could always tell by Rainbow's behavior that she was likely overcompensating for perceived shortcomings.
In this, I was also correct.
Her intense focus on training her body to be strong, her dislike of anything "uncool"...it all led back to the fact that she had startlingly low self-confidence for somepony so amazing. It made sense when I thought about it though: if she could become so amazing to the world that the masses would sing her praises and accept her as incredible and unique, perhaps she could accept herself.
The day that derailed our relationship from "friendship" and set it upon the track to something else was awkward for the both of us. It was in fact the third day of Rainbow's treatment in my quarters in the palace (seeing as how she staunchly refused to check into a hospital). The pegasus had gathered strength in the previous two days of her recuperation, but was still too weak to do much besides shift her position in bed.
And so, when it came time for her to bathe properly (sponge baths were inefficient...and degrading), she required help.
It was nothing like those romance stories that Rarity always read, where the helpless damsel (which was somehow Rainbow) would use the closeness to woo the dashing stallion (apparently I'm a gender-bender for this example) whom she's had her eye on for quite some time. This was not us for a few reasons: first of all, Rainbow would pummel anypony who put her in such a girly role. Second, both of us were as clumsy as a drunken donkey at the time, so there was no "wooing" to be done. Third, I was completely oblivious to my own emotions on the matter.
How I'd overlooked them, I'll never know.
Anyhow, I bathed the cyan pegasus in the commons wing of the palace, using the bathing pool, which was easily large enough to fit twelve full-grown alicorns ‒ after all, the hot spring-heated waters only flowed through one part of the palace, and so to keep from having to renovate too many parts of the ancient structure, Celestia thought it better to forego having personal bathing areas within the rooms (not that I minded, of course...it was unbelievably relaxing). Many times while tending to my charge, I was forced to embrace her within my newly-acquired wings, holding her still while she slumped against me, our damp coats rubbing against each other.
To this day, I'm still not sure how it happened.
A few thankful groans from the slightly smaller pegasus gave way to gentle nuzzles, then a few gentle caresses, and finally a single, chaste kiss on my cheek. Up until that point, I had been passing off her actions as feverish responses to someone caring for her in her time of need, but the feeling of her lips against my cheek removed all doubt...and before I could stop myself, I returned the gesture. She was well-cleaned by that point, but instead of leaving the sudsy, sweet-smelling pool of relaxing warmth, I curled up on a stone bench along the wall, holding Rainbow close to me as I let my mind rest, and instead simply embraced the beautiful pegasus, resistant to ever let her go.
For a long while, the two of us sat silently in the hot pool, neither content to break the silence until...
"From the first moment I met you." Rainbow spoke softly as she lay still against me. I remember looking down at her, confused, but she just chuckled softly. "If you were wondering when I knew I liked you, it was then...from the first time I saw you."
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" I asked with a gasp.
Again, she settled herself more into my embrace, and shook her head. "I suck with words, Twi...you know that. Besides, what was I supposed to say? 'Hey Twi, you might not know this, but I love you and I have no idea what to do about it.'"
I encircled my wings and arms around her before saying, "I have no clue what I'm doing either...but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop. I had no idea I even felt anything for you," I then gestured to the two of us, "but this feels right, and I want to see where it goes."
"You're not going to run experiments on us now, are you?" she had asked jokingly.
I shrugged. "I might."
From that first day, things progressed...though not without obstacles. One issue that needed to be addressed fairly early was the fact that I had been raised traditionally, as most of the "Canterlot elite" had. This meant that I was expected by my parents to marry a well-to-do stallion and have foals to carry on the family line, instead of being a "filly-fooler". Personally, I had never seen the reason to separate love by gender...you love who you love. There was no law against same-sex pairs after all (and even though no pony but Luna and I knew, Celestia had a few same-sex relationships in her past).
Still, it went without saying that when I "came out" to my parents, things could have gone better than they had.
My mother was wailing dramatically, as if I had been found out to be a murderer or something similarly shocking. My father threatened to disown me unless I ceased my "filthy, despicable lifestyle", and it was at that point that I truly became a grown mare...
I realized that my parents were not perfect.
Tensions rose as I held Rainbow's hoof in my own while we sat upon the suddenly-uncomfortable sofa, and I reached the breaking point when my father placed his hooves on the cyan mare at my side. Words were exchanged...and while I don't regret what I said, I regret how I said it. My father then ordered me to get out and never come back, telling me he had no daughter.
And so, I left.
Obviously, I cried for days on end, with both princesses and all of my friends doing their best to console me...even my brother and Cadence made a visit. Being brought up in the accepting generation that we were allowed my brother to look past what my parents had not, and while he didn't understand the intricacies of the relationship between two mares, he didn't question it. I had been completely excommunicated from my family, save for my brother, and since I didn't want to make the front page in the news columns, I kept quiet about it...even going so far as to request the guards to keep paparazzi and journalists from getting too close when I was in public, with or without my marefriend. I knew it wouldn't keep things quiet forever, but it was all I could think of at the time.
The next "bump" in my relationship with Rainbow Dash came five years later, when her parents were killed by a dragon when they were vacationing in the mountains to the north of Cloudsdale. It went without saying that I accompanied Rainbow to identify the bodies, even though I'd only met her parents once. Following that, I went with my marefriend to the funeral...
And that's when the "bump" came along.
Though none of the Elements wanted to be famous for what we were, that didn't mean we weren't well-known across the world, so when it was known that the Element of Loyalty's parents had been killed and that all six of the Elements would be making an appearance...
Let's just say I'd never seen so many newsponies.
Rainbow had chosen to stick to her people's heritage, that of honorable and proud pegasus soldiers. Pegasi were and had always been some of the greatest warriors the world had ever known, using inborn ability, intelligence, and wit to overcome any enemy set before them...and Rainbow's family line was descended from the great Commander Hurricane herself, a fact that was proven by the rainbow-patterned mane and tail that Dash and her father shared with the famous military leader of old. And so, in keeping with their proud heritage, Rainbow had chosen to pass her parents off into the afterlife (if there is such a thing) with a baptism of lightning and fire.
I remember seeing the Wonderbolts and Shadowbolts both gathered overhead, hovering with a large thundercloud. After the final farewells were said, the cloud was prodded to release its payload of powerful electricity, which instantly set the funeral pyre alight, bathing the area in heat and light as two great pegasi were sent on their journey out of this world. Because of the type of funeral this was, guards had been posted to keep everypony at least two-hundred feet away, with another regiment of guards posted to keep the cameras away from the funeral-goers.
I was thankful for that.
I remember Rainbow, along with her friends and family, fluttering up to the floating pegasine altar to sing an ancient song of farewell to the departed...a song that I didn't even know existed. I oversaw the event, making sure they were not disturbed and being sure that the towering flames did not spread. It was heartbreaking to watch, and while I did not personally know the two deceased pegasi, I could not prevent myself from weeping. After all, Rainbow was broken-hearted at not even getting to say goodbye to her parents, and it just made me remember the trouble I had been in with my own mother and father.
Nearly an hour passed until the procession began to trickle out to go home, and as soon as we passed the gates that bordered the cemetery, we were ambushed by journalists, reporters, and the random sympathetic pony. Any other time, I would have been careful about how close I was to Rainbow Dash in public, or what I did to comfort her, but the emotional atmosphere and the sheer amount of need in my hurting mare's eyes caused me to forsake any and all subtlety.
One comforting kiss on the cheek was all it took.
The next day, pictures of Rainbow and I were in every newspaper in the kingdom with headlines questioning the extent of our relationship, as well as conspiracies regarding the passing of the cyan mare's parents, Lightning Dasher and Cloud Cruiser. Strangely enough, the assumptions about Rainbow and I were accurate enough, but the questions regarding the deaths of her parents were offensive and far from necessary. Some stories painted me as a bad pony, the strangest stating that perhaps Rainbow's parents had disapproved of her being involved with me, and so I had bargained with the dragon to "kill them off", so I could have their daughter all to myself without meddling parents getting in the way. This wasn't a problem of course, for even if it was offensive, I could simply bring the truth to light with facts and testimonies...
The problem came when the media interviewed my parents.
In five years, I hadn't spoken to my parents at all, and it became clear that my father had not let go of the irrational hate that gripped him, simply because of the gender of the pony I loved. His skewed views drove him to paint a picture of Rainbow and I that was so far removed from the truth, it was almost funny. The funny part came when dear old dad had made it sound as if I were a weak-minded little filly, easily impressed upon, and with no thoughts of my own. He made it sound as if Rainbow had made me be with her, and I was simply along for the ride.
As I said, funny.
The part that made things not so funny was when he began attacking my friends...even Spike. He spoke of how Rarity was a pompous, shallow pony who cared only for the next big thing in fashion, and would do anything to follow along with it, even sell out her own friends. For Pinkie Pie, he fabricated the assumption that she must have been doing drugs of some sort to be as happy as she was. The personal attacks went on and on, each more unbelievable than the last to anypony who actually knew them, but the problem was that for ponies following the tabloids, such outlandish things were too juicy not to believe. At that point, the part of me that used to feel a little sick whenever my parents were brought up was silenced...replaced with a seething disdain for my father, and anypony that held the same ideal that he did.
Again, the years passed, and times changed for all of us. Pinkie married a stallion named Jellybean (big surprise...), and moved to Manehattan to open a brand new (and very successful) bakery and candy store. Fluttershy was wed to Big Macintosh the year after that, opting to stay put, as both she and her husband were perfectly happy in the small town they grew up in.
And then Rarity and Applejack shocked us all.
The two mares announced that not only had they been secretly dating since shortly after the incident with "Prince" Blueblood at the Grand Galloping Gala, but that they were moving to Hoofington, a massive metropolitan city to the southeast of Ponyville. In honesty, I never thought Applejack would leave Sweet Apple Acres, but she assured me that she was by no means leaving her family to fend for themselves. In fact, she had done the research, and found that with Rarity's help, the farm could become more prosperous than ever if she were to open a business there that sold her wares, and Rarity of course would make a killing with her clothing in the city. A year after the two mares had left Ponyville, both sent letters announcing that not only had their business ventures succeeded amazingly, but that they were getting married as well, and that we were all invited to the wedding.
It was at this point I began to ponder my own relationship.
Could I even marry Rainbow Dash? Was it allowed for a princess to marry a "regular" pony? I didn't know, so I asked the only ponies who could give me an answer: Luna and Celestia. I learned that it was perfectly legal, but to do so would be inviting quite a bit of stress into both of our lives. It would be a huge risk on both our parts, as Rainbow would constantly be hounded by the media for insight into the personal life of the princesses, and any trouble that Rainbow Dash got into ‒ whether it be her fault or not ‒ would reflect badly on the three princesses of Equestria. I questioned the two celestial princesses on whether or not we could just keep it a secret, to which the answer was a resounding no. Not for lack of trying of course, but because of that fact that something as important as a royal marriage would be impossible to cover up. It was a few days after this revelation that I was given the simplest answer in the world...
"We don't have to be married, Twi." Rainbow had said with a smile. "Some silly wedding doesn't change how awesome I think you are, and I don't think it'll change how you feel about me...so if it's going to cause this much trouble, why do it?"
She was right, of course. Why did I need to show the world that Rainbow and I were together for life? We knew it, our friends knew it, and the princesses knew it...it didn't matter what anypony else thought. Maybe at one time in my life, I would have been stressing about the whole thing, but I couldn't care less anymore. Maybe it was the wisdom with a few years of being a princess under my saddle, or maybe it was the loss of the respect of my parents...whatever the reason, other ponies weren't important to the equation. They were simply unneeded variables that could easily be excluded.
For the first time in my life, I didn't plan...I simply lived.
The problem with "going with the flow" is that sometimes, you don't see the rapids or rocks in the river we call life, until you're upon them and they churn your life up.
Ten years, four months, two weeks, three days, and seventeen hours had passed since my choice to forego a "traditional" pairing between Rainbow and I, and there had not been a second I hadn't been sure I made the right choice.
It was Dashie's thirty-fourth birthday when my new outlook on life fell apart.
The Golden Oaks library had since been passed on to a young colt by the name of Golden Pages (ironic name, I know), so I knew the many books there would be under good care, and Spike had been living within the dragon settlement to the far north, seeing as how at his full-grown size, he was too large to live in Ponyville anymore.
Rainbow Dawn Dasher, the amazing mare that she was, molded her dream of joining the Wonderbolts into something more worthwhile...the Shadowbolts. While the Wonderbolts are specifically an entertainment stunt squadron, the Shadowbolts are active military personnel and are the unseen protectors of Equestria as a whole. I learned that Nightmare Moon had first formed the Shadowbolts, but Luna repurposed their skill and might into a more constructive, but more discreet use. Where once I had thought that Equestria was completely at peace "just because", I learned that it was in fact because of the unsung heroes that watched us from the shadows. Rainbow felt that her skills could be put to much better use with them, and believed that the ability to directly protect Equestria was her true calling.
Life as a whole had calmed down, and my days had become rather boring by comparison to the past. Each day became a mindless routine of paperwork, a few public appearances here and there, and studying to unlock magic's secrets...the last of which was obviously my favorite. Rainbow Dash was busy more often than not, and while I will admit that it was difficult to maintain a good relationship with her because of the amount of time we went without seeing each other, I don't regret it. She was doing what she loved, and I loved her for what she loved, and who she was. Nonetheless, she made time to see me and the princesses whenever she was in town, and one of those times just happened to be her birthday.
Like me, Dashie didn't like huge celebrations, because then she'd just have to end up talking to a bunch of ponies she didn't even know. So, we kept it small, only inviting close personal friends. Celestia and Luna would be there of course, with it being held in the palace banquet hall, and I was sure that Fluttershy and Pinkie would be coming as well. Applejack and Rarity sent gifts, but apologized for being unable to make the trip.
But the largest surprise was when Spike himself sent a letter to me in his old draconic fire, stating he was coming home.
Home? What did that even mean? At first I thought that maybe it was a play on his words, that maybe he meant he was coming to visit my home...but with time, I realized that was inaccurate. Spike was rather wordy for being so young, and only said what he truly meant. So, when he referred to "home" in such a broad sense, my mind went haywire.
It was probably the fifteenth hour of the day that I received word from my two personal guards, Stonehoof and Gumdrop (strange name for a guard), that a large violet and green dragon was approaching the palace from the air, and that we needed to take cover. On the outside I was giggling at their behavior, while on the inside I was nervous and excited. It wasn't their fault of course...it's not like Equestria sees dragons on a regular basis.
As the three of us made our way to the public landing platform outside of the palace, I assure the guards there's nothing to worry about. They stay tense of course, as is their job, but they don't question me as we patiently wait for the large dragon to land. Celestia and Luna gathered as well behind me, and with the three princesses of Equestria being as calm as they are, the guards let their worries fade.
Finally, after what felt like far too long and far too short a time, the dragon landed gently upon the stone platform, a feat I didn't think possible with its massive bulk. It then lowered to all fours as it folded its wings at its sides, then looked at me with familiar eyes of emerald green.
"Hi Twi...it's been a long time." he spoke gently, as if his powerful voice alone would destroy me.
I couldn't control my own legs as I ran to him, and I felt as his large and deadly clawed hand pressed me against his thickly-scaled chest, cradling me as if I was as fragile as glass...and perhaps to him, I was. My body was joined by that of the other two princesses...and once again, we were a family.
I remember Spike's surrogate mother, Celestia, weeping tears of joy after seeing the only son she'd ever known after fifteen years apart, and she spoke in a tone I'd never heard her use with anypony before...the tone of a loving mother.
"Welcome home, my son."
Tears the size of my hoof fell from the eyes of the large dragon as he silently wept, still refusing to let any of the three of us go.
Twenty minutes later, the four of us were gathered in Celestia's private garden outside of her balcony window, which was filled with a small grove of paper birch trees that her and I had planted together when I was just a filly. Spike was laying on the grass as me and the other two princesses rested against his scaled hide. We caught up with each other on everything we could think of, not leaving anything out. Spike learned all about the current affairs in Equestria as well as the latest news on our friends.
Though he'd never say it, I think the realization that he would never have a chance with Rarity was what caused him to decide to live in the dragon settlement. It would have been too much of a coincidence that a mere week after the unicorn and Spike had come to a truthful understanding of the situation, he packed his few belongings and left...his gaze freezing for a few moments on the Carousel Boutique in the distance. It was an expression I would never forget...and it broke my heart.
"I'm happy for her." he had said when the subject of Rarity came up.
There was no deception in his voice, and his smile was completely genuine. It appeared that seven years had grown him up a lot in such a short time, and a few scarred areas on his hide attested to some of the hardships he had endured. He was no longer the little brother figure that I had raised from an egg...no longer the silly little dragon that had a crush on a pony fifteen years older than him.
He was a grown dragon, every bit as terrible and powerful as his kin.
As I thought this, I couldn't help but say out loud, "You're still my brother though."
Spike simply craned his long neck until his face was right in front of mine before gently nuzzling my cheek. "And you're still my sis, Twi." Suddenly, his head shot up with a start. "Oh! I almost forgot, I have to show all of you something!"
The three of us stood and stepped away from him, allowing the large dragon to stand before watching as he bent down and began drawing strange shapes in the ground.
"What are you doing, Spike?" I asked curiously.
He chuckled. "You're going squeal when I say this, but dragons can do magic, Twi."
He was right...I squealed like a filly.
Needless to say, both Luna and Celestia laughed at me, and while Spike let out a deep chuckle, he didn't cease his work of drawing the strange markings in the dirt. "Anyway yes, we can do magic. It uses the same energy and rules that pony magic does, but we have to use runes and dragon language to activate it."
I raised my eyebrow at this. "Won't your people be a little upset you're giving away their secrets to ponies?"
Spike smiled as he finished drawing the runes. "You're all family, Twi...so you get a pass. Besides, ponies can't use dragon magic..." he then smirked, "because ponies can't do this."
The dragon then breathed green fire on both of his hands before pressing his palms onto the rune he had etched into the dirt, and it caught fire as if sparked with liquid sun. Spike then stepped into the roaring inferno. As I watched, his mouth moved as if speaking, but all that could be heard (and felt) was a deep rumbling that shook the ground itself. The flames covered his entire body, and the light became so intense that I felt my eyes begin to dry out. I close my eyes as the "spell" continued, and waited until it finished.
Finally, after a few seconds of the sound of roaring flames, I felt a clawed hand reach out and touch me...one that was just large enough to hold my face.
I opened my eyes...and there he was.
It was Spike...it simply couldn't be anyone else. Same shiny lavender scales, same green spines, and the same sparkling emerald eyes. His body had not changed, but he was now only slightly taller than Celestia when standing on his hind legs. Suddenly, his note made sense.
He smiled. "I'm home for good, Twi."
Pinkie and Fluttershy arrived together, each having a rather similar reaction to my own to see the dragon we grew up with returned. Spike of course was more than happy to see two more of the ponies he cared most about in the world, and I wasn't about to break up their reunion...especially with the fountain of happy tears Pinkie was crying.
"Twilight, you have received a package from Rarity and Applejack!" Luna loudly announced, levitating a large square gift box over to land in front of me, which landed with a large *THUMP* in front of me. Luna then wiped a bead of sweat off of her brow and sighed. "My word, that was heavy."
The box was at least four times my size, and I would be lying if I claimed I wasn't intimidated by it. Still, Pinkie took charge as she pushed me closer to it with a smile.
"Well go on Twilight, open it up!" she exclaimed in excitement.
I eyed the package skeptically...it wasn't like Rarity or Applejack to give me a giant gift box. That seemed more like Pinkie Pie's thing, after all. I sighed as I reached a tendril of magic up to grasp the bow. 'Now or never, Twilight.' I pulled on the wrapping bow and stepped back as the paper fell away...
And the box exploded with confetti.
I sighed and lowered my head as I waited for the rain of confetti to cease. "Pinkie..."
"It wasn't me, Twilight!" the pink mare exclaimed, though it was clear she did not disagree with the "present" in the least. Suddenly I heard Pinkie gasp, and she gently ordered, "Twilight, open your eyes."
I did as she asked and was instantly greeted by two grinning ponies.
"Howdy, sugarcube." the stetson-wearing pony greeted.
To this day, I deny any suggestion from anypony that I squealed...a princess does not squeal like a filly in public.
After the tear-filled greetings from two of my best friends, the eight of us retired to the commons area of the palace, which had been set up for the coming party...with the help of Pinkie, of course. Even at the age of nearly forty, Pinkie still bounced around as if she were a young filly, making sure the food, decorations, and games were all set up for when the birthday girl arrived.
Time continued to pass, however.
It was not unusual for Rainbow to be a little late here and there, but that day would mark the first time she had ever been late to her own birthday celebration...and of course with me being me, I began to worry.
Finally, the hour of dusk came to pass, meaning it was six hours past the time when Dashie was to arrive, and I was in a full-blown panic now. Spike and my friends did what they could to keep me calm, but it was useless...only one pony could calm me now, and she was nowhere to be found. One by one, my friends' patience also began to wear thin, and worry took hold in their hearts as well.
It was midnight when the visage of a flying pony could be seen in the sky.
Long ago, the party as a whole had been cleaned up and packed away, much to Pinkie's dismay. All of us shared a rather tense and nervous dinner together before retreating to our quarters. As the pony approached my window, I allowed myself a relieved sigh as I prepared to welcome my clearly exhausted marefriend home...
But it wasn't my Dash.
It was a large stallion who I recognized as Dashie's wingpony, who just went by Flicker. He was a soft gray with a black mane and tail...rather boring by color's standards, but now was not the time to think about that.
"Where is she, Flicker?" I asked without hesitation.
The stallion landed on my balcony, a gesture that would usually be unthinkable by a non-royal to do, but his eyes told a story that at the moment, he didn't care. His eyes were filled with pain, and there were large bleeding gashes torn through his flight suit, some of which were still seeping blood.
I was sure that my pupils shrunk to pinpricks at this sight, but I asked again. "Where is she, Flicker?"
The stallion's head lowered and he sighed. "I don't know..." He then stood tall and shook his mane out, and I was privy to a few specks of mud and something else I wasn't sure I wanted to identify fall away from him. The stallion added, "She wasn't at the A/O, but at ground zero, there were no survivors. Our team was ambushed by hydra alphas...six of them."
My mind heard the whole explanation...but my heart only heard "no survivors".
My world broke...
My cries of heartbroken agony reached Luna's night guard throughout the entire palace, and within only a few minutes, my room was filled with the other two princesses, my friends, Spike, and innumerable guards. I was in no state to talk to anypony, so the princesses instead spoke to Flicker about what had happened.
Search parties were formed, and within an hour, an entire fleet of pegasus royal guards took to the skies to find anypony that might have survived the massacre.
But there was only one pony on my mind, of course, and I feared it was for naught.
Days passed before the search parties began to return; slowly at first, but then with increasing frequency...all with the same message.
Destruction...no known survivors...Shadowbolt squadron four is MIA.
Then, to my horror, the flags began to be assembled. For every killed soldier, a flag was placed atop the pole at the top of the Grand Stair that led from the palace gates to the palace itself. It was an ancient memorial practice that was brought about from the War of the Eclipse, in which Celestia battled Nightmare Moon and the corrupted princess' massive army. The practice in itself did not change, but unlike the soldiers of the past, it was unlikely the families of these fallen Shadowbolts would ever know why their kin died. The Shadowbolts worked in the shadows, as their name implied, and so their deeds and work was known by few, and their secrets guarded closely.
As Luna spoke with the returning guards, I saw her expression progressively fall from neutrality to a deep frown, and it seemed that with each word, more and more hope was lost. My heart was beating rapidly as they spoke, until Luna finally looked up at me...with tears in her eyes.
"No..." I whispered to myself, hoping against hope that somehow my assumption was wrong.
Luna ‒ the beautiful pony whose grace I emulated ‒ was slumped as she slowly trudged over to me. Her expression spoke of pain, and the reluctance to speak at all...but she had to say it...she had to be the one. After what seemed like an eternity, she finally stood in front of me, and a few times her mouth opened, but no words escaped. Finally, she took a deep breath and placed a hoof on my shoulder.
She swallowed thickly and croaked, "I am so sorry, Twilight..."
My heart stopped for a few moments, and breath would not come to me. The bottom had dropped out of the world, but...
"No." I spoke softly, completely refusing to believe such a foolish thing. Rainbow Dash was one of the strongest, most amazing ponies I had ever known. There was no way she'd let something like a few hydra take her down. She was too good for that...it wasn't possible.
Then, the search pony reached in his saddlebag and used his wingtip to show it to me. It was a violet bandanna, like the one that I had given Dash for good luck.
The bandanna had little stars on it that matched the main star shape of my cutie mark.
Another coincidence...doesn't mean anything.
I brought the cloth closer to inspect it, finding that it held a spicy-sweet scent, a little like the chocolate-covered peppers that Dash loved to eat sometimes...
Doesn't matter...lots of pegasi eat those.
The pegasus then reached in his bag once again, and fished out a large wad of folded parchment, smeared a bit with spots of red and what I hoped was dirt. He allowed me to take it from his mouth with a soft levitation spell before heading away with a grimace.
"I'm sorry," he said as he trotted away, "but I can't witness another one of these..."
Looking back, I realized my denial was clouding reality. I knew exactly what was probably in that parchment, but I couldn't face it. After all, if I couldn't see it or touch it, it wasn't real.
When I opened the parchment, reality struck me harder than anything I'd ever felt before.
First of all, I just want to say that I love you and miss you. I mean by Celestia, it seems like every day away from you is like a million years or something, but hopefully things will go okay for this last order and I can come home in time for the party. Flicker said he'd take care of the mail, so hopefully you'll get this letter soon so that you know what's up. Anyway, it's pretty dead out here in the Badlands. Seriously, it's like a boredom bomb got dropped here or something, because there is nothing to do around here, y'know? Whatever...if things are as empty here as it looks to be, we should be wrapping things up pretty fast and then I can come home.
I miss you Twi...I'll write you again soon.
Did I say the Badlands were boring? Wow, was I wrong!
Yesterday we found a hydra den near the border with Equestria, southwest of Dream Valley. Apparently they are a larger breed than the ones in Froggy Bottom Bog, and so Luna's asked us to keep an eye on them. Flicker hasn't been able to leave because of that, so I'm sorry if this letter gets to you a little later than I'd hoped, but don't blame him...he's just doing his job, like me. Anyway, for the time being, we're just going to be keeping an eye on the situation. I've never had to deal with a hydra before, but one of the senior members said that it's unlikely we'll have to.
Anyway, it's getting dark now Twi, and Clarion is herding us to a secluded cave, so we're not out in the open. I love you and miss you, and I'll write you again when I can.
They found us...I don't know how, but they did.
Quicksilver was on watch last night, and when we woke up, we only found one of his hooves left at the spot he had been guarding. I won't even lie...I'm scared. Flicker always calls me "Hard-assed Dash", but right now I feel like a scared little filly. I don't want to die...especially not out in some gods-forsaken cave in the middle of nowhere. We can't just fly though...we know these things are watching us now. We need to figure out some kind of a plan.
Whatever happens Twi, I love you...I'll always love you.
We're just stuck...they're playing with us, and I know it. These hydra know exactly where we are, but they aren't taking more than one or two of us at a time. Nightlight was convinced they just want us to leave, and so he tried to make a break for it, but we all watched as he got plucked right out of the sky.
I can still hear him screaming.
Twi...I want to see you more than anything now. I miss you so much and I'm scared, but I'm getting sick of this waiting...waiting to die. If this is what the rest of my days is going to be like, why can't they just end it? Why are these Celestia-damned monsters dragging it out?
I'm sorry, Twi...I should be stronger.
They left me here.
Flicker said that I'd be safer if I wasn't out in the open, but they left us here...alone. Orange Marmalade said that she was ordering me to stay here because Flicker needed someone to watch out for him as he healed, but I know the truth. I just don't have as much combat experience than the rest of them, and if something happens, they want a pony that knows how to fight. Well, I can't blame them for that. My job is scouting and reconnaissance, not fighting. The problem with that is now I'm sitting here in some dark, damp cave next to a whining Flicker as I basically wait to die. I'm not getting out of this...I know that now. What makes me the maddest is that I didn't even want in on this job...but I guess if it wasn't me, it would be somepony else...maybe a pony with parents, or a foal.
For what it's worth, I'm sorry Twi. I messed up bad this time, and I'm not going to be able to fix it. Honestly, I don't even know why I'm still writing this note...I guess it's because I want to believe that somehow, it'll get to you. Well, we both know I've never been one for being all sappy and stuff, but right now, I don't care...I need to tell you how I really feel, because I might not get another chance.
I love you Twi...more than plants love the sun and more than the night sky loves the moon. You are, by far, the most amazing and beautiful pony I could have ever hoped to meet. You gave me friendship, a shoulder to cry on, and even a home when I needed it...but the most important thing you gave me was your heart. Thank you, Twi...thank you for loving me. When you came into my life, the world got brighter for me. You were one of the only ponies who understood me for me, and you somehow saw right through the act I put up for the rest of the world. I wish we could've had a family together...whether by some spell I don't know about or by adopting. I wanted to grow old next to you, even though you might never age again. It wouldn't matter to me...so long as you were by my side. I know it's kinda cheesy and cliche, but words can't even express how much I love you, Twi. You were the best thing that ever happened to me, and I hope that you don't blame yourself for all this.
I want you to promise a few things though regarding four special ponies to me.
I want you to look out for AJ for me. She might not act it (and don't tell her I said so), but she's a lot more sensitive than she lets on. She's not going to do too well once she learns what happened to me and my team, and even though she's got family, she needs somepony to be there for her that knew me the way she did...and even though she'll deny it, she'll want to talk to you about her feelings...just be patient.
Be there for 'Shy. She and I grew up together...I'm her best friend, and I'm scared of what'll happen to her because of this. Don't let her shut herself in...you force your way inside her house if you have to, but don't let her be alone. She'd be so mad that I told you this, but she can't be left alone after something like this...she might hurt herself. She was my first friend in the world, and for awhile, we were each other's only friend. I love her like she was my own sister...please take care of her for me.
Don't let Pinkie go through this alone either. She might put up a hay of a front, but she's not always happy. There's a lot of things in her past that are pretty dark, and while I won't tell you what they were, I can say that she's going to need you. Invite her to stay with you in the palace and talk about the fun times we all had together...don't let her dwell on the bad parts...on this. I know I've always said that Pinkie's random and a spaz, but truth be told, I love her a lot. In fact, had I not met you when I did, she and I might have ended up together. She means a lot to me...don't abandon her like I did.
Last of all, look after Scootaloo. I know she's growing up and she should learn that even the great Rainbow Dash isn't invincible, but this isn't the way a little filly should have to find that out. I know you'll have lots of things to do in Canterlot as a princess and that you won't be able to make personal visits all the time or anything, but make sure she knows that she's not the only one hurting because of all this. Let her know that she's not alone...and it's okay to be sad.
Anyway, that's all I have the heart for right now, Twi. I love you so much, and I hope I made you feel as awesome as you made me feel.
Goodbye, babe...don't forget me.
I had honestly started to believe that I might never actually have the chance to get these letters to you, but I have a way...you're not going to like it, though.
I had to make a choice, Twi...a choice that's going to decide how I'll be remembered. I think I made the right choice, all things considered, but it doesn't make things any easier. I've tended to Flicker's wounds in the time since the rest of the team left, and I think he's strong enough to make the flight home. Well...I'm sending him on his way while I play bait. Now I know you're going to ask, "Why him? What makes him more important than you?" Well...he's got foals, Twi. I'm still afraid to die...that hasn't changed. Still, I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I let foals lose their father when I had a choice to keep that from happening. Well, this is my chance.
Please...please don't blame Flicker. I'm forcing him to leave me here. It took me the last two days to convince him, but I hope I made him understand that it is my choice...and I know what I'm choosing.
Well Twi, it's been one hay of a ride. We've had both good times and bad, but you gave me more good than not...and I hope I did the same for you.
My last wishes are that you don't let this break you and make you cold, and cynical. Eternity is a long time to be alone and unloving. If at some point in the future you find another pony who can capture your heart, you go for it. Yes, it's another cliche, but I mean it. The last thing I want is for you to be alone for the rest of forever, always lonely and always sad. I want you to smile again, and I want you to remember how great it felt to be with each other. I know that it was the best feeling in the entire world to me...and I want you to feel that again at some point. Don't let the end of me be the end of you...you're stronger than that, I know you are.
Anyway, the sun is coming out now, so it's time for Flicker to get going. Along with this letter I'm including one of my primary feathers...along with all the tears that have dropped onto the parchment. Maybe it's sappy and a little lame, but I'd like for these little parts of me to be for you. I know you'll take good care of them...just like you took such good care of me.
I love you more than anything, Twi...but I know I'm doing the right thing.
Just remember that whenever you feel a breeze kiss your cheek, those are my lips...and whenever you feel the soft, warm rain of spring on your coat, I'm telling you I love you. And, whenever you see a rainbow, that's me smiling at you from wherever I'll be after this.
Thanks so much for the life you've given me...you made me content with it. Goodbye for the last time, Twi...I'll always love you.
As I finished the last words, I grasped the long cyan feather that had been wrapped in the parchment. I levitated it close to my face and inspected it, somehow hoping that it was fake...that all of this was fake.
Then the scent hit my nose.
It was soft, and crisp. It reminded me of the sharp, cold smell of the lower stratosphere, which was where Dashie liked to fly the most. It smelled of a spring rain, and if there is such a thing, the smell of flight itself.
The last thing I saw before the world went dark was Luna's panicked face as she attempted to catch me.
That day was over four-hundred years ago, and it was easily the most difficult time of my life thus far. Had I been a weaker pony, I am convinced I would have tried to kill myself...multiple times. Still, I knew that's not what Dashie would have wanted. My reverence for life and the magic of friendship was just some of what she loved about me, and had I even tried to end my own life, I would be disgracing her memory. She deserved more than that, and for as long as I live, I promise myself that I will do my best to make her proud.
As I looked off into the coming night's horizon, I reached deep within my magic reserves and drew forth my power, feeling it brimming to the surface. I felt the warmth within my horn as the spell charged, and I picked my mind through the intricate workings of the arcane webbing that made up the magic around me, plucking the tendrils gently with my consciousness, coaxing the spell to cast.
And then it happened.
Far in the distance, a massive explosion sounded, followed by a spectrum of color radiating out from the point. True, it was not a true Sonic Rainboom, but it was as close as anypony would get to see without Dashie here. It was a special spell I used only once every fifty years, on the night of her day of birth. There was no celebration and nopony even knew how or why it happened...I didn't do it for the attention. Instead, I did it so that the world could see just a sliver of the beauty that was my Dashie.
As I looked once more at the wave of colors radiating over the land, I felt a few tears slip down my face as I choked down a sob.
"Happy birthday, Dashie."
Time seemed to pass as if in a dream.
One moment, I was at the top of the Solar Tower, the next I was within the private quarters of Celestia herself, with both the sun princess and Luna cuddling me as I cried.
This was not a new occurrence, and Celestia had told me to let the tears come...that it would cleanse me. And, to an extent, it did. The flames of loss still burned within me, but now instead of a raging inferno, over the years, it had become a mere ember. I knew the pain would never completely leave, and a part of me didn't want it to. It reminded me of how much I loved her...how much I still love her.
And so, the princesses simply held me close between them as the tears trickled down my face, matting the fur around my eyes and causing them to become puffy from the sobbing that was bound to continue for at least a few hours.
Still they held me...grounding me to life.
Celestia and Luna...two ponies I cared for more than anything else. Including Empress Cadence, we alicorns understood more than any other the pain I was feeling. For example, Celestia and Luna never chanted the words, "It will be alright." In truth, all of us knew it would never be "alright"...but together, we would survive, and continue to move on, making sure that the love within our hearts still flowed, and never died.
As the hours passed in the embrace of the two princesses, I finally began to feel sleepy and somewhat relieved, and as I began to sag against Celestia, I felt both of them plant two soft kisses on my forehead...letting me know that I was loved, and would never be alone.
And so, with sleep beginning to overcome me and the pain of the past settled for now, I turned my mind and heart to the future with a bright outlook...
A gift given to me by my rainbow angel.