The earth pony mare was of no distinct color; what was seen was entirely dependent on what angle one was viewing her from as well as the time of day and angle of the sun. In her younger days, that had served her well for it had made a most excellent camouflage, and the memory of the mischief she had been involved in brought a welcome smile to her face.
Said smile was not long in lasting, unfortunately, for the business that brought her to Canterlot General Hospital was anything but happy. She was here to keep a promise to an old friend, to see him one more time before he departed for the Summer-Lands. Quietly, she made her way to the main information desk in the lobby of the hospital.
“Good afternoon,” the mare said in her delicate voice. “Would you be able to point me in the direction of Daydream Weaver’s room?”
The nurse, an ivory coated unicorn mare with an extremely bright orange mane looked up from the patient log she was filling out and smiled to the mare. “Hello there! I’m sorry, but Mr. Weaver left specific instructions that only family and friends were to be permitted visitation rights.” She smiled a bit sadly. “I’m not certain why, as he’s outlived all his family and most of his friends are waiting for him in the Summer-Lands.”
“I understand. But please, if you could tell him that a very old friend is here to keep a promise to him, I would be most appreciative,” the earth pony mare asked again, with a sad smile.
“I can certainly ask for you, of course. Whom shall I say is asking?” Nurse inquired politely.
“That would ruin the surprise. Trust me, please. Just ask him; he will know me.”
“Alright then. Wait here, please.” The nurse left her desk, and went down a nearby hallway. She knocked gently on the door with a hoof and then poked her head inside. After a brief exchange, the nurse came back with a bemused expression on her muzzle.
“Room three seventeen, Miss Shimmer,” the nurse said with a bit of a grin. “I haven’t seen him smile like that since he arrived. Go right on in.”
Shimmer smiled gently and nodded. “Thank you, Nurse.” She walked down the hallway to room three seventeen, and gently nosed the door open to step inside.
What Shimmer saw simply broke her heart, even though she had known intellectually what she would see. Her old friend Daydream Weaver was indeed old. Somehow the old stallion had contrived to live to the grand age of a hundred and twenty, and he looked every day of it. His baby blue coat had faded to nearly slate grey and his formerly emerald green mane had faded to a dusty greenish color, but his eyes remained unchanged. They were every bit as warm and loving as Shimmer had remembered from so very many years ago.
“Hello, old friend,” Shimmer said softly as Daydream lifted his head weakly from his fore-hooves. “I told you I would come.”
The oxygen tube dangled limply as Daydream smiled and nodded. In a voice that was a caricature of it’s former strength, he answered, “Cut it close, Shimmer… cut it close. Oh, how I prayed to the Princesses that you would come in time.” The old stallion, unable to keep his head up for long, rested it back down on his fore-legs. Tears formed in his aged eyes as he whispered, “It is good to see you again, though I wish I had remained as well preserved as you! It’s been fifty years since I’ve seen you last, and you’ve not aged a day. You are not one of the princesses in disguise, are you?”
Laughing, Shimmer shook her head. “Certainly not! Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are immortal. I am not.”
“Could’ve fooled me, young lady,” Daydream said with a weak snort.
“No, old friend… I am not immortal.” Shimmer carefully settled herself alongside Daydream, and gently nuzzled his ear. “Neither one of us will see the dawn, tomorrow.”
“You’d best not be planning to do something stupid, Shimmer. For if you are even thinking about ending your life, I will come back from the Summer-Lands to haunt you for eternity.” The look in Daydream’s eyes gave the truth to that statement; he would find a way to do just that.
“Daydream, did you memorize that spell I gave you?” Shimmer asked, looking at her friend with amused tolerance. “The magical detection and analysis one?”
“You mean the one that took me the better part of a decade to learn to cast? Yes. Yes, I did,” Daydream grumped good-naturedly. “Gave me a splitting headache, and I thought my horn would fall off, but yes, I did.”
Shimmer kissed Daydream’s ear then carefully stood, and walked until she was standing in front of the stallion. “Cast it now, and take a good look at me. I would have one friend at least know the truth before my passing.”
The aged unicorn’s horn flickered weakly but the spell, despite being difficult to memorize, was actually remarkably easy to cast. Daydream’s eyes glowed, and the instant his gaze touched Shimmer, his eyes went wide with shock. “By Celestia’s mane… you poor girl! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I couldn’t, old friend. You know that. Imagine the… how would you have put it back then? Ah, yes. Imagine the ‘fun and hilarity’ that would’ve ensued if I had told you? You would have gone straight to the Headmaster, and that one would have tried to lock me up to figure out what I was. You know that as well as I do!” Shimmer chuffed, shaking her head.
“Mm. She was always a little uptight, true.” Daydream tried to lift his head from his hooves again, but failed; he was too weak. “Mph. Guess it’s nearly that time, then. So you came back to keep your promise and sit my deathwatch, for which I am boundlessly grateful. But who, my dear, will sit yours?”
“There are only two souls in all of Equestria that I can share the oldest of times with, Daydream. I’ll go and see the Princesses.” Shimmer curled up next to Daydream again, resting her head atop his.
“Getting in to see them won’t be easy,” Daydream rasped. Breathing was slowly becoming more difficult.
“Quite easy, especially when you ask for an audience in a language that has been forgotten for over two thousand years. I’d imagine that would not only get their undivided attention, but as much of their time as I have left.” Shimmer grinned.
“Heh. That would do it. That would do it indeed, my dear. Maybe in the Summer-Lands we can share a bit more than the time we had together as friends. I always loved you… you know that.”
“Perhaps, Daydream. Perhaps.” Shimmer smiled gently, and kissed his nose. She did not have the heart to tell him the truth, for she was not about to sadden these, his last minutes on Equestria.
Instead, Shimmer shared her happiest memories of the time she had spent as Daydream’s friend with him. She shared the memory of his graduation day from the Gifted Unicorn Academy… finally confessing that she was the one who threw the first apple turnover, which splattered on the Magus’ muzzle. The food-fight that erupted immediately after was the stuff of legend, and nopony until now had ever found out what had started it.
Daydream died next to the mare he loved after a long battle with time and a very short battle with a powerful bout of laughter and amusement. He died with laughter in his heart, and a smile on his lips.
The hospital receded into the background as Shimmer walked slowly down the cobblestone street. Saying goodbye to her friend had been difficult to do and had hurt a great deal but it also had given her a bit of peace; she had kept her word, and Daydream had died laughing, just as she’d hoped he would. It was a fitting end for her dear friend and was a joyful passing she honestly felt honored for having been able to share.
Saying goodbye was never easy, and Shimmer had more practice than anypony else. Unfortunately, it did nothing for her in her own situation for she was nothing like Daydream or any of the countless ponies that she had bid farewell to in the past. With a weary expression and an awareness that her own time was drawing to a close, she turned towards the Palace. Her own time approached, and she did not wish to spend it alone.
The lines to the Palace were fortunately short, and Shimmer soon found herself facing two stone-faced Royal Guards. They stood with their halberds crossed in front of the door and looked down at her sternly, yet with the respect they showed all those that approached.
“I am sorry, Miss. By orders of the Princesses, they are not receiving visitors today due to affairs of state. If you were to return tomorrow, they ought to be available.”
“I understand, Sir. However, I have an urgent message for the Princesses.” She wrote ‘Mae fy amser ddod i ben. Rwy'n erfyn gynulleidfa.’ on a bit of parchment she’d brought along for just that eventuality. After folding it, she handed it to the guard. “If they receive that message and do not wish to see me, I will return tomorrow. I beg you, however, at least pass the message on.”
The guard Captain looked at her and saw something in her eyes that convinced him to do just that. He nodded. “Very well, Miss. Wait here.”
Shimmer didn’t have to wait long. It was barely three minutes later that the captain re-appeared with a look of respect on his muzzle. “Come with me, Miss. The Princesses will see you now.”
The palace doors slowly opened, revealing the primary throne room. The opulence of the room was nearly overwhelming; golds and purples and springtime colors somehow were made to mingle together as Shimmer stepped into the room. The walls were lined with guards, and they kept a most close look upon her as she walked with the guard captain up the carpeted path to the twin thrones that sat at the end of the room. The thrones were, of course, occupied by Princess Celestia and Luna, yet there was also a lavender colored unicorn mare standing beside them.
When she got close enough for the occupants of the thrones to be heard, a gesture from the captain brought Shimmer to a halt. Shimmer bowed, touching her chin to the floor where she waited for a few seconds before the Princesses spoke.
“Rise, please. I would know who you are, that speaks a language long forgotten, and why you feel your time is drawing to a close.” Princess Celestia asked kindly.
Shimmer rose from her bow and smiled softly to Princess Celestia. “Princess, thank you for seeing me. I apologize for interrupting your affairs of state, but as I’d indicated, my time is indeed drawing to a close. To answer your question, I must respectfully correct you; it is not a who that speaks a dead language but a what. I am a mistake, Princess. A mistake, and also the very last witness to the Insurrection from thirty five hundred years ago.”
“That is not possible,” Princess Celestia said, arching an eyebrow. “Not even my sister and I are that old. You are unfortunately mistaken, however thorough a grasp of an ancient dialect you may have.”
“Hm. How strange,” Shimmer said with a sly grin spreading across her muzzle. “Then I suppose my memory of King Helios temporarily banning lilacs from the old Homestead is in error. So too must my memory be faulty as to his little Princess Celestia eating her mother’s prize flowerbed full of them and the sneezing fit that followed. Certainly then, it couldn’t have been the little Princess Celestia letting out the most adorable little peeping sounds as she sneezed herself dizzy because she happened to have a very slight allergy to them.”
Princess Celestia’s eyes grew wider at the telling of the long-forgotten story, while Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna both stifled snickers.
“How did you know about that?” Princess Celestia asked, shocked.
Ignoring her for the moment, Shimmer turned her grin to Princess Luna. “Surely my memory must be faulty when it comes to a certain Princess Luna who, at the tender age of three summers, had a bit of a thing about biting her mother’s tail while teething. I can’t imagine then that I could possibly be remembering correctly when Queen Nebulae corrected that behavior by dragging the little Princess around by her muzzle across the same granite floor to her waiting father?”
Both Princess Celestia and Luna were shocked into silence even as Twilight managed to barely stifle a laugh.
“Now, since obviously my memory is faulty, I could not possibly recalled an incident where a certain Princess Celestia and a certain tiny little foal Princess Luna get themselves locked in Queen Nebulae’s armoire while playing hide and seek with their father. No. Certainly I must be mistaken.”
For at least a minute, the three mares stared at the fourth who simply stood respectfully before them whilst grinning with more mischief than most ever saw at one time.
Recovering her wits, Princess Celestia asked again a touch more firmly than before. “How do you know these things? Most have not been spoken of for over three thousand years, and they had never been recorded.”
“Because I was there, Princess.” Shimmer nodded softly. “I remember them, because I was there. I know it’s hard to believe. But you can verify it yourself. I am not truly a pony, Princess. I am a mistake; the result of a mis-cast spell at the very end of the Insurrection.”
Three horns lit up at that, and Shimmer felt their magics wash over her. She offered no resistance; she knew what she was, and wished to spend her last hours with them, the two who could share stories with her.
“You... you’re telling the truth!” Princess Luna gasped, covering her muzzle with a hoof. “You really are older than Princess Celestia and I! How did that happen?”
“Princesses? May I sit down, please? The tale is a long one,” Shimmer asked politely.
A mere second later, a large cushion was put in place, and she was allowed to get comfortable. Refreshments were brought out a few minutes later.
After getting comfortable and nibbling politely at the refreshments, Shimmer continued her tale. “At the very end of the Insurrection, the Magus of the rebels developed and cast what is now a forbidden spell; Phantasmal Executioner. The spell generated a phantasm... an illusion... of a pony. This illusion was then given a target to eliminate. The issue was that your father, King Helios, broke into the rebel command center which caused a section of stone to fall on the Magus, crushing him to death before I had been given a target.’
Twilight mentally formed a picture as to the past events from so long ago. “Why didn’t King Helios detect what you were when he found you? That spell is not a weak one. It should have left a very powerful signature.”
“He would have, but the magic that created me was still fresh and the entire region was all but obscured from any scrying or detections. King Helios came into the room where I’d been created, and misinterpreted what was happening. He thought that I was a slave that was being sacrificed in a ritual. I wasn’t self-aware yet, but he thought that the awareness had been stripped from me. Being a spell, I was simply awaiting orders. He gave me my first order; he commanded me to follow him. So I did. He took me into his household and looked after me, until I began to show signs of ‘recovery’. He saw to my education and to my well-being.”
“As Papa would’ve done,” Luna murmured.
Celestia nodded to Luna but turned to Shimmer. “Why did the King never tell us, his own daughters, about you?”
“The cloud that the magical war had caused faded after a year or two. Once it had, he’d been able to get a good look at me and what I was, Princess. He didn’t tell you what or who I was because he’d also figured out what my target was going to be if it had been assigned. The Magus was not trying to kill your father. He was trying to break your father. I had been created to kill your mother.” She raised a hoof before things could go downhill. “He kept me around, because he knew I wouldn’t ever do that. By that time, I had become fully independent and self-aware. Your mother specifically requested that King Helios not send me away because she knew something that he hadn’t thought of yet.”
“What was that...” Twilight asked suspiciously. She didn’t precisely care to be in the room with a spell-golem that had been created to kill Princess Celestia’s mother!
Summer turned to the lavender mare. “I have no soul, Miss. There will be no Summer-Lands for me. No after-life. No seeing friends and family again. Queen Nebulae knew that once my energy had been consumed, I would simply... disappear. For me, there is only Oblivion. King Helios and Queen Nebulae desperately wanted me to have something, so they gave me the very best they could. They gave me a life at the Royal Court, such as it was back then. They loved me, and they treated me as a beloved relative.” She chuckled softly. “When you two were born, Princesses, I was allowed to look after you and be your nanny, for a time. When you were sufficiently grown, but not quite able to reliably remember things, the King and Queen felt it appropriate that I move from the Homestead and be part of daily life in Equestria. They instilled upon me a sense of responsibility and a sense of duty, but also a sense of joy, love, and thanks to Princess Nebulae, a sense of mischief.”
“But you have memories of us as children,” Princess Celestia said quietly.
“I wasn’t banished, Princess. I was allowed visitation rights and was indeed encouraged to come and visit often. Visit I did, as often as I could, but with enough spacing between visits so as to not attract undue notice.” Shimmer smiled, eyes unfocusing. “Then when the two of you were coming into your own, you didn’t need me anymore. I sought my own way in the world. I kept in constant communication with your parents, to be sure. We were very good friends after all. I served them as best I could, as a muse. I’d whisper a word here, or an idea there. Slowly, but surely, innovations began to creep into society at large, and living conditions improved.”
“But... why didn’t you try and do something sooner about your situation?” Twilight asked, shocked. “Surely there was something you could’ve done? Can’t you re-cast the spell? Maybe I can research it and come up with something.”
Shimmer, Luna, and Celestia all turned towards Twilight and said, “No! Absolutely not!” as sharply as anypony had ever spoken to her before.
When Twilight reared back a bit and flattened her ears in shock, Celestia relented. “No, Twilight. It speaks well of you that you wish to help, but that spell was deliberately forgotten for a reason. It was the most singularly vicious spell ever devised. Shimmer’s time might be restored, but if that spell is cast and it succeeds in restoring her energy, then she will become a vicious killing machine that even Princess Luna and I would have trouble stopping. It is far more likely that the spell would simply create a new spell golem, and that one would have to face an existence that only would end in oblivion. Could you find it in yourself to do that?”
“N... no, Princess. I couldn’t,” Twilight said, looking down. “I...”
Shimmer smiled. “I know, Twilight. I know. You just wanted to help. But don’t mourn me too much. I had a very long and rich life. Mourning and tears is not how I wanted to end my time on Equestria.”
Luna looked at Shimmer with tears in her eyes and a smile on her muzzle. “Then tell me, Shimmer. How can we ease you?”
“Princesses, you can let me remember with you. Why mourn, when I can help you remember things you’ve not thought of in a millenia or two?” Shimmer winked at Luna. “For instance... I bet your older sister never told you about the time she nearly re-ignited the border skirmishes with the Gryphons.”
“She did what?” Twilight and Luna gasped.
Celestia, for her part, turned red and grinned sheepishly. “To be fair, I was only a scant number of summers in age. Oh, I have not thought of this in so long!” She covered her muzzle and actually had to stifle a giggle. “Go on, Shimmer. You started it, now you have got to finish it!”
Laughing, Shimmer nodded. “Well, it wasn’t long after the Insurrection that the Gryphon skirmishes started and fortunately, ended. Your sister, Princess Luna, was so very young and so very proud of her socks. She would wear them everywhere you see. That included wearing them while running down a carpeted hallway and then across a polished granite floor. Princess Celestia slid right across the floor into your mother’s senechal who happened to be carrying a cake at the time, you see.”
Twilight laughed delightedly as Luna looked at Celestia in shock. “Oh, she did not!”
“She most certainly did. She skidded right into the seneschal who tossed the cake up into the air in surprise. Have you ever noticed when something really bad is about to happen that everything moves in slow motion? Well, let me tell you. As that cake flew through the air, everypony thought it took a century because it was heading right for the Gryphon King! Said king happened to look up just as the cake splattered over him. Oh, you could’ve hears a pin drop afterwards!”
Celestia had turned a brilliant shade of scarlet by this point, and had covered her eyes with a hoof. “That was perhaps not my most regal moment.”
Giggling, Luna nodded and reached over to hug her sister tightly. “It doesn’t sound like it, ‘Tia. Not even a little.”
“Oh, it wasn’t. Now, everypony was utterly convinced that this would be the start of a war with the Gryphons, and I’m certain their King knew it. As the globs of cake fell from his eyes and beak, he stared at King Helios with a predator’s glare. King Helios started to make apologies, but the gryphon King simply raised a hand to silence your father. He reached his taloned hand out to the side and said one word to his guards: ‘Pie.’”
Luna blinked. “Oh.. oh my...” She started to giggle.
“Mmhm. It wasn’t even his guards that gave him the pie, either. No... it was your mother. Queen Nebulae put an apple pie in the gryphon King’s outstretched hand, whereupon it was promptly flung at your father, hitting him square in the muzzle.”
All three mares blinked. “She....” they asked, in shock. Queen Nebulae did what?
“Mmhm. Now, your father stood there and somehow managed to make being covered in pie look regal. He glanced at your mother, then back at the gryphon King and said these fateful words: ‘Of course you know... this means war.’ The gryphon King grinned widely, and replied: ‘Bring it.’”
“What did Mother do?” Luna asked, giggling delightedly at this facet of family history she’d never even heard of before.
“Your mother teleported over to the pastry stand and yelled, ‘Food fight!’ at the top of her lungs as she started flinging pastries at your father and the other Royal Guards. She sided with the gryphons as this absolute avalanche of pastries was flung around the room in every possible direction.”
Luna laughed, shaking her head. “Mother did not do that!”
Celestia grinned, looking at Luna. “She certainly did, little sister. I was too young to participate and was guided off to the side, but Shimmer’s account is true. Every single pastry in the room was thrown at least once and the mess defied description. It was not until all the pastries were absolutely unrecognizable and that Father mashed the last intact apple fritter down the back of Mother’s gown for being a ‘Traitor to the Crown’ that the melee came to a close. Politics were much, much different back then.”
The three ponies laughed so hard their ribs hurt and tears of laughter streamed down their muzzles. They turned to share their laughter with Shimmer, only to find that she was gone. All that was left behind was a swirl of glowing motes that was the last vestiges of Shimmer’s spell.
While tears started to flow down Twilight’s muzzle, Celestia stared at the motes with a shocked expression on her face. “Luna, quickly!”
Twilight had seen what Celestia indicated, and realization spread across her muzzle. “She’s resonating... and not dissipating! Is… isn't that what a soul is?”
The two alicorn Princesses closed their eyes and together encompassed the glowing motes with their magics. The motes slowly drifted together, forming a loose ball of energy which slowly began to fade from sight.
Swallowing hard, Twilight whispered, “Is... she gone?”
Luna grinned mischievously as she panted for breath; she had exerted a lot of her energy. “Yes. But not as you and she expected.”
“Indeed, Luna,” Celestia said, smiling happily. “Twilight? Have you ever heard the ancient saying, ‘Laughter is the music of the soul’? Shimmer made many ponies laugh over her years. Even in her final moments, she sought to make us laugh. She made herself a soul. She earned her place in the Summer-Lands as few have. I would daresay that now it is her turn to laugh...”