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                                                   ~S o l a c e~

By Chartreuse~

Part I~


The door to the library swung open with powerful effect; partly due to Twilight’s burst of energy and partly due to the uproarious and relentless rainstorm that carried with it an equally potent wind.  Spike jogged in behind her and proceeded to close the door behind him.  “What a crazy storm!” he exclaimed.  

“I guess this is what happens when Rainbow Dash takes a day off.  I think I’ll wait a while before cracking another joke about her sleeping all the time” Twilight said with a giggle as she shook her soddened purple coat dry.

“Why’d she pick today of all days? And why’d she choose to spend it over at Pinkie’s place? I didn’t even think she liked hanging around her!” Spike said aloud with frustration, walking with an exhausted slump in his steps towards his bed upstairs.  Twilight shook her head with a knowing smile and an instinctive blush, “It’ll make sense when you’re older, Spike.”

Twilight surveyed her library, checking to see if all her prized literature and cherished trinkets were as she left them.  The building was large, complex and at times, confusing.  With a slew of random visitors (one of which having enough energy to bounce off the face of Equestria had she deemed it worth her time) Twilight was one to make sure all was right in her majestic personal palace.  Her constant travels had made her nervous and homesick at times.  When she was a little filly, she could always count on her books and her mentor to smooth her nerves and calm her spirit.  Despite her finding the friends she never thought she’d have and living in a town with often vibrant and energetic ponies always eager to keep her on her hooves, she would still have that urge; the urge to simply ignore the world around her, to find a good book, sit in a fine and comfortable place, and envelop herself in tales that were not her own.

Twilight crawled into her bed after her tidying-up of the first floor.  She yawned loudly into the chilled air.  It didn’t take long for Spike to fall asleep in his basket-sized bed in the corner of Twilight’s room.  Celestia’s sunlight was fading from behind the grayed clouds with every passing minute and, soon, Twilight would slowly begin to fade into the realm of sleep.  The rhythmic tapping of rain against her window and periodic thunder would edge her further into a fulfilling and content rest until finally, she would succumb completely.  She would start dreaming of her most recent adventure.  The frightening and confusing train ride to Appleloosa, the nomadic buffalo and even Pinkie’s awkward can-can.

And, suddenly, in the corner of her mind... she could hear what sounded to be tapping.  Heavy tapping, inconsistent with the rain-flow outside.  Eventually, she woke up to this anomaly.  Outside, down on the ground, was the local mailmistress Derpy who began flailing at her for attention.  Twilight reluctantly got out of bed, trotted downstairs and opened the door.  The cold and soaked Derpy carefully handed her a letter, using one of her pegasus wings as a way to keep the letter dry.  

“Couldn’t you have used the mailbox?” Twilight asked with frustration, her eyes struggling to keep open.  “Nope!” Derpy exclaimed, “This muffingram is special!”  

Twilight covered her face with her hoof, emphasizing her disbelief.  She eyed the letter curiously before turning her attention back to Derpy, who stood with an almost permanent smile, “Why is this one so special?”  

Derpy shook her head, “I don’t know.  I was too busy looking at a grasshopper and a big kite in a tree to see who had me send the letter.  It sounded very ugent, I’ll tell you that much!” she said with gusto before continuing her mail route.

Twilight sighed in defeat, closing the door and quickly opening the letter so she could get back to sleep.  The letter read:

‘I’m in your basement.’

Twilight stood there, staring at the letter.  She looked at the door that led down to her basement and swallowed hard.  As she walked towards the door, she stopped to think.  It was absolutely ridiculous if they expected her to believe someone would send a letter in the middle of the night during a rainstorm and then magically appear in her basement!  But then she grimaced at that.  ‘Magic’ was a strong possibility someone could pull it off.  She stalked back up to the door and opened it.  Noticing a flicker of light moving down the spiral staircase, she gently closed the door behind her, and began to pursue the light as quietly as she could.  

Thoughts raced through her head at the speed of light.  Could it be somepony from her past? An angry, jealous unicorn? Perhaps Pinkie Pie fooled her all along and was in her house all day, waiting for the ultimate prank? No, she wouldn’t ever do that to Dash.  But maybe Dash and Pinkie are waiting to prank her? Or maybe even Gilda’s back for revenge!

The thoughts would change between the normal and the obscene, beating with a pace that matched her heart rate.  She stopped just before the last curve that would give her a clear look at this infiltrator.  She shook her head, stretched her shoulders and cleared her throat - all in an attempt to ready her weary and tired self for the unknown.  She darted forth, ready to defend herself with a barrage of random magic.  Just as her horn began to glow with magical essence, it faltered and stopped as she gazed at the dark mare in front of her.  “You’re majesty!” Twilight exclaimed, bowering in shame to the Princess, Luna.

“I’m sorry to have pried you from your sleep.  I need your... assistance with a delicate matter” Luna requested, a shy smile creeping onto her lips.  

“I don’t mean to be rude, your majesty, but couldn’t you have asked Celestia? She has a direct link to Spike, afterall” Twilight spoke with hesitation.  

“I tend to sleep in the daytime.  And even if I stayed up to do so, it wouldn’t be the same as asking you in person” Luna explained.  “What is it you want me to do?” Twilight asked as she sat down on the floor next to the base of the staircase.  

“I want to do a little series of tests.  All of which you’ll be doing in the day time.  You needn’t be bothered like this every night” Luna conveyed with a look of understanding.  Twilight sighed with relief before perking her head up, ready to absorb her ruler’s orders.

“The first test I want done is a reaction test.  I want to see what everyone thinks of me now that my inner evil has been quenched, or even if they heard the news at all.  I fear the majority doesn’t even think I’m alive” Luna said with a soulful sadness.  Twilight couldn’t help but frown.  She wasn’t used to seeing royalty show emotion, let alone repentance.  “I’ll contact you through my sister after I catch word you’ve done the first test, regardless of the results” Luna explained as she walked up to Twilight and motioned for her to move from her position.

 “How would you know what I’m up to if you’re asleep?” Twilight questioned with an honest and innocent tone.  “What’s a ruler without agents? And don’t worry, you already know the pony I’m talking about” Luna said with a slight laugh, winking back at Twilight before walking upstairs where she would slowly disappear.

“I do?” Twilight said, blinking her eyes in confusion.  With a shrug and a yawn, she proceeded upstairs to the first floor.  Closing the door behind her, she trotted up the final flight of stairs to her bedroom where Spike laid asleep and oblivious to his new duties.  Twilight crawled back into bed, where the familiar rain and thunder would once again help her find her way into dreamland all that much sooner.

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Twilight rustled in her bed as her body slowly re-entered the living world.  The smell of warm and sweet food filled the air.  The tweeting birds gave a natural symphony of happy chirps.  The sunlight bathed the whole house in warmth and comfort.  These mixtures roused Twilight completely, making her sit up in her bed.  She noticed Applejack talking to Spike and Big Mac downstairs.  The words were incoherent to her - mostly due to her awakening.  She hopped out of bed and walked downstairs, yawning as she went.  She drew the attention of the small crowd, gaining her various ‘good morning!’s and ‘howdy Twilight!’s.  

“What are you two doing here?” Twilight asked as she used her telepathic magic to smooth her messy mane and pour herself a glass of water.  

“Deliverin’ breakfast” Big Mac chimed in as he set down a golden brown apple pie on the center table.  “I didn’t know you guys delivered” Twilight said, taking a sip of water.  “It’s Big Mac’s idea.  He wubs woo so much” Applejack mocked, making kissing-faces and laughing heartily.  

This just made Big Mac blush, causing him to give a serious look of annoyance at his younger sibling.  “Oh, don’t get your saddle in a knot” Applejack recoiled, “Ah’m just teasin’ you.  Let’s get back to the Acre or granny might start buckin’ the trees herself.”

“Later Twi” Big Mac said before walking out the house with Applejack.  Spike rolled his eyes before hopping up and cutting a piece of pie for himself.  Twilight giggled, using her magic to slice and hoist a piece of pie where she would eat it mid-air.  

“I wish there were more dragon chefs.  I could really go for some rubies” Spike lamented inbetween bites.  “What’s the agenda for today, anyways?” he continued.  “I was thinking of giving you a blue dress, but Rarity says you’d look better in red.  What do you think?” Twilight said with a sarcastic grin.  Spike shuddered at the thought, keeping quiet afterwards.  

“I think we should go around and do a little... study” Twilight stated before taking a bite of pie.  “A study?” Spike echoed.  “Yeah.  You remember Nightmare Moon, right?” Twilight asked.  “How could I forget!  I heard you guys totally beat her!” Spike raised his arms in praise, an energetic grin on his face.  “What else did you hear?” she questioned, taking a drink of water.  “Like, what happened to her? Applejack said she became Luna and takes over for Celestia when the sun sets” Spike answered.  

There was a knock on the front door.  Twilight walked over and opened it to see Derpy standing there in her usual bubbly self with Dinky happily sitting on her back.  “Please tell me it’s not another weird letter” Twilight said with dire frustration as her face slumped.  Derpy shook her head, “Nope! I am on a break right now! I wanted to see if you two wanted to... uhm... I forget.”  

Twilight stared at Derpy strangely.  

“Oh, that’s what it was.  Do you two want to come to the park? There’s a big picnic day there!” Derpy exclaimed with a big, bright smile.  “And music mommy!” Dinky said as she raised her arms in joy.  

Twilight looked up in thought before turning her attention back to Derpy, “Everypony’s going to be there?”  Derpy nodded hastily.  “Then I’ll be there!” Twilight said with a smile of her own.  Derpy gave a look of approval before trotting off towards the park on the other side of town with Dinky waving a hoof goodbye.

“Since when do you like the park?” Spike asked, scratching his head with a confused look.  Twilight finished her breakfast and began her trek to the park, leaving Spike standing there with a strange expression.  “Something is going on here” he said to himself before running up to Twilight and hopping onto her back.

The birds were everywhere.  Music filled the air from every direction.  The air itself was cool and soft and seemed to caress everything it touched like a gentle hand.  Leaves would even become envious of the velvet wind and would fall slowly to the ground like a feather.  The grass was clean and healthy from the nurturing waters the storm brought with it.  Flowers were in full bloom, little fillies and colts were running around laughing and playing and the clouds brought embracing shade to those who needed it most.  It was a glorious and truly perfect day.  And there was one like it nearly every time Celestia’s sun would make itself known to the joyous world below.

In the distance, Twilight could see Cloudsdale.  Hundreds upon hundreds of pegasus were encircling the city-in-the-clouds.  Some were racing, some were floating and some were downright jetting across miles upon miles of open air.  The bravest, most loyal and dutiful of ponies were born there.  Despite the competitive nature of most pegasus in Cloudsdale, they were all able to end the day with a laugh, a hug, or even a kiss.  Like everywhere in Equestria, love wasn’t frowned upon.  It didn’t matter who you were or who you loved - why, it would be a non-sequitur if you cared!  Gender, pegasus, buffalo, unicorn - all was fair game for anyone who wanted a partner to spend the rest of their days with.  

And even further in the distance was Canterlot and the Royal Palace.  The nearby city housed a rich balance of wealthy ponies and not-so-wealthy.  But money never caused problems.  Everyone knew where and how to get it.  Some were simply born to it.  But everything was in a flow of camaraderie, regardless of monetary gain.  There couldn’t be a finer example of the masterpiece Eden that Celestia and Luna ruled other than Canterlot - a city where the poor were rich and the rich were giving.  It was a well-oiled machine that chugged along day-by-day, spewing forth adventurists, writers, poets, scientists and many others.  And at the center of it all were the two Goddesses.  Born from the womb of the cosmos, they would rule in symbiosis until the end of time.  

Immortal, caring, strict, respectable, honest, and all-powerful were but some of many words that could be used to sum up either of the alicorn siblings.  Both were able to tame massive space objects with their limitless power, using them to keep their perfect world alive for the rest of eternity.  The sun would stay young and potent for the rest if its days and the moon would subsequently soak up damage and heal itself to remain fit and bold.  Their corner of the galaxy was locked tight and secure, unlike any other in the known universe.  

“Uh, Twilight?” Spike said as he prodded a clawed finger into Twilight’s neck to call her attention.  She shook her head free from her daydreams and continued walking over to Derpy and Dinky in the center of the field.  She sat down across from them, looking down at the assortment of snacks on the checkered blanket with glee.  Pinkie Pie hopped past them with Carrot Top and stopped once she had noticed Twilight.  

“Oh hey you guys!” Pinkie yelled with enthusiasm.  “Hi Pinkie!” Twilight responded with a smile and a wave.  Spike took a bottle of juice and drank from it, giving Pinkie an angry stare.  

This made her frown, “What’s the fuss?”  Twilight shook her head, “He’s just mad because Rainbow Dash wasn’t around to polish his scales and be his personal umbrella.”

 Spike huffed in protest and walked over to sit next to Dinky.  “Where is Dash anyways?” Twilight pondered aloud, tapping her chin with her hoof.  “She’s still asleep” Pinkie Pie said with a fond smile.

“Tell her I said hi if I don’t see her today!” Twilight said with a smile of her own.  “Okie doke! Off to make more treats! Bye!” Pinkie exclaimed as she hopped along with Carrot Top towards the center of town.  

“You’re all being weird today!” Spike noted, standing up to emphasize his point.  “Uh huh.  And how so?” Twilight asked.  “I don’t know! You won’t tell me! You and Pinkie are all different!” Spike roared with frustration and defeat.  “Everypony’s going through change this week, Spike” Twilight responded.  

“Well I don’t like it” he said as he sat down angrily.

“Change doesn’t necessarily mean bad, Spike.  I’ll explain all of this later today, I promise.  But for now, we need to continue my studies” Twilight said as she patted Spike on the head in attempt to comfort him.  “Fine” he said, his tone becoming more relaxed.  

“Remember Nightmare Moon, Derpy?” Twilight asked.  Derpy turned her attention from the music stage, “Yup, I sure do.”  “Ever hear about what happened to her?” Twilight asked.  Derpy chewed on her lower lip in an effort to remember before ultimately shrugging without an answer.  “Right... wrong pony to ask” Twilight said with a quiet giggle.

Twilight sat up and walked back and forth between different picnics, asking the same series of questions.  They were more often than not ‘I heard she was destroyed’ or ‘I thought Luna was Nightmare Moon.’  She looked over at Lyra and BonBon, who were enjoying the music entourage, and cleared her throat loudly.  This made them look at her with unsure expressions.  “Have you either heard about what happened to Nightmare Moon?” Twilight asked.  “I heard she was destroyed” BonBon quickly said.  

“I heard Nightmare Moon turned into Luna after a heated battle and that Celestia imprisoned Nightmare Moon in the first place because it would weaken her when she would escape, not because of her plot of eternal darkness.  She couldn’t save Luna’s life if she fought Nightmare Moon at full power, so she used an agent of hers to draw her attention towards the Elements of Harmony.  Because with the combined force of the elements, they would defeat Nightmare Moon without sacrificing Princess Luna” Lyra explained with pride in her voice.  Twilight stared with her jaw open and BonBon gave a surprised, almost surreal look of disbelief.  

“I mean... I … think that’s what I heard!” Lyra exclaimed in hopes of covering her tracks.  Twilight coughed in awkwardness, “Thanks” she said as she backed away.

Twilight laid down next to the running creek that sped through the outskirts of the park.  “Whoa, did you hear that? That was nuts! I wonder if Celestia really did that?” Spike questioned ecstatically.  “Celestia planned all of it.  I wasn’t sent here to oversee the Summer Sun festival.  I was a decoy to lure Nightmare Moon away from Celestia so she could lead us to the Elements of Harmony” Twilight gathered with a frown.  

“We were all tools.  Is our friendship even real? Did she use us just for Luna?” she continued, sadness coating her voice and a sense of betrayal surging in her heart.  

“You don’t actually believe this stuff, do you?” Spike said with worry.  “It all makes sense.  Perfect sense” she droned, covering her face with her hooves in grief.

“C’mon Twi, you know Celestia wouldn’t do that” Spike said.  Twilight didn’t answer, she simply hid her face from the world and cried fearful tears.  Spike frowned in defeat.  He knew he couldn’t say anything to help her at this point.  He was faithful to Celestia and has been an honored and trusted associate of hers for many years.  But he was most faithful to Twilight, not Celestia,  and seeing her break down like this was enough to send him over the edge.  He sat down and started to cry.  He tried with all his might to choke down his tears, but he couldn’t hold out.

Something soft kicked Spike’s leg as his eyes were closed.  As he opened them to investigate, he saw a displeased Angel-bunny.  Angel crossed his arms and stared at Spike with a disappointed glare.  And where Angel was, so was...

And just like that, Fluttershy cruised above the ground with her wings.  She could hear the muffled sobs of Twilight and still see fresh tears in Spike’s eyes.  “Oh dear!” Fluttershy jolted, “What’s wrong?” she spoke with honest sincerity.  A fight-or-flight sense kicked in Twilight and all she wanted was to be alone.  She got up and darted for her library-home, leaving Spike and Fluttershy in the dust.  “Did I do something wrong?” Fluttershy said with a frown.

Twilight barged into her house, slammed the door shut and laid down on the spot to sob once again.  She wasn’t sure if she was making everything seem bigger than it was, if Lyra was telling a fable or she was adding speculations.  But the very thought her mentor... her most valued and dearest friend, the pony who gave her the desire to be all she could be... was a selfish mastermind?  The terror of betrayal chipped away at her and crippled her completely.  She wanted that feeling she had last night.  That feeling that all was right in the world.  That she had her friends, her family and her adventures.  But doubt and disdain would cloud her mind, blocking all joyful feelings.

A gush of wind caused her to look up, watching a clear vortex give way to Princess Luna.  Luna yawned and tried to focus her eyes on the depressed unicorn at her feet.  “I heard something is wrong” Luna said with a look of concern.  

“How would you know? Is it your agent, is that it? It’s Lyra, isn’t it?” Twilight lashed out.  “No... Spike sent a letter to Celestia asking for help.  She figured it was meant for me since she knew I was here last night” Luna explained as she stifled a yawn.

 “She knows about this?” Twilight asked.  “Of course.  It’s not like we’re strangers or enemies” Luna answered.  “You’ll probably end up betraying me, too” Twilight spoke in chopped words as she struggled with her tears.

“Betray? Did I miss something? What happened?” Luna said as she got down to Twilight’s eye level.  

“I know the truth about you and Celestia now.  We were just... tools.  To be used and then tossed aside” Twilight spoke in a hushed, thoroughly depressed tone.  “I’m not sure I understand” Luna blinked, unsure of what the youthful unicorn was trying to say.  “She... she played us all.  Just to free you” Twilight muttered wearily.

“She didn't do it just to save me, you know.  She knew you were destined to be happy and the books and studies were keeping you from achieving that.  She was going to battle Nightmare Moon, but she also knew you seven were as important to her as I was.  So instead of fighting Nightmare Moon and freeing me into an existence where everyone would either hate me or disregard my existence, and letting you six be deprived of true happiness, she wanted everything to work out exactly right.  So without my sister’s benevolent plan you would be headfirst into a book and detached from everyone, Fluttershy would be scared and alone the rest of her life, Applejack would be solely dedicated to her work and nothing else, Rainbow Dash would end up as angry and broken as Gilda, Rarity would have an emptiness that she would stuff with her glamour and fame in hopes of it bringing her close to ponies, Spike wouldn’t know how to live life and Pinkie Pie wouldn’t have anyone to spill her soul to or share her secrets and desires.  In short, Celestia is the last pony to even consider hurting you.  And it’s not like betrayal’s in a pony’s nature, anyhow” Luna explained with a caring smile as she moved in to give her a hug.

Twilight felt an overwhelming rush of renewal and vigor.  The feeling was so strong it made her laugh nervously.  “Now that you understand how lucky you are, do you have any news updates or can I head back to bed?” Luna said as she stood up, her unshaken smile still on her indigo face.  

“Well” Twilight started as she went over to the kitchen to wash her face and dry it, “Everypony is either unaware of you or they thought you died along with Nightmare Moon.”  Luna yawned loudly into her wing, “I was worried about that, but it doesn’t surprise me.  I’ll be back tomorrow night before you head to sleep and talk to you about the next test.”  With that, Luna would slowly fade away into thin air.

Applejack opened the door and ran in with Fluttershy and Spike, “You okay in here? Ah heard you were feelin’ blue.”  Twilight nodded, “Much better.  I let myself get swept away by my thoughts too easily.  I’m sorry you had to see me like that, Spike.”  

Spike sighed with new-found hope, “You had me worried there for a sec.”  Spike ran up and hugged one of Twilight’s leg.  Twilight bend down and nuzzled Spike’s head, smiling.  

Applejack chortled at the sight, “If ya’ll are interested, Rarity’s throwin’ some sort of charade party later.  Could be a good way to end the day.”  

Twilight nodded, “We’ll be there.”  Spike swooned, “Charades with Rarity!”  Twilight giggled, “For now though, I want you to write a letter.”  Spike jogged over to the quill, ink and parchment on the podium nearby and prepped himself to write.  Twilight cleared her throat accordingly.

“Dear Princess Celestia,

Today I learned that it’s alright to have doubts and fears about something.  Especially if that something could be very near and dear to you.  But you shouldn’t let them cloud your judgement or keep you from doing the right thing.  I also learned not to get swept away in rumors because they’re just that.  They’re rumors.  And most importantly, I learned not to lose faith in your friends or yourself.

Sincerely, your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle”

And with that, Spike blew a magical burst of flame onto the letter, causing it to rapidly burn away into thin air and reappear infront of Celestia.  She smiled as she read the letter, as she often would.  She promptly wrote a letter of her own, sending it to Spike.

Spike instinctively blew a gust of flame which spawned Celestia’s reply, which he grabbed and read aloud.

“My faithful student, I am pleased to hear you were able to make such strides in a single day.  Not only am I proud of you, I am proud of your commitment towards bettering others while still bettering yourself.  You continue to show me how truly special you are.  And most of all, I am glad my sister has found somepony to put her trust in.  It has been so long since I’ve seen her active and out in the world.  If only she was this willing to forge her destiny like this athousand years ago.  But I guess even ponies like she and I are prone to fault.  It just goes to show that while no one is perfect, the world we live in can be.  And that alone is enough to put a smile on my face.  I eagerly await your next letter” Spike relayed, his features twisting according to each sentence he read.

Twilight teared up, smiling bigger than she had been all day.  “Wow, that was not what I expected” Spike added as he rolled up the letter and tied it shut.  “What now?” Spike questioned.  “We go have some fun.  How about a shake?” Twilight suggested.  “That sounds good!” Spike said with enthusiasm.  

                                                   ~S o l a c e~

By Chartreuse~

Part II~


There were fireworks popping and cracking as far as the eye could see.  The night was ablaze in luminescence.  A flurry of colours splashed the sky.  The smell of smoke was as thick as the haze that veiled the town.  The haze would start to capture the blasts of reds and yellows and blues.  Cheers of thousands of ponies filled the air as the local pegasus performed aerial tricks and spins in choreography alongside the light show in the sky.  Rainbow Dash nearly shook in anticipation for her solo act.  Her and Fluttershy stood side-by-side ontop a rooftop, directly underneath the main firework show.  She grinned with vigor as she slipped on her goggles.  Fluttershy had a pair of her own goggles, although on her forehead.  Fluttershy looked up at the embers that fell from the blast radius of a recent firework.  The gust of wind the pegasus produced kept the embers away from the city level and would subsequently cool them off.  But, Fluttershy thought, wouldn’t that mean...  

“I don’t think this is a good idea...” Fluttershy muttered to Dash with a sheepish frown.  “You kiddin’? This is gonna be awesome!” Dash shouted in rapture.  “B-but...” Fluttershy would say before being cut off by Dash’s hoof, “No buts! I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do it right!”  Fluttershy stomped a hoof in protest, but otherwise keeping quiet.  

“And now, fillies and gentlecolts! The grand finale from our very own... Rainbow Dash!” Spike announced from his spot in Pinkie’s hot air balloon.  Pinkie stood next to Spike with a microphone of her own, but was too preoccupied staring at the light show and aerial feats.  Rainbow Dash readied herself, hunching down and gripping the shingles of the roof.  After precisely timing herself and the last few minor fireworks, she launched herself into the sky.  Just as she began climbing altitude, the firework crew below launched the largest fireworks available.  And just as Rainbow Dash found herself ascending an empty, albeit smoke-addled sky, the emptiness would disappear behind a massive burst of fireworks booming on both her left and right.  She was illuminated by the extreme light and filled with adrenaline at the sound of the explosion and the sight of the chaos all around her.  She would continue climbing altitude until she felt she had enough force to generate a sonic rainboom.  But as the fireworks crew continued blasting the sky to match Dash’s spectacle and Dash continued gaining velocity, something unexpected happened.

She began to fall like a ragdoll.  She wasn’t on fire, or seemed hurt.  She simply started descending at an alarming rate.  Everypony below gasped and shrieked in horror, causing the firework team to stop what they were doing.  Pinkie Pie stared in silent, unflinching terror.  A pain unlike anything she’s ever felt before struck her heart, giving her an overwhelming sadness.  “Please don’t... p-p-please...” Pinkie struggled to say as she watched on, completely helpless.  Just as Rainbow Dash was about to reach the height of the rooftops, her quick descent was halted by the assistance of Fluttershy, Derpy and Flutter Doo.  With teamwork, they were able to lift her over to Nurse Redheart’s clinic.  Pinkie Pie began the process of landing the balloon as close as she could to the clinic and just about everypony in the city galloped or flew after Rainbow Dash.  

Nurse Blueheart stood outside the clinic and watched the horde of ponies storm towards her position.  She was ready to run away at the sight if it weren’t for the approach of a seemingly unconscious Rainbow Dash being carried by three worried pegasus.  She opened the door to allow quick entry for Rainbow Dash, but abruptly closed the door right after.  She stood on her hind legs infront of the door, holding her ground and warding off anyone who wished entrance.  

“There’s too many ponies here and too little space.  If you want entrance, you’re going to have to give me some good reasons!” Blueheart announced as loud as she could.  

Rarity, Twilight, Spike, Pinkie Pie and Applejack pushed through the crowd and into a small clearing infront of Blueheart.  “Please let us in, she’s our friend!” Twilight requested.  “By the looks of this mob, you’re not the only ones” Blueheart pointed out.

“Then let me in” Pinkie Pie said as she walked right up to Blueheart.  The blue-coated medical expert shook her head in defiance.  “Please... she means more to me than the biggest, most sweetest gumdrop in the world!” Pinkie continued, tears welling in her eyes as she said those words.  Blueheart stood there, thinking.  Pinkie sure was famous in Ponyville, that much she knew.  And she also knew her love of parties and sweets bordered on the insane.  

After a quick assessment of the situation, she nodded and opened the door for Pinkie Pie.  “See you guys soon... I hope” Pinkie said to her friends before entering the lobby of the clinic, along with Blueheart, who would close and lock the door behind her.

Everyone outside waited.  They gossiped, chatted, murmured.  Completely oblivious to what happened or what was going on inside the building.  “What do you think happened?” Rarity asked her companions, hoping for hope’s sakes.  

“I don’t know... you sure nothing happened, Spike?” Twilight questioned, looking around with a glum expression.  

“I’m sure! She just started... falling” Spike responded with a clueless look on his face.  The crowd heard the doorknob twist and open, giving way to Fluttershy, Derpy and Flutter Doo.  The three walked out, all with hopeful expressions.  All but Fluttershy, that is.

“This is all my fault” Fluttershy said wistfully.  “Why? What happened?” Twilight asked.  “I should’ve stopped her from going up” Fluttershy lamented.  

“You don’t have nothin’ to be sorry about, sugarcube.  You didn’t know this would happen” Applejack said with a comforting and honest tone.  If it was anyone else saying that, Fluttershy would’ve ignored it.  But something about how Applejack said it made her believe it.  The farmer mare always had a way with words, but they struck truer with Fluttershy than with anyone else.  

“I guess you’re right” Fluttershy said as she walked up to her friends to claim her place among them.  “So? Tell us! What’s wrong with her?” Rarity asked.  

“She breathed in too much smoke.  They said she’s going to get better, but they want her to stay here until tomorrow” Fluttershy answered.  This made the army of worried Ponyville denizens sigh with relief.  After hearing the good news, the crowd dispersed.

“Ah’m gonna head back to the Acre and get some work done so I can have tomorrow free” Applejack said before departing.  “Me, too” Rarity echoed as she walked back to her boutique.  

“I’m going to... see if, uhm... Applejack needs help” Fluttershy said as she sprouted her wings and cruised on after Applejack.  

“Guess we better get back home” Twilight said with a weary sigh, trekking back to her home with Spike on her back.  “Wait, why didn’t Pinkie come back out?” Spike asked.

 “I’m sure she’s just being extra sure if Dash is okay” Twilight answered as she looked back at the clinic with a knowing gleam in her eyes.


Nurse Redheart walked into Dash’s room, “You need anything, Pinkie Pie?”  Pinkie shook her head quietly.  “Maybe even some candy?” Redheart asked with a smile.  Pinkie shook her head again, remaining silent.  Redheart gave a surprised look, “Are you sure?”  Pinkie nodded her head.  “You know your friend is going to be okay, right? You don’t have to stay here all night” Redheart explained.  “I don’t want her to wake up alone and confused.  She hates that” Pinkie stated, although without shifting her focus from Dash.  

“Then why so glum?” Redheart asked with sincerity.  

“I’m just reaaally tired for some reason.  Not sleepy tired, but... tired.  Y’know what I mean? ‘Cause I don’t know what I mean and I always usually know what I mean, you know?” Pinkie tried to relate, struggling with a cocktail of emotions she’s not used to having.  

Redheart nodded, “I think so, yes.  I’m going to check on some other patients, you sure you don’t need anything?”  Pinkie nodded with a smile, “Everything I need is right here next to me.”  With a nod and an awkward blush, Redheart backed up out of the room and closed the door.

Pinkie stared down at the young rainbow-maned mare, who lay sleeping softly from the ordeal that befell her just a short while ago.  The same adrenaline rush and taxing aerobatics that made her feel energized and powerful earlier had turned on her, leaving her exhausted.  Pinkie held Dash’s hoof, never turning her focus away from that sleeping face.  She looked calm and content and breathed with a rasp that matched her unique tone of voice.  The simple similarity made Pinkie giggle quietly.  “You’re a big silly sometimes, Dashie” she said with a fond smile.

Dash began to cough, her lungs instinctively expelling what little carbon dioxide poison was left.  The force of the coughs naturally roused Dash, but what kept her awake was that feeling.  The feeling of someone watching her and that careful pressure on her hoof.  She opened her rose-coloured eyes to see Pinkie sitting next to her, holding her hoof and smiling.  “What... what happened? Where am I?” Dash asked, clueless to the recent proceedings.  “You gave everyone a scare, that’s what!” Pinkie exclaimed in her usual bubbly tone.  

Dash gave a confused look, silently expecting a serious answer.  Pinkie frowned sadly, “You … fell.  The smoke in the air knocked you out.  I saw you fall and... I thought …I thought you...” she explained before stopping to clear her head of such horrible things.  “It’ll take alot more than that to stop me” Dash said with a smirk.

Dash began to frown as she watched Pinkie’s relieved smile turn upside down.  “What’s wrong?” Dash asked.  “I’ve never been so scared in my life.  It was like I lost everything.  Like Sugarcube Corner was on fire along with all of Ponyville!” Pinkie related as well as she could.  

Dash recoiled at this, “I... mean that much to you?” she said in complete disbelief; her usual pride and hubris melting down, giving way to how serious her insecurities were.  “I don’t know if I’m worth it, Pinkie.  I’ll just end up pushing you away like everypony else in my life” Dash said in a defeated tone.

 “Did you forget already, silly nilly? Don’t you remember what happened earlier today?” Pinkie asked with a smile.  “No, I don’t” Dash answered in a defiant tone.  

“I was making alot of noise from my music while you and Firefly were having a hoof-wrestling match over who would be bringing in the big clouds from the west.  And my music got on your nerves, so you told me to stop it and... you lost the match.  You got up and screamed at me and said all kinds of mean things.  It made me really sad, but not as much as it made you, ‘cause you came back to me later and apologized like, a hundred times and asked me if you ruined your chances with me and if our friendship was ruined.  And you remember what I said? I said, ‘there’s nothing you could ever say that would ever ruin my affection for you, let alone ruin our friendship.’  And you were so shocked and then you were happy again, so then I was happier than I already was!” Pinkie told with a flurry of different faces and gestures as she went along.  Dash looked away from Pinkie, feeling a sense of unworthiness.  Pinkie pouted at Dash’s stubbornness and resistance.  

“Remember yesterday?” Pinkie asked.  “Yeah” Dash replied, her eyes still the opposite direction of Pinkie.  “Remember how nervous you were when you got to Sugarcube Corner, ‘cause you’ve never taken a day off and didn’t know if I’d like having you around?” Pinkie asked, her usual ecstatic and happy demeanor returning to her.  “Yeah?” Dash replied, blushing a little.  

“And remember how you thought we were just gonna bake stuff and do silly things?” Pinkie asked, a big smile creeping onto her face.  “Yeah, so?” Dash replied, her nose and cheeks getting more red with each nervous thought and with each question asked.  

“Do you remember what we really ended up doing?” Pinkie asked, her big smile giving way to an even bigger grin.  “No” Dash answered, her cyan face a veritable cherry-red now.  

“We went upstairs after dinner and we picked out stuff in my room.  We tried on clothes, listened to the radio and played cards.  And you noticed my music box on the shelf next to my bed and started listening to it.  You said the song reminded you of home, but when I asked you about your life in Cloudsdale, you snapped at me and said it wasn’t any of my business.  But you know what you ended up doing?”

Dash swallowed, as if she wanted to ingest her insecurities and sadness rather than bring them out of her, “No” she replied, her nose becoming congested from the building pressure of pain that the memories of the past brought her.  “You started talking.  You told me everything.  What happened to you as a filly, Gilda, Cloud Kicker, the reason you act so tough most of the time, what your dreams were, what nightmares kept you awake at night, your favorite colour, your biggest fears...  you spilled your soul, Dashie” Pinkie told with a caring and knowing expression.  Dash became quiet at this point, using every ounce of her mental fortitude in an attempt to keep herself from breaking down.  

“And after all that, we crawled over to the corner of my room, covered ourselves in my grandma’s blanket, and held each other while we watched the storm you were supposed to clear up.  You were quiet and you had this painful look on your face ever since we started talking about your past.  And then, right out of the blue, you squeezed your hold on me and started crying.  You cried hard.  Harder than you ever have in your entire life.  You were shaking so bad and you kept trying to tell me how you didn’t want the day to end and that you didn’t want to be alone anymore.  And you know what I said?” Pinkie asked as she leaned in close to the now-sobbing Rainbow Dash and kissed her on the cheek.  

“I said... I love you, Dashie.  And I’d never, ever leave you” Pinkie whispered into Dash’s ear.  Dash finally looked back to Pinkie, who stared at her with those big blue eyes and that smile only Pinkie Pie could have.  Dash reached over and hugged Pinkie tightly, crying heavily into her shoulder.  “I l-love you, too, Pinkie.  So... much.  Thank you” Dash whispered back with a blissful smile.  

“You believe me, then, right? You know I’m serious when I say that I really, really love you, right?” Pinkie asked in a worried tone.  Dash laughed a little at that, “I think the world stops when you say you’re serious, Pinkie Pie.  I believe it.  I really do, now.”  

Dash exhaled slowly, hoping to regain some of her strength.  “I thought you were just saying those things yesterday to make me happy.  I was sure you were just gonna go back to being regular Pinkie Pie and pretend it never happened” Dash explained as she sniffed sadly.  

“Why? Would you prefer it that way?” Pinkie asked with a frown.  Those words brought with them a crippling fear and Dash reacted instantly, “No! No, no, no, no, no! I mean... I didn’t think you could possibly mean them.  I thought you were just like … her.  I started to get scared you were just distracting me with feelings you knew were rare to me just so that you’d have an easier time getting away with … things.”

Me? Pinkie Pie? Betray somepony? Especially the pony who is most important to her? Gee, Dashie, I didn’t think I was a suspect!” Pinkie said with a little laugh.  “Yeah, well... this is all new to me” Dash said as she rolled her eyes to the side with an embarrassed blush.  

“It’s just hard for me to believe things can be this... good and not be an illusion.  To have someone care about you so much and have so much going for you.  I mean, my mom and dad were always around and they cared.  But I’ve always wanted that special kind of love.  I wanted it more than anypony else.  And to have it in a hoof’s reach and be denied so many times... I guess I just expected the worse, you know? And now I actually have it and... I don’t know what to do with it.  I still half expect it to be torn away from me, but I guess that’s normal at this stage.  But I have it.  And I’m so glad it’s you, Pinkie.  My best friend in the whole world” Dash related with joyful tears and a warm, genuine smile.

“Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” Pinkie said with a grateful expression.  “Yes it was.  But it was worth it” Dash said with a proud smirk as she rubbed her eyes dry.  “Thank you so much for being there, Pinkie.  And thanks for putting up with my, you know, ‘quirks.’  I feel like the luckiest mare in the world” Dash said.  

“Thank you for putting up with my quirks!  I love you lots-and-lots-and-lots!” Pinkie exclaimed with deep enthusiasm and heartfelt joy as she nuzzled her nose against Dash’s.  “I love you too, Pinkie.  More than anything” Dash spoke softly as she kissed the tip of Pinkie’s nose.  

“And don’t worry, Dashie, we’ll be making eachother bonkers in no time” Pinkie continued with a laugh.  “Until then, where’s my dose of sweets, nurse Pinkie?” Dash requested with a sly smirk.  

Pinkie just giggled at that before pressing her lips against Dash’s.  The kiss was so passionate and full of soul that it caused Pinkie to lean in too far from her chair, making her fall onto Dash’s cot and then onto the floor.  Dash cracked up, “Sorry Pinkie!”  Pinkie stood up and began laughing herself, “Golly gee, that was incredible!”  Dash yawned a powerful yawn; her body wasn’t just exhausted, now her mental stamina had been sapped.  She forgot how tired she could get from crying.  “We should definitely do that again... tomorrow” the cyan pegasus said as she pulled the covers up over herself and began to sleep.  

Pinkie looked at her sleeping lover and couldn’t help but feel serene and content.  Her mind recollected her life in the recent months.  She was a simple pastry chef not long ago.  She had just gotten a job and a room to live in at Sugarcube Corner, starting life as a grown-up.  Now she had an entire city of followers and six loyal, caring and eternal friends.  No, friends wasn’t even the right word for them.  Carrot Top, Mr. and Mrs. Cake, BonBon... those were friends.  Twilight, Spike, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy - they were family.  They were her family and they were everything she could ever imagine them being; perhaps even more!  And Dash was even more than that!  There wasn’t even a word to sum up what Dash was to her.  She would give up everything if it meant she could atleast have Dash - and she knew Dash would do the same thing.  In short...

“Living the dream” Pinkie Pie said with a blissful sigh.

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“Okay, today is officially one of the craziest days we’ve ever had” Spike said as he chewed on an amethyst gem.  “I think you might be right” Twilight said as she flipped a page in her book.  “Hey!” Spike exclaimed.  Twilight perked her head up at him, “What is it, Spike?”  

“You told me you were going to explain to me why everypony’s acting weird today!” he said as he crossed his arms and stomped his foot down in a most wanton way.  Twilight sighed in distress, closing her book up and standing. “What is it you want to know first?” she asked.

“Well, first of all, what’s with Pinkie Pie? She’s been making weird faces since yesterday.  The same face you made when Big Mac left this morning!” Spike demanded.  

Twilight tilted her head and rolled her eyes, thinking of the right words to say.  Before she could say them, that familiar gust of wind poured through a blank space in the room next to her.

And like clockwork, Luna phased into form at the exact time she said she would.  “Good evening everyone!” she exclaimed with a genuine smile.  “Oh come on! I was just about to get an answer!” Spike shouted with frustration.  Luna gave a confused look but otherwise continued, “The second test is an evaluation test.  I want you and your friends to pass out these fliers.”  

Luna casted a spell which materialized thousands of sleek and detailed fliers.  They all had Luna’s face in the foreground with Celestia’s sun behind her head.  Layered down on either side of her face were the symbols that translated to ‘The Return of the Sister!’ with another translation just below her face that read ‘Rule Over the Night has been Properly Restored!’  Twilight blinked, turning her attention back at Luna, “There’s too many for Ponyville.”  Luna nodded, “I want them spread out as far as Fillydelphia.  Every city in Equestria gets a fair share.  I’ll be waiting for an update tomorrow night.”

“One thing before you go, Princess” Twilight said.  “Yes, Twilight?” Luna questioned.  “What was it like being Nightmare Moon? Were you doing all the evil acts or were you... trapped?” Twilight asked as she tilted her head.

“It was... complicated.  The feeling was overwhelming most of the time.  It felt good, thinking you were doing what was best for yourself and your ponies” Luna spoke with a reminiscent, almost malevolent grin.  The grin would go as quickly as it came as she thought longer and harder about her actions in the past.  She walked over to the balcony overlooking Ponyville below and gazed over at the moon.

“I was so infuriated at my sister and her sun.  I had worked harder than her in perfecting my magic, in perfecting the night’s sky.  I arranged the colours flawlessly, the purples and blacks and whites.  My moon gave everything a glow that ponies could admire.  The sun would gave a glow that would hurt them had they stared at it for more than a quick second.  Everything was a mix of cool and warm so that the ponies wouldn’t ever feel uncomfortable if they stayed outside.  All of my work went unnoticed - or so I thought.  I was so blinded by my selfish delusions of grandeur that I had forgotten the truth of the matter.  At the height of my rage, after becoming completely numb to reason, I used a spell that would make me more powerful than I ever was before.  And in doing so, I sealed myself inside without knowing.  I didn’t realize this entity, this Nightmare Moon, was actually a parasite” Luna conveyed with a melancholy tone.  

“Wait... you thought you were Nightmare Moon, but you weren’t her? That’s...” Twilight said with dire confusion as she rubbed her head in hopes of lessening her mental stress.  

“As strange as it sounds, it’s the truth.  By the time I realized Nightmare Moon wasn’t even me, it was too late.  And Celestia trapped us both inside the moon.  It was an empty, flowing void.  Like a river, you could feel yourself float in it.  And you could hear the water flush against the rocks.  But you couldn’t see where you were.  You were alone and crawling towards the edge of the darkness in hopes it meant you were free.  I lost my will to fight after that.  I just wanted things to go back to normal.  But Nightmare Moon had other plans.  Plans that went against my nature” Luna explained with an angry expression.  

“And when the battle came and I was finally free from my torment, I noticed I felt... calmer, happier, more alive than I ever felt before.  I could actually think with a clear, focused mind.  And when Celestia told me she knew I would turn into Nightmare Moom... well, I reacted the same way you did, to be honest.  I felt betrayed.  But after she explained that Nightmare Moon was the embodiment of the evil that inhabited my heart and that the only way I’d ever find joy and purpose in my life was to wait those thousand years and be defeated... to be honest I was still rather mad” Luna said with a quiet laugh.  

“But if it weren’t for her, I would’ve been dead or worse... she would have been dead.  She waited one thousand years and awakened the rarest artifacts in the entire world just so she could make me happy.  So that I wouldn’t have a darkness rot my core and slow me down from progress and personal evolution.  Because she cared about her sister far more than I thought” Luna explained, feeling pride well up in her chest.

“That is quite an ordeal.  I wasn’t aware you both went through so much.  I just figured you were stubborn and evil and Celestia tolerated you.  Uh, no offense” Twilight said with a sheepish smile.  “None taken.  Not everything is as simple as they seem.  Especially not my sister.  I know her very well and I can say that if she simply tolerated me, I would not be standing before you right now.  But it’s up to her if she wants to open up to you.  It’s not my place to divulge her true self” Luna spoke with a wink and a smile towards Twilight.  “There’s another side to Celestia?” Spike asked with excitement.  “Of course.  Everypony wears masks.  Some just prefer showing their faces more often than others” Luna said before she slowly phased out into nothingness

Holy guacamole!” Spike exclaimed.  Twilight rubbed her face on her arm, “For once in my life, I think I’ve learned too much in a single day.  I’m going to go sleep for a month now.  Don’t bother waking me up.”  Spike laughed before running over to his basket-bed, where he crawled into and tucked himself under his covers.  Twilight simply fell face-first onto her bed.  It wasn’t long for the sweet embrace of sleep to envelop her and her dragon companion completely.

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Luna phased into her room in the Royal Palace.  The room had a fireplace, dozens of luxurious couches and chairs and embroidered tapestries and cloth abound.  Every piece in her room matched her natural coat’s colour, with various shades of reds and yellows to give it a classy and unique spin.  Her cutie mark had been sewn into her bed’s blanket and on a few personal flags that hung up various places.  In the corner near the window that overlooked the entire valley leading up to Ponyville was a desk with crumpled up papers and half-written letters.

Just across from her own room was that of Celestia’s.  Both rooms inhabited a dead-end on the furthest side of the palace.  The layout of Celestia’s room was nearly exact with her own, albeit different colours.  The gap between rooms was small, unlike the hallway that stretched on and on.

In the corner of her eye, she noticed Celestia staring out her massive window that overlooked the vast, green, moonlit land.  Luna walked over to her and sat down next to her, “Enjoying the sights?”  Celestia laughed softly, “You know I do.”  Luna closed her eyes and smiled, listening to the not-so-distant waterfall that churned just below.  “You always were one to take your time and enjoy your creations” Celestia noted as she watched her sister relax.  

“Have you noticed a change?” Luna asked, her eyes remaining closed as she let herself be taken by the sounds of the world.  “A change? A change in what, dear sister?” Celestia replied as she watched the lights of Cloudsdale flicker against the wind in the distance.  

“This era is different than all the others.  I may be missing out on a millennium of information, but surely you must feel the difference” Luna detailed.  “You are right.  There is something magical about this era.  Perhaps we can be surprised this time?” Celestia stated with intrigue.  “Perhaps so” Luna added.

“You know what you need?” Luna questioned as she turned her head to face Celestia’s.  Celestia blinked curiously, “What’s that?”  

“Something you’ve never had.  Something special, just for you.  Something to keep you company when I can’t.  Something like... a pet!” Luna happily suggested.  Celestia tilted her head back as she thought.  “That is a wonderful idea, Luna.  And I think I have just the right one in mind.  I think I’ll call her … Philomina.”

                                                   ~S o l a c e~

By Chartreuse~

Part III~


Twilight opened her eyes to greet the morning sun.  The warm glow basked her house is tender light, just as it would every glorious morning.  She glanced over at Spike’s empty bed and then to the area of her room where Princess Luna’s fliers stacked on high, sighing.  “This is going to be alot of work” she said to herself as she got out of bed and made her covers.  The house was relatively quiet albeit the songbirds just outside her window.  She casted a spell that smoothed her messy mane and tail before prancing downstairs to investigate the first floor.  Spike was at school this morning, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone else was in the room.  She looked around, shrugging her shoulders and figuring it was just her nerves.  But then, right as she expected it the least...

“BOO!” Applebloom shouted as loud as her little lungs allowed her, appearing from up above, seemingly hooked onto a rope that extended from a beam underneath the second floor.  Twilight screamed from shock before realizing it was just Applejack’s sister.  

“What in the name of Celestia was that for?! And what are you doing here?! Shouldn’t you be at school?!” Twilight asked in dismay.  Applebloom unlatched herself and dropped down to the ground, perfectly landing on all fours.  She checked her flank, hoping for that cutie mark that would always evade her, and found nothing but her bare coat.  “Darnit” the little filly said with a frown.  “Ah know I should be at school today, but...” Applebloom said as she kicked her hoof against the ground with an awkward look on her face.

Twilight cocked a brow, “But...?”  Applebloom sighed, “But ah wanna hang out with you.  Everypony brought a role model to school today, but ah didn’t know we were doin’ it today.  So I got to school with no one, and of course Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara were there to make fun of me.  So I ran off and thought maybe I could work on getting my cutie mark.  Ah was just gonna scare ya and ask to be your assistant today, just in case the scare bit wasn’t gonna work.”  Twilight frowned, struggling between what was best for Applebloom and what would make her most happy.  Then, an idea popped in her head.

“How about this.  You want to try out being my assistant.  Upstairs is a bunch of fliers I need to pass out around town.  And you need a role model for school.  How about I be your role model and we both head over to the school while we spread out fliers?” Twilight suggested.  Applebloom lit up at that, “Ah reckon’ that’ll do just fine! I can put them in my backpack!”  

Twilight nodded, then walked towards the door, “I’ll be waiting outside.  Make sure just to take enough fliers that will fit.  We don’t need all of them.”  With that, Applebloom galloped upstairs where she grabbed an arm-full of as many fliers as she could and stuffed them into her backpack before hastily galloping back downstairs and out the front door where she crashed into Twilight’s hind leg.

“Oof! Sorry Twilight!” Applebloom apologized as she rubbed the pain from her cheek.  “You ready?” Twilight said with a smile.  “Ready as ever!” Applebloom exclaimed happily.  With confirmation, they proceeded towards the school nestled on the hill just in the distance, past the town’s market.  

The marketplace was packed with ponies.  The sound of bits dropping on the cobblestone reverberated throughout the area.  Crowds of ponies gossipped about the latest news, the hottest topic and the biggest thing.  Droves of shoppers bought groceries, browsed stalls and haggled deals with stubborn shopkeeps.  Bazaars and vendors of all kinds stretched out along the streets as far as they could go.  And just dead-center in the marketplace, directly left of Twilight, was the Apple Family’s produce vendor.  

Applejack waved a hoof at Twilight, who returned the wave.  “Howdy there, Twi! How’s the day treatin’ you!” Applejack asked as she beckoned Twilight over.  “I’m great!  Just completing a task on the way to the school for a project Applebloom needs done” Twilight explained.  

Applejack gave her little sister an angry look, “Weren’t you supposed to be in school an hour ago?”  Applebloom frowned, “Yes, ma’am.  Sorry.”  Applejack nodded, “Well, as long as you actually make it today.  Now, what’s this about a task?”  Twilight opened Applebloom’s backpack and took out a pile of fliers, “Luna wants these passed out around town.  Could you help me out?”  

Applejack pondered for a moment, “Does Celestia know about this?”  Twilight nodded with a reassuring smile, “She sure does.”  

Applejack nodded, “Then ah’ll do it! Don’t forget to visit Pinkie!”  Twilight gave a quick nod, “Thanks again, Applejack!” she finished before departing to Pinkie’s Corner with Applebloom.  

“And don’t forget to stop by the farm later! Ah think my big brother’s startin’ to miss you!” Applejack shouted at Twilight as she walked off.

As usual, Pinkie Pie’s little corner in the market had the most costumers.  Just about everyone in Ponyville has sunk their teeth into those rich, creamy, light, fluffy, sugary cupcakes of hers.  She has sold plenty of other delicate delights, but those were often Mr. and Mrs. Cake’s designs.  These tasty treats were made by Pinkie and no one else could ever hope to stand against such infamous and desired cupcakes.  Nor would they want to, they were often too busy eating Pinkie’s cupcakes to care!

Twilight followed the line right up to Pinkie Pie, who had just got done handing Derpy a cupcake.  She waved goodbye to the cock-eyed pegasus as she flew off before turning her sights to Twilight.  “Well, hiya!” Pinkie shouted with glee as she waved a welcoming hoof.  “Hi Pinkie!” Twilight greeted, walking closer to Pinkie’s booth.  

“What’cha need, Twilight? Oh, lemme guess... is it... a puppy? ‘Cause I don’t have one of those.  Oh! Do you have one? Can I have the puppy?! I want to name it something like Haystack or Pudding Pop.  Oh, but what if it doesn’t like those names? How would I know what it likes? Oh, I know! Do you know any dog-talkers nearby? Or maybe dog-talking classes? I remember one time...” Pinkie rattled on as if she had been given a shot of coffee, sugar and molasses.

Twilight covered her face with her hoof, “No Pinkie, it’s not a puppy.  I need you to pass these out” she requested in an irritated tone as she telepathically pulled the last stack of fliers out of Applebloom’s backpack and set them at Pinkie’s hoofs.  “Well, why didn’t you just say so, silly! Of course I’ll pass them out!”” Pinkie enthusiastically stated.  “Oh, hey, you want a cupcake before you go?” Pinkie asked as she took a cupcake and held it out to Twilight.  

Twilight shook her head, “No, thanks.  We really ought to be going now.  Thanks again!” she finished as she continued her trek towards the school with Applebloom.  

Rainbow Dash swooped down from above and took the cupcake that was to be presented to Twilight, eating it on her way towards Sweet Apple Acres.  Pinkie just shook her head with a smile as she watched the rainbow-maned pegasus fly off with the cupcake.

“You sure are popular” Applebloom said.  “I wish I knew when it started” Twilight said with a giggle.  “So... what do you do in that library?” Applebloom asked.  

“I study mostly.  Sometimes I just like reading story books” Twilight answered.  “You’re made to study all the time?” Applebloom asked with a shocked expression.  

Made to? Oh no, I like to.  I like learning new things every day” Twilight answered.  “You like learning things?” Applebloom questioned in a surprised tone.  Twilight nodded.  

“I didn’t think such ponies existed!” Applebloom stated with genuine shock.  “Princess Celestia exists, doesn’t she?” Twilight added with a smirk.  

“The Princess likes learning things? I thought she knew everything already!” Applebloom stated in an alarmed tone.  “New things happen every day.  And there’s still alot of discoveries to be made.  The Princess can’t keep track of everything” Twilight said.  “You act like you know her” Applebloom said as she stopped just before the door to the school.  Twilight giggled as she opened the door for Applebloom, waiting for her to enter before she would.

Twilight and Applebloom’s entrance turned Cheerilee’s attention away from her students.  “Hello!” Cheerilee greeted.  Applebloom trotted over to her desk where she sat.  “If you’re here for the little event, you can take your place next to the others” Cheerilee said to Twilight, motioning to the line of mares and stallions against the wall.  Twilight walked over to an empty spot in the group and waited.  Most of the grown ponies next to her were ponies she knew, but not necessarily all that well.  

Well, except for Derpy, who stood in the corner staring at various objects in the room with her tongue sticking out of her mouth lazily.  “And you’re next, Dinky” Cheerliee said.  Dinky walked out in front of everyone, blushing from nervousness and shrinking away shyly.  Derpy walked up to her daughter and set a comforting wing onto her, giving her a look of pride and approval.  Invigorated by her mother’s confidence, Dinky cleared her throat and prepared to speak.

“My mom’s my role model, because she’s unafraid of anything! And she doesn’t care what people think about her.  And she always tries to do the right thing and says you should always smile, atleast once in a day! Plus, she flies!” Dinky said with a smile as she stood up on her hind legs and flapped her arms like she was flying.  Derpy teared up a little as she listened to Dinky’s opinion of her, smiling softly.  “I wanna grow up to be just like her!” Dinky exclaimed as she nuzzled her cheek into her mother’s leg.  “I love you mom” Dinky said.  Derpy picked up Dinky and hugged her, “I love you, muffin” she said as she closed her eyes and smiled heartily.  

With that, Derpy went back to her spot in the corner and began rubbing the tears out of her eyes.  Dinky walked back to her chair, smiling as big as she could.  Cheerilee clapped her hooves against the ground, “That was fantastic! Everyone give a round of applause!”  The class did as their teacher suggested and made various noises and sounds that benefited the moment.

“Applebloom, you’re next” Cheerilee said.  Applebloom got up out of her seat and walked to the front of the class with Twilight.  “What happened, blank-flank, did you run out of dumb cousins?” Silver Spoon said in a cruel tone.  Most of the other fillies and colts began laughing.  

“Yeah, who is this? Did you rent her for a day with seeds and apples?” Diamond Tiara added with an even crueler tone of voice.  Most of the class, once again, began laughing at Applebloom.  Applebloom sniffed sadly, ready to break down and run away.  Twilight gave a furious look at the two hellions that verbally tormented Applejack’s youngest sibling.  

“I’ll have you know that I was a ‘blank-flank’ longer than anyone else in my class when I was a filly” Twilight stated in an aggravated tone.  “So? What are you now, a glue-tester?” Diamond Tiara said with a wicked smirk.  

“I happen to be Princess Celestia’s star student and most trusted advisor, thank you very much” Twilight added in a proud tone.  The class laughed again, “Yeah? Well, I don’t believe you” Diamond Tiara said.  Twilight looked at Spike, who had been quietly writing on a piece of paper as he listened to the verbal tug-of-war.  “Spike, you know what to do” Twilight said.  

Spike nodded, “Ten steps ahead of you, Twi” he finished before blowing a gust of magical flame onto the note he wrote, which slowly burned away into nothingness.  Nothing happened.  And nothing would for as long as they waited, causing Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon to grin devilishly.  

“You’re not just a dirty glue-tester, you’re a lier, too!” Silver Spoon added.  Twilight sighed in defeat, “Thanks alot Spike.”  Spike simply leaned back in his seat and rested his hands behind his head, saying nothing, but giving her a victorious smirk.  This confused her.

Just as Cheerilee was about to break up the disaster, the doors to the school swung open with thunderous effect, making everyone turn their heads to see what the commotion was.  There, standing in all her glory, was Princess Celestia.  Cheerilee stared in wonder, bowing down as the Princess walked up to Twilight.  Twilight looked at Spike with a renewed look of approval, “That was real smooth, Spike.  I think you get a treat today for that one.”  Spike boasted a proud grin that exhumed self-confidence, “I told you I’d deliver.”  

Princess Celestia looked at the awe-struck fillies and then back to Twilight, “Now, what’s this, my faithful student? I heard I was needed for something quite urgent regarding something academic?”  Twilight nodded, “Well, your majesty, I was just explaining to these innocent little fillies about how having no cutie mark in school isn’t a bad thing at all.  And after they were vocal with their opposite opinions, I was just relating to them about how I was the very last one in my class to get my cutie mark.”  

“That’s right Twilight, you were the last one.  I haven’t thought about that in ages.  Why, I remember how you graduated at the top of your class, even.  And you’ve been at my side ever since” Celestia stated with a glowing smile.  Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon’s jaws had dropped as low as they could go without snapping off and falling to the floor.  “Now, was that all, Twilight? I believe I have a meeting with the Apple Family soon” Celestia asked.  

“The... Apple Family? As in Big Mac and Applejack?” Applebloom questioned.  Celestia looked down at little Applebloom, “Why, yes, that same one.  They need help in planning two new orchards full of apples in hopes of helping them recover easier in the winter months.”  

Applebloom felt rejuvenated.  Just a few minutes ago, she felt her life had spiraled into chaos.  And now, she was being backed by not only Twilight and Spike, but Celestia, too! And she was going to see her again right after school!  Twilight noticed Applebloom’s renewed vigor and smiled, “Yes, that’ll be all, Princess.  Thank you.”  Celestia hugged Twilight, “Of course” she said before walking out of the school and flying off with her exotic and mighty wings.  

“Twilight’s my role model because she’s awesome in every way” Applebloom said as she trotted over to her desk and sat down, wearing a smug grin the whole way through.  Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle bumped hooves with Applebloom and eachother, “That was awesome!” they said in synchronization.  “Well, you sure don’t see that happen every day! Now, who’s next... ah yes, Silver Spoon” Cheerilee announced.

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“Yo, AJ!” Dash shouted down below from her hovering position, hoping to catch the orange earth-pony’s attention.  “What’s that, Rainbow Dash? You need somethin’?” Applejack shouted back from her place behind her booth in the marketplace.  Dash glided down to Applejack’s eye level, “What are you doing?” she asked.  

Applejack cocked a brow, “Now what kinda question is that? I’m sellin’ apples and apple accessories!”  Dash scoffed, “That sounds boring.”  Applejack sighed, “What do you want, Rainbow Dash? You’re holdin’ up all my costumers.”  

Dash blew a gust of air up into her hair, “I’m bored.”  Applejack tapped a hoof on her forehead, “Can’t ya be bored somewhere else? Don’t ya have clouds to kick or nap on?”  Dash flipped upside-down midair, “Nope!” she replied.  

Mr. Breezy cleared his throat at Applejack, “Can I have some apple pie?”  Applejack nodded, reaching over at her cart and taking an apple pie and a flier, setting the flier just underneath the aluminium that held the pie in place and handing it to the grateful Mr. Breezy.  The stallion set down a dozen bits on the counter before walking off.

Dash picked up one of Twilight’s fliers that flew off the apple cart, “What’s this?” she said as she read the flier.  “Somethin’ Twilight needs passed out around town.  If yer fixin’ to do something, you might wanna find her and ask her how to help out.  From what I hear, she’s doin’ this for Princess Luna” Applejack said as she handed a customer an apple pie.  

“Dirty work for royalty? I’m in! Where was Twilight heading?” Dash asked.  “She was headin’ to the school with Applebloom.  Might still be there or back at her house” Applejack answered as she accepted a sack of bits from Berry Bunch.  With that, Dash bolted up into the air and dashed off towards the school.

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Twilight walked out of the school with a feeling of accomplishment.  She hadn’t expected so much to happen so early on in the day.  She managed to make a difference in the world, even if it was a small one.  And with Celestia taking time to assist her with such a menial task, especially with such a busy schedule, was remarkable to her.  She’s never seen Celestia so willing to help her before and the fact she was held in such high regard by the ruler of the world gave her an unbelievable sense of joy.  She always knew she was close to her mentor, but never expected such an act of kindness.  And above all, what perplexed her the most, was Spike.  He acted as if he knew exactly how Celestia would act.

Twilight spotted a large oak tree just on her left and walk over to it, sitting down under the calm shade.  The smell of warm grass and dry leaves permeated the air around her.  The sunlight dipped through the gaps in the leaves above her head, acting like a natural kaleidoscope.  She knew there was work to be done elsewhere, that there was still so much to do before the day was done.  But the feeling of contentment, joy and comfort had made her lazy and tired.  She closed her eyes and rested her head against the soft grass and simply listened to the rustling of leaves and that gentle hum of the wind.  She was about to drift off into a serene nap when she heard the sound of hooves crushing the grass next to her head.  She looked up to see Rainbow Dash tilting her head at her with a curious expression.  

“You look about as bored as I feel” Dash stated.  “Looks can be deceiving” Twilight said as she closed her eyes again.  Dash sighed, “AJ said you had a bunch of stuff Princess Luna needs done.  Can I help out?”  

Twilight opened an eye, “Actually... if you can round up some other pegasus, you could be helping me out a great deal.”  Twilight stood up and shook the grass off her, “If you don’t mind traveling to Fillydelphia and Cloudsdale, that is.”  Dash cocked a brow, “All the way out to Fillydelphia?”  Twilight nodded.  “I guess I can make the trip” Dash said as she weighed her options.  

“Great! You’ll find all the fliers you need in my bedroom.  Thanks Rainbow Dash!” Twilight exclaimed with a grateful look.  “Yeah, yeah... you’re welcome” Dash said before flying off back to the town.  Twilight exhaled slowly before slumping back down onto the grass, “Everything’s going my way, today” she whispered to herself as she closed her eyes to sleep.  

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Rainbow Dash swooped down to Fluttershy’s Hut on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest.  The forest was large and expansive, stretching out across acres and acres and acres.  Unlike other forests, the Everfree grew into itself, rather than sprawling out.  Trees were forming into trees, roots were being broken and snapped by other roots - it was a mess.  It is perhaps because of this wretched way the forest made itself that kept the Princess from investing more bits and time into the wildlife.  And because of the abundance of mutated trees spawning and merging into eachother, the forest was veiled in complete darkness at all hours of the day, once again damning it to remain a miserable clot of vines and branches.  

Fluttershy was outside, tending to her rabbits, singing and humming melodies that fit the gorgeous mid-day.  Dash glided down behind Fluttershy, causing her to jump in fright at the sound.  She turned around quickly, hyperventilating.  “Oh, it’s just you” the meek yellow pegasus said with relief.  

“What are you up to, today?” Dash asked.  “Oh, just making sure everything is alright” Fluttershy answered as she patted Angel-bunny on the head, who thumped his foot on the ground in approval.  

“And is everything alright?” Dash asked as she eyed the bountiful animals in her stable.  “Oh, yes! Nothing bad or strange has happened today at all” Fluttershy answered with an enthusiastic smile.  

Dash smirked, “Well, since you’re so empty-hoofed and all... wanna help me help Twilight?” she asked in a riddling tone.  “Of course! As long as there’s someone to watch over my animals” Fluttershy answered.  Dash tapped her chin with a hoof, “I think I know just the one...”

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“No! NOT AGAIN!” Spike yelled in protest as Dash dropped him down in front of Fluttershy.  “By that he means he’ll love to do it or else I’ll tell his teacher there wasn’t actually a visit to the nurse” Dash said as she stared at Spike with threatening eyes.  

The young dragon sighed, “Why is it always me?”  “Because if you manage to do this right, I’ll tell Twilight how you saved the day and deserve a prize” Dash said in an irritated tone.  

“But I already saved the day!” Spike shouted with frustration.  “Then you get two prizes!” Dash shouted back.  

“Uhm... please don’t fight...” Fluttershy added with a sheepish frown.  “Fine, then let’s go.  We still need one more pony for the job” Dash said as she flapped her wings and began flying off towards town.  “Thank you, Spike” Fluttershy said, giving the little dragon an appreciate hug before flying off.  

“Where are we going?” Fluttershy asked.  “The mail office” Dash answered.  “No, I mean... where are we going-going?” Fluttershy asked once more.  “Cloudsdale.  I managed to get Firefly and Boxxy Brown to deliver the fliers to Fillydelphia” Dash explained.  

“Wow! We were going to go the far?” Fluttershy questioned.  Rainbow Dash didn’t answer.  Her mind was elsewhere.  Cloudsdale hadn’t given her a problem before and especially not after winning the best young flier’s contest and gaining the attention of the Wonderbolts.  But ever since yesterday, she’s felt uneasy at the idea of going back home.  One might even say scared.  But she said she’d do this for Twilight.  And she was loyal to her friends.  The trip to Fillydelphia would have been overtaxing and foreign to her.  But she knew Cloudsdale.  She knew it better than anyone else, even if the city knew her just as well.

Dash and Fluttershy flew down to ground level, just outside the Pony Express mail building.  They opened the door, almost getting smacked in their faces immediately by rogue newspapers and documents and letters.  Derpy was just behind one of the booths with her usual demeanor and facial expression.  Dash walked up to the booth, “Hey there, Derpy! Want to do something awesome for the Princess?”  Derpy nodded.  “Don’t you care where we go?” Dash asked, tilting her head strangely at her.  Derpy shook her head.  “Uh... alright.  When can you go?” Dash asked.  

“Right now!” Derpy exclaimed.  Dash blinked, thoroughly confused, “That was way easy.”  Derpy would walk out the door that lead to her booth and proceed outside with Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash.  With that, the three flew off towards Twilight’s house.

The marketplace had caught word of the returning of Princess Luna at this point.  The results were mixed.  Some expected it to be an act of repentance, while other figured it was the start of a coup.  For all they knew, Celestia was blind to this upset and wouldn’t expect the day Luna would claim Equestria in vengeance.  It happened once before, so surely it would happen again, they thought.  But for now, this was an isolated event.  Ponyville was the only town that was getting word of this, so it must be some elaborate hoax or prank.  It must be.  The townsfolk were uneasy, one way or another.  Change was hard to accept.  Even harder still were the wounds of the past.

Dash opened the door to Twilight’s house and flew up to the second floor where she stuffed the bags on her sides with as many fliers as she could possibly fit.  Derpy and Fluttershy would do the same.  They were ready to fly back outside when they noticed Pinkie Pie standing in the doorway.  “What are you doing here?” Dash asked, cocking a brow.  

“I heard you were gonna head out to Cloudsdale” Pinkie said.  “Yeah, so?” Dash said, crossing her arms as she hovered in the air.  Pinkie spontaneously started shaking up and down at an alarming speed.  “Oh not this again.  Please tell me I’m not going to experience a doozy” Dash said as her face slumped down with irritation.  

“Yup! Can I go with you guys?” Pinkie asked.  “Why?” Dash asked.  “Beeecaaauseee.  I don’t want you to be alone when the doozy happens!” Pinkie explained.  “If you haven’t noticed the other ponies in the room, I’m not alone” Dash stated.  

Pinkie frowned, “You know what I mean.”  Dash shook her head, “I don’t.  And if that’s it, we really need to get going.  So would you move?”  Pinkie Pie pouted, but not before suffering another surge of shaking, “Fine.  But don’t say I didn’t warn ya!” she finished as she buzzed up and down all the way outside.  

“Maybe we should bring her along...” Fluttershy added.  “I think this is a good idea!” Derpy agreed.  “No! No! No! We’re doing this without Pinkie!” Dash shouted in protest, covering her ears to drown out the sounds of her companions.  

Derpy and Fluttershy frowned, but otherwise complied.  After a few moments of waiting for Rainbow Dash to calm down, the three exited the library and flew off for the metropolis-in-the-clouds that hovered in the distance.  The sun was setting and it would take until nightfall to complete the trip.  

“It’s been so long since I was in Cloudsdale for something other than a contest” Fluttershy added as she twirled in the air with a smile.  “Me, too!” Derpy added enthusiastically.  “Oh, that’s wonderful! We could go and see where we lived! Where did you live, Derpy?” Fluttershy asked.  “Next to the muffin shop!” Derpy answered.  “That... explains alot” Dash added.

The stars began to appear against the multi-coloured blanket of the sky.  The three pegasus, now hundreds if not thousands of feet off the ground, looked up to marvel at the natural beauty.  Various pockets of clouds floated around, covering the ground below them in a dense shade.  The waterfall that flowed down underneath the Royal Palace shone brightly as it lashed against the mountain and formed a rainbow.  “I wonder what it’s like in there” Dash pondered aloud.  

“Oh look! Shooting stars!” Fluttershy announced as she pointed a hoof at the trailblazing light show in the far distance.  “Wow! I wonder how fast they’re going” Dash stated.  “This is a fun day!” Derpy added as she watched the wonders of the world around her.  

As Cloudsdale’s lights became nearer and nearer, Rainbow Dash’s heart would beat faster and faster.  “I’m going to have to end up sleeping over at my parent’s place, aren’t I?” Dash thought aloud.  “Yup!” Derpy added.  “I think we all will” Fluttershy said with a giggle.  

“Better than nothing” Dash said with an exhausted yawn.  “So should we just... split up and meet somewhere tomorrow morning?” Dash asked the three as they finally reached the city’s limits.  

“Muffin shop!” Derpy shouted.  “Muffin shop!” Fluttershy shouted along in agreement.  

“Muffin shop it is then.  Thanks for... well, you know.  The help and all” Dash said in an embarrassed tone before flying off towards a small house near the stadium.

The house was lit up from candles, hinting at activity within.  Dash swallowed hard, taking a deep breath and letting it out, doing whatever she could to smooth her nerves.  Then, with confidence, she opened the door to see a familiar stallion sitting in a brown chair drinking tea, listening to the radio and idly watching a candle flicker.  “Still a multitasker” Dash said with a half-smile as she closed the door.  The monocle-wearing stallion gasped, “Rainbow Dash, is that you?”  Dash rolled her eyes, “Nah, just a really good look-alike.”  

Her father gave her a displeased look at the apparent sarcasm.  

“Oh, uh... sorry, dad.  It’s been a crazy week.  Where’s mom?” Dash asked.  “Asleep.  Now, can you give your father a proper greeting?” he requested as he stood up to match her eye-level.  Dash walked over and hugged him, “I’m sorry I didn’t visit earlier.”  

He nodded, “Probably escaping the fame” he said before returning to his seat, where he picked up his tea and continued drinking.  “Fame?” Dash asked with a confused look.  “Why, you’re only the biggest thing around ever since you won that competition.  Even that Rainbow Day girl was over asking about you” he said.  That name made Dash back up, “Rainbow... Rainbow Day?” she echoed.

“What did you say, dad? To Rainbow Day?” Dash asked with a look that bordered disgust.  “Only that you weren’t around here that much anymore, doing Celestia-knows-what in that Ponyville hamlet” he answered as he sipped his tea.  Dash frowned, “Hey.. can I spent the night here?” she said in a sad tone.  “You are my daughter, aren’t you? You know where the bedroom is.  Goodnight, poppet” he said.  

She sulked over to her room, bringing nostalgic thoughts both heartening and troubling.  Posters of the Wonderbolts were everywhere.  Her blanket had the Wonderbolts; her pillows, her pajamas and even her toothbrush had the Wonderbolts on them.  

And on her shelf, just next to her bed, seemingly untouched for years, was a locket.  The locket was shaped like a heart and had a picture of her next to a picture of Rainbow Day.  A potent mix of sadness and rage flushed her being at that moment.  She walked over, grabbed the locket and smashed it as hard as she could against the wall.  “I hate you...” Dash said quietly to herself with angry tears in her eyes as she watched the debris fell onto the ground in metallic chips and shards of glass.  Dash fell onto her bed, grabbed her fillyhood pillow and hugged it tight to her chest as she started crying.  

Giggle at the ghosties... crack up at the creepies” the young cyan pegasus sung softly to herself as she rocked back and forth.  She would repeat the melody enough times to where she would fall asleep with a timid smile on her face while her eyes were soaked with tears.  As she drifted deeper into the abyss of sleep and as her grip on that pillow lessened as time went on, she felt solace in her heart.  She knew that home wasn’t all that different.  The wounds of the past were just outside the door waiting to bleed her dry again.  But she knew, despite all this, there were things that were different.  She had good friends now.  Good, honest, true friends that were ready to help her.  Friends she lacked back when she lived here; back when the pain was fresh in her mind.

And, most of all. she had the knowledge that somewhere in Ponyville was a hyperactive earth-pony that desperately wanted to be with her in her time of need.  And then, she felt that irony.  That steel-tempered irony.  Just as she would be denied comfort as a filly, she denied comfort now when it was openly offered to her by the one pony that mattered most.

I’ve made a terrible mistake” Dash murmered subconsciously in her sleep with a frown.