Ponyville had always been an oddity when it came to places in Equestria. It was one of the few places in their land where unicorns, earth ponies and pegasi all lived together in equal numbers, even in spite of it's earth pony founding. But recently, this tiny, unassuming village had been skyrocketed into the public eye, due in no small part to the arrival of one Twilight Sparkle. This former student of Princess Celestia, and current Princess herself, had accomplished much since coming here, all with the aid of her closest friends, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity and Pinkie Pie.
Since that first day, only a few years ago, when Twilight first set hoof in this place, there had been many incredible things going on in Ponyville, from grand celebrations, to invasions by unusual creatures, and virtually every strange thing a pony could think up. Even recently, they had managed to become the ultimate winners of the recent Equestria Games, which again had been aided by Twilight's friends. Life in Ponyville, it seemed, would never be the same again, though whether that was for better or worse was for everypony to decide for themselves.
If an outsider were to be asked what they knew of Ponyville, they would most likely talk of Princess Twilight or her friends. And while they would not be wrong in saying such things, the fame of those mares often has the effect of making the rest of Ponyville's residents seem mundane by comparison. Nothing could be further from the truth, for while many ponies here lead less exciting lives, that will never means that those lives are any less valuable or important as even the most accomplished of Princesses.
In fact, one such group of ponies were spending their day together, a group of friends made up of five mares and one stallion. Among them were the famed musicians of Ponyville, local DJ Vinyl Scratch, talented cello player Octavia and Lyra Heartstrings who, as her name suggested, possessed great skill on the lyre. Beside them sat Lyra's best friend and local sweet shop owner, Bon-Bon. The lone stallion of the group was a brown earth pony by the name of Time Turner, and beside him sat the final member of their group, a grey pegasus mare with odd eyes named Ditzy Doo, though most called her by her nickname, Derpy.
At this time, the group was busying themselves on a picnic blanket, enjoying a number of chocolates made by Bon-Bon. Judging from the sounds of approval they were all letting out, it was clear that they were enjoying them, which led to the mare smiling at her friends. Of the others, Octavia was the first to speak.
"Bon-Bon, these sweets of yours are delicious!"
The cream earth pony smiled and blushed slightly at that.
"Oh, it's nothing, really. I just had some extra ingredients left over from my last order, so I figured I'd make some special for today."
Octavia nodded at that and got back to eating her share. Lyra on the other hoof had noted something about what Bon-Bon had said and raised an eyebrow at her before speaking.
"You've been getting a lot of orders lately, right? More than usual?"
Bon-Bon nodded at that.
"Yeah, I've been getting a lot of new customers recently. In fact, everypony in Ponyville seems to be seeing more and more visitors. Probably tourists though, checking out that new castle."
There was a general murmur of agreement of the group, as there was no doubt in their minds that this was most likely the reason for the massive influx of new ponies to the area. Princess Twilight had, after her latest challenge, been gifted with a brand new palace in the outskirts of the town, just between it and the nearby Everfree Forest. It was a beautiful building to be sure, but it had still come as a shock to many of Ponyville's established residents. With a palace to go along with their Princess, there was no question that Ponyville would be getting even more attention than normal. Vinyl though seemed to have something on her mind, and spoke out to the group.
"So...what does this mean?"
The group stopped what they were doing, all turning to look at her to see if she was going to clarify herself. When she didn't Octavia let out a sigh before talking.
"What are you talking about, Vinyl?"
The white unicorn turned to her friend with a slightly annoyed expression.
"It's just that...we have a Princess AND a shiny new palace now? Does that mean we're, I dunno, independent now?"
It was certainly a question worth asking, though the looks of uncertainty upon the group's faces made it clear that it was one that none of them had ever given much thought to. Octavia though merely had a knowing look, and cleared her throat to gain the group's attention before speaking.
"I heard a recent news story about that recently. There are still some details to work out, but there's going to be an official declaration from Canterlot that Twilight will be declared the new leader of "The Everfree Principality". I'm not certain what her jurisdiction is exactly, but it's certain that both Ponyville and the Everfree Forest will be a part of it."
That was, needless to say, quite a shock for the rest of them. For most of their lives, the ponies of Ponyville had always accepted that they were a part of Equestria, and answerable to Princess Celestia. Things had certainly changed a great deal when they first learnt that they had a second Princess to call leader when the long-lost Princess Luna returned. Now, not only did they have their own Princess, but they were going to be their own nation? Like the ponies of the Crystal Empire? It was a lot to take in, that much was certain. However, although her question had been definitively answered, there was still something bothering Vinyl about what Octavia had said.
"Wait...I thought it was going to be a Kingdom? And now it's a...a..."
Looking rather embarrassed, she leaned over and whispered to Octavia.
"Um...what did you call it again?"
Letting out a sigh once more, Octavia answered.
"Principality. It's a nation ruled by a Prince or Princess, while a Kingdom is ruled by a King or Queen. And I don't think we'll be getting any of the latter anytime soon."
It was here that Derpy finally joined in the conversation, just before she let out a brief giggle.
"Not unless you wanna bring in some Changelings."
That comment yielded the expected results, as virtually everypony in the group started chuckling at Derpy's words. However, while most were laughing, Lyra was not. Instead, she was hanging her head low at that comment, her expression one of sadness as she stared at the ground. One by one, all of the others noticed this about her, and Derpy, who now had a look of shock on her face, immediately covered her mouth with her hooves.
"Oh my gosh! I'm so sorry, Lyra! I didn't...!"
All of them there knew exactly what was going on through Lyra's mind as she sat there, for the Changelings were the ones responsible for one of, if not the, worst day of her life. It had been a few years ago, and she had two others had been given the joyous offer of being one of the bridesmaids to none other than Princess Cadence at her wedding. Although happy. Lyra soon discovered that this opportunity quickly became a nightmare, as the Cadence she'd known until that point was nothing more than the Queen of the Changelings, Chrysalis.
She and the other two bridesmaid had, under Chrysalis' power, had their minds controlled and sent down to the caverns below Canterlot, where they were serve as watchdogs to prevent the true Cadence from escaping. Thanks to the combined efforts of both Cadence and Twilight, the day had been saved, and Lyra was freed from Chrysalis' control along with her two companions. Even so, that memory was not something she ever enjoyed revisiting. But, despite the unpleasantness of it, Lyra bore no ill will towards Derpy for her words, and even looked up to offer her a warm smile.
"Don't worry about it, Derpy. Really, I'm fine."
There was an uncomfortable silence amongst the group after Lyra had said that, and Derpy, who was still worried about having upset her friend, looked at her to see if maybe she was lying about being fine to make sure they didn't worry about her. But, there was no lie in her eyes, and as such, Derpy let out a sigh of relief before returning Lyra's smile. However, even though this awkward moment had passed, it was clear that the group needed something more cheery to talk about. Vinyl especially wanted the conversation to move elsewhere, so she looked at her friends before her eyes locked onto Derpy and Time, the latter of which was giving the grey pegasus a rather affectionate look.
With a mischievous expression on her face, Vinyl spoke.
"So...you two planning on tying the knot just yet?"
As expected, this let to the two ponies snapping their heads in Vinyl's direction, both bearing looks of sheer embarrassment, which Vinyl had to restrain herself from laughing at. Derpy and Time had indeed been seeing each other recently, and while all of their friends were happy about this little get-together, they also knew that Derpy wasn't the kind of mare that really felt like talking openly about it. As such, Vinyl's rather brazen question earned her a very scornful look from Bon-Bon.
"Vinyl! That is none of your business, or ours for that matter!"
It was clear to anypony with eyes that Vinyl and Bon-Bon would have probably exchanged very harsh words with each other because of this. Thankfully, things were prevented from going that far by Turner's raising of a hoof to gain everypony's attention.
"It's fine, actually. Truth be told, we've been discussing our relationship recently, and while we're certainly not against having a more...erm...permanent situation, we just don't think it's the right time."
Derpy nodded at that before working up the courage to include herself in the discussion.
"Really, the biggest issue in all of this is my kids, especially Sparkler."
Nopony questioned what she meant by that, and instead the group gave just a general nod of understanding. Everypony knew that Derpy was a Mother of two, her oldest daughter being Sparkler and her youngest being Dinky, both of which were unicorns. Time Turner though was not their Father. No, that stallion had been Derpy's previous coltfriend who, to the shock of everypony who heard, had left Derpy and Sparkler, shortly before Dinky was born. It was clear to all that this was going to be something she'd have to deal with for the rest of her life, even with all of her friends helping her out. Thankfully, Time had started seeing her some months ago, and she was finally seeming like her hold, happy self again.
Nevertheless, they all continued listening as Derpy continued.
"Dinky's become more used to having him around, but then, she never knew her Father to begin with. Sparkle though, she's more difficult. I think she still misses her Dad, despite him leaving us all."
It was here that Derpy looked up at Time and gave him a warm smile.
"Give her time. She'll come around."
Time returned her smile and the two briefly nuzzled each other affectionately, to mixed reactions. Octavia and Bon-Bon were quite charmed with the display, while Lyra and Vinyl both pretended to retch at the sight of this overt romance, though a swift jab to the sides from their respective best friends soon put an end to that. As Derpy and Time parted, they turned to the rest of the group as Bon-Bon spoke up.
"Well, you may not need to wait much longer for Sparkler to cheer up. She was buying sweets in my shop the other day and I can't remember when I've seen her more chipper."
Rather than making her look happy, those words seemed instead to make Derpy more thoughtful, bordering on outright sadness. The others grew confused over this unexpected change to her expression, but Time Turner soon filled them in.
"Let's just say that...she's realised how good she's got it."
That was, as expected, not an answer that really explained anything, as Lyra was one to point out.
Time did not respond to this, and instead looked back to Derpy, who finally looked up, her eyes filled with a look of utter seriousness.
"The same thing that happened to everypony else."
With those words, everypony there knew exactly to what she was referring. It hadn't been very long ago, but it's horrors were still fresh in the minds of every pony alive. Tirek, a cruel tyrant from the depths of Tartarus, had freed himself and, with the aid of Discord, set about his plans to conquer all of the land. The unicorns lost their magic, the earth ponies had their great strength stripped away, and even the pegasi had lost the power to fly. There was not a mare or stallion who had not felt the hateful acts of that creature. But, as with many things, he was vanquished and, much to the relief of Equestria's citizens, been sent back into Tartarus, where he belonged.
Even though the effects of his power had been undone, there was no denying that everypony he'd harmed would carry that dark memory in them forever. And judging from the look on Derpy's face, it was clear to all of them that she had been hurt by this especially so.
"I was doing my job, delivering mail as always, when..."
She started to look away, her face somewhat pained.
"...I saw him. I wanted to run, to fly away, but I was too scared. He opened his mouth and...it felt as though he was reaching in and tearing out my heart."
The groups' expression all turned into ones of either great discomfort or anger, as all of them had known the same terrible feeling when Tirek tore away their respective abilities.
"I fell to the ground, and he didn't even look at me. He just walked off. That's when..."
She finally looked at the group once more, their faces somewhat expectant.
"...when my daughters found me."
Octavia covered her mouth to stifle a gasp while Lyra and Bon-Bon gave each other worried look. Time wrapped a hoof around Derpy affectionately, but it was clear this would not do anything to alleviate her situation.
"Thankfully, Tirek hadn't seen them, so they were safe. Sparkler stared at me as I laid on the ground, too tired to move. She was so shocked, she didn't know what to do. Dinky was beside me, crying, begging for me to get up again. I'd never seen her so heartbroken, and I never wanted to see her like that again."
It was here that the tears finally came out, as Derpy buried her face in Time's chest, the latter wrapping both hooves around her in an attempt to comfort her. Nopony said anything, but simply watched as Derpy let out what she must have been holding back for some time now. In truth, all of them had felt similarly hurt, and many would like nothing more than to have given that monster a taste of his own medicine before they sent him back to rot in that forsaken prison of his. Instead, they simply consoled themselves in the knowledge that none of them would ever see him again. Such was Time's thoughts as he finally spoke up to Derpy.
"Don't worry, Ditzy. That monster is gone now. He won't be coming back. Twilight made sure of it."
After hearing those comforting words, given to her with her real name, Derpy finally pulled herself back and looked up at her lover, a smile upon his face. It took a while, but she too returned the smile, albeit a very small one. As she wiped away her tears, she looked to the others in the group.
"I'm sorry, guys. I kinda ruined the picnic."
The others shook their heads at her in disagreement, and Octavia stood up and walked over to her to place a hoof on her shoulder.
"You have nothing to apologize for, my dear."
The grey pegasus smiled and chuckled a little at that before looking back to Time Turner, who warmly nuzzled the side of her head again, which she promplty returned. With the mood of the picnic now finally lightening up again, if only a little, Derpy pulled away from, him and giggled.
"At least I have a big, strong stallion to look out for me."
The affectionate mocking got the desired result as Time let out a chuckle upon hearing that, as did the other mares. When the laughter died down though, Lyra gained a rather mischievous smirk on her face as she nudged Bon-Bon, gaining her attention.
"Not as big as Big Mac though. Oh, what I wouldn't give to have that guy "looking out" for ME."
Bon-Bon looked somewhat aghast at her friend's remark.
The green unicorn raised an eyebrow at that reaction.
"Oh come on! I know you have the hots for him too!"
Bon-Bon looked away, looking more than a little indignant.
"Yes...well...you're not supposed to SAY it!"
Those words caused the entire group to burst out into laughter, and though it had largely been at her expense, even Bon-Bon joined in eventually. This was what this picnic of theirs had desperately needed at this point. A moment of laughter between the six friends. Had Pinkie Pie been here, there would have been no issue in getting such laughter and enjoyment. But even so, they wouldn't have traded this moment for the world. Their happy moment was interrupted a little however as they suddenly noticed a group of mares running frantically down the street. To their surprise, they saw that it was none other than Twilight and her friends, who were running with great haste towards the Everfree Forest.
As they ran past the other six ponies, they caught wind of what the Princess and her friends were saying as they ran.
"Quick! We need to get to the palace to look up a way to stop that hydra!"
"Ah reckon we just use Fluttershy again! That girl knows her animals!"
"Oh my, well...if you say so."
"Great! This is gonna be so much fun! I wonder if he likes streamers?"
"Heck yeah! This is gonna be awesome!"
"Well, darling, forgive me if I don't share your enthusiasm for danger!"
And that was all the group heard before Twilight and the other mares were too far away for them to hear. Under normal circumstances, the ponies might be inclined to feel worried about what kinds of dangers might possibly affect the town, as that was usually the sort of thing that their new Princess and her companions got up to. Instead, they were all taken aback by the sound of laughter. Turning their heands, they saw that it was coming from Vinyl, who picked up a glass of water and held it out to the others.
"Well then, here's to life in Ponyville!"
The others looked at her before turning to face the direction that Twilight and the others had run off to. Understanding Vinyl's words, they all looked at each other for a moment before breaking out into smiles, before picking up their own respective glasses and holding them out in a similar fashion. As they all drank, Derpy echoed Vinyl's sentiment.
"May it never change."