They were happy. Happier than they'd been all day. The six mares embraced each other in the middle of the street, not wanting to let go of each other. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and pinkie Pie. Six friends who had grown so close to each other, had now saved each other from a very miserable end. They had been through a very unpleasant ordeal recently as their cutie marks, the symbols of their roles and destinies, had been changed. But, thanks to Twilight and the bonds they'd forged with each other, they had undone that change and were back to normal.
Twilight, right in the middle of the group hug, gave a long sigh of relief. She more than any of them had bared her share of pain throughout this time, mostly from the guilt she felt over her part in the event. For you see, it was her spell that had caused all this. A spell sent to her by her mentor, Princess Celestia, to try and solve as a part of her studies. Being the dutiful student she was, she tried as instructed, and all it had resulted in was misery for her closest friends. And that thought caused a notion in Twilight's mind. She knew what she had to do now.
Gently, she moved her way out of the group hug, alerting the others to her movements. They pulled away from each other and stood in front of her, their faces bearing quizzical expressions at Twilight's rather sombre look.
"Girls.....there's something I need to tell you." She said quietly.
The five looked at each other before Applejack spoke up.
"What's the problem sugarcube? I thought everything was okay now?" She asked.
Twilight practically cringed. While it was true that they were her friends, they had no knowledge of her part in this as of yet. Something that she was about to rectify.
"I....I was the one who changed you."
There was silence between them, as each of the five exchanged looks. Then Rainbow Dash, frowning, stepped forward and spoke.
"What do you mean YOU changed us?" She asked rather aggressively.
Twilight shrank back a little. She had expected them to be angry and it seems her instincts were right. But she had a question to answer.
"Last night I was given a new spell by Princess Celestia. She asked me to see if I could finish it. I thought my own spell failed, or just did nothing. But it seems....that what it did was affect the elements of harmony which were with me at the time. They changed your cutie marks, you memories, and you."
Her friends stood there, mouths open in shock ever what they were hearing. Twilight looked at each one in turn. She shut her eyes tight, unable to allow herself to see what looks of angry they must undoubtedly be bearing right now. Hanging her head low, she heard hoof-steps approaching her. She was ready for one of her friends to start yelling at her, blaming her for the misery they had to endure.
But instead, she felt the gentle touch of a hoof on her shoulder. Opening her eyes and looking up, she saw the smiling face of Fluttershy in front of her.
"We forgive you." She said softly.
Twilight looked at her, confused, before looking at her other friends, who were now approaching her with smiles.
"It's okay Twilight." Rarity said. "Things worked out in the end."
"Yeah". Rainbow added. "Besides, it's not the first time your magic has caused problems. Remember the parasprites?"
Pinkie then bounced up and down.
"Ooo! Ooh! And the time you made everypony crazy over that old doll of yours?"
Applejack shot them a harsh look which shut them up. Twilight slowly developed a small smile on her face. It was as she'd hoped. They really were good friends. They knew that she had done this to them, and it didn't matter to them. She silently thanked her lucky stars for blessing her with friends like these. But her moment of happiness came to and end when Applejack spoke.
"So then, this spell of yours, do you still have it?" She asked.
Twilight looked at her, frowned a little, and nodded. She looked away from them and towards her house. It was true, that spell was still there. And if today's experiences were anything to go by, there was a chance that some unicorn might use that spell again one day, perhaps by accident. Then who knows what might happen? Perhaps some other innocent ponies would go through the same problems she and her friends went through today. And they might not be lucky enough to be changed back. Knowing this, she knew what she had to do.
"Yes Applejack. It's still there. But not for much longer."
None of them said anything to her as they walked over to the library. They gave a glance at each other, not sure what Twilight was planning, but they followed her regardless. The sun was beginning to set over the horizon and the light levels were already diminishing. Twilight opened the library door and all six walked in. Spike was in there, having gone back soon after they'd changed back to normal. He gave them a smile as he was happy to see them, but that smile vanished when he saw the grim look on Twilight's face.
Twilight meanwhile was walking towards a wooden pedestal on the other side of the main room. There, was the old and tattered book that had caused her so much distress today. She levitated it with her magic and set it aside. In its place, she prepared a roll of parchment and a quill which she dipped in ink. The others were unsure of what was going on, but their confusion disappeared when she began dictating.
"Dear Princess Celestia. Although it pains me to have to write this letter to you, I find that I have no choice. You tasked me yesterday with finishing Starswirl’s unfinished spell, and per your instructions I tried to. But my attempts led to terrible consequences for my friends. Their cutie marks and destinies were changed because of the spell. Fortunately, I was able to undo the spell's effects."
Twilight looked up from the parchment and hesitated for a moment. She looked over to the book on the side and thought back to the events of the day. Remembering this, she narrowed her eyes at the book and continued writing.
"However, I regret to inform you that I feel that it's in everypony's best interests that this spell no longer be allowed to be viewed by anypony. I am therefore sending it back to you to be sealed away in the vaults of Canterlot. Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle."
Having finished writing, she placed her quill back into its container and levitated the parchment, taking it over to the book. She then levitated the book and bound the letter to it with a nearby ribbon. She then walked over to Spike and lowered the book and letter into his hands.
"Use your fire Spike. Send it to the princess."
Spike was unsure of this, as he looked over to the others. They gave nervous glances at each other before Applejack stepped forward.
"Are you sure about this Twilight? You've never turned down and instruction from the Princess before. Don't you think she'll be...you know...mad or somethin?"
Twilight appreciated that her friends were looking out for her, but this was something she knew she had to do.
"Thank you Applejack, but it's for the best. Besides, it wasn't so long ago that I chanced failing her before when we were dealing with Discord."
The others nodded in agreement. Twilight's words were true. When they attempted to reform Discord, Twilight made it clear that the option to stop doing so and use the elements of harmony against him was a viable one, even though doing so meant that she would be failing in the task that Celestia set for her. She argued that the Princess would understand. Now it seemed that Twilight was certain that she would understand this was well.
Twilight turned to Spike and gave him a nod. The young dragon paused for a moment before nodding back. He then inhaled deeply before blowing, letting loose a massive burst of green fire. It engulfed the book and letter and caused them to disappear. Twilight turned from Spike and towards her other friends.
"The Princess is no doubt receiving my letter as we speak."
"You think she'll be okay with this?" Applejack asked.
Twilight nodded. She opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a strange sound from outside. She and the others turned to see through the windows what appeared to be a flash of light coming from outside. They gave each other odd looks before rushing outside. They looked up into what was now the night sky and saw a bright light heading towards them from, far away. Twilight stepped forward, ahead of the group, with a worried look on her face. She knew that light anywhere, but was somewhat unsettled to see it approach like this.
The ball of light stopped immediately above them before slowly descending to the ground. Once down, it began to fade, revealing a figure within. She was tall, clad in gold ornaments and spreading out her majestic wings wide. Princess Celestia, co-monarch of Equestria and Twilight's mentor. The ponies all bowed when they saw who it was, including Twilight. The Princess said nothing, leading to Twilight looking yup from the ground towards her. Her expression was not a pleasant one, but somewhat harsh. Perhaps disappointment?
The alicorn stepped forward towards her pupil and looked down at her. Twilight stood up and locked her eyes with the Princess'. Her friends also stood and watched as the two said nothing to each other, growing ever more nervous as the silence continued. But soon, Celestia finally spoke.
"My student, I would speak with you.....in private."
The last words of that sentence were undoubtedly aimed towards her friends, who were now looking at her nervously. Twilight though, merely nodded, and turned around before walking past her friends and back into the library, with the Princess following shortly afterwards. The other ponies and Spike said nothing, merely stayed where they were as the two entered the library, the door to the building closing behind them by way of Celestia's magic.
Once inside, they moved to the middle of the room before Twilight allowed herself to look at her mentor again.
"You know why I have come here?" Celestia asked.
Twilight did not respond, but nodded, indicating that she did indeed know her reasons for being here. Celestia's expression softened somewhat, but gave a deep sigh before continuing.
"Twilight, I understand that you and your friends have been through some hardship today. Believe me, such a thing was never my intention when I sent you this book."
At the mention of the book, Twilight looked up, only to see Celestia's horn glow. There was a brief flash of light and suddenly, the old book she'd asked Spike to send away was there again, hovering in mid-air beside the Princess. The latter spoke again.
"And I am sorry for what you've had to go through. I have never sought to put you in a position like that, nor your friends. They weren't involved in this test and did not deserve the misery that had to endure today."
She looked at the book and gently placed it back on the wooden pedestal before turning to face her student again.
"But believe me Twilight, it is vitally important for you to finish this spell as I instructed." She said.
Twilight looked up at her, sad that she disappointed her beloved mentor. But there was something else on her face, a hesitation. Looking at the book, she once more felt the memories of what she and her friends went through. And, once more shutting her eyes tightly, she was resolved to follow through with that decision. She looked back at Celestia, her legs almost shaking at her nervousness from what she was about to do.
"I'm sorry Princess. But I can't do that."
Celestia's expression became one of shock. Not once in all the years she'd known her had Twilight ever outright refused to do something she'd asked her to. She had always been so eager to please, enthusiastic to do whatever it took to advance in her studies. Now here she stood, turning down her instruction. Celestia's look of shock changed back into the harsh look from earlier, as she adopted the tone of a stern parent figure.
"Twilight Sparkle, you have to do this." She commanded.
The mare, still shaking, stood her ground on this, even though she was growing more and more nervous over the increasingly stern tone her teacher was taking.
".......No." She replied.
Celestia didn't know what to do now. She didn't want to have to force her into doing anything, but she felt deep down that it was something that perhaps might have to happen. She had been preparing for this day for as very long time, and she did not want all that to come to an end because of the one she was preparing it for. But soon, she had another problem to deal with as her student spoke up.
"Princess, why is it so important that I do this?" She asked.
The Princess silently cursed the question. In all honesty, she could understand Twilight's point of view on this. That spell had caused her and her friends nothing but grief, and here was her mentor, being more adamant than ever before that she goes through with it. Of course she'd ask that question, but how best to answer? Her plan was not something she just wanted to say outright, but one look at Twilight's confused face made her relent. She had to tell her the truth.
"Twilight, this spell is a test, a complicated and powerful spell that only those with the deepest understanding of friendship and magic could complete. If you had finished it, then I would have known that you were.......ready."
Twilight tilted her head to one side in confusion.
"Ready? Ready for what?" She asked.
Celestia inhaled and exhaled deeply. She knew her answer would be difficult for her student to hear. But she deserved to know at this point.
"Ready.....to ascend to the status of alicorn......and Princess."
The silence in the room became so thick you could cut it with a knife. Twilight stood there, staring blankly at her teacher, half expecting her to say that she was kidding about that. She couldn't possibly have said what she thought she did, could she? The answer she'd heard had practically turned her mind to mush as a thousand thoughts all vied for dominance inside her head? Alicorn? A winged unicorn like Celestia, Luna and her sister-in-law Cadence? And to become a princess on top of all that?! How could this be?
"........Why?" She asked simply.
The Princess sighed again. She had hoped that this explanation would have been used when Twilight had proved to be ready. Now she had no choice but to give her explanation. She gently placed a hoof on her student's shoulder before speaking.
"Since you came to Ponyville, you've displayed charity, compassion, devotion, integrity, optimism, and of course, leadership, of a true Princess."
Twilight listened to every word, still shocked to her core at what she was hearing.
"I have watched you for a very long time my student, since you were but a small filly. In that time you have accomplished so much in such a short space of time. You have performed magic that few have ever achieved. You have faced many evils. You even re-united me with my sister, something I once thought could never happen. You have done so much and.....I felt that you were more than worthy of ascending."
The young mare's head was reeling. She could not deny what her mentor had just said to her. When she was still living in Canterlot, she never once thought that she would ever do the things she'd do since moving to Ponyville. But becoming an alicorn Princess? She had no idea what to think of that. She felt so many things when she considered the possibility of becoming like Celestia. Joy at the possibility to further her own magic, appreciation that her mentor felt she was worthy of such an honour, and even fear at the prospect of becoming something other than what she has always been.
But as she dwelt on it, another thought came to mind for her. One more, it was the memory of what had happened to her friends over the last few days. They had their destinies changed by her, however accidental that may have been. The course of their lives had been altered by somepony else, not by their choice. And now her mentor it seems had planned to make a momentous decision for Twilight's own life. She felt no animosity towards the Princess for this. After all, she had always had Twilight's best interest at heart. But this was something she had to speak to her about.
"I'm sorry Princess.....but I can't accept that."
Celestia allowed her mouth to hang opened from the shock of what she'd just heard.
"What?" She said.
Twilight's expression became one of worry. The last thing she wanted to do was offend her mentor.
"Believe me. I'm honoured that you would think I've deserved this. And I'm happy that you think I've done enough in my life to have earned a position like that. But......to become a Princess, to become and alicorn.....is not what I've ever wanted."
Celestia remained silent. Her look of shock had changed into a more difficult to read expression. She remained silent as her student kept speaking.
"To be a leader, a pony that others look up to, that's not what I want for myself, however much you may think I deserve it. All I want, all I've EVER wanted, is to be......"
She considered her next words carefully, before placing her hoof up to her own chest.
".....me. To be this, the way I am. To live here in Ponyville with my friends as one of them, not to rise above them."
Celestia closed her eyes, becoming almost pained by her student's words. Twilight cringed over this sight. It almost made her heartbroken to see her mentor the way she was right now, and to have been the cause of it. And even though what she just said was true, there was another concern for her. It was something she'd been thinking about ever since she first read those old books of alicorns back when she was living in Canterlot. Historical records showing Celestia's actions over the past thousand years. A thousand years of life, something that Twilight knew she would have to address.
"And.....with all due respect your majesty, there's the issue of.....your lifespan."
Celestia opened her eyes, now confused by Twilight's words.
"Alicorns live for a very long time, longer than any other kind of pony, you and your sister especially. You have lived through the lives of countless ponies. Seen them grow, and pass on. And I......I cannot willingly choose a life like that. To never be able to grow old, to watch helplessly as my friends, my family fade from this world, with me unable to follow. Those friends I have come to depend on....to love. The friends who made me the mare I am today. To lose them is something I could not bear. Especially when I think of what you went through when...."
She looked nervously at the princess, hesitant to bring up what she was about to say.
".....when your sister was imprisoned."
That comment stung Celestia deeply. But as much as she wished she could deny it, Twilight was right. When she had used the elements of harmony to banish Luna to the moon, she had spent every single day afterwards feeling nothing but a crippling loneliness. True, there were ponies she befriended and kept close, but like Twilight said her advanced age meant that, sooner or later, they would no longer be with her. And their departure left her alone once more, with the only other pony who could have been a constant companion imprisoned by her hoof. She could not blame Twilight for not wanting to go through that herself, nor could she deny the feeling of regret she felt when she considered that this was what she had planned for her.
The Princess looked down at the mare, whose face was sad. Sad that not only had she disobeyed the mentor she'd respected for so long, but that she felt she'd disappointed her by turning down the offer she'd given.
"Twilight, if you do not take this chance, you will never reach the heights your magic can achieve. Your magic has always been so important to you."
Twilight nodded briefly.
"I know. But I can't go through with what you offer me. I.....I can't be what you want me to be."
Celestia and Twilight stood there in silence for many minutes, the only sound being that of the flickering candles which lit the room. As the princess kept her eyes on her student, she dwelt on her refusal to ascend, her reason for not doing so, and Celestia's own place in all this. After much consideration, she knew what she had to say to her.
"Twilight, from the moment we first met, you have been an important part of my life. The day you became my student, you were inseparable from me. Always coming to me, wanting to show me some new spell you'd learned, always eager to watch and learn what I tried to teach you."
Twilight listened carefully, the Princess' words bringing forth memories of her early life, her time in the royal palace of Canterlot, her lessons in magic, taught by Celestia herself. She remembered how happy a time it was for her. Magic and the Princess were the most important things in her life back then, bar her family.
"But over time, something happened between us. As your studies progressed, as you learned more from me and as I spent more time with you, something happened within me. You weren't just a student to me. You were....."
The Princess looked directly into Twilight's eyes, her own eyes welling up a little.
"......You were a daughter."
Twilight was shocked to hear this. But in truth, she felt the same way. As she'd grown up, she'd come to see Celestia as a second mother to her. Always so kind to her, so caring, always willing to listen. She was like family to her now. And this confession on the Princess' part began to bring tears to Twilight's own eyes.
"And like any parent, I only ever wanted what I thought was best for you. That is why I planned on ascending you. But....."
She seemed hesitant to continue speaking, but after everything that had been said between them, she knew she had to say it.
"......But not once did I ever consider that what I wanted for you might now be what you want or yourself. Not once did I ever even ask. But I ask now. I ask.....for your forgiveness."
Twilight's eyes widened with shock at what she'd heard. Seeing her mentor hang her head with shame was a sight she did not want to see.
"Princess, I'm so sorry about this. Please.....PLEASE don't hate me!" She said, tears now flowing down her cheek.
The Princess raised her head once more, this time with a small smile on her face, as she looked at the young unicorn, looking sad and guilty like a child who upset a parent.
"My dear sweet child, hating you is the one thing I could never do."
And then, much to the Princess' surprise, Twilight ran towards her and buried her face in her chest, her tears now coming fast. Although surprised, the sound of her beloved student brought Celestia herself to tears. She spread her wings and wrapped them around the weeping mare. And the two stayed with each other in close embrace, closer than they had allowed each other to be in a very long time, not since Twilight was very young. They stayed with each other for quite a long time, merely listening to each other cry, before eventually pulling away from each other.
Wiping the remaining tears from her cheek with her wing-tip, Celestia spoke.
"It seems that even one as old as I needs to learn a few things now and again. I should have trusted you with the truth a long time ago. Trusted you to make your own choices, instead of making them for you."
Twilight gave her teacher a smile and gently shook her head.
"You don't need to apologise for anything Princess. You did what you thought was right for me. I've always been grateful that you had my best interests at heart. It's just that, this time, we didn't have the same idea on what the "best" thing was."
Celestia, in spite of the last few minutes, afforded herself a chuckle.
"There are times, my student, when you truly are as wise as an alicorn."
The two laughed together. But as soon as they stopped, Twilight's expression became more serious.
"Does this....does this mean that I'm not your student anymore?" She asked.
Celestia considered this. In truth, Twilight's magic, as great as it was, could not advance further without her ascending to become an alicorn. But just because she could not progress in magic did not mean that there was no longer a place for Celestia in her life.
"Your studies may not be as you have known them Twilight. But I will always be here for you, ready to guide you whenever you have need of me. When I became your teacher, I promised myself that I would never turn down or reject one such as you, one who was always so earnest and good-hearted, one who deserved the help I gave her."
Twilight smiled, her eyes still welling up a little. Deep down, she had feared that this rejection of Celestia's offer would forever break the bond between them. The connection of faith, trust and love that had been forged over all these years that she had come to depend upon so much. Now, seeing that wasn't the case, her heart felt at ease.
Celestia turned from Twilight and began to walk towards the door leading outside. Before reaching for the doorknob with her hoof, she paused and glanced back at the young unicorn.
"If ever you have need of me, you only have to ask." She said with a smile.
Twilight smiled back, and the Princess turned the knob and opened the door. Once on the outside, her eyes widened with surprise at the sight of five scrambling mares and a baby dragon, who were frantically distancing themselves from the nearby window once they caught sight of her, each one looking somewhat teary-eyed. The Princess allowed herself an amused smile as the mares stood straight and bowed to her.
"Good evening girls. Always a pleasure." She said jovially.
The five kept bowing as she walked past them, each one looking nervously at the other, terrified that she might call them out on their eavesdropping. But instead, the Princess merely nodded to each in turn before stretching out her wings and giving a mighty flap, lifting herself off the ground and into the air. Once up in mid-air, she bathed herself in the bright while glow she'd arrived in before flying off at top speed back in the direction she'd come from. The others looked at each other, unsure of how to proceed, before looking over at the still-open library door.
They all entered and saw Twilight on the other side of the main room. She was facing away from them, her hoof gently running over an object that was placed on a small wooden table. As they approached, they saw what it was. It was a picture frame, and within was an old photograph. It featured Twilight, back when she was a young filly, standing next to Princess Celestia. It was undoubtedly taken back when she first started attending the royal academy of magic. The two in the picture were smiling happily. The friends looked at each other nervously before Fluttershy walked over to Twilight and carefully tapped her on the shoulder. The lavender unicorn turned, and the group could see that her eyes were still somewhat red from having cried for so long.
"Twilight, are you alright?" Fluttershy asked.
To the amazement of everypony there, Twilight smiled, and then nodded.
She then turned back to the picture of her and the Princess, her mind calling forth happy memories of her time with her, and feelings of happiness over how glad she was that, even after all this, the Princess was still a part of her life.
"Everything's going to be just fine".