She had worked hard this week. As much as she'd grown used to it, she still felt tired at the end of every day. Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria. It had been many years since she had ascended to the role of Princess, becoming an alicorn in the process, and still the change had never stopped shocking her. The level of magic she had been able to achieve since her transformation was astounding. And not only that, but ponies from far and wide came to view her as a teacher. It brought a smile on her face to see young colts and fillies come to ask her questions and learn from her. It reminded her very much of how she was when she was their age, learning from her own mentor.
But it was not merely new experiences that this title had afforded her. In her years since her coronation, she had also experienced many physical changes that came with being an alicorn. The most obvious of which was, of course, her size. She had grown quite tall, towering over almost any other pony in Equestria, much like other alicorns before her had done. Her hair had grown long and, much like her mentor, had taken to flowing behind her regardless of the presence of wind.
She had spent much of the past week in her lessons, passing on the knowledge and wisdom she herself had to learn first-hoof, back when she was, in her own words, "just a regular old unicorn". But today was her day off. And it was fortunate hat it happened to be this day, because today was very important to her. For it was a day that she both loved and dreaded every year. She was walking along an unassuming country road, the skies above her becoming grey with clouds. It was not due to rain just yet, but the pegasi were already preparing the skies for it.
Twilight had travelled far from Canterlot, dispensing with the usual trappings of royalty for the trip. No guards. No chariot. None of the usual crown or jewellery that other princesses of Equestria wore. She was not even bothering to use her wings to fly to her destination today. No. Not on this day. This day, she would travel there as she would have done long ago. Back when she was not a princess, but a unicorn. Back before the weight of royalty was upon her.
It had taken her virtually all day, but she finally reached it, and a smile came upon her face. Ponyville. A small, relatively unimportant village that many in the larger pony settlements would not regard as anything important. But to Princess Sparkle, this place was the world to her. True, Canterlot may have been the place of her birth, it may have been the place where she had many happy childhood memories. But this place was her home. An adopted home perhaps, but home nonetheless. Even after she'd taken to residing in Canterlot some years ago to take up greater royal responsibilities, she always felt a connection to this tiny village more.
As she began entering the village, many of the ponies, earth, pegasi and unicorn alike, began turning their heads. When they saw her, their eyes widened in surprise. Under normal circumstances, ponies would bow or greet those of royal lineage when they arrived at their home. But not here. For this was not the first time that Twilight had come back to this place. And as such, many of Ponyville's residents had learned not to make a fuss over her arrival. They would still give her a nod and a smile when she passed, which she would kindly return, but for the most part, she was treated like a regular pony, as one of them. And that was always something she wanted.
She walked through the town, looking upon all of the houses and shops, many of which were around when she had been living here herself. The Mayor's hall, the quills and sofas shop, even Sugarcube Corner. Happy memories, she thought to herself. Then, as she walked through the middle of the town, she caught sight of a very important building. Well, important to her at least. At first glance many might not think it was a building at all, they'd think it was a tree. But it was dotted with windows and balconies and a simple wooden front door.
The Ponyville library. Back when she was living here, this had been Twilight's home. And nopony could have chosen a more suitable place for her to live. She had always loved books, even after her ascension to royalty. And much of her time was spent reading and studying here. Twilight approached it. She did not enter, but she gently placed a hoof on the door. Peering through the window, she saw that no-one was inside. In fact, the place looked quite dusty and unused. She sighed with a degree of disappointment. It was to be expected of course. Even when she was living here, working as the place's librarian, few ponies ever came to borrow any books or do any reading. And even in all her subsequent visits, it had remained largely unused., but it was not something she ever enjoyed seeing, books never being read.
She would have entered then and there, had it not been for a familiar voice from behind.
"Well well. I was beginnin to thin you wouldn't show up."
Another smile crept onto Twilight's face as she turned around and gazed upon an old earth pony behind her. Her coat was a faded yellow, and her mane was a bright red. One her flank, she bore a cutie mark of a large red apple. She was a very old pony, far older than almost any other pony in the village. But she was one Twilight knew well. The two smiled at each other and walked towards each other. They nuzzled the sides of each other's heads in an affectionate manner, before pulling away, still smiling.
"It's been a long time, Applebloom." She said.
The old pony nodded.
"Yes it has." She replied.
The two began walking down the street together, Twilight making sure to slow down more than normal to allow the wizened earth pony to keep up.
"How long has it been since you decided to pay us a visit Princess?" Applebloom asked.
Twilight shook her head.
"Applebloom. I told you. Here in Ponyville, I want to be known as Twilight. Nothing more."
There was no malice or ill intent in Twilight's voice as she said that, but there was enough of an edge to her words to make Applebloom nod in response. After that, Twilight considered her old friend's question.
"How long has it been? About a year I suppose."
Applebloom looked away from her.
"Longer than last time."
Twilight closed her eyes and lowered her head. It was true. Her visits to Ponyville had been getting less and less frequent. It was something that conjured up sad memories. Back when she was living here, she had lamented once that she and her brother, Shining Armour, despite having once been close, had seen each other less and less since she moved to Ponyville. And while it was true that things between them got better shortly after that, she never forgot just how lonely she had felt without him in her life.
As the two continued walking down the street, they began to move towards the outskirts of the village. The houses were becoming more sparse and they were almost up in a large green field that was adjacent to the town. Once they reached it, Applebloom stopped walking, leading to Twilight turning towards her with a confused expression.
"You're not coming?" She asked.
Applebloom shook her head.
"No. I visited earlier today. Besides, I think this really is a private moment between you and them." She replied.
Twilight gave a small smile and nodded in thanks. Applebloom nodded back and began to walk away. Twilight kept her eyes on the old pony for as long as possible before she moved out of sight. Turning back to the field, she began walking across it. After a few minutes, she reached what she came here for. Underneath a large old oak tree, were five stone slabs in the ground, all lined up.
As Twilight approached, she could make out the symbols that had been chiselled into each of them. Three apples. Three balloons. Three diamonds. Three Butterflies. And finally, a cloud with a lightning bolt emerging from it. Once Twilight had reached the stones, she sat down and gazed upon each one in turn. Her expression was one of sadness. But like most of her visits, she did not want to shed a tear here, not in front of them.
"Hey guys. I'm sorry it's been so long. I tried getting away sooner but you know how things go."
The stones were silent, like they always were. But sometimes, Twilight would remember her friends, her dear sweet friends, and imagine what they might say in response. Maybe Rainbow would make some sarcastic comment about her being late, but still happy she was here. Fluttershy wouldn't want to make a fuss and make some excuse on her behalf. Rarity would say she wasn't bothered, for fear of seeming impolite. Applejack would be eager to catch up regardless. And Pinkie, well, she'd just bounce around and be thrilled to see her.
"I see the town's doing okay. Sweet Apple Acres is still going strong. The Cake twins are running Sugarcube Corner okay. Everything......"
Twilight's smile began to fade.
".......everything's just fine."
The lavender princess stared at the stones. Cold, unfeeling......dead. She did this every time she came here. She'd act like nothing was wrong. She'd pretend that she was alright, that she was happy, that it didn't bother her to see her friends like this. But it was a lie. No matter how much she would have wanted them to, the stones stayed silent when she spoke. They were not her friends. Her friends were gone. And she remained.
She'd always known this, but she'd always tried to bury that feeling. Beneath her work, her responsibilities, her lessons to other ponies. She'd convince herself that she was alright and that she had no regrets. But here, with nopony to see, she finally let go. Her eyes welled up and she began to cry. Her weeps were the only sound that could be heard, save for the rustle of the leaves of the oak tree.
"I'm sorry. I always knew that this would happen. That being....."
She spread her wings and looked at them.
".......this, would lead to a long life. I tried my best to prepare myself for.....for seeing you all......leave. But it hurts. I won't lie to you anymore girls. Your passing was something that I have not stopped thinking about. Not in all the years since it happened."
She furled her wings once more. It had been many years since her friends had passed away. She had spent as much time with them as possible during her early years as a princess. But as the years rolled on and they grew older, it became more and more clear to her that she could not follow them. To see them grow older, to see them grow weaker with age, while she remained exactly as she was, made it very clear to her what was coming. But that made it no easier when it finally happened. And when they passed, that was the day she decided to officially move back to Canterlot. Oh sure she still had friends here in Ponyville, like Applebloom. But these five, her closest friends, were no more. And without them, she no longer had any reason to keep living in this village.
"Please understand girls. I don't hate Celestia for changing me like this, making me a princess. In the years since it happened I have achieved so much, seen so much, performed magic I once thought I'd never be able to do. But this....."
She got up and walked forward, placing a hoof on top of the nearest gravestone, that of Applejack's.
".....this sight of you, it always makes me wonder if it was worth it."
She brushed aside some of the leaves that had fallen on top of the grave.
"I would give it all up in a heartbeat for you. You know that. I'd give up my power, my crown.......my wings. I'd sacrifice it all, just so I could have one day.....just ONE day.....with things back the way they were. Back with all of you. Being friends. Laughing together. Being......being happy."
Her voice had become little more than sobs at this point. In this place, she felt free to allow herself to break down like this. Back in Canterlot, or even in Ponyville, she would never let herself lose it like this. Not where other ponies could see her. She did not care if they thought her "above" that sort of thing, but she knew how disheartened they'd be if they saw one of their rulers like this. So troubled, so....broken.
This was a far more upsetting visit than she had ever planned on it being. But, as she dwelt on her friends, more thoughts came to mind. Memories of her time here. Memories of her first meeting with all of them, how disinterested she was at first. How happy she was to see them when they cane to rescue her from Nightmare Moon. How heartbroken she felt when she almost lost them to the powers of Discord, and how joyous she was once more when that influence was broken. Hundreds of happy days, adventures, getting into trouble and learning about how important they all were to each other.
It brought another tear to her eye, but this time it was one of happiness.
"Girls. When I first came to Ponyville, all those years ago, making friends wasn't important to me. I came to do my duty towards Princess Celestia, nothing more. But, over time, you became as much a part of my life as my own family. You WERE my family. You were like the sisters I never had. I came to depend upon you. And when....when you passed, it nearly broke me. I never showed it, not to others at least, but it was the hardest thing I ever had to go through, save for the deaths of my own parents and brother. Losing you and them took something away from me that I will never be able to get back."
She turned and looked back over towards Ponyville.
"Other ponies have come and gone, and I've made friends of many of them. But...they were never as important to me as you were."
She then turned back towards the stones, taking her hoof off AJ's.
"But, I still cherish the times we had together. The good times and the bad. And I want you to know that my time living in Ponyville, my time with all of you......"
She closed her eyes and bowed her head, a single tear falling from her eye and landing on Applejack's grave.
".....they were truly the happiest years of my life. And I will never forget them, or you."
Twilight then bowed her head lower.
"I could never have become the mare I am today without you in my life. And for that, I will always thank you."
Twilight looked up and opened her eyes. She gave each stone a final look, touching each one gently in-turn, before beginning to maker her way back towards Ponyville. However, mere feet away from the stones, she stopped and turned back to look at the stones.
"......And I will always love you."
With those finale parting words, Princess Twilight Sparkle continued her walk towards the village of Ponyville, her mind filled with happy memories of the days she lived here, with the best friends anypony could ask for. Friends that would be with her in spirit no matter how many years passed. For as long as Twilight kept them in her heart, they would never truly be gone.