Disclaimer: I do not own My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or any of its characters. I make no money from this writing.
Equestrian Knights: the Two Powers
Chapter 1: 14 Months
The soft light of an autumn dawn shone through a window, falling square onto the bed of Twilight Sparkle. The purple pony groaned at this intrusion on her sleep, cursing whatever pony had been as horribly evil and cruel as to invent "early morning"; it was simply barbaric. She rolled over so that her back faced the light instead and her mind could be fooled with a few more minutes of darkness that it was still night. At first it worked, and Twilight's mind went back to the nonsensical refuge of the dream world.
But the light of dawn was persistent however, and where it could not drive Twilight from slumber it would coax her out.
"Mmm..." A smile grew on Twilight's face as a most pleasurable feeling began to spread over her back. It began as a light tingling, a gradual feeling of growing warmth as the sun's rays shone down on her and soaked into her back. She rolled onto her stomach, several pops ringing out as she stretched and cracked her spine. A sudden shift and the blankets were thrown off, her wings flaring to catch more of the sun's warmth. They were a royal blue, somewhere between the sky-blue of Rainbow Dash's coat and the purple of her own. Into the sunlight they spread, larger than a Pegasus's wings, yet not so large as to look awkward on her.
At the involuntary rising of her wings, Twilight sighed and cracked her eyes open. "Okay sun, you win..." she blinked as a yawn stretched her lips "win this time. But I'll be back, mark my words..." Another yawn, and Twilight was tucking her wings in and rolling to the side to climb out of bed. Her ears twitched at the clopping of hooves approaching her door. Without sparing a glance toward it she opened it with her magic. "Morning, Sweetie."
"Awww!" The young Unicorn stomped through the open doorway, a tray of covered in pancakes, syrup, and orange juice floating just ahead of her. She fixed Twilight with a little glare. "I was really thinking I was going to surprise you with breakfast this time! Dumb sun!"
Twilight chuckled, passing by Sweetie Belle on her way to the mirror and dresser on the other side of the room. "Sorry, I wanted to stay in bed, but my wings had other plans." Levitating a brush from the top of the dresser, she began to comb her mane into some resemblance of order. In the mirror she watched as Sweetie sulked over to the bed and set the breakfast tray down onto it. She smiled a little, noting as she always did in the morning how the young filly was really beginning to resemble her sister Rarity in looks. Although, she thought, if Ditzy Doo was to be believed then Sweetie Belle had developed the same lanky proportions that Flu-
Twilight quickly forced that line of thought from her mind. Setting the brush back in its place she examined herself in the mirror a moment, before turning back around and trotting to her waiting breakfast. She leaned down and took a sniff at it, before smiling at Sweetie Belle. "It smells delicious. Thank you Sweetie. But what's the special occasion?"
"It's, it's nothing really." Sweetie Belle blushed at the praise, making the alicorn giggle. The Unicorn blushed harder and looked down, kicking a hoof idly against the wood floor. "I just...you know, wanted to say, um, thanks. It's been an entire year since you took me on as your assistant and apprentice, and I've just really learned a lot, I think."
Twilight looked up from her meal at this. Finishing the bite of pancake in her mouth she swallowed and spoke. "Wow, it's been that long already? It just seems like yesterday when you came into the library for some song books and complimented me on my magic..."
"And then you offered to teach me a few things sometime," Sweetie Belle finished, smiling up at Twilight. "Only a little bit of flashy stuff for my shows you said, for when I hit it big."
Twilight returned Sweetie Belle's smile. Reaching forward she brushed a hoof through Sweetie Belle's mane. "I sure did, Sweetie. A whole year, well, I guess I managed to teach you a thing or two about flashiness. And you...you helped..." Twilight looked down into Sweetie Belle's olive-green eyes. In the early dawn light they shone brightly, like little diamonds. They were so different from, and yet so similar to...Twilight drew her hoof back from Sweetie Belle and returned to her breakfast. She would not allow herself to entertain those thoughts. They were nothing but trouble.
"So, Sweetie," Twilight ate an apple slice, then helped it down with a gulp of orange juice. "From the size of this breakfast I'm guessing you have been up a while. What's the planned agenda for the day?" Leaving the job of planning the day's schedule to Sweetie Belle had been one of the filly's own ideas. She had figured it would be a useful skill to have when a big star. "Anything exciting?"
"Let me just check!" Sweetie Belle levitated a checklist and pen from the saddlebags she had started to wear everywhere. Twilight smiled at them, thinking back to the day she had given them to the filly. "Have breakfast," she looked up at Twilight's mostly-finished meal and nodded. "Check." She marked it off and went down. "Organize and re-shelve all the books Miss Sparkle left tossed around last night during another study binge," she giggled and smirked up at Twilight. "Check."
Twilight's cheeks lit into a blush. "There weren't that many books left out..." For some reason, a friendly little scolding comment like that was a lot more embarrassing to her when it came from a filly half her age than from a baby dragon.
To Twilight's relief, Sweetie Belle shrugged and continued on without further comment. "Well, that and cleaning those dishes take care of the morning stuff. For me anyway. When you can you need to head on over to the Mare's office. She wants to talk to you about tonight's festivities."
Twilight nodded in understanding to this. "Yes, of course." That day was indeed a special occasion, Twilight thought to herself. The most special event for the town of Ponyville since the Summer Sun Celebration it had hosted, so many years ago when she had come. It would be the 111th year anniversary of Ponyville's founding, though why this rather unusual date was significant had been a mystery to Twilight until a letter from Princess Celestia had answered it for her...
My dear Twilight Sparkle,
As you must know, ponies can be a joyously sentimental race, and the strangest things can hold significance. It was at the rather remarkable age of 110 that Marigold Took, founder and first mayor of Ponyville, passed away. All Equestrian towns great and small celebrate passing the age of their founder's death, as a sort of remembrance of them; that their town has prospered and their dream managed to at the least outlive them!
Hoping that you fully take part in this celebration as Ponyville's newest resident,
A smile crossed Twilight's face, a sad and defeated smile that made Sweetie's comments on Sweet Apple Acres' catering for the evening festivities die on her lips. She knew, deep inside, that the Princess's hope would come to nothing, as much as she had a good idea just what Mayor Mare was wanting to speak to her about.
"Twilight...are you okay?"
Twilight flinched and broke away from staring off into the distance. She looked back down at Sweetie and recognized the worry in her eyes. "Yes...yes of course I'm okay."
Sweetie continued looking up at Twilight, making the Pegacorn shift. "Teacher, are you okay?"
Twilight's eyes widened. Sweetie never called her that, in that tone of voice, unless...
Twilight looked behind her. Her wings were spread out, wisps of rainbow light floating off of them as the feathers bleached of color. Twilight snapped the wings back to her sides and began taking slow, steady breathes. The sound bled from the room around her, the bed, the walls, even Sweetie Belle fading into darkness. Twilight willed away all the memories of her life from birth to exactly that moment, and then brought to the surface other memories, from another life. Memories of two loving Pegasus parents, one white-coated and the other black-coated. She remembered her third birthday, how she couldn't manage to blow out the candles and her father did it with a flick of her wings. She remembered her first day of school, that it ended early when all the other students laughing at her eyes made fly home crying. Earning her cutie mark when she cheered up a crying filly named Fluttershy with a bubble blower. Entering the Equestrian military; leaving it after discovering her pregnancy; giving birth to her beloved child, naming the little Unicorn filly-
"Dinky." A mother's love rushed through Twilight's body and mind when she uttered this simple word. Not her own love, she recognized on an intrinsic level, another's, but it was this that gave the gift its power.
The room and Sweetie Belle returned to Twilight. She looked back and, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight, saw her wings had returned to their normal hue. Nothing of Queen Eos could be seen.
"Teacher, are you okay?"
Twilight looked back to Sweetie, her beloved student, and smiled. "Yes Sweetie Belle, I am okay. For now.
Twilight shut and locked the library door behind her, and once she had done that reached through it into the room beyond with her magic. A faint scraping sound could be heard through the thick wood, followed by a thunk as the chair she had dragged across the floor settled into place against the door, under the doorknob.
Beside her, Sweetie Belle sighed. "Is that really nece...necece...um, needed?"
"It's always better safe than sorry, Sweetie." Twilight threw up the hood of her purple cloak over her head, turned from the door, and looked around her at Ponyville. The place had healed well from the wound inflicted on it by fire, and if she had not been there to see it, Twilight might not have believed the fire had ever happened. For this, she was grateful.
It was late autumn, and while no snow had fallen yet she could feel that it would not be much longer before it did. The whole world was painted in shades of red and gold and brown, fallen leaves crunching beneath the hooves of ponies walking the streets and pathways. Excited chatter filled the air, many ponies talking in pairs or small groups about the momentous occasion before them, while other ponies, mostly Pegasi and Unicorns, worked to decorate the town. Somewhere in the distance came the laughter of children, fillies and colts chasing each other through the leaves, gathering them up into piles before diving into them and scattering leaves everywhere; pure child's fun.
"Ponyville, my home." Twilight took a deep breath of the crisp fall, before breaking into a swift trot. "Come along, Belle, we mustn't keep the mayor waiting."
Sweetie Belle giggled as Twilight assumed what she had affectionately dubbed the Pegacorn's "teacher voice", before trotting along behind her. Twilight smiled at the giggle, though it went unseen beneath her hood.
What did not go unseen, to neither Twilight nor Sweetie Belle, were the stares that fell on them as they passed by. Twilight could feel the other ponies stare at her as she walked the streets, a prickling on the back of her neck like a mosquito that just wouldn't leave her alone. Some were discreet, quick glances before returning to whatever they had been doing beforehand. Most were obvious, lingering looks that never quite ended even when something else forced their attention away from her. Discreet or obvious however, Twilight recognized and remembered the emotions behind the looks. She had helped put a stop to those same emotions when they had been directed toward somepony completely undeserving of them, Zecora.
Twilight let the stares pass unchallenged here. With her the unease, the expecting for a sudden burst of violence, was more than earned. And so she simply sank deeper into her hood and cloak, breathed a heavy sigh, and went on as if there were no stares at all. It was not until several more minutes had passed, and the town hall was within sight, that the moment she had been patiently waiting for since they had left the library came.
"Twilight, why do others look at you like that?"
Twilight came to a stop at a street corner, just across the road from her meeting with the mayor. She waited for her apprentice to sidle up next to her before speaking. "In what way do you mean, Belle?" She was still in her "teacher voice". "How do they look at me?"
Sweetie Belle frowned and looked around them. A few paces down the road Carrot Top was non-too-subtly hurrying away from the pair, pulling her carrot stand along behind her. A bit in the other direction and Caramel could be seen crossing the road to the sidewalk on the other side before continuing on. "They..." Twilight could almost hear the gears grinding in the young Unicorn's head. "They look at you like..." Just beside them Snips and Snails strolled out of an alleyway, spotted Twilight and Sweetie Belle, and promptly turned around and went the way they came. Twilight swore she could see smoke coming from Sweetie's ears as she tried to work things out. "They look at you like...they're afraid of you."
Twilight looked up for a moment at the sun, noting from its movement in the sky that about five minutes had passed while she had allowed her apprentice to put her thoughts into words. She smiled at the improvement, though this went unseen beneath her hood. "That's right, Sweetie. They are afraid of me."
"But why?" Sweetie moved to in front of Twilight and looked up at her. "It all started just a bit after the town fire, but I don't understand. You saved everything from that fire. Did you do something after it?"
Twilight looked down at Sweetie Belle. Beneath her cloak her wings fluttered. "Rarity never told you anything?" Sweetie Belle shook her head and Twilight sighed. "I suppose that's for the best. Rarity is your sister and legal guardian; I won't overstep her authority on something like this."
Sweetie looked like she was about to say something, but Twilight held up a hoof to stop her. "I will tell you something though, if you promise not to ask me again, only your sister." Sweetie Belle nodded. Twilight put her hoof down, looked around them to check if anyone was listening, and then looked back at Sweetie. "I tried to take the good path, and made some very, very bad decisions. I messed a lot of things up."
Sweetie Belle frowned. "I remember...talking with Big Mac about something like this...I wanted to know how you made Rarity sad."
"And I'm sure Big Mac gave a good answer," Twilight said. "He is a good stallion. Anyways, I think we've kept the mayor waiting long enough, don't you think?"
Without waiting for Sweetie Belle's answer, which she knew would inevitably have been whole-hearted agreement, Twilight stepped around her and made for the town hall. Her thoughts dwelled not on the sound of hoofsteps on cobblestone behind her, telling her that Sweetie Belle had fallen back in line behind her, nor on the stares she still felt prickling the back of her neck. She thought on the coming meeting with the mayor. Despite what she may or may not have told Sweetie Belle, she was not sure what the meeting could be about. It could be on the work she had done, helping organize the festivities that evening. It could be concerning the recent drake activity sighted to the west, past the southern borders of the Everfree Forest around the Drackenridge Mountains. Or, it could be concerning Sweetie Belle, who with the mayor's permission would be performing a live show for Ponyville.
At this thought, Twilight looked over her shoulder to Sweetie Belle behind her, allowing her mind to drift back to weeks previous. Ecstatic was the only fitting word to describe the young filly's reaction when, three weeks ago, Twilight had given her the news that mayor Mare wanted her to sing for the whole of Ponyville. Something like that would be an immense boost to a beginning singer's resume, and once Sweetie had woken up from fainting in excitement, she and Twilight had been practicing harder than ever to get her "show spells", as they had dubbed them, ready. Rarity, meanwhile, had even set to work on a new dress for her sister.
Then they were walking through the front door of town hall, working their way through crowds of ponies going about their daily business, and Twilight had no more time for reminiscing. The great hall around them was dressed up in orange and gold, the colors of autumn, and at the far end was set up a great stage, on which Sweetie Belle would sing later that day. It was on that stage Twilight spotted the mayor, giving out orders to ponies around her as final preparations were made.
Twilight trotted over to the stage. "Mayor Mare, I was told you wanted to speak with me?"
"Hm?" The older mare looked up from her clipboard to Twilight. When she saw who it was she gave a warm smile and trotted closer. "Oh, Ms. Sparkle, I am so glad you were able to make it. And you, young Sweetie," she looked to Sweetie Belle at Twilight's side. "I hope Ms. Sparkle has been teaching you well." Sweetie Belle nodded and the mayor chuckled. "Good. Are you excited about tonight?"
Sweetie Belle bounced in place and nodded so fast Twilight almost expected her head to fall off. "Yes yes yes! I can't wait until tonight, it's going to be so awesome! I've written a new song for the show and everything!"
"Well, I for one can't wait to hear it! You are certainly a rising star for this town, Sweetie Belle, just like your sister!" The mayor smiled at Sweetie a moment longer, before turning back to Twilight. "And, Ms. Sparkle...how have you been?"
The simple care in that voice, concern from the governor to the one governed, for Twilight was more than enough to force away thoughts on the stares directed her way by the ponies outside. In return she lowered her hood from her head with a flick of her horn and smiled at the mayor. "I have been fine, Mayor. Busy, but fine."
"Good..." The mayor motioned her head, and Lyra and Bon-Bon, who had been nearby acting as her aides, turned and left together. She watched them go a moment before looking to Twilight. "I wanted to talk with you about this evening's festivities. The Cakes have produced a, simply put, magnificent cake for the event, and it is a tradition among small towns like Ponyville for the newest resident, who here is you, to cut and serve it."
Twilight knew what came next, knew the words before they came out of the older mare's mouth. In the mayor's eyes she could see the same recognition. And so Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and then opened them and smiled at the mayor. "Of course, ma'am. I would be honored to do that."
Most would have missed it, but her time spent at Princess Celestia's side greeting dignitaries and nobles in Canterlot had made Twilight quite perceptive in body language. The mayor flinched at Twilight's words, and for that Twilight liked her even more. "I know you would, Ms. Sparkle, however..." to her credit, the older mare did not look away. "I have to ask you to...not, participate this evening."
"What?!" Sweetie Belle jumped forward, coming halfway between Twilight and the mayor. "But you can't do that! Twilight Sparkle's an amazing Uni, I mean Pega, um, pony! She deserves-"
"Belle, silence." The filly instantly shut up at those two words, but she still turned and looked up at Twilight with a pair of watering eyes. Twilight sighed and shook her head, and then motioned back to her side. Sweetie Belle huffed and moved there, and Twilight looked back at the mayor. "I kinda expected this as soon as you brought up the tradition. May I ask why I am being treated like this?"
For a moment, the mayor looked as if she would not answer. Removing her glasses she carefully cleaned them against the scruff of her collar, before putting them back on. Only then did she meet Twilight's eyes. "Several Ponyville citizens, well, more than several...many Ponyville citizens came to me yesterday night, demanding that somepony else serve the cake. Actually, they demanded you not be allowed to attend the festivities at all, but I put my hoof down on that. No citizen of this town shall be THAT mistreated while I'm the mayor."
Here she looked away for a moment, as if speaking more to herself. "On an unrelated note, I think I might want to start looking for a new job come next election..."
Twilight felt Sweetie Belle start to move forward again and shot her a look. The filly stopped cold, but still managed a glare at the mayor. "Well fine, if those big, dumb...um...dummies, wanna mess with my mentor like this, then fine! If she's not going to be at the festival, then I'M not going to be there either!"
For the first time Twilight could remember in the entire year of their mentor/student relationship, Sweetie Belle interrupted her while she was using her teacher voice. The little Unicorn turned around and directed her gaze at Twilight now. "Nu-uh, I refuse to stand for this! Something you always tried to teach me is to never let my friends get pushed around her hurt if I can help it! Well, I can help it! Or...or I can't help it...um..."
Despite the situation, Twilight felt her lips curve into a smile. She chuckled and messed up Sweetie Belle's mane with a hoof. "Oh Sweetie, of all the lessons you could have actually remembered, you chose that one?"
Sweetie Belle blushed and suddenly lost her glare, looking away from both Twilight and the mayor. "Gosh, um, wh-when you put it that way, Twilight..."
"It sounds like 'ole egghead got herself a student that remembers all the important lessons."
All movement in the room seemed to stop, none there having so much as noticed the new arrival. Twilight's eyes widened in shock at the sound of that scratchy voice, a bit softer than she remembered but still oh so recognizable. Those words that were spoken so cheerfully echoed through her mind, and she could only turn around and look to the speaker. "Rainbow?!"
The sky-blue Pegasus stood there, her front two hooves on the edge of the platform and her rear hooves planted firmly on the floor, her wings beating lazy arcs to keep her balanced. Around her neck was woven a dull grey scarf, its surface shimmering as if woven with metal. "Hey Twilight, did ya miss me?"
A rush of affection that was only mostly Twilight's filled her body, and with a joyful cry she flared her wings and leapt for the Pegasus. Rainbow Dash reared back and caught her in her forelegs, and together the two went falling back onto the floor. There Twilight pulled Rainbow Dash into the tightest hug she could muster, laughing all the while. "Haha, oh my gosh, Dash! When did you get back? How was Gildedale, um, any bad weather on the way back or anything? Have you been to anypony else yet?"
Rainbow Dash laughed with Twilight and returned the embrace, making the purple Pegacorn blush. After several seconds Twilight reluctantly let her go, allowing Rainbow Dash to look at her and smile. "I just flew in this morning, I don't think I've been back for even an hour yet. Gildedale was great, if a lot colder and less gold-looking than last I went. But it's later in the year now than then, so duh. The weather was fine on the way back, even the mountains were clear of snowstorms, which surprised me. And yeah, I flew by Flu...Ditzy's place first, to drop off my stuff."
Her smile slimmed into a smirk, and Rainbow Dash chuckled at Twilight. "Ya know, I'm almost getting the impression that you missed me."
Twilight could feel the flush spreading over her face, to the point she thought if he got any hotter she might explode. Shaking her head, Twilight chuckled right along with Rainbow Dash. "Yeah, well, maybe I have." Stepping to Rainbow Dash's left side, Twilight held a wing out and used it t give her a wing hug like she had seen other Pegasi do. "Maybe I missed you a lot."
Twilight's eyes and Rainbow Dash's met for a moment, a very brief moment. But in that moment Twilight saw that, yes, the feeling was mutual. Then the very brief moment was over, and Rainbow Dash was pulling away from her and jumping up onto the stage. Twilight followed her up and watched the Pegasus give a little hug to Sweetie Belle before turning to the mayor. The two began speaking to each other, while Sweetie Belle turned and trotted over to Twilight.
"So, should I, um..."
Twilight jumped at Sweetie Belle's voice, focused as she had been on Rainbow Dash and the mayor's conversation, and looked down at the filly. "Yeah, yeah. Go on to the Carousel Boutique and tell Rarity I want to meet with her for a late brunch, the usual place. Then go meet up with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo and make sure you have tonight's routine perfect. And YES," Twilight said, holding a hoof up as Sweetie Belle opened her mouth to speak, "you WILL be performing tonight, no ifs, ands, or buts about it."
Right then and there, Sweetie Belle looked like she could burst out bawling. Twilight smiled and, kneeling down, pulled her apprentice into a hug. "Sweetie, I know you want to help me, and I know your heart is in the right place. But please, for me and your sister, perform tonight, okay? And not just perform, but really give it your all." A sniffle came from against her shoulder, followed by a mumbled acknowledgment. Twilight's smile softened as she pulled away a bit and looked into Sweetie Belle's eyes. "Hey, come on, cheer up. Just imagine the looks on the faces of all those neighsayers when my number one assistant blows them away with her singing Then they can feel bad for this, right?"
This time Sweetie Belle giggled, nodding her head as she walked around Twilight and began walking for the door. "Well gee Twilight, I hadn't thought of it like that. I'll give them the performance of a life-" Thump. "Forgot we were on a stage...ow...I'm okay..."
Twilight rolled her eyes, thought that some things never changed, and then turned back to Rainbow Dash and the mayor. The conversation, almost an argument, was just breaking up, and Twilight sighed as the Pegasus stomped towards her. "No luck?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head, sending her mane flying. Twilight noted that she had grown it out some during her extended trip to Gildedale. "As much luck as a rookie on his first cloud-clearing assignment."
The mayor walked over and clarified. "I'm sorry Ms. Sparkle, but a majority of the town got together and signed a petition for keeping you from the festival. Here," she pulled a roll of paper from a bag hanging from her side and offered it to Twilight. "They all signed their names, it is without a doubt a majority. Though if it makes you feel any better, it's only just barely a majority."
Twilight Sparkle read through the names on the petition, the weight on her shoulders growing heavier and heavier with every pony she recognized. The Cakes were on it, which didn't surprise her; they probably blamed her for Pinkie Pie's leaving. There were also Carrot Top and Roseluck; this also didn't surprise her, as with Fluttershy's sudden disappearance much of the local wildlife had grown rather out of control for a while. Twilight could still remember Carrot Top's screams of horror as Angel led an army of rabbits into her garden...
Twilight returned the petition to the mayor and sighed. Almost unconsciously she drew her hood back over her head. "Well, it is about as I expected. Thank you mayor, for bringing this to me gently. And...for your name not being on here."
The older mare gave a small, sad smile. "Of course, Ms. Sparkle. It would be simply a travesty of my office to allow public sentiment to sway me from what I feel in my heart to be right and wrong. You are a fine mare, Ms. Sparkle."
"Yes...of course." Twilight turned from the mayor to the Pegasus beside her. Rainbow Dash was hovering upside down, seemingly making a game of flicking her mane around and trying to catch it in her hooves. Despite the most recent event, Twilight chuckled. "You ready to get going? Rarity's probably half-way to the café by now."
Rainbow Dash flipped right-side up and grinned a grin at Twilight that she honestly never thought ever be directed towards her. "I thought you'd never ask! Except..." Rainbow Dash gave her wings and extra hard flap and barrel-rolled above Twilight to her other side, lifting the Pegacorn's cloak up so that her wings were better exposed. "How 'bout we make it a race?"
Twilight Sparkle grinned.
Twilight Sparkle touched down in front of the Ponyville café just behind Rainbow Dash, who at that moment was attracting most of the outdoor diners' attention with a little victory dance. Twilight herself simply sat back on her haunches to catch her breath, the thought coming to her mind that she had never seen the rainbow-maned Pegasus ever have to do the same.
"Rainbow Dash, I think this will...be the...last time we race..."
Rainbow Dash stopped her dancing and chuckled, turning back to look at Twilight. Now Twilight was sure of it, Rainbow Dash didn't look tired or out of breath at all. "Heh, no worries, Twilight. The best flyer in all of Equestria gets that reaction all the time. Though you didn't do too bad, for an egghead."
"Oh dear Celestia, now she's referring to herself in the third person! Oh how much larger can your ego grow, Rainbow Dash?"
Twilight and Rainbow Dash looked to the direction of the voice. There at a table just a few feet away from them, under the shade of an umbrella and nursing a glass of carbonated raspberry juice, sat Rarity, with two more glasses set in front of the table's other chairs. When they were both looking at her she smiled and waved a hoof. "Hello darlings!"
"Rarity!" Twilight stumbled in the wake of air left by Rainbow Dash as she sped forward toward Rarity. Instead of bowling the ivory Unicorn over like Twilight, and every other remaining patron at the café, was expecting however, Rainbow Dash slid to a stop just as quickly as she had taken off running and simply pulled Rarity into a hug with her forehooves. "I missed you sooo much! Traveling around Gildedale wasn't nearly as fun without you or Applejack."
"I can imagine any kind of trip being less fun when it lacks the kind of elegance that only I can bring." Rarity gave a small, polite titter as she returned Rainbow Dash's hug. Then she pulled away and looked the Pegasus over. "Why, Rainbow Dash, now that I really look at you I hardly recognize you!"
Rainbow Dash shrugged and took a seat at Rarity's table. Twilight took the third seat a moment later, content for the moment to let the others speak. "Yeah, well, running and working with the Dale Guard is bound to put a little muscle on your bones, hehe. Although it all got a little awkward when Bright Voice made his attraction, um, obvious to me."
"Oh, I can imagine!" Rarity sighed theatrically, putting a hoof to her forehead and leaning back in her chair. "Acting as Princess Celestia and Luna's personal representative to the other pony nations must be such an incredible life! Traveling the world, seeing all sorts of fantastic sights, trying all kinds of exotic foods!"
"Nine months of it and I already hate the job." Rainbow Dash released her own sigh, dramatically less theatrical than Rarity's, and took a gulp of her raspberry juice. "Being the Avatar of the Rainbow of Light sucks. Sure it's cool and stuff getting to check up on old acquaintances like Ashtail and Shield Maiden, or Niles Nigellus, or even old Lady Falalauria, even if she did seem really busy with something..." Rainbow Dash drifted off for a moment, her eyes seeming to be looking somewhere else to Twilight. Then she snapped back to the present. "But what I mean is, all this traveling keeps me away from the things that really matter to me. The, well, the ponies that really matter, and stuff..."
Both Twilight and Rarity smiled. Reaching out they each took one of Rainbow Dash's forehooves in their own. "We missed you too, darling," Rarity said. Then Rarity smirked. "And so has Ditzy."
A blazing blush consumed Rainbow Dash's face at these words, causing Rarity to break out into her trademark elegant titter, while Twilight just smiled. "Yeah," Rainbow Dash mumbled, sinking further into her chair. "She kinda showed that to me this morning..."
Now it was Twilight and Rarity's turn to blush. Noticing the looks on their faces, Rainbow Dash chuckled and sat back up in her chair. "Anyways, I'm back now. How have things been in Ponyville while I was gone?"
"Actually, they have been perfectly fine," responded Rarity. "Ditzy and little Dinky together are almost as good with animals as Fluttershy was, so we haven't had any trouble with them lately. Diamond Dog activity in the old quarries has increased though, and there have been sightings of Drakes along the edges of the Everfree."
"Drakes?" Rarity nodded, and a frown crossed Rainbow Dash's face. "Those guys are almost never seen this far into pony territory. Heck, to get this close to a place like Ponyville they would've had to cross the outer edges of the dragon kingdom!"
"Hm, that is strange." Rarity took a sip of her juice, before shrugging. "Well, let those ugly, overgrown lizards do...whatever it is ugly, overgrown lizards do. They're in that rotten Everfree, and we are here. And besides" Rarity smirked and stood up from her chair, striking a dramatic pose Twilight thought would have looked more suited for Rainbow Dash. "If they try to start trouble, those ruffians will have to contend with the Knights of Equestria!"
Twilight and Rainbow Dash shared a look on this. "When did she get so gung-ho about all this knight stuff," asked Rainbow Dash.
"Big Macintosh started writing a book," Twilight responded, her focus remaining on the ivory Unicorn beside her starting some sort of meandering soliloquy on possible adventures they could go on. "He compared it to both those steamy adventure 'novels' she reads, and the quest you, she, and Applejack went on to the Archback Mountains, and for whatever reason she's been itching to go on another adventure like that ever since." She motioned a hoof towards Rarity. "It's kinda adorable, as long as she's not talking your ear off about it."
"Huh..." Rainbow Dash looked between Twilight and Rarity a few times, a sort of embarrassed frown growing on her face. She eventually settled back on Twilight. "Speaking of...how is Applejack doing, anyway?"
That stopped Rarity's shenanigans. Twilight sunk back into her hood, not allowing herself to look back into those rose eyes looking into her. "Applejack is..." Twilight worked the next few words around in her mouth, figuring out what was the best way to say it. "Applejack is better. She's doing better."
"The limp is almost gone," Rarity added, flinching as Rainbow Dash fixed her gaze on her. "I mean, it's barely noticeable...and the other day, I think she came this close to telling me a little white lie." Rarity held her forehooves about an inch apart to show what she meant.
A moment more of staring, and Rainbow Dash sighed and looked away from Rarity, back to the table. "I just wish she would go ahead and tell us what happened that day..."
"Probably something else the ponies of Ponyville would resent me for," Twilight muttered to herself, though it was loud enough for the others at the table to hear quite well.
Rarity perked up. "Oh, that reminds me." She looked over to Twilight. "Sweetie Belle told me what happened with the mayor this morning. Personal feelings aside, this simply doesn't feel right to me."
Twilight shrugged. "It's fine, Rarity. I mean," she motioned to around them. While they had been talking, all the rest of the outdoor tables had been vacated, leaving the three alone out in the street. "They have every right to treat me like this. No, even worse is how they should treat me. Full justice hasn't exactly been visited upon me yet, and they're resentful."
"Well I don't get it," said Rainbow Dash. "They accepted Princess Luna back with open hooves, and she threatened to bring about eternal night!"
Twilight looked to Rainbow Dash and lowered her hood, allowing the Pegasus and the Unicorn with her to fully see her. "Rainbow Dash, which would hurt more to you, getting betrayed and attacked by somepony you don't know at all, or somepony you have known for years, and have accepted as part of your community?"
"The pony I know, of course."
Twilight nodded. "Exactly. None of the ponies of Ponyville knew Princess Luna, so it wasn't personal when she did what she did. She was just a stranger who they had a new chance to get to know. It's different with me though. They might not know all the details of what I did, or why, but what they do know is enough. They know a trusted member of their society, somepony looked up to and respected, firebombed Canterlot and drove half her friends away."
Silence fell on the table. Rainbow Dash fidgeted in her seat, her wings tucked close to her sides. Rarity downed the rest of her raspberry juice, breaking into a coughing fit as some of it went down the wrong pipe. Twilight Sparkle looked away, away from her friends and the café to somewhere else. Some place that wasn't there. "I made things personal, and those kinds of wounds leave scars that never heal."
"Twilight..." Rainbow Dash leaned across the table and placed a hoof on Twilight's right shoulder. "We've already said a hundred times, we have forgiven you. I forgive you, and I don't hate you." Rarity remained silent on this.
Twilight sighed, looking over at Rainbow Dash, yet her eyes remained distant. "You've forgiven," she said, "but you can never forget."
"Eeeeeyah!" A pair of massive rear hooves shot out, impacting against the trunk of the apple tree with a deep, satisfying thunk. Green apples fell from the quivering branches, dropping down like rain into the several barrels set out under them. A few apples missed their baskets, hitting the gently sloping ground and rolling down, down to the bottom of the short hill to where the ground evened out. There they rested, waiting to be picked up by any pony wandering by.
Big Mac looked over his shoulder at the now empty tree, and after a moment nodded in satisfaction. Turning back he looked across the short yard to the front of the Sweet Apple Acres farmhouse. There Granny Smith sat in her rocking chair, doing some needlework on a ripped couch cushion. "That's the last of 'em, Granny!"
The ancient earth pony looked up from her work to Big Mac. "Hm? You sure that's the last one?"
Big Mac looked around and did a quick scan of the surrounding apple orchard. He silently counted each and every tree, looking for any hints of red or green or gold amid the sea of brown. When he saw none he nodded his head and looked back to Granny Smith. "Eyup. The final tree for this year's crop has just been bucked."
"Good," spoke up Applejack, limping out the front door of the farmhouse. Crossing the yard she went over to where her brother stood and began collecting the baskets of apples. "Tomorrow we can start work on prepping the ground for next year's harvest. Maybe we'll manage ta cut some time off Winter Wrap Up next go-round." In the late morning light Big Mac could clearly see the crisscross of scars covering much of her right flank, though they had faded a good deal recently.
Big Mac nodded, deciding not to comment any on how Applejack really wasn't supposed to be doing any kind of heavy work like this, and set to work helping her with carrying the baskets to the cellar. Between the two of them it was a quick and easy job, even with Applejack's limp, and soon enough he was shutting the cellar door and putting its lock in place. The sound of retreating hoofsteps made him look up and see Applejack limping away to town. "Hey sis, you okay?"
Applejack stopped. She did not look back at him as he expected, but rather up into the clear blue sky. Being behind her, Big Mac could not see any of her face, but something about her stance, how she held herself, told him that she was smiling. And for some reason, this made him want to smile too.
"Big Mac," Applejack said to him. "When I was fixin' breakfast this morning, I saw a rainbow through the window." She looked over her shoulder at him, and now he could see her smile, not just hear it in her voice. "She's back, big brother. Rainbow Dash' back."
Big Mac walked over to his sister and wrapped a foreleg over her shoulders in a hug. His gaze went out to Ponyville, from where he could almost feel the excitement emanating. "Well then," he said, "I reckon tonight's going ta be a night to remember."