Groaning in discontent, Nova ascended the winding pathway to the hilltop gazebo, his hooves sinking slightly in the water-logged earth. He brushed aside his dark-blue mane with a forehoof, covering his brow in a vain attempt to block out the torrents of rain lashing at his face. Above, the clouds hung low and heavy, forming a gray ceiling for another gloomy day.
The gazebo itself was old and weathered, the red paint on its roof and deck faded from the abuse of countless seasons. But it had been built to last, and its structure was as sound as ever. This, in addition to its secluded location, made it no wonder that Nova’s grandmother often trekked out here when she wished to be alone.
Stepping out of the rain, Nova ducked under the gazebo’s roof and shook the excess water from his coat. His body glistened in the shelter’s soft lamplight.
And there she was, just as he had expected. The elderly unicorn mare was seated close to the railing on the gazebo’s far side, her lavender coat and purple mane thick with streaks of gray. She was staring complacently out into the horizon, her eyes wandering over mist-covered hills and fields.
“Grandma?” Nova ventured, his voice low as to not startle her.
The old mare simply turned, looking back over her shoulder and casting Nova a weak, tired smile. Staring back out into the distance, she raised her eyes to the heavens, regarding the clouds with a look of something approaching curiosity.
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” she said.
“Grandma,” Nova began, stepping across the deck to where she was seated in a wooden chair. “Everypony’s been wondering where you got off to.”
“The clouds never used to do this on their own,” his grandmother continued. “There was a time when we ponies considered this sort of thing…unnatural.”
“Grandma,” Nova stated again. “Come on. Mom thinks you’re going to catch a cold out here.” He laid a forehoof gently against her shoulder.
Again his grandmother turned, staring at him with her deep, purple eyes. “What,” she said, chuckling softly, “no time to listen to the ramblings of an ancient mare like me?”
Nova sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. He had heard the stories dozens of times before. As a foal, he had often sat, enamored, listening in wide-eyed curiosity as she regaled him with tales of years long since past. Part of him didn’t blame her that she loved to relive them, however. She was, after all, one of the last of a dying breed: one of the few ponies left who remembered the Equestria of yore—a land rife with magic.
And so, with a smile, Nova seated himself in the chair next to her. “Of course I have time,” he said.
“It’s true,” his grandmother went on, “the pegasi used to be responsible for the weather, back when they had their cities in the clouds.” She waved a hoof in the air, gesturing at the sky. “Every sunny day, every thunderstorm and downpour. All of it was very finely scheduled. So well..organized.” She smirked as the last word left her lips.
“And us!” she continued, pointing at Nova and herself. “The magic we unicorns used to command!” She tapped Nova’s horn playfully with a forehoof. “There was a time when these things weren’t just for show.” Nova furrowed his brow as a sudden, forlorn expression crossed his grandmother’s face. The old mare looked away, staring absently into the distance once more. “The hours, the days, the years I spent on my studies,” she said, her hooves trembling in the air before her, “the sleepless nights, pouring over every book, every tidbit of knowledge I could get my hooves on.”
His grandmother sighed. “All rendered useless in an instant.”
“The Fall,” Nova said, more of a statement than a question.
His grandmother nodded. “Everything we ponies had lived with for millennia, everything that had become like second nature to us, was torn away in the blink of an eye.” She looked back at Nova, as if to make sure that he was listening. “The pegasi lost control of the seasons. Their cities fell from the skies.” She shook her head as she spoke. “We unicorns found ourselves unable to levitate as little as a feather, let alone use any more substantial spells.”
“And then?” Nova asked, leaning forward in his chair. There was a certain passion about his grandmother, a certain fire in her eyes when she spoke of the old days. Despite his familiarity with the tale, Nova wanted to hear more.
“And then the Princesses disappeared. Our regal leaders, our own deities, vanished into thin air.” His grandmother gazed about the gazebo, scanning the air as if she was searching for something. “Some say they, too, had lost their powers. That they had been relegated to living as we mortals did. Regardless, the sun and the moon no longer obeyed anypony. Day and night came without rhyme or reason, as if nature itself was rebelling against us.” She paused for a long moment, staring quietly at the floor. “For all the years that ponykind had stood firm, for all the millennia that we had persisted, we finally thought that our end had come.”
“But it hadn’t,” Nova remarked, smiling.
“No, it hadn’t,” his grandmother replied. “Because, as I have come to learn in the years since, the more things change, the more they really stay the same.” A smile of her own played lightly at the corners of her mouth.
“The earth ponies saved us,” she continued, “ponies like your aunt Applejack. They taught us to work the land, just like their ancestors had done in servitude to the unicorn and pegasus tribes of yore.” Again, she paused. “It’s almost ironic. In a good way, of course.”
“So what exactly stayed the same, then?” Nova asked.
Without warning, the elderly mare leapt to her hooves, standing proud before her grandson. “The fire of friendship lives in our hearts, as long as it burns we cannot drift apart. Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few. Laughter and singing will see us through,” she recited in a singsong voice.
“What?” Nova said, furrowing his brow as he chuckled.
“Nothing,” his grandmother said, closing her eyes and smiling. “Just an old song.”
Nova rose to his hooves, heartened by the sudden change in his grandmother’s demeanor. He wrapped his hooves around her shoulders and hugged her tightly. “Come on then, Grandma Sparkle,” he said, releasing her and drifting toward the steps to the pathway, “let’s get you back to the party. Aunt Pinkie wouldn’t forgive you if you missed it.”
“Alright,” his grandmother said, chuckling and following him, “let’s go.”
Great work, Combine. You did a fine job of making Twilight’s recollection engaging while still making it sound like her. I loved the irony of the earth ponies saved the other races by teaching them the same talents they had used in servitude to them. I liked the picture of the pegasi cities, falling to the ground. A horrific sight. And I loved the callback to Hearth’s Warming, a very sweet and funny way to end it. Nice job!