The sky over the Everfree Forest was the same.
It made no rational sense, followed no scientific model, but impossibly enough it was true. This fact would have bothered her once, but Twilight Sparkle had let go of such beliefs long ago. She had seen too many dark and wondrous things in course of her long life to not believe what she saw before her.
The Everfree Forest. The name held a terrible incongruity within itself, speaking of someplace where animals and trees and ponies lived in peace and harmony. The name didn’t do justice to the truths of the Everfree. How the forest held innumerable ruins dating back to pre-Equestrian civilization, or was home to the largest, and most dangerous, biome of life known to ponykind. No, the Everfree was no place for ponies at all.
Two out of three isn’t so bad, I suppose… One of her trademark smirks graced her lined face at the thought. The Archmage of Equestria, the bearer of the Element of Magic, stood alone at the edge of the Everfree. Despite herself, she shivered. The night wasn’t cold, but age changed a pony’s perceptions of their environs, and she was very aged indeed. Thankfully, she still had her wits about her. She wore her majestic cloak, comprised of ever shifting hues of purple, while her badge of office glittered warmly at her throat, both gifts of the princesses she had faithfully served her entire life.
Oh Princess Celestia… oh Luna… if only you could see the sentimental fool I’ve become… The thought of the princesses was not unpleasant, but neither was it kind. It had been many years since she had last seen the princesses in person and Twilight suspected that it would be many more before she saw them again.
I suppose it’s only fitting that I end this where it began.
Looking skywards one last time, she gave a small sigh and began forward.
As she walked deeper into the forest, Twilight found herself not just moving forward in space and time. Each hoofstep was also a step back into the recesses of her memory, an echo to a past time of her life. And as she moved onwards, she found herself growing reflective.
The Everfree Forest was free, in every sense of the word. The weather was free, free to follow the random probabilities of precipitation and pressure systems. The animals were free, free to live and hunt and die against the rigors of a life untamed. Even the plants were free, growing in endless tangles and groves, all fighting against one another for the right to exist.
It stood for everything that ponykind didn’t. It disturbed their minds at how senseless and unpredictable an existence within the Everfree would be.
Twilight Sparkle found it comforting.
Other ponies didn’t see the beautiful patterns and cycles inherent to the disorder of the Everfree. They couldn’t, having been blinkered by a life of rules and repetition. She pitied them for their blindness.
She gave a chuckle as she found herself walking along a cliff edge. Twilight knew that her young self would have been horrified to see hear her thoughts now. But the decades had worn away those neuroses, leaving her capable of appreciating the brutal honesty of life.
This did not mean that her heart had been hardened by the passing of time. No, Twilight had learned this lesson from the Everfree as well. Kindness given in the face of hardship, pain and suffering was true kindness. While life within the Everfree was bitterly harsh, it only left the sweetness of kindness that much sweeter. The thought brought another a small smile to her face as her path took her through a pass.
Twilight found herself facing a shadowed glen on the far end of the pass, its boughs hiding dark shadows and darker fears. Her eyes swept over the grove with a critical glance before she gave an uncharacteristic giggle of a laugh and pressed onward. The Everfree had taught her that while there were things to fear within the world, that did not mean she should let fear rule her life. And so, still laughing, she quickly moved through the forest.
The river that cut through the Everfree was deep and fast-flowing, but it was easy enough to cross on the regal stone bridge that had been constructed over it. The craftsmanship bore no marks of ponykind, instead seemingly carved from the very earth by fang and claw. It was a gift, a masterpiece, given in response to the generosity of a passing soul. And so Twilight crossed the river with ease.
The last obstacle barring her path loomed before her… or it would have once upon a time. The seemingly fog-bottom chasm stretched before her but for the rope bridge that hung over it. Twilight wasted little time crossing the chasm, noting as she did the state of it. The ropes were fresh hemp, the knots professional and tight, while the wood was all freshly cut. She nodded her head in satisfaction at the efforts of someone who was loyal to a duty, even if it was a duty they did not understand.
The ruins were much as she had last seen them. Stone colonnades haphazardly lay were they had fallen over the years, while long dried fountains held nothing but dust. It took her only a short while to find the throne room.
The room where it had all began so many years ago.
Twilight opened her saddlebag and slowly took out the contents with reverence, laying them on the ground with the care given to newborn foals.
Necklace… necklace… necklace… necklace… necklace… and big crown thingy.
She stepped back to admire her work with a proud smile. The Elements of Harmony, the elements she and her long-dead friends had borne for many years, were arranged in the pattern she had seen them that fateful night. And finally, the enormity of it all hit her. Her smile began to crumble and tears gathered at her eyes, but she did not fight them. Alone, she cried in mourning. In mourning for her friends that she had loved more than life and in mourning for herself and her loss.
Eventually the sobbing faded away, even as the tears continued on. Dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her cloak, Twilight took a deep breath to center herself and began the ritual. The tell-tale glow of magic lit up her horn as she concentrated on the elements before her. Seconds passed, and for one heart wrenching second, Twilight was worried she had waited too long into her old age. But then she saw it with senses both mundane and supernatural.
Her Element glowed in dim light. Second passed to minutes and gradually her Element answered her with the magic of its own. It grew to a steady blaze, lighting up the shadowed ruins with the brilliance of friendship. Twilight’s eyes stung from looking at it, but she dared not look away. She pushed forth one final burst of magic before rearing back on her hooves and –
– smashing down. The Elements, weakened by her magic, shattered. They rained to the ground in shards of crystal and stone. All except one.
Her Element was gone. Where it had lain was only scorched black stone. The tears had never stopped during the entire process, but her ragged panting was a new condition.
Like I promised Princess; the Elements are gone, free to be called forth again when they are needed most. I… I will miss you and your sister. But this isn’t the end. I will see you again, in another life and another time. And I promise you Princess, I am and always shall be, your faithful student.
Suddenly Twilight felt exhausted. The weight of her age, the stress of carrying out one final task as the faithful student, overwhelmed her. Yawning, the elderly mare laid down, resting her head amongst the remains of the Elements. The stone was warm beneath her. The ruins were quiet around her. And above her spread the endless night stars while on the horizon the first rays of dawn began to climb into the sky.
Maybe… maybe I will just lay down for a while.
And with that thought did Twilight Sparkle, the last bearer of the Elements of Harmony, close her eyes and pass from Equestria.
This was a pretty powerful story. I really loved seeing all of Twilight’s thoughts as she walked through the forest, how she saw things differently even as so much of the forest remained just as how she first saw it. And seeing her mourning for her friends was really moving. Great work!