Twilight's magic was powerful. The marriage of old memories to new had been successful. Rainbow Dash could somehow recall every last, painful detail, and now that she was back in Equestria, she almost wished Twilight's spell had failed. It was a jarring experience, having lived two lives. It would take some getting used to, but she was already on her way back to normal, finding a sort of solipsistic refuge in remembering her second, otherworldly fillyhood.
There was also the matter of the time difference. That bothered her most. It had been twelve days since she left, which meant her "father" had already aged twelve years. Less than two months from now, he would be...
It was a sobering concept for the blue pegasus as she entered Celestia's chambers. The Princess had asked to see her privately.
"Please come in, Rainbow Dash."
Rainbow saw Celestia staring out the window at her kingdom. There wasn't a single other pony in sight, and she felt very timid all of a sudden. She wasn't one to shy away from anything, even royalty, but this was the first time she had received any special attention from Celestia since the accident. In fact, she couldn't recall ever having an opportunity to speak with her ruler alone. She had so many questions about Celestia's knowledge of the other world, but before she could begin to ask any of them, she was interrupted by her calm, almost calculating voice.
"I'm going to tell you a story - a story I've never told anypony else."
Rainbow Dash sat beside her and followed her aimless gaze out the window.
"Once upon a time, there were two regal sisters..."
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. She already knew this story, but Celestia always had a point to make, so she kept silent and listened.
"...and was forced to banish her in the moon," Celestia's eyes became sad, "for the good of Equestria. The loss of her beloved sister broke the princess's heart, and having to assume the duties of both sun and moon ensured that she would be reminded of that loss every day."
Rainbow began paying closer attention. That last part was something she hadn't heard before.
"The eldest sister performed her duties each day without fail, ruling Equestria as best she could, but she longed to escape her pain. She discovered a way to use her magic to...enter another world. A place entirely different from anything she had ever known - completely devoid of magic, and governed by strange and confusing laws of nature. There, she found her escape, for she could be away in that world for days, and only minutes would have passed here in Equestria."
Finally, Rainbow spoke. "So, you've known about the other world...since you were young?" she asked softly.
Celestia nodded. "I witnessed the dawn of Man. I watched them grow for hundreds of thousands of years. There was something special about them. They were so much like ponies, not in body, but in mind, and their world was so unkind to them. They were starving and dying in utter chaos. I tried to help them wherever I could. I taught them how to make fire so they could keep warm, to grow their own food, to use tools... Humans had so much potential. I tried my best to set them on the right path, but..."
Celestia suddenly burst into tears.
"Rainbow Dash, I watched as their potential for good was swept up in hatred and greed."
Rainbow winced at the way Celestia spoke those two terrible words.
"I tried to stop it, but each time I returned, their love of war had grown more and more unreal. I could save them from disease, I could save them from hunger," she lowered her head almost in shame, "...but I couldn't save them from themselves."
Rainbow Dash sniffled a little as the princess composed herself.
"Even without magic, humans are capable of overwhelming destruction. I've never seen anything like it...even in the darkest parts of Equestria. Eventually, it became too dangerous for me to be there at all, so I wiped away any trace of myself and vowed to do everything in my power to keep the worlds apart." One final tear snaked its way down Celestia's white face. "It was like losing my sister all over again."
Rainbow felt the princess's eyes on her, and she turned to meet them.
"After you disappeared, your friends and I turned Equestria upside down for two weeks looking for you. When I finally realized that we had lost you to that world, I was afraid in a way I haven't been in many, many years. I didn't tell the others, but I truly expected you to be..."
Rainbow winced again, glad that Celestia hadn't finished that thought.
"And then we found you...alive...in a house...perfectly happy in the care of that man, who raised you for fifteen years as if you were his own flesh and blood. Your...'father' proved that Men still have the capacity for love and kindness that I saw in them so long ago."
Rainbow Dash continued to gaze out the window. The mixture of emotions in her chest began to feel strangely close to something like happiness. After all, these combined memories were - in a way - a gift. Her body was the same age, but she was now fifteen years wiser, a child of both worlds. She was filled to the brim with life, nearly twice as much as her friends, and she owed it all to a human who seemed more distant and mysterious with every passing moment.
"I miss him."
At first, Celestia said nothing. She wrapped a gentle wing around the rainbow-maned pony, bathing her in the sincerity of silence for a long, sweet moment.
Dash allowed herself to be cradled as she looked back on her final moments with him. Not even Celestia's warmth could keep away the cold pain of that memory and the decision she had made that day. Had she abandoned her element? Where did her loyalties actually lie? Was there even a 'right' choice at all?
Princess Celestia interrupted her thoughts. "I've been watching over Equestria for more than a thousand years, so I don't often make mistakes anymore." She paused, looking down at Rainbow Dash for a moment. "However, I've done quite a bit of thinking this week, and I'm happy to admit that...this time...I was wrong."
"About what?" Rainbow asked cautiously.
"I believe it's time for a change. Something must be done, and I'd like you to help me."
Finally, I was home. I had a birthday to plan and a nice, long weekend in which to do it. I was really excited about the whole thing. After all, turning ten was a pretty big deal.
I wound the car up the long driveway, knowing my family could probably see me from the house. As I parked the car and shut it off, I noticed how quiet it was out here. I grabbed the little plastic bag from the passenger seat, and stepped out. There was only the sound of a gentle breeze through the woods and my own footsteps on the gravel. As a consequence of the perfect, cloudless weather, I was in a very odd mood. I think days like this affect me more than anyone else, because they remind me of...
I hadn't even climbed the first step before Samantha burst out the front door and nearly jumped off the porch into my arms. "Hi, sweetie!" I hugged her tight, loving the sweet embrace of my child. She didn't protest to me carrying her into the house, where my wife greeted me as well. "Hey, babe," she said. We shared a quick kiss before she sat back at the counter where she had been going through some of the details for Samantha's party. It was no small task. Pinkie Pie would be proud. "There's some mail for you," she said, pointing to the stack of envelopes on the other end of the counter.
"Thanks." I looked to Samantha, who had been eyeing the bag in my hand. "And this is for you, little miss."
Samantha took a seat on the stool next to me. Fumbling to untie the knot.
"Just thought I'd get you a little early present since you seemed to like the show so much," I said as I began to shuffle through the envelopes.
The bag came open, revealing season two of My Little Pony, and Samantha's face lit up. "Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you!" She hugged it to her chest.
My wife looked up from what she was doing. "That was such a cute show," she said. "Remember it had that crazy internet crowd?"
"Yeah." I faked a laugh. "Pretty ridiculous." As I lifted the next envelope, my smile disappeared. My face went numb and I froze at what I saw underneath.
It's been twelve years since Rainbow Dash disappeared from my home and my world. I didn't afford it much thought these days. That wonderful accident may have changed my life, but I had other responsibilities now as a husband and a father. Dashie was back where she belonged, and the old photo album was locked safely away, lest my wife or my little girl stumble upon it. That part of my life, however magical, was over. She was gone. I had accepted that in full.
And yet, here I stood in the kitchen, staring down at a blue feather.
A bird's feather, obviously. At least, that's what I told myself as I gently picked it up. I didn't allow hope to crawl in right away for fear of what old memories might stir; memories too powerful to experience again after more than a decade without them. So, it was just an unusual bird feather.
Except it wasn't. I lived with a pegasus for fifteen years. I know the difference between a normal feather one might find on the sidewalk...and a piece of magic ridden on the wing of a creature that had twisted its way into this realm somehow. This feather belonged to her!
"That's pretty," said my daughter.
My wife turned to look. "Where'd that come from?"
I said nothing. Had Dashie sent this to me as a sign she still remembered? It had taken me years to get over the sting of her departure. I almost felt angry. It wasn't fair. I tried desperately to swallow my memories, but it was too late for that. They had already been exhumed from their place of quiet rest and were beginning to take on color. Suddenly, I had tears in my eyes. I needed air.
Dropping the feather, I stumbled out the front door and onto the porch. I stood there with my face in my hands, trying to rub those haunting thoughts out of my eyes as I heard my family behind me.
"What's wrong, babe?" my wife asked, laying a comforting hand on my shoulder.
It was then that I heard my daughter gasp. My hands released their grip on my face and I looked down at her. She was staring straight ahead in wide-eyed awe. Following her gaze into the yard, I saw what I had never expected to see again. I dropped to my knees. There on my front lawn stood the sun goddess herself, Princess Celestia, wings outstretched and a smile on her face. Beside her... I couldn't bring myself to believe it.
Beside her was my little Dashie.
My little blue angel... She and I exchanged a look of desperate happiness. It had only been a short time for her, but she knew it had been much, much longer for me. I must have looked radically different, and she could see I had a new family now. There were tears in those rose-colored eyes, but I knew she was proud of me.
Finally, Celestia spoke, and the rest of the story began.
"Perhaps it's time our worlds knew each other..."