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All the Time in the World · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Planning Ahead
The teleportation circle dropped them right where it was supposed to. Twilight Sparkle’s horn flashed with a final pulse of violet light as she tied off the spell’s loose ends, and then the veiling matrix collapsed, revealing their destination.

Darkness and heat washed over them. Acrid, searing, burning air assaulted her nose and picked at her eyes. She squinted against the rain of cinders for any sign of the path through the dark tunnel, and when she spotted a flat, hoof-trodden stretch of pumice, she broke for it.

“This way!” She could barely breathe the burning air. “Come on, girls! We’re almost there!”

“It’s too hot, Twilight!” Rarity cried. Her silver-shod hooves cracked the pumice and kicked little puffs of volcanic dust into the air. “We’re going to cook!”

“It’s just a little further!” Twilight’s lungs burned, but still she drove them forward. At the end of the rocky tunnel the darkness gave way to a hellish orange glow. Currents of superheated air flowed toward them like a dragon’s breath down its gullet. She felt her lips begin to crack.

“I see it!” Rainbow Dash yelled. She shielded her head with her wings. The tips of her primaries had already started to wilt from the heat.

They wouldn’t last much longer here, Twilight knew. Another minute at most before their lungs began to blister and swell and weep fluid into the air sacs, and then they would all die here, drowning in a geothermal vent that hadn’t seen water in thousands of years. An ironic way to perish, and the thought propelled her legs forward with new vigor. The sharp pumice clawed at her coat and stung the delicate underside of her hooves.

Then, so suddenly it stunned her, they were in the open again. The tunnel spilled out onto a spit of volcanic rock, extending over the volcano’s main vent. Hundreds of feet below them a lake of magma lit the shaft like the underworld’s own sun. The rock shook beneath their hooves, groaning as the tremendous pressure building up deep within the earth sought out its escape. Boulders the size of houses fell around them, dislodged as the volcano began its final death throes.

Twilight stepped up to the edge. The superheated air rising from the magma below curled the hairs on her muzzle, and she had to breathe through her clenched teeth. She fumbled with the catch on her saddlebags and managed to withdraw the tiny gem from its special insulated pouch. She floated it closer, and for a moment her eye caught on one of the tiny memories dancing in its facets.

She saw herself as a younger mare, Spike riding atop her back. They had a book, and she was reading something to the hatchling. They were both smiling and looked so happy.

“Sorry,” she grunted. “It’s for a good cause. Now, girls!”

With a mental push, she flung the gem away. It fell like a blue star into the pit, for an instant brighter than all the magma boiling beneath them, and it was lost. Something cracked in her heart, and a sense of profound, ineffable loss washed over her, chilling her. And then all the heat of the volcano returned. She stumbled away from the edge, coughing out the searing air as best she could. Vaguely, through burning, tearing eyes, she saw the others step away from the edge as well. She reached out for them.

“Everypony together!” They were out of time. The spells in the gems were loose, and the lake of burning rock beneath them shuddered. A terrible light, brighter than the sun at noon, shone up from beneath them. The rock began to shake, cracks opening beneath her hooves. Light and a long fall appeared between them.

Yeah, time to go. She squeezed her eyelids shut against the burning air and reached out with her magic. Her friends crowded close, and for a moment, just before the teleportation spell activated, things weren’t so bad.

They appeared outside in a flash of purple light. The summer sun of southern Zebrica felt downright cold against their coats. The air shimmered above them as the last of the volcano’s heat lifted away.

Twilight gasped for breath. Her cracked lips tasted of blood, but she didn’t care. All that mattered was the cool air and the soft touch of the grass beneath her belly. She giggled, then laughed.

“We did it! We did it!” She grabbed the nearest pony, which turned out to be Fluttershy, and pulled her into a crushing hug. “We stopped the volcano, girls!”

A heady, giggly elation bubbled up out of her chest. She couldn’t stop laughing. How could she? Dozens of evacuated villages could now be saved. Thousands of square miles of delicate savannah preserved.

“Ha!” She shouted at the volcano. Even from nearly 20 miles away, it loomed over the landscape like a titan. Billows of dark, ash-laden smoke rose from the top of the cone, forming massive clouds that drifted east, swallowing half the sky. “Is that all you’ve got? Well, it wasn’t enough! Our friendship is stronger than your, uh, lava!”

“Um, Twilight,” Rarity began. “About that…”

Twilight barely heard her. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the volcano. Any second now the magic infused in those gems, powered by the freely given memories they’d sealed up with them, would activate and send the volcano back into dormancy. Any second now the rumbling of the earth beneath them would cease, and the never-ending flow of smoke finally die, and peace would return to the world. Any second now.

Yup, any second now. Just… the spell was probably a bit delayed, was all. That was a lot of lava down there, after all, and it might take a while for the magic to diffuse through the entire volcano. This was perfectly normal, nothing at all to be worried about.

“Uh, those gems, like, all six of them were probably overkill, right?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Like, we didn’t need all six, did we?”

“There was a little margin for error,” Twilight admitted. Was the smoke starting to thin? Yes! It… wait, no, it was back again, darker than before. She frowned. “Geoengineering spells aren’t all that precise, but the six of those gems should be more than enough. It’s just… taking a little longer than I thought.”

“Okay, but, like, if one of us wasn’t able to toss their gem in, it would still work, right?”

Twilight considered that statement. She turned around.

Rainbow Dash looked a bit worse for wear. Her blue coat showed through the ash only in patches. Trails left by tears from her watering eyes traced bright cyan paths down her blackened cheeks. Smoke still rose from her singed mane. But what caught Twilight’s eye was the mulberry gem cradled in her hooves.

“You didn’t toss your gem in,” Twilight said. She was proud of how calm she sounded. “You… why didn’t you toss your gem in?”

“I wanted to! I did!” Rainbow protested. “But it’s my favorite memory, Twilight! My first sonic rainboom! How could I give that up?”

“That was the point!” Twilight shout— said. Twilight said. She most certainly wasn’t shouting. She took a breath. “The spell is powered by your memory, it needs to be something you cherish. You knew that.”

“Yeah, but…” Dash shrugged.

Okay. This was fine. The spell would be a little slow, but it would still work. She focused on her breathing. “Okay. Five gems should be enough. We’ll just–”

“Um, what about… fewer gems?” Rarity said. “Fewer than five, I mean.”

Twilight turned to her. Sure enough, she had her own gem still held in her magic, hovering just beside her.

The ground rumbled again beneath them. Twilight barely noticed. “Did… did anypony else toss their gem in?”

A chorus of shamed mumbles answered. She looked from Rarity to Pinkie to Fluttershy. They all looked away or clutched their gems close. Even Applejack, trustworthy, dependable Applejack, couldn’t meet her gaze.

“Okay,” Twilight said. “This is fine. We’ll just… go back into the volcano, and we’ll all toss the gems in at the same time. Except for me, I guess. So you’ll all toss them in at the same time and–”

The ground rumbled again. She turned to see the volcano vanish from sight. A black cloud spilled down from the crater, rushing across the mountain’s face. Thousands of glowing rocks rose into the sky with deliberate, deceptive slowness, reaching the peaks of a graceful arc miles above their heads.

“Okay. This is fine,” Twilight said. She watched the pyroclastic flood pouring down the volcano’s slopes toward them. “But, uh… yeah. Run.”

Starlight Glimmer met them at the train station in Ponyville with Spike. She took one look at their singed coats and dour expressions, and she kept her peace all the way back to the castle. It wasn’t until the door closed behind them and Twilight collapsed onto a cushion in the reading room that Starlight broke her silence.

“So… I take it things didn’t go well?”

“They could’ve gone better,” Twilight said. She rolled onto her back, letting her wings splay out to the sides to catch the sunlight pouring in from the crystal windows. A bit of the stress coiled in her muscles began to slowly drain. “By which I mean half of southern Zebrica is covered in inches of ash, thousands of zebras have no homes, the price of sorghum is going to quadruple over the next few years, and the dusky savannah otter is probably going extinct. Oh, and I sacrificed a cherished memory to power a spell that ended up not working because none of our friends were willing to do the same.”

Starlight winced. “Oh. What, uh, what was the memory of?”

“You know, I don’t even remember?” Twilight sighed. “Something about Spike, I think. Where’d he go, anyway?”

“I sent him to grab some lunch. I figured you’d want some hayburgers after all that time away.”

Hayburgers? Oh, heavens. It felt like it had been months since the last her last delicious taste. Her mouth watered at the mere thought. That special tangy sauce they used… She shivered a little bit. “Did you tell him to get some–”

“Hay fries?” Starlight settled down beside her on an adjacent cushion. “I told him to get a double order.”

Twilight moaned. She couldn’t help it. She rolled onto her side and reached out blindly with her hooves. “Marry me, Starlight.”

Starlight batted them away. “Ask me again when you’re not so hungry. But, uh, how are you? Really?”

Twilight let out a long breath and slumped into the cushion, as if all the weight of the world pressed down on her. “I can’t stop thinking about how close this one was. We almost died down there, Starlight. Normally we go off on these adventures and if we fail someone’s feelings get hurt or the villain wins and everypony has to deal with them for a bit. Not this time! We really, no kidding all nearly died. That eruption should have killed us! If we hadn’t stumbled on a cave with a small enough mouth for me to shield we’d all have been cooked.”

Starlight winced. “But you all made it back. Nopony was hurt, right?”

“Not this time.” Twilight rolled onto her back again. “But how many years have we been doing this, Starlight? How many times have we put our lives on the line? Someday we won’t get so lucky. I feel… I feel like we’re teasing fate. If we keep on this path, if we keep rolling the dice, someday somepony’s going to lose.”

Starlight was silent in reply. That was one of the things Twilight liked about her—she knew how to wait, to let the conversation lull without feeling the urge to fill it with pointless words. So they sat together for a while, content with each others’ company, until Twilight heard the castle door open on the floor below them, followed shortly by the click of Spike’s claws on the crystal floor. The scent of greasy, salty, wonderful fried hayburgers preceded him into the reading room.

As usual, she overate. Spike did too, and soon enough he was conked out, head resting on her barrel and snoring quietly just like when he was a hatchling. A little bigger now, sure, but so was she. She settled a wing over him like a blanket and yawned herself.

“So,” Starlight said. Her voice was pitched to a low whisper. “What are you thinking?”

“Who says I’m thinking anything?”

Starlight raised an eyebrow.

“Fine.” She yawned again and set her head down between her hooves. “I have a few ideas. We just… we need to be more responsible.”

Her eyelids were so heavy. She closed them for just a moment.

“I’m glad to see everypony is looking better,” Twilight Sparkle said to the assembled. “I know it will take a little while for everypony’s manes to grow back the way they were, but the important thing is nopony was hurt.”

Rarity looked like she begged to differ. Of all of them, her mane had suffered the worst. Apparently the mane-care products she used were flammable to a certain extent, and the volcano’s heat had caused the styling gel in her tail to polymerize into a sort of black resin. Not even Twilight’s magic had been able to clear it out, and in the desperate hours spent fleeing from the cloud of cinders and ash, they’d simply hacked off most of the fine purple hairs. All that remained of her tail now was a thin, white appendage about the length of a pony’s leg, tinted purple with newly emerging hairs.

Twilight couldn’t help but stare at it when Rarity wasn’t looking. It… just, you know, wow. Did everypony’s tail look like that beneath all the hair? What did it feel like? It was probably super-sensitive and cold compared with...

Everypony was looking at her. She cleared her throat and continued. “Anyway, I want everypony to know that I’m not upset at all about what happened. In retrospect, we should’ve rehearsed our plan a bit better. Or maybe, I don’t know, just given all the gems to me so I could toss them in. The point is, this was nopony’s fault.”

“So, you’re not still mad at us?” Applejack asked. She’d acquired a brand new stetson since returning to Ponyville. Fresh scuff marks stood out on the brim.

“What? No. No, I’m… I love you girls! I was never mad at you.”

“Um, you spent a lot of time yelling at us in the cave,” Fluttershy said. “I didn’t know you knew all those words.”

“That was… okay, maybe I was a little angry at the time. Frustrated. We all were, what with the volcano and fleeing for our lives and spending months researching those delicate spells and agonizing over what precious memory to seal into the gems and then realizing all your effort and sacrifice was wasted because of a few… problems in the execution.” Twilight took a breath and let it out slowly. Then another. “But I’m fine now. And more importantly, I’ve been thinking.”

Rarity tilted her head. Probably. All Twilight could see beneath the voluminous hood she wore everywhere was the tip of her muzzle. “About how to improve our plans, darling?”

“No. I mean, we should do that too, but something more important.” This was the hard part. Twilight swallowed. “I realized on the way back how dangerous that mission was. I mean, they’re all dangerous to a certain extent, right? But not like this. And I realized that someday, if we keep doing this, somepony could get hurt. Somepony could die. And that… It scared me when I thought about it, girls. Are we doing enough to prepare?”

The others looked down or looked away or studied their hooves. Finally, Rainbow Dash spoke. “So, we need to be more careful? That’s not really my thing, but I guess if it’s important to everypony…”

“Maybe we need to think more about what missions we go on,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe the royal guard can do a few? They seem like they have a lot of free time.”

“Aren’t we supposed to be solving friendship problems, anyway?” Rarity asked. “How did volcanoes become part of that?”

“Just a habit, I guess,” Starlight said. Alone among the group she was unmarked by the volcano’s wrath, having not been a part of that particular expedition. “You save the world once or twice, and the next thing you know ponies are asking you to save it every week.”

“We outta stop doing that,” Applejack declared. “Or, you know, try to do it less.”

“Those are all good ideas,” Twilight said. “And we should pursue all of them. But right now there’s a simple thing we can all do to make sure we’re more prepared for dangerous missions and what might happen in them.” She reached into her saddlebags and floated out a stack of papers, setting them on the coffee table in the middle of the group.

“We need to write our wills,” she finished.

Everypony was quiet. They stared at the stacked papers with wide eyes.

Finally, “Are you sure you’re not still mad at us?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“Of course not. Look, it’s easy.” Twilight passed out the sheets to each pony present. “You just write who you want to direct the disposition of your estate, highlight any particular assets or pieces of property you want given to individual ponies, and how you would like your remains handled, and then I notarize it, which I can do as a princess, and we’re done! Then, if the worst happens on one of our missions, we’re already prepared. No loose ends!”

“This seems rather… morbid, don’t you think?” Rarity said. She lifted one of the sheets by the corner and held it at a distance.

“It’s not morbid, it’s responsible,” Twilight said. “It can even be fun! I got some chips and salsa too, and we can all do ours together. It’ll be like a party!” Her horn flashed, and the coffee table was suddenly filled with chips, crackers, sliced cheeses, salsa, fizzy drinks and legal texts.

“About thaaaaat…” Pinkie Pie carefully pushed the confections aside. “This isn’t party material, Twilight. Parties should be about having fun!”

Twilight frowned. “This is fun.”

“No, it… Help me out here, Dashie.”

“Yeah, no offense, but this is really stupid,” Dash said. “I’m not planning to die anytime soon, you know?”

“Nopony ever plans to die,” Twilight said. “Well, not often. But the fact is we take risks more than most ponies, and that means we need to be prepared for the consequences of those risks. Besides, don’t you already have a will? You’re a Wonderbolt.”

“Pff.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Now you sound like Spitfire. We all have wills, Dash, you need to get one too. You’re a stunt-flyer, Dash, go see the lawyers and get a will before the next show. Well, ha! I didn’t get a will, and I haven’t died yet.”

Twilight rubbed the bridge of her muzzle. “Okay, that’s… I should have expected that. But now you can fix that problem with the rest of us! Here, I have enough quills for all of us. The template on the sheets you have is standard, but for those of you with lots of property or business interests like Rarity and Applejack, we can get special forms. Now, you’ll want to start with–”

“Look, Twilight, I see what you’re doing and I respect that,” Applejack said. “This here is definitely important work. But I don’t think I’d feel comfortable writing my will as part of your group therapy session.”

“I agree,” Rarity said. “This is important, darling, but it’s something we should work on by ourselves, with our families.” She folded her blank sheet in half and slipped it into her cloak.

“Are you sure? I read a lot about property law last night so I could probably answer any questions about–”

Starlight stopped her with a gentle hoof placed on her shoulder. “I think we all understand, Twilight, but this is a fairly private matter. Why don’t we all just agree to take these home with us, and have them done before our next mission?”

Twilight whined. “But that could be tomorrow, for all you know! Can we afford that risk?”

“We have so far,” Applejack said. She folded up her own blank copy, stowed it under her hat, and stood. “I reckon another day or two won’t hurt. Now then, I need to go outside, sit in the sun, and try not to think about my impending mortality for a little bit.”

“Hey, wanna grab some lunch while you’re at it?” Rainbow asked.

That broke the dam, and by the end of the next minute Twilight’s friends had all escaped. Fluttershy at least looked guilty about it, ducking her head and sneaking out at Rarity’s side. Soon only Twilight and Starlight remained.

Twilight sighed. “Well, at least they all took the forms. That’s a partial success.”

“Just give them time. You kinda sprung this on them, you know? Nopony walks into a room expecting to talk about their last will and testament.”

“That’s the point, though! We could all die at any time, and none of us are prepared! It only takes a few minutes, and it makes a huge difference for your friends and family!”

“Mhm.” Starlight took a sip of her fizzy sarsaparilla. “Is yours done yet?”

“Well, uh…” Twilight looked down at the creased paper folded beneath her hooves. “It’s in draft form, still. What about you?”

“I wrote one years ago. Everypony in Our Town had to. They were all the same—everypony’s property was split up and divided amongst the rest of the town.” She frowned. “I should probably update it, come to think of it.”

“Even the foals?”

“Yes, they were divided up too. Very messy.”

Twilight gawked at her.

“Joking, Twilight. Besides, nopony ever died while I was there. To my knowledge, nopony has since I left, either.”

“Oh.” Sometimes Starlight’s humor ran a little morbid for Twilight’s taste. She wished she had a drink to wash it out. “Do you… do you think I’m doing the right thing? With this, I mean?”

Starlight shrugged. “I don’t think it hurts. Everypony should have a will. But I also agree that maybe going on all these dangerous missions isn’t the best thing to be doing for a living.” She stood, stretched, and trotted over to Twilight, giving her a chaste nuzzle. “Besides, I’ve gotten too fond of you girls for anypony to be dying on me.”

Aw. Twilight’s heart melted a bit, and a silly smile stretched out on her face. Some of the tension that had hidden in her shoulders since the disastrous volcano mission melted away. Her eyes watered just a bit, overwhelmed by the simple joy in that expression of friendship and the knowledge that Starlight, once her bitterest enemy, had become now one of her closest–

“But if you do die, I want those wings!” Starlight called over her shoulder as she made her escape up the stairs.

...and ruined. Twilight wrinkled her muzzle, fluffed her feathers, and stared down at the creased will trapped beneath her hooves.

She’d be happy when this was behind them.

“So, let me get this straight. I get to decide what happens to my body after I die?”

“That’s one of the advantages of a will, yes!” Twilight Sparkle beamed at Rainbow Dash. Finally, it felt like she was making some progress. “So if you have a preference for, say, being buried in a certain location, or even being cremated, you can express that in your will.”

“Cremated, cremated.” Pinkie Pie rolled the word around in her mouth. “Sounds like ‘cream.’ Coincidence?”

They were gathered in Sugarcube Corner, the five of them. Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie, Applejack and Starlight Glimmer. As usual, Twilight had her hot cocoa, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie were splitting a fudge brownie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, Applejack had an apple fritter, and Starlight had black coffee. “The same way I like my magic,” she’d said. She said the same thing every time she ordered coffee. Twilight still didn’t think it was very funny.

“Okay, but what if I wanted, like, to be a statue!”

“Well, you’d have to set aside funds for that, which might be more than you think,” Twilight said. “Even a bronze casting can be pretty expensive, depending on the size and–”

“No no. I want to be a statue.”

Twilight opened her mouth. Then she closed it. Finally, “You want to… to be a statue. Like, you want your body to become a statue.”

“Yeah, like they do with animals.”

“That’s… That’s taxidermy, Rainbow. You can’t do that with ponies.”

“Why not? It’s probably the same.”

“It probably is,” Starlight offered.

Twilight scowled at her apprentice, then scowled at Dash. “No, Rainbow, you can’t do that. Whatever you want done with your body has to be legal. You can’t just ask to be stuffed!”

Pinkie snickered.

“It’s my body, I ought to be able to decide what happens to it!” Dash shouted. They were starting to draw the eyes of other customers.

“It’s illegal. It has to be illegal,” Twilight said. She didn’t have the law books in front of her, but surely they wouldn’t allow ponies bodies to be put on display like that. “It needs to be respectful of the dead.”

“Duh, why do you think I want it? They could do some kind of cool pose–” she stretched out her wings and hooves, as if in flight, “–and all my fans could come and leave flowers and those plushies of me they sell in the Wonderbolts gift shop and maybe there could be like a legend that if you leave a glossy photo of me at the statue and come back the next day sometimes it’ll have my autograph on it like I signed it beyond the grave!”

Twilight blinked at her. “How would you sign them, though?”

“Oh, I’ll do a bunch before I die and have the team’s PR department swap them out at night. You think they’d agree to that? I bet they would. Yeah, they totally would.”

“I’d pay extra for one of those,” Starlight said. “Get it framed and everything.”

“Stop encouraging her,” Twilight snapped. “And no, you can’t do that, Rainbow. Nopony will agree to have you stuffed and mounted.”

Applejack snickered this time, and Pinkie collapsed into a fit of giggles. “It’s… it’s usually the other way around, sugar,” Applejack choked out.

Twilight squinted at them. “What? What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, just… just thought of a joke, is all.”

“Whatever,” Dash said. She slumped back in her chair and took another bite of her brownie. “It’s going in my will. And I’m naming you as my executioner.”

“Executor, Rainbow. Executor.” Though, sometimes Twilight wished… No, bad thought, bad thought. She shook her head.

“Me? I wanna be buried in my orchard,” Applejack said. “That way I’ll always be a part of it.”

“That’s very sweet, Applejack,” Twilight said. “See, Rainbow? That’s what your will is supposed to be for. Gestures that will be meaningful to your loved ones after you’re gone.”


That seemed to be the end of that. They each returned to their chosen treat, sipping or nibbling at them as appropriate. The customers around them lost interest and returned to their own matters.

“Wait,” Starlight said, after some time had passed. “Like, buried with the trees?”

“Uh, yeah? In the orchard.”

“So, your body would eventually decompose and be absorbed by the trees as nutrients?”

“Well, that’s a mite graphic, but sure. That’s the circle of life.”

“And eventually your body would become part of the trees, and their apples?”

“Yup, that’s how trees work. Glad to see that college degree is paying off for you.”

“Hang on,” Twilight said. “If ponies ate those apples, wouldn’t they be eating a part of you?”

“Circle of life,” Applejack said. She nibbled on her apple fritter. “That’s how we buried Ma and Pa, and that’s how I wanna be buried.”

Twilight considered that statement and all it implied. She stared at the half-eaten apple fritter on Applejack’s plate. The others stared at it too.

Suddenly, Pinkie gasped. “Idea!” She jumped out of her chair and dashed into the kitchen.

“Wait, so I can’t be turned into a statue, but Applejack’s allowed to make other ponies eat her?” Dash said. “How is that fair?”

“No, that’s…” Twilight set her head in her hooves. “I really need this conversation to stop.”

“Discussions about death can be uncomfortable,” Starlight said. She sipped her coffee. “But they’re important to have. Just like having a will!”

Twilight was a princess. Starlight was her apprentice. She could send Starlight on any mission she wanted. Maybe something like collecting yak fecal samples. She let that thought soothe her like a balm. “I think we’re all losing focus on what’s important. The whole point of having a will is to make life easier for everypony who–”

“Okay, back,” Pinkie said. She reappeared in her seat as if teleporting to it.

“Where’d you go?” Dash asked.

“Something Applejack said gave me an idea for my will, and I wanted to write it down before I forgot,” Pinkie said. She stole a bite from Applejack’s fritter.

Well, that wasn’t ominous at all. Twilight drowned her concerns with a long swallow of hot cocoa, ignoring how it burned her tongue.

This would all be worth it when they were done. They just had to get there, first.

“Welcome to Canterlot, Twilight,” Celestia greeted her with a warm nuzzle. “It’s so good to see you again.”

“Thank you, Princess Celestia.” Twilight Sparkle returned the nuzzle, then hugged her mentor for good measure. She smelled like sunlight and homework and childhood. Twilight took a deep breath, as if she could trap the scent in her brain forever.

Celestia let her linger. Finally, though, she pulled away, and turned toward the table and tea set waiting for them in the private study. “Your letter sounded urgent. How can I help you?”

She sighed. “I’m afraid it’s a bit of a morbid topic. I don’t want to ruin your day, but I need to talk to you about death.”

“Well.” Celestia paused to pour them both cups of steaming hot tea. The scent of jasmine filled the room. “That does sound serious. I’ll do my best to help, though. You’re not planning on dying soon, are you?”

“I hope not.” Twilight settled down on the cushion opposite Celestia’s and floated the cup up to her muzzle, letting the steam tickle her muzzle. For a moment it reminded her of the volcano’s heat, but the sharp scent of the jasmine sanded away the rough edges of that memory. “I’m helping my friends write their wills, though. After all we’ve been through, it just seemed prudent. So, uh, I wanted to ask if you’d ever done that.”

“Of course.” Celestia took a sip, closing her eyes to relish the delicate flavor of the tea. “Luna and I both wrote wills. We named each other as our heirs, so Equestria would always have one princess to watch over them.”

Twilight nodded. “That’s very wise. Did it work? Were ponies reassured?”

“Briefly. Then a few days later Luna tried to kill me and take over the throne, and I banished her for a thousand years. We haven’t updated our wills since.”

Twilight considered that. Then she got up, finished her tea, and left.

“Am I on the wrong track with this?” Twilight asked.

Rarity didn’t answer for a moment—her mouth was filled with pins. Normally she used a pincushion or Spike to hold sharp items until she needed them, but this particular dress involved a lot of moving around the mannequin. So she kept her silence as she worked on this latest dress, a subdued cerulean chemise that would someday gracefully conceal a lucky mare’s chest, and when all the pins were gone, she finally responded.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“With the wills.”

“Oh.” Rarity sighed. “You know, I haven’t even looked at that paper since I got home that day? Just thinking about writing about my… well, about my own death, makes me feel so… I don’t even know the word. Uncomfortable, I suppose. But worse than that. Like I’m walking on my own grave, or tossing the first shovel-full of dirt on my casket. Who can write so blithely about such things, Twilight? How did you do it?”

“Think of it as an opportunity,” Twilight said. “It’s a natural but irrational fear that imagining and planning for our death somehow makes it more likely to come to pass, but we both know that’s not true. It’s just an atavistic avoidance. You have to be a grown mare, accept that this is one of those unpleasant things in life that must be done, and do it. Like paying taxes.”

“Do you pay taxes?”

“Well, uh, no. Not in the traditional sense. But I don’t get paid in a traditional sense either.”

“How do you afford things?”

“There’s an operations budget for the castle,” Twilight said. “Some of it’s earmarked for personal expenses. Also I just tell ponies I want things and they appear as if by magic. So maybe it’s not like paying taxes.”

“Must be nice.” The tiny smile playing at Rarity’s lips defanged the rejoinder.

“I’d give it all up if it meant my friends would be safe. You know that, right?”

Rarity let out a quiet breath, not quite a sigh. “I do, darling. And you know we wouldn’t let you. We don’t go on these adventures because somepony’s forcing us. We do it because Equestria needs us. Right, Fluttershy?”

“Eep!” Fluttershy ducked at the sudden attention. “I mean, yes. Yes we do.”

“Did you finish your will yet, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked.

“Um, maybe.” She ducked her head, burying the tip of her muzzle in the soft folds of the blanket beneath her.

“You’re… not sure?”

“It’s hard to think about, Twilight. Last night, I tried to imagine what would happen to all my woodland critter friends if… if something were to happen to me. Who would take care of them? They would all be cold and lonely and go hungry! I cried myself to bed!”

“Hey, hey.” Twilight got up, trotted over to the pegasus, and sat beside her. “It’s okay, Fluttershy. This is what wills are for, to make sure everypon—everyone you care about is taken care of after you’re gone. I’m sure we can come up with a trust of some sort that will look after your animals. Maybe you can endow a charity that will take care of homeless animals in Ponyville!”

“Or you could give all your animal friends to Twilight,” Rarity said.

Fluttershy’s ears perked up. “Oh, that sounds much simpler. Can I?”

“Well, uh… You know, the castle’s not really an animal-friendly–”

“I hear the castle has an operations budget,” Rarity continued. “Surely they could set aside some funds for animal welfare. You could even have a little zoo in that big room on the first floor.”

“That’s the library.”

“Well, it could be the world’s first library-slash-zoo.” Rarity was grinning now, though she kept her eyes on the dress project rather than meeting Twilight’s gaze. “Can you imagine how popular that would be with foals?”

“You know, I hear Sweetie Belle loves animals,” Twilight said. “I bet she would love to take care of some. Maybe that nice badger who lives under the porch.”

“Twilight Sparkle, don’t you dare–”

Fluttershy giggled. “Are we allowed to do that? Give property to ponies who don’t want it?”

Something inside Twilight relaxed, and she found herself smiling as well. “You can give anything you want to anypony. That doesn’t mean they have to accept it, though.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Fluttershy’s wings fluttered at her side. “That’s… it’s easier to think about, now. Twilight, if you’ll help me make a plan for my animal friends, I promise I’ll take care of Owlowiscious for you. If, you know, something bad happens.”

Twilight nuzzled her shoulder. “Deal.”

“And Rarity, I’ll gladly take care of Opal for you.”

“Sorry, Sweetie Belle already asked for Opal. You can have Sweetie Belle if you want, though. In fact, you can have her now.”

Hm. “What’d she do this time?” Twilight asked.

Rarity sighed. “She borrowed my travel perfume kit. You know, the nice one with the mother-of-pearl inlay? When I found it three days later it was filled with worms.”

“Oh.” She paused, opened her mouth to ask the next question that sprang into her head, then froze.

Rarity saw. “Just say it, Twilight.”

Okay, fine. “Did the worms smell good?”

They didn’t end up talking about wills any more that day. But Twilight was confident she’d cracked the puzzle. Soon enough, all her friends would be prepared for the worst. This must be how real adults felt when they did responsible things.

It was nice.

“Okay girls, the spell’s almost done!” Twilight shouted over the volcano’s roar. “Everypony get ready!”

They were back in Zebrica. For miles around them, the waving grasslands of the southern savannah stretched out like an amber sea. The sky was dark with ash and smoke, billowing from the mountain before them. What had been a mere crack in the earth weeks ago was now a towering volcano, weeping lava like blood onto the broken, black ground.

“I know it feels like we were just here,” Twilight said. “But, uh, you know, maybe this is like a chance for us to start over? Like, we didn’t get the last volcano right, so this is our shot at redemption? And no, I don’t really know what the odds are of two separate cataclysmic volcanoes threatening all of civilization just a few weeks apart, and you can bet I will certainly be looking that up when we get back to Ponyville, but I think it’s better if we focus on the positive aspects–”

“Twi, I think it’s about to explode,” Applejack said.

“Right, sorry.” The bright glow emanating from her horn was making it a bit hard to see anything. Even the volcano was just a dark, conic suggestion ahead of them. “Okay, once the spell is charged, I’ll teleport us up onto the rim of the crater. Dash, you’ll use your weather magic to keep the hot ash and smoke away from us. Fluttershy has the extrematic aura gyraton leveling device. Pinkie and Applejack, use your earth pony magic abilities to warn us if it’s about to explode. And Rarity and I will use the power of the spell I’m channeling to activate the gyraton leveling device to shut down the volcano. No difficult sacrifices this time! No hesitation! Everypony should be able to do their part without any trouble. Questions?”

“No, but we should hurry,” Pinkie said. “I think Applejack’s right about the exploding thing.”

“Okay, that’s fine.” Twilight gritted her teeth, pouring the last ounces of her magic into the elaborate spell matrix building around her horn. “I’m… whew… I’m sorry to be asking so much of you girls again so soon. I know this is dangerous! But at least we all have our wills done now!”

Nopony answered her.

“I mean, I assume we all do,” Twilight continued. “Even though none of you came to me to have your wills notarized. But that’s okay because there are other public notaries in Ponyville. Maybe you went to the mayor’s office? That’s fine too. All that matters is that you got them done. Yup. That’s all that matters.”

“Just, uh, hypothetically, what if we didn’t finish ours?” Rainbow Dash said. “Asking for a friend.”

Twilight sighed. “Okay, new plan. Fluttershy, you do the weather thing. Applejack, carry the extrematic aura gyraton leveling device. Pinkie, you’re on explosion-monitoring duty. Rarity and I will still do the spell. Questions? No? Good. And everypony else has their will done. Right?”

Pinkie coughed. Applejack rubbed the back of her neck.

Twilight closed her eyes. “Okay, new plan. Fluttershy, you carry the extrematic aura gyraton leveling device while flying around to clear the air of smoke and ash so we don’t suffocate. Rarity, you’ll help me with the spell and also kind of feel the ground to see if it’s about to explode. I’m pretty sure earth pony magic’s not a real thing so you should do just fine. And you two have your wills done, right?”

“Yes,” Rarity said. “I mean, mostly. Ninety percent.”

“I had to start over,” Fluttershy said. “Mr. Badger used my first one to line his nest.”

Deep breaths. Deep breaths. That was all you needed to deal with stress. “Okay, new plan. I’ll carry the extrematic aura gyraton leveling device while holding my breath to keep out the ash and smoke, channeling all the magic of this spell, and hoping the volcano doesn’t explode. Because apparently I’m the only pony who actually got her will done! And you’ll all be happy to know that you’re in line for some really cool stuff! Oh, and tell Starlight she’s in charge now! Any questions?”

“No,” Applejack said. “But the volcano’s exploding.”

Twilight looked up. Even through the glare of mounting spell halo around her horn, she could see the hellish orange glow of lava rising from the volcano’s crater like a fountain. A wave of heat washed over her, curling the hairs on her muzzle. Clouds as deep as the ocean rose from the new mountain, blackening the sky anew.

Maybe volcanoes just weren't their thing. “Okay, new plan,” she said. “Run.”
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#1 · 2
This story is a dark comedy, but it starts off with so much grim action it took me a long while to realize this was supposed to be comedic. I think maybe ponies are such srs bsns for me it's hard for me to get my brain out of drama mode and into comedy, but this persisted throughout much of the story and it was hard for me to let go of the tension enough to laugh at the antics. I might recommend putting something more lighthearted in the opening part of the story to clue in the reader into what they're really in for. You don't really need to sell us on the idea that Twilight is worried about her friends dying.

The writing is excellent, which you no doubt realize. I wasn't completely sold by the premise of the story, but it's a comedy so there's some latitude there. I'll try to reread this again with a different mindset to see if I can enjoy it more.

Also, there's no way Applejack has earth pony prediction magic. That's a missed opportunity for laughs right there.
#2 · 1
Oh, what fun.

I've complained a lot on this site about characters having their personalities painted over with silliness in order to get a few cheap laughs. That's not a problem at all with this story. The Mane 6 et Starlight feel very much like themselves here, even if they're dealing with something much more morbid than they ever will on our television screens. And, like the show, this shit is hilarious.

Trick makes a good point that the tone promised at the beginning isn't comedy, so some revisions to make the funny come earlier (maybe even in the opening sentence?) could go a long way here. But, that said, I didn't have any trouble settling into the comedy once it came.

The only other thing I found strange was the discussion of Twilight's relationship with the concept of taxes. Rarity brings it up out of the blue for some reason I can't discern, it doesn't seem to add much to the conversation, and then we move on rather abruptly to Fluttershy. I'm not sure what it has to do with the task at hand.

But all in all this will rank very high on my slate, so good job, you, and thanks for writing!
#3 · 2
As others have pointed out, the "comedy" doesn't really come across here. But... I'd argue this isn't really a comedy. Yeah, there's some funny moments, but this is really a pretty genuine and accurate slice-of-life in my opinion. It's just that the lives in question are, by their nature, of the more extraordinary side. Ridiculous danger is part of that.

I really loved the opening and middle parts of this. The way each of the characters was reluctant to deal with the issue, the way Starlight and Twilight had friendly-maybe-more moments, the way Dash wants to be stuffed and mounted and AJ gets the the joke in her head... all fantastic.

What doesn't stick for me is the ending. A second volcano is... a comedic reach I guess, which on its own might work, see as it's lampshaded pretty well. But that none of the others have done their paperwork is basically a "duh" so watching the slow reveal on that, and with Twilight trying to change the plan to keep those that didn't safe... that felt out of place. She knows they didn't do it. When the first one says they didn't, she's smart enough to just assume none of them did right away.

I'm afraid I don't immediately have a suggestion to improve that. But I think, if you can find a way to end with the same realistic reactions the rest of the story does so well, it'd be stronger. Maybe some other sort of similar (but new) type of problem might work.

Anyway, a good read, just needs to stick the landing and it'll be gold.
#4 · 2
I can confirm that the sudden change of tone from serious action to morbid silliness caught me off guard a bit, but then it rolled pretty smoothly. Also, Dash may be onto something - some famous horses did get stuffed and put on display, including, for example, Roy Rogers' Trigger or Napoleon's Le Vizir (which looks a bit creepy due to being thin, pale, and somewhat damaged).
#5 · 1
I don’t think I’ve ever seen sorghum mentioned in an MLP story before. It shouldn’t have reeled me in to the story as much as it did, but, well, I grew up in Nebraska, had friends that were farm kids growing up.

I read this story during some downtime at work, and I wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped at keeping a lid on how hard I was laughing. According to one of my coworkers, I sounded like I was strangling chickens.

Seriously, though, the taxidermy joke had me in stitches. [/rimshot]

Like your other readers, I was led to believe this story was going to be much more serious in tone by the first section in the volcano. I can see where the joke could be, but without more levity for context, the situation feels pretty dire. It’s out of sync with the rest of the story’s lighthearted dark humor.

Also, the slow reveal of the last joke of the story lasts a little too long. I agree with Xepher that Twilight’s smart enough to realize that nopony else had done what needed doing, or at least ask.. I think the joke would still work if you cut straight to Twilight doing everything herself, tell Starlight she’s in charge, etc from there, though. Having Twilight lampshade the second volcano also made me roll my eyes, but I can see the humor there - it’s a great setup for Applejack yanking her back to the present moment.

These are the only critiques I have, though, Writer. This is a great comedy piece that’s right up my alley. I hope to see this published after the competition is over!
#6 ·
Very funny comedy, if a bit... plotless. The inciting incident is ultimately less important to the narrative than we'd be given to think, despite the way it circles back around at the end, and the stuff in the middle -- though hilarious -- builds to no real resolution or conclusion, although the narrative does its damndest to make the reader think that it has.

It's hard to say what the takeaway here is. Ponies can't deal with volcanoes? The mane six are completely incompetent, except for Twilight?

Starlight enables Twilight's hay fries addiction?

Hayburgers and hay fries... isn't that just the same ingredient, cooked two different ways? It doesn't make much sense to me, sorry.
#7 ·
Look, I liked it. Just enough silly to keep it from being morbid and just enough morbid to keep it from being silly. The Reese's Peanut-Butter Cup of Fics. With volcanoes. Two, in fact. So it's Reese's and Twix.

Darnit, now I'm hungry.