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    North Ridge typically wasn’t one to hesitate, but in this case, he couldn’t help it.

    From under the shade of a tree, he observed the nearby sleepy town of Willow’s Bend, for once bustling with life and activity. How could it not, after all, when it was their turn to know the truth that had lurked in Equestria’s shadows for millennia?

    And yet, he hesitated, even if all reason contended he would have found out the truth one way or another. It was simply inevitable that even if he’d never crossed paths with her, his innate curiosity would have led him to one of these princessly public meetings, and he’d have learned all, gasping alongside a plethora of ponies. 

    But he’d found out the story in a very different way. 

    Once upon a time, a thousand years ago, four princesses ruled the land in peace, but their reign came to an abrupt end when, after tricking a spirit into submission, said spirit avenged himself by trapping them in different secret locations throughout the land. 

    Years ago — about… three? Four? — a unicorn named Rarity happened upon the location of the youngest princess, Twilight Sparkle. 

    If North Ridge hadn’t met her, that would be the only part of the story he’d know that matched what she’d relayed to him during their travels. The rest differed. 

    Had he found out through the Princesses, he’d have been told something along the following lines: With the assistance of Rarity, Princess Twilight Sparkle freed herself from her prison, then freed another princess of legend, then set on a quest to free the other two while beseeching the help of Equestria’s ponies in finding and stopping the terrible Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony. 


    Well, that wasn’t what he’d been told. 

    What he’d been told was as follows: 

    When Rarity the unicorn found Princess Twilight Sparkle, her life stopped being her own. Initially driven by dreams of grandeur, Rarity the unicorn devoted herself to freeing the princess, in the process falling in love with her. 

    After a terrible event, Princess Twilight Sparkle realized she too had fallen in love, and overwhelmed by grief and the fear of enduring another loss, she secluded herself from the world and Rarity for two years. 

    Eventually, under provocation from the Spirit, who’d threatened to harm Rarity, Princess Twilight Sparkle finally overcame her fears and guilt and freed herself from her prison. 

    Reunited, the lovers set about finding and rescuing another of the princesses. It was an ordeal of great difficulty, which was poisoned and hindered by the unspoken pain Princess Twilight had inflicted on Rarity by pushing her away. 

    But they persevered, their love for each other stronger than their fear or pain, and by the time they freed the second princess, they were healed. They were as one, in spirit and body, no longer two separate souls housed in two bodies but a singular soul in the care of two. 

    And it was this, North Ridge had been told, that was their greatest tragedy. 

    To love the other more than living itself. 

    “But to love like that is beautiful,” he’d replied, ever the earnest romantic. After all, he’d felt the same for his wife when she was alive, and her last journey to the beyond took a part of him with her. 

    “If you think as much,” she’d replied, her azure eyes piercing his, “then I don’t understand why you disagree with my choice.

    Because it is cowardly! Because it is wrong. This—” He gestured to her. “This is fear. This is running away, so afraid of it going wrong that you can’t even give it a chance to go right.”

    He thought of that conversation often. 

    It was the reason for his hesitation, after all. That conversation spurred him to depart from her, determined to set things right and do what she could not, but… now, with his goal in sight, he faltered. 

    Who was he, North Ridge of the Undiscovered West, that he thought himself important enough to meddle in such affairs? 

    This was different from his grand adventures of yore. There wasn’t a pirate to rob, thieves to kill, or dungeons to explore. There was more than just one life at stake, and one life in particular, already resigned to living an eternally miserable existence, the thought of which kept him up at night. 

    Ah well.

    Many a time, his beloved wife had called him an idiot and a fool and a buffoon, but she’d never called him a coward because a coward he was not. 


    Blinking out of his reveries, he turned around to see a grandiose manticore beside him, all of its aforementioned grandiosity dampened by its wide-eyed expression and floppy ears. 

    “I’m sorry, Tangerine, what did you say?” North Ridge asked, and when the manticore frowned and mewled again, North gasped with indignation. “What! What are you even saying?! How could you! I am indeed procrastinating!”

    Tangerine didn’t find his joke particularly funny, which was fine by North since he thought he was hysterical. 

    Tangerine whipped his tail against the ground. “Mrr.”

    “Alright, alright, I’m going!” North relented. “Don’t get your fruits in a bunch!”

    With a great steadying sigh, he stood up and set his sights on the town’s entrance. Besides him, Tangerine did the same, brushing off ground from his coat and preparing–

    “Where do you think you’re going, sir?” North asked, startling the poor beast. “Surely not inside the town full of meek ponies who would faint at the sight of so much as a bear, I hope.”

    Chastised, Tangerine sat down, his tail whipping against the ground. 

    “I promise it won’t be long,” North said, patting his friend’s back. “I’ll bring you a drink halfway through the event.”


    That said, North finally trotted to his destination, intermingling with various ponies going about their day. 

    “Do you think… Do you think it’s a prank?” he heard a pony ask another, a nervous edge to his voice. “It must be, right?” 

    His companion snorted. “A prank? Princess Denza is here. You think Princess Denza would be parading herself ‘round the country saying those things if it was a prank? And the others sure look real to me.”

    Interesting! North thought to himself. So, Princess Denza was in this one, huh? She hadn’t been in the one he’d seen in Trottingham. Of course, the real question was whether that was actually the esteemed Princess Cadance herself, or one of her buggy doppelgangers. 

    Ah, well, he’d see for himself soon enough. 

    Intent on having a grand old time, the graying stallion made his way through the town, idly admiring his surroundings while pondering a plan perhaps a bit more elaborate and thought-out than, “find Princess Twilight Sparkle, introduce myself, and go from there.”

    If not, he could always approach a guard, fish out one of his many Rarity wanted posters, show it to them, claim he’d seen the unicorn in the picture, and, surely, in a matter of moments, be escorted straight to the princess herself. 

    “Maybe that’s too much,” he muttered aloud. Not the best way he wanted to re-introduce himself to her. “Though she might not even remember me!” He thought on it a moment, and then laughed. “Nonsense, I’m too charming to be forgotten!”

    However, he hadn’t realized he’d been waiting for a haughty remark until it did not come. There was no rolling of eyes, no unladylike snorting he could quickly point out, no “North, darling, dearest, only I can say such things.”

    Ah! Ah. He smiled, though it was slightly pained. Such a short time he’d known her, and yet he could not deny he missed her company. Two companions bonded by their charm and a love for their missing partners deeper than the oceans themselves. 

    But his was gone. Buried deep under a tree in the Western lands, by now part of the flowers and green she so loved. 

    But his friend’s, however!

    He shook his head, dispelling the scolding thoughts. She’d made up her mind, and though she felt like a child to him, she was not. She was not, she was not, she was–


    North tumbled to the ground with a painful thud!, whatever he’d smashed into similarly groaning on the ground beside him. He managed to regain some semblance of cognizance after a few moments, lifting himself up and babbling apologies. 

    “So sorry! I was completely lost in my nogg–” His sentence died in his throat, his helping hoof outstretched and petrified, his eyes now fixed on a batpony guard still rubbing his head on the ground. 

    North was very familiar with batpony guards, having been chased by a whole horde of them and the esteemed Princess Luna that one time he dreamt about Rarity a bit too much. He still remembered the intensity of the chase, and Rarity’s delightfully scandalized and indignant gasp when he jokingly said, “I don’t understand why they’re so mad! It’s not like I dreamt anything unbecoming of you! Of my dear wife, though…!”

    Ah, fun times! He missed them. 


    As the poor batpony stood up, North decided to believe surely this batpony wouldn’t know who he was. Unless they had a hivemind? No, that was the changelings. Or were they? Hm!

    “Here, here! Let me help you!” North insisted, helping the stallion up. 

    “Thank you,” replied the guard, only a little miffed. He straightened his helmet, then looked at North with eyes that quickly narrowed. “Hrm. Have I seen you before?”

    “No,” North Ridge lied. He then cleared his throat. “In any case! I shall be going now. Goodbye!”

    He froze when the guard put a hoof on him. Not because he was worried, or offended, or anything of the like. It was more so because North Ridge had spent most of his life fighting mercenaries and other such ilk in the West, and that meant that when somepony put a hoof on him unprompted, he had one singular unfortunate instinct. 

    Unfortunate for North Ridge and the guard, to specify, but not for the delighted colt nearby who’d never seen somepony sock a guard in their face so hard. 

    Staring down at his dazed victim, North Ridge said a single thing: “Well then.”

    Always a stallion of quick thinking, he apologized to the guard, waved at the crowd, and then booked it out of there. Somewhere, he was sure his wife’s spirit was asking to be posthumously divorced from him. 

    Ah! How he loved her. 

    Of course, he could hardly think of that as he only made it three streets away before something–or, rather, somepony–lifted him in magic and slammed him against a wall. 

    Before he even had the chance to protest that he was only defending himself, really, his attacker made herself known with a single thundering question: 

    “Where. Is. She?”

    Wincing, he opened his eyes, and his momentary fear quickly turned to delight at the sight of a radiant blue alicorn with a radiantly furious gaze. 

    “Ah, Princess Luna!” he exclaimed, bowing his aching head. “What an honor! I’ve heard much about you!”

    The princess blinked, thrown off for a moment, before pressing him somehow further into the wall. “You must be very foolish to joke in your situation.”

    “Joke? I joke all the time, which is why I can promise you I’m not joking now,” he said, and his mirth faded, replaced with the severity of a stallion who’d done things that would haunt him till his death. “As for your question, I don’t know where she is.”

    Princess Luna stepped forward, her muzzle inches away from his, her eyes slits. “Do not misunderstand me. I am being merciful to you now. So you will tell me where she is, or you will soon long for the days when your nightmares were something you could wake from.”

    North smiled, setting his trap. “That’s not very kind of you, is it?”

    Her wings flared, and her horn crackled with threatening magic. “You have given me no reason to be kind,” she hissed. 

    “Oh? But, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it you who said–What was it? That kindness should never be conditional?” 

    And when the princess’ eyes widened for the flicker of a moment, he felt the satisfaction of a trap closing shut. Her magic grasp loosened, not much but enough to give him enough confirmation to proceed. 

    “She told me that, in case you’re wondering,” he continued. “Rarity. Clever mare, she said you’d have no reason to trust me, so she told me things to say only trusted ponies would know. For Princess Twilight, for example, she told me to say ‘for you, a thousand times over’, which —” He nodded, satisfied, as her eyes went wider still. ”— I can see was the right thing to say.”

    When she repeated her question a third time, there was no longer any anger in her voice. There was no malice or fury, only what he had sadly anticipated: desperate concern. 

    “Where is she?” asked Princess Luna. 

    “I don’t know,” he repeated as sincerely as he could for he was sincere, painfully so. “I parted ways with her a while ago now.”

    “Is she safe?” At his hesitation, he was thrust against the wall once again. “Is. She. Safe?”

    “Yes, yes!” he exclaimed. “At least, she was when we parted ways! You have my word!”

    “Then where is she?! What in the Gods’ names is she doing?!”

    North Ridge stayed silent.


    He coughed politely. “…If you would be so kind as to put me down, I am more than happy to explain.”

    Her eyes burned into him, and though her wings flared threateningly, she granted his request, and he thudded against the ground. 

    “Thank you!” he replied, swallowing a wince and standing up as best he could. Once up, he cleared his throat and braced himself for more bodily harm. “Unfortunately, it is not my place to say what she’s up to, but–” He saw her horn light up with magic and immediately raised his hoof defensively. “But I can assure you she has a plan!”

    “A plan?” asked a voice that belonged to neither him nor Princess Luna. 

    North Ridge froze, his eyes set on Princess Luna as she sent him a second glare but stepped off, her wings begrudgingly settling at her sides. Gathering himself as best he could, he turned around and smiled warmly at the newly arrived alicorn. 

    If there was a single word North could think of to describe Princess Twilight Sparkle, it was… enduring. Tired, yes, and smart, stressed, concerned, and so many other things, but enduring most of all. 

    As enduring as the strong, cutting pink glow emanating from the necklace around her neck. 

    Was it silly to say seeing it glow filled him with relief? And hope? But it did. Hope died last, it was always said, but love? Love gave hope a damned good run for its money. 

    Princess Twilight took a step forward, cautious as he’d been told she was, but disarming. “What plan?” she asked again, and though she did not look it, something about her tone betrayed desperation. 

    Which only made him feel awful as he replied, “I am sorry, Princess Twilight, but I cannot say. I made a promise, and I am a stallion of honor.”

    His aching back refamiliarized itself with the wall, Princess Luna onto him again.

    “Honor?!” she demanded, holding him in her magic grip. “There is no time for honor in a–!”

    “Princess Luna!” Princess Twilight snapped, stamping her hoof on the ground. “Put him down.” 

    Princess Luna directed her glare at Princess Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle! This stallion is–!”

    “I don’t care. Put him down,” the younger princess commanded once again. Despite Princess Luna’s deepening glare, her resolve did not falter, and especially–and perhaps critically–when she said, her hoof reaching for her pendant, “I trust Rarity. And you should, too.”

    Princess Luna stared at her peer, clearly reigning in the desire to protest. Her mouth opened and closed several times until she finally growled in frustration, spun around, and stomped away, poor North Ridge falling to the ground for what he hoped was the last time. 

    “Thank you,” said Princess Twilight, softly. 

    Princess Luna only grunted in reply, seated a few feet away, her back turned to both of them like a petulant child. 

    Princess Twilight turned back to North Ridge. “Why are you here? It’s not a coincidence, is it.”

    “Ah, er, no, Princess,” North replied, standing up and dusting himself off. “I was hoping to speak to you.”

    “To say what?”

    He cleared his throat, embarrassed. “…I have to admit, I’m not sure! I thought I’d have more time before I actually got to this part. I, err…” Then he cleared his throat again and offered a dashing smile. “I suppose I would like to enlist myself to your cause!”

    “…Assaulted one of my guards…” he heard Luna mutter loudly. 

    “Which I am very happy to apologize for! It was completely a reflex, I promise.”

    Princess Twilight considered him a moment, her eyes scanning up and down, inside and out. 

    Finally, she spoke: 

    “I have to get ready for the statement. There’s an inn on Silvershoe Road, a few minutes from the town square. Meet us there tonight.”

    “Perfect!” he exclaimed, bowing to her. “I will be there.”

    She nodded. “Good.” She then looked at her companion. “Princess. Let’s go. We’re late.”

    Without so much as a word to either of them, Princess Luna’s horn crackled with magic, and she teleported away with a loud ‘crack!’, startling him half to death. Princess Twilight simply sighed briefly, then offered North a final nod and teleported away too. 

    And it wasn’t until he was completely alone that he let out the breath he’d been holding. 

    Well then.

    It was real now, wasn’t it? No going back. 

    But surprises were not over for North Ridge just yet. No, as he made his way out the street and then came to an abrupt stop when a voice called to him from within a dark, dead-end alley, he realized that the best surprises were always saved for last. 

    “Well, well, well.” He stepped into the alley, a delighted smile coloring his face. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

    Though Rarity looked just the same as she had the day he’d left her, he was still just as mesmerized by her. Something about her had always compelled him, but it wasn’t solely her beauty, no. It wasn’t all the physical traits one would expect to cling to or nothing of the sort. It was something he’d never been able to place, a trait she’d displayed not just in the stories she’d told him but in the way she’d carried herself, in her voice, and most of all, in her eyes. 

    And it was funny to him how things played out. 

    How it could have been only then–there at the edge of no return–that he could finally find the word to describe Rarity the unicorn, the reason an old stallion who thought he was done decided to have one last adventure. 

    After all, the word had never occurred to him until earlier, when he used it to describe Rarity’s very own wife. 


    She said nothing to him. No smile, no quip, no nothing. Frankly, she seemed tired and stressed, much more so than usual. 

    “What are you doing here, Rarity?” he asked. “If you’re here to see me, I’m delighted you’d risk so much to do so!”

    “I’m not here for you,” she said curtly. Then she added, almost begrudgingly, “But I’m happy to see you.”

    “Then why are you here?” He had an inkling, of course, but his inkling could very well be wishful thinking, so he needed to know. “Last time we met, you told me you’d be going far, far away! That it was the only way to ensure he’d lose, and you knew best, and blah blah blah.” He saw her eyes narrow as he spoke, but he continued, unbothered. “Did you change your mind?”

    If only looks could kill! He’d be dead where he stood. 

    Her eyes burned into him and then softened with resignation. Not a particularly apt emotion, he felt, but that would be negotiated later. 

    “Yes. I changed my mind.”

    “What changed it?”

    If her anger had been contained before, it was no longer. 

    “What changed it?!” she barked, incredulous. She slammed her hoof on the ground. “You did! You forced my hoof! You and your–!” She couldn’t finish her sentence, letting it peter out into a strangled groan. “What does it even matter why? I don’t have a choice.”

    He laughed. “What? Yes, you do! We always have a choice!” He stepped towards her, and her averted eyes confirmed he was on the right path. “I may not have known you for very long, either, but what I do know is it seems no one can force you into making a choice you don’t believe in, Rarity.” He allowed himself a smile. “Including yourself, it seems like.”

    She said nothing for the longest time, tears washing over her eyes.

    “Don’t you want to at least try?” he asked. “Don’t you both deserve to try?”

    She looked at him from the corner of her eyes, her voice small. “How do you know it won’t go badly?”

    “I don’t!” he replied. “But do it, regardless.”

    The tears continued. 

    “But I can’t risk that, North. Don’t you understand? To put her through… Through…” She looked away again. “I can’t. I can’t risk it. There’s simply no other choice for us.”

    North grumbled, stamping his hoof. “Yes, you can! My stars, mare, are you even hearing yourself? ‘I can’t risk it’! I’d take that from anypony but you. What about everything you’ve told me? What about the Rarity who charged into a dragon lair to try and get a book? Did she give in to the fact that it was risky? No! Or what about the Rarity who had no qualms telling Discord what she thought of him when he forced her to dinner? Or the Rarity who confronted her partner even if it could go badly? Hmm? Did that Rarity ever balk at risks?”

    “That Rarity is gone,” she replied harshly. 

    North rolled his eyes. “You can tell yourself all you want if it helps you sleep at night, but I know for a fact that if that Rarity were actually gone, then you–” He pointed at her, crying, broken, and enduring as she was. “You wouldn’t be here. If all those stories of you are true, then you may be many things, but a quitter isn’t one.

    “So,” he continued, “instead of giving me every excuse in the book, you’re going to go on and finish this.”

    She was silent another moment, the tears rolling down her cheeks one after another, ears clamped against her skull, tail wrapped around her legs until finally, she confessed: 

    “I’m scared, North Ridge.”

    “That’s fine,” he said with earnest conviction. “You’ll just have to do it scared.”

    When again she said nothing, he continued. “Look at me. Look at me, really!” He waited until she did so and then stood tall and proud. “I may not be a hero of your caliber, filly, but I’ve had my fair share of risks in the West between bandits, mercenaries, pirates, and more! I’ve had to go through things you’d write about in horror stories. And you know what?”

    “What?” she asked, quiet.

    “Well, let me tell you, the number of times I’ve pissed myself from fear at the thought of doing something is not zero! But I did it anyway!” 

    Rarity contemplated him. Then said: 

    “North, I see your point, but I cannot stress enough how much I truly did not need to know that.”

    He ignored her. 

    “So now, next time you’re scared, if you haven’t emptied your bladder, you’ll know–”

    “Stop, stop! You’ve made your point!” she interrupted, and he only shut up because of the relief and joy he felt at the sound of her laughter and the sight of her smile. Giggling, she closed her eyes and sighed. “You’re lucky you’re funny, North.”

    “Thank you! My wife said the same thing, too.”

    Before anything else could be said, a trumpeting sound rang in the distance, drawing both their attention. Seconds later, they saw several ponies excitedly rush past the alleyway entrance, headed towards the town center.  

    “Oh, my stars,” Rarity whispered, swallowing hard, her eyes following the ponies still running past in the distance. “It’s starting. I’m really doing this, aren’t I?”

    North nodded. “It will be fine. Twilight trusts you. And as a wise mare once said, you should trust yourself, too.”

    Rarity exhaled a shaky breath. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right. But.” She licked her lips. “Be that as it may, I think I might be sick.” She brushed a hoof through her mane. “Granted, I don’t quite know if I can even be sick, but I certainly feel like I will be.”

    North chuckled sympathetically. “There, there. You still have some time unless you’re planning to crash the event! If not, you have at least several hours. Based on the few I’ve attended, your wife isn’t one for, er, brevity.”

    Rarity’s ear flickered at that. Her lips curved into a soft smile, as if for a moment, all the things weighing her down had been forgotten. 

    “My wife,” she repeated in a whisper, more to herself than him. She glanced at him. “You’ve never referred to her that way before.”

    “No? My mistake.” He bowed his head. “But I’m not wrong, am I? Unless my memory is finally failing me.”

    Rarity’s eyes twinkled with rare delight. “No, you’re not wrong. To an extent.” At the sight of his opening mouth, she quickly and painfully added, “Please don’t ask me to elaborate.”

    “Duly noted!” He stayed quiet for all of two seconds before running his eager mouth again. “So who proposed?”

    Rarity frowned. “North.”

    He waved his hoof at her, half-dismissive. “Oh, come on! You know I’m a romantic! Was it her?”

    Rarity bit her lip before proudly declaring, “No, actually, it was me.” She then paused. “Well, technically she did, too. Technically both of us, but–!” She cleared her throat. “I made the first proposition, as it were, inspired by–” She stopped herself and playfully shook her head, rolling her eyes. “Stars. Inspired by a foalish prank Princess Luna pulled on us sometime after we freed her.”

    North Ridge sat down, getting comfortable. “Now this I need to hear.”

    “What? Now?” Rarity asked, amused. At ease, if only for a moment, which he knew she sorely needed, especially if things did indeed go bad. “Don’t be silly.”

    “I’m not being silly! Did you not hear me when I said Princess Twilight rambles as the day is long? What better way to pass the time than to tell stories! Besides, you’ve told me so little of your adventures after freeing Princess Luna.” 

    Rarity pursed her lips, pouting briefly, before finally relenting with a sigh. “Well, fine. I suppose secrets don’t really have any use now, do they?”

    With a final glance toward the alley’s entrance and her destiny beyond that, Rarity sat down before North Ridge and gathered her thoughts, her hoof idly reaching for the brightly glowing necklace hanging from her chest. 

    “Once upon a time…” he prompted, playful. 

    “Once upon a time,” Rarity repeated, amused, “having just freed a trapped alicorn princess while also going through a very dramatic but necessary talk with her beloved, there was once a unicorn who believed not just in fairytales, but most importantly, in her justly earned Denza-given right to do nothing for a whole entire week, thank you very much.”

    “How did that go for her?”

    Rarity laughed. “Terribly.” Then she grinned and said, “And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

    Next chapter has a tentative post day of May 8th.

    As always, thank you for your support, and thank you to my supporters on Ko-Fi and Patreon who help me make this possible.

    If you’d like to support me (writing is currently my only source of income), tips on Ko-Fi are very much appreciated! Additionally, if you would like to read chapters early, chapters are released early on both Ko-Fi and Patreon to certain monthly member tiers.

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    1. SigmasonicX
      Apr 16, '24 at 5:54 pm

      Good chapter. I remember you wrote out North Ridge in TEK because you were having too much fun writing him and were worried that it was distracting you from progressing the story. Glad to see he’s back.

      This was different from his grand adventures of yore. There wasn’t a pirate to rob, thieves to kill, or dungeons to explore.

      You know Mono, I just realized… did you unintentionally write North as Scrooge McDuck?

      Very intriguing first chapter, and looking forward to the things hinted at. Including wife.

    2. Silver Mint
      Apr 16, '24 at 5:31 pm

      I hadn’t realised how much I missed involving myself in this world and this story until I read this tonight. It was like visiting an old friend again. The amount of times I got teary-eyed through this was quite a few, I had planned on rereading TEL and TEK but I never got around back to it, but now I’m feeling like I should, thank you for coming back to this.

    3. Olden Bronie
      Apr 16, '24 at 3:59 pm

      Welcome back!

      This was just…so very good! I love that you brought North Ridge back, though he was intertwined in Rarity’s story already. It was the perfect twist that they should meet and he gives her a much needed pep talk. I know Rarity loves Twilight dearly. Sometimes, one just has to have hope that things will work out, even when we’re scared that it might be difficult.

      Definitely looking forward to seeing more!

      I’m glad you’re doing better and writing what you enjoy, Mono. Take care.

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