A barely audible voice wafted towards Rarity through the cool afternoon wind, as well as the sound of her cloak and mane flapping to her left in the selfsame breeze. Her thoughts, however, were on neither of these things, but on the smiling unicorn waving to her from the base of Ponyville's clock tower.
Or at least, tried to wave. It was more like a singular flap of her hoof. But Rarity appreciated the gesture regardless.
"Actually, no. You were early. By two hours." Rarity caught up to the unicorn, and looked straight on at her mane, mostly covered by a hood which obscured most of her face. What was visible was dark and disheveled, but after much scrutiny Rarity could still just catch a few stray, purplish tints. "I was actually hoping you'd realize it." She paused for a second. "Meaning that I was actually hoping in general." She took out two sandwiches from the two plastic bags which had been in her cloak. "Daffodil and daisy, yes? One of your favorites, Spike told me."
The other unicorn nodded. "Thank you." She took a bite, then spoke again. "So, stop me if you've heard this one. The great and powerful jet-setting Rarity, of Manehattan's Carousel Fashions, invites a pony to a lunch date in the town where the two spent their adolescent years. Her invitee, Twilight Sparkle, experiences several emotions, the strongest of which is abject surprise." Twilight fed Rarity a wry grin. "Not that I'm not happy to see you, but it's been years."
"I know." Rarity took a bite of the sandwich, then took a drink from a levitating water glass. "Can you blame me, though? You're a near-impossible unicorn to find, playing nomad as you are. Also, I don't 'jet' anymore. I have people to do that for me."
Twilight gasped in remembrance. "Oh, yes, how is Spike? And Sweetie Belle?"
Rarity laughed and shook her head. "I think some of your genius must have rubbed off on him. Who could have guessed that that ponies were ready for dragon-flavored fashion sensibilities? Honestly, between Spike's sense of flair and my sister's downright uncanny knack for reading people, those two have taken things to heights I never dreamed--and that's only speaking on the subject of business."
Twilight giggled. "They're still together, then?"
"Couldn't pry them apart with a crowbar." Rarity rolled her eyes. "Believe me, the media's tried its fair share of times. I stop them before they get the chance, though, since if they break up, I think the business goes right along with it." She chuckled and took another bite of the sandwich, the combination of bread and flowers unexpectedly sweet in her mouth. No wonder Twilight preferred it. "But they're not the reason I'm here."
Twilight nodded. "Yes, let's get to that. So why did you ask me here? There are easier ways to catch up on old times. D-mail's worldwide now, after all."
"Yes, well. You know my penchant for the personal touch." Rarity took a deep breath, and exhaled just as sharply. "Twilight. I hate to use the word 'intervention.' I truly do. However-"
Twilight instantly shivered, and her voice voice took on an edge. "Look. I-if this is about Appleloosa? O-o-or Fillydelphia, or Los Pegasus? Right, Los Pegasus, I remember starting there. Yeah, if you're here on behalf of those places, tell them what I told everpony else--I've just been trying to help."
Rarity countered with a single word. "Canterlot."
Twilight froze. "Word's gotten as far as there, huh?"
"Come back there with me. The Princesses miss you. I miss you. You've done all you can. You've done enough."
Twilight shook her head. "N-no I haven't, Rarity! I'm Equestria's protector. I'm the Element of Magic! Celestia appointed me herself, remember? All those years ago-"
"Twilight!" Rarity slapped her hooves on Twilight's shoulders. "You just said the key words."
Twilight didn't reply.
Rarity gestured upwards with her right hoof. "Twilight. This tower we're under has been around nearly as long as we have. It is some of the finest construction Ponyville has ever borne witness to. Through the years, it has done its job admirably. We have come to respect it with all of our hearts. But in the time of its existence, new clocks, more efficient clocks with even greater potential, have been invented which could easily take its place. And it's not its fault."
Twilight remained silent, digesting the words, until she tilted her head. "Wait, Rarity. Are you comparing me to a clock?"
Rarity shrugged. "I wish I were. Unfortunately, it gets worse. Machines are built with fallibility in mind. They can also be fixed when things go wrong. That clock's had adjustments made over the years to synchronize to the exact times Princess Celestia uses for sunrise and sunset. So barring a temporary power loss, or rust which can be cleaned, it's now never wrong."
The wind blew past them both as Rarity worked up the nerve to say her final sentence. When she at last managed, a lump in her throat was the price. "That kind of thing doesn't apply to unicorns. Not even the most powerful or good-natured of prodigies."
Twilight shook her head violently. "Rarity, I'm not going to listen to this."
"You have to, Twilight! Going around every town and country trying to try to stop crimes, poofing in out of nowhere and trying to right wrongs and pass judgment, trying to use unreliable magic to solve problems, with no real order to your methods-"
"You sound just like everypony else! Just because I make a few mistakes sometimes! I rebuild everything I, um, break down, don't I? And I help everypony who might get hurt recover! My magic isn't unreliable!"
"Your magic wasn't unreliable. But magic is only as honed as the mind and body behind it! It's been too long. Even for you. All those problems you've solved... they don't count if you were their cause in the first place, does it?"
Twilight shrank back with a small whimper and sniffle. Rarity knew she'd hit the best and worst nerve she could have.
Rarity sighed and shook her head. "Twilight, please. I'm not here to condemn. I know it's easy to forget. But you've inspired so many ponies. And they've gone on to create wondrous things, all thanks to you. But consider this. Sweet Apple Acres is in the best of hooves, none of which belong to Applejack. Pinkie Pie's circus is a hit across Equestria. You already know about my fashion empire, Fluttershy, rest her soul, has a charity named after her which benefits the entire world, and Rainbow Dash teaches now. Teaches. Behind a desk. Rainbow Dash. So please, answer for me: which one of us is not like the others?"
At this, Twilight removed her hood, giving Rarity a full-on view of the wrinkled, violet face behind it. Her expression was worn, but well-traveled. Her eyes, however, still flashed with the energy of youth, despite the tears welling up just under them.
"I can still do this," she said in a soft, determined voice.
"Twilight." Rarity touched Twilight with a ginger hoof. "It's okay to let go."
"No! I'm still useful! I can still make a difference! And I'll start here. Without any problems!"
Before Rarity could stop her, Twilight's horn took on a glow, a violet beacon in in the darkening afternoon. Glitter of the same color swirled around her in an upside-down tornado, kicking up wind which spread outward from her. Rarity's clothing and mane now flew backwards instead of to the side.
"What are you doing?" Rarity half-yelled through the miniature storm.
Twilight's smile was hopeful and cocksure. "Just giving this tower a facelift. I'll prove to you that anything can be given a new lease on life! Just so long as somepony believes in it!"
For about ten seconds, Rarity could only gasp in awe as the glitter surrounded the tower, and it began to change. To shine. Its materials became brighter and more solid.
Then she looked back at Twilight.
Her mouth was slack-jawed. Her eyes were glazed over. It wasn't the look of concentration from an experienced mage. It was the barely-conscious gaze of someone who had become lost in her own spell.
The second Rarity realized this, she saw a shadow over them. The tower was crumbling.
"Twilight, watch out!"
Rarity grabbed Twilight, transporting the two to a safe distance just in time. A humongous pile of metal and stone collapsed in a heap, quickly becoming Ponyville's newest calamity and centerpiece.
It was sheer fortune that the surrounding area had been deserted at the time. Housing had moved outward the over the years. However, the peace was not to last.
As Twilight and Rarity returned to inspect the damage, other ponies came out of their houses, walking to Ponyville's old central square; some for the first time in months. Twilight looked at their faces. She recognized a few--they looked as old as she did. The large majority, however, she didn't recognize at all.
But they all shared one thing in common--the shocked looks on their faces. Twilight looked back at the rubble.
"This was me," she whispered. "Oh, Celestia, I am the problem."
The last thing Twilight saw for quite some time was Rarity's outstretched forelegs, just before she dove into them through sobs. She hoped against hope that the embrace of her old friend would be enough to dull the pain of responsibility.
Naturally, it didn't.