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Magic. The sensation of it was overwhelming as Shining Armor stepped out of the wire-frame form of the teleportation engine, like a wave of heat from the searing western deserts. The feeling was so powerful that he could have sworn he could almost smell it in the air, mixed in with the scent of ponies, steel, and runestone.
His forelegs wobbled ever so slightly as he stepped down the staircase. The sound of hoof-on-metal was lost in a mechanical orchestra—the percussive clicking of analog computers and clocks, the singing of electricity as it crackled out from hundreds of arc lamps, all welling up from the bass, tremulous thrumming of a ten thousand-ton cylinder of runestone rotating over his head.
Shining Armor paused at the edge of the platform and put his front hooves on the railing, staring up at the glowing cyan cylinder. Spirals of golden energy spun out from the bottom and gently curled upwards into the enormous sheathe that housed the cylinder, attached to the top of the spherical chamber. The cylinder was enormous—easily the size of an apartment building, and several times its weight. The chamber was in the shape of an upside-down cone, with long staircases running between the many concrete levels of the cone, each filled with endless rows of thundering mechanisms. Crawling back and forth like so many ants on each level the were the shapes of the ponies working here, outlined by the bluish-green light emanating from the crystalline cylinder.
“Ah, Captain!” a tinny voice greeted him. Shining Armor turned around and was met by a caramel-colored unicorn in a lab coat, with glasses altogether too large for his face. “My name is Wink, I run the teleportation array. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held out a hoof.
Shining Armor took the offered hoof and gave it a firm shake. “The same to you.” His gaze wandered around the enormous chamber. “So this is what it’s like down at the bottom of the Solar Engine!”
Wink chuckled and gestured at the rows of strange machines. “Well, normally we don’t have all this equipment down here.” He wrung his hooves nervously. “But enough about that. I should probably take you to the director now.”
The two of them made their way up along the edge of the chamber. Shining Armor saw a few heads turn as he passed scientists and technicians on the staircases, but the pair mostly went unnoticed. The facility was a hive of activity, and the higher up they went the more the sounds of ticking machines faded away, replaced by the soft roiling of constant conversation.
They finally stopped at a large metal and glass box built into the side of one of the concrete levels. Wink presented his ID badge to an earth pony at the door, who peered at it before letting them through. Stepping through, Shining Armor found himself having to duck slightly to avoid bumping his horn on the frame.
There were at least a dozen ponies crammed inside a room clearly designed to hold half as many. A chaotic storm of researchers fluttered about, waving sheets of paper through the air and carrying delicate equipment. Squeezing through the tight corridors between complex-looking machinery past ponies seated at their consoles was particularly difficult for Shining Armor, who was a large pony by any measure.
At the eye of the storm a familiar purple unicorn was barking out orders, the glare on her glasses obscuring her eyes. “No, it’ll be fine, it’s been fine through all the tests, just make sure the rotational control on the third conduit gyroscope is below three hundred PSI or we could drain out all the engines on the entire eastern wall. And somepony get me that report from Solar Control, I asked for that fifteen minutes ago!”
At Shining Armor’s greeting the director’s head snapped around so fast one of the lenses on her multifunction glasses flipped down. Scowling, Twilight Sparkle flipped the lense back up and squeezed past another pony. “Big brother! Oh gosh, you’re actually here!” Finally reaching him, Twilight reared up onto her hind legs and gave her brother a hug.
Shining Armor chuckled and rubbed Twilight’s head with his hoof, frazzling her mane. “Overworking yourself as usual, I see.”
Twilight snorted. “It’s the amount of work everypony else should be doing.” She sighed. “But it’s my machine, and I’m the only pony that knows how to do half the stuff that needs doing.” Twilight then had to press herself against a console to make room for another pony to pass through. “Let’s get out of this room.”
Once they were back out in the main chamber Shining Armor sighed. Watching his sister brush her unruly mane back into shape he couldn’t help but smile at how far she’d come. “So this is all yours, huh?” he asked, gesturing out around the cavernous chamber to the hundreds of ponies working on twice as many machines that governed thousands of thick pipes and cables that criss-crossed the ground and ceiling.
“Only on levels one through three; that’s where the Harmony Device and associated machines are,” Twilight answered, trotting down the staircase, older brother in tow. “The rest of this stuff is all energy management, I didn’t design that.”
Shining Armor laughed quietly. “That’s not really what I was asking.”
Twilight looked back at him, momentarily confused. “Oh!” she exclaimed, the meaning of her brother’s question finally clicking. “Yeah, I’m in charge.” She puffed out her chest proudly. “It’s not just here at the Solar Engine; we’ve got conduits running to all the big factories and even the outer walls.”
“They’ve basically handed you the whole city, haven’t they?”
“All the big rune engines, anyways.” Twilight sighed and rubbed her head. “I’ve had to learn more about rune engines in the past six months than I’ve had to in all my university years put together. Nopony’s ever tried to hook up as many engines together as we have, and making it work has been one big headache for me. For pony’s sake, I’m too young to be having migraines!” When her brother snickered she scowled in annoyance. “Oh, you think it’s funny, do you?”
Shining Armor deflected Twilight’s remark with a swift change of subject. “You know, I had heard Solarium’s power was going to go down temporarily while they did some maintenance. But this is the real reason, isn’t it?” Twilight nodded. “So what are you doing that needs so much magical energy?”
His sister responded with a long, sly smile and gestured down to the very bottom of the chamber. “Well, that’s why you’re here, right? So I can show you.” Her smile disappeared, and her eyes turned inquisitively towards the ceiling. “I’m really surprised they let you come at all, big brother. It’s all been so hush-hush here. Hardly anyone gets to come or go and all our letters are triple-checked before they get sent out. I’ve only ever been outside the facility twice since arriving, and that was only to do quality checks on the outer conduits. And they just let you in, even though you’ve got nothing to do with the project and aren’t in the Solarium military, or even a citizen!” Twilight glanced back at her brother. “The Canterlot and Solarium governments must be getting really close if they’re willing to let you in here.”
Shining Armor tilted his head to the side in thought. “They probably wouldn’t have, if the Lord Magister hadn’t vouched for me personally. I guess being head of security for the most important pony in Canterlot has its perks, eh?”
“I guess it does.” The two of them descended the final flight of stairs. Taking up the entire bottom floor, at the very center of the chamber with the massive runestone cylinder of the Solar Engine suspended directly overhead, was a golden contraption the size of a small house. It was roughly egg-shaped in design and thinned inwards at the middle as though the egg had strapped on a very tight corset. Eight massive black energy conduits, each big enough to drive a train through, hooked into both the upper and lower halves.
“Climb up,” Twilight said, hoisting herself up on a ladder mounted on the side of the machine. Shining Armor followed, clambering onto the inner ring. The two halves of the egg drew inwards into a glass cylinder, from which emanated a bright light.
Twilight gestured her head towards the cylinder. Squinting, Shining Armor approached the cylinder. A sense of dread, of impending doom inexplicably settled in his chest, constricting his breaths. As he got closer, he began to discern a gray rock-like thing. And yet it possessed a distinctly metallic sheen. Whatever it was, it was clearly infused with powerful magic; it was floating above the bottom of the cylinder, the air around it was warped and distorted, and occasionally crackled with black lightning...
Suddenly it clicked, and Shining Armor jumped back from the object as though electrically shocked. He stared at his sister, eyes wide. “Is-is that-is that a Chaos Fragment?” Twilight nodded. “Is it... safe?” he asked, looking back at the cylinder.
“Of course. There’s not a chance we would put it right here in the middle of the city if it wasn’t.”
Eyes wide, Shining Armor looked back at his sister. “What are you doing with it?”
Twilight took a deep breath. “You know the Elements of Discord, right?” Her brother nodded. “Well, I found documents in the Canterlot Archives that seem to indicate that in the pre-Discord era, there used to be something called the ‘Elements of Harmony’. What we—well, I, really—believe is that Discord got ahold of them and corrupted them in a similar way to how he corrupted ponies. And if Discord corrupted them, then we can uncorrupt them.”
Shining Armor stared, having difficulty believing what he was hearing. “I... well... wow! That’s...” His gaze drifted back over to the cylinder. “Can we get away from that thing?”
“Sure.” As they descended the ladder again, Shining Armor felt the constriction in his chest loosen up, though he wasn’t sure if it was relief from getting away from the Chaos Fragment or some actual magical effect that the Fragment emanated. “So, uh...” His mind was swimming with questions—like how his sister had managed to convince the Solarium government that this was possible, or if she had considered the possible side effects of working with a piece of the Elements of Discord—but in the end, he trusted Twilight, and knew better than to think that she hadn’t thought through these kinds of things before investing so deeply into a project like this. So he picked a question that he knew she wouldn’t find annoying to answer. “How does it work?”
At that Twilight actually laughed, and Shining Armor raised his eyebrows in confusion, not expecting this reaction. When the laughter had settled Twilight pushed her glasses back up her snout. Still smiling at Shining Armor’s confusion, she answered, “You see, the whole point of the machine is that I have no idea how it will work.” She turned, gazing up at the golden device. “That’s why we’re funneling every bit of magical energy we can get into this thing.”
“You know that magic has a mind of its own, of course; that’s why we can think things like ‘teleport here’ without having to specify every single particle in our bodies and clothes and anything we might want to carry with us. The magic itself will handle all that stuff for us. It’s an inverse relationship. The less you understand a spell, the more power you need to do it, but the better you understand it, the less power you need. What we’re doing is really, at its heart, nothing more than just getting as much magical energy as we need and telling it ‘Turn this Chaos Fragment back into an Element of Harmony!’ and then hoping it will work.”
Shining Armor nodded along with Twilight’s explanation. “Alright,” he said. “Uh, so, what will they do? The Elements, I mean.”
Twilight shrugged and shook her head sadly. “I have no idea. I was lucky that I was able to find out as much as I did. There was never a lot in the Canterlot Archives that survived after Discord burned them. But well, if the Elements of Discord were capable of killing an almost all-powerful spirit of disharmony and unleashing the worst ecological disaster in the history of ponykind...” Her voice trailed off.
Shining Armor took a deep breath and sighed. “So... when are you going to turn it on?”
An eager smile spread across Twilight’s face. “Tonight.”
Solarium. So-named because it was home to the great Solar Engine, the pinnacle of rune engine technology, the magnum opus of Equestrian engineering, driving the sun and moon across the sky. Also sometimes known as the City of Motion, for the constant movement of the many machines that dotted the city gave it an impression of dynamism unmatched by any other city in Equestria.
Even high above the city, resting on a thin layer of stratocumulus clouds that completely covered the overcast sky, Rainbow Dash could hear the sounds of the machines. Combined with the diffuse glow that scattered through the cloud layer, she could guess that this was their target, even without having seen the city beneath or having been told their destination.
“Perfect cloud cover tonight,” a green pegasus behind her said, causing Rainbow Dash to turn. The green pegasus, who went by the name of Cloud Chaser, walked over from a platoon of fifty or so pegasi, each dressed in the standard grey armor of the Cloudsdale military, but each wearing a unique, brightly-colored sash. “Gotta thank the colts at the Weather Factory for whipping these up for us.”
“And us for pushing all of them all the way out here without the Solarium weatherponies noticing,” a big, burly stallion grunted from way in the back of the cloud they were on.
The green pegasus rolled her eyes. “Oh here we go again, everypony!”
The stallion waved a hoof dismissively. “Nah, not this time. Besides, I think Copper has something she wants to say.”
There was a loud throat-clearing from the front of the crowd, and the platoon reflexively formed up into neat, square rows. Dash’s eyes turned to rest upon a hazel-colored pegasus, a single silver bar on her armor distinguishing her as a commissioned officer. “Alright, mares and stallions. You’ve probably already guessed by now that we’ve flown out all this way to Solarium and that we’re part of a major offensive.” A wave of excited murmuring washed through the crowd, lingering for a moment in the back before dissipating as Copper continued. “If you haven’t figured that out yet, then I don’t know how the buck you managed to get here, since we’re supposed to be an elite platoon of smart ponies.” There were some chuckles in the crowd, and again Copper waited for her soldiers to quiet down.
“But in all seriousness, this is how it’s going to go down. We are part of an array of secret assault forces all across Equestria. Our mission is to serve as the vanguard for a Cloudsdale strike force that is hiding in the cumulus clouds eight miles west of here. In addition, there will be a simultaneous ground assault by the Manehattan army on the western gate. At some point around 3:00 AM this morning, Solarium’s defenses are going to lose power. All the cannons, the shields, the lights, everything. It will be completely vulnerable. When the lights go off in the city, that is our sign to go. Rainbow Dash?” Copper craned her neck up, looking through the crowd for the blue pegasus.
“Yes ma’am!” Rainbow Dash saluted from the back.
“You’re the signal to the main strike force. Get up to about eight thousand feet and do that rainbow thing you do. Make sure it’s the big one. That will blow a hole in the cloud layer we’re standing on. Everypony else, you were each given a sash with the insignias of one of the twenty-six flight groups that are participating in the attack. Fly down to the city, mark targets of opportunity, and return up here to guide the flight groups down. Look for factories, military and government headquarters, postal centers, and transportation hubs.”
“What about the wall defenses, ma’am?” somepony asked.
Copper shook her head. “The Manehattanites are going to handle those. Our job is to cause enough havoc in the city that Solarium can’t get enough troops to the western gate before the Manehattanites get too many of their ponies through. Any other questions? No? Ok, now who wants to take first watch?”
As the formation dissolved back into a crowd, Rainbow Dash found herself quivering uncontrollably. Her breaths came in deep and ragged as anticipation surged through her chest, bursting at the seams. She wanted to explode into the air, to scream in exhilaration; every bone in her body was trembling with an excess of energy, the folded metal blades attached to the front edge of her wings rattling loudly. But she forced that feeling down, forced her breaths to smooth out, her body to calm down.
“This is it,” she whispered to herself. After all the training, all the talk, all the scenarios she had imagined, this was really it. The mix of half-dread, half-excitement that had been sitting in her gut ever since Copper had told them they were about to take a long flight east was now churning like a vicious hurricane. Oh, if Fluttershy were here to see this...
“This is it,” Rainbow Dash repeated again.
“We’re going to start the Third Rune War.”
“Look, sir,” a lightly-mottled brown stallion muttered quietly to a dark gray unicorn sitting next to him. “She’s a Canterlot pony. Are we really, really going to trust a former Canterlot assassin to do a hit on Canterlot? That’s all I’m trying to say here.”
“That’s enough, Ace,” the unicorn replied, his eyes boring holes into the other pony. “What the buck do you want me to do? High Command’s chosen her to lead the operation; orders are orders. End of story. And like I said, it’s not like I can just toss her out after having flown all this way.”
“We could leave her on the plane,” Ace suggested. He opened his mouth to continue, but was interrupted by a light tap on his back. Head snapping around, he was met with the mildly-annoyed face of a unicorn mare.
She was a tall pony, long and slender, her coat a light, almost-white shade of pink, with a purple mane and tail and flowed out in smooth lines from her body then dissolved into numerous puffy curls at their ends. Tilting her head slightly to one side, she explained, “I’m a sword-for-hire, Lieutenant. As long as I can be reasonably certain I’ll get my paycheck, I have no reason to betray you in any way. Just don’t expect me to be taking any hits for you.” And with that, she turned around and gingerly sat back into her seat on the other side of the aircraft.
The gray unicorn turned back to Ace. “You should apologize to her.”
Ace rolled his eyes. “Do I have to?”
“Yes. That’s an order.” The unicorn sank back into his seat.
The brown stallion sighed and turned to the mare. “Miss Crystalline, I am very sorry for doubting your loyalty. Can you please forgive me?”
Crystalline let a bemused smile cross her features. “No hard feelings, Lieutenant. This job’s going to be hard enough without you being ready to stab me in the back the entire time.”
The gray unicorn grinned. “I don’t think it’s going to be as hard as you think it will be, Miss Crystalline.”
“And why is that?” Crystalline leaned back in her seat and calmly described their situation “Eight ponies, versus all of Canterlot. Our only way in or out is this strange flying contraption that I have none too much confidence in the reliability or durability of. Our target one of the most heavily guarded in all of Equestria. What exactly is our advantage?” She smiled. “Surprise?”
The gray unicorn unstrapped himself from his chair and motioned to the front of the vehicle. “Come.”
Curious, Crystalline followed the unicorn up into the cockpit. “Take us up a little,” the gray unicorn said to the pilot. Crystalline felt the floor beneath her hooves tilt gently upwards. The cloudy skies above drew closer and closer, and then a seemingly endless stream of clouds was whipping past the window until suddenly, there was nothing but clear blue sky.
No, that wasn’t right. The sky was filled with tiny gray shapes. Familiar-looking boomerang shapes, much too large to be any bird or pegasus with a distinctly metallic sheen, dotting the sky as far as the eye could see.
There was a sinking feeling in Crystalline’s stomach. The idea that the Manehattanites had created a rune engine-powered machine that could fly through the air indefinitely without need of any kind of balloon had been unsettling enough. It was a contraption that she would have expected to roll out of the gates of Solarium, not Manehattan. To think they had this many...
She snapped towards the gray unicorn, eyes deadly. “You left this out,” she accused, every word dripping with ice.
The unicorn shrugged. “Security issues. Not my decision anyways, it was High Command’s.”
Crystalline stared at the ground and took a deep breath before looking back at the gray unicorn. “I’ll finish this job, but consider this a premature termination of my contract. I’m an assassin, not a soldier. I won’t fight a war for you.”
“You do your job, and you won’t have to.”
For the five hundredth time, Applejack brought the binoculars down from her eyes and put them back in the tiny little rowboat. “This is bullshit. This is the biggest, buffalo-est kind o’ bullshit there ever was.”
Her partner, a cheerful mellow-yellow earth pony, nudged her in the side. “Aw, come on, Captain Applejack! It’s not all that bad! At least nopony’s likely to try and come and kill us here.”
“I did not join the Manehattan Navy so I could sit in a dinky lil’ rowboat and watch the most important darn thing of mah life happen from this dinky lil’ river! And stop callin’ me Captain, Bonnie!”
“But you have your own ship now!” Bonnie waved her hooves in the air and tried to rear up onto her hind legs, nearly tipping their rowboat over. “Woaaaah!”
“For goodness sake, Bonnie, wouldja stop doin’ that? Neither of us are unicorns, so if the letter-sendin’ fire goes out we got no way to lightin’ it again!” Applejack glared at her partner, causing her to cower, ears flattened against her head and mouth turned down in a tight little frown. “Oh, Ah didn’t mean it that way, Bonnie. Don’t be like that. I’m just mighty frustrated, is all.”
Bonnie smiled. “Oh, come on, Applejack.”
Applejack snorted. “I could’ve been on a battleship right now, steamin’ to Baltimare.”
Bonnie made a dismissive raspberry. “Enjoy what you can in life, that’s what my grandma always told me.” She wrapped a foreleg around Applejack’s shoulders. “It’s an exciting time to be in the Navy!”
Twilight Sparkle gave one last long look at her brother. An assuring smile warmed Shining Armor’s face that gave her the boost of confidence she needed. She smiled back, exhaling quickly, and took another deep breath. The smile faded from her face, replaced by an expression of iron determination. On the many platforms beneath her stood rows and rows of scientists and engineers in front of wall after wall of consoles. “Alright,” she declared, her voice ringing out over the ticking machines and crackling electricity, and then muttered quietly to herself, “Moment of truth time, Twilight.” Scanning down her checklist of systems, she started calling out each item on the list; each time the administrator in charge of that system would answer, and each time Twilight would check off that item on her list.
“Beginning status check! Procedures!”
“Energy link green.”
“All systems green, we are go for launch.” The final item was checked. There was nothing else in her way. Her hoof rested on the big red lever at the center of the console. She hesitated. Then swallowed. Then pushed the lever.
And there was light.
In a place very far away and yet infinitely close, separated only by an imperceptible veil of dimension that forever sundered two points in space—permanently bound, and yet, unreachable, even unknowable—a very different Twilight Sparkle was reading. It was the early hours in the morning, too soon yet for the birds to chirp, and even as her mind absorbed page after page of information from the books in her library home, the veil, for the only the second time in its entire existence, since the moment of its creation two thousand years prior, trembled.
The first rays of the sun were falling upon her book before Twilight Sparkle realized that she had stayed up all night studying again. Drowsily she shut Terrific and Terrible: A Treatise on Techno-Animation and slid it up higher on the desk. Reshelving it could wait until after she took a nap.
Climbing into her bed, she gave one last gaze out of the circular bedroom window. The sun was rising over Ponyville, casting its warm glow over the village. The sunrise always reminded Twilight of her mentor; the Princess’s smile was a perfect reflection of the sunrise. Twilight grinned sleepily at the thought.
A piece of paper suddenly blew into Twilight’s face as the wind inexplicably picked up speed; before she even had a chance to pull it off a bolt of lightning knocked it away. Her eyes widened and her ears flattened against her skull as a swirling vortex of glowing cyan energy manifested in the middle of her bedroom.
Spike shouted over the howling wind and roaring thunder. “Twilight? W- what’s happening?”
“I don’t know!” Twilight cried. Books, potted plants, statues—everything that wasn’t nailed down was flying through the air, breaking and smashing into a hailstorm of ever-smaller pieces. Something like this had happened before once before, when Twilight had attempted to contact herself from the future. But this vortex was different; it was brighter, more powerful, more destructive, and it-
The vortex leapt at her, ending that train of thought.
For a single, instantaneous moment, the veil opened, and two points, forever divided in their individual planes, joined.
The soft glow that diffused through the bottom of the clouds faded, and the skies above Solarium went dark. The clouds were lit only by the light of the full moon, like a sea of silvery cotton as far as the eye could see.
Twenty-one years. No one in the governments of any of the myriad city-states that dotted Equestria would ever admit it, but they had all preparing for this moment for the last twenty-one years. Since the last war ended.
The time, at last, had arrived.
Rainbow Dash tensed up like a spring, every limb, every hair, every feather a dynamo of compressed energy, just waiting to be unleashed in a spectacular display of aerial daredevilry. “Let’s rock.”
The order came.
Rainbow Dash exploded off the cloud, streaking into the sky like a bolt of polychrome lightning, leaving a faint rainbow trail behind her that glimmered in the moonlight. Up, up, up she went, until the forms of her comrades beneath her shrank into tiny dots and were absorbed by the silver of the sea of the clouds.
Alright Dash. You’ve done this a dozen times before. Nothing to get worried about now. It’s not like you’ll be demoted to Private and sent back to boot camp and be the laughingstock of Cloudsdale forever if you mess up. It’s only the fate of the free world, after all- Oh, what am I thinking?
So fierce was the wind in her face that her cheeks started flapping. Her hooves began to meet that now-familiar wall of air, that kept building and building, becoming ever-stronger in its resistance towards her motion, sending off sparks of lightning that taunted Rainbow Dash to break it.
Dash poured in one final burst from her wings, and did.
There was a tremendous noise, and the hours of darkness were momentarily annihilated by an explosion of light.
In a Chrono-Khoraic vortex, no one can hear you scream.
That did not stop Twilight Sparkle from trying anyways.
Light and sound rushed past her head as she tumbled over and over, falling through infinite space, twisting and turning inside a glowing blue tunnel of energy. She saw things—images flashed through her mind, things she didn’t understand, things she couldn’t understand. And there were sounds: voices, machines, electricity, magic, and laughter; heart-shriveling, ear-rending maniacal laughter.
From the depths of the tunnel came streaks of cyan magical energy. They wormed and twisted, as though searching for something. Then they found it.
“N- no! Stay away!”
The streaks reached her, wrapped themselves around her, their suffocating grasp forcing away all other sensation—and then they were inside her, reaching into her body, her soul, forging connection, drawing energy-
And then it was over, as quickly as it began. Twilight’s face met cold, hard floor, and everything went black.
It was on the fifth revolution of the aerial armada circling west of Canterlot, waiting for the moment to strike, that the signal came. Towards the southeast, a rainbow flare of light and color burst onto the horizon.
The floor beneath Crystalline’s feet lurched as the transport pulled through a tight turn, and the triangular bat-winged planes of the Manehattan air force streaked towards Canterlot.
“Holy- that was hotter than a billy goat in a pepper patch!” Applejack shouted. Already the Sonic Rainboom that had just moments ago lit up the sky like an ephemeral sun was fading, the rings of color dissolving back into the inky darkness of the heavens. A massive hole had opened in the clouds overhead. It was as if a god had cast down a bolt of rainbow lightning to reveal the star-studded firmament above.
“Quick! The signal, the signal!” Applejack fumbled for the fire, contained safely in a metal bowl. Her partner was quicker to the draw, pulling a pre-made scroll from Applejack’s saddlebag and throwing it into the fire. The paper disintegrated into sparkling gray smoke that quickly raced off to the west, magic propelling it against the wind.
Her mission complete, Applejack turned her eyes back towards the heavens. In the sky, the last lingering remnants of the Sonic Rainboom were dissipating, as fleeting as the lives of the ponies that were now throwing themselves to the chaos of combat across the globe. Awe and hope and dread filled her heart as she gazed upon that night sky.
For the third time in two centuries, this Equestria would once again be consumed by the fires of the Rune Wars.
The Comprehensive Canterlot Encyclopedia - Third Edition
Entry: The Rune Wars
Scholars estimate that the history of Equestria spans at the very least over two thousand years, since the unification of the three races led to the founding of the first city on Equestrian soil after the Hearth’s Warming Migration. Although records from this era are sparse and by no means complete, those that we do know of indicate that first half of that history, when Equestria was still ruled by the pony races, was filled with continuous peace. Knowing this, it appears remarkable that only the most recent two centuries, after control of Equestria was returned to the pony races, have been so embittered with violence. Thus it seems reasonable to conclude that this is the lingering influence of Discord’s thousand-year reign. Although the Harmony Revolution is not considered by most to be a Rune War, it is included here for the sake of completion.
The Harmony Revolution was the first major war of the modern era. Indeed, many consider it to be the seminal event that marks the beginning of the Post-Discord period of Equestrian history. With the invention of the rune engine by Tick Tock in 32 BCE, resistance to Discord’s reign was finally practical. Although many historians regard Tick Tock as the father of the Revolution, the truth is that the Harmony Revolution was not lead by any single pony; rather, it was the rebellion of numerous small, disparate groups across Equestria, often unaware of each other’s existence but united by common purpose and opportunity, that gave Tick Tock the necessary time to steal the Elements of Discord and assemble the Chaos Engine that lead to Discord’s defeat.
The First Rune War was a direct product of the turmoil caused by the Revolution, with fighting beginning in 56 ACE and continuing until 71 ACE. Although Discord was dead, the effects of his reign upon Equestrian soil were not so easy to eliminate, and these effects were only compounded by the explosion of chaos magic from the Chaos Engine that defeated him. It was perhaps inevitable that the fledgling Equestrian Republic would flounder, as heavy taxation of an already-impoverished population was the only way to fund the government programs designed to repair the environment, enable productive farming, clean drinking water, and stabilize the sun and moon. The First Rune War would define Equestrian politics for decades to come; the splitting of Equestria into numerous individual, self-governing city-states is a direct result of the war.
The Second Rune War, beginning in 122 ACE and ending in 147 ACE, was sparked not by internal stresses as the First Rune War was, but by external influences: most notably, the systematic infiltration of pony societies by Changlings. Seeking to take Equestria for themselves, changlings that had assumed the forms of high-ranking government officials in all the major city-states exploited conflicts between the city-states to spark wars in a bid to weaken them for an eventual Changling invasion. Far from weakening the city-states, however, the Second Rune War strengthened them. By war’s end, due to political and military necessities, the city-states had organized themselves into two main factions: so-called “Free Cities” that governed by republican or parliamentary systems such as Cloudsdale, Manehattan, and Fillydelphia, and so-called “Imperial Cities” where rulers possessed absolute power, such as Canterlot, Solarium, and Baltimare. The war also lead to the enslavement of the Changling Queen by Solarium as well as the disintegration of the gryphon empires.
Following the Second Rune War was a period of uneasy peace, in which we now live. As the city-states rattle their sabres at each other across the mountains and hills of Equestria, it is considered by many that a Third Rune War is inevitable. Worsening tensions and the continued degradation of ecological systems due to inexplicably self-sustaining chaos magic would seem to indicate that this is indeed the case. It is my fervent prayer that the Third Rune War, if and when it does occur, will be the last.