Pinkie Pie’s screams and terrified face were the last thing Twilight heard before her entire vision was obscured by storm clouds.
She desperately gasped for air as the merciless winds tossed her around in an upwards swirl. Her wings were badly injured, and even if they weren’t, there was no way she could fly her way out of this storm. She was it it’s mercy.
“Gah!” Twilight yelped as she spun, flailing her hooves fruitlessly while also trying to make sure the staff didn’t-
Twilight’s eyes locked onto the item as she remembered it’s powers. It was her only way out of this.
She took as much of a deep breath as she could, her horn lighting up as she began to charge the staff. Within moments, however, her horn sputtered out.
It was no use. She needed to focus, and that wouldn’t be easy to do as she was being tossed and spun around. She was having a hard enough time trying to not hurl what little she had eaten.
I can’t fail now! I can’t! she told herself. Another deep breath and her eyes narrowed in concentration as she tried to activate the staff once more. There was a faint hum and a few stray sparks, but still no activation.
Twilight clenched her teeth and focused even harder, trying to ignore the buffeting winds. As she concentrated and more sparks began to fly from the horn, she instinctively found herself closing her eyes, so as to not black out.
Had she kept them open, she might have spotted the chunk of stone debris coming right at her.
“AHH!” Twilight cried out as the stone hit her square in the chest, knocking the words and wind out of her. The stone, however, was not done. It continued on it’s crazy, upward spiral, rocketing Twilight to the top of the storm at a dizzying speed. It took all of her strength to keep her grip on the staff as she was thrown upwards.
The painful collision, the force pushing her upwards, the roar of the storm... it was too much for her.
Twilight’s eyes shakily fell shut as her body succumbed to the force of the storm. The last thing she remembered was a blinding white filling her vision.
It felt as if a crushing blanket was lifted from Twilight’s body as she slowly began to recover her senses. Not that that would be too good, considering all the pai-
It was then that she realized that, despite her overwhelming grogginess... she felt no pain.
Where am I? What’s going on?
The seconds seemed to tick by as, bit by bit, Twilight began to piece her strength and consciousness back together. Eventually, she came to her sense enough to feel what she was laying on.
Twilight shakily began to stand up, step by step so as to not put undue strain on her frame. It wasn’t painful at all, but it was... heavy, for lack of a better word. As if all movements she was doing were through a thick, spongy surface.
Finally, she was on all fours once more.
Twilight’s vision slowly came to focus as well. Yes, those were clouds she was laying on. As for what was around her...
Twilight had to slightly shake her head and blink a few times to try to understand what was going on.
It seemed like the sky, above the cloud layer, but somehow... different. There seemed to be a perpetual glow and shine to the world around her. The sun, unbelievably bright, but not blinding, shone high above her. There seemed to be almost nothing around her but endless clouds, except for one thing. An enormous, ornate, and all around unimaginable golden arch. The structure was dotted with what seemed to be gems, several of which Twilight couldn’t even recognize. There were many intricate designs and sculpts on the structure, as well as what seemed to be a series of symbols or words, though she couldn’t quite make them out.
Twilight did another quick scan around her. Nothing.
“Where... where am I...?” she found herself wondering aloud.
Hush now, my dear
“Huh? Who’s there?” Twilight asked, surprised to actually receive a response.
For a moment, there was silence.
Then she heard the humming. Twilight craned her head up.
A melody... a softly sung tune, lazily twirling its way through the air...
And it was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard.
There was a faint sparkling and shimmering sound from in front of her. Twilight returned her vision forward, to the great arch.
It was now starting to shine, and the space underneath it started to ripple and become opaquer by the second.
There was an indescribable sound, like a thousand stars shooting past at blinding speeds, and another bright flash of light, causing Twilight to flinch away from the stinging blast.
There was one last shimmering sound, the humming rang loud in the air with one powerful, final note, and Twilight returned her gaze forward.
What she saw made her weak in the knees, and she almost collapsed out of sheer awe.
Before her stood a brilliant alicorn mare, unlike any of the princesses. She was twice or thrice as tall her as her, and probably taller than Celestia too. Her coat seemed to inherently shine a bright white, with light itself emanating from her body, though if Twilight tried to squint, she could faintly see a trace of cream color in there as well. Her mane, like that of Celestia and Luna, seemed to ethereally wave in the wind, except hers was a brilliant, crimson red. Her wings were almost more angel than pony. Almost. A brilliant golden halo also shone behind her head.
“Be not afraid, my little pony. You are safe here.”
The alicorn smiled warmly at Twilight, who felt lost in her sparkling blue eyes. Her voice... like the call of a thousand angels. And that was an understatement.
Something clicked in Twilight’s head, and she almost collapsed again, right there and then.
“I... it... it can’t be... F-f... F-f-fa...”
“Shh...” the alicorn before her smiled, almost amused, as she brought her hoof to Twilight’s lips, silencing her thoughts.
“You are safe now, Twilight Sparkle. No need to worry so much.”
As beautiful as her voice was, those words stirred something deep in Twilight. She pried her eyes off the mare for a second and took in her surroundings once more as her brain began to piece things together.
“Am I... d-de-?”
A soft chuckle escaped from the white mare’s muzzle as she softly shook her head.
“No, no, nothing of the sort, my dear,” the alicorn explained to her. “You are quite alive and well.”
“Then... how did I get here? And... what even is this...”
Twilight took a moment from scanning her surroundings to study the arch once more.
It was still glowing brightly, and rather than being able to see through to the other side, All Twilight could see through it was a dazzling white, with some very faint and subtle swirls of color here and there. Something about that arch...
Had the white alicorn not stood before her, Twilight worried that she might try to get too close to it.
“I’ve seen and heard that you are quite the able student, Twilight Sparkle. I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself, no?”
Twilight felt entranced as she stared into the portal. It was probably just her imagination, but it was almost like she could see... like she could see...
“Why am I here? Actually, HOW did I get here?” Twilight wondered as she looked around. Then she realized something.
“The staff!” she cried out, frantically searching around her. It was nowhere to be found.
“Calm yourself, my sweet filly. I assure you, that it is still in your possession, and it is now ready to be used.”
Twilight checked herself, but no staff anywhere.
“I don’t understand,” was all she could manage, shaking her head sadly.
The alicorn mare gently placed her gilded white hoof beneath Twilight’s chin, gently bringing her up to see into her face.
How could Twilight do anything but admire that radiant face?
“You have truly proved yourself, Twilight. And I wanted to congratulate you,” the mare explained.
“Con... gratulate? Me?” Twilight wondered.
“I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising for you to understand that I have been watching over you, since day one. Watching you grow, not only in body, but in mind.”
She paused for a moment.
“Tell me, Twilight, why did Tempest do what she did?”
“Me? Um... no offense, of course, but uh... if you’re... you know... shouldn’t you... know all that?”
The mare chuckled once more.
“Of course I do. I know very well. But I want to hear you say it.”
Twilight tried to recall the magical screen that Tempest had conjured up to illustrate her story as she sang aboard the airship.
“Her friends... that Ursa minor... her horn... and they left her...”
“Yes,” the mare acknowledged sadly. “I’m afraid her youth was not the happiest one. It hurts me to see it, but alas, her opportunity is near. I am at least comforted to know she’ll soon be happy once more.”
“You know, Twilight, Tempest was right. In that both of you ended up in a similar situation due to being ‘abandoned’ by your friends.”
“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.
The mare began to pace around the area as she helped Twilight sort things out.
“Ignoring the differences, both of you did something risky for the sake of a ‘greater good’. Both of you paid a price for such reckless action. Both of you were left by your friends during those dark moments...”
Twilight’s head drooped as she once more recounted her shameful actions and the split it had caused with her friends.
“But the difference now, and the difference that has always been there, is your strength of heart, Twilight.”
“Huh?” Twilight asked, still confused.
“There is a reason why your Element of Harmony is Magic, and not some inherent characteristic like your friends? You are the sixth, the uniting element, because, even if to a smaller degree, you encompass all your friends and their strengths.”
“You always try to tell the truth, and will not let someone be dishonestly hurt or affected by actions that are not their fault, or try to cheat your way to an advantage.”
“You are loyal to your friends, never giving up on them and always trusting that you can make it through, even in the darkest times.”
“You are kind to all you meet, friend or stranger, and always try to be accepting of people, giving them more than one chance if needed.”
“You are generous to your friends and your subjects, not only in posessions or wealth, but in your trust as well.”
“You are able to laugh in any situation, even in tough times, remembering that happiness can be your greatest weapon in defeating your foes.”
The mare paused, smiling down at her.
“You are a true friend, Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight blinked for a few moments in silence, then shook her head.
“With all due respect, your highness, no, I’m not. Look at everything I did these past days! I tried to steal the orb from the Hippogriffs, I didn’t believe in my friends and tried to do things myself, I wasn’t kind or caring at all to several people, I didn’t trust almost anyone, and I openly berated my friends for having fun when we were on a mission!”
Twilight’s head fell in shame.
“I failed in nearly every way.”
“Huh?” Twilight asked again.
“You succeeded far more than you could have imagined.”
“Even in those dark times, after all those mistakes, when Equestria was truly on the verge of falling, tell me, did you ever give up on your friends? Did you ever think that they had completely left you, that your friendship was over, that everything was doomed?” the mare asked her.
Twilight paused for a moment, trying to recall her emotions as everything was going on.
“Exactly!” the white alicorn smiled as she turned to face her.
“But... why does that matter? I still made those mistakes, there’s no changing that...”
“Of course you made mistakes my dear, everypony does. Indeed, it is true that nopony is perfect. However...”
The mare paused for a moment, and looked down warmly upon her.
“You know, I find the terms ‘good person’ and ‘bad person’ to be rather misunderstood terms, really, but to put it in a way that you can understand...”
“The difference in life between ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people is that good people accept and learn from their mistakes and don’t give up, where as bad people fail to do either.”
Twilight paused, mulling over the alicorn’s words.
“You faltered, Twilight. Everypony does. But throughout the years, through all the struggles you and your friends have faced, you have refused to give up on them. Whether they were trapped by Tirek or warped by Discord, you may have faltered, you may have had doubts, but in the end, you always chose to side with them. Even today, you could have resolved this conflict far sooner by taking the staff as the Storm King fell, but you chose to save Tempest instead.”
The mare put a wing around Twilight.
“You have so much heart, my dear. Far more strength than you could ever know. But even better than all that, even after you have faltered, you understand something crucial: your strength comes from not you yourself, but you AND your friends.”
“It may be difficult Twilight, but it is only by going through what you did today, I hope that you are finally able to truly understand this. Today, you faltered not because of some villains’ schemes or coercion, but because of your own faults and doubts.”
“And yet, you still rose up to the challenge once more. You didn’t give up not only on your friends, but on yourself too. I couldn’t be any prouder of you or them.”
The mare paused away from her subject’s face for a moment, seeming to look out into the sky beyond.
“It is thanks to you and your friends... that harmony... has finally returned to Equestria. Perhaps one day, you will be able to see just how much your love for your friends and the lessons you learned and taught together will have changed this world.”
Twilight simply stood in silence, trying to understand everything the mare told her.
The mare closed her eyes and lowered her head.
“Unfortunately, I must be returning you to your friends soon enough. Please, do be kind to dear Frizzle Pop.”
“Frizzle Pop?” Twilight asked, yet again confused.
The mare smiled, opening her eyes once more and staring deep into Twilight;s. She began to hum out the same melody as before, the soft tones seeming to enchant and fascinate Twilight’s mind. The air around them seemed to waver and grow colder, and Twilight found herself swaying a bit, a fierce dizziness beginning to overcome her. The mare before her slowly began to step back, heading into the arch. Twilight found herself unable to say or do anything.
“If nothing else, my dear, remember that you and you friends truly do have the most beautiful of bonds, and remember...”
“...friendship truly is magic.”
There was a blinding flash of light.
Twilight’s eyes snapped opened as she was suddenly thrust back into where she was moments ago.
She looked around. Below her, the storm had calmed to a soft, faint swirl. She as hovering above the upper cloud layer, and the golden sun shone brightly behind her. The glow of the staff told her that it had worked, and the storm had been quelled once more. There was no sign of the Storm King anywhere around her either.
It took her a moment to process what was going on. She looked beneath her.
She could faintly make out the utterly destroyed castle and war-torn mess that was the festival. Ponies were slowly starting to crawl out from where they had been held or hiding, helping one another break free of their chains and harnesses.
It would take a lot of work to sort everything out, no doubt about it.
But... the Storm King’s gone. And the staff... we have it back! We can return the princesses to normal again!
Only one thing left to do for now.
Time to go home.
As she began to flap down, holding the staff close, she was able to faintly make out the outlines of her friends, watching in awe as she slowly came down into their vision. She couldn’t help but give a small smile.
As she touched down and the six of them embraced tightly, she realized she couldn’t completely remember what had happened between her getting sucked up and coming back down. All she could remember was being tossed about in the gusts of wind, something hitting her, a blinding light...
And here she was now.
Had she truly done everything all by herself?
Maybe she did have help, in ways far beyond what she could ever understand.
The words seemed to echo in her head, though she couldn’t quite figure out why.
She’d likely have to do some memory analysis research later.
For now, her friends were calling.
Though neither Twilight or them would likely spot the brilliant white feather that came down beside Twilight, landing on the wrecked thrones of the princesses for a few moments before being carried off by a gentle breeze.