Twilight and Rainbow Dash descended through the ravaged corridors. A pale light illuminated the space below them, its delicate cerulean hues refracting through Twilight’s shield. They carefully glided around jagged debris jutting out from the walls. An ever-present hum of idle machinery steadily grew louder the deeper they went.
After a slow, arduous descent, they landed on the lowest floor, their hooves muted in the heavy air. They found themselves in an immense control room, evidenced by the myriad of gauges, switches, levers, dials, and all manner of machinery scattered about the room. Massive cloudcrete slabs had fallen to rest atop much of the room, crushing machines and structures alike. The few parts of the room that weren’t buried in wreckage had been ravaged by time or some other force of nature.
The persistent drone had peaked, overwhelming any other sensation. Looking around for the source, Twilight gasped. What had once been a hallway had evidently become a channel for some kind of tremendous force. A series of sheared-off brass joists lined the walls of the hallway, crackling with ambient magic. Sparks of lightning—real lightning—ran down the walls, providing brief flashes of illumination. Twilight, however, saw so much more. Lingering traces of pegasus magic arced into the room and contacted the floor. The patch that it struck glowed for a moment, shifted faintly, then fell back into stillness.
“This is it,” Rainbow said, her voice cracking as she walked atop one of the larger pieces of rubble. “These were storm doors. They close if there’s a problem with the weather core. I-I’ve never seen them actually close before, not in Cloudsdale, but…” Her voice trailed off as they approached.
Rainbow hopped off of the debris and trotted alongside Twilight, the pair coming to a stop just a few feet from the hallway. Rainbow glanced between the twisted supports and the crumbling walls. “The doors didn’t just fail. They were blown off,” she said, her voice wavering with a mix of awe and fear.
“Blown… off?” Twilight whispered hoarsely. The dim light only extended so far, and the hallways faded into darkness. She could sense the fear in Rainbow’s voice as they stared into the unknown. Twilight felt a knot in her stomach. Even the physical lightning seemed to have no effect on the darkness, vanishing down the hallway. It disturbed her. A single pale blue dot flickered far in the distance, eluding Twilight’s attempts to look closer as it winked in and out of sight. Though faint, the signature of warped pegasus magic was undeniable.
Twilight took a deep breath. “We have to be ready for anything. Who knows what could have done this?” She said, taking a small step closer to Rainbow.
Rainbow gave her a sidelong look, and the two shared a brief moment as a smile curled over both their faces. Twilight could see a familiar fire alight in Rainbow’s eyes. With a firm nod, they kicked into the air together began their flight into the core.
Twilight tensed as the lightning crackled, striking her shield and conducting along its surface. She sighed with relief as the energy bounced harmlessly into the walls and floor as they flew. The sporadic discharges grew in both frequency and intensity the further they went. Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight noticed irregularities in the surrounding energy. There’s dark magic in the… She shook her head. No, focus.
“Almost there,” Rainbow Dash muttered. They reached the end of the hallway as it opened into a cavernous room. A narrow catwalk encircled above, just below the domed ceiling, while an assortment of destroyed equipment lay strewn across the floor. A number of large openings had been built into the ceiling, though some of them had collapsed with age.
Their eyes were drawn, however, into the center of the room. A misshapen spheroid of swirling blacks and greens hovered in the air, flinging an alien light in every possible direction. Twilight squinted, trying to make sense of the spellwork before her. This spell structure… it’s identical to a shield spell! But there’s something more. She carefully flew slightly closer. There! Her eyes widened. “There’s pegasus magic connecting the negative space in the framework!” She whispered. The spell fragments of the sarcophagus were powerful—not at as refined as Twilight’s unicorn magic, but powerful in its own right. The ghostly illumination was too dim to physically see inside, but a wispy, aetheric form danced within. Twilight tracked an errant spark of energy that escaped through a crack in the inky structure; it zig-zagged through the air until it found its way out through one of the holes in the ceiling.
“That’s it!” Twilight shouted as the pieces fell into place in her mind. As if in response, the swirling mass buzzed louder, its drone broken up by howling winds and the crackling of electricity. “This is the containment unit—and containment has failed. The core is sending weather all over Equestria!”
“So, what do we do?” Rainbow yelled over a sudden gust of wind. “I’ve never seen one of these up close before, and somehow I doubt they normally look like this!”
Twilight’s brow wrinkled in frustration as she thought. What do we do? If dark magic is indeed keeping the core from overloading—again—then I can’t just break it apart. But if I don’t do something then all of Equestria is in danger!
“If I match the inverse-phase frequency of the spell’s matrix, I should be able to bring it down entirely, dark magic or not,” Twilight said. Her shield rippled as the wind battered against it, making her mane blow out behind her. “It’s like flying against a storm cell to slow it down.”
“And then what?” Rainbow asked, gritting her teeth against the wind seeping through the shield. It kept most of the wind at bay, but didn’t do anything about the cold for poor Twilight.
“One of two things. We fly in and start cloudbusting it like a normal cloud. It‘ll be mostly formless, but if it’s pure pegasus magic then it will rely on the same principles. The other…” Twilight gulped and looked nervously up at the monstrous weather core. “Another meltdown. And this time, without access to the same techniques to contain it, all of Clousdbane and most of the coastline could be destroyed.”
“Including us. Fantastic,” Rainbow said, rolling her eyes. A frigid blast of wintry air slammed into the shield, coating it in ice. Rainbow grunted, kicking off the unexpected shell. Twilight’s concentration broke, and the shield fell away from their bodies.
Twilight reflexively wrapped her wings around herself, shivering. “Can you do something about the errant weather?” She said through chattering teeth. “If you can keep it away from me, I can try to cast a spell that could fix this!”
“You got it!” Rainbow said with a salute, her toughened weather pony fur unaffected by the cold. She leapt into the air and banked tightly around the core. Magic crackled along its surface and sparks shot out toward Rainbow, but she tucked and spun, deftly avoiding the strikes. Twilight watched in awe as sparks of pegasus energy emanated from Rainbow’s wingtips, shaping her wake and dragging the cold air along behind her as she flew into a tight tornadic spin. Faster and faster she flew, a pale rainbow-colored twister welling up from the ground below. Stray weather leaking from the sarcophagus was quickly sucked in while cacophonous booms of thunder echoed around the room.
The wind and lightning around Twilight slowly pulled away, giving her a clearer view of the roiling magic before her. She felt nausea grow again in her stomach, but she swallowed hard and grit her teeth, fighting against it.
“Why is the frequency so low?” Twilight muttered. She stared at the swirling green and black energies, tracing aetheric pathways through the space above. She closed her eyes and began to channel a counterspell. This will be tricky, but I don’t have a choice. I can do this! Magic burst around her horn as the spell began to form, a familiar hexagonal lattice shimmering into existence. Twilight strained, twisting each strand into a tiny arcsine wave. Reciprocal peaks and valleys crossed through her mind and around her horn, the hum of the core phasing slightly as she adjusted the magical frequency. If my hypothesis is correct, dark magic has the same properties as unicorn magic but at a lower, more resonant frequency… I can use unicorn magic to counter it.
Energy swirled around Twilight. She thrust her horn at the core and unleashed a torrent of countermagic, her new spell wrapping itself around her beam as it struck her target. Twilight yelped as the magic collided, the spellform sparking as it tried to fit itself into the umbrum magic’s negative space.
Only it couldn’t. Twilight panted, struggling to reshape the spell, adjusting its baseline frequency. The dark magic sparked, its strength roaring in her mind as it pushed back against her insufficient power. She felt a small voice within her mind—no, her spirit—that cried out that this was wrong. Her stomach lurched as a wave of unease suddenly came over her, shattering her focus. Her eyes snapped open as the spell cracked, whined, and flew apart. A burst of energy flung Twilight onto her back and she skidded along the floor, coming to a stop with one wing pinched awkwardly beneath her.
She slumped against the ground as the world spun, her vision going black as she lost consciousness.
Was she dreaming? Twilight couldn’t be sure.
A muffled voice pierced the ringing in her ears. Her eyes fluttered open, wincing as the light struck her. Formless shapes filled the room around her, one light blue blob standing above her and reaching down with its hoof.
Twilight’s vision suddenly slid into focus, Rainbow Dash’s hoof roughly shaking her. “Twi! What happened? Are you okay?” Rainbow asked worriedly. She glanced at the sarcophagus as she helped Twilight to her hooves. The wind howled fiercely inside the reactor room, whipping their manes about. The swirling dark energies pulsed with a sickly green light, as if taunting her with its existence.
“I don’t…” Twilight panted, her voice cracking. “I don’t understand! The counterspell should have… It should have…” She trembled, panting heavily as she flexed her sore wing. “Why didn’t it work?”
“You’re not giving up that easy, are you?” Rainbow snapped, touching a hoof to Twilight’s cheek and nudging her to face the core. “You see that thing? We’re kicking its flank and saving Equestria! I can’t do it alone, and you can’t do it alone.” She glared up at the massive orb, unable to see the dark magic within but more than capable of seeing its effects on her friend. “We’ll do this like we’ve done everything else: Discord, Tirek, Chrysalis, Sombra, the Storm King. We’ll do this together.” Her wings flared, excess pegasus magic crackling along her spine to the tips of her wings.
Twilight gasped quietly. She glanced back and forth between Rainbow and the core, suddenly seeing an unrealized connection. She scanned over the twisted spellforms, taking in every single detail, every tiny little speck of magic. How could I not have noticed it before? No arcane sigils. No complicated spellweaves aligning the aether into just the right spot. There was only the wild, untamed energy of flight and freedom. The energy pouring from Rainbow’s pure force of will flicked away, discharging into the air around her, but the energy of the core was marred by a sluggish, oppressive grip of dark magic. The sarcophagus. What should have been the very essence of pegasi was instead tethered by the same corruption that formed the weather golems. “That’s it,” she muttered.
“What’s it? You got an idea?” Rainbow said with a smirk.
“It’s not just Umbrum magic,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “Not as we know it anyway. That’s why my counterspell failed. It was born of my unicorn magic. Even with the correct inverse-frequency, the catalysts are completely different. Brute-forcing my way through the magic would have compromised the—”
Rainbow Dash cleared her throat loudly.
Twilight blushed deeply. “Sorry. I’ll make a report on it later, but the short of it is that it’s dark pegasus magic.”
Rainbow quirked an eyebrow. “Is that even a thing? Like, that’s all supposed to be Sombra stuff, right?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said, the confidence fading from her voice. “This is something that likely hasn’t been documented in centuries, and I have to figure it all out with no research, no notes, nothing! What little we did find was destroyed by those simulacra.” Her ears drooped as Rainbow pursed her lips.
Twilight took deep breaths, focusing her thoughts. Ever so faintly, but growing louder by the moment, a storm surged within her spirit. This time she flung herself into it. The edges of her vision blurred, and she felt darkened wisps of purple flames burst from the corners of her eyes. She spread her wings and looked back at them—the feather tips arced with lavender magic for but a moment, then were consumed by an ever-growing presence of power. Rainbow stepped back nervously as she watched her friend’s sclerae fade to a deep green. The wind kicked up around them as the core bathed the room with chaotic weather anew.
Got to... Control it... She thought, trying to keep her focus from crumbling under the weight of such immense power. It's so heavy. I can't—I can't... She cried out suddenly, losing her grip on the darkness that was buried within. It started to slip away, the fire in her eyes sputtering out.
“You got this, Twi! Take that magic, kick its flank, and show that weather core who's boss!” Rainbow shouted over the growling wind. Twilight looked at Rainbow, who gave her a cocky grin. Their eyes locked, and for a moment Twilight grew cold; surely Rainbow could see the effects of dark magic. But her friend’s trust was steadfast. Rainbow reached out with a hoof and touched Twilight’s shoulder, the grin fading to a gentle smile. “You’ve got this,” she whispered, somehow overcoming the gale around them. Twilight could feel the confidence flowing from her friend, and felt a second wind catapult her spirit skyward.
Twilight felt the magic surge through her, spreading across her body to her wingtips. In a flash, a swirling mist of greens and purples began to stream from her feathers. She twitched one wing, and gasped as a rush of air slammed into the opposite wall, taking papers and bits of equipment with it. The power welling within her was intoxicating, but she knew she couldn't crack under its influence—she had to tame it.
Twilight closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She raised a hoof to her chest, and slowly exhaled, settling her focus as the hoof returned to the floor. Her eyes opened. Rainbow Dash stared as the vulgar green tint was overwhelmed, and Twilight’s brilliant violet irises flared through with a magical radiance. Another deep breath, and another blink. The deep purple wisps faded, and soft, sparkling indigo auras trailed behind. Though Rainbow could not see it, crackling lavender bolts of magic pierced the tempest around Twilight’s wings, burning it away wherever they touched.
Twilight crouched low, feeling the last vestiges of darkness slip away, and kicked off directly at the sarcophagus. She bolted toward the looming sphere, the shouts from Rainbow growing indistinct. She banked hard near the surface, free-flowing magical sparks leaping from her wings as if drawn into the space. Her spell connected with the ancient magic, this time easily overpowering it and shearing off a huge chunk of its foundation. “Now, Rainbow!”
Rainbow took to the air, darting around the room and knocking away clouds and gusts of wind that began to spill from the core. She kept a careful eye on Twilight, being sure to clear her path. “I’ll keep the room from falling apart. You can finish this thing off!”
Twilight landed on the far wall, leaping from it and coming around for a second pass. Her wing sliced through the spell as if it were air. The rush of wind through her mane, the speed, the sharp maneuvers; despite the gravity of the situation, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of boundless freedom.
With one mighty buck, Twilight tore the sarcophagus asunder. Beams of light shimmering with every color imaginable radiated outward, forcing Rainbow Dash to cover her eyes. Lightning crackled in the gaps, threatening to pull what little remained back into place. Can't let it reassemble its spellform! Twilight banked through a tight Immelmann turn and focused her magic as strongly as she could into her outstretched hooves. As she approached the remnants of the sarcophagus, bolts of electricity emanated along her forelegs.
Twilight collided with the dark magic with the peal of thunder, lightning bursting forth. Blinding flashes of green and purple filled the room, slowly subsiding as the rumbling echoed throughout the room. The maelstrom slowed, the rushing winds slowly dying down to a gentle breeze. When Rainbow finally opened her eyes, the hideous prison had been vanquished, and in its place a soft-yellow sphere of light held itself aloft. She scratched her ear, trying in vain to quell the ringing. “Twi?” Even to herself, Rainbow’s voice was muffled. “Twilight, you did it! You stopped the Cloudsbane!”
But Twilight was gone.
Twilight’s eyes opened slowly, struggling with heavy lids to blink away the darkness. Soft, formless blues and whites filled her vision as she drifted through the space. Cautiously, she flexed one wing, wincing with a sharp pain. She fidgeted as her senses steadily returned to her.
I… she thought. I’m back. She stared around the space, remembering the futility of physical movement in the aetherstream. All around were the vague shapes of clouds sprinkled across an endless sapphire abyss.
Twilight felt her head spin as she impulsively flew topsy-turvy, making impossible loops and rolls. Despite—or perhaps because of—her disorientation, she giggled. The giggle gave way to a cackling laugh, punctuated by excited whoops with each maneuver. The sensation of flying so freely washed over her, melting all her stress away. This was nothing like her visits to the clouds above Ponyville, or even experiencing it vicariously through Rainbow Dash.
This was what it meant to be truly free—untethered from the constant clawing grip of gravity. The same fulfillment of self-actualization and of ascending to be one with nature. As she listened, she began to hear the sounds of formless magic discharging all around. A tiny shock here, a great bolt of lightning there. No arcane sigils or wandering glyphs of incomplete magic: she was inside the pegasus aetherstream.
Twilight did a twirl through the air as she ascended higher, feeling a warmth not unlike that from the sun, despite the lack of any apparent light source. Looking down, shapes started to become apparent amidst the haze. “Pegasus magic,” she whispered. She smiled as the esoteric shapes of the weather wafted past her. She began to read patterns in the magic. The shape of arcing lightning; another of swirling rain water; and yet another of blistering heat. Not enough on their own to trigger any phenomenon, but they still formed the building blocks that governed her world’s weather.
A flicker of light—no, darkness—caught Twilight’s attention. A massive nodule of magic had erupted from the sky below and ascended rapidly before suddenly rocketing off away from her. It was difficult to discern, but Twilight could swear its makeup shared similarities to those around her. “What in the world…?” Twilight muttered. She took off toward the source of the magic, descending down, down, down.
The air rushing through her mane gave her rush of bliss. She broke out into a broad grin as she flew. Another cluster of pegasus magic—this one swirling with wind—flew past her toward some unknown destination.
Cloud cover started to swirl around her, pooling together into towering cumulonimbus walls. Darkened lightning arced along the surface, capturing latent pegasus magic and drawing it back into the clouds. The fledgling spell grew, the lurid colors of Umbrum magic permeating the air around her.
That must be it the dark magic they used on the weather core! Without a moment’s hesitation, she propelled herself through the darkened space, the Umbrum magic flowing along the surface next to her—as if it knew she was there. She felt her eyes stain with green and black energy, her wings growing sluggish as dark purple energy flowed from them. A pang of fear welled in her breast, but she stifled it. Not this time. I’ve beat you once, and I’ll beat you again. I’ll stop this madness once and for all!
She flew through the air, leaving a streak of sparking purple magic in her wake as she dodged around rapidly-forming storm clouds. With equal parts grace and dexterity, she banked along one wall, slicing her wing through the cloud matter. The green aether winked out with an otherworldly howl. When she pulled her wing back out, a familiar surge of energy burst along her feathers, the pure pegasus magic forcing away the darkness.
Twilight continued to counter the looming darkness with her heightened pegasus magic. Unlike untamed Umbrum magic, its use did not feel as though it were weighing her down. It tingled, but the more she focused the stronger her resolve became. She turned sharply away from the decaying dark magic and hovered, blinking away the trails of dark energy flowing from the corners of her eyes. The sundered spell rippled and began to crumble, Twilight’s aerial onslaught proving too powerful for it to resist.
She let out a sigh of relief, the sparkling wisps fading from her eyes and the crackling of magic around her wings slowly vanishing off into the aether. Light poured through the clouds, bringing a smile to Twilight’s face. “Now all that’s missing is…”
When all three…
“That voice…” Twilight whispered to herself. The light from the clouds started to gather together. The magic was familiar, but she understood no more of it than the last time she saw it. Rivers of light coalesced in the air in front of her, shimmering brightly. This magic was pure and untainted; not poisoned like the golems’.
Have been connected…
A form manifested as the light pulled tighter. A vaguely pony-shaped head protruded from the surface. A glorious mane of crimson flew behind its head as its body and legs took shape. A hint of a unicorn horn became visible on its head. This form held firm, no longer shackled to Twilight’s perception of Star Glider.
“It’s you!” Twilight yelled, her voice cracking. “Just who are you?”
The Element will ascend…
Its mouth did not move, but the voice echoed throughout and within. Twilight’s face twisted with confusion as she felt its message play in her heart. She looked at the entity, as a sudden gust of wind tore through her mane. “More…?” She whispered, her voice a mix of fear and frustration. “Tell me! Please! What does it mean?”
Magic swirled around the creature, a myriad of colors twinkling and sparking as it enveloped the entity. Just before it was completely obscured, Twilight’s sight suddenly focused, and a pair of majestic, white wings burst forth from the light. She was enthralled. So much uncontained pegasus magic! As it gathered together, it became clearer. The purest form of the weather, unbound clarity of the blue sky, condensed tighter around the form.
“What’s happening?” Twilight cried out, but her voice was whisked away by a rush of magic that surged past her. Ribbons of unbound magic twirled through the skies, and Twilight felt her spirit carried along along each branch as it split off in a dozen directions.
Twilight’s sense of self became fragmented, tugged across each band of magic. Her “wings” spread out across each, riding its currents effortlessly. She felt truly free—a hundred times over. As she flew, shapes and colors formed below. She began to recognize familiar places: Yakyakistan, Las Pegasus, the Badlands.
Images flooded through her mind as she soared across the aetherstream. Storm systems churned violently below her, but when the magic of the Cloudsbane passed overhead, carried by this outpouring of magic, their spellform was neutralized. The violent bolts of energy making up the windstorm over Chicoltgo broke apart. Along another stream of consciousness, she flew over the Appleoosan Basin. The torrential rains ceased and the clouds were blasted apart, becoming nothing more than fluff and broken aether. The temperatures in the Crystal Empire cooled. Canterlot was released from the violent storm’s oppression.
Twilight was taken to every city, town, and village all over Equestria, watching as the weather was blown away to reveal the bright, shining sun above. Finally, she turned her attention back to Seaward Shoals as the threatening tempest dissolved before her. The clouds broke apart and crumbled away. Shivering ponies peeked out from their shelters before the magic took her away.
Each of the streams carrying Twilight aloft curved back, returning to their source. She felt her consciousnesses steadily pull closer and closer before finally rejoining into a singular focus. Each instance of her perception that rejoined carried with it the experiences of flying over Equestria’s vast landscapes, and the joy of bringing solace to the suffering land. A broad grin crossed her lips as she felt her heart soar. She looked up, the white and scarlet pony visage towering overhead.
The Element will ascend…
Blackness crept in from the edges of her vision. Twilight felt the wind rushing through her mane as she free-fell back into reality, feeling the gentle puff of a cloud across her back before all sensations left her.
Amongst the ruins of the Cloudsbane, Twilight Sparkle slept her first peaceful night’s rest in what felt like an eternity since her long journey began.