Twilight Sparkle paused at the edge of the Everfree Forest, staring ahead into the looming cavernous entrance formed by the overlying canopy. An errant wind blew by, bringing with it the scent of moss and dirt. Even with the weather under control, the Everfree Forest still followed its own rules.
Naturally, she had come prepared to face the dangers of the forest. Her saddlebag sat heavy across her back, filled to the brim with notes, maps, and plenty of parchment. To the casual observer, the princess may have seemed ready for a study session, not a hike through the woods.
Twilight knew there wasn’t any real reason for her to be here, at the forest’s edge. She could just teleport herself to the castle without any hassle—she’d been there plenty of times in the past. But today, something nostalgic about this particular trail gave her pause.
“This is where it all began,” she muttered to herself, digging a hoof into the dirt. “When we set hoof into the Everfree Forest for the first time… together.” Images of her friends flashed one by one in her mind as she reminisced on their trials and challenges deep within the forest—the challenges they had overcome all those years ago. Now here she stood, before a new trial, and the thought of facing it alone made Twilight shudder.
She glanced over her shoulder toward Ponyville. Her lingering anxiety evaporated as she felt her friends’ presence, even at this distance. No, I’m not truly alone. Not anymore. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, a broad smile creeping across her face. Let’s do this. With a brilliant flash of magic, Twilight vanished.
She re-appeared next to a deep chasm, the traces of her teleport spell fading in the dim light. Across a rickety bridge lay the Castle of the Two Sisters. Dim moonlight pierced through broken towers and fog, but the imposing structure did little to break Twilight’s resolve. She had been here plenty of times—both alone and with her friends—and a new sense of eagerness and excitement welled within her.
The forest was still, nary a hoot or howl breaking the silence. Twilight focused and closed her eyes. She felt her newfound earth pony magic course through the soil in all directions around her. She turned her focus toward the castle and honed in on other living creatures—she had to be sure some nasty forest denizen hadn’t decided to move in recently. The chasm and the surrounding clearing were mostly devoid of life; just the occasional insect colony or mouse nest. She peeked out with one eye and watched as the colors drifted through the ground, turning up negative one after the other. Curiously, once her magic reached the castle itself, the pale red probe suddenly lit up with a rainbow of colors.
As the sudden influx of magic pulsed into Twilight’s mind, she swiftly recalled her perception. How strange… No creatures appear to have taken residence in the castle. But for something to register like that… She stopped and collected her thoughts. There must be earth pony magic in there.
Her horn lit up, the subtle geometry of her arcane scanning matrix washing over the entire castle. She tuned the spell to trace specific signatures—namely the traces left behind by whatever her earth pony magic had found. Better safe than sorry, she thought. After a short moment, the spell lit up, a series of sigils appearing before her.
“Ah-hah! It’s not just earth pony magic!” she shouted, rearing up with excitement. With a childlike grin, she leapt into the air and took flight toward the castle. The last of her spell dissipated, the aetheric traces fading without her unicorn magic fueling it. The sparks of magic between her feathers felt fuller; stronger! The sensation grew as she approached. Pegasus magic, too… If this feels like all three, then it can only be alicorn magic!
Twilight landed heavily just short of the steps leading into the castle, kicking up a small plume of dust in her haste. Through the haze, she gazed up at the broken towers rising defiantly into the sky despite their ruin. Moss had overgrown large portions of the crumbling stonework, and what remained of the outer wall was covered by long, tendril-like vines of ivy. She knew from her studies that the doors had once proudly displayed an intricately-carved mural celebrating the rule of her mentors, but this had been ravaged by time. Details were hard to make out, but the slender body of an alicorn accompanied images of the sun and moon on each side.
I’ve never really stopped to look at this up close before. Twilight pressed a hoof against the spongy, rotten wood. It almost reminds me of the Golden Oak, if Peacegrove had been abandoned like this… Rusted hinges creaked in protest at her touch, dust and cobwebs raining from above. Twilight’s hornlight filled the space with an eerie purple glow as she instinctively threw up a weak barrier. She carefully pulled open the door and stepped through the large entryway, the dim moonlight streaming down through an enormous gap in the ceiling. A shiver ran down Twilight’s spine. Even the castle remembers Nightmare Moon. She meticulously skirted around patches of thick grass that had spent centuries breaking their way through. A number of different passageways flanked the hallway, leading deeper into the castle. She continued onward, making her way toward a set of stairs at the rear of the chamber. A pair of moth-eaten banners hung from the ceiling, ancient depictions of Celestia and Luna embroidered on each one.
Twilight reflected on her past visits here. She was no stranger to the castle’s sprawling hallways, yet each time she explored, there was always something new to be found: a new secret staircase here, a false wall leading into a private study chamber there. With a deep breath to steady her nerves, she made her way through the foyer.
The castle’s dereliction steadily improved as Twilight walked through the dusty halls closer to the re-decorated throne room, a reminder of her time spent here with her friends. She smiled softly as she pushed the heavy, creaking doors open. For a moment, Twilight was struck by the similarities to its successor in Canterlot.
Memories and emotions bubbled into her surface thoughts the longer she stared at the twin thrones. The sensation of sunrise—condensed magic circling around itself, swelling and contracting in deliberate patterns—began to rise within Twilight. She felt Celestia’s sunrise in her heart; the very core of her being filling with light and warmth. She felt a connection form deep inside—a connection to something powerful, yet gentle.
As Twilight’s focus shifted from one throne to the other, the magic of Luna’s moonset re-surfaced in her mind’s eye. An oddly comforting chill crept over her, complimenting the solar warmth. Twilight sighed, feeling as if a familiar blanket had wrapped itself around her. Here, she knew she belonged.
A sudden gust of wind blew through the throne room, pushing the memories away and pulling Twilight back to the present. Tapestries hanging all around the room billowed noisily in the breeze. Twilight shook her head, taking one last look toward the dais and then—
And then Twilight saw it. A dark blue figure stood between the thrones, its form swaying slightly against the wind. “Princess Luna?” she whispered. The specter looked familiar, but as Twilight stepped closer, her heart lurched in her chest as a wave of malevolence washed over her.
The ghostly visage rose into the air, careening toward Twilight. Despite her knowledge, her magic, and her experience, she found herself unable to react. As the form approached, a familiar chilling presence pressed itself into the back of her mind. “You know who I am…” it hissed. As the realization struck her, a similar entity blew in from the ceiling, its opposing radiant light brushing away the malicious presence sinking into her brain and interposing itself between Twilight and the dark mist.
Twilight’s breath caught in her throat. The breeze gave way to a tense stillness, small arcs and pops of energy crackling between the amorphous specters. It—no, she—is right, she thought. I do know her. And if this is a ghost of Nightmare Moon’s power, then the other can only be… Suddenly, a ray of piercing black magic erupted from the shadow of Nightmare Moon, barely missing Twilight as she dove for cover. “Celestia!” she cried, watching in horror as the ray cut through the glowing white form of her mentor. As she struggled to her hooves, a dozen offensive spells racing through her mind, the two separated halves of Celestia’s energy soundlessly re-formed and became whole once more.
It dove toward Nightmare Moon’s form, colliding and swirling about with it before both shades disappeared in a violent crack of fragmented magic. Twilight’s breath came in ragged gasps. What in Equestria was that? The fur at the base of her mane stood, and again the frigid hatred welled up around her. Turning back to the thrones, the inky phantasm rose up once again. “You know who I am…” the voice sounded in her head again. Glancing upward, the formless energy of Celestia appeared once more.
Stepping away, she observed the battle repeat itself over, and over, and over. How very fascinating! Long ago, Twilight had peered into the past with Zecora’s help and borne witness to Nightmare Moon’s banishment. This must be a lingering shadow of what happened back then—such an extreme display of magic must have impressed itself onto this room.
As Twilight made her way closer to the thrones, the magical tempest faded into the night. “That was…” Her voice echoed across the chamber, but further words failed to come to her lips. The throne room was now completely still save for a gentle breeze weakly nudging a few leaves across the floor. She cautiously approached Celestia’s former throne. Lingering motes of both Princess’ magic twinkled in the air.
Though faint, Twilight could sense the warmth of Celestia’s sun within the drifting aether, but it also carried a far deeper emotion. A lump formed in her throat and tears sprang unbidden from her eyes. A deep, sorrowful mourning that bridged past and present permeated the space around the throne. Twilight found herself wanting nothing more than to rush to Celestia’s side and give her a big, reassuring hug.
The magic surrounding Luna’s throne evoked a different, yet somehow similar dichotomy. It felt cool to the touch, and as Twilight held her forehoof against the ancient metal, a stiff yet comforting chill spread along her leg. However whenever she closed her eyes, she could feel a budding core of jealousy. It wasn’t the alluring force of Umbrum magic, tempting her to desire its raw power—she shivered as she felt its pure, unfiltered anger. The sheer hatred binding the magic together startled Twilight, as if it were directed at her specifically. It probably lashes out at anypony who gets too close. I can’t imagine the anguish Luna must have been holding inside. Nightmare Moon had been banished a thousand years ago—a shadow of the past reaching through the eons to speak to Twilight.
I haven’t experienced anything like this before… These visions have to be a part of my new abilities. Or perhaps something else? Twilight idly ran a hoof across the lunar throne, her heart aching for what happened so long ago. Perhaps it’s tied to my—our alicornhood. She pondered for a moment, standing betwixt the thrones. She took a deep breath and focused. Arcane magic swirled around her horn and took on a new spellshape. Twilight pulled in the threads of latent energy surrounding her, affixing it to pieces of the latticework to complete it. She felt the magical equivalent of gears locking into place as aetheric conduits traced through the air along a complicated three-dimensional pattern of her own design.
Sweat rolled down Twilight’s forehead and matted down the fur under her mane. The complex web of magic surged with her effort, illuminating the space around here. Only one missing piece… And this time, I know what it is. She closed her eyes and dove inward, reaching down into the core of her being to touch the magic inside of herself. As she made contact with the magic of her Element, she felt heat rising below her wings and hooves. She glanced back, and saw a new kind of energy sparking through her feathers as she lifted into the air, pulled by the force of her spell. Her mane and tail billowed in the air, specks of light flickering within. Her cutie mark illuminated from within and wrote itself into her spell, bridging the final pieces. With a low, nearly subsonic rumble, the spell came to life, and the “gears” began to turn.
Twilight blinked, and felt her awareness lurch as her surroundings suddenly shift. The throne room was mostly intact, save for a scar that had been carved along the ceiling. Celestia’s body lay on the ground, her normally ever-drifting mane nearly motionless. Twilight reached toward her reflexively, but held herself back. This isn’t really happening, she reminded herself. She looked up toward the moon, where Nightmare Moon cackled over her fallen sister. Twilight had seen this play out once before.
“Oh, dear sister,” Celestia said, her voice sounding clear as the day she had spoken these words. “I am sorry, but you have given me no choice but to use… these.” The golden light of her magic sparkled, and the floor slid open to reveal the original stone pedestals holding the Elements of Harmony aloft. They hovered over their respective plinths, rotating quietly in place. Celestia took hold of them with her magic and activated them. The magic within the Elements shone brightly as Celestia flew up through the ceiling to confront Nightmare Moon for the last time. Twilight spread her wings to follow, but caught a flicker of motion in the corner of her eye. She turned to look into the corner of the throne room, but gasped as the pulse of magic sparked again. It had manifested outside the castle. Whatever it was, a warm light burned in the distance, and Twilight could see its power through the stone. She leaned to take a closer look, then realized it was somewhere underground. In the chasm?
Twilight blinked, stumbling as she suddenly found herself back in the present. The glow, however, persisted. That magic… Of course! Twilight broke out into a broad grin, barely able to contain her excitement. The answer was obvious! Focusing her magic, she flared her wings as she teleported into the air outside the castle. She could feel the cool night air rush through her wings as she descended into the ravine. She banked toward the cave opening leading to the Tree of Harmony. After rounding the last corner, she could clearly see the unconstrained magic emanating from the Tree’s resting place. Her feathers sparked as she approached. Whatever magic is present in the Tree, it can react with all three forms of tribal magic.
Twilight landed softly. Even from the cavern’s entrance, the Tree of Harmony shone with an otherworldly light. Its pale blue surface illuminated the darkness; its crystalline branches piercing the air around it and wafting pearlescent magic all around. As she stepped closer, Twilight gasped. A rigid web of arcane spellforms blipped in and out of existence around the trunk as flowing tendrils of magic flowed smoothly into the ground, illuminating all different colors. She glanced up to see crackles of energy dancing along the tips of the highest branches.
“It’s so beautiful…” Twilight muttered. She looked up at the ends of the five largest branches. Five of six. The sixth Element—Twilight’s Element—rested within the tree’s center, lines of magic coursing outward to the others.
Twilight approached the Tree, her eyes fixated on the Element of Magic. Each pulse of magic felt familiar. No longer fleeting and restricted by her still-burgeoning powers, she could clearly see the light within the magic before her. It’s the same magic I saw flowing between me and my friends.
Small foci of magic flowed back and forth along the tracts, like two rivers running in parallel. A faint tether of magic linked the other five elements to one another, creating a web of faint colors and lights. There’s more to this than just the tribal magic, she realized. It’s the magic I feel when I’m with my friends. Her eyes watered as a flurry of memories surfaced, placing her hoof to her chest. Whenever I’m feeling scared or lost, they’ve always been there for me, just like I have been for them. The joys, the triumphs, the defeats; they’re what link it all together. More than just arcana, plant growth, or cloud walking. This…
A single tear fell to the ground.
“This is the real magic of Equestria.”
As her words echoed throughout the cavern, the Element of Magic began to shine brightly within the Tree. Its magic flooded into the other Elements, which in turn responded with aether of their own. A continuous loop of magic, produced from the ever-deepening, never-ending bonds of friendship whirled within the tree. The light cast down across Twilight, and she could feel her friends standing with her, their love giving her strength.
“I think… I understand now,” Twilight said, as if speaking to the Tree itself. “This was all your doing, wasn’t it?”
There was no response. At least, none that a regular pony would notice. Subtle shifts in the aetheric signature of the tree told Twilight everything she needed to know.
“You’ve been guiding me closer to you this entire time, haven’t you?” she continued. “There’s still so much I don’t understand, but that’s why you sent those messages to me in my dreams.”
She thought of her research. Her insatiable thirst for knowledge, the need to understand every aspect of magic. “You helped me discover how the different types of magic work. You guided me to the ancient nexuses of magic and showed me how they connect to the ponies of Equestria.
“You brought me to the brilliant crystalline caves of Amethyst Hollow. The ponies living under the protection of the Golden Oak. The untamed spirit of the Cloudsbane weather core.
“And now I’m here. I’ve sought. I’ve learned. And now I know… Your message is a spell, the final key to unlocking my true potential!” Twilight took a step forward, nearly touching the trunk of the Tree. She felt her friends step with her in unison despite their distance. Twilight slowly closed her eyes, summoning the magic each of her friends gave her.
“When all three…”
Her horn flared a brilliant lavender, arcane might coiling as it expanded to connect with her surroundings.
“Have been connected…”
Impossibly long waves of color flowed from Twilight’s hooves. Oranges and greens and reds and blues cascaded through the ground around her, tiny sprouts suddenly rising out of the hardened bedrock.
Her wings sprang open, aether sparking and crackling within her feathers as a strong air current blew through the cave. The now-familiar voice rang true in her heart alongside her own.
A booming thunderclap rocked the cave as her eyes flew open. She could feel her eyes suddenly darken, her sclera burning a bright green. Purple plumes of magical fire surged from the corners of her eyes. Not this time. Her knowledge flooded her very being. The different types of magic coursed through her, causing every muscle in her body to tighten as she strained to contain them. She steadily maintained her focus, not once wavering as she guided even the legendary power of Umbrum magic through her, bringing it to heel.
With a slow, steady blink, the green in her eyes faded. The darkened jets of fire gave way to trails of indigo magic, and Twilight’s irises shone brightly with sunlight. The magic of the Tree reached out to Twilight, its aura encompassing her. It was welcoming and familiar, and Twilight willingly allowed her aetheric essence to be pulled into the ancient wellspring of magic.
Silence returned to the cavern housing the Tree of Harmony as Twilight blinked out of existence, save for the faintest of whispers echoing through the cavern.