Twilight Sparkle slowly opened her eyes. All around, a vague white haze drifted by. Individual motes of magic danced in the air around her, tracing patterns wherever she looked. She blinked rapidly, bringing her surroundings into focus. Before she could get a good look, the lights burst apart into a dazzling snowfall. A cascading rainbow of magic swirled into a miniature tornado around her, gently buffeting her through the space. One by one the colors peeled off from one another, vanishing into the air like so much steam.
She allowed herself to drift, acclimating to the now-familiar environment of the aetherspace. Twilight felt a tickle along her ear as magic flowed all around. The purest of colors mingled together, creating new shapes and hues. Twilight flinched as her hoof brushed against something. A moment of experimentation later, she found herself standing on solid ground—though gravity did not seem to have as much of an effect as she’d expected.
Now… Twilight looked around slowly. She could just barely make out the shape of the scenery around her, evidenced by interruptions in the flow of magic. Carefully picking her way around the invisible obstacles, she struck off in a random direction, keeping her eyes—and mind—open.
A clouded dark shape caught her attention, standing in stark contrast to the gentle light. Making her way toward it, the object seemed to grow in her view faster than she was moving. Eventually, the structure towered over her, a gaping void in the aether. Her attention focused upward, she suddenly stumbled over an unseen rock. No, she thought as she felt around the space. Not a rock. Stairs. She took a few tentative steps up and felt in front of her with a hoof, eventually contacting a familiar texture. These are the doors leading into the Castle of the Two Sisters, but…
The castle was incomplete from her perspective. Portions of it phased in and out of view, leaving missing chunks between sections that would otherwise be impossible. Indeed, the stone itself seemed to play by its own rules, disobeying the basic laws of optics. Yet she could see through the void into the aether of her world, catching glimpses of familiar sights. She watched in fragmented perspectives as the baleful force of Nightmare Moon collided with Celestia’s sorrow again and again, locked in their eternal conflict.
How fascinating… For their battle to leave such an imprint that it’s visible even in the aetherstream, there must have been incredible repercussions. She broke out into a broad grin, smiling so wide her cheeks started to ache. Despite the grim severity of the unfolding scene, she couldn’t help her curiosity. She picked her way down the steps and wandered away, feeling the ancient echoes flare behind her.
She trotted along an invisible pathway, her hoofsteps leaving ripples in their wake. A series of sigils inscribed within concentric circles floated by, but Twilight could see many of the spells were missing essential pieces. Unicorn magic… She paused to read the spell. Based on the runic signature, this looks to be some sort of size-altering transmutation magic. She glanced to the next spell, reading magic to support cultivating pears. Its energy suddenly surged, and the spellform re-aligned itself into a new shape. Twilight blinked. Oranges?
Shards of pegasus weather magic drifted past and collided with some other unicorn spell, flashing before fading to nothing but nondescript traces of formless aether. A gaseous sphere of magic bubbled up from the “ground” ahead, signatures of all three tribal magics swirling within. I wonder if this is some kind of primordial magical energy? With all forms of magic contained within, perhaps this is where my power derives. She reached out with a hoof to gently touch the surface of the magic and—
Twilight gasped and looked around. The voice seemed omnipresent, but… somehow, it sounded different. Familiar. She stammered, taking a deep breath and summoning her confidence. “I’m here!” she shouted into the void.
Twilight shuddered as the voice echoed through her mind, steeling herself for what she knew would come next. This time the voice—it sounds like… No, that can’t be right. She shook her head. “I listened to your message and followed your clues! Show yourself!”
The voice rang out crystal clear, so pure that Twilight couldn’t tell whether the voice was a figment of her imagination. Is it echoing off of my alicorn magic?
“Seek, learn, know…”
Twilight spread her wings wide and crossed her forelegs. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, the muscles in her body loosening as she meditated. The surrounding aether gently nudged Twilight, tugging her toward a new destination. She reached out to the magic—she called to it. It answered her call, and a sense of wholeness bloomed in her chest. Images flashed by in her aetheric view. My friends. Their presence—no, their friendship—filled her being.
Twilight felt her mane and tail begin to drift, gently waving in a nonexistent breeze. Broken fragments of tribal magic slowly gathered around her, assembling themselves, unbidden, into intricate hybrid spells. With each new piece of the weave, understanding she had felt was just beyond her grasp steadily awoke within her.
“When all three have been connected…”
This is the key, she thought. The focus of the three tribes. The unbreakable link between them that made harmony possible. Introspection. Growth. Freedom. Twilight’s spirit soared, in-tune with all three at long last. One after another, spells from all the different tribes continued to merge before her, forming incredible shapes and combinations that even her most advanced theory books had never dared to illustrate.
This is it. Twilight could feel it. Her perception drifted impossibly within itself as she maintained the harmonious link to the magic flowing around her. An electrifying tingle ran along her spine, and the jumble of magic grew brighter. Twilight caught a glimpse of all three forms of magic merging, and the ground began to shake with a deep rumble. A chorus of voices rang out above the din.
“Mind. Body. Spirit.
“Together, they form… life.
“When all three have been connected, the Element will ascend…”
The energy surrounding her suddenly halted and began to glow with a blazing intensity. All the different colors melded together, creating a kaleidoscope effect that filled the entire space. Twilight took a breath, letting the magic permeate her soul. What little barriers remained were torn down, and Twilight could feel the magic—the knowledge—flow into her mind unabated.
Her perspective shifted suddenly, and she could feel the magic of this space stretch infinitely in all directions. Small pockets of magic seeped seamlessly back into the real world, her vision dragging across countless iterations of itself. Through one gap, the essence of a lush forest dominated her perception. The Everfree Forest? But I just—Twilight gasped sharply as thousands of animals and plants bloomed into existence. As her vision swept across the familiar landscape, it didn’t stop at the boundaries of the Forest—it exploded out all across the land, connecting to the farmlands of Ponyville, the skies of Cloudsdale, the mountains of Canterlot, and further beyond.
The magic continued its journey across Equestria, and Twilight found herself lost among the individual sparks of pony magic. Pegasi arced among the cloud tops ahead, crackling trails of magic spreading from their wings, and she could sense the weather factories working through the night. Deep within Canterlot, some arcane scholar was tinkering with her latest project. Magic streamed from her horn into the device, making it whirr and click. A crystal diode resting nearby lit up and blinked rhythmically, and the unicorn nodded.
Twilight yearned to stay and watch, but her perception was whisked away along the aetherstream. Most other ponies had gone to sleep, but she could still sense their presence. So many thousands upon thousands of ponies, each with hopes and dreams and bonds and fears. For just a moment, Twilight felt a connection to them all. Her individuality frayed, her consciousness slowly fading. Taking what passed for a breath in this world, she relaxed and allowed herself to be pulled apart across Equestria.
Stars twinkled in the endless expanse of aether, shining points of light standing out amongst the pastel hues drifting in their own way. Twilight felt her awareness cross the vast stretches of space as she returned to a single perspective. She coalesced along a series of branching pathways of magic, each flowing into the other until five distinct trails solidified before her. As the conduits began to flow, tugging aspects of her mind along them, she knew where they would lead her. She felt them. Love filled her heart, and in an instant, all of her anxiety melted away.
The paths converged, one by one, and her sense of self grew as her physical form manifested once again. I’m back to normal!.. I think. She curiously looked herself over. Still in one piece, at least. She reoriented herself, the gentle pull of gravity helping her alight on the unseen ground. A wave of energy suddenly washed over her from behind. She spun around, gasping as the Tree of Harmony towered over her. Its size—its power—was magnified many times over here than in Equestria.
Twilight took a careful step closer. Magic erupted from the ends of the branches and soared through the air, leaving sparking trails in their wake. Some of the streams broke apart, clusters of undifferentiated magic disappearing to someplace else in the aetherstream.
A sudden blinding light surged from the Tree. Magic surged as spells swirled into one another, creating impossible new shapes before fading away. Two streams of ivory and crimson emerged from the trunk, dancing and flowing around each other before solidifying into an equine shape. The body and head formed, and a shining horn and majestic pair of wings sprouted from the creature. Its shimmering red mane cooled, taking on the gentle colors of the sunrise. The space surrounding the entity seemed to bloom with light, gentle oranges and yellows forming a subtle aura.
Twilight blinked and rubbed her eyes. Despite the light, she found herself unable to look away. “Princess…” she paused. “I-I don’t think I know your name. We met before, in Amethyst Hollow. Do you remember?”
“I am all of Harmony, made one.” The voice of Celestia filled the aetherstream, stray magic pulsing in a dazzling display of light.
Twilight’s mouth hung agape. “Y-you’re…” She stammered, unable to gather her thoughts. She cleared her throat. “You sound just like my mentor.”
The entity chuckled musically, subtle vibrations in the space lifting some of the tension from Twilight’s shoulders. “Does this form bring discomfort?” it asked, tilting its head. The aethereal gaze met Twilight’s, a gentle—almost maternal—smile forming on her face. Her eyes reflected a visage of Celestia’s wisdom, but Twilight could see something far deeper within.
Twilight shook her head. “Not at all. I was just… surprised. I understand now that the Tree of Harmony isn’t just a magical nexus point, but a living being intentionally trying to communicate with me. That’s who you are, isn’t it?”
“It is as you say. You may call me Harmony, if you wish.” With each word, Twilight could feel a gentle breeze flow over her. “Luna maintains an impressively stalwart watch over the space you call the Dreamscape, but even her abilities pale in comparison to—”
“The living focus of alicorn magic,” Twilight finished Harmony’s thought. Harmony nodded. “The origin of all Equestrian magic. The experiences I had at the other nexuses… those were you, weren’t they?” The corners of her mouth quirked into a small smile.
“Nothing slips by you,” Harmony said, her serene voice beginning to deepen slightly. “It took many moons, but I knew one day you would come to seek answers. I am grateful that my messages did not fall on deaf ears. Your curiosity and desire for knowledge is admirable, Twilight Sparkle.”
A sense of pride flickered in Twilight’s chest, and her smile broadened. “That reminds me,” Twilight said, her brow furrowing as she thought, “you mentioned Luna’s Dreamscape. Does she… Do she and Celestia know about you?”
“It is likely that Luna has her suspicions, but my work is subtle. My influence has gently guided many ponies toward the right path over the centuries, but only the most gifted magical scholars know of my existence.”
Twilight’s smile slowly faded. “Then why didn’t they tell me…”
“As I said, my influence is subtle. Intangible. Even they do not know my true form; just of the Elements and their ties to me.” Harmony touched a hoof to Twilight’s shoulder reassuringly. “When you and your friends found me and returned the Elements to my care, I regained the strength to reach out into your world. I chose to reveal myself to you.”
A thousand questions burned in Twilight’s mind. So she sent these messages to me, but why? So I could prove myself somehow? How much do Celestia and Luna know? What about Cadance? Starswirl? Doesn’t she know what happened at the Cloudsbane? Could she have stopped it? Maybe there are limits to her direct influence. She seems to be able to manipulate magic from all three tribes. Does that mean she can—no, that’s something I can do too. Maybe she knows something about— Twilight took a breath, steadying her nerves.
“When all three have been connected, the Element will ascend,” Harmony replied, her smile growing ever so slightly.
Twilight exhaled—she hadn’t even realized she’d been holding her breath. Of course. It should all have been obvious. With a chuckle, she took a confident step forward—she could feel the magic surge around her in response.
“Harmony is a fundamental concept in Equestria,” Harmony said. “It is maintained and kept stable by the bonds forged between all the world’s creatures.” Her horn shimmered with a rainbow light, and an image took shape in the space before them. Twilight gasped as she saw herself in the Golden Oak Library, prior to her ascension. Spread out on the table was Starswirl’s journal. The images shifted rapidly, showing her friends in peril with their warped destinies, the threads of harmony between them broken. One by one, each of her friends rediscovered their true selves, a gleam of light echoing through the vision as their bonds were repaired. The series concluded with Twilight’s ascension to an alicorn.
Twilight’s saddlebag opened on its own, and she watched as her notebooks, wrapped in Harmony’s aura, drifted toward the specter. One of them opened to reveal an all-too familiar diagram: a rearing earth pony, a flying pegasus, a contemplative unicorn—all surrounding a majestic alicorn.
“Such harmony cannot be maintained without all three tribes in equilibrium.” Harmony’s voice lowered to a gravely whisper as her expression fell, and ice began to crackle and grow around the notes. The forms of three windigoes encircled them, a discordant melody ringing in Twilight’s ears. As the cacophony reached a crescendo, Harmony dismissed the magical display with a glance.
Twilight perked up.”’When all three have been connected,’” she quoted. “You meant more than just my understanding of tribal magic. It wasn’t until I realized its relationship with the magic of friendship that I came here.” A small gasp escaped her. “This is like my ascension, isn’t it?”
“I left the clues long ago. Becoming an alicorn was just your first step on this long journey,” Harmony said, a smile returning to her radiant face.
“The undeniable link between ponies,” Twilight mused, “existing only when we co-exist with one another.” Her thoughts drifted to her friends. “Bonded together.”
“The choice was yours in the end. Destiny is but one path laid out for a pony to walk. One can choose to reject it, but the parts you have yet to play are still unfolding. Perhaps it would be best if I showed you the impact of your journey first-hoof.” Harmony extended a hoof to Twilight, her warm smile never faltering.
Twilight glanced between Harmony’s face and her outstretched hoof. Traces of magic drifted all around it, familiar tribal magic that she had grown so accustomed to seeing. Unicorn, pegasus, earth, alicorn… And even dark magic, she realized with a start. I can do this. I have to do this.
She reached out and took Harmony’s hoof.
Magic bloomed around them, impossible colors shifting as dozens of voices began to speak. With each word, a new trace of magic erupted in the chaos. Harmony stood calmly, her mane billowing in the aether. Twilight’s heartbeat quickened, watching as the magic blended together before her eyes. Discerning individual tribal magic was nearly impossible, but she could sense a pattern in the madness. Each spellform joined with the other around them, seamlessly producing new spells before breaking apart again.
Twilight stared at the shifting magic, not daring to blink for fear of missing a single second of this wondrous display. Slowly, the weaving tendrils began to form a familiar shape—her cutie mark. Lavender light bathed their forms, a long shadow stretching out across the aethereal ground. The light faded, and darkness enveloped them.
Twilight took a deep breath. The air was clean and cold, and it instantly invigorated her senses. Her vision refocused as tiny pinpricks of light shone from below. Instead of the magical void of the aetherscape, she was greeted with the hazy, pre-dawn landscape of Equestria sprawling out in all directions. The light of the sun was very slowly making its way across the eastern horizon.
A hoof touched Twilight’s shoulder. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Harmony said softly.
Twilight smiled. The entity’s presence was calming, and seeing Equestria from this height made her troubles seem so far away. Settlements peppered the landscape, their dim lights fading off into the distance.
“Your magic has blossomed in so many wonderful ways over the course of your journey. It has been a privilege watching you grow.” Harmony said, drifting idly through the air.
“You mean my ability to see magic?” Twilight asked. She placed a hoof to her chest, feeling so light floating up here—and so in tune with her abilities.
“I mean your talent. It was only a matter of time before your abilities reached a crescendo. I was merely the messenger.”
“So this was… all me?”
Twilight looked to the east, toward Canterlot. Warm magic pulsated gently from the mountainside capital, and even from this distance, she could see the mighty auras of the two sisters. A tingling sensation grew in her chest, and she now recognized it not only as her alicorn magic, but a combination of all types. A perfect unity of body, mind, and spirit, joining together to give their world its slow heartbeat. The sun crept over the horizon, steadily lighting the land. Twilight felt the same life-giving aura emanate from Harmony as she felt from Celestia.
Twilight yelped as she felt the tug of gravity suddenly take hold, her wings instinctually flaring out. She looked to Harmony, whose magnificent wings extended upward as she serenely hovered in place. Here, too, she saw them: sparks of pegasus energy flicking from the tips of Harmony’s spectral wings. On a whim, she broke off and descended toward her home, the morning light glinting off the spires of her castle.
The early birds of Ponyville began to stir as she arrived. From this height, Twilight could see ponies beginning their day. Shops opened, fillies scampered to school, and—most importantly—friends saw one another. Two mares, trotting along far below caught her eye. She couldn’t quite tell who they were, but she knew they had to be enjoying each other’s company. A spark flickered between them, and a tether formed. The sight made Twilight’s heart leap with joy.
Twilight thought back to her friends. Those brief flashes of light. Those were… Her eyes grew misty as more and more tethers began to appear. They didn’t just form between ponies who had direct contact. Magic lines criss-crossed all over town, linking ponies in their homes with others in all colors of the rainbow. With each new connection, the magical glow around Ponyville grew brighter and brighter. Twilight’s breath caught. “What… what is this?”
“I think you know what it is.” Harmony drifted forward, peering over Twilight’s shoulder. Twilight glanced toward her and noticed a deep purple thread connecting them.
Twilight eyed the thread curiously. She blinked, and it persisted. The longer she stared, the happier she felt, as if a true connection had formed with this strange entity. She’s right. I do know what these are… at least, now I do. A long silence fell as she considered her journey. “I’m honored to be your friend,” Twilight said with a smile.
“I am grateful you feel that way, Twilight Sparkle.” They embraced, Twilight letting herself collapse against the entity’s shoulder. Her aethereal fur, soft and warm, lifted memories from Twilight’s youth back up to the surface. Even Harmony visibly relaxed, leaning into Twilight slightly. The magic below them continued to grow. Ponyville was awash in a sea of aether, and it didn’t take much longer for tethers to arc their way from the village in all directions. They were innumerable, all different colors and wavelengths. Earth ponies, pegasi, unicorns, and even—
Twilight gasped as her gaze landed on the castle. A light green and purple source of magic flickered within, tethered alongside a mote of pale lavender. Something about it seemed different. It didn’t feel like any of the magic she had seen before—there was a strange competitive streak to it, yet it carried the soft, limitless potential of a child. Of course, Twilight realized, that’s Spike! And the other is Starlight!
“Look,” murmured Harmony.
Twilight turned, knowing exactly where Harmony was directing her. She squinted, gazing over the horizon toward the Dragonlands. In this half-aether state, her view stretched far beyond the normal limits of physicality—a myriad of colors danced over the rocky terrain in the distance. Her mouth hung agape in awe.
“Dragon magic, and the bonds linking them,” Harmony confirmed. “They are a prideful, competitive race. Yet, not so different from ponies in some ways.”
Twilight blinked. Bonds beyond anything we could have imagined. She looked down at Ponyville. Each stream of light gleamed in its own way, and Twilight felt she could reach out and touch them. She reached down toward the aether, and her perspective suddenly shifted as she found herself standing on the cobblestone road. Harmony landed silently beside her as ponies walked by, seemingly oblivious to their presence.
“Friendship is a powerful magic,” she muttered, pacing in place. “From artifacts like the Elements of Harmony to simple greetings between acquaintances, it’s all around us. And if there was ever any doubt in my heart, it is now gone.” She motioned all around, watching as the tendrils of magic continued to grow. “An empirical, observable manifestation of friendship!”
Twilight giggled. She spun slowly in place, her eyes scanning the far horizons. She could see the faraway shadow of Cloudsbane—its link to the pegasus aetherstream still plainly visible, but finally calm and stable. Looking to the north, she saw the light of the Crystal Empire shine brightly over the mountaintops. Even from this distance, she could sense the Crystal Heart—that first clue she had discovered that eventually led her here.
She focused on the Crystal Heart. Her vision narrowed, and she could see—curiously enough—its own bonds of love connecting to it each citizen of the Empire. Just one of many nexus points linking us together… not entirely unlike the Tree of Harmony. She turned toward the southeast. A gentle, golden aura lit up the distance, and Twilight could see the ponies of Peacegrove going about their day. The aether shimmered with warmth, given protection by the Golden Oak.
In every direction she looked, light bloomed over the horizon. A brilliant aurora sparkled above the Badlands, reflecting the love shared between the changelings. Chrysalis is in for a shock if she ever goes back to the hive. Just out of the corner of her eye, she spotted muted browns and yellows illuminating Griffonstone. A gentle sigh escaped her lips.
Out past the Appleoosan Basin and beyond the Badlands, beyond the scrapyard city of Klugetown, and even further across the sea and Mount Aris’s spire… there, her heart sank. Darkness clouded the land, and inky, twisted tendrils of energy crept along the tips of the waves. She frowned. This isn’t Umbrum magic… this doesn’t look like anything like I’ve seen before. Twilight rubbed her temples, her thoughts muddying the longer she looked. Mistrust, jealousy, rage, anger. Emotions flooded over her, pressing themselves into the crevices of her mind. There is no joy to be had in the fractured dominions of the Storm Empire. The lands formerly held by the late Storm King were vast and distant, yet she could feel the rippling effects of the unchecked oppression and chaos.
“Unfortunately,” Harmony whispered, “not all accept the magic of friendship. Though the magic of the land gives life, there are those that fear or reject this blessing. Perhaps one day, you will be the one to bring this beautiful gift to those that are in dire need of it.”
“I see…” Twilight said as calmly as she could. She gulped, fighting back nausea. As she withdrew her perception, her thoughts drifted to the Storm Empire’s invasion of her home. With the Storm King destroyed, she could only imagine the political turmoil unfolding within its borders. “Entire countries without friendship in their hearts… It must be a painful existence.” Twilight’s ears drooped, sympathy welling within her for creatures she had never met.
“You can unite the world, Twilight Sparkle.” Harmony’s soothing voice helped pull Twilight’s thoughts away. “Where Celestia and Luna brought unity to ponykind, and Cadance helps mend hearts in the north, you can bring joy to all creatures.”
“By understanding the joy that friendship brings, and that it is directly tied in with the magic of the land itself…” Twilight said, looking out over her world. She saw ponies playing, talking, working. She even saw some arguing and fighting, causing the tether between them to waver. She could feel her chest tighten, the conflict drawing some of her own feelings into it. Yet, though the bond strained, it did not snap. She knew their friendship could be mended in time.
A blue light flickered on the outskirts of Ponyville, hovering some distance over the town. Several others began to light up in turn, all across the town and its surrounding countryside. White, pink, yellow, orange. Bright traces of magic formed, linking them together in a tight web. All at once, wisps of magic broke off from each light, rocketing toward Twilight. Her mane and tail blew to one side, caught in an undetectable wind, waving with speckled starlight reflecting deep within.
Twilight closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and exercising complete control over her aether. For the first time since her journey began, rather than follow along the flow of magic inside, she directed it along pathways she chose. All traces of magic aside from her friends vanished from view. The only colors remaining were those of her friends’ magic, each line shifting to purple just before converging with her own aether. She felt them all with her, and in that moment, she felt truly at peace. A familiar spark lit up within, and a single tear fell from her cheek.
“They’re here…” Twilight whispered, her voice cracking. “They’re all here.” She felt their warmth in her heart, comforting her. Their presence grew, and she wept. Tears streaked down her face as she found herself overcome with emotion. All of her worries drifted away, and her mane and tail surged with light. Her horn, wings, and hooves all flashed to life with a dazzling rainbow aura, mirroring the one surrounding Harmony.
“You have done well, Twilight Sparkle. Know that should you need guidance, I am never far. You will make a fine leader…” Harmony said. Her form started to break apart, swirling back into the ever-expansive aetherstream.
The shimmering aura of magic fully enveloped Twilight, her physical senses pulling back into herself. The love of her friends, and the love she felt between the countless other friends within her home made one last tear fall, before her consciousness was swept away into the magic, back toward Equestria—back toward her home.