Light gently shone from the Tree of Harmony, filling the cave. Each of the Elements of Harmony shone in turn, their magic streaming into the open air. The tendrils coalesced, and bit by bit, the body of Twilight Sparkle emerged. She felt her mind opened with perfect clarity, and not a single mote or speck of stray magic escaped her sight. A contented sigh escaped her lips, which curled into a confident smile.
She looked back toward the Tree, and her gaze fell upon the celestial and lunar glyphs—her mentors’ cutie marks—carved into its trunk. I wonder how much they know. She snorted, her smirk tightening.
Twilight held her hoof to her chest, feeling the warmth of the Tree within her. “Thank you,” she whispered. Her eyes flashed with magic, and a familiar purple tether manifested between her and the Tree. With a second flicker, the link vanished from view. She turned and slowly made her way out of the cave, the early morning sun still rising steadily in the east.
She took to the sky, pegasus magic crackling along her powerful wings. Now above the treeline, she turned toward Canterlot, its majestic spires glistening in the dawn like dew. I think it’s finally time to tell the Princesses, Twilight thought. Her horn shimmered, and a familiar map appeared before her in her mind’s eye. A destination blip appeared; with a final, effortless push of magic, Twilight vanished into the morning air.
Twilight stood outside the throne room, its tall doors flanked by two stoic guards. She took a deep breath, pulling a notebook from her saddlebag. “I hope I can sufficiently explain my theory of harmonic resonance…” she murmured to herself. Twilight continued to rifle through her notes, making last minute tweaks, corrections, and muttering the occasional “Ah-ha!”
The guards shared a nervous glance with one another, and one of them cleared his throat. “Princess?” he asked uneasily. Twilight perked up and lowered her notes, one pencil in her mouth, and another gripped by her magic. “I said, ‘Princess Celestia is ready to see you,’” he said, the firm authority of royal guard training in full display. She blushed, awkwardly stuffing her notes back into her bag.
“S-sorry about that!” she stammered. The guards stepped aside wordlessly, and Twilight entered.
Across the open chamber, Celestia rose from her throne. “Twilight!” As she stepped down, she beamed with pride. “I hear you have some good news to share. Come, walk with me.”
Twilight stepped up alongside her mentor, and they made their way together along the hallways of the castle. Twilight could feel the excitement within her bloom. “Princess Celestia, I have so much to tell you about. Since coming back from the Crystal Empire, I’ve been all over Equestria! Oh, I forgot to send you letters along the way. But just wait until you see—”
Her rambling was cut short by a warm chuckle. “I’m sure you’ve done a wonderful job. It may help ease Luna’s worries to hear about them as well. Now, where did—ah! Tiberius?” Celestia stopped, calling out. A sharp click-click echoed through the hall, and a small, furry head popped up from a nearby vase. The opossum clambered onto the floor, skittering on the marble toward them. Tiberius slid to a halt before Celestia, standing on his hind legs and cocking his head. “Tiberius, would you mind waking Luna? Let her know that Twilight has returned. We will meet her on the balcony.” Tiberius let out a small rumble, followed by another click-click before scampering off toward Luna’s tower. Celestia chuckled again. “If we start now, I fear we’ll beat him to my sister. Let’s wait awhile so she can… make herself presentable.”
Twilight glanced up to the stained-glass window above. Nightmare Moon, she thought nervously. “A-actually, I wanted to tell you about something I found at the Castle of the Two Sisters.” Celestia stiffened slightly, her gaze dropping to the floor. Twilight reached up to touch Celestia’s shoulder. “Do you remember when my friends and I found the Tree? My friend Zecora helped me go back and see what happened that night.” Her mentor sighed deeply, and Twilight saw tears welling up in her eyes. “So much pain and anger…” Twilight continued. “Last night, I came across some kind of shadow, and I think it was the events of Nightmare Moon’s banishment echoing through time.” She reached up and pulled Celestia into a hug, memories flashing through her mind. “Do you know what I just realized?” she whispered.
There was no response, but Twilight felt Celestia return the embrace. “I realized that the shadows were different. The magic left behind by your use of the Elements repeated almost word-for-word what you said to Luna before… you know.” She sighed. “Nightmare Moon’s shadow was different. It seemed like it spoke to me, as if it didn’t know what happened.” She pulled away, looking up at Celestia. A small stream of tears rolled down one cheek, but otherwise she looked as regal as ever. “I believe now that Nightmare Moon and the Tantabus are truly vanquished, even the aetherstream is beginning to forget. The damage done is beginning to repair itself. I think…” she hesitated. “I think it also means Luna forgives you for what happened.”
Celestia let out a quiet, choked sob. “Twilight, I—” She stopped as Twilight squeezed her tight, this time burying her face against Celestia’s neck like a foal. A quiet moment passed, then Celestia cleared her throat. “That was… surprisingly affectionate,” she said. “Thank you.”
Twilight grinned. “As always, it is my royal duty to make sure everypony feels like they belong.” Her smile faded slightly as Twilight stepped away and looked up at the mentor who had been with her all these years. “Even you.”
Celestia nodded, blinking back her tears. She turned and took a step away, and Twilight fell into step beside her. “You have discovered much about the magic of friendship, Twilight. I am grateful to be your student in this regard.”
They continued their walk through the dawn-lit hallways in silence. This deep within the castle they were met with only the occasional guard, each giving a salute as the princesses walked by. Twilight noted that each guard they passed shared their own magical link with Celestia, a shimmering gold thread of admiration and respect. The patterns were not as intricate as the one she and Celestia shared, but they still displayed some small degree of familiarity. Celestia must take an interest in each individual’s life.
Upon stepping out onto the castle’s highest balcony, Tiberius skittered out from behind them onto the railing. “Ah, there you are!” Said Celestia. “Will Luna be joining us soon?”
The opossum clicked and danced about wildly. He ruffled his hair up to resemble a crown, made exaggerated yawn motions, pouted, warbled hideously in what could only be described as angry curses, and finally stuck his tongue out at Celestia before mock-fainting on the railing.
Twilight blinked. “What… What did he say?”
Celestia chuckled. “As you might have guessed, Luna hates being woken up this early.” Celestia motioned for Twilight, who leaned in closely. “Don’t tell her I told you this, but there was one incident long ago with a pineapple and the pancakes I made for breakfast, when she—”
“We have arrived,” Luna’s voice boomed from the doorway, nearly blowing Tiberius from the balcony. He chittered and caught himself, his tail wrapping around the bannister. Thank goodness for his quick reflexes! Twilight thought. “Twilight Sparkle, I expect important news from your journey, if it were important enough to send Tibbers to wake us.” Tiberius swung from the railing and deftly landed at Luna’s hooves, scampering up to sit on her shoulder.
Twilight sputtered, the sheer impact of Luna’s entrance catching her off-guard. “I, uh… Well, you see, er—”
“Luna, I knew you would be like this,” Celestia said, stepping forward. Twilight gulped as she saw a fire alight in her eyes. “That is why I sent Tiberius. You keep your room so dark, neither I nor the guards can navigate it!”
“So, it has come to this, dear sister,” Luna murmured, her horn alight with deep blue magic.
“Oh? You’re approaching me?” Celestia growled, her eyebrow quirking as a haughty sneer spread over her face.
“Celestia, Luna, wait!” Twilight cried.
From seemingly nowhere, a white blur closed the distance from Luna to Celestia, and something collided with the older alicorn’s face with a loud WHUMP. The pillow seemed to hang in mid-air, its soft shape forming to her muzzle, before dropping to the floor. Both sisters smirked, snickered, and then finally burst into laughter. Luna pulled her sister into a tight hug. “We can’t bid you a proper good morning without getting closer.”
Twilight sighed so hard with relief that she nearly collapsed. Holding a hoof to her chest, she took a deep breath to still her racing heart. The corners of her mouth curled into a smile. As Celestia and Luna embraced, a burst of colors bloomed, their love arcing in so many ways to surround them. A magnificent display of sunlight and moonlight, mingling together in near-perfect harmony. What stood out the most to her, however, was the incredible array of hues drifting between them. Luna’s bond with Celestia is born of the night, but not of darkness, she thought. She recalled the malice from the aetherstream, and the imprint it had left. She did not feel any traces of it remaining in Luna. Simply the natural link between siblings—playful rivalries and all.
Twilight fell to her haunches, and the sound of Celestia and Luna’s laughter faded into the background. She struggled to fight back tears, but they sprang unbidden to her eyes. She choked, and began to cry softly.
Luna’s ear twitched, and she turned to Twilight curiously. “Twilight? Is aught amiss?” she asked.
“I think I understand,” Celestia said warmly. She gracefully made her way toward Twilight and draped a wing over her back. Twilight could feel her bond strengthen, a gentle calm flowing over her.
“I meant what I said,” whispered Twilight. “It’s true. All of it. And I’ve seen it for myself.” Twilight smiled broadly. The faint tether appeared, its brilliant white wisps shimmering with sunlight linking her to Celestia. A second link formed, this one glittering with starlight as it connected with Luna. A sense of belonging settled within Twilight, and she could feel it spread to the others as they held each other tight.
Luna took a sip of tea and sighed quietly. She glanced toward Twilight and Celestia, each enjoying their own cup. She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun streaming in through her bedroom window. Flipping through Twilight’s notes, she scanned each line as if expecting to find the answer to her question within. “So, if what you say is true, then this… ‘spirit of Harmony’ has been intruding into our Dreamscape for nearly a moon?”
Celestia closed her eyes, seemingly lost in thought. Twilight raised her hoof to say something, but she was unable to find the words to explain. It was Celestia who spoke first. “I have known about this spirit for some time, though I never encountered it directly. Even Starswirl’s ancient journals of the Tree of Harmony describes it—her—at best as a vision, merely the ponysonification of instinct.”
“I see,” Luna murmured to herself and rubbed her chin as she looked at Celestia. “When Tirek escaped from Tartarus, you mentioned seeing a vision of it.” She laid down Twilight’s notes and stared at them, her face showing bemused curiosity.
“Harmony didn’t mean any harm,” Twilight said. “She probably found the Dreamscape as her best method of communicating with me.” She could sense Luna’s discomfort, and touched her hoof reassuringly.
“Just so,” Luna sighed, acquiescing. “We are a tad loathe to admit it, but your magic has always shone brighter than any star in the sky. We know you have an important destiny ahead of you… one that may be far greater than either mine or my sister’s.”
Twilight couldn’t help but blush. The thought of not knowing everything about her destiny as a princess picked at her mind, but she pushed her doubts away when she thought of how far she had come. “Harmony hinted at that as well,” Twilight said, looking down at the ripples in her tea. She idly swished what remained about in the cup. “She also said that it was a choice. That it was merely one possible path.”
Twilight looked over the tribal diagram, her eyes tracing along the connections between the three pony tribes with the unifying alicorn in the center. She pressed her hoof against it. “Destiny or not, any path with my friends is one worth traveling.”
“Well said, my faithful student,” Celestia said with a proud grin. “Perhaps it is unbecoming of me to address you as such for this particular accomplishment. Everything you’ve done has been in the name of understanding magic, and it has given you a wondrous gift.”
Twilight sat in thought for a moment. “I understand what you mean, but I don’t believe this is a ‘gift’ in the literal sense.”
“Oh?” Celestia asked, sharing a glance with Luna.
“Harmony said that this… this was all me. That this was somehow a natural progression of my growth from studying the magic of friendship.” Twilight blushed slightly, glancing away.
Celestia smiled. “Then perhaps she sensed that a certain little pony was just bursting with latent potential, and she needed a guiding hoof to help stay it.” She winked playfully at Twilight.
Twilight’s face flushed deeper, redder than the shiniest apples at Sweet Apple Acres. She recalled her entrance exam to Celestia’s magic school so many years ago, how she had positively surged with uncontrolled magic. Not to mention turning Mom and Dad into potted plants, and Spike into a castle-crushing behemoth!
“We never stop growing, nor do we stop learning.” Celestia continued, looking out toward the balcony. Her long neck and flowing mane augmented her regality. “Even as we grow into leaders of those who have yet to follow, we will always continue to learn more about not only this world, but also each other, and ourselves. I have no doubt that this newfound knowledge of yours will help ponies of all kinds.”
Twilight gazed down at the pillow she rested on, and idly tapped her hoof. A sharp, dark thought entered her mind. The Storm Empire. Twilight shook her head, clearing the haze away. “No,” she said, standing up. Celestia and Luna looked at each other, bewildered. “Not just ponies. All creatures.” She trotted toward the window and looked out over Canterlot. “When I was with Harmony, I saw not only the magic of friendship flowing through Equestria, but other lands as well. The dragons, the griffons, they all had their own unique ways of showing one another their love and understanding.”
Twilight hesitated. There’s so much pain out there. The Storm King left a scar on this world that’ll take a long time to heal. “But there are lands just as distant that refuse to let this magic into their hearts. Long ago, the two of you helped unite the three pony tribes under one banner. With my new knowledge and abilities, I think I can spread this magic to the entire world.”
Twilight stood tall, her mane and tail flowing and catching the light just right, seemingly shimmering with faint sparkles. Or, perhaps for the briefest of moments, they were.
“Oh Twilight,” Celestia said, beaming with pride. “I am so unbelievably proud of you.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Applejack said, peering over the magical projections of the cutie map with a quirked eyebrow. “You’re sayin’ you can see unicorn magic, pegasus magic, earth pony magic, and now some kinda catch-all thingy about the magic of friendship?”
Everypony in the room turned to Twilight, sitting comfortably in her chair. She took a deep breath. “In short, yes.”
Applejack sat back, astonished. “Well, color me red and put me on a tree.”
“Right…” Rainbow Dash said, drawing the word out. “So, how does it work again?”
Twilight grinned and pulled over the chalkboard she’d prepared for just this moment. “Magic permeates our land and runs through all living creatures,” she said, her horn glowing as a duplicate of the cutie map rose from the table and affixed itself to the chalkboard, pressing into the slate and leaving a detailed map behind. “Over my journey, I—no, we—” she paused, giving a nod to Applejack and Rainbow Dash. “We encountered these four points where localized tribal magic is the strongest: Amethyst Hollow, Peacegrove Village, the Cloudsbane, and the Tree of Harmony.” She circled each of the four points. “Certainly not the only places in Equestria where this magic can be found, but definitely among the most potent.” With a flourish, she chalked a series of lines connecting each point to form a triangle, each connected to the Tree of Harmony in the center.
“My goodness, Twilight!” Rarity said, leaning across the table. “Why, you’re a regular Daring Do, as it were. Your discoveries could change everything we know about magic! You’ll be the talk of the town! Of all of Equestria!”
Twilight’s ears folded back and she blushed softly. “Well, maybe. I’m not exactly looking to become famous or anything. I want to help everyone, not just ponies.”
“Yes, yes,” Rarity pouted. “I suppose you are a princess, so there’s no way to go much higher on the social ladder.”
Twilight focused on the tether between her and Rarity. Although she was not privy to her friend’s direct thoughts, the shimmering waves of bright, alternating purple and white light warmed her heart. Is this pride I’m sensing? “Oh, come now Rarity,” Twilight said. “You know there’s more to life than whatever the Canterlot elite is up to.”
Rarity looked sidelong at Twilight, a faint smile curling across her face. “I suppose you’re right. We really are proud of you, you know?” The tether grew brighter, and Twilight could feel the connection with Rarity pulse with love.
“I only wish you girls could see it,” Twilight said, lowering her head, a sigh escaping. “It’s so beautiful that I can’t find the words to adequately describe it. I don’t even know how I’m going to write a proper report on this!”
Applejack chuckled. “I wouldn’t worry none about that, sugarcube. We’ve all got our own little peculiarities we can’t explain. Jus’ knowin’ that you’re happy an’ safe is enough for me!”
Without warning, Pinkie Pie suddenly launched upward—sending a squeaking Fluttershy scurrying under the table—and landed straight on the table with a loud thud. “Oh! Oh! What do mine look like?”
“All of those wibbly-wobbly-flowy-glowy-wavy thingies! What do you see?” Pinkie Pie leaned in closer with each word, speaking so quickly Twilight could swear she was vibrating.
“I-I don’t—It’s not—” she stammered. Pinkie stared up at her, eyes wide and pleading. Twilight smiled, shrugging. “Well… Here goes!” she said, focusing inward. Colors instantly filled her vision, blinding her. She yelped at the sheer, overwhelming force and fell backward, tumbling into her throne and toppling it over with a tremendous crash. The others clambered to her side, a chorus of concerns echoing off the walls.
“Twilight? Are you okay?” Fluttershy said softly, leaning close to check on her.
“I… Huh…?” Twilight groaned and rolled her head slowly back and forth, rubbing the afterimage out of her eyes.
“Pinkie Pie, what did you do?” Starlight said, exasperated. “She looks like she’s just seen a ghost!”
Pinkie Pie gasped. “Oh no, I’m a ghost now? Like that Harmony mare Twilight met! Does this mean I can go through things?” She reached a hoof toward Rarity, running it through her mane. “Ooooh, I can go through things.”
“Yes, darling, of course you can. Because that’s my impeccably-coiffed mane you’re playing with!” Rarity said, flicking her mane back with an annoyed stomp.
“Simmer down, y’all,” Applejack said curtly, shooting Rarity and Pinkie Pie a glare. She snorted. “Come on Twilight, out with it! What happened?”
Applejack and Rainbow Dash helped Twilight shakily to her hooves. “I…” she took a deep breath and collected herself. “I’m sorry. The sudden magic influx from Pinkie Pie was… a bit much.”
Pinkie Pie bounced over. “Oh no, I’m sorry Twi! I didn’t mean to hurt you or anything like that! I was just curious and—”
“It’s okay, Pinkie… It’s just…” Twilight glanced up at Pinkie and paused, blinking slowly. She triggered her newfound power, and focused on the streams of colors nearly pouring off of her friend. Not only did the colored bands connect Pinkie Pie to everyone in the room, but dozens—no, hundreds—were radiating elsewhere, outside the castle. In that instant, Twilight felt a spark of realization. “You really do care for everypony, don’t you?”
“Well, duh,” Pinkie Pie said, cocking her head to the side and blowing a raspberry. “I’m friends with everypony in Ponyville, and then some!” She gasped loudly, rocking back. “Oh my gosh, is that what you can see?”
Twilight nodded with a soft “Mm-hmm,” and smiled.
Pinkie Pie started humming, her entire body shaking so hard that she began to leave the ground. Her smile stretched wider and wider, stretching her cheeks until she shrieked with joy, launching out the window and up into the sky.
“How in the—” Rainbow Dash yelped.
Twilight cut her off with a raised hoof, shaking her head.“Just… Don’t ask.” Pinkie Pie can wait for another day. She stumbled over to her chair and righted it with her magic, promptly flopping into it with a deep sigh.
“What are you going to do next, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked, peeking up from under the rim of the table. “If I were you, I’d probably curl up in bed with the covers wrapped around me nice and tight and take a long nap.”
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but Rainbow Dash interjected. “Fluttershy, you always do that when you’re stressed. Not everypony handles things like you.”
Fluttershy nodded with a smile. “Oh yes, and it’s always very comfy.”
“Shoot, I say she’s earned a little R&R after all this hullabaloo,” Applejack said, adjusting her hat.
“Oh, they had that room in the Cloudsbane factory!” Rainbow Dash said with a chuckle.
“Beggin’ yer pardon?”
Twilight looked over her friends and propped her cheek up with her hoof, basking in the gentle glow of the friendship magic. She smiled softly as the wisps criss-crossed the room, linking everypony together. Even Pinkie Pie, who had somehow manifested herself back into the room. Twilight struggled for a moment to keep track of all the different colored tethers, but she found it impossible. Instead, she relaxed and passively took in the sight. Her friends were all chatting together happily, giggling, and even tossing some banter. She felt a little spark inside her, and seeing magic flowing between them only affirmed her feelings. Proof that she was home.
Proof, that friendship was magic.