The next day dawned gleaming orange and gold. In Canterlot, Celestia stood upon the great balcony just outside the throne room. Her horn shone blazing, molten gold, and the sun slowly rose over the eastern horizon. She flapped into the air on her powerful wings, rising higher and higher into the crisp, cool sky of the high altitude. Up and up the sun rose, a billowing, blazing ball of fire. In that instant, when she and the sun moved in unison, Celestia felt at one with the cosmos. All of time and space, all of existence- even into the Dreaming- swelled and pulsed through her. She knew then that if she wanted something to Be, it would be so. She could have made anything come to pass in that instant, when her divinity was at its apex.
Yet the moment vanished, and the sun was up, slowly beginning its course across the skies of Equestria. Celestia flapped back down to the balcony, settling onto her gold-filigreed hooves. She breathed in the morning air. She breathed it in, cool and crisp and clean, and was at peace.
“Such a beautiful display,” a voice came over her shoulder. “I sometimes forget that even thy most routine of jobs is spectacular.”
Smiling, Celestia turned around to see Luna trotting toward her across the balcony. Luna had of course been up all night, tending to the workings of Equestria in the moonlit hours. Despite her long time awake she was not the least bit tired. Neither Luna nor Celestia actually felt the need for sleep; it was more of a luxury for them, a thing they liked but could do without. “Anything interesting happen while I was dreaming?” Celestia asked, coming close to touch her sister's horn with her own.
“Oh, all manner of sordid things,” Luna said, “but I shall not bore thee with the details. Nothing untoward, I can assure thee.” Luna glanced out over the balcony, at all of Equestria spread out before her. “Today is the day, is it not?”
“Yes,” said Celestia. “Falalauria and her white-tails should be arriving in Ponyville late this morning.” Her pink eyes narrowed. “Do you think I'm right to let Twilight do this?”
“Thou art asking me?” Luna said. “It is usually thee who has to reassure my conscience.”
“I shall be honest,” Celestia said. “I hate how it has come about, but I have long hoped that what is about to take place would happen in some form. I have long craved a genuine encounter between ponydom and the deerfolk.” She sighed. “I hope Ponyville's ponies have welcoming hearts.”
“They do,” said Luna. “We both know that firsthand. What is more, it is high time Twilight Sparkle began to exercise her authority as an alicorn princess. She picked an excellent first move to stake her royal status on.”
“Luna,” said Celestia, sitting down on the cool marble, “I also wonder if this might be a step toward letting ponies know the full truth about the deerfolk.”
“That may not be wise,” said Luna. “How could anypony who hears such a tale ever welcome them?”
“Because they have changed,” said Celestia. “They have been humbled, and they have learned to love. I just... I hate to keep lying to our ponies, Lulu. It's not right.”
Luna leaned against her sister. “Tia, sometimes we must do things we do not like. Didst thou not once tell me that? And mayhap someday ponies can know the truth. Not yet, though. Likely not for a long while.”
“I suppose you're right,” Celestia said. She closed her eyes, drinking in the morning. How many hundreds of thousands of mornings had she experienced? Yet each one filled her with joy. And with Luna beside her, after a thousand years of absence, this one was no less wondrous. “Luna, will you sit with me a while? The Solar Court doesn't open for another half-hour.”
Luna smiled gently. “I should be delighted to.”
“WoooOOOOOOooooo, cupcakes are donesies!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, bouncing in place. This had the effect of shaking off the flour she had coated herself in. “I'm so excited! This is gonna be the best recipe for the best welcoming party ever!”
“They look delicious, Pinkie,” Rarity said.
“I'll say,” said Twilight Sparkle. “Okay, Rarity, you get that half, I'll get this half.”
With a nod from Rarity, the two of them lit their horns with magic. The cupcake trays shimmered as they lifted off the counter tops of Sugar Cube Corner's kitchen, floating out the back door into the warm late spring air. If they had had eyes, the could have looked down to see Ponyville decking itself in finery. Bows were being hung from the lampposts. Weather ponies were clearing clouds from the sky. In the middle of the main street, a banner had been hung that read WELCOME SHIMMERWOOD DEER?
Twilight saw this last part as she was setting her cupcake trays into Mr. Cake's cart. Her eyes bulged and she jumped five feet into the air. “A question mark? A question mark?! Who put a question mark on the banner? Why didn't somepony notice that when it was being made?”
“Calm down, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, fluttering to the ground. “We'll just tear it off and refasten the banner. No biggie.”
“Yes, biggie!” Twilight said, stomping her hooves in place over and over. “The banner's symmetry is going to be thrown off by getting rid of the question mark! It's going to look awful now. We're going to need to make a whole new banner!”
“I agree with Twilight,” Rarity said. “It is simply uncouth to have such a dreadful lack of symmetry in a banner meant to be seen by strange eyes.”
“Oh, come on,” Dash said. “It's not that big a deal. Besides, can't you just magic away the question mark if you're so worried?”
“Uh,” Twilight said.
“Yeah!” Pinkie bounced down the steps. “Use your super amazing princess magic to blast it away, Twilight.”
“I guess I could try an erasing spell,” Twilight said. “Come on, let's get closer.”
The four friends trotted closer to the banner. “Oh, hello everypony,” Fluttershy said, coming from a cross street. “Where are we going?”
“We're going to fix that banner,” Twilight said. “Say, Fluttershy, how is your bird choir coming?”
“Oh, they've been doing a marvelous job of learning the new song,” said Fluttershy. “I just know the deerfolk will love them.”
By now they were standing right below the banner. Twilight's tongue stuck out as she surveyed it. “I think I can get the question mark off,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “Everypony stand back. I'll need to concentrate.” The four others obliged by giving her some space, and Twilight concentrated, her horn beginning to shimmer. She focused harder and harder, amplifying her magic all the more. The side of the banner with the question mark began to glow purple. She breathed in, breathed out, breathed in, and on the next breath out she gave the banner a surge of power. It flashed purple... and the question mark disappeared.
“Woohoo!” Pinkie cried.
“Well done, dear,” said Rarity.
The banner suddenly burst into flames.
“AAH!” Twilight cried, her wings flapping and sending her sailing backwards. “It's on fire it's on fire it's on fire IT'S ON FIRE!”
“I'm on it!” cried Dash, bursting into the sky with a rainbow streak. She quickly grabbed a cloud and dragged it downward, setting it above the burning banner and giving it several hard shakes. Torrents of water fell down from the cloud, quickly dousing the flames. The damage, however, was done. The banner's entire right side was burned black, and with a snap of twine it fell off the post it was tied to, landing in a heap on the ground.
Twilight put her head in her hoof. “This isn't a good omen.”
“Oh, trust me, darling,” said Rarity, “I'm sure everything will go swimmingly.”
About two hours later, the ponies of Ponyville were gathered in the center of the town. The words WELCOME SHIMMERWOOD DEER were floating magically in the air, Twilight's solution to the ruined banner. The six ponies and Spike were standing on a platform in the middle of the crowd. What was more, all of them were adorned in curious jewelry. Rarity, Applejack, Dash, Pinkie and Fluttershy wore necklaces of a strange style, at once antique and modern, with odd swirling designs carved into the pure, priceless gold. At the front of each necklace was a gem, a crystal. Each pony's gem was in the shape of her cutie mark, and roughly in the color. The gems caught the sunlight and sparkled like stars.
Twilight, meanwhile, wore a crown, whose design, like the necklaces, could not be placed in the history of jewelry. Sticking up from the center was a gem just like those on her friends' necklaces, and as with their gems, the gem on the crown was in the shape of Twilight's starburst cutie mark.
And yet, they were all forgeries. The most skilled smiths and jewelers in Canterlot had crafted them in the shape of the originals, which were wrought of metals no pony's hooves or magic could have shaped. They were tools of ceremony, lacking all the power of the originals, which presently were beyond any pony's reach.
This would have been a moment to be serene, calm, gentle. Unfortunately, Twilight was anything but. She sucked deep breaths in through her mouth, letting them out in nervous wheezes. “It's no big deal,” she whispered to herself. “Everything's going to be fine. Fine, fine, fine...”
“Buck up, Twi,” Applejack whispered, leaning closer to her. “Ya'll're absolutely right. It's gonna be just fine.”
The clock on top of city hall began to sound the hour: eleven o'clock. The hour mentioned in Luna's letter.
“Oh boy! They're coming!” Pinkie cried. She was fidgeting in place; it took all her self-control to stop from bouncing around like a ball. She was drinking in the energy of the crowd, feeding off their expectant, hesitant thoughts. It made her feel like dancing, like singing, like running from one end of the town to the other.
However, her energy dimmed somewhat as the clock stopped chiming. When the last bell rang, the main street leading into Ponyville was still empty. Ponies began to murmur to each other, stallions and mares turning to each other with curious eyes.
“W-where are they?” Twilight said, nearly shaking. “I thought they'd be-”
With a flicker, they were there. In the barest of whispers, thousands of white-tail deer stood all up and down main street, their many-colored eyes moving everywhere to take in their new surroundings. Most of them were bare-furred. A few hundred wore silver armor, artfully crafted, that was laced with lines of crystal and topped at the helms with crystal crests which slotted delicately between their antlers. Indeed, delicate was perhaps the best word to describe the whole number of the white-tails. Their movements were gentle, the swivels of their ears graceful. As they milled about up and down the road, they did not collide with each other or move roughly against each others' flanks. There was a patience and a caution to their motions, but there was never hesitation. They seemed to know that each step would land surely, that each turn and twist would keep them ever on their hooves.
The ponies along the road and in the town center were stunned into silence. However, within seconds, a great gasp went up, for Falalauria herself appeared in front of the platform, a ribbon of white silk running through her antlers. She towered over the ponies and her own white-tails, her golden coat gleaming in the morning sun. She took a few steps forward until she was nearly on top of the six ponies gathered, then she bowed her head. “Mae Govannen, young Bearers of the Elements.”
“Oh my gosh you're so pretty!” Pinkie cried.
“Thank you, Pinkie Pie,” said Falalauria. “You are lovely as well.” Her starry eyes moved to the right, where Applejack stood next to Twilight, Dash next to Applejack, and Rarity next to Dash. She smiled warmly. “Hello again, Rarity, Applejack and Rainbow Dash.”
“My Lady,” said Rarity with a bow of her head.
“Circumstances aside, it's good to see ya again, m'lady,” said Applejack, sweeping her hat off her head.
“Welcome to Ponyville!” Dash said brightly.
“Thank you,” said Falalauria. She turned next to Fluttershy. Her eyes grew briefly wide and brilliant, then returned to normal. “Mae Govannen, cinta malina rocco. Yetae bain nalyë.”
Fluttershy bowed her head. “Elen siluva lumenn' omentielvo. Tér nalyë.”
The five ponies looked in awe at Fluttershy as the ancient language came effortlessly off her tongue. Her accent was not quite the same as Falalauria's, but she spoke with the ease of a native. Twilight resisted the urge to remark on it, which was handy, because next Falalauria turned to her. “Princess Twilight Sparkle, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving my deer a home in this difficult time.”
“Oh, you're welcome, My Lady,” said Twilight. “It was our honor.” She glanced over her shoulder. “This is Mayor Mare, the elected leader of Ponyville. She deserves your praise as well; it was her consent that allowed me to offer your deer a place.”
Mayor Mare, who had been standing behind the podium, shrunk back as Falalauria's starscape eyes swiveled to her. “Please, don't be frightened, Mayor Mare,” said Falalauria. “Thank you, thank you so much. We owe you inestimable gratitude.”
“Well...” Mayor Mare said slowly, “I can't say I was the most eager accomplice to Princess Twilight, but now that you're here, it is my sworn duty to ensure that you are welcome.” She nodded, seemingly to herself. “Yes. You are citizens of Ponyville now, and so your care is my responsibility. Please, if any of your deer need anything at all, don't hesitate to come to me.”
“Thank you,” said Falalauria. “I foresee that I shall be able to return your generosity, sooner than you might think. In the meantime,” she glanced all around her, noticing the decorations and the stalls full of food, “I believe a celebration has been planned?”
“Yes!” Pinkie Pie cried, finally unable to hold back. She bounced high into the air, spreading her legs as she reached the floating words of welcome. “It's time to have a party!”
The deer of the Shimmerwood and the ponies of Ponyville kept their distance at first. The deer broke up into bands of about a dozen, quietly visiting the open stalls and asking for food in accented Equestrian. The ponies, meanwhile, kept to themselves, shooting uncertain glances at the newcomers.
This was more than Pinkie could take. So when the first batch of deer got to her stall, she immediately bounded over the front and hopped into their midst. “Hiya!” she said. “What are your names?”
“Oh, um, my name is Anselmo,” said one of the white-tails. “This is Debora, Cruz, Iria, Abilio-”
“Great!” Pinkie said. “Have I got some treats for you! These are pansy cupcakes!”
“D-did you say pansies?” Iria said, her seafoam eyes glinting as she stepped closer to the stall.
“I sure did!” said Pinkie. She slipped her hoof beneath a cupcake and crammed it into her mouth. “Ish shuper gud! Try ish!”
Iria's antlers flickered, and one of the cupcakes levitated toward her. She extended her long, graceful snout into the baked confection, opening her mouth just so. Slowly, gently, she nibbled off a bite. Chewing and swallowing, her head bounced from side to side as she considered the taste. But her eyes bulged suddenly, and she swallowed. “Delicious!”
“Hooray!” Pinkie said. “I knew you'd like it, because Applejack and Rarity told me you liked pansies, and I thought to myself, well, if they like pansies, I bet they'd like pansy cupcakes, because positively everypony loves cupcakes, and if everypony loves them I bet deer love them too, and so if deer love pansies and cupcakes both, then pansy cupcakes are totally the best thing!” Pinkie glanced one stall over. “Hey! You guys should meet some of my friends from Ponyville!”
“What?” said one of the white-tails.
“Lyra! Pokey!” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing over to them. “Come over here!”
“Uh,” Lyra said, looking up from her smoothie. “I don't want to interrupt you guys.”
“You're not interrupting anything, now get over here.” Pinkie said the last part with the tiniest hint of ferocity. In an astounding feat of elasticity, Pinkie stretched her body out until her lower half was right beside the deer. She wrapped a front leg around both Lyra and Pokey and snapped her front half backward, dragging the two of them into the midst of the deer. “Tada! Now you're friends!”
“Oh, uh,” Pokey glanced nervously from side to side at the jeweled eyes of the white-tails. “So... what do you deer do for fun?”
“We like to sing some,” said Anselmo.
“I like to sew,” said Iria.
“Ooo, I like to knit!” said Lyra.
“Do you do it with needles?” said Iria.
“Yeah!” said Lyra. “It's a little tricky to balance them on your hooves, but you get used to it. Sometimes I wish I had hands, though.”
“I mostly weave with magic,” said Iria. “It takes a lot of concentration, and very fine control.”
“I like to cook,” said Pokey.
“I like to eat!” said Debora.
Their conversation grew more and more intimate. Standing at the edge of the group, Pinkie Pie smiled. And her actions seemed to have broken a spell. Ponies began to cautiously approach the groups of deer, and a few rogue deer began to come close to the groups of ponies. Slowly, the two species mingled.
“They're getting along!” Spike exclaimed from his perch on Twilight's back.
“I know!” she said excitedly. “It's wonderful.”
“Everypony seems to be havin' a good time,” Applejack said, trotting up with Rainbow Dash at her side.
“No problems for me to report,” said Rarity.
“Me neither,” said Fluttershy. “There seem to be good feelings all around.”
“Woo! Woo! Woo!” Pinkie Pie cried. A bunch of deer were busy flying her through the air with their magic. “Okay, guys, put me down over there!” They complied and set her slowly on her hooves in front of Twilight. She bounced excitedly in place. “Oh my gosh these deer are the best, most wonderful things ever! I'm gonna have so much fun with them around!”
“Thank you for your help, Pinkie Pie,” said Falalauria. “Indeed, thank you all so much for all your help. Without you, we might all be cramped in Canterlot, or worse, strewn across the plains of Gildedale- no offense, Applejack.”
“None taken, m'lady,” said Applejack. “Even the Daleponies don't rightly like to sleep in the middle o' the fields.”
“Oh, what a happy, joyous occasion!” The eight of them glanced up to see a long, sinuous body slide through the air just over their heads. “Why, I haven't seen this many ponies and deer together in nearly four thousand years!”
“Heya, Discord!” Pinkie Pie said cheerily.
“Hello, Pinkie Pie!” Discord said, slipping down to her eye level. “Great cupcakes, by the way.” He popped one whole into his mouth. “The pansies are a nice touch.”
“The secret is love,” said Pinkie with pride. “And sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. And love!”
“Marvelous,” Discord said. His yellow eyes flitted across the six ponies, then Spike, and at last they settled on Falalauria. A smile split his mouth, and he slid through the air until he was right in front of her. “Farseer,” he said.
“Chaos Lord,” said Falalauria.
“Tell me, Farseer, what does the end of the universe look like?”
Falalauria's eyes went wide for a moment. “Black and white and every other color,” she said.
“And the beginning?”
“So would you say time is cyclical?” Discord asked.
“Perhaps not cyclical,” said Falalauria. “I think, rather, that it moves in patterns. Just as a road becomes grooved from the passage of many wagons, so time is worn by the travel of so many creatures along the same tracks.”
“Interesting,” said Discord. He turned to Rarity. He grinned. “How about it, Rarity? Is she right?”
“Ah,” Rarity flinched. “I don't...”
“Rarity?” Twilight said. “Why is he asking you?”
“Oh, he's just making fun, you know,” said Rarity. “Nothing to worry about.”
“Come on, now, Rarity,” Discord slid between her and Twilight, “don't lie. You know it bothers Applejack so much, what with her Gift and all.”
“Hey!” Applejack said.
“Chaos Lord, if you would,” said Falalauria.
“Oh, please, Farseer, you had to have known I would do this,” said Discord with a snaggle-toothed grin. “You know everything, after all.”
“Cut it out!” Rainbow Dash said, stepping forward; lightning cracked on her wingtips.
“Or what?” Discord said. “Will you make me stop, Dashie? You have the power to do it, after all. I wonder if it would work on me, though?”
“If what would work on you?” Fluttershy said. “Dash, what does he mean?”
“Oh, uh,” Dash glanced up at Falalauria.
“Ooo, ooo, do you know, Miss Lady Falalauria?” Pinkie Pie asked.
“I do,” said Falalauria. “However, it is not something I can reveal at this time. You must trust me that...” she paused, “that...” she glanced down at the six ponies clustered around her. She turned away and began to pace. “Shall I do it now?”
“Why not?” Discord asked.
“My Sight has urged me otherwise,” said Falalauria quietly. “There is much that hinges on... it...” she glanced back at the six ponies. “I...” They stared up at her with eager eyes, anxious eyes. “I...” Pinkie Pie put on an adorable face. Falalauria's starscape eyes narrowed. “No,” she finally said. “No, I shall tell you now.”
“Tell us what?” Twilight asked.
“But My Lady!” Rarity exclaimed. “If now is not the right time-”
“I say it is the right time,” said Falalauria. “Twilight Sparkle, there is knowledge that has been kept from you, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie concerning the Elements of Harmony. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Applejack know some of it, but even they are not completely informed. I have been holding it back because of the future I have Seen with my Foresight. In that future, which I have been carefully tending, I did not share this information with you until much later, after you had already passed through great hardship. But the six of you have been more generous than I could ever have expected. So I shall have faith in the lot of you, and I shall tell you what you need to know. The future can change as it likes. Twilight, is your library free today?”
“Oh, yes!” Twilight said. “I didn't have anything planned there.”
“Then I should like the six of you to meet me there in one hour,” said Falalauria. “It is time you knew everything.”
“Oh, goodie!” Discord cried, popcorn appearing in his paw. “I love a good lore dump.”
The six of them spent the next hour getting the party well in hand. Pinkie's icebreaker continued to have a ripple effect throughout the gathering, so that ponies and deer were now mingling without reservation. In a few instances, ponies were even showing the deer some of their favorite games. Food and drink flowed freely. Twilight, in addition, ensured that Mayor Mare, her assistants, and the Cakes had a firm grasp of the gathering, punctuating this with a plea to come and get her at the library if anything untoward should occur. Finally, after almost exactly an hour had passed, the six ponies and Spike retreated to the library, Pinkie merrily bringing up the rear with her hopping. “Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!” she cried with each bounce. Finally when they stopped at the library door, she said, “Oh boy! We're gonna hear a story!”
“I am fascinated to learn what Lady Falalauria has to say about the Elements of Harmony,” said Twilight. “And you three said she told you some of it already?”
“When we first met her, yes,” said Rarity. “I'll let her go into more detail, though.”
“And she did say she was gonna tell us stuff that even we three didn't know,” said Rainbow Dash.
Rather propitiously, a knock came on the library door just then. “I got it!” Spike said, hurrying to the door and opening it. “Hello there, My Lady.”
“Thank you, Spike,” Falalauria said.
Twilight winced as she saw Falalauria through the door. Her antlers were far too wide to fit through. “My Lady, I'm sorry about the door,” she said.
“No trouble,” said Falalauria. She took a step, vanished, and reappeared inside the library. Cushions had been laid out quite precisely by Twilight, seven of them surrounding a large, downy comforter. Falalauria took the hint and settled down upon this. “If you would take your seats.”
“Lady Falalauria, I'm very curious to hear what you want to tell us,” said Fluttershy. “You said it was something about the Elements of Harmony?”
“Yes, Fluttershy,” said Falalauria.
“Uh, by the way,” said Dash, a wince on her face, “I think you ought to know that we-”
“Gave the Elements up?” said Falalauria. “Yes, I know.”
“But how- oh, that's right, fortune telling!” Pinkie said.
“More or less,” said Falalauria. “However, the Elements of Harmony are not as far away as you might think. There is more to them than simply gems in necklaces and crowns. Long ago-”
“Oh, goodie!” With a burst of white light, Discord appeared over their heads. “Oh, thank heavens, I haven't missed the story.” He snapped his fingers and an ornate purple cushion appeared behind the ponies and Spike's pillows. Discord lowered himself down onto this; another white burst made a tub of popcorn appear in his paws. “Well, go on, Farseer.”
The ponies looked awkwardly back at him. “Um, Discord,” Fluttershy said, “I'm not sure this is the best time for you to be here.”
“No, he can stay,” said Falalauria. “It's only fitting. This story, in part, concerns him.”
“It does?” Twilight said.
“Indeed,” said Falalauria. “It concerns a time thousands of years ago, thousands upon thousands of years ago.” Her eyes grew wide. The stars in them swelled, until Falalauria's eyes shone white. Then Spike and the ponies felt themselves tip forward, almost, and fall into those vast white eyes, all their vision taken up by a swirl of color and sound.
“Goodie! A movie!” Discord cried.
“Long ago,” Falalauria said, “long, long, long ago, all the world's intelligent creatures were not so. They were little more than dumb animals. However, bit by bit, they gained measures of sentience. The first to take the final step- the first to speak in organized language- were the deer. To be specific, the very first species to have a full language were the elk.” A flicker flashed of elk around a primordial fire, gesturing as they told stories. “Other deer species followed. They knew of each other, but they did not interact, preferring to keep to their own kind. In time, written language followed the spoken tongue, and six species of deer grew from mere foragers to stable civilizations, species with their own culture, hierarchy, and way of life. They were the elk, the red deer, the mule deer, the moose, the white-tail deer, and the caribou.” Cities of stone and wood flashed before them, small houses, great villas, tall temples, deep cisterns.
“The deer species, being the first speakers, were also the first scholars, and the first scientists. Natural philosophy flowed from discussion between thinkers. An attempt to understand the world, to systematize it coherently, arose. Deer attempted to use reason alone to grasp the highest concepts of the universe. But an interesting thing happened when the oldest, wisest thinkers and priests began to consider the mysteries of creation. The more they thought, the more they seemed to feel at one with the cosmos.” A deer in a toga was debating other deer, and sparks began to gather about his antlers. “Until one day, a deer considered the world in just such a way-” shimmering light flashed around the toga deer's antlers- “and magic was born.”
Twilight gasped with delight.
“The deer quickly began to study this phenomenon; all six species delved into this strange new reality. Spells were invented. Enchantments were devised. First, only males could do it; after some divine intervention, females could as well. Fueled by their magic, the deer civilizations grew stronger, grander, and more complex.” New cities emerged, cities of marble and onyx and glass. Then the sky above turned pink. “Yet this progress did not continue unabated.”
A swirling long shape spiraled down from the sky. Manic laughter filled the air.
“Oh, this is my favorite part!” Discord cried.
“The deer did not know where he came from, and in all our years of study since, we have never been able to find out his true origins.” In a shimmer, they were all back in the library, and Falalauria arched an eyebrow. “Feel free to chime in, Chaos Lord.”
“No, no,” said Discord, “don't stop the story on my account.”
Falalauria sighed, but her eyes glowed again. A long, sinewy body swam through the air, turning the sky into a checkerboard of black and pink. Towers turned upside-down. Deer writhed on the ground with spiraled eyes. In a flash, deer from all six species were sprawled in ruin around a throne; Discord sat on this, sipping from a goblet. “The Chaos Lord turned the deer civilizations into raw, unbridled anarchy. He seemed to have been drawn to them by their use of magic, but the deer could not repel him with the same. Back in those days, we deer were still very new as magic users. We had not yet developed our most powerful spells, and magic use had not become a strong enough part of our bloodlines that new generations could grow more powerful than the old ones. That would come later. For now, the deer species were utterly helpless against the Chaos Lord. He bent them to his wild will and made them frothing, twisted, worse than dead. In desperation, the shamans and priests sent up offerings to the Wills That Draw The World.”
“The creators of all Equestria!” Rarity cried.
“Of all existence,” said Falalauria. “And it seemed the Wills were not unmoved by the pleas. Across the wide world, on one night, a member of each of the six deer species had a dream. It told them to find the others having the dream, to band together, and to seek out a land far to the west. It took weeks of searching, but at last, they found each other: one caribou, one red deer, one mule deer, one moose, one elk, and one white-tail deer. Today, the deerfolk do not remember their individual names. They are only known as The Comrades.”
Silhouettes of one of each of the six species flashed across everypony's vision. There were images of them crossing rivers, battling monsters, climbing mountains, standing against armies.
“The Comrades journeyed west, following the visions that came to them in their dreams. They faced uncounted hardships together. They starved and struggled and nearly died numerous times. However, they kept going, and in the process forged bonds of friendship stronger than any the world had seen before. Each of The Comrades would have died for any of the others. They loved each other every bit as much as they loved themselves- perhaps even moreso.”
Lines of light stretched from one silhouette to the next, binding all six deer together.
“At last, near the edge of the western world, The Comrades found a deep, dark forest, wild and overgrown. They journeyed within, overcoming six final obstacles designed to test their friendship. Each time they were challenged, they rose above the strife, and they did so together. At last, The Comrades emerged into a special place, a deep cave. There, they beheld a magnificent crystal tree.”
The ponies gasped.
“Yes, you know it; of course you do. Upon that tree hung six gems, glinting in ways no earthly stones ever could.” A flicker appeared of the six deer silhouettes before the gleaming silver of the Tree of Harmony. “The Comrades shared a glance of understanding. Then, each of them chose a gem. They all picked simultaneously, and by the will of destiny, each of them chose a different gem, so that each one got his or her first choice.”
In flashes and flickers, the six deer silhouettes ran across deserts, over mountains, through forests.
“The Comrades hurried back to the lands of the deer species, still under the thrall of the Chaos Lord. He was so secure in his power he barely even acknowledged The Comrades as they strode forward, the gems tied around their necks.” The deer silhouettes approached the throne where Discord sat. “The Chaos Lord, indeed, was intensely amused. He offered them one free shot.”
“Bad idea, in hindsight,” muttered Discord.
“The Comrades opened their hearts to each other. They reflected on all that they had done together, all that they had experienced. They released all the greatness and goodness and tear-soaked joy that they had forged in their long journeys. The gems glinted, they gleamed, and from them sprouted a burst of unfathomable power: a rainbow of pure light, bright as the dawn.” A burst of rainbow power shot from the gems around the deer silhouettes' necks. The rainbow swirled and twisted and bent until it slammed into Discord. “The gems were the very essences of friendship, the foundations of love- the Elements of Harmony! And against their power, the power at the root of creation, even the Chaos Lord's magic could not stand.” The rainbow washed over Discord's silhouette. It writhed and twisted, until it abruptly went still. Then the rainbow vanished, revealing Discord cast in stone.
There was a final flash of white light, and then the six ponies and Spike were back on their cushions in the library. They glanced around at each other, overwhelmed by what they had experienced.
“The Chaos Lord, Discord, was defeated by the power of the Elements of Harmony. But that was not the extent of their work. They had showed all the deer that they were stronger together than they could ever be apart. Under the guidance of The Comrades, the six deer species decided to band together, uniting themselves into a single civilization: the deerfolk. They would speak a common language, write in a common script, and follow common laws through all their lands. And in each species' territory, there existed a temple, where each species tended to the Element of Harmony that their member of The Comrades had chosen.”
The six ponies sat in silence for a few moments. Then Pinkie Pie bounced into the air. “Oh... my... gosh! I can't believe the deer had the Elements first!”
“I never would have imagined such a thing!” Twilight said. “My old history books never mentioned anything about the deerfolk and the Elements!”
“Is that so surprising, dear Twilight?” Discord said.
“But what about the gifts, Lady Falalauria?” Rainbow Dash said.
“Ah, yes,” said Falalauria. The six ponies focused on her again. “The Elements of Harmony belonged to the deerfolk after The Comrades used them to defeat Discord. This was true in an immediate sense, as the deerfolk owned the magical gems. However, over the course of the months after Discord's defeat, the six species found that the Elements belonged to them in a different, and far more powerful sense. When each of The Comrades had chosen one of the Elements, he and she had received a blessing from that Element- a gift of power that no deer had ever before possessed. What was more, after Discord's defeat, all members of the deerfolk discovered that they were similarly gifted, and in the years that followed, their fauns and calves were gifted in the same way. Each of the six species, as a whole, had received a Gift from the Element of Harmony that their member of The Comrades had chosen. This was a gift that every member of that species possessed, and would possess in all the years to come.”
“So what were they?” Fluttershy asked.
“They were based, in some way, on the Element that bestowed them, and so when each species chose an Element of Harmony, they each got a different Gift.” Falalauria turned to Applejack. “The white-tail deer chose the Element of Honesty, and so gained the ability to discern truth from falsehood, as well as see through any illusion.” She turned to Fluttershy. “The moose chose the Element of Kindness, and so gained the ability to heal any wound, whether physical, mental or spiritual, no matter how serious it might be.” She turned to Pinkie Pie. “The caribou chose the Element of Laughter, and so gained the ability to peer into the minds of others, as well as project their own thoughts and feelings in turn.” She turned to Rarity. “The red deer chose the Element of Generosity, and so gained the ability to see with their mind's eye across great distances, and into the past, and into the future.” She turned to Rainbow Dash. “The mule deer chose the Element of Loyalty, and so gained the ability to inspire and compel their comrades to action, making others flock to their guidance.” At last, she turned to Twilight Sparkle. “The elk chose the Element of Magic, and so gained innate aptitude in all magical matters, as well as an enhanced strength in powers of the spirit.”
“Hey, wait a minute!” Dash said. “My Gift of Loyalty is the same as the mule deer's?”
“Oh, that would explain some things I've never understood,” said Fluttershy.
“I don't believe it!” Twilight exclaimed. “You...” she turned to Applejack, “you...” she glanced at Rarity, then Rainbow Dash, “you three knew about this?”
“We knew about our Gifts, darling,” said Rarity. “Lady Falalauria wouldn't tell us yours. And we certainly didn't know they were related to the deerfolk as they are.”
“Related, and yet not related,” said Falalauria. “Even in the long history of the Elements of Harmony, a history I have studied extensively, the six of you are unique. The first time the Elements were wielded against Discord, they bestowed their Gifts on whole species. The second time it happened, Celestia and Luna used the Elements merely as tools, and so did not receive any Gifts from them. But you... you six... you are the Bearers of the Elements. The Elements have come to you, but only to you, not to all of ponydom. So you, and you alone, shall possess their Gifts.” Falalauria's starscape eyes twinkled. “I have glimpsed into your futures. They are surprisingly difficult to read, particularly for me. But I think in time you will possess the Elements of Harmony to a greater degree than any creatures that have come before you. And so you will have their Gifts to a larger extent than any creature before you has had them.”
“It just doesn't make sense,” said Fluttershy softly. “I'm not some magical healer.”
“Are you not?” said Falalauria. “How often has a creature very sick or very wounded been brought to you, only for it to recover under your care? How often have creatures and monsters and even ponies been at death's door, only for you to pull them back?”
“Well... it has happened before,” said Fluttershy, thinking back on all her more gruesome turns as a healer. There was the wyvern with the shredded wing... the yak with the rotten tooth... the mule deer, Alejo, who had been mauled by the chimera. Slowly but surely, all of them had recovered under her ministry. “But I never thought it was magic,” she said. “It's just my skill and knowledge, and my ability to tell just when somepony is hurting.”
“That and something more,” said Falalauria. “Empathy is an additional aspect of your gift, the ability to discern hurts even when they are not readily visible.”
“So you...” Twilight turned to Rarity, “you have foresight? Just like Falalauria?”
“Not just like,” said Rarity. “I lack her Truth Sense-”
“Which she got from the white-tail deer, on account o' bein' half white-tail!” Applejack smacked her hoof against her head. “Why didn't I see it before? Y'all even mentioned that the white-tails had that power, m'lady, but I was too dumb to connect it to my Element!”
“So you three knew?” Twilight said. “You knew and you didn't tell us? Tell me?”
“Lady Falalauria wanted us to keep it a secret,” said Dash. “She wanted to tell each of you girls in pony, the way she did to us.” Dash smiled broadly. “And now she has, so there's no need to keep a secret any more!”
“So you... Dash, you have the power to make ponies do what you want?” Twilight said. A thought struck her; her eyes bulged and she swiveled to Pinkie, who sat with a small smile on her face. “And Pinkie, you have...”
“Pinkie's Gift is the one I'm not so sure about,” said Dash. “I mean, I've never seen any trace of her being a... a... Twilight, what's the name of a pony that can read other ponies' minds again?”
“A telepath,” said Twilight. “And you're right. Pinkie, you can't read ponies' minds, can you?”
Of course I can, silly!
The other five ponies and Spike flinched backwards. Pinkie's mouth hadn't opened, but they had all heard her voice in their heads. “Pinkie, dear!” Rarity cried. “You're a telepath?”
“Well, duh!” Pinkie said. “Come on, guys, doesn't it make sense? Haven't you ever noticed how I always seem to know just when each of you are in a bad mood, so I can cheer you up? Haven't you ever noticed that I always tend to throw parties right when everypony in town is feeling their worst?”
“Uh, I guess,” said Applejack. “I thought that was all on account o' your Pinkie Sense or somethin'.”
It is my Pinkie Sense. This is my Pinkie Sense!, and Pinkie giggled, though a bead of sweat ran down her face. “I never knew it was related to my Element of Harmony, though.”
“Pinkie, why didn't you ever tell us?” Twilight asked.
“Well...” Pinkie's smile cracked a little.
“Because she was afraid,” said Falalauria. “It is so easy to be the pony no one understands, isn't it Pinkie Pie? To be the 'odd' one, the 'weird' one, the 'goofy' one. Those are all broad, vague terms, and they can be hid behind. But if you were to tell someone precisely what you could do... why, then they'd know what was wrong with you, wouldn't they?”
Pinkie's blue eyes began to waver. She blinked hard a few times. “Maybe a little bit,” she said softly.
“But Pinkie, we would never have judged you!” Twilight said. “And look, now we're all weird together! Even I'm weird! Well, weirder.”
“Hey, what about Twilight?” Dash said. “No offense, but her Gift is kinda... lame. I mean, all she gets is more of what she already does.”
“Lame?” Discord repeated. He shared a glance with Falalauria. “Lame? To be the Wielder of Magic Itself- lame?”
“Twilight Sparkle is the Bearer of the Element of Magic,” said Falalauria. “She is the wielder of the Gift of Magic- one of the only wielders of it alive today. And because it is exclusively yours, Twilight, you will reap its bounty to an unprecedented degree. If you choose to embody your Element, you will have more raw magical power than anything in creation. More than me. More than Celestia. Even more than Discord.”
“I- I- I-” Twilight stammered. “I was only just now getting used to being a princess. Now you expect me to be a- a god? How can I be trusted with that much power?”
“By leaning on your friends,” said Falalauria. “Listen to me: these Gifts are powerful in themselves, but they are strongest when used together. The Elements of Harmony are not meant to exist alone. Just as the gems, together, make the divine rainbow, so when you use your Gifts together, you can accomplish anything.” She chuckled delicately. “I mean that quite literally, you know. Overwhelming magical power, long sight, absolute truth sense, telepathy, strong healing, compelling obedience- that's a mighty set of skills, there. All together, the six of you could be nearly omnipotent.”
“Omnipotent?” Twilight repeated, eyes bulging.
“What's that word mean?” Dash asked.
“It means 'all powerful,'” said Discord, “and you're not there yet.”
“No,” said Falalauria, “you are not. Right now your Elements and their Gifts are still weak. Giving the jewels back to the Tree of Harmony, though necessary, has hindered their development. But if you consciously exercise these Gifts, if you work to make them greater, they will grow stronger, and you with them.” Her eyes bulged, stars twinkling. “Indeed, I think I see a future in which the six of you all wield incalculable power. A new age of the world shall begin upon your ascension.” She blinked, her eyes dimming. “But that is a long ways off. For now, I have said all that can be said.”
Silence spread through the library. None of the six friends spoke to each other for a moment, and it was left to Spike to break the quiet. “So now what?” he asked.
“Now I, for one, am going to go outside,” said Falalauria, rising to her hooves. “I have not yet had one of Pinkie Pie's pansy cupcakes, and they looked delicious.”
“Trust me, they are!” Discord said brightly.
“So you tell us we're all gonna be gods or somesuch,” Applejack said, “and now you're off to get cupcakes.”
“Of course,” said Falalauria. “Chaos Lord, would you like to come with me?”
Discord gave the six ponies a glance, then grinned with his snaggle teeth. “It would be my pleasure, Farseer.” He vanished in a burst of white light.
Falalauria, meanwhile, took a step backwards and disappeared. Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle all kept glancing around at each other. What could they say? What could they do? They seemed to see each other with new eyes. Each of them possessed power that they could scarcely have dreamed of. And yet... the more they looked, the more they focused, and the more they saw what they had always seen. They saw bright eyes, glinting coats, full manes, and an air of nothing less than support and love for each other. Was this what The Comrades had felt when they had finally reached Discord with the Elements of Harmony around their necks?
“You know,” Twilight said, standing up, “a cupcake sounds good right now.”
“I reckon you're right, Twi,” said Applejack.
“I hope there are enough left,” said Fluttershy.
“Don't worry! I made plenty!” Pinkie said.
“I suppose I can break off my diet for a single day,” said Rarity.
“Let's get going, then!” said Dash.
The six of them broke out in laughter. Dash shoved the door open with her hoof, leading the way out into the warm spring evening. “Wait for me!” Spike said, toddling after them. Twilight smiled and stopped, letting him hop onto her back, before accelerating her pace to get back with the others.
“I think they took that well,” said Discord, peering out from around the corner of the library.
“As I knew they would,” said Falalauria beside him. “Their friendship is too strong to be broken by any revelation, however enormous. It was much the same with The Comrades, as you no doubt recall.”
“I do,” said Discord. “By the way, how does the future look now?”
The stars wheeled in Falalauria's eyes. “Better, actually,” said she. “Even better than it was before. My gamble has paid off.”
“Well, I suppose that's good news,” Discord said. “But you know, you lied to them.”
“You said you'd tell them everything, but you didn't,” said Discord. “You told them the deer's beginnings with the Elements of Harmony, you told them the deer's Gifts from the Elements of Harmony... but you didn't tell them how the deer lost the Elements of Harmony.”
Falalauria's brow furrowed. “Some other time.”