The streets of Ponyville were in chaos. Earth Ponies and Pegasi and Unicorns swarmed about the streets and began to set up their own impromptu parties, as word quickly spread from the BonBonnière that Twilight Sparkle and her band had returned to Ponyville with the power to overthrow NightMare Moon. The ponies who had been hypnotized by NightMare Moon for so long and formed the backbone of her Nightmare Guard sloughed their ebony armor and piled them up in front of the Gazebo.
Across several of the haphazardly set tables were radios set to a variety of channels, playing a babel of reports from across the nation. Evidently, somepony within Ponyville had set up a pirate radio station and had put the word out across the waves that the Nightmare Guard had been thoroughly routed in Ponyville, because one report on the radio spoke of the destabilization of the Nightmare Guard in various installations around Equestria within the past hour. Party poppers − the “weak” kind, not the “strong” kind that Pinkie Pie specialized in − went off around Town Square, balloons bounced along the ground, and pies and cupcakes and various other treats were passed freely about.
“Come now, everypony!” cried the Mayor from her home across the street from Town Hall, looking rather cross. “We must not lose our heads in all of this excitement! We must hold our exuberance to higher, more collected standards.”
She would ordinarily have been able to exercise the authority over the Ponyvillagers with this statement alone, but her crooked pince-museau glasses and mussy mane and tail did not lend her much in the way of credibility. In addition, her supply of silver mane-dye had dried up weeks before, and her vibrant pink roots were showing through in both her tail and mane.
It started when Ditzy Doo the Pegasus mailmare started to snicker, her misaligned eyes skewing even more comically as she bit her lower lip. Her Earth Pony husband, the village timekeeper John Smith-Doo, gave her a curious look out of the corner of his eye but said nothing.
“Mama, don’t laugh!” scolded their Unicorn daughter Dinky Doo. “It’s not polite to laugh at other ponies…”
But Dinky was herself finding her mother’s face amusing, and started to laugh herself. Her friend Piña Colada, a pale-pink Earth Pony filly, and Piña’s elder sister Pinot Noir the vineyard mare started to laugh, and then Pinot’s rosy Unicorn daughter Mornen Noir began to chortle in spite of her other mother Mary Smith-Noir attempting to dissuade her (and beginning to laugh herself). Very soon, some two- or three-dozen ponies were laughing amongst themselves at the comically disheveled Mayor.
The Mayor had joined them in the laughter as well. Despite her commonly displayed professionalism, the hope and joy that Twilight Sparkle and her band of Ponyville compatriots were this close to ending this everlasting night meant that she was not keen on taking on the role of reprimander.
She joined the festivities mere moments later, and rumors that the Mayor was related to Pinkie Pie began to gain credence as she proved to be a very apt party pony.
Diamond Tiara scoffed, “Look at the Mayor, traipsing about so foalishly. You’d think she was one of the riff-raff by the way she’s acting.”
The foals around her nodded in agreement. After Silver Spoon’s betrayal, Diamond Tiara found herself for the better part of a week to be the pariah around Ponyville for some reason. Why, her own daddy had taken to calling her Dégueulis again, as though she were a no-good worthless blank-flank all over again! Back then, she bore her flank’s blankness with the steadfast self-reassurance that, as a white-collar pony with blue blood in her veins, she was destined to have a truly glorious cutie mark. She’d earned the self-appellation of Diamond Tiara, just as she had earned her cutie mark. Who did Daddy think he was to treat her like that?
Of course, all it took was some false tears and a façade of regret to reacquire her allowance, and a week of the same in public to regain the respect that Ponyville had given her so rightly before. But Silver Spoon would still not take her back, and Diamond Tiara was heartbroken. The gray filly was the daughter of the richest family in Ponyville, and she did not want to be friends with Diamond Tiara anymore. And if she wasn’t Diamond Tiara’s friend anymore, how could Silver Spoon buy gifts and dress-saddles and such for her…?
But, as Diamond Tiara quickly realized once she’d met these five other foals in Ponyville Elementary, there were always other friends to make who would be willing to do things for her.
“I mean,” Diamond Tiara continued, “ponies obviously elected her to do things for them, so why would she be palling around with the rabble like this?”
“Maybe it’s to improve her image with them?” pondered Roughshod aloud. The pale-gray Unicorn filly had a pale-blue mane and a saddle cutie mark. One of her green eyes still bore the bruise of a punch from that no-good dodo Scootaloo, and all Roughshod had done was tell her the truth about how she would never fly. Such an ingrate!
“Hmm,” Diamond Tiara scratched her chin thoughtfully. “That may be it, Roughshod. I’m glad I thought of that.”
Roughshod nodded unhesitatingly.
“It does make sense,” mused a cream-coated Pegasus filly named Golden Parachute. Her wavy green-blue mane fell across purple eyes that were frequently in a half-lidded aloofness, and she bore a cutie mark of a yellow-striped parachute floating over a five-pointed purple star. “I mean, Miss Mayor needs to let ponies think that she actually cares about them. That way, all the ponies will vote for her even if she does things they don’t like.”
Toady, the burly green Earth Pony colt, nodded and grunted in assent. He had a wide muzzle with a wide mouth like a toad’s, and he even had a cutie mark of a toad.
Diamond Tiara smiled, “You guys are such great friends, you know that?”
“Yes, we know so,” the Pegasus colt Silver Lining answered, his white mane bouncing slightly as he nodded. Upon his sky-blue flanks were a cutie mark of a dark cloud with a shimmering outline. Like Golden Parachute, his wings were full and well-developed, though his were more suited for gliding than for flying. At least they weren’t like that scruffy family-less Scootaloo…!
Diamond Tiara’s smile broadened, her eyes shining with mirth.
“And how do you know it?”
A dull-green Unicorn colt named Snake-in-the-Grass spoke in response. His lank pale-purple mane fell completely over his eyes, an elongated muzzle and thin alicorn poking out from behind the curtain of his forelock. At the end of a slender body was a leonine tail that swept back and forth like a serpent, his cutie mark that of a cobra poking its head out of tall grass. His answer, on behalf of the five foals who made up Diamond Tiara’s posse, was six words long:
“Because you tell us to be.”
Diamond Tiara beamed. It was nice to be popular.
Zooming through the airspace between Ponyville and Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie did not feel the torrential winds that they expected to buffet them about. Despite their high-speed movement over the plains south of Alicorn’s Peak, only the faintest of breezes blew through their manes and tails.
“This is so awesome!” Rainbow Dash shouted with a muzzle-wide grin. “It’s like I’m gliding on an updraft, but way faster!”
“Try not to lose your head too badly, Rainbow!” Twilight shouted back, though she would be remiss to admit she was not enjoying this as well. “We have to keep our wits about us; NightMare Moon is almost literally right in front of us!”
“Ah don’ think ya know jus’ how literal yer bein’ there, Twilight!” Applejack said, pointing fearfully ahead.
Looking to her front, Twilight saw a miasmic cloud rising up from the highest tower of Endymion, a maniacal laugh echoing throughout the Saddle Valley. For all that anypony who heard it knew, the cackle came from within the earth and the air itself, as though some dread beast that slept in Tartarus for eons had roused and spoke with a voice that shook the whole planet.
“We’ve gotta put the pedals to the metals!” Pinkie cried, and the six mares willed themselves faster than ever, the breeze rising to a gale as the mountainside capital drew closer and closer…
A great flash of light flared out from the rising miasma, and Twilight brought the Elements’ shielding orb to a halt in the air, her and the other five mares shielding their eyes from the brilliant flash.
“It’s incredible!” snapped the dark voice of NightMare Moon from the light. “To think that you and your ilk have evaded myself and my forces for so long, and managed to reawaken those damnable Elements of Harmony… This is more due to my own missteps than to your own supposed cleverness. You will not know victory tonight, as you now deal with me, NightMare Moon, and all the powers of Darkness!”
The light faded, and NightMare Moon flapped her feathered bat-wings in place right in front of the Elements’ shield.
Twilight gasped, channeling her magic through the Crown upon her head, a radiance of rosy dwimmer-energy swirling about the star at the tip, twin dwimmer-beams converging from Twilight’s alicorn and the Crown of Magic and lancing out at NightMare Moon…
The dark Alicorn slithered through the air as though she were a serpent rather than an equine, looping around the beam of Harmony magic and giving a sinister laugh.
“You are too slow, Twilight Sparkle! You telegraph your magic terribly! Has dear Celestia taught you nothing about magic, or has she been too preoccupied with teaching you the magic of friendship?”
“Can it!” shouted Rainbow Dash, shooting out of the shield with the speed of a bolt of lightning and raising a single hoof to strike NightMare Moon across the muzzle.
The Queen of the Night raised a foreleg to deflect the cerulean Pegasus at the last moment, and as Rainbow Dash spiraled off out of control a terrible shriek filled the air, as though the very planet of Harmonia itself had been wounded by a fell sword of great power. NightMare Moon examined her extended foreleg in disbelief; the patch which had made contact with the Element of Honesty as she struck Rainbow Dash had assumed the color of a grayish blue. Her already slitted pupils narrowed even further, her jaw slightly slack.
Twilight could not take her eyes off of that patch of fur. Was that the true coat color of the enslaved Queen of the Night, beneath the possessive force of the Miasma…?
“Everypony, use the Elements on NightMare Moon now!” Twilight shouted, once more channelling her magic through the Crown of Magic.
“YOU WILL NOT BE PERMITTED!” bellowed a legion of voices from NightMare Moon’s throat, a cyclone erupting around her that attacked the shield surrounding the remaining five ponies, catching Rainbow Dash and sending her into a violent tumble as she flapped her wings fruitlessly.
“DASHIE!” screamed Fluttershy in horror as Rainbow Dash fell down to the earth below and out of sight. There was no way to know if she was alive or dead.
Dark clouds loomed in from the north and south over the respective mountain ranges forming the Saddle Valley, a distant rumble of thunder presaging the oncoming storm. Forks of lightning reached out from the encroaching clouds as they came together, and when they touched the whole of the Saddle Valley was blocked off from both starlight and moonlight, hurricane winds whipping from the east and west as lightning bolts reached down to the treetops of Everfree, the crumbling minarets of the Palace of the Two Alicorn Queens, the thatched roofs of Ponyville.
NightMare Moon’s alicorn lit up with purple lightning, and a storm of lightning bolts rained down from the storm-clouds onto the spherical shield of Harmony magic around Twilight and her friends. Hairline fissures formed along the spots where the bolts struck, and Twilight could feel the static in the air as the shield eroded under the constant barrage.
This unprecedented magical control over the weather was far beyond the scope of any Pegasus that Twilight had ever read about. Not even General Firefly had such fine ability to manipulate the direction and focus of lightning. No Pegasi had true control over lightning, only being able to guide bolts in a general direction. The only pony whom Twilight had ever read of making use of such fine magical control was Queen Celestia herself.
Is the Queen of the Night as powerful as Queen Celestia? Twilight wondered. What other powers does she have that this Miasma is perverting to her destructive ends? And… what powers does NightMare Moon have that the Night Queen didn’t…?
“Twilight, the shield won’t hold much longer…!” cried Rarity in fear, her Element of Generosity flaring purple and the shield’s cracks momentarily sealing up in purple light.
NightMare Moon’s eyes flashed, and the lightning assault renewed twofold. The purple seals on the shield dissolved, and the remains of the shield broke apart and dissolved into pink shards of light and dust, the winds taking Twilight and her friends and scattering them with shrieks of sheer horror.
Twilight’s alicorn flared, and a bright-pink shield appeared around herself, along with separate ones around each of the four ponies with her. As her horn’s dwimmer shimmer faded, the shields each took up the color of each of the Bearers’ Elements.
Applejack took a deep breath, her apple-red orb drifting back towards Twilight as she smiled gratefully, “Nice save there, sugarcube. Ah reckon we cin take NightMare Moon like this.”
“Five small targets are harder to hit than one big one~!” squealed Pinkie Pie as her blue orb bounced about like a rubber ball.
“But what about Rainbow Dash?” whimpered Fluttershy, reaching down to the bottom of her green orb as her eyes desperately searched the ground dozens of grosses of hooves below.
“Calm down, darling,” Rarity said to the yellow Pegasus, her own trepidation apparent even with the semi-opaque sheen of her purple orb. “I am quite certain that Rainbow Dash has recovered from lower falls than this. She is fine… I think.”
The band was paralyzed. They knew Rainbow Dash to be relatively skilled at recovering from bad tumbles and wind gusts, but they would not have been good friends if they did not worry. If that fall had indeed been the end of Rainbow Dash’s, then they were short one Element of Harmony, and so unable to make use of the six dwimmer-crafts to dispel NightMare Moon.
A monstrous grin on her face, NightMare Moon wheeled back to the peak of Endymion’s highest tower, hovering above the gleaming crescent floating between the two spires of the Tower of Everlasting Night, a torrent of black clouds swirling down to meet her as her alicorn glowed like the North Star.
“Through darkness and cold you have endured,” NightMare Moon recited ominously, her voice echoing from the North Equinus Mountains to the South, “your absolute defeat shall be ensured! Born now from the sky, a grove of thorns; your final passing shan’t be mourned!”
The twister of black clouds sent a web of chaining lightning down around Endymion, striking mountainside and cliffside and building and street alike. From each spot where lightning struck, steely cold vines prickling with slender shining thorns erupted and coiled about one another, interlocking like chain-links about the walls of the darkened capital and the towers, battlements and minarets, choking the thoroughfares and sealing the Moongate. Streets and alleyways found themselves cut off from the sky, and NightMare Moon laughed maniacally as the vines enclosed her on her balcony.
What do we do? Twilight thought, eyes wide with terror.
Though Twilight Sparkle and her friends had no way of knowing, Rainbow Dash had most certainly survived the fall quite handily. Had one of the Element Bearers come to an end, the remaining Elements would have been rendered inert and powerless, and the five would have found themselves becoming very rapidly reacquainted with the charred remains of an udoroot.
The cerulean Pegasus tumbled for several seconds in free-fall, the world around her a whirling rush of wind and darkness. She was in danger of her blood rushing away from her head and into her hooves as gravity pulled her to the earth. The world grayed out in front of her as the rest began to turn black.
But when a beam of sunlight flashed past her face, she came back to herself and spread her wings as widely as she could, reorienting herself so that she could catch the wind under her wings and slow her descent. Angling up, she redirected her downward velocity into an accelerated glide, flapping her wings to give herself a little more lift as the world returned around her.
She looked down. She was over Sweet Apple Acres.
She looked around.
She was caught right in the middle of the confrontation between the Wonderbolts and the Shadowbolts.
Rainbow Dash gulped.
The Wonderbolts were clearly holding nothing back. Standing out amongst the lot, Spitfire blasted bolts of fire and sunlight from her wings, her mane and tail now veritably blazing; Soarin generated tremendous gusts of wind to send his Shadowbolt opponents off-balance; Fleetfoot literally became one with the wind and swept up her foes in the twisters and cyclones that she became; Silver Lining left a wake of twisters and tornadoes behind as he darted about; and Surprise produced uncannily large balloons that burst like bombs before her foes.
But the Shadowbolts were themselves giving no quarter. Particularly, Nightingale summoned a swarm of her namesake bird comprised of darkness and miasma; Descent set about creating forceful downdrafts in his attempts to send Wonderbolts plummeting to their deaths; Wind Shear set winds at severe angles to try and break wings and limbs of his Wonderbolt enemies; and Perigee the Bat Pony generated dwimmer-flashes of moonlight from her wings to blind and harm.
Rainbow Dash had never seen the Wonderbolts in action like this before. Many of the moves that they were pulling here were ones she had seen at shows or had read about in her Wonderbolts fanmags, but she had not quite dreamt that they could be so awesome in combat. Golden Eagle’s Firefly Flash was a wonder to behold, but now that Rainbow thought on it, it would most likely also function as a devastating military tactic.
Maybe it would really be worth it to take a peek at a book on the Wonderbolts’ extended military history at some point…
Shaking herself out of her stupor, Rainbow Dash noticed that two Shadowbolts who had thus far managed to disorient Fire Streak and Lightning Streak were beginning to make a move against Spitfire who was preoccupied in combat with three other Shadowbolts. She would not notice the miasmic attack of the Shadowbolt twins in time to evade them.
Rainbow Dash narrowed her cerise eyes.
It was time to break out the Buckaneer Blaze!
Sending a flare of golden fire at Goldwing, sending the Bat Pony stallion flying into Silver Ghost and Apogee, Spitfire felt a flare of heat from behind her. It didn’t feel like the magic of any Wonderbolt she knew. Whirling around along with every Wonderbolt and Shadowbolt to face the source, the flaming Pegasus thanked herself for not removing her flight goggles, which automagically blocked the blinding prismatic light radiating from something. It was magnificent, almost as bright as the Sun itself, and Spitfire had to fight to keep her jaw from dropping at the sight.
When the blazing light cleared, the Shadowbolt twins Witchhazel and Witch Elm were holding forelegs over their melted flight goggles as they moaned in pain, and hovering steadily between them, wearing an intricate golden necklace marked in the middle by a citrine lightning-bolt, was the Ponyville bronco.
But there was something… different about her. The arrogant air about her had changed. She still carried an aura of uncommon self-assurance, but there was a purpose about her that was lacking before.
She saluted sharply.
“Rainbow Dash, Pegasus guardian of Ponyville, reporting for duty, Captain!”
Spitfire goggled slightly, the action around her passing out of her mind. The bronco was one of the Bearers, that much had been clear for weeks, but she wore it far better than Spitfire had previously given her credit for. Brash she still was, granted, but her recklessness was tempered by resolve. And if her Buckaneer Blaze was capable of such raw power in an untrained Pegasus, it could certainly be much more useful if its wielder was given aim and focus to make the full use of her ability.
“We’ve got to stop meeting like this, rookie,” she said as she reached out a hoof to shake Rainbow Dash’s…
Nightingale swooped down like a shadow between Spitfire and Rainbow Dash, practically pushing her muzzle into Rainbow Dash’s face. The victims of Rainbow’s Buckaneer Blaze slipped past the trio of Pegasi, Nightingale’s eyes trailing from Witchhazel to Witch Elm. The latter had a foreleg on the former, her lowered forelegs revealing irises and pupils bleached white on eyes that gazed in an unfocused fashion. Nightingale hissed in fury, pressing her nose against Rainbow Dash’s.
“Your raw power just blinded one of my ‘Bolts, Dash,” she snarled, white teeth shining in the dark. “I’m one suit short now, and you’re a wild card. I have seen your resistance to being tied to one single path, the path of Harmony. I will be willing to overlook the fact that Witch Elm will never see again, if you take up her mantle as a Shadowbolt. We are the premiere flyers in all of Harmonia, unimpeded by the dark. You… you will find your calling here on the side of the Moon Monarchy.” Nightingale’s eyes flashed behind her flight goggles. “Do not side with these who blind with their light. It’s them, or us.”
Rainbow Dash scowled.
“Wanna know the truth?” she said hotly. “You guys can eat my dust.”
The citrine gemstone in Rainbow Dash’s Element of Honesty flared in Nightingale’s face, the Shadowbolt Captain recoiling in shock and rage. Very soon, the battle began anew, Witch Elm nursing her bleached eyes aside from the battle that was now dozen-to-nine.
Spitfire grinned at the thought of that Buckaneer Blaze being implemented as part of the Wonderbolts regiment. This Rainbow Dash could indeed be useful for the EUP…
The bright flash from down over Sweet Apple Acres drew all five pairs of eyes from the newly thorny Endymion. It almost hurt to look at, so it must have been terribly blinding so many grosses of hooves below. To the bulk of the band, it was a baffling sight. But Fluttershy…
Fluttershy screamed in delight, “It’s the Buckaneer Blaze! Rainbow Dash is alive! She’s alive!”
“It is?” Twilight replied hopefully. “What’s going on down there?”
“Y’all don’ reckon she’s mixin’ it up with them Wonderbolts an’ Shadowbolts, do ya?” Applejack pondered.
Pinkie giggled, “Are those meanie flyers gonna be in trouble, then!”
“But… Canterlot is encompassed by those dreadful thorny vines!” Rarity gestured back towards the mountainside capital, enveloped as it was in a thicket of thorns so thick that it was impossible to enter. “We may very well need all six Elements to dispel them, and with Rainbow Dash so preoccupied…”
“Hold on,” Applejack interjected, a focused look on her face. “Lemme try sumthin’.”
The Element of Loyalty burned bright red, and a small kernel of red light appeared in the center of Applejack’s pupils as well. An apple-red dwimmer-beam lanced out from the gemstone in Applejack’s necklace, meeting the nearest clutch of tangled vines across the outermost wall of Endymion. The vines writhed and withdrew in agony from the light.
Applejack beamed. “It’s workin’!”
But the moment that she let up on the dwimmer-beam, the vines immediately returned to their previous position, the thorns gleaming like swords and spears in the intermittent flashes of lightning.
Fluttershy brought her hoof from her mouth. “Maybe more than one Element needs to be used for these to…? No, it’s stupid. Please just ignore my suggestion.”
“No, I think you might be onto something, Fluttershy,” Twilight said. “Remember the Sonic Rainboom? Rainbow Dash couldn’t do it for herself no matter how hard she tried, but the moment she does it to help a friend, it comes so easily for her. The solution has to be, we get in close and take it in pairs, then threes, to see which is most effective for our five Elements.”
“Ooh~! The scientific method! I like it!” Pinkie Pie squealed, flipping about upside-down in midair. “Almost as much as I like being able to hang upside-down! I’ve never been upside-down floating in midair this long before; my previous best was three-dozen-and-one seconds~!”
“So, Applejack, you’re with me.”
“Rarity, you work with Fluttershy and Pinkie.”
Pinkie beamed broadly at the fashionista, who returned only a very slight and rather nervous smile. The band of five floated off into their two different groups, three and two, less than a gross meters now from the transformed Canterlot. With the band so split up, Twilight indicated two separate points on the mangled mess of thorns covering Endymion.
“Okay, everypony. We focus our efforts on our own sides of Endymion, and we see which one’s most effective.”
“Pardon me, Twilight,” Rarity asked, feeling the lozenge-cut diamond in her Element of Generosity. “Are you certain that it is… prudent to be satisfying your inner scientist at the moment? I mean, with the situation being what it is?”
“The situation being what it is, Rarity,” Twilight replied, “I think that there is nothing more prudent than seeing the power that these Elements have when used in certain combinations. Each Element is powerful alone, granted, but when paired up… well, what are we waiting for?”
With an assured grin, Twilight channeled her magic through the Crown on her head, light like a pink sun emanating from the star-shaped gem, while the apple-shaped ruby on Applejack’s necklace similarly lit up with her channeled Earth Pony magic. Twin dwimmer-beams, pink and red, spiralled around each other as they blasted towards the thorny vines choking Canterlot. The rosy lights broke upon the overgrown fortifications, a faint screech filling the air as the vines not only receded but eroded, slowly and surely crumbling and falling down to the Saddle Valley below.
Twilight Sparkle and Applejack reined in the dwimmer-beams from their respective Elements, while Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie and Rarity loosed beams of purple, blue and green dwimmer-energy from their own Elements of Harmony. Observing the thorny vines that the trio’s Elements struck, Twilight could not discern any ready difference in the way that the forest of thorns degenerated upon contact with Harmony magic.
Twilight nodded, “Alright. So we know that two or three together have comparable effects on the vines. So, when Rainbow Dash rejoins us…”
“We cin split into three groups an’ cover more space on th’ capital!” Applejack finished.
Twilight smiled, “My thoughts exactly, Applejack.”
Cracks of thunder and the report of popping balloons grew closer, flashes of golden fire radiating out from where Rainbow Dash had fallen. The eyes of Twilight’s band drifted down, and the conflict between wonders and shadows had begun to drift further upwards towards their location. Despite the fact that the Wonderbolts had a clear four-to-three advantage over the Shadowbolts, the dark flying team made up for their numerical disadvantage with a severe bloodlust and animalistic fervor. Noises dreadfully unlike those of ponies came from the Pegasi and Bat Ponies of the Shadowbolts; were they attempting to strike fear into the Wonderbolts (and Rainbow Dash), or was theirs a mere façade of equinity that was becoming much more evident as their master NightMare Moon came to ever greater peril?
“You get ‘em, Dashie!” shouted Pinkie Pie, waving a large banner reading Rainbow Dash is best Wonderbolt in the air, depicting a hastily scrawled picture of Rainbow Dash.
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Where in Equestria did that come from, Pinkie?”
“Oh, this?” Pinkie replied casually. “I made this to celebrate Dashie becoming a Wonderbolt~!”
“That’s not what I − no, nevermind. We’ve got to help her!”
A Bat Pony Shadowbolt who was sent flying by a roundhouse gust from Soarin caught sight of Twilight’s band, his eyes roving quickly behind his goggles to the nearing capital, and he called out to his captain in a high screeching voice, “We are being driven towards Endymion, Captain!”
Nightingale bared her teeth, “Well spotted, Spotter.” She raised her voice, “All Shadowbolts, converge on the capital! Do not let these insurrectionists near to the Queen!”
And the Shadowbolts extricated themselves from their respective duels with each Wonderbolt − Nightingale from Spitfire and Rainbow Dash, Descent from Wave Chill, Wind Shear from Fleetfoot and Blaze, Witchhazel from Fire Streak and Lightning Streak, Apogee from Silver Lining, Perigee from High Winds, Goldwing from Surprise, and Silver Ghost from Rapidfire − blasting off in nine miasmic contrails towards the capital city.
“Rainbow Dash!” cried Fluttershy, tears of joy streaming down her face as she darted forward and embraced the cerulean Pegasus in midair, Rainbow Dash phasing through Fluttershy’s green bubble unharmed. Gold and green energies swirled around them from their Elements of Harmony, the shimmering bubble around the pair assuming a tie-dye pattern of their Elements’ two gemstones. Rainbow Dash beamed into her fiancée’s eyes.
“I’m here, Flutters,” she said softly. “You really think I would ever leave you without saying Goodbye first?”
Spitfire and her team of Wonderbolts responded to Rainbow’s reunion with her band with rather kindly and soft smiles for such a hardened band of flyers.
Twilight floated forward in her pink bubble towards Spitfire.
“Captain Spitfire, I don’t know if we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Twilight Sparkle, protégée of Queen Celestia and Bearer of the Element of Magic.” She looked up at the tiara set upon the poll of her head, resting against the back of her alicorn.
“I’ve read the dossier on you, Miss Twilight,” Spitfire replied with a bold and blazing smile. “It looks like you’re set to accomplish the Queen’s task that she set to you. And not a day too soon; I take it you’ve heard the reports of ponies succumbing to hypothermia.”
“We have,” replied the lavender Unicorn. “It’s high time that the sun shone down on Equestria once more. But… doesn’t Equestria need your sun-bolt magic until then?”
Fleetfoot lowered her flight goggles, her pink eyes meeting Twilight’s.
“We’ve covered a lot of ground since we received intel that you six were converging on the former Canterlot. We knew that the Nightmare Forces would ignore any of our little light-shows in favor of buffing the security immediately surrounding their Queen. There are many areas now that are already seeing the snow and ice melt away. Plus, our… special sun-fire spell is making the rounds to cover the areas that we haven’t.”
“‘Sun-fire spell’?” Applejack echoed. “Is that that big magic fire-thing that attacked NightMare Moon way back when?”
“The one and the same,” answered Spitfire. “It’s powerful magic, not too unlike the Concord Flame itself. It’s worked wonders that you can’t imagine to fight back the darkness while you’ve been doing what you need to do.”
“The Concord Flame…?” queried Rarity. “What in the world is that…?”
“I… don’t really know,” Twilight said with a puzzled expression.
To most ponies, admitting to ignorance of a certain subject was not a matter of tremendous significance. To not know of the finer details of acuomercology or how Star Swirl the Bearded drafted the amniomorphic spell was something that most ponies would be surprised to find that others were knowledgeable of.
But for Twilight Sparkle to not know something about something…
“Wait a second,” piped in Pinkie Pie, her blue bubble bouncing about erratically. “Twilight doesn’t know something about something? It’s… it’s like me not knowing something about parties! Or Rarity not knowing something about dresses! Or Rainbow Dash not knowing something about Daring Do! Or Applejack not knowing something about apples! Or―”
“Thank you, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight snapped. As much of a laugh as Pinkie could be, there were times when her brand of humor bordered on tedious. “But yes, I don’t know much about the Concord Flame. It was… some sort of magic-spirit that roamed the world grossenturies ago, disappearing just before the rise of NightMare Moon. I’ve read theories from leading thaumaturgists, that it was probably something like the Fire of Friendship that saved the Founding Mares of Equestria from the Last Ice Age, and…”
Twilight’s eyes widened in realization.
“Wow. Friendship really did save those mares that day. That spark of friendship that they shared − Smart Cookie, Clover the Clever, Prancing Pansy − it ignited that fire that sloughed off the encroaching winter of the Windigoes, and brought the three pony tribes together as one.”
“Friendship truly is magic. It’s been right there under my nose all this time, and I just brushed it off.”
“Well, better late than never, Miss Twilight,” said Spitfire, “but for now, a capital waits to be retaken!”
The fiery Pegasus pointed a hoof at the thorny Endymion, her broad wings flapping slightly harder, the primaries trailing small streaks of flame as they flapped down.
“Wait a second, Spitfire − err, Captain Spitfire,” Rainbow Dash interjected. “What happened to that tenth Shadowbolt? I didn’t see her fly off to Canterlot with those guys!”
Spitfire did a double-take, feathered ears twitching.
“You’re right; the one that you blinded. You have a good eye, Rainbow Dash. Soarin! Check to see that she didn’t get far. She shouldn’t have, but you never know.”
Soarin gave a salute before performing a flip with a flap and diving towards the airspace over Sweet Apple Acres.
“So, this sun-fire spell is maintaining light and heat about Equestria right now?” Twilight asked Spitfire. “It must have some degree of sentience if it can do something like that. It sounds like really impressive magic.”
“Well… It really is. It’s based off of spells that General Firefly herself devised. She’s… something of an idol to me. But… that would make sense for the Captain of the Wonderbolts, wouldn’t it? She’s… she was just such an unstoppable mare. The world could use more mares like her.”
Soarin flew back up to Spitfire’s side, confusion in his brilliant emerald-green eyes.
“I don’t get it, boss,” he said in a bemused tone. “She’s just disappeared. I looked around, but there’s nowhere she coulda gone.”
“What about with echolocation?”
The wingpony shrugged.
“I don’t think so. Nothing was close enough, I don’t think, for any sort of Bat Pony echolocation to work.”
Spitfire rubbed her chin.
“That is a puzzler. But one blind Bat Pony is not worth worrying about. What we need to do right now is lay siege to Endymion and destabilize NightMare Moon’s control of the capital, giving you your opportunity to strike!”
Twilight gave the Wonderbolts Captain a salute, as did her five friends.
The five other Bearers converged on Twilight, their dwimmer-orbs coalescing and forming a far grander tie-dye orb swirling with the colors of all six Elements of Harmony.
“Okay, girls!” Twilight grinned. “In pairs, we’ll blast away those thorns choking Canterlot!”
She received five exclamations of assent, the six of them turning their Elements upon the clusters of clutching vines; Twilight with Applejack, Pinkie with Rarity, and Rainbow with Fluttershy. Swirling dwimmer-beams of pink and red, blue and purple, and yellow and green blasted out to three different corners of the massive capital. Vines writhed and screamed in the cold night air, crumbling off of the battlements and shrinking away from the Harmony magic, many falling into the Saddle Valley below. From the capital came the slow bubbling up of cheers as many of its cloistered inhabitants hailed the coming heroes who would free them and their assets from the tyranny of the night.
Twilight would have pawed at the ground in challenge of NightMare Moon, but there was no ground to paw at, so she merely lowered her head and pointed her alicorn at the pair of high towers at the back of Endymion.
“Alright, girls. Let’s go!”
The six Bearers of the Elements bolted forward through the air, the eleven Wonderbolts backing them up with beams of sunlight trailing behind them all. The flying team broke off as they crossed the threshold into Endymion airspace, darting over the thoroughfares of the Equestrian capital and spreading the light of day with their sun-bolt contrails. In the streets below, numerous ponies, Zebras, Giraffes, Deer, Centaurs and Minotaurs looked to the sky in wonder at the rainbow streak of magical light, filling them with a peaceful balm, augmented by the sun-bolts that radiated the light and warmth of days that they had long since given up on ever seeing again. The populace rose up in a ruckus, calling out the coming of the Queen and the rising of the Sun. Nightmare Guards too strong-willed to be mind-controlled by NightMare Moon threw down their armor and joined the throng.
Hearing the cheers of the Canterlotians below bolstered Twilight and her friends, her fellow Bearers. It drove them more quickly towards the tower which NightMare Moon called her final bastion. The former Towers of the Sun and Moon had stood side-by-side at the back of the mountainside capital for as long as Twilight could remember, but the Tower of the Moon had always been sealed off from public access. The doors and windows had been enchanted to become parts of the walls, apparently done so near to the time when NightMare Moon was banished one megagross years ago. The two Alicorn Queens were evidently the only ones who could undo the enchantments, as the Tower of the Moon was open once more (though not publicly) as a part of the Tower of Everlasting Night, the gleaming crescent-shaped stone hovering between the two spires joined by black metal.
This was it!
The end of all this pain and misery!
Twilight and her friends descended onto the balcony of the former Tower of the Moon, the first ponies to do so in grossenturies apart from Queen Celestia herself, the dwimmer-orb surrounding them fading away as they slowly trotted towards the darkened chamber within.
Twilight turned to her friends.
“This is it. We end this once and for all.”
The five nodded wordlessly, and Twilight turned back to the Tower interior…
And found herself meeting eyes with twin crimson gleams.
Twilight Sparkle blinked her eyes; she was staring at her bedroom ceiling. For some reason, she felt as if she had not seen it in ages, which was strange, as she had never left Canterlot in all her life.
Wasn’t it Endymion?
She shook her head. It wasn’t important.
All that was important was picking up her latest book assignment from the Queen. It just would not do to be late.
Trotting past the basket from which Spike’s snores emanated, Twilight lit up her alicorn, her pink dwimmer shimmer taking hold of the doorknob and twisting it. The door swung open, and Twilight trotted through…
Into Queen Celestia’s audience chamber.
Twilight found herself blinking in astonishment once more; since when did her bedroom open directly into the Queen’s throne room, through the main doors no less? Surely some plutocrat or another would have complained that the main entryway into the audience chamber was interrupted by the bedchamber of the Queen’s personal student.
For some reason, this did not bother Twilight too terribly.
And deep inside, this lack of botherment bothered her.
Trotting forward across shattered pieces of colored glass, Twilight marveled at how much more easily daylight entered the chamber with the stained-glass depictions of Queen Celestia’s triumphs lying smashed upon the floor. The sky outside shown a bright blinding white, and it was good.
Approaching the throne, Twilight found herself filled with joy at the sight of a shining white Alicorn. Before she could do much more than gasp in glee, a torrent of dark, red fire erupted around the Queen of the Day, the dreadful cries of the legions of Tartarus echoing out and bouncing about the grand chamber. Twilight bolted forward in alarm, desperately trying to reach the Queen before it was too late, but the flames had completely enshrouded the Alicorn now, waves of heat pushing the lavender Unicorn back. When the flames passed and the heat dissipated, Twilight was mortified to see that but a singed golden crown was all that remained.
The blinding light outside faded, and almost immediately the room was filled with a deep chill. The crown faded from gold to silver, tarnished and worn. Twilight fell to her haunches, defeat setting in.
She knew now what this meant.
“Why so melancholy?”
NightMare Moon appeared at Twilight’s shoulder, a snake’s tongue flicking between her fangs as her serpentine tail weaved behind her. The dread Alicorn continued acidly, “Ah, but it’s all too apparent. This is your personal nightmare. You fear that you have failed your Queen of Blinding Light, that you have not acted fast enough on her behalf, that you will not be able to recover from this grave error. And you know what, Twilight Sparkle?
“You are right. You have failed your Queen; you did not act fast enough, and you will never be able to recover from this. This is your greatest nightmare, because you know it to be true.
“It was never worth it to fight me, you know. I am immortal, as old as the mountain on which Endymion stands. I have seen the first acorn planted of the Everfree, before it choked away the settlements around our first Palace. I witnessed the split of the Crystal Mountains that divided Equestria in twain, leading to the birth of the Sea of Eris and the Crystal Empire. I have watched you and your kind for a dozen-gross years, never sleeping, ever scheming, awaiting the time I would escape, so that I may take you little ponies and your world. I need not have fought you, but merely stalled you; a dozen-megagross more generations can pass for me before I begin to show even the faintest signs of age.”
Twilight tried to look away from NightMare Moon, but the dark Alicorn’s miasmic mane took Twilight’s chin and brought it to level with NightMare Moon’s.
“Your family had become nothing, Twilight Sparkle, so you threw your whole self into satisfying that conniving Celestia. She, who fancied herself a mother to all her little ponies… but is not the darkness the mother of light, Twilight Sparkle? In the night, all stars are enveloped by the dark night, from nebulous cradle to nebulous grave. Light, born in darkness, to die and once more become darkness. The light is fleeting; darkness is eternal.”
The Headless Horse slunk out of the shadows behind the throne, standing beside NightMare Moon and lowering her neck-stump so that the full circle of her black smoke was pointed at Twilight.
NightMare Moon continued,
“Your struggle was fruitless, but you persisted in the faint and fading hope that you would succeed and please your Queen. I may not have been able to snuff your spark of rebellion in the cradle, but it has proven futile for you all the same. You will never see your traveling companions again, or your Queen, or your Sun!”
The words left Twilight’s muzzle more surely than any words she had ever uttered in her life. NightMare Moon recoiled, as did the Headless Horse; this was not the reaction they had anticipated from Twilight Sparkle. Far from crestfallen and devastated, the lavender Unicorn appeared fierce, furious and driven. She stood with her legs spread wide and her torso low, a single hoof pawing at the ground.
“You’re wrong,” Twilight repeated, with mounting conviction. “I didn’t fail Queen Celestia. She sent me to Ponyville to make friends, didn’t she? Well, I have made friends, five wonderful ponies who I would love to know for the rest of my life.”
“‘Friends’?” sneered NightMare Moon. “You were not so interested in becoming friends until your high and eminent Queen ordered you to do so! Are you certain that you have not been subject to a geis to always please Celestia Apolinaria di Equestria?”
“I can assure you, NightMare Moon,” Twilight replied, “that I am of sound mind. Believe me or not, I did not want to go to Ponyville, and I didn’t want to make friends, even if the Queen wanted me to. I wanted to find a more scientific, clinical way to ensure your continued sealing within the Moon, or your eradication.
“But… as I got to spend more time with these ponies, I came to realize that I had been too quick to judge the idea of making friends. I had dismissed it before, foalishly, because I could not quantify it by reading about it in a book. I thought that it was just a made-up word for ponies who want something off of somepony else. Looking back…” Twilight gave a sad smile. “I knew nothing about friendship, and though I know more now than I could have previously imagined, I know I have much more to learn.”
The Headless Horse reared in agitation, and NightMare Moon’s nostrils flared in frustration, “What do you know of friendship, Twilight Sparkle? You, who lived all your life in an ivory tower, rejecting every opportunity to meet somepony outside of the covers of a book? You, who so resented your assignment to Ponyville at the outset? You, who fails even now to fully comprehend the power of the Elements of Harmony that I had a hoof in creating?”
“Wrong again, NightMare. You had no hoof in making the Elements,” Twilight smirked. “I know all about you, Miasma, and the hold you have on the true Queen of the Night. She might have helped to create the Elements of Harmony, but you didn’t.”
NightMare bared her lupine teeth in fury.
“And what’s more, let me tell you how you have failed, Miasma. The Elements of Harmony, all six of them, have been reactivated. I finally understand what Queen Celestia meant by a spark.” Twilight remembered the end of Philomena’s note from Celestia: Remember, it only takes a ſingle spark to ſtart a fire.
The miasmic Alicorn flared her wings, “You’ve tried a spark on the Elements before, and it did not work!”
“Not a literal spark, electrical or thaumaturgical. You’ve never heard the tale of the Hearth’s Warming, have you, Miasma, or was that not of importance in the Queen of the Night’s memories?” Twilight studied the NightMare’s face. “I thought not. Well, as we all know, the three pony races did not always live in harmony. But about two-gross years before the Age of Discord, the three leaders of the three pony tribes − Chancellor Puddinghead of the Earth Ponies, Princess Platinum of the Unicorns, and Commander Hurricane of the Pegasi − each laid claim to a great expanse of land. However, each refused to accept the claims of the other two. The three leaders, along with their aides − Puddinghead’s Smart Cookie, Platinum’s Clover the Clever, and Hurricane’s Prancing Pansy − came to a summit in the valley at the heart of this territory, but a terrible winter that had been plaguing their homelands followed them. Taking shelter in a cave did not help, and though Smart Cookie, Clover and Pansy huddled together to keep warm, their three leaders refused, and froze to death. The three aides saw past generations of hatred and bigotry, accepting that they were all ponies, and friends. Though the three leaders died from the winter without and within, their aides lit a spark − I can’t believe I never made the connection before − and ignited the Fire of Friendship that banished the winter and the spectres that brought it forth. Smart Cookie, Clover and Pansy then formulated the United Tribes of Equestria, and the rest is history.
“Though the Fire of Friendship was supposedly extinguished during the Age of Discord, I think I know where a fragment of its power remains to this day.” Twilight placed a hoof on her own heart, and she almost felt the feeling of warm metal atop her head once more.
NightMare Moon’s eyes narrowed in contempt.
“So you have come all this way, and you still understand so little. What power does friendship have other than earning the right to a party every now and again? What a fool Celestia has become to think that the Elements could see use again!”
“But you see, NightMare Moon, I know that you are finished. You want to know how I know this?”
The black Alicorn stood up straight, her lips pursed. “Talk all you want, Unicorn. I have more time than you do.”
“Very well. You see, I did not set out to make friends, but to see you undone. But the world that I would have created in simply seeing to your demise would not have been a wholesome world. I would have just returned to my tower of books and been done with it. With the Queen giving me the right push, however… I met five of the best friends a mare could hope to meet. And they awakened something in me that I thought would never be roused again.
“You see, NightMare Moon, the spark was inside me, when I realized, deep down, in my heart of hearts, that these five were my friends. Not because I was ordered to make friends, but because I felt a real connection with each of them. Some came more slowly than others, but… I can’t imagine a better group of friends. It’s so… magical.”
A pulse of pinkish light began to emanate from Twilight’s chest, lighting up in rhythm with her heartbeat. NightMare Moon withdrew sharply; could the light of the Elements harm her even in the dream realm? The Headless Horse withdrew into the shadows and vanished. Emboldened, Twilight drew the Element of Magic out fully, the golden tiara appearing upon her head and a pink dwimmer-shield appearing as a sphere around her. As the sphere intersected with the floor and the throne, they eroded and exposed the black emptiness of the Oneiron, the Plane of Dreams.
Twilight was no oneirologist, but she had read about the Dreamwalkers and the crusades that they made against the beasts which lived in the realm of sleep and feasted upon the fear evoked by nightmares, and she had a rudimentary understanding of the workings of the Oneiron. Ponies were ordinarily constrained to just their own dream realm, though the Dreamwalkers learned the art of oneironautics from the Queen of the Night, so that they could travel from one dream to another.
In the distance, Twilight made out the lights of minds that were dreaming at the moment, but five particular lights stood out to her: red, gold, green, blue and purple.
Twilight had never thought herself to be a terribly brave mare.
But for her friends…
She willed herself into the Oneiron, and the dwimmer-sphere of the Element of Magic carried her forward with the speed of a gross of horses.
Each of her friends was trapped in a nightmare of the Miasma’s devising, to keep them locked in misery and terror; the abomination which possessed the Queen of the Night meant to keep them all in terrorful stasis, wrapped up in their very worst fears until their bodies deteriorated from starvation and dehydration. Drawn in by the light of the Elements of Harmony, Twilight channeled her affection for these five mares into her Element of Magic and reached out in a resonant wave.
…a dilapidated Sweet Apple Acres overrun with the puppet-dead…
…a world that cared not for the escapades of the epic hero Rainbow Dash…
…Carousel Couture ransacked and boarded up, and Sweetie Belle turned into a stuffed mannequin…
…the eyes of all the world staring, judging…
…a miserable world that frowned upon even the tiniest expression of joy…
Her sympathy radiated out to those five, and she could feel the effects of these nightmares begin to diminish upon her friends. They each began to pull out of the powerlessness that the Miasma had placed them in. Feeling the green light, Twilight could sense that Fluttershy was almost paralyzed by her phobia of other ponies, and Rainbow Dash who had already emerged from her own nightmare already reached out in a ray of golden light to bring out Fluttershy’s bravery. Pinkie Pie, who had seemed to be awakening from the nightmare on her own before Twilight had arrived, sent out spiraling rings of baby-blue light that brought a laugh to their lips and bolstered their spirits. Applejack sprang to the sides of each Bearer in turn and gave bold encouragement.
Before long, all six Bearers floated in the Oneiron, shining in the colors of each of their Elements of Harmony. The lights of the other ponies around them shimmered with distress; it was obvious that the eternal night was bearing on all minds, awake or asleep.
It was time to end this.
“We can all wake up, I’m sure,” Twilight explained, “if we channel the power of our Elements into each other. It will take the magic of our friendship, bolstered by the Elements of Harmony, to return to the waking world. Let’s go, my friends!”
The semi-regular crack of thunder from the Wonderbolts and Shadowbolts’ mêlée over and around the Tower of Everlasting Night would not have awoken the six Bearers from their forced slumber for all the din that it brought. But as the Bearers came to, they immediately brought up the dwimmer-shield of their Elements of Harmony. NightMare Moon lunged at them in fury, but the six mares floated up into the air in their prismatic bubble.
“YOU…!” growled NightMare Moon.
“You’re a big old meanie-pants, Queen Meanie!” Pinkie Pie shouted down.
“You give ponies a bad name!” Fluttershy called out at her loudest: room volume.
“Your selfishness is deplorable!” Rarity snapped.
“You’re a liar and a fraud!” shouted Rainbow Dash.
“Ya turned two Queens against each other, ya monster from outta space!” Applejack bellowed.
“The Elements might not have been made by us, Miasma,” Twilight began, “but because our hearts are in harmony, we can use them. For Equestria! For the world! For Crescent Rose!”
The light of each of their six Elements brightened to the level of heliogenesic suns. A pair of rainbows of light erupted from the peak of the bubble surrounding the six levitating mares, entwining around each other as they dwarfed Alicorn’s Peak and dimmed the Moon and stars above.
Tears of triumph ran down Twilight’s face, “Queen Celestia maintained the Nychthemeron by herself for nearly a dozen-gross years, keeping the Sun and the Moon running like clockwork for all that time. You, you just want to keep everything locked in place, never moving or changing. Queen Celestia is the better Alicorn than you by far, Miasma. This is your end, Alptraum Monddämon!”
“NO!” shrieked Nightingale, her and her eight Shadowbolts quickly sloughing off their Wonderbolt adversaries and diving towards the Bearers. With nary a word or order from Spitfire, the eleven Wonderbolts gave quick pursuit.
The twin rainbows merged into one, a single beam of red, gold, green, blue, purple and pink descending upon the miasmic Alicorn standing tall upon her balcony at the top of her black tower. The Miasma parted NightMare Moon’s jaws, practically unhinging them in a roar of defiance, fangs set in black gums glinting in murderous intent. Her alicorn flared a blinding cyan, but it was like a candle next to the Sun when set against the Elements of Harmony; the rainbow of light encircled her and began to pulsate with a brilliant white light.
Twilight’s heart filled with the heady feeling of victory, but her world filled with light, and she knew no more.