By Wanderer D
Spike found the book in question, slid it out of the bookshelf, and trotted up to the table where Starlight Glimmer sat. He placed the tome carefully on the table and slid it towards her. The book was quickly enveloped in a light-blue magical aura and levitated the final distance up to her.
"Thank you, Spike."
"Sure thing, Starlight!" the young dragon responded, taking a seat across from her. "So, I know Twilight said it was okay for you to go over her notes, but why do you want to look at them? I can tell you all you need to know about what's on the other side of the mirror!"
Starlight Glimmer smiled at the drake as she used her magic to open the notebook. She looked around as she thought how to best explain herself. The Castle of Friendship's library was empty save for the pair of them and the object of Starlight Glimmer's current studies: Starswirl's Interdimensional Mirror.
Ever since she had learned of its existence, something had nagged at her. Something about it called to her, but it wasn't a need to cross to the "human" world. No. It was something else, much more personal.
She looked at Spike, wondering if the young dragon would understand.
"You and everypony I've met in the last few months have been incredibly understanding and forgiving, Spike," she said eventually, eyes scanning the pages slowly as she talked. "For all I did, for all the trouble and danger I put you and Twilight through, in the end you both extended a hoof—"
"...and claw," she added with a smile, "in friendship. In the end, I guess nothing happened for all my attempts to change the world for my own benefit, just so I could seclude myself again in a made-up village... how did I put it to Rarity the other night?" She looked up and tapped her chin with her hoof. "An 'Ode to Selfish Desperation', I believe were her words. You've all been wonderful."
"Eh, it's nuthin'," Spike said, trying to hide the pleased smile that the comment generated. "Besides, as bad as it was, nothing came of it, right? We're all okay, aren't we? So there's nothing to worry about."
"No, it isn't nothing," Starlight assured him. "And what you just said is part of the problem... I don't think we're all okay."
Spike's eyes wente wide. "What do you mean?"
Starlight was quiet for a few moments, studying the diagrams and calculations. "It occurred to me while I was modifying another spell recently." She said. "You see Spike, I'm not as gifted in magic as Twilight. I don't know half as much theory, or have her innate knack to create spells on the spot, or even build something like this."
She waved a hoof at the mirror. "But I really do understand the potential in it, like nopony else. Which is a bit ironic, given that I dedicated several years of my life to deny the potential of others."
Spike frowned. "I don't get it. What does that have to do with us not being okay?"
"I'm getting to that," Starlight said, levitating one of the many parchments she had and drawing a horizontal line on it. "This is our timeline. At this point," she made a mark. "I was born, at this Fluttershy, at this Rarity, at this Twilight, etc. This is where we are today," she added another point at the end of the line.
Then she went back and made a circle on top of the line. "This is where you, Twilight and I went back in time from. You see... my skill to see the potential in spells, cutie marks... timelines... also made me realize something." She then drew a line at an angle, starting from the circle. "This is where I changed things and Sombra was at war with Celestia."
She went back to the circle and drew another line from there. "Nightmare Moon."
Another line. "Tirek."
Another line. "Chrysalis."
Another line. "The wasteland." She paused, letting it sink in. "My theory—and the reason why I want to research the mirror—is that those timelines did not fade away just because we returned to ours and I decided not to change the past."
Spike's eyes grew wider. "You mean all those places are still out there?"
"They are potentially still there." Starlight Glimmer nodded. "And they're my responsibility."
Spike was silent for a few moments then, very seriously, he stared at her in the eye and spoke up. "Starlight. Put the diary away. We've all forgiven you."
Starlight looked away. "But I haven't forgiven myself. I feel like I evaded punishment. Even going back to Our Town was something I would have done on my own once I realized the errors of my ways. I never... had to pay for anything I did."
Spike grimaced and shook his head. "All four princesses have forgiven you. All of our friends have too. All the ponies in your village... well, they've started to ever since you went there to help them rebuild their lives. Starlight, you don't have to do this."
"But what about the lives I destroyed in these other worlds?" Starlight asked. "How can I live with myself, knowing that I caused it? That in each world other than this one, my legacy is nothing more than destruction or horror or tyranny?"
"But you've worked so hard and—"
"No, Spike," Starlight interrupted. "I appreciate what you're trying to do, but I must know!" She leaned forward. "All my life I've taken from others because I thought the world took something from me. In hindsight, it's clear that I just didn't bother to attempt to get my first friendship back... and once I realized my mistake and my selfishness, instead of being punished I was immediately forgiven."
"Is that a bad thing?" Spike asked. "Like... can't you be happy that you've gotten your life back and old friends and new friends?"
Starlight chuckled. "I am happy about that, Spike," she said as sincerely as she could. "But I need to know, for my own peace of mind." She looked to the diary and then to the mirror. "And with these notes, and that mirror that Starswirl created, I see the potential to find out and the potential to maybe—just maybe—find some peace."
"But what if looking for that you end up hurt?" Spike asked softly. "Or worse?"
"Then I'll have to face that with as much dignity as I can."
Starlight Glimmer stared at the mirror and double checked her notes. She had eventually found the place in Twilight's design where she could tweak things just right and use the mirror to jump to an alternate timeline. The tricky part had been to find the right focus... unlike the diaries of Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia, there was no tying force between this world and the alternate... except her magic.
"I have to admit," Twilight Sparkle said begrudgingly, "that I am once again impressed. Etching the runic harmonics of the time travel activation spell with a core matrix fed with your magical signature into a diamond is a brilliant way to tie the theumatic resonance of the different timelines together."
Starlight chuckled. "Well, you don't sound impressed."
Twilight close her eyes and took a deep breath. "I am. But I'm not happy about why you're doing this. You do not need to be punished, Starlight."
"Perhaps," Starlight replied trotting over to Twilight and placing a hoof on her shoulder. "But I can't help feel that the only reason that is so is because things turned out okay here."
Twilight sighed and pulled Starlight into a hug, surprising her. "You're my friend, Starlight and a brilliant, amazing pony. I don't want anything to happen to you."
Starlight slowly leaned into the embrace, and hugged her back. "Thank you Twilight, that means a lot to me." She pushed back and looked at the princess in the eye. "But please understand that I have to do this."
Twilight nodded, stepping back. "Don't make me come and get you, Starlight."
Starlight chuckled. "I won't. I have the other diamond with me, and thanks to your genius, I can use that as a miniature mirror if I use the spell. Worst case scenario, I can make a new one, now that I've studied how you made it." She levitated a cloth-bound notebook. "Besides I have all my notes too!"
Twilight rolled her eyes, trying to hide the blush on her cheeks. "Yes. Well, don't try to improve it until you come back, okay?"
"Filly Scout''s honor," Starlight said, holding a hoof upright.
"You were never a Filly Scout," Twilight stated.
"Then there's no need for you to worry about me breaking my oath."
The pair remained quiet for a moment before giggling.
"Stay safe," Twilight said, stepping back to let Starlight have more room. "Come back soon."
Starlight smiled, but didn't reply as she cast her spell.
The mirror flashed.
Starlight Glimmer found herself standing in the middle of a field. She could see that the area was close to Ponyville, as it felt familiar and there were several definitive landmarks she had become well acquainted with.
This was indeed the right world, as Twilight had explained to her her surprise at how things had turned out for the Apples, and she could see the farm, or a much more industrialized version of it a little down the road.
Starlight checked her saddlebags to make sure her diamond, notes and supplies were still inside, then secured them, and started walking towards the structure. She was fairly certain that this Applejack would be more than willing to tell her how to get to the frontlines, if what Twilight had said about 'everypony doing their part' was true.
Still, with every step towards the factory, Starlight felt more and more guilty. She couldn't help but compare what this was here to the happy existence that the Apple's had in the original timeline. There were no crusaders galloping around in some quest or another to aid others in understanding their cutie marks.
There was no Big Mac either. The stallion had probably been drafted to the army. No weather team took care of the clouds and the Everfree Forest had been slowly and methodically cut down to the point where she couldn't even see any sign of the once-mighty forest at all.
This was all her fault. Had this been caused by her tripping Rainbow Dash? The Sonic Rainboom had sparked the very road that had united the Elements of Harmony together... and even if she had thought the race inconsequential, she had, in one stroke denied six fillies their friendships... and doomed the world several times.
Starlight stopped, snapping out of her thoughts and turned around to face one group of soldier ponies trotting up to her. The group stopped a few feet away from her and the apparent leader stepped forth. He was a stallion with a sunshine-yellow coat, a tangerine mane and green, suspicious eyes.
"Yes?" she asked. He reminded her of Sunburst, a little. She recognized him, however. Back home he was a frozen yogurt maker. He came to Ponyville every so often to sell it and talk for hours about how much he loved making it. She had changed his life as well.
"What are you doing here? What is your purpose in visiting Ponyville?" the patrol leader asked, looking down at her.
Starlight took a deep breath. "I'm actually thinking of enlisting, and I live nearby... I came to Ponyville to take the train."
The leader's eyes had softened a bit when she had spoken. "Listen lady, we can use all the help we can get but enlisting is..."
"I know," Starlight said, milking the sympathy. Several years as the leader of Our Town had given her a lot of practice doing that sort of thing and playing with ponies feelings. "But we all need to do what we can, right? And I can't stay behind when others are suffering. I might not look it, but I can fight."
At least part of that statement was true, she thought to herself.
"Well, if that's how you feel about it..." the stallion sighed. "I can guide you to the office to sign up. You might even get on the same train as most of the new recruits if you have everything done quickly."
Starlight nodded and walked with the patrol back towards Ponyville, giving the Sweet Apple Acres factory a last look. She sighed.
She shook her head. "Nothing. I just wish things were different. That the Apples hadn't had to turn their orchard and family business into... that."
The stallion nodded. "It is a shame. I hear that Applejack's little sister enlisted. A bit young but..."
"Apple Bloom?" Starlight gasped. "But-she can't! She's way too young!"
The stallion shrugged. "I'm sure she and the other two kids will get training and stay behind in the capital for a while before they need to go anywhere," he said tiredly. "It's a small relief, I guess. We know they won't be sent to the frontlines, and they'll still get an education even if it's... well, war."
Starlight shook her head. "I can't believe it. I don't even know what to say."
The stallion chuckled. "Don't worry too much," he said at length. "This war is nopony's fault but Sombra's. We weren't ready for him to take over the Crystal Empire or brainwash Princess Cadance and the Captain of the guard into his slaves."
Starlight felt a chill run down her spine and she thanked whatever powers controlled the universe that Twilight Sparkle hadn't learned that little detail.
When she thought about Cadance's last tea party—to which Starlight had been invited, much to her surprise—she could remember how the proud, mother-to-be had regaled her with stories about Twilight's younger years, about the people of the Crystal Empire, their old traditions and the steps they were taking to try and fit into the modern world.
All of that was gone in this world.
Because of her.
"It'll all turn out okay," the stallion said after a few moments. "You'll see."
"I hope so." Starlight sighed.
The stallion seemed a bit at a loss for words, but perked up as they walked into Ponyville proper and came within sight of a podium. "Well, I know what will cheer you up!" He pointed at the stage. "Princess Celestia is on her way back to Canterlot, and she's going to give a speech here. I'm sure she'll say the right thing to help you. She always does."
Starlight's eyes widened. "That's... she's coming here?"
The stallion nodded. "She is already here, but she's busy with preparations, you understand. Still, even after you sign in you'll have plenty of time to watch her speech." He stopped and pointed at a building on the other side of the square, an addition to the City Hall. "The recruitment office is right there. They'll help you fill out the forms and get you set up."
Starlight smiled. "Thank you for your help..."
"Mango Leaf," the patrol leader responded with a smile of his own. "And the pleasure was mine, miss..."
"Starlight Glimmer," Starlight said, shaking his hoof, only now realizing that for all the times she had bought his products, she had never bothered to learn his name. "Take care of yourself, Mango."
"You as well, Starlight," Mango replied. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to patrolling."
Starlight nodded and waved goodbye at the group of ponies, before setting her way towards the stage. She needed to make sure to get a chance to draw Celestia's attention.
Maybe then she could find out how to make amends.
"Bring more chairs!" she heard a female voice say.
"Organize them so that the ponies sitting on the row behind the first can look in between the two ponies in front!" Another one, much more familiar voice added.
Starlight walked towards the group of ponies working on getting things ready, where two unicorn mares—both in business suits, manes tied back and wearing glasses—were overseeing the procedures. The purple-coated mare in the black suit, she immediately recognized as a very professional-looking Twilight Sparkle, while the one with the cream-colored coat, and purple with amarant mane could only be Moon Dancer, if Starlight Glimmer remembered correctly.
Both mares were giving orders left and right to every worker in the area, and it took them a few minutes before they even noticed Starlight waiting for them.
"Yes? Can I help you?" Twilight asked, lowering her glasses slightly. "We're on a very busy schedule here."
"Too busy," Moon Dancer added, looking at Starlight up and down with a raised eyebrow. "How can we help you, ma'am?"
"Um..." Starlight hated to do this, but.. "I guess you girls don't remember me from Celestia's School? I'm Starlight Glimmer, I was your senior by a couple of years... I was on the same class as Sunset Shimmer." Sometimes you had to lie because the truth was too crazy to work.
Both mares relaxed a little.
"Well, I'm sorry, I can't say I remember you," Twilight said thoughtfully, "but I'm always glad to see fellow alumni, even if I was drafted into the military before graduation. How can we help you, Starlight?"
Time for magi-speach. "Well, my focus of study these last few years has been on Starswirls' time travel spells, and I have found a theumic variance that indicates that Equestria as a whole is suffering from a temporal distortion that has shaped and reshaped our world as we know it."
Both mares blinked.
"Wait, how's that possible?" Moon Dancer asked. "Starswirl's known spells are unable to change the past."
"Not to mention the theumatic, ethereal and physical energy requirements to break through the natural atemporal barriers," Twilight added. She then shook her head. "As fascinating as that is, Starlight, why bring that to us?"
Starlight bit her lip. "Because Princess Celestia must hear about it... what if... the only reason Sombra is where he is right now is because of meddling with the timeline?"
The implication didn't go over either mare's heads. They stared at Starlight with something akin to morbid horror.
"Do you have any proof?" Moon Dancer asked at length. "Because this is as far-fetched an idea as I've ever heard."
Starlight sighed. "Yes... I have my notes, and I can cast a spell for you both to see the temporal shift..."
Twilight's eyes narrowed. "The only way you could cast a spell like that on something so specific is if—" she cut off, eyes wide. "What did you do, Starlight?"
Moon Dancer was quick on the uptake too. "But how did you surpass all of the barriers? It's impossible for unicorns to do that. The princess herself would be hard pressed to do so, if she even can."
"I'd rather discuss it with Princess Celestia herself..." Starlight said slowly. "There's much I need to tell her... and something I need to hear from her too." She sighed. "Please, Twilight."
Twilight bit her lip and glanced at Moon Dancer. "Do you think you could finish things here?"
Moon Dancer smirked. "We might be the best team in Equestria, but I think I can handle chair placements and overseeing a crew building a stage on my own. I'll have you know I didn't become Princess Celestia's personal secretary just for my good looks."
Twilight chuckled. "But they did help."
Starlight pretended she was somewhere else while the pair flirted for a few more minutes. Finally, Twilight motioned for her to follow.
They walked into the City Hall, where several officials and guards were busy working on several things, from large stacks of paperwork to long distance communication via magic.
Twilight waded her way through with a surety that she lacked in Starlight's original world, even as a princess. This mare had already found her purpose, unlike Princess Twilight, who had to struggle for a long time to come to fully understand a concept as vague as Friendship.
She was guided to a closed door guarded by four Royal Guards.
"I'll speak to her first," Twilight Sparkle said, glancing at Starlight. "I don't know if she'll speak with you, but I'll plead your case. You should wait here."
Starlight Glimmer nodded, and watched Twilight go into the office. The four guards glanced her way for the briefest of moments, then resumed their vigilance.
Starlight was left to pace outside the door for several minutes until Twilight peeked out. "She'll see you now."
The office was small. Far too small, it seemed, for the pony behind the desk. Princess Celestia's eyes were focused thoughtfully on the map spread out before her.
Although Starlight was not familiar with how troops were displayed on maps, she saw an uncomfortable amount of red almost surrounding the smaller amount of green that was spread near Canterlot.
"Princess, may I present Starlight Glimmer," Twilight Sparkle said, walking up to stand at attention to the right of Celestia.
Her pose was militaristic. She was alert and ready for action, in case Starlight attempted anything, and in that moment, Starlight realized, this was one unicorn she would not beat in battle. She very much doubted this Twilight Sparkle would close her eyes every time she made a shot, or try to use non-lethal force.
Funny how the way you were brought up changed your attitude.
"Ah, yes," Princess Celestia spoke up, snapping Starlight out of her thoughts. "The mare that claims she found out the timeline had been changed." Her eyes studied Starlight carefully. "Tell me, my little pony, how is it that you came to this conclusion?"
Now that she was facing Celestia, Starlight found herself more nervous than before. This was what she had wanted, right? To be judged by those she had wronged. Taking a deep breath and exhaling just like Twilight had taught her, she cleared her throat.
"Y-yes, Princess," Starlight said, fighting to not stammer. "I know this because I am responsible for it."
Celestia smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "And how would you have managed this? It's a feat that even Starswirl himself was unable to perform. I myself could only travel back in time for about half an hour before being brought back here, and nothing I did would change the future."
Time for the truth. "I... used the power of the Tree of Harmony's connection to the Elements of Harmony... where I come from, they had created a... nexus of sorts, where all of their powers coalesced. I modified Starswirl's spell to tie to that, the Element of Magic and myself to create an anchor in time several years ago... and interrupted the flow of events that would allow the Elements of Harmony to be chosen."
Twilight's eyes narrowed. "What are the Elements of Harmony?"
"Something I never thought to hear uttered by another pony besides me," Celestia said slowly. "You claim to know who the Elements chose?"
Starlight nodded. "Um... yes, a pony named Pinkie Pie was Laughter..."
"Pinkie Pie is a soldier in an elite group headed by one of my most trusted commanders," Celestia said. "She's hardly friendly, much less material I would consider for Laughter."
Starlight gulped. "The Element of Honesty is a mare by the name of Applejack. A pegasus named Fluttershy was chosen to bear Kindness, Generosity was given to Rarity Belle, and Loyalty to a pegasus called Rainbow Dash."
Celestia's face was impassive. "Rainbow Dash I can see being selected as Loyalty, she is after all my Special Forces commander. I'm afraid I have never heard of the others. But you're missing one Element, my little pony."
"Magic." Twilight Sparkle put down the clipboard where she had been taking notes. "Is the last pony somepony we can find?"
Starlight chuckled. "Just walk to the nearest mirror, Twilight."
While Twilight's eyes went wide, Celestia nodded thoughtfully. "At least you seem acquainted with the Elements, and other than a certain other pony, I am the only one that knows about the Tree of Harmony. This gives some credence to your story."
Starlight nodded, looking down.
"Why did you disrupt the timeline, Starlight?" Celestia asked.
Taking a deep breath, Starlight brought her eyes up to meet Celestia's. She had had a lot of time to think about that same question. "Because I was selfish," she said. "Because I thought Twilight and her friends had wronged me and destroyed something I built on lies that was doomed to fail anyway; because I was jealous of what they had accomplished; because I thought that friendship ultimately amounted to nothing... because my biggest flaw is my hubris."
"This sounds like more than just a confession," Celestia said after taking in Starlight's words. "If you had the power to change things, and you realized this... why did you still change them?"
"I didn't realize the consequences of what I was doing until Princess Twili—"
"My faithful secretary," Celestia chided. "Please let the mare finish."
"S-sorry princess," Twilight stammered.
Starlight chuckled. "Needless to say things are very different. Twilight made me see the error of my ways, and so we returned to the anchor in time, and let things flow normally. Things went back to how I remembered them. The Elements were found. Your sister was freed..." she trailed off when she saw Celestia cringe. But she gulped and continued. "Discord was reformed..."
"What?" Celestia's eyes were like saucers. "B-but how?"
"Fluttershy," Starlight said. "He had no real friends. No kindness given to him."
Celestia nodded. "Please, continue."
"Tirek, Queen Chrysalis and Sombra were defeated... and I... I was forgiven."
The silence in the room was so thick she felt she could slice it and serve it up in a plate.
"You are not happy with this decision," Celestia said at length.
"I can't!" Starlight forced out through gritted teeth, eyes focusing on the floor and feeling their gazes on her. "I realized I had accidentally created divergent timelines. That I am responsible for Nightmare Moon ruling Equestria, for a barren Wasteland, for Queen Chrysalis taking over the world or Tirek running amok or... Sombra being undefeated."
Unable to hold still, she fell to her knees, almost groveling. "I can't live with myself like this! With all the misery I brought to those worlds! To you!" She could feel tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked up, pleadingly at Celestia and Twilight. "All the happiness I denied ponies I've grown to care about and respect! How can I not be punished?"
"So... you left your world just to come here and be judged?" Twilight asked.
Starlight nodded. "Who else," she whispered, although loud enough for the other two to hear. "Who else deserves to pass judgement than those that I have wronged?"
Celestia tilted her head. "Did you not wrong your world's Twilight Sparkle and her friends?"
"And did they forgive you?"
"What about me?"
Starlight looked away. "You... Luna and Cadance all forgave me. My only duty now is to be another of Princess Twilight's Friendship students."
"She's alive?" Celestia's eyes were wide, even hopeful. "How?"
"The other side of the mirror," Starlight said.
"Of course," Celestia said with a chuckle, "but you can tell me about that later." She took a deep breath and stood up, walking around the table to stand before Starlight, who looked down, unable to meet her gaze. "But for now, you seek punishment for your errors."
"Errors," Celestia repeated. "Through you, this world and others came to be, where the Elements of Harmony were unavailable to fight several enemies. And yet, although my sister remains trapped, and Discord is still entombed in stone, we have prevailed. And we will prevail. Even as you speak of your mistakes, you bring hope to me... for I know now that my sister can be cleansed. That my oldest enemy can become my friend. That my biggest regret remains alive."
Celestia paused to walk over to the window so she could look to the distance, in the direction of the Crystal Empire. "Even as we speak, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie along with the rest of their team are infiltrating the castle, and they will find the Crystal Heart." She looked over her shoulder at Starlight, who was just gazing back in confusion.
"Do I have the right to hate you for what you've done?" Celestia asked, looking back to the distance. "Perhaps. But by the same token, my other self has forgiven you."
"But how can that be fair?" Starlight asked. "How many lives have been lost? How many ponies enslaved?"
"Would you rather have none of us exist?" Celestia asked, sitting down in front of Starlight. "My loyal secretary and bodyguard here has found happiness with an old acquaintance of hers," she said, motioning towards Twilight. "It might not be what was supposed to happen from your perspective, but it did... and it was your influence that made it happen."
"My influence made Sombra conquer the Crystal Empire!"
"No, poor planning on my part allowed that maniac to return to power," Celestia refuted. "When I received the report of the Empire returning, I should have immediately left with Cadance and Shining Armor."
"But I don't want to have this on my conscience!" Starlight spat out. "I don't want to know that the only things I leave behind me are so much destruction and pain!" She looked up at Celestia. "There are other worlds besides this one where things are just as bad if not worse!"
"So you just want to run away?" Celestia asked.
Starlight's eyes went wide. "No! I'm here to confront my crimes, not run away from them!"
"But Starlight..." Celestia carefully raised Starlight's chin with her hoof until she was looking at her eyes. "Coming here to get punished is a way of running away. If you were hanged, it would be over. If you're thrown in prison, you will tell yourself that you deserve it and then ignore what happened in other worlds."
Starlight gulped and looked away, although she didn't wrestle her chin from Celestia's hoof. "Then am I supposed to pretend that none of this happened?"
"No," Celestia said. "No, Starlight, for you see, I do have a punishment for you." She stood up, looming over the kneeling unicorn, who looked down and closed her eyes to receive her punishment.
"Starlight Glimmer, for the crime of meddling with the past and unwittingly creating new timelines, I sentence you to go back to your own world. To know that you have altered the fates of an unknowable number of ponies. To know that places have been cast into shadow due to your selfishness, and to know that it is selfish to think you can atone for this by prison or death. You will live with this knowledge and use it to shape yourself into a truly better pony."
"Why... are you forgiving me?"
"I'm not," Celestia stated. "But I have seen too many ponies die or be enslaved by Sombra to punish a misguided, but well meaning pony the way that she wants to be punished. That is the easy way out. Learn your lesson well, Starlight Glimmer, for until you make peace with what you have done, no prison or punishment will be enough to absolve you.
"You might have caused a big shift in time with your actions—that cannot be denied—but I can't blame you for Luna turning into Nightmare Moon, nor for Discord, nor for not being ready for their return and Tirek's. At least now I have the knowledge of his imminent return, and I will plan for it, instead of relying on Elements that will never come to pass.
"It is hubris to believe that your actions alone are the ultimate blame, Starlight. You were the catalyst for these alterations, but you are not to blame for our individual actions after that. Your lesson is this: you cannot fix all of your mistakes. But you can truly learn from them. Live with what you have done, Starlight Glimmer, and lead others on the path of your understanding. Do you promise this, on your life and your honor?"
Starlight closed her eyes and nodded.
"Then you have accepted your punishment." Celestia said. "And only you can enforce it."
It was a couple of days after Starlight Glimmer had returned home that Celestia found herself tiredly making her way through the gardens to where the statue of Discord waited.
Unlike Starlight's world, Discord hadn't been freed before Sombra's return. Maybe it was because of the Elements of Harmony not being active, but his stone prison remained as solid as ever.
Celestia sat down and took a deep breath.
Just that morning, all the Crystal Ponies had collapsed, and it had taken only a few moments for their helmets to fall apart, freeing them completely from Sombra's power. Of Rainbow Dash, the Pie sisters, Shining Armor, Cadance and the Crystal Empire there was no word yet, but the celebrations had already started.
It was done.
One battle was complete.
And yet more were to follow. Luna was still a Nightmare; Tirek would return; the Changeling Queen was on the loose. How things had changed from Starlight's world with but a single action.
And now she was just tired. She felt like the life had been drained out of her with this long war and she didn't want more enemies. She didn't want things to pile up one after the other.
But she knew better than to hope blindly... even if she would always hope.
And so it was that she forced herself up and walked to stand right in front of Discord's statue.
She could destroy it. She would save herself a lot of trouble and pain and stress that way. But... would she be able to live with herself? And also there were Starlight's words.
If he could be reformed and befriended in one world... it was all in her hooves to give him the chance. After all, trapping him in stone was just another way of putting the problem aside only for it to return in the future. Maybe her other self from that original timeline had come to understand that.
Her horn lit up and rock flew into pieces, one draconequus collapsing only to be gently caught in her magic.
Before he could react, before he could snap his claws or make a smart remark, Celestia was already embracing him and sobbing onto his shoulder.
Discord remained frozen in place, apparently unable to form a coherent thought from this unexpected action. "Celestia! What—"
"Stay," Celestia interrupted with a hoarse whisper. "Stay with me. I'm sorry I left you alone. Please, Discord... let's start all over again."
Discord pulled back and glared at her. "What do you want?"
Celestia brushed the tears away, before she locked gazes with him. "Will you be my friend?"
And even though he sputtered she could see the honest question had hit him like a freight train, and she smiled.
'Yes, Starlight, your legacy here is hope.'