• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 24: Makers and Misunderstandings

Chapter 24:

Makers and Misunderstandings

Rarity had always wanted to go to Prance. The sights, the romance, the festivals, the culture, the food, oh Celestia, the food... not only was it the fashion capitol of the world, but the city was tailor-made for ponies who appreciated the finer things in life. The opportunity to just visit would've been enough for her, but to have her dresses showcased here during Fashion Week? A dream come true! And as if the honor and prestige weren't enough, fashionistas far and wide would be coming to see Rarity's original creations! Finally, she'd be able to share her genius and creativity with the world!

The Eifoal Tower sparkled in the mid-morning sun as Rarity sat alone underneath a large umbrella at a sidewalk cafe. She was meeting a distant family member here, one she hadn't seen in a long while. They were running terribly late, and while she’d hoped to do a little sightseeing before going to the Fashion Show, she was willing to give that up to see her beloved aunt. Why, she couldn't even remember the last time they'd had a chance to chat, though the last few years of family gatherings had been slightly blurry, thanks to Uncle Topaz slipping vodka in the punch.

Rarity adjusted her beret as she searched the one-way street, which was packed wall-to-wall with ponies. The crowds had been positively horrendous the entire time she'd been here, and the ponies couldn’t be described as anything but rude. She’d been met with a cold shoulder the few times she'd asked for directions, and while it may just have been they didn't speak Equestrian, that was no excuse to forego good manners. At least the cafe was empty, though that did strike her as odd. Where was the maitre'd? She'd been thinking about ordering an espresso, as she’d been getting terribly drowsy again. It felt like she'd been waiting for days, and even with a full eight hours of sleep, she was suddenly finding herself... feeling... exhausted...

“Hello, Rarity.”

A familiar voice snapped Rarity out of her stupor. Standing before her was a tall, plain white alicorn with a rose-colored mane and tail. Her cutie mark was a quill dipped in an inkwell, and her eyes were a soft, shining blue. She smiled as she looked down at Rarity, who resisted the urge to squee and clap her hooves. A Lady didn't exhibit such foalish behavior in public, after all.

“It's so lovely to see you again, Auntie!” Rarity rose and joyfully kissed the newcomer on both cheeks. “It feels like an eternity since I last saw you!”

The alicorn smiled as she returned Rarity's affections. “I wouldn't say it's been that long.”

“Whatever kept you?” Rarity looked around again for the maitre'd. “I was about to order an espresso... oh, do try a croissant, they're simply divine with Zapapple Jam!”

The alicorn brushed her mane out of her face. “I had an—well, I suppose you couldn't really call it an argument, but one of your cousins had something to get off her chest, and it gave me pause for thought. I dwelt on it longer than I should have, and I lost track of time.”

“Not a problem,” Rarity said warmly. “I'd set aside as much time as necessary to meet with you.”

The alicorn's eyes twinkled. “How generous of you.”

Rarity hid her blush behind her menu. “So, um... how are things? I can't even remember the last time we sat down to catch up!”

“Well enough, I suppose.” The alicorn hovered over a pot on the table. “You know how easy it is to get involved in details of a project, only to forget what the end result is supposed to be.”

“All too well,” Rarity said with a sagely nod. “I could talk your ear off on how many times I've made too much lace, or even worse, stitched one sleeve longer than the others.”

“I try not to get too focused on the specifics.” The alicorn poured herself a cup of tea. “I love micromanaging, but I never know when to stop. I'm not as bad about it as I used to be, but it's still something I fall prey to every now and then.”

Rarity's eyes unfocused. She suddenly felt drowsy again—wait, no, not drowsy, this was something else. Fatigue? She'd certainly had enough experience with that. Indigestion? No, that wasn't it either. It was an internal problem, a strange numbness seeping out from her chest that made her feel like she was falling...

“It's not easy admitting you're wrong.” The alicorn stared into her cup. “I've spent so long cursing His name, trying to figure out what caused Him to fall so far off the path. I blamed myself. I thought it must've been something accumulating for a long time, and that somehow I’d missed the signs. Now, though, I blame myself for an entirely different reason.”

Rarity realized what the problem was. She looked around the empty cafe. The air was warm, the smell of fresh bread was in the air, the birds were singing, snippets of music floated in from a nearby festival, and the streets were absolutely packed. Everything around Rarity was perfectly normal, save for one tiny, little thing.

She wasn't breathing.

Rarity's skin prickled. “This isn't Prance...”

The alicorn floated over the milk and sugar. “I should certainly hope not. Nopony would get anywhere if the streets were like this.”

Rarity turned back to her. “You're not my aunt.”

“We're all related, dear.” The alicorn soundlessly stirred her tea. “Though it's more accurate to say I'm your great-grandmother.”

Rarity blinked several times. “I'm related to an... alicorn?”

“You, everypony you've known, and ever will know.” The alicorn chuckled. “You think that's a shock? Wait until you find out who your great-grandfather is.”

Rarity felt a chill. “Who are you, really? Am I dead?!”

“Peace,” the alicorn said in a soothing tone. “You're safe for the moment. As for who I am, I've many names: Progenitor of Life, First of the Two, Tamer of Lands, The Sleeping Goddess, Lady of Law, Shepherd of Souls, but to all those who meet me face-to-face, I'm simply known as Harmony. I'm the creator of the Elements, and the reason I've set up this meeting is because I've three important things to tell you before you wake. And no, you're not dead...”

Harmony gestured to the ponies on the street.

“But they are.”

It was like a veil was lifted from Rarity's eyes. She took a closer look at the crowd, and saw a great many of them were in their golden years. Their bodies were whole and unharmed, but each of them had the same blank, deadened look as they slowly marched forward. Rarity looked where they were going, and saw that the line led to the Eifoal Tower, where it came to a sudden, abrupt end.

“Where are we?” Rarity whispered.

“Limbo,” Harmony said. “A narrow plane of existence between Life and Death. All lifeforce is funneled here when severed from its mortal vessel. You fell here when you went into Magical Exhaustion.”

Rarity didn't know what was a greater shock: That she was sitting before a pony claiming to the creator of the Elements, that she was at death's door, or that her dresses really weren't going to be shown in the Prance Fashion Show.

Rarity swallowed hard. “I-If this is Limbo, why does it look like Prance?”

A small smile tugged at Harmony's lips. “Anyone can influence the plane to make it appear in any manner they see fit... so long as they're lucid. That you're able to stay awake with barely any issue is testament to how strong you've become.”

It was all coming back to Rarity in a rush. Mother making good on her ultimatum, the voice, the blinding pain, the sensation of falling. She'd found herself in a boring, featureless void, and thought how much nicer it'd be if she were in Prance instead. The cafe had appeared an instant later, and while she'd always known it wasn't real, she'd just thought it was an incredibly vivid dream... one that she'd no desire to wake from.

“Just let me die.” Rarity stared at Harmony with hollow, defeated eyes. “Mother's going to have me committed, if she hasn't already. I'll never work in fashion again, and even if I could, my body will never be able to keep up with my spirit. I never wanted to settle for hum-drum mediocrity, I wanted to succeed! I wanted to share my gifts and talents with the world! I wanted to have the wealth and authority to help others in need! What point is there in going back when all that awaits me is the sting of failure and the crushing weight of despair?!”

Harmony's eyes were soft as she listened to Rarity's outburst. She sipped her tea, then spoke in a calm, clear voice.

“What is the greatest act of generosity?”

“I—“ Rarity blinked. “What?”

“It's a simple enough question,” Harmony said patiently. “I brought you up to be the paragon of the ideal, after all. Tell me, what do you think it is?”

Rarity gaze wandered as she mulled over the question. She was silent for a long time before scrunching her eyebrows and looking back at Harmony.

“Martyrdom.”

“Why?” Harmony asked.

“Because your life can only be given once, and it can't be taken back.” Rarity looked out at the crowd. “Those who die for their beliefs are remembered for them. Not only because they were wrongfully killed, but because the act itself is a powerful statement. It also teaches future generations what it means to be truly selfless.”

Harmony followed her gaze. “Do you think a martyr knows that the greatest thing they can do with their life is throw it away? Maybe there was a more powerful act they could've performed down the line. Perhaps the effects of their death do more harm than good, or even worse, have the opposite effect of what they'd intended. If you were placed in their position, how would you know it was the greatest act of generosity?”

Rarity shrugged. “Maybe through my Foresight? I never did get the hang of how it was supposed to work, but wasn’t that the point of having it?”

“Not even close.” Harmony leaned in closer to Rarity. “This is the first important thing I've come to tell you: The greatest act of generosity is to never stop giving. Martyring yourself is a powerful thing, but sacrificing yourself in complete and utter totality is exactly what it says on the tin.”

Rarity cocked her head. “How then, does that not make it the greatest act?”

Harmony smiled gently. “Death is absolute. You can’t be generous if you’ve nothing left to give.”

Rarity flattened her ears. “So you're saying in order to be the embodiment of generosity, I need to be alive.”

“Yes.”

“And what if I don't want to be anymore?” Rarity’s voice rose. “If you really are my creator, why did you give me a dysfunctional body? Why could nopony figure out what was wrong with me? Why did you let me go through Tartarus and back trying to deal with it and never give me any kind of relief?! Why did you give me a spirit overflowing with generosity, but suppress it with such a grievous, debilitating limiter?!”

The Element of Generosity awakened. Rarity rose to her hooves and screamed at Harmony with watery eyes, completely filled with silver light.

“WHY DID YOU SET ME UP TO FAIL?!”

Rarity gasped as she heard her own voice, which sounded like flowing water in a stream. Harmony's expression was unreadable, but her eyes flickered down for an instant. She took a deep breath through her nose, and began in a resigned tone.

“In the beginning, I wanted to make it so that nopony ever got hurt. I wanted everypony to get along, to love and tolerate each other in a perfect, unchanging state of tranquility. But He... He said that wasn't right. He said our children should compete against themselves, strive for improvement, and feel an unceasing push towards building a better tomorrow. He wanted them to be able to learn, to struggle, fail, even die, because such adversities would force them to evolve. They'd be able to interact with us, ask us questions, even challenge our authority. Then one day, they'd rise up to travel the stars, leaving the 'cradle' behind and finding new planets to settle on, just as we did.”

Harmony looked up directly into the sun. “His passion convinced me, but it was only after it was done did I see the full implications of his words. The competitive spirit caused our children to fight and bicker amongst themselves. To struggle, fail, and die meant their bodies were temporary, easily injured, and required sustenance to survive. Free will did indeed bring about the chance for philosophical thought, but it also sowed the seeds of corruption, mistrust and hatred. I didn't see it as a dream, but a nightmare, one born of chaos, cruelty and suffering, and worst of all, I'd been tricked into helping create it.”

Harmony hung her head. “I went to Him in a fury, accusing Him of violating my trust and demanding that we start over again. He refused, saying that it was hard to see the results now, but everything would pay off in the long run. I called Him a lying, twisted psychopath that enjoyed watching His children kill each other. He called me a short-sighted, oppressive nag with a God complex. We separated after that, and saw less and less of each other as time went on. Every time we crossed paths we'd fight, and our arguments got more and more heated as our children continued to develop.

“Separating was a stupid thing to do, and we both knew it,” Harmony said. “We're meant to be together, and we fall prey to our inherent natures if we're apart. I become passive and dispassionate, He becomes aggressive and unstable. It was a recipe for disaster, and one day it came to a breaking point. He attacked me, thinking if we came to blows it'd alleviate some of the tension. I didn't fight back, and that just made Him angrier. His attacks got more and more fierce, and I realized that He was going to kill me if I didn't do something. I panicked and fused myself with the planet, thinking it was the safest place I could go.”

Harmony sighed. “I didn't realize I'd trapped myself until it was too late. Even worse though, He had free reign to do whatever he wanted with our children. He tried to make them evolve as fast as He could by instigating wars and chaos, and while that worked for a time, His constant pushing didn't allow civilizations to develop, or populations to increase. I knew I had to stop Him before He destroyed everything, and while I eventually did find a way, it didn't go the way I'd intended. That fateful day was nine thousand years ago, and even to this very day, I'm still trying set things right.”

Harmony met Rarity's eyes. “I've been making the best of a bad situation for a long time now. I know it's hard to see how things fit into a larger plan when everything seems to fail, and you're surrounded with nothing but pain and disarray. Your condition was caused by an abnormal growth in your brain that disrupted your ability to enter deep sleep. When you entered Magical Exhaustion, you suffered a mild stroke that killed those brain cells off. As for why I did that, I needed you to build up a tolerance to Limbo's aura so that I could talk to you. Without the extra stamina, you would've gotten swept along with the crowd, and eventually into oblivion's embrace.”

Rarity's hoof flew over her mouth. Her tears were flowing freely now, and she was doing nothing to stem the flow. She tried, and failed to speak several times before managing to squeak out two words.

“I'm... cured?”

Harmony gave her an apologetic smile. “I'm sorry for what I put you through. I tried to find another way, but it was necessary in order to get you here. The days ahead will require you to have a place you can go to be free of worry and pain, and the only one available to you is here. Now that you've come to Limbo once, your power will allow you to enter and exit at will. This place can be your sanctuary, but in order for that to be, you needed to be able to resist its effects, and be aware of its dangers.”

The words were barely registering with Rarity. Cured. No more pounding headaches and sleepless nights. No more pills, doctors, fights with her mother, endless fatigue, or appalling bags under her eyes. She could be normal. She could succeed. She could fully devote herself to her dressmaking. She could push herself as hard as everyone else, and show the world that—

Wait.

Rarity nervously looked around the cafe. “Why ever would I need to use this place as a sanctuary? And what dangers are you talking about?”

Harmony took another sip of tea. “Look down.”

Rarity did, and promptly shrieked. Protruding out from her chest was a blood-red cord of ghostly energy wrapped snugly around her barrel.

“What is this?!”

Harmony didn't reply. Instead, she opened a wing in a welcoming gesture.

Rarity wasn't in the habit of accepting wing hugs from strangers, but considering who this was, where they were, and what she'd just been told, she was willing to make an exception. She meekly went over to Harmony and leaned against her, who enveloped her in a feathery embrace.

“I'm going to tell you what's happened in your absence,” Harmony said with a gentle squeeze. “It's not going to be easy to hear, but you need to be ready for what awaits you.”

Rarity then learned of how Cetus had been hiding in her font since they'd used the Elements in the Everfree, the successful plot to steal Celestia's body and the birth of Eclipse, the 'death' of her guards, her friends' capture, and their subsequent rescue by Luna's daring gambit. Lastly, she was sternly admonished by Harmony not to take any of the blame onto herself, as all of these events were beyond her control.

“So that's the situation,” Harmony finished. “Your friends are now far beyond Cetus' reach, but they're unable to give you any assistance as a result. Eclipse knows she's unstable because of the Chaos magic, and so wants to use you in her plans to betray Cetus. She's under orders not to harm you, but your family doesn't share such protection. Their lives will be in danger if you resist, as will all of those in Ponyville.”

Despite being given such terrifying news, Rarity felt strangely calm. It puzzled her at first, but then she noticed the soothing aura that was emanating from Harmony's body. It was both warm and cool, like the feeling from inhaling the steam of boiled eucalyptus leaves. The numbness in her chest was gone, and her mind was startlingly clear. She processed the information from a logical standpoint, and as she did, a disturbing thought came to mind.

“You said you've been trying to 'set things right' for a very long time,” Rarity said. “This... all of this, it's all to further along that end, isn't it?”

Harmony stiffened, but her surprise quickly melted into quiet laughter. “Your cousin Luna was right. I really have been underestimating all of you.”

Rarity decided to ignore that Princess Luna had just been referred to as her 'cousin' and kept with her train of thought. “Are you trying to free yourself?”

Harmony looked away. “That's part of it. As I said, both He and I fall prey to our inherent natures the longer we're away from each other. My consciousness was altered when I fused myself with the planet, and so I haven't felt its effects all this time. If I were to be freed, it'd hit me all at once, and I'd be rendered completely inert. A similar thing will happen to Him when He's released, though the results for Him will be decidedly more... violent.”

The realization dawned. “You're trying to free the both of you at the same time so you'll both be returned to normal,” Rarity said.

Harmony nodded. “The restoration will take time, during which I'll need a group of ponies to stop him from destroying me... and everything else.”

“You're preparing us to fight him.” It wasn't a question. Rarity could see the big picture. “You're orchestrating events so that we'll have the power and experience necessary to hold him off until his sanity returns.”

“You're going to need all the help you can get,” Harmony said gravely. “He's as powerful as I, and I won't be able to give you any assistance in the actual battle.”

Rarity gulped. “Who is he?”

“He has many names, as well.” Harmony clicked her teeth. “Bringer of Change, Last of the Two, The Shaper, God of Madness, Lord of Chaos, The Grand Trickster. The one you'll know Him by, though— ”

A flicker of pain flashed across Harmony's face. She quickly shook her head and spoke the name aloud.

“—is Discord.”

Rarity’s glowing eyes went wide. “The same Discord that Princess Celestia and Luna fought thousands of years ago?!”

“The one and the same,” Harmony replied. “Like I said, things didn't quite work out the way I'd hoped back then.”

Rarity backed away from Harmony with a jolt. “This is insane!” She gestured to herself, then to everything in a vague, sweeping motion. “What you've done to me, what you're doing to everypony else, all of it! I'm not some kind of heroic Battlemage from times of ancient yore, I'm a fashionista! All I want to do is make dresses for a living and make a name for myself! What in heaven's name makes you think I could possibly stand up to Discord in any way, shape or form?!”

Harmony raised an eyebrow. “You're standing up to me, aren't you?”

“You're different!” Rarity sputtered. “You're not insane! You're not trying to destroy the world!”

“That doesn't change that I'm just as powerful as Him.”

Rarity shook her head. “I'm not questioning that, I just—”

“Listen to me, Rarity.” Harmony rested a hoof on her shoulder, and Rarity felt the soothing feeling of peace again. “I know what kind of pony you are. You're resourceful, clever, driven, generous beyond compare, and harbor a desperate desire to prove yourself to the world. You hold your friends close, your family even closer, and when you set your mind to something, you see it through to the end. You're strong, dearheart, and I've the utmost faith that not only will you succeed against Discord, but at everything else you do in life.”

Rarity stared into those ancient, shimmering eyes. It was all so much. She wasn't any kind of warrior, nor did she ever want to be. She'd never learned how to fight, and the only spells she'd ever learned were either mandatory for school, or to help her with her dressmaking. There was also the matter of her sleep di—wait, that wasn't a problem anymore. She was still getting over the shock of that one. It was true she knew how to handle things on her own if she was given the right tools, and she'd certainly proved to herself time and time again that she could finish any project she set her mind to, and well... if her creator believed in her, who was she to doubt herself?

Rarity dipped her chin to hide the flush spreading across her face. “You really think I can help you?”

Harmony gently lifted Rarity's chin. “I really do.”

Rarity made her decision. The Element of Generosity flared, and her eyes shone even brighter with cool, silver light. The echo in her voice deepened, going from the splashing of a stream to the cascading of a waterfall.

“Well then, what can I do for you?”

“We gotta go back.”

Rainbow fidgeted as she sat with Esra and Tastar in their cave in the Drakkenridge Mountains. She hated being in this tiny, cramped space, but as soon as Tastar had showed her where they were, he'd insisted they go back inside. She fiddled with the Necklace of Generosity around her neck as she looked towards the exit, her annoyance slowly building.

“What exactly would we do?” Esra asked. “Cetus and Eclipse overpowered us all without even trying! The only reason we're still alive is because Luna yanked our sorry flanks out of the frying pan!”

“Only to drop us into the middle of freaking nowhere,” Rainbow muttered. She looked over at Tastar. “How far away are we from Equestria, anyway?”

“Depends,” Tastar replied. “Drakkenridge is a long strip of interlocking mountain ranges stretching from eastern Tarandus to northern Dromardia. We could be anywhere from a few hundred miles northeast of Equestria to a few thousand.”

“Great.” Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane. “Just freaking great! And I'm pretty sure 'scatter' means the others aren't anywhere nearby. They may not even be in the same country! What if they're hurt? What if they're in danger? What if Cetus decides to send Eclipse after them, or even worse, tries to track them down herself?! We can't just sit around and trust that things'll get better! We gotta do something!”

“Something's rather vague,” Esra pointed out. “Do you actually have a plan, or are you just gonna fly back to Equestria and punch Cetus in the face?”

Rainbow gritted her teeth. No, she didn't have a plan, she could barely even think straight. She and her friends had been beaten before they'd even had a chance to fight back. She was aware that a real, honest to goodness fight was rarely fair, and Cetus had taken every advantage she could get. The frustration of letting her friends down was literally burning her up inside, as the Element of Loyalty was feeding off her emotions like a hungry furnace. Esra and Tastar had noticed, but didn't say anything as the waves of heat rolling off her body were quite welcome at such a high altitude.

“I could've done so much more.” Rainbow stamped a hoof. “I could've noticed there was something wrong with Rarity. I could've gone to Celestia in the beginning like I wanted. I could've gone and helped Luna instead of sitting around in the hospital. My gut's been telling me to act all this time, but I decided to listen to you guys and Edith!”

“You can't blame yourself,” Tastar said. “You had no way of kno—“

Rainbow barked out a harsh laugh. “You got it all wrong. The only thing I blame myself for is listening to all of you! You all led me to believe that your experience gave you some kind of edge, but it did nothing to stop things from going to Tartarus!”

Esra glared at her. “What makes you think the Princess would've told you what was going on when she didn't tell any of us?! And as for helping Luna, you would've walked right into that explosion! It's only because we followed orders and kept you out of the firefights that you're still alive!”

“Orders.” Rainbow spat out the word like it was a curse. “That's all you care about, isn't it? You both had unique skillsets I wasn't aware of, and you let me make a foal of myself when all you had to do was give me a simple demonstration. You lied to me about your origins, didn't tell me about my powers, and as a result I couldn't do anything against Cetus. I could've saved Grovi, Strauss and Elo with Undying Loyalty. I could've kicked the living snot out of both Cetus and Eclipse. But no, your precious orders meant more to you than anything else, and as a result you lost three of your own comrades! Do you even miss them?! Do you feel anything now they're gone? Or are all of you just a bunch of soulless, mindless golems that only do what you're told?!”

“Rainbow...” Tastar began.

“Don't 'Rainbow' me!” The heat around her increased, and a flicker of light appeared in her eyes. “You told me to let others take care of things back at the palace. I listened to you, and look how well that turned out! Celestia's gone, Rarity's at the mercy of a psychopath, three of your fellow Echoes are dead, the entire world's going to be plunged into darkness, and we're in freaking Drakkenridge! Your high and mighty experience has done nothing but make a royal mess of things, and I'm not going to listen to it anymore!”

Rainbow stormed past them and headed for the exit. Esra's mixture of shock and fury reduced him to sputtering for a moment before he recovered and called after her.

“Where are you going?!”

“Equestria!” she snapped. “You may be fine with sitting around and waiting for your friends to die, but I'm sure as hay not!”

“Wait!” Tastar suddenly yelled. “Don't leave the cave!”

The Element of Loyalty blazed within Rainbow like a crucible. The air shimmered around her, and her eyes became half-filled with rosy light. She looked back over her shoulder, and her next words blazed with tantalizing power.

“Try and stop me.”

And with that, Rainbow disappeared around the bend of the cave. She got to the exit, opened her wings, and leaped out into the open air. She soared out and away in a prismatic flash, making a wide arc as she began to fly to the southwest.

Esra vigorously shook his head. “Damn it! We gotta go after her!”

Tastar didn't reply. He was still staring at where Rainbow had been. Esra glanced at him, and recognized the look his partner got when his mind was spinning with a very specific kind of knowledge.

“Ten words or less,” Esra said. “Why were you so adamant that none of us go outside?”

Tastar replied in a shaky voice. “I'm not sure, but... I think we're east of Shearwind.”

Esra's eyes widened. “Chromatic territory...”

Tastar spread his wings. “We need to hurry.”

Home to the tallest peaks in the world, Drakkenridge was a country known for its extreme climates, untouched valleys, treacherous cliffside paths, inhospitable shores, and of course, the local natives, the dragons. Griffins also called the country home, and they managed a series of trade routes through the mountains leading to the surrounding countries. Rainbow had had a griffin friend in flight school from a port city called Lasthaven, but she'd no idea where that was.

The mountains jutted out like the maw of a colossal beast as Rainbow continued with greater and greater speed to the southwest. She knew she shouldn't have left Esra and Tastar behind, but she was sick and tired of waiting for things to happen. Their hesitance and lack of action had done nothing but make things worse, and while she understood the value in sitting and planning things out, sometimes you had to just deal with whatever life threw at you. She'd show them she could get things done if given the chance, and this time, she'd be the one to deliver the sucker punches to their enemies... preferably at the speed of sound.

Rainbow found it difficult to gauge how high up she was. It was like the heavens and earth were two separate worlds, with the mountains stretching several thousand feet above her to end in wicked spikes, and valleys below concealed with thick, puffy clouds. The only thing that gave the altitude away was the thin air, and Rainbow knew it'd wear on her if she went too high up, even with her endurance training. Staying closer to the clouds was best, and as long as nothing went wrong, she'd be back in Equestria in a few days at the mo—

A loud, bellowing roar pierced the quiet morning air. Rainbow looked to her right, and there, standing at the mouth of a cave, was a living nightmare. Two wicked black horns swept back atop the creature's head, and rows of smaller horns covered its jaws and lower cheeks. Its scales were a deep crimson, its nose was beaklike and sported a small horn, and its long wings had a singed look along their edges. The beast stared at Rainbow with intelligent eyes as flames danced in its mouth, which was filled with rows of dagger-like teeth.

Rainbow skidded to a halt as she met the dragon's eyes. It was huge, larger than any other creature she'd ever seen. She could've easily fit inside one of its paws, or stand underneath it without even brushing its barrel. It could devour her in a single bite and not even have to chew, and then go on to stomp Ponyville flat in the span of a few hours. It was a heartless monster, a terror with wings, and it licked its lips, eying her like a mid-morning snack. Rainbow felt a twinge of primal fear as her base instincts kicked in, informing her that this was a predator, she was prey, and she should fly faster than she ever had before if she wanted to live.

The Element of Loyalty pulsed in response to Rainbow's fear, pushing away her instincts and calming her nerves. Her temperature rose again, and the hairs on her coat moved along with the waves of heat rolling off her body. A new feeling welled up in place of the fear, one that made her relax, break into a smile, and do the one thing nopony in their right mind would do in such a situation.

Laugh.

“Hey, scaly!” Rainbow's echoing voice carried on the wind as she wiggled her flank at the dragon. “See anything you like?!”

There was a sound like air rushing into a bellows as the dragon inhaled. Even Rainbow knew what that meant, but she continued to taunt him nonetheless. The dragon released a jet of scorching flame, but as Rainbow felt the onset of heat, she took off and away to the southwest. The dragon leaped off the ledge to give chase, but she knew she'd be out of sight before he even stabilized his flight.

Your speed is amazing, but it's not going to help you fight off a dragon...”

Rainbow cackled. All Tastar had talked about was how these things were nature's ultimate predators, but after seeing one up close? She wasn't impressed. Sure, dragons were big, strong and mean-looking, but that didn't mean a thing if they couldn't catch her. Tastar had also implied most dragons were peaceful, and that one going savage was rare, but this one sure wasn't acting very diplomatic. What were the odds that she'd run into one of the crazy ones?

Rainbow paused as a question came to her. She'd had martial arts training, was in near-top physical condition, was a master of pegasus magic thanks to her job, and had the Element of Loyalty at her disposal. The only thing she didn't have was any actual combat experience, and she was going to need as much as she could get if she was going to face Cetus.

So why the buck was she running away from a fight?

A sadistic grin formed on Rainbow's face. ““You know what? I could use a good punching bag right now.”

She turned back around to face the dragon, taking in his body as she approached. Tastar had said dragons didn't have any natural weaknesses, but their basic anatomy was similar to a pony's. Her karate instructors had told her if she got into a fight in the air, the best course of action was to take out her opponent's wings and let gravity do the rest. It was a pretty cheap tactic, but then again, real combat wasn't about flashy moves or drawing things out. It was about taking out your opponent as quickly and efficiently as possible, so that's exactly what Rainbow was going to do.

Rainbow released a fierce battle cry. The dragon roared in response, then began to inhale again. Rainbow flew straight up into the air, taking in the dragon's wings and judging each of them to be around fifty feet long. They might as well have been painted with giant bullseyes. She aimed for the left one, and dove down to strike the elbow joint.

While Rainbow's strategy was sound, there was one crucial thing about dragons she didn't know. Their physical strength was tremendous, their cunning and intelligence were fearsome, and their dominion over the land and sky gave them a distinct advantage, but that wasn't what made them truly terrifying. There was an additional thing they possessed, something that secured their place at the top of the food chain.

Magic.

The dragon's wing shimmered. Rainbow connected with a vicious strike, but her hoof bounced off like she'd struck a concrete wall. Sharp pain lanced up her leg, but she didn't have time to pay attention to it, as there was a flicker of movement in her eye. The dragon's tail lashed at her, and Rainbow only barely managed to avoid being smacked. She cursed and ascended again, and as she did, she noticed the dragon's mouth was still open, not to breathe, but to chant in guttural Draconic.

“For Celestia's sake!” Rainbow nursed her sprained hoof. “That's just excessive!”

The dragon rose up to snap at Rainbow. She sneered and distanced herself again, eying the clouds below.

“So that's how you wanna fight, eh?” Rainbow reached out to feel the air currents around her. “Well, two can play at that game!”

Rainbow began to fly in a circle around the dragon. It tried to follow after her, but she flew faster and faster, her Tempulari calling up the warm air from the valley below to mix with the cold mountain currents. The winds rose into a breeze, then a gale, then a funnel cloud that fully enveloped the dragon. Rainbow strained herself as she went as fast as she could, feeling the Element of Loyalty pushing away her doubts and accentuating her natural confidence, but nothing more. She knew all about what Undying Loyalty did, and while she'd been frightened after hearing how Luna had used it, she still wanted to have it to help her friends.

Rainbow flew clear of her creation, watching as the dragon was tossed about like a rag doll. It tried breathing fire, but the flames did nothing to help it escape the slicing winds. It was finally tossed free a short while later, its momentum carrying it forward to slam into a nearby mountain with a thunderous crack. It then tumbled into the valley, fading into the thick puffy clouds without a sound. Rainbow caught her breath as she kept an eye out for any sign of her foe's re-emergence, but the clouds remained undisturbed. She snorted, took a deep breath, and yelled down as loud as she could.

“If you think I'm stupid enough to fall for that, you're not even worth my time!”

A hole in the clouds opened directly underneath Rainbow, and a school of transparent piranhas burst forth to surround her in a vortex of teeth. Her right wing was grazed, and she yelped as her end-most feather was torn away. She took off before she was completely enveloped and the magical school gave chase. They forced her to fly back to the north, and as she did, the clouds erupted again to reveal the giant dragon lying in wait. Its eyes were mismatched, and bile leaked from its mouth.

Rainbow snickered. She zipped over the dragon, sailing low over his back and along his spine. She flew clear of his tail and continued on, anticipating that the piranhas would collide with him. They didn't. The school split into two and went around, then continued to chase after Rainbow. She kept flying north, heading towards a solitary mountain and circling around several times, but she couldn't shake the spell. Facehooving, she flew low to the clouds again, and the school dove beneath the sea of white.

“This is going nowhere fast...” Rainbow knew she'd have to think of something different if she wanted to do any kind of damage. Her Tempulari seemed to work, but she doubted the dragon would let her set up another tornado. Maybe she could hit him with some lightning if she could get him into the clouds? That'd limit her own visibility though, and she didn't know if dragons were immune to that or not. Tastar would probably know, but he was probably still back at the ca—

“There you are!”

Rainbow rounded a bend, and nearly ran into Esra and Tastar. Her eyes shrunk as the two guards approached and looked her over for any signs of injury.

“Are you all right?” Esra asked. “We saw the tor—“

The wind shifted, and Tastar caught the foul scent of sulfur. He stiffened, glancing at the bend where Rainbow had just come.

“Ruby...”

Esra paled. “You didn't.”

“Fly, you idiots!” Rainbow tried to grab them both, but Esra dodged on instinct. She didn't realize she'd missed him and took off in a burst, and at that second, the swarm of piranha burst out from the clouds. It went after Rainbow, but in the process, it went through Esra, slicing off both his wings and three of his legs.

“ESRA!” Tastar screamed.

Rainbow turned, and the color of the world bled away. She watched as Esra fell in slow motion, a surprised look etched on his face as he tried to register what had just happened. He fell through the hole in the clouds, disappearing into the valley below...

...and then the dragon came around the bend.

Rainbow's brain stopped working. She didn't hear Tastar's shouts, or feel him break free of her grip. The dragon was gone, the magical piranha didn't exist, and the world shrunk down to the hole where Esra had fallen. The horror came crashing down on her, and there was only one thing she could say in response.

“No.”

Rainbow went into a dive, dodging the piranha and going down after Esra. She felt a slight resistance as she pushed through the cloud layer, then emerged on the other side to behold a featureless, frozen wasteland. It was snowing, she was several thousand feet up, and Esra was in freefall a few hundred feet below. She kicked her body into overdrive as she sped to catch up to him, and the piranha gave chase. The dragon eyed Tastar, and decided he looked like an easier target. It inhaled again, preparing to unleash its breath weapon on the grief-stricken pegasus.

I will gut thee like a fish.”

The dragon hesitated upon hearing its native tongue. Tastar closed with it in a flash, bucking it in a specific spot in the hollow of its throat. The dragon choked and leaned forward, but Tastar anticipated the movement. He flew around and bucked the dragon again, this time at the very tip of its snout. The dragon recoiled, clutching both its muzzle and its throat at the same time, and the swarm of magical piranha faded away. The dragon's gasps were tinged with whines of terrible pain, and Tastar cracked his neck as he spoke again in Draconic.

Tell me, Spawn of Tiamat, which of thine eyes shall I tear out first?”

The dragon was gasping for breath, but even still, he managed gag out a single word.

Soul-Copy...”

Tastar’s vision went red. “Left it is, then.”

Rainbow dove down after Esra, ignoring the blood spattering her face as she descended. She didn't think they'd follow her. She'd thought they'd stay in the cave for a while before going about their own business. She didn't deserve their loyalty, or anypony else's for that matter, not after being powerless to stop Cetus. When she was younger, she'd thought being a leader meant being the strongest out of anypony else, but as time went on, she realized 'strength' didn't have to be physical. Ponies pledged their loyalty to someone because they believed in them, not because they were a musclehead. If you had the charisma, inner drive, and courage to accomplish your goals, you could become a source of power that others drew strength from, and that was greater than any strength you could achieve on your own. Some saw being looked up to as a kind of pressure, but for Rainbow, it was a drug she couldn't get enough of. She wanted to be strong enough that everypony looked up to her, and she never wanted to let anyone down. She wanted to always be there, to be the flame that never died out. Unstoppable. Indefatigable.

Invincible.

“You think you can just go and die on me?!” Rainbow's screams were lost to the wind. “What about Horizon?! What about Equestria?! What about Tastar, Blair, and all the others?! Are you just gonna leave them all behind?! Was all of it for nothing?! Are you satisfied with this being the end?!”

Esra's body had gone rigid. He was barely even aware that he was falling, let alone that Rainbow was closing in on him. The outlines of his body began to blur and lose cohesion.

“DON'T YOU DARE!” The Element of Loyalty was blazing, filling Rainbow with power as she closed in on Esra, and the heat was turning the snowflakes into rain. The familiar cone of resistance formed as she accelerated, but it was cherry-red, and there were flames at the very edges.

“You've worked too hard!” Rainbow shouted. “You've pushed yourself all your life! I won't let you trip at the finish line when you've given up everything for this! I know you're like me! You never start something you can't follow through on!”

The light in Rainbow's eyes was slowly pushing out. The burning cone of resistance formed into the accursed unbreakable barrier. She was within feet of Esra now, and the ground was looming ever closer. It was close. It was always close. She lived her life on the edge, but that's what made the rewards all the sweeter. The cone narrowed and took on a faint shimmer, but Rainbow didn't notice, as the only thing she could see was Esra's slowly fading form, and her mind was filled with only one thought.

“YOU... WILL... NOT... DIE!”

Rainbow punched through the barrier with a supersonic crack, generating a massive prismatic shockwave and morphing her mane into her namesake. Her eyes became completely filled with fire, and her forehead itched. Her body became flooded with newfound strength as she grabbed Esra's ruined body, pulling away from the wastes and back up towards the clouds. As she ascended, Esra's wounds began to glow with a fiery light as his body stabilized. His bleeding stopped, his breathing evened out, and his limbs regenerated to their original forms.

Meanwhile, Tastar was dodging the attacks of the enraged dragon as he waited for an opportunity to pluck out its eyes. Gruesome fantasies of torture played out in his mind, each one more creative than the last. Tastar knew the laws of Drakkenridge, and while it was within the rights of a dragon to designate any trespassing creature in their territory as prey, only a savage would attack a sentient being. He didn't care if he got banished or sentenced to death by the Drakkenridge authorities, he was going to—

The clouds below glowed, a crack like a gunshot echoed off the mountain walls, and a multicolored shockwave surged up to and reveal the lands beneath. Tastar and the dragon looked down, and Rainbow flew up and past both of them in a scorching blur. She landed on a nearby ledge, set down Esra, then turned to face them.

Rainbow's eyes were fully filled orbs of fire that glowed with trails of plasma. Her mane and tail waved in a wind generated by the heat of her body, and her wings twitched with barely contained power. She was enveloped in a corona of scarlet light, and most surprising of all, a long, fluted horn protruded from her forehead, resting between her red and orange forelocks.

Tastar's jaw dropped. “Rainbow?!”

“Get out of the way, Tastar.”

A chill went up Tastar's spine. Rainbow's voice sounded like the roar of an inferno, and even from three hundred feet away, he'd heard her loud and clear. The dragon was also looking on in surprise, and so didn't notice when Tastar obeyed her request.

“What are you going to do?”

Rainbow turned at the voice behind her. Esra was looking at her in awe as he unsteadily got to his hooves.

...if the time ever comes that you have to kill another living, breathing, thinking creature, you will hesitate.”

The dragon bellowed at Rainbow. It flew at her and Esra, opening its mouth to cast another spell.

“Prove you wrong,” she replied.

Rainbow's corona brightened, and she launched herself at the dragon, flapping her wings as hard as she could. She rocketed forth at the speed of sound, generating another prismatic shockwave as she entered the dragon's mouth. There was a flicker of black, a sensation of tearing through several warm and squishy things, and she then re-emerged back into the light. The dragon was instantly killed, and it shuddered once before crashing headfirst into the mountain and plummeting down into the valley.

Esra was knocked off his hooves by the shockwave, and Tastar was blown away. It took them several seconds to recover, and during that time, Rainbow circled around, staring dimly at the sparkling explosion she'd left in her wake.

“I did it...”

Indeed she had. Her second goal, the holy grail of aerial stunts, the legendary move she'd worked so hard to attain and perform at will, the Sonic Rainboom was hers at long last.

Too bad that wasn't what she was referring to.

Rainbow looked down at her bloodstained hooves, then back at where the dragon had been. The Element of Loyalty dimmed, and Rainbow's appearance returned to normal. An odd numbness replaced the warmth that had been in her chest, and it was only a few seconds later when Rainbow snapped out of her daze that she realized Esra and Tastar had been right after all.

“I see,” Rainbow murmured.

“See what?”

Rainbow jumped at the voice. She turned, and hovering before her was a tiny orange dragon no larger than Spike. Its frilled wings rippled elegantly like a manta ray, and its head was covered with a sweeping fluted plate shaped like a plowshare. It stared at her with deep, faded eyes that were like glowing molten orbs.

“What do you see?” The new dragon repeated in a deep, gravelly voice. “What clarity has this bloodshed bestowed upon you?”

“Uh...” Rainbow said.

“We say the act of taking a life reveals one's soul,” the dragon explained. “Now that you've seen that the flame of life is a fragile thing, are you disturbed at how easily it can be snuffed out? Or have you found pleasure in destruction, and thirst for more?”

Rainbow wrinkled her brow. “Probably... closer to... the first one?”

The dragon scratched it's chin. “I find that hard to believe, considering your method of execution. Why didn't you run away?”

“Look,” Rainbow said. “In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not in the greatest of moods right now. Red boy started it, he wanted to play for keeps, I took him up on it, my guards got caught in the crossfire, and he almost killed one of them. As far as I'm concerned, he got what he deserved.”

The dragon chuckled, a dry, raspy sound like two rocks being rubbed together. “I'm not condemning your act, young one. I merely wished to learn your motives. Ertrasziveux the Ruthless has been the terror of the Valley of Slaves for three hundred years. Disembowelment is a merciful fate compared to what we had in store for him.”

Rainbow blinked. “What?”

“Who are you, by the way?” the dragon raised a claw in a dismissive gesture. “Never mind, that's plainly obvious. What are you doing in Chromatic territory? Does your mother know you're here?”

Rainbow cocked her head. “What does my mom got to do wi—“

“Hey!”

Esra and Tastar flew up to them. Tastar's eyes momentarily lingered on Rainbow's forehead, but he did a double take when he saw the orange dragon beside her.

“Aasterinian?!” Tastar said. “For the love of Io, please say that's you.”

Aasterinian regarded Tastar. “You're the Sevaregpos of Sagittarius the Learned. I haven't seen you since your parole hearing twenty years ago. Do you realize what your charge has done?”

A grin crept up on Tastar's face. “If you're here? Probably not, but I'd be very, very interested to find out.”

Another roar pierced the mountain air, followed by a second, a third, and then a much louder, deeper one that made the three ponies’ hairs stand on end.

“What was that?” Rainbow asked.

“Ignorance is bliss.” Aasterinian cleared her throat. “On behalf of my master, I offer the three of you sanctuary. Do you accept?”

Esra and Tastar looked to Rainbow.

“Wait.” She looked between the two of them. “You want me to decide?”

Tastar shrugged. “You once told us that everypony has two options. We've made ours.”

“You're not the only one who holds loyalty in high regard, Rainbow.” Esra met her eyes with a fervent gaze. “You just saved my life, and it's true we screwed up back in Canterlot. I believe you really can make this world a better place, so if you're willing to have us, we'll follow you.”

The Element of Loyalty began to flicker again, but Rainbow pushed it down. She wanted to have them with her, but they'd slow her down drastically. Then again, she didn't really have a plan once she got back to Equestria, and Tastar seemed to know this dragon. Maybe she could get some help if she went with them? Or at the very least, a warm place to sleep for the night. Sleeping on clouds was fine and all, but it wasn’t the safest thing to do in hostile territory.

Rainbow nodded. “We'll go with you, Ast... asterni... You got a nickname I can call you by?”

Aasterinian gave her an elegant bow. “You may call me Rin. Now, take my claw.”

Rainbow scrunched her eyebrows. “What for?”

“To teleport, of course.”

“Oh, cool!” Rainbow extended her hoof. “I've always wanted to try that!”

“You've never done it before?” Aasterinian frowned. “I'd have thought your mother would've at least taught you the basics by now.”

“My mom's not a unicorn,” Rainbow said. “And why do you keep talking about her? Have you met her or something?”

Something seemed to dawn on Tastar. He snorted loudly and put a hoof over his lips.

“Several times,” Aasterinian said. “She and my master have been friends for a long time.”

Esra's lips parted. He gave Rainbow a strange look, then looked away to try and hide his smile.

“I think Mom would've told me if she'd been to Drakkenridge,” Rainbow said dryly. “You've got me confused with somepony else.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” Rin replied calmly. “Though I must say, my master's going to be quite surprised. Princess Celestia never mentioned she had a daughter.”

“Yeah, well she—“ Rainbow whipped over to Aasterinian. “WHAT?!”

Esra and Tastar burst out laughing.

“Come now, don't try to deny it.” Aasterinian looked Rainbow up and down. “A jewel-inlaid collar, wings and a horn, a rainbow mane and tail, rose-colored eyes, incredible fire-based magic, and a Royal Guard escort? Who else could you possibly be?”

Rainbow's reply died in her throat. She looked over at Esra and Tastar, who were both grinning like idiots. Their eyes strayed to her forehead, and with a shaky hoof, she reached up to feel the solid chunk of keratin sticking out of her head.

“No way...”

The roars sounded again, this time much louder, and much closer.

“Forgive me, Your Highness,” Tastar said, “but I think it's best if we were off?”

Rainbow made a note that he was very much not forgiven, but she'd deal with him later. She grabbed Rin's claw, and the four of them vanished in a flash.

It's a very strange sensation to wake up with your eyes open. It's even stranger to discover that your limbs are unresponsive. Those things combined would be enough to make anyone panic, but combine them with standing on a balcony in front of a courtyard filled with ponies in military uniform? It was understandable why Rarity tried to scream.

All of all the times to wake up. Eclipse sighed. Good to see we're getting off on the right hoof.

Rarity ceased her struggling at the voice. It was cold and condescending, but didn't cause her any physical pain.

Who are you? Her thoughts were forceful and rushed. Where am I? Why can't I move?!

Eclipse daintily scratched their nose. Can you hold off on the freak-out until later? We're in the middle of something here.

Tell me what's going on! Rarity demanded. How did I get here?!

Ugh. Eclipse shifted their eyes up and to the right, 'Celestia' stood next to her, addressing the crowd of soldiers in a loud, authoritative voice.

What's going on is that Cetus is briefing the military on the situation. Your friends and Princess Luna have gone missing, and she's sending them out across Equestria to track them down. As for how we got here, I teleported us, but I can't believe you never learned how. Why in heaven's name would you skimp out on learning such a useful spell?

Tele—The last vestiges of drowsiness melted away. Wait, my friends are missing?!

Don't have the slightest idea where they went, Eclipse said. Though that's not as bad a thing as you might think.

How could my friends being gone possibly be good?! Rarity said. And why did you call Princess Celestia 'Cetus?'

I'm afraid Celestia's gone on a long-deserved vacation. Eclipse bowed as Cetus gestured to her. Equestria's under new management now, and you and I have been reduced to whimpering lapdogs. You can call me Eclipse, by the way.

Lapdogs?! Rarity made a note of disgust. What kind of boorish lout would do such a thing to a Lady?!

Eclipse chuckled. The same boorish lout that stuck me in your body. I assure you that the dissatisfaction of our arrangement is mutual.

Why can't I move? Are you doing that?

Cetus gave me orders to keep you under control, Eclipse said simply. I advise you to not try and fight me. The consequences will be excruciatingly painful, and I'd much rather we get along.

The urge to lash out was strong. Rarity wanted nothing more than to fight tooth and hoof for control of her body, but something quelled her mutinous desires. She forced herself to relax. Where are you? Inside my head, I mean.

Rarity felt a presence brush against her mind. It was dark, heavy, and had a disjointed feeling to it. Hmm. It seems I can't see your thoughts now that your lifeforce has recovered... how unfortunate. Let's draw some boundaries then, shall we?

Rarity recoiled as a barrier of impenetrable shadow formed between the two of them. Their minds were separated, but Eclipse still retained control.

That's your side, and this is mine. No sense in getting touchy-feely if neither of us can see the other's thoughts.

There was a loud clapping as the soldiers saluted as one. They marched out of the courtyard, and Cetus turned to Eclipse.

“We've just a little under two months until the Temporal Stasis spell ends. Head to Whinnyapolis, then make your way east to Stalliongrad. Continue your search until you reach the Foal Mountains, and if you haven't found any sign of them by then, return to Canterlot for further instructions.”

Eclipse nodded. “You wish for me to keep my search within Equestria, then?”

Cetus raised her head to look out beyond the courtyard. “I've sent envoys to Gildesdale, Drakkenridge, Tarandus, and Dromardia. I'm not going to bother with Antelese, as it's doubtful they've crossed the ocean. I know Twilight Sparkle is still in northern Equestria, and I want you to track her down.”

“As you wish,” Eclipse replied.

The barrier may have separated them, but even still, Rarity could feel the boiling rage emanating from Eclipse.

Not a fan of her, I see.

You could say that. Eclipse turned and walked off the balcony. Cetus is the mastermind of this game. I can't beat her by myself, and as long as she's in control, we'll both be her slaves until she decides we’re no longer of any use. You want to be free, yes? You wish to live, and see your friends and family again? What say we work together to bring her down?

Rarity could barely believe what she was hearing. It'd been one thing to for Harmony to say things were going to happen in a certain way, but it was a quite another to see it actually come to pass. It made her recent experience all the more powerful, and the conversation she'd had stand out even more in her memory.

“What do you mean, play along?”

“I mean you should help her with her plans,” Harmony said. “This is the second important thing you need to know: Evil inevitably destroys itself. Cetus and Eclipse may share a common goal, but neither of them will ever be subservient to the other. They'll be plotting and scheming against each other at every turn, and if you agree to help Eclipse along, you'll suddenly find yourself not at the mercy of a cruel torturer, but in a partnership with a powerful ally.”

“You said she's unstable, though,” Rarity pointed out. “How do I know she won't stab me in the back the first chance she gets?”

Harmony smirked. “Oh, she will. That's why you need to stab her first.”

Rarity slowly closed her eyes. “So you want me to be like you, watching and whispering unseen, helping along the two most dangerous creatures in the world as they sabotage their own efforts. You'd have me connive, subvert, and deceive, all the while making it seem like they're the ones calling the shots in an effort to make them destroy themselves.”

“It's kind of like chess,” Harmony said. “Only the board is three-dimensional, and the pieces are imbalanced psychopaths.”

Rarity exhaled out her nose. “So be it. To keep my friends and family safe, to protect myself from harm, to bring about the end of these deviants and ultimately bring about your freedom, I'll cast in my lot with the shadows.”

Harmony knelt down and nuzzled Rarity's cheek. “Don’t lose hope. Only offer your help when asked, don't try to tell either of them what to do, and above all else, don’t let either of them see your heart. I promise everything will work out in the end, so long as you let things happen at their own pace.”

Perhaps this wouldn't be so hard, after all. It'd require perfect acting, a meticulous eye for detail, a touch of flair, the ability to see the big picture while staying involved in the specifics, and the patience to see things through to the end, but those were things Rarity had refined in her years as an entrepreneur, and deception was something she'd mastered thanks to dealing with her mother for so long. Yes, she could indeed do this, all she needed to do was play it safe, and she'd be freed and reunited with the others in no time.

Rarity put on her best poker face, set aside her morals, and gave her reply in a sly, mischievous tone.

What did you have in mind?”

Author's Note:

The Powers of Harmony has a TV Tropes page!

TPOH TV Tropes Page!

If you're not familiar with TV Tropes, or just wikis in general. any page can be edited by anyone so long as you make an account. Want to add a trope to the TPOH page? Go for it! I'll be adding things as well, but the more people that contribute to it, the better. I want to make TPOH's page be as cool as it can be, and if you want to help, you have my full and total support. GO FORTH, YE TROPERS!