• Published 8th Feb 2019
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Elements of Harmony - Starscribe

Starlight Glimmer rewrote history, erasing the Sonic Rainboom and stranding Twilight in an Equestria that suffered one disaster after another until it was barely recognizable. Twilight has to act fast if she ever wants to see her home again.

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Chapter 1: Reversal

Twilight screamed, flapped desperately with her wings, ran through each of a dozen different spells from her horn—nothing worked. The Confluence around her made her brain fuzz as she was thrown through it, frost condensing on her feathers and coat as distorted voices babbled and screamed.

Then she smacked onto the crystal floor of her castle, landing in a crumpled heap. She changed the past. It’s not possible! I already learned that time travel doesn’t work that way! When I tried to change something, I only ended up causing the thing I wanted to change.

Why was her castle so… drafty? Twilight opened one eye, and learned in a single crushing instant that her desperate beliefs about time travel were in error.

She was on the castle floor, alright. A round section of floor just wide enough to capture the broken thrones with her friends’ cutie marks on them, standing in an open field north of Ponyville.

This is where the castle would be, she realized. I haven’t moved through space, but time. “Spike? Spike, are you there?” She rose onto unsteady hooves, watching the frost from the spell rise around her as a chill mist. But there was no sign of her dragon assistant, any more than the castle itself. She really did it. She changed the past. No Sonic Rainboom… no Elements of Harmony…

Twilight stretched her wings, expecting to see them puff away into smoke an instant before her own memory turned to slime. But no—she remembered everything. She could still picture each of her friends’ faces. Rarity’s generosity, Fluttershy’s kindness, all the others. Starlight Glimmer couldn’t take that away from her, any more than she could transform her friends into different ponies.

I’m going to fix this.

It was apparently the middle of the night, but at least the moon was full and its light shone directly down on the map. The artifact was still glowing, projecting its image of Equestria directly through the transparent glass surface. This was her first tool, maybe there would be something here she could use to undo the spell.

The projection of Equestria before her was nothing like the one she remembered. The entire north section of the map was bright red, with cities surrounded by shards of dark crystal all linking back to the Empire. Meanwhile, Canterlot and everything east of it was bright green. The friendly blue magic she was used to didn’t start until Ponyville, or more precisely at the Everfree forest. Why is the Castle of the Two Sisters on the map now?

Starlight Glimmer had ended one friendship. Just how big were the consequences of that change?

“This is bad…” Twilight muttered, eyes scanning the space around her. Wedged into the corner of one of the thrones was Star Swirl’s scroll, crumpled and battered. She lifted it in her magic, spreading it on the table in front of her. “But that’s okay! No big deal. I can just… go back into the past and stop her!”

It was the second-most complex spell Twilight had ever cast, one with energy requirements so massive she hadn’t even imagined they would be feasible—except for the map. Thanks to this artifact, Starlight had been able to break the rules. Joke’s on you, Starlight Glimmer. I have the map and the scroll. This ends right now.

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and letting her magical senses expand. There was the map and the table, two objects of such phenomenal power that she could see their shapes even with both eyes closed. Star Swirl’s spell was like a pent-up spring, its force struggling for release.

Light built around her, so bright that the deep red glow shone through her eyelids. Her hooves lifted off the ground, and a tiny opening appeared.

There was a crack of air in front of her, and Twilight tumbled to the ground, nearly tripping over her hooves as she did so. She righted herself quickly, looking around for whatever had interrupted the spell—but there was nothing. She had lost all strength, and could barely even stay standing. She’d used every drop of magical power she had on the spell, and it hadn’t been enough.

It was so easy before! I just used the spell right near the map, and… The answer was staring her in the face. She stumbled back into one of the cracked thrones, looking down at the map. The image along its surface flickered unevenly, going out for a few seconds before returning moments later. Like a bulb that needed to be replaced.

The castle doesn’t even exist. There’s not enough magic left to make the spell work.

A chill wind whipped through the field all around her, carrying with it the distant howl of a Timberwolf. She watched the moon track slowly overhead, exhaustion mingling with desperation. Without the map, she would need a new way to power the time travel spell. She knew of only one source of magic that powerful:

The Elements of Harmony.

Twilight was still magically exhausted, but that didn’t matter. She wouldn’t need to be casting incredible spells to find her friends. Her castle had been on the outskirts of Ponyville, so close that it was considered part of the town. All she had to do was visit and find out. She spent a few moments lifting her throne, safely securing Star Swirl’s spell underneath and replacing it with a hoof. The stone was heavy enough that it wasn’t likely to be moved accidentally. And anyway, with no castle out here there was nothing to see.

She didn’t have quite enough energy to fly, but that didn’t matter much. She would be traveling back in time soon—a few more minutes wouldn’t make much difference. The moon was bright enough that she didn’t trip, though she did start to long for sunrise. Maybe I can rest until morning when I get there. I wonder if the Golden Oaks is waiting for me.

Twilight walked, walked for so long she started getting nervous. There was no road to her castle anymore, but the town wasn’t that far. Where were all the streetlights?

Twilight slowed a little, lighting her horn with a faint magical struggle. She was recovering, but it would be hours yet before she could try and manifest master-level spells. But a little glow was enough to show her that she hadn’t been wrong—she had found her way to one of Ponyville’s main roads, and was surrounded by shadowy buildings. Twilight hurried over to one, passing a rusty, dark streetlight. The glass cover was shattered, and the burner looked like it had charred away a long time ago.

She was standing in front of Sugarcube Corner, its window barred with boards and interior deserted. “Pinkie Pie?” She pushed at the front door, and it swung open freely. Twilight lowered her voice, slowing as the boards creaked underneath her. The floor was dusty and covered with trash. There was almost nothing left on the shelves, and what sweets remained had long since hardened or gone moldy. All the fancy decorations and chandeliers were missing. “Pinkie Pie, are you here?”

She didn’t climb through the building to search. The interior was cold, there were no lights on, and her own hooves made dense tracks through the dust. Pinkie, where the hay did you go?

But it wasn’t just Pinkie Pie that had gone missing. Sugarcube Corner was near downtown, surrounded by more houses than anywhere else. There was city hall, just down the road. A few of its windows had been shattered, and the rest were boarded up like everything else.

Rarity’s in town. Her next. Twilight ran, crossing dimly-lit streets and walls plastered over with flyers in the darkness. The Carousel Boutique was a gigantic building in its own right, not difficult to find. Twilight hurried up to the front door, but this one was locked. “Rarity!” she called, pulling on the bell over and over. She watched the upstairs windows for signs of motion, but not even a single beam of light emerged. Not even the sound of someone quietly walking around inside the building. There was no reason to strain her magic even more by trying to teleport inside to search.

Something happened to Ponyville, she thought, mind racing. Something that left the town intact but made all the ponies leave. Had she and her friends done anything that could’ve explained that?

There’s one pony who wouldn’t change. Applejack’s family is married to this land. They’d be here farming even if the whole world ended. She started galloping.

The trip out of Ponyville wouldn’t have taken long, except that Twilight was exhausted and terrified and running in the dark. She tripped a few times, cut up her side and got damp mud into her feathers. But then she passed outside of town, and saw the glow of magical light on the horizon.

There was Sweet Apple Acres, the first living place she’d seen since returning. The fields of apples were as healthy as ever, though something was different about them. Metal towers now rose above the entire orchard, spread at regular intervals. Massive crystals were mounted to the top, each one glowing so bright that she couldn’t look at them without wincing in pain.

It doesn’t matter if they’re doing things a little different here. Maybe those are… anti-parasprite spells! To protect the field from them, since Pinkie Pie wasn’t here. That seemed like a sensible explanation.

Twilight cantered up the hill, listening to the strange sound of machinery as she got closer. The farmhouse was still where she remembered, but the barn was gone. In its place was a massive building, large enough that it swallowed the herb garden and the place cows and pigs had once lived. Smoke rose up from a large tower, and loud mechanical sounds rumbled out from inside.

It’s running this late at night? It was hard to imagine Granny Smith approving of that—but that wasn’t Twilight’s problem. She was almost there.

As she rounded the bend, Twilight could see a large transport wagon parked outside the farm, with enough hitches for two strong earth ponies to pull it together. It was packed largely full of huge barrels. Even as she watched, a pony emerged from the back of the factory, with a clipbloard in one hoof and a pair of glasses on her nose. She was missing her hat, but even so, there was no mistaking her.

“Applejack!” Twilight leapt the fence, dodging the muddy ruts in the gravel path up to the factory building, and wrapping her forelegs around her friend. “Applejack, I’m so glad to see you! The whole world is wrong, and Pinkie was gone, Rarity’s not here, Ponyville’s deserted… but you’re here. Thank Celestia, you’re okay!”

The pony didn’t return her affection as she’d expected. Instead Applejack stiffened, pushing Twilight away with a gentle hoof. Her usual loamy, dirt smell was replaced with one of applesauce and antiseptic. “Now hold on a minute, miss… whoever you are. I don’t know you, or what you’re doing on my farm. Ponies can’t just walk in here, saying such things… the Apples are loyal to Equestria. I know we aren’t out there on the front, but our apples are, keeping every belly full and ponies strong enough to keep fighting. So you can tell whoever sent you…” She doesn’t sound like herself. Where’s her accent?

Applejack’s eyes widened, as she took in Twilight for the first time.

Twilight could follow her eyes as they jerked between her wings and her horn and back again. Then she dropped into a bow. “F-forgive my ignorance. I didn’t know our princess had… relatives. Please don’t punish my family—we’re essential to the war effort. I can take you inside, give you the full tour! You’ll see just how important our work is!”

Twilight rolled her eyes, pulling Applejack into a standing position. “I’m not gonna…” She trailed off, deciding not to contradict her right away. “Actually, there is something. Come with me, Applejack. There’s something you need to see.”

Twilight could see the map clearing even through the gloomy darkness—it didn’t just glow, but energy seemed to crackle around it. The ground around the crystal had turned brown, and all the plants near where it had landed were in various stages of decay.

Applejack stopped as they got about fifty feet away, suddenly clutching at her stomach. “Ugh… new princess, I don’t mean… could we go somewhere else, maybe? I’m feeling rather unwell all of the sudden.”

Interesting. Time magic was so costly and dangerous that almost nothing was known about it. In a world where everything was still right, Twilight probably would’ve tried to learn more out of simple fascination. But here those questions would remain unstudied. Here she couldn’t dare turn away. If anypony is strong enough to endure strange magic, it’s an earth pony. Applejack’s sturdy enough to stop a train.

“I’m sorry, Applejack. We have to make it up there. There’s a table, can you see it? Surrounded by those thrones?”

“I, uh…” She looked up, squinting. “Yeah, I do. This wasn’t out here before. Something new from the princess? Guess you’d know, being in her court and all…”

“I’m not in her…” Twilight wrapped one leg around one of Applejacks, then dragged her closer. The pony went rigid and numb, though not actively resisting her. Twilight kept her magical senses open, ready to stop if the magic was doing more to Applejack. But all it seemed to do was make her confused. Eventually she clambered up onto the slice of floor from her castle, and stood Applejack in front of one of the thrones. “What do you see, Applejack?”

She stared, eyes still partially glazed over. Her mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed to get the words out. “M-my… cutie mark. On this fancy crystal throne.” That was it—enough that Applejack seemed to wake up a little. She turned, taking in the rest of it. “And that one over there, that’s yours! These others… I know this one.” She pointed at Rarity’s. “She used to make clothes or whatnot, before… before she went off to join the war effort.”

“War with who?” Twilight couldn’t restrain her curiosity. More than that, she probably needed to know. If she couldn’t just cast a simple spell to make everything back to normal, she would need to survive in this world long enough to gather everypony together. “Equestria has good relations with its neighbors! Even the dragons don’t invade us!”

Applejack stared back at her, disbelief on her face. “Good relations with…” Then she saw the table. “Look right here, Princess—”

“Just Twilight,” she corrected. “Just call me Twilight. Or Twilight Sparkle, if you have to. I’m not princess of anything here.”

Applejack ignored her. “This map here… I haven’t seen anything like it, but it looks about as accurate as what I’ve seen drawn. The Crystal Empire is always pushing south, further every year… and the changelings hold more of the east. Really, the only bad thing that hasn’t happened is King Sombra and Queen Chrysalis joining forces to attack us at the same time. They fight each other almost as much as they fight us. And of course, our ponies are the bravest, strongest fighters there are. I know we’d keep fighting even if they did join forces.”

Twilight slumped forward, eyes widening in horror at the thought. Her home was being cut into pieces, and ponies were dying to keep it safe. And what happened to the cities taken by the changelings, or King Sombra? They’d both been terrible rulers when she defeated them.

“Oh my gosh… Applejack… Applejack, none of this was supposed to happen! It’s all wrong!”

“Well of course it’s wrong, but I don’t see...”

Twilight yanked one of her hooves, pointing it right at the Crystal Empire. Applejack’s hoof fuzzed through the projected illusion above the table. “We beat Sombra. We saved the Crystal Empire, together! We banished Sombra forever! And Queen Chrysalis… we beat her too! Equestria should still be safe!”

There was a long silence. Twilight turned, and realized that Applejack’s eyes were glazed over and drool was trickling down her mouth. She was staring off into space in front of her, muttering quietly to herself. Twilight winced, pulling her hoof back, but she could sense the magic still swirling around her friend. What was it doing to her?

“I’m sorry, Applejack! I didn’t even think there was much magic left in this map. It shouldn’t be—”

“We were friends,” she said, her voice low. “The sun is shining. Granny’s still alive. Apple Bloom laughs… my brother is still at home. I’m taking the day’s harvest to market.” She stopped, eyes full of tears. She shoved Twilight backward with one hoof, holding her down so hard that the crystal seemed to crack underneath. “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU SHOWIN’ ME?”

“The truth,” Twilight choked, pushing up against Applejack’s hoof. In vain. “The way things should be! Magic ruined the world… the one you live in is all wrong.”

Applejack held her down for another long moment, staring into her eyes. Then she let go, and Twilight gasped, clutching at her throat. “You’re not lying. You were there, in that place… not just you. Others. Ponies I don’t know, but I did, err…” She clutched at her head with both hooves, whimpering. “It hurts to think about. Doesn’t wanna stick.”

“It’s real,” Twilight said, recovering enough to walk slowly around her friend. Far enough that she would be out of reach if the earth pony decided that a physical response was the right idea again. “Applejack, I’m from there. From when Equestria is the way it’s supposed to be. Not cut into pieces, not at war. I’m trying to put it back together. Trying to… undo the damage that caused this. And I need your help.”

“Anything,” the earth pony whispered. “See my family… under one roof again. Have another one of granny’s apple pies… nothing I wouldn’t sacrifice to make that happen. What do we do?”

“I have a spell we can use, that can send me back. A spell to put the world back to the way it should be. But to cast it, we need the other four Elements of Harmony.” She gestured at the thrones, all but Spike’s little one. “These other cutie marks here, they belong to the other Element bearers. Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash. They’re… out there somewhere. We’ll need to find them.”

Applejack nodded. “Well, like I said. I only know one of those. Rarity used to live here in town. It’s possible we could find where she went. But not like this. It’s almost Eventide. You can come back to the factory with me… we’ll have supper, you can rest… and we’ll set off tomorrow. Cousins should be able to keep the factory going without me for a few days.”

Applejack seemed more than eager to get away from the table, and Twilight couldn’t really blame her for that. This constant reminder of the ruin that had come to Equestria was painful to watch. So she followed the farmpony away, keeping her voice down.

“What’s Eventide?” she asked, once they’d made it far enough that Applejack relaxed. “I’m still trying to… make sense of all the details of this place.”

“It’s the night after night,” Applejack said. “Where the…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Where the sun used to be.”

Twilight stopped walking. “What do you mean used to be?” Applejack had already said something like that, when she touched the map. But Twilight hadn’t known what she meant. Now, though… “Does Celestia not raise the sun anymore? Her sister would help if she couldn’t, I know she would!”

Applejack hurried back. “That isn’t the way it is anymore, Twilight. Maybe in the pretty little garden you showed me, but not… not where ponies really live. We don’t have it like that.”

“You two, don’t move!” a voice called from overhead, loud and demanding. Twilight obeyed by reflex, eyes tracking the group of several ponies as they landed in front of her.

They looked like Lunar Guard, their armor purple and silver instead of gold. Every one of them was a Thestral, which in a group of five meant more bat ponies than she’d ever seen together in one place before.

They landed on the grass all around them, aiming spears at Applejack and crossbows at Twilight.

Twilight swallowed, keeping her magic in reserve if she needed it. She was so tired, but she would have to keep fighting a little longer.

Except instead of shooting her, one of the guards tossed a little jar at her hooves. “Pretend Alicorn, open that and rub it on your face. Do it now, or we shoot.”

“She isn’t a Changeling,” Applejack said, though she didn’t look like she was about to fight. “I’ve been with her all night. She’s loyal to Equestria.”

“We’ll see,” barked the thestral, pointing a wing at the jar. “Go on, ‘Alicorn.’ Do it.”

“What is this?” Twilight lifted it in her magic, unscrewing the lid and sniffing. It smelled herbal, though not dangerous. Her magic couldn’t detect anything poison about it.

“A way of telling the truth,” said another of the guards. “If you have nothing to hide, do it. Can’t believe one of you was dumb enough to think we didn’t have scouts so close to the castle. Like we wouldn’t notice somepony pretending to be an Alicorn.”

“I’m not pretending,” Twilight said, scooping a large ball of the stuff. “Just… put it on my coat? Anywhere in particular?”

The guards only growled in response, and so she smeared it on. Onto one leg, onto her face—it was disgusting, but not worse than anything that Twilight got done at the spa. Except there aren’t usually angry ponies aiming weapons at me.

She couldn’t think about this Equestria like it was her home. They’d been at war for years. Probably that changed a lot about ponies, even the ones that should’ve been good.

A little mud dripped off her face. Other than that, nothing happened.

“The whole jar.”

She obliged them, grinding her teeth together the whole time. Only when she was done did she step towards them, eyes narrowing. “There, now I’m disgusting. Is this enough proof for…” She shook her head. “The night princess is going to be cross with you all, I imagine. Subjecting her friend to treatment like this.”

“What do you think, Nocturn?”

Apparently their commander. Twilight turned on him, giving him the sternest, most disapproving glare she could. Not hard, considering she’d added wet and cold to her list of sensations.

The guard nodded reluctantly. “Not a changeling. I’m sorry, er… whoever you are. But our orders were to take you both to the castle if the test came out negative. Be grateful the magic didn’t go the other way.” He slung his crossbow over his shoulder, and the other soldiers did the same. “Can we be civil about this? We’re less than a mile away from the castle. I’d rather not have to order my men to hurt you.”

“We can be civil,” Twilight said, glaring. “But I’m going to expect a bath when we get there. And… an apology.”

Applejack stared at her in shock and horror, mouth hanging open. But she was so shocked she didn’t end up saying anything.

“We’ll see,” Nocturn finally said, noncommittally. “Princess Nightmare will decide.”