• 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 19: Glimmer

Twilight couldn’t have said where the transport circle brought them. Not to the palace as she had guessed it would, or anywhere else in the city. A runic circle like that might go a hundred meters or a hundred miles, and so long as something supplied it with power, it wouldn’t matter.

They stood near the edge of a plateau, where a thin layer of ice covered the ground, making every step treacherous. Twilight could see no sign of civilization in any direction.

One thing she didn’t do was step out of the circle, not while Starlight Glimmer stood there. Abandoning her in the wilderness thousands of miles from another pony was certainly a way that a unicorn could defeat an Alicorn. The best way to win that battle was not to be there.

Starlight watched her, smiling in recognition and striding out of the circle. “You can’t stop me now, Twilight. You wouldn’t be here if you could. We both know this is over.”

Twilight followed her to the edge of a cliff, keeping herself firmly between Starlight and the exit. If she tried to leave, Twilight would be in her way to ensure that she escaped as well.

“Are you happy with what your changes got you, Starlight? Is this the Equestria you wanted?”

The unicorn bared her teeth in response, horn glowing faintly. “You’re not going to take it from me now. I’ve had decades to prepare for this. I could kill you. Or maybe you’ve come to surrender. Equestria outside is chaos, but I can bring peace. Did you see what my city became? That was what it was destined to be, before you interfered.”

The longer her eyes adjusted, the more Twilight began to realize about where they had come. This wasn’t a random plateau on the edge of nowhere—this was a city. Or it had been, in another life.

Griffonstone was a desolate, windswept wasteland. Nothing grew on the mountain beyond, and every home she could see was empty. Strange shapes half-lifted from the snow in the horrible suggestions of creatures dead.

“This would be a great place to fight,” Twilight whispered. “Whoever loses can just go join all of them, right? Won’t be much to see.”

Starlight’s eyes narrowed. “If you’re trying to blame this on me, it won’t work. Nightmare Moon made this world, not me. Are you suggesting I could stop a pony that defeated Celestia?”

Twilight prepared her own magic, though without knowing what Starlight would try, it was hard to know which counterspell she should use. If she guessed wrong, the choice would be a fatal one.

“You must still remember,” Twilight spat, advancing on her. “You can’t play dumb, you’re not like all these ponies who grew up here. Only one thing changed about the past, and this is the result.” She gestured at the frozen city with her wing. “You made this, not Nightmare Moon.”

“No.” Starlight aimed her horn low, then blasted with a wave of blue magic. Twilight wasn’t sure what it was meant to do, but she didn’t hesitate long enough to be hit. She vanished from in front of it, appearing beside the circle home. Where the magic hit the snowy cliff behind them, steam began to rise, and a dead tree caught fire. “This is just… chaos theory in action. A minor change cascades into unrelated factors. Even totally reversing events would probably produce a different future.”

Twilight didn’t strike back. She could hear it in her voice—Starlight knew. “You changed one thing, Starlight. You took away the Elements of Harmony. Looks like nopony rose up to do what we’d done. Now everything we didn’t stop is all back, eating Equestria alive. How much needs to die?”

“You!” Starlight roared. She stomped with both forelegs, magic glowing from her horn a second time. Something rose up from between them, a stone golem larger than a building crusted over with snow and ice. “This is your fault, Twilight! All of it!”

Don’t you care about breaking the return spell? But Twilight didn’t get a chance to think—she had to dodge out of the way as a single gigantic fist came down on the place she’d been standing, circling around it in the air. “How?” she asked. “All we did was give your ponies back what you took! What was wrong about that?”

“You should’ve left me alone!” The golem surged forward, ripping one of its arms from its torso and flinging it straight at Twilight.

She concentrated, and vanished from the place she’d been floating. The walls of Griffonstone didn’t do so well, and exploded into broken bricks where the blow struck. But Twilight barely had a second to think before it was coming for her again.

That was the spell she was using. It didn’t matter what Starlight said about preparing to kill an Alicorn, her come-to-life spell wasn’t that different from plenty Twilight had used. Maybe she wasn’t trying as hard as she said.

Twilight struck with a spell of her own, far less energetic than the one trying to kill her. It was the dark magic Celestia had taught her, that could ground out most spells.

The gigantic rock figure began to wobble, then toppled sideways off the edge of the plateau with a crash. Stone broke along the side, spreading cracks through the ice atop the platform until the entire thing was like a shattered window.

She landed directly in front of her enemy. “Starlight.” Twilight tried to find the anger she knew this pony deserved, but just couldn’t muster it. “Look at what your magic did to Equestria.”

“It gave me back what you stole,” Starlight countered. “And more than I could’ve dreamed. I had a fifteen-year head start. It has survived changeling attacks, dragons, crystal ponies. Even Nightmare Moon herself. What did you build that’s still standing?”

“Nothing,” Twilight admitted, ears flat. “Starlight, look around you. The planet is dying. Nightmare Moon’s magic isn’t enough to fight the laws of nature. Everypony will die, including your city. Griffonstone didn’t have magic, so they went first. But it’s happening everywhere. Unless the future you want is the one where Sombra’s crystal ponies rule over an empty planet.”

Starlight looked for a moment like she might argue—and she hesitated. The plateau was a ruin of broken stone and death, and Starlight was momentarily exhausted. A spell like the one she’d summoned took energy, energy that even an experienced unicorn would miss.

“It’s too late for the rest of Equestria,” Starlight said. “Nightmare Moon can’t be convinced, I’ve tried. She doesn’t care about anything but punishing her sister, and the idea of raising the sun has made her kill the ponies who suggest it.”

“I know,” Twilight said. “We can’t save the world the way it’s become. But maybe, if you let me, I can make it back into the way it was.”

“Of course it would be you,” Starlight said, glaring furiously at her. “You’re the pony who always saves the day, isn’t that right? Equestria is only like this because you weren’t here to save it!”

“It’s not like that!” Twilight backed away from her, though now she couldn’t tell where the transport circle was hidden under the rock. Maybe it was destroyed, and they were trapped here to freeze together. “I don’t do any of it on my own. I have five of the kindest, bravest, cleverest ponies in Equestria to help me. Equestria isn’t like this because of me, it’s like this because you took all of them away.”

Starlight radiated hatred as powerfully as any of the enemies Twilight had ever beaten. But she was also looking at the space behind her, where there had once been a griffon city. Now there was just old stone and bird bones, covering slowly with snow.

“It’s too late,” she said again. “Even if I let you go… take the pony you came for… what difference does it make? I used the Cutie Map with Star Swirl’s time travel spell. The castle never grew. The tree is still inert out in the Everfree somewhere.”

“No,” she said. Not confrontational this time, just matter-of-fact. “It came back with me. I have the spell too, Starlight. I can do it. Help me fix this.”

“Even now.” Starlight turned away from her, voice cracking. She could practically hear the tears streaming down her face, even if she couldn’t see them. “Even now you’re trying to ‘reform’ me? Even after all of this? You must think the whole world is my fault. Wouldn’t that be the best punishment you could give me? Make me watch everything die in the world I created.”

Twilight shrugged. “I’ve never been big about punishments, Starlight. Just let me try and fix it. I promise if I fail that I’ll leave your city alone. You can keep trying to save as many ponies as you want… however you think you should. Just let me try. I know you want to go home too.”

“S-Sunburst…” she croaked, voice hoarse. Twilight didn’t even recognize the name, but Starlight wasn’t waiting to give explanations. “He was in the Empire when it fell. One of the first that Sombra took into his court. He’s… a monster now, just like all the others. My fault.”

She turned around slowly, lowering her head in defeat. “Okay, Twilight. Go back. Do what you can. I won’t stop you.”

Her horn glowed, and a faint circle of runes cut through the rock behind her. It glowed blue, waiting receptively for Twilight.

Is this the trap? After all this, is Starlight just going to try and kill me?

She could see the tears. Hear the agony in her voice. “You aren’t coming?”

She shook her head, looking off at the dead city. “I come here when I need to be alone, to reflect on what I’ve done. I think I still need a few minutes.”

Twilight scanned the circle, but as before there were no hostile magics hidden there. She stepped up, letting the teleport take her away.

Twilight cowered against the pavement; her voice so weak that she didn’t know if the crystal ponies standing over her would even hear it. “I’m not an Alicorn!” she squeaked again. There was no defiance in her voice, but there didn’t have to be.

“Then what are you?” The crystal pony captain shoved her back, making her slide along the rough cobblestone. “I know an Alicorn attacked the Empire. I know she matched your description. It’s true that Fateless can take away your souls, but she’s no Alicorn herself. She can’t rob you of your wings!”

Twilight trembled. The fight in her library went on, with more shelves toppling and crystals shattering. She couldn’t know what else was happening—couldn’t feel sad about the books when her own life seemed about to end. “There is an Alicorn Twilight here. I’m not her.”

“Oh.” He sat back, tossing the knife up and down in his magic, before scoring the side of his helmet with it once to show her just how sharp it really was. “I see. You’re her imposter. A changeling can easily pretend to wander around here without a soul—you never had one to begin with. Not much of a change.”

He leered. “Change back, now. Or I’ll start cutting.”

“I’m not a changeling!” she squealed, voice faint. “I’m a librarian! The Alicorn says she came from the past, or… another future, or… it didn’t make sense to me. But I’m not her! I’m just a pony, who lived here since I was a teenager. I’ve never been anything else!”

“We’ll see.” He advanced on her again, pressing hard on one of her legs so she couldn’t wiggle away. “The Empire doesn’t have your fancy pony detection spell. We only know one way to find out if someone’s a changeling. Can’t copy someone if you’re dead. Either way, it doesn’t sound like I need you.”

The knife shot towards her neck, and she knew she wouldn’t be strong enough to stop it. His magic was too powerful.

The obsidian blade smacked into something faintly purple, shattering on contact and dropping the metal handle limply to the ground. A pony appeared behind her, settling one hoof on her shoulder. “I’m not sure who the buck you are,” she said, through labored breathing. The pony was Rarity, one of those who had come for her. She was worn and bloody, but intact. “But how about you turn around and walk away.”

“Unless you’d like to end up like those idiots back there,” Rainbow added, dropping down on her other side. “Believe me, I love shattering crystal ponies. I could do one more.”

The captain’s amusement vanished in an instant. He took a single step back, watching something over Twilight’s shoulder that she couldn’t see. “You haven’t won today,” he spat. “When I’m dead, I’ll wake up in the Empire like my ponies already have. What about your soldiers?” He pointed behind him, at the desolation outside the palace. “How many died today? You will surrender in time, like the rest of Equestria.”

“Not likely,” Pinkie said. “We already kinda saw the Crystal Empire, and it was really awful. Maybe if you were a little nicer ponies would want to live there, but…”

The captain exploded, like a vase dropped on concrete. A pony appeared behind him, her horn glowing with the spell she’d just used. It was the Alicorn, without so much as a scratch on her. Had she beaten Starlight Glimmer after all? “Sorry. Were you done with him yet?”

Twilight led the way into the palace. She hadn’t been given any unique spells or metal passes when she left Starlight on that plateau, but she didn’t need one. Her copy might not be a master of spellcraft, but she knew a tunnel hidden in the library, one that could take them directly into the structure without getting past the desperate, confused guards outside.

Twilight felt a little guilty leaving them to their own devices after such a crisis. Many had died in today’s battle, not just at the palace. But they were so close now that she couldn’t possibly take the risk of failure.

“I can’t believe you fought for me,” her copy was saying, from the back of the group. Aside from directions, she remained there, well away from the tunnel junctions and any possible traps they might encounter. “You could’ve run. Even Starlight—”

“I’m sure your friend had good reason,” Rarity said. “But that’s not the way we do things.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow added. “I’ve only known them for a little bit, but these ponies are as tough as they come. Not Shadowbolts or anything, but they’ve got way more chill. It’s a worthwhile trade when you think about it.”

Her unicorn self didn’t seem to have a clue what that meant.

“Besides,” Fluttershy added, voice gentle. “Part of what you’re feeling probably comes from not having your cutie mark. The other Twilight said that was really hard on a pony. You should feel better once we give it back.”

“It’s been so long since I had one…” she whispered. “I passed the vault a thousand times, and never dreamed… never felt tempted. Are you sure anypony is better off? Starlight always says that inequality—”

“You should probably forget about that stuff,” Applejack said. “Starlight said what she did to keep this place going. We aren’t here to judge her, but we’re not just here to fit in. If a pony wants to make a difference, then she has to be what everypony around her isn’t.”

They reached a final vault door, with a combination and a massive steel tumbler. The other Twilight entered the combination on her first try, though she took their help to get it to open for her. Just inside it was a cave, reminding Twilight a little of the place Sombra had taken them to die. But while that cave had only been given enough to kill them, here there was a finished path, and little glowing emergency lights to direct them towards a set of tiny metal shelves.

The others all stopped in their tracks, completely overwhelmed by the amount of magic here. Only Twilight the Alicorn and Twilight the nearly-drained shadow of a unicorn could approach. They passed a gold pedestal, where a metal staff rested at the center of several chairs.

“I still remember when she took me here,” Twilight muttered. “Starlight promised that once I gave up my cutie mark, I’d be like everypony else. I wouldn’t have to deal with any of my own problems again. They’d be our problems, and we could face them together.”

“Is that what happened?” Twilight asked. Her eyes scanned the shelves—they were at least fifty feet up, and several times that lengthwise. Each square represented another pony life with all the color taken away. There were plenty of familiar marks here, but she hadn’t come to set them all free. She couldn’t keep her promise of leaving Starlight’s village alone if she destroyed it. Sombra’s attack was already bad enough.

“For awhile,” Twilight said. “The others were just as new at it as I was. And none of us were very good at anything. There were few enough ponies in town that I could always find something to do. Or re-do, five or ten times, until we got it right.”

“You can run as far away from your failures as you want,” Twilight whispered. “But you still won’t get away. Every mistake you ever make will follow you until you face it. You can’t run fast enough to get away from yourself.”

Her companion slumped forward against the glass. Then she pointed. It was so low to the ground that Twilight hadn’t noticed, but she knew it clearly now. It was her cutie mark, exactly as she’d known for her entire life. There was no way to miss it.

“Those ponies seem nice,” the unicorn said. “Do you really think they’ll be my friends?”

“I know they will,” Twilight said, slicing the glass away along the square boundaries. It fell forward, shattering against the stone. And Twilight’s cutie mark was set free.

She jerked briefly as it hit, shuddering. Her eyes widened as she took in the wall of magic, rising over her like a tsunami about to crash. Twilight teleported them both back to join the others, where they were out of the worst of its reflection.

Unicorn Twilight smiled weakly, looking at each of the others one at a time. “Thanks again for saving me. That crystal pony didn’t seem friendly.”

“No big deal,” Rainbow said, the first to embrace her. “Just wait until you see the Elements of Harmony for the first time! That’s gonna be the most awesome thing you’ve ever done!”

“Our airship is pretty cool,” Pinkie added.

“Okay fine, the airship is cool,” Rainbow admitted. “But the Elements are awesome. Come on!”

Twilight set to work with the teleportation spell. In a way it wasn’t different from the one that Starlight had used, a runic circle made to correspond to one waiting in their hidden airship.

“What did you do to Starlight?” the unicorn version of her asked from outside the circle. She didn’t try to interfere, hadn’t done anything with her horn yet. “Were you lying? Taking advantage of how little emotion I felt when—”

“She wasn’t lying,” Starlight Glimmer said. Her voice came from the stairs, the ones that must lead up into the palace proper. She didn’t sound angry, only incredibly tired.

“Starlight!” The unicorn looked away, retreating a step and lowering her head. “I know you said that I shouldn’t—”

Starlight raised a hoof to silence her. “I’m not here to chastise you, Twilight. Only to wish you good luck. Both of you.”

She ignored the others, stopping only when she reached Twilight. “I thought making my town again would make me happy. I thought taking away your friends would do it. But that didn’t work. Fix what you can.”

“I will,” Twilight promised. “And if it doesn’t go the way I thought, I’m not giving up on this planet yet. We’ve got the Elements back together. They’ll do incredible things, just wait.”

“Without you,” Starlight Glimmer said. “I look forward to it. But not yet. Sombra’s last attack cost many lives. My ponies need to grieve.”

Fortunately for their return trip, Twilight had hidden the airship on the south of the city. Had Sombra’s forces come upon the vessel, she had no doubt it would’ve been burned away, or just missing completely as they took it back.

But apparently Sombra’s forces had followed the most direct route, because the place they teleported back to when she finally finished her spell circle was precisely the one she remembered. A comfortable, if cramped, sitting room, a massive gasbag that had been slightly deflated to get them down here in the first place. Their boxes and cans of supplies.

But more important than all of that was the rock she sent Pinkie to retrieve from a little way outside the airship. She brought it back along with the sack of all the elements, and she didn’t even have to be told who to give it to. Twilight remained still, watching with everypony else as she offered it to her unicorn copy.

This was the moment that Equestria hinged on. Without all of the Elements united, Twilight wouldn’t be able to cast her spell and fix the planet.

The unicorn squealed in surprise as the magic lifted her. It didn’t matter that the others had been exposed to this beside the Cutie Map, and apparently it didn’t matter that she’d spent most of her life living without a cutie mark in a city of brainwashing and control.

After a few seconds the artifact set her down, transforming into a necklace just as all the others had. Twilight could feel a little of the power radiating from her, and a little envy that went along with it. These ponies might be different from the ones she’d left behind, but they were still her friends. The longer she stayed, the closer to their old selves they seemed.

Closer, but also changed. This version of Equestria would never be the one she left—there were too many dead, too much permanent damage. The only hope for it now was a reset.

“How does it feel?” Fluttershy asked.

“Good,” unicorn Twilight said. “I didn’t think I’d like all this magic at once—live in the city long enough and you start hearing things about how overrated magic was, how it could give you a rash, or… but I like it.”

“It does feel like we’ve just done something,” Rarity said. “But what? We’re all wearing these things now. Can they really fix the whole world in one spell?”

“Yes,” Twilight whispered. “This is everything. No more unexpected roadblocks. No more hidden changelings, no more missing pieces. We have everything.” She turned for the stairs. “Rainbow, help me cut the sandbags. Drop all of them, we’re going up. Ponyville is waiting.”