• 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 6: Transit

Beyond the door Twilight found more powerful spells, along with traps at regular intervals.

“Remember,” Rarity called from behind her, voice faint. “Don’t step on the—”

“The round panels. I know.” They hopped and weaved their way around the dangerous traps, and Twilight found herself wondering how long it would take an escaping creature to figure that out. Guess they have to hope that the first one is lethal. But that didn’t make sense either, did it? The ones locked here had been given this prison because they were resistant to death in various ways. Keeping them here meant keeping them contained. So Nightmare Moon must not actually want the traps to be lethal. Maybe she had nothing to do with it. Maybe she just sketched the prison and let her engineers do the rest.

At least they didn’t have far to go. A few tightly wound downward hallways took them to the high-security level, where a massive cage sat at the end of a thin platform. It looked barely wide enough to cross, certainly not big enough for the creature located in the middle.

And there was Pinkie Pie, wearing the same purple armor as everypony else in the Guard, her pink mane shore close and her head slumped onto the ground in front of her. Oh, Celestia, we’re too late.

Then she heard a voice—a voice that explained all the suffering these ponies were enduring on its own. A voice that filled her with dread at its memory. It echoed strangely in the huge space, old and rickety. Except the words didn’t make sense. “Do you have any twos?”

“What the hay is that?” Applejack whispered. “There’s something in the cage…”

There was something in the cage, something Twilight hadn’t even noticed at first. But once she’d heard the voice, she expected it. Tirek was as old, wizened and shriveled as she’d seen him once power had been returned to the ponies of Equestria. Even so, his head nearly scraped on the top of the cage, and his eyes were dark pits. He’d noticed her, and now that she was inside he hadn’t looked away.

Except for what he was holding in his hands, which he kept glancing back to. Twilight had to squint to see them in the gloom, but now that she looked… were those cards?

“Go fish,” Pinkie Pie said. Then she glanced over her shoulder, and saw the group of ponies waiting there. She squeaked in surprise and rose to her hooves, settling her cards on the ground. “Hold on, be right back.”

“You should tell them to come here,” Tirek said, voice smooth and demanding. “I would love to meet them.”

Twilight closed the distance in a few nervous steps, stopping on the edge of the bridge. Standing close to the stone did not make her feel any better—it only made her stomach turn. Up close, Pinkie Pie had many of the same symptoms as the ponies outside. Her mane was washed out, her expression a little glazed, and her movements sluggish. But for Pinkie Pie, that just made her closer to ordinary ponies, instead of making her seem half-dead.

“Hello,” she said, sticking out one hoof to Twilight. “You must be new. Except… none of you are wearing uniforms. So maybe not the kind of new I’m used to.”

Twilight took the offered hoof, then yanked the earth pony into a tight hug. She squeezed, held her there. “I didn’t know if you would still be here when we got here. I’m sorry you had to go through this.”

“Go through… what?” Pinkie pushed her away after a few seconds. “You’re a friendly pony, but I don’t think I know you. Do I?” She tilted her head for a few seconds, frowning. “Wait. Feels like I do. But I know I don’t. So that’s weird. Your name is…” She stuck her tongue out, obviously deep in thought.

“Her name is unknown to you, because she bears the corruption of Chronos,” Tirek called, his voice reedy and thin from the other side of the room. “This pony is from another time. Yet here she stands, not torn apart by the forces of our world. It is curious.”

He knows. Twilight met those dark red eyes for a few seconds, trying to gauge whether he was lying. But she’d never had the same taste for the truth that Applejack did.

“Oh,” Pinkie said, nodding. “That makes sense. I guess I will be your friend? Good to meet you, future friend!”

“Twilight,” she said. “Twilight Sparkle. Not that we will be friends. Well, we will be, but we won’t have stopped…” She shook her head. “And you’re Pinkie Pie.”

“You do know who I am!” Pinkie repeated, in almost the exact tone Twilight would’ve expected from her. “I guess you are a time traveler.”

“We came all the way from Ponyville,” Applejack said. “She was determined to find you. And you… do match the description. More evidence, eh Rarity?”

The unicorn made a noncommittal sound. “You don’t need to convince me. The princess was enough.”


Twilight ignored them both. “We need your help, Pinkie. We’ve got permission to take you with us. There’s a plan in motion, one that could save all Equestria. We need you for it.”

“Ooooooooh!” Pinkie didn’t bounce, but she did squeal a little. “That sounds fun. But… I couldn’t leave Mr. Tirek without finishing our game. Can you three wait by the door?”

“Yes,” Tirek said. “And the Alicorn has questions. I can see it in her face. She wonders… wonders what I know that she doesn’t. She wishes for knowledge—a trade, perhaps?”

Twilight advanced on the cage, walking behind Pinkie on the narrow path. She kept her wings spread all the while, ready to catch her if she slipped. But she didn’t slip, and soon enough she was on the wide platform in front of the cage. She stopped well out of reach, eyes settling on the anti-magic bars. So many spells were in place to contain this creature, yet even still he managed to sap the strength of ponies.

Pinkie Pie took up her cards and resumed the game. Tirek was playing too—yet his attention was only for Twilight now.

“You’re right about me,” she said. “In my time, we’ve met. I know you, your powers, your methods. You can’t trick me.”

In her time he hadn’t kept a set of black, crystalline armor piled up near the back of his cage. It clearly wouldn’t fit him at his present size—he’d need to be bigger and stronger to wear it. “That is an interesting statement on your part,” Tirek said. “And regrettable. I cannot imagine a future that would leave you with the power to travel through time. I must have failed, then.”

“Yes,” she said, voice flat. “You did. How did you know where I came from?”

Tirek passed a few cards to Pinkie through the bars. “I smell it. The stench of it fills this chamber. Yet I would not expect many ponies knew it, did they?” He didn’t wait for confirmation, apparently just watching her expression. “This is what comes of what ponies call magic. So much of it is too dangerous. So much restricted. How weak do you keep yourself by denying the tools you’ve been given? This is why I will triumph—in your world, or this one.”

“We deny those tools because they’re dangerous,” Twilight countered. “Equestria was a paradise. Its princesses were happy, its ponies were happy, and Sombra was dead. Time travel is what did this.”

“And I suppose you think time travel can undo it,” Tirek said, sneering at her. “You don’t understand magic as well as you think you do. You cannot undo what was done here. Maybe if you are very lucky, you could somehow return to the world you wandered from. But this one… this world is the way it is. The past is not a place you can visit—it is irrevocably destroyed. Your quest is doomed.”

“It isn’t,” Twilight argued. “Equestria was perfect the way it was, then time magic ruined it. That’s why Star Swirl’s magic was kept secret. But if the spell could ruin the world, it can fix it. You’ll see.”

“I won’t,” Tirek said, laughing. “And I think I win.”

“Yep!” Pinkie agreed, standing up. Her pile of cards was almost empty compared to his. Was Pinkie letting him win? “It was nice spending time with you, Mr. Tirek. I’ll leave you my cards. Maybe the next pony will want to play with you too.”

“I doubt it,” Tirek said, his eyes never leaving Twilight. “Go on, Alicorn. I know what you’re thinking. You want to know what I know. You want to learn the magic that really could make this world into the one you know. I could teach you. The price wouldn’t be too high.”

“Too high for me.” Twilight left, following Pinkie.

She ignored Tirek as he banged on the cage, shouting louder by the moment. “You’ll come crawling back to me, Alicorn! I can see the ignorance in your eyes! You’ll fail and then my price will be higher! I won’t forget this!”

She could ignore his voice, but it was hard to ignore the magical effect he was having. The weakness that reached through her coat, her skin. Magic draining away so imperceptibly that not even all these layers of protection were enough to stop it. She could see the effects on her friends much more visibly—they had far less to lose.

They made it out, even if Twilight had to urge them forward more than once. The more distance they put between themselves and Tirek, the better they felt. But how long until Pinkie’s magic recovers? She was in there more than a few minutes.

“How long have you been here?” Applejack asked, as they finally made it out the thick metal door of the high security area, slamming it shut.

“A week?” Pinkie tilted her head slightly. “Yeah, about a week. It’s not as bad as I was expecting, but… I wouldn’t say no to some fresh air.”

“Good,” Twilight said. “Because that’s where we’re going. Up to the surface, then a train is waiting for us.”

“Why?” It was the first pony she’d spoken with, the earth pony stallion she took for their leader. He had a different patch on his uniform, though no armor and no visible cutie mark. She hadn’t even gotten his name. “Why does she get to leave?”

“Because that’s what the princess ordered,” Rarity said. “You are loyal to your princess, aren’t you?”

“Yeah,” he said, and several of the others lined up behind him. “I think the princess would want to let her loyal ponies out. We’ve already given her more than any of her other subjects.”

In the time they had been with Tirek, every pony in this prison had assembled. Those with armor were wearing it, and all of them were armed. They formed a tight group, right between Twilight and the exit.

Twilight lowered her voice to a whisper. “We need her for a spell that’s going to save all Equestria,” Twilight said. “When we cast it, the war ends. You all go home.”

“If we’re alive that long,” somepony else said. The whole group shuffled angrily, advancing on them. None of the ponies had drawn their weapons—but she could see that might be seconds away. Just a little more provocation, and there would be blood. “Or maybe you’re just lying. Maybe her family bought her out of here. We want out too!”

I don’t have magic down here. Nopony does. Twilight might not know much about fighting, but she didn’t have to guess how a fight against armed ponies while they themselves were unarmed would go.

“It’s the truth,” Applejack said, her voice loud and clear enough that the whole prison fell silent. Even the monsters in their cages stopped to look at her. “Princess Twilight here showed me what Equestria will look like when this is over. No more King Sombra, no more Chrysalis… everypony living together in peace. Even Nightmare Moon will forgive her sister, let her bring the sun back. It’s the Equestria all of you want to live in.”

You probably shouldn’t have said that last part, Twilight thought. But the soldiers didn’t seem to think so. Only Rarity showed any signs of discomfort—for everypony else in the room, it was a story of hope. The anti-magic field might stop spells, but it couldn’t stop Applejack from being honest.

“You trust her?” asked the guard, not even looking at Twilight anymore. “You really believe all that?”

“I do,” she said. “I have a sense about ponies. I followed her here from my farm. She already stood up to Nightmare Moon once, for you. She can’t keep fighting if you don’t let her.”

Twilight heard a thunk of metal as the guard tossed his sword onto the ground in front of him. “I didn’t feel like fighting anyway.” He walked away.

As quickly as it had come, the crowd dispersed. Ponies slid away to their posts, or else went back to slumping in their cots. The way out was open—but it probably wouldn’t stay that way.

“You’re, uh… quite the orator, Applejack,” Rarity whispered. “I don’t know if I’d have embellished the story quite that way. That’s not the kind of… creativity I’d want spreading through the ranks. You never know who might be listening.”

“I didn’t embellish,” Applejack countered. “You should let Twilight show you her map.”

They hurried out. Pinkie Pie didn’t have much in the way of possessions to gather—after a few teary goodbyes, they were on their way up the steps. Even Pinkie Pie looked like she was one of the prisoners getting her first look at sunlight after years underground.

Of course, there was no sunlight waiting for them at the top of the steps, just the endless full moon. Which shouldn’t work either. The tides must be a nightmare. But Twilight didn’t obsess about the scientific inconsistencies right now. They’d done it! They had pony number four! Only two to go. How hard can they be?

“The train we rode here will require at least the evening before we can return,” Rarity said, as they climbed slowly up the killing field. Twilight couldn’t make out the faces of ponies in the guard posts, but she saw plenty of them emerge on the walls. They seemed surprised to see anypony had made it out. I hope Iron Will is this surprised. I want to see his face. The canons tracked their movement out even so, though none fired. Soon enough they had reached the spikes, and the thin trail leading into the building.

Twilight spent a few more moments looking back into the prison. She could still hear Tirek’s words, his promises that her mission was doomed. How could it be? I’m almost done already! He just wanted my magic so he could escape.

There was a little more politicking to be done before they could finally get on the train. Pinkie Pie suddenly seemed far more valuable to Iron Will now that they were about to leave with her, and he tried to pressure for more recruits before they would be allowed to take her. Twilight was helpless, but Rarity seemed to know exactly what she was doing.

Eventually they were back aboard the war-train, leaving Elkatraz behind them in a cloud of smoky exhaust.

Pinkie’s color was already coming back to her—though it would probably be a week or more before she’d fully recovered. Twilight would have to make sure she didn’t exert herself much in the next few days. For a pony like Pinkie, her estimate was probably generous if anything.

But she was still a changed pony. Instead of throwing an insane “leaving the prison” party, Pinkie Pie only used the kitchen to bake tea cakes and prepare a little sandwich platter. There weren’t even any balloons.

“I’m really curious about what kind of plan you have, Alicorn Princess Twilight Sparkle,” Pinkie said. She’d removed her uniform jacket, spreading it on the chair behind her. Her mane was still straight too, though she hadn’t spiraled down into nihilism or insanity. Yet. “You didn’t get a chance to explain very much about it while we were in the prison.”

“You know almost as much as we do,” Rarity said, sipping politely at her tea. “It’s something to do with time travel, and it’s going to somehow defeat both Sombra and Chrysalis in a single move. Sounds downright fictional to me, but better ponies than I have examined the plan and found it sufficient, so here we are.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Twilight said. She watched Rarity for a few more seconds, deliberating. It still felt wrong to keep secrets from her friends, but her loyalty was the least reliable of any of them. For whatever reason, Nightmare Moon had convinced her more thoroughly than any of the others.

She’ll see this is the right way. I just have to give her a chance. “Have any of you heard of the Elements of Harmony?”

Confused faces were all the answer she needed—except for Rarity. There was something like comprehension there, then quickly hidden. “You know about them, Rarity?”

“W-well…” She hesitated, taking a long sip from her tea. Maybe she thought they’d give up and let her keep politely silent.

Pinkie Pie was here, though. “Oooh, tell us! That sounds really interesting. Like a secret magical artifact buried beneath an ancient temple only for the bravest heroes in all Equestria to discover it at just the right moment to save everypony in their time of need! And there’d be cheering, and promotions, and maybe commendations from the princess…”

Rarity glowered at her. “I don’t know very much—I was still making dresses at the time. Applejack will remember. During the… Summer Sun Celebration.”

“I remember when Nightmare Moon took over,” Applejack muttered, voice dark. “Nothing about any elements.”

“Well, we didn’t see it,” Rarity said. “But apparently the Sun Tyran— Celestia had them stored away. Artifacts, like you said. She tried to use them on Nightmare Moon, but they shattered. I don’t know how they could be part of your plan now, Twilight.”

“Because the Elements aren’t really an object,” she said. “They’re attached to ponies—six ponies, who each represent something. Together their friendship can defeat anything that challenges Equestria. Without their friendship, the elements are powerless. Celestia… and her sister, Luna, used to hold them, three each. But their friendship is… not what it used to be, so of course they wouldn’t work.”

“So that’s why you need these specific ponies,” Applejack supplied. “Each of us has one of these… virtues, or whatever. Without all six—”

“The Elements don’t work,” Twilight agreed. “You’re Honesty, Applejack. Pinkie Pie, you’re Laughter, Rarity, you’re Generosity. We’re just missing Loyalty and Kindness, and we’ll have the complete set.”

“Whichever one of those this Rainbow Dash is, we should be able to find her quick enough,” Rarity said. “Quite simple really, if she’s deployed. The war has become stagnant in the last year or so. Not much territory changes hooves, and fortifications go up along the border. Few deaths on either side, just an occasional covert mission of sabotage. The princess thinks we may have a lasting peace with King Sombra within the decade.”

“You didn’t say which one you were, Twi,” Applejack said. “What do you represent?”

“Magic,” she said. “Not that I’ve done very much of it since getting here. You were amazing in Elkatraz, Applejack. And you too, Rarity. At this rate, we’ll save Equestria in no time!”

Applejack and Pinkie lifted their cups enthusiastically. Rarity joined in a little more awkwardly, and didn’t participate in their friendly cheer.

“There was one thing that troubled me,” she said, when they’d settled down. “Something you said, Applejack. I was hoping you could explain it to me.”

Twilight opened her mouth to answer—but Rarity cut her off. “I know you’ll have more to say, but I want to hear what Applejack meant. Before you have anything to add, I mean. I do apologize for my rudeness, but… I must insist.”

Applejack gulped. Just because she told the truth didn’t mean she had no idea what the consequences might be. And what was worse, she couldn’t casually lie about it, even for a good reason. If she tried, they’d know anyway.

So Twilight fell silent, looking as sympathetic as she could as Applejack started to sweat.

“Well, uh… I didn’t see much specifics. It was a vision kinda thing. There’s this map in Ponyville, see… or what used to be Ponyville, other side of town from the farm. Twilight took me out to see it, back when I thought she was still some royal pony out of the castle. I walked up, and… I saw. Another Equestria.”

“Did you see me?” Pinkie Pie asked, apparently oblivious to the cream that had collected above her lips. “Oooh, was I a dragon?”

“Yes! Er… wait, no. Not a dragon, but I did see you. And you too, Rarity. And Twilight. I could see that I trusted her. There were others… the ones we haven’t met yet, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy. They were there too. I think we had thrones.”

Rarity laughed. “Come now, Applejack. Did you really see all this, or was it just… suggested to you?” She glanced sidelong at Twilight. “Our guide here has some strong ideas, maybe you heard them so many times you thought they were your own?”

“No.” Applejack smacked one hoof on the table. “I didn’t just see it, I felt it. The buzz of zap apple jam on my tongue again… the warmth of the sun while I worked on the farm. It was real, as real as my own memories.”

“Ah, there’s the, uh… sun thing again. I had thought it was what you said. You know the princess isn’t fond of discussing it.”

“I know,” Applejack said, adjusting her hat down over her head. “But just because the princess isn’t doesn’t mean I have to agree with her on everything. There’s no reason we couldn’t have both the night and the day, just like it used to be. I know you remember how it was, Rarity. Back before all you made were military uniforms and purple dresses.”

Rarity rose from the table, taking a step back. “Well, I… I think that’s what I wanted to know.”

“I know what you’re thinking, Rarity,” Twilight called, raising her voice a little. “That sense of loyalty you feel to Nightmare Moon. But before you do what you’re thinking, there’s a few more things you should know about my Equestria.”

Rarity spun back around. She looked pained, her eyes wide and fearful and her breathing rapid. But she was listening, and that was what mattered.

“I don’t know if you know the story behind Nightmare Moon—but deep inside, she’s a pony named Luna, Celestia’s sister. In my Equestria, Luna rules the night alongside Celestia. She’s grateful for what we did in helping her. There are plenty of ponies who love the night—but they do it because they want to, not because they were forced to. You don’t have to be a traitor to her—you can be working for the pony she really is, instead of the nightmare her grief turned her into.”

Rarity didn’t respond, just spun around and hurried into one of the bedrooms. She snapped the door shut behind her, and Twilight heard nothing more from inside.

“You think that’s enough?” Applejack asked. “You don’t think she’ll turn us in, do you?”

“She won’t,” Pinkie Pie said, before Twilight could answer. “I have a good feeling about her. She’s not afraid about us, she’s afraid for someone she loves. But she’ll decide that the world will be a better place for them if she follows your plan, just like I did. Most ponies don’t have my… sense for these things, she’ll just take longer.”

“Her sister,” Twilight whispered. “That’s got to be it. If she worked at the castle, I bet she would have wanted Sweetie Belle living there. Probably one of the safest places in Equestria with all those guards, and… a hostage for Nightmare Moon against her loyalty.”

“Oh.” Applejack nodded. “You’re right, she did have a little sister. I’m pretty sure her parents were in Canterlot when it fell, so that would mean…”

“We’ll have to do something about her,” Twilight whispered. “And yours too, while we’re at it Applejack. If Nightmare Moon goes looking for your family, they’ll be within reach. I wonder if there’s somewhere we can hide them…”

Pinkie Pie’s prediction proved correct, at least so far as the rest of the train back to the castle. They took on troops and supplies in Appleloosa, and Rarity never left their car. She remained polite, withdrawn… but she didn’t threaten them, and no guards arrived to arrest them.

There were no soldiers waiting for them as the train pulled into the castle station.

Twilight did hear a squealing from just ahead of them, followed by a mechanical rumbling. She teleported out through the wall, just in time to watch as the Flim-Flam Industries engine came apart into a pile of sprockets and enchanted crystals.