• Published 20th Oct 2019
  • 1,360 Views, 31 Comments

The Alicorn Problem - TheTimeSword

Do you want to be part of a secret magical society to help Equestria? The idea sounded good to Moondancer. That is, until the society started endangering ponies for their "tests". And just who is the mysterious Grandmaster?

  • ...

Problem Solved

Sunset had been nervous a moment ago. Suri Polomare had just pressed her insignia against one of the inner stones of the sanctuary—and much like the outside, this one opened another secret passage to a smaller door with the same golden circle. Sunset could only kick herself for not realizing there might be more than one hidden door, but she doubted her insignia would’ve worked. It didn’t matter anymore. Her nervousness evaporated the moment she laid eyes on the Grandmaster.

The golden mane and pale yellow fur wasn't any more special than anypony else—though her height was noticeable. The tall beauty was a unicorn. Not a secret alicorn. Not a monster in disguise. The only thing about the mare was her prettiness, something Sunset didn’t often think about. She never bothered to compare looks or height before, but this mare made her question such things. Why though? Something about the golden mane made it appear like liquid gold hovering on the mare’s shoulders. It invited Sunset; she wondered what it smelled like.

Then her eyes snapped to the face—what a terrible smile. Both rows of teeth were as straight as needles, and her lips were so wide the tops of her gums could be seen. Sunset believed those teeth wanted to bite down on her. The mouth said honeyed words, but Sunset couldn’t hear. Her heart rate shot up as sweat coursed down her brow. Her nervousness returned. Why did sweat? What was happening?

Her eyes darted around the room. Only her eyes. She took a moment to swallow her panic. “You’re the Grandmaster?” she asked, though it wasn’t the question she meant.

“I am. But please, call me Faith,” the Grandmaster replied as she trotted toward Sunset—the words were a command. “It’s so good of you to return, Sunset Shimmer. I worried you would’ve been convinced to remain at the princess’s side. I should never have doubted you.”

Sunset immediately noticed how Faith walked. It wasn’t like other ponies. At first, it brought an image of a tree swaying back and forth in the wind. But that wasn’t right—she twisted, bent, and rounded. Faith moved in a way that Sunset could not put her finger on—would that she had fingers. Whatever it was, she didn’t like it, and she did not like Faith. The prettiness of the mare acted like a fancy lure on a fishing hook. A trap. “Of course I returned. I told them nothing. I managed to sneak out before they even knew I was there,” Sunset lied. Even she could tell that her voice didn't sound convincing.

“I certainly doubt that,” Faith replied. She reached Sunset and circled around her, down one side and coming up the other. “I do hope you told them everything. I’d hate it if they didn't meet us. It'll take them a while before they figure it out, but they should arrive just in time for the ritual to be complete. The shock on their faces!”

Sunset couldn’t move to follow Faith, not even her head. Only her eyes jutted in the direction of the mare. “Meet us? I told you, I didn’t tell them anything. Why would they meet us? Where would they meet us?”

Faith stopped in front of Sunset and that terrible smile returned. Every fur on Sunset’s neck shot up straight like dogs' hackles. “Come now, my dear little unicorn. How is it you’re so clever but never foresaw our use of you? Had you not returned, we would have needed to find another for the ritual. You’ll make an excellent conductor.”

“You’re using me? For what?” Sunset spat, a sudden jolt of anger coursed through her body.

A slow, short tilt of her head allowed a few strands of gold to fall from the curls. Faith’s smile remained. “I guess you’re not a clever pony. What did Celestia ever bother seeing in you?”

Sunset understood. Moondancer had been right, she shouldn’t have returned. And now she knew why her body couldn’t move. She'd struggled with every fiber of her being. Her horn lit and fizzled. Every muscle except for her eyes and mouth remained still. She’d fallen right into their trap. “How’d you figure it out!?”

“Figure out? I knew from the start. We do have members of the royal guard here in the society. Some from the Crystal Empire, some from here in Canterlot. Of course, with all the cloaks, I’m sure you had no way of telling. Almost as though we planned for exactly that.” Faith stifled a chuckle. “Thank you for bringing back Svengallop. I don’t need him anymore, but I did promise to make him an alicorn. He would be a tad sore if he missed out on the grand ceremony. My Masters have done such wonderful work. It would’ve been bothersome to replace them.”

“What are you going to do with me?” Sunset cried.

Faith didn’t answer right away. She tapped her pale yellow cheek lightly and watched as Sunset squirmed. “You have so much magic in you, and you can fit so much more. It’s why we test all the unicorns brought here. Everyone is accepted, don’t you know? It doesn’t matter if they’re not strong. We only need one. One stronger than all the rest. And that one is you.”

As Faith turned, Sunset saw the cutie mark. At first, she thought it nothing more than a golden circle on the pale yellow fur. But a part dipped while another grew, as though a snake were trying to eat its own tail. And Sunset realized it was exactly that. The same mark on all the doors. It’d been in front of everyone since the very beginning. “If that’s the case, no point in fighting it then. I was going to teleport back and have Twilight arrive to arrest you, but bringing you in myself will prevent this little blunder from falling on Moondancer’s ears.”

The slender unicorn stopped and slowly turned to Sunset. Her brows pinched together as she gave a doubtful smile. Sunset tried her best spells to no avail. “Bring me in? Oh, you sweet, pure thing. You don’t understand. You're not the one in control. Let me show you.” As Faith took a step toward Sunset, the world shifted. A portal rippled around them. The limestone walls faded, replaced by crystal glow and light purple stone.

Behind Faith, Sunset could see it in its full glory. The Tree of Harmony. “Have you ever heard a word, and then the next few days you hear it everywhere? It’s so coincidental, but your mind is hardwired to pick up on patterns. I felt that. One day—drinking tea, reading a book—I felt it. I was reading a copy of the Friendship Journal, published by your royal friend. That’s where I first read the word and it sounded off in my head. Then, the next day, I heard of the Pony of Shadows. That’s when I heard the word again. I heard it everywhere.”

Sunset stared at Faith who appeared brighter than the Tree of Harmony behind her. She struggled to move—Faith’s spell remained, locking her in place. All she could do was listen, and speak. “What was the word?” she asked.

“I’d heard it before, it wasn’t new to my lexicon. I had a very sound education, you see. Not quite as wonderful as your royal friend—or you for that matter. But I am one to keep up with the world. I’d heard of Twilight Sparkle, seen her coronation. It took place in Canterlot, how could I not? And I even heard the word there—though the time between then and the Pillars' return was so long. I never correlated the two.”

Not understanding, Sunset held her tongue for a moment. She couldn’t hold her curiosity for long. “What does this have to do with the Tree of Harmony?” She motioned with her eyes to the tree behind Faith.

“Isn’t it funny?” Faith asked as she turned to face the tree. She took several steps toward the crystal bark. “Thanks to Twilight Sparkle, the Pillars returned. There were headlines and newspapers for weeks about it. They even published the information about their planting of the Tree of Harmony. The Pillars have their own special Elements, even if they don't have gemstones to back it up. So how is it that Star Swirl the Bearded is the Pillar of Sorcery, and yet Twilight Sparkle is the Element of Magic?” she asked.

She didn’t give Sunset time to answer. “They’re called the Elements of Harmony, in the Tree of Harmony. Yet the Elements and the Pillars are very different indeed—except Star Swirl and Twilight Sparkle. Sorcery and magic, different names for the same thing. But strength and healing certainly don’t match up to kindness or honesty.

“Magic is a very common trait. It’s Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark, along with her supposed Element. Her friend, Starlight Glimmer, also has a cutie mark for magic. And Moondancer as well. And you. So, if anyone could wield magic like her, then surely anyone can wield her Element.” Faith looked up at the six-pointed star sitting in the tree.

Sunset snapped. “You can’t be serious!” She knew better than anyone what sort of effects an Element in the wrong hands, or hooves, could lead to. “The Elements of Harmony aren’t meant for just anyone to use!”

Isn’t it funny?” Faith repeated the phrase. “You hear a word, and then you hear it everywhere. Harmony. The Elements of Harmony. The Tree of Harmony. But see, that’s where I think the whole thing falls apart.” Faith turned back to Sunset. “Twilight Sparkle doesn’t wield the Element of Magic. She can’t. It makes no sense for it to be called that. It makes no sense for them to be called the Elements of Harmony, either. It’s one big joke! Don’t you see? Twilight Sparkle is the Element of Harmony. Singular. And these six gemstones are the Elements of Magic.”

“I don’t understand. Whatever you want to call them—do you really expect to wield them? Do you really think you can pluck one off the tree and use it like Twilight? Lifting the sun and moon is one thing—this is on a whole other level.”

“Sunset,” Faith said the name as if she were a teacher scolding a disobedient bully. “Have you not been paying attention? Must I feed you every bread crumb to follow the trail?” The terrible smile returned. “Think about this: Princess Celestia and Princess Luna both wielded the Elements. Three for one, three for the other. We've all heard the legends. Your Twilight Sparkle has even done lectures about it. But did you ever stop and ponder just how Celestia defeated Nightmare Moon? Surely you know the tale. Banished to the moon for a thousand years!”

Sunset gulped. “She used the Elements?”

Faith’s face lit up with glee. “Very good!” She patted Sunset’s head. “But why was she able to control Luna’s Elements? Why didn’t Nightmare Moon use the Elements to banish Celestia? It’s because, like Twilight Sparkle, they both control a very special Element. The Element of Harmony! The one Element—that six-pointed star—to control all the others in the same way she controls her friends. I mean, have you seen them? They get necklaces and she gets a crown. It’s not a coincidence. One to control the others. It is not unlike ourselves. We must have harmony within us to maintain our magic, lest it is thrown wildly out of control.”

“She doesn’t control them!” Sunset snarled. “You’re a fool! They’re her friends!”

“You’re right and you’re wrong. She doesn’t have to control them with words. They believe in her. They believe she can solve all their problems. All they have to do is have—” She paused, pressing a hoof to her cheek. “Faith.”

With a spark of energy, Faith created a bubble surrounding Sunset. Released from her state of suspension, Sunset tackled the circular walls in anger. She found she could still not cast any magic, but that’s when she saw what was preparing. The Society of Secret Sorcery gathered, over sixty strong. All the unicorns were there to help whatever ritual Faith planned.

“I’ve got faith, too,” she told Sunset. “I believe I can create a new Element. The Element of Faith. With it, I will take control of Twilight Sparkle’s Element. I will use my Element to control them all and ascend to a new state. I will grant myself, and my followers, alicornhood. The Pillars put all their magic into creating the seed for this tree. So to create something new, I need a lot of magic. I’ll siphon it straight into one spell, all of it for this tree. That’s why I gathered these ponies. And that’s why I needed somepony strong enough to handle it.”

“You’ll never get away with this!” Sunset shouted.

“Oh, you poor, misguided thing. Unlike you, Sunset Shimmer, I can have everything I want,” Faith replied. Upon hearing those words, Sunset tore at the bubble in a fit of ferocious anger. Her horn exploded in sparks, though no spell could release. Everything in her reeled towards the golden unicorn in a primal fury. She wanted nothing more than to rip Faith straight from reality. “We’re beginning everyone! Remember to smile! This is a glorious day, after all.”

The Masters sounded the start of the ritual, and the unicorns in the black cloaks stood shoulder to shoulder. All of their magic beams were sent straight for the bubble—straight for Sunset. As the magic passed through her and out her horn, it formed a single ray of light that focused on Faith’s horn. The overwhelming agony of all the magic being pushed through her was too much for Sunset. Too much for anypony to withstand. Her vision darkened into a tunnel, and the cavern echoed with her anguished scream as the ritual began.

Moondancer couldn’t help but feel guilty, and a little justified. It’d already been an hour since Sunset Shimmer departed with Svengallop, and nothing had come of it. The bearers had come. Rainbow Dash was soaked from clearing the raging storm outside, and Rarity was still half asleep. They all seemed uneasy and uncertain. Especially Twilight, who paced in the entrance of her castle where they had all gathered.

“We could go to Canterlot, maybe use Tirek to sniff Sunset’s cloak. We still have it and her insignia,” Starlight suggested, throwing out ideas.

“For once, the snooty one is right,” Tirek agreed. He stood nearest to Moondancer, which was to say, nowhere close to the bearers. It didn’t surprise Moondancer. They feared him, or resented him, and had not seen his demeanor change over the last few days. “I can track her. She’s a unicorn. It’ll be easier than that earth pony.”

“If you go to Canterlot and they’re not there, we wasted time searching for an empty base,” Applejack reasoned. “If she told y’all to wait, then wait. It’s the middle of the night. They may wait till mornin’. Or they didn’t want to wake their precious Grandmaster.”

“That’s true, Applejack. Though if they are waiting to do it in the morning, going to Canterlot would be the best idea,” Twilight debated. The alicorn's pacing made Moondancer more anxious. “We still have no clear answer on how or where or even why they’re trying to complete this ritual. If they’re not in Canterlot, we have no other leads but Sunset. Moondancer, any thoughts on where they’d go?”

The sudden question surprised Moondancer so much that she choked on nothing. She coughed and gagged before regaining her composure. “Me!?” she questioned, which garnered a sour look from Twilight. “Right. Sorry.”

With an audible gulp, she took a moment to frame her words. “Well, I have a bunch of individual thoughts about what the society wants. I couldn’t wrap my head around why exactly the society would do what they do. Why be secret if you’re going to create an eclipse? Run all these tests?”

Tirek raised his skinny hands and applauded Moondancer. “I was beginning to think you ponies didn’t even realize the oddity of a secret society going public. I certainly noticed it.”

Twilight stopped pacing to shoot a look between the two. “Wait, what are you two talking about?”

“I don’t know why it wasn’t more obvious, but Sunset’s information about what they want made it click in my head. Being secret was their goal, right? To create a society so secret they would never be found by someone as evil as Tirek. But why create an eclipse to show everyone? It didn’t make sense. But if they’re trying to become alicorns, then secrecy is thrown out the window. A sudden sixth alicorn shows up out of nowhere?” Moondancer shook her head.

“There’s five of them now?” Tirek asked and sneered.

Moondancer ignored Tirek’s question and continued, “You can’t be a secret society without members. Performing the eclipse? That was a big display of magic. Every unicorn would be jumping at the prospect of doing something like that. Using that and these tests, I think it was a way to recruit new members. They wanted as many unicorns to see the potential of coming together.”

“And they would do that… because?” Rainbow Dash wondered.

"To amass a large amount of unicorn magic. Maybe to rival an alicorn? Take all of it and make a single alicorn? Twilight, you were a unicorn who became an alicorn through Celestia, right? Then perhaps they think that lifting the sun and moon—these tests—will strengthen them to match her. Then they can create one alicorn who can create hundreds more.”

“That makes too much sense,” Starlight said. “I’m getting a chill down my spine just thinking about it.”

“I’m not done.” Moondancer remembered the friendship journal. “If they are creating a ritual, I don’t think they’d just settle for doing it in one of their hideouts. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together when we found out the other two Masters. As rude as she was, Sunset was a wealth of information. Revenge is just a means to an end, I think. Maybe they're being used to distract us from what they need. Like, we'll focus on them rather than what the Grandmaster is trying to get.”

Pinkie Pie slammed both hooves into the ground, waking Rarity. “Those no-good, rotten, lowdown meanies! Lying to ponies! Causing all this destruction!”

“Pinkie, please,” Rarity said. “Don’t interrupt her.” She then let her head lax. “Or me.”

“I believe the Grandmaster only sought out those three for information if that's what she did,” Moondancer said. “Suri was in the journal. The key you gained after besting her. You six opened the box from the Tree of Harmony to defeat Tirek. If I was in an outsider's position, I'd correlate that you six have gotten everything from that tree. And the Elements were powerful enough for Celestia to banish Nightmare Moon, and for you to reform her. But if Celestia could use them alone, an alicorn, then a group as powerful as her could too, right?”

Twilight scratched behind her ear and looked around at the faces of the bearers. “I guess?”

“I don't know if what I'm saying is right, Twilight," Moondancer continued. "Them wanting to become alicorns and all the tests combine together in my mind. I'd be a fool to not see that the power to raise the sun and moon is equivalent to wielding the Elements of Harmony. If they could use the Elements, then they'd surely have enough power to create an alicorn." She then paused, blinked, and gaped. "No! That's it! They must think that Celestia used the Elements to turn you into an alicorn!"

"But she didn't—" Twilight tried to reply.

"It doesn't matter how she did it. That's the conclusion I came to by following their trail," Moondancer said, cutting her off. "The pieces of this puzzle click together too perfectly. Even if it's wrong—no, I know it's not wrong."

“That makes sense to me!” Starlight said and trotted to the front door.

Tirek approved as the bearers murmured in agreement. “It sounds to me like you’ve got it solved. All you need to do is temporarily withdraw your little Elements and prevent the society from obtaining them. Hunt them down slowly, and your Equestria is free to frolic once more. And I get my rug.”

“Trying to become alicorns—if they're messing with the Elements of Harmony, they're likely to do more harm with them than any of their tests have done." Twilight nodded. "Forget walking. Everyone come close,” she commanded and included Tirek. “I’m teleporting us to the Tree of Harmony. Good work, Moondancer. I knew I could count on you.”

Moondancer huddled in with the bearers and tried to hide her blushing cheeks. She enjoyed the praise, whether or not she was correct. It kept her warm inside, which vanished and turned as cold as the rain that soaked her to the bone. Twilight had teleported them, but not to the cave where the Tree of Harmony resided. Mud coated the underside of Moondancer's hooves, and Rarity's scream of panic could barely be heard over the sudden boom of thunder.

They stood in the ravine that once was a river in the Everfree Forest, dark clouds hung far overhead. Ponyville was clear of rain—but the Everfree was a place all its own. “Twilight? You mess up your spell? We’re getting soaked out here!” Pinkie exclaimed.

“No, I aimed correctly,” Twilight replied, and pointed at a small gap in the wall. Moondancer guessed that was the Tree of Harmony's cave. “But I was trying for the inside. I’m not sure what happened.”

They moved quickly as a group toward the distinct gap. The blur of water on her glasses made Moondancer second guess her eyes, but when the bearers gasped, she knew she saw true. The cavern’s entrance had a magical barrier blocking entry. “I was right!” Moondancer beamed happily. “They are here!” she yelled over the rain.

“Then the ritual has started!” Twilight yelled with anger tearing from her throat. She unleashed a ball of energy and sent it sailing into the barrier. The wall took it with ease. She launched another, and the wall ate it without remorse. “Moondancer, Rarity, Starlight. Help me!”

This time, all four summoned their energy and bore into the shielding. All to no avail. Not a scratch. “Seriously!? Who created this?” Twilight scratched her head. "Wait—what am I asking? A group of unicorns created this. We need to come up with a plan," she told the group.

While they stood around discussing ideas, Moondancer created a magical shielding above. The rain already soaked her sweater, but there was no sense in letting it continue—and they thanked her for the reprieve. She removed her glasses and tried to dry them off, but there was little use. She could see without them, though facial expressions were blurry, and she did not want them damaged for what would come next. If anything did come. Rainbow Dash and Applejack kicked and bucked at the barrier as she stuck her glasses into her sweater.

Though she had gotten them there, Moondancer held no answer on how to bring down the wall. She didn't want her streak of good fortune to be thrown off by a terrible idea that could only waste time. The thought of boring under crossed her mind, or digging from above. But the memory of the stone snake attacking the cloak in Manehattan stunted her from those choices. That was when she remembered their savior.

Fluttershy had interjected just then into Starlight and Twilight's brainstorming. “Maybe we should get Discord?”

Moondancer thought of the name and did not picture the draconequus. Instead, she turned to the centaur who growled the name a moment later. "Discord." It was a bitter sound, barely noticeable above the rain tapping at her magical umbrella. But she had heard it, and now there was no turning her attention from him.

“Just look at it. Look at it.” He wasn’t talking to Moondancer, though for a moment she thought he was. She couldn't help but stare at him. His beady eyes twitched in a mixture of anticipation and anger. “Somehow that little abomination planned it all. Their magic does nothing. Their pony magic does nothing. He knew it had to be me. But why? Why couldn’t he just do it?” He held his hands up, fingers pointed, and then clenched them with a tremble.

“Tirek,” Moondancer whispered his name under the rain. She trotted close and stood beneath him, the shadow of water droplets from her shield dotted his face. With a soft tap against his leg, she garnered his attention. “Did you figure something out?” she asked in a tight voice.

His mouth was a hard line, lacking all the emotion his eyes held. Some of the water that had soaked him dripped down his small horns onto his forehead. With a nod, they fell off him. “I did. More than you know.” He cupped his jaw with his hand, and tightened the grip on his cheeks.

As he walked forward, Twilight called his name, but Moondancer quickly stopped her. “Leave him be,” she said, and the bearers retreated from the barrier. They all stood underneath Moondancer's umbrella and watched him.

“How could he know?” Tirek yelled his question over the rain—though not at the bearers. His fingers pierced the magic wall and moved like he was playing with wet clay. “He’s a fool.” With a ball of magic in his hand, he lifted it into the air and let it drape into his mouth. After swallowing, he sucked on his fingers. “They could’ve eventually gotten inside without me, but perhaps it would take too long. Maybe that’s why I’m here.” He unhinged his jaw and sucked down the barrier’s magic without as much as a breath between. It wasn't even enough to smooth his wrinkles.

The group rushed forward to his side. “You did it, Tirek!” Twilight said. When he turned to them, Moondancer saw the distressed look in his eyes. They were no longer anxious or menacing, only confused, and with how old he already appeared, he looked almost senile.

“Stealing magic. It's like I was made for it,” he replied, though there was no feeling in the words. They were too vague for Moondancer to comprehend the meaning—maybe even Tirek did not understand what he meant.

“Nice work, Tirek. Now it's time to end this,” Twilight said as she marched forward. Moondancer followed behind at Tirek’s side. She studied him curiously—which he either ignored or failed to notice—before flickering lights and echoing voices drew her attention. Out of the rain and just inside the cave, everyone heard the scream. “Sunset?!” Twilight called as she rushed forward.

As they rounded the corner, at least sixty cloaked ponies met them. “And there's the party crashers. A little earlier than expected,” a pony yelled from the back. A mare, a little taller than the black cloaks, with golden hair and pale yellow fur. She stood next to the Tree of Harmony, and a bubble containing Sunset floated in front of her. "They've come to ruin us, to hinder what you all wanted."

Twilight cried out, “We are not your enemy! We don’t want to hurt you!”

Another wall of magic went up, mimicking the one Tirek had just taken down. It cut a line in the cavern between the cloaked group and the pony by the Tree of Harmony—the bubbled Sunset on the outside. The pony behind the barrier let out a jarring laugh. “Cover your ears, my friends. Do not let falseness into your heart, regardless of the pony speaking them. Look how they cower with Lord Tirek! They'll use him to drain our magic! Why else would they have brought him?” The members of the society moved forward without reservations against that reasoning.

Twilight put up her own barrier, and Moondancer tried her best to reinforce it with her magic. The cloaked unicorns began their assault in that instant—magic bolts and beams splashed against their glowing wall. It held better than Moondancer expected, but she knew it wouldn't matter if they couldn't stop the ritual.

Moondancer wasn't alone in that thought. Starlight yelled a moment later, “Forget the barrier, we've got to stop her!”

“We should get to the Tree of Harmony!” Rainbow Dash called. The pegasus flew to the highest point of Twilight's barrier and looked over the crowd. “It’s not gonna be easy! There’s a lot of them!” A sudden bolt exploded on the shield right in front of Dash. “Hey! Don’t make me come down there and wipe the floor with your cloaked butt!”

You have to get to the Tree of Harmony!” Moondancer said over the bursts of spells.

Twilight threw a look over her shoulder. “What?”

“I’ll create a distraction to draw their attention. You six get to the Elements of Harmony. Without them, the ritual ends! If protecting them is what we have to do, you six are the only ones who can.” Without a second thought, Moondancer released her magic and focused on a spell. She tried to mimic what she'd seen in Manehattan. A long slender worm bore up from the ground and launched around the cloaked ponies. It wasn't as impressive as the creation inside the society's secret base, but it didn't seem to matter—she was not alone.

“She’s got the right idea.” Starlight unleashed a spell twice as powerful—three dozen stone pillars shot up from the floor straight into the ceiling. A rolling wave of stone and dirt followed and struck against the magical wall brought on by the Grandmaster. Thick motes of dust coated the cave and blinded the cloaked ponies like a smokescreen. "I'll keep the place from collapsing in on us. It's a good thing I know a bit about caves," she said with a wink to Twilight. "We'll distract them together!"

"R-right!" Moondancer felt inadequate comparing herself to the way Starlight moved her magic, almost awestruck at the feat. She stopped her small worm that disorganized the society's members and stepped out from Twilight's barrier—creating her own around herself and Starlight. "You focus on attacking, I'll keep us defended."

"Room for one more?"

Moondancer turned back to the group, smiled, and opened the defensive bubble. “You sure about this, Tirek?” she asked with a glance to Starlight for approval.

“Their leader already made it perfectly clear, and the buffoons in black will target those six twice as much if I'm with them. If these annoyances truly desire to become alicorns as you ponies suggest, I should give those six every opportunity to succeed,” Tirek answered. “After all, who would be a new alicorn’s first target but one that can drain their new power? As much as I dread returning to Tartarus, I'd like to return in one piece."

"Fine," Starlight agreed. "But no draining magic."

“So long as you two lackeys keep me safe, I’ll maintain my role as terror in presence only. But should we get separated, I’ll have no choice but to defend myself. Be sure to not let that happen.” His wrinkly grin pushed his sideburns back. “I’ll bet you two will make me feel the safest I’ve ever felt with that.”

Twilight released her shield and created another around herself and the bearers. "Alright. Thanks, you guys. If we need help at the barrier, I'll find a way to let you know."

Moondancer gave a nod before the two groups broke apart. She, with Starlight and Tirek, jumped into the dust cloud without a second thought. Just as he had assumed, the few cloaked ponies who withstood Starlight's barrage jumped at the chance to take down the Lord Tirek. Spells pushed away the motes of dust and magical blasts struck against Moondancer's barrier. And it was working—they were the target.

The assault of magic had ceased. There was a burst of dirt and stone that rained down on Sunset, but the bubble protected her. She wouldn't have been able to do anything if it hadn't. Colors shifted—the world blurred and unblurred. Eventually, she reached the imaginary surface and gasped for air. Her throat hurt to take it all in, and the screams left her breathless. But the pain had stopped, and she didn’t know why. Delusions crept into her mind. Things that came from her past. An image of a flower with golden petals stood out, and then it transformed into a golden circle. She snapped out of it, though groggily still, and groaned in displeasure of the noise and lights.

She tried to feel steady in the bubble, but her legs couldn’t hold her weight. She rolled to one side and attacked the wall of magic with words, not failing to notice Faith stood on the other side. The Tree of Harmony—or Tree of Magic as Faith called it—was being tugged by the pale yellow unicorn. The branches shook but did not give.

“Come on! I’ve made mine. What’s your problem!? Just let me have them!” Faith cried out at the inlaid gemstones. That’s when Sunset noticed the round gemstone levitating at Faith’s side. Much like the bearers’ Elements, Faith’s false stone was in the shape of her cutie mark—gold, a perfect circle, a creature biting on its own tail. She’d actually done it. Faith had created her own Element. “I’ll rip them out if I have to, tree!”

“The bearers are on their way, Grandmaster.” It was Lightning Dust, who stood on the outside of the barrier, not so far from Sunset’s bubble. Next to her stood Suri Polomare and Svengallop. “You’ve got your Element. We need to become alicorns before they arrive.”

“Do be a dear and silence yourself,” Faith commanded without yelling. Her eyes burned with red hot intensity. Lightning Dust didn’t hesitate to back down. “Make yourselves useful. Find and distract the bearers. Don’t let them get close. Once I am an alicorn it won't matter if they make it to their Elements.”

The three Masters bowed their heads to their glorious leader. Each of them put on their cloaks to hide their faces, and Sunset followed them with her eyes until they disappeared into the dust cloud. “What happened?” Sunset whispered to herself, surprised by the sight. She’d been so out of it she didn’t even realize there was a battle raging within the cavern. Sunset could see the light and hear the strikes, but the fight had done a number on the cavern. Some of the motes of dust were thinner, and some parts were thicker. She even saw a few pillars of stone and dirt in those thin sections, and the walls of the cavern looked further away.

Then, out from the dusty fog, Saffron showed her face. “Sunset?” She came close to the bubble until she stood beneath. “Are you hurt? I’m so sorry. I refused to give up my magic. I’m sorry I didn’t try to stop them. I can’t believe this all happened.”

Sunset’s whole body shook with a cold chill. The memory of the magic flooding her made her stomach churn. “I-I’m alright. Can you get me out of here?” She looked back at Faith behind the barrier, but the mare wasn’t focused on anything but the tree. The false Element hung suspended next to her. "I can't cast in here."

“I can try. It’s dangerous out here, though.”

“It’s going to be a lot more dangerous when I get my hooves on those Masters,” Sunset replied.

“I’m not so sure you’ll be saying that here in a moment,” Saffron noted as her horn lit with magic.

“Where have I heard that before?” Sunset asked as the bubble popped around her. Saffron caught her on her back, and the two hugged. “Thank you. Now, we need to find Twilight and help her reach the Elements.” Sunset pointed to the golden ring. “We’re all going to be in danger if they don’t stop her.”

Saffron nodded. “Everypony was rushing towards the cave’s entrance, then things got hectic. I got out of the way as best I could. I heard someone mention Lord Tirek." She paused as she shuddered. "It's hard to tell where anybody is—and he may be hiding in the dust."

“I know you might not believe me, but Tirek is on our side. Let's go meet up with Twilight, she can explain everything.” Sunset marched into the fog, right up to a section of broken pillars, and straight down into a trench. The earth had shifted somehow, and she assumed Twilight had done it along with creating a smokescreen.

Saffron trailed behind. “Shouldn’t we put up a barrier?”

“Let's not put attention on ourselves yet. Keep low. Keep silent. Hide in the confusion. I'll keep us protected.” They made their way underneath a flat pillar where the dust had settled and in between two others that jutted straight up into the ceiling. She looked back and saw the worry on Saffron's face. “I know you don’t really know who I am. I’m sorry for lying to you.” Saffron didn’t reply. “I used to be one of Celestia’s apprentices before I made a mockery of her studies and betrayed her trust. Not my proudest moment.”

“I owe Pinkie Pie and Rarity much,” Saffron eventually said. “Had I known I was siding against them, I never would have. I don’t think many here would either. I thought we were protecting Equestria—we've betrayed everyone instead.”

“I'm glad you feel that way, actually. I don't want to hurt any of the other members if I can help it. Except for maybe the Masters. I don't think they'd hesitate to harm us. They've got their cloaks on, so we'll have no idea if we're encountering them or not.”

Saffron let a short gasp out at that. "You mean you're not mad at the others for contributing to the Grandmaster's plan?"

"Oh, no, I'll demand a few apologies later," Sunset replied, trying to bring levity to the terrible situation. "But that's later. Now we focus on protecting the Elements."

As they ducked and crawled, they came upon three cloaked figures hiding behind uneven ground who waited for their opportunity to strike. The dust settled in patches, and the thick motes grew sparse. The three weren't as hidden as they thought as Sunset found them first. With her magic, the hoods of the cloaks enclosed, blinding the three. She then softened the soil beneath them, sinking their legs until they were stuck. She didn't wait for them to break free before sneaking past with Saffron.

When they were out of earshot, Saffron asked, “Do you think they’ll forgive me? Pinkie Pie and Rarity, I mean."

“I don’t think you need to justify your actions, Saffron. You were lured in by the promise of safety. It was a lie, and you can’t be blamed for that,” Sunset replied as they rounded a corner of pillars. One had been cut in half, and there was a pony at its top shouting down directions. A blast from some unknown source hit that pillar and the pony quickly teleported off, but the crushing stones came toppling down. With a last-second barrier, Sunset protected Saffron and herself. The fog of dust renewed itself around them, upheaved by the crash. "Keep close," she said as she pushed through the cloud and into a trench.

She could see a few paces in both directions, the motes of dust above them. Before they could choose a direction, a voice called out, “Wait! That pony! It’s you!” A stallion slid down from the fogginess on a slope in front of them into their trench. Sunset readied a few spells to deal with him but stopped once he sent out his imagery: balloons.

“Are you here to stop us?” Sunset demanded and did not lower her horn.

“No!” He threw off his hood. A blue stallion with wavy white hair held a big smile. “I’m so excited to be here! I mean, it wasn’t that great when we all shot magic at you and you screamed. But this is awesome! It’s like we’re really defending Equestria! Oh, but who knew it’d be against Princess Twilight? Everyone is so focused on Lord Tirek because they're scared. This is great!”

“Tirek and Twilight aren't our enemies,” Sunset told him. “You do realize we’re about to face a major catastrophe if we don’t help the Elements, right? The Grandmaster duped you!”

“Really?” he replied without any loss of his excited demeanor. “That's awesome!"

Sunset blinked, then turned to Saffron who looked just as bewildered. "Y'know, I guess the Grandmaster wasn't lying," she said. "She really did accept any unicorn."

"Hey! If you guys are going to the group shooting the cool beams, why don't I join you?" the stallion said. "You taught me more than anyone in the society ever did. It'll be fun!"

“This isn’t a game! This is an actual fight!” Saffron chided, and Sunset wanted to berate him too.

Instead, she let it go. More help would be a boon. “You remember what I taught you two about attack and defense, right?” Sunset asked both of them, and they nodded in response. “Alright. You saw Twilight and the others? Lead the way then.”

The stallion whinnied happily as he trotted up a blasted dirt hill. On top, they came face to face with a group of six cowering beneath some strange outcropping of earth. The heat from the beams of magic had cut through the dust and lessened their cover. She could see a strange circular pattern of stone and dirt, which reminded Sunset of a snake, though it wasn't as thick as those pillars that towered over them. When they noticed Sunset and her friends coming down the hill, two broke into a sprint. The other four were unsure whether or not to attack.

“You two attack, I'll defend. We work as a team!” Sunset charged forward and created a barrier surrounding them. Saffron and the stallion wasted no time going on the attack. If she had chosen to go on the offensive, Sunset was unsure if she could let her anger simmer long enough to not seriously hurt the four. With those two, their spells struck and scorched cloaks, but did no real harm other than putting fear in them. Even as the four broke into a sprint away from Sunset and her two pals, they fired feeble blasts and beams backward. Of course, it did not damage to Sunset's shield. She wondered if the magic they'd sent through her had left them with little, or if they had always been so weak. "It doesn't matter anymore," she said to herself.

After the six cloaked ponies retreated, Sunset took the hill. There were three pillars between them and another mound, two stood upright while one leaned. Cloaked ponies were running away with screams of terror. On the other mound, Sunset could see the top of Tirek's head through a shielded sphere. “Is that Tirek?” Saffron asked, having noticed horns as well. “By Celestia, are you certain we’re doing this?”

There was no more hiding. The cloud of dust had settled here, and the camouflage it provided no longer hid the destruction in the cave. The wall of magic, the few dozen pillars—some collapsed, some not—and the cloaked ponies running or charging were all visible. Only hiding behind mounds or in trenches, or behind the occasional pillar, would they get a chance to approach stealthily.

“I'm bringing them to us. Shields up," Sunset decided. She dropped her barrier and focused on the dome opposite them. With a burst of magic, she lifted the ground right up from the mound, tearing it from the earth. Her horn sparked as she weaved them between the pillars like a car in traffic. As it grew closer, she could see it did not hold Twilight. Saffron and the stallion protected Sunset, but both stood in amazement as the floating island came to their hill and settled. "Looks like you could use a lift!" she yelled with a chuckle.

“Sunset Shimmer!” Starlight greeted first, extending her shield to cover the three. “These friends of yours?”

“Yeah, but there’s no time to explain. Where are the girls?” Sunset asked as she eyed up Tirek. She almost sneered at him.

“We’re just the distraction team, they're heading for the Elements,” Moondancer answered. “What happened? Why didn’t you come get us!?”

Sunset wanted to get angry, to say she couldn’t, to explain what Faith had done. But that would’ve meant admitting Moondancer had been right. “We'll talk about it later.” Sunset turned to the stallion and Saffron. “You two stay here and keep the distraction going. I’m going after Twilight! She’ll need my help.”

“You can’t do it alone! There are way more ponies here than during the eclipse,” Moondancer said. “I’m coming with you!” Sunset would've preferred Starlight's company, but she doubted Moondancer's ability to rein in Tirek. She made no objections—and didn't bother thanking Moondancer for the assistance either.

There were very few ponies willing to attack the Princess of Friendship, even after their Grandmaster's goading. It helped that Tirek drew most of their fire—if they could even find Twilight in the dusty cover. Those that did attack found her barrier impenetrable. She refused to let it down for a second, even if it meant crawling at a slower pace than intended. Some of the society’s members picked off pot shots when they came into view. Her fellow bearers moved with her, though they had their own issues. Rarity and Applejack did their best keeping Rainbow Dash locked inside. The pegasus begged to knock some heads together, and Twilight wanted nothing more than to let her. But they were so close.

Starlight's spells had done wonders in wrecking the organized members of the society. The wavy trenches and outcroppings of soil made it easier to navigate beneath the cloud of dust. But it also meant Twilight did not have a clear shot for the barrier. Maneuvering in the cavern made it feel twice the size she remembered—if only due to the now vertical nature of the cave. The pillars were a whole other issue that they had to work around, quite literally. “There!” Pinkie Pie yelled straight into Twilight’s face. “Under there and we can get to the tree!” She pointed to a tilted pillar that barely stood. In front of it were two large piles of pebbles that made her think of autumn leaves in neat heaps. Twilight marched underneath the tilted pillar into the crevice between the pebble piles. She could see how much the cloud had dissipated—the magic wall was visible from ceiling down.

“Wait! That was her!” Rainbow Dash suddenly yelled, and Twilight stopped. Everyone looked up and around. “She flew! She’s the only one!”

“Forget about her, Dash,” Rarity pleaded. “I know how you feel. Trust me, I know. Now is not the time for it.”

“Don’t listen to her, Crash!” a voice rang out from above. “Come on! I wouldn’t mind clobbering you!”

Twilight saw the cloak fall behind them before the blur of the teal pegasus. “Lightning Dust!” Dash shouted and stomped. The vibration trembled beneath their hooves, and it didn’t stop. Darkness shadowed them too late before Twilight noticed the tilted pillar coming down. Her reaction was swift, however, but only to catch it before it struck down on her shield, to which she dropped in the process.

The surprise of the pillar sent the bearers reeling away, and once clear, Twilight teleported herself out from underneath to let it fall. She stood at the wall of magic. They had made it to the Tree of Harmony, but they were not alone. When she turned to find her friends, it was just in time to see Rainbow Dash charging up into the foggy ceiling to get at Lightning Dust. They twisted and twirled before being obscured by a towering pillar.

Rarity and Fluttershy had dived into one pebble pile, while Applejack and Pinkie had climbed atop the other. “Girls! Return to me!” Twilight beckoned. There was no time to focus on past foes. She turned to look at the Grandmaster—she had seen true. A golden circle. A gemstone. No different than the six in the Tree of Harmony.

If her friends had heard her, they surely ignored it. Suri Polomare had appeared from nowhere, kicking at the pebble pile that held Fluttershy and Rarity. “When we’re done, we’ll turn your little Ponyville shop into a flannel design studio!”

“Flannel! It’s summer!” Rarity shrieked. “You monster!” Like Rainbow Dash, Rarity chased after her rival, further separating the group. It didn't help that Fluttershy followed after, though only in a vain attempt to recall Rarity from her wanton path of retribution.

“Applejack! Pinkie!” Twilight yelled to the two on the other pile. “Go get them back here!” They hopped from their pile onto the downed pillar to make their way to Twilight. "I'll tear this wall down and get the Elements, you two make sure everyone is back here by the time I've done it," she told them.

“You sure you're not the Element of Laughter, Twilight Sparkle?” a stallion yelled, garnering their gaze. Svengallop stood on the opposite end of the down pillar. “You're certainly funnier than the joke of a pink pony before you.”

Applejack and Pinkie turned to the stallion. "I knew you wouldn't be far behind!" Applejack yelled. "Tired of playing in the shadows? If you wanted a wrestlin' match, you should've just come down to Sweet Apple Acres. I'd be happy to put some dirt on that blue suit."

"When I'm an alicorn, I'll be happy to tear down that little outhouse you call a home piece by piece!" he barked, and Applejack and Pinkie Pie tore at him. He rushed off with them quickly on his tail, all before Twilight could order them back.

Without her friends, Twilight tried to refocus on what she could do. It was clear the Grandmaster had planned far ahead, using the bearers’ past antagonists as pawns to distract them. "Tear down this wall! You're finished. If you don't, I will—and if I can't, I've found someone who can." She didn't want to use Tirek again, but the golden gemstone levitating by the mare worried Twilight more than she could admit aloud. There was no response from the pale yellow mare.

“You must think you’re so smart,” Twilight said to the wall of magic; to the Grandmaster. The golden-haired mare ignored her or hadn’t heard. “My friends will return, they'll come to their senses as they always have. But what about me?" Twilight gripped the barrier with her magic, ripped at it. The last was stronger, this one could be broken. She wanted nothing more than to shatter it and the mare. "You should have come after me. I think that was your biggest mistake.”

“Didn’t I?” The Grandmaster had heard! “Are you sure about that?” She craned her head back, and Twilight saw the angered smile of teeth bearing down at her.

Just above and to the side of Twilight's head, a magical bolt struck the barrier. Surprised, Twilight turned her magic into creating her own shield. She expected one of the unicorns—but not this one.

“Don’t make me do this, Twilight,” Minuette said. “You can back away. It doesn’t have to be like this.” The blue horn on her head sparked with energy as she readied another blast.

“Minuette,” Twilight mouthed as she dropped her shield. She held her chest, right where her heart sat. The Grandmaster had planned for her! “You know I can’t, Minuette. You know I can't! What she’s doing—it's wrong,” she answered while trying to keep her voice confident.

“She’s doing what Celestia never had the will to do, Twilight!” Minuette exclaimed. “She's going to give us all the power to stand at your side as equals! To help protect Equestria! But you—you wanted to suck up our magic and keep us from becoming like you! You joined Tirek—joined evil!”

Twilight shook her head, sending tears flying. “No! I didn’t! You don't understand. The Elements of Harmony aren't meant to be used for selfish reasons. They'll turn the user into something evil—a demon! I’m trying to stop that from happening. I’m trying to protect everyone, even the Grandmaster, from certain doom!”

"So the Elements can only be used by you? Explain mine then!" the Grandmaster interrupted.

Twilight glanced back at the wall of magic over her shoulder. She saw the unicorn on the other side raise a golden circle that mimicked the cutie mark on her back end. "Y-you created a seventh. How? Tell me how! How are you not some sort of evil creature!?"

“You’re a good pony, Twilight,” Minuette said, and Twilight refocused on her. “It’s why I know you won’t stop me.” The blue horn exploded with a beam of light. As it sailed to Twilight, it was struck off the path by another spell.

With a smooth landing, Sunset jumped to stand in front of Twilight. “But I will—time for a little payback!” Sunset matched blast for blast against Minuette as though it were child’s play.

“Sunset! You’re here! Oh, thank goodness!” Twilight wanted to hug her but dared not interrupt the bout between unicorns. A sudden yell and threat cut off Sunset’s response. When Twilight turned, she saw Lightning Dust charging down from the ceiling at a wrangled Rainbow Dash. “Moondancer!?”

She was not alone. Rarity, Pinkie, and Fluttershy were on her sides. With Applejack dragging the lassoed Dash, Moondancer led the charge to Twilight's position at the wall. "We figured you could use the help!" Moondancer said as Sunset made her own magical barrier surrounding them.

The Masters and Minuette charged against the barrier to no avail. “I’ve got them! Work on the wall!” Sunset yelled.

A second later and a terrible growl of words shouted at them. “You’re all so useless!”

The voice came from behind the wall, far louder than Sunset’s shout. Twilight turned to the Grandmaster and expected to be met with the heat of anger in her eyes. Instead, she was met with the hot intensity of a powerful stream of magic. Twilight wasn’t ready for the surprise attack, but she didn’t need to be. Moondancer met the beam with her own. The section of wall was down—and so long as Moondancer held, it would remain that way. “Go! While it’s open!” Her voice strained the words, and it was clear she wouldn’t be able to last long.

Twilight didn’t need to coerce the bearers into the opening in the Grandmaster’s wall. They were a step ahead of her, ready to end this. “It’s over! You’ve lost!” Twilight yelled as the Grandmaster broke her beam and closed the wall. Moondancer and Sunset remained on the other side.

"You!" the Grandmaster growled as she took a step away from the six. “Lost? Me!? I’ve got my Element! I’ve proven they can be made. You’re nothing special anymore! You’ll be a memory in the minds of Equestria when I’ve accomplished what I want.” The Grandmaster smiled, though the crazed eyes and beads of sweat dripping from her forehead told Twilight it wasn't a happy smile. No matter how powerful the pony, it was clear the Grandmaster was near her limit.

“You won’t be accomplishing anything,” Twilight argued.

“You’ve caused so much damage, I don’t even think Tirek or Discord could’ve matched it!" Rainbow Dash added. "You’ll pay for Cloudsdale, and all the other ponies you’ve affected. Let’s turn her into stone!”

Pinkie stomped her hoof. “You’re super-duper loco! You want to see how the Elements work? We’ll show you how it’s done!”

Twilight used her magic to open the six-pointed star. She pulled out her Element, and the rest, all at once. “Your reign of terror is over. Your false creation can’t stand up to the real thing,” she said.

“What? Is that all it took?” The Grandmaster watched the Elements suddenly float past her. A laugh—shallow and harsh—erupted from her throat. “Had I known I needed you to get the Elements for me, I would’ve invited you myself!” With her magic, she snatched at them. Twilight's alicorn control proved more powerful than the unicorn's—until the golden gemstone lit up, and the six Elements staggered in her magical grip.

“Stop! If you use the Elements for evil, you’ll unleash terrible magic on the world!” Twilight pictured Sunset Shimmer turning into a raging she-demon in the world beyond the mirror. She dared not let that happen twice. While holding onto the Elements, she sent a beam of magic to strike down the fake Element—though it bounced off with little notice. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy flew up to grab their Elements, but it was too late.

The process started much like it always did. White light glowed and connected between the Elements. This time, it formed a circle, and even connected to the Grandmaster’s false Element. “Yes! Yes!” she yelled, her eyes glowing pure white. “I’ve done it! I’ll be the greatest, most powerful alicorn to ever live! With seven Elements at my disposal, I’ll become a being of purity and grace! This is what having faith does! To believe so hard that even the smallest of chances turn into success!”

A pure beam of rainbow erupted from the Elements of Harmony. Much in the same way it targeted villains in the past, it came down on Twilight and the bearers. But before the rainbow could hit them, it stopped its arch. “Wh-what!?” the Grandmaster gawked. The rainbow went black and broke apart like ash above the bearers. A domino effect ran back up its curve and down to the Grandmaster. “N-no!” she cried as the white light of her eyes became tendrils of darkness.

Twilight went to cast a barrier around her and her friends, but there was no time. The explosion from the erupting Elements was too much, too fast. Everything went white.

It was unlike anything the Elements had ever done before. Twilight's senses dulled in every sense of the word. Blind, deafened, even mute. She couldn’t think of a word to say, and so she said nothing. Had she lost consciousness? She couldn’t be certain.

Something shook her, but she could neither see nor answer the touch. Had time passed? It felt like an instant, as though seconds were passing. She felt the cold dirt of the cave’s ground on her back. When did she lie down? And her face felt warm, like heat beneath the sun gracing her cheeks. A sudden pull brought her up to her rump, and she felt hooves steady her. “Twilight!” Her name sounded like a distant train horn, but it was there. “Twilight!” It was Moondancer. Had the Grandmaster's wall come down in the blast?

“Are you alright?” It was Applejack. “Speak to us, Twi!”

Twilight motioned to her eyes and her ears in an attempt to get them to understand. When her name continued to be yelled, she tried her best to answer. “I-I can’t see.” She couldn't even hear herself speak the words, or know if she really had. When she said it again, she heard herself and it sounded like a balloon popping. The noise rattled her brain. She covered her ears for a moment and shut her eyes out of pure reflex.

“T-Tirek’s gone. Fluttershy and Starlight are searchin’ after him,” Applejack said. “Lightning Dust is tryin’ to get away. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie are flyin’ after her, though.”

“What happened? The Grandmaster—” Twilight whispered. As she opened her eyes, her vision returned. The blurriness was there, but she found the answer. It hurt to speak and see and hear, but it grew clearer every passing second. The first thing she saw was the light of the sky. It’d been raining when they entered the cave, but there wasn’t a cloud in sight. “Sun. How did we get outside?”

“We’re, uh, technically not,” answered Moondancer. "You've been out for a moment."

Twilight struggled to crane her neck, the motion dizzying. They’d been standing in front of the Tree of Harmony and the Grandmaster, but now neither such things existed. Only the smallest indication of the Tree remained in the form of a stump. And in front of that crystalline stump sat a golden circle—the fake Element. None of the other Elements had survived the explosion.

“Faith was her name,” Moondancer stated. “Sunset told us. She wanted to create her Element of Harmony and use it to control the others. From there, alicornhood, I guess. I was—I was right, Twilight.”

With her hearing returned to normal, Twilight asked, “Is everyone else alright?” She looked at Moondancer and the unicorn was untouched aside from her lack of glasses. She then looked down at herself, making sure everything was intact. “You said something about Tirek?” Without a scratch on her, she turned to Applejack.

“Yeah. Everyone is okay. You took the biggest portion of that blast, but everyone got a taste. He must’ve escaped during everyone’s stupor,” Applejack answered. “Can’t say I blame him. Seeing this, it definitely ain’t in his favor.” She then pointed to her forehead.

“A-Applejack. Is that what I think it—” Twilight paused as the orange wings expanded behind the golden mane. “You’re a—” She turned to Moondancer.

Moondancer had already pulled up her sweater, her glasses fell on the ground. “We all are, Twilight,” she said, showing off her wings. “In the end, she got what she wanted. The society did the impossible.”

Luna had come and gone. The moon was lowered, the sun had risen—though neither could be seen. Celestia would've liked seeing the beauty of the stars and the orange hues streaking across Canterlot. Yet there was something majestic about the rain in mid-morning. Grey clouds turned every color in Canterlot the same, in different shades. To Celestia, she found it beautiful that everything could become the same under certain conditions. Even listening to the sound of it striking tiles and stone was a pleasant rhythm at such an early hour.

Not that she enjoyed being soaked. The magical umbrella covering her and the balcony suited quite nicely as she stared over grey Canterlot. A teacup sat on the balcony's railing, also covered by Celestia's spell, but she didn't want a sip just yet. She debated bringing Luna back to enjoy the calmness and knew that would only end in her putting Luna to bed. But there was nothing quite like observing the weather.

She almost turned to go back inside for Luna when the pleasantness was cut short like a hot knife through butter. Something—Celestia wasn't quite sure what—erupted in the direction of Ponyville. It didn't stop either. Like a wave, maybe magical, flowed over her. It was fast and strong like ocean waves receding. The clouds were whipped from the sky, and the blueness washed over the world. Celestia was blinded for a moment, startled in seeing the sun.

"The society?" she murmured at first. But the direction had been Ponyville. "Twilight?"

Yet there was nothing wrong. No signs of chaos that had come with the society's spectacles. No tearing of her city. Had something happened only to fail? Ponyville looked the same—Canterlot unchanged. Nothing but the clouds. Celestia removed her magical umbrella, a few droplets landing on her back and head, and grimaced at the sky. She craned her head back to see all corners above her. No clouds. It was certainly more than they had done to Cloudsdale—if this was the society's doing.

If it was near Ponyville then Twilight had to know something, there was little doubt of that. Celestia decided to go inside and grab a scroll and quill. Before she could return, however, the sounds of screams rang out. She rushed back to the balcony's railing and accidentally knocked over her teacup. "There goes another one," she said, not bothering to catch it. Something had happened—those yells came from the castle courtyard. She could see guards forming a group on one of the walkways, yet there was no panic.

The yelling didn't stop, but only moved aside for the addition of laughter. "What's going on down there?" Celestia was about to fly down to find out when a scroll appeared directly in front of her, stopping her in her tracks. "Twilight!" She caught the letter before it fell like the teacup—but did not unravel it. The guards, she saw, all few away. All of the ones in the courtyard. All at once, and some better than others.

They weren't the only ones flying. Ponies came out of their homes, to which she only knew by the sheer amount of pegasi in the sky. And those that flew were carrying items too. Not in their hooves or on their backs. The potted plants, crates, or whatever knickknacks that Celestia could not describe from such a distance all floated. Floated with the pegasi.

A sudden shudder rocked through Celestia, and she turned her focus back to the scroll. With quickness, she unraveled the parchment and saw the single sentence right above Twilight Sparkle's signature.

Five little words read: We have an alicorn problem.

Author's Note:

An alternate universe of alicorns. Alticorniverse? Alicornverse? I'll let someone else come up with a name.

Comments ( 11 )

And so... begins a new universe of chaos of which Discord would never had dream of achieving...

Alicornverse has been born :rainbowderp:

May all the residents of this world who isn’t a pony find peace with the new race... also rip Pony tribes

Well I do have to wonder how widespread the effect was. Really needs a epilogue though.

Or maybe a sequeeeeel? :) Just gotta know how the main six deal with it, after all.

Biggest issue would be political upheaval. What happens when the one thing that makes someone special, the Alpha leader, etc is now a common trait? When Donut Joe is a Alicorn is being a Alicorn now a leadership thing? Or even scarier, what if two of the new made Alicorns breed? Will Alicorns be born en masse? But the all important question will be, if everyone is now a Alicorn will that drive Rarity crazy as everyone is now 'special' or will she make a fortune selling princess dresses and gaudy jewelry to the new nobility?

I didn't really understand this story.

Ook.. it sounds like... Faith uses philosophical structure of Tree of Harmony known to us... but... Faith (Da'at, the Ultimate Knowledge) and Magic are... instances of same thing, interchangeable.

I can't say I liked this story. Creating a false Element shouldn't be possible and Faith would be punished by the Tree since the Tree is sapient. The destruction of the tree and the Elements makes no sense nor does the power of the false Element that Faith made. Minuette is truly horribly OoC and comes across and very selfish in not caring about Twilight or Moondancer. I downvoted this because of all those problems.

Thanks for the input. I do have to point out that a new Element was not created, but is considered a false Element, as it holds a lot of magic pooled by the ponies of the society. Similar to the Elements being created by the Pillars but not an Element itself. On top of that, Faith was also punished for her actions by literally getting disappeared. The consequences of her actions led to the destruction of the tree—vis-à-vis the Elements' power being released. But my eyes consistently glaze over when someone claims a character like Minuette being out-of-character. What was OoC for a character that has only had one episode with barely any speaking lines? Should I have written her to stand in the background the entire time, as that would certainly be in character. Her entire personality in Amending Fences was that she liked to hang out with friends—even trying to bring Moondancer along before giving up. Bringing Moondancer into the society was on point. Crafting her desire to continuously hang out with her friends in the society was on point. Being annoyed that her social standing among her peers was destroyed by Moondancer revealing the society was on point. After continuously being kicked in the teeth, lashing out at your friend (Twilight) makes the most sense, even if it isn't a smart decision. We hurt the ones we love.

I usually don't respond negatively to criticism of my work—I believe all opinions can help a creator grow and are justified within reason—so take pride in the fact that you're a rarity.

The fact that Minuette keeps believing that the society is good despite all evidence to the contrary makes her OoC to me. Also she doesn't have the same realistion as Saffron Masala at the end which increases her uncharacteristic behavior since it seems very strange that she's willing to fight three of her friends (counting Pinkie) for a society which has done very questionable things and nothing good yet.

The society is proving their powers by all the experiments—the aftermath isn't observed as the unicorns are shown simply leaving once the experience finishes. Their stated goal is to be a society ready to engage should the princesses fall, which is a noble and good goal, even if it's a lie to their members. "She wondered what sort of things the Masters told other members. There needed to be a reason. Maybe a villain could fly, reach Cloudsdale, and they were testing if they could pull the city down. "

It doesn't help that Twilight showed up with Tirek, the ultimate rival to unicorns. It's the equivalent of Jesus showing up with Hitler and saying, "No, you're the bad guys, I swear!" And everybody in the cave is Jewish. It's not going to fly.

Saffron had the unique position to side with Sunset who knew the aftermaths—but even Sunset stated she found their false goal to be quite promising.

Honestly, Twilight is the most out-of-character character in this story. She starts the investigation of an existential threat to Equestria by taking Tirek and Moondancer with her, but no one else. No guards, no Royal Guards, no officials of the crown, not even local police. She strolls around with no escort and an unrestrained Tirek who is causing visible terror and driving away a lot of potential sources of information, making the pony they question at the print shop so frightened that all they get from it is who owns the building, but not who owns the print shop or who rents the office space.

Then she goes to Las Pegasus and Moondancer even comments on how many hours they are losing because of Tirek and Twilight signing every autograph and taking every photo-op because they are mobbed by tourists who won't go away until they get what they want, which is what an honor guard or police escort is used to prevent. They go into the bowling alley, don't ask the staff where the managers or bosses or owners are, and search blindly with Tirek still in the open. Once they find Flim and Flam, Twilight "bellows" they're under arrest even though she has no police with her, and the twins don't even bother to refuse; they flatly ignore it and proceed to nearly succeed at forcing a princess of the realm investigating an existential threat to sign a binding three-year contract in exchange for a tiny amount of information because she doesn't have a warrant or single law enforcement pony with her. Twilight's only option she can think of is publicly and loudly threatening to use Tirek to steal their magic, which the twins "outwit" by threatening to use the legal system to sue the crown if she does. Moondancer then manages to save the day by luckily remembering, and then threatening the twins with, all the by-the-book, standard operating procedures that are routinely conducted by police in the course of a criminal investigation.

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