• Published 2nd Sep 2012
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Harmony Theory - Sharaloth



Rainbow Dash awakens in a strange land and must discover why, and how to return home.

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Chapter 4: Learning Curve

The first definite use of the Elements was to seal the chaos spirit known as Discord at the beginning of the Royal Sisters period. While there are anecdotal accounts of their use pre-Discord, most of these are contradictory, apocryphal and likely spurious. During the first era of the Royal Pony Sisters the Elements were utilized a confirmed fifteen times by the Sisters themselves and an additional eight times by proxies appointed by the Princesses. Each time the Elements were used against titanic foes, most of whom were locked into Tartarus once defeated. Their final use in this period was against Nightmare Moon, after which they remained lost and forgotten for the entire Solar Millennium.

...It was only with the return of Nightmare Moon that my friends and I rediscovered them, and were able to take up their power. What followed was another series of battles against enemies of great power who threatened our lives and our world itself, for which our only answer was to use the Elements against them.

While two examples do not make a proper data set to draw conclusions from, the timing of both of these periods of strife around the awakening of the Elements brings up an important question: Do the Elements awaken because there is danger they will be needed to fight? Or does the danger come because the Elements have awakened? If the former is correct, then the Elements are tools of good, saviors of a people in peril. If the later is true, then we are left in ignorance of the purpose and alignment of the Elements, and it is entirely possible we are using and venerating something far darker than we had imagined.

This second conclusion is almost certainly the correct one.

-From Section One of Harmony Theory by Twilight Sparkle

Chapter 4: Learning Curve

It took hours for Rainbow Dash to calm down. Astrid had to physically hold her down at one point while Star Fall tried her best with her grasp of Old Equestrian to soothe the panicked mare. It didn't help that Dash had started rambling fast and furious, sometimes shouting things about Luna, sometimes about Nightmare Moon. Star Fall recognized the second name as an evil spirit that had haunted pre-Schism Equestria. One of several mythical monsters that were said to have opposed Celestia in her reign. Eventually she exhausted herself, though it took far longer than it should have for a pony as injured as she was. Once Rainbow Dash had passed out again, Star Fall and Astrid were able to get their own sleep.

When morning came Star Fall woke to find Astrid already gone, out hunting for breakfast. There were a few bunches of flowers left over from her foraging the previous day, enough that Star Fall wouldn't have to leave her patient to graze. She also found Rainbow Dash awake.

"I'm sorry," Dash said as Star Fall came over to check on her. "I kind of freaked out last night, huh?"

"You did," Star Fall replied. She found all the talking was helping bring back her lessons in Old Equestrian. She was sure she was still missing parts of her sentences, since several words sounded different when Dash said them, but the words were flowing easier now. "I am wondering why. What was wrong with moon?"

"The Mare in the Moon," Dash sighed. "You said it's always been there, right?"

Star Fall nodded. "Luna, God of night."

Dash shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense! I never knew Luna even existed until she was free, even Twilight didn't have the full story there. Have I gone back in time? Did one of Twilight's wacky experiments send me back in time? You gotta tell me!"

"I do not know," Star Fall said. "I do not think going back in time is possible."

"It's possible. Twilight did it. It was kind of hilarious, actually. But not when it happens to me! Now it's just horrible!"

Star Fall thought for a moment, then laid a hoof gently on top of Dash's. "No way to know. Not until we meet teacher. She will know what is happened."

Dash took a few deep breaths. "Yeah. Yeah I can go with that. Your teacher, she's smart, right?"

"Smartest."

"Cool. I hope she can figure out what's going on, and how I can get home."

"What is last thing you remember? Before being here."

"Uh, I was going to bed. I'd just gotten word that Ponyville had been selected to provide water for Cloudsdale's weather factory. I was thinking about how if I could get every pegasus pony in the area to get their wingpower high enough we might be able to break the record! It was going to be so awesome, and Spitfire was going to be there! It was my chance to impress the Wonderbolts with my leadership skills. I was so amped I could barely get to sleep! I mean, there was so much to coordinate. Figuring out how to get everypony I could involved, making sure that they all got their wingpower up, it was gonna be crazy! Then there's all the logistics stuff like where Cloudsdale would have to be positioned, the height of the waterspout, the length of time it would take to drain the reservoir and whether we could do it all in one shot or if we needed to do it in stages... Uh, what's wrong?"

Star Fall shook her head to snap herself out of the reverie that had come over her. "Nothing is wrong. I was imagining it. You speak of weather-making so well, like you really did it."

"I did. You're looking at the chief weather-pony for Ponyville for four years running! I keep the system going and I still have time to practice my moves and hang out with my best buds!" Dash paused for a moment, weighing whether or not she should ask before just tossing caution to the wind and going for it. "Hey, Star. Who makes the weather here? Is it pegasus ponies, or are the unicorns horning in on it?"

Star laughed. "No. Unicorns can not make weather. No pony can. Weather makes itself."

"What? How can weather make itself? That doesn't make any sense!"

"Um, water in air, wind, sun, world turning," Star said, her tone taking on that lecturing vibe that Dash often heard from Twilight. "All part of making weather. Ponies change some things with buildings, cities. Not make clouds and rain and wind."

"So it... it just does it all itself?" Dash asked, wide eyed and horrified.

"Yes," Star said, smiling happily as her point was understood.

"What is this, the Everfree?"

"Yes!" Star nodded, smiling wider.

Dash went cold. "We're in the Everfree forest?" She choked out. That was impossible. She knew all the land around the Everfree forest, and this place absolutely wasn't it.

"Not forest. Edge. Um, side? Fringe? Ah! Verge. Everfree Verge. Forest further in, near Storm."

"But.. No. This place isn't Equestria! I know Equestria! This place looks nothing like it, and the clouds were doing their own thing way out on the other side of the mountains too! This is... this isn't possible!"

"Rainbow Dash. I tried to tell you. This is Equestria."

"No, you said this was the world of night! I remember that!"

Star Fall sighed. "World of night was wrong choice of words. Better may be land of night. Or, um, land that worships Luna. Other side of Storm is land of sun, land that worships Celestia. Both are Equestria."

"I don't... what?" Dash sputtered. "It's never been... I mean, how far back did I go?"

"You did not go back," Star Fall said. She tried to be as comforting as she could, but she had no idea how this mare was going to react. She honestly thought she was Rainbow Dash, after all. "Luna is moon, Celestia is sun. For many hundred years it is so. Land of sun on one side, land of night on other, Storm in middle."

"But... Ponyville, my friends..."

"No Ponyville," Star Fall hesitated, but steeled her resolve and plowed on. "Rainbow Dash. Hero of Equestria."

"I guess, yeah, but what does that...?"

"Rainbow Dash, hero, died," Star Fall said gently, holding Dash's gaze. "More than a thousand years past. You are not Rainbow Dash."

Dash stared at Star Fall, then shook her head. "Nope, I totally am," she said, then flopped back and threw a hoof up. "This just means I was sent forward in time instead of back! Ugh, not cool. Now I have to find a way to go backwards. Thanks a lot, whoever did this to me! I bet you're smirking right now, but when I find you I'm gonna buck that smile right off your snout!"

Star Fall watched with a little relief. She had been worried the mare would react violently to what she had been told. Denying it wasn't healthy, but it wouldn't aggravate her wounds. Still, she had to make sure. "You understand me, yes? I did not miss words?"

"Yeah, yeah, I get what you're saying," Dash said. "I'm way in the future, so I've been dead for, like, ever. You think I'm crazy 'cause I'm claiming to be a dead pony. This is like Daring Do and the Scarab of Chronus, except this future is way worse because nopony controls the weather and I have no idea what sent me here. Well, I'm not going to make all those mistakes she did. I'm not gonna panic just 'cause I'm not where I thought I was," Dash fixed her gaze back on Star Fall. "Star, I know you don't think I am who I say I am, but can we just, I don't know, pretend? Humor me for now or something? I really don't want to have to argue about whether I'm crazy or not."

Star Fall nodded. "Yes. I can do that."

"Awesome. Now, this time travel stuff is for brainiacs, and I'm no good at that, but if your teacher is anything like Twilight, then she'll at least know where to look. So I'm still totally wanting to meet her," she shifted restlessly in the bed. "What else do I need? Think, Dash. I remember reading the book and going 'oh, I'd never do that, that's crazy!' What was it that I'd do, 'cause now I gotta do it. Uh, Star, I know you think I'm crazy and all, but I'm going to need to know a lot more about the world so I don't, um, get into trouble or anything. I think I gotta start by learning the language. If there's only three ponies who can talk to me, I'm probably going to be in trouble. Could you, uh, teach me?"

"I can, yes. I will teach you Solar. Have you learned other language before?"

"No, but how hard can it be?"

Star Fall cringed. "I am 'egghead', yes? How is my speaking?"

Dash paused at that. "Oh, yeah. Okay. So, hard. I still wanna! So, can we start?"

Star Fall frowned. She hadn't ever been the teacher, only the student, so she really didn't know how to go about teaching a language to anyone. Eventually she figured she had to just go with it. She pointed a hoof at herself. "I am Star Fall," she said as clearly as she could, making sure each word was distinct and each sound fully formed. Then she pointed at Dash. "You are Rainbow Dash."

Dash listened, eyes glued to the white pegasus. She needed to learn, it was the best thing to do in this situation. Also, she was bedridden for the next few days, and without an adventure book to keep her mind occupied she was going to be chewing off her own limbs from boredom by the time afternoon hit. Learning was dull, and never one of her strong suits, but it was something she could focus her energies into while she got better.

Slowly Dash pointed her hoof at Star Fall. "You. Are. Star. Fall." She said. Star Fall smiled and nodded. Dash pointed to herself. "I. Am. Rainbow Dash."

"Hello Rainbow Dash," Star Fall said, miming a hoof shake for illustration.

"Hello. Star," Dash replied. And so the first lesson began.

***

Astrid returned when the sun was past its zenith. When she walked in Star Fall was in the middle of teaching Dash basic sentences for pointing things out or asking for something. The blue pegasus was catching on fast, remembering new words after only a few uses and picking up the sentence structure with ease.

"Hello Astrid," she said to the Griffin.

"I thought you didn't speak Solar?" Astrid said.

"I'm teaching her," Star Fall explained.

"Huh, well in that case. Hey Rainbow Dash. Mind if I just call you Dash?"

Star Fall translated that and the rainbow-maned pegasus nodded. "Yes. Dash. Good."

"Nice. Hey, Fall, we gotta talk. Can we do it in front of her?"

"She's just learning, Astrid. She can't follow complex sentences yet. Unless you want to give your report in baby-talk, I think we're secure."

"Right. I've been scouting around, and I spotted the caravan disappearing into the forest. They're making better time than we thought they would, but it'll still take them a couple days before a guide can get a group that large through the Everstorm."

"They're still headed for the sunlands, then," Star Fall mused.

"Yeah. Not bothering with security too much, either. I spotted only a couple pegasi out on watch. None of them were the asskicker, and I didn't see her or the boss anywhere with the caravan."

"Which means that they could have gone on ahead or taken an entirely different route. Damn, Agent Gamma isn't going to like that."

"She can stuff it up her..."

"Astrid, she's on our side."

The Griffin sighed. "Yeah, whatever. She treats you like her own personal bitch. She's worse than the Professor, at least Shine would stick her neck out for you."

"Isn't she also your superior officer?"

"I answer to the Royalty, Fall. Gamma can suck my tail hair."

Star Fall held up a hoof to forestall any more vitriol. "Did you see what they took?"

Astrid shook her head. "No. No extra baggage, no accommodation made for new material. If they took something, it was small. Still no clue what made them bug out in such a hurry. He's never abandoned a dig like that before."

"Well, we'll let the Service take over watching him sunside. If they figure it out, they'll give us a shout."

"Sure. In other news, it looks like no one's on the lookout for little miss meteor here. I'd expected at least a few pegasus flyovers, but nothing. Looks like the Republic police are staying out of the Verge."

Star Fall frowned at that. "They were obviously chasing her, they even darted her. Why give up? They might have expected her to die in the fall, but why not search for the body?"

"No clue. She given you any hints yet?"

Star Fall shook her head. She gave Astrid the short version of everything she had been talking about with Dash. "As far as she knows she's Rainbow Dash, ancient hero of the united Equestria. I think it's some kind of delusion or amnesia, or, hell, both. This isn't something I've ever studied in depth."

"Maybe she really is? You said there was something weird with her magic."

"Weird, yeah, but not pony-back-from-the-dead weird. I'll buy that she was sent forward in time before I'll accept a resurrection."

"So why don't you buy it? It's what she's peddling isn't it?"

"Because! It's too ridiculous. Sent forward in time? Why? How? Who could possibly gain from something like that?"

"What does she gain from lying about it?"

"Other people feeding into her delusion. Feeling like a hero, a persecuted hero at that."

"If she's crazy and that's all, why are you putting so much time and effort into her?"

"Because, arrgh!" Star Fall's wings shifted restlessly. Astrid picked up on that, of course. Body language wasn't all that different between pegasi and Griffins. "Okay, so, maybe I don't believe that she's Rainbow Dash, but that doesn't mean I don't think she's important! Why is it such a big deal to you anyways?"

Astrid shrugged. "It's not. She says she's Rainbow Dash, and until it gets proven otherwise that's good enough for me. You're the one who thinks it's so important that she be crazy instead."

"It's just, well, she talks about Twilight Sparkle as if she knew her. Like actually knew her!"

"Isn't that the patron saint of eggheads?"

"Well, yeah, she," Star Fall paused and gave Astrid a curious look. "Do you know, that's what she called me too?"

"What?"

"Dash. She called me 'egghead' too. Except she did it in Old Equestrian. I didn't make the connection until now. It's very disturbing being teased for being a scholar in a language only the most serious of scholars would know."

"Ha! My kind of mare," Astrid said, throwing an eagle's grin at the injured pony who was watching them with intense concentration. "She's kinda got me spooked too, ya know?"

"I thought you believed her?"

"Not about the whole 'from the past' thing. But that greeting she had you deliver for her. It's not something a normal pony should know."

"It sounded odd. Talking about killing and everything. What was it?"

"It's a greeting Griffins from different clans say when they meet each other for the first time, but know they'll have to travel together. It's basically 'I won't mess with you if you don't mess with me'. Nothing serious or secret, but we never use it with ponies. She even knew to exchange names afterwards. She's spent time with Griffins, and gotten to know them well enough to be treated as a member of the clan. I don't have to tell you that's not something that happens. Ever."

"Yeah, she's a veritable fountain of mysteries," Star Fall sighed. "I promised to humor her until we got to the Professor. So even if I don't believe, I'm not going to push it. Whatever, whoever she is, she's vital. I can feel it."

"Will she be able to cross the Everstorm by the deadline?"

Star Fall pawed at the floor, thinking. "I don't know. She's healing really fast, but those were serious injuries. Her bones will be solid by then, but I can't say whether she'll be strong enough to use them or not," she looked up at Astrid. "If she can't, I'm not leaving her. What are you going to do?"

Astrid looked at Dash, who was still watching them with a furrowed brow, her lips moving silently as she sounded out words. "I should make you go," she said. "The Professor's too important to risk her passing through the Everstorm to get you. My orders would be pretty clear there."

"Astrid."

"Fall, let me finish here, okay? I should do that. But I'm not going to. Instead, I'm going to make sure we get through on time. All of us, even if I have to carry her."

Star Fall smiled at her friend. "I knew you'd stick with me."

Astrid rolled her eyes. "Yeah, whatever, just don't go all mushy on me, okay? Keep teaching blast from the past here how to talk like a real person, I'll be taking a nap."

Star Fall returned to Dash. "Sorry," she said. "We were talking about you. Not bad. Just what to do to bring you through Storm."

"I could almost understand what you were saying. I kept catching words here and there," Dash said. "I think I'm getting the hang of this. I bet I'll be talking Solar as well as you by the end of the week."

Star Fall laughed. "You can not learn a language in a week. If you are betting, I will take that bet, but you have nothing to stake."

Dash's eyes lit up. "Sure I do. You guys have forgotten how to make weather, right? I mean, it's just happening on its own, and that's really freaky. I know how, and I can teach you."

Star Fall looked like she was about to scoff at the idea, but paused, considering. "Okay. I win, you teach me weather. You win, what then?"

"When I win, you start believing I am who I say I am."

"I do not think it works that way."

"What? You afraid you're gonna lose?"

This time Star Fall did scoff at that. "No. You will not learn that fast."

Dash grinned. "Then do we have a bet?" She spat on her hoof and held it out.

Star Fall looked shocked at the proffered hoof, but then narrowed her eyes and nodded, spitting on her own hoof and touching them together. "Yes. We have a bet."

"Awesome," Dash said. "Oh, and just to let you know. My Special Talent? It's being fast. Being fast and winning."

***

"This is impossible," Star Fall groused. "No one can absorb a new language this quickly!"

"And yet," Astrid said, looking towards Dash, who was hobbling around the field outside of the cabin. Her legs were still splinted, but she could put weight on them now, and had insisted on getting out of bed and out under the sky. Her wings had healed first, and she kept them close to her sides, the bones still too weak to attempt flight. Star Fall thought she would be able to walk without splints by the next day, but still not fly or run. She had been learning Solar for four days now, and Star Fall barely had to translate anything anymore.

"Rrr! She's just so casual about it! She's all 'oh, I'm Rainbow Dash, I'm just that awesome'! No one's that awesome! No one!"

"I am!" Dash cheerfully called over, a triumphant grin splitting her features.

"And does she have to be so arrogant about it?" Star Fall huffed. "She couldn't have been faking not knowing Solar, I'm sure of that. She must be some kind of linguistics savant or something!"

"Are you angry because she's learning fast, or because you're losing your bet?"

"I made that bet because it didn't matter whether she won or not! She can't teach me weather-making because you can't make weather! I can't believe she's Rainbow Dash because it's impossible!"

"And yet," Astrid said again, snickering. "You just said her learning Solar this quick is impossible. Maybe you're using that word wrong, huh?"

Star Fall stomped her hooves and seethed. "I am not using it wrong! She's just... This learning curve is insane! I use a word twice and she's already got it in her vocabulary, show her how to create a sentence and she's finding new ways to use it. She's even picking up slang for Celestia's sake! And worst of all, her using Solar is starting to sound a lot like her using Old Equestrian! Like she's doing some twisted direct translation in her brain that conveys exactly parallel meanings between the two completely dissimilar linguistic milieus."

"Yeah, I have no idea what you just said there, but didn't Solar come from Old Equestrian? Aren't they basically the same language a thousand years apart?"

"No! That's not how languages work! Lunar and Solar both came from Old Equestrian, but that doesn't make them 'basically the same language' does it?"

Astrid shrugged. "Point taken. But she's still beating you. You're gonna have to believe her."

Star Fall kicked at the dirt. Her wings snapping open in anger, then drooping as she accepted the inevitable. "Fine. She's Rainbow Dash."

"Did you hear that?" Astrid called.

The blue pegasus turned towards them. "No, what was it?"

"Fall just admitted you're Rainbow Dash!"

"Hah! I win! I am the winner, I am the winner, you gotta believe me, in your face!" Dash did a toddling dance on her good legs while sing-songing out her victory.

"Great, I'm never going to hear the end of this," Star Fall sighed.

"Nope, and that's what friends are for," Astrid said as Dash waddled up to them.

"Hey, Star, don't take it too hard," Dash said. "I'll still teach you weather-making. Oh, and maybe how to talk better in Equestrian. You sound like a foreign stereotype."

"I'll teach you, you miserable," Star Fall grumbled under her breath, but then pushed her annoyance away. "How are your legs?"

"Itchy," Dash said. "They still hurt a bit when I put my full weight on them, but I think I can walk fine."

"Then we'll take the splints off tonight. If you keep healing this fast, you should be walking okay by morning. If you can, then we'll have to get moving. We can't wait much longer if we want to cross the Everstorm before the deadline."

"Yeah, you've talked about that before, but I've been so busy learning your language I never asked. What is this 'Everstorm'? I mean, I get that we're next to the Everfree forest, but this sounds like it's got a story behind it."

"It does," Star Fall said. "It's more mythology than history, it happened during the Schism, and most history from around and before that time has been lost."

"What's the Schism? You've said that before too."

"It's what ended your world and made ours," Astrid said. "It's what happened when ponies lost their Gods."

"Yeah, that sounds important to know," Dash said. "Can we go inside and sit down? I'm kinda tired."

"Sure," Star Fall said. Once they had relocated inside they pulled out some food that Astrid had gathered and ate dinner while Star Fall told the story.

"We're not sure how it began. Whether it was something the Goddesses did, or something the people did, or a prophecy, or direct knowledge of what was coming. We don't know, and not even the Dragons who lived through it could tell us for sure. What we do know is that the Goddesses sensed a grave danger to the world, one that they couldn't fight directly. So to protect the world from this danger they sacrificed their earthly forms to bind its power, make it too weak to conquer the world. Their spirits infused their respective heavenly bodies. Luna became one with the moon, and Celestia merged with the sun. From their places in the sky they still bring day and night to the world.

"When they left there was already a political division between those that supported Celestia's nobility, and the ones that saw a road to power in Luna's theories on self-governance and 'free markets'. The Goddesses had shared power between them, and the legends say that Equestria was a peaceful nation, with both the Royals in power and elected local governments. With their influence gone, the two sides became more and more fanatical and devoted to their ideals. Demagogues stirred up the populace and the nobles responded by using the military to quell unrest. This just spurred more unrest, which led to more harsh crackdowns.

"Eventually it erupted into all-out war. The rebels had the support of the populace, while the loyalists had the military infrastructure and most of the unicorns. It was a bloodbath, and it spilled over Equestria's borders into the rest of the world. We dragged the other races into our conflict, and made them choose sides. The Griffins chose to side with the loyalists, the Changelings with the rebels. Dragons picked whoever offered them the most treasure. The other races, well, some of them just wanted to be left alone, but we didn't give them the chance. Others joined up eagerly, but none of the others have survived in any numbers. Especially not after... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

"The rebels had popular support, so they had numbers, but until they were able to train their troops they were mostly just a mob. The loyalists had a proper army, but Equestria had been at peace for so long they weren't prepared for any sort of major campaign. The rebels made a lot of early gains, controlling most of the eastern and southern portions of Equestria, and the territories beyond. By the time the Griffins had shown the loyalist army how to fight properly, the Changelings had done the same for the rebels, and it just turned the war into a slow, hard grind.

"New weapons were devised. Legends speak of incredible magical powers unleashed, and entire cities were wiped off the map. What was left of the Crystal Kingdom was shattered, the Bison grazelands were razed, Labyrinthia was reduced to rubble. The loyalists raised war-Phoenixes while the rebels magically bred Windigos, alternately burning or freezing entire settlements.

"This went on for decades. Every peace was only a time to rearm and resupply. Every treaty signed was destined to end up trampled underhoof the moment one side sensed an advantage. It was forty years into the war, both sides preparing their most devastating weapons yet, when the Destroyer first appeared."

"Whoa, the Destroyer?" Dash interrupted. "That's sounds awesome! What was it?"

"Not what, who," Star Fall explained. "She's been called many things. In the Solar Kingdom we usually refer to her as the Shadowed Alicorn. Over here they're more likely to call her the Gray Mare. In the records we still have in Old Equestrian, she was called Nightmare Umbra."

"Nightmare? Like, as in Nightmare Moon?" Dash asked, wide-eyed.

"It's the same word. I don't think it's the same creature," Star Fall said. "We don't know a lot about where she came from, or what she wants. What we do know is that she is what the Goddesses left to protect us from.

"Nightmare Umbra was just a strange figure seen above the skies of certain battlefields at first. She frightened the soldiers, but not much more. Then she started acting. She'd appear, and then whole companies of soldiers would just vanish. The stories say she was terrifying, that no weapon could touch her, and that she could smite down even the mightiest of Dragons with a look from her burning eyes. Each side accused the other of employing her, but she struck both equally. Her presence made the leadership on both sides decide that they needed to wipe their opposition out decisively in order to turn their attention to stopping her.

"The armies gathered, all the forces on both sides. All their most terrible weapons and magics all brought to bear. And they clashed here, in the Everfree regions. No one knows who would have won the fight, because before they could fire the first spell, the Destroyer appeared between the two armies. She told them that their war gave her strength, and that if they fought here she would have the power to conquer the world. The generals on both sides didn't believe her, and ordered the attack anyways, but targeting her first.

"They had no idea what they were dealing with. Their most powerful weapons glanced off of her and their bravest warriors died under her hooves. All the while she was gaining power from their violence, from the destruction. She spread her wings and gathered her power, ready to crush both armies and conquer the world. Her magic struck the land first, molding it into new shapes with earthquakes and volcanoes. Then it struck the skies, blasting the world with storms that could never again be calmed by pegasus hooves. Finally she struck at all living creatures, and everything that lived felt its heart still in its chest.

"It was then that what the Goddesses had done made itself manifest. Their spirits moved across the earth, sun high overhead, then moon crossing in front of the sun, until they were both in the same place in the sky. Sunlight and moonlight twined together, pouring their power down on the Shadowed Alicorn. She was caught, her own powers were stretched out across the whole world, and so they were vulnerable. The Goddesses struck down Nightmare Umbra and took from her the bulk of her magic.

"Yet, she was still an Alicorn, a fellow Goddess, and her power could not be so easily contained. So the Goddesses reached into the world and drew from it all the magic they could, wrapping it around the Nightmare's power until it was imprisoned completely. Umbra raged, but her power was bound. Her chained magic spread out between the two armies, crossing the whole of the remaining continent in a line that became a storm of intense power. A magical storm that never ends. We call it the Everstorm, and it separates the Solar Kingdom from the United Lunar Republics.

"Binding the Destroyer's power had a terrible side effect, though. It had taken too much magic from the world. Unicorns couldn't even start to cast spells out of their Talent, earth ponies lost their sense of the world, pegasi couldn't control the weather or walk the clouds. Some, like the Dragons, died outright without the magic to sustain them. Only a few of those races are left, individuals who somehow managed to survive the loss of magic. While other races weren't wiped out, they were completely devastated. Crops failed, animals went wild, weather patterns took nearly twenty years to settle down into something predictable. There was so much destruction and so many died in the aftermath that civilization on both sides had to be rebuilt practically from the ground up.

"We call this event, the binding of Nightmare Umbra and the breaking of Old Equestria, the Schism. It happened over eight hundred years ago."

"Wow," Dash said as Star Fall finished. "Did all that really happen?"

Star Fall shrugged. "I don't know. As I said, it was eight hundred years ago, and almost all of the records from that time are lost. Most of that was just pieced together from the oral traditions passed down before the Kingdom and the Republics got back on their hooves. A lot of it is probably myth, metaphor or some other way to explain the big events that were going on in understandable terms. Nightmare Umbra is real, though, not allegory for the war itself, and the Everstorm is as real as it gets."

"But, the loss of magic? I guess that would explain why no one's fixed the weather, but you can still fly, right? I mean, pegasi still have their wings, right?"

"I can, and we do. Pegasus ponies can still fly, but unless it's our Talent, we're not very good at it. Because of my Talent I can focus my magic to mimic other pegasus Talents. So I can fly fairly fast, or be agile, or graceful. I can even walk on clouds if I concentrate hard enough. Most of us have to make do with one."

Dash turned to Astrid. "Can you cloudwalk? Griffins used to be able to do that as good as us pegasi."

Astrid shook her head. "Nope. We're still strong flyers, and the best warriors in air or on ground, but clouds are just mist to us. We don't get Talents like you ponies do, so we don't even have individuals who can do it. We've all kind of forgotten it was even possible, except in the golden age stories they tell hatchlings."

Dash looked down, all that she had been told sinking in. "Wow. That's horrible, guys. I can't believe ponies would go to war like that. And I can't imagine what it would be like to lose all your magic. I don't really think about it, but I wouldn't be as fast as I am, or as awesome, without my pegasus magic."

"We've managed pretty well," Star Fall said. "It's not like we're lame or anything just because we can't walk on clouds anymore."

Dash laughed. "Yeah, I guess not. You're not lame, you're just missing out on something you never knew you should have. I wish I could do something about it," Dash brightened as an idea came to her. "Hey! Maybe I can! When we find a way to send me back, I can stop this all from happening! Maybe that's why I'm here, 'cause this Nightmare Umbra sent me here so that me and my friends couldn't use the Elements of Harmony on her!"

"Elements of what?" Star Fall asked with a quirked eyebrow.

"Elements of Harmony, they're these magical necklace thingies that shoot rainbows and defeat evil," Dash explained, giving Star Fall an incredulous look. "You know about me being a hero, but you don't know about the Elements?"

Star Fall shook her head. "The histories never mentioned any Elements of Harmony. They said you were a hero, one of a group of heroes that saved Equestria several times during a turbulent period. So these Elements are a weapon you used?"

"No," Dash said, drawing out the word as she thought over the two times she and her friends had been called upon to wield the Elements. "Not exactly. They're more like. Well, they're kind of... I guess I don't know what they are. They're not really weapons, but they stopped Nightmare Moon and Discord. Each of them needs a certain type of pony to use them, a pony who embodies one of six things. Laughter, Generosity, Kindness, Honesty, Magic, and Loyalty. That's what I am, Loyalty."

"That's...weird."

"Hey! I'm totally loyal!" Dash protested. "I never leave my friends hangin'!"

"No, not that part. The six traits seem weird. Magic I understand, but what does Laughter or Honesty or any of them have to do with harmony?"

"I... don't know that either. But it totally does, somehow. And when you use them together it makes a big rainbow, and fixes everything. And I bet that's what Nightmare Umbra sent me here to stop!"

"Hold your hooves there, Dash," Astrid said. "We can't know anything about that yet. Don't get ahead of yourself."

"Right," Dash said, forcing herself to calm down. But she was sure that she was on to something here. This really was like Daring Do and the Scarab of Chronus! She had to make it back to the past to set right what once went wrong! "Keep it cool. Wait until we see this teacher of yours, Star. She's a Magic Talent, right? She'll be able to help."

"I'm sure of it," Star Fall confirmed.

"Cool. Then could you help me get these splints off? 'Cause there's this itch that I have been dying for the past twenty minutes to get at."

Star Fall smiled and moved to help the other pegasus. Something caught at the back of her mind though. Elements of Harmony. She hadn't heard that term associated with the sparse legends of Rainbow Dash, but she was sure she had heard it somewhere before. For some reason it also brought to mind the name Twilight Sparkle, the incredible unicorn to whose story Rainbow Dash was essentially a footnote. Somehow, somewhere, she had seen the two together, and now that Dash had brought them up she couldn't stop mulling it over. There was something there. Something she wasn't quite seeing yet.

She shrugged the thoughts off as best she could. She needed her sleep now. Tomorrow, Dash would probably be good to start walking, and then they had to make their way into the forest. And the Everstorm.

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