"The biggest problem is really Discord himself. He's astonishingly powerful."
why is that? As I understand it, all divine entities should be roughly equal."
I don't understand it myself. Possibly he was able to absorb some of the power of another of his kind. But his style is difficult to cope with, anyway."
Trixie frowned. "How did he end up in this reality? From what you've told me, you were effectively born into it, and I assume the same to be true of the other princesses since there was a time before them."
"I'm not sure." Cadence shrugged. "I didn't awaken until after Discord escaped, so they never told me."
" Trixie looked down at their complex plans, suggestions on what other ponies might possibly hold latent Elements and how to spirit them away without Discord noticing, and turned away to another section of the floor.
With a tracery of telekinesis, she started writing out complex arcane formulae.
Trixie, what are you doing?"
"Applied magical mathematics. Let's see, a standard scrying spell lets you see a distance away
and thanks to the theory of relativity, distance is equal to time
power requirements, ouch, but then I should have enough
masking spell, no, that's a problem
What's the capability of your masking effect?"
"It covers the area with low level background chaos. It can't mask much externalized magic, unfortunately, but anything internalized is easy that's how I was able to cut loose inside your mind."
"Then we'll have to go back in there for this to work." Trixie finished her writing with a flourish, and checked it over. "Yes, that all looks good. I'll need something to anchor it to, but apart from that it's fine."
Cadence looked at the area of cave floor that Trixie had been working on, and blinked. "I don't recognize half of these symbols, let alone what you're doing with them." The elder alicorn shook her head. "But then, magic is your field not mine. What are we going to do with it?"
"First, you'll need to come inside." Trixie gestured with a hoof at her own head. "This is going to take a lot of magic, so I'll have to run it internally."
"Alright." Cadence lit her horn, and the cave dissolved
into a wooden room with books lining the walls.
"Well, that's interesting." Trixie muttered. "It looks a lot like the inside of my old wagon."
"That happens often one's mind is built out of one's experiences. This is where you feel independent and comfortable."
"Anyway." Trixie opened the door, and they stepped out onto a flat featureless plane.
"You might need to decorate." Cadence said, and Trixie stifled a giggle before concentrating.
Lines of light spread out underneath her, covering a huge area of the blank slate world they were in, and beginning to move independently of one another.
"What are you doing?"
"Testing." Trixie said, and her horn flared with light-
And the two alicorns stood on the streets of Ponyville. A Ponyville as it once was, ordered and calm.
Except for the magic show taking place at one end of the town square, where The Great And Powerful Trixie was exhorting the local hotheads to come and test their skills against her own.
"That's you, isn't it?" Cadence checked.
"It is. Me as I was. This is a sort of past viewing spell." The sky-blue alicorn said, watching her unicorn self. "I was a bit arrogant then."
"I can see that's an understatement."
"Yes, well." Trixie looked down, then back at Cadence. "I'm grateful to you, for curing me of that."
"Anyway, we need to go back a long way. And this spell has a need of an 'anchor point' for it to follow. I suggest we follow either you or Twilight Sparkle, then get hold of Princess Celestia to track back to the first defeat of Discord and perhaps further."
"Why can't we just
Trixie broke the link with her past self, and a second later froze the spell in place. They were miles up in the air.
"Fair point." Cadence said, smiling to acknowledge her lack of information on the topic. "Well, we've got a lot of work to do."
When the two finally emerged into the real world again, they were almost weeping.
"I never knew." Cadence spoke first, thinking again of the prankster child Discord had been, and of all the losses of that long-ago time. "Never suspected Celestia had such pain in her."
Trixie looked up, eyes hard beneath the unshed tears. "You realize this means that Discord or his dark self is to blame for almost everything that has ever gone wrong in recorded history?"
"Yes. But something still bothers me." Cadence said. "Discord as a child
he was completely unlike his current self. It reminds me of
argh, something. I don't know what."
"Nightmare Moon." Trixie said quietly.
"Yes, that's it
" Cadence trailed off, as she realized what that could mean. "But why did it not turn him back when the Rainbow or Elements were used on him?"
"It didn't do it to Luna the first time."
"And why would that
oh. Luna was one of the element bearers in the first place, so without her they weren't at full power."
"More than that. They didn't have the element that matched her."
"But all of the elements were used on him."
Trixie nodded, as their discussion picked up pace. "Not all of them. Six, and a kludge for the seventh."
"Trust? The broken one?"
"Think about it. We know they can't really be destroyed feathers, my Element and Twilight's are the same one! They're not physical objects. And if there's a difference between Discord as a child and now, it's that you could trust his pranks to be harmless then and you can't even trust him to consider the laws of physics now."
Cadence was silent for a long moment. "Do you think he knows?"
"I doubt it. He's never understood exactly how the Elements work. I mean, he's not even been able to corrupt their current bearers as fully as he'd probably like."
"You're sure about this, aren't you." Trixie nodded. "Then we have a plan. Who are possible candidates?"
"Thinking about it
Spike for Loyalty."
"Yes, I can see that."
"Liarjack for Kindness. That's always been her motivation."
Cadence blinked. "Could that even work? She has Dishonesty as her heart now."
"I know how to read that mare, her tells are obvious. And the way she was broken exploited her kind heart at the expense of her honesty."
"True. What of Laughter?"
"That is a harder one." Trixie acknowledged. "We may need to restore Pinkie Pie for that particular Element."
Trixie searched her memory. "There was a griffin, three years before you found me. He took the time to bring me food and keep me warm, until Discord caused another airquake and forced him to flee he left everything he owned with me, to help me out. I'll have to scry him."
"You." Trixie said simply.
"Your magic focuses on restoration of a pony's true self and true memories, and of course true love of all kinds."
flattered, of course. But I don't think that I have it."
Trixie's eyes narrowed. "What was the most embarrassing moment of your life?"
Cadence blushed bright red. "I nearly fell over when I first saw Twilight's elder brother."
"I cheered privately when he was assigned as my security detail and head of my guards right before Nightmare's return."
"When did you two first kiss?"
"Two weeks before Discord- Trixie!" Cadence' blush all but lit up the cave on its' own, and she stamped a hoof in indignation.
"Thought so." Trixie was smug. "Your tells are harder to read than Applejacks', but not much. And I caught a glimpse of it there you have one, alright."
"That still leaves trust." Cadence said, trying to push past the embarrassment.
"A pony whose life is defined by trust." Trixie mused. "Knowing when to trust, and when not to trust. Got it."
Her horn flared for a fraction of a second, then she smiled slowly.
"What?" Cadence asked.
"He couldn't resist the pun. The final member of our seven-element plan is a suit of animated armour that patrols the halls of Canterlot Castle."
"I don't follow."
"A suit of Shining Armour."
Cadence froze with shock and confusion and relief. "He's still
"Like I say. Discord prefers to leave the loved ones of his greatest victims in ironic stasis, where possible. And Twilight's entire family qualify. We can pick him up on the way in."
"We'll have to move fast." I said, marking points on the map. "How fast can you do that dive-into-the-mind thing to awaken an element, and how fast is the straight restore?"
"The restore takes less than a second." Cadence replied. "Awakening an Element takes a bit longer, but time goes faster in a mind-scape. It needs the pony in question to actualize the thoughts relating to the element."
"And that's easier when somepony helps." I nodded. We'd gone into Cadence' mind to awaken her own Element of Honesty, and it had been
confusing and humbling.
Still, we found it in the end. It now waited in her mind to be summoned forth.
"Right. Pinkie, AJ and Spike are going to have to be all at once. I'll keep Discord distracted." I offered. "You had best keep the masking effect up as long as you can, to conceal yourself and Shining and Alabaster." I thought for a moment. "Actually, I could do Pinkie myself if you're unable to, and she's the simplest to do for two reasons."
"I'm aware she only needs restoration, but two?"
"She's also very easy to bring out of place. Just a giggle." I winked. "Being able to push other ponies' buttons may not be my talent, but I'm still quite good at it."
"True. Though handling the others will be tricky, as will preventing Discord from simply undoing it."
I materialized a hat out of nowhere, and made to pull something out of it. "I've got a brilliant idea relating to that. It's that fail-safe spell we saw Twilight using the day Discord escaped but constantly cast and persisted. It should lock down the area from anything reality reshaping. And as for the other Elements of Discord, or whatever he calls them
I usually find that flash-blindness and temporary deafness buy a few seconds."
"You learned the fail-safe spell from seeing it cast once?"
"I think it's a result of being Magic." I shrugged. "We'd better get going. Alabaster first."
There wasn't much left of the griffin lands. Discord had demolished them like he had Equestria proper, but put even less effort into keeping them around to play with.
More and more griffins moved to Equestria every day. It was a form of hell, but at least there was food.
The elderly griffin shook his head, shaking off the melancholy thoughts. It got harder and harder to do so every day his nation was dying, and the alternative was in the grip of Discord.
His grandparents had remembered the old days, ancient as they were. When the goddess (or goddesses, apparently, for a short time) had reigned in Equestria, not a mad god.
But he'd been raised properly. He did his bit, helping out whoever needed it at whatever cost to himself. He and a number of like-minded griffins had gone into Equestria often, helping who they could.
Back when they could.
Something rustled outside his door.
He tensed, involuntarily. It was a toss-up what he was going to have to deal with. Sometimes it was a visitor, or a traveller passing through looking for hospitality. Sometimes it was
something else. Three times he'd been set upon by thieves, and once it had been an inexplicable shark that floated six inches above the floor.
Well, no other way to find out. Moving carefully, he crossed to his door and opened it.
The white-purple wing feathers that gave Alabaster his name were faded a little with age compared to last time I'd seen him, but he seemed hale enough.
"Well, this is new." He muttered upon seeing me, before shrugging something that I'd discovered that winged creatures did much more easily. "I can't say I've met a pony with both wings and a horn. Some kind of experiment by Discord?"
"No, actually." I said. "You don't recognize me, but I'm feeling rather better than I was last time you met me."
"So I've met you before?" The gryphon ruffled his feathers. "Well, if you're someone I've met before then you may as well come in and have a drink. I'm afraid I've only got a little tea, so it'll be rather weak."
"My pleasure." I said, impressed, and followed him in. His little house was well kept, if a little run down understandable, of course.
"Now, where have we met
" he asked, tapping a claw against his beak. "I wonder
did you look the same?"
"No." I decided against giving him the whole answer straight away, and furled my wings fully as a hint instead.
I'll assume you were some kind of unicorn, from the way you carry yourself. You're good, but you're not quite used to the wings like someone who grew up with them."
"Well, this is hard. Might I see your cutie mark?"
"Of course." I turned slightly, to let him see it, and he gasped.
"I do remember you! Only
weren't you mute, and starving? On the streets of Trottingham, if I recall."
"Yes, I was starving though not mute. I simply didn't have the ability to care about anything. Literally, I was apathetic enough that it could have killed me."
how?" Poor Alabaster. He seemed in shock.
"Magic, actually. Old and deep magical rules, applied to a new situation." I backed out the door. "Cadence, you can come down now."
In a moment, my friend landed outside. Alabaster took her in stride, apparently because the mere presence of another alicorn was all but mundane compared to myself.
It took a few hours to explain everything. Why I'd been so apathetic, the accurate version of Discord's conquest, right through to the concept of an Element of Harmony.
"So you think I might be one? I don't think
"We can see. It's a simple spell." I looked to Cadence for confirmation, and she nodded.
"Alright, then. If it stands a chance of ending Discord's reign of terror and saving everyone, then I'm in."
After a moment of thought, Cadence nodded to herself. She lit her horn and gently tapped the elderly griffin's forehead.
Magic danced, drove in, eddied and dissipated.
Alabaster shook himself, examining himself carefully. "Wow. That was
"What did you see?" I asked. "Mine was sort of like a battle, but I ended up taking in all the parts of myself."
"Nothing like that." Alabaster said. "I was on the other side of my own charity, but at the same
oh, it's confusing to me even now. I felt like a little chick, homeless, and being offered help by a stranger. And I was
it wasn't right, to take all he had, so I gave him half back. But the half I gave back and the half he insisted I keep were bigger than the whole we started with. And at the bottom
" he tailed off, and gestured to his neck, where a gorget held a crystal in the form of a single feather.
"Is it me
" Cadence asked, looking the griffin up and down, "Or do you look
more fit? Less worn down by age?"
"I do. Strange."
"Something to think about later." I say, shrugging again. It's a nice movement. "Now, we need to head for the castle. Shining, Spike, Pinkie and AJ await."
"Are we certain this is the best plan?" Alabaster asked. "I just want to make sure."
"It may not be. But it has the virtue of speed every day increases the risk."
March forward twenty three paces. Pause. Determine random result (5). March forward five paces. Turn ninety degrees clockwise. March forward twenty three paces. Pause. Determine...
Interrupt. Obstruction in path.
Determine nature of obstruction (Animate).
do I recognize you
Tentative match found. Subject classified as "Alicorn".
Yes. I know you. Somehow.
Sound detected. "Shiny? I-it's me. You remember me?"
Warning. Unusual internal response det-tecttected~
Cadence and I fire our spells at the same moment. A bubble of normality blooms out to ten feet from my horn, and for a brief instant Shining Armour is as he once was.
Then, as Cadence' memory spell and awakening spell envelop him, the bubble collapses and he stays a normal unicorn.
Alabaster, next to me, watches me exhales in relief. "I don't know much about magic, miss Midsummer-night, but that expression of yours tells me we were lucky."
"We were indeed. It's hard to tell whether something like Discord's changes will revert easily or not on a sentient being I don't think it was ever really tested before now." I explain, keeping an eye on the pair and another metaphorical one on my magical sense.
"Ah, I see. Well, that bodes well."
"Yes..." I tail off. "Something's up Discord has spotted the disruption." I weave a cloaking spell out of pure magical theory and illusion spell experience from my youth, and throw it over the others. A second spell, and I appear to be a stallion from the outside. A third, and a helmet with an elaborate plume materializes, along with a long lance with spiralling colours in blue and sable, and a caparison with an elaborate coat of arms.
If there's anything that'll keep Discord off balance, it's something funny.
Time for my command performance.
The doors to Discord's throne room exploded in a blast of heat. Fluttercruel made to charge, but a gesture held her back. "No, I want to see who did this."
As the smoke cleared, a strong voice belled through the gap. "Foul wyrm! Cease your blandishments and face justice! I, Tristan, shall end your vile reign with good ash-wood and steel!"
Liarjack blinked. "Ah know exactly what's goin' on."
Discord clapped his hands, producing a rain of confetti and three rather startled fish, and bestowed an approving smile on the unicorn knight. "Well done, I must say. It's not every day something surprises me."
"The surprise is not over yet, wyrm!" A pale blue glow enveloped the lance, and brought it to ready. With a war cry, he charged straight at Discord.
Tragedy shook her head silently, wondering whether Lord Discord would let the lance just sink into him like he was taffy, or decide to be made of rubber.
"Hold on..." Fluttercruel said, frowning. "What's the point of using a lance like that? It can't use impact weight, and-"
The tip of the lance hit Discord's chest, right on the bulls-eye he'd painted on and exploded with the force of a hurricane.
The concussion from the blast had barely reached the six ponies when ravening beams of violet and sky-blue energy speared through the hall, both hitting the startled draconequus hard.
"I don't understand." Discord said, then laughed. Angry Pie's eyes went alight with fury, and only quick action from Traitor Dash stopped her throwing herself heedlessly forward. "I actually don't understand! How is this possible?"
"Easy." Tragedy's ears perked at the voice. It was different, more feminine, and... familiar.
Traitor Dash's face went through several expressions at once.
"This might be bad." Liarjack said into the stillness.
The new voice spoke up again.
"IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:"
"It's an unusual way of putting it but isn't it rather a lot of effort?" Discord said, looking around for his attacker who was being maddeningly elusive.
"If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:"
A shadow at the edge of perception slipped into the stables, and light danced for a moment.
"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'"
"Traitor Dash, what's worrying you?" Tragedy asked. "It might be important tactical information."
"I know that voice." Dash replied, shaking her head and trying not to listen.
"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Gods - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is Equestria and all things within it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Mare, young one!"
With that last line, a sky-blue form faded into existence, clad in a familiar hat and cape. "Hello, Discord."
"Who are you again?" Discord asked, running a claw down a list. "Nope... nope... no... ah, here we are. 'See dictionary.'" With a flourish, he pulled one out of nowhere and checked through. "Here we are. Your picture's next to 'nobody'. Though," he checked the picture against the mare. "You seem a little larger than before. Perhaps you've put on weight?"
"You could say that." Trixie flared her wings out from concealment, and launched a bolt of rent space at Discord. Her horn kept glowing, a bubble blossoming out from her, and she took to the air with a leap.
Discord shook his head, and ducked the bolt. He snapped his claws...
And nothing happened. He frowned, snapped them two more times, then a fireball the size of a house exploded around him.
"Where was the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom!"
Trixie gave a joyous grin, and rolled away from a counterstroke. Her aura kept growing, the powerful spells she'd been throwing not even adding up to a net drain when compared against the power of the Knight of Wands in full blaze. "I'm sure you'll figure it out. After all, I'm just a conjurer. Hardly up to the standards of Mimic of old."
A plane of pure force sliced into the air, breaking on a shield thrown up by Trixie at the optimum moment. She formed multiple semi-independent spell systems to continue pressing Discord, checked on her Failsafe spell, and banked around to meet five attacking corrupted ponies.
Gentle music drifted through the ravaged door, and coalesced around the stunned form of Liarjack caught by an invisible stun spell thrown by Trixie as she had appeared.
"Tell me, dear. Why did you do it?"
A crack appeared in the stealth spell, revealing Cadence to Liarjack and her alone, and she stiffened with shock before relaxing. "Ah did it for two reasons, and neither of them was that ah felt the truth was cruel."
A soothing warmth filled her, and a delicate necklace with an apple blossom adorning it appeared around her neck.
"Good." the alicorn whispered, then removed the stun spell. "I'm afraid you're one of the only two who's going to have experience with this."
I felt a stutter of magic interfere with my stealth spell on Cadence. Good.
"You know, you're really not very good at this, Twilight Tragedy." I said. "Maybe I should have taken your challenge back then. Might have saved a little face. And, whoops!"
One of Greedity's telekinetically controlled stone pegasi missed me by an inch. "That was a close shave. Tell me, does this cape look alright, or does it maybe accentuate my wings too little?"
"Okay, fine. Toro!" I sliced the fastener of the cape, dropping it, and chuckled as the next attack went for the cape instead of for me.
With a pair of extremely fast teleports, I appeared behind the slavering form of Angry Pie and applied a spell, then vanished with her leaving a burst of light that would probably have given any purely mortal being an instant sunburn.
Too bad for Discord's minions they were all trying to keep track of me.
"Okay, what's going on?" the pink mare in my hooves asked, as I landed from the second teleport and furled my wings. "What are we doing?"
"Winning." I said, simply, and dropped the invisibility spells.
I'd placed the teleport perfectly. Behind me was the enormous form of Spike, the great gorget bearing a dancing flame about his neck. To my left were Cadence and Shining Armour, the small shield and large heart of their Elements each blazing. To my right was Alabaster, the griffin's eyes steely with the conviction of a hunting predator at the kill and his feather-gem glittering like the stars. Liarjack remained behind me, loath to stray from Cadence' side.
I deposited Pinkie next to them, and she summoned her Element of Laughter with an "oh" of realization.
I flicked my eyes up and caught sight of the circlet. Good.
"Discord?" I said, and he turned away from beating a Living Lightning against the floor to look at us.
His eyes widened. I could see him trying to react to the impossible sight before him there was a reason I'd insisted Cadence stay out of the battle, for precisely this moment of shock. Seeing Pinkie restored and Shining Armour hale had the same effect on his remaining Elements for whatever reason, they weren't quite able to comprehend it all in time.
Seven colours formed, wove into a tapestry of light, and erupted outwards.
The Changelings in their long-hidden kingdom perked up and luxuriated in the wash of positive emotions that flowed over them. Blue and pink lights danced around them, and when the rush faded they had changed. No longer black, their carapaces were snow-white and unblemished, and their souls healed of their ancient wound by trust.
They could sustain one another now, with no need to look elsewhere.
Several million gallons of water plunged from the sky towards a dusty desert. Blue and pink light flashed around them, and the water landed softly in a depression of precisely the right size and shape to contain it.
Hundreds of rather startled seaponies blinked, remembering who they had once been.
Pink light chased by blue enveloped Canterlot castle, momentarily reducing its' circumference to zero. In no time at all, a wall-eyed grey mare had circled it an infinite number of times and her family were once more together, both fillies embracing her.
Two tracers of light surrounded a spiral-eyed mare, cushioning her personality against the changing world and keeping her restored sanity in place.
For a long minute, the seven elements poured out their magic into the world. One began to sway, as her claim to the element she bore faded, but a yellow pegasus stepped forward to replace her with a determined expression. The two lights encircled her for a moment, and there were two all-but-identical pegasi one with an Element necklace, the other with a faded coat and looking startled.
The coloured lights finally wearily returned to the circle, and split one into each alicorn. The stream of rainbow light faded, and seven of those who had contributed to it nearly collapsed.
Trixie drew on the dregs of her strength and looked forward. Twilight Sparkle was fine... Rainbow Dash seemed back to normal... Rarity was desperately trying to wash herself, which probably meant she was normal... and the other three had been involved in the Elements. No, she corrected herself, four she and Cadence had spotted the dual soul in Fluttershy/cruel, and corrected it as best they could.
Then she saw Discord. He wasn't encased in stone, like the last two times he'd been hit by the Elements. No, he was staring at himself as if seeing his own arms for the first time.
Alabaster padded over and caught her as she swayed. "Come on, you're exhausted. I can't believe you managed to guide the Elements..."
"How are you fine?" she asked, with a chuckle.
"Generosity, I think. Now, come on. We need to check if your guess was right."
Slowly, haltingly, she trotted over to the draconequus with Alabaster's support.
"How are you?"
"I feel terrible." Discord replied, not looking at her. "I can't believe how badly I went wrong..."
Trixie chuckled. "Take it from me, mistakes happen all the time. If princess Luna can nearly starve the world, your own madness is entirely forgiveable."
"I don't feel worthy of forgiveness, though."
"Oh, oh! I know!" Pinkie said, appearing from under Trixie's left wing and apparently already recovered. "Make a pinkie promise that you reeeeally mean it, and I'll forgive you... but only if you make me a cotton candy cloud for the yay-we're-all-saved party!"
"I'd accept." a new voice said, with a lilt of humour. "According to my student's reports, that promise lets her use the full capacity of her Element. She's better than Surprise."
The little group and all the rest of them, ponies and otherwise, looked around at the voice.
Celestia and Luna had entered the restored throne room, looking as good as new after their long petrification.
"'tis true," Luna added, glaring at Discord, "That we feel aggrieved by thy doings, Discord. But since we have experienced ourselves the effects of a personality gone rogue, it would be churlish to object."
"I... thank you." Discord finally said, bowing his head. "I... everything felt so right when I did it then, and now I can hardly believe I thought like I did."
Celestia trotted over, and embraced him. "Welcome back, my dear old friend. It's been far, far too long."
Trixie cleared her throat. "Dear Princess Cadence. I have just had the most exhausting day of my entire life, and would like to pass out now. Your faithful friend and student, Trixie Mid-summernight."
And she was asleep before she hit the ground.