"Twilight, you look so worried." Celestia said, eyes on Twilight. The young magician swallowed, trying to keep a straight face. Celestia's eyes narrowed.
"Tell me what troubles you, my little pony."
The words lurched from Twilight's mouth. "We found Luna's diary!" her eyes widened.
"Sister." Celestia called. "Come out now. It's time to let in the light." Twilight looked over her shoulder. She noticed a flash of green light under the door. It creaked open.
"Luna, no!" Twilight told her.
"I must, Twilight. We shall stand strong together." Luna stepped out of the door.
Meanwhile, in the Ponyville Library, a piece of paper came from nowhere and floated gingerly down onto the face of a pegasus sleeping on the library floor. The pegasus, still asleep, tried to blow the paper off of her.
Shall you now?" Celestia asked. She turned to Twilight. "It's time to sleep, my little pony."
Twilight stumbled. "Twilight!" Luna called her name, but it sounded so distant. Her eyelids grew heavy. No. No, she couldn't rest yet. The world blurred.
"Sleep, my little pony. Sleep. And never wake up." Celestia's voice echoed in her head. No. She had to keep awake. She couldn't see anything. She was only vaguely aware she was on the floor. There was only the blackness.
"Come on, Twi!" Rainbow Dash told her. What? "I thought you were a better friend than that! Psh, and I gave up the Shadowbolts for you." she stamped her hoof. "What, you're tired? That's what you get for sticking your head in books all the time. C'mon, up. We got work to do."
"Now what in tarnation is going on here?" Applejack asked. "Rainbow, help me get this 'un up"
"Up up up!" Pinkie Pie bounced around her head. "You gotta get up!"
She's right, darling." Rarity helped her up. "You simply can't leave a marvel like that on her own. Don't you know how true love is supposed to work?"
"Twilight?" Fluttershy asked. "Um, if it's alright...it's time to get up now." she saw all her friends, together. They stood together, strong - with her.
In the library, the pegasus groaned awake. She couldn't get the paper off her face, and got up as she brushed it up. The writing on the paper caught her eye.
The flare of magic made the guards approaching Luna rear back. Twilight got her hooves underneath her, and with a groan, began to right herself. She was surrounded by an ethereal purple fire, her horn as bright as the north star.
"No!" Celestia yelled, eyes narrow. "Not again." when she next spoke, it was not any word Twilight could understand. She didn't even hear it. She just felt it inside her. She cried out and threw her head back. The pain was nothing she had ever felt before, so intense she nearly felt her mind shut off. She couldn't see as her body shivered and shimmered. For a brief moment, her body was replaced by an outline of the void of space, stars visible through her. Nothing but night sky and stardust. But she held on, and her form snapped back together. The magic around her flared brighter. Celestia's eyes widened.
"No! You may have broke the control spells but you are still a golem! I can undo your spell as easily as I made you."
The words did not surprise Twilight unduly. She had realized it the moment her mouth had betrayed her to Celestia. She shivered but stood strong.
"You never learned, did you?" she asked Celestia. "What made a golem a real pony."
"Real pony." Celestia sneered. "There are only two real ponies in Equestria, and soon I will have the power of both. You, you are stardust, sunlight and magic. I can promise that next time, I'll make you much better." she turned to the library's window. "I can't undo you now, but we will see once you under my domain. Guards." she galloped out the door. Twilight moved to follow her, only to realize half a dozen guards moved towards her. Six more approached Luna from the other side. The two ponies backed up until they were pressed flank to flank, surrounded.
"They're golems." Luna realized. Twilight nodded.
The pegasus raced through town. A hut near the Everfree forest was next, acres of apple trees racing below her. Meanwhile, a strong young farmer readied her cart for an unusual payload.
A dozen guards were stuck to the library roof, wings and legs flapping uselessly. Twilight hadn't want to be mean - it wasn't their fault, after all. She and Luna raced through the castle. She didn't know what they were going to do, but she needed to stop Celestia.
Imprisoned then banished! The tale that paper told became clear to Twilight. Nightmare Moon was the prison, a poison administered by her own sister, taking over her body. She had probably meant for it to ally with her, and when it hadn't, sent it to the moon while she dealt with Luna's freeing of the golems. She established herself as ruler, spread propaganda and myth to make sure her sister was unwelcome, unliked, forgotten as a hero. When she knew Nightmare Moon would return, she built a golem. A golem with just the right powers to defeat Nightmare Moon - maybe even take over for her, Twilight could only guess. And when it had gone wrong, Luna had managed to survive the thousand years of torture Nightmare Moon had offered and come back as the prison had shattered, a new plan was implemented. And now that had gone wrong too. Celestia's hoof was forced now that they knew. She didn't have the elements this time.
A white unicorn briefly considered finding a hat, but remembered a friend's wise words. There was a time and place for details, and this wasn't it. She left the shop for her younger sister to care for and got ready to leave.
They found Celestia above, on a high platform overlooking the city. The sun was already rising, her horn alight. Twilight's own horn began to glow. Stardust and sunlight. She had both magics inside her. She knew what to do.
The day sky was not what she had expected. Chaotic, energetic. The blue color of the sky, she realized, was akin to a magical glow. And the sun was a massive star, filled with celestial magic. It was not guided like the moon so much as corralled, pushed and pulled, kept going like a ball going down a hill, gathering momentum. Twilight could feel Celestia controlling the sun, yet at the same time gathering energy from it. She would weaken its light if it meant more power for her. And that's just what she was doing. It was a part of her just like the night sky was for Luna. Her magic was gathering strength.
Twilight became aware she was falling. Her eyes opened, her mind split in two places. She had kept running and collided with Celestia, knocking her off her pedestal. They now hurtled towards a great stone plaza surrounded by the castle's inner gardens.
"You foal!" Celestia raged at her. They battled on the celestial plane as Twilight began to imprint her spells on the day sky, twisting it and blocking Celestia's progress. She could hear the stars, faintly. She cried out to them in help.
"No!" Celestia's horn was as bright as the center of the sun. Twilight strained and cried out as Celestia bombarded her mentally, burning every bond she placed and forcing the weight of the sun upon her. For Luna, she would not falter. She refused.
'Luna...' the voice echoed in Twilight's head. It was a mare's voice, soft and sad. She felt the stars turn their attention on the two battling ponies. Some of them were twinkling lights, but some of them...remembered. Four of them still remembered. Names came to her. Star Shine the unicorn. North Star the pegasus. Helios and Selene, the earth ponies.
"The stars themselves...." Twilight felt herself flooded with ancient magic. Their strength had waned over the centuries, but for Luna, they too refused to falter. Their love had not lessened after all these years.
Twilight halted the sun. She bound it in celestial magic that had come from before Celestia herself. Celestia fought back, desperate and angry, thrashing like a beast in a trap. Twilight heard a cracking noise and looked up.
About ninety minutes. That's how long it took to get from Ponyville to Canterlot by balloon. Celestia's chariot made it under an hour, regularly. So the pegasus and farmer pony pulling the cart with three more inside probably set a few land-speed records as they raced across the land. Muscles stained, coats glistened with sweat, and five set of eyes were focused on the city looming up from the mountains.
Celestia's horn shattered. Not entirely, but the top third of it fell to pieces. Celestia cried out, losing her connection to her sun. And so it hung in place. The sun hadn't gone unaffected by the fight. It was as fiery and angry as its master, setting the sky around aflame in orange. It hung at mid-dawn, not risen but not hidden. Twilight only had seconds to note this as the two ponies crashed into the stone below.
"Twilight!" Luna flew down from above, almost twenty more guards on her tail. She gritted her teeth and whipped her tail. A trail of black night spread behind her, like a midair oil slick. It stuck to the guards, binding their wings and blinding their eyes. Many fell away from her. She looked down at the ground.
To her surprise, both ponies stood. They were battered, but they stood.
"A failure. An absolute failure. You had your hooves on the elements and you still failed to defeat her."
"I've been wondering." Twilight responded. "Why the only other pony who looked like you was Nightmare Moon."
The sun was an angry eye staring them down as they approached the city. The pegasus was panting hard. She had worked her wings this hard, but never her legs. She looked over to the farm pony. Stubborn as always, she had her head down, refusing to show the wear of the long run. The pegasus had an idea. She spread her wings.
Twilight's shield came up just in time. It shimmered around her as rays of solid light shattered against it. Luna was trying to keep the guards at bay. She didn't know what to do, however. She was no fighter, and she felt so weak. The sun wasn't all the way up, but her night was distant, and she was far from in the best shape.
"Twilight, what do we do?" she looked over. Twilight's head was cocked to the side. She was looking past Celestia. Luna glanced to the sky. Her jaw dropped.
"Yeeee-haw!" Applejack called out, waving her hat around as she hung in midair.
"Watch it!" Rainbow Dash told her as the hat blocked her vision. She held onto Applejack with her legs while she dragged the cart behind her in midair. Rarity and Fluttershy were gripping the sides for dear life while Pinkie Pie giddily leaned over to let the wind whip her hair back. Dash's wings pumped furiously as she brought the cart in for a landing, letting go of Applejack. Landing was a bit of a strong word - the cart bounced harshly against the floor while Applejack and Rainbow Dash skittered along the ground, trying to keep their hooves beneath them. The cart skidded sideways, teetered on one wheel, and came to a halt to the side, not quite at Twilight but beyond Celestia.
"Twilight, are you-" Rainbow Dash looked around, unharnessing herself as the rest of the ponies got off. "Wait are you fighting...Princess Celestia?"
Celestia blinked, but then immediately capitalized on the situation. "Quick, my little ponies! I fear Nightmare Moon has poisoned her mind! We must put a stop to this!" she pointed to Princess Luna, who was once again backing towards Twilight as she tried to avoid the guards. Rainbow Dash looked to Celestia, to Twilight, and then hopped into the air. She flew over to Twilight and stood by her side, facing Celestia. She braced herself as if for a hit.
"Really shouldn't try that on the Element of Loyalty." she mocked. The others rushed to her side. Twilight felt invigorated. Her friends were here, and for her they stood against the Goddess of the Sun. To her surprise, Celestia began to laugh.
"The elements of harmony? Yes, I've heard of them. Look at you ponies, you think you're so virtuous, aren't you? Look at you. Element of Honesty, lying to herself, as if her life and livelihood wasn't falling apart like that sagging barn." Applejack faltered, looking down at her hooves.
"Loyalty, who dismisses those that hold her back or simply annoy her!" Rainbow Dash bit her lip.
"Generosity, embarrassed for others, only wanting them to be as half as privileged as she feels!" Rarity began to argue, but stopped herself, hanging her head.
"Laughter, only to hide her depression, a mask worn by such a shallow actor." Pinkie Pie's constant smile faded. Twilight looked around at her friends, horrified by what she saw. The guards were closing in.
"And kindness, a crutch for weakness, who uses it to hide her nature." Celestia sneered at Fluttershy, who's legs quivered.
"The elements are flukes." Celestia told them. "And you ponies unworthy of their titles. Your power means nothing." she spread her wings. "And it is time for them to return to their rightful owner." The sun behind her suddenly felt close, amongst them. Fire spilled over Celestia's wings, racing towards the ponies. They cringed, but no one moved. Twilight braced herself.
The fire surrounded them, swallowing most of the plaza. Even some of the guards got caught in the flames, rearing away. Celestia laughed wildly, stomping her hooves. She continued laughing until the flames died down. Showing seven unharmed ponies. None were more surprised than the ponies themselves. Except for Twilight.
"By what magic?!" Celestia asked. The tiara on Twilight's head glowed brilliantly. Her friends and Luna were unscathed, surrounded in a light purple glow.
"You're wrong, Celestia." Twilight told her. Her eyes get sparkling with light, her magic nearly spilling over. "You've forgotten the final element."
"Magic?" Celestia laughed. "Parlor tricks, what an element!"
"Friendship." Twilight told her with a smile.
"Applejack's honesty is in her pure intent. She has worked hard for the sake of her farm. And with her friends, she had the best harvest in years, followed by the best planting season ever. Rainbow Dash has learned how her friends can support and motivate her. Rarity knows what it means to truly give a gift, and how to respect other ponies. Pinkie Pie knows she can trust us, and we can help her laugh on the inside. And Fluttershy has been strong - for us. Her kindness is empathy towards others, and she will never let another come to harm."
"On their own, they mean nothing." Twilight said, stamping her hoof. "But with friendship, they are all complete." she saw the glimmers around her friends necks. They all raised their gazes, eyes determined, standing strong together. Celestia stepped back. Her poisonous words had been meant to disable the elements from acting - she truly feared their power.
"Enough of this." she spread her wings, taking into the air. The guards, held at bay briefly by the fire, now closed in again.
"What do we do, Twi?" Applejack asked.
"Protect Luna. I'm going after Celestia." Twilight said. She bent down, and her horn glimmered purple. Her form flickered, briefly replaced by a window into the night sky again. When she flickered back, two great wings spread from her sides. The limb looked almost natural, the same purple as her coat, but the feathers faded from purple to the black of night. Twilight took into the air after Celestia.
"When could she - nevermind." Rainbow Dash looked around. "Ready girls?"
Twilight flew after Celestia, who seemed to be trying to get back to her platform. She saw Twilight come after her.
"You don't know when you've lost, do you?" she asked, turning around in midair.
"We can help, Celestia." Twilight said. "The elements of harmony freed Luna. They can free you too."
"Foal." Feathers darted from her wings, flying like daggers at Twilight. Twilight slid into her other plane and out, dodging them all. Celestia responded by curving rays of light towards her, trying to bind her. Twilight could feel them - they existed on both planes. This time she wrapped her wings around her as they darkened to all black. She was soon surrounded in a sphere of void. The light lashed at her, only to sink into nothingness. She unfurled her wings. Celestia was already preparing her next attack. Her horn was cracked, but Twilight imagined that was the only reason why there was any pause between the attacks. She gritted her teeth, trying to figure out what to do.
"I am not a war pony!" Rarity cried, running into the castle to escape the guards. She looked around in a panic. What could she do, what could she do? Ooh, what a nice tapestry. Too bad it was frayed around the - Rarity smiled.
"Rainbow Dash, go help Rarity!" Applejack called, finishing the knots roping up another guard. Rainbow Dash looped circles around two more flying guards until their heads spun and they crashed into the ground. She nodded.
"Pinkie Pie, you holding up?" Applejack looked over.
"Pinkie keen!" Pinkie told her. Applejack called out as three guards dog-piled her.
"You guys are silly!" Pinkie Pie said, standing besides them. They got up to find a fourth guard passed out from the dog pile. Pinkie Pie giggled and bounced away as they tried to catch her. Applejack rolled her eyes.
"Rarity, you okay?" Rainbow Dash looked around the grand hall. She didn't hear anything.
"Just fine dear." Rarity said, trotting up from around the corner. "I'm afraid those guards were quite unruly. I ask, what has become of chivalry?"
"Huh? What happened to them?"
"Nevermind dear. Shall we rejoin our friends?" Rarity trotted happily back outside. Rainbow Dash followed, scratching her head. Around the corner, several cloth lumps struggled to free themselves. The carpet-like material was without a single seam, expertly woven, and too tight for them to stretch or get purchase on the fabric.
"Dash, you seen Fluttershy?" Applejack asked, bucking a guard running up to her. Rainbow Dash shook her head. She touched hoof to her hat in worry.
"Don't worry. She'll be back."
Off from the battle, a single hoof stamped at the grass. A cool breeze blew through the gardens. The animals of the garden looked up. Something...something was calling to them. Not just them, but every animal in every garden. In the forests below, they felt it. Miles away, a certain rabbit dropped his carrot. He had never felt this before. And beyond, far beyond. A familiar dragon woke from his nap. Something was calling. And it was angry.
Luna looked around at the ponies fighting for her. Images flashed in her mind, long forgotten and suppressed. The ponies that had fought for her. While she prepared the last spell she could before the darkness swallowed her. She remembered seeing them ward off the unthinking golems yet under Celestia's rule. Her friends, refusing to fall until the tyranny was over. And then, even after falling, still fighting for her, remembering her even when she herself had forgotten.
"This time." she said. "It ends differently." her horn began to glow.
One of the guards caught Applejack's rope. She let go of it, not having time to wrestle it free. She glanced around. Now how many more could she buck before she gave in?
Rainbow Dash panted. These guys would not give up! Dizzy with loops for the first time since flight camp, she could only hope that this round would shake them. Meanwhile, inside, A hoof punctured the carpet surrounding it. Rarity, nearby, heard the loud rip. Pinkie Pie frowned. These guys were no fun. She was beginning to think that they seriously wanted to hurt her!
"Come on gals, we gotta help the Princess!" Applejack rallied, falling back to near Luna. Rainbow Dash landed, her legs unsteady. There was still so many of them.
"AJ, it'd be a lot easier if being the elements, you know, did something."
"I reckon." Applejack agreed. Then an ear perked up. "...Y'all hear that?"
All the ponies except Luna turned to the noise. Around the corner they came. The rabbits and foxes first, squirrels at the sides. Birds swarmed the air, and the hiss of snakes pierced their ears. Then came the boars, the wild wolves from the forests. Then came the bears. And riding the biggest grizzly bear any of them had seen, Fluttershy cackled madly. The four friends' jaws dropped slack. AJ shook her head.
"Rainbow?" she asked as she recovered.
"'mind me never to anger Fluttershy."
It was then they noticed the dragon flying towards them.