The Birth of Harmony
Trying her best to look like nopony at all, Clover trudged through the backstreets and forced herself not to sigh when the sun reversed course with a screech and plunged back below the horizon. A sound like glass shattering, and the full moon shot into the sky like a stone from a sling, the drifting cotton candy clouds bursting to pink mist.
How long had it been like this? Weeks, maybe? Months? Years?
Her whole life, it seemed sometimes....
She shrugged the cloak closer around her shoulders, winced at a gust of chocolate milk rain spattering into her face, at the cobblestones below her hoofs suddenly going squishy, squeaking like rubber toys with each step she took. She could still remember the time before, though, could remember Princess Platinum standing on this very hill and proclaiming it the site of Canterlot, the city the unicorns would build in accordance with the agreement Clover had put together with Smart Cookie and Pansy: "A shining jewel," the princess had said that day, "and a symbol of this partnership we unicorns have forged with our neighbors, the earth ponies and the pegasi! Together, therefore, let us create our land, our dream, our Equestria!"
That had only been a year ago, she was sure, two years at the longest, the construction going so quickly with the pegasi and earth ponies helping. And she would never forget standing with Cookie and Pansy at the party the princess had called the Grand Galloping Gala, the purple flare of the princess's horn wielding the scissors, Commander Hurricane and Chancellor Puddinghead on either side of her as they cut the ceremonial ribbon across the city gates--
Just as that first drop of chocolate splashed against her snout...
Something popped like a balloon behind her, but Clover didn't look, didn't want to know. She couldn't afford to get distracted, not now, not with so much riding on--
Don't think about it. Don't think his name, don't think about what you're doing, don't give him any reason to cast his foul, bilious gaze in your direction. And while Clover didn't believe as some ponies did that His Capriciousness could truly read thoughts, well, her mentor Star Swirl the Bearded had always said, 'Misdirection is the center about which all magic spins.' Not that Clover had ever been any good at lying, but she'd discovered lately the vital difference between speaking a lie and simply keeping silent about the truth.
She rounded the corner, the stones becoming solid again under her, and ducked into the third building on the left. Seeing the familiar hallway, she puffed a sigh of relief: last week, His Capriciousness had switched this whole block of the city for a different one from across town.
Hurrying down the hall, heart racing, Clover tapped twice against the last bare wooden door and pushed it open, hoping to see--
Pansy staring back, her eyes and wings as usual spread wide with surprise, Smart Cookie on the other side of the shabby table, the only piece of furniture in the tiny square room, the dun-colored earth pony's cheeks thinner than when Clover had first met her during the hard times. Cookie's face lit up, though, when Clover met her gaze, her smile making her look almost like her old self.
They rushed into an embrace, Clover murmuring, "Thank the sun you're both still all right."
"Us?" Pansy's breath ruffled Clover's mane. "This nightmare's been worst of all for you!"
Cookie gave a little laugh, her voice rough. "Time to wake us all up from that nightmare, then. Everything set?"
"Yes." Clover stepped back, tried to keep herself from shaking, looked back and forth between the two. "The others are meeting all around the city right now! There's no way--"
A jagged flap fell open in the wall behind Pansy, Clover choking on her words, that long sallow face leering an all too familiar snaggle-toothed grin at her. "I'm spying on you!" Discord announced.
Wrapping her thoughts as thickly in fear and panic as she could--pretty easy to do, actually--she stammered, "Lord Discord! I didn't--! We weren't--! This isn't--!"
"Oh, now, really, Clover!" Discord slithered through the hole and into the room, a smell of burnt toast wafting up from him. "How many times must I tell you: there's no need to be so formal! We're all friends here!" The grayish-yellowish- brownish stretch of him filled the room like water in a sink of dirty dishes, his grin sharpening, his mismatched eyes narrowing. "All the very best of friends."
Smart Cookie's grin got just as sharp. "Could be that word don't mean what you think it means."
"Cookie, Cookie, Cookie!" Twisting like he didn't have a bone in his body, Discord tapped Cookie's snout with a talon of his eagle claw. "Of course we're friends! You wouldn't have invited me here otherwise, would you?"
Clover couldn't stop her jaw from dropping. "Invited? How could you possibly think--??"
"What?" Discord wheeled, his look of mock surprise always making Clover want to grind her teeth. "How could you possibly forget?? After all, it was the three of you who did so!" He snapped the stubby fingers of his lion paw, and the room crumpled like a sheet of used paper, an ice-filled cavern taking its place.
A gasp beside her. "It's us!" Pansy said, and Clover blinked to see the scene exactly as she always remembered it: the princess, the commander, and the chancellor standing frozen, a younger version of herself singing an old ballad with her new friends, both looking just as they had that fateful night all those years ago.
"Why, it is you!" Discord spun in the air above the group. "And don't you all look so sweet, a tiny island of warmth and peace and friendship!" He somehow managed to turn that last word into a sneer. "A fragile little spark glowing and growing amidst all the lovely chaos and misery!" His wings swept the scene aside, Clover's drab rented apartment snapping into place again. "How could I ignore as open an invitation as that?"
Clover blinked at him. "But...we...you...I...I don't--"
A puff of licorice-scented breath from his nostrils into her face, and Discord turned a bored expression at Smart Cookie. "Perhaps you could explain things to your associate?"
Cookie shrugged. "Near as I can figure, you're the sorta fella who loves a challenge. Us ponies weren't anything like that to you when we was squabbling, but soon as we started getting along, we got real interesting, didn't we?" She grinned. "So you just had to come popping in and pay us a visit, see how we ticked and tocked and made other assorted noises."
"Oh, well done!" Discord pulled a bruised and half-eaten apple from thin air and held it out to Cookie. "Go to the head of the class, my dear!"
"That's OK." She wrinkled her nose at the thing. "Looks like somepony's already staked a claim on that one..."
"Then--" Clover shook, thoughts sparking like lightning bugs through her head. "We summoned you?"
Discord sniffed. "Let's say instead that you created a spot I felt inclined to turn my attention toward." He slipped sideways onto the floor, his body flowing all the way around the walls of the room till his tail came to rest just below his chin. "But that's enough about me. Let's talk about you girls and what you're up to."
Clover couldn't answer, Discord's words so completely unexpected, they took her breath away. Dimly, though, she heard Cookie ask, "What, you don't like surprises?"
His laugh sounded like wind through winter-bare branches. "On the contrary. But while I firmly believe that any ruler who doesn't have at least a dozen rebellions brewing against him isn't worth talking about, I suppose I find it a bit incongruous to imagine you little ponies rising up in any way against my enlightened despotism." He interlaced his various front claws and batted his eyes. "You're all just so gosh darn cute!"
A sigh that Clover recognized as Pansy's. "We might as well come clean, Cookie. Discord, we're planning a birthday party for you."
The silence that followed smelled of hot mustard, then Discord's whooping laugh smacked Clover as cold as a bucket of water on a frozen morning. "Oh, Pansy! And here I thought Cookie was the comedienne in your little trio!"
Blinking, forcing herself to focus on the here and now, Clover looked up into Discord's peculiar eyes, a glint there that she rarely saw in her day-to-day dealings with him. "I'll give your team five points for that answer, however, which moves you into first place!" He swiped his lion paw at the wall behind him, left five jagged slash marks in the wood, then cocked his head, a barbed smile curling his snout, a talon touching Clover's chin. "I've always had such hopes for you, Clover the Clever, and you've always been such a disappointment. I can only imagine Star Swirl shaking his head and turning away in disgust as he watches his greatest student flail about so ineffectively."
He straightened, snapped his lion paw, and vanished with a flash--except for his mouth, floating and still speaking above her. "Once I check in with the other groups I've noticed gathering around the city, I'll come back and let you know how you're faring in our little contest. But remember: it's not whether you win or lose. You can't win, after all!" A wet pop, and Discord's ragged grin disappeared.
In the unscented silence that followed, Clover inhaled for what felt like the first time in minutes. He didn't know! For all his unmistakable power, he didn't--!
"He knows!" Pansy squeaked, cowering on the floor, her front legs covering her face. "He knows, he knows, he knows!"
Cookie stroked a hoof over Pansy's back. "Whether he does or he don't, we got no choice. We hafta--"
"He doesn't!" Clover kept her voice down, and as much as she wanted to grab her friends and start dancing, they just didn't have the time. "In fact, what he said proves we can do this! We can stop him!"
Pansy's eyes wavered, peering out from beneath her hoofs. "You...you mean it, Clover?"
"Then--" Cookie took a step toward her. "Your research? You found what you was looking for?"
"Well, no," Clover had to admit. She fumbled to pull her cloak off. "Sneaking into the archives every night this past week, I didn't find any mention of the magic the three of us summoned in the cave. That means it's nothing Star Swirl knew anything about." Her hoofs were shaking so badly, she couldn't hook the laces tying her cloak on. "Could you guys maybe help me with--?"
The other two sprang forward, caught the ties in their teeth, and Clover felt the knot go loose at her throat. "But Discord said it himself just a minute ago!" she went on, still amazed to have found confirmation of her theory from such an unlikely source. "All of ponydom took a step forward that night, moved past any threat the windigoes could pose to us, but in doing so, we entered into a larger realm, became a target for a larger threat! We need to take another step forward, summon a greater good, create a power of truth and light and peace like we did before, but it's gotta be bigger this time!" Grabbing her cloak, she flipped it off, slapped it flat onto the little table. "We need to create them!"
An indrawn breath from Pansy on her left. "Ummm, Clover? This is just that flag Thimble Spinner put together, and, well, it's already been created. In fact, they were all over Equestria till Discord turned each and every one into a flying ice cream cone. So I don't see how're they supposed to--"
"Not the flag!" Clover reared back and planted her front hoofs beneath the two figures circling the central sun and moon. "These! Larger than the strongest earth pony, swifter than the fastest pegasus, mightier than the most powerful unicorn! The symbol of everything Equestria stands for, our three peoples coming together in harmony and becoming more than any one of us could ever be on our own!" She let her eyes rest on the simple, beautiful images. "We need to make these creatures real..."
The silence this time felt more than a little uncomfortable, and the "Ummm" came from Cookie this time. "Any idea how we go 'bout doing that?"
"Not a one." Clover lowered herself onto all fours, looked from Cookie to Pansy and back again. "But do you trust me?"
"Always," Pansy answered immediately.
With a chuckle, Cookie nodded. "Well, you gets points for honesty, anyway, Clover."
A warmth washed over Clover. "And do you love me?"
"Always," Pansy said.
For a second, Cookie looked more serious than Clover had ever seen her; then she smiled, stepped forward, and poked her nose against Clover's. "A goof like you, you makes it easy."
The air itself vibrating, Clover wrapped her right foreleg around Cookie's left, reached out her own left to Pansy. "And do you believe in me?"
Pansy took her hoof, her face pure happiness. "Always," she said.
The simple power of the word made Clover feel too big for her skin, and when she felt Cookie press her flank against her, heard her say, "And forever"--
Power burst from her like nothing she'd ever imagined: as clean and clear as that night in the cave, that night she'd first known what friendship could mean, had first realized how she and these two other ponies were the same despite their differences, how they were each wonderfully unique despite their similarities, how together, they added up to much more than three, much more than three thousand, so much more, they were able to warm the hearts of every pony in the world.
But this, this right here and right now, flooding from Smart Cookie and Pansy into her and from her out into the hearts and minds of every pony gathered in Canterlot, every pony hovering in Cloudsdale, every pony huddled in Manehattan or on a farm somewhere across all of bruised and battered Equestria, this power, it swooped through the clouds of Discord's chaos like a rainbow after the actual rainstorms Clover remembered washing through the sky not that long ago, touched every pony's wishes, dreams, and desires, and rebounded to her, came back to her to shape, to build upon, to form into--
A blast of wind, light exploding beyond her clenched eyelids, thunder shaking her from mane to fetlocks, Clover opened her mouth to cry out--
But stillness closed over her, a scent of simple flowing water in the air she sucked in. Opening her eyes, she heard Pansy gasp, felt Smart Cookie's shiver where she still stood pressed against her. But all she could see, all she ever wanted to see for the rest of her life, on the other side of the rickety wooden table with Thimble's flag stretched over it, filling the room with light and electricity and an excitement that crackled like static over Clover's skin--
Three mares, long-limbed, tall, and perfect, their wings huge and unfurled, their horns sparkling with colors Clover didn't know names for. The white one in the center, her cutie mark a sunburst, looked back at Clover with a slight smile, her pink mane flowing down to cover one eye. To Clover's left and directly across the table from Pansy stood a black and dark blue mare nearly as large as the first, her cutie mark a crescent moon, while on the sun mare's other side in front of Smart Cookie, a pink mare a bit smaller than the others blinked, her mane and tail striped with yellow, red, and purple, her cutie mark a cloud with a rainbow behind it.
The silence around them fairly hummed, but before Clover could ask any of the questions rattling through her brain like popcorn, the sun mare exchanged nods with the moon mare, turned and did the same with the cloud mare, then looked back at Clover and said as confidently as anypony Clover had ever heard: "Thank you. Now, we haven't much time, so--"
"Who--?" Pansy began, her voice as quivery as always, but Clover heard amazement dominating any fear there.
"--are you?" Smart Cookie took half a step forward, something Clover wasn't sure she could do just yet.
How were these creatures even fitting into this dingy little room, Clover wanted to ask, but when the three all smiled, the sight so warmed her and filled her with hope, Clover let her every question blow away.
"We are you," the sun mare said.
The moon mare gave a little shrug. "Well, your hopes and dreams made manifest, at any rate."
"So," the cloud mare added, her smile moving sideways into a grin, "if you'd be so kind, you should tell us who we are."
"Celestia," Clover said, the name coming to her as naturally as a breath, and the white mare bowed her head.
"Luna." Pansy was looking at the black mare.
"Cadence," from Smart Cookie, and she gave a grin that matched the pink mare's.
Celestia's eyes twinkled. "And we're very pleased to make your acquaintance. But right now--"
"What's this??" thundered from outside, and the walls of the room exploded into a million sharp, spinning pieces; Clover spread her hoofs and activated her horn, calling up a shield spell, but the three winged unicorns were faster, Celestia flashing fire from her horn to burn every shred of wood, Luna wafting shadow from her wings to extinguish each fire immediately after it had done its job, Cadence whooshing beneath Clover and her friends, lifting them through the ashy air, and setting them safely onto the ground--
The ground? Glancing around, Clover saw the entire neighborhood--buildings, streets, lampposts, everything--had vanished, the whole area for hundreds of yards in a circle around her nothing but bare dirt dampened by the chocolate rain, the rest of Canterlot standing just outside the radius. "Where--?" she started, but a familiar voice interrupted her.
"Well, well, well!" A part of the sky shimmered and cracked, Discord oozing out to float above the hole in the city. "Forgive me for doubting you, Pansy! You are throwing me a birthday party!" His face curdled into a leer that made Clover want to start running. "And three such wonderfully sweet presents you've brought me!"
The Birth of Harmony
"Where--?" Clover stared at the crater around her, couldn't keep from thinking about the ponies who'd been in those now-vanished buildings, couldn't keep from wondering--
"Shhhh," came a soft voice above her, and she blinked at Cadence, the pink winged unicorn's striped mane flowing in the damp, chocolate-scented breeze. "Don't let him unnerve you."
A bark of a laugh from Discord, hovering overhead on his mismatched wings. "Excellent advice, my dear! But I fear it's wasted on our little Clover." He settled to the ground, the dirt making a sound like air rushing out of a punctured balloon under him. "You'd almost think that 'unnerved' was her middle name."
Snorting, Pansy glared at Discord. "Shows what you know! Clover's middle name is 'the'!"
Discord choked, his nostrils flaring, then doubled over, hooting with laughter. "I swear, Pansy! You get funnier every time I see you!"
Pansy blinked, and Smart Cookie stepped around Cadence. "Keep it up, laughing boy," she said. "'Cause I reckon you're about to find the joke's on you."
Wings flapped on either side of them, the other two winged unicorns landing. "Yes," Celestia said. "Things might soon become a bit more serious than you care for, Discord."
"Oooooo..." Discord's eyes went wide. "I like you." He narrowed his gaze at Luna. "You, not so much. You've a lean and hungry look: makes me nervous. And that pink one?" He waved his lion paw. "I've already got more cotton candy than I know what to do with, to be honest."
Luna's smile showed more teeth, Clover thought, than a pony's mouth ought to have. "Isn't he cute, sisters? Perhaps when we're done with him, we can prop him up in a garden somewhere..."
"We'll see," Celestia answered.
"After all," Cadence chimed in, "could be we resolve this disagreement amicably."
Clover found she was shaking her head. "Amicable isn't a word Lord Discord knows."
Shaking his head as well, Discord clicked his tongue. "What do I have to do, Clover the Clever, so you'll stop calling me 'Lord?'" He touched his eagle claws to his chest, a curly white wig appearing between his horns. "It makes me sound like some minor official in one of your unicorn courts." The wig burst into flame, Discord stepping sideways to leave it floating there on fire, his voice suddenly a growl: "And I'm not a minor anything! Let's get that straight right here and right now!"
"What you are," Celestia said, she and Luna moving to stand beside Cadence, "is a nuisance."
Luna nodded. "A major one, yes, we'll grant you that."
Cadence snickered. "But still just a nuisance."
The wig exploded, Discord staring at them open-mouthed, and for all that Clover wanted to cower down next to Pansy, she didn't want to miss a word the three mares were saying. It was so perfect, everything she'd been wanting to say to Discord since he'd first swooped in and disrupted all the hopes and dreams she and her friends had had for Equestria.
"Well!" Discord looked shocked, but Clover could smell his sardonic glee. "You know, I'm starting to get the feeling you ladies don't care for my company."
Celestia tapped a hoof in the mud. "You have two choices, Discord. Either you leave here on your own." Her eyes narrowed. "Or you don't."
"My sweet Celestia, my lovely Luna, and my cuddlesome Cadence." Discord grinned, and Clover felt her ears fold, saw surprise ripple over the others' flanks. "Oh, yes," he went on, his voice quieter than Clover had ever known it to be. "I've heard your names whispered on the winds of legend, have known since the very first tick of the cosmic cuckoo clock that we would meet at this time in this place." He combed a claw through his scraggly beard. "Funny thing, though: neither the winds nor the cuckoo ever say exactly how I'll whip you like the sorry mules you are." He shrugged, a grin splitting his face like an axe splitting a log. "Guess we'll all find out together."
As one, Celestia and Luna leaped upward, their wings flashing, Clover catching her breath as energy both dark and light crackled from their horns to slam directly into Discord. Writhing and swirling like smoke, he only laughed, his voice vast and echoing back from Canterlot's towers: "Oh, my, yes! This will be fun!" Blood red fire spouted from him, a rotten vegetable stink making Clover wince, but two earth-shaking thuds forced her eyes to open, her heart freezing to see Celestia and Luna skidding face-first through the dirt halfway back to the sliced-up buildings.
They sprang into the air again instantly, redirected their fire, blasted him over and over, but Discord seemed to shrug off each attack, his claws hurling balls of sickly green vapor, huge arcs of electricity, and custard pies with equal abandon and pretty good accuracy, Clover had to admit.
"Dang!" Smart Cookie shouted after several minutes of back-and-forth had sent the two winged unicorns crashing to the ground another four or five times. She nudged Cadence, still standing between them and the fight. "Reckon they could use your help there, ma'am?"
"We all have our places," Cadence replied, but Clover could see the tendons standing out in her neck, her pinion feathers twitching her obvious desire to take flight and join her sisters. "And mine for now is here."
"But--" Pansy had actually gotten to her hoofs, was staring up at the fight from between Cadence's front legs. "This isn't working! We need a different way!"
Cookie nodded. "A smarter way, at least." An explosion overhead made her ears flatten. "Them girls is tough as anything I've ever seen, but this is only getting us nowhere!"
"Yes." Clover grasped after the ideas flitting fast as fireflies through her. "The magic of friendship we kindled that night in the cave, we need to...to expand its reach, need to add more elements to it, need...need Celestia, Luna and Cadence with the power they draw from all ponies everywhere, need to bring that into harmony with the power we drew from each other that night." She looked from Cookie to Pansy, saw once more the love and trust and belief there even though she had to admit she was rambling more than--
"Very well!" The words tolled out of Cadence as deep and clear as the note of a bell, her wings flaring up to cover the sky. "Sisters! Attend us here!" And when she tucked her wings back against her flanks, Clover's jaw dropped to see the deep blue of a perfect afternoon above her, something she hadn't seen in so long, she'd almost forgotten how beautiful it was.
"Where--?" Pansy gasped.
"--are we?" Cookie finished.
"We're safe," Cadence murmured, and Clover stared around at the serene green meadow rolling up to the crest of a hill on one side, rolling down to the trees of a shady and dappled forest on the other.
"For a few moments, perhaps." Celestia was panting, she and Luna winging in to land, soot and ash staining the formerly pristine white and black of their respective coats.
Luna shook her mane. "But we dare not stay. This is the last place we would wish Discord to discover!"
"True." Cadence looked back and forth between the other two, and Clover could easily hear her reluctance as she said, "I have to agree with our mortal friends, however, sisters: these tactics are proving less than effective."
A snort from Luna, but Celestia nodded and said, "We're certainly open to suggestions."
And suddenly, five pairs of eyes fixed on Clover, the expectations she saw in them so heavy, she almost staggered backwards under the weight. "Clover?" Smart Cookie touched a hoof to her shoulder. "What was it you was saying about elements and harmony and the like?"
"I--" Thoughts flashed through her again, concepts she'd learned during her apprenticeship with Star Swirl the Bearded, principles she'd discovered on her own after that night in the cave, after her mind had opened to so many new possibilities--
But she couldn't drive away the constant hiss of Discord's snicker, the sneer that always made her name into an insult. Clover the Clever? If she was so clever, why hadn't she been able to drive Discord off?? Why had she stood idly by and allowed him to slither into Equestria, to destroy everything she'd devoted her life to??
"I--" she said again, and it all came tumbling out: "I don't know! I'm flying completely blind here, and I don't even have wings!" She glanced up, met Celestia's deep purple gaze, had to look away. "I don't know how I formed the Fire of Friendship, don't know how I summoned you three, don't have a single idea at all about what we can do next!"
"And yet," a familiar voice said behind her, "you keep doing that next thing, and you keep doing it well."
Spinning, she stared at the figure stepping from the forest, her mane standing on end at the jingle of the bells along the brim of his unmistakable hat. "Star Swirl!" she shouted, galloping down the gentle slope to throw her front legs around his neck, his well-remembered scent--old books and peppermint--tickling her nose. How many years had it been since she--??
Gasping, she leaped back. "But you--! Before we even came to Equestria, you...you--!"
"Died?" He cocked his head, the little sideways crook of his beard telling Clover that this was undoubtedly and impossibly her old mentor. "I'm fairly certain that's the word you're looking for."
All Clover could do was shiver and stare.
Star Swirl sighed. "The world works on principles you're only beginning to discover, Clover, principles I myself didn't have an inkling of while I was among the living." He smiled, and for all that Clover wanted to rush forward and hug him again, she couldn't make herself move. "You've surpassed me in every way, not only by finding the key to the magic that saved all ponydom from frozen doom but also by then developing that magic until you could create--" His gaze moved, focused past her, and Clover turned to see Celestia, Luna, and Cadence standing between Pansy and Smart Cookie.
"Oh, Clover," she heard him whisper. "I'm so proud of you."
Nothing could've stopped her then from whirling, pulling him close. "I miss you every day!"
"Shhhh..." A nuzzle at her ear, a hoof stroking her mane. "We'll be together again, never fear. But for now--" He stepped back, Clover blinking till her tears cleared and she could see his smile again. "You have a power in you, you and your friends, a power I never even imagined. Use that power, Clover the Clever, and save our peoples once again."
A spark rustled in her chest, and nodding, she turned, saw her friends further up the hill, had to gasp as the spark burst into a flame, a fire even larger than the one that had sprung out of her that night in the cave. "It's the six of us!" she shouted, charging toward them. "We're the focus, the center around which everything turns! Pansy, your generosity and loyalty brought forth Luna! Cookie, the laughter and kindness that you've shared with Cadence! And my...my..." Her thoughts faltered, doubts once more--
Cookie laughed, the sound steadying and feeding the fire. "Your stupid honesty, Clover!"
Pansy's eyes shone. "And your wonderful, incredible magic!"
She reached the group, saw the winged unicorns' horns glowing, her own horn as warm and soothing as a swallow of cocoa on a winter morning. "That's it," Celestia whispered. "Concentrate, everypony! The elements of harmony are within our grasp!" She lowered her head, touched her horn to Clover's, and the power that flowed out of her and into her made Clover's knees as rubbery as half-inflated balloons.
Two more horns, then, black and pink, two front hoofs, dun-colored and lemon-yellow, and Clover's heart flooded with joy, a part of her stirring like she was coming awake, coming alive, yawning and stretching and--
Light blossomed, and Clover gasped to feel the ground slip away beneath her, the air laughing and dancing to raise her and the others into the blue, blue sky. "The Elements of Harmony!" Celestia said again, and a golden necklace spun into existence in front of Clover, a ruby-red crystal at the front in the shape of her cutie mark. Other flashes showed her the necklaces springing up before Cookie, Luna, Cadence, and Pansy, and when hers slipped around her neck, the excitement and peaceful joy she felt made Clover resolve to do whatever she could to spread that feeling to all ponies everywhere.
One last flash of light, a sunburst tiara settling onto Celestia's brow. "And now, my friends," the sun mare said. "I believe we have some harmony to spread."
Cheers from the others, and Clover looked back, saw Star Swirl with head bowed, a smile on his lips and tears in his eyes. Then the lush green landscape vanished in golden fire, the dingy gray skies and sour milk mud of the crater in the center of Canterlot popping back into place, Discord stretched out in the dirt below and peeking at the face-down cards in the solitaire game he was playing.
"Discord!" The force of Celestia's voice blew the cards away. "This ends now!"
Yawning, Discord sat up and blinked. "Gracious! What lovely accessories!" His eyes narrowed, his thin lips curling. "I certainly hope you brought one for me. After all, it's my birthday..."
Luna snorted, her voice every bit as forceful as her sister's: "Fear not, tyrant: they're all for you!"
Cadence held up her hoofs, her words almost a whisper after the other two. "Please, Discord. Can't we come to some agreement that would have you leave us in peace?"
Slowly, Discord shook his head, but his eyes, Clover noticed with a shock, fastened themselves on hers. "Tell them why, Clover the Clever," he said. "As the only honest creature within the sound of my voice, tell them the truth."
Clover shivered, didn't want to know what he meant, didn't want her mind to make the connections it was suddenly making, didn't want to think the thoughts now crackling through her head. "It...it can't be..."
His grin sharp as a shattered window, Discord waved his lion paw at Celestia, Luna, and Cadence, confusion on their faces. "It was at your express command, dear Clover, that these three lovely and talented thingamajigs sprang forth from the better natures of all ponykind, was it not? So how can you deny that you also have the power to manifest the less flower-bedecked aspects of yourself and your fellow little ponies?" He jabbed an eagle claw at his own chest. "How can you deny that I am every bit as much a part of your hearts and minds as yon sweet shimmering sylphs?? How can you say that you did not create me the same way you created them??"
Silence fell over the crater quieter than anything Clover had ever heard. Pansy and Cookie were staring open-mouthed at her, but the closed eyes and turned heads of the three winged unicorns told Clover all she needed to know. "It's true," she told Discord, his smile growing even more jagged. "We did create you, all of us, every pony who's ever refused to accept a real apology, who's told a dishonest lie, who's pushed another away for no good reason. You are our responsibility, and we can't turn away from that."
"Exactly!" He tossed confetti into the air. "One big happy family: that's us!"
"Except--!" Clover shouted, the power building inside her, the glow of her necklace reflecting that of her friends'. "We won't be ruled by you anymore! Yes, you're a part of us, but in the name of Harmony, we won't let you be the only part! We won't even let you be the biggest part!"
Celestia aimed her horn at Discord. "We can't unmake you, spirit, but we can certainly do our best to contain you!"
Discord clicked his tongue. "Don't talk nonsense, girls. Now, let's have our little 'Kumbaya' moment and get back to fighting, shall we? All together!" He touched his lion paw to his chest, stretched his eagle claw out, tipped his head back and began to sing: "Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday to me! Happy birthday, dear me! Happy birthday to--!"
Clover unleashed her power, saw the light flood from the others at the same moment, crashing over Discord with a blast that made her mane stream out behind her. And when the light cleared, there stood Discord frozen in mid-song, smooth and gray and made of stone.
Another rush of power, and Clover looked up, saw the spongy pink and brown clouds popping like soap bubbles, the sky clearing for the first time in longer than she wanted to think about. "Let's call it dawn, shall we?" Celestia asked, and tears blurred Clover's sight of the sun slowly starting over the horizon, the dank gray sky deepening to blue.
A cheer rose from the city, and unicorns began zapping into the dirt below them, their eyes wide and fixed on the three winged unicorns. "Clover!" somepony shouted, and she looked down to see Princess Platinum waving wildly. "It worked! Your plan! You...you summoned help!"
"Yes, your highness!" she called; she turned a quick glance to Celestia, and the big sun mare nodded, her horn glowing to lower them all to the ground.
Clover got hug after hug, first from Cookie and Pansy, then from just about everypony she'd ever met while pegasi swooped down, earth ponies sprinting into Discord's crater from the streets of the city around it. The crowds stayed silent, though, looking up at the winged unicorns with wonder in their eyes, and Clover could hardly believe it when, after she'd introduced Princess Platinum to the three newcomers, the princess levitated her own crown from her head and bowed. "Royal pony sisters," she said. "Wherever you've come from, please say you'll do us the honor of staying."
Celestia's smile in the full light of the morning sun was more dazzling than Clover had imagined it would be. "We don't want to be a bother," she said.
"Ha!" Armor clattering, Commander Hurricane dropped into the spot beside Princess Platinum. "For taking out Discord, I'm gonna name you three admirals of the pegasi for life!"
"Yeah!" Chancellor Puddinghead pushed her way through the crowd to stand at the princess's other side. "And you're Big Cheeses of the earth ponies now, too!" She swept a front hoof over the desolate landscape. "You can put your castle right here, and then we can all come visit you all the time!"
"Or--" Luna's horn began to glow. "A lovely garden, I'm thinking, with a hedge maze and statuary." The glow reached out, wrapped around the stone figure of Discord, straightened it in the mud. "We already have the first, after all."
Slightly nervous laughter from the crowd, Celestia rolling her eyes. "Thank you, ponies of Equestria!" she said then, her voice so loud, Clover was sure the whole city--maybe the whole country--could hear her. "Then we'll stay!"
More cheers, but Celestia raising her hoof cut them off: "With the proviso that you allow us to make ourselves useful. I'll ask, therefore, your collective permission to take over the daily duty of seeing to the sun rise."
Luna's eyes lit up. "Oooo, yes! And I shall work my magic upon the night!"
"And I," Cadence said, again so much softer than her sisters, "I shall appear to each pony once you've all seen your allotted days and nights that I may guide you into the Groves Beyond." She bent down to Clover and whispered, "As I've already been doing, if the truth be known..."
Clover blinked at her, Princess Platinum calling out, "Then this will be a day of festivities such as Equestria has never known! The defeat of Discord and the arrival of our new princesses: Celestia, Luna and Cadence!"
"You got that right!" Commander Hurricane bellowed.
"Party!" Chancellor Puddinghead waved her hoofs.
Unicorns popped in with musical instruments, ponies grabbing them up and starting a schottische Clover hadn't heard in years. But as much as the dance called to her, she couldn't take her eyes off Cadence's. "But--," she sputtered. "Didn't...didn't Pansy and Cookie and I just create you? So how could you--? How could Star Swirl--? And how could Discord say he'd known about you since the beginning of--"
"Time's a funny thing," Cadence said with a smile, the rainbow seeming to shimmer behind the cloud of her cutie mark. "It only takes a moment to change the whole world, after all, but the consequences of changes like you make, Clover the Clever, they ripple out in every direction as if a pebble had been dropped into a pond. Now, if you'll excuse me..." She spread her wings. "I believe we have a party breaking out around us!" She leaped into the blue above to join her sisters, swirling with Commander Hurricane and the other pegasi to the music, earth ponies and unicorns dancing and singing along.
A nudge at Clover's right flank, and she turned to see Smart Cookie grinning back at her. Another nudge, then, on her left, and she looked over to see Pansy swaying little dancing steps in the mud. "No more thinking," Pansy said, mock sternness in her voice.
Clover started to protest, but Cookie prodded her in the side again. "At least for the rest of the day!"
"Hmmmm..." Clover tapped her chin, pretended to be thinking it over, then threw her front legs around her friends' necks with a laugh. "All right! But just this once!"