Rainbow Dash pushed herself faster, sweat running down her brow and stinging her eyes. The countryside flashed below her as the mountain city of Canterlot grew in the distance. She’d originally wanted to send a letter to the princess, but it seemed Spike was missing. Twilight had assured the other ponies that he was just angry with her, but even Dash had seen the worry in her eyes.
To make matters worse, the changeling queen had come to Ponyville. Twilight had wanted to take the train in the morning, but Dash insisted on flying to Canterlot herself. Once the princess knew of the danger, she’d send a carriage for the others. It was a long flight, and made that much harder by the breakneck speed Rainbow traveled at, but there was too much at stake to take it easy. Discord couldn’t be freed.
And Scootaloo couldn’t be the one to free him, Dash thought. She shook her head, wobbling a bit in the air at the motion. Discord was lying, it’s what he does. Just like before, he was trying to separate Dash from her friends.
Still, it was best to put an end to things before the little filly had a chance to get into trouble. Dash hadn’t mentioned Scootaloo’s part in Discord’s plans. Supposed part, Dash reminded herself. There was no way Scootaloo would help Discord. Dash just had to have faith, nothing difficult for the Element of Loyalty.
She passed the city limits and put on a final burst of speed as the castle drew closer.
Scootaloo finally stopped running near the edge of town, gasping for air. Finally safe for the moment she collapsed under a small apple tree and cried freely. No matter what she did, her current life was over. If she stayed in Ponyville, she’d be sent back to that awful place. Her only other choice was to run again. “But if I do that,” she said to herself, “I’ll never see Applebloom or Sweetie Belle again.
It was all Rainbow Dash’s fault. Why couldn’t she just stay out of Scootaloo’s business? “Why does she even care?”
I’m sure she does care.
“Then why? I was happy. I had friends. For a second, I thought she was going to let me stay with her, but...” Scootaloo trailed off, blinking through a fresh wave of tears.
“It’s not just Sweetie Belle and Applebloom. I won’t be able to see my other friends either. I won’t get to go flying with Rainbow Dash anymore. Why would she try to send me off like that? I thought she liked me.”
When you put it that way, it does seem strange. If she wanted you to stay in Ponyville, I’m sure other arrangements could have been made. But I’m sure she has her reasons.
“Yeah, right.” Scootaloo scowled, wiping the tears from her face “She probably has a great reason for messing everything up.” Her lip quivered as tears threatened to spill over again. “What am I going to do? I can’t lose my friends.”
Scootaloo, if you can free me, I’m sure there’s something I can do.
“Really?” A bit of hope brightened her face, but it drained instantly to a harsh frown. “We still need the sixth element.”
Yes, the Element of Betrayal.
Scootaloo laughed humorlessly. “Why don’t you ask Rainbow Dash.”
After tonight, it isn’t a bad idea. Or, Discord paused for dramatic effect, you could wield it.
Scootaloo’s wings flared up in anger. “Hey, I haven’t betrayed anypony.”
Of course not. But you feel that you’ve been betrayed, don’t you?
Scootaloo’s wings dropped a few inches. “Well, actually saying she betrayed me is a bit much.”
Is it? She stuck her snout in your business without asking you. She’s trying to ruin everything you’ve done for yourself, all because “she’s the adult” and “she knows better”. She was supposed to be your mentor, your friend. Would a friend do that to you?
“No, a real friend would have asked me first.”
You’ve been hurt, and I’m sorry for that, but now you can use it. That’s how this world ruled by Celestia works. Ponies are hurt and they either grow from it or give up. This is your chance to grow, Scootaloo. Take your life into your hooves. Help me, and together we will ensure you never have to leave your friends again.
Scootaloo stared silently into the darkness for a long moment. Finally she raised her head and started walking. She didn’t say anything to Discord.
She just smiled.
“Hey, princess!” Rainbow Dash shouted, hovering outside one of the tallest towers of Canterlot Caster. She rapped a hoof against the glass. “Princess! Wake up!”
“Intruder!” Somepony shouted above her. Her head snapped up in time to see a royal guard diving toward her. She rolled out of the way and felt him pass a hair’s breadth away.
Another pony hit her from the side and they tumbled wildly for a moment before the first guard stopped them. After a moment of struggling, they each grabbed hold of a hoof and wing, suspending her between them.
“Hey, let me go!” Dash shouted, kicking out at them. “What’s the big idea?”
“Silence!” the first guard commanded, giving her wing a hard yank and causing her to yelp in pain.
“What’s going on?” An authoritative voice demanded above them. Rainbow looked up to see Princess Celestia watching them from the now open window. She seemed different without her crown, less imposing.
“Oh, am I glad to see you, princess. Could you tell these goons to let go of me?”
“Rainbow Dash?” Surprise flashed across the princess’s face for a moment before she could compose herself. “Release her.”
The guards obeyed immediately, and Dash dropped a dozen feet before she could get her wings going again. She quickly rose until she was level with the window again. “Princess, we’ve got a huge problem. Discord is trying to get free and the changeling queen locked up one of my friends!”
Under normal circumstances, Rainbow Dash would have laughed at the look of shock on the normally composed princess’s face.
Chrysalis, Discord said in greeting.
Chrysalis, disguised as Crystal Ball, stood near the fountain at the center of town. She nodded once to Scootaloo as the young pony approached her before turning away. The two stood waiting, the bubbling of the fountain the only thing to break the silence.
The others are on their way now.
Scootaloo nodded and turned to watch the main road. Spike was the first to show up, checking over his shoulder every other step. He waved at Scootaloo, but didn’t speak. Scootaloo thought he looked a bit sick, probably from nerves.
She didn’t share his feelings. If anything, she was excited. Finally, after so many months of just surviving, she was going to do something for herself.
Gilda came next. Like the others, she was silent, though she didn’t seem nervous. Just tired. She returned Scootaloo’s wave with a grumpy scowl.
Finally, the silence was broken. “Like, what are you doing here, blank flank?”
Way to kill the mood.
“Shut up, Diamond Tiara. No one wants to hear it tonight,” Scootaloo mumbled.
Diamond Tiara drew back as though she had been slapped. “Is that how you’re going to speak to your future princess?”
“What the hay is she talking about?” Spike whispered.
“I don’t have a clue. Let’s just ignore her and hope she goes away.”
“Enough,” Crystal Ball spat impatiently. “Everypony is here now, so let’s begin.”
“Wait,” Scootaloo interrupted, “there’s only five of us.”
“The sixth is waiting for us in Canterlot.”
“How are we going to get there?” Spike asked. “The train doesn’t run for another two hours.”
“I’m going to teleport us there using magic,” Crystal Ball explained.
“But, you’re just a filly. Even Twilight can’t move five ponies all the way from Ponyville to Canterlot.”
Crystal Ball ground her hooves into the dirt. “Just let me worry about that, okay? Now, we will meet the final element in Canterlot. I’ll go ahead to check the sculpture gardens. There’s a chance they’re guarded, and nopony would recognize me.”
“What if they are guarded?” Scootaloo asked.
“Just leave that detail to me,” Crystal Ball said with a chilling smile.
Scootaloo frowned and glanced up, hoping Discord would get her unasked question.
She’s not going to hurt anypony. Just a few suggestive spells to get them to leave.
“Finally,” Chrysalis continued, “we gather around the right statue, cast the spell, and our friend is free. We’ll be back in Ponyville in a few minutes, and nopony will know.”
Scootaloo nodded with the rest and moved into a circle around Crystal Ball. The white unicorn’s horn surged with energy, and the world seemed to fold in on them in a blinding flash of sickening green light.
Twilight jumped down from the pegasus-drawn carriage before it had made a complete stop. “Princess Celestia!”
The princess nodded in greeting. “Twilight. All of you please come with me.” The ponies climbed down and followed the princess down the stone path.
“I sent guards to watch Discord’s statue after hearing Rainbow Dash’s story. I checked on it myself as quickly as I could, and could feel a build up of magical energy.” She paused, horn flaring up for a moment. “Speaking of Rainbow Dash.”
“Where is she?”
“Resting in my chambers. She wanted to go back out to collect the rest of you, but she was clearly exhausted, so I insisted she take it easy until you arrived. I just sent a message, so she should be here in a moment.” At the princess’s words, Rainbow Dash glided over their heads, touching down a few yards away. She nodded to the others and fell in behind them.
“So he really is going to break out?” Twilight asked after nodding back to Dash.
“Given enough time, yes. But I would have felt his magic long before he could break the spell trapping him. It’s troubling that he would reveal himself to anypony. It’s like he believes he’s already won.”
Twilight chewed her lip thoughtfully. “So what are we going to do? Use the elements on him again?”
Celestia nodded. “Yes, it should renew the spell. After that we just have to watch him more closely, and cast the spell again any time it seems to weaken. In the meantime, we can focus on the changeling queen.”
Twilight nodded and the group made their way up the steps to Canterlot Tower. The main hall was dark, illuminated only by the moonlight shining in from the stained glass windows cascading into pale colored light on the floor.
“Anypony else getting a feeling of that deja vu?” Applejack asked.
“Now that you mention it...” Rarity answered.
“Princess?” Twilight asked.
Celestia shook her head, anticipating her student’s question. “His seal may be weakened, but he’s still inside the statue. There’s no way he could get to the elements again.”
Even with her comforting words, the group picked up the pace, almost coming to a run in the last few yards. Celestia’s horn glowed with a golden aura as she unlocked the door. It slid aside as the ponies leaned forward, each wearing an anxious frown.
The vault was empty.
“No,” Celestia whispered to herself. “That’s not possible. It just isn’t.”
Twilight stared in shock at the empty room.
“Princess,” Rainbow Dash said, sounding as worried and nervous as Twilight felt. “No normal pony could get in here, right? No normal unicorn, and especially not a pegasus or earth pony?”
“No,” Celestia answered. “Just me and Luna. Maybe the changeling queen, but there are spells all around the castle that would detect her.”
“It’s alright though, right?” Twilight asked worriedly. “You said it would take a while for Discord to break himself free, and you’ve got his statue guarded? We have plenty of time to find the elements and redo the spell.”
“Yes,” the princess said, composing herself again. “We will start looking immediately. First, we must find the pony responsible for stealing them.”
The ponies nodded as Twilight held her head high, a confident smile fixed on her face. “You can count on us princess. I promise, we won’t let Discord get free!”
“If that’s not the perfect cue,” Discord chuckled from the back of the hall, “nothing is.”