Princess Luna glided stealthily through the night, hooves touching silently on the forest floor. Her horn glowed with a dark blue aura. A large chest floated beside her, wrapped in a similar light. After several hours of hiking and very brief scuffle with an irritated manticore, she had finally arrived at her destination.
“It has been a while,” she said, looking up at the ancient castle. It had been her home before becoming Nightmare Moon. After her banishment Celestia had moved the capital to Canterlot. Over the next few centuries, the Everfree Forest had claimed their old home.
The nostalgia faded after a moment and she strode forward, features set in determination. She’d set the Elements of Harmony down in the main hall, right where they’d been for centuries. Hopefully nopony would look for them there until she could talk things out with Celestia. Should trouble arise, it would be simple enough to retrieve them.
“Are we finally done walking, Princess?”
Luna jumped in surprise and spun toward the entrance. Standing in the open doorway was a small white unicorn with a blue mane.
“What art thou doing here?” Luna asked, levitating the chest behind her.
“Following thou, oh great and obvious ruler.” Crystal Ball trotted into the room, smirking at the princess. “Clever, not using a teleportation spell. The energy needed to travel such a distance may have been noticed, but really, did you think nopony would follow you if you went on foot?”
“We know not what thou speak of. We were simply enjoying our nightly walk.” Luna laughed nervously and gave her a clearly forced smile.
“Oh, drop it, princess. I already know you stole the Elements of Harmony. And before you get any ideas, I’m not the only one who knows. If you don’t follow our orders, we’ll just have to tell your sister and you’ll be on your way for a repeat lunar vacation.”
“Then we will just return them now. Nopony knows they are missing, and they won’t believe you over me.”
“Oh, you’re probably right,” Crystal Ball said, smiling even wider. “Except everypony knows. You see, Discord broke free tonight. They tried to keep him trapped, but the elements were gone. Such a tragic coincidence.”
The chest slipped from Luna’s magic grip, bouncing once on the cracked tile and falling open. The princess stared at the filly in shocked silence, a stupefied expression of dread on her face.
“Good, I see you understand your position. Now, if you want your secret safe, you’ll do what we tell you. First, do not tell anypony where the elements are. Don’t try to return them, just pretend they’re missing.”
For the first time in months, Scootaloo was alone. Rainbow Dash visited twice while she stayed in Canterlot Castle. The Princess had talked to her every day or two. Everypony was nice enough to her, if only because they didn’t know what she’d done. She still felt alone.
Twilight’s brother, Shining Armor, had begun casting his shield spell again to keep Discord’s magic from reaching Canterlot. Scootaloo hadn’t realized how much she had enjoyed the usual conversations with Discord. He’d been there to warn her of trouble, keep her company when she was alone, and cheer her up when she was sad.
The crusaders hadn’t been allowed to visit her yet, and everypony that saw her cutie mark kept her at a distance, even if they weren’t actually mean. With a cutie mark like hers, what else could she expect?
It was even worse at night. When she was alone in bed, it was almost like she could feel the cutie mark. It was a constant reminder, a sign telling all of Equestria what she really was. A traitor. The Element of Betrayal.
She constantly reminded herself of Discord’s promise. It had been a dream before, a world where cutie marks didn’t matter, a world of chaos where ponies were free to be whatever they wanted. But things changed. Discord had no choice but to challenge Celestia.
If it meant a better Equestria, Scootaloo was happy to help.
Scootaloo waited under the covers of her bed, heart pounding. It had been one week since Discord had been freed. She had to go now, or miss the chance.
Hoofsteps passed by her door. She counted to twenty and slipped back out of bed and across the room. Another twenty seconds, and she eased the door open. The hallway was empty, but only for a few moments. She snuck down the hall and ducked into nearest hall just as the guard’s steady hoofsteps rounded the corner behind her.
She moved steadily forward, down a flight of stairs and through another hall. She’d planned her route over the past few days, and with a bit of patience and timing, made it to an empty room on the second floor without alerting anypony to her pressence.
Once she’d eased the heavy wooden door shut, paying careful attention not to grind its squeaky hinges, she quickly trotted to the corner and uncovered a makeshift rope she’d hidden there - a length of bed sheets tied together. She threw open the window and tossed it out, then climbed out. Hugging the line with all four legs, she began sliding down the last thirty feet to the open ground below.
A small tearing sound caught her attention.
“Uh, good rope, nice rope. Don’t tear. Don’t—”
Scootaloo dropped half a dozen feet, a scream caught in her throat as her wings fell open and...
“Oh yeah,” she breathed, hovering a few feet above the ground as she rolled her eyes. “Well that was anticlimactic.”
Scootaloo faced four guards at the main road leading from Canterlot. Just past them was the gate, a small area of the protective shield that could be walked through unless purposefully closed. She took a tentative step forward, expecting shouts and accusations from the guards.
The older ponies didn’t react. They didn’t so much as glance at her.
The small charm around her neck buzzed with a small amount of power. It’d been left for her near the remains of Discords statue, just as promised. It was smaller than a bit, nothing more than a glass marble on a fine chain.
Scootaloo took another step and, feeling emboldened by the success of the charm, trotted right past the guards and through the force field. It tingled slightly as the energy slid past her coat, but she was otherwise unaffected by the shield.
Scootaloo made her way down the dark street, leaving the city noise behind her. After a few moments, she realized she wasn’t entirely alone.
So, everything going smoothly?
She smiled at the familiar voice. “Yeah. I told the princess everything, though I gave her fake descriptions of the other element wielders, like you told me too.”
Good. I’m sure she’ll still be cautious of you, but as long as everypony truly believes I’m evil, they won’t even consider the idea that I might actually be your friend. Have they made any progress in finding the elements?
“Not yet. Rainbow Dash says Twilight’s tried every tracking spell she knows, but none of them have gone through. Uh, what did happen to the elements? Everypony thinks they went missing before you were freed.”
“Oh, they did.” Discord said, suddenly walking alongside her.
Scootaloo managed to keep from flinching, but only just. “We were all at the sculpture gardens. Then...” She trailed off for a moment, thinking, “then somepony else is on our side too?”
“More or less. She has her own motivation, but there’s no reason we can’t work together.”
“Is it Princess Luna?”
Discord stopped in his tracks, actually blinking in surprise for a moment before laughing softly. “Now Scootaloo, how did you figure that out?”
“Rainbow Dash told me you or Chrysalis stole them. Everypony thinks so, since there were supposed to be really strong spells guarding them. I know you two didn’t, and Princess Celestia let it slip that Princess Luna has been avoiding her lately.”
Discord laughed again and snapped his fingers. Scootaloo felt her hooves drop out from under her for a moment, as though she’d missed a step while climbing stairs. A flash of light disoriented her, and then they were standing inside a room. To be exact, they were standing on the stone wall of a room. She looked down to see a window just in front of her. Trees grew below, disappearing into the darkness.
To her left a chandelier hung sideways. A long, ragged carpet on her right led to a large abstract statue, some kind of five armed pedestal.
“Huh,” Discord muttered. “I never have gotten the hang of gravity.” With a nod he led Scootaloo to the floor. Leaning back and stepping up onto it, she felt everything shift and spin as the world righted itself around her. “Right then!” Discord said, “Welcome to the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, conveniently located in scenic Everfree Forest.”
“This is where Rainbow Dash and the others found the elements,” Scootaloo said.
“Yes, and our current base of operations. Chrysie and I have been busily planning our next move, as well as our long term goal of replacing Celestia with a real monarch.”
Scootaloo had thought about that goal herself over the past week, and took a shot in the dark. “You mean turn her to stone?”
Discord laughed again. “You really are more clever than some ponies give you credit for.”
Scootaloo shrugged. “It was either that or send her to the moon. How else do you keep an immortal Alicorn from taking over?”
“Oh, of course,” Discord agreed. “And it’s only as permanent as we make it. Once our new world is in order, so to speak, and everypony realizes how happy they are, we can free her, so long as she sees that we aren’t actually evil.”
“Of course.” Scootaloo breathed a sigh of relief as muscles she hadn’t known were tensed relaxed a bit. Of course they wouldn’t imprison the princess forever. That was something villains did.
It was also something Celestia did. Twice, in fact.
“So, what now?” She asked, following Discord up the stairs and deeper into the castle.
“You can do this, Trixie,” The Great and Powerful Trixie told her reflection. “She is nothing before the awesome might of the Element of Power. Trixie is the greatest unicorn alive.”
“Hey, Trixie,” Crystal Ball called from outside the trailer, “are you done yet?”
“Just a moment,” she called back. She looked back into the mirror again, giving her one of her best, most confident smiles.
Twilight Sparkle wouldn’t know what hit her.