Crystal Ball glanced up as Scootaloo stomped into her room.
“I know you took Rarity’s place for a week.”
Crystal sighed, rolling her eyes. “So what?”
“You did it to get to Spike, didn’t you? You hurt him so he’d come over to our side!”
“Among other reasons, yes. Why do you care? It worked, didn’t it?”
“What other reasons?” Scootaloo demanded.
“Well, somepony had to keep track of the Elements of Harmony. And I needed more power to create our own elements. I needed to feed.”
“Feed? Wait, you mean Sweetie...”
The changeling queen had suffered many indignities over the past few months, being thrown from canterlot, helped by Discord, ordered about like a common servant, and being stuck in the form of a useless filly, but even in her lowest moment she’d never been bucked in the face by a mere mortal filly.
There was a first time for everything.
Crystal Ball fell back, blinking in shock, blood smearing her pristine coat as her hoof came up gingerly to her snout. A moment later the shock had turned to rage and Scootaloo fell back in a wave of sickly green energy.
Crystal Ball prowled forward, pure hatred in her cold blue eyes. Her horn glowed dangerously. A second later, she straightened up, a malicious smile spreading on her face. Her horn flared and she was engulfed in fire. When it faded, Chrysalis stood in her true form.
“Yes, I fed on Sweetie Belle, along with Rarity’s other friends. I hurt Spike, told him I’d thrown away that ridiculous fire ruby necklace he’d given her, told him it would never work out between them. Why, does that make you angry? Does it hurt to know your friend was used? Maybe it makes you feel guilty?”
Scootaloo froze. Chrysalis’s smile widened.
“After all, if you’d never stopped him, he’d have sent a letter to the princess right away. Discord would have been locked away and Spike would be home, safe and sound with his caring family, Twilight Sparkle. Instead, he’s here, hurt and alone, and it’s all your fault.”
Chrysalis giggled and circled around the filly. “He’s not the only one hurt by you. Gilda mentioned you to Rainbow Dash the other day, let slip that she knew more than she should have. Their friendship is over, all because you hurt Rainbow by betraying her. Oh, Gilda, come in here a moment?”
The griffon swept in from an adjacent room, coming to attention in front of the queen. Chrysalis reached out and smacked gilda on the beak. Her head bobbed, but she didn’t react.
It took Scootaloo a moment to catch on. “You used your magic on her? The same spell you used to control Twilight’s brother.”
“Right you are. She wanted out. She wanted nothing to do with us anymore. Oh, but we couldn’t let our elements go before we’d won, now could we?” Chrysalis turned back to Scootaloo. “And it’s all your fault.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that!”
“Without you, Gilda would have never had a chance to mend her friendship. She’d be flying around manehatten- angry, but free. And there’s more.” Chrysalis moved behind Scootaloo. “My changelings are on their way. In a matter of days, Equestria will be overrun. It’s not Discord’s usual kind of chaos, but beggars can’t be choosers. If you’d never come to that forest, if you’d never asked for my help as the Element of Deceit, it would have never happened. My changelings will take every stallion, mare, and foal. And.” She leaned in to whisper in the girl’s ear. “It’s all. Your. Fault.”
Scootaloo turned toward the door, stumbling over her own hooves, heart beating wildly against her chest.
“Where are you going? Are you going to betray us too? Will you live up to the mark on your flank? It’s all you’ll ever manage, pushing ponies away until you’re all alone.”
Scootaloo froze. Time seemed to stop for a single, crystal clear moment. Celestia’s final words rang in her head. Her cutie mark would be the same, no matter what path she chose. She never had a chance.
She never had a choice.
Scootaloo pushed past the door, a new fire burning in her eyes.
Scootaloo had been having nightmares when Discord started talking to her. They’d played on her fears, driving her further and further from her friends. Discord had been there to help her, to cheer her up.
In the end, she’d had to choose between betraying her old friends or her new one. She’d had no choice at all.
For a horrible moment, she thought Spike had turned to stone. He turned toward her as she approached, grey scales dull in the mid-morning light. Scootaloo could almost feel her heart breaking, but the sight didn’t surprise her. “Let’s go.”
Spike looked away without answering.
“Come on Spike, we need to go.”
“What’s the point?”
Scootaloo frowned at him. “What would Rarity think if she saw you moping around like this?”
“Who cares what she thinks?”
“Isn’t that the whole reason you helped us?” She reached toward him, but he swatted her hoof away with an angry scowl.
“Yeah, and that worked out great, didn’t it. Rarity doesn’t want anything to do with me. She never did.”
Scootaloo growled in frustration and grabbed Spike by the tail.
“Hey, what are you doing?”
“You’re coming with me to Ponyville whether you want to or not!”
It took the several hours to find a train running from Canterlot to Ponyville- rightside up the entire trip anyway. Spike slipped on the soapy road as they stepped down from the station, but Scootaloo hoisted him back up and they began making their way to Carousel Boutique.
“Scootaloo, this is a bad idea. She’s not going to want to see me, especially not now.”
“It’ll be fine. There’s no way she’s home anyway.” Scootaloo tried the door only to find it locked.
“Then why are we here?”
“Because you’ll never believe me if I just tell you.” She circled around, casually scooping up a rock and smashing one of the windows.
“What the hay?” Spike shouted, jumping back from the spray of glass. Scootaloo ignored him, climbing in. A few moments later she’d opened the front door.
Scootaloo spent the next few minutes tearing the boutique apart, dumping draws, searching boxes, scrambling around to check every piece of jewelry.
“Scootaloo, come on. Somepony’s going to catch us.”
“No, it’s got to be here somewhere. I just... her room. She’ll have it someplace special. Come on.” Without waiting for an answer, Scootaloo dragged Spike up the stairs, bursting through Rarity’s bedroom door without a second thought. After scanning the room for a moment, she found it on the mold of a pony’s neck, sitting on top of her desk. She grabbed Spike’s head and jerked it around, pointing him toward it.
“Hey, what do you think you’re...” Spike trailed off as the fire ruby necklace caught his eye. “But, she said—”
“That was Chrysalis.”
“Chrysalis?” Spike looked at Scootaloo, not comprehending.
“The changeling queen.”
Spike stared at her silently, eyes widening. “Crystal Ball?”
“And you knew? You never told me?”
“No, I...” Scootaloo hesitated. The truth was, it had never occurred to her. She knew he’d just distrust Chrysalis even more, and probably start to distrust Scootaloo as well.
Spike turned away. “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change anything.”
“Yes it does. Rarity never said any of those things.”
“She didn’t have to. It would never work between a dragon and a pony. Discord was right, I’m going to have to leave Ponyville eventually, and then everypony will just forget me. I—”
Spike turned back to her. Scootaloo was staring at him, tears in her eyes. “I thought the same thing when Rainbow Dash tried to send me back to the orphanage, but we’re not going to forget you. No matter how far you have to go, we’ll always be your friends.” She stepped forward deliberately and pulled him into a tight hug. “Spike you need to know that. You’re never going to be alone.”
“I... I don’t—”
“Spike, even I can see that you mean more than that to Twilight. You’re not just some assistant. Do you ever think of her as just your boss?”
Spike was silent for a few minutes as they just stood. Eventually, Scootaloo felt his short arms come up, returning the hug.
“I’m sorry,” Scootaloo muttered softly. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this. Discord was always so nice to me, I didn’t know what he was doing to you, and I never even thought he might have been behind all the nightmares I’d been having.”
“You were having nightmares too?” Spike asked.
Scootaloo nodded. “I should have noticed, they stopped as soon as I agreed to help Discord.”
“What are we going to do now?”
Scootaloo pulled away, smiling slightly when she saw some of his color had returned. “Can you send a letter?”
“Of course, but I don’t think anypony will trust us after everything we’ve done. What if they think it’s a trap.”
Scootaloo frowned. “Then we’ll be on our own.”
Spike nodded and grabbed a sheet of paper from Rarity’s desk.
Applebloom and Sweetie Belle sat behind the door, heads bent low, listening to the voices coming from the other side. They’d been whisked away from Ponyville and left in this tiny room for an entire day, and nopony would explain what was going on.
They’d started listening soon after they’d arrived, but not much of what their sisters were saying made sense. There was no way Scootaloo could be bad, was there? She would never join Discord.
“Rainbow,” Applejack began.
“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Now, sugarcube, I just—”
“Leave me alone.”
“You’re being too hard on yourself, dear,” Rarity said.
“It’s... I just...” Applebloom jumped at the sound of shattering glass. “She doesn’t even care anymore,” Dash said. “She’d do it all over if she had to. She actually said that. She wasn’t even sorry about turning the princess to stone.”
Sweetie Belle put a hoof up to her mouth, eyes wide with shock.
“Rainbow,” Twilight started, but broke off. There was a soft whisper and then the rustle of paper.
“A letter?” Applejack asked.
“It’s from Spike and Scootaloo!” Twilight said. “They want to meet us back in Ponyville.”
“What do ya’ll think we... uh, Rainbow? What are—” Applejack’s voice was cut off by a sudden tearing sound.
“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed. The tearing sound repeated twice more.
Forceful hoofsteps moved across the room and a door opened. “We’re not going,” Rainbow Dash said.
“But what? Do you really want to walk into a trap that badly?” A moment later the door slammed shut.
The timberwolf snapped at their heels.
“Run faster!” Scootaloo shouted.
Spike pushed his stubby legs to carry him faster. He and Scootaloo had only kept in front of the beast by cutting tight corners and diving into small spaces the wolf couldn’t fit its bulbous head into.
“We’re almost there!” Scootaloo screamed, seeing the stones of the ancient castle between the trees ahead of them.
Spike gasped for breath and almost tripped on a root. The wolf, sensing a moment of weakness, lunged. Scootaloo tackled Spike, and the two of them rolled out of the timberwolf’s path. They were back up in a heartbeat, running toward the rickety wooden bridge.
They shot out onto it, mindless of the aged wood’s shriek of protest. The timberwolf had already picked itself up and was right behind them again.
Something cracked. The bridge jerked beneath them. A moment later, Scootaloo’s stomach dropped as she began to fall. Her wings flared out on instinct, catching her, and she swung her head frantically, searching. “SPIKE?”