Discord's mind was a roiling haze of rage and desperation. A frustrated scream rose in his chest, unable to find an escape from the stone prison. He struggled against his own body, desperate to move, to escape another thousand years of boredom and loneliness.
All around him ponies cheered, oblivious to his torment. Minutes dragged on, stretching into hours as he raged against the inside of his mind. He would make them pay. The tyrant Celestia, her blind followers, and of course Twilight Sparkle.
Hours turned into days. He was barely aware of the ponies as they moved him back to his pedestal in the gardens. Finally, he began to think again. Unable to move, he had nothing to do but plan.
It was all about the Elements. Without them, even Celestia would be nothing more than a scared little filly.
But just hiding them wasn't enough. No, with their blasted unicorn magic, Celestia would find them eventually. He had thought to break their power by spreading disharmony among the wielders, but that plan had backfired.
He couldn’t fight them with brute strength. The elements were a direct counter to his chaos. It had taken him years to figure that out.
When the Royal Pony Sisters had confronted him, he'd simply laughed. He'd struck a pose, given them a free shot, and the next thing he knew he was imprisoned. He hadn't been overpowered. Instead, his magic had been leached away.
The Elements represented friendship, while his power was based in the conflict between ponies. They were wielded by the Alicorns, the princesses who embodied all three types of ponies living in harmony.
They practically oozed symbolism.
Perhaps it's time I had symbols of my own. He would have smiled at the thought, had smiling been possible. But what represents chaos?
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months.
He had to break free! He couldn’t stand the quiet, the loneliness! Being turned to stone was so boring. It was almost physically painful. But there wasn't much he could do to free himself. He couldn't move of course, and he couldn't talk. His words alone could spread chaos like the plague, and even they had been taken from him. As for his magic... his magic...
It's still there!
It was a tiny spark, a trickle of power so feeble that he had completely missed it. For some reason the Elements hadn't torn it away completely. It wasn't enough to break him out, but it would do.
After all, his words alone could spread chaos like the plague.
"Hurry up," Scootaloo called, bouncing in anticipation of their newest adventure.
Applebloom spat the rope to the ground before glaring up at her. "We'd already be done if y’all would help pull. Why do ah always have to do the heavy lifting?"
"Can't hear you from way up here," Scootaloo answered, trading a playful smile with Sweetie Belle. She turned and kicked up some of the freshly fallen snow. “This is going to be awesome!”
Applebloom grumbled under her breath and continued pulling. She finally reached the top of the hill and Scootaloo pounced at the rope, untying the ironing board they had “borrowed” from Rarity.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Sweetie Belle murmured.
"It is a bit higher than ah thought," Applebloom said.
Oh what do they know? It will be fun.
“Huh, what was that?” Scootaloo asked, glancing over her shoulder.
“Ah said it’s a bit higher than ah thought.”
Scootaloo scanned the hilltop for a few more seconds before smiling sheepishly. “Oh come on, this’ll get us our cutie marks for sure!”
The three fillies jumped together and cheered, "CUTIE MARK CRUSADER SNOWBOARDERS! YAY!"
Scootaloo flipped the ironing board and nudged it toward the slope. "Get on!" Once the crusaders were seated securely, Scootaloo pushed off, her little wings buzzing like a motor. In seconds they were sailing over the snow.
"Yee-haw!" Applebloom called as the trees whipped by. Scootaloo let out an exhilarated laugh, wings pushing faster.
"Um, how do we stop?" Sweetie Belle cried out, barely loud enough for the others to hear.
"Why would you want to stop?" Scootaloo asked.
Trees whistled past at dangerous speeds as the fillies continued accelerating. They leaned right, barely avoiding a head on collision with one of the thick trunks.
"Um, Scootaloo," Applebloom called. "Just how are we gonna stop?"
She was spared answering as the ironing board hit a thin patch of snow. It dug into the ground and flipped forward, launching the fillies into the air.
Thud! Thud! Thud!
They hit a snowdrift, leaving three Crusader-shaped holes in the white powder. Scootaloo popped out first, shaking snow from her purple mane. "That was so awesome! We must have caught twenty feet of air!"
Applebloom pulled herself up with a groan. "Well, it coulda been worse. At least we're not covered in tree sap this time. You okay, Sweetie Belle?"
Sweetie Belle nodded an affirmative. "But Rarity's going to kill me when she sees her ironing board."
The board had less luck than the girls. It was lying a dozen feet away, bent at the middle from the impact.
"We can just sneak it back in when she isn't looking," Scootaloo said.
"I don't know—"
"Trust me. Your sister will never know."
"Sweetie Belle! What have you done?"
"Oops," Scootaloo whispered.
"Ah told you 'carry it through the back door' was a bad secret plan."
"Uh, Rarity, we can explain," Sweetie Belle whimpered.
"We were chasing some ironing board thieves!" Scootaloo said.
"Yeah, we were... wait, what?"
"And we thought we scared them off, but then they came here. And we tried to get your ironing board back, but they had ninja ponies, so I had to fight them off with kung fu. We were outnumbered ten to one, but they were no match for me. I kicked and punched and flipped. They all ran away. And then I had to fight their ninja alien boss, and saved Ponyville, maybe even all of Equestria from an invasion."
Rarity pursed her lips. "And when did the ironing board get damaged?"
The proud smile dropped from Scootaloo's face. "Ironing board? Oh, uh, I mean, the boss used it as a shield."
Rarity stopped her with a raised hoof. "That's enough girls. I'll be talking to your parents about this." The crusaders sighed a collective "awww."
What a stick in the mud. I thought the ninja story was delightful.
Scootaloo’s ears pricked up. An icy shiver swept up her spine, sending chills through her body. “Did anypony hear—”
"Now Applebloom, Scootaloo, you two should get home. We all have to get up early tomorrow to catch the train to Canterlot, and I'm sure your parents want to get you into bed soon."
"That's right, ah forgot! Tomorrow is Hearth's Warming Eve!" Applebloom exclaimed. "A whole day in Canterlot; we'll be sure to get out cutie marks."
"Yeah," Scootaloo agreed with a small frown. “It’ll be great.”
"Bye Sweetie Belle! Bye Scootaloo!" Applebloom called as she trotted away.
"Bye," they echoed. Sweetie Belle waved and went inside with Rarity.
Scootaloo turned and circled the block, killing a few minutes before heading back and walking down the road toward Sweet Apple Acres. The sun was beginning to set, and it'd be getting colder soon. She picked up her pace at the thought.
Hearth's Warming Eve was tomorrow. It was her first Hearth's Warming Eve since meeting the Crusaders, and she couldn’t help but imagine the fun they would have. They could spend all day together before the pageant. They might even get their cutie marks, if they were lucky.
After the play ended, they'd board the train and head back home. Then they'd spend Hearth's Warming Day with their families, safe and warm in their houses, the way holidays were meant to be spent.
Scootaloo finally reached her destination: the Crusaders’ clubhouse. She made a quick check of all the windows before tucking herself into a corner under her blanket. Thanks to Applebloom's repairs, the clubhouse stayed warm most of the night. The coldest part of winter had already passed, and it wouldn't be long before the ponies could welcome spring.
Scootaloo tried to keep her mind blank. She didn’t need to think about the next few days, when she'd be alone. She still had an entire day with her friends to look forward to. Anything after that could wait.
Maybe she'd come up with a new list of things they could do to get their cutie marks. That way they'd be able to jump right into it once the holidays were over. With something to look forward to, she dropped into an uneasy sleep. She thought somepony was whispering nearby, but decided it was just the wind.
Discord never stopped whispering to the sleeping filly, his magic barely strong enough to make himself heard. She would think it was only the wind, the creaking trees, a far off animal from the Everfree forest. But she'd hear him.
What a poor little foal, desperate to find a place where she fits in, to find some proof that she matters, something to make her special. Friends who don't know what she goes through, or maybe they just don't want to know. Safe and warm in their homes with their families. Do they deserve their happiness? Why them and not you?
Far away, near the edge of Ponyville, a young filly's fitful sleep descended into nightmares.
A storm had blown in from the Everfree Forest overnight. Foals ran through the snow, laughing and playing as the older ponies worked to clear the roads. Trees bowed under the heavy load they carried, threatening to dump it on any unlucky pony to pass by. The air was fresh and clear. Every sound seemed calm and muffled.
Scootaloo plodded through the snow with her friends and their sisters, making her way to the train station. She shivered and pulled her wings closer against the chilly morning.
“What are we gonna try first?” Applebloom asked. “Snowpony building? Caroling? Ice skating?”
“We can do all that in Ponyville,” Scootaloo grumbled before stifling a yawn.
“Well, do ya have any other ideas?”
“Canterlot is built into a cliff, right? I heard bungee jumping is fun,” Scootaloo answered. She opened her mouth to say more and got a face full of blonde hair. She fell back, sputtering.
“Y'all care to run that one by me again, Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, looking back with the shooting glare of a protective sister.
“Oh, sis.” Applebloom smiled nervously. “Scootaloo's always full of crazy ideas. We wouldn't actually try any of them.”
“Uh-huh?” Applejack asked skeptically. “Y'all better not. What kinda featherbrain told you it was fun?”
Scootaloo was about to answer before a flash of rainbow caught her eye. Rainbow Dash shook her head furiously behind Applejack. “Uh, nopony. Somepony in school mentioned it.”
“Well don't even think about it. I don't want any of y'all getting into trouble, ya hear?”
“Alright,” Applebloom grumbled.
For the next few minutes, they trudged on to the train station in silence. Finally, Sweetie Belle pointed a white hoof towards the roofs ahead of them. “Look, I think I can see the smoke from the train.”
“Thank Celestia,” Scootaloo replied. “I thought I was going to freeze solid. I hope it's warm on the train.”
“We’re a couple minutes early,” Applejack said. “so stay together on the platform and ah’ll come get you when we’re ready to board.”
It wasn’t much warmer on the platform, but at least it was free of snow. Scootaloo trotted in place, shivering against the light breeze.
“Are you alright, Scootaloo?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Just cold. I wish the train would board already.”
“Ah saw somepony selling hot cocoa at the front of the station,” Applebloom said. “Let's go get some!”
“Okay.” Sweetie Belle nodded eagerly in agreement.
“Uh, that's all right,” Scootaloo said. “You two go ahead.”
“Aww come on, it'll warm you up!”
Scootaloo mumbled something unintelligible under her breath.
“Sorry, what was that?” Applebloom asked.
“I don't have any extra bits,” Scootaloo mumbled a bit louder.
The smile fell from Applebloom's face. “Oh right. Uh, sorry.”
Scootaloo shrugged, eliciting a groan from her friends. They couldn’t help but feel guilty that their pegasus compatriot never seemed to have money. The fact that she didn’t seem to care just made it worse.
“You girls ready?” Applejack asked, trotting over to them. “Have everything ya need?”
Applebloom glanced toward the front of the station, then at Scootaloo. “Yup.”
Scootaloo smiled at her friends. “Don't worry about me. Go get some cocoa.”
“We're really not that cold,” Sweetie Belle replied.
Applejack looked between them. She'd had one or two hard years on the farm, back before she and Big Macintosh could help with the harvest, and had worn that embarrassed smile plenty of times herself. “How bout all three y'all go get some? Mah treat.”
“Yay!” the Crusaders called, burying Applejack under a group hug.
Scootaloo sat quietly, tuning out her friends as they began to pull out of Ponyville Station. The train’s interior was colored in warm oranges and browns. Each seat was covered with a cream colored cushion and had its own window. She watched the flat land around ponyville fall away as the train began the ascent toward Canterlot.
“And she's the Element o' Honesty, to top it all off,” Applebloom said.
“Well Rarity's the Element of Generosity. I bet she'd have bought us drinks too,” Sweetie Belle replied.
“Unless she was worried we'd spill it on the train. At least Applejack trusts us,” Applebloom said, waving her hooves for emphasis. A third of her drink splashed out onto the seat, drenching the cushion with a dark brown puddle.
Scootaloo turned to stare out the window, wondering if Rainbow Dash would have bought them cocoa. She was the Element of Loyalty; no way would she leave three cold fillies hanging. Not only that, she'd have let them go bungee jumping too. Hay, she'd probably have been right there jumping with them. Scootaloo was about to say something but stopped. It wasn’t like Dash was her sister.
They're quite rude, wouldn't you agree? Arguing about family in front of somepony without one.
Scootaloo sipped her cocoa, ignoring the thought and her rising anger. “So uh, girls. Any more ideas for getting our cutie marks?”
“Rarity even got all dirty during the Sisterhooves Social for me.”
“Yeah, well Applejack runs the derby with me every year.”
Scootaloo scowled and tried again, louder. “I was thinking, maybe we could try snowpony building, if you really want to.”
“That's because your family organizes it,” Sweetie Belle countered.
“Mah family organizes it because they're more fun.”
Ohoho, she walked right into that one. But they've both got a point, don't they? Loving, caring. Their sisters would do anything for them. I wish I had a sister like that, don't you?
“Nopony cares!” Scootaloo shouted, throwing her half empty cup of cocoa at the floor. It bounced one, splashing the hot liquid across the dark green carpet. Sweetie Belle yelped, pulling her hooves away from the mess.
Scootaloo glared daggers at both of them, her breathing hard and shallow. Sweetie Belle dropped her head, but Applebloom returned the glare with one of her own.
The minutes crept by in awkward silence. The anger in Scootaloo’s eyes slowly faded, replaced by empathy. Finally, she spoke up. “I'm sorry Sweetie Belle, Applebloom. I shouldn't have lost my temper like that.”
Several seconds passed before Sweetie Belle replied, “I’m sorry too.”
Applebloom puffed out a breath as her glare disappeared. “Me too. Me and Applejack get into plenty of fights. And ah know Rarity and Sweetie Belle don't always get along. Having a sister isn’t always that great, if it makes you feel any better.”
“Oh, uh, right,” Applebloom said. A few more minutes passed before she finally asked, “Scootaloo, are you okay? You've been weird all morning.”
Scootaloo shrugged. “I'm just tired.” Her voice dropped slightly as she added, “I couldn't sleep.”
“Me neither. Too excited for today?”
“Uh, not really,” Scootaloo mumbled, barely loud enough for her friends to hear. “Had a nightmare.”
“Oh. Ya wanna talk about it?”
Scootaloo shrugged again. “It was pretty dumb. I dreamt that I'd grown up without my cutie mark. You both got yours and left the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but I was stuck in Ponyville, wearing the cape and trying to find my special talent. I'd never even learned to fly. I'd watch all our classmates zooming around the sky and wonder what I was missing.”
“Aww,” Sweetie Belle said, reaching over and putting a comforting hoof on her friend's shoulder.
“Now, ya know we'd never leave ya behind, don'tcha?” Applebloom asked, an understanding smile on her face. “Even if you got to be Granny Smith's age without yer cutie mark, we'd be right there with ya looking.”
“She's right,” Sweetie Belle said. “We'll always be the Cutie Mark Crusaders.”
Scootaloo broke out in her first real smile of the day. She pulled the other fillies into a group hug and said, “Thanks girls. This means a lot.”
They held the hug a moment longer. “So,” Applebloom asked, finally breaking the embrace. “Ya think snowponies are a good idea?”
“Ok, so maybe snowponies weren't mah best idea.”
Sweetie Belle edged away from the white monstrosity. “Somepony needs to put that thing out of its misery.”
They all chuckled as Applebloom pushed their creation over, turning it back into a pile of white powder.
“Hey, look at that.” Scootaloo pointed to a giant candy cane standing at the side of the road. “Maybe we could be Cutie Mark Crusader Holiday Decorators. Or Cutie Mark Crusader Giant Candy Makers.” She skipped up to the candy cane, winked back at her friends, and gave it a big lick.
Applebloom giggled, “So is it real?”
“Uh, nho,” Scootaloo answered thickly.
“Uh, ah thin' this mah ah been a bah idea.” Scootaloo tried to pull away, but her tongue was securely fastened to the cold metal.
Her friends stared at her for a long moment before falling to the ground, shaking with laughter.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. Suddenly, a familiar voice floated down the street, getting nearer.
“I have an idea. Let's play ‘I spy with my little eyes’ as we walk. I'll go first.” Twilight Sparkle and friends came into view in the street ahead of her, their faces awash with a carefree joy. “I spy an eight foot candy cane.”
Rainbow Dash joined in next. “I spy a snowpony!”
“Tha hay?” Scootaloo asked. “'At's not 'ow you pray tha game.”
Applebloom finally got back to her feet and helped Sweetie Belle up. “Ok, uh, here,” she said before biting down on Scootaloo’s tail and pulling.
“Ow ow ow!” Scootaloo cried before finally jerking free and crashing into her friends.
“So what now?” Sweetie Belle asked as she pulled herself out from under the orange and yellow pile. Scootaloo gave herself a quick once over before helping Applebloom up.
“We should probably get to the play. Looks like the sun'll set soon, and ah don't wanna be late.”
“Look, it's Derpy,” Applebloom whispered. The grey mailmare was waving from the stage with a cross-eyed smile.
“I didn't know she was in this,” Sweetie Belle said.
“Ah guess she's part of the crew backstage.”
“Oh Celestia help them,” Scootaloo muttered. The lights dimmed and all talking stopped.
The curtains opened to reveal Spike standing in front of a red brick fireplace. He wore a purple shirt and hat with a large orange feather. “Once upon a time, long before the peaceful rule of Celestia and before ponies discovered our beautiful land of Equestria, ponies did not know harmony,” he said in a stuffy voice. Scootaloo heard her one of her friends giggle and had to fight back her own smile. “It was a strange and dark time, a time when ponies were torn apart... by hatred!” Scootaloo gasped with the rest of the crowd.
Ah, those were wonderful times.
Scootaloo glanced over her shoulder. “Shhh.”
Spike continued his tale of pony selfishness. His words began to run together as Scootaloo blinked sleepily. She'd been fine outside, running and laughing with the girls, but now, in the dark and quiet, she felt herself drifting off.
The ponies gathered around her, pushing towards the ugly stone building in which the grand summit would be held. Once inside, the three tribes stood on raised balconies around a wooden table.
Scootaloo realized all the pegasi around her wore fancy clothes or armor, and she suddenly felt exposed and vulnerable. She ducked her head hoping no one would notice her.
Horns blared below, announcing the arrival of the leaders. Rainbow Dash entered, head held high. She wore black armor, rather than a dress like the rest of the pegasi women. She stepped up to the table with the other leaders.
“Who'd ever make Pinkie a ruler?” Scootaloo asked herself.
The three rulers began shouting at each other at once. After a moment of confusion, Rainbow Dash made herself heard. “All I wanna know is why the Earth Ponies are hogging all the food,” she said, slamming her hoof on the table.
Scootaloo's stomach rumbled. It was a good question, why were they hogging it? She was hungry. She couldn't remember ever being this hungry.
“It's only because you mean old pegasusususus are making it snow like crazy!” Pinkie shouted back.
Were they making it snow? Scootaloo realized how cold she was then, an aching chill that cut down to the bone. She pulled her wings closer, almost crying out in surprise.
“It must be the unicorns! They're doing it with their freaky magic!”
Scootaloo didn't care who was responsible. She just wanted it to stop. She looked up at the white flakes falling from the chamber's ceiling. It was the pegasi who controlled the weather. Why couldn't they stop it?
“Oh, it's not fair, is it?” A voice behind her said. She jumped, turning to see a grey and brown pegasus behind her. “No food, no shelter against the cold. Could you imagine living like that?”
The pegasus smiled at her, showing off a single fang and mismatched eyes. He had two horns, also mismatched. She glanced at his flank to see a pair of dice as his cutie mark. “Uh, yeah, I guess I can.”
“It's always the leaders’ faults, isn't it?” the grey pegasus asked, looking down at Dash.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, just look at them down there, so sure of their self-righteousness. Their stubborn pride brings the Windigos.” He turned to look at Scootaloo, a glint in his eye. “Do you hate unicorns or earth ponies?”
“Of course not. My best friends are a unicorn and an earth pony.”
“Then why do they get to decide that we're enemies?” He pointed down to the center of the room.
“It isn't just them. Oh, Scootaloo, just imagine how much better things could be. Celestia's ancient, set in her ways. Why does winter come each year? Why does it snow? Because our ruler, the one who controls the sun itself, believes it must?”
“Well, yeah. What, you want to just get rid of winter?”
“Why not? Farmers could grow crops year round. There would be so much food that nopony would go hungry again. Nopony would freeze either. Do you see a downside?”
Scootaloo frowned. The grey stallion made a lot of sense. “Who are you?”
“Me?” he asked, gesturing to himself with a hoof. “Nopony of importance. The real question is, who are you?”
“Uh, it is?”
The pegasus put a wing around her, marching forward. The room fell away around them, shattering into glittering shards and leaving them in a black void. “Of course it is. It’s the most important question you will ever ask yourself.” He pointed to her blank flank.
“Yes, that. Scootaloo, you have a wonderful thing working for you.”
“Uh, I do?”
“You can be anypony you want. Do anything you want. It's a wonderful, wonderful thing. All you need to ask yourself is, 'what do I want?' You can spend your days tired, cold and hungry, or you can do something about it.”
“Like what?” Scootaloo's head was rolling from the sudden change in topic.
The grey pegasus smiled at her. “Only time will tell. Oh, and one last thing.”
“You're about to miss the song.” Time to wake up...
Scootaloo's eyes snapped open as confetti began to fall. She was only half a beat behind the rest as the song began.
“The fire of friendship lives in our hearts,
As long as it burns we cannot drift apart,
Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few,
Laughter and singing will see us through,
We are a circle of pony friends,
A circle of friends we'll be to the very end.”
Hmhm, we'll see.
Scootaloo spent the ride back to Ponyville in a daze. She just couldn't get his voice out of her head. It was like the stallion from her dream was standing behind her, whispering into her ear, asking again and again, “What do you want?”
In what felt like no time at all she was back in the clubhouse, drifting off to sleep. Her breathing slowed as she relaxed.
And then she was awake. Very, very awake. Pinkie Pie on a sugar binge awake.
“I know you're there! I heard you! I ain't afraid of you!”
The silence stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. Suddenly, a deep, smooth chuckle sliced through the cold night air, sending the hairs on the back of her neck standing.
Oh , Scootaloo. I wondered when you'd notice.
She turned in circles. “Wh-who's there? Where are you?”
My name's Discord, Spirit of Chaos. Perhaps you've heard of me?
Scootaloo's heart tried to jump from her chest. She fell back on her haunches, mouth hanging open. “Th-this is some kind of trick, right? Applebloom? Sweetie Belle?”
Bah, really Scootaloo? You'll hurt my feelings.
“This isn't happening. Discord is trapped in stone.”
Ah, don't remind me. You wouldn't believe how boring it is, being stuck like this.
“Stuck? So, you're not here?”
Scootaloo's eyes scanned the room again, hoping to see her friends, or maybe Dash and Pinkie, pulling a prank on her. “What do you want with me?”
I want to help you, Scootaloo.
“What do you mean?”
I know what you've gone through. Foster parents that don't care, lonely nights, hunger. It just isn't fair. I want to help you make things better.
Scootaloo shook her head. “You're evil. All you want to do is spread chaos.”
Discord laughed again. Is chaos really a bad thing? Did anypony get hurt when I was free?
And what about the changes I made for the better? Chocolate milk falling from the sky? Cotton candy clouds? Is there anything wrong with free food for everypony?
“But, Celestia said—”
Celestia said it, so it must be true? For goodness sake, this is the same ruler that lets her subjects starve and freeze. The only pony Celestia cares about is herself.
“Why me? There must be tons of ponies worse off than me.”
To say thank you.
It was you and your friends that helped me before, when you came by my statue. The seal had already weakened, but you three fillies pushed it the final bit.
Scootaloo's front legs went weak and she sank down, a defeated grimace on her face. She'd sometimes wondered if the Crusaders had anything to do with Discord's return, but she'd never been brave enough to ask anypony.
“Oh, Celestia, what have I done?”
Freed somepony from thousands of years of loneliness. Is that something to be ashamed of?
The question caught Scootaloo off guard. She'd never thought about what it would be like, being trapped in stone. It must have been horrible. And she'd freed him for a few hours. Was it really so surprising...
...that he'd want to thank me?
Scootaloo shook her head. She wasn't sure which thoughts were hers anymore.
Sleep, Scootaloo. It'll be more clear tomorrow.
That actually sounded like a good idea. She crawled over to her blanket and covered up, letting out a content sigh as the soft warmth of her blanket enveloped her.
They say everypony has a special magical connection with their friends, even before they've met. Why, I think it's fate that we should meet like this.
Twilight had said something about that, Scootaloo remembered. Dash believed it. She'd been responsible for all of her friend's cutie marks. Maybe... maybe Discord was right.
Sleep found her moments later.
The night dragged on silently, but for a single moment. A light breeze circled, tugging at the filly's mane, and then fading as quickly as it came.
Sitting on the table was a collection of plates and bowls. Hot soup, fresh salads and sandwiches, and a card.
“Happy Hearth's Warming Day.
Weeks passed as Discord gathered his strength. His magic pooled together at his core, growing brighter every day. To think, he'd almost extinguished it creating a few bowls of food. Still, if it helped in the long run, it was worth it.
He'd finally realized why he'd kept his magic. A warmth spread through his body as he thought back to the revelation. It was such a simple mistake, but they would pay for making it.
It was simply Twilight Sparkle's inexperience. The Elements of Harmony were powerful, sure, but more than that, they were symbols. She had wielded their magic like she would any other spell, she hit him with nothing but brute strength. She didn't know how to unlock the elements’ full power, and because of that, they could be beaten.
It was time he put more thought into creating elements of his own.
Scootaloo froze, her heart beating a violent rhythm against her ribs. She took a deep breath before saying, “I thought I'd imagined you.”
And the food?
Scootaloo dropped the blanket she'd been folding and glanced nervously at the stack of dishes. The Crusaders had been using them for sleepovers and lunches in the clubhouse, supposedly donated by Scootaloo’s parents.
“Then where'd you go? The last time you said anything was before Winter Wrap Up.”
I used more magic than I'd intended. I've been resting. A touch of sadness entered Discord's voice. I don't think I'll be able to help you in this state.
Scootaloo nodded sadly and reached for her blanket. She drew her hoof back as her head snapped up. “Oh no. There is no way I'm going to help free you again!”
Oh Scootaloo, don't worry your little head about something like that. You couldn't help me even if I asked you to.
“I, uh, I couldn't? But I thought last time—”
Last time the seal had already been weakened. I'm locked up tight again, with no chance of parole for the next thousand years.
“Oh. Uh, okay then,” Scootaloo said, shoulders relaxing a bit. “So if you can't help me, and you can't get free, why are you talking to me?”
Scootaloo, I thought we were friends.
“Well, we aren't,” Scootaloo said without much force. Still, she couldn’t help but remember Twilight’s words, “Everypony everywhere has a special magical connection with her friends, maybe even before she's met them.”
So what's the plan for today?
“Why do you care?”
Oh come on, Scootaloo. Do you have any idea how boring it is, being trapped in stone? Your friends are always getting into trouble and stirring up chaos. How could I not care?
“We don't stir up chaos!” Scootaloo scowled at the wall, wings coming up in an aggressive pose.
Bah, why should that offend you? Is there anything wrong with a bit of chaos to break up an otherwise boring day?
“But we don't—”
Oh you don't? What about the stampede at Fluttershy's cottage?
“That was an acci—”
How about the paint explosion? There are still a dozen ponies walking around with orange manes.
“Well yeah, but that's all small stuff. We never gave pigs wings or turned the roads into soap!” Her wings dropped a fraction of an inch. “At least not recently.”
Hahaha, oh Scootaloo, I don't mean my kind of chaos. That takes years to perfect. Your friends have their own way of spreading chaos, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. Why, what kind of pony would actually be happy if everything was neat, ordered, and predictable?
“Well, Rarity and Twilight, for starters,” Scootaloo said, her wings dropping to their usual position.
And would you want to live in a world run by Rarity?
Scootaloo shivered at the thought. She finished cleaning the clubhouse and went out to her scooter. “We're going to try to find our cutie marks. Applebloom wants to try gardening, and Sweetie Belle found an old ice cream maker in Rarity's attic. After that, I'm gonna see if they want to try white water rafting.”
Sounds delightful. Have fun. And if you do find your cutie mark... Discord hesitated a moment. Well, I just hope it's a good one.
“What do you mean, a good one?”
Well, I just wouldn't want you stuck with a boring cutie mark. It's such an important thing, and everypony expects you to make a job out of it. Could you imagine finding out your special talent is cutting hair? You'd be expected to take care of everypony's manes for the rest of your life. Or worse, you could end up like your classmate, Diamond Tiara. Your special talent is wearing a fancy hat? Uh, gag! Might as well have a neon sign that says “vain” taped to your flank.
“Uh, yeah, I guess,” Scootaloo said, frowning slightly.
But I'm sure whatever you're stuck doing for the rest of your life will be worth it. Have fun.
“Ah'm telling ya, the salt wasn't supposed ta go in the ice cream,” Applebloom said, lifting her head from the floor to shoot Scootaloo a miserable glare. The three fillies sat under the shade of a large tree in the park near their school.
“But then why did we need it at all? I still think the old piece of junk is broken.”
“It wasn't that bad,” Sweetie Belle mumbled. “Maybe we should try again.”
“No!” Applebloom and Scootaloo jumped as one.
“Uh, ah mean, it's Scootaloo's turn,” Applebloom chuckled. “Ya said we should try rafting, right?”
Scootaloo nodded enthusiastically, and then frowned. For the twentieth time today, a seed of doubt crept up in the back of her mind. Is that really what you want to do for the rest of your life? “Um, actually girls, I think I'm going to head home. I'm really tired.”
“Aww,” her friends whined together.
“Well, ah guess we'll see ya tomorrow then.”
“Yeah, I'll come up with some more ideas today,” Scootaloo said over her shoulder as she trotted away.
“Sounds good. Uh, Scootaloo, that's the way make to mah house. Don't you live that way?” Applebloom asked, nodding her head over her shoulder.
“Huh, oh right! Haha, uh, that's just how tired I am.” Scootaloo reversed directions.
“So what are we going to do?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“Well, ah guess we should head back to the clubhouse and come up with some ideas of our own.”
Scootaloo groaned to herself. If they were going to the clubhouse, she had a few hours to kill. But where could she go and not risk meeting back up with the Crusaders?
How about the library?
Scootaloo flinched. “Don't sneak up on me like that.”
Discord chuckled softly. Even if the Crusaders go back out to play, they probably won't go the library. It's a public place, plenty of comfy seats, and Twilight might even make you some tea.
It was as good a place as any, so Scootaloo turned down Mane Street.
So any luck?
“No. I thought Sweetie Belle got a gardening cutie mark, but it was just dirt.”
Discord laughed again as Scootaloo reached Twilight's home and knocked on the worn wooden door.
The door swung open and Twilight stepped out. “Hello? Oh, hi Scootaloo! What brings you here?”
“I was hoping to use the library. I—” Scootaloo found herself spinning through the room, wrapped in a cocoon of purple magic.
“Haha, I knew you'd be here sooner or later!” Twilight cheered, a smile threatening to escape the borders of her face. “As soon as Rainbow Dash started coming regularly, I just knew you'd have to come see for yourself.”
“Ahhhh, Twiiiliight stooooop!” Scootaloo froze in place, fighting to keep her salty ice cream from coming back up.
“Hehe, uh, sorry,” Twilight said, setting Scootaloo back to her feet. “I guess I got carried away.”
Scootaloo wavered for a moment, but managed to keep her hooves beneath her.
“So, you're here to check out the Daring Do books then?” Twilight asked. Without waiting for an answer she pulled a book from a nearby shelf and floated it in front of Scootaloo.
“Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone?”
“Dash read the whole thing in two days. I'm sure you'll love it.” Twilight beamed at her.
“Wait, Rainbow Dash reads?” Scootaloo asked, looking up from the book in confusion.
“Oh, you mean, you didn't know?” Twilight asked. Her smile faltered.
“No. But, uh, if Rainbow Dash likes them, then they can't be bad. I guess I could give it a try.”
Twilight's smile widened again. “Do you want me to check it out for you, then?”
“Actually, mind if I hang out and read for a while?”
“Oh, not at all. Ooh, I'll make us some tea!”
The sun was beginning to set when Scootaloo made it back to the clubhouse. She had the first three Daring Do books tucked into her saddlebags and walked with the sluggish movements of a full belly. She hadn't realized how late it was getting until Twilight invited her to stay for dinner.
I always did like those books.
“They're really good,” Scootaloo agreed as she arrived at the clubhouse. “I didn't know reading could actually be interesting.”
Maybe you should get your friends to read them too. One of you could get a reading cutie mark.
Scootaloo scowled at the book she'd sat down with for a moment before tossing it aside.
Is something wrong Scootaloo?
“No,” she lied.
Oh, Scootaloo, you can talk to me. Who am I going to tell?
The sun slowly crept down the walls of the clubhouse, leaving the young filly in ever increasing darkness. Finally, Scootaloo started talking. “We always do everything together when we try to get our cutie marks. But, what are the chances of all of us having the same special talent? Eventually we'll find something that one of us enjoys, and they'll get their cutie mark.”
Isn't that the point? That's what the Crusaders are all about.
“Yeah, and as soon as it happens, we won't be the Cutie Mark Crusaders anymore. One of us won't have any reason to keep crusading, and it just won't be the same with two of us.”
Maybe you'll get lucky and be the one with the cutie mark.
Scootaloo shook her head. “Then I'd be the one left out. Hay, they might even be mad at me for getting my cutie mark without them.”
Discord let out a sad sigh. It's such a tragedy. It always is.
“Then you agree with me?” Scootaloo asked, blinking back tears.
When you've lived as long as I have, you see it a thousand times. It's heartbreaking really. Ponies say I drive friends apart, but I have nothing on time.
It happens. Ponies grow older. They notice their differences. They find new friends with common interests. It might not be so bad if your special talent wasn't stamped on your flank for the world to see.
Scootaloo looked back at her own flank. Getting their cutie marks would mean the end of their crusading, but could it really be more than that? Would it be a sign telling her friends that they all had different interests?
It's just so frustrating, seeing ponies driven apart by a simple mark. If I were in Celestia's position, I'd do away with cutie marks for good.
“Wait, what?” Scootaloo’s head jerked up in shock. “You could do that?”
Of course. That's the beauty of chaos. Nothing is set in stone. You can be anypony, do anything. It wouldn't matter what's on your flank. All that would matter is what's in your heart.
Scootaloo stared at her forehooves. “But that can't happen now that you're imprisoned.”
Discord sighed again. No. Just talking to you is as much as I can do for now.
They sat in silence for the rest of the night, until Scootaloo finally fell asleep. She had her nightmare again. She was older than Rainbow Dash. She still lived in the clubhouse, still wore her Crusader's cape, and still searched every day for what made her special. Every time she got close, a voice would whisper, “Is this what you really want?” Her friends watched her, laughing and calling her a blank flank.
Sweetie Belle walked home for the night, singing a soft lullaby to herself. She didn't sing often, in case somepony heard and started laughing, but she was alone now. At least, she thought so.
“Hello Sweetie Belle.”
Her eyes snapped open as Fluttershy landed in front of her. “Oh, hi Fluttershy.”
“What were you singing?”
“Uh,” Sweetie Belle giggled nervously. “You heard that? It was just something I made up.”
“Well, it sounded lovely.”
“It... it did?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Fluttershy nodded. “Well, I'll see you later.”
“Ok, bye then.”
As Fluttershy turned to walk away, the hair on the back of her neck stood up. She hardly noticed the whispered voice in her ear. She really does have a lovely singing voice. It may even be her special talent. Oh, if only somepony would teach her.
She really does have a lovely voice, Fluttershy thought. If only...
“Oh, Sweetie Belle! I just thought of something!”
“Ya really don't look good, Scootaloo,” the Applebloom said for the dozenth time.
“I told you, I'm fine.” Scootaloo paced back and forth, glancing out the clubhouse windows as she passed each one. “Sweetie Belle isn't usually this late, is she?”
“Yeah, it's not like her.” Applebloom watched her friend cross the room. “Are ya still feeling sick from the ice cream? Mah tummy ached all night.”
“Uh, yeah, that's it. You don't think something happened, do you?”
“Will ya quit yer pacing already? It's making me dizzy. I'm sure everything's fine; she's just running late.”
Scootaloo stopped mid pace. “You're right. I don't know what's worrying me so much.” It wasn’t like Sweetie Belle was leaving town. She was just running late.
They're heads jerked toward the door as it burst open. Sweetie Belle slid to a stop in front of them, head held high.
“Oh, there you are Sweetie Belle, we were—”
“Sweetie Belle!” Applebloom shouted. “Ya got yer cutie mark!”
Scootaloo stopped mid sentence. Her eyes traced a path down Sweetie Belle's side and to her flank. The mark was simple, a trio of three black musical notes against her white coat.
It's not the end of the world, she assured herself. They could still crusade together. Sweetie Belle would help her friends, and then they'd all have cutie marks.
She did promise after all, Discord whispered to her. She said the three of you would always be the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Go ahead, congratulate her. This is what you’ve all been working toward.
“That's so cool!” Scootaloo finally managed. “I always knew you were good at singing, but who thought it'd be your special talent?”
“How'd it happen?” Applebloom asked.
“I was walking home yesterday,” the unicorn answered. “I was singing to myself and Fluttershy came along and heard me. She told me I was really good, and that she wanted to help me get better. I was walking home to tell my parents, thinking about how much fun it'd be to have singing lessons, and then it just happened.”
“That's so awesome!” Scootaloo cheered. “Maybe we'll get ours today too. Let's get started.”
“Uh...” Sweetie Belle dropped her gaze to the floor. “Actually, my first lesson is today. I just wanted to come tell you two.”
“Oh,” Scootaloo said, struggling to keep her smile in place.
“That's fine, Sweetie Belle. Ah hope you have fun,” Applebloom said.
“You too. I guess I gotta go now,” Sweetie Belle said before hopping out the door, and practically skipping away.
And there she goes. That didn’t take long, did it? I guess the promise wasn’t worth much, was it?
“So, ya wanna get started, Scootaloo?” Applebloom asked.
“Actually, I think I really am sick,” Scootaloo said weakly.
“Ah told you. It's the ice cream.”
“Yeah. I'm, uh, just going to go home and go to bed.”
“Well alright then. I'll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah, totally.” Scootaloo's voice broke on the last word as she disappeared through the door.
Wind whipped past the young filly as she galloped through Ponyville, weaving through and occasionally knocking over the townsponies. Her breath came out ragged and her hooves fell like lead bars, but she kept running.
Finally she found herself at the outskirts of town, just outside the Everfree Forest. She dropped under the shade of a large tree, covered her head with her hooves, and cried.
It had happened. One of her friends had gotten their cutie mark, and no longer had time to crusade. The Cutie Mark Crusaders were down a member, and she was down a friend. How long would it take before they stopped talking altogether?
It was just like Discord had predicted. Scootaloo didn't even like singing. As far as she knew, neither did Applebloom. Eventually, Sweetie Belle would find new, more musical friends.
Now, now, it isn't entirely hopeless. You could practice, maybe if you get good enough you'll start to like it.
Scootaloo shook her head. “I tried before. The lyrics I wrote were terrible. Everyone thought my singing was a joke.”
I'm sure you weren't that bad.
“I'm serious, they gave us the comedy award.”
Oh, ouch. Well, you've still got Applebloom.
“Yeah, for now. But she's sure to get her cutie mark soon. She's great at building stuff; she's smart; she's got everything at the farm to try; she can make zap apple jam and mix potions. Something'll stick. And then I'll be the only one left.”
Oh Scootaloo, I'm sure you've got just as many talents, don't you? Maybe your cutie mark has something to do with you wings?
“I...” Scootaloo sobbed harder. “I can't even fly. I never had anypony to teach me.”
Awww. You know, Scootaloo, I know how to fly. Maybe I could teach you.
Scootaloo didn't answer, but her crying slowed and she began to wipe her eyes. “Neither of my friends can fly though. It'd just drive us farther apart. I- I just wish cutie marks didn't matter. Like what you said yesterday. You're right, they're stupid.”
She pushed herself up and stomped her front hooves. “All of Equestria is stupid. You're right about cutie marks, you're right about the weather. You're right about harmony. It's just a bunch of stupid old ponies who don't want Equestria to change!” She threw herself back to the ground.
“It’s just not fair.” She slammed her hoof into the ground, eyes tearing up again. “It’s not fair. I wish you could do something to help me.”
Scootaloo waited, but Discord didn't finish. “Well what?”
There might be a way.
Scootaloo sat up again. Her heartbeat began picking up speed. Talking was one thing, but if there really was a way to help Discord...
No. He'd try to overthrow Celestia again. He might hurt somepony if it meant he'd stay free.
Well, not to fix everything. I can't beat the Elements of Harmony, or Celestia. If I got free, I'd have to run and never return to Equestria. But before I left, I might be able to help you save your friendship.
“You could? And then you'd leave? You wouldn't fight Celestia?”
Of course not, Scootaloo. As much as I'd miss you, I just couldn't take the risk. This is all just in theory, though. I couldn't possibly ask you for help. If anyone found out, you'd be called a traitor.
“I could do it secretly. If it keeps the Crusaders together, I don't care what people call me.”
Well, the task isn't pleasant. I wouldn't consider it, if I could think of another way.
“What is it?”
The Elements of Harmony symbolize the connections between ponies. I'm sure you know each one represents something about friendship.
To counter the spell, we don't need a lot of magic, we need a symbol of our own that we can channel a spell through. Elements of Disharmony, if you will.
“Elements of Disharmony? That doesn't sound very...” She trailed off, looking for the right word.
Discord and harmony exist in everypony. Just look at the wielders of the elements. Rarity, the Element of Generosity, is known for her love of fine things. Pinkie Pie without her friends is one of the most depressing things I've ever seen, and I heard the commotion Fluttershy caused at last year's Grand Galloping Gala. Disharmony itself is not a bad thing, it's simply pony nature.
But you are right in thinking that the elements will be unpleasant, as will their wielders. We would need ponies who don't just have the traits of disharmony, but embody them. Even if we do find six ponies like that, we'll still need to find a unicorn powerful enough to cast the necessary spells.
But, if we can manage that, it may be possible to free me. Then I can help you and be on my way.
Scootaloo didn't answer for a long time. Discord had only been kind and understanding, but everypony feared him. Freeing him would cause a lot of trouble.
But what if it was the only way to save her friendship?
The sun was beginning to set when she finally stood back up, head bent low in a defeated exhaustion.“I just don’t know,” she said, more to herself than Discord.
You'll show that no talent foal. You'll humiliate her, just like she humiliated you in front of all of Ponyville. There will be no doubt who the most talented unicorn in Equestria is.
Everypony deserves to get presents on their birthday. Like that ball. It's a nice ball, isn't it?
The Foal Free Press will be the biggest paper in Ponyville. Who cares if a few losers get their feelings hurt? Give the ponies what they want.
Who do those losers think they are? She was your friend long before she came to Ponyville. She would have been nothing without you there to help her. Are you going to let those lame-Os push you away?
Discord whispered from his stone prison. Laughter bubbled up, unable to escape. Oh, my little ponies, you're just making this too easy.
He turned his attention to Scootaloo. The filly was just getting out of school. It's almost time. Once she sees that I'm her friend, that I'm the only friend that would never leave her, chaos will rule again.
“Scootaloo! Wait up!” Scootaloo turned to see Applebloom trotting towards her from the schoolhouse.
“Hey Applebloom. What's up?” She asked as she started down the street again.
“Are ya coming to the clubhouse today?”
“I'm actually really busy today,” she said, pawing nervously at the ground.
“Aww, you've been busy all week. And Sweetie Belle has a lesson with Fluttershy today.”
Oh, of course Sweetie Belle has a lesson today. And tomorrow, and the next day. Bah!
“I'm sorry Applebloom. It's just really important,” Scootaloo said.
“What are ya working on anyway?” Applebloom asked.
“I told you, it's a secret.”
Applebloom gave a frustrated sigh. “It's no fun without the three of us.”
Scootaloo nodded in agreement. “So I guess I'll see you later.”
“Yeah, ah guess so.” Applebloom gave her friend one last frustrated look before turning down the road to Sweet Apple Acres.
Scootaloo, why don't you go ahead and play with her? You've been avoiding everypony all week.
Scootaloo shook her head. “If I do go, we'll try to find our cutie marks. Sweetie Belle's been ignoring us for her lessons. I don't know what to do if Applebloom gets her cutie mark too.”
I suppose that makes sense.
Scootaloo nodded, shuffling forward with no real destination in mind. “I was wondering—”
Quiet! Somepony's coming.
Scootaloo slammed her mouth shut, wincing as she bit her tongue. Still, it was better than getting more stares. Ponies had begun to think she was crazy.
She turned to see Twilight walking up behind her. “Hi Twilight.”
“Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Oh? Uh, I was going to bring those books back, I just—”
Twilight raised a hoof, stopping her. “No, not about those. Take as much time as you need. I'm just glad ponies your age are reading at all. Actually, you and your friends have been invited to Canterlot for a wedding.”
Twilight nodded. “I'm organizing it, and thought the three of you would make the perfect flower fillies.”
“Oh. Who's getting married?”
Twilight's eyes tightened. “My brother and somepony named Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.”
“You have a brother? And he's marrying a princess? How?”
Twilight shrugged. “He's the captain of the royal guard, so I—”
“You're brother's captain of the royal guard? That's so cool!” Scootaloo said with wide eyes.
“Uh, yes. I suppose it is.” Twilight nodded.
“So when's the wedding?”
“We're leaving for Canterlot tomorrow, and the wedding is three days after that. If you want to go, make sure you ask your parents tonight.”
Scootaloo nodded eagerly. “I will.”
“This is so cool!” Scootaloo exclaimed, jumping up onto one of the beds and leaning out the window. “You can see all of Canterlot from here.”
“Yeah, who'd a thought we'd get to stay in the castle?” Applebloom asked. “And we get three days off of school.”
“What should we do first?” asked Sweetie Belle. “Are you two going to try to find your cutie mark?”
“Yeah!” Applebloom cheered. “Maybe we can be royal cooks, or guard ponies!”
“Actually,” Scootaloo said nervously, jumping back to the floor. “Do you girls want to skip crusading and just hang out?”
“Oh, uh, sure,” Applebloom said.
Sweetie Belle nodded. “We haven't really done that much this week.”
Scootaloo nodded. “I missed you two.”
Applebloom caught her in a one legged hug. “That's because ya were working to hard on whatever it was. Ya shoulda just come play.”
Scootaloo smiled. “Yeah, you're right.”
This was bad. Every moment the fillies spent talking and laughing sent Discord back days. He could feel his hold over Scootaloo slipping. The subtle tones of gray in her mane had already vanished.
He searched the castle for somepony in a position to stop the fillies. Somepony who could be nudged into ruining their conversation or putting them to work. Twilight Sparkle stomped around the first floor, too angry to hear him. Fluttershy had already suggested that Sweetie Belle go play with her friends. Rainbow Dash would just turn them into a cheering squad, something that would cheer Scootaloo up even more.
His whispers to the groom fell on deaf ears. He turned his attention to the bride.
Wait, what's this? Silence stretched on as he thought through the implications. Finally, his consciousness withdrew to the statue and he began laughing to himself. It was too perfect. Even as a spirit of chaos, he could hardly believe such a coincidence.
Oh, Chrysie, you wonderful monster, I owe you for this one.
Scootaloo listened to her friend's relaxed snoring. She was smiling to herself more than she had in weeks. Her cheeks burned with the strain, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
I may have been wrong about the three of you.
Scootaloo's heart expanded at the words, and for a moment she thought she'd float right out of her bed. “You really think so?” She asked in a hushed whisper.
I couldn't think otherwise, seeing how happy you are now. I've never seen friends as close as you three.
Scootaloo gave a wiggle of excitement. She'd been thinking it all day, how much fun it had been to just be with her friends again. Still, hearing Discord say it made it that much more real to her. “She promised. We'll always be the Cutie Mark Crusaders.”
Discord sat in silence for a long moment. I guess there's really no reason for you to free me.
The pegasus sat up, lips turned down in a small frown. “But then you'll be stuck for a thousand years.”
I'm used to it by now. At least this time I'm able to talk to somepony, so it isn't that bad.
It's a risk I didn't really want you taking in the first place. Now there's no reason for you to. Just forget about it.
Scootaloo sank back down onto her bed. She didn't even know if she would have helped him, but now that the opportunity had passed, she couldn't help but feel bad for him. Maybe even a bit guilty. He'd been nothing but kind to her, and now he was giving up his chance at freedom just to keep her safe.
“Discord? Uh, why did you do everything the last time you were free? I mean trying to overthrow the Princess. You could have just left. Then you'd be free right now.”
And how do you know I wouldn't try again?
“No, I... well, yeah,” Scootaloo shifted nervously under the covers.
It's simple really. I don't think Celestia is fit to rule Equestria.
“But everypony loves her.”
Yes, yes. Everypony loves their precious princess. But how many of them really know her? We've already agreed that she could solve many ponies problems, and she just doesn't. The Apple family for example. They would have a much easier time if they could grow year round.
“Maybe she just never thought about it. If somepony talked to her—”
Ahah, talk to her? The last thing you want to do is talk to her. Just ask Luna.
Yes. All she wanted was a bit more recognition, and next thing you know, whoosh, straight to the moon.
“What? Princess Luna turned into Nightmare Moon! Princess Celestia didn't want to do it!”
Shush, you'll wake your friends.
Scootaloo covered her mouth with her hooves and glanced at the other beds. Both ponies were still soundly asleep. She continued in a whisper, “That's not fair. Celestia didn't have a choice.”
Scootaloo, who's more powerful, Celestia or Twilight Sparkle and her friends?
“That's easy. It's the princess.”
And who has more experience and understanding of magic?
“The princess again.”
Then why did Celestia use the Elements of Harmony to trap her sister when Twilight was capable of changing her back?
Princess Celestia is more powerful than the six of them together. She could have turned Luna back to good any time she wanted.
Scootaloo frowned into her pillows. That didn't sound like the princess, but then why couldn't she have turned Luna back? Did she really banish her own sister out of selfishness?
So that's why I tried to overthrow Celestia. I just wanted to help everypony.
Oh, and chocolate rain. Nopony knows true happiness without chocolate rain.
Scootaloo giggled despite her best efforts. She pulled the covers over her head andcuddled into the warm bed.
Oh Chrysie, aren't you looking positively radiant tonight.
Princess Cadence looked up from her book and turned in circles around her bedroom. “Who's there?”
I love the pre-wedding glow you have going on. Discord's face appeared in the vanity mirror. “Over here.”
The alicorn spun toward the sound of his voice and jumped in surprise. After a moment of thought, she turned back to her book.
“Uh, over here. Chrysie? Oh, don't be like that.”
Cadence forcefully turned another page, tearing the corner slightly.
“Oh, for crying out loud, how many times do I have to apologize? How was I supposed to know that Changeling hives aren't aerodynamic?”
She finally turned to the mirror, eyes livid. “It took us months to clear the mess, and years to rebuild, you imbecile. Apologize until the end of days if you must, it still won't be enough!”
Discord rolled his eyes and leaned closer to the glass. “It was over a thousand years ago. I've heard about mares and their grudges, but isn't this a bit ridiculous? Either way, drop it for now, this is important.”
Cadence sighed and walked across the room toward the mirror. “What are you doing here Discord? I thought you were trapped outside.”
“Oh, I am, but the spell wasn't done properly. My magic is getting stronger every day.” He rapped on the glass with an outstretched claw. “Still, this is a bit of a stretch. I just wanted to meet with you face to face.”
“And just what is it you want from me?” Cadence asked.
“I need help with a spell. Six spells, actually. And I could use the services of a cruel, deceitful changeling such as yourself.”
Cadence gave a playful smile. “Thank you, but flattery won't get you anywhere. What's in it for me?”
“Free reign for your changelings to feed once I've conquered Equestria.”
“Ha, a tempting offer any other day, but in two days my changeling army will take Equestria by force.”
Discord scratched his chin, eyebrows furrowed in thought. “Yes, I suppose that does make my offer a bit useless. Unless you fail, of course.”
Cadence turned her snout up in a dismissive gesture. “That won't happen. Nopony suspects a thing, and Shining Armor will soon be completely under my control.”
“Oh, of course. Well, except Twilight Sparkle. But really, what can one pony do?”
“Yes, I... what?”
“What can one pony do? It's a rhetorical question of course. Nopony can stop you now, right?”
“No, before that, fool,” Cadence snapped, stomping her hooves on the desk in front of her. “What about Twilight Sparkle?”
“Oh, I was listening in on her earlier. She's begun to suspect your true nature as changeling.”
The princess ground her teeth in frustration. “You're sure of this?” Discord nodded and she continued, “Then I suppose I'll just have to deal with her before she can tell anypony.”
“A splendid idea. Am I right in guessing the real princess is in the old mines below Canterlot?” Discord asked.
“Of course. I could think of no better place to hide her.”
“Then if Twilight causes trouble, it might be a good idea to reunite them.”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” Chrysalis said. “But why are you helping me?”
“Changelings running through the streets, ponies running scared, chaos in all of Equestria? I get chills just thinking about it. If you succeed, I'll break out soon enough, and Celestia won't be there to lock me up again. If you fail, you won't have any choice but to come crawling back and asking for my help. I win either way.”
Cadences eyes flashed with anger and she turned away from the mirror. Discord vanished, but his laugh echoed in the room for a few more seconds.
I hope I don’t cry. Weddings are always so emotional.
Scootaloo shifted uncomfortably in her new dress, trying not to wrinkle it. She stood just outside in the hall, waiting for the ceremony to begin. “I just hope it doesn’t take too long. A royal wedding is cool and all, but those fancy Canterlot ponies can be so boring.”
Oh, I don’t think we have to worry about being bored.
“Ah know what you mean. But at least there’ll be food after the ceremony.”
Scootaloo jumped and swung turned toward the voice. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle stood behind her, each fitted in a matching white dress with purple trim. “Oh, didn’t see you there. You scared me.”
“Then who were you talking to?”
“Uh... nopony. I was talking to myself.”
Better be a little more careful there, Scoots.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes at the nickname but let it go. None of the crusaders spoke and a nervous silence settled over them as they waited. Any minute, every eye in Canterlot would be on them, if only for a few seconds.
“It’s too bad Twilight can’t be here,” Scootaloo finally said to break the silence.
“Yeah. Did either of you figure out what happened? Mah sister told me it was none of my business,” Applebloom said as she straightened the circle of flowers around her head.
“Nopony would tell me either,” Scootaloo said.
“Rarity wouldn’t tell me, but it must have been bad. She fainted like ten times last night,” Sweetie Belle added.
The sound of birds whistling in the main room interrupted their conversation. “Girls, that’s your cue,” an older pony said, waving them toward the door. Scootaloo followed Sweetie Belle and Applebloom through the door.
Scootaloo froze as eveypony turned to look at them. Hundreds of ponies had shown to watch the royal wedding. All were dressed in their finest clothes and wore expressions of varying excitement.
A long red carpet led up to where Celestia and Shining Armor waited. The room itself was huge, the ceiling a hundred feet above them. The windows were all draped in white and the room was lit by torches along the wall.
“Come on,” Applebloom whispered. They started down the aisle, scattering flowers for Princess Cadence to walk over.
Scootaloo, I think there’s a problem.
Scootaloo continued to the end of the aisle and then off to the side to watch the ceremony.
Of course you can’t answer. But just listen. Be ready to grab your friends and run. Follow my directions, and you’ll be alright.
Scootaloo stood rigid, a forced smile plastered to her face. “Girls?” she whispered. Somepony shushed her and she fell quiet.
“Mares and gentlecolts,” Celestia began. “We are gathered here today to witness the union of Princess Mi Amore Cadenze and Shining Armor.”
“Scootaloo, are you okay?” Applebloom whispered before being shushed as well. The girls fell silent and watched the ceremony. Scootaloo began to relax as minutes passed and nothing happened.
“Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. It is my great pleasure to pronounce you—”
“Stop!” Everypony gasped as a bedraggled Twilight Sparkle charged into the room.
“What is she doing?” Asked Applebloom.
Now Scootaloo. Get your friends to the back of the crowd.
“Come on girls,” Scootaloo said, putting her shoulder into Applebloom and shoving.
“Scootaloo, what are ya doing? I wanna see this,” Applebloom complained, stumbling back.
Scootaloo turned back to the door when everypony gasped again and blinked in confusion. “Two Cadences?”
“What do ya think that’s all about?”
Make your way toward the doors, but stay at the back of the crowd.
“Come on,” Scootaloo said, dropping low and shuffling behind the taller ponies. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle exchanged confused looks and followed.
They stopped as the room was suddenly filled with a sickly green light. The first Princess Cadence was engulfed in green flames. Moments later a tall, sickly looking black pony stood in her place. She stepped forward, greenish blue hair falling in dank locks around her face, insect-like wings buzzing.
When she spoke it was in a strange echo. “Right you are, princess. And as queen of the changelings, it is my job to find food for my subjects.”
Now Scootaloo, go for the doors.
“Come on,” Scootaloo whispered before charging the doors. Everypony was so focused on the changeling queen they didn’t notice the three fillies slip out.
“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh,” Sweetie Belle said as they rushed down the hall. “What was that thing?”
“I don’t know. But I’m sure everything will be alright. Princess Celestia was there after all,” Scootaloo gasped without slowing down.
“But why would she give herself up if she thought the Princess could stop her?” Applebloom asked.
Princess Luna would be asleep right now. Even if the Changeling Queen can beat Celestia, there’s no way she can beat both of them.
“Let’s go find Princess Luna,” Scootaloo said. “She’s probably asleep.” The others nodded their agreement and the three ran for the doors and out into the sunlight. “She’ll be in the main part of the castle. We—” Scootaloo broke off as she ran into Sweetie Belle.
“Sweetie Belle?” Her friend was staring up at the sky with wide, frightened eyes. She looked up too.
The force field had been up since they’d arrived. Nopony would tell them why, but Scootaloo had guessed it was to keep everypony safe during the wedding. It was slowly giving way, long webs of cracks appearing in the barrier. Thousands and thousands of black creatures swarmed outside the protective barrier, slamming into it over and over.
“What... what are they?” she asked.
Changelings. Keep going.
The girls started down the path toward Canterlot Castle. Scootaloo had only been there once on a field trip, but remembered the way. They cut through the sculpture garden and she couldn’t help but glance toward Discord’s statue. He seemed to meet her eyes for a moment, his stone face reflecting her own fear.
Suddenly a deafening crash overwhelmed all her other senses. The shield had shattered into millions of pieces. The shards glittered and fell all around them until no traces of the shield remained. The entire thing took less than half a minute.
“No way the princess slept through that,” Applebloom shouted. “Ah think we should find someplace to hide.”
Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo nodded.
Scootaloo jumped forward, tackling Applebloom and Sweetie Belle out of the way. A changeling landed where they’d been in a crash of green fire. “Run!”
The fillies took down the streets at full speed. After a moment of confusion, the changeling clambered to its feet and lunged after them with an angry hiss.
Scootaloo, there’s an alley coming up on your right. Turn there.
“This way!” Scootaloo shouted, breaking right. A group of changelings crashed down a few dozen yards past the alley’s entrance. “In there!”
The girls turned right and charged down the alley to the street beyond. They turned left at the end of that street and sprinted down a smaller dirt road.
“We need to find a place to hide,” Scootaloo grunted quietly between gasps. “I can’t run much further, and Sweetie Belle’s probably even worse off.”
Just a little more, Discord promised.
“Scootaloo!” Applebloom cried behind her. Before she could react, a changeling charged into her side, knocking her to the ground. It backed up for another charge, horn glowing green. Scootaloo cringed away but Applebloom and Sweetie Belle slammed into it. The three rolled to the ground and struggled to get to their hooves.
They finally separated and the changeling reared up to launch itself at Sweetie Belle. Scootaloo jumped toward it, but it was just too far away. “Sweetie Belle!”
A pie hit it in the face.
The three fillies stood, staring at the shocked changeling as it stumbled backwards, dripping whipped cream and banana pudding.
“Come on!” Scootaloo cried and urged the crusaders down the road again.
You three have to find a place to hide. The queen beat Celestia, and they couldn’t get to the elements.
Scootaloo’s heart dropped like a rock into her stomach, but she pushed herself to run faster.
It looks like... wait... no. No, they couldn’t... Discord burst out in laughter, unable to choke out an ending to his sentence.
A moment later the sky blazed with a white light. The roar of rushing power drowned out the sounds of chaos around them. Scootaloo stumbled to a stop and braced herself against a sudden howling force. A light pink wave of energy washed over her and she felt her friends huddle next to her, heads bent against the force.
Her mane whipped around her face as she staggered back. For a moment she thought the wave of magic would wash her right of the face of the planet.
Then it was over as quickly as it had begun. The streets were blanketed in a shocked silence. Ponies blinked stupidly, looking around for any sign of the changelings. The only sound Scootaloo could here was Discord’s laughter.
The power of love, of all things. Oh, she’ll never live this down.
“It looks like everypony is okay. Rarity and Applejack nearly had heart attacks when they realized their sisters were missing,” Scootaloo said. She sat in bed, staring out the castle window at the full moon.
Oh, I’d bet. I’m just glad nopony was hurt.
“Me too. Especially Sweetie Belle and Applebloom.” She turned over to look at her sleeping friends. “They tackled one of the changelings for me.”
I saw. I’ve said it before, you’re all very good friends. And friends protect each other.
“You’re right.” Minutes stretched on in silence until she finally said, “You protected us too. You told us where to go. You even dropped a pie on one of the changelings.”
Like I said. It’s what friends do for each other.
“You’re right,” she said again. “You’re right. It’s what friends do for each other.” Another minute passed in silence. “I’m going to help you. I’m going to free you.”
Scootaloo, we’ve been over this. There isn’t any reason for you—
“I’m not going to do it for me. I want to for you. It’s what friends do for each other.”
“I don’t care what anypony thinks. They don’t know you like I do. Please, just let me do this.”
Discord sighed. Fine. But if I think the risk is too much, you’ll stop right then and there. Understood?
Scootaloo nodded eagerly.
Alright then. And... well, thank you. Scootaloo smiled and closed her eyes. Tired from the day’s events, she was asleep in no time.
Sleep Scootaloo. Tomorrow, the real fun begins.
Scootaloo? Wake up. Scootaloo!
“Go away,” Scootaloo mumbled into her pillow.
This is important. You need to get up.
She raised her head and stared into the darkness with half-closed eyes. “Wha’ time is it?”
Just after midnight.
Without another word she flopped back onto her pillow.
Scootaloo, Discord hissed in frustration. You’re all getting on the train in a few hours. We don’t have time for this. He took a breath to calm himself and continued, I understand if you don’t want to help me. I already told you that it isn’t worth the risk. But if you’re going to anyway, you need to get up now.
Scootaloo groaned and pushed herself out of bed. “Why is it so important to do it now?”
I’ve found our first element.
“Here in Canterlot?”
No, a few miles north of Canterlot. It’ll be easier to find her now, since you’re already this close. Now get ready, there are a few things you need to collect.
Scootaloo marched over the uneven ground for what seemed like hours. Her muscles ached and all she wanted was to lie down and sleep, but she kept walking deeper into the woods.
Skeletal trees blocked what little light there was. The only reason she wasn’t completely lost was that she had Discord whispering directions. Timber wolves howled in the distance, sending shivers down her spine. “What is anypony doing out here anyway? It’s so creepy.”
You’ll see. We’re almost there, so if you want to turn back, now’s the time to do it.
Scootaloo shook her head and picked up the pace. Thankfully, the trees finally thinned out in front of her, showing a dimly lit clearing. Scootaloo hopped one last root and ran, eager to be out of the dark.
The branches on either side of her shook, and changelings jumped down around her. She reared back, a surprised gasp caught in her throat, and turned to run. More changelings stood behind her, blocking her escape.
Easy Scootaloo. Stay calm.
“Stay calm? You... you knew they were here!”
They aren’t going to hurt you. Discord spoke a bit more loudly. Isn’t that right, Chrysalis?
For a few moments nothing moved, and then a familiar echoing voice answered, “Yes. Let the pony through.”
The changelings parted and nudged Scootaloo out into the clearing. A dozen more changelings stood around their queen, watching Scootaloo with hungry blue eyes.
The changeling queen sat at the center. She was built like one of the princesses, tall and slender with a crooked horn and wings. Her legs and wings had strange holes through them. She leaned awkwardly to her left with her right foreleg stretched carefully out to her side, wincing at every movement. “Discord said you were bringing a gift?”
“Uh...” Scootaloo backed away slightly from the changeling queen.
“Oh, right.” Scootaloo reached back and pulled out the first aid kit Discord had told her to bring. With a nod from the queen, one of the changelings darted over and grabbed it. Scootaloo flinched from it, but it didn’t seem to care. It pulled out some bandages and the changelings went to work caring for their queen’s hurt leg.
“Uh, I’ll be right back,” Scootaloo whispered. The queen gave a dismissive nod and she backed into the cover of the trees.
“What they hay, Discord?” She asked in a harsh whisper. “Why didn’t you tell me who we were coming to see?”
You didn’t ask.
“And you didn’t think I’d want to know?”
I already told you the ponies you’d have to talk to are unpleasant.
Scootaloo threw a hoof up in frustration. “Oh yeah, she invaded Canterlot and tried to overthrow the princess, but she’s just ‘unpleasant’. Thanks for clearing that up.”
If you want to leave, then feel free. No one is going to force you to do this.
Scootaloo hesitated. “I... I’m just scared. You said you don’t want me taking any risks, and this seems like a pretty big one.”
I promise you, Scootaloo, you aren’t in any danger from her. After being thrown from Canterlot and losing her connection to Shining Armor, she’s got less power than me. She doesn’t even have enough to bandage her own leg.
“Oh. But still, why are we here? You can’t expect her to help us?”
Oh, but I do actually. For two reasons. The first is that she’s a changeling. Everything she does is about lying to ponies. She’s perfect for the opposite of Applejack, the element of honesty. Second, the defenses in Canterlot are pretty weak right now. If she’s busy helping us, it will give them time to get organized again.
“You think she’d try again?” Scootaloo whispered, glancing back into the clearing.
Without a doubt. If anything, she has more reason to attack now than before. She’s not the kind to take that kind of humiliation. She’ll want revenge. If we can keep her busy, we’ll not only have one of the elements, but we’ll be doing our part to protect Equestria.
Scootaloo swallowed nervously and stepped back out into the clearing, waiting for the changelings to finish. After another minute, they stepped away. The queen checked the bandages and nodded her approval. “So, I suppose Discord sent you about his absurd proposal?”
Scootaloo tried to talk, but the words stuck in her throat. Finally she just nodded.
“Perhaps introductions are in order?” The queen asked.
Oh, of course. Chrysie—
“Ahem,” the queen interrupted.
Bah. Chrysalis, this is Scootaloo. Scootaloo, this is Her Royal Highness, Queen Chrysalis, Ruler of the Changelings, etcetera etcetera.
“Uh... nice to meet you?” Scootaloo said.
“Charmed,” the queen replied without bothering to look at the filly.
Chrysalis here owes me a favor, and is going to help us.
The queen’s eyes flashed with anger, but it was gone so quickly Scootaloo might have imagined it. “Yes, I suppose I will.”
Wonderfull. Everypony will be awake in a few minutes. You two need to get back to Canterlot and catch the train.
“What? It took me hours to get out here!” Scootaloo said, eyes wide with panic.
“That will not be a problem,” Chrysalis said. “Let’s go.”
Scootaloo gasped when something grabbed her around the midsection and lifted her into the air. Dark branches whipped past her as she rose into the night. After a moment she caught her breath enough to scream.
“Hey Scootaloo,” Applebloom said, walking into the clubhouse the next day. “Hey Sweetie... Oh, sorry, ah thought you were someone else.”
Scootaloo waved from beside a white filly. “Hi Applebloom. I was just showing my new friend the clubhouse. She’s a blank flank too, I thought she might come crusading with us.”
The small white unicorn was no older than the crusaders. She had a curly blue mane and tail with matching eyes. She glanced at Applebloom with a bored pout.
“A new crusader? Pleased to meet’cha. Ah’m Applebloom,” she said, holding a hoof toward the white filly.
“Yeah, whatever,” the newcomer said, ignoring the outstretched hoof.
“Uh, she’s kind of shy. Not really comfortable meeting new ponies,” Scootaloo said.
“Oh,” Applebloom said, dropping her hoof and frowning. “Uh, what’s your name?”
“Chrys...” Scootaloo hesitated. “Chrys... uh, Crystal. Crystal Ball. Her parents are traveling fortune tellers.”
The white unicorn raised an eyebrow. “Traveling... uh yes, they’re traveling fortune tellers. Because that makes so much sense.”
“Um, okay?” Applebloom said. “Well, I’m glad to have you join us. Sweetie Belle will be here soon, and then we can go.”
“Sounds good,” Scootaloo said. Crystal didn’t respond, and after a few seconds of awkward silence, Applebloom excused herself to wait outside for Sweetie Belle.
“Crystal Ball?” the white filly asked. “Is that a normal pony name?”
“Well, you didn’t help much either. You could at least try being nice.”
Crystal Ball turned away with a dismissive snort. Scootaloo just sat down and rolled her eyes. It was going to be a very long day.
Spike scurried around the library, grabbing the piles of books Twilight had used the night before and finding their proper places on the shelves. It wasn’t hard work, but he still couldn’t believe how many books one unicorn could use in a single night.
A knock interrupted his chores and he answered the door. A white unicorn smiled at him from the other side.
“Oh, Rarity,” Spike said, slipping into a lovestruck expression as she stepped past him.
“Hello, uh... Spike. Is Twilight home?” Rarity asked.
“Nah, she’s helping AJ at Sweet Apple Acres today. Maybe I can help you?” he asked with a hopeful smile.
“Well, I suppose. Would you be a dear and fetch me any books you have on Medieval Equestria? I’m thinking about a new fashion line inspired by the period.” Rarity turned away without waiting for an answer and dropped into one of Twilight’s chairs.
“Sure thing Rarity. That sounds like an amazing idea. I’m sure everypony will—”
“Yeah, yes,” she said with a dismissive wave. “The books?”
“Uh, right. Just a second,” Spike said, frowning slightly.
He scanned the bookcases for a few minutes, picking two particularly thick, dusty tomes from the top shelves. As he reached for a third, Rarity said something unintelligible. He turned around. “Sorry, what was that?”
“I didn’t say anything,” she replied, idly tracing the arm of the chair with a hoof. “Are you done yet?”
“Almost,” Spike said, grabbing the last book from the shelf. He turned back to see Rarity glaring into an empty corner.
“Uh, is everything ok?” he asked.
“Of course, Spike.” Rarity gritted her teeth for a moment before turning to smile at him. “Spikey Wikey.”
“Um, okay. Well, here you are. I hope they’ll do,” he said, offering her the books. She took them and tucked them away in her saddlebags.
“Thank you, Spike. Hopefully these will give me some new ideas. I’ve been looking to make a new necklace or two.”
“Oh? What about the fire ruby necklace you made?”
“That old thing? I made it weeks ago. I wouldn’t be caught dead in something so outdated.”
“Oh,” Spike said, spines visibly sagging. “Right. So what did you do with it?”
“I tossed it in the garbage last week. Thanks for the help, Spike.” Rarity gave him a quick nod before leaving.
“Yeah... no problem...” Spike blinked several times quickly and turned away, pretending to straighten a pile of books until he heard the door close behind her. The book he was holding fell from his claws to the floor with a loud thump. After a few steadying breaths, he gave up and shuffled upstairs, leaving his work half done.
Rarity dropped the books in a messy pile just inside the door to Carousel Boutique before trotting into the kitchen. She searched through the fridge and selected a couple of daisy sandwiches and a bottle of water. Levitating them and a bottle of water with her horn, she went back out into her work room and down the stairs toward the basement.
With a quick spark of magic, she unlocked the door and eased it open. “Dinner time.”
No answer came from the dark room. She nudged the door wider and stepped in. “I said dinner time. If you don’t answer you’ll just have to starve.”
Something shifted at the top of a shelf to her left and a shadowy figure dropped toward her with a cry, “HAAA!”
Rarity’s horn flared up with green light and the shadowy figure was flung into the far wall, giving a quick scream before crashing into another shelf. Another flash of green flicked the lights on and she smiled at her assailant, another white unicorn with a purple mane. “How rude of you, miss Rarity.”
The white unicorn fought to untangle herself from rolls of fabric and ribbon. She finally got to her hooves and glared at her double, head tilted forward as though she wanted to charge. “Get out of my house, you imposter!”
The fake Rarity laughed and held a pristine white hoof up. “Oh, since you asked so nicely, I suppose I don’t have a choice.”
“It’s only a matter of time before my friends realize what’s going on. They would never fall for your tricks. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll run now.”
The fake Rarity pushed her lips out in an exaggerated pout. “But I’ve been working so hard on my acting. Watch!” She threw a hoof up to her forehead, bending back and crying, “Oh in the name of fabulousity, this is so unfabulous!”
“How dare you! I sound nothing like that!”
She shrugged and bent her head. Rarity fell back as the changeling was engulfed in green light. When it faded, Crystal Ball stood in her place. “It’s been a pleasure chatting, but I have work to do.” With a twitch or her head, the food dropped to the floor. “We’re going crusading today. Then I have to get ready for your birthday party. I wonder if your dragon friend will be there.” Another twitch and the door closed and locked behind her.
A heavy thud hit the door a moment later and Rarity screamed from the other side. “If you go near Sweetie Belle, if you talk to Spike, if you lay one hoof on anypony, I swear I’ll destroy you!”
Crystal Ball just giggled. “I’m sure you will.”
Rarity laughed in surprise as the light flicked on and everypony jumped out. Sugarcube corner had been decorated with white and purple streamers taped to every inch of wall. Balloons floated freely on the ceiling and streamers clung to chairs and counters.
“Oh thank you eveypony. This is just so fabulous!” Rarity stepped further into the room, nodding at everypony she passed.
“Were you surprised?” She turned to see a pink pony literally bouncing through the crowd. “Were you? I thought it was surprising. Did you think it was surprising?”
“Yes, Pinkie. It was very surprising. And these decorations are completely fabulous.” Rarity cringed away as the pink pony leaned uncomfortably close. “So, uh, yes.”
“Okie dokie lokie! Come on all of your friends want to give you presents! And then we can eat cake and play pin the tail on the pony!” Without waiting for an answer the pink pony grabbed her and practically threw her to the center of the party.
“Happy Birthday!” A hoof wrapped around her and pulled her over to a small group of her friends.
“Oh, thank you, uh, Rainbow Dash.” She said, trying to open some space between he and the blue pegasus. Her other friends stepped up to her other side, closing her in.
“I’m surprised you aren’t wearing one of your dresses,” Twilight said.
“Dress? Oh, well, I didn’t have any that were, uh, fabulous enough for such a fabulous occasion.”
Dash rolled her eyes and nudged Rarity in the side. “It’s just a little party. I’m sure you had a ton of dresses that would work.”
“Well, it’s my birthday. If I say none of my dresses are worthy, then they aren’t.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dash laughed. “Or maybe even you get tired of being all made up all the time.”
Rarity snorted in frustration and stomped away.
“Rainbow, do ya really need to be teasing her on her Birthday?” Applejack asked with a disappointed frown.
“Aww, she knows I was just kidding. Oh look, Pinkie’s starting pin the tail on the pony!”
Rarity was finally able to fight her way through the crowd of dancers and well wishers. She squeezed past one last couple and sagged against a dessert tray, sighing in relief.
“Uh, hey Rarity.” Rarity turned to see Spike standing behind her, nervously holding some flowers. “I uh, got these for you.”
“Oh, they’re lovely,” she said, reaching out to take them. “You shouldn’t have.”
“Aww, it was nothing,” Spike answered.
“No, I mean you shouldn’t have. Spike, can I talk to you privately?”
Spike nodded and she led him over to a mostly empty corner of the room.
“Is everything okay, Rarity?”
“Spike,” she said sadly, “this needs to stop.”
“This. The flowers, helping me around the shop, constantly fawning over me. It just isn’t going to work out.”
Spike scratched his head absently. “You don’t want me helping you anymore? But I thought—”
“It’s not that you help me. It’s why. I’m just not interested in you like that.”
Rarity cut him off with a raised hoof. “I’m sorry Spike. It’s just, a dragon and a pony? It would never work. It just doesn’t make sense.” She dipped her head sadly and pushed the flowers back into his claws. “I think you should go.”
“I...” his lip quivered as he ran argument after argument through his head, each lamer than the last. His face fell, eyes clouding with tears as Rarity stared at him impassively. Finally he sighed, turned away, and slowly shuffled to the door, whimpering lamentably to himself.
Wonderful performance. There is hope for you yet.
Rarity smiled. “Your turn.”
Spike dangled his legs over the shallow stream just outside Ponyville’s park, trying to enjoy the cool night air. The flowers hung limply from his claws, seeming to have wilted in the past minutes. He sighed softly. “What was I thinking? I knew I shouldn’t have gone with something as obvious as flowers.” With a grumble he tossed them off the bridge and watched them drift away.
“She’s right. It just wouldn’t make sense,” he said in a defeated whisper.
Oh, what fun is there in making sense?
Spike jumped in surprise. “Huh? Who’s there?”
Oh, nopony important. I just overheard you. You sound like you could use somepony to talk to.
“Where are you?” Spike asked, pulling himself up with the bridge’s handrail.
Spike stopped looking around. “Canterlot? Uh, what do you mean?”
Just what I said. I’m in Canterlot. But it’s so boring here, I decided to talk to you here in Ponyville.
“Who are you?” Spike asked again.
Discord. I believe you’ve heard of me?
Spike froze, looking around again. After a few seconds he took off running toward Sugarcube Corner. “Twilight! Twilight!”
Oh, calm down Spike. I just want to talk!
He was still a block away from the bakery when somepony jumped from the shadows in front of him. They collided and sprawled to the floor in a tangle of limbs and tails. He tried to get back up, but his legs were kicked out from under him and he landed on his back. The little pony jumped onto him, knocking the breath from his lungs.
She was a white unicorn filly with a blue mane. It took a moment, but he recognized her. “You’re the new crusader! Get off, we need to get out of here! It’s not safe.”
Crystal Ball rolled her eyes and put a hoof over his mouth. “Shut up and listen, okay?”
Nice catch, Discord said to both of them.
“Yeah, yeah. You almost ruined everything.”
Spike struggled to get the filly off of him, but she was heavier than she looked.
“Calm down. Spike, isn’t it? Discord isn’t a threat to anypony right now, so I’m going to move my hoof and we’re going to talk, okay?”
Spike’s eyes shifted frantically from side to side, looking for anypony to help him, but the streets was empty. Finally he nodded and she removed her hoof.
“Who are you? How do you know a jerk like Discord?” Spike demanded.
“I’m Crystal Ball. Discord came to me a few weeks ago, offering to help me with a problem. The same thing he’s doing for you now.” She kept him pinned, but leaned back to give him a bit of room.
“Well forget it. I don’t have any problems he can help with.” Spike wiggled again, but the little filly wouldn’t budge.
Oh really? Discord asked. Rarity’s voice echoed in the darkness, A dragon and a pony? It would never work. It just doesn’t make sense.
Spike turned his head, heart jumping as he thought the unicorn of his dreams had come to save him, but then he heard the words and sagged back into the dirt. “So what? She doesn’t like me, it’s not a big deal.”
Crystal ball giggled on top of him. “Yeah, I’m sure you really think that.”
Oh Spike, you’re among friends. You can tell us the truth.
“Friends?” Spike asked. “Yeah, right.”
Admit it Spike, it burns you up inside. After everything you’ve done for her, after all the help and attention you’ve given her, and she just tosses you aside. It isn’t fair.
Spike tried to shrug, but couldn’t move his shoulders enough. “Rarity’s such a kind and generous pony, I’d help her out no matter how I felt about her.”
Crystal Ball rolled her eyes. “What kind of dragon are you? You shouldn’t let her walk all over you like that. You aren’t a dragon, you’re a doormat. Who knew growing up with ponies would make you so pathetic?”
Spike just glared at her in response.
She’s right, isn’t she? You know deep down that you shouldn’t have to take this. You should just take what you want. It’s in your nature, after all.
Spike shook his head. “I’m not like that. I’m not like other dragons.”
Oh Spike, there’s no need to be ashamed. Your friends don’t understand. Twilight and Celestia don’t, but I do. I understand because I’m the same. We’re both creatures so very different from ponies. If we want to live with the rest of pony society, we have to suppress who we are at our very core, and it just isn’t fair.
You can’t be with Rarity because you’re a dragon. You can’t do anything to win her over, because giving in to your greed and pursuing her would just make you more of a dragon. But you can never be a pony. You can’t ever be one of them.
Spike closed his eyes, trying to block out Discord’s voice. He breathed deeply, refusing to cry in front of them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Spike opened his eyes and his breathing hitched. “What do you mean?”
Rarity can’t be with you because it doesn’t make sense, right? Well, why does anything have to make sense? Join us. Help me get free, and in the world I create, anything is possible. You could keep your friends without having to lose yourself.
Spike’s breathing relaxed as he closed his eyes again. Crystal Ball smiled triumphantly.
“No. Twilight told me all about how you twisted all our friends up! I’m going to send a letter to Celestia and get you locked up even tighter so you can’t hurt anypony!”
The smile fell off Crystal’s face.
“And you’re going to be locked up forever for helping him,” Spike said, looking her in the eyes. “They might even send you to Tartarus for this.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t actually do that, would you Spike?” Crystal Ball asked with a smirk. “Could you really bring yourself to get one of the crusaders sent to Tartarus? One of your friends, even?”
“You aren’t my friend!”
Crystal giggled again and got off his chest. She took a few steps back and pointed down the road. “I don’t mean me.”
Spike turned to see Scootaloo trotting toward them. She met his eyes and slowed to a stop several yards away. “Uh, hey Spike. Crystal. What’s up?” She gave him a forced smile.
“Go ahead and tell the princess about us. She’ll send your friend to the dungeons faster than you can say Equestria.”
“Wait,” Spike said, taking a step back from her. “You want me to think Scootaloo is helping Discord? That’s crazy. She’d never do something like that. Tell them.” He looked at Scootaloo again and froze. She was staring at them with large frightened eyes.
Everyone stood frozen for a moment before Spike turned tail and stumbled blindly down the street.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Scootaloo shouted, stomping up to Crystal Ball and getting in her face. “Why would you tell him that? Are you trying to get me locked up or banished? What if I get sent to the moon? I’m going to have to run away from Ponyville now!”
Crystal Ball raised a hoof and shoved Scootaloo backwards. She tripped over her own tail and fell. Crystal stepped forward to look down on her. “Just because I am in this form does not mean you should forget who you’re talking to.”
That’s enough, both of you. Chrysalis, that was a stupid move. If Spike tells anyone, we’re all in trouble. Scootaloo, rather than shouting and stomping around, you need to go find Spike.
“But what can I tell him to stop him?”
I don’t know. You know him better than I do.
Scootaloo hesitated a moment before turning and galloping after Spike.
Spike ignored the call and sped up. He was almost to the library. It would only take a minute or two to write a letter for the princess, and then he could forget about the entire thing.
Scootaloo caught up to him and slowed to a walk. She took a moment to catch her breath before saying, “Spike, please, wait.”
He couldn’t think of anything to say, so he just walked faster.
“Please, just listen to me!”
Spike hesitated. Was... was she crying? But Scootaloo never cried. He slowly turned toward her.
Scootaloo stopped a few feet behind him. Her eyes glistened with tears in the moonlight. She tried to wipe them away, but they were flowing freely, slipping silently down her cheeks.
He gave a frustrated sigh and went to sit at the side of the road. She followed, and after stumbling over the first few words, she began talking.
“Do you think it will work?” Chrystal Ball asked.
Not right away. Spike won’t tell anypony after hearing Scootaloo’s oh-so tragic tale. He’ll try to keep her away from us, but he won’t risk getting Scootaloo into more trouble.
“It seems like an overly generous act for our element of greed.”
Discord chuckled. Give him time. He’s heard our offer. He’ll start to wonder if we’re right. With Rarity acting so indifferent to him, he’ll wonder if he can really live a normal life.
Crystal shook her head. “You’re so full of yourself. We could have used any dragon. Why him? If he tells even one pony, it’s over.”
You’re probably right. Any dragon could wield the element of greed. It could even be possible that his experiences will make wielding the element impossible.
“Then why? You could use any dragon to beat Twilight Sparkle.”
I don’t want to see her beaten. Discord chuckled softly. I want her broken.
“Good morning!” Crystal Ball sang, walking into the crusader’s clubhouse.
Scootaloo looked up tiredly and groaned before turning over under her blanket. “Go away, I actually get to sleep in today.”
“But it’s time to get up. Sweetie Belle and Applebloom will be here any minute.”
Scootaloo groaned again. Crystal Ball rolled her eyes and skipped over. With a flourish she whipped the worn blanket away.
“Hey!” Scootaloo scrambled to catch it but it slipped right through her hooves. With a glare she stood up and began rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “What’s wrong with you today?”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, you’re acting all normal and happy. It’s starting to creep me out.”
“I know, isn’t it just aweful? Discord’s been teaching me to make friends.” She shuddered. “Really, a couple zaps of mind control magic work so much better.”
“Uh... Right,” Scootaloo mumbled as she started folding her tattered rag of a blanket.
“So, how did it go last night?”
“I told Spike everything except for who you really are.” Scootaloo sat on her pillow, eyes threatening to tear up again. “I told him about what happened to my parents, and the Cloudsdale orphanage I ran away from after being bullied, and I told him Discord’s trying to help me. He promised he wouldn’t tell anypony. He told me not to trust you or Discord. He’s not just going to forget what happened, but at least now he feels bad enough for me that he won’t do anything to get me in trouble.”
“Excellent,” Crystal said, smiling brightly.
“No,” Scootaloo sighed. “It’s not excellent. I told him all of that stuff so he’d pity me. I... I manipulated him.”
Scootaloo stomped a hoof. “You might not care, but I do! It’s wrong.”
“But you’re only trying to help. Discord needs you, or he’ll never be free. Surely this little bit is worth helping him? I mean, he saved your life, didn’t he?”
“Well, yeah, I guess.” Scootaloo scowled again. “He saved me from your changelings.”
Crystal Ball waved a hoof. “Yes yes, but that’s all in the past now. The point is, you told Spike what you had to so you could help a friend.”
“I wouldn’t have had to tell him anything if you hadn’t talked to him first. What were you thinking?”
“Well, we had to approach the subject somehow. Better to do it now then when the elements are finished.”
Scootaloo blinked. “What? Wait, wait, are you saying Spike...” she trailed off.
“Discord chose Spike for the opposite of generosity. The Element of Greed, if I remember.”
“Woah, wait a second!” Scootaloo looked around the clubhouse and half-whispered, “Discord? Are you there?”
Discord answered with the sound of a drawn out yawn. What are you two fighting about so early?
“You said we had to use bad ponies for the elements. Spike isn’t bad. He isn’t even a pony!”
I said unpleasant, though I guess that doesn’t apply either. Look on the bright side, at least one of them will be fun to work with.
“That’s not the point!” Scootaloo shouted angrily. “You never said you’d drag my friends into this! And how do you think he’d feel if he found out? He’s head over tail for Rarity, and you want him to wield the completely opposite element? He’d be hurt, and mad at all of us.”
Well, he is a dragon, and they’re naturally greedy. Didn’t he try to steal your scooter?
“Well, yeah, but he’s better now.”
Scootaloo, he’s not better because he was never sick. He’s a dragon.
“But he’s more like a pony than a dragon anyway.”
You say that like it’s a good thing.
Scootaloo fidgeted her wings and replied nervously. “Isn’t it?”
Discord sighed. Scootaloo, I chose Spike because I wanted to help him. It’s great that he can live happily with ponies, and he’s got friends all around him, but all that comes at the cost of who he is. Being a dragon is as much a part of him as your wings are to you. Would you want to be “normal” if it meant you’d never learn to fly?
Scootaloo’s breath caught as she remembered a nightmare she’d had several times. She’d grown up without ever learning to fly, watching her classmates soar through the clouds every day. The mere memory made a roiling sea of panic rise in her chest.
You see what I mean? Spike needs to accept the things that make him a dragon, and learn to live with them. He’ll only get hurt if he ignores them and pretends to be a pony his entire life. I think I can help him, but only if he comes around.
Scootaloo dipped her head. “I guess.”
“Wonderful,” Crystal Ball said from the corner, reminding Scootaloo that she was there. “Now that’s settled, shouldn’t your friends be here by now?”
“Oh, they aren’t coming today. That’s why I was trying to sleep in. It’s the Sisterhooves Social today.” Scootaloo flopped back onto her pillow and reached for her bag. “It’s just you and me today.”
“I see,” Crystal Ball said. “Then I guess... wait, did you say Sisterhooves? Like, sister?”
“Yup,” Scootaloo replied, pulling out her latest Daring Do book and flipping it over. “They hold it over at Applebloom’s house every year.”
“And I take it they’re with their sisters? Rarity and Applejack?”
“Of course. Sweetie Belle and Applebloom would never let them miss it. Why? You don’t have any sisters, do you?”
Scootaloo waited for an answer, but none came. She dropped the book and looked around, but the clubhouse was empty. “Weirdo.”
Scootaloo slowly made her way into town just before noon. The cheering for the social could be heard clear across the orchard, and her mood had worsened with every passing minute.
She thought about going to the library, but the idea of seeing Spike made her stomach knot uncomfortably. Sugarcube Corner seemed like a good choice, but as soon as she turned the corner, she saw Mister Cake out front playing with Pumpkin and Pound.
She stomped by, purposefully looking away from the happy family.
After a few more minutes she ended up trotting through the park. It was beautiful this time of year. The grass was even and soft underhoof. Trees lined the paths, providing shade. Flowers grew in colorful bunches every few feet. Scootaloo took a deep breath and smiled, finally starting to relax.
She turned to see Pinkie Pie bouncing along the path, accompanied by two greyish ponies. “Hey, Pinkie Pie. Who are your friends?”
“These are my sisters. They don’t visit very often, but they visited today, which makes me so happy, and they didn’t know the Sisterhooves Social was today, which is funny because they visited and they’re my sisters, but we wouldn’t have entered anyway because it’s usually an older sister and a younger sister like Applejack and—”
“Pinkie,” one of her sisters interrupted her, “the filly you were talking to left.”
“I know that silly! She left after I said these are my sisters. Did you just now notice?”
“But you... Nevermind.”
Scootaloo stomped angrily down the street away from the park. It seemed like everywhere she turned there was somepony with their family. Wasn’t there anypony else in Ponyville without a sister?
As if in answer, somepony slammed into her at full speed.
“Ow,” Scootaloo moaned in a heap half a dozen feet from where she started.
“Sorry about that,” a familiar voice said. A hoof wrapped around her and pulled her up.
Scootaloo stood and stretched her wings. Everything seemed to be fine, so she turned to the pony that had crashed into her. “Hi Rainbow Dash. It’s fine.”
“Great,” Dash replied. “Lucky too, you’re just the pony I was looking for.”
“I am?” Scootaloo asked with a double take. Rainbow Dash had been looking for her? A smile slowly spread across her face.
“Yeah. You’re by yourself today, right?”
And the smile was gone. “Yeah. Stupid Sisterhooves Social.”
“I hear ya. I’ve been working on this awesome new trick, but Rarity and Applejack are both gone all day. Pinkie’s with her sisters, Twilight’s working on some report for the Princess, and Fluttershy is taking care of sick hamsters.”
“I’m sorry?” Scootaloo said, not sure what the problem was.
“Well, you can’t perfect a new trick without a cheering section,” Dash said as though it should be obvious.
“Of course not.”
“So what do you say?”
“Uh, what do I say to what?” Scootaloo asked.
Dash rolled her eyes. “Dense much? Do you want to hang out while I practice my new trick? Maybe I could show you a couple tricks I learned when I was your age.”
Scootaloo’s eyes lit up as she stood a bit straighter. “You want me to hang out with you? You want to show me some tricks?”
Dash shrugged. “Unless you have someplace else to be.”
“Are you kidding? I’d love to!” Scootaloo practically bounced in excitement, smiling from ear to ear.
“Great, come on,” Dash said, flapping her wings and smoothly taking to the sky.
And the smile was gone. Again.
It took Dash a few seconds to notice Scootaloo hadn’t followed. She doubled back and hovered over her. “Are you coming?”
“I remembered something else I had to do,” Scootaloo mumbled before turning and starting away. Dash watched for a few seconds and opened her mouth, but Scootaloo broke into a run before she could say anything.
“Huh, I wonder what that was about.” With a shrug, Rainbow Dash took off, resigned to practice her trick alone.
Scootaloo finally came to a stop just outside of Ponyville. She’d been fighting back tears the entire way, but they finally came. It was just like her nightmares, watching Dash fly away and not being able to follow. She just couldn’t bring herself to admit to her idol that she couldn’t fly. What would Dash think of her?
She rested her head on her forlegs as the tears rolled down her face. She hated crying. Bullies at the orphanage would always make fun of her for crying, but sometimes she just couldn’t stop herself. The best she could do is hide where nopony would see her.
She jumped in surprise when somepony lightly touched a hoof to her back. She tried to subtly wipe her tears before looking back.
Dash smiled at her awkwardly. “Uh, hey pipsqueak. You want to talk about it?”
Scootaloo struggled to find something to say before finally shaking her head.
“Okay,” Dash said, taking a few steps back. She looked back to town, hesitated, and then sat down.
Scootaloo buried her head in her hooves, too embarrassed to even leave.
The two of them sat awkwardly in silence for almost an hour before Scootaloo mumbled something Dash couldn’t quite make out.
“Uh, could you say that again?”
She looked up at her idol. “I... I can’t fly.” She winced, waiting for the inevitable gales of laughter.
“Oh,” Dash said, frown deepening. “Didn’t your parents ever teach you?” Scootaloo’s teared up again and she looked away. “Oh, right. Well, come on. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“I’ll admit, you’re a little behind, but with the fastest filly flier in all of Equestria as your teacher, you’ll catch up in no time.”
“With the... you mean...” Scootaloo pushed herself up and looked at Rainbow Dash, barely daring to believe what she’d heard.
Dash pulled Scootaloo into a one legged hug. “What were you expecting? Element of Loyalty, remember? I’d never leave a friend in need.”
Scootaloo returned the hug, leaning her head against Dash. “Thanks, Rainbow Dash.”
The streets of Canterlot buzzed with activity under the late morning sun. Canterlot Castle was alive with the business of the day. All but one pony cleaned, cooked, or went about their work in high spirits.
Princess Luna stirred in bed. It had been a long night, and even after almost two years back, she had much to learn about modern day Equestria. Exhausted, she had expected to fall asleep easily, but after tossing and turning for several hours she only slipped into an uneasy slumber.
Do you really believe anypony’s forgiven you?
The Princess of the Night turned, covering her body with a dark blue wing. Her starry mane spread across the pillows like a tangled web from her constant tossing.
Do you think anypony should forgive you after everything you’ve done?
Luna tucked her snout under a hoof and snuggled deeper into the bed as the nightmares started. Ponies chased her through the streets of Canterlot, shouting for her banishment.
It’s only a matter of time. They will come for you. They won’t let you steal their precious sun.
She stood against the angry crowd in her dream and shouted, “Ponies of Canterlot, we do not wish for eternal night any longer! We wish to live peacefully with our sister!”
Liar! You’re jealous of your sister. You’ve always been jealous of her!
“Tis not true! We love our sister!”
But does your sister love you? She left you on the moon for a thousand years after all. What kind of sister would do that?
She hesitated as the crowd in her dream pushed toward her.
She’ll do it again, as soon as you put one hoof out of line. As long as she has the Elements of Harmony on her side, there’s nothing you can do.
Spike, you know this can’t last.
The dragon tossed and turned, clutching at his blankets as he swam in nightmares of his own.
Oh, I’m sure your pony friends want you around now, while it’s convenient. You’re small. You’re useful, taking notes and sending letters. You’re Twilight’s number one assistant, but do you really mean anything more to her?
Will anypony want you around when you’re too big to fit in the library? How will you live with the ponies when you can’t even come into town?
Dragons and ponies can’t live together in harmony.
“Who’s there?” The Great and Powerful Trixie asked, head snapping up at the sound of somepony breathing.
Just somepony who wants to help.
“Are you the one who’s been speaking to Trixie the past few weeks?”
I’ve been trying, but you never seem to answer.
The powder blue unicorn dipped her head and mumbled, “I was starting to think I’d gone crazy.” She raised her voice and said, “The Great and Powerful Trixie wishes to know what you want with her.”
I want your help casting a spell.
“And what is in it for Trixie?”
I will help you get back at Twilight Sparkle.
“What makes you think I need help?”
You haven’t spoken to Dash in months. Neither of you will apologize. I am a spirit with quite a bit of experience in these matters, but if you’d rather leave her be, I’ll just be going.
“Well wait a second,” the griffon said, missing a beat of her wings and dropping several feet.
“Do you really mean it?” the filly asked, a smug grin on her face.
The answer is plain as day. What else could a tiara for a cutie mark mean? The words roll off the tongue, Princess Diamond Tiara.
Diamond Tiara’s eyes lit up at the sound of it. “That does sound good, but how would I be a princess? Don’t you have to be, like, related to Princess Celestia?”
Just leave that to me. Do as I say, and everypony will know your name by the end of the month.
“But what do you need Trixie for?”
Well I thought The Great and Powerful Trixie was the most magical unicorn in Equestria.
“Of course she is. The Great and Powerful Trixie singlehoofedly defeated at least half the monsters now locked away in Tartarus. So what task could possibly be worth her valuable time?”
I’ll get right to the point. I’m gathering six ponies to represent the opposites of the elements of Harmony.
Trixie faltered, her confident smirk slipping for a moment. “That’s...” She trailed off.
Of course, you know Twilight Sparkle is the element of magic. Most ponies believe she’s the most powerful unicorn in Equestria. But we know better. So why shouldn’t The Great and Powerful Trixie represent the new Element of Power.
“Element of Power? Trixie does like the sound of that.” She paused again before asking, “How is power the opposite of magic?”
Twilight Sparkle only beat Nightmare Moon with the help of her friends. She represents the magic of friendship. Discord put a sarcastic emphasis on the last three words. The Great and Powerful Trixie doesn’t need anypony else. Your power alone is enough to accomplish great things.
“Of course, Trixie doesn’t need anypony else but herself. Now, why don’t you tell Trixie more of your plan.”
“So you want me because I’m the opposite of Pinkie Pie? Guess I can’t argue with you there, I’ve got ten times as much cool as her.”
Of course you do. That’s why I need you.
“But, isn’t Dash one of the elements too?”
She is, along with Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. This could be your chance to show her who the real losers are.
“What exactly do I have to do?”
Come to Canterlot when I ask you to. Wear a necklace, stand in a circle with some other ponies. That’s about it.
“I’ll have to ask my parents. I can’t just run off to Canterlot.”
What kind of princess has to ask permission to do something?
“But I’m not a princess yet.”
No, but you should start acting like one. You want to be ready, don’t you?
“Well, yes. But-”
Just trust me on this one, and you’ll be on your way to princesshood in no time. You just need some faith.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie will accept your deal. She would like to know one thing though, who are you?”
Oh, it’s not important. Just somepony Twilight Sparkle humiliated, like you.
“So you were run out of town by those losers too? But how are you talking to me?”
Oh, a simple spell. I’m stuck here in Canterlot, otherwise I’d talk to you face to face.
The griffon shrugged and adjusted her wings slightly. “Fine, you help me with Dash and I’ll think about helping out with your lame spell.”
Rainbow Dash stared at the paper as the minutes slipped by. She sat quietly in a corner as Spike went about readying the library to close.
A mug touched down on the table in front of her, interrupting her thoughts. She glanced up to see Twilight smiling kindly. “Dash, are you sure you don’t want to tell me what’s bothering you.”
Dash shook her head and gave Twilight a forced grin. “It’s nothing, really.”
“I don’t know. You seem a little worried.”
“Psh,” Dash scoffed, “I’m Rainbow Dash, bravest pony in Equestria. What would I be worried about?”
Twilight just stared, eyebrows raised skeptically, until the smile slipped from Dash’s face.
“Okay, maybe I’m a little worried. I’m not good with stuff like this.”
“Stuff like what?”
“It’s just some stuff I heard from Applejack and Rarity. Probably nothing.”
Twilight gave a frustrated sigh. Getting a straight answer from her pegasus friend was harder than herding parasprites. “Well, you know I’ll help if it does turn out to be something.”
Dash nodded and grabbed the quill between her teeth. Twilight watched her scratch out a quick note and roll it up. “So you’re sure they’ll get it?”
“Of course,” Twilight said, lifting the rolled letter gently with her magic. “Spike, could you come here?”
Spike took a moment to answer, “Sure.”
“We have a letter for you to send.”
“Another friendship letter for the princess?”
“No,” Twilight said. “It’s actually not to the princess. It’s going to Cloudsdale.”
“Oh. Uh, I don’t know Twilight. I don’t have much practice sending letters to anypony but Princess Celestia.”
“I have complete faith in you, my number one assistant.”
Spike almost smiled at the compliment, but it was gone a moment later. He reached for the letter. “Alright, where to then?”
Twilight looked at Dash for the answer. Rainbow looked almost sick with nerves as she answered, “Saint Mare-ies Orphanage, 1600 Cumulus Drive, Cloudsdale.”
Luna stood outside her sister’s bedroom doors, pawing nervously at the ground with a hoof. “Tia, you sent for me?” she called, using a more familiar tone for her own family.
“Yes, come in,” Celestia’s regal voice came from the other side. Luna nudged the doors open and slipped inside. “Good morning, Luna.”
“Good morning. What did you wish to see me about?” Celestia’s room was darker than usual. All of the windows were blocked with heavy drapes. Celestia stood behind an old wooden desk, a grim frown on her face.
“I wanted to talk to you about Nightmare Night.”
Luna blinked in surprise. Nightmare Night? That had been months ago. Or maybe she wanted to prepare for next year. Still, it was much too early for that. “Oh?”
“I received complaints from many ponies about your actions. They said you flew around town terrorizing their children.”
“What? No, the citizens of Ponyville loved me. Why would they say such things?”
“They also claimed that you took the form of Nightmare Moon.”
“They complained about that? B-but the loved me! I only did it because they wished to be scared. Why would they do this to me?”
“So you were terrorizing them?”
“No! They wished for it. They...” Luna trailed off as Celestia slid a drawer open in her desk. Her horn glowed with a golden light and five necklaces floated into the air, followed by a jeweled tiara.
“Tia, what are you doing with the Elements of Harmony?” Luna asked, the first notes of panic creeping into her voice.
Celestia smiled at her, a mad glint in her eye. “I’m sorry Nightmare Moon. We can’t take any risks.”
“Sister, what are you saying?” Luna fell back in fear as the elements blazed with a blinding rainbow colored flash. Luna ducked her head as a deafening boom shook the mountain to its very core. The light converged into a beam and shot toward the younger princess.
Luna jerked awake and tipped precariously over the side of her bed. She flailed in vain as the bedding slipped and she fell heavily to the ground.
A few minutes passed as she caught her breath on the cold hardwood. “Just a dream,” she finally murmured. “Of course it was. Celestia wouldn’t do that to me.
Ponies screamed in terror as Spike tiptoed through downtown Ponyville. As carefully as he moved, at least one innocent vegetable cart splintered beneath his massive foot.
“Spike!” He looked down to see Twilight. She seemed like nothing more than a purple smudge on the road. He crouched down for a better view.
“Spike, what are you doing here?” Twilight’s voice, normally a soothing melody, was now strained with angry shouting.
Spike frowned. It should have been obvious. He came to see his friends.
“Spike, we told you already, you can’t come to Ponyville. You cause too much trouble.”
Spike frowned, looking at the trail of destruction he’d left during his afternoon stroll.
“Is that my Spikey Wikey?” He turned in the direction of the new voice. Rarity waved as she walked toward him. At least somepony was happy to see him.
“Oh Spike, it’s been much too long. We simply must catch up.” Rarity waved behind her and a white colt joined her out on the street. “Let me introduce you to my husband.”
Spike drew back in shock, tail driving through somepony’s front door.
“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to the wedding, but we didn’t want the chapel destroyed. You understand, right?”
“Spike!” Twilight called up to him angrily. “You need to go now. You’re causing too much trouble.”
“What’s the big idea?” Pinkie Pie’s voice shouted behind him. He turned so see her looking out the window of the house he’d just damaged.
“Hey, move it!” Rainbow Dash shouted into his ear. “You’re blocking a major weather route.”
“Spike!” Twilight called again.
“Spike!” Pinkie Pie shouted.
“Spike, wake up!” Spike gasped and bolted upright.
“Gah!” Twilight stumbled backwards and tripped over a stray book, landing in the middle of the bedroom flat on her rump. She took a second to compose herself. “Good, you’re awake. I have to go into town today, and there’s a couple of chores I’d like you to do for me.”
“Thanks. First, I... wait, what?”
Spike jumped up and turned toward the door without another word.
He didn’t answer as he descended the stairs and made for the front door.
“Are you sure about this?” Gilda whispered under her breath as she walked toward Ponyville’s park. Her tail twitched nervously under the hostile stares being thrown in her direction. Apparently the ponies hadn’t forgotten her last visit.
Of course. You’re never going patch things up with Rainbow Dash if you don’t even talk to her.
“No, not that. That.” She tilted her head toward the orange filly walking beside her.
“It’s so cool you and Rainbow Dash went to flight camp together!” Scootaloo chatted happily. “I didn’t even know they let griffons into pony flight camps. Were there any other griffons?”
“No, just me,” Gilda answered with exaggerated frustration. The hint went unnoticed by Scootaloo, who kept up her constant stream of dialogue.
Rainbow Dash is teaching her to fly. Walking with her gives you a chance to talk.
“Look, there she is,” Scootaloo said, pointing to a familiar blue blur flying laps around the park.
“Great,” Gilda sighed. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
As the drew closer, Dash banked and touched down a few dozen yards ahead of them. She watched them approach, eyes narrowed at Gilda suspiciously.
“Hey Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo chirped.
“Hey, Dash,” Gilda said.
“Hey Pipsqueak,” Dash answered. “How about you start today with two laps around the pond to warm up.”
“Okay!” Scootaloo nodded eagerly and started down the small hoofpath toward the east side of the park. After she was past Dash, she glanced back briefly and mouthed “Good luck” to Gilda.
“Remember to stretch first. Your wing muscles aren’t used to constant work.”
“Okay.” Scootaloo couldn’t help but smile as she reached the shore and spread her wings, running them through a series of simple stretches Dash had taught her. “Do you think it’ll work?”
That’s up to them, Discord said.
“I’m glad we get to help them. When you told me about the elements, I thought we’d have to find a bunch of really bad ponies and do all kinds of dangerous things.”
Yes, it feels good to help two ponies patch up an old friendship, doesn’t it?
“Who are you talking too?”
Scootaloo froze mid-stretch.
“Probably her imaginary friend, since she doesn’t have any real ones.” The familiar voices laughed together.
Scootaloo turned to them. “Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon. What are you doing out here? I thought witches hated the sun.”
“Psh, how long have you been waiting to use that one, Blank Flank?” Diamond Tiara asked.
Scootaloo rolled her eyes and went back to stretching.
“So what are you doing?” Silver Spoon asked.
“Warming up for my flying lessons with Rainbow Dash.” Scootaloo allowed herself a smug smile. “Yeah, the fastest pegasus in Equestria is teaching me to fly.”
She waited for their smiles to falter, being replaced with looks of shock and envy. Instead, they broke into laughter again.
“Wait, really?” Diamond Tiara sneered. “Flying lessons? Aren’t you too old for something like that?”
“Well, different ponies learn at different speeds,” Scootaloo said defensively.
“So you’re slow and a blank flank.”
“What? No, I’m not slow. I just haven’t learned yet.”
Diamond Tiara laughed again. “Come on Silver Spoon, we wouldn’t want to interrupt her lessons. Maybe she’ll get it by the time we graduate.”
Scootaloo’s wings drooped as she watched them go.
Oh, don’t listen to them, Scootaloo. It isn’t your fault. They couldn’t make it through half of what you have.
“Yeah... I guess you’re right.” Done with her stretches, Scootaloo took a deep breath and started flapping her wings in a steady rhythm, just like Dash taught her.
“What are you doing here, G?” Dash asked curtly.
“What? It’s a free country. Can’t a griffon take a walk through the park?”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s all you were doing,” Dash spat back. “Seriously, what are you doing back in Ponyville? Haven’t you caused enough trouble already?”
Gilda clenched her beak, talons digging into the grass. “Fine. You want me gone, I’m gone.”
“Fine,” Dash snapped.
Dash spun away and stomped down the path toward the pond.
“Well that was a bust,” Gilda half growled.
Now, now. Don’t give up just yet. I have one last trick up my sleeve.
Yes. It’s a very complicated and dangerous plan, but it just might work.
“Well, what is it?”
Walk up to her and apologize. You called her lame the last time you met, remember? You insulted her and all of her friends.
“Hey, her friends deserved it. I’ve never met a bigger bunch of lame-Os in my life.”
That’s beside the point. You can deal with her bad taste in friends later, but only if you keep her from walking away.
Gilda tore two long furrows into the grass in frustration and ran after her friend. “Dash, wait up.”
Rainbow stomped a hoof and came to a stop, not bothering to turn back. “What do you want?”
“Look, I...” Gilda faltered.
Oh, work with me here! Two words, three syllables.
Dash’s ears perked up in surprise. “What?”
“I’m sorry. I said some pretty uncool things the last time I was here, and I shouldn’t have.”
Dash turned toward her, face awash with confusion, and maybe a touch of happiness. “Really?”
“Oh. Wow, G, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you apologize to anypony.”
“Yeah, well don’t get used to it,” Gilda said, turning her head down in embarrassment.
A faint smile touched the corners of Dash’s mouth. “Look, I’ve got this lesson, but maybe we can meet up for lunch tomorrow?”
“Uh, yeah. Sounds good.”
“Alright. Well, I guess I’ll catch you later, G.”
Gilda watched her friend fly off, her own face threatening to break into a smile.
You know, I’m not usually the type to say I told you so, but I told you so.
“Yeah, yeah. So, I guess I have to help you with your lame spell. When are we doing it?”
If everything goes well, tomorrow, in Canterlot at sunrise.
Gilda nodded and then took off. A short flight later she landed near the lake beside Dash and Scootaloo. “Uh, hey guys.”
“Hi Gilda,” Scootaloo chirped.
“Hey,” Dash said curiously.
“I didn’t mean to butt in, but I noticed the pipsqueak ducking her head when she starts picking up speed.”
“Really?” Dash asked.
“Yeah. I wasn’t sure if you’d notice up close.”
“Is that bad?” Scootaloo asked, face falling at the criticism.
“It makes a curve that traps air and increases drag,” Rainbow answered. “But don’t worry, it’s easy to correct if you know to watch out for it. Nice catch G.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Gilda spread her wings to take off. “I’ll catch you later.”
“Actually, do you want to stick around?” Dash asked.
Gilda did smile that time. “Eh, I guess I could spare a few minutes. Celestia help anypony you teach by yourself.”
“Oh really? You didn’t seem to mind when I tutored you through flight camp,” Dash teased.
“Oh whatever. I totally could have aced those tests on my own.
The two friends broke into laughter. After a few moments Dash caught her breath and turned her attention back to her student, an indomitable smile on her face.
“Are you a complete moron, Discord?” Chrysalis hissed, pacing back and forth inside Carousel Boutique.
Oh Chrysie, no need for name calling.
“All the work you’ve put into finding these ponies, and you ruin it!” The changeling queen bucked out with a hind leg in fury, knocking a mannequin to the floor.
Oh don’t be so dramatic. Nothing’s ruined.
“You took our Element of Anger and helped her patch things over with her best friend. You said yourself they’re still joking and laughing in the park with the Scootaloo. We might as well use the annoying pink one at this point.”
You’ve clearly never seen Pinkie Pie angry. It’s shocking how quickly that one pony can go from one extreme to the other.
Sorry. Look, a few hours of happiness isn’t going to change her. She’s still plenty angry with everything else in Equestria, if we can win her support with this, it’s more than worth it.
“It still seems like an unnecessary risk. Couldn’t you have promised to help her after we free you?”
Our elements are a huge advantage. I don’t want to give it up after only one spell. It’s better to give them what they want now.
Chrysalis finally stopped pacing. “Fine. But what of Scootaloo? She was the first to help you, but that isn’t enough. She’ll have to willingly put on the Element of Betrayal to free you.”
Yes, I’ve been aware of that since the beginning, but thank you for pointing it out yet again.
“Hmph, I was simply saying I don’t think she’s ready to go that far. The others don’t need to know what they’re doing, or even what element they represent, but betrayal implies knowledge of your actions.”
Just leave that to me. Scootaloo will accept her place as the Element of Betrayal without any problems.
Chrysalis let out a hard sigh, but slowly nodded her head in agreement.. “Then let’s get started.” She stepped up to a table with 6 differently colored gemstones, each “borrowed” from Rarity’s own supplies.
Are you sure you have enough power?
“Yes, the white filly’s love for her sister is quite strong, and I’ve been going out to feed on others every day. I might not be able to overpower the Elements of Harmony, but if your spell works, countering them should not be impossible.”
Scootaloo strolled through Ponyville after her flying lessons, muscles aching and a bright smile on her face. The weather ponies had outdone themselves today: a perfect balance between cheery sunshine and fluffy white clouds offering shade to the ponies below.
“Huh? Oh, hi Spike,” she said as the dragon caught up to her. “Uh, you don’t look so good.”
Spike had faint circles under his eyes and his green spines seemed faded with a light grey tint. He waved his hand dismissively. “I’ve just been thinking a lot.”
Scootaloo winced as she remembered the last time they’d spoken. “You’re here to try and talk some sense into me again? Convince me that Discord is really evil?”
“Well, not exactly.”
Scootaloo stopped in her tracks, looking skeptically at Spike.
“I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days. So much that I’ve been having dreams about it. Even if I act like a pony and never go all crazy with greed again, I’m going to grow up eventually. In a couple of years, I won’t be able to get through the library door. I’ve met other dragons and didn’t like them, but I’m not always going to be able to fit in with ponies.”
Scootaloo, filled with sympathy, reached out and pulled the little dragon into a hug. “I’m sorry Spike, I never really thought of it like that.”
“Yeah. Neither did I. I just don’t know what to do. I want to take Discord up on his offer. He told me he could help if I helped free him. But I know if I did that everypony else would be in trouble. I mean, what if he beat Celestia and took over?”
Scootaloo pulled back and gave Spike a playful swat on the back of the head.
“Ah, hey! What was that for?”
“Spike, do you really think I’d help Discord if he was going to take over Equestria?” Scootaloo laughed and started walking again.
“What do you mean?” Spike asked as he followed.
“Discord doesn’t want to face the Elements of Harmony. He’ll just end up trapped in stone again. Once he repays everypony that helped him, he’s leaving Equestria.”
“Really? Do you actually believe him?” Spike stared at his claws thoughtfully. If Scootaloo was right, it would make everything so much easier. But Discord could be lying.
“Of course. He’s already been turned to stone twice. Would you want to risk a third time?”
“I guess not.”
It would solve everything, Discord whispered slowly and softly, a near silent hiss indistinguishable from Spike’s own thoughts.. If he just dissapeared, nopony would have to worry about him.
Spike slowed to a stop as he thought about it. With Discord’s help, I could have everything that I want. He could help me with Rarity. He could help me stay in Ponyville. And then he would leave. It’s a win-win for me.
Scootaloo distracted herself with a nearby flower, giving Spike time to think. Facing away from him, she didn’t see his spines grow a slightly paler shade of grey. “Okay, Scootaloo. If you’re sure he’s just going to leave, I’ll help.”
Five down, one to go, Discord thought to himself.
Rainbow Dash split from Gilda shortly after noon, having her duties as a weather-pony to attend to. As she walked toward town hall, somepony called her name.
“Rainbow!” Dash glanced up to see Twilight trotting toward her, a scroll hanging in the air by her side. “Glad I finally found you.”
“Hey Twilight. Got a couple jobs to do. Mind if we walk while we talk?” Twilight nodded and matched Rainbow’s pace. “Is that it?”
“Yeah, the response from the orphanage.” She floated it over and Dash took it. “I can’t tell you how tempting it was to take a peek.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Like I said, it’s probably nothing.” She unfurled the scroll. “I’m sure it is, and then I can tell you and we’ll just laugh at...”
Twilight turned as he friend trailed off. “Rainbow?”
This is bad, Discord whispered.
“Uh, Rainbow Dash? What’s wrong?”
Oh Celestia, this is worse that I thought. I have to go. I...
“I have to go to Cloudsdale.”
“What?” Twilight asked. “Now? But what about your jobs?”
“Those can wait, this is important.” Without another word Dash shot into the sky, leaving nothing but a rainbow trail and a very confused unicorn.
Rarity’s horn glowed with a faint blue aura as she held it against the basement door. She breathed a slow measured pace as the spell built up. After several long minutes, the magic welled up, flowing through her horn and into the door.
A surge of green fire erupted at the tip of her horn. She gasped as the magic coursed through her, lifting her up and flinging her back. The force slammed her into the far wall and she collapsed into a heap with a small whimper.
“My hair!” She cried, running her hooves through her singed and smoking mane. “Oh that changeling is going to get it when I get out of here.” A moment later she sighed and dropped her head to the cool floor. “If I get out of here.”
She shifted slightly to lay on her back and stared at the ceiling wistfully. “Oh this is just terrible, just awful. Captured and fed sandwiches for a week, and now this? This is the! Worst! Possible! Huh, what’s that?” Rarity rolled to her hooves and looked up. A single square of ceiling panel that was lighter than the rest caught her eye.
Carousel Boutique’s basement had been built years after the building’s completion, and plumbers sometimes had to come down to the basement to access a small space between the basement and first floor for maintenance. Rarity smiled and spun toward her fabric racks, horn glowing.
Minutes later, Rarity balanced precariously atop the pile of boxes and shelves, reaching for the square panel. With a yank, it came off, revealing a two foot wide opening.
“Ah ha! Take that you ugly, no good changeling queen! I... eww, it’s so dirty!” Rarity pulled a grime-smudged hoof back. The pile wavered and she caught the opening for balance.
“Alright! If I must, for my friends... for Sweetie Belle.” With eyes screwed shut, Rarity hoisted herself into the opening.
“Well, wonders never cease. She’s gone,” Chrysalis said, standing in the empty basement.
Oh, you know I hate to say I told you so, but—
“Say it and I will personally tell Celestia of your plans.”
Alright, alright. Everything’s going perfectly. I’ll be free by sunrise.
“How are things going with Scootaloo?”
She’ll be ready to accept the element of betrayal in a few hours. All we have to do is sit back and watch.
Chrysalis tilted her head. “You sound rather smug. What have you done?”
Oh, not much. I just thought it time that somepony help the poor homeless filly.
Scootaloo curled under her blanket shortly after sunset, still smiling from the day’s activities. Not only had she helped her hero and mentor fix things with an old friend, she’d also gotten to understand Spike a little better and was sure Discord could help him too.
“So how many elements do we have left? Two?”
One. I’ve been talking to another pony. Our Element of Cruelty.
Scootaloo shuddered. Finding Fluttershy’s opposite scared her more than anything. What special kind of evil would make up the Element of Cruelty?
I believe you know Diamond Tiara.
“Yeah, she’s in my class. Wait, you don’t mean her!” Scootaloo burst into laughter, shaking her head. “Diamond Tiara is going to be the Element of Cruelty? Really?”
Is that a problem?
“No way, she’s the meanest pony I’ve ever seen. I guess I was just expecting something more, like a fire breathing monster from the Everfree Forest. Diamond Tiara is just a regular pony.”
Well yes, that’s what we’re looking for. Regular ponies with these special traits.
“Yeah, okay. Hey, does this mean I’m actually going to have to talk to her?” Scootaloo shuddered at the thought of spending more than thirty seconds with the whiny, prissy rich girl
It won’t take very long, I’m sure you can just ignore her for the few minutes. By the way, I think somepony’s coming.
It took a moment for Discord’s words to register. When she did understand, Scootaloo kicked her blanket away and rushed for the window.
A figure was walking through the trees straight for the clubhouse. Scootaloo could just make out a messy rainbow mane in the moonlight shining through the branches.
“What is Rainbow Dash doing here?” She turned and quickly kicked her bedding into a corner before turning back to the room. She trotted in place nervously when she realized no hiding place would stand up to more than a moment’s searching. “A little help Discord? I can’t let her find me here.”
I think it’s a little late for that.
A few seconds later a knock came at the door. “Hey, Scootaloo! You in there?”
Scootaloo froze halfway under the table. It wasn’t a coincidence Dash had come. She knew Scootaloo was there. Before she could think through it, the door opened.
“I thought you might be here,” Dash said, walking in.
“Oh, hey Dash,” Scootaloo said, stepping out from under the table. “I was just, uh, having a Cutie Mark Crusader slumber party.”
Dash arched an eyebrow suspiciously. “By yourself?”
“Well, Sweetie Belle and Applebloom were supposed to come too, but they weren’t allowed to.”
Dash sighed. “Save it, I already know.” She sat down and patted the ground next to her.
A cold weight settled in the pit of Scootaloo’s stomach as she walked to Dash slowly and sat. “You do?”
Dash nodded. “I started getting suspicious when Applejack and Rarity mentioned their sisters never went to your house, and they’d never met or seen your parents. I asked Pinkie Pie, and she’d never met them either, and she knows everypony in Ponyville.”
Scootaloo’s head drooped defeatedly as Dash talked.
“I wasn’t sure if I should bring it up, a lot of ponies are touchy about their families, and I could always be wrong. You were going to school in Ponyville after all, and we don’t have—” Dash seemed hesitant to say the word, “uh, we don’t have an orphanage here. After a few flying lessons with you, I wanted to know for certain, just in case there was something I could do to make things easier on you. So I sent a letter to Saint Mare-ies.” Dash flinched as Scootaloo leapt to her hooves.
“You did what?” Scootaloo screamed.
“Whoa, Scootaloo, calm down. I’m just trying to help.”
“Who said I wanted help! I can take care of myself!”
Dash scowled and raised her voice to match Scootaloo’s, “You’re living in a tree house! That sure doesn’t sound like taking care of yourself.”
Scootaloo drew back, eyes tearing up. They both stood like that for a second, breathing slowly. Finally Dash sat back down. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be yelling.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry too.”
“I just really wasn’t expecting all of this. I wrote to them asking if you were living there, and they wrote back telling me you’d run away more than a year ago.” She shook her head sadly. “Have you really been living out here for a full year?”
“No, only since Applejack showed us the clubhouse.”
“Oh. Then before that?”
Scootaloo just looked away, wiping back tears in a fruitless attempt to keep her crying hidden from her idol.
“What were you thinking?”
Scootaloo couldn’t answer. Instead she just focused on the floor ahead of her, holding back more tears. Dash didn’t understand how bad the orphanage was. She’d just recently lost her parents in a weather accident. As one of the youngest, smallest foals in a completely new place, she’d been a favorite target of bullies. The workers didn’t seem to care about any of them. She’d spent six months there, and couldn’t remember a single moment of happiness. It was just the same sluggish routine day after day, devoid of love or friendship.
Finally she just couldn’t take it anymore. She’d run away from Cloudsdale. A month after coming to ponyville, she’d met Sweetie Belle and Applebloom. They were the first ponies to actually care for her since losing her parents.
“Look, I’m not good at stuff like this, and I’m sure there’s plenty I’m not thinking of, but the most important thing right now is getting you out of here. At least to some place with showers and a real bed.” She gave Scootaloo her kindest, warmest smile she could muster. “So, let’s go back to my place.”
Scootaloo’s heart skipped a beat. Was Dash really saying that? She barely dared to believe it. “B-back to your place?”
Dash nodded. “I went to the orphanage after getting their letter, and they agreed it was for the best. Matron Sun Sparkle agreed to pick you up in the morning.”
Scootaloo froze, smile fixed in place. Dash didn’t seem to notice as she turned and trotted out the door. “Does pizza sound good for dinner? I’m not much of a cook.”
“I misheard her, right?” she whispered.
I’m sorry, but no.
“Then maybe she meant the Matron’s picking me up so I can get my stuff from the orphanage?”
I’m sorry Scootaloo, but it sounds like she’s sending you back.
Scootaloo staggered and sank down to her haunches. “No. I can’t go. I have friends here. Ponies actually care about me. If they send me back, I’ll have to go to school in Cloudsdale. I’ll never see Applebloom or Sweetie Belle.”
Oh, but surely the orphanage wasn’t that bad.
“It was! I can’t go back there!”
How could she do this to me? Discord said, again whispering so subtly that his target couldn’t tell the difference between her thoughts and his.
The tears Scootaloo had been fighting all night finally fell at the thought. How could Dash do this? It wasn’t any of her business. Life may have been hard, but Scootaloo was happy with her friends. She was loved here in Ponyville.
What gives her the right to take that away?
Scootaloo surged to her hooves and charged toward the door.
“Scootaloo? You coming?” Dash stepped back in just to be bowled over as Scootaloo shot out into the dark night.
“Ah! What the... Scootaloo? Scootaloo, wait!” Dash jumped off the porch and took to the air in pursuit. It only took her a few seconds to find the orange filly running through the trees below. “Scootaloo! What the hay has gotten into you?”
Scootaloo didn’t answer.
“Fine, we’ll do this the hard way, you crazy filly,” Dash muttered. She yanked her wings in, tilting into a dive between two branches. She pulled up a few feet from the ground, put on a burst of speed and...
Dash rolled to a stop, tightly clinging to the bright orange balloon.
“Wait, what?” Dash stared uncomprehendingly at the pony shaped balloon in her hooves. Suddenly, a deep chuckle sent chills sweeping down her spine.
Oh, my little pony, this really has been too much fun.
Dash’s breath caught in her chest and she threw the balloon away. “D-Discord!”
Hello again Rainbow Dash.
“Where are you?” Dash demanded. She turned in circles and her gaze fell on the balloon animal once again. “Where’s Scootaloo?”
Oh, I can’t tell you, that would be cheating.
“Why did you help her get away?”
It’s what friends do for each other, isn’t it?
Oh yes, Scootaloo and I have become the best of friends these past few months. So good in fact, that she’s going to free me from my stone prison. Isn’t that wonderful?
That’s so rude, Rainbow Dash, but I’ll let it slide after how much help you’ve been.
“What do you mean?”
You were just so easy to push in the right direction, and you’re completely clueless. You never once stopped to wonder if Scootaloo wanted to go back.
Oh sure, it makes sense. Hot meals, a place to sleep and shower, older ponies to keep her safe. You had her best intentions at heart, but you never once asked yourself if she would see it that way.
Dash glared into the darkness, hooves angrily digging into the dirt. “And how does that help you?”
You’ve finally pushed her over the edge. Her own personal hero betrayed her and wanted to send her back to the most miserable days of her life. Remember, when she does help free me from my prison, it will be entirely your fault.
“You’re as dumb as ever Discord. Now that you told me, all we have to do is go to Canterlot and get the Elements of Harmony. We'll stop you and keep Scootaloo from doing anything she'll regret.”
Oh, how could I miss such a huge flaw in my plan? I am surely doomed now, for you have outwitted me once again.
Dash glanced once in the direction she’d thought Scootaloo had gone before turning back to Ponyville.
Twilight sat on a couch beside the fire, ready to curl up with a nice book and a hot cup of tea. She still didn’t know what was wrong with Rainbow Dash or why Spike had snapped at her, but those problems would work themselves out in time. For now, she was relaxed, and everything was calm.
She winced at the thought, hoping in vain that the world wouldn’t take it as an invitation. A moment passed, everything was still, and she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Twilight!” Her door burst open as Rarity called her name frantically.
“Of course.” She dropped her book and turned to greet the unicorn. Twilight gasped as she took in Rarity’s appearance. Her pristine white coat had been smeared with dirt and grime. Her usually beautiful mane was tangled and uneven. “Rarity, what happened to you?”
“Oh, it was just awful,” Rarity said, eyes swimming with tears as she drew closer. She stopped halfway across the room and blinked. “Wait. First, uh, how did we get across the river to get the Elements of Harmony?”
“Just answer the question! On our way through Everfree Forest, how did we get past the river?”
“You cut off your tail and used it to fix the sea serpent's mustache. Rarity, what’s this all about?”
“Oh thank Celestia, it’s really you! Twilight, the changeling queen is in Ponyville!”
“What? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure! She dragged me out of bed in the middle of night and locked me in my own basement for a week. Oh Twilight, she has something planned, and we have to stop her!”
“Okay, let’s just stay calm,” Twilight said, moving toward her desk and magicking a paper and quill in front of her. “We’ll send a letter to Princess Celestia right away. Spike!” She scratched out a quick note and turned toward the stairs. “Spike!” After a few moments she mumbled to herself, “Is he not back yet?”
“Twilight, you don’t think the queen captured him too, do you?”
Twilight bit her lower lip, eyes cast down. “I think he’s just mad at me for something. Alright, let’s go look for him. We’ll get the girls too, and if we have to, we can take the first train to Canterlot in the morning.”
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.”
The group stood in a silent circle around Discord's statue. Scootaloo looked at each in turn, thinking they weren't nearly as intimidating as she'd thought. Gilda could be a little scary when she lost her temper, but Spike at least was a friend, and the other three were just annoying.
Five of them had been given a necklace to wear while the sixth, Trixie, had been given a tiara. Unlike the Elements of Harmony, they were cut like normal gems, each a different size and color. Scootaloo’s was a small circular emerald. She noticed Spike holding his own ruby, staring at it hungrily.
"Now then," Crystal Ball whispered, "the guards shouldn't be back for a while, but we still need to hurry."
"Where are the guards?" Spike asked. As far as Scootaloo knew, he wasn't aware of Crystal Ball's real identity, but he still mistrusted her.
"Inside the castle. I made them believe Celestia had come to guard the statue herself," she answered with an irritated glance at Spike. "Now, as I was saying, we should hurry before anypony sees us. Trixie—"
"The Great and Powerful—"
"Interrupt me again and The Great and Powerful Trixie will be eating her own hat. Understood?" Crystal Ball hissed. Trixie stepped back fearfully, nodding weakly. "Trixie is our sixth element. The spell is set up so that she activates the rest. When they light up, don't fight them, just let the magic take its course." She nodded at Trixie to begin.
The Great and Powerful Trixie bowed her head as her horn began to glow. A moment later the gem on her tiara began glowing, and Scootaloo felt a tingle run across her coat as her own gem reacted.
A wave of emotion washed over her and she ducked her head as the light flared brighter. She saw Rainbow Dash in her mind, looking down at her with a smug smile. A second passed and their positions were reversed with Scootaloo looking down at a hurt and confused Dash.
The light flew up from her necklace, meeting with the power of the other elements, each a dark, grey tinted color of the rainbow. The light writhed and twisted high in the air for a long moment before coming down on top of Discord's statue.
Scootaloo fell back as a wall of noise coursed through her, shaking her to the bone. She rolled, covering her eyes as the power kicked up a cloud of dust. After several confused seconds, the light and noise drew back into the center of the circle, leaving her to lie on the ground, head spinning and ears ringing.
She twisted to look back at the others. Standing between them on a pile of broken stone was Discord.
Minutes later, Discord was sitting in the darkest corner of Canterlot castle. Almost everypony was on the train back to Ponyville. Chrysalis had her own job to do, and Scootaloo...
“You can count on us princess. I promise, we won’t let Discord get free!”
“If that’s not the perfect cue,” Discord said, “nothing is.” He smiled as everypony turned to him in shock. Three, two, one...
"Discord!" Celestia shouted, horn humming dangerously with golden power.
"Celestia, oh how wonderful to see you again," Discord gushed, flying closer to the small group with a warm smile. "How have you been this past year?"
"Discord, what have you done with the elements?" she demanded.
"The elements? Oh, I haven't done anything with them. I mean really, the same plan twice in a row? Do I seem so boring?" Discord rolled his eyes.
"Yeah right, hand 'em over!" Rainbow Dash bent low and pawed at the ground, ready to charge the draconequus.
"I really didn't take them. Promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly," Discord fluttered his arms for a moment before pulling a cupcake out of nowhere, "stick a cupcake in my eye."
"Well, I guess that's settled then," Pinkie Pie said with a satisfied nod.
"Pinkie!" Five voices shouted in unison.
Discord laughed and snapped his fingers. With a flash, he was at the head of the room. "I will tell you though, the one who took the elements is one of your dear and trusted friends."
"You're lying!" Dash snapped at once. "Our friends wouldn't do anything like that."
"Oh Rainbow Dash, always so loyal." Discord was suddenly crouched next to her, leaning an arm across Dash's back. "And so ready to jump to conclusions. I didn't mean poor little Scootaloo."
"Scootaloo?" Twilight asked, casting a confused glance at Rainbow.
"Yes, Scootaloo," Discord said, standing on Twilight’s other side with another flash. "She's one of the ponies who freed me."
"He's lying," Dash insisted again, her voice hardly more than a whisper.
"Oh you ponies, so easy to use. I thought to myself, in all of Equestria, who would be the easiest to manipulate? Who could I use to arrange my escape once again? Obviously the best answer would be ponies far away from the elements of harmony, but where's the fun in that?" Discord choked up, doubled over with laughter. "It was just so easy. The ponies you care about most, your "best friends" freed me." He wiped a tear of laughter from his eye. “Oh, the tragic irony of it all.”
"We aren't falling for your tricks again," Twilight said. "Our friends wouldn't do any of that, and you can't make us fight amongst each other any more."
Discord smiled again. "We'll see about that. There's a pretty easy way to check. Just go ask her yourself. She's still out there in the statue garden."
Dash glanced toward the door uncertainly.
"You see, she finally seems to have come to her senses. Too late of course. She's taking it very hard."
"Taking what hard?" Rainbow demanded.
"Being the Element of Betrayal. It was easy to justify at first, after all she did feel betrayed. But now..." Discord shook his head. "Well, I should be off. Chaos won't cause itself." With a final flash he was gone.
Rainbow Dash acted first, galloping toward the doors at full speed. The others were right behind her.
Scootaloo sat quietly in the garden, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Her eyes were red, but she'd stopped crying by the time Dash found her.
"Scootaloo?" Dash asked softly, edging closer. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm so sorry," Scootaloo said.
Dash's head dropped as the last hope that Discord had been lying faded.
"He just left me here," Scootaloo continued shakily. "I thought he was my friend, but as I soon as I stopped listening he left me."
"Why would you listen to him at all?" Rainbow asked. She heard the others catch up behind her, but they didn't speak.
"I didn't at first. But he was so nice, and he promised to help me stay with my friends, to stay out of the orphanage."
"Orphanage?" Twilight whispered.
Scootaloo's head hung lower. "I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought he was my friend. But after he was free..." She trailed off and nodded back with her head. Dash glanced down and froze, staring at a spot of color on Scootaloo's flank.
It took her a moment to make it out in the moonlight. A heart, but made of pink fire. She recognized it from the play she'd been a part of several months back. The heart from Hearth's Warming Eve. The fire of friendship.
The heart on Scootaloo's flank was split in two by a jagged crack.
"I'm so sorry," Scootaloo whispered again.
Dash turned back to the group. "Princess?"
"Yes, Rainbow Dash?" Princess Celestia asked in a neutral voice.
"I know this looks bad, but every one of us were tricked by Discord. It's... well, we did stuff we never thought we'd do."
The princess looked back at Scootaloo and nodded. "I will take that into consideration. For now though, I'll have to ask that she stay here until we get the whole story. Meanwhile, Twilight, you and your friends should start searching for the Elements of Harmony. You have the help of any unicorns employed at the castle, of course."
Twilight nodded and nudged her friends to follow, leaving the princess alone with Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo.
"So what happens now?" Scootaloo asks.
"Now you'll come with me," Princess Celestia said. She smiled warmly at the scared filly. "And don't worry too much. You aren't the first pony Discord's managed to trick. Things will work out."
Scootaloo nodded and followed behind the princess, a dejected and defeated look on her face.
I told you, Discord whispered to Scootaloo, A helpless filly manipulated by the big bad Discord. They'd eat it up in a heartbeat. Scootaloo nodded silently as they made their way to the castle.
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.
“Lights! Camera!” Trixie said, strutting down Mane Street toward the Ponyville Library. It was just before lunch, and enough ponies hurried through the streets to give them the facade of an audience.
“We don’t have either of those things,” Crystal Ball said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. The Great and Powerful Trixie needs no props. The Great and Powerful Trixie will best Twilight Sparkle with skill alone.”
“Sure you will, but does it really have to be a public challenge? It would be so much easier to sneak into her home and set her bed on fire. Then we could take her place, and feed on the dragon for weeks or even months,” Crystal Ball trailed off, a hungry look in her eyes. Trixie edged away from her.
“No, simply defeating Twilight is not enough. Trixie will crush her. Twilight Sparkle will be publicly shamed and humiliated. It’s what Trixie was promised.”
They came to stop just outside the library. “Twilight Sparkle!” Trixie called up without hesitation. Ponies stopped in the street to watch. A few recognized the unicorn and frowned in annoyance. After a beat, the second story window flew open.
“Twilight Sparkle! I, the Great and Powerful Trixie, have come to challenge you to a contest of magical skill to prove who the most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria truly is! Do you accept my challenge, or will you run and hide from the inevitable humiliation you—”
“Oh, hey Trixie!” Spike called down from the open window. “Uh, Twilight’s not here right now.”
Trixie dropped her head, deadpanning as Crystal Ball laughed. “Of course she isn’t.”
“Ah still think we should go back and ask Scootaloo again,” Applejack said, absentmindedly nibbling a doughnut. She sat with her friends at a quiet table in Sugarcube Corner.
“She’s already told us everything she knows,” Dash answered flatly.
“Maybe, but there ain’t no harm in double checking. Maybe she forgot something.”
“She’s been through enough. There’s no reason to go bugging her.”
“She ain’t been through anything she didn’t agree to,” Applejack said. “She knew that Discord was bad news to start with.”
“Yeah, so did we. Didn’t stop him from turning you into a liar,” Dash countered.
“Well, no, but...” Applejack trailed off.
“But what? Discord tricked all of us,” Dash looked pointedly at each of her friends in turn. “Scootaloo made a mistake, but she sees that now. And unlike the rest of us, she didn’t need any magic spells to help her. So forget about grilling her for more answers and come up with something that’ll actually help.”
Twilight dipped her head. “We’re at a dead end. Every tracking spell I know failed. I know you feel bad for her, but we need more information if we’re going to beat Discord.”
“Sugarcube,” Applejack said, voice softening, “we know why you’re being so protective, but we need to talk to her again. Nopony wants to hurt her.”
Rainbow’s face fell and she stared at the table, eyes heavy with guilt. “I should have helped her before it got this bad. I should have figured out what was happening sooner.”
Although Twilight blew a frustrated sigh, her eyes were filled with sympathy as she looked at her friend. They’d heard the same story almost every day for a week. “You couldn’t have known what was going on.”
“I screwed up. I didn’t just miss something, I’m the one who pushed her into it.”
“Now stop that right now,” Applejack said, her voice filled with a sturdiness that made Dash look up from her melancholy moping. “Just cause Discord said it don’t make it true.”
“Even if we beat Discord,” Rainbow continued, ignoring Applejack’s interruption, “she’ll have to live with that cutie mark her whole life.”
Further discussion was cut off as the doors to Sugarcube Corner burst open, and a powder blue unicorn stepped in in a flash of sparkles and smoke. “Twilight Sparkle! I, the Great and Powerful Trixie, have come to challenge you to a contest of magical skill to prove who the most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria truly is! Do you accept my challenge, or will you run and hide from the inevitable humiliation you’ll doubtlessly face?”
The room was silent for a beat.
“Ugh, not her again,” Rainbow muttered, dropping her face onto the table in exasperation. “Of all the worst possible times.”
“Sorry Trixie, we’re kind of busy right now,” Twilight said, barely sparing a glance for the other unicorn.
“So then you admit the Great and Powerful Trixie is the most magical unicorn in all of Equestria?”
Trixie paused, uncertain. She hadn’t considered Twilight might not accept her challenge.
“I, uh...” She looked out the door at Crystal ball, who just shrugged. “If you win this challenge, the Great and Powerful Trixie will tell you who freed Discord.”
“What?” the filly outside hissed.
“What?” Twilight coughed, nearly choking on a pastry.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie knows about Discord’s return, and has information the rest of you want, but she will only give it to you if you manage to beat her.”
“I vote we ask the princess to lock her up until she talks,” Rainbow said.
“Seconded,” Applejack chimed in.
“Just hold on,” Twilight said quietly. “She’s probably just lying to get us to play along.”
“Probably,” Rarity agreed, “but we can’t be sure. Honestly, accepting her challenge might not be a bad idea. We all know you’re the more magical unicorn. At best, we can get some new information, at worst it’ll get her out of our manes.”
Twilight sighed again. “Fine, you’re on, Trixie.”
“Good. Meet Trixie tonight at seven in the Ponyville Park.”
The sun was beginning to set as the six ponies made their way to the park. A large wooden platform had been erected just north of the small lake. It was a perfect square with no back walls or curtains. A light had been placed in each corner to illuminate the stage.
Trixie waited at the center of the stage, surrounded by waiting ponies. Apparently word of the magical competition had gotten around.
“Alright,” Twilight muttered, climbing onto the stage without preamble. “What’s it going to be? Magical knot tying? Levitation? Pulling bunnies out of— GAH!” She dropped to the floor as a bolt of static purple lightning passed overhead.
“The rules are simple, the first pony to leave the stage loses,” Trixie said, horn glowing dangerously.
“Wait, you never said anything about a fight!”
“The Great and Powerful Trixie will best you, just as she banished the dreaded Ursa Major!”
“Ugh, not that again. Nopony can—” Twilight jumped aside from another bolt of magic. “I never agreed to—” She jumped straight up as a blue fireball passed underneath her.
She caught the next bolt on a magical shield and, with a shout of frustration, disappeared in a flash. She appeared next to Trixie and fired her own bolt of magic. It knocked Trixie aside, rolling her several yards until she slid right off the stage and hit the ground below.
Only after she caught her breath did Twilight notice the cheers of the onlooking ponies. She shook her head and walked to the edge of the stage to check on Trixie. Her friends had circled around below and nudged the crowd back while the other ponies began to file away.
Trixie sat on the ground, dirt in her mane but otherwise unharmed.
“Alright, spill it,” Dash said. “What do you know about Discord?”
“But, how?” Trixie mumbled, ignoring the question. She looked up at Twilight, angry tears in her eyes. “Trixie is better than you! Trixie is the Element of Power! I can’t lose against some small-town pony like you!”
“The element of what now?” Applejack asked.
“Trixie is the Element of Power,” she repeated. “The opposite of the Element of Magic. Discord said...” She turned to glare up at Twilight. “I’m greater than you. Without your friends, you’re nothing.”
Twilight looked down at her, a realization forming in her head. “Discord got to you too, didn’t he? Convinced you to free him by telling you what you wanted to hear.”
“It was easy,” Trixie said, stomping a hoof as she stood. “Trixie undid your spell in a matter of seconds.”
“You said you’re the opposite...” Twilight trailed off. Her head snapped up and she blinked in surprise. “So Discord really did create his own elements.”
“Is that even possible?” Rarity asked.
“I don’t know,” Twilight said with a frown. “Rainbow Dash, could you fly to the library and have Spike send a letter? We need to get the princess here to talk to Trixie.”
With a quick salute, the pegasus took off into the darkening sky.
Trixie watched her go, a jolt of panic going through her. She turned on the spot and charged forward.
Applejack had been expecting the move, and Trixie ran headfirst into the farmpony. “Ya’ll ain’t going anywhere.”
Trixie bounced and stumbled, falling flat. She looked fearfully at the five ponies moving to surround her. “Stand aside, the Great and Powerful Trixie will not be detained like some petty criminal.”
“Not until we get some answers out of you,” Twilight said. Her voice softened as she said, “The princess knows how easy it is for Discord to manipulate ponies. I’m sure if you help us, she’ll go easy on you.”
Anger flashed in Trixie’s eyes and her mouth went off before she could think about it. “You think Trixie was manipulated? The greatest unicorn in all of Equestria is not somepony to be tricked and used!”
“The one thing ah don’t get,” Applejack said, rolling her eyes, “is how power is supposed to be the opposite of magic. That is what you said, right? The Element of Power?”
Trixie sniffed and looked down her snout at Applejack. “Trixie is the opposite of the magic of friendship. Trixie’s power is all her own, and not dependent on anypony else.”
Twilight frowned. That didn’t sound quite right. She’d known since facing Discord the first time that the strength of her magic had little to do with her element. Otherwise, Discord could have stopped after taking her horn. He hadn’t believed he’d won until she’d given up on her friends. So wouldn’t the opposite of the magic of friendship be...
“Loneliness,” she thought aloud. “He picked you because you drive everypony away.” She put a hoof to her mouth a moment later. She hadn’t meant to voice the idea, and hadn’t realized how mean it would sound.
Trixie turned on her, teeth clenched in anger. “The Great and Powerful...” Twilight was looking down on her with a sad expression. “The Great...” Everypony around her was staring at her with that stupid look of pity. “I...” she stumbled over her words.
And then Trixie laughed. “What good is your friendship when everypony you care about turns against you? Trixie doesn’t need friends that will just drag you down. You can understand that, can’t you Twilight Sparkle? Doesn’t it hurt you that your friend Spike would turn against you and help free Discord?”
Trixie smiled in triumph, watching Twilight’s face go from sad to confused and finally coming to rest on shock.
“Or did he not trust you enough to tell you? Your own assistant, a good friend. I even hear he’s like a brother to you.”
“You’re lying,” Twilight half snarled, looking at Trixie with real anger for the first time. “Spike wouldn’t do something like that.”
Trixie answered with another arrogant smile. “I think it’s time for the Great and Powerful Trixie to take her leave.”
“Ah told you,” Applejack said, moving closer, “ya ain’t going nowhere.”
Green light flashed and Applejack found herself on the ground a dozen feet away. The crowd around the stage had broken up and disappeared, except for one white unicorn filly.
“You’re finally ready to go?” Crystal Ball asked.
Trixie nodded, “We’ll finish this another time, Twilight Sparkle.”
With a flash of green light, they were gone. Twilight sat down in the shocked silence that followed their departure. Finally, Rarity spoke up, “I’m sure she was just saying that to get to you. Spike would never help Discord.”
Twilight nodded, “You’re right. Wasn’t that little filly the one you told us about? The changeling queen?”
Rarity nodded, shivering slightly at the week she’d spent in her own basement.
“Twilight!” They looked up at the muffled call to see Rainbow Dash drop from the sky, a piece of paper in her mouth. She landed and Twilight levitated the paper up to read it.
“It’s from Spike,” Rainbow said. For a moment, Twilight could have sworn she saw genuine fear in the pegasus’s magenta eyes. “He’s gone.”
Gilda stretched her wings. It was a perfect day for flying. The sun was high, the temperature was just right, and there were plenty of clouds to laze about on afterwards.
She plopped back down next to her friend with an angry huff.
“If you want to fly so much, just go,” Dash mumbled.
“What I want is for you to stop moping around.” She poked at Dash’s flank. “You’re gonna get out of shape.”
Dash swatted the talon away. “I just don’t feel like flying today.”
“You’ve been like this for an entire week. I mean, c’mon Dash. Just ‘cause that kid made a mistake doesn’t mean you have to get all down.”
Dash shook her head. “I should have done more for her. If I hadn’t tried to send her back to the orphanage, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. And now with Spike supposedly in on it too, Twilight’s falling apart.”
“Yeah, Twilight’s assistant. I mean, she refuses to believe he had anything to do with it, but he ran away like that. It just doesn’t look good. And every tracking spell Twilight tried failed.” She rolled onto her side. “I don’t know. What if Discord got to him? What if he’s not the only one? I keep thinking who else we know that might have helped.”
“Yeah,” Gilda said, looking toward the edge of the cloud, tail fidgeting irritably. “Well, if you’re just gonna sit here and mope, I’m gonna get some flying in.”
“Alright, see ya,” Dash said, closing her eyes. They opened a moment later. “Gilda?”
“I don’t remember telling you about Scootaloo.”
“I, uh, heard it somewhere else. You know how gossip gets around.” Gilda smiled nervously.
Dash rolled slowly onto her hooves. “But the only ones who know the full story are the six of us, Scootaloo, and the princesses.”
“Are you sure? I’m sure I heard it somewhere.”
“Yeah,” Dash said, eyes narrowing, “I bet you did. Why did you come to Ponyville again?”
They stared at each other, muscles tensed, for a few heavy heartbeats. Suddenly, both launched off the cloud in a blur of movement.
Gilda tucked into a dive, Dash right on her tail.
“Gilda, get back here!”
Without answering, Gilda’s twisted out of the dive, shooting out over the treetops. Dash mimicked the move, keeping within feet of the griffon.
“How did you know about Scootaloo?”
Gilda swerved again, but Dash matched her pace perfectly at every turn.
“Dash, you gotta believe me, I ain’t got anything to do with it!”
“Then why are you running?”
With a frustrated snarl, Gilda flared out her wings, killing her speed. Dash slammed into her from behind. The griffon rolled with the impact, sending Dash tumbling head over tail into a tree. With three powerful strokes of her wings, she took off, leaving Rainbow tangled up in the leaves and branches.
“I’m not doing it,” Spike said, crossing his little arms. He stood in the main hall of the abandoned castle. A single, sickly ray of sunlight filtered in from some long-forgotten hole high above. Discord had come a few hours before, asking Spike to come with him. Before Spike could answer, he’d been swept up in a flash of magic.
“Oh, it’ll only be a little while,” Discord said, bending and putting his arm around Spike’s shoulders in a friendly gesture.
“No way,” Spike shrugged his arm off and jabbed a claw at Discord. “You told Scootaloo you weren’t going to even try to take over Equestria.”
“Circumstances have changed. Scootaloo would have never been able to explain her cutie mark. Even if she could get out of being banished, she’d never be accepted.” Discord straightened. “Spike, my goals have never changed. I want to make a world where we can all fit in. Don’t you still want that? Don’t you want a world where Dragons can live with ponies?”
Spike’s voice was barely a whisper. “Not like this.”
Discord bent down to look him in the eyes. “Would you give up on everything we worked for? Would you give up on Rarity? On staying with Twilight when you get bigger? Everything you want is right there. You just need to stay with us and take it. In a few hours, Equestria will be ours.”
Spike nodded reluctantly as the last traces of color drained from his scales.
Gilda burst through the front doors of the castle a few minutes later. Discord looked up, eyebrow raised at the sudden entrance.
“Shining Armor!’ Princess Luna called, catching up to the unicorn as he made his rounds through the palace gardens shortly after sunset.
“Princess,” he responded, bowing deeply.
Luna nodded and he rose. “Are we right in guessing you’re on your way to maintain the force field?”
“Yes, your highness,” Shining Armor answered.
Princess Luna stared thoughtfully at him. After a few seconds he began to glance around nervously. “Is something wrong, princess?”
“This is one of my favorite times to walk,” Princess Celestia said, strolling through the sculpture garden, a small smile on her face.
“Really?” Scootaloo asked. “I thought you’d prefer daytime, when the sun is up.”
“I always have so much work to do in the daytime,” Celestia answered. “Ponies come from all over with their problems, and all the big decisions have to go by me first. Being a princess is much harder than it looks. But at night I find I have more time to relax.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Scootaloo whispered.
“Now, what is it you needed to show me?”
“Right over here, on Discord’s old pedestal.” Scootaloo said, pointing at the hunk of stone. “If you squint you can almost make out words.” She looked down with an embarrassed smile. “Like I said, it’s probably nothing.”
The princess stepped closer to the stone and bent to examine it, still smiling. Scootaloo had been quiet all week, surely now that she seemed a bit more cheerful, humoring her couldn’t hurt. “You never know what might be useful. Maybe we can find clues to tell us how Discord made his own elements.”
A silent pulse of energy coursed through the night air. A faint buzzing noise followed, growing louder. Celestia’s head whipped up as she searched for the noise. She turned her gaze up and went still.
Shining Armor’s force field was falling once again. This time though, it hadn’t been shattered. The shield was simply dissolving from the center outward. The princess watched in stunned silence as the last remnants of it disappeared below the skyline of canterlot.
“We should get back inside the Castle,” Celestia said, turning back to Scootaloo. She paused again, eyes going to the necklace resting against the young pegasus’s throat. She hadn’t been wearing it a minute ago.
“Oh,” Celestia said simply, a frown settling on her face as reality sank in. Her horn flared with a dangerous golden light.
“I mean, she could have figured it out from somepony else,” Dash said, pacing across the library floor. “Just because we didn’t tell anypony doesn’t mean it’s a huge secret. Trixie knew too, and she’s a loudmouth.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Twilight agreed halfheartedly.
“But then why did she run? Why’d she drop me into a tree if she had nothing to hide?”
“I don’t know.” The unicorn’s voice was hardly more than a forlorn whisper.
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “This is what Discord does. He turns you against your friends. I’m not going to make any assumptions about Gilda until I see it with my own eyes. Spike either, right?”
Twilight nodded with a little more conviction than before.
“Besides, Scootaloo would have told us if Spike had been in on it, right? She gave us descriptions of the other ponies.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Twilight breathed, actual relief making her voice crack. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
Rainbow Dash smiled with her, but only for a moment. A new thought turned her face back down into a troubled frown.
“Scootaloo saw Trixie the first time she came to town, right?”
“I think so,” Twilight said uncertainly. “Yeah, I remember seeing the crusaders in the front row. She cheered you on when you did that trick with the clouds.”
“Then, why didn’t she tell us that Trixie had been in with Discord?”
Rainbow Dash had carried her friends before, like when she’d rescued Rarity from falling to her death. But it had always been short distances.
The flight from Ponyville to Canterlot was anything but short. It certainly didn’t help matters that Twilight had nearly choked her in the first few seconds. The unicorn had panicked and squeezed tightly in an attempt to keep from falling.
Still, there wasn’t much of a choice. Spike was still missing and the trains wouldn’t run till morning. So Rainbow Dash pushed herself, wings burning with the added weight of her friend.
“My brother’s force field is down!” Twilight shouted over the roaring wind.
“Yeah, I noticed! I’ll fly us straight to the castle!”
They touched down a few minutes later, more heavily than Dash would have prefered. With the extra weight, they toppled over and rolled in a pile for a few feet before stopping at the foot of a statue.
“Come on,” Twilight said after quickly checking that nothing had broken. “We need to find Scootaloo.”
“Yeah yeah, I kno—” Dash cut off, wings falling limp and a look of horror spreading across her face.
“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked, turning around as her horn flared up to let her see. The light flickered out immediately as she fell to her flat on her rump. The two of them stared in horrified silence at the statue they’d landed next to.
“Twilight, please tell me this statue’s always been here,” Rainbow Dash whispered. Panic gripped at her lungs like a vice, making it nearly impossible to speak.
Twilight answer was nothing more than an incomprehensible croak.
“This can’t actually be Celestia. There’s no way she’d lose to anypony.”
Twilight tried to stand, but her legs didn’t want to cooperate. Her mentor stared down at her with a look of angry defiance.
“Twilight Sparkle.” Twilight turned at the sound of a new voice. Princess Luna stood in the shadow of a large statue, watching them with teary eyes.
“Princess Luna? Please tell me this isn’t what it looks like.”
The princess dropped her head. “It isn’t safe here anymore. Please, come with me.”
Twilight looked back to the stone figure of her mentor, a cold weight settling at the pit of her stomach. “What’s the point? Princess Celestia... and without the elements, there’s nothing we can do.”
“I... I know what happened to the elements,” Princess Luna said.
“You do? You found them?”
Princess Luna pawed the ground, looking away in shame. “I’m the one who took them.” She looked back at Twilight, tears falling freely, “Oh, Twilight Sparkle, this is all my fault.”
“So by the time I realized what was happening, the damage was done. I had no choice but to do what they told me, or they’d reveal my treachery.” The princess lowered her gaze from the six ponies around her. They’d moved with the princess’s help to a small room in Manehatten, where they would be safe for the moment.
“Princess, you couldn’t have really believed that, could you? Your sister loves you. We all do,” Twilight half whispered.
“I know, Twilight Sparkle. I knew Tia wouldn’t do me harm. She never would have banished me if there’d been another option. I tried to tell myself that, but the nightmares got worse every day. Every time I closed my eyes, I found myself imprisoned again. Little voices in my head were constantly whispering, asking why Tia couldn’t have just stripped away Nightmare Moon’s dark power the first time.”
“Why couldn’t she?” Applejack asked. “That’s somethin’ ah’ve always wondered.”
“My sister couldn’t wield the elements to their full potential alone. They symbolize the harmony between ponies after all, nopony can use them by herself.”
“So Discord needled you in your sleep until you finally cracked?” Twilight prompted.
Luna nodded slowly. “Perhaps if I’d know it was him, I could have resisted, but at the time I believed the thoughts to be my own. So I acted on them, and on my fear. I never meant for anypony to get hurt, I just wanted to hide the elements until I could talk to my sister.”
“What happened tonight?” Twilight asked. “How did they get to Princess Celestia?”
“The little one came to me this afternoon. The changeling queen, I believe. She told me she wanted one last thing from me.” She buried her face in her hooves. “I convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt anything. I believed Scootaloo was on our side, so I thought their elements were useless.”
“What did they ask you to do?”
“They wanted me to bring down the force field. So I went to your brother, Shining Armor, and told him that Celestia wanted him to bring it down. I told him we were setting a trap for Discord and his followers. He was suspicious until I proved I was really Princess Luna, and then he brought it down and I cast a sleeping spell on him.”
Twilight’s face hardened, but she kept silent.
“By the time I had gotten to the Sculpture Garden, my sister had been turned to stone.”
Luna looked up, meeting Twilight’s eyes for the first time, and almost flinched at the anger in them. It took Twilight a few moments, but she took a deep breath and turned away, keeping her temper in check.
“Discord’s managed to pull one over on everypony,” Applejack said kindly. “Ah reckon a princess is no—” Applejack flinched as Twilight bucked her chair across the room. Fluttershy let out a weak squeal and ducked under the table.
“Sugarcube?” Applejack asked, looking between Twilight and the overturned seat.
Twilight took a long breath. “We’ve said that to everypony we’ve come across, and not one of them was actually sorry about helping Discord. Scootaloo, Trixie...” Her voice broke as she continued, “Even Spike’s gone over to him.”
“You don’t think the princess actually wanted to help him, do you?” Rarity asked.
Twilight breathed a hard sigh. “No, of course not. But we can’t take anymore chances. We trusted Scootaloo, and look where that put us.”
“But without Princess Luna, we don’t have a chance against Discord,” Applejack said.
Rainbow Dash stood from the corner for the first time since they’d arrived. Everypony fell silent and turned to her. She stumbled over her words for a moment before saying, “I want to believe it’s all Discord’s doing, that nopony really wanted to help him, but Twilight’s right. We can’t take any chances.” She choked up, apparently unable to continue. Pinkie Pie stood and put a comforting hoof on her back. “I don’t know what we could have done different. I keep thinking it’s my fault Scootaloo did this. But we can’t change what happened. The only thing we can do now is find the Elements of Harmony and beat Discord.” She looked at the princess. “I think you should go. I’m sorry, but there’s too much at risk for us to trust anypony.”
Luna nodded sadly. “I understand.” She rose and added, “If you need me for anything, ask. I’ll do whatever I can to help undo the damage I’ve caused.”
“Oh, it was fun, Celestia,” Discord said, leaning casually against the stone princess. “Oh, watching your ponies run in circles when I revealed myself, the utter chaos as they realized they couldn’t trust their best friends.” He wiped a tear from his eye.
“I can’t say I’m happy with this arrangement.” He ducked under a wing to look her in the eye. “I thought you were boring before, but you’ve taken it a bit to the extreme now.”
“Maybe we can still do something to lighten the mood. Do like christmas lights? You’d make an excellent lawn ornament.”
He leaned back, draping an arm casually around her neck. “This brings back memories, doesn’t it? Us, together, me laughing at my inevitable victory. Of course, the moment my back was turned, you sent those letters to Twilight. Such a shame, you’re so much more fun when you can talk, but I just can’t take that risk again.”
Celestia remained silent.
“Bah,” Discord said, turning away. “I’m sure we can find some other arrangement soon enough.”
Chaos ruled Canterlot. Scootaloo stood on a balcony high up in Canterlot Castle, watching the city below. It had been twelve hours since they’d turned Celestia to stone. Or several days, depending on how you looked at it. The sun drifted backwards across the sky, finally settling on midmorning. She’d lost count of how many times it had set and risen over the past few hours.
The roads below shifted and changed, sometimes leading to dead ends or disappearing entirely. Houses traded places with each other and carriages pulled ponies through the street.
Scootaloo was troubled, but not by the odd happenings below. Nopony had been hurt, and there was no reason to believe this world was any worse than one ruled by harmony. Different, sure, but not worse.
Scootaloo hadn’t been able to sleep. Not since they’d attacked the princess. Celestia had been ready to fight the moment the shield went down. Discord had brought the other elements within seconds, and things had promised to turn ugly. Scootaloo had been terrified. It was one thing to talk about changing the world. It was another to fight the most powerful pony in the world. A pony that controlled the very sun.
A pony that had been so understanding, even kind after all Scootaloo had done.
Scootaloo shook her head and turned to walk down the hall. Candles burned in their sockets along the wall, shifting to every color imaginable, and some Scootaloo had never seen. Watching them for too long gave her a headache, and when she turned away she couldn’t picture the odd new colors.
Celestia wasn’t a match for Discord. She’d known it, of course. He’d kept her from helping Twilight when he’d broken free a year earlier. In the end, he would keep her busy long enough for them to use the elements.
Of course, in the few seconds before then, she could fight back. Maybe hurt one of the wielders, maybe even kill one and render the others useless. Scootaloo’s heart had shuddered, adrenaline washing through her when she’d realized the danger. Celestia stared down at her, horn glowing with enough power to turn her into dust.
And then, only for a moment, the anger vanished from the princess’s eyes. She looked at Scootaloo with an unreadable expression. The angry defiance was back a moment later, but the glow faded from her horn. “I think I understand,” Celestia whispered, so quietly she might have been speaking to herself. “You never had a chance. Your cutie mark would be the same no matter what path you chose.”
Those had been Celestia’s last words. She hadn’t fought. She hadn’t run. She’d looked down on Scootaloo in pity and called her a traitor.
Scootaloo spun and made her way to her room. Each of the element wielders had been given free reign over the castle. Diamond Tiara had wasted no time in claiming Princess Celestia’s quarters, and Trixie had moved into Luna’s room. Scootaloo didn’t care about the fancy suites available. She’d remained in the room she’d been in the past week.
She opened the door with an angry shove and marched through, coming to a startled halt a moment later. Somepony was in her room. They turned when she walked in, glaring at her with narrowed eyes.
“What are you doing here?” Scootaloo asked.
“Close the door.” Rainbow said.
The shock faded, leaving an aching anger behind. She’d seen Rainbow Dash several times since that night at the clubhouse, but seeing her now, eyes full of anger, brought Scootaloo’s own anger back. Rainbow Dash had been the first to learn about Scootaloo’s situation, but rather than helping, or at least staying out of it, she’d gone to the orphanage and arranged for them to take Scootaloo away. In a single thoughtless action, Rainbow Dash had almost taken away everypony Scootaloo cared for.
Scootaloo turned her snout up in stubborn defiance. Who did Dash think she was, coming in and ordering Scootaloo around? She’d leave the door right where it was.
“Close. The. Door.”
The door clicked softly as Scootaloo eased it shut.
“Come here.” Rainbow Dash’s voice was calm, free of anger or the promise of violence. She was past that. Miles past it. Scootaloo shivered and edged closer, her defiance wilting under the cold glare.
“What about her?” Scootaloo tried to mimic her idol’s calm, but her voice cracked on the last word.
“I know how it works. Once you’ve used the element, you can’t just go passing it around to anypony that fits the bill.” Rainbow’s calm shattered as she snarled, “You turned the princess to stone!”
Scootaloo fell back from the sudden rage.
“You lied to use when we were trying to help you. You used us. You betrayed everypony!”
“I don’t care about them!” Scootaloo screamed, surging back to her hooves. Dash flinched in surprise, not expecting to have her anger trumped. “I don’t give a flying feather about what anypony else wants! I care about me!”
Scootaloo’s wings came up aggressively as she marched forward and simple knocked Rainbow to her haunches. “My parents died. I was torn away from my friends, my family, everypony who cared about me. They put me in a dull gray prison where I was bullied and picked on. The only pony who cared about me was me.” Scootaloo jabbed a hoof at Rainbow Dash. “And when I finally got out of there and found some real friends, you tried to send me back!”
“I—” Rainbow Dash started, but Scootaloo wouldn’t be stopped.
“Of course you don’t understand. You’re the great hero of ponyville, saviour of ponies on a daily basis, the universe’s gift to ponykind, but I don’t care what happens to anypony else. I’m done with the cold nights. I’m done going hungry. And I’m done being alone.” Tears began to fall down Scootaloo’s face as she shouted.
“And if I have to change the world to get what I want, then I’d do it again twice as fast!”
“You stupid little foal!” Dash snapped, swatting Scootaloo’s hoof away. “Do you really think you’re the only pony who’s ever gone hungry? That you’re the only pony who’s sat up at night, aching with loneliness?”
Scootaloo stumbled back, blinking through her tears.
“I know it hurts. But nopony else is selfish or arrogant enough to think they can change the world just to make themselves feel better. Do you really think any of your friends would have just forgotten you? I was just trying to get you off the streets. I was only doing what nopony did for me.”
Scootaloo’s retort caught in her throat.
Rainbow’s voice dropped to an angry hiss. “I had to drop out of flight school and get a job just to get by. Never let anypony know about it. But it never even crossed your mind that somepony might know better than you.”
“Save it! You chose your friends, go tell your sob story to them.” Rainbow turned away.
“They care about me too. All Discord wanted to do is help me!”
Rainbow spun back to her. “How stupid can you be? Discord manipulates everypony he meets. He nearly tore apart my friends. He had the changeling queen lock Rarity in a basement for a week and sent Princess Luna nightmares until she panicked and stole the elements. Do you have any idea what kind of ponies you’ve sided with?” Dash made a sound of disgust and turned toward the back of the room. “We’re going to find the elements and stop Discord. For your sake, I hope I never see you again.” Dash marched out onto the balcony and flung herself into the open air.
Scootaloo watched her go, a cold weight in the pit of her stomach. Rainbow Dash was supposed to be the embodiment of Loyalty. Some small part of Scootaloo had hoped that her idol wouldn’t believe... that she’d still...
What did Dash know anyway? She was just a stupid adult, always thinking she was right. She’d never even stopped to ask Scootaloo what she wanted.
Dash was wrong about Discord. He’d been there for Scootaloo since they’d met. He’d never do anything to hurt her. She hadn’t heard about Chrysalis locking Rarity up, but it didn’t surprise her. The changeling queen was evil. It didn’t mean Discord had ordered her to do it, or that he even knew she had.
Still, why would Chrysalis want to...
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?”
Scootaloo weaved through the trees of the everfree forest, running when the trunks were too close together to fly through. The howls and cries of wild animals rang through the night on every side of her, urging her to move faster. She had a stitch in her side and it stabbed at her when she breathed. Her legs burned, threatening to give out, and her wings ached and shook when she flew more than a few feet at a time. She’d pulled some muscle in her shoulder, and each movement sent a fresh wave of tears to her eyes. Her saddlebags dragged heavily, bouncing painfully with every motion.
No matter what happened, she had to make it out of the forest. She had to find Rainbow Dash and her friends. She had to set things right.
After what felt like countless hours of running, the moonlight above the trees began to grow brighter. The leaves were thinning. The ground leveled out. Another minute and she was running through the evenly placed apple trees of Sweet Apple Acres. The clubhouse came into view ahead of her. She was almost to Ponyville.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
Scootaloo faltered. Her muscles screamed in protest and she found herself tumbling to the ground in front of the clubhouse. She pushed herself up, teeth bared against the pain, and looked up to see Discord sitting on the clubhouse roof, legs draped over the side, a disappointed frown on his face.
Chrysalis stretched her wings as she strolled through the palace gardens, enjoying the feeling of being herself again. She’d been stuck as a pathetic little filly for much too long. The disguise didn’t even have the benefit of a loving family to feed on.
“I thought I’d find you here.” Chrysalis faced the voice, eyebrows raising in surprise.
“Princess Luna, what a pleasant surprise.”
The princess stared coldly at the changeling queen without answering.
“I suppose Scootaloo called for you?”
“She told me that your changelings are on their way now.”
“Yes,” Chrysalis said with undisguised glee. “Soon, all of Equestria will be mine.”
Luna shook her head adamantly. “I won’t let that happen.”
The queen laughed. “What are you going to do, princess? Your sister couldn’t defeat me. Do you truly believe you can?”
Luna lowered her head, horn emitting a soft blue aura.
The smile fell from the changeling queen’s face. Green fire erupted from her crooked horn, ripping through the space between them in a flash and throwing the younger princess to the ground. Another wave of fire picked Luna up, tossing her effortlessly through the air.
Chrysalis laughed again, a mad gleam in her eye. “Equestria will be mine!”
“Oh, Scootaloo, why would you go and turn on me like that?” Discord asked, slipping from the roof of the clubhouse and floating down to the orchard floor. “Have I ever given you reason to doubt me?”
“You’ve been pushing me toward your goals since day one,” Scootaloo said. “You sent those nightmares. You convinced me that my friends would ditch me as soon as they got their cutie marks. You’re probably why Sweetie Belle got her cutie mark that same night.”
“But I took all that back, didn’t I? I told you I thought your friends would be together forever.”
“Yeah, after we’d already made up. You knew Chrysalis would attack. You used that to gain my trust.”
“Now Scootaloo, think about what you’re saying. I never forced you to do anything. I tried to convince you not to help me.”
“But you didn’t mean it. You never meant any of it. You set me up so that no matter what I did, I’d betray somepony, just so you could come in and make everything better.”
Discord’s face hardened. “Scootaloo, give me the Elements of Harmony and we can talk about this. You’re confused, but I can help you.”
Scootaloo shook her head, taking a step back. “I’m done getting help from you.”
“Scootaloo, I won’t ask again. Give me the elements.”
Scootaloo shot off through the apple trees.
Luna landed in a heap, her deep blue coat singed and smoking. She blinked in confusion as the changeling queen edged closer.
“Is this really all the power you have, Princess Luna?” Chrysalis asked. “Disappointing.”
Luna staggered to her hooves only to duck her shoulders against another bolt of green fire. She whimpered as it burned at her already matted coat..
“It’s a wonder you were ever a threat,” Chrysalis said. “The mighty Nightmare Moon, feared by all, reduced to nothing but a cowering pathetic nopony.” Chrysalis drew nearer and bent down so she was almost nose to nose with Luna. “What will your subjects think when they find out you failed to protect them? The stallions will fall first, trying to protect their homes from my changelings. The mares will try to protect their foals. But they will all be mine in the end, taken back to the hive to feed my changelings for years to come. Every Stallion, every mare, every young filly and colt, will—” A bolt of blue energy caught Chrysalis across the chest and threw her through a nearby sculpture. Starswirl the Bearded’s hat landed in pieces around Luna’s hooves.
“You will not touch a single one of my subjects,” Luna said. She didn’t yell or scream. It wasn’t a threat. It was a simple statement of fact.
Chrysalis came to her hooves, teeth bared. Green fire erupted from her horn, flying toward Luna as nothing more than a blur.
It missed its mark. Without a flash or any whisper of power, Luna had simply moved. Her horn flared up several feet to Chrysalis’s right and the changeling queen gasped as energy coursed through her. She flew again, head impacting violently on a hunk of stone. She surged up, but Luna had already moved again. Chrysalis spun to her left, ready for the next attack.
It came from ahead of her, where Luna had been standing before.
Chrysalis screamed, rage strangling her voice, turning it into something hideous. Another wave of power hit her from above, forcing her to the ground. Luna stood beside her, looking down on her.
“What are you going to do, princess?” Chrysalis hissed. “You can’t keep me locked away. My changelings will come for me. Will you kill me?” The changeling smiled. “I’m sure that’s what Nightmare Moon would do.”
The princess continued to look down at her, unmoving.
“You can’t, can you? That’s why you’ll always be the weaker sister, why you’ll always be second best. Just walk away, Luna. There’s nothing you can do to me.”
Luna’s horn began to glow. “The changelings will come for you? I do not believe so. No changeling can fly that high.”
Chrysalis stared up at the princess, comprehension dawning a moment later. “No, you don’t have that kind of of power. Only the elements can do something like that.”
Luna’s eyes glowed as the power built. “For my sister or I, perhaps, but for you my power is enough. You haven’t been feeding much, have you?”
Chrysalis’s eyes were wide with fear. She crawled back away from the princess, horn glowing with her own power.
The garden was suddenly lit by an intense flare, reaching into every crack with the same beautiful silver light of the full moon. When it faded, Luna was alone. Seconds later, a faint shadow appeared on the moon: the profile of a pony with a twisted horn.
The ground turned to ice. Scootaloo’s hooves slid out from under her as Discord appeared ahead of her. With a few strong beats of her wings, she angled to the right and flashed by him, picking up speed and taking to the air.
Discord frowned in annoyance and a flurry of pies met the filly in midair. She tumbled painfully to the ground, but forced herself up and kept running.
“Why are you doing this, Scootaloo?” Discord asked from beside her. “It would be so much easier to stop running.” With a flash he was ahead of her. “Think about it. We could rule Equestria together. Wouldn’t that be exciting?”
She blew past him.
“Scootaloo, I’m serious. You could be a princess. A queen. We can send the changelings away if you’d prefer. There’s no reason to stop now, when we’ve finally won. You can live with your friends in an Equestria free of hardships. An Equestria you helped create.”
She could see the edge of Ponyville in the distance. She was almost there.
Scootaloo gasped as she was lifted off the ground. Discord held her by the saddlebags, pinching one the straps carefully. “This is the last time I’m offering, Scootaloo. Side with me, or against me.”
“I’ll never side with you,” Scootaloo shouted. “Not after everything you’ve done.”
Discord frowned, genuine disappointment on his face. “I’m sorry to hear you say that.” He flicked open one of the bags. “We could have made a great...”
Scootaloo stopped struggling. Discord tore open the other bag.
“Rocks?” Discord threw the dark grey lumps to the ground. “Rocks? Where are the elements?”
“What’s wrong Discord?” Scootaloo asked. “I thought you’d find it funny. I run all this way with bags full of rocks.” She craned her neck to smile at him. “You never saw it coming, did you?”
“Where are the Elements of Harmony?” Discord asked again.
“Over here,” Spike called. Discord’s head snapped up and his eyes went wide.
“We knew you’d be keeping tabs on me,” Scootaloo said in a half whisper. “You’re the one who made me a traitor after all. So, when you noticed me running from the castle carrying a heavy pack, you’d turn all your attention on me. You never even noticed Spike leaving ten minutes ahead of me.”
Discord narrowed his eyes at the ponies ahead of him.
Twilight Sparkle and her friends stood in a tight circle, each wearing their Element of Harmony.
“How’s it feel to be manipulated?”
Scootaloo let out a painful his as something tightened around her neck. Something hard rested against the base of her throat. She reached with her hooves to find her necklace, the Element of Betrayal.
“What’s going on?” She recognized the voice as Diamond Tiara’s.
“What? I, uh, that is, the Great and Powerful Trixie does not appreciate being dragged out of bed like—” Trixie squealed in pain as Scootaloo felt her own element tighten and burn in a sudden heat. She gritted her teeth as the magic of the elements washed through her. To her right she could just barely see Discords claws flexed, glowing with power. To her left, Trixie and Gilda were doubled over. Gilda scratched at her neck while Trixie tried in vain to pry the tiara from her head.
Ahead of her, Twilight unleashed the power of harmony. It washed toward them in a rainbow colored wash of power. Discord raised his arm, magic surged through Scootaloo, and the rainbow light split in two, flowing on either side of them.
Discord staggered back half a step and half turned, eyes widening in surprise. “Where’s Chrysalis?”
Twilight fired again and another torrent of powered rushed toward them. Scootaloo coughed as her element squeezed again, and the rainbow magic jerked off course, splashing harmlessly against the appletrees.
Discord narrowed his eyes at Twilight. “This isn’t over. I’ll deal with you all later.” He raised his free arm, claws coming together for their usual snapping motion.
Scootaloo’s heart jumped to her throat as she realized he was going to teleport away, and that he’d probably be taking her with him.
Scootaloo did the only thing she could in her current position. She bucked Discord in the face.
Discord’s head snapped back and she fell from his grip. Scootaloo hit the ground and rolled. With his concentration broken, the necklace grew cool, and she tore it away. The elements flared to life, and she covered her head. The magic tore at her like a hungry wind, roaring in her ears. The rainbow light blinded her through her closed eyelids and upturned hooves.
A moment later it was over.
Scootaloo tentatively turned her head. Discord loomed over her, a look of anger frozen on his stone features. Guilt and sadness washed through her, along with more than a little relief.
With a sigh, she dropped her head to the ground.
Scootaloo was tired. She’d been awake for almost forty hours, and run through the Everfree Forest twice. She’s pulled a muscle catching Spike when the bridge had gone out, and worked it running through the forest as a distraction.
She’d been scared. Not just of the monsters in the forest, but of what could happen if her plan had gone wrong. Twilight Sparkle might not have trusted Spike’s letter. If they hadn’t been in Ponyville to meet him, nopony would have saved Scootaloo once she’d openly defied Discord.
She knew life could never go back to the way it was. She may have helped defeat Discord, but it was too little too late. Her friends could never forgive her for lying to them. She’d be lucky if they just ignored her. She’d helped turn Princess Celestia to stone, there would have to be some kind of punishment for that.
Her cutie mark sat unchanged on her flank, showing the world what she’d done. She’d have to learn to live with her mistakes. Maybe she really would push ponies away for the rest of her life.
She shook her head. In harmony or discord, she’d decided she wouldn’t allow her life to be dictated by a single mark.
All things considered, Scootaloo had every reason to be tired. When Twilight and her friends left for Canterlot to use the elements on Princess Celestia, barely glancing at her or Spike, she was more relieved than anything. At least she’d have a chance to sleep before anypony tried to banish her.
The Elements of Disharmony had awkwardly wandered away, not sure where Discord’s defeat left them. Only she and Spike had really known what they were doing when they freed him, and she was sure it would count for something.
“So what now?” Spike asked.
Scootaloo shook her head. “I don’t know. You?”
Spike stared at his feet, pensive. “I think I’m going to go talk to Twilight.”
“You think she’ll listen to you?”
“I dunno, but I have to try. She was in a pretty bad place when Discord got to her and her friends. I think she’ll understand.” He frowned. “That doesn’t make it any better, but I hope they’ll at least be able to forgive us.”
“I hope so too. It’d be nice not to end up in Tartarus.”
Spike chuckled at that. “You know, whatever happens, I’m there for you.”
Scootaloo smiled. “I know. Same to you.”
Spike nodded and started toward the library. He turned after a few steps, “Oh, I just thought you should know what took me so long. When I got to ponyville, not everypony was there.”
Scootaloo had figured as much. “Rainbow Dash didn’t trust us?”
Spike smiled. “She was the only one there when I showed up. The others caught up to her a few minutes later.”
That was weird, Scootaloo thought. Then again, Rainbow Dash wouldn’t run and hide if somepony was in trouble. If there was a chance to save Equestria, she’d take it. The Element of Loyalty to the end.
Scootaloo went to the one place she could think of. The treehouse. Her old blanket was still there, in the corner she’d kicked it to when Dash had surprised her. She took it and a curled into a ball.
It was a relief, being back in the old clubhouse. She knew it couldn’t last, but at least tonight, she’d have a place to sleep. She almost whispered a good night, but realized nopony would hear it. It hadn’t really hit her that Discord was gone. She was alone again. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
Scootaloo barely stirred at the sound of hoofsteps drawing closer against the wooden floor. She was too tired to care that she was being lifted and precariously balanced on something soft and warm. She just clung to her blanket.
She almost woke up as she was jostled lightly. She might have seen the multicolored flash of a rainbow mane and felt the steady beat of wings, but the movement stopped after a minute or two and she fell deeper into sleep. She clutched the thick, warm blanket tightly and cuddled down into the soft cloud bed.
Somewhere deep down, she knew tomorrow would be that much brighter.