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.”