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.