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.