The Advent of Applejack

by Mister Friendly

Chapter 25: You and Me

“Thirty two! Thirty three!”

Applejack grinned confidently to herself. Sweat beaded on her freckled face. Her twin pigtails bobbed and bounced in time with the rest of her body.

Directly across from her, just a foot or two away, a blue pegasus with a wild shock of rainbow mane leered back at her, matching her move for me. Like Applejack, she was pumping her forelegs to push herself up and down, synchronizing every one of her pushups with Applejack’s.

Both were nearly oblivious to the ring of spectators, all young colts and fillies cheering their favorite challenger on excitedly. Amid strident calls of “Go Applejack!” and “Come on, Rainbow Dash!” a louder voice called out from the appointed referee as she announced each successful pushup.

“Thirty five! Thirty six!”

Applejack’s forelegs were starting to burn, the heat of exertion spreading to her shoulders and causing her fur to prickle. But she kept it up, intentionally keeping her own pace down to Rainbow’s level.

She could see that the pegasus was fading. Had she been allowed to use her wings instead, this might—just might—have been a fair contest. But Applejack had known from the outset that this lazy trash-talker could never compete with a hard worker like her in sheer physical stamina.

But that same pegasus kept right on going, even as her legs started to wobble and she started to jerk with her head to get her back up. The grin on Rainbow’s face was slipping as it started to dawn on her that Applejack wasn’t wearing down.

And then Applejack did something that made the audience gasp. In one deft move, she popped herself up just an inch, freed up her hooves, and placed one behind her back. When she landed, it was only one her left foreleg.

It was worth it just to see Rainbow’s eyes bug out of her head. The look of dumbfounded astonishment as Applejack carried on with a smug grin, balancing herself on just three hooves while using only one to push herself up and down.

“Oh my, Dash, yer lookin’ a might bit tuckered out.” Applejack taunted. “Ah wouldn’t want ya ta strain somethin’.”

It was remarkable how blue fur could turn so spectacularly red with indignant fury. “Oh yeah?” Rainbow snarled, teeth grinding, sweat pouring off of her.

Applejack had every confidence that this little challenge was over. Rainbow was overzealous with all of these competitions, sure, but she’d really dug her own grave this time. She expected that, at any second, Rainbow was going to collapse and concede defeat at last.

She wasnot expecting Rainbow to mimic her.

With a growl, Rainbow actually forced one stiff hoof behind her back, exactly like Applejack. She was red in the face, a vein was popping out in her neck, and she looked in imminent danger of blowing something internally.

Even the referee forgot to keep track of their progress at this point.

“Who’s… laughing… now?!” Rainbow bellowed. And then, to prove her point, she started to laugh between each grueling heave on her own, abused foreleg. “Ha… ha… ha!”

And in the next second, she was down. She collapsed with a pained yelp and fell face first in the dirt.

The crowd stood in stunned silence. Then, the schoolyard erupted with cheering and applause.

Applejack heard none of it. She stared down at this infuriating, irritating pegasus, at a complete loss for words. Rainbow writhed on the ground, hissing in pain, but she glared up at Applejack, never once breaking eye contact.

She didn’t care that she’d hurt herself. She didn’t care that some ponies would say she’d lost—she’d find an excuse to refute them, as always. In that moment, all that mattered to Rainbow, Applejack saw, was that she’d never admitted defeat.


A whisper of sound.

A clammy coldness.

Through the haze clouding Rainbow’s mind, these things came to her, originating somewhere distant, somewhere physical. She had no sense of direction. She couldn’t tell what was up, what was down, whether she was moving or still. She was simply… there. And it was so cold…

She didn’t hurt. She didn’t feel much of anything; only enough sensation to give her a presence, but little else.

Rainbow forced open one of her eyes. It took so much effort, like she was trying to bend iron. But beyond her lids, she saw nothing comprehensible. Swirling darkness, maddening and furtive motion, but nothing her mind could make sense of.

In the back of her mind, she felt a dire sense of distress, but the thought was nothing but far away noise. There was something incredibly important she had to do, but she couldn’t recall fully what it was.

The coldness was clawing at her. She could feel it drilling into her, sapping her body of everything it had. This, she knew, was bad, but she couldn’t focus on why.

Distant sounds… a faint laugh… some twinkle resembling light that she instinctively wanted to shy away from… And the mounting cold…

This wasn’t right. The realization wormed its way through the fog in her half-unconscious brain. The urgency was rising again. The omen of the building cold grew in importance. And it all came back to a single, driving imperative deep down inside her.

But before she could grab ahold of the fleeting thought, the dregs of her consciousness collapsed again into dream-like nothingness.


Rainbow had braced, but the harsh impact of face-on-dirt committed at nearly terminal velocity still left her nose stinging terribly. By the time the dust settled and her head stopped spinning, she was able to marshal her senses again.

With a groan, Rainbow heaved herself up out of the rather impressive trench she’d just carved across a grassy meadow, mostly with her face. She glared at it, and with a frustrated cry, she kicked a loose clump of dirt, sending it spiraling a few feet away.

“Argh! I should’ve had it that time! Three barrel rolls into a Hemisphere Helix! What’s so complicated about that, wings?”

She sat down hard, and put a dirty hoof to her bruised and painfully throbbing nose. The pain was starting to hit her now. But she didn’t cry, no sir! Crying was for babies. The kicked up dirt was really irritating her eyes, though.

“Ugh, forget it. Who cares about some stupid talent show any—”

A distant shout made her shut up and look up while still clutching her nose. She’d thought she was in the middle of nowhere, so that she could practice in peace.

But the shape breaking the distant tree line proved her wrong. Worse, it was the last pony she wanted to see. Yet try as she might, that blonde, pig-tailed mane was not changing.

“Great,” Rainbow grumbled testily to herself. “As if this stupid day couldn’t get any worse…”

A minute later, a breathless Applejack slowed to a halt. Panting, worry in her eyes, she looked from one end of the deep trench to the other, then back to Rainbow. “What in tarnation happened here?”

“Nothing,” Rainbow rebuffed immediately. It was ruined somewhat by her unexpectedly nasally voice, courtesy of her hooves plugging up her nose.

“This ain’t nothin’,” Applejack pointed out, and she gave Rainbow that look she hated most; a skeptical sort of incredulity. Every time she gave Rainbow that look, it was because she’d done something Applejack thought was dumb.

“Well it is!” Rainbow snapped back. “It’s also none of your business. Don’t you have some trees to buck or something?”

Applejack blinked at her, nonplussed. “Uh… sure do,” she commented, then pointed over her shoulder back the way she’d come—towards the tree stand of apple trees flanking the field.

Rainbow stared at it for a moment, the gears of her mind slow to turn. “…Oh.” Apparently Sweet Apple Acres was a lot bigger than Rainbow had given it credit for.

Applejack was still giving her that worried look that annoyed Rainbow, but she avoided it rather than deal with it.

“Are ya sure yer alright?”

Rainbow glowered at her. “I’m fine! You should be more worried about what’s gonna happen tomorrow at school after I show you up in front of everypony!”

Applejack blinked. “Uh… yer gonna be doin’ field plowin’ at the talent show? Cuz Big Mac did that one year and it didn’t go over too well, what with him tearin’ up the school yard and all.”

“Wha—no! Just you wait and see, AJ! I’m gonna steal the show, like always! Then you’re gonna eat pears for a WEEK after I win our bet!”

There was the trace of annoyance Rainbow relished. Applejack always hid it well, but when Rainbow saw it, she knew she was pressing all the right buttons. “Just you wait and see, cowgirl! I’m gonna finally prove which of us is better!”

Applejack frowned slightly. She was quiet for a moment, then she said, “Whatever ya say, RD. Just… don’t hurt yerself, ya hear? Ya worry me when ya get like this.”

With that, she turned and galloped away, back towards the orchards. She left Rainbow sitting in the grass, feeling oddly stupid. She blinked, not even close to understanding Applejack.

Applejack? Worry about her? That wasn’t what rivals did.



Again, Rainbow found herself emerging from dreams into a barely conscious haze. Only, this time the fog in her head wasn’t as dense.

She still had no sense of where she was, but now she felt acutely the cold settling in her body. Little by little, starting from her hooves and working inward, towards her chest…

Again she heard that laugh, and… a voice so distant it was almost lost to her. But the sound of it awakened something inside of her; a fear, and that building urgency. A flash ran across her mind’s eye; a snake-like face, black eyes with silvery slits, like the reflections of a predator’s eyes in the moonlight. Purple mane, a body of ooze… that taunting laugh…

But instead of lingering on that frightening aspect, her mind immediately shifted to something else, tugged along quickly by that insistent pull.

Instead, she saw a different face conjured before her mind’s eye; an orange, freckled face grinning in that annoying, self-confident way Rainbow loathed. A flash of green eyes, a smooth, twanging voice. A gentle pressure pushing into her shoulder, seeking her support…


Rain patted tirelessly against a lone window in a small, rustic bedroom. Outside, the world was gray-washed and dreary, without a soul in sight. Just the swaying trees trembled in a cold wind.

Aside from the droning rain, there was just one other sound; a faint, barely restrained sniffle, which came and went without notice. It came from the only bed in the room, and the tiny lump curled up under the apple-patterned comforter.

A blonde length of mane hair stuck out from under the pillow. It was the only indication of who laid there. The small form shivered and shook, sniffling and sobbing quietly to itself.

A voice suddenly rose in the quiet. A stallion spoke softly in an adjacent room, keeping his voice down. Even so, his voice carried well in the old house.

“I’m sorry, Granny Smith. I’ve tried everything I can, but I can’t explain it. The shock of her loss… it’s left her heartbroken. Until it passes, all we can do is be there for her…”

The voice faded away, leaving the filly to sniffle in silence.

A knock sounded on the window.

On the bed, the little form flinched, but did not emerge. It became as still as a statue, and just as silent. She did not look around, even as a muffled voice called out through the glass.

“AJ? You in there?”

At the sound of that voice, the filly curled herself up tighter. Why did it have to be her, of all ponies? She tried to ignore her, hoping maybe she’d just go away. But another tap sounded, and this time, a single green eye peeked out from the safety of an apple-patterned comforter.

There, squinting through the glass into the bedroom, was a scrawny rainbow-maned mare somewhere in her early teens. The filly scanned the room, cupping her hooves around her eyes to get a better view. Her rainbow-colored mane was languid and heavy with rain water, and rivulets continued to dribble down her face as the rainstorm pelted her mercilessly.

Finally, filly Rainbow Dash spotted the shape on the bed. She tapped on the glass again, a worried look on her face. “Anypony home?”

She didn’t notice the eye looking at her. But she did notice the slight motion when an orange head tucked itself under the pillow again.

Rainbow Dash frowned, then reached down and gripped the window. She pulled, failing twice to budge it, then finally managed to get the old thing unstuck and opened it on her third attempt.

She burst in and shook herself like a dog, spraying cold rain water in every direction. “AJ?” Rainbow tried again. Still no response came, but the shape shrank, as if curling itself up tighter.

Rainbow frowned. Not in anger or impatience, but in genuine worry. “You, uh… you didn’t come to school. Like, for a week. I was… supposed to show you up at the talent show… remember?”

The shape didn’t move or speak or make a sound at all. Rainbow looked down, and noticed the untouched platter of apple pancakes and apple slices—Applejack’s breakfast—lying on the ground next to the head of the bed.

“Applejack?” The filly squeaked, her voice small now. There was a dreadful heaviness in the air that hinted at something she didn’t understand and was afraid of understanding. “Is… is something wrong? Cuz-cuz if something is, y-you can tell me. I’m, uh, you’re rival and all. So, um…”

At last, the miserable figure under the blankets shifted. It squirmed slightly, and lifted its small head to look over at Rainbow.

The face she saw… it would haunt her for the rest of her life. Applejack—the tough, unbreakable, unstoppable Applejack she admired and hated in equal measure—stared at her with red, puffy eyes and deep, crusty tear tracks running down her face. She had been crying for hours, if not days, and the ravages of that experience had drained her fiery confidence to nothing. It was a face of a broken pony, shattered, that looked at her now, somehow gaunt without having lost any weight.

Rainbow would never know why she did what she did. Normally, she would’ve berated Applejack for being such a crybaby. She would have taunted her arch-nemesis and reveled in this moment of weakness.

But she didn’t.

What she did instead was wordlessly trot up to her and give that weeping, broken pony the biggest hug she could possibly give her. Rainbow squeezed her for all she was worth, hooves and wings.

Later, she would rationalize it to herself. She would explain it away as sympathy; that pony she’d seen had not been her Applejack, and she hadn’t liked that. A broken, wounded Applejack was not her Applejack, the pony who had punted her through a wall upon their first meeting, who had defied her every attempt to defeat her. Whatever this thing was, it was wrong and needed to be fixed.

Rainbow would stay on that bed, hugging wordlessly for hours and hours until her parents came, worried sick by her disappearance. Even then, they had to fight to drag her away from her. And Rainbow would never forget how Applejack tried to feebly hang on to her, as well, before they were ultimately ripped apart by infinitely stronger adult ponies and dragged away.

Rainbow would always remember that time. The time Applejack lost her parents. It would be weeks, if not months, before the third oldest Apple left in Ponyville regained her strength and emerged from her home. And when she returned to the school she and Rainbow went to, neither of them would say a word about what happened between them, but it would be a very, very long time before things seemed normal between them. Things between them never would go back to exactly the way they were.

It was that time, during one of the most tragic and horrible moments in Rainbow’s and Applejack’s lives, that everything changed.


In the depths of a shadow-choked crystal chamber, Queen Phantasma took a moment for herself. Striding through the writhing darkness, she couldn’t help but start to feel giddy. She couldn’t believe how easy this had all been! Everything could not have worked out any more perfect than it already had.

All throughout her new throne room, the glowing pink tendrils of love from countless ponies circulated, so thick they were tangible. Their ethereal light gave shape to the choking mass of oily tendrils clogging the crystal chamber. So much, from such a small location… It was no wonder Carnation had been so intent on keeping this country to herself.

As she drank heartily from the flowing energies, Phantasma caught glimpses of the ponies they belonged to, and where they stemmed from. None, of course, amused her more than the essences of four mighty alicorns. They had been her greatest worry; what memories she’d gleaned from Applejack had been enough to realize a confrontation with all four would have been… less than ideal. But now here they all were, trapped in her expanding web of influence.

For fun, Phantasma waved a hoof, a sinister light flickering across her horn. From the darkness, an opening appeared, and within it, a window looking out across a weed and briar-choked hillside.

Amid growing black vines and thorny bramble patches, armored stallions stood about, shouting angrily at one another. Some had completely devolved into bare-hooved fistfights. And atop the hill, a Captain of the Guard and a Princess of the Sun stood nose to nose, glaring at one another.

Phantasma practically squealed in delight at the sight of her biggest threat too lost to anger to ever oppose her. And without her magic, Princess Celestia was just a pretty little pony standing on her doorstep.

“It won’t be long now,” Phantasma giggled to herself. She looked down out her oily hoof, and noted how firm and uniform her pseudo-flesh had become. “Soon enough, everything Carnation betrayed me for will be nothing more than a memory. Her sacrifice will have been for absolutely nothing.”

She glanced back towards the image, grinning ear to ear, then paused at an unnoticed curiosity. “Hmm,” she hummed, cocking her head to one side. “Now where did little Twilight Sparkle get off to?”

Then she chuckled and raised a hoof. As bidden, a ribbon of love energy snaked its way towards her, and wound around her hoof. “Well, no matter. She hasn’t gone far. Soon enough she will be just as helpless as the rest of them, too given to her grievances to oppose me.”

She turned then, and through the darkness her eyes fell upon the limp figure of Applejack, still embedded deep in a wall of black, tainted crystals.

“And I have you to thank for it, my dear. Such delicious irony that the daughter of Carnation will be the tool I use to smash her every dream to pieces.”

She sauntered over towards Applejack, and raised a hoof to touch her cheek. “It really is a shame. Such untapped potential… I could have used someone like you. The Changeling Court isn’t going to put itself back into order. But then… your mother did have to go and kill me. So I will just have to hope she’s watching what I will do to you, instead.”

As Phantasma dragged her hoof down Applejack’s cheek, she noticed the black, slimy streak it left behind. Her expression soured, and she stalked away.

“But until I no longer need you, you’ll being staying right there,” she drawled. “Once I’ve collected enough energy to no longer need this place to sustain myself, then you will get what’s coming to you.”

As she trotted away, her eyes fell on the other pony in the room; a limp pegasus hanging from a dozen tendrils. Pink light poured from her, radiating in every direction. But Phantasma could tell there wasn’t as much as before.

The sight of Rainbow’s pallid features brought a cruel grin to Phantasma’s face. “This one, on the other hoof, is just one last loose end in need of tying.”

Yes, things could not have gone any better today.

Phantasma took a moment to relish her victory. She would have plenty of time to figure out the limits of this strange new body, an intriguing prospect that filled her with malicious glee.

She turned back to the motionless form of Rainbow Dash. She’d lost almost all the color in her face, and her breathing was shallow. The love energies seeping from her had grown fainter just in that small span of time, and would soon gutter out completely.

“A pity,” Phantasma said to herself. “It’s more fun watching them waste away while they’re awake. Oh well; beggars can’t be choosers!”

She began to open her mouth, when something unexpected caught her attention. Out of nowhere, she felt something touch her. Not physically, but rather magically. It was an indescribable, yet very familiar sensation.

And it happened again, repeatedly. The same feeling of faint static washing over her mind hit her over and over, in rapid succession, too many times to be caused by a single source.

Phantasma turned, and with another wave of her hoof, conjured up her looking glass again. “What in the world…?” she muttered to herself.

And as the image solidified, Phantasma’s eyes fell open wide.


Over the angry shouts and clatter of combat, a welling drone blanketed the night air.

Those with some sensibilities left turned towards the sky, some sense of recognition falling over them. Some turned, confused and a little wary, just before a the starry sky was blotted out by hundreds upon hundreds of changelings.

They moved like a howling blizzard, whirling and whizzing in a chaos of wings and blue eyes and black bodies that was dizzying to watch. And they moved with terrifying speed and purpose, never once deviating from their chosen course.

None of them made a noise or said a word. They all stared unblinkingly at their destination; the towering black formation dominating the horizon.


Phantasma stared in disbelief at the swarm bearing down on her. Then, she broke into great peals of laughter. “Is-is this what Twilight was up to? She released the swarm? That is her trump card? Pahaha!”

As her laughter died, a sinister grin spread across her face. “Applejack’s Corastone feeds me! I am as much their master as she ever was! Oh you fool, Twilight! You’ve just given me an army!”

As the swarm approached, it began to fan out. It spread in every direction, and approached from all angles, forming a living wall between the growing hive and the outside world.

“That’s it,” Phantasma cackled. “Come to your queen. All of you know me. All of you once bent your knee to me! You will be my new hive! And with you, nothing will stand in my—”

“Don’t give up!”

Phantasma paused midsentence, her mouth hanging open for a moment. When she closed it, she aimed her looking glass in the direction of that magically carried voice.

The source had come from a tiny drone—likely a hatchling only a few years old. She’d cupped her hooves over her muzzle and was shouting for all her little lungs were worth.

“You can do it! Don’t give up!”

Phantasma raised an eyebrow. “What is the meaning of this?” She raised her hoof and pointed it at the droneling, and bore down on her with all her force of will. “What are you babbling about?” she demanded, her voice bellowing throughout the cold air outside. “Speak!”

Any drone should have immediately capitulated. She’d seen even the strongest-willed drones collapse into perfect submission under the weight of her presence, and she’d had plenty of practice throwing her authority around.

But to her complete astonishment, this tiny little drone barely shivered. “If you’re the one who’s hurting Queen Applejack, you’d better knock it off, or else Rainbow is gonna get mad and beat you up!”

Phantasma’s jaw actually hit the floor. This… this mere drone had the unbridled audacity to speak to her, the Queen of Queens like that? How was such a thing possible? Every single drone should be bending to her will without even the slightest hint of resistance!

As she reeled in complete shock, more voices filtered through the looking glass, each and every one of them berating her.

“Leave Applejack alone!”

“Don’t give up! Keep fighting! Don’t let her win!”

“We believe in you! You can beat her!”

Phantasma’s lip began to curl. Her glee had long since been replaced with boiling rage. “You dare defy me? You DARE choose her over me?!”

Her horn erupted with a dark, seething light. Her veil of smoldering umbral magic fed out into the crystals all around her, pouring her dark influence into the fledgling hive.

Outside, vast limbs of green-black smoke phased into being, rising from the black and lifeless crystal spires. The ends of those tendrils split open, revealing countless hungering maws ready to snap up drones by the mouthful.

“If you will not obey me,” Phantasma growled, “then I have no use for any of you.”

The conjured serpentine monsters lunged, and the swarm broke apart. But they didn’t run. Again Phantasma found herself staring with no small amount of amazement as several drones circled around, and fired bolts of acidic magic at her creations. Some of those bolts collided with enough force to knock the snapping jaws back, and into one another.

She turned away, eyes wide with uncomprehending fury and confusion. “This is impossible. How are they doing this?! Applejack belongs to me! Is she not their queen?!”

And as she stood there, gnashing her teeth, her eyes fell on the only other possibility. And as her eyes fell on her, a renewed chant assaulted her ears from beyond her throne room, carried over the sounds of howling monstrosities and exploding spells.

“Keep fighting, Rainbow! Don’t give up!”

“You can save her, Rainbow! We know you can!”

“No,” Phantasma breathed, her eyes fixated on the limp form of Rainbow Dash. “It can’t be. Drones… they can’t imprint on ponies! It’s not possible!”

And yet, through the maddening confusion, it was the only possibility that presented itself. But how? How could a changeling of any sort imprint upon a mere pony? The thought was ludicrous, impossible! It took changeling magic to bind a hive to a queen. Then how…?


As Phantasma watched, something glowed for just a moment deep within Rainbow’s chest. For just a fraction of a second she saw it, but there was no denying that faint, green glow.

She could feel it now, deep inside that pegasus. Intermingled amongst that detestable pony magic, something else burned against her mind.

Changeling magic.


Rainbow sat in darkness upon a stool. The unfamiliar scents and sounds of a dilapidated cottage surrounded her, but she could barely concentrate on it.

She watched quietly, helplessly, as Big Macintosh wound bandages around the forelegs of a lifeless black figure. The scent of burnt chitin still clung to her nostrils and the roof of her mouth, haunting her.

With a final grunt, Big Mac stepped back. As he did, he revealed the alien figure lying in the bed in front of Rainbow; a black face wreathed by a familiar mane.

“That’ll do’er fer now,” Big Mac said somberly. “Now we wait.”

Rainbow turned back towards the big stallion, shifting uncomfortably on her seat. “And you’re sure she just needs to rest?”

Big Mac turned towards her, and offered a small smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Eeyup.”

He then turned and ambled from the room. But as he passed, he put an unexpected hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. Rainbow turned a little, but didn’t muster up the courage to look him in the eye. And after a moment, Big Mac trundled away into the next room, leaving Rainbow alone—alone and very confused.

In the total silence, the only sound she heard was the thin, raspy breaths of the one on the bed. For what felt like an eternity, Rainbow looked at her, not quite comprehending… but afraid not to. Because of this wasn’t Applejack… who was it?

For minutes, maybe hours, she sat there, lost in her own turmoil. As the silence threatened to drag on forever, Rainbow suddenly realized she had her hooves wrapped tightly around her chest. Deliberately, she forced her hooves down.

And as her hooves touched her knees, her voice escaped her lips.

“Come back…”

Rainbow bowed her head. “I don’t know what’s going on, but if you’re not here to explain it, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to think? How am I supposed to make this right? What… just what am I supposed to do, AJ?”

She reached out, and set her hooves gingerly against the bed, just a breadth away from its occupant. “So… Come back to me… Okay? Just… come back to me already.”

She sat there, head bowed, feeling cracked and exposed. Something wet and salty dripped onto her knee, but she ignored it.

“This… this is worse than not knowing,” she breathed to herself.

Suddenly, a deep breath caught her attention. She looked up, just as an amber, twin ringed eye split open.


The shadows were evaporating.

Phantasma looked on in absolute disbelief as Rainbow Dash started to glow. The wispy tendril of pink light had suddenly erupted into a torrent of energy that washed across the room, slicing the darkness to ribbons.

Her entire body coursed with light. Not the warm luminance of love energies, or even the caustic glow of changeling magic. This was something else, something different, and its very presence seared Phantasma.

“What is this magic?” Phantasma gasped, recoiling as her hide began to steam. She took one step back, and suddenly felt something yank forward inside of her.

She lurched as her chest bulged outward. She stared down, eyes wide in shock. The black tar encompassing her body eroded away, little by little, until she saw the source of that pulling sensation; a jet black stone heaving for all it was worth in Rainbow’s direction.

Applejack’s Corastone flickered with life. Strands of feeble green light glimmered like faint sparks just beneath the surface. It was physically tugging Phantasma across the floor, defying her scrabbling hooves.

The closer she got, the more her form dissolved under the relentless waves of magic washing over her. And the closer she got, the brighter the light in the Corastone became.

Finally, Phantasma managed to dig her heels in and stand her ground. “No!” She howled, wrestling with the unrelenting force pulling her forward. “I… will not…!”

Her horn glowed, more shadow than light against the shining force coursing all around her. With all of her considerable strength, she reached down, black tendrils of magic wrapping covetously around the Corastone.

The Corastone burned brighter, igniting with intense green light. And then, it began to warp.

Phantasma could only watch as the perfect sphere became an oval. It strained against her, burning her as she fought to resist. The pounding inside of her reached a fever pitch, unrestrained energies coursing through her every limb. Then, the Corastone cracked.

It tugged, then cracked. Tugged harder, cracked more. Soon, a spider web of fractures covered its surface.

By now its leading end was almost conical in shape, so greatly had it deformed. It continued to stretch, splintering and fracturing, right before Phantasma’s eyes.

In pure desperation, she rounded on the source of her predicament; Rainbow Dash. With a furious howl, her horn burned darker still, and a hundred black shards burst forth, all bound for the glowing pegasus with lethal intent.

They made it halfway across the room when, with an almighty bang, the Corastone shattered like an egg. Phantasma let out a scream of mingle defiance, shock and rage as her form collapsed, her body reduced to nothing more than a puddle on the floor, and her last ditch attack vaporized in midflight.

Out of the superheated husk shot a tear-drop-shaped lump of green-hot rock shining so brightly it hurt to look directly at. It streaked across the room like a comet, headed straight for the shining form of Rainbow Dash with almost desperate haste.

As it approached, Rainbow’s chest glowed brighter still. And with an answering shimmer, a prismatic stone emerged from her as easily as a pebble through water. Then, with the suddenness of a gunshot, it took off.

It zipped around the room like a loosed arrow, seeming to revel of speed and motion with reckless abandon. It left a streak of countless colors in its wake as it zipped this way and that, annihilating oily feelers as easily as light banishes shadow.

But despite its apparent wanderlust, the object did not venture far. It was drawn in on a rapidly shrinking circuit around its partner. Both whirled around the room in a blinding dance, orbits rapidly decaying, until the two met with the force of a pair of cannonballs colliding midair.


A million visions flooded her mind. Visions of teasing, taunting, playing… sneers, smug looks, respect…

A vision of a better time, high atop a cloud, what must have been a thousand years ago. A setting sun, dying the sky pink and clouds fiery red. And her, sitting next to her. The smooth texture of her chitin, so soft and warm… the gentle motion of her amber mane… and a gentle smile, free of the weight of responsibility and stress for the first time in months…

The warm, soft fur brushing her side. The feel of sun-kissed feathers tickling her chitin… A presence so unmistakable she didn’t even have to look at who it was to know…

An eye glanced in her direction. Twin-ringed amber eyes flicked in a number of tiny micro-movements before her fanged smile grew bigger, almost teasing. A comment about staring, which Rainbow wasn’t really paying attention to…

A pair of purple eyes staring at her, filled with that cocky, confident fire she both hated and admired, though now it seemed tempered—smoldering peacefully instead of blazing riotously. She abruptly looked away, drawing a chuckle from Applejack…

And a feeling in her heart. A feeling of total contentment. This was how it should be. This was what she wanted.

For Rainbow, this was the way things were supposed to be. For Applejack, it was the way she wanted it, with all her heart.

And for a moment, always too fleeting of one, their hearts sang in unison as the world passed them by for once…


Seams fused together. The two halves became one individual heart-shaped crystal filled with swirls of green and bands of rainbow-colored light, the two colors blending together like mingling dyes. The pounding reached a rapid, feverish tempo. And with each passing second, the light shining from within underwent one final change.

The flames calmed as the acidic green within the heart-shaped stone grew brighter, and brighter, before morphing into a dazzling shade of bright pink.

All at once, the furious pounding stopped. The revolving stopped. Everything, for one instant, stopped. And then, with the suddenness of a lightning strike, the newly formed Crystal Heart detonated in a blinding nova of unleashed energy.


“For another thing!” Twilight shouted furiously, “Would it kill you to maybe, I don’t know, tell me things?! We could’ve avoided the entire Nightmare Moon thing if you’d just, for once in your life, talked to—”


A loud argument was nothing compared to the deafening report of a magical blast wave. Everypony felt it rip across the basin and ridgeline, temporarily cutting off heated arguments, some of which had turned quite violent.

Everypony turned towards the jet black monolith darkening the night sky, some looking on with fright, others with indignation.

“Oh what now?” Twilight groaned.

For a moment, she didn’t get an answer. Then, a tremor ran through the ground. It was like the thud of a massive footfall, striking only momentarily before dissipating. Then it happened again, harder this time, and again.

Twilight looked on suspiciously as a glow manifested atop the towering crystal formation. A faint emerald light grew, rising in brightness until it dominated the top-most spires. The glow started to spread, throwing back the dead blackness. And then, as the green light began to fill every spire and spike, a new color chased it down from the top.

A brilliant pink hue began to seep down, brighter than all others before it. It cast long, bold shadows from the trees and ponies gathered nearby, reaching far beyond and into Ponyville’s empty streets and interrupting a fiery argument between a fashionista, a pegasus and a party pony down one particular back alley. On the outskirts of a wooded district, two princesses paused in their disagreement to turn towards the intrusive lights, while an army of drones shielded their eyes and braced themselves.

Shafts of light lit up the heavens, stirring ponies from their sleep for miles around as the blinding light found them. Ponies in Canterlot stopped in the streets and pointed toward the distant light shining ever brighter. In the Everfree, a hormonal Balaur lifted its five heads to eye the skies suspiciously.

So bright was the light that Twilight shielded her eyes with a hoof. As she did, through squinted eyes, she saw a peculiar change that made her forget her suspicions.

The radiant pink light was morphing in color, its hue changing with every passing second. Again it trickled down from the crystal formation’s pinnacle filling out the rest of the structure as it descended. By the time it reached the base, it had dissolved into a thousand different hues, some without names or descriptions.

The pinnacle of the spire turned brighter and brighter, energy crackling up and down the entire structure. In a matter of seconds it was replaced entirely with an even brighter nova of countless colors. It was so bright, so intense, that it seemed almost corporeal, taking the form of a shimmering aurora radiating from every crystalline surface.

The irrational anger inside Twilight ebbed, giving way to stunned awe. She could feel the intense waves of power rippling off of the structure before her, washing over the land and seeping deep into the earth.

The foul thorny vines started to shine and wriggle in the ground, before tearing themselves free. Some were as massive as telephone poles, some as spindly as creeper vines. But all ripped themselves from the earth and turned towards the heavens, forming straight pillars.

Before she could even process the implications of those waves, she felt the soft embrace of a wing pull her against another’s side.

“I’m sorry,” Celestia said over the rising chorus of gasps and cries.

Twilight sighed and leaned against her mentor’s leg. “Yeah… me too.”

Everypony watched as, with an echoing rushing sound, the crystalline structure started to splinter, then fall apart. Spire by spire, plate by plate, it broke apart into hundreds upon hundreds of cascading chunks, which all came tumbling down with thunderous crashes.

And as the artificial sunrise faded, all eyes fell upon the thin, upright spire tucked within the structure’s innermost heart, now laid bare for all to see. It was upon the summit of that spire that the fading light retreated to, deep within a hollowed out pyramid, inside a crystal chamber of now fiery violet light.


The light was dimming now. Within the chamber, every wall and surface hummed with gentle light that chased away the darkness. Not a single tendril or drop of tar remained. All along the periphery of the chamber, where the slanted pyramid met the floor, gaps and holes had opened up in irregular but overlapping patterns, allowing the cool night air to filter in from all sides.

And within the center of the chamber, a great wall of countless filaments and shafts was collapsing. With the sound of a thousand panes of glass smashing against the ground, they tumbled to the floor in a cacophonous cascade.

This was the scene Rainbow’s senses opened up onto as she stirred weakly.

The first thing she became acutely aware of was that, no, she was not actually dead. Probably. She felt lighter than air. Almost… ethereal. So for a long time, she wasn’t sure if she was dreaming or not.

The second thing she noticed was that somepony had their hooves around her.

In her ear, a voice whispered. “Say somethin’… please…”

Rainbow licked her lips. It took a lot just to get her mouth open. “Muh… maybe… maybe after… a few naps…”

She’d never heard so much relief put into a single huff of air before. “Ah thought Ah lost ya.”

Rainbow looked up towards the ceiling. The lights shimmered and danced, blurring incomprehensibly in front of her eyes. “Is… is this… real? Oh ponyfeathers, don’t say… I’m dead.”

The one holding her up chuckled in her ear. “Nope. Not yet, sugarcube.”

That word… that last word. It triggered something inside Rainbow. Suddenly, the blurriness in her eyes seemed to sharpen, as something hard and unusually warm and flat came up to catch her. It took her quite some time to realize that that thing was actually the floor.

As she came to a rest on the ground, something brushed against her cheek. It was firm and warm, like a muzzle. And that simple touch seemed to pour liquid fire into Rainbow, bringing her senses back to life.

Her vision was blurry. She felt so faint… so weak… like a chunk of deathly cold permafrost had formed inside of her. But as the comforting warmth stole through her body, melting the lifeless cold, her eyes focused, and she couldn’t help but gasp.

The most beautiful creature she’d ever seen stood over her, head held low over her. A sleek, slate black body. Slender, graceful legs without even the smallest trace of a hole. A flowing mane of amber hair that shimmered and shined like polished gold. Big, twin-ringed amber eyes encapsulating perfectly round pupils. A smile devoid of fangs. And a long, elegantly curved horn with only a single crook slightly above the base…

An amber shell upon her back stood open, allowing her to spread large, translucent wings that shimmered in the light. Sometimes, they appeared to have a red sheen. At other times, they glinted green. At still others, they had a blue tinge. All colors of the rainbow were represented, and though they moved clumsily, the strength in those broad, beetle-like wings was evident.

Rainbow blinked up at the smiling face looking down at her, her eyes huge. And then, she fell flat on the ground with a heavy groan. “Dang it… I knew I was dead.”

“Uh… Why?”

Rainbow put a hoof over her eyes. “Why else would an angel be here?”

She didn’t have to look at Applejack to feel her roll her eyes at her. “C’mon now, enough of that,” she said, sounding both exasperated and a little relieved. “Y’all can save yer flattery fer when we get home.”

Rainbow removed her hoof and looked at the figure standing over her. It sure looked like Applejack. Sounded like her, too. But there was something almost supernatural about her. She seemed to shine; her mane and tail were too bright to just be reflecting the glow of the chamber. And there was this feeling around her—literally around her. Just by being close to Applejack, Rainbow felt something akin to static tickling her fur and skin. It was like there was some thin layer of compressed pressure wrapping around her. Rainbow had never felt anything like it, but when she felt it pass over her, her muscles automatically relaxed and her senses calmed.

“Can ya move?” Applejack asked.

Rainbow grunted, shaking herself back to reality. She rolled over and tried to pick herself up, but her legs felt as weak as jello.

Applejack saw it, and put a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s alright. Ain’t no rush. Just stay there a spell till ya feel better.” The hoof disappeared after a moment, and Rainbow could’ve sworn the air around her felt ten degrees colder. “Ah’ll be right back.”

Rainbow turned to look questioningly at her as Applejack stepped over her and took several long, elegant strides away from her. Before Rainbow could ask what was going on, however, a raspy hiss rose to fill the room.

Rainbow struggled to lift her head in the direction of that ominous sound. Considering the day she’d been having, she didn’t have to wonder if it was a bad sign.

The lifeless shards of Applejack Corastone’s shell were trembling amid a building pool of black tar not far away. They had scattered all across the room, but now they were sliding and rolling back towards a central point, all of their own accord.

No… not this time… I… refuse…

The ooze swelled, spreading across the ground until it had amassed enough to lurch upward.

I… will never fade… I will never be… forgotten…

A misshapen, five-jointed limp pulled itself haphazardly from the muck, followed by a nine-jointed one from a bizarre angle. More appendages took shape, each more horrific and abstract than the last.

You cannot stop me…! I will have my revenge! One way… or another!

Phantasma pulled herself off the ground in a lurching, haphazard series of motions, struggling to coordinate her mass of disjointed limbs. Gone was her tall, pony-like façade. Now all that was left was an amalgamation of body parts without any sane comparison. Compared to it, her previous equine form had been beautiful beyond compare.

Her head, if it could be called that, was a vaguely pony-shaped chunk whose only actual feature was a single, hateful right eye. Attached to that, its neck was bloated and asymmetrical and connected it to the rest of the nightmare of skittering and twitching limbs by a corpulent maggot-like body.

As the monster stood up to its full height—nearly three times Applejack’s—Phantasma’s chest pulled itself open, revealing it to be a maw of gnashing, hungering teeth made from the discarded Corastone shards. Deep within that mouth seethed a nucleus of green fire.

I… I am the Queen of Queens! The master of the Court! The wheels of history move at my touch! You have some nerve to defy ME!”

The gnawing, chattering chest-mouth let out a deafening, hateful bellow, filling the air with fire.

You think you’ve won? You think just because you’ve cast me out, that I am beaten? Hah! Ha-ha-ha! So long as my Corastone remains, I will come back to haunt you, again and again and AGAIN! You cannot win! You… Will… Never… WIN!”

While she raged and thrashed manically, Applejack neatly folded her wings and stowed them beneath her amber carapace. “Ya know, y’all sure like ta hear yerself talk.”

Phantasma snarled. “Excuse me?”

Applejack looked her square in her eye, unflinching. “Once upon a time, y’all were the most feared changelin’ there ever was. Now look at ya; yer just a memory too afraid ta die. All ya do is take yer frustrations out on everypony else, but where has that gotten ya? Just look at yerself! You ain’t even a changelin’ no more! This whole thing is dragged on long enough, Phantasma. Just let it go.”

Phantasma roared in her face. “I will never! All that matters to me is my revenge! Your mother… Carnation…! She should have picked me! She was supposed to pick me! I am the only one who understood her! And instead, she KILLED me! All to make nice with these… these… ponies! She betrayed me, the only one who mattered! No, I will NOT let this go. Not so long as one SPECK of my being remains!

“Ah suppose there ain’t gonna be no reasonin’,” Applejack said evenly. “Mama saw the same thing in ponies Ah do, but yer so set in yer ways Ah could never make it make sense to ya. All Ah can do fer ya now is ta put ya down ta rest again.”

Phantasma grew still for a moment. Her eye rested on Applejack for a long time. “You’re just like her,” she commented. It was such a plain, inflectionless statement that it took Applejack by surprise. “We were of the same mind, her and I. We both wanted something better for our people. So then why…

Abruptly, the rage snapped back into her features. “Oh who cares about that anymore!? If I can’t destroy Equestria, I’ll just settle for YOU!

With an enraged howl, the monstrosity opened its expansive maw—a gaping chasm of teeth and fire large enough to swallow Applejack whole and then some. From that cavernous mouth poured an eruption of caustic fire that billowed forth, taking the shape of grasping claws.

A flash of motion out of the corner of Applejack’s eye. She turned, and just saw Rainbow launch herself at her, fire in her eyes. Applejack twisted, opting to catch her instead of address the column of fire bearing down on them.

An instant before they grabbed hold of each other, an arc of energy jumped between them. And just as the heat of the flames started to burn against their bodies, the flames unexpectedly parted.

The roar of the hellish inferno was met with a loud, almost musical keening sound. The eradicating flames were met with a nova of brilliant, indomitable light.

The fire withered against the overpowering wall of force colliding with it. Phantasma staggered back, shielding her eye against the glare while she snarled.

Not far away, Applejack opened her eyes and looked down to find Rainbow hugging her chest tightly. “I’m not out of this yet, bugbrain,” she growled. “Me? Let you fight for me? No way, not after everything I’ve been through to get you back to normal.” Rainbow raised her head, her eyes burning with determination. “You and me, Applejack. Together.”

Applejack blinked at her. Then, she smiled. “Like always.”

Rainbow grinned. “You got that right.”

They nodded to each other, then in unison, they let each other go. Together, they rose to their hooves. Together they stood tall, and together, they turned to face the enemy.

Across the room, Phantasma scoffed. “Oh what’s this? Coming to face me hoof in hoof? Fine, it makes no difference to me.

“We’re gonna make you eat those words,” Rainbow shot.

Both she and Applejack took a step forward in unison. And as they did, a bolt of lightning arced between them. The very air between their bodies shimmered with heat, catching Phantasma’s attention.

They were both in motion at the same time. Rainbow’s wings shot open, and she darted to the right. Applejack sprang forward, breaking left.

Is that the best you can do?!” Phantasma laughed. Two of her misshapen claws lifted, and in the palm of each, a dark energy crackled.

Rainbow saw it coming and veered sharply upward, neatly dodging the ray of deathly energy meant for her chest. The blast instead carved a black scar across the surface of the chamber roof.

Applejack planted her hooves and sprang to the side, just managing to dodge a blast aimed her way.

As she watched, more limbs were lifting off the ground, each one humming with a dark, lethal power. And as they did, the spire they all stood on trembled.

Applejack glanced towards one of the openings in the wall, and witnessed a massive shadow falling towards them. “Rainbow!” she shouted. Her own wings shot open, and she threw herself to the side as a massive, fanged tendril crashed into the chamber, bringing down a section of the roof.

As Applejack sailed through the air, she felt something catch her by the side.


The next thing she knew, her course changed, and her hooves hit the ground, which gave her a lot more traction than glassy crystal might suggest.

Across from her, the monstrous maw snapped and tried to lunge in her direction. It broke off more of the ceiling and roof as it wormed its way forward in its attempt to fit the rest of its head inside.

“That’s gonna be a problem,” Applejack grunted.

“Ya think?” Rainbow shot back as she landed next to her. “What’re we gonna do?”

Scream as you die a painful death would be my suggestion,” Phantasma laughed from across the room.

The slavering fangs spread open wider as more of the structure crumbled. Any moment now and it would be able to rip itself free.

That was when a band of golden magic wrapped around its neck. The monstrosity yelped… and was gone, wrenched back the way it’d come.

As the hole opened up, Rainbow and Applejack beheld the scene outside.


Once oily vines now writhed hundreds of feet in the air, each one sprouting at least one pair of snapping jaws big enough to crush houses. And yet, they were all too preoccupied to ever turn their attention on the spire.

Hundreds of changelings whirled through the air, harassing the gargantuan things. On the ground, multicolored spells light up the night, detonating across oily black bodies.

Applejack just caught sight of the monstrosity that had been ripped free of their chamber now turning around to face a dazzling figure that radiated light like an earthbound sun. At Princess Celestia’s side, Twilight was busy literally knotting two of the monsters in a textbook constrictor knot.

“Stay sharp, Twilight,” Celestia instructed. “Do not let them surround you.”

“I’m on it,” Twilight said, focusing. She watched with quite a bit of frustration when the two monstrous tentacles she’d just tied up—literally—partially dissolved into smoke, then reformed, untangled. “They just keep coming.”

“Indeed,” Celestia noted. The massive tentacle she’d wrenched from the spire made a sudden lunge for her, closing the distance with frightful speed. In the next instant, the air was rent by the sound like a cannon firing, and the tentacle was bowled over backward, crushing at least three others as it was launched away. “I have not felt such dark, hateful magic in a very long time.”

The bowled over tentacle suddenly launched itself upright again, and with terrifying speed it swung its body around like a bludgeon. Both Twilight and Celestia saw it coming, and both turned to face it.

That was when a massive, starry claw smashed into its throat.

The monstrous creature yelped in surprise as something enormous and very upset fell upon it, delivering blow after blow with its free claw.

Twilight blinked as she reeled back, caught very much off guard. The enormous creature didn’t seem entirely corporeal; it had no reflection nor cast any shadow, and instead seemed like a living, moving piece of the night sky that was fully intent on bludgeoning everything in arms reach to a stain on the floor.

“We hope we are not too late!” called a voice behind them. Twilight and Celestia turned, as two figured swiftly flapped up to their level.

One of them, Twilight had to do a double take, for it was most certainly Princess Luna. Except, her mane had changed. Instead of the ethereally wafting mane she’d come to expect, it had turned completely black, like a starless night sky.

“Pray forgive my lateness,” Luna said, her voice cold. “I was not myself.”

“None of us were,” said Cadance, who flew up slightly behind her.

“I’m glad you’re both feeling better,” Twilight said quickly, “but what the hay is that?” She gestured towards the hulking starry figure, which was currently pounding a tentacle’s head into an ever-deepening crater.

Luna gave her a blank look, glanced at the creature, then back to her. “Oh, that would be Orion.”

“The constellation?!”

A slightly irritable look flashed across Luna’s expression. “Yes the constellation. Now, if you wouldn’t mind, on your right.”

Without even looking, Twilight angled her head and fired a jet of violet light at the monstrous tentacle bearing down on them. It let out a yelp, and suddenly shrank to the size of a blade of grass.

But even as it shrank to near nothing, more were bursting from the soil. For all of its brute strength, Orion wasn’t convincing any its victims to stay down.

“They just keep coming,” Cadance said as she fired another bolt of magic, which turned a tentacle to glass. A few moments later, and the crystalline body collapsed, giving way to a new, black tentacle forming from its base.

“Spread out,” Celestia instructed. “Protect as many as you can. Once the ponies have evacuated, we make for the spire.”

Three princesses nodded, and everypony fanned out across the sky, leaving a path of mayhem in their wake.


From atop the spire, Phantasma grumbled. “So, it would seem the princesses can use their magic again.

She rounded on Rainbow and Applejack, who were both out of breath. “I don’t know what you did to this throne, and frankly, I don’t care to know. Live or die, I will at least get the satisfaction of knowing you two are dead and gone. Then I will just bide my time and start this whole process over again. Don’t the two of you see? Your struggle amounts to nothing more than the stubbornness of petulant children. Regardless of whether or not I fall here and now, you will be no nearer in ending this war.

Across the room, Applejack and Rainbow continued to stand side by side.

“What do you think?” Rainbow asked while Phantasma rambled away.

Applejack frowned. “Ah need ta get closer. Can ya get me there?”

Rainbow snorted. “Filly, you can’t spell awesome without ‘me’. I’ll get you there.”

“…Be careful.”

“You, too.”

Applejack nodded, and took a step forward. And when she did, the loose shards and rubble around her hooves started to dance and jitter. The crystal floor all around her glowed intensely, and a dangerous hum fill the air.

Applejack raised her horn, and as she did, it ignited. From it came a brilliant pink light wreathed in a fiery orange flame. Her mane, tail and eyes all glowed like superheated gold, her hair rising as if weightless.

Phantasma’s eye narrowed as she rounded on the spectacle. “Oh? Want to try your luck, dearie? Alright, give it your best shot.

Pinkish, orange flames unfurled from Applejack’s horn as she raised it high, then swung it down to point straight at Phantasma.

The eruption of power that ripped from her body nearly threw her over backwards. The deafening bang of the blast filled the air, and a wall of energy surged across the room, filling it floor to ceiling.

Phantasma grinned at the impressive—though woefully inexpert—discharge, and with a wave of several limbs, her massive bulk sank through the floor. The blast tore through the empty air where she’d been, exploding out into the night sky and over the heads of the combatants outside.

A second later, Phantasma’s oily body launched out of the floor again like a breaching whale, mere feet from Applejack’s right. She saw it, but was unable to spring aside before a knobby limb swatted her with enough force to launch her off her hooves.

Pathetic, pathetic,” Phantasma chided. “Someone like you should know better than to try your hoof at magic. It simply isn’t one of your strong suits.”

“Then how about this?!”

Phantasma turned, got to “Wha—?”, and found a pair of hooves burying themselves into her face.

The sheer force of Rainbow’s impact was enough to bend Phantasma in the other direction and leave her misshapen head horribly deformed.

Rainbow grinned triumphantly—up until a claw grabbed her painfully by the forelegs, yanking her to a standstill.

Phantasma’s only eye reoriented itself, pulling itself to the left side of her head to inspect the ornery pegasus. “So, you chose to fight me up close, hmm? How gutless.

Rainbow curled her lip. “Why’s that?”

Phantasma’s face gave a mouthless grin. “Because, dearie, suicide is the coward’s way out.

Six claws, hooves and aberrant appendages leveled themselves at Rainbow’s head, each crackling with a dark power.

Any last words before I put you out of my misery?” Phantasma inquired.

“Sure,” Rainbow said back. “How about… gotcha?”

Phantasma blinked, suspicion flying to her defense, when she heard the scrabble of hooves on the crystal floor.

She turned, but too late did she notice Applejack closing the distance between them. She snarled, leveling barbed and clawed limbs at her, and thrust them in her attacker’s direction.

Only one found its mark, slashing against Applejack’s cheek. The rest swung through empty air as she ducked low, pivoted on her front two hooves, and leveled her hind legs straight at Phantasma’s exposed pulpy side.

As Applejack reeled back, her legs shined with pent up magical force, energy arcing through the air. And then, she bucked with everything she had.

The impact rang across the room like a gunshot. The force of it was enough to heave Phantasma’s incredible girth clean off the floor. It ripped through her body, tearing out the other side and striking the wall behind her with enough force to crater it.

In the next instant, Phantasma was sailing through the air, all the wind knocked out of her. She hit the ground hard enough to make the chamber quake, and rolled several times before coming to a rest on her back.

Phantasma took a deep rattling breath, then roared in defiance, legs kicking wildly at the air as they tried to find purchase. As she struggled, she noticed Applejack quickly step up towards her.

Her long, curved horn was ablaze with an alien magic she’d never seen before; pink, wreathed by orange fire. Concentrated magical power burned in her eyes as her horn discharged arcs of angry magic.

At the sight of that, Phantasma paused, then let out a peal of laughter. “Do you not learn, dearie? Or have we not been over this magical talent of yours? Honestly, what spells do you even know?

Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Just one.”

The air around Phantasma started to hum and crackle. Arcs of fulminating power jittered and danced all across her considerable girth. The monstrosity looked down the length of her, and suddenly realized what was happening.

She bellowed loudest of all as she struggled in desperation to rise, as the air around her let out a keening, shrieking sound of shredding reality, and with a fiery bang, she disappeared completely from sight.

Applejack stood motionless for a time in the now silent chamber. She stared at the charred spot where Phantasma had been, and she continued to stare until she felt a familiar presence alight on the ground beside her.

Though she would have liked nothing more than to lean against Rainbow, to feel that supportive strength she so relied on, she instead turned towards her.

Rainbow gave her an expectant look. Despite looking absolutely terrible, what with all of the dirt and cuts and lingering colorlessness in her face, Rainbow still looked ready and rearing to go for anything.

“Sup?” Rainbow said to the unspoken question Applejack was giving her.

“Rainbow, Ah need ya ta find Agave,” she said. “Get that gosh darn Corastone away from her, ya hear?”

“Loud and clear,” Rainbow said with a nod. “What about you?”

Applejack scowled and looked away. “Ah’m gonna make sure this is over and done with.”


Amid cultivated boughs and a green, forested square, a ball of soft pink changeling fire erupted out of thin air. From it, a mass of charred limbs and body parts crashed to the ground with an earth-shattering thud. Within seconds, the whole square stank of smoke.

Phantasma groaned, her warped form rippling and shifting. Limbs collapsed and reformed freely as she struggled to rise. Instead of flipping herself over, she simply reoriented her head and limbs in relation to the ground, which produced a sickening chorus of cracks and pops.

Why… why do they always defy me…?” she seethed to herself. “Carnation… urgh… Carnation…! Why didn’t you… choose me…? You were… supposed to… choose…

Phantasma went to stand, only to crush half a dozen spindly legs in the process. She looked over her right shoulder, and came to a grim realization.

Her body was dissolving again. Once solid limbs were melting back into black slime. She wasn’t in the throne room anymore.

Phantasma sighed irritably. “Oh just lovely…

A faint glow behind her caught her attention.

Phantasma turned around further with a grim sort of resignation. She was not expecting to see the humongous canvas tent dominating the center of the square. Through the dense canvas, something glowed with a clean white light.

All around her, trees sighed in a sudden low breeze. Grass gently waved, and flowers in nearby gardens bobbed in the wind. Overhead, a banner emblazoned with “Happy Summer Sun Celebration!” flapped in the breeze.

Phantasma stared balefully at the source of that light, her resignation deepening. “So… this is where you hid it. Typical of you, Carnation… Always in the right place at the worst possible time…

A loud buzzing sound drew her around the other way. Phantasma turned as the trees parted, and four figures descended from the sky.

Two drones held onto Applejack as she inexpertly alighted on the ground. At the sight of the terrible creature dominating most of the square, the drones squeaked in fright and jumped back. But in their place, a dozen more materialized from thin air, fangs bared and feral hisses rending the air.

More and more drones came into view, filtering down through the trees and appearing through blazing tunneling spells. But none dared approach the hideous abomination slowly crumbling in front of them.

Phantasma eyed them all, then turned on Applejack. Even as she melted away to nothing, she gave her a hateful glare. “Go ahead, then. Gloat. Revel in your victory. You’ve won. All of my plans have fallen apart—again. Like mother, like daughter; a traitor to your own kind. Just look at you…

Phantasma looked her up and down. “One of a kind, alone in the whole world. Hmph… and you accuse me of no longer being a changeling. Tell me; what’s the view like from your high horse?”

Applejack shook her head. “Y’all still don’t get it. Ya probably never will, I suppose.” She looked up to stare Phantasma in the eye. “We just proved ya wrong; Ah ain’t ever alone. Ah ain’t ever been. And so long as we’re together, y’all ain’t ever gonna win.”

Phantasma groaned. “Such an idealist, just like your mother. Always prattling on about the good of everyone…

Applejack shook her head again. “Ah guess some things just run in the family. Right, aunt?”

Phantasma’s expression soured. “Don’t you ever call me that. But…” she looked down. “I… suppose there is some truth in it.

There was barely anything left of her now. Amid a pool of congealed muck, the stalk of her neck protruded up into the air.

This… isn’t how it’s supposed to end,” Phantasma grumbled, and in her tone, there was something less hateful—something that almost sounded afraid. “Ugh… Now I have to start all over again.

With a grunt of effort, Phantasma’s sludgy body heaved. The drones closed in around Applejack, horns crackling and maws snarling, but Applejack stayed at their front.

With much grunting and straining, Phantasma managed to condense herself into a form vaguely pony-shaped. Four jointless trunks picked her up while the rest of her body cascaded copious amount of sludge. Her new form wouldn’t last long.

Know this, daughter of Carnation,” Phantasma spat. “I will never stop. On that, I pledge. Over, and over, until I win; that is my curse upon you.”

Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “That ain’t gonna happen. Ah’ll make sure that Corastone of yers gets put someplace safe where it won’t hurt nopony.”

No?” Phantasma said, a ghost of her jeering tone coming back. As she spoke, she backed up slowly, laboriously. “Are you that naïve, dearie? Think about it; someone got my Corastone to you. Someone orchestrated this entire thing from behind the scenes and you never even noticed. Have you ever stopped to wonder who could possibly be responsible?

The corners of Phantasma’s mouthless face pulled up in a simile of a grin. “No? Well, I could venture a guess for you.”

She took one final step back, her rear-most leg brushing the heavy canvas tent. And as soon as she touched it, the light glowing inside rose to a blinding intensity. A howl of wind washed over the square, rushing out from inside the tent itself. So intense was the blast that the canvas was lifted clean off the ground, exposing the thing inside.

Balanced on a precariously thin stem stood a throne-like cup of bright blue crystal. Flowering vines wrapped around its entire body, giving it the appearance of a tree. Its highest pinnacle exploded with light, shining brightest of all.

And in the next instant, Phantasma’s body evaporated under the intense light. Within a split second, she was gone; even the corrupted fragments of Applejack’s Corastone were reduced to wisps of smoke.

The last thing Applejack saw of the ghost of Phantasma was its mouthless grin, its mocking purple eye, and its lipless jaw move as she spoke her final words.

“Not all queenless are on your side.”

Then, her form withered away to smoke, and for the second time, Phantasma was no more.


Rainbow swooped in low over the thatched roof buildings, ignoring the aches and pains ravaging her body. As she crested one more house, she came into sight of the train station. The lights of the platform were on, lighting up the shape of the train still parked in the station.

Rainbow came in low and fast, only touching down again when she was in the entryway. “Agave! Shining Armor!” She called as she landed. “It’s over! We…”

Her voice trailed off as her eyes swept over the scene in front of her.

Several guards were laying prone on the floor. Several crates of supplies had been overturned in an apparent struggle. And in front of Rainbow, a stallion stood in the middle of it all, a spear frozen in the act of parrying.

“Shining?” Rainbow question, frowning.

That was when she felt a sharp pinch against her neck.

Instantaneously, every muscle in her body tensed painfully. She could only inhale sharply as she cramped up and froze.

From her side, a beleaguered sigh sounded. “Won? No, I’m afraid not yet, sonrisa.”

Rainbow couldn’t turn her head, no matter how hard she tried. But she was still able to roll her eyes around in the direction of that familiar voice, and stare at the single blue eye looking back at her.

Cassava gave Rainbow a sad, almost apologetic sort of smile. “I’m sorry to have to do this to you, Rainbow Dash. Really. You’ll be back to normal in a few hours, I promise, as will Shining Armor. But I can’t have you stopping me right now.”

Cassava glanced over Rainbow’s shoulder, apparently reacting to some sort of sound he’d heard. “Really, things could have been so much more simple. It’s too bad Reina Applejack had to throw a monkey wrench in things. It was inevitable, I guess, but… it never hurts to hope for the best possible outcome.”

He turned, and as he did, Cassava patted Rainbow’s rigid shoulder. “You tell them that for me, won’t you?”

He strode away, and for a while, Rainbow could not see him. She only made out the click of his hooves on the train platform somewhere behind him, some manner of furtive movement, and then the sound of hooves approaching again.

This time, Cassava walked around in front of him, allowing Rainbow to look him in the eye.

His horn glowed. He was telekinetically tying a knot around his neck, securing a sort of sack to him. On his front, the sack bulged almost to the point of bursting, revealing a perfectly round shape inside

Cassava offered a sad sort of smile. “We all have our obligations. Just because they are unsavory does not mean we are free to discard them. Before Aconita took me in, I was duty-bound to another. One I… cannot abandon after all, it seems.”

Rainbow’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch. Cassava’s grin widened in response. “You know, I wish I could see the look on your face. It must be priceless. You ponies really do have the best reactions. But if you would, please tell Applejack that it was never personal. It was never about what her mother did to mine, or what she stood for. It was simply… duty. Yes, I was the one that brought Phantasma’s Corastone to her. It was really the only option. Either Applejack resurrected my queen, or…”

He glanced over his shoulder, off into some unseen spot out of Rainbow’s line of sight. “As I said. Sometimes, obligations are unsavory. I had a chance to save her, but thanks to Reina Applejack… that is no longer a choice. It was either her, or Agave. Now… now there is no choice.”

Then he sighed and turned to walk away into the night. He rounded Rainbow and trotted out of sight again, but she still heard him pause. “Tell her that for me. Oh… and tell Twilight… hm… nevermind.” He took a few more steps then paused with an “Ah.”

“Tell her… it was fun.”

He didn’t pause again as he swiftly strode into the night. Rainbow heard a strange shimmering sound, when the sounds of hooves vanished, she knew that Cassava and Phantasma’s Corastone had vanished into the night.