The ponies looked at Fluttershy.
"They're okay." She said.
That meant two things. The first was obvious, but the second was only heard because of what she didn't say. Since she hadn't mentioned it, the ponies realized that the fillies should still have their escape scrolls, which meant they had more options than in the worst case scenario.
"Then I guess I was right." Twilight was the one to speak with Chrysalis "You did lure us here to help break through the defences in the Amulet of Threshold."
"You are correct." She answered simply.
"Was it you who created a magical construct imitating Tempest of Destruction?" Trixie asked, trying to get as much information as possible.
"No. I wasn't even sure it was a magical construct until now." The Changeling Queen shook her head "But I did receive a message telling me that the Knights had arrived, so whoever sent me that message may have been the same being who sent the construct." Then she set her eyes in a glare "But if whoever it is thinks it can use me to get the Amulet for them, they don't know me!" And she got calm again "So thanks for destroying that construct, it will make it easier to prevent others from interfering." She charged some magic "Now, since you know what you want, there's no need for more talk, I'll see you at the cave." And she teleported away.
The Knights and Squires weren't stupid enough to believe they wouldn't be watched, so instead of talking, Twilight just used her eyes to pass Fluttershy the message that she should check on Night Time.
The pegasus did so, sending a message that amounted to "What's the situation?" and waiting for an answer.
Night Time's role in the plan was the most mutable of all, because the Knights knew that the results of their other plans, and the reaction of the changelings to them would be hard to predict.
As such, instead of an actual plan, she had a set of objectives with different levels of priority, and one of the most important could be described as "keep an eye on the fillies".
This was made easier by the fact that her specialty was stealth, one of the reasons why she had chosen to join the Night Guard. The way it worked was difficulty to explain, partly feeling air currents to know the positions of others, partly flying silently and being good at making use of shadows to hide.
Of course, that wouldn't be enough to hide in the city when it was almost to the end of the afternoon, and with so many ponies (and changelings disguised as ponies) around. But she also had something extra.
As the member of the Night Guard chosen to participate in this mission, she had received a single-use blessing from Princess Luna. And when the Changelings started to attack, she decided it was the perfect time to use it.
Reaching inside herself, she activated the blessing, and focused on the "Night" aspects of Princess Luna, which was helped by her own affinity with the darkness. With a raging flow of magic, the pegasus turned into a living shadow.
She went around the city observing, trying to gather information on the movements of the changelings (another objective) before she saw the crusaders and shifted her attention to them.
It was because of this that she was able to see when Bunker Breaker and the fillies being attacked by a huge group of changelings. The unicorn fought bravely, even valiantly, to the point where Night Time had to admire him, but even with his powerful large scale spells, there were just too many Changelings, and their coordination was too good, and eventually he was knocked out and the fillies were captured.
Night Time thought about going to help him, but there were still too many changelings, and she had received all the updates about the situation, and knew that finding the other changeling base was a priority. She wouldn't have stayed hidden if the crusaders were in danger (though in this case, they probably would have used their escape scrolls and it wouldn't have been an issue) but they were simply carried together with Bunker's limp body.
Night followed the group as they moved to the east of the town and then a little to the south, before disappearing inside an almost invisible hole in the floor.
The night guard knew there should be too many magical countermeasures for her to attempt to sneak into the base, but finding it was already a good outcome. She was thinking about trying to pass the information when Fluttershy contacted her, asking for information.
Night Time thought about it before focusing and trying to send the information she had. She settled on the short message "Fillies captured, found base." followed by the coordinates of where she was "3245 meters east of the town and 782 meters south."
After a few moments, she received a message saying "Received message..." Followed by her own message, without any flaws. So she didn't have to worry about not having been understood.
And then after a few seconds, she received instructions "Wait for reinforcements and support their attack."
She could do that.
Fluttershy passed on the message "Found base" to the three Knights, and they quickly had a conference via glances to decide the best course of action. Soon, Sunset told her what message to pass on to Night Time, and then they had to actually go to the cave.
The eight ponies focused their magic together for a shared teleportation spell, and then they appeared right outside the cave.
There were dozens of changelings waiting for them, and a few of those changelings detached themselves from the group and "escorted" the Knights and Squires to the inside of the cave.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders hadn't really struggled upon being captured by the Changelings. That was because their sisters (and Rainbow Dash) had made clear that their safety was the first priority and they were expressly forbidden from doing anything heroic "unless there was no other choice". They also had special escape scrolls hidden inside their bodies (one of the latest developments by the research and development part of the Knight Support Group which worked at the castle), and could simply teleport away whenever they wanted.
There were two reasons why they didn't do it.
The first was that, despite being unable to contribute a lot, the three had participated in the planning session, and the possibility of them being taken prisoner was brought up. One of the conclusions reached was that having the Crusaders pretending to be incapable of escaping would be the best situation, since the changelings would have to commit resources towards watching them, and they would drop their guard thinking the Knights would be unable to defy them.
Of course, that was only in the case that the Crusaders weren't put on cocoons and had their minds read, so the three were ready to teleport away as soon as it looked like that would happen.
The second reason was that, soon after they were brought to the cell, they heard a message from Fluttershy asking "How are you?", and they managed to send back what amounted to "Captured. In a cell. Escape ready." And afterwards, they received another message saying "Stay there unless it becomes dangerous. We have a plan."
And that was that. The three fillies wouldn't simply disobey an order by the Knights in the middle of a mission. But still, they were young, and excitable, and easily bored, so without much else to do in that cell, they decided to strike up a conversation with the changeling who was guarding them.
"Hi, what's ya name?" Applebloom asked straight out.
The changeling stared at them in surprise, he could not believe the fillies would be bold enough to actually talk with one of the enemies who captured them.
"Come on, tell us! It's so boring here." Scootaloo insisted.
"Ah, sorry mister Changeling. We forgot to introduce ourselves first. My name is Sweetie Belle." The filly unicorn spoke with an apologetic voice.
"Ah, I'm Scootaloo." Her partner said.
"And Ah'm Applebloom." The third member of the group finished "Could ya tell us your name?" She asked more politely this time.
The changeling was still somewhat nonplussed by the situation, but eventually he spoke.
When the Knights and Squires got to the same barrier Twilight had examined earlier in the day, Chrysalis was waiting for them.
"Good, you are already here. I hope you won't disappoint me by taking long with this." She said, with a smug smile on her face.
They didn't rise to the provocation "Trixie," Sunset called "You deal with the first layer."
The show mare approached the barrier and examined it for a little bit using her magic. Making a decision, she started charging magic, and kept doing so for a few seconds.
"Perfect Illusion: Small Sandbox!" She cast, shooting a spell at the barrier.
As might be expected, Small Sandbox wasn't the kind of spell that simply did the obvious. In this context, the word sandbox indicated an isolated world, like a sandbox where a foal was imagining adventures. The purpose of the spell was to isolate the magical defense systems and slow them down, but more importantly, it would prevent them from raising an alarm that would alert the Princesses (Chrysalis certainly would feel if that happened, and she wouldn't be happy.
The spell hit the barrier and made it visible, before it started changing colors wildly and wavering, before the barrier finally became invisible again, but instead of revealing only a dark corridor behind it, they could see tons of magical writing, seals and floating balls of light, revealing the true form of the closest defences of the Amulet of Threshold.
Trixie sat on the ground, panting "Isolated and revealed" She said in between pants. Sunset called for Pinkie, who grabbed a potion from her mane and threw it to Sunset, who gave it to Trixie.
She looked at Trixie drinking the potion before charging her magic with a flare of power.
"Right! My turn now, Magic Enhance: Magic Piercer!" She shouted, and a powerful arrow of magic appeared in front of her, similar to the one from when she used Bunker Breaker Blast to escape Sombra's trap. The arrow flared with a red shine before flying at the barrier and piercing it without losing speed, moving on to the revealed magic formations and causing havoc by striking them.
She looked back at Trixie "Rest for now, we'll need your help for the deeper defences." She turned to her other partner "Twilight, you take the lead."
The purple unicorn nodded and moved forward. And the three of them tried very hard not to stare at Chrysalis and give away the game.
That sequence of events had seemed to be perfectly innocent, but they had a hidden plan, and the fact that Trixie wouldn't cast spells for a while was an essential part of it.
After all, Perfect Illusion: False Life was a very powerful spell, but it couldn't actually cast magic.
The trick had been simple, but its execution was exquisite.
Everything actually started when Trixie charged magic. She had actually cast two spells at once at that moment. Both Small Sandbox and False Life. It was difficult to use two powerful spells at once, but Trixie wasn't considered the best mage among the Knights for nothing, her spells were incredibly optimized, spending very little energy and needing relatively simple magical formulas in comparison to what they could do. So, Trixie was able to get enough magic to do both spells as well as draw both magical formulas just by taking a few more seconds than she would usually need to use one of her special spells.
It was difficult, but achievable.
However, instead of using both at the same time, she used Small Sandbox and kept False Life in reserve, ready to be unleashed at any time. Holding a spell like this was also rather difficult, but it wasn't as difficult as her next part of the plan.
Sunset going near her to give a potion was planned. Trixie, despite being tired from the effort, wasn't as tired as she made it seem, which meant Sunset's actions seemed natural. After the show mare drunk the potion (better safe than sorry) the solar unicorn gave Trixie an opening by flaring her magic more than necessary, making it harder to sense that the blue unicorn was surreptitiously using more magic.
That was the hardest and most exacting part of the plan, Trixie had to use that opening to teleport away (writing the teleportation spell formula while still holding another spell) and immediately activate False Life to replace herself and prevent Chrysalis from noticing that one of the Knights was doing something she shouldn't.
This was stage magic. It was Trixie's specialty. And it was no wonder she managed to do it perfectly, for Trixie demanded perfection of herself in every spell, and her meticulousness was exactly what was needed for this kind of extremely precise performance.
Trixie appeared in the midpoint in between the cave and the city. It was a place that was guaranteed not to have changelings nearby, and more to the point, it was the place where Trixie had to be in order to continue the plan.
She laid on the ground for a bit, recovering from the strain of her recent feats, then charged a new spell slowly and deliberately, since it would need to be pretty large scale for what it needed to do.
"Perfect Illusion: Fake Reality!" She cast, covering the entire area from where she was to the cave itself.
Yes, the same spell that had seen use in their previous mission had returned.
Paying very close attention to be sure everything had gone well, Trixie then contacted Fluttershy to inform that everything was ready. Soon after, she received a message saying "Five seconds." So she waited for the required time before teleporting right to her False Life illusion, cancelling it at the same time, and trusting that her partners would cover up the magic she was doing with their own.
Fluttershy was following the others as they kept walking through the corridor leading to the Amulet of Threshold. Twilight was using her magic to change the nature of various sections of the corridor to make their magic circles impossible to activate, Pinkie Pie was warping in and out, deliberately activating defences and releasing burst of chaos magic to affect the environment as she moved, Sunset was destroying every place magic started to gather with her offensive spells, Applejack was looking to see if there were any hidden traps Trixie's spell hadn't revealed, Rarity was keeping her senses open to see if there were any suspicious flows of magic and ready to protect the others with barriers of wind, Trixie was just walking along and Fluttershy was using her empathy to see if Chrysalis was preparing to do something bad to them (or if she discovered their hidden plan).
Suddenly, Trixie caught her eye, saying "I'm back. It's time."
Nodding inside her head, Fluttershy reached out with her empathy to send messages to two very specific ponies. To Venus, she gave the coordinates Night Time had found and instructed her to attack the base. To Shining Armor she sent the same message, with the addition that it was time to "call in the reinforcements".
The plan of the Knights was simple. Having the changeling base attacked while Chrysalis was distracted, and keeping her from being informed by casting Fake Reality upon the area, isolating her from any real communication.
With this, the Changelings wouldn't be able to consolidate their forces, and could be defeat easier, being too split up. And the Changelings wouldn't be able to stop them by using the hostages, since the fillies could simply escape whenever they wanted.
And then there was the matter of reinforcements. When the identity of the threat was discovered, Shining Armor sent a message to Princess Celestia requesting that a battalion of guards was readied to act as a rapid-response force, since this was one of the situations in which military power could help. When he received Fluttershy's message, the Captain sent a message to the Princess, requesting that half the battalion be sent to the town in order to restore order, and the other half be sent to the target coordinates to assist them in taking the changeling base.
Princess Celestia herself would use mass-teleportation spells to send the guards.
With that done, Shining Armor teleported himself and Spike to the location of the base, where Night Time revealed herself (her blessing having run out) and pointed out the entrance. The captain put a beacon there to tell the others where to go, and then the three invaded the base.
At that moment, the process of putting Bunker Breaker into a cocoon was finally completed. But harvesting love from him wasn't the main reason for that. It's just that the mind magic of the changelings worked a lot better if the target was fully restrained by a cocoon, and they wanted to search his mind in order to discover the plans of the enemy.
However, there was one thing the changeling responsible for "information gathering" didn't know, and that was the fact that Bunker Breaker had received a blessing from Princess Celestia. He had not unleashed that blessing while defending the fillies because he felt that would only delay the inevitable, but upon having his mind attacked, even though he was unconscious, the blessing activated automatically.
He couldn't shape what he would receive, so the situation and his subconscious were responsible for what would happen, and as the energy of the princess spread through his body, Bunker woke up.
And then the cocoon exploded in fire.
The changelings nearby looked around until they managed to see what had happened, and they were the first to witness the guard enveloped in flames, and looking fairly pissed off.
Then he started casting siege spells that were also covered in flames.
The changelings nearby did not have a good day.
"And we haven't gotten out cutie marks yet, but it definitely is going to happen soon!" Scootaloo declared.
Thorax just looked at them. The three had managed to tell the story of their entire lives up to that point, including how they had joined together and tried to find their cutie marks. And there was something in that story that caught his attention.
"So you just... try things? You don't have someling to tell you what your destiny is?"
"Ya can't!" Applebloom declared, somewhat angry "Nopony can tell ya what your destiny is, ya just have ta search for it, ta decide what is gonna define your life!"
Those words clearly had an effect on Thorax, he turned away from them and walked as far as possible without actually leaving his post.
But he couldn't get the words out of his head.