The hearts of the Squires were cold as they stared at the changeling monarch, who gave them a wicked smile but didn’t seem to be in a hurry to attack them. And the five understood why, as there was only a little bit of time remaining before Trixie’s spell ran out and Chrysalis was able to leave.
Applejack was the first to find her words, because she had finally understood “Ya… Ya split off a piece of yerself and left it ta take the blow and be destroyed in yer place.” The words came with difficulty “But how, how did Ah not see it?”
Chrysalis chuckled in dark amusement “I have seen many with the Eyes of Truth, and you are not even close of achieving the full depth of this power. Simply put, you were not good enough to do it.”
Shame and anger wrestled inside Applejack, but she remembered Trixie’s teachings. She remembered when Trixie told her to not let her mind and her sight be clouded.
The farm pony understood. Truly understood for the first time the depth of deception that could be found in the world. She understood how far she still would have to go in order to truly be able to see the perfect truth.
And with that understanding, she suddenly saw more.
“She’s weakened!” She shouted to the others, before breaking into a gallop in the direction of the changeling.
Yes. Chrysalis had been weakened by using such a dangerous method, which was the reason why she held off on trying to attack the Squires, preferring to make them think they had no chance.
Applejack saw through this deception, and realized that Chrysalis now had only around one third of the power she exhibited during the fight with the Knights and Squires. And she realized with a measure of horror that she now was at around ten percent of what should be her full strength. Which meant that even the terrifying battle capacity she had showed in their earlier fight was only around thirty percent of what she should be able to do in her peak state.
But there was no time to consider that, as Applejack reared up for a punch while bracing against the earth and using considerable amounts of earth pony magic as support. Chrysalis again created spikes on her body to forestall or redirect the attack, but Applejack’s new insight was still good, and she realized that, deciding then that the time for concerns over her own body was long past.
She punched directly on top of one of the spikes, cracking it and making Chrysalis gasp from the transmitted force, at the cost of a deep and painful cut right in the middle of her hoof. Channeling her earth pony magic to be able to step firmly even with that, she prepared another punch, but Chrysalis didn’t play along, jumping and flying away, now that Trixie’s spell was almost over and the isolation of their part of the world would be over. She didn’t really need to fight them, anyway.
Pinkie was angry.
If this was in the past, she would have tried to suppress her anger, but after learning a lot about emotion magic, she managed to realize that anger wasn’t necessarily a negative emotion. It could be a drive, a sense of indignation over an injustice that led her to trying to fix it.
Her anger flared when Chrysalis mocked Applejack, and Pinkie decided that she didn’t mind being angry for a friend.
Her emotion magic responded, and Pinkie discovered something essential.
She had never been able to harness more than ten or fifteen percent of the power of her emotions, but now she realized that it had been because her emotions were too diffuse, and the true path forward in the path of emotion magic was focusing on a single emotion at a time. Her anger had made every other emotion seem less important, and that focus made her able to draw an astonishing forty percent of the power of her emotions.
Power flooded through her tired body, and she felt more than revived, she actually felt stronger than ever. She looked as Applejack attacked Chrysalis, already knowing what she had to do, and making a decision when the changeling queen went flying and Trixie's spell ran out.
Chrysalis was not going to run away that easily.
Pinkie allowed her power to explode, ready to be used, causing a red glow to emanate from herself. With a grin, she stomped the ground, and released more magic than she ever had in her life.
"Chaotic Arts: Inescapable Arena!"
A circle of red grew from her, and encompassed all the area of the former spell.
And then, the skies and the earth around them became red and faded, and the flying Changeling Queen disappeared at the edge of the spell, only to reappear in the opposite edge. She looked at Pinkie Pie in disbelief.
"It's rude to leave a party in the middle." Pinkie laughed.
Fluttershy had despaired for a moment. With the Knights unconscious, who could possibly defeat Queen Chrysalis?
She stopped, surprising herself, with the realization that the answer was them. The Squires. They had to do it.
Fluttershy was tired, even with her abnormal magical capacity, the almost continuous use of powerful spells, including pushing herself to the limit in the latest fight, had made magical exhaustion start to creep into all her muscles.
However, the pegasus realized that being tired didn't necessarily mean being weaker. She could pull just as much magic from her soul as always. It would just be harder, it would hurt, it would cause internal damage. And none of those things would dissuade her from fighting.
More than that, the entire situation had heightened her focus, to the point where Fluttershy dared to try something she had never been able to achieve before.
Her talent was talking to animals, but most ponies didn't realize that this included things that most would consider monsters.
And she was going to channel the power of one of them, a manticore in this case.
Fluttershy's Empathy Drive was based on a connection, and for the Animal Spirit version, this meant that she had to not only understand the animals in terms of their characteristics, but she also needed to connect with them in terms of feelings.
This wasn't only things like hunger and pain, but also the interconnection of bees, the playfulness of bunnies and the stoutness of bears. Which were characteristics in a more metaphorical sense.
But for something as strong as a manticore, connecting with only a single characteristic simply wasn't enough to allow her to channel their power. Which was one of the things that kept her Empathy Drive from being a completely unfair ability.
Fluttershy had always felt that, in order to channel the power of a manticore, she would need to focus on three specific characteristics, which corresponded to the animals the manticore appeared to be a fusion of. She would need the majesty of a lion, the power of a dragon and the trickiness of a scorpion.
Any one of those things would have been beyond her reach before her training with Twilight, and even now they were spotty enough that she preferred to use other animals, who she had a greater ease in, but she had two reasons why she felt it would be possible now. The first was her newfound confidence, gained in this overwhelming situation.
The second was the fact that she had been fighting Chrysalis for those last few minutes. Her empathy had felt a lot from Chrysalis, and the Changeling Queen had majesty due to being a queen, trickiness due to being a changeling, and her power was also undeniable.
Yes. Chrysalis embodied the same three characteristics that Fluttershy was trying to embody herself in order to channel a manticore.
Fluttershy thought about Chrysalis' more positive qualities. She associated Chrysalis' power with Sunset, who also wielded great power, and associated her trickiness with Trixie, who was also a particularly tricky individual. But most of all, she tried to focus on how the different aspects of Chrysalis' being existed in harmony with each other.
With this she started to feel as if herself had those qualities. She felt the majesty of a ruler, commanding those around and fearing nothing. She felt a sensation of overwhelming power under control, power she could unleash at any moment to chance the face of reality. And she felt how tricky one had to be in order to survive in a world of falsities and trickery, where it was impossible to make sure that you weren't dancing on the hoof of another unless you completely hid your inner self.
"Manticore!" Fluttershy shouted, and the aura appeared around her. But it was much stronger and more real than any other animal aura she had done before, and seemed like a slightly translucent manticore with Fluttershy only barely visible inside.
She flew, the wind barely serving as an inconvenience even as she accelerated at an extreme rate. With a roar, she swung her paw in order to slash Chrysalis in half, managing to score wounds on her barrel even as she reinforced her armor. Then, instead of pressing on the attack, Fluttershy dodged backwards with a sharp movement by flapping her wings, having predicted Chrysalis' subsequent attack via the stab of a hidden blade sprouting directly from her abdomen.
The fight was only just starting.
When Chrysalis revealed herself to still be alive, Rarity knew that simply fighting the way she had been doing previously wouldn't work.
Attacking as artillery was useless against an enemy who could get close to her in an instant to attack. And Chrysalis would do it, because Rarity's wind attacks were now the greatest firepower their team had to try to deal with the changeling queen.
In fact, Rarity actually had a way of increasing her mobility. It was a spell inspired by the way she felt upon seeing the magnificence of Rainbow Dash's flying ability. And she had worked together with the pegasus in order to make it work. But after having to be rescued from terrifying crashes by the quick pegasus multiple times, the white unicorn had decided that it was too dangerous.
"Wind Wings!" Rarity shouted, and in an instant she managed to feel her entire body just from the touch of the nearby air. Rarity took control of every single aspect of the wind around herself, and created wings made out of wind to focus her powers before taking off.
Rarity had decided that it was worth it at this point despite the danger.
Just losing focus for a moment would lead to her crashing into the ground and sustaining heavy injuries from the immense speed she was moving. But in this kind of fight, losing focus for a moment would be a deadly mistake regardless of what she was doing.
Rarity shot into the air, feeling the rush of pressure while almost instinctively reducing its effects on her body. And looking from a distance, it would be difficult to recognize her as anything but a pegasus due to her movements.
Taking the skies as her domain, Rarity released a huge blade of wind to hit Chrysalis just as Fluttershy retreated from the other's attack. And Chrysalis had to fly sideways in order to barely avoid this devastating attack.
And the unicorn was only accelerating, ready for anything.
It had been a long time since Rainbow Dash felt like she was too slow.
She wanted to protect all of her teammates, and their previous fight had showed that even her reactions weren't enough to do so.
But Rainbow Dash decided that this was just because she was constantly speeding up and slowing down, which took time.
So obviously, her instincts told her that the obvious solution was simply to maintain a constant high speed forever, being able to reach anywhere in their arena in an instant.
The fact that she didn't need to turn much due to the wrap around nature of Pinkie's arena made that something that could actually work.
So the pegasus accelerated to two thirds of the speed of sound while the others were attacking, and noticed that even maintaining just this speed while fighting already took too much energy.
Rainbow Dash decided to train later in order to deal with that issue.
As soon as Chrysalis dodged Rarity's attack, Rainbow Dash hit her with a high speed punch and got away before the changeling queen even had the chance to counter-attack.
This was the beginning of the last phase of the battle.
"Pinkie!" Applejack shouted, while running towards Chrysalis "Multiple impacts!"
The other earth pony immediately got it, Chrysalis should be better at dealing with single strong blows than she was at dealing with multiple weak ones, perhaps due to the nature of her strengthening. So Pinkie shifted forward, seeing the world like the place she wanted to go was only a step away. With a snarl, she stomped the ground, mixing her earth pony magic with her chaos magic, forcefully turning all the loose earth into dangerously sharp shards of crystal, volatile due to an excess of chaos magic inserted at the last moment.
Pinkie threw all of them at Chrysalis, who turned to the side and shifted a wing into one similar to that of a dragon, blocking all the hits with some difficulty. That was because Chrysalis wouldn't commit common mistakes in a fight against multiple opponents, and was now facing Fluttershy, coming towards her with a mouth open for a bite. The Changeling Queen's answer to that was flipping in the air to go upside down, bringing up her tail, turned into a kind of morning star with a blade instead of spikes, in a vicious, magically accelerated strike.
Fluttershy challenged that attack with sheer strength, bringing up her manticore head to clash against it to prove her superiority. She won the clash, but was stunned for a brief period. Meanwhile, Rarity, having heard Applejack's words and feeling like a surfer on the world's most dangerous waves, created several small wind blades to shot at the changeling, all the while trying to maintain the control of her flight. Instead of defending, Chrysalis created dozens of big spikes on her underside, ignoring the wounds made by the blades for a moment.
Then she teleported, appearing somewhat below and in front of Rarity, before shooting her with all the spikes. The unicorn, supernaturally aware of all the disturbances in the wind, did a forceful series of high speed turns that made even the air scream. She succeeded in dodging all the spikes by a hair's breath, but lost control of her flight and was forced to do a high-speed, blind teleport upwards, evading a crash but losing the ability to do anything but keep herself in the air for the next two seconds, due to the magical stress on her brain.
"GET OVER HERE!" Pinkie shouted, with a feeling that would not be denied.
She extended a hoof, willing it to reach Chrysalis despite the distance, and grabbing the changeling queen before slamming her to the ground in an eye-searing chaotic motion that seemed to ignore notions of space. And then Applejack was there, punching at the Queen's face and every other weak spot she could reach on short notice, knowing that Chrysalis would take advantage of any possible opening. But it still wasn't enough, and Chrysalis was able to shapeshift extra joints and length into her legs while enduring Applejack's multiple punches and Pinkie's own chaos magic infusing punch.
And Rainbow Dash came for another attack run, only for Chrysalis to use her new legs to grab her in a spiderlike grip and be carried away. Wasting no time, she bit right at Rainbow Dash's neck.
"GAAH!" The pegasus screamed, but her physical enhancements held and Chrysalis was unable to deal a critical injury immediately.
Having only instants to act, Rainbow Dash forcefully crashed into the ground, with a force that would break the bones of any normal pegasus.
Rainbow Dash wasn't a normal pegasus, but the impact still rattled her enough that she was briefly stunned, even as she escaped Chrysalis' grasp with a combination of the crash and a forceful application of wind manipulation.
Rarity sent even more wind blades at Chrysalis, her focus sharpened even further, managing to keep her flight going perfectly despite her attack. But Chrysalis refused to give ground, shifting her armor enough that she managed to catch every strike in the strong parts and avoiding deep injuries. And then she had to deal with Fluttershy, appearing suddenly with a slash of claws, managing to score a deep wound on the side of the Changeling Queen, breaking through even the hardened defences with the majesty of a king.
But Chrysalis had the same majesty, and she didn't shrink away from the pain, instead sprouting several vinelike tendrils, that snaked around the manticore aura and grabbed it, allowing Chrysalis to, in a wind-assisted, bizarro version of a martial arts throw, launch Fluttershy-Manticore away. And then Pinkie Pie got there in a shift, again turning the earth into projectiles and launching them, at the same time as another wave of wind blades reached Chrysalis.
Both attacks scored wounds on her flesh, and Pinkie advanced for another chaos-infusing punch, but Chrysalis sprouted a hand-like set of tendrils from her side, that grew and grabbed Pinkie, before separating from Chrysalis' body and glowing with magic that prevented the earth pony from shifting away.
And then Chrysalis screamed.
The sound was loud and carried magic that seemed to go through all defences and strike directly at the mind. Everypony was stunned, and that was bad news for Rarity, who lost control of her flight. She desperately tried to recover before hitting the ground, but a squeeze in her horn from Chrysalis' telekinesis left her helpless as she crashed.
"GAAAAH!" Rarity screamed, feeling her bones broken.
Applejack recovered from her stunned state at that moment, and she could see the situation with absolute clarity. Chrysalis was shifting a leg into a spear-like form to pierce through Dash's heart. The target was still trying to deal with her previous injury, Rarity was in no state to interfere, Pinkie was unable to escape her trap, and Fluttershy was too far away to reach in time, even though she had also recovered.
The farmer herself was too far away to render any help.
In desperation, she forced her eyes more than ever before, and realized that she just had to somehow get there in time, there was no one else who could stop Chrysalis. She needed...
"OVERDRIVE!" Applejack shouted, unleashing a phenomenal amount of magic.
And then she stepped forward, forcing herself with pure strength to cross a path no one else could see, walking through space to reach Chrysalis' position in a single step.
Chrysalis couldn't react to that unexpected movement fast enough, she had already committed herself to the attack on Rainbow Dash, and Applejack channeled every remaining scrap of power of her Overdrive into a terrifying buck, aimed at Chrysalis' chest, seeking her weakest point, the heart.
"AAAAARGHHH!" The Changeling Queen screamed, as she received a buck that would obliterate any tree. Applejack's last thought before falling unconscious was satisfaction that she had at least weakened the enemy enough to help the others.
Chrysalis was in bad shape, her entire body full of cracks which dripped blood, her self-regeneration unable to cope with such an injury so fast. Feeling her weakness, Fluttershy dived down to attack her, while Pinkie struck her forehooves together, creating a spark that she turned into a flame to destroy the hand. The Changeling Queen was still able to fight, and faced Fluttershy's bite with a piledriver punch from one of her legs, neither of them gaining an advantage. Pinkie Pie shifted to Applejack's side and waved a hoof, causing the earth pony to be covered in earth before disappearing, keeping her away from danger. Rainbow Dash took of in Chrysalis' direction, intending to help Fluttershy in close combat.
The Changeling Queen disengaged, flying in Pinkie Pie's direction, with a leg shifted into a spear to try and pierce her. The earth pony immediately realized that Chrysalis was quite capable of teleporting directly to her if she tried to escape, so she created flames again and shifted them into arrows with her chaos magic, hoping to cause as much damage as possible. Chrysalis still kept on her path, despite the additional injuries, but at the last moment Pinkie Pie clapped, producing a tremendous shockwave that changed the trajectory of the attack, making it pierce only Pinkie's abdomen, instead of her heart.
But that was still a heavy injury, and so Pinkie shifted away, disappearing completely, because she knew her main priority was keeping her Inescapable Arena running. Chrysalis turned to fight the approaching Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash, and got hit in the back by many wind blades, courtesy of Rarity, who wasn't as out of the fight as expected.
"OVERDRIVE!" The unicorn shouted, unleashing her power.
"The wind cuts through everything..." Rarity chanted.
Chrysalis immediately shot a fireball at the unicorn, hoping to get her before she casted... And the fireball passed right through her, the Rarity in the field being only an illusion.
"Wind Sword Style: Great Wind Slash!" The voice came from everywhere.
Rarity suddenly appeared right to Chrysalis' side, her sword clad in a gigantic blade of wind. But the changeling queen reacted quickly, using every scrap of power remaining on enhancing her defences, to endure the attack.
With an impact like a localized tornado, the wind blade sent Chrysalis flying, blood coming out of every single one of her wounds, and even more cracks in her armor. But Chrysalis still managed to straighten herself out in the air, as Rarity fell unconscious from the overdrive.
And then Chrysalis was hit by Fluttershy's stinger.
That was the trickiness, as she hadn't used the stinger even once before, and now was injecting the changeling queen with the most concentrated and magically enhanced poison she could.
As a result, her defenses were down when Chrysalis screamed again.
Except this time it was much worse. This was the Banshee's Wail, the last ditch weapon of changeling royalty. Even Rainbow Dash who could completely focus on defense felt her bones rattle from the strength of the magical sound, and blood came out of Fluttershy's ears due to her proximity, before she collapsed.
Still, the worst effect was that the all-around attack managed to hit the hidden Pinkie Pie, disabling her Arena. And Rainbow Dash saw numerous changelings coming, attracted by the Wail, which also served as a general summon for the soldiers.
Chrysalis forcefully expelled most of the poison with a vomit and flew off towards her Changelings.
Dash knew that she was still not done, that she could recover enough if given love, so the pegasus realized that she had no choice other than to defeat her before she had the chance.
That was when she felt something click. She understood that this, this kind of do-or-die pressure was what she needed in order to use the special ability she had felt during her trainings. And she understood the nature of her ability, and grinned as she named it:
Rainbow Dash took off, accelerating far faster than she had ever been capable before. Countless spells were shot at her from the changelings, but she barreled through them without missing a beat. Reaching Chrysalis, she broke every single tendril she tried to use against her with quick and vicious punches, before creating a hurricane on her fist and smashing towards Chrysalis' chest... and changing targets to hit her abdomen at the last moment.
The pegasus landed, as Chrysalis hit the ground hard enough to leave a crater.
"Wind Destroyer Hoof." She said simply, completing the name of what she had done.
"How..." Chrysalis asked with her voice weak, somehow being still alive "How did you know I moved my heart...?"
Dash didn't hesitate to respond "I didn't know. It was just instinct." She prepared to attack Chrysalis one last time, seeing as the Changeling Queen seemed to be holding herself together with sheer will, parts of her body falling off.
Then she collapsed.
"Hey!" She was still awake, but unable to move "What is this?!"
She tried to summon lightning to finish Chrysalis off, but saw that even her magic was impossible to access. This was the price of the Limit Break, she had went beyond her limits and her body was unable to handle it.
Rainbow Dash could only watch as the changelings landed around Chrysalis and joined their powers to teleport her and themselves away, with the other changelings soon following suit.
She sighed. At least she had hurt Chrysalis enough for her to retreat...
The next day, Princess Celestia was reading the report about the mission, and she put both forehooves on her face when she got to the part about Venus.
"It's already starting... Other heroes are being infected by that silliness... The dignity of the protectors of Equestria is getting further and further away..."
It took a while for her to recover.
One month later, the proclamation of the five new Knights had come. Shining Armor and Spike were sitting side by side, watching it and talking.
"Are you really sure you want to be a Knight?" Shining asked the dragon "You saw how hurt they got after that battle. And it's taken this long just for them to recover enough to be able to participate in the proclamation."
Spike nodded "Of course. If I can help make it so they don't have to get hurt quite as much, it would be worth even if I get wounded like that." Then he grinned at the unicorn "By the way... I've been meaning to ask..."
Shining Armor felt a little uneasy "Ask what?"
"What were you talking about with that Venus once she pulled you away from the crowd that day? Did she give you her contact information?" Spike asked teasingly.
"None of your business." Shining answered with a blush, then he tried to change the subject "And what about you? Did you try to ask Rarity out? I saw how you looked at her."
"It wouldn't work out." Spike answered in a resigned voice.
Shining thought this was a little strange "Why do you seem so certain of that?"
Spike sighed "It's a little complicated, but one of the things Princess Luna helped me train in was the dragon sense for ownership in all its forms. I'm not exactly a specialist, but I could tell that Rarity's heart already belongs to somepony.
The unicorn was about to ask for more details when the ceremony got into the climax.
"As such, it is my honor and pleasure to proclaim you five as Knights of the Realm, great heroines of Equestria!"
The two joined in clapping and their conversation stopped for that moment.
And this was the day where the legendary Eight Knights of the Magic Soul were truly formed.
Squires/Changeling Arc End
Next: Deer Arc