What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

The Train Ride North

What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter XI – The Train Ride North

Twilight cast a nervous glance at the face of the clock sitting atop a nearby post. It was only five minutes until the three o’clock train would be arriving. She shifted her weight from one back hoof to the other and looked out across the boarding area. There were dozens of other ponies also waiting for the train to arrive, which was to be expected at one of Equestria’s busiest train stations. She and Twily had left from the palace together early enough to arrive at the Canterlot train station about fifteen minutes early, but so far there had been no sign of Moondancer, who had said she would head directly to the station herself once she had packed for the trip. Twilight had begun to grow a bit nervous as the remaining time had passed and their third has yet to show. Moondancer wouldn’t have forgotten about the trip, would she? Maybe she got held up?

Twilight quickly turned her head and perked her ears when she heard her name being called, and she breathed a sigh of relief and smiled when caught a glimpse of Moondancer waving to her from across the gathered crowd.

Moondancer picked a path through the crowd to make her way to Twilight. Her horn glowed while her magic pulled a wheeled travel bag along behind her, and she herself was wearing a light-blue turtleneck sweater and a set of glasses with a thicker black frame than what she had been wearing earlier in the day. “Made it! I thought I was going to be late,” she said as she walked up on the platform next to Twilight, sounding a bit out of breath. She noticed that Twilight was only wearing her saddlebags and asked, “Traveling light?”

“Well, I didn’t exactly bring a lot with me in the first place, and in the vision, I didn’t have anything else with me.” She nodded her head back toward her saddlebags and said, “I did decide to bring my journal, just in case. I think we’ll be meeting up with Cadance first to find out if there has been anything strange happening in the Empire lately.”

Moondancer nodded, and then she looked across to the other side of Twilight where Twily was quietly standing. The two both knew of each other, however, that didn’t stop their first actual meeting from to turn into an awkward silent staring contest for a few seconds. After struggling to find something to say for a moment, Moondancer finally spoke. “It’s ah... it’s been a while.”

“Y-yeah,” Twily said. The timid tone of her voice was uncharacteristic for who she appeared to be, as was her nervous fidgeting. She finally managed to reply with a question of her own, asking, “Um, how have you been?”

“Been doing pretty well,” Moondancer said with a smile. When Twily only nodded in response and the silence crept back in, her smile slipped slightly.

Twilight decided to try and keep the conversation alive. “Isn’t it a little warm for sweaters?” she asked, prodding Moondancer’s shoulder.

“We’re going to the Frozen North.” Moondancer shrugged her shoulders and looked out across the boarding dock as she said, “I get cold easily.”

Twily leaned forward a bit to look across Twilight at Moondancer’s sweater, then glanced up to Twilight. “She was wearing one in the vision,” she quietly noted.

“Really?” Moondancer asked, looking back to Twilly and tilting her head. “What color?”

Twilight quickly raised a hoof, cutting Twily off before she could speak. “Actually, before you tell her, I was planning on using that as an indicator of any changes.”

Moondancer looked up at Twilight, seeming a bit confused for a few seconds before realization dawned upon her. “Oh, so... if I’m wearing a certain color sweater tomorrow, then that means the future hasn’t changed.”


Moondancer let out a slightly nervous sounding chuckle. “I’ll try not to disappoint you then.”

A loud whistle signaled the afternoon train’s arrival. It rolled up to the station and came to a stop just as the hands on the clock shifted to three o’clock. Moments later, passengers arriving at Canterlot began to disembark. It would take a few minutes before the train would be ready to receive passengers leaving Canterlot.

Twilight cast a quick glance out of the corner of her eyes to her right and left. Twily and Moondancer were silently standing on either side of her. Both appeared to be occupying their time with watching the crowd of ponies leaving the train. She had thought that things might be a bit awkward between her two companions at first, but it appeared they were practically ignoring each other. That can’t be it, she thought. They hadn’t seen each other since they were fillies, which had been over a decade and a half, and though they hadn’t exactly been great friends back then, they should have had plenty to talk about now.

Twilight noticed the quiet sigh from Moondancer, and caught the quick glance she made toward Twily, but she remained silent. Twilight then looked again toward Twily and noticed she too would steal a quick glance across at Moondancer every now and then. They don’t know what to say, she realized. So much had changed and so much time had passed since they had last seen each other that they might as well be strangers.

The conductor called out the boarding call for ponies leaving Canterlot, and the crowd of waiting ponies began to shuffle toward the train. Quite a few of the ponies actually stepped aside and allowed Twilight and her two companions to board ahead of them.

Once onboard, Twilight was met with a smile from the conductor. He quickly bowed his head to her and said, “Right this way,” motioning for Twilight to follow him as he began making his way toward the head of the train. There was always at least one room in the forward most passenger car that was reserved for VIP passengers.

When they came to the private room, the conductor pulled the door open and gestured inside with one hoof. The room was sized with alicorns in mind, so it was a bit more spacious than the rest. The left wall across the room had a large tinted window, and the velvety red curtains draped from the window were tied back with silver braided ropes to allow the evening sun to shine in. Along the front and back of the room were two long dark wooden bench seats that faced each other, and both were covered with a plush velvet quilted padding on the seats and seatbacks that matched the curtains. Twilight found her favorite spot nearest the window on the front bench where she laid out across the bench seat facing the door. She leaned her back against the padding as she stretched out and allowed her forelegs to just barely dangle off the edge of the seat, taking up half of the seat on her own. Moondancer appeared to be picking out a spot on the bench seat across from her, while Twily curled up at the other end of the same bench Twilight had chosen.

“Now, is there anything else we can get for y’all before we get this train ride under way?” the conductor asked.

Twilight glanced quickly at Twily and Moondancer, and after getting a quick head shake in response from both of them, she looked to the conductor and said, “I think we’re good. Thanks for asking.”

“My pleasure, Princess. We’ll be leaving soon.” With that, the conductor pulled the door closed.

Moondancer was the only one still standing. She was glancing up at the rack above the bench, picking out a spot to stow her luggage. She stood on her hind legs, steadying herself with one forehoof against the wall while she lifted her luggage in her magic to place it on the rack. At that moment, a glint from something sticking out from under her sweater caught Twilight’s eye.

Twilight tilted her head slightly to get a better look and saw what appeared to be some sort of handle sticking out from under the edge of Moondancer’s sweater. “Moondancer, is that a weapon?”

“Hm?” Moondancer looked back at Twilight, then down where the princess was looking. “Oh, that!” She took a few more seconds to get her luggage secured on the rack, then dropped back down to all fours before she grasped the handle with her magic. Her magic quickly undid a couple restraining straps, then she pulled back on the hilt, drawing a short sword from its hidden sheath from under her sweater. “Yeah. I’m allowed to carry it whenever I want, so long as I keep it out of sight when I’m not in uniform.” She spun the sword over a few times in her magic, before holding it at a hover on its side to display it to Twilight. “What do you think?”

“It’s very nice, but I’m a little surprised to see you carrying a griffin weapon.”

Moondancer chuckled. “Yeah, I know it's not exactly normal to see these in Equestria. The guard prefers to standardize on pikes because it is something everypony can use. Makes training easier.” She slowly spun the sword with her magic while admiring the way the evening sun glinted off the blade. “Still, I really wanted to try a sword because I always found the pikes to be sort of clumsy, so I applied for an exception a few years ago. It did take quite a bit of extra training to learn how to use it, but I think it’s worth it. I mean, have you ever tried to hide a pike under a sweater? Trust me, it doesn’t work well,” she said with a smirk as she sheathed the weapon and tugged her sweater back down to hide it from view.

“So,” Twily said quietly, drawing the others’ attention to her. She seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before finally looking Moondancer in the eyes and said, “I was kinda surprised to hear that you joined the Royal Guard.”

Moondancer smiled back. She hopped up on the empty bench seat and laid down to get comfortable. “Yeah. It’s sort of a funny story. I probably wouldn’t have ever considered joining if it weren’t for your brother. He used to talk about joining a lot when we were younger, but when they eventually gave up the search for you, he sort of lost interest.” She let out a sigh, and her ears drooped noticeably for a second, but she seemed to quickly recover as a smile returned to her face. “That was when I got the idea in my head that maybe I could join and continue the search myself some day. I thought that I might even be able to convince him to join the guard with me.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Wishful thinking. He’d already taken on an apprenticeship with an arcane smith by the time I applied.”

Twily silently nodded and with that, the conversation seemed to die out. The brief moment of silence that followed was interrupted by the sound of the train whistle blowing right before the train lurched forward to begin the afternoon trip to the Frozen North.

For a few minutes afterward, only the rhythmic sound of the train’s wheels rolling down the tracks filled the room. Twilight was considering what topics might be able to spur further conversation between her two companions, but Moondancer spoke up before she could pick one.

“So, I’m curious,” Moondancer said as she leaned a little closer to the edge of her seat, furrowing her brow slightly. “What’s it like being in somepony else’s body?” When she saw Twily quickly jerk her head back in surprise and rapidly blink a few times, she quickly waved it off saying, “Ah—if it bothers you to talk about it, we don’t have to.”

Twily shook her head. “No, it doesn’t really bother me.” She glanced down at her crossed forelegs, turning one over to look at her hoof. “I guess... I don’t really notice it?” she said with a shrug. “Not until I see my reflection, or look at my hooves. Though, it did take a little while to get used to hearing my voice not sounding like... me. And things were a little confusing for the first day.” She quietly stared down at her hoof for a few seconds before mumbling, “Really confusing, actually.”

“I can’t imagine,” Moondancer said, tilting her head a bit to the side. “Can you hear her at all?”

“No, it doesn’t seem to work like that,” Twily said, giving her head a sad little shake. She let out a short sigh, but then seemed to perk up slightly. “But I know she’s still there. I guess you can say I just feel her,” she said as she momentarily pressed one of her hooves against her chest. “Sometimes I even remember things that I know I never did or learned myself. They must be her memories.”

“Chrysalis used to tell us similar things; that she could still feel you and every once in awhile, she’d remember something from your life, but she couldn’t explain why. We always thought it had something to do with the magic you gave her.” Moondancer silently looked down at her own hooves for a moment, shifting one over the other. “She spent a lot of time searching the mindscape for you, thinking that she’d be able to find you eventually if she just kept followed that feeling. We always hoped that we’d get to see you again or at least talk to you.” She looked up at Twily and smiled. “And now we can, though I never imagined it would be like this.”

“Yeah... me neither.” Twily tried to match the smile that Moondancer had given her, but was unable to match her enthusiasm, and the smile quickly faded away.

Twilight reached over and placed one of her forehooves over Twily’s foreleg. When Twily looked up to her, Twilight smiled warmly and said, “We’ll get this figured out.”

Twily’s ears slowly fell back. “What would happen if we don’t?”

“We will.” Twily didn’t seem to believe what she was being told if the way she deeply furrowed her brow and looked away was any indication. “Hey,” Twilight said, looking and sounding a bit more serious. She lifted her forehoof and laid it gently upon Twily’s shoulder, who looked back up to her eyes. “We will,” Twilight said, putting as much confidence behind her words as she could.

Twily silently stared back into Twilight’s eyes for a moment and then let out a heavy sigh as she cast her gaze down. She turned one of her hooves over again, quietly looking it over.

Twilight drew in a breath to speak again, but Twily spoke up first.

“Something’s been bothering me. Something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.”

Something about Twily’s tone seemed suddenly different. It was much like when she had confronted Graphite back at the infirmary. Twilight chose to remain silent and listen.

Twily looked into Twilight’s eyes. “You went back to a world that didn’t have a changeling queen,” she said. “I’m not ever going to give up hope that we’ll get Chrys back, but she’s still been losing her powers. She can’t even influence a drone anymore.”

Moondancer leaned in closer to the edge of her seat. “She’s losing her control over the changelings?”

“It’s not really a problem in Sanctuary,” Twily answered, looking across the room at her. “The changelings there don’t need to be controlled.” She looked back to Twilight as she continued. “I have... memories from her about this, and I remember her hiding it as best she could. There are only a few others that she trusts enough to tell this too. The princesses know, and Graphite, but she’s worried about what the other swarms out there in the world might do if they knew they could defy her now. Things could take a really bad turn if they found out the truth.” Twily’s gaze seemed to lose focus as she looked off toward the window. “I’m worried about what might happen if they figured out she isn’t even here right now.”

She’s right to be worried, Twilight found herself thinking. Of course she remembered what had happened in the years following her return to her own time, regardless of how much as she would rather not. She had long since moved on and did not like to revisit those memories.

But then, would this mean that this world was fated to repeat the same history or something like it? Twilight felt a tinge of guilt at the thought of keeping information to herself that could very well save lives and avoid needless suffering.

She shook her head as she let out a heavy sigh, resigning herself to retelling events she wished she could keep buried. “Things didn’t exactly go well with the changelings after I returned home. Many of them lost their leader when our Chrysalis never returned. There were changelings that had been friendly with Equestria for centuries before then, so we knew it was possible for them to change for the better, but those that had chosen to follow our Chrysalis were anything but friendly. They had actually gotten quite a bit more aggressive over the years. We thought things would start to improve after she was gone.” Twilight deeply furrowed her brow as she quietly said, “We were wrong about that.”

“What happened?” Twily asked.

Twilight looked to each of her companions, noting that they were both intently focused on her every word. “Nothing, for quite a while,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “They went quiet for over a hundred years. Rumor spread that they had died out with the loss of their queen and after that, they sort of faded from memory, but the reality was that they had only hidden so well that you couldn’t even tell they were there. We decided to leave them alone, thinking they may just remain reclusive and harmless like they had been in the past.

“Then one day they started to attack again, except it was a lot worse than it had ever been before. When Chrysalis had been their queen, changelings were more of a nuisance and rarely ever caused lasting physical harm. They often infiltrated communities, posing as other ponies and causing confusion. Sometimes they were desperate enough to foalnap ponies so they could harvest as much emotional energy as they could from them, but that was pretty rare.” Twilight hesitated, her mouth silently hanging open for a few seconds before she forced herself to continue. “These new attacks... started leaving bodies.”

“T-they were killing?” Twily asked as her eyes widened in surprise. Her ears laid back flat against her head as she asked, “But, why?”

“It was their bite. It was extremely toxic, and caused internal bleeding, mostly in the lungs. Anypony bitten by them would die a short time afterward if they didn’t get an antidote immediately.”

Twily hung her head, staring down at her crossed forelegs. “The venom doesn’t do that,” she said just above a whisper as she shook her head in disbelief.

“That’s what we thought too,” Twilight said, nodding her head slightly. “We thought we were actually up against something entirely different, some other deadly creatures we’d never seen in Equestria before. But we actually managed to catch some of them, and after a few tests, we confirmed it. They were changelings, but they had... changed so much. They looked like giant insects, like scarab beetles the size of ponies, but looking nothing like a pony at all.” Twilight deeply furrowed her brow, falling silent for a few seconds as she recalled the giant, insect-like creatures. She felt a shiver run down her spine the moment a memory of the sounds of their inequine screeching surfaced in her mind.

Twilight glanced at her two companions, and upon seeing them patiently waiting for her, she cleared her throat and continued. “Their bite was deadly, and trying to reason with them was like trying to reason with a caged animal. I actually tried over and over to get through to them to find out what had happened to them, but it was like they simply didn’t care. They had a single drive. Find prey, disable it, and feed, and nothing else interested them. Obviously, their curse had somehow gotten worse, but we never did figure out how or why.”

“How many were there?” Twily asked, her voice hovering just above a whisper. She was blankly staring down at her crossed forelegs, slowly shifting one over the other.

“How many?” Twilight asked to make sure she had heard the question correctly, tilting and lowering her head closer to Twily.

Twily simply continued to stare down at her hooves, silently nodding.

“Well that’s just it,” Twilight said as she lifted her head. “We got taken by surprise a few years after the sporadic attacks started. The Crystal Empire got hit by a swarm that was larger than anything we’d ever seen before. We never figured out where they all came from.”

“Spawning.” Twily let out a heavy sigh. “They were using spawning.”

Moondancer glanced between Twilight and Twily with a confused and somewhat concerned look on her face. “Uh, what’s spawning?”

“It’s—” Twily paused for a moment as she considered how best to explain. “Well... you both know that some changelings can take on the form of just about any living creature,” she said. She waited until the others both nodded to her. “Some of them can do more than just change their outside appearance. Some can... change stuff on the inside too.”

For a moment, the only sound in the private room was the rhythmic click-clack of the train wheels rolling down the tracks.

Oh...,” Moondancer said, her ears laying back flat when the full implications of what Twily had said sunk in.

“I talked with Chrys about it a long time ago,” Twily said. She slowly shuffled her forehooves over one another and continued to stare at them as she spoke. “We spent a lot of time together in that mindscape without much to do, so I used to ask about a lot of things. One day I asked her why the other changelings looked so different from her, and she told me it was because of a mistake she made.

“Even after she and her followers were cursed, she still planned to take the Crystal Empire back from Sombra. The problem was she didn’t have an army to help her take it, she only had herself and some of her followers and they’d already been defeated by Sombra once. And after seeing what had happened to them, Equestria refused to send any soldiers, afraid they would just be cursed too.

“She’d tried breaking the curse but couldn’t find a way, but she did manage to find ways to control it. Ways to use the transformation magic in the curse to change herself. She taught that to the others, and they became the first changelings, but they were very small in number compared to the army that Sombra was building.

“So, she tried something.” Twily glanced up, looking to each of the others momentarily before looking back down at her forehooves. “Since the curse made them look like insects, she tried experimenting with her body, and found a way to make herself like a real hive queen.”

“She hatched a brood of eggs,” Twilight said.

“Thousands of eggs,” Twily quietly said, nodding her head as she looked to Twilight. “She said it was a mistake; that she was too focused on getting her revenge to realize just how wrong it was. The children that hatched grew to maturity in less than a year, but they were far less like ponies than herself and seemed to care more about base instincts than anything else. The curse nearly drove them into a frenzy. If she hadn’t learned how to control them herself, they would have ruthlessly attacked anything they could get their fangs on like a swarm of starving insects.” Twily paused for a moment, and her gaze drifted off to the window.

Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the window but saw nothing particularly interesting about the scenery that was passing by. When she looked back at Twily, she noticed her unfocused stare, and how she was absently rubbing a fetlock over her other foreleg. Something had drawn her inward. She worried that their talking may have stirred up some unpleasant memories from Chrysalis's past. She gently reached out and laid one of her hooves on top her Twily’s, which caused her to flinch but did draw her out of her trance.

Twily silently stared at Twilight for a few seconds before letting out a small sigh and shaking her head. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Anyway, that’s why the ones you call drones look so different. They’re naturally born changelings that are descendants of the first brood. After what happened back then, Chrys forbid spawning. It wasn’t worth winning if her ponies were just going to become monsters. All the descendants since then have been uh... born just like equines.”

“I get the feeling that our Chrysalis changed her mind on that,” Twilight said. “We found evidence that at least some of the changelings in my time were hatched. To be honest, I thought they had all always been born that way.”

“Your Chrysalis was very different from the Chrys I know.” Twily looked down at her forehooves again, turning one over. “She obviously hated us, and even lied to Chrys about us to get what she wanted.”

Moondancer spoke up, asking, “So Chrys never did... that... again, right?”

“Right,” Twily said, nodding her head. “And it wasn’t too long after Sombra and the Crystal Empire were banished that Chrys realized she needed help to keep the first brood in check. She taught her followers how to help her keep them under control, but even that wasn’t going to be enough in the long run. Maintaining control over the will of so many minds was exhausting, and the only way they could replenish their magic was to take emotional energy from non-changelings, which wasn’t exactly easy. She needed more followers that were like her, ponies that were changed by the curse but not born with it since the drones couldn’t be taught how to control others. She studied their curse further, looking for a way to spread the curse to more ponies, and when she found it, she started to invite outsiders into the swarm.”

“The Coven,” Twilight stated.

Twily nodded. “There’s been thousands of members over the years. They all start off as normal ponies, but for one reason or another, they all choose to join the swarm and underwent the change. The Coven was the only way to keep the drones under control back then. If they’d been allowed to do whatever they wanted, things would have gotten... really bad.” She shrugged her shoulders and let out a short sigh before continuing. “The control really isn’t needed so much today so there aren’t as many invited to the Coven. There’s usually only one member in a hive anymore. But, thanks to Chrys bringing others into the swarm for over a thousand years, the descendants today behave a lot more like equines, though they still don’t look much like them.”

“So the changelings in my Equestria hatched broods to increase their numbers,” Twilight said, reflecting on what she had learned.

“Probably,” Twily quietly said, nodding her head.

“And that caused their curse to get a lot worse.”

“Probably,” Twily repeated, nodding her head once again.

Twilight drew in a deep breath, and then let out a heavy sigh. “That explains a lot,” she said, her voice sounding heavily weighed down.

Moondancer leaned in closer to the edge of her seat, looking up at Twilight. “How bad has it gotten?” she asked. Her ears fell back slightly when Twilight looked to her with a look on her face that was difficult to read. She couldn’t quite tell if Twilight was upset about being asked or not.

She did hesitate for a few seconds, but Twilight did finally answer. “We solved the problem quite a long time ago.” When she noticed Twily and Moondancer both still waiting for her to say more, she simply added, “I’d like to just leave it at that, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, s-sorry,” Moondancer said, shrinking back a bit.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I brought this up,” Twily mumbled. “It’s just something that’s been on my mind almost constantly. I think... Chrys was really worried about it.”

Twilight closed her eyes. “I can understand why she would worry.”

With that, the conversation was brought to an abrupt end, with Twilight unwilling to speak further on the subject and her two companions not wanting to press her further. It seemed that the rest of the trip would be doomed to be filled with nothing but awkward silence.

“So ah,” Moondancer said, turning to look at Twily. “Don’t know how much Twilight has told you, but I married your brother a couple years ago.”

Twily smiled. “Yeah, I actually just heard about it this morning. Guess that makes us sister-in-laws,” she said, ending with a light chuckle.

“Yep,” Moondancer said, nodding her head. She then casually added, “You’re also an aunt.”

It took a few seconds for her to react, but when she finally did, Twily sat bolt upright on her seat. “Really!?”

Twilight couldn’t help but laugh a bit at Twily’s reaction. She was thankful that Moondancer had taken the chance to change the subject to something a bit more uplifting. She had actually been worried earlier that these two wouldn’t hit it off like she had hoped, but listening in as Twily quizzed Moondancer on details about her new nephew put her mind at ease.

She decided to let the two of them talk without her intervention, opting instead to rest her chin upon her folded forelegs while she listened. The late afternoon sunlight shining in through the window was like a warm blanket spread out across her back, and the rhythmic tapping of the train wheels rolling down the tracks was like a lullaby coaxing Twilight into taking a nap. She fought the urge to let her eyes close for a few minutes, wondering if her companions would think it rude if she chose to sleep for the rest of the trip. However, she was still a bit behind on her rest since she had arrived in this Equestria, and things might only get busier once they arrived in the Crystal Empire.

Her decision made, Twilight chose to let her eyes fully close, and not even a minute later the sounds of her companion’s voices faded into the background as she drifted into an afternoon nap.