The Worst of All Possible Worlds

by TheTimeSword

Arc 2: Chapter 1

The black creatures were changelings, Sunset knew. She had never seen one before but had heard of what they looked like. They all looked the same even though they could alter their form. Black flesh hard as bone, holes in their limbs, and big blue lens-less eyes. They were terrifying, and they were defeated. How was it that they were here, floating above the map right in front of her very eyes? The map, she realized. It was just as how it looked the day she fell into the world wrought by King Sombra. The crystal chairs had crumbled pieces and the table had chips missing around the edges. And much like Sombra’s timeline, there was not a castle standing around it. She had hoped for blue crystal walls and a purple alicorn, but instead, she got thick trees and an open sky.

Sunset wanted to scream. To cry. But she could do neither with the changelings so near. Luckily, the flying changelings retreated, having failed to catch the purple alicorn. When the coast was clear, Sunset emerged from the bush that broke her fall, dusting leaves from her fur coat. She trotted over to the table and lifted her front hooves onto the edge. In an instant, a map of Equestria appeared. To her dismay, Canterlot seemed a tad stranger than she would have liked, though she could not be certain why. More importantly, she saw the cutie marks of her friends scattered amongst Equestria once more. Three close by, three in Canterlot.

A groan left her throat as she slammed her face against the table. This isn’t home. This isn’t my world. She gazed up at the sky, refusing to let her tears fall. It was hard to tell where exactly she was on the map, but she knew where the Everfree Forest was. Ponyville did not sit within the forest but in this world the wildlife had grown unruly, surrounding the town on all sides except for its north – the side that led towards Canterlot. The Crystal Empire was not covered in crystals at least, a small silver lining. She had no desire to return to the frozen north, though the humidity of the Everfree wasn’t much better.

Still, the sight of changelings worried her more than she would admit. She knew what was going on, though her heart attempted to deny it. Not another war, not another. Please, she begged, though it was pointless.

She almost sat down and cried, but the sounds of fighting scared away her dreary mood. The changelings would likely come back, and she did not wish to see why Princess Twilight had been forced to run. Steadily, her hooves moved on their own, taking her down the open path past trees and bushes. Thundering hooves and thousands of flies seemed to be all she could hear. It clouded her ears, preventing her from hearing a bush rustling in front of her path. When her eyes finally noticed the leaves jiggling it had already been too late. Two ponies came flying from the shadows, tackling her and sending all three of them rolling down a hill. The two ponies were caught in vines, but Sunset continued to roll down until she landed on a river’s embankment. The weight of her backpack saved her from reaching the rushing water and being swept away.

As Sunset rose to her hooves, shaking her head and fearing the brain damage she might have sustained, she realized who it was that had tackled her. They had broken free from their vines and had come down to meet her. Though the green paint masked them well, she knew who both of them were. “Pinkie Pie? Fluttershy?” she called out to the two. Their faces remained frowning as they growled at her. “What happened to the others? Where are your Elements of Harmony? Has King Sombra returned?” she asked each question but got no response. She knew she wasn’t asking the right questions. “Who are we fighting?”

“You should know, changeling. Chrysalis is your queen,” Pinkie Pie answered in a deep, guttural tone.

“We won’t be fooled by the likes of you,” Fluttershy added as they both stepped toward her.

“Chrysalis?” Sunset repeated. Chrysalis. The thought of an old villain returning curdled Sunset’s stomach, but the signs had already told her that this truly was another world and another time. She couldn’t believe it, she wouldn’t believe it. She was meant to go home! But then, out of shock or perhaps a concussion, Sunset fell face forward onto the ground. Mud covered her chin and she could taste the wet dirt as her body went limp. As her eyes closed she heard the two mares talking, but could not make out their words.

Dreams never came to her as she slept. It was not until murmuring voices startled her awake that she thought of dreaming. Her eyes fluttered as she opened them, but her surroundings remained a blur. When she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes she found that her forelegs had been tied together. Her shoulders ached and the room seemed sideways, and that’s when she realized she was slumped against the ground. Pressing her chin against her neck, she wrenched upward, lifting her head and slamming it against a wall. Her backpack scratched against stone, and she knew she wasn’t dreaming.

The room was not completely dark, and as her eyes settled she saw the flames of a torch on the opposite wall. Closer, a looming grey presence kept her focus. Her heart sunk and then jumped into her throat as the grey shadow moved in front of her, colorless and quick. It came closer, its eyes whiter than the snowy fields around The Crystal Empire. The creature pressed an appendage against her face, but Sunset dared not look, turning away in horror. Whatever it was touched her cheek and then pushed to the other. It traced her legs and neck, breathing heavily as it examined her body.

And then there was a glow.

Sunset thought it was something the creature had done, but as she looked at her belly and chest she realized it was her own body that glowed. As the glowing faded, a voice sprung out from the shadow. “Another one has come from the different life,” it said. “Perhaps she was sent to help our strife.” The shadow moved away and Sunset failed to see its face.

The one torch became many as the room filled with light, blinding Sunset for a moment. As she lowered her leg, letting her pupils take in the light, she realized the shadow was not alone. Ponies sat against the walls of the dank cave just like she did. How did I get here? That’s when the shadowed pony came closer; a zebra with green paint covering parts of her body. Her face was clearly unhappy, that much Sunset could tell. “Excuse me,” Sunset called out, her voice low and sore. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“My name is Zecora, and you are someone who should not be. Have you come with an answer to our desperate plea?” The zebra spoke in rhythmic cadence, something Sunset could barely understand.

“I-I’m not sure. My name is Sunset Shimmer, and the last thing I remember is Pinkie and Fluttershy-” Sunset answered as she studied the room, spotting the pink haired ponies now that the room was lit. “Those two,” she said, nodding to the two mares. “They’re my friends – in my world at least. I’m assuming this isn’t my world. And I also have to assume you have no idea what I’m talking about,” she said in an almost sarcastic tone.

The zebra named Zecora trotted towards Sunset and reached down to her forelegs. The ropes felt light and Sunset wriggled out, relaxing and shrugging her shoulders. “Twilight Sparkle spoke to me just a time ago, telling me of a world without our mutual foe. Do you know of this mare I said? Are you here to mend time’s thread?”

“You spoke to Twilight!?” Sunset hastily said, clutching the zebra’s shoulders. “You’ve got to tell me everything she said!”

Zecora dipped her head, a frown on her face. “It seems you were not sent to end our war, but what reason could you be here for?”

“I was sucked into a portal that sent me to a world where an evil stallion had taken over. Right when I arrived I saw my friend Twilight Sparkle leaving – the same Twilight you met. That was the last world, and it happened again when I came to this world. I’m not sure why, but everything is different compared to the time I came from. Please, you’ve got to tell me what’s going on!”

“It was a pony named Starlight Glimmer who ruined Twilight’s past. Back in time they went where the changes made became vast. You have experienced it twice now, and it surely won’t be the last,” answered Zecora.

Sunset rubbed her chin, thinking deeply on the rhymes. “I think I understand now. Adding that to what Applejack said in the last world, that means this… this… Starlight Glimmer, she went to the past and changed something drastic. I can only guess at what she could have possibly changed, though. How can Twilight have a chance to stop her?”

“Twilight has gone to the past but you have not? How is it you’ve traveled to our sorry lot?”

“When I first came through the portal all I did was touch Twilight’s map table. Getting here, I had help from the Elements of Harmony – but only after touching the table again. The table is what brought me here and it’s the only thing that’s the same, aside from the Tree of Harmony. I’ve never met this Starlight Glimmer, and Twilight probably doesn’t even know I’m here either. She’s always leaving when I’m arriving.” Sunset stood on all fours. “The tree wanted me to save the last world. And now it looks like I’m going to have to collect the Elements, again,” she sighed.

Zecora gave a nod. “All the things you speak of are very peculiar, but you might also be our rescuer. You spoke of saving the last world from Starlight Glimmer, but you may find this world much more grimmer.”

What happens here matters to us!” Twilight Sparkle had said. It was not the Twilight Sparkle of her world or the human world. It was the friend she had made in the heat of battle, the friend she might never see again. Sunset knew she couldn’t make the same mistakes twice, regardless if she’d never see that friend again. “I want to help in any way I can,” Sunset said, confidently. “But first, I’d like to be taken to the Tree of Harmony. It’s right next to the Castle of the Two Sisters – if you know where that is.” She then pointed at Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. “I’ll also need them, as they are both Element bearers. The Element of Laughter and the Element of Kindness.”

“Hold on Zecora, how do we know we can trust her?” Pinkie Pie objected. “Queen Chrysalis has ponies under their control who are not changelings – perhaps this one is a spy.” Pinkie threw her face against Sunset’s. “Are you a spy? Are you!?”

Zecora shook her head, and said, “I believe Sunset is here to help us. She will help bring Chrysalis to justice!” Hoots and hollers echoed the cave as ponies stomped their hooves. “I know the way to the castle of which you speak, but be quiet as a mouse, you must not squeak. The forest is filled with changeling invaders, and we must trek across many acres.” She nodded to Pinkie and Fluttershy, beckoning them away.

Pinkie Pie backed slowly away from Sunset, but not before lifting a hoof to her eyes and then pointing at Sunset, as if to suggest she would be watching the unicorn. She and Fluttershy followed Zecora to the crack of the cave while Sunset followed them, ignoring Pinkie’s idle threat altogether. Many of the other ponies she passed had weak smiles and green paint on their faces. She wondered if the changelings were a bigger threat than King Sombra’s army. She sidled through the small crack in the wall, following the other three. Sunburst suddenly popped into her head. “How are the changelings a threat, anyway? Didn’t Prince Sunburst defeat them?” she asked as they reached the outside air.

Prince Sunburst?” Pinkie repeated with a whisper. “Who’s that?”

Zecora pressed a hoof to Sunset’s mouth, silencing her. “As quiet as sand in an hourglass, the need to talk we must surpass.” Sunset gave an embarrassed nod.

They traveled south, that much Sunset could tell between the canopy blocked sun. For most of it, they followed a shriveled creek bed, passing through overgrown foliage and insect-filled brush. A flock of birds fluttered away from a tree and they all assumed they would soon be caught. They huddled beneath the shadows and waited, and when no one came they quickly scurried through a path of bamboo. They did not come face to face with the changelings at any point, even as they came to the open air of the ravine. Zecora ushered them down into the gorge, hoping to hide low enough from the blue sky above.

After marching in the dried, cracked mud for a while, Sunset recognized a rope bridge hanging over head. It had not fallen or broken like that of the last world, but it gave her a landmark to know where they were. And sure enough, a few yards back in the same place as the world before, there was a small cave that led into a bigger cave. In that bigger cave sat a tree of magnificent white crystal. The Tree of Harmony. It did not glow, it did not move, and it did not recognize Sunset’s presence, nor Pinkie Pie’s or Fluttershy’s.

Placing a hoof on the trunk, Sunset felt the coldness of the tree. “It wasn’t like this in the last world. It was almost happy to see me. What happened to the Tree of Harmony?” Sunset asked, not really to anyone.

“Maybe she really is a spy,” Fluttershy noted to Pinkie Pie who nodded in agreement.

Ignoring the pegasus’s comment, Sunset sparked her horn, lighting up the tree’s darkened features. It held no resemblance to the tree she had seen in the previous timeline. The branches were shorter, the center did not make a star, and it seemed depressed. “The Tree of Harmony in Sombra’s timeline did not display the Elements of Harmony, but it did have the magic to give the Elements to the bearers. This Tree of Harmony looks like it doesn’t have the magic to do, well, anything.”

After the war had ended and peace returned to The Crystal Empire, Sunset had gone to visit Princess Celestia with questions of the alicorn’s sister. It had been there that Celestia told her of Nightmare Moon’s second defeat and banishment. “After that, I returned the Elements of Harmony to the Tree of Harmony, no longer fearing the need to use them. I had thought to retrieve them to fight King Sombra, but I could not do that to the Tree of Harmony. I am glad it saw the need to give them freely,” Princess Celestia had said behind closed doors. “I am certain the tree did, in fact, have the Elements when you went to see it – simply hiding them from your view.” Celestia had smiled at the idea, and she was most likely right – as per usual.

The butterfly effect, Sunset recalled. If Twilight and this Starlight Glimmer changed the past, then a number of differences could have occurred. The thought sent her brain spinning, that or it was the aching headache caused by Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy’s roll down the hill. “I don’t think Princess Celestia returned the Elements of Harmony in this world. She must have kept them, perhaps in Canterlot. What are we going to do if we don’t have the Elements?” Sunset shook with fear, screaming her question at the frozen tree. “What am I supposed to do!?”

But it was Zecora who answered, “Perhaps their castle would give us an answer to what you ask? Princess Celestia may have left behind a message, riddle, or task.”

Sunset wanted nothing more to do than curl into a ball and cry, but she refused. This was another trial, the same trial, just different from the last. Get the Elements of Harmony, bring my friends together, and defeat the changelings. Is that what you want of me? Is this punishment? It was hard to stay positive, to want to help the world. Sunset knew it had to be her. Help time echoed in her mind, and she wanted to smash her head against the wall so she wouldn’t remember those beckoning words.

“I’ve spent so many days outside my own time. Away from my friends – my human friends. Why is it that I’m burdened to be here? To help? Why am I here?” Sunset groveled.

“I cannot answer the reason why you are here, Sunset Shimmer. But every day Chrysalis rules is a day the world grows dimmer. Perhaps you were chosen to save us and then some, perhaps to save many more worlds to come, or perhaps this is punishment for a crime in the land you are from. Whichever is true or none it may be, you are our salvation, deliverance, and key. It may not be fair and it may not be kind, but who you are is being defined.” Zecora patted Sunset’s shoulder, reassuringly. “Who are you, Sunset Shimmer? A selfless hero or a selfish quitter?”

Though Zecora spoke oddly, her insight was true. As much as Sunset wanted to collapse and wallow in her self-pity, she knew she was needed. “Honestly, Zecora. You might be right about one of those things. Perhaps I am being punished for something I did.” It hurt to think about, but she needed to say it aloud. “I stole a crown and tried to take over the world I live in – I turned into a raging she-demon. And if that’s true, if I am being punished-” She paused, staring over at Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy “-well I’m glad I get to help those who mean the most to me.”

The two mares looked strangely at her, but Fluttershy smiled and Pinkie Pie’s frown became, well, not a frown at least.

“We should check the castle. If Celestia took the Elements of Harmony then she must have gotten them from the Castle of the Two Sisters. That’s where the six from my world found them and beat back Nightmare Moon,” Sunset said.

Zecora gave a silent nod and they trotted out of the cave. Passing into the light, Sunset pointed to a crack in the ravine that allowed them to traverse the side of the cliff closest to the castle. Though the bridge still stood, the boards had long since rotted and the ropes looked like dental floss, scaring anyone from using it. After trekking the cliff, they spotted grey stone in the distance between more wild plants. “How is there this much foliage? It wasn’t this way in the last world. How could time change to have it so flush?” Sunset wondered as they walked.

“I must admit that was caused by me,” Zecora answered. “Nature hides us from all those who see.”

“From the changelings, right? What are they doing here? Are there many of them? What about Canterlot? Ponyville?” Sunset rattled off her questions.

Pinkie stopped them both, putting a hoof to her mouth and running it across. “Less talkie more walkie,” she whispered, and Zecora agreed.

The Castle of the Two Sisters was as large as a castle could be. The stone walls were just as grey as the stripes in-between the black of Zecora’s fur, but when the sun shined just right the walls almost appeared white. Of course, most of the castle was shrouded in green. Vines, moss, and thorny bushes that stretched upward seemed to be more prevalent than stone. The gate was open to them, both brown metal doors had their hinges rusted and laid flat on the floor. Dust had settled in where plant life had not. Sunset recognized that a lobby, or what used to be a lobby, had the same features as that of Canterlot’s lobby outside its throne room. A tree sprouted out to the right, however, and it had busted the roof open, letting more plants grow in the sun’s light.

Up four steps and they reached a hall that led to the throne room. The wilderness had not taken as much of this room as it had the foyer, though parts of the roof had collapsed inward and vines were sprouting in the cracks of stones. There were certain times of year that Canterlot High School had weeds sprouting from the sides of the cement bricks that the school was raised upon. Though the gardeners took care of the school with spray, Sunset wondered how much spray would be needed to remove this wildlife. She half expected to find a dozen rabbits nuzzling on the throne itself. As she approached, her heart was filled with discontent as no adorable bunnies were to be found.

With so much history being lost within the castle, Sunset almost forgot her worries and cares. Her mind clouded itself with thoughts of archaeology and paleontology and her love for history. She didn’t know if she had always loved the past or found solitude in the study after losing her lust for power. It didn’t matter either way. Her idea of power had been all wrong, but the desire was still there, and learning new things sufficed its greed. She didn’t mind – though some things she’d have liked to learn sooner. Like caring for the world, she remembered and became sad. She had lost three worlds now. The world she was born on, the human world, and the world she had saved and grew to care for. Would she ever see them again? Any of them?

Zecora called to her and Sunset quickly wiped the thoughts away, turning back to the rest of the throne room. “Coming,” Sunset yelled and trotted to the call, her hooves pressing against the torn burgundy rug that would have tied the room together had none of it been dilapidated. She found the three in the library, hundreds upon hundreds of books lined the shelves. Her sense of wonder returned and she was quick to pick one of the books off a random shelf. The green binding crumbled in her hooves and the paper showered the floor. She shook her hooves off, wiping the dust off before taking the next book with her magic.

This time it did not crumble, though the words had faded and one of the pages held a still living roach. That caused her to shriek and toss the book halfway out the entrance. The others had come to see the commotion, but only Pinkie had laughed when Sunset told them what had startled her. None of the books could help them, she realized. It had been her hope that Celestia would leave a note somewhere, where to find the Elements of Harmony or a way to defeat some unknown enemy. She wondered what had happened to Celestia in this timeline.

“Chrysalis – how much has she taken over?” Sunset asked Zecora. They were far enough into the castle that she hoped no changeling would be present to hear them talk. “How much of Equestria isn’t changeling controlled?”

But it was Pinkie who answered, “Everything as of today. Ponyville was the last safe haven besides our camp. She’d been too busy with The Crystal Empire and Manehattan to care about us. That was two months ago.”

“The Crystal Empire has fallen? Manehattan too?” Sunset was in disbelief. She remembered her own history. Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor married right after the changelings were removed from Canterlot, and then they headed north at the appearance of The Crystal Empire. In the last world, they had not yet married but the empire was upon them regardless. That means… “That means King Sombra was defeated by Chrysalis?” she spoke her thoughts.

“I have seen it in the green fire,” Zecora spoke up. “A heart of crystal spun below the spire. It beat the evil king and the snowy mire.” Zecora paused for a moment, thinking heavily. “But it was the changelings who had been so brave, undermining the king’s brainwashed slaves. The crystal ponies lost more than they gave, it was their love that the changeling army craves.”

Sunset felt sad at that. She had worked so hard to free The Crystal Empire from King Sombra’s grasp, and Chrysalis had defeated him along with claiming everyone else. It was almost sickening to think that they had traded one evil ruler for another. The changelings wanted love? Well, The Crystal Empire had plenty of love to give, and it seemed the Crystal Heart did nothing to stop the changelings. “How are we supposed to defeat them all with the Elements of Harmony?” Sunset wondered aloud. In the previous world, only The Crystal Empire had been affected by King Sombra, one single enemy to rule them all. But the changelings weren’t brainwashed – and they had to be everywhere.

“That is up for you and these two to find out. The magic between you will surely soon sprout,” Zecora answered, though it wasn’t much of an answer.

Still, Sunset felt at ease from the rhythmic lilts of the zebra. She had never met Zecora in the world where time was right, only reading her name once or twice from Princess Twilight when she described a magical potion she had drank that came from this zebra. There were many things in her journal that Sunset had forgotten, or read and thought nothing of. She made a mental note to read it through the next chance she got, but she forgot that note almost immediately when Fluttershy beckoned her attention.

The pegasus was a lot cuter in this timeline. A few piercings in her yellow ear and the long, braided pink mane did a world of difference for Fluttershy. She was threatening yet adorable, and the green paint played off her yellow fur quite well. Sunset told herself to remember to braid the human Fluttershy’s hair when she returned to her own world. She told herself to remember a lot of things, though. It was getting harder with every day that passed, and every moment had some new stimuli or something new to learn that it was starting to give her a headache trying to remember everything. That or the concussion from earlier had not yet subsided.

“It’s dark, but it might lead to something,” Fluttershy had said as Sunset came closer. Zecora and Pinkie Pie were still exploring the library, but Sunset pressed forward, lighting her horn as she went. The darkness gave weight to her light just like the grey bricks had given weight to roots. Wherever the path had led was lost to time. “Oh, well, I thought it might have helped. Sorry,” Fluttershy apologized, dropping her head slightly.

“Don’t give up,” Sunset replied. “You were very kind to try and help.” Sunset hoped that the Elements would still appear regardless of where they were in the world. These were the bearers after all. The Tree of Harmony wanted time to be fixed, so why would it make it harder? It wouldn’t, Sunset concluded. The Tree of Harmony wants me to fix time. There’s no way it won’t give the Elements freely as soon as the bearer understands their element.

“Over here!” A sudden call turned back their focus. Pinkie Pie had found a staircase along one of the walls, hidden behind a bookcase. The path was shrouded in darkness, but that was caused by the overgrown vegetation hanging down from its own weight. The sun passed through the tall grass and weeds, granting a flicker of light against a window that had not shattered. The glass pane was inside a worn down building that was detached from the castle across an open gap, where a wooden bridge had held its own against time’s wrath. The gap below was not long nor was it deep; falling no more than a story wouldn’t be trouble. Still, they each minded the broken boards and unsteady rope as they crossed, though Fluttershy hovered carefully over the bridge, refusing to be the reason it might have collapsed.

After they crossed and came closer to the building, Sunset recognized the symbols atop the door. Though the gems had lost their color, it was quite clear what they represented. The room they entered was dark and damp, the humidity had somehow gotten worse the higher they had gone in the jungle. The roof had been blown off by something unknown. But most importantly was the statue in the center of the room, five faded stones atop the statue’s arms. Each of the five orbs were broken open from the top, Sunset found. “They’re hollow,” she murmured, “and there’s only five.”

“This way I see, another room there may be,” Zecora said, pointing out another staircase. The stairs led outside, and a cracked stone walkway led them across to another building. It was larger than the last, and even more run down. The metal frames of windows hunched over from the pull of gravity. Pillars seemed to barely hold the ceiling, but at least there was a ceiling this time. At the end of the largest room was a pedestal with nothing on it. As the others looked around the room, Sunset examined behind the pedestal, discovering the sixth orb that had gone missing.

Unlike the orbs in the previous building, the face of this one had been crushed, leaving an imprint of where the Element of Harmony used to lie. As she examined it more thoroughly, the stone crumbled to dust and pebbles within her hooves. “Well, they were here at one point. Most likely used to defeat Nightmare Moon.”

“That’s the second time you’ve said that name, isn’t it? Nightmare Moon is just an old foal’s tale,” Pinkie Pie claimed, scoffing at the very notion. “Though I do miss Nightmare Night. It’s been a long time since we’ve had any real fun…”

“This might surprise you, but Nightmare Moon is real. She’s actually Princess Luna, taken over by jealousy of her sister, Princess Celestia,” replied Sunset.

“That can’t be true, can it?” Fluttershy wondered.

“We’re sitting in the Castle of the Two Sisters. Ever wonder who those two sisters might have been?” Sunset smiled. “In my world, you two and the other Element bearers returned Princess Luna to her normal state, releasing Nightmare Moon’s grasp over her. You also would have defeated Queen Chrysalis – but love saved the day instead. Though don’t ask me how. I think it had to be one of those been there to see it moments.”

Zecora seemed to like that as she bobbed her head and smiled as well. “Many things we could have learned from your world, had the evil changelings reign not unfurled.”

“I don’t know too many things about my world,” Sunset said, realizing it was time to tell them of the human world. “I actually live in a completely different universe where my friends are humans – these bipedal creatures with hands and feet. I suppose that’s another reason why I was chosen to help this timeline. I’ve got experience with other worlds.” She tried to smile, but it came out flat.

“That is where you became a demon, correct? Surely your world is not so perfect,” Zecora noted.

Sunset sat down in front of the pedestal, leaning her back against it. “You’ve got that right. Even after I was defeated, there are still things that I’ve had to face that came from this world. Demons, sirens, and one world shattering that was too close for comfort. But still, my friends are there. I miss them.”

The pegasus and earth pony looked at each other. “We’ll be your friend,” Fluttershy pitied, and Pinkie nodded.

“You two already are my friends.” Sunset chuckled. “If I befriend any more of you I’m going to have a hard time telling your pasts apart, though.” Her mind drifted back to The Crystal Empire for a moment. “Just because this isn’t your timeline or world or whatever, it doesn’t mean that we’re any less real,” she remembered the last world’s Twilight and her words. “Tell me something,” Sunset demanded. “Tell me of this world, of the ponies who live in it.”

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” Pinkie Pie answered. The party mare’s mane was a lot like the one Sunset remembered when she met the first Pinkie Pie right after coming to Equestria, albeit a bit more green was involved in this one’s. This Pinkie seemed far more down to earth than any of her counterparts Sunset had met. She wasn’t loud, though she was angry. She wasn’t clueless, though she was skeptical. A life forced into hiding would make anyone quiet, I suppose, Sunset bemused. But this Pinkie isn’t like the quiet mare of the last world, either.

“You two live in Ponyville in my world – let’s start there. Tell me of Ponyville, before the changeling invasion.”

Fluttershy looked to Pinkie Pie, who gave a shrug of her shoulders. “I didn’t live in Ponyville until after the invasion. Cloudsdale was taken over right after Canterlot,” Fluttershy described, her voice ached as if she was reliving the memory at that moment. “I’d imagine Cloudsdale is empty now.”

“Empty?” Sunset inquired, pushing her body forward at the word.

Zecora tapped her chin and then pointed at Sunset. “It speaks to me that she does not know, that changelings feed on love for their brood to grow. Queen Chrysalis invades each city like a weed, taking ponies back to Canterlot to feed.”

That didn’t sit well with Sunset. “Wait, hold on. You’re telling me that when she captures a city, she takes the ponies back to Canterlot? So, Equestria is essentially…”

“Empty,” repeated Fluttershy.

There was no resistance. There was no movement hoping to free the captured ponies. Those who had remained free were standing right in front of Sunset. An enemy so overpowering came to Equestria and crushed it gleefully. “But it took a while,” Sunset muttered, trying to piece everything together. “It wasn’t overnight. Ponyville was the last, which means there has to be ponies already inside Canterlot creating a plan to fight their way out. Possibly run by Twilight… Maybe Princess Celestia herself, or Princess Cadance?”

The other three ponies stood around each other, murmuring and staring at Sunset. The silence eventually made her realize that she was rambling to herself. “I think I’ve got an idea of what we can do,” Sunset said, calling to all three and motioning for them to close in around her.

“We?” Pinkie Pie repeated.

“That’s right. You two are coming with me. We’re going to Canterlot and we’re going to free our friends, and every other pony as well.”

Fluttershy dug her hoof against the cracked floor, staring down at the ground with her eyes covered by her mane. “I-I would like to save my f-family,” she whispered so low that Sunset almost thought she said fantasy.

“Mine too,” Pinkie Pie agreed. “Not to mention a few ponies I know stayed behind in Ponyville, like the Cakes. They’re probably captured now.”

“I know it’ll be scary, but you guys can’t keep hiding forever. At some point, Chrysalis will find you, and then it might be too late to put up a fight.” Sunset strode over to be between the two Elements. “I can’t force you two to do anything, but I plan on going to Canterlot and doing all I can to ruin the changelings. Having you two by my side would be a big help – not just as the Elements of Harmony, but as friends too. I know I can’t tell you two to just trust me, but I want you to know that I trust you both with my life. You’re the best friends I’ve ever had, in this world and the last.” And the next, though I hope that’s just my cynicism.

Zecora nodded. “Sunset Shimmer speaks the truth. Remove the changelings, scale and tooth.”

“I’m in,” Fluttershy said, sounding confident.

Pinkie Pie stared at Sunset, then Fluttershy. The dread written all over her face. “Fine,” she sighed. “I’m in too.”

Wrapping her forelegs around the two, Sunset pulled them close and held them. “Don’t worry. After seeing how you guys dealt with fighting King Sombra, I’d imagine Chrysalis is a piece of cake.”

“But we didn’t deal with King Sombra,” argued Pinkie Pie as she pushed away. The pink mare then trotted toward the door, the others soon following after an exchange of concerned looks.

As they greeted the sun, Zecora spoke up, “I must return to gather the others and bring them here. There are plenty of places we can hide in fear.” They said their goodbyes to the zebra as she disappeared into the tall grass beyond the bridge.

The two Elements murmured as they walked, following behind Sunset who escorted them out of the Castle of the Two Sisters. Sunset listened, hearing them wonder how they would get to Canterlot and how they would get inside. But it was clear to Sunset how they would proceed, they needed to hitch a ride. There was only one place for that. They needed to go to Ponyville.