The Worst of All Possible Worlds

by TheTimeSword


Arc 2: Chapter 3

Where am I, were the first words Sunset thought. It was followed by, what is this place. The pain of opening her eyes kept her from keeping them open for more than an instant, and even then her eyelashes blurred the pieces of what she saw. Blue, blue feathers, rainbow hair. She could make out the colors, but not the form or shape. It hurt to look for too long, but there it was across from her, a pony she knew.

And yet.

And yet, she could not remember ever having seen the blue before. What had happened? How did she end up here, across from a blue pony, trapped inside of a cocoon? It still ached to think. It ached to remember the moment of sadness she had with her friends. That moment that was broken by the damaged and hungry princess. “Kept as a pet,” she remembered the princess saying. Sunset had known better. The changeling queen had disguised as the pink princess before. But that moment was gone, and she had been wrong. She had not known better. Even when the broken princess had asked, “Have you come to save me? Save us?” Sunset did not know how to respond. The princess had been starved of all information, forced to wander the darkness of the caverns, her magic had been drained to the point of exhaustion.

Sunset knew what that felt like. Not then, but now. It ached. The cocoon that surrounded her. It was cramped, and she had been kept in it for so long. How long? Too long.

And yet still, it seemed so recent. Her memories flooded back to her. They had taken the broken, pink princess back to the place she was kept, the chains still sitting where the princess had been locked. They searched from there, hoping, yearning for a secret path into the castle. Pink crystals mocked their very presence, mirroring their reflections as they moved from cave to cave. Tears clouded Sunset’s eyes at the time, but now her eyes were dry. There was no time for tears. Not even here, in this cocoon, where time was limitless.

There were other cocoons like her’s and the blue-feathered pony’s. Once, when Sunset had opened her eyes fully, she had seen the length of the hall. There were cocoons lining both walls, and even more at the ceiling. The ceiling, she remembered. That’s where she had seen the other princess. The only other princess.

When Sunset escaped the cavern with her three friends and the broken princess she had procured, they had stumbled into the darkness of Canterlot Castle. The moon was hidden by clouds, leaving no sight for them to be seen. There was no light from torches either, filling the quiet halls with looming darkness. They crept forward anyway, careful to hide their trots as they made their way through the castle. Sunset remembered the fear in her throat, but she no longer felt that. She had feared the changeling guards, even though they were few and far between. The patrols meandered aimlessly every so often, but her and her friends were smart. Not smart enough, she pitied. They eventually found themselves in the throne room. That was where the other princess had been. Princess. Princess Celestia. That’s right.

It was her cocoon that sat in the middle of the throne room on the ceiling, like a glorious sun. A grand prize for the queen of changelings to stare at as she sat atop her golden throne. Thankfully, the queen wasn’t there at that moment, allowing them to enter in the cover of darkness. The throne room was a mess with a few broken pillars that had yet to be repaired, though it was hard to see within the darkened room. There was plenty of darkness here in her hall too, though green light emitted from the bottom of every cocoon, making it almost unbearable to try and sleep. They wanted her to sleep though. It made it easier to feed, Sunset assumed, though she couldn’t have known that for certain.

She hadn’t seen any of the changelings since she was put into the cocoon. Tubes ran between the cocoons like veins carrying cells to the heart. There were no tubes on Princess Celestia’s cocoon, however. Sunset remembered the anger she felt when she saw her beloved mentor trapped. At the time, her rage poured through her magic as she attempted to bring the cocoon down and free the princess inside. Her beam of magic easily cut through the cocoon’s shell. The cocoons were very weak, but only when they weren’t draining you of your power. It ached to be drained, like a bruise being pressed against over and over, except it was all over the body.

Sunset had gotten plenty of bruises and scratches and cuts, all in the human world. She missed the human world. This world is rotten.

Rotten was a good word to describe the changeling queen as well. It was a word she remembered thinking the first time she saw the ragged queen. It had been just as she was almost finished cutting down the pod that contained Princess Celestia. When they had heard voices and canters, Princess Cadance and the three Element bearers beckoned for Sunset to stop. They had hidden behind the throne, begging and pleading for Sunset to hide. She eventually did as they bid, leaving the sun princess trapped in her cocoon. Her heart ached to stop, just like she ached now. If I had one more second I could have brought it down, she regretted. At the time, she had worried about being seen by the changeling queen, but in hindsight, it didn’t even matter. She had been caught along with her friends.

Here and now, her friends’ cocoons weren’t in view. There was no way of telling where her own cocoon even was. Canterlot was large, and the castle even larger. Her friends could be anywhere, and yet. And yet a pony she knew sat across from her. That gave her hope. Did it mean something? Was it fate? No, it’s happenstance. The blue pony had yet to speak, even when Sunset had called to her on that first day. Or had it been the second?

It was hard to remember what day was what. What day had she arrived to this strange world? What day had she been caught? All she remembered was that they had cowered behind the throne as the changeling queen took her seat. Words were exchanged between the queen and her underlings, though it was hard to remember exactly what was said. It was hard to remember everything and anything. There was a crack, she recalled. When the underlings took their leave, they had almost been crushed by Princess Celestia’s pod. It had fallen from the damage Sunset had done and cracked upon the floor, but it had not split open. “Guards! Guards!” she remembered Queen Chrysalis shouting, her voice filled with terror. A flood of changelings poured into the room, and then…

And then.

That’s when they had been caught and dragged out from behind the throne. The queen was furious to see them, and when she asked which of them had been the mastermind, Princess Cadance stepped forward. The changeling queen struck down the princess with a bolt of magic. “Guards, get another pod. We’ll host them both in the throne room from now on,” the queen had said, her voice so angry and so deep that it sent a chill down Sunset’s spine. Even as she sat in her pod, the voice was a terrifying memory. It ached to sit in the cocoon, but she was safe, for now.

Queen Chrysalis seemed to know that Princess Cadance wasn’t their leader, and that’s when Sunset was forced to step forward out of fear for her friends. But the Element bearers were taken away, stripped from Sunset like a bandage. Queen Chrysalis seemed almost pleased by Sunset’s actions, the horrid smile of her fanged teeth a grim memory. That was the last thing she remembered before the queen ordered Sunset to be taken to a special hallway. It was there that she was stuffed into the cramped cocoon she sat in now. The green light that shined from the bottom of the cocoon burned her retina at first, but over time she learned to shove her chin to her chest and cover her eyes with her hooves.

But it was hard to move, and not just because of the cramped space. Gel filled her cocoon, wrapping her from hoof to horn in thick clear goo. It was like moving in stagnant water, every quick movement was met with friction. It hurt to move. It hurt to sleep. And the taste was sickening. Her nostrils and tongue burned for a while after she had been contained, it slowly subsided over time. Yet somehow she breathed through it, feeling the air in her lungs. At first, it was hard to breathe, hard to accept the air while feeling as though she was underwater. Her body rejected it, and that was when she fell asleep for the first time. After that, it became easier. It still hurt to open her eyes even for a moment. It hurt to move, though there wasn’t much room to do so. Worst of all, it hurt to think. The idea of never going home weighed her down worse than the gel.

She wondered what Princess Twilight Sparkle would do in her situation. Would she fight? Would she try to talk to the pony across from her? Would she teleport out?

Teleport. The spell burned in her head like smoky words protruding from a roaring fire. She knew the spell, but couldn’t cast it. Something wasn’t letting her, and she assumed it was the gel. Everything was the gel’s fault. She wanted no blame for being here; for being trapped.

She had lost everything, and she wanted to give up. There were no signs of escape, no pony coming to save her. Princess Celestia and Princess Cadance wouldn’t be able to escape their pods, and the friends of this world had been taken away. There was only one pony she knew, and that pony was sitting across from her. “Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!” she had screamed, cried, and thrashed on the first day. She tried again the second day. And the third. Or perhaps it had all been the same day? There was no way of telling.

Giving up seemed like the only option.

She had done her best and it was not enough.

That’s when a voice spoke to her. “You awake?” it said.

Sunset’s ears perked up, though her eyes remained closed. “Is that you, Rainbow Dash?” Her voice echoed within the cocoon, and for some reason that made her start to cry.

“You passed out again, or maybe it was me,” the voice answered. Sunset hadn’t remembered speaking to Rainbow Dash, she could barely remember anything now. “What’s your name?” asked the voice.

She needed to see the blue pegasus with her own eyes. Opening them in the gel felt like opening her eyes in a pool that had too much chlorine, but she did so anyway. Rainbow Dash had her head pressed against her cocoon’s glass. It wasn’t truly glass, Sunset knew, but there was no way of figuring out what it truly was made of. When Rainbow Dash saw Sunset open her eyes, the pegasus pulled back with her eyes closed and shoved her mouth against the glass. “Try to keep the gel out of your eyes, use the cocoon,” Rainbow Dash instructed.

Sunset closed her eyes once more and pressed her muzzle to the glass. “I’m Sunset Shimmer,” was all she said before pulling away and pressing her eyes to the cocoon. The blue pegasus took her eyes away and pressed her mouth.

“Rainbow Dash, but you knew that.” Rainbow Dash took a second to breathe. “Any word from the outside world? Where are you from?”

That made Sunset wonder. She could see several cocoons to the left and right, but some remained empty. The one to the left of Rainbow Dash held a small orange filly, while the one to the right held no one. Sunset took her eyes away and pressed her mouth. “Queen Chrysalis has won. She’s taken Ponyville, the last free town in Equestria.”

“Well, if I had any hope left I suppose it would be crushed,” Rainbow Dash replied. “Anything else? No resistance faction? Was really hoping the Wonderbolts hadn’t be captured and were planning something.”

“Not that I’m aware of. I’m not from this world, I came here by accident from another world where Chrysalis was beaten.”

“That was pretty dumb of you,” Rainbow Dash replied.

“Yeah…”

Rainbow Dash didn’t say anything more for a long while. Silence was as common as breathing for the hallway. “Sorry,” Dash eventually said. “I haven’t had anypony to talk to in a long time.”

“When did you get captured?” asked Sunset.

“Cloudsdale. Ever have a cloud follow you? We were the first encounter after Canterlot fell. Of course, we only heard Canterlot had been taken an hour before the changelings invaded. They brought down our weather controller in an instant, turning all of Cloudsdale into one big storm. Most of us hadn’t even heard the word changeling, much less knew what it was.” Rainbow Dash took a long breath. The sounds she made weren’t pleasant, but Sunset was feeling the same way. “What’s your world like? Can… Can you fly freely?”

The question hurt. Sunset wasn’t sure what to say. Equestria was her world, but not her home. “It’s peaceful,” she eventually answered. “There have been numerous foes who tried to break that peace, but the Elements of Harmony always beat them back. Enemies like Chrysalis and the changelings.”

“Elements of Harmony?” Rainbow Dash repeated. “I’ve heard of those. They were in the papers when Princess Celestia defeated Discord. Though I hadn’t heard of Discord or the Elements of Harmony before reading that. Did the princess defeat Queen Chrysalis in your world? Why didn’t she defeat her in ours?”

“It wasn’t Princess Celestia who defeated her in my world, it was you. You and the five other bearers of the Elements of Harmony.” Sunset didn’t feel like explaining Shining Armor and Princess Cadance’s part of the Canterlot wedding. It was too painful to speak, much less remember all the facts.

“Me? I’m not an Element of Harmony. Aren’t they rocks or something? I’m a pegasus if you can’t tell.” The slow slap of her wings extending made a short, echoed thunk against her cocoon’s walls.

“The Elements of Harmony were shaped into necklaces for the bearers. You’re loyalty. When I came to Canterlot, I came with three other ponies who are also bearers of their own Elements. I was hoping to find the remaining three and bring down Chrysalis, but now it looks like I’ll have to find them all over again.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t respond, and then a laugh cut the silence like an axe through a log. Sunset closed her mouth and shoved her eyes to the cocoon, Rainbow Dash had done the same. They both dragged their pupils through the darkness, trying to find the source of the laughter. Rainbow Dash couldn’t see the orange filly in the cocoon next to her, but Sunset could. Sunset could see the filly’s chest flutter as she laughed a deep, menacing laugh, and then the filly’s cocoon popped open. Goo flooded the floor like water, and the orange filly plopped onto the ground. The hallway lit up with green fire as the filly transformed into a tall, black, ghastly sight. “Now I understand what your little book meant,” Queen Chrysalis said in her booming, unmelodic voice.

“Queen Chrysalis!” Rainbow Dash shouted and sucked down gel. She coughed and coughed as Queen Chrysalis laughed and mocked the pegasus.

“Let me out of here!” commanded Sunset, pounding on the glass with what little strength she had.

“Not in a million years would I do that. Not when I now understand everything written in your little journal. The stories told of my defeat, of that wretch King Sombra, and so much more! And soon, you’re going to tell me all about how you came to this world.” Queen Chrysalis placed a black hoof on the glass between her and Sunset, rubbing the curve of the cocoon with gentle strokes. “Another world sounds like a mighty fine place to find more love – and another me would be simply divine.”

“Never!” Sunset screamed, staring at the changeling queen with all her anger, regardless of how bad it hurt.

Queen Chrysalis shrugged. “You will. Maybe not now, but soon. And I already know four of your little Element bearers. Soon I shall find who the other two are, and then you’ll tell me – or else.” She grinned a wicked grin, bearing down her fanged, sharp teeth against the cocoon. Her breath fogged against the shell, and then she was gone.

There had been no hope left in Sunset, but Queen Chrysalis had brought it back, albeit unbeknownst to her. Sunset knew she could use her knowledge to escape. She’ll need me. The bearers won’t know what to do, she schemed. But what would I even do if I escaped? The hope she had was slowly diminishing as that question played out in her head.

“H-Hey,” Rainbow Dash called out, her mouth against the cocoon and her eyes closed. “Sorry about that. If I had known that was what she wanted I would have just kept my big mouth shut.”

“It’s fine,” Sunset replied, though it wasn’t fine. Nothing about this world was fine. I was wrong. This is the worst possible timeline. There’s nothing worse than this, nothing worse than feeling hopeless. Sunset slunk against the back of the cocoon, though the gel made it difficult to do so. It ached to sit and ached to move, but she buried her face into the back of her forelegs. She just wanted to sleep.

But Rainbow Dash wasn’t having any of it – or was too oblivious to notice. “If you’re from another world, won’t somepony coming looking for you? Surely there are some friends who are missing you, right?” Rainbow Dash wondered aloud. “Why’d you even come here? Are you on a top secret mission? Or a master sorceress?”

Sunset didn’t answer. She didn’t want to answer. It hurt to answer.

Rainbow Dash persisted unwittingly anyways. “You’re a unicorn, right? These cocoons keep our magic drained – they had to do that to keep the earth ponies from breaking out. I’ve never talked to anypony in here that’s a unicorn, though. If you came from another world, then you have to be a strong unicorn, right? Are you an apprentice to Princess Celestia in your world? Are you training to become the next Star Swirl the Beardless?” It was charming, even though she had gotten some things wrong. Sunset knew not to lash out at her string of questions. Rainbow Dash had said it herself – Sunset was the first she’s talked to in a long time. “I was training to become a Wonderbolt before the changelings defeated us. I was so close to perfecting my finishing move.”

It was nice just hearing Rainbow Dash speak. Even as the tears fell, Sunset listened. “Y’know, I was the fastest flyer in the academy. Nopony could beat me. Not that many ponies challenged me. There was this one time my friend was being bullied about being a slow flyer, but some other ponies stopped it. After that, the bullying just sort of stopped and so did the challenges. Racing just isn’t fun when you’re not racing anyone but yourself.” Rainbow Dash let out a groan so thick Sunset thought she was choking, but then the pegasus continued. “I miss flying!” she shouted and pounded on the cocoon. “Flying is so much fun!”

“It’s alright,” Sunset replied, trying her best not to suck down the gel. “I’m sure fast flying is fun.”

“You have no idea!” yelled Dash.

I really don’t, Sunset mourned. The only time I could fly was to save the world from Midnight Sparkle, that or the time I tried to destroy it myself. She could almost see the reflection of her demon’s side. I almost wish I could transform right now. She slammed her hoof against the face, though her hoof moved stiltedly against the gel.

The hit was heard by Rainbow Dash who pressed her eyes against her cocoon, staring over at Sunset. “You alright?” she asked.

“No,” Sunset replied, growing accustomed to the taste of gel on her tongue. It reminded her of banana flavored candy – which doesn’t actually taste like bananas – combined with the taste of spicy cubed cheese that had been out for too long after a party.

“I’d say it gets better, but…” Rainbow Dash hesitated. “It doesn’t.”

Sunset knew it wouldn’t. Rainbow Dash didn’t say any more, and Sunset soon fell asleep. She assumed she was asleep, becoming lucid in her dreams, as she found herself dreaming of Applejack. Not the human Applejack or the one from this world, but the Applejack from the previous world. Sunset asked her what she should do about the changelings, but Applejack ignored her and went about her business, just as she had the first day Sunset arrived in the war-torn world. When Sunset attempted to grab the earth pony and make her listen, she found that she phased right through the orange mare.

It was ghostly, both figurative and literally. Sunset flew up into the sky, searching for something, but her mind couldn’t pinpoint what it was that she wanted. An answer, a friend, or perhaps a choice. She had made many choices during her time in Equestria, in the human world, and these ruined timelines. None haunted her worse than the human world’s, but she had accepted that she was wrong there. But was I wrong? I would have returned to Equestria at some point and made it better, preventing things like this from happening. She wanted to believe that was true, she wanted to believe she would make the right choice, even as a demon.

She woke up to the sounds of screeching. Not pony screeching, but the sound of a metal wheel that hadn’t been oiled. When she looked at Rainbow Dash, the pegasus was fast asleep. She thought to wake her to find out what the noise was, but her answer soon came into view. It was a purple-haired pony in a blue jumpsuit that pushed a squeaky cart. The white-furred pony levitated a towel and spray bottle from the cart, taking a moment to wipe off the cocoon to the right of Rainbow Dash. When she came to Sunset’s, she was almost startled by the wide-eyed look Sunset held.

“How are you not in a cocoon!?” Sunset asked.

The unicorn sighed and ignored Sunset, spraying the glass and wiping it down with a few squeaks. “What are you doing? Are you a changeling? If not, you’ve got to let me out!” Sunset demanded. The unicorn ignored her, taking a mop from the cart and dumping water on the floor. Digging in with the bristles to remove the gel from the floor, the unicorn struggled for a moment. “Rarity! Please!” Sunset tapped on the glass.

“How do you know my name?” Rarity was now the one wide-eyed, her mouth agape. She then shook her head, realizing what she had done. With haste, she looked down both directions, and then said, “You’re new here so you don’t know. I’m not supposed to talk to the ponies in the pods otherwise I’ll get in trouble. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” With a huff, she tossed the mop back into the cart and trailed away, ignoring Sunset’s pleas.

It was hours before Rainbow Dash woke up. Sunset was startled by her voice but quickly asked about the purple-haired cleaning mare. “Pfft,” Rainbow Dash dismissed. “You think the changelings want to do the dirty work? Nah. They pull ponies from pods for certain jobs like cleaning and cooking. They also keep the smart ones out for expanding things, I think. They pulled a stallion from your pod the day they shoved me in mine. Haven’t seen him since.”

“Any rhyme or reason to where they stick us?” Sunset asked, but Rainbow Dash only offered a shrug in response.

“Hush up in there,” a voice called out, catching the mares off-guard. A changeling with dark blue armor and no helmet had suddenly appeared from the shadows of the hall. “I’ll have maintenance turn up the suppression gel if you don’t keep quiet. I’m not listening to you stave off your boredom while I’m on patrol. If I have to be bored – so do you.” He tapped Sunset’s cocoon with the brunt of his blackened spear.

Just as suddenly as he arrived, the guard disappeared down the long hall. “Do patrols come often?” Sunset asked Rainbow Dash after a long while.

“Yeah, every day around the same time. This the first time you’ve been awake to see ‘em?” answered Dash.

“I suppose they would keep guards around.” Sunset thought heavily on the patrol. There’s no use to escaping, though. Is there? But there’s no use in not trying to escape either. What are they going to do, stick me in a second cocoon? She chuckled silently to herself. “Chrysalis, cleaning ponies, and patrolling changelings. I think I can formulate a plan around that. I need time to think.”

“You’ve got all the time in the world, Sunset. We’re not going anywhere.” Rainbow Dash seemed relaxed in her cocoon, though there was barely enough room to stretch out.

Sunset closed her eyes, hoping dreams would help in coming up with an escape plan. Dreams never came, however. When she awoke, she found herself staring at the bottom of the cocoon where the glowing green light came from. It was pretty, though perhaps it was the stinging of her eyes that made her think that. A loud thump echoed and Sunset looked up to Rainbow Dash, but the blue pegasus was still asleep. There was another loud thump, followed by voices and moans. Two guards pushed into her view, a chained Applejack between them, and the evil queen behind them.

“Hello there, Sunset Shinner,” Queen Chrysalis greeted.

“It’s Shimmer,” corrected Sunset who stared at the queen even through the pain.

“Whatever,” the queen dismissed with a flick of her hoof. “Are you ready to speak about these other worlds of yours?”

Sunset looked to Applejack, knowing what might be coming if she said no. “Never,” she replied, regardless. “And if you think Applejack can sway me, then you’re out of your mind. I’d never endanger more worlds.”

Queen Chrysalis laughed a harsh laugh. “Oh, you mean to believe we’d harm this here earth pony? No, no, my dear. She’s here to watch.” The queen turned to her minions and said, “Do it.”

One of the changelings moved to Rainbow Dash’s cocoon and leaned down behind the pod. The light at the bottom faded and returned with a blue glow. A few seconds passed before Rainbow Dash awoke in terror. Her eyes opened wide and she gasped for air. Though nothing looked wrong, Dash started to holler and thrash. “Stop!” she yelled, pounding on the shell of her cocoon. “Stop it!” Sunset watched in horror of the unknown pain, wondering what exactly was going on.

Queen Chrysalis tossed a look over her shoulder, her teeth bearing down in what appeared to be a grin, but the green glow of the pods made the smile look terrifying. “More,” she slowly said to her underling, and so it was done. Dash’s hollering turned to bellowing and then to screaming.

“Sunset, you’ve got to do something!” Applejack yelled. “You can’t let this go on! Just tell them what they want to know!”

“Yes, Sunset. Listen to your friend.” The queen motioned to her underling who leaned behind Dash’s pod once more. The pegasus’s screams stopped, and so did her thrashing. Her pod went silent, the blue glow fading and shifting back to the dark lime green it had been.

“They’re going to do that to all of us, Sunset! They’ll do it to you too, but only after they’re through using us. Just tell them what they want to know! Don’t let them harm us!” pleaded Applejack, groveling on the glass of Sunset’s pod.

“I-I-” Sunset could barely see the earth pony, either because of the pain from the gel or from the tears she was shedding.

A heave and a cough echoed out, followed by a slam against the cocoon. It was Rainbow Dash. “T-That all you got?” the blue pegasus choked out, obviously bluffing. “Don’t give ‘em anything, Sunset. They already took our land, don’t give them someone else’s too.”

The changeling queen lashed out at Dash’s cocoon, slamming both of her front hooves into the pod and snapping with her teeth like a mad dog. “I’ll take whatever I please you feathered little monster! I’ll have what I desire, just like I took your lovely little world!” She turned back to her guards and growled out a command, tossing her nose into the air before turning and heading off the way they came.

As they left, Applejack did not look at Sunset or Rainbow Dash, instead choosing to stare at the ground. When they were gone, Sunset said, “That wasn’t Applejack.”

“The earth pony? You know her?” Rainbow Dash asked, and Sunset nodded in response. “How do you know it’s not really her?”

“You two are a lot alike. You’re both athletic, stubborn, and strong. In this world, however, you both have given up. Rightfully maybe so, but not so hopeless to give in to Chrysalis’s request. You took the pain, not in stride, but you took it. You refused to give in even if it resulted in another round of-” Sunset hesitated. “What exactly was happening to you?”

Rainbow Dash slumped her face against the glass, opening her eyes and her mouth. “The gel – it gives us nutrients, I think. I’ve never grown skinnier than the day they threw me in here, though I have lost a bit of muscle mass. But it’s not only that. It’s filled with something, something that burns. When it gets into your stomach it’s fine, but when it’s in your lungs it burns like sliding belly-first on dry wood. That sensation can be amplified by them, painful on the inside without damaging the out. If I had kept my mouth and nose closed up tight I might have been fine – remember that the next time those jerks come around.”

“Will do. You’d need to breathe eventually, though.” Sunset shifted her weight in the small cocoon, pressing her back to the glass. She crossed her forelegs, sucking in air through her nose. How can I breathe this stuff in when it hurts at higher levels? she wondered. And then a wicked thought crossed her mind, so wickedly delicious that she spun around and slammed her forelegs against the glass. “Rainbow Dash! Do you want to escape? I’ve got an idea!”

“You do!?”

“Yes – but I can’t explain it. When the time comes, just play along, okay?”

“When will that be?”

“Oh. You’ll know.”

Hours passed by, though time was convoluted when no sun could be taken for measurement. Sunset’s boredom was offset by Rainbow Dash, who enjoyed flapping her gums just as much as she loved flapping her wings. When Rarity came by a second time, Sunset attempted to coax her into talking, but the white unicorn held strong in her mission to keep silent. Rainbow Dash had told her that the cleaners are the lucky ones, but the look on Rarity’s face whenever she came by told a different story.

Rarity passed by more often than Sunset had expected. The white mare once came by and soon after Sunset fell asleep, only to be awakened by the wiping sounds against the glass of her cocoon. She had hoped to enact her plan soon, but she did not get her opportunity before Queen Chrysalis came around again. This time the queen brought Pinkie Pie, or the supposed Pinkie Pie. Sunset knew not to try and escape with the queen standing so close. Chrysalis was the changeling mastermind, and she would not be fooled so easily like her ilk. Of course, Chrysalis underestimated a pony’s resilience, especially when Rainbow Dash struggled through her pain.

After the changeling queen and her minions were gone, Rainbow Dash said, “I hope your plan isn’t to lull them into a false sense of security by tormenting me six or seven times. Not sure I can handle another one of those episodes. The taste changes whenever they do that. Limes and vanilla ice cream. Gross.” She spat, though the gel barely moved.

“Hopefully not much longer,” was all Sunset replied with. She made certain to keep herself awake for the next few hours, not wanting to miss the opportune moment to spring her trap. When Rarity came by again, Rainbow Dash was the one who attempted to talk to her, but it made no difference. “Just try to keep your head down for the next few days, okay Rarity?” Sunset had asked of her, and that made the white unicorn give a suspicious eye. But Rarity said nothing, and the two were alone once more.

Sunset hadn’t realized she had fallen asleep. When she awoke, Rainbow Dash was attempting to look down the hall. The sounds of clattering and tapping were coming, and when Sunset pressed an eye to look, she saw blue armor reflecting off the green lights. Sunset quickly tapped her cocoon twice to get Dash’s attention. She gave a wink and Rainbow Dash seemed to understand.

“Guard! Guard!” Rainbow Dash yelled, screaming at the top of her lungs.

The clattering came faster as the black creature appeared from the darkness. The dark blue helm reflected like a mirror. “What do you want, troublemaker?” he asked, slapping Dash’s cocoon with the brunt of his spear.

“She’s choking! Do something!” Rainbow pointed across to the other cocoon.

Sunset was kicking and flailing, clawing at her neck. “What the frass!?” the guard exclaimed, watching in horror. Sunset suddenly stopped, her eyes closed, and the last few bubbles escaped her throat and floated to the top of the cocoon.

“What are you waiting for!?” Rainbow Dash slammed her hooves against her cocoon. “Get her out of there!”

“I-I’ve got to go get Queen Chrysalis!” The guard threw down his spear and started to run.

“There’s no time!” Rainbow Dash said, causing the guard to skid to a stop. “You won’t make it to Chrysalis and back before she’s lost! You’ve got to do something! Be a hero!”

“I-I-I-I can’t j-just…”

“Do you really want to report back to Queen Chrysalis and tell her you could have saved her most important prisoner but instead chose not to!? Well, at least she’ll have a freshly emptied pod ready to go for you.”

Sunset couldn’t believe her ears. Rainbow Dash was a better actor than she could have hoped, and the guard was too daft to see it. She could hear the huffing and heavy breathing of the changeling as he walked up to her pod. A mechanical noise erupted from the inside and gel suddenly poured out onto the floor, with her included. The guard came close, lingering over her body, and said, “A-Alright, now I just have to-”

In an instant, Sunset opened her eyes, startling the guard more than she could have hoped for. With her magic, she lifted him into the air and spun him around, slamming him into her empty cocoon, his helmet flying off in the process. She quickly sealed the cocoon with the glass once more. Daze and confused, the changeling didn’t move or speak as gel filled the pod. “You did it!” Rainbow Dash cheered.

“We did it,” replied Sunset as she turned back to Rainbow Dash. Her eyes drifted to the tubes and knobs at the side of Dash’s pod, to which she fiddled with for a moment. Eventually, the shell opened and Rainbow Dash slid out with the containment gel. “You’ve got a real talent for acting, Dash. After we get your world back on track, maybe you should try joining a theater act.”

Pfft.” Rainbow Dash stretched her wings, sending the gel flying from her feathers. “If we set the world right, I’m trying out for the Wonderbolts like I should have in the first place. All those wasted opportunities because I was too worried I’d fail – well, I’d rather fail than be stuck for one more second in that pod.”

“If you don’t want to be cooped up any longer you need to do as I say. Can you do that?”

Rainbow Dash glanced Sunset over, a hesitant look upon her face. “I don’t have to go fight Queen Chrysalis all by myself, do I? ‘Cause as much as I’d like to wipe that smug smile off her stupid bug face, I’m not sure I can do it alone.”

Sunset shook her head. “No. I need you to do something that I know you won’t want to do. I need you to hide and not be caught a second time. No heroics or theatrics. Stay hidden, stay out of sight, and I’ll call upon you when I need you. Can you do that?”

“Okay,” replied Dash.

“Okay?” Sunset hadn’t expected Rainbow Dash to be so ready to cower. “Alright. Good. Good! Then I’ll find you when I need you.”

Rainbow Dash gave a nod and flew up to the rafters of the hallway, disappearing into the shadows. Sunset hoped she’d be able to find Rainbow Dash again when the time called. Her plan had worked, but in truth, there was no second part. She was out of her pod and that gave her a chance, but a chance to do what was the question on her mind. The hall was filled with cocoons in both directions, ponies trapped in almost every one she passed. As she came to the end of the hall she found an antechamber that was encircled with more pods, a table in the middle of the room held nothing but a cheap, gaudy centerpiece.

The changelings have everyone in Equestria, she remembered. And they’re all here in Canterlot. As she rounded across the large room of pods, heading for the only door, it suddenly opened to the light of the morning sun. Sunset threw herself behind a pod, hoping she hadn’t been seen. Creak creak creak, the sound rang out as the doors closed, darkening the room once more

“Rarity?” Sunset spoke up, seeing the white mare alone and with her cart of cleaning tools.

The creaking stopped, and Rarity stared at the freed unicorn with a wide-mouthed gape that only Pinkie Pie could rival.