“Another one dared to try and steal my husband’s love?” Queen Chrysalis held the pillow to her chin, her hooves wrapped so tightly around it that the case poked through the holes in her legs. “You’re the fourth one this month,” she complained. “What will be your excuse, I wonder? Will you attempt to lie and say you were coming to tell me a message? Or perhaps you simply got lost trying to find the bathroom? That was a dreadful excuse, but it did make me laugh.” Her teeth were a pure white, the fangs sharper than needles. A bit of saliva ran down from her gums, dripping and coating the pillow cover.
“What’s it going to be, my little mimic?” Queen Chrysalis’s black hoof brushed Sunset’s head, playing gently with her ear. “A clever joke might save you.” She rubbed Sunset’s cheek, trailing down to her neck and chin. “If not, I’ll send you across the Celestial Sea to be eaten by dragons.” Her lips kissed Sunset’s forehead just below her horn.
At any moment Sunset’s disguise could be gone, and that would mean her life as well. She had never been so scared, never shaken so much. I shake when I’m anxious, not scared, she reminded herself, attempting to get her fear under control. Like the night I stole Twilight’s crown. Gosh, I was shaking so badly that night. My heart was pounding in my chest so quickly I thought I was going to pass out in front of the school’s statue. She hadn’t, though. She returned to Equestria and took the crown, only to lose it on reentry to the human world. All my hard work had gone down the tube all because I couldn’t stop shaking – but that was for excitement. Stealing that crown had been one of my greatest accomplishments. I still can’t believe I spent so long on that replica just so it could go to waste.
Sunset felt foolish for reliving her poor choices. But here she was, correcting this world’s poor choices, and it needed her more than ever. Queen Chrysalis is terrifying up close, she thought, staring into the big green eyes of the changeling queen. They weren’t like other changelings. The seaweed-like hair parting to both sides of her head. Sunset had never seen Queen Chrysalis this up close, much like King Sombra from the previous world. Though even that was after his crystalline imprisonment. Sombra certainly looked like royalty – Chrysalis was the opposite. The small, barely noticeable crown atop the changeling queen’s head looked more like it was a fungus growth than regalia.
“Another mute?” Chrysalis belittled. “I can’t believe it. I’ll be glad when the last grubs are ready for integration. The only nursery worker that seems to teach you grunts how to behave is that blasted Twilight Sparkle.” She snarled, smacking the helmet right off Sunset’s head. “Where’d you even get this set of armor? That’s for a higher rank than you’ll ever be.” She circled Sunset, glaring with her deep green eyes. “Who dared you? Sell them out and I may be generous enough to allow you to stay within the city.”
Generous. That was a word that made Sunset smile. It was quickly wiped away by the hissing sounds coming from the queen who wanted an answer, but Sunset had nothing to say. I really should take that improvisation class. I’ll have to ask Miss Cheerilee if she can get me in, or maybe Principle Luna.
“My queen!” Neither the queen nor Sunset had noticed the second changeling who had entered. They spared Sunset from thinking up a faulty answer for the changeling queen. “The whole city is rioting! We think the escapees are causing changelings and ponies alike to revolt!”
“What!? That little red and yellow haired weasel! I’ll seal her in the dungeons with her little friends when I find her! I’ll drain her of all the love she’s ever been given!” The green eyes burned within their sockets as the queen stormed off, forgetting the disguised Sunset’s punishment almost immediately.
The second changeling remained, however, and closed the doors to the queen’s room. “I figured you’d somehow muck things up,” the changeling said. “Just knew. Have to know. Have to plan for everything.”
From the way the changeling spoke it was clear to Sunset who it was, though the voice was startling, to say the least. Twilight had years upon years to practice her disguise, and it sounded more than convincing to Sunset. “Twilight! Thanks for the help. You have no idea the night I’ve been through.”
“No, I’ve heard.” The disguised Twilight stepped forward, her big blue eyes glistening in the light. “But now’s not the time to discuss your night’s rampage. Find the Elements of Harmony and let’s be done here,” she commanded.
Sunset nodded in agreement, but it would be no easy task. The amount of junk the queen of changelings had collected was astronomical. While Twilight searched one side, Sunset searched the other. She started by the fireplace, staring up at the hearth of broken toys. A log pony leaned against the marble with its muzzle broken in half and paint chipped. She examined each of the toys, though she was looking past them too – hoping for a secret button of Celestia’s. There had been nothing on top, and the bottom was proving fruitless too.
The night’s flames had gone out, leaving only ash behind. A log glowed dark orange when she prodded it with a fire poker, but it quickly darkened to brown and black. She played with the ashes for a moment, wondering if she could find a hidden latch or lever beneath. Her eyes turned up to the inside of the chimney as well. Rubbing her black hoof against the inner stone, she found a bronze bar with a tilted handle. She pulled on it and a metallic noise clicked for a moment. Probably just the flume, she thought. If she starts another fire she’ll get a room full of smoke. A petty victory is still a victory. Her lips tightened to a smile of amusement before moving on from the fireplace.
Without their magic, the two were forced to remove the clutter by hoof from the containers. One at a time, Sunset dragged out toys, comics, knick-knacks, utensils, and ornaments from the first chest. A large wooden spoon was taped to the back of a dragon, while a pony decked in armor had hooks for hooves. It was almost amusing to see what the changeling queen liked, but the terrible fangs came prodding back into her memory. When she looked at Twilight to see how she was fairing, the disguised unicorn sat staring at a stuffed grey toy with curly brown hair. Her eyes stared so intently that Sunset did not want to interrupt at first, but after finishing with her chest she found Twilight had not moved an inch, she felt the need to speak up. “Twilight,” she said flatly.
As if snapping awake, the disguised changeling jolted and turned. “What’s up?” she asked, tossing the stuffed grey toy back into the box.
“You spaced out there for a moment. Everything all right?”
“Yeah. Though I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I’ve never seen the Elements of Harmony.” Twilight returned to pulling things out from her side of the room, the floor between them was becoming cluttered.
Sunset reached into the next box. “They’re shaped in six cutie marks. Yours is a crown.” She paused her search. Her memory flashed, picturing the indentation within the white chalky sphere she found at the Castle of the Two Sisters. “Actually,” she said, “I’m not sure what they look like in this world. There should be six of them, and they’re gemstones. If you find something like that then let me have a look.”
“I’ve found plenty of shiny rocks, Sunset,” Twilight replied with a slightly perturbed voice. “I need sizes. Length, width, height. What colors are they? How heavy? Literally any description other than six gemstones.”
“If they’re Celestia’s they’ll be kept somewhere nice.” Sunset slammed her chest closed. “They may not even be in any of these, maybe Chrysalis hasn’t found them yet. Where would Celestia put them to hide them from being found?” Her eyes squinted, staring up at the carved shelving, the fireplace, the bed, and the big green pod that sat near the head of the bed.
Twilight was already staring at her brother’s cocoon, her expression blank. As Sunset came closer, Twilight started to speak, “You know me in your world, right? Have you ever met my brother? Have I ever talked about him?”
“In my world, I haven’t had the pleasure. In the human world I only just met you.” I hope the girls are taking care of Twilight. I wonder how they’re fairing without me. “I did meet him in the last world.” He was a lot of help. “You have a good brother, Twilight.”
“And I have a good sister,” the imprisoned Shining Armor said from behind the glass. Sunset had not expected the stallion to be able to talk or hear, and it startled her so much she landed on her rump. Shining Armor laughed at that.
“Do you know where the Elements of Harmony are?” Twilight asked, ignoring Sunset.
Lifting her butt off the ground, Sunset found she had sat on the pony with hooks for hooves. Luckily it was not hook-side up, she thought, patting her cutie mark. When she turned back to the sibling’s conversation, Twilight was looking around nonchalantly as if she was ignoring the cocoon. “Shouldn’t we get him out of there? He looks half-starved.”
The stallion chuckled. It was rough and coarse, but it was a chuckle. “That’s my fault, actually. When I snapped from Chrysalis’s control, I was offered a place by her side. More as a pet than a husband, assistant, or prince, though. It was my mistake, I refused to eat, and so she threw me in a pod.” He moved and his shoulder popped. “It’s cramped, but at least I don’t have to see the atrocities happening in Canterlot.”
“Coward,” Twilight belittled.
“Twilight! How can you say that?” Sunset argued, “He’s your brother.”
“A cowardly brother.”
Before Sunset could respond, Shining Armor said, “She’s right. I am a coward.” He shrugged as if it were no big deal. There was no passion in his dull eyes. “I’d rather be known as a coward than the stallion who married Queen Chrysalis and allowed her to seize the realm.”
That irked Sunset more than it should have, but she couldn’t think of a response, so she let it go. She started to think of Rarity and how she had spoken of her volunteered job, and then of the prizes won at the Settlers game. Her eyes drifted over the clutter that filled the chests and boxes, wondering if these were prizes taken by the changeling queen, as well. “There’s nothing in these containers,” Twilight said, snapping Sunset from her thoughts.
“Check the shelves,” was all Sunset muttered before she climbed one of the boxes. Dust had settled in on shelving. A spider’s web sat in the back of the top shelf, reminding Sunset of Principal Cinch’s bloodshot eyes as she accused CHS of cheating. I’ll take overbearing principals over an army of changelings any day of the week. She wondered what a changeling would look like within the human world. Spike’s a dog instead of a dragon. Maybe the changelings are bugs. She pictured the changelings within a mud dauber’s flute cocoon, sending a shiver down her spine. Gross.
Her eyes peered to the right of the shelving, a calendar sitting pinned to the wall. Every day was marked off except for the last five days of the month. “Is this calendar correct?” she asked the room as she calculated the time difference from human days to pony days in her head. As she stretched to remove the calendar from the wall, she lost her footing and stumbled forward, landing on the bed. She smacked into the wall, knocking a set of books down from the shelf which clinked off her dark blue armor.
“No. It’s two days behind,” Twilight replied as she turned to the bed. “You’re clumsy.”
Sunset whinnied. No, the last Twilight was clumsy. She rubbed her horn and studied the covers of the books. “Hey, my journal!” she shouted, and Twilight was suddenly there to cover her mouth.
“Be quiet!” Twilight loudly whispered. “We don’t need the guards stumbling in and catching us. And we definitely don’t need to waste time. Your disguise is about to be up.”
Wrestling with her journal, Sunset shoved it beneath her armor, trapping it between the shoulders of the plate. She couldn’t pull her neck back anymore, but the book wasn’t going anywhere and that was more important. Small victories. “Help me lift the mattress up,” Sunset requested as she jumped down. Twilight obliged, and they both lifted their own corners.
Underneath sat a rectangular box with a glass face, a purple cushion on the inside held six indentations. “That’s it!” Sunset said, resting the bed’s corner on her head, pulling the box out with one hoof. They let the bed fall into place, and Sunset undid the golden latch, opening the empty case. “There’s nothing here,” she said, examining the four empty corners in great depth. “No, no, no, no, no! I can’t believe this!”
“It’s not the end of the world, Sunset. Now we can go with my backup plan,” Twilight said.
Tossing the case against the wall, the glass shattered into one of the open chests. “Your backup plan is to violently destroy the changelings,” Sunset huffed, staring at where she had thrown the case. “No. Your plan isn’t even a plan. It’s just destruction. Now we go with my backup plan.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Yours? What could you possibly have in store?” She gave a loud snort. “Look, I was fine with helping you search for the Elements of Harmony since they could be used for my device, but if you’re going to-”
“We’re going to break out Princess Celestia,” interrupted Sunset.
That took Twilight aback. There was no way around it, Sunset knew. Freeing the only pony who might know where the Elements of Harmony were was the final and only option. “P-Princess Celestia?” Twilight repeated in a meek voice, possibly the quietest she had ever been. “You’re actually suggesting we go to the throne room and break out Princess Celestia!?”
“Absolutely. She’ll know what to do or where to find the Elements.” And if she doesn’t, at least she’ll be free. Princess Celestia had been the moral support during the previous world’s war with King Sombra. Manehattan relied on Celestia to combat the evil king, otherwise, all of that Equestria would have ended up like this world. Filled with despair. With the princess released, they’d be unstoppable. At least, that’s what Sunset hoped.
“I’m with you then,” Twilight said, hesitantly. “What kind of pupil would I be if I didn’t try to save my teacher? I used to be a pretty good student, though that may be a false memory. It’s been so long.”
“We should bring him with us.” Sunset pointed to Shining Armor’s pod. The stallion shifted but made no move to agree or disagree.
Twilight frowned at that. “He’s my brother and I love him, but he’d slow us down.” Twilight turned to the door and trotted away, not even allowing a discussion to be had.
I turned my back on a lot of ponies when I ended my apprenticeship under Princess Celestia. I know I should wish that I hadn’t given up, but I wouldn’t have learned so much about friendship if I hadn’t. She did not know if Twilight was making the right choice to leave her brother behind, but it was her brother, not Sunset’s. The stallion turned to face the back of the pod, no longer acknowledging Sunset’s presence. Her eyes sprung to the skylight in the hopes she would find clarity, but all she saw was the light of the morning sun being dimmed by a grey overcast that had begun to form. She sighed, knowing her conscience wouldn’t allow her peace. It was Twilight’s own words that echoed in her mind. “We matter,” Twilight shouted, though it was not this world’s Twilight.
She left the stallion in a pool of goo, the shell on the bed. She didn’t bother to stay to see the look in his eyes or hear a response, instead, galloping after Twilight with the intent on reaching the throne room. She did not expect Twilight to be standing at the doorway where the two guards had called Sunset a chump. The guards had vanished, leaving Chrysalis’s room unguarded. “Did you do it?” Twilight asked as Sunset came closer.
Sunset breathed in for a moment as she thought of her answer. “Yes,” she finally said. “I had to.”
Twilight wasn’t angry. A simple smirk appeared on her black lips, but her head turned away before Sunset could see it entirely. “Y’know, I often came to visit him. Hoping I could break him out and he could help me save the realm. I had told him starving himself was stupid, but he hadn’t listened. He gave up.” She turned back to Sunset, a sullen frown briefly touching her lips before dissipating. “I’ll never give up. The Elements of Harmony, Princess Celestia, my device. I’ll find a way to defeat the changelings even if it takes me my entire life.”
“Maybe that’s why we get along,” Sunset noted. “I’ve run into you in these several worlds, and you’re all basically the same when it comes to the desire to help.” She thought about the human Twilight and her desire to learn about magic. “Even when making mistakes, you’re eager to want to set things right. I wish I had that sort of willpower. It’s ambitious.” Sunset voiced her thoughts, “I’m actually pretty envious of you.”
“Y-You envy me?” Twilight responded, covering her mouth. “But you’re the one trying to save ponykind without destroying the changelings. That’s more admirable. Far more.”
Shrugging, Sunset trotted ahead, leaving Twilight to stew on her own thoughts. They made their way down to the gloomy underbelly of the castle once more, expecting to find changelings guarding the dark castle. The front hall’s windows were mostly blocked by the gardens, and the overcast was getting worse, but there were several changelings flying and fighting each other within the sky. “I’ve never seen changelings fight one another. Whatever you did must have set off a chain reaction. What exactly did you do?”
Sunset smiled. “I unsettled them.”
“Sounds ominous,” Twilight replied.
There were no guards at the throne room’s doors. The golden entrance remained closed, though the gold was less impressive in the dim light. They quickly pushed open one side, pushing it closed again once they were in. The throne room was deftly quiet, the darkness surrounded them like water. “We won’t have much time to waste, we’ll need to cut them down and teleport as quickly as possible,” Sunset stated. “I’ll cut them down myself, I think my disguise is about to wear-” A sudden glow sparked, blue flames bursting around her fur. Her red and yellow mane flowed to her neck as the holes in her hooves returned to a burnt orange coloring. “-off,” she finished saying.
“That’s fine with me. I suppose I can always claim that I was attempting to catch you,” Twilight snidely said.
Though she had transformed, Sunset still bore the armor she had taken from the storage room. The helmet was left back in the queen’s room, but she had worn the helm for so long that it pushed her mane down with a sweaty thickness. Luckily, her armor still fit her, and her journal dug heavily into her back, scratching against her fur. She ignored the pain. “Keep a look out,” she said as she went to work, though it wasn’t like Twilight could see more than a yard in front of them.
“I hope she actually knows where the Elements of Harmony are. I’d hate for this to be a folly pursuit, other than rescuing her,” Twilight noted, but Sunset ignored her.
The room was a bit chilly at first but was thrown off by Sunset’s magical beam. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for something to go wrong. Light suddenly filled the room, blinding Sunset so much that she was forced to stop. “What the hay?” she said, rubbing her eyes. When she reopened them, she saw a flood of armored changelings pouring into the throne room like a wave of tar. A dark, throaty laugh turned her focus from the guards to the throne where the evil queen sat cradled in the golden chair’s arms.
“Looking for these?” Queen Chrysalis continued her laughter as she levitated six gemstones into the air. One was cyan, another red. One was orange and another pink. A fifth was as purple as Rarity’s mane, but the sixth was different. The sixth was lavender, an oddly shaped six-pointed star that resembled Twilight’s cutie mark. Sunset had not expected the Elements of Harmony to be so different any more than she had expected Chrysalis to have them. “My, my. What wonderful little trinkets. I had never thought to find such beauties within Celestia’s room, but thankfully a journal told me all about them. It was easy to put the puzzle together, and it took little effort to find them.”
“Good thing too, now hand them over,” Sunset demanded with a stomp of her hoof.
“You dare give me orders!?” Chrysalis slumped forward, smashing against the throne with her own angry stomp. “I am the queen! You don’t have the right to tell me what to do! Guards! Seize her!” She then stepped one hoof off the throne, and said, “As for you, Twilight Sparkle. Yes, I know exactly who you are. I could smell your filthy odor when you came to help this buffoon out of her mistake.”
The disguised changeling smiled. “And now the game is over, it seems. Your fall will be sweet, my queen.” With the quickness of a fleeing rabbit, a blast of magic shot from blue flames aimed at the changeling queen. But the queen was quick too, rivaling the blast with her own and catching it, creating a shockwave of smoke. Twilight had returned to her normal form, though her shaven head and slimmer tail reflected what the changeling disguise had been. “Sunset, you get the guards, I’ll crush Chrysalis.”
There was no time to argue. The flood had broken loose but Sunset was quick to stop it. She froze each of the changelings within her magical grasp. They squirmed and fought, but none got loose. More seemed to try and squeeze by, only to be caught within her magic. The wall of changelings grew so much that none of the wall that held the golden doors could be seen past their writhing black bodies. I held back the brainwashed ponies in The Crystal Empire. I helped bring down the pillar Sombra rode. I broke free the caged ponies within one of your outposts. “I was Celestia’s student, not some timid unicorn. The years of training I had, the failures I faced. They made me who I am!” Her horn sparked, crackling with electricity. “Now let me show you what comes from having friends!”
Her magic felt like a strong wind, tunneling the changeling armada through the golden door, into the hallway, and out of the castle. The windows erupted as the hundreds of changelings were forced outside, shattering both the glass and Chrysalis's forces in one fell swoop. Sunset could feel the burden in her neck, her veins popping as she held strong. She did not let up her magic until the golden doors slammed shut, keeping the changelings from reentering.
When all was said and done, she dropped to her knees, taking swift breaths to calm herself. She had not been the only wind blowing, though. A beam of magic flew against the pillars near the door. Sunset turned to see the unicorn dancing with the changeling, exchanging magical blasts and strikes of their horns. They never took their eyes off each other. It was fighting like Sunset had never seen. Twilight almost looked happy throwing spell after spell at the queen. When Chrysalis attempted to grab at Twilight’s non-existent mane, Twilight did the same, except she was able to pull the queen down to the ground.
The queen countered, slamming them both to the ground instead. Sunset wasn’t going to let the purple unicorn have all the fun, however. As if she were at a rodeo, Sunset slammed down on Chrysalis’s back and grabbed the disfigured horn, holding on as the changeling queen bucked like a bronco. Sunset’s grip wasn’t sturdy enough, causing her to slip off and sail into the throne. Her little bull ride attempt had given enough time for Twilight to get up and strike the queen’s blind spot. The purple unicorn swung around to the opposing side, knocking the changeling queen over and blocking the path to the throne. “Get up and get out of here!” Twilight yelled to Sunset, refusing to take her eyes off the queen.
Chrysalis staggered for a moment, but her rage came forth. Spit clung to her fangs as she let out a guttural scream. “I’ll dine on your love for a century, Twilight Sparkle!” she yelled, gritting her teeth as she shot a blast of magic, only to be matched by Twilight. The monstrous queen used the smoke as a ploy, charging through and pinning her horn against Twilight’s, trapping the unicorn in a hornlock. The back and forth of their heads gave Sunset time to rise from the golden seat.
When she sat up, seeing the changeling and unicorn’s skirmish, she immediately wanted to help. But Twilight yelled, “Take the Elements!” stopping Sunset in her tracks. At her hooves, the six gemstones sat scattered along the steps. Sunset quickly gathered them up with her magic. The cyan stone reflected against her fur, turning turquoise, then teal, and back to cyan. When she looked up, the doors of the throne room had reopened and the flood of black had returned. “Take them and go,” she heard Twilight yell, though her eyes would not look away from the changelings.
The purple unicorn slammed her sternum into the changeling queen, knocking her into the other changelings. That’s when Sunset finally looked to Twilight. She stared down at the purple unicorn, the six Elements floating within her peripherals. For a moment, an audacious idea crossed her mind, rooting itself within the forefront of her thoughts. Celestia used the Elements of Harmony to take down Nightmare Moon, to take down Discord. Perhaps I… She hesitated, still staring down at her friend.
The flood of black grew larger, aiming for the purple unicorn, a green streaked monster at the head. Sunset knew she could do it, or at least try. The war would end, the world would be saved, and everything would be right again.
But the purple, mane-less unicorn with yellow teeth, an ugly brown vest, and horrible manners seemed to differ from Sunset’s thinking. As Sunset focused on the Elements of Harmony, thinking of her friends, her eyes glaring down at the sea of changelings, everything suddenly went dark.
Sunset panicked and tripped, falling face forward onto a strip of vinyl. She felt herself let go of the Elements of Harmony and one smacked against the back of her head. With a quick push, she stood and lit her horn.
Everything became clear to her as she stood in Twilight’s room.