The Worst of All Possible Worlds

by TheTimeSword


Arc 2: Chapter 7

The Elements of Harmony flickered and gleamed against the light of Sunset’s horn. They reflected the colors of the room, turning the bright gems into darker shades. Fight or flight, the words echoed within Sunset’s mind, realizing what had happened. She couldn’t help but smile, though it wasn’t a happy smile. Every bone in her body wanted to twitch and force her to teleport back to the throne room, back to save Twilight, Celestia, and Cadance – to save Equestria. As she stared over the Elements of Harmony, she knew she couldn’t. If she did, she’d be sacrificing everything on the off chance that she could even use the Elements or take down Chrysalis with her raw power. It wasn’t all bad, however. She had gotten her way, to say the least. The Elements wouldn’t be used to power Twilight’s awful device.

That’s when she noticed that her backpack sat on the bed, a parchment between the straps and vinyl. It wasn’t sealed, so Sunset unraveled and read what was written. Somehow Twilight had known what would happen. Paranoia planned every action and reaction, Sunset guessed, believing that if everything had turned out right, Twilight would have been back to destroy this letter. As she read over the words, a few tears stained the parchment, turning a few letters into black blobs. It wasn’t until the final two sentences that Sunset realized why Twilight had teleported only her from the throne room and not the both of them.

The last two sentences read: “Shining Armor knows about my changeling device, he’ll know where to find it, and once he hears of my capture he’ll go get it. Since we’re friends I won’t release him, as I know he’ll try to activate it, which leaves you to decide whether or not to use it.”

Sunset almost bit her tongue as she struggled with her mistake. “What happens here matters to us!” echoed within her mind, causing her to shake. She drew in air between her teeth, allowing her fears to leave her body, but still, she shook. Her legs wobbled, her shoulders tensed, and her neck couldn’t keep still. If that thing, that device, goes off, the changelings will be completely destroyed, and possibly us too. The changelings didn’t wipe out ponykind, they captured it – enslaved it, all at Chrysalis’s command. No matter how horrible Chrysalis is, the changelings aren’t her. I won’t allow Shining Armor to activate it, I don’t want to be the cause of so much destruction.

There had been enough devastation in this world and the last. In the previous world, there had been a happy ending, the sole evil king was overthrown and The Crystal Empire was freed. Sunset wanted another happy ending, for this world and for her. Of course, this world’s only hope was staring back at her in the dimly lit room, a natural glow upon their shiny surfaces. Something deep within Sunset had stirred in the throne room, giving her a desire to try and use them. But here and now, she remembered Twilight’s crown the day she had stolen it. I’ve learned a lot about friendship, but not enough to be the one to use the Elements of Harmony, she decided, only the bearers have that right. She did not think she would turn into a raging she-demon, quite the opposite, actually. The friendship map sent me here to these horrid timelines just like it sends Princess Twilight and her friends to solve friendship problems all over Equestria, without the Elements. The words help time flashed in her mind’s eye, and she nodded to herself.

There wasn’t much time to dillydally, guards would most likely be sent to Twilight’s room to investigate. Sunset no longer had her helmet, but the armor remained. It had hindered her ever so slightly in the fight, so she went to work removing the cuirass that encased her torso. The dungeon keys and her journal flopped onto the floor, to which she quickly picked up with her magic. As she shoved the keys into her backpack, she flipped through the pages of her journal. As happenstance would have it, she stopped on one entry from Princess Twilight that she found inspiring. “I was looking through a journal me and my friends used to write in for help on your topic, and I think I found some great advice from my lovable assistant. Spike wrote: ‘But today I learned how important it is to be honest with your friends when they're doing something that you don't think is right. A true friend knows that you're speaking up because you care about them.’ I hope that helps. Rainbow Dash can be pretty stubborn, but she’s a good friend.”

Sunset couldn’t remember why she had asked for advice, turning back a page to see the previous entry. The problem she was stuck on seemed so trivial to Sunset that she wondered if it had really been her that wrote it. I’ve come a long way, she thought happily. Thanks, Twilight. She closed her journal, shoving it in-between her notebooks. The last things she placed inside her bag were the Elements of Harmony, rattling cozy on top of the literature. With her straps secure, she tossed the backpack over her shoulders and gave a short sigh. The bed looks comfy, she thought, having been out all night. She knew sleep would be in short supply until the changeling queen and her army were brought to justice.

A twist and a turn and she was out the door. Justice would have to wait, and so would freeing her friends. Finding Shining Armor was more important.

Making her way through the maze of halls, she eventually found herself at the janitorial closet, more accurately known as Rarity’s quarters. She should still be working, Sunset mused but tried the knob anyway. When she found it was locked she decided to move on, but only reached a few feet before a delicate voice called to her. “Sunset?” A slight crack in Rarity’s door revealed a big blue eye, wide and staring. “Come, come quickly,” Rarity begged.

“What are you doing here? I figured you’d be in the middle of cleaning,” Sunset said after entering, making sure to keep her voice low.

“They gave everyone the day off,” Rarity replied. “Which actually means Queen Chrysalis has no desire to see any of the pony workers. Something’s got them riled up.” There were beads of sweat on Rarity’s upper lip and forehead. “I overheard some of the other workers say they’ll be forcing mandatory inspections and nightly guard checks. Canterlot is in chaos! And the thunderous roar I heard earlier – Sunset, what is going on!?”

“A lot of things,” Sunset vaguely answered. “But I have a more important issue to attend to. Twilight Sparkle’s brother, Shining Armor, he’s going to destroy the changelings. I’ve got to find him and stop him before he acquires Twilight’s device.”

“Destroy the changelings?” repeated Rarity. “Isn’t that what we want?”

Sunset shook her head. “Not like this. With the Elements of Harmony, we can root them out of Equestria. What Shining Armor wants is to root them out of existence.”

The look Rarity gave was brief, but it was there, a bit of vengeance flashing beneath her blue eyes. “If we get them out of Equestria, they’d just come back, wouldn’t they?” Her question was a dance around the words, but Sunset knew it was there. “Why not destroy them?” was really what Rarity was asking.

“They might – but not if the Elements of Harmony are there to strike them down. Destroying an entire species – it’s too much. The changelings could have done that to us ponies, but didn’t, choosing to keep you in captivity – even if it is for their own selfish needs.” That didn’t seem to convince Rarity, it was barely a reason Sunset had convinced herself of. She had no love for changelings any more than Rarity, but every time she thought of wiping out the changelings, she could only see her own self as a demon in their place. “If we use Twilight’s device, what’s stopping the next awful villain to come and rule Equestria? What’s stopping it from getting to the point where a device is created to combat the ponies who live here?” That’s a better argument, Sunset thought, proudly remembering her time spent as a filly in Canterlot’s debate club.

It had done the trick, striking a bit of fear in Rarity. “A-Alright, I understand. I’d rather not fight a second Chrysalis,” she said, “What do you need from me?”

Shifting her shoulders, Sunset lowered her backpack. “I’m not sure if Shining Armor would need all the Elements of Harmony to activate the device or just one, but just in case it is all six, I’m giving you yours.” Levitating the purple gem out, Rarity gasped and grinned, marveling at the beauty of the perfect purple stone.

“That sheen!” commented Rarity, taking the gemstone in both hooves. “It’s simply divine!”

Sunset had hoped that the stone would transform, but nothing happened. “Keep it on you at all times. Once I find and stop Shining Armor I’m going to gather the others, find Twilight, and we’ll bring down the changelings.”

Rarity nodded, a bright smile still on her face. As Sunset went to leave, Rarity stopped her, asking, “What if the Elements of Harmony destroy the changelings?”

It wasn’t a thought that had ever crossed Sunset’s mind. “I’m sorry?”

“What if the Elements of Harmony wipe out the changelings as a whole – like this device of Twilight’s,” Rarity explained further. “I mean, you’ve convinced me, but what if these, uhm, gemstones, what if they somehow link with the other bearers wishes? What if our desires take on the form of what you’re trying to stop?”

Sunset didn’t have an answer. All her time with her human friends had not prepared her for such a choice. All roads lead back to evil, she thought and found herself staring at the ground, thinking about when she became a demon. I shouldn’t compare myself to the changelings, said another thought, but then she asked herself, why not? Her eyes drifted up to Rarity who seemed entranced with the stone she had been given. “If I turned evil – would you do everything in your power to turn me back to good?” she asked her fellow unicorn.

Rarity fumbled with her Element, almost dropping it on the floor. “W-What kind of question is that?” she said, half flustered half confused. “Of course. I-I-I mean.” She stumbled with her words, thinking of what she might say. “We’re friends, and friends help each other,” she eventually answered, though her expression held hesitant until Sunset smiled, to which Rarity smiled back out of relief. “You’re not actually planning on turning evil, a-are you?”

“No,” answered Sunset. What am I trying to do? Build a treaty between the two species? Ponies and changelings can’t get along, can they? Even if they could, am I the right pony to try and bridge that gap? There were too many questions flowing through Sunset’s head and not enough answers. “I wish I had someone who went through all this to bounce my questions off of. The only one who could do that disappeared when I entered this world.” Sunset slumped against the door, her backpack pressing hard into her back. Shrugging it off again, she realized she did have someone with all the answers. “My journal!”

Flipping open a few pages, she glanced over the words of yesteryear, wondering where she might find an answer. “What a pretty journal,” Rarity commented, glancing from the other side. “I’d often attempt to get my sister to write in a journal, but I never really had the desire myself.”

“This journal is the whole reason I’m here. It allows me to communicate with Princess Twilight Sparkle – the Twilight of my world. Not that it does much good since she’s probably still trapped in these strange worlds like I am. Still, it holds the knowledge of past questions and answers, and sometimes that’s more important.” She flipped through a few more, seeing how heavily filled the pages were. “Funnily enough, it’s the reason I came back to Equestria, and now I have to hope it’ll help find an answer.”

“I’d be pretty sore with it if it brought me here,” replied Rarity, sneering at the book as if it were a living thing.

“It’s been pretty helpful. It’s how I know Shining Armor and Twilight’s plan to use her device to turn the changeling’s into loveless husks is wrong. I know it in my heart that it’s wrong.” She paused, glancing up at the white mare. “But… But what if you’re right? What if the Elements of Harmony do find it necessary to, well, completely remove the changelings from existence? They banished Nightmare Moon to the moon for a thousand years – but that might have been because Celestia thought that was best. If you six believe it is necessary to remove the changelings, well, do you see where I’m going with this?”

Rarity nodded. “You’re very kindhearted, Sunset. If it amounts to anything, you’ve swayed me.” Her lips tucked up, almost like a smile, but hesitant.

“Thanks,” Sunset chuckled. “I spent an hour around the changelings playing checkers, but they call it Settlers. It was odd, but they did it for fun and sport, like fillies and colts. The way they speak to each other, it sounds awful, derogatory to us ponies even, but that doesn’t mean they’re evil. They’re misguided. Even Chrysalis, with all her faults, still plays with toys like a child.”

It was clear Rarity had no response, so Sunset continued her search within the journal. But Sunset was wrong, Rarity did have a response, just not one that she expected. “Maybe you should just leave.”

“W-What?” Sunset stammered.

“I know that came off awfully rude, and I’m sorry for that, but perhaps you’re just meant to move on. You say you came from another world, but this isn’t the only odd world you’ve visited, correct? Maybe you can’t save this one.” Rarity shrugged. “I know it’s hard, but giving up sometimes is the best option. Your talk of this – this device – it was created before you even arrived. We might have been able to save ourselves with it, without your help. If that’s true, you might be destroying our only hope for a future.”

“Okay, if I play devil’s advocate for a moment and agree with you, it would explain why the Tree of Harmony did not ask me to help time in this timeline. It didn’t even glow in my presence. But would that really mean that it doesn’t want me to help?”

Rarity nodded. “Sometimes, Sunset, the hardest part is letting go. I did. I let go of my desire to create clothes, and I let go of my pride, allowing me to work this horrid, demeaning position. I’ve survived that way – and you said it yourself, the changelings could have wiped us out, but didn’t. Perhaps this was just the way things are meant to be.”

“And that’s where playing advocate stops,” Sunset replied. “Because there’s no reason for me to be here then. Jokes aside – happenstance doesn’t just put me here for no reason. I just happened to come through a portal from the human world right at the same time Twilight gets pulled through to different dimensions – to different presents? No. There’s no reason for that.”

Rarity took her time thinking about a response. Eventually, she said, “Maybe this was just meant to show you a lesson? Old fairy tales, legends, and folk stories always have magical lessons. Did you learn anything in the last world you visited?”

It was the same words that had been resonating with her ever since she entered this world. “What happens here matters,” Sunset answered.

“That explains why you’re adamant to save the changelings. ‘What happens here matters?’ You learned that in the world you saved, correct? Perhaps you are meant to find another lesson in this world. Sometimes, letting go is the hardest thing to learn.”

Though Rarity had said she was swayed, it was now Sunset’s feelings that wavered. “To be honest, when I first arrived in this world, I assumed I was being punished, being sent to other worlds to fix them like Princess Twilight fixed the human world – from my mistake.” Sunset thought for a moment on Rarity’s words. “It can’t all be happenstance.” She was growing to love that word. “Everything from Sombra’s timeline showed me that the world matters, regardless if it is not my world. In this world, however, everything is telling me to give up. Applejack, Chrysalis, you. Even Shining Armor gave up, and he’s the one out there trying to abolish the changelings.”

“Perhaps you should listen to it then. I’d hate to be a pessimistic lout, but it sounds to me like you’ll have another world in your roster to visit. It could be many more, for all I know.” Rarity’s face pouted as if to apologize for the negativity. “You say you’re being punished, but I don’t think you are. When I started making dresses I looked through all the sewing books I could get my hooves on. I don’t remember the author’s name, but one said ‘Learning is not a chore or a penance, it’s an excuse to do your worst and prove your best.’ I quite liked it, though their designs were simply gaudy. Still, what you see as punishment might not actually be that way.”

“Whoa,” Sunset replied, awestruck. “That’s the deepest thing I’ve ever heard. You’re really smart.”

“Oh, stop it.” Rarity blushed, covering her cheeks shyly.

Sunset folded her forelegs, contemplating the author’s quote. “An excuse to do your worst and prove your best,” she repeated the citation. “What happens here matter’s to us,” she repeated another quote from a very different circumstance.

“Who said that, anyway?” Rarity wondered aloud.

“A comedian.”

“Doesn’t sound like a very funny joke,” she remarked.

“No, but if she could see me now she’d be laughing till her jaw hurt.” Sunset missed that Twilight Sparkle, quite possibly more than she missed Princess Twilight or the human version she had met during the Friendship Games. “Funny thing is, I think you’re both right.”

Rarity’s brow raised. “I don’t understand.”

“She told me that, even though this isn’t my Equestria, things that happen here still matter, and she’s right. But you telling me to let go is also right. Obviously, if I let go things here will probably resolve poorly. If I continue to help, things also might end poorly, just in a different way.” Sunset rose from the floor. “Everything I do, everything we do, matters. We have to accept that our actions have consequences, and let go of the fear of doing nothing.”

“I-I’m sorry, I still don’t quite follow.”

“I’ve been comparing the changelings to myself – to my demon side – but I’ve been trying to fight that comparison. Every time, I claimed my evilness had been different, but what I should have been doing was comparing them to me. I matter, Rarity. I wouldn’t want to be wiped from the face of the planet, but I also didn’t want to be stuck in a cocoon for the rest of my life. Rarity, what do the changelings want?”

Rarity shrugged, wordless.

“They want to play Settlers. Some want to guard the castle while others don’t, they want what each other has, believing that the other has a better life. They want to feed on love so that they won’t starve. They want to live their lives as best they can without strife. None of those things are evil, Rarity.”

“That’s all good and whatnot, but what’s your point?”

“My point is – what does Chrysalis want?” Sunset smugly smiled.

Rarity went wide-eyed. “Dreadful things, I can only imagine.”

“She wants everything that her changelings don’t care about. They fear her. They fight with each other because they have nothing better to do. They have no lives to care for, nothing but their own, and their own is threatened by their queen.” She paused, staring intently at the white unicorn. “Rarity – thank you. You’ve helped me out a lot, I didn’t even need to search through my journal.” Sunset closed the book, shoving it back into her backpack.

“What are you going to do now?” Rarity asked.

“Well, I’m going to find Shining Armor and stop him from using that device on all the changelings.” She paused to pull her backpack onto her back. “Then, I’m going to gather the bearers to use the Elements of Harmony, hopefully taking out one specific changeling – the worst of all possible changelings.” She then wrapped Rarity in a hug, whispering in her ear, “This is not how the world should be, Rarity. I’m going to set things straight, and one day you’ll be able to make all those gaudy dresses from that author’s book.”

When Sunset parted from the hug, Sunset found a few happy tears falling from her face. She hadn’t realized she had started crying. “You’re crying, dear,” Rarity stated, and Sunset noticed Rarity too had started crying. After pointing it out, they both laughed at their own theatrics. “Please, be careful out there, Sunset,” Rarity said, wiping away her tears as Sunset opened the door.

“I will.” Sunset closed the door behind her, feeling almost serene, as if a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Of course, as happenstance would have it, the trotting of hooves and an ominous light came shifting down the hall.

Thinking fast, she teleported to the only place she knew was safe.

Green walls of hexagons around her and steel beneath her hooves, there was plenty of light within the Hatchery. Just as she had assumed, Sunset found herself alone. Chrysalis will have her army searching for me – she won’t have time to find a replacement for Twilight’s job, she presumed. It was also the one place where Shining Armor might run to, a place to hide and activate Twilight Sparkle’s device. There was no sign of him or the changeling destroying bomb. As she traveled along the top level, examining each of the hexagons that were lit up, she heard a noise. It was a constant thumping, though the cause was a mystery.

It wasn’t until she traversed to the door below, cautious as a rat in a lion’s den, that she found the source of the noise. The stain glass hall was so dark it turned any bright colors sour, and the thumping of rain echoed like a thousand wings flapping. It was difficult to see out any of the windows, but the illustrations made everyone pony or changeling look like they were crying. Even Chrysalis looks sad, she thought as rain shadowed and rolled down the queen’s eyes. As she came to the window that held Shining Armor and the changeling queen disguised as Princess Cadance, she stared into the blue of the stallion’s eyes. The rain did not seem to reach the glassed stallion, and his white coat seemed darker than she remembered.

That’s when Sunset yelped. The eyes moved and changed color! The window shook as a loud wallop struck a pane. For a moment, she thought she had been found by the changelings. “Sunset!” a voice called to her behind the glass, familiar and welcoming. “Come outside!” it called to her, and then the rain began to filter over Shining Armor, his white fur returned to normal.

Sunset came closer, trying to glance out but there was nothing to be seen. If it were a changeling, they wouldn’t have spoken to her. At least, that’s what convinced Sunset to teleport onto the roof of the stain glass hallway. The black tiles were slippery, and her fur instantly thickened from all the water. Her mane drooped down in front of her eyes so much that she had to use her magic to hold it back in a bun.

The sky had become covered in clouds, expanding across all of Canterlot in a dark grey pattern that prevented even the changelings from flying. There were many black specks down within the city that were running for shelter – the fighting seemingly simmered down. She took a few steps, the rest of the castle roof was much higher than the long gallery’s roof, but the slant of the shingles at the end provided housing from the rain. Sunset huddled underneath, taking another few steps toward the edge where the voice had spoken to her.

As she struggled to hold her footing, leaning over the side, she saw that there was nothing below aside from the grass and stone of the courtyard ground below. Even without a fear of heights, Sunset did not like staring down at the ground. Taking a step back, her hoof planted on one of the slicker shingles, causing her back legs to fall out from under her.

She slid for a moment, but her flank was stopped right at the edge, giving her another look down at the flat world below. “I’ve gotcha,” a voice said, almost sounding like a whisper thanks to the rain. Blue hooves were wrapped beneath Sunset’s forelegs, holding her like a marionette. In her panic, Sunset had released her magic, causing her hair to flop back in front of her eyes.

As she felt lifted, she asked, “Rainbow Dash? Is that you?”

“Who else would be floating outside a window in the rain?” the blue pegasus replied. Rainbow Dash plopped Sunset onto the taller roof of the castle where the edges met, forming a flatter surface. Rain puddled in the center. “The whole city has blown its top! Are they looking for you? Did you find who you were looking for?”

Rainbow stretched her wings out, covering both her head and Sunset’s from the rain. “It’s good to see you, Rainbow Dash,” Sunset said, ignoring Dash’s questions, giving a hug instead. “I found Twilight and lost her again – but I have a more important mission to attend to at the moment.”

“Can I help?” Rainbow asked as she held the hug.

“Absolutely.” Sunset pulled away and began to explain her plan. “The short version is that I’m looking for Shining Armor. He’s Twilight’s brother and fiancé to Princess Cadance. He’s got a magical device that’ll wipe out the changelings, and we need to stop him before he can use it.”

Like a dog, Rainbow’s head tilted to the left. “Stop him? It sounds to me like we should be helping him.”

“I’ve been running into that sort of belief a lot lately,” Sunset answered. “But sometimes the easier path isn’t the best.”

Rainbow Dash snorted. “So, what? You want a one on one fight with Queen Chrysalis or something? I didn’t expect a unicorn to turn their nose up at something magic related.” With a flex and a smile, Rainbow nodded. “Count me in! I’ve been stretching my wings for two days gathering up these storm clouds, and my hooves are itching for a fight!”

It wasn’t exactly like Rainbow assumed, but Sunset didn’t bother to correct the pegasus. If they didn’t find Shining Armor, none of it would matter. “Do you know where Shining Armor might be? I thought he would have gone to the Hatchery – but I didn’t see him or the device.”

“He probably went to find his fiancée,” Rainbow said, offhandedly. Sunset hadn’t thought of that, however.

“You’re a genius!” Sunset wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow’s neck, hugging her with all her might this time. Rainbow’s wings shook, releasing a heap of water onto them, but Sunset didn’t mind. “He did everything to try and find Princess Cadance in the last world. He must have gone to the throne room to save her!” She released Rainbow Dash and clambered forward, but hesitated. “Except – he wouldn’t know she was in the throne room unless Chrysalis told him – and why would she do that?”

“She wouldn’t,” Rainbow answered, using her wings to cover herself, and only herself.

“Exactly.” Sunset’s horn sparked.

Darkness surrounded them instantaneously, but only for a moment. Light from Sunset’s horn reflected against the pink crystals, brightening them more than Rainbow Dash expected, but Sunset was prepared – her eyes closed. When Sunset opened them, she spun in a circle, looking past the slender quartzes in all directions. “Wha-What just happened? Where are we?” Rainbow blinked, trying to let her eyes focus, shaking her wings off from the rainwater. “I’ve never seen this place.”

“This is below Canterlot. Below the dungeons. Deep within the mountain itself. A dark place, worse than any prison,” Sunset answered, “This is where Chrysalis kept Princess Cadance.”

Sunset didn’t know if that startled Rainbow Dash or if a drop of rainwater trickled down her back, but the blue pegasus shivered for a moment. “You think Shining Armor is down here, somewhere?” asked Rainbow Dash.

But Sunset didn’t answer, choosing to spear forward and find out for herself. The pegasus followed behind in silence. Silence was what this place had in abundance, along with darkness and crystals. Even as rain flooded from the sky, nothing could be heard this far below. Even the trots they made were muffled by the soft dirt. They wandered between crystals, yet Rainbow said nothing, not that Sunset would have answered. She was too busy looking for Cadance’s chains and the white stallion. What she found struck her heart, pressing it into her throat.

Shining Armor sat in front of the chains, holding them in his hooves. His face was distraught – his eyebrows pursed up, his bottom lip quivered, and his eyes were so sunken in that not even the light of his horn could break through the shadow they cast.

As Sunset stared intently, Rainbow Dash had not yet noticed Sunset’s halt, slamming into the back of the unicorn and causing them both to fall forward. Shining Armor rose before they could, twisting to face them with his horn pointed, readying for anything. “Who are you?”

“Shining Armor, it’s me.” Sunset pushed up and out from under Rainbow Dash. “I was the changeling that broke into Chrysalis’s room – the one your sister had to save.” The stallion’s demeanor didn’t seem to change until she said, “I’m the one that set you free.”

It was then that he raised his head, his eyes weak, scornful, and bleak. “My sister is not with you, which can only mean one thing.”

“Chrysalis.” The word tore from Sunset’s throat.

He nodded. “And you’ve come looking for this?” He sidestepped, revealing a silver, slender cube sitting between the two grey, rusted chains.

“That’s right. I can’t let you use it.”

“I’d like to see you try and stop me.” He laughed low in his throat, and for a moment Sunset thought they might have to fight. But before she could call his bluff, he said, “It doesn’t work, though. I’ve already tried it.” He sounded defeated.

“That’s because it needs powerful magic in order to activate,” she replied.

Rainbow Dash stepped beside her. “I don’t think he’s got a powerful bone in his body,” she bluntly said, waving a hoof at the starving stallion.

“How powerful?” Shining Armor ignored Rainbow Dash.

“The Elements of Harmony would do the trick.” Sunset had no desire to tell him she had the Elements in her pack, they were useless without Rarity’s. “But more importantly, taking Chrysalis out is the main goal, not the changelings. Without her, the changelings won’t know what to do. They can be made docile.” Shining Armor didn’t move as she came closer, even as she lifted the cube with her magic. Perhaps he was too weak to stop her, or perhaps he wanted to hear what she had to say. “Chrysalis wants the world to be ruled by her brood, but they don’t want that. They’re like… children, almost. Violent, creepy little children. Some might even have good hearts.”

Shining Armor’s eyes drifted to Rainbow Dash, almost as if to ask, “Do you actually believe her?” But Rainbow gave a solemn shrug. He didn’t stop Sunset from pulling the cube open and exposing the wiring beneath, nor did he make a noise when she pulled out some of the copper tubes. It wasn’t until she lowered the cube to the floor and stared at it for a moment that he asked, “What do you plan to do with it?”

“This,” Sunset answered, smashing the cube beneath her hoof.

“I suppose it was just as well,” Shining Armor said, unsurprised. “It would have been a fool’s errand to try and find the Elements of Harmony to power it.”

“Actually, I’ve got them right here,” Sunset replied, tossing her backpack to the ground and opening the zipper, levitating the five gemstones out.

Shining Armor gasped. “You had them the entire time!?” he screamed, veins popping up on his neck so hard that the fur had risen, detailing the shapes.

Grabbing at the red gemstone, Rainbow Dash said, “They don’t look very harmonic.” She tossed it back to Sunset. “Is that a word? Harmonic?”

“These don’t look like the Elements of Harmony from my world if I’m perfectly honest. The only one that looks sort of right is this one.” Sunset levitated the six-pointed star higher than the others. “It resembles the one that Twilight’s crown holds.” The crown that I stole.

“Your world?” repeated Shining Armor. He could not remain angry for long – he was too hungry to waste unneeded resentment. “Twilight’s crown?” There was a twist to his mouth. “Who… are you?”

Sunset deposited the Elements of Harmony back into her bag, including Rainbow Dash’s. “My name is Sunset Shimmer,” she answered him, though she did not look at him. “I live in a human world, I was apprentice to Princess Celestia, and I’m good friends with Princess Twilight Sparkle.” She finally looked up at him, meeting his steely, bleak eyes. “And I’m your best bet of defeating Chrysalis.”

“Best bet, huh?” Shining Armor mocked. “If you say so. My hopes were dashed when I found Twilight’s device inoperable.” He shrugged, turning and staring back down at the rusted chains.

“I’m glad you didn’t use it. That device – it could have destroyed more than the changelings. It might have worked on all species. With the Elements, we can direct fire on one specific changeling. The queen of them all.”

“Sunset.” Shining Armor’s voice was meek. “Do you really believe we can win? Do you honestly think that we even stand a chance?”

When Sunset did not answer, Rainbow Dash spoke up, “Don’t listen to him, Sunset. I believe in you.”

Loyalty. Sunset nodded. Letting go is the hardest thing. It felt like time had stopped. An endless silence soaked the air. They all believe in me, all of the bearers. They all trust me. Sunset didn’t know what to say to Rainbow Dash, she didn’t have to say anything. The blue pegasus simply smiled, water still dripping from her bangs, soaking the soil.

“Shining Armor,” Sunset finally said after a long while, breaking the silence.

“Yes?”

“Twilight was wrong about you.”

“About me?”

“She called you a coward,” Sunset said, “And I know you’re not – which is why you’re going to do the bravest thing you can do.”

Shining Armor was skeptical, to say the least. “Which is?”

“You’re going to stay here.”

Rainbow Dash interrupted, “How is that brave?”

“Because, Dash,” Sunset said, “Everypony has one of two responses. Fight or flight. When you’re backed into a corner, when you’re capable of doing something, or when you just don’t know what to do, you’ll always rely on one of those two responses.” She turned back to Shining Armor. “You’re going to be brave and do neither. No matter how much you might want to save your fiancée, your sister, or your kingdom, you’re going to stay here and wait.”

Shining Armor’s lips curled into a frown as his brow furrowed. “You want me to do nothing, just like I’ve been doing this entire time? You’d consider that bravery?” he scoffed. “I’m a coward.”

“You and I both know that isn’t true. If it were, you wouldn’t have come down here to see your fiancée. You wouldn’t have found Twilight’s device. And you wouldn’t have tried to use it.” Sunset stared at him. “I need you to be brave. I need you to stay down here because you’d only get in our way. That’s the bravest thing you can do right now.”

His frown eventually subsided, and he nodded. Whether or not he’d do as he was told, Sunset could not be sure, but for now, she did not have to worry about him. “Come on, Dash,” Sunset said, twisting her body away from Shining Armor. As they started to trot away, Sunset took one last look at the shrapnel of silver that sat sticking out of the soil. Several words echoed in her mind, but none of them mattered.

Sunset let go of her fear.