Tree Hugger’s van cruised down the highway. Fluttershy and Spike sat in the back, watching the trees pass by with somber expressions.
“So,” Tree Hugger noted. “What’s the story with the dog?”
Fluttershy looked at Spike in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Tree Hugger noted. “Ever since Summer break, that white dog was taking you on all these trips. Some of them out-of-state.”
“Oh!” Fluttershy gasped in realization. “Well… if I had to guess… I was trying to help Shiva find her old home. Before us.”
“Before Equestria?” Spike whispered. Fluttershy nodded.
It made sense, when they thought about it. Shiva had to have had lingering doubts over the fact that she had never been a full diamond dog. That she had likely come from here. Who would blame her for wanting to find her old home?
However, as Fluttershy pondered Shiva’s predicament, Tree Hugger suddenly straightened, peering at something in the road.
“What the…?” she muttered, turning off onto a well-worn forest path.
Fluttershy and Spike peeked out the window… and gasped in shock. Fluttershy hugged Spike so tightly he nearly squeaked.
As Tree Hugger’s van slid to a stop, they saw the Human version of Fluttershy walking out.
With Shiva right behind her.
Even without her diamond dog heritage, it was impossible to mistake Shiva for just any old dog. She stood almost as big as a horse, her snow-white fur almost appearing to glow in the late afternoon light. Yet… her brown eyes shined with something familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time.
Confusion. Uncertainty. And great sadness. Despite her efforts, Fluttershy could assume that Shiva had not found her original home.
Though Fluttershy didn’t get long to worry about Shiva’s feelings. Fluttershy soon saw that same expression reflected back at her as her human counterpart spotted her. Tree Hugger herself blinked as she took in the two versions of her friend before her.
“Whoa,” she commented. “I’m seeing double.”
However, the confusion only lasted a minute before Spike came out of Tree Hugger’s van. And Human Fluttershy’s eyes widened in realization.
“You’re the Fluttershy from Twilight’s world,” she realized. “E-Equestria.”
Fluttershy sighed in relief. “Yes,” she said. “And we need help.” She indicated Shiva. “Her help, specifically.”
Human Fluttershy turned to Shiva, who looked up at her with a confused whimper.
“Her help?” Human Fluttershy asked. “But… she’s… is she someone important in Equestria?”
Spike and Pony Fluttershy exchanged a glance.
“Sister, you have no idea,” Spike said, while Fluttershy indicated Tree Hugger’s van.
“Come with us,” she invited. “We can explain on the way back.” She noticed Tree Hugger tilting her head at her. “I mean… if that’s alright with you.”
Human Fluttershy and Tree Hugger exchanged a glance. Before Tree Hugger shrugged.
Shiva, on the other hand, slowly approached, her eyes locked on Spike with familiarity. Spike approached her as well.
“You recognize me, Shiva?” he asked.
She huffed and sniffed at him.
“Your kids need you,” Spike insisted. “Kodo and Celine. They need you.”
“Kodo and Celine!” Something flashed around Shiva’s head, but her ears perked, and she looked to the van with a new light in her eyes. Racing up to Human Fluttershy, she pawed at her with a desperate look in her eye, before racing back to the van and barking.
Human Fluttershy nodded. “I guess that settles it,” she said, turning to Tree Hugger. “T-Tree Hugger, I kind of hiked out here with her. I-If you don’t mind…”
Tree Hugger shrugged. “Hey, I’m happy to help out friends,” she said. “And it sounds like I’m saving a world too.” She chuckled and hopped back into her van. “Get in; let’s go save a world.”
“Hopefully, Kodo’s left a world for us to come back to,” Spike mumbled.
Meanwhile, on the borders of Equestria, Celine watched as the battle lines formed: mere miles from the borders of Caritatin Hive were her brother, father and pack. On the other side, right in front of the Hive, Shining Armor, Skippy, and a collection of ponies and changelings stood ready to combat them.
As she stepped out from Caritatin Hive to join them, she remembered another battlefield – another time when ponies had needed her to step up. But she hadn’t. And now Celestia was in prison, Luna was under attack, and the others had been scattered.
Skippy noticed her coming up to them. “I can sense your emotional turmoil,” he noted. “Are you sure you’re prepared for this?”
Celine turned to her brother, wincing at the hopeful gaze he was giving her. “I have to be,” she admitted. “And yet…” She looked down. “I failed Celestia. I should have stood my ground… but…” She looked up. “Skippy, he’s my brother. Those are all my family."
“Family of blood, sure,” Skippy said. “But Shiva is my pack sister.” He indicated the Hive. “That makes all of these changelings’ pack by choice.” He pat her shoulder. “Just… consider that.”
Celine shut her eyes. She wanted to whimper, cry; do anything to get rid of the ball of guilt, fear and nervousness locking her limbs in place and making her long to be anywhere but here. But then she heard Luke’s growl, and Skippy’s comforting touch left her.
When she opened her eyes, her tail could only feebly wag as Kodo and Luke once again stood before her. She walked out from Caritatin Hive’s front line, and walked into No-Man’s-Land to greet them.
“Sister,” Kodo whispered. “I’m sorry; I never should have sent you away.”
“Was it worth it?” Luke asked, gazing up at Caritatin Hive’s outer shell of ruins, concealing its true glory. “This Hive… doesn’t exactly look like the best.”
“It’ll be enough,” Kodo insisted, his gaze barely leaving his sister. “Come on, Celine. Introduce us to the changelings that are going to help us save Equestria.”
Celine swallowed. But when Kodo tried to pull her towards the Hive, she stopped him.
“Save Equestria?” she asked. “What happened to finding Mother?”
Darkness briefly billowed from Kodo’s form, but when he gazed at her, it was only with confusion.
“Sombra will reveal where Mother is,” he promised. “As soon as we get rid of the Princesses.” He stepped closer. “And that’ll be easy; we’ve already got Cadence and Celestia. A-And there’s this unicorn – Tempest something or other – who’s willing to take them and make sure they aren’t a threat to us…”
“Kodo,” Celine interrupted. “They were never a threat to us. Not until you started listening to Sombra.”
Darkness billowed around Kodo again, but he struggled to shake it off.
“Celine… sister…” he almost begged. “Don’t do this. Don’t make him…”
Celine shook her head sadly, but planted herself before him and the changelings.
“I’m sorry, brother,” she said. “But the changelings of Caritatin Hive are not joining you in this mad crusade.” She winced, her heart begging her not to add in the last part, but she forced the words out: “And neither am I.”
Kodo’s entire body drooped. His eyes shined with horror. His tail tucked up to his chest.
“Celine…” he whimpered as darkness started to pour out from his form. “No…”
“Don’t listen to him, Kodo,” Celine pleaded, cautiously taking a step towards him. “Don’t listen to Sombra.”
“Stop turning him against me, girl!” Sombra suddenly bellowed, lashing at Celine. She barely managed to dodge.
“Kodo!” Luke barked, but Sombra turned to him with a snarl, and the diamond dog backed up with a surprised bark of alarm.
“You would turn against me?!” Sombra demanded to Celine. He turned his gaze up to the changelings, who bristled and hissed at his fury. “You would betray me?!”
“Who betrayed who, Sombra?” Celine growled.
Sombra snarled down at her, his green eyes glittering in hate. He raised a claw to swipe at her.
But… he hesitated. His eyes flashed back and forth – sometimes shining with dark magic. Other times shining with tears.
“N-No…” Kodo whimpered, struggling to hold Sombra back. “Not… my… family…”
“She betrayed us, Kodo,” Sombra insisted. “She was beguiled by the alicorns! You have to stop them, or you'll never get your mother back!”
“No…” Growling, Kodo turned, and found the changelings that had sided with him charging their horns at him. Even the diamond dogs were reluctantly aiming their spears at him.
“W-What madness is this?!” Sombra demanded.
“Loyalty!” Kodo barked, turning to the changelings that had sided with him. “Their queen doesn’t stand with us… does she?”
“Sorry, Kodo,” one of the changelings admitted, his eyes flicking up to one of the darker armored changelings of Vespin Hive.
“Kodo?” another diamond dog growled. “Or Sombra? I thought we were following the Son of Shiva. Not another pony overlord.”
“I am your ruler!” Sombra bellowed. “I am…”
And yet… as he struggled to lash out at them – to use his powers – to do anything really – Kodo struggled to reign him in.
“You…” Kodo snarled. “Will not… hurt… my… PACK!”
Celine’s ears perked up in hope. She sent a pack link to Kodo.
“That’s it, Kodo,” she encouraged. “Fight him. Don’t let him win!” She turned to his army. “Please! Help!”
The diamond dogs glanced at Luke. But he nodded and offered his claw to Celine. Her tail wagging and her smile brightening, she extended a tendril to her father as well. Golden threads of light lashed out to the diamond dogs, and the binds around Kodo strengthened. He lifted his head, and Sombra’s darkness desperately tried to fly out of him, only to be rebound by the threads of the pack link.
“You fools!” Sombra bellowed as he was tied down. “All I have ever done was try to protect your pack! The same way I protected my Empire! The Alicorns see you as an enemy! They see you as a threat! They will destroy you! I only wanted to prevent that!”
Despite his protests, the threads bound tighter and tighter around him. And Kodo slowly fell to his knees, as even the changelings and ponies joined in, lending their strength to Celine as she slowly overpowered her brother.
Kodo fell to all fours, Sombra’s bellowing muffled by the threads of the cocoon that had entrapped Sombra’s darkness. And the diamond dogs cautiously crept closer as Celine stood tall over them.
One narrowed his eyes. “You’re not possessed by pony spirits either, are you?” he asked cautiously.
Celine chuckled. But before she could say no… her grin faded as she spotted something in the distance.
The others turned, following her gaze as a golden light shined up towards the sun on the horizon. A roar of utter rage followed it, almost like the call of a dragon. Or an angry goddess.
“What is that?” Luke demanded.
Sombra gazed up from his bindings, and his eyes shrunk to pinpricks of fright.
“What I was trying to protect you from,” he whispered.
Back in Canterlot, Muffins and his trope had arrived to find a sight of terror:
Ponies were fighting in the streets. Taking on the Storm Creatures, Diamond Dogs and changelings that had remained. And even worse… they were winning!
As the ponies bashed their way through the weakened creatures, and made their way to the palace, Muffins spotted Rainbow Dash and Applejack leading the herd.
“YEEE-HAAWWWW!” Applejack cried. “C’MON, YA’LL!”
“These freaks thought they could keep us down!” Rainbow Dash snarled. “Let’s show em just how wrong they are!”
Cackling, she spun and kicked a diamond dog straight into the Canterlot Plaza. Just beneath that palace, Muffins knew Celestia resided. Just waiting for Rainbow Dash and Applejack to free her.
Muffins growled before waving his paw forward. “Stop them!” he ordered. “Don’t let them get to the Princess!”
Yet, even as the first wave of diamond dogs charged the gates of Canterlot, unicorn royal guards rose up to meet them, blasting them back with a wall of spells. And without Kodo or Shiva to power them, the diamond dogs quickly found themselves falling back.
Growling, Muffins turned his gaze to the ground.
“Through the catacombs,” he offered.
But as the diamond dogs dove down, they found earth ponies waiting for them. Stomping their hooves in preparation for a fight.
Muffins stared in disbelief as his forces were matched and held back. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash and Applejack had disappeared into the palace. There was no telling how long it would be before they freed Celestia.
Then… Muffins gaze turned to the weapon they had picked up. His eyes glinted with a mad light.
“Sorry, Beta Kodo,” he growled, picking up the gas bombs. “But desperate times call for desperate measures.” He handed them to his strongest dogs. “Lob these into Canterlot. Gas the lot of them!”
At the same time, Celestia paced in her cell. Her thoughts were running wild. Her mane was nearly a solid sheen of golden flames.
“He betrayed you,” her inner darkness hissed. “He led a traitor to your sister. To your student!”
“No…” Celestia insisted. “This… it will work out in the end.”
Her eyes opened as she heard a THUD come from the other side. Hope briefly flared in her chest as she heard the clopping of hoof steps down the hall.
“You see,” Celestia thought in relief. “It’s working out. Things are going to be okay.”
Her smile widened as Applejack and Rainbow Dash – streaked with grime, but with passion in their eyes – raced in front of her cell.
“Howdy there, Princess,” Applejack greeted, before kicking open her cell door with a BANG! “Let’s get you outta there.”
Celestia strode out with a smile wide as the sun. “It’s so good to see you both,” she said. “How did you escape?”
“Wasn’t easy,” Rainbow Dash replied. “Those stupid wild dog clans tried to have us harvest gems for them.” She scoffed. “So much for Shiva stopping that practice.”
“But then,” Applejack continued. “We got this message from Luna. Talking about how resistance groups needed to form up at Canterlot and help ya.”
“Applejack pulled off a crazy stunt with playing dead,” Rainbow Dash noted. “We flattened a bunch of them with a mine cart. And…”
Before she could continue, the three paused as they heard screams. Celestia’s eyes widened in horror – they were pony screams.
“What’s happening?” she demanded, flaring her horn and teleporting herself, Rainbow Dash and Applejack to the balcony.
There… Celestia covered her hoof, while Applejack and Rainbow Dash gasped in disbelief.
A horrible brown gas was spreading over the lower levels of Canterlot. As the diamond dogs charged through, completely unaffected, ponies, and even changelings and storm creatures began to… dissolve.
The ponies coughed and hacked, struggling to breathe even as the diamond dogs cut through them. Many were bleeding from the throats even before the diamond dogs could get a hit in on them. Their flesh began to hang around their bodies, making them look like it was melting right off their bones. After several rounds of coughing, several of the unicorns keeled over and didn’t move again. And they were quickly followed by more, as Muffins and his brigade made their way inside.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash prepared to jump down and try to help. But they paused as they felt a growing heat building from Celestia.
“Uh… Princess?” Applejack asked.
Celestia didn’t even glance at her. Her focus was on the ponies slowly dying to the diamond dog gas. Her eyes… turned black. Her irises turned golden… and slit pupiled like a dragon.
“He said no harm would come,” Celestia hissed. “He promised…”
Suddenly, she laughed. A dark, ugly laugh that made Rainbow Dash and Applejack back up.
“Uh… Princess Celestia?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Princess Celestia was weak,” The alicorn growled at them. Her wings flapped, and she rose above them. “She wanted to believe that friendship could rule the day.”
The flame-enshrouded alicorn glared down at Muffins and his diamond dogs, as they slowed to a stop, staring at her in shock.
“What the…?” Muffins stammered.
“But you don’t understand friendship, do you?” the alicorn mocked. “No, you’re too stupid for that. All you’ll understand… is FORCE!”
Fire burst from her horn. And Muffins barely got time to turn and run before the spell smashed into the dogs. Rainbow Dash and Applejack backed up in alarm as fire scorched through the city. Burning away the gas, and disintegrating any diamond dogs, changelings or Storm Creatures that remained. The ponies screamed in fear. And though the fire magic didn’t touch them, they still huddled, whimpering and coughing from the effects of the gas. Staring up in terror at the angry alicorn above them.
“P-Princess Celestia…” Applejack stammered. “Land sakes, you were holding that kind of power…?”
“We can’t rely on Celestia anymore,” The alicorn replied, turning to them with a draconic grin. “Now? It’s time we see what Day Breaker can do.”