The Irony of Applejack

by Mister Friendly

Chapter 15: The End of Irony, Part 1

Chapter 15: The End of Irony
Part 1

Hyacinth skidded to a halt with a grunt, her hooves scraping jarringly across the stone wall she clung to. She’d barely come to a halt when she vaulted again, narrowly missing a jet of acidic magic.

Somewhere above her, she could hear the thrum of rapidly beating wings keeping pace with her. Vigil was flying close to the roof, dodging rafters while trying to line up more shots at his adversary.

For an older changeling, however, Hyacinth was surprisingly quick. She veered and swerved agilely through the debris of the massacred chamber they dueled in, neatly avoiding shattered support columns and precarious piles of stone masonry.

Each blast Vigil unleashed added to the growing devastation, and he showed no signs of slowing down. Again, he slashed his horn from one side to the other, flinging a volley of acidic green fireballs in an arc at his hated enemy. But yet again, Hyacinth changed direction with very little warning, easily out maneuvering the deadly projectiles, each producing a mere crater and tremble in the walls, but a distinct lack of a dead changeling.

This time, however, Hyacinth strafed to one side in midair, quickly lit her horn, and took a potshot at Vigil.

It was a shot in the dark in more ways than one, however. Instead of finding a changeling hidden in the shadows among the rafters, the spell struck on the very supports he was hiding behind.

Yet, unlike Vigil’s spells, Hyacinth’s resulted on a mere flash and bang, cracking the timber it struck, but achieving little else.

Vigil eyed the damage for a moment, eyes narrowing. “You’re tiring,” he stated loud enough for Hyacinth to hear him.

Once more, Hyacinth veered through the air, this time ducking behind a broken column for cover. She took cover beneath where the column had once held up a floor, all four holey hooves clinging to the cracked surface for support.

“So will you, if you keep up like this,” Hyacinth countered, though the edge was taken out of her threat by the way she was panting.

It’d been a while since she’d felt her age quite this much, and it was starting to irritate her. I’m really getting too old for this…

She knew that, pound for pound, she was at something of a disadvantage. Vigil had the high ground, the stamina, and the magic. All she had going for her was experience, and a distinct knowledge on how to apply it.

Hyacinth stayed still. Where she was, she couldn’t see her target. But by raising her ears, maybe she wouldn’t have to…

“I wonder,” Vigil responded casually, still a ways overhead, but no longer moving around. “I have the most loving ponies in town fueling me. And you’re going to challenge me with what? A single queen’s gratitude?”

“You never were very imaginative,” Hyacinth almost laughed.

The moment Hyacinth saw the flash of emerald magic, she threw herself from her perch as fast as she possibly could. A split second later, the column exploded on a blast of changeling fire, leveling what remained of it and launching shattered fragments in every direction.

Hyacinth tumbled through the air, flipping completely around so that her hind hooves led the way towards a fast approaching obstruction.

But she wasn’t out of control. What she was doing was concentrating. Her timing had to be perfect.

Her horn came to life for a moment, and what would’ve ended with a sudden, bone-crunching stop on a slab of awaiting stone masonry was cut short by a gout of emerald flame.

Vigil saw the flash of her spell in the darkness, causing him to hesitate in midair. His eyes flashed around, well aware of the imminent attack. And sure enough, he caught sight of the portal ripping open on the wall behind him out of the corner of his eye.

He quickly dodged to one side, neatly sidestepping a flying hoof as Hyacinth careened by like a cannonball, missing him by a sparse inch or two.

What he was not expecting, however, was for her to tear open another ring of emerald flames and disappear yet again, vanishing before he could get his horn around to retaliate.

And he most certainly did not anticipate its counterpart popping into being on the rafter directly beneath him. Such a narrow avenue never once crossed his mind.

Of course, the hoof colliding hard with his bottom jaw changed that notion rather quickly.

Vigil grunted as he was sent spinning through the air, a tooth parting company with his mouth. He just barely managed to keep himself from bashing his head against an unforgivingly hard support strut.

He corrected, alighted on a wooden beam, then immediately jumped out of the way of an incoming holey limb.

He nimbly hovered back a step or two, landing lightly upon another length of hewn timber.

But Hyacinth did not pursue him. She lithely touched down on her own rafter instead, balancing with the grace of a cat, each leg placed almost daintily together and eyes on her adversary.

Rather than launch his own counter offensive, however, Vigil paused, his eyes narrowing.

“What is your game, Lieutenant?” he asked suspiciously. “I am having trouble deciphering your actions.”

Hyacinth cocked a brow at him, featureless blue eyes fixing him with an odd look. “I was under the impression that my intentions were quite clear.”

Vigil was unmoved, however. “When we first met here, you had the element of surprise. You were in the ideal position to end this before it even began. And now here you are once more, not pushing an advantage.”

The older changeling drone’s expression remained unreadable, her face oddly stony. So, Vigil went on, eyes narrowing further. “You are stalling the inevitable at best. At worst, you’re simply wasting my time.”

Much to his surprise, the corner of Hyacinth’s mouth curled up, and yet simultaneously it was devoid of any trace of humor. “As I said; unimaginative.”

A sound of splitting wood rent the air without warning. Suddenly, the rafter Vigil was balanced on gave way right beneath his hooves, splintering along a hairline fracture, one charred with changeling magic.

The changeling’s eyes got big as, for one second, he teetered off balance.

It was all Hyacinth needed.

In a flash, her wings thrummed through the air at full speed, launching her like an obsidian arrow straight at her off-balance adversary.

Vigil only had enough time to fire off a single knee-jerk jet of magic in self-defense, but yet again the veteran changeling sprang out from in front of it, darting upwards.

The next thing he knew, a pair of hooves had him by the shoulders. Hyacinth heaved, flipping in midair in order to throw all her momentum and weight into Vigil.

Like a trebuchet, she threw herself up, over and around, heaving Vigil right off his already precarious footing before sending him flying straight at the nearby wall.

A flash of green magic, a gout of changeling fire, and suddenly Hyacinth was reminded that she wasn’t the only one that could teleport.

It only took Vigil a split second to sink into his own flaming portal, and then right back out again – directly over Hyacinth.

She had no time to react. All she felt was an explosion of pain as the changeling captain’s hooves collided with her back.

Vigil struck home with such force that they both were sent plummeting back to the ground, one on top of the other.

Just as Vigil braced for a sudden, jarring landing, he once more saw Hyacinth’s horn sputter to life.

Yet again, both changelings were thrown into tight, squeezing darkness for just a moment before being jettisoned back out again – this time going in the opposite direction.

Instead of going down, Vigil suddenly found himself going back up out of a still intact balcony. Now with gravity no longer cooperating, his momentum died just enough for the other changeling to flip out from under his hooves.

Hyacinth twisted through the air like a cat, swiveling around to face her adversary before landing on the carpeted balcony with a grunt… only to buckle a second later.

She fell to one knee – nearly two – but doggedly managed to keep from collapsing entirely. She coughed and wheezed, but kept her voice in check.

Hyacinth snarled, forcing herself to stand upright no matter how much it hurt to do so. Come on… come on… just a little longer. Just… have to buy a little more time…

A loud thud announced Vigil’s landing opposite her. His wings fanned aside clouds of dust around him, clearly exposing his dark scowl and blazing horn.

His horn crackled with deadly emerald light that grew brighter and brighter by the second, and there was no mistaking how he intended to apply the building energies.

Out of pure defiance, Hyacinth’s horn sparked and guttered to life, the sheen of magic slower to respond to her call. “Not yet,” she spat.

And in perfect, almost choreographed unison, both changelings loosed their spells at one another. Two jets of murderous light streaked towards one another, clearing the distance between their casters in a heartbeat.

Both spells collided in midair with a mighty blast and explosion of iridescent flame, and to Vigil’s utter disbelief, not one made it past the other.


A single, tiny ray of light made it through the carnage of clashing spells – a small bit of arcane shrapnel, stripped of nearly everything it had in the fiery exchange. Yet, it still held enough of itself to whistle through the air and strike true.

Vigil’s eyes widened still further in disbelief as, with a crack, his captain's helmet split right down the middle and clattered to the floor.

He could feel the tiny burn mark slightly to the right of his horn, but he couldn’t believe it. For a long moment, he couldn’t fathom what’d just happened. But eventually – eventually it sank in.

Somehow, some way, no matter how illogical or impossible it may seem, Hyacinth’s spell had overpowered his. Her magic had overwhelmed his.

No logical synapse in his head could accept that. It just wasn’t possible! Unless…

And then it clicked.

“You didn’t intervene to save Applejack…,” he breathed. “You…”

“Hey, Vigil!” called a distant, all-too familiar voice.

Hyacinth had never seen Vigil blow up before. At the most, He usually dropped his tone to a flat, icy clip and glared daggers.

Even in that moment, saying the changeling ‘blew up’ may have been a bit of a stretch. True, the look he turned to give that speaker could’ve melted lead from across the room, and he certainly seemed half a second away from doing something rather violent.

But no matter how livid he became, it didn’t change what he saw, even as she scowled right back at him with fierce green eyes, supremely unfazed.

Standing atop a peak of rubble piled on the floor below was the very mare he’d expended so much time, resources and frustration on catching. And yet there she was; scuffed up, covered in grime, and yet just as resolute as ever.

“Applejack,” he breathed through clenched teeth.

Applejack met his hateful glare steadily. A cold, wet draft from one of several now-shattered windows dragged languidly at her mane and tail, causing them to shift and sway slightly.

“It’s over,” she said loudly. “Y'all have lost.”

Vigil snarled as he turned to face this most frustrating of apple farmers.

Hyacinth saw her chance… but couldn’t take it. She grunted, nearly falling over in her efforts to stand up properly. She panted, little sunbursts popping in front of her eyes. It was an uphill battle just staying upright; attacking just wasn’t in the realm of possibilities for her.

Despite the lack of emerald light glimmering across her back, fiery pain still shot up and down her spine with every little move she made. The lack of healing magic just meant it wasn't external damage she was plagued with.

“Applejack, what are you…?” she panted.

For a moment, their eyes met. But when they did, something made Hyacinth pause.

“Just take it easy there,” Applejack said. “Ah’ll have this over and done with before ya know it.”

Hyacinth hesitated, the barest trace of a frown crossing her brow. Just as she started to part her lips, however, a different voice intervened.

To her surprise, Vigil let out a clearly audible scoff. “Is that so, ‘Your Highness’?”

Applejack returned her gaze back to the other changeling, her expression hardening once more. “’Fraid so. Ya wanna know why?”

Vigil cocked an eyebrow at her, curious despite himself. “Enlighten me.”

Before Applejack could answer, a loud bang of wood on stone sounded behind Vigil.

Even as he turned his head to investigate, however, a voice reached his ears.

An impossible voice.

“Cuz you ain't got any idea who ya picked a fight with.”

And there, standing in the entrance of a now-open door, stood an orange earth pony.

Vigil stared dumbfounded at none other than Applejack. He simply had no other response.

“Ya think ya have all the answers,” said her voice – this time coming from behind him again.

Vigil spun around once more, and yet again he found himself staring at another Applejack as she strode out of what’d once been a portcullis.

“Ya think ya know everything there is ta know ‘bout this land,” said yet another Applejack as she stepped out from around a decimated support column. “And everyone that lives here."

“All yer doin’ is assumin’,” shot a fifth Applejack as she stepped around the pile of debris the first was standing on.

“The truth is ya don’t know a dang thing ‘bout this place,” stated a sixth Applejack, appearing from the other side of the first’s perch, “or anythin’ ‘bout the ones livin’ here.”

“And you ain't ever gonna figure that out,” shot the seventh Applejack to appear – one emerging through a broken door at one end of the balcony. “And if ya ain't even capable of learnin’ what it means ta be us –”

Then you ain't ever gonna win!” they all shouted in unison.

Vigil could only stare in disbelief. Hyacinth’s spell overcoming his had made more sense than this.

Speaking of whom, not even Hyacinth herself could fathom what she was seeing. Were it not for Vigil constantly turning around and around to stare wide-eyed at the veritable mob of her nieces, she would’ve started to assume that she’d broken something in her head, too.

But she could see them, and more importantly, she could see the look of sheer, uncomprehending bafflement on Vigil’s face. Somehow, someway, what she was seeing was real, no matter how hard she found it to believe.

Vigil, however, was finding it a lot harder to reconcile. “What…?” he said in a mute tone, too stunned to feel remotely angry at the moment.

“Confusing, huh?”

That voice, at least, hadn’t belonged to the throng of Applejacks. No, it belonged to someone worse.

This time, Vigil felt no hesitation in whirling around to glare at the newcomer.

And there stood Rainbow Dash, smiling widely like a prankster enjoying the fruits of her labor. She was leaning against the only other doorway on the balcony, appearing totally at ease.

“Gotta admit,” she went on, “it kinda confused me a bit, too. I mean, I thought for sure your goons would’ve noticed. But I guess a pony’s a pony, no matter how they look.”

Vigil’s fury was starting to return to him now. “You… what did you two do?”

Rainbow had the audacity to give him a reproachful look, much to his welling indignation. “Us? This is all on you, pal. We didn’t do squat.”

Once more, that teasing smirk came back, this time possessing a knowing edge as well. “Still can’t figure it out? I thought you were supposed to be some kind of smartypants.”

Vigil bared his teeth. Sparks sputtered along his horn, crackling murderously.

Seeing that, Rainbow’s smirk only grew. She leaned away from the door frame and took a few steps forward.

At some point, her mangled wing had been wrapped in what looked almost like strips of table linens, fixing it in a close position against her burnt side with a length of pastel patterned fabric. Still, it did little to fix up her shabby appearance.

“You never stopped to wonder why there was a lone changeling in Ponyville, huh?” she asked knowingly. “Well, the truth is she never was to begin with.”

Not only did Vigil’s eyes get big all over again, but so did Hyacinth’s.

“You counted on Applejack’s family. You counted on her friends,” Rainbow went on loudly, her tone becoming positively threatening now. “But you never, ever thought to count on her hive, huh?!”

Vigil froze. For one long, long moment, his mind ceased to function. He just stood in place, struck dumb.

Such a simple explanation... how could he have overlooked something so simplistic?

A bright flash of emerald light caught his attention. Then another, and another. When finally he came to his senses enough to look around, he noticed one Applejack after another being consumed by a fireball of iridescent green flame.

One by one, each orange coat of fur was replaced with tough, leathery chitin. Blonde manes and tails were blasted away to charcoal-like tatters. Whole limbs were shot through with holes beyond number. Emerald eyes were transformed into uniform, icy blue planes.

False Stetsons immolated into nothingness. Gossamer-thin wings sprouted into being. Little black horns burst forth upon seven different foreheads.

Vigil turned his eyes from one changeling drone to the next, still unable to regain his composure. They just glared back, some with bared fangs and others with almost playful sneers.

Then he came to the last one – the one standing by the knocked open door, the second one to have appeared.

There, his featureless blue eyes came to rest upon a pair of amber, double-ringed eyes that glared back at him.

Despite being the size of an average pony, Applejack – the real Applejack – seemed to tower over Vigil.

Her stance was a perfect mirror of her pony guise’s; straight-backed, confident and strong. Not a solitary square inch of her gave off discomfort or unease like before.

Perhaps the thing he noticed the most, however, was the thing sticking up off the top of her head, protruding out of her mane.

Even though the darkness of the chamber hid most of the crown from view, all he needed to see was the quadruple set of topazes gleaming in the faint light to comprehend what they were, and the overwhelming implication they carried.

This, he realized almost immediately, was not the creature he’d seen hiding nervously in a little shack not long ago. This, he realized, was something else entirely. This was someone else entirely.


It took Vigil a moment to realize that that’d been his own voice; a single word, slipping past before he could stop it. Such a thing in itself was completely unheard of, and he instantly clamped his lips shut once more.

Applejack glared back, real anger spiking in her eyes.

“Ah am a pony of Equestria,” she stated, completely contradicting the changeling buzz in her voice, “and an Apple before everythin’ else.”

She took a threatening step forward then. Something crackled along her horn; a fulminating discharge that popped loudly in the air.

“And Ah hope ya remember what Ah told ya about makin’ me repeat myself.”

Vigil couldn’t help but take a step back – much to Rainbow’s amusement – but there he stopped himself.

To say he had some questions might’ve been something of a gross understatement.

“Where… where did you get these…” he managed to say, paused, then glanced to one side towards one of the inexplicable changelings that was hissing at him.

Applejack glanced away from Vigil, instead turning her eyes towards the only true pony in the entire room.

Rainbow looked like she was on the verge of bursting out laughing at this point, yet she still met her friend’s look quite knowingly.

“You might be better off asking yourself a different question,” Rainbow said, grinning hugely, “such as, who they are.”


“We’ve always been here, living behind the scenes,” said one of the freshly freed changelings. She, like all of her peers, was trying to make herself appear as small and unthreatening as possible.

They clustered together amid a sea of shattered cocoon shell fragments, huddled together in the middle of the room. The light of the door cut straight across their group, though the ones outside of the revealing light were still easy enough to see, thanks to their glowing blue eyes.

Applejack, Rainbow, and a small herd of real ponies stood opposite their group. Lyra was practically clinging protectively to that creamy mare she called Bon Bon, her eyes a mix of confusion, wariness and worry.

“When Queen Carnation… um… passed on,” the changeling at the front of the group continued to say, “we scattered. We didn’t know what else to do… and even if they didn’t know it, the ponies took us in. We could blend into the crowds without raising suspicions, so...”

She bravely attempted a smile, trying to break the tension in the room. “We’ve been in Ponyville ever since, where we could keep an eye on you.”

Applejack’s heart thudded in her chest. It’d been pounding hard ever since the first drone had skittishly revealed itself, but that thump seemed particularly hard.

“Y’all have always been here?” she asked almost breathlessly.

Every one of them nodded, more uneasy smiles blossoming in their fanged muzzles. “I’m sorry we hid. We just…”

The foremost changeling exchanged a nervous look with her closest peer. “It’s stupid, I know, but… we were afraid.”

Applejack blinked in pure surprise. “Afraid? What for?”

The drone bit her lip nervously. “That… we’d have to go back to living like changelings.”

Of all the explanations, Applejack had not been expecting that one. Even after hearing it, it seemed almost like a lie. Yet, she knew a sincere look when she saw one, and these changelings were acting about as sincere as one could get.

“…Why?” she asked.

Even though her eyes were nothing but featureless blue planes, Applejack could almost feel the drone’s eyes turn to look at her.

“A queen leads a hive,” she said, sounding almost morose. “The hive gathers love to be strong, in turn make the queen strong, and allow the hive to grow. This is the paradigm we’ve all grown up knowing – what our kind has always known. But… we like being ponies.”

“We love it,” someone else chirped.

A muttered, buzzing chorus of agreement followed his declaration.

“We’ve always tried to keep an eye on you,” the first one went on hastily, almost as if to reassure. “We’ve followed you on so many of your adventures. We wanted to try to get to know you without… you know… actually getting to know you. Because… we were afraid that if you found out about us, you’d try to build your own hive. It was stupid of us, I know, but… we don’t want to go back to how we used to live.”

She turned to wave a hoof over her fellows then. “We have families; loved ones. Ponies that love us… and we love, too.”

Applejack and Rainbow stared with wide eyes. Even some of the ponies behind them were starting to stare in amazement, rather than fear and anxiety.

“So please, Your – Applejack,” she went on. “Please don’t make us go back to that lifestyle. We… don’t have the heart for it anymore.”

Several of the other changelings raised their voices then, speaking one on top of the other, their voices just loud enough to be made out. Only bits and pieces made it into Applejack’s stunned ears, but it was more than enough.

“I love Pinkie Pie’s parties. They’re always such a blast…”

“I don’t want to stop being in the Rainbow Dash fan club…”

“Winter Wrap Up is always so much fun, even if I’m lousy at it…”

“I want to do more Tornado Duties…”

“…no more muffins…”

Their words overwhelmed Applejack for the longest time. She just… couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Again and again she heard changelings – living, breathing changelings professing how much they loved Ponyville and the ones that lived there. Again and again she heard them mention the names of her friends…

“Wait… now – Hold yer horses!”

Applejack finally found her voice again, and even if it needed a little revving up, she managed to raise it up over the din of changeling voices filling the small chamber.

When she shouted, the drones instantly fell silent, apprehension once more filling their eyes. Even some of the ponies behind her had jumped and looked at her. Rainbow, too, was giving the side of her head a rather surprised look, but she ignored it.

“Ah ain't gonna make ya go back ta Freedom,” Applejack stated. “That just ain't right.”

She looked around at each gathered changeling in turn, a slight reassuring smile tugging at her lips. “Y’all seem ta forget; Ah have family here, too, and friends, and lots of other ponies Ah care a whole lot for.”

Still well aware of a lot of ponies staring rather hard at the back of her head, Applejack took a step forward, and after restraining a nervous gulp, said, “That bein’ said… Ah gotta ask a favor of y’all. Ah… need yer help.”


Vigil could only stare wide eyed at both Rainbow and Applejack. “That’s… that’s not possible,” he stated. “My men should’ve…”

“Yeah, they should’ve,” shot Rainbow, her grin turning into a smirk. “But they didn’t. I guess finding a bunch of ponies that look like one another just isn’t all that strange to you guys. You all do kinda look the same to begin with.”

“And just because we didn’t know your secret phrase,” one of the drones hissed, “Your thugs never thought twice about it. After all, we don’t exist, do we?”

Vigil’s expression soured then. He was starting to recover from his dose of shock now, but before he could quite get there, another – more familiar – voice spoke up then.

Or rather, she started laughing.

Vigil turned an incredulous eye towards Hyacinth, who had broken out in a fit of wet chuckles.

“Heh… aheh he... That… sounds exactly like something you’d do, Vigil,” she chuckled, even if her voice was strained. She’d finally managed to force herself up into a proper standing position, though it was clearly costing her.

She grinned tauntingly at the changeling captain, baring her pearly white fangs in the process. “So very… unimaginative.”

Vigil became very still then. His eyes stayed locked on Hyacinth’s, his body tensed to the breaking point. It was subtle – almost imperceptible – but as Hyacinth looked tauntingly back, she thought that, for a moment, she saw one of his widening eyes twitch.

“Is that so,” he seethed through clenched teeth. “You keep calling me… me… unimaginative.”

He took a threatening step towards her. His horn crackled ominously, sparking in fitful indignation. “I, a changeling captain in Her Highness Queen Chrysalis’ swarm… unimaginative?”

Vigil’s horn crackled, popped… and then raged back to life, as bright as ever.

Everyone took a step back in shock. Even Hyacinth managed to rear back a little.

“Do you think I wouldn’t anticipate your move, lieutenant?” he growled. “Did you honestly believe that I would be so stupid as to leave all the ponies in one place?”

Now it was Hyacinth’s turn to stare in shock.

“I don’t care how many drones you magic into being; they have all lost their killer instincts to this… this place.”

His horn glowed brighter and brighter. Furious tongues of emerald flame licked at the cold air around him, as if the magic being channeled into the sharp black spike on his forehead was all-too eager to escape into the world.

Several of the changelings around him started to back away, increasingly worried looks on their faces.

I, on the other hoof,” Vigil stated flatly, “am not so blunted.”

He lowered his head once more, aiming all of his rage and frustration straight at the focal point for a large portion of both.

He summoned up all his anger and hatred, and fired it straight at Hyacinth.

And for the umpteenth time that day, he missed.

Two shapes – a black and amber one moving alongside a cyan, rainbow-hued one – flew through the air with lightning speed, just barely outpacing the murderous ray of light as it shot from Vigil’s horn.

For a moment, though, Applejack thought that maybe – just maybe – she’d been just a little too slow.

She felt the searing heat of the deadly ray of magic as it passed within a millimeter of her amber carapace. It passed so close that for one adrenaline-filled, horrific second, she could’ve sworn that that would be the last second she’d ever experience.

But in the next moment, she hit the ground in a tumble, somehow still very much alive.

A quick look verified that the others were still with her, too.

Despite her expression being snarled up in pain, Hyacinth continued to pant fitfully. Beside her, lying on her back, Rainbow was blinking back starbursts in her eyes. Only a slight, drawn out groan conveyed the agony of landing on a broken wing.

At the same time, the bolt of magic continued right on by, streaking straight over their heads and to the wall behind the three mares before colliding with a sound like a thunderclap.

The whole savaged chamber trembled with the force of the spell, sending a fitful tremor racing through the room like a shockwave. It coursed through the walls all around those present, shaking dirt and loose debris from the high ceiling with the repercussion.

And with a great crack of suffering stone, the weakened structure began to buckle, sending fissures racing in every direction with a sound like a cannon going off.

At the epicenter of every one of those cracks was a smoldering crater still fizzling with magic. Vigil’s magic.

Everyone’s eyes got wide as the air was filled with the sound of splitting stone and shredding timber. Half the room shifted, sagged, and then one entire side of the chamber came down with all the thunder and fury of a landslide.

The collapsing ceiling by rights should’ve been the very thing that ended them all. Applejack could only stare up as vast tracks of the arched ceiling came crashing down right on top of her, her hooves clinging tightly to both Hyacinth and Rainbow.

Just before she closed her eyes and waited for the end, however, she saw a bright, jade plume of light. One that was getting close very, very fast.

The next thing she knew, she was being shunted into squeezing darkness, and then right back out again; this time on a decidedly less perilous foothold.

The first thing Applejack felt was the merciless lash of rain smacking her in the face with icy drops. The second thing; the mud as she fell back to earth on her back, eliciting a yelp of pain from both Rainbow and Hyacinth from their own rough landings.

And the third thing Applejack felt was the rush of air as an entire section of the tower came down.

It tore itself away from the rest of the monolithic construct, crashing down in one massive slab to the earth below. A cloud of dust surged over the courtyard like a smothering blanket of fog, choking the air all around the fallen trio for a moment or two.

The entire tower groaned in suffering, from top to bottom. Supports cracked and bowed under the untold tonnage being shoved off onto those that remained, but somehow the load was held.

As the dust cleared, all three mares stared up at the eviscerated, unsteady thing, wide eyed. From where they laid in the mud, each had an unerring view of the absolutely horrendous damage inflicted by Vigil’s spell.

The wake of destruction left a gaping, ragged wound on the side of the tower, exposing the skeletal frame of the structure wherever it wasn’t torn away completely and eviscerating nearly half a dozen chambers in the process. It was as if someone had taken a gargantuan spoon and scooped out a massive chunk of the structure. Everything visible inside the gigantic rend was cracked, ruined stone and splintered, suffering timber with hardly a single, recognizable surface to the mangled landscape.

Either by divine act or sheer dumb luck, however, the tower remained tall, but not a soul who looked upon it would’ve mistaken the unsettling kink its top half had developed.

All three mares in the courtyard half expected the whole thing to simply cave to the forces of gravity and come crashing down in its entirety.

Yet, despite swaying ominously, it stayed upright. For how long, though, was a different matter entirely…


Applejack was the first one to turn her head around, her eyes scanning over her surroundings hastily.

On all sides of her were tall, pure white tents – makeshift barracks set in place of the real thing, which was still hardly more than a skeletal hulk on the far end of the yard. Piles of timber and stone still sat littered all around it, awaiting the workers that would affix them into place.

Behind her, the massive boundary wall resembled an equally massive, yet jarringly incomplete puzzle. Large sections of the fortification were missing entirely, sometimes to the point of separating one section of the wall from the other completely.

Towering scaffolding covered the wall like a reinforcing splint while huge cranes loomed in the sky above; some still loaded down with literal building blocks the size of sheds. Applejack could hear the unsettling creak of the braided ropes as they swayed in the wind, their heavy loads swinging to and fro on the storm.

This, she realized, was the true face of the guard post.

She regained her focus when a drone gingerly alighted on the muddy ground beside her. “Are you three alright?” she asked in concern.

More were coming in for a landing all around the three, each looking worried.

“Sweet Celestia, I’m never going to get used to that,” Rainbow complained, shivering in discontent.

“We’re fine, thanks ta you,” Applejack grunted as she got to her hooves laboriously.

“I-it was nothing,” squeaked another, smaller female changeling, embarrassed. “I didn’t do much…”

“You did plenty, Bumblebee,” reassured the first changeling before turning back to Applejack.

But just as she opened her mouth to speak further, something bright caught her attention out of the corner of her eye – enough to cause her to turn her head to investigate.

Far overhead, atop the now-lopsided roof, a tongue of changeling fire was just fading into the rainy air.

Vigil was standing high up on the rain-soaked parapet, gazing down at the gathering. Even with such a great distance between the two parties, no one could’ve mistaken his air of complete indifference to the destruction he’d just caused.

A cacophonous peal of thunder raced across the sky with explosive volume, throwing the entire courtyard into stark, blinding relief for an instant.

For the entire time it took for the thunder to rumble itself into silence, both Vigil and his quarry stared daggers at each other, neither backing down in the slightest.

“Bumblebee, was it?” Applejack said suddenly, causing the drone in question to stiffen in surprise.

“Um… yes, ma’am?”

“Ah need a favor from ya. Do ya think you can get me up there?”

Bumblebee fidgeted nervously. “W-well, I can try, I guess…”

All the while this was going on, Rainbow was looking between both changelings, a frown growing on her face with every pass.

“Applejack, just what…?”

“Rainbow,” Applejack said suddenly, just as the mare in question clambered upright. “Ah need ya ta get everypony ta safety.”

Dash tensed for a heartbeat. She didn’t even pause to consider that request in the slightest. “No way,” she said sharply, “Like hay I’m gonna let you go in there alone!”

“If you’re going to go,” Hyacinth added, still panting fitfully, “at least let us come with you. You don’t have to face Vigil by yourself.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow said loudly. “We can help! Don’t –”


This time, the pegasus faltered, her voice fading into silence.

Applejack never turned to face her friend. She just kept her eyes on Vigil, and Rainbow at her back.

“You and Hyacinth have been coverin’ my flank a lot lately,” Applejack said somberly. “Yer always gettin’ between me and all the bad stuff that’s out ta get me. But Ah can’t hide behind ya forever, RD. This is somethin’ Ah gotta do myself.”

At last she turned to meet her friend’s wide, searching gaze, only she responded to it with an oddly gentle smile.

“Ah’ll be fine, sugarcube. You know Ah will.”

Rainbow stared wide eyed at her for a moment, at a complete loss for words. And then, after a moment, she nodded slightly. “Don’t… don’t you even think about breaking our promise.”

Applejack’s smile grew a bit at that. “Ah wouldn’t dream of it.”

“And… if you get yourself hurt,” Rainbow snapped, suddenly surprisingly threatening, “or – or really hurt, I am going to smack you so. Freaking. Hard.”

Applejack chuckled a little. “Ah’ll hold ya to that, then.”

Rainbow struggled with herself for a moment – warring with her desire to stay at her friend’s side and to do what she was being told to do. She understood that it was important, but… just how important to her?

In the end, she grunted in annoyance and spun around, putting her back to Applejack. “Alright,” she snapped at her friend without looking at her, “but don’t make me regret this.”

Though she didn’t see it, the smile fell away from Applejack lips then. “Don’t you worry. Ah won’t.”

Rainbow grunted again, then jerked her head, still refusing to look her friend in the eye. “Then get going already, before I wise up and change my mind.”

Once more, she would never see Applejack’s nod of confirmation, even if she imagined it herself.

Applejack then turned towards Bumblebee, who had her horn lit and was apprehensively standing by.

She nodded once more, and a second later she found a ring of fire erupting around her hooves. The muddy ground beneath her seemed to fall away, and a moment later she’d vanished into the cold, tight darkness beyond.

Rainbow only waited until she heard the sound of the portal popping out of existence behind her before she started running as fast as she could. “Come on,” she barked. “We got some ponies to evacuate! Let’s go!”

But even as she ran, she felt lousy with herself, like she was going against her very nature in that moment. It twisted her up inside, in fact, and already she was second guessing herself.

Applejack… you better win. Don’t you dare make me regret this.


For the first time in Applejack’s life, she didn’t find herself tossed bodily out of the other end of the portal.

Rather than being sent flying through the air, Applejack bounded back into the open, stormy air. An automatic, knee-jerk flutter of her wings kept her from tumbling end over end, and she touched down with her front hooves on the storm-soaked, freezing stone of the lopsided tower’s roof just a moment later.

All around her were littered heaps of stone, mortar and timber; the building blocks of what would someday have been a soaring spire. As it was now, however, there was nothing to mitigate the rain and wind sweeping across the wide open space.

Despite the distinctive lean the roof had acquired, most everything was where it was supposed to be. The angle wasn’t so bad that things were rolling away, but it certainly wasn’t even terrain.

And of course, Vigil was waiting for her. By the time Applejack had landed, he had already turned to face her.

He’d stepped down off of the parapet, but otherwise he still stood in the same area, calmly awaiting her arrival.

“You know,” he commented, his emotions masked behind deadly calm, “You continue to surprise me, even now.”

Applejack met his gaze, though she made no attempt to hide her dislike for the changeling in front of her. “Got any particular reason why?”

“There are several,” Vigil responded, “but, I think what surprises me the most is how much of a hypocrite you turned out to be.”

“Pardon me?” Applejack shot, bristling.

“You heard me, ‘Your Highness’,” Vigil said back coolly. “Again and again you proclaimed yourself to be one of them” – he jerked his head stiffly towards the Ponyville skyline behind Applejack – “and yet here you are, leading a small band of drones, standing before me as a changeling queen.”

For a moment, Vigil’s gaze drifted up in order to scrutinize the small – but undeniably authentic – crown that rested upon the top of Applejack’s amber-maned head.

“I can only hope that some of your naivety finally wore off,” Vigil went on. “It would do you some good to face reality sooner than later.”

Applejack’s eyes drifted up for a moment – in the direction of her crown – before coming back down to rest on Vigil.

“Sorry ta disappoint ya, Vigil, but nothin’s changed,” she stated, giving Vigil pause. “Ah already told ya; Ah ain't no queen. But Ah don’t need ta be one ta understand responsibility.”

She took a step forward then. “And right now, Ah got a responsibility ta set this right; to all those ponies ya went and hurt, and to all those changelin’s whose lives yer goin’ ta ruin.”

Vigil cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “Oh? Since when have you cared about changelings? Why would you even care about them?”

“Because my Ma had a dream,” Applejack stated, “and Ah am gonna see it come true. And there ain't no way yer gonna get in the way of that!”

The longer Applejack spoke, the more sour Vigil’s expression became. He was silent for a moment after she’d finished, his fanged lips a razor thin line.

“A dream… that is all that drives you?” he scoffed. “A dream is a fantasy. A wish. Nothing more. I carry reality; undeniable, inevitable. True. “

Now it was his turn to take a menacing step forward, his expression bending into a merciless scowl. “You are a changeling. They are ponies. The two cannot coexist; no prey would ever accept its predator. It is the law of nature.”

Vigil glared hard at Applejack, his expression unbending – unrelenting. “You will serve the changeling nation, in the end. You will be the force the drones rally behind, and through you, the swarm will be united once more.”

Applejack didn’t back down; not in the slightest, even with Vigil bearing the full weight of his words down on her. Her stance didn’t falter, not even a little bit.

“So then tell me, ‘Your Highness’,” Vigil asked coldly, “how do you intend to fight thousands of years of fact with a single night’s worth of wishful thinking? How will you fight nature?”

“Ah figure,” Applejack said, squaring her shoulders, “Ah’ll start by tannin’ yer hide.”

A bright, radiant flash of emerald lit up the roof. A green tongue of flame shot up into the air, and in its wake stood a Stetson-wearing earth pony.

“And Ah’m gonna do it the same way my folks taught me,” she growled. “The earth pony way.”

In a flash, Applejack’s tail swiped a number of bricks from a stack standing beside her. In that same move, she pivoted on her forelegs, spun one hundred-eighty degrees, and fired a rapid series of bucks – one hoof for one stony projectile.

Vigil reacted almost instantly, firing off three flaming blasts from his horn before diving to one side.

It was still a near thing.

He felt the brush of air as one ballistic brick sailed within inches of his head and out into the rain-filled sky beyond. A second narrowly missed one knee, only to slam into the parapet so hard it embedded itself into the thick stone.

Vigil’s wings buzzed into action, sending him shooting to one side. At the same time, his horn erupted to life, just before he loosed a destructive ray of green magic straight at the same stack of bricks Applejack had just pelted him with.

The spell struck so hard it send more building blocks spraying in every direction in a deadly volley of shrapnel.

For a moment, it looked like Vigil had struck true as stone pelted from one end of the roof to the other in a cloud of dust.

A flash of blonde hair proved him wrong, however. Applejack hadn’t been behind the pile of building materials at all.

She sprinted across the roof, darting this way and that. At the last second, she vaulted clean over yet another stack of bricks. Simultaneously, her tail once more flicked, scooping up one of the wet stones just before a jet of emerald flame could pulverize it.

Applejack hit the ground, spun completely around on her forelegs, and flung her projectile through the air.

Vigil barely saw it whistling through the air at him, just giving him enough time to blast the oncoming missile to powder.

“Is that the best you’ve got, ‘Your Highness’?” he called. “You’re going to have to try harder than that!”

Vigil threw his head up, his horn growing brighter still. He grunted as he channeled as much magic into his horn as he could, just before swinging it down in a slashing motion.

A beam of intense magic erupted from the end of his horn and cut straight into the wet roof like a hot knife through butter before swinging from one end of the roof to the other, with one orange pony standing in the way.

Applejack tensed for just an instant before diving at the last second to one side, just as the deadly torrent of magic swiped by, leaving a trail of almost surgically sliced, red-hot stone going from one parapet to the other, cutting apart a pallet of wooden shingles along the way. Those shingles burned fitfully, struggling against the pouring rain to take off.

Applejack eyed the new wound in the tower warily, feeling each slight shift in her hooves like an earthquake. And yet, despite groaning and settling every so slightly, everything held together somehow.

“Understand now?”

AJ’s eyes immediately snapped back up to the changeling still hovering just over the edge of the lopsided roof.

“Your hooves alone aren’t going to see you through this, not this time,” Vigil stated coldly with a hard glare to match. “Your ‘earth pony way’ isn’t going to be enough to beat me.”

To his surprise, however, Applejack only grinned at him. “Ah wouldn’t go jumpin’ the gun just yet,” she said.

Her eyes were resting on Vigil’s cheek. Confused, he moved the tip of one hoof to touch the spot, only to have his confusion change to surprise once more.

His cheek stung from a razor thin, two inch long knick. The feel of tingling healing magic on his hoof only confirmed it; he hadn’t escaped Applejack’s barrage as unscathed as he’d figured.

Applejack’s smirk only grew as Vigil’s eyes widened in surprise. “So what were ya sayin’ just now?” she jeered.

Vigil’s expression once more composed itself into a furious scowl. “Now who’s making who repeat themselves,” he shot, just as he fell onto the wet roof on all fours.

In the next instant, his body disappeared in a blast of iridescent flames.

His black chitin vanished behind a growing coat of purple fur. His body shrunk in size, becoming slimmer. His short, scruffy mane experienced a sudden explosive growth, becoming long and nearly straight, with a pair of streaks running through it.

Once the wave of fire had disappeared, Vigil was gone. In his place, Twilight Sparkle took a threatening step forward.

Applejack leaned back in surprise, her eyes going wide before recomposing a split second later into a hard scowl.

Vigil had the appearance down pat, except for the fact that ‘she’ had an air about her totally unlike anything Twilight would possess. The fact that ‘she’ was still wearing a cold, detached expression only added to the strangeness of it.

“You forget just what you’re up against,” ‘Twilight’ said in a cold, inflectionless tone totally unlike anything she’d normally ever use.

Applejack bared her teeth, bristling. “Hey! That ain't fightin’ fair!”

The fake Twilight huffed, cocking an incredulous brow at her adversary. “That’s the point.”

‘Twilight’s’ horn then crackled to life with a sickly green sheen of magic. “What’s the matter, AJ? Afraid to beat up your own friend?”

Applejack snarled, her scowl growing. Hearing Twilight’s voice practically spit the cowpony’s nickname back at her like a profanity was pushing it too far.

“Ah wouldn’t bet on it, Vigil,” she shot, bristling.

‘Twilight’ gave her a thoroughly unmoved look. “Good,” she said without inflection, “because we’re just getting started, AJ.”

Applejack snarled, baring her teeth. “Stop callin’ me that!” she shouted, and lunged.

‘Twilight’ merely smirked, her horn radiating even brighter before she abruptly swung it down.

And with a grunt, she loosed a ball of intense emerald fire from her horn, sending it roaring like a wounded animal through the air.

Applejack’s eyes grew wide as the fireball streaked straight towards her, moving way too fast and carrying way too much power to dodge in time.

Instinctively she ground to a halt, but the only thing she could do was lower her head and brace…


“Come on! We’re almost there!” shouted Rainbow, her hooves pounding across the slick grass.

Behind her galloped a group of ponies, all moving in a single mass across the open court yard. Dead ahead was a wide hole in the fortified wall; beyond that, the shapes of countless thatched roofs and plumes of dust and smoke loomed in the distance.

If Rainbow had paused to take in the scene around her, she might’ve realized just how odd it was; ponies running away from a guard post, with changelings on all sides.

That, perhaps, was the most surreal attribute of the entire situation. A small group of changelings ran along with the freed ponies, herding the scared, rather perplexed bunch towards safety in a manner to impress any cowpony.

But at the moment, Rainbow was too busy trying to focus her attention to take notice of anything that wasn’t directly in front of her. She was trying with all her might not to let her mind wander, because she knew that if it did, she’d only find it even harder to keep moving in the same direction.

Just gotta get all these ponies to safety, then I can go back for her. No sweat.

Rainbow ground her teeth, her good wing ruffling restlessly. Absolutely no sweat at all. Yep…


The mare in question was so wrapped up in her own head that she almost fell right on her face. She did jump, and in the same motion, snapped her head around to look over one shoulder – back behind her.

Even though Rainbow wasn’t entirely used to seeing her in her natural form, she didn’t have to spend much time trying to identify Hyacinth. The grey streaks in her mane gave her away.

Of course, she was also being levitated a foot or so off the ground on a veil of green magic, a fact that she was clearly trying not to be outwardly indignant about. But there was just no way she was going to be carrying herself anywhere with any due haste.

“What’s up?” Rainbow asked, trying not to sound irritated at being startled.

Hyacinth hesitated, however. Her expression was heavy, even pained – and in a way that had nothing to do with her injuries.

“Why are we letting Applejack face Vigil by herself? Wouldn’t it be better if we were there with her?”

Rainbow’s frown grew. She turned back to watch where she was going, however, and took a moment to answer. “Yeah, probably,” she said, her tone subdued.

“Then why –?”

“Because if there’s anything I get, it’s a pony’s pride.”

Hyacinth’s eyes widened a little.

“And Applejack is the second proudest mare I know,” Rainbow went on. “Right now, even if I really don’t like it, that fight is a matter of pride. No matter what, it’s something Applejack has to do for herself. It’d never be a victory to her if she didn’t win it herself.”

A begrudging chuckle passed her lips, if only just. “Even if it really ticks me off sometimes… her pride is the thing I respect the most about her.”

Hyacinth didn’t respond right away. She only looked at Rainbow for a second or two, her expression unreadable. She scrutinized the back of the pegasus’ head pensively, before opening her mouth, a question on the tip of her tongue…


The sound of explosion raced across the sky overhead, echoing off of the walls of the guard post.

Almost instantly, the group came to a halt, scared ponies and nervous changelings alike hitting the deck with startled yelps.

Rainbow immediately whirled around, her eyes locking dead on the source of the sound; the roof of the central tower.

Emerald flames were only just starting to fade into choking smoke, both of which shot out nearly ten feet over the side of the roof itself.

The tower groaned louder still, shedding loose chunks of itself in alarming quantities as it rocked from the force of the detonation. It still refused to fall, but at this point it seemed to be little more than good fortune and pure structural stubbornness that held it together.

Rainbow looked on with wide eyes and a terrible, twisting sensation in her chest. “Applejack…”


The fireball had struck with a deafening sound unlike anything Vigil had ever heard before; like two plates of glass grinding across each other. The high pitched keening sound most certainly was not a natural sound, that much was sure.

And once the smoke had cleared, Vigil saw the truth of the matter.

Applejack was still standing in place with a contoured, horrendous scorch mark bowed around her.

Fires burned on either side of her, emerald flames quickly spreading from one pile of lumber to the next, completely undaunted by the pelting rain.

Applejack cracked open her eyes, more than a little surprised to find herself still in one piece, only to find still more emerald flames. Except, these flames were haloing her head.

Her hat flickered with a fiery light; a burning guise destabilized by the force of the spell.

For a moment, Vigil could just make out the shape of an intensely glowing crown sheathed amid a Stetson-shaped fire, burning as bright as the sun.

A second later, and its form stabilized with an indignant hiss into a cowpony hat once more.

“Clever,” the false unicorn grudgingly noted.

“Nah,” Applejack said back, “that was just me gettin’ lucky.”

'Twilight' huffed. “So far, luck is all you have,” ‘she’ stated.

‘Twilight’s’ horn came to life again. “For all your power,” she noted, “it’s a pity you have no idea how to apply it.”

Applejack tensed, bracing for the next spell.

Only, it never came.

With a violent heave, the roof suddenly sagged. The entire top half of the tower shifted, coming even closer to toppling over completely.

Whole stacks of bricks, lumber and other building materials shifted, some skidding whole feet down the precariously leaning ground.

One in particular – a pallet piled high with boxes of rivets and bolts – shifted so much that the tarp covering it came loose.

Applejack saw it, and immediately an idea struck her.

While ‘Twilight’ struggled to regain her balance, the stronger earth pony turned and lunged at her target; the tarp itself.

The faux unicorn cursed and fired off a reflex spell, missing Applejack by a wide margin just before she apparently dove behind cover.

But she was doing anything but hide.

Applejack clamped her teeth down on the one remaining tie still tethering the pallet to its cover, and yanked.

One solid tug, and suddenly the whole thing came loose. Mother Nature took over from there.

On a powerful, storm-fueled gust of wind, the tarp flew through the air like a loosed sail, sweeping rampantly across the roof – and straight towards the changeling.

‘Twilight’ cursed once more, but aside from searing a small hole through the oncoming veil and instinctively jumping back, she had no escape.

The tarp hit her full in the face so hard she toppled while the whole thing engulfed her bodily. At least, for a moment or two.

In a burst of changeling fire, Vigil changed shape. The emerald flames ate through the covering, reducing it to ash in a thrice.

Only to find an oncoming orange mare barreling down on him.

Vigil didn’t even have time to defend himself as Applejack leapt – hind legs first – straight at him. What little he did manage to raise his hooves was completely inconsequential against the sheer force of Applejack’s ferocious buck.

All of the air rushed out of his lungs as both her hooves connected squarely with his chest with enough force to shatter his dark armor. That alone was the reason why his ribs weren't reduced to powder.

Vigil was sent tumbling end over end just from the kinetic punch imparted upon him. He flipped through the air at dizzying speeds before finally coming to a halt again; courtesy of the parapet.

He coughed out a number of choice curses as he crumpled to the ground again, struggling to regain his breath.

Applejack, meanwhile, hit the ground on all fours with a loud thud. “That was for my barn!” she roared before charging full tilt towards the dazed changeling. “And this is gonna be for everypony in Ponyville!”

She jumped, reeling back a hoof one last time.

And in a puff of emerald flames, Vigil disappeared.

In his place laid a beaten, bruised Apple Bloom.

Applejack’s eyes went wide in shock. And for a moment, she hesitated, her fury stalling.


A pair of seemingly iron-hard hooves connecting with her barrel cut her short.

All the air in Applejack’s lungs was literally kicked out of her by a pair of small, yellow hooves that carried a lot more strength then they should have.

“Pathetic,” said a high pitched, youthful – yet coldly threatening – voice in her ear.

Applejack could hear the familiar voice of Apple Bloom, even if it was completely devoid of emotion or accent, yet it still took her a moment to comprehend what it signified.

Before she could, another crushing hoof connected solidly – this time with Applejack’s lower jaw.

The strength that little hoof struck her with far exceeded what a little filly should’ve been capable of. Despite its small size, the hoof connected with the force of an adult, not a child.

Applejack was hit hard enough to send her flying back several feet before landing flat on her back with a heavy thud on the unyieldingly hard ground. She coughed and flipped over onto her side, little sunbursts dancing before her eyes.

A blinding flash of emerald light caught her attention, and when she looked, she found her false little sister gone, a full grown changeling once more taking her place.

Vigil breathed hard, a pair of hoof-shaped bruises on his chest shimmering with emerald light.

“Equestria has made you soft,” he grunted, just barely keeping his panting in check. “You’re a changeling. It’s time you start acting like one.”

Applejack was just starting to stagger upright again when Vigil’s horn started crackling all over again.

“I’m tired of wasting time,” he stated, “but we’ll have plenty of it on our way to the Hive; plenty to work on your behavior.”

“Don’t… go gettin’ ahead of yerself,” Applejack panted. She’d propped herself up by then – enough to glare defiantly back at Vigil. “Ya haven’t won yet.”

Vigil’s expression soured even more at that. “I beg to differ.”

His horn grew brighter still, building up a spell fit for downing a queen.

And once more, the tower groaned.

At first, Vigil paid it no mind; he was too focused on his goal. He was so close now – just a second longer…

Something broke deep within the tower then. One beleaguered support folded, then another and another.

And suddenly, the tower was toppling.

The roof leaned more and more, going almost perfectly diagonal before catching itself again with a jarring jolt.

Vigil staggered, rearing up and wheeling his forelegs through the air for balance. But before he could properly regain it, something hit him in the shoulder.

That was when he noticed an entire hardware store's worth of building materials sailing at him.

Stone blocks, bricks, lumber of all sizes, shingles, rivets and all the tools needed for working them was sliding and crashing straight towards him in an avalanche of deadly missiles.

Instinctively his wings kicked into overdrive, throwing him out of the way of an oncoming block of granite the size of a cart.

The workbench, though, he never saw coming.

Applejack watched as Vigil vanished behind the solid oak table, disappearing from sight entirely. However, she had more pressing matters to worry about than keeping an eye on her adversary.

She was slipping across the wet ground. In front of her, a smashed parapet and a truly gut-wrenching plummet to the earth below. Behind her, a tidal wave of very heavy objects. Simply put, her prospects weren’t much better than Vigil’s.

Instinctively she flipped onto her belly and scrabbled at the stone with her hooves, desperately seeking traction that just wasn’t there.

Heavy blocks and solid timber were thundering down all around her now, some missing her by miraculous inches alone. And the ledge was getting very close, very fast.

Out of pure desperation, Applejack changed, dispelling her pony façade in a flash.

“Come on, dagnabit,” she growled to herself, and slammed her hooves down as hard as she could.

Emerald sparks of magic shrieked off of her hooves with a loud grating sound, but to her immense surprise, she found herself slowing.

Suddenly, there was traction where there hadn't been any before. The stone seemed to grab at her, in fact, refusing to let her go.

Finally, after skidding nearly four feet, Applejack ground to a halt at last. But if the empty air under her hind legs told her anything, it’d been a very near thing.

She kicked her back hooves, trying to find something to cling to, but there just wasn’t anything there; just open space and a long, long way down.

Of course, Applejack didn’t have time to breathe a sigh of relief, either. A pallet smashing the parapet beside her to bits reminded her of that.

She looked up, just in time to see a lamp-post sized wooden strut sailing straight at her like a one ton javelin.

Applejack braced, flinching, only to have the strut impact the roof hardly six inches from her right hoof with such force that it ripped apart the stone roof like a wrecking ball.

The entire ledge Applejack clung to started to fall apart, whole stretches crumbling to pieces – including the stone beneath Applejack’s hooves.

She clambered desperately at the disintegrating roof, but it was a lost cause, especially when the entire ledge she clung to simply broke away completely.

And a split second later, the tower started falling all over again, coming down directly over Applejack’s head like a titanic gavel. This time, there was nothing that could stop it.

The top half of the tower tore itself completely away from the lower half with a terrific, explosive sound beyond compare, ripping up the timber frame and crushing stone to powder.

And then it all came down in one colossal mass with nothing to stop it but the world below. The little, plummeting changeling queen caught between the two wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Applejack knew she only had one chance if she ever intended to live without the knowledge of what getting hit by a tower felt like.

She gritted her teeth, already doubting herself as – for one of the first times in her entire life – she made a conscious effort to flap her gossamer-thin wings.

It went without saying that she’d never flown before. She’d had more practice with magic than she’d had at using her wings.

But she had no choice, and the plummeting half of the tower was very good motivation indeed.

Applejack tensed, closed her eyes, and threw herself from the tumbling ledge. At the same time, she worked her wings as hard as she could.

To call what she did ‘flight’ might’ve been a bit off the mark. It was more like controlled falling.

With the alien sound of her own wings buzzing in her ears, Applejack managed to keep herself from tumbling end over end at the very least. She even managed to get herself going in a direction that didn’t have a building dropping on top of it.

But that was about all she managed. She just couldn’t get the lift to keep going anywhere but down, and her wings themselves felt only marginally more effective than using her hooves to fly. If anything had gotten in her way, that would've been the end of it. Luck had yet to abandon her, however.

The ground came rushing up to meet her, but instead of her hitting it straight on, Applejack struck the wet, muddy grass at an angle, landing squarely on her chest with a yelp, and bouncing once before hitting the ground on her side.

And a split second later, she felt the rush of air as several hundred tons of building hit the ground less than fifty meters from where she lay.

The tower connected hard with the earth, producing an almighty, earthshattering impact unlike anything Applejack had ever heard or felt before. The ground heaved, debris shot high into the air, and a dense, choking blanket of dust rushed outward, swallowing the courtyard – and all those that lingered in it – whole.


Applejack came to in a sea of smog and dust that still choked the life out of her surroundings. Even the flash of lightning was hardly discernible in the haze.

All around her she could see the hulking shapes of demolished masonry that’d been buried in the ground and decimated beyond recognition.

Changeling fire burned somewhere amid the ruins, sending diffused, flickering emerald light through the billowing clouds of dust.

Cold rain pattered all around Applejack. Gusts of wet wind blew banks of smog in her face, soliciting more than one cough from the dazed changeling.

Besides the wind and a few tattered streamers of fabric, everything around her was disquietingly still.

Applejack coughed a few more times while trying to make out her surroundings through narrowed eyes, but there just wasn’t much to see except countless looming silhouettes.

But when she went to stand up, something kept her down. Only then did she notice the crushing weight lying across one hind leg.

What looked to have once been a section of wall was pinning her to the ground. It was a miracle that the thing hadn’t flattened her entirely, in fact.

Applejack tugged a few times, but learned better very quickly. A broken bone could be very persuasive.

But while she panted and struggled to think of her options, something shifted nearby, resulting in a clatter. Applejack looked around quickly, trying to find the source of that noise. But she didn’t need to look far.

Two orbs of blue were advancing through the dust clouds towards her; orbs attached to a dark, obsidian shadow.

Applejack watched as Vigil staggered towards her, his heavy breathing sounding almost like growling. As he drew closer and more details became apparent, she saw that he was covered in cuts and bruises, and seemed to be favoring one foreleg over the other.

But he was advancing, and she had no way of getting away.

“This… has gone on long enough,” Vigil grunted savagely.

His horn was already aglow, his intentions clear. “Apologies, but… Your dream ends here, ‘Your Highness’.”

Applejack glared back, intent on being defiant to the last. But no matter what she tried, her leg wasn’t coming free.

Vigil lowered his head – and immediately was struck bodily by something. Or rather, somepony.

With a furious cry, Rainbow landed squarely on his back, nearly throwing them both to the ground with the force of her collision.

Applejack watched in stunned silence as her friend bit down hard on Vigil’s mane, yanking his head up and away from her.

Vigil himself bellowed aloud, his spell jettisoning harmlessly off into the sky above.

“You little…!” he shouted furiously. His hoof suddenly shot up, grabbing ahold of the foreleg Rainbow had wrapped around his neck, and with another shout, he flipped to one side, taking the cyan pegasus with him.

Vigil landed bodily on his side, slamming Rainbow down hard on her injured wing.

With a pained shriek, her grip on the changeling came undone. No sooner did she let go than did Vigil roll back to all fours. Only now, he was giving her a truly murderous look.

“At the very least,” Vigil snarled, horn sparking and popping with barely repressed fury, “I’ll settle for breaking the Elements of Harmony, one way or another!”

Applejack watched in horror as Vigil now turned his horn on her friend. Only, there was no way the spell fulminating there was non-lethal.

“No!” she cried, struggling worse than ever to break free.

Time seemed to dilate before her eyes, slowing to an almost sluggish, agonizing crawl.

Vigil stepped up closer while Rainbow rolled on the ground, panting in pain. His horn grew brighter and brighter with acidic light.

Rainbow was struggling to rise, but there was no way she’d get up in time to get out of the line of fire.

Unless, of course, a second pony got to Vigil first.

Out of nowhere, a beaten, banged up changeling leapt on Vigil, this time colliding with enough force to send them both tumbling in a pile to one side.

Through the billowing clouds of dust blowing over the scene, Applejack watched as Hyacinth struggled upright just soon enough to strike Vigil across the face, sending him staggering back a step.

Before he could recover, Hyacinth jumped at him again, jaws flung wide.

Applejack never saw it, but she heard Vigil’s uncharacteristic bellow of pain, his form rearing back.

In the next instant, he flung Hyacinth off of him, one of his hoof staying on his shoulder.

Hyacinth rolled, yelping in pain as she went over a rock before stumbling upright in the same move.

Only to find Vigil leveling a charged horn straight at her.

“Why,” he seethed, loosing a spell.

Hyacinth reacted just barely in time, conjuring a weak jade field in front of her, which barely absorbed the spell before destabilizing.

“Won’t,” Vigil growled, firing another spell.

Again, Hyacinth intercepted it, only to have her shield shatter almost instantly in a shower of white-hot sparks.

“You,” Vigil shot, louder, as he fired yet another spell, decimating Hyacinth’s shield but sending it hissing over one shoulder.


His final spell, surging with all his hatred and sheathed in a blade of emerald flames, launched off the top of his horn with a sound like a gunshot. Hyacinth’s barrier never stood a chance.

And neither did she.

A mild look of surprise crossed Hyacinth’s expression as the spell connected with her forehead.

And, with a sound like splintering glass, her horn shattered into a dozen, fizzling pieces.

“NO!” shrieked Applejack, her voice breaking. “HYACINTH!”

But it was already far too late.

Her aunt was picked up from the force of the spell, carried back a foot or two, and deposited unceremoniously on the sodden ground, where she remained without so much as a twitch, surrounded by the dying fragments of her own horn.