Breakfast at the church consisted of pop-tarts and cereal (frosted oats and marshmallows), all from Pinkie Pie's 'breakfast party' supplies. Though she complained that her 'on pony' supplies to host breakfast for nineteen ponies was spreading herself thin. Where she was even hiding all of this on her person were questions Twilight explained to the uninitiated were better left unexplored.
"Something that Twilight Sparkle doesn't want to investigate?" asked Twinkle Shine.
"No, something she tried and ended up facing a Bog Hydra in the process."
Twinkle Shine merely blinked in confusion, trying to comprehend it.
"Hey guys!" Pinkie Pie waving a stack of papers titled 'A Canterlot Wedding Part 1 And Part 2', "I finally found a copy of the script!" The pink pony began to speed read through the pages, "Dang we've really gone off the rails." She sighed. "Well this is useless." She tossed it over her shoulder never to be seen again.
"Hey, Twilight," Spike asked, "You've seen Shining's magic in action before right? There's no way your brother can have more mana than you. So why don't you just use his shield spell yourself, and squash these disgusting bugs against a magic shield or send them flying back to the badlands where they came from?" He looked at the nearest 'disgusting bug', "Uh, except Moth of course!"
Twilight sighed. "First. I wasn't the Element of Magic the last time I saw him using his magic. Second, I can copy his spell, but he's still had more practice with it than me."
"You saw him use it when Chrysalis forced him to send Luna and our army over the horizon!"
"Shining's shield magic is incredibly strong, Spike," Twilight explained. "Not only is it his special talent, he's a very powerful unicorn. When he was little, dad said some ponies wanted to have his horn sealed or cut off out of fear, just like with me."
Rainbow shuddered, Cadence snarled slightly. "Ugh, know how you both feel. I still remember when someone said they should clip my wings after I did my first Rainboom."
Trixie blinked, then gave a shudder of her own. "For once, Trixie is glad she didn't display immense magic power until she got older..."
"Don't worry, there's NO way in Equestria the Princesses would let somepony do that to a filly," Rainbow Dash replied.
"I can confirm that," Cadence added.
"But the point is, while I've got more mana than Shining, Shining's STILL a very strong unicorn and a lot more skilled than I am."
Trixie rubbed her chin. "What if me and you tried to combine our magic to do it?"
"That'd be a lot stronger, but you saw how Shining acted when that...that WITCH made him do that!" Twilight snarled.
Cadence put a wing on her back. "Calm down Twilight, we'll get him back..."
"...I know but...poor Shining...he LIVES to protect ponies...I can't imagine how he feels in his heart right now..." the purple pony muttered.
"Twilight, that reminds me," said Rarity. "You should probably put every anti-brainwashing spell you know on all of us. Even if their magic works best when 'invited in', I'd rather not run the risk of one of us being brainwashed."
"...Why do you think I would I know anti-brainwashing spells?"
"Because you're Twilight, and this is the third time we've had to deal with brainwashing villains," the mare said, lightly looking to the Flutters. "You'd naturally have studied some in preparation for another one."
"You're right, I have studied them, though there's no real way to test if they'd work on Changeling mind magic, we'd need a...Changeling..."
Everypony looked to Moth.
"Changeling magic requires either eye contact or touching them with our horn. Even brute force brainwashing or Chrysalis. Any kind of spell that would prevent that should work," the changeling defector explained.
Twilight nodded. "Alright, then I might have some that will work, and Spike."
"Third, if I did use BBBFF's spell with Trixie's help, there is nothing to keep changelings from being crushed into paste if they're between the spell shield and a wall!"
"We're out to save Equestria!"
"And I promised that I won't become a killer! It's NOT the pony way! And we don't know how many other changelings there are like Moth! Hiding and scared for their lives! I'd be 'getting rid of' the innocent along with the guilty! And my mind was swimming in mind control magic at the time, I have no idea if I instinctively copied it right or not, I'd need to test it. Which even if it worked, I won't do it."
"All because you might exterminate some GOOD bugs that might not even exist?"
"YES!" Twilight Sparkle said back.
"Um..." Fluttershy said. "You both missed me explaining...but I told Moth, she's not the only Changeling just trying to live a peaceful life as a symbiont...W-When I was Nightmare Whisper...I took them into my fog, but I didn't say anything because they weren't causing any harm. Believe me, if I'd found out Chrysalis was going to do this, I'd have told."
Spike sighed. "Alright, so there might be some good changelings...Other than Moth."
"I have some good news," Cadence said, "Chrysalis still hasn't noticed my song birds. She's been working ponies through the night to try and finish the rune ANYWAY-"
"WHAT?!" Twilight said, fully appreciating what that rune could do.
"-but it's been one act of sabotage after another. No sign of anypony coming to or from, like ghosts. Or every drop of bad luck in the universe condensed right into Canterlot. Like they're bailing a leaking boat. But it's never the same sabotage twice, and they're taking precautions against each type happening again, which is slowing them down more, for now."
"Sounds like we have some hidden friends," Bon-Bon said.
"You're welcome," said a pink filly emotionlessly.
"I wonder if Doctor has anything to do with this," Minuette whispered to herself.
"And don't forget that Digger Wasp disappeared," pointed out Trixie. "And none of us did that either. So we're clearly not the only ones that fighting back. And Chrysalis is looking for us, so she must not have realized who did it either."
"It'd be nice if we could get some reinforcements from any of the ponies that are helping us," said Twilight. "But I suppose so long as Chrysalis is convinced we're alone, whoever's responsible is in the shadows."
"I would be lying if I said that I'm not happy the Changelings are getting a gigantic taste of their own medicine," Trixie remarked.
Cadence continued, "The craziest one was...what was described as a 'a house committing suicide.' "
Everypony's brain broke.
"I'm serious, a house, with no visible magic, seemed to 'leap' through the air, sailed over a house in front of it, and crashed into the construction site."
"I remember something like that happening when the parasprites ate Ponyville," Pinkie Diane said, "Guess the house figured it was better than being eaten. Shouldn't houses know it's never a good idea to give up on life?"
Brains broke more.
"Why would a house kill itself? Why are I even asking that question?" Lemon Hearts asked, as one of her Angry Baby Lemons heard the tale of the 'house suicide' and promptly took out a bottle of hard cider that Lemon Hearts quickly confiscated.
"Logical explanation would be someone with very powerful telekinesis or a bunch of ponies using telekinesis at once," Twilight TRIED to offer a rational solution.
"...Am I the only one who finds it ironic we're talking about whether or not a house is capable of suicide in the same room as filly-sized walking lemons," Silver Spoon pointed out. "...And a giant walking lemon?"
The Angry Papa Lemon shrugged, having gotten back via a summoning spell that Lemon Hearts had used to summon his predecessor.
"Now now Silver Spoon," Pinkie Pie said putting on a graduate's hat, "Dramatic irony works best when it's NOT lampshaded and is left for outside observers to figure out on their own. Go sit in the corner for five minutes and think about what you've done."
"Dad!" Silver Spoon looked to her father.
Silver Tongue shrugged, "Sorry dear, she's right."
Silver Spoon sulked off to the corner.
As Rarity and Rainbow Dash both went over a morning practice kata, the two mares looked at each other.
"You know martial arts?!" They echoed.
"Darling, you've seen me fight!"
"Yeah, but I didn't know you've been TAUGHT to fight! You've seen ME fight too!"
"Yes darling, but I...erm...never thought a...'free spirit', such as yourself would have the...patience, attention-span, or erm, self-discipline for such things."
"And I thought you were too frou frou for sticking to classes teaching you how to kick flank!"
"Is THAT what Wing Chun means to you?"
"I practice Taekwondo, and why is a unicorn learning WING Chun?"
"It's just a name darling, and it's a beautiful style of precision and grace! Taekwondo is for ponies who indulge in brute force."
Rainbow gave an insulted look. "There's no such thing as 'brute force' martial arts. Just because I prefer a hard style doesn't mean it doesn't take skill. And you sure seem pretty brute force when you fight, I've seen you."
"I don't hold back when forced to get my hooves dirty. Fighting is a horrid business and you should end it as quickly as possible."
"Applebloom, what are you doing?" Scootaloo asked.
"Well, since Rainbow is practin', Ah figured Ah should too."
"What?!" Silver Spoon gasped.
"You know karate?!" Spike heard himself say.
Cadence, Fluttershy and Twinkle Shine stared wide eye at the cute filly practicing jump kicks.
"Rainbow Dash taught me, she started teachin' me before we formed the Crusaders."
"Daaaaaaash!" Scootaloo whined, "How could you teach Applebloom karate and not me?"
"It was just for a little while!" Dash waved her front hooves in verbal self-defense.
"Rainbow!" Twilight admonished, "How can you teach a foal karate? Don't you know a little training is WORSE than no training?!"
"Are you even a licensed instructor?" Cadence asked.
"Give me a break. She just wanted to see if it was her special talent. And if you gotta know, I do have a license. Just haven't really had a chance to use it."
"WHO IN EQUESTRIA would give YOU a karate instructor license?!" Rarity exclaimed.
"Why would you even have one?" Fluttershy asked innocently.
"It does kinda have nothing to do with getting into the Wonderbolts," Twilight Sparkle admitted.
"There was a course at the same school I got my weather management license, I saw it and knew martial arts already, so I thought 'eh, why not?'"
Twilight said, "Dash that only raises further questions! And seriously, you taught martial arts to a Cutie Mark Crusader?"
"They weren't any Cutie Mark Crusaders yet! They hadn't formed the club!"
"And seriously, didn't they teach you when you GOT that license to be responsible about it? You can't just teach foals 'a little' that makes them think they're suddenly experts!"
"Do Ah get a say in this?"
"No!" Rainbow and Twilight turned their heads and said together.
"Look, I just taught her a few basic moves, and I thought she'd be responsible with it because she's an Apple. You don't see Applejack and Big Mac pushing their weight around, do you?"
"Um...in Applebloom's defense," Silver Spoon interjected. "She never tried to beat me and Diamond up with it. I didn't even know she KNEW karate at all!"
"She doesn't," Twilight said, "an afternoon lesson doesn't mean she knows anything."
Rainbow Dash sighed. "Look! If it get us back to saving our friends faster: Applebloom don't bend your hoof like that, your rear legs are too close together, don't stand like you're a wall in front of your opponent, don't move like you're fighting in a hallway, and don't lean back so far when you kick! It's not like applebucking! You need to keep your balance in the right place."
Rainbow Dash helped Applebloom realign her stance. Scootaloo, being Scootaloo, followed her instructions as well.
"There, now at the very least you're not going to hurt yourself," Rainbow said. "And here's THE most important thing," she said, clearing her throat. "Even if I don't always act that way, karate isn't just 'the ancient art of flank whoop,' take it SERIOUSLY, okay?" she advised. "And if I see you use it to throw your weight around like you're in a comic book or going all gung ho into a fight you're NOT ready for during this whole mess, I'm turning you BOTH over my knee and warming your behind till ya can't sit for a month, we clear?!"
The two foals gulped. "Crystal..."
"...But if you HAVE to use it to fight the Changelings, and I mean HAVE to, aim for the back of the knee, the throat, or the stallionhood or marehood as hard as you possibly can. But don't unless you absolutely HAVE to fight."
"Rainbow Dash! That's such dirty fighting!"
"You're a martial artist too, Rarity, you know that in an REAL fight for your life, nearly all styles teach you to throw away 'honor' and just try to disable them however you can."
"Even I know that," said Fluttercruel. "My self defense books more or less say that."
"...Point taken..." Rarity grumbled. Admitting the 'undisciplined' martial artist had been aware of something she'd forgotten was a bit of a blow to her pride.
"Wait, marehood? That works on girls?" Applebloom asked.
"That it only hurts stallions is a myth...trust me, when you've crashed as much as I have there isn't a place you DON'T know what it feels like to get hit in. Just remember they're not in exactly the same place."
"Now that we have that settled," Rainbow Dash sighed, "Okay guys, since nopony else is asking this question and the Princess and me almost ended up bug food for it-"
"Stop saying such prejudice things around my sister!"
"I second that, it's VERY rude," Trixie said, oddly serious.
"Not now PLEASE you two!"
Moth looked to Trixie. "Why did you stick up for me?"
"This 'Half Dirt Unicorn' knows how painful racist jargon can be," Trixie said, giving a small, sympathetic smile.
"As I was saying, since nopony else is asking. Twilight, Spike, oh, and you too Moon Dancer, where did Queen Nasty hide the Elements?" Rainbow continued.
"No idea, none of the letters talked about it."
"She never told us, Rainbow, I just opened the vault for her, I never saw where she put them."
"She never mentioned it around me."
"OH COME ON!" Rainbow Dash said, "Between the three of you, you have no idea?!"
(Dusk: Let it never be said Chrysalis didn't learn a thing from Discord's failure.)
"Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll stay hidden," said the pink filly who wasn't there outside the church window.
"Hey, Princess," RD zoomed in a little too close, "You're Harmony right? On top of music and everything else, so you can sense where the Elements of HARMONY are right?"
"...It doesn't work that way Rainbow Dash, I'm sorry."
"Well it SHOULD work that way! Zap the bad guy with the Elements! It's what we do!"
"I'm very certain we can save the day without 'em if we need to Dashie," Pinkie Pie said.
"Am I the only one who forgot that we used the Elements WITHOUT the jewelry to save mom?" Fluttercruel added.
"Why do you keep calling yourself your own mother?" Moon Dancer asked, confused.
"I'm not Fluttershy, my name is Fluttercruel, nice to meet you. I'll explain later if we survive this mess."
"I still don't know how we did that," Twilight explained. "But before we can even consider trying to figure out how, we need Applejack back."
"Fine! So do we actually HAVE a plan? I fell asleep from all the technically details you blabbed through last night!" Rainbow Dash said.
"That's your own fault then," Minuette said.
"Now wait just a cotton picking minute!" Rainbow protested, "if you're going to explain a plan, ya should explain in a way the pony you're explaining it to can get! Not spend forever on a zillion minor details that have nothing to do with the actual plan!"
"Applejack's advocate Rainbow?" Rarity asked.
"Well, until save'er, somepony needs to be."
That quieted the group quickly.
Applebloom nuzzled the blue pegasus.
"...I'm sorry, Rainbow," said Minuette. "Just me and Twilight are Gifted Unicorns and Trixie is at least book smart enough to follow what we're saying. I guess we forgot not everypony can."
"Are you saying I'm dumb? I do have a weather management position!"
"No, not at all. You're STREET smart, and I honestly envy that about you. My point was you never NEEDED to learn the technical details."
Cadence blinked. "Wait, Rainbow, if you can do the Sonic Rainboom, why didn't you go to the School For Gifted Pegasi?"
"...My grades weren't good enough."
"Oh..." Cadence noticed the mare's 'just drop it' expression and wisely did so. "Still, weather management is a good career, you remind me a bit of a friend of mine..."
Cadence looked out a window towards the distance. "Thunderchild, Gag, Ellis, Garnet, Audience...I hope you're all alright..."
Minuette gave a look of her own, praying her coltfriend was alright wherever he was.
With that, the group settled a bit to continue their morning rituals and planning.
"Spike?" I asked, looking at the little dragon.
"Yeah, Moon Dancer?"
I took a deep breath. "Spike...I know there's nothing I could have done...But..."
He smiled to me. "No prob. I know that psychopathic witch got her claws into you...she got me too."
"...By using me. Look, it's like you told Twilight earlier...I just want to apologize for being the one she used..."
"I'd be a hypocrite not to forgive you, Moon Dancer..."
We hugged, just as friends being friends...it felt good. "So...how are you doing? I mean, after..."
He shuddered. "I think I'll have nightmares, but I'll be okay. The others helped me out. You? You...when that monster's brainwashing started to breakdown..."
"Same...after I was freed, it took awhile for me to break out of it. I...I couldn't even call her anything by 'her Majesty' for awhile until I finally escaped it..."
I shuddered, remembering the remnant of that witch's magic in my head. "But I'm better now. I can look at Changelings without panicking anymore."
"That's good..." he said, then looked down thoughtfully. "Moon Dancer...I know that witch has a habit of letting some of us through...How much of what happened was...I know it's not your fault but..."
I sighed. I should've expected this...To be honest, I've dreaded this for a long time. He was a friend, I didn't want to hurt his feelings.
"...A few cryptic messages I tried to get through, that was all...Spike...I...I don't like you that way...I'm sorry...just..."
"I know...I'm kinda happy to be honest...I didn't want to be in the middle of a love triangle or something..."
"Look, I know I got my kinds of love mixed up. But I...I don't think how I feel about Rarity is different..."
I looked at him. He seemed so sincere...I guess whether he really loves her or not, me telling him otherwise...it just didn't feel right. It was Rarity's place if she felt the need...and besides, I was just glad to have my friend back.
"Moon Dancer...how do you really feel about me?"
I blinked in shock. "How I feel?" I asked, taken a tad off guard. "...You're my friend, Spike. I didn't want to hurt you, I never did. I never could without that witch in my head..."
Spike hugged me. "That's all I needed to hear."
Rainbow Dash looked around, Lyra getting pointers from Twinkle Shine about the finer points about working under Cadence, herself and Rarity practicing their self defense, Lemon Hearts doing whatever crazy ritual she did to increase her number of pet fruit monsters. Applebloom and Scootaloo going over what little she just taught them, Rainbow herself hoped they didn't get themselves killed.
Moon Dancer and Spike just talking and Rainbow didn't care about what right now, Silver Spoon still in the corner, Fluttershy talking with Cadence's song birds. Silver Tongue pressing Moth for more and more details about changeling tactics and fighting styles that she didn't know anymore than Mrs. Cake would know about the finer points of the royal guard, until Bon-Bon told him to back off, having apparently declared herself her sister's guardian angel. Pinkie Diane doing whatever Pinkie does, and going through her 'inventory' of any number of strange things from nowhere. Twinkle and Trixie trading 'spell lists' or whatever. And finally Cadence and Minuette were talking in circles it sounded like.
Rainbow Dash flew into the air in the middle of the church.
"Okay! Enough! We keep getting side tracks by everything! No apologizes! No excuses! Cadence just said the baddies aren't sitting on their flanks! They aren't just ordering take-out waiting for us to show up and beat'em up like in a video game! We all saw what that witch's magic did to Moon Dancer! Applejack, Sweetie Belle and Twilight's brother are all going through the same crude! We NEED TO save'em before their brains turn to mush! Before any of you eggheads say anything, I know we gotta think before actin', I GET THAT ALREADY! I've been asking all morning what we're doing, and I get just the run around! So will somepony tell me what the bucking plan is already?!"
"So Twilight! You're our planner, what's the plan? What do we smash, how do we smash, and who smashes what?! And how does it get us our friends back?"
"Well, despite Rainbow being slightly incorrect about the number of planners we have," Trixie said. "She has a point, we need to get moving."
Rainbow Dash flew into Twilight's face with a 'no-nonsense' look that was actually a little frightening on the rainbow maned pegasus, "Well? I'm waiting, in fact I've been doing that all morning."
"Alright, for organization sake I've divided us into three main groups," said Twilight, Trixie projecting a convenient slideshow onto the wall with her illusions. "Group A and group C will deal with the traps set in different districts of Canterlot. Group B will remain in reserve near group A in case something goes wrong. Sadly with the runes being 'Twilight proof' I'm mostly useless. Not to mention the other security precautions I put in if I even tried to help. Any spell I cast, or is a copy of a spell of mine, or anypony or anything I've enchanted, the runes will react violently and cause the caster or the enchanted to suffer terrible mana feedback, it wouldn't be pleasant. So we're going to have to forgo the anti-brainwashing spells, or the runes WILL react violently to your presence before you have a chance to wreck them."
Rarity Belle- Team A
Trixie Mid-Summernight- Team A
Princess Cadence- Team A
Rainbow Dash- Team A
Twilight Sparkle- Team B
Pinkie Pinkie- Team B
Spike- Team B
Flutters- Team B
Silver Spoon- Team B
Applebloom- Team B
Scootaloo- Team B
Minuette Colgate- Team C
Silver Tongue- Team C
Twinkle Shine- Team C
Lyra Heartstrings- Team C
Moth- Team C
Lemon Hearts- Team C
Bon-Bon- Team C
Moon Dancer- Team C
"Am I the only one who finds Team A's layout ironic?" Rarity asked, giving Trixie and Rainbow a smile.
The two chuckled. "Trixie promises, this time she shall treat her co-stars with more respect," Trixie replied with a smile of her own, Rainbow nodded.
"The two groups near the castle each have the proper members to free Chrysalis' remaining slaves, and each group has one of our planners and one of our heavy hitters. This way if group one runs into trouble or gets captured, we'll be able to free the others or if either group gets an opportunity, they can spring and free them."
Twilight produced a map of Canterlot via her magic. "Our mission is to cripple the booby-traps that are set up for Princess Luna," she explained, putting markers on each of the locations around Canterlot. "Team C will split up into four groups of two, each one heading to one of these locations around Canterlot.
"Cadence's song birds will be with each of the groups."
"We'll have to coordinate a simultaneous attack on each of the traps AT ONCE via the song birds," said Trixie. "And we cannot stress this enough, the attacks need to happen at EXACTLY the same time so that the other locations or the Queen are not alerted to what's going on."
"Each trap has a magic rune drawing power from the leylines, just like the main rune," said Twilight, drawing a detailed picture of each rune. "This is meant to power the booby trap. The runes were designed by Celestia as part of a contingency plan for Nightmare Moon and will cripple Luna if we don't destroy them. The positions were chosen because these are the only spots were the leylines are close enough to the surface to draw enough power to affect a fully fledged Alicorn."
"Silver Tongue and I will target this rune here," Minuette explained. "I need to freeze time for us both to get Silver Tongue into position to destroy the minor rune with a well place buck. Then, and this goes for every unicorn, we need to book it because the mana rebounding back into the leylines will neutralize both the spell circle needed for the booby trap and any magic spells currently in effect by sucking the ambient mana into it. If you're trying to cast a spell when that happens, it's going to give you the absolute worst hornache imaginable."
"That won't hurt my lemons, will it?" Lemon Hearts asked in fright.
"No, you used instantaneous magic to give them life, so that's now their natural state. I'm talking about permanent magic spells."
"Uh, shouldn't that be reversed?" Bon-Bon asked.
"No, it's complicated, and shush, we don't need any more soapboxes!" Minuette whispered.
"Do NOT cast the spell from INSIDE the spell circle, it will short out your magic," Twilight explained to the unicorns present.
"Right, got it."
"Twinkle Shine, Lyra," said Trixie. "You two cast a combination flare spell and sonic blast to stun and disorientate the Changelings, not two different spells, then dash in and shatter the rune with two bucks at EXACTLY the same time in the same place before they can recover. Once more, you MUST remain outside the spell circle when you cast them or your magic will fizzle out."
"Lemon Hearts and Moth," Minuette said. "Moth is to pose as a Changeling Guard and help Lemon Hearts, hidden by an illusion Trixie will cast on you and posing as a brainwashed pony being brought to work on the rune, sneak into the booby trap located here, in the Canterlot Market. Once inside, Lemon Hearts will throw premade lemon gas bombs EVERYWHERE to blind and disorientate the Changelings, then the Angry Papa Lemon will smash through this skylight here and destroy the rune."
Moth whimpered slightly and rubbed her nose, which felt sore just thinking about it. "Ugh...this is REALLY going to stink..."
"Sorry Moth, but you're the only Changeling we've got and this is one you NEED to sneak into."
"Last for team C," said Twilight. "Moon Dancer and Bon Bon will go after this trap here. Moon Dancer is to stand on this roof top here and act as a sniper while Bon Bon sneaks through this row of bushes here to destroy this rune here."
Trixie stepped forwards. "Now, Group A's job will be help me disable the ring of booby traps surrounding the castle. Sadly the ring is powered by four separate runes. Spike's gotten a guard schedule which hopefully hasn't changed yet, if it has, bluff your way through and claim it's an order from Chrysalis, don't worry, Chrysalis won't be handling things hooves on. This trick will only work once so make it count. Once you're in, some of Lemon Hearts familiars will attack each spot as a distraction, part of Team B will be nearby to help pull out once we've done our job."
"Remember Trixie, DO NOT use any spells you've copied from me, they won't work on the runes at best and cause feedback at worst. I've wired these custom defensive spells directly into the leylines and made them so it would be impossible for me to tamper with them."
"Trixie understands. "
"So you're sure these are the only traps?" asked Cadence.
Twilight nodded. "Yes. These are the only locations with leylines close enough to the surface for the runes to have enough power to affect Luna. It's physically impossible for there to be runes anywhere else because there won't be enough power for them to function. Alright, there's our plan...but I also have one final 'only do if we're ABSOLUTELY about to lose beyond a shadow of a doubt' plan," said Twilight.
"...What is it?"
"We...unleash the most powerful weapon we can think of." Twilight cringed and put one more game piece on the table in the middle of the hedge maze. A draconequus statue.
"No. Bucking. Way," Rainbow hissed.
Cadence stepped up. "In my vision, if Chrysalis wins, she becomes...someTHING. Something so powerful no one can stop her, not my Aunties, me, Mother Deer, Queen Tiamat, or even Discord. I saw them...all crucified like sick prizes on a hunter's wall. And she rips ALL the emotions out of every living thing in Equestria, leaving nothing but empty shells that used to be creatures," she explained, causing everycreature's blood to run cold. "So yes, what we're suggesting is if we're THAT close to losing, we free Discord as an ABSOLUTE last resort because if Chrysalis wins, HE loses too...and better the devil you know than the one you don't. Better a tyrant we've beaten once than one that we don't know if we could."
"...How would we even free Discord anyway?"
"Depetrification spell," said Twilight. "Maximum strength."
Twilight didn't want to say the VERY VERY absolute last resort was to shatter his statue and one of them sacrifice themselves to be his new body.
"With any luck, while they are fighting, we could find and hit them BOTH with the Elements...Or somepony could beat Discord afterwards," Twilight said.
"...Let's hope to every god there is we NEVER have to go with that plan," Trixie spoke.
"I think we all agree with you on that darling," Rarity said.
"Good, that's everything," Twilight then said in a confident proud voice, "Now that I've explained my plan in exact and concise detail, it'll go perfectly!"
"Uh, oh," Pinkie Pie whispered.
-Several Hours Later-
"See?" Twilight said proudly, "I told you it would go perfectly!"
"Huh?!" Pinkie Pie looking around in surprise. Everypony had made it back safely, and all the trap runes had been destroyed without a hitch.
"I still say we should have rescued our friends first," Rainbow Dash said. "Save them, we beat her, period, I'd say. This feels like we just wasted our time and risked for lives for absolutely nothing. We save AJ, we take out the Queen, it doesn't matter if those traps are there or not since we've saved the day already, so Luna has nothing to worry about."
"But the runes wouldn't JUST deactivate because Chrysalis has been defeated, she intentionally set it that way as a 'parting gift' if something happened to her," Twilight replied. "What if in our euphoria that we won we FORGOT to destroy them and Luna got seriously hurt on her way back?"
Rainbow sighed. "Good point."
"And," Cadence said. "Without the Elements, the best option we might have is me and one of my aunts defeating Chrysalis, so if we can't rescue Auntie Celestia, Auntie Luna's our only option."
"What I can't believe is that we ALL made it all the way back here without any of us giving away our hiding spot," Fluttershy said.
Everypony glared at her. Pinkie Pie braced herself...Nothing happened. Everypony breathed a sigh of relief.
"Fluttershy, don't jinx us like that!" Rainbow admonished.
"Yes, Trixie knows more than anypony how quickly things can go horribly wrong," Trixie continued.
"Sorry..." Fluttershy whimpered.
"Okay, so just to double check," said Pinkie. "We destroyed all the runes?"
Twilight nodded. "Yep."
"I checked it!" announced Spike, holding up a check list of destroyed runes.
"Nopony or dragon got captured?"
Cadence did a head count. "Nope, everypony's here."
"Other than me wishing I didn't have a nose right now, I think we're all okay," said Moth, holding hoof tight over her sore nose to shield it from the lingering stink of lemon stuck to her and Lemon Hearts from the many, many, many lemon bombs Lemon Hearts had set off all at once.
"And the boobytraps are really crippled?" Pinkie asked.
"Yes, the spells required for them to work all got pulled into the leylines which rebounded too deep from the mana surging back in for the runes to work for awhile even if they were recreated in time," Twilight explained. "And only me, Trixie, or Celestia could put the spells back in place in any sane amount of time anyway."
Pinkie blinked. She waited and nothing happened. No jinx from tempting fate or sudden alert the others had been captured. She gave a sigh of relief. "Thank Celestia our they-who-makes likes to subvert conventions...sometimes..."
"What was that?"
"Nothing! Nopony here been replaced by a changeling or under mind control?" Pinkie Pie asked.
Twilight AND Trixie's horns glowed individually and they did a scanning spell. "Nope, no signs of brainwashing and no one here is a Changeling."
"What about me?!" Moth asked.
"Wait, how do we know another Changeling didn't replace her?" asked Pinkie.
"I asked her a series of questions only my sister would know when she came back," Bon Bon explained.
"Yay! We were competent!"
Pinkie hugged the now lemon scented Changeling who needed some cheering up. "By the way, thanks for going through that for us Moth."
"...Thanks Pinkie," Moth replied, giving a small smile. "Truthfully I'd do it again to make up for what I did...but I'd really, really, really prefer not to."
"What does that smell like to you anyway?" Rainbow asked. "Cause to me you just smell like a hallway that's been washed with lemon scented soap."
"Like a forest full of skunks," Moth replied flatly and somewhat nauseously.
"Yikes! Don't blame you."
She looked to Lemon Hearts. "Not that it's surprising considering how many lemon bombs went off at once. Seriously, where in Rosedust's name did you even get that many lemons?!"
Lemon Hearts chuckled. "My little secret."
Rainbow patted Moth on the back. "But seriously, I'm with Pinkie, way to take one for the team."
Rarity nodded. "Agreed, darling. That was quite brave of you."
"Uh, all I did was let a bunch of stinkbombs go off around me."
"To me, that's incredibly brave," the dirt-loathing fashionista stated sincerely. "And even then, going into an enemy occupied area to help us was brave in and of itself."
The Changeling blushed. "T-Thanks...I guess you're right...Hehe...for once I was brave..."
"...Wait, if you have an exoskeleton, how are you blushing?" Twilight asked.
Moth blinked. "...I...have no idea."
Cadence chuckled as Bon Bon gave her sister a hug. "Twinkleshine, while we plan our next move, mind trying to get Moth cleaned up? I think she deserves it."
Twinkleshine smirked. "Gladly. I've got to ask though, is every changeling alive allergic to this stuff? I mean, lemons? I mean, we could just spray ourselves with lemon juice and tada, we're completely invincible against them? Throw a lemon at them and they surrender in seconds? No offense but it sounds a bit like Lemon Hearts' fantasy life come true."
"We're not allergic, it just bucking STINKS," Moth replies, giving a gag. "And no, that'd just let us smell you a mile away. Her lemon bombs give us trouble because they're weapons. Otherwise we'd not have any more trouble around them than you would going through a landfill...well, that and in this case she let off so many at once I lost count."
Twilight got on a soapbox. "Considering the yellow smoke the lemon bombs create is made entirely from lemons via magic, the scent molecules are a hundred times more concentrated than just lemon juice or normal lemons. Same reason smells get stronger and harder to stand the closer you are to them, the molecules are more concentrated. It's little wonder Changelings have a lot of trouble with the lemon bombs."
"Sis', I've seen you eat LEMON candies before."
"And you like ketchup on you hayfries but hate tomatoes, your point?"
"It's not entirely unheard of. Durians smell so terrible they're banned from many hotels, but many who can't stand the smell love the taste. In fact-"
"Twilight, we're having trouble finding room for the soapboxes you made getting your 'you're a monster, Chrysalis' speeches out of your system, stop making more!" Rainbow Dash said.
"Sorry... Now then, everypony, now that we've cleared the way for Princess Luna once we save my brother, let's go over how we're going to break into the castle and save him along with everypony else! This way, if things come to a head, Princess Luna and her army will be able to stand on equal hoofing with the changelings."
"We may not need to," Moon Dancer said.
"Yes, my song birds just picked it up too," Cadence said.
"What is it?" Twilight asked.
Cadence spoke keeping her voice under control, "After a BRIDGE collapsed on top of part of the rune, forcing them to rebuild THAT part as well, Chrysalis, or rather, 'me', wants to make a public visit to one of the theaters for a music performances to calm down everypony and assure them that everything is under control. And because 'I' don't want to leave, blech, 'my husband' out of sight after what happened to him, along with Element of Harmony Applejack after the trauma she's suffered losing her friends to a changeling witch, and her temporarily ward 'Lady Sweetie Belle', they'll all be visiting the theater with her."
Cadence found herself ringed by three foals, a dragon, and two unicorns.
"How long?!" Twilight asked.
"The show should last-"
"How long before they arrive at the theater?!" asked Silver Spoon.
"Which theater darling!?" Rarity moved in close.
"The Medley Concert Hall. I attended the opening of that theater. Sorry Twilight! Just a couple of hours!"
"And ya didn't think to say anythin' till now?!" Applebloom moving in close on Moon Dancer.
"We were making sure everypony was fine first!"
"That is kinda important too," Pinkie Pie said.
Twilight grinned. "Alright everypony! This is our chance! Chrysalis doesn't want to let her slaves out of her sight, but that's her mistake! She's put nearly all her eggs in one basket! We need to hit her hard and fast! If we can hold her hostage until Princess Luna arrives, the changelings won't dare try anything, that's what you said right Moth?"
"Yes. The Queen is everything, noling would dare risk her life."
"Exactly! This is our chance! We can't afford to waste it! We can end this fast!"
"Sweetie Belle, Big Sister's got you."
"Here to help Rarity," Spike said.
"Applejack, Sweetie, Ah'll save ya."
"Let's just save'er." Said Scootaloo.
"Agreed!" Silver Spoon hissed.
Twilight declared, "We're going need our heaviest hitters on the front line!"
"You know there's going to be MUCH security for her. There's no way there won't be," Silver Tongue said.
"Maybe! But remember!!! This will all be in public! There's no way Chrysalis could risk dropping her farce now!"
"Twilight, settle," Trixie said. "We're dealing with somepony who managed to singlehoofedly cripple most of Canterlot's defense, tried to emotionally destroy and murder me on the off chance I might be a threat, prepared for the event we'd free you by having a trap set, and put Spike behind several hundred guards," she explained. "Chrysalis wouldn't do this unless there's more than meets the eye. She's practically gift wrapped her victims for us, that is NOT like her."
"You're the one who had her in your head, is she that stupid to assume we'd pass up this opportunity?"
Twilight sighed. "No...but we can't!"
"We might never get another chance..." Silver muttered, worry in her eyes.
"And we won't, but we need to take advantage of this in more ways than one, so if this is as much of a trap as it seems like, we don't run blindly into it and perhaps turn it against her," Trixie replied. Truthfully, Twilight's almost hysterical expressions had unnerved her (particularly when the foal seemed to be taking it better) and she'd hoped to snap Twilight back to reality. "If we put all our eggs in one basket, we're making the same mistake it appears on the surface Chrysalis has made."
"You're right...alright, so perhaps most of us go but we leave behind a team with a set of ponies who can free Shining, Sweetie, and Applejack as well?"
"That's a good start, there's also the anti-brainwashing spells we can actually use now," Trixie said, looking at the map.
"I have a trick that Twilight said I should be able to do," said Cadence. "That could let me fight there and help free Shining but still be safe."
"Good, that's a plus. Still, kind of a gamble to go into something that is probably a trap..." the showmare said, rubbing her chin. She then gave a smug smirk. "But if we're going to gamble, I think we can double our earnings..."
"What do you mean?"
Trixie floated up a chess piece and put it in the castle on the map. A chess piece representing a white, majestic Alicorn. "Guess who's presently not got a Changeling Queen between us and her?"
Twilight gasped. "Of course...Chrysalis would obviously think we'd go after the most tempting target, not double back to free Princess Celestia."
"Bingo. Sure, we'll try to save our friends, but if we're splitting up anyway, why not go after the big guns too while we're at it? This way, if we fall for a trap, Chrysalis is still returning home to round two with Princess Celestia, who knows her tricks this time."
Twilight hugged her, "Trixie, you're a genius!"
"Pinkie, did you-"
"It's okay Dashie, I heard it too."
"We're BOTH geniuses, Twilight, just in different ways," Trixie said, her pride showing. "However, you, unfortunately, will need to be on that team."
Twilight's excitement sunk. "Why?"
"Because even assuming Cadence has some sort of trick, she's the only one we've got who can match power with Queen Chrysalis. Perhaps with the rest of us she could win, but that's not the point. You said that Chrysalis was trying to brainwash Princess Celestia, correct?"
"Yes, turn her into a slave to move the sun and moon so the Changelings could survive after their takeover..."
"Now, I'm not saying that HAS happened." Trixie looked around and saw sour expressions all around at her merely suggesting the idea that COULD happen. Particularly the terrified expressions on the foal's faces. "Princess Celestia IS Princess Celestia, after all, an Alicorn, she tore down Discord's kingdom. I can't imagine how strong her will is. But let's assume...for...for a brief, unbelievably terrifying moment she is under the Queen's control, even partially. If we need Princess Cadence to have a chance of fighting the Queen, who here could break such a spell on Princess Celestia besides her?"
Twilight looked around the group...then sighed. "...You're right...me and Spike are the only ones with that bond to her and I'm the only one with the power to SURVIVE that long if it's the case, as unlikely as that may be..."
Trixie hugged her. "I'm sorry, Twilight...I know how much Shining has to mean to you..."
The others nodded, thinking of their missing loved ones as well.
Twilight started to cry. "Then why did I forget him? I...I said goodbye to him the day of the Summer Sun Celebration and didn't send him a letter or anything since...Now when he needs me most..."
Cadence nodded and put a wing on Twilight's back. "Twilight...it wasn't your fault you forgot Shining..."
"...It's a...long story...but during the tour, Shining had a run in with a... an ancient creature...it wounded him, and caused everycreature's memories of his but mine and Minuette's to vanish for a while...made others have trouble remembering him..."
Cadence moved her necklace and some fur to reveal a trio of jagged scars hidden beneath regalia and fur. The present ponies all winced. "It wounded me as well, but being an Alicorn protected me..."
Twilight gasped, remembering. "Mi Amore Cadenza! I'd forgotten you were called that until Shining told me!"
"I imagine that's the case...but Twilight, you're not a bad pony or a bad sister. You just needed a reminder of your brother."
Twilight nuzzled her, "Thank you, Candy."
"You're welcome, Twiley."
Twilight nodded and looked back at the window. "...But that doesn't mean I can't miss him now...or...or..."
Cadence looked at her sympathetically. "Twilight...if there's something you need to get off your heart, please...do it now..." she said, in the comforting tone Twilight knew her for. "Before we leave and it can cause trouble..."
"Twilight...holding in your emotions isn't healthy, especially right now. Let it out...No one will think less of you..." She whispered. "I admit I'm scared too. I'm scared of losing Shining. I'll admit that...if you need to admit something."
Twilight let her emotions finally bubble up, the ones she hadn't wanted to admit were there...
"...My Big Brother, Best Friend Forever
I never had to be afraid when we were together
For me he would protect and fight
(Best friend forever)
But now a monster holds him tight
(Why has our bond been so severed?)
Is getting him back just a dream?
I'm more afraid than I realized, it seems..."
Twilight eyes teared up.
"My Big Brother, Best Friend Forever
I never had to be afraid when we were together
But now I'm scared gone he will stay
I miss him more each day
My big brother best friend
I fear I lost him forever..."
Twilight choked back a sob, as did several others. "I...I admit it...I'm scared...I...I'm scared I'll never get him back...I...I'm sorry, I should have faith in us but..."
"...Ah know how yah feel Twilight," said Applebloom, the little filly coming over and hugging the unicorn. "Ah...Ah feel the same way about...how would it go? Big Sister Best Friend Forever?"
"...Ah'm scared too...But...we need tah try, for them right? Yah said Shining was always there for yah...Ah think he'd be scared too if it was you who was still brainwashed..."
"...And I know Applejack would feel the same for you...underneath the brainwashing she's probably worried for you right now..."
"...But neither of them would give up, ever, would they?"
"...No, they wouldn't...you're right."
"As an elder sister presently in the situation you describe," Rarity said, her face sympathetic, maybe a little teary eyed at Twilight's song. "I can promise you, that's exactly how they'd feel...They'd never give up on you, and neither should you."
"What are friends for, darling?"
"Yeah, what she said," Applebloom said, smiling.
Applebloom and Twilight smiled, looking back out the window.
"He/She's my/mah Big Brother/Sister Best Friend Forever And I/Ah will not stop until we're back...together..."
"...Thank you, Applebloom...I needed that..."
Trixie teleported over to Twilight. "Twilight...I promise, you'll get your brother back...I won't rest until you do. And I know you would do nothing less if it were my sisters in that position."
"I won't either. If my sister was in trouble, I'd want nothing less from from my friends," Bon Bon remarked.
"Me and Twinkle Shine are Shining's friends too, Twilight," said Minuette, giving a smile.
Twilight looked around, everycreature nodding as her eyes fell on them.
Spike put a claw on her leg. "We'll get Shining back, don't worry Twilight," the little dragon said, giving her a hug.
"Thank you..." she said, giving a smile.