As Sunset Shimmer and her friends walked down the hallways of Crystal Prep once more, they couldn't help but feel a certain sense of danger. Each and every locker looked and felt cold to the touch. The ceiling seemed to be higher up than usual. The ground reflected their grimaces as they continued to step forward, and the classrooms that they gazed at all had one or two Changelings guarding them.
All of those thoughts did not shake the girls, however, as they were more focused on what the Shadowbolts had told them before they arrived.
"The Defectors are tough, girls." Indigo crossed her arms. "Before he was a Changeling, Black was harassed relentlessly by those guys until he eventually tried to defend himself." She looked at a picture on her phone showing her smiling with the student. "It was a losing battle from the get-go, and he decided that the only way to bring them down would be to work as one of Chrysalis's disciplinarians."
"If they surround you, they will most likely make an example of you to scare the other Crystal Prep students into joining them." Sugarcoat adjusted her glasses again. "They're following the most brutal rules of propaganda. By capturing and/or torturing other famous figures, it automatically clicks something in a person's mind, and makes them join out of fear—fear that they might be next to reach popularity and be broken down mentally and physically."
"But how will they think we're famous?" Sunset asked.
"They've heard about what Canterlot High School had to fight." Sunny Flare pulled out three separate newspapers, showing off all three of the events that CHS had hosted and were disrupted by Equestrian Magic. "The Fall Formal incident, the Battle of the Bands with three sirens, and the most recent one, the Friendship Games." She pointed each one out. "Each of these stories link to you and your friends, Sunset Shimmer. If the Defectors do see through your disguises, then you may not be able to leave Crystal Prep without the police having to get involved."
"Shouldn't the police be involved right now?" Rainbow Dash threw her arms out. "I mean, if they're using torture, mental reprogramming, violent threats, and other stuff to change students into Defectors, then shouldn't they all be arrested on the spot?"
"It's not as easy as you think, Rainbow Dash." Lemon Zest took off her headphones and put them away. Any sign of her being the carefree girl she usually was was long gone with her solemn frown. "That's almost forty percent of Crystal Prep that would have to be thrown into prison. If Chrysalis loses that many students, then she'll most likely lose her place as Principal on the spot. And that means..."
"The Defectors would win." Sunset scowled and tightened her hands into fists.
"As easy as it sounds, it would only get the board to bring someone else who could be just as bad, or even worse than Cinch ever was." Sour Sweet kicked the ground with the tips of her shoes before she gritted her teeth. "And I am not going back to that stupid dress code rule, let me tell you."
"Don't worry if you feel like you're walking blind." Twilight pulled out a laptop and put it down on the table in front of the Rainbooms. "I excelled in computing at Crystal Prep, as well as a number of other subjects, so I'll be able to watch every step you make." She pulled out six more earbuds from the bag, put them in the ears of her friends and herself, and turned on a switch. She then typed in some commands on the laptop, showing a digital map of the school, with six blinking dots that represented the Rainbooms. "There. Now we should be able to know where you are at all times, as well as hear everything you say and learn. If the Defectors start to chase you, we'll guide you to the closest escape."
"I wish we didn't have to sneak around like this," Fluttershy sighed.
"To tell you the truth, we don't want to do this either." Sugarcoat looked at the laptop. "But as long as the Defectors have bones to pick with the five of us, there's really no other way. It's awful, I know, but it's the only way we'll be able to know why they're fighting so hard, so that we can hopefully come up with a suitable compromise to end this."
"I still don't get why you came to us especially." Sunset Shimmer leaned back against the wall of the van that they had rented with their combined savings. "Aren't there other students at Crystal Prep that you could have asked for help?"
"They don't want to get caught up in the Defectors' business, so they tend to just pray that they don't cross paths with them," Indigo sighed. "It's kinda sad, really. None of your friends willing to help you, especially when you're against the entire school. It must make time at a high school really suck."
"Believe me, I know."
"Yeah. But we should be able to end this stupid fighting with you girls by our side."
"There's only one chance at trying to solve this little dispute, so there really has to be no mistakes whatsoever," Sunny Flare added. "If we lose control of the situation, Crystal Prep could be shut down, replaced with someone worse, or at the most, completely demolished without warning."
Shut down, replaced with someone worse, or completely demolished without warning... Sunset replayed that message in her head repeatedly. After the hundredth time, she finally returned to reality. "If we can't stop this, then not only would we lose Crystal Prep, but we could also lose the chance to patch things up between the students."
"That's not gonna happen, Sunset!" Rainbow Dash cracked her knuckles as she approached the cafeteria. "We need to stop the Defectors, even if we need to fight them trying!"
"But if we just fight them, it'll add fuel to the fire, and then we may never get the chance to fix this!" Sunset threw her arms out before she put them to her temples and groaned. "This is gonna be the hardest friendship problem in the history of this world!"
Applejack gently clutched Sunset's chest and felt her rapidly beating heart. "Take a deep breath, Sunset. You're just getting exaggerated because stopping the Changelings and the Defectors is a tall order," she said. "And that's perfectly fine. Sometimes, the bar is set pretty high, but as long as you believe that you can do it, then there's nothing to worry about."
"But what if we can't do it?" Sunset looked down at her feet. "I mean, the things we had to deal with at Canterlot High were also pretty big. The Fall Formal, the Dazzlings, the Anon-a-Miss incident, and the Friendship Games. But now we're dealing with restoring order to Crystal Prep—a school where only twenty-percent of the students are neutral, with all the others being locked in an endless loop of battle, profanities, and dominance," She sighed, then looked at her friends. "This has to be perfect. If one thing goes wrong, then the whole plan to save this school goes up in flames. And the worst part? We'd be letting down our new friends...
"And then there's the problem if the school gets shut down and/or demolished," she continued. "Every student that attended will have to relocate, including the girls who came to us for help. Their parents are going to be furious, and they may have to move to different states just to get an education that was somewhere on the level of this one." She was beginning to sweat vigorously. "If we fail to fix this problem, then everyone involved suffers. The Defectors lose their chance at a school run with discipline and order, the Changelings lose Chrysalis as she is forced to find another school, and the students will all need to find somewhere else to graduate. And it would all be our faults..."
"Sunset. We can hear everything you're saying, and it's obvious that you're stressed." Sugacoat's voice was distinguishable, despite it sounding slightly different from the speaker of the earbud. "If you don't feel like you can do this, we can arrange to have you pulled out of this plan and just have your friends blend in with the Defectors on their own," her voice was sweeter than usual. "You don't have to do anything that you don't want to, and we're definitely not forcing it on you."
"No, Sugarcoat," Sunset responded. "This has to be done, and I'm one-hundred-percent going to blend in as one of them."
"Are you sure?" Lemon Zest's voice came through next. "You kinda sound like you're really uncomfortable..."
"It's fine, Lemon. I'll be fine."
"For all of our sakes, we hope so..."
The cafeteria of Crystal Prep was still lively, with students all lining up to pay for whatever food that tickled their fancies. The Defectors had been the first served, and were already sitting on their mezzanine floor, eyeing up each and every student who stood in line, picked up their food, paid, and sat down.
Sunset Shimmer and the Rainbooms all walked into the cafeteria and instantly felt the decrease in temperature.. Despite the large number of students eating casually, it felt like she and her friends had all walked into a throne room, waiting for the king or queen to punish them for their crimes against the kingdom.
Rainbow Dash looked at the Defectors for a few seconds before she turned back and paid for her food with the rest of her friends. She shared glances with each of them before they walked up the stairs towards the uniformed students.
As they looked around, some of the students were quivering in fear as their gazes met. They hid under tables, braced themselves for a fight, or just got straight up and ran underneath the mezzanine for shelter.
"We're walking up the stairs towards the Defectors tables," Rainbow Dash whispered.
"Okay, I've got you on the screen." Twilight tapped away at her laptop, revealing the six dots going up the stairs towards the tables. Sugarcoat was analyzing the fire alarms on the school's blueprints whilst Sunny Flare and Sour Sweet were looking for the quickest way out of the school if the Defectors uncovered them.
"If this mission goes wrong, Indigo Zap and Lemon Zest are already standing by at two fire alarms," Sugarcoat spoke through the microphone on Twilight's headphones. "Just say Game Over, and we'll have them set them off. The noise will cripple the Defectors, giving you just enough time to get out of there and make your way towards the closest emergency exit."
"Thanks, Sugarcoat," Applejack's voice came through now.
"Remember, aggressive behaviour, the need to destroy the Changelings, and contempt for the common student at CPA," Sour Sweet's voice came out of the earbuds as the girls made it to the top of the stairs and were met with two Defectors. "That'll win them over so you can make them spill the beans."
"Hey!" A Defector with black hair approached the girls with a casual smile on his face. "Nice to meet you! My name's Neon Lights, and I'm so glad that you decided to join our cause in the fight against the Changelings." He shook hands with each of the Rainbooms before standing aside. "Take a seat, mingle with some of the others, and just have a good time," his voice turned venomous. "You're gonna need it for when those soldiers try to fight us again!"
"Geez, and I thought Sour Sweet had issues..." Sunny Flare spoke.
Sunset Shimmer and her friends eventually found a round table with a lone Defector eating with chopsticks. They quickly sat down at his table and slowly put their trays down.
"Who are you?" the Defector asked in an asian accent, raising his eyes from his food.
"Sunset Shimmer, Rainbow Dash, Pinkamena Diane Pie, Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy." Sunset pointed out each and every one of her friends. "We're here to join the Defectors."
"So, you're in for a slice of the pie too?" He smiled as he took a quick drink. "Yeah. You made the right choice, girls. The Defectors have never been stronger." He put his hands behind his head. "AV team, jocks, wimps. All of them turned into pure warriors who hate the Changelings and Principal Chrysalis with a burning passion. No-one else would dare to even touch us."
"Now, I don't mean to ask this, but we're new to this school," Applejack had difficulty getting the words out, but she swallowed and continued. "Just transferred this morning, and we noticed that it's either bully or be bullied, right?"
"Yeah. That's pretty much the long and short of it." He curled some more noodles around one of his chopsticks before picking it all up with the other. "Ever since our previous Principal, Abacus Cinch, was fired from the board on unreasonable terms, Chrysalis came to this school and said that she couldn't do as good as her, but she would try." His brows dropped. "In CPA, there is no try, only do. We knew from the moment she said those words that she was doomed to fail miserably. So naturally, it's only fair that one of us would cry out in saying that she's not up for the task."
"But why would they ever do that?" Fluttershy did her best to keep her voice as gravelly as possible, but she was speaking like she was the same girl she was underneath.
"Because Crystal Prep has a reputation, and it needs to stay upper-class and all kept in line for that reputation to remain pure and unscathed," the Defector said. "Without order, there is chaos, and chaos leads to laziness, stupidity, and utter failure. We must. Remain. Strict. That is the only way that Crystal Prep should work. It was, partially is, but always will be a harsh school where rule-breaking of any kind will not be tolerated, or forgiven."
"How did the rebellion with the Defectors start?" Pinkie Pie huffed, as if she didn't care about the question. "It's obvious that someone's been a little pouty since Chrysalis took over."
"Funny thing you should mention that, Pinkamena, because I was going to tell you anyway." The male took another sip of his drink and wiped his mouth before continuing. "It started with Blueblood. He was one of the best students in CPA, alongside that of Twilight Sparkle who left after the Friendship Games. He was the one who first fought back against Chrysalis's rules by defacing the entire lobby," he smirked. "You should have seen it for yourself. There was graffiti all over the walls and lockers. It said stuff like Down with casuality! or Take back the Crystal Prep ruled by Cinch! Something like that.
"Anyway. Blueblood inspired us to rise up and fight for our school," he went on. "He is a hero to all of our faction, and he has been appointed the king of the Defectors." He then showed off his pristine Crystal Prep uniform. "These uniforms here were given to us by the student-body president, Starlight Glimmer. She too believes in Blueblood's morals, and we made her the queen for her gracious contribution to our cause." He let out a content sigh as he put his hands behind his head. "Yeah. With those two ruling us, we're gonna win this battle with the Changelings.
"Anyway, I'm sure you're interested to know who I am after all of this time we've spend talking." He put his chopsticks down and walked over to shake hands with each of the Rainbooms. "My name is Red Letter, I'm an asian exchange student, and I'm a Defector until the end, much like everyone else here. But that's not the point now. What I want to know is of what benefit will you girls be to our cause?"
Rainbow Dash took a drink and stood up. "We've been trained in a number of martial arts, we know how to fight, and we'll be handy for when those Changeling jerks get the drop on you."
"We're also very persuasive," Fluttershy added.
"Loyal," Rarity chimed in.
"Mean when we have to be," Pinkie's voie remained gruff.
"Appalled with Chrysalis's regime," Applejack spoke up.
"And we want to help you defeat her and bring order back to Crystal Prep," Sunset lied last.
"I don't care about your loyalty, girls. I care about your experience." Red Letter took a bite of the prawn cracker that he had dipped into his food. "You might not know this, but the Defectors are a highly-regarded team. We don't just take stragglers." He then looked over to the far wall and waved his hand to another male. "Hey! Jet Set! Bring our new friends another round!"
"Just keep talking to him," Twilight said. "They've revealed that they want order, but there's gotta be more to it than that."
"On that subject, why do you want to defeat the Changelings and Chrysalis?" Applejack raised an eyebrow. "I mean, aside from proving that this is a proper school?"
"Well, it's also being fought to spite our former champions, the Shadow Six." Red Letter pulled out a picture of Sour Sweet, Sugarcoat, Lemon Zest, Sunny Flare, Indigo Zap, and Twilight; who was barely visible in the background. "They abandoned us the second that Chrysalis came into power. They could have been leading the charge to end this menace, but they shot us down instead!" He raised his voice. "But I think that given the large numbers we've amassed, it's better to watch those children suffer than to have them join us by asking or force. They know nothing of order and discipline, and will leave Crystal Prep before this battle is over. Only then will the school weaken, and we will be victorious!"
"Why would they hold this grudge?" Sour Sweet's voice came through all of the earbuds. "Keep him talking, girls. We need to get to the bottom of this ASAP."
"Why are you fighting those ruffians, Red Letter?" Rarity was the next to ask.
"Those girls were our best bet to win the Friendship Games." Red Letter watched as Jet Set put the drinks out, but accidentally spilled some on Pinkie Pie's side of the table. This in turn caused him to jerk his head and deliver a left hook to the other Defector, knocking him to the floor. "You stupid fool! You would dare soil the uniform of another Defector?!"
"Easy, easy, Red. We're not looking for trouble," Rainbow tried to quell him. "We just want to know why you hate the Shadow Six."
"The Shadow Six don't mean nothing to us anymore!" Red Letter snapped back at the girls. "Where were they when the games were over, Cinch got the boot, and the school took a turn for the worse?! Huh?!" He banged his fist on the table. However, after seeing that his guests were now shaking, he raised his arms and calmed down. "I'm sorry. It's just that it's been tough on all of us because they ditched us. We all want to win this fight, but without those six girls strengthening us, there's just no guarantee that we can."
"What makes them such a valuable asset?" Sunset asked.
"Sugarcoat and Twilight Sparkle had the brains, Sour Sweet and Indigo Zap had the brawn, Sunny Flare was one to give morale to our people, and Lemon Zest? Well, she's the only one who brought fun to this place..." He sighed and took a seat once again, taking a slower drink this time. "But things have changed now. The past is in the past. And I know that when you can't get who or what you want, you have to get someone or something on a level equal to the ones you couldn't have." He opened up a fortune cookie and pulled out the paper. "How ironic. It's what my fortune is as well." He put the paper down and ate the cookie part. "Alright. Let's see what you girls can do as Defectors. Maybe we can work something out."
"That's all we ask." Sunset shook Red Letter's hand.
"Is it now?" A female voice spoke up, causing the entire room to fall silent.
Two students approached the table with Red Letter and the Rainbooms. One of them was a male who had combed down blonde hair and white skin. The other one was female, and had purple hair with green stripes that split apart at the centre of her forehead, with a bun at the back that extended out into a ponytail. Both of them were wearing Defector clothing, but they also had a queen and king's crown resting on their heads.
"Queen Starlight! King Blueblood!" Red Letter jumped from his chair. "This is, uh... unexpected," he said sheepishly. "We didn't think that you would interact with other Defectors today."
"And we did not think that the Canterlot High Rainbooms would make one either." Blueblood shot a glare at Sunset Shimmer and her friends.
"Whoa, man. Whatever you think we might be here for, you're wrong." Sunset stood up and held her hands out in a harmless gesture. "We're just here to talk with your people, that's all."
"Talk with us? After what you fools pulled at the Friendship Games?!" Blueblood shouted. "It's all your fault that magic had to get involved, and that the games took an entirely different path than what had been predetermined!" he scowled. "You used magic, you caused Twilight to unleash it, and it was ultimately your meddling that got Principal Cinch fired, and for Chrysalis to take over this place. THIS CANNOT BE FORGIVEN!" He screamed at the top of his lungs as he got right in Sunset's face.
"Why would you assume it was our fault?" Fluttershy reverted to her timid state, knowing full well that their cover had been blown.
"Your track record alone is a clear sign that you are freaks of nature, girls," Starlight Glimmer took over for Blueblood. "You and your pony wings, pony ears, and pony tails that come out of your backs. It's safe to say that you're no ordinary girls, and that you've ultimately used this power to stop what was supposed to be another win, and to shatter our perfect streak!
"And on that note, do you think that we don't know what you're doing here?" Starlight clicked her fingers, causing every Defector on the mezzanine to stand up and surround the Rainbooms. "It's obvious that someone on CPA hired you to become spies so that you could extract information and feed it to the Changelings."
"You've been made, girls. What's the call?" Sugarcoat's voice came out of the earbuds as the Rainbooms were surrounded on all sides and were slowly losing space.
Pinkie Pie tensed up for a bit before her hair suddenly popped back into its usual bubbly style, causing the little hairclip to shoot out and hit a Defector in the eye, causing them to groan and stagger backwards for a bit. Finally, she threw up her hands and screamed "GAME OVER!"
"Game Over confirmed," Twilight said. "Indigo! Lemon! You're up!"
"What is that? What did you do?!" Blueblood had heard the earbuds and grabbed Pinkie Pie by the neck. He was just about to punch her when the fire alarms went off. It was so loud that he cried out in pain and released the pink girl to hold his ears shut, along with all of the other Crystal Prep students in the cafeteria.
As the Defectors all sprawled to the floor, Sunset and her friends walked all over them and nearly fell over in trying to get to the stairs. The girls eventually made it to the stairs and ran down towards the exit as fast as they could.
Starlight stumbled to get back up and watched as the Rainbooms ran for their lives. She turned back and shouted, "GET THEM!" but her voice was muted over the deafening sounds of the fire alarm. Scoffing, she pursued the girls herself, sliding down the banisters and rushing out of the cafeteria after the Canterlot High girls.
"Turn right here, girls," Twilight's voice could still be heard even over the tremendous ringing. "There's an emergency exit on the other side of the pool. Make your way out through there."
The Rainbooms all ran through the corridors of Crystal Prep and narrowly missed coming into contact with a number of students who were also suffering from the fire alarms. They felt sorry for them, but knew that if they stayed behind to help them, they would get caught.
"GET BACK HERE!" Starlight yelled, trying to make herself louder than the noise that echoed throughout the hallways.
Sunset looked back and saw that Starlight was effortlessly keeping up with them. She gritted her teeth and sprinted towards the pool door with her friends following close behind.
"Now watch yourself when you get in, girls." Twilight said as the dots on her screen neared the pool. "Make your way through the bleachers."
"Bleachers. Got it." Sunset barrelled herself through the pool door and nearly fell into the pool with her velocity. She made a sharp turn to the left, moving towards the purple chairs that stood on the edge of the pool deck.
They had no time to stop and admire the scenery as Starlight burst through the doors just as the fire alarm stopped. She followed the Rainbooms for every move they made and charged towards and across the bleachers in an attempt to stop the girls from getting away.
"Come on!" Sunset called back as they approached the emergency exit at the end of the room. She rammed into the bar poking out, releasing the latch on the door and throwing herself onto the grassy floor, with the other girls spilling out just as quickly.
She saw Starlight approaching from behind and waited until she got close. When it was enough, Sunset slammed the door on the girl's face the second she was in range. She heard a thud coming from the other side, indicating that Starlight had been hit in the face with it and was now lying unconscious.
"That was a close one." Indigo Zap and Lemon Zest approached the girls and offered them their hands. "Are you girls alright? Did they hurt you?"
"No, surprisingly." Sunset looked back at the door as she and her friends all left the premises. She couldn't help but wonder the emotions running through the mind of the girl who had almost caught them. "But I get the feeling that Starlight is going to retaliate from this..."
"Whatever she and Blueblood do, we've got what we came for." Lemon Zest put her headphones back on and played another of her favourite songs. "Guess this is what they call mission accomplished, huh?"
"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie leapt up and threw confetti everywhere, shouting, "Party at my house!"
As the Rainbooms and the Shadowbolts smiled at the thought of one of Pinkie Pie's parties, they quickly climbed in the van and drove away, leaving behind no trace that they were ever there in the first place.
Meanwhile, Starlight Glimmer got back up and looked outside. The girls she had been chasing had escaped and were now off Crystal Prep. She cursed herself and punched the door she had been hit by. When her rage subsided, she took a deep breath and pulled out a walkie-talkie.
"Blueblood, this is Starlight," she said. "The Rainbooms have escaped. Have Defectors patrol the hallways during lunch."
"Understood," Blueblood spoke. "But how will that strengthen our plan?"
"We need to move into phase two of our plan. They will come back, and when they do, we will personally see to it that their world crumbles, and that we take back the Crystal Prep that this world deserves!"
"Copy that, Queen Starlight." Blueblood's voice came through the device a little garbled. "In the meantime, what are our plans for the rest of the day? Are our little jobs still going to be on?"
"Yes. We need all of the Defectors we can get if we're going to break those fiends down. You may lead them into capturing the Archery Field and the Religious Education rooms."
"We finish this now." Starlight put her walkie-talkie away and returned to Crystal Prep with her hands behind her back. Her footsteps echoed across the pool room as she exited back into the hallways.