Chrysalis barely had time to relax before she was summoned. Just a few hours of peace amid her sprawling hive was all she wished after spending so much time vulnerable and away from her place of power. Silently, the Queen of the Changeling cursed Celestia as she entered the room built specifically to house the magic mirror she stole.
Celestia was already there, of course, along with both Tirek and Sombra. She knew what was happening before she even entered; her enhanced connection to her drones gave her impeccable awareness anywhere they went and there were many of her children buzzing around the high-roofed chamber.
Two scrolls, wrapped in cold white magic floated in front of Tirek and Sombra respectively. "Your assignments," Celestia stated as the pair grabbed the scrolls -- one in hand, the other in black, green flecked magic and unfurled them -- "I expect preliminary results once I return." The white alicorn glanced between the two, arching an imperious brow, "I trust that won't be a problem?"
Tirek frowned deeply as he read through the contents of the scroll. "I don't know if I can do what you ask," he finally said, cautiously.
Celestia smiled warmly (though Chrysalis noted that it still failed to reach her eyes) and nodded understandingly, "That is why I want you to practice. I have... contingencies should you fail." Everyone in the room got the impression that these 'contingencies' would be unpleasant and that failure wasn't to be tolerated. Tirek grunted and bowed his head.
"I will need test subjects," Sombra stated cautiously, lifting his eyes from the scroll, "As well as staff to produce a prototype. I assume you already have the requisite materials and tools?"
"Chrysalis will supply them," Celestia stated matter-of-factly, glancing over her shoulder as the changeling approached.
"I have procured a sampling of pure crystals and built an appropriate space for manufacture and testing," Chrysalis replied, struggling to keep the grudging tone from her voice, "Equipment is installed as well. As for test subjects... we have a handful of captured ponies in stasis. Most are nearly completely drained of love and so are no further use to us. You may have your choice of those." A sizable group of the buzzing drones suddenly descended and lined up behind the Changeling Queen. "Here are your staff," she stated, motioning to the drones, "You will find they take instruction well, as long as you are clear and precise in your direction. They will guide you to the area in question."
Sombra bowed his head and strode off to the group of changelings, following behind his drones as they led him further into the Hive. Tirek wandered off as well. Chrysalis knew the route he was going; he was heading towards his private quarters. Chrysalis turned to watch Celestia as the white alicorn brought forth a thick magic tome from her saddlebags, settling it in a notch that connected a whirling, sparking contraption to the magic mirror. Instantly, indicator lights on the front of the device began to flash as the image in the mirror swirled and shimmered, revealing the hazy image of a relatively mundane, blocky white building beyond.
"What... is this place?" Chrysalis asked, trotting forward and peering into the image, "It is no place in Equestria I recognize."
"It's not in Equestria," Celestia replied, a small, cold smile on her features, "It's an entirely other world. A place where Starswirl the Bearded would sometimes throw beings too dangerous to be allowed to remain here. Beings that even Tartarus could not hold."
A strange, awkward bipedal creature ran up a series of steps and opened large doors that provided entry into the building. Chrysalis wrinkled her nose in mild distaste, "What was that? It's too thin and ropey to be a minotaur."
"They're called 'humans'," Celestia stated, watching the scene curiously, "Omnivorous bipeds. You'd be surprised how similar they are to ponies in many aspects." She chuckled softly then motioned a hoof forward, "After you, Chrysalis."
Chrysalis blinked, taking a step back, "W-what?"
"Enter the mirror," Celestia said levelly, "We are going to this world."
The changeling Queen's jaw dropped, "You can't be serious!" Celestia continued staring levelly at her. "You are serious." Chrysalis frowned deeply then buzzed her wings rapidly, "I don't know if I can imitate those... things. We would be instantly exposed!"
Celestia's mirthless smile returned, "Have faith in the workings of Starswirl."
With a gasp, Chrysalis tumbled out of the portal, ending up in an undignified heap of gangly limbs. The trip hadn't been... unpleasant, exactly... but she could tell that her form was being altered by magics inherent in the portal. Instinctively, she had tried to resist the change, but quickly found that the portal intended to keep her stuck in the limbo between worlds until she acquiesced.
Now sprawled beneath a statue of a rearing pony (or perhaps one of their larger cousins), Chrysalis tried to shift her form again, just to test that everything was working.
To her mounting horror, Chrysalis discovered that her ability to shift was completely immobilized. Not gone -- she could still feel the magic inside her -- but it was distant and weak. She was stuck in one form!
Reeling from that realization, another followed quickly on its heel: she could barely feel her Hive any more. Again, they were there in the back of her mind, but the enhanced sense she enjoyed since donning that horrible Element of Tyranny was gone -- reduced to a level far below she enjoyed even before being given that cursed bit of jewelry.
Horror turned to panic and Chrysalis began to detangle herself and tried to stand, only to discover the world vaunting upwards far more than it should have. It took her hysterical mind a moment to process that she was actually standing on her hind hooves -- no, not hooves, something else; weird little flat platforms that jutted out awkwardly from where hooves should be -- and that her hind legs were longer than her forelegs. More to the point, the ends of her forelegs how housed bizarre, five fingered hands -- a truly alien configuration, considering even minotaurs only had four. What could one possibly use an extra finger for?! Especially one so tiny and weak compared to the others?
Concentrating on the phenotypical alterations calmed her mind and slowed her thoughts as she tested the dexterity of the five fingers, wiggling them on each hand as she stared with a mix of grimacing revulsion and wide-eyed fascination.
Taking a shuddering breath and looking down more critically at herself, the changeling queen noted that she was also wearing clothing. This was especially strange as she wasn't wearing any when she went through the portal -- no doubt another magical effect of the portal supplied by Starswirl. The clothing itself was... odd. She wore a dark green t-shirt that barely made its way down her midriff and over top that was a fine black mesh that reached down to her elbow. Dark green hose covered her legs, pockmarked with holes that showed the lighter green skin underneath. A miniskirt of a lighter green was worn around her waist, and large, chunky black boots with raised heels were worn over her feet.
At least the color scheme was good.
Of note was a seeming lack of her Element of Tyranny. Chrysalis grinned broadly as she ran a hand along her torso, searching for any sign of it, only to feel a hard tell-tale bump around her mid-section. Her grin immediately fell and the now humanoid changeling lifted up her shirt and discovered the changeling-shaped jewel implanted just above her belly button. Of course. With a sigh, Chrysalis dropped her shirt and ran a hand through her dark green hair... only to stop short.
Her horn. Her horn was gone!
She stumbled forward (noting with some surprise that walking was not as much of a chore as she suspected it to be) and looked over her shoulders. Wings, too, were absent!
The panic from before threatened to reassert itself when the marble platform holding the equine statue rippled and out stepped Celestia. Or, at least, Chrysalis assumed it was Celestia.
She was also humanoid now, and wearing clothes. Her tell-tale rainbow mane hung lifelessly around her, though, lacking any of the natural movement it normally had. She was still pale, and still towered over Chrysalis, though her wings and horn had also disappeared. She wore a cream colored pantsuit with an open collar, white flats covering her feet. The Alicorn Amulet still hung around her neck, the blood red of the inset jewel peeking out from the open collar. Clenched in one hand was a small satchel. Celestia looked over herself with mild distaste. "Interesting," she said dryly.
"I've been mutilated," Chrysalis stated acidly to Celestia, "You had better know how to reverse this, Princess, or so help me I'll--"
"You'll what?" Celestia sharply asked, cutting the changeling off with a narrow-eyed glare. Chrysalis held the gaze for a moment before looking away, jaw set and hands clenching. The white alicorn -- human now -- clucked her tongue softly, "I know this is a bit scary, especially for someone like you who is used to being able to change forms at will, but there is no need for alarm. Once we return through the portal everything will return to how it was."
Chrysalis grunted, folding her arms over her chest but still not looking at her companion, "Why are we even here, anyway?"
"We are picking up a few things," Celestia remarked airily as she closed her eyes. She remained silent for several moments until the jewel in the Alicorn Amulet began to glow. It only lasted for a few seconds before fading, Celestia opening her eyes and nodding twice. "It is a bit harder to access here, but it does work," she noted with approval before turning and walking down the street, "Our quarry is this way, Chrysalis."
Frowning deeply, Chrysalis followed along, though she couldn't help but look back at the portal they left behind.
Adagio sat slumped on the corner by the Fiesta Taco Hut, her face buried in her hands. Her two former partners in crime -- now partners in life and employment -- were nearby, munching on the discount food from their work.
"Are you gonna eat that?" Sonata asked, her mouth still half-full of burrito, pointing at the abandoned platter next to Adagio. The orange haired Siren lifted her head to peer balefully at her sprightly companion before sighing heavily and shoving the try towards her. "Have at it," she mumbled before returning to her self-pitying brood.
Not for the first time, Adagio wondered to herself what had gone wrong in her life. Being trapped in a magically-poor world was bad enough, but now she and the others banished here were without any access to magic. With that meant having to sustain themselves on actual food as opposed to conflict and negative emotions. Not only that, but she was pretty sure that they would age now as well -- so much for immortality.
It was small consolation that when they had infiltrated Canterlot High School that Adagio had the forethought to acquire legitimate identification. With their powers it hadn't been too difficult; just entrancing some minor bureaucrat in the government and moving up the chain until their records could be inserted into the government machine like they had always been there. At the time, the others had thought it a pointless waste of their abilities (and, secretly, Adagio almost believed that herself), but the possibility that someone might notice that the three didn't technically exist and use that against them before their plans could come to fruition had to be accounted for.
So after their humiliating defeat at the hands of the Rainbooms, at least the three sirens had the requisite records to rent an apartment (before, they had simply charmed their way into homes whenever they needed it) and get jobs. Not good jobs, of course -- their records stated they were high-school students after all -- but enough that the three of them working together could just barely afford the low-rent apartment and occasionally food. Usually only the food available at their place of work because of the employee discount.
Again, Adagio looked up from her misery and glared at her two companions. Both were clad in the same stupid red-and-yellow striped uniform that she was. Aria was just sullenly eating her lunch -- she actually hadn't talked much since their defeat, barely even sniping at Sonata. It was like the fire in her had been completely snuffed out. Sonata dealt with the circumstances the best out of all of them; she had whined and cried (sobbed, really) for a good three days after their harmony gems had shattered, but had bounced back after they got their jobs better than any of them. It astounded and annoyed Adagio how oblivious yet flexible Sonata could be. Did she even realize just how terrible their lives were now? Adagio honestly wasn't sure.
Adagio didn't cry. She never cried. It was a sign of weakness, and one she particularly despised. Still, the depressing future she could see stretching out before her did test her fortitude a bit. She barely noticed when a pair of shadows loomed over the trio.
Someone cleared their throat and, with an effort, Adagio lifted her head to peer blearily at the owner.
She immediately wished she hadn't.
"Principal Celestia," she hissed in displeasure before her eyes shifted over to a younger human -- likely another student at Canterlot High, but one Adagio didn't recognize -- standing beside the tall administrator.
Aria merely glared at the pair, but remained silent and sullen. Sonata seemed entirely unperturbed by the presence of the two new people, instead regarding the pair curiously as she continued to graze on her lunch from the Taco Hut.
Celestia raised a thin eyebrow and gazed imperiously down at the trio, eventually focusing on Adagio. "Princess Celestia," she corrected, earning a somewhat less muted reaction from Aria whose eyes actually widened in surprise.
"Princess...?" Adagio asked, frowning faintly before her expression turned suspicious, "You're Celestia from Equestria? And you've come here, to this magic-forsaken pit... why? To talk to us?" She snorted derisively, waving a hand, "You can save the chat about friendship, Princess. We've heard it before and it's just as empty now as it was then."
"I haven't come here to sell you on friendship," Celestia stated with surprising gentleness, "I'm actually here to recruit you and offer you a chance to return home." A smile spread on her features and Adagio felt it seemed... off... but couldn't quite put her finger on why, "With some new powers for the bargain."
Adagio saw a hopeful glimmer in Aria's eyes at the offer, and heard the excited squeal from Sonata; she, however, was less than convinced. Another derisive snort burst from the orange-haired siren, "Yeah, right. And let me guess, we only have to give in to the power of friendship and harmony, be 'reformed' and be good little sirens?"
"On the contrary," Celestia retorted, "I expect you to be nothing more than what you are. No need for friendship."
Adagio was still suspicious, but before she could say something sarcastic, Aria had jumped up and approached the alicorn-in-human form. "For real?" she asked, her voice cautious but full of desperate hope (another thing which disgusted Adagio), "You'll give us back our powers and let us come home?"
"I'll give you something better than your powers," Celestia replied, another smile gracing her features -- though, again, there was something wrong with it, "You'll be even more powerful than before."
"It sounds too good to be true," Adagio stated, still suspicious. She had been with the other two for long enough to realize that Aria was near folding anyway. Sonata, surprisingly, seemed much more guarded as she continued to eat her meal.
"Possibly it is," Celestia stated with a shrug, "But what is the alternative? Are you really happy here, bereft of power, forced to debase yourself with food preparation when you should be entrancing minds?"
"Hey!" Sonata suddenly piped up, waving her half-eaten burrito, "Being a Taco Technician is a perfectly viable career choice!"
"Shut up, Sonata," Aria growled out, "You may want to spend your life face-deep in meat, but I want something more." The purple haired siren looked to Celestia, "What do I have to do?"
Celestia smiled -- and again Adagio couldn't shake the feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with it -- and set a satchel down. With a few deft motions, she unhitched the latches and opened it, revealing three jewels placed protectively in black foam. She plucked a blood red, heart shaped jewel from its nestled position and held it out for Aria, "I, Princess Celestia, present to you, Aria Blaze, the Element of Tyranny: Devotion."
"Aria," Adagio said, warningly. She didn't like this at all. But she wasn't going to stop the purple-haired siren, either; Adagio was curious as to what the jewel would do, if anything. She had no problem with Aria being the canary in the mine shaft.
Aria did hesitate briefly, gnawing on her lower lip before she finally snatched the jewel from Celestia's grasp. For a beat, nothing happened, then the jewel began to glow brightly in her hand and Aria gasped, stumbling backwards. The glow intensified until it encompassed her entire body, flaring brightly for a moment before fading away again. The heart jewel was now implanted in her skin like a piercing at the hollow of her throat and thrummed with obvious power; surprisingly, no one but their little group seemed to have noticed. Aria gasped and looked around with wide eyes. "Oh, wow," she breathed, "That is amazing. She isn't lying; this is much better than our harmony necklaces." Her eyes settled on a couple seated away from the Taco Hut on a bench, staring into each other's eyes,"I can... I can sort of feel their devotion to each other. It's dim, but it is there."
"You can do far more than that," Celestia said with amusement, "Why don't you try it out on them?"
"Try what out?"
Celestia grinned, and suddenly Adagio realized what was so strange about Celestia's smiles -- they were lacking in warmth and predatory. "Anything you want."
Aria paused, canting her head curiously at Celestia before turning and moving over to the couple. Adagio watched with shrewd curiosity as she spoke with the couple, her hands idly running along the cheeks and chins of both the male and the female. She couldn't hear what was spoken, but by the flushed faces of the couple and the love-lights shining in both their eyes, Adagio could guess that she was entrancing them -- on her own, without singing. Just by talking. The young man reached into his pocket and fumbled with a wallet before handing over a large wad of cash. The young woman squirmed in place, reaching out to paw at the siren. Aria snatched the cash and gave a wink to the pair before turning and walking away, smug, satisfied smile on her features.
"It's never been that easy," Aria stated with a laugh once back in speaking distance with the group, "Even when we had the harmony gems, it was never that easy!"
"Blind, mindless devotion," the green, younger companion to Celestia suddenly spoke with a hint of dismissal in her voice, "Hardly very tasty. It will fade... look, it's fading already." True enough, a look at the couple suddenly had them look confused then at each other with shock mixed with disdain. They shuffled away from each other in a huff.
"I didn't even feel any magic being used," Aria continued, heedless of the green girl's deep frown, "It was effortless!"
"Good," Celestia purred before turning to Adagio, canting her head to one side, "And what say you? Are you willing to also join? Or do I find someone to replace you and let you get back to your life? Such as it is."
Adagio flinched and frowned, peering down at her wretched uniform. She couldn't stay like this. She couldn't! Even if it was ultimately a trick, even if it was ultimately some sort of cruel joke... she had to take the chance. Anything was better than this half-life she now lived. She deserved to be served by multitudes! Her face set and she nodded, looking to Celestia, "All right. You have a deal, Princess."
"Excellent," Celestia stated, nodding again and plucking another jewel from the case, this one a deep purple arrowhead-shaped gem and presenting it to the orange-haired siren, "I, Princess Celestia, present to you, Adagio Dazzle, the Element of Tyranny: Ambition." Her path now set, Adagio didn't hesitate, she took the gem.
Again, there was a pause before her body was consumed in purple fire. She gasped and arched her body as the burning pain ran through her. In an instant, though, it was gone, replaced with a different sensation. Adagio couldn't quite place it at first, but then she saw once she concentrated: a mass spectral spider-web of lines connecting people and things. She knew, instinctively, that this web of opportunity could be plucked and severed at will -- and she could get anything she wanted. Anything at all. A maniacal laugh rose from the orange-haired siren, her face splitting into an all-too-wide grin. "Amazing!"
"I'm glad you approve," Celestia stated with a small smile and nod.
"Ooh, ooh, me next!" Sonata stood up and waved her arms at Celestia before reaching into the case. She let out a yelp and yanked back her hand as Celestia closed the satchel. "Hey! What gives?"
"This is not for you," Celestia snapped, turning and motioning to Adagio and Aria, "And you're not coming with us."
"What?!" Sonata exclaimed, looking wildly between all four of the others, "I'm not?!"
"No," Celestia stated flatly as she began to walk away, "I only want those two."
Tears welled up in Sonata's eyes as she watched Aria and Adagio look to each other, shrug, then fall in step behind Celestia. They only got a few steps before the blue pony-tailed siren launched herself at her two companions, wrapping an arm around on of each of their legs. "You can't leave me!" she whined, tears spilling out from her eyes, "What about the rent? What about our jobs? What about the Netflix account we share?! We've always been together! We'll always be together!"
Anger flashed in Adagio's eyes as she saw her former companion begin to cry and she roughly kicked Sonata away from her. "Not anymore," she stated icily before turning and hurrying after Celestia and her companion.
Aria hesitated a bit more before a nasty smile crossed her features and she, too, kicked Sonata away. "Think of it this way," she said with a mean-spirited chortle, "Now you can have all the discounts to yourself."
Sonata reached a hand after the retreating group, tears spilling freely and staining her work uniform.
"Stay here and guard the portal," Celestia ordered once the group had once more returned to the statue outside Canterlot High, "I have business inside."
"Inside there?" Aria asked, pointing to the school edifice with more than a little hostility, "What do you need in there?"
"The final component," Celestia replied musingly, looking to the three others, "Stay here and keep everypony away from that portal." She turned and quickly walked up the steps and inside the school.
Several minutes passed in awkward silence while the two sirens and one changeling loitered around the statue. "So, what's up with you?" Aria suddenly asked of Chrysalis, "Why are you here... uh..."
"Chrysalis," the changeling replied flatly, "Queen Chrysalis."
"Oh, a queen," Aria stated sarcastically, "Color me impressed."
Chrysalis narrowed her eyes and glared at the siren, but said nothing more.
"You're a pony?" Adagio asked cautiously.
"I'm a changeling," Chrysalis informed them, again in flat tone.
"One of those emotivores?" Adagio asked in mild surprise. Chrysalis merely grunted in reply, her eyes focused on the doors to the high school.
"That's a stupid name," Aria said. Chrysalis' hands clenched at her sides and she desperately wished Celestia would hurry up.
Derpy sat slumped in one of the chairs set outside Principal Celestia's office and sighed. She didn't mean for all those trays in the lunch room to somehow end up on floor... and the ceiling... and embedded in the walls. She just didn't know what went wrong! It seemed so unfair to blame her for it. The wall-eyed girl tensed as she saw Principal Celestia stride up the hallway; it was time.
"Principal Celestia," Derpy said by way of greeting, "I know that you must think... I... am..." The blonde girl blinked as the Principal ignored her and walked on by, turning a corner and heading off. Confusion settled on her features and she frowned faintly when the door to the Principal's Office opened, revealing Celestia there. "Ms. Doo," she said with an incline of her head, "I'm ready for you now. Please come in."
Derpy blinked, looking from the Principal to the hallway and back. "Wow!" she suddenly gushed, smiling brightly, "I didn't know you were a magician, Principal Celestia! I'm sure even Trixie would be impressed with that!"
Principal Celestia stared at the wall-eyed girl in complete bafflement.
Sunset Shimmer let her fingers deftly move along the length of the guitar, the notes she produced mixing with those of her friends. It was good to take a break from trying to figure out how exactly magic worked in this new world; it was different than in Equestria, that much was certain, and somewhat unpredictable. A part of her longed for the precision and control she had back in her homeland, rather than the wild nature of magic here -- here, where it seemed to defy investigation just to test her.
The set ended and Rainbow Dash let out a whoop of elation. They hadn't "ponied up" during this particular practice -- yet another vexing unpredictability about the magic she studied here -- but the music still flowed fairly well. It amazed her how adaptable these humans could be; just a scant few weeks ago none of them had even believed magic was real. Now the whole school not only knew it existed and experienced it first hand, but took it in stride. She remembered when she first got to this strange world how long it took her to adjust to the weird technological contrivances that mimicked many magical functions.
"That was great, girls!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, raising a fist in triumph, "But we all gotta remember to keep practicing. Especially you, Sunset. Since you're, y'know, new to the whole guitar thing."
Sunset Shimmer couldn't help but smirk. Technically it was true, but she was reasonably certain she was better at the guitar than Rainbow. She'd just never admit it. "You got it, Dash."
"So, um," Fluttershy's soft voice said, "Have you heard back from Twilight about the, um, magic stuff yet?"
Sunset Shimmer frowned and sighed. "Not yet," she said, "But Twilight is a Princess, so probably is really busy." The flamed-haired pony-turned-girl smiled with a confidence she honestly didn't feel, "But don't worry. I'll figure it out. It's just taking a little longer than I first thought, that's all."
"Darn tootin', sugarcube," Applejack said with an encouraging nod, adjusting her stetson, "We all know you'll get this whole magic thing licked." Sunset smiled at her friend, appreciative of the confidence in her.
"Speaking of magic," Rarity said with a lilt, "I know it's been a few weeks but... should we really just let those ghastly Dazzlings go? They could still be dangerous."
"No, I think they're entirely harmless now," Sunset said before pausing and adding, "Mostly harmless, anyway."
"That's right!" Pinkie Pie piped up, idly twirling a drumstick in one hand, "I told you all that they're working at the Taco Hut downtown. Now their only crimes will be against good food!"
"I thought you liked the Taco Hut," Applejack asked, looking sidelong at the puffy haired pink drummer.
"Oh yeah!" Pinkie Pie stated, smiling brilliantly and giggling.
"Besides which," Sunset stated with a shrug, "What are we supposed to even do with them? It's not like we can go to the authorities and say that they're emotion manipulating sirens from another world, right? The only other thing we could do is send them through the portal, but then they'll have their powers back. Even with warning Princess Twilight and having a contingent of guards waiting to take them to Tartarus, I'm not sure it would be enough. The whole reason they were sent to this world was to limit them after all -- they were that dangerous that Equestria couldn't contain them. It's probably best if they remain trapped here."
"That doesn't make me feel any better," Fluttershy murmured.
"Yeah, no kidding," Rainbow Dash agreed with a grimace, "If they're that powerful, it's kinda uncomfortable to have them handling burritos down the street."
Sunset sighed, reaching up to run a hand through her hair, "It might not be the perfect solution, but it's the best we have for now. We'll keep monitoring them and if they get up to something shady... well, we can deal with it then."
"Hey!" Pinkie Pie suddenly said, pointing a drumstick at Sunset, "I just now realized! Your hair looks a lot like ketchup and mustard!" She giggled. "I bet we could call you 'condiment head'!"
All the other Rainbooms just stared blankly at Pinkie in silence. "I'd... really rather you not," Sunset said slowly.
"Oh, okay," Pinkie replied with a shrug, suddenly busying herself with tapping out a rhythm on her drum set.
"... Be that as it may," Applejack said, slowly getting the train of conversation back on track after the sudden derailment, "Maybe you can figure out a more permanent solution once you understand all our magic."
"Yeah," Sunset replied, a tight smile on her features, "Once."
Any further conversation was cut off by the door to the practice room opening and Principal Celestia entering. She stood before the Rainbooms for a moment before offering a smile and moving towards Sunset.
"Principal Celestia!" Sunset greeted the tall woman as she rolled the guitar off her shoulders, "I wasn't expecting you today. I know you and Vice-Principal Luna want more information on how magic works, but--"
The woman held up a hand, "Be at peace, Sunset Shimmer. I am not your beloved principal."
The Rainbooms exchanged confused looks.
The pale woman smiled more widely, "Oh, come now, Sunset Shimmer. Surely you have not forgotten your once and future teacher after all this time?"
Sunset's eyes widened in realization. "P... Princess Celestia?" she asked in a hushed voice.
"In the flesh," the transformed alicorn Princess replied with a bow of her head, still smiling, "I am very pleased with your progress, my faithful student. I have come to retrieve you and bestow upon you one of the Elements. Specifically, the Element of Magic. It is time for you to come home."
Sunset was shocked into silence. It took her several beats before she responded. "B-but... what about Twilight?"
"Princess Twilight has other duties to perform now," Celestia stated airily, "I have chosen you as the new Element of Magic."
"Wow!" Pinkie exclaimed, jumping up from her drumset, "Congratulations, Sunset!"
"Indeed, darling," Rarity said, smiling, "Congratulations."
Still somewhat stunned, Sunset looked over her shoulder at her human friends then slowly turned back to Celestia. This was everything she wanted when she first came to the human world. Could this really be happening?
Celestia glanced over at her friends, her expression turning cold and imperious for a moment -- a fact that caused Sunset to crinkle her brow faintly when she noticed -- before returning to its normal beatific smile. "Ahh, and you must be the... Rainbooms, yes? Humanoid copies of the Elements of Harmony on this world."
"Hey!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, mild offense in her voice, "We're not 'copies'! We're our own people!"
Celestia stared at the rainbow haired blue girl for a moment before smiling and nodding curtly, "Of course." She lifted a small satchel and set it on a counter nearby, opening it and bringing out a deep magenta gem, shaped like a starburst. She held it up and offered it to Sunset, "I, Princess Celestia, do ordain you, Sunset Shimmer, the Element of Magic." Celestia smiled again, "You need only take it."
With a look of wonder on her features, Sunset reached out for the gem... then hesitated. Her brows furrowed again as her mind raced. Something... something wasn't right. This was everything she ever wanted. But to have it fall right on her lap like this... the flamed haired girl looked over her shoulder at her friends, who were all looking on with a mix of sadness and pride. They knew that if she accepted this, she would be leaving probably forever. Yet none of them wanted to stop her. They had congratulated her on this achievement.
But was it an achievement? It didn't feel like it. In the past few weeks, Sunset had learned that she still had a lot of learning to do. This seemed... wrong. Like a shortcut. Like the shortcut she took back then, to try and force Princess Celestia to accept her.
No. No, this was wrong. She didn't feel ready. She couldn't go back to Equestria and abandon her friends -- especially with potentially more dangerous magic awakening in this world. She wasn't even sure she wanted to go back to Equestria.
Sunset let her hand fall and took a step back, smiling apologetically at her former mentor. "I'm sorry, Princess Celestia," she said with a shake of her head, "I... I don't feel like I can accept this honor. I'm sorry."
Celestia's smile faded to be replaced with a blank look, though Sunset could see the anger begin to well in her eyes. "You... refuse the power I'm offering you, Sunset Shimmer?" she said, voice quiet.
Sunset frowned. Something was even more wrong with this than just abandoning her friends. She had seen Celestia angry before, but never like this. Not this... cold, fury. And certainly not for a simple refusal of responsibility that somepony felt they weren't ready for. And the smile she had previously... Sunset hadn't noticed at the time, but there was something off about it, like it didn't reach her eyes. Narrowing her eyes, the flamed haired girl peered more closely at Celestia... and she noticed it. There it was, nestled at her throat: the Alicorn Amulet.
Sunset had tried to track it down long ago before she had left Celestia's charge, before she had found the portal. She was looking for something to prove to her mentor that she was the best, the most worthy, the most talented of her students. The Alicorn Amulet seemed like the thing, but as she researched it she had realized it was not what she needed. She wanted acceptance from her mentor and acknowledgement of her abilities; the Alicorn Amulet was an artifact of dark magic that twisted the mentality of the bearer. It would not have given her what she wanted, so she abandoned that avenue of research.
"Princess Celestia," Sunset said, taking another step back, interposing herself between the transformed alicorn and her friends, "I think... I think you should go now." Her mind raced; would the Amulet work here in this world? Did it still amplify magic abilities? What would it do to somepony who was an Alicorn already? She needed to warn Princess Twilight -- her journal was in her bag, on the floor at the other end of the room, but it might as well be on the moon for all the good it did right at this moment.
The cold fury that Sunset saw in Celestia's eyes grew as the princess narrowed her eyes at her fellow transformed pony. "Unfortunately for you," she said softly, though the voice was hard and lacked any warmth, "I cannot allow you to refuse. Finding another bearer would disrupt my time table too much. You must take the Element and return with me."
"No!" Sunset retorted, setting her jaw, "I'm not going to do that!"
"Sugarcube, what's going on?" Applejack's worried voice sounded from behind, but Sunset didn't look back. Cold sweat began to percolate on her brow, but she kept her eyes focused on her former mentor.
"You will accept the Element!" Celestia roared, all mask of civility ripping away as she took a step forward.
"I will not!" Sunset shouted back and made a dive for her guitar. If she could just tap into the magic she felt when the Rainbooms had defeated the Dazzlings -- even a small fraction -- then maybe she could force this corrupted vision of her teacher to back off, at least long enough to warn Princess Twilight and organize a greater defense.
"Sunset Shimmer!" Celestia exclaimed, still holding out the jewel, "You will obey me! Obey!"
"NO!" Sunset screamed back, lifting the guitar and beginning to play. She was desperate. Magic in this world had proven to be maddeningly unpredictable, but it just had to work this time. It had to! Sunset grimaced and closed her eyes as her hands worked along the instrument, strumming out a tune. She felt the first, faint stirrings of magic -- yes! It was working! Now she just had to--
"Sunset Shimmer," it was Celestia's voice again, calmer now, but imperious, "Open your eyes. Look behind you."
Sunset ignored her old teacher, instead concentrating on building up the magic. Almost there. Almost enough to release...
"Look, Sunset Shimmer," again Celestia's voice, "Look at your friends."
Against her own judgment, Sunset opened her eyes and chanced a look at her friends. She knew it was a foolish thing to do, that she should just continue to play without distraction, but she couldn't help it. She had to know, she had to see.
And what was there caused her to gasp and the notes on her guitar to falter.
All of her friends were floating, encased in harsh white glows. Rainbow Dash flailed in the magical grasp like a puppet, but the others seemed too surprised to do much more than float there. Sunset whirled around to look at Celestia, the transformed alicorn standing impassively in front of her, the Alicorn Amulet glowing a dull red.
"If you resist me," she said, voice quiet again, but still hard and unyielding, "They will die. Before the end, they will know pain. And they will know fear. And then they will die." The glow from the Amulet brightened and Sunset heard a sound like crackling electricity and then the gasps and screams of her friends in pain.
Sunset's hands were still moving along the guitar, gathering power. She licked her lips, trying to calculate how much power she could deliver in one blow. Would it be enough? If she failed... would her friends pay the price? ... Would this corrupted Celestia kill them before she the magic could reach her? The doubts began to coalesce in her mind and her playing fumbled, the magic began to slip away. Before long it sputtered and died.
Sunset stopped playing. Celestia smiled coldly and again lifted the gem. "Take it. Accept being the Element of Magic." Sunset took a hesitant step forward, then another. She lifted a hand and let it hover over the jewel. "If I take this," she said, "You promise to release my friends and cause no more harm here?"
"I give you my word," Celestia replied, bowing her head curtly, "They will be released after we return to Equestria."
"Don't do it, Sunset!" Rainbow Dash called out, still flailing in midair.
"Yeah," Pinkie joined in, "Anyone that mean isn't going to abide by a promise. Even a Pinke Pie promise!"
"Don't worry about us, sugarcube," Applejack called out, "A little pain never hurt nobody."
"And, really, that jewelry she is wearing is so gauche," Rarity piped up, "Can you really trust someone with such abysmal taste?"
Fluttershy whimpered softly then spoke, "I-I'm sure we'll, uhm, b-be okay..."
"Quiet!" Celestia ordered, the glow from the amulet brightening again and causing another chorus of tormented screams to erupt from the Rainbooms. The alicorn princess turned her eyes back to Sunset, "Last chance. Take the Element."
Sunset Shimmer bit her lower lip and took one more glance behind her at her friends. With a sigh, she squared her shoulders and set her features, clamping her fingers around the magenta starburst gem. Sunset gasped as she felt her entire form begin to burn -- and it was then she recognized the feeling. It was the same as back then, when she took the crown from Twilight; she heard the whispering voices in the dark, the entreaties to power and satiating desires, the cloying promises.
It was dark magic, undoubtedly.
But she had been privy to this before and she shielded her mind from it, pulled away from the corrupted whispers and promises of revealed secrets. She knew what path accepting those things led, and she wanted no part of it.
In a flash, the whole experience was over, Sunset stumbling and having to grasp a music stand for support. With an effort, the flamed haired girl straightened up, her body still trembling and took a deep breath. It was then she noticed the starburst gem implanted in her chest.
Celestia was staring at her with a faint frown. "This wasn't like the others," she muttered to herself, "But it will do for now." Celestia retrieved the now empty satchel, setting the latches in place and turned towards the door, "Come, Sunset. I grow weary of this form and this place."
Sunset Shimmer cast one last look over her shoulder at her still-floating friends, grabbed her backpack from the ground and hurried after her mad mentor.
Chrysalis found herself growing increasingly irritated at her two companions. The purple haired one -- Aria -- was especially vexing. She seemed to take perverse pleasure in needling others. Ordinarily, Chrysalis wouldn't have cared; in fact, she rather liked a good gloat over helpless victims herself. The difference here was that Aria's barbs were directed at her and they were nominally allies.
Chrysalis made a mental note to use Aria as a test case to see if her drones could injure one of the Elements of Tyranny even if she could not.
Again, Chrysalis wasn't sure why Celestia had even brought her to this bizarre place. She wasn't needed for the 'recruitment' of Adagio and Aria, nor for whatever Celestia had gone to retrieve in the building. More than ever, Chrysalis suspected that Celestia was trying to keep her isolated away from her brood. That, in itself, was interesting.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the door to the school opening and Celestia exiting, being followed closely by a girl with flame red and yellow hair. She didn't look particularly happy to be there, either. Chrysalis narrowed her eyes, observing the girl.
"What is she doing here?" Adagio and Aria asked in unison as Celestia and her companion approached.
"You guys," the girl said flatly as she regarded the pair with equal disdain. The fact that she didn't like the two sirens instantly made her better in Chrysalis' book.
"May I present Sunset Shimmer," Celestia said by way of introduction, "My former student and now the Element of Magic." Celestia motioned to the three others, "You already know Adagio and Aria; they are the Elements of Ambition and Devotion, respectively. And this is Queen Chrysalis. She is the Element of Intrigue."
Sunset frowned, canting her head to one side, "Those aren't the Elements of Harmony."
"Correct, my faithful student," Celestia stated with a small smirk, "They are the Elements of Tyranny."
Chrysalis still had to stifle a laugh at the ridiculous name. Sunset, however, didn't find it funny; she regarded her former teacher with horror, "You... you corrupted the Elements of Harmony?"
"I perfected them," Celestia replied with a faint frown, "They are far more powerful tools than they used to be. Far more in service of order and control."
"Harmony cannot be forced on ponies," Sunset said, her voice sounding somewhat distant and mechanistic, "They must decide to work together of their own will."
The frown on Celestia's face deepened. "I see you remember your lessons well, Sunset," she said slowly, "I have... revised the curriculum."
"So it would seem," Sunset remarked dryly, causing Celestia to arch an eyebrow.
Chrysalis made sure to keep her expression carefully neutral, but inside she was grinning.
"Come, let us return to Equestria. A glorious new dawn awaits!" Celestia turned and entered through the portal, her form shimmering as she went. One by one, the others entered as well, Chrysalis taking up the last spot.
Once back in the confines of the Hive where the mirror was set, Celestia wasted no time in levitating the activation book from the contraption and sliding it into her saddlebag. Chrysalis noted with genuine relief that both her and Celestia had reverted to their normal forms and that her heightened contact with her drones had returned. Sunset was now a small yellow unicorn with a red and yellow mane and a phoenix as a cutie mark, and the two sirens had reverted to their hippocampoi forms. They didn't have legs, but they floated slightly above the ground as if underwater just the same. Chrysalis presumed that the purple one was Aria and the orange one was Adagio.
Both Tirek and Sombra were waiting for them. Celestia made introductions then looked towards the two Elements left behind expectantly.
"I believe I can do what you ask," Tirek rumbled, "Not all magic will be dampened, but any type of magical communication should be disrupted."
"Excellent," Celestia stated with a pleased smile, "You have done well. How large an area of disruption can you provide?"
"I am... unsure," Tirek replied uneasily, "But I am confident I can provide a screen for at least a mile. Perhaps as many as five. The effect will lessen gradually, but I am not certain how far or effective the disruption will be."
"It will do," Celestia stated with a nod before turning to Sombra, "And you, Lord Sombra?"
"The prototype is not yet completed, Your Majesty," Sombra replied with a deep, obsequious bow, "However, I have tested the principle of the device and am certain that a prototype will be available in a few hours' time for full testing. After that, depending on materials and workforce, I believe we can produce as many as required."
"Good," Celestia purred, a smile alighting on her features, "Everything is proceeding well. Now all the pieces are in place. We can finally begin to bring true order to Equestria and beyond."
Chrysalis was barely paying attention to Celestia and the others, however. Her focus was on the unicorn looking around her surroundings in disgust.
Sunset Shimmer. She was exactly what Chrysalis needed. She was the key to freedom from the mad Princess.
Chrysalis allowed herself a small smile.