The Hazard Wing was in chaos. The Changeling Queen Sparkle was wreaking havoc on the facility, leaving entire labs in shambles. The upside of this was that it was very easy to keep track of where she had gone; the downside was that she had left a trail of disastrous experiments in her wake that Twilight was having to dodge around. Liquid rainbow was gushing down the hall from a broken pipe in the ceiling, stinging her hooves and legs as she splashed through it. Fires had broken out all over the place and guards were scrambling to put them out before they spread. Worst of all, a swarm of modified Parasprites had gotten free from somewhere, and they were now doing their best to eat the fur off of every creature that they could find. Twilight gave another one a zap with her horn, not slowing down in the pursuit of her foe. She was royally peeved; a day’s worth of connivance, bureaucracy, and far too much running fueled the rage in her heart. All thoughts relating to her previous plans had vanished; she was going to catch that prisoner and give her a piece of her mind, and maybe a piece of her hoof as well.
Coming around the bend, Twilight found that the checkpoint had been torn apart, leaving nothing but a hole where the magical doors had once stood. The griffon and unicorn guards were lying comatose on the floor. She checked them both for a pulse before turning towards the entryway. The cargo elevator was gone entirely, its doors ripped apart and cables snapped. Taking a breath to clear her head, Twilight unfurled her wings and took off up the shaft. The warm air rising from below provided lift for her wings to catch, rocketing her body skyward.
Spying a light further up the shaft Twilight furled her wings and slowed. A part of the wall had been blown open, providing her a place to land. The princess was forced to leap back into the air almost immediately as a crowd of Sparkles stampeded down the hallway. Hovering over the mass of hysteric mares, she began making her way upstream towards the source of the panic.
The crowds had thinned out by the time she reached the atrium, with only a few stragglers cantering past. The massive expanse was eerily empty compared to earlier, with only a few guard ponies running or flying about. Hovering in the center of the grand atrium straight above the directory was the prisoner. The huge changeling threw her head back and laughed as several Sparkles aimed beams of offensive magic her way. All three blasts caught in midair and reflected back at their casters, forcing the guards the run for cover as the tile shattered under their hooves. Twilight ran forward to help, watching as the dark queen charged her horn with pulsating green magic. Before she had crossed half of the vast room the changeling let loose a magical shockwave that knocked the aerial guards to the floor, and then sent the grounded ponies tumbling back in a second blinding flash. When her eyes readjusted, Twilight saw that none were left standing and that the queen had turned her attention to a series of large portals along the far wall. Wings buzzing, she promptly flew over and began bashing at the blast shields with her hooves and magic. The metal began to buckle under the weight of her blows, but was holding better than anything else had so far. Twilight took this opportunity to extend her own wings and take off after her foe. Closing the gap, she let loose with a powerful magical attack. The queen turned and easily deflected the beam, forcing Twilight to spin out of its path. When she came to a stop the changeling was giving her a malicious grin.
“I must say, friend, your escape plan went flawlessly. Why, without your help I’d have been stuck in that little cell forever, and isn’t it so much more fun now that I’m free?” She gestured around the room at the smoke and the ruin.
“You awful fiend, you took advantage of my kindness!” Twilight shrieked, launching another volley of attacks. The queen smiled even wider as she dexterously blocked every shot.
“Why, you just looked so appalled when you walked into that prison. I simply had to do something to lift your spirits, and I thought that giving you a chance to rebel against the system would do the trick. Seems like it worked at any rate.”
Twilight dodged a retaliatory blast from her adversary while the latter continued speaking. “Thank you ever so much for the little snack earlier by the way. The pity dripping off of you was positively delicious, and more importantly it helped to refuel my magical reserves. Hay might fill the stomach but there’s nothing quite so delectable as raw emotion.”
“You horrid brute, I’m not letting you leave this room!” Twilight dived towards the changeling but was forced to doge by another powerful blast. She overcorrected and crashed onto the ground behind a broken pillar.
The queen rolled her eyes before turning back to the sealed door. “You’re adorable, but I really do need to get back to work before anyone who might pose an actual threat to me shows up.”
She began pounding away at the metal once more, leaving large dents in the magically reinforced steel plating. Twilight peeked around the rubble and aimed another blast from her horn, but it ricocheted off the queen’s shield and shattered a nearby light fixture instead. The changeling threw back her head and laughed with devilish mirth as the metal began to give way, revealing a spiral of pink energy through the cracks.
The Princess of Friendship bunkered down behind the broken column to think. Magical attacks had no effect, and there was no way she could get close enough to get a good buck in. The villainous Sparkle was moments away from breaking back out into the multi-verse, where she would be free to spread chaos and destruction. There had to be some other way to fight her, some weakness she could exploit.
Fighting her despair, Twilight performed her breathing technique to clear her mind, which jarred a memory. She had been sitting with another Sparkle in a Hayburger joint earlier that day when she’d last done that. Her twin had mentioned that a lot of Sparkles used this same breathing technique to keep calm. The researcher down in the Hazard Wing had also talked at length about how almost all Sparkles shared the same phobias. Different though she might be from her alternate universe counterparts, every Twilight still shared core universal traits. If she was going to keep the queen from breaking free, she needed to stop thinking of her as a monster and start thinking of her as herself. Stepping all the way out of the rubble and making herself visible, Twilight bellowed at the top of her lungs.
“Hey, you! Your research methodology is abysmal!”
The changeling’s hooves caught in midair as she was about to deliver the finishing blow to the door. She turned her head and gave Twilight a petulant stare through her matted locks.
“What did you just say to me, you little punk?”
“You heard me, your methodology is poor and your documentation is despicable. I bet you rebelled against the Census because when you showed the Council your dissertation they laughed and told you to start over!” Twilight raved, a manic grin on her face.
The queen had turned her whole body away from the door, looking furious and pawing at the ground. “That’s not true, you probably haven’t even read any of my work you little cretin! I could have published a stronger editorial in that cell than you could with all of the libraries of your universe at your disposal!”
“Are you kidding me? You couldn’t even get published in the Sunday comics let alone any minor scientific journal. Your data points are dubious at best and pull from obviously biased sources, and don’t even get me started on your grammar–”
Twilight was not able to get started on her grammar however, as the queen’s scowl had shifted to full blown indignation. Letting out a battle cry, she charged towards the princess with murder in her eyes. Spreading her wings, the alicorn took off towards the other end of the room, a loud buzzing in her ears from the insectoid wings of her pursuer. Twilight dipped and dived to avoid the barrage of green lasers that followed. Zig zagging across the atrium, she made her way towards the orientation hall, hoping to get them both lost in the maze of passages beyond. If help was available it would be coming from that direction, and Twilight hoped she might meet them halfway with the queen in tow. A hundred meters out from the archway, however, a massive thaumic blast caught her from behind, grazing her wing and sending her crashing to the floor. The shot went on to hit the orientation sign, causing the arch to collapse and block both her escape and any chance of reinforcements.
Rapidly getting back on her hooves, Twilight sprinted for the line of stores and restaurants along the nearest wall. The Hayburger was closest, so she barreled through the door with the queen hot on her heels. With only moments to hide, Twilight plunged into the kitchen and ducked down behind the counter. She tried to fit herself into the tight space, but was rebuffed by a large mass of pink hair. Staring out from the cramped nook was a very frightened Pinkie Pie, still in her work apron and hat.
“Twilight, what’s going on out there?” She asked, shaking. “I heard a big explosion and evil laughter and decided to hide. Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually all for laughter and blowing things up, but this is way too intense for me!”
“Shh, Pinkie, stay quiet and don’t move!” Twilight whispered as the door to the restaurant slammed open. She crouched as low as she could to avoid detection.
“Show yourself, you miserable little cockroach! I’m going to publish your body across the floor when I find you! Your suffering will be great, and it will be thoroughly documented so that I might reference back to it when I am conquering your world!”
There was an immense clatter as a booth and table were blasted into smithereens. Twilight barely held in a squeak of fright. She could hear the changeling panting in the other room as she searched, and then abruptly the heavy breaths turned into a manic laughter. The whole restaurant suddenly darkened as the store’s metal gate clashed against the hard tile floor.
“You are truly dense, aren’t you?” The queen crooned. “The roach has cornered itself in fear. Well, let’s just see how long it takes to root it out.”
The footsteps became slow and paced. This had become a hunt for the predatory queen, and, having cornered her prey, she was going to have some fun before the end of the game.
“Do you want to know the real reason I was in that blasted cell?” The raspy drawl of the queen echoed through the space. It was impossible to tell exactly where she was. A second later a thunderous calamity shook the building as another booth was reduced to rubble.
“It seems that the council didn’t agree with how I ruled my own kingdom. I had struck down those foolish alicorns and locked them away in Tartarus. My swarm roamed free, no longer forced into seclusion by ponykind. We had a pretty good system set up for feeding too: I would disguise myself and instigate a rebellion, spreading hope and love amongst those stupid enough to resist my reign. My children would feed on these emotions, then use their strength to crush the rebels. I was fair: I allowed the scum to live afterward so long as they submitted to my will. Most chose that fate over the alternative.”
Another crescendo of shattering wood sounded. It seemed that the changeling queen was going to work her way through the booths before checking elsewhere. Twilight needed to get a plan together before that happened; if only she had a weapon of some sort, something that could harm a Sparkle no matter how powerful. She cursed herself for not grabbing something from the Hazard Wing on her way out. Surely somepony down there was working on something that could… that could…
Three little words erupted into Twilight’s mind: universally shared phobias. That was it. Tapping Pinkie with her hoof, she spoke in less than a whisper directly into the mare’s ear.
“Pinkie, does this Hayburger keep any cheese in stock?”
“What?” She responded in an unusually muted voice. “Twilight this is no time for a snack, that mean lady out there wants to gobble you up!”
“Well, I intend to give her something else to chew on. So do you have any or not?”
The pink pony gulped. “Yeah, we have to keep a small supply available at all times, even if nopony eats the stuff. It’s standard regulation for all branches of Hayburger Incorporated.”
“Great. I need you to sneak over to the pantry and grab the strongest cheese you’ve got. I’ll also need some rolls, a hay patty, onion, peppers, and a bottle of Worcestershire sauce. Oh, and some peanut butter, just to contrast horribly with everything else. Wait until she blows up another booth before you open the door.”
Pinkie gulped, then nodded and gave a little salute. Like a mouse, she slunk across the floor to the pantry, keeping as low as possible. Her hoof above the handle, the pink mare waited until the next blast went off before opening the door and sneaking inside.
“When the council contacted me I made sure to keep certain details of my world under wraps.” The sneering queen continued. “I learned what I could from those imbeciles, blending in with the crowd. I knew it wouldn’t last, so when I got the chance I used the technology here to open a portal into a neighboring world, leading my hive to conquer new lands. We had swarmed the palace and were laying waste to the throne room when She showed up: that Grand Secretariat. She ruined everything, putting me in prison, scattering my children, and setting that puppet Celestia back on my throne. I’ll be rectifying that mistake soon enough.”
Another cacophony wracked the room as Pinkie snuck back out of the pantry. She quickly scurried over and hoofed the various foodstuffs towards Twilight. Hoping that there were still a few booths left to be destroyed, the princess hastily got to work spreading the various foul ingredients across the bread. As each was added the cumulative grossness of the concoction began to repulse her more and more, but the worst was yet to come. Reaching the final item, Twilight had to hold back a gag. Pinkie had managed to acquire a block of Roquefort, the stench of which was making her nauseous. She scooped a massive wedge on top of the frozen hay patty before burying it with the top bun. The final product sent a chill up her spine from sight and smell alone. It was ready.
Trying desperately not to think about what she had between her hooves, Twilight crept over to the door. She pushed it open a fraction, peeking out at the demolished room. Nearly every piece of furniture was in ruin, and the changeling was stomping around in agitation. The game was nearing its end, and yet still the prey hadn’t been caught. Looking back inside she saw that Pinkie was sitting in the middle of the room with her hooves over her head. Hoping that her plan worked, Twilight threw caution to the wind as she let out a piercing whistle.
“So that’s where the roach hides.” The queen cried, turning towards the kitchen. “Come out and face me coward, so that I may put you down like I intend to do with that meddling matron of yours later.”
When no response was given the changeling let out a roar of frustration.
“So be it, I will drag you from your hole!”
Her hooves shattered the cheap flooring with each step as she approached the kitchen. Rising up to her full height, her royal highness Queen Twilight Sparkle smote the door with her magic, scattering dust everywhere. Banishing the darkness with the light of her gnarled horn, she saw the silhouette of a magenta pony in the dust cloud.
“Any last words, my foolish little friend?” She smiled hungrily as her horn charged a powerful blast.
“Um… a few actually.” A shrill voice squeaked. As the dust settled, the queen was shocked to see that the pony sitting before her was pink and sporting an outrageously curly mane. She smiled meekly before slipping into a well-practiced routine.
“Welcome to Hayburger, may I take your order?”
The queen’s mouth hung open in shock for a moment. “Excuse me? Where did the idiot whom I chased in here g–HURG!”
With all of the force that she could muster, Twilight rammed the nightmarish sandwich into her adversary’s mouth. She was quickly knocked aside, and the villain was about to direct the might of her magic against the princess when it happened. The queen’s pupils dilated and all motor functions ceased for a moment. An eye began to twitch, followed soon after by a leg, and then her entire body began to jitter. The cogs in her brain restarted and slowly began to process the item that her teeth were currently sinking in to.
Then she started screaming.
“AH WHAT IS THIS? WHAT DID YOU DO!?” The changeling was breaking out in a cold sweat now, shaking uncontrollably. “OH SWEET ANCESTORS ABOVE I SWALLOWED SOME OF IT! I CAN FEEL IT STUCK TO THE ROOF OF MY MOUTH! I NEED WATER, WATER!!”
The queen began running around the room, searching for a faucet. In her panic she was having trouble operating the simple knob. Pressing her advantage, Twilight lifted the rest of the cheese block in her telekinesis. Trying not to puke herself, she took aim, lobbing the mass of creamy horror at her opponent. The dairy product soared through the air before making contact with a splat, sticking directly onto her horn. The queen gave another raucous cry, backing up furiously towards the counter.
“SWEET BABY CARROTS GET IT OFF OF ME, GET IT AWAY! OH ANCESTORS I’M TOUCHING IT! WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME, GODS?”
Losing the last of her grip on sanity, the changeling began scrambling, firing off blasts of magic in every direction. Twilight pulled Pinkie down to the ground as the queen went into a rampage. The counter was smashed as the hysterical Sparkle tore her way through the restaurant. She shattered the metal gate on her way out, running into the atrium and piercing the air with her booming voice.
“IT HAS AN AFTERTASTE, GODS IT HAS AN AFTERTASTE! MERCIFUL HEAVENS, TAKE AWAY MY TASTEBUDS!”
She fell to the floor in a convulsing heap. Twilight and Pinkie followed cautiously out into the room, watching with unfeigned disgust as the changeling queen scraped her tongue with all four hooves. Tears leaked from her eyes and she seemed utterly traumatized. Twilight was beginning to wonder whether she had gone too far by throwing the rest of the block. Then again, the villain had called her an imbecile, not to mention she had manipulated and then tried to kill her. All’s fair in love and war, though the princess wasn’t feeling much of the former at this moment.
As the mares sat by, wondering if they should do anything more, a magenta glow suddenly engulfed the retching queen. Fine silver chains snaked along her body out of nowhere, leaving her bound upon the floor. Looking around for the source of the magic, Twilight let out a gasp. Walking towards them was a towering lavender alicorn. Her mane appeared as a swirling indigo galaxy spilling out from the back of her skull, and her entire being radiated pure thaumic energy. Looking up at the pony twice her size, Twilight spied a badge pinned just below her left shoulder. Peering closer she read the following words:
Head of Equine Resources
The smaller alicorn sat in awe as her much larger self began dishing out orders to the nearby guards.
“You three, grab her and bring her back down to the prison. The chains should hold but I want to be sure that no more damage is caused today. When you get back help the others finish excavating the hallway.”
The three guards saluted, taking the still-babbling changeling in their collective magical grasp before trotting off. The magnificent mare turned towards the two ponies on the floor. Twilight realized that she recognized this pony: her statue had been distracting the tour group when she had first snuck away.
“Miss Pie, you may have the rest of the day off. Please don’t worry about damages to the restaurant, we will take care of them. You’ll find a week’s pay has been added to your account to compensate for this traumatic experience.”
“O-okie dokie lokie.” Pinkie squeaked, still in a state of shock.
The grand alicorn finally turned her shrewd gaze towards the much smaller Twilight Sparkle. The young mare gulped before cautiously meeting eyes with her superior.
“We need to talk. I will see you in my office in 15 minutes, I need to take care of a few matters beforehand. Don’t try to run.”
Before Twilight could so much as open her muzzle she was enveloped in a blinding pink glow. With a resounding pop she vanished from the atrium and into the aether.