• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,697 Views, 217 Comments

Warring Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17

A happy day soon descends into a war between two peoples. Canterlot is under siege, the princesses are captured and Dusk must take up arms or watch his home fall.

  • ...

Element of Surprise

Rainbow twitched impatiently in the cloud she and a number of her fellows were using for cover. She knew that she was supposed to wait until the signal was given, but she still hated waiting like this. She wanted nothing more than to get out there and finally put some real hurt on the bugs for everything they'd done.

But first, she had to wait. The teams as part of the operation had started early, so the fighting would give them sufficient cover to speed to the Weather Factory from the closest part of where the east side met west side without the changelings detecting them, hence the cloud they used to hide in. Below her, she could already hear the sounds of battle as the other teams of Operation Hailstorm had already started. But they still had to wait.

That wasn't exactly doing wonders for her.

"Can't stand the waiting either, huh?" a Pegasus named Lightning Dust asked her. "I feel for you, it's making me itch too."

"I know, right?" she smirked. "I just wanna get out there, show 'em what happens when they mess with Cloudsdale."

"Hear, hear," she agreed. "Good to know that we have a pony who can do the sonic rainboom on our side though."

"You know it," she winked. "Still, you're pretty good to. I saw you on the training field. You're pretty fast, may even be able to keep up with me."

"High praise," chuckled Lightning. "You never know though. Maybe it'll be you who has to keep up with me."

"Oh yeah? We'll just see who makes it to the Weather Factory first then."

"Challenge accepted. Yeah, we're all good, especially him." She nodded to a tense Thunderlane, lowering her voice. "I know I'm motivated if I'm sticking close to him."

"Don't get your hopes up, I think he considers himself taken." She looked back at him. "You okay there, Thunder?"

"Hm? Oh yeah, fine," he said distractedly. "Just thinking..."

She nodded in understanding. "Don't worry about Blossomforth, man. She's not gonna hurt herself knowing she's got you to come back to."

"Yeah..." His face went red. Probably thinking of the kiss she'd seen her give him before they came out here. "Thanks..."

"Okay, cut the chatter back there," ordered Blaze. "We're almost up, ready on my mark."

She was another Wonderbolt, one that had gone up against Spike when he was on his greed rampage, so Rainbow knew that she especially had guts. Anypony who could pull off the Swooping Scorch Spin was bound to. She was hoping she'd be able to see it in action.

Though Rainbow was helping lead, she was more the lieutenant, while Blaze was the one in charge. Not that she minded, of course.

"Yes ma'am," she said. "Ready on your mark."

"Acknowledged." They all tensed. "Three... two... one! GO, GO, GO!"

Rainbow shot out of the cloud, diving with Blaze towards the ground. The instant she left, the conflict became louder and she was aware of changelings and Pegasi flying this way and that in all directions. She ignored them though, sticking to her commander like glue.

"Pull up! Level off!" They obeyed swiftly. "Okay, you know how this goes! Weather Factory is our destination! Keep together, stay tight and let's come outta this in one piece! You got that?"

"Yes ma'am!" they chorused.

"Excellent! Let's fly!" She banked sharply, dodging around a cloud where three changelings fought another Pegasus.

"You still on for the race then?" Lightning called.

Rainbow laughed. "You mean you haven't started?"

She echoed her laughter, matching the banking move she pulled after Blaze perfectly. Looks like she actually might be as good as she was. Too bad they didn't have the time for a real race.

It was déjà vu for Rainbow Dash while they soared through the city in tight formation. All around them, she could see changelings and Pegasi battling each other, in groups or ferocious hoof-to-hoof duels. The bugs were determined, but her fellows weren't prepared to give them an inch, flying and fighting in ways she'd never have expected to have seen. Kicking up storms, generating powerful gales, washing them away with torrents of water. They were doing great!

It was all looking good, not the least of which was due to the bravery and leadership of the Wonderbolts. She saw Soarin pulling off some turns even she would be hesitant to try, causing changelings to crash into each other more than him. She saw perform her signature corkscrew manoeuvre, a tornado forming in front of her during flight and allowing her to tunnel directly through a wall of changelings that were blocking her way. Blaze was keeping them focused, her fiery mane leading them through all of the tight skirmishes and corners before anypony even knew they were there.

She always thought that being a Pegasus born in Cloudsdale was awesome. Today only helped solidify that belief.

"Bugs, moving to intercept!" alerted Thunderlane.

"Ignore them!" Blaze commanded. "We can't let anythi-"

Her sentence ended in a scream when a bright bolt of light hit her on her left wing. She careered out of control, spinning towards a cloud and crashing into it. Even though they were soft, Rainbow still winced.

She and the other two were there in seconds, trying to help the Wonderbolt back up. She hissed and winced in pain.

"My wing..." she groaned. "I can't feel my wing..."

"Don't worry," assured Lightning. "We'll find a way to patch you up, have you back in the air in no-"

"DOWN!" Rainbow pushed them both to the ground, three more bolts zooming over their heads.

"What the hay is...!" Thunderlane's eyes narrowed. "It's him!"

Rainbow looked and could already feel her anger rising. She had suspected it when she saw the shots, but seeing it now confirmed it and just made her even more mad. Hard Edge was on the cloud above them, blasting at them with one leg and using the other to signal a group of changelings. They banked in the sky and dived for them.

The daredevil was already back in the air when they started to crash all around them.

"You guys handle the bugs and look after Blaze!" she ordered. "I'm gonna go for the shooter!"

"Give him one from me!" called Lightning.

Rainbow grinned back at her and shot towards the cloud Edge was stood on. Her natural speed allowed her to bank and dodge around his shots, landing a punch that knocked him back. She landed before him while he scrambled back to his hooves.

"Alright then!" she roared. "First, you betrayed our kind! Then, you attacked my home and my friends! Now, you've hurt one of the Wonderbolts! Edge, everything I did before were tender caresses compared to what I'm gonna do to you now!"

"Bring it on then!" he roared back, raising his gun leg. "I'm ready for you this time!"

She was going to charge, when she noticed something. The barrel wasn't steady, as his leg was shaking. His whole body appeared to be shaking. He was sweating a little, yet he'd barely done anything yet. Every time there was an explosion somewhere, he appeared to flinch like it physically hurt him. His eyes were wide, but not with anger. Something else...

She remembered something else. When Fluttershy was at his mercy and, for some reason, he hadn't done anything. Instead of charging at him, she tried something else. She stood back and spread her forelegs, inviting him to act.

"Go ahead then!" she challenged. "Do it! Take the shot! That's what you want, isn't it? To beat me? Well, here's your chance, Edge! Go on!"

He faltered. "I... I don't... you're not gonna fight?"

"Why should I? It's not gonna stop you, is it? If you beat me or if I beat you, you're just gonna keep on going! You're gonna fly off with the bugs and help hold down Cloudsdale while they kick it! I mean why not, right? It's not like you were born here or anything!"

"No! I-I wouldn't, I'd never-"

"What do you mean, you'd never? You've already started, why stop now? Why not just go all the way and trash up your home? My home? Then, once you're done here, how about somepony else's home, like back in Ponyville? You left the job unfinished there, you might as well! Then who knows where after that? Manehattan, Las Pegasus, Fillydelphia, wherever's closest, I guess! They'll all get it eventually!"

"Shut up!"

"Why? Aren't I helping you? Isn't this helpful?! I'm just trying to help you find whatever it is you're looking for because, whatever it is, I sure as hell hope it's worth all of this! I wouldn't be surprised if you really are changeling underneath all of that fur!"

"I AM NOT LIKE THEM!" he cried. "I never wanted this! I... I never wanted this!"

"Then what do you want Edge?!" she demanded. "What's this all been for?! Just because you're a little saddle-sore with Dusk?!"

"What do you care?! You're like him, taking all of the glory that should have gone to me! I fought Discord, I protected the stinking princesses and what do I get for it?!" His whole body was shaking even more now. "WHERE'S MY GLORY?!"

Now, she did go up to him. He barely had time to act before she grabbed him and dragged him over to the cloud's precipice.

"Look here!" She forced his head so he could see the city below. "Here's your glory, right here! That's what all of this has gotten you!" She held him there before flinging him aside. "Is it worth it then?! Is it?!"

His head was bowed low. She couldn't see his face, but his body was still shaking. A far cry from the pony that had strode through town, blasting at whatever he saw. Lying on the ground now, he just looked so pathetic she almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

He didn't even answer her. He just lay there, shaking.

"That's what I thought," she said contemptuously. "I'll tell you this right now. You carry on like you have been, you will be remembered all right, but not in the way you always wanted. But there is another way, Hard Edge."

His tone was aggressive, but his voice was shaking as much as he was. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Thanks to you, we're short one flyer. We need to get to the weather factory if we're gonna beat these guys. You can fly pretty well, you've got combat training and you've got those fancy blasters." She approached him slowly. "If you wanna make up for what's happened, here's your chance."

"And... if I don't?" he asked weakly.

"Then you can just blast me outta your way and fly back off with the bugs. But I don't think you're gonna do that," she said simply.

"Oh yeah?!" She barely flinched when he pointed his weapon back at her. "What makes you think I won't?! Like you said, I've come far enough. I got no chance for anything else."

A different kind of laughter echoed in her mind. She could actually feel a tingling in her wings, like they were about to break again.

"There's always a chance," she said with conviction. "You just gotta take it."

She reached out with her hoof to help him up. She wouldn't be fast enough to dodge the blast if he decided to fire. This was her only chance. She looked past the barrel at him, at his angry grimace while his eyes started to shimmer. She heard a hum as the blaster started to warm up, could see the glow from the corner of her.

She shut her eyes when it fired. Only it didn't hit her. A loud screech made her glance back, seeing a changeling fall that had been sneaking up behind her, its head smoking a little. A second later, she felt Edge's hoof on hers.

"Okay then, Rainbow Dash," he grunted when she heaved him to his hooves, "you're on."

"Is this the place, Rover?" Dusk asked after arriving at a fork in the caverns and a long period of silence getting there.

"This is the place," confirmed the dog, pointing down the lower tunnel. "This leads to a garden that comes out into a lower part of town."

"We learn not to use it after we scared a kid pony in her garden," put in Spot. "Didn't want the guards finding out where we were."

"The sympathy you feel for that traumatized child is overwhelming," remarked Ray.

"What? We're gem finders, not therapists."

"And this way?" continued Dusk, before another argument broke out. "This leads to the upper part of town?"

"Yes, I recognise it." Cadence pointed in the direction of a gorge, to part of a derailed track. "That was where Twilight and I flew in order to get out. This path should take us up to the opening we used to get out."

"Good, then this is where we split up." He pointed to the two dogs and Ray. "You three go to the lower town and get to the train station. If there's guards there, take them out. If there's barricades, disrupt them somehow, but make sure the train can get in and make sure you're not spotted."

"Yeah, I remember," he nodded. "Then you two are off to the upper town to do your thing."

"Exactly. We'll find out where they're keeping the ponies here and try to free them before I give the signal. Don't worry about us, just stick to the plan."

"You got it." He frowned. "You sure this is going to work?"

He shrugged. "It's the best plan we've got. There's only one real way to find out."

"Too true," he smiled. "I know this sounds kinda redundant but you two be careful, okay?"

Dusk couldn't really think of what to say, other than, "Yes. You too."

With a grin from his friend and even what looked like respectful nods from the diamond dogs, Dusk set off up the tunnel. The two of them once more lapsed into silence, not that Dusk was looking back at his royal companion. He kept his eyes focused on the path ahead, trying to ignore the lingering echoes of that dog's howls echoing in his mind.

It had taken him a while to dawn on it. This was the first time he'd seen death. He'd read about it enough times, gotten emotional in stories where a character he'd liked had died and he'd been in more than a fair few fights. He'd coped well enough with those and even then, he'd been worried when his friends had been hurt and feared for their lives. But they'd all come out safely.

This time though... he had been responsible for the life of that diamond dog. The whole reason he was here was because of him. It didn't matter if his life had consisted of digging for gems and even kidnapping ponies, he still had a life. It had been his to live and any number of things could have happened in his future.

But that wasn't possible now. In one moment, all of those possibilities had been extinguished. There was nothing that could be done to recover them... and he was the one responsible for it.

Cadence appeared to read his mind. "It was horrible, wasn't it? That poor diamond dog. One minute he was there, the next... it's just horrible."

"I know," he murmured.

"I wish there was something we could have done to save him. I know it's too late now but..." She trailed off. "I hope the others don't hold it against us."

"They don't seem to," he noted. "They seem to respect us more."

"There's a good reason for that. After all, I'd say you definitely earned it."

"I don't see how," he said bitterly.

Quiet settled again briefly. "You can't blame yourself for what happened, Dusk."

"Why shouldn't I? I was the one who failed to act, so I suppose the blame does fall on me, if that's the case."

"That isn't true..."

"Don't say that..."

"I will, because it isn't-"

"No, don't say that, because it is!" he insisted, his voice breaking. "It was my fault that he died, Cadence. I could have gotten there quicker, I could have saved that dog. I wasn't fast enough..."

"You mustn't blame yourself, Dusk. You did what you could, we all did but there was too much going on."

"But what is something like this happens again? What if next time it's somepony I know, one of the girls? What if... what if Twilight... what if she already...?"

Cadence's tone was gentle, but firm. "You can't be thinking like that, Dusk. Shining told me once that no matter how good your training might be or how well prepared you are, somepony is always going to get hurt in a fight. At the times it gets worse than that, you can't let that get to you. Remember those who have fallen, but fight for those who remain. That was what he said..."

"And you accept that?"

"I'm a princess, Dusk. We accept very early that as good a ruler as you can be, there's always going to be one pony who isn't completely satisfied with how you're doing things. You just have to try your best to make things better for those that are. And I can do that fighting on, like my Shining told me. By stopping the one who's really responsible..."

She didn't need to say her name. In his despair, Dusk had lost sight of the real enemy here. It was Chrysalis who invaded Canterlot, who held in her grip, who even now still sought to subjugate his fellow ponies to sate her own greed. They had to be the ones to stand up to her, to prevent her from doing just that. Like Cadence said...

His admiration for Cadence, as well as Luna and Celestia, grew at that thought. Truly, he thought, the strength to lead, both in peace and in war, must be great indeed. Right now, Cadence still had that strength and kept up the fight, despite what had happened and still might happen. If he couldn't keep that strength, then he might as well just turn back now. He had to remember why he fought, like Rarity had said. For his home, for his friends.

For Twilight.

He could mourn for that diamond dog later, take the time to even learn his name. Right now though, he had more important things to focus on. Like making sure no more deaths like his happened.

"A well made point." He sighed in concession. "I'm sorry, Cadence. I'm acting like this when I barely even knew him. I didn't even know his name. How strange is that?"

"That's not strange at all, Dusk." She smiled gently. "It just shows how much you care. As I understand it, it's a trait that's very much admired by those you know, one in particular."

He returned it, a faint blush coming to his cheeks. "Thanks."

"Anytime." Her smile dropped when she, along with Dusk, heard something moving up the tunnel. "Quick, hide!"

They quickly hurried into an alcove in the cave wall. Up ahead, he could see the sun shining in through the cave entrance they were headed for. Silhouetted against the cave wall were two, now very familiar shapes, accompanied by their aggressive voices.

"I'm telling you, I heard something," one of them was insisting. "It came from down here."

"Yeah, I remember the last time you said you heard something," remarked the other. "Somehow, I think that dripping water is going to be just as threatening as it was last time."

"It wasn't water! It sounded like voices, coming up the tunnel. Hoofsteps too."

"Oh, so it's walking, talking water now. Wow, this I've gotta see."

"For the last time, I know it isn't water this time! At least I take my job seriously."

"And at least I'm not jumping at my own shadow all of the time."

"I told you, I thought it was an enemy!"

"Yeah, next to water, shadows are our greatest enemy. Watch your back, because they're always there."

Fitting, thought Dusk, in this case, he wasn't far from the truth. He called upon his magic, reaching into the depths of darkness. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Cadence preparing a spell of her own. He'd hoped they would get out of the caves without any more trouble, but they could still take out these two without any trouble.

Whether or not they could would soon be put to the test, since the two bickering guards were just coming around the corner.

"Look, when we get there, you'll see I was right."

"What, about your shadow or the water, because I can see and hear both of them right now. Still trying to decide which the bigger threat is though."

"You're a jerk."

"You're an idiot."

"And, for the record," put in Dusk, stepping out of the alcove with Cadence, "you were completely right."

The two changelings stared at them for a few seconds, before one looked smugly at his comrade.

"Told you," was he all had time to say before they were both out cold.

"I'm glad we let him have his moment," noted Cadence. "Well then, Dusk, shall we make our presence known?"

"After you, your highness," he offered.

"Such a gentlcolt." Quietly, they slipped out of the cave and into the light of day.

He slid while she flew down the small cliff face, landing on the street below. Cadence landed in the shadow of a building with him, allowing him to enshroud them both. He looked around the street, his spell being empowered by Cadence. Their approach had gone unnoticed by any of the changelings nearby. Time to move up.

They slipped into one of the darkened alleyways. The darkness here was a lot more prominent and would be a lot less conspicuous than if he were suddenly making the houses in the street darker with his magic. He would have preferred if it were night time, but he would have to make do. It was better than nothing.

Their goal was to make the most of their unnoticed presence by finding where they kept the prisoners. Since they were using them for feeding, it stood to reason they were being kept in a large, open space somewhere they could all feed at once. There were a few places like that in Canterlot and his aim was to check them in hopes of finding somepony who could help them, preferably guards.

The silence was almost eerie. Compared to the commotion he was used to seeing, the usual bustle of the elite and even the attack of recent, it was strange seeing Canterlot so quiet. Add to that the damaged buildings and it was almost a ghost town. The only signs of life were the changelings that now and again marched or flew by, either on their own or in groups. It looked like the bulk were away in Cloudsdale, as he had anticipated.

Whenever a patrol did pass by, they would stop and watch them, make a mental note of the time that had passed between the last one. If they thought the city secure and most of them were away in another battle, then the Swarm's remaining soldiers in Canterlot would be focused on protecting the queen and guarding their food. A larger concentration of guards would help them find the latter. The more guards they found, the closer they were getting to the prisoners and the more careful they'd have to be.

They kept to the alley ways, only going by the main roads where it was absolutely necessary. There were more guards on those than in here, so they were able to mostly slip by unnoticed. If there was one or a few stragglers in their way, Dusk would just use a mental trick or a puppet to make him move out of the way. For the most part, it was without a hitch.

Except for one moment.

They had just emerged onto one of the main streets. Unfortunately, it was at almost the same time that a patrol was coming around the corner. His heart racing, Dusk shoved Cadence into the next alley across and joined her, enshrouding them in as much darkness as possible. He fixed his eyes on the entrance to the alley and waited.

A few moments later, two changelings arrived, standing at the mouth. Their piercing blue eyes searched the shadows and he could swear he saw their noses twitching. Like they were sniffing for them. Had they noticed something amiss? Had they seen them diving into the alley? Would they come and investigate? If they did, Dusk wasn't sure if he could take them out without alerting the others.

They stood there for a very long minute. He would have been tired from maintaining this spell, but Cadence kept his energy up. Neither of them dared to breath. Finally, they turned away and left. They waited for a few seconds, but they didn't come back. There was no immediate rush to their postion. It looked like they were safe.

"That was too close," Dusk breathed. "Come on, let's keep searching."

"Dusk, wait. I think I see something, down the other way." Cadence pointed. He saw a flash of coloured fur there.

He nodded. "Let's have a look. Keep an eye out and stay close."

They moved with the shadow, the coldness counteracted by the warmth of Cadence's body practically pressed up against him. Though he was well aware of their position, Dusk still had to fight to control a blush and hoped the darkness would conceal it. He peered out of the alley when they were close enough, but not so as to expose themselves.

Dusk recognised the area. They he was looking out into Coronation Square, a leisure and business area on the way to the palace. There were still ponies gathered here, but not in the normal sense. They were all being held in place by the adhesive green substance the changelings excreted. It didn't look like the entire population, but there were still a fair few citizens, including a number of guards.

At last, they had found them. Now they had to set about freeing them without the guards noticing. It would be challenging, but he had faith in Cadence's and his own abilities.

He turned back around to Cadence and saw something black covering her mouth. He froze when his eyes followed it to the end. Her eyes were wide as an ice blue pair stared out of the dark at him.

"Don't even try it, pony," the changeling hissed.

Dusk looked at the changeling. He looked at Cadence. He saw how close he was. His orange hoof shot out and hit him in the face. He went down instantly, Dusk already at Cadence's side.

"It's okay, I'm fine," she assured. "He snuck up on me, I didn't see him."

"At least you're okay," he murmured. "Come on, we have to move before anymore of them spot us."

"Too late for that, pony."

His head whipped up. Dusk stared at the five changelings buzzing above them. He glanced down the alley. If they could get out and hide somewhere, they might be able to give them the slip. It was rather dark in the alley, enough for a sudden burst of light to have effect.

He fired one up into the air, covering his own eyes from the bright flash he created. Hoping it had the effect of blinding them, he sprinted towards the end of the alley. It was only when he emerged, however, that he was greeted by many more changelings. They had been waiting for them, expecting them to try this.

Before he could act, he was jabbed in the side. He turned and was kicked in the back of the head, followed by his flank and finishing with the back of his knee. He buckled to the ground, tried to push himself up on his forelegs, but stared up into the face of a changeling.

"Going somewhere?" he hissed. "What were you two doing, sneaking around?"

"Ah. Well, we were just seeing the sights, but I can see that this part of town is closed, so we'll just be on our way." He jabbed quickly, but the changeling was quicker, knocking him down again.

"Don't even think about getting up." A glance revealed that they were completely surrounded.

"Dusk!" Cadence's horn started to glow, but she cried when a strike from a changeling cut her off and forced her to the ground.

"You thought you could hide from us?" he sneered. "We remember back in Ponyville, thought we saw your fancy magic shadows playing up in this alley and decided to investigate. Isn't great when you're right?"

Time for Plan B.

"Very well, very well." He raised his forelegs. "You win. We surrender, don't we Cadence?"

"Yes, we do," she echoed. "We surrender, just... don't hurt us, please."

"Can't make any promises. Stand up, slowly." He did as he was ordered. "Good. Now, come along with us and don't try anything."

He started slowly, then shoved the changeling out of his way. He fired a light ball at the changelings in the air, but they darted out of the way. It exploded brilliantly in the sky, but didn't do much else other than look good and earn Dusk a few more punches.

"We'll be sure to get you a magic resistor soon enough," the lead one said. "Just so you're not tempted to do anymore light shows."

He saw Cadence also being forced back to her hooves, surrounded by a number of changelings. Many more hovered in the air above them or watched from the roof tops. They gloated triumphantly down, cackling mockingly at them and hissing with anticipation. It looked like they didn't suspect anything and Dusk aimed to keep it that way. He kept his head down, doing his best to look forlorn and hopeless.

He glanced at Cadence. She was putting on the same act and looked up at almost the same instant he did. Her eyes flashed in understanding. She remembered what they had talked about if they were caught and was glad he had planned for the possibility. Whether or not it would work was yet to be seen.

They were pushed into Coronation Square. . Perfect, thought Dusk, as they were forced into the centre, the changelings around them forming a tight circle. Just as he had hoped. More changelings there hissed in triumph, while a few ponies groaned with despair. Hopefully, that wouldn't last for much longer.

He looked around at their faces. They looked weak, drained. The changelings wouldn't want to kill them, keeping them alive for as long as possible to feed on. They still looked like they'd been through quite an ordeal though. It again only served to remind Dusk of who the one truly responsible here was and that she needed to be stopped. Like Cadence had said.

Almost as soon as his thoughts strayed to her, she arrived. She flew down from one of the balconies in the palace, hovering above them while being flanked by her guards.

"Back so soon?" she called down from on high. "I thought you two had decided to just throw in the towel, get hitched and make the most of Cadence's honeymoon."

"The beach wasn't too nice this time of year," countered Cadence. "I hear it's a lot more active here in the city, buzzing with activity."

"There's certainly no shortage of that." She chuckled in her distorted voice. "You utter fools. It really would have been so much easier for you both just to flee and hide away somewhere, yet you drive yourselves on delusions of heroism, like you actually have a chance."

"I suppose we were drawn to the familiar," replied Dusk. "Delusions of heroism, delusions of conquest, how could we stay away?"

"And yet you're the ones who are captured and it is my army that stands triumphant," she retorted. "I think it's clear who the deluded ones are."

"I'd say so too," agreed Cadence. "So does that mean you've conquered Cloudsdale now and are ready to try Ponyville again, after how triumphant your army was last time?"

She bristled slightly. "Only minor setbacks, nothing more. My changelings will conquer all of Equestria in time, no matter who thinks they can stand in our way."

"Then it'll take a lot of time, because everypony in Equestria will stand in your way." He smirked up at her. "If you can't even take over one small town, what chance to you have against the entire kingdom?"

"More chance that either of you have of escaping," she snapped. "I knew your love for your precious Shining and Twilight wouldn't keep you away, but even I didn't think you'd be stupid enough to try something like this."

Dusk laughed bitterly. "Funny, because I didn't think you'd be stupid to think you could take the one I love away from me and actually think you'd trick me by replacing her. You really don't know me if you honestly thought that would work."

"It worked on dear Shining Armour and you seemed rather convinced at the time," she taunted. "I'll bet you couldn't even tell the difference."

"But I did and not even Shining is under your control anymore." He shook his head. "Doesn't that tell you anything?"

"Only that you won't be so lucky next time," she hissed.

"You just can't see it, can you?" Cadence didn't look anywhere but at the queen. "You might think you understand love because you feed off of it, Chrysalis. In the end though, no matter how convincing your disguises are or enthralled your victim is, there's something there you just can't quite mimic. All you'll ever do is crave it more and more, never truly experiencing it yourself. Maybe that's why you do it. In a way, I almost wish I could help you."

For a moment, the queen actually looked shocked. Almost like Cadence's words had struck something with her. Then, she laughed again.

"What an absolutely ridiculous sentiment!" she mocked. "You think to pity me when it is you two who are at my mercy, ready to be food me and my subjects. What did you even hope to accomplish coming here?"

"Exactly what you might think, your highness. To free our friends, save our loved ones and to stop you."

"Indeed?" She laughed mockingly. "You and what army?"

Almost as soon as she spoke those words, an echoing cry sounded from below them in the lower town and Dusk smirked again.

"Why, that one, of course." He stole a look at the lead changeling. "You may have seen my tricks with shadow, but I started out with light. It really helps catch the eye."

"Then... you...?"

"Correct." He shook his head. "You should know how to recognise a signal for an attack more quickly than that."

The bold cries, the sounds of commotion and fighting began to increase. In the moment where almost every changeling suddenly tensed, looking off in the direction it came from, Dusk felt a pair of legs wrap around his waist and the sensation of being lifted off the ground. The closest guards turned, but he kicked them to the floor with his rear legs while Cadence carried him into the sky.

"No! Stop them!" Chrysalis's order came at the same time Dusk used bladed shadows empowered by Cadence's magic to slice through the bonds that held some of the guards down.

They practically collapsed when they were released. They tried to get up, but were clearly weak from having the changelings feed on them. He had anticipated this and Cadence was already preparing another spell in accordance with the plan. Her horn flashed and flocks of magical love hearts flew towards the guards. Returning the favour, Dusk added a bit of his own magic to the spell, streams of butter yellow energy flowing to the guards as well.

Now, they rose to their hooves with a new vigour and energy.

"The time has come!" he announced. "Do your duty to Canterlot, to Princesses Celestia, Luna and Cadence! Repel these invaders! Reclaim your home!"

The guards added their cheers to the cries, like an echo that had begun faintly, now ringing in the ears of all present. They rounded on the closest changelings, launching themselves into battle or releasing more of their fellows.

Dusk saw Chrysalis's face as he rose higher. For the first time, her smug triumph had completely gone. Her fangs glinted, her eyes burned with anger, fixed on Dusk and Cadence. They'd really stirred up the hive now.

"Go, my minions!" she commanded. "Do your duty to your queen, for changelings everywhere! Don't let them defeat you! We shall be triumphant!"

"Who's deluded now, Chrysalis?" called Cadence. "Your tricks and disguises won't help you now!"

"Don't speak to soon." She began to turn away. "My army has defeated you once, we shall do it again. We shan't succumb to your pathetic efforts! We shall face you, without fear!"

"Then why are you running?" asked Dusk.

She only hissed and strode off. He was about to tell Cadence to take off after her when she banked suddenly, something whizzing by them. He looked to see three changelings turning around to intercept them again.

"We need to link up with Ray!" he shouted to her, firing at their attackers. "We need to make sure he managed to find the others! We can't let these guys slow us down!"

"I'll find him!" promised Cadence, knocking one out of the sky. "You have your role, I have mine! Like you said, we can't waste time!"

"Are you sure you'll be okay?"

"I can handle myself!" She looked imploringly at him. "She needs you. Go. Find her."

They held each other's gaze for a few seconds, everything else fading away around them. Part of him thought he should stay, to help the effort as much as he could, but a stronger part of him knew she was right. There were others here to fight this battle, to lead them to victory. He had get to the heart of this and for that, his needed to be complete.

It was like a silent agreement they came to. He didn't even cry out in surprise when she let go, for he had already created a colour cloud carry himself down. He landed in the street below, turning around to see her still flying majestically, looking every bit the princess she was.

"You'd better make sure you find my Shining too!" she called.

"Of course!" he returned. "There's still a wedding to be had!"

"I'll be sure to save a dance for you!" she promised. With one last smile, she took off towards the lower town, firing bolts at a few changelings who tried to pursue her.

He watched her go, silently wishing her luck, then turned to behold the royal palace. It loomed overhead, looking far away and there was much opposition. All around him, the battle raged between changeling and pony and he wished that his friends were here with him. Part of him wanted to run, to find somewhere to hide, but he ignored it.

He might have once, but he wasn't that pony anymore. He was so much more than what he had been. He wasn't going to back down and he wasn't going to be stopped. If he ran now, then what was the point of any of it? If nothing else, he had to try. For Twilight.

He started off at a sprint, stopping when his name was called.

"Dusk Noir, sir!" He spun around to see Dreadwing and Knockout running to join him. "It is good to see you safe and well, sir!"

"Likewise to you, Dreadwing," he returned, though he watched them warily. "Forgive me if I'm somewhat cautious of your arrival."

The bat pony nodded. "Understandable, sir, due to my previous unwarranted assault on your person. I hope you don't hold it against me, sir."

"Not at all," replied Dusk, satisfied he wasn't an imposter. "And Knockout. The shine on your armour has seen better days."

"You don't know the half of it!" he shouted angrily. "I swear, those ingrates are going to regret what they did to me and my beautiful finish!"

"I'm sure they will," he nodded, relaxing after that. "How about you come with me to see if their queen won't compensate you?"

He grinned deviously. "Funny, that was just what I had in mind."

"If I may sir, it would be my honour to accompany you on this mission," offered Dreadwing.

Dusk nodded. "It would be my honour to have you, both of you."

"Thank you, sir." He glanced back at the sound of more hooves and smiled. "I believe there are some others who share our sentiments."

Dusk looked to see four more guards, another bat pony and three of the Sun Guard, galloping to join them.

"Did I hear right?" asked the bat pony. "You going to take on the queen bug?"

"That is correct, miss," he answered. "Can I count on you for assistance?"

"Name's Midnight Blossom and I can offer you a lot more than assistance." Blades flicked out of the guards on her forelegs. "I'll be right behind you, boss."

"As will I," put in the Sun Guard next to her, carrying a hefty spear. "Cloud Skipper, at your service, sir."

A large earth pony stepped forward. "Bulkhead, reporting for duty. I can give you force. Just tell me when to use it... and how much."

"Same for me," added a Pegasus. "Cliffjumper, sir. Been itching to give these guys the horns and it looks like this might be the best thing for it." He gestured to custom-made horns emerging from his helmet.

Dusk looked around at the six of them. Though he would have liked to have been with his friends for this, he knew that wouldn't be possible and who better to fight with than Canterlot's Finest? With such dedication to their duty, how could he turn them away?

"I'm not trying to dissuade you here," he told them. "We're going after Queen Chrysalis herself, while also rescuing Captain Shining Armour and Element of Magic, Twilight Sparkle. It's going to be dangerous, the changelings guarding them will be numerous and the queen will no doubt be a formidable opponent."

Midnight Blossom actually smirked. "I'm sorry, where's the part that's meant to dissuade us?"

"Very well then." He actually felt braver just being with them. "Once more unto the breach then!"

His memory flashed on saying those words. Alone, frightened, before a dark forest, full of terrors and danger. The ones he loved were in peril and he had stood alone, with only the smallest of hopes for saving them.

A long time had passed since then. He had grown stronger, he controlled his fear, he would face those terrors and defeat them. Most importantly, he wasn't alone, as the brave shouts and thundering hooves of his newfound comrades told him. Just like then, a single thought echoed through his mind, driving him onwards with them, at their head.

Hold on, Twilight. I'm coming for you.

Author's Note:

For those of you who recognised those two particular guards, I couldn’t resist mentioning them in here. Can you blame me? Credit goes to Equestria-Prevail for their conception, I don’t own them.

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