• 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.

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When You Think It's Over...

She recovered from the disorientation she felt quite quickly. Being a changeling, she was used to such sensations. Perhaps the stallion wasn't expecting this because, the instant that she recovered, Chrysalis launched him away from her with a force field she conjured around her body. He crashed into a tree and slid to the ground.

Wait, a tree? She took in her surroundings, felt rough, coarse grass beneath her hooves and saw that she'd been transported to a forest of some kind. The dense branches and the thick trees loomed in all around her, cutting off most of the light from the sun. Not that she was so foolish as to be afraid of the dark. Through the trees, she could just make out Canterlot in the distance.

This, combined with that disorientation she'd felt before, led to only one conclusion. The stallion before her had managed to teleport them both out of Canterlot and to this forest. She knew he had the ability to, but to transport to such a distance as this was quite an impressive feat.

"You certainly do appear to be more than meets the eye," she said to him. "It must have taken quite a lot out of you to transport us this far. How did you manage that?"

The wind was blowing violently through the trees, their leaves rustling loudly. With it, they brought to her ears the enraged, pained grunts of Ray. He was struggling to his hooves, but still managed to hold her in a glare of the deepest loathing.

However, the queen appeared more amused than intimidated. His abilities might be impressive, but what chance did he stand against her?

"My, my... do you hate me so?" she asked in a low voice.

"Chrysalis..." he growled.

The stallion's thoughts flashed briefly through the storm of anger he felt, like flashes of lightning. He saw them, fighting the queen's forces back in Canterlot and not knowing for certain if victory was assured. He saw Dusk once more in that moment, the pain in his eyes when Twilight had been standing over him, used like a pawn in the queen's twisted game.

He looked at her now. She still had that smug, amused expression on her ugly, fanged face. His storm of anger only grew more violent. Through his gritted teeth which his growls rumbled through, he could feel them begin to tingle and sharpen slightly. He felt a burning in his eyes, which he locked on the queen. He could feel the very earth beneath his hooves rumble, as if it too shared in his rage.

She saw the changes surfacing too. The sharpening teeth, his round eyes becoming black slits, a mild rumbling in the ground beneath from some unseen pressure. But that wasn't the only thing. Being a changeling, she was tuned to all emotions, not just love. She didn't feed off them, but she could feel them emanating from others. As queen, hers was even stronger and she could feel it now.

Rage. Pure, unbridled, untamed rage. This feeling... it was just like...

Her look turned serious. "I see... So, you're one of them..."

Once again, Ray only growled her name in response. It sounded much more guttural now, more feral.

Her mouth curled into another smile. "This might be entertaining then." She chuckled, pushed some of her hair out of her eyes and continued, "Very well, I'll play with you for a bit then. If you really want me to."

Her tone was eager by an odd degree, but he didn't care. She still sounded like she was talking to a child having a temper tantrum, but he didn't care. Her eyes flashed with that green aura, almost tauntingly.

That was the last straw.

"CHRYSALIS!"

He bellowed at the top of his lungs and charged at her. She only smirked all the more and flew to meet him, the two of them clashing.


Even with his marefriend standing over him to deliver the final blow, Dusk had managed to look past her at the spot where Ray and Chrysalis had been. The silence that followed in the absence of her cruel laughter was surprisingly comforting and he was quietly grateful to his friend for arriving when he did.

Despite that, he still had concern for the stallion. He had just teleported away with Chrysalis and while he would have liked to think he had brought her to where their forces were, the way he had shouted at her there only conveyed one thing: he wanted to bring her down on his own. Even by Ray's standards, that seemed inconceivably dangerous. Then again, Dusk had had almost the same intent before and Ray was more used to fighting than he was. Maybe he would actually stand a chance.

That wasn't the only thing though. The look in his eye when it had dawned on him what was happening, the pure rage he exuded when he exploded like that, the unnatural speed with which he moved. He wasn't sure whether he should be concerned for him or for Chrysalis.

It was then he realised that he was actually still lying here and able to think. He dared to look up at Twilight. While her horn was no longer glowing, her eyes were still and her expression shifted between mindless compliance and pained struggling, along with her eyes from green to purple. She was fighting back against the control. He saw the changeling posing as him, disorientated from Ray knocking him aside.

This was his chance. He had to take it.

"Twilight?" He tried to push himself back up. "Can... can you hear me?"

Her voice came out in a mix pained gasps and monotone. "I... I can... imposter... no, no, not imposter..."

"Yes, that's it," he encouraged gently. His legs were shaking, but he managed to stay up. "You know it's me, don't you? You know it's the real me?"

"I do... I don't... trying to trick me... save me, agh!" She clutched at her head. "I don't... I do...!"

"Come on, you're stronger than he is. You have to fight him, Twilight," he pressed on. He tried to keep eye contact. "You're the one in control, not him. Think clearly, listen to my voice, not his."

"I... I can't tell... yes I can... no, no I can't I...!" She cried out. "It hurts... it hurts, so much! I can't fight it!"

"I know, I know it does, I really do." He took her shoulders gently. "I managed to beat it and I'm nowhere near as powerful as you are. You can do it, I know you can!"

"I can't! It hurts!" Her pain only increased, her cries becoming louder. "Help me! Please, help me!"

He began to think, tried desperately recall when he had been in this state. He had felt the same, torn between what he thought was real and what he knew was real. Even though it was much clearer now he was being deceived, when it actually happened he thought that his head might tear open from the confusion.

Until Cadence's spell had hit him. The flood of memories and feelings that flowed through him, all of them centred on Twilight, they had given him clarity like a bright light through a dense fog. Yet that it was all it had really, shone the light he'd used to follow back. He might not have Cadence's magic, but he could still try.

"Here..." He placed a hoof on her cheek, holding her head still, her eyes gazing into his. "Let's see if this works..."

He didn't even need to think about it. He leaned and pressed his lips against hers. For a second they didn't respond, but soon enough she was returning it. It started off gentle, but it wasn't long before it escalated, becoming more passionate, almost desperately so. It felt like so long since they'd been apart that now they were needing, craving for the taste and touch of each other.

He remembered the spell she'd used to calm his mind from Doom's memories, Luna's training on mental manipulation and tried it with her. He pressed his horn against her head, pouring the spell into her mind and casting out the alien influence that clung and ate away at her like a tumour. Once it was gone completely, he pulled away before it took too much out of him.

Just before he did though, he felt something else. A brief spark of emotion that seemed to follow him back, only it wasn't his emotion. He recognised it though and actually regretted not exploring it further...

He opened his eyes. They were still looking directly at hers, which were now permanently fixed on lavender. She blinked rapidly and rubbed her head, like she'd been awoken from a long sleep.

"Dusk...?" Her voice was weak, but it was no longer a monotone. "Where... where am I...? What happened...?"

"It's okay, just take a few minutes," he said softly. "We're in Canterlot. You were captured by the changelings."

"Yes, I remember... it's all so blurry," she muttered. "I... I was with Shining... they were going to attack Ponyville."

"They did," he confirmed. "Don't worry though, we managed to defeat them."

"But... she said they beat you, that they captured you and the others. They took me to your cell and you... wait... if it wasn't you, then..." Confusion gradually turned to shock. "That's what happened... that's why I can't remember anything..."

"Yes." He knew that she would recover quickly, but even he was astounded by how fast. "The Dusk they brought you to was a... a changeling."

"And what did I do?" she asked quickly. "They must have had control over me, like Chrysalis did with Shining. What did they make me do?"

"Twilight, you didn't-"

"No, I know I did, Dusk, please don't lie to me," she begged. "Tell me... what did I do?"

Even though she said she wanted to know, the look in her eyes seemed to wish that he wouldn't tell her. There was no point in keeping it from her. She'd know.

He swallowed, trying to find the right words. "They... they brought you out with the... the changeling posing as you and they... they..."

"They what? What did they...?" She gasped. "Oh no, please tell me that I didn't... not to you..."

He looked away. "I'm afraid so..."

"No... no..." She choked out a sob and turned away. "Dusk, I'm so sorry! I didn't know, I really didn't know, I thought it was you! A part of me thought there was something wrong, but I ignored it! I just... I had you back and I didn't... didn't want..."

"Twilight, my love..." He placed a hoof on her cheek, gently turning her face to look at him again. "It doesn't matter anymore. It's over now. You're in control again, not him. I don't blame you for what happened. Not one, little bit."

"R-really?" she hiccupped. "You mean that...?"

"Of course I do," he said with complete sincerity. "You're not the only one who's been used like a puppet to hurt others while they watch. But you saved me from that." He managed a smile. "I thought it was high time I return the favour."

"Of course..." She was still crying, but a smile of her own broke out when she threw her hooves around his neck. "Thank you... I love you, I love you so much... thank you..."

"You're very welcome, Miss Sparkle." He ran a hoof through her mane. It felt a lot coarser than it usually was, but he didn't care. "So, I think that's twice now I've rescued you?"

She laughed, a sound much more musical than anything made by Chrysalis. "I'd say I'm still in the lead, but you're getting there. How did you manage it anyway?"

"I'm not entirely sure," he admitted. "I performed a spell like my mental suggestion, but I tried to combine it with the spell you've used on me in the wake of Doom. I wasn't even sure it would work but apparently it did. Much stronger than I expected too. Cadence used her magic on me when I was being controlled in the same way."

"Wow..." she gasped. "Raw, genuine emotion combined with strong magic overcoming the controlling influence that imitated those feelings to stimulate obedience and control in the subject from within their mind. The added boost of that must have purged the spell from my mind. Both of our minds."

"So... the power of love saved us?"

She giggled wiping away her tears. "In simpler terms, yes. The power of love saved us."

"It's strange... I still feel something in here..." she murmured. "I don't know what it is..."

His fear came back. "Maybe I didn't do it right. He might still have some control."

"No, it's not that. It feels... good." She looked curiously at him. "Are you sure you didn't do anything else?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so. I only tried to do what you did for me."

"Interesting..." She frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "Oh well, we can examine it later. Right now..."

She turned and looked back at the throne, where his changeling counterpart was stirring. Dusk saw the look on her face and felt a little scared himself.

"So, just to recap, you said you were tricked too, like I was?" she asked in a low voice.

"That's correct. By him, as it happens."

"So the same one that manipulated you also manipulated me?"

"That appears to be an accurate assumption."

"That's all I needed to know." With fire in her eyes and starting in her mane, she strode towards him, with Dusk following tentatively behind.

Some things never changed.

"Wha...?" The changeling blinked, like he suddenly realised what was going on. "What's going on? Twilight, stop. Stop, right now! Finish him off!"

"She's not being controlled by you anymore," he said simply.

"No, no!" The imposter Dusk looked livid. "This isn't possible! I'm in control of her now! She's mine!"

"HOW DARE YOU?!" Her mane burst into flames when she shouted this. "How dare you hurt my stallion?! How dare you hurt him?! How dare you steal his form, get inside my head and use me like your puppet to hurt him?!"

"P-please, no!" He scurried back. "D-don't kill me! Dusk, he let me go!"

"Do I look like Dusk?!" she roared. "And don't worry, I won't kill you! I'm not like you!"

"You... you wouldn't hurt me, would you?" he whimpered. "Not while I look like Dusk..."

"You're right, I wouldn't." A flash of her horn and the changeling was dazed again, back in his true form. "Now I will!"

Dusk raised a hoof. "Twilight, wait!"

They both looked at him incredulously, though the changeling looked much more hopeful. Normally, he would say that they needed to rise above this, to be the better ponies and just let him run away, to live with what he's done. However, he didn't feel much of an inclination to say any of that. Instead, he stood next to her and let his hoof turn orange.

"Now," he continued, "carry on."

"Thank you." They looked at the changeling. His face fell.

"You have got to be-"

BAM!

His head slammed against the pillar, eyes rolling into the back of his head as he slumped to the ground and didn't get back up.

"That felt good," she murmured.

"It did. I mean, um," he stammered, "not that I want to endorse a growing interest in violence. I just thought that... that since he hurt both you and me that um... some form of justice was in order, even if it was..."

"Dusk." She placed a hoof on his lips. "Stop talking."

He smiled and nodded. They leaned in again, parting their lips, but not to speak. He wondered briefly about before, that little vestige of what felt like her that was tucked away in his mind. Did she feel it too now? Was there a part of him in her mind too? Was he just imagining it? It didn't matter much right now. For just a few minutes, he wanted nothing else too either...

Until they heard an explosion. They jumped apart ran to the window and from the look on Twilight's face, Dusk knew both he and her were thinking the same thing.

What in Equestria was that?

Not long after, a loud roar echoed in its wake...


"So, you're the one leading this operation?" The bug who looked like he was in charge peered at her. "I've heard about you, Rainbow Dash. You're meant to be quite good."

"Then you heard wrong," she replied. "I'm not quite good. I'm not even very good. I'm the best."

"The best?" He laughed derisively. "Then how is it that you were captured?"

She shrugged. "I don't know, but how about you tell your buddies here to let me go and I'll do the best I can to answer that."

"You're certainly not lacking in confidence, I'll admit that," he said. "But likewise, you have to admit that you're in a rather difficult situation here."

Rainbow looked around. Everywhere here, mostly tightly packed together where they were, changelings watched them. They had them surrounded and her teammates restrained, their wings stuck down with the weird green goo they made. The large exit out of the room was covered, as was the smaller emergency exit, guards keeping a close watch on both.

"I do admit it, yeah." She grinned up at him. "But I always did prefer a challenge."

He laughed again and walked away. "And you, Hard Edge, you played your part well. I honestly thought you didn't have it in you, but you've proved me wrong. Perhaps you're more of a changeling than I thought."

The stallion glared at him. "That supposed to be a compliment, Sting?"

"Take it as you will. What matters is that you fulfilled your role very well and for that, I'm going to give you a special reward." He gestured to the three prisoners. "Take your pick."

He looked at them, confused. "For what?"

"You seem like an intelligent pony, Hard Edge." The corners of his mouth seemed to raise a little. "I think you can figure it out."

Rainbow's blood turned cold as some of the gathered changelings sniggered, but even a few of them looked shocked by this order. They were just going to execute them, on the spot?

"You can't do this!" Thunderlane shouted. "We're prisoners, we have rights!"

"Incorrect. You're my prisoners, which means you only have one right," hissed Sting. "Now, keep your mouth shut or I'll make sure you're the first."

Thunderlane and Lightning both continued to struggle. Sting nodded and the changelings holding them down punched them in the gut. They doubled over, breathing heavily. Rainbow managed to catch their eyes and shook her head. She wanted at him too, but they had to be smart about this. They'd figure a way out.

"So then, Edge," Sting was saying, "are you going to pick one or will I have to let someone else have the pleasure?"

"Fine, fine." Rainbow knew what he was going to say. "I'll take Dash."

Sting's smile became a little wider. "I would have too."

He didn't respond to that. Instead, he just strode up to Rainbow and pushed away the changelings restraining her. He shoved her roughly, pushing her further into the centre of the ring they were in.

"You know, I really thought there was more to you than this," she murmured.

"What can I say?" he replied. "I saw a chance and decided to take it. Like you said."

The way he said that made her glance back. Was it her imagination or did his eye flicker briefly there in a wink? She looked back to where she was being pushed to. It was one of the condensers for use in cloud making. It was sealed at the top, so if it was punctured...

She kept a hard look on her face when they reached it. She turned to look at Edge, making sure that her back was to it. He raised his weapon to fire. In the instant that she heard the magical humming started up, she looked at her captured team and smirked. She'd have to time this just right. Luckily, she was just as fast on her hooves as her wings.

She stared at the weapon, glowing like a forest fire. Her team was tensed. She was ready. The weapon flared. She tilted her head to the left, felt the heat of the shot past her cheek. It struck the condenser.

Rainbow galloped ahead of the torrent of water that surged after her, knocking down any changelings unlucky enough to be standing nearby. On top of that came the steam of proto-clouds, causing further confusion for changelings that were buzzing in the air. She had the exit in her sight and galloped straight for it.

More shots sounded and more condensers burst open from the impacts. She briefly heard the sounds of punching and kicking from Thunderlane and Lightning Dust while they escaped their captors, of Sting frantically issuing orders to his fellows and attempting to reorganise them.

She laughed, but it turned into a yell when the water suddenly smacked into her back. She tumbled from the loss of control, twisting and turning about, the warm water flowing around her body and sweeping her away. Any other pony might have let it.

But nothing made Rainbow Dash lose control.

With short, powerful strokes, she fought against the current, just enough to get back on track with the exit. Once she was, the water flowing out of the exit on a different current, she took in a deep breath and dived under the water. It might not be flying, but it was kind of the same. At least she didn't have a chance of crashing.

Something grabbed a hold of her leg. She looked back and saw the changeling glaring at her. She lashed out with her other one, kicking him square in his ugly face. He let go and became caught in the current, careering out of control and smacking into the wall on the left side of the exit. She started to laugh at the spectacle...

Until she smacked right into the other side. Still a chance of crashing then.

She quickly extracted herself from the wall, swimming out and taking a deep breath when her head broke the surface. It was only hoof high now, flooding down the hall. She had just shaken herself dry when Thunderlane and Lightning also shot out. A few seconds later, so did Edge. The stallion had been lucky enough to have his wings free and his weapons didn't look like they were damaged either.

As soon as he was through, she closed the clouds around the entrance and cut it off. That would hopefully give the bugs some trouble.

"You get a little wet from the flood there or are you just pleased to see me?" he chuckled.

"You wish," she snorted. "You two okay?"

"I'm fine," affirmed Thunderlane.

"Yeah, no thanks to this two-faced traitor!" Lightning rounded on Edge. "Gimme one good reason why I shouldn't knock your freaking block off right now!"

"Hold on there." Rainbow stepped in between them. "Let's hear him out."

"What? Did you miss what he just pulled back there?" she asked incredulously. "This scum had his chance, now he's gonna get it!"

"I didn't, but there's a way we do this. First, we hear him out. Then, if I don't like it, he's all yours," she promised.

Lightning gave her and Edge a long, hard stare. "Fine," she said eventually, stepping back.

"Okay." She looked at the stallion. "So, just whose side are you on exactly?"

He chuckled again. "I thought that was kinda obvious."

"I'm glad you're finding this funny, 'cause I'm not," she said sharply. "So how about you explain the joke."

"It's no joke," he said seriously. "It was Sting's plan. He figured that somepony'd try to get in the factory through the cloud bellows, so he sent me out to find 'em, then try and trick 'em. Lure them into his trap."

"So you were lying, right from the start," Lightning growled. "Can I hit him now?"

"Hold on," she urged. "So you filled out your part of the plan. Why didn't you finish it?"

"Because I know which side I'm really on," he answered. "I guess I had some sense knocked into me."

"You could have just told us about the trap."

"I had to go along with it and make Sting think I was still on his side. For that, it was better than you didn't know about it. You saw how many of the bugs were there. If he didn't think things had gone as planned, he'd have torn us apart, me included."

"A hint would have still been good though."

"Yeah, well, no plan is perfect." He looked imploringly at her. "I'm on your side, Rainbow Dash. You gotta believe that."

She held him in her gaze. For a guy she assumed was just some jerky thug, she was having a hard time figuring him out. Part of her didn't want to believe him. This could easily be some other of the changeling's tricks and it might be better to just leave him here. Or let Lightning do whatever she wanted to him.

But his explanation and his actions made sense. If he wasn't on their side, he could have blasted away when he had the chance and be in with the bugs even better than he had been. But he didn't. Instead, he'd helped to save them. Even now, he could still take them down if he wanted to. Their wings were still stuck and they wouldn't get far on hooves after their little swim.

"Okay," she said eventually. "I believe you. But I just got one thing I gotta do first."

She stepped aside and nodded to Lightning. Before Edge could react, he was already reeling from the punch she hit him with.

"What the hay?!" he shouted. "I thought you said you believe me!"

"I did. I also said that, if you try anything, Lightning here gets the first punch." She shrugged and smirked. "Gotta try and keep everypony happy."

"Guess I gotta give you that one," he muttered. "Right, let's get those wings free."

He used his weapons to heat up the goo that glued their wings down until it melted away. The daredevil flexed her wings happily. Yeah, she thought, these babies were two awesome to be tied down like that. Like her.

He had just finished freeing Thunderlane when the cloud door dented on the other side. A second later, another dent appeared. On the other side, she could hear Sting screeching his orders to his soldiers while they banged away at it.

"Hurry up! I want that door in pieces and once you're done with that, I want them in pieces, but not Edge! I'll punish him myself! He will pay for this treachery!"

"That door won't hold them long. Come on, we gotta move!" she ordered. "We just gotta get down to the generators and fire them up!"

"Then you guys had better get going then." He faced the door. "Show these guys how real Pegasi fly."

"And what are you gonna do?"

"You're gonna have a lotta bugs on your tails. I'm gonna see if I can't swat a few."

Rainbow would have been lying if she'd said she wasn't shocked by this offer. Her teammates were the same, Lightning especially.

"How do we know you're not gonna try and make friends with them again?" she asked.

"Somehow, I don't think they're gonna wanna hear anything I've got to say," he said. "This talk's gonna be one-sided and it won't be my mouth that's shooting off, I guarantee that."

"Even with your toys, there's still a lot more of them than you," noted Rainbow. "You sure you wanna do this?"

"Like you said, I have a chance right here." He smiled grimly, priming his weapons. "Better take it while I can." The door bent even further. "Now go on, get outta here!"

Rainbow didn't know why she was lingering while Lightning tried to push her away. This should look like a good deal, yet it didn't sit well with her, leaving him behind. The changelings wouldn't be looking to capture him and there were a lot of them.

In the end though, she had a job to do and he was helping them do it. It wouldn't do any of them any good if they were caught again.

"We'll be back for you!" she called. "Don't think you're getting out of this that easy!"

Edge only gave her that grim smile again in response. She finally managed to tear her gaze away and hurried around the corner. She was only flying for a few seconds, speeding down the hall, when she heard the cloud door give way and the sound of his blasters going off.

Something else sounded off as well. It came from below them though. It sounded like an explosion, but she pressed on, doing her best to ignore it. Time to get it done.

She even ignored the loud roar that went off not long after. Even though it sounded far away, she could have sworn she saw the walls of the factory shake...


Even with the combined forces of their groups and the training of the Royal Guards, it had been a difficult effort to make it this far. There were less changelings going through the city, but by the time they'd reached the wedding hall, they'd really managed to dig in and had given them a lot of trouble for the longest time.

Cadence had anticipated that her aunts would be under the heavy guard when the attack began, but even she had been surprised with the sheer tenacity with which they fought. A few of Chrysalis's Guard had managed to organise a tight defence of the area and made use of ranged magical attacks to keep them pinned down and stop them from advancing. Anypony hit by the bolts became stuck in the changeling's goo and were fixed to the spot.

The Princess of Love had been very lucky not to get hit herself when she had been flying at the head. A guard had taken the shot for her and got it right in his face. By the time she'd managed to get it off of him behind the safety of cover, he had already passed out from lack of air. She'd thanked him with a spell that would be able to get him under way again in a few minutes and tried to formulate a plan to penetrate the line.

It was actually their resident leading diamond dog who had come up with something. He requested for a few of his fellow dogs and Applejack to accompany him to a different part of the battlefield he'd claimed would be able to help them. Big Mac wasn't happy about it, but Cadence persuaded him to let his sister go with them. Now, they were waiting to see what they had planned.

They couldn't hold out for much longer though. A good deal of ponies and dogs had been stuck in place by the changeling goo. The others were all pinned down with them. Every now and again, the Queen's Guard would send some soldiers advancing forward to chip away at them a little bit more. They'd managed to hold out so far, but it was only a matter of time...

"They're getting a little more bold, your highness!" shouted a guard over the din after one of these assaults. "We can't stay here much longer!"

"Ai-y... yup," panted Big Mac. Even he was starting to feel the strain.

"Don't worry!" she called back. "They won't be much longer! Just hold the line!"

She peered around the door of the house they'd taken cover in. She managed to fire off a magical bolt before being forced back into cover again. She'd gotten enough of a glimpse to see something.

"It looks like they're gearing for another charge!" she reported. "Get ready!"

"Confirmed!" the guard yelled. "I can hear a rumbling! Sounds like it'll be a big one!"

Cadence heard it too. A low rumbling, like a sleeping beast being awoken from its slumber. She didn't know what they were going to do, but it couldn't be good. It grew steadily louder. She prepared to emerge from cover again-

BOOM!

The front line of changelings collapsed as the ground beneath them literally exploded and fell away. A howl sounded from the hole they'd fallen into and Fido, Applejack and the dogs who accompanied them emerged, striking at the nearest changelings and disrupting their defences even further.

Now was their chance.

"CHARGE!" she commanded.

She spread her wings and took to the sky with a few others, raining bolts down on the changelings below and striking down quite a few. The guards and dogs rushed forward, storming the changelings before they had time to recover from this surprise attack.

It was clear what the outcome would be. The Queen's Guard tried to rally them back, but most of the changelings were already either down or beginning to flee. Those that stayed were soon knocked aside and the few commanding officers still standing ordered a retreat. They fled in the direction of the palace.

"Excellent work, everypony!" Cadence praised over the cheering. "See to it those that are trapped are freed, then be ready." She looked at Applejack and Fido. "You certainly took your time."

"What do you expect, princess pony?" growled Spot. "Digging through rock takes time, even for us."

"I know, I was only joking, Fido." She smiled at him. "The efforts of you and your dogs are much appreciated. Well done."

She was actually surprised when he blushed a little. "Heh heh, no trouble..."

"And those party grenades are certainly proving to be useful," she noted to Applejack.

"Well, a lil' dynamite from these fellers helped things along too," she admitted. "Ah'd make a joke about finishin' this with a bang, but ah like ta think ah'm above that."

"Fair enough." She turned back to the soldiers. "A few of you stay out here. Free the trapped and secure the area. The rest of you, form up! It's time to get what we came for."

She threw open the doors and they hurried inside. Any guards who might have been here must have already fled. The only sign of the changeling's presence were two cocoons hanging from the ceiling. Cadence took a moment to look around. Some of the flowers decorating the room had withered and died, but a few of them looked like they had some life.

She stopped herself from crying. She had to stay strong. Her wedding would come later, she had to hold onto that. She still needed her groom and somepony to preside over it. The latter were right here in front of her, cut free with two sweeps of her horn. The guards waiting directly below ensured their rulers were lowered gently to the ground.

"Your timing is very welcome, Cadence," Celestia said warmly. "My wings were starting to get cramped from being stuck in there."

"Always happy to help." She hugged her, unable to keep from smiling. "It's so good to see you both okay."

"That is to be debated, dear niece, for I am currently seeing three of you," groaned Luna, clutching her head. "That was not a pleasant experience."

"Surely that's better than one then." She gave another to her younger aunt, casting a quick healing spell. "There, that should clear it up."

She nodded, though her eyes were still unfocused. "I am indebted to you, Cadence and to all of you in your efforts to free myself and my sister... my, there are a lot of you."

"I'd give her a few more minutes," giggled Celestia. "But she does voice a valid point. You've clearly done a lot to make it this far and I'm very proud of you."

"Thank you, Aunt Tia." She bowed her head humbly. "I'm just happy you're both okay."

"And it's thanks to you we are and to all of you," she added.

"Just doin' what we had ta do, yer highness," Applejack put in. "Couldn't jus' leave ya hangin' up there like trussed-up turkeys, could we?"

"Very true." She smiled at the farm pony. "It's good to see you too, Applejack. Are you hurt at all?"

"Nothin' ah can't handle, princess," she assured. "What about you two? You good ta go?"

"We'll need a few minutes to recover ourselves, but I'd say we are," she answered. "Where are the other Elements?"

"Fightin' in different parts-a the city. Don't worry, they can handle themselves."

"Your faith in them is very admirable indeed."

"Dearest sister, dearest niece and gathered friends and subjects," cut in Luna sharply. "While I am grateful we are all reunited, I feel that our efforts should be focused elsewhere other than on making general social interaction."

Cadence had to fight back a smirk. It could be easy to forget how blunt the Princess of the Night could be at times.

"You are right, Luna, of course," Celestia said patiently. "The changelings have transgressed here for longer than I'm comfortable with and you and I have been inactive long enough. It's time to do our duty to Equestria and to our subjects."

"I couldn't have phrased it better, dear sister," agreed Luna. "Tell us, Cadence, what is your plan?"

"Well, now that we've freed you two, we're going to advance on the palace," explained Cadence. "Dusk has already advanced ahead to confront the queen and attempt to free Twilight and Shining with a few of the Royal Guard and Ray Strike reportedly with him too. We're going to try and help him along."

"An excellent plan indeed!" declared Luna. "I am eager to stand with my student upon the field! Let us away at once!"

"Luna, how many hooves am I holding up?" asked Celestia.

She squinted. "Why, two of them, dear sister."

"I'm only holding up my left hoof."

"Indeed?" She squinted closer. "So it would seem. Then correction: let us away... when my head ceases to pound and my eyes cease to deceive me."

"Good idea." Celestia looked at Cadence with a degree of concern. "Did you say that Ray had gone to confront the queen too?"

"So Applejack tells me," she answered. "Don't worry, he's a very capable fighter."

"I'm not worried about that." She looked away for a moment, pausing. "Have you noticed anything-?"

An explosion sounded somewhere. A second later, it was followed by a roar. It seemed so far away, yet it sounded so clearly in their ears, as if it were only feet away.

Luna whipped around. "Stars above! What was that?"

"Coulda been one-a Pinkie's grenades goin' off or somethin'," suggested Applejack.

They waited in stunned silence for a moment and Cadence was inclined to agree... until a loud roar echoed in its wake.

"Unless these 'grenades' also contain monsters that emerge from them once used, I find that to be most unlikely."

"Ah dunno," she shrugged. "Ah wouldn't put it past her."

While she was curious about the disturbance too, Cadence didn't feel too worried about it. Perhaps that was because, in contrast, she had just seen the expression of her eldest aunt. It was one that she wasn't accustomed to seeing and didn't think she'd ever seen. It conveyed one emotion, an emotion she didn't even think Princess Celestia had.

Fear.

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