• Published 26th May 2014
  • 5,537 Views, 582 Comments

Wedding Bells Bug Hunt - Trinary

Dashverse AU: The Canterlot Wedding is on and a changeling scheme to subvert the Elements of Harmony is underway! Can Rainbow Dash find the imposter?

  • ...

Chapter 1

Rainbow Dash shot her assembled friends a concerned look. “Do you think she’ll make it?” The six of them were sitting in a train compartment on their way to Canterlot. They were enjoying a light lunch, but the casual atmosphere came off as a bit forced.

Fluttershy put down her cup of tea and looked over to the window. “Oh my goodness, I sure hope so.”

“Come come now,” Rarity interjected, daintily bringing her napkin up to her lips. “Pinkie Pie has endured worse than this. Remember the Great Cupcake Shortage two summers ago?”

Applejack tried to repress a shudder and failed. She shook her head. “I’d be just as concerned about Twi, mahself. This can’t be easy for her neither.”

The unicorn in question was reading a book. She let out a startled squeak as she heard her name. “What? No, I’m fine! Completely fine, why would you say that I’m not?!”

“Well,” Applejack drawled. “Fer starters, yer holdin’ the book upside down. That makes it a mite harder to read, don’t ya think?”

Twilight blushed as she looked back at her book, righting it. “…I thought I was studying ancient elkish…”

“You would.” Rainbow Dash snorted. “Still, she’s doing better than Pinkie. I say she’s gonna explode. Maybe even twice.”

“If anypony could…” Applejack looked to the window, where Pinkie Pie had kept her face pressed to it for the last hour.

The energetic pony’s tail swished from side to side and her hooves tapped lightly against the window. “Come on, come on…oooh! I wish the train would just arrive already! I can’t wait another minute! What if the train got lost? What if we’re going the wrong way?”

Rainbow leaned back. “Relax Pinkie, I doubt the train managed to get lost from the track it runs on.” She rolled her eyes. “Remember how you were convinced that the only reason Derpy didn’t deliver the wedding announcement sooner was because she had gotten lost or fell into a tornado--or had caused a tornado?”

Pinkie pulled her face away from the window with schloorch-POP! that made everypony wince. “Yeah! And then you said the announcement hadn’t been mailed yet even though I’d been waiting for days and weeks and months! I said ‘What if she’s lost?’ since Derpy sometimes gets lost. Then you said it was more likely that she ran into a stiff tailwind or a house or that there was a muffin sale at Sugarcube Corner. And then I said ‘Why didn’t anypony tell me there was a muffin sale at Sugarcube Corner’ and then you--HMMPHH!”

“Thanks Applejack.” Rainbow sighed as an orange hoof inserted itself into Pinkie’s mouth. It was just easier than dealing with Pinkie herself. Plus, less Pinkie spit on her hoof.

Rarity ran a brush through her mane. “The fact is darlings, that the announcement has been made and we’ll be in Canterlot soon to help set things up.”

There was a squeal of joy as Pinkie Pie pulled her face free and cartwheeled around the room. “Yeah! And now I’m gonna throw a ‘Princess Cadance and Shining Armor Are Getting Married Party!’ at their wedding! I’ve been waiting for months and months and months!

Rarity gave a soft demure shake of her mane. “These things do take time, dear. Months of planning goes into any wedding, and this isn’t just any wedding. Could you just imagine trying to get all the work involved for a royal wedding done in a day or two?”

“Some of the best things come t’those who wait.” Applejack agreed. “Can’t buck your apples until they’re ripe.”

Fluttershy let out a soft, but heartfelt, “That’s wonderful news. Yay. Woo-hoo.”

“Shiny’s marrying Cadance! Shiny’s marrying Cadance!” Twilight hopped around in a circle with Pinkie Pie.

Applejack chuckled. “There they go again.”

“Well, it is exciting.” Fluttershy piped up.

Rainbow flew off of set and landed in the middle of the isle. “You know it is! We’ve been preparing for weeks!” She looked around the room. “Fluttershy, how’s your bird choir?”

Fluttershy smiled beatifically. “Oh, they’ve been working so hard…they’ve even come with me to watch the Ponytones practice. Thank you for arranging that for us, Rarity.”

Rarity smiled and waved her hoof. “Tut tut, think nothing of it. We need to practice our own routine for the festivities and seeing as your delightful feathered friends—er, your other delightful feathered friends--” she shot Rainbow Dash an apologetic look before continuing, “—are performing the wedding march, it only made sense that we assist each other. Besides,” she added warmly. “You’ve been ever so helpful in making the dresses. I don’t know how else I would’ve managed creating an original wedding dress for the Princess and for all of us in time!”

With a characteristically shy smile, Fluttershy dipped her head and hid behind her mane. “It was nothing really…you did most of the work. I just did a stitch here or there.”

Twilight, having stopped her exuberant bouncing, trotted over. “I’m sure you both did wonderfully.” A delighted giggle escaped as a scroll floated over. “Oooh, we’re ahead of schedule!” She clapped her hooves together happily as she looked over to Pinkie Pie and Applejack. “Do you think you can handle the catering together?” Twilight winced and tried to rephrase. “I mean, I’m sure you two can handle it, you both bake for a living! Well technically Applejack grows and harvests a crop for a living and Pinkie throws parties, but both involve the creation of baked goods and I’m know you’re both great bakers it’s just—”

“—we want to make sure that all the food at the wedding won’t be made of just sugar and apples,” Rainbow cut in. “And Twilight? Breathe.”

“Right, breathing…got it.” Twilight gave a shaky smile.

Applejack chuckled. “Don’t you worry ‘bout it none. Pinkie and Ah reached what you might call an ‘understanding’ about what kinda foods t’make for a wedding. As for the cake…” her smile was enigmatic. “We got something special planned.”

“It’s a secret!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. “But we can give you a hint!” She looked suspiciously around for any potential eavesdroppers or cake-surprise-revealing-spoilers before gesturing for her friends to come closer. “The cake isn’t a lie!” She hissed to them, not picking up on the five pairs of eyes rolling at her. “Oooh, I wonder if I could make the wedding reception a surprise party?”

Rainbow Dash spoke slowly. “That…would be kinda hard to pull off since everypony knows that the wedding is going to have a reception.”

“Awww…” Pinkie pouted. “Well, it’s still going to be fun, fun, fun! I’m sooo happy that I’m in charge of the reception party!”

“You’re almost as excited as Dinky was,” Rainbow noted dryly. “She was practically bouncing off the walls to be a flower filly. And the dress you made for her—” she looked to Rarity. “She really loved it. Derpy wanted me to say thanks. Again. For the tenth time.”

That won a smile out of Rarity. “Completely unnecessary. The look on Dinky’s face was more than thanks enough. She looked just darling standing there with my Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom and the others. I’m not sure if any wedding has ever had as many flower fillies as this one—or a more enthusiastic retinue.”

“Cadance loves kids.” Twilight grinned. “And they love her right back.”

“Gonna be a large wedding.” Applejack noted. “Ya got a herd of flower fillies from all over Equestria, a whole passel of bridesmaids and more guests than the farm has apple trees.”

Twilight set the scroll down on a table and started looking over the book stacks, searching for something. “Well, it’s a big event. It’s not just a wedding, it’s also meant to help reintegrate the Crystal Empire into Equestria. So Cadance is going to have ponies from all over Equestria and the Empire as her bridesmaids and flower fillies; but that makes her wedding party a bit oversized.”

“Ooooh, I get it!” Pinkie Pie bounced happily. “The Princesses want to get everypony together so they can all be friends!”

“Uh, I guess you can say that.” Twilight conceded, flipping through her book. “That’s why they decided to have the wedding at the Grand Galloping Gala, after all.”

A sudden high-pitched squeal make everypony flinch and Twilight dropped her book to look for the source. Rarity flushed as she realized everypony’s eye was upon her. “Oh, I am sorry darlings. It’s just—the Grand Galloping Gala!” She gave a happy bounce more suited to Pinkie Pie. “The crem de la crem of all Equestria will be there! High society at its highest! And for a wedding where they’ll be wearing my designs!”

“And eating my food!” Applejack chimed in. “Tell me that won’t drum up some business for the farm?”

Twilight nodded began consulting her book, “Wedding Plans for Winning Ponies.”

Rarity impatiently waved her off. “Yes, yes, both our businesses are sure to flourish…but more importantly—there’s no more romantic occasion than a wedding, especially a royal one! And I’ll be right there with the most elegant and refined ponies there are! Perhaps one of them will be so moved by the proceedings that they’ll court me!” Her eyes grew large and she danced up and down on the tips of her hooves. “Maybe even propose right then and there!”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Rarity, I’ve been to the Gala before, remember? Princess Celestia dragged me there a couple times. I mean, seeing the Wonderbolts there is cool and all, but the Gala itself is so dull that not even the awesomeness of the ‘bolts can completely offset it.”

However, Rarity’s enthusiasm wasn’t diminished. “Ah, but I would be willing to bet that back then you weren’t a savior of Equestria and the stand-out at the Best Young Flyer competition, were you?” She grinned as she spotted the perk of interest in Rainbow’s eyes. “I’m sure that this Gala the Wonderbolts will all be competing for a chance to spend time with you.

“Well, now that you mention it…” Rainbow smirked.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Now see what you gone and done? S’no way we’re gonna get her head out the train doors now.” She snorted as Dash stuck her tongue out at her. “And I need that space t’bring my food cart.”

“A food cart?” Rainbow looked at the farmpony as if spying some rare creature she had never seen before. “You’re planning to bring a food cart to the fanciest, snootiest and most high-brow event in all of Equestria—and to a wedding, no less?”

“You say that like it’s weird or somethin’.”

“It would be nice if the birds and I got the chance to see the Royal Canterlot Gardens…” Fluttershy piped up. “To make friends with all those wonderful and rare animals…”

Twilight looked up from her book and smiled. “Well, I’m glad you’ll get to enjoy yourself.” She shot an apologetic look at Rainbow Dash. “I’m sorry that—”

“Twiliiight.” Rainbow groaned and rolled her eyes. “For the millionth time, it’s cool. For pony’s sake, you’re Shining Armor’s sister. It just makes sense that you’d be his best mare.”

“I know…it’s just that, I’m also in charge of planning the wedding and being Shining’s best mare. I feel like I’m crowding you out…”

The blue pegasus facehooved. “Twilight, we talked about this. I’m doing a Sonic Rainboom as they get married…that’s hardly being crowded out.”

Applejack nodded. “Eyup. Sounds more like she’s planning t’steal the show from the bride and groom. So, yeah, typical Rainbow.”

Rainbow ignored her. “Besides, Cadance offered me something in compensation. Something besides performing a Sonic Rainboom.”

“She did?” Twilight blinked and consulted her checklist. “I don’t see anything on my wedding checklist…”

“I never said it was for the wedding itself,” Rainbow Dash rubbed her hooves together and cackled evilly. “I’m in charge of the bachelorette party!”

Somewhere back in Ponyville, Cloud Kicker’s ears and wings suddenly perked up and she had no idea why…only that something good was going to occur.

“O-oh my…” Fluttershy meeped, blushing incandescently.

Pinkie gasped. “Oh wow! I’ve never been to a bachelorette party before! And you get to plan it? You’re sooo lucky! Can I come? I can help!”

“Of course you can! Fact is ... You're all coming!" Her grin showed more teeth than a pack of timberwolves. That smile had spelled doom and ruin for many a guard before the water balloon hit.

Applejack gulped. “Whoo boy…”

The train lurched and began to slow down, indicating that they were near. “We better get our things together.” Twilight observed as she closed her book.

“Quite right.” Rarity trotted out of the train car. From the hallway the others heard her say, “Excuse me, would you gentleponies be willing to help a lady with her belongings?”

Everypony was waiting eagerly as the train pulled into a stop at the Canterlot station. As soon as the doors opened, six very excited mares were the first ponies off. No points for guessing which of the six was first. “First!” Rainbow Dash called as she landed.

Applejack who had arrived on the platform a split-second after Rainbow, just rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah…” She took a look around. “Whooeee…so this is Canterlot?”

“Yup, Canterlot.” Rainbow nodded.

“Canterlot.” Twilight sighed happily. As much as she loved Ponyville, it was good to be back in her hometown.

Before Pinkie Pie could say something about it only being a model—which nopony else would’ve gotten—Rarity made her presence known through the pain-filled groans of the porters helping with her luggage.

“Land sakes, Rarity!” Applejack whistled at the pile of luggage that loomed over them. “Sure you packed enough?”

Rarity tilted her head back and sniffed. “A lady must be prepared for anything. And at least I didn’t need to be reminded to pack a toothbrush.”

Applejack sputtered indignantly. “Hey now! I was gonna remember! I was just busy with makin’ sure Apple Bloom minded her chores.”

“Of course, darling.” Rarity nodded sympathetically. “I’m sure the dear needed reminding of how to do the chores she’s been doing since she was old enough to help around the farm.”

“Exactly.” Applejack nodded before the words sank in. “Wait, what?”

Fluttershy forestalled any further argument when she noticed the arrival of armored guards. “Oh my…”

The others all looked over to see a contingent of guards marching over. They were a mix of earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi. Some of them shimmered and were soon recognized as crystal ponies. They realized that only one pony would have crystal ponies in her guard…

“Cadance!” Twilight dashed over, missing the stiffened postures of the guards.

Fortunately, Princess Mi Amore di Cadenza stepped out from behind her guards with a wide smile on her face. “Twilight!” Then with any semblance of royal dignity forgotten, the two fell into their fillyhood chant. “Sunshine, Sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”

It was all Rainbow could do not to burst out laughing at the looks on the guards’ faces. They were clearly trying to maintain their stoic guard face, but she’d been around guards long enough to know when they were clinging to their composure by the slimmest of margins. Of course, if Twilight had come up and started shaking her rump in Rainbow’s face, she’d have a hard time not laughing too. Good thing they never did that routine around Cloud Kicker, Dash mused to herself.

Rainbow’s own face lit up as she spotted another figure stepping out from behind the guards. “Hey Shiney Hiney!” The guards’ composure did crack as one of them let out a snort of laughter. Luckily for the guard in question, he managed to resume his normal posture before Shining Armor managed to spot which one had laughed.

With a sigh and a shake of his head, he trotted up to Rainbow. “Hey Dashie.” He grinned before putting her in a headlock and noogieing her. “I’ll Shiney Hiney you!”

The surprised Dash let out a startled squawk as she fought back, whapping him with her wings. “Hey!” she squealed. “Oh you are so gonna get it!”

“Princess!” Rarity dipped her head into an elegant bow, quickly followed by the others—save Rainbow. “It’s so delightful to see you again!”

Pinkie bounced up and down. “We’re sooo happy for you! I’m gonna throw you the best party ever! There’ll be cake and balloons and music and piñatas—ooh! Wait, you’re the crystal princess! We can have crystal piñatas!” Everypony winced. Even Pinkie seemed to catch on that there was something was amiss. “Wait…that’s probably not a good idea, is it?”

No.” Applejack rolled her eyes and gently whapped Pinkie with her hat. After doffing her hat again, she turned to the prospective royal couple. “Crystal piñatas aside, we’re mighty honored that y’all asked us to be bridesmaids and to cater the wedding.”

“Pleased as punch!” Rarity chimed in. “The chance to design wedding dresses for a Canterlot wedding--!” A squee escaped her lips and her hooves danced up and down excitedly.

Cadance smiled. “Shining Armor and I are the ones who should be grateful. We’re just lucky to have you all as friends.” She wrapped a hoof around Twilight and embraced her. “You’re practically family.” She turned to Shining Armor. “Right, Shining?”

Shining Armor paused mid-noogie and looked over, giving Rainbow a chance to break free. “Hm? Oh definitely!” He smiled and quickly moved over to Cadance. “We’re really happy that you’re here to help with the wedding.”

With an eyeroll and a deadpan expression, Cadance nudged Shining in the side. “He just means that he’s happy that he doesn’t have to deal with it.”

“Exactly.” Shining nodded solemnly, not about to be out-deadpanned.

“So useless.” But Cadance didn’t maintain her deadpan tone for long as she soon snapped back into a near-Pinkie level of excitement. “So how are the kids? Are they all going to make it?” She let out a squeak of excitement.

“Cadance is a little foal crazy.” Shining told the girls with a wry grin. “You just wait until she sees all the fillies in their little flower girl dresses and—” Cadance squealed in glee. “—that happens.” He rubbed his ear with a hoof.

"So Cadence, how many youngins are you fixin to have?" Applejack smirked.

“A good question.” Cadance turned her fiance. Shining swallowed nervously, his face alternating between blushing and paling as his soon-to-be wife flashed him an almost predatory grin.

He was saved by a sigh from Fluttershy. “Oh my goodness, I know just how she feels.” She let out a tiny squee of her own. “Dinky and all her little friends are so adorable. They’re just as cute as my animal friends.” She indicated her mane where her bird choir had perched inside.

“Ugh…tasting cute in the back of my mouth.” Shining Armor winced. “Must do…something…stallion-y.”

“Translation: he wants to go play Ogres and Oubliettes with his geek pals.” Rainbow stage whispered to her friends, prompting a group snort. After fixing her mane—or at least getting back to the way it was before Shining Armor noogied her—she shot Cadance a grin. “So, are you looking forward to the Best. Wedding. Ever?”

“We sure are,” Cadance gave Rainbow a hug. “We know everything’s going to be simply wonderful.”

“Like the bachelorette party?” The rainbow maned fiend grinned up at her. Cadance gave a weak chuckle that soon trailed off into a nervous, forced smile that seemed to say, ‘I instantly regret this decision.’

She was saved by the appearance of more guards, heralding the arrival of--“Princess Celestia!” Shining Armor saluted sharply.

As her friends began to bow, Rainbow dashed over to embrace the Princess. “Celestia!”

Celestia wrapped her wings around her pupil and held her close. “Rainbow Dash. It is so good to see you and your friends again. And under a more joyous occasion than usual.”

“Yeah.” Rainbow rested her head against the Princess’ neck. “Ponyville is awesome and my friends are even more awesome--but I still missed seeing you, y’know?”

“I understand.” Celestia nuzzled her. “We must spend some time catching up. As much as I enjoy your letters about your friendship discoveries, I must admit they’re sometimes a touch … brief.” Before Rainbow Dash could object, Celestia quoted one of her letters from memory. “Dear Princess Celestia: Dragon showed up. I kicked it in the face! It was awesome. Then Fluttershy made him cry and run away, 'cause she's awesome too.”

What else was there to say, Rainbow thought to herself. Seeing the pout on Dash’s face, Celestia chuckled. “There’s plenty of time to catch up later. Your friends must be tired from your long trip and want to settle into your rooms.”

The cyan pegasus looked over and saw what Celestia said was true. They were a touch bedraggled and excited, clearly wanting to drop their stuff off and launch into their preparations for the wedding. Having been cooped up on the train for over an hour--and not having all that much to do to prepare for the wedding--Rainbow flexed her wings. “Hey guys, I’m gonna catch up with you later. I want to stretch my wings and see the old ‘hood. See you at the palace in a bit!”

“Sounds good.” Twilight worked out a crick in her neck. “How about we all meet for dinner?”

Applejack nodded. “Sounds like a plan. I wanna see what kind of apples they got in their fancy kitchens for me to work with.” The others all chimed in about the various places and work they were going to do for the wedding.

“Cool,” Rainbow agreed. “See you guys in a bit. You too Cadey, Shiney-Hiney.”

“Have fun Rainbow.” Cadance waved.

“And try not to harass any guards,” Shining chimed in as Rainbow flew off.

“Who needs to do that when I have you around?” She called back as she headed out of sight. A smile crossed her lips as the wind flew in her face. The sights and the familiar currents all came rushing back to her like old friends. Rainbow darted around a tall building and around buzzed between two spires. She did a barrell roll and waved down at the ponies below her, not even minding if they didn’t spot her. It was just an awesome sort of day that put her in an awesome sort of mood.

It wasn’t until her stomach began growling that she noticed the shadows were growing long. Looking at the position of the sun, she saw it was late afternoon. Better start heading back, she resolved. As Rainbow Dash was flying through the largely empty airship port, she spotted a lone figure in a tattered brown cloak being pursued by several guards.

“This looks like a job for--me!” Rainbow zoomed downward. She was easily able to outstrip the guards and bear down on the suspect. The fugitive ducked into a narrow alleyway, but that didn’t stop Rainbow. “Gotcha!” She exclaimed as she tackled the figure into a pile of refuse. “I have you now--Zecora?!” She yelped as the cloak’s hood fell back, revealing the familiar striped face. “What are you doing here?”

“It would appear that I’m being shoved into some trash by my good friend, Rainbow Dash.” Zecora panted.

It was then that Rainbow noticed that her normally neat mohawk was disheveled, her face was bruised and she was covered with a host of smaller injuries. The zebra’s usual calm, serene poise replaced by a general sense of weariness. “What happened?” Dash looked back at the guards approaching them. “What’s going on?”

“Ma’am, step away from the suspect.” The lead guard ordered as his soldiers approached in a semicircle, cutting off any avenue of escape. “That zebra is wanted for questioning. She’s considered armed and dangerous.”

Rainbow Dash’s jaw dropped. “What?! You gotta be joking! This is Zecora, she’s helped save Equestria twice!

“That number is actually a touch low, limited by how little you know,” Zecora added. “But heed me, things are not what they seem.”

“Enough.” The guard captain stomped his hoof. “Step aside, please. She’s responsible for several attacks on guards throughout Canterlot--we believe she’s working for a hostile power.”

Rainbow looked from Zecora to the guards and back again. “Look, maybe I can straighten this all out. I can have Shiney or the Princess get you out no sweat.”

Zecora frowned and twirled her staff, which she had strapped to her side. “Twisted tongues lie freely, but do not believe all you hear--but what you will see!” With that she began to chant. “Tor lorek san, bor nakka mur. Natromo faan tornek wot ur. Ter lantern ker lo abin sur. Taan lek lek nok -- Formorrow sur!” She slammed her staff down on the ground and a wave of white magic energy flowed over the guards like a tidal wave.

Rainbow watched it move over them, tugging and pulling at the guard’s faces until they began to peel back. She shouted for Zecora to stop, thinking that she was going to hurt them … but she stopped when saw the lead guard’s face pulled back on one side. On his left, his face looked like a normal pony guard, white coat, blue eye. But the other side--his face was black and shiny, devoid of any fur or hair and his eye was bright green, pupiless and cruel.

Zecora’s magic soon faded and the guard’s face returned to normal, his eye being the last thing to change back. “Clever.” A nasty smirk crossed the guard’s face. It was that as much as what she just witnessed that convinced Rainbow Dash that these were not guardponies she was dealing with.

“You convinced me, Zecora.” Dash tensed, scraping her hoof against the ground challengingly. “These guys are fakes!”

“Get them!” Ordered the lead guard.

The others charged in and soon, Zecora and Rainbow Dash were fighting back to back. Rainbow slugged one of the fake guards in the muzzle, using her wings to help give her the lift for a mid-air buck to take out another one sneaking up behind her.

Rainbow Dash had to shout over the din to make herself heard. “So what’s going on Z?”

Zecora grunted as she used her staff to bat another attacker away. “They sought to remove me from play, so that their scheme could win them the day! I sought to flee, to find a friendly face--I did not expect one to knock me into place.”

“I said I was sorry!” Rainbow snapped, forgetting that she actually hadn’t just yet. “But who--what--are they?”

“Stealers of names, wearers of false faces.” Zecora spat, sounding winded as she continued to fight. “They are parasites and lurkers in dark places. Where they hail, no hope can ring--beware them, for they are the changelings.”

Rainbow grunted as one of them hit her in the side. She retaliated with an uppercut that laid him our flat. “Let me guess, they want to take over Equestria?”

“Of course!” Zecora noded. “But they will not use open, blunt force. They take the forms of those for whom you care. When your guard is lowered, they will be there.”

Dash winced. Terrific. Why couldn’t they be like every other world conqueror and just appear with corny villain speeches? Her ears perked as she heard the sounds of voices coming near. Another group of guards emerged … and promptly joined those attacking Rainbow and Zecora. What was worse, Rainbow didn’t know if they were more of these changelings or regular guards who saw two ponies attacking their fellow and naturally went in to help their comrades. She didn’t think they were real guards, since at least one of them would naturally recognize her as the Princess’ student … she wasn’t that hard to pick out of a crowd. But it did make Rainbow realize just how feathering annoying it would be fighting an opponent she couldn’t see.

She looked over to ask Zecora if she had some more magic mojo to help strip away the changelings’ disguise when she saw just how bruised and battered she was. They must’ve really done a number on the zebra before she got away. As much as she really hated running away from a fight, Dash knew Zecora couldn’t last much longer and the odds against them were only going to get worse. Rainbow nudged her. “Come on, we gotta get you out of here.”

“I would like nothing better,” Zecora heaved, leaning against her staff for support as their opponents regrouped. “I do not think that can be done, however.” She pointed a striped leg to more guards arriving at both ends of the alley, and pegasus guards over head. “It is important that you remain at large, to carry this warning to those in charge: This is not a dream, things are not what they seem. An enemy is coming you should fear. Neigh, not coming, they are already here.

Rainbow snorted. “I’m not just leaving you here!” She looked around, her face falling as she realized that there was no way for her to pick Zecora up and outrun all those fresh guards from a cold start. Worse, the alley was so tight that she didn’t think she could maneuver while carrying Zecora...at least, not without running the risk of turning them both into a red stain on the wall.

The zebra had already come to this conclusion for herself. “I fear this is where our ways part. I consider you a true and noble friend. I will carry our times together in my heart--until my end.”

“Oh no way!” Rainbow’s stubbornness was in full swing. “There is no way I am leaving you here to--”

“I am sorry,” Zecora’s shoulders sagged tiredly. “But is goodbye.” She muttered and Rainbow felt a tingle run over her body. Her body was surrounded by a bubble of energy. Zecora wound up her staff and struck it, sending it hurtling away.

Dash pounded angrily at the walls of her prison and shouted, but she could only watch as Zecora was piled upon by a wall of changeling-guards. She couldn’t see what happened next as everything got smaller and smaller as she was sent careening away. But she didn’t see Zecora emerge from her attackers.

The magic holding Rainbow finally released her halfway across Canterlot. She sped back to the site of the battle but it was too late. Zecora and the changelings were long gone, with nothing left to give any clue of where they had gone--or that they were ever there to begin with. After spending several agonizing minutes flying around and finding nothing, Rainbow Dash gave up with a frustrated snarl. Zecora was gone and she hadn’t been able to save her.

Remembering Zecora’s final words, she realized there was only one way to save Equestria and Zecora. She sped back to the palace, stopping for nothing and nopony. She had to find Princess Celestia and warn her of the danger.

The changelings were coming.

Being the Princess’ student meant that nopony tried to stop her as she flew into the palace--having her trademark rainbow contrail made identifying her a snap. It was just as well. Right now, Rainbow Dash didn’t know who to trust and after what she had just been through, she’d be more than a little inclined to punch first and apologize later than risk being ambushed by another changeling masquerading as a guardpony.

She landed on Princess Celestia’s balcony. Since it was her room, she was alone. Celestia blinked but before she could even ask what was wrong, Rainbow had already launched into a breathless explanation of what had happened and what Zecora had told her.

Celestia’s eyes widened and when Dash was finished, she sagged. “I was afraid of this…” She trotted back into her room, Rainbow following her.

“What? You knew about this?” she demanded.

“I had begun to hear reports.” Celestia sighed as she looked around, closing the doors and windows and closing the blinds. “Now that the changelings are confirmed to be in Canterlot, that means that one of my worst fears has been realized.”

Rainbow Dash felt her wings twitch. If Celestia was worried. “What is it? Do you know what they’re planning?”

Celestia nodded, sitting down. “If they are here, then that means they’ve already taken steps to neutralize the greatest threat to their invasion: the Elements of Harmony.” She took a deep breath and looked Rainbow squarely in the eye. “I’m afraid that one of your friends has been replaced by a changeling.”