• Published 15th Sep 2014
  • 5,884 Views, 335 Comments

The Humans in Equestria Club - billymorph



With a over a hundred humans in Equestria and rising it’s Alexis’ job to keep them safe and sane. But with two worlds colliding she finds herself facing mad gods and queens to save her home.

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Chapter 8: Nightmare Night

Halloween when I was growing up was always a quiet affair. Carving a pumpkin was probably the most festive I’d ever gotten and, beyond a few slightly hazy costume parties, I’d never dressed up. Ponyville, however, took Nightmare Night as their point of pride; after all, what other town could claim they had two Princesses attend every year? The decorations had been going up for days; tables were groaning under the weight of sugary treats and baked goods, while fillies and colts gamboled about showing off their costumes for all to see, and everywhere I looked, the humans turned ponies were smiling.

Even me.

“Told you,” Pinkie said in her sing-song tone, bouncing alongside me. I straightened my wig, fluffed out my wings and matched her spring for spring.

It had taken Pinkie a long time to convince me to put on a costume, but I was glad for it in the end. A blond wig of matted curls, a smile and a dyed on cutie mark of three party balloons had been enough to transform me into Pinkie Pie’s alter ego, Surprise. For the record, Pinkie was far too excited about having a twin; it had taken a crowbar and the not-so-subtle reminder that she had her own costume to get into to remove her from my side.

“There are two of them!” Roseluck screamed suddenly, pointing at us with a trembling hoof. “Everypony save themselves!” She took off as fast as her hooves could carry her.

“Best. Nightmare Night. Ever!” Pinkie exclaimed, rubbing her hooves together with glee. I couldn’t help but laugh along with her and we made our way down the main street of Ponyville.

The Club, in particular, had gone all out with their costumes, producing an eye watering riot of fan characters and pop-culture references. Some might have accused them of having too much free time on their hands, but I couldn’t blame them for blowing off a little steam. We passed the gryphons, who were busy looking intimidating in their Fallout: Equestria mercenary outfits and doing their very best to extort a toll of candy. A trio of unicorns in various Littlepip costumes were busy arguing a short distance away as to which of them was going to be the hero and break up the racket.

“Mint-al?” Pinkie interrupted, holding a small tin up to the Pips.

The argument trebled, this time over the correct in character response, and Pinkie hopped away, grinning to herself.

“Okay, seriously how do you keep doing that?” I demanded, hurrying after her. “I can barely keep track of the damn fanon.”

“It makes ponies smile,” Pinkie chirped. “And I love hearing about all these other Equestrias. Like, there’s this one where Applejack is a changeling-- I asked; she’s not. And there’s one where there’s these giant robots that fight even gianter monsters. And one where I’m in an orchestra, and one where Sweetie Belle is a robot but not a giant -- which is a shame -- and one where everypony has the opposite gender, and one where Twilight is a pegasus, and this really squicky one where I turn ponies into cupcakes, and a whole load where Nightmare Moon won--”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I interjected. I’d only been half listening to Pinkie’s inane babble, but the cupcakes had snapped me right back. “You’ve heard of ‘Cupcakes’?”

“Of course I’ve heard of cupcakes,” Pinkie continued beaming, hopping in place. “What kind of baker do you take me for?”

I pressed a hoof against my forehead. “I mean, the story that was number one on the ‘List of Stories Never to Mention to the Mane Six’.”

“Oh sure, I heard about that months ago...” Pinkie paused, and frowned to herself. “Which reminds me, I’ve still got to set up that ‘My Little Dashie’ prank for Dashie. Do you know where I can get a giant cardboard box, six pounds of glitter and a fishing rod?”

I shook myself, deciding to ignore that last bit. “Oh, come on. Why did I even bother writing that list if no one’s going to pay attention?” To be fair, it was useful to warn people about the dangers of mentioning reincarnating Nightmare Moon to Twilight. The idea didn’t upset her, per se, you’d just end up trapped in a two hour metaphysics lecture on why it was impossible.

“Aww, I think it’s sweet you’d try and protect us,” Pinkie cooed, grinning at me. “But they’re just stories. It’s not like they actually happened. Besides, most of them have happy endings.”

She shrugged and continued on towards the marketplace. For a moment I struggled to process the idea that Pinkie knew the entire fandom inside and out, but then shook my head. I guess compared to having the highpoints of your life televised, a few made up stories were small potatoes; not that Pinkie had been upset about having an audience.

The center of town was filled with spooky decorations and tired memes; locals and Club members alike had gone all out in increasingly bizarre attempts to outdo the other. A group in matching Avengers costumes, matched against a pack of fillies in Power Ponies outfits; a duo of pegasi in Superman outfits swooped through the skies above our heads; Mary-Ann, our resident pegacorn, had dyed herself black and red and was explaining her ‘extremely tragic’ backstory to anyone who came too close; Applejack walked past in a Batmare cowl (which she tipped as she passed), Apple Bloom nipping at her heels in her Robin outfit.

I had no words as I watched a pantomime horse pick it’s way through the crowd.

I shook myself. “Man, Rarity must have been working her hooves to the bone to get all this set up. Any idea what she’ll be wearing?”

“Oh Rarity doesn’t do Nightmare Night,” Pinkie said with a wistful sigh. “She has her own traditions...”

I frowned, then remembered just how many outfits had come flying out of the Carousel Boutique in the last few days. “Ah, a warm bed, earplugs and a sleeping draught?”

Pinkie gasped, rounding on me. “Who told you about Rarity’s secret traditions?” she demanded, grabbing me by the lapels.

I pushed her away, ignoring the disconcerting feeling of having your clothing pulled on while not wearing anything. “It was a guess.”

She blinked in confusion for a moment. “Oh, okies! Well, I can neither confirm nor deny whether Rarity is currently rattling the windows with her snores.” I cocked my eyebrow at that comment, but Pinkie was distracted by something shiny. “Ooo, look a new game!”

A row of carnival booths had been set up in the market, and Pinkie Pie homed in on Bon Bon’s stall. The creamy-coloured earth pony had donned a black bodysuit, along with a set of insectile wings and a twisted horn. She smiled as we approached.

“Good evening, Pinkie,” she said, with a rather forced smile. “Here to test out my new game?”

The stand was simple hut built out of solid planks; three low sided bowls rested on the smooth top, surrounded by bags of hard candy. I couldn’t tell what the game was supposed to be but, judging by the large mallet, it was somewhere between a shell game and whack-a-mole.

“Can I, can I, can I, can I?” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing on the spot.

“Yes, Pinkie,” Bon Bon sighed. “Now, this is a fairly simple game, first you take your hammer--”

“Like this one?” Pinkie cut in, a sledgehammer suddenly clasped between her hooves.

“NO!” Bon Bon hurriedly handed her the little mallet. Pinkie tucked the sledgehammer back into her mane and took the mallet in her teeth. Why and how she’d been carrying a sledgehammer with her I’ll never know.

“Okees, n’w w’at?” Pinkie continued, speaking around the handle.

“Well, now comes the tricky part.” With a deft motion Bon Bon emptied a small bag of hard candies into one of the bowls, then covered all three with an individual cloth. “The aim of the game is to find the right bowl and crush all the candies.”

I blinked. There was no way that...

“Hey Bonnie, I got the sign!” Lyra called, a couple of boards balanced across her back. The words ‘CandyCrush’ had been painted on them in large, red letters.

I groaned, glaring at Bon Bon. “Really?”

She shrugged. “What can I say? Puns sell.” Bon Bon gestured Lyra over before turning back to Pinkie Pie, who was vibrating with barely controlled excitement.

“Now, it’s a little more tricky than good coordination. My beautiful assistant--” Lyra puffed herself up, brushing a few bits of sawdust off her hoodie. “--couldn't make it, but Lyra will be mixing up the bowls instead.”

“Bonnie!” Lyra whined.

“Hush, I’m working. Then you simply smack that hammer into a bowl, crush the candies and you win. Got that?”

Pinkie nodded frantically, almost taking my head off with the hammer. Sharing a worried glance with Bon Bon, Lyra lit her horn and spun the bowls around on the table, Pinkie Pie watching the performance with a manic intensity.

“And now you--”

WHACK!

The mallet smashed down on a bowl with the resounding crunch of shattering candy.

“--win... apparently.” Bon Bon shrugged. She lifted the cloth off the bowl and poured the remains of the candy into a little bag. “Here you go Pinkie, does it get your seal of approval?”

“Yeppers,” Pinkie cheered, spitting out the mallet. “I’ll be sure to point everypony your way.” She flipped a couple of bits on the stall, grabbing the bag of crushed candies with a hoof. “Oh and Lyra--” She winked. “--digging the swell hoodie.”

She hopped away.

“Seriously, how does she do that?” Lyra demanded, staring open mouthed at the departing mare.

“What? Was that a reference?” I enquired.

“Yeah... also I just lost a bet that nopony would guess my costume,” Lyra explained with a scowl, then levitated a stack of bits over to Bon Bon, who was looking smug.

“Come on, Surprise!” Pinkie called over her shoulder. “There’s loads more to see!”

I scowled. “Hey! Names were not part of the deal!” I called back, hurrying after her.

“See you later,” Lyra yelled after me, stifling a snort of laughter, “Surprise.”

Glaring over my shoulder I ran straight into Pinkie Pie, and bounced off of the solid earth pony.

“Pinkie, what are you...?” I began, only to find her looking quizzically at a chalk sign.

Kiss the pony of your dreams,
1 bit
No questions
---->

The arrow pointed into a nearby tent.

“Okay, that’s slightly creepy,” I said.

“Let’s see who it is!” Pinkie exclaimed, and grabbed my hoof, dragging me, protesting, through the open tent flap.

“Welcome to my parl-- oh it’s you two.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Rose sitting on a cushion at the center of the tent.

“I guess I should have expected Pinkie at least,” Rose continued, sighing.

“You’re running a kissing booth?” I demanded, incredulously. “But... I... How is that even a thing?”

Rose smirked. “Kiss the pony of your dreams,” she explained. “You’d be amazed how many people have a fantasy they’d love to live out, and I thought I’d get some use out of that shape shifting ability, for once.”

“Huh,” I shook myself. “People are really willing to kiss a changeling?”

The queen shook her head. “No, but they are quite happy to kiss Princess Twilight.” There was a flash of rose coloured flame and Twilight sat before us, pouting. “As long as they don’t have any overdue library books,” she continued in a perfect imitation of Twilight’s voice.

“Ooo, ooo!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, jumping up and down, waving a forehoof in the air. “Do you do hugs?”

Rose and I shared baffled a look. “Sure, I guess.”

“Yay.” Pinkie clapped her hooves together. “Do Pinkamena.”

A flash of light later and a greyed out, straight haired Pinkie Pie sat on the cushion, increasing the number of Pinkie Pie clones in the room by just fifty percent. The real Pinkie caught her in a flying tackle, almost knocking Rose off the cushion in her enthusiasm.

“So, is this another way of gaining food?” I asked conversationally, as Rose returned the hug, struggling with where to put her hooves.

“I wish,” she sighed. “Shape shifting is tiring to say the least. This is advertising.”

Pinkie let go for a moment, frowning, before going in for a different angle of hug.

“I don’t follow,” I admitted.

Rose sighed. “It’s a moment’s intimacy that’s perfectly safe, perfectly anonymous, and becomes the first step on the road to acceptance,” she explained, trying to talk around the furiously hugging mare.

“Huh. Is it working?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “I’ve had more than a few ponies turn and run at the sight of me, but there are a few I think I’ll see again once they escape their friends. Everyone has a fantasy.” She grinned to herself, then frowned as Pinkie once again tried to readjust her grip. “Though I think you’ve got your bit’s worth,” she said to the mare.

“Hff, okay,” Pinkie sighed, slipping away. “I need to work on my Pinkamena hug, though.”

I put a hoof on her shoulder. “I don’t think that any hug would work on someone just pretending to be sad.”

“Aww, but it was almost perfect though,” Pinkie continued, pouting. Rose took the opportunity to shift back to her native form, unwisely, as Pinkie was on her in an instant. “See, first you’ve got to pretend you’re a limpet...”

“That’s more than enough of that,” Rose interjected levitating Pinkie off her, though I caught the ghost of a smile around her lips. “Surely you have a costume to put on?”

“Oh, right! And there’s one super special tent that I have to show Alex first!” Pinkie cheered. “Thanks, Rose.” She leaned over and kissed the changeling on the lips. “And that makes us even!”

She bounced away, leaving a stunned queen in her wake.

“Well, I guess the sign didn’t say who was getting kissed,” I pointed out. Then fled for my life, desperately trying to hold back a gale of laughter.

“Come on, Alex!” Pinkie chirped, grabbing me by the hoof and dragging me along the row of tents. “There’s a fortune teller I want you to meet.”

I thought I recognised that episode. “Okay, but only if you promise she isn’t you.”

We came to a sudden stop outside a small pink tent. The ‘Madame Pinkie’s’ sign was not a good omen.

Pinkie pointedly crossed her forelegs. “I promise that I am not Madame Pinkie.” And without another word she put her hooves on my rump and shoved me into the tent.

Stumbling, I found myself before a low table. The crystal ball was expected, the pink mare in full gypsy wise woman get-up was more of a shock, and I whipped around, trying to see if I’d run into a horde of doppelgangers.

“Fooled you,” Pinkie cheered, bouncing up and down on her cushion, her costume jewelry jangling. “It was me all along.”

I had no words. There are many reasons people just shrug and say, ‘it’s Pinkie’.

“Alright, Madame Pinkie,” I said, parking myself opposite the ‘wise’ mare. “What does my future hold?”

Pinkie clutched her head. “Wooo, the spirits are talking to me,” she proclaimed. “They are very... they are very... they are very...”

“Hungry?” I suggested.

“Ooo, that’s an idea.” She whipped a cupcake out from under the table, and took a huge bite out of it. “Wann’ s’m?” she enquired, holding out the crumbling mass to me.

“...I’ll pass.” I pushed the confection away, struggling not to burst out laughing. “But come on, Madame Pinkie, what’s my future?”

“Right!” She leaned over her crystal ball. “Ooo, the spirits speak much of you. Ooo. They know you are very important. Oh! They say you are going on a long trip, to an exotic land.”

I gave her a flat look. “That’s the past, Pinkie, roll things forwards a bit.”

“Hmm...” she frowned at the ball, and gave it a little spin. “Okies, let’s try this again. I see a tall, dark figure in your future.”

“Pinkie, if you’re going to use this to suggest a strange, handsome stallion in my future, I am out of here,” I snapped. Relationships had been pushed so far forwards to future Alexis that I didn’t want to think about them until I was forty.

“Oh don’t worry. You already know him really well,” Pinkie Pie continued, blithely oblivious, as normal. “Still, that seems a little too far into the future.” She gave the ball another quick twirl.

“Here we go. I see... I see... I see you flying with the Wonderbolts!” She reared up, and there was a sudden pyrotechnic explosion right behind her, filling the tent with blue and gold sparks.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?” I drawled, as the embers settled around us. “And am I doing a sonic rainboom?”

“Oh, you can see it too?” Pinkie pressed her nose up against the glass sphere.

“I think you’ve tuned into Rainbow Dash’s future by mistake,” I sighed. The smell of smoldering fabric reached my nose, it was possible that fireworks in a tent had been a poor choice on Pinkie’s part.

“Grr.” Pinkie tapped the crystal ball. “Lousy, cheap prophetic powers. Okay, well that was a bust, but we’ve got lots more cool things to do tonight.”

Flames began to lick up the curtains behind her. Pinkie glanced over her shoulder and frowned.

“But first, would you get me a raincloud?”


One minor blaze, and dodging a tall, dark, fire marshal later, we retreated to Sugarcube Corner where Pinkie disappeared upstairs to put on her costume. I found myself left with a half dozen Club foals who were sheltering from be festivities beyond the shop with a impressive bowl of ice cream between them. It was tough being a Club foal. It was tough being a Club member, period. But being lost and alone in an alien world while occupying the body of an eight year old was especially difficult, whether or not you’d been eight before.

A sea of serious/adorable faces had extracted a replacement bowl of ice cream from me before Pinkie returned. She wore a red and black checked bodysuit and had slicked her hair into pigtails, I raised an eyebrow.

“Harley-Quinn?” I enquired.

“Yeppers,” she replied, with a slightly manic grin. “We’re doing a heroes and villains theme this year. When Twilight and Rainbow Dash get back from Canterlot we’ll--” She froze, and frantically made a zipping motion across her mouth.

I stepped towards her and, in an icy tone, asked, “Was I not supposed to know they’re visiting Canterlot, then?”

The shop bell rang, and Pinkie glanced past me. “Oh hi, Applejack! How are you doing?”

I didn’t take my eyes off Pinkie -- she had a nasty habit of disappearing -- but the steady tap of hooves approaching wore on my nerves and I rounded on the intruding pony.

It was Applejack. Batmare cowl. Freckles. Her piercing eyes and rock steady trot. But I was instantly on alert, my wings spreading in alarm. She hadn’t said hello. I had never known Applejack not call out a cheery greeting.

The not-jack seemed to sense something had gone wrong and charged, a knife appearing out from under her cape. For a moment I was frozen with indecision, and that moment cost me because there was a flare of green magic from the not-jack and I found myself hurled across the room. Through more luck than judgement, I managed to avoid hitting any furniture but still landed hard, the wind driven out of me.

Hissing, the not-jack swung its blade at Pinkie’s throat and she... dodged her neck around it? It was hard to describe. Pinkie never got on with physics at the best of times, but it tended to be low key stuff. However, when she chose to ignore the basic laws of reality and really let loose, it was terrifying to behold. Her very flesh bent around the blade like taffy, springing back once the danger had passed and the assassin overbalanced. Pulling her sledgehammer out from behind her back Pinkie reared and cobbered the not-jack with a titanic two handed blow that slammed it into the floor, with a crunch of breaking bones.

Not-jack’s disguise failed then, revealing a broken changeling drone, gazing blankly up at Pinkie. It had blue eyes.

Chrysalis.

The front door was thrown from its hinges as changelings poured into the bakery. Pinkie didn’t miss a beat, seizing a black forest gateau from the counter and hurling it into the mob like a cannonball. The lead changeling caught it full in the face and was thrown back through the swarm, knocking them down like skittles and the pink mare charged the confused mass.

“For Narnia!” she roared (I have no idea why), and then was in amongst them, swinging her hammer with wild abandon.

It was like watching a Loony Toons fight. Pinkie had no style or technique, but reality twisted itself into pretzels around her. Surrounded by enemies, already charging their magic, she should have been dead twice over before she’d got one good swing in; instead the changelings stumbled, slipped or found themselves running into each other in their haste to attack. Pinkie herself was a blur of motion and paid no attention to the fact she was using a weapon longer than herself, wielding it like a bat or sword, or, on rare occasion, a hammer, as the situation demanded.

Less than sixty seconds later, Pinkie stood alone, without even a scratch on her costume. She struck a pose with a flourish of her hammer as the Final Fantasy victory music played. The Club foals cheered.

The screams that echoed from outside spoiled the triumphant mood, and I hurried over to the window. Changelings in shredded costumes were running rampant around Ponyville. Fortunately, Ponyville was not a town that just rolled over for monster attacks. Already ponies were rallying against the changelings, forming defensive knots as they made their way down long practiced evacuation routes.

“Pinkie, what’s going on?” Mrs Cake exclaimed, emerging from the kitchen. She regarded the pile of twitching drones at Pinkie’s hooves with a mixture of horror and resignation. “Oh... Element business.” She turned to the stairs. “Honey! Get the foals, we’re spending the night in the cellar, again!”

“Thanks, Mrs Cake,” Pinkie chirped. “Come on, Alex, we’ve got to get to Twilight’s Castle.”

I stared at her, opened mouthed. “Umm, Pinkie there is a major invasion going on out there.”

“Yeah, and we need to fire-up Twilight’s magic-slash-friendship shield and save Ponyville!” Pinkie shot back, casually beaning a changeling who seemed to be regaining consciousness. “Come on, let’s go before anyone ends up in a cocoon.”

A shudder ran down my spine; we definitely didn’t want that happening. I spared a worried glance for the Club foals.

“I hear there’s a cellar full of sweets waiting for us,” the eldest, Wilbur, pointed out, much to the rest of the foals’ delight. They began to hurry downstairs.

“Right,” I glanced back out the window, and swallowed the lump in my throat. “Okay... Pinkie, I’m scared.”

“That’s okay,” she said, bouncing up and down before the door. “Just use Twilight’s three step questing checklist.”

I was almost afraid to ask. “...Okay, I’ll bite,” I began, tearing myself from the window, my wings twitching incessantly. “What’s the list?”

“Step one: Stop.”

I froze in place, forcing my wings to lie flat against my barrel.

“Step two: Breathe.”

I swallowed a gulp of air, and tried to stop my knees knocking together.

“Step three: Save the world.”

A beat passed, and I burst out laughing.

“Great plan there,” I chuckled. Taking up position next to the grinning mare, I set my jaw. “What’s our actual first move?”

“Oh that’s simple, first we find the Batmare.”

“No, serious--” I began, but Pinkie was already moving, barreling out through the door and into the melee beyond. I charged after her, pumping my wings in a desperate bid to keep up with the pink streak that was supposedly an earth pony.

The changelings tried to stop us, but it was like trying to stand in the way of a snowplow. Pinkie left a trail of groaning bugs behind her, and I followed close on her heels, the safest damn spot in town as far as I could tell. It was only moments before we reached the square.

Applejack had been in a hell of a fight, judging by the amount of damage she’d done. Tents were toppled, prizes, candy and changelings scattered willy-nilly across the ground. I noted Bon Bon’s Candy Crush stall was the only one still standing, despite the pile of groaning changelings on top of it. Applejack stood surrounded on all sides by a dozen fresh changelings. As Pinkie Pie and I arrived, they charged.

Pinkie accelerated into the melee with all her usual enthusiasm, and in the few moments it took me to catch up, the small swarm had been dispatched, running like cerberus himself was chasing them.

“An’,” Applejack roared, “stay out!” One of the nearby drones foolishly tried to get to its hooves and found itself thrown into a pile of plush Twilight Sparkles. “Thankya’ kindly Pinkie.”

I arrived, gasping for breath.

“An’ miss Alex,” she continued. “What ya’ here for?”

“Saving... the world... apparently,” I panted.

“Come on!” Pinkie exclaimed, juggling her hammer from hoof to hoof. “We’ve got to get to Twilight’s Castle and turn on the defences!”

She went to gallop into the distance, but Applejack managed to clamp down on her tail. That didn’t stop her getting a dozen yards, but she bounced back to us as if her tail was made of elastic.

“Hold ya’ horses, sugar,” Applejack grumbled. “There’s half a horde between us an’ the Castle. We should get to the train station and get Twi’ an’ Dash, or try and wake Rarity.”

“Or we could head to the barn where they’ve got all the guns,” I pointed out.

The staccato rattle of machine gunfire echoed through the deserted streets.

“Ooo, that’s not a good sign,” I said with a wince. “How long until Twilight and Rainbow are due back from Canterlot?”

Applejack shrugged. “‘Bout an hour. Their train should be halfway to Ponyville by now.”

My stomach sunk. “Urgh, this is a total set up,” I said, beginning to pace; another burst of gunfire punctuated my words. “What are the odds Fluttershy and Rarity will just sleep through this whole mess?”

“Heh, would take more than a couple fireworks to wake Rarity tonight,” Applejack said, shooting a glare at the distant Carousel Boutique. “An’ Flutters, bless her, ain’t one to go chargin’ into trouble.”

“Shit! Chrysalis just happens to turn up when two thirds of the Elements are out of action?” I snapped, stamping a hoof in frustration, and I shook my head. “No, she’s after something, and she thinks she can get away with it before you girls figure out a way to stop her. We don’t have time to run for help.”

“Al’right,” Applejack huffed, setting her jaw. “The Castle it is then. Pinks, lead the way an’ Alex, stick close.”

“Ooo, I love this part!” Pinkie cheered. She bunched up her legs and shot away like a cannonball. “CHARGE!”

Applejack put on an impressive turn of speed to keep up, her batmare cape snapping in the wind. I took to the air after them, flying just a few feet above the ground and already cursing Pinkie for turning things into a race. The street was cluttered with wing-breakers: banners, poles and washing lines, and I ducked and weaved my way through the tangle. If I’d dared fly above the rooftops I could have reached the Castle in under thirty seconds, but that would have left me alone in a sky full of changelings, so I kept to the ‘safe’ route.

I almost wiped out as an unfamiliar pegasus exploded out of an alleyway, and fell into formation at my nine o’clock. It took me far too long to place her; the mottled grey camouflage pattern of her coat was so alien to Equestria that it should have been a dead give away, but it was the Tudor rose on her flank that actually rang a bell.

“You girls are charging into a trap,” Rose snapped, breathing heavily. “Crysalis’ forces are massed around Twilight’s Castle, Cog’s got the changelings heavily engaged around the Barn and the Thunderchild has been torched.”

Finally some good news.

“Shoot,” Applejack swore. “Is everypony okay?”

I dodged over an abandoned cart, as Rose continued. “It seems so. Everypony is laying low -- the CMC made it to the town hall shelter, by the way -- and the changelings don’t seem worried about anything more than scaring folks.”

“That’s good,” Applejack said.

“That’s strange,” I corrected. From what I’d read, changelings took prisoners out of habit more than anything else. “Rose, can you get a drone out to Twilight and Rainbow Dash?”

“Cog’s beat you too it,” Rose said, smirking. “They were contacted by telegraph a few minutes ago. I believe the response was ‘B tere in dash’.”

I groaned. “Oh god, Rainbow Dash discovered texting.”

We rounded a corner to find thirty or so changelings waiting for us, but the bugs declined to attack after Pinkie started whirling her hammer.

“I did say this was a trap, right?” Rose interjected, landing next Pinkie and AJ. The drones scooted further back, watching us.

“Yeup’,” Applejack drawled. “But there ain’t much room for fancy planning. We gotta’ stop Chrysalis before all this blows up in our faces.”

“Well that’s the worst idea I’ve heard all week.” Rose rolled her eyes. “I’m out. No way am I letting Chrysalis get her hooks into me again. Alex you coming with me?”

I froze, dropping to the ground. “Umm....”

“Don’t worry, Alex,” Pinkie cheered, swinging the sledgehammer alarmingly. “Me and Whackus Bonkus will keep you safe.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised she’d named the hammer. “Well, I can’t turn that offer down,” I said to Rose with a sheepish smile.

She glowered at me for a moment. “Whatever. I’ll see if Cog can rustle up some cavalry, again. I’m out.” Without another word she turned tail and galloped away.

“Yeash, she’s jumpier than Opal at bath time,” Applejack exclaimed. “Come on, Alex, you’re safe with us.”

The pair turned. Twilight’s Castle was visible over the rooftops, extremely close now, and drones were circling the structure.

“Out of curiosity... Do we have a plan?” I said, hesitantly.

“Twilight’s got a big ol’ shield in her lab,” Applejack said, stretching. “Loada’ spinny rings, turn it on by hitting the button that says ‘Do not touch - This means you, Pinkie’. Should drive anypony not supposed to be there out of the Castle and give Twilight somewhere to work when she gets here.”

Huh, I hadn’t expected there to be a plan. “Right, let’s get moving.”

The changelings parted as we raced through the outskirts of Ponyville, no more agressive than the Nightmare Night decorations, and I had a horrible moment’s sympathy for the fly in that instant where it has seen the web but far too late to do anything to avoid it. Past the houses, the fields opened up leading to Twilight’s Castle. The swarm was centered there, a mass of roiling black chitin, bared teeth and buzzing wings.

Pinkie and Applejack didn’t miss a beat, hurling themselves into the mass. Again the changelings drew back, for the most part. The sickly crunch of hoof on chitin sounded as an unfortunate bug took a swing at Applejack and the farm pony effortlessly countered. Pinkie whooped, swinging her hammer like a maniac, driving any changeling, no matter how brave, back step by step.

Sound vanished as huge numbers of changelings took to the air, their wings beating out an earsplitting drone. I leapt, hovering above the girls more as a meatshield than a serious impediment, lashing out with my wingtips and hooves at any changelings that came too close for comfort.

“Almost--” Applejack began. We were a mere twenty yards from the foot of the tower.

There was an almighty bang, and all my fur stood on end. A purple shell began to materialise around the Castle, starting out as a mere ephemeral mist but quickly building and building.

“--ah, ponyfeathers, run!” Applejack snapped. Throwing caution to the wind she broke into a wild gallop; ducking under Pinkie’s hammer, she hurled herself towards the thickening shell of magic. It was already far too late. Applejack ran nose first into the shield and bounced off, swearing, and Pinkie Pie and I skidded to a stop next to her.

“Trapped,” I said, as I took a long look at the thousand or so changelings between us and freedom.

“Urgh, remind me why we ain’t turned Chrysalis to stone yet?” Applejack grumbled, clutching her nose with one hoof as she stumbled to her feet.

“Shining Armor called dibs,” Pinkie sighed, peering off into the distance.

“Fair ‘nough,” Applejack said, shrugging. “So,” she began, regarding the changeling army. “We gonna’ rumble, or we gonna’ rumble?”

“WAIT!” Pinkie interjected, leaping between Applejack and the swarm, her tail vibrating. “Let’s wait for Dashie.”

“Wait for...” Applejack began, but then the thunder started.

Rainbow Dash lit up the sky as she arrived, her prismatic contrail outshining the moon and a wave of Aether washed over me, making all my feathers stand up. Her first blast of lightning went wild, detonating an unassuming tree, but Rainbow soon got her eye in and a rolling barrage of multi-colored lightning bolts slammed into the changeling swarm like the wrath of god. Drones went flying, blasted away from the impacts. Some fired back in a vain attempt to swat Rainbow Dash from the sky. Twilight arrived mere moments later, the usual pop-crack of her teleport replaced with a huge roar of displaced air, and the young alicorn went screaming through the air before landing in a heap on top of a pile of changelings.

We hurried after her, Applejack bucking changelings out of the way as Pinkie raced through the crush and snatched Twilight away from the drones.

“Ooo,” Twilight moaned, holding a hoof to her head as we kicked open some space in the swarm around her. “Momentum. My old nemesis.”

“Twi’, some magic if you would!” Applejack called out, as Rainbow Dash’s lighting artillery roared again.

“Oh, right!” A shield raced outwards, forming a light pink dome around us and sweeping the changelings away. “There,” Twilight sighed, letting loose a weary breath. “A Shiny special.”

The changelings beyond the dome began to lay into the spell with hoof and sting, but Twilight seemed to pay no heed.

“Hey! Who put up my shield?” Twilight demanded, glaring at her castle.

I rolled my eyes. “Chrysalis.”

Twilight frowned, her horn kindling. “Great,” she spat. “It’s in full lockdown: kinetics, arcana, teleportation, the works... also I think she might be messing with the barrier spell in there.”

My wings flew out in alarm. “What?” I exclaimed.

“Well something’s making the world buzz,” Twilight grumbled, shaking her head. “Right...” She paused a moment, took a deep breath, and then began to speak in a rush. “Girls, we need to get in there right now, and the only quick way through the shield is brute force. Pinkie, Applejack, get whatever magic you can ready to hit that shield. Alex--” She rounded on me. “--get Rainbow’s attention and tell her to go all out on the shield; give her a hoof if you want to, just pump as much Aether into your flight as possible and that should help disrupt the spell.” Not missing a beat, she turned back to Pinkie and Applejack. “Now, I’m only going to be able to open a hole for a few seconds at best; if you see an opportunity to get through, take it and shut down the shield from the inside.”

Flaring her wings she set her stance low, pointing her blazing horn at the castle. “Ready? On three. THREE!”

My bones thrummed as Twilight unleashed her magic on the castle shield, and a beam of power bridged the gap between her and the castle. I shot into the air. Afraid my feathers were going to combust from all the Arcana Twilight was throwing around, I pumped my wings for all they were worth. The sky was a sea of drones, but they were poor fliers, maneuverable on their insectile wings but with none of the speed a desperate pegasus could produce. Gulping down air, I hurled myself through the heart of the swarm, dodging and weaving around bolts of emerald fire and gnashing teeth as I fought for altitude.

Dash found me moments later, tearing through the changeling horde like they were made of wet paper.

“Oh, hey Alex,” she called, flying circles around me and driving back any drones that strayed too close. “I was expecting Fluttershy. What are you doing here?”

It was a good question. “No idea,” I snapped, between desperate gulps of air. “Twilight needs to crack the shield. Can you ram it?”

“No sweat,” Dash crowed. “It should be down in a flash; I told her she should have pegasus tested it. Watch this!”

With terrifying speed she shot away, rising up and over the swarm, presumably so she had some space to build up speed. Below me, the beam of magic between Twilight and the base of the dome had grown so bright that I could hardly bear to look. Pinkie and Applejack were fighting hoof and hammer in a desperate attempt to keep the changelings back from the distracted Twilight.

I just hung there, staring for a long moment. It was hard to imagine that I could help when measured up against such titans.

But then... I had been asked to.

I went into a dive. Aether building around me as I hurled myself towards the ground. The air was rich with power from Dash’s pyrotechnics and my speed built to terrifying levels within a few hundred meters.

Rainbow Dash roared past me, going a hair over mach one, and almost wiping me out of the air as the shockwave picked me up and shook me like a rag doll. The shield rang like a bell as she struck, an explosion of noise that swept outwards further rattling my bones, and I gritted my teeth as I bore down on the shield. Twilight’s magic pulsed, reaching an incredible brightness, and the shell of magic wobbled around the point of impact. That was my target.

I put my forehooves together before me, straining my wings for the last ounce of speed. Pinkie Pie and Applejack hurled themselves at the breach before me, slamming into the weakened shield which cracked under their blows. They didn’t have time for a second shot; the magic shattered like glass as my hooves struck the shield.

The ground raced towards me, and I flared my wings as wide as possible, screaming in pain as the deceleration threatened to pop them from their sockets. Even then, it wasn’t enough; my hooves clipped the ground and I flipped forwards, striking the unforgiving earth and tumbling head over tail, over and over, until I came to rest upside down against the Castle wall.

“Ow...” I groaned. Why had I ever thought that was a good idea?

Blinking my vision clear I saw at least part of the plan had worked. I had, in fact, managed to get through the shield. On the flip side, no truly successful plan would have let me be the sole pony to make it.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, scrambling to my hooves and falling flat on my face, again. Someone moved the ground on me, I swear! I levered myself back up and gave my aching wings an experimental flap. It hurt like hell, but at least everything still seemed to work.

“Right, Twilight’s lab. Big Pinkie attracting button,” I muttered to myself. “Question mark, question mark, question mark. Save world.”

I didn’t see the drone before it caught me in the barrel, knocking me flying. Suddenly I was on my back, and all I could see were fangs and a twisted horn trying to take my face off. Biting down the urge to scream, I braced against the ground with my wings and got my legs between me and the drone. The wretched thing tried to sink its teeth into my throat, but I managed to get a forehoof in the way and delivered a powerful buck with my hind legs.

Keening with pain the drone went flying. With my heart pounding in my ears, I leapt into the sky. Drones were pouring out of the Castle, but a heady mix of adrenaline and terror had me moving faster than I ever had in my life. I dove through an upper balcony. Dodging around three changelings and a poorly placed crystal candelabra, my hooves hit the floor with a bang, and I broke into a wild gallop.

The corridors of Twilight’s Castle echoed with the dull roar of changling wings, but for the moment the way was clear. I charged through the wide halls, counting doors.

“Guest room, guest room, library, broom closet, LAB!”

I dove through the half-open doors, almost wiped out a very expensive and volatile chemistry set, and did a two-hoofed dance as I fought for traction. I had zero idea what the shield spell looked like, but Twilight tended to store all the really big stuff in the same place. The plan was just to shut down everything shiny, bar the barrier between Equestria and Earth, and call it a day.

In fact, finding the shield was easy. Tucked into the corner, hooked up to a half dozen huge arcana crystals, stood a huge swirling mass of copper and iron rings. A dozen ponies across, it bled thick ribbons of arcana into the room as it fizzed and sparked. My goal almost in sight I put on a burst of acceleration and--

“Stop.”

It’s surprisingly difficult to go from a gallop to dead stop. I didn’t even bother, instead I went limp and hit the ground hard, sliding along on my belly until I came to a rest a mere two yards from the control panel.

“Well, well, well,” Chrysalis began, stepping out of the shadows. “If it isn’t Alexis. Not who I expected, but I can’t say I’m sorry to see you.”

Her magic wrapped around me and I was spun to face the queen. She stepped forwards, a smirk on her delicate muzzle.

“It is most irritating that my little trap didn’t catch anything more juicy,” she continued, drawing me up into the air so I she could look me in the eye. “But I dislike loose ends; in--”

I punched her in the horn. The look on her face when she realised I’d just been faking paralysis would keep me warm till the end of my days. Or, to be more precise, the seven seconds it would take for her to recover and then brutally murder me.

With an unearthly shriek Chrysalis reeled back, her magic flickering out, and I was dropped to the ground. The control panel was mere feet away and I hurled myself towards the largest, reddest, most Pinkie Pie attracting, button.

My hoof stopped a half inch away, frozen in a green aura. I strained against the magic, but it was like trying to push through a wall.

“So, the freak has taught you a new trick,” Chrysalis spat.

A flare of magic wrenched me into the air and I was hurled at the spinning rings of the shield generator. I don’t know how fast they were going, but it felt like getting hit by a car and I went tumbling across the lab, the world a blur of crystal walls, expensive machinery and pain. It felt like someone had driven a red hot dagger into my wing, and the rest of my body felt little better. I bounced off a wall and collapsed to the floor a boneless heap.

“Look at me,” Chrysalis snarled, her hoofsteps echoing as she approached. I couldn’t even figure out which way was up. “Look at me, worm!”

Her magic wrenched my head and I gasped in pain as my vision swam. I would have been screaming, but even that didn’t seem to be working.

“I was going to just leave you here,” she continued in a growl, the black blur reforming into a furious queen before me. “But you have earned my--” she picked me up again and slammed me against the wall. “--attention!”

An agonised wail filled the air. Turned out I could still scream after all; good to know.

“Still, I hear there is much to be gained from mercy,” she continued, in a far more controlled tone. The pressure holding me against the crystal began to increase, eliciting a fresh scream of pain as my ribs started to bend. “And it was your memory that made this all possible, so you get to live... for now.”

She picked her way through the debris of the lab, leaving me pinned to the wall, before halting before the barrier spell. The roiling mass of spellwork shuddered as her attention focused on it.

“It’s funny,” Chrysalis said, staring into the heart of the barrier. “The ponies put so much effort into saving a world they’ve never even seen. There is enough power here to conquer half of Equus, yet they fritter it away.” She shook her head. “It’s pitiful. My mother always said not to worry overmuch about the ponies; they are only too eager to plant the seeds of their own undoing. I never realised just how wise she really was.”

Lowering her head she lunged forwards, driving her twisted horn into the spell. The entire world seemed to lurch around the vortex, the room twisting and groaning as the spell went wild, lightning-bright arcs of energy streaming from the wound and scorching deep lines into the walls. Every instinct was screaming at me to run, to fly, to get the hell away before whatever magic she was working blew up and killed everyone in the building, but I couldn’t raise a hoof against Crysalis’ power.

There was an explosion of light and sound as a hole opened in the air where the barrier spell used to be. Changelings began to arrive, hurrying past their queen and hurling themselves through the portal, which sparked and crackled with every passage. I wondered if each of the hundred drones meant another human would be dragged through into this nightmare.

“Stop,” I gasped, fighting for breath. “Please... Earth...”

Chrysalis glared at me, as the last of the drones rushed past her. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it,” she said with a vicious grin. She took a half step forwards towards the portal. “Oh, and Alex. Touch me again, and I will kill you.”

She stepped through.

In an instant, all of Crysalis’ magic vanished and I crumpled to the floor, another blinding wave of pain overwhelming me. I think my wing was broken, and maybe a forehoof, also the way the room danced before my eyes was not a great sign.

Groaning, I forced myself up. One hoof dragging, I hobbled my way past the failed barrier spell and over to the shield. Something red kept misting my vision, but I couldn’t seem to focus on what it was, though I had to keep pausing to wipe the substance out of my eyes with a fetlock. After an eternity I reached the controls and hit the shutdown button; watching with disinterest as the spinning rings slowed, the pounding throb of Arcana replaced with my heartbeat ringing in my ears.

I couldn’t remember if there was anything else I was supposed to do. Trembling, I lowered myself to the floor and went to sleep.

Author's Note:

Hmm, I seem to remember promising to update a little more often... whoops. In my defence, I wrote a new story this month, A World Without Kindness for the More Most Dangerous Game contest. I strongly suggest that you check it out, I don't think up-votes affect the judges, but every little helps :twilightsmile:.

Getting back to the HiEC, I'd like to thank Thornwing for his help editing this chapter, in addition to Luna-tic Scientist and Lord of Dorkness, my long(er) suffering pre-readers. I've hit a bit of a mile-stone between updates and managed to get a hundred likes :yay:, so here's hoping that's one step closer to the coveted feature box. There's also a post on my long neglected blog in reference to this chapter on structure.

As a final note, there's a lot of references to other fics in this chapter, can anyone identify them all?