• Published 12th Apr 2015
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What Didn't Happen: After - Zeg

A Princess and a Queen share the same one dream, but on nights separated by over six centuries worth of time. Is the dream a warning of what is yet to come?

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Interlude – Day Dream – Part 5

What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 5

Stepping beyond the tattered curtains and onto the street outside, Twilight left the crystalling chamber behind and looked upward to the shield dome overhead. Already the swarm of feral changelings had once again covered it, blocking out nearly all natural sunlight as they tried to claw and scrape their way in. Without any further support from her magic, the shield would last only minutes at best. The sooner she could draw the swarm away the better.

Tucking the Crystal Heart to her side with a wing, she crouched down to build up strength in her legs so she could launch herself quickly into the air. When she leaped into the air, the power was enough to crack the crystal street in a large radius around her and send her hurtling toward the shield and the swarm just beyond it. Caught off guard by her own strength, she only barely managed to cast a personal shield before plowing through dozens of changelings as she exited the shield and passed through their swarm in a matter of seconds. By the time she managed to slow herself to a hover with her magic, she’d already traveled quite a distance away from the city and completely past the swarm outside.

“Okay. Take it easy,” she said to herself. She didn’t recall feeling quite as powerful the one time she had used their combined power in the past, though that could be attributed to the fact that she alone was likely considerably more powerful now than she had been back then. Even so, she’d ended up smashing mountains and carving out new canyons in Equestria’s landscape when she had fought Tirek back then; she didn’t want to risk doing the same with the Crystal Empire sitting just below her. She couldn’t let her emotions control her actions like she had allowed back then.

First, she decided she needed to get a grasp on just how large the swarm was so she could pick an appropriate spell to deal with them. She focused her magic upon a detection spell, putting enough power behind it to send it far and wide so she could easily spot any changelings across the Frozen North that it touched. She cast the spell and it rushed out from the point of her horn in a spherical burst. As it washed over the ferals, a small, violet light appeared within Twilight’s vision where each one was located. Of course the area above the shield over the city was dotted with these glowing lights, easily numbering in the tens of thousands, but Twilight’s eyes were drawn to the west by something she saw glowing in her peripheral.

Snowden was lit up brighter than the dome over the city, appearing like one giant glowing violet blob to her eyes. She’d suspected that the small town had been their staging point for their attack, but could there have really been that many more ferals still waiting within the small town? She had seen many frozen in the streets, but her spell would only detect live changelings. She tried to focus her sight upon the town, looking for the mass of changelings that her spell was telling her was there, but she couldn’t see them.

Then she recalled what she had heard Flurry say before she had died, that she had found nests. These ferals had been known to hide their nests in caves or underground, out of sight.

“They’re under Snowden.” If what her spell was showing her was accurate, there was a massive hive beneath the small town that spread further than the town’s borders. “They must have been here for years.”

A loud buzzing caught Twilight’s attention. A feral had managed to catch up to her and slammed its body against her shield, though it didn’t manage to budge it in the slightest. All the same, it immediately began a futile attempt at clawing and biting at her shield, all the while making inequine screeching sounds as it tried in vain to reach her. A stray thought entered Twilight’s mind as she watched the crazed creature claw at her shield like a rabid animal. All this time, this is what I’ve been trying to save.

Twilight noticed that there were more approaching, but it appeared that the larger majority of the changelings were still attacking the shield over the city instead of following her. Obviously, they weren’t aware that their main target had moved. Twilight lifted the Heart from under her wing, bringing it out to hover right in front of her. Dipping into Cadance’s magic, she urged the Heart to send out a pulse of its own power that rippled across the Frozen North.

“They should notice that,” Twilight said as she tucked the Heart back to her side. The effect was immediate. The few changelings that had followed her suddenly redoubled their efforts to tear their way through her shield, and the swarm attacking the dome over the city pulled away and turned its full attention to her all at once.

“Definitely noticed.”

Twilight looked to Snowden once more. The bright glow under the town did appear to be stirring a bit, but there was still no visible changelings coming from the town itself. If they remained hidden underground, it wouldn’t matter how swiftly she dealt with the swarm out here, there would be more to replace them from the hive soon enough. A long, drawn-out battle with wave after wave of feral changelings attacking wouldn't be to her advantage. No, she would have to find a way to deal with the nest and the swarm all at once. There was just the problem that an entire town happened to be in the way.

Twilight glanced to the approaching swarm. She didn’t have a lot of time to make a choice. Knowing that she was going to have to do something about the hive beneath Snowden, she hugged the Crystal Heart in her forelegs and began to fly in the town’s direction to lead the swarm away from the main city.

The trip to the town by wing was fairly short, only a few minutes, and didn’t give Twilight enough time to settle on a method of dealing with the ferals and their buried hive. Twilight landed in Snowden’s village square among knee-deep snow and turned around to look back toward the east. She’d arrived only a minute ahead of the swarm that was chasing her judging by how far they appeared to be.

The violet glow from her spell was almost blinding to her eyes. Every direction she looked, her eyes picked up signs of changelings beneath the surface of the town, and in some spots, the lights seemed to appear from fairly deep underground. The swarm top side would be simple enough for her to deal with in a single spell, but anything she would cast while underground would likely cause enough damage to collapse the ground above. It was highly likely the small town was going to get destroyed no matter what she tried to do.

But the town did seem abandoned.

Infested, actually, and had been so for some time by the looks of it. The likelihood that there was any life other than changelings in the area was nearly zero.

“Am I really doing this?” Twilight asked herself as the ideas formed in her mind. She glanced back up to the approaching swarm. In seconds, tens of thousands of them would be upon her. Even given the power she had now, she wouldn't’ be able to maintain a shield against them all indefinitely, and she would need as much of her power as she could possibly gather for the spell she was considering. Gravity manipulation magic was not something even the most skilled mages could toy with even if they wanted to, let alone weaponize it. It took a lot more power to actually change and manipulate the gravity field in an area than it did to simply counteract the local gravitational force with a levitation spell, and such magic was much more dangerous. One typically couldn’t outright crush everything in an area with a levitation spell.

The first few ferals caught up to Twilight’s location and crashed hard into her shield. A couple of them even crumpled against her shield and slid off to the ground, obviously dead from the impact. More and more began to pile up onto her shield, causing increasing pressure that she could feel across the spell maintaining it. The ferals unlucky enough to be against the shield itself were being crushed from the force of thousands more using their weight in an attempt to crack through Twilight’s defenses.

“Now or never,” Twilight said as she lit her horn. She started with a smaller spell, a standard changeling disabling spell that would stun the creatures, keeping them where she needed them long enough to conjure the gravity spell. She put enough strength behind the stun spell so the blast would reach the borders of the town and down into most of the hive. The white spell burst spread out rippling through the swarm and into the hive below. Twilight folded her ears back as the loud hum of thousands of wings buzzing was replaced by a chorus of thousands of changelings shrieking in pain.

With a quick teleport, Twilight zipped up into the sky over the town. Down below her, she could see the stunned ferals falling from the sky and piling up in the streets and upon the houses below. The snow-covered town now nearly looked solid black.

They were vulnerable. All Twilight had to do now was use this moment of respite to focus and cast the gravity spell, and the fight would be over.

But she hesitated. For a moment she simply stared down at the mass of writhing bodies piled up in the town below her. She could hear a voice screaming at her in the back of her mind, telling her that doing this was wrong. And yet, there was another, louder voice, telling her that this was her one last chance. That she was wasting time again. That this might be her only window of opportunity to cast the spell, and that if these changelings hurt even one more pony, it would be her fault for not stopping them.

“Oh, just do it!” she yelled as she lit her horn. She focused her thoughts on the space just above the town, and let everything else fade from her mind. Even the shield spell that had been protecting her dissipated. She couldn’t let her mind get distracted by anything else, as losing control of an alicorn powered gravity spell could very well tear the surrounding countryside to pieces. She had to keep the spell and the destruction it would no doubt cause localized to just the area below.

The space just ahead of her appeared to warp and bend, as if the light was being pulled and bent inward to a single point. The central point of the spell darkened until it was pitch black, and the surrounding air began to funnel into the point at high speeds. Slowly, Twilight guided the collapsed gravity point down closer to the town, and as she did the force of the winds being pulled in began to sweep changelings, snow, and debris from the ground below into the sky and draw them toward the center. Anything that was drawn in was simply crushed and vanished without a trace.

Twilight wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. She couldn't risk losing control, so she watched as her spell scoured the land of any structures below and then began to tear the land itself apart, exposing the hive beneath. The spell continued to hollow the ground out, ripping chunks of rock and hive from beneath the ground and crushing everything within its grasp into non-existence. She had no choice but to watch as thousands of creatures and an entire town was being eradicated, all while tears were streaming down her face.

There was a sudden rush of cool air that seemed to come from everywhere around her all at once. With it, everything around her was suddenly blown away as if it were made of nothing more than a cloud of mist. Twilight drew in a shocked gasp as she frantically looked around, panic gripping her as confused thoughts rushed through her mind. Did I lose focus? What happened? Where is everything!?

Midnight blue wings folded around Twilight, pulling her back into a warm embrace. Twilight’s mind went blank for a moment, her panic replaced instead with momentary confusion, and then, recognition. She knew this place. She’d seen it before, though it had been a very long time since she remembered last visiting it. An endless plane of clouds both below and above, with a horizon colored with the violet hues of early evening in the far off distance between them.

It was the Dreamscape.

Luna’s familiar voice spoke from just behind her, confirming what she already knew to be true. “It’s alright. It was only a bad dream.”

That’s right. She remembered now. She’d been on a train trip to the Crystal Empire and must have dozed off. She let out a relieved sigh and wiped the tears from her face with the back of her foreleg. After a moment of silence, she glanced over her shoulder, looking up to Luna. “It wasn’t just a dream,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “How much did you see?”

“I saw enough, while I was trying to make my way in. Your nightmare was quite powerful.”

Twilight stared forward at the distant horizon. “It all happened over a century ago.”

“I’m so sorry. Bad memories make for some of the worst nightmares,” Luna said as she gently ran her fetlock over Twilight’s shoulder. “It must have been one of the most difficult choices you have ever had to make.”

Twilight shook her head. “There wasn’t much choice in it. By that point, I believed they were beyond saving. I believed that I either sacrifice Snowden and wipe them out, or they’d wipe us out instead. All of us.” She let out a long heavy sigh before continuing. “But, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. It’s not like I managed to kill every single changeling in existence that day. There were other feral hives that we knew of, and probably many we didn’t, and of course there were still the changelings from the Old Kingdom that had been our allies for generations.” She paused for a brief moment, and a frown appeared on her muzzle. “At least they were until that day. Seeing how I... dealt with the feral problem frightened them. They didn’t want much to do with ponies after that.”

Luna lowered her head next to Twilight’s. “I’m sensing that you took quite a lot of the blame upon yourself, but I somehow doubt you were solely at fault, if at all.”

Twilight glanced at Luna before shrugging her shoulders. “You don’t just destroy one of your own nation’s towns without any repercussions. I made the choice the destroy Snowden on my own, without the council's approval.”

Luna threw her head back with a scoff. “As if there was time for you to go back and take a vote. I’d say that wouldn’t have been the time for such nonsense.”

“That might be so, but there were a lot of ponies that had relatives that had lived there before, and I turned it into a hole in the ground. It doesn't matter that they were likely all long dead before then. Somepony had to answer for what had happened, so might as well been the mare who wiped out Snowden.” Twilight glanced up briefly at Luna, just catching her rolling her eyes. She smiled briefly and said, “The punishment honestly wasn’t that bad, if you could even call it that. It was more of a slap on the hoof and a warning that if I ever acted on my own again I’d have my place at the council permanently revoked and my title as princess stripped.”

Luna tsked, and shook her head. “Yes, very wise to suggest removing the mare from power who likely saved the nation—nay, the world—from destruction.”

“It was for show,” Twilight said, a slight chuckle in her voice. “The other’s actually agreed with what I did, as did most ponies, especially the ones that had lost someone to a feral before then. They knew the world probably wouldn’t have survived otherwise if those ferals had gotten the Heart. Still, some of the bordering nations were a bit worried that one of Equestria’s princesses’ not only had the power to just wipe cities from existence but had done so to one of her own just to solve a problem.”

Luna let out a groaning sigh and shook her head again. “Politics,” she said as if even speaking the word left a rotten taste in her mouth. “Even when you take the best choice you can from a list of horrible choices, you still get punished for it.”

Twilight shrugged. “Snowden’s destruction probably could have been avoided if I’d just made a different choice earlier. Hundreds of our ponies died in smaller attacks in the years leading up to the attack on the Crystal Empire, and I kept asking for more time to find a way to convince the ferals that they could change just like their brethren had centuries before them. I never considered that maybe they just couldn’t, not until Flurry was killed by them.” Twilight fell silent for a brief moment as she recalled that moment once again. “Her death made me realize just how emotionally detached from the rest of the world I had gotten. I mean... I have always wanted to help any creatures that are in need, but I realized that day that I hadn’t really felt the pain of their losses until it was someone in my own family that died from an attack. By then I’d live so long without anything really changing in my family that I’d... just forgotten what it was like to lose someone.”

Twilight glanced over her shoulder up to Luna once again and saw the night princess lost in her thoughts while she looked on at the distant horizon.

“I usually advocate for a more... direct and quick approach to solving problems myself,” Luna said. She turned her gaze toward Twilight. “But, you and I both know that solutions to complex problems are rarely simple and sometimes take time. I don’t think you were wrong in wanting to take time to try to find the right answer.”

Twilight glanced downward toward her hooves. “I did find a rather simple solution only a few months after the attack.” She looked back up to Luna, who was patiently listening. “I’d been searching for a way to communicate with them for years to find out why their curse had gotten so much worse. I’d convinced myself that, with Chrysalis out of the way in my world, they could finally make their own choices and I could convince them that peace and friendship was the right answer, just like we did with the changelings of the Old Kingdom. I thought I could convince them to save themselves.

“But, I know now that Chrysalis was actually the only thing holding them back. Without her control, they were set loose upon our world, and it only took a few generations for their curse to reach a point they couldn’t return from.

“After what happened at the Crystal Empire, I shifted my focus from trying to save them to trying to find a way to permanently stop them. There were still other hives, and it would only be a matter of time before another swarm gathered and attacked us, but I didn’t want a repeat of Snowden. I couldn’t have that,” she said as she shook her head. “Luckily, I found a way to nullify their curse after only a few months of focused study. I even found a way to amplify the spell so that it would have a global effect, leaving them nowhere to hide.

“I figured it out while researching the original curse. By using the curse itself, I could force them to change into something else, anything else I wanted really. Normally, I wouldn’t consider using something so drastic. Altering an entire species magically without their consent is quite a big taboo even if the changes would be beneficial. Magic like this was the same exact thing that created them in the first place and one small mistake would turn them into even worse abominations.

“But, I didn’t even ask for permission before using it,” Twilight said, her voice trailing off slightly as she stared blankly forward. She went silent for a short while as she stared off into the distance while her mind dredged up old memories that she had long laid to rest. It wasn’t until she felt Luna’s hoof lightly touching her shoulder that she broke away from her trance and glanced back over her shoulder at Luna and saw the concerned look in her eyes.

“Does speaking of this bother you?” she asked.

Twilight shook her head. “No, I came to terms with it all long ago.”

“Are you certain?” Luna pressed. She moved her right wing just slightly, and the large primary feather at the end brushed up against the side of Twilight’s muzzle, wiping fresh tears from her cheek.

Twilight blinked her eyes. She hadn’t even realized that she’d been crying. “Oh,” she said as she used the back of her hoof to dry her eyes again. “Well, I admit they aren’t happy memories, but talking about it really does help,” she said as she glanced up to Luna and smiled.

Luna smiled back and nodded to her.

“So,” Twilight said with a light sigh. “Where was I... oh right! The spell. Well, it was a curse actually, a modified version of the same one that Sombra originally used to create the changelings in the first place. His curse created the first changelings by twisting crystal ponies into insect-like creatures, so I reversed it to have it change any changeling it touched into a crystal pony. It was a risk, but one I felt I had to take. I couldn’t waste any more time.

“So, In a single day, all changelings across the world were changed to crystal ponies, permanently, even the ones from the Old Kingdom. Only the Equestrian Elder Council knows it was my spell that did it, and I should have had my position on the council revoked that day for acting without their consent again and for using magic to alter an entire species against their will. I was even prepared for it when I went to tell them what I had done.” Twilight briefly smiled, and then said, “They decided unanimously to keep my actions secret instead, and to spread the word that it must have been some sort of miracle of magic that had cured them.”

Twilight looked Luna in the eyes. “There hasn’t been any changelings in my world for over a hundred years since then. It’s been so long since it happened, none from the first generation that were transformed are still alive. And I doubt there are very many ponies left who know that Snowden Lake wasn’t always a lake. It’s amazing how quickly historic knowledge fades with just a small amount of time passing, especially when you avoid teaching it.”

She let out a sigh and shrugged, turning to look out toward the horizon again. “To be honest, I’m not sure what I should and shouldn’t be telling you. Your Equestria isn’t my Equestria. I have no idea what your future will be like, and I have no right to try and change it or to tell you what to do... but....”

“You worry that a similar tragedy may befall our changelings,” Luna said. “We already know.”

Twilight blinked and her ears twitched. She quickly glanced back up to Luna. “You do?”

Luna nodded. “Our world’s Chrysalis has already warned us of the dangers, should the swarm get out of control. While our world’s changelings haven’t undergone the same physical change that some in your world did, the changelings living beneath Canterlot have shown us that they can change their ways if not their appearance and that we can trust them. However, we have more work to do if we’re to befriend all changelings across the world and avoid the threat altogether. Trust me when I say that I will heed the warnings that you have shown me here.”

“That’s good. I hope that your world’s changelings have a brighter future than ours did,” Twilight said. She glanced back down to the clouds just before her and lazily ran a hoof through the misty haze hovering just above them. “To be honest, I can’t help but be tempted to try to go back and change things, but I know that time travel can get... messy... very quickly. It’s why we outlawed its use in all but the most extreme cases... such as the end of existence.”

“We’re not meant to correct and perfect all of our choices.”

“I know, I know,” Twilight said while shaking her head. “It’s just that, I know that Flurry didn’t have to die. All of those ponies didn’t have to die to the changeling attacks.” Twilight paused, her mouth hanging open silently for a moment, and then she quietly said, “All of those changelings I killed... didn’t have to die.” She let out another long sigh, then glanced up to Luna once more. “It was over a hundred years ago. My Equestria’s wounds have healed and changelings are only something you hear about in scary stories now, but I’ll always wonder what would have happened differently if I had thought to use that transformation spell before the ferals attacked the Crystal Empire.”

Luna held Twilight’s gaze for a moment longer before looking off to the horizon once again. “As you know, I have a regret or two of my own, and yes, I’ve often wondered how things could have been if I had made better choices.” She looked back to Twilight, lowering her head closer. “However, it seems you forget; though we may be powerful and long-lived, we are also just ponies ourselves, not some divine beings who control the ebb and flow of time and fate. You did what you thought was right, seeking peace. And when your kindness was refused and they became a threat to your world, you did what you knew you must do to stop them. You made very difficult choices and chose to protect your kingdom’s future despite the cost of doing so, putting even your own claim to power in jeopardy. There is no shame in any of that.

“And as for your... lack of emotional attachment, being too close to your subjects can be just as detrimental. If you truly did feel the sorrow of every single loss one of our ponies experienced, it would crush your soul. I may risk sounding cold-hearted for saying so, but it is not our task to feel their suffering. It is our task to be wary of the causes, and to use our power to help lessen them however we can.”

Luna sat back up to her full height, drawing her wings back to her sides as she turned herself to face Twilight directly. “I feel I must apologize,” she said as she closed her eyes and lightly bowed her head.

Twilight quickly stood and turned toward Luna, taking a step back. “What for?” she asked, looking confused.

“I should have been here much sooner to stop the nightmare from running its course. I’m sure reliving all of that wasn’t at all pleasant.” Luna opened her eyes and lifted her head. A small, sheepish smile appeared on her lips. “Daydreams do have a tendency to slip by without my noticing sometimes since that is usually when I am asleep.”

“Oh. I didn’t mean to wake you,” Twilight said. Her ears pinned back slightly and she absently scratched at her foreleg with a hoof, and old nervous habit that she only ever showed around those she felt closest too.

“It’s quite alright,” Luna said through a light chuckle. “The evening hour is quickly approaching and with it, my watch.” Luna blinked and turned to glance off in the distance as if there was something there only she could see. “It looks like it is about time for me to leave you for now,” she said, before turning her attention back to Twilight.

Luna leaned her head forward, close to Twilight’s. While peering deep into Twilight’s eyes, she spoke, and as she did, her words seemed to fade as if they were being drawn away into the distance.

We’re here, Twilight. Time to wake up.”

Twilight felt everything around her fade away as she left the Dreamscape to return back to the waking world.