• Published 15th Apr 2017
  • 1,185 Views, 94 Comments

The Worst of All Possible Worlds - TheTimeSword


Sunset Shimmer returns to Equestria only to find Twilight Sparkle battling a strange pony named Starlight Glimmer. Unbeknownst to Sunset, Starlight has altered the past, forcing Sunset to deal with reigniting her friendships all over again.

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Arc 2: Chapter 2

Thorns pressed against Sunset’s rump causing her eyes to swell with tears. Her hooves held tightly against her mouth, keeping her from screaming and alerting the changelings. The outskirts of Ponyville sat just a few yards away from the bushes they had chosen to hide within, but Sunset’s had been filled with prickly thorns. Each one she removed with her magic made her thrash violently, but she knew better than to scream. The changelings had patrollers wandering around the edges of the town while others herded the citizens into cages, loading those cages onto carts. There were dozens upon dozens of carts and even more cages.

The town itself had been battered heavily. Several homes had their roofs caved in and their windows smashed, others had half broken doors that clung to the hinges. The town hall was the worst of all, though. Its roof had been blown up from the inside, leaving pieces of wood and shingles all around the town. The town of Ponyville had been ultimately and completely defeated.

They weren’t here to save Ponyville, however. Sunset had told Pinkie and Fluttershy her plan as they approached the reaved city. “They take ponies to Canterlot, right? That’s where we’re going. We’ll cling to the bottom of their carts and hop off before we get too close to Canterlot. From there we should be able to find our way through a secret passage at the base of the city. There’s a hundred hidden passages, just like the Castle of the Two Sisters. We’ve just got to find the right one.”

It sounded like a good plan, but Sunset had not expected so many changelings. Still, they had to try, and once the thorns were removed from her butt, she teleported herself and the two mares to the side of one of the blasted buildings. The patrollers didn’t ever look toward the inside of the city, and the ones herding ponies didn’t look to the outskirts. They were safe in the middle as long as they didn’t make noise, otherwise, they’d be the center of attention quite literally. Pinkie and Fluttershy hurried into the broken home with Sunset on their tails. They huddled around broken glass, staring out the window with their foreheads barely visible to the outside.

The home had been ransacked. Couches upturned, chairs kicked down stairs, even the refrigerator was left open. “There’s our way to Canterlot,” Sunset whispered, motioning toward three empty carts that sat beside each other. The frame of the carts were a bit high but the bars for wheels hung lower, giving them room to cling to the underside. They’d have to cling to one bar with their forelegs and kick their back onto the other. “You two are sure you can keep steady for this trip? If one of us falls off we’ll need to fight.”

“We’ll stay on. Though I am itching for a fight,” whispered Pinkie Pie, angrily. She clopped her hooves together, reminding Sunset of a rainbow-haired pony from the last world. It didn’t sit well with Sunset, the anger that Pinkie had wasn’t solely hers either. Fluttershy was more aggressive too, more than Sunset had ever seen of any Fluttershy in any world. Years upon years of terror can only lead to two different outcomes. Constantly afraid or constantly angry. A fight or flight response. She sympathized with them, though. The town of Ponyville didn’t deserve to be so battered, nor did the inhabitants.

After a patrol passed by the house, giving a lazy eye to the shadows inside, the three mares took their opportunity to reach the trio of carts. Sunset rushed the middle, digging her forelegs between the wood and the rail at the front of the cart, and kicking her back legs onto the rear. She faced the underside of the cart and immediately felt the pull of her backpack digging into her shoulders. She let go for a moment and undid the straps, pulling it and placing it onto her stomach. Pinkie Pie had already gotten situated, but when Sunset looked to Fluttershy she noticed that the pegasus was struggling. Getting into position wasn’t the problem for the yellow mare, it was that her hair hung low and touched the dirt below. “Your hair!” Sunset whispered as loudly as she could without attracting attention.

Fluttershy wiggled her head, attempting to position her mane in a way that didn’t show. She was forced to stop, however, as the changelings began utilizing their carts. The carts were rolled over to cages, and one by one ponies in cages were loaded into the wagons. The weight of the ponies in cages sunk the carts slightly, displaying Fluttershy’s hair even more prominently than before. Sunset eyed the changelings’ hooves and the cages, and that’s when she noticed an orange-furred mare with blonde locks of hair pressing her body to the bottom of her cage. She could see them, Sunset could tell, and when the orange pony knew that she had been seen her eyes drifted to Fluttershy’s mane as if to point it out.

With no other choice, Sunset lifted the mane’s knot from the floor with her magic, yanking it up to Fluttershy’s mouth and forcing the yellow pegasus to chomp down on her own hair. She couldn’t see Fluttershy’s reaction, but she felt bad regardless. At least we won’t be seen, she thought, giving a sigh of relief.

“Hey, you!” a changeling’s voice echoed out. Sunset’s heart jumped as she heard the words, believing they had been found. The same changeling rattled the bars of a cage, causing the pony inside to whimper. “Quit your whining! By the grace of her majesty, you’re getting to go to Canterlot. Be grateful!”

The same cage was then loaded into Pinkie Pie’s cart, the whimpering pony could still be heard as the cart closed and latched. Several carts had already been sent off, and with the last remaining ponies in these carts, the changelings had finished their invasion of the quaint town. “Patrol, head north ahead of these. Wranglers, get in position,” a changeling yelled. Sunset could barely make out the dark blue armor that the changeling wore, but he was clearly more important than the armor-less changelings that pulled the carts. “Let’s get back before feeding time.” The very phrase made Sunset gag.

When they began to move, several of the carts lined up side by side, and Sunset’s got paired with Pinkie Pie’s. The weight of her backpack on her stomach was painful, but she suffered through it. Pinkie was the opposite. Sunset could tell the pink earth pony was distressed, but couldn’t figure out why. Pinkie’s grip looked fine, being an earth pony she was stronger than both Sunset and Fluttershy combined. So why was she fretting? With a soft motion, Sunset garnered Pinkie’s attention and mouthed “What?” Pinkie grimaced in reply, shaking her head and then mouthing a word in response. Sunset almost groaned aloud but kept it in check. Seriously? This is not the time to be needing a potty break!

Sunset rolled her head the other way, hoping to avoid Pinkie’s antics. Several changelings walked beside the carts, but she could hear the sounds of buzzing overhead and assumed there were more than she could see.

The changelings were quick to move, having already entered onto the main road to Canterlot, leaving Ponyville behind to ruin. Sunset wondered if the changelings had utilized the train system, or if they had been making their own weather with Cloudsdale’s weather machines. It was odd to think about a completely different race taking over and using the world for their own purposes. Yet, that’s exactly what I was going to do when I went to the human world. Thoughts flooded her mind of the human world and her demon side. She quickly pushed the thoughts away, not wanting to compare herself to that of the changeling army. I wouldn’t be as bad as them.

As the road curved and sloped, Sunset lowered her head closer to the ground. She hadn’t been to Canterlot in so long she almost didn’t recognize the cream gold towers contrasting against the bluish grey of the mountain. Even in the last world, her time had been spent in The Crystal Empire, never bothering to head to Canterlot. Her heart ached. It pained for this to be the first time that she’d returned to the city, under so much conflict and terror. She had planned to visit Canterlot on her return to her time, hoping to reunite and ask for forgiveness from her own Princess Celestia. Oh gosh. I’m going to have to apologize to this world’s Celestia as well. Hopefully, she’ll know how to get me home this time.

The cart suddenly stopped, and so did the buzzing. Sunset could see dozens and dozens of changeling hooves trotting around. Behind their hooves were blockades of wood as high as an adult pony and the width of three. These blockades surrounded them, and a changeling shouted, “Gate’s closed!”

“Did the patrol make it through alright with the other wagons?” one of the changelings asked the gatekeeper.

“Aye, they sure did. Is the queen on her way? We had hoped to see her majesty with you,” replied the gatekeeper.

“She’s clearing out the pests within the forest,” another changeling shouted as they began removing cages from the carts. “Zecora and her brood. What I wouldn’t give to feed on zebra!” The changelings of the camp laughed and hollered and agreed. But it was soon silenced by the orange mare’s laughter. “Hey, what’s this one going on about? Hush up, will you?”

Sunset swiveled her head, searching and counting the number of changelings. She could see that the outpost was well defended, the wooden walls stretched entirely around the camp and into a part of the woods it sat next to. A ladder led up to a tree where she assumed a small roost had been built to keep watch. She wondered how many of these outposts had been built, and how many they’d have to pass through to get to Canterlot.

The orange mare’s laughter had ceased. “I just think it’s funny that you are callin’ anypony a pest. Have you looked in the mirror recently? You varmints need to wriggle back to your hive and sleep with the other maggots,” the orange mare claimed.

“Hush up, I said!” the changeling called and trotted over to the orange mare’s cage. His dark blue armor glistened in the sun. “You’ll be in a pod soon enough.” The pods had been placed against one of the wooden walls, enough to handle the remnants of Ponyville. “I think we’ll keep you to feed us on those cold nights,” the changeling said with a bit of dark laughter.

Sunset watched as the mare and the changeling bickered. When she looked back to Pinkie, she found that the pink mare had disappeared from her spot beneath the cart. Sunset dropped from her bar, landing with her back on the dirt, still holding her backpack. She rolled out and onto her hooves, throwing her backpack over her shoulder and turning her horn to the orange mare’s cage, tearing the lock off with her magic. And like an angry bull, the orange mare leapt from her confines, smashing the helmet off the changeling that she had riled up.

After turning to the cages on the carts and breaking their locks, Sunset turned her attention to the changelings. Some glided up into the sky, but Sunset dragged them back to the ground with a resonating thud. She tried to fight and search for the pink mare at the same time, but the changelings soon overran her focus. There were more changelings than there were prisoners, and Sunset was forced to fight two at once just to have a second to breathe. Her time in the world ruled by King Sombra had brought her magic out from retirement, and though she was not at her peak skill, these changelings made for weak opponents.

Outnumbered they had been until several changelings saw Sunset in action. The changelings who had been pulling the carts fled as fast as they could, leaving the patrols and guards behind. When all was said and done, and the remaining changelings thrown in cages and pods, the orange mare hooted and hollered with the other free ponies. Sunset quickly readjusted her backpack and found Fluttershy, who had helped in the fight more than any other Fluttershy would have done. Yet Pinkie Pie was nowhere to be seen.

“Pinkie? Pinkie!” Sunset yelled, panic filling her head with terrible thoughts. “Where’d she go!?” The ponies who were free stood around with puzzled looks, but none of them were Pinkie.

Her fear was soon relieved as the pink mare sauntered up to the closed gate. “I’m here!” Pinkie yelled, a delighted smile on her face.

Sunset rushed up to the gate and was about to open it, but the idea of changelings made her wary. “How do I know you’re the real Pinkie?”

“I mean, if you want to go check out the new lake I just made, be my guest,” replied Pinkie Pie, giving a short giggle.

“I’ll pass, thanks.” Sunset opened the gate and hugged the mare. “Wait,” she said, pushing herself away from the Element of Laughter. “Did you wash your hooves, at least?”

“Ahem-hem,” a voice rose up, cutting off Pinkie and Sunset. “I think we have more important things to worry about, like who in tarnation are you three?” The orange mare trotted up to Sunset, giving the meanest stink eye Sunset had ever seen.

“I suppose we do, Applejack,” Sunset greeted. Applejack’s face turned sour, her muzzle scrunched and her eyes narrowed. “I know, I know. How is it that I know your name, you must be wondering. We’d need a long while for me to explain that, but some of those changelings got away. We need to move out of here, and I need you to come with us.”

Applejack scratched her head. Her golden mane was cut short, barely reaching just below her chin. She didn’t look anything like Pinkie or Fluttershy. No piercings, green paint, or matted hair. Sunset assumed she lived in Ponyville and accepted that they would one day be invaded, and prepared for it. “Where are y’all headed, if I might ask?”

“Canterlot,” Pinkie Pie cut in. “Are you sure she’s one of the Elements, Sunset? I know Applejack. What in Equestria is her Element?”

Applejack’s eyes went wide. “P-Pinkie Pie? Is that you!?” The orange mare abruptly thrust her forelegs around the pink one’s neck, hugging her tight. “I didn’t think she was yelling about the pony I knew! I can hardly believe it’s really you! Uh, what’s with the moss?” Applejack stepped back to look at the green that now covered her hooves.

“I’d hate to break up the pleasantries, but again, we need to move out,” Sunset commanded and turned to the other ponies who had been imprisoned. “There’s still ponies living in the Everfree Forest. If you all make your way down there, avoiding Chrysalis and her soldiers, then find a zebra named Zecora. She’s got her group hiding out in the Castle of the Two Sisters. If you don’t head there, find somewhere hidden and wait. I promise to remove the changeling presence!”

Sunset’s speech roused the group of ponies, and those who believed her word of sanctuary headed south, back to Ponyville and the surrounding forest. Only Applejack remained of those who had been taken. “That’s a mighty fine speech, but I’d like to hear more about how you plan on doing that,” Applejack demanded.

“Right, right. I’ll explain on the way. Soooo.” Sunset extended her hoof to the gate, giving a big enough smile in the hopes to convince the earth pony.

Applejack sighed. “Alright. It’s not like I’ve got anything better.”

Fluttershy and Pinkie took charge, rushing into the grassy field that ran along the opposite side of the road. The field was large, but there were no signs of changelings hiding within or above. Regardless, they crept amongst the tall blades until they reached the northern tree line where they hid within the canopy’s shadows. “There’ll be more outposts around Canterlot’s entrance, I’d imagine. How do you suppose we’ll get inside?” Applejack asked once they were deep in the woods.

“We’ll reach the base of the mountain. If Canterlot is still Canterlot then there’s a few secret passages within the stone,” answered Sunset. “That’s how we’ll get in.”

If Canterlot is still Canterlot? What else would it be? Just… Who are you?” Applejack stopped dead in her tracks.

Sunset stopped as well and turned to face the Element of Honesty. The canopy of leaves left a few rays of light that shined against Applejack’s green eyes. “I’ll tell you the truth,” Sunset started to say, hoping that would sway the Element of Honesty. “I’m from another world, one where you and five others defeated villain after villain after villain. You six used the Elements of Harmony. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy are two of those Elements, like you. We’ve got to find the other three in Canterlot and get you your Elements so that we can bring Chrysalis down once and for all.” When she finished, Sunset clenched her jaw and sucked in air through her nostrils. She stared sharply at the earth pony in front of her. For a moment, she thought she saw the eyes begin to glow but it was just the sun’s reflection.

“Uh huh. Well, let’s get these Elements then,” Applejack reckoned, tapping her cheek with gentle strokes.

No Element of Harmony, Sunset bemoaned. At least she doesn’t think I’m crazy. Perhaps it’s a confidence thing. I have to be confident when I tell them I’m from another world. She gave a nod to herself, but Applejack nodded back, leading to a moment of awkward staring between the two before they continued north.

The weight of the straps of the backpack were becoming a nuisance. Whenever Sunset lifted a strap she could see where the fur was being pressed down. Pony anatomy and human anatomy don’t mix. That thought reminded her of her own human friends and the life they led, of school and monster attacks and nasty principles. They just don’t mix. She never had time to think about these things. At school it was work or social, never having a moment to her self. At night it was study and sleep, and she always made sure to get enough sleep. Having time to think was dangerous, but there was little else she could think about other than the changelings and the pain from her backpack.

Days had gone by in the Sombra timeline and she was unsure of how many had passed since she arrived in this world. Even now the sun was starting to set, ending another day. The sun is setting, the thought lingered and transformed. Princess Celestia raises and lowers the sun, but who is doing it now? Chrysalis couldn’t have amassed that much power. The more she thought about it the worse ideas came to mind until she had had enough of thinking. “Soooo,” she said with a quiet lilt. Talking was better than thinking. “Anyone got any jokes? Or maybe we could do some singing?” She remembered sheering sheep with Fluttershy, the memory bringing a smile to her face.

“Jokes?” Pinkie Pie said, enthusiastically.

“Singing?” Fluttershy chorused, just as enthusiastically.

“Sure. You guys are great singers, both in my world and the human world,” Sunset remarked. “And Pinkie’s jokes never get old.”

“Human world?” Applejack stepped beside Sunset, her brow furrowing as she said the words. “Uh, what’s that?”

“The world I’m from has a mirror that connects to another world where everyone I know is a human. Humans are these strange bipedal creatures with no magic.” Sunset used to feel weird about explaining humans, but time eroded that feeling. “I live in that world as a human. Though lately things from Equestria have been slipping through, and me and my friends are trying to catch them in the cracks. It’s funny, on a whim I decided to return to Equestria for a replacement journal, only to be caught up in something that placed me into alternate universes. It’s a good thing I’ve got hands on experience dealing with other worlds, eh?”

“Hands?” Applejack repeated the word.

“Hooves! Hooves on experience.” Sunset gave a short, awkward chuckle. “Sorry. I’m quick to relearn my magic and movements, but idioms take a while to unlearn.” Though hopefully I can figure out a way home before I need to do that.

Applejack smiled. “Well shucks, I could help catch you up on them. How about bite off more than you can chew? That one’s an Apple family favorite.”

“I once bit off more cake than I could chew,” Pinkie interjected. “It was this big chocolate and coconut triple layer cake with green and red frosting. The Cakes made it special for a wedding or something but then it fell through so they said I could have it so it wouldn’t go to waste but that’s when I almost choked on it. Mrs. Cake said that she could see the outline of it lodged in my throat but I thought that was just silly until I realized I hadn’t actually swallowed the cake I was just standing there running out of air. When I woke up Mr. Cake said that the first thing I asked for was more cake.” She took a deep breath and then gave a big happy grin, the first true smile Sunset had seen on the mare since she had met her.

“That’s a… That’s interesting, Pinkie Pie. But the idiom is supposed to be something that doesn’t translate from humans to ponies. Like, to hear something straight from the horse’s mouth.”

In unison Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Applejack stopped in their tracks and turned to face Sunset. Their eyebrows were furrowed, glaring at Sunset with unease. “What’s that one supposed to mean?” Applejack sternly asked.

“No, no! It’s a good thing, honest! It’s where you hear something from someone who is knowledgeable. Like hearing facts about animals from Fluttershy, or farm work from you,” Sunset explained, feeling the angry eyes on her slowly subside as she spoke. “Horses in the human world are really nice, too! On your farm, Applejack, you’ve got horses to ride.”

Groans of disgust rang out from the three Element bearers as they continued to tread through the forest. “Humans are gross,” Pinkie Pie muttered to Fluttershy who nodded in agreement.

When they reached the edge of the forest they found themselves on one side of a road. The mountain that held Canterlot sat just on the other side with another forest at its base. Sunset could barely make out some of the purple roofs of Canterlot’s towers behind the glistening waterfalls that trailed from the mountain. Parts of the roofs were black or green, but she couldn’t tell exactly what they were. The road in front of them led west to the gates and up to Canterlot, along with a changeling outpost. On the east side sat another outpost, but it was incredibly far away. Green flags with changelings designed on the front were displayed around both outposts, fluttering in the breeze proudly. As if they deserve to be proud.

“Alright, we can wait till nightfall and creep across the road. I don’t think changelings can see in the dark but neither can we so it’s fair,” Applejack devised a plan. “We might be able to camp out too, maybe find a nice hovel or cave in the mountain.”

Sunset immediately disagreed. “I didn’t roll around in the snow with Sombra’s soldiers just to waddle myself across a road in the dead of night.” She pointed to her horn and Applejack understood. “I’d teleport us directly into the throne room if my memory wasn’t so fuzzy on specifics.”

“Once we get across, where do we go?” Fluttershy asked.

“There’s a crack in the mountain, very small and very hidden. I used to explore the depths of the castle and found a chamber that led to a mine deep in the mountain. I never told Princess Celestia I had found it – but I think she knew. That was… That was near the end of my apprenticeship.” She missed her mentor. With the sun setting, she hoped this world’s Princess Celestia was alright. “I only found it trying to discover a way into the forbidden archives of the royal library. If I had known I’d need to sneak back in one day I would have paid more attention to the dark paths and mine shafts.” She shrugged. With a quick teleport, they were on the other side of the road. “Hopefully the changelings haven’t found it, otherwise we might be in for a fight again.”

“I’d be up for another,” Applejack said, and Pinkie and Fluttershy agreed.

Sunset frowned. She didn’t like the idea of her friends being gung-ho for fighting, nor did she like the idea of fighting in general. I’ll be more fit than Rainbow Dash by the time I return home. Her back and legs ached more than any time spent in a gym. Won’t she be jealous?

With the forest to their right, they pressed against the mountain in the hopes to find Sunset’s entrance. The sun wasn’t making their search easier, however, as the sun was setting on the side of the mountain where Canterlot sat, blanketing their own side in darkness. The trees and stones looked vastly different than what Sunset remembered, though having only a vague idea of where the entrance could be wasn’t helping either. “Do you think it could be covered?” Fluttershy asked, pushing a small rock and uncovering a gecko’s home. “Oh, sorry,” she apologized and lowered the rock.

“It’s got to be somewhere around here,” Sunset muttered. “I wish Pinkie and Maud were here. They’d just drill a hole.”

“Um, hello? I’m right here,” Pinkie responded. “What am I, dropped glitter?”

“Sorry. Different Pinkie.” It felt weird to say. I’ve met four Pinkie Pies and all of them like cake and rocks. “If you want to try digging a hole, be my guest.” Sunset continued to move, examining every inch they passed.

Pinkie Pie bit down on her tongue and stretched her hooves. “Everypony, stand back!” she yelled, wiggling her tail in the air. With the first hit against the stone, a fissure the size of two ponies concaved, opening into a darkened cave. “Oh wowie. I guess I don’t know my own strength,” Pinkie said, stupefied, staring down at her hooves with awe.

“It was covered!” Sunset exclaimed, examining the entrance. “Good job Pinkie Pie!”

“Talk about happenstance,” Applejack noted, scratching the side of her head. “Pinkie outta walk straight into Canterlot with luck like that. The changelings might beat each other senseless just tryin’ to attack her.” She chuckled.

Sunset was the first to dive into the darkness, sliding into the cavern on her rump. When she reached the bottom she lit her horn, casting a light spell that illuminated brighter than she had expected. “Crystals!” she shouted, and the ringing echoed and resonated against the light pink gems. “I had almost forgotten these were here. After Sombra, I was hoping to be done with crystals.”

Applejack was the second down. “Sombra? Who’s Sombra? He another one of the villains from your world? Or the, whatcha call it? Human world?”

“He’s from Equestria. He’s the one that made The Crystal Empire disappear. Sombra, Chrysalis, Nightmare Moon, and Discord,” she rounded the names off aloud.

Discord was in your world too?” Applejack said, shocked.

Sunset slid her light to Applejack. “You know about Discord!?” Before Applejack could response, Pinkie and Fluttershy came sliding down, crashing into the back of the orange pony. “Do you two know who Discord is?” Sunset asked them before they could stand.

Fluttershy shook her head. “Oh sure, he was lots of fun,” Pinkie replied from beneath Fluttershy’s wings. “I ate my own tail because of him.”

Applejack pulled her back legs from the pile, clinging to Sunset for support. “Princess Celestia used the Elements of Harmony to defeat him. I thought that was how you knew of them!” Her face then went grim. “Wait – are you really not from this world?”

I guess it wasn’t my confidence that convinced her, Sunset lamented. “Yes. I am.”

Applejack looked to the two other Elements who seemed to nod and agree with Sunset. “Well, alright, I believe you then. Not that I didn’t before, just, y’know, different reasonin’. Kind of thought we were gonna get them and have Princess Celestia use ‘em.” She shrugged.

Though Sunset wanted to chide the Element of Honesty for not being entirely honest, she knew it wouldn’t be of any use. There’s no going back, no second chances. As long as they’re with me we’ll succeed.

With her light still beaming ahead, Sunset led the three mares weaving past long, slender pink crystals. Some were purple, some were blue, but they all reflected both the light and the group of mares. Fluttershy screamed at one point, thinking she saw a changeling, but it was only her reflection. “They’re like funhouse mirrors!” Pinkie commented, sticking her tongue out at the reflection. “It’s been a long time since a carnival was around. Or a festival. Or a party.”

“Not much to celebrate if you ask me, besides the occasional harvest. Even so, not like it would matter in the long run,” Applejack stated, trudging on ahead of everyone.

“I’ve got to ask, Applejack. Why did you and your family stay in Ponyville when you knew the town was doomed?” Sunset rushed to be beside the Apple mare. “I had my assumptions, but I’m curious, to say the least.”

Applejack stopped.

Sunset thought the question might have angered the earth pony, but Applejack remained expressionless. “I’d like to say it was because it’s the only home I’ve ever known, or that I couldn’t leave my family, who refused to go. But it’s neither those things,” Applejack said. “I’d also like to say that it was to give those in the Everfree a chance to hide while the town was raided, but I didn’t stay there for that neither.”

“So, why did you?” Fluttershy asked.

“I gave up.”

“You what?” Sunset couldn’t believe her ears. There was no way Applejack would give up, not in a million years or a million universes.

“I gave up,” Applejack repeated, sounding like nails on a chalkboard. “There was no point in hidin’. Cloudsdale had fallen, Canterlot had fallen, even the cities that coast the Celestial Sea had fallen. I’d go down fightin’ – and we did – but there was no point in runnin’.”

“Then why did you join us?” asked Sunset. Applejack shrugged. “There’s got to be a reason more than that. You certainly didn’t stay for the Elements. So, what was it?”

The crystals of the cave seemed to glow in Applejack’s contemplation. “There really isn’t a reason. Either we’re going to get caught and I’ll be taken captured just like before, or we’ll find a way to beat ‘em. Our odds don’t look good for the latter, but I already accepted my fate back in the cart.” She slumped down, leaning against a pair of fallen crystals. “If I could, I’d run all the changelings out of Equestria. But I can’t. I’m just one pony. What’s the use in trying?”

That hurt to hear. This wasn’t an Applejack Sunset had ever known, but she couldn’t help but feel it was her own Applejack. She could see a lot of her human friend in this pony – and not just because they were the same person. Applejack was always down to earth, but this is straight up pessimism. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie gathered around Applejack, cozying up next to her with the same distraught looks on their faces as Applejack had. “The last world I was in, the one with Sombra, you all had hope,” Sunset murmured. “But there was still a chance for victory there, and we took that chance. Here, you all have already lost.” It hurt to say.

Applejack nodded. “That’s the way I see it.”

“But…”

The three Elements of Harmony looked up at Sunset Shimmer. The tears that poured down her cheeks struck the grey soil they stood upon. Her light flickered slightly as she stared back them. “I was sent here for a reason,” Sunset said. “I have a purpose. I-I’m supposed to… to help you…” Her sniffling echoed worse than the cracks of her voice. “I-I’ve got to try, to try and help. Princess Twilight… The last world’s Twilight… My Twilight… They’re all counting on me, even if they don’t know it. I told her… I told her…”

So many things had her want to cry, but Sunset had refused, knowing better than to give in. Seeing this world’s Applejack had broken that. The strongest person she had ever known had given up. She wanted to give up. “I’m never going to get to go home. It’s obvious now. Even if I get all six Elements together, it’ll just send me to another stupid world where things are out of whack. I should have stayed. I shouldn’t have entered through the mirror. Equestria isn’t my home anymore.”

Suddenly, Sunset felt warmth. The three Elements surrounded her, nuzzling their own tear drenched faces against her fur. She wrapped her forelegs around them as best she could, feeling the only love in the world that wasn’t being fed upon.

A voice then called out from the darkness. “Hello? Is there anypony there?” it said.

Sunset held the Elements close as the voice grew louder, the sound of hooves trotting against earth echoed amongst the pink crystals. “W-Who is it?” Applejack asked the shadows in a voice not so confident. The trotting came closer.

And then, from the darkest part of the cave came movement. All eyes shot to it, staring as the darkness rippled against the pink. “H-Hello?” the voice said. “I-I-I’m… Princess Cadance. Who are you?”