• Published 15th Apr 2017
  • 3,839 Views, 355 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 4

Creak creak creak. Stop. Creak creak creak. Another stop. That’s how it had been for the last few hours. Sunset’s legs were growing cramped worse than they had been in the cocoon. Hidden behind the ragged multicolored curtain that covered Rarity’s cart, Sunset got to see more of Canterlot Castle. “I’ll let you out in my quarters,” Rarity had told her at the time, but it had been morning when they last spoke. Sunset had to remain as quiet as a mouse’s heart, never knowing where they were or when a changeling might be near. She would peek out from behind the curtain flaps every once in a while, the cloth was a dark purple, green, and blue, and only became slightly transparent against bright light. Thankfully, the changelings loved the dark, the castle was kept pitch black at all hours of the day. The only light that ever shone was the sun flowing through the windows within the outer halls.

Very rarely Rarity would reach in for a cleaning tool and bump up against Sunset. After the third time, Sunset had made sure to remain unstartled, having yelped the first two times. No one had been around to hear it, but Rarity batted her with a sponge regardless. There was nopony in the world who was taking more of a risk than Rarity; she had the most to lose. “Cleaning isn’t elaborately lavish, but it beats being in a pod,” she had said once while making her rounds.

Still, Rarity’s job required her to clean the entirety of Canterlot Castle’s cocoons. There were more not within the castle, meant to feed the lower ranked changelings, but Rarity had said those weren’t her concern. At one point during her routine, Rarity had to take her cleaning cart outside along the veranda of the castle. With no changelings in view, Sunset took a moment to feast her eyes on the city of Canterlot, wondering how much had changed.

The purple roofs were being painted to a shade of black matching a changeling’s carapace. The cream gold of the walls had been altered to a white so colorless it almost looked like the walls were made of chalk. This was the new hive, the new home to the changelings. Of course, the worst part was that some of the buildings had big, green additions stuck onto their side like some sort of wasp nest. The biggest green cocoon-like structure was on the side of one of the towers of the castle, almost spanning the length and matching the width.

It made her remember one of the many times she visited the human Applejack’s farm. Out there, wasps weren’t as common, but that was because they had a different type of wasp called mud daubers. Though they didn’t sting people, Sunset found them far more terrifying than regular wasps, as they kept paralyzed spiders within their flute-like nests as food for their larvae. They’re just like the changelings, except here we ponies are the spiders, she deduced, and a chill ran down her spine.

Of course, mud daubers didn’t steal an entire city and hoist their own flags upon the walls. Some flags were green with black stripes, others were black with the image of blue bug-like eyes in the center. Sunset had seen a new banner as well, a white banner with a tilted black crown in the middle. She did not know what that meant, but there were so few of them that she didn’t give it a second thought.

When they crossed back into the interior of the castle, Rarity took them down a passage with rows of windows. Changelings were stationed all within the hall but ignored Rarity and her creaking, squeaking cart. Sometimes she would hear them talk to one another, usually about feeding or sleeping. Once, she had heard a changeling say “Settlers”, but she hadn’t heard the context. They eventually passed the open doors of the throne room, giving Sunset a quick peek. She could see two pods, though neither faced the door.

Queen Chrysalis was not in the throne room. It was not until they passed into a hallway adjacent to their own that the queen was seen. Peeking through the curtain’s slit, Sunset could see a chain of ponies being led beside Chrysalis. “It was good of you to lead us straight to them. With these last ponies in pods, our control of Equestria is complete,” Queen Chrysalis said to a changeling next to her. “Go down to the feeding hall and pick out a pod as a nice reward, we’ll have someone bring it to your quarters.” The changeling thanked his queen, and Sunset recognized the voice. “Oh – but don’t pick the one with red and yellow hair – she’s special.”

It was then Sunset saw her, and her gasp would have been audible had she not covered her mouth. Zecora! The zebra had been taken captive. Sunset then put two and two together, realizing where she had heard the changeling’s voice. The outpost. The gatekeeper! We locked them in cages and their own pods, but they weren’t knocked out. They heard me! They heard me tell everypony to head to the Castle of the Two Sisters. It’s all my fault!

“Not so high and mighty now, are you Zecora?” Queen Chrysalis pushed the zebra to her side, giving a brutish laugh before turning away. Sunset wanted to tear out from the cart and throw Chrysalis in a pod just so she could see what it was like – and she almost did. Her anger pounded at her like a drum, aching to be set free. No. No! Calm. It was too soon to strike, Sunset knew, centering her thoughts. Her front hooves shook so much that she was forced to lay atop them.

And then the creaking stopped. Queen Chrysalis began walking down the hall toward Rarity, forcing the servile unicorn to stop, kneel, and wait. Queen Chrysalis didn’t even give Rarity a second look much less a first, passing by with a haughty step and a bug-like skittering. The queen exited the castle, vanishing against the setting sun.

Rarity returned to her duties, entering another hall with another extraordinary amount of pods, just like the one Sunset had been stuck in. Thankfully, it was the last hall for the day. As Rarity cleaned, Sunset sat and thought about the choices she had made and things she had said. With Zecora captured there’s no safe haven outside. Is there anything else I’ve said aloud besides the other worlds, the Elements of Harmony, and Zecora? What else have I blabbed about? There’s got to be something I’m missing. She could feel something missing, she could feel it in her gut. Chrysalis has my backpack and my journal. She must know all the names of my friends, right?

“Psst,” Sunset beckoned Rarity when she could see no changeling around. The pods Rarity cleaned were silent or had nopony in them, making it an opportune time to speak. The white unicorn quickly scampered to the cart and leaned her head in.

“What is it?” whispered Rarity, her sweaty brow was glistening in the green light.

“Start calling yourself a different name. Whenever someone asks, someone you don’t know, tell them something else.”

“O-Okay? Something else? I’ll try to remember that. Is there a reason for me to do so?”

Before Sunset could answer, the hallway suddenly erupted in a clatter of hooves. Rarity moseyed her cart to one side and returned to the washing of pods. A dozen changelings were examining each of the pods, carefully eyeing over each one. Queen Chrysalis was right behind them, growling and scowling at the same time. “Make sure they’re here,” Queen Chrysalis commanded with a shrillness in her voice that would make an ursa major cower. “I can’t believe you let those two escape.”

“I-I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” a changeling replied, following along behind the queen. It was the same changeling Sunset had locked in her pod after he had released her. “She tricked me, I swear it!”

“And you didn’t stop to think that you should get help? To come get me!?” Queen Chrysalis snapped, saliva flying from her mouth.

“I-I did, but the other one – the blue one – she convinced me to try and keep her alive!”

The queen turned and stomped, sending the changeling skittering. “Alive!? She’s worthless! We know who the six Element bearers are – we need them! YOU lost the blue one! I’ll have you working outpost duty north of The Crystal Empire for the next thirty years once we get it built!” Chrysalis then swung around, spotting Rarity who was bowing and waiting for them to pass. “You there, unicorn. What’s your name?”

Sunset almost chuckled. That’s some Pinkie level happenstance. Applejack would’ve blown her top.

“My name is-” Rarity hesitated, lifting her gaze to look at the queen. “C-Charity. Charity Belle,” she answered skittishly.

Queen Chrysalis snarled and turned away, following after the group of changelings as they searched the hall. “Find her! Find them all!” she yelled, “I want guards posted on these three here. Night and day. No breaks between shifts! She’ll come for them, I guarantee it!” Her words echoed down the hall even as the changelings and their queen disappeared into the darkness.

And as if nothing even happened, Rarity returned to cleaning the faces of the pods. When she continued down the hall, they found the three friends Sunset had brought with her. Applejack and Fluttershy sat across from each other on the bottom row while Pinkie Pie sat one above and three to the left of Fluttershy. True to her word, Chrysalis had placed two guards to watch over the three Elements. When Rarity attempted to clean the pods, the changelings motioned her away and she did as she was instructed.

It was another hour before Rarity was finished with her cleaning duty. By then the sun had set and the lights of Canterlot were popping up with green and grey hues. The castle remained as dark as it ever was. Even the steps up the castle to the other floors were barely lit, though it did not make things tougher for Rarity who seemed to be at ease in the routine. The only struggle she came across was levitating the cleaning cart up the steps – which was made more difficult by the weight of an extra pony. Luckily, the floor Rarity stayed on was meant for the servant ponies, where changelings were never seen.

There were several doors to several rooms along this corridor, but none of these were Rarity’s. The corridor eventually circled in on itself, along with an offshoot to another smaller hallway. Sunset recognized some of the names on these doors within the small passage. Things like ‘Butler’s pantry’, ‘Equipment room’, and ‘Janitorial Closet’. Rarity stopped at the latter and reached down underneath the curtain of her cart, grabbing a key in one of the compartments. For a moment, Sunset saw the tan walls and burgundy rug of the hall, seemingly unchanged from what the original inhabitants had put forth. With a mechanical snap, Rarity opened the door and rolled in her cart, shutting the door behind her.

After lighting a few candles, Rarity said, “Okay, you can come out.”

The room was drab for a Rarity, regardless of the world. A petite oak bed with grey polyester sheets, a half-metal end table with a missing drawer, a bookcase with nothing on it other than candles and cleaning supplies, and a patched up curtain covering a window. There were also hooks on the wall meant for cleaning supplies, but Sunset guessed that had to do more with what the room’s original purpose had been. Rarity’s bookcase sat at the foot of the bed with the window next to it. This wasn’t a room meant for sleeping or living, but that’s what the changelings had made it into.

Rarity moved the cart to be beside the door so it would be out of the way, though it took up a large portion of the room. There was so little space that Sunset was forced to sit on the bed. When she got closer to the window she noticed that it wasn’t actually meant to be a window. The wall had been carved into and then re-bricked. There was just a slight gap where moonlight could enter through. When Sunset peered through the hole, Rarity said, “They… They covered that with bricks after my first escape. I wasn’t really trying to escape – I just wanted to see the stars better. That’s when they started making me empty my pockets after breakfast.”

“Are you sure it’s alright for me to be here? Will the guards come looking in here?” Sunset asked after listening to Rarity’s rationalization.

“It should be alright – for now. Maybe just the night, though I’d imagine you’d want to do most of what you’re planning during the night. The Hive is less active during that time.”

Sunset raised a brow. “The Hive?”

“Oh!” Rarity covered her mouth and turned away embarrassed. “It-It’s been so long since I’ve talked to a pony. Canterlot. Canterlot is less active.”

“The Hive,” Sunset repeated. “There’s still so much I don’t know about this world. If you don’t mind, I’d like for you to tell me everything you know about Canterlot.” Sunset patted the bed, and Rarity sat down next to her. “But first, I’d like to thank you for helping me. I know you didn’t have to, but it was very generous.” She had hoped a spark would be caused by her words, but nothing happened.

Rarity shied away from the compliment, her cheeks glowing red. She didn’t look much like the Rarity from the last world – her hair was long, just as long as Fluttershy’s, though Rarity’s was tied in a strict ponytail to keep her bangs from her eyes. She bore no makeup, though Sunset assumed that was because the changelings didn’t let her have any. Besides the blue jumpsuit, she wore bright yellow rubber gloves – which sat on her cart now. The biggest change in looks were the bags beneath her sunken eyes, making her face look smaller, more drawn together. She looked as weary as Sunset felt.

“I should also tell you everything about me,” Sunset stated. “I’m from another world, another Equestria, where you and six others bear the Elements of Harmony and use them to defeat your enemies. Enemies like Chrysalis. The blue pegasus that was across from me is one – and the three pods that they didn’t let you clean are the others,” she shortened the explanation the best she could. “There’s still one other that I have yet to see.”

“I’m willing to help if Queen Chrysalis gets tossed in the dungeons. But-But I don’t wish to bet on a losing side.” Rarity pushed a hoof to her bottom lip, pressing it down. “If you catch my meaning.” Her eyes shifted, darting from the floor to Sunset and back again.

“Don’t worry, we won’t lose. You won’t have to do anything until we are ready to strike on Chrysalis. Rainbow Dash, that’s the blue pegasus, I’ve already instructed to hide until I call on her. You need to go about your duties until I can figure out how to draw out the Elements of Harmony,” Sunset replied, tapping her chin. “And I have to find this world’s Twilight Sparkle.”

“T-Twi-Twilight!? Twilight Sparkle?” Rarity pressed a hoof to her chest, her mouth fell open. “You can’t possibly hope to convince her!”

Sunset tilted her head. “You know Twilight? Is she here?”

Rarity wrapped her hooves around Sunset’s foreleg, and said, “She’s planning something. I’ve talked to her a few times – well, mostly just listened. She’s smart, clever, and she’s going to do something to break Queen Chrysalis. I’m not sure how, but I feel it whenever I see her. If she’s the sixth Element then you need to go to her and stop her, because what she’s doing will break any plans you come up with.” Rarity squirmed. “Twilight Sparkle is the head of egg management for the changelings.”

A weight was on Sunset’s chest, leaving her breathless and flush. She shook her head. “S-Sorry, I must have misunderstood. You said she’s the head of egg management? As in a nursery worker? For the changelings?” Why would Twilight help make more changelings?

“The big tower that’s part of the castle – the one with the largest of the cocoons – that’s the Hatchery. They’ve slowly ceased the need to create more changelings, and now that the war is finished and they’ve won, they won’t need to make more of themselves. They won’t need Twilight Sparkle. And she knows that. I can see it in her eyes every morning when we break our fast.”

The idea of hatching more changelings left a bad taste in Sunset’s mouth, or perhaps some gel was still lingering on her gums. Regardless, Sunset knew where she needed to go. If Twilight was truly hatching another plan to defeat the changelings, Sunset wanted in on it. It was more of a plan than she had this morning. “Is there a way I can meet with her alone? Where’s her room?”

Rarity thought about it for a moment. “In the morning I have to go down and join the other workers. We break our fast in silence, but Twilight is there and she always leaves first. We eat in the old barracks. The cleaning crew is allowed to wander the castle unguarded, and I think Twilight is too, but the barracks are guarded and there will be patrols now that you’ve escaped,” Rarity explained.

“Okay. In the morning, I’ll follow discreetly behind you. I should be able to sneak around and wait to follow Twilight to the Hatchery.” Sunset wrapped a foreleg around one of Rarity’s. “I promise you, if things go south they’ll never know you helped me. Just keep to yourself and don’t try to help me, alright?” This made the second pony she told she didn’t want help from, and she meant it just as much as the first. In the back of her mind, she knew they would help her. She wanted their help, to journey beside them just like they had done in the blizzardy north. Digging through snow and passing through alleyways. But this world was vastly different, and it called for different tactics.

“I appreciate it,” Rarity replied, her lips trembled around the words. “We should get some rest, dawn is fast approaching.” She crawled up to the headboard, pushing down the top layer of sheets. Sunset did the same, taking the spot closer to the window. When they both were snug beneath the covers, Rarity leaned to her end table and blew out the candle. They weren’t completely coated in darkness. A small amount of moonlight peered through the hole in the wall, past the gap in the curtains. It was a full moon, magnificent in its nightly glow.

Sunset stared at it for a while, unable to sleep. She had been sleeping for too long in the cocoon, and now she ached to stretch and move. The bed reminded her of the pod, it was small and cramped for one pony, let alone two. “If you don’t mind me asking,” Sunset whispered, “How’d you get a job as the changeling’s cleaning crew?”

The sheets pushed for a moment as Rarity rolled to face Sunset, her blue eyes barely visible in the darkness. “Well,” she said, breathing heavily on Sunset. She smelled of sweat and olives, and she was warm to the touch. “I was in Canterlot on a business trip, trying to make a name for myself. When the changelings took over, they captured me and started segregating us ponies by our races. The unicorns were offered special tasks. Cleaning, cooking, interpreting, and of course Twilight’s job. The earth ponies got the worst tasks – managing food for all the other ponies to eat, along with carpentry and whatnot. I’m not sure what the pegasi were for, there weren’t many here in Canterlot at the time of the wedding.”

“So you were just picked at random?”

“I volunteered as soon as I saw the cocoons. To be honest, I had never heard of changelings before that day. Their fangs and eyes scared me deeply, and I knew I didn’t want to be fed upon. I hope you don’t think of me as a coward.”

Sunset neighed. “I don’t. To be honest, I might have done the same thing had I been in your position. They’re pretty terrifying.” More terrifying than being brainwashed. “Do you know why Twilight was picked for her role?”

“I’d imagine it was because she’s Princess Celestia’s pupil, or was before the changelings came.” Rarity shifted under the cover, rolling back the other way. “You’ll have to ask her tomorrow if you get the chance.”

The Element of Magic was Princess Celestia’s student in this timeline, just like in my own, making this world closer to the original than the last. Yet still, Sunset could not piece together what had been the cause of so much change. Starlight Glimmer. Who are you and what have you done? She did not know the name, and that worried her more than if she had. Maybe she’s a student of Twilight’s who found a powerful spell? I can’t be the only person she’s advised on friendship, after all.

She stared at the ceiling for hours, wondering and attempting to process everything that had happened. She did not feel tired or sore anymore, nor did she feel anxious. The slumbering white unicorn next to her forced Sunset to remain quiet, even though she desperately wanted to voice her thoughts to somepony. I need my backpack back. I’ve got to start writing this stuff down. There was so much to remember, so much she knew she had already forgotten. The ponies she had met were the only things she would not forget, not be able to forget. Zecora, I’m so sorry. Before long, the darkness shifted and blurred as tears soaked her cheeks.

After she rolled her head against the pillow, drying her stained fur, she attempted to close her eyes to sleep. The sun came rolling into the sky not long after, cutting through the broken gap and patchwork curtain, preventing her from reaching dreamland. Sunset didn’t mind, though. She was glad to see the natural light. The white slumbering unicorn eventually stirred awake. When she saw Sunset, her eyes bulged, but then she remembered the night before. “G-Good morning,” Rarity greeted. Nothing was truly good in this world, but Sunset found pleasure in the words.

Sunset watched as Rarity prepared for the day. The blue jumpsuit hadn’t been washed, but Rarity put it on regardless. That led to a disgusting thought. If she doesn’t wash her clothes… then… Sunset was quick to vacate the bed after that. “I’ll be back for my cart as soon as breakfast is over. You won’t be here, will you?” Rarity asked once she was finished, which Sunset shook her head in response. “Alright then. Be sure to let me know when you have your Elements of Harmony, I would enjoy watching as you take down Queen Chrysalis.”

We will be taking down Chrysalis,” Sunset corrected. “If I need your help again, can I count on you?”

“I-I’m not so-” Rarity paused, her chin trembled beneath the frown of her lips. Her eyes were shadowed by the light of the sun, but the frown faltered and suddenly she was smiling. “Yes,” she said, breathing deep through her nose. “Yes, you can.”

Sunset knew she could, but it was nice to hear the words said aloud as well. Rarity left shortly after, leaving Sunset alone in the cramped room. She didn’t stay long. There were no sounds echoing in the hallway outside, giving her the courage to leave. She went down the way they had come, peering around every corner and checking her flank every few seconds. The castle’s passages were long and tedious to traverse, and the darkness left her struggling to remember where she had already gone. When she heard the sounds of metal on metal ringing from beyond a guarded doorway, she knew she had found the barracks. Scones were lit within the room, though Sunset dared not get close enough to peer inside, choosing to hide and wait.

From within the shadows, she studied the scowling changeling guards in their darkened green armor. Their eyes were bright regardless of where the light was coming from, a myriad of deep blue, much like any other changeling. Just as Rarity had said, the first pony who finished was a unicorn with purple fur. The changelings ignored the mare as she exited the barracks, and for a second Sunset saw the lavender star on the unicorn’s flank. That’s her, she recognized, though from the front the unicorn was unrecognizable to Sunset.

The purple unicorn turned and went down the hallway opposite from Sunset, trotting to the other end and up a flight of stairs. Sunset teleported to the other side, keeping her horn’s light hidden as best she could. She traipsed up the stony, grey steps, chasing after the shadow of the unicorn, always keeping a silent step behind. They walked and walked, all the way to the top. In her mind, Sunset was losing the layout of the castle. If I go back to that hall, I should be able to get to Rarity’s room, she figured, hoping she had not lost her way.

When she reached the final flight of stairs, she stepped up to a large doorway where she found it was unguarded. Beyond the doorway, the purple unicorn was already halfway down the enormous hall. Stain glass flooded the hall with a host of vibrant colors, though most of it was green, black, and white. When the purple unicorn reached the end of the hall and entered through a set of royal purple doors, Sunset knew it was safe to walk the hall.

She took her time, studying the glasswork as she passed. She knew exactly where this was. I’ve been here countless times. Greeting Princess Celestia, talking with her, studying magic with her. None of these windows show any of what I remember. One looked like the day of the wedding between Princess Cadance and Shining Armor, though it only had the two ponies as small figures, crying in the corner. The defeat of Princess Celestia was next, Queen Chrysalis standing over the white alicorn. Sunset crossed over many more, each detailing the war being had, until she came to the final one. There were still many other windows in front of her but they remained blank, meant to canvas the coming victories for the changelings.

The one she stopped at was still in the works. It held the changeling queen in all her might, a black crown much like the gold one Celestia wore sat atop her green, seaweed-like hair. Four places were depicted around her. Cloudsdale, Ponyville, The Crystal Empire, and a place Sunset did not recognize. Each had changelings working. Some tilling land, some building furniture, and some just smiling. “Why would Chrysalis need to fill Equestria with changelings when she has all the ponies here in Canterlot? Does she plan to act as though the changelings were the original inhabitants?” she whispered her thoughts, hoping that saying it aloud would give weight to the reason. It didn’t make sense to her, but nothing in this world made sense.

When she came to the purple door, Sunset was cautious to open it. Peering in, all she saw was green. Green everything. The floor, the walls, everything except for the dark grey metal stairs leading up to other levels of the Hatchery. The cocoon looked massive on the outside and was even larger up close. There were no guards on the main floor or up on the catwalks, and so Sunset let herself in, closing the doors as quietly as she could behind her.

The Hatchery was magnificent, she’d give the changelings that. Three levels with catwalks leading between them. The walls that weren’t directly attached to the stone of the castle were instead green hexagons that looked like honeycombs. Some of these honeycombs held white light while others were dark and empty. When Sunset came closer, she realized that the ones with light held tiny white ball-shaped webbings, and she remembered why this place was called The Hatchery. The hexagons that held light were few and far between, but the cocoon was massive enough to hold a thousand or two if need be. I guess if Chrysalis started losing her war she could have easily brought up new reinforcements, Sunset assumed, letting out a groan of disgust.

“Who goes there?” a voice echoed from above, shouting down at Sunset with a vitriol that rivaled Chrysalis’s. Before Sunset could answer or even draw her eyes to the voice, a pony appeared before her in a magical burst. “You should not be here,” the pony claimed, slamming their hooves on Sunset’s shoulders like a battering ram.

“T-Twilight?” Sunset squinted at the mare that stood in front of her. It was hard to believe it truly was Twilight. Her mane was gone, shaved to the roots of her skull, displaying a few magenta streaks between the darkened purple scalp. She wore a brown vest that looked to have a million different pockets, and dark green shoes pressed against her hooves so hard that her skin and fur rolled over the sides. Her tail wasn’t long, but compared to her head, it wasn’t short either. One of her front teeth was chipped, and her eyes were as sunken in as craters on the moon. By comparison, Twilight looked the worst of any pony Sunset had seen within this world.

“How do you know my name?” Twilight scowled. “Are you a changeling?” She didn’t give Sunset a chance to answer. A spell emitted from her horn, trapping Sunset in a bubble.

Sunset felt strangled for a moment, gasping for air. “S-Stop!” she yelled, but then she lit up like a full moon. The bubble popped, and Sunset fell to the ground gasping for air. “Wh-” she coughed and wheezed, trying to speak. “Wh-What was that for?” she spat her angry question.

“I had to make sure you weren’t a changeling in disguise. They try to trick me, to trick all of us.” Twilight’s jaw clenched as she looked around the room. “What are you doing here?” she asked, turning back to Sunset. “Are you here to cause mischief? I can’t let you. Not now. I’m close, so close. I need everything calm. They can’t look in here.”

“No, no.” Sunset pushed herself from the floor. “I was looking for you.” She glanced Twilight over once more, watching as the purple unicorn fiddled with her clothing and scratched at her forelegs. She’s unstable, Sunset concluded. I should pick my words carefully as to not alarm her. “I’m from another world,” she started to say, realizing immediately those were not the right words. Twilight gave a strange look but didn’t speak or mock her, so Sunset continued. “My world was altered by a pony going into the past. She changed it, spawning completely different worlds. This is one of those alternate universes.”

“Multiverse theory,” Twilight replied, a slight twitch in her eye as she spoke.

“Right.” Sunset had almost forgotten how smart Twilight was – regardless of the world. Human Twilight beat me during the Friendship Games, she remembered. At least I was right, having two Twilight’s would make homework a breeze. She shook her head and continued. “The world I come from is not at war with Chrysalis or her changelings. You and five others defeated her and other villains with the Elements of Harmony.” It was easier to claim the bearers had defeated Chrysalis, the semantics were only slowing her down.

Twilight backed away slowly, staring with her sunken eyes. “The Elements of Harmony?” She tilted her head back and forth for a moment, contemplating something and muttering to herself. “That could work,” she mumbled. “Come. Come now.” She teleported up to the catwalk on the third level, and Sunset quickly followed. Twilight led Sunset along the outer platform, examining the hexagons along the wall. She eventually stopped and turned to Sunset. “I’ll show you something, but you can never speak of it even if you’re caught. Do you understand?”

Sunset meekly nodded.

“I’m only showing you this because you sound crazy,” Twilight said. “Nopony believes a crazy pony,” she mumbled to herself, scowling all the while. Her horn lit up with magic and a hexagon opened. Sunset expected a baby changeling to be inside with soft white webbing and big blue eyes. She had been half right. Inside was a white sticky ball like the other hexagons, except Twilight opened this one.

A device the size of Twilight’s eye was pulled out, silver and slender. It was the shape of a cube, though it had holes on every side. Wires protruded from the top, and inside were even more wires and circuits. “I stripped copper from their weapons and armor, took rubber from my own shoes,” Twilight said as she opened one of her vest’s pockets, pulling out tweezers. She pulled back the latch at the top of the cube to get a better view of the inside. “It’s missing a power source. It runs on magic, but my magic isn’t strong enough.”

Is this what Rarity felt? “What’s it do?” Sunset inquired.

A giddy, menacing giggle leapt from Twilight. “It does what they’ve been doing to us for years. It drains their love,” replied Twilight, spittle flying as she spoke. “It takes it all, draining and leaving their bodies as magical-less husks. They’ll be powerless. It’ll hit all of the Hive, and when it does we’ll stomp on them like the bugs they are.” A clenched jaw formed the scariest smirk Sunset had ever seen.

Sunset pulled her head back as she grimaced internally. Either they’ve given up or they’ve got a desire to destroy. Fight or flight. The way Twilight acted was as disgusting as her plan, but Sunset couldn’t bring herself to speak her mind. Instead, she told Twilight of the ability to expel the changelings from Canterlot with the Elements of Harmony. That or turn them to stone. Even that’s better than making them turn into weak husks.

“The Elements of Harmony… yes. Yes! I can use that as a power source.” Twilight ignored Sunset’s idea, focusing on her own instead. “Do you know where I can find them? Tell me!” she demanded.

A weak sound left Sunset’s throat as she tried to stall for an answer, but she didn’t have to. The doors of the Hatchery suddenly burst open, the clattering of hooves and flapping wings spilled into the nursery. “Twilight! Twilight Sparkle!” the queen yelled, calling the purple unicorn’s name with a guttural growl.

Twilight turned as white as Celestia. “They can’t see you!” was all she said, and then Sunset found herself standing in a dark room.

It was a few inches larger than Rarity’s had been, all with the same commodities. There was no window in this room, however, and the bookcase had been torn to pieces. Of course, the most curious piece was not the decorations or furniture, but the small cube that had been teleported with her. She dared not light her horn to look at it for fear the shine would be seen through the cracks in the door. Instead, she cautiously peeked underneath the doorframe, her face to the floor as she attempted to see what might be seen.

The outside was shrouded in the same darkness that coated the rest of the castle, giving little help in determining where she was. This must be Twilight’s room, she assumed. Or somewhere Twilight will come to find me. I’ll just have to stay put to find out. If worse comes to worse, I can teleport myself back to Rarity’s room, or perhaps the Hatchery now that I’ve seen what it looks like. Her eyes then turned back to the slender cube of silver, wondering what should be done with it. I cannot let it be used. I wouldn’t wish that fate on anypony, not even the changelings. Not to mention that it might work on more than just the changelings. Sunset had no desire to have her magic completely drained.

She took the cube and tied a knot of hair around the inner wires, keeping it safely hidden in her mane. “At least Twilight will have to save me if she wants her gadget back,” she assumed as she crawled onto the bed. It was plush and comfy. She curled up into a ball, much like a dog, keeping her forelegs tucked beneath her chest. She had not felt tired the night before, but the running, stalking, and plotting had started to take its toll. Her eyes felt heavy, but even after she closed them she did not sleep. She would not let herself sleep. Keeping an ear open, she waited, hoping to be found by a mane-less purple unicorn in a brown vest.

Her assumption had been right. The hours that passed made her anxious, but hope kept her going. With a loud clunk, the lock turned and the knob wobbled. Sunset did not attempt to hide or feign away, knowing her fate would be sealed if it wasn’t Twilight on the other side.

At first, Sunset had been relieved to see the purple unicorn, but the Element of Magic was less so. Twilight slammed her hooves into Sunset’s chest, pushing her against the edge of the bed. Sparks of energy turned Sunset into a glowing cascade of light, covering the room in white. “So you are still you. Good, good.” Twilight released her grip and the light faded. “Always be suspicious. Even of me. Especially of me. Never know when they’ll send someone to trick you, or me, whichever.”

Sunset rubbed her chest, still aching from the pod that had been her prison. “R-Right,” she coughed. “What happened with Chrysalis? Why are you free?” That’s when Sunset noticed the bag atop Twilight’s back. “Hey!” she said, swiping at the vinyl. “That’s mine!”

Twilight recoiled from the swipe. “So you’re the escapee.” She shrugged her shoulder, freeing the strap of the backpack. “The queen has requested I look over some of your belongings, though it’s mostly just scraps of paper and writing tools. I’m not sure what she expects me to find – or why she asked me to do it.”

“She might be hoping that you can figure out the Elements of Harmony,” replied Sunset. “Your name is written all over my journal to Princess Twilight, after all” She unzipped the backpack, pouring the contents onto the floor. Her eyes quickly darted over the three books. One was a worn notebook with a bent binding, another was an extra unused notebook, and the third was The Superb Sorceress of Oys, a book recommended to her by Princess Twilight. Unfortunately, none of these three were the journal she had meant to replace. “Where is it!?” She examined each of the literary objects twice, then thrice.

Twilight levitated all the objects into the air, including the pens and pencils that had dribbled out as well. “The queen still has it. She said I might look it over soon. At first, I thought she meant to scold me or throw me in a pod, somehow having sensed your presence there. She knows that the Hatchery will soon go empty, and my work will be finished. Perhaps she plans to make me her pupil, just like how I had been to Princess Celestia all those years ago.” She shrugged.

“Well, she knows about the other worlds. Perhaps that’s true – perhaps she will use you to open the portal. She overheard a conversation of mine where I spoke of the world I came from and how you six can help me return to it,” answered Sunset. “She wants to harvest other worlds – and meet herself.” The thought was chilling. Two Chrysalis’s.

Twilight tossed the backpack onto her bed, her dull eyes examining the room. “Where is it?” she asked, prodding the bed. “Where’s my bomb?”

The word was as terrifying as it was serious. “I’ve got it,” Sunset answered, “but I can’t let you use it.”

Twilight’s lips curled, her eyes sharpened. “There’s no other option.” Her voice was stern but calm.

“Yes, there is.” Sunset stood firmly in front of Twilight, almost face to face and chest to chest due to their packed surroundings. “You want to use the Elements of Harmony as a source of energy – but they can be used for so much more, and in a kinder, gentler way. Turning them into vegetables for you to crush – that’s not right.”

“Kinder? Gentler? Not right!?” Twilight snapped, spit slapping Sunset’s muzzle. “You haven’t witnessed the horrors I have! The monsters that rule our sacred land, leaving it scarred and wrought with destruction. They don’t deserve mercy. They deserve to be torn from this world in the same way they tore us from ours!”

“The horrors you’ve seen?” repeated Sunset, thinking of the last world and the brainwashing helmets. “This world is awful, the changelings are awful, but it could be so much worse. An existence where you’re still you is better than losing yourself. You exist, Twilight.” She took Twilight by the shoulder. “You matter. What happens here matters. To you, to the others, and to me. You can’t fight fire with fire because you’ll be burning the whole world down in the process.”

Twilight slapped away Sunset’s hoof. “Don’t lecture me. I’ll have all the changelings be turned to stone before I let them escape punishment.”

There had been another that had turned to stone, then to crystal. Sunset had rejoiced on that day along with her friends. She was glad to see the king punished, but that had been one evil stallion amongst hundreds of mind controlled ponies. Turning the changelings to stone would be dooming the entire race. Could she live with that, regardless of how awful the changelings were? I was given a second chance after my power was taken away, she recalled. Her face saddened when she realized she was comparing herself to the changelings, again.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve got to try and find another way.”

Twilight scowled. She seemed to do that a lot in the short amount of time Sunset had known her. “I don’t care what world you come from or what you think you know,” Twilight replied, stepping in front of the door. “There is no better way. There’s only one way this can end, and that’s with the changelings’ defeat.”

What do I think I know? Sunset perplexed. What if this is the right way, the only way? “In my world, there was a better way. Your brother and Princess Cadance defeated the changelings with love, banishing the changelings from Equestria. They never returned. We can do the same thing with the Elements of Harmony!”

A sarcastic chuckle came from Twilight as if she found something amusing in Sunset’s words. “I was there, you know. I was at the wedding. My brother was tired and drained, but I believed Cadance’s words. I believed Queen Chrysalis truly was my foalsitter, not finding anything wrong with the way she acted. She was the perfect Cadance, every lie she told making me believe more and more that she truly was her. It wasn’t until retrospection that I saw the mistakes, the differences in attitude, the falsities, having ignored them all. My brother was happy, and that’s all that mattered to me.”

“In the last world I visited, Prin- …ahem, a stallion named Sunburst saw through Chrysalis’s disguise and helped defeat the changelings.”

“Who?” Twilight’s eyebrow raised, and then her eyes widened. “Wait, last world?” she repeated, glancing over Sunset with disbelief written all over her face. “How many other worlds have you visited?”

“Well,” Sunset said ambiguously, “Quite a few, technically.” She paused for a moment to witness Twilight’s wide-mouthed expression. “This world and the last world aren’t supposed to exist, but they do thanks to a pony named Starlight Glimmer. Then there’s my world, where Equestria is fine. And then the human world, where I actually live.”

Twilight fidgeted with one of her many pockets, eventually taking out a notepad and pencil. “I-I see. So multiverse theory isn’t just a theory anymore. You’re living proof.”

The idea of millions or billions of other universes scared Sunset more than she was willing to admit, especially since she had already been to the two worst worlds possible. “I suppose I am. Though the human world I live in isn’t a tear from some point in the past, it’s a completely different reality.” She scratched her cheek.

“I don’t know what this human is that you speak of, but it sounds angsty.” Twilight shook her head. “My point still stands, if you’re here then you can take us to a different world. Instead of fighting the changelings, we could just leave.”

Fight or flight. “The portal I came through doesn’t affect anyone but me. I clung to Princess Twilight’s table while those around it didn’t even feel a hint of wind.”

“P-Princess Twilight?” repeated Twilight. “You’ve said that before. I-Is that… who I think it is?”

It was becoming easier to tell her friends apart, but the names were still the same. This Twilight looked vastly different, she could have been called Twilight Snorkel and Sunset wouldn’t have batted an eye. But to this Twilight, she was still the only Twilight Sparkle. “That’s right. Princess Twilight Sparkle, with wings and everything. I’d bow to you, but I don’t bow to anyone in a vest that ugly.”

Twilight looked hurt for a moment. “What’s wrong with my vest?” she said defensively, but the sneer on Sunset’s face made her do a double take. “W-Well, I suppose for a princess…”

“You’ve spoken to Rarity, right? I’m surprised she let you dress like that. The changelings will pay for having worn down this world’s best fashionista.”

“So that’s how you knew where to find me.”

“That’s right,” replied Sunset. “And now I need to know where to find the Elements of Harmony. I was trying to find out from Celestia before – well, I don’t think I’m going to get a second chance.”

“Princess Celestia? You saw her? Spoke to her? How is she?” Twilight squealed her questions, almost sounding like a child asking about a celebrity.

The green pod that Celestia had been placed in was a lot like the one Sunset escaped from, and the aching pains that came with it could only be worse for the large alicorn. “She needs our help, but the only way to help her is to defeat Chrysalis. In my world, Celestia had left the Elements in the Castle of the Two Sisters. In the last world, she used them to defeat Nightmare Moon and then returned them to the Tree of Harmony.”

“And in this world… she kept them, didn’t she? She told me of her battle with Discord, I kept a record of almost everything she told me.”

“That’s right.”

Twilight rubbed her mane-less head, brushing against the magenta streak that remained. “Hmm. If I had to make a guess, then they’d be in her room. Kept in a box somewhere. But-” There was more that Twilight was going to say, but she hesitated, and Sunset noticed.

“Please, you’ve got to tell me everything. We need the Elements of Harmony.”

Twilight backed away. “I’ll help you as long as you give me back my changeling bomb. I won’t use it, but if things go south for this plan of yours, I need to know there’s a backup.”

That seemed like a fair trade to Sunset. The tiny silver cube slipped from the entanglement of Sunset’s mane as she unwrapped the knot she had tied around it. “In the mane? Clever idea,” Twilight noted, brushing over the coolness of her scalp once more.

“It’s just something I picked up from a friend.” Sunset tried to picture the Pinkie Pie of this world, covered in green paint, but all she could envision was the human Pinkie. Her bright smile, the little curl of her bangs, and her enthusiastic attitude. She wondered what her friends were doing. Had they gone looking for her? Stumbled into the mirror and found their pony counterparts? Were they on their own world saving adventure?

Sunset handed over the cube, and with a quick throttle of magic, the cube collapsed to become flat. Twilight then shoved the remains inside one of her many pockets. “Alright. As I said, the Elements of Harmony are most likely in Princess Celestia’s room. Except it’s not her room anymore,” Twilight said, “It’s Chrysalis’s.”

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