• Published 20th Jul 2012
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The Conquering of Love - Littlecolt

Twilight finds she and her friends are trapped in their own minds and must escape.

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Crash Down Ch 4 - Liftoff

Author's Note:

Well, Everfree Northwest got in the way of this one coming out as quick as I'd hoped! Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter! I am really excited about it!

Book Five: Crash Down

Chapter Four – Liftoff

Rainbow Dash’s Dream, Present Time, The Roost

“I told you to stay away from the north side, but now I’m glad you didn’t. What connection do you have with those thugs?” Gilda asked as she pressed her claws against Linnai’s left shoulder.

A streak of pain shot up from Linnai’s ribcage where her stitched wound was. She grunted and stared at Gilda, words unable to form in her mouth. How does she know? ran through her mind over and over.

“Speechless? Playing dumb?” Gilda asked. “I saw you use magic with my own eyes last night, so don’t even think there’s any way you’re getting out of this!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Linnai managed to say. “Let go!” She swatted Gilda’s arm away with a hoof, which only seemed to enrage the griffon. Gilda slammed her claw into the back of the couch and leaned over Linnai, who was still halfway lying down.

“The worst part is that you lied to my aunt and uncle! Maybe I’ll go have a little talk with them.”

“Sounds fine ta’ me,” Gerulf’s voice came from the stairwell across the attic. “What’s going on, here, Gilda?”

Gilda turned to face her uncle and pointed a talon at Linnai. “This little troublemaker, she’s the problem! First she’s wandering up north to where that scum Garren was trying to cause trouble, and then she’s conveniently delivering weapons to his group.”

“That wasn’t her fault, Gilda. I took that job, and I never should have!”

“How convenient she wandered in and took your posted job just in time for that.”

“Those racist bastards wanna get rid of the ponies! Why in the world would she work with them?”

“Because she’s not a pony!” Gilda shouted, turning her head back towards Linnai. She tapped a claw against the center of Linnai’s forehead. “I saw her using magic yesterday when she got attacked. Pretty strange things for a pegasus to do!”

Gerulf groaned and shook his head. “Gilda, I’m tellin’ ya, ya must’ve seen something else. Look at her side, lass. She was stabbed and bleeding out. If she could use magic, she’d surely have healed herself.”

Gilda turned her eyes down to Linnai’s side and saw the stitched wound. Her arm dropped, as did her head, and she sighed. Stepping backwards, she slumped down onto a chair. Gerulf walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder.

“Look, I know yer upset, what with what happened to yer friend. Ya wanna see all the changelings pay fer what they did. Aye, I understand more than ye might think, but goin’ around on a witch hunt ain’t the way,” he said in a calming tone.

Gilda nodded her head. “Just sitting around doing nothing is even worse, though. What they did to Dash… they’re gonna get what’s comin’ to them, even if I have to fly over to Equestria and take ‘em all out myself!”

What did they do to Rainbow Dash? Linnai wondered as she sat up. This could be really bad. If the dreamer here is in bad shape, the dream could reject and end abruptly. I have to get more info! She glanced up at Gilda, who turned her head up at the same time to stare right back.

“I still don’t trust you, newbie. What did you say your name was, again?”

Linnai slouched back against the couch and nervously glanced down at her flank, which was adorned with a fluffy little cloud cutie mark. “Cloud,” she blurted out.

Gilda narrowed her eyes and stood back up. “Just Cloud?”

“Well, that’s what everyone calls me, anyway. I’m used to it,” she said, saving the situation, or so she hoped. She could tell that Gilda still had her suspicions about her. “And, uh, you’re Gilda, right?”

“Right. Remember it,” Gilda responded and then turned to head towards the staircase. “I’ll be keeping my eye on you, little Cloud.” She stormed down the stairs, seeming to stomp as hard as she could as she left.

Gerulf walked over to Linnai and looked down at her, shaking his head. “I hope I don’t regret covering for ya,” he said.

Linnai blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that bullet. She’s right, ya know. Ain’t normal for a bullet wound from that distance to be so shallow. If ya want me to remove it, I can, like I told ya last night.”

“How did you—“

Gerulf laughed. “I’ve seen plenty of gunshot wounds. Yer not foolin’ anyone, but there’s no need for me ta’ go accusing you of anything. I thought it was strange myself, but weirder things have happened. Coulda been that fella didn’t use enough powder. Who knows?”

“Look, Gerulf, I appreciate it, but you’ve got it wrong.”

“If you say so,” he said with a shrug. “Ya want breakfast? Mind you, you were out for a long time and it’s already afternoon, but still, how about it?”

Linnai’s stomach growled, and she blinked, having not realized just how famished she was. Come to think of it, why am I so hungry? And last night, these two, even though they’re dream inhabitants, there should’ve been traces of love, especially how he got all starry-eyed, Linnai thought, placing a hoof to her chin. Furthermore, the way he’s covering for me, you would think…

She closed her eyes and tried to detect traces of love magic. Sure enough, after a second, she felt it in the air, stronger than she’d expect from dream inhabitants. Must be the speed of the dream accelerating the release. How did I not notice this? The air practically stinks with the stuff!

“Or you could just rest. Ya seem pretty tired, still. Tell ya what, I’ll bring ya something,” Gerulf said, turning to head toward the stairs.

Linnai opened her eyes back up and turned to Gerulf. Actual food? Do I need to eat actual food? The strange feelings I’ve been having, the way that food tasted so good yesterday, the fact that I didn’t notice this love magic immediately… Something is definitely wrong with me! It’s like with Mulcibar all over again!

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Gerulf finally said, and then headed through the door and down the stairs.

“Yeah!” Linnai shouted, but then returned to her thoughts. Mulcibar was cursed, though! That foal that was possessed with Luna’s magic did something to him! Nothing happened to me! So… why is this happening?

Linnai shivered and fell sideways onto the couch again. Am I actually turning into a freaking pony? She raised a hoof up and stared at it. “No! I won’t let it happen!” she shouted, and then slammed her hoof against the couch cushion. A shot of pain rose from her side, and she groaned.

“Damn it all… I need to get out of here…” she said quietly, and then closed her eyes. The heavy smell of love magic filled her nostrils, and she breathed it in deeply. The absorption of it filled her with calm once again, but also a slight feeling of dread in the back of her mind. She shook it off and opened her eyes again as she stood up from the couch.

“I never should have let them take me in. Shoot, I never should have agreed to go along with Mulcibar’s crazy plan. Join the ponies? Help them? It’s preposterous. Unthinkable,” she said to herself, and then reached her front hoof up to her chest where the bullet was shallowly lodged into her flesh. She slowly moved her hoof to the cauterized area of her ribcage and flinched from the pain. “And all this just to cover up so they don’t find out. I shouldn’t care. I don’t care.”

Linnai walked across the room to the window. She glanced out of it. The sun was shining down on the dream city. The thought that none of this was real repeated itself over and over in her mind. She pushed the window open and placed a hoof on the windowsill.

“I’m ending this, now,” she said. The outline of a horn glowed upon her forehead. With precise levitation magic, she plucked the bullet from her chest and dropped it onto the floor. Her wounds began to glow a soft teal color and then with a flash of green magic, they were gone, as if she’d never been hurt in the first place.

Linnai shook her head and scoffed. “See you later, you old fool,” she said, a slightly forlorn tone in her voice. She leapt from the window and took off into the morning sky.

“Oy, lass!” Gerulf’s voice came from the stairwell. “Ya sure ya don’t want anything?”

After a moment, the griffon came up the stairs and into the attic. He made his way to the open window and looked down at the blood-stained bullet that was lying on the ground. He gazed out the window and shook his head.

“Be careful, and come back alive. We’ll keep yer bed ready for ya, mystery girl,” he said, and then turned back toward the door to the stairs. Glancing over his shoulder once more, he sighed. “I hope ya find yer brother.”

Linnai shot over the treetops, swinging down to the arborous perch she had saw upon the previous day. Glancing down, she noticed the griffon couple with the ice cream underneath her once again. “At it again, are ya?” she asked with a smirk. Love magic danced in the air above the couple, and Linnai breathed it in, but then coughed. “Bleh! So stale. Shouldn’t have expected much, even after Gerulf was rather tasty.”

She glanced across the courtyard, making note of all the griffons in the area. “Just the same as yesterday. Most of the city is completely static. I wonder if that demonstration up north is the same, too. I know Gilda must be a focus, same with the two old folks,” she said to herself and shook her head. “What a life, having to repeat the same garbage so much and not being able to fully realize you’re trapped.” She chuckled slightly and took off to the north, heading to where the anti-pony rally had been.

Landing on a rooftop this time rather than in the street, Linnai glanced down the road and saw the same group of angry griffons gathered, but this time there was no Gilda there to stop them. I wonder where she’s run off to, Linnai thought. It must have to do with Rainbow Dash. Her suspicions of me being a changeling have surely shaken up her routine. If she knows where Rainbow Dash is, maybe she’s there warning her.

As if on cue, Gilda streaked past just to the south, making a beeline towards The Roost. Linnai grinned and turned in the same direction. With a quick flash of green magic, she transformed. She bit her lip as her body contorted. Her front hooves became claws, her back hooves became paws, and her snout shrunk and hardened into a beak. Black feathers sprung out from her upper body. She sat for a moment, breathing heavily. Changing species on the fly really takes it out of ya. Good thing Gerulf and Frida were decent eating.

She took once again to the sky and flew in the direction of The Roost, making sure to deviate from Gilda’s course slightly.

Ten minutes earlier

Gilda swooped down from the sky to the base of a tree. Across the wary from the tree was a small, unassuming looking house. She glanced around to make sure she was alone and then walked across from the tree to the house and then around to the back of it. Two wooden doors that lead down into a cellar sat at the back of the building. She lifted one and went down the stairs. Within the cellar sat a heavy metal door. She banged upon the door several times. A few seconds later, a sliding window in the door slid open and a pair of eyes peered out at her.

“What do you want?” a voice whispered from behind the door. “Rainbow Dash is sleeping.”

Gilda sighed and rubbed her temples with her claws. “She’s always sleeping these days. Anyway, we might have trouble. It’s best if we talk about it inside.”

The one behind the door hesitated for a moment. “Look, maybe its best that you don’t come in here. We had our own trouble in here, too, earlier.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Look, stay calm, but there’s a changeling in here.”

“What!” Gilda shouted, then clapped a claw over her mouth. “How? When?”

“Don’t worry, he’s locked up in the cell. He’s a tricky one, though. Used some sort of freaky powers on me just a couple minutes ago. We’ll deal with him tonight.”

“We might not have time, then. The trouble out here… it’s too much to be a coincidence. There’s a pony staying with my aunt and uncle. They just up and took her in, gave her a job out of the blue. Almost like she was controlling them somehow. I saw her use magic last night, but she’s a pegasus. Gerulf says I’m seeing things, actually stood up for her, but if he’s under some sort of a spell…”

“Hmmm, so two new changelings, both with odd powers. Alright. We’ll have to get out of here tonight. We’ll have to find a new place to hide out until Dash recovers. No choice.”

“Right! You keep an eye on that changeling, Daring. I’ll head back to the roost and take care of the imposter there.”

“Alright! Meet back here tonight after sundown!”

Gilda nodded and turned on a bit, running up the stairs and taking off into the air as fast as she should push herself. Damn it! I never should have let it go! That pony is a changeling in cahoots with the one Daring caught! I’m sure of it!

Gilda sped through the city, passing over the area where the demonstration was happening. She glanced at it briefly and grumbled. “Damn it! You get to have your little rally today, Garen!”

After about five more minutes of flying, Gilda had arrived at The Roost. She barged in the front door, looking left and right as she entered. “Uncle Gerulf! Aunt Frida! Are you there?” she shouted.

“What’s all the ruckus, child?” Frida asked, emerging from the back room behind the bar.

“Where’s Uncle Gerulf?”

“Last I knew, he’d been in the kitchen. What’s this all about?”

Gilda stormed through the tavern and back into the kitchen. No one was there, so she quickly turned back around and returned to the tavern, gently pushing Frida to the side to get past her and head to the stairs.

“Gilda, what’s gotten into you?”

“You’re both in danger. Get ready to leave, you might have to hide out for a while.”

“Hide out? What’s happened?”


Gerulf’s voice came from the second stairwell that led up to the attic. “Calm yer squawker, I’m up here!”

Gilda stormed up the stairs and burst into the attic. She found her uncle sitting at his workbench with a magnifying lens attached to his eye. He shook his head upward, knocking the lens free and catching it in his hand.

“Good. You’re safe. Where is she?”

“She?” Gerulf responded quizzically.

“You know who, your little pony friend.”

Gerulf scoffed. “Gone. Scared off by you, no doubt. She was out of here within five minutes of you coming in here accusing her of being a changeling.”

“She is a changeling, uncle, listen to me. There’s two of them, at least two. I don’t know what they’re planning, but it’s not good. One of them got into the safehouse on the east side.”

Across the attic, just outside the still-open window, Linnai sat perched on a limb, listening in. She gripped another limb to hold herself steady with her new claws. Two of us? Does she mean Mulcibar?

Gerulf raised his brow. “Just what were you doing in that safehouse, girl?”

“I…” Gilda started, nervously wringing her hands. “I can’t say! Just trust me, we have one of them there, held captive. He’s not talking, but he has some sort of strange power. I bet she has some sort of power, too! Do you feel anything?”

“Feel anything? Like what?”

“I mean, you took her in, gave her that job, all without knowing anything about her!”

“Aye, and now thanks to you, we’ll have to put a posting back up for that position! She did a good job for a first day!”

“That’s not the point! Why her? Think hard! She had to be using some sort of magic to control you!”

Gerulf laughed. “Gilda, Gilda, Gilda… you still don’t get it. Your eyes, as open as they are, are still closed to so much.”

Gilda stomped a paw against the ground in frustration. “You say that an awful lot! If you’re so enlightened, tell me!”

Gerulf just shook his head. “I can’t tell you because I don’t really know, myself. There’s things in this world, Gilda, that just don’t make sense. You see them every day, but accept them without a thought. Meanwhile, I see the truth. That girl, that pony, or changeling, whatever she may be, she was different.”

“So you accept that she’s a changeling?”

Gerulf shrugged. “I don’t know what she is, child, and you don’t either. I’ll tell you one thing, though, when she came in, your aunt and I knew immediately. We knew she was special, that’s one thing that’s certain.”

He knew I was different somehow? From the beginning? Linnai thought. What does it mean? Could he be an awakened focus? The dreamer isn’t even awakened, for crying out loud!

“Look, uncle, I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry I don’t get all this gibberish you’re talking, I’m sorry I don’t like your special friend, and I’m sorry, but I have a duty to my own friend to fulfill. Those changelings are here for Rainbow Dash, it’s obvious. They always are. So… I might have to leave. Tonight.”

Gerulf sighed. “So, Rainbow Dash has been here all along, has she? I’d suspected as much, but I didn’t want to press the issue.”

“Sorry. Anyway… I gotta bail. I’ll be in touch.”

“You better be careful, Gilda. I can feel change blowing on the wind. I can smell it like a storm rolling in. Stay safe.”

“Yeah, you do the same. Later, geezer.”

Gilda leapt out of the open window, gliding right over Linnai without even noticing her. Linnai practically fell out of the tree from shock, and stayed perfectly still until she was sure Gilda was out of eyeshot.

“Not good! I have to follow her! This is my last chance to find out where Rainbow Dash is! Where my brother is!”

Rainbow Dash’s Dream, 30 Minutes Later (Dream Time), Rainbow Dash’s Hideout

“The royal wedding? Which one?” Rainbow Dash asked, tilting her head to the side. Fluttershy seemed much more serious than usual, and a bit upset.

“Which one?” Fluttershy asked with confusion, then shook her head and waved a hoof in front of her. “Nevermind. I mean Princess Cadence and Shining Armor’s wedding.”

Rainbow Dash put a hoof to her chin and rolled her eyes upward in thought. “I guess that’s going on three years ago. Why do you ask?”

Fluttershy nearly fell backwards. “Three… years?” she asked, her tone of voice going from serious to shocked.

“Yeah, give or take. You were there, you should remember. Especially since that was the first time we ever had to fight the changelings. That was one crazy wedding!” Rainbow exclaimed, and then suddenly frowned and shook her head. “It’s just a shame about Shining Armor. I hope Cadence is doing okay.”

“Okay, well, this might be a little more difficult than I’d thought it would be,” Fluttershy said, trying to collect her thoughts, which were still streaming into her mind as she spoke. “Have you ever wondered what would have happened if we hadn’t won that night?”

Rainbow Dash chuckled. “All the time. I mean, we only sent the changelings flying. They came back with a vengeance. If you ask me, we didn’t win. They’re still out there, and…” Dash said, trailing off slightly before continuing. “And our friends are out there, too. They’re still fighting. I should be, too.”

Fluttershy’s mind twisted and turned, sorting her real memories and the three years of memories that her dream self had dropped onto her. In a flash, she remembered the last day that she and Rainbow Dash had spent in Equestria before fleeing to the Griffon Kingdom.

Rainbow Dash’s Dream, One Month Ago (Dream Time), Ponyville

It was a day like any other in the beautiful town of Ponyville. The skies were clear and sunny thanks to the coolest weather pony to ever kick clouds. She wasn’t just a normal weather mare, though, she was the bearer of the Element of Loyalty, the captain of The Wonderbolts, a national hero, and a symbol of peace and awesomeness across the entire land.

Oh yeah, Fluttershy recalled. This is the day… the day that Equestria fell.

The scene in Fluttershy’s mind abruptly changed. Ponyville was besieged. Fire rained down from the sky as a black cloud of changelings descended, one singular purpose etched into their hearts: Revenge! In the distance, smoke and fire could be seen rising from Canterlot. Our heroes reacted as quickly as they could, but nopony had seen this coming at all.

Yes, I remember. We all got ready for action. Rainbow Dash and I were already wearing Wonderbolts outfits, and Twilight quickly arrived with the Elements. The six of us leapt into battle against the changelings! This was the first time Chrysalis had shown her face again. Up until now, all changeling attacks had been much more easily dealt with. This time, though…

In her mind’s eye, she saw herself and her friends charging towards the changelings. Chrysalis was at the front of the pack, and she was wearing a set of dark armor complete with a helmet that reminded Fluttershy of Nightmare Moon’s. Bright red sparks of magical energy encircled her horn and glowed from a pendant she wore around her neck.

Wow, she looks a lot different! Fluttershy thought. And that red, evil looking magic. It looks just like—

“That evil red magic… I know it,” Fluttershy said aloud as she was remembering all of this.

“Red magic?” Rainbow Dash asked, tilting her head.

“Yes, Chrysalis had used it in her fight with you. I remember it so vividly, now.”

“I didn’t even notice it before, but now that you mention it, it was there,” Dash said, but then shrugged. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Fluttershy shook her head and placed a hoof against her forehead. “I’ll tell you in a second… I just need to sort out my thoughts.”

The image of Chrysalis and Rainbow Dash staring each other down snapped into Fluttershy's mind.

"Well, look who finally came out of hiding!" Rainbow Dash shouted, her voice full of confidence. "Come for a second beating?"

Chrysalis laughed in response and shook her head, the red magic zipping across her eyes like crimson lightning. "Not this time! your perfect record as Equestria's Champion ends here, Rainbow Dash! Behold my dark power!"

"Bring it on!" Dash shouted back, her hooves blazing with white light.

In an instant, they clashed in mid-air. Both wielded glowing spears of light. Chrysalis pulsed with the dark magic and began to push Rainbow Dash back towards the ground. Below, Fluttershy and the other element bearers lay in a pile, having been blasted just seconds earlier. The image of the blast wavered before Fluttershy, and she flinched slightly.

“If it hadn’t been for you throwing up that strange shield, we would have been goners!”

“Yeah, that shield,” Dash replied nervously. “Thank goodness for that thing.”

Fluttershy recalled the battle raging for another minute until Rainbow Dash finally zoomed into the sky and struck a pose. She discarded her magical weapon and instead began to speed toward Chrysalis, accelerating at an impossible rate. Chrysalis darted upward to meet her, and they clashed in an explosion of rainbow light.

The light subsided. Rainbow Dash fell from the sky, minus one wing, which tumbled to the ground behind her. Chrysalis threw her spear with all her might at Dash, piercing her chest and then pinning her to the ground.

Fluttershy blinked, coming back to reality, and her eyes looked back at Dash’s missing wing. “That was when you lost your wing,” she said, her voice wavering a bit. “I’m sorry, Dashie. We should have been able to help you. Why didn’t we? It makes no sense.”

“Hey, hey, don’t get all emotional on me. It was my own fault. You guys were counting on me, and I let you down. I… I ran away,” Dash replied, her own voice now shaking. “In the end, I couldn’t protect anything. All my friends… I failed them. Shining Armor even tried to put up his shield, but…”

An image of Shining Armor, his horn ablaze, raising a shield over a hundred times larger than the one he had produced on the day of the wedding, flashed in Fluttershy’s mind. The changeling swarm easily shattered it, and Shining was run through by the changeling queen.

Fluttershy could see Chrysalis standing there, holding Shining Armor’s body up, impaled on a spear of pulsing, red magic, laughing. “And to think I almost married this pathetic little whelp!” she said with ghoulish delight.

Fluttershy closed her eyes tightly and placed her hooves on either side of her head, tears now streaming down her face. “Dashie, I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure this all for so long.”

Rainbow Dash shook her head and sighed. “How did it get this way, Fluttershy? Why did it get so bad all of the sudden?” she asked and then looked up at Fluttershy. “And why this sudden trip down memory lane? What were you saying earlier about something important you had to tell me?”

Fluttershy took a deep breath. “Okay, sorry, I got sidetracked by all the sudden memories. I have to admit, I’m a little nervous since last time I tried to do this, it wasn’t really you, and it turned out so bad.”

“Wasn’t really me?”

“This time it’s going to be okay. Dash, you say that almost three years have passed since Princess Cadence and Shining Armor got married, but the truth is… it’s still the night of the wedding. Not even a single day has passed.”

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow. “I don’t follow. Are you feeling okay?”

“Please, just hear me out. For me, it all started a few days ago, at least as I’ve experienced them. I was living my life as normal after the wedding night, but things became really terrifying. The Everfree Forest attacked Ponyville, and then large swaths of Equestria. You and I, we went to get help from Cloudsdale, but we were attacked by dragons. I was afraid I had lost you at one point. But then, I woke up. Sort of.”

“So, it was just a dream?”

“Let’s take it one step at a time. I was able to save you, and then I met Twilight and Princess Celestia. You see, they had traveled between dreams. They told me what I am about to tell you. We lost the fight against the changelings on the wedding night, and we were all captured and put to sleep. Our bodies are currently hanging from the ceiling of Canterlot’s throne room, trapped in glowing, green cocoons. The changeling queen, Chrysalis, is absorbing all of the love magic we’re producing in these dreams.”

Rainbow Dash’s jaw gaped open slowly as Fluttershy spoke. She had no response. She had not considered such an outcome, she could never have dreamed up anything so horrible.

“Anyway, Dashie… it turns out that the reason my dream was so terrible, the reason that other dreams we went into after that were so bad, was that Princess Luna had been trapped in her own dream world by her evil side, Nightmare Moon. Nightmare had been sending out dark magic, infecting other dreams with it. I thought that maybe we’d seen the last of it after we finally defeated her within Princess Luna’s dream, but now I see that’s not the case. That dark red magic that Chrysalis used to defeat you comes from Nightmare Moon. It’s giving her the power to defy your mind and turn your dream into a nightmare.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes went wide as she thought back to everything that had happened. Her mouth slowly closed again and she swallowed before speaking. “Everything was really awesome up until Chrysalis showed up again. That’s when things got bad.”

“Exactly,” Fluttershy responded with a nod. “And now we have to come together and beat her. We have to save your dream.”

“But, I couldn’t beat her before. Why would anything be different now?”

“You didn’t have us with you before, but now you do. When we jumped into this dream world, I took the place of the Fluttershy who had been here. We became one. Princess Luna had warned us that this could happen. I was even overpowered by her for a bit. Three years’ worth of experience is a lot to take in, I suppose… it was too much for me. At least, until that… well, that kiss,” Fluttershy explained, turning her head away and blushing slightly. “That snapped me out of it, which brings me to the next thing.”

Rainbow Dash nodded her head. “So you're saying my kiss is magical.” A completely serious expression was plastered across her face.

Fluttershy leaned forward and shook her head. “No, that's not it. I'm saying--”

Dash frowned and lowered her gaze. “So you didn't like it?” she interrupted.

Fluttershy thre her hooves up and shook them in front of her. “No no no! That's not what I'm saying! I did like it! But I just--”

Rainbow Dash gripped her stomach and laughed, unable to keep her act up.

Fluttershy pouted. “That's not funny! This is serious!”

Rainbow wiped a tear from her eyes. “Sorry! I'm sorry. I know. I'm listening. It's just so much to take in all at once,” she said, and then regained her composure. “Look, as crazy as all of this sounds, if it means a chance at getting back at Chrysalis for all she did to us, then I’m in!”

“It’s not just that. It’s to save all of our friends. Remember, we’re all trapped in cocoons. We have to get free and beat her, somehow. Beat her for real!”

“Alright! Where do we begin?”

Fluttershy shook her head and took a deep breath. “That… changeling in the other room. I came here with him. His name is Mulcibar, and he’s my...” Fluttershy hesitated slightly, her thoughts trailing. Just a friend, right? It’s all so confusing. Especially after what just happened with Rainbow Dash. Oh, what do I do? What do I say?

“He’s your…?”

Fluttershy rubbed a hoof against the back of her head nervously. “He’s my friend. He turned against Chrysalis along with his sister, Linnai. We’ve been traveling together. He even saved my life, and Sweetie Belle’s, too. You can trust him, believe me.”

“So you’re in cahoots, huh?” A voice came from behind the door at the other end of the room. The door quickly opened and shut, with Daring Do pushing her way into the room with the two of them. “Don’t listen to her, Rainbow Dash. She’s an imposter! How can you even begin to believe a story like that?”

“Daring, wait, I know how this sounds, but I think I believe her. Somehow, somewhere deep inside, I can feel that she’s right.”

“It is true, you have to believe me. Daring Do is standing here right before us, Dashie. How is that even possible?”

Rainbow Dash tilted her head in thought and Daring began to walk towards the two ponies on the bed.

“Daring, you’re a fictional character. You’re not real. You’re just part of Dashie’s dream because she loves your stories so much.”

“I’m telling you, Dash! Don’t listen to her! I’m real! I told you a long time ago, I wrote those books as journals of my heroic exploits. They’re all true!”

“No, Daring,” Dash replied, her eyes starting to glow white. “Fluttershy is right. I can feel her words burning in my mind. Every bit of her story was true. I’m sorry, but… that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. That doesn’t mean we can’t still fight together!” Dash reached out her hoof and stepped down from the bed. “Come with me, Daring! We’re going to go save this world!” As she said that, a glowing, white, magical wing sprouted from her back where the missing wing had been. The light from her awakening illuminated the room in gentle magical energy.

Daring took another step towards Rainbow and reached her hoof up reluctantly. “Dash… you’re right. This is crazy, but you’re right. This doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.”

Rainbow Dash smiled and pulled Daring towards her. Daring threw her other hoof up and around Dash’s shoulder. She pressed her mouth to Dash’s ear and whispered. “This, however, is why we can’t be friends.”

“Huh?” Dash uttered.

A blast of pain shot through Rainbow Dash’s body as a large metal blade shot out from Daring’s sleeve and plunged into the blue pony’s chest. Going completely through, the blade popped out of Dash’s back, coated in blood.

“Daring… Why?” Dash asked, pushing weakly against the other mare, the glow in her eyes dissipating, the magical wing disintegrating.

“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy screamed and leapt toward Daring.

Daring pulled the blade out from Dash’s chest and slid back across the floor, her body exploding into green flames.

Suddenly a loud banging came from the other room. “What’s going on in there! Let me in!”

The sound of hooves bashing against the door echoed through the room. After three good smashes, the door was blown off its hinges and Mulcibar barged into the room. “Fluttershy!” he shouted, and then noticed Rainbow Dash, still standing and staring in shock at Daring Do as she transformed into a changeling. “So it was you! I should have guessed you weren’t hiding, you were disguised!”

“Yes! And now that Rainbow Dash is dead, there’s no one left to oppose us!”

Meanwhile, just outside the safehouse...

Gilda flipped open the cellar doors and stomped down the stairs. “Daring!” she shouted. “You better let me in this time!”

A flash of magic from under the door jamb was the only response.

“Damn it!” Gilda screamed, and then slammed into the door over and over. “Let me in! They’ll kill her! Damn changelings, let me in! Daring Do, let me in!”

“It’s too late,” a voice came from the top of the stairs to the cellar. Gilda turned and saw an unfamiliar griffon with black plumage staring down at her.

“Who are you?” Gilda asked, clenching her fists tightly.

“Stand aside,” Linnai responded.

Gilda stood her ground. “No! Who are you? You know what’s going on in there, don’t you?”

Linnai sighed. “Stand aside if you want to find out. My brother is in there, and I’m not going to let a dream puppet get in my way.” The outline of a glowing horn appeared above her feather forehead.

Gilda growled. “It’s you! The Cloud bitch! I knew you were trouble!”

“You had it wrong about me, but don’t get me wrong. I don’t care about you in the slightest, now stand aside!”

A blast of magic shot from Linnai’s forehead. Gilda dove out of the way at the last second and the door to the safehouse was blasted inward. All that remained of the door was an oozing, molten mess on the far wall.

Linnai carefully strode down the stairs, her body erupting in green fire as she walked. By the time she was in front of the safehouse entrance, she had become her true changeling form. Her long black hair hung messily down over her face and the red gem that was socketed into her horn glowed brightly.

“Come on, bird-brain. Let’s go.”

Gilda frowned, stood up, and nodded her head. “Sure. Why not?” she said with a groan.

The two of them didn’t have a chance to enter. A blast of white magic shot out of the door, knocking them back against the stairs. They both lost consciousness.

Rainbow Dash’s Dream, Five Minutes Ago, Equestria

Applejack stood atop a wooden tower, one eye pressed into a spyglass. She swept the area looking for any signs of fighting or signals from the other havens.

“AJ! Ya see anything?” Big Macintosh’s voice came from below. Applejack waved a hoof over her shoulder.

“Nope, looks like a pretty quiet night. Don’t get too many a’ them these days.”

“Ah’m a-turnin’ in for a bit, then, sis. I’ll be out again in a couple hours.”

“Get yer rest. Ya need it.”

Applejack smiled and pulled her face away from the spyglass. She sat down and leaned back against the watch tower’s railing. “Calm night like this sure does make me yearn for the old days,” she said, and then turned her gaze to the stars. “Where are ya at, Rainbow Dash? What’s gotten into you that you’d run when yer friends need ya? Ain’t like ya.”

A second later, Applejack’s eyes flashed green and she nearly slid down onto her back. Blinking her eyes, she pulled her hooves up in front of her face. Her brow furrowed, sweat began to bead up on her forehead, and she gritted her teeth.

“Sorry… Applejack… I just had to pick you again. It was way too tempting. Now go to sleep!” she said to herself. After a couple of minutes, her muscles finally relaxed and she let out a sigh. She wiped her brow and stood back up.

She turned and looked down at the camp as she dusted off her chest and sides. “Whew, what’s goin’ on in this dream? This brain’s full’a memories,” she said, and then closed her eyes in concentration. “Hmmm… Nope. No memories of either of them.”

She looked back up to the stars, grinned, and took a deep breath. “Where have you gotten off to, Mulcibar? Linnai?”

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