• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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To Where and Back Again?

"There are times when we feel like any little thing we do is worthless, and there are also times when we feel like we can't escape being born a certain way. Maybe you think you won't get anywhere in your life because your family isn't wealthy. Maybe you think you'll never find your cutie mark because everything you've been doing to try and find it hasn't been working. Maybe you don't even want to try anymore because you think there's no point. Well, I'm here to tell you that that's the wrong way of seeing things."

I could see Athena's grin stretch out genuinely as her eyes scanned the students in front of her. They seemed to stop towards Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle before she resumed speaking.

"Believe it or not, I was convinced that I was never going to find my cutie mark. My reasons for so are a little…complicated, but to sum things up, I was literally the only full-grown mare in Ponyville, maybe even in all of Equestria, who didn't have her cutie mark. I'm sure many of you have seen me walking around every so often. You've probably wondered about my cutie mark situation yourselves. You think just being a tad later than your friends is bad? Geez, let me tell you, I don't know how many times I've been so self-conscious about others realizing I didn't have my mark. For so long, I learned to ignore it, to some degree, but I was only lying to myself when it came to wanting one just like any other pony. What I want to accomplish here is to tell each and every one of you who haven't gotten a cutie mark yet to not lose hope or give up. Some of your friends might get their cutie marks earlier than you, but that's okay. Trust me, it really is. There's always going to be somepony who gets their mark last, and there's nothing you can do to change that. It's just the nature of your cutie marks."

Athena raised her hoof and stretched it out to her small companions. "You all know the Cutie Mark Crusaders, right? If you need somepony to reignite the hope that might slowly be dimming out in your hearts, then put your trust in them. If they can help me find my cutie mark, then there's no doubt they can do the same for you. I can't endorse them enough." She paused for a short second to allow the other students to applaud the CMC's achievements. Once the calm cheering subsided, Athena continued her talk. "Now, having been a schoolfilly myself, I know how you kids are eager to head on home for the weekend, so I'll go ahead and bring things to a close. Don't let a cutie mark define who you are. A cutie mark is not something you need to feel or be special. That's all you. Instead, consider a cutie mark as just a special reminder of who you are in the event you possibly feel lost about yourself. I know I will."

Once more, a final loud and unified applause ignited inside the classroom, especially when it came to her fellow Crusader companions. Having observed how much of a changed pony she had become, I happily raised my hooves and added on to the applause. Athena grinned cheerfully as Miss Cheerilee stepped up to formally thank their guest speaker.

"I can't say how wonderful it is to see such courage and willingness to inspire and by inspired by others, especially when it comes to little minds like you all." She addressed towards her students. "I can't thank Athena enough for coming down here and teaching us an important thing or two when it comes to us and our cutie marks. If I may, before we leave for the day, I'd like to ask for one more round of applause for our fellow guest speaker."

Many hooves returned a nearly thunderous roar simultaneously, and this caused Athena to begin slightly blushing at where she stood. However, it was only a matter of time before Cheerilee dismissed the class. Foals calmly flooded through the door, but there were a few lingering ponies around. Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo were a few of those fillies.

"You were great, Athena!" Scootaloo exclaimed, jumping and swinging her wings in ecstatic joy.

"Yeah!" Applebloom agreed. "Everyone else who doesn't have a cutie mark has to totally be amazingly motivated now!"

"Your speech almost made me want to get my cutie mark all over again! I'm actually kind of jealous for those who still have blanks flanks." Sweetie Belle admitted.

"It wasn't that great." Athena humbly responded.

"I beg to differ." Cheerilee refuted. "Many of my students here can sometimes be…'uncertain' when it comes to their cutie marks, and it doesn't help their case when they see their fellow classmates earning their marks before them. It must have taken a lot of strength to come here and speak about not having a cutie mark until just recently. In fact, I don't believe we've formally met before, have we? Are you new to Ponyville?"

"Uh…sort of?" Athena scratched her head. "You could say that I haven't been here as long as Alex has, but I was also sort of really shy for the longest time anyway."

"And to come here and speak so openly about yourself? I find that highly respectable."

"Gee, thanks, Miss Cheerilee." The redness in Athena's cheeks became a little more saturated.

Cheerilee returned a delighted nod and turned her attention towards the three fillies remaining with us. "You all enjoy your weekend. If you'd like to organize any other kinds of events like this, I'm all ears!"

"Goodbye, Miss Cheerilee!" Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo addressed in unison.

Before completely leaving the classroom, Cheerilee briefly stopped by me and bowed lightly. "It's always nice to see you, Prince."

It was a little weird getting this from her. Cheerilee and I would only see each other every once in a while, but I guess those times weren't enough to warrant a casual greeting with one another. Nevertheless, I didn't bug her about it. "It's good to see you too, Miss Cheerilee."

"Have a wonderful day!" She shared before leaving the classroom.

"What do y'all wanna do now?" Applebloom asked amongst our group.

"We should go out and celebrate with Athena!" Scootaloo suggested happily. "I know her cute-ceañera wasn't too long ago, but after today's speech, I can't help but feel so proud that she's almost an entirely different pony!"

"I could totally go for some ice cream." Athena answered smugly, tapping me with her elbow. "What do you say, brotha? Care to treat us to some?"

I hardly ever found myself treating myself for some kind of accomplishment. First and foremost, the "treating" usually went to Fluttershy, and then after that, it went towards any of my friends. I did have a shared giant castle to live in, so there was usually always some kind of "treating" to go around. As long as I didn't feel like I was being taking advantage of, I honestly didn't mind.

"Sure thing." I happily abided and turned towards the fillies. "I owe you three a lot for helping Athena find her mark, and I can't express how proud I am of Athena overcoming the obstacles to get to it. I'll get you a buffet of ice cream, if you want."

"Thanks, Alex!" Sweetie Belle cheerfully replied. "Hey! I know the perfect place! Come on! I'll lead the way!"

We were led into what appeared to be an old-fashioned diner. If I recalled correctly, Athena and I may have been in here a few times, but not enough for this place to become a signature location for our ice-cream dining experience. Each of us sat on top of the stools by the bar counter as Sweetie Belle signaled the waitress.

"What can I get for y'all?" She asked.

"I'll have a vanilla float! Three scoops, please!" Sweetie Belle ordered.

"Same, but with chocolate!" Scootaloo called out next.

"Strawberry here!" Applebloom stated before we turned our attention towards Athena.

She appeared to still be studying the menu before she read something off of it. "Um, I guess I'll try that Triple Caramel Sunrise special you have?"

"Got it." She made a note of with a smile and finally turned towards me. "What about you, sir?"

"Nothing for me, thanks." I politely denied.

"You're not gettin' anythin' for yourself?" Applebloom questioned with a little genuine concern.

"Ah, I'm not really craving sweets." I told her.

Athena propped her head forward and winked over to Applebloom. "I'll be sharing my ice cream with him."

I felt that that was unnecessary, but I decided to let it slide since I might take a few spoonfuls at most, just to try her order out. Nevertheless, I turned over to Sweetie Belle to ignite some conversation. "You've been here often, Sweetie Belle?"

"Not recently, no." She answered. "I used to come here all the time with my sister when I was just a little foal, but it's been a while. After listening to Athena's speech, I remembered this place when she suggested ice cream. I thought it'd be perfect to come back here with all of you."

"You should probably come here again one day with Rarity." Athena advised. "I'm sure she'd love that!"

"She's usually always too busy with work." Sweetie Belle mentioned back before she turned over to me. "Hey! Remember when I used to always want to spend time with her? I'd always want to try to be like her, and I'd get sad when I couldn't do things just like her."

"Oh, yeah." I responded, particularly remembering her effort when it came to the school talent show way back when. "You've grown a lot since then, haven't you? I remember when your voice used to be extra squeaky." I shared, chuckling a little after.

"Haha!" Scootaloo laughed. "I totally remember that!"

"My voice wasn't that squeaky!" In a fit of embarrassment, Sweetie Belle quickly retorted back, ironically squeaking in the process.

"I think you might have just proved his point!" Applebloom pointed out, mixing in a little laughter of her own.

Enjoying the sight they returned back for a moment, I decided to remove Sweetie Belle from the spotlight. "Of course, to be fair, all of your voices were pretty squeaky. Now that I think about it, it's crazy to see how much you've all grown in the time we've been together. Kind of like what Sweetie Belle said back at the school, I almost sort of wish I could go back and experience a day or two during that time. I have to admit, those were some pretty good times. It's a shame I was too mopey to really enjoy the majority of it."

"Well…" Athena began saying, most likely considering some kind of use of her time manipulation. However, one glance at her immediately caused her to surrender any possibility of such thoughts. "Kidding! Just kidding!" She laughed off.

"I can't imagine how things will be once we're a lot older." Scootaloo spoke as looked over at her two best friends. "We started as three fillies looking to earn their cutie marks, and now we're helping others to get theirs. Think we'll be doing the same, or at least close to it, in the future?"

"I guess only time will tell." Applebloom suggested.

"And right now, I think time's telling us to enjoy some long-deserved ice cream." Sweetie Belle concluded as she noticed the waitress bring over a tray topped with a collected variety of ice cream treats.

At around sunset, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo decided to head on back home. After thanking me for the ice cream, Athena and I remained sitting inside beside our empty and nearly licked-clean bowl of former dessert.

For a moment, I began thinking about Starlight Glimmer, recalling how she had been worried about visiting her old village due to receiving an invitation to a Sunset Festival they were having. Right about now, she was supposed to be partying up with her old friends, but I couldn't help but wonder if she was doing alright.

"Thanks for spending time with me like this, Alex." I heard. I turned and found that Athena had just started speaking to me. "As long as we can have hangouts like this every now and then, I think can get on by." She seemed to state in a half-serious and half-joking tone. "With all the amazing friends you have, plus one ultra-sweet girlfriend, I can't imagine how you do it when it comes to spending time with all of them."

"No problem." I returned. "I don't think it's that hard. I might spend one day with someone and then spend another day with somepony else. Actually, I don't think it's all that balanced. I might spend a lot more time with Fluttershy than I do with Maud, for instance. Sometimes, I feel bad about it when I consider their feelings."

"Naah." Athena brushed off with her hoof. "I'm sure they've got their own lives. Just because I was all naggy and needy doesn't mean they are. If anypony feels bad, it's me for not taking the time you spend with your other friends into consideration."

I shrugged lightly. "You could say it's a part of the job besides some paperwork and royal gatherings here and there. Besides, Twilight loves the paperwork part of the job. Even though I feel a little bad leaving it to her, she apparently doesn't mind doing it all by herself. I don't know any other pony like that. She's really sweet."

"She is." Athena agreed. "Especially when I was so low-key mean to her and all she did was try to be nice to me. Bleh. I'm glad I'm a better pony now."

"Hmm." I smiled softly as I thought to myself for a short moment. "Talking with the other fillies made me think more about the past and the future. You know, what we're leaving behind and what's in store as we move on. I can't help but feel a little scared and anxious."

"You shouldn't think about stuff like that." Athena advised. "Believe me, I know. You just sort of gotta go with the flow. Whatever happens in the future is going to happen, and as long as we aren't headed into an apocalyptic state, I think it's fine to just clear your mind of everything when it comes to time."

"Always putting that cutie mark to use, huh?" I glanced over at her flank as I listened to her advice.

She only giggled in response as she returned a cheerful closed-eye smile.

Athena and I started heading back as night began to fall.

"You think Starlight's doing okay?" Athena asked by my side. "She was pretty nervous when she left."

"I hope so." I responded. "But, being with Trixie, a friend she can truly rely on, I think she'll be fine. After all, she's faced worse, right?"

"After that time fiasco?" Athena said. "Yeah, you bet."

As the castle was entirely within our view, I was suddenly alarmed to the sight of extremely bright and green flashes blasting out of the windows. It would have only sparked up my curiosity had they been normal flashes of magic, but there was something about the deep saturated jaded color that caused fear to sprout within me. Just the color itself brought something poisonous to mind.

"Is Twilight doing some kind of experiment or something?" Athena asked as we came to a stop.

"I don't know." I felt my eyebrows furrow. "But, let's make sure everything's all right."

"Right behind you." Athena promised as I began galloping towards the doors.

I focused my attention towards the door, prepared to stop for nothing until I made sure all was right inside the castle. The sound of my hooves stomping on top of the ground deafened my ears, and anxious images of possible catastrophes came to mind as my heart began to pound. In the meantime, I continued to desperately hope that I was really worrying about nothing.

"Alex, look out!" I heard, followed by a sharp yell.

I skidded to a stop and quickly turned around.

Something was headed straight for me, and all I could muster up was an unprepared and weak shield to provide me cover. However, it had been easily broken through, and I found myself underneath a tall and hole-ridden creature. It was hard to notice at first as its appearance had nearly blended in perfectly with the night sky. But, once she spoke her first words, her name came running back into my mind.

"Hello there, handsome."

"Chrysalis!" I stated.

For some reason, she began to chuckle at my response, most likely taking note of my shocked and startled reaction, but she was quickly drawn away when Athena came swinging a kick over me.

"My, my." Chrysalis observed Athena quickly push me up, taking a position in front of me in a protective stance as I remained standing there dumbfounded. "And who does this seem to be? Her scent has a…familiar smell."

"Athena, get back!" I ordered once fulling coming to my senses.

"No way!" She refuted as she stood her ground. "We're in this together! I'll protect you with my life if I have to!"

Chrysalis found this particularly funny, having a moment to herself to laugh out loud. "Such amazing love between you two. I'm quite tempted to take it here right now."

"Didn't you learn your lesson last time?" I recalled. "You're playing with fire right now. Not to mention, I'm an Alicorn, remember?"

"Oh, I remember." She acknowledged, but she didn't faze whatsoever when it came to her hungry and predatorial reaction. "You don't think I lack the intelligence to come back for a great deal of revenge without a solid plan, do you? I wouldn't be so confident if I were you, Prince." She stated with heavy disgust. At this point, her horn glowed, and in the next second, she fired a beam my way.

Athena had no choice but to hop out of the way, and she was smart for doing so considering that I could easily block or deflect the beam away. However, as soon as I fired up my horn, I felt a sudden surge of shock in my head. It was as if the supply of magic to my horn was unexpectedly cut off, and I was left to fend off Chrysalis's magic myself. Having counted on my magic to save me, I had been pushed backwards as her beam of corrupted magic landed.

"I'm sorry. I thought Alicorns were able to use their magic in battle." Chrysalis mocked humorously.

Having witnessed that sight of me tumbling down, Athena quickly raced over to my side. "Alex!" She cried worriedly before she turned and positioned herself directly in front of me as I worked on getting back up. This time, it didn't look like she had any intention of getting out of the way.

"Listen here, Prince." Chrysalis announced. "As much as I'd love to take each and every ounce of love from both of you, I have different intentions in mind. So, I'd prefer if you surrender yourself peacefully and make this entire process much quicker. I've got work to do."

"Who do you think I am?" I straightened out my hooves as I dealt with a certain amount of pain in my head. "I don't know what you've got planned, but you think you're going to get your way so easily? It's only a matter of time before the others—"

"Oh, they've already been taken care of. Believe me, you're completely on your own here, aside from your little friend there, of course." A smug smirk raised within her lips.

She didn't look worried at the least, causing me to turn towards Athena since she was the only one who could confirm her emotions.

"I don't know what she did, Alex, but she doesn't seem scared at all!" She exclaimed softly to me.

"You do not want to try my patience." Chrysalis warned. "If you don't heed my advice, I'm afraid I'll have to take you in by force."

Athena's eyes glanced over to mine as she remained in her battle-ready stance. She was willing to be by my side until the end, and that only encouraged me to confirm my expected answer.

"I did it once, and I'll do it again." I stated as I readied myself. "I'm not going down without a fight, even without my magic."

Chrysalis chuckled. "Have it your way then, but don't say I didn't warn you." She drew her head away and whistled. A collective number of hooves landed around us. In nearly an instant, we both had been surrounded by an army of Changelings. "For the purpose of time, I'll be using a little help from my minions."

"You think you're going to get away with whatever you have planned?" I asked. "You're just going to end up humiliated like last time."

"Oh, I beg to differ." She assured. "I started small last time. In fact, I had no idea there'd be a group of simple ponies who had the means to put a stop to my initial plans. This time, I've thought everything through. I've made sure to bring those with great power to halt before they have any chance to stop me, and you're the remaining one. You should be honored that I came to do this personally." She turned her head towards her minions and held up an ordering hoof. "Capture them!"

As they began to band together to get a solid jump on us, Athena and I proceeded to fend them off as much as we could. However, it was only a matter of time that fatigue would set upon us without the use of any of my magic.

"They just keep coming!" Athena pressed her back against mine, allowing me to hear her panting softly from exhaustion.

When one line of changelings was knocked out, it was quickly replaced by another. Chrysalis definitely had the advantage of numbers in this case. At this rate, we'd only eventually fail from fatigue if we didn't change things up.

"We can't keep doing this, Athena." I told her truthfully as the changelings around us drew closer. There was nothing I could think of at the moment besides one thing. And I knew it was something that Athena wasn't going to approve of whatsoever. "It's me that she wants." I mentioned. "You're going to have to go on without me."

"What?!" She cried out, looking back at me before turning her attention back to the enemy. "You can't expect me to do that!"

"You have to!" I argued. "We're both at a loss if you don't leave now. I'm going to try to make an opening, and you need to push through the first chance you see one!"

"B-But, I can't…!"

"I know what you want to say!" I acknowledged. "But if what she was saying is the truth, I don't want to risk the end of Equestria if we both get captured. You need to go find help!" Before she could make any more counter arguments, several of the changelings began to attack my side. I kicked one of them and prepared to use another to push through a hoard of them. I was about to make it to the outer edge of their circle before many of them began to jump on top of me like a pack of fleas. Without magic, I was unable to lift and push off the weight they gathered together. "Hurry! Go now!" I ordered.

I could tell Athena struggled a great deal. In fact, I was afraid my efforts would be put in vain as I watched her stare back in shock. However, as Chrysalis began to approach me, Athena shut her eyes and bit her lip forcefully before turning and taking off.

Several of the changelings began to chase after her, but Chrysalis belted out a firm order.

"Leave her! With her being separated from her loved one, it'll only pile on to the amount of love we'll be feeding off soon." Chrysalis approached me, placing a hoof under my chin and lifting my head so my eyes could meet with hers. She returned a smug smile. "It was sad of you to give her false hope. There'll be no pony powerful enough to aide her. You've only made things better for me. Oh, too bad." She mimicked a troubled voice before removing her hoof from my chin. "Bring him to the hive. We've got work to do."


Alex told me to find help, but I needed to take what Chrysalis said into account. If she really did take care of the "others", how was I supposed to know who to trust to help me?! There were only a few ponies I could count on, and it was more than likely that they had already been captured. Alex was counting on me to find help, but I didn't have the slightest clue on who to possibly approach.

I managed to cover myself behind a pack of trees and shrubs. I wasn't sure if there were any changelings chasing after me, but I couldn't take the risk. By the way things looked, the fate of Equestria possibly rested on my shoulders.

I began thinking foremost of a safe place to go. I didn't want to be caught out in the open, and there was no way I could think easily with the thought of a changeling surprising me from behind. I shut my eyes and attempted to calm myself. As I breathed in and out as calmly as I could for several seconds, my train of thought began running its course.

The first place I thought to hide out was Alex's old home. I wasn't sure if any of the changelings would bother to search the place if they were looking for me. It wasn't a bad place to stay at, but I still felt uncomfortably vulnerable. Changelings were already roaming around in Ponyville. That's a fact. Was there possibly someplace that wasn't so out in the open? Maybe someplace with a pony I could still trust inside?

Various thoughts raced through my mind until I came across one that hooked my brain before I even knew what it was. In the woods, there was someplace. The Everfree Forest. Zecora. Zecora! Do the Changelings even know about her? Highly unlikely, considering she's secluded out in the woods.

I nodded in confirmation and prepared to bolt straight over there behind as much cover as possible. The sooner I could get over there, the sooner I could be sure that the changelings didn't touch her whatsoever.

I was a little nervous and scared making my way through the Everfree Forest in the dark and on my own, but anything lingering in the darkness was the least of my problems. I covered over what I could remember from the last trip with the Cutie Mark Crusaders and hesitantly stepped over to the front of her hut.

I could see light coming from her window, which was a good sign. But, I couldn't know for sure until I went inside for myself. Taking a deep breath, I propped myself up on her front door and raised a slightly tensed and shaky hoof. I nearly had to force myself to knock a few times before I anxiously waited for her door open.

In a matter of seconds, which felt more like minutes, the door opened to reveal a black and white striped face poking out in curiosity. She spotted me and prepared to greet me with a soft smile forming on her face.

"Ah, Athena. What a lovely surprise. However, I must say, coming here at this hour is unwise."

"I know, I know!" I impatiently responded. "Zecora, something bad is happening. Can I come in, please?"

"Please, be my guest." Zecora invited in, allowing me to quickly rush inside so she could close the door behind me. "Tell me. What is troubling you, young filly? You look terribly stressed."

"There's just one thing I need to do really quick, Zecora." I decided to be sure of things before I placed my complete faith in her. "When was the last time I came here, and what was I doing?"

Zecora clearly found my question odd, and her squinting face proved so. Nevertheless, she obliged and gave me a straight answer. "It was only a few days ago. You came over to work a gentle brew. Accompanied by the three Cutie Mark Crusaders, unfortunately, a young griffon surpassed you."

She could have been clearer, but it was good enough. Besides, I wouldn't think a changeling would be able to throw out rhymes on the spot like Zecora. I pressed my hoof against my chest and released a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness. Zecora, the changelings are back, and this time they've taken my brother, Alex. Not only that, I'm pretty sure they've taken the rest of our friends, and if I'm to believe their queen, I think they might have already captured all the other princesses too!"

"The changelings, you say?" Zecora responded with wide-opened eyes. "Oh, my. I never expected for them to come this day." She pressed her hoof against her chin and took a quick glance out her windows. Afterwards, she turned towards me. "I can see the reason behind your odd question. But, I'm afraid I must do the same. Answer me this, young one. What was the name of the griffon who had last came?"

"Gabby!" I immediately blurted out. "It was Gabby! We were both looking for our cutie marks! As you already mentioned, I failed badly when I was trying to mix up a brew and then Gabby came in and—"

Zecora placed a hoof onto my lips, shutting me up.

"I did not expect you to be one of them. However, I'm sure you understand my need to clear you from being their stem." Zecora covered her windows with several pieces of her foreign fabric and dimmed the lights within her home. "That should help us remain unseen. Now, tell me, child. How close is their queen?"

I shook my head. "She was in Ponyville with a platoon of her changelings right in front of the castle, but I don't think she's here anymore. I think she was taking Alex to her hive." As I recalled the last thing I heard from her, I immediately gasped. "They're taking him to their hive?! Where in Equestria is that?! I began pacing in place as I felt myself having a major freak-out. "Is it far?! It has to be! If we get too far from each other, my head's going to start hurting like crazy! It's only a matter of time before it does, and unless I want to writhe in pain forever, I'm going to have to pull myself back to him. And if I do that, the changelings will find me! And then Equestria will be doo—"

Zecora had to shut me up again with her hoof.

"Calm yourself. Take deep breaths. For any pain, I might have something on my shelf. But, for right now, we must think things through. As what to do, might you have a clue?"

I sighed heavily and looked away sadly. "Alex told me to go find help, and I think I'm lucky that I was able to find you. I don't know what the changelings are planning, but they don't seem like they're pulling an all-out attack like last time. If you ask me, I think they might be doing things quietly this time. I don't know what I'm going to do, Zecora. I'm so scared. I'm just a simple Earth Pony who happens to have a few tricks up her sleeves." I paused for a moment and thought to myself. I could technically manipulate time and warn everyone about their attack, but like I've been told countless times before, manipulating time for whatever reason was never the answer. And, I agreed with them. If we could just mess with time to fix all of our problems, all it would really do is bring even worse problems for us. "I don't know who to turn to…"

"Surely there must be somepony or someone to call." Zecora mentioned. "An ally you did not have before their first fall."

An ally we didn't have before? Starlight Glimmer! She's really good with her magic! She's not a princess, but if anypony could provide help, she surely could! Not to mention she went off with Trixie to her old village. I'm sure the changelings didn't touch that part of Equestria at all! But how was I going to find her? Maybe I could wait until she came back? No! She's not supposed to be back for a week! In that case, I'd have to go out and find her! But, that'll possibly only increase the distance between Alex and me…

"There's one pony I can look for." I mentioned. "Starlight Glimmer. I just need to find out how I'm going to get to her."

"There's another particular being in mind." Zecora continued. "One who could put you in a troublesome bind."

"Huh?" I questioned as I looked at her strangely.

"A former foe that thrives in trouble and tricks. One who certainly cannot do without his round of—"

"Wait a minute!" I interrupted her, finding a rather good guess to what her answer was. "Are you talking about…Discord?!"

"A round of kicks is what he searches for. Now, all you need is to find his door."

To be honest, as much as he was my least favorite, he could make all the changelings disappear in a snap! I was more than sure that the changelings didn't know squat about him, and we could have this entire ordeal finished in an instant! But Zecora was right. None of us know where Discord even lived. I could only imagine he lived in some kind of messed up and warped dimension, but only Discord had that kind of power to teleport there. If I wanted Discord's help, we were going to have to get him to come to us! Fluttershy was the sure way to call him over, but judging from what we saw at the castle, it was likely she had been captured along with the other girls as well. Oh, what to do…

…maybe I could lure him in with some kind of chaos…?

"You'll be safe as long as you stay here." Zecora said. "Rest easy for tonight, and tomorrow, your mind shall be clear."

"I don't know if I can rest, Zecora." I expressed in distress. "Alex is counting on me to get all the help I can find. To just stay and sleep here like nothing even happened is like torture!"

"I understand your worries, my little pony." Zecora placed her hoof on my shoulder. "In your current situation, it must feel terribly lonely. However, you mustn't place yourself so willingly in danger. It is foolish to search throughout the night while walking amongst strangers. I can calm your nerves or ease any pain with a brew or two. Although, I'm afraid that is all I can do."

Sighing heavily, I nodded. I didn't think I was going to get any sleep tonight, but it was probably the best that I stayed here for the night. If I got caught by one of the changelings or ended up some monster's dinner, then there'd be no way I'd able to help him and everyone else.

I'm sorry, Alex. Can you please hold on for me just a little longer?

I continued to only toss and turn throughout the night. I don't remember ever actually falling asleep. At the slightest crack of light peaking through the windows, I got up from bed and felt my eyes were slightly weighed down. Nevertheless, for the most part, I was wide awake. I knew I wasn't going to be able to really rest until Alex and the others were safe and sound.

If there was one good thing I could find with my current situation, it was that I hardly felt any pain in my head. I could feel a slight headache, but I wasn't sure if it was just because of the stress that I had to fight practically every second in order to try to not be overwhelmed by it. The changeling hive had to no doubt be somewhere far away, so unless Alex hadn't been taken over there after all, where was the migraine I usually got from being so far away from him?

Granted, when I first started interacting with him outside, I could hardly be in another room in the Castle of the Two Sisters. When I was exposed to everypony else, after the box under the Tree of Harmony had been unlocked, I was able to be anywhere I wanted as long as I was in the same town. Now, was it possible to be anywhere else in Equestria?

I wonder…could this be related to the progress of our relationship?

"Ah, Athena. Good morning." I heard Zecora approach me. "It's nice to see you heed my warning."

"Thanks for letting me stay here, Zecora…" I turned towards her with a worried frown. "I felt safe, but I couldn't get any sleep. I couldn't stop worrying about the others…"

"I understand your feelings on the matter, but now's the time to focus on a plan. One that will not shatter; Find the others if you can."

"I know." I nodded and turned back out to the window, even though there was nothing much to see besides murky trees and swamps. "There's nothing much to think about besides not getting caught by a changeling. If I can find the others, that'd be the time to start thinking up a plan."

"How is your head?" She asked. "Last night, it was pain that you had come to dread."

"My head's bothering me a little, but I'm fine. I'm just more concerned about what I'm going to do."

"If you have any clue, perhaps I could stir up a brew?"

I honestly had no idea what she could do that would help.

"I don't suppose you have a changeling repellent?" I asked.

Zecora chuckled lightly at this. "I wish that were true, but I'm afraid I have nothing of the sort for you."

A brief smile flashed on my face as I giggled softly, finding such an idea too easy and good to be true. "Thought so. In that case, I can't think of anything, Zecora." I pulled myself away from the window and stretched in preparation to leave. "I think I should start heading out now. Maybe I'll see if I can get on a train and find Starlight at her village."

"I'm sorry there was nothing more I could do. With this circumstance, I'm afraid I'm limited in my ability in helping you." She apologized.

I shook my head. "You helped me plenty, Zecora. In fact, I feel a lot better knowing that it's not only me against the changelings. You gave me some pretty good advice last night."

"If it is shelter you seek, please know that my home is meek."

I nodded my head this time. "Thanks, Zecora. I'll be seeing you. I hope." I stated that last bit with a touch of uncertainty, but I tried to play it off as a joke.

Since it was daytime, it was a lot less scary to navigate through the Everfree Forest. I found myself back in Ponyville in a manner of minutes, but I remained much more cautious by staying on the outer edge. However, as I observed the interior of town, I found that it was really eerie. Everypony was acting as if everything was normal. If the changelings attacked, they wouldn't need other changelings to pretend to be ponies living here, would they? Either way, I couldn't be too careful knowing that my friends had been abducted by ugly creatures.

No offense, Thorax.

Wait a minute.

Could Thorax be involved with this somehow? I'm not saying that he was behind the abductions, but I thought he wanted to share the magic of friendship with every other changeling? I guess it didn't work…?

I thought Thorax could be helpful as well, but I had no idea where I'd even begin to find him, much like Discord. Maybe there's a chance he'd be at the Crystal Empire? Haah. Everything was too difficult to think through. All I could do was take baby steps and take a crack at my ideas one at a time.

I wanted to take a train to Starlight's village, but then I remembered about my predicament with the changelings. Could they be lingering around those parts too? I found it unlikely. If they were, they wouldn't do anything to blow their cover. After all, I highly doubted they knew how to work a train. Seeing as there'd be no time to walk all the way over to Starlight's old village on my own, I made the decision in taking a small risk by going through the train.

Unexpectedly, I spotted Starlight in town on my way over to the train station, but in that instant, I knew it was too good to be true. Having been within our main circle of powerful friends, the only conclusion that arose in my mind was that she had been replaced. The Starlight I saw had to be a changeling in disguise in an attempt to fit in. Why exactly? I don't know. Maybe they were scoping out for other ponies to take. Maybe…they were looking for me. Whatever the case was, I was afraid that they had found Starlight, especially if they already had a changeling in her place here at Ponyville.

Fudge cupcakes…

I continued to try to stay out of every other ponies' sight through ducking behind bushes and trees and slithering through alleyways and between buildings. As soon as I made it to the train station, I hopped aboard the first train I could find to the Crystal Empire and ended up hiding inside the cart with all the luggage. Just to be sure.

For some reason, I was expecting to see the Crystal Empire being patrolled by changelings, but it was just like how it was back in Ponyville. Everything seemed normal, and it was practically the complete opposite of a ghost town, kind of like how it was when everypony was afraid of Thorax.

That made it all the more reason to be super cautious with everything and everypony around. Any of them could have been a changeling, and I could only assume that the changelings had already stepped hoof onto this place, considering what Chrysalis had said.

When I drew closer to the castle, I squeezed myself between a couple of buildings and watched the entrance. There were a few guards stationed there. From what I could see, their emotions didn't seem all that different, but then again, they weren't really doing much to warrant a change. It was silly to be hiding the way I was as if I was some kind of intruder, but all I had to go on was Chrysalis's word.

"Athena!" I heard a voice behind me, causing me to both immediately shriek and turn around.

There was a changeling right behind my tail the entire time and I didn't even know it!

"Aah!" I screamed before revving up a kick to deliver on its nasty face.

"Wait!" He cried out, but I had already caused his face to be thrown to the side.

I was just about to run until his voice finally clicked in my mind. I remained standing in front of his lying body as he moaned and groaned in an effort to get up. Analyzing his emotional aura, I found that he had no intention to harm me. No way. Was this Thorax?!

"Thorax! Is that you?!" I called out.

"Yeah…it's me…" He answered, rubbing his cheek. "Ow…"

"I'm so sorry!" I quickly raced over to him and tried to help him up. "I was so scared! The changelings kidnapped my friends, and I didn't know who I could trust!"

"That's what I was about to tell you!" He replied with great enthusiasm. "I didn't expect to see you here, but when I did, I had to warn you before you went inside the castle. A hoard of changelings came by and took Cadence, Shining Armor, and Flurry Heart last night! In fact, I was just about to head to Ponyville to get help from Princess Twilight and the others, but based on what you told me, they were already taken too!"

"Oh, no…" I turned away, swerving my eyes around anxiously. "What about Canterlot? Did they take the princesses there too?"

Thorax sighed. "I'm sure they did. This sounds like an attack on the entirety of Equestria, but I don't understand what they're trying to do. They're only taking the most powerful figures and replacing them. From what I know, they're not trying to feed off any of their love. Not yet, anyway."

"What do we do, Thorax?" I nearly broke down from worry, desperately hoping he had some kind of idea of what to do.

"They took all of them to the hive. The only way to get them back is to go over there ourselves."

"How are we supposed to challenge thousands of changelings with just us?!"

"I don't know." Thorax admitted. "That's why I was going to Ponyville to get help. I don't know how we're going to get them back."

I sighed heavily. "We need to find Discord. Somehow. There's no way he could have been taken by the changelings. I hate to say this, but he would have easily mopped the floor with them."

"Who's Discord?" Thorax asked.

"He's a…friend." I hesitated, considering my actual dry relationship with the draconequus. "He's practically our only hope now.

"And you don't know how to reach him?"

I thought about it briefly, placing a hoof on my chin. "No, I don't. If anypony knows how, it would be Fluttershy. Even if she was already taken by the changelings, maybe there's something we can find to help us at her cottage. I think they actually send mail to each other."

"What are we waiting for?" Thorax lurched forward, ready for action. "We better get moving before any of the changelings has a chance to see us. Who knows what they'd do if they found us."

I nodded in agreement, and we both headed back for Ponyville.

I closed the door to Fluttershy's cottage as soon as we were inside. There was hardly any noise within, and, of course, there was no sign of the owner around. It was a sad thing to experience, but I had to shove the feeling away and get back on track. I took a look around and began hearing small and soft whimpers. Under pieces of furniture and hugging the corners of the house, I found some of the small critters Fluttershy kept inside practically holding each other in fear.

"Poor things!" I witnessed. "Without Fluttershy around, they must be scared to death!"

Thorax stepped up beside me with a frown. "Actually, I think they're just scared of me…"

"We need to get them back as soon as possible." I stated and began searching every nook and cranny for some kind of clue to Discord's whereabouts. Even a letter with his home address would be a start.

"What should we look for?" Thorax asked.

"Anything that could tell us something on how to find or contact Discord." I instructed, turning over books and cups to search through them. "Fluttershy is Discord's favorite pony. They must have some way of communicating with each other." I placed down an item I had been looking through and sighed after putting more thought into what I said. "Then again…Discord just shows up whenever he pleases."

The sun had been already making its way below the horizon as I finished looking around Fluttershy's room. I hated the idea of going through her stuff, but we needed to find Discord. Nevertheless, I ended up leaving her room with a guilty expression on my face and empty-hooved.

"Find anything?" I asked Thorax.

"Not really." Thorax had just finished looking through a stack of papers. "I found something with Discord's name on it. I think it's supposed to be where he lives, but it's all gibberish to me."

I quickly trotted over to his side to take a look for myself, but I ultimately sighed when he was right about it being gibberish. His supposed address wasn't any kind of normal address. It practically mentioned a certain dimension or something, but we didn't have the kind of power to move through dimensions. It was only expected of him.

"Urgh! That isn't going to help! Isn't there a way Fluttershy's able to call him or something?"

"I don't know…" Thorax responded softly. "She's your friend."

I turned away and stared at the floor for a silent while. I didn't want to take Discord out of the equation for our plan. We just needed to find some way of getting him to come around, but we obviously had no way to do that. We could wait for him to eventually swing by to visit Fluttershy, but who knew how long that would take. We don't have time to wait!

"What now…?" Thorax slowly approached me.

"I don't know…" I mentioned worryingly. "The only thing I can come up with is to make some desperate attempt at finding an answer at the castle library, but we can't even do that because I'm sure the castle is riddled with changelings pretending to be our friends."

"Even so, I don't think any of the changelings would be in the library." Thorax said. "None of us have hardly read anything in our lives."

"You think it's worth a shot?" I turned to him.

"I guess it's all we have." Thorax replied a bit sadly and turned his head towards the window. "It's almost going to be dark out soon. We should probably wait until then. If any of them are looking for you, it'd be harder to find you in the dark."

There was no guarantee we'd be able to get inside. Even if we did, we'd still have to make it to the library without being spotted. And, even then, we don't know if we'd find anything useful in the library. Gaah! I can only hope there's something in one of Twilight's thousands of books. Maybe some kind of spell a changeling could learn that could help us with all the other changelings? Thorax was on our side. That had to be worth something.

At any point, it was all we had, so it was all we could settle on for now.

"I guess we might as well take a break…" I hesitantly decided. "I haven't eaten anything since yesterday, and I think I'm starting to feel my stomach beg for food."

"You should eat." Thorax advised. "You'll need all the energy you can get."

I turned towards Fluttershy's kitchen and began looking through her cupboards. "I hope Fluttershy doesn't mind me eating some of her food…" The guilt within me began to rise up, but I was able to quell it somewhat when I remembered her telling me that her home was my home. I suppose it helped that I was her future sister-in-law. As I gathered bits and pieces of food I could find, I suddenly remembered something about Thorax and turned to him. "Hey, Thorax. What about you? You're not hungry for…you know…love?"

He shook his head. "Ever since I met you all at the Crystal Empire, I haven't been hungry since! It's like I don't even need to feed anymore."

"Well, that's a good thing." I acknowledged genuinely, grateful that I wouldn't at least have a changeling turn on me due to the great desire of food. "At least I know you won't have to feed off me." I half-joked.

"I'd never do that." Thorax emphasized. "After all, you were one of the few ponies who trusted me when everyone else was against me…"

Remembering the circumstance, I smiled lightly. "Yeah…" I took in a deep breath and slowly exhaled it out, pulling a determined expression up on my face afterwards. "There's got to be a way. We just need to find it."

I observed the sky throughout the entire time we waited inside Fluttershy's cottage. I partook in some snacks to try to satisfy the feeling of hunger inside me. I still wasn't sure if it was necessary to eat, as I imagined that I relied on Alex like a baby relied on its mother. Nevertheless, I was sure that, wherever Alex was being held captive, he hasn't had a thing to eat either, so it was probably a good idea that I got something. Maybe we actually shared food in a way…

I noticed that Thorax would glance my way with a noticeably concerned expression on his face throughout our mostly silent time together, but my eyes remained glued towards the window. I had been completely absorbed in my thoughts, worrying to no end about how to remove the nest of changelings that infested our home.

After my meal, I decided to help Fluttershy by feeding her animals since she wasn't here to do it. Based on the time I've spent with her, I learned a few things watching her. However, I could never imagine being able to take care of all the animals that she has.

Eventually, Thorax spoke up and suggested we get a move on at the sight of the clear moon outside. It was time to get back to work.

I carefully shut the door to Fluttershy's cottage as we exited out and scanned the area around me carefully. It was unlikely that changelings would be hanging around here for no reason, but ever since their invasion, I could never get rid of the feeling of being watched.

"There's hardly any pony out at this time of night." Thorax noted. "I think it'll be pretty easy to tell if there's a changeling in disguise out here."

"How can you tell?" I asked.

"There's no sure way for me, but changelings act a certain way, and even when they try to act like the pony they're pretending to be, they never really get the important bits down. If they're only replacing your friends, it should be easy to notice something off about them, right?"

"Yeah, that's right." I acknowledged. "Although, I'd like to notice something before confronting them."

"We'll stick around the dark places. If we run into them, I'll change into some random pony and try to cover for you, okay?"

"Thanks, Thorax…" I expressed sincerely. "I know you don't have to do any of this."

He shook his head. "As much as I'm doing this to help you and everyone else, I'm also doing it for myself. I don't want changelings to steal any more love. You all have already proven to me that we can easily share it, and all I gotta do is show them that. Come on, let's see if we can make it to the castle."

I smiled lightly and he lightly flickered his glittering wings. I certainly felt much safer with him around, and although I remained constantly worrying about the others' safety, the weight that had been pressed against my shoulder slipped off for the most part.

"If we stay behind cover and in the dark, I think we can slip into the castle quite easily." He mentioned as he led me along a field of bushes. "I don't think the changelings are patrolling outside of the castle. That'd be too suspicious, considering they've just replaced your friends."

"So, maneuvering in the castle would be the real challenge?" I asked.

"If every pony that lives in that castle was replaced, then yeah."

The changelings knew I escaped, so it was a no-brainer they'd consider me a threat if they spotted me inside the castle. This was certainly going to be a toughie.

"But…" He added. If there aren't many of you in the first place, that means there probably won't be that many changelings either. The castle is a huge place, so it shouldn't be that hard to make it into the library."

"It's worth a shot, I guess…" I uncertainly stated, the nerves inside me slightly trembling.

"If we keep quiet, we'll be fine."

Just as Thorax suggested that, there had been a loud and bright zap nearby as if somepony had just casted a spell. We quickly dove to cover underneath the bushes and turned all around to find the source of the event. It had been dead quiet until we heard discernable voices from a short distance. Thorax and I crawled and poked out just enough to get a clear view of the area these voices came from.

I saw a station wagon and two ponies right next to it. It was Starlight Glimmer and Trixie! I figured Starlight was taken, but Trixie too? Trixie was hardly a threat, but maybe she just had been taken along with Starlight Glimmer?

Nevertheless, the conversation they had with each other began to cast doubts in my mind. They were unnecessarily overwhelmed and panicky, nothing I'd expect from a changeling in disguise.

"Isn't that Starlight…?" Thorax whispered to me.

"It is, but how do we know they're not changelings?" I asked.

"Like I said before." He reminded. "Changelings act so much differently that the ponies they are pretending to be. If these ponies were changelings, I'd expect them to be at each other's throats than being all panicky. Besides, listen!" He pointed towards them and allowed me to listen to what they had been saying.

"Queen Chrysalis only said they took Luna and Celestia and obviously Twilight and the others... but maybe Cadence is still safe." Starlight told Trixie, causing for Thorax and me to exchange glances with each other. They had obviously found out about the changeling invasion, and their auras seemed to correlate with their dialogue. I don't know why Starlight and Trixie were back so early, but it seemed that they were the real deal. "Our best bet is to get to the Crystal Empire before the changelings do." At this point, Thorax stood up and began to remove himself from cover, alarming me. "That way we can—"

"There's no help coming from the Crystal Empire." He announced, immediately grabbing their attention as he approached them.

To prove they had actually been their real self, Trixie quickly backed away and shrieked out loudly at the sight of Thorax. Trixie had never actually met Thorax, so it wasn't surprising whatsoever that she'd flip out especially considering our current dilemma. Witnessing her proportional sharp cries for a brief few seconds, Starlight silenced them with a magical bubble. Afterwards, she turned towards Thorax.


"Yes." He answered.

"Your wings look... different." Starlight Glimmer noticed.

"I guess they do." He glanced over at them and waved them around.

Starlight was clearly ecstatic to see a familiar changeling she could trust, but every ounce of that expression was wiped off when a look of suspicion ran across her face. Her horn glowed intensely bright as she slowly approached Thorax in a menacing fashion. "How do I know you aren't some other changeling pretending to be Thorax?"

I figured it was my time to remove myself from cover in order to dispel the suspicion around Thorax.

"He's the real deal." I announced, stepping out of the bushes and towards Starlight.

"Athena!" Starlight lightly cried out in surprise. "I thought you had been taken along with everypony else."

"I managed to escape." I answered, which I realized sounded a little fishy seconds after.

"If you really are Athena, then I suppose you won't mind answering a question?" She furrowed her eyebrows seriously.

I followed her facial expression and replied with determination. "Shoot."

"When you were a little filly, what were you doing when you got your cutie mark?"

Hah. Nice try.

"Trick question." I immediately returned. "I only got my cutie mark several days ago, and I only got it because the Cutie Mark Crusaders helped me, including a friendly griffon named Gabby."

"Huh." Starlight slightly backed off, lowering the intensity of her horn. It was as if she was ready for that question to be answered wrong. "I guess you really are Athena. No one would expect a pony to get their cutie mark so late."

"Of course, I am." I proudly reinstated. "I'll answer any other question you want to throw at me, but for right now, the changeling here is really Thorax. We found each other at the Crystal Empire."

"That's right." Thorax agreed. "The ponies you're looking for to help were already taken. Cadence, Shining Armor, and Flurry Heart. Sunburst had told me to get help here, but Athena already told me that the changelings took the help we needed too."

Starlight reacted with worry, but each of our attention had been turned to the bubble she had created around Trixie. Inside, we noticed Trixie had still been flinging her hooves aimlessly and visibly screaming in a soundless void.

"Trixie. It's alright." Starlight explained. "Thorax is a reformed changeling. He doesn't want to feed off any of our love." Although Trixie seemed to have stopped screaming, she still anxiously kept her back to her cart in fear. "He's our friend, understand?" Trixie hesitantly nodded, allowing Starlight to pop the bubble she had been in.

"Hi. It's a pleasure to..." Thorax had attempted to introduce himself to Trixie, but she only cowered away.

"If Starlight says you're on our side, I believe her. But maybe just stay over there for now, okay?" She gestured with her hoof.

Thorax backed away with a hanging head, tempting me to give him a comforting hug. However, we needed to talk business about how we were going to come up with a plan.

"I thought you had been captured by the changelings too, Starlight!" I recalled my initial scare. "I was going to try to head over to your village, but then I saw you here in Ponyville. You weren't supposed to be back for another week, so I thought it was a changeling."

"No, it was me." Starlight explained. "I had come back early because…" She glanced over to Trixie for a brief moment. "…well…let's just say things didn't go so well in the village. When did all this happen?"

"Last night." I recalled. "Alex and I had been coming back to the castle when we were attacked by the queen herself. She and an army of changelings took him back to their hive, and it was because of him that they didn't touch me."

"I can't believe that happened while I was gone." Starlight worriedly looked towards the ground before lifting her head up back to me. "So, there's no pony else we can go to for help?"

Thorax and I exchanged glances with each other. "There's someone." I answered.

"Who?!" Starlight leaned her head in.

"Discord." I replied. "There's no way the changelings could have found him, and even if they did, they'd be sent to another dimension with his kind of magic. The problem is…we have no idea how to find him."

"Did I hear somepony call my name?"

A strange figure appeared on top of the station wagon Trixie had been backed up against, causing her to yelp and quickly jump aside.

"Discord!" I honestly felt ecstatic at the sight of him. "Where've you been?!"

"I was waiting for my scheduled tea time with Fluttershy today, but she wasn't there. So, I figured she was running late from possibly being with you-know-who . I left her a letter at her cottage telling her I'd come back later. And when I did, she was still missing. So, I took myself to the castle to look for her. I ended up finding her, but boy, let me tell you, she was in an awful mood. I swiftly returned home and now I'm here because I was bored. Plus, I wanted to see if Fluttershy was feeling any better before I happened to hear you ponies talking about me."

"That's nice and all, but how do we know that you're really you?" Starlight questioned, despite his lengthy and detailed explanation.

"Starlight, I don't think anyone besides Discord would know—"

Discord snapped his fingers with a rather offended scowl on his face. Flowers nearby unrooted themselves and began to dance all around. Most of all, the ground below us turned into soapy water, causing all of us to slip and fall except Thorax, who was able to use his wings to stay off the ground.

"Shall I continue?" Discord asked.

I shook my head. "You've got to help us, Discord!"

"And, pray tell, why would I want to do that?" He rested his cheek against his paw as he lazily looked back at us.

"Because Chrysalis and the changelings are back!" Starlight answered. "They've ponynapped all of the most powerful ponies in Equestria!"

"Meh." Discord turned his body around and laid his back on top of the wagon. "They can fix the problem on their own. After all, friendship is apparently the best kind of magic, right?" He merely glanced at us as he returned no sign of interest in regards to helping us correct the problem on hoof. "I don't feel like doing any work right now. Ask me again tomorrow and maybe I'll consider it if I'm bored."

"You want to know why Fluttershy was in such a bad mood today?" I asked, stepping up.

"Hm?" He turned his head towards me.

"Well, you see, um, SHE WAS TAKEN!" I expressed nearly irritably.

Everything around us went back to normal as he suddenly had a change of heart and approached us closely. "They took Fluttershy?" He returned in a hushed and angered tone.

"That's what I said, dummy!" I replied back.

"Where?" He answered in a menacing tone, the aura within his body quickly heating up. He was ready to cause some havoc.

"The Changeling Kingdom." Starlight stated. "With you on our side, we can—"

Discord snapped his fingers, immediately teleporting us to somewhere that was unknown, at least to me.

"Odd." Discord turned his head around and briefly searched under a rock. "I was trying to take us right to Fluttershy, but there is no Fluttershy."

We heard a soft whimper besides us, causing us to turn and notice Trixie pointing to something with a shaking hoof in the distance. "I think I have a pretty good idea where she might be..."

Across pillars of sharp and edgy rocks, what appeared to be a beehive stood tall at the center of a barren wasteland.

"I'd hoped never to see that place again." Thorax mentioned, shaking at the sight of it. "Now what?" He asked as he turned over among us.

We had gathered as much help as we could. Now, the biggest challenge to saving Equestria we each have faced so far stood right in front of us.

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