The Humans in Equestria Club

by billymorph

First published

With a over a hundred humans in Equestria and rising it’s Alexis’ job to keep them safe and sane. But with two worlds colliding she finds herself facing mad gods and queens to save her home.

Earth and Equestria collided and only the elements of harmony could save the day.

That was a month ago; now over a hundred former humans have to make the best of their new lives as ponies. Alexis Kingston was a twenty two year old telemarketer, and rather surprised to find herself a pegasus and the head of the Humans in Equestria Club. She never wanted to be a hero, just keeping the new ponies sane would be challenge enough, but with the barrier holding reality together leaking yet more humans on a daily basis, ancient evils and modern technology probing for weaknesses and the end of two worlds looming, she may have to be.

With thanks to Luna-tic Scientist, Lord of Dorkness and Thornwing for help with pre-reading.

Proudly part of Twilight's Library and Tag-a-long's Book Club :scootangel:


View Online

“Order. Order!” I rapped my hoof against the lectern, without any real affect on the babble of conversation. “Order!”

I sighed, took a deep breath, and flared my wings. “ORDER!” I roared, blowing over a pony in the front row; a deathly silence settled over Ponyville town hall.

“Thank you,” I said, in a far more normal tone, and glanced down at my notes. “Now, as I was saying, I’d like to call to order the third, bi-weekly, meeting of the Humans in Equestria Club.”


I dropped my head into my hooves, suppressing a groan. Two sentences before an interruption. Two bloody sentences. “How can you be objecting, Star Charge?” I demanded, rounding on the offending unicorn. “We haven’t even started yet!”

The black and silver dappled pony puffed himself up and stepped forwards. “I object to our name,” he declared. “After all, none of us are human now, are we?” He gestured at the assembled menagerie.

Balancing on my hind legs I rubbed my temple. I could feel a headache coming on and we were less than sixty seconds into the meeting, a new personal record for our young society, though not unexpected as dealing with the Club for more than half an hour usually made me go running to Zecora's for a case of willow bark. Star Charge did have a point, though I was loathe to admit it; there was, of course, not a single human among the audience. However, with seven gryphons, five dragons of various sizes, two cows, a deer, a donkey, a ‘pegacorn’ (which Twilight claimed it wasn’t a thing) and three changelings in the audience along with over a hundred ponies of various ilks, it was rather hard to come up with a term for our little support group without resorting to ‘those weirdos’.

“Star Charge, we have been over this; unless you come up with some alternative, please, just let it die.”

It was too much to hope for that the unicorn would just shut up. “In fact I have got a name for us, The New-”

I jabbed a hoof at him. “If you say ‘foals’ I am going to break that horn off and-” I caught myself before I said something I’d regret, and Star Charge seized the moment’s silence.

“Chances,” he completed, looking smug.

“Great, so instead of proclaiming we’re a bunch of aliens we just sound like a new age cult,” I snapped. “Motion to change our name. Ayes?”

A small group of ponies near the front of the hall raised their hooves.


A few wickers sounded as some of the newer ponies failed to resist the pun, but far more raised a hoof in objection.

“Nays carry it; we keep our name.” I glanced down at my notes, stonewalling Star Charge to stop him raising some other frivolous item. “Right, well I guess I’d better get back onto the agenda. First, I’d like to welcome our newest members: ‘Lucky Drop’, ‘Moon Song’, ‘Mathew Win’, ‘Tia Brown’, ‘Aden Hunly’, ‘Lucky Gem’, ‘Yi Zhong’ and ‘Sky Chaser’. As you have probably noticed it’s a short list this time around.”

I glanced up, a couple of very sheepish ponies were the center of attention but many of the older members were keeping a closer eye on me. There had been more than a few rumors about this next announcement.

“The reason the list is so short is because Twilight Sparkle believes that the barrier is recovering somewhat. While there are still humans finding their way through the cracks, it looks like the flood is over for now.” There was a couple of loud mutters from the crowd. “Yes, I understand some of you are quite disappointed by this, but on the plus side we’re no longer facing an interdimensional catastrophe.” I put on my best election-winning smile. “You win some and you lose some.”

The grumblings grew louder. It was fortunate that I’d never run for election. I stayed in power by dint of no one else being stupid enough to take the job.

“When are we going home?” somepony, or possibly some gryphon, demanded at the top of their voice.

I sighed. “As I’ve said every time people ask. We are no closer to finding a way home. We are no closer to having human bodies. We are certainly no closer to going home as humans, and even if we could, it would probably take out Europe with the backlash.” I took a steadying breath. There were more than a few angry faces out there, but I was of the school that said it was best to rip a plaster off, not tug at it. “I’m sorry people. Sometimes there just isn’t a magic answer.”

It was somewhat dishonest to say that with wings on my back, but seven weeks in the real version of Equestria had rather destroyed the illusion that a wave of a wand, or horn, could fix everything.

“Right. Well, with that utter let down out of the way, let’s get on with things.” I glanced at my notes. “I’ll be giving the floor to our surprise guest speaker in just a few minutes, but I do have a few quick announcements to make. First, I’m sure a lot of you have noticed Ponyville is suffering from a bit of a housing shortage right now.” That was the understatement of the century; Ponyville had not been the largest of towns before the sudden influx of ex-humans, and a hundred and forty eight new ‘ponies’ taking up residence had filled the few free houses to bursting. “We have a list in the main offices of everyone who needs a place to live, and with the weather closing in we really need to find these ponies homes. Anyone who’s got a free room, or even just a sofa, please lend a hoof as the new boarding house won’t be ready for a month still.”

The response was less than enthusiastic, but then I’d been beating the housing drum every meeting. It didn’t matter than we were in the magical land of Equestria; exposure could still kill. Not that everyone seemed to realise that; convincing some of the old hands to give up an inch of their nice cosy cottages was like pulling teeth.

“On a related lighter note, Applejack informs me that, and I quote.” I lifted up a card and cleared my throat, before dropping into a butchered southern accent. “‘The next one of those feathered varmints I find in one of my trees is getting bucked so hard they’ll land in Appleloosa.’ Seriously guys, this is her business, I know it’s a running gag on the show but it’s getting beyond a joke.”

I narrowed my eyes as I read the next item. “And the same goes for those of you messing with Cutie Mark Crusaders. I get that a lot of you find them adorable.” Weapons grade adorable. “But no one wants to see six fully grown stallions crowding around three little girls trying to tell them what to do with their lives. Seriously. It’s creepy as buck and you need to stop. Just leave them alone, and for god’s sake stop giving them access to power tools.”

Fixing a few of the worse offenders with a glare I continued. “Now, with those out of the way, some good news for once. The royal princess have managed to kick some bureaucratic plot, so within the week the first stipends should be coming through.” A cheer rippled through the crowd and I held up my forehooves for silence. “Unfortunately, the gears are still grinding slow and so only official Equestria residents are getting any bits for now.” The excited muttering went deathly silent in an instant. Less than fifty members of the club were official residents and most of those were old hands. “Yeah, I know it’s less than perfect, but the princesses are working on things. Princess Twilight is still allowing us to dip into her emergency fund in the meantime so no one’s going to starve. For those who are entitled to aid -” I fixed the crowd with a glare. “- and I mean entitled right now. Come round the office in the next few days and we’ll get you your bits.”

I checked my notes again. There were a few other minor issues, but I had a good enough read on the crowd to know when to cut my losses. There was only so much bad news a pony, or otherwise, could take in one sitting without handing out the pitchforks, and too many of the Club's members could breathe fire for my liking.

“I’d also like to say that, thanks to a few new graduates volunteering their time, we now have a half dozen slots for tutoring in the basics of tribal magic. The sign-up sheet is posted in the office and-” There was a whip-crack and a dozen pegasi leapt from standing into the air and shot out of the room. “-it’s first come first served.” I shook my head, I could not tell you why a bunch of formerly land bound primates were so obsessed with learning to fly, only that I was just as guilty. “Now it’s time for me to give over the stage to someone far more entertaining than me. Please put what remains of your hands together for the one, the only, Pinkie Pie!”

A room full of ponies stamping their forehooves made a thunderous noise and a prepared spotlight came on, focusing on a side door. Which stayed shut. The applause built to a crescendo for a moment, but then began to fade away, replaced by anxious whispers and the occasional nervous cough.

“Pinkie, that was your cue!” I called out, a nervous smile on my face. I’d never known Pinkie to miss an intro. I tapped a hoof on the lectern for a moment, frowning.


I glanced down. There, curled into the tiny gap behind the lectern, was a very compacted Pinkie Pie with a huge grin on her face. I managed to keep my expression deadpan. It had been a surprise to find out that Pinkie’s love/hate relationship with the laws of physics was a real thing. It had not stopped surprising me, either, but at least I’d got my startle response down to ruffled feathers from, quite literally, hitting the roof.

“Excuse me,” I sighed. Reaching down I grabbed her by the mane and hoisted the pony into few. “Theonetheonly Pinkie Pie!” I declared.

“Hi everypony!” she exclaimed, to rapturous applause. “Hi everygryph,” she continued, as I slunk away to take my place at the front of the crowd. “Hi everydragon.” She looked straight up into the rafters. “Hi changelings.” There was a alien clicking from the deepest shadows. I’d been wondering where our changeling contingent had gotten to. “And a big Pinkie Pie hi to everyone else,” she concluded.

“So, Alex asked me to do a big looong piece about new friends and Pinkie Promises. But that sounded boring so I just decided to do a song. Let’s sing up and make a grumpy pegasus smile, smile, smile!”

I rolled my eyes. It was a good job I hadn’t bothered to actually plan out Pinkie Pie’s performance. Some of us were capable of learning from other’s mistakes. An uptempo beat began from somewhere and I allowed my mind to wander as Pinkie Pie’s own brand of healing magic began to wash over the crowd. It was a silly song, but the crowd were a bunch of ex-humans in a world where magic made the sun rise, so I just let myself go with the flow.

A few musical numbers later the meeting dissolved into its usual state of meet and greet. The doors to Ponyville had been thrown open and the rush of citizens to fight the club members for the free cake had nicely mingled the crowd. It would have been pleasant to just sit back and enjoy the party, but I had duties that went beyond padding my flanks. Actually scratch that, I was quite capable of multitasking and eating cake while circulating, but the de facto leader of the club wandering around stuffing her face would have left a less than good impression.

Instead of digging in I stuck to my rounds: made sure the changelings weren’t being harassed or vice versa, talked to the dragons to make sure they weren’t having too much trouble with the locals and were finding enough gems, made sure that our newest members were about and talking to other ponies, made sure our more reclusive members were doing something other than decorating the walls and made sure to note which of our even more reclusive members hadn’t shown up. That list was quite short, thankfully, but there were still a dozen doors to knock on later, and I’d have to knock on those doors. Last time we’d missed those kind of warning signs there was an... incident.

On occasion I’d catch a flash of cottoncandy pink through the crowd as Pinkie Pie did much the same thing. How she kept up the energy to smile throughout I’ll never know, especially as she was still thirty ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ parties in the hole at last count. Though I supposed she wasn’t also having to act as a walking complaints box.

“It’s the third time,” Amelia growled, snorting for emphasis. “It’s not a problem we can just ignore.”

I fought down the urge to laugh. A creamy yellow stallion trying to look severe was going to be making me laugh for years, no matter what else I got used to in Equestria. “Amelia, I understand but really, what do you want me to do about it?”

“Something,” he snapped. “If Applejack decides to follow suit we’re going to have a lot of hungry ponies on our hands.”

‘On my hands,’ I wanted to correct, because as far as I could tell Amelia didn’t do much but spend his time at the market, but that wasn’t the diplomatic thing to say. “Both Carrot Top and Applejack are free citizens and, I checked, Equestria is a free market economy. There is literally nothing we can do beyond asking nicely.”

Amelia chuffed, blowing a strand of hair out of his eyes, and fixed me with a withering stare. “I’m sure asking nicely we be of great help when we’re starving to death.” He about-faced and made his way back through the crowd.

I sighed. Okay, well there was another story of my incompetence to add to the pot. I would have to up ‘asking nicely’ to ‘strong words’ when I got round to dealing with the pair. Between the two of them, Applejack and Carrot Top fed maybe forty percent of the entire village, and the rest of the farmers tended to follow suit when it came to prices. The influx of new ponies had driven food prices up and up and, while it hadn’t yet reached the point where we were struggling to feed anyone, I’d have to play my cards right to make sure it stayed that way.

Shaking my head I turned to find myself muzzle to muzzle with a particularly enthusiastic russet pegasus called Crystal Cog. I’d like to say I kept all four hooves on the ground, but instead I had to bring myself in to land in front of the sniggering colt.

“Heya Alex, wings twitchy?” he asked, trying to keep the huge smile off his face and failing.

“You know, for some reason they are,” I growled. Crystal Cog was irrepressible at the best of times, despite my best efforts, but was also one of the smartest ponies in the club. By some quirk, or just because the universe thought it would be funny, a seventy six year old retired electrician had ended up in the body of an adolescent pegasus. If it had had been a cruel joke, it had fallen flat; the colt gave Pinkie Pie and run for her money in smiles per day.

“Well, before you flutter along, I wanted a word about the telegraph.”

I cocked my head. “Yeah?” This was either going to end very well or very badly.

“See, we’ve got in working on the test bed, but we’re having some trouble getting the bits together for a full scale test,” he explained, bobbing his head as the words came out in an enthused rush. “Ponies seem a bit shy of investing in a company that’s only been running for two fortnights for some reason. I was wondering whether you could get a word in edgeways about us at your next royal visit.”

“You want royal patronage?” I asked, struggling to believe my ears. That was going to fly like a plucked pegasus.

“I wouldn’t say no,” he said, with a cheeky grin. “But actually I was thinking the guard might be interested in an emergency hotline between Ponyville and Canterlot that didn’t require a pair of trained unicorns to make it work.”

I frowned. Actually that wasn’t a bad sell. I had no idea whether the guard had the kind of money to be investing in experimental technology made by a bunch of former monkeys, but it was worth a shot. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do, no promises though.”

“Awesome! Oh, and you need to visit The Barn sometime, we’ve got lots of cool toys to show you.”

“I’ll try,” I told him, forcing a smile. I was not going to make a boys and their toys comment.

“See you tomorrow then.” Cog leapt into the air and took wing.

I shook my head. I’m not kidding, there’s something in the pegasi brain that makes them just love to fly.

Furling my own wings a little tighter I cast my gaze over the party. Things seemed to be winding down about on schedule, the snacks had run out a while ago and that generally would give the hint that the party might be ending soon, and there weren’t any major incidents brewing. Pinkie didn’t have her cannon out, no one was poking a dragon with a stick, Yi Zhong was being cornered by Star Charge and his posse...

I hurried over.

“-I’m sure that’s great,” Yi Zhong said, trying to look cheery while backing away slowly.

“Star Charge!” I snapped, leaping between the two. “What did I say about politizing the newbies?”

Star Charge narrowed his eyes, stepping forwards, lowering his stance. “Please Alex, we’re just trying to explain things.”

“Yeah, you lost that right last time you reduced someone to tears,” I snarled, my wings began to creep open. “Give her at least a week to find her-” I glanced over my shoulder at the cowering earth pony. “-hooves.”

“She hasn’t even heard of the show,” Star Charge pointed out, trying to keep the menace out of his voice.

“One,” I snarled, spreading my wings wide. “Week! Got it?”

Star Charge sighed, and turned away. “You can’t keep playing tin god forever Alex,” he snapped, then turned up his nose and left, followed by his small band of groupies.

I let out a deep breath and found Yi Zhong and I in the middle of a large circle of staring eyes. “Okay, nothing to see here people,” I said, furling my wings yet again. “Just talk among yourselves.”

That at least seemed to break the ice, though I had the uncomfortable feeling they were just talking about me. “You alright?” I asked Yi Zhong.

The grey earth pony let out a sad whicker. “Yes. I think so. What did they want? They were all speaking so fast.” Her lips didn’t quite sync up to the sound she made, an unfortunate side effect of Twilight’s translation spell. Quite how one could translate Mandarin to English without understanding Mandarin had not been explained to my satisfaction, but nor had many things I just accepted were working and run with.

“Oh, he was just trying to tell you that you’ve fallen into a utopia,” I replied, was as nonchalant a shrug as I could manage. I left out the undertones to not rock the boat, Star Charge could deliver his own veiled threats.

“Right... have I?”

Another shrug. “I consider that to be a personal decision. Now how goes the introductions?”

“Well I...” The poor girl shuffled her hooves. “Umm, you see...” I waited for a beat for her to gather her courage. “I’m not a big fan of horses,” she whispered at last.

The universe always did have a strange sense of humor. I put a wing over the pony’s back in a reasonable approximation of a hug. “It’s a good job we’re ponies then.” If anything that made the poor girl’s look of horror worse. “If you’d like, you could consider us weird, quadrupedal aliens with big scary eyes.”

Yi Zhong mouth perked up at the edges, it wasn’t quite a smile but a reasonable attempt. “That actually does help.”

“Good, now let’s get you talking to some people.” I glanced around the room for a familiar face or two. “How do you feel about machines?”


Right, well that was all The Barn ponies out of the window then. “Art?”

“I studied sculpture, actually.” Yi Zhong hung her head.

“Hmm...” I ran a hoof over my chin. “Well I don’t think there’s a sculptor in town, but there’s definitely some stonewrights.”

“Great,” she sighed, staring at her hooves. “Just tell me how to hold a chisel.”

I snorted. “They have magic here. A bit of practice and you’ll be kicking masterpieces into shape in no time.” Yi Zhong cocked a brow at me. “I’m not kidding. There are ponies that can buck trees and get them to drop all their fruit; you’ll be able to carve just fine, I promise.”

She looked back down at her hooves. “I guess that does sound nice.”

“Right, well let’s introduce you to some earth ponies and pick their brains.” I glanced around for any rock related cutie marks. “Any ideas what you’d like your first piece to be?”

“I hadn’t even figured that out back home.”

I shrugged. “Well they’ve never heard of the Venus de Milo here. Maybe you can make that.”

At long last, Yi Zhong smiled.

It made the whole day worthwhile.

Chapter 1: Tornado Season

View Online

I find myself on the wing in most of my dreams. I can't help it, there’s something in the pegasi brain that just gets up and says ‘flying, now that’s a good idea’. You get an itch between your shoulder blades that can’t be scratched, even if like me, you spend most of the day with all four feet on the ground. I was as guilty of dreams of flight as the next pony, but that night I did not find myself in the air, instead I dreamt of humans.

A succession of unfamiliar faces passed by my little booth. Each would shuffle in and hand me a slip of paper covered in incomprehensible text; then I’d pick from one of the many stamps and slam it down. The blow would transform the human into something new, generally a pony, sometimes a gryphon, occasionally even stranger beasts.

“An odd dream,” a presence behind my shoulder observed, after a dozen or so new ponies were made. I didn’t question the fact something was looking over my shoulder; it seemed to be part of the natural order. In fact, I couldn’t even turn to face it, though I had the impression of something dark and far larger than a mortal pony.

Another unrecognisable girl passed before me and I reached for an unfamiliar handle. For a moment the name, Rose, triggered a memory, but I ignored it and slammed the stamp down. A roar of green fire consumed the girl, leaving a dark insect in her place. A terrifying, alicorn-tall creature with a pockmarked carapace and ember red eyes.

“What!” the presence roared.

I rounded on it and-

-hit the low ceiling of my loft with a bang.

I fell back into bed, clutching my head and whimpering. While sleepwalking was not a thing pegasi had an equivalent of, due to natural selection, the number of interesting ways a flying species could fall out of bed was remarkable. I also appreciated their variety of curses and I swore like a sailor till I stopped seeing stars.

“Urgh, got to get a cloud house,” I groaned, shaking my head. Though come to think of it, I had no idea whether they had solid ceilings either. Groaning I tried to remember my dream but it faded away into the aether, no matter how hard I tried to grasp it. For some reason I felt it had been important, but the why escaped me. My wool gathering was cut short as I heard the water running in the bathroom.

“Oh, god damn it Swiftwing,” I snapped. Forget the cloud house, I needed to find a better place to live. Period.

The cubbyhole I called home was not large; a small bed and writing desk were squeezed under the eaves, a ratty chair sat in the far corner and a series of cupboards and a hotplate masquerading as a kitchenette took up the rest of the floorspace. There was only one door, which lead to a shared bathroom, a single window glowing with dawn light and, beyond a pair of lace curtains and a small plastic pony figurine on the desk, there was not a whit of decoration. At some point I would have to fix that lack, but I rarely spent time in the loft beyond eating and sleeping.

The sound of running water ceased and there was a hammering on the door. “Shower’s free Alex!” Swiftwing hollered.


Getting up with the dawn may have been second nature for most of Ponyville, but I hailed from a culture that considered nine o’clock to be getting into work early. The situation was not made easier by Swiftwing’s campaign to use up all the hot water every morning, though that was more a result of our hot water heater being a quarter century out of date than the mare’s love of long showers.

Biting the bullet I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. Ignoring the mirror, I gathered a little fragment of aether around myself to preserve body heat and began my morning shower. Just a few minutes later I’d had as much as I could stand and emerged, shivering and wishing like hell I was better at weather magic. It would have been very nice to just summon up a cloud filled with piping hot water, but that was way beyond my skills, or budget.

I found myself lost in thought, staring at the pegasus in the mirror. She was a petite thing, a very rounded face, a slim frame and large wings. Her coat, though dripping wet, was a light cream, pale but noticeably off-white, and her mane and tail were close cropped and a pencil grey. The only real colour on her were the brown and white speckles that dotted her wings and her yellow eyes. All in all I was very lucky no one had been able to come up with a good horse pun off the name Hedwig.

“It’s you Alex,” I told her, dropping into my morning mantra. “It’s still you. It was you yesterday. It will be you tomorrow. Get going and deal with it.”

My head hit the mirror with a soft thunk. “Just don’t bugger things up again,” I murmured, fighting down tears.

An hour later, dry, preened, fed, and with a book open in my lap I felt a damn sight better. It helped that the book was interesting enough to take my mind off of things, ‘The Elementary Guide to Pegasuses and Their Magics’ was not light reading by any means and made frequent references to concepts that I barely understood. However, it was by far a better tutor than most pegasi and their ‘now do it right’ attitude towards teaching.

“Hmm, so if I...” I raised a forehoof and pointed it towards the sky. Trying to focus on the aether I spread my wings and, with a lazy flap, summoned a small wisp of fog in the frog of my hoof. It vanished the moment my wings stilled, but my smile didn’t. I think deep down there’s a disappointed eleven-year old in everyone from England who didn’t get a letter from Hogwarts; not having fingers was a little high a price to pay for magic, but I wasn’t consulted on the matter.

I paused and frowned. Following that line of logic I also had an inner six year old who wanted a pony, and was really confused about the whole situation. It was best not to pursue that one.

The spellbook continued on it’s own convoluted explanation of aether manipulation, before the unicorn author seemed to get bored with a subject he couldn’t replicate and moved on to the minutiae of cloudwalking. Glancing at the sun, I figured it was about time I got to the office and put the book away and trotted over to the window. My little loft did not have a staircase; a couple years ago whole the terrace of houses had been bought out by a property development and the attics knocked through to form some extremely low rent housing. They were colloquially known as the Pegasi Lofts, as no other species could hope to use them. It was more due to lack of competition than my own drive that had landed me a bed.

Throwing open the window I perched on the sill and spread my wings and took a deep breath. Ponyville had many scents, fresh grass, flowers, horse; but if nothing else though it smelt of life, of growing things and fresh water. It was far from home, but comforting in it’s own way, and I caught my wings on the wind, inhaling a great gulp of aether that went fizzing through my veins. My feathers trembled as they readied themselves to take to the sky and I sighed, contentedly; there was nothing like pegasi instincts to clear the morning cobwebs.

I decided, for a change, to try out my new spell. Summoning a wisp of cloud beneath my hoof I pushed down on it; the bundle of fluff gave for a moment, before trying to push back against my hoof like elastic. Doing the same thing with all four hooves was a test of my concentration but I managed it and I found myself standing on thin air and magic, all be it still in my bedroom.

“And now, to walk to work,” I announced, with a barely suppressed giggle. I struggled and stumbled like a newborn foal as I tottered my way through the open sky. It was a stupid way to get around, I had to keep my wings pumping to maintain my hold on the clouds anyway and every so often the little patches would escape and cause me to drop a half meter before I could catch myself. It was still, however, walking on air.


I jumped a good three feet straight up as Swiftwing yelled in my ear, losing all coordination. For a moment I hung there in the sky as I tried to grab onto the aether, then dropped like a rock into the street below, hitting the ground face first.

“...ow.” I dragged myself to my hooves, shaking the dust of the road free of my coat. Swiftwing landed next to me, smirking.

“Good to see you’ve got the traditional pegasus crash landing down,” Swiftwing said, grinning. Swiftwing was a young mare, barely in her late teens by the human measure, with a turquoise coat and a neon green mane that she insisted wasn’t a dye job; though it was slowly staining our shared shower the colour of seaweed.

“Trust me, it was the first thing I learned,” I groused, shaking out my wings. “What was that for, anyway?”

Swiftwing bopped me on the nose. “Just messing with you. Though I’ll admit I’ve never seen a pegasus levitating before.”

I huffed, tossing my head. “Cloud walking on my own clouds,” I muttered as an explanation.

The aggravating pegasus cocked her head at me. Then, in a single smooth sweep of her wings brought a bed sized swathe of fog into existence beneath her. For a moment she poked at the cloud before dropping to her belly on it. Just as I was wondering if I was going to get an explanation she made a face and declared. “Nope. Don’t like it. Why not just use your wings?”

“I read in a book that pegasi could do it and wanted to try it out,” I admitted, shrugging. Swift rolled her eyes at me. “What?”

“You do know what they call a librarian in Cloudsdale, right?” she asked, smirking.

I recognised the set up to a joke when I heard it. “No, what do they call a librarian in Cloudsdale?” I replied, deadpan.

“Twilight Sparkle.” Swiftwing sniggered to herself, I cracked a smile, barely. “Anyway,” she continued, dismissing the cloud. “I’m headed to the field to deal with the newbies. Got anypony else joining us today?”

I checked my mental list. “Thankfully no. Got one new member two days ago but he was an earth pony. Shouldn’t be bothering you for at least a few months.”

Swiftwing laughed. “Okay, well when he finishes his flying machine let me know, otherwise I’ve got a flock of fledglings who don’t know their primaries from their alula waiting for me.”

I nodded. Swiftwing had been a godsend for many of the humans who’d found themselves with wings and not a clue how to use them. Despite sharing a bathroom I still hadn’t quite got the full story as to how the young weatherpony had ended up unemployed in the broken down loft eating nothing but last year’s hay. I had a suspicion that the local weather patrol was rather overstaffed, between sharing a small town with royalty and being run by a national hero. There always seemed to be a few young pegasi in from Cloudsdale hanging around Dash's office looking for an entry role. But in Swiftwing’s case, Rainbow Dash’s loss was the Club’s gain. I couldn’t speak for her cloud pushing, but Swiftwing was a great teacher... if a little dictatorial.

“Well have fun with it.” I allowed myself a smile. “For once it seems like I’ll have a quiet day.”

A boom split the sky and I covered my head with my wings as a thousand ‘Dash proof’ panes of glass rattled in their frames. Why do I give the universe straight lines like that?

“What the hay was that?” Swiftwing demanded, scanning the sky. A dark shape streaked across the sky, high above the clouds. It was a strange thing, an ugly angular collection of boxy shapes that had never before graced Equestria’s skies.

“That is a fighter jet,” I told her, sighing. The jet seemed to wobble, before going into a nasty flatspin. “A human flying machine.”

“Seems to be more of a falling machine.”

There was a glimmer as two small shapes were flung away from the jet as it continued to plummet towards Ponyville.

“Well, that’s my day ruined,” I concluded, groaning. And it had started so well. “We’re probably going to have at least one new pegasus for you by the afternoon.”

Swift put a wing around my shoulders. “Go do your hero thing, girl.”

I rolled my eyes, brushed her off and took to the air.

It was fairly easy to find the fallen jet, though it was a pleasant surprise to find it not in a thousand pieces but floating in Twilight’s magic. I came in for a gentle landing next to the alicorn who had her eyes screwed up in concentration as she lowered the jet to the ground in the center of Ponyville town square.

“Morning Alex,” she growled. The jet dropped the last six inches and hit the ground with a bang. She gasped for breath, her legs wobbling but stayed standing and I felt a chill run down my spine. Twilight’s sheer power was not something that was discussed much in Ponyville; a combination of factors such as denial and Twilight’s innate desire not to be the center of attention. But then she would go and do something like catch a twenty-five ton war machine and all of a sudden you remembered that the young alicorn was more than capable of demolishing an offending house.

“What is this?” she demanded, not looking away from the fighter.

“That would be Royal Air Force Tornado,” I sighed, glancing at the insignia. The canopy had been jettisoned, though there was no sign of the crew nor the ejector seats.

Twilight rubbed the bridge of her nose with a hoof. “It came through the barrier, didn’t it?”

“Yeah... sorry.”

“Argh! This will have thrown everything out of alignment,” Twilight snapped, cantering away. “It’s going to take all day to fix!”

I shook my head; at least when she was busy grumbling she wasn’t trying to give ‘welcome to Equestria’ speeches. A moment later Rainbow Dash swooped in low overhead and dropped a pair of ponies, clad in horrendously stretched flight suits, at my feet.

“Delivery for you, Alex,” she called, hovering next to the struggling pair as she scanned the sky. “I’m going to see if I can’t find those parachute chairs before they give somepony a new window.” And then in a multicoloured flash she was gone.

I rolled my eyes and extended a hoof to pull the helmet off the nearest pony. “Hi,” I said, fixing a comforting smile on my face. “Welcome to Equestria.”

The newest member of our club, a cobalt coloured unicorn stallion, stared at me for a moment. “Tony, why are there ponies?” he asked his compatriot.

“Because ponies are awesome,” his friend snapped, still struggling with his helmet which had fallen down over his eyes. There was a pop and it came free. “Oh...” He stared for a moment at Ponyville town square, most of the locals stared back. “I stand by my statement.”

“Urgh, you and your bloody ponies,” the unicorn growled, fighting his way free of the mangled flightsuit.

His friend, Tony apparently, just laughed. “You’re just mad because you have hooves.” He turned to me. “So, this is going to sound strange, but we’re not usually ponies.”

“Yeah, you’re usually bipedal apes,” I replied in a deadpan, pointed a wing at the large jet fighter parked behind me. “I don’t know what could have given it away.”

Tony frowned. “Oh... this isn’t the first time this has happened, is it?”

“It’s the hundred and fiftieth and hundred and fifty first by my count, and I doubt it will be the last,” I informed them, a bitter note clear in my voice. With such a large disturbance to the barrier, we’d get at least one more new pony today. It was hard not to be angry about that.

“I told you you shouldn’t try and do a ‘sonic rainboom’,” the unicorn grumbled.

It was getting harder not to be angry.

“Anyway,” I cut in. “My name is Alexis Kingston. To answer your next couple of questions. Yes, this is Equestria. Yes, like from the cartoon. Yes, are ponies now and yes that was Rainbow Dash that just saved you.”

Tony grinned. “Can I...”

“Her fan-club meets every thursday.”

He beamed. “Awesome. But actually I wondered if you’d give me a hand out of this?” His flight suit bulged as he tried to stretch his wings.

“Sorry.” I held up my forehooves. “No hands.” The pair groaned. “Still, I’ll do my best.”

Between the two of us, we managed to free Tony, or Flight Lieutenant Tony Acey, as his suit proclaimed. About three seconds after he had his hind legs free the sky blue pegasus hurled himself into the sky with an almighty leap. He hit the ground face first.

“My name’s Louis Hubble by the way,” the unicorn said, as his friend swore vociferously.

We shook hooves. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Why can’t I fly?” Tony demanded, struggling to get to his feet.

“Because Discord thought the adaptation spell would be funnier if it didn’t come with any muscle memory,” I growled. The smarmy bastard was owed a buck in the family jewels for that one, and for the dozen other ways he’d made my life a living hell.

“There’s really a chaos god running around?” Louis inquired, raising a brow.

“I wouldn’t say he’s doing anything as predictable as running, but yes.” I surveyed the pair. Tony had finally found his feet, but his hooves were all over the place and he looked as if he were trying to strike an exotic pose. Louis was far more composed, with his forehooves placed neatly on the ground before him as he sat on his haunches, watching everything with a quiet intensity. “Now, speaking of which. I’m going to have to teach you to walk.”

“Walk?” Tony interjected, jabbing a hoof a at me. “Not fly?”

I rolled my eyes. “Tell you what, if you can get to the town hall before me, I’ll teach you to fly right now.”

“You’re on!”

Tony made it all of three steps before tripping over his own legs and ending up face down in the dirt... again. I didn’t even bother to move.

“He’s never heard the phrase, ‘walk before you can run’, then?” I asked Louis, who had long suffering expression on his face.

“He’ll be jumping off buildings by tomorrow.”

Tony scrambled back onto his hooves and rounded on his ‘friend’ but whatever he was going to say was lost as a small herd of ponies stampeded into the square, lead by fluttering Crystal Cog. The Barn had arrived. A crazy mix of unicorns, pegasi, earth ponies and a dragon or two, the Barn was, as far as I could tell, made up of all the humans who couldn’t bare the thought of living in a world without the internet. As such they had an obsession with technology and were attempting to rebuild as much technology as possible. I hadn’t known them to have any great success, the laws of reality seemed too different in Equestria for electronics to work.

The Barn ponies looked rather like their collective Birthday, Christmas and Hearths Warming presents’ had come early and swarmed the downed aircraft. I couldn’t blame them for their enthusiasm, no doubt Crystal Cog would be regaling anypony in earshot as to how this was the chance of a lifetime to study human technology in Equestria.

“Hey!” Tony roared, trying and failing to hurry after them. “Get your hooves off that! That’s Air Force property.”

I put a hoof on his shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’ll stop them doing anything serious to it,” I assured him.

“That’s not the point. How the hell am I going to explain to my CO getting hoof prints all over the wings?”

My grip tightened. Ah yes, there was a critical detail I may have missed in the introduction.

“That... not going to be much of an issue.”

“Urgh, well I guess I wasn’t going to be able to explain crossing dimensions anyway,” Tony continued, the subtext flying clean over his head. “Still, if it’s all the same to you I’d rather they got off my baby before they hurt-”

Louis interrupted Tony’s rant. “There’s a way home, right Alex?”

“...let’s get you to the office,” I said, after a long pause. “There’s a lot I have to explain.”

To call the Club headquarters ‘offices’ was a rather grandiose term for a small bedsit conversion perched two floors above the Quills and Sofas store. The owners, Mr Davenport and his wife, Ida Down, had been very generous and allowed us to rent their second apartment for a song, and we’d got the song from Pinkie. As every bit saved was a meal on somepony’s plate we were very grateful for the assistance, even if it did mean I had to teach the two newest Club members how to deal with stairs, in addition to walking.

“Three one, four two,” I called, as they struggled to keep their gait steady. “Three one, four two. Three one, four two. And watch the final step... There.”

The pegasus and unicorn came to a halt at the top of the stairs. Tony with his wings half extended for stability.

“Why do ponies have stairs again?” he demanded.

I grinned. “Just wait till you try a ladder.”

The office itself was three rooms, a tiny kitchenette, three desks crammed into a front room and my office/storeroom in the rear. The only one of our regular employees present was Lyra; the mint green unicorn sat behind her desk sipping from a comically oversized coffee mug as she went through a stack of paperwork. A large number of printed signs adorned her desk, from ‘bureaucrat at “work”’ to ‘do not feed the pony’ and ‘do not ask me about hands’.

“Is that-” Tony began, staring at Lyra who, without looking up, tapped the hands sign.

“Don’t trust the fanon,” I told him. “Now, if you’ll follow me we can talk in privacy. Still need a beat?”

“I think I have it now,” Louis said, shrugging. The pair followed me into my cubby hole of an office, stumbling on occasion, but both stayed on their hooves. It was my experience that, once new ponies started getting into the rhythm of a four footed walk they were able to get around okay, though it would be a few days before they got into trotting, let alone cantering.

My desk, like much of my life, was decorated more by detritus than any personal effects. Since last night I’d gained a dozen folders in my inbox and somepony, no names, Lyra, had been through the file cabinets and left half their contents over the floor. I pulled a couple of cushioned stools out from under the desk for the pair of pilots to sit on and took up residence in my own lumpy chair.

“Right,” I began, once they were seated. “So, this is going to be a long explanation. First of all, how much were you guys into the show?”

“I dabbled,” Louis explained, sighing. “Hard not to when you’re paired up with a, ‘brony for life’, I think you said?”

“Yep, big fan,” Tony agreed, grin spread wide across his face. “Started watching right at the beginning and never looked back. Had my own OC and everything.”

“We dodged having ‘Dog and Pony’ as our call sign by this much,” Louis added, holding up a hoof. He frowned as he realised that he no longer had fingers to hold apart.

“Okay, well in that case I can skip the setting stuff,” I continued, pulling leaflets out of my desk. “The short version is that, about eight and a half weeks ago a human known as Taylor found a pair of Rainbow Dash themed goggles at a yard sale and, after sleeping with them on, woke up on a cloud just outside of Ponyville. As you can probably guess, a flightless pegasus claiming to be a human turning up caused a bit of a stir, but eight hours later another new pony turned up halfway into the Everfree. She’d zoned out while on a nature walk listening to a special mix of the show’s soundtrack and managed to wander into another world.”

“Huh, wish I’d heard about that one sooner,” Tony muttered. I shot him a nasty look and continued.

“Anyway, the mane six end up chasing their tails for two weeks while three new ponies a day arrived in town in various states of confusion until they figure out it was all Discord’s fault.” The pair winced. “Yeah, turns out the Q wannabe decided he didn’t want to just rule over one universe but two, so set up this long over complicated scheme to crash our realities together and a thousand years later-” Because it is always a thousand years. “-we humans turned ponies represent the leading edge of this catastrophe.”

There was a moment’s stunned silence. “But Discord reformed,” Tony pointed out.

“Yeah, but it’s like uncrashing the Titanic, or at least that’s what I’m told. The magibabble goes way over my head. But with his ‘help’, Twilight was able to set up a barrier that dropped the flood of humans down to a trickle so we’re surviving. As long as there aren’t too many crossings-” I fixed Tony with a pointed glare. “-or too large a disturbance to the barrier. Then we should be fine and there will be no interuniversal catastrophe.”

Tony shook his head. “Huh, well I guess that’s why you want to keep the plane.”

I failed to keep the sorrow off of my face.

“What?” he demanded.

“Alex hasn’t said anything about us getting home,” Louis explained, after a moment.

I hung my head. I hated this part. “We do not have the ability to send you home at this time,” I said, in a very small voice.

“You’re kidding. Tell me you are kidding,” Tony demanded. “You just told me Twilight is holding two fucking universes apart! She can’t open a hole for two people to slip though?”

“Not without letting four more in,” I snapped, glaring back. “And even then it isn’t that simple. In case you haven’t noticed, you’re not exactly a human right now.”

“So? In the show Twilight can turn ponies into tiny sprites. Just make with the magic.”

Tony was beginning to get on my nerves. “First, that’s a temporary transformation and a completely different school from the metamorphosis that you’re after. Second, the Princes is not your personal wish granting machine. And third, we can’t transform ponies back into humans.”

“There’s a magic mirror that does just that!”

“No there is not!” I roared, slamming my hooves on the desk. Tony tried to rise but ended up in a tangled heap on the floor. There was a good chance that alone was why he didn’t take a swing at me.

I took a steadying breath. “The mirror just makes you look like a human. It doesn’t change your biology, and nor does it provide access to Earth.” I waved a hoof. “It’s like... a humanized mirror of Equestria, not home. If you went home to Earth right now you’d be burned by the oxygen as you suffocate to death because there’s not any aether to breathe.” Shaking my head I continued. “Just, please, trust me when I say we’ve been looking for a way back, but there isn’t one and nor is there anything on the horizon.”

Tony finally managed to get back onto his stool, a task made harder by the evil eye he kept fixed on me throughout the process. Louis just sat, very calmly, not even moving his ears as he stared into the middle distance.

“I’m sorry,” I added. Pointlessly.

Tony glanced at his wingmate, and sighed. “There’s really no way back?”

I shook my head.

“Welcome to Equestria,” I repeated, bitterly.

“This is a lot to process,” Louis admitted at length.

“Yeah, I’m trying to find an easier way to break it to people,” I sighed. “But it’s better than letting you wander around thinking this is some grand adventure and you’ll be home by the end of the week. That’s just cruel.”

“I don’t know, I wouldn’t have minded,” Tony muttered, glaring at the grain of my desk.

“There are some pluses,” I continued, spreading my wings. “You can be flying by the end of the week if you work at it, and I’m given to understand magic is a fascinating subject.”

“But it’s not home,” Louis completed, hanging his head.

“Look, Alex. I’d love to learn to fly,” Tony interjected. “But I really can’t stay here. I have a wife back home and she’ll be worried sick.”

I just shook my head. "I'm sorry."

Tony leant forwards, his wings creeping outwards as he spoke in a frantic babble. "I get that, but I'm already going to be late after the debrief and Mary is never going to believe why. She already thinks that the pony thing is silly, but as long as we can get back soon, I can be there before she gets a call about us being MIA.”

There was nothing more I could say. I had no power to stop that call.

“Come on Alex, work with me here. There’s got to be some way we can fix this. Some forgotten spell, a deal with Discord, that’s how these things work in the show right? Otherwise we’re going to be trapped here and if they don’t know what happened back home they’ll just think we crashed somewhere and they never- and they never... Oh God...”

Louis put a hoof over his friend’s shoulder as the pegasus slumped, wrapping his wings over his face.

Tony began to sob.

I took a deep breath, pulled myself off the chair and went round the desk to put a wing over the grieving pegasus. It gets us all in the end. That moment of realisation that, despite the breath in our lungs, for all intents and purposes crossing over to Equestria was a death sentence. No one would ever know that you were trapped on the other side of the mirror; they’d just assume you’d been lost in some silly accident, or met some grizzly fate. Everyone you’d ever know, ever loved, ever been angry or upset at, they were gone. And you’d never be able to get back to them.

There were a lucky few in Equestria who’d arrived with family; more who had snagged a friend or two for the ride, but in there wasn’t a pony among us who couldn’t describe that soul sucking loss that came from never going home again. That’s why I just sat there next to Tony, as his equine body was wracked with sobs, acting as a rock in the current; even as my tail went numb and he matted my coat with briny tears.

It was a half an hour later when Tony finally slumped to the ground, spreading his wings to push us off.

“So now what?” he grumbled.

I shared a look with Louis, who looked back with weary eyes. “Nothing. Or anything if you want to look at it that way. The Club will make sure you stay on your feet long enough to find what you want to do with your life, and that can be anything. You’re blank flanks and there’s a whole world of opportunities out there. Today though, we’ll sort you out with a place to live and citizenship; you can then read a couple of our primers and just take some time to not do anything.” I looked over at Tony, who didn’t raise his head to meet my eye. “Take all the time you need to grieve.”

“You’ve done this a lot, haven’t you?” Louis asked, as I returned to my perch behind my desk. I didn’t sigh as I sank into the chair, but it was by force of will; my arse didn’t thank me for sitting on a cold wooden floor for anything over a few minutes.

“Seventy three times and counting,” I replied, forcing a grin. I slipped ‘So you’re a Stallion Now’, ‘One Hundred and One Things Not to Say to Rainbow Dash’ and ‘The Bronies’ Guide to Equestria’ across the desk. “Now, you’ll want to at least flick through The Guide. Hasbro got a lot of things right, but there’s some fairly major differences and this’ll stop you saying anything wildly offensive.” Or you know, just yelling like an idiot when you learned that Princess Celestia had an official consort, like me. “I’ll leave you guys to talk for a little while, then Lyra will sort you out with somewhere to camp when you’re ready.”

I trotted toward the door.

“Thanks for all this, Alex,” Louis said, smiling as I past.

“It’s my job,” I replied with a shrugged. “Oh, and when it hit’s you. The Club will be there for you.”

Louis blinked, looking confused as I excused myself from the office. He’d understand soon enough, Tony might have realised things first but they were both in the same boat when it came to grief. Even me.

The door closed with a dull thud.

“Coffee?” Lyra interjected, banishing my grim thought by levitating the giant mug in my general direction.

I grimaced. “Urgh, how much of that is backwash?”

“...I’ve been nursing it for about an hour now,” she admitted, gazing into the dark liquid.

“Later then.” Lyra was an unceasingly generous pony, but for all that we loved her, she wasn’t always so hot on thinking through her gestures before hand. I sighed. “How goes the paperwork?”

Lyra shook her head. “Urgh, don’t ask. We’re out of emergency citizenship forms again.”

“What?” I exclaimed, my wings flicked out, almost upsetting a lamp. “We... oh right, a hundred fifty one members.” Back in saner times, Equestria delivered emergency citizenships only under very unusual circumstances, Princess Luna was emergency citizen number twenty nine and Discord was number thirty one. My number was fifty eight, and in a month or two we’d be into our second century.

“Right, I’ll go talk to Twilight then.” I repressed a shudder. “Wish me luck.”

It surprised many of our new arrivals that Equestria, despite being a magical land ruled by an immortal diarchy, ran more due to bureaucracy than anything more sane like magic or friendship. It made a certain amount of sense when you turned your head and squinted, I’ll admit; an immortal and unopposable (by mere ponies at least) ruler rather forestalled anything like revolts and was more than capable of keeping any noble factions in check. As such, Celestia had never had to set up anything like a parliament and instead the wheels of government were made up of career bureaucrats that, somewhat mindlessly, translated the will of the Princesses into actual action.

If you weren’t one of the Princesses you tended to be shit out of luck when trying to get your hands on anything out of the norm, and our little incursion of humans into Equestria was so far out of the norm there was talk of setting up an entire department just to deal with us. At some point in the future I was going to be asked to join that department and then I’d run away screaming, but that was a problem for future Alex to solve. And luckily for all the Club members, we just so happened to have a secret weapon to fight the bureaucracy, the newly crowned Princess Twilight Sparkle.

A short while later I alighted on the balcony of the Rainbow castle with a weary sigh.

“Who?” the challenge came, catching me off guard.

“Oh!” I stepped through the gap in the doors into an anteroom. A tawny owl regarded me impassively from it’s perch. “I didn’t see you there, Owlowiscious. I’m here to see Twilight.”


I had a feeling I knew where this was going.

“You know, yay high, wings, horn, surprisingly purple. Could you tell her Alex is here to see her?”


“...Me. Alex. That weird pegasus that hangs around with all the ex-humans.” I shook my head. “Oh this is just too ridiculous. Where’s Spike?”


I rolled my eyes and trotted deeper into the room. “Never mind, I’ll find Twilight myself... Let’s see, she’s probably in the lab. I think that’s on floor-”


I froze, then rounded on the owl. “You can say things other than who?” I demanded, jabbing a hoof at the offending creature. He nodded, and I facehoved “Urgh... you must think me a right-”


There was a moments silence as I glared at Owlowiscious. Then I shook my head and walked away. “Alex, you just got slammed by an owl. This is not your finest hour.”

Twilight’s lab was, indeed, on the second floor and I found it without much difficulty. As I think I’ve mentioned, I find Twilight to be more than a little disconcerting at times, and her laboratory design did not help matters. The alicorn princess was, as anypony would tell you, a meticulous organiser, but she tended to flick between projects with alarming speed. Her laboratory was filled to the brim with arcane machines (in various states of dismemberment), alchemical reagents (most bubbling, some overflowing) and chalkboard after chalkboard of incomprehensible diagrams. Somewhere buried near the back I spotted the makeshift EEG she’d used on Pinkie Pie, though it had significantly fewer lights than it had back in the show.

“Twilight!” I called out, picking my way through the future set for a Frankenstein movie and trying very hard not to touch anything. “It’s Alex.”

A pink corona swelled around me and everything in the universe seemed to take a step to the right, without alerting the contents of my stomach. There was a crack of dissipating arcana and I found myself in a cleared area of the lab, beside Twilight Sparkle as she wielded her horn like a lethal weapon in the direction of a massive disk of steel. Inlaid in precious metals on the disk were the representations of the six pillars of reality ‘Sola’, ‘Aether’, ‘Vita’, ‘Materia’, ‘Arcana’ and ‘Prime’ in their traditional star shaped pattern. Precious gems of mathematical precision were locked in copper cradles around the structure, along with rare woods, strange reagents and barely constrained lightning. The entire edifice (one that was probably worth more than Ponyville) was merely a foundation for the the barrier spell which was a writhing mass of chaos in the air above. Lines of force, lines of light, threads of gold and lightning and vines wove and writhed in agony as Twilight focused her magic on the thrashing tangle. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the spell that lay before me, a thousand years of study would have still left me scratching my head, or running for the hills before it blew.

“There you are!” Twilight exclaimed. “Spike found you, then?”

“Actually I needed to see you, what’s-”

Twilight cut me off. “No time. The barrier doesn’t want to seal and I can’t figure out why. How did those idiots get into Equestria?”

I sighed. “By going supersonic just as they went over a rainbow.”

The barrier froze and Twilight rounded on me, horn still sparking. “Super sonic?” she demanded, mouth hanging agape.

“Yeah, you know breaking the sound barrier,” I continued, taking a smart step backwards. “Kind of like Dash when she Rainbooms. Though faster and with a great deal more fire.”

Twilight blinked. “Oh! It’s a phase transition!” She rounded on the spell and, with a few deft swipes of her horn, set the spell to rights. A moment later the thrashing had ceased and the mind-bending array of components settled from their eye-gouging insanity to a merely unsettling thrum of barely constrained magical energies.

“There we go,” Twilight sighed, letting out a long held breath. “Phew, that was a tricky one. Let’s hope we don’t get any more ‘planes’ through the barrier any time soon. But how many of those can there be on Earth anyway?”

I rolled my eyes. “Planes? Tens of thousands at least.”

“What!” Twilight’s wings shot out and I had to duck as she rushed past me to a nearby desk and began pulling out papers. “No no no no no. I have right here. Aircraft cruise at roughly five hundred miles per hour.” She brandished the page of spidery notes in my face.

“Passenger aircraft cruise at that speed,” I corrected, pushing the paper away with a wing. “Military craft can go up to mach three; they’re rarer but there’s still a lot of them.”

“Urgh! I had ‘rockets’ as going that fast,” Twilight growled, sifting through her notes.

“They do too.”

“Oh this is just great,” the alicorn grumbled, dropping down onto her haunches and slamming her head against the table. Judging by the number of small divots left by her horn it was far from the first time it had received such treatment. “I’m going to have to figure out a patch for a hole before another of these damn supersonic planes smashes through. How many are there on Earth, anyway?”

I shrugged. “Not something I’d know, a couple hundred per country maybe.” Twilight’s ear twitched and I hastily added. “But the pilot of this one was specifically trying to do a sonic rainboom.”

Twilight took a deep steadying breath and seemed to take a moment to count to three. “Okay Twilight, you just need to rearrange a few things and everything will be fine.”

“While you’re rearranging, can we get some more emergency citizenship forms, we’re all out?”

Another ear twitch.

“Fine,” she snapped. “I’ll add yet another thing to my list.” She rounded on a blank sheet of paper and attacked it with a fountain pen. “Anything else?”

I began to back away. “That’s okay, Twilight, nothing to worry about.” I cast around for the exit, but the teleportation had completely thrown my sense of direction. To hell with it; I’d take to the skies and find a window.

Twilight looked down at the scrawl on the sheet and sighed. I leapt into the air but Twilight caught my tail in an arcana grip and I stalled out, landing in a heap. “Oops. Sorry that usually works better on Rainbow Dash.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I grumbled, stumbling to my hooves.

“No, I really mean that,” Twilight continued, hanging her head. “I’m just really stressed out by this barrier patching, and all the contingency planning, and researching the castle, and not to mention how much has been going on in the Dusk Court. Anyway, I’m sorry for yelling at you.” She held out a hoof. “Friends?”

“Never anything else,” I told her, smiling as we shook. “I’m sorry for dumping paperwork on you as well.”

“Urgh, I must have kicked a lot of puppies in a past life,” Twilight grumbled, turning back towards the barrier. “Only truly evil ponies have to deal with so much bureaucracy.”

“And Princesses,” I added, grinning.

Twilight rolled her eyes at me. “Well that goes without saying. So that’s a hundred and fifty humans in Equestria?”

“Fifty one,” I amended, staring into the shifting mass of the barrier spell for a moment. “It was a two seater plane.” I had to look away, the boundary between worlds was vomit inducing at best.

“Well, this hole’s a big one, but I should be able to shore things up. Another human may slip through the cracks later today but hopefully they’ll be the last one for a while.”

I looked across at the Princess; there was an earnest faith in her eyes. It was reassuring in a way, that at least one pony believed everything would be alright. “How is the barrier holding up? In general, I mean.”

Twilight frowned. “It’s holding. In fact, barring some large scale catastrophe I think it will even protect us against the full weight of the collision.”

“Collision?” I inquired, trying to keep the worry from my voice.

“Yes, our universes are still colliding,” Twilight informed me, in her dispassionate lecturer tone. “Even through the barrier is keeping the worse of effects from presenting, it’s going to be many years before they rebound and start to drift apart again. Best case scenario we close up all the holes over the next few months and we only wreck the lives of a couple hundred people.” She sighed, emotion creeping back into her voice. “I’m still working on that one.”

I sighed, then bit the bullet. “What’s the worse case?”

Twilight closed her eyes. “Everyone in both universes dies.” She shuddered then shook herself. “That’s really unlikely, though,” she added, hastily. “Most likely Equestria’s physics overlays your universe’s, extinguishes your sun and we have to save as many humans as we can before they freeze to death. Probably by dragging them through the barrier and turning them into Equestrians.”

It seemed to take Twilight a moment to realise why that option would be just as unpalatable. “Oh! Of course I’m doing everything in my power to stop that happening,” she assured me, without much effect. “It would take a fleet of those ‘planes’ to critically destabilise the barrier. We should get through things with just a few dozen more minor crossings.”

I sighed. “I guess a couple hundred lives wrecked seemed a small price to pay to avoid losing the planet,” I told her, forcing a smile.

“I’d prefer to save everypony,” Twilight agreed, gazing into the heart of the spell. “But one thing my friends and I have learnt after all our adventures, is that sometimes even your best isn’t enough. And at least this time there’s nopony working against us.”

Glowing green eyes flashed before me and I shuddered, as if somepony had stepped on my grave.

I didn’t know why Twilight’s words had made me so afraid.

Chapter 2: Passing Pawn

View Online

The penultimate gate was a green, wings perpendicular to the ground, at the apex of the course. It was one of the most difficult turns on the course; you had to make a powered ascent, build up your horizontal speed enough to do a harsh banked turn and then drop right away to hit the next gate. Far too many pegasi drifted off the racing line there, losing precious tenths of a second, but I nailed it, primaries scraping the clouds as I completed my barrel roll and dropped into a powered descent.

Even after two months it still amazed me how much speed a pegasus could muster when they put their mind to it. In a vertical dive even the most inexperienced could hit a hundred miles per hour. Such paltry efforts though weren’t enough for my course, I hurled myself towards the ground like a falling star, the air screaming around my ears and I pumped my wings harder and harder for the final sprint.

Last gate was red, wings parallel, and right down at the deck. A rather large cloud lay beneath it, pockmarked by wipeouts from my more overconfident competitors; I’d been running the course all day and had no intention of joining them. At the last possible instant I spread my wings and airshell out as far as they could go. The g-forces were incredible. I hurtled through the gate with my vision greying around the edges, and gritting my teeth I continued the maneuver into an immelman turn. The finish line lay directly above the last gate and it was there I flubbed it. Pulling out of the turn too soon I found myself rising above the checked cloud and I had to waste half a second figuring out where before I could wrestle myself into a dive.

Cheers greeted me as I finally planted all four hooves on the finish line. Two dozen pegasi clustered around, chattering excitedly as I fought for breath.

“Final time!” Swiftwing called, over the ponies’ hubbub. “One fourteen, dead!”

It was a hell of a time, and I would have jumped for joy if my wings hadn’t been trembling. Maybe it wasn’t top of the board, but it blew most of the Club members out of the water and I saw our resident speed daemon Hazeela breath a sigh of relief when she realised she still had half a second on me. The natural born pegasi who’d started to turn up for my weekend racecourse still dominated the top of the board, but I was up there with them and I couldn’t stop myself grinning about that.

“Tartus’ own run there Alex,” Crystal Cog cheered, elbowing me in the ribs. “Sure you didn’t adjust the gates a bit before you started?”

I elbowed him right back, almost knocking the slight colt flying. “Luck and a wasted weekend, that’s all,” I told him, beaming. Being the mare who set up the course was more than a slight advantage; after all, I’d had to take a half dozen test runs or so before letting anypony else have a crack. Just to make sure it was safe, of course. Definitely not to sus the racing line before the rest of the racers.

“Right, that was the last run!” Swiftwing called out, scrawling my time on the blackboard. “Best time is one minute, eleven seconds and six tenths by Thunderlane!”

“Oh yeah!” the stallion roared, puffing himself up and striking a pose.

I rolled my eyes. “So that means first round of drinks is on him!” I added. The rest of the crowd cheered, even as the dark pegasus groaned.

“Last one to the Pony’s a plucked chicken!” Crystal Cog yelled, leading the charge to the edge of the cloud. The flock was on the wing a moment later, headed towards the distant lights of Ponyville.

“...guess that makes us plucked chickens then,” Swiftwing sighed, as we were left alone on the cloud. She hadn’t moved from the board and regarded it with a mournful air.

I grinned. “Plucked chickens with awesome times,” I pointed out, trotting over.

She let out a bitter laugh “That’s easy for you to say. I just got beaten by a girl who didn’t even have feather two months ago.” I looked up at the times, Swiftwing had a one fourteen point seven.

“To be fair, I’ve had about a dozen more runs than you.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Swiftwing sighed, shaking her head. “I just can't match your pace. Maybe after another five years practice but by then you’ll be yet another wingbeat ahead.” Another sigh. “I just don’t have the aether for racing.”

I don’t think I can describe how much I didn’t want to get dragged into yet another an emotional conversation. I got enough of that kind of shit at work. After much kicking and screaming I’d cleared a free weekend for myself and I wasn’t going to let Swiftwing bring it down.

“I thought you wanted to be a weatherpony anyway?” I asked, taking a seat next to her.

Damn it, Alexis!

Swift let loose a bitter snort. “It’s still all about the wingpower. I just don’t have it, and it’s not like this thing ever helps.” She shot an angry glare at her Cutie Mark, stars set against a dawning sky.

“What does it mean anyway?”

“Pfff, that I’m a morning pony? Buck if I know.” She sighed, then began to wipe away the times with her wing. “Now if I had a cloud pushing Cutie Mark then I’d be set. Rainbow Dash would have hired me and I’d be well on my way to senior weatherpony.”

I completed the thought for her. I’d heard it often enough. “Instead you’re still teaching blank flanks to fly?”

Swiftwing laughed. “Yeah, something like that. I don’t know why I even bothered to have a plan sometimes, they never work out. I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that though.”

It was my turn to snort. “Back on Earth I was stuck in a dead end job, had no money, hadn’t seen my folks in months and my boyfriend was cheating on me. I know what if feels like to get stuck in a rut.”

“Yeah, and now you’ve got my wingpower beat by a clear mark,” she grumbled. “I wonder if I can get Discord to give my own flappers a tune up.” I frowned at her, and Swiftwing hung her head. “Yeah yeah, don’t say anything. I know better than to try and make that kind of deal.”

“He’s a big fan of putting a sting in the tail regardless of whether he’s supposed to be helping or not.” I agreed. At some point I was going to have to get Fluttershy to have a word with him about the random nature of his adaptation spell. There were more than a few times where it had strayed from random to ironic territory and I was getting a little pissed he seemed to think he could use being female as a punishment.

Swiftwing crossed her forelegs, glaring at the empty board. “Urgh, I know I shouldn’t let it get to me, but it still hurts that out of four dozen Club pegasi I’ve taught, maybe three, three and a half, could make it into the Wonderbolts if they tried for it.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean really? I’ve run classes for gifted fliers that had a worse ratio than that.”

Okay that was enough self pity for one day. “Are you going to sit there like a grumpy grouse all day or are you going to help me sweep up?” I snapped at last. “Because there’s a free round of drinks we’re missing.”

Swiftwing grinned. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to miss Thunderlane’s wallet screaming for mercy. Right, I’ll get the gates, you get the board.”

It took just a few minutes for Swiftwing to blow through the clouds; I’ve never seen any problem with her weatherpony skills even if Dash hadn’t thought them up to scratch, though it was a little depressing to see my hard work swept away. That was more of an 'end of the weekend' melancholy, though, rather than true regret, but I had spent a good few hours building the damn thing.

Swift met me back at Ponyville High, or at least outside their chalk board storage shed. I’ve not yet figured out why they have a shed full of chalkboards, I suspect Twilight might have been responsible, but haven't figured out a polite way to ask.

“Ah, there’s nothing quite like busting clouds to work off stress,” Swift exclaimed, stretching her wings out so far they popped in their sockets.

I shuddered and set off at a trot. “Come on. Pub.”

Swift cantered after me. For a moment we traveled in silence through the streets of Ponyville, towards the setting sun. It was a pleasant scene straight off of the postcard, arcana lights burning in every house casting a warm parlour across the packed dirt pathways. The air was already chill, though, and I spared a thought for the two dozen Club members still sleeping under canvas. At least they had thick bedding, courtesy of Rarity's recent donation.

“Come on then, spill it,” I said suddenly. “Who are our future Wonderbolts?”

Swiftwing shot me a withering glare. “Really, Alex?”

“Yeah I’m interested. It’s not like I can judge this kind of thing.”

The turquoise mare tossed her head. “Well I think you can guess a couple at least.”

I shrugged my wings. “Well, Tony Acey I’d guess.” The former pilot had, to no one's surprise, taken to the air like a duck to water.

“Eh, edge case at this stage,” Swiftwing admitted. “We’ll see where his wingpower gets once he has the basics down.”

“Okay, Hazeela for sure.” That diminutive black and scarlet mare had got a Cutie Mark in racing in under two weeks.

“Durh. And?”

“Well...” I cast around, no pony sprung to mind. Some of the gryphons were pretty fast but I was fairly sure the Wonderbolts were a pony only organisation.

Swiftwing rolled her eyes. “Let me give you a hint,” she said, wearily, “she figured out how to make checkered clouds this week.”

I blinked. “Me?” I demanded, rounding on her.

My flatmate groaned, pausing before me and fixing me with a flat glare. “Yeah, Alex. Is it really that much of a surprise?”

Quite frankly, yes. You could pretty much put every pegasi on a scale between Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash. A weak flier could hope to maybe go fifty mph in a straight line, I was better than the average at maybe eighty with a tailwind. Experienced cloud pushers and royal guards would top out at a hundred and fifty miles per hour if they pushed it, and the Wonderbolts regularly flew at two hundred plus.

“But... but. I don’t have a fraction of the wingpower for that,” I protested.

Swiftwing held up a hoof, forestalling any argument. “First, you suck up spells like a sponge,” she pointed out, then added in a mutter. “Or possibly a unicorn. And second, while your technique is sloppy you’ve got a good amount of raw strength behind it. I’m not a talent scout, and you’re a bit on the old side for a rookie speedster, but I bet you’d at least get a look in on the circuit.” She shrugged, shaking her head. “If you hung there for a few years building up your wings the Wonderbolts would stop looking like these unassailable heros and more like a logical career move. Lucky bitch.”

She glared at me for a moment, before resuming her trot.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think that that was my life she was planning out.

“Come on, now I really need a drink,” she snapped over my shoulder.

I rolled my eyes and followed her. She wasn’t the only one.

It surprised nopony that the Club had taken over its own bar. We didn’t own it, but it was very nice to have a regular place to drown your sorrows where everyone had a sympathetic ear, and our swelling membership had driven out any of the original clientele. To be fair the bar in question had been going under long before the whole Humans in Equestria thing; Ponyville was not a large town and our local had been driven near out of business by the other fillyfooler bar, The Sun’s Flank. I’d never figured out what made all the difference between the two, both had equally cheesy names, but our local was saved by the fact their cheesy name was a cross dimensional joke.

It was The Prancing Pony.

The original Human in Equestria, Taylor, had broken down in tears of mirth when he’d seen the sign and from that moment on it was never going to be anything but the Club’s unofficial second office.

After extracting a couple bits from the much deflated Thunderlane, Swiftwing and I secured a mug of the local ale and the free end of a bench.

“Okay, so let’s get this straight. You’re saying I could be a Wonderbolt,” I pressed, as soon as we’d sat down.

“Could. That’s the key word there Alex,” Swift interjected, glowering at me. “Could.”

I rolled my eyes. Way to rein in the green eyed monster there Swiftwing. “Whatever, I don’t really care whether they’d want me.” Swift made a disbelieving little chuff. “My question is: If I could do it. How the hell isn’t Rainbow Dash a Wonderbolt yet?”

It was a serious question. I’d accidently asked Twilight for the details on how a rainboom worked once (and nearly had to gnaw my own leg off to escape), so I knew Dash, post boom, had been clocked at almost eight hundred miles an hour in horizontal flight. That’s about four times what the Wonderbolts manage, eight times what most ponies make do with, a hundred and sixty times Flutteryshy’s speed and mach one point five on the human scale. Tony’s tornado would give her a run for her money, but nothing else on the planet would.

“Oh the rumors I have heard!” Swift exclaimed, spreading her wings wide, almost pushing another pony off the bench. “Some say she already turned them down and won’t talk about it, other say they chucked her out because she couldn’t follow orders. There’s also tell of an affair with like, everypony that’s ever worn a blue flightsuit though I don’t really put much stock in them.”

I regarded her with a raised brow. “Tell me, is Cloudsdale held up by aether, or gossip?”

“A little of both.” Swift took a deep gulp of ale. “Anyway, I think it’s Celestia’s fault. She doesn’t want to break up her little world savering superteam so keeps Dash on the reserve list.”

It made a certain amount of sense. “That’s a little cynical don’t-”

Swiftwing wasn’t paying attention to me, instead she downed her mug in one rush.

“What? It was free,” she said, in lieu of an explanation and dropped the empty mug on the tray of a passing barmare.

“Yex?” it lisped.

I did a double take. It was always a bit of a shock to find yourself next to a changeling drone. They were unsettling on the show but those insectoid eyes right at your level, sunk into the black carapace, were damn near nightmare fuel. Fortunately the drone was wearing a frilly apron, which rather short circuited my fight or flight reaction.

“Another,” Swift told it.

“Yex.” It hurried off, the crowd parting around it.

“You should at least say thank you,” I pointed out.

Swiftwing rolled her eyes. “Weren’t you telling me that the drones aren’t sentient just last week?”

“That’s not what I said,” I snapped.

The truth of the matter was more than a little tragic. We had had three humans cross over into the bodies of drones, but the changeling drones were only intelligent in the broadest of senses, relying heavily on a hive mind for actual thinking. I don’t know if I can ever understand what those three friends went through after arriving in Equestria, but somehow they’d cobbled together a way of thinking in such alien bodies. It was imperfect at best, they had three personalities, but only one could think at any one time, leaving the other two bodies to act out orders till it was their turn to shine.

“Yeah yeah, well that one’s not thinking at least,” Swift pointed out, gesturing with a hoof at the drone which was trying to figure out how to work the hatch on the bar.

I grumbled into my own mug. “That’s not really the point.”

“So what do you want me to-”

“Hey Alex!” I started in my seat, wings flaring as Crystal Cog snuck up on me. Our erstwhile engineer was already at the nicely drunk stage of the evening and seemed to be making a bid for horizontal at record speed; he had a wing around both Tony and Louis, who looked a little embarrassed by the contact.

“Come on, ask her,” he chided, elbowing Tony in the ribs.

The blue pegasus rolled his eyes. “Okay then... Alex, where are you from?”

“Oh god,” I groaned, rubbing the bridge of my nose. “Are we really doing this again?”

“Come on,” Cog needled, leaning in overclose.

I wrinkled my nose as the wash of alcohol on his breath reached me and sighed. “Fine. I had a flat in Buckingham.”

“And where did you grow up?” he pressed.

“Urgh. I grew up in Canterbury,” I snapped, and then continued on in an angry snarl. “My father’s family is from the Shetland Isles. My mother’s maiden name was Champney and my brother is currently living with his girlfriend in Derby. That enough for you?”

Tony had lost it long ago, the stallion clutched his sides as he rolled on the ground, laughing his stupid head off. Even Louis was grinning, though he at least managed to look sympathetic. “You were pretty much doomed to end up in Equestria then?”

“Yes,” I said in a growl. “I am a walking horse pun.” I took a deep draft of ale. “Now, either buy me another drink or bugger off.”

“Oh don’t mind her, she’s always a grumpy drunk,” Crystal Cog exclaimed, dragging our pair of pilots away.

“I just sat down!” I yelled back, then turned back to Swiftwing, grumbling to myself. Somehow the mare had managed to get her hooves on another pint while I wasn’t watching.


“How exactly are you paying for that?” I asked her, looking pointedly at the mug.

Swiftwing frowned at the liquid. “Can I get an advance?” she inquired, with a smile filled with undue optimism.

“No.” And when that didn’t seem to be enough for her. “For one, I’m near broke to start with, and two, so’s the Club.”

“Really, because I’m seeing a lot of ponies with beer money?” She gestured at the fairly large crowd.

“What they spend their money on is their own problem,” I muttered. “But food prices are still spiralling and that means there’s about three bits left in the vault until our next advance arrives.”

“I thought you were talking to Applejack about that?”

I sighed. “Sadly, farmers have to buy food too,” I explained. “She’s saying that she has to put prices up so she can feed her own family over the winter. And it’s probably true, I don’t really think the element of honesty would be bullshitting me.”

Swift sniggered, a blush forming under her coat. “Oh, you humans have been a revelation to swearing. That one’s awesome.”

“Are you already drunk?” I asked, cocking my head. “Man, you’re a lightweight.”

“Hey! I am not a lightweight. I’m a cheap drunk,” Swiftwing protested, then added bitterly. “You need to be in this town. I’m going to have to make another trip to the Changeling Parlor if I can’t get some extra work.”

I repressed a shudder. A nasty side effect of granting a small group of changelings residency had been the need to provide them with a supply of love, or at least some kind of emotional energy. Twilight and her friends had tried hard, but they couldn’t provide an unlimited supply of emotion and donors had been hard to find. For a while it looked like our changelings would starve, then they solved the problem themselves in a very human way.

They started buying emotion.

It was a very simple method, and it worked wonders. All that was needed from a pony was two hours of unconsciousness and then the changelings would give you a stack of bits. The whole process did leave you feeling like you’d run a marathon but, unless you overindulged them, it was perfectly healthy. Hell, I’d had to rather symbolically take a turn and, while the whole ordeal had given me nightmares for a week, it was no worse than scary movie marathon.

“Oh don’t make that face, I’m broke,” Swiftwing snapped, rolling her eyes. “If unicorns still bought blood I’d be selling that.”

I held up my hooves in surrender. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah, but you had that ‘alien, so I don’t like it look’ most ponies here wear,” she countered.

That took a moment to process. “I am an alien!” I shot back.

“And still a pony.”

I groaned and rubbed my eyes. Pegasi were the most illogical of beasts sometimes.

“Okay, let’s stop talking about my xenophobia,” I grumbled. Swiftwing looked quizzical. “It means alien hating... probably. I have no idea how latin terms translate to Equestrian.”

“Right, so who’s zerophobia do we want to talk about-”

The bar’s front door slammed open, almost crushing an unfortunate bouncer, and Lyra burst through.

“ALEX!” she screamed at the top of her lungs. “There’s an angry mob outside!”

Dead silence descended on the crowd. For a moment I wondered whether this was just Lyra being her usual hyperactive self, or an actual crisis.

“What, are they here for me specifically or...?” I began.

“They’ve rounded up the changelings!” Lyra continued, still screaming.

Ah, so the second one then.

I was third out of the door, mostly because Lyra hadn’t got out the way fast enough and Crystal Cog and I body slammed her through. The rest of the bar was only a length behind; there was an unofficial one for all policy in the Club, though it had never had to face down an angry mob before.

It took just a minutes for the Club to arrive on the scene. The mob itself was made up of over a hundred ponies, a good fraction of the entire village, which is a terrifying number when you found it enraged. Ponies by themselves tend to be somewhat skittish, though to be fair to them they live in a world where both dragons and manticores exist. When faced by a threat bigger, or more numerous, than them, they tended to run away. However there was an old instinct, buried away deep in the pony psyche, that of the stampede.

The furious herd looked rather like they were riling themselves up for a good old fashioned trampling to my eyes. They had the beleaguered changelings were pinned up against the side of city hall, hemmed in on all sides by snorting pastel ponies. It would have been funny if it weren’t about to end the lives of three Club members.

The winged members of the Club took to the skies, swooping over the mostly earth pony throng and landed between them and the changelings, forcing the herd back. Our terrestrial membership had to push their way through, but if anything that disrupted the mob even more and within just a few moments there were two large crowds facing off against each other. Ours, three dozen ponies plus a few other miscellaneous species and another dozen changelings, theirs maybe a hundred or so locals-

Hang on. Did I just say dozen changelings?

For a moment my entire plan of attack fled as I realised that the Club had at it’s heart, not the familiar black carapaces of our three resident changelings, but twelve and a queen. The queen was not Chrysalis, or at least I hoped not; she was far fairer in colour with a greyish carapace that still seemed slick with some unknow ichor. Her mane was a dark pink, rather like a rosé wine and her eyes shared the same piercing intensity.

For a moment I was struck dumb. Then I remembered the angry mob and rounded on the ponies, drew in a deep breath and roared with all the magical assistance I could muster.


The herd took a collective step back as raw fury of my voice washed over them. I may have been practicing the Royal Canterlot Voice. I hadn’t quite foreseen the circumstances, but I had spotted the utility.

“Alex, stand aside,” one pony stepped forwards from the herd. I was more than a little surprised to see it was Amelia, the busy-body stallion who’d been nagging me about food prices at the last meeting. As a Club member she should have been on our side of the lines.

“Oh no. I am not just standing aside and letting a bucking lynch mob kill fellow Club members!” I roared back, rearing back, flaring my wings and stamping my hooves on the ground. All around me other members of the Club did the same thing, forming a wall of equine flesh between the mob and the changelings.

“Alex, Alex, Alex,” Amelia said, waving a dismissive hoof. “Last I checked. We only had three changelings.” His eyes narrowed. “And none of them were queens.”

It was a cutting point. I glanced over my shoulder at the queen who seemed to be doing her best Fluttershy impression and hiding behind her mane. The ring of angry drones made the display less endearing than it could have been. Even the Club members were eyeing them with suspicion, they knew as well as I that the changelings probably weren’t the people we’d rushed in to save. Hell, for all we knew they were the villains of story, after all, they always were on the show.

I found myself torn. I could walk away. I could take the Club with me if I chose to be particularly persuasive. It may well have been the right choice. I wasn’t Amelia’s biggest fan by any means but then I didn’t know the changeling queen at all.

Did that really matter?

I sighed, steeled myself and spoke. “And that does not constitute a reason for murder!”

A few of the ponies near the front of the mob looked sheepish. Further back there was open muttering.

“Oh, so you’re just going to sit around while we all get ensorcelled?”

“Ladies, please, let’s be reasonable,” Star Charge cut in. Both Amelia and I glared at him as the self important arsehole and his clique shouldered their way through the crowd. “No one’s been hypnotised and-” He looked pointedly at me. “-no one is dead.”

“Not for lack of trying,” I muttered, inaudibly.

“Which is why we must act now,” Amelia snarled, pawing the ground.

“You are not doing anything!” I snapped back, glowering at the stallion.

“If I might interject,” Star Charge persisted, as Amelia and I glared daggers at each other. “Perhaps a compromise.”

“Star Charge, just butt out.”

He gave me a warm, politician's smile. “Now Alex, you don’t want the changelings hurt, but I think we can all agree that they can’t stay here.”

I shifted my ire to the unicorn. “Star Charge-”

“Run them out of town?” Amelia said, rubbing a hoof on her chin. “I think we can get behind that.”

“NO!” I boomed, flaring my wings out high. “You two do not get a say in this!” I jabbed a hoof at Star Charge. “You! This is not a democracy.” Then at Amelia. “And you! It sure as hell isn’t mob rule! It is a bloody tyranny and, unless one of you happens to be royalty, neither of you gets a say.” And finally I glared at the mob in general. “The situation is under control. GO HOME!”

The grumbled from the mob returned, but they seemed half hearted. Nopony near the front had the murderous fire that had been so terrifying just a few moments before. A few of them just shook their heads and left, pushing their way through the unyielding crowd.

Judging the situation safe for the next few moments I ignored both Amelia and Star Charge and turned away, regarded the ring of Club members with unwarranted ire. “Will someone please go get a Princess,” I snarled at them. “Twilight preferably, but any you can lay your hooves on, I’m not picky.”

A couple of pegasi whipped away. I stalked forwards, grumbling at Crystal Cog as I past. “Keep an eye on things a moment.”

“Aye captain,” he said, flashing subtle simile. I just glowered at him and continued on till I was at the center of the Club, standing before the changeling queen.

“So...?” I began, wings held open at my sides as I held a bundle of aether between my pinions. Masters of the aether could throw lightning bolts with a flick of the wing, with luck I had enough power to run away fast enough if the queen turned on me.

“Thank you, Alex,” the queen said, bowing her head. “I didn’t think we’d make it there for a moment.”

My eyes narrowed. Up close the queen was still huge; she didn’t loom anywhere near as much as Celestia, but she was comparable to Luna and that was still head and shoulders over any of the non-draconic members of the Club.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

She sighed. “A world away I was called Rose.”

It was the eyes that sold it to me. They weren’t the alien orbs that were so unsettling on the drones but just pinkish pony eyes, sad and scared.

“We had a Rose, and a Charlie, and a Thomas,” I pointed out. “None of them came through as queens, though.”

She sighed. “It would seem that, if you isolate drones from the hive long enough, one of them will become a queen.”

I cocked my head at her, as if I could read deception off the face of a species evolved to lie. “I must admit I’ve never heard of that before.” Though the amount that had been written on the changelings was less than a hundred pages, I knew because Twilight had leant me those hundred pages when we’d had three drones turn up claiming to be human.

“I know I can’t prove anything...” she began, but petered off. There was little more to say on the subject.

“How many drones do you have in town?” I asked her, examining her honor guard, which examined me back with distressing intensity.

“Fourteen,” she replied, instantly. “The two that were Charlie and Thomas, and twelve more I’ve hatched since.”

There were only ten around her. She seemed to spot the question. “They were out working. I... had them go to ground when Amelia discovered me.”

“And why... hatch so many drones?” I managed to repress the shudder.

“... I was hungry,” queen Rose said, in a very small voice. “I couldn’t buy enough emotion with just two drones working.”

“God damn it!” I swore, kicking the packed earth. “Rose, if you’d just told us about this we could have worked something out.” I glared at the insectoid monarch who just hung her head. “Urgh. This is going to be a bucking witch hunt by this time tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry,” she murmured, almost inaudible, sinking to the ground. A couple of the drones left the defensive ring and pressed close against the queen, running their pockmarked hooves over her carapace. Another shudder had to be repressed on my part, I would have run away screaming if they’d tried the same trick to cheer me up.

There was a whip crack as Dash landed next to me. She reared backwards, raising her hooves in a boxers pose, fluttering her wings to stay upright. “Okay changelings,” she began, eyeing queen Rose with suspicion. “On your feet and no funny business.” She gestured between her eyes and them. “I’m watching you, so no funny mind mojo or you’ll have to face the Dash.”

Yes ladies and gentlemen, she really does talk like that.

I rolled my eyes, fortunately Twilight arrived a few moments later. Her landing was less sharp but you could hear the sigh of relief from the ponies in the square. Ponyville may have been averaging a monster attack every two months, but with the mane six on the scene the problem was already halfway solved.

“What is going on here?” the Princess demand, furling her wings and looking the changelings up and down.

Sighing I stepped forwards. “Twilight Sparkle, meet queen Rose.”

She blinked, kindled then extinguished her horn. “Wait. Rose as in, the human lost to the hivemind Rose? Rose the drone.”

“...not anymore I’m afraid,” the changeling queen replied, with a sheepish smile.

Twilight facehooved. “Ooo. This is going to be a long night.”

She wasn’t wrong.

Luna’s moon was making its way towards the far horizon when I finally made my excuses and, bleary eyed and with a tension headache pounding away, stumbled from the castle. It had been, as predicted, a very long night, and I’d spent most of it running around town digging up witnesses, rooting through the Changeling Parlor for any sign of missing ponies and finally just pouring over dusty law tomes. I could think of little else beyond rescuing the emergency bottle of whisky from behind my desk to use as a nightcap and then sleeping till noon or better.

“Hey! Alex!” came the high pitched cry of Pinkie Pie. I stumbled, almost tripping over my hooves and rounded on the offending pony. She stood in the lit doorway to Sugarcube Corner, waving frantically.

I let out a long sigh. “Pinkie, I’ve had a really crappy evening,” I told her, hanging my head.

“I know,” she continued unabated, and pulled a large bottle out from behind the door frame. “My drinkie sense told me.”

For a moment I was struck dumb. I can honestly say, I didn’t see that one coming.

“Well that one didn’t make it into the show,” I said at last, rolling my eyes as I walked over. “This drinkie sense tell you anything else?”

Pinkie grinned. “Nope. It usually only goes off when somepony needs to talk about something over a drink.”

I gave her a flat look. “How many senses do you have anyway?”

She seemed to consider that for a moment, rubbing her chin. “At least five.”

“Urgh, I walked right into that one.” I pushed past the party pony and into the comforting warmth of Sugarcube Corner. “Why are you still awake anyway?”

“Coffee,” she said simply, herding me through to the kitchen. She caught the look of terror on my face. “Oh, don't worry about any late night caffeine parties. Twilight just didn’t want any of us asleep till she sorted out the changelings.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s an entry in ‘One Hundred and One Things Not to Say to Rainbow Dash’ that specifically says we’re not supposed to give you espresso.”

“Durh, I hate espresso.”

I never really felt I was in control when talking to Pinkie. The pink pony plonked me down next to the huge bread ovens, which still radiated a comforting warmth, and passed me a mug of amber liquid.

“So, what’s this?” I asked, scenting the drink. It had an aroma that was a, not unpleasant, but unexpected mix of fresh fruit and wood polish.

“Oh you’ll like it. It’s made with apples... well mostly apples.” Pinkie parked herself next to me, clutching a huge mug of what I presumed was coffee, it was hard to tell under the mountain of whipped cream, sprinkles, marshmallows and biscuit wafers, all topped by a single chocolate flake. I did not question where she’d gotten it from; you learn not to after a while.

She looked expectantly at me and, resisting the urge to hold my nose, I sipped at the mysterious liquid.

“...smooth,” I gasped, my eyes watering.

“It’s an acquired taste,” Pinkie assured me, then dropped her face into her ‘drink’ and began to munch her way through to the coffee. A moment later she licked the cream covering her face off in a single reality-bending motion and turned to me. “So... what happened with the changelings?”

I sighed. “Well, as far as we can prove it is Rose and she did use to be human.” I took a fortifying sip of my drink. “And that they haven’t done anything untoward.” Beyond buying a twenty times more emotion anyone thought they were, though that wasn’t a crime per se. “And that I’m a complete bucking idiot that should have caught on a full two weeks ago.” I drained the cup. Which at least shut me up for a little while.

Pinkie smiled. It wasn’t her usual manic grin but a true heartfelt smile from somepony who just wants to make you feel better. “You-”

I held up a hoof to silence her.

“Not now.”

The smile didn’t fade. She refilled my mug without a word and went back to trying to devour her coffee. It was a long while before I spoke again.

“Pinkie," I began, but petered away. She gave me an earnest smile. "Pinkie, how do you save the world?”

She cocked her head at me, I didn’t look back but instead stared into my diminishing drink. “Generally by putting on a magic necklace and shappowing any mean nasties that get in the way,” Pinkie chirped.

I groaned. “I mean, what are you thinking?”

“Well, I’m the element of laughter,” she admitted, bouncing in place. “So generally I just think of a funny song while Twilight does her rainbow canon thing.” She sniggered. “When we sealed Discord I had ‘There once was a mare from Vanhoover’ stuck in my head.”

“Pinkie. I’m trying to bare my soul here,” I informed her, glowering.

“Oooh, well in that case you shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Gummy. I’ll go get him.”

In a flash the mare was off, galloping up the stairs. From the floor above I heard the clatter of hooves, the sound of a bookshelf falling over, shattering glass and a rather effeminate man’s scream. Moments later Pinkie was back, none the worse for wear with Gummy clutched in her forelegs. She deposited the toothless alligator before me, he didn't seem aware he'd been moved.

“Seriously?” I asked in a deadpan. Pinkie nodded.

“Oh yeah. Gummy is a great listener.”

Before me Gummy blinked. It took quite a while.

I shook my head. “Okay I’ll bite.” I looked deep into the alligator's soulless eyes. “Gummy. Today I realised that I had the power of life or death over someone.”

Gummy, as you’d probably guess, said nothing.

“Urgh, this is stupid,” I groaned, running a hoof over my weary eyes.

“No no, he’s listening,” Pinkie assured me, putting a hoof on my shoulder and smiling. “Go on.”

I sighed. “... I didn’t have to do anything. I could have just stayed in the Pony, or let someone else deal with the mob, or just shut up. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t have any special knowledge or skill to save the day. Hell, for all I knew- for all I know, the changelings could have been a genuine threat.”

Once again. Gummy said nothing.

“And I don’t know why I acted,” I continued, hanging my head. “I’m supposed to be the one who makes the decisions about humans but... well, I had no idea if she was human or just some monster.” My head hit the floor. “I put everypony in the square at risk and I did it based off some stupid split second piece of reasoning I can’t even explain, let alone justify.”

Images of a ruined Ponyville flashed through my mind. Black ichor crawled up the walls, ponies sealed in glassy cocoons dotted every corner, whimpering in pain, as changelings swarmed the streets. The images were so clear I could smell the rot, and the death, and the despair. It was a scene just one act of trust away from reality and a shudder ran down my spine.

“I can’t do it, Gummy,” I admitted, not even able to meet his lifeless eyes. “I don’t have the strength. I can’t cope with that kind of responsibility.”

Pinkie tackle hugged me, bearing me to the ground and for a moment I was convinced she’d finally gone round the bend and decided to murder me.

“Pinkie,” I gasped, trying in vain to spread my wings. “I need air.”

The pink mare released me and I fell to the ground, panting. “What was that for?” I demanded, glaring at her.

“You looked like you needed a super, awesome, mega hug to stop you frowning,” she protested.

I opened my mouth to yell at her, but then stopped myself. To be fair to her, I wasn’t frowning anymore. Still... “I don’t think hugs can solve this problem,” I admitted, casting my eyes down.

“Pssh, hugs solve every problem,” Pinkie assured me, with an off-hand wave. “You just have to know the right kind of hug. I’m still working on my ‘I’m sorry you were such a meanypants and that you got into a fight with your childhood friend because of me but I forgive you and got you this cupcake to make you feel better’ hug.”

I blinked.

“It’s not quite there yet.”

There were really no words sometimes. I continued on as best I could. “Pinkie, what I’m trying to say is, I’m not the right pony for all of this. I’m not even supposed to be a pegasus.” My wings trembled. “I have a degree in media studies. Back home I had a crappy flat, a crappy job and crappier boyfriend and, god help me, I wish I had all three back right now.”

I looked up at Pinkie’s uncomprehending smile. I wanted to tell her how much I didn’t want to have to tell people that their life as they knew it was now over. That I didn’t want to have to be stuck in some alien body or join some ridiculously named organisation just because that body came with skills I’d never cared about. And I especially wanted to tell her just how much it hurt to have someone’s life in your hands.

But how do you say any of that to a pony that’s saved the world a dozen times?

I sighed. Looking away. “Pinkie... could you ever decide not to save the world?”

I would have stunned her less if I’d hit her in the head with a frying pan. There was a pop as her hair deflated, falling in straight waves down one side of her head.

“Yes,” she said, staring off into the distance. “Because I already did. When we fought Discord we walked away. I... I chose to walk away.”

She shook her head and stuck her hoof in her mouth. Blowing she managed to refluffed her hair up into its familiar pink tangle. “You know what we need?” she announced, leaping to her hooves and spreading her forelegs wide. “We need a party!”

I should have seen that one coming.

“Aren’t you still twenty three ‘welcome to Ponyville’ parties in the hole?” I inquired, cautiously.

Pinkie waved that off. “Not for them. For us. As the two ponies dedicated to making the town a happier place we deserve a little reward.”

I snorted. “Pinkie, I have personally reduced a twentieth of the population to tears and one point or another. I’m not sure I don’t think I’m exactly helping the ponies smile in this town.”

“Silly,” she admonished, wagging a hoof at me. “You don’t need to make them smile to make things better. You just have to make them not sad.”

I opened my mouth to contest that but the words died unspoken.

That was it. That was my entire job summed up. Making the world better by making ponies... people not sad anymore. Keeping them fed, clothed (as far as necessary) and distracted long enough for the pain to go away; until that day where you could wake up in the morning and look in the mirror without tears.

Maybe it didn’t get me many laughs, and maybe it brought responsibilities that I’d never wanted, but it was something I had to do. And I’d keep doing it till the end of my days and be glad for the chance if I had too. Even if it meant facing down an angry mob to save a Club member.

I shook my head in disbelief as I realised in two sentences Pinkie had just solved everything. I’ll be the first to admit that there’s far more going on under that cotton cady hairdoo than anyone gives her credit for. Taking a deep breath I hauled myself to my hooves. The room did its best to spin out from under me but I managed to keep it more or less steady, though did have to extend my wings for balance.

“Thanks Pinkie,” I told her, then cracked a smile for the first time that evening. “You’re pretty good at making ponies not sad yourself.”

“I learned from the best,” she chirped, sweeping gummy up into a one foreleg hug. “Isn’t that right, Gummy?”

Gummy, of course, said nothing.

“Pinkie... never change.”

Chapter 3: Boundaries

View Online

“Umm, Alex, are you busy?”

My head hit the desk.

It was trickier than it should have been, my desk had been buried in paperwork and books; even scrolls had colonized a small corner and were making moves to annex more territory. Just integrating three changeling drones into Ponyville had been a legal quagmire and convincing everypony not to run away screaming at the sight of them had been worse. Queen Rose had destroyed all that effort just through her existence. All that carefully constructed fiction about the drones not representing a threat and instead were tragic figures, had vanished like so much smoke. It left me to trying to figure out a place to put a small hive where they wouldn’t get lynched while I wasn’t looking. Or starve to death. Or just be thrown out of the country by the army.

After a long groan into the paper I looked up at Lyra, who stood sheepishly in my office doorway.

“Depends,” I sighed. “Who wants to talk to me?”

Lyra rubbed her forearm, not meeting my eye. “Well...”

“Is it lawyer?” I asked. Lyra shook her head. “A shopkeeper?” Again she shook her head and I leapt into a game of ‘Guess Who’. “A banker? A merchant? A famer? An Element? A dragon? A Club member...”

Lyra nodded frantically.

“Is it Star Charge?”

Her face fell.

“Right, I’m out,” I said, glancing at my calendar. I had been planning to skip Twilight and Crystal Cog’s meeting but it was as good an excuse as any. At least it technically being a meeting with royalty meant no one could barge in on me.


“Lyra, that damn door has not been closed for four days because of somepony coming in here to whinge about the changelings,” I snapped, jabbing a hoof at her. “Can you promise me that this isn’t another one of the same?”


“So I repeat,” I said, opening the window. “I’m out.” And hurled myself from the building.

I sighed as I took wing; rising on a thermal above the rooftops till Ponyville and it’s problems were a hundred feet below me. There are, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned by this point, fringe benefits to wings; being able to escape the petty problems of a bigoted town when I had too where pretty high on that list.

Okay, so that wasn’t being fair to Ponyville. They had coped fine with a rash of blank-flanked strangers. The resident population of gryphons had been more of a stretch, but there hadn't been a serious gryphon invasion in nearly a hundred years, and the locals had gotten over their presence soon enough. The dragons still could cause panic, but they kept to themselves enough that they tended to stay out of sight and mind enough for nopony to complain. Changelings, through, a race still fresh from nearly toppling Celestia herself, were just that step too far.

I hadn’t managed to keep them in town. Nopony would rent them a building. Nor had any of the drones kept their jobs. I had to shift a dozen itinerant labourers off the boarding house project just so they’d have enough work. The Changeling Parlor itself had almost burned to the ground in an unexplained fire, and their new tent had been replaced three times already. If something didn’t change the problem would soon go away, as the Hive would starve.

With those grim thoughts in mind I landed at Twilight’s castle. Paying my respects to Owlowiscious, I made my way up to the laboratory and there walked straight out of the frying pan and into one of Twilight’s lectures.

“Oh, Alex, I’m glad you could make it,” she called, waving me over. She was standing before a chalkboard, always a bad sign, and judging by the slightly glazed look on Crystal Cog’s face, had been talking for some time. “How much do you know about the six fundamentals?”

“I’ve not looked into much beyond aether, I’ll admit,” I said, trotting over.

“Ah, well you’ll enjoy this then.” She beamed, already turning back to the chalkboard as Crystal Cog and I shared a weary look.

Eh, it was still better than talking to Star Charge again.

“So as I was saying. We have the six fundamental pillars of reality.” Twilight said, tapping the six pointed star on the board. “Solar, the laws of the heavens. Aether, the laws of the sky. Vital, the laws of life. Materia, the laws of matter. Arcana, the laws of mind. And Prime, the laws of emotion. Theses are further subdivided into the fifteen light interactions, those flowing counter clockwise, and the fifteen black, those flowing clockwise.”

I blinked, wondering if Twilight had been expecting us to take notes.

Twilight seemed lost in her own lecture, paying no attention to her audience's rapidly slackening attention. “Now this is most interesting when we start introducing ‘magic’ or the ability of living creatures to shape the interactions. Take the ability of a plant to convert the energy of the solar spheres into life and motion, for example. Or something like every creature needing aether to breathe. Or conscious thought itself, which is a prime/arcana exchange.”

I raised a hoof.

“I’m sorry, why were you explaining this?”

Crystal Cog facehooved. Oh yeah, I forgot the rule about not asking Twilight questions while she’s lecturing.

Twilight blushed. “Oh. Right. Well I was explaining to Cog correct uses of the tribal pillars in crafting magic artifacts.” Crystal Cog rolled his eyes and Twilight addressed him. “What I’m saying in brief is that you’ve done extremely well for somepony who’s only just been introduced to our science, but you’ve made a few elementary mistakes.”

The colt gave her a withering look, laden with all the decades of experience that his body didn’t reflect. “No. No I haven’t.”

“Ah, no see, it all comes down to the interactions between schools,” Twilight continued, turning back to the board. “See, ponies are unique in the world in that each tribe has two pillars that they can warp into spells. Earth ponies can control both vita and materia, unicorns arcana and solar (though solar is a bit of a lost art), and pegasi aether and prime.” She drew a few quick sketches of the tribes and their schools with short, economic strokes of the chalk. “Rarity and I represent typical unicorns in that regard, with strong control over arcane spells but not a lot else; likewise Applejack and Rainbow Dash are almost typical for their tribe with control over vita and aether respectively. Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy both break the mold; Pinkie Pie is a master of the materia and Fluttershy is an excellent user of prime.”

My hoof went up again, despite Crystal Cog’s objections, because I simply had to ask.

“Sorry,” I interjected, briskly. “Are you telling me that prime, the school of magic that the changelings have been slammed over the last week for using, is exemplified by Fluttershy?”

Twilight hemmed and hawed for a moment. “Well... the Stare would count as a form of mind control, yes. But that kind of ability is not unusual for pegasi,” she added in a rush. “Many pegasi use prime to make themselves more charismatic, or convincing, or just braver, but pegasi use magic instinctively; they can’t not use these abilities.”

“I’m more concerned that Pinkie Pie has a scientific explanation,” Cog admitted, sighing.

I shuddered. That was a disturbing thought.

“To be fair, Pinkie just becomes more distressing when you realised how powerful she really is,” Twilight admitted, shuddering. “Even before the mirror pool incident she could stretch reality enough to be in two places at once. That’s a once in a generation ability there.”

“Hang on,” I cut in. “If there’s an actual explanation for Pinkie Pie.” And that was still a big if in my mind. “Why did you flip out so badly over Pinkie sense?”

Twilight’s chalk snapped in her grasp, and the mare snorted. “Because it still makes no Celestia-damned sense.” She rounded on the board and drew a thick arrow between ‘arcana’ and ‘materia’. “This is the interaction that covers time travel and prophecy spells,” she explained, through clenched teeth. “Note it is black magic so flows clockwise, hence it is an arcana spell. Pinkie should not be able to have anything to do with extracting information from the future unless she’s hiding a horn under that mop.”

I stepped forwards and put a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Twilight, chill. Remember you decided to take this one on faith.”

She took a deep breath. “I still want to solve it,” she grumbled. “But you’re right. I can’t let this damage my friendship.” Shaking her head she looked back at the board. “It still makes no sense though. It goes against all the laws of nature; if species could just pick and choose from any school then we’d have all sorts of ridiculous powers knocking around. Like changelings dream walking, earth pony illusionists, or unicorns raising the dead.”

Both Crystal Cog and I shared a wide eyed look. Despite the rules, that last one warranted a question.

“Wait,” Cog demanded. “You mean there is a tribe capable of bringing the dead back to life?”

“Oh yes, the pegasi,” Twilight explained, apparently not noticing Cog and I’s shared amazement. “It’s an old technique, not used since the dark ages. It never really brought anypony back, just reanimated them as zombies to fight for the pegasi.” She shuddered, I didn’t blame her. “A nasty practice by all accounts. Though curiously, some pegasi will actually use these magics on themselves at the point of death, in a form of autonecromancy, giving them a few extra minutes of life to achieve some final goal. It comes up a lot in their oral history but that’s not a great source at the best of times. Still, there’s fragmented evidence that it still occurs today in times of great need.”

I shook myself. “Okay, I have no idea what the topic was originally, but we are way off it now.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and gave Cog a dirty look. “I was explaining to Crystal Cog why you shouldn’t mix materia and arcana when constructing an artifact.”

“And you’ve been explaining that for the last twenty minutes because you have no idea,” Crystal Cog grumbled.

“What!” Twilight rounded on him, wings flaring out.

“You heard me!”

I left them too it. The magibabble went way over my head at the best of times and when Crystal Cog or Twilight really got going my eyes glazed over within seconds. With the two of them having an argument over what was and wasn’t possible I caught every third word at best.

The short version was that Cog thought Twilight was an arrogant ivory tower intellectual who’d never bothered using her knowledge in the real world, and Twilight thought Cog was an arrogant upstart who barely understood the ground he stood on, yet still dared to lecture her on what was and wasn’t possible in a subject she’d studied for her entire life.

In Twilight’s case she put it far more politely than that. Crystal Cog didn’t pull those kinds of punches.

Bored, I wandered over to a bench full a magical artifacts. The Barn, Crystal Cog’s brainchild, made many things, and every day it seemed like they discovered a new human invention they could replicate with magic. The range of technology they’d already churned out was remarkable, from simple fountain pens, to hover boards, to arcana motors and now, what looked rather like an attempt to build a wireless telegraph.

I picked up a jeweled circlet, turned it over in my hooves for a moment before dismissing it as an arcana artifact and so beyond me. Tossing it back into the pile I knocked a long pipe to the floor and it was only when I picked it up the familiar shape came back to me.

A long metal tube, wooden stock, open breach... A bolt action rifle.

I felt like I had been hit in the head with a hammer. The gun dropped back to the ground with a clatter and I hurled myself up and away from it.

“YOU BUILT A GUN!” I boomed, my voice catching the aether by accident as I hovered above Twilight’s and Crystal Cog’s heads.

Twilight, pausing in her beration shot me a confused look, and then cocked a brow at Crystal Cog. “I don’t recall any firearms on the list.”

“It was listed as a breech loader.”

“Oooh that. Yes, that was a very interesting idea.”

I landed next to them. “I think I may have been unclear,” I growled, glowering at Crystal Cog. The stallion had the affront to look confused. “Why on god’s green earth did you bring guns to Equestria?”

“Because we already had them...?” Twilight suggested.

I blinked. Trying to wrap my heads around the Equestrians having firearms. A type of weapon that, when added together over the years, must have have killed at least a billion humans.

Through force of will I closed my hanging jaw. “For how long?”

Twilight thought about that for a moment. “Three hundred and fifty years at least since their conception, as they were used during the Gryphon Khan’s Scouring. They didn’t become hugely popular or effective, though, until the Fire Ring Rebellions about two hundred years ago.”

I sighed. It was always a bit of a metal jolt when something reminded me just how bloody Equestria’s history really was. Surrounded on all sides by empires, monsters and fighting amongst themselves for petty reasons every other generation or so, the ponies were far from a weak-willed breed. To butcher to a human quote; the Equestrians were not descended from the timid ponies.

“Does Far Quest know this?” I asked Cog.

A vicious grin appeared on the caramel-coloured pony’s lips. “I’m waiting for the ideal time to tell him.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. Twilight cocked her head at me as Crystal Cog trotted over to his gun to check it for damage. “So guns never came up in our ‘episodes’?” she enquired.

“Well, it was a children’s show,” I pointed out. Speaking of which, I had yet to get a proper explanation for when MLP was a TV show, the one Twilight had given me on arrival I understood only in part. It was something to do with it being a forerunner effect of the eventual collision of our universes, but why that started a TV series I have no idea. Some day I am going to have to sit down with a big book on the multiverse and figure everything out.

“Really, so that time Big Mac almost took Apple Bloom’s head off with that damn hoofcannon of his...?” Twilight petered out as I just looked blank. “Okay right. Far too traumatic. Um. Oh! Appaloosa. They had to keep that more or less unchanged, right?”

I cocked my head at her. “It was just a big pie fight on the show.”

Twilight’s face fell. “Oh...” she said, in a very small voice. “Well I guess if they didn’t know what happened was real...” She shuddered.

For a moment I wondered what the problem was. Then the upshot of a small number of frontiersponies taking on a large number of natives, when they had ready access to firearms hit me. “Shit,” I commiserated.

“Yeah... I don’t think Pinkie has touched a gun since,” Twilight added, hanging her head. “And she gets this weird look whenever Applejack brings her rifle along on our adventures.”

“How common are these guns away?” I interjected.

Twilight shrugged. “Well I’ve got two dozen in the castle for my royal guard to use.”

I looked around, I didn’t think I’d ever seen Twilight with a guard. “What royal guard?”

“Exactly.” She rolled her eyes. “But that’s the bureaucracy for you. Other than that, though, most of the farming families have a couple, but in town they’re pretty rare. Places like Canterlot or Manehatten have almost none; there’s a rather longstanding convention against bringing weapons into the presence of the nobility.”

Crystal Cog returned from checking the rifle over. “Oh, so should I be showing this to you?”

“I’m not Celestia,” Twilight pointed out, testily. “It’s a courtesy, not a ban.”

“In that case, let me demonstrate,” Crystal Cog continued. Bringing the rifle up to his shoulder. “Observe the mechanism at the base of the barrel. It slides open simply allowing you to insert a round quickly and easily.” He demonstrated, thankfully without a round. “You then lock it closed. The materia-arcana decay is contained behind the baseplate and you can then fire it as normal.”

He aimed at the far wall, slipped a hooftip into the trigger guard and-

There was a low rumbled and the building shook.

“What the hell?” I demanded, as dust rained down from the ceiling.

“Oh, I’m sure it was just Dash,” Cog said, waving it off. “Now if-”

“That wasn’t Rainbow Dash,” Twilight interjected, trotting towards the exit. “I’m going to take a look.”

I was only a few steps behind her and, somewhat reluctantly, Crystal Cog followed.

“You got it flying?” I said at last. The three of us stood on Twilight’s observatory balcony with our necks craned back, staring at the Tornado fighter as it rumbled through the sky, high above our heads.

“Took a lot of work, but yeah. I did tell them only to do systems test today, though,” Cog added, that last part in a grumble.

Twilight shook her head in disbelief. “It needed oxygen to fly. Wherever did you find enough?”

“Ah, well we might have cheated a little there. We loaded it up with a transmutor and a couple of massive thunder stones,” Cog explained, his wings twitching every time the jet turned. “It synthesises the oxygen in the air intake. It actually posed a few interesting problems if you’d-”

A rainbow streaked from the ground, shadowing the jet for a moment before coming alongside.

“Looks like Dash has found a playmate,” I observed, grinning.

Twilight laughed. “Let’s just hope you humans can keep up.”

Dash was off like a rocket a moment later, her rainbow contrail streaking out behind her as she accelerated away from the jet. Within moment the jet was after her, pushing hard. “Heh, good luck, that’s a supersonic jet...”

Realisation hit me like a ton of bricks.

It was a supersonic jet. The same supersonic jet that had crossed into Equestria while trying to imitate a rainboom; now racing against the one creature on the planet capable of producing one on demand. Images of Tony and Louis boasting about their jet to Dash flashed through my head. How much work would it really take to bait her into do something really, really stupid?

“Twilight,” I snapped, shaking her shoulder. “Please tell me you closed the ‘supersonic over a rainbow’ hole in reality from both sides.”

Twilight frowned, and I felt my heart go from panic to maximum overdrive. “Actually, it was a big hole, so I haven’t patched it from the Equestrian side. But Rainbow is the only entity that can go supersonic and I told her too-”

We shared a look of utter horror.

“We’ve got to stop her!” we yelled in unison and hurled ourselves into the air.

I quickly took the lead. The aether flowing through my wings with desperate intensity, banishing gravity and I tore through the air like a gale. Dash was still playing keep away with the jet in the skies above, which meant Twilight and I still had time to stop the disaster. Maybe. If we were fast enough.

Setting my personal best time to three thousand feet I levelled out gasping for breath next to Rainbow Dash who, despite the fact I could barely feel my wings for the amount of magic I was pumping through them, was flying upside down with one foreleg tucked behind her back.

“Hey Alex,” she called, righting herself and waving a hoof. “Did you want a front row seat for me leaving these jokers in the dust?”

“You-” I gasped, fighting to keep up to the speedster who was making our breakneck passage look like a morning jog. “-don’t - can’t - fast.”

“Eh, it’ll have to wait,” Dash cut in, glancing over her shoulder. “Looks like the competition is finally here.”

She swung her hooves forwards into an aether spike configuration and hit the turbo. A moment later she was a receding dot in the sky as she effortlessly piled another sixty miles an hour onto her already prodigious speed.

“Alex!” Twilight called, finally catching up, and breathing hard. The princess was not a strong filer by any measure, and the telltale glow of arcana magic around her hooves was doing little more than allowing her to match my pace. “Do something!”

Behind her the Tornado roared, as it began to gain ground on us. For a moment I appreciated the sheer insanity I could see through the canopy. Two pastel ponies at the controls of a multi-million pound war machine was not a sight seen often, though would have been far funnier if they hadn’t been about to tear the universe a new one.

I turned back towards Dash. There was only one way to stop a pegasus when they were flying; Arcana magic was too weak this high in the sky to be anything but an annoyance so Twilight wasn’t going to be any use. I just had to catch up to Rainbow Dash and force her to stop...

I just had to catch the fastest mare in Equestria.

Have I mentioned I hate my life sometimes?

The Tornado overtook us, but I didn’t have a spare wit to notice. Conceptually speaking, flying at insane speeds as a pegasus wasn’t too hard. First, you had to stop believing your wings were anything but a feathery conduit for magic. Mine were already burning with uncomfortable levels of power when I made that shift, slipping out of the air in a motion that I can only liken to raising an oar out of the water without stopping rowing. Moments later Twilight overtook me as my speed dropped away and I began to plummet.

Second step was to produce a proper air shell. I knew how to do that in principle, but never on the scale to cover my entire body. Gritting my teeth I pushed yet more aether into the spell, taking great gulps of air to try and fuel the magic, and a tenuous shell solidified around me. Shielding me from the wind somewhat and slowing me still further.

Finally, use your wings to push the air. Not with your wings, but with the magic in them.

I had no idea how to do that.

I also didn’t really have any option but to figure it out.

The rainbow contrail stretched ahead of me, a still subsonic jet streaking along it, and a moment’s realisation hit me. If I’d had any breath to spare I would have laughed. I just had to pretend I was jet engine.

Reaching out with the airshell I grabbed the air before me, pulled, and somehow took off like a rocket.

Within moments my speed went from laughable to terrifying as I picked up velocity, my wings beating at a frantic pace as I desperately tried to fill the gaping hole the aether drain threatened to tear in my tenuous bubble of speed. My head pounded, and the world seemed to lose colour as I pushed myself faster and faster, until I was following a monochromatic ribbon in the sky. Twilight flashed past a moment later, I couldn’t spare a moment to see how she was doing. Hell, I couldn’t spare a breath.

The Tornado loomed large for a moment as I struggled past and there, at last, was Rainbow Dash. I struggled to get my aether starved brain to concentrate and pulled up close to the washed out pegasus.

“Wow, Alex!” she cheered, holding up a hoof for a high five. Beyond the wind in her hair you could barely tell she was moving. “You made it to the big leagues. That’s awesome.”

My wings were agony. It felt like someone was taking pilers to the individual feathers and twisting them out one by one. Trying to focus through the haze of exhaustion and pain I gasped. “Rainbow-”

“Don’t worry about it,” she replied, waving me off. “I’ll just send these losers packing and then I’ll be right back.”

At this point I made my first fatal mistake.

“You can’t!” I screeched.

“Ha! Just watch,” she crowed. Bunching herself up, Dash kicked off the air and accelerated like someone had put a rocket under her tail.

I should have given up there. I shouldn’t have taken a deep gulp and desperately thrown myself into the pursuit. Rainbow Dash, the indisputable fastest creature on the planet was already gathering aether around her like a copper rod in a lightning storm, her speed building and building as she accelerated up to a rainboom. My wings were falling apart at the seams, shedding feathers with every flap.

There was a crackle-pop as Twilight appeared next to me, and again as she teleported onwards, and again, and again into the distance. It didn’t seem to be enough, though. The Tornado reached me a moment later, picking me up in it’s wash and hurling me about the sky like a ragdoll.

And here is fatal mistake number two.

My airshell shattered, and I found myself tumbling through the skies. Through more panic than design, I grabbed onto the disturbed ribbons of aether the jet left in it’s wake and the world lurched as I was pulled along after the Tornado. I had, maybe half a second to wonder just how my life had gotten to the point where I was a winged pony hanging onto the back of a jet fighter using a magic I barely understood, before Tony Acey hit the afterburners and I was too busy screaming to wonder about anything else.

Mistake three was not letting go. Though in fairness, once you hit two hundred miles an hour the terror rather makes that impossible. It was all I could do to keep a shield in place to stop my face being torn off by the windsheer.

Before us, at last, Dash hit the sound barrier. The sky lighting up in a rainbow ring explosion. The Tornado was only a half step behind, accelerating with such force I feared it would rip my wings clear out of their sockets.

I’ll give Tony this. He’s a fantastic pilot. He went transonic at the dead center of the rainboom and tore the world apart.

I was falling.

I wasn’t clear on the why. There was a mysterious gap in my memories between hitting the barrier between worlds at mach one and plummeting from the sky...

Okay, I guess it wasn’t that much of a mystery.

I rolled myself over so I was falling belly first and spread my wings to find - nothing. The aether didn’t just slip from my pinions, it wasn’t there. I tried to take a deep breath of air but found nothing but burning pain that assaulted my lungs, my eyes, and every bit of exposed skin. As my flapping became frantic the ground raced up to meet me. Through streaming eyes I spotted a landmark I recognised.

Canterbury cathedral.

The irony of dying barely a mile from home after spending the last two months in Equestria was lost on me at the time. I was too busy trying to grasp the aether, or anything that might have saved my life.

At the very last second, at rooftop height, I caught... something, barely a whisper of power but I pumped everything I had into a single heave of my wings. Somehow that was enough and I managed to slow myself to the point where I didn’t break every bone in my body. I still hit the tarmac hard enough to knock me silly.

A horn blared. I’d landed less than a bonnet length from a car, which screeched to a halt as glass from shattered street lights rained down around me. I was hyperventilating, desperately trying to get aether that wasn’t there into my lungs, and about to die. There was no real question about it, my vision began to go black around the edges as I tried and failed to drag myself to my hooves, but it was a futile gesture. I was suffocating. And there wasn’t a thing I could do to save my life.

I collapsed. Some bitter part of my brain observed that at least my demise was going to be well documented, judging by the number of people pointing camera phones at me.

With no better final words that that bitter note, I closed my eyes, and saw nothing but rainbows.

“Right, now hit her again.”

Somepony punched me in the chest.

Then they did it again a half dozen times till I broke into a hacking cough.

“Hey, Alex!”

With a trembling hoof I pushed the annoying voice away and rolled onto my side, taking wracking gulps of precious aether. Cracking my eyes open I was assaulted by the, now all too familiar, bright hues of Equestria and I groaned.

Somehow I wasn’t dead. I was in far too much pain to be dead.

“Alex, are you okay?” Dash’s asked in her grating voice, prodding me in the shoulder with a hoof.

“Of course she’s not okay, she almost suffocated, Dash!”

Ah, so Twilight survived too. That was good to know, I’d rather lost track of her just before-

“Earth!” I exclaimed, sitting bolt upright; then degenerated into a coughing fit.

“Easy, Alex. Easy,” Twilight chided, the Princess patting me on the back.

It took far too long till I was able to do anything but sit there on the grass, trying to stop my head pounding and lungs burning. Twilight held my hoof and worked some magic that seemed to ease my aches and pains; though it was really a band-aid fix.

“Okay,” I said at last, when the world stopped swimming. “Can someone tell me what happened?”

Twilight shot a nasty glare at Dash. “Somepony wasn’t listening when I told them 'no rainbooms'.”

“Hey!” Dash held up a hoof to defend her wounded pride. “You didn’t hear what those jerks at The Barn were saying. They didn’t even believe in rainbooms!”

Rainbow Dash, people, element of ego.

I dropped my head into my hooves. “They were bucking using you Rainbow Dash,” I snarled.

The pegasus rolled her eyes and had opened her mouth to argue when Twilight silenced her with a look.

“Right, well after Dash broke the sound barrier, followed by the Tornado, they... tore a hole in the barrier.” I winced. Tearing was bad. “Fortunately Dash didn’t get caught up in the crossing and I was able to prop open the portal long enough for her to dart through and pick you up before you-” She took a deep breath and finished in a small voice. “-died.”

I shook my head. I ignored the worry in Twilight’s voice, or the fact Dash had braved an alien world, and zeroed in on the terrifying word. “Portal?” I echoed.

“It was just for a few seconds,” Twilight admitted, with a hesitant smile. Which did nothing to alleviate my fears.

“You said we could, under no circumstances, ever open a portal,” I echoed, trying to keep the stunned horror from my voice. “A doomsday scenario, you said.”

Twilight let loose a nervous little laugh.

“Twilight. What happened to the barrier?”

“It’s fine,” she assured me, rather quickly. “I can fix it.”

It felt like someone had replaced my stomach with a lead brick. Twilight could ‘fix’ the thin wall that prevented all of humanity going extinct in an instant. That was like hearing everything was fine, there was still time to disarm the bomb. For a moment I stared at the pair, as if someone had struck me in the face.

Then the red mist descended.

“Crystal Cog,” I snarled, dragging myself to my hooves.

“Alex, you shouldn’t be moving,” Twilight interjected, but I ignored her. Every muscle in my body burned and my wings felt like someone had strapped a flaming brand around them, but I ignored them too, breaking into a trot as I set course for Ponyville.

“What?” Dash exclaimed, hovering between us. “What about Cog?”

“The bastard just punched a hole in reality,” I snarled. “I’m going to put a hole in his head.”

I reached The Barn far sooner than I thought. Partly because, for all our speed, the chase hadn’t gone on long enough to really take us that far from Ponyville, but mostly because I was seething far too much to pay any attention to my hoofsteps.

The Barn itself was at the far south of Sweet Apple Acres and under long term loan to Crystal Cog and his friends for something like a bit a month for the next year. The actual land was a postage stamp compared to the farm, but it was still a rather large compound, with the eponymous Barn (still decorated with hearts because, you know, Equestria) a large forge/tool shop and a pair of low blockhouses. It wasn’t a part of town I frequented that often, Cog tended to attract ponies who more or less themselves healthy and happy which left me to focus on the more problematic members of the Club. It seemed that that decision had come back to bite me.

I blew through the front gates and dropped into a furious march. Somewhere, though where escaped me, I had picked up the rest of the mane six who followed in my wake, along with a number of concerned Club members. None of them had managed to dissuade me from my course, Pinkie Pie had given up trying to reason with me a half mile ago, which in hindsight was a very, very bad sign.

The Barn members began to pile out of the various buildings and I stopped next to what looked like a half disassembled air-yacht.

“Crystal Cog!” I roared. It would have been in the royal canterlot voice but I could barely feel my wings, let alone summon enough aether to boost my volume. “Where the fuck are you hiding!”

The caramel coloured pegasus pushed his way through the crowd, which swelled around him. “Hello Alex,” he said, in a very measured tone.

I stepped forwards, hunkering down slightly as if to pounce. “Do you know what what you’ve done?” I snarled. “Do you!”

He nodded. “I sent a message in a bottle.”

“You just killed two people!” I advanced a few steps, getting right up in his face. “We. Can’t. Breathe. On. Earth!”

Cog fixed me with a contemptuous glare. “You think I didn’t consider that?” he replied. “They had enough bottled aether for at least two weeks. If they can’t find help by then, well, they knew the risks.”

You know, some small part of me had hoped taking to Crystal Cog would calm things down.

“And what about all the people about to be sucked through into god-damned Equestria?” I demanded. “How the hell does two ponies ending up stuck alone on Earth help them?”

“Alex,” Cog said, beginning to sound annoyed. “Tony and Louis are irrefutable proof that something is wrong with our universe. They can and will get help from the entire scientific establishment of the western world. Any people, displaced, before we can fix things are-” My eyes went wide. “-a necessary part of saving the world.”

I punched him in the face.

It wasn’t a soft punch. I’ve got hooves, it was never going to be soft. Still, I put my entire weight, and two months’ worth of frustration, behind the blow and floored the slight stallion.

Cog let loose a rather equine scream of pain, writhing on the ground, clutching his jaw; I had to fight down the urge to stamp on him. Instead I settled on screaming. “You rat bastard! You think this is going to do anything but drag anyone else into this mess! What the hell is humanity going to do to stop a god-damn magical catastrophe?”

“Alex!” Twilight cut in, yanking me back by my mane with her magic. “Leave him. He doesn’t deserve this.”

That was a mistake.

I rounded on the Princess, glaring daggers at her. “Oh no. You can not tell me that his fuck up, and your fuck up, are going to be just fine.”

Twilight quailed backwards, her wings fluffing out protectively. I didn’t care in the slightest, I was in far too much pain, and far too angry to be paying any attention to little things like the feelings of royalty.

“How many,” I snarled, as the mane six formed up protectively around Twilight. “How many people are going to have their lives wrecked because of this shitstorm you were too lazy to prevent?”

Dead silence descended on the crowd. I may have crossed a line with that last one, but I really didn’t care.

“Hokay sugarcube,” Applejack interjected, stepping forwards and putting a steady hoof on my chest. It wasn’t a great pressure, but I could feel the force in potential that lay in waiting. “Ah think ya had a very hard day. Why don’t y’all just take a deep breath and we’ll talk this over like civilised folk.”

I ignored her. Leaning round the farm pony I fixed Twilight with a glare. “How. Many?”

“Two dozen, maybe,” Twilight said in a whimper.

The words were like a slap in the face. Two dozen. That was another two dozen lives wrecked by the end of the week. Two dozen families grieving for a child, or parent, that they would never see again. My anger seemed to drain away under the hammer blow of loss those two words implied.

“And all because the Princess of Friendship couldn’t keep her damn friends on a leash,” I growled.

“Hey!” Dash snapped, getting right up in my face. “We just saved your ungrateful ass. What are you yelling at Twilight for?”

I shot her a contemptuous glance and asked, in far calmer tone than I was feeling. “Dash, how many more Club members will there be next week because you saved me?”

Dash blinked, backing off and I looked over at Twilight. She didn’t answer.

“Too many,” I said for her.

With Twilight in tears, Crystal Cog still on the ground and a stunned herd of Club members behind me. I walked away.

Chapter 4: Looking Glass

View Online

The final count was thirty-three. Just so you know.

That was thirty-three new humans in Equestria. Twelve more ponies for Swift's flying lessons. Nine more introductions to horn care. A record-setting crossing where an entire family of seven stumbled through. Three more cases where ‘So you’re a mare now’ was a desperately needed guide. Two more gryphons, adding fuel to a smouldering diplomatic fire. And a zebra; which at least helped fill out our species diversity card. Far more worrying was the fact Crystal Cog’s stunt had got my mug on YouTube and, while no one had deliberately reached Equestria yet, I doubted that would last.

It was safe to say that it had not been an easy week. Twilight had informed me, by written note, that the barrier had been stabilized and that we could expect no more rushes of Club members, but that still left me with thirty confused and distraught ponies to council, and house, and feed, which was rapidly becoming a major issue. That didn’t even include the ongoing trouble I was having getting the changelings enough emotion to survive, and the fact that the Barn still weren’t talking to me, and that Star Charge was agitating for my dismissal -- again -- or that the entire town had been giving me the evil eye for making Twilight cry.

Oh, and there was one more irritant.

“Please Alex,” Swiftwing begged, hovering around my head.

“No,” I snapped, picking my way around a particularly vicious vine that wound out of the Everfree proper and across the narrow trail. There were times when I wished Zecora lived in a safer neighborhood, but my stress induced headache was bad enough for me to brave the depths of the wood. Though with hindsight I should also have picked up some pegasi repellent.

“Please Alex,” the turquoise mare repeated. “Come on. Help a pegasister out.”

I shot her an incredulous look. “I don’t believe that’s a word.”

“Your Club was using it,” she protested, then shook her head. “That’s not important, though. You have to teach me!”

Another deadpan glare was her reward. I gestured to my heavily bandaged wings. “And how exactly do you expect that to happen? I’m grounded.” And would be for some time, if you believed the doctors. I’d torn out most of my flight feathers during my desperate race against Dash and until they grew back I would be both bereft of the air and the aether.

“Who cares!” Swiftwing exclaimed, throwing her forelegs into the air and sinking to the ground. “You broke the Wall. You broke the bucking Wall, Alex!”

I cocked my head at the overly dramatic pegasus. “What wall?”

She shook her head in disgust. “What wall,” she grumbled. “The Wall! The Wall that separates you from an Weekend Wing and puts you in the big league. The Wall that, if you push through it, gets you on any weather team in the country, no questions asked. The Wall that every pegasus dreams of blowing through and leaving her opponents in the dust and you... you shattered it!”

“And buggered my wings,” I pointed out, again, gesturing at the bandaged limbs.

Swiftwing landed near ontop of me in her haste, and I got a face full of green mane. “Come on Alex, please!” she begged, grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me. “You can have the first shower. You can have my first born. Just teach me!”

“Fine, fine!” I snapped, shoving her away. “I’ll tell you everything I know.”

“Yes!” Swiftwing cheered, punching the air. “Okay.” She dropped into a low hunker, wings extended as far as possible between the trees. “So, I’ve always imagined you need to keep your wings swept forwards when you break the wall. Kind of powering through the barrier. Lots of aether ramming forwards to-”

I pushed her wing out of the way and kept walking down the path.

“Okay, first, I wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to my wings.” Swiftwing’s jaw dropped. “And it’s not about pushing through a barrier. You have to... Think like an aeroplane, start using your magic to push, rather than your wings and then-”

“Wait, wait, wait, wait,” Swiftwing interjected, trotting to catch up. “You didn’t think about your wings? How in the hay do you fly without thinking about your wings? That’s number one on the list of things you need to do to fly.”

I rolled my eyes. Swiftwing, like most teachers, made a terrible student.

“Look, to go that fast you have to stop thinking about it like flight,” I persisted. “It’s more like rocket science. You have to build a spell that- well, you have to push with magic rather than-” Swiftwing gave me a rather blank look and I slumped. I may have also made a terrible teacher.

“Okay, let’s try something else,” Swift interjected, leaping over my head and striking another spread winged pose. “Spitfire has this thing called the Eagle Claw. She uses it out of the blocks to get up to hundred plus speeds faster than anypony. Did you use that? Or, or!” She leapt into the air and stretched both sets of legs as far forwards or backwards as they could go. “Did you copy Dash’s aether spike. Okay, so that's more of a Rainboom prep and you got nowhere near that but-”

I held up a hoof to silence her. “Look, Swiftwing. I honestly wasn’t doing any secret technique. I was imagining what I wanted to happen based off of what I read in a book.”

Swiftwing dropped to the ground and shot me a look of utter disdain. “Really, Alex?” she asked, cocking her brow and continuing incredulously. “You read it in a book?”

Rolling my eyes I stopped. “Yeah, some ponies use them to learn things.”

“Urgh.” Swiftwing made a face, scowling. “Typical. It’s just my luck. I’m finally friends with somepony that can break the magic hundred limit and she flies using her mind.”

The pegasus leapt into the air and, without another word, flew off in a huff.

I shook my head. So much for escorting me through the Everfree. I shrugged and continued down the winding road.

It took just a few more minutes to reach the edge of the forrest. Not enough time for anything truly nasty to sneak up on me, though I had to keep my wits about me to avoid the patch of poison joke that had sprung up in the half hour since I’d been down the path. The nasty little plant had a strong reaction to Club members to say the least; something to do with Discord’s adaptation spell and a chaos magic overload.

At last free of the trees, I took a deep breath of the cool autumnal air. It was a rather grey day; the pegasi were keeping the worst of the rains away until the last of the harvests could be gathered, but it looked like they were fighting a losing battle. Weather control, I was told, was more art than science, and judging by the sky it was going to be a lightning bolt symphony by the evening.

I shook my head. Glancing at my mental lists, I took stock of what I had to do. Big on there was the Club meeting later in the day, which would be less than fun with Crystal Cog, Star Charge and I in a three corner war. I’d managed to put off the disaster of a meeting by a week, what with still being in the hospital after my jaunt to Earth, but the Club still had a job to do. I couldn’t just avoid the issue indefinitely.

Sighing, and with a weary patter to my trot, I continued with my list. Just as disagreeable, I had to check on the changelings to make sure that disaster hadn’t got any worse since tuesday, and then do the rounds of the town to drag the less sociable members of the Club to the meeting. And while I was out and about-

My thoughts were interrupted by Angel Bunny flying past my muzzle.

I caught the airborne lapine through more luck than skill and lowered him to the ground. He shook his fist wildly back the way he’d come, kicked the ground and then hopped off, leaving me standing bemused on the path.

Sighing, I followed after him.

It looked like I was going to be late.

Fluttershy’s cottage was the epitome of chaos-

Sorry. That should read, ‘the epitome of chaos, was at Fluttershy’s cottage’. Specifically, Discord was sitting in the garden drinking T with Fluttershy. Yes, the letter. I don’t think I can adequately explain how much just standing near the draconequus, made me want to simultaneously throw up and facehoof so hard I scooped out my brain.

“Oh my!” Discord exclaimed, spotting me through a set of opera glasses. “If it isn’t the mare of the hour herself.”

In a single, sinuous motion the draconequus flicked through the air, picked me up in one arm, dragged me kicking over a dozen yards in the blink of an eye, and deposited me at the picnic table.

Fluttershy tittered, as I tried to catch my bearings. She, unlike Discord, had a proper tea set before her though, for reasons I couldn’t understand, she was also wearing a set of false mouse ears. Angel Bunny hopped onto the table, dressed in a waistcoat, and doing his best to ignore the silly proceedings.

“So glad you could join us, Alice dear,” Discord continued, pulling a large top hat out of his sleeve and affixing it firmly atop his head.

With growing dread I looked down to see that, while distracted, I’d been placed in a frilly white and blue dress. To be fair to Discord, it was a rather flattering cut, probably; I’m not great on pony fashions.

I cocked a brow at him. “Really?”

“Respect the classics, dear,” Discord said, with a haughty flick of his head.

“Save me, Fluttershy. Please," I begged.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she replied, smiling softly, adjusting the false ears. “It’s just his way of saying he likes you.”

“Indeed I do!” Discord exclaimed, suddenly right next to me and pressing his face against mine. “After all, I just know we’re going to be the very best of friends.” He lifted the corners of my cheeks into a wide grin.

I gritted my teeth and scowled. “Take your hands away, or I will take them away,” I snarled.

Between heartbeats Discord was back in his chair, holding up his empty paws. “No hands,” he pointed out.

I tore the two manikin hands out my mouth and hurled them away. Snorting in irritation I rounded on Discord, who was whistling innocently, musical notes bubbling away into the sky. For a moment I considered bucking him into next week, then an idea struck and a wicked grin spread across my face.

“Hey, friend,” I began, false sweetness layering my voice. “Perhaps, as a good buddy of mine, you could help me live up to a promise.”

Discord puffed himself up. “Why of course, dear Alice, anything for friendship. Just ask and you shall receive.”

I pointed a hoof at the ground a ponylength away. “Just stand there for a moment.” Discord, for once in his life obliged, and, not letting the false smile slip I took up position before him.

Then in a flurry of motion I whirled round and kicked him as hard as I could.

“My nuts!” Discord exclaimed, with a keening wail.

My grin now decidedly of the self satisfied sort, I turned to survey the damage. Discord, far from being doubled over in pain though, was fishing around in a small cloth bag. Pulling out shards of shattered wallnut out he devoured his freshly crushed snack.

“Thank you, Alice,” he continued, stuffing his face without the faintest trace of awareness that I’d just tried to emasculate him. “I always struggle to open these for some reason.”

I shot him another glare. “I really hate you, you know that.”

“Alex,” Fluttershy chided, the buttercup pegasus fixing me with her harshest look. Which before you laugh, was still enough to make me hang my head. “Discord is trying to be friendly.”

Letting loose a weary sigh, I took back my seat at the table and poured myself a cup of tea. “Not everyone can be friends,” I pointed out.

“See, that’s what I said to old Sunny Butt,” Discord continued, blithely unaware of Fluttershy giving him a long suffering stare. “But if I can be friends with one pony, I can be friends with anypony. I even have a list.”

He unrolled a long scroll, titled ‘Twilight Sparkle’s Friendship Algorithm’. “Now where was I... Ah, here swapping stories.” He looked over at me expectantly; after a few moments where I met his mismatched gaze, he shook his head and sighed. “I guess I’ll start. Ask me anything, dear Alice.” He pulled open his chest to reveal the text underneath. “I am an open book.”

My headache was rapidly reaching a crescendo. I grumbled to myself for a moment. “Fine. Whatever...” I cast around for a question. “Okay, do you sound like John de Lanice because he voices you on the show, or does he voice you on the show because he sounds like you?”

It was a -- semi -- serious question. Everypony else sounded different, albeit subtly, from their voice actor, but Discord was dead on all the time. It was bizarre.

“Oh Alice, you should know better than to ask questions like that,” Discord exclaimed, chortling to himself. “It’s like asking, ‘which came first, the pegasus or the egg?’”

“Pegasi don’t-”

I shut the hell up. No way was I completing that sentence. Discord looked on eagerly for a moment, before slumping.

“Oh you’re no fun,” he sighed, lifting a very large polkadotted egg out from under his hat. I had to repress a shudder.

“Discord,” Fluttershy chided.

He shrugged. “What? It’s chocolate.” He gave the egg a knock, resulting in a hollow thunk, then he threw it over his shoulder. There was a low rumble as it took off like a cannonball towards Ponyville.

Pinkie Pie had been standing in the middle of the street for some time, staring at the sky. Nopony had plucked up the courage to ask why, partly because getting a straight answer from Pinkie Pie was like getting sunshine on Rainbow Dash’s day off, but mostly because her tail had been twitching non-stop and nopony was brave enough to get close.

The peace was suddenly split by a crack-boom that sent ponies diving for cover. With a slight twitch of her head the pink pony snatched the ballistic egg out of the air, then turned and bounced away, humming a happy tune to herself with the chocolate treat clasped between her lips.

The residents of Ponyville collectively shook their heads and moved on with their lives. There was no explaining Pinkie Pie.

I looked around suddenly. “What the heck was that?”

“Oh just a cut-away,” Discord explained, waving it away. “Pay no heed.”

I rubbed my throbbing temples. “Discord, please, just, leave me alone.”

“Alice, how could I just abandon a new friend to the vagaries of this cruel, cruel world?” Discord demanded, looking hurt.

“You are the vagary of this cruel, cruel world,” I shot back, jabbing a hoof at him. Discord mimed being shot in the heart. “And we are not friends. We will never be friends!”

“Oh you wound me dear Alice-”

“Alex!” I roared, at long last, slamming my hooves on the table and rattling the crockery. “My name is Alexis, and you will damn well use it!” For a moment Discord seemed stunned... then the Discord-shaped cardboard cutout fell over to reveal behind it the draconequus rolling on the floor laughing.

“Mercy,” he exclaimed, tears of mirth streaming from his eyes. “Mercy. You are just too much.”

I slumped onto the table, resisting the urge to sob. It was like spitting into the wind.

“Discord,” Fluttershy snapped, with something resembling real force. “That was not a very nice thing to do to a friend at all.”

“Oh, very well,” Discord sighed, pouting as he, once again, resumed his place at the table. He held out a paw before my nose. “Truce?”

I scowled at him. “You know what? No! No truce.” I batted the paw away and raised up, with my forehooves on the table. “I hate you Discord. You are the sole reason my entire life for the last two months has been an utter farce. The reason I am in this stupid body, in this stupid world, with a stupid doomsday clock hanging over my head. There is nothing, nothing, that would make make we want to do anything but smash your miss-matched teeth in!”

Discord gave me a slow round of applause. “Well done Alice, at least a six on the megalomaniacal rant scale there,” he continued, holding up a scorecard. “Next time though you need really to work on your ending. Start denouncing wildly, don’t just keep things on a single target. I can definitely see the potential that won you our award, though.”

“Wh-” I began, then realised there was a heavy weight on my chest. Looking down there was a large, gold medal, on a silk ribbon around my neck. “For services rendered to chaos and disharmony,” I read. “‘The Made a Princess Cry Award’ - Discord!”

“That is enough,” Fluttershy cut in, fixing us with a glare. “From both of you. Alex, Discord is just trying to be friendly, and you will apologize.”


She fixed me with a stare. I couldn’t meet it for even a moment.

“Fine,” I sighed. “Discord, I am sorry.” You’re alive.

“Likewise,” he agreed. “In fact. A gift!” He plucked a golden ticket out of thin air. “For you, dear Alex.”

Well at least he got my name right that time.

With all due caution I took the ticket out of the air.



“Discord!” I roared. I hurled myself across the table at him, only to be stopped short by Angel Bunny who grabbed onto my tail and hauled me back. That turned my enraged leap into an elaborate procedure to smack my jaw on the table.

“Son of a--!” I swore, clasping my jaw. Angel hopped up my back and onto the table, where he wagged a finger at me.

“Urgh, how is this my life?” I groaned, covering my eyes with my hooves.

“Discord, this isn’t a nice gift at all,” Fluttershy pointed out, reading the ticket.

Discord rolled his eyes. “It’s just a little prank,” he pointed out.

“Well pranks aren’t supposed to make other ponies feel worse about themselves,” Fluttershy countered, fluttering into the air to get on eye level to the draconequus. “You have been terribly rude to Alex this whole time.”

“But she-”

“No buts, mister,” Fluttershy interrupted, hooves on hips. “Alex may have not been very nice either, but that’s no reason for you both to sink to the same level.”

I winced. It’s generally a bad sign when Fluttershy has anything bad at all to say about you.

“Oh, very well,” Discord sighed, then turned to me. With a snap of his fingers the frilly nightmare of a dress (though not my medal) vanished in a puff of logic, and he gave me a deep bow, sweeping his hat from his head. “Alex, allow me to sincerely apologize for my behavior.”

I cocked my brow at him. “Seriously?”

He looked up. “Oh yes,” he said, with a mischievous grin. “In fact! I have just the idea for an apology. A boon!”

“A what?”

“A gift,” he repeated, leaping to his feet. “Any gift in fact. You must simply ask for it. Any gift, at any time.”

I frowned. “This seems like a monkey's paw,” I pointed out.

Discord gave a quick check of his paws. “Not at all. See, no monkeys here, after all I’m reformed don’t you know? But you don’t have to make your wish now, simply call when you have need of it, and I’ll be there.”

“Psh, that’ll be the day,” I muttered. Discord just continued to smile, as if laughing at a private joke.

“Well it has been lovely, Fluttershy, but I really must be off,” Discord announced suddenly. Pulling Angel out of his pocket, the furious rabbit clasped around a gold pocket watch, the draconequus checked the time. “I’m running late, you see, to a race with the Red Queen.”

Ah, so that was why Angel was in a waistcoat. You’ve got to admit, when Discord grabs a theme he runs all the way with it. Without another word Discord ran on the spot for a few moments and then, without moving, seemed to recede into distance in final assault on my sense of reality.

I let out a sigh of relief and let myself, at last, sample the tea. It was very good, even if my nerves had been jangled beyond all repair by my brush with chaos.

“Are you okay, Alex?” Fluttershy enquired, settling down opposite me.

“Oh sure, I just got mocked by the spirit of disorder. I’m having a great day.”

Fluttershy shrunk back a little, hiding behind her mane. “Umm, I meant, is your jaw okay?”

I rubbed my chin. Much to my surprise it didn’t hurt in the slightest. “Huh, apparently yes. One point in Discord’s favour I guess.”

“He can be very nice when he puts his mind to it,” Fluttershy admitted, a fond smile on her lips. “He just doesn’t know how most of the time.”

I sighed. Well that feeling I could sympathise with. “Urgh, now you’ve got and made me feel sympathetic,” I groused, making a face as I toyed with my ‘Made a Princess Cry’ medal. After a long pause. “Is Twilight ever going to forgive me for yelling at her?”

Fluttershy cast her eyes down, rolling her empty cup around on her hoof. “Well... She was very upset.”

“And I was very much a jerk,” I agreed. “I probably should apologize to her when I get the chance.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that,” Fluttershy cut in, softly. I blinked in surprise. “You see,” she continued, looking back down at the table. “Twilight is a fixer. She’ll have a big plan for making you forgive her for letting the jet get through the barrier. If you don’t go along with it she’ll get all stressed and try even harder to get it right.”

“I’m not sure Twilight is the one who’s supposed to be apologising,” I pointed out.

Fluttershy didn’t say anything to that. More silence passed between us. “Still,” she began at last, “just let her apologise first. Before you do. That way everypony will be happy.”

I shook my head. “Well, it’s better than my previous plan.” Fake my death and run away to Appleloosa. “Thanks Fluttershy; and for the tea.” I stood to go, the medal thunking against my chest.

“Umm.” I looked down. “Any chance I can leave this with you? I don’t think I’ll be too popular around town wearing this.”

Fluttershy smiled. “I have a closet of all the things Discord leaves. You can keep it there.”

It took me ten minutes to get out of that closet. Have I mentioned yet just how much I hate Discord? I was seriously contemplating using that boon to give him a wedgie, but felt that would backfire spectacularly, somehow.

Gritting my teeth I skirted around Ponyville. To the north west, where Ponyville proper ended but the Everfree had not yet begun, a single tent was pitched. The grass around it had been charred by fire, the fabric itself was a mismatch of coloured patches, and nothing but the breeze stirred its folds, but the tent was, blessedly, still occupied.

“Hello there!” I called out, trotting closer. A pair of rose coloured eyes watched me from the recesses of the entrance. It turned and vanished into the gloom and, feeling like an extra in an Aliens movie, I followed after it.

Inside was dim, but not unhomely. Low tables, flower filled vases and mountains of pillows filled the space. And changelings of course. Everywhere the drones lay, watching me with their alien eyes, but beyond the door guard none moved. At the very centre Queen Rose stood. She had gained a lot of colour over the last few weeks, her carapace slowly taking on the familiar black tones of the changelings, but they had not been easy weeks. She looked listless, her mane hanging limp and untended, and for a moment she eyed me with what can only be described as hunger.

She shook herself quickly enough, and smiled warmly. “Alex, so good of you to visit.”

“Rose,” I replied. “I thought I’d come and see how you were doing.”

“We’re surviving, that’s the best I can say,” Rose sighed. “Please, sit.” She gestured at an unoccupied pair of pillows, twice the size of a pony.

I sank down into one, half lying on my back, half sitting up in the human style. “These are new,” I observed, doing my best to make conversation.

“Well, we’ve been doing a lot of sleeping,” Rose admitted, sinking down next to me, then cocked her head. “Isn’t that uncomfortable?”

“A little,” I admitted, shrugging. In fact my wings were protesting the rough treatment. “But you know, I like to live in denial sometimes.” Rose smiled, sympathetically. “As I’m sure everypony in the club will appreciate.”

“And everyling,” Rose added, grinning.

“Oh god. I’m going native,” I grumbled, rubbing my eyes. “Soon I’ll be giving ponies a hoof, no matter how stupid that sounds.”

Rose sighed. “Well, far be it for me to tell you how lucky you are...” She trailed off.

“Right, yeah. I can’t really hold a candle to what you guys are going through,” I agreed, shaking my head. “I’m supposed to be making sure you and your hive are all okay.”

Rose held up a pitted hoof. “Please Alex, don’t worry about making this work. I- I don’t get many visitors these days, and I’d prefer to think of you as my friend rather than my social worker.”

I snorted; I pretty much was the Club’s social worker, but I got the point. “Sure, what would you like to talk about?”

“Well... how fare the new arrivals?” Rose asked, hesitantly.

“Urgh, not terrible,” I admitted, grudgingly. “I’m getting lots of practice with my, ‘Welcome to Equestria Speech’, at least. At least they aren’t caught between Cog and I.”

“You really should have hit him again,” Rose muttered.

I let loose a bitter laugh and shook my head. “Half the Club wants to shake me by the hoof, the other half wants to run me out of town.” Rose’s face fell. “Right, sorry, poor choice of words there.”

“Well, at least they’ll have cleared all the monsters out of town, then,” the queen sighed, and there were a few angry chitters from the scattered drones that sent shivers down my spine. “And that was uncalled for. Great.”

I put a forehoof on her shoulder, and summoned my best reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about it. It’s been a rough week for everyone.”

Rose pushed me off, not meeting my eye. “A week that doesn’t look like it will end soon. I would offer you my support, but I fear it would do little beyond making things harder for you.”

“Rose, you don’t need to help me in the slightest,” I assured her. “This is my mess, and I’ll figure it out on my own, eventually. Are you going to come to the meeting today?”

She hissed. “Not while that former bitch, Amelia is still demanding my head.” Her mane flashed with red fire for a moment. “I’m not partial to draining ponies into emotionless husks but for her I’ll make an exception.”

“Might want to keep that thought to yourself,” I observed, after a long moment’s silence.

“Argh!” Queen Rose snapped, standing and pacing down the length of the tent. “I didn’t want to say that. We’re just... hungry. And it makes it so hard to think rationally, sometimes.”

“I hear we might be able to arrange a pick-me-up from Princess Cadance...” I began, keeping a wary eye on the rest of the swarm, who were paying far more attention all of a sudden, and the kind of attention one would pay to a juicy steak, not a trusted friend.

“A sop,” Rose snarled, rounding on me. “What, the Princess is going to camp in Ponyville to keep a hive of monsters fed? Bah! I need food Alex. I need it regularly. I need ponies that accept us otherwise we’re going to have to start taking what we need.”

Slowly, so as not to provoke attack, I got to my feet. “Rose. I think you need to calm down,” I said, in a very measured tone. “We’re not that desperate yet.”

Rose paused, and took a deep, shuddering breath. “No,” she hissed. “But we’re close. God we’re close.” A shudder ran down the length of her frame. “I can hear them. Charlie and Thomas. They’re hungry. They don’t understand any more why we can’t feed anymore. They’re too stupid.” She spat the word. “To realise there’s more than just brute force in this world.”

She snarled at one of the nearby drones, and it backed away, belly pressed flat to the ground in submission. A moment later she rounded on me.

“Alex,” she snapped, pulling herself up to her full height. “You’re backing away.”

Indeed, I had made it almost to the exit during her rant, and for a moment, I entertained the notion of just running for it. Unfortunately, changelings could fly and, with my wings in bandages, I doubted I’d make it halfway to town before the worst happened. I sighed. Also, I had a responsibility.

“Yeah, I am,” I told her, looking Rose straight in her rose-red eyes. “Because you are terrifying me.”

Rose glowered at me for a moment, and I wondered whether I couldn’t have come up a few better last words, then, like someone had pulled a plug, all the rage seemed to drain out of her. The queen collapsed heavily onto a nearby cushion, a few drones clustering protectively around her.

“Sorry,” she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. “It’s hard to think sometimes.”

I shook my head. There was really nothing I could say. I barely understood what Rose was going through, let alone knew what was going on in that shared mind of the swarm, enough to offer comfort.

Stepping forwards, I braved the hostile glares of the drones, and put a foreleg over Rose’s shoulders.

“I just-” she began, then shook her head. “I wish-

The world leapt around me.

My hooves were in the wrong place, somehow. I’d gone from an odd lean to standing straight in an instant and, for a moment, my brain rebelled against the strange leap, sending me stumbling. I tried to flare my wings out for balance, but they were still bound, and I fell to the floor, letting out a keening wail of pain as I crushed the abused limbs between my body and the forest floor.

“Oh dear, I should have told her to watch her step,” Amelia purred.

For a moment I thought I’d been teleported. We were no longer in the Changeling’s Parlor, but in some forgotten grove of trees, deep in the Everfree, if the scent of decay the oppressive gloom were anything to go by. Queen Rose was next to me, hunkered protectively between my fallen form and Amelia, the creamy yellow stallion who was standing between four Club members at the far edge of the clearing.

I blinked. The stallions weren’t Club members. They were generic pastel colours and blank flanked but I knew every face in the Club, and they had never passed through my office.

“What the hell is going on?” I demanded, struggling to get to my hooves.

“Alex,” Rose hissed, her voice trembling with fear, as she put a gentle hoof on my shoulder to keep me down. “Don’t move.”

“Oh yes, she’s done more than enough damage for one day,” Amelia agreed, gliding over. “But then, that’s all she does. Poor little lost girl. Only ever making things worse, no matter how hard she tries.”

I surged to my feet. “Right!” I roared, the pain from numerous limbs forgotten in my rage. “I have no-”


The command hit like a hammer blow. I froze. Not through fear, or any sense of respect, my every muscle just locked in an instant. Leaving me a virtual statue halfway across the clearing.

“Such a simple mind,” Amelia continued. His blank stallions swept round to encircle us, not that I could do anything to stop them. “You’d be amazed just how few buttons there are to push.” He ran a hoof down my side, jabbing my injured wing as he past. My complete paralysis was the only thing that stopped me screaming in pain. “A few taps while they dream. A quiet moment in a busy crowd. A staredown in a frantic night... Well. After all that. Who couldn’t make them dance? And what better use for an enemy, than to lure their friends?”

I desperately wanted to move. To scream, or just deck the stallion. More pressingly though, I wanted to breathe. A sensation that doesn’t become any less distressing through familiarity.

“Let her go,” Rose growled. She took a half step forwards.

Amelia stared her back. “No, I don’t think I will,” he said, shaking his head and allowing himself a vicious little smile. “This is her nightmare, you know. Being trapped while her charge is under threat. So desperate to help, but unable to even draw a breath to save herself.

A vicious whine, half rage, half desperation escaped my throat.

“Oh dear, she does appear to be suffocating.” Amelia trotted round to my front and met my furious gaze with mock sympathy. “Somepony should do something.”

My vision was going grey again, when Rose demanded. “Why are you doing this?”

Amelia rolled his eyes. “Hold that thought,” he told me. Somewhat unnecessarily. “Honestly,” he grumbled, rounding on Rose. “Here you stand. A Queen. The smartest being on the face of the world. And you have the gall to be confused.”

Rose looked blank. Snorting in disgust, Amelia turned to me. “Move,” he commanded.

I dropped into boneless heap on the forest floor; I didn’t crush my wings again, but I did manage to find a particularly sharp rock to land on. “Urgh,” I moaned, between deep breaths.

“Are you not getting this?” Amelia continued, with an exasperated sigh. “Mind control? Queens superior...”

“Oh god,” Rose murmured, realisation striking, backing away a half step.

“No. Close. Try again.” And when Rose just stared at her, frozen in terror, Amelia rolled his eyes. “Just say it already, you’re ruining my reveal.”

“Chrysalis,” I whispered, struggling to rise.

Amelia grinned.

“Ah, there we go.” Green fire consumed the stallion’s body and the onyx-black carapaced Queen of the changelings strode forth. She was taller than Rose, not by much, but her whole posture seemed to make her loom over the far younger queen. She stood upon the earth as if she expected all to bow, her long mane was filled with a emerald sparks that writhed and fought and a wrought iron crown sat on her brow.

“No,” Rose hissed, backing away. “No, no, no. You can’t be here.” She backed into one of the ‘Club members’ whose disguise vanished in a sickly inferno of changeling magic.

“Not at all, my little neophyte,” Crysalis said, baring her fangs. “I’ve been here all along.”

Through more will than good sense I managed to get to my hooves. “What have you done with Amelia?”

Chrysalis hissed. “I am having a conversation,” she snapped over her shoulder at me. “But,” she continued, with a dramatic toss of her mane, “if I must enlighten you. I did nothing to him.” She grinned. “I must thank you humans. So many identical sob stories. So many blank flanks bubbling up from the earth. I haven’t had such an easy time infiltrating since the fall of Loane Stup.”

I snorted, stamping at the ground as my eyes narrowed. “I seem to recall you crying your eyes out in my office.”

“Aww,” she teased, pouting. “Did the poor newfoal fall for my clever lies? That’s what sympathy gets you, Alexis. Pain. Heartache. Suffering.” She grinned. “All delicious feelings of course.”

The red mist began to descend.

“Oh, and rage of course,” Chrysalis added, gliding over to me. “A little spicy for my tastes-” Her eyes fixed mine for a moment and all of the anger vanished into a kind of blissful calm, as if someone had thrown a warm blanket over me. “-but it has it’s own joys.” She shot a dismissive glare in Rose’s direction. “Not that you’d understand.”

Rose’s eyes narrowed. I couldn’t bring myself to worry why through the haze of aesthetic bliss. “What do you want from me?” she asked at last.

“Well that’s a simple question,” Chrysalis replied, with a fang bearing smirk. “To quote a wonderful line from your world. ‘There can be only one’.”

The drones dogpiled Rose, bearing the much larger Queen to the ground with ease. For a moment Rose struggled against them, pink magics flaring around her, but each blast withered under the drones’ green fire. Chrysalis strode over, shaking her head at the pathetic display.

“I was expecting for you to put up more of a fight than that,” she admitted. “You really have been starved to death haven’t you?”

Rose slumped, panting, as the drones kept her pinned. “Please...”


“...just let Alex go.” Rose closed her eyes.

Chrysalis laughed. “Oh, don’t act like I’m about to take your heads,” she began, the smug smile of victory fixed firmly on her face. She reached down and grabbed Rose’s jaw, forcing the mare to look at her. “I can think of far better uses for you than that.”

“...and Alex?”

The Queen rolled her eyes. Letting Rose’s face drop, she walked over to me.

I tried to run, I really did, but all I managed to do was raise a single hoof off the ground.

“Well then. What do you think, Alex? What should I do to the mare that kept me in this mud hole for an extra two weeks? Who ruined my perfectly good mob and gave succor to my enemies?”

“Kill her,” I found my voice saying, followed by the bottom dropping out of my stomach. Chrysalis leaned in close, bringing those killing fangs within an inch of my neck.

“No, I don’t think so,” she purred, fixing my gaze to her luminous eyes. “There are fates so much worse than death. Now sleep, my little pony, and sweet dreams.”

The world faded away. Leaving me with nothing but nightmares.

Interlude 1

View Online

Pinkie Pie was worried. That twitchy feeling of something terrible about to happen had been getting worse and worse as the day progressed, and even a free chocolate egg hadn’t made it go away. She chewed her bottom lip as she waited. In all honesty, Pinkie found her touch of prophecy more annoying than helpful in many cases; it was all well and good to know that something was wrong, but that could be anything from Lyra losing her lyre again, to Twilight setting herself on fire, or somepony being replaced by a changeling.

She drummed her hooves on the town hall steps, keeping a welcoming grin fixed on her face as the few Club late-comers filtered in. Pinkie paid them the bare minimum attention, before turning back to scan the skies.

Alex was late. Not that that was usually a problem. Alex worked on her own internal clock, which seemed to vary based on how bad her day was going, and how much paperwork had ended up on her desk; those two overlapped an awful lot. For their Canterlot trip she’d almost given Twilight an aneurysm by missing the train, then catching up on the wing twenty minutes later.

Shuffling her hindhooves, Pinkie peered down all the streets again; still no sign of the cream pegasus. Soon, Alexis would arrive, she was sure of it. It was the Club’s biweekly meeting. Alex had never missed a Club meeting. She’d never been this late for a Club meeting, either, but Pinkie assured herself that Alex would make it. Pissed off and at a gallop, but she’d be there.

She had three minutes to spare.

“Dash!” she called out, as a rainbow contrail streaked through the sky above her head. Rainbow Dash skidded to a stop before dropping like a cannonball into the square.

“No, she’s nowhere in town,” Dash grumbled, as Pinkie opened her mouth to speak.

“What about Fluttershy’s?” Pinkie pressed. “Did you check there? Oh, what if she never made it out of the Everfree?” She grabbed Rainbow Dash by the shoulders and shook. “What if she got eaten by a cockatrice?”

Dash shoved Pinkie back, letting the hyperactive mare fall back onto all fours. “Look, I just talked to Fluttershy. Alex was fine three hours ago. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Fine? Fine!” Pinkie exclaimed, starting to hyperventilate. “Alex has been dead for three hours and-- oh wait, no, there she is.”

As if someone had flipped a switch Pinkie was, once again, all smiles and sunshine. “Hi Alex!” she called, leaning around Dash and waving.

“Urgh, I’d better be going then,” Rainbow Dash grumbled, hunkering down as she got ready to fly.

Alex closed at a dead gallop, wings spread for balance as she thundered down the street.

“...I thought she broke her wings,” Dash said, frozen.

“She did,” Pinkie confirmed.

Dash took off like a rocket, while Pinkie reared up on her hind legs, pulling a quarterstaff from her somewhere space. ‘Alex’ skidded to a stop before her. Even at a glance Pinkie could tell it’s wasn’t her friend. Alex wasn’t that skinny, nor did the disguise have any of her wing speckles, and the mystery mare had a faint smile on her muzzle which was more out of place than anything else.

“Hold it right there,” Pinkie snapped, leveling her staff at the imposter.

The mare skidded to a stop just a few paces away, before dropping it’s disguise in a puff of rose red magic. Pinkie blinked as she saw the speckles around it’s muzzle. “Spots?”

“Chrysalis. Queen. Alex. Gone,” it choked out, panting heavily.

Rainbow Dash landed behind it like a ton of bricks, snorting thunderbolts. “Alright bug, what are you talking about?” she demanded, wings held out wide with lightning playing around her primaries.

The drone leapt in surprise, quailing back from the angry pegasus. “Chrysalis. Queen. Alex. Gone,” it repeated, a quaver in it’s voice.

Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I got all that. What do you mean?”


“Rose is gone,” Pinkie cut in, before they wasted any more time.

The drone nodded empathically in agreement.

“And Alex?” Pinkie continued. The drone bared it’s fangs in a loose approximation of a smile and nodded even harder.

“We need to tell Twilight,” she said, then accelerated away, leaving a Pinkie shaped cloud of dust in her wake.

Twilight hummed the scales to herself as she worked, sipping from a slim coffee mug. She found it helped her to relax; always a necessary consideration when dealing the the barrier. The unholy mishmash of aether, alicorn and arcana magics, with enough chaos thrown in to make up for the rest of the spell casting alphabet, the barrier spell was fiendishly complicated on its good days. Not to mention temperamental, unpredictable, and prone to wild mood swings, often for reasons Twilight couldn’t begin to figure out.

Currently it was sulking. An all too familiar state of affairs.

Twilight sighed, applying her magic in an attempt to sooth the roiling mass of spellwork. The barrier rarely sulked for long, it was just trying to get back at her for her rather aggressive suppression of complaints after the jet incident, but if she ignored it, Twilight had learned from experience that the barrier tended to drop random humans into Equestria just to get her attention. Or to get its own back as the case may be.

“Twilight!” Pinkie screamed, leaping out of a nearby storage closet, dragging a very disorientated looking changeling drone with with.

“Wargh!” Twilight leapt into the air, the alicorn and her coffee going flying across the lab. Drawing on long practice she managed to snatch both out of the air with her magic, and lowered herself to the floor.

“Pinkie!” she roared, rounding on the intruding mare. “How many have I told you not to create spatial disturbances in my lab?”

“Twenty three,” Pinkie replied, instantaneously, bounding over. “But that’s not important. Spots told me that Alex and Rose got foalnapped by Chrysalis.”

Twilight looked blank for a moment. “Spots?” she said at last.

“I named the drones,” Pinkie clipped, shaking her head, frantically. “That’s not important either. Didn’t you hear, Chrysalis is back!”

“Oh! Right.” Twilight’s horn kindled, as she pulled out changeling contingency plan A.

Step one was alway check for changelings in the immediate vicinity. A pulse of magic swept away from the mare, bouncing off the drone, but passing through Pinkie without incident. After making sure that the single drone she’d detected within the castle was indeed the one before her Twilight took a deep steadying breath.

Step two was to clear the local area. Her magic roared, blowing back Pinkie’s mane as a pink bubble expanded away at the speed of sound to envelop the town before stopping just beyond the train station. Twilight frowned as she failed to pick up any additional changelings at all. That was unexpected given the circumstances.

Step three was to clear Ponyville. Gritting her teeth Twilight dipped into her considerable reserves, and the final pulse exploded outwards, rattling all the glass in her lab and roiling up the barrier spell. The spell turned heads across town, as the wave of pinkish energy swept through, but detected not a single changeling in Ponyville. At the edge of the Everfree the spell began to falter, as was expected while near that much wild vita magic, but not before returning extreme levels of prime energy. No changelings, but something big had gone down in that forest.

Twilight groaned and shook her head as a headache began to build behind her horn, snapping out of the casting trance just a Rainbow Dash arrived.

“Hey, I gave the rest of the girls the changeling warning,” the pegasus snapped, landing heavily next to Twilight. “Did anypony else just taste pink?”

Twilight decided to ignore that, she had tried and failed to teach Dash the changeling detection spell too many times to count.

“The town is clear,” Twilight explained, then narrowed her eyes at Spots who looked blank. “Suspiciously so. Where’s the Human Hive gone?”

“Hiding,” it replied, staring at it’s hooves.

Twilight tisked. “Yes, I guessed that. Where?”

The drone looked up, and in a mournful tone it repeated. “Hiding.”

“Urgh.” Twilight rubbed her temple with a hoof. “Okay, so what happened? Alex and Rose were foalnapped by Chrysalis, right?”

Spot shook it’s head frantically. “Chrysalis take. Alex take. Rose gone,” it babbled.

“And where did they get take?” Twilight frowned for a moment. “Taken!” she amended.

“Forrest. Gone,” Spot sighed.

Twilight grumbled. There were times when she was glad that changeling drones were only passingly sapient, but this was not one of them. It looked like it was time for her to save the day. Again. Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a deep, calming, breath, then began.

“Right. Dash.” She jabbed a hoof at the hovering pregasus. “I’m going to need a sympathetic connection to Alex.”

Dash crossed her forelegs. “Urgh, I don’t know why you’d think I have any sympathy for her,” she grumbled, tossing her head.

“Rainbow Dash!” Pinkie exclaimed, rounding on the mare.

The pegasus rolled her eyes and gave a dramatic sigh. “Fine, I’ll be sympathetic. Don’t know why it would help.”

“Ah hem,” Twilight interjected. “What I meant is that, I need an item that belongs to Alex, something as dear as possible. Find that mare she lives with-”

“Swiftwing,” Pinkie supplied, making Dash’s face fall further.

“-and get me something to build a spell around.” Dash rolled her eyes, then shot off, trailing her trademark contrail. Twilight turned back to Pinkie. “Pinkie Pie, grab the girls and get to the Parlor. We’re going changeling hunting.”

The small band made their way through the Everfree, Twilight’s horn rising and falling in brightness at they picked their way over fallen trees and around the many dangers the forest had to offer. The Elements had convened near the edge of the wood and, with more resignation than trepidation, made their preparations and dove once more into the untamed depths of the Everfree forest.

Despite many attempts, they had not managed to dislodge Swiftwing, who’d tagged along with Rainbow Dash, and was wearing the rather starstruck look that most of the town more often associated with Scootaloo. Twilight had considered it cute on the young filly; on Swiftwing, a mare not more than five years her junior, it was frankly disturbing.

“We seem to be getting close,” Twilight called over her shoulder, checking her spell’s focus. When they found Alex she was going to have to ask why the pegasus owned a small plastic figurine of herself. It was a very strange object altogether, clearly from Earth, but it also had an incredible connection to the missing Club leader. Her inner scholar was bouncing up and down with excitement, and rather keen on tearing the sculpture apart down to the last materia bond, but the rather more worldly adventurer was firmly in the driving seat.

“So, you girls go this deep into the Everfree all the time, right?” Swiftwing continued, her low babble proceeding unabated by the grim silence that covered the rest of the herd. “Of course you do, you’re the Element bearers. I bet isn’t anywhere near as dangerous as some of the places you’ve been. Is it true that you ponies once battled Cerberus? Heck, I can see that; a quick one-two and, then three-four, five-six and wham, it’s all over. Nothing in here’s going to stand up to that. So I guess, that’s why you’re not scared. Not that I’m scared, but you know, you guys aren’t either, and that’s awesome. I’ve-”

“Shhh,” Pinkie cut in, holding a hoof up to her lips. “It’ll hear you.”

Swiftwing looked around, eyes wide. “What... the forest?” she said, after a few moment of seeing nothing but trees.

Pinkie just gave a knowing smile.

At long last the mare shut up and, subtly, the mane six breathed a sigh of relief.

“Was I like this with Daring?” Dash muttered, trotting alongside Twilight for a moment.

Twilight glanced over her shoulder at Swiftwing, who was simultaneously trying to: not appear scared, keep a close eye on the trees, and see if Dash was looking her way. “Yep,” Twilight concluded.

“Urgh. Shoot me now.”

They arrived at a small clearing and Twilight blanched as her spell sparked off the magical residue hanging heavy in the air.

“Well, this looks like the place,” she confirmed, taking a few tentative steps into the empty grove, probing for traps, arcana or otherwise, but without luck.

“Something bad happened here,” Pinkie said, with a full body shudder.

“No kiddin’” Applejack added, eyes on the disturbed dirt beneath their hooves. “Somepony fought somthin’ here.”

“Okay, stand back girls.” Twilight drew herself up to her full height, spreading her wings and once again delving into her reserves. Usually she would have drawn on the ambient energies of the location, but disrupting those would have rather defeated her aim. “I’m going to try a new spell.”

Far more experienced with ‘new spells’ than they would have liked, the crowd cleared out of the way as quick as their hooves could carry them. Twilight’s horn shone like the sun for a moment as a pulse of arcana raced through the clearing, disappearing into the trees with nary a ripple. After a few moments of tense anticipation, three shapes began to coalesce in the clearing.

Alex lay on the floor, unconscious or nearly so; it was hard to tell, her form was an insubstantial mist, obscured by the low lying haze of the Everfree. Rose stood a few feet away from her, also less than distinct, though with far more colour than the pegasus mare. Finally, and to the surprise of the gathered mares, the stallion Amelia materialised, perfectly formed down to the individual hairs on his chest.

Twilight frowned. Her spell was only supposed to pick up echoes of minds, not create full simacular. Cocking her head to one side she examined the stallion then, grinning at her own intelligence, dispelled the lingering illusion.

Chrysalis appeared, her pitted form more eery under the half light of the Everfree than the Queen had ever managed in Canterlot.

“Oh dear,” Fluttershy murmured, peaking out from behind Applejack.

“Is that bad?” Swiftwing interjected, peaking out from behind Fluttershy.

“Yes,” Twilight agreed. “This is very, very bad.”

Star Charge waited for the penny to drop.

Lyra had been doing her best to chair the meeting, but it was clear that she hadn’t prepared anything more than a few perfunctory statements and platitudes. Something had clearly gone very wrong in the hierarchy of the Club, and Star Charge was far too savvy a politician not to take notice. What he couldn’t figure out was what had gone wrong.

“Where is she?” he muttered to himself, as Lyra fumbled through another set of notes, turning her head ninety degrees to read her own hornwriting.

“Say something, boss?” Ivory Wing whispered, leaning over.

“Just wondering what happened to our erstwhile leader,” Star Charge admitted, shrugging.

Ivory Wing snorted. “Bet she finally snapped.”

As much as he would have been a delighted by that turn of events, Star Charge doubted dislodging Alex would ever be that simple. “I think we would have heard that,” he observed, getting a chuckle from Ivory Wing. Alex was many things, but shy about her feelings was not one of them. If Alex had finally thrown in the towel, she would have been ranting and raving at the podium Lyra had managed to knock over and was now desperately trying to right.

“No kidding, I heard her laying into Cog from the market. So where is she; eaten by the changelings?”

Star Charge rolled his eyes. “We should be so lucky. Though I suppose if Queen Rose had just eaten her it would solve a lot of our problems.”

“Heh, Amelia would be beside himself with glee,” Ivory agreed. “Good luck that--”

Twilight Sparkle appeared on the stage with a crack of displaced aether.

“Everypony -- or otherwise -- listen up,” she called out. “Alex and Rose have been foalnapped.” Star Charge felt a smile bloom on his face; that opened so many possibilities. “By Queen Chrysalis--” The smile vanished, just the thought of that monstrous perversion of harmony was enough to send shivers down Star Charge’s spine. “--who was disguised as Amelia. We suspect that Amelia’s entire identity may have been a complete fabrication to allow Chrysalis to infiltrate the town.”

The bottom dropped out of Star Charge’s stomach.

He stared open mouthed at the dais. Twilight continued speaking, something about searching the town for Changelings and a trip to the Badlands, but the words didn’t penetrate. Already ponies were looking at his little group askance, shifting away from the clique that had backed Amelia to the hilt, and there was nothing he could do to stop them. All those back-room conversations, all those whispers that somepony should do something about the changelings among them suddenly took on a sinister turn. A ruinous turn.

Twilight vanished, and pandemonium erupted. Star Charge found himself lost in the storm, as ponies hurried this way and that; some running for the hills, others gathering in worried clumps. Only one group seemed to keep any cohesion; Crystal Cog and the Barn ponies were headed for the door within moments, looks of grim determination on their faces.

Star Charge blinked and shook himself. “What did you say?”

“I said,” Ivory Wing snapped, “what do we do now?”

It took just a moment to realise what he had to do. “Follow Cog!” he barked, setting off at a gallop.


“Because he has a plan. And if we don’t save Alex we’re going to get run out of town on a rail!”

Twilight Sparkle was busy with a checklist, so didn’t notice immediately when the airship landed outside her castle. The cannon fire soon caught her attention, though.

“Avast Twilight!” Pinkie roared, tumbling through a nearby window. She wore an eyepatch and bandana and had a rubber cutlas clutched between her teeth, all of which were details Twilight missed as Pinkie’s tail was on fire.

One supercharged fire suppression spell later, Pinkie picked herself out of the sea of foam and shook herself off. “Urgh, this stuff tastes nothing like whipped cream,” she exclaimed, affronted.

Twilight sighed. “Why would it taste like cream?”

“It’s what I’d use,” Pinkie admitted, shrugging. She began to lick her foreleg clean, before catching Twilight’s horror-struck look. “What? I didn’t say it tasted bad.”

A flare of magic later Pinkie was left, sans costume, in the now foamless room. “Aww...”

“Pinkie,” Twilight snarled. “I am trying to plan an expedition to the Badlands. An expedition that holds the life of a dear friend in the balance--”

“Yes, and I found a super speedy way to get there,” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing up and down. “At first I was like, ‘no way that works’, but then Cog was ‘yes way’ and Gummy and Dashie and Starie all said it was an awesome idea and I should tell you right away. Well, Gummy didn’t say it in that many words, but I know what he means; I tell you that gator gets pretty picky when it comes to traveling. You’d think he’d be relaxed but no, it’s cushion this, and pretzels that, and--”

Twilight zipped Pinkie’s mouth shut with a spell, one that was rapidly becoming a trademark of hers. It did not stop Pinkie talking, but it at least made it easier for Twilight to interrupt. “Okay, let’s take a moment to breathe.” She took a deep breath, while Pinkie looked on indignantly. “What is this transport?”

Pinkie unzipped her mouth. “Airship,” she squeed, beaming.

“We don’t have an airship,” Twilight pointed out. “Not to mention that they’re far slower than the train lines, even without requisitioning an express which the Princesses were more than happy to--”

Pinkie groaned. “Twilight, stop being a super smarty pants for a moment and look out the window.” She dragged the bemused alicorn over to the window. After a few moments of stunned silence the pair disappeared in a flash of pink light.

The airship was alien thing to pony eyes. It had started life has a pleasure yacht of some rich scion, a hair over forty feet in length, and possessing just a main deck, a cramped cabin beneath the aftcastle and a narrow storage hold towards the prow. Crystal Cog and his Barn ponies had gutted the ship, losing both the original envelope of lighter than air gas and all of the luxury fittings. Thick luftwood cladding had been added along the length of the ship, giving it a bulky, military appearance, but far more surprising was the addition of large brass and crystal arcana engines at the four corners of the vessel. A unicorn above each device kept the levitation spell active, holding the ship an unwavering a meter above the grass, and a team of three pegasi were attached to a complicated harness at the prow, resting for now but clearly ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Twilight and Pinkie appeared a short distance away.

“Ahoy!” Crystal Cog called, waving from his position behind the wheel. “Are you joining us abroad, Princess?”

With a few flaps Twilight dropped onto the deck. Two dozen Club ponies and a few gryphons awaited there, and Twilight trotted the length of the impossibly steady deck to where Cog waited. The young pegasus was unable to hide his wild grin.

Twilight stood next to him and looked down the length of the ship, then over the rail at the ground below, then back down the ship. “Okay, how is this even flying?” she demanded at last.

“Well, she still has her all luftwood hull,” Cog began, rapping a hoof on the deck. “Unladen she’s more or less neutral, buoyancy wise, to counteract everything else though, we have the four lifting engines, arcana powered; they’re just simple levitators, with some power shunts and batteries so nopony burns out their horns.”

Twilight shook her head, struggling to believe what she was seeing. “You can’t use arcana magic on luftwood, it breaks down the gravity-sans effect.”

“Ah, but we’re not levitating the ship,” Crystal Cog pointed out, with a smug toss of the head. “No no, we turned them upside down, disabled the reaction dampening sections of the spell and--”

“Neightonian reaction!” Twilight exclaimed, her wings flaring out as the mental puzzle pieces slotted into place. “You levitate the earth, pushing the spellwork back and transferring that material energy into the ship to keep it up. That’s genius!”

Cog’s grin got even wider. “It’s stealing the idea of a maglev, but complement accepted. Now the pegasi--”

“Don’t have to divert any of their efforts to counteract the gravitational pull on the load,” Twilight continued, failing to notice she was stealing Cog’s thunder. “That leads to higher speeds with far less energy expended. With a couple of teams rotating on both the spellwork and wingpower you could keep up maybe twenty, thirty, miles per hour for long periods.”

“Based on the dry run, we reckon forty for fifteen hours a day,” Cog supplied. “Rotating between three ponies for each post.”

“Isn’t this awesome, Twilight!” Pinkie exclaimed, right behind the geeky pair, making both Cog and Twilight jump. “It’s a proper flying skypirate ship!”

“Pinkie, there’s no such thing as skypirates,” Twilight corrected, sighing. “And technically we’re levitating.”

“Pssh.” Pinkie waved a dismissive hoof. “Don’t try and fool me silly, I know levitating, with it’s swoosh, swoosh, swoosh and sparkle, sparkle, sparkle. This is flying!

Twilight rolled her eyes. “On that note, what’s the flight ceiling?” she asked Crystal Cog.

“Umm... about here fully laden,” he admitted, holding a hoof about knee high above the deck. “But there’s nothing that can get you to the Badlands faster than the Thunderchild.”

Twilight nodded. “Okay, this is fantastic. With some guardspony pegasi and unicorns we should--”

“Absolutely not!”

The trio started, as Star Charge made his way up the aftercastle stairs. “The Club crews this ship.”

“Sorry, Princess,” Cog added, stepping to stand beside the unicorn. “But what he says is true. We’re not turning Thunderchild over to the guard. If anyone is going to rescue Alex and Rose, we are going to be there.”

Twilight stared for a moment. The idea of Crystal Cog and Star Charge standing side by side on any issue was more surprising than the levitating boat. “Okay,” she began, adopting her best, 'I’m a Princess and you’re going to do what I say' smile. “While I’m sure Alex would be very glad for your help, we are headed deep into the Badlands, to a completely unknown hive, filled to the brim with changelings, and all we have is Alex's plastic miniature to guide us. It’s almost certainly a trap and there is no way of saying whether anypony is going to come back alive. So I’m going to ask again. Do you really want to come?”

Cog and Star Charge shared a look. “Yes,” they chorused.

The Princess sighed; she really needed to finish that book on having a commanding presence.

“Would you be able to keep Alex home if either of us had been taken?” Crystal Cog added.

Twilight scowled at them both. Looked down the length of the boat for a moment, and did a few mental sums. “Okay, you can come, and bring a crew. But I don’t want anypony throwing themselves into danger, though.”

Cog smiled; it was a vicious thing, almost predatory. “Trust me, Princess, we’ll be fine. I’ve got a couple of little surprises for Queen Chrysalis.”

Lieutenant Karen Maynard watched with some bemusement as a unicorn walked past her, levitating a tray of coffee mugs. Ten days on the job and she was still waiting for the penny to drop, or the animatronics to fail, or the wires to slip. However, none of those comforting events had happened and, reluctantly, she had been forced to accept that the ponies were both real and operating off of a radically different set of physics than those she was used to. With over five hundred otherwise perfectly respectable physicists, mathematicians and engineers taking the ponies with deadly seriousness, there was little else she could do.

“Sure you don’t want anything?” Louis asked her as he passed, slightly muffled by the bulky breathing apparatus around his muzzle.

“Not this round,” Maynard replied, forcing herself to smile at the cobalt coloured unicorn. “Can’t say I need quite the amount caffeine everyone else seems to go through.”

“Don’t blame you.” He shook his head. “Never thought I’d find anyone able to drink more coffee than our flight engineer, but apparently physicists have him beat.”

He trotted off towards the occupied corner of the command center. Though that was a rather grandiose word for a moderately sized room, filled with randomly placed workstations, most of which was empty during the graveyard shift. A few dozen diehard researchers, or perhaps just those that had drawn the short straw, were still hard at work, though what they were doing was beyond the lieutenant. She hadn’t asked, and they hadn’t told her, but there was an experimental fusion reactor down the hall and Maynard had been tasked to protect the JET (Joint European Torus) at all costs; it didn’t take a genius to know something big was up.

“Beginning the next set,” one of the researchers announced, massaging his temples. “Wish me luck, guys.”

A few moments, and a lot of keyboard tapping, later Maynard looked away, suppressing a yawn. Physics was not a spectator sport by nature.

“Urgh, how much longer is this going to take?” the other pony, Tony Acey, grumbled from his seat, laid down on an office chair.

Maynard checked her watch. One A.M. “As long as it takes, I guess. Whatever that is...”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Typical army attitude,” he muttered, almost inaudible. “They’re trying to open a hole to Equestria,” he explained, as Maynard scowled.

Her only response was to cock an eyebrow at him.

“What? I didn’t name it.”

Maynard shook her head. “I have no idea how you convinced anyone to go along with this.”

The pegasus shrugged, rustling his wings. “Well, we did have video evidence of a portal to nowhere, and brought back a suitcase full of letters from missing persons, and all of Cog’s research notes, and coming out in front of an AWCS doing a full spectrum test was a plus.” He shuddered. “Even if that did almost get us shot down.”

Maynard held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, you don’t need to convince me. I’m just the security guard.”

“Yeah I know,” Tony muttered, resting his head between his hooves. “I’m just sick of waiting.”

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. It was almost half an hour before--

“Hang on, I got something,” one of the researchers called out. “Anyone else see that on run 7-21?”

Tony’s head came up. “Did you hear something?” he asked, flicking his ears.

“The geek squad getting excited again?” Maynard enquired, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the scientists.

“No, there was a... crack of some kind.”

“Yes! There! We’ve definitely got a blip. Run it again!”

Tony spread his wings. “There’s something...”

“That’s it! We’ve lost a whole megajoule somewhere.”

The world seemed to shift, and Maynard had to grab a desk to stop herself falling out of her chair, a number of the scientists weren’t so lucky and ended up sprawled on the floor. Moments later the lights failed, plunging them into darkness.

A light blossomed at the tip of Louis’ horn.

“That was it,” Tony whispered, staring into the distance. “We found Equestria!”

The room erupted into cheers. Maynard really wished she could get excited along with them, but then again, they had just confirmed the world was going to end.

Chapter 5: Thunderchild

View Online

I stood in the middle of Times Square, surrounded, and ignored, by the teeming mass of humanity.

“Phsh, and they say we breed like locust,” Queen Chrysalis observed, watching with practiced disinterest at the innumerable people swarming past us. No one reacted to our presence, but then why would they? We were just watching a memory; from the pounding in my head, I guessed I was actually hanging upside down in a cocoon somewhere.

“Excuse me, which one of us is being eaten here?” I grumbled, tapping my hoof on the ground. I wondered how my brain knew what asphalt beneath hooves felt like. Maybe it just made it up.

Chrysalis laughed. “Neither of us. You would know it if I were feeding on you. I understand it’s... unpleasant. No, you’re here because I wanted to ask you a few questions.” She shot me a vicious smile.

My pinions rattled as I shuddered. “Yeah, I don’t think that’s happening, really.”

“I don’t recall telling you you had a choice.”

Ah, so that was how it was going to be.

I tried to fight her; but if I slowed her down by a single second then I didn’t notice. The changeling Queen paced a pitted hoof on my forehead and the world exploded. Dimly I was aware that I was screaming, but the part of my mind that monologues was so far disconnected from the parts that were in screaming agony, that I couldn’t consider the pain as anything but an abstract horror.

Chrysalis picked apart precious memories, half remembered news items, and echos of teenage hormones all with the same air of casual disregard one would show to their laundry as they separated lights from darks.

Perhaps that’s all my life was to her.

“You’re a very strange species, you know that?” Chrysalis observed, reclining in a deep armchair, looking, over her horn rimmed spectacles, at a book of memories that had a worrying resemblance to my childhood diary .

I shook my head, or at least shook my mind as I didn’t seem overly attached to limbs at the time. Chrysalis’ form flickered, replaced by a floating digital avatar of the Queen, surrounded by glowing screens. Another flick had her on a throne of gold, a doomsday sized tome before her. Another put her in a lycra suit, a large Star Trek dataslate clasped in her hooves.

Her eyes narrowed, and there was a crack as I went whirling across the non-space of my mind, stars dancing before my eyes.

“Too strange, sometimes,” she continued, resetting the world to be an ethereal plain. It was an exact match to-- Spoilers! --Twilight’s ascension scene. By Chrysalis’ grin, that was deliberate.

“You know, the changelings have always dominated this world,” she continued, almost conversationally, as a documentary on the Romans drifted past. “We are the survivors. Empires rise and fall. Species come and go. But when all their monuments are buried and their bones are dust, we’re still here.” She shook her head. “Maybe that’s why you humans are so intent on self-destruction. There’s nothing to rein you in.”

I rolled my eyes. Yeah, that was just what we needed, a race of emotional vampires, farming us. That would solve all of humanity’s ills.

“It would solve mine,” Chrysalis pointed out, baring her fangs at me. “In fact, one of these would solve all my problems.”

A nuclear detonation flashed in the bubble before us, the nightmare shockwave tearing Canterlot to shreds.

“Ponies may control the sun, but humans are the only species to mass produce death... well maybe the gryphons.”

More pictures flashed past. Tanks. Bombs. Artillery. Emaciated survivors of death camps. Mounted knights. Great steel ships. All the fruits of humanity’s attempts to kill other humans.

“And all so quickly. Ponies have been forging tools for ten thousand years and they don’t have a fraction of the power humanity has managed to amass.”

Power stations flashed past. Dams. Cities that sprawled for a hundred miles. Man walking on the Moon. Ships the size of small towns. The memories paused a moment on my own foray back to Earth, and I saw myself frozen in mid air, wings spread wide in desperation as street lights shattered around me.

“So pointless,” she continued, as if discussing the weather. “In a year you’ll be extinct. For all your weapons and science, the ponies will wipe you out because of an foolish accident.”

She clapped her forehooves together and everything came rushing back. Memories, emotions, hopes, fear and pain, so much pain, slammed into me and I collapsed screaming into the emptiness of my mind. It felt like being torn limb from limb, then reassembled by a blind taxidermist. Shattered memories tried to form up alongside ragged emotions, and the two proceeded to grind their way through the tortured recesses of my brain back to their homes.

I could barely keep track of self in the jumbled mass of past, present and future. I couldn’t keep track of how long it took; it could have been an eternity, it could have been a heartbeat, but after all too much pain it was over, and I found myself floating in the ethereal dreamscape.

Chrysalis stepped towards me, a look of contempt fixed upon her face.

“...Why?” I croaked.

“The pain? Because your mind is weak,” she explained. “Pathetic, even. I expect better from one of the pegasi, even a fake such as you.”

I brought my hooves up to my throbbing temples. “Why do this?” I repeated, fighting down the urge to be sick.

The changeling Queen smiled. It was oddly warm.

“Well, that is a very long story, but as you’re going to be here awhile.” She pulled a low throne out of thin air and sat next to my drifting form. “Now, this story is very dear to me; it was my mother’s, so don’t interrupt.” Chrysalis bared her fangs at me, her eyes shining with menace.

No snark for a little while then.

Chrysalis smiled to herself, cleared her throat and, dropping into a surprisingly gentle tone, began. “Long ago, when this land had no name, equines ruled the world. Ponies, buffalo, caribou or hippogryph; their fields were rich, their mastery of magics absolute, and a thousand cities covered the land, from the salt swept Pegasi Isles in the west, through the bountiful lands of the sun, to the east, where dragons still dwell. And do you know what they did with this golden age of light and reason?”

She paused, looking at me expectantly. I shook my head.

“Of course you don’t. They used it kill. For glory. For mayfly gods. For harmony and chaos they fought and died with a smile on their lips, singing the songs of fallen heroes.” Chrysalis grinned, her voice turned vicious for a moment. “All because the changelings had won.”

My surprise must have shown my face, as, if anything, her vicious grin grew wider. “Oh yes, each great city was ruled by a Queen. Some openly, some from the shadows, but rest assured, there wasn’t a single creature in all the corners of the world that didn’t worship us. Of course, we are a fractious race. There’s a unity of thought and purpose within the hive yes, but beyond that nothing but mistrust and ill intentions, as it should be. When we fought between ourselves, by proxy or with sting and fang within our hives, we were strong and ruled. When we sought to unify, well...”

Chrysalis shook her head. It was a very deliberate, almost as if she were copying the original teller’s motions, not imposing her own. “There was a great Queen who, through guile and intrigue, formed a league of six cities. Stood together, no one hive could destroy them and, one by one, the other cities of the world burned. Despite forbidden magics, great warriors and frantic attempts at unity, it was just ten years before the six stood atop the world, ruling an empire without peer.”

She sighed. “It lasted six months. Their long-suppressed natures came to the fore and, one by one, they betrayed and fought and died, till only the greatest Queen survived. You can not begin to understand the power she wielded. One will. One hive. She dominated all the lands of this world and yet that was not enough for her.” Chrysalis turned to me. “What, little pony, do you think she did with power?”

I shook my head again.

“You should know, you have met her after all.” A vision of Canterlot appeared before me, scarred by war and swarming with Changelings. “She climbed to the highest tower, of the city built on the world’s highest peak, and drew upon a nation’s worth of love and devotion. She reached up to the heavens and stole the sun.”

“Hang on, you’re telling me that--”

A blast of energy set my tumbling head over heels, screaming as my brain tried to escape out of my ears.

“No interruptions!” Chrysalis screamed, as I struggled to gather my scrambled wits.

“Now,” she continued, at a far more normal volume. “Yes, I was talking about your darling Celestia. It was she who shattered the world, who tore the golden cities down and ushered in a dark age that nearly destroyed the world. Millions died, little pony, drained of love and life. She froze their hearts in her mad quest and to this day the world hasn’t recovered for her touch.”

She shook her head. “Well, that’s what I was told anyway.” She smiled at me, though I shudder to call anything that bared fangs that large a smile. “Now, what do you think I learned from that?”

I fixed her with a petulant glare and, seeing I wasn’t about to get psionically bitch slapped again, suggested, “that hubris can burn everyone around you as well?”

“Heh,” Chrysalis let loose an ugly bark of laughter. “No, you stupid pony. It means that if you succeed, you’ll become a god. The sun is right there for the taking.”

I cocked a brow at her. There was hubris, and then there was hubris.

“Really, you of all ponies don’t understand?” Chrysalis pressed, stepping forward and taking me by the chin. “I’ve seen your mind, Alex. It’s so much more interesting than Celestia’s usual rats. You have the will of a ruler.”

I rolled my eyes, but she continued unabated. “Don’t believe me? Tell me then, why do you lead your little Club? Crystal Cog has the knowledge to change the world, but you don’t let him no matter how much he wants to. Star Charge has the will and vision to make everyone happy, but you don’t want that either. You are the worst choice of a bad bunch, but you hold on to power anyway, and do you want to know why?”

“I have a feeling you’re going to tell me either way.”

She ignored me. “Because you love power, Alex. You’ve spent your life on the sidelines looking in, always meaningless, always passed over, but in Equestria you are important. Everyone knows your name, and you love it. But you knew that if you ever let control slip through your fingers, then you’d be nothing. Again.”

There were times when I really wished I could still clench my fists. “That is not true,” I growled, glaring daggers at the changeling Queen.

“Ha!” she cackled. “Have you ever wondered why everything to do with the Club is so difficult? Why you can’t make anything better no matter how hard you try? It’s because you want them to fail. You want them to suffer. The moment your little Club members can stand on their own hooves you become--” She paused, dragging out her final word. “--irrelevant.”

“That is not true!” I snarled, wrenching my head out of her grasp. I can’t say which one scared me more, the idea that I was sabotaging the Club, or the idea that they might abandon me once everything calmed down.

“Of course it is,” she continued, stalking around me. “You’re afraid, Alex. Always afraid of consequences. Always dragging them down with you. It would be so much easier if you just gave up the charade. Stop leading. Rule.”

“I am not going to betray them!”

“But Alex, you already have.”


The world shattered, Chrysalis vanishing into dust, leaving nothing but a vicious fanged grin behind.

My eyes flickered open, and I found that my first guess had been more or less accurate. I was upside down in a cocoon, suspended a few feet above ground in small cell, though cell might have been an overly grandiose term for a narrow cleft in the rock. Queen Chrysalis stood before me, blinking in confusion. That only lasted a moment, though, before a far more familiar look of contempt replaced it.

“Really? That was your big defiant act? After all that, all you manage is consciousness? You really are pathetic.”

“Whatever you want from me,” I snapped, glaring at her. “You aren’t getting it.”

She rolled her eyes. “I have everything, Alex. I have your false Queen. I have your knowledge. I have your body, though I have no idea what I’d want with it. What more could you give me?”

I glowered at her. There was, very little else I could do. The cocoon held me too tight to even flex my wings and, if I’m going to be honest, I’d failed to even slow Chrysalis down last time we’d faced off.

“That’s what I thought. It’s a shame really, you could have been great, if you’d sided with me. But instead you’re going to be food.”

A shudder ran down my spine, as the monster casually discussed my death. “The Elements will find me,” I told her, more to hear someone say it than anything else.

Another wicked smile crossed her face. “They can’t, and it’ll all your fault. A powerful mage like Twilight Sparkle can track mares by their love of objects, of friends and of self. But you don’t even have a favourite coffee mug.” She laughed. “Good bye Alex. I’ll see you again, if I have need of you. I doubt I will though.”

She stalked away, leaving me in darkness.

Time passed slowly in the blackness of the hive.

With no clock to mark the time, no steady rise and fall of the sun, no blessed relief of sleep, minutes became hours and hours became minutes as I hung in the dark. The strange magics of the cocoon seemed to preserve me somewhere between waking and sleeping, between life and death, and for a while I dreamed.

I dreamed that I had died down there, discarded and never found.

I dreamed I was back on earth, still a pony and running for my life.

I dreamed of Canterbury, burning beneath green fire.

I dreamed of Ponyville wiped away by an atomic blast.

I dreamed of myself as an air-pirate captain. Riding to the rescue.

I dreamed of Twilight, shattering the barrier.

I dreamed of Rose, screaming in pain.

I dreamed of a pair of drones standing before me.

That was all I dreamed, as moments later I was dumped unceremoniously out of the cocoon and landed on my head.


That was one wake up call I did not want to repeat.

“Ow,” I groaned, rubbing my bruised noggin with a hoof. The pain at least convinced me I was actually awake for once.

Muttering to myself, and ignoring the twinges of underused muscles, I stumbled to my hooves. The two drones looked impassively on and half forgotten dreams of vicious drones and ripping fangs danced around my head. I found myself longing for the pink eyed, clumsy but earnest drones of Rose’s hive.

Stretching out my wings I found a new shard of agony buried in a cluster of muscles my brain still wasn’t completely convinced I should own, but at least my wings were at least on the way to recovery. I shuddered. There was no sign of bandages, nor did they feel particularly sore. How long had I hung in the cocoon? I had no way to know, but it had to have been days at the very least. It had felt like years.

“So...?” I began, popping my neck muscles, looking at the drones expectantly.

“Queen. Come.”

I sighed. So even Chrysalis’ drones were dumber than a sack of hammers. Good to know. Not very helpful, though.

“And I’m just expected to come quietly?” I snapped, tensing my wings and trying to touch the aether. The weather magic was weak so far underground, however, and less than a trickle greeted me. It seemed that I was not going to be attempting any daring escapes on my own.

“Yes,” one hissed, then, much to my amazement, winked.

I was so taken aback that, for a moment, I was lost for words. “Excuse me?” I said at last, goggling.

“Come. Alex,” it pressed, tossing it’s head towards the door. “Queen.”

Somewhat bemused, I took a few hesitant steps towards the exit, and, when the changelings continued to just look on expectantly, a few more. Beyond the narrow portal was a cramped passage, clawed out of the rock and black as pitch. A few strands of icor hung from the ceiling, casting a weak emerald glow across the space, but it did little more than throw confusing shadows across the uneven floor.

It was, frankly, terrifying. I could feel the weight of the rock above me, pressing down like a physical weight on me; but that wasn’t half as awful as the cloying darkness of the changeling tunnels, which seemed to reach out to me, leaching the very colour out of my coat. Shuddering, I looked back, as if to ask the drones whether they really wanted me to go that way, but of course, they were silent.

Swallowing the lump in my throat, I stepped out into the corridor. The drones took up position in front and behind me and I was herded up the steadily rising passage; the silence only broken by my swearing as I cracked my hooves against the rocky floor.

The journey was not a short one; twisting passages forked and merged leaving me with no idea of where I was nor how far we had come. For a while I tried to keep track of the route, but it was impossible and instead I chased my thoughts around and around. Chrysalis had said we weren’t to meet again, which meant either something had changed, or I was walking to my execution. Shaking my head I tried to banish the grim throughs, but they clung like the gloom that surrounded me. My footsteps were leaden, and every so often the drone at my rear would snap at me to pick up the pace. My attempts to delay the inevitable did little, beyond a chipping hoof. Much to my relief we encountered almost no other changelings, and even the few we came across were singletons, rushing about on some unknown erand.

Before long my prison march lead us to the top of the hive, or at least what I assumed was the top. There had not been a single window, but the tunnels had never led down. The passage opened through a broken wall and into a huge room and, despite the darkness, I was taken aback. A ruined temple lay before me, wide red flagstones covered the floor, caked in a hundred years of dust and grime, elegantly carved pillars reached up to the roof, which itself was lost to the gloom, somewhere above my head.

It put me in mind of the Parthenon, though buried beneath the earth, falling to pieces and lit by unearthly green light secreted by a race of sapient horse/bug monster things. So not that much like the Parthenon. Part of me wondered if Indiana Jones was about to swing down and rescue me, or Daring Do. Come to think of it, I hadn’t yet found out if she was fictional or not.

Your thoughts take you strange places when you don’t want to think of your destination.

Passing a humungous marble statue of a winged buffalo, which may or may not have been based off a real creature (I have no idea what’s allowed when it comes to Equestrian biology), we paused before the doors of a small sanctuary.

“Queen,” the dones said simply, before stepping forward to open the ancient portal.

I took a deep breath as the hinges squeaked in protest. Whatever I faced, I would do so with my chin up and ready to buck, no matter how futile either might be.

There was a muted thud from the doors and I stepped forwards into the dark.

“Alex,” Rose sighed, raising her head off the floor. “You made it.”

I froze.

Well, I guess I had been promised a Queen, but no one had mentioned which one I’d be seeing. Behind me the drones began to close the ancient doors, as I stared dumbfounded at my friend. Rose lay in chains; thick bands of iron shackled her legs, her neck, and around her barrel. They glowed with their own unearthly radiance, providing the only illumination in the room beyond the chained Queen’s glowing eyes.

Rose did not look well. Her mane was ragged and torn, thick lines of white marred her blackened carapace, and she bore several dripping wounds. She looked upon me with naked relief, though there may have been just a touch of desperate hunger buried in there.

“Umm...” I began, casting around for any other surprises in the small chamber. “Well this is a nice surprise.

Well done, Alex, a quip worthy of the great Daring Do herself.

“Yes. I’m not as pathetic as Chrysalis seems to think,” she gasped, trying and failing to raise her head off the floor. The drones hurried over to her, their eyes changing colour to rose red as they nuzzled their trapped queen.

For a moment Rose just lay there, eyes closed as she accepted their attention. Then she pulled herself up to her knees and fixed me with a stare. “Alex,” she began, breathing hard. “I need you to get these chains off me.” She rattled her bonds.

“Right.” I trotted over to the chained Queen. There was no lock; the chains were all tied to a thick bar of iron near the center of her back, inscribed with a dozen intricate runes. “How?”

“It’s emotional magic. Get mad.”

I cocked my head at her. “Why would that help?”

Rose growled. “It’s a Prime spell, designed to be opened by a surge of emotion. It can’t be opened from the inside, but if you just picture something you hate and buck the lock...”

I grinned, as the drones scampered out of my way. Now, that I could do.

With a vision of Chrysalis’ smarmy face fixed firmly in my mind I allowed myself to indulge in the brief fantasy of kicking her damned head in, then took position in front of Rose. Turning on the spot I sighted down my spine, paused a moment to fill in the satisfying crunch of Chrysalis’ skull beneath my hooves to my mental picture, and kicked like my life depended on it.

The lock shattered, sending white hot shards spinning around the room, and I flailed my hind leg wildly as one of the burning fragments clung to my hoof. I dropped onto my haunches and fanned the injured hoof with a wing, as Rose disentangled herself from the chains. The thick bands of iron were smoking, vanishing into mist even before my eyes; it’s a testament to just how weird physics gets in Equestria that I didn’t bat an eyelid at that.

“Thank you Alex,” Rose sighed, struggling to her feet. “I knew you’d come through.”

I shook my head. “Really? Because right now I’m really confused.”

“Ah, well while I catch my breath,” Rose sighed, as the two drones stepped forwards. “This is Thomas, and this is Charlie.” They nodded in turn. “When we came through the barrier we were... smarter, than the average drone. I was able to slip them into Chrysalis’ hivemind after she knocked us out, with hidden orders to bring you to me when the Hive was quiet.”

“...That seems like a long shot,” I admitted, wincing as I tested my singed hoof on the floor. I’d live. “What about guards?”

Rose frowned. “Why would a hive-mind need guards?”

For just this occasion, but I wasn’t going to look a gift pony in the mouth. “Okay, so what’s our next move.”

For a moment the Queen frowned, glancing between her two drones. “First, we need to find a storeroom. If I can top up on emotional energy we stand a good chance of getting out of here. Once we do that, we can sneak into the northern passageways and get as far from the Hive as we can before Chrysalis notices we’re gone. I don’t know how long we have till some drone will check on my cell, so we’d better hurry.

“Right; storeroom, escape tunnel, leg it. Lead on.”

Storeroom turned out to be the wrong word. The actual room was some combination of a greek amphitheater and a nest from the movie Alien. Thick, chitinous pedestals dotted the tiered rows, each topped by a pony sized crystal glowing with green eldritch energies. After the gloom of the hive, the room was almost too bright to look at, with hundreds of crystals casting their eerie luminescence. The glow did nothing the ease the shivers running down my spine.

“Do I have to worry about facehuggers?” I hissed, as we snuck our way down a set of well worn stairs.

“Hush,” she murmured, picking a row at random. “There may be drones nearby.”

I rolled my eyes, but stayed quiet. Rose paused before one of the crystal spheres. “Okay, I’m going to try and disconnect this. Watch my back.”

Rose’s drones spread out, leaving me standing next to the Queen, looking bemused. “So, how exactly do you know what to do here?” I asked, glancing around.

“I may be stealing a large amount of information from Chrysalis’ hive-mind,” she admitted, her horn glowing in sympathy with the crystal.

I blinked. “Is that safe?”

Rose shrugged, as green nodules lit up across the pillar. “Probably not. Now excuse me, I have to unlock this.”

Shaking my head, I watched for a few long, boring moments, before wandering away. I had no idea how the mane six managed these adventures. So far I’d managed to get myself brainwashed, kidnapped, dragged around by Rose’s drones and was now trailing around like a third wheel. The constant unknown, the dark and the prickling sensation of being watched was slowly doing my head in. I found myself longing for a late night, alone in my office with a mug of coffee, a warm blanket and a comforting stack of paperwork.

“Rose...?” I began.

“Still working,” she hissed back.

I sighed, then poked one of the crystals with a hoof.

It ignored me in it’s entirety.

Sighing, I dropped onto my haunches, fanning myself with my wings. Staying in one place was killing me. I wanted to move. I wanted to fly. It was as irritating as hell, as I distinctly remember not being so fidgety as a human, but that didn’t change the fact I now hated just waiting around when someone was in trouble. Especially if that someone was me. Rose’s off key humming wasn’t helping matters, either.

“Stop humming,” Rose snapped, glaring at me.

I blinked. “I’m not--”

A changeling drone stepped onto our tier. It was a little thing, its carapace still a greyish white rather than the adult black. A woven harness was draped across its back, which held a feather duster and a set of scrupulously clean cloths. Its burbling hum ceased in an instant as it caught sight of us and it froze, like a deer in the headlights.

“Oh bollocks,” I swore.

The neophyte drone’s wings sparked into life and it leapt into the air, emitting a chittering keen as it winged away. The alarm call echoed through the hall for a moment, before a dozen more angry snarls reverberated through the halls.

“Rose!” I yelled, scrambling over to the Queen who was still fiddling with the damned crystal.

“Just a few more seconds.”

“We don’t have them!”

A hundred changeling drones poured into the room. Through ancient doors, through cracks in the walls, from vents and from holes in floor, their many hooves and beating wings turned the empty stillness of the hive into a thrumming cacophony. I stretched out my wings, backing up against Rose as another hundred arrived, and a hundred more. Rose’s drones joined me, forming a pathetic line of flesh between the horde and the Queen, who--

“Got it!”

There was a crack and I was suddenly flooded with relief that all my friends had turned up for my party. Shaking my head, and cursing emotional magic, I turned to see a lightning-bright beam of energy arcing between Rose’s horn and the crystal. The Queen seemed lost in the moment, her eyes shut, a rapturous smile on her face; it was as if she'd just been welcomed home.

The drones chose that moment to charge.

The thunder of a thousand hooves on stone, and a hundred wings savaging their air deafened me, as the horde barrelled towards us. Rose didn't react in the slightest. I spread my wings, ready to make a break for the first gap I saw, then kicked myself as I realised I was literally standing next to the local equivalent of a tank of kerosene.

Acting on more instinct than sound judgement, I leapt at the crystallised emotion, snatching the crystal sphere out of the air and bearing it to the ground. For a moment the emotions threatened to overwhelm me, a rush of rage, of lust, of love, of joy and infinitely more, but adrenaline is good at stopping such introspection. The changelings were mere feet away when I took a deep draft of Prime into myself, and it was then, my bones fizzing with energy, I realised I had no idea how any emotion spells work.

So I just went for something I could imagine Chrysalis saying.

“KNEEL!” I roared, slamming my hooves down on the sphere. It exploded, sending a shockwave of sickly green energy roaring across the room.

The changelings dropped to the floor, touching their heads to the floor in supplication.

“Huh,” I said, after a long moment of stunned silence. “I did not expect that to work.”

Rose shook herself, leaping to her feet and dragging her drones with her. “Well don’t just stand there, fly you fool!”

She kicked off, her wings flickering into life. Groaning, I threw myself after, wincing with every beat as my wings screamed in protest. The drones below were -- slowly -- pulling themselves together, and before we’d reached ceiling height I heard the familiar hum of wings as they took to the air.

Rose squeaked through a crack in the ceiling, with me hot on her fetlocks. Tucking in my wings, I landed in a narrow tunnel, but Rose was already galloping away and I shot after her.

“Was a 'Lord of the Rings' reference really necessary?” I snapped, desperately trying to keep my feet as we galloped through the darkened tunnel.

“Shut up and run!”

A drone suddenly appeared in our way, hissing in defiance. It lasted all of half a second before Rose’s magic picked it up and smashed it against the wall. The three crowding in behind it were more of an issue, and bolts of eldritch fire streamed down the passage towards us.

Rose took a hit to the shoulder and staggered. Her drones leapt to her defence, squeezing around their monarch and hurling themselves at Chrysalis’ spawn. They slammed together, and the sound of tearing chitin and insectile screams filled the air. We raced past the battle, Rose not even pausing to help and, well, I couldn’t tell the difference between the two sides.

“Rose--” I began, as we thundered away.

“Shut up and run!” she roared, glaring over her shoulder at me, tears in her eyes.

We left Thomas and Charlie to fight their doomed battle, the drumming of our hooves drowning out their deaths as they bought us precious seconds of freedom.

A hundred yards later the tunnel opened up into a wide flagstone passage, and we skidded to a halt. A dozen changeling drones stood before us; Rose kindled her horn.

“Alex, get ready to run,” she said, drawing herself up to her full height. “Just run and don’t stop.”

I looked up at the Rose. “I’m not leaving,” I told her, setting my jaw and spreading my wings.

“Alex! You don’t have to die here.”

Hooffalls echoed behind us, and the drones before us began to advance.

“I don’t think that’s been a choice,” I admitted, and--

I felt the aether sing, a tingling pressure in my wings that grew and grew as something plummeted towards us. Throwing my weight at her I dragged Rose out of the way moments before the ceiling exploded inwards, sending rocks, dust and a rather irate Rainbow Dash tumbling to the floor.

The column of light was blinding after the eternal darkness of the hive, and it only got worse as, without missing a beat, Rainbow Dash hurled a bolt of lightning from her wings; blowing apart a drone, the blast taking three more down with it. Blinking back tears I staggered backwards, dodging under busts of fire from the changelings. Their shots were wild and moments later halted entirely, as a far more competent pegasus than I charged into the mass, wings blazing with power.

Next through the hole in the roof was, of all ponies, Rarity. The pristine unicorn dropped to the floor, as light on her hooves as a feather, an elegant rapier clasped in her magical grasp. For a moment she stood unblemished in the column of light, then a drone leapt at her and, in a flurry of motion the beast lost its head and Rarity was charging to Dash’s aid. Nothing that came within three feet of her lasted more than a half second before being driven back at swordpoint.

“Told you I could sense them!” Dash called over her shoulder, as Applejack lowered herself into the passage.

“Yeah, yeah, I hear ya’,” Applejack grumbled. “I’ll get you ya’ bits when we’re done here.” She turned to us, ignoring the fierce brawl behind her. “Good to see you, sugarcube; thought we’d have to go a mite further to find ya’, but I ain't complaining. You two good to fly?”

There was a very equine scream from behind her, as Rarity ran through a Twilight doppelganger. Applejack’s ear flickered, but otherwise she didn’t react.

“Umm, yeah,” I said at last. With one last, horrified, glance at the melee, I threw myself up, through and hole and into blessed sunlight.

I had all of half a second to appreciate the view before I was tackled by a giant mass of cotton candy.

“Alex!” Pinkie exclaimed, and I found myself flat on my back staring up at an impossibly wide smile. “I knew we’d find you. I knew it, I knew it, I-- Hold that thought.”

With my head still spinning, the hurricane of sugar fueled mania hurled herself at Rose, chattering like a loon. Unable to keep the grin off my face I pulled myself to my feet and looked around.

We were stood on a low hill of reddish earth, in the shadow of a great mountain. Beyond, the land was broken and scared, dry as a bone and dotted only by the occasional cactus. Already I could feel the heat of the sun beating down on me, a sensation I’d almost forgotten after spending so long in the cave, but the view only kept my attention for a moment. Hovering quite inexplicably, a hundred feet away, was a flying ship.

“Ahoy, Alex!” Crystal Cog called from the bridge, waving his tricorn hat. I still have no idea where he got it from.

For a moment my brain failed to process the insanity of the situation. The ship was not large, a glorified yacht at best, but it was filled with Club members. Six pegasi were harnessed to the prow like an impromptu sled team, four unicorns stood at each corner, each powering some arcane spellworking beneath their hooves, while two teams of ponies on each side busied themselves around a complex mechanism. More incongruous than anything else was the ship’s name, Thunderchild. I wondered just who was nuts enough to decide to name their vessel after a ship doomed to die succeeding.

Rarity hurtled out of the hole, a bloody wound marring her perfect coat, followed by a rather harried Applejack.

“Come on, Pinkie!” she yelled, clasping her stenton to her head as she galloped towards the ship. “Save the party for when we ain’t got changelings crawling up our tails!”

There was a concussive blast as Rainbow Dash tore her way out of the ground, a few changeling stings screaming through the air after her. Everyone else took that as a cue to run for the ship, and I took to the air, winging my way across the gap. An empty space opened amidships and I came down amidst the chaos.

“Crystal Cog,” Applejack continued, bounding up onto the deck in a single powerful leap. “Get us the hay out of here.

“Don’t need to tell me twice,” the colt yelled back. “Engine room, full power!”

The ‘engines’ collectively shot him a dirty look, but took to the air. As Pinkie pulled Rarity, clearly in pain, aboard, Thunderchild began to pick up speed, racing away from the changelings who were boiling out of the earth behind us.

“Dash! Get your rainbow butt in the air, and tell the Princesses we’re getting the hay outa’ dodge,” Applejack continued, galloping up to the aftcastle as the pegasus saluted and shot off into the sky. “Crystal Cog. Run out the guns. We’re going to have the ‘ole hive afta’ us before you can say ‘applebuckin’’.”

“You heard her, get those guns ready!”

The deck exploded into motion, as the pastel ponies made ready for war. Trying to stay out of anyone’s way I stumbled into the shadow of the aftcastle, and almost backed over Fluttershy.

“Oh, Alex, you’re okay,” Fluttershy murmured, around a thick roll of gauze.

Before her lay Rarity, and I couldn’t tell what was paining the unicorn more, her foreleg wound, or Pinkie’s constant babble, as the pink pony hovered around her.

“Rarity, everything is going to be just fine. Twilight has all sorts of healing spells so don’t you worry even for a second. Not one second do you hear me? Of course you do. And don’t worry about the stain, that’ll come right out. Oh! Not that it has to, come out. Rarity? Rarity? Why aren’t you responding? Oh no! Go into the light Rarity! Or... don’t go into the light! I can never remember which one it is. Stay exactly the right distance away from the light!”

The ragged gash on Rarity’s leg was deep, cutting through muscle and to the bone. She caught my horrified look.

“Oh don’t worry about me darling,” Rarity said, a very forced smile on her lips as Fluttershy bandaged the wound, and Pinkie continued her tirade, now on the subject of socks. “I’ve had far worse on our adventures.”

“I got the healing char--” Star Charge skidded to a halt at he saw me, a clutch of purple crystals bobbing along in his telekinetic field. “Ah, hello Alex.”

I stared at the stallion in open mouthed shock. Now, Crystal Cog I could see charging off after Rose and I. In fact, I could see him leaping at the chance to pull a few toys out of his bag of dirty human tricks, (case in point the Thunderchild), but Star Charge I saw more as the kind of pony to hold a party on my grave.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded.

He rolled his eyes, passing the crystals over to Fluttershy. “First aid.”

Looking around, I could spot at least half a dozen of Star Charge’s usual cronies. Out of everything that had happened, somehow Star Charge raising a finger... hoof, to help me was by far the least expected.

“But in general,” he continued, shrugging. “Well, I figured if a capital V villain like Chrysalis wanted to get rid of you and Rose, then you must have been doing something right.”

“Changelings at two o’clock!”

I whipped around, just past the pegasi team I could just make out a black blot of changeling drones pouring out of a wide mouthed cave.

“Thirty points to port on my mark!” Crystal Cog hollered back, as the drones began to charge. “Ready on starboard guns, hold fire till thirty yards!”

With ease of practice a three pony team took position on each gun. One earth pony behind the sights, bracing the cannon-sized mass of metal and machinery, a second to one side, a belt of ammunition in their hooves, and a unicorn stood behind them, holding a hemispherical mantle of magic around the barrel.

For a moment I felt my brain try to rebel. I recognised those guns. There wasn’t a human alive that wouldn’t have, and I can only blame exhaustion on not noticing them immediately.

Crystal Cog had built machine guns.

Maxim guns specifically.

He’d brought the very symbol of industrial slaughter to Equestria.


The Thunderchild tipped as the pegasi executed a sharp banked turn, sending at least one unprepared soul skidding across the deck. The changeling drones took wing, magics swirling around their horns and a barrage of fire came our way.

“Hold! Hold!” Cog roared, as the blots went wide, glancing off the hull or going high over our heads. The changelings didn’t seem to have much speed in the air, though they were closing, I could see we would soon overtake them and then be away.


The guns roared, great throaty booms that vanished into the swirling cacophony of sound from the twin machine guns. Hot slugs screamed aways from the Thunderchild, tracing ribbons of fire through the sky. Their shooting was even less than accurate than the changelings, but the small swarm of creatures was a much larger and squishier target and I watched shattered bodies fall to the earth. Not all of whom died from the impact.

“Ahead, ahead!” a desperate voice screamed. A second swarm had appeared, right in our path and was already firing. The stings were far more controlled from the ambushing group, and the pegasus team bore the brunt of the storm.

I watched a Club member take a hit to the wing and tumble out of formation. The pegasi were harnessed in a line of three, and when he fell his two wingmates were dragged down with him. There was an equine scream as the lead pony was dragged out of the air and the team were pulled down, out of my sight. I heard nothing else over the roar of the guns, but only two of the team made it back aboard, shaking off the remains of their harness, one with her hooves wrapped around her glassy eyed comrade.

“Starboard eighty!” Cog roared, wrenching on the wheel, even as the Thunderchild threatened to stall. A reserve trio of pegasi, well, two pegasi and a gryphon, leapt from the prow and almost flew into the other team in their haste. Through more luck than good judgement they avoided fouling any lines and the deck swung like a pendulum as the ship went into a terrifyingly tight turn.

The injured pegasi and his buddy staggered over to Fluttershy’s first aid station, and I had to leap out of the way. It was almost my last move; a bolt of green fire screamed through the air half an inch from my ear and I found myself clutching the deck with no clear idea how I’d got there. The first swarm of changelings kept us under a steady barrage of fire from range, but the ambushing second were right on top of us. The port guns roared, pouring round after round into the charging swarm, but we’d lost speed in the handover and the turn and, though the drones died in dozens, or even hundreds, still more filled the sky behind them. Before I could blink, they were on the deck with us.

I found myself face to face with a drone, for maybe half a second, before someone set off a cannon next to my head and it vanished in a spray of viscera.

“Blasted things,” Applejack snarled, throwing away her shotgun and charging into the melee. A hobbling Rarity was right behind her, sword once again flashing as the pair of Element bearers drove back the drones.

“Alex! Fluttershy needs help!” Pinkie screamed in my ear, before she bounded off to help her friends.

The deck beneath me bucked as the ship accelerated, finally beginning to draw away from the drones. Shaking my head, I realised I’d done nothing but stand there like a sack of potatoes for the entire battle and hurried back to Fluttershy’s first aid post, which was already beginning to look like a triage station.

“Just pass me what I ask for,” the pink haired pegasus snapped. I stared dumbly at her for a moment. “The supplies, she repeated almost too quiet to hear, pointing at a chest of medical tools. “Don’t... don’t watch the... battle.” She shuddered. “Just focus on saving lives.”

I nodded, and set about laying out bandages and the wounded Club members that had managed to drag themselves away from the melee. We seemed to be winning, I noted, unable to keep focused on the task at hand. We’d outpaced the changeling’s reinforcements and the trio of Element bearers had driven the few remaining drones back to the prow, where they fought and died to the last drone.

“Great work, people!” Cog yelled from the bridge; somewhere he’d lost his hat and picked up a rather worrying headwound. “We’re home free!”

The steaming guns fell silent as we raced away from the baying swarm, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Look out!” Pinkie screamed, vibrating across the deck. I whipped around, trying to see what had set off the Pinkie Sense, and so I was looking in just the right direction as Queen Chrysalis unveiled both herself and a third swarm of drones dead ahead. There was just enough time for me to fold my ears flat before she let loose a titanic beam of magic right at us.

The pegasi team hurled themselves out of the way but, even forewarned, they were too late. The blast glanced off the side of the ship, blowing ponies and machinery away from the rail in a hail of shrapnel and blood. The unicorn that stood on the rear starboard lifter was less lucky, and took the blast head on, vanishing in a detonation of spellwork.

Thunderchild dropped away and the keel clipped the ground. I watched the pegasi team bail out of their harness as the keel smashed into the rocks and we tumbled, the whole ship turning upside down.

It never occurred to me to fly away from the onrushing catastrophe. The ship dropped towards a final, catastrophic meeting with the earth, when suddenly it just, stopped; held up in a painfully bright corona of magic. For a moment, all was calm as Thunderchild was spun the right way up and began drift gently towards the ground.

Then the magic ran out. I hit the deck hard, bouncing my muzzle off the unforgiving boards as the ship was dropped the few remaining feet. The sickening crunch of breaking wood rent the air, followed by the sound of a unicorn collapsing as Rarity dropped unconscious, her horn still sparking erratically.

Well, so much for Twilight being the only overpowered spell caster.

“DID YOU THINK IT WOULD BE SO EASY!” the changeling Queen bellowed. She was closing fast on the beached Thunderchild, the very image of a vengeful god.

Green fire arced around her as she let loose a sky rending bolt of power. Star Charge and his unicorn friends hurled themselves towards it, bringing up a hazy shell of magic around the Thunderchild with a half second to spare. It lasted just about as long; the blast struck the shell like a hammer blow, shattering the thin film of magic and sending the unicorns tumbling to the floor, most clutching their horns. Pinkie, however, had used the precious moment to pull a gun out from behind her back.

“HEY!” the pink mare roared, stepping up to the rail. The gun was impossible. a full two pony lengths in size and with a hoof wide barrel; Pinke shouldn’t have been able to lift the thing, but in blatant disregard of physics she stood balanced on her hind legs and trained the cannon on Chrysalis. “You’re making me break a Pinkie Promise!”

It would have been fun if she hadn’t been deadly serious.

The gun roared, tracer screaming away into the sky. There was no way anypony could have fired the monster of weapon, I dimly recognised it as the gun Cog had pulled off of the Tornado; but Pinkie stood, as steady as a rock, as round after round poured from the barrel. I clamped my hooves over my folded ears as the wall of noise washed over me, watching with elation as Chrysalis’ swarm was shattered by good old fashioned human ingenuity.

For a couple seconds it was glorious, the drones fell in droves, and Chrysalis fell back, shielding herself with her magics. Then the gun jammed.

“Ah, chestnuts,” Pinkie swore, hammering on the gun to no avail.

Chrysalis bellowed in rage and pain as she charged us, her emerald shield held high before her and an eye-searing nimbus of power gathering around her horn.

The sky was rent by an explosion and lightning fell around the enraged monarch, one bolt scattering off her shield. A blast of wind knocked the few standing ponies as Rainbow Dash streaked over our heads, strafing the Queen with still more lightning. Bolts of fire chased after the supersonic mare as she raced away, hugging the broken earth.

Enraged, the Queen turned back to us, and the world seemed to skip a beat as she unleashed her power. A emerald beam cut through the air with a tortured scream. I barely reacted to it. Too many brushes with death had reduced me to a mere passenger in my own body.

I batted an eyebrow when Twilight appeared on the deck next to me, in the familiar flash-pop of a teleportation, and raised an opaque purple shield before Thunderchild. Chrysalis’ spell roared as it struck to the shield and, while Twilight gritted her teeth, the shell didn’t budge an inch. The alicorn raised her wings, let the shield drop, and let loose her own barrage of pink bolts of force that whistled through the air as they tracked in on Chrysalis, who ducked and weaved.

“Crystal Cog, get this ship moving!” Twilight snapped, not missing a beat as she continued hurling arcane fire into the sky.

Even the strength of a Princess didn’t seem to be enough to drive the monster back. Chrysalis just kept coming. Her entourage had been wiped out by Pinkie, Rainbow Dash continued to harass her with lightning and Twilight kept up a constant barrage of spellfire, but it hadn’t been enough. The bottom seemed to drop out of my stomach as Chrysalis summoned still more power, so much that I could feel it in my primaries. A burning, tingling sensation that screamed at the primitive pegasus portion of my brain to fly and never look back.

Princess Luna was the last to reveal herself and, unlike everypony else, arrived without fanfare or announcement. One moment, the only thing in the sky was an enraged changeling Queen, next the Princess of the Night was just there, right on top of her, swinging a silver sword at Chrysalis.

The blade bit deep into the Queen’s shoulder and that seemed to be the final straw for the indomitable Chrysalis. There was an earsplitting crack of a teleport, leaving Luna alone and, at long last, blessed silence fell across the battlefield.

“Did we win?” someone asked, as everyone turned I realised it had been me.

“For now,” Twilight sighed. “We need to hurry though.”

She set off at a gallop towards Cog and his ponies, who were busy hauling an arcana block into the empty cradle, where the rear starboard lifter had been vaporised by Chrysalis. Fluttershy was back to first aid, though she was almost out of supplies, and the pegasi were harnessing themselves to the prow. There was a desperate need to help building up inside of me, to do anything but just sit there like a lemon, but my hooves never got the order.

I didn’t move for that spot on the battle scarred deck till Celestia's sun set, six hours later.

Chapter 6: Respite

View Online

Walls crumbled, and great towers of glass and steel came tumbling down as men and women sunk to their knees clutching their heads as they screamed towards the burning sky.

“Why?” Twilight asked, as the barrier spell raged behind her. “Why should I save them?”

A thousand lies spun through my head, but I couldn’t find the words to save my home. Twilight scoffed and turned away, drawing magic to her horn. The barrier reared up, the roiling mass of spellwork rising to a fever pitch of discordant light and twisted geometry before--

My eyes flicked open.

For a moment I lay on my narrow bedroll, dead still, as if a single twitch would bring the nightmare crashing back down upon me. Nothing happened, though, and a cold shudder passed down the length of my spine.

I heard the clatter of heavy hooffalls approach and finally summoned the will to move.

“You are troubled,” Princess Luna observed, looking down at me. It was not a question. The Princess of the Night stood silhouetted before the predawn sky; she was not in her usual court regalia but instead bore just a simple silver coronet, though with two bat-winged guards flanking her she still struck an imposing figure. An uneasy tremble spread through my wings as I eyed the guards; for the sake of the Club I was glad the leathery wings were just a cosmetic enhancement, and not yet another subspecies.

“Yeah, I’ve had a rough few days,” I observed, sighing. One of the guards shot me a pointed glare. “Princess,” I added.

A small frown crossed her face. “Do you wish for my assistance?”

I shook my head, pushing myself to my hooves. “No, you’ve done more than enough for me already. Besides, your Highness, I should be getting up already.”

“Yes, it would not do well to linger so close to the heart of Chrysalis’ power,” Luna observed, gazing out over the plain. “She is not so easily humbled.” Said the mare who had managed to summon an entire illusionary army as a distraction.

“Thank you,” I interjected. I seemed to catch her by surprise, so I continued. “For coming out to save us. The Club owes you and your sister a lot for everything you’ve done but... well. Thanks for saving my life. I owe you one.”

“Neigh,” Luna declared, waving me off. “The defence of our subjects is always of utmost importance. And--” She leaned close and dropped into a conspiratorial whisper. “--I am more than grateful for a chance at a bit of well justified revenge on that blasted creature, Chrysalis.” She shook herself. “If she thinks I will just laugh off that silence spell, she has another thing coming.”

Huh, so Luna had slept through the Changeling invasion. Chalk up one more for the fanon.

“Well, at least yesterday we gave her a bloody nose,” I said, shuddering as the memories of the running battle drifted back to me.

Luna looked blank.

“It’s a human expression,” I explained. “For after you’ve landed a good punch.”

“Ah, a most valiant phrase then,” she exclaimed, beaming at me. “It is good your Club still bears vigor; sometimes we despair for Equestria’s once great martial heart.”

For a moment I just looked at her. I’d meet Luna once before, on a fairly routine trip to Canterlot to explain the situation of our Club before the royal court, but there she’d seemed listless, bored even. With her sword at her side, though sword may not have been the right term for the hiltless blades unicorns liked to hurl around in combat, she seemed the very image of a warrior princess, animate and eager for another round.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her just how scared I’d been.

“Well, I should probably go find breakfast,” I said at last, dodging the issue. “And I guess you need to lower the moon or something.”

“I would not be so rude to set the Buffalo's moon for them,” she explained, smiling. “They were a proud people in my day, and the years seemed to have done nothing but harden their coats.”

I blinked. One of these days I needed to sit down the with an encylopedia and Twilight Sparkle and figure out how the hell physics worked in Equestria. I did not have the time, nor the patience just then so let, yet another absurdity pass without comment.

“Well in that case, thank you again, Princess. I’ll be off.”

“And I must be about,” she agreed. “Your young friend Crystal Cog has agreed to talk me through one of his wonderful repulsors.”

With a spring in her step, Luna trotted off. I was beginning to understand how they lured Luna on this madcap trip. Shaking my head I furled my bedroll, shook a few loose feathers out of my wings, which were in dire need of preening, and wandered away from camp.

The camp was a fairly large affair; Thunderchild was not really big enough for the entire crew to sleep on the deck, not without getting in everyone’s way, so we’d stopped for the night on a high cliff, next to a long forgotten cairn and overlooking the rugged plains of the badlands. It was not friendly territory; by the early morning the sun would be doing it’s best to bleach our coats white and we had only what water carried in the Thunderchild’s belly. Even worse were the locals; the wildlife so far had been scorpions and bigger scorpions and we were still close enough to Chrysalis’ hive for her to be a threat, but we were deep within the Buffalo lands, and those guys were significantly less friendly in person than on the show, or so I’d heard.

The cliff arced around in front of the cairn and I found myself walking around the ancient stones. The path didn’t go far, but far enough for me to find a moment’s solitude. It seemed silly to me, to still be trying to fit together the events of the previous day into my mind; it wasn’t like I’d done anything more the previous day than sit in Thunderchild’s small cabin while everyone else busied themselves with saving everyone’s lives.

I sighed.

Well almost everyone’s. Mathew Win had vanished after being dashed against the ground in the chase, and given the speed we were going... well, pegasi didn’t tend to walk away from broken necks, unless your name is Rainbow Dash. Ivory Flash, one of Star Charge’s followers had met his end before Chrysalis’ magics, and the only consolation there was at least it had been swift. Joy Hutter had been less lucky. A unicorn, she had caught a thigh length splinter and bled out before anyone could reach her.

Three names I would never let myself forget. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why they’d had to die. The selfish part of me was eternally grateful for the chance to live, as I’d have never escaped without their sacrifice, and the pragmatic pointed out that the Club couldn’t just let Chrysalis’ get away with my kidnap, not if we didn’t want to become a free meal for all the other supernatural monsters lurking on the fringes of Equestria. But in the end, three lives for two... five lives if you counted Rose’s two drones who had, long before the madness that was my life infected them, been living breathing humans with hopes, dreams and families.

“Hold it!”

I froze, hoof raised before me as Pinkie Pie gambled over.

“Silly filly,” she exclaimed, hustling me back. “You almost added hoofprints to the flower arrangement.”

I blinked. Lost in my thoughts I’d almost stumbled into... well I wasn’t quite sure. Surrounding the pink pony were hundreds of lines scratched in the dirt, but whether she’d been doodling, trying to contact aliens or summon a hellbeast, I couldn’t tell. As it was Pinkie, it could have been any of them.

“Umm, Pinkie, what is this?” I asked at last.

“Durh, my party plan!” she chirped, bouncing on the spot and jabbed a hoof at a sea of squiggles. “See over here we have the Hors d'oeuvres, as Rarity likes to call them, I call them food but apparently that’s wrong. We’ve got all kinds of human themed food, chips, dips, sticks and stones, veggie sausages, and buckets and buckets of hayfries.” She lept from the array and over to my side, dragging me over to another cluster. “Over there we have the banners, oh, though I don’t have the bunting worked out yet so ignore that.” She dragged me further. “And-- And! Over here we’ve got the flowers! Joy was the only one who’s flower choice I knew, so I went with tulips as a nice neutral taste, and they look nice too, which is always important when you’re planning these things...”

I tried to make sense of the mess, but if there was any order in the chaos, it would have take the Elements of Harmony to unlock it. Shaking my head I sighed. “Pinkie, what’s this all for?”

“For the memorial party, silly,” she replied, draping a hoof over my shoulders.

I blinked, for a moment my mouth worked without a peep escaping. “This is a funeral?” I exclaimed.

“Yeperoony,” Pinkie cheered, bouncing on the spot, still holding on to me. “Only the best memorial that Ponyville has ever seen. Well, maybe not the best, Oliver Apple’s got the whole town to attend, but I bet we can get the whole Club there.”

Shaking my head, I pushed her off me with a wing. “I’ll be honest, Pinkie, I’ve never seen you as a funeral type of pony.”

“Hey! I’m the premier party planner in all of Ponyville,” she snapped, jabbing me with a hoof. “And that doesn’t just mean the birthdays, it means all those awkward graduation parties, those horrible office socials and the final goodbyes.” She smiled fondly for a moment. “Those are the hardest to get right. But they’re also the ones you need to do...”

Pinkie sighed and looked down at her hooves, her hair already starting to deflate. I put a foreleg around her and pulled the party pony into a hug, which she neither resisted nor reciprocated.

We stood there together for a long time.

“Should I ask who’s funeral it was?” I said at last.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” she replied, offering a weak smile. “It was a long time ago now... Though I seem to be holding more of these than I used to.”

I cocked a brow at her.

“It’s the curse of being an Element Bearer,” she explained, the usual bounce completely gone from her voice. “You’re destined to save the world, but not everypony around you is so lucky. Sometimes you don’t get to save them all.”

Another silence stretched.

“You’re a stronger woman than I, Pinkie,” I said, gazing over the incomprehensible wake before me.

“Oh, it’s easier than you think. So giggle at the ghosties,” she sang.

Guffaw as the ghosties,” I echoed, mournfully.

Pinkie sniggered. “That’s not right,” she chided. “I didn't rhyme ghosties with ghosties.”

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have...” I paused, then shot her a funny look. “Wait, that song actually happened?”

“Well duh,” she chirped, bouncing away from me. “Of course it happened. Those trees were like--” She reared up on her hind legs. “--’Rawargalsnaple!’ And the girls were like, ‘eeek!’ But then I got the beat and started laughing and those nasty trees didn’t know what hit them!” She rounded on me, beaming. “And that’s how Equestria was made!”

I blinked, and shot her a look. “Has the Club been reading MLP transcripts to you again?”

She giggled. “Maaaybe.”

I had to laugh. The world was ending. Three people under my protection had died trying to save my life. And I’d spent the better part of the week hanging upside down, with a giant bug picking over my brain. Pinkie Pie however, still made me laugh.

I kept laughing.

Just laughing.

Laughing till there were tears in my eyes and then laughing until I was a sobbing mess in Pinkie’s grasp. After that it was nothing but tears, sobs and self recrimination.

The sun had risen by the time I finally cried myself out.

“I can’t do it,” I said, at long last. I lay on my belly at the edge of the cliff, staring out over the rust red hills of the badlands. “I’m not a hero, Pinkie. I never wanted to be one. I don’t even have a destiny--” I spared a glance for my still blank flank. “--let alone one to save the world. When push came to shove, I sat there like a sack of potatoes and let people die.”

I could feel myself being to tear up again, and then Pinkie bopped me on the head.

“Hey!” I slapped her, cuffing her with a wing, though I might as well have hit a boulder.

“Silly,” she chided. “And you can say you’re not a hero all you want, but you were the one that broke out of the Hive. You were the one that saved Rose from Chrysalis’ mob. You threw yourself across dimensions to try and save somepony’s life.”

I sighed. Well, time to correct a few assumptions. “It was Rose’s plan that got us out of the Hive,” I told her, staring into the distance. “And half the Club tried to save her from the mob along with me.”

“But you still chased the Jet,” Pinkie pointed out.

“Which almost killed me,” I snapped, trying and failing to repress a shudder. “Face it, Pinkie. I’m not cut out for this. I’m barely able to keep the Club fed, let alone be worth their lives!”

Pinkie gave me a knowing smile. I found it incredibly aggravating.

“There’s two dozen ponies back there who think you’re wrong,” she told me in a sing song voice, then hopped to her feet. “And you can’t be a grumpy no-pants and say that isn’t because of what you’ve done.”

I glared at her. “You know Twilight put me in charge of the Club, right?” I snapped.

“Actually, that’s not the entire story,” Twilight interjected.

I jumped, never the smartest thing to do while on the edge of a cliff, and fortunately for my racing heart, Pinkie caught me by the tail before I went tumbling.

After a few moments frantic scrabbling I found my feet firmly on solid ground again and rounded on Twilight, who was looking a little sheepish. “Twilight!” I snapped. “I could have fallen to my death!”

She shot me a flat look, then unfurled her wings a little. I glanced over my shoulder at my own wings, which were half open and ready for flight.

“Okay, fine. Give me some warning next time though.”

Twilight tittered. “Will do. And I was just going to say, while I may have suggested to several ponies to form such a club, you were the only one who made it more than a day.”

I sighed. Damn cheery Equestrians. Can’t live with them, can’t undermine their arguments.

“Fine,” I grumbled. “Did you need us for something, Princess?”

Twilight trotted over, stepping deftly around Pinkie’s party plan. “Well, I did want to see how you were doing, Alex. Luna said you were having nightmares.”

“Is there no right to privacy in Equestria?” I grumbled. Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Eh don’t worry about it,” I added hastily. “It’s not like it would have been much of a guess.”

“Quite...” Twilight shuffled her hooves for a moment. “Um, I brought you something that might help cheer you up it’s--” She pulled my minifigure out of her saddlebags with her magic.

I felt my breath catch in my throat. The figure would not have been remarkable on Earth, it was perhaps, six inches tall and depicted a gen. four pegasus pony in vinyl. It was slightly chubby, an off-white in colour, and the mane and tail were a pencil grey; its outstretched wings were dappled with brown dots, not unlike a snowy owl’s, and its flank was notably bare of a cutie mark.

It was my figurine.

It was me.

I hurled myself forwards, wings spread wide and, before Twilight could even blink, I’d snatched the figure out of the air with my teeth and leapt back. I furled my wings hurriedly, dropping my little plastic mini-me into the fold of feathers, the pegasi equivalent of tucking something in your armpit.

“Huh, I don’t think I’ve seen anypony move that fast since we dangled a Daring Do novel in front of Dash,” Twilight observed. I paid her no attention whatsoever, head still stuck in my wing as I poured over the figure, checking for any nicks or scrapes.

“Where did you get this?” I snapped at her, finally satisfied that it hadn’t picked up any new marks.

“I... Well, your home, but...”

“Do you have any idea what this is?” I screamed, stamping my hooves.

“Not really, that was going to be my next...”

“This is me, Twilight!” I snapped, beginning to pace in agitation. “Or it was, and now... argh! Why did you-- I mean-- When did--”

Twilight grabbed me by the tail and dragged me over to her. “Alex! Calm down. Everything is fine.”

I stopped. Took a deep breath. Then turned plaintive eyes on Twilight. “But why did you take it?” I demanded, shuddering as I fought to keep my forehooves on the floor, and not shake the pony princess like a ragdoll.

“We needed a focus for the tracking spell,” Twilight explained, calmly and rationally. “And, well that ‘toy’ has some of the strongest sympathetic ties I’ve ever seen. It was like casting spells when you’re in the room.”

“Huh... Well I guess it finally did some good,” I grumbled, shifting the figure to a more comfortable spot under my wing. I paused, as a thought occured. “Hang on, Chrysalis said specifically that I didn’t have any connections.”

Twilight shuffled her hoof. “Well... it is almost dripping with chaos magic,” she pointed out. “I have to ask, sorry, but where did you get it. Was it Discord?”

I sighed. Oh god. This was very much a story I didn’t want to get into.

“I bought it off eBay,” I told her in clipped tone, and when I got a blank look, I reluctantly continued. “A world wide marketplace back on Earth. From a seller called Mica Sordid.”

Twilight frowned for a moment.

Pinkie leaned over and staged whispered to her. “Psst. It’s an anagram of ‘I am Discord’.”

“Oh!” Twilight exclaimed, then spotted my angry glare. “Oh, right,” she repeated, in a much more subdued tone. “Sorry. I guess that was one of his ‘man traps’.”

“Yes,” I snarled. “One impulse purchase for a show that I watched with my brother and bam! Pony, portal, and then I ended up falling through somepony’s roof in Cloudsdale.” I kicked air. It was a stupid, stupid reason to have your whole life ripped out from under you. I may not have been doing much with it, but was still my life god damn it!

My agony must have shown, as Pinkie went in for another sympathy hug. I warded her off with a wing, and tried to take another calming breath. They were getting less and less effective.

"Look, I shouldn't be so uptight about all of this..." I rubbed my temple with a hoof. "It's just... I don't have anything else left." Even if it was cursed, the little statue was still my last link home.

"...I think I understand," Twilight said, with a comforting smile. I wondered if she was lying, or just saying what I wanted to hear. It's hard to understand what losing everything means. Your job, your friends, your form... Back home they would have had a funeral by now. Alexis Kingston would be dead and buried, in mind if not in being. Or worse, perhaps my folks were tearing the country apart looking for me, in a quest for a nonexistent Grail.

I shook myself, and smacked myself in the head. That was not a good line of thought to follow. We'd lost people to that kind of thinking, and not to a way the magic of friendship could fix.

"I'm sure you do, Princess," I said at last. By the pout, Twilight believed me about as much as I believed her. "Was there anything else you needed?"

"I just wanted to see if you were okay," she said, with another forced smile. "You've been through a lot, after all."

Time to change the subject. "Well, I am still worried about Chrysalis." Twilight frowned at me, but I pressed on. “She seemed to be very interested Earth.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Twilight replied, shaking her head. “Earth would be a desert for Chrysalis, humans don't have emotions like we ponies do..." She paused, then her eyes widened and she stammered out a correction. "Not that I meant that you don't have emotions. I meant, well, that you don't feel the-- you don't--"

I rolled my eyes. "We're freaky non-magical creatures," I completed. "But even if she can't feed, there's plenty of ways she could damage both worlds. If nothing else, humans are more than just a food source. Chrysalis mentioned nuclear bombs a few times.”

Twilight let out a relieved sigh. “Well that’s one problem we don’t have to worry about. Nuclear weapons won't work in Equestria.”

I cocked an eyebrow at her.

“Materia magic doesn’t work that way,” she explained, shrugging. “No fission, or at least not on the energy scales humans deal with. I have a hundred grams of plutonium sitting in a draw back at the castle, a couple kilos would be... not safe for foals, but worst case it would blow the roof off, not destroy a city.”

“There’s more dangerous things on Earth that just bombs,” I pointed out. One of which was now also in Equestria thanks to Crystal Cog and his infernal machine guns.

A very princessly smile cross Twilight’s face. It was a classic, ‘I’ve seen so much more than you can imagine’, smile lifted straight from Celestia. Twilight walked over to the edge of the cliff and gestured me to stand beside her.

“See that?” she said, as I took up position overlooking the valley, squinting against the rising sun. She pointed towards a dark hill.

I frowned. It wasn’t just a hill though. There, I could make out towers. There, a high stone wall.

“Is that...?” I began.

“That is Loane Stup. It was, or if you are a Buffalo, is, the capital of the Buffalo nation.”

Drawing a little aether to boost my vision I peered into the distance. The lost city was huge; many miles across and ringed by shattered walls. Uncounted houses, temples, towers and public buildings lay in ruins lay atop the low rise. I would have looked closer, except for the sudden mass of pink that suddenly obscured my vision.

“Argh, Pinkie!” I exclaimed, pushing her away. “Personal space!”

Twilight shot us a look, before continuing. “Anyway. Loane Stup was their capital for a thousand years, or so the legends go. The Buffalo believed that the city would stand eternally, in fact, it was prophesied that, while the walls of Loane Stup stood, their nation would never fall and, until the Gryphons came, they were right.”

Pinkie sniggered, and pulled a bag of popcorn out of her mane. Twilight gave her another glare, but continued with her story.

“The invasion of the Gryphon Khan was one of the most devastating events ever to strike Equus. She brought an army of half a million to the Buffalo lands and routed every army that ever stood before her. Cities were looted and burned, towns were wiped off the map and and millions fled behind the unbreakable walls of Loane Stup.”

Another round of giggles escaped Pinkie Pie, and I’m amazed her mane didn’t catch fire under Twilight’s withering scowl.

“But!” Twilight continued, through clenched teeth. “The Khan was not easily daunted and brought all her might against the walls of--” Pinkie collapsed, laughing. “--The walls of Loane Stup! The buffalo fought and died on the walls. On the first day the soldiers fell on the walls. On the second, the men died trying to hold the breaches. On the third day, the woman bleed in the street as they sold their lives dearly. And at dawn on the last day, the sick and the injured burned their cities and all it’s treasures to the ground to prevent-- PINKIE PIE! This is very serious, why are you laughing?”

Pinkie snorted, almost rolling off the cliff as she clutched her sides. “Because you’re quoting ‘Daring Do and the Last Stampede’.”

“It was a very dramatic and well researched scene!” Twilight shot back. “The point--” she continued, jabbing a hoof at the ruined cities. “--Was that Equestria is no stranger to death and destruction. Between one and three million Buffalo died with their city. In revenge for their defiance the Gryphon Khan declared that their entire race be scattered to the plains. They razed every city in the land, crushed every building and torched every farm they came across. The Buffalo once looked down on Equestrians as primitive savages. These days they live in tents, following long moot stampeding routes.”

That was enough to quell even Pinkie Pie.

She turned on me, and took a deep break. “Don’t fear for Equestria, Alex, we are not as innocent as humanity would like to believe. Whatever Chrysalis is planning, we’ll beat her, I promise you that.”

“Wow,” I said, at long last. “That was depressing.”

“Oh!” Pinkie exclaimed, jumping up and down. “I know a way to cheer you up! It always works on Dashie.”

I shot her a look. “Okay, shoot.”

In a blur of motion, Pinkie Pie picked me up by the scruff of the neck and hurled me off the cliff.

It was annoying how much the excuse to fly actually cheered me up. There’s probably some deep existential drama about inhuman instincts, but if I started thinking like that I’d never get out of bed in the morning . By the time that I’d worked out the two long grounded weeks I was feeling much better about myself. It’s hard to be sad with a cloud beneath your hooves, the sun on your back and blue skies as far as the eye could see. I could feel all the worry and stress and guilt lurking beneath the surface, but it was a beautiful day, and I refused to let it go to waste.

By the time I made it back to camp the Thunderchild was rigged and ready to go, the pegasi in the harness slightly hungover, but still happy to fly. In fact, the entire ship seemed to be in a fine mood, and it began to dawn on me. Despite the losses we’d suffered, we’d won. A rag tag group, of questionably stable aliens, had rode an insane ship straight out of penny dreadful novel, into the maw of one of the greatest threats to modern Equestria and driven her into the ground. Sure we’d had help, and the price we’d paid for the victory was far too high, but we’d still done it.

Our journey home was, relatively uneventful. There was a minor incident where we had to outrun a Buffalo stampede, but with Rainbow Dash in the harness we outpaced them with ease, and possibly set a land speed record. Even so it took a good few days to reach “Aaaapleloosa!” where we stopped for supplies and to offloaded Luna and her guard.

As it happens, it turns out that Braeburn does introduce the town that way, and with as much grandstanding as possible. At some point on the way in, though, Crystal Cog convinced twenty or so of the more brony crew to join in on the introduction. So instead of one over-enthusiastic call, Braeburn had an entire backing line bellowing out the name.

Pinkie almost died laughing, and I spent five minutes trying to explain the Club to the shaken stallion. Complete with dragging Princess Twilight into the conversation to explain how interuniversal unification can lead to the transmission of events to other cultures. I still have no idea what half the words she used mean, but I find most people like to know that someone understands what’s happening, even if they don’t.

Much to Applejack’s chagrin we didn’t stay long in the desert town. Twilight especially was eager to get back, and to be honest the rest of us were beginning to feel the press of thirty bodies on a small boat, and no real entertainment beyond dirty limericks and tall tales. Fortunately, Ponyville was only a day’s motivated travel away.

“You know,” Crystal Cog observed, as we raced over the grassy hills. “I’m going to miss this.”

I shot him an incredulous look. The pair of us stood alone on the aftcastle, Cog at his usual place on the helm, myself acting as navigator. Though, I as I was navigating based off Rainbow Dash’s monstrosity of a house in the distance, it wasn’t exactly an onerous job.

“My kidnapping, our near deaths or just the excuse to use the guns?” I enquired.

Cog laughed. “Maybe two and three. I’ve always wanted to do something like this.” He gestured at the busy deck. “Something brave and heroic; risking it all for a cause.”

I rolled my eyes. “What, didn’t get your fill in World War Two?”

He cuffed me over the back of the head with a wing. “Hey! I’m not that old,” he chortled.

“I can see that, you’ve still got your foal down.” I ducked under the wing that time.

Crystal Cog stuck his tongue out at me. “Let an old-slash-young man have his fantasies.”

I shuffled my hooves. Those fantasies had got three of my charges killed. Glancing over at the grin on the young pegasus' face I wondered just how much he cared.

"You know, I never asked. Why did you guys come after me?" I began, hesitantly.

Cog laughed. "Well, we weren't going to leave you with Chrysalis! I had to turn away a dozen ponies before we cast off, and even then we had an escort halfway to the border. Face it, Alex, you're the heart of the Club. Even if you come with a mean right hoof."

"Sorry about that," I replied, without the faintest hint of sincerity. "But why did you need to come? I mean, Twilight had her world saving squad rolled out, Princess Luna put on such a show she managed to convince Chrysalis she was being invaded and even the Night Guard showed up. They could have saved us."

A long beat passed between us. Crystal Cog looked away, gazing down the length of the busy deck.

"Gestures can be powerful things, Alex," Crystal Cog said at last. "Perhaps the Club wasn't strictly necessary, but this is a dangerous world. We needed to prove we could stand on our own two feet." He paused. "Or whatever limbs we happen to have."

I frowned. "Was it worth it?"

"Hell yes it was worth it," he exclaimed, punching the air. "There's two hundred dead changelings and a literal boatload of military contracts winging their way to us, if I read the Princess right."

"Really?" I drawled, glaring at him. "Out of everything humanity has done, you're planning on bringing the guns first?"

"It's a very dangerous world, Alex," he repeated. "And not just because of the Everfree. One day the humans in Equestria will be old news and all those bits the treasury keeps throwing at you will dry up. We need to be out in front of it.”

“And selling weapons is your plan?”

“It’s step one.” He tapped the wooden railing. “And lets just say it produced results.”

I rolled my eyes again. Okay, so The Barn ponies were the only people I didn’t have to worry about being short of food; but there was coping emotionally, and then there was trying to mimic your old life. Down to all the baggage.

“And what does your new boyfriend think of these plans?” I teased.

Cog didn’t take the bait. He stepped away from the wheel, an action which had zero effect on our heading, and leaned over the rail. “Hey Star Charge! You want to answer that or are you happy eavesdropping?”

There was annoyed grunt from the shadows beneath us, and Star Charge made his way up onto the aftcastle, the dark pony grumbling to himself. “How did you know I was there?” he demanded.

“I’m the captain,” Cog said, with a flippant wave as he resumed his place at the wheel. “That means I know everything that happens on my ship.”

Star Charge and I shared a weary look. The sooner Crystal Cog’s buccaneer fantasy ended, the better.

“To answer your question, though, Alex, I am less than pleased with many of Cog’s inventions--”

“Well there’s a surprise,” the pegasus muttered.

“--but I can’t help but admire their use. Equestria is... more dangerous than I first supposed. And I’ll be the first to admit I have been wrong.” He turned to me and bowed, dropping into a rehearsed speech. “Alex. My friends and I have done you a great disservice. We’ve had our differences, but I never would have wanted you hurt, and I’ll never be able to apologise enough to justify siding with Chrysalis against another Club member. I’m going to try though, so for what it's worth...” He held out a hoof. “I am sorry, Alexis.”

For a moment I just stood there, wings slightly raised, lost for words. Ivory Flash had died for that weak apology, risking her life for mine in a feat of bravery I couldn’t hope to replicate. And Star Charge had been right there with them all. For the short time I’d known him Star Charge had undermined me at every turn, bullied, lied and on occasion threatened people and, yes, had unknowingly supported an emotion eating monstrosity. Then again, what was that old phrase about actions speaking louder than words.

I swept the bewildered unicorn into a hug.

“Umm...” he stammered.

“Everything is forgiven,” I told him, breaking away.

He blinked in bewilderment. “...I’ll be honest I wasn’t expecting that response,” Star Charge continued, shaking his head.

“What can I say, friendship is magic.” He groaned.

“Oh sure, you say that to him, but where’s my hug?” Cog grumbled.

I rolled my eyes, cuffed him lightly with a wing and pulled him into a hug.

“Thanks for coming after me, guys,” I murmured.

I stepped away from the blushing colts, who both took a sudden interest in their hooves. “Though now that I think about it,” I snapped, suddenly all business again. “You’re still in trouble for trying to replace me all the time.” I jabbed a hoof at Star Charge who blushed. “And Cog, you still haven’t apologised for the jet incident.”

He gave me a cheeky grin, while Star Charge smirked “Well, that would imply that I was sorry,” Cog pointed out.

My eyes narrowed. Unfortunately the tongue lashing was delayed by somepony yelling. “Balloon ho!”

“What?” the three of us exclaimed, wheeling round.

They weren’t lying, though I don’t think any of us expected quite what we saw. I was rather expecting the familiar blinding purple monstrosity that Twilight rents, but instead, pulled by a blond maned pegasus, it was a bright orange weather balloon.

“All stop!” Cog roared. The unicorns slammed on the brakes; there was a yell of surprise from the pegasi team as somepony missed the order and flew into their buddies. After a few moments the Thunderchild slid to a stop, a tangle of pegasi before us bickering with each other.

Crystal Cog groaned. “You just can’t get the help these days.”

A space cleared on the deck as Ditzy Doo landed, dragging the weather balloon with her by the string. It was amazing just how alien it looked; the envelope was a neon orange latex bag, the cable nylon, and a large plastic box was tied to the base. After months of hemp, cloth and bakelite it was, quite literally, something from another world.

“Package for you, Twilight,” Ditzy chirped, spitting the string out and holding the balloon steady with her wing.

I spotted one of our unicorns bouncing up and down with excitement, I’d yet to figure out what the brony obsession with Ditzy Doo was, but I leapt from the aftcastle to stop her getting mobbed.

There were a range of responses to discovering you are an interdimensional celebrity. Rainbow Dash had had to start getting a weekly treatment at the spa to let her swelled head down, Fluttershy hadn’t left her cottage for a full month, and Spike had basked in the attention until he’d realised that nearly every Club member knew about his secret crush on Rarity. Then there was Ditzy Doo who, as far as anyone could tell, hadn’t yet noticed. I intended to keep it that way as long as possible.

"...where did you get this?" Twilight asked at last, levitating her jaw shut.

"Oh, I found it on my rounds. It's addressed to you Twilight."

Of course it was. Above our heads Dash was hovering next to the balloon, poking it with a wary hoof.

"Well, I guess I'll have to take it then," Twilight continued, shaking her head and went to grasp it with her magic. Ditzy grasped the string tighter.

"Umm... It didn't come with postage." She weighed the balloon on her wing for a moment, a frown on her face. "That'll be three bits," she announced, beaming.

Without a word Twilight levitated five coins out of her saddlebag.

"Thanks, Twilight!" And with that she flew away, whistling a jaunty tune to herself.

"Okay so spill," Rainbow Dash interjected, landing heavily next to the bemused princess. "What the hay is this thing?"

"It's the best party balloon ever!" Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing up and down on the envelope. No one bothered to ask how she'd got up there and how the hell it was supporting her weight, it was Pinkie Pie. "Can I have it when you're done?"

"Sure thing, Pinkie," Twilight sighed, untying the balloon from the box.

The pink mare leapt to the deck and seized the string; wrapping it around her waist she leapt into the air exclaiming, "to Sugarcube Corner, away!" Then, very slowly, she began to drift away from the ship.

We all turned back to Twilight.

"Well, I guess it is addressed to me," Twilight observed, turning the plastic case over in her magic. "And not Torchlight Sprocket again," she added in a mutter. "I have no idea what it is though."

"It's a weather balloon," I explained, stepping up to her. "Humans use them to figure out what's going on in the sky." I ignored Dash rolling her eyes.

"Hmm, well it doesn't seem locked..."

The case sprung open, papers tumbling to the deck before freezing in Twilights pink corona. She pulled them up to eye level and then emitted a girly squeal. "Relativistic proofs!" she exclaimed, as if she'd just been give twenty years worth of birthday presents. She began to rifle through the loose sheets. "Oh, and a periodic table! And...” her face dropped. “Oh dear.”

Wordlessly she passed the sheet of paper over to me. I took it with my wing.

“Dear Twilight Sparkle,” I read. “We made it. Signed Tony Acey and Louis Hubble, on behalf of the Royal Air Force.”

There was a moments stunned silence across the entire ship.

“Crystal Cog, I am going to kill you!” I yelled.

Chapter 7: Viceroy

View Online

“Right, final checks. Notes?” Lyra enquired, holding up one of Twilight’s checklists with her magic.

“On the stand,” I replied, flexing my wings in agitation. The kitchen, while large, was not really roomy enough to hover, no matter how much I wanted too.


“Mathew Win, Ivory Flash and Joy Hutter.” Not that I really needed to remind myself of those names.

Lyra turned to Pinkie, who was also almost vibrating. “Everything ready in the hall?”

“Sir, yes sir!” Pinkie called, saluting, though not with the correct hoof. “All sweets and confectionaries are laid out for the enemy, sir! All Club members present and accounted for, sir!”

“...I’ll just check that off,” Lyra said, shaking her head. “Well, looks like we’re ready. I just wish I’d thought to do this for the last Club meeting. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a disaster.”

“We can blame Chrysalis for that,” I assured her, resting a hoof on her shoulder. As I understood it, the best part of Lyra’s meeting had been that it ended prematurely when they found out Rose and I had been kidnapped. “And you’ve done a great job running things while I’ve been gone.”

In fact, in my absense, things had been golden for the club. Ten humans in fourteen days had been a great ratio and to top it all off, despite losing the entire changeling workforce, the boarding house had been finished. The third largest building in Ponyville, after Twilight’s new castle and the town hall, it was built like a cross between an American motel and an Amish barn and boasted twenty-three good sized rooms, each large enough to for two ponies to share comfortably.

Due to a few optimistic assumptions back when we were planning, we actually had four to a room, and the large loft had been repurposed as a roost for the gryphon and pegasus contingent. Still, despite the crowding every pony, gryphon and other equine had a warm place to sleep for the winter, a solid roof over their head and a guaranteed meal every day. I was still working on something for the dragons. Though as they could gargle liquid nitrogen, I wasn’t overly worried about any of them dying of exposure.

“So, you ready to meet your public?” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing on the spot.

I rolled my eyes. “Hardly my public, Pinkie.”

“Pwsh.” She waved her hoof at me dismissively. “You’ll have them eating out of your hoof! Just remember what I taught you and give them the old ‘Pinkie Dazzle’.”

“I still don’t think I should be the one doing this,” I protested.

Pinkie grinned. “Hey! Who’s the party pony here?”

“Umm, you?”

“Yepperoni, and who’s returning from the grave?”


She leaned in close, grinning from ear to ear. Literally. “And who’s going to make those ponies the happiest when they see them?”

“I am?” I was rather unsure about that one. No matter my current fame, Pinkie was beloved by the Club.

“Right, so you should listen to me and get out there!”

“Should we--” I began, gesturing at the floating checklist.

“Nope!” Pinkie began bouncing in place, a jaunty beat began to play. “Just put on a smile, and step up to the plate, and soon you can make them--”

“Okay! Okay!” I exclaimed, cutting the song off at the knees. “I’m going.” I turned to face the double doors leading to the cafeteria. Taking a deep breath I tried to find that ‘Pinkie Dazzle’.

“Can you get the doors please?” I squeaked.

The pink mare gamboled forwards, throwing open the doors; I hurled myself after her.

It was remarkable just how much speed a pegasus could build up from a standing start. I shot through the doors like an arrow, banking hard and flaring my wings out to bring myself into a controlled fall. My hooves hit the low stage with a crack, setting the whole thing wobbling, but it held up well for something made of plywood and milkcrates.

“Hello everypony!” I yelled, beaming as I set my forehooves on the podium (which may have been mysteriously missing from the town hall). There were some scattered cheers. “And everygriff.” I pointed a hoof at the flock of gryphons, who roared in response. “Everydragon.” A much louder roar came from the scaled members. “Changelings.” Rose’s contingent chittered from the corner. “Zebras.” There was a single yell from somewhere in the back. “And miscellaneous.”

That got a laugh, just the one, but it was enough to keep me powering forwards. That and the sea of smiling faces.

“It is so good to be back,” I exclaimed, beaming. “And I’m sure everyone here is happy to finally have a place to call home.” I glanced down at my notes; first order of business was the fun one. “Now, it’s been a busy few weeks since I last saw you all, and I see you’ve gone and opened the boarding house without me, not that I can blame anyone. As you know, we’ve held a straw poll for what to call the place we call home. So,” I paused for effect. “And against my better judgement ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Stable.”

The crowd groaned. Though it was the groan of a long anticipated, though still terrible, pun being delivered.

My wings fluttered as I nodded in sympathy. It was a bad joke through and through, but it was our joke. Stable wasn’t a word in equestrian, they tended to use ‘house’ to describe a building where you kept ponies. No one bar the Club would ever get the reference.

“I know, I know,” I said. “Personally I think The Barn ponies stuffed the ballot box. If they couldn’t have a creative name, no one could either.” Another spattering of laugher spread around the hall, notably from Crystal Cog.

“Now, before we go any further,” I continued, dropping into a more somber tone. “I’d like to once again extend my thanks to those who risked their lives last week, fighting Queen Chrysalis.” I hung my head. “I... think I’ve said my peace at the memorial yesterday, and I won’t drag things down by sounding like a broken record. Still, I’d once again like to extend my thanks to Mathew Win, Ivory Flash and Joy Hutter. It would be fair to say that we’ve all be dealt a very bad hand in recent months, and it takes incredible bravery to stand up and try and take something back. I don’t think I, nor Rose, are ever going to be worthy of their sacrifice, but from the bottom of our hearts, we thank them for the chance.”

I hung my head, letting the silence stretch for a long moment.

Drawing a deep breath, I rapped a hoof on the lectern and continued. “So. Our first order of business today is a very important one, and it concerns home.” Everyone in the audience seemed to lean forwards at those words. “There have been lots of rumours flying around about a weather balloon, and whether it’s just an accident or a deliberate contact attempt. I can say officially now that yes, we have received a message from Earth.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

“Tony Acey and Louis Hubble successfully crossed the barrier back to Earth some weeks back. How they survived is beyond me. But they have contacted the government-- all of the governments. There is apparently now a large research project trying to understand this whole ‘universes merging’ thing.”

Excited murmurings ran through the crowd. I held up a hoof to forestall them.

“Now, I hate to bring you all back down, but this doesn’t mean any of us are going home today.” The murmurings stopped dead. “Sorry folks, but it’s the truth. Princess Twilight has been swapping notes with the research teams and yes we have contact, and it seems crossing the barrier is less devastating than we thought, this also confirms a lot of things we feared about Earth. There’s no magic there, and the atmosphere is leathal to our new forms without a lot of resistance spells.”

I put on my best smile. “Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and there is at least one immediate upside, though. The mail came.” There was a moments confused silence. “ And by that,” I continued, grinning. “I mean The Barn ponies took a long list of names with them on that crazy plane, so some -- and I stress some -- of you have had your families contacted, and there are letters from home waiting for you.”

Pandemonium erupted in the hall. Shouts, screams, flapping wings and excited cries drowned out all my attempts to bring order, though I didn’t try very hard. We needed some properly good news every once in a while. After a long while, and the noise falling down to a loud thrum, I raised a hoof for silence. The excited babble fell away... slightly.

“Now, I’m sure you have a ton of questions, but I’ll hit the highpoints,” I called, straining to be heard. “Your families have not been informed as to the specifics, just that a scientific anomaly has separated you for the time being. Currently the world is not aware of what’s happening here, nor what we now look like, but given there’s apparently a lot of people working on our problem back home I don’t know how long that’s going to last. Because of that, and as Princess Twilight is already sending messages back and forth, we’ve reached an agreement to allow for a finite amount of mail to be sent home to Earth.” I had to raise my voice again to be heard over the renewed roar of the crowd. “For now it’s going to be one letter per person and one piece of A4! But don’t worry about CENSORSHIP!”

I roared the last word, finally bringing some semblance of order back to the hall.

“Censorship,” I repeated, clearing my throat. “There’s no conspiracy to cover up Equestria. However, I would strongly suggest you don’t encourage anyone to try and get here; the very last thing we want is people intentionally crossing the barrier. There is still the very real chance that stressing the barrier could cause catastrophic damage to both worlds.” I fixed the crowd with a glare. “So, do not tell people to come to Equestria.”

“Right, that’s the major news,” I concluded, glancing down at my notes. “There are--”

“Actually, there is one more thing.”

Princess Twilight Sparkle stepped into the hall. She wore regalia, which was the first warning sign; Twilight detested wearing any form of jewelry around Ponyville. A small but extremely ornate silver tiara graced her head, a torc of similar design hung around her neck, and she wore silver shoes which made a musical clink as she made her way slowly through the crowd.

I glanced over at the half open doors to the kitchen to where Pinkie and Lyra were watching, with big grins on their faces. Pinkie had managed to get a bag of popcorn from somewhere.

“Hello, your Majesty,” I said, as Twilight leapt onto the stage with a single, controlled, flap of her wings. “How can I help you today?”

“Actually, Ms Kingston,” she began, shooting me a look. I was probably going to pay for calling her ‘your majesty’. “Today we’re thanking you.” She made a small gesture and I ceded the podium to her.

“These past few months have been very trying for all of us,” Twilight began, addressing the silent crowd. “And no more so than for all of you gathered before me. It terrifies me to think of the adversity set against each and every one of you, but today I’m looking out at a sea of smiling faces and I couldn’t be happier for you all. When our worlds began to collide I wondered how anypony-- anyone could cope with humans in Equestria. I know I certainly had a few frantic days.”

And now, the winner of the ‘understatement of the year award’ goes to...

“You all have risen to the challenge wonderfully, and I am proud to stand beside the Club, and fight beside them if needs be. Today, with the dedication of this building, you are no longer refugees, but part of Ponyville, and this never would have happened without the tireless efforts of an exemplary mare.”

She turned to me. My stomach did backflips in terror, I had a horrible feeling I knew where this was going.

“Alexis Kingston,” Twilight continued, smiling. “Your work for the Club and for Equestria has been above and beyond all that could be asked, and it does me great pleasure to offer you, on behalf of myself, Princess Cadence, Princess Luna, and Princess Celestia, the role of Viceroy of Humans Affairs.”

For a moment I stood stunned, my wings twitching as I contemplated the fastest way to get the hell out of the building. Twilight had played her hand too well however, turning down the role here and now would be... incomprehensible to most of the Club members. Politics in Equestria was a complicated beast, and I was an novice at best, but from the title, the impressive list of signatories and my pending official position, it was fairly clear where the wind was blowing.

The Humans in Equestria Club was getting annexed.

And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it. Turning Twilight down wasn’t an option; Star Charge would leap at the chance to replace me, and Crystal Cog wouldn’t be far behind. Either would be a disaster.

I bowed my head. “Thank you Princess,” I lied smoothly. “I hope I can live up to your expectations.”

An hour later I sat in a rather opulent reception room in Twilight’s castle, fidgeting on an, admittedly rather comfortable, silver-banded sofa. I had a sneaking suspicion Rarity had been behind decorating the room, the furniture was all of the same ostentatious set. Though to be fair, there was a lower limit on the decor when the walls are made of crystal.

Twilight let herself into the room, a tea-set floating along in her wake. She’d stripped off her regalia from the meeting, and somehow much of the royal attitude. She smiled weakly as she approached.

“So, how do you take your tea?” she enquired, resting the tray on a low table and slipping onto her own seat.

“Black,” I snapped.

Twilight winced, busying herself with the teapot. “Sooo...” she began, pouring me a cup and setting it down before me..

“That was not very subtle,” I continued, trying to keep my voice level and my anger at a low simmer.

“Sorry... unfortunately, my hoof was forced.” She let out a long sigh.

I glowered at her. “I would have prefered a little warning. Maybe a chance to sit down and discuss things before this was dropped on me. Something to stop me bolting for the door at least.”

A knowing smile appeared on Twilight’s face. “Celestia always said that those who most deserve responsibility are those that try to run from it.”

“Twilight.” I fixed her with a flat glare. “A week ago you told me I got this job because I didn’t run.”

Twilight frowned. “Darn, how does Celestia do this? It sounded wise when she said it.”

I rolled my eyes. So this one really had come from the top. “Princess Twilight, just tell me why you felt the need to annex the Club?”

“Oh! No, no, no,” she protested, her wings fluttering with worry. “It’s not like that at all. We’re not going to step on any hooves, you can keep running the Club just as you--”

“Twilight,” I interjected, holding up a hoof. “As of this morning I am now a member of her majesty’s government. Regardless of what you want to happen, the Club is going to change because of this. You’ve made a support group a ruling body for Christ’s sake.”

Twilight opened her mouth to protest, and I fixed her with a flat look. She closed it again, hanging her head.

“Why, Twilight?” I repeated.

“Legal reasons, and political,” Twilight sighed, disgust writ clear on her face. “The official date of your appointment is the day Chrysalis kidnapped you. It turns out that while we’re allowed to violate border treaties with half a dozen tribes to rescue a government official, we cant do the same thing if we’re rescuing a private individual. Not without my using my ‘untested authority in an unprecedented manner contrary to political convention’.”

I cocked my eyebrow at her.

“It means if I get away with unprompted invasions, than half a dozen other princes and princesses can also do whatever they want in the border kingdoms.” She shuddered, and I idly wondered if she was thinking of Blueblood. “And, unless we want to provoke the gryphons into invading again, that is a very dangerous carte blanche to give.” Yep, definitely talking about Blueblood.

“So technically we didn’t save Rose?” I enquired.

Twilight smirked “She was a pleasant side effect of your rescue, as far as the High Court is concerned at least. How is she settling in by the way?”

“It’s rough, but at least she has her hive with her,” I said, shrugging. “But that’s dodging the question. What about the political reason?”

“Urgh...” Twilight massaged her forehead. “It’s because the Club saved you. The administration is already spitting nails because of the impact you are having, and there’s already a couple motions to revoke your emergency citizenships. Fortunately the department granting them is firmly on Celestia’s side, for now, but there are a lot of powerful ponies very worried about you.” She sighed, lifting a cup of tea to her lips and taking a short draught before continuing. “When you were just refugees living on the government coin in tents, they weren’t too worried. Now you have a small army, a solid point of identity and a large potential income. That makes the Club a political rival and, take it from me, the administration can’t stand new rivals.”

Shakily, I picked up one of the cups, and tried to take a sip. It was a stalling technique as much as anything, while I tried to organise my thoughts. It was a very well reasoned argument, if one that missed the critical point that to salve a few egos we were losing any semblance of autonomy. Just like always though, there wasn’t anything I could do to fix things, all I could do was stop them getting worse.

“This is the compromise, isn’t it?” I began, after I set the cup back down. I had not managed to spill a drop, an achievement with hooves regardless of how much practice I’d had. “The Club is safely under the thumb of the government, but at least a former human is running it.”

Twilight smiled. “I knew you’d figure it out. Luna was worried about your lack of political background.”

“I’ve learned on the job,” I replied in a deadpan. Months of dealing with the Equestrian bureaucracy on others’ behalf had given me a crash course in backbiting. Rubbing a hoof on my forehead to forestall an growing headache, I continued.

“Okay, I think I can deal with this,” I grumbled. I didn’t have much choice, I had to deal with it, or the Club would suffer. “Who am I reporting to?”

“In the interim, me.”

I nodded. It was a good decision. Twilight knew when to leave well enough alone, but had enough political clout to protect us from any fallout, and if it was just interim, no one could complain too much about the Club becoming Twilight’s fief. Of course that wouldn’t stop them for long...

I dropped my head into my forehooves. “Urgh, this is making my head hurt. Are there a dozen legal books waiting for me with Spike?”

“Fifteen,” Twilight replied, blushing.

I shook myself. One of these days I’d outgrow homework.

“Right, let’s talk about a far more cheery subject than politics. How’s the research into the world-ending catastrophe going?”

Mouth hanging open, Twilight stared at me in horror.

“That was a joke,” I added, lamely. “I’ve been hanging out with Pinkie.”

“Oh! Right.” Twilight blushed again. “Well actually contact has been a bit of a breakthrough for my studies, at the very least it’s allowed me to test a number of theories that had previously been inaccessible due to the barrier.” She leapt off the sofa, and began to pace as she lectured. “Crystal Cog loaded a large number of instruments into the Tornado, and I’ve been able to prove both the directionality of the collision and it’s progression, and I have high hopes for your people finding an equivalent of the barrier generator for your own form of physical laws.”

“...That’s good?” I guessed. “Does this mean we’re going home soon?”

Her face fell. “Actually...” She took a deep breath, setting her hooves firmly before continuing. “It seems like returning anypony to Earth will be impossible long term.”

I felt the world drop out from under me. I hadn’t dared hope but... okay that may have been a lie. “Tony and Louis seem to be getting on okay,” I said, in as level tone as I could muster.

“Technically they’re dragging our worlds together faster by their presence,” Twilight sighed. “Not to mention the damage they’ve been doing with their experiments in crossing the barrier.”

“Still,” I began, taking another cautious sip of tea. “If we could cross the barrier more easily, or at least without dragging another human into Equestria every time, we could theoretically transport everyone home.”

Twilight took a great interest in her hooves.

“Am I wrong?”

“Yes,” Twilight said simply, dropping onto her haunches and letting her bangs hang over her eyes. “Alex,” she sighed, looking up at me with the mournful expression of someone who had to pass on the news that a favourite uncle had died. “I am so sorry, but all that would do is strand hundreds on transformed humans on Earth. They would need a constant barrage of spells just to stay alive and that would unequivocally endanger both worlds.”

“So change them back,” I snapped, smacking my hooves down on the cushions. “Your entire argument for not changing us back was that you don’t know what humans look like. Now there’s an entire planet of them at your fingertips. figure it out!” I glared daggers at the pony princess who shrank back.

Twilight closed her eyes, took a breath to steady herself and stepped forwards. “I. Can’t,” she said firmly. “DNA can not be made in Equestria. Proteins can not be made in Equestria. Humans are made up of trillions of precisely engineered, impossibly small components that simply can not be replicated in Equestria. If I sent every unicorn to Earth and gave them a thousand years to build human bodies I doubt they’d even finish building a single cell.”

“And yet ponies get along just fine on Earth?” I snarled.

“Ponies are... robust,” Twilight began, waving her hoof before her as she struggled to find words that I would understand. “We have an Intrinsic Vital Pattern, an IVP, instead of DNA. It’s a single, powerful... chord of Vita magic that flows through our bodies, defining our material pattern and resisting outside influences. The strength of the IVP is what causes most transformation spells to wear off over time, and that same strength holds ponies together despite the hostile physical laws on Earth.”

I dropped my head between my hooves. “Of course,” I sighed. “Oh course you’re just fine.” I spat the word. “When does anything ever go wrong for ponies?”

“Alex!” Twilight exclaimed, looking hurt. “I know this isn’t the greatest of news, but we are trying our best.”

I opened my mouth to yell at her again, but at last remembered I was talking to the fourth most powerful pony in Equestria. I shut up and turned away from Twilight. I was done with this.

“Okay,” I said softly. “Okay.”

A long pause stretched between us. “Any other news for me?” I asked at last, in a low montone.

“There are a number of issues I need to brief you on, but they are relatively minor--”

“Great,” I snapped, leaping to my feet and unfurling my wings. “Thanks for the tea, Twilight. I’ll see myself out.”

I did not wait for her permission to leave.


I groaned, burrowing deeper into the comforting warmth of my blankets.

“Alex, seriously, it’s one in the afternoon.”

A hoof jabbed me in the flank.

“Come on, Viceroy Alexis, you’re giving pegasi a bad name.”

I flexed my wings, which did little beyond rustle the covers, and grumbled. “Kingston.”


I wrenched the blankets off me and rolled over to glare at Swiftwing. “Viceroy Kingston,” I snapped. “Humans put emphasis on the second word in names. I’ve been trying to hammer that into the thick heads of a dozen bureaucrats for three days now.”

Swiftwing frowned at me, rocking back on her hooves. “Hmm, Viceroy Kingston... Though that would mean we had a Princess Sparkle.” She shook her head. “Nah, that sounds like something a little filly would come up with.”

I let that one pass without comment.

“Leave me alone, Swiftwing.” I rolled back over, staring at the wall.

“Hmm, let me think about it a moment... no.”

A pair of hooves reached around my waist and dragged me off the bed. Through more luck than judgement I managed to land with all four hooves on the floor, and knocked Swiftwing back into my armchair.

“There we go!” she exclaimed, beaming as if that had been her plan all along. Then she frowned, wiggling her butt she pulled a crumpled book out from under her. “Yeash, would it kill you to clear up in here once in a while?” she said, tossing the book aside.

I sent her a flat glare. I had been extremely busy in few days since being made a viceroy, so a little clutter was to be expected. My bedsheets were all over the floor, though that was a very recent change. More entrenched were the build up of wrappers, half empty plates and various other unfinished meals that were making an attempt to usurp my kitchenette. Books had also been scattered hither and thither, in clear defiance of the Princess of Book’s instructions, but the day I started caring about the treatment of tax law would be a cold day in hell. On the desk next to an open tome, and my Alexis figurine, was a vase filled with flower stalks, which I had binged through and had yet to throw out.

“You’re one to talk,” I sighed. “Or have you confined your sock collection to a single draw now?”

“Hey, those are athletic aids!” Swiftwing protested, her wings flapping in agitation. “...well most of them.”

I shuddered. I did not want to think what else ponies used socks for. “What do you want, Swiftwing?”

“Well, I was going to ask you whether you wanted to add your name to the next mail call? I still can’t believe they didn’t bother to talk to your folks.”

I rolled my eyes. Crystal Cog had very deliberately not pushed to find out any details about me for his big attempt to contact home. Perhaps his intention was to ensure I didn’t pry too deeply into his plan, but it had raised the worrying question of whether I really wanted my family to know what happened to me. Being a disappointment was hardly a new experience, but this was a little extreme even for me.

“I don’t know,” I sighed again, dropping back onto the bed.

Swiftwing cocked a brow at me, shuffling uncomfortably on her seat. “Are you okay Alex? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you napping before.”

I hung my head. “I’m tired,” I admitted, grudgingly. “I am very, very tired.”

“Oh come on!” Swiftwing protested, bouncing in place. “You’re a pegasus. We’re just bundles of speed and sass, everypony knows that.”

“Swift. I don’t have the energy.” I shook my head. “I have spent most of the morning being yelled at by the Undersecretary of Defence. Before that I had a dozen ponies trying to see if they’d couldn’t squeeze a few more bits out of me now that we have an official income, and before that I had another chapter of impenetrable rights to figure out.”

Fun fact, Applejack was legally allowed to raise an armed band to defend her property in times of war.

Swiftwing crossed her forelegs across her chest and glowered at me. “You know, most ponies would be excited right now.”

I said nothing, but raised a brow.

“Come on!” she protested. “You’ve been made the left hoof of a freakin’ Princess. You’ve fought a mad queen and come out smiling. You broke The Wall-- which you still haven’t taught me to do by the way --while racing against Rainbow Dash. You’re life is awesome right now!”

“I didn’t want to do any of those things,” I admitted, hanging my head.

Swiftwing glared at me, pouting, though she never would have admitted it. She opened her mouth for some snap, before closing it again, her glower intensifying. You could practically see the gears turning.

“Okay,” she said at last, her hind hoof beating a rhythm on the boards as she fidgeted. “So you don’t want any of those awesome things. You know what I want?”

“To be Rainbow Dash.”

“To be-- Hey!” Swiftwing darted forwards and punched me in the shoulder. “I do not want to be Rainbow Dash.”

I diplomatically said nothing. The only reason Swiftwing hadn’t set up the Rainbow Dash fan club was because Scootaloo had beaten her too it.

“No, I’ve always wanted to be the fastest mare in Equestria.” He eyes almost shone as she spoke. “I want to fly with the Wonderbolts, and go on world saving adventures, and have all the stallions lining up at my door! And do you know what? I have none of those things.”

Her spread wings fell to her sides and she took a deep breath, before continuing in a small voice. “I’m not the fastest, I’ll never measure up to the Wonderbolts, I took a half hour jaunt into the Everfree and was so terrified that I hid behind Fluttershy the entire time.” Swiftwing threw up her hooves and collapsed back into the chair. “I guess what I’m trying to say is, you have all these gifts, what do you want to do with them?”

I looked up at her and just sighed. “I want to go home, Swift. I just want to go home and see my own face in the mirror. Just once.”

“Well, you’ve got the Princess working on that...” She saw my face fall further. “Haven’t you?”

“It’s not an option any more.”

Swiftwing cocked her bow at me. “I thought you were talking to home? I thought you had people and ponies working on the problem.” She gestured with a wing at the window. “Because if not, there’s a lot of Club members out there who are going to be upset.”

“I know,” I murmured, staring at my hooves. “I’ll tell them tomorrow.” That had been my response for several tomorrows.

Swiftwing thumped her hooves on the ground. “Right! You need to fly. I’m headed to the Barn to help them with a project. Why don’t you come with me, it’ll be awesome?”

The urge to lie down and put my head under a pillow was almost overwhelming, almost, but instead I leaved myself to my hooves, flexing my wings. “...okay. Let’s go.”

“Really?” Swiftwing said, beaming. “Whoo! Who’s the therapist! I’m the therapist!”

I glowered at her. “Don’t push your luck.” I made my way over to the window of my loft and threw it open, letting a cold blast of autumnal air in. “Let’s just go.”

“Race ya’!” Swiftwing exploded past me, a wing cuffing me around the back of the head as she past.

Far more slowly I followed, securing the window against the cold before joining Swiftwing in the sky above the town.

“You know, races work better when you beat your wings more than once a minute,” Swiftwing observed, swooping down to my level. I did not increase my leisurely pace, and after a moment the mare through up her hooves in frustration. “Oh fine. I probably should be rested for the awesome, mega thing I’m doing later today.”

She grinned at me. I waited a long beat before answering. “Okay, I’ll bite. What have the Barn ponies got you doing, Swiftwing?”

“We’re going to break the altitude record!” she declared, puffing herself up. “It’s been at thirty six thousand feet for seventy years now, not counting Princess Luna, and we think we can use the thunderstone breathers to smash that.”

I blinked, I hadn’t expected that answer. “Thunderstone breathers?”

“Bottled aether or something,” Swift replied, shrugging. “What those two jokers he sent to Earth are using, basically. Aether really starts to thin out as you fly higher, so we’re thinking that if we can bring our own supply, we can push the boundary clear to forty thousand feet.”

I smiled, looking up at the sky. “Why stop there?”

“Yeah, we could make it all the way to the moon one day,” Swiftwing chortled. “I still can’t believe humans were nuts enough to try that.”

We came into a gentle landing at the Barn compound, just shy of the Thunderchild which had half it’s timbers off. The proud vessel had not fared it’s crash well; most of the frame had been shattered and patched back together with fickle magic and was now coming apart at the seams. Judging by the iron i-beams that were being hauled into place though, plans were in motion to rebuild the Thunderchild stronger than ever.

“So, want to be a record breaker?” Swiftwing asked, prodding me in the side with a wing.

I shrugged. “Maybe, I need to talk to Crystal Cog though, official business.”

“Urgh, that sounds boring,” Swiftwing said, shuddering. “I’ll save a suit for you though if you finish up fast.”

“No promises,” I said, with a faint smile. Then trotted away towards the barn.

Crystal Cog was, of course, at the very center of a knot of ponies, all clustered around the new telegraph. The test line to Canterlot had been built while I had been in the cocoon, but it had only been a few days since they’d opened doors to the public. So far the world changing success Cog had promised had yet to materialise, but a steady flurry of messages had been winging their way between Ponyville and the capital; despite the best efforts of an impromptu protest march which had consisted solely of Ditzy Doo and Spike.

Given a little encouragement, or possibly browbeating, I managed to drag Crystal Cog away and into the relative privacy of his office. The little nook was filled to the brim with a thousand unidentified objects; offcuts of wood, rusted toys, some of the few Earth books that had found their way to Equestria (and not been intercepted by Twilight) and half built inventions. There was a desk, in theory, but it had been colonised by paperwork a long time ago, and covered with a layer of dust. Crystal Cog had to fly over the mess to reach his chair, and I found myself perched on the arm of a chair next to a huge coil of wire. The only thing recognisable was the new and very shiny Bronze Solair medal, taking up pride of place on a shelf; it was the second highest award for valour a civilian in Equestria could receive and well earned.

“So, what can I do for you today, Alex?” Cog chirped. He seemed in a good mood, that would be helpful.

“Well, I’m here to offer you a job?” I began, doing my best to smile.

Cog frowned at me. “Really? Would this be the coveted deputy position that everyone is wondering about.”

I shook my head, sighing. “No, it looks like Star Charge will be getting that.” Crystal Cog blinked in surprise. “Yeah, I know. But it’s an olive branch, and we need the Club to stand together, not be divided by opposition.”

“Huh...” Cog seemed to think about that for a moment. “That might just work out. Never thought I’d see you making up with Star Charge though.”

“Well, he did help save my life,” I pointed out. “And I figure if he’s going to keep trying to usurp me I might as well give him an official channel.”

Cog let out a bark of laughter. “Keeping your enemies closer, eh? Well I can understand that. So if you’ve got your deputy under wraps, what do you need me for?”

And here comes the pitch. “I need you to be my militia captain,” I told him, simply.

Crystal Cog gave a small nod. “I understand. No.”

It took a moment for that to sink in. “Excuse me?” I said, my wings spreading in surprise. “No?”

“That’s my answer,” Cog said simply. “I have no interest in heading some kind of militia.”

“You already had some kind of militia,” I spat. “You’ve got people putting together the local equivalent of a tank this second!”

“The Thunderchild is a demonstration ship,” Cog pointed out, not a hint of emotion in his voice as he explained. “She’s there to sell the concept of repulsor travel to Equestria.”

I pressed a hoof against my forehead. “Crystal Cog, it’s a weapon. It’s a deadly weapon that has been used in front of two Princesses of the land. Do you really think that flimsy cover story is fooling anyone?”

“Do you really think the idea that we were rescuing a Viceroy is fooling anypony in Canterlot?” Cog shot back, shrugging. “I thought the entire point of your promotion was so you could protect the Club from interference from the mountain?”

“There is protection and ‘protection’, and there are lies and ‘lies’,” I grumbled. To be honest, I still wasn’t overly happy with the new arrangement. “A piece of legal fiction that preserves the status-quo? We can run that with all day. A private citizen building doomsday weapons? That raises eyebrows.”

“Really Alex? Doomsday weapons? I know you Brits like James Bond but--”

“The Equestrian army engages Changelings at two to one odds at a maximum,” I cut in, quoting that arse of a bureaucrat, the Undersecretary of Defence, who’d spent so long brow beating me. “That’s fifty highly trained soldiers against one hundred changelings. You, with the Thunderchild and working on three days of training, took on four hundred with just forty ponies and were only stopped when Chrysalis herself intervened; a creature that once successfully sucker punched Celestia. The Thunderchild and it’s guns represents the most powerful weapon outside of the alicorns and that is not something Equestria can allow to exist in private hands.”

“So this is a hostile take over then?” Cog said, narrowing his eyes at me.

“No, it’s really not,” I sighed, rubbing my forehead again. “We just need to sooth some ruffled feathers up in Canterlot and put you under official control. You’ll still answer to me, and I’ll answer to Princess Twilight so we can hold off the worst of the meddling.”

“Hmm,” Crystal Cog seemed to consider it for a moment. “Still no.”

I really wanted to punch something. “Urgh, Crystal Cog, this isn’t really something that’s up for debate. You have a main battle tank in the yard. You either need a piece of paper saying you’re allowed to have it, or someone is going to jail, and this is the best option we’ve been given.”

Cog shook his head, sadly. “Alex, have you actually thought this through?”

“There isn’t really that much to think through Cog,” I snapped. “We are literally being threatened with invasion.”

“Which is why we must, under no circumstances, just give away our biggest advantage.”

I stared in horror at the pegasus. “Are you INSANE?” I boomed, quite accidentally. “We are outnumbered a million to one. And that’s not hyperbole, there are a million ponies for every Club member and you want to... what? Declare war on them?”

Cog sighed, setting his hooves firmly on the desk. “Alex. We are a small minority far from home. While we currently have political favour, that will not last longer than it takes for the next crisis to rear it’s head. We need the Thunderchild, and her guns, to ensure we don’t just get rolled over by the government.”

My eye twitched, as Crystal Cog spoke insanity in reasonable tones. “Two hundred, Cog,” I repeated. “Two hundred of us, two hundred million of them.”

“And by your reasoning they’d lose over a thousand digging us out if we decided to make a fight of it,” Cog pointed out. “Now, I’m no cruel politician, but that sounds like a group it’s better to negotiate with, than use force on.”

“This is not America, Cog!” I roared, unsetting a stack of clockwork gears with my wings. “You are talking about fighting one of the most benevolent rulers I have ever seen. We do not need a fucking paramilitary! What I need is for you to grow up and accept that you can not have all your toys!”

Cog didn’t bat an eyelid. “Despite current appearances, remember I am three times your age,” he said, in a low warning tone. “So believe me when I tell you that I am doing the right thing. Get over yourself.”

I snarled, baring my teeth. “Get rid of the guns, Cog, or I won't be able to protect you.”

Without another word I leapt from my perch and barged through the door, shutting it behind me with a buck that almost knocked it clean off it’s hinges. Fuming, I stalked through the Barn muttering to myself and flapping my wings in agitation.

“Hey, Alex!” Swiftwing called, as I stormed out of the front door. “You ready to do this?”

I turned to yell at her, and did a double take. Swiftwing had been dressed in a lycra flight suit, not too dissimilar from the Wonderbolts’ outfits through with significantly more padding and in a muddy shade of brown. On top of that had been layered a pony sized scuba rig, or at least that’s what it looked like to me, though a thick bank of flickering crystals was strapped between her wings in lieu of an air tank.

For a moment I was so surprised I forgot that I was angry. It didn’t last.

“No!” I barked. Swiftwing took a step back, her wings spread for flight. “Argh, sorry. I didn’t mean... I mean, I don’t think I’m going to be welcome here in a few minutes.”

“But why--”

“Oh, just ask Mr. NRA back there,” I growled, jabbing at the barn behind me. “If he hasn’t marched on Canterlot yet.”

A dozen ponies had turned their heads to watch us as I raved, and I was uncomfortably aware that last time I’d been so mad at the Barn I’d punched Crystal Cog in the face. There looked to be more than a few ponies stepping up to stop me staging a repeat performance.

Snorting I took off and, ignoring Swiftwing calls, winged my way back into town.

I was walking through the marketplace, still fuming to myself half an hour later, when there was suddenly a changeling in my face.

“Wargh!” I leapt backwards and up, somehow finding myself perched on top of a tent pole. The red-eyed drone hadn’t moved and just looked up at me with it’s head cocked.

“Oh god damn it Rose, don’t do that to me!” I exclaimed, fluttering to the ground. I shot an apologetic look over at the stallkeeper, who just huffed and turned his nose up at me.

“Apologies,” the drone continued, in Rose’s formal lilt. It still found it creepy when she talked through the drones, even though intellectually I knew it was no different that using a phone. “But you are late for our session.”

I groaned. “Rose, I am having a hell of a day. Can I call in sick today.”

The drone rolled its eyes. “No.”

Suddenly it slumped, staring at the ground for a moment before looking back up at me. “Follow,” it intoned, in its natural disjoined tones, and trotted away.

I sighed. You would have thought that getting made a Viceroy you wouldn’t have to come when people whistled; it turned out the opposite was true. More fool me for taking the job, I guess.

Rose had moved back into town after our triumphal return. It had not been the smoothest of moves, the changelings were still unwelcome, but at least Chrysalis had carved a strong divide in the minds of Ponyvillians between her and Rose. After few tense days of negotiation and public appeals, we had been able to find enough emotion to at least keep the hive ticking over and, through some miracle or possibly a royal order, Rose had managed to secure the ruined lot where her parlor had once stood. While technically speaking she was still living out of a tent, the frame of a new house was going up under the industrious hooves of the hive when I arrived.

“Hello Alex,” Rose said airily, as I pushed back the tent flap. She sat on her big cushion at the center of the tent, a single drone at her shoulder. “You seem rather angry today.”

“Freaky Prime magic tell you that?” I grumbled, finding my own cushion to lay on.

“Actually you’ve been wandering around the market muttering to yourself for a while now,” Rose pointed out. “Though the magic helps. Was it that jerk from the Defence Ministry?”

I groaned. “No, I got into another argument with Crystal Cog.” I dropped my head onto the pillow. “He’s refusing to give up the machine guns.”

“Equestria wants the guns?” Rose asked, leaning forwards. “Why?”

“Because Princess Luna has spent the last week gushing over them to anypony that’ll listen,” I grumbled. “I thought if I could at least get them under my control we could avoid the army rolling in to take them, but Cog seems to want that to happen.”

“I’m sure he doesn’t want things to go that far.”

I shrugged. “We’re talking about a guy who built a flying battleship for no reason beyond the fact he could.”

Rose winced. “It’s a fair point. Though I seem to recall you didn’t want anyone getting their hands on those guns last time we spoke.”

I held up my forehooves, pointedly. “I don’t think anyone’s getting their hands on them. And I don’t particularly want Equestria to have machineguns, but I thought Cog would prefer them with the army than at the bottom of a lake.”

“I hope you didn’t phrase it like that,” Rose chided.

I glowered at her. “I think my last words were ‘get rid of the guns’.”

“Okay.” Rose ran a hoof across her chin. “I can see where you went wrong. Want some advice?”

I shook my head. “No. Tomorrow I’ll take it, but today I’m too tired.” I looked up at her hopefully. “I don’t suppose trance-like states count as sleep?”

The queen shook her head.

“Urgh, too much to hope for then.” I buried my face in the pillow again.

“Alex, this is much more than one argument, isn’t it?”

I grunted into the plush. “I’m just tired, Rose.”

“You should perhaps avoid trying to lie to an emotion leaching vampire.” I glared at her, and Rose had the audacity to shrug. “So I’ll ask again, what’s wrong?”

“It’s... urgh!” I rolled onto my back, clasping my face with my hooves. “It’s just... not what I wanted. I had these big plans for the Club after I got back. We’ve got the Stable, everyone’s fed, everyone’s safe from Chrysalis; it was a chance to really do something help people. To move on.” I sighed, slumping. “But instead now I’m rulling them, Canterlot is shoving their noses in and Cog’s being an arse... as usual.”

Rose raised a hoof. “Umm, about that safe from Chrysalis thing?” she began.

Upside down I glared at her. “Please tell me you haven’t seen that bitch skulking around again.”

“Actually no, I haven’t see a hair of her, which is why I’m worried,” Rose pointed out, with a little frown. “Chrysalis isn’t one to give up so easily.”

“It took two demi-gods and a giant fuck-off cannon to get rid of her,” I pointed out. “I’d never call that going down easy. Besides, Twilight says Chrysalis doesn’t have the resources to attack Equestria again so soon.”

A ghost of a smile crossed Rose’s lips. “Twilight isn’t much of a gambler. Still, I am probably being paranoid. Shall we move on, and see if there are any of Chrysalis’ traps left in that hollow skull of yours?”

Another groan escaped me. “I hate mind magic.”

“As does every other pegasus,” Rose pointed out. “But do you want to be Chrysalis’ piñata again?”

I had to think about that. “No...” I rolled over onto my front. “Let’s just make this a quick one. I’m supposed to be talking to Pinkie about a Nightmare Night costume later.”

“Ah yes, I hear she’s got something surprising lined up.” Rose lifted herself from her cushion and stood before me, wisps of red fire building around her horn. “But don’t worry for now. Just... relax.”

Chapter 8: Nightmare Night

View Online

Halloween when I was growing up was always a quiet affair. Carving a pumpkin was probably the most festive I’d ever gotten and, beyond a few slightly hazy costume parties, I’d never dressed up. Ponyville, however, took Nightmare Night as their point of pride; after all, what other town could claim they had two Princesses attend every year? The decorations had been going up for days; tables were groaning under the weight of sugary treats and baked goods, while fillies and colts gamboled about showing off their costumes for all to see, and everywhere I looked, the humans turned ponies were smiling.

Even me.

“Told you,” Pinkie said in her sing-song tone, bouncing alongside me. I straightened my wig, fluffed out my wings and matched her spring for spring.

It had taken Pinkie a long time to convince me to put on a costume, but I was glad for it in the end. A blond wig of matted curls, a smile and a dyed on cutie mark of three party balloons had been enough to transform me into Pinkie Pie’s alter ego, Surprise. For the record, Pinkie was far too excited about having a twin; it had taken a crowbar and the not-so-subtle reminder that she had her own costume to get into to remove her from my side.

“There are two of them!” Roseluck screamed suddenly, pointing at us with a trembling hoof. “Everypony save themselves!” She took off as fast as her hooves could carry her.

“Best. Nightmare Night. Ever!” Pinkie exclaimed, rubbing her hooves together with glee. I couldn’t help but laugh along with her and we made our way down the main street of Ponyville.

The Club, in particular, had gone all out with their costumes, producing an eye watering riot of fan characters and pop-culture references. Some might have accused them of having too much free time on their hands, but I couldn’t blame them for blowing off a little steam. We passed the gryphons, who were busy looking intimidating in their Fallout: Equestria mercenary outfits and doing their very best to extort a toll of candy. A trio of unicorns in various Littlepip costumes were busy arguing a short distance away as to which of them was going to be the hero and break up the racket.

“Mint-al?” Pinkie interrupted, holding a small tin up to the Pips.

The argument trebled, this time over the correct in character response, and Pinkie hopped away, grinning to herself.

“Okay, seriously how do you keep doing that?” I demanded, hurrying after her. “I can barely keep track of the damn fanon.”

“It makes ponies smile,” Pinkie chirped. “And I love hearing about all these other Equestrias. Like, there’s this one where Applejack is a changeling-- I asked; she’s not. And there’s one where there’s these giant robots that fight even gianter monsters. And one where I’m in an orchestra, and one where Sweetie Belle is a robot but not a giant -- which is a shame -- and one where everypony has the opposite gender, and one where Twilight is a pegasus, and this really squicky one where I turn ponies into cupcakes, and a whole load where Nightmare Moon won--”

“Wait, wait, wait,” I interjected. I’d only been half listening to Pinkie’s inane babble, but the cupcakes had snapped me right back. “You’ve heard of ‘Cupcakes’?”

“Of course I’ve heard of cupcakes,” Pinkie continued beaming, hopping in place. “What kind of baker do you take me for?”

I pressed a hoof against my forehead. “I mean, the story that was number one on the ‘List of Stories Never to Mention to the Mane Six’.”

“Oh sure, I heard about that months ago...” Pinkie paused, and frowned to herself. “Which reminds me, I’ve still got to set up that ‘My Little Dashie’ prank for Dashie. Do you know where I can get a giant cardboard box, six pounds of glitter and a fishing rod?”

I shook myself, deciding to ignore that last bit. “Oh, come on. Why did I even bother writing that list if no one’s going to pay attention?” To be fair, it was useful to warn people about the dangers of mentioning reincarnating Nightmare Moon to Twilight. The idea didn’t upset her, per se, you’d just end up trapped in a two hour metaphysics lecture on why it was impossible.

“Aww, I think it’s sweet you’d try and protect us,” Pinkie cooed, grinning at me. “But they’re just stories. It’s not like they actually happened. Besides, most of them have happy endings.”

She shrugged and continued on towards the marketplace. For a moment I struggled to process the idea that Pinkie knew the entire fandom inside and out, but then shook my head. I guess compared to having the highpoints of your life televised, a few made up stories were small potatoes; not that Pinkie had been upset about having an audience.

The center of town was filled with spooky decorations and tired memes; locals and Club members alike had gone all out in increasingly bizarre attempts to outdo the other. A group in matching Avengers costumes, matched against a pack of fillies in Power Ponies outfits; a duo of pegasi in Superman outfits swooped through the skies above our heads; Mary-Ann, our resident pegacorn, had dyed herself black and red and was explaining her ‘extremely tragic’ backstory to anyone who came too close; Applejack walked past in a Batmare cowl (which she tipped as she passed), Apple Bloom nipping at her heels in her Robin outfit.

I had no words as I watched a pantomime horse pick it’s way through the crowd.

I shook myself. “Man, Rarity must have been working her hooves to the bone to get all this set up. Any idea what she’ll be wearing?”

“Oh Rarity doesn’t do Nightmare Night,” Pinkie said with a wistful sigh. “She has her own traditions...”

I frowned, then remembered just how many outfits had come flying out of the Carousel Boutique in the last few days. “Ah, a warm bed, earplugs and a sleeping draught?”

Pinkie gasped, rounding on me. “Who told you about Rarity’s secret traditions?” she demanded, grabbing me by the lapels.

I pushed her away, ignoring the disconcerting feeling of having your clothing pulled on while not wearing anything. “It was a guess.”

She blinked in confusion for a moment. “Oh, okies! Well, I can neither confirm nor deny whether Rarity is currently rattling the windows with her snores.” I cocked my eyebrow at that comment, but Pinkie was distracted by something shiny. “Ooo, look a new game!”

A row of carnival booths had been set up in the market, and Pinkie Pie homed in on Bon Bon’s stall. The creamy-coloured earth pony had donned a black bodysuit, along with a set of insectile wings and a twisted horn. She smiled as we approached.

“Good evening, Pinkie,” she said, with a rather forced smile. “Here to test out my new game?”

The stand was simple hut built out of solid planks; three low sided bowls rested on the smooth top, surrounded by bags of hard candy. I couldn’t tell what the game was supposed to be but, judging by the large mallet, it was somewhere between a shell game and whack-a-mole.

“Can I, can I, can I, can I?” Pinkie exclaimed, bouncing on the spot.

“Yes, Pinkie,” Bon Bon sighed. “Now, this is a fairly simple game, first you take your hammer--”

“Like this one?” Pinkie cut in, a sledgehammer suddenly clasped between her hooves.

“NO!” Bon Bon hurriedly handed her the little mallet. Pinkie tucked the sledgehammer back into her mane and took the mallet in her teeth. Why and how she’d been carrying a sledgehammer with her I’ll never know.

“Okees, n’w w’at?” Pinkie continued, speaking around the handle.

“Well, now comes the tricky part.” With a deft motion Bon Bon emptied a small bag of hard candies into one of the bowls, then covered all three with an individual cloth. “The aim of the game is to find the right bowl and crush all the candies.”

I blinked. There was no way that...

“Hey Bonnie, I got the sign!” Lyra called, a couple of boards balanced across her back. The words ‘CandyCrush’ had been painted on them in large, red letters.

I groaned, glaring at Bon Bon. “Really?”

She shrugged. “What can I say? Puns sell.” Bon Bon gestured Lyra over before turning back to Pinkie Pie, who was vibrating with barely controlled excitement.

“Now, it’s a little more tricky than good coordination. My beautiful assistant--” Lyra puffed herself up, brushing a few bits of sawdust off her hoodie. “--couldn't make it, but Lyra will be mixing up the bowls instead.”

“Bonnie!” Lyra whined.

“Hush, I’m working. Then you simply smack that hammer into a bowl, crush the candies and you win. Got that?”

Pinkie nodded frantically, almost taking my head off with the hammer. Sharing a worried glance with Bon Bon, Lyra lit her horn and spun the bowls around on the table, Pinkie Pie watching the performance with a manic intensity.

“And now you--”


The mallet smashed down on a bowl with the resounding crunch of shattering candy.

“--win... apparently.” Bon Bon shrugged. She lifted the cloth off the bowl and poured the remains of the candy into a little bag. “Here you go Pinkie, does it get your seal of approval?”

“Yeppers,” Pinkie cheered, spitting out the mallet. “I’ll be sure to point everypony your way.” She flipped a couple of bits on the stall, grabbing the bag of crushed candies with a hoof. “Oh and Lyra--” She winked. “--digging the swell hoodie.”

She hopped away.

“Seriously, how does she do that?” Lyra demanded, staring open mouthed at the departing mare.

“What? Was that a reference?” I enquired.

“Yeah... also I just lost a bet that nopony would guess my costume,” Lyra explained with a scowl, then levitated a stack of bits over to Bon Bon, who was looking smug.

“Come on, Surprise!” Pinkie called over her shoulder. “There’s loads more to see!”

I scowled. “Hey! Names were not part of the deal!” I called back, hurrying after her.

“See you later,” Lyra yelled after me, stifling a snort of laughter, “Surprise.”

Glaring over my shoulder I ran straight into Pinkie Pie, and bounced off of the solid earth pony.

“Pinkie, what are you...?” I began, only to find her looking quizzically at a chalk sign.

Kiss the pony of your dreams,
1 bit
No questions

The arrow pointed into a nearby tent.

“Okay, that’s slightly creepy,” I said.

“Let’s see who it is!” Pinkie exclaimed, and grabbed my hoof, dragging me, protesting, through the open tent flap.

“Welcome to my parl-- oh it’s you two.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Rose sitting on a cushion at the center of the tent.

“I guess I should have expected Pinkie at least,” Rose continued, sighing.

“You’re running a kissing booth?” I demanded, incredulously. “But... I... How is that even a thing?”

Rose smirked. “Kiss the pony of your dreams,” she explained. “You’d be amazed how many people have a fantasy they’d love to live out, and I thought I’d get some use out of that shape shifting ability, for once.”

“Huh,” I shook myself. “People are really willing to kiss a changeling?”

The queen shook her head. “No, but they are quite happy to kiss Princess Twilight.” There was a flash of rose coloured flame and Twilight sat before us, pouting. “As long as they don’t have any overdue library books,” she continued in a perfect imitation of Twilight’s voice.

“Ooo, ooo!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, jumping up and down, waving a forehoof in the air. “Do you do hugs?”

Rose and I shared baffled a look. “Sure, I guess.”

“Yay.” Pinkie clapped her hooves together. “Do Pinkamena.”

A flash of light later and a greyed out, straight haired Pinkie Pie sat on the cushion, increasing the number of Pinkie Pie clones in the room by just fifty percent. The real Pinkie caught her in a flying tackle, almost knocking Rose off the cushion in her enthusiasm.

“So, is this another way of gaining food?” I asked conversationally, as Rose returned the hug, struggling with where to put her hooves.

“I wish,” she sighed. “Shape shifting is tiring to say the least. This is advertising.”

Pinkie let go for a moment, frowning, before going in for a different angle of hug.

“I don’t follow,” I admitted.

Rose sighed. “It’s a moment’s intimacy that’s perfectly safe, perfectly anonymous, and becomes the first step on the road to acceptance,” she explained, trying to talk around the furiously hugging mare.

“Huh. Is it working?”

Rose rolled her eyes. “I’ve had more than a few ponies turn and run at the sight of me, but there are a few I think I’ll see again once they escape their friends. Everyone has a fantasy.” She grinned to herself, then frowned as Pinkie once again tried to readjust her grip. “Though I think you’ve got your bit’s worth,” she said to the mare.

“Hff, okay,” Pinkie sighed, slipping away. “I need to work on my Pinkamena hug, though.”

I put a hoof on her shoulder. “I don’t think that any hug would work on someone just pretending to be sad.”

“Aww, but it was almost perfect though,” Pinkie continued, pouting. Rose took the opportunity to shift back to her native form, unwisely, as Pinkie was on her in an instant. “See, first you’ve got to pretend you’re a limpet...”

“That’s more than enough of that,” Rose interjected levitating Pinkie off her, though I caught the ghost of a smile around her lips. “Surely you have a costume to put on?”

“Oh, right! And there’s one super special tent that I have to show Alex first!” Pinkie cheered. “Thanks, Rose.” She leaned over and kissed the changeling on the lips. “And that makes us even!”

She bounced away, leaving a stunned queen in her wake.

“Well, I guess the sign didn’t say who was getting kissed,” I pointed out. Then fled for my life, desperately trying to hold back a gale of laughter.

“Come on, Alex!” Pinkie chirped, grabbing me by the hoof and dragging me along the row of tents. “There’s a fortune teller I want you to meet.”

I thought I recognised that episode. “Okay, but only if you promise she isn’t you.”

We came to a sudden stop outside a small pink tent. The ‘Madame Pinkie’s’ sign was not a good omen.

Pinkie pointedly crossed her forelegs. “I promise that I am not Madame Pinkie.” And without another word she put her hooves on my rump and shoved me into the tent.

Stumbling, I found myself before a low table. The crystal ball was expected, the pink mare in full gypsy wise woman get-up was more of a shock, and I whipped around, trying to see if I’d run into a horde of doppelgangers.

“Fooled you,” Pinkie cheered, bouncing up and down on her cushion, her costume jewelry jangling. “It was me all along.”

I had no words. There are many reasons people just shrug and say, ‘it’s Pinkie’.

“Alright, Madame Pinkie,” I said, parking myself opposite the ‘wise’ mare. “What does my future hold?”

Pinkie clutched her head. “Wooo, the spirits are talking to me,” she proclaimed. “They are very... they are very... they are very...”

“Hungry?” I suggested.

“Ooo, that’s an idea.” She whipped a cupcake out from under the table, and took a huge bite out of it. “Wann’ s’m?” she enquired, holding out the crumbling mass to me.

“...I’ll pass.” I pushed the confection away, struggling not to burst out laughing. “But come on, Madame Pinkie, what’s my future?”

“Right!” She leaned over her crystal ball. “Ooo, the spirits speak much of you. Ooo. They know you are very important. Oh! They say you are going on a long trip, to an exotic land.”

I gave her a flat look. “That’s the past, Pinkie, roll things forwards a bit.”

“Hmm...” she frowned at the ball, and gave it a little spin. “Okies, let’s try this again. I see a tall, dark figure in your future.”

“Pinkie, if you’re going to use this to suggest a strange, handsome stallion in my future, I am out of here,” I snapped. Relationships had been pushed so far forwards to future Alexis that I didn’t want to think about them until I was forty.

“Oh don’t worry. You already know him really well,” Pinkie Pie continued, blithely oblivious, as normal. “Still, that seems a little too far into the future.” She gave the ball another quick twirl.

“Here we go. I see... I see... I see you flying with the Wonderbolts!” She reared up, and there was a sudden pyrotechnic explosion right behind her, filling the tent with blue and gold sparks.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really?” I drawled, as the embers settled around us. “And am I doing a sonic rainboom?”

“Oh, you can see it too?” Pinkie pressed her nose up against the glass sphere.

“I think you’ve tuned into Rainbow Dash’s future by mistake,” I sighed. The smell of smoldering fabric reached my nose, it was possible that fireworks in a tent had been a poor choice on Pinkie’s part.

“Grr.” Pinkie tapped the crystal ball. “Lousy, cheap prophetic powers. Okay, well that was a bust, but we’ve got lots more cool things to do tonight.”

Flames began to lick up the curtains behind her. Pinkie glanced over her shoulder and frowned.

“But first, would you get me a raincloud?”

One minor blaze, and dodging a tall, dark, fire marshal later, we retreated to Sugarcube Corner where Pinkie disappeared upstairs to put on her costume. I found myself left with a half dozen Club foals who were sheltering from be festivities beyond the shop with a impressive bowl of ice cream between them. It was tough being a Club foal. It was tough being a Club member, period. But being lost and alone in an alien world while occupying the body of an eight year old was especially difficult, whether or not you’d been eight before.

A sea of serious/adorable faces had extracted a replacement bowl of ice cream from me before Pinkie returned. She wore a red and black checked bodysuit and had slicked her hair into pigtails, I raised an eyebrow.

“Harley-Quinn?” I enquired.

“Yeppers,” she replied, with a slightly manic grin. “We’re doing a heroes and villains theme this year. When Twilight and Rainbow Dash get back from Canterlot we’ll--” She froze, and frantically made a zipping motion across her mouth.

I stepped towards her and, in an icy tone, asked, “Was I not supposed to know they’re visiting Canterlot, then?”

The shop bell rang, and Pinkie glanced past me. “Oh hi, Applejack! How are you doing?”

I didn’t take my eyes off Pinkie -- she had a nasty habit of disappearing -- but the steady tap of hooves approaching wore on my nerves and I rounded on the intruding pony.

It was Applejack. Batmare cowl. Freckles. Her piercing eyes and rock steady trot. But I was instantly on alert, my wings spreading in alarm. She hadn’t said hello. I had never known Applejack not call out a cheery greeting.

The not-jack seemed to sense something had gone wrong and charged, a knife appearing out from under her cape. For a moment I was frozen with indecision, and that moment cost me because there was a flare of green magic from the not-jack and I found myself hurled across the room. Through more luck than judgement, I managed to avoid hitting any furniture but still landed hard, the wind driven out of me.

Hissing, the not-jack swung its blade at Pinkie’s throat and she... dodged her neck around it? It was hard to describe. Pinkie never got on with physics at the best of times, but it tended to be low key stuff. However, when she chose to ignore the basic laws of reality and really let loose, it was terrifying to behold. Her very flesh bent around the blade like taffy, springing back once the danger had passed and the assassin overbalanced. Pulling her sledgehammer out from behind her back Pinkie reared and cobbered the not-jack with a titanic two handed blow that slammed it into the floor, with a crunch of breaking bones.

Not-jack’s disguise failed then, revealing a broken changeling drone, gazing blankly up at Pinkie. It had blue eyes.


The front door was thrown from its hinges as changelings poured into the bakery. Pinkie didn’t miss a beat, seizing a black forest gateau from the counter and hurling it into the mob like a cannonball. The lead changeling caught it full in the face and was thrown back through the swarm, knocking them down like skittles and the pink mare charged the confused mass.

“For Narnia!” she roared (I have no idea why), and then was in amongst them, swinging her hammer with wild abandon.

It was like watching a Loony Toons fight. Pinkie had no style or technique, but reality twisted itself into pretzels around her. Surrounded by enemies, already charging their magic, she should have been dead twice over before she’d got one good swing in; instead the changelings stumbled, slipped or found themselves running into each other in their haste to attack. Pinkie herself was a blur of motion and paid no attention to the fact she was using a weapon longer than herself, wielding it like a bat or sword, or, on rare occasion, a hammer, as the situation demanded.

Less than sixty seconds later, Pinkie stood alone, without even a scratch on her costume. She struck a pose with a flourish of her hammer as the Final Fantasy victory music played. The Club foals cheered.

The screams that echoed from outside spoiled the triumphant mood, and I hurried over to the window. Changelings in shredded costumes were running rampant around Ponyville. Fortunately, Ponyville was not a town that just rolled over for monster attacks. Already ponies were rallying against the changelings, forming defensive knots as they made their way down long practiced evacuation routes.

“Pinkie, what’s going on?” Mrs Cake exclaimed, emerging from the kitchen. She regarded the pile of twitching drones at Pinkie’s hooves with a mixture of horror and resignation. “Oh... Element business.” She turned to the stairs. “Honey! Get the foals, we’re spending the night in the cellar, again!”

“Thanks, Mrs Cake,” Pinkie chirped. “Come on, Alex, we’ve got to get to Twilight’s Castle.”

I stared at her, opened mouthed. “Umm, Pinkie there is a major invasion going on out there.”

“Yeah, and we need to fire-up Twilight’s magic-slash-friendship shield and save Ponyville!” Pinkie shot back, casually beaning a changeling who seemed to be regaining consciousness. “Come on, let’s go before anyone ends up in a cocoon.”

A shudder ran down my spine; we definitely didn’t want that happening. I spared a worried glance for the Club foals.

“I hear there’s a cellar full of sweets waiting for us,” the eldest, Wilbur, pointed out, much to the rest of the foals’ delight. They began to hurry downstairs.

“Right,” I glanced back out the window, and swallowed the lump in my throat. “Okay... Pinkie, I’m scared.”

“That’s okay,” she said, bouncing up and down before the door. “Just use Twilight’s three step questing checklist.”

I was almost afraid to ask. “...Okay, I’ll bite,” I began, tearing myself from the window, my wings twitching incessantly. “What’s the list?”

“Step one: Stop.”

I froze in place, forcing my wings to lie flat against my barrel.

“Step two: Breathe.”

I swallowed a gulp of air, and tried to stop my knees knocking together.

“Step three: Save the world.”

A beat passed, and I burst out laughing.

“Great plan there,” I chuckled. Taking up position next to the grinning mare, I set my jaw. “What’s our actual first move?”

“Oh that’s simple, first we find the Batmare.”

“No, serious--” I began, but Pinkie was already moving, barreling out through the door and into the melee beyond. I charged after her, pumping my wings in a desperate bid to keep up with the pink streak that was supposedly an earth pony.

The changelings tried to stop us, but it was like trying to stand in the way of a snowplow. Pinkie left a trail of groaning bugs behind her, and I followed close on her heels, the safest damn spot in town as far as I could tell. It was only moments before we reached the square.

Applejack had been in a hell of a fight, judging by the amount of damage she’d done. Tents were toppled, prizes, candy and changelings scattered willy-nilly across the ground. I noted Bon Bon’s Candy Crush stall was the only one still standing, despite the pile of groaning changelings on top of it. Applejack stood surrounded on all sides by a dozen fresh changelings. As Pinkie Pie and I arrived, they charged.

Pinkie accelerated into the melee with all her usual enthusiasm, and in the few moments it took me to catch up, the small swarm had been dispatched, running like cerberus himself was chasing them.

“An’,” Applejack roared, “stay out!” One of the nearby drones foolishly tried to get to its hooves and found itself thrown into a pile of plush Twilight Sparkles. “Thankya’ kindly Pinkie.”

I arrived, gasping for breath.

“An’ miss Alex,” she continued. “What ya’ here for?”

“Saving... the world... apparently,” I panted.

“Come on!” Pinkie exclaimed, juggling her hammer from hoof to hoof. “We’ve got to get to Twilight’s Castle and turn on the defences!”

She went to gallop into the distance, but Applejack managed to clamp down on her tail. That didn’t stop her getting a dozen yards, but she bounced back to us as if her tail was made of elastic.

“Hold ya’ horses, sugar,” Applejack grumbled. “There’s half a horde between us an’ the Castle. We should get to the train station and get Twi’ an’ Dash, or try and wake Rarity.”

“Or we could head to the barn where they’ve got all the guns,” I pointed out.

The staccato rattle of machine gunfire echoed through the deserted streets.

“Ooo, that’s not a good sign,” I said with a wince. “How long until Twilight and Rainbow are due back from Canterlot?”

Applejack shrugged. “‘Bout an hour. Their train should be halfway to Ponyville by now.”

My stomach sunk. “Urgh, this is a total set up,” I said, beginning to pace; another burst of gunfire punctuated my words. “What are the odds Fluttershy and Rarity will just sleep through this whole mess?”

“Heh, would take more than a couple fireworks to wake Rarity tonight,” Applejack said, shooting a glare at the distant Carousel Boutique. “An’ Flutters, bless her, ain’t one to go chargin’ into trouble.”

“Shit! Chrysalis just happens to turn up when two thirds of the Elements are out of action?” I snapped, stamping a hoof in frustration, and I shook my head. “No, she’s after something, and she thinks she can get away with it before you girls figure out a way to stop her. We don’t have time to run for help.”

“Al’right,” Applejack huffed, setting her jaw. “The Castle it is then. Pinks, lead the way an’ Alex, stick close.”

“Ooo, I love this part!” Pinkie cheered. She bunched up her legs and shot away like a cannonball. “CHARGE!”

Applejack put on an impressive turn of speed to keep up, her batmare cape snapping in the wind. I took to the air after them, flying just a few feet above the ground and already cursing Pinkie for turning things into a race. The street was cluttered with wing-breakers: banners, poles and washing lines, and I ducked and weaved my way through the tangle. If I’d dared fly above the rooftops I could have reached the Castle in under thirty seconds, but that would have left me alone in a sky full of changelings, so I kept to the ‘safe’ route.

I almost wiped out as an unfamiliar pegasus exploded out of an alleyway, and fell into formation at my nine o’clock. It took me far too long to place her; the mottled grey camouflage pattern of her coat was so alien to Equestria that it should have been a dead give away, but it was the Tudor rose on her flank that actually rang a bell.

“You girls are charging into a trap,” Rose snapped, breathing heavily. “Crysalis’ forces are massed around Twilight’s Castle, Cog’s got the changelings heavily engaged around the Barn and the Thunderchild has been torched.”

Finally some good news.

“Shoot,” Applejack swore. “Is everypony okay?”

I dodged over an abandoned cart, as Rose continued. “It seems so. Everypony is laying low -- the CMC made it to the town hall shelter, by the way -- and the changelings don’t seem worried about anything more than scaring folks.”

“That’s good,” Applejack said.

“That’s strange,” I corrected. From what I’d read, changelings took prisoners out of habit more than anything else. “Rose, can you get a drone out to Twilight and Rainbow Dash?”

“Cog’s beat you too it,” Rose said, smirking. “They were contacted by telegraph a few minutes ago. I believe the response was ‘B tere in dash’.”

I groaned. “Oh god, Rainbow Dash discovered texting.”

We rounded a corner to find thirty or so changelings waiting for us, but the bugs declined to attack after Pinkie started whirling her hammer.

“I did say this was a trap, right?” Rose interjected, landing next Pinkie and AJ. The drones scooted further back, watching us.

“Yeup’,” Applejack drawled. “But there ain’t much room for fancy planning. We gotta’ stop Chrysalis before all this blows up in our faces.”

“Well that’s the worst idea I’ve heard all week.” Rose rolled her eyes. “I’m out. No way am I letting Chrysalis get her hooks into me again. Alex you coming with me?”

I froze, dropping to the ground. “Umm....”

“Don’t worry, Alex,” Pinkie cheered, swinging the sledgehammer alarmingly. “Me and Whackus Bonkus will keep you safe.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised she’d named the hammer. “Well, I can’t turn that offer down,” I said to Rose with a sheepish smile.

She glowered at me for a moment. “Whatever. I’ll see if Cog can rustle up some cavalry, again. I’m out.” Without another word she turned tail and galloped away.

“Yeash, she’s jumpier than Opal at bath time,” Applejack exclaimed. “Come on, Alex, you’re safe with us.”

The pair turned. Twilight’s Castle was visible over the rooftops, extremely close now, and drones were circling the structure.

“Out of curiosity... Do we have a plan?” I said, hesitantly.

“Twilight’s got a big ol’ shield in her lab,” Applejack said, stretching. “Loada’ spinny rings, turn it on by hitting the button that says ‘Do not touch - This means you, Pinkie’. Should drive anypony not supposed to be there out of the Castle and give Twilight somewhere to work when she gets here.”

Huh, I hadn’t expected there to be a plan. “Right, let’s get moving.”

The changelings parted as we raced through the outskirts of Ponyville, no more agressive than the Nightmare Night decorations, and I had a horrible moment’s sympathy for the fly in that instant where it has seen the web but far too late to do anything to avoid it. Past the houses, the fields opened up leading to Twilight’s Castle. The swarm was centered there, a mass of roiling black chitin, bared teeth and buzzing wings.

Pinkie and Applejack didn’t miss a beat, hurling themselves into the mass. Again the changelings drew back, for the most part. The sickly crunch of hoof on chitin sounded as an unfortunate bug took a swing at Applejack and the farm pony effortlessly countered. Pinkie whooped, swinging her hammer like a maniac, driving any changeling, no matter how brave, back step by step.

Sound vanished as huge numbers of changelings took to the air, their wings beating out an earsplitting drone. I leapt, hovering above the girls more as a meatshield than a serious impediment, lashing out with my wingtips and hooves at any changelings that came too close for comfort.

“Almost--” Applejack began. We were a mere twenty yards from the foot of the tower.

There was an almighty bang, and all my fur stood on end. A purple shell began to materialise around the Castle, starting out as a mere ephemeral mist but quickly building and building.

“--ah, ponyfeathers, run!” Applejack snapped. Throwing caution to the wind she broke into a wild gallop; ducking under Pinkie’s hammer, she hurled herself towards the thickening shell of magic. It was already far too late. Applejack ran nose first into the shield and bounced off, swearing, and Pinkie Pie and I skidded to a stop next to her.

“Trapped,” I said, as I took a long look at the thousand or so changelings between us and freedom.

“Urgh, remind me why we ain’t turned Chrysalis to stone yet?” Applejack grumbled, clutching her nose with one hoof as she stumbled to her feet.

“Shining Armor called dibs,” Pinkie sighed, peering off into the distance.

“Fair ‘nough,” Applejack said, shrugging. “So,” she began, regarding the changeling army. “We gonna’ rumble, or we gonna’ rumble?”

“WAIT!” Pinkie interjected, leaping between Applejack and the swarm, her tail vibrating. “Let’s wait for Dashie.”

“Wait for...” Applejack began, but then the thunder started.

Rainbow Dash lit up the sky as she arrived, her prismatic contrail outshining the moon and a wave of Aether washed over me, making all my feathers stand up. Her first blast of lightning went wild, detonating an unassuming tree, but Rainbow soon got her eye in and a rolling barrage of multi-colored lightning bolts slammed into the changeling swarm like the wrath of god. Drones went flying, blasted away from the impacts. Some fired back in a vain attempt to swat Rainbow Dash from the sky. Twilight arrived mere moments later, the usual pop-crack of her teleport replaced with a huge roar of displaced air, and the young alicorn went screaming through the air before landing in a heap on top of a pile of changelings.

We hurried after her, Applejack bucking changelings out of the way as Pinkie raced through the crush and snatched Twilight away from the drones.

“Ooo,” Twilight moaned, holding a hoof to her head as we kicked open some space in the swarm around her. “Momentum. My old nemesis.”

“Twi’, some magic if you would!” Applejack called out, as Rainbow Dash’s lighting artillery roared again.

“Oh, right!” A shield raced outwards, forming a light pink dome around us and sweeping the changelings away. “There,” Twilight sighed, letting loose a weary breath. “A Shiny special.”

The changelings beyond the dome began to lay into the spell with hoof and sting, but Twilight seemed to pay no heed.

“Hey! Who put up my shield?” Twilight demanded, glaring at her castle.

I rolled my eyes. “Chrysalis.”

Twilight frowned, her horn kindling. “Great,” she spat. “It’s in full lockdown: kinetics, arcana, teleportation, the works... also I think she might be messing with the barrier spell in there.”

My wings flew out in alarm. “What?” I exclaimed.

“Well something’s making the world buzz,” Twilight grumbled, shaking her head. “Right...” She paused a moment, took a deep breath, and then began to speak in a rush. “Girls, we need to get in there right now, and the only quick way through the shield is brute force. Pinkie, Applejack, get whatever magic you can ready to hit that shield. Alex--” She rounded on me. “--get Rainbow’s attention and tell her to go all out on the shield; give her a hoof if you want to, just pump as much Aether into your flight as possible and that should help disrupt the spell.” Not missing a beat, she turned back to Pinkie and Applejack. “Now, I’m only going to be able to open a hole for a few seconds at best; if you see an opportunity to get through, take it and shut down the shield from the inside.”

Flaring her wings she set her stance low, pointing her blazing horn at the castle. “Ready? On three. THREE!”

My bones thrummed as Twilight unleashed her magic on the castle shield, and a beam of power bridged the gap between her and the castle. I shot into the air. Afraid my feathers were going to combust from all the Arcana Twilight was throwing around, I pumped my wings for all they were worth. The sky was a sea of drones, but they were poor fliers, maneuverable on their insectile wings but with none of the speed a desperate pegasus could produce. Gulping down air, I hurled myself through the heart of the swarm, dodging and weaving around bolts of emerald fire and gnashing teeth as I fought for altitude.

Dash found me moments later, tearing through the changeling horde like they were made of wet paper.

“Oh, hey Alex,” she called, flying circles around me and driving back any drones that strayed too close. “I was expecting Fluttershy. What are you doing here?”

It was a good question. “No idea,” I snapped, between desperate gulps of air. “Twilight needs to crack the shield. Can you ram it?”

“No sweat,” Dash crowed. “It should be down in a flash; I told her she should have pegasus tested it. Watch this!”

With terrifying speed she shot away, rising up and over the swarm, presumably so she had some space to build up speed. Below me, the beam of magic between Twilight and the base of the dome had grown so bright that I could hardly bear to look. Pinkie and Applejack were fighting hoof and hammer in a desperate attempt to keep the changelings back from the distracted Twilight.

I just hung there, staring for a long moment. It was hard to imagine that I could help when measured up against such titans.

But then... I had been asked to.

I went into a dive. Aether building around me as I hurled myself towards the ground. The air was rich with power from Dash’s pyrotechnics and my speed built to terrifying levels within a few hundred meters.

Rainbow Dash roared past me, going a hair over mach one, and almost wiping me out of the air as the shockwave picked me up and shook me like a rag doll. The shield rang like a bell as she struck, an explosion of noise that swept outwards further rattling my bones, and I gritted my teeth as I bore down on the shield. Twilight’s magic pulsed, reaching an incredible brightness, and the shell of magic wobbled around the point of impact. That was my target.

I put my forehooves together before me, straining my wings for the last ounce of speed. Pinkie Pie and Applejack hurled themselves at the breach before me, slamming into the weakened shield which cracked under their blows. They didn’t have time for a second shot; the magic shattered like glass as my hooves struck the shield.

The ground raced towards me, and I flared my wings as wide as possible, screaming in pain as the deceleration threatened to pop them from their sockets. Even then, it wasn’t enough; my hooves clipped the ground and I flipped forwards, striking the unforgiving earth and tumbling head over tail, over and over, until I came to rest upside down against the Castle wall.

“Ow...” I groaned. Why had I ever thought that was a good idea?

Blinking my vision clear I saw at least part of the plan had worked. I had, in fact, managed to get through the shield. On the flip side, no truly successful plan would have let me be the sole pony to make it.

“Shit!” I exclaimed, scrambling to my hooves and falling flat on my face, again. Someone moved the ground on me, I swear! I levered myself back up and gave my aching wings an experimental flap. It hurt like hell, but at least everything still seemed to work.

“Right, Twilight’s lab. Big Pinkie attracting button,” I muttered to myself. “Question mark, question mark, question mark. Save world.”

I didn’t see the drone before it caught me in the barrel, knocking me flying. Suddenly I was on my back, and all I could see were fangs and a twisted horn trying to take my face off. Biting down the urge to scream, I braced against the ground with my wings and got my legs between me and the drone. The wretched thing tried to sink its teeth into my throat, but I managed to get a forehoof in the way and delivered a powerful buck with my hind legs.

Keening with pain the drone went flying. With my heart pounding in my ears, I leapt into the sky. Drones were pouring out of the Castle, but a heady mix of adrenaline and terror had me moving faster than I ever had in my life. I dove through an upper balcony. Dodging around three changelings and a poorly placed crystal candelabra, my hooves hit the floor with a bang, and I broke into a wild gallop.

The corridors of Twilight’s Castle echoed with the dull roar of changling wings, but for the moment the way was clear. I charged through the wide halls, counting doors.

“Guest room, guest room, library, broom closet, LAB!”

I dove through the half-open doors, almost wiped out a very expensive and volatile chemistry set, and did a two-hoofed dance as I fought for traction. I had zero idea what the shield spell looked like, but Twilight tended to store all the really big stuff in the same place. The plan was just to shut down everything shiny, bar the barrier between Equestria and Earth, and call it a day.

In fact, finding the shield was easy. Tucked into the corner, hooked up to a half dozen huge arcana crystals, stood a huge swirling mass of copper and iron rings. A dozen ponies across, it bled thick ribbons of arcana into the room as it fizzed and sparked. My goal almost in sight I put on a burst of acceleration and--


It’s surprisingly difficult to go from a gallop to dead stop. I didn’t even bother, instead I went limp and hit the ground hard, sliding along on my belly until I came to a rest a mere two yards from the control panel.

“Well, well, well,” Chrysalis began, stepping out of the shadows. “If it isn’t Alexis. Not who I expected, but I can’t say I’m sorry to see you.”

Her magic wrapped around me and I was spun to face the queen. She stepped forwards, a smirk on her delicate muzzle.

“It is most irritating that my little trap didn’t catch anything more juicy,” she continued, drawing me up into the air so I she could look me in the eye. “But I dislike loose ends; in--”

I punched her in the horn. The look on her face when she realised I’d just been faking paralysis would keep me warm till the end of my days. Or, to be more precise, the seven seconds it would take for her to recover and then brutally murder me.

With an unearthly shriek Chrysalis reeled back, her magic flickering out, and I was dropped to the ground. The control panel was mere feet away and I hurled myself towards the largest, reddest, most Pinkie Pie attracting, button.

My hoof stopped a half inch away, frozen in a green aura. I strained against the magic, but it was like trying to push through a wall.

“So, the freak has taught you a new trick,” Chrysalis spat.

A flare of magic wrenched me into the air and I was hurled at the spinning rings of the shield generator. I don’t know how fast they were going, but it felt like getting hit by a car and I went tumbling across the lab, the world a blur of crystal walls, expensive machinery and pain. It felt like someone had driven a red hot dagger into my wing, and the rest of my body felt little better. I bounced off a wall and collapsed to the floor a boneless heap.

“Look at me,” Chrysalis snarled, her hoofsteps echoing as she approached. I couldn’t even figure out which way was up. “Look at me, worm!”

Her magic wrenched my head and I gasped in pain as my vision swam. I would have been screaming, but even that didn’t seem to be working.

“I was going to just leave you here,” she continued in a growl, the black blur reforming into a furious queen before me. “But you have earned my--” she picked me up again and slammed me against the wall. “--attention!”

An agonised wail filled the air. Turned out I could still scream after all; good to know.

“Still, I hear there is much to be gained from mercy,” she continued, in a far more controlled tone. The pressure holding me against the crystal began to increase, eliciting a fresh scream of pain as my ribs started to bend. “And it was your memory that made this all possible, so you get to live... for now.”

She picked her way through the debris of the lab, leaving me pinned to the wall, before halting before the barrier spell. The roiling mass of spellwork shuddered as her attention focused on it.

“It’s funny,” Chrysalis said, staring into the heart of the barrier. “The ponies put so much effort into saving a world they’ve never even seen. There is enough power here to conquer half of Equus, yet they fritter it away.” She shook her head. “It’s pitiful. My mother always said not to worry overmuch about the ponies; they are only too eager to plant the seeds of their own undoing. I never realised just how wise she really was.”

Lowering her head she lunged forwards, driving her twisted horn into the spell. The entire world seemed to lurch around the vortex, the room twisting and groaning as the spell went wild, lightning-bright arcs of energy streaming from the wound and scorching deep lines into the walls. Every instinct was screaming at me to run, to fly, to get the hell away before whatever magic she was working blew up and killed everyone in the building, but I couldn’t raise a hoof against Crysalis’ power.

There was an explosion of light and sound as a hole opened in the air where the barrier spell used to be. Changelings began to arrive, hurrying past their queen and hurling themselves through the portal, which sparked and crackled with every passage. I wondered if each of the hundred drones meant another human would be dragged through into this nightmare.

“Stop,” I gasped, fighting for breath. “Please... Earth...”

Chrysalis glared at me, as the last of the drones rushed past her. “Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of it,” she said with a vicious grin. She took a half step forwards towards the portal. “Oh, and Alex. Touch me again, and I will kill you.”

She stepped through.

In an instant, all of Crysalis’ magic vanished and I crumpled to the floor, another blinding wave of pain overwhelming me. I think my wing was broken, and maybe a forehoof, also the way the room danced before my eyes was not a great sign.

Groaning, I forced myself up. One hoof dragging, I hobbled my way past the failed barrier spell and over to the shield. Something red kept misting my vision, but I couldn’t seem to focus on what it was, though I had to keep pausing to wipe the substance out of my eyes with a fetlock. After an eternity I reached the controls and hit the shutdown button; watching with disinterest as the spinning rings slowed, the pounding throb of Arcana replaced with my heartbeat ringing in my ears.

I couldn’t remember if there was anything else I was supposed to do. Trembling, I lowered myself to the floor and went to sleep.

Chapter 9: Would You Kindly

View Online

“...while the distribution of transition events is not exactly Gaussian, we see a large propensity for crossings in and around the Ponyville area. Specifically, the Everfree is the centre. This is by no means the only area which crossings can take place, however..."

I let Twilight’s magibabble wash over me. I paid far more heed to the steady clatter of the wheels on the track and the swaying motion of the carriage than the explanation of scientific nothings.

I felt... numb. There was no better word for it. The last traces of anaesthesia spells were not helping. In the end, Chrysalis had broken my wing in three places, broken my foreleg, cracked my hoof, snapped a rib, bruised six others, and given me a hairline skull fracture. On Earth, if I were human, the list of injuries would have kept me in the hospital for weeks. I was a pegasus, though, and the finest trauma surgeon in the country had been flown to Ponyville by express order of Princess Twilight. Three days later I was sore but otherwise as healthy as ever.

In body, at least.

“...the human portal device is significantly less accurate than natural crossings, though accurate is probably the wrong word as they aren’t aiming, per se. By overcoming the barrier with..."

Forty-four humans had found themselves in Equestria in the two minutes it had taken me to shut down the castle shield and for Twilight to bring the Earth/Equestria barrier back up. I wanted to bring myself to care about them, but it hadn’t sunk in yet.

Chrysalis almost killed me. She’d tossed me like a rag-doll and held my life in her hooves for a moment. She only let me live because, in her own twisted way, it amused her to see me suffer.

“...I’ve actually been trying to map the various crossing spots. A number only appear during these high energy events and can spread as far as the Crystal Empire. Anyway, Chrysalis’ effect on the barrier is..."

The time I’d ended up back on Earth had been more deadly, in absolute terms, but that had been -- I don’t know -- easier to deal with. It had been an accident, and I’d had someone to be angry with. For all the danger, I’d been up and punching faces within half an hour.

I couldn’t do the same with Chrysalis. I hated her. I wanted to take Wackus Bonkus and smash her smug face in but, well, she terrified me. With her it wasn’t just some petty disagreement, or even a screaming argument. She’d promised to kill me next time we met. Not threatened, not boasted, not even implied. Just said it with all the confidence in the world that she could end my life at any time she felt.

Nothing had ever prepared me for that. How can you just shrug off someone telling you that they will end your life? Around the private carriage the Elements lounged, chatting amongst themselves. Applejack and Rainbow Dash had taken up one of their ongoing petty arguments, and Rarity and Fluttershy watched with some amusement. Pinkie Pie had been distracted by Star Charge, who’d managed to bring up cherrychangas. He seemed to be regretting it.

There was an undercurrent of tension to the group. Pinkie spoke just a touch too loud and fast to be normal, Dash seemed to be even more obstinate than her usual self, Twilight was about ten minutes into a physics lecture and showed no signs of slowing down.

“...Alex, are you listening to me?"

I turned back to Twilight, who was frowning at me. “Not really, no."

The look of consternation on her face was worth the price of admission.

“Twilight,” I began, slowly. “I was out of the hospital for seven minutes before Rainbow Dash found me and dragged me here. Give me a break, and give me the pegasus in a hurry version."

Twilight grumbled to herself, rubbing her forehead with a hoof. “Okay, fine. I guess I got off topic. In short, two days ago we got a message from Earth. They confirmed that Chrysalis and her drones had been sighted in the East of England."

“As desiccated corpses, I hope,” I grumbled, shuffling my hooves.

With a sigh, Twilight pulled a note card out of her saddlebags. “No. Very much alive and very hostile. There was silence for a while, but three hours ago we got a call for help. Chrysalis, with an army of tens of thousands of changelings, is on the march."

I blinked. “Sorry,” I began, flicking my ears as I strained to hear her, “did you say, ‘tens of thousands’?"

She nodded. “They have taken two major cities already, Cardiff and Bristol, and a ‘nuclear power station’, called Hinkley Point, as the site of her new hive."

It felt like someone had dropped a lead weight into my stomach. “Nuclear power station?” I croaked.

“Yes, I understand that humans use them to--”

“I know what a nuclear power station is, Twilight!” I roared. I was on my hooves, my wings fanned out, though I had no clear idea when I’d moved. “What the hell is she doing there?” I demanded.

“Hey Alex,” Rainbow Dash interjected, pressing my wings back down. “Chill out. We got this."

I scowled at her. “Bristol is one county away from my home town,” I snapped. A home-town that was now downwind of a fucking nuclear bomb! "Excuse me for panicking!"

“Alex!” Twilight said sharply. “I understand this is stressful but--”

“You’re damn right it’s...” Everyone in the carriage was staring at me. Swallowing my anger I forced myself to sit back down. “Okay... okay." I took a deep breath. "What’s the plan then? You have to have a plan for all this."

“Right.” Twilight smiled. “We’re going to help. The High Energy Magical Department has been working on a controlled portal to bridge the barrier. With the portal on the Earth side we should be able to create a point to point connection which--”

“We’re going to Earth!” Rainbow Dash declared, punching the air. “And it's going to be awesome!"

“Earth,” I echoed, unable to keep the disbelief from my voice. “You six are going to Earth?"

“Correction,” Twilight began. “We seven are going to Earth. As the Viceroy of Human Affairs you will be invaluable in helping us liaise with the local officials."

I stared in disbelief. “Twilight,” I began. “I almost died."

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Twilight continued, her smile suddenly waxen. “The Earth portal is a hundred miles away from any changelings. We just need somepony who knows the locals to help."

Shaking my head, I repeated myself. “Twilight. The last time you asked me to help, it almost killed me. Are you sure you need me for this?"

She glanced over at Pinkie, who gave a sombre nod. “Yes, yes we do."

I sighed, my wings drooping. “Okay then.” I pulled my small saddlebag back on. “I need a minute."

I dropped off the bench and tried to slink away. All of a sudden, Pinkie Pie was in front of me.

“Come on, Alex,” she chirped, sweeping me up into a one legged hug and pointing off towards the horizon with her free hoof. “It’ll be an adventure!"

I pushed her away, falling back onto my hooves. “I know,” I murmured.

Picking my way through the empty carriage I reached the rear door and stepped out onto the little balcony. The wind was fierce, but, you know, I’m a pegasus now. It just took a moment to force a little area of calm into the slipstream and shelter myself.

I stood there, leaning over the railing, watching the track race beneath me. We were travelling at a breakneck speed, and Ponyville was already just a blur in the distance. That’s what you get when you requisition the Manehatten Express and ditch all but one of the cars.

The door opened a moment. I didn’t look around until Star Charge took up position next to me.

“So...” he began, as the silence stretched between us. “I was wondering if you’d jumped."

I shot him a flat look.

“No offence,” he added hastily. “But you’ve got wings. You could be home by lunch, if you wanted to be."

I grunted. “Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you, Star Charge?"

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Alex, we’re over this. You trust me now, remember?"

“Right,” I huffed. “Best friends forever. That, or frenemies, or whatever cutesy phrase you want to use.” I shook my head. “Bloody Equestria. I could use the excuse to punch someone."

“Okay, seriously,” he said, shooing me an odd look. “What’s up with you?"

I shrugged. “I’m tired."

“You just blanked Pinkie Pie,” he shot back. “That’s not even supposed to be possible. How can ‘I’m tired’ explain that?"

The train slowed as we reached the Canterhorn foothills, and I managed to tear my eyes away from the track long enough to look at Star Charge. He seemed worried, actually worried, not faking sympathy or trying to find an angle. With a deep sigh, I reached into my saddlebag and extracted a slim envelope with my fetlock. It was unaddressed.

“This is my resignation."

Star Charge swivelled a hoof in his ear and leaned in closer. “Sorry, I thought you said--”

“Resignation, yes,” I repeated, louder. “I’m quitting, Star. I’m done."

Star Charge did his best impression of a fish. “But... you can’t quit."

I just shrugged. “Sure I can. It’s right there in the job description for Viceroy. I have a deputy to cover the role while Celestia appoints a replacement, and she has no legal right to hold me in my post. I can walk away whenever I want."

“But why?” he demanded. “Why now?"

“I... I almost died,” I said, so softly my voice was almost lost to the thunder of the train. “Chrysalis could have killed me, and... and I shouldn’t have even been in that tower.” Star Charge went to interrupt and I held up a hoof to stop him. “Pinkie asked me to help, and because of that, I almost had my skull caved in... I can’t do that again."

Star Charge didn’t say anything for a long while.

“Alex, I hate to say it, but to hear Pinkie tell the story, you saved the day."

I sighed. “What the hell did I do to save the day, Star? You could have cast anyone with wings in exactly the same role and everything would have worked out the same. The shield would have broken. They would have gotten to the lab. Chrysalis would have beaten them half to death.” I slammed a hoof on the rail. “Hell! I bet anyone else would have been smart enough not to pick a fight with the demigod that once sucker punched Celestia."

Star Charge opened his mouth to say something, paused, thought better of it and tried again. “I don’t think many would have gone in there at all."

“No,” I agreed, hanging my head. “And I shouldn’t have gone in there. I’ve just been -- I don’t know -- following people ever since I got to Equestria. Everything I’ve done has been because someone told me to do it. The Club, flying, becoming a Viceroy... Hell, even trying to stop the jet was Twilight’s idea. It’s no wonder Chrysalis had such an easy time mind controlling me; she just had to ask politely and I’d have leapt to do her bidding."

My voice cracked on the last few words and I paused to swallow the lump in my throat. “I have tried again and again to make people happy, and I have failed every time. And I... And I... I can’t do that anymore. So I’m giving up."

Beside me, Star Charge couldn’t seem to decide on horror or glee as an emotion.

“Alex." he said, faltering. “In the few months I’ve known you, I’ve considered you: stubborn, closed minded, rude, aggravating, and a great many other things that I shouldn’t repeat. You’ve never been weak, though, nor a failure. No matter what our philosophical differences, you’ve always stood up for those under your care."

“And why?” I demanded, rounding on him. “Why did I stand up for them? What gave me the right? I’m not leading them anywhere, Star! All the Club has ever done is tread water, if you were in charge at least we’d have a direction."

The silence stretched again. "What am I doing here, Star Charge?"

“...I don’t know,” Star admitted at last, looking away.

“Me neither.” I tapped the envelope against the railing. “So I’m going to quit."

A long whistle rang out from the train as we raced past a formation of ponies marching in step up the mountain.

“We’re past Rubycorn, right?” Star Charge asked, frowning at the soldiers.

I glanced up. The ancient fortress of Rubycorn stood at the base of the mountain and was, traditionally, the closest to Canterlot the army could march unless the country was at war. It was at least ten miles behind the soldiers.

“I think so."

“Well, that means the Princesses are taking this seriously at least,” he continued. “When are you going to give Twilight that letter?"

I shrugged. “Supposedly, twenty minutes ago. Why?"

“I think you should wait till after you come back from Earth,” Star Charge said, with a pointed look at the soldiers marching to war. “I have a horrible feeling that there might not be an Earth next week."

Closing my eyes I fought down the urge to snap at him again.

“Fine,” I sighed, and passed the envelope over to him. “But give this to Twilight when we’re all back. I don’t trust myself not to put it off again."

Star Charge picked up the envelope in his magic. “Heh, you’re trusting me with your career? It really must be the end of the world."

The Royal Castle backed on to the Royal University. In fact, the two buildings were somewhat difficult to tell apart in the older sections. With the practised ease of a mare who’d spent half her life in the building, Twilight lead us down the narrow hallways to the High Energy Magic Department.

Equestria may not have had the resources of a fully industrial nation, but they could get damn close sometimes. A titanic room in the basement of the university was filled with arcane machinery. Giant copper power-sinks, thick crystalline wires and complex-looking brass devices twisted into physics-defying forms, snaked their way around a vast silver ring. The ring itself was six ponies across and humming with enough power to make my fur stand on end. Hundreds of ponies, mostly unicorns and earth ponies, swarmed around the ring, tweaking, checking and, in a few cases, charging, the massive spell.

It took me a good long while to wrap my head around the sheer scope of the project. It may not have been a space program, but I sensed that was more because they’d only had a few months to prepare. Equestria never did things by half measures, not when there was a world to save.

“...we have thirty of the most skilled unicorns in Canterlot already powering the spell circle,” Twilight explained. I’m going to be honest, the nervous explanation shtick begins to wear thin after about half an hour of her narrating everything. “The humans are opening their gateway every hour, so in fifteen minutes or so we should be able to lock in and form a stable connection."

“Girls, a little help?"

We all turned to see that Dash had somehow managed to get tangled up in her aether rig. How, I have no idea, but Rarity untangled her with practised ease. The rigs themselves were simple things. Built to Crystal Cog’s specification, they were reminiscent of scuba suits. A large cage of thunder stones had been strapped to my back, and two crystalline hoses snaked past my head to a rebreather. Best estimate said we had six hours of aether if we were careful; it could be as low as ten minutes if we got into a fight. Rainbow Dashed looked very put out after learning she wasn't allowed to fly.

“Oh, a question,” Star Charge interjected from over the screen. He and Spike had been banished from the small changing area by Rarity for no clear reason beyond ‘propriety’. “How exactly are you going to avoid being burned by all the oxygen?"

“Actually that’s not too much of a problem,” Twilight explained, still in lecture mode. “Crystal Cog used a perversion of the spell ‘Resist Elements’ charm, which has so far seemed to suffice.” I winced, I think the spell ‘Resist Elements: Oxygen’ would be power gaming in any setting you care to name. “We’re going to be using a more comprehensive spell, one that locks down our materia signatures. That should prevent all chemical reactions while we’re there."

“It terrifies me sometimes that you can talk about turning off chemistry,” I sighed, flexing my wings as I tried to find a position where the rig didn’t chafe.

“Well, that kind of materia magic is not trivial, but--” she flexed her own wings. “--I have a few advantages these days.” She frowned and closed her eyes as her horn kindled. The wash of power felt strange, almost slippery; it lacked the usual warmth of arcana and sent my stomach into backflips. Fortunately for my breakfast, it didn’t last.

“There, if you feel any unexplained tingling, shortness of breath or loss of senses please tell me immediately.” She smiled. It wasn't comforting. “Now, if you’d all like to go stand in the safety area, we’ll get ready to go. Alex, can I have a word first?"

“Ooo, how about ‘hootananny’?” Pinkie interjected. “That’s a great word if you want it."

Twilight and I shared a mutual look of bewilderment. Then I grinned. “Hootenanny."

Twilight glared at me. “Alright, but I’d like some other words too.” Pinkie Pie leaned in closer, and was pushed away by a wave of pink magic. “In private."

I cocked an eyebrow at her as she brought up a weak shield between us and the rest of the Elements. “Right then.” She took a deep breath. “Alex, I’m afraid I have to talk to you in an official role for a moment."

I slumped. That wasn’t a good first sign. I found myself wishing I hadn’t given Star my resignation for safe keeping.

“As you’re aware, this situation with Earth could have potentially disastrous implications.” Twilight began to pace. “Too much magic in your universe will destroy the barrier and that may well cause the destruction of all life on Earth."

“And this isn’t going to make things worse?” I pointed out.

“Yes... but, as long as we're careful, we can stop Chrysalis before it gets to that point. Using magic on Earth is always the last resort, but doing something is more important than any--” she stopped, and swallowed. “Anyone who gets caught in the crossfire." Twilight stared off into the distance, then closed her eyes. "Shit," she swore, stamping a foot.

I blinked. Now there was a turn up for the books.

“Alex, there’s no simple way to say this,” she continued, rounding on me. “People are going to end up in Equestria because of this. A lot of people. And there’s nothing I can do to stop that because inaction is going to cause far more harm than good. We have to stop Chrysalis, but this isn’t going to be clean and, if it all goes horribly wrong, we could lose everything."

“I know, Twilight,” I replied, shaking my head. “I know the stakes.” As much as I didn’t want to.

“Which brings me to my key point. Case Five. The Princesses and I have discussed at length how to deal with a catastrophic merger of our universes. While numerous plausible scenarios do not leave us with options we could prepare for, we can, and indeed have, implemented solutions for Case Five."

I pressed a hoof against my forehead. “Okay, I’m starting to get worried now, what is Case Five?"

Twilight flinched. “Case Five: Earth and Equus’ universes begin merging uncontrollably, with Equestria dominating. Humanity has between twenty seconds and twenty-four hours before changes to reality destroys it. In that case, we abandon all attempts to stabilize the situation and draw up to twenty million through Discord’s adaptation spell and place them in Equestria."

Absolute silence stretched between us. I think my jaw had dropped, but, given my brain also seemed to have stopped working, that was the least of my worries.

“Twenty million,” I echoed.

“I know it’s nowhere near enough, but Equestria can’t feed a larger influx of--”

“Twilight,” I snapped, trembling. “When I told you about The Conversion Bureau, it was not supposed to be inspiration!"

Twilight folded her ears flat. “I know. I know. But it’s that or just... nothing. We can’t just let all those people die, not when they have even half a chance of a happy life. If ponies are the only option, then that is what we’ll go for.” She sighed. “And I would like your permission, as Viceroy, to use this plan."

I stared at her. She was really asking me for permission to tear twenty million humans away from their homes, their lives and their very forms. To save their lives, of course, but the cost for each of them would be so high.

“Twilight...” I began, softly. I resign.

The words got caught in my throat. She looked at me with an earnest expression, chewing her lip.

“Twilight,” I tried again. I. Resign.

I couldn’t make this decision. Twenty million consigned to death or a fate very much like it.

“Twilight, please,” I croaked. I RESIGN.

She shot me an understanding smile. “It’s the best option for everyone."

I closed my eyes. “Okay.”

It was okay. Soon I’d be back from this jaunt. Star Charge would give her my letter. Then I could head for the Pegasi Isles and never look back.

“Twilight, I can’t keep doing this,” I told her, hanging my head.

She smiled and put a hoof on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I feel that way sometimes too. You just have to 'stop, breathe, and save the world', as Pinkie puts it."

I really wished I knew how to tell her that I had no idea how to save the world. It’s so much easier to throw yourself into danger when you know you have destiny on your side, and skill, and boatloads of magic. Twilight... Twilight could just stop whatever she was doing and save the day. I couldn’t. And I couldn't just consign millions to a fate not of their choosing with the cool assurance that it was the best option.

“Come on,” Twilight said, snapping me out of my reprieve. “We’ve got five minutes till we can open the gateway.

A siren wailed as ponies hurried out of the room. I ached to join them, but instead the Element bearers and I, sans Twilight, stood in a silver cage off to one side of the room.

“All systems charged, Princess Sparkle,” a voice called out via a speaking spell. “Gate opening in thirty seconds."

Twilight grunted an acknowledgement. She stood alone before the gigantic band of silver, at the centre of her own cluster of arcane-tech. Her horn began to glow, and the background buzz of the room grew and grew until it was a deafening roar.

“Excited?” Pinkie yelled, right in my ear. She was bouncing, as usual.

“Something like that,” I grumbled.

“Oh come on! We get to be dimensional travellers!"

I shot her a look. “I’m already a dimensional traveller."

“Ten seconds!"

Pinkie pouted a moment, before continuing in a sing song tone. “It’ll be an adventure."

“Seven... six..."

“Pinkie, I don’t like adventures,” I snapped.

“Four... three..."

She gasped. “How can--”

Whatever Pinkie was going to say was lost as Twilight began her spell. The power of a thousand unicorns poured into the alicorn, the arcane machinery shining brighter than the sun, as the room trembled with barely constrained power. Twilight lifted into the air, as if pulled up by her horn, and spread her forehooves wide. Before her the silver ring began to tremble, quickening, and, on some unseen signal, power began to arc between the alicorn and the circle.

I was very glad to be in an arcane-proof cage. A circle of pink fire consumed the ring, and the blistering heat reached clear across the room. Bolts of lightning flashed in the storm of magic, and it began to spin, the ring expanding into a doughnut-shaped band of pure energy.

“Close your eyes, girls!” Twilight bellowed. “There’s going to be some feedback."

Taking a cue from Fluttershy, I dropped to the ground and hid behind my wings, but in the end the explosion was all flash and no bang. There was a second where the entire world went white, even with my eyes closed. The disconcerting sensation of being picked up and dropped off a cliff washed over me, even though my hooves never left the ground, and then there was silence.

“So... awesome...” Rainbow Dash whispered.

I looked up. The silver ring had been replaced by a crackling hole in space. A curved metal wall could be seen beyond, giving the odd impression of looking out at the inside of a tire.

“Dashie, did you close your eyes?” Pinkie enquired, waving her hoof in front of the transfixed mare’s face. Dash didn’t bat an eyelash.

“Eh, worth it."

“Well, I think that all went rather well,” Twilight said, trotting over with a smug grin on her face. “Now, I-- Rainbow Dash! Did you watch the spell?” She yelled that last part.

Dash shrugged. “I think I saw infinity."

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Leaving aside the impossibility of seeing an abstract mathematical concept, please tell me you haven’t gone blind."

Rainbow Dash blinked a few times and shook herself. “Nah, I’m fine."

With a sceptical glance, Twilight opened the cage with her teeth. Rainbow Dash didn’t walk into the door on her way out, but only thanks to a few gentle nudges from Pinkie.

We trotted over to the portal. “So... now what?” Applejack broached, as we looked up at the solid looking walls.

“Duh, you’ve got to knock,” Pinkie shot back. Before anyone could stop her, she shot forwards, reached through the hole in space, and rapped her hoof on the walls.

Twilight facehooved. “Pinkie that’s--”

Part of the wall swung upwards and a sky blue pegasus, the long lost Tony Acey, stuck his head through.

“Finally!” he exclaimed, looking us over. “I thought you guys were supposed to be fast. Come on. There’s a war on."

He disappeared back through the hole. The Elements and I shared a confused look, during which Pinkie took the opportunity to sneak through after him.

Twilight let of a squeak of alarm, and hurled herself after Pinkie, yelling something about safety precautions. Applejack and Rainbow Dash followed along for the ride.

“This happens a lot, doesn’t it?” I asked Rarity.

She sighed. “I’ll admit they can be a little enthusiastic sometimes. Still, shall we?"

My hoof beating a nervous rattle on the floor, I slipped the aether regulator into my mouth. This was it. Earth. My last trip had been brief and less than pleasant. To be honest this one wasn’t looking that promising either. Still, I put one hoof in front of the other and stepped up to the portal. With one last steadying breath I slipped through.

The portal on the Earth side was actually quite similar to the Equestrian one. We were in a vast cube of concrete which had, at it’s centre, a house-sized torus of magnets confining the portal. A vast array of cables, pipes and magnets surrounded the ring, not unlike the Equestrian side of things, but there was a comforting feel to it all. The colours were right. Big red safety bars separated us from the machinery, yellow lines outlined dangers, and blue and white signs were everywhere. It’s strange to think of all the annoying health and safety precautions being a comfort but, after months of Equestria’s pastel palette, they were a welcome breath of familiarity.

I fluttered down the stairs and landed next to Twilight and the girls, who’d already got into a heated discussion with Tony and Louis. Our errant pair of ponies looked like hell, to be frank. Tony seemed not to have preened his wings in a month and Louis had deep bags etched under his eyes. Their aether rigs were worn, patched with duct tape in places, and had rubbed the fur beneath the straps bare.

“Alex!” Tony exclaimed, cutting Twilight off in mid sentence. “Good to see you again. I hope your trip was more pleasant this time?"

I shot him a flat look and popped the breather out of my mouth. “More fun than being dragged through the air by a supersonic jet,” I grumbled.

Tony at least looked sheepish. “To be fair, we really didn’t expect you to keep up."

“I’m more angry that you thought it was a good idea at all,” I began to say. I ran out of breath halfway through, and had to take a sudden drag on my aether.

Hurried footsteps rang out from the exterior door, a thick metal airlock held open with a bit of wood. A moment later, and at a far more reasonable pace, a woman strode out. She was... completely normal. Average height, solidly built, dressed in pressed army fatigues and with her close cropped hair bound into a tight bun. After months on Pony Planet I’d almost forgotten what a human looked like, but it all came rushing back.

For that one perfect moment, I could imagine that I didn't have wings. That there was no world devouring monster two counties away. That all I had to worry about was the gap between my paycheck and my rent.

For a moment, I was home.

Then I had to take a breath through the regulator, and I remembered just how much distance still stood between me and a happy ending.

The woman stopped smartly before Twilight and saluted. “Lieutenant Maynard,” she clipped. “Welcome to Earth, your Royal Majesty."

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Just Twilight, please,” she said, looking up. It turned out that ponies weren’t so little after all, the Princess came up to Maynard’s belly. If she’d reared up she would have been at the Lieutenant's eye level.

“They said you’d say that,” Maynard continued, with a slight grin. She gestured at the door. “Now, we’ve got a lot to cover and, as we don’t know how radiation resistant ponies are, it’ll be best to step away from the fusion reactor."

My wings flew out. “Fusion!” I demanded.

“Yep.” Tony looked far too happy to be explaining. “Welcome to the Joint European Torus. Experimental fusion reactor--” He pointed a wing at the portal. “--now masquerading as a Star-Gate. Please try not to breathe too deeply. There’s no radiation when it’s doing this, but this place was a bastard to decontaminate, I hear."

“Umm...” Rainbow Dash interjected, holding up a hoof. “Fusion?"

Tony grinned. “It’s an artificial sun.”

“Whoa, awesome,” Dash exclaimed. “Now I can see why Chrysalis wanted to invade this dump."

On that faux pas, we retreated to a small conference room. After a bit of fumbling with chairs, and some minor transmutation, we all found ourselves around a cheap plywood table. I managed to secure the seat nearest the window. The world outside was dull and grey. Patchy clouds drifted lazily across the sky without a hint of direction, and the only colour was the occasional car that crawled along a distant road. It was wonderful.

“So, everyone ready?” Maynard began, dropping a large stack of papers on the table. “There’s a hundred and one generals, admirals and heads of state on their way, but I figured you’d all want to know just what’s been going on before they tear into you."

Fluttershy winced.

Maynard smiled in sympathy and continued. “Seventy-four hours ago we first received your message about a potential hostile crossing onto Earth. Despite some heated arguments that go way over my pay grade, everyone from the Prime Minister to the police were notified. Seventy hours ago, we got a call from a Welsh man who’d claimed to have seen a swarm of giant bugs."

“Chrysalis,” Twilight sighed.

“Got it in one.” Maynard shook her head. “The Marines got called in and we traced a trail of sightings across the country before finally pinning the changelings down near York." She paused for effect. "They found a single drone. It was using some kind of magic to make it seem like there were hundreds of them. We found no trace of the queen."

“Forty-four hours ago we lost all contact with a nuclear power plant called Hinkley Point.” She held up an aerial shot of a boxy factory set on the coast. “It’s about two hundred miles east of here, and we only found out anything was wrong when the wife of one of the workers called us because her husband hadn’t come home. The police responded, and before we knew it, several thousand alien bugs were swarming over the countryside."

“So far we’ve been throwing ourselves at the changelings piecemeal, and we’ve lost a lot of ground and a few cities.” Maynard glared at her paperwork a moment. “But, it seems that Chrysalis doesn’t particularly care about civilians. They're content to just leave people in their homes if they don’t cause any trouble."

“What?” Twilight cut in. “That makes no sense. Chrysalis has always been about controlling ponies... I mean people."

“She skipped the prisoners stage on Nightmare Night, too,” I pointed out.

"That was a rapid attack, under more normal circumstances her first priority should be a stable food--"

Tony rapped a hoof on the table. “Girls. There’s no emotion magic on Earth," he explained. "People are useless to Chrysalis."

“So, what’s she after then?” Dash demanded.

“Power,” Maynard said, scowling. “Specifically electrical power. Every major attack so far has been on an industrial hub or a power plant of some sort."

Twilight frowned. “That makes no sense. Electricity doesn’t even exist in Equestria, what could Chrysalis want with it?"

“Oh, that’s simple, you know how friendship is magic?” Tony began, spreading his wings. There were general nods, though Maynard groaned. “Well, turns out so’s electricity."

A bolt of lightning flashed between his wingtips, with an ear-splitting boom. I felt the blast in my wings, a roar of aether magic like somepony had just bucked a storm cloud in my face.

I pulled myself together first. “How long have you been planning that line?” I snapped, glaring at Tony.

He smirked. “Oh, about a month now. Actually it’s thanks to you Alex that we know about the aether/lighting connection. You blowing all the bulbs out of those streetlights when you landed clued us in, just in time to recharge our thunderstones."

I froze. “Bucking hell!” I slammed my head down on the table. “She showed me that. She bucking showed me!"

With nothing but looks of confusion greeting me, I continued. “When Chrysalis was rifling through my mind she picked out a couple of memories. One of them was the god damned moment where I came back to Earth. She knew I’d been able to-- what? Use magic on the streetlights?"

“There’s a similarity between aether magic and electromagnetism,” Louis chimed in, shrugging. “As a pegasus, you can tap into electric fields."

“Which is why the portal is the biggest damn magnet in the world,” Tony added, grinning.

“Argh, that makes even less sense.” Twilight massaged her head with her hooves. “Even if there is an aether analogue, changelings are prime feeders. They eat emotions, not lightning."

“Well whatever they aren’t supposed to be doing, they are good at it,” Maynard snipped. “We’ve seen everything from energy beams, to flight, to vast illusions. About the only thing that hasn’t happened is any mind control.” A dark shadow passed across her face. “As far as we know, at least."

Twilight shook herself, making her aether rig rattle. “Changeling magic defies explanation. If the world worked sensibly they should be low powered scavengers. Instead, they just seem to be able to do anything that takes their fancy."

“In a sensible world I would not be talking to a pony princess about an alien invasion,” Maynard said, in a deadpan. “Just give us the cliffsnotes. What can changelings do?"

“Well,” she took a deep breath, “anything, really. Changelings don’t appear to have a limit to their magic. Not only do they have access to the same magic as ponies, the sheer power Chrysalis used to defeat Celestia was astounding. Every other species uses their own innate reserves, but changelings are parasites; they use the power of others to fuel their abilities. Theoretically, they could raise the sun if they had enough energy backing them up."

Maynard blinked. “Princess, they have annexed a nuclear power plant. That thing produces enough energy to blow up a town every hour. Are you seriously telling me that the changelings could do anything they like with that power?"

“It would depend on how efficiently she can use the energy, and what exactly she intends to do with all that magic," Twilight admitted. Hedging her bets as usual.

I rolled my eyes. “Knowing her, she wants to steal the sun again,” I grumbled. My head was spinning from all the information and a blinding throb was building behind my eyes. Everyone looked at me. “What? That’s what she kept going on about while I was in that damned cocoon. I bet she was planning this while I... was... oh... Well, shit."

Realisation struck. Chrysalis had been playing a very, very long game throughout all of this. What made us think that we’d stolen a march on her?

“Umm... Twilight,” I began, hesitantly. “How would we know if there were changelings nearby? Say, within a hundred meters or so."

“There aren’t,” Maynard cut in. “They haven’t been able to slip a force closer than a hundred miles. The changelings stick out like sore thumbs to pretty much any sensor you care to name. Plus, they don’t seem to realise we can track them from the air."

That didn’t reassure me. “It’s just that, well, if I were a megalomaniac bug set on stealing the sun, and I’d already been beaten by Equestria before... It’s isn’t that hard to imagine Celestia might send you six on ahead, as usual. And, we are talking about someone who once snuck an army into a capital city... a third of whose residents can fly."

Twilight’s mouth formed an ‘o’. “Ah... Don’t worry, Alex. I--”

Magenta light exploded from her horn, flooding the room with magic. From the window there was a sudden, scratchy buzz of alarm as the mist of invisibility was ripped from the changeling drone. For a moment, there was stunned silence in the room.

“RUN!” Twilight yelled. She hurled a chair through the window, hitting the drone in the face as we bolted for the exit.

It turns out nine ponies and a human can get through a small door very quickly if one decides to just run through the wall first. Applejack shook the plaster dust off as we accelerated down the corridor. Already the familiar rumble of changeling wings was building, punctuated by bursts of gunfire, and I slammed the valve on my aether rig wide open.

The corridor was narrow, a long string of offices and rooms on the one side, and windows overlooking a dreary courtyard on the other. An explosion shook the building, threatening to toss us from our hooves. Shattered glass filled the air as flares of green magic screamed over our heads.

“Get to the portal!” Twilight screamed. Pink magic screens replaced the windows as the glass crunched beneath our hooves. A pair of drones managed to sneak through at the end of corridor and found themselves facing down Rainbow Dash and Applejack moving at a full gallop. The poor bugs lasted three seconds, tops.

“Please tell me there’s a battalion guarding this place!” I yelled, as more bolts of magic tore into the building. Twilight's shield started to buckle under the weight of fire.

“Are you kidding?” Maynard shot back. She was running in a stoop to avoid the blasts. Chalk one up for being quadrupedal. “I’m a lieutenant; there’re forty-eight soldiers here!"

We reached a staircase. Another human invention that wasn’t designed for speedy use by ponies. Us four pegasi abused a little aether magic to vault the rail and just drop the whole flight in one go. Twilight outpaced us all with a teleport, running straight into an ambush.

A drone bore the pony princess to the floor. Dash hurled herself at it, sending the poor creature flying. The second wave of changelings was met by a wave of magic that picked them up and tossed them like rag dolls across the cafeteria.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Twilight insisted. She held her head as Rainbow Dash dragged her to her hooves. “Just keep moving."

There was an almighty boom that shook the whole building. The lights flickered once and died.

“Ah shit,” Tony swore. “They’re going after the power."

“Acey, Hubble,” Maynard snapped, pointing at the pair, “follow me. We’ll secure the control room. Princess, get to the portal. We’ll open it again when we’ve driven the changelings back."

“Right. Let’s go girls!"

We split up. The soldiers going one way, the Elements and I tearing off towards the main building and the reactor. The roar of changeling wings grew louder with every step.

“Why,” I panted, as we thundered down a corridor. “Does. This. Keep. Happening?"

“I’m sorry!” Pinkie wailed, alongside me. “I just wanted to make things up for you."

The drones attacked from the rear that time, exploding from a side corridor, and Rarity met them with her sword. The flashing steel gave them a moment’s pause and Twilight enough time to kindle her horn and drop a light fixture on them.

“Make things up?” I demanded, leaping over an unconscious drone that had got in Applejack’s way.

“For Chrysalis putting you in the hospital,” she babbled.

I did a double take. That was a stretch even for Pinkie. “So, to make up for putting me in danger, you dragged me into a war zone!"

“It was supposed to be a quiet trip!” Even while running for our lives, Pinkie’s lower lip wobbled.

We barged into the reactor room. It was a huge space, a warehouse really, filled with everything from half assembled electromagnets, to a clean room and even a mock tokamak reactor. The changelings had beaten us there and swarmed over the million pound equipment. As a herd we skidded to a stop.

“Well, it was nice knowing you all,” I said, staring. It was too much to hope that Chrysalis would show mercy after our last meeting.

The drones leapt into the air, bolts of magic arcing towards us. With a roar the Element bearers charged, myself following hot on their heels. A pink shield sprung into existence between us and the swarm, but it lasted only a few seconds under the hail of fire and then the drones were in amongst us.

A changeling went straight for me, fangs bared, but Pinkie Pie threw herself between us. The mare stuck to me like glue, as the Elements smashed their way through the mass, straining physics to their breaking point as she drove the drones back with hoof and tooth. Ahead was the reactor, less than thirty meters away, and contained within a solid block of concrete. A hundred drones filled the space between us and freedom.

Fluttershy was the first to go down. One of the changelings got right up in her face and she was double-teamed as she scrambled backwards. Rainbow Dash hurled herself after the mare, screaming in rage, and a bolt of lightning from her wings scattered the drones. The swarm surged around them, cutting them off. We just kept running.

Ten meters from the airlock, the changelings dog-piled Applejack, using numbers to achieve what skill could not. Rarity followed a moment later, her blade was snatched away and she disappeared beneath a tide of mottled chitin. A hoof caught me in the flank, staggering me and I tripped over my own hooves, the ground rushing up to meet me. A pair of pink forearms seized me and, doing our best seven legged pony impression, Pinkie and I staggered into the open airlock, half a step behind Twilight.

“Go!” Twilight bellowed, rounding on the door. A near opaque shield sprung up across the gap, the changelings rebounded off it.

Across the room, the torus of the reactor rattled on its supports, the ring emitting an ear-splitting screech. I had only moment to wonder if we’d just escaped the frying pan to find ourselves in the fire before Pinkie Pie grabbed me by my barrel. Before I could even squeal in protest, she threw me overarm like I was a javelin.

It was lucky that Tony had left the service hatch open. With a flick of my wings I sailed through the open portal and skidded to a stop on the flagstones of the Royal University High Energy Magic Building.

Alarms were jangling all around me. Unicorns swarmed around the portal, their auras forming a discordant rainbow of colours as they fought to keep the connection open for just a few seconds more. Across universes, I saw Pinkie Pie bounding towards the opening, galloping as fast as her hooves could carry her.

All for naught.

An animalistic scream of pain cut across the room as one of the mages staggered backwards, his horn-tip blackened. The sudden loss of a caster blasted through the spell, hurling unicorns across the room, and, like the morning mist, the portal evaporated before my eyes.

Pinkie Pie didn’t make it.

There had only been time for one.

Interlude 2

View Online

Celestia, Princess of the Sun, Ruler of the Tetrarchy and all Equestria was, as usual, too late. A laundry list of problems had kept her away from the portal. Not least of which the worried frowns that always greeted her when she visited the High Energy Magic Department. She’d procrastinated, frittering away time in meetings over mobilisation. There would be plenty of time to react should the worst occur, Celestia was sure. This time at least, she would not be taken by surprise.

“No chance at all?” she pressed.

The stallion shook his head. “I’m sorry, Princess, but we are drained. It will be at least a day before we can open another portal, and that’s assuming the humans are able to get their side back online.”

Seven were in the hospital, burned by the backlash from the failing portal. Despite a Wonderbolt messenger she had been late once again. It always struck Celestia as ironic how, the greater her power grew, the less she seemed to be able to use it. Every villain seemed to write, in big red letters, at the top of their master plan, ‘TAKE OUT CELESTIA FIRST’.

Centuries of practice in self control prevented Celestia from throwing a desk through a wall. “I understand, doctor,” she continued. “We will have to seek an alternative for now. Please continue the repairs, and pass on my thanks to your entire team.”

The doctor nodded and hurried away, leaving the Princess alone.

She shook her head. How had it come to this? Or rather, how had it come to this, again?

Every time she felt that Equestria was finally under control, something came along to shatter the balance and throw Twilight, and her friends, into mortal danger. Celestia sighed; it wasn’t fair. The changelings were supposed to be a non-threat after the wedding but, instead, were more powerful than ever. The humans were supposed to be safe, but now it looked like Discord’s half-baked scheme would destroy an entire world. She was supposed to charge to the rescue, but once again, she found herself with no enemy to smite.

A pity; it had been far too long since she’d last got to ‘take her bridle off’, so to speak. Chrysalis would have made an excellent target if she hadn’t, quite wisely, escaped to a different universe. Instead, Celestia found herself standing, quite useless, amidst the organised chaos of the High Energy Magic Department. Already the technicians were shooting her the odd, dirty look. No doubt she was disrupting things just by her aura.

Picking her way through the crowd, she made her way over to the only pony that looked as lost as her. A grey maned pegasus who was still staring in horror at the broken portal.

“Viceroy Alexis,” Celestia began, “we must talk.”

“Why?” Alexis croaked, not looking up. “Why bother? You know what happened. It was a trap... It’s always a trap.”

“There are more questions to answer, yet,” Celestia said, a little terse for her liking. “Come. We will talk over tea.”

Alexis’ glare hardened. “Yes. Because the world is so much better with tea.”

Celestia arched an eyebrow at the mare. She could count on one hoof how many of her ponies dared to be sarcastic to her. At another time that would have been refreshing, but there was little time for verbal jousting.

“Come,” she repeated, in a tone that allowed no alternative.

Alexis flicked her ears in irritation, but stumbled to her hooves and dropped into step next to the Princess. “Let us get back to the Palace,” Celestia continued, in a far more pleasant voice. “We have a lot to discuss.”

“Right, right,” Alexis muttered, staring at the floor. “Time to save the world, I guess.”

“Nothing quite so dramatic,” Celestia said, smiling softly as she gathered a spell. It was subtle, as all her magic tended to be, speeding their steps as the pair made their way through the university. “Now, can you start from the beginning?”

Alexis shook her head. “What do you think happened? Chrysalis was waiting for us. There was a small army of drones hidden in the facility, and the moment we figured out...” She petered out as she realised they were now standing outside of a small reception room. “Okay. How did we get here?”

“There are ways of travelling beyond teleportation,” Celestia explained, smiling as she ushered the pegasus inside. “Now, do you have a preference of tea?”

Alexis’ glare could have cut steel. “I was wondering where Twilight picked up that habit. No.”

Celestia arched her brow, a move that had once sent an elderly minister running for cover, if anything Alexis’ glower just intensified. Sighing, Celestia gestured for a maid to bring them something strong. “Now, you were saying about Chrysalis,” Celestia said, taking a seat on one of the plush sofas. “Please, continue.”

Alexis perched on the edge of a comfy chair, wings hanging open as if she were about to take flight at any moment. “Right. Chrysalis has... she’s built an army. There’s a nuclear power plant under her control and she’s trying to conquer the rest of Britain as far as I can tell.”

Celestia pursed her lips. “That is an impressive level of escalation, for a changeling,” she said, diplomatically.

“Electricity works as magic, or at least close enough for changelings,” Alexis growled, shrugging. “Because, you know, Earth wasn’t screwed enough before.”

“And she attacked the portal, I presume?”

“Yes.” Alexis spat the word. “She snuck a god damned battalion of drones up and tried to cut the power. We... Pinkie...” She took another deep breath, shuddering as she seemed to fight off the memories. “Pinkie saved me first. I told her I didn’t want to be there, so she got me out... God, what was she thinking?”

Tea arrived, buying Celestia a precious few moments to gather her thoughts. Alexis was distressed and agitated, and under different circumstances Celestia would have given the poor mare a few hours to calm down. Instead, it would be best to show a little vulnerability to pull Alexis out of her shock, and snap her protective drive back in gear. Then, once Alexis was functional again, Celestia could draw from her as much information about the situation as possible.

“She was thinking of her friends first,” Celestia assured her, with a warm smile darkened with a measured amount of worry. “But I must ask, did you see what happened to the rest of the Bearers, to Twilight?”

“What do you think happened?” Alexis demanded, her head snapping up. “The changelings got them. Because, you know, every bloody time we try to do anything, Chrysalis has somehow got a god-damned army up her sleeve!”

Okay, that was anger not protectiveness... it was workable.

“Alexis, we took all reasonable precautions against Chrysalis,” Celestia assured her. “We have never taken her threats lightly. Now--”

“Yes,” Alexis interrupted, fanning her wings. “Which is why your first response was to send seven completely unarmed mares into a war zone.”

Celestia flinched. Anger at the nearest authority figure was less acceptable, but still a workable solution. “As you well know, those six represent the most powerful force in Equestria, the ma--”

“If you say friendship, someone is getting punched,” Alexis snapped, stomping a hoof down on the chair. “You have a hundred stallions just hanging around competing to see who has the biggest breastplate and you didn’t even think of sending along one to watch the door?”

Arching an eyebrow, Celestia elected to ignore that comment. She needed to calm the mare down; an admission of guilt would work wonders. “Very well, I made a mistake, and I need you to help me fix it.”

Alexis’ scowl deepened, but she stayed mercifully silent. Celestia poured a cup of tea, and gave herself a mental pat on the back before continuing.

“Now, you said Chrysalis has obtained a source of power and an army. How, and how much?”

“Electricity is magic,” Alexis repeated, glowering at the cup. “And Chrysalis has hijacked a nuclear power plant. She’s summoning, or breeding, an army and is doing her best to conquer more power plants.”

“And how much power does she seem to have?”

Alexis shook her head. “I don’t know. I barely know how to translate it into magic terms.” She frowned a moment. “It’s about a gigawatt. So maybe thirty million basic light spells.”

The musical clink of cracking porcelain was Celestia’s only audible response. A hasty repair spell prevented the cup from shattering altogether and, with some effort, Celestia relaxed her death grip.

“And, how often would she be able to use these, thirty million spells?” she asked, in a non-committal tone.

“That’s per second.”

Ah, so mobilising the military had been an appropriate response after all. A pity. Celestia forced herself to take a deep breath and quell the rising panic. Twilight would be fine, of course. She had faced down far greater threats than Chrysalis and come out the victor.

“That’s bad, isn’t it?” Alexis pressed.

Celestia nodded. “Yes. We will have to attempt a second crossing. When Cadance arrives we will start preparations immediately.”

Alexis grunted. “Right. When will she get here?”

“Six hours,” Celestia replied, with a comforting smile.

“Six hours?” Alexis repeated, starring opened mouthed. “You aren’t going to do anything for six hours! What the hell are you waiting for, Chrysalis breaking down the doors of the castle?”

Celestia blinked. She wasn’t sure she could remember the last pony who had raised their voice to her. “Cadance’s train arrives in six hours,” she pointed out. “We can not do anything until she arrives.”

“You’re just going to sit on your hands until she gets here?” Alexis demanded, springing to her hooves. “What the hell? Did you run out of faithful students to throw at the problem?”

“Alexis Kingston!” Celestia boomed, drawing herself up to her full height, towering over the diminutive pegasus. That another first for the generation, it seemed to Celestia that humans didn’t react like her little ponies. “There are four ponies capable of crossing to Earth. One is already there. One is miles away and both Luna and I have duties here. Duties including holding our realities apart.”

Alexis spread her wings, snorting in fury. “So, you are just going to sit here, on your cake filled arse, while Twilight and her friends risk their lives?” She threw up her forehooves. “Of course! Because when have you ever done anything to fucking help around here?”

“I have the power for one,” Celesia snapped, holding up a hoof. “One crossing. Any rescue I attempt would require Twilight to return us. There is too large a risk of us both getting stranded on Earth, and that would be disastrous.”

“So you are going to sit here, drinking tea, until someone else solves your problems for you?” Alexis snarled. “Was that your plan when Chrysalis invaded? Was that your plan to save Earth? Was that your plan for the Club? Just swoop in and steal all the credit once the hard work was done?”

“VICEROY ALEXIS,” Celestia roared, rattling the windows. A halo of power bursting into sudden, furious, life behind her. “I will not be spoken to like that by a member of my government!”

Three centuries of rule had softened Celestia’ public persona. But not so very long ago armies had turned at the sight of Celestia, Ruler of the Heavens, Princess of the Dawn, armed and in all her fury.

Alexis didn’t blink.

“Fuck you, I resign!” she roared right back. “My friends are in danger, and you DON’T CARE! Tell me what we are going to do!”

A line had been crossed. Celesia wasn’t sure when, nor how the conversation had slipped so far from her control. She no longer cared. There were a hundred crises to deal with, and clearing off a pegasus-shaped scorch mark from the wall was not one she wanted to add to the list.

“You will do nothing,” Celestia snarled, voice as cold as the windigos. “Leave.”

Alexis froze. Her wings folding down as she, at last, realised just who she’d been insulting. “What--”

“Leave my sight and never come back,” Celestia continued. A small wisp of smoke began to trail from the sofa beneath her. “Now.”

Ears folded flat, Alexis slipped off of her chair. “I--”


Alexis fled, half flying in her haste to flee the room.

Celestia raised her cup to her lips. It was empty, the contents long boiled away, and she began to swear vociferously. Stalking over to the doors she threw them open.

“Private Steel Shod!” she snapped at the guard. His parade perfect posture was somewhat undermined by the fact his shin guards were knocking together. “I want my sister, and everypony of rank, in the war room, in fifteen minutes.”

“At once, your Majesty,” he squeaked, and hurried away.

Celestia rolled her eyes. Perhaps Luna had a point about Equestria’s steel rusting over the years.

“Cake filled, am I?” she growled.

Very well. If Chrysalis wanted the sun so badly, she would face its full fury.

Chrysalis hated many human inventions. From a distance, she admired humanity’s tenacity. Their victory over a universe that was so hostile to life was a triumph of strength over nature. She was less than enthused by the speed they turned that strength against her, however. Tanks, aircraft, satellites, nuclear power, Chrysalis had learned of all of humanity’s greatest weapons from little Alexis and prepared herself accordingly. She completely failed to take into account one of their smallest weapons, though.

The flashbang.

Three of the hated capsules soared into the mass of changelings surrounding the Element Bearers. Chrysalis hurled herself from their hive mind, casting a frantic spell to seal off the drones just in time. Their network crumbled under the onslaught of light and noise that reverberated from mind to mind in a psychic cacophony. A hundred drones collapsed like puppets with their strings cut.

Chrysalis scrambled, scraping together the drones that had been at the outer edge of the blast into a makeshift swarm. Three humans, two she didn’t recognise and that Maynard, had charged the downed changelings and were struggling to free the ponies. Snarling she focused fire on the interfering monkeys, who ducked down and began shooting back with their infernal assault rifles.

A pop-crack heralded Twilight Sparkle’s arrival on the scene.

“Come on, everypony, get up!”

She wrenched her friends to their hooves. The herd scrambled towards the shielded airlock, humans a few steps behind them offering covering fire. The spell parted as they approached, revealing a frantic pink pony who all but dragged her friends through the doorway. Roaring, the drones charged, hurling spell after spell at the retreating ponies. Twilight’s spell snapped back up, sealing the airlock. Chrysalis wasted her drones against the wall of magic.

Snarling to herself, Chrysalis forced herself to back off. The changelings swarmed around the human’s portal room, searching for any little crack that might allow them access. It was secured far tighter than Canterlot, though, and the queen glared by proxy at the meddlesome cube of concrete. It took her a few moments to realise that the subtle tension of the portal spell had vanished long before the humans threw their flashbangs.

“Oh, well now that is interesting,” she purred, stepping out of the hive mind. There was a moment’s resistance as the new-made drones fought and squabbled with each other for control and the queen sighed. Soon, soon she would be able to return to her true family, and not rely on the spell summoned nincompoops that served her on Earth.

Shaking herself she returned to happier thoughts. The portal had failed, which meant, far from slipping from her grasp, the Element Bearers had trapped themselves far more securely than the Crystal Caverns ever could. Chrysalis began to laugh. If she’d known getting those foals to walk into their own prison would be so easy, she would have tried it months ago.

Still smiling, she stood, and began to hum to herself. In fact, things were going so well, she deserved a little indulgence. Dipping into the vast well of magic filling the swarm, she began to sing. “This day is going to be perfect. The kind of day of which I’ve dreamed since I was small.”

Drones swarmed around her, as she made her way through the empty halls of the nuclear power plant. The lights had failed, replaced by the faint glow of changling magic.

“When the ponies broke my crown,” she snapped, magic flaring around her. “I swore I’d tear them down. Now watch, as my revenge consumes them all.”

As she stalked through the halls of her stolen prize, two hundred miles away, Pinkie Pie took up the counterpoint. “This day was going to be perfect,” she sang, her friends sitting in a dejected heap around her. “An adventure, and fun for one and all.”

“But instead of pulling through.” She pulled her friends closer, and whispered, “I wound up failing all of you. And it’s the end now for all ponies big and small.”

“I don’t care now just what it takes,” Chrysalis declared, marching across a catwalk. “Nor who stands in my way. The humans, they shrink under my gaze.”

Far below, a spell circle rumbled and, with a crack, a newly formed drone appeared. It stumbled away, dropping into step as the hive mind welcomed it.

“Though ponies kick and scream, they scoff and mock my dream!” She slammed her hooves down. “Soon, I’ll rule them one and all!”

She tossed her head and marched away. “The setting sun will seal their doom. This dying world will mark their tomb. Run in fear for soon it will be time!”

“No way to slip our fate,” Applejack sighed.

Dash nodded. “No chance to save the day.”

“Hope? It’s not our place to say.” Fluttershy hung her head.

“My plans now stand complete,” Chrysalis snapped. “And those that I’ll soon defeat?”

“A chance, to escape in any way!” Rarity wailed.

Twilight stepped up and, in a strong soprano, cried. “Girls now do not fear our doom, our brave hearts she can not consume. Stand now beside me, our rescue will come soon!”

Triumphant, Chrysalis burst out onto the roof of the power plant into the full sun. The titanic spell awaiting her was already half charged and hummed with barely contained energy. “Now, our destiny arrives! For us, to rise again once more. They’ll tremble at my feet, my victory will be complete, and soon the sun will be all... mine, all mine!”

To her Royal Highness, Princess Twilight Sparkle,

I, Alexis Kingston, Viceroy of Human Affairs, resign.

I should leave things there, but I don’t want to have to explain this twice, and I don’t want to give you the opportunity to change my mind. This is not a decision I’ve reached lightly, nor is it one that has come upon me suddenly. I am writing this letter in a wing-cast, but I’m not writing it because I am in hospital. I am resigning because I can no longer do what you expect me to do, and I’m unsure that I ever could.

In six months, I have lost my home, my family, been hospitalised twice, kidnapped, mind controlled and almost died on half a dozen different occasions. That’s not the life I am supposed to live. It’s Viceroy Alexis’. She’s some strange caricature of the person I used to be, and every day I find myself trying to step in her role, but I can not fill it. She’s supposed to be brave, but I’ve spent my life in Equestria terrified. She’s supposed to be heroic, but my mistakes have cost more lives than they’ve saved. She’s supposed to lead, but between Star Charge and Cog I’ve almost torn the Club apart. She’s supposed to bring comfort but... well, I’m no longer helping the Club, am I? I’m ruling it.

I don’t want to be Viceroy Alexis, Twilight. I want to be Alex Kingston. I want my crappy job, and my jerk of a boyfriend, back. I want to be able to sleep in without fear that somebody is going to die because I didn’t say hello. I want to be able to fly all day without missing a dozen appointments. I want to have a life. I want to live my life. If I stay, I will never get any of these things. I’ll end up ‘the Viceroy’, some stranger trying to save strangers for reasons I don’t understand.

In the months we’ve known each other, I have done everything you have ever asked me to do. I have not done so peacefully, nor has it gone smoothly, but I know now it was a mistake. I don’t know why I didn’t run, like everyone else, when you asked me to set up the Club. Maybe at the time I was scared of disappointing you, or maybe I was terrified I’d make things worse, but in the end you picked the wrong person. I’ve tried to fake it. I’ve tried to be the person-- or rather, pony --that you’ve wanted me to be, but in the end, I’m not her. I’ll never be her, and, honestly, I don’t want to be her. I’ve been desperately trying to fit myself into this mould of a pony that everyone wanted, and I’ve pushed myself to the limit to make myself that pony, but it hasn’t worked.

I am not Viceroy Alexis. I can not be the fearless leader of the Club. I can not help you save the world.

I just want to be me.

So I resign.

Star Charge sighed refolding the letter and sealing it. He shouldn’t have read it, but couldn’t hold himself back. People, ponies, and all other thinking, feeling beings fascinated him. Ponies especially as, out of every species, they had been the ones to make love, tolerance and harmony work.

Alex was supposed to be simple. She had been an obstruction to integrating people into Equestria. She was a symbol of all those that tried to hold onto a broken world, popular because of denial, not due to any redeeming features. Star’s attempts to save her had been cynical in the extreme. They were an attempt to maintain popularity until the day he would naturally replace Alex as the leader of the Club. That day had come, he had Alexis’ resignation in his hooves, and yet...

His legs felt heavy as he climbed the tower. Star Charge knew he could destroy Alex. It was a skill, to know what to say to undermine a person, to expose their fears and play up their weaknesses. It was not a talent worthy of a cutie mark, but still, it was there to be used. With the letter, he had enough ammunition to tear down Alexis, and her Club. It would be easy, but he didn’t want to.

Alex stood on a balcony, her forelegs hung over the rail as she stared off into the distance. It would not take much of a push to send her tumbling, in both the literal and metaphorical sense, but that was not why Star Charge was there. He was not there to save Earth, nor the Elements, nor, even, Equestria. In the end, they could save themselves.

He was going to save Alex.

Because she had given everything she had.

Because no one even realised she needed saving.

Because, when you stripped everything else away, it was the right thing to do.

“So,” he began, leaning over the rail next to Alex. “What are you going to do?”

Chapter 10: God Slayer

View Online

I sat on a lonely balcony staring out across Equestria. It was a beautiful place, rolling green hills dotted with farms and azure skies filled with puffy white clouds shepherded by pegasi. Canterlot below teemed with multicoloured blotches of ponies, winding their way through the streets, coming and going with no care that a world was going to end. After all, why should they care? It wasn’t their world under threat. It wasn’t their families living under a fallout cloud. It wasn’t their friends in danger.

“So,” Star Charge began, leaning over the rail next to me. “What are you going to do?”

I shot him a nasty look. “Well, I’m considering jumping,” I said, bitterly, doing my very best to scare him off.

“You have wings, Alex,” he pointed out.

“I don’t have to open them,” I muttered, shrugging the inconvenient limbs.

Star Charge just rolled his eyes at me. “Seriously though, what are you going to do?” he pressed.

I sighed, dropping my head into my hooves. “Nothing. That’s what Celestia told me to do. So I’m going to do nothing.”

“Really? Because I heard she told you to ‘fuck off’.” Star Charge frowned, tapping his chin. “Or did you say that?”

Grunting, I glared at the horizon. “You heard about that?” I murmured.

“Alexis, the west wing of the Palace heard that.” Star Charge smirked. “Hell, if the rumour mill has their hooves under it, half of Canterlot will know by now.”

“Urgh...” I slumped, resting my chin on the cool marble. “I am so getting banished to the moon”

“I think you’re probably safe; the Princess has a lot of other things on her plate.” He shrugged. “However, you still haven’t answered my question. What are you going to do?”

My eyes flicked towards Ponyville, a tiny dot of colour amidst the sea of green fields. “Well, I’m thinking... If I set off now, there should be some good thermals to get me to Ponyville. I can grab that bag of bits I’ve been hiding and be in Las Pegasus before anyone comes looking for me.”

Star tapped his hooves on the rail, and huffed. “I read your letter,” he blurted out.

“Whatever,” I muttered, shrugging as I suppressed a flash of anger. “I kind of delivered my resignation in person.”

“That’s not what I meant. What I meant was, a lot of ponies have been telling you want they want you to do. I get that. I’ve been one of them, if we’re being honest. So I’m going to ask you, what do you want to do?”

I raised an eyebrow at him. “Still considering Las Pegasus, to be honest.”

“Might want to take off now, then,” Star said, with a little shrug. Then, as I stared at him, “you know, otherwise you’ll be landing in the dark.”

I stumbled a moment, trying to match my mental image of the serious, duty bound Star Charge to the one before me. “Oh!” I said, realisation striking. “Because if I go, you get the Club?”

Star laughed. “Alex, you quit, spectacularly.The Club’s mine already. If you want to go to Las Pegasus, that’s fine by me. Nopony’s stopping you. Jump.” He made a shooing motion. “Go.”

I eyed him suspiciously, but the unicorn’s cheery grin didn’t fade. “I can’t,” I said, turning away. “I have to do something.”

“Have to?” Star continued. “Alex, all of Equestria is trying to beat Chrysalis. All of Earth is trying beat Chrysalis. The Mane Six are right there, right now, working to save the day. You don’t have to do anything.”

“So you just want me to sit here?” I exclaimed, flaring my wings. “While Pinkie fights that psychopath? While our home burns?”

He shrugged. “I don’t care what you do. What I want to know is, what do you want to do?”

“I don’t know!” I threw up my hooves. “There’s nothing I can do. I’m a telemarketer in way over her head and there isn’t a damn thing I can do to help. Okay? Happy now?”

He smirked. “So, you do want to help?”

“Yes!” I snarled, dropping my head into my hooves. “But, unless you have any great ideas, you can just shut the hell up.” I dearly wished he would.

“Oh, I don’t have a clue,” Star Charge said, shrugging. “But you seem to have a gift for being in the right place at the right time.”

I huffed. “You make out being cursed by Discord to be a good thing. If I... I...” Words fled as realisation struck. Discord. The bastard had wrecked by life, stolen my form and then mocked me to my face; I still owed him a kick in the nuts. Amidst all the jokes, needling and insults though, he had promised me one thing.

My jaw dropped. “Oh god.”


I spun around, grabbing Star by his shoulders. “You’re wrong,” I said, near bouncing in excitement. “I don’t have a gift. But I still have a boon. Come on!”

Dragging Star by his foreleg, I took the stairs down the tower three at a time, wings spread wide for balance. Star descended like a sack of potatoes, spurts of magic keeping him from any serious injury, and crashed into the landing. I rolled my eyes, picking him up, and then set off at a run down the wide corridors of the Palace.

“Okay. Boon?” Star Charge gasped, struggling to keep up. “What?”

“Discord owes me a boon,” I snapped. “Don’t ask me why, I--” I skidded to a stop, Star Charge managing to avoid running into me by inches. “--I have no idea where to find Discord,” I announced. The fatal flaw in my plan suddenly apparent.

Star Charge grumbled, dusting himself off. “Well, we aren’t going to find him by running screaming through the corridors.”

I set off at a gallop. “Discord!” I bellowed.

“Alex!” Star hurried after me, stumbling over his hooves in his struggle to keep up. “I just said that wasn’t going to work.”

“Well, I don’t have any better ideas,” I shot over my shoulder. “Fluttershy’s not here to wrangle him. Discord!”

“Look, we should just ask the Princesses...”

I rolled my eyes, flicking my wings to slide around a tight corner. “Yeah, that bridge has burned. Discord! Get your fat, scaly tail out of--”

A door sprung into existence about five feet in front of me. It was a solid thing, made of aged oak and bound with iron, and it didn’t move an inch when I ran into it face first.

“Son of a--!” I wailed, clutching my muzzle as I rolled on the floor in agony.

The door swung open and Discord leaned out, for some reason he was wearing a velvet dressing gown. “You knocked?” he inquired.

My string of expletives did not bear repeating.

“Oh my.” Discord pulled a couple of blue words out of his ear, I think one of them was ‘cribbage’. “Do you talk to Celestia with that mouth?”

I scowled at him as Star Charge helped me up. “You know I do.”

“Yes, that was very entertaining to watch,” he chortled. “But don’t just stand here on my doorstep, come into my parlor.”

“Said the spi--” Star Charge began, I clapped my hoof over his mouth.

“No straight lines!” I exclaimed, shooting a suspicious look at Discord. The chaos god whistled, the picture of innocence, as he shooed a spider the size of a bull back through his imposible door.

Star pushed my hoof away, frowning at Discord. “If I had a bit for every time somepony said that,” he said, deliberately. Discord handed him a bit, the kind to bridle horses. Star Charge realised he’d taken it between his teeth, went scarlet with embarrassment, and hurled it away.

“Some ponies,” Discord sighed, shaking his head. “No thanks, despite my flagrant generosity. Now come in, come in. I might have something not unlike tea.”

He swept back through the door, and, trying to figure out that double negative, I followed, Star a half pace behind. Discord hurried us through a series of rooms that really shouldn’t have connected: a dark and spooky dungeon, a swimming pool, a stretch of Hogwarts, part of what I think was The Crystal Maze, a garden party, and, finally, Time Turner’s kitchen. The stallion regarded us with such weary indifference that I feared Discord using his house as a hallway was a daily event.

Discord threw open a cupboard door and squeezed through. Rolling my eyes I followed into the inky blackness. After a moment’s walking I stopped, straining my eyes to see anything.

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” I observed in a deadpan, casting my head around. It didn’t make the slightest bit of difference; there was more light at the bottom of a coal mine.

The floor began to move just as the lights came on. My brain failed to process the scene, we stood at the base of a great wheel, at least two stories high, which was constructed out of bookshelves. The entire rim was one continuous run of spines, with the occasional gap, softcover or picture book, creating a mishmash of misplaced footings. Twilight would have either considered it heaven or hell, I’m not sure which.

“Hey, these are blank,” Star exclaimed, holding one of the books free with his magic. The wheel began to gather speed.

Ah, so hell it was, then.

“Why would anyone have blank books?”

I rolled my eyes and took to the air. “Because stories are the most chaotic before they’re written,” I pointed out. A slow clap greeted me.

“Oh, very well done, Alice,” Discord crowed. He sat in a high backed armchair, a porcelain cup clasped between his thumb and forefinger, and was stirring the liquid with a golf-tee. “Do you teach? Fluttershy is such a darling, but sometimes I feel she just doesn’t get the point of chaos.”

“No, I just assume you’re going to go with the worst joke I can think of,” I grumbled, hovering next to Discord. It was probably a bad sign that I was beginning to wrap my head around Discord’s twisted logic. “Now, if we’re done wasting time--”

“Actually,” Star Charge cut in, now moving at a trot. “This thing seems to be getting faster.”

I cocked an eyebrow at Discord, who justed shrugged. “He seemed to be struggling to keep up. I thought he could use the exercise.”

Pressing a hoof against my forehead, I continued on regardless. “Look, I’m in a hurry. I want to cash in my boon, and I need you to fix things.” I held up a hoof, before Discord could get a word in. “And by that I mean specifically the whole mess about Chrysalis being on Earth, and the girls being in trouble. Though, if there’s anything else you feel like fixing up while you’re at it, I’m not going to stop you.”

“Hmm...” Discord stroked his little beard and puffed on his tee. “No.”

My ear twitched. I tried to fight the urge to yell at chaos incarnate.

“What do you mean, no?” I snarled.

“Well, usually no is a way of expressing a negative response to a ques--”

“I know what ‘no’ means!” I roared, throwing up my hooves. “Will you please be serious for once in your life!” I hovered right next to his face. “An entire world could die and it’s all your fault! I’m playing by your idiotic rules; I’m using your stupid boon; get off your fat arse and fix your own damn mess!”

A loud bing interrupted me. I glanced over at a floating scoreboard, just as ‘Number of gods Alexis has called fat’ rolled over from one to two. Discord began to smirk, even as my scowl deepened.

“Don’t say it,” I growled.

His lips parted in a mishmash smile.

“Don’t say it!”

He opened his mouth.


“Somepony say something already!” Star Charge yelled up at us. He was now at a canter, and losing ground... books... whatever, as the wheel accelerated.

“No,” Discord said simply, and stuck his tongue out at me.

I shot him a flat look. “I really, really hate you. You know that, right?”

Discord shrugged, flipping through a notebook. “I think it came up. Somewhere between the nut shot and the boon.”

“Okay, this is getting beyond a joke now,” Star Charge interjected, galloping over the books as the wheel spun faster and faster. “Somepony help!”

I pressed a hoof against my forehead. “Just stop,” I snapped. “Stop playing along. Stop running.”

Star tripped and fell, hitting the books with a bang, and plowing a furrow through the anthropology section. The library wheel squealed to a stop, not fast enough to prevent Star from ending up on the notional ceiling, though. I just shook my head and turned back to Discord.

“This is why you don’t get invited to parties,” I told him, my voice flat.

Discord laughed, pulling out his wallet and unfolding a roll of photos. “Oh contraire, Fluttershy and I held a tea-party on the ceiling just the other week.” He proffered one of the photos, a picture of him in an extremely low cut dress. Before I could react, Discord snatched the photo away and replaced it was a less nightmare inducing image, a comparatively normal shot of Fluttershy and Discord enjoying a cup of tea sat next to a chandelier. Rainbow Dash and Angel Bunny were also there, but, judging by their scowls, neither was enjoying the experience that much.

“Whose ceiling is that?” I inquired, thinking about poor Time Turner.

Discord just rolled his eyes. “Really, Alice. All the wonderful, interesting questions you could have chosen from, and you have to pick that one?”

“Well, forgive me for thinking that practicality isn’t a di--”

“Alex!” Star called out suddenly, holding on the bookshelves with all four hooves. I don’t know why, it didn’t seem like gravity was paying any particular attention to him. “The boon!”

I shot another glare at Discord, who had donned a halo and held up a neon sign pointing to himself that read ‘The Picture of Innocence’ . Once again he’d managed to outsmart me, dragging the conversation away from the most critical point, saving Earth.

“Okay, I’ve asked you twice, and I’ll ask you a third time, save--”

Discord moved like a striking snake, clapping his hands over my mouth.

“Are you really going to make me say this, Alex?” he said, all humour gone from his voice. “I thought we were friends.”

I wrenched his hands away. “Discord, I have met cobras that I’d prefer to spend more time with,” I snapped. That was not hyperbole. In the end, Fluttershy’s pet drive had been met with mixed results by the Club. The pegasus’ view on what made a cute pet was... unique to say the least. “What is your problem?”

Discord rolled his eyes. “Oh, fine, if you’re going to be your stuffy self.” He snapped his fingers and the world changed.

The bookshelves vanished, along with all the furniture and walls, though, not the books for some reason. My wings caught nothing but vacuum and I dropped amidst the falling tomes, straining to catch the non-existent aether. The impacts of the books were soundless, each kicking up a tiny puff of dust as they hit the rocks below us and tracing ballistic arcs across the surface of the dead world.

I landed hard, stumbling, then ducked and weaved my way through the silent rain of empty books. I found sanctuary on a rocky bluff. The world beyond the fallen library was empty and dark. Above my head was the eternal expanse of night, dim with only the occasional smear of a red star or ancient galaxy. No sign of settlement marked the surface of the world; it was just blasted rock, after blasted rock, preserved perfectly in the vacuum of space.

I felt cold. Unbearably cold, as if heat were a distant memory, and I was intruding by bringing such alien concepts as life and warmth to a dead world. There was no sign of Star Charge, nor any other thinking being, in fact, I doubted the world had seen a warm body in millenia.

“Welcome home, Alex,” Discord said, standing next to me. “Welcome to the end.”

“Heh, the end of what?” I asked, shaking my head. “Earth? The Sun? Humanity?”

He just smiled. “Why, of the story, of course. This is what will happen when all the books have been written, when all the covers have been closed, when the last hero lays down their sword and fades away. This is the destined end of your tale.”

My eyes narrowed. “This is after Chrysalis wins, isn’t it?” I demanded. “This is what happens when we lose.”

“Yes.” He shrugged. “But, it is also what happens if she loses. That’s the funny thing about destiny, it tends to win, regardless.”

I stamped my hooves, my wings shuddering as shivers overtook me. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” I pointed out. “It doesn’t have to end. They can beat Chrysalis, but they need your help.”

Discord snapped his fingers, I leapt in surprise and cast around for what changed.

“Do you know what I just did?” he asked. I shook my head. “Nothing. I did absolutely nothing. Because that is all the power I hold here.”

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. “No...” I murmured, my wings drooping as the full implications hit me. Earth didn’t have the chaos that marked Discord’s brand of lunacy. There would be no deus ex machina, because Earth didn’t have gods from the machine to solve its problems.

Chrysalis would win. The sun would die, as fusion ceased to function, and this blasted wasteland would be my home.

“No,” I repeated, louder. “I refuse to believe that.” I turned to Discord, rising up to my full height before the towering draconequus. “You are the rule breaker. You are chaos. If anyone can stop this, you can.”

He sighed, shaking his head. “I cannot.”

“You are chaos!” I snapped, my eyes beginning to mist with tears. “The destroyer of worlds. Terror of Equestria. Fix this! Please.”

He shrugged. “I can not.”

I smashed my forehooves down on the ground and flared my wings. “I am not playing your game!” I bellowed. “You are chaos. For once in your misbegotten life, DO SOMETHING!”

Discord smiled, as if he were looking down on a particularly persistent kitten. “I can not.”

“Fuck you then!” I roared, whirling around and cuffing him with a wing. “I don’t need you,” I spat, tensing to take off. “I’ll... I’ll...” I had no way of finishing that sentence. “Oh god...” I dropped onto my haunches, tears beginning to flow in earnest, freezing in mid fall as they tumbled off of my muzzle.

There was nothing left. No clever plan. No last moment of inspiration. Wild hope had carried me to Discord’s side, but... but I should have gone with the Las Pegasus option. Sure, my friends and family would still be hours away from annihilation, but at least I’d be too drunk to care. At least without Star Charge, I wouldn’t have had the wild moment of excitement where I so foolishly thought I knew how to save the day.

I dropped to my haunches, wings wrapped around me. They say it is better to love and lose, than never love at all. I’ll tell you now, having no hope at all is so much better than having your last hope extinguished.

I cursed the world in that eternity. Cursed Discord for his powerlessness. Celestia, for her indifference. Pinkie, for wasting herself on me. Equestria, for giving up on humanity. Twilight, for betraying me, and so many others I couldn’t count them all. I cursed the cruelty of fate that had dragged me away from everything that I had ever loved. A fate that set me on a course to watch a tragedy unfurl, and there was nothing, absolutely nothing, I could do to stop it.

There was no one left to snap their fingers and fix the world. No prophesy to complete and save the day. No magic spell to uncover and banish evil once more.

Equestria had failed, and Earth would pay the price.

“Alexis, what is chaos?” Discord interjected. The draconequus sat next to me. No floating chairs, no imposible dimensions, he simply sat. In a way, that was more disturbing than anything else.

“Bad puns and sight gags, as far as I can tell,” I grumbled.

“Well, I do pride myself on my sense of humour,” Discord said, buffing his talons on his puffed out chest. “But there’s so much more.”

I shot him a dirty look. “What, like cotton candy clouds, flying houses and blue flu?”

“Oh, that one made it through, did it?” Discord grinned. “I had such fun with that song. I do feel it needed a reprise, though.”

I didn’t have the energy to stop him. “Whatever.”

“Spoil sport. Chrysalis got a reprise,” he pointed out, sticking out his tongue. “Another time then. Alexis, what is chaos?”

My glare intensified. “You already asked that,” I snapped. He just wiggled his eyebrows at me, leaning dangerously close. “Oh fine!” I pushed him away. “Chaos is destruction, disharmony. Entropy.”

“Entropy? Oh no,” he bared his fangs in a hunters smirk. “I have many titles, but entropy is not one of them. I have never been a slave to destiny.”

I wanted to turn away then. There was no hope. There was no plan. I couldn’t bear to believe and fail yet again.


“Slave to destiny,” I echoed, as the wheels began to turn. Discord was the spirit of chaos, but chaos in Equestria, like so many things, was not the same as chaos on Earth. In my universe, under the laws of physics, chaos is bound by entropy, to a single destination, to a single destiny.

Equestria had destiny. Six mares had found themselves thrown together by fate to fulfill an ancient prophesy a thousand years in the making. They would always become friends. Destiny had borne down on them their entire lives, driving them to be the mares fate wanted them to be. The mares who would save the world. Their bonds had been through trials of fire, but only one had ever given them a chance not to be friends.

Discord was the only villain that had ever given them them option to jump the tracks.

“Alexis, what is chaos?” he repeated, the only sound in the entire universe.

“Choice,” I said, simply. “The power to do what you chose to do.”

He grinned. “And your boon?”

I turned to him, fanning my wings. “I want to save Earth.”

“Done.” He snapped his fingers, and my flank flared with light.

I found myself standing in the sun soaked halls of the Palace, with no clear idea how I got there. Warmth flowed into me, and I began shivering, my teeth rattling from the intensity, as my body caught up with just how cold I was.

“Hey, Alex!”

I stamped my hooves, my wings and coat steaming as frozen air sublimed off of me, and turned to face Star Charge.

“There you are,” he continued, then frowned as he looked me up and down. “Did Discord take you to the arctic, or something?”

I shuddered, more frost falling from me. “No, much worse. He took me...” I petered out as I realised that he was staring at my flank. “Do you mind?” I snapped.

“You have a cutie mark,” Star gasped. “How did you get a cutie mark from Discord?”

I twisted around myself, trying to get a good look. It was a simple mark in the end, an unbroken rainbow ring, the colours looping around on themselves in an eternal cycle. Some small part of me, my inner filly I guess, was jumping up and down with excitement, and a warm glow seemed to fill me.

I had a cutie mark. And I’d earned it too. It was a nice feeling.

“We must never tell the CMC about this,” I told Star, deadly serious.

He nodded. “Agreed. What does it mean, though?”

The knowledge was like ice, cold, slippery and alien in my mind. I could not fault it’s effectiveness, though. Discord hadn’t dropped a plan, or even a solution, in my mind, but the crumbs certainly sparked ideas.

I drew a deep breath of aether, and spread my wings wide. There was a crack, and a sudden reek of ozone as my magic rebounded off the barrier.

“Ah, damn it,” I swore, folding my wings closed again. They ached like I’d just done a kilometer sprint. “Okay, so we need more power than that.” I flexed my primaries. “A lot more power.”

“What?” Star demanded, his horn lit. “What did you just do?”

“No time,” I told him, grinning from ear to ear. “I actually have plan, Star. A real, honest to goodness plan, one that was all my idea and might just work.” I punched the air. “And you have no idea how good that makes me feel. Come on, I’ve got to go yell at the Princesses!”

I set off at a gallop. Star Charge groaned and followed along in my wake, again.

It took just a few minutes to find the Princesses. One of the duties of the Royal Guard is to act as guides to the Palace, and it’s surprising how much information you can get out of someone if you ask the question at full sprint. The war room was in an understated part of the Palace, with ceilings just two stories high, and a pair of guards crossed their pikes before the door.

“Viceroy of Human Affairs,” I lied, sliding to a stop along the polished marble. “I’m late.”

The pair glanced at each other. One shrugged, and they raised their pikes. I hurried past.

“Thanks, guys.”

The doors glided open, their size belying the ease with which they could be moved, and I was fortunate they didn’t slam. Even so, a dozen ponies turned as I entered the room, looking up from a great round table littered in notes, maps and arcane devices. Half were in armour, or fatigues, or some kind of uniform. The rest were a spattering of high ranking political types, and, of course, Celestia and Luna, radiant in their regalia.

“I know what to do,” I announced, raising my voice and silencing any voice of protest. “I know how to save Earth.”

“Viceroy Alexis,” Celestia said, eyes narrowing ever so slightly as she regarded me. “You were not invited to this meeting.”

I ignored her. “The barrier is an aether based spell,” I pressed, hurrying up to table. “That’s why it took so many unicorns to punch a hole between realities. A pegasus could do it. Rainbow Dash did do it with the sonic-boom/rainbow combination.”

Celestia shot me a flat look. “That hole has been sealed, Viceroy,” the ice on her final world sent shivers running down my spine. “And Princess Twilight is not available to open it again.”

I fought down the urge to run screaming and set my forehooves on the table. Leaning closer I continued. “But that seal could be broken. If a pegasus knew it existed, if she knew how to strike it, if she could muster enough aether, it could be shattered. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about anypony being trapped across the barrier.”

“That would solve much, sister,” Luna pointed out, looking up at Celestia.

Celestia’s look was completely neutral. “If it were possible,” she pointed out. “But it is not. Channeling that much aether without a focus would exhaust even an alicorn, and there is no pegasus who can fly between worlds.”

I shot her a vicious little grin. Petty? Maybe, but it felt great. “You’re wrong. I can.” I shifted my hips to make sure she could see my new cutie mark. “It’s my special talent.”

A flare of golden magic lit the room as Celestia’s horn flared. “Where did you get that?” she asked, her eyes creeping fractionally wider in what might have been shock.

“It was a gift,” I told her, without a hint of irony. “I can do this, Princess. I can save them.”

A weary sigh escaped Celestia. “No, I wish it were otherwise, but you can not. No matter your ‘talent’--” You could hear the air quotes. “--you do not have the strength to breach the barrier. The power required would be enough to cause a rainboom and, in ten generations, only Rainbow Dash, has been able to marshal that kind of strength.”

I stared at her for a moment, my wings twitching in agitation. There was no deception on that ancient face, though.

“The only one to survive it,” somepony cut in.

Spitfire was wearing a bomber jacket, her sunglasses folded in one pocket, and leaned forwards against the table. She reminded me a lot of Rainbow Dash, all the muscle and athleticism, though tempered by the easy confidence of a born leader. My instincts clashed for a moment, as they tried to figure out whether I was supposed to be sucking up to her, or trying to show her up.

“There are other ways of going that fast, beyond skill. Something like the God Slayer formation,” Spitfire continued, addressing the table. “It was invented by the gryphons during the third invasion. That could get us the aether we’d need to breach the barrier.”

Celestia’s face darkened momentarily. “I am, intimately, familiar with the God Slayer,” she said. I winced as the tension in the room seemed to double, again. No prizes for guessing which ‘god’ the gryphons had planned to kill.

Luna shot another glance at her sister. “I am not, familiar with this technique. What is it?”

Spitfire answered. “It was a trick the gryphons used to level the playing field when Princess Celestia joined the war,” she explained, a slight smirk on her face. “No single flier is able to amass that much aether, certainly not enough to stop an alicorn, but they can all catch a little extra. Get enough gryphons, or pegasi, together and we can focus all the power onto a point. Once it’s there then...” She spread her hooves. “Well, boom, I believe is the general idea.”

“This was effective?” Luna asked, Celestia.

The Sun Princess shrugged. “Two thousand gryphon storm-tamers created a lighting bolt that turned night into day, and leveled the old Canterlot Keep,” Celestia replied, tersely. “It was memorable. However, the technique has not been taught in a century. It was insanely dangerous, to both the casters and those who stood on the same battlefield as the target.”

“Insanity is the Wonderbolts watchword,” Spitfire continued, a smarmy grin on her face. “We dusted off the technique a few years ago, trying to do our own Wonderboom. It never worked out. In the end, a Sonic Rainboom really is unique. But if you only need to get near that power level, then the Wonderbolts can get you there.”

Celestia pursed her lips. Her sister glanced over at her. “Tis a better plan than any so far,” she added.

“Alexis,” Celestia said, fixing me with her gaze. “This is not a minor task, nor is it a safe one. Why are you doing this?”

“Because I want to,” I said, glaring black. “Because I want to save the world.”

She sighed. For a moment I felt that she was looking past me, into a memory, but then it passed. “Captain Spitfire,” she announced. The pegasus sat up straighter. “All our fliers are at your disposal for this mission, we will attempt the breach in two hours.” She fixed me with an inscrutable expression. “And Alexis, good luck.”

A whirlwind of military expediency hurried me through the streets of Canterlot and onto a requisitioned train. The God Slayer required a forty mile run up, and Spitfire had wanted us to be as fresh as possible, at least that was what she’d told me. Spitfire had dropped me off into someone else’s fantasy -- Swiftwing’s at a guess -- the carriage did hold two dozen Wonderbolts halfway into their uniforms, after all. I kind of wondered just where that fantasy was going. I wouldn’t have complained too much if...

A shrill whistle sounded, the jolt of the train knocking me out of my reprieve. Spitfire sat down on the bench across from me. She’d changed into her flightsuit already. “So kid,” she began, “we need to talk.”

I shook myself. “Right, yes, an hour and thirty to go. I guess we’d better get working.”

Spitfire smiled, holding up her hooves. “Yeah, let’s ease up a little there. I want to know a bit about who I’m flying with before anything else.”

“Do we really have the time?” I asked, rubbing my head with a hoof. “There--”

“Yes. Yes we do,” Spitfire interjected, in a tone that brooked no argument. “So, tell me about yourself, kid.”

“I’m almost thirty,” I grunted. Or was, my age as a pony was somewhere in the nebulous young adult band. Spitfire just looked at me as if I were a particularly petulant four-year-old. I huffed and continued. “Fine. I’m Alexis. Viceroy of Human Affairs, at least until this mess is over with, then I’m going to resign so fast Rainbow Dash won’t be able to keep up.”

Spitfire’s easy grin didn’t fade, but her ears twitched in surprise. “Really? Usually, ponies try and run before the life or death adventure.”

I rolled my eyes. “No one ever accused me of being smart.” I shook myself. “But yes, I want to do this.”

“I want to know you’re sure about that,” Spitfire continued, lounging back in her chair. “You heard in the meeting that this plan is insane, right?”

“I thought insanity was the Wonderbolts watch word?” I teased, with a nervous chuckle.

She spread her forehooves and shrugged. “Guilty. No offence, though. Kid, you aren’t a Wonderbolt.” There was no malice or bragging in her tone, just a simple statement of fact. “And this particular stunt has almost killed two ponies, and one of them still isn’t back in the air. Do you know why the Sonic Rainboom is legendary?”

I shook my head.

“Because it’s a killer,” she continued. “Every five years some punk comes along claiming they can break the sound barrier. If they’re lucky they can’t even get close. The unlucky ones, though, they can die in all sorts of messy ways. Hitting their own shock wave, losing the aether stream and ripping their wings off, burning out their primaries and plummeting. You name a way it can go wrong, and somepony has died like that.” I opened my mouth to interrupt, but she forestalled me with a raised hoof. “Even then...” She shook her head, sadly. “Even then, if you can survive to reach the speeds for a Rainboom, you still have the most deadly part of the maneuver left. You have to ignite your own aether stream, which is damn good way of setting your entire body on fire, and ride a controlled explosion of aether magic at insane speeds. This final part is, with one notable exception, fatal. Deadly.” She reached over and prodded me in the chest as punctuation. “As in: Will. Kill. You.”

I pushed her away. “And Rainbow Dash fits into this, how?” I enquired.

“By surviving, despite a two hundred bit pool in the Wonderbolt office on when she’ll finally manage to blow her tail off,” Spitfire sighed, rolling her eyes.

“I’m not trying to do a Sonic Rainboom, though,” I pointed out.

“You’re trying to get damn close,” Spitfire shot right back. “I just want to make this clear. This is not safe. If this goes wrong, it will kill you. If you ignite your aether stream, it will kill you. If any part of this goes wrong, it will kill you, and you will fail. Got that?”

I scowled at her. “I was trying not to think about it.” My eyes widened as I realised I’d said that aloud.

“Think about it.” She fixed me with an iron stare. “Alexis Kingston, are you willing to die trying?”

For a moment, I froze. I guess you never really question what will happen if it all goes wrong. This could kill me. Or rather, it probably would kill me. Was I willing to die for Pinkie Pie? For the Club? For Earth?

“Yes,” I said, softly. Spitfire raised her eyebrows at me. “Yes,” I repeated, louder. “I’ve spent too long being baggage, or the damsel in distress. I’m going to save the world, or die trying.”

Spitfire said nothing, staring at me before suddenly clapping her hooves together. “Great. We can work with that.” She rubbed her fetlocks, a worrying smile on her face. Somehow I feared it was the same look she wore just before giving out hundred-lap punishments. “Now, how are you at flying?”

I shrugged. “Well, I’ve had wings for five months now. So, not bad considering...”

“Not bad as in, ‘you don’t fall out of the sky much’, or, ‘you hold your own’?”

“Second one,” I said, smiling. “I can keep up with the weekend wings. Once, when the chips were down, I managed to break the Wall.”

“Heh, not bad for a rookie, then,” Spitfire continued, jumping off the bench. I wondered when I’d upgraded from ‘kid’ to ‘rookie’. “Right, we’ve got an hour or so for practice, follow me.”

“Practice?” I echoed, blinking. “We’re on a train.”

“And ninety percent of what you’ll be doing is about managing airflow,” Spitfire shot back, her recruit-breaking smile back on her lips. “Come on, I had them hook up a flatbed car and it’s downhill all the way.”

When the train finally screeched to a stop, my wings were aching, my lungs were burning and I’d discovered that true terror was not a mind reading, reality destroying, Changeling Queen. It was a golden pegasus who, despite my near death by falling off a speeding train on a dozen occasions, had managed to teach me more about flying in an hour than I had learned in my life.

“Okay, take five, rookie,” Spitfire called out.

I collapsed into a quivering mess of fur and feathers, hugging the rough boards like they were a long lost friend.

“We’re getting some equipment for you, so you’re free ‘till it arrives,” Spitfire continued. “Go get some fluids.” I grunted, and Spitfire prodded me in the shoulder. “And don’t just lie there. You’ll seize up.”

She leapt down from the carriage without another word. Groaning, I managed to drag myself up onto my hooves, my wings fanned. The train had stopped by a water tower in the foothills of Canterhorn Mountain, and a veritable flock of pegasi were disembarking. The Wonderbolts were dotted amongst them, their gold and blue uniforms easy to pick out from the crowd. They were just a fraction of the crush, though: soldiers, guardsponies and more than a few weathermares, filled out the ranks.

I could feel the rumble of power that mismatched flock represented, a haze of aether hanging like a storm cloud over the field. The unicorns may have had their fancy university, but this was where the pegasi held their power. Not in ancient halls or dusty tomes, but in the muscle and sinew of their bodies. Set against them, I felt no small amount of stage fright. I was tired and thirsty, though, and a couple of guardsponies were rolling out some barrels of water.

I was on my fourth mug when Swiftwing arrived, along with two dozen Club and Ponyville pegasi.

“Alex!” she called, launching herself over the crowd, landing hard next to me and sweeping me into a hug. “You get around. I thought you were just getting out of the hospital today, then I hear you’ve been to Earth and they’re yelling down the telegraph at us about another aether rig. Now though, I find you hanging out with the Wonderbolts.” She disengaged from the hug and prodded me in the chest. “You’ve been holding out on me, girl.”

“Hanging out might be a little strong,” I said, unable to keep a straight face. “Wait, aether rig?”

“Yeah, which seeing Princess Twilight and Co. already took seven, was hard to scrounge up,” Swift continued, dragging me through the crowd. “What happened to the one you got before?”

I shrugged. “It turns out leaving the regulator wide melts a couple critical bits.” In my defence, I had been in shock at the time.

“Urgh, I told Cog he should write a manual. Ah well, here we go.”

A small clearing had formed around the Club pegasi, at the centre, Cog was half inside a pony-sized crate. Swiftwing cleared her throat, and he glanced up, a leather strap in his mouth.

“Cog,” I said, icily.

He spat out the strap. “Hi Alex, I hear we’re saving the world.”

I rolled my eyes, but before I could fit in a clever comeback, Swiftwing cut in. “What is going on anyway? Last I heard was something about Chrysalis invading Earth and Princess Twilight galloping to the rescue.”

“Chrysalis trapped the girls on Earth,” I explained, with a sigh. “Now, to rescue them, I’m getting accelerated up to ludicrous speeds to gather enough aether to punch a hole in the barrier for a rescue mission to get through.” Swiftwing stared at me, opened mouthed. “Oh, and I got a cutie mark.”

She smacked herself on the forehead. “Damn it, Alex! Why can’t I have your life?”

For a moment I wanted to snap at her. My life had an expectancy of about twelve minutes, but Swiftwing wasn’t seeing that. She was seeing the Wonderbolt flightsuits, Sonic Rainbooms, and saving the world, like Rainbow Dash. Her wings didn’t ache from Spitfire’s slipstream practice. She hadn’t had to scream at her monarch just to get anything done. She didn’t have friends trapped in the clutches of a capital ‘V’ Villain who’d promised to kill her.

“Trust me, you wouldn’t want it,” I sighed. Swiftwing didn’t look like she believed me. “Now can you give me a hand getting into this thing?”

“Nah, but I can give you a hoof.”

On that long running joke we began to squeeze me into a spare aether rig. Swift with her usual enthusiasm, and Cog without a word. Neither he nor I seemed willing to bring up our last, disastrous meeting. Earth was on the line, after all.

“Swift, can you--” I began, vainly reaching for a strap. “Swift, what are you looking at?”

“Oh my gosh, she’s coming this way,” Swiftwing gushed, holding her hooves to mouth. “Spitfire. Spitfire’s looking at us. Quick, everypony look awesome... no, radical.”

I must have skipped the part of the pegasus handbook that described how to tell those two apart. Swift did her very best to make herself look confident, poised and ready to take wing at any moment. Overall the effect was to make her look like she’d just stuck her hoof in something slimy.

“Hey, Alex,” Spitfire called, ambling over. “I see you found the special equipment.” She glanced over my shoulder at Cog. “Oh, and you must be Crystal Cog. You know, I didn’t think setting the War Ministry on fire would have caused as much of an upset as you’ve managed.”

“I try my best,” he said with a smirk.

“And...” Spitfire continued, glancing Swiftwing’s way. Swift let out a little squeak, folded her wings flat, opened her mouth and completely failed to say anything.

“Swifting,” I cut in, before Swift managed to put her hoof any further in it. I put a wing across her shoulders. “The Club’s flying instructor, she taught me all I know.”

“Ah, good work there, kid,” Spitfire said, grinning, and held out a hoof. Like a robot, Swift bumped it back. “I’ve taught new flyers myself, and it’s never easy. You’ve done a great job with Alex here.” Swift stood frozen, looking like she didn’t know whether to cheer, or faint, but with the practiced ease of a celebrity, Spitfire continued. “Seems all the good flyers come out of Ponyville these days. You looking to be a Wonderbolt yourself?”

Swift let out a strangled groan, and shrank back.. “I... I’m not fast enough.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, kid,” Spitfire said, with an easy smile. “I have a hundred applications sitting on my desk saying they’re the fastest thing in Equestria, but you need to know flying inside and out if you want to be a precision flyer. Teaching got me closer to being Wonderbolt material than any race.” She turned back to me. “Anyway, Alex, if you’ve got your fancy suit on straight, come with me. We’re about to start.”

I took a deep breath. “Wish me luck, all,” I sighed.

“Knock’em dead, girl,” Cog said, waving.

Swift seemed to be in a world of her own and just mumbled incoherently., Spitfire began to make her way back towards the train, and I broke into a trot to keep up. Behind me, I heard Swift yell. “Cog, I need you to teach me everything you know about flying!”

Spitfire chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, Celestia, was I ever that young?”

“I really hope you weren’t just pulling her leg,” I said, shooting her a pointed look.

“Relax, rookie. I just lit a fire under her,” Spitfire said, shrugging. “Fillies like her need to remember that not everypony in the Wonderbolts was a prodigy. Most of us got there by working our tails off.”

I cocked an eyebrow. Most of my Wonderbolt knowledge was second hand, but I was pretty sure Spitfire had a world record by the time she was Swift’s age. Shaking my head, I said nothing. I couldn’t bring myself to care about Spitfire’s hero complex.

“So, everything working with the suit?” Spitfire continued.

I nodded, taking a short gulp of aether from the breather. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t need the rig. If something went wrong, and I ended up alone in Mexico, well then I’d be glad of the bulky suit.

Spitfire leapt up onto the flatbed carriage. “Alright everypony, and Soarin, listen up!” she yelled at the crowd. A couple of laughs rippled through the crowd. “You all know what you need to do, or at least you should have had it drummed in by now, so I’ll keep this short. This is the big one, ponies.” She fixed the assembled pegasi with a steely glare. “There’s a world we’ve got to save, an evil overlord for us to beat and there’s no fallback plan. I’ll be honest, this is the long shot, the final play. The unicorns have already given all they’ve got and it wasn’t enough.” A ghost of a smirk graced her lips. “But then, you know what everypony always says. If you want it done right, ask the earth ponies. If you want the impossible, then ask the unicorns. If you want the impossible, fast, then you ask the pegasi!” She punched the air. “Now are you ready to save the day?”

The crowd roared in agreement.

“Then let’s get in the air, and get this done!”

The sun was setting with alarming speed as we rode the updrafts into the sky. Equestria lay below me like a map, but I had no time nor inclination to admire it. Instead, I fought to stay as close to Spitfire, and the two dozen or so Wonderbolts, as possible. I wondered just what the general populace was making of the sun setting at three in the afternoon, but really, knew the answer. The message was simple, Celestia was marshaling her power for war.

About bloody time.

A series of cloud markers had been thrown together by the local weather ponies. They traced a hazy line between us and the capital, each a couple of kilometers apart. Waiting at the very end of the trail, if everything had gone to plan, was an airship carrying Celestia and a hundred elite soldiers.

“You’re going to die.”

For a moment, I forgot to flap, and dropped a dozen paces. The pegasi mare was nondescript, with a hazy blue coat that made hard to make out against the sky. I recognised her by the Tudor rose cutie-mark on her flank.

“Good to see you too,” I said, grumbling as I fought to regain altitude.

“This is insane,” Rose continued, her face devoid of emotion. “Even if you don’t die here, Chrysalis will kill you.”

I just shrugged. “I need to do this, Rose. I--”

“No, you don’t,” she snapped, glaring at me. “You don’t have to do anything. You can give up now. No one will care. You can live, Alex. Please, don’t do this.”

“Rose,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ve made my choice. I’m going to this.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I could stop you,” she murmured, voice barely audible above the wind. “I could replace you with a drone and spirit you away. It would save your life, and I’d take all the blame.”

I took a deep, shuddering, breath. Rose’s casual mind control references terrified me sometimes, but, right then, I felt sorry for her more than anything else. “I don’t need you to save me,” I said, meeting her tear filled eyes. “I want to do this.”

Rose’s face fell.

“Ready, rookie?” Spitfire called out, dipping her wings to fly alongside me and I glanced her way. By the time I looked back for Rose the sky was empty.

Sighing, I turned to Spitfire. “Yeah, let’s go.”

I fixed my eyes on the distant spires of Canterlot and took a deep breath, letting the aether flow through me. A little magic brushed against the barrier, and I shuddered as all my feathers tried to stand on end. It felt rather like bouncing a ball of lightning off a wall, and then having it near take your head off on the rebound.

“You sure?”

I just nodded. Despite the icy grip of fear twisting my guts, I had the power to help. I could save the world and, in the end, if I just shaved one minute off Chrysalis’ inevitable defeat, then it would have been worth it. Rose would forgive me, someday.

The formation had crept away from me, and I pumped my wings to catch up, dropping into step behind a cone of Wonderbolts. The first section was the easy bit, a warm-up jaunt at a hair under a hundred miles an hour. On a more normal day, that would have been my upper limit but, flying in the magic-rich wakes of the Wonderbolts, it was comfortable, if not easy. To my left and right were the guardsponies and weatherponies, each a bright spot of colour in the twilight sky. They seemed to be straining to keep up.

“FIRST GATE!” Spitfire roared, her aether boosted voice cutting through the roar of the wind in my ears. The flock was too large to pass through the red ring, but the central core, the Wonderbolts and I, slipped through the gap with just a few extra flaps to vector us in on the next marker.

The rest of the formation shifted on its axis as pegasi hurled themselves forwards, the flock going from a loose cloud to a mushroom shape. I sat almost at the back in the ‘stalk’, behind the Wonderbolts, who themselves sat behind a platoon of guardsponies at the centre. A visible shockwave began to form around the head of the formation as we picked up speed. It was hazy at first, but the aether wake was forming fast.

“Holding up okay there, rookie?” Spitfire called out, ducking back.

“More or less,” I said, through gritted teeth. An ache was building in my upper-wing and reaching its way down through my shoulders and across my chest. Airspeed was up to about one twenty and I was feeling the burn.

“Going to need to pick things up a bit, or you’re going to lose the slipstream.”

I took a deep gulp of refined aether, pushing the magic out through my wing, and surged forwards. Spitfire kept pace with a flick of her wings, she seemed to have no problems at all keeping up the breakneck speed.

“You’re going to need a little more than that,” Spitfire pointed out. “Ready to break the Wall?”

Gritting my teeth, I nodded. The shift to high speed had almost killed me the last time I’d tried it. I was flying in a stream of pure aether, though, there wasn’t going to be a better chance to try. Reaching deep I tried to remember that shift between flying with my wings, and using my wings to fly. It was an alien way of looking at flight. Replacing my familiar birdlike flappings with the equivalent of a magical jet engine.

I skipped a beat, throwing my hooves forward into the, now tortuously practiced, aether spike pose. In an instant I began to plummet, losing ground as the air resistance threatened to tear me out of formation. My wings burned with power as I sucked aether out of the air, and I threw out the familiar air shell. For a moment, my wings bit only the still air, until I caught the magic and hurled myself forwards.

“How,” I gasped, accelerating back up to Spitfire. “Was. That?”

She shrugged. “Four out of ten,” she said. My heart, if it hadn’t been about to explode, would have plummeted. “But good enough, I suppose. I need to make a few adjustments.” Spitfire hung a left and slipped in through my airshell, ponyhandling me into a better position. She only gave up with the minute tweaks as we hit the second coloured gate.

“SECOND GATE!” she roared, almost knocking me from the sky from the sheer volume.

A hundred flyers flared out their wings and dropped away, dumping aether into the formation as they shed velocity. A wave of white hot aether swept over and, as one, the formation accelerated, reaching an airspeed of about one fifty. I pumped more power through my wings, as I strained to keep up. My previous flight record lay shattered about a mile back, along with my sanity, and a couple of major bones if the strain from my back was anything to go by.

Spitfire had rejoined the Wonderbolts in formation. Once again I’d drifted out of position, and pushed harder to catch up, dropping into an empty space a dozen meters behind the main flock. I tried to focus on anything but the creak on my wings. Canterlot was growing with alarming speed, and I fancied I could make out the purple envelope of the airship already. That, or I was succumbing to wishful thinking due to a lack of blood to the brain.


The head of the formation disintegrated, eighty ponies dropping out of step and vanishing into our wake. For a moment the shockwave seemed to hang in the air before us. A vast dome of raw power, which collapsed, thundering down on us like water breaching a dam.

The Wonderbolts caught it. Their flight spiraling into a new formation like they were dancers on the stage, the wake wrapping around them like a shawl. My stomach did backflips as the aether in the air doubled, and then doubled again. I had to force myself to slow down as the sudden burst of power almost catapulted me straight through the Wonderbolts. I was even leaving a contrail, slate grey, as I struggled to control the aether flowing through me.

Spitfire and a couple Wonderbolts dropped back, forming a tight cone around me, two in front, four behind. Spitfire was at my right hoof and yelled over the defending roar. “ARE YOU READY, ALEX?”

Forget trusting myself to speak, I thought the wind was going to force my tongue down my throat if I opened my mouth. I just nodded.


The ring of cloud disintegrated as we screamed through. Most of the Wonderbolts banked hard away from the formation, dumping the strength of two hundred pegasi onto the wings of just seven. Spitfire staggered as she caught the aether, a huge shock cone forming before us, flecks of rainbow light dancing along the fringes. All of us were trailing contrails as we tore through the air, clocking two hundred miles per hour. Canterlot loomed large ahead, the airship standing out like a pimple against the white marble.

“YOU GOT THIS, ROOKIE,” Spitfire bellowed, her limbs trembling. The last gate was just a mile from the airship, a distance we covered about every twenty seconds. There was no room left for panic or fear. I swallowed my gall and we hit the final ring.

“NOW!” The Wonderbolts peeled away and the shockwave hit me like a hammer blow. My forehooves strained against the roar of aether tearing through me.

It was like trying to stand beneath Niagara Falls. The power shook me like a ragdoll, setting my wings ablaze with St. Elmo’s fire, as my forelegs strained against the weight of acceleration. My air shell folded backwards under the pressure, going bullet shaped and a taking on a rainbow hue.

A small, smug part of my brain pointed out that, with Dash away, I was the fastest thing in Equestria. The rest was gibbering in terror, far more worried about the whole 'exploding and dying' thing. Death seemed so much more immediate a worry in the maelstrom of energy, than back in a nice safe train carriage. I could see Celestia before me, standing proud at the prow of the ship, radiant in golden armour, and approaching at terrifying speed.

Black lightning exploded around me as, using an instinct I didn’t know I had, I dumped aether into the barrier. For a moment, the world vanished. I hung in the air, wings frozen in mid beat. Celestia was maybe ten meters from my nose, her expression as inscrutable as ever. It was like universe had shrunk down to just myself and the airship; a hundred meter sphere in a sea of elemental emptiness.

It lasted less than a heartbeat.

The world returned, but it was a very different one. Instead of blue skies of Equestria, the familiar slate grey English haze greeted me.

We arrived maybe a half mile above the ground and, with my momentum sapped by the transit, I began to plummet like a horse-shaped brick. Below us was a major battle. The roar of a high explosive shell split the air, along with the rapidfire chatter of machine guns and the eerie keening of the Changeling’s magic.

My wings beat against the air but, well, there was nothing to bite into. The airship was falling alongside me, the balloon doing little more than providing extra drag, and Celestia was... smiling?

Her horn kindled. Magic roared through my primaries, and then a second sun rose over the horizon.

Chapter 11: Inferno

View Online

I lay on my belly atop a Land Rover, my wings spread out like fans on each side of me. Cleaning up after the battle, which Celestia won in about three minutes, surged all around us. I couldn’t raise a hoof to help, for the most part because my wings had almost given out on me. However, I’d also managed to trigger Fluttershy’s injured baby bird reflexes.

“Argh, easy!” I flinched away from her hooves. Fluttershy fixed me with a tiny frown and went back to work. She hummed to herself as she massaged ‘Rainbow Rub’ into my tortured muscles. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Rainbow Dash endorsed a line of athletic creams.

“Twenty-three?” Applejack said, raising an eyebrow at Rainbow Dash. “Well, that’s mighty impressive... for a greenhorn.”

Dash threw up her hooves. “Greenhorn!” She pointed at the pile of changeling bodies the Equestrian soldiers were stacking at the edge of the car park. “Does that look like something a greenhorn could do?”

“Heh, you’re going to say all those were yours?” Applejack continued, her smirk widening. “By my count, I added thirty to that pile.”

“Thirty! Try thirteen,” Dash shot back, taking to the air and getting right up in Applejack’s face. “You couldn’t beat me even if I had a hoof and a wing tied--”

“Girls!” A burst of magic dragged the pair away from each other by their tails as Twilight trotted over. “This isn’t the time for arguments,” she said, her tone chiding. “First, because the Princess is right there, and I do not want to deliver another friendship report in person. Second--” a sudden grin overtook her “--I have you both outmatched with my one.”

Applejack sighed and nodded. “Fair ‘nough.”

Dash’s jaw dropped. “One! We’re trying to figure out who's the best changeling slayer. How does one beat my twenty-four?”

“Because it was that one.” Twilight pointed.

The goliath bug, as the humans nicknamed them, was about the size of an elephant and seemed to be Chrysalis’ answer to tanks. It looked rather like a supersized drone, covered in thick armoured plates, with massive blades instead of forelegs. The head was misshapen, the eyes withered away to almost nothing and the exoskeleton twisted around a giant horn, making me think of some kind of monstrous ant. Drones were infiltrators at heart, mimics who avoided fighting unless they outnumbered their opponents. There was nothing subtle about the goliath bugs.

There had also been nothing subtle about Twilight’s solution. Half a telephone pole had been rammed through the bug. The human soldiers had given up trying to remove the pole and just attached chains to one end. A tank struggled to drag it away.

“It still only counts as one,” Rainbow Dash muttered, crossing her forelegs and pouting.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Princess Celestia wants to speak to us. Fluttershy, is Alex okay?”

“I’m-- argh!” The yell escaped me as I tried to move my wings. Fluttershy sighed and, with a soft touch, folded my wings back, somehow managing to avoid all my aches and pains.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Twilight said, in a deadpan. “Come on you two, we’ve got a Queen to defeat... again.”

“Wait, two?” I said, doing a double take. “Umm, I’m not sure Celestia will want to see me.”

Twilight smiled, the subtext flying clear over her head. I sensed Celestia had paraphrased our earlier ‘discussion’ somewhat when describing it to her. “Actually, your presence is requested too. We going to need every spell in the book if we’re going to win this one.”

I groaned, rolling to my hooves and flexing my wing muscles as I grumbled to myself. “Okay, let’s get this over with.”

“Alex,” Twilight snapped, shooting me a flat look. “You tore a hole in reality. Stop playing the misbegotten hero and step up. We need your help, and you know full-well you can deliver.”

I frowned for a moment, but my heart wasn’t in it. I couldn’t complain too much about the path I’d chosen. Even if my wings felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to my primaries, it had been my decision.

“Fine.” I sprang down from the Land Rover, followed by Fluttershy. Dropping into step behind Twilight and the rest of the Elements, we picked our way across the battlefield, dodging around soldiers, vehicles and the occasional pile of rubble.

The Equestrian relief force had arrived on the scene just five minutes after the human equivalent. The battle had concluded shortly after Celestia and the pegasi joined the fray. Lighting and fire falling from the sky had shattered Changelings and the sudden rush of magic had given Twilight a second wind. Arrayed against that, it was all over bar the shouting. It stuck in my craw that the relief force was French, I couldn’t hold it against them, though.

The airship, named the Hindenburg as ponies can’t escape puns, tugged on its moorings next to the ruined ITER building. Its golden filigree shone under the harsh light of the sun overhead, looking otherworldly next to the muted greys and greens of its surroundings. Under the light of one of the suns, that is. I glanced up at the searing orb above my head. There were times when I felt I had a grasp on how Equestrian magic worked. The moment a princess showed up, though, I’d ended up right back at square one.

Earth had two suns at the moment. One was the real sun, hidden behind thick, black clouds. As far as I could tell it was happily carrying on its existence as a terrifying inferno of heat, light and electromagnetism a hundred million kilometres away. It paid no attention to the mortals fumbling around eight light minutes away, nor the fact it might go out in just a couple of days. The other sun was Celestia’s, or perhaps, it was Celestia herself. To be honest, I didn’t dare ask. It sat a few thousand feet up, burning a hole in the clouds, a single pinprick of painfully bright light in the sky.

The Princess stood on the deck of the airship, radiant in a very literal sense. The humans didn’t seem to notice the sheer amount of power pouring from Celestia, but the ponies could, and gave their princess a wide berth, even Tony and Louis. Just being on the deck was like standing under a magical heat lamp, and as we approached, my primaries began to buzz. Nopony was wearing aether rigs around Celestia. In the presence of the Princess, it was as easy to breathe as it was in Ponyville.

“Alex!” The moment I set foot on the deck, Pinkie Pie thundered over and swept me into a bone breaking hug.

“Gragh! Air,” I croaked, as my ribs creaked. “I need air.”

“Pinkie,” Fluttershy said, pushing the bouncing bundle of candyfloss off of me with weary ease. “What did Redheart say about hugging the injured?”

Pinkie seemed to wilt, and she dropped back onto all four hooves. “That’s how ponies get all their bones broken,” she said, head hung. She managed to hold still for three seconds. “Oh, but we’ve got to have a party!” she exclaimed, bouncing on the spot. “A rescue party-party. A cute-ceañera, party. A sorry for dragging you to another dimension, party. A--”

I stepped forwards and hugged her, which somehow stemmed her excited babble. “It’s good to see you too, Pinkie. I’m really glad you girls are all okay.” She squeezed me back, and I bit down on my tongue to stop from tearing up.

Rainbow Dash started making gagging noises, and we all glared at her.

“What?” she said, glaring back. “I’ve seen the Crusaders covered in less sap. Come on, we’re supposed to be saving the world.”

I sighed, dropping back onto my hooves. “She has a point.”

“No parties mid-quest, unfortunately,” Twilight agreed. “Now, Lieutenant Maynard has been shooting us sidelong glances long enough. Let’s not keep her any longer.”

Lieutenant Maynard managed to keep a straight face as we approached. She was bent over a table, sticking little flags onto a map of the South West of England. I think the map had been ripped out of an AAA book. “Ah, there you are,” she said, as if she hadn’t been watching our little reunion. “Good to see you. I’ve got everything we need for a briefing, so whenever you are ready, Princess.”

Twilight glanced at Celestia, who just nodded. “Let’s get this done,” Twilight said, stepping up to the table. It was a pony side table, dragged from below decks, and detailed beyond all reason. “When are the rest of your pon-- people getting here?”

Shaking her head, Maynard sighed. “No one is coming. This is a combat zone now, so no politicians or brass will be caught within a dozen miles. Right now, I am representing Her Majesty’s government, at least until we find someone more senior.” She glanced at Celestia. “Um, that’s my ‘Your Majesty’, not you, Your Majesty. Sorry, this doesn’t come up very often.”

Celestia smiled. “It is fine, please continue.”

“Right. So the situation has changed somewhat since my first briefing. With us dropping out of the loop, Command went on the offensive.” She pointed to the brightly coloured flags, which told me nothing more than that there was a lot going on in Wales and Cornwall. “So far I hear we’ve got some good penetration of Chrysalis’ lines, especially with tanks. Those Goliath bugs are murder against infantry, but they can't go one-on-one against a tank."

Twilight nodded, frowning at the map. “Changelings are always weaker the further they are from a queen,” she said, almost to herself. “Their strategy is to give ground and then surround any troops that get past their outer perimeter. Then they can focus against as small an enemy as possible and bring the queen up to deal with any extreme threats.” She paused a moment, chewing her lip. “Of course, here, Chrysalis doesn’t have a fraction of the ground such an action would require. Not to mention, her total number of drones and magic reserves must be limited by--”

Maynard cleared her throat. “Excuse me, but can I finish before we start strategizing?”

“Sorry.” Twilight blushed, shrinking down where she sat. “Um... go on. What is humanity's plan?”

“I think right now we’re all focused on getting a bullet between Chrysalis’ eyes.” Maynard shrugged. “Though how effective that’ll be, I don’t know.”

“Well, killing Chrysalis will disrupt the hive...” Twilight tapped a hoof on her chin. “I’m not sure a single bullet will get through her defences though.”

Maynard’s face darkened. “Well, with any luck we can run her over with a tank. Our plan A is pretty much that. Plan B, though, is to bomb the hell out of the power plant, until we’re sure there’s nothing left alive bigger than a mouse. Then we cross our fingers that she’s dead.”

“What?” I exclaimed, my wings screaming at me, as I flung them wide in shock. “You can’t bomb a nuclear power plant!”

“They’re pretty tough things,” Maynard grumbled, staring at the map. “If we’re lucky we only lose a hundred square miles to fallout. Or at least that’s what they tell me...” she took a deep breath. “Would that work?” she asked Twilight. “The bombs?”

Twilight hemmed and hawed for a moment. “It very much depends on how Chrysalis constructs her shield. If she were smart, she would construct an anti-oxidation field, then none of your explosives would function.”

“Gurh--” Maynard picked up her dropped jaw, and I smiled in sympathy. She shook herself. “Right, magic. Not our rules. There is a plan C if all else fails, but... but it’s a nuclear strike.”

My stomach dropped like a stone. “That’s insane,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. “Insane.”

“Okay, somepony’s going to have to explain that,” Rainbow Dash interjected, crossing her forelegs. “What’s so insane?”

Twilight beat us to the explanation. “It would kill millions of people, Dash."

Rainbow stared, her muzzle twisted in confusion. “Why is that even an option?” she exclaimed, throwing up her hooves.

Maynard slammed her fists down on the table. “Because, when you have to choose between a country and the world, you choose the world!” The soldier took a deep, calming breath before continuing. “It isn’t going to come to that, though. Right?”

“Absolutely,” Twilight assure her, kicking Applejack under the table before she could say anything.

Letting out a relieved sigh, Maynard continued. “Good. So, if I might ask how you’d deal with Chrysalis? So far, shock and awe doesn’t seem to work that well on an enemy that doesn’t care about losses.”

“Numbers has always been the problem with changelings.” Twilight glanced back at the map. “Especially now, where Chrysalis seems to be able to draw on impressive reserves. Equestrian tactics generally focus on border skirmishes, breaking up formations, holding ground and so forth. Since the wedding débâcle, my brother has been trying to form a proper response, but to be honest, it’s almost impossible.” She sighed, glaring at a flag bearing a black queen as it’s symbol. “Chrysalis is powerful, incredibly so. She's a match for either the Elements or Princess Celestia in a stand up fight. If she is on a battlefield, the odds of any regulars taking her on are laughable. Humans have far better weapons than us, but even so, the smart choice is to remove her from the battlefield.”

We all looked at her askance, but Twilight ignored us, looking smug.

“Sugarcube, how are we supposed to scare her off?” Applejack asked, breaking the silence.

“Simple. We take her back to Equus,” Twilight explained, smirking. “We have three ponies here who can breach the barrier. If we do so while Chrysalis is close enough, we can drag her back through to Equestria."

Hold up, three?

"Doesn't that just leave us alone with a pissed-off changeling?" Dash cut in, before I could say anything. "That doesn't sound like it'll help."

"Actually, Rainbow Dash," Celestia replied, with another of her slight smiles."It will achieve three things; it will prevent Chrysalis from doing any more damage to Earth, it will isolate her from her army, and it will allow my sister to lend her weight to the battle." She frowned. "Which hopefully will placate Luna somewhat, after I left her behind."

"Heh, just keep throwing princesses at her?" Dash said, leaning back and smirking. "I can get behind that plan."

"Sorry, three?" I interjected. I counted two alicorns that could breach the barrier, and had my worries about who the final pony might be. “Twilight, I can barely fly right now. I’m not doing that again anytime soon.”

Twilight shot me her best placating grin. It didn’t help. “Don’t worry Alexis. I’m sure it won't come to that. We just need you along for security’s sake.”

I shot her a flat look. “And you’re planning to replace the combined efforts of two hundred pegasi with what?”


“Me!” Dash cut in, puffing herself up to her full height. “Though... I was thinking of tying one hoof behind my back, you know, to make things fair.”

I pressed a fetlock to my eyes. I’m not sure what was more terrifying, that she might be serious, or might be right. “Okay, fine, I’ll be your third,” I said, shaking my head.

“Awesome!” Dash exclaimed. “Don’t worry Alex, nopony’s going to get in our way.”

Maynard just shook her head. “Well, I guess that’s as good a plan as we’re getting.” She placed a tablet in a rugged case onto the table. “Now, I’ve been yelling at some colonels to get us some transport.” It was hard to miss her self-satisfied grin. “I may have put my career back five years but we should be able to get to the site before sundown.”

We all glanced up at Celestia’s sun. It didn’t look like it’d be setting anytime soon.

“Or, at least before the thunderstorm sweeping in from the Atlantic gets there,” Maynard continued, without missing a beat. She pulled up some satellite shots of a monster of a storm sweeping in over Ireland. “I also have some stills from a drone that made its way over the site.” She tapped at the screen and passed the tablet into Twilight’s telekinetic field. “Take a look and see if anything jumps out at you.”

“You know, if you want that storm bucked, you have some of the best pegasi in the business,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing at her wings. “I hear you people don’t have weather ponies.”

Twilight answered without looking up from the tablet. “Not a good plan, Earth’s storms are nothing like Equestria’s. The electrical power stored in a Terran thunderstorm is titanic. It would be like... like...” her voice faded away as she stared at the screen.

She dropped the pad at the centre of the table. On screen was an industrial looking building by the sea, Hinkley Point at a guess. The roof had vanished in a haze of magic. The usual glow of spellcraft was so bright that the camera had caught only a blur in the vague shape of a circle.

“Oh, Celestia,” Twilight swore, eyes transfixed. “Look at the size of that spell. We need to stop Chrysalis! We need to stop her right now!”

Lieutenant Maynard must have set a record for getting us into the air, though I couldn’t thank her for it. Keening wails of machinery and the roar of the helicopter's rotors battled for supremacy in the cramped cabin. Turbulence would, without warning, hurl us across the cabin, and wild swings would slide us back. My inner pegasus ached to throw it all to the wind and fly myself, no matter how much my wings burned. Rainbow Dash, who very much put a voice to that internal pegasus, had already tried to escape twice. It was a good thing they locked the doors. For added reassurance, Pinkie Pie sat on her.

“Okay everybody!” Maynard bellowed, just audible over the howl of the engines. “We’re coming down in a town called Bridgewater. It’s spitting distance from Hinkley Point, and so, spitting distance from Chrysalis. This isn’t going to a gentle landing. Hold on to something!”

My stomach dropped like a stone as the helicopter plummeted. I tightened my grip on the webbing as we lurched back and forth. Flashes of green light burst beyond the windows, casting harsh shadows across the cabin, and the helicopter rang like a bell under the impacts.

“I don’t like this!” Fluttershy wailed, her hooves clasped over her head.

I gritted my teeth, straining against the urge to throw my wings wide. Generations of instinct were screaming at me that I was about to die, but I clamped down on them. As the noise of spellfire intensified, the engines surged, and we were all pressed down to the floor by the deceleration. A crash heralded our landing, and a soldier flung the door open. Fluttershy escaped first, a yellow and pink blur.

“Move it! Watch the rotors.” Maynard hustled us out of the doors and into the evening gloom. Our landing pad was a muddy field behind a row of detached houses. The earth beneath my hooves was a quagmire, dotted with craters and criss-crossed by deep tank tracks. Chunks of brick and masonry crunched underhoof as I tore towards the shattered houses. Soldiers in fatigues beckoned us on. Fire lit the sky above our heads.

Five helicopters had been enough to hold the entire Equestrian force and, with surprising ease, the military ponies poured out. Shields materialized above our heads, the arcing changeling magic rolling off the surface like some kind of hellish rain from an umbrella. The steady crack of gunfire echoed in the distance, punctuated by the occasional boom of a cannon, or an artillery shell. Before I could begin to panic, though, we burst through the ruins of a house and into a makeshift base.

Between the row of houses, the sounds of battle fell away. A few marques had been set up in the street, and soldiers were hurrying to-and-fro. A man strode from the crush as we approached. He was not tall, but was built like a wall, and greying around the fringe. He picked out Celestia from our party in a moment.

“Your Majesty,” he said, his voice sharp and every word clipped. He halted before her and saluted with impeccable form. “Welcome to the sharp end. I'm Colonel Ward. Sorry things aren’t more up to scratch. It’s been dicey ever since the bugs figured out how to launch their witchfire like artillery. I hear that you’re bringing your own brand of weaponry to the fight. That’s good; we need something." He pointed up at Celestia’s sun, now hanging low in the sky above our heads, glowing an angry red. "Is that it?”

“In part,” Celestia said, displaying her usual mastery of the half answer.

Ward frowned. “Well, I hope it works, I’ve got attacks all over my line. It seems the bugs really don’t like you being here, Your Majesty. I hope what you ponies are packing has some serious power, or we are going to be driven back in short order.”

“Driven back?” Twilight interjected, hurrying forwards. “No, no, no. We need to get to Chrysalis before she activates whatever spellwork she’s trying to cast. Given the amount of power she could have gathered, and the sheer size of the spell she’s casting, the effects--”

“Sir, we’ve just got word from up-top.” An aide tapped Colonel Ward on the shoulder. Twilight glared daggers at the interruption. “The changeling reserves up at Weston-Super-Mare are on the move.”

Ward grunted. “How many, and how fast?”

“Err... all of them, Sir.”

The colonel glared into space for a moment. “Your weapon,” he snapped, rounding on the Equestrians. “Range, power and reload.”

“What?” Twilight did a double take. “Oh, no. Umm. See there might have been a miscommunication.” Ward’s glare intensified. “See, it’s one shot. And contact.”

Colonel Ward rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I guess I should have seen that coming. One chance for friendship to carry the day, just like the show.” More than a few of the nearby soldiers glanced at him askance. “What are you all looking at?” he barked. “I have three daughters.”

“Sir, it’s worse than you think.” Lieutenant Maynard stepped in front of the flustered Princess. Ward’s glower intensified. “Sorry, Sir. Lieutenant Maynard, acting liaison for the Equestrian forces.”

Ward cocked an eyebrow. “Acting liaison?”

“I imagine that there’s a Lieutenant Colonel with the actual role somewhere behind the lines. Until he catches up, I’m the best we’ve got,” Maynard said, with a weak smile. “That’s not important. Princess Twilight here has intel to suggest things may be worse than we thought.”

“That would be impressive,” Ward said, icily. Sighing, he turned back to Twilight. “Very well, what is going on?”

Twilight seemed to ignore the slight. “Chrysalis is preparing a truly massive spell,” she explained, in a brisk tone. “I can’t tell you what she intends to do, but the last time she had access to this much power, she almost destroyed Equestria, so I’d say it’s nothing good.”

Ward glanced back at Maynard. “How bad?”

“End of the world b--”

“Get down!”

One of the houses exploded, sending burning bricks screaming across the street. We all dropped as green flames arced over our heads. A burst of pink energy bounced the burning masonry away from anything vital. Twilight grunted, her horn blazing like the sun.

“I hate changelings!” Maynard spat, scrambling back to her feet.

Another fireball screamed through the air towards the camp, but it was met halfway by an explosion of blinding white light. By the time the spots cleared from my vision, the fireball was gone and Celestia stood, wings flared, ephemeral light pouring from her frame.

“I think it’s mutual,” Twilight growled, shaking herself, rubbing her smoking horn. “Is... oh no...”

In the distance, a pillar of light rose into the sky, miles away but clear as day, doing its best to outshine Celestia’s little sun. The clouds seemed to swirl around it, as if angered by the intrusion, and more of that sickly fire blazed through the air towards us.

“It’s started,” Twilight murmured. “Princess what--”

“Sir, artillery is hitting every position!” a different aide yelled in Colonel Ward’s ear. “They’re driving our men back!”

“Captain Bravewing, your pegasi shall attend me,” Celestia snapped, a halo of fire forming atop her head. “We will hold off this attack. Twilight, please hurry.” In a rush of displaced air she hurled herself into the air, her fighting pegasi a mere half beat behind. The evening gloom shattered, cast into harsh dawn as solar magic cut through the sky. A beam of pure light leapt from the Princess, tearing into some unseen opponent like the wrath of god.

“Colonel!” Twilight roared, rounding on the man, who was staring at the distant light of Celestia with his jaw on the floor. If we’re being honest, I was not far off, though, I wasn’t sure what I was more amazed by. A pastel pony princess throwing around deathrays, or the fact that Celestia had actually taken the initiative on something.

The Colonel shook himself. “Yes, Princess,” he said, regarding Twilight with what looked like the beginnings of respect.

“We need to get to the power plant,” Twilight informed him, shouting over the roar of Celestia's attack. “Can we do that in thirty minutes?”

The world went white for a moment, followed by an earthshaking blast wave that swept over us, threatening to blow us off our feet.

“Can we?” Twilight bellowed, wings spread wide.

Ward nodded, before turning back to his command. “All right everyone! I want every tank off the line and ready to go in five minutes. Get all the reserves, every vehicle, every gun and let’s get this done!”

The camp exploded into life, as if someone had kicked an anthill. Twilight let out a deep breath and slumped, her wings dragging as she walked the few steps back to her friends. “Now,” she said, staring out at the spear of changeling magic, “let us just hope we’re fast enough.”

The bombardment started just a few minutes later, along with the rain.

There’s no great military legacy in my family. I think my grandfather spent the Second World War in the post office. I hadn’t made it through life without watching a movie, or listening to war poetry, though. It was the poetry that spoke to me then, as the ground shook beneath my hooves from the weight of bombs. The shells screamed over our heads, wailing banshees that cut trails through the heavy clouds before plunging to earth. Individual explosions blurred into constant roar of death and destruction, which reverberated deep in my chest and kept my ears pinned flat against my head.

We couldn’t see the power plant from the motor pool. There were a couple of hills in the way, dotted with the shells of farms and houses. The steady march of high explosive rounds had torn the countryside to shreds before our eyes. Trees and buildings had been ripped apart, and craters dug in craters.

It was the human way of war, death and destruction on a terrifying scale. Metal and mud and the constant, soul crushing noise of battle, raining down on you. It had been fifteen minutes, and I was already a wreck. My wings twitched every time a particularly large bomb came crashing down, as if being in the air would somehow help. Fluttershy was coping better than me. She sat in the back of the open topped Land Rover, pointedly not looking at the bombardment, cotton wool stuffed in her ears. It would have been wiser to follow her lead, but, just as I couldn't flee, I couldn't tear myself away.

“I’m sorry,” Pinkie said, softly. She sat at my side, barrel pressed against mine, as we watched the ‘fireworks’. “I shouldn’t have made you come. It’s not fair.”

A tremor ran through me. “I think,” I said, at length, “that I could be anywhere else right now, and be happy, or at least too drunk to care, but I wouldn’t choose that path.” I glanced back at my new cutie mark. “I’ve spent a long time being powerless, and scared, but if the world’s going to end here, I want to be fighting ‘till the very end.” I sighed. “Does it get easier, Pinkie? Can you save the day so many times that it just... just... just doesn’t bother you any more?”

She shook her head. “No, you never can.” The weight of the world was on my wings. The shells rained down and the mud deepened with every falling drop of rain, as we sat there and watched. “Sometimes you want to run, but there’s no where to go. Sometimes you want to hide, but there’s no safe place left. When times are darkest, you have to pull yourself up on your hooves, and laugh, because there’s nopony left but you.”

“Stop,” I said, nodding and took a deep breath. “Breathe. Then, save the world.”

“And you know what?” Pinkie said, with a little giggle. “It’s actually number two that’s the tricky one.”

“Pssh, who struggles with breathing?” Rainbow Dash snapped, right next to my ear. Pinkie and I both started, and I leapt away from the hovering pegasus, my wing spread wide in alarm.

“You don’t need to worry about a thing, Alex,” Dash continued, puffing out her chest and holding a hoof across her heart. “I won’t let the changelings even ruffle one feather. Just stick close to me and we’ll get through this easy as pie.”


We both stared at Pinkie, who just stared back, tilting her head in confusion.

Twilight chose that moment to arrive, trotting through the muck along with Rarity and Applejack. Somewhere, Rarity had managed to find galoshes. “Okay, is everypony ready?” Twilight called out, her horn flaring with magic as she boosted her voice over the roar of shellfire.

Around us, the humans and the Equestrian soldiers hurried into place. A dozen tanks and twice again as many small trucks and cars sat idling, many still bearing scorch marks and deep rents in their armour. Dash smacked her hooves together, the sound lost in the general cacophony.

“Lets do this!” she cheered, grinning like a loon.

“ONE MINUTE! ONE MINUTE WARNING!” a megaphone cut through the explosive roar. “LOAD UP, OR BE LEFT BEHIND!”

Lieutenant Maynard came hurrying through the crowd, half dragging another soldier. She dropped the unfortunate private into the drivers seat of the Land Rover, before calling shotgun.

“I’ll see you girls at the hive,” Twilight continued, shaking her head. “Rainbow Dash, are you ready to fly?”

“Born ready!” She paused, mid flap. “I’m lead pony though, right?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Whatever you say, Rainbow Dash. Stay safe, girls.”

The pair lept into the sky, joining Celestia and the rest of the pegasi. Across the valley the shellfire was abating, the rolling thunder going from a steady rain to the occasional bone shaking retort. The cries of ponies and men, as everyone struggled to find somewhere to perch for the desperate dash across changeling territory, echoed in my ears, and I found myself, mechanically, clambering into the Land Rover. Without a word, Fluttershy passed some cotton wool from her medical bag.

“Gotta’ say, you humans love yer toys.” Applejack had an assault rifle across her back, adapted for pony use by sticking a wooden dowel to the trigger. “Could use one of these next time them timber wolves come sniffing around.”

“Don’t worry, I’m sure Cog will be churning them out soon enough,” I grumbled.

Pinkie took up position on the pintle-mounted machine gun at the back of the car. Rarity began laying out the ammunition belt with her usual precision. I just stuffed the wool in my ears, spreading my wings out a little as I tested the barrier.

Engines began to rev around us, deep sonorous booms shouting out the more restrained roars of the trucks and cars. “All units, all units,” a voice called over the radio. Ward’s I think, but it was so heavy with static I couldn’t make it out. “Move out. Keep it at forty, stay in formation and stop for nothing.”

The car jerked as we set off, wheels spitting out mud in our wake. The Element’s ride was at the very centre of the formation, along with the trucks and armoured cars that held the ground bound ponies. Challenger tanks lead the way, armoured behemoths that, with luck, would keep us safe from whatever the changelings could muster. I would have felt far more reassured if our route didn’t take us past the burned out husk of one of those same tanks.

A blaze of light and magic arced over our heads. The convoy began to pick up speed down the hill. Celestia and her pegasi swept through the sky, dropping lightning from the heavens over the next hill. Something supersonic cracked through the sky, cutting a swath just below the clouds. A half dozen missiles streaked through the air before vanishing out of sight. The detonations were almost lost in the general roar. I felt a shiver run down my spine.

“I hate fighting,” Pinkie Pie sighed, ears pressed flat. She held onto her gun with both forehooves as we bounced and jolted down the hill. “And I hate war. Especially human style.”

I could only see the back of Maynard’s head, but it didn’t take much to imagine her rolling her eyes. “Suck it up, princess,” she snapped, jabbing a finger at the distant pillar of light. “You don’t get any more of a just war than stopping that.”

Another distant boom rattled us.

“Girls, I’m scared.” The words escaped me before I could stop them.

Fluttershy put a wing around me. She said nothing, but just the presence of another pony helped.

“Contact, front!”

The changelings, of course, were waiting for us. A mass of black chitin came pouring over the brow of the hill, peppering the armoured column with green bolts of magic. Tracer began to pour back, lines of eye-searing fire tearing through the bugs like a blowtorch through ricepaper. It was all a prelude to the tanks, though. In less time than it took to slam my hooves over my ears, their main guns roared. Four high explosive shells crossed the hundred or so meters in an eyeblink and the entire changeling force evaporated. Perhaps one or two got lucky and hurled clear by the devil's own luck, but I saw nothing beyond a rain of icor and broken carapaces.

We rolled on, straight into the ambush just over the hill, which was obscured by the clouds of dust and smoke from the high explosive rounds until the very last second. Three goliath bugs exploded from the earth, hurling themselves at the lead tank. Two went down to cannon fire, armour piercing rounds tearing the mountains of flesh to shreds, but one came on. It didn’t bother with anything as complicated as magic; the beast put down its head and took the tank head on.

It must have been like driving into a boulder. The tank went up and over the goliath, tumbling in mid air before thundering to the ground. It flipped end over end, screaming in agony as metal tore like paper.

“Shit!” Our driver wrenched on the wheel, all four tires squealing, kicking up mud as he weaved his way past the stricken tank.

“Don’t stop, don’t stop!” Maynard bellowed as more changeling fire poured in.

Great gouts of magic cleaved through the air above our heads, launched from goliath bugs further into the valley. Lightning, screaming down from the heavens, raced back, along with more conventional weapons of war as the tanks went into rapid fire.

There was no way to keep track of the battle. Screams, explosions, roaring engines and the constant rain of deadly magic and lethal steel fought for attention. I watched a tank die, a lance of green fire tearing through its armour like it was made of plywood. The ammunition detonated, rocking our car on its axles. A goliath bug was torn apart by a rainbow blast, called down by Dash, most likely, moments before it brought down its scythe like claws on a truck full of ponies. Changelings boiled from holes in the ground, only to be cut down by machinegun fire. Heat washed over me, as a jet, ripped from the sky, came down in a fireball just a hundred yards away. Pinkie’s gun beat out a deadly roar as it swept across the hordes, joined by a hundred other small arms as the drones tried to swarm the column.

Bombed-out houses flashed past. Broken bodies of changelings, ponies, men and more that I couldn't identify at a glance littered our wake. Every moment some new sound, or burst of light, or wave of heat or spellpower would strike. I could do nothing but hunker down in my seat and pray that somehow we would make it through the storm alive.

Hours passed, or maybe minutes, or maybe it all happened in a handful of bloody seconds that blurred into an eternity. A particularly deep rut near bounced me from my seat, and suddenly the roar of battle was just a distant echo in my ears. We were tearing down a hill, towards the power plant. It was a huge structure, a foreboding cube of concrete and steel even before Chrysalis had got her hooves on it, and now a ring of obsidian pillars surrounded the site. A green soap bubble shield covered the new hive, and rippled and shook every time a shell or missile slammed into it.

There was a deep crack and the column of light and magic began to fall from the sky. It fell straight, the hundred meter spear collapsing to a single ring at the apex of the power plant. It was unbearably bright, and a wash of magic buzzed across my pinions. A sudden rush of wings heralded Twilight’s arrival, and she landed, hard, on the rollcage.

“Twi’, what’s going on?” Applejack roared.

The alicorn fought to keep her footing as we bounced and jolted our way across the field. There was a flare of magic from Twilight’s horn. “It’s some kind of portal spell, but...” She shook her head. “That’s insane. It’s got a range of a hundred million kilometres or more. What could be that far away?”

My stomach dropped away as realisation struck. Chrysalis had said so many times that she wanted the sun. Had we ever stopped to wonder, which sun she was trying to steal? “The sun!” I bellowed. “That’s Earth’s sun.”

“Which is an inferno that produces more energy in a second than Celestia’s Sun does in a thousand years,” Twilight said in a rush, not taking her eyes off the portal. “And all that energy will be here in sixteen minutes.”

I could actually see the moment where she paused, her wings lying limp for just a moment. Then, Twilight took a deep breath and began to rattle off orders. “Right, the mission hasn’t changed. Get in there, shut down the reactor, and stop Chrysalis. Lieutenant, we’re going to brute force our way through the shield. Get those tanks focused on the towers, they’re a structural weakness. We’ll support you from the air.”

With a heave of her wings, Twilight shot back into the sky. Maynard was on the radio in a moment. “All units, all units. Starbuck says charge, focus on the towers and do not stop. Repeat, focus on the towers and do not stop until we’re inside the compound.”

The car rattled as we hit tarmac, the shattered road giving us a clear run towards the power plant. Our little column of armour seemed rather anaemic against the sheer size of the place; we were down to just four tanks and maybe ten vehicles. Even at a distance, I could see more changelings pouring out of the building in a never-ending tide of chitin. The tanks thundered, main guns pumping another volley of shells into the forces lining the shield. Countless drones were scythed down before my eyes, but more kept coming.

Then Celestia struck. For an instant, all sound ceased, and the world went white. A deep roar rose up, building and building until I feared a solid wall of sound would crush us. The blast was impossible to look at. Staring into the sun would have been kinder and, even through my closed eyelids, the sheer intensity burned like an electric needle. The whole thing lasted just a moment, but when the spots cleared from my vision, the world had been torn apart.

Chrysalis’ shield held, just, and was glowing a cherry red, but not a blade of grass, nor tree, still stood ahead of the column. Somehow, there were still more changelings to charge through the wavering shield and bolts of magic once more began to scream through the sky towards us. Celestia’s fury seemed to have done nothing but slow them down.

“What the hell does it take to kill these bastards?” I heard Maynard exclaim, slamming her hand down on the dashboard. Another tank took a bolt of magic between the turret and the body, and the whole thing vanished in a blaze of fire and magic. The three survivors salvoed again, shells whistling through the air to tear apart the changeling reinforcements. Another explosion split the sky as a prismatic blur shot over our heads and lightning began to fall amongst the changelings. Still, the magic screamed past us, flames licking at the sides of the car as Pinkie’s gun began to bark once again.

There was an explosion of multicoloured light as Rainbow Dash broke the sound barrier. With a sense of deja vu, Dash hurled herself at the shield and, with a crack that they must have heard in Wales, it buckled beneath her hooves. For a moment, my eyes were fixed on the glowing dome, as if my will would be enough to drag it down, but nothing happened. It wavered, but stood firm.

A tank died in my moment of distraction, rolling to a stop with smoke billowing from all the hatches. That left the depleted column with just a pair of battered and scorched behemoths. The final pair didn’t hesitate, though, with just a couple hundred meters separating us from the plant they loaded a final pair of shells and let fly. The armour piercing rounds slammed into the flickering shield and went through like a hot knife through butter. Two of the shield's support columns shattered beneath the hammer blow and, like morning mist, the shield vanished.

Applejack let out a whoop, right next to my ear, as the wall vanished, but any relief was short lived. There was an earth rending scream from the compound, and at the crown of the building, a flare of magic fire flashed into sudden fury.

“Twitchy, twitchy, twitch!” Pinkie Pie shrieked, and dragged Applejack and Rarity down into the bed of the Land Rover. The solid beam of magic still almost took their heads off, and I felt my fur singe under the blistering heat. A blueish white shield sprang into life above us, but Rarity’s magic just seemed to draw Chrysalis’ ire. The full weight of stolen magic bore down on us, an inferno separated by mere inches.

Twilight’s usual teleportation flash was blinding as she arrived between us and the beam. Her own shield bounced the blast into the sky, and the beam cut out as we screeched to a stop in the lee of the building. The girls leapt free of the car, and I managed to miss my footing and hit the ground with a bang as I tried to follow them. My legs seemed to have turned to jelly at some point. While I scrambled back to my hooves, the survivors of the column leapt into action. Men and ponies lead the charge into the building, laying down a barrage of suppressing fire.

“Come on, Alex!” Rainbow Dash landed hard next to me. The aether magic was pouring off her, like water from a fire-hose. Sparks leapt between us as she dragged me along after the herd. “Don’t stop now, we’ve almost got this.”

The unicorns kindled their horns as we poured into the power plant. The lights had been either smashed or just failed at some point during the battle, turning every shadow into a waiting drone. Chrysalis’ taste in interior design was giving me flashbacks to the ancient temple in the badlands, all shattered stone and ichor, but there was no time to admire the scenery. Guns roared, the screams of men and changelings echoing through the halls, and above it all I could hear Twilight screaming. “Follow me, follow me!”

Dash and I pushed our way through the soldiers, or rather Rainbow Dash ran forwards like a little missile, and I followed in her wake.

“I hope we’re going somewhere in particular!” I heard Applejack snap, as we caught up with the rest of the Element bearers.

“Main reactor,” Twilight said, between pants, as we thundered down a corridor. A pair of drones burst out of a side passage. Twilight didn’t even pause before slamming them into the wall with a burst of telekinesis. “Shut it down, stop Chrysalis gaining any more power, then head for the roof.”

We burst into a wide open chamber, lit only by the horns of Rarity, Twilight, and the half dozen unicorn soldiers who’d managed to keep pace. Alarm bells were ringing in the back of my mind, along with some real world sirens. Some buried human instinct was screaming at me that I was standing way too close to a nuclear reactor for comfort.

“Come on, this wa--” Twilight was lifted off her hooves by an emerald lance. The magic picked her up and tossed her across the room like a rag doll, slamming the alicorn into a tangle of pipes and cables. She dropped to the floor with a sickening bang, and vanished from our sight in the gloom as her magic failed.

“Twilight!” Pinkie screamed. She went to spring after her fallen friend, but had to drop to her belly as a second inferno blasted over her head.

Light exploded into the room as the unicorns sent up flares. Changeling drones poured from every nook and cranny, and a hail of magic filled the air. Gunfire roared as the earth ponies let rip into the mass of bugs and even some braver humans dared to enter the reactor room and join the firefight.

“Out of my way!” Twilight galloped back towards us as if her tail were on fire. Ponies jumped back out of their Princess’ path, shields falling before her as she scrambled back behind our defensive line.

I’d like to say that I noticed something was off about her; that I’d spotted some quirk, or tactical oddity which gave me that crucial half second to react. In truth, I was just as surprised as everyone else when green flames wreathed the princess, and Queen Chrysalis stepped out of the fire. Three ponies were dead before anyone had a chance to blink as she lashed out with a whip-like burst of magic. Applejack and Pinkie hurled themselves at the Queen, ducking and weaving under more witchfire, and tackled her to the ground.

“Now, Alex!” Rainbow Dash charged, her wings snapping open as she leapt into the air. I was a half beat behind the accelerating pony, who was doing her very best to break the sound barrier indoors. Aether arced between us like a lightning bolt, and, beneath my wings, the barrier began to sing as--

Chrysalis leapt forwards, blasting Applejack and Pinkie Pie away. Rainbow Dash jinked, and it was only a lifetime of dodging death by millimetres that guided her around a cloud of green magic. I didn’t have a fraction of that skill and flew straight into the cloying fog.

A strangled squeak escaped me as Chrysalis dragged me through the air towards her. I struggled, and kicked and desperately tried to punch the barrier, but if I budged an inch I couldn’t tell.

“Ah, Alexis,” Chrysalis said, a mirthless smile revealing her blooded fangs. A pair of ponies charged in, only to be batted away by another surge of magic. “I promised to kill you... Goodbye.”

Her magic hurled me away, faster than I would have believed possible, towards the nearest wall. There was no time to brace, or gather a scrap of aether to protect myself, just me and the cruel reality of physics.

I hit, head first, with a crack that echoed through the room. The impact caved in my skull, broke my neck, and I was dead by the time I hit the floor.

Chapter 12: Thunderclap

View Online

“Breathe! Why won’t you breathe?”

There should have been pain, but there wasn’t.

“Pinkie, she’s gone.”

There should have been a great light, the roar of the angelic host, and the pearly gates swinging open, but my world was still and empty.

“We have to go. We have to stop Chrysalis!”

Only sky.

“I’m sorry.”

And air. And a soft place to lay down and just--


“I’ll be back for you, Alex.”

Confusion. I couldn’t remember where or when. A blur of fire sat where my memories should have been. There was just a name, and a gaping void, and--


I could feel her eyes, malevolent green eyes. A flare of sickly green magic and then... then...


The end of the world.

I needed to move.

I needed to get to Chrysalis

I had to stop her.


The world shifted beneath me as I fanned my... wings? Yes, wings seemed familiar.


I stood before a barrier. Lightning and wind barred the way, and the storm ripped away my breath as I tried to muscle through. I had to push through. There was nothing else.


“Gah!” Air and aether rushed into my lungs, searing like fire. For a moment, the fog clung to every part of me. I couldn’t remember where I was, or what I was doing; who, when and why seemed equally elusive concepts. Did I have wings? Yes, definitely. Legs? How many remained undecided, but I was sure I had at least one. Hands? Maybe. I decided to get back to that one. Head? That sounded like something I’d need.

I shook that head and flapped my wings, hovering a foot or so above the ground. Around me, pipes, cables, computers and machinery lay in ruins. A grey haze crept across the floor, burning everything it came in contact with. The bodies of ponies and drones littered the shattered space, along with the odd human and an unfortunate pegasus mare that lay broken at my feet. She hadn’t made it. An empty space opened in my mind as I stared at the body. Chrysalis had done this-- I knew that, at least --there had been a battle and then...

She was going to destroy the world!

The fog cleared in an instant, and sudden clarity burned through my mind. Gunfire and screams echoed through the halls of the power plant. A surge of magic swept across my wings as a distant detonation rattled the building. Dust and the odd pipe rained down from the ceiling. A voice echoed through the halls: Maynard.

“Holy shit!” The lieutenant leapt backwards as I arrived. Her rifle barked once, sending a bullet screaming down the corridor, and a dozen guns swung in my direction.

“Hold fire! Hold fire!” She held up her hand to stop them filling me with hot lead, though none of the guns dropped. “Miss Kingston, is that you?”

I frowned. To be fair, I doubted I looked my best after my face’s brief altercation with a wall. Still, there was no need to open fire. “Yeah, it’s me.” With a flap, I hovered closer. “What did I miss?”

Maynard took a step back, the small team of soldiers tracking me with their guns. A group of ragged looking civilians sheltered behind them. If anything, they were trying to climb the walls to get away from me. I guess changeling hospitality hadn’t left the best of impressions.

“You don’t remember?”

“I remember a fight..." I scrunched up my eyes as flashes of memory assaulted my senses. I shook it off. There were more important things to worry about. “What happened to Chrysalis and the Element bearers?”

“They kept fighting after you died.” A look of pity flashed across Maynard’s face. "And we lost track of them. We’re going to get the civilians clear, but the plan was for them to get to the--”

“Roof,” I cut in. Another bolt of memory burned across my mind. “Right. Good luck.”

“Alex, wait. You--”

The world trembled as raw magic lashed at the foundations of reality. Chrysalis’ portal was vast, a great yawning hole in reality, a ring of green fire that lead to an infinite blackness. The sheer amount of magic tied up in the spell was incredible. My teeth buzzed, and St. Elmos’ fire played along my outstretched wings as the magic washed over me. For a moment I stood, slack jawed, staring at the sheer arrogance of it all. Chrysalis, for all her faults, never dreamed small.

An explosion of heat and light lashed against Chrysalis’ magic, solar fire pouring from the heavens as Celestia raged against the titanic spell. The building trembled, flames licking over the edge of the roof, magic and chemistry clashing in a multicoloured inferno. I could see the Queen fighting against the Element bearers at the far end of the building. A legion of drones stood between her and them, great gouts of magic erupting from their horns and carving furrows into the concrete as Twilight and Co. tried to fight their way through. Twilight radiated a glow, nearly impossible to look at, with her halo of magic encompassing the group as she dueled with Chrysalis.

The spell above us had reached the final act. Growing wider and wider, it stretched across the sky, darkness falling beneath it. Runes began to kindle all around me, the shattered rooftop shining a vibrant emerald under their light. Rainbow Dash leapt into the air, accelerating away from the power plant before sweeping back around, lightning trailing in her wake.

I hovered there, my wings keeping up a lazy beat as I watched in horror. They weren’t going to make it in time; I could see it all unfolding as clear as day before me. Superheated plasma from the heart of the sun would rush through the portal in an uncontrollable flood, and Twilight would have to retreat. Chrysalis wouldn’t be able to control more than a fraction of the power she had called down upon my world, but even that tiny fragment would be enough to make her the most powerful entity Equestria had ever seen. Humanity would be gone in an instant, expunged as the rules of reality fell away. Act two would be fought on the shores of Equestria.

“Save the world,” I said. Imploring, daring, begging the Element bearers to drive forward. They had to do something, anything, to rescue Earth from its fate.

It was not going to happen. Magic roared around me, threatening to sweep me away like mist in a storm. Everyone was doing everything in their power to save the world, but it wasn’t going to be enough. There was nothing I could do to help.

Even so, I had to try.

Shaking my head to clear the visions of doom that swirled around me, I dropped to the roof. I set my-- hands(?) the word seemed wrong, but I didn’t have time to question it --on the concrete and then stopped.


For a moment, I stared at Chrysalis. She was too much to fight, here at the center of her power. We’d always intended to fight her in Equestria, though, and there was nothing wrong with that plan. I could try and force her to cross the barrier; the last time I’d tried, I recalled it going badly. Deadly. But then, I was just one little pony, and that hadn’t been my best shot.

Distant lightning flashed in the storm clouds, as if nature was annoyed that mere mortals dared to ignore its splendor. Inspiration struck like a bolt in the blue.

Why not use the storm?

Forget subtlety. Forget clever plans; when had they ever worked on the show? Just throw more power at it.

Save the world.

Rainbow Dash.

“DASH!” I roared, wings straining as I fought through the turbulent skies to keep up with the lightning weather pegasus.

“WHAT?” Rainbow Dash shot a withering glare over her shoulder. It evaporated the moment she saw me. She slammed on the brakes, spreading her wings wide, and I almost crashed into her. Lighting boomed around us as it escaped her wake, but she didn’t seem to care.

“Oh, Alex,” she said, her face sallow and drawn. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“About what?” I snapped, then held up a hoof to forestall the answer. “No, don’t tell me; there’s no time. We need to stop Chrysalis.”

Dash slumped, seeming to hang from her wings. “Alex, you don’t have to do anything any more. You--”

“I don’t care!” I cut her off, getting up in her face. “I can do this, Rainbow Dash. I know how to stop her. We can still win this.”

For a moment, she just stared. “Don’t ask for what I think you’re asking for...” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

“I need as much aether as you can get! We can punch Chrysalis straight back to Equestria.” I smacked my fists(?) together. “Come on!”

Dash glanced back at the conflagration of magic. Twilight continued the assault on Chrysalis, but for every step forwards she slipped two back. “Ponyfeathers!” She rounded on me. “Keep up.”

She exploded into motion, her wings a blur as she shot straight up towards the angry clouds. I gritted my teeth and hurled myself after her, catching her rainbow-coloured slipstream and sticking tight on her tail. Lightning flashed above us, and the rain seemed to fight our passage, coming down in great sheets and clawing at my wings as we fought for altitude. A bass roar shook the air as Celestia’s sun raced through the sky, the light eye-searing as Celestia hurled herself again and again at Chrysalis.

“Come on, Alex!” Rainbow Dash was a mere hoof-length away and beckoning me onward. “Stay with me. Whatever happens, stay right with me!”

We hit the clouds, and the world went black. I had expected some resistance, but what little magic they possessed didn’t do much more than jolt me around. Lightning tore the air apart mere feet away, the electricity playing along my wings and down my tail. Rainbow’s contrail intensified as bolt after bolt struck her. She accelerated like a rocket, and I barely hung onto her wake. My wings blazed as the electricity of the storm poured through us, leaving my own pure white trail through the ink black sky.

We entered a void in the storm, a massive cavern in the sky lit from below by the intensity of Celestia’s sun. Rainbow Dash began to level off and, somehow, accelerate off to the west. It was hauntingly beautiful, like a cathedral in the sky. I could almost hear--

“ALEX! STAY WITH ME!” Rainbow Dash roared over the howling wind and rain. I hurried to catch up, aether flowing through me like my blood had been replaced with liquid fire. A conical shockwave erupted around Rainbow as she pushed faster and faster. “Just a few... more... miles!”

“Where are we going?” I bellowed back.

“Nowhere. We need the run up!”

A supercell loomed before us, a jet-black wall cast into sudden brilliance by the flare of magic. Rainbow punched through, the storm hurling more lighting our way as if offended by our trespass into its domain. The wind tore at us, tossing us about like rag dolls, and it took every ounce of will just to keep Rainbow’s tail in sight.

An explosion of rainbow-coloured light tore the storm apart as Rainbow Dash hit the rainboom barrier and smashed through. The rush of power was electric, invigorating, awe inspiring, and I poured even more power through my wings to catch up as Rainbow tore through the sky. She went into a steep dive, spinning on her axis as we went accelerated to aweinspring speeds.

ARE YOU WITH ME?” Her voice seemed to shake the sky. Aether was pouring from her, and I tucked as tight and close a I could, not trusting myself to speak for fear the wind would tear me to shreds.

We leveled out going east at a terrifying speed, the sea just a couple hundred meters below. Another concentric ring of displaced air exploded around Rainbow as she showed her sheer contempt for the laws of physics and aerodynamics. The emerald fire above Hinkley Point leapt over the horizon as we closed at supersonic speed, and... and...

I missed a beat, dropping back into the turbulence of Rainbow Dash’s wake. The shockwave almost tore me apart, but I surged forwards, clinging to the rainbows streaming off the mare. I was going supersonic. Supersonic! That wasn’t something I could do. Never in my life had I dreamed of flying at such a speed. Rainbow Dash was a once-in-a-century talent. Even keeping up with her on a slow day had nearly blown my wings off. There was no way I could match half of what we were doing.

“Rainbow!” I shouted, my voice tinged with sudden desperation. “How am I doing this?”

“Don’t think about it!” She shot a terrified look over her shoulders. “Just stay with me, and don’t look back!”

I looked.

There was nothing there.

No body. No mane. Just a pair of hazy, ill defined wings, a blazing cutie mark and a pair of misshapen hooves.

It hit me.

I’d died.

That battered body had been mine.

Chrysalis had already won.

“ALEX!” My attention snapped back to Rainbow Dash. She reached back with a hoof, imploring.

“I’m dead,” I said simply. The world faded away before my eyes, colour washing away until there was just a single bright rainbow streaming from Rainbow Dash.

She starred in horror, then her teeth clenched in anger. “SO WHAT? ARE YOU GOING TO LET THAT STOP YOU?”


No, I wasn’t.

The world snapped back just in time. We were hurtling towards the shoreline, and I dropped back into Rainbow Dash’s aether stream, soaking up magic like a sponge. Black lightning began to flash behind me as I tested the barrier, holes in reality that spread wide and then vanished in an eyeblink.

“It’s all yours, Alex! On three. THREE!”

Dash flared her wings and dropped out of formation. The aether rushed over me, burning and freezing as I fought to kept my wings flapping. Power, raw unfettered power of the like I’d never felt before, flooded my senses and sparked behind my eyes. Ahead, Chrysalis’ spell burned ever brighter, hints of red fire licking through the portal as the spell built to its conclusion.

The aether tore at my ephemeral flesh, consuming me from the inside out. I could feel myself expanding like a balloon, all pretence that I was still inhabiting the body of a pegasus dropping away. A black wave cleaved through the sky before me as the barrier between Earth and Equestria melted away. I flashed over land, and let go of the spell.

And then-


View Online

Almost a thousand ponies turned up for Alexis’ funeral. Former humans brushed shoulders with Wonderbolts and Royals. Gryphons, dragons and changeling drones mingled freely through the crush of mourners, well wishers and curious locals. At least a hundred of the ponies were struggling with their new limbs, or still in a state of shock to find themselves alive and well after the nightmare of Chrysalis’ attack. Alexis' Club, though, had stepped up in the face of unprecedented new arrivals. Tents, so optimistically packed away for the winter, had been dragged out and doors flung open to accept the sudden flood of fresh faces. There was even talk of shipping out new arrivals to Canterlot, or as far as Manehatten, but nopony knew for sure when or if it would happen. So, on the day of the funnel, the entire Club gathered to pay their respects to their founder. The crowd was so large it had spilled beyond The Stable’s courtyard, out onto the snowy earth and up into the sky where the pegasi had floated clouds into position to provide more perches.

The stage was small, rough around the edges and crowded with ponies. Twilight and the Element bearers sat on one side, faces drawn with sadness. The leaders of the Club sat on the other: Lyra lifted a leg over Swiftwing’s shoulders as the pegasus fought back tears, Crystal Cog next to them, looking suitably mournful, and Queen Rose, whose alien visage was as unreadable as ever.

Star Charge stood at the center, behind the podium, in the shadow of a statue covered by a sheet. In truth, there was nothing but balsa wood in the shape of wings beneath the cloth, but it was an important part of the ceremony. Yi Zhong, a Club member who was training as a sculptor, had pledged that the statue of Alexis would be her masterwork, but it would still be many months before she finished. Star Charge had been amazed to learn that they had a sculptor among their ranks, and that Alexis had been the one to find her a master to study under. Since inheriting the Club he’d unearthed a constant trickle of little miracles just like that, which Alexis had nurtured, brought to fruition and then never mentioned again.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he said. His horn shining as he amplified his voice for all to hear. “Fillies and Gentlecolts. Friends. We...” He paused, glanced down at his notes, and then brushed them away.

“We won,” he said, with a deep sigh. “I want you all to remember that. No matter what happened, we won. A thousand people died to bring us that victory, and many more have sacrificed more than most can imagine to bring down Chrysalis.” He gave a pointed look at Colonel Ward, now a squat looking earth pony with a permanent scowl. “In the end, though, friendship pulled through, and we won. Chrysalis made the world’s fastest retreat back to the badlands to lick her wounds, and I gather there were a lot of them after Princess Luna had her fun. Alexis, bless her heart, even managed to prevent a nuclear catastrophe by dragging the entire power plant with her to Equestria.”

Star took a deep breath before continuing. “And all this was possible because one mare never gave up. Alexis was...” He frowned, tapping a hoof on the podium. “Alexis was an idealist. I guess that’s why we never got along. I wanted ponies to be their best, but Alexis... she wanted them to be happy. Perhaps we should have agreed on that point, at least, but it took me far too long to really appreciate what Alexis was doing with the Club. Alexis was a builder, a fixer, a mare who possessed a drive to right the wrongs in the world. We stand in the shadow of a building that she envisioned and raised to make our lives better. We were fed because she fought the bureaucracy to get us bread. She was, to nearly all of us, the first friendly face in an alien world, and we have lost more than I can describe with her passing. What’s worse, many of us never knew just what we had in her until she was gone.

“I never really understood Alexis.” Star Charge gave his head a slow, mournful shake. “I saw her holding us back, but the truth was always that she was there to stand us up. Many of us gave up when we came to Equestria; we shut down or disappeared off into our own private worlds. Alexis didn’t.She kept going despite everything that happened to her, and that was her greatest talent. As we, and Crystal Cog’s jaw, know, she was never perfect, but that never stopped her. Even when things were at their bleakest, she never took the easy path like, say, running off to Las Pegasus, but fought to the very end.

“Alexis was many things, to many ponies, but she never gave up. This, I think, should be her most important legacy. We in the Club are ponies out of time, separated from everything that we ever knew, or loved, or dreamed of, but it is not the time to give up. Now, more than ever, we must press forward, for Alex and because of her.”

Star Charge set his hooves on the lectern. “Well, that’s my opinion at least. I’ll now cede the floor to Lyra Heartstrings, who’s prepared a brief musical tribute.”

Pinkie Pie was the master of all kinds of parties, even wakes. There were no games and the music was sombre and light, but the tables bowed under the weight of snacks, and the drinks kept flowing long into the night. Despite the huge throng of well wishers, it all passed too quickly, and, as Celestia’s sun dipped below the horizon, the party-goers began to drift away. First went the officials and the royals, hurrying off to other appointments now that their duty was done. Next, the citizens of Ponyville paid their respects, cast a forlorn look at the depleted snack table, and left. Then, one by one, the Club ponies staggered away, off to toast their victory over Chrysalis, or just forget their troubles over a beer or six.

Twilight Sparkle, out of regalia and very much avoiding the title of princess for the evening, sat watching the final stragglers drag themselves from The Stable’s hall. The only ponies left were Alexis’ scant few friends and the Element bearers. Pinkie Pie dropped into a chair next to her, letting out a heavy sigh. “We did good?” she said.

“You put a smile on a lot of ponies’ faces today Pinkie. I can’t think of anything Alexis would have wanted more.”

A weak grin ghosted across Pinkie’s face. “That’s what parties are for... Even the ones at the end of the story.” She shook herself, running her hooves through her tangled mane. “I hate endings.”

Twilight nodded. “Me too. Princess Celestia says: we should always remember to celebrate the endings, but not forget there will be new beginnings to take their place.”

“I don’t wanna’ celebrate the endings,” Pinkie said, with a petulant whine. “I’ve done too many funerals, Twilight, and I’m a hundred-and-thirty-three welcome to Ponyville parties behind. They’re not fun any more. They don’t cheer ponies up like they used to.They’re just a rubber stamp on your way into Equestria. Papers, please. Bam!” She mimed slammed a hoof stamp down on a passport. “And done. I’m sick of them.” A long sigh escaped Pinkie Pie, and Twilight put a wing around around shoulders. A tear began to run down her cheek.

“Why do they always have to die, Twilight?” Pinkie Pie said, a shudder running through her frame. “They don’t deserve it. Every time somepony gets close to us, they just get swept up by destiny and killed. Why do we make it through when everypony else just gets smashed by the rocks? Alex was just as brave, she was just as determined, but she didn’t have a destiny and died because of it. It’s not fair.”

Twilight opened her mouth to point out that Alexis had technically quit and almost gone home, but thought better of it. It was the almost that was key, after all. “I sometimes wonder how much destiny matters,” she began, hesitantly. “If Celestia had never taken me as her student, if I’d failed as her student, if you’d never met me in the marketplace, would we ever have found the Elements and saved the world, or would Nightmare Moon have won? Are these--” she flexed her wings. “--a reward for doing the impossible, or was becoming an alicorn something that was inevitable? Alexis never had a destiny in Equestria, but in the end she won anyway. There’s an entire world of people whose stories didn’t end because she was willing to do the impossible, and if nothing else, you have to admire that.”

Pinkie Pie stuck out her lip. “I don’t want to do that either. I want my friend back.”

“So do I. There are some things even the Elements of Harmony can’t fix.”

A deep sigh escaped Pinkie Pie, and she lumbered back onto her hooves. “Come on, Twilight. We should rescue what’s left of the cider from Dashie.”

There wasn’t much to save. The detritus from the party had gathered at a single table, which was filled with half-eaten platters and rejected snacks. Lyra dozed, leaning against Bon Bon’s back and muttering to herself in her sleep, even as her marefriend chattered with Applejack and Crystal Cog. Rainbow Dash had cornered the last few bottles of cider, but hadn’t managed to finish her glass, instead she spun it around her hoof in lazy circles.

“Hey girls,” she said in a monotone, not looking up from her game as Pinkie and Twilight sat down next to her. “Some party, eh?”

A sympathetic smile spread across Twilight’s face. “Oh, Rainbow Dash, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise you were so upset about Alexis, or I would have come over sooner.”

“Hey, I’m not upset!” Rainbow Dash leapt up, her wings spreading, defensively. She realised after a moment that everypony was looking at her. “I mean, I’m not upset about... I didn’t mean that... I-- argh!” She threw up her hooves and slumped down, resting her head on the table.

“Don’t worry, Dashie,” Pinkie Pie said, pulling the limp pegasus into a hug. “You’re supposed to feel sad at a funeral. It’s so you don’t have to feel sad later.”

“I’m not sad!” Dash protested. Pinkie Pie shot her a flat look. “Okay, maybe I’m a teansy bit sad.” She held her hooves a micron apart. “But just a little. I just... don’t know why she did it.”

Twilight frowned. “She was trying to save her world, Rainbow Dash.”

“I know, I know.” She shook her head. “But, why was she? You’d have to be crazy, awesome, or crazy awesome to try something like that, and trust me, I know. Alex wasn’t. She complained more than Rarity in a pigpen, and, no offense to either of them, Fluttershy has better instincts when it comes to a fight. Alex wasn’t supposed to be the hero.”

“That’s because she wasn’t,” Pinkie Pie said, with a deep sigh. “She was the hero because I asked her to be, and Alex always tried to make ponies happy.”

“Pssh,” Rainbow cut in with a dismissive wave of her hoof. “You can’t get a Thunderclap from following orders.”

“Thunderclap?” The trio glanced over at Crystal Cog, whose ears had pricked up. “I’ve heard that term before,” he continued. “Can’t remember where, though.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Urgh. And you call yourself a pegasus. A Thunderclap is one of the most impressive things a pegasus can do. Only the most awesome can fly up to the face of death and yell ‘hay no, I’m not done yet!’ All the best heroes have them, Hurricane, Swift, Stormwind--even Pansy, if you listen to the right stories.”

“Actually, out of those auto-necromatic events, Pansy’s is the most well document--”

“My point--” Rainbow Dash cut Twilight off before she could get into full on lecture mode. --was that it takes guts to buck death like that, and I didn’t know she had it in her.” She frowned, then completed in a very small voice, “she wasn’t supposed to have it in her.”

“I don’t think Alex ever listened to people telling her what she was supposed to do,” Crystal Cog said, rolling his eyes.

“Urgh, that she didn’t.” Twilight shook her head. “But I think Alex took us all by surprise at the end. Especially Chrysalis.” There was a ripple of stunted laughter around the table.

Crystal Cog yawned and stretched out his wings. “Well ladies, it’s been a pleasure, but I’ve got a busy day tomorrow. I’ve got a nuclear plant to take apart.” The colt offered no explanation, but dragged himself to his feet and trotted off, humming to himself.

Twilight shot a confused look after Cog as he slipped past the few scattered ponies and out the door. “What did he mean by taking apart a power plant?”

Applejack just shrugged and shook her head. “Crazy colt’s trying to get the salvage contract on the Hinkley Point ruins. Good thing too. Somepony’s got to do it and ah can’t think of anypony better to do it, but... watch him, Twilight. Star Charge--” she glanced across the room to where the unicorn was bumping hooves with a few other lingering guests. “--now that varmint’s got a dream, but it’s a good one, so ah’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Cog has a plan, and that worries me a whole heap more than any fancy dreams.”

“He just wants to make life easier for everypony, especially the new ones,” Twilight said, pointedly. “He hasn’t done any real harm.”

“Except smash that fancy barrier of yours,” Applejack shot back, plucking the half full cider bottle from Dash and taking a deep draught. “I’m not saying he’s a bad pony, just keep an eye on him.”

“Urgh, girls, really?” Pinkie Pie said, shaking her head at them. “Can we do the politics tomorrow? This is Alex’s day, and she hated that stuff.”

“Fair enough, Pinkie. Ah’ll keep my mouth shut. Ah know you two were good friends.”

Pinkie Pie drooped, and Applejack passed her the bottle. “Yeah, she knew how to make ponies smile.”

“An’ she was never one to shirk,” Applejack added. “Ah can respect that.”

Twilight smiled. “She always did what she thought was best.”

“She won,” Rainbow Dash completed, snatching back the near empty bottle and downing the dregs. “End of story.”

The four sat in silence for a long moment.

“I want her back,” Pinkie Pie said, hanging her head. Twilight put a leg over her shoulders.

“Things will be better tomorrow. You’ll see.”

“Oh, sorry, am I interrupting?” Fluttershy’s whisper was barely audible above the subdued babble of the hall. Even with just a dozen or so ponies left, she stood with head hung and ears pressed flat against her crown. “I can--”

“Take a seat, Fluttershy,” Twilight cut her off before the pegasus’ nerves got the better of her. “Rarity managed to find you then?”

“I wasn’t lost,” Fluttershy said, softly, slipping into her seat. “It was just a little crowded in here. I didn’t want to bother anypony.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. While she wasn’t the most comfortable at parties, it was a continued puzzle how Fluttershy, dragontamer, savior of Equestria and now hero of Earth, could find a few dozen ponies so terrifying. Twilight shrugged. There were some mysteries in friendship you had to accept at face value -- like just how Rarity had been in the room for all of a minute and had already attracted a small crowd of ponies to talk to.

Shaking her head, she turned back to Fluttershy. “It’s no problem. We’re just giving Alexis one last toast.”

“Well, I do actually have something for you then.” Fluttershy reached into her pannier and pulled out a slim disc. “These fell out of my ‘Discord Closet’ today and, well, I never got the chance to return them to Alex. I thought Pinkie Pie should have them as she...” Fluttershy trailed off, staring at her hooves.

Twilight levitated the medal into the air. “‘The Made a Princess Cry Award’,” she read. “Well, good to see Discord’s not compromising his ideals for the sake of tact.”

“And this.” Fluttershy pulled out a gold ticket.

“‘I O U 1 BODY’. What does that even--”

Pinkie Pie’s ears shot up. “Mine!” She hurled herself at Twilight, body-slamming the alicorn out of the way as she snatched the ticket out of the air. “Come on, girls!” She accelerated away, going from sitting to a wild gallop in an eyeblink. “We’re going to get a happy ending!”

The stage was empty save for a few discarded wrappers and a solitary notecard that had been missed by Twilight earlier in the day. Between seconds a sole occupant arrived, the tall, dark frame of a changeling Queen, wreathed in rose coloured fire as the teleportation magic dissipated. Her gaze was fixed on Alexis’ monument, though she might have been a statue herself for all she moved.

“Awful things, statues,” Discord said, suddenly at her shoulder.

“Argh!” Rose leapt five feet into the air. She caught herself on her wings, and sank slowly back to the stage, glowering at the draconequus. “How the hell did you sneak up on me?”

“Tinfoil hat,” he said, tipping the mass of silvery metal masquerading as headgear. “Blocks all those pesky emotion-sensing beasties.”

“Urgh, that makes no freaking sense.” Rose turned away from him, glaring at the monument. “Don’t you ever take things seriously?”

“That’s immortality for you; one can either go mad or start mad.” Discord stroked his beard. “Though, perhaps two could manage it, if they worked together. Even Celly is a little mad after all these years... she has this weird habit of turning ponies into stone.”

Rose shot him a look. “You said that on the show, you know.”

“I pride myself on getting my ineffable self portrayed correctly in all realities,” Discord said with a smug grin, buffing his talons on his chest. “It is true, after all.”

“What, the statue garden really is the max-security wing of a palace?” Rose let loose a bitter laugh. “I doubt that, or I’d be on a plinth myself by now.”

“Oh, nothing so literal, my little queenie.” Discord put an arm across Rose’s back. “They were all ponies once, they had lives, loves and when they finally returned to the earth, dear Celly stole their likeness and froze them forever. A strange way to enjoy life, surrounding yourself with the echoes of the dead, but who am I to judge? I’m the mad one, after all.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “Somehow, I doubt that. Looking back across the last couple of months, I have to wonder just how much of this was all your doing.” She glared at Discord, who was practicing his harp with one hand and polishing a halo with the other. “What were the odds that jet would end up here, rather than crashing into some gryphon roost? What were the odds we’d get a bunch of changelings here, right when Queen Chrysalis was sniffing around? Why did Alex have a boon to spare, right when we needed it?”

“You have a very suspicious mind, Ms. Rose,” Discord said, waggling his eyebrows. “I assure you, it’s Celly’s job to be the master schemer. I’m just a humble draconequus, always willing to lend a helping hand.”

“Bullshit.” Rose shrugged. “I don’t particularly care either way, but answer me this, was I planed? Three people died to build me. Was that all part of a mad scheme, or just a tragedy?”

Discord smiled his cheshire cat smile. “Which would you prefer?”

Rose glared at him. “Forget it. I didn’t come here to chase my own tail.” A crack echoed across the courtyard as a small rose coloured ball of crystal appeared, suspended in the Queen’s magic. “Here it is. It’s all that’s left.”

Discord reached out to take the gem, but Rose snatched it away and held it just out of his reach. “I want a promise first,” she said. “Promise me that this isn’t a joke. There’s no funny prank or bait and switch. This is everything I could save from Alex. Every memory. Every dream. Look after it.”

“I promise.” Whipping out a velvet cushion, Discord ruined the effect by snatching the orb of condensed memory out of the air with a butterfly net. With an artful flick of the wrist, he popped the orb into the air and caught it on the cushion, despite Rose’s look of horror.

“I’m beginning to get why everyone calls you an asshole,” she said, scowling at him.

“It’s a gift.” Discord held the orb between his fingers, peering through a jeweler's glass. “Yes, there appears to be enough here—if you had a soul to power it, of course.” A misshapen grin spread across his mouth. “Now, where could we procure one of those?”

“Discord.” Rose’s voice was a barely constrained growl. “We all know that your adaptation spell steals souls. You either have Alex’s, or not. Now, get on with it.”

He wagged his finger at her. “Temper, temper. Remember, our bargain?”

“Three boons. Anything within my power you need but name.” She spat the words. “And just so you know, this does nothing to convince me you aren’t a chessmaster.”

Discord’s grin just widened, and he swept the monarch into a hug. “Oh, we are going to have such fun together. The things we’ll do. The ponies we’ll impersonate. I’m thinking Celly is due something frilly in a mauve, or maybe plaid, I’ll guess I’ll just see how I feel. And how fast Sun-butt can fly.”

“Discord!” The Queen bared her fangs at him. “Alexis.”

He held up a paw. “Wait for it...”

Pinkie Pie burst through the Stable doors, the rest of the Elements hot on her heels. Hooves thundered on the flagstones as she barreled towards the pair. She leapt onto the stage, skidding to a stop before Discord and passed him a golden ticket.

“One pegasus, please.”

Dropping the bemused queen, Discord flourished his paw, and a ticket punch appeared in his grasp. “Are you sure?” He hesitated a moment, poised to punch the ticket. “I’m rather taken by thestrals right now, so if you want to shake things up? Or, how about an alicorn? I--”

“No alicorns!” Twilight gasped, almost piling into Pinkie in her haste to reach the stage. “You promised Celestia, no alicorns!”

“We’ll see if we need a new toy line later,” Discord whispered to Pinkie Pie, before attacking the ticket with the punch. He finished by tracing out a complex image that, on closer inspection, turned out to be Discord touching a finger to a pony’s hoof. “There.” He handed back the ticket. “Now, where did I leave that body...”

He strode over to the monument, grabbed the sheet with both hands and whipped it away.

Alexis barely had time to blink before being tackle-hugged by a ballistic Pinkie Pie.

Appendix: Twilight’s Simple Guide to Magic and Equestria

View Online

Twilight’s Simple Guide to Magic and Equestria (page 1-2 of 34 31 27)

Hello, if you are reading this you have recently fallen through the surprisingly thin wall between realities and are now are a pony or some other magical species. Magic, as I’m sure you are aware by now, is ubiquitous in Equestria; indeed magic is a poor choice of a word to describe the many rules, systems and manipulations thereof that define life on Equestria. While this document contains all you need to know to have a firm grounding on all known physical and metaphysical systems, I have first included this short summary, to prevent any danger that comes from misunderstanding the magic of Equestria.

The first crucial thing to note is that magic can be divided into six critical pillars of creation. Each pony tribe can manipulate two, and other species each have their own speciality; please ask if you do not know what your particular species’ specialty is, as it will avoid embarrassment further down the line.

The most visible and crucial form of magic is Solar magic, but under no circumstances attempt to perform Solar magic. It is potentially lethal, can drive mortals insane and in some rare cases cause both death and insanity at the same time. More generally, Solar magic governs the movement of the sun and the moon, touches on both pyromancy and destiny, and is the domain of dragons, alicorns and unicorns. If you are reading this and thinking that, being a unicorn, you want to try and use magic on the heavens, don’t. History is littered with unicorns who reached for the stars and were consumed by them. As you can probably infer, we know very little about Solar magic, most of the old rituals being lost to the ages, and it is best to keep them lost.

Aether magic is next on the list. Created by the interactions between the heavenly spheres and the material world below, aether is the breath of life, forms the vital waters and is also strongly linked to both storms and lightning. It is also the domain of the pegasi and the gryphons, both of which can manipulate the aether in flight to achieve all manner of effects, from creating or controlling weather, to reanimation, and truly impressive feats of speed and agility. If you find yourself with wings, the Club will be providing practical lessons on flying which, for all intents and purposes, is aether magic.

Vita magic comes immediately after aether. It is the magic of living things, of growth and of healing, of creation and death. All that is alive on Equestria is alive through vita magic. In your veins flows streams of vital energy and in your cells are vital forms that define everything about you. Actual vita spells are a subtle thing, sometimes taking generations to come into full force, bound by ritual and tradition and are woefully understudied by modern ponies. Earth ponies experimenting with vita powers should note that, while vita magic is never truly dangerous, overuse can make it feel like you’ve galloped to Canterlot and back.

Most familiar to humans, materia magic is the magic of physics. It covers both the earth beneath your hooves (or otherwise), and the building blocks of everything else. Wood, rocks, gems, water, or sulfur, are all expressions of materia magic, and their interactions are defined by this pillar of creation. Manipulations of materia magic can be unsettling, breaking rules that I understand can not be broken in the human sphere, but please do not be too alarmed if things like: conservation of momentum, volume constraints, or large scale distortions in structure, occur around a materia mage... yes, that means Pinkie Pie. Materia magic is more dangerous than vita and can cause serious damage to the world around you, so please try and avoid practicing in a built up area or without proper instruction.

Arcana is the school of thought, of motion and of memory. It is by far the most versatile and understood of the pillars, even stretching to things like time travel, but you’ll most often come across arcana magic as unicorn levitation. Moving beyond these humble foundations, arcane spells can influence nearly all other aspects of creation (though it requires an incredible amount of skill to influence the sky as they are anti-aligned spheres). I’m sadly limited to a single paragraph summary here but, to give a taste, any spell seen in the show, a unicorn could replicate with practice and dedication, and many I will be explaining in later pages.

Lastly, we have prime. Prime is emotion, passion, drive and spirit. We know little about this final form of magic; the pegasi can use prime, but they disdain, it only using it in simple, instinctive forms such as Fluttershy’s stare. Changelings are also masters of prime, even going so far as to feed off it, though we have no idea how such a mechanism works; while I would advise against experimenting, there’s little evidence to suggest instinctual prime magic has ever hurt anypony.

Appendix: Alexis’ Guide to Equestrian Politics

View Online

Welcome all to the magical pony kingdom; it turns out you can’t get away from the government wherever you go so please leave any wishful thinking about a benevolent theocracy at the door. This guide will serve as a brief introduction to the politics and government of Equestria, mostly so you can avoid running afoul of it.

Equestria is a crazy mishmash of government types never really tried together on Earth. It exists as a semi-theocracy, blended with a noble republic, blended with an autocratic state and the three core branches are constantly jostling with each other for overall control. Overall the similarities tend to be more confusing than helpful so we’ll be going through each step by step.

Most obvious is the executive, or Crown, branch of the government. This is the ruling body of Equestria and currently is a tetrarchy of the four alicorn Princesses, with Celestia as the senior partner. It controls the army, vast swathes of territory, dictates national policy and indirectly controls the bureaucratic apparatus of the state. In addition it also serves as the judicial branch, and every legal issue in Equestria not covered by common law or precedent is resolved with a direct ruling by Celestia.

Overall the ruling princesses have huge personal and legal power, much as a divine monarch might have, and they have none of the constitutional limitations that you might expect from a European king. Celestia typically rules with a light touch, but her power is nominally boundless and there’s nothing technically stopping her having random ponies executed if it took her fancy, though it would probably start a second civil war.

The Club, as a recent crisis mostly interacts with The Crown as opposed to any other branch of the government, so please watch your manners around royalty, even Princess Twilight.

The most pervasive branch is the Imperial Bureaucracy. This is very much as you’d imagine, a large body of career bureaucrats who manage Equestria on Celestia’s behalf. It is vast, complicated, more than a little self serving and extremely powerful; currently the Bureaucracy is dominated by a large coalition of unicorn ministers, but mostly it’s staffed by earth ponies. The Bureaucracy manages pretty much every major policy in Equestria, collects taxes, raises armies, deals with public works and enforces the rule of law.

The power of the Imperial Bureaucracy is matched by The Crown from above and The Municipalities below. Celestia and the tetrarchy hold enough vetoes and other forms of encouragement to ensure that only those favoured by The Crown rise to power, or at least in principle.

Finally The Municipalities make up the final layer of Equestrian government. These Municipalities are large land grants that exist within Equestria, governing all the major town and cities, and most minor towns and villages. Municipalities are the democratic part of the Equestrian government, a mayor is elected by the people and runs the district on their behalf. They raise taxes for local issues, lay down regional laws and otherwise try and improve their hometown above and beyond any other in the region. While having the least power of all three branches on paper, The Municipalities govern very directly the lives of eighty percent of all Equestrians and are not a force to be underestimated; large coalitions of municipalities have historically dictated policy even to Celestia, though they unite rarely.

The upshot for Club members is that Equestria’s government is complex, but more or less ordered around improving the lives of the citizens. It is however important to be aware whose sphere of influence you are working in though.

In Ponyville alone you can walk through five different districts in under fifteen minutes. Starting at Sweet Apple Acres you are on privately owned Crown land, administered by the Imperial Bureaucracy; walking into Ponyville you enter the Ponyville municipality ruled currently by Mayor Scrolls; taking a shortcut you can skirt Twilight’s demesne around her castle; before crossing back over into Crown land as you approach Fluttershy’s cottage, though this is technically fallow land owned directly by the state and not managed land like Applejack’s; finally as you set foot into the Everfree you enter Celestia’s personal fief, though I understand she hasn’t done much with the land for sometime.

As a final note, you’ll hear the use of various noble titles in Equestria. The feudal system is more or less defunct in Equestria, with only a few sporadic and fairly minor rights still observed. Nobles have no legal power over the common pony but the titles still carry a fair amount of status and tend to be owned by powerful magnates looking for a symbol of wealth. You don’t have to be polite to a noble therefore, but it’s generally best to keep a civil tongue, you never know what strings they can pull.


Addendum: Viceroy of Human Affairs

Right, a lot of people have been asking what exactly a Viceroy is and how this is going to affect us. Short answer, a Viceroy is Crown representative that directly manages a region or territory, before it can elect an official Municipal government. In Equestria most Viceroys govern newly established settlements on the Gryphon frontier and a Viceroy of a whole people is unusual to say the least. It’s not however, unprecedented but the last use dates back to the Cloudsdale integration, some three hundred years ago.

The practical upshot is, I represent The Crown for the Club and the Club for The Crown. While in the interim I have legal authority over humans that end up in Equestria, I also am obliged to assist your integration into Equestrian life, much in the way I have been doing before. I understand a lot of people are worried about a loss of personal autonomy; that is happening and there is nothing I can do to stop it. I, and the rest of the Equestrian government, aim to keep our touch on the tiller as light as possible. With the Club now an official part of the government we can expect changes, but they’re going to be for the better. I promise.

Appendix: Twilight's Summary of Changeling Biology, Behaviour and Magic

View Online

Dear Princess Celestia,

My full notes will be travelling by courier, but I wanted to send you a short summary of my findings before the university tears into it. Rose has been extremely cooperative, and, in public, I will be maintaining our view that integration of changelings is possible, however her abilities are terrifying. I would not say that Rose herself presents a threat to Equestria, but that is because of her individual temperament, not any inherent qualities.


Changelings are small, quadrupedal, and have a roughly equine shape. Overall there is surprisingly little of note in their biology. They operate on well known vita principals, with a great many similar, if not identical, internal structures. Changelings can, and do, eat regular food but it appears that emotional energy is required for higher functions, and this energy is quickly drained by the use of spells and other magics. As far as I can tell, changelings do not have their own internal wellspring of magic, and all the powers they express are the result of scavenged prime energy.

There has been debate as to whether changelings can really cast unicorn spells, or whether they just mimicking the effect through manipulation of prime magics. I can confirm that their telekinesis is an arcana effect, but they can also cloud walk like a pegasus, bend space and commune with nature like an earth pony, and use pyromancy spells. I convinced Rose to emulate some zebradian forms of magic, which she did with relative ease. Alexis has said repeatedly that Chrysalis wanted to steal the sun and I see no reason why Rose could not do this, beyond mere inexperience.


Rose’s drones have the approximate intelligence of a well trained dog and the vocabulary of a parrot. Judging from discussions with Rose, she believes her drones are unusually smart and far more capable than Chrysalis’. They seem able to operate on their own for extended periods of time and even devise complex and well reasoned plans without her input. When a large number of drones gather they can form a hive mind, allowing them to communicate instantly and react as a unit, thus increasing their decision-making capabilities.

Drones, while capable of magic, seem to be quite poor casters, able to do little beyond basic energy blasts, flight, and aping the native skills of ponies. They are also, somewhat surprisingly, quite poor at disguising themselves. Often they miss or misinterpret many major features of the pony they are trying to emulate. While they will pass a cursory examination, they could never hope to impersonate a specific pony for any length of time.


Rose is similar in appearance to Queen Chrysalis, baring some differences in colour. She is set apart from the other changelings by two factors: her intelligence, which is the equal of any pony, and her control over magic. Rose... is an alicorn in all but name. She does not understand magic, but can cast anything that I explain and at a strength that rivals my own. She is limited in her exertions only by her access to emotion as a power source.

Much to my surprise, Rose does not lay eggs, but shapes them. With enough prime she can pluck them out of the aether and they appear to be viable without need of a mate. I have not yet had time to examine the lifecycle of a young changeling, but given Rose already has many apparently adult drones, they can either grow extremely quickly or be summoned in an adult state.


I can not overstate how large a threat the changelings could present. Rose seems reasonably balanced, empathic and is limited by her extreme youth. Chrysalis has none of these redeeming features and has a large supply of power in the form of the subsumed buffalo empire. I know what the official conclusion of Chrysalis’ threat was, but after my research I can not agree. Chrysalis is a real and imminent threat and we must respond with all possible force in the event of a second attack.