What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

First published

A Princess and a Queen share the same one dream, but on nights separated by over six centuries worth of time. Is the dream a warning of what is yet to come?

On two nights separated by over six centuries of time, two dreamers share the same one dream of their world being unmade. Is this a warning of events yet to come? And if so, what, if anything, can be done to avoid it?

A Princess from the future works to complete her predestined task while a Queen from the past struggles to lead her people down a path of peaceful coexistence. Together, they must find a way to safeguard time itself, or else all their efforts will literally be for nothing.

What the Future May Bring

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter I – What the Future May Bring

The air around the city seemed thick with a haze that choked out the daylight until it was nothing more than a dim blue glow. The towers of Canterlot’s palace appeared as barely more than silhouettes looming in the distance beyond the houses. One could hardly make out the details of their own hoof before their face, let alone the details of the buildings nearby.

Even sound seemed to be muffled by the dreariness. One would expect hoof steps upon the cobblestone streets to cause a sharp tapping sound, but the sounds were instead muffled to the point that they were barely audible. So much so, that the two mares that had found themselves in this place had yet to notice one another while they separately wandered the streets. They each looked about at surroundings that they both found somewhat familiar but yet also somewhat foreign. It was Canterlot; that much was obvious, but there was something off about the city.

Their paths eventually brought them close enough that they noticed one another. At first, they both stood there rigid as they stared at one another from across the dimly lit street. The uneasy standoff lasted for a moment before they began to cautiously approach each other.

One of them tried to call out to the other. Her voice came out weak and hollow, hardly even noticeable to herself. She lifted her hoof and touched it lightly to her throat.

The other mare tried to speak as well, her voice just as weak. They could barely hear each other and couldn’t understand each other, not with their voices sounding like they were attempting to hold a conversation under water.

One tried to use her magic to bring some extra light to the area so she could at least see who the other mare was, but found that her magic did not answer her call. A wave of panic threatened to take hold when she suddenly realized that she couldn’t feel her magic.

The other attempted her magic as well. She discovered the same, that her magic wouldn’t answer.

A laugh echoed through the area around the two, clear as if it had been from someone standing right between them. They both looked to the empty spot between them before turning their attention outward to their surroundings. Their ears swiveled about as they glanced around themselves, but all they could perceive was silence and darkness until the blue blinking lights appeared all around them.

The small blue lights hovered in pairs just at the edge of the shadows. The laugh came again, sounding almost like an amused child giggling at someone they had found while playing hide and seek. It came from everywhere around the two mares all at once. It was so clear, in a world where everything else seemed dulled.

The two mares instinctively backed toward each other until they stood side to side in the center of the street. The glowing lights were staring at them. Dozens of glowing blue eyes peered through the darkness, watching their every move while the amused giggling echoed all around them.

The mares’ attention were drawn upward to the towers’ silhouettes by a sound that could only be described as the sound of falling sand. The buildings were beginning to fade, starting at the top of Canterlot’s towers. It was as if the buildings were becoming dust and drifting away on a breeze. The outline of the palace crumbled to nothing first, then the smaller buildings around it. Even the mountain eventually crumbled away, leaving a few buildings around the patch of cobblestone street that the two mares were standing on and nothing else as far as the eye could see.

The beings that the glowing eyes belonged too slowly stepped forward from the shadows, closing in from all sides. Even though they stepped fully into the dim light, all that could be made out of their form was a black silhouette that framed each pair of eyes. They each appeared identical to the rest, all sharing the same profile, glowing eyes, and amused laugh.

The two mares brushed against each other as they huddled closer together in the center of the street, and their eyes finally met when then turned to look at each other. The dim light was just enough for them to make out each other’s faces. They stared at each other, remaining silent for a short moment before they both whispered the same word.

You...

Before either of them had the time to fully comprehend who they had seen, the ground beneath their hooves gave way. What little was left of the world around them scattered into dust and vanished. They descended into the void below, their forms fading into a fine dust as they fell, leaving nothing but a lingering echo of their screams behind.

---

Chrysalis awoke with a start, drawing in a gasp of air. She laid there on her back, staring wide-eyed into the darkness. She drew a forehoof over her face, and felt the cool, damp perspiration that soaked her fur. She lifted her forehoof just slightly and stared at it for a moment even though she could see nothing more than a black silhouette before her muzzle.

She could feel the mattress of her bed beneath her, and the bed sheets tangled around her back legs. She was in her bedroom, exactly where she had gone to sleep earlier. She rested the back of her foreleg across her closed eyes and let a quiet moan escape from her as the tension in her body melted away. The fear that had gripped her the moment she had awoken faded, leaving only an unsettled feeling behind.

Unfortunately, that unsettled feeling refused to leave her as easily. She couldn’t help but think about the nightmare, running the events through her mind again and again. What was particularly puzzling was who she had seen. She hadn’t dreamed of her ever, as far as she could remember. Why now after so many years?

Chrysalis rolled to her side, and with a mild amount of concentration she activated a spell. Crystals mounted by silver scroll hooks along the walls flickered as the light levels in the room rose. The solid crystal walls of the room briefly shimmered with deep blue and violet hues from the infusion of light and then settled down to a gentle blue green. Chrysalis pulled her legs out from underneath the covers, sliding off her four-poster bed’s mattress to land on all fours. She stood there slowly blinking her eyes and staring down at the floor for a moment before she raised her head and took a few steps to stand before a free standing full height mirror.

She looked up and down at her reflection, that of a dust grey unicorn with a long, straight mane of sea green. Her body had seemed to prefer the form ever since the invasion of the Crystal Empire. She pondered briefly on how long it had been since she had last used her true form, or even when she had last attempted to change at all.

Chrysalis lifted a bristle brush from the nearby dresser in her magic. She ran it through her mane, attempting to work the tangles out that had formed when she had likely been thrashing about in her sleep. She then turned one quarter turn to the side as she ran the brush along her side through her fur coat. Her eyes lingered for a moment on the reflection of her flank, and the absence of a mark. When she had used this guise long ago she had always had a cutie mark that appeared as a cluster of three blue crystals. She found the mark’s absence over the last few years to be bothersome, but she had more important tasks to tend to than worrying over whether her mark would ever return.

As she passed the brush back to her dresser, she laid it next to the small crystal clock sitting there and took note of the time. It was just past five o’clock in the morning. While she would have liked to have gotten a few more hours of sleep, she knew her mind was already too active to attempt to go back to bed. She opted to make an early start on her day instead of wasting her time staring at her bed’s canopy for the next few hours. She could possibly even get a little bit of quiet time to herself, given the early hour.

Chrysalis chose to leave her crown behind on her dresser as she turned to leave her room. She wouldn’t need it where she was planning on going. As she quietly stepped outside her room into a crystal corridor, she glanced to her left and slowly arched her brow. The guard posted there had yet to notice her presence. She recalled that the guard was a relatively new addition to her personal changeling guard force, though one could only visually tell such by the onix carapace-like plate armor the guard was wearing. The guard had chosen a pegasus form for herself, one with golden fur and a mane with similar but slightly darker shades of the same. And, as often happened with new recruits, she was stuck with one of the less desirable posts of watching an empty hallway in the middle of the night. Obviously, she had yet to fully adjust to the schedule, as she was currently leaning on her pike for support and struggling to keep her head up and her eyes open while she wobbled slightly back and forth.

Chrysalis kept a watchful eye on the recruit as she closed the door to her bedroom with sufficient enough force to make a noisy click that echoed through the hall. The sound caused the recruit to flinch to attention and her eyes to snap wide open. Chrysalis noticed a very brief moment terror when the recruit’s eyes met her’s that was very quickly hidden behind a trained, stoic expression.

“U-uh,” the recruit stammered before clearing her throat. “Good morning, your Grace,” she quickly said, giving a quick bow of her head before standing at full attention again.

“An early one,” Chrysalis said with a nod and a barely noticeable smirk. “I suppose all has been rather quiet this evening?” Chrysalis noticed the slight tension in the corners of the recruit’s eyes, and saw the recruit’s ears reflexively flinch back for a split second. She chuckled lightly and smiled before saying, “Relax, I won’t tell... this time.”

“You’re far too kind,” the recruit said, breathing a sigh of relief as she bowed her head again. “It won’t happen again, I promise.”

“Very well,” Chrysalis said as she turned to walk down the corridor, however she paused and looked back when the recruit took a quick step forward and spoke up.

“Do you require an escort?”

Chrysalis considered the offer for a moment, but then shook her head. “Another time, perhaps.” The recruit’s expression fell slightly, but she bowed her head politely all the same as she stepped back to her post.

Chrysalis continued on her way, steadily walking the full distance of the corridor to the large open double doors at the end. The corridor itself was lit from within with more glowing crystals that hung by silver scroll hooks, similar in design to the lighting crystals in the bedroom but each over twice the size and quite a bit brighter. There were no visible windows, and other than the rows of solid crystal columns on either side that stretched to the arched ceiling overhead, there was little else of interest in the corridor for one to look at. For a palace, it was rather small and modest.

Chrysalis descended the few stairs just outside the palace doorway and stopped briefly at the bottom as she glanced upward. Hanging close by overhead was the largest crystal of the Crystal Caverns casting its gentle glow over the entire area. It hung at the heart of what had become the small subterranean city known as Sanctuary. The city had been established in the caves beneath Canterlot only a few short years earlier, and now hundreds of changelings and even a small number of ponies called this city their home. The architecture of the dwellings appeared very similar to what one would find within the Crystal Empire, besides the fact that many of the buildings were built into the sides of the cavern walls. Chrysalis and her changelings had been able to magically carve out and shape the buildings that made up their new home thanks to a rediscovery of long forgotten crystal manipulation methods spurred by the return of the Crystal Empire.

At this early hour, there was no noticeable activity within the cavern. Chrysalis continued on her way down one of the empty streets that led away from the heart of Sanctuary and passed through a cave that spiraled around at a gradual upward slope. She walked by a number of darkened homes and storefronts on her way until her journey eventually led her to the surface. She exited the side of Canterlot Mountain on a cobble street that ran parallel just along the outside of one of the palace walls.

Chrysalis’s ears twitched, and she resisted the urge to glance over her shoulder as she walked the path along the outside of the palace grounds. Canterlot’s palace was quite a bit larger than her own, large enough that it took a few minutes for her to walk to the nearest gate. All the while, she fought the urge to look back, keeping her gaze forward and pretending she hadn’t noticed she was being shadowed.

One of two Nightguard waiting at the gate acknowledged her presence. “Queen Chrysalis,” he said as he quickly bowed his head in respect to her. “We weren’t expecting you. Is something the matter?”

Chrysalis shook her head. “No, I simply wanted to be somewhere quiet to clear my mind, and thought I might visit the archives this morning.”

“Of course,” the guard said as he stepped to the side. He quickly tapped his pike’s shaft twice against the ground, causing it to glow and make a metallic sliding sound as it collapsed down upon itself to a third of its original length before he swiftly stowed it on the side of his armor. He gestured toward the palace grounds with one hoof, allowing Chrysalis to pass before falling in a step beside and behind to escort her. “Are you sure there isn’t something amiss? I could summon the princesses.”

“That won’t be necessary. And besides” — Chrysalis arched one eyebrow as she cast her glance skyward out of the corner of her eyes — “one of them already knows that I’m here.”

The guard quickly scanned the skies with his eyes, but it was doubtful that he saw anything. The watcher was a master of the shadows after all.

Some moments later, Chrysalis and the guard arrived just outside the Canterlot Archives. The guard trotted ahead a few steps as they approached the double doors and pulled one of them open. “If you need anything, I’ll be close by,” he said.

“Thank you,” Chrysalis said, giving the guard a smile as she walked inside. The door was gently closed behind her, and she walked forward toward the moonlit table that set just beneath the glass dome that capped the center of the room. She used her magic to light the three sticks on the candelabra sitting on the table, and then glanced down at the closed book sitting exactly where she had left it the last time she had visited this secluded part of the palace. She brushed a hoof over the cover, wiping a clean trail through the layer of dust that had settled upon it. The archives didn’t see many visitors, even from palace staff, due to the secretive nature of what some of the tomes and manuscripts contained. It had been weeks or perhaps even over a couple months since the last time Chrysalis had been there herself, which very well may have been the last time anyone had set hoof in the room.

Chrysalis glanced to her right, peering into the pitch black shadow between two rows of bookshelves that the light seemed unable to reach. She stared at it for a moment before finally saying, “You can come out now.” For a moment afterward it appeared there was actually no one there, but then the faint sound of hooves walking upon the archive floors filled the room. The shadowy area seemed to recede, giving way to the candle's light as Princess Luna stepped forward. Chrysalis grinned, showing her front teeth just slightly as she playfully asked, “Did you think I wouldn’t notice you skulking about in the shadows?”

Luna scoffed, turning her head to the side. “A princess does not skulk about.”

“Well, whatever you call... whatever it is you’ve been doing. I’m sure that was you watching me earlier as well.”

“Perceptive as ever,” Luna said as she approached the table.

Chrysalis took a seat at the table and glanced up to the much taller princess as she stood to the side. She was every bit as tall as her elder sister, and at first glance seemed every bit her elder sister’s opposite. One who didn’t know better would likely view the dark alicorn as a cold-hearted being in opposition to Celestia’s warm nature, but Chrysalis knew there was much more to the younger of the two sister princesses besides her outward appearance. Beneath the surface could be found a very caring, and sometimes even mischievous, princess. Chrysalis had been lucky enough to be one of the few to find Luna’s hidden side in the few years since Sanctuary had been founded. She let out a thoughtful hum and put on a sly smirk. “Sounds to me like you’re shucking your responsibilities so you can play stalker,” she said as she waggled a hoof in Luna’s direction.

Luna clucked her tongue and shook her head. “You know very well that I do not sit around on my rump all night tending to court. And I was not stalking you, I was observing.” Though she attempted to keep a serious outward demeanor, the half smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth was giving her away.

“I suppose you felt the need to come console me then...,” Chrysalis said, but then she noticed Luna giving her a puzzled glance. “Because of the nightmare?” she offered, shrugging her shoulders.

“Nightmare?” Luna asked, tilting her head slightly.

“Honestly? You didn’t notice?” Chrysalis now also appeared puzzled. While Luna couldn’t attend to every dreamer’s dream at once, it was unheard of for a nightmare to go completely unnoticed by the Princess of the Night. She had to focus her attention on the most severe of nightmares on any given night and allow the rest to simply run their course, but to miss one completely was simply not like her. “I was sure that would be your reason for following me,” Chrysalis said quietly.

“I will admit, when I noticed you I was curious as to why you would be awake at this hour. However, it has been an uneventful night in the dreamscape.” Luna stepped around to the opposite side of the table to take a seat. She leaned in, resting her crossed forelegs upon the table. “I speak the truth when I say I sensed no nightmare from you.”

A short moment of silence settled upon the room before Chrysalis asked, “You’re certain?”

Luna slowly nodded before asking, “What did you see?”

Chrysalis sat back in her chair, taking in a deep breath and slowly letting it out as she gathered her thoughts. “I saw our world... vanishing right before my eyes.” She slowly closed her eyes. “Everything,” she quietly said as she recalled the troubling images from the nightmare. She then quickly shook her head and sat back up, leaning in toward the table as she locked her gaze with Luna’s. “And that isn’t all. You remember Princess Twilight Sparkle, I’m sure.” She waited until Luna nodded before continuing. “Well, I saw her there as well. And we were both surrounded by changelings. Many of them.”

Luna’s expression darkened as her brow furrowed deeply. “That sounds somewhat troubling. What do you think it means?”

“Honestly, I’m not sure. If you’d not said anything I would have simply waved it off as some odd dream, but if you didn’t sense it....” Chrysalis glanced off to the side at the table top as she trailed off into her own thoughts.

“A vision,” Luna said quietly.

“I haven’t had one in so very long, I nearly forgot what it was like.” Chrysalis’s eyes slowly blinked as she recalled various visions she had seen over her lifetime. The outcome had never been completely clear in any of them and the details were always vague or obscured, but there were always clues that led to some event that had yet to happen. “I fear this could mean that someone within the Coven may have noticed that I no longer have the power to control them. I only wish I’d been able to see their face, but all I could make out where shadows.”

“You believe one of your own kind would make a move against you?”

“There are a few that I would definitely be suspicious of,” Chrysalis mumbled as she lifted a hoof and rubbed under her chin. Her ability to demand unconditional loyalty of other changelings had waned in the recent years. Whether the changes in her body were the cause or merely a symptom, she could not know, but it didn’t change the fact that all members of the Coven were no longer under her direct control. “I’d thought I’d hidden it well enough, but I suppose my lack of control over the hive mind was bound to be discovered eventually.”

“Could another take control?”

Chrysalis quickly glanced up to Luna from her thoughtful, sidelong gaze. “As long as Graphite remains loyal you have nothing to fear from the changelings of Sanctuary.” Chrysalis watched Luna closely, noticing the small changes in her expression and the short moments when her eyes would trail off to the side and then back. The gears in the princess’s mind were turning, sizing up the possible threats to her kingdom. At that moment, Chrysalis thought it prudent to dissuade Luna from considering the changelings living beneath her own hooves as one of those possible threats. “I trust Graphite with my own life. He would not betray me or Equestria, and his influence will be enough to keep another from the Coven from attempting to take over here.” Chrysalis leaned back in her chair and crossed her forelegs across her chest. Her eyes wandered from side to side while her thoughts wandered from possibility to possibility. She once again lifted one hoof and brought it up just under her muzzle to tap it against her chin. “It would be more likely that they would fight amongst each other first in some bid to consolidate more power elsewhere, and even if one did somehow rise above the rest, they are not like I was.” Chrysalis glanced up toward Luna as she waved her hoof to the side. “Control over the hive mind as a whole was an ability only I possessed, and even then, it was too difficult to maintain alone when our numbers grew to be too vast. That was the entire purpose of the Coven. I controlled them, and through them, maintained control over the entire hive mind indirectly. Any single one of them could only hope to control a small fraction of the entire changeling population and they cannot influence each other. They would have to... convince... other Coven members to join them.”

Luna gave a single curt nod before leaning back from the table. “Regardless, we should discuss this with my sister in the morning.”

“Yes, and the Crystal Empire should be warned as well. If there is a hive bent on dominating the others, it will first look to a source of energy. The Crystal Empire’s city is far to the north on its own, making it a much more likely target than anywhere else within Equestria.”

“Agreed. I’ll have word sent to Princess Cadenza.”

Silence settled upon the room for a moment. Chrysalis blankly stared forward at the table top, struggling with the many troubled thoughts that were all vying for her attention. “I think I’d like to be left alone with my thoughts for a while, if you don’t mind,” she said quietly.

“Very well,” Luna said as she stood from her seat. She came around the table and paused by Chrysalis’s side. She gently laid a hoof upon Chrysalis’s shoulder and said, “My Nightguard can find me for you, should you wish to speak about this any further.”

Chrysalis looked up to Luna and returned the smile that the princess was giving her with one of her own. Luna silently bowed her head before stepping away toward the archive’s doorway. The sound of Luna’s hoofsteps ceases the very moment Chrysalis lost sight of her, which caused Chrysalis to glance back toward the doorway over her shoulder. She found nothing but an empty walkway between the many bookshelves that led to the still closed doors.

Chrysalis glanced forward and sat back in her seat, allowing herself to return to her thoughts. She and the sister princesses of Canterlot had gone to great lengths to dispel what misgivings the equine citizens had toward changelings since Sanctuary had been founded. However, Chrysalis could only vouch for the actions of those who choose willingly to follow her and obey Equestrian law. There were far more changelings outside of Equestria’s borders than within, changelings who were not free to make their own choices like those of Sanctuary. Even a failed invasion attempt from another hive could be disastrous for her followers, serving to destroy what little trust they had gained.

Chrysalis let out a long, tired sounding sigh. “So much for a peaceful morning.”

---

Twilight jerked her head up from the desk that she had been asleep at. She quickly glanced around herself to get her bearings, and breathed a sigh of relief when she realized she was home in her office.

She rub the sleep from her eyes and glanced over her dimly lit work area. To her right was a stack of written notes and a mostly empty inkwell that sat beneath a hovering quill, and to the right of that were broken shards of crystal. She glanced across the desk, finding her uncompleted staff, Dusk, still resting across the wooden rack where she had left it before she had fallen asleep earlier that evening. She looked the staff over, first from the left end that had a single deep violet crystal set within the silver filigree, then to the empty filigree that mirrored it at the opposite end of the white shaft. She then looked to her left at the pages of the open journal laying there. Upon one page she found the centuries old diagram of the celestial weapon that she had been working from for weeks now. The two crystal components depicted at the ends of the staff appeared as identical replicas of one another. Actually finding an acceptable matching crystal to the one already seated in the staff had been the final and most frustrating challenge of completing it.

Twilight stood and took a step away from her desk to stretch out her legs and wings. She glanced to a nearby window and saw a hint of deep blue just along the eastern horizon that faded into a star filled night sky. Her magic opened the glass panel double doors that led out onto the balcony just off of her office, and she breathed in a deep breath as she stepped outside. She stopped at the balcony rail, resting one of her forehooves and her chin upon it.

She remained there for a time, unmoving other than the gentle brush of a breeze through her mane now and then, simply watching over Ponyville from the balcony as the dawn drew closer. Her eyes drifted here and there as she looked out across the city that sprawled out across the countryside, but her focus was actually on memories dredged up by the dream she had just awoken from.

It had been a troubling dream, as nightmares usually are, but had left her with a strangely-nostalgic feeling. Perhaps it was who she had seen in the dream that had stirred the old memories from centuries ago. She hadn’t seen her in hundreds of years.

Things had changed since then. Ponyville had grown even more, becoming like an extension of Canterlot sprawling out at the foot of the mountain and even taking on many of the capital's architectural characteristics. Twilight closed her eyes for a moment and tried to call up memories of how the city looked long ago. Her memories drifted back to a time centuries ago when she had first met her would be student, and even further back still to the very early years of her rule. She smiled as she recalled memories of a time before her castle existed, a time when the tallest building in the small rural community was the town hall, and a time when the most common building found in Ponyville was a thatch roof cottage.

That time had been just over six centuries ago, when she had yet to claim her title and was still a young unicorn studying under Celestia. She slowly opened her eyes to look out over Ponyville again and watched as the first rays of the dawn stretched out from the horizon to touch the still sleeping city.

The morning was fast approaching, which meant Twilight would soon have to tend to her schedule for the day. She walked back into her office, stopping at her desk to lift Dusk in her magic. She turned it over once as she looked it over and then, with a quick thought, sent it to the pocket dimension where it would wait for her to call upon it again. She tidied up her work area, stacking the notes a bit more neatly and discarding the fragments of crystal in a nearby waste basket. She glanced back over to the journal, letting her eyes linger on the diagram. She wished that she could spend the day trying to complete Dusk, but knew that her regal duties came first. She slowly lifted the back cover of the journal, allowing the remaining blank pages at the end to flip by until the cover finally fell shut with a quiet thud.

Twilight furrowed her brow at the journal. Her eyes had caught something as the pages had flipped by, but she knew nothing should have been written there. She quickly lifted the back cover to look and found that the final page of the journal did indeed have something on it. Twilight tilted her head and quickly realized that the writing was upside down. Her magic grasped the journal and spun it around on the desk. She quickly lifted a forehoof and began to trace it across the page as she read the runes upon it.

It was a very complicated spell. Twilight silently mouthed the words as she interpreted the runes to the spell, turning the page when she made it to the end only to find the next two pages to be full as well. The pieces slowly fell in place as her mind unlocked what the spell’s purpose was, and her eyes grew wider when she finally understood what she was reading.

It was a time spell. It was not the same as the time tunneling spell that she had developed long ago. This one was very different, but yet not altogether unknown to her. She had been on the receiving end of this particular type of magic once before, when her future self had used it upon her. She also recalled that it hadn’t been a pleasant experience.

Twilight’s eyes drifted to the next page. There she found coordinates, each set written in a notation that she recognized that indicated a temporal location at a specific date and time, though only one set of coordinates immediately made sense to her. And then, just below that near the bottom of the page was something else written in what she recognized to be her own writing style. It was a simple sentence which she quietly read out loud to herself.

“Bring Dusk and the Elements.”

Planning for Yesterday

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter II – Planning for Yesterday

Twilight descended the short staircase that ran just along the wall outside her office leading her into one of the interior hallways of her castle. She stopped just past the last step to glance about the empty hall before calling out. “Julie?”

“Yes, Princess! I’m here,” called a voice from one of the adjoining halls. A second later, a unicorn with a light fuchsia coat and light green mane trotted briskly into the room holding a translucent slate of crystal in her magic at her side. Her mane was done up in a single bun on the back of her head, and some of the hairs even shined with a crystal-like glint as she passed by the early morning rays of sunlight filtering in through the windows. One could easily tell that Juliana Gem, or Julie as Twilight liked to call her, had a partial Crystal Pony heritage, even if her coat did lack the translucent, glass-like quality. “I didn’t realize you were awake,” Julie said as she stopped before Twilight and gave her an apologetic smile.

“I’m up a bit early this morning.” Twilight glanced to the side when she noticed one of the castle’s staff rushing a silver cart out into the room. Twilight smiled and nodded to the young mare as she parked the cart nearby and stepped away with a quick bow. She stepped up to the cart and selected a breakfast pastry from the many available and then poured herself a cup of chamomile tea from the small kettle. “So, my schedule for the next two days...,” Twilight said. She paused to take a quick bite of the pastry and sip of tea.

“Right,” Julie said with a quick nod as she brought the crystal tablet up before her muzzle much like a clipboard. She lifted a forehoof and tapped it against the surface, causing it to light up with words from top to bottom. She waved her hoof just over the tablet a few times in a vertical sweeping motion, causing pages and pages of words to scroll upward over the tablet’s surface. “Do we need to make a few adjustments?” she asked as she quickly read through the details of the day’s schedule.

Twilight opened her mouth, hesitating for a second before saying, “I need you to clear it.” She lifted her tea cup to her mouth, holding it there as if hiding behind it as she took a tiny sip.

Julie’s ears flinched forward, and her eyes suddenly grew a bit wider. “Oh, I see,” she said as she furrowed her brow at the tablet.

Twilight’s ears fell back at seeing Julie’s troubled look. She slowly lowered the tea cup and set it back upon the cart before turning her attention back to her assistant. “I know it’s asking a lot.”

Julie quickly glanced up. “Oh! No, not at all, Princess,” she said, quickly shaking her head. She looked back to the tablet again, chewing at her bottom lip as she pondered over it for a few seconds. Her eyes drifted up toward Twilight a few times before she pulled the tablet to the side. She tilted her head slightly as she asked, “It may not be any of my business, but is everything alright?”

Twilight put forward a gentle smile and shook her head. “Don’t worry yourself. Something has just been... brought to my attention. I just need to devote some time to taking care of it.”

“I understand,” Julie said as she turned her attention back to the tablet. “Don’t worry, Princess. I’ll find a way to reschedule things.” With a few quick back and forth motions of her hoof over the tablet, she began to shift the blocks of words about as she reorder the day’s scheduled events for another time.

“Thanks, Julie. I think it’s fair to say I really owe you a big favor now.” Twilight turned her attention back to the cart long enough to freshen up her cup of tea and pick out another pastry. She happened to glance out of the corner of her eye at just the right moment to catch Julie staring at her from over the tablet. Julie quickly averted her eyes upon being noticed, focusing on the glowing words before her. Twilight tilted her head curiously as she asked, “Something on your mind?”

Julie’s ears flinched back before she peaked over the tablet. She slowly lowered the tablet, holding it in one foreleg against her chest as she sat back. “Well... since you mentioned a favor, it reminded me of something I had been meaning to ask you, and I had planned on asking you this morning.”

“Julie,” Twilight began as she approached her assistant and gently laid one hoof upon her shoulder. “You’re clearing two entire days worth of time for me on a last minute’s notice.” Twilight withdrew her hoof and sat back as she shrugged her shoulders. “The least I can do is spare a few minutes for you. Please, ask.”

Julie smiled brightly and sat up a bit taller. She quietly cleared her throat and then said, “It’s a request, for my daughter. Her school is holding an event soon, this Thursday. It’s bring your foal to work day, and... she’s really wanted to visit the castle.”

“That’s in three days,” Twilight said. She lifted one hoof and rubbed it just under her chin as she let out a thoughtful hum. Her plan was for her task to only require the next two days. After that, things would hopefully be back to normal. She smiled and and shrugged her shoulders again as she said, “I don’t see a problem with that at all.”

“She was actually hoping to meet you,” Julie added.

“Ooh,” Twilight said. She gave Julie a knowing smile as she slowly nodded her head. “I see.”

Julie nervously chewed at her bottom lip again for a second, and then said, “To be honest, she hopes to convince you to tutor her.” Twilight’s ears flinched back, and her smile quickly vanished. Before she could respond, Julie quickly spoke up again. “Now, I’ve told her that you are rather busy, far too busy for a student, but she insists on asking you herself.” Julie paused long enough to let out a light sigh, closing her eyes as she shook her head. She glanced upward to Twilight with an apologetic smile. “I know how unlikely it is that you can simply take on a young student that just walks up and asks. You hardly have time in the day for yourself.”

“Well, I’d hate to disappoint her,” Twilight said. Her eyes drifted down to the floor between them, and she furrowed her brow as thoughts of times long past made their way to the forefront of her mind. Only once had she taken on a dedicated student to train in magic. And while it was in no way fair to compare her assistant’s daughter to a student that had come seeking knowledge with ulterior motives, she couldn’t help but worry that the end result could be the same. Even an innocent mind stumbling upon forbidden spells by accident could end up causing a disaster. Twilight’s shoulders slumped slightly as she let out a silent sigh. “You’re right, though. I... doubt I would be able to tutor her. I’m sorry, Julie.”

“Oh, no. There’s no reason to apologize, Princess.” Julie said as she waved off the apology. “If you think it would be too much of a bother, I could just tell her myself.”

“No, that’s alright. It should come from me.” Twilight took a couple steps closer to Julie, lowering her head to her assistant’s height and lowering her voice to just above a whisper. “Hopefully she’ll understand, but if she doesn’t then I’d rather her be upset with me than her mother.” Twilight leaned back as she smiled.

Julie smiled back as she looked up to Twilight. “You always have had a gentle heart.” She then stood and took the tablet in her magic. She quickly cleared her throat as she glanced over the schedule once again. “Well, I’ll take care of this and notify the staff that you are not to be bothered unless absolutely necessary.”

---

Twilight stepped into one of the many chambers of her castle, pulling the door closed behind her. The room was momentarily plunged into darkness, but then Twilight’s magenta aura glowed from her horn to give the room some light.

She stepped forward into the circular, windowless room. Etched into the floor was a circle about half the diameter of the room itself, and at the center was a crystal spike that was about as tall as she was. She stopped just as her forehooves reached the edge of the circle, and then she slowly lowered her head so her horn was nearly touching the floor. Her magic glowed brighter for just a moment, and then symbols lit up and moved in patterns about the inner circumference of the circle. Lines of light traced across the floor to the crystal spike in the center, filling it with light and brightening the room.

The tip of the crystal spike lit up with a bright white glow and then cast a horizontal beam of light out toward Twilight that swept over her from head to hoof. Then the crystal pulsed, sending a dim glow rippling out across the floor. It continued to do this in a slow, steady rhythm as Twilight patiently waited.

A couple silent minutes passed, and then beams of light projected outward from the tip of the crystal to the right of Twilight. As the light passed over the empty area, a translucent image of Princess Celestia was revealed standing at the edge of the circle.

“Twilight? Is something wrong?” Celestia asked. Her voice had a resonance to it that made it sound more distant than it should have, almost as if she were speaking from across a long empty corridor.

Twilight turned herself slightly to look toward Celestia’s image, but kept her forehooves at the circle’s edge. “Possibly. I’ve sent this call out to everyone. Will Luna be able to join us?”

“I’ll make sure she does.” Celestia’s image faded when she quickly stepped away from the circle’s edge. She was only gone for a matter of seconds before the light projected her stepping back up to the circle again. “It’s a rare thing for you to call a council meeting, let alone an emergency meeting.”

The crystal cast more beams of light off to Twilight’s left, and the empty space there was filled with an image of Princess Cadance. “I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t keep everyone waiting,” she said.

Twilight glanced to Cadance’s image as she shook her head. “We’re still waiting on everyone to gather.”

“Has something happened?” Cadance asked, the concern in her voice matching with the look on her face.

“Not yet,” Twilight said. She then glanced back to the far right side of the circle when the crystal projected its light there to reveal an image of Princess Luna. “Good morning Luna. Sorry to disturb you this early, I know you probably just got to bed.”

Luna stifled a small yawn as she shook her head. “This must be very important if you are the one calling us all together, Twilight.”

“It is,” Twilight said quietly with a single nod. She then looked off to the far left of the circle when the crystal projected its light there and revealed an image of Spike. He was right in the middle of a wide-open yawn that he was attempting to cover up. “There you are. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to join us.”

Spike attempted to shake off the yawn with a quick shake of his head. After unfolding his wings for a good stretch, he folded them back just as he crouched down at the edge of the circle and laid himself down so he was resting with his forearms folded on the floor just before him. Lying at the edge of the circle, his image appeared no larger than any of the alicorns gathered around. “Sorry,” he said with a deep grumble as he blinked his tired looking eyes. He then glanced up and around, seeming to notice for the first time that there were others gathered there. “Oh wow, everyone’s here. What’s going on?”

“I have something to tell all of you,” Twilight began. She waited until all attention was on her and then continued. “First, I should probably explain what I’ve been doing recently.” Twilight called upon her magic, using it to reach out to her pocket dimension. She mentally located something she had stored there and pulled it forward, causing a book to appear from a flash of light grasped in her aura. “This is one of my personal journals,” she said as she opened the journal, turning it to a certain page. “Specifically, it’s my account of the events that took place when Spike and I traveled to Equestria’s alternate timeline. I happened across it on a shelf in my library by chance a few weeks ago. What’s strange about that is this journal should have been secured in a vault.”

Spike leaned his head and scratched just along the edge of his ear fins with a single claw. “You sure you didn’t just lose track of it? I mean, that thing has to be... what, a few hundred years old?”

“It’s been over three hundred and fifty years,” Twilight said. She glanced up from the journal’s pages to Spike. “And yes, at first I thought that perhaps I’d just accidentally had it reshelved with the rest of my books.”

Twilight’s horn briefly lit again, and the magic circle around the room sent another pulse of light rippling toward the crystal at the center. Light beams quickly scanned over the journal, and then Twilight made a quick gesture with one forehoof that caused projected mirror images of the journal to fan out across the room. One projection of the journal stopped at a hover before each of the others gathered around the circle. “After rediscovering this journal, I decided that I would make an attempt at constructing Dusk.”

“Your celestial weapon,” Celestia said thoughtfully as she looked over the projected copy of the journal open before her. She glanced up from the journal, looking to Twilight as she said, “So this is what you have been busy with.”

“Yes, and I’ve made good progress but it still isn’t complete.” Twilight glanced about at the others around the circle before letting out a long sigh. She began to use her magic to quickly flip through the remaining blank pages to reach the end of the journal, a motion that was mirrored by all of the projected copies. “What actually has me concerned is what I found on the last few pages of my journal this morning.” Twilight stopped at the very last page, and then used her magic to turn the journal over to make the last page appear as if it were the first.

For a moment, there was nothing but silence from the others as they read the page. “Whoa,” Spike finally commented in a low, quiet breath.

“Twilight,” Luna said, quickly looking toward her from the journal’s page. She furrowed her brow as she said, “This is temporal magic.”

Twilight closed her eyes and slowly nodded her head. “Yes, it is.”

Luna looked back to the page before her. “But, the study of temporal magic is forbidden, except when approved by all members of the Elder Council.”

“And I’m very aware of that, since I was the one to propose the law.” Twilight used her magic to turn the page, revealing the rest of the spell. “Still, I have reason to believe that I am the one who wrote this spell.”

“Twilight,” Celestia said with a stern edge on her voice. “The law applies equally to all, including us,” she said as she laid a forehoof against her chest.

Twilight quickly grimaced. “Maybe I should have said that I believe I will write it.”

“It says to bring Dusk and the Elements,” Cadance said. She squinted her eyes at the page before her, and then glanced up to the others in the room as she pointed a hoof at the page. “It’s written at the very end.”

Spike let a low grumble echo through his throat as he squinted at the page. “Twi, that’s your writing,” he said as he glanced over to Twilight.

“Yes, it is.” Twilight glanced about to the others, seeing them all looking to her for some sort of explanation. She looked at the pages of the open journal before her. “I believe this spell was somehow written here by my future self, though I don’t have anything other than circumstantial evidence to prove that.” Twilight’s magic closed the journal, and the mirrored copies blinked out. She held it in her magic to her side so the front cover faced toward the others. “This journal was inexplicably out of place in my library, and I am the only one who can gain access to the vault it should have been in. Two sets of coordinates are included on the page after the spell, which itself requires an origination point and a destination point to work. One of the coordinates is tomorrow, in the Everfree Forest.”

“Tomorrow?” Spike said as he suddenly sat up a bit taller.

“Yes, and I don’t believe that to be a coincidence for a single second. There’s just one last thing that I need to verify.” Twilight glanced over toward Luna’s image. “Luna, did you happen to notice my dream last night?”

Luna seemed taken aback by the sudden question, her ears quickly laying back when all attention shifted toward her. However, her serious demeanor returned after only a few seconds. “I was occupied elsewhere. Pray tell us, what does this have to do with your journal?”

“So, you didn’t sense a nightmare,” Twilight said, more as a statement than a question.

Luna stood there silently for a moment before finally saying, “I did not.”

Twilight nodded her head as she lowered her gaze to the floor before her. She closed her eyes and took in a deep, calming breath before looking back up to the others around the circle. “Before I woke up this morning, I dreamed of Equestria disappearing.” Twilight gave her statement a few seconds to sink in, and it didn’t take any longer than that. The others around the room all quickly glanced around to each other seeming worried or even shocked, almost as if to make sure they had all heard the same thing. When all eyes turned back to Twilight, she continued. “I believe I have received a warning of what may happen unless we act to stop it. I also believe that this spell is part of the message. In light of what I have discovered so far, I have a request that I would like to make of this council.”

Spike’s image sat up so he was perched upon his hind legs. “You know we’ll do whatever we can to help,” he said as he crossed his arms across his chest and gave Twilight a confident grin.

“Of course we will!” Cadance said as she quickly glanced about the circle, to which the rest nodded to her. She looked to Twilight and asked, “What do you need us to do?”

Twilight smiled for a few seconds, but the smile fell from her face to be replaced by the look of determination. “I need the Elder Council... to grant me permission to use temporal magic.” Another round of shocked looks passed between the others before all eyes looked to Twilight again. Her eyes trailed down to the journal that she held in her aura just before her. She reached a forehoof up and touched it lightly against the blank cover.

“I have to go back.”

Planning for Tomorrow

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter III – Planning for Tomorrow

The morning had come not long after Luna had left the archives, and shortly thereafter, a member of Canterlot’s day time guard had come to call upon Chrysalis. She was escorted through the quiet hallways to one of the more modestly sized rooms, well away from the central throne room. It was there, behind locked and guarded doors, that Chrysalis, Celestia, and Luna had spent well over an hour gathered around a table while discussing the visions and what should be done about them.

Luna furrowed her brow deeply, rubbing the tip of her hoof against the bridge of her muzzle just between her closed eyes. She sigh and her hoof slid down to land roughly on the table. “So, what we actually know is... basically nothing,” she grumbled with a frown.

“We know there is a threat,” Chrysalis said curtly. “Possibly to our entire existence.”

“Yes, but from where?” Luna asked, leaning in over the table toward Chrysalis. She only maintained her intense stare for a few seconds before leaning back in her chair and crossing her forelegs over her chest. “Our best guess is based on a vague vision of shadows and nothing more.” Luna’s patience had quickly worn thin as the meeting had carried on into the morning hours. The lack of any obvious solution was likely the core cause of her frustration, as well as lack of sleep playing at least a small part. She had always been the sister that preferred to act quickly rather than waste time.

There was a saying in Equestria, that the sister princesses of Canterlot were like night and day in every way. Celestia quietly sat across the table from Luna, and had been much less vocal than her younger sister throughout the meeting. She was the thinker, preferring to hear all the facts before making a decision. However, the meeting had been more about speculation than fact so far. “Is there any detail that you’ve yet to tell us?” Celestia asked.

“I’ve gone over it in detail three times already,” Chrysalis said. She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table and rubbing her forehooves against her temples as she let out a low grumble. “I know I saw changelings, but there was still something very unfamiliar about them.” She rested her forelegs on the table as she looked up toward Celestia. “Unfortunately, that means I have no idea who it may be that is plotting against us.”

“And, Princess Twilight. You said she appeared older.”

“Taller than I remember her, at least,” Chrysalis said as she glanced off to the side of the room. That one particular detail was still a bit confusing. The time traveling princess had seemed noticeably taller in the dream, but then, all of the alicorns she knew were taller than anyone who wasn’t one.

“I wonder if that could mean anything,” Celestia said, echoing the same thought that had crossed Chrysalis’s mind.

Chrysalis glanced back to Celestia as she said, “I’d rather not simply wait around for the possibility that she may show up.”

“Hear, hear,” Luna quickly added as she tapped a hoof on the table top.

Chrysalis glanced to Luna out of the corner of her eye with a small smirk showing before turning her attention back to Celestia. “Her being in my vision doesn’t mean she’ll stop by to give us all the answers we need. You know that the visions are just a symbolic glimpse of possibilities.”

Celestia drew in a deep breath before letting it all go in a heavy sigh. “Then perhaps we should take this as a warning and prepare ourselves for the worst case.”

Luna quickly leaned forward at her side of the table, resting her elbows just on the table’s edge and resting her chin upon her folded forehooves. “But, one advantage we do have is that our unseen enemy is not aware that we know. If we suddenly heighten our defenses and the enemy notices, they will likely become much more cautious, and we lose our only advantage.”

Celestia perked an eyebrow at Luna. “I’m surprised you would consider playing a waiting game.”

“Perhaps your ways are... how do they phrase it again? Rubbing off on me, I think it is?” Luna flashed a playful grin at her sister. “I would prefer a much more direct action against our enemy, but that would require knowing who the enemy actually is, would it not?”

Celestia smiled. “A very good point.”

Chrysalis’s eyes glanced back and forth between the two sisters, finally coming to rest on Luna. “You’re hoping they reveal themselves by accident if we act like we don’t know.” When Luna looked her way displaying a mischievous smile, Chrysalis couldn’t help but smile herself. “Not a bad idea, but I think I would prefer to have something else prepared just in case,” she said as he stood from her chair and began to walk toward a nearby window.

“I take it that you have one of these ‘just in case’ plans of yours already in mind then?” Luna asked.

“You know I always have plans,” Chrysalis said quietly as she stopped at the window and cast a thoughtful glance outside. Her eyes looked upon the distant horizon, just beyond the small town of Ponyville. She turned to the side and glanced back to the two sisters. “One of our greatest defenses is currently resting in the Everfree Forest.”

The two sisters quickly glanced to each other before turning their attention back. “Would it be safe to take the Elements from the tree?” Celestia asked.

“The Elements have been with the tree for a few years now,” Chrysalis said as she glanced out the window once more. She tapped one of her forehooves just under her chin and squinted her eyes while she mulled over the idea. The tree’s health likely wouldn’t be the problem. “While I doubt it is anywhere near fully restored, it should manage on its own without them for a short while at least.”

“Sending an expedition to the forest to recover the Elements would not go unnoticed,” Luna noted.

“Then we don’t send one,” Chrysalis said casually as she trotted back over to the table. The two sisters watched her, both giving a curious glance as she stopped in front of the table to look up to them. “However, it has been quite a while since I’ve visited my friends in Ponyville. I was just thinking I should take a short vacation there to see them.”

Both sister’s seemed puzzled for short moment before realization dawned upon them. “I see,” Luna said as she nodded her head and looked to her sister. “Such a ruse just might work.”

Chrysalis took to slowly pacing about in a small circle in front of the table as she thought over her plan. “We will need their help,” she said. She stopped and looked up to the sisters. “I could recover the Elements on my own, but I can only hope to use them with the help of the other bearers.”

Celestia looked across the table to Luna. “This would be the best chance to get the word to them and retrieve the Elements without it appearing out of the ordinary.”

Luna silently agreed by nodding her head once.

“Well,” Chrysalis started as she turned away from the table and started trotting toward the door. “I should probably be going then. It sounds like I have vacation to plan.”

---

Chrysalis’s first stop once she had returned to Sanctuary had been the home office of the city’s guard force, the headquarters of the Sanctuary Sentinels. It would likely appear odd if the Changeling Queen of Sanctuary suddenly took an unannounced trip all alone to Ponyville. At the very least, she would need a bodyguard to keep up the appearance that her visit was simply something routine, and anything more would likely draw as much unwanted attention as traveling alone. She had requested to speak with an officer about acquiring a bodyguard for her trip, and had been quickly ushered into the office of one of the Sentinel’s lieutenants. To one who was unfamiliar with changelings, this lieutenant likely appeared nearly the same as any other, and may have appeared somewhat out of place sitting behind a desk in an office. However, such a sight was commonplace in Sanctuary.

Like the rest of the buildings found in the underground city, this one and nearly everything within it was constructed from crystal. Other than the lack of windows, the office could have easily been mistook as one plucked from the streets of the Crystal Empire, but all of the buildings in Sanctuary were of changeling construction. Changelings were adaptable creatures if nothing else, and the changelings of Sanctuary had quickly adopted not only the architecture of the equine culture around them, but many of the social practices as well. The restructuring of the hive’s soldier caste into a guard force with ranks befitting that of the Equestrian military had been one of the first tasks that Chrysalis had seen to, a gesture to help prove their solidarity with Equestria.

Chrysalis pondered over the last of a half dozen file folders that the lieutenant had given to her in answer to her request. As she finished skimming through the pages in the folder, she flipped the cover closed with her magic. She let the stack of folders fall onto the desk between her and the lieutenant with a loud flop. “I could have sworn that we had quite a few more guards than this,” she grumbled mostly to herself as she sat back in her chair and eyed the file cabinets off to the side of the room. She knew well that every guard within her Sentinels had a file tucked away within one of those drawers. She had overseen much of the initial registration of her Sentinels personally.

“Oh, of course, your Grace,” the lieutenant quickly said as he cast a quick, nervous glance at the cabinets. “I just thought to select the best for you to choose from.”

“I thought I said that I was looking for a bodyguard, not that I wanted one picked for me,” Chrysalis mumbled as her magic lifted one of the folders from the desk. She flipped it open to glance at the contents for but a few seconds before she let out a heavy sigh and dropped it back on the desk. “No, I don’t see the one I’m looking for here,” she said as she stood from her chair and made her way over to the filing cabinets. Her magic pulled one of the cabinet drawers out and began to quickly rifle through the folders contained within.

“Oh, you were looking for one in particular?” The lieutenant stood and cautiously approached from the other side of his desk, stopping opposite of the opened cabinet drawer from Chrysalis as he watched her quickly skim through the files.

“I am,” she said, punctuating her statement by closing the drawer. She wasted no time pulling the next one below it open and went to work rifling through the second set of folders. “A recent addition. I believe she’s been assigned to watch the halls outside my bedroom during the night. Seems to appear as a young pegasus mare more often than not.”

The lieutenant's ears laid back, and if he had at all attempted to hide the grimace on his face, he hadn’t done a very good job of it. “Oh, her....” There was a heavy layer of disdain noticeable on his words.

Chrysalis stopped, her magic holding the edge of a file while she slowly glanced up at the lieutenant. “Can I not have my pick for a bodyguard?” she asked as she perked a single eyebrow at him.

“O-of course you may, your Grace. I simply thought you would like one of our... more experienced soldiers. She is just a recruit.”

“I’m well aware of what she is, likely even more so than you,” Chrysalis said as she returned to filtering through the files. She finally stopped and pulled one of the files from the drawer, her magic opening it before her as she said, “Ah, here we are.” She absently pushed the file cabinet drawer closed with her magic and took a couple steps closer to the lieutenant as she looked over the contents. “The first who wasn’t born of the soldier caste to join the guard.”

The lieutenant cast his eyes off to the side. “Yes, which makes her—”

Chrysalis quickly folded the file folder closed and swatted it against the lieutenant’s chest, grabbing his full attention and causing him to flinch. She leaned her head forward until her horn was nearly touching his forehead, raising her brows high as she said, “It makes her interesting.”

The lieutenant cowered away slightly, his ears pressed back against his head and his eyes wide. “Very,” he said as he cautiously raised a hoof to hold the folder against his chest.

“I want her.” Chrysalis punctuated her demand by jabbing the tip of her hoof against the folder. “Be sure that she is prepared for the trip by tomorrow morning.”

The lieutenant quickly bowed his head as he stepped back toward his desk and said, “Yes, your Grace. It shall be done.”

A pleasant smile graced Chrysalis’s face, and then she turned to leave the office. “Interesting indeed,” she cheerfully commented to herself as she left.

---

Chrysalis laid mostly unmoving upon her seat, only slowly blinking every so often as she watched the scenery go by just outside the window. It was quiet within the private train car cabin, and had been so for most of the trip. The only sounds were the dull and distant droning of the train’s wheels rolling down the tracks and the occasional sound of hoofsteps when someone happened to walk past the other side of the closed cabin door.

Despite the silence, she wasn’t alone. Chrysalis momentarily broke her gaze away from the scenery, glancing out of the corner of her eye toward her quiet companion. Her bodyguard laid there in the seat across from her, facing toward the doorway. She still appeared as a golden furred pegasus, same as she had the day before. She was also still clad in the chitin-like scale armor, which couldn’t possibly be comfortable. Chrysalis had told her new companion that she should only wear the armor when she felt it was absolutely necessary. Evidently, that was ‘always’, as she had yet to see even a single strap loosened.

Her bodyguard had kept a rigid pose befitting that of a guard, staring at the closed cabin door during the entire trip as if expecting some sort of danger to burst through at any moment. Her ears twitched and followed the sounds of a muffled conversation coming from passengers as they walked through the hall just outside. As the sounds of their voices grew closer, Chrysalis noticed her bodyguard’s forehooves clenching the edge of her seat a bit tighter and then relaxing once again when the voices started to grow distant.

Chrysalis let out a light sigh as she laid her chin across her folded forelegs. “You should relax,” she lazily commented.

Her bodyguard quickly glanced her way, and the shocked look on her face made it seem like she had completely forgotten that there was someone else with her in the cabin. Her forehooves fidgeted, and her ears laid back as she said, “I’m sorry.” Despite the apology, there was no noticeable relaxing happening as her eyes soon drifted back toward watching the door.

Chrysalis shifted slightly to lie on her side. She stretched and snugged herself back against the seat cushions. It was amazing just how tired she felt from doing nothing more than lying on a bench. She let out a lazy yawn and then rested the side of her head on the cushion. She silently watched for a while longer as her faithful bodyguard continued to keep watch over the doorway, taking note of how she seemed to tense any time she heard signs of anyone else being remotely close. “Not used to being out in the open, are you?” she asked.

Her bodyguard quickly looked back once again, and then cast her eyes shamefully downward. “I guess I’m still getting used to it. You would think after three years I would have gotten over it.” She let go a weak-hearted laugh.

“I understand. Old habits do die hard. Of course, old habits are part of the reason why I chose you.” The soft smile that Chrysalis had been wearing up to that point diminished. “This assignment isn’t going to be a problem for you, is it?”

Somehow, her bodyguard found a way to sit up even more rigidly than she had been. “N-no, of course not.”

Chrysalis’s gentle smile returned. “Good. Then relax,” she said as she stretched out across the bench and let her eyes slowly blink closed. “If you keep fidgeting about then even I’ll start to feel nervous, and there is very little that can cause that.”

---

Taking the winding path down Canterlot Mountain and then crossing the plains surrounding Ponyville wasn’t exactly the most efficient route that Chrysalis had available to her. If she had so desired, she could have gotten access to a chariot. It was easily less than half the time spent to travel as the pegasus flies to the rural town, but chariots had a tendency to draw much more attention than trains. And besides, she had enjoyed the short nap that she got in before the train had rolled into the station.

She stepped off the train just ahead of her bodyguard, who was fumbling about behind her with a suitcase clamped under one wing and a wheeled travel bag that she was trying to drag off the final few steps. Somehow, the bag had managed to get itself wedged on something at the top. She got a firm grip with both her forehooves on the travel bag’s handle, and then stumbled backwards off the train a few steps after she gave the bag a quick tug to pull it loose. The suitcase slipped out from under her wing, flopping over and clattering to the ground.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry one of those?” Chrysalis asked. Her magic aura lit for just long enough to set the suitcase upright.

Her bodyguard quickly snagged the suitcase under her wing once again. “I can get these,” she quickly said as she fumbled with trying to collapse the handle on the travel bag.

“Suit yourself,” Chrysalis mumbled as she glanced down the platform. Quite a few passengers were still disembarking while others were making their way to the train for the afternoon trip to Canterlot. Some of the arrivals were meeting up with friends or relatives while those departing were saying their goodbyes. And not too far away, Chrysalis spotted a poofy-maned pink pony practically bouncing her way down the platform toward her.

“Heeeey, Chryssy!” Pinkie Pie called out. She pounced Chrysalis with a hug, and even though it wasn’t the first time she had experienced a Pinkie sized hug, the strength of it was still a bit surprising. It was nothing life threatening, but evidently her bodyguard didn’t realize this. Luckily, Chrysalis managed to very quickly wave her bodyguard off when she noticed that she had dropped the bags and reached for something concealed beneath one of her wings. Pinkie finally released the hug, taking a step back and putting on a bright smile as she said, “Long time no see.”

“Thanks for meeting us here on such short notice,” Chrysalis said, bowing her head slightly.

“No problemo! So, who’s your friend?” Pinkie asked as she turned her excited grin toward the other new arrival.

Chrysalis’s bodyguard noticeably flinched, and she seemed unsure how to respond as her eyes darted from the strange pony to Chrysalis and back.

“Well, go on. Introduce yourself,” Chrysalis said, waving her hoof.

She stood a bit taller and cleared her throat. “I’m Mystery, ma’am.”

Pinkie let out a short little chuckle-snort. “You’re funny. You can just call me Pinkie.” She then darted around to where the travel bag was lying on the platform and, in one fluid motion, ducked down and swept the bag up so it was balancing just on top of her head. “I’ll get this one!” she declared as she started to prance her way off the platform.

Mystery appeared shocked into silence as she watched Pinkie effortlessly balanced the baggage while cantering down the steps away from the train station. She didn’t stop gawking until Chrysalis walked by her to follow after Pinkie. With a quick shake of her head, Mystery broke her gaze away just long enough to collect the suitcase beneath a wing and then took off at a brisk pace to catch up.

---

As the trio had walked through the streets of Ponyville, Mystery had tried to keep her focus on her surroundings. Specifically, she had been discreetly making a mental note of all of the ponies that had passed them on the way to their destination. While none of them appeared particularly threatening, she knew as well as anyone that looks could be deceiving.

Unfortunately, there was a major distraction in the form of a strange pink pony prancing about just before them. This ‘Pinkie Pie’, supposedly one of the Element bearers, appeared nothing like what she had been expecting, and her behavior was beyond ridiculous. Not only had she just simply bounced up to them and practically tackle the Queen after they’d left the train, but she had the gall to actually address her Grace as ‘Chryssy’. Strangely enough, Chrysalis seemed unfazed by the nickname. Mystery wondered just how it was that such a strange mare could be such a close acquaintance.

“So!” Pinkie suddenly said as she spun about on her hooves to face Mystery. She continued to walk backwards as they continued down the street, still managing to balance the travel bag atop her springy mass of mane despite the sudden movement. “First time to Ponyville?”

Mystery’s stride stuttered a step. When she looked to her Queen for guidance, Chrysalis simply shifted her eyebrows, giving her a look that silently seemed to say that she need not ask permission to answer the question. “Uh, no... actually, I’ve been here before a few times.”

“R-really?” Pinkie asked as she rapidly blink-blinked. She began to tilt her head slightly as she took on a thoughtful gaze, but had to quickly canter a few steps to the side to balance herself and keep the luggage from toppling off. “You sure? I usually don’t forget these things.”

“Well, I didn’t look like this,” Mystery said as her eyes traveled downward a bit.

“Oh, right. You’re a changeling too! Duh, I should have know that.” Pinkie let out a quick giggle as she stuck out her tongue and tapped the tip of her forehoof against the side of her head. Mystery was sure she heard a hollow thunk when she did so. “So who were you back then? I betcha it’s somepony I know!”

“I was pretty generic, to be honest.” Mystery fully intended to leave her description at that. However, Pinkie remained focused on her, smiling happily as she expectantly waited for more. The extra attention was a bit unsettling, and after an awkward moment of being silently stared at by someone who was walking backwards with a large piece of luggage balanced on her head, Mystery finally admitted, “I used to pose as one of Celestia’s guards.”

Pinkie’s smile quickly dropped into a disappointed frown. “Shoot. Those are some of the only ponies that visit that I don’t get to know very well.” She sidestepped off the path, waiting for a couple seconds and focusing on keeping the luggage balanced, and then stepped back on the street to walk alongside Mystery. “They don’t really talk about themselves much and the armor makes it really hard to tell them apart.”

Mystery let out a heavy sigh, resigned to the fact that this mare was not going to leave her be. “That’s intentional. Celestia doesn’t want members of the guard to be easily identified. It keeps anyone from singling out a guard for doing their job.”

“You know quite a bit about the guard, don’tcha?”

“Well, I should. I was a member for over five years.” Mystery cringed slightly and quickly added, “Uh, well, not as me, I mean.” She chanced a glance to her other side toward her Queen. Chrysalis caught the glance out of the corner of her eye, and a sly smirk was her only response. It appeared Mystery wasn’t about to get an easy out from answering Pinkie’s barrage of questions.

“Wow.” Pinkie pranced a few steps forward and then stopped, focusing on her balancing act for a few seconds as she paused with only one forehoof and hind hoof touching the ground. “I can’t imagine not being me for even five minutes, but you were able to do it for five years? That’s amazing!” she said. She hopped slightly off the ground when her voice climbed, and landed deftly on the other two hooves.

Mystery’s ears laid back against her head, and her cringing deepened. “Glad you think so?”

Pinkie smiled brightly and then quickly cantered ahead a few steps. “Alright, here’s our stop,” she declared as she took one last hop up onto the front step of Sugarcube Corner. The travel bag teetered upon her head before tumbling forward and landing upright on the step in front of her. She pulled the shop’s door open and beckoned inside as she said, “After you!”

Mystery followed closely behind Chrysalis as they walked into the darkened shop. There wasn’t a single light lit in the place, and the blinds upon all of the windows had been drawn closed. When Pinkie stepped inside behind them and pulled the shop door closed, the only source of light was suddenly cut off, plunging their surroundings into darkness.

Mystery began to feel her heart beating a bit harder. Her wide eyes were struggling to adjust to the sudden darkness. Her ears swiveled about trying to pick out any sounds in the silence. The situation suddenly didn’t feel right at all.

“Rather dark, isn’t it?” Mystery actually flinched when her Queen’s voice rang out through the darkened shop from beside her.

“Hold on, I’ll get the lights,” Pinkie called out. There was the sound of the luggage being rolled to the side of the room and of Pinkie’s hoofsteps as she crossed the wooden floor. And then, there was the blinding light that followed the quiet click when Pinkie switched on the shop’s lights, forcing Mystery to squint her eyes closed for a second.

“Surprise!” A chorus of voices yelled out in the shop, causing Mystery to flinch at the sudden shout. The suitcase she had been carrying was quickly forgotten as she dropped it to the floor and flared her wings out at her sides. She ducked down slightly and reached across her chest and just under her left wing with her right forehoof, but she hesitated when she noticed the colorful decorations strung up about the room and the smiling faces of a group of mares greeting them.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting this,” Chrysalis said, sounding a bit surprised herself. She glanced about the decorated room and to each of her old friends with a happy smile on her face. That smile was quickly replaced with a disappointed scowl when she noticed Mystery once again reaching for her concealed weapon. She reached over with a forehoof and slowly pushed Mystery’s wing down, barely shaking her head and mouthing the words ‘stop it’. At this rate, it would be a miracle if they made it through the afternoon without someone getting stabbed.

Chrysalis stepped forward a few steps into the room, looking over the decorations hanging over head. “I only just sent the message last night.” She looked down toward Pinkie as she asked, “How did you get something like this setup in less than a day?”

Pinkie grinned widely. “Well, I did have to use some of my emergency party rations, but that’s what they’re there for!”

Rarity stepped forward from the rest of the group, giving Chrysalis a bright smile and an embrace which she gladly returned. “It’s so good to see you again,” Rarity said as she took a step back, leaving one hoof resting upon Chrysalis’s shoulder. “Tell us, how have things been for you in Sanctuary?”

“Very busy, but that’s hardly an excuse for us having been apart for so long, isn’t it?” Chrysalis glanced about the room at her friends, a weak smile on her muzzle as she said, “I should do better at making time for all of you.”

“We’re all just as guilty,” Rarity said, shaking her head and waving her forehoof. “I was thinking just the other day that I really should visit Sanctuary much more often than I do. You and your changelings have done such a marvelous job of creating such a beautiful crystal city.”

Applejack stepped up beside Chrysalis as she said, “Well, we’re all here together now.” She leaned in beside Chrysalis, laying one foreleg across her shoulders for a friendly hug. “That counts for somethin’, don’t it?”

“It does,” Chrysalis said with a slight nod of her head. “I only wish it were as simple as a casual visit.”

Pinkie had been busily cutting slices of cake and setting them upon a set of small serving plates laid out in a careful line across a table. Her muzzle scrunched to the side and she stuck her tongue out a bit as she carefully placed the final piece on the remaining empty plate. “There,” she said, taking a moment to admire her work before picking up one of the plates, balancing it easily upon her forehoof. “Your letter did say you had something you wanted to talk to us about,” she said as she turned and hopped a few paces toward Chrysalis. She stopped before her and offered up the slice of cake. “We’re all here and all ears, right girls?” she asked as she looked around her at the others.

“You bet!”

“Absolutely.”

“Of course!”

“Eyep!”

The chorus of replies was as varied as was the Queen’s friends, but all held the same meaning. They were there for her, ready to help her out in any way they could without her even having to ask. Though it had seemed like a rather odd gathering at first, Mystery found herself understanding at least a bit more why these mares were so important. She hadn’t noticed it until that moment. She could feel the bond between them just from simply standing in the same room as them. Sharing such a strong emotional bond was a rare thing, especially between a changeling and other beings.

Chrysalis quietly accepted the slice of cake with her magic. Silence settled upon the room for a moment as she seemed to mull something over, and then she looked up and asked, “Is this chocolate?”

Pinkie’s grin nearly spread from ear to ear as she rapidly nodded her head.

A happy smile slowly spread across Chrysalis’s muzzle. “Well, I think it can wait, at least until we all have a piece of this cake.”

Departure

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter IV – Departure

“Saddlebags... check.”

One last strap pulled tight around Twilight’s barrel with a tug of her magic, securing her light blue saddlebags to her sides. At the sound of her voice, a nearby quill floated over the parchment lying upon her office desk and put a check mark next to the matching line of text.

“Journals... check.”

Twilight’s magic lifted two journals. She gazed upon the goldleaf lettering on the light-tan cover of the first, then carefully tucked it away within one of her saddlebags. When she glanced upon the blank, dark brown cover of the other journal, her sides heaved with a sigh before she stuffed the journal into the other saddlebag. At the same time, the quill once again found a line and placed a mark next to it.

“Dusk....” Twilight’s horn glowed as she called forth the staff, and in a bright flash it appeared before her clasped in her magic aura. She looked over the unfinished staff briefly before her magic sent it back to its resting place to be summoned later. “Check.”

Another mark on the parchment.

Twilight walked over to the desk and glanced over the simple time travel necessities checklist. Only a half dozen items were listed which she could have easily remembered on her own, but she always felt better having things written down on parchment, even if the act of putting ink to paper was a thing that had long since fallen out of common practice.

She looked to a small oval mirror sitting upon a silver wire-frame stand on her desk. Her horn lit again as her magic lifted two items from a pearl white bust only a few steps away; a plain silver peytral and a golden tiara. She fitted the peytral about her neck and set the tiara upon her head, turning her head side to side as she looked over her reflection in the mirror.

“Peytral and crown... check and check.”

Two more marks on the parchment.

“Well,” Twilight said quietly as she leaned over toward the parchment once more, taking note of the checked off items. “That’s almost everything.”

A quiet knock came at the door behind her. Twilight almost mistook it as some random noise, her ears only flinching back toward the door for less than a second. When the hesitant knock came a second time, she turned to look back over her shoulder.

“Yes?” The door to her office opened slightly at her call, and her assistant peaked in through the opening. “Julie? What’s wrong?”

Julie drew in a breath, letting it out in a sigh before stepping into the room with her head lowered. “I’m terribly sorry for disturbing you, Princess, but you have a visitor that is being very insistent that he be allowed to see you and I don’t think I can turn him away.”

Twilight’s eyes slowly closed as she hung her head. She shook her head just slightly before looking back to Julie. “It’s Spike, isn’t it.” Her comment was more than a statement than a question, but Julie still silently nodded to confirm her suspicion all the same. “Alright, I’ll take care of it,” Twilight said as she made her way toward the door.

Julie stepped back to the side as Twilight walked out into the hall, and then quickly cantered up to Twilight’s side. “Again, I’m so sorry,” she said as she looked up at Twilight with pleading eyes.

“It’s alright,” Twilight said, a small chuckle noticeable on her voice. She paused long enough to glance down and rest a hoof on Julie’s shoulder. “I know exactly why he’s here.”

“Oh, you do?” Julie’s ears raised a bit from where they’d been flattened back against her head. When Twilight smiled and nodded to her, she breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh, I thought you’d be upset that I wasn’t able to handle it myself. Well, I’ll leave it to you then, Princess.”

“Don’t worry yourself so much, Julie.” Twilight gave her one last pat on the shoulder before she turned to leave toward the hallway that would lead her to the entry hall. As she approached the castle’s main chamber, her smile diminished until her mouth was little more than a thin, strained line. Her eyes took on a bit of a squint when her ears picked up on the noise of arguing just up ahead.

“...really don’t care! Just because you’re a dragon that happens to be a close acquaintance with the Princess doesn’t mean you can barge in unannounced whenever you feel like! She’s busy!” She recognized the angry voice of Stalwart, her castle’s gatekeeper, echoing through the halls. She could imagine the scene before she could even see it, that of a silver armored stallion pointing his pike at a less than pleased dragon.

Twilight stepped around the last corner into the main hall. Upon seeing exactly what she had thought she would, she rolled her eyes and let out a long, groaning sigh. There just inside her castle’s doorway stood her gatekeeper with pike in hooves as he took a threatening stance against Spike, who himself loomed over Stalwart by easily ten times the stallion's height. Most ponies probably would have at least found Spike’s size somewhat intimidating given that he was so tall that his head nearly touched the castle ceiling, but Stalwart definitely wasn’t like most ponies.

“Look,” Spike said sternly, pointing a claw down at the stallion. “You poke that thing at me one more time, I’ll use it to turn you into a pony pop-sickle.”

“Spike!” Twilight’s voice caught the attention of both Spike and Stalwart, halting their altercation. As Twilight approached the two of them, she kept her stern gaze locked upon Spike’s eyes. “What are you doing here?”

Spike crossed his arms over his chest and snorted a small puff of smoke from his nostrils. “You know why I’m here.”

“Princess, please,” Stalwart started as he stepped up before her. He bowed deeply before her as he said, “Allow me to take care of this. You have other more important duties to attend to.”

Twilight only shortly glanced to him before turning her eyes back toward Spike. “No, Stalwart, I’ll take care of this myself.”

Stalwart stood rigidly at attention, clacking his hoof armor loudly together. “I must insist! It is my sworn duty to protect your sanctuary from any and all intruders” — Stalwart’s voice caught in his throat when noticed Twilight staring at him with a not-so-friendly squint in her eyes — “but... if you insist on taking care of this matter yourself—”

“I do,” Twilight said flatly.

“Ah, very well then.” Stalwart wore a smile nearly as rigid as his stance as he took a few cautious steps back to the side of the hall. “I’ll return to my post, Princess.” He turned to make his way back to the castle’s main entrance, side stepping closer to the wall and glancing upward with a scowl on his face as he skirted around Spike’s haunches. Spike simply responded to the scowl with a quick snort that sent a stream of smoke shooting from one nostril that momentarily engulf the guard in a pony sized cloud of soot.

“Spike!” Twilight barked in a quick, sharp tone.

“Hey, he started it,” Spike said, making a motion over one shoulder with his thumb at Stalwart. Spike craned his neck around to glare and watch as the guard left the hall, folding his arms across his chest as he said, “Him and his stupid little stick.” Not but a second later, Spike suddenly lurched forward onto all fours when Twilight grasped one of his ear fins with her magic and gave it a strong tug. She turned and began walking down the hall, pulling Spike helplessly along with her. “Ow... ow ow. Ow? Okay, okay!” he complained, fully at Twilight’s mercy.

They finally stopped in the castle’s central throne room, and Twilight released her hold on Spike at the same time her magic closed the large chamber doors behind them. “Always has to be like that with you two,” she mumbled under her breath. Spike sat back up on his haunches again and rubbed at his ear, but before he could get a word out, Twilight quickly flew up to hover right in front of his snout. “Now, what are you doing here?” she asked in a demanding tone.

Spike crossed his arms once again. “I’m going with you,” he said in a simple, matter-of-fact tone.

“Spike, I said you couldn’t over the call.”

“Why not!?” Spike asked while tossing his hands up. He pointed one claw at Twilight as he said, “I went with you last time.”

“And last time you didn’t have the responsibility of leading your own dragon flock,” Twilight said, pointing a hoof back at him.

“Hey, that’s not fair. You’re leaving Ponyville behind—”

“The other princesses will be keeping an eye on things for me—”

“I’ve left someone else in charge while I’m gone—”

“It doesn’t matter anyways!” Twilight’s sudden shout brought the argument to a pause. She raised a hoof, stopping Spike before he spoke again. He made a show of how agitated he was, letting out a loud huff and balling his hands into tight fists, but he remained silent. Twilight glided down to land on the floor just before him, and after taking in and letting out a deep, calming breath, she glanced back up to him and asked, “Alright, just let me explain, please?” When she saw Spike make a quick gesture with one hand, she took that as her cue that he was ready to listen. “Last time we used a different spell to time travel.”

“So... what? This new one doesn’t work on dragons?” Spike asked in a somewhat sarcastic tone.

“No, not exactly, now hush,” Twilight said, giving him a stern look. Spike rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders before he laid down on all fours, resting his chin on the floor to bring himself closer to her level. “We can’t use my time tunneling spell this time because it only works when going a relatively short distance through time. It operates by connecting two points in time, creating something like a tunnel that you can walk through from one point in time to another. That worked fine when the distance between the two times was only two hundred and fifty years, but now the distance is over six hundred years apart, plus the added difficulty of it being in an alternate timeline that is drifting further from our own as time goes on. It’s just too far.”

Twilight quickly reached within her saddlebag with her magic, bringing out the tan journal and showing it to Spike. “The spell in this journal is very different. It can go much, much further. Where my previous spell worked by connecting two points in time and space, this one works by creating an arc of power that jumps from one point to another. You can sort of think of it as hitching a ride on a lightning bolt.” When she caught Spike grimacing at the notion of riding lightning, she added, “Yeah, it’s about as pleasant as it sounds. It’s the same spell that my future self used on me to send me back to you after I got myself lost in the distant past.”

Spike lifted his head a bit off the floor and shrugged his shoulders. “Well, that doesn’t matter. I’ll do it anyway.”

Twilight shook her head. “That’s the thing Spike, it won’t work.”

A deep, annoyed growl rumbled deep in Spike’s throat. “Why not?”

“Because, this spell has a different kind of limit.” Twilight opened the journal before her, glancing at the pages as she said, “The power requirements to send something to another point in time increase at a cubic rate in relation to the mass of what is being sent.”

When she looked over the journal at Spike, she found him just silently staring at her. He finally pushed himself back up so he was sitting on his haunches, taking on a thoughtful look as he drew one of his palms over the length of his snout. He tapped the tip of one claw against the tip of his closed jaws a few times before he finally looked back down. “Are you saying I’m too fat to time travel?”

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but words failed her for a few seconds. She finally held a hoof against her chest and shook her head as she defensively said, “I did not say that.”

Spike glanced off to the side, scratching with his claws at his chin as he grumbled, “Sure sounded like it.”

“Spike, you’re a dragon!” Twilight said, pointing a hoof up to him, at which he responded by glancing down at himself for a second. “You’re slightly bigger than a pony, and that’s normal. Unfortunately, it also means I just don’t have the power to send you that far with this spell. I’ll be pushing it just to send myself.”

Spike furrowed his brow and scratched at his chin a bit more vigorously. He finally pointed a claw upward once he came across an idea. “Can’t you get the other princesses to help with it?”

Twilight shook her head. “It still wouldn’t be enough, and besides, it’s too late. I have to leave in just a couple hours. They’d never make it here in time.”

Spike gnashed his teeth together and scratched at his chin a few more times. He glanced out of the corner of his eye down at Twilight, holding up his index finger and thumb close to each other just in front of his eye as he asked, “Can’t you just shrink me or something?”

Twilight sighed. She raised one hoof and rubbed her forehead for a few seconds before glancing back up to him. “Spike, you know that shrinking doesn’t remove mass, it just condenses it.”

Spike’s cheeks puffed out a bit as he let out a defeated huff. “So, it’s just not possible.”

“I know you don’t like it,” Twilight said as she stepped up next to him. She gently laid one hoof against his side, drawing his attention down to her. “Honestly, I wish you could come with me.”

Spike once again moved to lay himself down upon the castle floor. As Twilight took a few steps back, he rested his chin upon the floor right before her. “I just don’t want you to be out there alone.”

“I won’t be,” Twilight said with a small smile. “It’ll be only three years after we were last there. I’m sure the other princesses will still be there and they won’t hesitate to help me solve this.”

Spike glanced off, seeming lost in his thoughts for a moment. His large claws tapped at the floor next to his head, and a deep rumbling sound echoed in his throat. Finally, his head tilted slightly as he looked back to Twilight. “Guess our old friends will be there too, huh?”

“I’m sure you wanted to see them.” Twilight took a few steps closer, reaching one of her forehooves out toward Spike’s hand. He turned his hand up and gently took her forehoof between his index finger and thumb. For a moment, he only silently caressed her hoof between his fingers as he blankly stared off at nothing.

“That would have been nice,” he finally said, glancing back to her. “But, I just can’t stop thinking of what almost happened last time.” His brow furrowed a bit, and his jaw tightened before he quietly said, “You almost died.”

“I’ll come back safe, Spike.”

Spike let out a strong huff, causing a draft throughout the room. “Of course you know I really want to just believe that, but I’m still worried about what could happen.”

“You should believe it.” Twilight stepped back and lifted her journal once again, this time opening it and turning the pages toward Spike. “See this? How could my future self come back and write this spell in my journal if I don’t make it back?”

Spike tapped a claw against the floor a few times before pointing it at the open journal. “You have a point.”

“See? And I seriously doubt that I’d be foolish enough to send myself right into the middle of a dangerous situation that I can’t manage.”

“You shouldn’t jinx it.” Spike chuckled when Twilight gave him a look that seemed to silently say, ‘Whatever, wise guy.’ “Well, I guess you’d know you better than anypony else would.” He pushed himself up so he was standing on all fours before glancing back down to Twilight. “So, when do you have to leave?”

“I was just about to head to the Everfree Forest. I almost have everything I need.” Twilight tucked her journal away in her saddlebag as she said, “I just have one more thing to do there and then it’s time for me to go.”

“Anything that I can help with?” Spike asked, lowering his head a bit.

“The last thing is to gather the Elements from the Tree of Harmony, then I’ll be leaving from there.”

“Then I’m going with you at least that far,” Spike said. He raised one eyebrow at her as he gave her a sideways, toothy grin.

She smiled back to him as she said, “Fair enough.”

---

The afternoon sun streamed in through the break in the canopy overhead, casting a long beam of sunlight down the stone steps. Twilight and Spike stood just at the top of the cliff looking down the length of the stairway leading to the cave below.

“It’s been awhile,” Twilight said thoughtfully, glancing back up to Spike before cantering a few steps to the edge of the cliff and leaping into the air. She unfolded her wings, holding them at a steady angle as she glided in a small circle toward the ground below. She quickly buffeted the air with her wings before she touched down, then cantered off to the side near the cave before looking back up the cliff side.

Spike leaned over the edge of the cliff, glancing about carefully for a landing spot below before unfolding his impressive wings and leaping from the edge. His descent was quite a bit quicker than Twilight’s had been, and he only had the time to give one powerful flap of his wings to slow himself before he landed. Dirt and pebbles shaken loose from the force of his landing streamed down the side of the cliff for a moment afterwards.

Twilight turned to walk inside the small cave, finding the Tree of Harmony just inside quietly giving off a soft blue light. She stopped just a step from where the roots of the solid crystal tree streamed out along the cave floor, gazing upon the uncountable shimmering facets of the tree’s trunk and branches. “Still looks exactly how it did the last time I visited,” she quietly said.

Spike ducked his head, following Twilight to just inside the cave’s entrance. The cave was a bit small for his size, forcing him to stay firmly planted on all fours to avoid catching his spines along the ceiling. “How long ago was that?” he asked as he casually reached one claw up and tapped it upon a large violet gem set into the cave’s wall.

“Too long,” Twilight said. She reflected briefly upon times long past, and when she had last visited this place to return the Element of Magic. It was a time that was literally lifetimes ago. The last time she had asked the tree for its power, it had only been to borrow the one Element. Never before had she asked to receive all six on her own.

Twilight took the final few steps to put herself close enough to reach out and gently lay one hoof upon the trunk of the tree. At her touch, the facet shimmered and glowed slightly brighter. “I need to borrow your power, at least for a little while.” She glanced up the side of the tree to the branches overhead. “You have my word that the Elements will be returned safely.”

For a moment, the tree’s only answer to Twilight’s request was silence, but then a quick shimmering of light ran from the roots up to the tips of the branches. A sound something like stone moving upon stone filled the air as the tree released its hold on the six Elements. Twilight gently lifted the Elements in her magic and guided them down so they slowly drifted about her in a clockwise circle. One by one, she brought the five smaller Elements close to her chest, setting them upon her peytral where they each attached with a quick flash that matched their color. The final six pointed gemstone, Magic, she guided up to her tiara, where it set itself into the matching empty socket.

“Thank you,” Twilight said as she bowed her head before the Tree of Harmony.

“You know,” Spike started, drawing Twilight’s attention back to him. “I’ve been wondering what you’re going to need those for.”

“Honestly, I’m not too excited about finding out,” Twilight said as she approached him. “I know it’s possible for an alicorn to use all six on her own, but it would be the first time for me if I end up having to do so. The last time I used Magic, I had my friends beside me to lend their power to the rest of the Elements.” She sat herself there before Spike, reaching one forehoof up and laying it upon her peytral as looked down upon the Elements set within its surface. “That was a very long time ago.”

Spike laid himself down at the cave entrance next to Twilight. “Maybe they’ll help you out again when you go back.”

“Maybe, but even so, taking the Elements with me still doesn’t make much sense.” Twilight furrowed her brow as she pondered the possible reasons for gathering the Elements. “That Equestria already has a bearer of Magic and its own set of Elements. I’m not sure why we would need another set and I have no idea if it is possible to use two sets at once.” Twilight’s horn lit as she called upon Dusk, and she reached her forelegs out to catch it as it appeared. “And, I’m really not sure how much use Dusk is going to be either. As it is now, it really isn’t much better than any old magical staff.”

Spike gazed at the single crystal set upon the staff for a moment before he looked to Twilight and said, “Sort of makes you wonder why future you didn’t just write all this down in that journal.”

“Oh, I know exactly why she didn’t,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes before looking back up to Spike. “Knowing too much can very easily affect what choices you make. If you knew something you were going to try tomorrow was going to fail, would you even make the attempt?”

Spike seemed to ponder the question for a few seconds before he shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m sure there are certain things that I’m going to need to do when I’m there, whether they succeed or fail either way, and there’s a reason why Dusk and the Elements are important.” Twilight let out a light sigh as she said, “I just don’t know what those reasons are yet.”

Spike smirked slightly and said, “Must be driving you crazy.”

Twilight let out a quick, weak laugh. “You have no idea.” She grew quiet for a moment, simply staring at Dusk’s crystal as she slowly spun the staff back and forth slightly in her hooves. She finally stood and took the staff up in her magic as she said, “Well, it’s about time for me to go.”

Spike nodded once, and opened one of his hands toward Twilight to offer her a hug. He ducked his head down next to her, gently nestling his head against her side and cupping his hand over her, nearly covering her completely. Twilight leaned against him, gently running one hoof against his cheek.

“You better take care of yourself,” Spike said. Twilight could feel the low, powerful rumbling of his voice as he spoke, and could also feel how his strong hand was reluctant to let her go. He finally released the hug, lifting his head and resting his hands together on the ground. “If you need my help, find some way to send a message.” His glance took on a more determined look as he said, “I don’t care how impossible it is. If you need me, I’ll find you.”

Twilight smiled up to him before she turned her attention to her saddlebags. She took out the tan journal, holding it in her magic at one side and opening it to the page containing the temporal coordinates while she held Dusk to her other side. She began casting a spell, focusing on the first set of coordinates on the page. A glowing orb of light left the tip of her horn and zipped a short distance away, coming to rest on the cave floor just before the Tree of Harmony. Twilight cantered over to the spot, stepping around it until she was standing nearly on top of it with the Tree of Harmony to her back. She glanced once more to Spike from across the cave and said, “Wish me luck.”

Spike nodded his head. “Good luck.”

Twilight looked to the journal, refreshing her memory of the spell just once more for good measure before putting it away. She brought Dusk before her, laying her fetlock against it and holding it vertical on the spot her locator spell had indicated.

She closed her eyes, concentrating on focusing her power for the spell and nothing else. Her mane and tail shimmered and began to drift around her as if caught in a light breeze. As she slowly opened her eyes, both her eyes and Dusk’s crystal started to glow brighter and brighter, filling the cave with white light.

The instant that Twilight’s power peaked, a flash of lightning struck the spot where she stood. The crack of thunder that followed echoed in the nearby woods for a short time after. Spike lowered the hand that he had been shielding his eyes with, blinking his eyes as he looked to the empty space where Twilight had been standing only seconds ago.

Arrival

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter V – Arrival

Mystery sat at the table closest to the shop’s front window, leaning in and peering through the small gap in the blinds that she was holding open with her wingtip. The sound of Queen Chrysalis and her friends chatting and laughing about something in the room behind her caused her ears to flick backwards for but a second as she otherwise stayed completely focused on watching each passer-by outside. She noticed one approaching, a cream colored earth pony mare with a curly two-tone pink and blue mane and tail. She squinted her eyes, almost as if glaring at the mare, as she watched her come to a stop at the street corner just outside and glance about. After standing at the corner for a moment, the mare turned and started walking away down the cross street.

It was then that Mystery was startled by something she saw just out of the corner of her eye. She quickly jerked her head to the side as she flinched away from the window.

Rainbow Dash nearly jumped back a step herself at Mystery’s sudden movement. “Whoa!” she said as she quickly acted to keep the small plate holding a piece of chocolate cake she had been balancing upon one of her wings from topping off into the floor. “Heh, sorry. Wasn’t trying to sneak up on you.” When Mystery only quietly stared back, Rainbow let out a nervous chuckle before extending her wing toward her and asking, “Want some cake?”

Mystery’s eyes darted back and forth between Rainbow and the chocolate cake she was offering. “Uh, thank you,” she quietly said before turning her attention back to the window and peering out through the blinds again.

“No problem,” Rainbow said. She let the plate slide off her wing onto the table. “You know, I asked Chryssy if she was making you sit in the corner by yourself or something.”

“I’m doing my job,” Mystery simply said, keeping her attention on the ponies walking by outside.

“Right, she said you’d probably say something like that.” Rainbow quietly stood there for a few seconds, watching as Mystery kept her attention toward the window and the chocolate cake went ignored. “Anyway, just saying you can come join us if you want.”

Mystery glanced to Rainbow just long enough to show a small smile before turning back to the window. “Thanks, but I really should keep watch here.”

“What are you watching?” Rainbow asked as she craned her neck to the side to try and see through the small gap in the blinds.

Mystery was quiet for a few seconds before she simply said, “Others.”

“Oh... kay...,” Rainbow said, cocking an eyebrow.

Mystery slowly blinked her eyes and glanced back toward Rainbow. “I’m watching for infiltrators.”

“Infiltrators?” Rainbow seemed genuinely interested as she waited to hear more.

Mystery returned to peeking out from between the blinds. Her eyes shifted back and forth quickly, but she didn’t see the mare that she had been watching for yet. “There may be other changelings from another hive already here.”

“Really?” Rainbow trotted around the table to the other side of the window. She also pulled the blinds back just enough to peer out through them, glancing from side to side in a near perfect imitation. “So, like disguised ones?” she asked in a hushed voice.

Mystery nodded slightly.

The two of them silently peered out through the blinds side by side for a moment, until Rainbow scrunched up her muzzle after realizing that she had no idea what she was looking for. “Uh... how can you even find them?”

Mystery stayed quiet for a bit longer, and then glanced over just long enough to say, “I used to be one, so I know what to look for.”

“Oh, cool.” Rainbow turned her attention back to the window for a few seconds longer before she looked back and asked, “Used to be?”

Mystery let out a light sigh. “Not much use for an infiltrator in Sanctuary.”

“Oh, yeah. I guess there wouldn’t be.” For a moment, it seemed like the conversation had died out, which would have been fine as far as Mystery was concerned. She was used to working alone, and in silence. However, Rainbow wasn’t quite finished yet. “So you joined up with the guard instead, eh?” She stepped back from the window and slid into an empty chair on her side of the table. “Makes sense. You know, I’m actually thinking of trying out for the Wonderbolt reserves next year. I know it isn’t exactly the same thing, but I doubt they let just anyone in. You must be pretty good.”

“I had some previous experience,” Mystery said before glancing over her shoulder across the table. “I spent some of my time as an infiltrator in Equestria’s royal guard.”

“Oh sweet. Instant promotion,” Rainbow said with a confident grin.

Mystery let out a short, half-hearted laugh before sadly shaking her head. “No, I’m only a cadet.”

The grin on Rainbow’s face immediately disappeared. “What? How long were you in the royal guard?”

A weak smile tugged at the corners of Mystery’s mouth as she glanced back out the window. “About five years,” she quietly said.

“And they made you a cadet!?” Rainbow nearly shouted. Her outburst grabbed Mystery’s attention and stopped the buzz of conversation happening in the back of the room for a moment. Rainbow folded her forelegs over her chest and said, “That’s totally unfair,” followed up with a frustrated huff.

Mystery dismissively waved her hoof. “I’m lucky to even be a member.” When she saw the shocked look on Rainbow’s face, she added, “I tried quite a few other things out first, but nothing was working out. Applying for the Sentinels was sort of a desperate last resort, since I thought for sure they would reject me.”

Rainbow let out a frustrated sounding snort, and if Mystery wasn’t mistaken, it seemed that she might have even been grinding her teeth in anger. “I must be missing something here. I mean, you have all that experience and they’d just reject you? Why?”

Mystery’s eyes blink-blinked as she tried to make heads or tails of Rainbow’s reaction, or why she even seemed to care so much. She shrugged her shoulders as she simply explained, “Because I’m not a soldier. I’m an infiltrator.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Yeah but, that’s just what you do. That isn’t what you are. Anypony can change what they do.”

“I... do agree with you, but not everyone in Sanctuary would.” Mystery glanced off toward the window, lifting her wing to prop up one of the slats in the blinds. She silently peered outside for a time before letting out a light sigh. “It’s just that, before Sanctuary, things were quite a bit different for those of us born in the hive. We were born as something, and expected to use our talents toward whatever that something was. I was an infiltrator, and it was all I was ever meant to be.” Mystery glanced back across the table to Rainbow and showed a slight smile. “Sanctuary changed all of that. We got a new home and something else that we’d never had before. Our queen gave us a choice. We could live however we wanted.”

Rainbow cocked her head slightly to the side as she asked, “And that’s a good thing, right?”

“Sure, mostly,” Mystery said as she shrugged her shoulders. “Most found something to do that they were already good at. Old habits are sort of hard to break. My best talent was my ability to change my looks into pretty much whatever I wanted. Not much use for that now.”

“Wait, you serious?” Rainbow asked as she sat up a bit taller in her chair. “You can make yourself look like anything?”

“Well, no, not anything,” Mystery said with a dismissive gesture. She fidgeted with her forehooves a bit before raising one about head height and saying, “Most any living thing that’s about my size.”

Rainbow’s eyebrows raised a bit. She nodded and said, “Alright, that’s pretty cool.”

“To be honest, it’s a little weird,” Mystery said, laying her ears back and scratching at the back of her neck with a hoof. She noticed the quizzical look Rainbow was giving her and said, “Most changelings don’t shift into things other than equines.”

“Heh, their loss. Being able to spy on somepony as a bush must be pretty sweet,” Rainbow said jokingly.

Mystery let out a light chuckle at that. “I actually did that once,” she admitted, which Rainbow responded to with a silent gasp as she mouthed the words ‘no way’. Mystery smiled and nodded, but the smile soon faded. “It isn’t normal,” she said through a sigh. “Changelings usually need to see someone to make themselves look like them. A few can do it from memory, mostly the infiltrators, but the more different the thing is from themselves, the more difficult it gets to mimic it. Most stick to equines because they’re really easy. It’s the same body shape and about the same size.” Mystery held one of her wings out in front of herself, looking it over. “I don’t have that problem. I can just... imagine how I want to look, make up something or someone I’ve never even seen before.” She ran one of her hooves over the feathers on her wing, allowing herself to become lost in her own thoughts. Her pegasus form was likely just as unique as any other’s, since it was created from nothing more than her imagination. There were others from Sanctuary that had taken up the practice of choosing an equine form to mimic in the last few years, but most were simply doing so in response to their queen’s evident preference to do so. Mystery had preferred her favorite equine form over her natural looks years before Sanctuary existed, and had always felt more like herself while wearing it.

Mystery was finally drawn back from her thoughts when Rainbow spoke up. “Okay. That’s really cool. I can see how that’d make you pretty awesome at the infiltrator thing.”

A faint smile appeared on Mystery’s muzzle for a fleeting moment. “It made me different.” Mystery lifted one of the blind slats again to peer out through the window, and her eyes narrowed considerably upon noticing the cream colored mare walking down the street once again. “Changelings don’t like different,” Mystery mumbled as she leaned in closer to the window. Just before Rainbow could respond to her comment, she glanced back and quickly asked, “Do you know who that is?” as she pointed a hoof tip toward the mare outside.

“Um,” Rainbow said as she squinted her eyes and peered out through the blinds. She wrinkled her muzzle and turned her head back to call out over her shoulder. “Hey, Pinkie.” Pinkie quickly bounded over toward them in a few quick hops, landing just beside Rainbow. “What’s her name again?” Rainbow asked as she pointed to the mare outside.

Pinkie peeked through the blinds, blinking her eyes a few times. “Uh, that’s Bon Bon.”

“Do you know much about her?” Mystery asked.

“Sure! She runs the other sweet’s shop here in Ponyville. We talk all the time.”

Rainbow let out a quick snerk and said, “You talk with everypony all the time.” Pinkie didn’t seem to deny it, nodding her head quickly with a little giggle.

“Does she usually do circles around town?” Mystery asked.

Pinkie suddenly stopped, her face contorting with confusion. She craned her neck forward to peer out through the blinds again as she said, “Huh?”

The three of them all stood at the window now, nearly shoulder to shoulder as they all watched. “This is the fifth time she’s come around and stopped at that corner since we got here,” Mystery explained.

“That’s... kinda weird,” Pinkie said quietly, her ears drooping back a bit.

“And in a few seconds, she’ll start walking off that way,” Mystery said as she gestured to the cross street leading away from the shop. The three of them all silently waited and watched the mare standing on the street corner outside. She seemed to only be casually looking about, mostly minding her own business. Finally, she glanced around herself to her left and right, almost as if making sure no one was watching her, and then started walking away down the street.

“Whoa,” Rainbow quietly said.

Mystery drew in a long breath before letting out a long, closed mouth sigh. She turned away from the window, walking back into the room followed closely by Pinkie and Rainbow. The others in the room noticed them approaching and went silent. They stopped near the group, forming a small standing circle, and Mystery bowed her head slightly from where she stood across the group from her queen. “Your Grace, I have something to report.”

All eyes turned toward Chrysalis and waited for her response. She quietly cleared her throat and set the empty plate she had been holding in her magic on a table off to her side. “Mystery,” she calmly said, waiting for her bodyguard glance up to her before she continued. “You really don’t need to be so formal here,” she said with a slight shake of her head and a small smile on her muzzle.

“Uh,” was the only thing that Mystery could manage to say in response. Her eyes darted back and forth when she noticed a few quiet chuckles coming from the rest of the group. She had not often found herself among such light-hearted surroundings and still found the thought of addressing her queen in any other way than using her formal title as unacceptable. She raised her head, quietly clearing her throat as she tried to regain her composure. “I think I’ve spotted another changeling patrolling outside the shop.”

The increase in intensity from her queen’s gaze was slight, but still easily noticed by Mystery, as was the shift in tone of her voice when Chrysalis asked, “Just the one so far?” It was as if her presence suddenly commanded all attention to be upon her. Mystery straightened her stance and quickly nodded once in response. “Doesn’t mean there isn’t more,” Chrysalis said as she thoughtfully glanced off to the side. She only held the thoughtful gaze for a few seconds before noticing the rest of her friends still hovering close by, all looking to her for an explanation. “Well, I suppose I should explain our reason for being here then. I wish I could say I was solely here for the visit, but the truth is nearly the opposite. Equestria... maybe even our entire world, could be in danger.”

Fluttershy lowered her head, cowering slightly where she was standing just to Chrysalis’s right as she quietly said, “That sounds very serious.”

Chrysalis gently laid a hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder, which seemed to calm her a bit. “You know I wouldn’t involve any of you in something dangerous unless I had no other choice,” she said as she glanced around to rest of the group.

“I take that to mean that we’re the only one’s for the job then,” Applejack said. She looked across the group, her eyes catching Rainbow and Rarity’s glances as they both nodded back to her in agreement.

“Asking you all for your help is only one reason why I am here,” Chrysalis said as she continued. “The other is to retrieve the Elements.”

Rainbow took a single step forward, cocking her head to the side as she asked, “Wait, the ones we gave back to the tree?”

“Yes, the same,” Chrysalis said with a quick nod. “We may need their power for what’s to come.”

“Well then, I don’t suppose we should be dilly-dallying around here,” Applejack said, and she wasn’t the only one in the room who appeared eager to help.

Chrysalis quickly held up a hoof as she shook her head. “Mystery and I will take care of the retrieval. I simply need the rest of you to be prepared to join me if it becomes necessary to use them.”

“Hold up now,” Applejack quickly said. She tilted her head forward slightly and flicked the front brim of her hat with a hoof. “You think we’re just gonna sit around here while you head into the Everfree?”

“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Rainbow added in a huff as she sat back and crossed her forehooves over her chest.

“Please,” Chrysalis quickly said, sitting back and holding her hooves up in a calming gesture. “I’d rather not expose any of you to any more risk than is necessary.”

“Chrys, dear,” Rarity said as she took a few steps forward to stand nearly in front of her. She turned aside so she could look to both Chrysalis and Mystery in turn as she said, “I’m sure both you and Mystery are very capable mares, but would it not be safer for all of us to go together as a group?”

“Have to say I’m with Rares on that one,” Applejack said with a quick nod.

“Got my vote,” Rainbow said, raising a hoof.

“Field trip!” Pinkie chirped with a quick hop.

Fluttershy cringed slightly when the rest of the group turned their gaze toward her. She drew the tip of of her hooves about nervously in a circle on the floor as she mumbled, “Well, of course there is safety in numbers.”

“Numbers is exactly the problem right now,” Mystery said, drawing a few confused glances from the others. “We know at least one infiltrator is keeping an eye out for us. There’s likely more. Anything that doesn’t look normal will get their attention, and all of us deciding to take a trip together into the not-so-safe forest on the edge of town isn’t normal.”

All of the mares around the group fell silent for a moment, most of them appearing to ponder the problem that had presented itself. The woods were dangerous enough on their own without being followed by hostile changelings.

“So, we don’t go as a group,” Rainbow offered with a quick shrug of her shoulders. The rest of the mares looked to her with mostly curious glances before she explained further. “We all leave here and go home, then later we each sneak off to the woods and meet up there. Simple.”

Mystery quickly considered the plan, and while it was a simple solution to their group drawing attention, one other problem had been overlooked. “That might work for the rest of you since you live here,” Mystery said as she walked over and stood next to Chrysalis. “We don’t, and we’re bound to be followed wherever we go as soon as we’re noticed walking around town.”

“Don’t go as you!” Pinkie’s voice called out from just behind them, surprising them both. Both of them flinched slightly when Pinkie sprung up between them and hooked a foreleg over each of their shoulders. Mystery hadn’t even noticed how the bouncy mare had managed to sneak up on them, and she was sure that Pinkie had been standing across the group from them only seconds earlier.

However, Pinkie did have a point. They were changelings, and hiding in plain sight was the one thing that Mystery had always been very good at.

---

Once the sun had set and the last lights of dusk had disappeared beyond the horizon, the last two visitors that had spent the day at Sugarcube Corner stepped outside. They both turned to look back to the door when Pinkie poked her head out.

“Rainbow, Fluttershy, thanks so much for coming over today!” she said, a bit more loudly than was absolutely necessary.

“Uh, right,” Rainbow said a bit awkwardly in response. The yellow pegasus to her side remained quiet when she glanced to her, almost looking as if she were concentrating really hard on something. “Anyway, we better get going.”

“You two fly safe,” Pinkie chirped, then she put a hoof up next to her mouth as she quickly whispered, “See you at the place,” before quickly pulling the shop door closed.

Rainbow glanced over to Fluttershy. “Ready?” she asked. She furrowed her brow slightly when Fluttershy didn’t look at her and only silently nodded. “Alright, I’ll lead the way.”

Rainbow took off into the night sky with Fluttershy following not to far behind her. Tonight, the sky was mostly cloudy, something that had been arranged for them by a certain weather pony earlier in the day. They flew up and through the low hanging clouds, coming out just above them, and started flying in the direction of the forest. Rainbow glanced to her side more than once along the way, making sure that Fluttershy was still there with her. She had thought something might not be right before they had taken flight, and now that she could see Fluttershy more clearly under the moonlight, she was sure of it. Her chest was heaving in and out as if the act of flying was the hardest thing she had ever done, and her fur was glistening with sweat from the exertion.

“We’re almost there,” Rainbow said when she caught a quick glimpse of the ground below through a break in the clouds. They flew straight for a minute longer before Rainbow dove downward through the cloud-line, coming out just above the canopy of the Everfree Forest. Fluttershy broke through the clouds only a second behind her. Even if anyone had been watching for them tonight, they likely wouldn’t have noticed the two shadows that fell out of the clouds and dove down into a clearing near the edge of the Everfree.

Rainbow landed first and quickly turned herself around to look back. When Fluttershy came down only a second behind her, she tripped over her front hooves, almost falling face first to the ground. Luckily, Rainbow was there to catch her.

“Are you alright?” Rainbow asked, her voice heavy with worry.

“I-I... need to...,” Fluttershy began to say, but she could barely speak through the deep gasping breaths she was drawing in. Her eyes then flashed a bright green just before a ripple of green flames ran over her body, revealing her to actually be Chrysalis. She let out a loud, relieved sounding gasp after she had managed to return to her unicorn form. Rainbow continued to hold her steady as she worked to calm her heavy breathing. “It’s alright. I’ll be fine,” Chrysalis said between the heavy breaths.

Rainbow cautiously let Chrysalis go, stepping back a couple steps. She closed her eyes for but a second and a ring of green fire flickered over her from her hooves to the top of her head, revealing her to actually be Mystery as she returned to her pegasus form. For the first time since they had arrived she was actually not wearing her guard armor, though she hadn’t forgone all of her gear, opting to hide a few things just under her wings. “You don’t look like you’ll be fine,” she said, stepping forward and offering a forehoof for her queen to steady herself by.

“I will be,” Chrysalis said, trying as hard as she could to sound reassuring. It was true that she already appeared to be doing much better than she had been only a moment ago. “I’m not sure what you’ve heard, but I’m sure you likely have heard some of the rumors.” She took in one more deep breath and let it all back out before turning herself to face Mystery. “Yes, I have been losing touch with some of my abilities. The honest truth is that I have no real explanation for it, though I do have my suspicions. I began to notice changes after I used the Elements a few years ago.”

Mystery’s ears flattened back as she asked, “Should you be exposing yourself to them again?”

Chrysalis chuckled quietly. “I created them, and while I’ve changed much since that time, nothing changes the fact that I know them better than anyone.” She gently pushed Mystery’s hoof back before standing tall on all fours. She put on a confident smile and said, “I’ll be fine. I have to be.”

Mystery’s ears flinched toward the sound of what could only be described as someone fumbling and complaining through the woods nearby. It was punctuated with a quiet ‘ouch’ before Rarity and Applejack both walked out into the clearing.

“Third time already,” Rarity grumbled as she shook one of her forehooves.

Applejack clucked her tongue and said, “Well, if you’d pick your hooves up when you walk, you wouldn’t be stubbin’ them.”

Mystery took a couple steps to put herself between the two new arrivals and her queen as she quickly reached a hoof under her right wing. Her hoof found one of the hidden pouches there, and she quickly fished out a necklace with a red glowing crystal attached. “Hey, catch,” she said as she tossed the necklace toward Applejack.

Applejack easily reached up and caught the necklace on her hoof. She and Rarity both squinted at it as the glow died out and the crystal went dormant. “What’s this thing?” she asked with a shrug of her shoulders.

“That tells me if you’re a changeling or not,” Mystery said as she walked up to them. She held her hoof out and said, “Looks like you’re not.”

“Well I could’a told you that,” Applejack grumbled as she returned the necklace its owner, causing it to glow red again.

“Just making sure,” Mystery said as she sat back on her haunches and clasped both of her forehooves over the necklace to douse the light.

“You kept it,” Chrysalis said, gesturing to the glowing necklace in Mystery’s hooves. “Your identification crystal. I thought most of my changelings would have gotten rid of the things after it wasn’t required to wear them any longer.”

“I thought it might be useful to find other changelings since we can’t use the other way right now.” Mystery quickly turned her head to another side of the clearing, her ears standing up and turning forward. There were some more rustling noises approaching.

Pinkie’s poofy pink mane could just barely be made out among the shadows as she bounced up every few seconds to get a glance in over the thick brush and shrubs. “Oh, oh!” she called out mid bounce when she spotted them in the clearing. When she bounced up again she pointed a forehoof forward. “Found them!” A few more bounces and Pinkie broke through the brush to land just at the edge of the clearing, and only a second later both Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy stepped out just behind her.

Mystery tossed her necklace toward Pinkie as she called out, “Catch.” The necklace sailed across the clearing and managed to get caught on the curls at the end of Pinkie’s bangs. Her eyes crossed and widened a bit as she admired the glowing red gem dangling in front of her face, and the two pegasi standing on either side of her both leaned in a bit closer as they curiously looked over the glowing gem as well. However, it soon faded.

“Aw, it went out,” Pinkie said, sticking her bottom lip out in a pout.

“That’s good, it means none of you are changelings,” Mystery said as she walked up and gathered the necklace from Pinkie’s mane.

“We’re not?” Pinkie quickly asked. Mystery paused for a second, raising a single eyebrow before slowly shaking her head and putting her necklace away. “Well, at least now we know for sure now,” Pinkie said as she glanced between Rainbow and Fluttershy.

Mystery cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. “None of you were followed, right?” she asked as she glanced around at the gathered group.

“Uh, don’t think so,” Rainbow said as she glanced over her shoulder. The rest of the group stayed silent other than a few shoulder shrugs and head shakes here and there.

Mystery sighed. “Well, I guess that’s the best answer we can hope for. If you were, there isn’t going to be much that can be done about it now.” She looked to Chrysalis, nodding her head once to indicate that they were as ready as they were going to be.

“Very well. I’m sure none of us want to be here any longer than is necessary, so let's get moving.” The group gathered together to leave the clearing and took a trail that led deeper into the woods. They stayed huddled fairly close to each other, mostly walking in pairs through the trail as they all kept their ears and eyes turned toward their surroundings. The next couple hours would likely involve a lot of boring walking through the woods, if they were lucky.

---

The massive silhouette of the Everfree Hive dominated the cliff side just beyond the tree line up ahead. The hive had remained abandoned for over three years, left behind by the changelings that had once called it home in favor of settling in Sanctuary. There was no telling what other creatures may have taken up residence since then. Luckily, the group wouldn’t have to venture into the hive and risk finding out just who or what now called it home. Their destination was just beneath them, down a set of solid stone stairs that led to the cave beneath the ancient ruins of Everfree where the Tree of Harmony rest.

Most of the group had stayed quietly huddled down in the brush nearby while Chrysalis and Mystery had ventured ahead to the cliff side. Rainbow peaked her head up just high enough to see over the brush, squinting her eyes in the darkness so she could just make out where Chrysalis and Mystery were huddled down near the edge of the cliff. “How long are they going to stay over there?” she said with a huff as she ducked her head back down.

“Long as it takes, I reckon,” Applejack said.

Rainbow snorted at the unsatisfactory answer, and then asked, “What do you think they’re talking about anyway?”

“I bet it’s changeling stuff,” Pinkie said with a quick nod.

Rainbow rolled her eyes.

“Iduno, but whatever it is, they have been talkin’ it over for a while.” Applejack sat up a bit taller and squinted her eyes as she tried to peer through the darkness. “Maybe they sensed somethin’ bein’ off,” she said quietly.

At that moment, Chrysalis and Mystery both crept away from the edge of the cliff back toward the tree line. Once safely under cover, they both stood and made their way swiftly back to the group.

“So, what’s going on?” Rainbow asked them just as they returned.

“They’ve been here before us,” Mystery said with a slight growl in her voice.

Fluttershy shrank back slightly as she asked, “They?”

“Other changelings. I’m sure they’ve been here recently,” Mystery said. She glared off over her shoulder back toward the hive.

“And unfortunately, the stairs leading down the cliff side would be the perfect location to get ambushed,” Chrysalis added with a heavy sigh.

Rainbow let out an irritated sounding snort as she clacked her forehooves together. “Let ‘em try it.”

Chrysalis laid a forehoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “I admire your courage, but we have no idea how many there may be.” She then looked toward Mystery, furrowing her brow slightly as she said, “Though, we do have a way of finding out.”

Mystery nodded her head once, confidently saying, “It’ll work.”

Chrysalis closed her eyes for a few seconds, furrowing her brow deeply before she glanced to Mystery again and said, “Just make sure you escape safely.”

“Whoa, what are we about to do here?” Applejack asked as she looked back and forth between them.

“All of you need to stay very close to me,” Chrysalis said, looking around the group. “If I run, you stay beside me. When I stop, you stop as well and stay as close to me as you possibly can.” When she saw the others glancing to each other with unsure looks on their faces, she asked, “You do trust me, don’t you?”

Rarity quickly spoke up, saying, “Of course we do,” as she took a few steps forward. She turned to glance back at the others as she said, “I’m sure we all just want to know the details of what you two have planned so we can help.”

“Mystery is going to find out exactly how many other changelings are nearby,” Chrysalis said, glancing to her bodyguard at her side for but a moment. “As soon as she does this, any changeling that’s anywhere near this forest will know exactly where she is, and they’ll know that she knows where they are. They could be close, and if we are that unlucky we’ll have to hide ourselves.” Chrysalis drew in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. “But, I suppose it is a better option than walking blindly into what could be a trap.”

“It’ll work,” Mystery said again. She sat up a bit straighter when her queen looked her way.

Chrysalis quietly regarded her bodyguard. There was no doubt that Mystery had the confidence necessary to attempt the plan, but it would still be a risk regardless. She stood and took a few steps to put herself directly in front of Mystery. “I meant what I said,” she said very clearly. “If worse comes to worse, you escape. No heroics.” Chrysalis narrowed her eyes just slightly as she added, “That’s an order.”

Mystery quickly crossed her right foreleg over her chest and bowed her head as she said, “Yes, my queen.”

Chrysalis quietly looked down upon her bodyguard for a short moment afterward, and then finally nodded her head once as she said, “Then do it.”

Hive mind magic was a basic ability exhibited by all changelings, one which came even more naturally than the ability to mimic other forms. One could call it a sixth sense, allowing memories of events to pass from one mind to another, and in effect allowing any one changeling to see what others nearby see, both past and present.

While maintaining such a connection with a hive mind was not required of the Sanctuary changelings any longer, most still kept a tenuous link to those nearby simply out of habit. Such a shallow connection would be perceived as little more than background noise, something easily ignored but its presence would be missed if it were to suddenly vanish.

However, a group of changelings focusing their attention on communicating with one another through a hive mind link was another matter altogether. One of the beneficial side effects of linking through a hive mind was that a changeling could gain a sense of where the sources physically were. Using this ability to her advantage, Mystery would be able to find out exactly where any other changelings might be, with the one caveat being that they could sense her presence just as easily. It was the primary reason why both her and Chrysalis had foregone any linking on their trip thus far, to avoid the risk of any other changelings detecting them.

Mystery drew in a deep breath and let it back out slowly, focusing on clearing her mind. She stared blankly forward as her eyes began to glow with a green light and her mind reached out to form the link. After a few seconds, her eyes began to rapidly dart back and forth as the memories of others flowed back to her mind. And after only a few seconds more, her eyes widened as she drew in a sudden gasp. “Run!” she yelled as she scrambled to her hooves and galloped into the woods. The rest of the group wasted no time following her.

“How many?” Chrysalis called out over the sounds of their hooffalls thundering through the brush.

“Fourteen! Most of them are right behind us.” Mystery’s glowing eyes flicked to the side as she said, “There’s three coming in from—” Her ears flattened back as she drew in a hissing gasp through her clenched teeth. “Incoming! Left side!” she yelled.

A flash of amber colored light preceded the sound of wood splintering in the trees to their left. Chrysalis quickly cast a spell, aiming a directional shield to the group’s left just as an arc of magical energy burst through the trees. The power impacted her shield, most of it deflecting over the group and tearing into the trees around them. Thanks to the shield, the group kept galloping into the woods unscathed.

“A caster?” Chrysalis asked, sounding a bit surprised. If there was one thing that most changelings were not known for, it was casting offensive magic, at least for the natural born changelings. Typically, only those who were once spell casters before becoming a changeling had such abilities.

“I-It came from all three of them,” Mystery said.

“All of them!?” Chrysalis asked. She cast a quick glance over her left shoulder and then back to her bodyguard. She could see the doubt in Mystery’s eyes as she desperately tried to search the link for an answer to what she had sensed. “That can’t be possible,” Chrysalis growled. A single hybrid among the group, maybe, but multiple working together, and group casting spells?

“Another! Behind us!” Mystery called out.

Chrysalis quickly side stepped the path they were on and slid sideways to a stop. The rest of her friends following her did so as well, and just as the bright amber light once again flashed in the woods behind them, Chrysalis brought up another shield, this one a dome covering them all. The blast tore through a thick tree, turning it into a hailstorm of wooden splinters, and impacted the path that they had just been running down. The blast kicked up a thick haze of dust in the air and also filled it with the sounds of falling sand and debris.

Only seconds later, the sounds of more hoofsteps thundering through the woods filled the air, and many dark figures quickly galloped by the charred hole in the ground in pursuit of their target.

A moment passed, and the dust mostly settled as the sounds of the pursuing changelings faded off into the distance. Chrysalis finally dropped the domed veil that had shielded and shrouded the group from view.

“W-where’s Mystery?” Applejack asked as she quickly glanced around the area.

“Leading them off, let’s go,” Chrysalis said as she began to trot back down the path.

“Hold on,” Applejack said, causing Chrysalis to stop and look back to her. “We can’t just leave her—”

“I said, let’s go,” Chrysalis said, cutting Applejack off with her sharp tone and a stern look, one that caused the rest of her friends to look back at her with concern. She had grown accustomed to her commands being followed without question over the centuries that she had led a race of very obedient followers. However, she very quickly remembered that she was among friends that were choosing to help her, not obedient soldiers. She lowered and quickly shook her head. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t take such a tone with my friends.”

“It’s alright,” Applejack finally said. “I get it. You have a plan and you need us to listen. I’m just worried about Mystery facin’ all those other changelings on her own.”

Chrysalis glanced up with a smile. “Mystery knows what she’s doing,” she said as she glanced off into the woods. “If there is any changeling among my hive that can give them the slip, it would be her. We need to trust her.” She glanced back to her friends shortly before she looked off over her shoulder back in the direction they had come from. “We need to use the time she’s brought us to get to the Elements before they realize that they’ve been led away. Let’s hurry.”

Together, Chrysalis and her friends took off at a gallop back through the woods.

---

Mystery stole a glance over her shoulder when Chrysalis and her friends veered off the path and saw them vanish beneath a shield only seconds before another amber blast of energy tore through the nearby trees. The blast struck the path behind her and kicked up a cloud of dust and debris. She had to fight down the natural instinct to stop and protect her queen, and instead pressed herself to continue running as hard as she could through the woods.

She could still sense all fourteen changelings pursuing her through the woods, which meant they had taken the bait. Now all she had to do was continue to lead them as far away as she possibly could without revealing that she was the only one they were chasing. This meant no flying, as they would very quickly figure out the rest weren’t with her if she took to the skies. She strained to keep a read on their thoughts though the hive mind link as she ducked under low hanging branches so she could keep just ahead of them.

Suddenly, she sensed one ahead of her. Another? No, still fourteen. The number of changelings she sensed hadn’t changed. Her mind tried to make sense of it but couldn’t. If it had been a teleport, she would have been able to sense the spell casting like she had with the others. It really was like one of the changelings was behind her one moment, and then instantly in front of her the next.

She quickly veered off the path to avoid the changeling ahead of her, taking a much more difficult path through the brush. As she forged forward through the woods, she sensed it again. Another one simply vanished from one location only to instantly appear ahead of her.

Are they trading links with others? Can they really be that perfect at it? Mystery shook her head at the stray thoughts, knowing that they were probably betraying her confusion to her pursuers. She changed direction again and once again sensed one of her pursuers instantly appearing ahead of her. She was beginning to run out of options, and the rest of the pack was very quickly closing in behind her.

Instead of changing direction again, Mystery charged directly at the changeling she sensed ahead of her. She spread her wings and sprung forward, sailing just beneath the tree limbs. She reached beneath her left wing and drew out what appeared to be a metal cylinder. The cylinder glowed and emitted a metallic sliding sound as it extended out to a full length pike just before Mystery landed at her destination. She thrusted the pike at the changeling in front of her... only to find that it wasn’t there.

Mystery frantically tried to sense where the changeling had gone but found it was nowhere near her. Instead, she suddenly realized that she was surrounded on all sides, and could sense magical spells being cast from all around her. She scrambled to dodge the first strike, rolling to the ground to avoid a bolt of magic that came at her from the left. She immediately propelled herself upward when another two blasts came in from her right and struck the ground beneath her. She couldn’t delay the changelings any longer. They had somehow out maneuvered her, leaving her only with the option of escaping upward. With a couple swift flaps of her wings, she propelled herself through the canopy and into the cloudy night sky.

Mystery’s eyes snapped to her side when she once again sensed a sudden change in one of the changeling’s locations. There, she found a solid black silhouette with glowing blue eyes hovering in the sky, nearly within touching distance of her. And unless she was going crazy, she was sure she had heard it laugh at her with an almost child-like giggle. She struck out at the shadow with her pike in a wide arc, and it seemed to vanish just as her weapon touched it.

Mystery lurched forward as a blast of magic hit her in the back. She cried out as the searing pain from the offensive spell shot through her. She started to tumble back down to the forest, falling head over hooves. There was no escape now, only one final chance to hide.

Just as Mystery was about to hit the upper limbs of the canopy, she severed her link with the hive mind. A bright flash of green light lit the branches of the tree just as she passed through the leaves.

The changelings closed in around the base of the tree seconds later. They all looked up into the branches of the tree in union, and then down at the forest floor around the tree’s trunk. One of the changelings trotted up to Mystery’s gear, which was laying on the ground only a short distance away from where her pike had fallen and embedded itself in the ground. The changeling kicked the pack over with with a forehoof, and then all at once the entire group of changelings turned and began to gallop off into the woods.

The sounds of their hooves trailed off into the distance as the group of changelings left. The pack still laid there upon the forest floor, forgotten. A single drop of a greenish fluid rolled off the leaves of a nearby shrub and landed on the pack... and then another, and another.

---

Chrysalis reached the bottom of the stone stairway and then sprinted into the cave. Once inside, she gradually slowed her stride until she came to a stop as she glanced up to the crystal branches of the Tree of Harmony. She glanced to her sides when the rest of her friends cantered up on either side of her. “We have to move quickly,” she said as she cantered up to the tree’s trunk.

Rainbow Dash flew up to the red tinted Element held by one of the branches. She reached out to the gemstone, but hesitated just before she actually touched it. The stone appeared completely encased in the branch’s crystal bark. “How do we get them back out?” she asked as she turned to glide back down to the ground.

“Maybe we just ask?” Fluttershy offered.

Rainbow landed right next to her, cocking one eyebrow.

“Actually, that’s exactly what we do,” Chrysalis said. She looked up into the branches of the tree from where she stood at its base. “I know we returned them to you only a few short years ago, but we need to borrow their power again.” She reached one forehoof up and gently placed it against the tree’s trunk, and then closed her eyes and slowly lowered her head until the tip of her horn touched the trunk as she quietly whispered, “Please.”

A quick shimmer of light ran through the tree’s roots, climbing up through the trunk and out to the the very tips of the branches. The silence was broken by the sound of stone grinding against stone, and then the six Elements shimmered as they were all released from the tree’s grasp. Each of the Elements brightened until they appeared like an orb of pure colored light and then flew to their chosen bearer. Each of the Elements that reached Chrysalis's friends formed a necklace around their neck, and the final Element, Magic, formed a golden tiara to set within before coming to rest upon her head.

Applejack lifted Honesty up with her hoof as she glanced down to the Element, then glanced over to Chrysalis as she said, “That was pretty simple. Time to hightail it outta here?”

“Indeed, let’s—” Her ears flicked to the side when she heard the sounds of hoofsteps, and she quickly looked to the cave’s entrance to see over a dozen dark figures galloping down the steps and toward the cave. Her ears fell back as she gritted her teeth. The cave had only one entry way and didn’t go any further beyond the tree. They were trapped.

As the dark silhouettes approached the cave, the illumination from the tree allowed Chrysalis to get a better look at their true appearance. She was shocked to find that not only did all of these changelings appear to be hybrids, but that they also all appeared exactly the same, each of them having the same amber colored eyes, mane, and tail. However, she only had a few seconds to ponder over this oddity before amber colored magic began to arc between their horns and gather in a mass before them. “Get behind me!” Chrysalis shouted as she sprinted forward just ahead of her friends. Her horn flashed with bright green light as she quickly cast a forward shield between herself and the attackers, only seconds before the bright ball of amber light was released.

The impact from the of the blast shattered her shield and sent Chrysalis flying backwards, and the resulting shockwave shook bits of crystal loose from the cavern walls. Chrysalis landed roughly on her side and rolled across the ground a few times before finally sliding to a stop.

“Chrys!” Fluttershy called out in a near shriek. She and the rest of the group sprinted forward to where Chrysalis laid unmoving on the ground just before them. She was the first to reach Chrysalis, and she hesitated for a few seconds before gently placing her forehooves on Chrysalis’s side. Chrysalis stirred at the touch, flinching and tucking her forelegs against her chest as she drew in a hissing breath through her clenched teeth. “Oh, she’s hurt,” Fluttershy said, her voice heavy with worry.

“We gotta do something,” Rainbow said, frantically pointing at the group of changelings that were now slowly closing in on them. Her eyes darted about quickly as she tried to think of a way to stop the attackers, and she happened to absentmindedly place a hoof upon her Element. She quickly glanced down to it, then to the rest of the group as she said, “Hey! We can use the Elements!”

Applejack glanced between Rainbow and Chrysalis, and upon seeing how Chrysalis was struggling just to lift her head up off the floor, she shook her head and said, “We can’t without Chrys!”

Rainbow grit her teeth together as she looked back to the changelings that had them cornered. Amber sparks were once again starting to arc between their horns. Another attack was coming any second. Rainbow’s ears flattened back as hackles stood up along her back. Her wings flared out at her sides as she took a low stance to the ground and growled, “We need to do something!” She began to lean forward, prepared to charge directly at the changelings.

Pinkie drew in a loud gasp before yelling, “Lightning strike!” Her voice echoed in the cave, and caused Rainbow to skid to a stop after only sprinting a few steps forward. Her shout even seemed to catch the changelings off guard as they momentarily stopped as well, all of them glancing to her with confused looks.

Rainbow glanced back over her shoulder with a bewildered look of her own. She shook her head as she gestured with a hoof toward the ceiling and plainly said, “We’re in a cave.”

Pinkie scrambled to her hooves and sprinted to the side before circling back toward Rainbow. She shouted, “Get... back!” as she leapt at Rainbow and tackled her. Together, they slid off to the side of the cave.

And not even a second later, a flash of lightning lit the cave to the deafening sound of a clap of thunder, striking the spot where Rainbow had been standing.

Everyone now saw the lavender alicorn sitting at the center of a charred mark where the lightning had struck. Twilight still trembled and leaned against her staff for support as the excessive power of the time travel spell dissipated in small arcs off of her body. She finally drew in a deep but shaking breath and lifted her head as she opened her eyes.

She was met with the stunned gaze of more than a dozen changelings. For a moment, they only silently stared back at one another, but then the many identical faces staring back at her all contorted in anger all at once. The amber colored sparks of energy quickly arced between their horns once again, amassing as another orb of energy right before them. They let the spell go, hurtling the orb of power directly at the alicorn, but she quickly stood and brought her staff before her, channeling her magic through it to cast a wall to wall shield between herself and the changelings. The orb impacted and diffused across the shield, sending ripples across it like a rock would when thrown into a pond.

“Princess Twilight!?” Twilight quickly looked to the side when she heard Pinkie’s voice, and there she found both Rainbow and Pinkie. They both seemed frozen in an awkward pose with Rainbow pinned beneath Pinkie while she had a hoof pressed against the side of Pinkie’s face, both of them gawking back at Twilight as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. “Wow,” Pinkie finally said, breaking the awkward silence. “You’ve got really good timing.”

“Pinkie...,” Twilight said in a whispery voice. She quickly glanced back behind her, and saw the rest of the group huddled together closer to the Tree of Harmony. Another blast hit her shield, and she quickly snapped her attention back forward to the attackers. “Who are they?” she said as she scowled at the changelings. She already had a very good idea of what she had just interrupted, and her horn sparked as she readied herself to cast another spell.

Pinkie managed to untangle herself from Rainbow and trotted up next to Twilight. “Uh, we don’t really know but... we didn’t invite them.” She stuck her tongue out at the changelings when they cast another spell that was repelled by the shield. “Meanies.”

Twilight clasped Dusk in her magic, holding the staff right before her eyes. “That’s all I needed to know,” she said as she concentrated on channeling more magical power into the staff. As she did so, the tip of the crystal began to glow with a bright white point of light. Small static arcs of power started to skitter about in the air around the point as the spell’s power built.

By this point, Chrysalis had managed to mostly recover from the hit she had suffered earlier. She had silently laid there and watched in amazement as Twilight single hoofedly defended them from the combined power of over a dozen spell casters. She quickly jerked a hoof back when she felt a twinge of pain, holding it against her chest. She glanced down at her hoof and saw the white static arcing over her hoof, leaving it feeling numb. She realized then exactly what spell Twilight was preparing. “W-wait!” she tried to call out, but it was just a second too late.

Twilight’s spell released in a spherical burst, quickly expanding outward from Dusk. The white sphere of light quickly passed over everything in its path as it expanded outwards. Twilight’s ears flinched back when she heard the shrill scream coming from behind her. She quickly spun around and found Chrysalis there among the rest of the group, writhing about on the cave floor and screaming in agony as the spell’s magic coursed over her body in tendrils of pure white energy. Twilight quickly cast a second spell, sending a pulse of power out from her horn that caught up with and cancelled first, stopping the spell just short of reaching the group of changelings outside the shield. Chrysalis let out a strained gasp as the magic was dispelled and collapsed over onto her side.

“Oh, nonono.” Twilight rushed to Chrysalis’s side, laying down beside her as she gently tried to lift Chrysalis’s head in her hooves. Chrysalis struggled against falling unconscious, her eyes rolling back and refusing to stay open. The spell that Twilight had used wasn’t designed to harm, but she had tuned it to fend off the group outside the shield. Chrysalis had been hit with a far stronger dose of magic than Twilight would have intentionally used on a single changeling, and at a very close range. “What was I thinking!? Of course you’d be here with them.”

Twilight cringed when another blast struck her shield. She glared out of the corner of her eye at the group of changelings that were still attempting break through her shield. Her shielding magic was some of the strongest shielding magic known in her time, but even her magic could be torn down by a large enough group given enough time. As she considered her options, she noticed for the first time that she was breathing heavily, and she could feel sweat dampening her fur. What ever she did next, she would need to make it count, as she was already starting to feel exhaustion creeping in. She looked back to the others; old friends that she hadn’t seen in centuries. They were worried, scared, some even terrified. She had to do something to save them.

Twilight gently laid Chrysalis back down, then stood and turned herself to face Rainbow Dash. “Dash, I need you to get her away from here so I can cast my spell.” Twilight gently laid one hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “Can you do that?” she quietly asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Rainbow said. She quickly trotted over to Chrysalis’s side, laying down next to her and gesturing to Applejack to come help. Chrysalis quietly complained with a groan as she was lifted and laid upon Rainbow’s back. “How far?” Rainbow asked, glancing up to Twilight.

“Well above the canopy away from here,” Twilight said. She grasped Dusk in her magic and turned herself back toward the shield. “Don’t return until the light fades.”

Rainbow slowly stood and spread her wings. She tapped a hoof against one of Chrysalis’s dangling forelegs as she said, “Come on, Chrys. Hang on tight.” Chrysalis groaned and managed to cross her forehooves over Rainbow’s chest. “Guess that’ll have to do,” Rainbow said as she crouched lower to the ground to ready herself for takeoff. She watched the group of changelings closely, waiting for her opening. They let loose with another spell blast, and the second it connected with Twilight’s shield, Rainbow sprinted forward. Just as she was within a few steps of the shield, she lept into the air and passed through the shield, quickly zipping just over the heads of the changelings and out of the cave. They all began to turn to follow.

“Hey!” Twilight yelled, causing the group of changelings to stop and look back to her. The shield between her and the changelings dissolved as she stopped the power flow supporting it, and instead devoted all of her power toward charging a new spell. Twilight’s mane took on an ethereal quality, the raw power she was channeling causing it to hover around her head as her eyes took on a magenta glow. “Your fight is with me,” she said as she leveled Dusk directly at the changelings.

---

Rainbow broke through the canopy, quickly climbing into the night sky over the Everfree Forest. She could feel the hold that Chrysalis had around her neck gradually slipping until it finally reached the point that she couldn’t hang on any longer. Rainbow acted quickly, twisting about and grabbing her around the barrel to keep her from falling.

“I gotcha,” Rainbow said in a strained voice. “Come on, Chrys. Stay with me,” she said as she flapped her wings to keep them both at a hover over the forest.

Then the night sky suddenly lit up brighter than day. The sudden flash of blinding light caused Rainbow to yelp as she squeezed her eyes closed and turned away. She shook her head and blinked her squinted eyes rapidly as the bright light slowly faded away. “Dang,” she quietly said as she looked up at the last flickering remnants of a column of light trailing up into the sky. The clouds had parted in a circle over the location where Twilight’s spell had been cast.

Chrysalis’s head lolled to the side as her body went completely limp in Rainbow’s gasp. Rainbow quickly tightened her grip before she angled herself to start gliding back down to the forest. “Hang in there, Chrys. You’ll be okay,” she said as she sailed back down to the ruins below them. “You gotta be.”

Awakening

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter VI – Awakening

The bright column of light that lit the night sky over the Everfree had drawn many curious Equestrians out of their homes despite the late hour. Even as far away as Canterlot, small crowds were starting to form in the streets as neighbors speculated on what the mysterious light from the forbidden forest could have been. There was also a flurry of activity within the walls of Canterlot Palace as the Nightguard prepared themselves to respond to a possible emergency.

In one secluded and relatively quiet corner of the palace grounds, a light breeze began to swirl about in a small circle. This breeze slowly spun up until the gust coming off it was blowing leaves loose from the nearby trees. There was a quick flash of light and one final strong gust of wind from magic discharging through the air just as Twilight arrived through a teleport spell along with her friends. Twilight shook her head and blinked her eyes before glancing around herself. “Oh good, we made it,” she said through a sigh. “Everyone is here, right?” she asked as she turned about to look to the rest of her friends. She found that all six had safely made the trip along with her.

“Oh my,” Rarity said in a quiet mumble as she glanced about at the tall towers of the palace. “You brought us all the way to Canterlot?”

“That was the plan,” Twilight said, still sounding a bit out of breath. She glanced to Rainbow Dash, who was carrying Chrysalis draped across her back. “How is she?”

Rainbow glanced back over her shoulder as she said, “Still out of it. We should probably get her some help.”

“Right—” Twilight voice caught in her throat as she suddenly stumbled a step to the side. She just barely managed to catch herself to avoid tumbling face first into the grass. Her legs trembled and she clenched her teeth as she felt the painful surge of a headache. She blinked her eyes barely open when she felt a soft touch against her shoulder, finding Fluttershy looking up to her with a worried look.

“Are you alright?” Fluttershy quietly asked as she gently patted Twilight’s shoulder.

“I’ve... felt better,” Twilight said through a pain-filled grimace. The headache was pounding away in her head full force now. Possibly magic deprivation, she thought to herself. She mentally recounted the symptoms, the heavy sweating, shortness of breath, lack of coordination, and the sudden onset of a very strong headache shortly after intense magical spell casting. It had been a very long time since she had managed to overtax her magic reserves by so much, but her head was definitely letting her know about her mistake. “I think I might have... over exerted a bit,” she said, lightly touching a hoof to the side of her head.

Fluttershy’s ears folded back. “You should lie down,” she said as she gently pulled at Twilight’s shoulder.

“Yeah, I think I will.” Twilight slowly laid herself down as to not aggravate the pounding in her head any further. She took a long, deep breath and slowly let it back out. The more she could rest, the quicker her magic could replenish itself and relieve the headache. After a brief moment of laying still, she was already starting to feel the painful throbbing subside. “I’ll just need a moment. And besides, my teleport should have set off quite a few security spells. I’m sure help will come to us if we just wait here.”

Only seconds later, they heard the clank of metal clad hooves thudding against the ground as a group of three armored pegasi landed near by. They approached the group at a full gallop at first, but the lead pegasus flared its wings and skidded to a stop, causing the other two to quickly stop as well.

“Hold on,” the lead pegasus said in a voice that was clearly feminine, but held a strong air of authority. As she cantered closer to the group, Twilight was able to make out more of the details of the armor that the pegasus was wearing, noticing the distinct silver, deep blues, and dark violets of a Nightguard uniform, emblazoned with the symbol of a crescent moon lying upon its side on the armor’s chest piece. It was still a bit too difficult to make out any discernible facial details beneath the helm by moonlight alone, but she was able to see the slight glow of the mare’s irises behind the enchanted helm’s night sight spell. Her pupils were not the cat-like slits that she had expected she might see. In fact, they all three appeared like rather normal dark grey pegasi. The lead mare among the group stopped only a few steps away, cocked her head slightly to the side, and then asked, “Princess Twilight?”

The sound of the voice stirred an old memory in Twilight’s mind. She smiled slightly and asked, “Is that you, Gale?”

“It is,” Gale said, quickly bending a foreleg to kneel before Twilight and her friends, a motion that the other two guards did as well. She stood and raised her head as she said, “Have to say I’m glad it was you that set off the alarms.”

Twilight glanced to each side at her friends as she said, “I wanted to get them back here from the Everfree as fast as I could.”

“From Everfree?” Gale said, tilting her head slightly further. Her eyes widened a bit in surprise as she asked, “You teleported all of them all the way from the forest?” When Twilight only quietly nodded in response from where she was lying on the ground, Gale stepped a bit closer as she asked, “Are you going to be okay?”

Twilight gently rubbed a hoof tip against her right temple as she said, “I feel a little light headed, and my head is still pounding a bit, but I’m not the one who really needs help.” She nodded to her left where most of her friends were standing and said, “I found them under attack when I arrived in the forest. I tried to drive the attackers away but Chrysalis got caught in my spell by accident.” Twilight’s ears fell back as she looked to her friends beside her. “I’m really sorry everyone.”

Applejack quickly shook her head before saying, “I think it’s safe to say things would have been far worse for us all if you hadn’t shown up and did what you did,” a notion that the rest of the Ponyville mares all quickly agreed with. “And besides, you said she’s only passed out. Shouldn’t be serious, right?”

“Shouldn’t be,” Twilight quietly said, glancing down to her forehooves and barely shaking her head.

Gale took a few steps closer near Rainbow Dash, lowering her head so she could see Chrysalis’s face. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, other than the fact that she was sound asleep while laid out across Rainbow’s back. “We should probably take her to the infirmary so she can rest. Doesn’t hurt to be cautious.”

Twilight nodded and waved a hoof as she said, “You all go on ahead. I’ll need to speak with the other princesses about what happened at Everfree.” When her friends glanced to each other with reluctant looks, she smiled and said, “Really, it’s fine. I’ll catch up later.”

Fluttershy lightly hooked a hoof over one of Twilight’s, her ears laying back slightly as she timidly said, “Well, if you’re sure you’ll be okay.”

Twilight smiled back and then pushed herself to sit up with her forelegs. Her head complained a bit at the motion, but not nearly as bad as what it had been a few minutes earlier. “I’m already feeling quite a bit better,” she said, despite the mild discomfort.

“You two lead them to the infirmary,” Gale said to the other two guards with her, making a quick motion with one wing toward Twilight’s friends. “I’ll stay behind with Princess Twilight and escort her to meet with Princess Luna.” The other two Nightguard responded with quick nods and took to their task, leading the others to a nearby entrance into the palace halls. Twilight watched after them as they left, noticing a few of the looks that they cast back to her, and put on a reassuring smile. Canterlot Palace was likely the safest location in all of Equestria for her friends. Even so, she still noticed the worried feeling welling up inside her as her friends walked out of view into the palace. She let go a light sigh, and tried to convince herself that her worries were simply over exaggerated emotions dredged up after having not seen her old friends for so long.

Twilight glanced to her side, finding Gale still patiently waiting there for her. She stood, quickly ruffling her wings before neatly tucking them back to her sides and giving her tail a quick flick. The headache was nearly gone now, definitely to the point that it could be easily ignored. She nodded to Gale, indicating that she was ready for her escort to meet with Luna, and together they too made their way into the halls of the palace. After quietly walking through the halls for a short while, Twilight broke the silence by saying, “I didn’t recognize you at first. Last time I saw one of the Nightguard pegasi here, you were all still wearing bat wings.”

“Oh that,” Gale said with a quick laugh. She nodded knowingly as she said, “Princess Luna decided to have the enchantment changed on our uniforms. Said it would be good if our appearance was toned down a bit.“ She fanned out her feathered, dark gray wings before tucking them back to her sides. “So, it’s been... what, more than three years now?” she asked, tilting her head back a bit to glance upward to Twilight. While she wasn’t as tall as either of the sister princesses of Equestria, Twilight was still at least one head height taller than Gale.

“It has... for you,” Twilight said with a quick nod toward Gale. She smirked slightly as she said, “It’s actually been closer to three hundred and fifty years for me since I last saw you.”

“Three-fifty?” Gale said, a shocked look on her face as she stumbled a short step to the side. “Well, that explains why you seemed so much taller than I remember. And you still remembered who I was? I’m honored.”

Twilight’s smirk faded a bit. She looked ahead down the hall, her ears falling back a bit as she said, “As much as I hate to admit it, some of the names of ponies I knew have faded from memory over the years. There’s even some that I can barely recall what they looked like.” Her smile brightened a bit as she glanced back down to Gale. “But, I doubt I’ll ever forget what happened in this timeline, or the ones who helped save this world.”

Gale let out another short laugh. “I think you deserve most of the credit for that.”

Twilight closed her eyes for a short moment, shaking her head. “The Nightguard played a very important part. You shouldn’t sell yourself short, Sergeant.”

“Ah...,” Gale began, a bit of a sheepish grin creeping in from the corners of her mouth. “It’s Captain now, actually.”

“Really?” Twilight said, her ears and brow perking up. “That’s quite the promotion.”

“Yeah, happened not too long after you left. Moondancer recommended me.”

“Did she?” Twilight asked, tilting her head to the side as a nostalgic smile overtook her. Another name she remembered, and rightfully so. If history had held its course in this timeline, it was very likely that Moondancer was now married into her family. “So, what’s she doing now?”

“Oh she’s still a guard captain, just not a Nightguard captain. She was a captain of Equestria’s guard force a couple years before the Nightmare Moon incident. When that happened, we were all given two choices. We either joined her Nightguard or got kicked out.” Gale trailed off for a short moment, her eyes staring somewhat blankly forward as she recalled memories from the takeover. Her voice carried a more somber tone as she quietly said, “Quite a few did quit, but I’m sure if Moondancer had left the guard back then, a lot more would have left with her. I know I would have. There might not have even been a Nightguard.” She let go a quick sigh and glanced back up to Twilight to show her a smile. “But, now the guard force of Canterlot is split between the two princesses equally as the Royal Guard and the Nightguard. Moondancer decided to go back to the day shift, so that left a night time captain rank open.”

“I see,” Twilight said with a small nod. A sly smirk crept across her muzzle as an idea formed in her mind. “I may stop by the barracks after dawn then and see if I can surprise her.”

“Ah, you won’t find her there,” Gale said, which drew a confused glance from Twilight. “She’s been on leave. I think she’s due to return within the week though, if I remember right.” Gale stopped her stride there in the hallway, lifting a single forehoof up and tapping it lightly against her chin as a thought occurred to her. “Actually, you could probably find her at her house here in Canterlot if you’re really wanting to talk to her. I know where she lives, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a visit from her legendary sister-in-law, if you think you can make the time for it.”

Twilight stopped and turned a step toward Gale, cocking an eyebrow as she asked, “Legendary sister-in-law?”

“Yeah,” Gale said with a bright smile and another short laugh. “Everyone knows what you did for us.” Before Twilight got a chance to ask what exactly it was that everyone knew about, Gale glanced off down the hallway when she noticed someone entering from one of the adjoining halls, spotting Luna. She quickly cantered toward the moon princess, stopping just a few steps away and quickly bending a knee before gesturing with one open, overturned wing down the hallway toward Twilight. “Princess Luna, you have a guest.”

Twilight’s smile broadened when Luna’s eyes found hers. She had almost forgotten just how different this Luna was from the moon princess that she knew from her own timeline. Her coat was a shade of glossy dark blue that could almost be mistaken as black. Her mane and tail didn’t simply shimmer like a star filled night sky but instead appeared as if they actually were part of one. Twilight’s eyes did wander a bit as they took in the full sight of the moon princess, but when Twilight noticed the very slight smirk tugging at the right corner of Luna’s mouth, she blinked and momentarily cast her gaze to the side. She quietly cleared her throat and crossed her right foreleg in front of her left, bending her knees in a curtsy and dipping her head as she said, “It’s good to see you again, Luna.”

Luna took a few steps, her long stride bringing her within reaching distance. She unfolded her right wing, sweeping it outward and using it to pull Twilight into an embrace as she said, “Yes, indeed it is.”

It took a few seconds for Twilight to get over the initial shock from the unexpected hug, but she soon unfolded her own wing to return the warm gesture.

Luna stepped a single step back, folding her wing back to her side as she said, “Would I be correct in assuming that you were responsible for tripping our alarm spells?”

“Yes, that was me,” Twilight admitted with a small smile.

Luna perked an eyebrow in curiosity. “You are allowed to enter through the front gates if you wish. I promise, you would not have been turned away.”

“Oh, well, I actually teleported the bearers back from the forest.” When Twilight saw that Luna’s eyes suddenly widened in surprise, she thought to add, “Was sort of an emergency situation.” Her eyes quickly glanced toward Gale for a short second, who was standing close to Luna’s side.

Luna noticed the quick glance and peered out of the corner of her eye toward Gale as well. She smiled and unfolded her wing to gently drape it lightly over her. “Whatever it is you wish to tell, you may speak of it in front of my guard captain. She’s already aware of the mission to recover the Elements, though we’ve kept knowledge of the mission’s existence and the reasons for it to a select few. Spreading panic through the ranks wouldn’t be wise.” Luna’s gaze seemed to sharpen as her eyes turned back toward Twilight and she asked, “Are the bearers at least safe?”

“They are, but they were under attack when I arrived, and unfortunately, Chrysalis got caught in one of my spells by accident. The others took her to the infirmary to recover.” Twilight visibly sighed, her shoulder sagging a bit and her ears folding back slightly. “The spell doesn’t cause any lasting physical harm, so she should be alright once she wakes up, and hopefully that’ll be soon. There’s something I really want to ask her about.”

Luna tilted her head slightly, causing her nebulous mane to shift about at the movement. “Does it involve a dream?” she quietly asked.

Twilight closed her eyes, furrowing her brow tightly as she recalled the events of the dream-vision that had led her to this timeline. “More like a nightmare.”

“What did you see in this nightmare?”

Twilight was silent for a moment, then she opened her eyes, glancing up to Luna with a serious look on her face. “A vision of our world disappearing all around us.”

“I see... anything else?”

“Chrysalis was there with me, and we were both surrounded by these... odd changelings.”

Luna slowly nodded. “It’s the same as her’s then.”

“When I arrived in the cave in the forest and saw the changelings there... for a moment, it almost felt exactly like the nightmare.” Twilight recalled the strange group of changelings that had attacked her and her friends in the forest. She had a strong feeling that hadn’t let go of her even after they had left. “I believe these changelings could have possibly been the same ones from the vision.”

“And what happened to these changelings?”

Twilight glanced off to the side toward one of the large stained glass windows in the hall. “Well, you might have noticed a light in the distance.”

“Noticed?” Luna said, a small laugh noticeable in her voice. “I think the better half of our nation noticed, and I felt its power all the way here in Canterlot.”

“I stopped them with that spell,” Twilight said, turning her serious glance back toward Luna. “We left them there at the cave, unconscious. I felt it was more important to get everyone to safety as soon as I could, since there was no way to tell if more would come.”

“You made the right choice, but if there is a chance that we could capture one of these changelings we should take it.” Luna turned her attention toward Gale. “Gather your pegasi and leave for the Everfree immediately, Captain. I want you to bring us back a few prisoners, the more the better.”

“Right away, Princess,” Gale said, quickly crossing a foreleg against her chest and bowing her head. She wasted no time taking off down the hall at a quick canter and then springing into the air, taking flight down the hallway.

Luna watched after Gale until she turned and left down one of the many corridors leading off of the hall. “So far, all we know is what we’ve been told by these visions that both you and Chrysalis share,” she said, drawing Twilight's eyes toward her. She kept her thoughtful gaze on the empty hall for a moment longer before glancing back to Twilight out of the corner of her eye. “Capturing one of these mysterious changelings could very well give us answers that we need, but failing that, perhaps if the two of you speak on what you both remember of the vision, something more may be brought to light.”

“That could be a while,” Twilight said, letting her head hang a bit lower. “I didn’t realize she was right behind me. All I could think of was that I had to do something to save my old friends.” Twilight gritted her teeth together as a frustrated feeling washed over her. She hadn’t been cautious enough in the use of her magic. She’d acted on impulse, instead of first fully understanding the situation. “I can’t get the sound of her screaming out of my mind,” she nearly whispered, laying her ears fully back.

Though Twilight didn’t see it, Luna’s thought-filled glance had slowly changed over to a worried one. She lowered her head and took a step closer, and when Twilight looked up toward her she quietly asked, “Perhaps we should check on her ourselves?” Twilight nodded, a sadden frown still etched across her muzzle.

The two of them began to walk together down the hallway. For a time, neither said a word to each other, and only the quiet clicking of their hooves against the floor echoed through the otherwise empty hall. Luna’s eyes had wandered toward Twilight many times as they walked, and she had noticed the vacant stare coming from the younger princess. Finally, Luna unfolded a wing and draped it across Twilight’s back. Twilight glanced up to her, seeming a bit surprised, but Luna only softly smiled back as she said, “Don’t be too harsh on yourself. You acted to save their lives. I fear to think of what may have happened had you not been there.”

Twilight seemed to consider Luna’s words for a moment before she looked off down the hall again. While the kind words had lifted some of the troubling thoughts from her mind, even if for just a moment, there was still one weighing heavily upon her. “I just hope she’ll be able to forgive me.”

Luna lifted her wing and curled most of the flight feathers back before bringing the tips of the few primary feathers at the end of her wing up under Twilight’s chin, gently drawing Twilight’s attention back up to her. They paused there in the hall for a moment. “Be sure to forgive yourself as well. Holding on to guilt isn’t healthy,” Luna said with a very serious look upon her face. She gently fold her wing back to her side, glancing off thoughtfully down the hall. “Trust me, I’ve learned that lesson.”

---

The infirmary was located at the near opposite end of the palace, which gave Twilight plenty of time to brood over her troubled thoughts as she and Luna made there way there. She had been led to a specific moment in this timeline, presumably by her own future self. Her arrival at the cave just as her old friends were being attacked was no accident. Why then had she mistakenly hit Chrysalis with her spell? There should have been a warning, something more written within the pages of her journal that could have led her to consider her surroundings before casting the spell, but there wasn’t.

Twilight did considered that even when crossing over multiple timelines, attempting to alter one’s own past actions was likely still impossible, or at the very least, not recommended. Attempting to alter your own past choices would mean potentially causing a cascade of different choices from that point forward. Perhaps that was the reason. The only way to preserve the events as they should play out was to simply let the mistake happen.

“Twilight?”

Twilight was pulled away from her thoughts and became more aware of her surroundings when she heard Luna call her name beside her. While she’d been vaguely aware that they’d arrived at the infirmary moments earlier, it wasn’t until that very moment that she realized that they were now standing just outside one of the recovery rooms. She hadn’t even noticed the nurse that had led them to the room, and was a bit taken aback by the fact that the nurse appeared to be a changeling wearing a simple, pure white nurse outfit.

“You can come inside whenever you’re ready,” the nurse said. Her voice — at least it sounded feminine — had a quiet, buzzing rezonance behind it when she spoke. Her solid blue eyes made it difficult to tell exactly who or what she may have been looking at, but the slight turn of her head made it appear that she looked back and forth between the two princesses before giving them a kind smile and making her way into the room.

Twilight’s ears twitched forward when she picked up on the familiar voices of her friends talking just inside. She found herself feeling hesitant, wondering what she could possibly say to Chrysalis to apologize. A simple ‘I’m sorry’ didn’t really feel like it would suffice. Still, it wasn’t the time to be apprehensive. Twilight drew in a long breath and slowly let it back out to calm her nerves, and then stepped through the doorway.

Just on the other side, Twilight found her old friends quietly talking with each other here and there, and one of them, Fluttershy, was speaking with the nurse and another unicorn that Twilight didn’t immediately recognize. Judging by the white lab coat he was wearing he was likely part of the infirmary staff.

Fluttershy glanced toward the door when she noticed the two princesses entering the room. “Oh, hello Twilight. And, um, Princess Luna,” she quietly said with a welcoming smile.

The conversations in the room died down. The unicorn took a few steps toward Twilight and Luna, politely bowing his head to Luna as he said, “Welcome, Princess,” and then smiling and bowing his head to Twilight as well as he added, “and welcome back, Princess.”

Now that she could see his face more clearly and had heard his voice, Twilight was able to recall the name of Canterlot’s infirmary doctor. “Hello, Doctor Heart,” she said as she smiled back to him, but the smile soon faded as she glanced over to the bed in the room. Chrysalis was quietly sleeping on her side with a plain white sheet pulled up over her. “How is she?”

“Physically, she’s perfectly fine. Still resting, though.” Doctor Heart pulled a clipboard from one of the large pockets on his lab coat with his magic, along with an ink pen. “I’d actually wanted to speak to you about the spell that was used on her. I didn’t pick up on anything that was lingering.”

“There won’t be. It’s a simple modification to a shielding spell, designed to stun anything that has changeling physiology. It was never meant to permanently harm them or leave any lasting effects.” Twilight took a few steps closer to the side of the bed as she spoke while Doctor Heart busily took down notes. “But, I did put a lot of power behind the spell, much more than would have been necessary against just one changeling. And she was very close to where I cast the spell when it hit her,” she said as her ears fell back.

“It was an accident,” Fluttershy quietly insisted.

Doctor Heart momentarily stopped his note taking, glancing up between Fluttershy and Twilight. “Alright,” he mumbled as he jotted one last note down before putting the clipboard away. “More likely that she’s suffering from the after effects of the magic surge than from the actual spell then.”

Twilight’s horn lit with her magenta aura, and her magic gently took hold of the stray strands of Chrysalis’s mane that had fallen across her face, lifting and laying them back out of the way. Even though it had been three and a half centuries, she still very clearly remembered the face of the first unicorn she had ever taken on as a student in advanced magical studies. She knew that this Chrysalis wasn’t the same one that had tricked her by using that particular guise, but she still felt the conflicting emotions momentarily well up inside her all the same. She sighed, gently shaking her head as she resolved to put the emotions aside for now. “I just really hope I haven’t done any permanent damage.”

Doctor Heart quickly shook his head and made a dismissive gesture with one hoof. “The vast majority of cases of magical surge don’t have lasting effects. A blackout with maybe a headache later are usually all you can expect. The unconsciousness usually doesn’t last this long, but a large dose of alicorn magic is likely to exaggerate the effects. I still believe the best treatment is to simply let her rest for now.”

Just then, nearly everyone’s attention was drawn toward the doorway at the sound of someone shouting something down the hall. Most of the words were hard to make out, but whoever the words were coming from wasn’t very happy. Not but a few seconds later, the nurse quickly cantered out of the room and down the hall, and Doctor Heart excused himself as he also left right behind her.

“Where is she?” the angry voice very clearly shouted only seconds later.

Luna turned and chanced a glance out into the hallway. “Oh dear,” she quietly sighed as she shook her head and walked back inside. “Brace yourself; this may not go well,” she said as she looked toward Twilight with a worried look.

The sound of rushed hoofsteps became louder until a hybrid changeling skidded to a stop at the door. His reddish orange mane and tail appeared to be a disheveled mess, and judging by his heavy breathing, was likely due to running as hard as he could. His emerald green eyes were full of shock and worry as he stood there seemingly frozen at the doorway, before he finally entered the room and cantered up to the side of Chrysalis’s bed.

“Easy now, Graphite. She’s resting,” Doctor Heart cautioned. He and the nurse had followed Graphite back to the room, and were standing just inside the doorway.

“I’m sorry,” the nurse said to Doctor Heart. “I just thought he should know. I didn’t think he would be this upset.”

“How did this happen?” Graphite said in a ghostly quiet voice. He glanced over his shoulder toward Doctor Heart, his eyes narrowing considerably as he lowly said, “Who did this to her?”

Doctor Heart raised a hoof in a cautioning gesture as he began to say, “Calm down—”

“Someone attacked our queen!” Graphite shouted, nearly screaming at the top of his lungs.

“Graphite.” When Twilight call his name, he looked to her as if he was shocked that someone else was in the same room. His surprised look became more of a confused one the longer he looked at her. “If you just give us a chance, we can explain what happened.”

Graphite glanced around the room, noticing for the first time that there were quite a few others there that he recognized, but his eyes returned back to Twilight as he asked, “How... how are you here?”

“I came back,” Twilight said with a brief smile. “When I did, I found them under attack.”

“By whom?” Graphite asked, furrowing his brow.

Twilight glanced to her side to Luna, and they both then looked to Doctor Heart and his nurse. Doctor Heart quickly picked up on the silent request for them to leave the room. “Come along, Lacey, they’ve got important things to talk about,” he said before the two of them turned to leave, closing the door behind them.

As the door closed, Twilight turned her attention back to Graphite. “There was another group of changelings already attacking them at the Tree of Harmony when I arrived.”

Graphite gritted his teeth in a sneer as he said, “So they set a trap.” He turned back toward the side of Chrysalis’s bed, letting out a heavy sigh as he looked over her. “I told her it was too much of a risk. What did they do to her?”

“They... didn’t do this to her,” Twilight said. Despite her best efforts, her composure seemed to wilt when Graphite looked back to her. “My spell hit her by accident.” Twilight averted her eyes when Graphite’s confused glance turned into more of a glare. “I only used an anti-changeling shield. She should be fine once she wakes up.” She forced herself to look Graphite in the eyes, and she could see the unmistakable anger behind them.

The tense moment was broken when Applejack cleared her throat and spoke up. “Well, to be fair, that other group of changelings wasn’t holdin’ anything back. The way they were throwin’ spells around....” She shook her head and let out a heavy sigh. “If Twilight hadn’t stepped in, we might all be dead now.”

“Spells?” Graphite asked. He looked to Twilight as he asked, “They had a caster?”

“From what I saw, they all appeared to be casters.”

Graphite’s expression paled, his ears falling flat back. He quietly asked, “How many?”

Applejack hummed to herself, scratching her head as she thought back to the chaise in the forest. “I think I remember Mystery sayin’ there were fourteen of them.”

Graphite soundlessly opened and closed his mouth a few times. Finally, he managed to say, “That can’t be possible. There wouldn’t be that many willing to work together, not without us knowing.” He quickly glanced around the room asking, “Where is the queen’s bodyguard?”

“She led them off so we could get the Elements,” Rainbow said, speaking up from where she was sitting off to the side. She shrugged her shoulders and visibly sighed and said, “We’re not sure what happened to her after that.”

“I hope she’s alright,” Fluttershy quietly added.

Graphite fell silent for a moment afterwards. He sat down next to Chrysalis’s bed, laying one of his hooves on the bed close to but not quite touching her. “I shouldn’t have let you do this,” he quietly said. He kept his eyes on her even as he asked, “How long will she be like this?”

“I’m really not sure,” Twilight said, shaking her head. “I’d hoped she would already be awake by now.”

A somber silence fell upon the room, and likely would have remained for quite some time thereafter if not for the quiet moan that came from Chrysalis. Graphite quickly leaned in closer to her, reaching out and taking one of her hooves in his. She stirred slightly at the touch, her ear flicking back and her eyes squeezing tightly shut. Graphite quietly spoke her name, just above a whisper, hoping to draw her back to the waking world.

With another quiet moan, she finally managed to barely open her eyes. She lifted her head from the pillow and made a fair attempt at pushing herself to sit upright, quickly blinking as she tried to focus.

Graphite began to smile, relieved that his queen appeared well enough to sit up on her own. However, his smile quickly faded when she fully opened her eyes and looked right at him. Not only was the confused stare that she gave him devoid of any recognition, but the irises of her eyes were violet, instead of the teal color they should have been.

“Who are you?” Chrysalis asked as her eyes took on an suspicious squint. She then glanced around herself at the recovery room and the many faces staring back at her, nervously holding her forehooves against her chest as she stuttered out, “W-where am I?”

“You had a little accident, so we brought you here so you could rest up,” Pinkie said, trying to offer up a reassuring smile.

Chrysalis focused on Pinkie for a moment, considering her words as she absentmindedly ran her forehooves over the long locks of her mane that hung down in over her shoulder. She happened to glance down at the bed she was sitting on, and then down at herself, and seemed startled by what she saw. She held her forehooves out in front of her face for a moment, staring at them wide-eyed as her breathing became quick and heavy. Her eyes quickly darted about again, searching the room like a scared animal trying to find a way to escape, but stopped when her eyes met with Twilight’s. “Where are we? How did we get here?”

“Take it easy, you’re safe here,” Twilight said in a gentle tone.

Chrysalis seemed to relax slightly as the moment of panic passed. She looked back down at her own forehooves again, staring at them with a confused look as she turned them over. “What happened?”

As Twilight stepped up closer to the side of the bed she briefly glanced to Graphite, noticing the harsh glare he had aimed at her. There was no doubt in her mind that he placed the blame for Chrysalis’s current state squarely on her shoulders. However, he still reluctantly stepped aside, allowing Twilight to set herself next to the bed.

Chrysalis was completely focused on her own hooves, slowly running one over the back of the other as she watched the short, dark fur lift and fall back in place. It wasn’t until Twilight reached her own forehoof out and placed it over Chrysalis’s that she finally looked up. Twilight could feel the slight trembling, and could see the underlying fear of something unknown or unfamiliar behind Chrysalis’s eyes.

Twilight gave her a reassuring smile. “Let’s start with what you remember.”

“Um,” Chrysalis began, closing her eyes to concentrate. She groaned and shook her head. “I-it’s... sort of fuzzy. I’m not sure what happened after I tried to help, but, I....” She trailed off as she opened her eyes and looked out of the room’s window. From where she sat on the bed, she could see a starry sky that faded to a violet color toward the horizon. She quietly stared out the window while quietly asking, “Is this the outside?”

Twilight considered the strange question, along with the rest of the strange behavior. She had thought at first that Chrysalis may have been suffering from amnesia, but now she wasn’t so sure. Obviously, Chrysalis recognized her, but at the same time didn’t recognize Graphite, reacting to him like a scared foal might react to a stranger they’ve never met. She wasn’t behaving like someone who had lost their memories, but as if she was someone else entirely. “This might seem like strange question for me to ask, but... who am I talking to right now?”

Chrysalis looked back from the window, and then back down at her forehooves, turning them over once again as if to test that they were actually hers. She hesitantly said, “I’m... I’m you. The other you.” She folded her forehooves together, resting them neatly on the bed before her as she looked directly at Princess Twilight Sparkle with her matching violet eyes.

“I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

Confused Memories

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter VII – Confused Memories

The room’s doorway glowed briefly before it swung open and Princess Twilight stepped out into the hall. She seemed to be in a daze, her focus turned mostly inward as she pondered over how Chrysalis could possibly believe that she was actually the Twilight from this timeline. Just as her magic was pulling the door closed behind her, the door suddenly stopped with a dull thunk when Graphite stuck his hoof in the way and pulled it back open to step out into the hall with her.

“Where are you going?” he asked, staring up into Twilight eyes with a stern glare.

Twilight side glanced to the doorway just long enough to quietly pull it closed before answering. “I need a moment to think about this.”

“What is there to think about?” Graphite nearly growled. He jabbed a hoof in Twilight’s direction as he hotly said, “Your spell has her believing that she’s you!”

Twilight narrowed her eyes and laid back her ears. “Graphite, yelling at me while I’m trying to figure this out isn’t going to resolve the situation any quicker.” Though her words came out sounding calm they were still tainted with an edge of frustration.

Graphite let out a heavy huff or air and then took a few deep breaths to calm himself. He gestured toward the door as he asked much more calmly, “Why not just remove the spell’s effects?”

“Because there isn’t anything to remove. And besides” — Twilight glanced toward the closed door — “this can’t be something caused by my spell.”

“I suppose she had a dream and woke up believing she’s you then?” Graphite grumbled.

“Do you not want my help?” Twilight said, sounding a bit annoyed as she glared down at Graphite.

“... Sorry,” Graphite quietly said. “I suppose there’s no point in pointing hooves. I’m just... worried.”

“I get that, but we need to work together. Now, let’s think this through.” Twilight paused for a brief moment, her eyes squinting a bit while she considered a troubling thought that had occurred to her before she left the room. “For a spell to cause someone to believe they’re somepony else entirely, it would need to be a rather complex mind manipulation spell. The spell I used doesn’t even come close to qualifying, which means the change has to be from some other outside factor.”

Graphite shrugged his shoulders and quickly added, “But she was herself before she was struck with your magic.”

“Was she?” Twilight asked, raising an eyebrow in question to Graphites statement. He seemed a bit annoyed at the simple question judging by how quickly his ears laid back and how deeply his brow furrowed. “Graphite, the last time I saw her was just over three and a half years ago in this timeline. I need to know if there was anything about her that changed during that time.”

Graphite sighed and sat back on his haunches. He took a moment to gather his thoughts, then with a small nod he said, “Yes, there were changes. She has all but lost her ability to affect others across a mind link, and she rarely ever changes form any more. Being in any form other than what you saw actually causes her pain.”

“Loss of changeling abilities,” Twilight mumbled as she mentally noted the changes. “Anything else? Even something that seems unimportant.”

“Well, she did develop a healthy appetite for knowledge, far beyond anything she used to have,” he said as he twirled a hoof in a somewhat dismissive circular gesture.

The information wasn’t much to go on. Twilight sat back on her haunches as well and adopted her thinking pose, crossing her left foreleg over her chest so her hoof was resting beneath her right foreleg, and then tapping the tip of her right hoof against her closed mouth. She remained that way for nearly a full minute as she tried to find some other train of thought that might lead them to some answers. “Have you ever seen anything like this before, moments where she didn’t seem like herself at all?”

“Nothing this extreme. Her eyes,” Graphite began to say, gesturing to his own eyes. “I’ve never seen them change like that, and she’s always still known who she is.”

Twilight squinted her eyes slightly. “But you have seen something about her change before?”

“Rarely,” Graphite admitted reluctantly. “I remember seeing her aura shift during spell casting. It was always very brief, something that began—”

“After she used the Elements at the Crystal Empire,” Twilight said. Judging by the surprised look that Graphite gaver her, Twilight assumed that she was right on the mark. “I remember. I saw it myself before I left. Her aura would shift to magenta, for just a moment.” Twilight’s eyes glanced away toward the closed door as she thoughtfully added, “Same color as mine.”

“Do you believe the Elements somehow did this to her back then?”

“No, I don’t,” Twilight said with a quick shake of her head. “Chrysalis told me back then that the Twilight from this timeline shared her magic with her so she could activate the Elements.” How much magic the young Twilight had shared with Chrysalis was unknown. What if she had given everything she possibly could to help? The young filly likeness of herself that she had met within the mindscape all those years ago had no actual physical form, her mind and magic having been ripped away from her body long ago and placed within a hive mind spell construct. If she had given up what magic she did still have, what exactly would have been left?

Graphite furrowed his brow and shook his head. “Even if that is true, that was still years ago. Why would that change her now?”

“Well, you did just say she had already changed some since then,” Twilight quickly pointed out. She had a theory, a wild one, but still a theory that could possibly explain the changes. What if her magic was not the only thing that the young filly had given up? “I believe my spell may have uncovered something that was already there. I don’t think Chrysalis believes she’s me. I think that... somehow, that really is the Twilight from this timeline. She may have been like an extra passenger in Chrysalis’s mind all this time.”

Graphite’s ears laid back, and his eyes widened a bit in shock. He silently opened and closed his mouth a few times before finally asking, “If she isn’t our queen, then where is our queen now?”

Twilight glanced to the room’s door, furrowing her brow. “That’s the next thing for us to figure out.”

Just then, the door was pulled open, and Applejack peaked her head out into the hall. “Uh, I think you two should get back in here.”

“Why, what’s wrong?” Twilight asked as she and Graphite quickly stood and followed Applejack back into the room.

“Well, nothin’ wrong just...,” Applejack paused and leaned in a bit closer to Twilight to quietly mumble, “just sort of weird.”

Graphite side stepped around Twilight and approached the bed. As he did, Chrysalis, or rather, Twilight — honestly after the conversation in the hall he wasn’t sure who it was he was looking at right now — glanced away from talking with the other’s near the side of her bed, looking directly at him with her deep violet eyes. She blinked once as she tilted her head, squinting her eyes at him slightly before she asked, “Graphite?”

Graphite’s breath caught in his throat momentarily. “My queen?” he asked, sounding hopeful.

“No. I’m sorry,” she said, quickly shaking her. She glanced around a bit nervously, noticing that all the attention in the room was centered upon her. “I-it’s just that... we were just talking and... then I started to remember things.” She reached a hoof up, rubbing it against the side of her head as she squinted one of her eyes closed. “Names, faces, all these memories just started rushing in... still are.” She lifted her other hoof, and began to use the tips of her hooves to massage her temples as a grimace creeped across her muzzle. “I even remember the forest. We were all being chased” — she drew in a shaky breath — “and then there was the cave... a-and....” There was a sudden popping sound followed by a scattering of bright green and magenta sparks from her horn. She yelped in pain as she grasped at the sides of her head with her forehooves and nearly curled her entire body up into a tight ball.

“What’s happening to her!?” Graphite asked.

“I don’t know,” Twilight said as she quickly rushed forward to the side of the bed. “Twilight? Listen to me,” she said, sitting beside the bed and gently using her forehooves to guide the unicorn’s head back up. She was panting heavily, and her fur was damp to the touch from sweat. Her entire body was shaking while she gritted her teeth together in what appeared to be a very pain-filled grimace and continued to clutch the side of her head tightly with her hooves. “Look at me. Focus just on me, and nothing else.”

The unicorn stared back into Twilight’s eyes as she had been told. The intense shaking throughout her body began to lessen, and her breathing slowed from a rapid pant to something closer to deep, exhausted breaths. She sniffled a few times and tried to blink the tears from her eyes, and after a few more sniffles she rubbed at her nose with the top of her forehoof. When she glanced down, she noticed the dark red glistening smear covering the fur. “Oh, that’s not good,” she said, her voice quivering.

Twilight cast a quick, concerned glance over her shoulder to Luna, which was all the other princess needed to see to know that she should leave the room and find help, quickly. Twilight looked back when she felt the unicorn’s trembling forelegs brushing against her own, and quickly scooted in closer to the bedside to reach one foreleg around behind the unicorn’s back to help support her. She even reached up and gently brushed back the stray hairs that were hanging down in front of the unicorn’s face. “Hey, listen. We’re going to figure this out, alright? Just... try not to dig around in memories that might not be yours for now, okay?”

“This is Chrys’s body, isn’t it?” the unicorn said in a small, quiet voice. She was staring down at her shaking, overturned forehooves. “Of course it is. What did I do to her?” She turned her fearful eyes up toward Twilight. “I was just trying to help. I didn’t mean to do this,” she said, her voice sounding thick with sadness as the tears building up in the corners of her eyes began to fall.

Just then, the sound of hastened hoofsteps drew most everyone’s attention to the room’s door. Doctor Heart could be heard saying, “Why didn’t you come find me as soon as she woke up?” in a somewhat grumbly tone just as he reached the door and hurried into the room. Luna stood aside just outside the doorway long enough for him and the changeling nurse they had met earlier to enter the room before she entered herself.

The way that the doctor rushed up to the bedside caused the unicorn to flinch, drawing her hooves inward closer to her chest as she cowered away. “Relax now,” Doctor Heart said as he reached out and gently patted her on the shoulder. His magic plucked a silver thing from his pocket that at first glance looked much like a pen, but a quick press of the button at one end activated the small light at the other. “I’m just going to check a few things to make sure you’re okay, alright? Look here for just a moment,” he said in a calm voice as he flicked the small light to briefly shine it over her eyes, causing her to blink.

“This just started, when she began to remember things,” Twilight began to explain. She had scooted slightly to the side to make room for Doctor Heart to do his checking, still holding one hoof out to help support the unicorn’s back.

“Everything seemed like it was going okay,” Pinkie said nearby. She shifted her steps as the nurse tried to make it by her to get access to the cabinets on the other side of the room. “I mean, other than her being somepony else,” Pinkie added with a small shrug.

Doctor Heart glanced at Pinkie with one eyebrow cocked, then he noticed his nurse with the blood pressure cuff she had retrieved from the cabinet trying to pick a way back through the crowded room over to him. “Alright, Lacewing and I can’t be tripping over everyone, so everyone out for now,” he said making a shooing gesture toward the open door. “You can all wait out in the hall until we’re done.”

“Um,” the unicorn quickly began, her entire body noticeably tensing up. Her wide eyes darted toward Twilight and then back to Doctor Heart. “Could Twilight stay?” And her voice nearly dropped to a whisper as she said, “Please?”

Doctor Heart glanced out of the corner of his eye up to Twilight, letting out a small sigh and giving a reluctant nod.

---

Over half an hour had passed since the group had left the room, and the night was growing long. However, Graphite had stood in the middle of the hallway the entire time, simply staring silently at the closed door. The rest of the Ponyville mares had migrated down the hall to have a seat in the waiting room, since seating within the hallway itself was fairly limited. Across the hall from the room was the only two gray bench seats nearby, the type that had just enough padding on them to be just barely more comfortable than lying on the floor. Princess Luna had laid out across one, taking up the seat sized for two ponies fairly easily on her own. Her eyes were watching Graphite closely, or rather, how he was swaying slightly on his hooves and blinking his eyes a bit more often than was normal.

“Graphite?” Luna finally asked. When he seemed to ignore her call, she put a bit more volume behind her voice when she called out to him a second time. “... Graphite.” He flinched, and his ears perked up and eyes quickly darted toward her. She smiled gently, and then gestured to the other empty bench next to the one she occupied. “Why don’t you have a seat,” she said as she tapped the tip of her slippered hoof against the thin padding.

Graphite’s shoulders and chest heaved with a slight sigh. “I’m fine, your majesty,” he said, turning his attention back to the door.

“You appear to be nearly falling asleep on your hooves,” Luna quipped. Graphite’s only response was furrowing his brow as his gaze dropped to the floor before his hooves. “If you are tired, you should rest.” Luna said, tilting her head and catching his glance out of the corner of his eye. After a silent moment he finally gave in, walking over to the bench in a slow, tired shuffle and then laying himself on the bench with his back against the thinly padded backrest and his forelegs dangling just off the front edge. Even so, he kept his watchful gaze fixated on the closed door across the hall.

“I’ll keep watch, if you wish,” Luna offered.

“I should be in there,” Graphite stated simply. He laid his chin down upon his folded forelegs, but still kept his tired eyes focused on the door.

“It can be difficult to stand aside and allow others to help those we care for,” Luna mused as she momentarily glanced to the door as well. “I do believe those who are with her right now stand the best chance of helping her.”

“Do they?” Graphite quietly asked, remaining unmoving other than his eyes glancing up toward her.

Luna smiled softly. “Well, I can certainly vouch for Noble Heart. He’s likely the best doctor we have here in Canterlot. He’s also not one to give up easily.” She tilted her head to glance down to him and added, “Nor is Twilight, as we all know.”

The silence that fell upon the hallway afterwards coupled with the very late hour made it very difficult for Graphite to fight off the urge to fall asleep, but he still put up a valiant effort. For many long minutes afterward, he simply refused to allow his eyes to stay closed for any longer than a few seconds. And just when it seemed that he finally had no choice but to give in, the click from the room’s handle being pulled down jolted him back to full awareness.

Graphite sprung up from his seat, taking a few rushed steps to the doorway as Princess Twilight, Doctor Heart, and Nurse Lacewing all quietly stepped out into the hall. Before Graphite got a chance to speak, Doctor Heart held up a hoof, cautioning him to keep his voice down.

“She’s stable, but quite exhausted,” Doctor Heart said in a hushed tone. He turned aside, glancing back into the dimly lit room at the unicorn lying in the bed on her side with only the white sheet and blue blanket pulled up over her side and shoulders. “We gave her something to help her rest for a while.”

Graphite silently stared into the room for a time, appearing as if he hadn’t even heard what the doctor had said. Finally, he asked a question without breaking his gaze from the still form laying on the bed. “Do you know why this is happening to her?”

Doctor Heart glanced up to Twilight shortly before letting out a heavy, exhausted sounding sigh. “I’ll be completely honest with you. I’ve never even heard of anything like this happening before.”

“Two separate psyches occupying a single mind,” Twilight quietly said, which finally drew Graphites attention away from the room to her. “I’ve never heard of it happening before either, but it’s the only explanation I have that makes any sense.” She shook her head slightly, letting out a sigh of her own and allowing her shoulders to sag a bit, showing some of the exhaustion that was weighing down upon her. “Still, that’s just a theory. It would be helpful if I could find any references to something like this happening before,” she said, looking across the hall to Luna.

Luna stood from the bench, her feathers rustling at her sides as she adjusted her wings. She tipped her head slightly toward Twilight and said, “You needn’t ask permission. All of the knowledge contained within the archives is at your disposal.”

“Thank you, Luna,” Twilight said, tipping her own head in response. She tried to put on an encouraging smile as she looked back down to Graphite. “If there is an answer to this, I’ll find it.”

Graphite nodded in understanding. Though he knew Twilight was telling him the truth and that she was likely the best hope for finding the true answer behind what had happened, he still voice his greatest fear as he quietly said, “I hope there is one.”

---

Gale stood just inside the entrance to the cave beneath the Everfree ruins, surveying the squadron of Nightguard pegasi that she had brought with her. They had only arrived about a half hour earlier, and while what they had found when they arrived may not have been entirely unexpected, it could still be considered very strange.

Scattered about just inside on the cave floor had been just over a dozen changelings, which wasn’t surprising given that she knew Princess Twilight had already dealt with them herself. She was standing next to one that had already had its forelegs and back legs bound and its wings restrained with a thick, woven restraining harness, though whether the restraints were actually necessary was highly questionable. It laid there on its side upon a stretcher, its sides steadily expanding and contracting as it drew breath, but it otherwise silently stared off at nothing with its solid blue eyes. That was exactly how it and all the others had been since Gale arrived.

“The heck did she do to them,” Gale mumbled under her breath as she turned and slowly walked just outside the cave. It was nearing time for the patrols to start checking in, and she didn’t have to wait long before she spotted a pair of pegasi banking in a sharp turn as they flew down the side of the surrounding cliffside, coming to a landing only a few trots away.

“Find anything?” Gale asked as she walked up to the scouts, one a stallion and the other a mare. Both quickly stood at attention, crossing their right hoof across their chest in union, the action causing a metallic clack as their hoof armor tapped against their chest armor. Gale nodded and waved off the salute, and both guards quickly relaxed their stance.

“Nothing,” the stallion said, sounding a bit disappointed as he shook his head.

“Sort of hard to see anything above the trees in the dark,” the mare said, jerking her head back in the direction behind her.

“Yeah,” Gale said with a sigh, turning aside to glance back into the cave. “I’m getting the feeling we’re not going to find much else out there.”

Gale’s ears flicked to the side when she heard an unmistakable buzzing sound. For a number of years now, the various guard forces of Canterlot and Sanctuary had worked fairly close with one another, and anypony that spent enough time around changelings would be able to easily identify the droning hum of one mid-flight. She spun about, quickly shifting to a low defensive stance and raising her wings slightly as she reached her right hoof back to where her collapsed spear rested on the side of her armor. The other two guards had immediately fell in beside her, taking a similar stance as they traced their eyes through the nearby night sky to find the intruder that had likely followed them.

The buzzing came to a sudden stop when a shadow suddenly fell from the sky and landed with a thud and skidded across the ground in front of them. They all three flinched at the sudden unexpected landing that the changeling made, and seemed a bit unsure of what to do as they stood there frozen in place staring at it laying before them in a heap on the ground. After a few tense seconds of silence, the changeling began to shift, attempting to push itself up from the ground and grasping at a weapon lying next to it that it had dropped during the rough landing.

The two guards with Gale immediately unsheathed their spears, causing a sharp, metallic sound to ring through the air as the spears snapped to full length. Gale’s hoof flinched as she almost instinctively made for her weapon as well, but something stopped her. The weapon that the changeling was struggling to picking up was a collapsible pike, near identical in design to their Nightguard spears.

“Whoa! Hold up,” Gale said, quickly fanning her wings out before the two guards at her sides could make a move of their own. She furrowed her brow as she took a better look at the changeling struggling to sit up on the ground before them. It appeared like most drones, with the solid blue eyes and dark gray and black carapace, and it definitely seemed to be hurting in some way. But the reason why Gale had ordered her fellow guards to wait was the pike that the changeling was clinging to and using to brace itself against the ground. It was a Sentinel design, a weapon based off of the spears used by the Canterlot guard forces. And now that she had taken a moment to get a better look, she noticed the changeling was also wearing a satchel that was commonly part of the Sentinel’s standard issued equipment. Still, if the changeling was a Sentinel, it was otherwise out of uniform, lacking the distinct caprice plate armor their soldiers commonly wore.

“State your name and rank,” Gale said very clearly to the changeling sitting before them.

The changeling suddenly jerked its head up, seeming a bit surprised as if it hadn’t even noticed the three Nightguard standing not twenty paces away. It stared back at Gale for a few seconds, its ears snapped forward and its dull-blue eyes opened wide, but that look was very quickly gone when the changeling flinched and grabbed at its side with a foreleg. Its face contorted and its head slumped to hang back toward the ground as it gave out a painful sounding growl. Still, it managed to respond, its voice having a feminine tone as it said strained to say, “M-mystery. Cadet... S-sanctuary Sentinel.”

Gale recalled the name from when she had been briefed on the planned mission to recover the Elements. “The queen’s bodyguard,” she said, prompting her guards to put their weapons away. She wasn’t sure why Mystery was still out in the woods, but it was obvious that the cadet was in need of help.

As Gale and her guards trotted up to Mystery, she struggled to force herself up to stand upright and then promptly lost her balance, stumbling to the side. She likely would have taken a short trip back to the the ground had Gale not quickly stepped in and braced her. “Whoa, easy there,” Gale said, standing next to Mystery and holding her steady with one wing laying over her back.

Mystery stood there for a moment, panting so heavily that it seemed standing upright was one of the hardest things she had ever done. Her face contorted again as she lifted a forehoof and began to lean forward in an attempt to start making her way to the cave, but Gale lightly pressed a hoof against Mystery’s chest to hold her back, earning her a harsh look.

“You don’t look like you’re feeling to great,” Gale said, lowering her head down beside Mystery’s. Mystery stared back at her out of the corner of her eye for a few seconds longer before she suddenly made another attempt to pull away, this time managing to slip out of Gale’s grasp and stumble quite a few steps forward on her own. “Whoa! Hold on a second!” Gale said as she quickly caught up and grabbed Mystery to hold her back.

“Aauugh!” Mystery cried out as soon as Gale grabbed her about her barrel. Her legs immediately folded underneath her as she lost all strength to stand.

Gale managed to quickly sweep a wing around Mystery’s back to keep her from taking a hard fall onto her side, but she had pulled her forelegs away as soon as Mystery had screamed at being touched. She turned one of her forelegs over, and saw the dark greenish smear coating the side of her leg armor.

“Medic!” Gale screamed back toward the cave. She looked to the other two guards with her and said, “Help me get her laid down here. Careful of her wounds.” Together, they worked to lay Mystery down on her side, despite her being uncooperative. She grunted and squirmed against their efforts to keep her still until exhaustion got the best of her and she finally chose to lie still.

Another guard swiftly galloped up from inside the cave, and he quickly went to work as he slung his first aid supply satchel off his back to the ground and knelt down beside Mystery to take a look at the wound on her side just underneath her wing. However, he flinched back a step when Mystery started to squirm against the guards holding her down again.

“Hey! Listen to me,” Gale barked, crouching down on the ground just in front of Mystery’s face. She held one forehoof firmly against the side of Mystery’s head, holding her still against the ground to get her undivided attention. “They’re already back in Canterlot.”

The tension in Mystery’s body slowly melted away as she stared back into Gale’s eyes. She swallowed heavily between her gasps for air before asking, “They’re safe?” her voice sounding hoarse and tired.

“Last I saw. Now you need to hold still,” Gale said as she gently patted her forehoof on the side of Mystery’s neck. Gale raised her head to look across Mystery to the medic that was going through the supplies in his satchel, watching as he ripped off a length of gauze with his teeth and then opened a bottle of disinfectant to treat it. “How’s it look?” she asked him.

“Pretty damn good spell burn,” the medic said through the gauze clenched in his teeth as he squinted his eyes at the wound to look it over once more. He laid the length of gauze over his foreleg and glanced up to Gale, giving a confident grin and said, “Ain’t serious though, but I bet it sure hurts a heck-of-a-lot. I’ll get it cleaned up and give her something for the pain.”

“You hear that? You’re going to be fine,” Gale said, turning her neck to glance back down to Mystery, giving her a smile and a reassuring pat on her shoulder.

“Captain?” Gale sat up and turned herself toward the voice as another one of her guards trotted up to her. “All the drones are secured. We’re ready to move them out when you are.”

“W-what drones?” Mystery asked.

Gale glanced back down to Mystery, perking an eyebrow at the strange question. Perhaps she didn’t know? She had been away from the rest of the group for some reason. Gale looked back to the guard and said, “Tell her,” as she nodded her head at Mystery.

“The thirteen that we found in the cave,” the guard said gesturing with a hoof back behind himself. “They were all just laying there when we got here with this... blank look,” he said, gesturing a hoof in front of his face.

“Thirteen...,” Mystery mumbled quietly. She shook her head and said, “Should be fourteen. And they shouldn’t be drones.”

The guard exchanged a confused glance with Gale before asking, “What do you mean?”

“I was there—” Mystery voice was cut short as she grimaced at a twinge of pain in her side. She jerked her head up, glancing down her side long enough to give a displeased frown to the medic that was applying the gauze to her wound, though he seemed to pay her no mind as he continued his work. She let out a quiet growl as she laid her head back down then said, “I linked with them. There were fourteen, all casters.”

The guard exchanged another, even more confused look with Gale, slowly shaking his head. The story definitely didn’t line up, but the Sentinels weren’t exactly known to be liars either. Gale leaned back down and asked, “Mystery, can you tell me what happened out here?”

Mystery let out a tired sounding sigh and nodded. “I tried to lead them off, linked with them so they would see me. I remember fourteen chasing me, and they were group casting.” She shook her head slightly as she said, “Drones can’t do that.” And it was true, natural born changelings, which most other races simply knew as ‘drones’, were not known to be offensive spell casters, but the changelings they had found lying in the cave were definitely drones. Gale furrowed her brow as she tried to make sense of the conflicting story. Could there have been another group?

Mystery let out a frustrated growl and said, “Go check the woods near here if you don’t believe me—” Her voice cut and she flinched again when another twinge of pain shot up her side. She glared down her side once again, just catching sight of the syringe that the medic was putting away, and let her head flop back down as she let out another heavy, tired sounding breath.

“Easy,” Gale said. She patted Mystery’s should again. “I’m not saying I don’t believe you.”

“Don’t look like you do,” she mumbled back.

Gale closed her eyes and thought for a few seconds. If there really was a group of hostile casters roaming the Everfree woods, leaving them to do as they pleased would be irresponsible. “I believe you,” Gale said. She turned to the two scouts and drew a hoof in a small circle in the air as she said, “One more patrol, look for signs of spell fire.”

“Yes, Captain,” both scouts said simultaneously before they turned and kicked off to take flight.

“So,” Gale started as she watched the scouts fly up to and beyond the cliffside. She then laid back down next to Mystery, crossing her forelegs before her. “There was fourteen?” she asked.

“Yeah...,” Mystery said quietly, slowly blinking her eyes. “One of them was moving around all weird... like... teleporting but, I didn’t sense any teleport spells.” She laid there quietly for a moment, long enough that it seemed she was ready to doze off the way her eyes were slowly going more and more lidded with each blink. However, she spoke up again, saying, “Thought I had it, took a swipe at it with my pike but... it’s like it went right through her like she wasn’t really there.” Her brow twitched slightly. “I know what I saw,” she said in a half-whisper.

“Alright, I think that’s enough of a debrief for now,” Gale said, reaching out and patting one of Mystery’s forelegs before she stood. “You’re probably starting to feel those meds kick in. Just take it easy, you’ve earned it.” Mystery managed a slight nod in response before closing her eyes.

Gale trotted back toward the cave to check on the prep work for moving the prisoners. Since the unresponsive changelings couldn’t fly on their own, they would have to pair off to carry the changelings back to Canterlot, each pair of pegasi working together to carry a stretcher between them, plus another pair to carry a wounded Sentinel. It was going to be a long, slow flight back.

The guard that had given Gale the progress update quickly caught up to her as they stepped into the cave. He cast a quick glance back over his shoulder before leaning in a bit closer and asking, “Captain, do you really believe all stuff about a group of casters?”

Gale came to a stop after a few more steps. She drew in a long breath and let it out with a hum as she thought about the question. Mystery’s story didn’t seem to line up with what they had found, however.... “She didn’t get that burn from nothing,” she commented before continuing on her way.

---

It had been quite a few hours since Twilight had settled in for the day at the Canterlot Archives. Celestia had also joined her not too long after morning had arrived, and together they had focused their efforts on the search for answers.

The table that Twilight was sitting at was cluttered with paper and books. She had opted to set aside her regalia, leaving the crown and peytral that held the Elements she had brought resting upon a nearby bust. The other set of Elements that had been gathered by Chrysalis and the rest of their friends had also been brought to the archives for safekeeping, and now rested within a wooden case lined with red velvet nearby. Twilight hadn’t even had time yet to ponder on a reason for why they may need both sets, as her entire focus was dedicated to solving what she felt was a much more pressing matter.

She squinted her eyes as she scowled at the open book before her. She had hoped that this one would finally have what she was looking for, but as with the half dozen other books she had studied before it, it only held theories and a few scant references that mentioned similar studies on the inner workings of the mind. This one held theories on memory manipulation that one could only hope were never actually put to the test. She noticed the citation of another work at the bottom of the page and, with a slight eye roll, reached her magic out beside her to make another note. She let out a quiet sigh at the thought of trying to track down yet another obscure and ancient text that may or may not have survived the centuries and made its way to the archives. Normally, losing herself among her research was something she enjoyed, but not when the answer she was desperately seeking stubbornly refused to reveal itself.

As her eyes continued to scan the page, her magic flowed to her right, hunting for the quill resting in the inkwell sitting beside a stack of notes she had been making. When her first attempt at grasping the quill found nothing but air, she furrowed her brow slightly and reached out further, blindly feeling about in the space next to her while she remained otherwise focused on reading a passage from the open page before her. Her magic did find the quill only a few second later as it brushed back over it, however, she had misjudged the force that she put behind her spell. A quiet plink echoed through the archives as the inkwell tipped over on its side.

Twilight drew in a panicked gasp between her clenched teeth as her entire body flinched forward. Her magic grasped and quickly righting the capsized inkwell, but the damage had already been done. Her stack of notes were now soaked through with a large splotch of black ink. “Aaaaahh...,” Twilight moaned tiredly. Her head fell down to the table in disappointment, her forehead connecting with the table’s edge with a quiet thunk. She shook her head, rocking it back and forth against the edge of the table before eyeing the stack of ruined notes out of the corner of her eye. She let out one last frustrated groan and then grasped the notes in her magic, crumpling them. “Not like it mattered anyway. These notes were practically worthless,” she grumbled as she crushed the ink soaked paper and then set the resulting wad back down on the table. She could reproduce the notes from memory, had she wanted to do so, but the time would likely be better spent pursuing new avenues of research.

She looked up, finding Celestia silently looking back with a worried look from where she sat across the table. Twilight slowly blinked her eyes a few times before resting her elbows upon the table and running her forehooves up over her mane and down to the back of her neck, suddenly noticing just how stiff her neck and shoulders felt. She hung her head tiredly over the table and stifled a small yawn just before saying, “I feel like we’re chasing after answers that don’t exist.”

Celestia carefully laid a bookmark within the pages of the open tome before her before her magic slowly and carefully closed it and set it aside. “I believe it’s time for another break.”

“Didn’t we just take one?” Twilight asked, furrowing her brow as she glanced across the table.

“Quite a few hours ago,” Celestia said, her voice slightly strained as she tilted her head from side to side to work the stiff muscles.

“Are you staying up well past your bedtime?” Twilight’s ears flicked back when she heard Luna’s voice within the room behind her. She sat up and turned about in her chair to find Luna approaching their table, though she hadn’t noticed anyone entering the room. She wondered for a moment just how long Luna had been in the archives with them.

“Aren’t you?” Twilight asked, perking an eyebrow in confusion. Luna usually rested during the daytime hours since her duties often required her to be active at night, with a few exceptions. She had assumed the same would hold true for the Princess of the Night in both timelines, but perhaps that wasn’t true.

Luna stepped up next to the table, mirroring the look Twilight had given her. “It’s evening, I just awoke not long ago.”

Twilight furrowed her brow, then glanced up to the glass dome overhead. Sure enough, she found a darkening sky and the first hints of a clear, starry night showing itself. “Oh,” she quietly said, suddenly realizing why her body felt so heavy. Obviously, it had been quite a few more hours since she had arrived at the archives than she had realized.

“Tell me you’ve at least taken a nap since we last spoke,” Luna said, giving Twilight an expectant look.

Twilight’s ears laid back and a sheepish grin slowly crept onto her muzzle. The last time she had slept had been the night before she left her own timeline. The number of hours that had passed for her since then was likely well over a day and half’s worth.

Luna shook her head and made a quiet tisk-tisk sound through her teeth. “Am I going to have to send you off to bed again like the last time?”

“No. No, you’re right,” Twilight said, shaking her head as she waved Luna off. Twilight slid out of her chair, taking a few careful steps as her joints complained to her about being moved after sitting still for so many hours. “As tired as I am, I’d probably just overlook the answer even if I did happened to find it,” she said though a sigh as she glanced back at the desk.

“I insist that you make use of my bed chambers. The warding spells should ensure that you get a peaceful night’s rest.” Luna spotted the wad of ink soaked paper sitting on the table and, with a mildly confused look, picked it up in her magic and turned it about. She carefully set the crumpled notes back on the table as she took a seat at chair Twilight had vacated. “You can trust us to continue the search in the meantime,” she said as she looked to Twilight, wearing a confident smile.

Twilight smiled back to Luna, then looked to Celestia, who seemed to already know what was about to be asked. “I’m going to stay up with Luna a while longer. You go on head, Twilight.”

“Alright. Thank you, both of you,” Twilight said. She stifled another yawn as she turned away to make her way to the archive door. “Good night,” she called back over her shoulder as she opened one of the tall double doors with her magic and walked out of the room.

“Pleasant dreams,” Luna called back just before the door closed. She then turned her gaze back to Celestia, giving her a disappointed look. “Shame on you, Tia, allowing poor Twilight to work herself so hard.”

Celestia drew in a long deep breath before letting it all out in a sigh. “Honestly, you seem to have a way with her that I don’t. It was all I could do to convince her that it was a good idea to take time to eat something now and then.” She quickly lifted a hoof to cover her mouth when a small yawn took her by surprise. She blinked her watery eyes a few times before saying, “It’s been quite an exhausting day.”

“I take it there hasn’t been much progress,” Luna said as she skimmed over the open book that Twilight had left on the table. She raised her eyebrows and glanced across the table to her sister when an answer didn’t immediately come forth, and the only answer she got was Celestia silently shaking her head. She had hoped for some good news, but apparently good news was still in short supply.

“Nor has there been with the prisoners,” Luna said with a heavy sigh. “I checked on them again this evening. Thirteen drones, each of them still no more than a blank slate.” She leaned back in her chair, glancing upward at the evening sky beyond the glass dome overhead. “Quite the contradiction to young Mystery’s story of there being a large group of casters. However, my Nightguard did find evidence of a spell fight in the nearby woods. Something had enough power to reduce an entire tree to splinters, but that isn’t the discrepancy that truly bothers me the most.” Luna leveled her gaze to look directly at her sister from across the table. Her voice dropped in tone and her eyes narrowed as she said, “I don’t like that one is missing, at all.”

Celestia sat back in her own chair as well, crossing her forelegs over her chest and remaining quiet as she thought for a moment. “Do you think she could have been mistaken?” she asked.

“While that could be possible I do not count it to be likely,” Luna said, giving her shoulders a slight shrug. “She’s been quite adamant about there being exactly fourteen. And what reason would she have to lie?”

“I don’t believe she would, willingly.” When Celestia spotted the hard look that Luna gave her, she explained further. “She did link with them.”

Luna gave out a thoughtful hum as she nodded and lifted a single hoof to tap it against her muzzle. She still wasn’t entirely familiar with the various ways changeling magic could work. “Regardless, I feel that I placed too much hope upon us easily finding answers if we managed to capture them.” Luna drew in a breath and released it with a heavy sigh as she leaned over the table, resting her elbows upon the table and propping her chin up on her forehooves. “Oh, how I despise waiting for answers,” she grumbled as she eyed the open book on the table.

“Most answers worth finding are not easily found,” Celestia said with a small smile.

“True,” Luna said, glancing up and smiling back. She tapped one of her hooves on the open page as she said, “We also have another mystery yet to be solved.” She finished reading a few more lines before looking back up across the table to say, “I did see her just briefly before making my way here.”

“How is she doing?”

“Confused. Wouldn’t we all be?” Luna said with another light shoulder shrug. She leaned further into the one hoof that was propped up under her chin while she traced the other hoof in a small circle on the open page, quietly thinking about the short visit she had paid to the infirmary. “She tries to hide her worries, but I could tell. I can’t imagine what it must be like. I’m told she was actually questioning who she really was today, or if she was even real, the poor thing.”

Celestia shook her head, a sad look overtaking her as her ears drooped and a frown tugged at the corners of her mouth. “I’m afraid Twilight is taking all the responsibility upon her shoulders for what has happened.”

“Her spell didn’t cause this,” Luna said simply, pointing her hoof across the table. She rested her hoof back on the open book before she continued. “Triggered it, perhaps, but this was going to happen regardless. I’m sure you’ve noticed it as well; the changes in Chrysalis’s behavior as of late?”

Celestia answered with a small nod.

Luna glanced back down at the book, though she might as well been looking at nothing at all. She was busy diving deep within her own thoughts. She could not recall a single instance of two minds being merged, either intentional or accidental. Had she been asked only a day earlier if she thought it to be possible, she would have firmly believed it to not be. “I just don’t see any possibility of separating the two as of yet. We may just as well attempt to perfectly retrieve a bucket of water back from a pond after pouring it in, twould be simpler.” Luna stared absently at the open book for her for a moment longer before her eyes glanced up across the table to her sister. Celestia had always been very good at masking her emotions, but Luna easily picked up on the small tells in her sister’s facial expression, noticing the taunt muscles along her jawline and the way her ears were ever so slightly pulled back. Celestia hadn’t liked what she had heard.

“Do not misunderstand me,” Luna quickly said, pointing her hoof once again. She rested her forehooves together upon the table, leaning forward and looking straight on at her sister as she said, ”I intend to do everything within my power to find a way to help both of them, same as you and Twilight. However, we should stay mindful of alternative options, should they become necessary.” She leaned back from the table, her glance falling away to the side as she softly spoke. “I hate to even think it, but as sad as it would be to lose either one of them, it would be absolutely disastrous to Equestria should we lose them both.” Luna closed her eyes, slowly shaking her head as she said, “We simply can not let that come to pass.”

Celestia let out a quiet sigh, barely nodding her head as she reluctantly said, “Agreed.”

You are You

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter VIII – You are You

Twilight laid silently asleep in Luna’s bed, the gentle motion of her breathing in and out being the only noticeable movement coming from her otherwise still form beneath the covers. The room was cast in dark shadows highlighted by moonlight filtering in through the curtains that covered the windows and glass balcony doors along the room’s west wall.

She suddenly stirred from her sleep, her ears quickly flick-flicking as she rapidly blinked her eyes and raised her head. She wasn’t exactly sure what it was that had just awoken her as she peered about the quiet and empty room. Her ears shifted to a sound behind her, and she rolled over to look toward the balcony. Strangely enough, she noticed the curtains moving and felt the slight chill of a gentle night breeze. She was sure that the doors leading out onto the balcony had been closed when she had checked them before turning in for the night.

She slipped out from under the covers, tucking her wings close to her sides to hold in some of the warmth she was leaving behind. She squinted her eyes at the curtains and tilted her head, wondering if Luna had visited the balcony at some point during the night to check up on her and had accidently left the doors unlatched when she had left.

It appeared the hour was still well before sunrise judging by the dark shadows covering the room, and Twilight was sure she could still use a few more hours rest. She let out a wide-mouthed yawn then slowly plodded over toward the billowing curtains, intent on latching the glass doors so she could then retreat to the warmth of the covers and return to her dreams. A fleeting thought passed through her mind just then; she wondered what she had been dreaming about. She couldn’t recall.

Just as her hoof was about to brush the curtains aside she stopped. Her ears twitched as she picked up on what she thought was a buzz of conversations. If she hadn’t known better, she would have assumed that a crowd of ponies was gathered together just outside on Luna’s balcony, but it was far too small a space for something like that. Twilight tilted her head and scrunched her muzzle in confusion as she timidly reached out for the curtain.

The curtains pulled back as if they had been yanked out of the way just before Twilight’s hoof touched allowing a bright light to flood in, temporarily blinding Twilight to the point that she shielded her face with a wing. The hum of conversations around her was much louder now, and she could make out the sounds of many hoofsteps click-clacking against the ground all about her. She rapidly blinked her eyes, trying to adjust to the bright light as she slowly lowered her wing. For a moment afterward, all she could do was stare in silent shock.

The sun shone brightly in the sky overhead, and all about her were ponies going about their daily business, some conversing with each other, others heading to wherever it was they needed to be. A few of them cast curious glances her way before averting their eyes and scurrying along their way. Twilight glanced to her left and right, finding a row of solid crystal houses and buildings to each side of her lining the crystal street that she was now standing on. At first, she was certain that she was now somehow standing on a street in the middle of the Crystal Empire, but then her eyes followed the street as it stretched onward ahead of her to the center of the city where she found a partially constructed castle that she did not recognize. It sat right where the city’s crystal spire palace should have been.

She noticed a presence next to her and looked to her side to find a familiar face. Moondancer was there, but instead of being clad in a full suit of guard’s armor she was wearing a simple, off-white turtleneck sweater and a pair of black-framed glasses. She glanced up and, upon noticing that Twilight was looking to her, gave a friendly smile back before saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll find her. She couldn’t have gone too far.”

Find who? None of this was making any sense, but yet everyone else appeared to be acting as if what had just happened was perfectly normal. Twilight was sure only a moment ago that she had been soundly sleeping in Luna’s bedroom. Did she just day dream that?

“... A dream,” Twilight said so quietly that only she could hear it. Her eyes began to wander as she tried to pick out some telltale detail that could be used to discern if her surroundings were actually real, but if what she was currently witnessing was a dream of some sort, it appeared to be incredibly realistic. Usually, there would be missing details, something unimportant to the dream itself but completely unrealistic if focused upon, such as some unimportant somepony lacking any facial features, or perhaps a book or sign with unreadable words. But everywhere Twilight’s eyes wandered, she saw nothing strange or out of place. Even her ears couldn’t find anything wrong as she shifted them about to try and pick out an odd or misplaced sound.

The sound of someone screaming from somewhere down the street caught Twilight’s attention. She squinted her eyes as she tried to make out who it was, and after a moment she realized that the screaming was actually someone calling out her name. A unicorn, dark gray with a long, sea green mane. Chrysalis?

Twilight stumbled back a step when the smaller unicorn nearly tackled her, wrapping her forelegs around Twilight’s chest and burying her muzzle against it. She found herself wondering what could have possibly caused Chrysalis to become so distraught. She gently draped a foreleg over the unicorn’s withers and asked, “What happened?”

She looked up, the tears rimming her eyes glistening in the sunlight. Violet eyes full of sadness and horror. She’s... not Chrysalis.

“It’s my fault,” the unicorn choked out in a small, weak voice. “I didn’t remember in time.”

---

Twilight’s eyes shot wide open, and she quickly sat up. She glanced around, finding herself back where she had started in the bedroom. The sudden change was so jarring that she could only sit there in silence for a moment while her addled mind tried to work out what had just happened.

It appeared that morning was now approaching as the day’s first rays of sunlight filter in through the drawn curtains. It was odd, as she remembered leaving Luna’s bed only moments ago, and it had definitely been some time in the middle of the night then. She wondered if perhaps that had been part of a dream, but it had all seemed far too real. The chill of the cool night air when she had left the bed and the hum of conversations around her as she had stood on the street in the Crystal Empire, if not for the impossible transition she may have never considered that it was all a dream.

Actually, the castle had also stuck out as an oddity. Why would she dream about something else being built in place of the spire palace in the Crystal Empire?

“...Of course,” Twilight quietly said to herself as her awakening mind soon came upon the answer. In this alternate history, the spire palace had been all but demolished years ago.

Pushing the bed covers aside, she slid off the mattress and quickly trotted to the bedroom’s doorway. There was someone else that she needed to see right away.

---

The halls of the palace infirmary were silent, though only moments earlier the usual serenity had been shattered by frantic cries for help from down the hall. Lacewing had only just barely settled in for the morning shift when she found herself rushing toward a patient room to find out what was the matter. What she had found was a sight that she still couldn’t shake from her mind, that of Queen Chrysalis babbling madly about some forgotten dream and demanding to speak to one of the princesses right away.

She hung her head low and let out a quiet sigh as she passed by the waiting room on her way to check on the few patients in another wing of the infirmary. The receptionist at the desk noticed her, and she quickly leaned over the desk and asked, “Is she alright, Lacey?” in a hushed voice.

Lacewing paused mid-stride, turning toward the desk while sadly shaking her head. “I got her to calm down for now, but only by promising her I’d go find—”

Lacewing was startled by the sound of the infirmary door opening behind her. She quickly glanced over her shoulder to see who it was, and her eyes widened in shock when she saw her. “Princess Twilight.”

Twilight smiled, offering a quick, “Good morning,” as a greeting as she stepped into the waiting room. “Sorry, I know it’s a bit earlier than normal for visiting hours, but I was hoping I might get a chance to talk with... with her.” Twilight’s thoughts stuttered a step when she realized that she wasn’t exactly sure what the correct name would be. Twilight Chrysalis? Chrysalis Sparkle? She still sounded like and looked almost exactly like the Queen Chrysalis from this past, with the only noticeable physical difference being her eye color. Perhaps calling her by some combination of both names would be appropriate, if not a bit confusing. Twilight let out a quiet hum in contemplation as she mulled over the possible names.

Lacewing quickly shook her head, snapping herself out of the brief state of shock. “She was just asking for you, minutes ago.”

“Oh?” Twilight asked, tilting her head. “I suppose it’s a good thing I stopped by then.”

“Please, go right in,” Lacewing said, gesturing down the hall.

Twilight gave a quick, polite nod as she trotted by and entered the hall. She stopped just outside the doorway to the patient room to peek inside, and there she found her, Twilight Chrysalis, sitting upright on her bed, her head turned away toward the window on the far wall. She was holding one of her forelegs against her chest and steadily petting it with the other while she vacantly stared out the window. As Princess Twilight took a few steps into the room, Twilight Chrysalis’s gaze quickly snapped to her.

“Oh, thank goodness! You’re here,” she said, her words rushing out at an almost frantic pace. “Um, it’s already starting to get a bit... hard to recall,” she said as she tapped a hoof to the side of her head. “This will probably sound strange, but... I’m certain I just saw you in a dream.”

Princess Twilight approached and sat near the side of the bed. “Doesn’t sound strange at all. That’s the reason why I’m here. I think we just shared the same dream.”

“You mean... it was a vision?” Twilight Chrysalis asked as her eyes grew wide. “Chrys told me about them.” Her ears laid back as she said, “I didn’t know they would feel like a nightmare.”

Princess Twilight reached forward, gently cupping Twilight Chrysalis’s hooves in her own. “Are you alright?”

She silently nodded in response, despite the troubled look in her eyes.

“In the dream, you came rushing to me. You were upset about something.”

“Hrm... yeah. I’m trying to remember what exactly.” Twilight Chrysalis scrunched her muzzle as she rubbed a hoof against the side of her head. “I remember for sure that it was something that... felt really horrible. I just... I can’t remember what it was now.”

“Easy. You don’t want to over do it again,” Princess Twilight said in a cautioning tone.

“I know, I can’t force it,” Twilight Chrysalis said though a heavy sigh. She stared dejectedly down at her hooves where they laid in her lap, her jaw working back and forth as she ground her teeth together in frustration. “Ugh, this is so frustrating. It’s right there! I can feel it.” She continued to stare down blankly at her hooves for a few seconds longer before she turned her troubled gaze up toward Princess Twilight. “What if I really can’t remember in time? Something horrible is going to happen if I don’t figure this out!”

“Figure what out?”

The sound of Graphite’s voice drew both of the mares’ attention to the doorway. They both were a bit shocked to see him there as early in the morning as it was. The uneasy silence lingered in the room for a moment before Princess Twilight finally spoke up, lightly clearing her throat and putting on a smile as she said, “Good morning, Graphite. You’re here early.”

“Yes, and so are you,” he responded, cocking an eyebrow at her. He then glanced to Twilight Chrysalis as he stepped into the room. “Lacewing contacted me. She told me you were upset about something this morning, so I got here as soon as I could.” He stopped a few steps away from the bedside and glanced to and from each of them in turn a few times over as he waited expectantly for some sort of response. “So, are you two going to tell me what this is about?” he asked, furrowing his brow deeply at their reluctance to speak up.

Princess Twilight looked to Twilight Chrysalis, and the silent question of who should explain was answered when she received a quick nod. “Well,” Princess Twilight began as she gathered her thoughts. “We just experienced a shared vision. I’m fairly certain it means something is going to happen at the Crystal Empire.”

“Another one?” Graphite asked sounding a bit surprised. He had already been told of their first shared vision of the world disintegrating around them, and he knew that rarely throughout history, a select few had received such visions that seemed to predict possible future events, his queen being one of the few. It seemed odd that another vision would occur so soon when they hadn’t even managed to completely decipher the meaning of the first. “Why the Empire?” he pondered.

Princess Twilight barely shook her head. “Not sure. We’re not even exactly sure of what might happen there.”

Twilight Chrysalis let out a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, I wish I could remember it, but it’s just been so hard to hold onto these memories. They keep coming and going,” she said with a slight growl in her voice as she gestured a hoof side to side.

“Hey, it’s alright. We’ll figure it out.” Princess Twilight placed a hoof upon Twilight Chrysalis’s shoulder and gave her a reassuring smile. The last thing she wanted was to imply that any of this was somehow her fault.

“Speaking of figuring things out,” Graphite said as he looked to Princess Twilight. “What have you figured out about... this situation,” he asked as his eyes very briefly flickered to his queen.

“Nothing definite yet,” she said with a quick shake of her head. “Though I haven’t checked with Luna yet this morning. She was going to continue the research last night.” When she noticed the disappointed frown on his muzzle, she added, “It’s not going to be easy to find an answer, but I’m not planning on giving up. However, we do have another potential lead now. This vision placed both of us in the Crystal Empire. I don’t know exactly when or even what for, but I’m fairly sure that little Twilight here was still the one in control.”

Graphite’s frown quickly morphed into a scowl. “Are you suggesting that we take her there when she’s still like this?” he asked, gesturing a hoof toward the bed.

Princess Twilight’s expression hardened a bit. “Graphite, this isn’t an illness.”

“What about what happened when she first woke up? She hurt herself just by thinking.”

“And it hasn’t happened again, has it?” Princess Twilight asked, quickly glancing to Twilight Chrysalis who only silently shook her head in reply. Princess Twilight looked back to Graphite and continued as she said, “There is something guiding us. If we ignore it... what if this is our only chance to find the answers we’re looking for?”

After a quiet moment of contemplation, Graphite stood and began to pace back and forth in the room. “I can’t believe I’m actually considering this,” he grumbled. He then turned his attention to Twilight Chrysalis, stopping at her bedside as he asked her, “Do you even feel well enough to travel?”

She held her forehooves against her chest a bit tighter, and her gaze drifted away as she quietly said, “Honestly, it’s been pretty boring just sitting here waiting for something to happen.” She then took a deep breath, steeling herself as she looked back directly into Graphite’s eyes. “If there is anything I can do to help bring Chrys back, then I want to do it.”

Graphite was surprised, as he hadn’t seen that level of confidence in her eyes over the last couple days. She had seemed more like a lost and frightened foal ever since she had awoken with a different mind controlling her body. “Right,” he said with a heavy sigh. He turned and looked to Princess Twilight and asked, “When would we be leaving then?”

“Y-you can’t go,” Twilight Chrysalis quickly said, which drew a confused glare from him. Though she shrunk back from the look a bit, she still maintained her position as she said, “Graphite, you have to stay in Sanctuary.”

Graphite narrowed his eyes and took a step closer. He pointed a hoof at her as he said, “Don’t assume that just because you look like my queen that you can tell me what I will do. I’m not letting you out of my sight until this has been resolved.”

“But you’re needed here—”

“I’m not having this argument with you,” Graphite quickly said, dismissively cutting her off as he began to turn his attention back to Princess Twilight.

“You’re staying here!” Her eyes flashed with a bright green glow for but an instance, matching the fury behind them. Graphite stumbled back a couple steps, taken off guard by her sudden outburst. The room fell into an uneasy silence for a moment afterward as she glared angrily at him.

Eventually, the anger in her eyes subsided as she closed them as she folded her forelegs across her chest. “I can feel it. Chrys wants you to stay here. There are other rogue changelings out there and they’ve already made a move against us.”

Graphite cautiously moved a step closer. “That’s why I want to be by your side,” he quietly said.

She shook her head and locked a serious gaze upon him. “If you’re not here, a rogue could make their way into Sanctuary.”

Graphite opened his mouth as if to say something in protest, but it simply hung uselessly open as he failed to think of anything.

She continued, her voice taking on a more authoritative tone. “Without your protection, a rogue could start a takeover. Maybe not a complete one, but if they even forced just a few of our changelings to cause trouble here in Sanctuary or Canterlot, it would be a disaster.” Her gaze drifted as she fell silent for a moment, and then quietly said, “The ponies would never trust changelings again.”

“... You’re right.” It seemed that her logic had soundly silenced any further protests. He slowly turned away and made his way to the room’s door to leave.

Princess Twilight watched him as he was leaving without a word. “Graphite?” she called out to him just as he stepped into the hall.

“I’m going to go find Doctor Heart,” he said in reply. He turned his head to look back to his queen long enough to say, “We’ll have to convince him that you’re well enough to be released if you two are going to be making a trip to the Empire.” And then he headed off down the hall.

---

It took nearly an hour of discussions before Doctor Heart hesitantly agreed to allow for Twilight Chrysalis’s release. His reluctance wasn’t unfounded, as there had never been a documented case even remotely like hers to their knowledge. Everything was an unknown, including just how serious a merging of two consciousnesses actually was, but the possibility of finding a cure at the Crystal Empire had tipped the argument in Princess Twilight’s favor. After agreeing to certain conditions, one of which was to commit Twilight Chrysalis to Princess Twilight’s care for the full duration of the trip, the two finally set off from the infirmary.

“Thanks,” Twilight Chrysalis said. She glanced up to the taller princess walking beside her with a sheepish smile and said, “I’m sorry you have to be my foal-sitter now.”

“It’s not like that. They’re just concerned and want to make sure someone is always with you in case something happens.” Princess Twilight smiled back warmly, tilting her head downward slightly. “And honestly, I think it’s a good idea. You’re absolutely sure that you’re feeling fairly normal today?”

“Other than almost constantly having moments where I feel like I’m forgetting something? Yeah, I feel fine.” Twilight Chrysalis glanced around herself at the tall stained glass windows lining the hall. “Still not used to this,” she mumbled quietly.

“You mean seeing the real world?”

The smaller unicorn nodded in response, her eyes squinting slightly as they walked through the sunlight filtering in through one of the windows.

“I can’t imagine what that must be like, not even knowing what the world looks like for so long.”

“Oh, I knew,” Twilight Chrysalis said, glancing back up to Princess Twilight with a small smile. “The library that was in that mindscape wasn’t just for looks you know. I learned a lot about the world just from viewing the memories that collected as ‘books’ there. Lots of memories from the changelings that linked with it over the years.” Her gaze drifted away down the hall again and she craned her neck back as her eyes followed one of the pillars that stretched upward to the ceiling overhead. “Still feels different seeing things for yourself. Makes it feel more... real.”

Princess Twilight had almost forgotten just how long her younger counterpart had spent separated from a physical form. Over three years worth of time had passed since she had last visited this alternate Equestria, and before that, the younger Twilight had been trapped along with this world’s Chrysalis for another thirteen. That would put this young ‘filly’ at an age somewhere in her mid-twenties.

However, she had never gotten the chance to properly grow up. From the age of ten until now, she had only existed within a mindscape with no real body, her form being just a reflection of how she remembered herself. Having only learned of the world through glimpses of memories from others, it was very likely that she had gaps in her knowledge of the world that most adults wouldn’t have. It was a wonder that she wasn’t completely terrified of the thought of traveling to some far off place in the North.

Or perhaps she was and was simply trying her best to hide it. When Princess Twilight stole a glance out of the corner of her eye at the young unicorn walking beside her, she noticed that Twilight Chrysalis was no longer taking in the sights around her and was instead staring blankly at the floor as they continued walking the length of the hall before them. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Twilight Chrysalis flinched at the question and quickly glanced up. Her ears laid back as she looked away and quietly said, “I shouldn’t be happy about being on the outside. Not like this.”

“This wasn’t something under your control.”

“Doesn’t make it any more fair to Chrys. She’s trapped in her own head because I’m here.” Twilight Chrysalis stopped and sat down in the middle of the hall as she let out a heavy sigh. After a moment of sitting in silence, she glanced up and asked, “You really haven’t found a way to bring her back yet?”

Princess Twilight sat down in front of her, lowering her head slightly so she could look Twilight Chrysalis directly in the eyes. “I plan on helping both of you.”

Twilight Chrysalis was silent for a moment, her mind no doubt working through the troubled thoughts that were plaguing her. She finally turned her head away and quietly said, “I don’t see how that could work. There is only one body and it belongs to her.” She furrowed her brow deeply and then shook her head. “I think the most important thing for you to do is to figure out how to bring Chrys back as soon as you can.” The tone of her voice easily gave away her inner thoughts. Her time was limited. She had already given up on any chance of remaining a part of the real world.

“Stop it.” The angry undertone in Princess Twilight’s voice must have come as a surprise. Twilight Chrysalis cowered away, laying down against the floor while giving a wide-eyed fearful look back at the alicorn. However, the look she found on the princess’s face wasn’t one of anger, but of concern. Princess Twilight laid down as she reached a hoof forward and gently placed it over one of Twilight Chrysalis’s hooves and said, “You’re just as important.”

Twilight Chrysalis quickly sat up, making an exaggerated gesture with one hoof to her side as she said, “She’s a queen! And she’s the bearer of Magic. The Elements don’t even work without her!” Her voice carried on an echo through the hall for a second afterward and was then followed by another moment of silence that was only broken by the small clack that her hoof made when she let it fall to the floor. “I’m neither of those things,” she said in a half-whisper. “Our world is in danger, and I’m... just in her way.” Her vision went blurry as the tears threatened to fall, and she quickly tried to blink them away as a small sniffle escaped from her and a shudder ran through her body.

She was startled once again when she noticed the violet wing wrapping around her and pulling her into a hug, but the tension in her body quickly melted away in the embrace. She closed her eyes as she laid the side of her face against the princess’s chest, and for a time, the two simply sat there in silence together. Princess Twilight then brought her other wing around and under the unicorn’s chin to draw her attention up to her. “From what I remember of this world’s Chrysalis, I seriously doubt she would ever think of you as being in her way. She tried very hard to find you after you disappeared. Why would you ever think she would want you gone now?” Her voice carried a soft and almost motherly undertone as she spoke, but her expression hardened slightly when she asked her next question. “Who are you?”

Twilight Chrysalis’s ears laid back as a confused look grew upon her face. “What?”

“I asked who you are.”

She struggled to find something to say, her mouth hanging uselessly open for a time before she closed it and let out a sigh.

“Come on, I know you have a name.”

“Well, of course I do,” she said with a slight growl behind her voice. “We have the same name.”

“Then say it. Who are you?”

“... I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

“Yes, you are. You are you. Now come on.” Princess Twilight stood, folding her wings back to her sides and starting on her way down the hall again in a single fluid motion.

Twilight Chrysalis lagged behind for a few seconds as her mind was trying to discern the question’s meaning. Perhaps the future princess had been trying to use herself as an example? She glanced up from focusing on her inner thoughts and took off at a trot down the hall to catch up. “I’m nothing like you, you know,” she pointed out as she caught up to walk beside the alicorn.

“Well, I am six centuries older than you,” Princess Twilight said as a counterpoint. “And what I mean by that, is that you still have a lot of potential. Don’t forget” — she glanced back over her shoulder — “you’re the one who helped Chrysalis activate Magic when she wasn’t able to on her own.”

While she had no memory of what came after she had lent her power to Chrysalis at the invasion of the Crystal Empire, she had been told that it was only then that the power of the Elements became strong enough to push the corruptive magic back. She had given very little thought to what good came of her choice and had instead spent nearly every waking moment fretting over what she may have done to Chrysalis.

She silently followed alongside Princess Twilight, preferring to focus mostly on her inner thoughts as she was lead to wherever their first destination was to be. One of her many concerns rose to the forefront of her mind, prompting her to glance down to her own foreleg for a second. She looked nothing like herself. She knew who she was, but she felt unsure of what she was supposed to be now. Her eyes drifted upward to the alicorn princess beside her, and she found herself wondering how she could ever live up being something that, at that moment, seemed so far out of reach. She knew who she was, yes, but there was no way she had earned the right to consider herself royalty, even if she did currently possess the body of one who was.

“You know,” she quietly said, drawing Princess Twilight’s attention to her, “it’s going to get confusing if we use the same name.”

Princess Twilight tilted her head side to side as if to weigh the thought in her own mind. “What do you suggest?” While she had some thoughts of her own on possible name combinations, she was more interested in what her younger self would prefer.

“Some of the other’s were calling me Chryssy yesterday.” She let a weak chuckle escape from herself, but then shook her head with a sigh. “I don’t think it’s right for me to use her name.”

“So, I suppose nicknaming you something like Chrysalis Sparkle is out?” Princess Twilight asked, showing a wry grin. While the recommendation had been meant as a light hearted jest, the grin quickly fell away from her muzzle when she saw that her younger self struggled to even crack a smile for a second. “You’re right, using her name with yours would be a bit awkward.” As would be attempting to explain why they had the same exact name to everyone they came in contact with. If they were going to be traveling with each other for the foreseeable future, some sort of nickname would be helpful.

Princess Twilight’s eyes lit up and she smiled brightly when the perfect idea came to mind. “How about this. You do still remember what our brother used to call us when we were younger, right?”

The mention of her brother caused old memories that she had long ago put away to stir within her mind. “Twily,” she said quietly as she recalled the foalhood nickname, prompting a rush of pleasant memories from years ago. She smiled up to the princess, this one a genuine, unburdened smile. “Yeah. I like that.”

A Leader's Burdens

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter IX – A Leader’s Burdens

The hallways on the way to the Canterlot Archives were still mostly empty, but the sight of Twilight and Twily walking side by side did draw a few curious looks from the few castle staff that were making their morning rounds. While seeing the queen of the Sanctuary changelings within the halls of the palace was an uncommon sight, it had to have been the first time that most of them had ever seen the alicorn that was with her. However, they all reacted in similar fashion, greeting them both with a smile and bowing their heads in respect before continuing on their way.

Twilight had noticed this same behavior the day before even when she had been alone. It was as if the castle staff were already familiar with who she was. She had expected others to be a bit more surprised at seeing an unfamiliar alicorn walking the halls, but perhaps the few months she had spent as Luna’s enchantress a few years earlier in this time had left a more lasting impression than she had originally thought.

Once they did arrive at the archives they found Luna there alone focused on the pages of an open tome resting on a bookstand that stood before her. She raised an eyebrow as she turned her head slightly and glanced out of the corner of her eye at them before putting on a smile.

“Good morning,” she said as she turned to face the two new arrivals. Her curious eyes quickly focused on Twily.

Twily seemed to shy away at the glance, falling a step behind at Twilight’s side. Noticing this, Twilight laid a wing across Twily’s shoulders and gave her an encouraging smile. “Luna, this is Twily,” she said as she looked at Luna with a warm smile. “The... me from this world. I know that you two sort of already met the other night but things were a bit crazy then. I doubt you two have gotten a chance to really talk to each other.”

Luna took a few steps forward as she lowered her head closer to Twily’s level. “I’ll be honest, I’m a bit surprised to see you up and about. I take it you’re feeling well then?”

“Mostly normal,” Twily said as she took a timid step forward. “I really don’t feel like there’s much wrong with me.” She forced a nervous grin as she ran one fetlock over the other foreleg, then the grin slipped from her muzzle when she added, “Well, other than being in a body that’s not really mine.”

“We’ve been looking for an answer to that since you woke up in Queen Chrysalis’s body,” Luna said as she gestured to the open book on the stand with a side nod of her head. “But more importantly, has there been any repeat of the event from a couple nights ago? Any sudden headaches or other pain?” Luna asked. She tilted her head slightly, waiting patiently for an answer to her question until Twily silently shook her head. “Good. That’s very promising.” Luna slowly raised her head as she watched Twily closely. The young unicorn was nervous, that much was plainly obvious to her, but she had noticed something else about her behavior. Every few seconds Twily’s eyes would dart about looking elsewhere. “You seem rather interested in your surroundings,” Luna said while a knowing smile slowly grew upon her muzzle.

Twily looked back to Luna with wide eyes. “Oh! Uhm, yes. Sorry,” she said, laying her ears back. “I didn’t mean any disrespect. I just never thought I would be... well, standing in the Canterlot Archives,” she said, ending on a weak sounding chuckle.

“It’s okay for her to look around a little, isn’t it?” Luna glanced up when she heard Twilight’s request and was a bit shocked at the recommendation. Much of the reading material contained within the archives was hidden away with good reason. However, she noticed the very slight nod that Twilight gave her and quickly realized that she wanted to speak out of earshot of her younger self.

“Well, I suppose if it stays to just looking and not touching, I don’t see any harm in it.”

For a few seconds, Twily only silently glanced back and forth between the two princesses. An excited smile grew upon her muzzle as she looked up to Twilight the same way a young filly might look up to her mother to wordlessly ask it was really okay. “Go ahead, it’s fine,” Twilight said with a slight chuckle in her voice as she used her wing to gently nudge Twily toward one of the shelves she had been eyeing earlier.

The two princesses watched as Twily practically pranced over to a nearby shelf wearing an excited grin on her face as she craned her neck back to take in the impressive sight around her. Twilight quietly chuckled to herself as she recalled a time long ago when she’d experienced the sights of the archives for the first time herself. It was almost like watching her own memories playing out before her.

“It seems we might have a reason to visit the Crystal Empire soon,” Twilight quietly said when she felt that Twily was well enough out of earshot.

“Oh?” Luna asked.

Twilight let out a light sigh before she turned herself toward Luna. “We both experienced the same dream last night. In it, we were standing on one of the streets in the Empire.”

Luna squinted her eyes in thought as she cast a glance in Twily’s direction. She raised one eyebrow as she looked back at Twilight and asked, “Are you sure taking her there would be wise?”

“Something happened in the vision, and we’re not entirely sure what it was but” — Twilight momentarily glanced toward Twily with a worried look on her face — “whatever it was, she was terrified.” She shook her head and looked back to Luna. “Maybe we’ll find something there to help them, maybe we won’t, but either way, we’re being led there for a reason. Something is going to happen, something that maybe we’re meant to prevent. We’re just not sure what it is, but we don’t have any other solid leads right now.” Twilight’s gaze drifted off to the side and she lifted a hoof, touching it lightly against her chin as she recalled another part of the vision that she had yet to puzzle out. “Maybe that’s why Moondancer was with us. She always was pretty good at figuring things out.”

“You saw Moondancer?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t suited up.” Twilight held her thoughtful look for a moment longer before letting her hoof fall back to the floor and looking back to Luna. “I did hear that she’s been on leave.”

“Hmm, yes. But if I recall correctly, she’s due to return to active duty fairly soon.”

“Memory erasing?” Both princesses were caught off guard by the sound of Twily’s voice nearby. They both looked to a nearby table, finding Twily staring at an open book laying upon it amidst other scrolls and stacks of parchment. She wrinkled her muzzle as she looked over the contents, casually commenting, “That... doesn’t seem legal.”

A midnight blue aura appeared around the book, causing it to quickly snapped shut and fly from the table toward Luna, prompting Twily to scamper backward from the table a few steps in surprise. The book stopped at a hover before Luna in her magical grasp, silently floating between herself and Twilight.

They said nothing to each other at first. Luna only silently stared back at the unreadable look that Twilight was giving her, expecting some sort of question, but when the awkward silence persisted instead she began to make a move to tuck the book away under her left wing.

“Luna, why is there a spell like that lying out?” Twilight finally asked.

Luna seemed to freeze in place, her ethereal mane and tail being the only part of her moving. She then let out a heavy breath, momentarily closing her eyes as she finished tucking the book out of sight. “To be honest, I’d hoped to avoid a confrontation over this, as I’m sure you will be absolutely against it, but I don’t want to hide anything from either of you.” She opened her eyes, glancing slowly first to Twily, then to Twilight before she spoke again. “We have to have some sort of contingency plan, in the event that we fail to find a cure before we run out of time.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed and her ears fell back ever so slightly. “I’m having trouble figuring out how that spell is going to help with that.”

“Please, let me explain my reasoning at least,” Luna said, holding up a hoof as if to halt any further protests. She continued when she saw that Twilight had chosen to remain silent and listen, though the look on the other princess’s face was appearing more strained. “The line of thought is that the conflicting memories are what caused the harmful reaction that young Twily here had.”

“So you want to erase her memories to fix it?” Twilight quickly interjected.

“May I stress, again, that this is a last resort, where the alternative of doing nothing could very well mean they both lose their lives.”

Twilight’s magic snatched the book out from under Luna’s wing causing the night princess to flinch back a step in surprise. Her magic opened the book before her and she glared at the pages as she quickly flitted through them. “Losing either one of them is unacceptable,” she said, making no attempt to hide her frustration as she spoke. Her magic came to a stop on a marked page, and her eyes quickly scanned over the words and runes contained within. Without fully studying the spell in detail she couldn’t say for sure what possible side effects might result from using it, but she was able to confirm that the spell belonged to a school of magic known for mind manipulation, a category that was explicitly forbidden by law for many reasons. “Did you just decide this on your own?” she said in a low and agitated tone.

Luna’s aura strongly grasped the book, pulling it out of Twilight’s magic and snapping it closed once again before silently floating it back over to carefully nestle it beneath her wing. Another moment of strained silence passed while Luna avoided looking directly at Twilight, preferring instead to stare blankly into the empty space between them. “Let me be clear,” she calmly stated when she finally focused her gaze upon Twilight again. “I am well aware of the title you hold in the land you come from, and the responsibilities and privileges that come with such a title. You are also a very welcome guest here in our Equestria, and we owe you a debt for saving our world once already that we can not possibly ever repay. However, you are not a ruler of this Equestria.”

Twilight’s ears drooped, and the hard look she had been giving Luna falter. It was true. She wasn’t nor had she ever been a ruler in this alternate timeline, so what right did she have to challenge Luna’s decisions? Her logical side told her that she had none. However, a part of her was having trouble accepting that answer.

“I discussed this with my sister last night, and while we did not come to this decision lightly, we agreed that losing them both would not only be terrible in and of itself, but could possibly put our nation at risk, and perhaps even the entire world.” Luna stole a quick glanced to where Twily was sitting nearby quietly listening. The look on Luna’s face changed slightly just before she spoke again, almost as if what she was about to say pained her to do so. “I hate to put one life above another, but when that one life is key to the greatest defense our world has, we have no choice but to do so. It is our responsibility to the many who look to us as leaders of this land.”

Twilight found herself wrestling with her own thoughts. She didn’t like it, but she found herself agreeing with Luna’s stance once she took a moment to really consider the reasons behind it. Without a bearer of Magic, the Elements may as well be nothing more than jewelry, and selecting another bearer wasn’t as simple as just finding the nearest gifted unicorn. It was impossible to guess just how many more times their world might need to call on the Elements’ power. She remembered very well the many times she had wielded the powers of Harmony in her own Equestria.

“I suppose it’s decided then,” Twilight said quietly, the reluctant acceptance weighing heavy on her voice as she slowly walked past Luna.

Luna took a step back and to the side, allowing Twilight to pass. Her ears fell back as she followed Twilight with her eyes and a deeply concerned look grew upon her face.

“I’m sorry.” Twily’s meek voice drew Luna’s attention back to her side, where she saw the young unicorn still sitting near the table. She was nervously running one of her fetlocks over her other leg again, and immediately cowered closer to the floor when Luna looked to her. “I was just curious,” she said with a slight quiver in her voice.

“Tis not your fault,” Luna said in a soothing, gentle tone. She took a few steps toward Twily so she could sit next to her and lowered her head closer, giving a brief smile in the hope that it might ease her fears. “I left the book open upon the table. And while I wasn’t intentionally trying to hide this from you, this was obviously not the best way to reveal my plan.”

Luna turned her head slightly, glancing out of the corner of her eye across the room. Twilight had sat down in front of another table and appeared to be half-heartedly sorting through a pile of books there, glancing briefly at the contents of each before setting them aside in a chosen stack. While she appeared mostly calm, it was easy to tell from the frown etched on her muzzle that she wasn’t happy, and more than once it appeared that her magic was stacking the books with a bit more force than was necessary.

Luna closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. “Perhaps I should have waited for Celestia to arrive before trying to explain this. She’s better at such things.”

“I understand,” Twily quietly said.

Luna looked at her with a mild amount of shock. She had expected that Twily might fear her or even resent her for recommending that blotting out her memories was an acceptable solution to their problem.

“I mean... yeah, the thought of being erased, even just parts of me, is scary, but....” Twily grew quiet for a moment while she looked down at the floor at her hooves. Finally, she took in a deep, shaky breath and let out all out before saying, “I don’t want to be the reason why Chrys dies.” Luna unfurled one of her wings and laid it across Twily’s back. She tensed up, surprised by the warm blanket of dark blue feathers that had been draped across her withers, but after she looked up and saw Luna’s gentle smile she soon relaxed and smiled back.

“Believe me, using this spell on you is the last thing I would ever want to do. I will try everything else possible first.”

There was another thump from the table across the room, and the two both glanced to where Twilight was attempting to occupy her thoughts with angry book sorting. Twily looked back and forth between Twilight and Luna, taking note of the of the sad look in Luna’s eyes. She felt at least partially responsible for the argument that had transpired between them. “Let me go talk to her,” Twily said as she slipped out from beneath Luna’s wing to trot over to Twilight’s table.

Luna silently followed Twily with her eyes, watching as she cautiously approached. It appeared for a moment that Twilight might attempt to ignore her younger self’s presence. The other princess’s ears pinned back further than they already were when Twily approached, but that was the only sign that she had noticed Twily's presence since she otherwise continued on as if no one was there. It wasn’t until Twily quietly called out to her that Twilight stopped and looked down to her. The distance was far enough that Luna’s ears couldn’t quite catch exactly what Twily had said next, but she had clearly overheard how Twilight responded.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Hearing that caused Luna’s frown to deepen. However, just as Twilight began to turn her attention back to the books before her, Twily quickly reached up and hooked a hoof against one of her forelegs to pull her attention back.

Luna’s ears twitched as they picked up on the low murmur of Twily’s voice. She couldn’t make out anything that was being said, but she could see the upset look slowly fading from Twilight’s face. She heard what must have been a question coming from Twily, then noticed the brief glance from Twilight before she visibly sighed and nodded her head.

Twilight stood and slowly walked back, stopping a few steps short of where Luna was patiently waiting. She seemed to struggle with what she wanted to say, her mouth soundlessly opening and closing a few times before she finally fixed her eyes upon Luna and spoke. “Sorry. I got a bit worked up, and I think I let my pride get a little hurt by what you said. But, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have any right to be telling you what to do.” She bowed her head, closing her eyes and saying, “Please, forgive me.”

Without a word, Luna moved forward and pulled Twilight into a hug, fully wrapping her wings around her and once again taking her off guard. The Luna she had known for centuries was much more reserved than this one, but the hug reminded her of the same caring warmth beneath the mysterious exterior that she had come to know the Princess of the Night to posses. Perhaps this Luna was not so different after all.

Luna stepped took a step back, allowing her wings to fold back to her sides. “You have nothing to apologize for,” she said with a smile and a small shake of her head. “To be honest, I would have been worried if you had simply accepted my plan without a word, though I had hoped to present it better.” She let out a tired sounding sigh as the smile slipped away. “And I’m told that my words can cut deep. They weren’t meant to do so. I hope you understand that I do value your counsel, but there are some decisions we may make without consulting you, especially if we feel your personal feelings could... affect your judgment.”

Twilight could tell by the hesitation in Luna’s voice that she was trying to pick her words carefully, and chose to simply nod her head in response.

Luna looked to her side and, once she found the spell book where she had left on the floor, she grasped it in her magic, bringing it to hover just in front of her. She lightly traced the tip of her hoof across the book’s cover as she spoke. “Since this is my idea, it will also be my own burden to bear. I’ll not accept anyone else attempting to use this spell on her. Not even you,” she said as she glanced up at Twilight. “And you have my word, this is a last resort.”

“I hope we can figure this out before we need to even think about using it.” Twilight turned to look out across the tables in the room. Stacks of books and piles of scrolls left very little free space upon them. She knew that the search for a cure to an unheard of condition would be challenging, but the lack of progress despite their efforts was still disheartening. “Maybe we’re not looking in the right place. Have any of the changelings from the forest woken up yet?”

Luna sadly shook her head. “Our captives from the forest have been most unhelpful thus far. Not a single one has awoken, and it’s likely they’ll need to be put in a sort of suspended animation soon, lest they start to perish.” She tsked and shook her head again, then grumbled, “They’ll become even less likely to be useful then.”

Twilight furrowed her brow as she closed her eyes and a let out a frustrated sounding sigh. Research had found nothing thus far, and interrogation was sounding like a very unlikely option as well. This left her with only one other possibility to consider. She opened her eyes, focusing on Luna as she said, “I think Twily and I should follow our new lead in the Crystal Empire and leave as soon as we can. Today, if possible.”

“Exploring more options is likely our best chance.” Luna gestured with her wing to the piles of books and scrolls laid out upon the tables and said, “I’d be happy to stay and continue the research here along with my sister while you two are away. I think we shouldn’t give up on the chance that we may find something here quite yet.”

“Thank you,” Twilight said as a small smile managed to appear on her muzzle. “I know there’s no way to prove it, but I have a feeling that we’ll find something there that’s connected to all of this somehow. Why else would we be having more visions?”

“I too have a feeling you two will find answers there,” Luna said, smiling back.

“Hopefully it’s the kind of answers we want to find.” Twilight’s voice trailed off and she looked aside as thoughts of preparations for the trip came to mind. They had to be careful with their movements as to not open themselves up to another ambush. While she did have a strong trump card she could play against any would-be attackers, she wouldn’t dare consider using it while Twily was at her side. And while she was sure she could effectively employ conventional magic instead, she preferred to avoid the need to do so at all.

The fastest route would be to fly. However, the distance was far enough that tasking a pegasus team with flying a chariot to the north without rest was unreasonable, and should they be ambushed on the way while in the air things could get very complicated very quickly. Since her two companions didn’t have wings of their own, this left the only other reasonable method of travel to be by train. Twilight consider that public transportation may actually be the safest option regardless, as changelings did tend to prefer ambushing their targets when they were alone. A train full of passengers might serve as a decent deterrent even if they happened to be followed.

If they were going to make the evening train trip from Canterlot to the Crystal Empire, then she needed to quickly find their third group member. “I should go find Moondancer and see if I can convince her to go with us,” Twilight began as she took a tentative step toward the door, but then she realized she hadn’t any idea where she might find Moondancer. She began to ask, but before the question even left her lips the thought occurred to her that she hadn’t yet asked permission. “Uh, that is, if it’s alright for me to borrow one of your guard captains,” she said, her ears pinning back as she glanced to Luna.

Luna had already returned to studying the book that she had left open upon the bookstand earlier. A wry smirk appeared on Luna’s muzzle, and without looking up she casually waved a hoof as she said, “She’s my sister’s guard captain now, but I’m sure that’ll be fine. She was present in your vision, after all. However, If it makes you feel better, you have my permission. I’ll arrange for an escort if you would like to visit her at her home here in Canterlot to make the request yourself. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a visit from her sister-in-law.”

“Sister-in-law?” Twily asked, the surprised sounding squeak in her voice drawing the princess’ attention to her. “So, Shiny married Moondancer?” she asked as she tilted her head in confusion. “Huh, I guess time changes things,” she mumbled as she absentmindedly rubbed the side of her hoof against her chin while mulling over the idea of an old childhood acquaintance now being a family member.

There was no doubt in Princess Twilight’s mind that her younger self would be just as eager as her to pay a visit to family and friends that she hadn’t seen in a very long time. However, attempting to explain the complicated situation while still keeping certain very important details vague might prove to be problematic. Twilight approached Twily and gently placed a hoof upon her shoulder, drawing the young unicorn out of her deep thoughts. “Hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but it may not be a good idea for you to come with me. We can’t exactly let word get out that you’re... not who you seem to be. And it will probably be safer for you to stay out of sight as much as you can regardless.”

“Oh, right.” The disappointment in her voice was easily noticeable, as was the dejected look in her eyes as she glanced away to the floor. However, she quickly shook off the disheartened mood with a quick shake of her head. “No, you’re right. And not being able to tell them when I’m standing right there in front of them would be difficult anyway.”

Despite Twily’s ready acceptance of her situation, the brief moment of disappointment from being told that she couldn’t visit her own brother had left Twilight feeling a deep pang in her heart. As much as she tried to tell herself that keeping Twily out of harm's way as much as possible was for the best, it still felt like a cruel choice. She crouched down, nearly lying on the floor in front of Twily so she could look her straight in the eyes. “This isn’t permanent. Once all of this is over, you’ll be able to see whoever you want. Okay?”

Twily smiled and nodded back.

Family Reunion

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter X – Family Reunion

After sending off one of the guards posted just outside the archive’s entrance, Luna let Twilight know that she would find an escort waiting for her just outside the main gates of the palace grounds. She reassured Twilight that no harm would befall Twily in her absence, and even hinted that perhaps she may find something within the archives that could even cheer the young unicorn up a bit. With a quick thank you to the night princess and one last reassuring glance to Twily, Twilight departed from the archives, heading through the palace halls to make her way outside.

It was getting later in the morning, and the sun was climbing higher toward its apex in a clear blue sky. Twilight’s eyes darted about as she took in her surroundings, noting small details about the palace grounds that differed from the Canterlot from her own time, but most were minor. Canterlot’s palace really did have a timeless quality about it, seeing very little noticeable change over the centuries.

The city proper was a different story. While the traditional architectural designs of the city buildings had not changed much as the centuries had passed, it was safe to say that the vast majority of the buildings had been completely replaced within Twilight’s life time, many of them multiple times. Only some of the older historical landmarks that were already centuries old when she had been born had managed to stand the test of time. She felt a rush of nostalgia as she stepped outside the main gates and stood there looking down the path that she had traveled many times as a young mare on her way to and from private lessons with her mentor. Seeing so many long since gone buildings once again brought back many long forgotten memories.

Twilight flinched when her ear caught the sound of someone clearing their throat next to her, causing her feathers to rustle by her sides as her wings lifted slightly. Glancing to her right, she found the familiar face of a gray pegasus donning a suit of Nightguard armor looking up to her with a patient smile.

“Good morning, Princess,” Gale said as she took a few steps forward and bowed her head slightly before glancing back up with a sheepish grin. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“That’s my own fault. I had my head in the clouds.” Twilight took one last quick glance down the paved stone road, showing a quick smile upon her muzzle before looking back. “And good morning to you too, Gale. I didn’t realize that Luna was going to lend me her guard captain for an escort through the city, but I appreciate the company.”

“Well, Dancer and I are pretty good friends. I visit pretty often, so I know the way like the back of my wing,” Gale said, lifting and overturning her right wing with a quick flick before tucking it back to her side. “Are you ready to head that way?” she asked as she stepped up beside Twilight.

“Of course! Lead the way.”

The pair set off from the palace gates, Twilight trailing only half a step behind as Gale lead the way. They traveled at a casual pace while Twilight happily glanced about at the hustle and bustle of the town’s ponies moving from shop to shop, some pulling small carts piled high with goods to be delivered or being bought along with them. Quite a bit of trade goods flowed through the city even back in this time, and the main street ahead of the palace was an epicenter for trade deals to be made.

They hadn’t been traveling down the main road away from the palace for even a minute before Gale spoke up. “So, how different is it?” she asked, glancing back up and over her shoulder.

“The city?” Twilight asked. When Gale gave her a nod, she hummed as she took another quick glance around. “I can safely say that quite a bit does change six centuries from now. Quite a few of the buildings are completely different. But, you can still tell it’s Canterlot either way. Main street is still one of the busiest trade points in Equestria.” She glanced back down to Gale as she also added, “The city does get a bit larger in six hundred years. There’s practically buildings covering the countryside all the way from the mountain to Ponyville.”

“Seriously?” Gale asked as one of her eyebrows appeared to climb up to hide in her helmet. She looked forward, silently leading the way for a moment before shaking her head. “That’s hard to believe. There’s a ton of empty space out there. How can there even be that many ponies to fill that many houses?”

“There are quite a few more ponies,” Twilight noted. “And others. Not only are there quite a lot more unicorns, pegasi, earth ponies, and crystal ponies that call Canterlot and Ponyville home, but there’s quite a few griffons, minotaurs, and even some of the zebra that have lived there for generations.”

“Wow,” Gale commented quietly. “Canterlot has always been more of a unicorn city than anything else.”

“Olde Canterlot is still mostly unicorn,” Twilight said, tilting her head slightly. “The part that is up here on the mountain.”

They passed through an intersection and took a turn down a sidewalk beside a narrow street that led west from the busy main road. Twilight smiled as faded memories danced within her mind, stirred by the sights of the old shops around her. She was so absorbed in the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia that she nearly missed the hushed whispers coming from a group of unicorns up ahead. When she glanced over to find them stealing glances her way, she tilted her head and raised a curious eyebrow at them.

Finding a group of ponies in public whispering about her wasn’t an unexpected thing, here or back in her home time. Still, she was curious as to what exactly the group might be whispering about her. Where they wondering who the mysterious alicorn was, or perhaps concocting their own rumors that they would no doubt be spreading around town? Just as she was passing by the group on the sidewalk, they quickly stepped to the side to make way, each of them giving her a smile before bowing their head in respect.

Twilight’s mouth hung open slightly forming a small ‘o’ before she caught herself and quickly put on a friendly smile for the group and nodded her head in return. The random polite gesture from the group gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling, adding a little extra pep to her steps as she continued following along with Gale down the sidewalk. “That was nice,” she quietly commented.

A questioning hum came from Gale as she glanced back over her shoulder.

“That group back there,” Twilight said, barely jerking her head back toward the group of unicorns.

Gale turned her head to quickly glance back to the group before returning a confused look back to Twilight. “What about them?”

“Well, I just didn’t expect them to be that friendly to a strange alicorn they’ve never seen before.” Twilight stole a glance back over her shoulder at the group as they continued on their way. “I expected ponies to be curious, but it’s nice to feel welcomed.”

“What makes you think they wouldn’t recognize you?”

Twilight looked back to Gale, blinking once before asking, “I wasn’t really around that long, was I?”

“You’re sort of a legend here,” Gale said though a light chuckle. When she noticed the increasing confusion on the princess’s face, she stopped on the sidewalk turning toward Twilight. “You are the Princess of Time, after all,” she said, gesturing to Twilight with a flourish.

Twilight silently stood there, only blinking every few seconds. “The Princess of Time, huh,” she finally said, glancing over her shoulder to the sky back in the direction they had come from. She could just see a few of the taller towers of the palace peaking over the roofs of the nearby buildings. She had a fairly good idea of who she had to thank for bestowing that title upon her.

“Princess Celestia didn’t tell you about it?” Gale asked, drawing Twilight’s attention back to her.

Twilight silently shook her head.

“Well, you can thank her for the new title then. She commissioned an author to write a book about you a few years ago, right after everything that happened. It ended up being a best seller.”

There was a short pause while Twilight let the words sink in. “There’s a book about me here?”

“Oh yeah,” Gale said with a nod and another chuckle as she turned and started walking down the sidewalk again. “You seem a little surprised. I thought a princess like you would have quite a few books written about her by now.”

Twilight cantered a few steps to catch up. “Well, not really... about me,” she said. “I’ve contributed to quite a few works, and have authored a few on my own, but I’m never the subject matter. And my books are purely academic.”

Twilight absentmindedly continued to follow along with Gale as her mind started to wander. What sort of book had been written about her? Was it a factual account of the events that had occurred? It couldn’t possibly be, as most of the world didn’t know the details of what had actually transpired. She began to wonder how much the author might have embellished the story, and if the result could still be considered a historical account of events or would be more like a fantasy adventure novel.

She had to admit to herself that she was curious, but it was a book that she would never have a chance to read. For a fleeting moment, she wondered if it would be entirely unethical to obtain a copy before she returned home, for personal use only, of course. Typically, the thought of taking items from or leaving items in timelines that they did not belong in was something she would never consider, but her curiosity was leading her to reconsider, at least in this one instance. “Books from an alternate timeline,” she mumbled quietly under her breath.

Gale obviously overheard her mumbling, if the light chuckle she let out was any indication.

“Well, here it is,” Gale said as she turned to face Twilight and gestured a wing to a nearby home. They now stood before a modest sized dark wood frame and gray stone brick house with a short decorative black wrought iron fence encompassing a well kept front yard.

Twilight quickly glanced around at her surroundings to try and get her bearings, feeling a slight bit embarrassed that she hadn’t been paying attention, but once she spotted the ivory towers of the palace off in the distance she had a decent idea of where they had arrived at in the western residential district.

“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” Gale said as she unfurled her wings. “Was nice to see you again, Princess.”

“You’re not coming in with me? I’m sure they wouldn’t mind.”

Gale shook her head. “I’ve been by recently, and I don’t want to barge in on a family visit. Besides, I do need to get back, I’m sort of on overtime now,” she said, casually pointing a hoof up at the sun.

“Oh, right,” Twilight said, briefly glancing up at the sunny sky. “Sorry about that,” she said through a sheepish grin. Most Nightguard were not necessarily nocturnal, usually holding either a late evening shift that extended just past midnight or an early morning shift that began shortly before and lasted until a few hours past dawn. “I didn’t mean to encroach on your free time.”

“Not a problem,” Gale said with a dismissive wave of her hoof. She turned and trotted off down the sidewalk, calling back over her shoulder to say, “Tell Moondancer I said ‘Hi’,” before she kicked off the ground and took to the air.

“I will,” Twilight called back. She stood there and watched for a moment as Gale glided off toward the palace before turning her attention back to the house before her. Most of the homes in the western residential district were modest in size, and this one was no exception. Twilight stepped onto the laid-stone path that led from the sidewalk to the front door, carefully closing the fence gate behind her after entering the yard. Two small flower beds that mirrored each other lining either side of the steps that lead up to the front porch caught her eye and brought a smile to her muzzle.

Stepping up onto the porch, she stopped at the door and lifted a forehoof, turning it over with the intention of knocking, but she hesitated. She found herself wondering what she should say while she stared blankly at the closed door before her. It wasn’t every day that she got the chance to speak with someone she hadn’t seen in over three centuries, let alone family. “I guess I can start with ‘Hello’,” she mused as she reached out and tapped at the door. Only a few seconds later, her ears twitched at the muffled sound of hoofsteps growing closer to the other side.

The door’s handle glowed and twisted just before it was pulled open from the inside to reveal Moondancer on the other side. Twilight immediately took notice of the small pair of wireframe semi-circle glasses perched upon her muzzle, and the golden beaded chain necklace that they were attached to that was draped around her neck. She also noticed that Moondancer’s mane appeared to be much shorter than she recalled, ending in curls only slightly below her ears.

Moondancer’s reddish eyebrows furrowed as she peered out her front door directly at Twilight’s chest, then she slowly glanced upward until their eyes met. Her brows slowly lifted as her jaw fell open. “Twilight?”

Twilight smiled and nodded.

“I... oh my gosh! What are you doing here?” Moondancer said as a giddy laugh mingled with her words. “I mean, I’m glad you stopped by but, how?” she asked as she craned her head to the side and quickly glanced around Twilight.

Twilight’s smile morphed into a smirk as she said, “Would you believe me if I said that I just happen to be in the neighborhood?”

“Oh yeah, sure!” Moondancer said, following it up with a quick eye roll. She stepped back a few steps, pulling the front door the rest of the way open and gesturing inside as she said, “Please, come in.”

Twilight ducked her head ever so slightly out of habit to make sure her horn cleared the top of the entry way. Most homes weren’t built to accommodate the height of an older alicorn, which she had painfully found out by accident a few times in the past. Luckily, most homes had taller ceilings than doorways, allowing her to stand at full height while inside. She glanced from side to side as she walked into the home’s main living area, and took a few steps toward the hearth when she noticed picture frames setting upon it. Her eyes fell upon the picture frame nearest to her, and her smile grew when she realized she was looking at what must have been their wedding photo.

After closing the front door, Moondancer followed Twilight back into the living area. “So really, what does bring you here? It’s been... well, a few years, hasn’t it?” she asked as she walked up next to Twilight, who looked down to her. “You are taller,” Moondancer said as she took a step back and looked Twilight up and down. There was easily a head height’s worth of difference between them.

“It’s been a few hundred years for me,” Twilight said.

“A few... hundred,” Moondancer said as her eyebrows raised once again. “Wow, that will take some time to catch up on.”

Twilight let out a quiet chuckle. “I won’t bore you with all the details.”

“Well, there has to be some reason why you’re here. Not that I’m suggesting that you wouldn’t want to visit, but I really can’t imagine that you just got bored one day and decided to skip across space and time only for a visit.” Moondancer paused mid-thought and tilted her head slightly. “Actually, how did you even know where we lived?”

“Gale showed me.”

Moondancer silently mouthed the word ‘ah’ as she nodded her head. “So you’ve already been to the palace then?”

Twilight nodded and cast another quick glance around the room. “It’s a very nice home you two have.” One wouldn’t call the surroundings extravagant, but it could definitely be considered a comfortable, cozy place for a couple to live. “Is my brother here?”

“Not right now, but he’ll be home in a little while.”

Twilight nodded once, letting out a sigh. As much as she would have loved to spend time catching up, there were important tasks ahead of them that shouldn’t be delayed. “I actually need to speak to you privately before he gets here.”

“I knew it,” Moondancer said as she squinted her eyes slightly. “So, there is something going on then.”

“Unfortunately.” Twilight considered where she should even start, tilting her head from side to side while she weighed her options in her mind. The visions? The odd changelings? Twily?

A low groan broke the moment of silence as Twilight’s stomach decided right then would be a good time to make a complaint. She quickly tucked a foreleg against her belly in a failed attempt to silence it.

Moondancer eyed Twilight with a wide-eyed glance and a barely suppressed smirk. “Are you okay there? That sounded serious.”

“Well, I sort of skipped breakfast this morning,” Twilight admitted, following it up with a weak laugh. It was a bit embarrassing for her, considering that she really had completely forgotten to make time for eating something before leaving the palace. Perhaps she had gotten a bit too used to her meals being scheduled, prepared, and brought to her by her staff. She honestly couldn’t remember the last time she had needed to ask for something to eat.

A knowing smile appeared on Moondancer’s muzzle. “Well, you’re not the only one who’s guilty of forgetting to eat when she’s busy.” She began to trot off toward the kitchen, calling back over her shoulder to say, “Let me at least pretend to be a good host and fix you some brunch or something, then we can talk. Do you like tea or coffee?”

---

Twilight had insisted that Moondancer keep to ‘whatever is easiest’ while fixing the late morning meal, which ended up being oatmeal flavored with maple syrup, toast with peach preserves, a platter of apple slices, and freshly brewed coffee with sugar and creamer. While Moondancer was busy preparing brunch, Twilight had begun to tell her story, including every relevant detail she could recall from the moment she had found the message in her old journal up until the present moment. Over an hour had passed while they spoke. Twilight finished off the oatmeal and toast prepared for her, leaving them to share the apple slices over cups of coffee while she continued her tale. Finally, a moment of silence fell upon the room when she reached the end of her story.

Moondancer stared blankly down at her mostly empty coffee cup, tapping her hooves on its sides and rotating it slightly side to side. She finally let out a sigh and said, “Wow, this is all... really something.” She glanced up and across the table to Twilight with a serious look in her eyes. “I can see why you wouldn’t want word of this end-of-the-world thing getting out. It would cause a panic.”

“Yes, so we’ll have to keep all of this just between us.” Twilight’s ears fell back and she added, “Even the part about little Twily. I’m sorry, I’m sure you don’t want to keep that from Shiny.”

Moondancer shrugged her shoulders. She rested an elbow just on the edge of the table and nestled her forehoof just under her chin to lean upon it. “He knows that I can’t always talk about work,” she said quietly. She glanced down at her coffee cup again, giving it a thoughtful stare while she traced her free forehoof around the cup’s rim. “But, to think that you actually found her by accident like that. It’s almost unbelievable. Queen Chrysalis spent a lot of time trying to reach out and talk to her again but wasn’t ever successful. I guess now we know why. All that time searching, and she was actually stuck in the queen’s head.” She went still, silently staring at the almost empty cup for a few seconds. She let out a short laugh and shook her head. “As strange as that is, I’m still really glad that you found her. And of course I’ll come along with you two to help out in the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight gave Moondancer an apologetic smile. “I’m really sorry about asking you to cut your leave short.”

Moondancer dismissively waved her hoof. “Oh, don’t worry about that. Honestly, I’ve been ready to get back to it. Three months being practically stuck at home turned out to be a little boring at times, though I did get to catch up on some reading,” she said as she arched her neck back to glance over at a bookshelf behind her.

Twilight jerked her head back suddenly in surprise. “Stuck at home? No one actually told me why you were on leave. You didn’t get hurt, did you?” she asked while a worried look spread across her face.

“No, of course not,” Moondancer said, quickly sitting up. She tilted her head slightly to the side, squinting her eyes as she said, “So, Gale didn’t tell you.” When she saw Twilight return her statement with a confused look, Moondancer let out a chuckle. “And here I was wondering how long you were going to wait to ask about him.”

Twilight blink-blinked and her ear’s twitched as she tried to figure out exactly who Moondancer was referring too since she had already asked about her brother. “Him?” she asked as she tilted her head slightly.

A wide smile spread across Moondancer’s muzzle, the kind someone might wear when they knew something that you didn’t. “Come here,” she said, waving a hoof and prompting Twilight to follow her as she left the table, leaving the dining room and crossing the living area to the adjoining hallway.

Moondancer made her way to the doorway nearest the end of the hall and gently pushed the half closed door open with her magic to walk into the dimly lit room. Twilight ducked her head and peeked into the room after her. All she could make out were odd shapes of shadows that were cast upon the walls by a solitary lamp sitting on a small table across the room. Moondancer touched the lamp with her magic, and it slowly brightened to help chase the shadows away and bring more color to the surroundings. The walls, which had seemed almost black at first, were actually more of a dark blue and had silver stars painted upon them. There was also silver star shaped decorations dangling from the ceiling as well, giving the room the appearance of a starry night sky. Twilight’s attention was drawn back down when she noticed Moondancer’s horn glowing, and she saw her reaching over into...

Twilight let out a quick gasp when she realized she was looking at a foal’s crib.

Moondancer lifted an infant foal with her magic, prompting him to make a few fussy noises as he squirmed about until she managed to get him wrapped up in a blanket. “Ooh, I know. Shhh, it’s okay,” she cooed as she tucked the foal against her chest in one foreleg and gave him a quick nuzzle. “He’s usually a little fussy when waking up,” she said as she sat down next to the crib and waved for Twilight to come closer.

As Twilight approached, she was able to get a better look at the foal, finding that he had a dusty gray coat that appeared to be speckled with white spots. One of the larger spots along the left side of his muzzle had the semblance of a star. In contrast, the messy tuft of hair on top of his head seemed pitch black at first, but when the dim light shined upon it at just the right angle there was a noticeable dark blue sheen. “Oh my goodness,” Twilight cooed, wearing one of the widest smiles in Equestria at that moment while she gently tickled him just under his chin with the tip of her hoof.

He responded with something sounding like a gurgling giggle.

“This is our little colt, Star Gazer,” Moondancer said, giving him another quick nuzzle on his forehead. “Believe it or not, there was a meteor shower the night after he was born. It was a beautiful night, so I decided to take him out with me to watch it, thinking he’d probably just sleep through it all, but he didn’t. He stayed awake through the entire thing. After that, we decided to do a little more decorating in his room,” she said as she nodded to the silver stars hanging overhead.

“He even has a little star on his muzzle,” Twilight said as she quickly tickled the star shaped birthmark, eliciting another foalish giggle. “Well, congratulations,” she said as she sat next to Moondancer and embraced her in a wing hug.

“Thanks,” Moondancer said, leaning into Twilight’s side. After spending a quiet moment watching over Star Gazer together, Moondancer glanced up to Twilight and asked her, “Do you want to hold him for a bit, Auntie Twilight?”

“Of course I do!” Twilight said as she excitedly tapped her forehooves together. Moondancer carefully lifted her little colt up with her magic and floated him closer. Her pinkish aura mingled with Twilight’s magenta aura as Star Gazer was carefully passed from one to the other.

Twilight carefully tucked Star Gazer close to her chest with a foreleg, leaning her head in closer over him. When he noticed her looking at him, he smiled back at her and reached out his tiny forelegs. “Hey there,” Twilight singsonged, leaning in just close enough so Star Gazer could touch the tip of her nose with one of his tiny hooves.

A lock of Twilight’s mane slipped from behind her ear, falling to dangle next to her face and just within Star Gazer’s reach. He noticed it and quickly latched on to the lock of violet hair with both forehooves, and began guiding it to his open mouth.

“Oop! You don’t need to eat that,” Moondancer quickly said as her magic pulled back the loose lock of Twilight’s mane, rescuing it from a slobbery fate. “And now you know why I got my mane cut short. He’s got a thing about trying to chew on everypony's mane,” she said to Twilight while rolling her eyes and shaking her head.

Twilight let out a quiet giggle and tucked her mane securely back behind her ear. While she had many friends over the years that had children of their own, this was the first time in centuries that she had gotten the chance to meet a new foal from her own family tree. “Auntie,” she quietly said as she momentarily closed her eyes. For a fleeting moment, visions of a mischievous little light-pink alicorn filly came to mind. “It’s been quite a while since I’ve been called that,” Twilight said as she opened her eyes once again and a bittersweet smile appeared upon her lips. However, the smile quickly faded as she let out a sigh and glanced toward Moondancer. “Now I feel terrible about asking you to travel with me.”

Moondancer laid a hoof upon one of Twilight’s and shook her head. “Don’t. If there really is something threatening our entire existence, I want to be there to help stop it if I can.” She leaned in closer and gently ran her fetlock over Star Gazer’s head and through his mane. “I’ve got a really good reason to help right here.”

Both mares looked back toward the room’s door when they heard the sound of the home’s front door opening and closing. There were a few seconds of quiet only interrupted by the sound of someone’s hoofsteps walking into the living area, and then they both heard Shining Armor’s voice as he called out. “Hey, Dancer! I’m home!”

“In the foal’s room, Shiny,” Moondancer called back. She tapped on Twilight’s shoulder to get her attention, then touched the tip of her hoof to her lips as she made a quiet shushing sound.

Twilight smiled and nodded back.

“So, there’s definitely something going on,” Shining Armor said from the other room. “One of your old pals from the guard stopped by this morning for some adjustments.” There was the sound of what was probably a heavy set of saddlebags being set down upon the floor in the other room, then the sound of Shining Armor’s hoofsteps as he began to make his way down the hall. “He said the Nightguard went to the forest after we all saw that bright light the other night. Wouldn’t say what for but—” Shining Armor froze at the bedroom doorway with his mouth agape and his widening eyes focused on Twilight.

Moondancer could help but laugh at the surprised look on her husband’s face. “We have a guest, Dear,” she said with a chuckle.

“Twily!” he said as he rushed toward her and embraced his sister with a hug, which she returned by wrapping one of her wings around him. “I can’t believe—I mean, wow, look at you!” he said as he leaned back and looked up into her eyes. He furrowed his brow and sat up a little bit taller as he used his hoof to measure the height difference between the top of his head and her’s. “Really, look at you. Are you taller than me?”

Twilight let out a short giggle at her brother’s antics. “Seems I am just a bit.”

“Well that hardly seems fair,” he growled through a smirk as he reached up and hooked one of his forelegs over her neck, pulling her head down next to his. He managed to reach up and give his ‘little’ sister a quick noogie before sitting back and saying, “You know I’m still your big brother even if you’re taller.”

“Of course,” Twilight chuckled. She quickly blinked a few times when she noticed that she was starting to get misty-eyed.

“Ah, I’ve missed you,” Shining Armor said as he leaned in for a second hug, which Twilight gladly accepted. They remained in a quiet embrace for a few seconds longer before Shining Armor leaned back again and looked up at his sister. “So, I’m going to throw a wild guess out there and say that you had something to do with that bright light over the Everfree,” he said as he poked the tip of his forehoof against her chest.

“I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about,” Twilight said with an obvious smirk on her muzzle, feigning innocence as she glanced up at the ceiling and shrugged her shoulders.

“Aha! I knew it.” He stood and walked over to stand next to Moondancer, leaning against her and holding the back of his hoof up near his mouth as he spoke in a stage whisper. “Twily never could hide anything from me.” He nudged her shoulder with his elbow and gave her a wink.

She responded by rolling her eyes and shaking her head. She cocked an eyebrow and gave Twilight a look that seemed to silently say, ‘Can you believe this guy?’

Shining Armor looked back up to Twilight and asked, “So, here to save the world again?”

“Shiny, Dear....” Moondancer gave him a stern look and shook her head.

“Alright, alright,” he said. He sat next to her, pulling her into a hug with his foreleg. “I know when I’m supposed to keep my muzzle out of stuff,” he said, leaning in to kiss her on the side of her muzzle, which managed coax a smile out of her. Shining Armor then stood and approached Twilight, looking up at her. “Glad you’re here, whatever the reason is. So, what do you think about your new nephew?”

Twilight’s horn was aglow while her magic formed a transparent magenta butterfly that was fluttering around in front of Star Gazer’s eyes. She made it land upon his nose and giggled when the little colt’s eyes crossed to try and focus on it. “He’s adorable.”

“He is right now, but you should hear him when he’s exercising those little lungs of his. Isn’t that right, Star Gazer.” Shining Armor reached up and tickled the little colt’s tummy, eliciting a high pitched giggle from him. “Hah, yeah.” He glanced up at Twilight, arching one eyebrow as he said, “Kinda surprising how much noise can come out of something so tiny, right?”

Moondancer stepped up beside Shining Armor and tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Hey, Shiny. I’m actually going to need to help your sister out a bit while she’s here.” She glanced up at Twilight and asked, “How long do you think the trip will take?”

Twilight took on a thoughtful look, letting her eyes wander while scrunching her mouth to one side. “Well, if we left as soon as we could... say, this afternoon perhaps, then maybe we would only be gone a day or two.” She looked back down to the little foal resting in her foreleg giggling at her magic butterfly and smiled. “Don’t want to keep you away from family for any longer than is necessary.”

“Well, don’t you two worry,” Shining Armor said as he lit his magic. “Come’re little colt,” he said as his blue magical aura surrounded Star Gazer and lifted him up to hover just in front of him. He pressed his muzzle against Star Gazer’s tummy and blew a raspberry, causing the little colt to let out another loud giggle. He then tucked Star Gazer snuggly against his chest with one foreleg. “You two can run off and do all the super secret royal stuff you need to. The little stallion here and I will hold the fort while you girls are doing your thing. Right, Star Gazer?”

Star Gazer let out a tiny sneeze and followed it up with a cheerful sounding gurgle.

Shining Armor chuckled. “I got this. I’ll stay home with the little guy while you girls go save the world.”

The Train Ride North

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter XI – The Train Ride North

Twilight cast a nervous glance at the face of the clock sitting atop a nearby post. It was only five minutes until the three o’clock train would be arriving. She shifted her weight from one back hoof to the other and looked out across the boarding area. There were dozens of other ponies also waiting for the train to arrive, which was to be expected at one of Equestria’s busiest train stations. She and Twily had left from the palace together early enough to arrive at the Canterlot train station about fifteen minutes early, but so far there had been no sign of Moondancer, who had said she would head directly to the station herself once she had packed for the trip. Twilight had begun to grow a bit nervous as the remaining time had passed and their third has yet to show. Moondancer wouldn’t have forgotten about the trip, would she? Maybe she got held up?

Twilight quickly turned her head and perked her ears when she heard her name being called, and she breathed a sigh of relief and smiled when caught a glimpse of Moondancer waving to her from across the gathered crowd.

Moondancer picked a path through the crowd to make her way to Twilight. Her horn glowed while her magic pulled a wheeled travel bag along behind her, and she herself was wearing a light-blue turtleneck sweater and a set of glasses with a thicker black frame than what she had been wearing earlier in the day. “Made it! I thought I was going to be late,” she said as she walked up on the platform next to Twilight, sounding a bit out of breath. She noticed that Twilight was only wearing her saddlebags and asked, “Traveling light?”

“Well, I didn’t exactly bring a lot with me in the first place, and in the vision, I didn’t have anything else with me.” She nodded her head back toward her saddlebags and said, “I did decide to bring my journal, just in case. I think we’ll be meeting up with Cadance first to find out if there has been anything strange happening in the Empire lately.”

Moondancer nodded, and then she looked across to the other side of Twilight where Twily was quietly standing. The two both knew of each other, however, that didn’t stop their first actual meeting from to turn into an awkward silent staring contest for a few seconds. After struggling to find something to say for a moment, Moondancer finally spoke. “It’s ah... it’s been a while.”

“Y-yeah,” Twily said. The timid tone of her voice was uncharacteristic for who she appeared to be, as was her nervous fidgeting. She finally managed to reply with a question of her own, asking, “Um, how have you been?”

“Been doing pretty well,” Moondancer said with a smile. When Twily only nodded in response and the silence crept back in, her smile slipped slightly.

Twilight decided to try and keep the conversation alive. “Isn’t it a little warm for sweaters?” she asked, prodding Moondancer’s shoulder.

“We’re going to the Frozen North.” Moondancer shrugged her shoulders and looked out across the boarding dock as she said, “I get cold easily.”

Twily leaned forward a bit to look across Twilight at Moondancer’s sweater, then glanced up to Twilight. “She was wearing one in the vision,” she quietly noted.

“Really?” Moondancer asked, looking back to Twilly and tilting her head. “What color?”

Twilight quickly raised a hoof, cutting Twily off before she could speak. “Actually, before you tell her, I was planning on using that as an indicator of any changes.”

Moondancer looked up at Twilight, seeming a bit confused for a few seconds before realization dawned upon her. “Oh, so... if I’m wearing a certain color sweater tomorrow, then that means the future hasn’t changed.”

“Possibly.”

Moondancer let out a slightly nervous sounding chuckle. “I’ll try not to disappoint you then.”

A loud whistle signaled the afternoon train’s arrival. It rolled up to the station and came to a stop just as the hands on the clock shifted to three o’clock. Moments later, passengers arriving at Canterlot began to disembark. It would take a few minutes before the train would be ready to receive passengers leaving Canterlot.

Twilight cast a quick glance out of the corner of her eyes to her right and left. Twily and Moondancer were silently standing on either side of her. Both appeared to be occupying their time with watching the crowd of ponies leaving the train. She had thought that things might be a bit awkward between her two companions at first, but it appeared they were practically ignoring each other. That can’t be it, she thought. They hadn’t seen each other since they were fillies, which had been over a decade and a half, and though they hadn’t exactly been great friends back then, they should have had plenty to talk about now.

Twilight noticed the quiet sigh from Moondancer, and caught the quick glance she made toward Twily, but she remained silent. Twilight then looked again toward Twily and noticed she too would steal a quick glance across at Moondancer every now and then. They don’t know what to say, she realized. So much had changed and so much time had passed since they had last seen each other that they might as well be strangers.

The conductor called out the boarding call for ponies leaving Canterlot, and the crowd of waiting ponies began to shuffle toward the train. Quite a few of the ponies actually stepped aside and allowed Twilight and her two companions to board ahead of them.

Once onboard, Twilight was met with a smile from the conductor. He quickly bowed his head to her and said, “Right this way,” motioning for Twilight to follow him as he began making his way toward the head of the train. There was always at least one room in the forward most passenger car that was reserved for VIP passengers.

When they came to the private room, the conductor pulled the door open and gestured inside with one hoof. The room was sized with alicorns in mind, so it was a bit more spacious than the rest. The left wall across the room had a large tinted window, and the velvety red curtains draped from the window were tied back with silver braided ropes to allow the evening sun to shine in. Along the front and back of the room were two long dark wooden bench seats that faced each other, and both were covered with a plush velvet quilted padding on the seats and seatbacks that matched the curtains. Twilight found her favorite spot nearest the window on the front bench where she laid out across the bench seat facing the door. She leaned her back against the padding as she stretched out and allowed her forelegs to just barely dangle off the edge of the seat, taking up half of the seat on her own. Moondancer appeared to be picking out a spot on the bench seat across from her, while Twily curled up at the other end of the same bench Twilight had chosen.

“Now, is there anything else we can get for y’all before we get this train ride under way?” the conductor asked.

Twilight glanced quickly at Twily and Moondancer, and after getting a quick head shake in response from both of them, she looked to the conductor and said, “I think we’re good. Thanks for asking.”

“My pleasure, Princess. We’ll be leaving soon.” With that, the conductor pulled the door closed.

Moondancer was the only one still standing. She was glancing up at the rack above the bench, picking out a spot to stow her luggage. She stood on her hind legs, steadying herself with one forehoof against the wall while she lifted her luggage in her magic to place it on the rack. At that moment, a glint from something sticking out from under her sweater caught Twilight’s eye.

Twilight tilted her head slightly to get a better look and saw what appeared to be some sort of handle sticking out from under the edge of Moondancer’s sweater. “Moondancer, is that a weapon?”

“Hm?” Moondancer looked back at Twilight, then down where the princess was looking. “Oh, that!” She took a few more seconds to get her luggage secured on the rack, then dropped back down to all fours before she grasped the handle with her magic. Her magic quickly undid a couple restraining straps, then she pulled back on the hilt, drawing a short sword from its hidden sheath from under her sweater. “Yeah. I’m allowed to carry it whenever I want, so long as I keep it out of sight when I’m not in uniform.” She spun the sword over a few times in her magic, before holding it at a hover on its side to display it to Twilight. “What do you think?”

“It’s very nice, but I’m a little surprised to see you carrying a griffin weapon.”

Moondancer chuckled. “Yeah, I know it's not exactly normal to see these in Equestria. The guard prefers to standardize on pikes because it is something everypony can use. Makes training easier.” She slowly spun the sword with her magic while admiring the way the evening sun glinted off the blade. “Still, I really wanted to try a sword because I always found the pikes to be sort of clumsy, so I applied for an exception a few years ago. It did take quite a bit of extra training to learn how to use it, but I think it’s worth it. I mean, have you ever tried to hide a pike under a sweater? Trust me, it doesn’t work well,” she said with a smirk as she sheathed the weapon and tugged her sweater back down to hide it from view.

“So,” Twily said quietly, drawing the others’ attention to her. She seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before finally looking Moondancer in the eyes and said, “I was kinda surprised to hear that you joined the Royal Guard.”

Moondancer smiled back. She hopped up on the empty bench seat and laid down to get comfortable. “Yeah. It’s sort of a funny story. I probably wouldn’t have ever considered joining if it weren’t for your brother. He used to talk about joining a lot when we were younger, but when they eventually gave up the search for you, he sort of lost interest.” She let out a sigh, and her ears drooped noticeably for a second, but she seemed to quickly recover as a smile returned to her face. “That was when I got the idea in my head that maybe I could join and continue the search myself some day. I thought that I might even be able to convince him to join the guard with me.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Wishful thinking. He’d already taken on an apprenticeship with an arcane smith by the time I applied.”

Twily silently nodded and with that, the conversation seemed to die out. The brief moment of silence that followed was interrupted by the sound of the train whistle blowing right before the train lurched forward to begin the afternoon trip to the Frozen North.

For a few minutes afterward, only the rhythmic sound of the train’s wheels rolling down the tracks filled the room. Twilight was considering what topics might be able to spur further conversation between her two companions, but Moondancer spoke up before she could pick one.

“So, I’m curious,” Moondancer said as she leaned a little closer to the edge of her seat, furrowing her brow slightly. “What’s it like being in somepony else’s body?” When she saw Twily quickly jerk her head back in surprise and rapidly blink a few times, she quickly waved it off saying, “Ah—if it bothers you to talk about it, we don’t have to.”

Twily shook her head. “No, it doesn’t really bother me.” She glanced down at her crossed forelegs, turning one over to look at her hoof. “I guess... I don’t really notice it?” she said with a shrug. “Not until I see my reflection, or look at my hooves. Though, it did take a little while to get used to hearing my voice not sounding like... me. And things were a little confusing for the first day.” She quietly stared down at her hoof for a few seconds before mumbling, “Really confusing, actually.”

“I can’t imagine,” Moondancer said, tilting her head a bit to the side. “Can you hear her at all?”

“No, it doesn’t seem to work like that,” Twily said, giving her head a sad little shake. She let out a short sigh, but then seemed to perk up slightly. “But I know she’s still there. I guess you can say I just feel her,” she said as she momentarily pressed one of her hooves against her chest. “Sometimes I even remember things that I know I never did or learned myself. They must be her memories.”

“Chrysalis used to tell us similar things; that she could still feel you and every once in awhile, she’d remember something from your life, but she couldn’t explain why. We always thought it had something to do with the magic you gave her.” Moondancer silently looked down at her own hooves for a moment, shifting one over the other. “She spent a lot of time searching the mindscape for you, thinking that she’d be able to find you eventually if she just kept followed that feeling. We always hoped that we’d get to see you again or at least talk to you.” She looked up at Twily and smiled. “And now we can, though I never imagined it would be like this.”

“Yeah... me neither.” Twily tried to match the smile that Moondancer had given her, but was unable to match her enthusiasm, and the smile quickly faded away.

Twilight reached over and placed one of her forehooves over Twily’s foreleg. When Twily looked up to her, Twilight smiled warmly and said, “We’ll get this figured out.”

Twily’s ears slowly fell back. “What would happen if we don’t?”

“We will.” Twily didn’t seem to believe what she was being told if the way she deeply furrowed her brow and looked away was any indication. “Hey,” Twilight said, looking and sounding a bit more serious. She lifted her forehoof and laid it gently upon Twily’s shoulder, who looked back up to her eyes. “We will,” Twilight said, putting as much confidence behind her words as she could.

Twily silently stared back into Twilight’s eyes for a moment and then let out a heavy sigh as she cast her gaze down. She turned one of her hooves over again, quietly looking it over.

Twilight drew in a breath to speak again, but Twily spoke up first.

“Something’s been bothering me. Something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about.”

Something about Twily’s tone seemed suddenly different. It was much like when she had confronted Graphite back at the infirmary. Twilight chose to remain silent and listen.

Twily looked into Twilight’s eyes. “You went back to a world that didn’t have a changeling queen,” she said. “I’m not ever going to give up hope that we’ll get Chrys back, but she’s still been losing her powers. She can’t even influence a drone anymore.”

Moondancer leaned in closer to the edge of her seat. “She’s losing her control over the changelings?”

“It’s not really a problem in Sanctuary,” Twily answered, looking across the room at her. “The changelings there don’t need to be controlled.” She looked back to Twilight as she continued. “I have... memories from her about this, and I remember her hiding it as best she could. There are only a few others that she trusts enough to tell this too. The princesses know, and Graphite, but she’s worried about what the other swarms out there in the world might do if they knew they could defy her now. Things could take a really bad turn if they found out the truth.” Twily’s gaze seemed to lose focus as she looked off toward the window. “I’m worried about what might happen if they figured out she isn’t even here right now.”

She’s right to be worried, Twilight found herself thinking. Of course she remembered what had happened in the years following her return to her own time, regardless of how much as she would rather not. She had long since moved on and did not like to revisit those memories.

But then, would this mean that this world was fated to repeat the same history or something like it? Twilight felt a tinge of guilt at the thought of keeping information to herself that could very well save lives and avoid needless suffering.

She shook her head as she let out a heavy sigh, resigning herself to retelling events she wished she could keep buried. “Things didn’t exactly go well with the changelings after I returned home. Many of them lost their leader when our Chrysalis never returned. There were changelings that had been friendly with Equestria for centuries before then, so we knew it was possible for them to change for the better, but those that had chosen to follow our Chrysalis were anything but friendly. They had actually gotten quite a bit more aggressive over the years. We thought things would start to improve after she was gone.” Twilight deeply furrowed her brow as she quietly said, “We were wrong about that.”

“What happened?” Twily asked.

Twilight looked to each of her companions, noting that they were both intently focused on her every word. “Nothing, for quite a while,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “They went quiet for over a hundred years. Rumor spread that they had died out with the loss of their queen and after that, they sort of faded from memory, but the reality was that they had only hidden so well that you couldn’t even tell they were there. We decided to leave them alone, thinking they may just remain reclusive and harmless like they had been in the past.

“Then one day they started to attack again, except it was a lot worse than it had ever been before. When Chrysalis had been their queen, changelings were more of a nuisance and rarely ever caused lasting physical harm. They often infiltrated communities, posing as other ponies and causing confusion. Sometimes they were desperate enough to foalnap ponies so they could harvest as much emotional energy as they could from them, but that was pretty rare.” Twilight hesitated, her mouth silently hanging open for a few seconds before she forced herself to continue. “These new attacks... started leaving bodies.”

“T-they were killing?” Twily asked as her eyes widened in surprise. Her ears laid back flat against her head as she asked, “But, why?”

“It was their bite. It was extremely toxic, and caused internal bleeding, mostly in the lungs. Anypony bitten by them would die a short time afterward if they didn’t get an antidote immediately.”

Twily hung her head, staring down at her crossed forelegs. “The venom doesn’t do that,” she said just above a whisper as she shook her head in disbelief.

“That’s what we thought too,” Twilight said, nodding her head slightly. “We thought we were actually up against something entirely different, some other deadly creatures we’d never seen in Equestria before. But we actually managed to catch some of them, and after a few tests, we confirmed it. They were changelings, but they had... changed so much. They looked like giant insects, like scarab beetles the size of ponies, but looking nothing like a pony at all.” Twilight deeply furrowed her brow, falling silent for a few seconds as she recalled the giant, insect-like creatures. She felt a shiver run down her spine the moment a memory of the sounds of their inequine screeching surfaced in her mind.

Twilight glanced at her two companions, and upon seeing them patiently waiting for her, she cleared her throat and continued. “Their bite was deadly, and trying to reason with them was like trying to reason with a caged animal. I actually tried over and over to get through to them to find out what had happened to them, but it was like they simply didn’t care. They had a single drive. Find prey, disable it, and feed, and nothing else interested them. Obviously, their curse had somehow gotten worse, but we never did figure out how or why.”

“How many were there?” Twily asked, her voice hovering just above a whisper. She was blankly staring down at her crossed forelegs, slowly shifting one over the other.

“How many?” Twilight asked to make sure she had heard the question correctly, tilting and lowering her head closer to Twily.

Twily simply continued to stare down at her hooves, silently nodding.

“Well that’s just it,” Twilight said as she lifted her head. “We got taken by surprise a few years after the sporadic attacks started. The Crystal Empire got hit by a swarm that was larger than anything we’d ever seen before. We never figured out where they all came from.”

“Spawning.” Twily let out a heavy sigh. “They were using spawning.”

Moondancer glanced between Twilight and Twily with a confused and somewhat concerned look on her face. “Uh, what’s spawning?”

“It’s—” Twily paused for a moment as she considered how best to explain. “Well... you both know that some changelings can take on the form of just about any living creature,” she said. She waited until the others both nodded to her. “Some of them can do more than just change their outside appearance. Some can... change stuff on the inside too.”

For a moment, the only sound in the private room was the rhythmic click-clack of the train wheels rolling down the tracks.

Oh...,” Moondancer said, her ears laying back flat when the full implications of what Twily had said sunk in.

“I talked with Chrys about it a long time ago,” Twily said. She slowly shuffled her forehooves over one another and continued to stare at them as she spoke. “We spent a lot of time together in that mindscape without much to do, so I used to ask about a lot of things. One day I asked her why the other changelings looked so different from her, and she told me it was because of a mistake she made.

“Even after she and her followers were cursed, she still planned to take the Crystal Empire back from Sombra. The problem was she didn’t have an army to help her take it, she only had herself and some of her followers and they’d already been defeated by Sombra once. And after seeing what had happened to them, Equestria refused to send any soldiers, afraid they would just be cursed too.

“She’d tried breaking the curse but couldn’t find a way, but she did manage to find ways to control it. Ways to use the transformation magic in the curse to change herself. She taught that to the others, and they became the first changelings, but they were very small in number compared to the army that Sombra was building.

“So, she tried something.” Twily glanced up, looking to each of the others momentarily before looking back down at her forehooves. “Since the curse made them look like insects, she tried experimenting with her body, and found a way to make herself like a real hive queen.”

“She hatched a brood of eggs,” Twilight said.

“Thousands of eggs,” Twily quietly said, nodding her head as she looked to Twilight. “She said it was a mistake; that she was too focused on getting her revenge to realize just how wrong it was. The children that hatched grew to maturity in less than a year, but they were far less like ponies than herself and seemed to care more about base instincts than anything else. The curse nearly drove them into a frenzy. If she hadn’t learned how to control them herself, they would have ruthlessly attacked anything they could get their fangs on like a swarm of starving insects.” Twily paused for a moment, and her gaze drifted off to the window.

Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the window but saw nothing particularly interesting about the scenery that was passing by. When she looked back at Twily, she noticed her unfocused stare, and how she was absently rubbing a fetlock over her other foreleg. Something had drawn her inward. She worried that their talking may have stirred up some unpleasant memories from Chrysalis's past. She gently reached out and laid one of her hooves on top her Twily’s, which caused her to flinch but did draw her out of her trance.

Twily silently stared at Twilight for a few seconds before letting out a small sigh and shaking her head. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Anyway, that’s why the ones you call drones look so different. They’re naturally born changelings that are descendants of the first brood. After what happened back then, Chrys forbid spawning. It wasn’t worth winning if her ponies were just going to become monsters. All the descendants since then have been uh... born just like equines.”

“I get the feeling that our Chrysalis changed her mind on that,” Twilight said. “We found evidence that at least some of the changelings in my time were hatched. To be honest, I thought they had all always been born that way.”

“Your Chrysalis was very different from the Chrys I know.” Twily looked down at her forehooves again, turning one over. “She obviously hated us, and even lied to Chrys about us to get what she wanted.”

Moondancer spoke up, asking, “So Chrys never did... that... again, right?”

“Right,” Twily said, nodding her head. “And it wasn’t too long after Sombra and the Crystal Empire were banished that Chrys realized she needed help to keep the first brood in check. She taught her followers how to help her keep them under control, but even that wasn’t going to be enough in the long run. Maintaining control over the will of so many minds was exhausting, and the only way they could replenish their magic was to take emotional energy from non-changelings, which wasn’t exactly easy. She needed more followers that were like her, ponies that were changed by the curse but not born with it since the drones couldn’t be taught how to control others. She studied their curse further, looking for a way to spread the curse to more ponies, and when she found it, she started to invite outsiders into the swarm.”

“The Coven,” Twilight stated.

Twily nodded. “There’s been thousands of members over the years. They all start off as normal ponies, but for one reason or another, they all choose to join the swarm and underwent the change. The Coven was the only way to keep the drones under control back then. If they’d been allowed to do whatever they wanted, things would have gotten... really bad.” She shrugged her shoulders and let out a short sigh before continuing. “The control really isn’t needed so much today so there aren’t as many invited to the Coven. There’s usually only one member in a hive anymore. But, thanks to Chrys bringing others into the swarm for over a thousand years, the descendants today behave a lot more like equines, though they still don’t look much like them.”

“So the changelings in my Equestria hatched broods to increase their numbers,” Twilight said, reflecting on what she had learned.

“Probably,” Twily quietly said, nodding her head.

“And that caused their curse to get a lot worse.”

“Probably,” Twily repeated, nodding her head once again.

Twilight drew in a deep breath, and then let out a heavy sigh. “That explains a lot,” she said, her voice sounding heavily weighed down.

Moondancer leaned in closer to the edge of her seat, looking up at Twilight. “How bad has it gotten?” she asked. Her ears fell back slightly when Twilight looked to her with a look on her face that was difficult to read. She couldn’t quite tell if Twilight was upset about being asked or not.

She did hesitate for a few seconds, but Twilight did finally answer. “We solved the problem quite a long time ago.” When she noticed Twily and Moondancer both still waiting for her to say more, she simply added, “I’d like to just leave it at that, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, s-sorry,” Moondancer said, shrinking back a bit.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I brought this up,” Twily mumbled. “It’s just something that’s been on my mind almost constantly. I think... Chrys was really worried about it.”

Twilight closed her eyes. “I can understand why she would worry.”

With that, the conversation was brought to an abrupt end, with Twilight unwilling to speak further on the subject and her two companions not wanting to press her further. It seemed that the rest of the trip would be doomed to be filled with nothing but awkward silence.

“So ah,” Moondancer said, turning to look at Twily. “Don’t know how much Twilight has told you, but I married your brother a couple years ago.”

Twily smiled. “Yeah, I actually just heard about it this morning. Guess that makes us sister-in-laws,” she said, ending with a light chuckle.

“Yep,” Moondancer said, nodding her head. She then casually added, “You’re also an aunt.”

It took a few seconds for her to react, but when she finally did, Twily sat bolt upright on her seat. “Really!?”

Twilight couldn’t help but laugh a bit at Twily’s reaction. She was thankful that Moondancer had taken the chance to change the subject to something a bit more uplifting. She had actually been worried earlier that these two wouldn’t hit it off like she had hoped, but listening in as Twily quizzed Moondancer on details about her new nephew put her mind at ease.

She decided to let the two of them talk without her intervention, opting instead to rest her chin upon her folded forelegs while she listened. The late afternoon sunlight shining in through the window was like a warm blanket spread out across her back, and the rhythmic tapping of the train wheels rolling down the tracks was like a lullaby coaxing Twilight into taking a nap. She fought the urge to let her eyes close for a few minutes, wondering if her companions would think it rude if she chose to sleep for the rest of the trip. However, she was still a bit behind on her rest since she had arrived in this Equestria, and things might only get busier once they arrived in the Crystal Empire.

Her decision made, Twilight chose to let her eyes fully close, and not even a minute later the sounds of her companion’s voices faded into the background as she drifted into an afternoon nap.

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 1

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 1

Twilight blinked and noticed that her eyelids felt strangely heavy, similar to how they felt when waking up from a nap. The muffled sounds of nearby talking rung in her ears, the words impossible to make out. It sounded as if she were listening to a nearby conversation while her head was submerged in water.

She blinked again and slowly glanced around the room. Everything appeared a bit blurry, but she still recognized her surroundings. She was standing in her communications room in her castle. She stood at the edge of the circle of runes that ran along the floor around the large projection crystal in the center, and all around the circle were blurry images made of light projected by the crystal’s magic.

She blinked once more, shaking her head a bit this time in an attempt to shake off the haziness from her mind, and the blurred surroundings came into focus. The projected images were those of the Equestrian Elder Council. To her right, she saw an image of Celestia and Luna standing side by side. To her left, an image of Cadance and Flurry Heart. Across from her on the other side of the circle was projected a pony-sized image of Spike, his arms crossed across his chest as he tapped one of his claws against his arm, and a short distance from his right was an image of a colorful changeling with a mostly light green carapace that faded to a burnt orange at his legs, one of the allies from the Old Kingdom. Two very bushy antennae jutted out from his forehead, giving him the appearance of having a pair of oversized bushy eyebrows fixed in an eternal scowl. His name escaped her at that moment even though she was sure she should know it.

Something about the meeting seemed off. Twilight had the strange sensation that she had just been somewhere else entirely, though she knew that couldn’t possibly be true. It was more likely that she had just caught herself letting her mind wander. She really hoped that she hadn’t been dozing off during the middle of a council meeting, that would have been rather embarrassing. However, she couldn’t recall what this particular meeting was for, though she knew that it was somehow urgent.

“You’re the only others we can call on!” The sound of Flurry’s stressed voice speaking through her projection rung through the room, and Twilight’s attention snapped to her. She saw Flurry addressing the changeling. “Your people have an immunity to the venom.”

Venom. Of course. Twilight furrowed her brow deeply and shook her head. The details all came rushing back to her at once. They were holding an emergency council meeting and had asked for Lamellate, a diplomat from the Old Kingdom, to join them so they could request their aid. The Crystal Empire was currently under imminent threat of attack from a large swarm of feral changelings seen moving across the Frozen North. Twilight mentally chastised herself for getting distracted at such a crucial moment. How could she possibly be letting her mind wander? Perhaps it was because she couldn’t stop thinking that her repeated requests for more time to find a peaceful solution to the feral problem may have given them enough time to build an army.

Lamellate firmly shook his head. “You’re asking us to send armies we don’t have,” he said, stamping a hoof as he spoke in a raised voice. “Very few of our changelings choose to be warriors. You can’t seriously expect us to send thousands of our peaceful citizens in a desperate attempt to overwhelm our feral brethren.” His iridescent wings buzzed at his sides, showing his agitation, but he let out a long sigh and then continued in a calmer tone. “We are prepared to send what supplies we can. Antidotes, food, water, whatever you may need. But we will not send our people to act as your shield.”

A deep frown crossed Flurry’s muzzle. Unsatisfied with the answer, she pressed further. “We need to work together to stop them before they become more organized or, heavens help us, more numerous than they already are. You can’t honestly believe that they’ll just stop when they’re done with the Crystal Empire. It isn’t a matter of if they’ll attack your kingdom, but when. If you sit back and allow them to destroy your allies, then who will you call on when they turn their eye to your kingdom?” Lamellate seemed unmoved by her plea, but that didn’t dissuade her from continuing. “We understand that you don’t keep a standing army, but the swarm attacking us is just as you said, feral. They’re like animals, not soldiers. We could outfit volunteers with weapons and protective armor that would—”

“I said no,” Lamellate firmly spoke with a slight growl behind his words. “The ferals haven’t attacked us and I am not going to put our entire kingdom at risk by provoking them. Fighting has never been our way.”

Flurry narrowed her eyes slightly at him. She matched Lamellate’s harsh tone as she said, “Your way is to hide behind walls and watch your allies die then?”

“Flurry,” Cadance said as she looked to her daughter, sounding a bit shocked.

She briefly met her mother’s gaze, and then simply looked away, remaining silent.

A brief moment of silent tension lingered until Lamellate let out another loud sigh. “Seems I have worn out my welcome here, but our offer will remain.” His image made some motions with his hoof just in front of him as he said, “Contact me if you decide that your people need the supplies and they will be sent.” And with that, his image flickered and vanished.

A sobering silence settled in the room afterward. Although no one was speaking, they were all likely thinking the same thing. They were going to have to find a solution to this crisis on their own.

“Thorax would have helped us,” Flurry quietly said, drawing everyone’s attention to her. She was still staring off blankly to the side. “I wish he was still around.”

“Unfortunately, he is not,” Luna said from across the room.

Flurry raised her head and glanced around the room. A heavy sigh escaped her and she hung her head. “I’m sorry, I let my temper get the best of me.”

Cadance unfolded her wing and draped it over her daughter’s shoulders, hugging her close to her side. The gesture did manage to coax a small smile from her.

The low rumbling of Spike’s voice filled the room from the other side, sounding like it came from a being much larger than what his projection appeared to be. “You didn’t say anything that the rest of us weren’t thinking,” he said, following it up with a quick snort of smoke from his nostrils.

Flurry lifted her head and looked toward him. “Maybe. But Equestria is on its own now. They were the only ones we could ask to send help without it being suicide.”

“Hey, you still got us!” Spike said, thudding his balled fist against his chest a couple times causing a deep rumbling to echo through the room.

“Spike,” Flurry said as she smiled to him. “Your clan is part of Equestria. And of course, the Crystal Empire knows it can always count on one of its greatest heroes in times of need.”

“Still,” Twilight quickly spoke up, lifting one of her hooves and pointing it at Spike. “Remember that your dragons aren’t invincible, nor are they immune to the venom. Only you and the other elder dragons really stand a chance against this many, and honestly, I think it is still going to be too much.” Spike let out a somewhat defensive sounding short as he folded his arms across his chest again, but Twilight pressed further on her point. “A few ferals is nothing to you, Spike, but over a thousand of them? Enough bites get past your scales and you’d be drowning in your own blood just like any of us.”

Spike’s ear fins folded back slightly while he gnashed his teeth together. Though he didn’t verbally admit it, it was obvious that he knew Twilight was right. The feral swarm was a real danger even to the elder dragons of Equestria.

“So...,” Luna began, waiting until she had everyone’s attention before continuing. “What do we do about this? I seriously doubt we can just wait them out.”

There was a brief pause, then Celestia’s image took a single step forward. “If we can’t reason with them, then we face them with our combined might. It is the only choice they have left to us.” She looked across the room to Cadance and Flurry. “Will you two be able to defend the Empire until the rest of us arrive?”

“That... won’t be a problem,” Cadance said.

Twilight furrowed her brow. Something was wrong.

Luna must have sensed it as well, as she voiced the same question that had just crossed Twilight’s mind. “Why do I sense that there still is a problem?”

Cadance’s horn glowed briefly and the crystal in the room projected a scaled image of the entire Crystal Empire across the floor at Twilight’s hooves. Everyone else looked down to the floor in front of them as well. They would each be seeing the same projection before them at their own physical locations. “The swarm is coming in from the west,” Cadance said as she made a quick gesture with her hoof. The map zoomed out slightly and shifted to the right to reveal the snow-covered landscape of the Frozen North, and a glowing red circle appeared far to the left. “They’ll pass right over Snowden before reaching the Empire,” Cadance continued, making another motion with her hoof that caused an image of a small town to appear right beside of the Empire. “Or more likely, right through it,” she said through a sigh.

The Crystal Empire and much of the surrounding land was protected from most of the harsh blizzard conditions of the Frozen North thanks to the power of the Crystal Heart. The main city had become crowded as time had passed, and eventually, the small town of Snowden was founded in the temperate lands just west of the city when enough of the crystal ponies decided that they wanted a less crowded place to live.

Twilight tapped the side of her hoof to her chin while she studied the map. “How long until they reach the town?”

“A few hours. The cold has slowed them some, so maybe longer if we’re lucky,” Cadance said. She motioned with her hoof again and the map zoomed in on the border between Snowden and the Empire. “The eastern edge of Snowden is less than a ten minute gallop from the main city’s borders, but that’s the problem. It’s just too far. The ponies living in Snowden need to evacuate.”

Cadance was very gifted in shielding magic, and would easily be able to encompass the Crystal Empire in a protective shield like she had done in the past, but extending the radius of the shield further to attempt to cover both the Empire and Snowden would likely more than double the required surface area. Spreading the shield spell over such a wide area would weaken it to the point of being useless.

Celestia furrowed her brow and glanced up across the room. “There isn’t much time to prepare for a proper evacuation of an entire village.”

“No, there isn’t,” Flurry spoke up, shaking her head. “Considering most of the crystal ponies that live there can’t fly, and all of the ferals can, any ponies still trying to make it out of the town when they do show up... probably won’t make it.”

Luna reached up and placed a hoof on her sister’s shoulder, drawing her attention to her. “Even if we managed to arrive first, defending a town out in the open against a thousand ferals isn’t exactly to our advantage.”

Celestia closed her eyes and let out a heavy sigh and sadly nodded her head.

Twilight knew where this was going, and she didn’t like it. They were going to have to make a choice about Snowden. The Empire could send their guard force to attempt the evacuation, but there was the high possibility that they wouldn’t arrive in time to save everyone, and may even end up being casualties themselves. Defending the town was out of the question, but so would be abandoning the ponies that lived there. They had to think of something, and quickly. Time was already running short.

Flurry’s image took a step forward as she spoke up. “My mother and I will have to handle the evacuation and the Empire’s defense until the rest of you arrive. That’s the only option.” She turned slightly toward Cadance. “I have an idea on how we can do it without putting any of our ponies in danger.”

Everyone around the room appeared a bit surprised, if not hopeful. Cadance smiled at her daughter and nodded her head as she said, “Alright then, let’s hear it.”

“Mom, you’ll have to tune your shield to keep out the feral changelings, and there’s no reason to delay activating it. The ferals might send forward scouts.”

Cadance nodded in agreement.

Flurry placed a hoof against her chest as she continued to explain her plan. “I’ll fly to Snowden to get the evacuation started, and when I get there I’ll use a weather spell to stir up a blizzard west of town between us and the changeling swarm.”

“Of course,” Twilight said. “A blizzard would ice their wings, forcing them to the ground, or force them to go the long way around.” She glanced around the room, a smile growing on her muzzle. “Either way, it will help buy time for the evacuation and give us plenty of time to reach the Crystal Empire before the ferals do.”

Flurry’s image smiled back, but then she glanced to her side and noticed the concerned look on her mother’s face. Her smile slipped away almost immediately. “I know that look. What’s wrong with my idea?” she asked.

“It’s just that—” Cadance paused briefly when she caught the hard look that Flurry was giving her. She turned to fully face her daughter and reached one of her hooves out to rest it on her shoulder. “I’m not comfortable with the idea of sending you out there. I would rather you stay within the shielded area if at all possible.”

For a very brief moment, it appeared that Flurry was struggling to keep from scowling in response, managing only a slight flutter of her eyelids instead. “Do you really think there is somepony else in the Empire who can quickly fly out there to handle the evacuation and cast a more powerful blizzard than I can?”

“No, of course not. Your ability isn’t the issue here.” Flurry’s jaw clenched as her frustration noticeably grew, but her mother spoke quickly to try and defuse her anger. “Flurry, please understand. You don’t have much experience with real combat, not that that’s any fault of your own. The Crystal Empire has been at peace for centuries. But this new threat... you definitely have no experience with anything like this. We’d be sending you against an army of monstrous insects that could kill you if even a single one managed to bite you!”

Flurry’s ears fully pinned back against her head. She quickly gestured to her side at everyone that was gathered around the meeting. “Do any of us have experience with something like this?”

“O-okay, point taken,” Cadance said as she took a single step back and quickly glanced at the others around the room. It seemed she’d forgotten for a brief moment that the conversation wasn’t just between her and her daughter. “But, I still strongly suggest we explore a possibility that doesn’t put you alone against a feral changeling swarm.”

Flurry stared back at her mother, her mouth hanging slightly open. She slowly narrowed her eyes before shaking her head. “I can’t believe I’m hearing this. What other options could there even be?”

“I’m... not sure, but these creatures are extremely dangerous,” Cadance said as she continued her plea.

Flurry actually rolled her eyes at that comment. “Yes, I’ve noticed,” she grumbled.

A deep scowl suddenly flashed across Cadance’s muzzle. “We can’t just throw caution into the wind and assume you’ll be fine just because you’re an alicorn,” she said, her voice rising in volume.

“Do you really think I don’t understand the risk?” Flurry said, raising her voice to match her mother. Their faces were so close to one another that their horns were crossing, and it appeared that neither was about to back down while they continued to shout at each other. “This isn’t about what is safest for me. I’m not going to hide here and let our ponies die!” Flurry said, punctuating the last word with a solid stamp from one of her hooves.

Twilight glanced away from the two arguing alicorns to the others around the room. The rest appeared to be just as stunned as she was. While she could imagine that this wasn’t the only time that these two had ever had a heated mother-daughter disagreement before, they had never gotten into a shouting match with each other during a council meeting.

Cadance finally backed down, setting back on her haunches as she took in a long, deep breath. She closed her eyes as she slowly let the breath out. After taking a short moment to let her temper cool, she looked back up at her daughter and continued in a calmer tone. “Flurry, please,” she said as she reached out again and tentatively rest her fetlock against her daughter’s shoulder. “I know you want to help, but there has to be another way. I don’t want you out there.”

Flurry seemed to have cooled her own temper some as well, but she still had a stern look on her face. She briefly glanced at her mother’s hoof, and then looked her directly in the eyes. “Am I or am I not a member of this council?”

Cadance flinched almost as if she had been slapped. It took her a few seconds to find her voice again. “Of course you are—”

“Yes, for well over three centuries now,” Flurry interrupted. She wasn’t shouting, but the stern tone of her voice told that she was obviously still upset. She leaned in a step closer. “The moment that I mention personally doing something that might have a slight chance of danger, you want to simply discard my plan without putting it to a vote. I don’t recall there being a special rule that allows you to do that whenever you want.”

“Flurry, I’m simply looking out for your safety,” Cadance explained.

“We don’t have time to argue about this!” Flurry said, pulling away from her mother as she sat back on her haunches. She covered her face with her fetlocks, letting out a long muffled groan and then mumbling, “Don’t you think it a few hundred years too late to be treating me like a child?”

Cadance suddenly grasped Flurry firmly by her shoulders, startling her. “You are my child!” she shouted. She blinked her eyes a few times as tears began to build up and a pained expression flickered over her face. Her voice cracked as she said, “You will always be my child. Is it really so wrong for a mother to worry about her daughter?”

Flurry was looking like she immediately regretted what she had said. Her ears were folded back flat against her head while her eyes avoided looking directly at her mother. She finally took a deep breath to calm herself and reached up to take her mother’s forehooves in her own. She looked Cadance in the eyes and shook her head. “No, it’s not. But, trying to keep me here means forsaking thousands of lives. That is wrong.”

Cadance ears dropped and a quiet whimper escaped her, but she otherwise remained silent while her daughter spoke.

“We don’t have another plan. I know you don’t like it, and honestly, I’m not exactly thrilled about going out there either. But we’re the only two that our ponies have to protect them right now. If we send our soldiers to delay these ferals instead it will take too long. Anyone still in Snowden when the ferals arrive will be slaughtered. We have to do something about it ourselves now.” Flurry reached up one of her forehooves and gently used her fetlock to wipe away the few tears that were clinging to her mother’s cheek. “You’re needed here to defend the Empire, so that leaves me to head to Snowden.”

Cadance leaned her face against her daughter’s forehoof and let out a heavy sigh. “I can’t explain it, but I just have a horrible feeling about this. These ferals have been so unpredictable, and they’re killing anyone they get their fangs into.”

“Hey,” Flurry said, putting on a smile. “I’m not going out there to get into a hoof fight with a thousand changelings. The blizzard will hold them far away from the town. I won’t even see one of them. By the time the blizzard clears up, all the ponies in Snowden will be evacuated and safe beneath the shield, and everyone will be here to help us. Right?” She looked to the rest of the council members as she asked the question.

“Right,” Twilight responded with a firm nod. She turned to address all the members of the council. “I’m sure all of you can guess what my vote is. We need to move quickly, and Flurry’s plan should buy us the time we need to head north so we can deal with this threat together. I plan to fly there as fast as I can as soon as we’re done here. My vote is to continue with Flurry’s plan.”

Spike struck his fist against his chest causing a deep rumble to echo through the projection once more. “I agree. We can’t spend all day looking for another way. I’ll bring a couple of our best with me. We’ll meet you halfway there, Twi.”

“My sister and I won’t be that far behind,” Celestia added, glancing down to Luna who nodded back to her.

“See?” Flurry asked as she looked back to her mother. “Once they’re all here, everything will be okay. We’ll figure this out together.”

Cadance looked as if she were exhausted, allowing her ears to droop and her shoulders to slump. “I know. I’m overreacting,” she said as she slowly shook her head. But she quickly followed it up by pointing a hoof at her daughter and squinting her eyes as she said, “But I’m your mother, so I get to do that.” Though she tried to maintain a serious expression, a hint of a smile was managing to creep in at the edges of her mouth.

“I know,” Flurry said with a small laugh. She leaned forward and embraced her mother fully as they wrapped their wings around each other. “I promise I’ll be careful,” she said quietly. They sat there in the embrace for a few seconds longer before Flurry pulled away and stood. “Now, I need to get going. Every minute I wait here is one less our ponies have to evacuate.”

“Be safe,” Cadance said as she stood and took a quick step forward. She leaned in and gave Flurry a quick kiss and nuzzle on the side of her muzzle, then took a step back. “I’ve always been proud of you.”

Flurry smiled and then turned to walk away. Her image flickered and vanished when she left the range of the projection crystal’s magic.

“We’ll be there as fast as we can, Cadance,” Twilight said. When she saw Cadance look to her and give her a weary smile, she added, “Don’t worry, we’re going to beat this together.”

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 2

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 2

Twilight blink-blinked her eyes and lightly shook her head to chase away the haziness that had settled over her mind once again. Time had seemed to pass like a quick blur since she had rushed out of her castle and taken to the skies to head northward. She took a moment to glance down at the land passing beneath her, and realized that she didn’t immediately recognize the area. She’d caught herself not paying attention to her surroundings once again. She wondered why her mind seemed so distracted.

She suddenly became acutely aware of the burning sensation in her flight muscles. It seemed she had pushed herself a bit too hard in her desperate rush to reach the Frozen North. Her wings were begging her to stop and rest, but she needed to stay airborne if Spike was going to see her.

As luck would have it, right then she heard a loud roar that drew her attention eastward. “Oh, thank goodness,” she said through a heavy sigh when she spotted the silhouette of three large dragons headed in her direction. She soared on what updrafts she could find to stay aloft, allowing them to catch up to her. The three silhouettes approached at a quick pace, managing to reach her in less than a minute.

Spike coasted up just below Twilight between the two other slightly larger dragons. While he may have been the smallest of the three overall, his wingspan was still easily twenty times that of Twilight’s, and he was easily over ten times as long as her from snout to tail. Their much larger wings and greater endurance would allow the elder dragons to reach the Frozen North much faster than Twilight could have ever hoped to on her own.

Twilight delicately landed on Spike’s back, hooking her forelegs over his left shoulder. She let out a groan as she folded her sore wings against her sides.

“Going our way?” Spike asked, eyeing Twilight with one of his large draconic eyes and giving her a big toothy grin. He and his two companions flapped their large wings a few times and they quickly picked up quite a bit of speed as the wind began to whistle past them.

“Yeah, thank you, Spike,” Twilight called out over the wind. “Felt like my wings were about to fall off.”

“Can’t have that,” Spike said, and Twilight felt a rumble as he quietly chuckled. However his grin slipped away shortly afterwards. “You should rest as much as you can before we get there. You’ll probably need it.”

Twilight nodded her head. She then leaned back slightly and looked out to her right at the light blue dragon that was following with them, who smiled when she noticed Twilight looking at her. “Ember, it’s good to see you,” Twilight called out to her.

“You too,” Ember called back. “Just wish there was a better reason for this reunion.”

“Yeah, me too,” Twilight said as she looked down, though it had only been loud enough for her and Spike to hear. She then looked to her left at the dark red dragon with them. He seemed keenly focused on the horizon before them, though after a few seconds he noticed Twilight’s gaze and turned his head to look her way. Twilight smiled and bowed her head. “Garble, thanks for helping out.”

“My pleasure, Princess,” Garble said, flashing her a toothy grin full of some of the most jagged teeth in all of Equestria. He turned his attention back to the horizon and deeply furrowed his brow as he slammed a balled fist into his other palm, making a sound almost like a thunderclap. “Can’t wait to squash some bugs.”

Spike quickly pointed a claw at him. “Only if necessary, Garb,” he said in a warning tone.

“Yeah yeah, I know,” he said, rolling his eyes and dismissively waving one of his hands. “But these things have had it coming for a while. Just how long are we going to keep letting them kill stuff without killing them back?”

Twilight felt the heavy exhale from Spike before he spoke. “We’ll probably figure that out today.”

Garble focused on the horizon ahead, slamming his fist into his palm once more and cracking his knuckles for good measure.

Twilight looked out at the horizon ahead of them as well and sadly shook her head. “Honestly, I think Garble has a point.”

Spike’s eye focused on her again, and his eyebrow ridge raised slightly.

When Twilight noticed him looking at her, she said, “We’re beyond any possibility of reasoning with them now.” She closed her eyes as she rested her chin between her forelegs on Spike’s shoulder. “I wasted too much time,” she said.

Spike reached up and gently nudged Twilight with the back of one of his fingers. When she glanced over at him he gave her a stern look and slightly shook his head. “None of that.”

“They’ve been randomly attacking and killing Equestrians for years now, and I’m the one who kept asking for more time,” Twilight said, pressing one of her hooves against her chest.

“And I agreed with it,” Spike responded, pointing at himself with one of his claws. He glanced back out at the horizon ahead of them. “We all did. A peaceful solution is always better than violence. If you want to blame someone, blame the ferals. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Twilight went back to resting her chin upon Spike’s shoulder. Technically, Spike was right. She hadn’t done anything to provoke the wrath of a large feral swarm that she knew of. Up until this day, their attacks had seemed random and aimless, much like animals that were simply hunting for prey when hungry. For them to all suddenly descend upon a single location together had, at first, seemed out of the ordinary. “I’m not even sure they consciously realize what they’re doing. The Crystal Empire is one of the most well defended cities in Equestria, and it's in the middle of the Frozen North. They picked the hardest target they could.”

Twilight felt a deep rumble from within Spike right before he said, “Yeah, that is kinda strange.”

“No, not strange,” Twilight said as she shook her head. Her comment quickly got the attention of all three of the dragons. “I’ve been thinking about it, and it makes sense why they would take that risk if they’re simply acting on instinct alone. Cursed changelings desire emotional energy, and love is the most powerful emotion there is. What if they could get a physical, condensed source of what they wanted the most?”

Ember’s eyes widened slightly. “You think they’re after the Crystal Heart.”

“Too much lovey-doveiness in one spot got their attention, huh?” Garble said as he scratched his claws against the rough scales on his chin.

Spike let out an annoyed sounding grunt. “If that’s what they’re after, they aren’t going to leave until they get it, are they?”

Twilight sadly shook her head. “No.”

“A thousand changelings,” Spike grumbled as he stared blankly out at the horizon.

Garble loudly cracked his knuckles again. “Bring it on.”

“Don’t be too eager to tango with these things,” Spike warned as he once again shook a pointed finger at Garble. “We got scales to protect us but we’re not immune. Enough bites make it through and your insides turn to mush.”

Garble seemed unfazed by the threat of danger. He puffed up his chest and said, “I say we see how well they deal with dragon fire. Have us a bug roast.” He snorted streams of black smoke from his nostrils for good measure.

Twilight lifted her head, looking toward Garble. “First thing is to make sure the citizens are safe beneath the shield.” When she saw Garble nod once to confirm that he understood, she looked forward and said, “Hopefully the evacuation is going well.”

“We’re making pretty good time,” Spike said. He gestured forward with a pointed claw and said, “There’s the southern ridge. Should see the city once we get over that.”

Twilight had managed to cover nearly half the distance between her castle and the Frozen North on her own in a little under an hour, but now that she was riding with Spike they were very quickly covering the remaining half of the trip in a fraction of the time. The white caps of the Frozen North’s southern mountain ridge were already in sight.

Twilight could feel the sudden forward lurch when Spike forcefully flapped his wings to fly faster. She had to squint her eyes against the rushing wind and hold tight with her forehooves hooked over his shoulder. They covered the remaining distance to the mountain range in only a few minutes, and she felt the temperature suddenly drop the moment they passed over the mountain peaks and entered the Frozen North. The sun’s light dimmed as they passed under the thick cover of gray clouds hovering just beyond the mountain range.

Dragon’s were known for living in the warmer climates near the southern border of Equestria, and didn’t do well with intense cold. Luckily, they wouldn’t have to fly far before they would reach the land protected by the Crystal Heart’s magic where the air temperatures were much milder. Still, Twilight did notice Spike’s burst of speed starting to wane as they pressed onward through the cold air.

After flying for a few minutes more, some infrequent breaks in the cloud cover provided enough sunlight for Twilight to spot the city through the haze. The shield was already up, but she noticed something that she hadn’t expected to see. Cadance’s shield should have been a shimmering light blue, but this one looked dull black. “Something’s not right,” she called out, squinting her eyes and trying to using pegasus magic to focus her sight. She noticed that not only did the shield look black, but there was a faint cloud of... something... around it.

Garble used one of his clawed hands to shield his eyes from the cold, hazy air as he looked ahead. “Yeah, what’s up with the shield? Is it supposed to be black like that?”

As they got closer to the city, the clouds overhead thinned and gave way to more sunlight. The land below them went from snow covered to a lush green in a matter of seconds as they reached the area protected by the Crystal Heart’s magic. The way was finally clear, and they could all clearly see the swarm of feral changings covering the protective shield over the city.

For a few seconds, Twilight didn’t trust her own eyes. She quickly rubbed her eyes with her forehooves before looking out at the city once more. Was it a trick? Was she really seeing the city’s shield literally covered in changelings? There was only supposed to be a swarm of a thousand, but this was so far beyond that number that it didn’t seem possible. She honestly wondered if anyone else saw the same thing. “... Spike?” she quietly asked, leaving an unasked question lingering.

“... I see them,” Spike answered, unable to take his eyes off the city ahead of them.

“How are they already here? I thought we had more time.” Twilight happened to glance a bit to the west of the main city, where she noticed a localized blizzard raging only a short distance away on top of the small town of Snowden. “What is happening?” she asked in a hushed voice. Her mind began to race, attempting to invent some sort of explanation for what she was seeing. Flurry’s blizzard should have been well west of Snowden, not on top of it. Twilight shivered when stray thoughts of what could have gone wrong began to pop into her mind, but she very quickly pushed the thoughts aside. They had a larger problem ahead of them.

“There’s so many of them,” Ember said, staring wide-eyed at the large swarm that was clinging to the shield. “There must be tens of thousands... or more.”

“Yeah, so....” Garble paused, grinding his teeth together as he reached up and raked his claws against the scales on his chin. He glanced over at the rest of the group and asked, “How are we getting in?”

Pushing through a dense swarm of ferals and hoping that no one got bitten would be a haphazard solution at best. So far, the swarm didn’t appear to notice them, but they were quickly approaching and likely wouldn’t go unnoticed for much longer. Twilight then realized that they were easily close enough for a short range teleport. “I think I can get us through. Everyone get as close as you can.”

Spike grumbled something unintelligible under his breath. “Alright, stack up!” he called out to the other two dragons.
“Em, under. Garb, over. Get as close as you can.” Ember and Garble did as they were told, flying in closer until they were soaring together in a closely packed stack of dragons.

“What, exactly, are we doing?” Garble asked.

“Just hang onto your tail, Garb,” Spike said. He turned his head to glance at Twilight and asked, “You sure you got all of us?”

Twilight furrowed her brow, giving him a look that seemed to say that she knew what she was doing and that he should know better than to ask that question. Her horn started to glow the instant she closed her eyes, and in her mind, she tried to picture the street that ran south of the city’s crystal spire.

Twilight’s concentration hit a snag when Garble suddenly spoke up. “Um, might want to hurry. They noticed us.” He was quickly shushed by Spike.

Great. She didn’t like being rushed, but her ears were already picking up on the distant buzzing of what she imagined was a large cloud of deadly pony sized insects. She exhaled heavily as she tried once more to quickly blank her mind and imagine the destination.

She would have preferred more than a few seconds time to teleport herself and three elder dragons, but her ears told her that a few seconds was all she was going to get if she didn’t want to risk their safety. She reached out with the spell, grasping at the destination in her mind. The moment she felt a tenuous link to the other side, she mentally let go of their current location, allowing the teleport to pull them through to the other side.

The instant they popped out of the bright flash above the city street, Twilight felt a sudden shift in her momentum. Her eyes shot open as she grasped at Spike’s shoulder to avoid being tossed off. All three of the dragons flared and flapped their wings as they struggled to keep from tumbling through the air. Ember was the first to land on the street, and Spike landed just a second later. A loud screech filled the air as their claws dug at the flat crystal beneath them to bring themselves to a stop.

Garble wasn’t as lucky. Being the top of the dragon stack, he had been tossed out of the teleport with a bit more force than the others. In his vain attempt to slow himself down, his wild flapping managed to fly him directly into the chimney of one of the nearby houses. The impact caused a small explosion of crystal shards to rain down on the street. He flipped end over end afterward, landing on his back in the grass just beyond the house with a loud thud that could be felt in the area around them.

Twilight let out a gasp and then scrambled to jump down from Spike’s shoulder. She quickly galloped over to where Garble was sprawled out on the ground, reaching his side just as he began to push himself to sit up. “Oh, Garble! I’m so sorry! I had to rush the teleport spell.” Her ears fell back when Garble started coughing and beating one of his fists against his chest. “Are you alright?”

“I think I swallowed half of—cough—that chimney,” Garble said in a strained voice, hitting his chest a couple more times before letting out a deep, reverberating belch.

Twilight quickly retreated a few steps, covering her nose with her wing as a gust of warm, damp dragon breath washed over her.

Garble smacked his lips a couple times and grimaced. “Can’t say that crystal chimney is my favorite.”

Spike walked up next to them, holding out one of his hands which Garble took and allowed himself to be pulled up. Spike patted him on the shoulder and asked, “You good, Garb?”

Garble flexed his neck back and forth and rolled his shoulders a few times, causing some loud bone popping sounds. He grinned and said, “Yeah, no problem, Boss.”

Spike smirked back at him and then glanced at the shattered remains of the chimney that had been separated from the house it belonged to. There wasn’t much chimney left, but that seemed to be the extent of the damage. “Well, at least you didn’t knock the entire house down.”

Twilight let out a small sigh, relieved that she hadn’t caused Garble any permanent harm. With the brief moment of anxiety passed, she noticed the low light levels and the bluish hue coloring everything around them. It was like a blue tinted evening sunset, but it was currently midday. It wasn’t until Twilight glance up that she realized most of the sun’s light was being blocked by the swarm covering the shield, and a good portion of the light they did have was coming from the shield itself.

The sound of hooves galloping on the crystal street grabbed the group’s attention. An armor-clad crystal pony came to a skidding stop just in front of them, panting heavily as he tried to speak. “Lord Spike, Princess Twilight, thank goodness you’re all here. Princess Cadance needs your help. Please, come quickly.” He didn’t wait for an answer before turning and galloping back down the street toward the Crystal Spire.

Twilight took off at a gallop behind the guard, and the dragons all followed up behind her. As they approached the spire, a loud cracking sound like fracturing glass drew their attention upward. There were arcs of blue energy skittering across the shield overhead, quickly knitting together and repairing a long fracture in the shield.

“I really hope they aren’t getting in,” Garble said as he stared at the shield overhead.

Spike furrowed his brow at the strained shield. “Em, Garb, you two stay out here and keep an eye on the shield. Cadance is good, but she’s holding back a legion right now. If there’s a breach, deal with it.”

Ember gave Spike a quick nod.

Garble slammed his balled fist against his chest. “You got it, Boss.”

While Garble and Ember took up their watch posts just outside the Crystal Spire, Twilight quickly followed the guard pony beyond the curtains at the base of the spire into the crystalling chamber. Spike followed behind them, pushing the curtains aside and ducking his head as he entered.

The chamber walls were awash with a light blue light that seemed to spin about the room. Cadance sat facing away from them, looking up at the Crystal Heart suspended at the center of the chamber as its facets reflected the brilliant glow of magical light coming off her horn. She glanced back over her shoulder when she heard hoofsteps quickly approaching her. The fur beneath her eyes was soaked with tears.

“Oh, Twilight!” Cadance called out in a quivering voice. She stood and quickly cantered to Twilight, embracing her with her forelegs and wings while sobs escaped her.

“I’m here, Cadance,” Twilight said, gently nuzzling the side of her neck. She could feel Cadance’s body quivering from the strain she was under from maintaining the spell, and sensed fluctuations in her magical aura.

Cadance sat back slightly, taking a couple breaths before saying, “Please, I need your help.” Twilight immediately began to focus her magic, but was stopped when Cadance placed one of her hooves against her chest and said, “No, not with the shield.”

Twilight furrowed her brow. Cadance obviously needed help keeping the shield stable, so what else could possibly be more important?

Cadance drew in a sharp breath through a sob. “It’s Flurry. She hasn’t come back yet.”

Twilight’s ears fell back. “She’s still out there?” she asked in a hushed voice.


“I don’t know!” Cadance cried. “Not a single pony ever arrived from Snowden. There’s a blizzard right on top of the town and no one knows why! The swarm hit us out of nowhere, I barely got the shield in place in time, and—”

“Okay, shh.” Twilight hugged Cadance tightly, letting her sob into her shoulder. She ran one of her hooves over Cadance’s mane as she said, “It’s going to be okay.” While she didn’t know that for sure, the last thing they needed right now was for Cadance to panic and lose focus on maintaining her spell.

“She might be trapped out there, all alone. Or....” Cadance trailed off into more sobs.

Twilight sat back and looked Cadance directly in the eyes. “I’ll find her. I’ll bring her back. The blizzard is proof that she’s still out there. You have to stay calm and focus. Thousands of lives are depending on you right now. Let me worry about finding Flurry.”

Cadance took a deep, shaky breath, and nodded.

Twilight gave Cadance one last hug and then cantered over next to Spike. He leaned his head down next to her when she waved her hoof for him to get closer. “Keep an eye on her, and keep her calm. That shield has to hold.”

Spike nodded and quietly said, “Alright, I got it. Be careful out there.”

Twilight quickly nodded and then rushed out of the room through the curtains.

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 3

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 3

Twilight passed through the crystalling chamber’s curtains and stepped out onto the street just outside.

Ember was standing just a short distance away, her eyes scanning the skies as she watched the shield overhead. It only took a few seconds for her to notice Twilight, and she took a few steps closer and leaned down so they could talk face to face. “I don’t want to sound like I’m all gloom and doom, but I don’t see how we’re going to be able to deal with this many of them.”

Twilight let out a heavy sigh. “It gets worse. Nopony ever arrived from Snowden.” She continued to walk out on the street, despite the shocked gasp that escaped from Ember, and simply said, “I’m heading to Snowden to look for Flurry.”

“Are you sure she’s still... out there?” Ember asked, seeming unsure of her words.

“Yes, and I’m going to find her,” Twilight said matter-of-factly. She turned to look back at the spire, taking a few steps back as she craned her neck back to look at the shield overhead. She tried her best to concentrate on her task, to look as if she wasn’t worried, but the honest truth was she had barely held back her own tears after seeing how shaken Cadance had been. She had been struggling to keep her mind from imagining horrible things that could be happening to her niece since then. She couldn’t even imagine the troubled thoughts that must have been going through Cadance’s mind, and all after she had tried so hard convince her daughter to stay where it was safe.

Twilight shook her head and focused on the task before her. Worrying about what might have happened was not going to help anyone. All she could do now was bring Flurry home as quickly as possible, and to do that she needed to find a way to Snowden immediately. She couldn’t clearly recall a location in Snowden since she hadn’t often visited the small town. This meant that even though the town was easily within teleport range for her, she couldn’t use a memory teleport to get there. However, since the town wasn't that far, she could cast a line of sight teleport to bypass the changeling swarm.

The problem was the swarm blocking the view. Still, all Twilight needed was a quick glimpse. Perhaps if she had a better vantage point. Her eyes locked onto one of the twin towers of the Crystal Spire and an idea sprung to mind. “I won’t be gone long.”

She didn’t wait for a response from Ember before casting a teleport to bring herself up to the observation platform of the spire’s western tower. From her new vantage point, she could look out across the entirety of the west side of the Crystal Empire, all the way to the edge of the shield protecting it. Normally she would have had a clear view of the countryside beyond and would have easily been able to see Snowden, but that view was blocked by the dense swarm of feral changelings. And unfortunately for her, even from this higher vantage point it was still impossible to see past them.

I need to get outside of the shield. The swarm actually appeared thickest along the western side of the shield between her and her destination where they were focusing their attack. When she glanced upward, she realized that there were far fewer above the shield. If only she could find a spot where there were no changelings, she could slip out.

As her mind was piecing together her plan, she happened to notice a few clouds high above the city on the other side of the shield. That’s it! Without a second thought, Twilight focused on another quick teleport that brought her just above the clouds. She quickly landed and huddled down on one of the clouds, doing her best to hide from view while inching closer to the cloud's edge. She was now well above the city and outside of the shield. The feral swarm seemed focused on clawing and scratching at the shield down below and, so far, hadn’t noticed her presence.

Twilight squinted her eyes as she looked westward. While she now had a mostly clear line of sight to Snowden, it was still difficult to make out the town through the heavy snow coming from the blizzard that was over it. However, she did manage to spot one snow-covered surface through the haze. It wasn’t much, but it would have to do. She cast her teleport spell one more time, targeting the platform she had seen.

Twilight let out a surprised yelp as her back hooves slipped out from under her the moment she landed from the teleport. She managed to catch herself with her forelegs, hooking them over the peak of the roof she had just landed on and just barely avoided sliding off into the street below. She shivered, noticing the intense cold that was very quickly seeping through her feathers and fur and sapping the warmth from her body. The hackles on the back of her neck stood up; she could feel intense magic behind the cold. Familiar magic.

Twilight leaped from the roof, flapping her wings a few times and then landing in knee-deep snow in the street below. She blinked her eyes and shielded her face from the snow blowing in the wind with a wing. The visibility was absolutely horrible. She could barely see more than a few houses away down the street. Finding Flurry in the blizzard was going to be a challenge, to say the least, and it was going to get more difficult the more time she took. If she spent too much time out in the open exposed to the frigid winds, she’d end up freezing to death. She wondered how anyone would survive such intense cold for any longer than a few minutes without catching frostbite. Why would Flurry cast the spell on the town and risk the lives of the ponies that lived there?

“One thing at a time,” she said quietly to herself. She could ask questions after she found her niece. She turned in place to look around to get her bearings, and as she turned around she drew in a surprised gasp. Her shielding magic instinctively activated to encase herself in a protective violet bubble, and her horn glowed a brilliant white at the tip as she readied her magic to defend herself.

However, the feral changeling she had found standing right behind her didn’t move. It only stood there, looking at her with a vacant expression on its insectoid face. In fact, it wasn’t moving at all.

Twilight let the stun spell she had prepared dissipate, but she kept her shield active as she tentatively approached the changeling. It was definitely one of the corrupted ferals that had been terrorizing Equestrians in recent years. Its muzzle had mandibles that jutted out of either side, and a pair of long, sharp fangs protruded from behind its upper lip. Its body was a bit larger around than a pony’s and covered by a shiny black carapace, and its head was sunk back into its body to the point that it seemed to have no visible neck. It looked more like a giant beetle with a sorta-pony-shaped head than a pony. As she took a few steps around it, it didn’t move to watch her. It had snow covering the back of its carapace, and ice had formed along its six spindly legs and its antennae. It was frozen solid.

Twilight let out a shaky breath that she hadn’t realized she’d been holding and finally allowed her shield to dissipate. Her eyes shifted to the side to look further down the street and widened a bit when she noticed that this wasn’t the only changeling standing frozen in the street like a statue. There were easily more than a dozen of them in the short distance that she could see.

That’s why. It now made a bit more sense why Flurry would have cast her spell on the town if this had been what had greeted her, but what about the ponies? It would have frozen them just the same. Still, Twilight saw no sign of a single pony anywhere, only ferals.

Twilight shivered and tucked her wings closer to her sides. The cold was starting to get to her, and she could feel her muscles getting stiff as she trudged through the snow down the street. She had to find a way to locate Flurry and any other survivors before the cold became too much for her, but where would she even begin to look? All she saw around her on the street were frozen changelings.

Wait. Twilight glanced back down the street behind her. All of the changelings were facing the same direction, down the street she was on. Many of them actually appeared like they had been frozen mid-stride. She was fairly certain that the street she was on lead deeper into the town.

Twilight took off at a gallop down the street, despite the stiffness in her muscles and snow-covered ground trying to slow her advance. She found more and more frozen changelings as she made her way deeper into the town, all of them facing the direction she was headed. They must have all been following something, or someone.

It wasn’t long before the street came to an open area. It was difficult to see due to the blowing snow, but it was likely a plaza or park near the center of the town. There were snow covered trees planted in rows, benches half buried in the snow, and near the center of the open area was a frozen fountain. Something glowed with a golden light near it.

Twilight squinted her eyes, trying to see through the blizzard haze as she trotted closer to the fountain. There were frozen changelings scattered about, almost as if they’d been forcefully tossed around randomly. Twilight’s ears twitched when she noticed the hackles on her neck standing up again. There was magic close by, same as what she had felt when she had arrived in Snowden but stronger. Flurry’s magic. Twilight’s pace hastened as she cantered around the fountain hoping that she would find who she had been looking for.

“Flurry!” Twilight called out when she spotted her. She was laying there on her side next to the fountain, half covered by the snow. Her horn was struggling to stay alight as she attempted to maintain her spell. Twilight rushed to Flurry’s side, kneeled down in the snow next to her and used her magic to brush the snow away. “It’s alright, I’m here. I’m going to get you out of here.”

Flurry took a few uneven breaths and forced her eyes open as she shakily raised her head. “A-aunty?” she called out, her voice sounding weak and raspy.

“Yes, I’m here.” Twilight moved to help Flurry sit up, putting her foreleg around her shoulder. As soon as her hoof touch against the side of Flurry’s neck, her niece cried out in pain, causing Twilight to quickly retract her hoof. She glanced at her hoof, making sure she hadn’t somehow gotten a shard of ice frozen to her fur, and that was when she noticed something that made her feel a chill run down her spine despite the frigid temperatures around her. She saw a glistening smear of dark red on the side of her hoof.

Twilight tried again to help Flurry up, very carefully using her magic this time to avoid touching Flurry’s injury. She didn’t want to look, terrified of what she thought she might find, but after only a few seconds of hesitation, she leaned her head over so she could look at the wound on Flurry’s neck. There were puncture wounds less than a hoofwidth apart seeping blood, and a ring of dark bruises around her neck.

Flurry hooked her forehooves over Twilight’s shoulder, and her entire body shook as she used what physical strength she had left to pull herself up and look Twilight in the eyes. “It’s n-not safe here. It was... an ambush.” As soon as Flurry got the words out, she was stricken by a coughing fit. She slumped against Twilight’s chest as the coughs wracked her entire body. A few red drops had fallen from her mouth and speckled the snow by the time the coughing subsided.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you,” Twilight said as she wrapped her forelegs and wings around Flurry. She began to gather her magic, her horn glowing as she closed her eyes and concentrated on bringing an image of the Crystal Spire’s crystalling room to mind. “I’m taking you home, right now.” And with a bright flash, they were whisked away by her spell.

---

Twilight appeared near the center of the crystalling room amid a flash of light and a blast of frigid air and snow flurries. “I need help! She’s been bitten!” she called out while unfolding her wings and gently laying Flurry out on the floor in front of her. Twilight’s call for help caused a nearby guard to spring into action, sending him sprinting up stairs that lead into the spire as he relayed the call for help.

Cadance stood from where she had been sitting next to Spike, and her steps became more rushed as she approached. The look on her face slowly morphed from shock to horror when she got a good look at the bloody wound on the side of her daughter’s neck. “Wha... what happened to her?”

Twilight finished gently laying Flurry on the floor, then turned to Cadance. “I found her like this near the center of Snowden.”

“M-mom?” Flurry’s raspy voice cause her mother to draw in a sharp gasp. Flurry drew in a breath as if she were about to speak, but instead her face contorted in pain as she tried and failed to suppress another coughing fit. The few coughs that did escape from her speckled the floor near her muzzle with blood.

Cadance laid down next to Flurry and tenderly laid her chin upon her daughter’s shoulder. She began to gently rub her fetlock along her daughter’s foreleg to comfort her, all the while fighting back tears as she said, “It’s alright sweetie. You’re home now. Help will be here soon. Just lie still.”

Just then, the sound of hooves quickly galloping down the nearby stairs filled the chamber. Cadance lifted her head and saw that the guard pony had returned with three others following after him. “Hurry, please!” she begged them.

The three new arrivals were crystal ponies, one of them a crystal unicorn. The unicorn was clad in a white doctors lab coat and collared shirt, while the other two with him were wearing similar coats over light blue nurse scrubs.

They wasted no time when they reached Flurry’s side. One of the nurses quickly pulled a long silver tube from her side pouch, and without a word, she tossed it to the doctor who caught it with his magic. He took one quick glance at the top end of the tube, twisted a dial, then pushed the other end of the tube against the side of Flurry’s neck near the wound. The device made a high pitched sound like a puff of air forcefully escaping through a tiny hole, then the doctor discarded the cylinder, letting it clatter to the floor.

“Get her vitals,” the doctor commanded to the other nurse, who was already fidgeting with some sort of band that she was trying to affix around Flurry’s fetlock.

“Almost got it,” the nurse replied. She pushed the band together around Flurry’s foreleg until there was a solid click, then took a step back. “There.”

The center of the band lit up with a green light, and a similar shimmering light cascaded over Flurry’s body. A few seconds later many holographic projections began to flicker into view hovering just above her. There were half a dozen different transparent three-dimensional images of internal organs cast in a light blue light, the image of a beating heart central among them. After a few seconds, text began to appear scrolling in small boxes that hovered next to many of the images, and quite a few spots across the images changed colors to dark blue, purple, and even red. The band around Flurry’s leg let out a quick chirp and changed to a deep amber hue.

The doctor’s ears fell back a bit as he read the text scrolling by and his eyes darted from image to image. He looked down when his ears picked up on the quiet sounds of crying. He seemed to hesitate for a few seconds before very gently saying, “Princess Cadance, I need you to take a step back, please.”

Cadance only silently stared back at him, refusing to move away. It wasn’t until Twilight’s hoof touched her shoulder that she broke her gaze and looked back at her.

“Cadance,” Twilight said just above a whisper. “Let them work. Let them save her.”

Cadance looked between Twilight and the doctor, and back to her daughter. She managed to nod once as she reluctantly allowed Twilight to guide her away. They only made it a few steps before her legs gave out and Twilight had to catch her to keep her from collapsing to the floor.

“I shouldn’t have let her go out there,” Cadance said through a pitiful sounding moan and loud sob.

Twilight hugged Cadance close, folding her wings around her. Tears started to build up in her own eyes as she listened to Cadance cry. She blinked her eyes to try and clear her vision and looked over to where the doctor and nurses were busily working. She wished that there was more that she could do, more than just sit by and watch.

“Get an oxygen mask on her,” the doctor clearly stated, and one of the nurses went to work fitting a clear mask that had a small silver cylinder attached to it over Flurry’s muzzle. After spending more time looking over the holographic readouts, the doctor’s shoulders heaved as he let out a visible sigh. He turned to speak to the other nurse, something quiet enough that Twilight hadn’t been able to catch it. The nurse’s ears fell back slightly before she nodded, and then she fetched another silver tube from her side pouch. The doctor took the device in his magic and, much like the first, he adjusted a dial at one end before pressing the other end against Flurry’s neck to administer the injection. Seconds later Flurry visibly relaxed.

The doctor quietly studied the images for a moment longer, then his eyes met with Twilight’s. He glanced down and tapped the bracelet on Flurry’s fetlock and the images flickered and vanished, leaving only the dim amber glow from the bracelet itself. He stood and approached where Twilight and Cadance were sitting.

Twilight felt a horrible feeling welling up in the pit of her stomach. Over the years, she had gotten very good at reading others, picking up on small hints from body language to discern what they might be thinking or feeling. She was sensing from the way the doctor carried himself with his head slightly lowered and from his reluctance to maintain eye contact that he did not have good news to deliver.

For just once she hoped she was wrong.

The doctor stopped only a few steps away and quietly cleared his throat. When Cadance lifted her head and looked at him, the tear-soaked fur beneath her eyes and the pained expression on her face gave him pause, but he fought past the moment of hesitation to speak anyway. “The venom has done a lot of damage. I’m seeing internal bleeding all throughout her body. I’ve given her something to ease the pain, and the oxygen will help her breath but... she only has minutes left.”

“... no. No no, please,” Cadance pleaded, barely able to find her voice. “You... gave her the antidote.”

“I’m sorry, Princess,” the doctor said, bowing his head. “If we had gotten to her much sooner—” He let out a heavy sigh and shook his head, then lifted it to look Cadance in the eyes. “The damage was already done. You... need to say your goodbyes.”

Cadance started back in wide-eyed disbelief. It wasn’t until Twilight placed her hoof on her shoulder that she snapped out of it.

“Cadance...,” Twilight began quietly, but whatever it was she was about to say died before it left her lips.

Cadance took a few deep breaths and closed her eyes before glancing over to where her daughter was laying out on the floor. She silently nodded her head before she stood and began to walk over to her.

Twilight remained behind, letting her hoof gently slide off of Cadance’s shoulder as she walked away. Her vision blurred as tears once again started building up. She’d been trying to keep her composure for Cadance’s sake, but the sorrow welling up inside her would soon become too overwhelming.

She felt a large clawed hand gently resting against her back, and looked up to her side to see Spike looking down at her. The scales just beneath his eyes were damp.

The sobs that Twilight had been fighting to contain finally escaped her as she buried her muzzle against Spikes side. “Why,” Twilight quietly said through her sobs. “Why couldn’t I have found her sooner?”

Twilight felt a deep rumble from within Spike. She glanced up at him, finding his gaze fixed on where Flurry was laying out upon the floor. His giant jaw worked back and forth as he ground his teeth together.

“They’re not getting away with this,” he said in a low growl.

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 4

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 4

Cadance approached where her daughter had been laid out upon the floor near the center of the crystalling chamber. She stopped just a step shy of reaching her, taking a few breaths to calm and compose herself before laying down just behind Flurry and resting her chin gently upon her daughter’s shoulder again.

Flurry stirred at the touch, her eyes opening half way. “Mom?” she asked quietly, her tired voice muffled behind the oxygen mask.

“I’m here, sweetheart,” Cadance said. She ran her feltlock up and down her daughter’s foreleg. “I’m here.”

Flurry let out a huff and then tiredly mumbled, “...mm’sorry.”

“No, sweetheart. Nothing’s your fault,” Cadance said, lifting and shaking her head.

Flurry glanced out of the corner of her eye up at her mother and said, “Should’ve listened to you.” Her face contorted a bit when a couple quiet coughs forced their way out.

“Shh.” Cadance hushed her daughter and rested her chin upon her shoulder again. “You just need to rest a bit, then everything will be alright.”

A very slight grin turned up the corner of Flurry’s mouth.

“Mom?”

“Hmm?”

“You know you’re terrible at lying, right?”

Cadance remained silent, her chin upon her daughter’s shoulder as she stared blankly forward. The tears came seeping back in, blurring her vision.

Flurry turned her head ever so slightly so she could look back at her mother. She lifted a hoof and laid it over on top of Cadance’s as she said, “They need you.”

Cadance shook her head. She tightly closed her eyes as tears forced their way out and rolled down her muzzle. “I’m not leaving you.”

“Mother, listen to me.”

The stern tone of Flurry’s voice shocked Cadance out of her sorrow for a moment, and she lifted her head to listen to what her daughter had to say.

“I saw them... in Snowden. The nests... and more ferals than I could possibly count.” Flurry slowly blinked her eyes as she took a few labored breaths. “They won’t stop, ever. Not until they’ve consumed everything.” She lifted her head just enough so she could look her mother directly in the eyes, and with a determined look she firmly said, “You have to work with the other’s to stop them here and now before it’s too late.” Unfortunately, another coughing fit struck once she finished, this one worse than the last. It took a moment for the coughing to calm down, and by the time it had the inside of the oxygen mask was stained red.

Cadance could barely stand to watch as her daughter wasted away in front of her, powerless to do anything about it. All she could do was hold her and try to comfort her as much as possible.

Flurry let out a long drawn out sigh and laid her head back down against the floor. She drew in a few labored breaths as she tried to calm herself after the coughing fit. “Mom?”

Cadance sniffled and then answered her. “Mhm?”

“You know I’ve always loved you, right?”

“Of course, sweetheart,” she responded in a quivering voice. “And I’ve always loved you.”

“I know,” Flurry said quietly with a smile spreading across her muzzle. “Just... wish I could have done more.”

Flurry’s eyelids slowly blinked a few times and then closed.

The lit band on her fetlock changed color from amber to red.

Cadance stared blankly at the glowing band, still as a statue. She watched a magical aura take hold of the band and pull it open with a click, causing the dim red light to go out. Her eyes followed it as it was carefully removed from Flurry’s fetlock, and then hovered over to the doctor, who laid it upon his hoof. He let out a heavy sigh as he looked down at the band for a moment, then pocketed it.

“I’m so sorry, Princess. I... if there’s anything I can do for you... anything you need—”

“I need to be alone for a moment,” Cadance said, sorrow hanging heavy on her voice.

“Of course,” he said, bowing his head to her. He turned and motioned for the two nurses to follow him, and together they moved away to the side of the room.

Cadance looked down upon her daughter lying lifeless on the floor before her. She gently ran her hoof through her daughter’s mane, her bottom lip quivering as she did so. “No...,” she said in a sobbing whisper. “Please, don’t go.”

Only steps away, Twilight and Spike had sat nearby looking on. Twilight had her face half buried against Spike’s side, tears streaming down her muzzle while quiet sobs escaped from her now and then. Spike had draped his clawed hand over her back, covering her like a scaled blanket, and absent-mindedly rubbed his thumb over her shoulders to comfort her. His expression was more difficult to read than hers, seeming like a swirling storm of sorrow and fury.

“Spike!” The curtains along one side of the crystalling room were suddenly yanked back as Garble called out to him and rushed into the room.

Spike turned his head, glaring back at him.

Garble flinched a step back at the hard look. His eyes flicked over to the middle of the room, finding Flurry’s lifeless form laying out upon the floor, and then widened slightly before he covered his face with a palm. “I-I... oh geez,” he stammered a bit. However he shook his head and looked back to Spike and continued. “Sorry, but I-I think there’s really something wrong with the shield, Boss. There’s a bunch of flickering and—”

Just then, there was a loud cracking sound like thunder shattering a thousand panes of glass. Garble spun around and scrambled back to the curtain, pulling it back and looking up at the sky outside.

“Breach!” he yelled, just as he launched himself from the ground into the air.

Twilight looked from where Garbel had left back to Cadance, who was still cradling her daughter’s still form in her forehooves. All this time, she had been maintaining a link with the shielding spell outside to supply it magic, but now the gentle blue glow of her horn was flickering and dimming, threatening to go out.

“It’s too much for her,” Twilight said as she sprung to her hooves and lit her horn. She reached out with her magic, trying to cover as wide an area as possible over the city to search for and find the break in the shield. It only took a second for her magic to find it, and she immediately began to try to form a magical stitch over the tear in the shield’s matrix. Through her magic, she could feel the ferals clawing their way past the tear and pouring through, first just a few at a time but then increasing to dozens every few seconds. Despite her attempts to mend the rip, it was still widening. She quickly changed her focus from mending the tear to blocking the breach with a shield of her own to stop them completely, but even that was only going to buy minutes at best as the area around the breach continued to erode away.

Spike had rushed over to the room’s entrance and was looking out beyond the curtain up at the shield dome overhead. “Twilight!?” Spike called to her, sounding alarmed when he spotted another large crack forming.

“They’re going to get through. Go help them!” she called back to him.

Spike moved at an impressive speed for his size. His clawed feet dug at the crystal floor beneath him as he lunged forward and the curtain was shredded to ribbons in his haste to push it aside and get airborne. The thundering sound of his wings beating at the air reverberated through the crystalling room, along with an angry, screeching roar as he sped off into the sky.

Twilight strained against the force of hundreds attempting to claw their way past her shield. She could feel the fluctuations where her magic contacted Cadance's shield. The main shield’s integrity was failing all across the dome, it’s magic spent from the constant onslaught from the thousands of ferals trying to tear it down, and Cadance was no longer able to supply the necessary magic to replenish it. Twilight wouldn’t be able to maintain her shield, repair the main shield’s matrix, and supply the necessary power to reinforce the shield’s magic all at once.

The shield was going to fall.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight said through her clenched teeth.

There was a sudden surge of energy, a mix of cold and warmth, that washed over the entirety of the shield matrix and reinforce it. A second surge quickly followed that added a repulsion pulse to the outer layer of the shield, and Twilight felt a huge mental burden lifted when all at once the swarm outside was forced back. She took advantage of the brief moment of respite, dropping her own shield and stitching the break in the main shield’s matrix back together just before the swarm recovered and continued their assault.

Celestia and Luna had arrived, and not a single second too soon. Twilight slumped back on her haunches, letting out an exhausted breath. “Oh thank goodness,” she said wearily. She was just finishing up a few final integrity tests of the shield’s surface when Celestia and Luna appeared amid a bright flash just above the street outside. They touched down side by side, rushing toward the crystalling room at a full gallop. It wasn’t until they passed the tattered remains of the curtain and clearly saw what was inside that they both came to a skidding stop.

They both shared the same bewildered look as they looked on where Cadance was holding her daughter’s still body in her hooves.

Luna was the first to look to Twilight and ask, “What has happened here?”

Twilight slowly stood and approached them. The rush from the adrenaline that had been surging through her was quickly wearing off, only to be replaced by the feeling of a sickening knot in her stomach. Tears began to build up in the corners of her eyes again. She stopped a few steps away from them, her eyes cast downward until she managed to fight past her hesitation and look them in the eyes. “Flurry... was bitten. She didn’t make it.”

Both sister’s let out a startled gasp.

“No,” Celestia said just above a whisper. She looked over to where Cadance was quietly holding Flurry’s body, and quickly made her way to her. “Oh... Cadance,” she said as she laid down next to her, covering her with a wing.

Luna looked on as tears began to stream down the side of her face. Twilight took a few steps closer to her and, once they were standing next to each other, they both embraced each other with a wing. Together, they sat in silence for a moment.

“I can’t believe this has happened,” Luna finally said, sadly shaking her head. “How could this even happen? The swarm was still hours away.”

Twilight shook her head. “They were already here when we arrived.” She deeply furrowed her brow. A question had been gnawing at the back of her mind ever since she had gone to rescue Flurry and any other survivors from Snowden only to find no other ponies in sight. Just where were all the other survivors? Flurry had said nothing about there even being other survivors. But, she had mentioned the ferals, and even nests, right before she passed.

That one thought brought a simple but horrifying question to the forefront of Twilight’s mind. Had there been any other survivors? There was only one way so many changelings could have been in Snowden without there being any casualties and without any sort of warning.

“The swarm we found to the far west didn’t attack Snowden. It’s probably still out there.”

The other’s in the room slowly looked to her.

Twilight stared blankly forward as her mind pieced together the scenario in her mind. “Snowden had already been taken. They were waiting in Snowden, hoping we’d send forces there for an evacuation so they could wipe them out, leaving the main city defenseless.” Twilight glanced over to where Cadance was holding Flurry’s still form. “And we sent Flurry, alone.”

“But... how?” Celestia asked.

“How do I know this?” Twilight said, voicing Celestia’s question. “When I was there, I saw hundreds of ferals frozen in the streets by Flurry’s blizzard, but not a single pony. And when I found Flurry, she warned me that it had been an ambush, and said nothing about helping any survivors. If they had just attacked the town, there would have been victims in the streets.” She let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. “They must have infiltrated Snowden at some point without us noticing. Flurry was trying to hold them there. That’s why she didn’t run. She found something there and stayed to maintain the blizzard as long as she could to slow them down and give us a chance. There were just... too many of them.”

A solemn silence fell over the group again for a time until it was broken by a nearly inaudible whisper.

“Cadance?” Celestia’s ears perked up as she looked down at her.

“I said... this wasn’t an accident,” Cadance said plainly. She slowly drew the back of her foreleg along the length of her daughter’s mane as she said, “They planned this.” Anger began to build in her voice as she said, “They set a trap for my little girl.”

Twilight stood and approached Cadance, tentatively reaching a hoof out to her as she said, “I’m so sorry, Cadance.”

Cadance stood and walked past her, seeming to refuse to acknowledge that she was even there.

Twilight’s ears fell back as she watched Cadance simply pass her by. Did Cadance actually blame her for losing her daughter? Twilight tried to think of something, anything she could say, but no words of comfort or compassion felt sufficient. She hung her head as more tears threatened to fall.

The sound of Cadance breathing heavily caught Twilight’s attention, causing her to lift her head and ears. Cadance had lit her horn, but something about the magical aura it was giving off didn’t feel right. Twilight sense a building surge of unorganized thaumic energy in the air that kept steadily getting stronger. It was only a few seconds later that Twilight noticed that the aura had spread to encompass all of Cadance’s body, and only then did she realize what was happening.

“Cadance, wait!” Twilight called out as she reached a hoof toward her.

Before Twilight could reach her, Cadance let loose a blood-curdling scream along with a massive discharge of raw magical power. The energy arched from her body in bolts, connecting with the room’s wall. The entire crystal spire lit up with crackling energy that chaotically arced to the shield dome over the city, energizing the entire shield’s surface at once.

It wasn’t a spell of any sort. It was simply a mother’s sorrow-filled rage distilled into a raw surge of power directed at those that had taken her daughter away.

After only a few seconds, Cadance collapsed to the floor in a heap, leaving wispy trails of smoke rising from her mane and tale and the scent of singed hair filling the air. However, she almost immediately began fighting to force herself to stand again while her horn sparked and sputtered in an attempt to draw more power from her being.

“Cadance, stop!” Twilight cried out as she dashed forward. She wrapped Cadance in her wings, embracing her tightly as she begged her, “Stop. Please, don’t do this.”

“They can’t be allowed to get away with this!” Cadance screamed angrily toward the sky.

“They won’t!” Twilight guided Cadance’s gaze back down to hers with her hooves and looked her directly in the eyes. “They won’t,” she repeated.

Cadance stared back into Twilight’s eyes. Her heavy breathing slowly changed to sobbing. She laid her face against Twilight’s chest and began to openly cry. “Why did they do this? What do they want?” she asked in a quivering voice.

Twilight said nothing, only embracing Cadance to comfort her, as she knew that words of comfort would do little to help. It was long past the time for action. Twilight glanced over at the artifact silently spinning above its resting place at the center of the room. “I know what they want... why they would go so far to attack this place despite the risks,” she said quietly.

Luna glanced to where Twilight was looking, and then back. “The Crystal Heart?”

Twilight nodded. “We have no choice. We have to stop them here. If we fail here and they take the Heart they’ll have more power than they’ve ever had, and they’ll never be stopped. We either stop them here, or this gets a lot worse than it already is for Equis.”

The sounds of large wings whipping through the air echoed through the chamber, drawing the attention of the princesses to the chamber’s entrance. Just outside the spire, the three dragons came in for a landing on the street and made their way into the room, with Spike just ahead of the other two. Twilight took notice of the thin coating of green ooze that was dripping off of his right claws.

Garble took a couple quick steps to catch up and walk alongside Spike as they entered. “I’m just saying, whatever that was, it just fried hundreds of them in seconds, but there’s still a ton of them out there to deal with.”

“Quiet,” Spike said, shooting him a hard look. He then turned his attention to Twilight and knelt down beside her, resting his left palm against her back. “Was that... her?” he asked, his eyes darting to Cadance momentarily.

Twilight silently nodded.

“She can do something like that?” Garble asked, sounding a bit surprised. “Can she—”

“No!” Twilight quickly said. She hugged Cadance a bit tighter as she said, “We can’t ask her to do it again. It could kill her.”

Ember squinted at Garble, then walked up next to him and hit on his shoulder hard enough to stagger him.

“Ow!” Garble said as he grabbed his shoulder and snarled back at her. “What was that for?”

“She just lost her daughter, rocks-for-brains!” Ember responded, pointing a clawed finger at the end of his snout.

Garble snorted and pushed her hand aside. “Yeah, I know.” He slammed a balled fist into an open palm and said, “We should be doing whatever we can to pay them back for it.”

“Enough!” Spike snapped at them, silencing them both immediately. He stared back at them both with a hard look, a low rumble emanating from his throat for a few seconds. “Cadance is the main reason why anyone is still even alive in this city,” he said as he pointed to her. “If she hadn’t held the swarm back with her shield until we got here, there wouldn’t be a Crystal Empire right now. She’s done enough. We’ll figure something else out.”

“What happened to the ferals that got in?” Twilight asked, looking up to him.

Spike let out a low growl and gnashed his teeth together. He clenched his right hand, causing some of the green ooze to drip off of his claws onto the floor. “Dealt with. There weren’t that many.”

“That’s good. Thank you, all of you,” Twilight said, looking back at the three dragons. She then looked back at the Crystal Heart, and let out a long sigh. Cadance’s actions may have bought them a reprieve, but she knew it wouldn’t last. Already she could feel minor fluctuations in the magical aura of the shield covering the city from the few ferals that had already started probing the shield again. “They’ll attack in force again soon. Cadance is exhausted, and the rest of us can only maintain her shield for so long before it’ll wear us down too. They’re not going away, so our only choice is to fight them.”

“Us against tens of thousands,” Luna said to no one in particular. The odds were overwhelming, even for the most powerful beings in all of Equestria, and they were at a disadvantage being on the defensive, requiring them to expend a substantial portion of their power just on protecting the city and the lives within it.

Twilight sadly shook her head. “I’m sorry. This is my fault.”

Celestia looked to Twilight with a disappointed frown. “Twilight, do not take all of this upon yourself.”

Twilight just simply stared blankly forward. “If I hadn’t kept asking for more time, we wouldn’t be in this mess. And Flurry...,” she trailed off to a whisper as a troubled look overtook her.

“No, Twilight,” Celestia forcefully said as she quickly stood to her full height and approached. “None of us could have predicted something like this,” she said, extending a wing outward toward the sky beyond the torn curtains. She slowly folded her wing back as she continued. “You taking the blame isn’t going to help us. We have no other choices left to us now. We’ll have to face this swarm together with our combined power and pray they don’t overwhelm us.”

Twilight continued to blankly stare forward for a few seconds longer as Celestia’s words echoed through her mind. Two words in particular seemed to draw an idea to the forefront. “Combined power,” Twilight said just above a whisper. She blinked and looked up to the Crystal Heart. She knew what she could do to stop them. What she had to do.

Twilight glanced up to Celestia, looking her straight in the eyes. “I should face them alone.”

A bewildered look flashed across Celestia’s face for but a second and was quickly replaced with anger. “Twilight Sparkle—”

“Before you argue with me, hear me out.”

Whatever it was that Celestia had been about to say, she decided to stay silent and listen instead, though she didn’t seem any less upset.

“If we go out there, we’ll likely just be attacked and overwhelmed individually. They’re a hive mind, they can all focus on any one of us at any time while ignoring the others. They could change who they’re attacking faster than we can work together to protect each other. However, I can force them to fight against our combined power all at once.

“I’m the only one who has ever wielded our combined power before, but I was able to do it and I stood up to Tirek. We all know how destructive he was.” Twilight glanced between Luna and Celestia, and while the two sisters remained silent, she could tell they were both considering her words carefully. “This is our best chance.”

While Celestia remained silent, Luna let out a light sigh and looked to her sister. “She’s right, Celestia,” she said, conceding to Twilight’s point. “It is our best chance. Our world’s best chance.”

A heavy silence hung on the air between them until finally, Celestia looked to Twilight and spoke. “I’ll agree to this on one condition,” she said as she stepped a few steps closer. She reached out her foreleg and gently laid her fetlock upon Twilight’s shoulder. The frustration that had been apparent on her face just a moment ago was gone, replaced now with worry. “You must come back to us alive.”

Twilight sat up a little taller and nodded her head once. “I will.” There was no hesitation in her voice as she said the words.

Celestia turned her head and looked out beyond the chamber’s entrance. “And what of the shield? How are we to maintain it without our magic while you’re fighting them?”

“It should hold long enough. I plan to draw them away. Once the shield is no longer under attack, it won’t need reinforcement.” Twilight looked out to the shield as well as she continued. “I don’t want to be anywhere near the city when I use our combined power. If I hit the city by accident, even with the shield protecting it, I could cause a lot more damage than them.”

Luna furrowed her brow slightly as she looked out to the shield for a few seconds, and then turned her attention back to Twilight. “How exactly are you going to draw them away from here?”

Twilight nodded toward the Crystal Heart. “With that. It’s the only reason why they’re here. If I take it with me, they’ll follow. They’re not interested in the city. If they had just wanted to attack a largely populated area, literally any of the other cities in Equestria would have been an easier target.”

Cadance had been very quiet over the last few minutes while she remained huddled within Twilight’s wings. She lifted her head slightly, setting back so she could look up into Twilight’s eyes. Her tear-soaked face looked drained, both physically and emotionally. “You’ll put an end to all of this?” she quietly asked.

“I promise,” Twilight said. She took both of Cadance’s forehooves in her own, and looking directly back in her eyes she said, “They will not walk away from this.”

Cadance blinked her eyes as tears started to build up again. A single sob escaped from her as she said, “I’m sorry you have to do this in my place.”

Twilight leaned forward, wrapping her wings and forelegs around Cadance once again. “Shhh, no. No, it’s okay,” she said, gently stroking Cadance’s back with her fetlock.

The moment passed, and Cadance seemed to regain at least a small measure of calmness as she leaned back and dried her eyes on the back of her foreleg.

“Just let me take care of this now,” Twilight said.

Cadance nodded. She stood and took a few steps back, positioning herself to Twilight’s side. At the same moment, Celestia and Luna moved so that the three princesses were all standing around Twilight, each of them standing at the point of an unseen triangle with Twilight standing at the center. Celestia and Luna waited until they got a nod from Cadance, confirming that she was ready to perform the transference spell, and then all three of them closed their eyes and bowed their head.

Each of their horns began to glow, dimly at first and then slowly becoming brighter as all three of them slowly raised their heads as one. All of them opened their eyes in perfect union with each other, revealing a bright glowing light that seemed to be shining from within them. A solid beam of magical energy shot forth from each of their horns all at once, each beam carrying the color of their magical aura and converging together into a swirling mass of energy hovering just above Twilight. The magic swelled for a few seconds longer, growing to a point that it was many times the size of Twilight herself, and then suddenly a surge of power shot directly downward from the mass.

Twilight felt the power from the other three princesses entering her being. It was nearly overwhelming, a flood of alicorn magic that together was far beyond her own. Within a few seconds, the entire mass of energy had worked its way into her body, and the three princesses around her all fell back to their haunches, each of them appearing exhausted as their marks faded away.

Twilight let out a few heavy breaths of air as she adjusted to the increased level of magic coursing through her. Her senses were extremely heightened. Without even using any magic at all she could feel the strength left in the shield protecting the city, and the fluctuations that rippled through it as each claw from the ferals outside scraped against it. With a quick burst of blue magic, she sent out a pulse of energy that would strengthen the shield. “That should last long enough,” she said as she turned and looked to the Crystal Heart. She lifted it with her magic, hovering it carefully over to her side. She looked to the other princesses, looking each one of them in the eyes before saying, “I’ll finish this as quickly as I can.”

Twilight turned away to leave the room, taking a few steps toward the ruined curtains that hung at the entrance. She stopped and looked up at Spike as she was passing by him. The look she was giving him told him that she had something she wanted to say to him that only he should hear, so he leaned down to hear what it was that she wanted to say.

“I hope it isn’t necessary but, if the worst happens” — she glanced back over her shoulder briefly before looking back up to Spike — “protect them for me.”

Spike clenched his jaw tightly but said nothing, and only nodded once in response.

“Thank you,” she said with a fleeting smile.

She continued onward, passing beyond the tattered curtains and leaving the crystalling chamber with the Crystal Heart in tow.

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 5

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Interlude – Day Dream – Part 5

Stepping beyond the tattered curtains and onto the street outside, Twilight left the crystalling chamber behind and looked upward to the shield dome overhead. Already the swarm of feral changelings had once again covered it, blocking out nearly all natural sunlight as they tried to claw and scrape their way in. Without any further support from her magic, the shield would last only minutes at best. The sooner she could draw the swarm away the better.

Tucking the Crystal Heart to her side with a wing, she crouched down to build up strength in her legs so she could launch herself quickly into the air. When she leaped into the air, the power was enough to crack the crystal street in a large radius around her and send her hurtling toward the shield and the swarm just beyond it. Caught off guard by her own strength, she only barely managed to cast a personal shield before plowing through dozens of changelings as she exited the shield and passed through their swarm in a matter of seconds. By the time she managed to slow herself to a hover with her magic, she’d already traveled quite a distance away from the city and completely past the swarm outside.

“Okay. Take it easy,” she said to herself. She didn’t recall feeling quite as powerful the one time she had used their combined power in the past, though that could be attributed to the fact that she alone was likely considerably more powerful now than she had been back then. Even so, she’d ended up smashing mountains and carving out new canyons in Equestria’s landscape when she had fought Tirek back then; she didn’t want to risk doing the same with the Crystal Empire sitting just below her. She couldn’t let her emotions control her actions like she had allowed back then.

First, she decided she needed to get a grasp on just how large the swarm was so she could pick an appropriate spell to deal with them. She focused her magic upon a detection spell, putting enough power behind it to send it far and wide so she could easily spot any changelings across the Frozen North that it touched. She cast the spell and it rushed out from the point of her horn in a spherical burst. As it washed over the ferals, a small, violet light appeared within Twilight’s vision where each one was located. Of course the area above the shield over the city was dotted with these glowing lights, easily numbering in the tens of thousands, but Twilight’s eyes were drawn to the west by something she saw glowing in her peripheral.

Snowden was lit up brighter than the dome over the city, appearing like one giant glowing violet blob to her eyes. She’d suspected that the small town had been their staging point for their attack, but could there have really been that many more ferals still waiting within the small town? She had seen many frozen in the streets, but her spell would only detect live changelings. She tried to focus her sight upon the town, looking for the mass of changelings that her spell was telling her was there, but she couldn’t see them.

Then she recalled what she had heard Flurry say before she had died, that she had found nests. These ferals had been known to hide their nests in caves or underground, out of sight.

“They’re under Snowden.” If what her spell was showing her was accurate, there was a massive hive beneath the small town that spread further than the town’s borders. “They must have been here for years.”

A loud buzzing caught Twilight’s attention. A feral had managed to catch up to her and slammed its body against her shield, though it didn’t manage to budge it in the slightest. All the same, it immediately began a futile attempt at clawing and biting at her shield, all the while making inequine screeching sounds as it tried in vain to reach her. A stray thought entered Twilight’s mind as she watched the crazed creature claw at her shield like a rabid animal. All this time, this is what I’ve been trying to save.

Twilight noticed that there were more approaching, but it appeared that the larger majority of the changelings were still attacking the shield over the city instead of following her. Obviously, they weren’t aware that their main target had moved. Twilight lifted the Heart from under her wing, bringing it out to hover right in front of her. Dipping into Cadance’s magic, she urged the Heart to send out a pulse of its own power that rippled across the Frozen North.

“They should notice that,” Twilight said as she tucked the Heart back to her side. The effect was immediate. The few changelings that had followed her suddenly redoubled their efforts to tear their way through her shield, and the swarm attacking the dome over the city pulled away and turned its full attention to her all at once.

“Definitely noticed.”

Twilight looked to Snowden once more. The bright glow under the town did appear to be stirring a bit, but there was still no visible changelings coming from the town itself. If they remained hidden underground, it wouldn’t matter how swiftly she dealt with the swarm out here, there would be more to replace them from the hive soon enough. A long, drawn-out battle with wave after wave of feral changelings attacking wouldn't be to her advantage. No, she would have to find a way to deal with the nest and the swarm all at once. There was just the problem that an entire town happened to be in the way.

Twilight glanced to the approaching swarm. She didn’t have a lot of time to make a choice. Knowing that she was going to have to do something about the hive beneath Snowden, she hugged the Crystal Heart in her forelegs and began to fly in the town’s direction to lead the swarm away from the main city.

The trip to the town by wing was fairly short, only a few minutes, and didn’t give Twilight enough time to settle on a method of dealing with the ferals and their buried hive. Twilight landed in Snowden’s village square among knee-deep snow and turned around to look back toward the east. She’d arrived only a minute ahead of the swarm that was chasing her judging by how far they appeared to be.

The violet glow from her spell was almost blinding to her eyes. Every direction she looked, her eyes picked up signs of changelings beneath the surface of the town, and in some spots, the lights seemed to appear from fairly deep underground. The swarm top side would be simple enough for her to deal with in a single spell, but anything she would cast while underground would likely cause enough damage to collapse the ground above. It was highly likely the small town was going to get destroyed no matter what she tried to do.

But the town did seem abandoned.

Infested, actually, and had been so for some time by the looks of it. The likelihood that there was any life other than changelings in the area was nearly zero.

“Am I really doing this?” Twilight asked herself as the ideas formed in her mind. She glanced back up to the approaching swarm. In seconds, tens of thousands of them would be upon her. Even given the power she had now, she wouldn't’ be able to maintain a shield against them all indefinitely, and she would need as much of her power as she could possibly gather for the spell she was considering. Gravity manipulation magic was not something even the most skilled mages could toy with even if they wanted to, let alone weaponize it. It took a lot more power to actually change and manipulate the gravity field in an area than it did to simply counteract the local gravitational force with a levitation spell, and such magic was much more dangerous. One typically couldn’t outright crush everything in an area with a levitation spell.

The first few ferals caught up to Twilight’s location and crashed hard into her shield. A couple of them even crumpled against her shield and slid off to the ground, obviously dead from the impact. More and more began to pile up onto her shield, causing increasing pressure that she could feel across the spell maintaining it. The ferals unlucky enough to be against the shield itself were being crushed from the force of thousands more using their weight in an attempt to crack through Twilight’s defenses.

“Now or never,” Twilight said as she lit her horn. She started with a smaller spell, a standard changeling disabling spell that would stun the creatures, keeping them where she needed them long enough to conjure the gravity spell. She put enough strength behind the stun spell so the blast would reach the borders of the town and down into most of the hive. The white spell burst spread out rippling through the swarm and into the hive below. Twilight folded her ears back as the loud hum of thousands of wings buzzing was replaced by a chorus of thousands of changelings shrieking in pain.

With a quick teleport, Twilight zipped up into the sky over the town. Down below her, she could see the stunned ferals falling from the sky and piling up in the streets and upon the houses below. The snow-covered town now nearly looked solid black.

They were vulnerable. All Twilight had to do now was use this moment of respite to focus and cast the gravity spell, and the fight would be over.

But she hesitated. For a moment she simply stared down at the mass of writhing bodies piled up in the town below her. She could hear a voice screaming at her in the back of her mind, telling her that doing this was wrong. And yet, there was another, louder voice, telling her that this was her one last chance. That she was wasting time again. That this might be her only window of opportunity to cast the spell, and that if these changelings hurt even one more pony, it would be her fault for not stopping them.

“Oh, just do it!” she yelled as she lit her horn. She focused her thoughts on the space just above the town, and let everything else fade from her mind. Even the shield spell that had been protecting her dissipated. She couldn’t let her mind get distracted by anything else, as losing control of an alicorn powered gravity spell could very well tear the surrounding countryside to pieces. She had to keep the spell and the destruction it would no doubt cause localized to just the area below.

The space just ahead of her appeared to warp and bend, as if the light was being pulled and bent inward to a single point. The central point of the spell darkened until it was pitch black, and the surrounding air began to funnel into the point at high speeds. Slowly, Twilight guided the collapsed gravity point down closer to the town, and as she did the force of the winds being pulled in began to sweep changelings, snow, and debris from the ground below into the sky and draw them toward the center. Anything that was drawn in was simply crushed and vanished without a trace.

Twilight wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. She couldn't risk losing control, so she watched as her spell scoured the land of any structures below and then began to tear the land itself apart, exposing the hive beneath. The spell continued to hollow the ground out, ripping chunks of rock and hive from beneath the ground and crushing everything within its grasp into non-existence. She had no choice but to watch as thousands of creatures and an entire town was being eradicated, all while tears were streaming down her face.

There was a sudden rush of cool air that seemed to come from everywhere around her all at once. With it, everything around her was suddenly blown away as if it were made of nothing more than a cloud of mist. Twilight drew in a shocked gasp as she frantically looked around, panic gripping her as confused thoughts rushed through her mind. Did I lose focus? What happened? Where is everything!?

Midnight blue wings folded around Twilight, pulling her back into a warm embrace. Twilight’s mind went blank for a moment, her panic replaced instead with momentary confusion, and then, recognition. She knew this place. She’d seen it before, though it had been a very long time since she remembered last visiting it. An endless plane of clouds both below and above, with a horizon colored with the violet hues of early evening in the far off distance between them.

It was the Dreamscape.

Luna’s familiar voice spoke from just behind her, confirming what she already knew to be true. “It’s alright. It was only a bad dream.”

That’s right. She remembered now. She’d been on a train trip to the Crystal Empire and must have dozed off. She let out a relieved sigh and wiped the tears from her face with the back of her foreleg. After a moment of silence, she glanced over her shoulder, looking up to Luna. “It wasn’t just a dream,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “How much did you see?”

“I saw enough, while I was trying to make my way in. Your nightmare was quite powerful.”

Twilight stared forward at the distant horizon. “It all happened over a century ago.”

“I’m so sorry. Bad memories make for some of the worst nightmares,” Luna said as she gently ran her fetlock over Twilight’s shoulder. “It must have been one of the most difficult choices you have ever had to make.”

Twilight shook her head. “There wasn’t much choice in it. By that point, I believed they were beyond saving. I believed that I either sacrifice Snowden and wipe them out, or they’d wipe us out instead. All of us.” She let out a long heavy sigh before continuing. “But, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. It’s not like I managed to kill every single changeling in existence that day. There were other feral hives that we knew of, and probably many we didn’t, and of course there were still the changelings from the Old Kingdom that had been our allies for generations.” She paused for a brief moment, and a frown appeared on her muzzle. “At least they were until that day. Seeing how I... dealt with the feral problem frightened them. They didn’t want much to do with ponies after that.”

Luna lowered her head next to Twilight’s. “I’m sensing that you took quite a lot of the blame upon yourself, but I somehow doubt you were solely at fault, if at all.”

Twilight glanced at Luna before shrugging her shoulders. “You don’t just destroy one of your own nation’s towns without any repercussions. I made the choice the destroy Snowden on my own, without the council's approval.”

Luna threw her head back with a scoff. “As if there was time for you to go back and take a vote. I’d say that wouldn’t have been the time for such nonsense.”

“That might be so, but there were a lot of ponies that had relatives that had lived there before, and I turned it into a hole in the ground. It doesn't matter that they were likely all long dead before then. Somepony had to answer for what had happened, so might as well been the mare who wiped out Snowden.” Twilight glanced up briefly at Luna, just catching her rolling her eyes. She smiled briefly and said, “The punishment honestly wasn’t that bad, if you could even call it that. It was more of a slap on the hoof and a warning that if I ever acted on my own again I’d have my place at the council permanently revoked and my title as princess stripped.”

Luna tsked, and shook her head. “Yes, very wise to suggest removing the mare from power who likely saved the nation—nay, the world—from destruction.”

“It was for show,” Twilight said, a slight chuckle in her voice. “The other’s actually agreed with what I did, as did most ponies, especially the ones that had lost someone to a feral before then. They knew the world probably wouldn’t have survived otherwise if those ferals had gotten the Heart. Still, some of the bordering nations were a bit worried that one of Equestria’s princesses’ not only had the power to just wipe cities from existence but had done so to one of her own just to solve a problem.”

Luna let out a groaning sigh and shook her head again. “Politics,” she said as if even speaking the word left a rotten taste in her mouth. “Even when you take the best choice you can from a list of horrible choices, you still get punished for it.”

Twilight shrugged. “Snowden’s destruction probably could have been avoided if I’d just made a different choice earlier. Hundreds of our ponies died in smaller attacks in the years leading up to the attack on the Crystal Empire, and I kept asking for more time to find a way to convince the ferals that they could change just like their brethren had centuries before them. I never considered that maybe they just couldn’t, not until Flurry was killed by them.” Twilight fell silent for a brief moment as she recalled that moment once again. “Her death made me realize just how emotionally detached from the rest of the world I had gotten. I mean... I have always wanted to help any creatures that are in need, but I realized that day that I hadn’t really felt the pain of their losses until it was someone in my own family that died from an attack. By then I’d live so long without anything really changing in my family that I’d... just forgotten what it was like to lose someone.”

Twilight glanced over her shoulder up to Luna once again and saw the night princess lost in her thoughts while she looked on at the distant horizon.

“I usually advocate for a more... direct and quick approach to solving problems myself,” Luna said. She turned her gaze toward Twilight. “But, you and I both know that solutions to complex problems are rarely simple and sometimes take time. I don’t think you were wrong in wanting to take time to try to find the right answer.”

Twilight glanced downward toward her hooves. “I did find a rather simple solution only a few months after the attack.” She looked back up to Luna, who was patiently listening. “I’d been searching for a way to communicate with them for years to find out why their curse had gotten so much worse. I’d convinced myself that, with Chrysalis out of the way in my world, they could finally make their own choices and I could convince them that peace and friendship was the right answer, just like we did with the changelings of the Old Kingdom. I thought I could convince them to save themselves.

“But, I know now that Chrysalis was actually the only thing holding them back. Without her control, they were set loose upon our world, and it only took a few generations for their curse to reach a point they couldn’t return from.

“After what happened at the Crystal Empire, I shifted my focus from trying to save them to trying to find a way to permanently stop them. There were still other hives, and it would only be a matter of time before another swarm gathered and attacked us, but I didn’t want a repeat of Snowden. I couldn’t have that,” she said as she shook her head. “Luckily, I found a way to nullify their curse after only a few months of focused study. I even found a way to amplify the spell so that it would have a global effect, leaving them nowhere to hide.

“I figured it out while researching the original curse. By using the curse itself, I could force them to change into something else, anything else I wanted really. Normally, I wouldn’t consider using something so drastic. Altering an entire species magically without their consent is quite a big taboo even if the changes would be beneficial. Magic like this was the same exact thing that created them in the first place and one small mistake would turn them into even worse abominations.

“But, I didn’t even ask for permission before using it,” Twilight said, her voice trailing off slightly as she stared blankly forward. She went silent for a short while as she stared off into the distance while her mind dredged up old memories that she had long laid to rest. It wasn’t until she felt Luna’s hoof lightly touching her shoulder that she broke away from her trance and glanced back over her shoulder at Luna and saw the concerned look in her eyes.

“Does speaking of this bother you?” she asked.

Twilight shook her head. “No, I came to terms with it all long ago.”

“Are you certain?” Luna pressed. She moved her right wing just slightly, and the large primary feather at the end brushed up against the side of Twilight’s muzzle, wiping fresh tears from her cheek.

Twilight blinked her eyes. She hadn’t even realized that she’d been crying. “Oh,” she said as she used the back of her hoof to dry her eyes again. “Well, I admit they aren’t happy memories, but talking about it really does help,” she said as she glanced up to Luna and smiled.

Luna smiled back and nodded to her.

“So,” Twilight said with a light sigh. “Where was I... oh right! The spell. Well, it was a curse actually, a modified version of the same one that Sombra originally used to create the changelings in the first place. His curse created the first changelings by twisting crystal ponies into insect-like creatures, so I reversed it to have it change any changeling it touched into a crystal pony. It was a risk, but one I felt I had to take. I couldn’t waste any more time.

“So, In a single day, all changelings across the world were changed to crystal ponies, permanently, even the ones from the Old Kingdom. Only the Equestrian Elder Council knows it was my spell that did it, and I should have had my position on the council revoked that day for acting without their consent again and for using magic to alter an entire species against their will. I was even prepared for it when I went to tell them what I had done.” Twilight briefly smiled, and then said, “They decided unanimously to keep my actions secret instead, and to spread the word that it must have been some sort of miracle of magic that had cured them.”

Twilight looked Luna in the eyes. “There hasn’t been any changelings in my world for over a hundred years since then. It’s been so long since it happened, none from the first generation that were transformed are still alive. And I doubt there are very many ponies left who know that Snowden Lake wasn’t always a lake. It’s amazing how quickly historic knowledge fades with just a small amount of time passing, especially when you avoid teaching it.”

She let out a sigh and shrugged, turning to look out toward the horizon again. “To be honest, I’m not sure what I should and shouldn’t be telling you. Your Equestria isn’t my Equestria. I have no idea what your future will be like, and I have no right to try and change it or to tell you what to do... but....”

“You worry that a similar tragedy may befall our changelings,” Luna said. “We already know.”

Twilight blinked and her ears twitched. She quickly glanced back up to Luna. “You do?”

Luna nodded. “Our world’s Chrysalis has already warned us of the dangers, should the swarm get out of control. While our world’s changelings haven’t undergone the same physical change that some in your world did, the changelings living beneath Canterlot have shown us that they can change their ways if not their appearance and that we can trust them. However, we have more work to do if we’re to befriend all changelings across the world and avoid the threat altogether. Trust me when I say that I will heed the warnings that you have shown me here.”

“That’s good. I hope that your world’s changelings have a brighter future than ours did,” Twilight said. She glanced back down to the clouds just before her and lazily ran a hoof through the misty haze hovering just above them. “To be honest, I can’t help but be tempted to try to go back and change things, but I know that time travel can get... messy... very quickly. It’s why we outlawed its use in all but the most extreme cases... such as the end of existence.”

“We’re not meant to correct and perfect all of our choices.”

“I know, I know,” Twilight said while shaking her head. “It’s just that, I know that Flurry didn’t have to die. All of those ponies didn’t have to die to the changeling attacks.” Twilight paused, her mouth hanging open silently for a moment, and then she quietly said, “All of those changelings I killed... didn’t have to die.” She let out another long sigh, then glanced up to Luna once more. “It was over a hundred years ago. My Equestria’s wounds have healed and changelings are only something you hear about in scary stories now, but I’ll always wonder what would have happened differently if I had thought to use that transformation spell before the ferals attacked the Crystal Empire.”

Luna held Twilight’s gaze for a moment longer before looking off to the horizon once again. “As you know, I have a regret or two of my own, and yes, I’ve often wondered how things could have been if I had made better choices.” She looked back to Twilight, lowering her head closer. “However, it seems you forget; though we may be powerful and long-lived, we are also just ponies ourselves, not some divine beings who control the ebb and flow of time and fate. You did what you thought was right, seeking peace. And when your kindness was refused and they became a threat to your world, you did what you knew you must do to stop them. You made very difficult choices and chose to protect your kingdom’s future despite the cost of doing so, putting even your own claim to power in jeopardy. There is no shame in any of that.

“And as for your... lack of emotional attachment, being too close to your subjects can be just as detrimental. If you truly did feel the sorrow of every single loss one of our ponies experienced, it would crush your soul. I may risk sounding cold-hearted for saying so, but it is not our task to feel their suffering. It is our task to be wary of the causes, and to use our power to help lessen them however we can.”

Luna sat back up to her full height, drawing her wings back to her sides as she turned herself to face Twilight directly. “I feel I must apologize,” she said as she closed her eyes and lightly bowed her head.

Twilight quickly stood and turned toward Luna, taking a step back. “What for?” she asked, looking confused.

“I should have been here much sooner to stop the nightmare from running its course. I’m sure reliving all of that wasn’t at all pleasant.” Luna opened her eyes and lifted her head. A small, sheepish smile appeared on her lips. “Daydreams do have a tendency to slip by without my noticing sometimes since that is usually when I am asleep.”

“Oh. I didn’t mean to wake you,” Twilight said. Her ears pinned back slightly and she absently scratched at her foreleg with a hoof, and old nervous habit that she only ever showed around those she felt closest too.

“It’s quite alright,” Luna said through a light chuckle. “The evening hour is quickly approaching and with it, my watch.” Luna blinked and turned to glance off in the distance as if there was something there only she could see. “It looks like it is about time for me to leave you for now,” she said, before turning her attention back to Twilight.

Luna leaned her head forward, close to Twilight’s. While peering deep into Twilight’s eyes, she spoke, and as she did, her words seemed to fade as if they were being drawn away into the distance.

We’re here, Twilight. Time to wake up.”

Twilight felt everything around her fade away as she left the Dreamscape to return back to the waking world.

Arrival at the Empire

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter XII – Arrival at the Empire

“We’re here, Twilight. Time to wake up.”

Twilight closed her eyes a bit tighter, resisting the voice calling her back to the waking world for a brief moment. She barely opened her eyes and noticed that her vision was blurred. She rubbed at her eyes with the back of her forehoof to clear her vision and was surprised when she felt something damp. She gazed curiously at the back of her hoof for a moment before realizing that Moondancer was standing at the center of their private train cabin looking back at her.

“Are you alright?” Moondancer asked, appearing a bit concerned.

”Oh, uh,” Twilight started, trailing off as she thought back to the dream she’d just awoken from. She cleared her throat and put on a smile for Moondancer. “I’m fine.”

Moondancer frowned ever so slightly. “You don’t look like you’re fine.”

“Really, it’s nothing to worry about. I just... just had a bad dream, that’s all,” Twilight said, waving it off with a hoof. She stepped down from the bench she’d taken her nap on, stretching her back and neck.

“A bad dream? Is it because of what we talked about?” Twily asked from where she was standing near the cabin room’s door. Her ears laid back as she glanced away toward the floor. “I’m sorry.”

“No, Twily. Really, it’s alright. It was just a bad dream, I get those from time to time.” Twilight took a few steps closer and rested a hoof on Twily’s shoulder as she kneeled down closer to her height. “Don’t worry about it, alright?”

Twily glanced up briefly and nodded her head. “Okay,” she said with a slight sigh.

Twilight stood back upright and looked back to Moondancer. “So, we’re here?”

The frown on Moondancer’s muzzle persisted for a brief moment, but then faded. “Yeah. There should be someone waiting for us here at the station.” She collected her roller luggage from the overhead bin in her magic. Her magic then took hold of the cabin door’s handle and slid the door open as she took a few steps out into the hall. She arched her back and stretched out each of her legs in a cat-like manner, then turned back to say, “Not that we really need an escort, but you know, tradition and all,” with a slight grin.

Twilight smiled. “Can’t wait to see the new castle with my own eyes.”

The group made their way to the front of the train car where they exited onto the station’s loading ramp. The Crystal Empire station wasn’t nearly as busy as Canterlot’s, since in this time period it was still a final stop on the tracks. In Twilight’s own time, the tracks ran further north to areas beyond Equestria, and the Crystal Empire had become a busy hub of activity. As Twilight glanced around at the station mentally comparing it to the one from her memory, she noticed a stallion clad in crystal armor that was approaching them. A pegasus, orangish-tan in color other than his deep blue mane and tail. She was absolutely sure she recognized him, but couldn’t place a name to his face.

“Captain,” the stallion said with a quick salute to Moondancer, which she nodded in return. He then turned toward Twilight and Twily. “Your majesties,” he said, bowing his head for a moment then placing one hoof across his chest armor. “Lieutenant Flash Sentry. Welcome to the Crystal Empire.”

Of course. How could I forget? Twilight almost couldn’t believe that she’d forgotten his name, but then it had been about six hundred years since she’d last seen him. She’d likely completely forgotten more ponies than most ponies get to know in their lifetime. She had to resist frowning at the thought as it crossed her mind.

“Thanks for meeting us here, Flash,” Moondancer said as she stepped up next to him. She nudged his side with a foreleg as she said, “Flash here is Princess Cadance’s kinda-sorta-official personal guard.”

“Nothing like that is official,” he said with a chuckle. “The Princess doesn’t want a personal guard following her around all the time.”

“Yeah, you just do all her errands for her and hang around in her castle all day for no reason, right?” Moondancer said, her smirk growing a bit. “Had a feeling that you’d be the one she’d send.”

“And I’ve been looking forward to it! It’s not every day that I get to be an escort for the Princess of Time.” Flash looked to Twilight with a smile, but it soon faltered. “Uh, not to discount your presence, Queen Chrysalis. I meant no disrespect,” he said, quickly bowing his head to Twily.

“Uh....” It took Twily a moment to realize that this stallion didn’t know who she really was at the moment, only who she happened to look like. “N-no offense taken. Princess Twilight is a bit of a hero here, right?”

Moondancer chuckled and glanced back at Twilight. “Yeah, don’t be surprised if you get a bit more of a reaction here than you did in Canterlot.”

Twilight silently raised an eyebrow.

Flash turned and gestured toward the iconic crystal pillars that framed the path that lead to the main city. “Well, shall we get going?”

“Lead the way,” Twilight said with a smile and a slight nod.

The group started their journey toward the city, and at the pace they were moving it would be a few minutes before they reached the city’s gateway arch. Twilight was content to follow along a few steps behind the others, taking the time to take in the surroundings. Seeing a place as it once was in the past seemed to draw some strong emotional feelings to the surface, and she still wasn’t entirely sure if that was a good thing or not. So focused was she on her internal thoughts that she hadn’t noticed when Moondancer had stopped chatting with the others and slowed her pace until she was walking right alongside her. It wasn’t until Moondancer quietly cleared her throat that Twilight seemed to suddenly notice her presence.

“I... don’t want to be a pest,” Moondancer started cautiously. She side-glanced up at Twilight. “I know you said it was nothing, but nothing usually doesn’t put somepony in tears.”

Twilight’s ears pulled back slightly. “I don’t want to burden you with it,” she stated flatly.

“It isn’t a burden.” Moondancer tried to give an encouraging smile when Twilight looked at her, but her smile quickly slipped away when Twilight cast her glance toward the ground before her and let out a noticeable sigh. “Look, even though you’re a time traveling princess from an alternate future, I still think of you as my sister-in-law. You’re family. If you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me.”

Twilight looked back to Moondancer and smiled. “I appreciate that, really. To be honest, Luna found me in the dream. Her and I already had a little talk.”

“Ah,” Moondancer said with a knowing nod. “Just seemed like something was still weighing heavily on your mind.”

The two of them walked side by side in silence for a moment, the only sounds coming from their hoof steps upon the sandy path and the calm breeze blowing through the grass around them.

“I’m still not used to suddenly seeing ponies that I haven’t seen for centuries,” Twilight finally admitted. “It’s kind of a shock every time I recognize someone.”

Moondancer glanced ahead at Flash Sentry for a brief moment. “You knew Flash?”

Twilight nodded and her smile grew. “He was one of Cadance’s guards in my timeline as well. Funny how some things ended up the same despite all the other differences.” Her smile then slipped a bit, and she hesitated for a brief moment before saying, “I couldn’t even remember his name until he introduced himself. Just made me start wondering how many ponies I’ve completely forgotten about.” She glanced off toward the horizon ahead. “I suppose that’s part of being hundreds of years old. Forgetting things you want to remember and remembering things that you’d rather forget.”

Moondancer looked a bit troubled as she tried to wrap her mind around the concept of living so long that you forgot ponies completely. She finally shook her head and said, “I can’t imagine what that must be like for you.”

“It’s a strange feeling, I’ll say that much.” Twilight glanced back down to Moondancer. “Especially when I see someone who’s friend or family. I want to tell them how much I’ve missed them, but in this world, I haven’t ever really been around and many of them don’t even know who I am. It’s hard to say that they are even my family, since really they’re Twily’s.” She let out one more heavy sigh. “And I won’t be able to stay anyway.”

“Well, I already said that I think of you as family, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would agree that being from some other future Equestria doesn’t change that. And yeah, I kinda wish you could stay a while too,” Moondancer said through a sigh of her own, tilting her head slightly. She then smiled and said, “But, I’m glad we got to see each other again, even if it is only for a little while.”

Twilight could tell that Moondancer was trying hard to cheer her up, and if she were to be honest, it was working. The old memories that had been dredged up along with her inability to clearly remember somepony from her distant past had put her in a foul mood, but it was hard to stay broody thanks to her... would it be ‘parallel-timeline-sister-in-law’? Am I going to need a chart to keep track of all of this? Twilight giggled at the silly thought.

“What?” Moondancer asked with a smirk. “Did I say something funny?”

“No, I was just thinking.” Twilight unfurled a wing and used it to hug Moondancer to her side, which took the smaller mare off guard judging by the surprised expression that flickered across her face. “Thanks,” Twilight said before releasing Moondancer and folding her wing back.

The group was quickly approaching the southern border of the city where the path and meadow ended and the crystal streets and houses began. Twilight took a moment to glance from side to side, and she noticed something that was strikingly different from anything she’d ever seen before, let alone within the Crystal Empire. Along the boundaries of the city she saw two tall identical crystalline structures, one to each side. At first she thought they might be a sort of observation tower, but they seemed far too thin and had no noticeable platforms. She squinted her eyes as she focused on smaller crystals that seemed to be orbiting the tip of one of the spires. “Those are different.”

Moondancer turned her head to look in the same direction. “Oh, the crystal pylons? Yeah, I guess those were put in after you left.” She looked back to Twilight. “They keep the area’s weather under control. You should have seen what it was like for the pegasi teams trying to keep the feral blizzards at bay that first winter before they were all in place. Probably the hardest work they’ve ever had to do.”

“That’s right. The Crystal Heart was shattered here,” Twilight said quietly as she remembered back to her first visit to this timeline. She’d even helped with the recovery effort for the missing fragments of the Crystal Heart, but had left for her home time before they had all been found. “I guess it wasn’t ever restored then.”

“No, but Minister Sombra came up with these to protect the city in its place.” Moondancer nodded her head toward the pylon off to their left. “There’s seven total surrounding the city. They’re not nearly as compact as the Heart was but they work just as well.”

Twilight blinked, her ears twitching at what she had heard. “Minister Sombra?” she asked, just to make sure she had heard right.

Moondancer smiled and nodded.

Twilight tilted her head to the side. “That’s also different.”

---

Flash Sentry had fallen silent ever since Moondancer fell back a few steps to speak with Princess Twilight. During the few minutes that followed, he had tried and failed multiple times to think of something to say, if only to fill the awkward silence between him and Twily with something. He just didn’t want to make himself look like even more of an idiot in front of who he believed to be Queen of the Changelings. He finally settled on something and gathered his courage to speak.

“I-I really didn’t mean to make it sound like I was ignoring you, your majesty. I apologize if my comment came across that way.”

Twily glanced toward Flash with a confused look, and in the short moment that followed, all her mind could come up with as a response was, “Huh?”

Flash hesitated slightly, even slowing his steps for a brief moment before he continued. “When I mentioned that I was honored to be assigned as an escort to Princess Twilight Sparkle, I should have mentioned you as well. After all, you’ve helped the crystal ponies so much over these last few years by teaching them how to tap into their crystal magic again. Fixing all of the damage to the city would have taken ages without your help.” He bowed his head toward her. “Please, accept my apology, your majesty.”

“Oh! That.” Twily nervously giggled and waved a hoof. “It didn’t bother me at all. Chrys—” Twily quickly corrected herself. “Uh, I mean, I was glad to help out where I could?” The unsure tone of her voice made her statement sound much more like a question.

Flash glanced at Twily with an uncertain look. He cautiously asked, “Is something the matter, your majesty?”

“W-what do you mean?” Twily asked, her eyes growing a bit wider as her ears suddenly pinned back.

“Just seems like you’re upset.”

There was a short pause where the two of them simply quietly stared at each other as they walked along the path.

Finally, Flash shook his head and looked forward. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”

Twily knew that Flash was only trying to be kind to her and show her the respect that would be expected of royalty. She just simply had no way of knowing how to react properly. She’d spent the better part of her existence trapped within a magical mind prison with only Chrys as her conversation partner, all but cut off from the outside world. If not for Chrys, she likely never would have managed to find the tenuous link that allowed them to view memories from changelings from the outside.

Through the library of memories that she and Chrys had constructed over the years in their mindscape prison, Twily had learned much about the outside world and knew as much if not more than any adult would. However, she’d never gotten to put much of what she had learned to any practical use, and never got to experience what it was really like to grow up. Suddenly being thrust into the real world in a full grown body that wasn’t her own and having to actually interact with others she didn’t know was still a very new and somewhat terrifying experience.

“I actually haven’t been myself lately.” Literally, though Twily felt she should keep that small detail to herself. She wanted to avoid starting any inconvenient rumors that could cause Chrys trouble. “It’s nothing I want you to worry about. Part of the reason why we’re here is to find something that could help.” She lightly sighed and mumbled the word, “Hopefully,” under her breath.

“Oh, I didn’t realize. Well, I’m sure that Princess Cadance will help you in any way she can. After all, you’ve done so much for us.”

A slight smile tugged at the corners of Twily’s mouth. “Yeah, I’m sure she will.”

The soft sound of their hooves on the sandy path leading to the city ceased and was replaced by the light tap of their hooves against crystal as they stepped hoof onto the streets at the edge of the city. Twily glanced side to side at the crystal houses around them, taking in the sight. This was the first time she had ever seen it through real eyes, though she had seen memories of it more than once that Chrys had shared with her. Never did she think that she would one day actually be standing in the lost crystal city herself. However, the skyline was distinctly different from the memories she knew. Absent was the spire that once towered over the central crossroads of the city, and in its place was a somewhat more humble but no less beautiful castle made entirely of blue, violet, and pink hued crystals.

“There it is,” Twily said as she gazed at the castle up ahead.

“It’s been a while since you last visited, hasn’t it? The castle is almost complete now.” Flash gestured toward an incomplete tower with a wing. “Just the east tower left to finish. Amazing to think that it’s taken over three years to build the castle, but Princess Cadance did divert most of the reconstruction efforts to the homes in the city first.”

“Just like in the dream,” Twily commented, remembering back to the dream vision she’d had. She quickly realized that Flash would have heard her. “Uh, I mean, I’ve dreamt of the day that I’d see the Crystal Empire completely restored like this.” Twily resisted the urge to sigh and roll her eyes at her own comment.

If Flash found anything odd about her comment, he made no indication of it. He simply smiled and nodded in response. “Makes sense. You were the one who founded the Empire.”

Twily let out a nervous little chuckle.

---

Compared to the original crystal spire, the interior of the new crystal castle reminded Twilight much more of her own home in her timeline. The floor plan was completely different, being laid out in straight rectangular halls, but the crystal pillar architecture that stretched upward to vaulted ceilings was very familiar.

It wasn’t long after passing through the front gates that the group found themselves in a grand hall that led to a T-junction and a tall set of double doors inset in the wall ahead of them.

“Well, here we are.” Flash stepped to the side and gestured to the doorway. “The castle throne room is just beyond these doors. Princess Cadance is waiting for all of you inside.” He bowed his head as he took a few steps back and said, “It’s been an honor, your majesties,” and then he turned to leave down the hallway to their right.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Twilight called after him. She then glanced down and noticed Twily staring intently at the closed doors. “Are you okay?” she asked as she leaned her head down closer.

“The last time I saw Cadance was when I was still a little foal... on the day I was foalnapped.” Twily looked down at herself, lifting her right hoof and slowly turning it over. “It’s been... a really long time since then, and I don’t look anything like I used to. I don’t even sound like I used to.” She glanced up toward Twilight. “How will she ever believe it’s really me?”

Twilight smiled. She lifted a wing and laid it gently upon Twily’s back. “She’ll know it’s you, and I’m sure she can’t wait to see you again. Trust me.”

Twily looked back to the doorway ahead of them. She drew in a deep breath and let it out as she said, “Oooh kay. I guess there really isn’t a point to standing out here worrying about it.”

“That’s the spirit,” Moondancer said as she trotted up to the door. Her horn lit as her magic took hold of the tall double doors and pulled them open, revealing the room on the other side.

Across the expansive hall, Princess Cadance paused her pacing mid stride. Her eyes quickly darted to each of the new guests as they entered the room, finally settling upon Twily. She cantered across the hall quickly at first, then slowed her steps to a more cautious approach as she neared them.

Silence fell upon the room after Moondancer closed the doorway behind them. For the brief moment that followed, Cadance only stood there and stared at Twily, her mouth twitching a few times as if she were about to say something but simply couldn’t find the words. Finally, she spoke barely above a whisper. “Twily?”

Twily fidgeted slightly on her hooves, and then nodded. “It’s me,” she said meekly. She glanced down, gesturing to herself with a hoof as she said, “I know it doesn’t look like me, but it is.”

“The letter did say that you and Chrysalis had....” Cadance trailed off to silence as she stared into Twily’s eyes, squinting her own as if she saw something there.

Twily’s ears fell back a bit while Cadance continued to silently stare at her. “I... I know it’s been a really long time since that day. The bookfair. I don’t want you to think that I blame you, because I never did. You couldn’t have known what had happened. I know that this is probably all really hard to believe, but I—”

Suddenly, Cadance rushed forward, and in a swift, graceful motion she wrapped her forelegs and wings tightly around Twily in a hug. “Oh my goodness. It is you, isn’t it? You’re really here.” She nuzzled the side of Twily’s neck as a few quiet sniffles escaped from her. “I thought I’d never see you again, that I’d never get a chance to tell you how sorry I am.”

“I-it wasn’t your fault.”

“I should have kept a closer watch on you that day. You were my responsibility and I failed you.”

“Cadance, please.” Twily leaned back slightly so she could look Cadance in the eyes. “Please, don’t cry. You’re going to make me cry,” she said as she tried to blink away tears.

Cadance smiled and hugged Twily close again. She let out a long, contented sigh. “I’m just so happy to be able to speak to you again.”

Twily sniffled. “I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me.”

Cadance leaned back. “I can tell.” She leaned forward just slightly, looking deep into Twily’s eyes and smiled. “I can see you in those eyes.”

They quietly embraced each other for a moment longer before finally letting each other go. The two of them each dried the tears that had built up in their eyes and shared a quiet laugh. Then, Cadance glanced toward the other princess in the room.

“I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again either. It’s a pleasant surprise though, despite the circumstances.” Cadance took a step toward Twilight with her wings open, indicating that she’d like a hug.

Twilight gladly obliged, stepping forward and wrapping her own wings and one foreleg around Cadance.

“Has the other me from your Equestria been treating you right since you returned home?” Cadance quietly said next to Twilight’s ear.

Twilight giggled. “She can be a little mischievous sometimes, but nothing I can’t handle.”

They took a step back from each other, folding their wings back to their sides as they shared a little giggle. Then, Cadance suddenly furrowed her brow and pursed her lips. “Wait.” She straightened her stance, looking Twilight directly in the eyes as she suddenly seemed dead serious about something.

Twilight slowly raised her eyebrows.

Cadance seemed to be studying Twilight’s face intently, her eyes darting about and often looking up at her horn.

“Are you taller than me?” Cadance finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen upon the room.

Twilight only made a half-hearted attempt to hide the smirk that appeared on her muzzle. “Maybe a bit, but to be fair, I’ve gained a few more centuries since we last saw each other.”

Cadance pointed her golden shoed hoof at Twilight, raising one eyebrow at her as she said, “That is cheating,” unable to hide her own smirk.

They shared another little laugh before Cadance’s attention turned toward the last guest. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Captain.” Cadance raised her left wing and waved it a few times, indicating that there was still one more hug she was missing.

Moondancer hesitated, but one did not simply reject a hug from Princess Cadance. A light blush showed on her muzzle as she approached.

Cadance draped her wing over Moondancer once she was close enough, hugging her to her left side. “You’ve stayed away for quite a while this time,” Cadance said as she glanced down at the smaller unicorn she had trapped under her wing at her side.

“Ah, well, Princess Celestia was keeping me pretty busy, and then the little foal came along,” Moondancer said while the blush on her muzzle deepened.

“Which you have not yet brought here for me to see,” Cadance said as she used her right wing’s primary feather like a soft finger to tap at Moondancer’s nose a few times.

Moondancer laughed lightly and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s been a really busy time.”

Cadance smiled back. “I can only imagine.” She looked to Twilight and said, “Moondancer spent over a year stationed here while the reparations were getting underway. It wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly as it did without her help.”

“I was just doing my duty, Princess,” Moondancer added.

Cadance,” she corrected as she looked back down at the unicorn and tapped her nose with her feather once more. “You know you don’t need to keep to the formalities when it’s just us.”

“Sorry. Guard habit.”

Just as Cadance finally released Moondancer from the wing hug, one of the side doors to the throne room suddenly opened. A dark gray unicorn stallion with an untamed mane of jet-black hair entered through the doorway. His brisk pace caused the blue-violet robe he was wearing to billow about his legs as he trotted into the room. He had a collection of scrolls floating around him in his magic, one of which he had open and was reading, blocking his face from view.

“Cadance, something strange is happening to the Heart shards. I think it explains what’s been affecting the citizens lately, but I still haven’t pinpointed a reason for—” Somba finally lowered the scroll he’d been reading and stopped dead in his tracks, his hooves skidding on the crystal floor. The small reading glasses on his nose nearly slid off and all of the scrolls that had been floating around him fell to the floor and rolled around his hooves. His wide eyes darted about looking at the others in the throne room. “You... have guests,” he quietly said, but even so his simple statement echoed through the large room. He quickly looked to Cadance and said, “I was told you weren’t having any guests today.”

Cadance smirked slightly. “Not officially.”

Sombra nodded once slowly as his magic adjusted his reading glasses. “I see.” He took one last quick glance at the others in the room and then gathered all of his disarrayed scrolls together with his magic. “Well, I’m sure given the company you have that I’ve interrupted something very important. My mistake. If you’ll excuse me.” He politely bowed as he took a single step back, then turned and hurried back toward the door he had entered from.

Twilight quickly raised a hoof and called out to him. “Wait, Sombra.”

Sombra stopped and turned back toward them.

Twilight leaned in a bit closer toward Cadance, lowering her voice enough that only she’d be able to hear her question. “Cadance, does he know yet?”

Cadance shook her head. “No, I haven’t shared the letter with anyone else yet, but we can trust him with this. I was going to recommend that you seek his help anyway.”

Twilight nodded once and turned her attention back to Sombra. “There is something that you may be able to help us with.”

“Of course. I’ll lend whatever help I’m able to,” Sombra said as he approached the group. He shifted his collection of scrolls to one side in his magic and bowed his head to Twilight as he turned to address her directly. “A pleasure to see you once again, Princess Twilight Sparkle, though I have my doubts that you’ve returned to our time simply for a visit.”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Twilight said with a light sigh. “It’s quite a story, if you have the time to hear it.”

Heart Shards

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What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter XIII – Heart Shards

Princess Cadance invited the group to join her for dinner in her own private dining room that evening. There they remained long after the meals were gone and the table had been cleared as the evening gave way to night. They spoke about the coming danger to their twin timelines, and also of the very strange situation that Chrysalis and Twily had found themselves in, something that Sombra seemed to be keenly interested in.

“I’ve never even thought of the possibility of a merging of minds,” Sombra said as he stared thoughtfully from across the table at Twily.

Twily had seemed to take a sudden interest in the tablecloth, only glancing up now and then to check if Sombra was still looking at her.

Twilight noticed and, from her seat next to Twily, she lifted her wing to lay it across the smaller unicorn’s back. “Well, it’s happened. So, what are your thoughts?” she asked, directing her question at Sombra.

Sombra closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair for a moment as he let out a thoughtful hum and crossed his forelegs over his chest. “I suppose if it were to be possible, that a changeling would be the most likely candidate, since they can mentally contact each other and share thoughts and memories. However, what I know of changeling abilities is somewhat limited to only what has been explained to me. Even if I did cast the curse that first created their kind I’m hardly an expert on their actual physiology and thaumaturgy. But, perhaps it is Chrysalis’s rather unique changeling physiology that has allowed young Twily to reside within the recesses of her mind these last few years. Chrysalis is, after all, one who was once also an alicorn, and alicorns tend to be rather mysterious creatures themselves. As far as I know, Chrysalis being a former alicorn turned changeling makes her one of a kind.” He paused for a brief moment with a thoughtful look. “I’m sure it is a unique situation that has never happened before.” He then looked to Twilight. “You did say that she was incapacitated before the switch happened.”

Twilight nodded. “Yes, by accident.”

Sombra stood from his seat and started to pace back and forth near the side of the table as he spoke to no one in particular. “Chrysalis fell unconscious at that moment, and it so happened that Twily here awoke first, assuming control of their shared mind and body and essentially swapping roles. For whatever reason, Chrysalis hasn’t reasserted control over her own mind and body since,” he said, stopping momentarily as he gestured with a hoof in a circular motion. He furrowed his brow briefly, then turned back toward the table and approached the side where Twily was sitting. “Tell me, are you able to communicate with her in any way?”

Twily bearly shook her head. “It’s sort of like I can just feel that she’s there, but it isn’t something that I can really explain. I don’t hear her. I don’t know if she’s even awake. I wasn’t for the last few years. But, a few times I’ve remembered something that I’m sure is from her life and not mine, though when it happens it actually feels like the memory is mine.” She let out a frustrated sounding sigh. “I know that doesn’t make much sense but I don’t know how else to describe it. And these memories that come from Chrys, they don’t seem to last long. They fade away and I’m just left with the feeling that... there was something I knew and now it's gone. And... well, at first, those memories hurt when they came to me. A lot.”

Sombra furrowed his brow as he let out a low hum. “I once got the chance to speak with a changeling at great length about how the hive mind works and I must say, they described it as being quite different from your experience. It’s possible that your mind was in some way rejecting these memories to protect itself.” He turned away and returned to pacing in a small circle near the table as he muttered mostly to himself. “Yes, there is no telling just how intertwined their minds must be at this point, being that it has been so long. The task of untangling such a mess would be incredibly tedious at best.” He then happened to glance back over toward the table, and noticed the dejected look on Twily’s face. “Oh! My apologies. I have a tendency to voice my thoughts.” He approached Twily once again, sitting next to her and clasping one of her hooves in his. “I have never heard of a condition like yours, so all of my rambling theories are just that, theory. Rest assured, I will lend whatever abilities I have to find a way to help you both.”

Twily gave him a thankful smile and nodded.

“Somba is a very resourceful unicorn. There’s a good chance that he’ll find something,” Cadance said from her seat at the other end of the table. “He did solve our weather problem.”

Sombra smiled and bowed his head slightly toward her. “The least I could do, Princess.”

Cadance squinted her eyes at him and pursed her lips, giving him a disappointed look.

Sombra cleared his throat. “Cadance.”

She gave him a bright smile.

“However, it does seem that the fractured Heart shards have given us another puzzle to solve.”

A puzzled look crossed Cadance’s face for just a second before a flash or recognition. “Right, you did mention something like that earlier.”

“Yes,” he said as he took his seat at the table once again. His magic took up a rolled up scroll that was sitting on the table. “Of course you already know that I’ve been researching the lethargy that has been spreading among the population recently, however, our guests likely do not.” He laid out the scroll full of notes on the table and looked up to the others around the table. “Recently, many of our crystal ponies have brought forth complaints of feeling tired, even if they’ve done absolutely nothing strenuous. Very recently, within the last two days, there was a sudden increase in just how many seemed afflicted and how severe the symptoms were. And it seems that this only affects the crystal ponies. That is the one thing in common among them.”

“So, you think you’ve found the cause?” Cadance asked.

Sombra tapped one of his hooves on the open scroll. “Once I confirmed that it was only crystal ponies that were affected, I made the connection almost immediately and decided to retrieve the Crystal Heart’s shards from the vault and test them. The shards are drawing power once again. There does seem to be a connection between them and this malady.”

Twilight gestured to the open scroll on the table. “May I?”

Sombra nodded to her.

Twilight lifted the scroll in her magic and began to quickly read over Sombra’s notes. He had already managed to perform highly detailed measurements on the amount of thaumic power draw that the shards were absorbing, and also had notes on the ill effects that the crystal ponies had been experiencing as a result, from many complaints of simple drowsiness throughout the day to some even feeling physically weakened. “Why would the remains of the Crystal Heart cause an illness?” she asked as she glanced over the scroll at him.

Sombra hummed to himself in thought. “Perhaps calling it an illness wouldn’t be exactly correct. When the Heart was whole, it would gather power willingly given by crystal ponies and use that power to protect the surrounding land. Now, it seems, the shards are somehow starting to draw power once again, but instead of collecting what is given willingly by the crystal ponies, they are simply drawing power from all those nearby, willing or not.”

Twilight looked back down at the scroll, staring at the data but not immediately seeing a pattern to it. “Why would the shards do this?” she wondered aloud.

Sombra shook his head. “Don’t know. I only just confirmed the connection between the two earlier this evening. But, the power is going somewhere. Somewhere other than the shards themselves. Of that much, I am certain.”

Cadance let out an exhausted sounding sigh and shook her head. “That doesn’t sound good at all.” She looked at Twilight. “I know this isn’t the reason why you came here, but I’m starting to think that your vision leading you here might not be a coincidence. What are the odds that in all of time you’d end up back here at the same moment we discover this problem just by random chance?”

Twilight glanced from Cadance back to the scroll. “You have a good point.” She rolled the scroll back closed in her magic and placed it back upon the table in front of Sombra. “Unfortunately, these visions are usually like a puzzle that’s missing half the pieces. We had no idea why we needed to be here, only that we should be. This could be a reason why we’re here, but we won’t know for sure until the moment comes.”

---

After offering to show Twilight the Crystal Heart shards, Sombra had led the group from the private dining room to a rather normal looking hall in a separate wing of the castle. Each of the closed doors along the hall were much like the rest, except for one. This one doorway stood out not due to its appearance, but due to the fact that there was a pair of guards in full crystal armor flanking each side of it standing at attention.

“Just a moment,” Sombra said as he stepped up to the door. His slightly curved horn lit with a deep violet glow, and a similar glow encased the entire doorway. There was an audible snapping sound at the same moment that a dull flash of dark violet light cascaded away from the door down the halls as a magical enchantment was dispelled. Sombra’s magic then took hold of the door’s handle and pulled the door open before he stepped inside.

Twilight stepped just inside the room right behind him and glanced around. The office was crowded with shelves full of haphazardly stacked books and scrolls, and tables that were covered from corner to corner with various apparatuses, stacks of written notes, and disorganized piles of books. Even much of the floor was covered with loose pieces of paper and stray books that hadn’t found their way back to a shelf in some time, judging by the noticeable layer of dust upon some of them. A desk piled the highest with papers, scrolls, and books sat against the right side wall and had the only sitting place in front of it, a single blue velvet cushion.

Twilight felt a natural urge to start organizing the chaotic mess she found surrounding her. Luckily, she had gained more than enough self control over the centuries to resist acting upon those urges.

Sombra cleared his throat. “Please pardon the mess, I don’t often have visitors.” He trotted through one of the few clear paths along the floor that weaved through the stacks of books and piles of papers to a table at the back wall of the office that seemed a bit more cleared than the rest.

As Twilight followed behind him, she noticed a sensation running along the back of her neck, causing the hackles to stand on end. She could feel a surge of magic in the air.

“Here they are,” Sombra said as he stood next to the table, gesturing to an array of a few dozen crystal shards of various shapes and sizes lying out upon a violet velvet cloth.

“I can feel it.” Twilight stepped up to the table, looking down at the shards. “There’s definitely a thaumic power draw coming from these, but it doesn’t feel like the power is collecting here. It feels like it’s just flowing to them.”

“And going somewhere else,” Sombra said with a grunt.

“But where?” Twilight asked, furrowing her brow.

“We don’t have all of the shards here.” Sombra picked the shards up in his magic and carefully started bringing them together. They quietly clinked against one another as his magic fitted them together as best he could into their original form, making out most of the shape of a heart with a large section of the upper left side missing.

“That’s a big chunk of missing crystal,” Moondancer said, speaking up from where she was standing a few steps back near the center of the room. Twilight glanced over her shoulder, seeing her standing next to Twily who was curiously looking around the office. Cadance had opted to stand just outside the doorway, as there wasn’t much room left for them to all crowd into the cluttered office together.

“What concerns me most is who or what may have found the missing pieces.” Sombra used his magic to spread the shards back out in the air. “Since these shards once all came from a single crystal, they can be identified with a thaumic rezonance spell.” He demonstrated the spell, casting it upon one of the shards in the group. As it began to glow and emit a quiet hum, the shards surrounding it all began to mimic this, glowing and humming with the same color and pitch. “They all respond to the same thaumic frequencies and in the same way.”

Twilight recalled the spell from long ago when she had helped in the search for the heart fragments. She knew that the thaumic frequency spell wasn’t just a neat trick used to find bits and pieces of shattered crystals. The glowing and humming was a result of power flow between the shards. “Someone could use that spell to draw the power from these shards to the missing ones.”

“From a short distance, yes.” Sombra cancelled the spell and laid the shards back out upon the table. “With the shape these shards are in, it should only be possible to draw energy from one shard to another from no more than a few steps away. Possibly from the next room over under the best conditions.”

“So if something is using the missing shards, it should be nearby.” Twilight glanced around, though she didn’t actually expect to find anything.

“And, the shards would normally be glowing.” Sombra tapped the edge of his hoof against his chin as he gazed at the shards laid out upon the table. “Unless someone has found a very interesting trick that lets them siphon power unnoticed from further away. I can think of a few possibilities, but it still wouldn’t allow them to draw the power from just anywhere, and the flow really shouldn’t be as strong as what we’re seeing. They’d still need to be relatively nearby and have quite a powerful catalyst to have this much of an effect.”

Twilight looked back at Sombra. “Within the city?”

He nodded. “Most likely, though I have no proof of that.”

“Would explain why we were led here,” Twilight said as she glanced back over her shoulder. She just so happened to catch a glimpse of Twily stifling a yawn with her hoof and smiled. “Moondancer, why don’t you and Twily get some rest. It’s been a pretty long day. I think I’m going to stay here a bit longer but I won’t be far behind.”

“Has been a long day,” Moondancer said as a slight yawn snuck into her voice as she spoke. “What do you say?” she asked, looking to Twily.

Twily nodded, blinking her eyes tiredly.

“Alright, I think I still remember the way to the guest rooms.” Moondancer turned around and stepped out of the office into the hallway with Twily following just behind her. She stopped just outside, glancing up to Cadance. “Down this way, isn’t it?” she asked, nodding her head down hall off to her right.

Cadance smiled and nodded. “The rooms should be ready for you.”

“Alright, we’ll see you in the morning then.” Moondancer waved back to Twilight before her and Twily walked off down the hall together.

“Good night, you two,” Cadance said as she watched after them.

Twilight stepped out into the hall next to Cadance and watched the two unicorns until they disappeared around a corner at the end of the hallway. She then glanced briefly back into Sombra’s office, noticing that he seemed to be probing at one of the shards with a spell while a quill in his magic was scratching away at a scrap of paper on the table.

“So, you and Sombra seem to get along well,” Twilight said as she turned her attention to her other side, looking at Cadance.

A warm smile appeared on Cadance’s muzzle as she looked around Twilight into the room. “Things would definitely be a bit more hectic around here without his help.” However, her smile slipped away as she looked back to Twilight. “It did take a while before ponies started to openly trust him, and there’s likely going to be some who never will. But, he’s always working tirelessly to make up for his past mistakes. He’s earned his title. I often have to remind him and others that he was also a victim of the dark power that controlled him.”

Twilight smiled as she looked into the office once more. “I’m happy for him. The Sombra from my Equestria didn’t get the same chance.”

“He’s earned his happiness.”

“What about you?” Twilight asked, looking back to Cadance.

“Pardon?” Cadance asked, tilting her head a bit.

“Have you been happy?”

Cadance blinked once, her face otherwise devoid of any emotion. “Why wouldn’t I be?” she finally said with a light chuckle. “I get to be the princess of the Crystal Empire.”

Twilight shook her head. “That’s your duty. Life needs to be about more than just your responsibilities.” When she saw the confusion come back to Cadance’s face, Twilight pressed further. “So, no special somepony or anything like that in your life?”

Cadance’s eyes suddenly widened. “Oh! Uh, well, we don’t have that sort of relationship. Not that he would be a bad choice but... uh,” she said as she cast a quick glance toward the office. She then let out a sigh. “Honestly things have been so busy I haven’t really had much time to think about things like that.”

A smirk had slowly crept its way across Twilight’s muzzle as she listened to Cadance talk. “Well, I didn’t mention Sombra specifically, but that would be an interesting choice,” she said as she raised an eyebrow.

Cadance opened her mouth as if she were going to say something in response, but only a small, strangled squeak managed to come forth. A light blush began to show near the tips of her ears and upon her cheeks, darkening her already pink coat closer to a rosy red.

Twilight tried but failed to suppress a giggle. “Sorry,” she said as she worked to get the giggles under control. She laid one of her wings across Cadance’s back and leaned in a bit closer to her, speaking in a near whisper. “You do at least consider him to be a friend, right?”

“Of course I do. I’d be lost without his help,” Cadance whispered back. She cast a quick glance over Twilight’s back toward the office and let out a quiet sigh. “Although, we really don’t spend time with each other outside of official business.” She paused for a moment with thoughtful look and furrowed her brow. “I can’t actually recall if we have just spent time together as friends. I guess we haven’t?”

“I thought that might be the case. A word of advice from another princess who usually spent way too much time on her responsibilities when she was younger. Time has a way of slipping by unnoticed.” Twilight raised her brow slightly as she stared into Cadance’s eyes, giving her a serious look. “Don’t let it.” She then folded her wing back to her side and turned to walk back through the open office door.

Cadance stood out in the hall for a moment afterwards, muling over the words of wisdom that she’d been given. She chuckled quietly and shook her head before speaking quietly to herself. “Never thought she’d be the one giving me relationship advice.”

---

After a short and quiet walk through the halls of the castle together, Moondancer and Twily had found themselves standing within one of the guest bedrooms.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m beat.”

Twily tiredly nodded her head at Moondancer’s comment all while she was covering a yawn with a hoof. She didn’t know why, but she’d started feeling really tired as the night had dragged on, especially once they had left the dining room.

Moondancer chuckled quietly, but when no other answer came from Twily, she asked, “You alright? You’ve been really quiet tonight.”

“I’m okay,” Twily said somewhat lamely as she blankly stared forward at nothing in particular. When she glanced over and saw Moondancer staring back with an unconvinced look, she admitted, “Well, I’m a bit tired. And, I guess I’m a little worried too.”

“That’s understandable.”

“I just hope I’m not wasting our time.”

Moondancer frowned and furrowed her brow. “What? What do you mean?”

Twily let out a loud huff. “Our whole world is in danger of ending and Chrys can’t help because of me.”

“Hey,” Moondancer took a few steps closer until she was standing just in front of Twily. “I thought we talked about this already.”

“I know,” Twily said. She cast her glance off to the side as she absentmindedly ran one of her fetlocks over her other foreleg. “I just want to be able to help but I feel so useless. I don’t like being another problem to solve.”

“Well, I don’t see it like that, and I’m sure that none of the princesses see it that way either.” Moondancer stepped around beside Twily, leaning against her and laying one of her forelegs over her shoulders. “Besides, if you hadn’t given your magic to Chrysalis a few years ago, things probably would have gone really badly for... well, everything. You already saved us all, so now it’s time for us to return the favor.”

A quiet moment passed before Moondancer happened to glance over at a small clock sitting upon a nightdesk near the bed. “Oh wow, it’s creeping up on midnight. We should get some sleep.” She looked back at Twily, and gently rubbed her shoulders with her fetlock. “Maybe some sleep will help you feel better.”

Twily managed a weak smile. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Moondancer gave Twily a quick hug before heading for the bedroom door. She stopped just outside the room looking back in. “I’ll be in the room right next door. Anything happens, just give a shout, I’ll be here.”

“Okay. Thanks. Good night, Moondancer.”

“Good night, Twily.”

As Moondancer left, she pulled the door closed behind her with a quiet click, leaving Twily standing there in the silence of the room alone with her own thoughts. She stood there for nearly a full minute staring blankly at nothing, her hooded eyes blinking slowly now and then. Her mind felt like it was moving at a snail's pace and she wasn’t sure why. She finally shook her head and glanced around the room. A queen sized bed framed in a crystal material similar to the rest of the castle’s walls sat centered against the far wall, flanked on each side by matching mahogany nightstands. Two wall lamps covered with off-white lamp shades, one above each of the nightstands, provided the lightsource in the room. A narrow corner shelf holding about a dozen books was attached to the far corner of the room’s walls right next to a silver framed, red velvet sofa. The walls were decorated with various pieces of silver framed artworks, but other than that, there wasn’t much else within the room to look at. Twily noticed a couple doors on the wall to her right. She walked over to them, taking a quick peek behind each one, finding one leading to a sizable bathroom and the other to a closet with little of interest inside.

She felt physically exhausted, as if she’d just ran for hours, but her mind was swimming with a whirlpool of thoughts and a strange mix of emotions. Was it fear? Worry? Maybe a bit of both? She wasn’t entirely sure, but it left her with an almost sickening feeling in her chest. Whatever it was, she was sure that the anxiety was going to make sleep a bit elusive in this unfamiliar place, despite how dead tired she felt.

A quiet knock at her bedroom door caused her to flinch, sending her heart racing in her chest. The veil of exhaustion that had seemed to be looming over her dissipated all at once as she stared wide eyed at the room’s door.

“Are you still awake, your majesty?” a muffled, unfamiliar femenine voice called from the other side of the door.

Twily hesitated, and for a few seconds she wondered if she should try to call out to Moondancer for help, but she didn’t want to needlessly cause a scene.

“I brought an extra blanket. The nights in the Frozen North can get a bit cold,” the voice called from the other side.

Twily let out a heavy breath and rolled her eyes. She was getting herself worked up over nothing. It was likely one of the castle maids. Afterall, if it wasn’t, why would they bother knocking? Twily walked up to the door and, after just a short moment of hesitation, she cautiously opened the doorway just enough for her to look outside with one eye.

Out in the hall she spotted a mare with a glistening cream colored coat and curly two tone fuchsia mane and tail. She was fully clothed in a black with white frill maid dress. Upon her back laid the aforementioned blanket. She smiled and asked, “May I come in and place this on your bed for you?”

Twily stepped back and pulled the door open, allowing the maid to enter. The maid trotted past her with a quick thank you and quickly got to work, spreading the blanket out upon the bed. Twily stuck her head out into the hallway long enough to look around, finding the halls to be completely empty.

“See anyone out there?” the mare casually asked as she worked to smooth out the wrinkles in the blanket.

Twily’s ears shifted back at the odd question. “Uh, n-no?” she asked as she hesitantly turned back to face the maid.

“Good. I wasn’t followed then.” The maid finished up her task and walked back around the bed. She stopped near the foot of the bed, seeming to be waiting expectantly for something. As the silence grew more awkward, she finally spoke up, quietly asking, “Um, should we close the door so we can talk?”

“Why?” Twily backed up a couple steps until she felt her tail brush up against the wall. “Who are you?”


The maid seemed shocked. She began to take a step closer but stopped and quickly pulled her hoof back when she noticed that Twily drew one of her forelegs back against her chest guardedly in response. “Don’t you recognize me, my Queen?”

My Queen? The two simple words stood out in Twily’s mind. It was different than how all of the ponies had been typically addressing her. The only other creature that she had heard addressing her that way since she had woken up was Graphite.

Twily’s eyes widened.

The confused mare tilted her head. “My disguises never fooled you before. I thought you’d be able to tell. Has it really been too long?”

Twily could hear her heartbeat drumming away in her ears. There was no doubt in her mind, this mare must have been a changeling. However, she seemed rather friendly, if not a bit submissive. Maybe she was one still loyal to Chrys? But if so, why had she followed her here? Perhaps she could keep up the facade that she was actually Queen Chrysalis and get some answers.

“I-I asked you a question. Who are you?” Twily asked. She mentally cursed at her failure to keep her nervousness from slipping into her voice. “If you try anything suspicious, I’m calling for help.”

The confused look on the mare’s face was quickly replaced with panic. “No! Wait, please. It’s me, Arista.”

“... Arista... Arista?” Twily mulled over the name. Something about the sound of it actually did feel familiar, but she couldn’t quite figure out why. It was like the answer was right there, but every time she tried to focus on the thought it darted away to another corner of her mind to hide from her.

The mare cast a cautious glance at the open doorway and then side stepped toward the wall, keeping herself out of sight of anyone who might be passing through the halls. She closed her eyes, and then a ring of green flame quickly flickered over her form. There standing in place of the mare was now a changeling wearing the same maid outfit, one with a short, curly two tone mane and tail of fuschia hair and a dust-grey carapace. She opened her eyes, revealing cat-like irises that were close to the same shade as her hair, not the compound eyes that Twily had expected to see. She wasn’t just a drone.

New memories flooded to the forefront of Twily’s mind all at once. She knew this changeling. She was one of her Coven, one of her most trusted leaders that she’d left to guard her hive during her absence many years ago. “Arista!”

A happy smile appeared on the changeling’s muzzle and her wings buzzed excitedly at her sides beneath her outfit, however her smile very quickly vanished when she heard the sound of approaching hoofsteps from the hallway outside. Both Arista and Twily turned toward the open doorway just as Princess Twilight poked her head in.

“Twily? Who are you talking... to?” Twilight trailed off as her eyes met with that of a changeling maid.

A few silent seconds passed as they stared at each other.

Arista opened her mouth to speak, but only managed a short “Uh—” before letting out a quick ‘eep’ when Twilight activated a binding spell that froze her in place.

“Wait! I know her,” Twily said as she quickly put herself between Arista and Twilight. “She’s a... a friend?” Twily found that while she did remember Arista clearly now, she knew she had very clearly not recognized her only a moment ago. These must be Chrys’s memories.

Twilight silently looked from Twily to the changeling and then back. “Are you sure?” Twilight had considered for a second that the changeling maid could actually be employed at the castle, one that had migrated there from the Canterlot hive, but Cadance hadn’t mentioned anything about any of her staff being changelings.

“I... yes. I remember her,” Twily said as she furrowed her brow. “She’s one of my Coven. Like... like Graphite. She’s one of the good ones! Please, let her go.”

Twilight seemed reluctant to release her spell at first, but Twily was doing a very good job of giving her the sad little puppy dog eyes. She let out an exhausted sounding sigh. “Alright, if you insist,” she said as she allowed the spell to dissipate.

“Thank you,” Twily said, and turned toward Arista, who seemed a bit shaken up. Her ears were pinned back flat against her head, and she was keeping her eyes mostly on Twilight while she remained huddled next to the wall. “It’s alright Arista. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you at first. It’s just... just been a really long time since we’ve seen each other.”

“Why is she here?” Twilight asked, and then added, “In your room, in the middle of the night.”

“I don’t know yet, she just arrived a moment ago.” Twily reached out and laid a hoof gently against Arista’s shoulder, drawing her attention. “Arista, why are you here?” When she saw Arista’s eyes glance back to Twilight once again, Twily said, “It’s alright, she’s a friend too. She was just trying to protect me.”

Arista let out a long sigh, and seemed to visibly relax a bit. “I’m sorry,” she said as she hung her head. “I really did try to follow your last order as well as I could, but, we were attacked, and we failed to protect your home.”

Order? What order? Twily realized that this would likely be something that Chrys would know, but from what she could recall at the moment, Chrys hadn’t seen Arista since before she became trapped in the mindscape, which would have been.... “Sixteen years,” Twily said quietly.

Arista nodded her head. “Yes, it’s been a long time since you gave the order to protect your throne. We kept your home safe, waiting for you to some day return once you were ready. But, we... I failed.” Arista seemed to cower a bit lower as she looked down at the ground floor and quietly said, “Your throne has been shattered.”

Another memory came into focus in Twily’s mind, that of a throne made of porous green and black rock. Her throne, the throne that sat at the center of the wasteland known as the changeling kingdom. “How? Arista, who did this? Who attacked you?”

Arista looked up, directly into Twily’s eyes. “She called herself Amber.”