The Solar Empire vs The "Lunar" Republic...but with a twist
Twilight Sparkle never thought she'd see the day: the day that her mentor, Princess Celestia, would fall to the dark side...but now it's here. Now, she must call upon allies both from her reality and that of another to fight under the banner of the only pony who up until now had been able to challenge her: Princess Luna herself. It's about the only way she'd be able to help her now...
Takes place before Season 7; inspired by "Injustice: Gods Among Us"
A certain pony with an hourglass cutie mark once said, “Ponies assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff.” In other words, while some things are destined to happen throughout time, some things could very well change if given a little...nudge. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how two versions of Equestria ended going to war with each other.
Our story begins with Prince Blueblood, using a scrying spell to view the Mane 6 - as some ponies referred to them - laughing and generally having a good time. Unfortunately, he himself didn’t share their glee. “Look at them,” he said with a shake of his head. “They don't even realize that the common pony views them as gods. If they wanted to, they could do a thousand times worse than some of the worst monsters Equestria has ever seen combined. Have they even considered the possibility of the day that Celestia might fall? Powerful they might be, but they are not the flawless deities so many would have us believe!! I wonder how they would react if I were to show them the destruction they would no doubt cause themselves should they put their minds to it…”
“Are you seriously telling me you'd be willing to sell your soul just to knock them down a few pegs?”
Blueblood just scoffed. “Of course not: I'd have to be crazy to even think...wait: who said that?”
Blueblood found himself looking over to a spot in the room covered in shadow, and gasping in shock upon seeing who was there. “You…”
One King Sombra could only chuckle in response. “You're more educated than some of my former subjects: I'll give you that much.” He cleared his throat. “I know what you're thinking: ‘Aren't you supposed to be dead...or failing that, locked up in Tartarus?’ The answer for the later assumption is that no dark place will contain me. The former assumption: I assure you that the rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated...but that's not why I'm here. You see, I've heard a few rumors that you have clearance to access a certain weapon I've had my eye on for some time…”
“Okay, I'm going to stop you right there,” the Prince interrupted. “First off, the Soul-Binder bomb is not just some ‘weapon’: it was an experimental device capable of instantly sending even Equestria's most powerful foes to Tartarus...that ended up doing far worse. In fact, it has since been filed under ‘as an absolute last resort’ since even before Nightmare Moon's banishment. Secondly, yes, my family has had access to the bomb for generations, but only because the key to the vault needed to be kept as far away from the actual vault as possible, and with a certain fiasco I found myself in during the Grand Galloping Gala, I wouldn't dare go near it without good cause lest I wish to tarnish my reputation even more...which brings me to my third point: I never take the key with me: it's in a secure location at all times...and even if I did have it on me right now, why in Equestria would I give it to you? I can just as easily see myself being a victim of whatever plan you have in mind…”
Sombra just nodded. “If it's reassurance you need, then know this: I've arranged for several of my associates, each with reason to seek revenge on the so-called Elements of Harmony and/or the Princesses, to draw Equestria's defenders elsewhere. All they're waiting for is the proper leader to guide the attack in my absence...a leader who would share a seat of power in the new kingdom that will arise soon afterwards.” He smiles as Blueblood contemplates the offer, before making a move to leave. “Of course if you’re not interested, I suppose I could shake down someone who might know where you left the key in question…”
Whether it was concern for the safety of his staff or realizing that he could rise above the station of Equestria’s so-called defenders, Blueblood found himself much more willing to participate. “WAIT!” Sombra just turned back, clearly suppressing a knowing smile, causing the young Prince to sigh, knowing that he had been played but not truly caring at the moment. “Something tells me I might end up regretting this later, but I'm in.”
As it turned out, in one facite in reality, a few months later, Blueblood would discover that he would indeed come to regret his actions. Case in point, several Royal guards could be found active within the Mayor Mare's office, carrying out various duties, a few pausing to look at the smoldering pile of ash that was once Canterlot in the distance, all while Sombra's laughter could be heard the whole time.
Needless to say, one Princess Twilight Sparkle didn’t share his humor, as evidenced by her slamming her hooves into the table. “The bomb: how'd you find out about it?”
Her prisoner, King Sombra, however, wasn’t intimidated. “What: you want one?” He scoffed. “You Princesses have no original ideas.”
Twilight grabbed him to try and force the information out of him...only to be blasted back by the wall being destroyed by her old instructor/senior Princess, Celestia herself...and she was not happy, judging by the way she snarled, “Get away from him!”
Twilight, trying to keep things under control, calmly gestures to the Umbra/pony hybrid. “I'm handling this right now…”
Celestia nodded in acknowledgement, but still approached Sombra...before angrily tossing the table aside and grabbing Sombra by the collar, slamming him into a wall as she did. “You tricked me! Made me…” She couldn’t help but look away in barely suppressed sorrow and shame. “Luna…”
Sombra chuckled. “First Nightmare Moon, then Sunset Shimmer...ponies you love tend to disappear, don't they?”
As Celestia reared a hoof back, Twilight quickly shouted, “Celestia, don’t!” before letting out a sigh of relief as her mentor purposely missed.
Sombra, however, directed a scoff towards the Princess of Friendship. “That's why I like you, Celestia: you're much easier to manipulate then…” He grunted as he was suddenly thrown against the opposite wall, wincing as he got back up again. “You think that you can have family like your subjects, that locking me away will reform me...and that any of the ponies will be safe in the long run.” He scoffed. “For someone so wise and powerful, you can be pretty stupid sometimes.” He let out a dark laugh. “Now why don't you run along? I've got some work to do if I want to top this…”
As Celestia grabbed Sombra again, Twilight tried one more time to calm her old mentor down. “That's enough…” Unfortunately, this time, she found herself being forced back.
Capitalizing on this, Sombra let out a chuckle. “I know it's soon, but...you think you'll ever extend your hoof in friendship again? Maybe you won’t kill the ones you love…”
Celestia, having heard just about enough from the Crystal Tyrant, lit her horn, pulling her fist back as she did.
The next thing that everypony outside the room heard was a sickening snap and Sombra letting off one last dark laugh.
Back in the Equestria we know and love, Rarity and Starlight found themselves squared off against Suri Polomare and Chrysalis, as does Celestia with a collared Discord, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Braeburn with Flim and Flam, and various other battles occurring across Ponyville.
Celestia, knowing full well that the collar, which seemed to suppress one's free will, meant that, for once, Discord was not responsible for this chaos. “You can forgive me later,” she declared even as she forced him down to the ground, before removing the collar and performing a sleeping spell...just in case. She then noticed a few figures approaching. “Applejack, Little Strongheart, Princess Ember, Luna: I trust that Soarin, Coco Pommel, Rainbow Dash, Babs Seed, and Scootaloo are helping out elsewhere.” She smiled when they nodded in confirmation. “Excellent: we need to wrap this up quickly…”
Luna simply nodded. “Before Blueblood throws something…” She cut herself off as something big landed nearby. “...else at us…”
Celestia simply growled as a medium-sized Tirek roared at them before charging him...only to be thrown aside.
Applejack just sighed. “Ah reckon it shoulda been a combined assault.”
Little Strongheart shrugged. “The Princesses sometimes forget they can't do everything themselves.” She blinked. “Uh, no offense.”
Luna and Ember just gave a unified sigh. “None taken.” A quick nod was then shared between the group before they rejoined the battle.
Meanwhile, back in Canterlot, Bulk Biceps and Flash Sentry, both under the effects of mind control, found themselves facing off alongside various non-reformed Changelings against Cadence, Shining Armor, Sunset Shimmer and Sci-Twi - the latter two having decided to pay the area a visit at just the wrong time. Likewise, the Diamond Dogs Rover, Fido, and Spot fight against Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, Big Mac, and Trixie of their own free will.
Blueblood, having been observing the battle and noticing that her back is turned, fired a spell at Trixie...only for it to be blocked by Gilda and Zecora, causing him to growl. “You two are interrupting the festivities…”
Zecora simply glared. “I detest violence, that much is true, but right now I'm even less fond of you…”
Gilda gave a growl and a nod. “And did you seriously think I'd let you get away with threatening some of the few friends I have?” Her eyes then widened as she noticed something behind her opponent. “Hit the deck!!!”
Blueblood just scoffed. “Yeah: like I'm going to fall for…” ...and that was as far as he got before he was blasted back by a powerful burst of magic.
Gilda simply looked on as Flurry Heart, currently being looked after by Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, rubs her nose after her most recent sneeze before giving a cringe. “I tried to warn him…”
Princess Cadence meanwhile found herself directing a smile towards the two former bullies even as she continued to defend herself. “Thanks again for looking after her, by the way.”
Silver Spoon just smirked. “No problem.” Despite being pleased with herself, however, she couldn’t help but frown and turn towards her friend, gesturing to the Alicorn baby as she did. “Remind me: are we protecting her or is she protecting us?”
Diamond Tiara simply shrugged. “Both?”
Shining Armor couldn’t help but give a knowing smile, giving a fleeting glance at his wife as he did. “Welcome to my world.”
Meanwhile, Applebloom couldn’t help but let out a grunt. “How's everypony holding up?”
Trixie, having just finished directing a blast at one of the Diamond Dogs, couldn’t help but scoff. “Trixie, for one, thought we'd have this cleaned up by now.”
Big Mac simply rolled his eyes. “My name's Big McIntosh, not Miracle Worker…”
Sweetie Belle nodded even as she ducked under an incoming attack. “And some of us aren't as experienced in magic or combat as you…”
Sci-Twi couldn’t help but agree even as she continued to defend against one of the rogue Changelings. “You know, this is not how I saw this visit going…”
Sunset simply shrugged. “If it makes you feel any better, this isn't exactly how I thought it'd go either.” Having found an opening, she activated a telepathy spell. “Twilight, you there?”
Meanwhile, just outside of Tartarus, Twilight, having been heading to a secure location, let out a small smile even as she let Sunset's spell go through. “I hear you, Sunset.”
Sunset could almost be seen giving a sigh of relief over the spell. “Good, because we could really use you right now…”
Twilight simply shook her head. “I need to check up on something real quick first. We need to make sure that everypony's accounted for…”
Needless to say, the fact that Sunset had found an opening for this spell didn’t mean that the fighting had stopped, as evidenced by the grunt that Celestia’s previous student let out over the spell. “Whoever you're worried about, they'll keep: we're losing ground fast!”
Twilight gave a reassuring smile even as she reached her destination. “I'll be there soon, Sunset. Tell my counterpart I said ‘Hi.’”
A Tartarus guard, having noticed her approach, couldn’t help but bristle at Twilight’s arrival, but leads her to her destination nonetheless. “We've been keeping a close eye on things here, just like Celestia ordered.” He stopped as Twilight gestures to a certain rock. “What are you...?” ...and that was as far as he got before the Element of Magic activated her horn, moving the rock before tossing a pebble inside the adjacent cave area, revealing the presence of an illusion spell/potential death trap. Needless to say, the guard was pretty spooked. “How'd Sombra do this?”
Twilight shook her head. “Worry about that later: something tells me that the real trap…” She then stopped as she heard something, or rather someone, approaching fast. Fortunately for her, she’d managed to quickly summon a shield spell just seconds before she and the guard were assaulted. “...is behind us.”
Lightning Dust just let out an arrogant chuckle. “You're so clever.” Needless to say, she and Twilight quickly got to tussling even as the guard made a break for it.
Twilight couldn’t help but growl. “You're working for Equestria's destroyers now?”
Lighting Dust just scoffed. “Unlike the Wonderbolts, they actually appreciate my talents. Besides, the pay is surprisingly good…” She smirked. “...and as a bonus, I get to take down a Princess…”
Making the first move, Lightning quickly surged forward to attack. Twilight stood firm, however: although she had an attack pattern similar to Rainbow Dash, the Princess of Friendship knew that Lightning Dust’s attack pattern was a lot more erratic and therefore harder to counter. Harder, but not impossible, as evidenced by how the studious Alicorn threw up a shield that stunned the ex-Wonderbolt trainee, throwing the Pegasus off-balance long enough to deliver a haymaker to the jaw. Lightning soon found herself lying on the ground, angry with herself: though she prided herself on her speed and maneuverability, the trade-off was that unlike her rainbow-colored rival, she’d never made much of an effort to work on her endurance, making her a bit of a glass-canon. Unfortunately, this lapse in judgement left her vulnerable to a hoof stomp to the head - courtesy of Twilight Sparkle - that knocked her out, ending the fight.
As she took a few cleansing breaths, Twilight couldn’t help but shake her head in disappointment: “Sorry, Lightning, but you're paycheck's been canceled.” She then activated a telepathy spell of her own. “Sunset, we've got another problem.” Needless to say, she found herself frowning upon not hearing a response. “Sunset? Sci-Twi? Cadence? Shining Armor? Trixie?” She groaned, but somehow managed to keep her cool as she switched to a different spell.
Meanwhile, after some moderate struggle, Tirek found himself down on the ground, Fluttershy using her "Stare" to make sure that Flim and Flam were right there alongside him.
Scootaloo, meanwhile, couldn’t help but stare at the downed Tirek. “I'll never fully understand what exactly he is…”
Starlight Glimmer couldn’t help but give a hollow chuckle. “A bane of the gods, little one: a bane of the gods.”
Babs Seed, however, couldn’t help but feel perplexed. “Um, what does that make us?”
Before anyone could answer her, Tirek suddenly got back up in anger...only for Celestia to blast him back a ways.
Here, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but give a disgruntled sigh. “The poor suckers who have to clean up the mess…”
Back in Canterlot, Blueblood found himself smiling as the battle seemingly started to draw to a close in his favor. “Now, if there are no more interruptions…” ...and that was as far as his smug declaration got before he was interrupted by Twilight teleporting into the room.
Despite her very visible irritation, however, Twilight couldn’t help but give an impressed whistle. “Took me almost three minutes to get past the spell you cast: not bad…”
Blueblood simply shrugged. “I try.” He then whistled. “Sic em…” he directed at Rover, Fido, and Spot.
Rover couldn’t but chuckled as he and the other Diamond Dogs surrounded the Princess of Friendship. “Waited a long time for this, pony: you're in the doghouse now…”
Hoping to take advantage of their numbers, the Diamond Dogs quickly rushed the purple Princess. Unfortunately, what they had in numbers and physical power was greatly hindered by their intelligence, something which Twilight’s (arcane) knowledge, boosted by her Alicorn biology and extensive study of battle tactics, was easily able to take advantage of. Needless to say, this fight didn’t last very long.
As the Diamond Dogs slumped to the ground, Twilight couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. “Sorry, but leashes aren't my thing.” She then looked over the battlefield, pleased to see that not only was Sunset and her counterpart apparently equally skilled at eliminating mind control, but the others were wrapping up with the real villains. Speaking of which, she soon found herself glaring at Prince Blueblood. “Seems you're all alone now...your highness.”
Prince Blueblood just shrugged, evidently not bothered by the sarcasm that was inserted at the end of Twilight’s statement. “Royalty usually is.”
Twilight couldn’t help but sigh. “When will you learn that true nobility...?”
“Spare me the speech: a novice like you doesn't deserve the heroic monologue…” Blueblood growled as he steadily made his approach.
Twilight just shook her head. “Alright, that's it: time to teach you about something called ‘humility’...”
Though Blueblood seldom entered the battlefield, when he did, he took full advantage of his royal privilege by utilizing arcane knowledge that was exclusive to noble ponies such as himself. Combined with a few dirty/pragmatic tactics he sprinkled in here and there, and he and Twilight were almost evenly matched. Keyword being “almost.” While Blueblood was indeed skilled, as mentioned before, he prefered not to get his hooves dirty. By contrast, Twilight was usually one of the first to step onto the field of battle if it meant protecting the ponies around her. Combined with her equally extensive knowledge of the arcane ways - earned both in and out of the courts of Celestia herself - and while this was indeed a close match, in the end, the Prince was forced to bow before to the Princess.
With the battle over, Twilight took out a horn clamp. “Try this crown on for size, your majesty.” With that, she forced the clamp upon his horn, preventing him from using any more spells before activating a telepathy spell. “Celestia, can you hear me?”
Celestia could almost be seen smiling at the other end of the spell. “I can, and you'll be happy to know that our opponents have been dealt with. Your friends will be helping with the clean up while I ensure Tirek is taken back to Tartarus.”
Twilight just smirked. “Just make sure it's deep in Tartarus.”
As an alarm suddenly went off, Flash Sentry, now free of his mind control, couldn’t help but groan. “What's going on? What's that noise?”
Cadence simply gave a gentle smile as she performed a sleeping spell on the member of the royal guard before replying gently with, “Right now, it's the ‘out of your hooves’ alarm…”
Meanwhile, Twilight, with assistance from Sunset Shimmer, Trixie, and Sci-Twi, managed to cast a long distance scrying spell, before frowning to herself. “I'm picking up some abnormal energy coming from inside Celestia's palace.” As she expanded the image, she couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow as her eyes set upon Sombra sitting next to a strange looking device.
Blueblood, meanwhile, couldn’t help but give an arrogant chuckle. “I can already see the headlines: ‘Elements of Harmony Fail’ or ‘The Dark King Conquers’.”
Shining Armor, suddenly recognizing the device, was needless to say rather outraged regarding this new scenario. “You gave Sombra the Soul-Binder Bomb!?”
Blueblood just scoffed. “It was the only way to make sure that the true meaning of nobility would be restored.” He then gave an arrogant smirk. “Don't worry: I'll be more than willing to help rebuild the place, for a price…” ...and that was as far as he got before being knocked unconscious by Sweetie Belle.
Said filly let out a groan. “Does he ever shut up? Seriously, what did my sister see in him!?” She then blinked upon noticing the stares she was getting, before gaining a sheepish blush. “Sorry.”
Silver Spoon just shrugged. “Eh, it's fine: I'm sure he was done anyways…”
Twilight meanwhile gave a stern nod towards everyone else. “We need to get moving. Meanwhile, everypony who isn’t able to get to the site quickly and/or is still recovering better help with an evacuation, just in case…”
Meanwhile, back in Celestia’s throne room, Sombra continued to work on the Bomb in question. “Blueblood said to be sure to…” He smiled as the device came to life...metaphorically speaking, of course. “Ah: there we go.” His chuckles only increased as Twilight teleported nearby. “Right on cue: I should've guessed that you were more than a match for that reckless pegasus…”
Twilight just gave a glare in response. “I don't know how you escaped, but this time, I'm delivering you to Tartarus myself.” She paused as she noticed the bomb was active.
Sombra meanwhile gave a dark chuckle. “Why so jumpy? I merely took it off stand-by.” He then held up a crystal with a smug grin. “It's this you have to worry about…”
Braeburn, having arrived with some of the others in tow, quickly spotted Twilight and the Crystal Tyrant. “There they are, cousin!”
Applejack, being assisted in the speed department alongside her cousin and Little Strongheart via assistance from Trixie, Sunset, and Sci-Twi, simply nodded. “Just keep him talking, Twilight…” she remarked as everypony else made their approach.
Rarity, currently being carried by Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, directed her attention down at the CMC wagon below them. “I don't normally tolerate reckless behavior, but you should be able to take care of things yourself, darlings: GO!!” Scootaloo looked up and nodded, increasing velocity for herself and her wagon’s two passengers, Applebloom and Sweetie Belle.
Twilight meanwhile couldn’t help but growl in defiance. “You apply pressure to that crystal and roughly 80,000 die…”
Sombra gave an arrogant chuckle. “80,001: I can't be killed by a weapon fueled by darkness, but you...let's say we have one last showdown.”
What happened next seemed to happen in slow motion: as Twilight - and everypony else - made a dash for the crystal, a bright flash of light - signifying something resembling a teleportation spell- went off, taking Twilight, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and several others away from the Equestria they knew and loved.
Meanwhile, Sombra, having been accidentally taken alongside Twilight to what appeared to be Canterlot yet felt entirely different somehow, hadn’t quite realized all of this had happened as evidenced by him continuing to try and activate the Soul-Binder Bomb. “What's the matter with this thing?” he growled out as he applied more pressure to the crystal, even crushing it completely, but nothing happened...which in retrospect wasn’t too surprising given that said bomb was nowhere to be seen. Regardless, he couldn’t help but snarl. “This is somehow your fault…”
Twilight rolled her eyes at this, even as she took in their new surroundings. “Canterlot...and yet…” She quickly sidestepped an attempted sneak attack, courtesy of King Sombra before slamming him down into the ground. “Stay down if you know what's good for you…”
Suddenly, a more sinister-looking version of Celestia's royal guards appear, all weapons trained on the pair, demanding that Twilight Sparkle surrender before they're forced to use lethal measures. Needless to say, Sombra was deeply amused by this. “Well, how do you like that?” he said with a chuckle.
Deciding to worry about Sombra later, Twilight simply activated a flash bang spell, allowing herself - and Sombra himself, as fate would have it - enough time to escape.
Later that night, Twilight found herself using a hearing enhancement spell...and was shocked to hear that not only are these new guards dealing out unjust arrests and punishments - to say nothing about how there was a bounty on her head - but the notion of Sombra being active was being brushed off as if it was nothing. She couldn’t help but shudder. “Luna, if you're there, please tell me this is a nightmare…”
As she and her companions regained consciousness following their forced teleportation, Princess Ember couldn’t help but let out a groan. “Where are we?”
Rarity, having taken a look around at their surroundings and noting that Canterlot was still standing in the distance, still couldn’t help but frown. “Ponyville...sort of. At the very least we know the bomb hasn’t gone off yet. Looks like Twilight made the right call in sending Spike to spend some time with Torch in the Dragonlands to help set up trade routes with the rest of Equestria about a week ago. If she had waited even a few more days...”
Fluttershy shook her head. "Let's not worry about the 'what ifs.' He's safe and that's what's important. So, um, what happened?”
“Yeah: is this some kind of temporal displacement or an alternate Equestria?” Rainbow couldn’t help but blink as everycreature slowly turned their head in her direction, even as she continued to comfort her oldest friend, causing her to give a sheepish blush. “I, uh, found some other reading materials while waiting for the next Daring Do book to come out. Real shame that Ahuizotl and Dr. Caballeron held her up in Saddle Arabia or we’d have wrapped this up by now.”
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Well, however ya found out about those terms, it honestly coulda been either: we may have jumped to another reality,” she declared, gesturing to an unconscious Sci-Twi, who had been accidentally brought along on their journey and knocked out in the process.
Dragon Lord Ember nodded. “...or events in our own timeline have changed and we're in a new alternate present.” Noticing the looks everycreature was giving her, she couldn’t help but give a sheepish grin “Yeah, uh, Spike lent me some reading materials.”
Rarity just sighed. “Well, whatever the case, darling, we need to get back, and soon. Bomb or not, Sombra must be stopped.”
Fluttershy nodded. “Well, um, the royal guard would know how to get us home, right?”
Rarity shook her head. “The royal guard might not exist: while admittedly, my spellwork isn’t as powerful as Twilight’s - either one of them - I’m fairly certain I would still be able to make contact with somepony, and yet I have come up short in that regard.”
The fashionista then shrugged. “Well, I do happen to have some special jewels that might speed up the process. I just need to gather them up from my boutique…”
Princess Ember nodded. “Meanwhile, perhaps I should check the Dragon Land's archives: if this is an alternate timeline, we might be able to find a triggering point there…”
“Assuming the Dragon Lands still exist…” Noticing the glares she earned due to that comment, Rainbow Dash held up her hooves in a calming manner. “I'm just saying!”
Applejack, hoisting Sci-Twi to her back, simply shrugged. “It's still worth looking into: the rest of us can check out things here.”
Rarity nodded before lighting her horn. “Now if I can just remember to…” As she manages to attune her locator spell to magical gems, as opposed to non-magical ones, she couldn’t help but smile as she found herself being pointed in the direction of her Ponyville boutique. “Well, nice to know that hasn't changed.” She quickly directed a smile to her companions. “I'll be back shortly, Darlings.”
Sometime later, in Carousel Boutique, Rarity couldn’t help but grow concerned: unless her horn was on the fritz, the gems she was looking for were currently located where she'd normally kept her fabrics.
Her worries only grew as the sound of somepony yelling out in pain came from what supposed to be the sewing room. Quickly running over to the door, she listened into what was being said on the other side.
“You seem to be handling this better than I expected.”
“I'm not afraid of you…”
“Please do dispense with these lies: the brew I made clearly says otherwise.”
Back in the hallway, Rarity couldn’t help but feel concerned/confused. Sunburst? Zecora? And what were you doing with Lightning Dust?
Meanwhile, inside what was supposed to be Rarity's sewing room - which looked more akin to an interrogation/torture chamber - Solar Zercora - sporting a more, for lack of a better word, tribal ensemble then usual - gave a stern growl. “I'd like to end these games, so surrender, please: this is your final chance to accept the Empress' humble mercy…”
Lunar Lightning Dust - covered in bruises and occasionally looking at a rainbow-colored handkerchief in the corner - managed to give a weak grunt. “You mean get re-educated in that improvised boot camp? Become a puppet...like you?” She soon found herself crying out in pain as Zecora's brews continued to torment her.
Solar Sunburst - wearing a menacing rendition of what could be considered wizard garb - quickly gained a scowl. “I suggest you comply: a lot of our friends suffered in the Canterlot incident five years ago…”
Lightning Dust sighed, her eyes seeming to showcase pity for the stallion. “I had nothing to do with that…”
Sunburst just gave a growl. “Even if I were to ignore that you aided with the distraction that was set up around the same time, it wouldn't matter. Her majesty doesn't have the time or the energy to have to constantly reign in loose cannons like you.”
“Tell this...to your boss.” Lightning Dust declared before spitting in their general direction, before crying out in pain as Zecora starts pouring another potion onto her still-fresh wounds.
Rarity, having seen just about enough, quickly yanked the potion out of Zecora's grasp. “Is this how you conduct yourselves now?”
Here, Sunburst couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow. “Since when did regular grooming become important to you again?”
Zecora, however, showed some concern. “Somethings not right, that much is sure: it looks like Rarity, but I can't say…”
Rarity, deciding to interrupt the Zebra's rhyme, sternly yelled out, “Stand down: this isn't how you should treat other ponies, whether they be friend or foe.”
“Definitely not ours,” Sunburst declared, quickly popping a pill into his mouth. Before the fashionista could ponder what that was about, she quickly found herself ensnared by a pulse of telekinesis that seemed to be much stronger than what she’d come to expect of Starlight’s childhood friend, in spite of how his glowing horn showed that he was indeed responsible for this. “After we’re done here, let's see if we can't arrange a talk with the Solar Empress.”
“Let’s not,” Rarity quickly remarked, using her own horn to grab some fabric from nearby - luckily it seemed that some sewing did still take place in here, even if it didn’t seem to be as common an occurrence anymore - to blind Zecora, causing her to trip into Sunburst, releasing his hold on the Element of Generosity.
“Enough!” Sunburst yelled out. “Whoever you are, you’re under arrest.”
Whatever that pill was, it obviously gave him a boast to the stallion’s magic reserves. Between that and how Sunburst in any world was almost as knowledgeable in the arcane ways as Twilight and Starlight, Rarity found herself on the defensive for a short while. That said, while the fashionista didn’t possess the raw power of the Element of Magic or her student, she more than made up for it with her raw cunning. Taking advantage of the fact that they were technically still inside her boutique, Rarity distracted Sunburst by throwing some equipment that had been lying around before placing some well-aimed needles to lock the stallion in place before finishing her opponent off with a swift kick to the head.
“I really must thank Fluttershy for teaching me about pressure points and acupuncture when all this is over,” Rarity remarked before turning to glare at Zecora, who had sense managed to break free of her improvised trap. “Now, why don't you tell me who this ‘Solar Empress’ is? I’m very interested in who managed to turn you into a second-rate thug.”
“I'll show you ‘second-rate’, pony's double,” Zecora declared before splashing the fashionista with a special potion that temporarily blinded her. “But right now, let's talk about your mess of trouble.”
“You first,” Lightning Dust, who had managed to escape her bindings in the chaos, declared before knocking the Zebra to the ground. “You call me reckless, but I’m not the one turning my back on the enemy.”
“Your defiance is quite a sight,” Zecora remarked, “but with those wounds, you are not fit to fight.”
“She’s not wrong,” Rarity declared, having poured some water onto her own eyes to clear up her own sight. “Rest up for a bit, Darling. I’ll take it from here.”
Lightning Dust just growled, “If you think I’m just going to…” ...and that was as far as she got before being knocked back by Zecora, a shelf landing on her soon afterwards.
“Be patient: we’re not quite done,” the Zebra declared, before turning to Rarity with a dark grin. “But for now, let’s have some fun.”
To say that the following battle was not an easy one would be an understatement. Between Zecora’s shamanistic practices and Rarity’s creative/pragmatic fighting techniques, the two combatants were just about evenly matched. However, there was something to be said about the home field advantage, and while Carousel Boutique had been given a sinister makeover, that didn’t change the fact that Rarity still knew just about every inch of the place, and thus Rarity was able to pull a similar trick to what she pulled before facing off against Sunburst, causing the Zebra to run headfirst into a wall, knocking her out as she did.
“Was that as fun for you as it was for me?” Rarity couldn’t help but remark before approaching the downed ex-Wonderbolt trainee.
“Those scum…” Lightning Dust mumbled even as Rarity moved the shelf and it’s contents off of her back, attempting to heal her as she did. “As if they hadn’t taken enough from me…” Noting that Rarity was still trying to attend to her wounds, she couldn’t help but growl. “Admiring the work of your friends, are we?”
Rarity, briefly taken aback by this statement, simply shook her head in response. “Believe me: I’m just as upset about this as you are.”
“I doubt that,” Lightning Dust remarked, before looking the mare over a bit, nodding as if realizing something she hadn’t before. “Still, I suppose I should thank you. It’s been a while since I’ve seen some genuine Generosity.”
“Believe me, Darling,” Rarity said with a smile, “We’d never force you to help us. All I care about is that you care for the ponies around you.”
“Yeah: wish I’d realized that a few years back,” Lightning Dust declared as she wrapped her handkerchief around her neck, gently stroking some rainbow colored fibers that had been sewed into the fabric as she did. “Faust knows that there are a lot of mistakes that I wish I could take back...least of all not appreciating the ponies I knew when I had the chance.” She then gave Rarity a serious look. “That said, whoever you are, the Solar Empire knows of your existence now. They catch you...will you have the guts to turn them down?”
Rarity just gave her a look of determination. “Who are they working for?”
Lightning Dust just scoffed. “Who's the only pony capable of instilling fear in even the Elements of Harmony?”
Rarity, understanding the picture Rainbow’s old rival was trying to paint for her, and not liking what she was seeing, was soon brought out of her thoughts by a bit of static entering her mind. “Hold on: I think somepony’s trying to contact me.” With that, she activated her horn, trying to tune into the telepathy spell being sent her way. “Sci-Twi, are you there?”
Sci-Twi could practically be seen giving a sigh of relief. “Oh good, it worked.” Said relief was temporary, however, as she soon gave a panicked grunt. “Listen, I don't have much time: Chrysalis has been spotted downtown, she's attacking civilians and…” Unfortunately, Princess Twilight’s human counterpart never got to finish her warning, as her attempt at a telepathy spell was soon cut off.
Rarity just gained stern expression. “Twilight, if you can hear me, we're…” Unfortunately, whatever plan she had was soon thrown out the window upon discovering that Lightning Dust was nowhere to be seen. “I’m on my way.” Rarity just shook her head. “Just as impatient as always, I see.”
Meanwhile, Solar Queen Chrysalis and some of her Changeling forces were doing a decent job of holding Sci-Twi, Fluttershy, and Applejack at bay. At one point, Solar Chrysalis managed to toss Sci-Twi like a ragdoll against a nearby wall before giving a sigh in a rather smug tone. “If I didn't already know you weren't the one I'm used to dealing with, I might be a touch underwhelmed.” She then shrugged. “Oh, well: this will be over fast…”
“Did somepony say fast?” With that declaration made, Rainbow Dash was easily able to get in a few quick shots, but unfortunately, the Changeling Queen managed to get in a cheap shot, knocking the Pegasus to the ground.
Chrysalis couldn’t help but give a dark chuckle as she charged up a spell. “...and thus Rainbow Dash dies...again.”
“Not if I can help it,” Lunar Lightning Dust declared as she blindsided the Changeling Queen, causing her to lose concentration on her spell. “I let you Solar Empire jerks kill her once: never again.”
Here, Queen Chrysalis couldn’t help but growl. “And here I thought those two had your interrogation covered, but I suppose it’s like they always say: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” Whatever she had planned, however, was soon cut short by a well placed blast to her side.
“How right you are,” Rarity declared as she too joined the battle.
“Honesty, Kindness, Loyalty, and now Generosity.” Needless to say, the nostalgia of the moment brought a dark chuckle to the Changeling Queen’s lips even as she charged up a magical assault. “This day just keeps getting better…”
Luckily, Rarity had managed to grab more than a few gems from her private collection while at the Boutique and thus was able to use a few of them to stop the Changeling Queen's attack in its tracks. Growling, the fashionista gestured to some of the injured, unconscious civilians that were nearby. “Is this how you intend to obtain the Love you wish to consume?”
Chrysalis scoffed. “You are definitely not from around here. Otherwise, you would have already been aware of how the policies of the Solar Empire are similar to my own within the Changeling Hive. An alliance was logical, so for now I tolerate the habits of pony-kind...even the need for a fainting couch.”
Needless to say, Rarity soon found her eyes growing wide in comprehension and shock. “I joined up in this world.”
Chrysalis simply let out a dark laugh. “As did all who wished to live.”
To say that the following fight was difficult would be a massive understatement. As the fiasco during Shining Armor and Cadence’s wedding had proven, the Changeling Queen was on par with Celestia herself when it came to raw power, to say nothing about her shapeshifting abilities and how she would occasionally have some of her drones do the fighting for her. That said, for all her tricks and all her strength, Chrysalis was still only one individual, and it seemed that Lightning Dust wasn’t content to just sit on the sidelines for this battle...which was a good thing, as while she had yet to completely shed her reckless nature, this version of the ex-Wonderbolt trainee had spent a few years fighting against the likes of Chrysalis and her allies and thus had picked up on a few of her tricks. Combined with how while Rarity didn’t have the Changeling’s raw power, the fashionista wasn’t a complete slouch when it came to combat herself, while it was a close match, the Queen soon found herself bowing before her opponents...and with the Queen defeated, the drones did the sensible thing of making a hasty retreat.
With the battle over, Lightning Dust couldn’t help but give an amused snort. “We’re resisting arrest.”
“Again,” Rarity said with equal amounts of dry amusement. Noticing the expression Rainbow was giving her, the fashionista shook her head. “I realize this is a lot to take in, Darling, but I’m sure that we’ll all get an explanation when the time is right.”
Lightning Dust simply nodded. “I promise I’ll explain everything I can later, but for now, just know that...well, I realize this isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s good to see you again, Rainbow Crash.”
Despite being pacified for the moment, Rainbow couldn’t help but groan. “Really?! Even in another reality, I can’t escape that nickname?!”
Applejack just rolled her eyes as she checked up on Sci-Twi. “Not important right now, Dash.” Looking up from where she was seated, however, her eyes widened as she noticed something, or rather somepony, approaching their position. “Rarity…”
“Did somepony mention me?”
The Element of Generosity couldn’t believe her eyes: there, standing before her, wearing some light armor and looking like she hadn't had a good spa visit in at least a good few weeks...was herself. Needless to say, she was utterly flabbergasted. “What is this?!”
Solar Rarity, noting that her doppelganger was referring both to her choice of appearance and her choice of company, couldn’t help but scoff. “The Changelings were right about one thing: appearances have nothing to do with Harmony.”
Rarity simply growled, gesturing to the injured civilians, some of whom are starting to rouse, even as she approached her doppelganger. “So you ditched the beauty of diplomacy and embraced the ugliness of dictatorship.”
Rarity just gave stern glare, even as the two unicorns struggled to overcome the other’s magical discharge. “I'm still about order, Darling, but like our parents always said, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the Beholder.’”
Lightning Dust, wanting to assist some more, did try and take the fashionista’s doppelganger out, but unfortunately, this version of Rarity had a few extra years to practice her spell craft. Combined with how the Pegasus was still sporting injuries both from the battle with Solar Chrysalis and her earlier torture and it was almost insultingly easy for the Element of Generosity’s doppelganger to take the ex-Wonderbolt trainee out.
Meanwhile, Rarity, having used her mirror image’s lapse in concentration to her back, couldn’t help the disgusted look that graced her features. “I'm sure they'd be very proud…”
Rarity scoffed. “Sanctimony is easy when you don't know…”
Rarity just gave a scowl in response. “Save it, Deary: it's time I taught myself some manners…”
It went without saying that the following battle was not easy: fighting with yourself never is. That said, while Solar Rarity had indeed gotten physically stronger by dedicating more of her time towards improving her combat and spell casting capabilities, her tattered outward appearance was just a small indication of how poorly she’d been taking care of herself. Stiff joints, lowered flexibility, and just the sloppy way that she threw some of her spells around: all of it added up to multiple openings that the true Element of Generosity readily capitalized on.
Rarity knew, however, that despite how badly her doppelgangers had failed both others and herself, her mirror image would not go down so easily. Praying that she’d be forgiven for this trick, she adopted a look of shock before yelling out, “Sweetie Belle: what are you doing here?!”
“Wait, WHAT!?” Solar Rarity yelled out, turning towards where her doppelganger was looking, hoping to protect her baby sister...only to realize too late that it had been a trick as she soon found herself knocked out by a mare that remembered to truly look after herself and others.
Even still, the fashionista couldn’t help but sigh as she looked upon her downed doppelganger. “It seems you still care for our little sister: perhaps there is still hope for you yet. Still, I admit that this was...a bit odd…”
Applejack - helping Sci-Twi to her feet - couldn’t help but shudder as the severity of the situation hit her full-force. “...and mighty disturbing.”
Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Yeah: that armor clearly would only provide minimal protection…”
Fluttershy nodded. ”...not to mention it so clashes with her eyes.”
Rarity smiled at the two before losing said smile as the sound of sirens was heard in the distance. “Um, perhaps we should get out of here…”
“WAIT!” The group turned to see what seemed to be a familiar face popping up in the alleyway that paused and turned towards Lightning Dust, gesturing to the civilians as she did. “Get them to safety: the Lunar Republic and/or the Shadow Party will see to it that you're all well informed regarding whether this is good news.” Lunar Lightning simply gave the newcomer a salute before doing just that. Once she was sure that they'd all gotten to safety, the mare turned back towards the group, a quivering lip evident even from where everypony was standing. “Is...is it really you?”
Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but gasp in surprise. “Pinkie Pie!?”
Here, they heard a light chuckle. “I haven't used that name in a long time.” A pink pony with hair laying flat against her body and carrying more menacing versions of party supplies soon stepped into the light. “Call me Pinkamena,” She then frowned as the sound of sirens started to grow louder. “Let's go: we don't have time for fun right now…”
“That felt so wrong hearing her say that…” Applejack couldn’t help but shudder even as she shook her head in disbelief. “..and seriously: hiding from the Royal Guard? This is more messed up than a pear tree sprouting in an orange grove in the middle of Winter Wrap up. Ah mean, aside from Lightning Dust, is there anypony who hasn't been corrupted in some way?”
As if on cue, a new voice let out a bitter chuckle. “Well, there just might be…” With those words, a horn was lit up, a telekinesis spell rearranging some loose bricks to open up a secret passageway. The source of said spell then looked towards Pinkamena. “Go check on your group: the Lunar Republic will be sending you the report shortly...along with the package you'd been requesting.”
Here, Pinkamena, leader of the Shadow Party, the Lunar Republic’s Spec Ops unit, couldn’t help but give a smile more reminiscent of her old party pony self. “Thanks: don't know how much longer I'd last without my baking sheets.” With that she disappeared from sight, almost seeming to teleport despite being an Earth Pony.
The newcomer just gave a sigh, not even bothering with trying to understand how her companion had done that. “It's so hard for her to smile when she's unable to throw even half the parties she used to and/or wants to…” She then smiled as she turned towards the others, giving the group a better view of a purple Alicorn wearing a black jumpsuit and covered in scars and noticeable amounts of muscle. “I realize this isn't entirely accurate, but it's good to see you all again…”
Sci-Twi couldn’t help but give an impressed whistle as she looked upon the pony before her. “So this is why my Rainbow kept insisting I'd get out of the lab…”
Twilight Sparkle, leader of the Lunar Republic, her own personal resistance effort, couldn’t help but give a bitter chuckle. “Yes, I suppose you do tend to get a bit stronger when you're leading a mass resistance effort…”
Meanwhile back in the Equestria we all know and love, Princess Celestia steeled herself for the possibility of bad news even as she walked up towards where her most trusted individuals were examining the magical signature they had dedicated back in her castle. “Found anything yet?”
Sunset Shimmer looked up from her work with a shake of her head. “I’ve studied magic on two different worlds and whatever it was that teleported Twilight and the others away, it doesn’t match anything I’ve ever come across.”
“Okay, I know I’m not one of you science ponies,” Gilda, who was currently helping look after the younger members of their little group with Little Strongheart and Big Mac, “but here’s a crazy idea: why doesn’t anypony cast a spell and follow them?”
“It’s not a bad idea on paper,” Sunburst, who had arrived at Starlight’s request, declared from where he was working with his childhood friend, “but it comes with it’s own risks.”
Starlight simply nodded. “We still don’t know if they went anywhere dangerous…”
“...or if they went anywhere at all,” Celestia declared with a grim nod. “Our friends are right: it’s too risky.”
Scootaloo - despite the cast she was wearing - couldn’t help gaze upon the other Crusaders, honorary or otherwise. In particular, she was unable to take her eyes off of a bedridden Applebloom and a currently comatose Sweetie Belle in particular. Despite her best efforts to stay brave, she couldn’t help the sniffle/whimper that escaped her. “Too bad I wasn't fast or strong enough to do anything…”
Diamond Tiara , despite her past heckling of the Crusaders and her own injuries, couldn’t help but place a comforting hoof on the daredevil Pegasus’ shoulder. “Take it from me, those two are tough: it’ll take more than this to do them in.”
Celestia likewise gave a reassuring grin. “We'll find the Element Bearers, and don't worry about your friends: whatever that energy was, it prevented their wounds from becoming too severe, right Luna?”
Princess Luna, having returned from a meeting with the Griffonstone Council, simply gave a nod by way of reply. “Young Applebloom will need a cast and Sweetie Belle will be out for another few hours, but neither of them will be facing any permanent damage...to which they are lucky. I can only surmise that under different circumstances they would not only have had their set of injuries switched, but intensified.”
Applebloom, who at first had been upset about not being able to help out with the upcoming Apple Bucking Season, quickly looked towards Sweetie Belle, sending a silent word of thanks and a wish for recovery in her direction: her pushing her out of the wagon meant she wasn't in a coma right now, and she'd rather die if it meant her friend avoided a coma or an even worse fate that was meant for her.
Celestia, meanwhile, having noticed the young filly's intense stare and from that being able to guess her innermost thoughts, gently placed a hoof on her shoulder. “Don't blame yourself too harshly and be sure to word your inner desires carefully.”
She couldn’t help but look towards her sister, a tear running down her cheek as she recalled how a particularly stressful night of having to deal with more than a few unruly individuals, she had broken into an argument with the Princess of the Night. She still remembered how she’d instantly regretted the words she had said next. "I wish you would just...GO AWAY!!" It wouldn’t be long after that that she would be forced to seal Nightmare Moon away for a thousand years.
Celestia smiled as Luna placed a comforting hoof on her shoulder, letting her know that all past sins had been forgiven, Sunset Shimmer likewise giving her adoptive mother a hug to know that she didn’t hold any resentment either.
Watching this, Applebloom smiled as she gently stroked her friend’s hoof...only to jump back a ways as she thought she had felt the unconscious Unicorn give said hoof a squeeze. After calming down a bit, however, the youngest Apple simply smiled and gave her friend’s hoof a squeeze back. “Don't worry about it: I would do the same for you…”
“A pleasure most rare, your grace,”Little Strongheart declared with a teasing grin as Dragon Lord Ember finished her approach to her home. “I was starting to think you'd forgotten about the alliance the Dragon Lands had made with the Buffalo Tribe in an attempt to ease the tension of delving into Equestrian politics.”
Here, Princess Ember couldn’t help but blink, not knowing what the daughter of the Buffalo Chief was talking about, but allowing herself to admit that it wasn’t a bad idea. She allowed herself a smirk even as she gave the likeness of her friend an easygoing nod. “Yes, well, take comfort knowing that a part of me wishes it was done earlier.”
Little Strongheart just gave an anguished sigh. “I know what you mean,” she said as she directed her attention towards a statue in the distance. “But it’s the least we owe to him, isn’t it?”
Ember couldn’t help but gasp: there, for all to see, was a familiar looking statue that bore a plague that read the following: “In Loving Memory of Spike, the Brave and Glorious. Born a Dragon, Raised by Ponies. Beloved by All.”
The Dragon Lord reminded herself to hug her friend when she got back even as she did her best to remain calm. “Like I said, we should have made peace with our Equestrian neighbors even a few days earlier...which reminds me. Sad to say, this isn’t entirely a friendly visit. I’m in need access to the information the Dragon Lands have on Equestrian Governments. History, current structure, and all that jazz.”
Little Strongheart let out a wince. “Ah, yes: for the treaty negotiations with the Solar Empress.”
Though still confused, Ember decided it was best to play along for now. “Yes: the treaty negotiations. I’m still unsure how I feel about all this.”
Little Strongheart just shook her head. “I don’t blame you: I didn’t like it much either when the Buffalo were more-or-less drafted into the Equestrian military due them technically being part of Appleloosa. In any case, I'm afraid our resources are a bit limited at the moment: Celestia has seen to it to keep some of the details of her Empire's inner workings to herself.”
Seeing an opening, Princess Ember nodded. “Mind telling me what you do know? A thorough review of the events leading to her rise to power could potentially reveal possible strategies for negotiation.”
“Always the diplomat, eh Ember?” Little Strongheart teased. “Your father would've been proud.” Noticing the shocked expression on the Dragon Lord’s face, the Buffalo couldn’t help but wince. “I’m sorry: I forgot that you’re still a bit sensitive about the subject.”
Dragon Lord Ember could only suck in a breath as she attempted to collect herself even in the face of the revelation that her father was dead in this reality. With some effort, however, she’d managed to calm down. “It...it's alright: now you were saying?”
Little Strongheart just gave a light smirk. “Right, the explanation. Anyways, five years ago, the one called King Sombra tricked Celestia into killing her sister, and destroying much of Canterlot in the process. Consumed with grief, she snuffed out what little light Sombra had left.”
“Indeed: we all remember where we were on that day…” Ember declared, doing her best to play along.
Little Strongheart simply shook her head in sympathy and...well, maybe it was the Dragon Lord’s imagination, but she thought she caught a little disgust as well. “After that, she knew little of restraint: judge, jury, and executioner, she and other like-minded ponies, and various other citizens of Equestria who aligned themselves with her, quickly reigned in the criminal element.”
Knowing what this would mean for certain members of said criminal element, Ember couldn’t help but let out a slight shake of her head. “Which made her quite popular…”
Seeming to understand her frustrations better than most, Little Strongheart let out a sigh. “Many of Equestria's citizens were desperate for some sense of security after Sombra's death, making the arrangement of what's now known as the ‘Solar Empire’ that much easier, as was the sweeping away of many of Equestria's older policies.”
It was here an orange Dragon with purple spines approached the two, clearing her throat as she landed. “Sorry to interrupt, but Celestia's envoys have arrived. They're currently waiting for you near Torch’s old throne.”
Ember just smiled. “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll go check it out.”
The young dragon couldn’t help but frown as she watched the Dragon Lord fly off. “Huh: I can’t put my claw on why, but something was different about her.”
Little Strongheart just nodded as she too watched the Dragon Princess fly off. “Yes...there was.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ember couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow about seeing who was waiting for her at her father’s throne. “No offense meant, but they sent you two?”
“None taken,” came the reply of Solar Fluttershy - now sporting some light armor. “Celestia thought that this would be a chance for growth for all of us. Besides, with everything that’s happened, there just isn’t a whole lot left to be scared of, you know?”
“OOGA BOOGA BOOGA!” Solar Scootaloo - wearing a black vest and having developed her wings a considerable amount, a collapsible scooter at her side - let out a laugh as Fluttershy let out a startled shriek and clung to Ember even as she handed the tribal mask she had borrowed from one of the Buffalo back to one of the guards that had been on standby. “Heh, sorry, Flutters: you gave me an opportunity like that and I just couldn’t resist.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Fluttershy replied as she let go of Ember. “Just try and stay focused. Rainbow Dash would have wanted us to ensure the peace agreements go smoothly, wouldn’t she?”
Scootaloo let out a mournful sigh. “Yeah: she died loyal to Equestria: the least we can do is honor that loyalty.”
“Okay, this is getting a bit heavy for my tastes,” Ember admitted, even as she herself felt a little uneasy knowing that this reality’s Rainbow Dash was dead. “Let’s get back to what we’re here to discuss: the treaty?”
Fluttershy just nodded as she held out a scroll. “The final draft. The Empress is pleased that you agreed to our terms.”
Ember simply nodded. “Mind if I take a look? Wouldn’t want to find out that somepony had misspelled something in the ‘final’ draft, would we?”
Scootaloo just snorted. “No, we wouldn’t, otherwise a certain bookworm might attack us out of spite.”
Ember just smiled as she gazed upon the treaty before her...only to lose said smile more and more the further she got in the document.
Fluttershy, noticing the Dragon Lord’s distress, couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow. “Something wrong?”
Princess Ember was only just barely controlling her rage. “Oh, something’s wrong, alright: this is nothing but subjugation: you’re demanding control over the entire Dragon Lands!”
Scootaloo just gave a scoff by way of reply. “Hey, you’re the one who agreed to this. Can’t fault us for following orders and/or expecting you to cooperate.”
Noticing the thinly veiled threat, Ember let out a growl. “Tread carefully: friend of Rainbow Dash or not, you do not want to anger the Dragon Lord.”
Quickly using her scepter to temporarily blind Fluttershy, the Dragon Lord quickly closed in on Scootaloo. The Pegasus was ready for her, though: five years had been plenty of time for the daredevil Pegasus to develop her wings and earn flight capabilities, so right off the bat, air superiority was no longer a factor. Between that and how Rainbow’s honorary sister had only gotten better with her scooter and Ember had a really hard time getting a good hit on her opponent. That said, Scootaloo had brought a wooden scooter to a fight against a fire-breathing dragon next to an active volcano, thus she soon found herself distracted by her favorite keepsake, surprise surprise, catching fire. The moment she had moved to use the nearby geysers to extinguish the flames, however, Ember capitalized on her lapse in judgement to quickly knock her out.
Feeling somewhat merciful, Ember did Rainbow’s sister a favor by putting out the flames of her favorite scooter before turning towards the young Pegasus with a glare. “Orders or not, Celestia will not have the Dragon Lands. Not now, not ever!”
Fluttershy, having recollected herself, quickly tried to use her knowledge of pressure points to subdue the Dragon Lord, only for her to dodge.
“This doesn’t have to get any messier,” Ember calmly declared, attempting to appeal to the Pegasus’ gentle nature. “I just want to talk to Celestia.”
“The last time I hesitated, I lost my best friend,” Fluttershy barked back. “Celestia has promised that’ll never happen again if we just follow her lead. You’re my friend, Ember, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. When somepony tries to block, you show them how you rock!”
It was clear from the get-go that everything that had happened over the course of the last few years had hit Fluttershy harder than most. The aggressive way that she attacked the Dragon Lord only served to showcase how much pain the once gentle pony had gone through, and how much she wanted to avoid feeling that kind of pain again. Between that and how she’d call upon the local wildlife to aid in her attack, Ember actually found herself on the defensive for the majority of the fight. That said, if there was one thing that the newest Dragon Lord prided herself on, it was the ability to think strategically.
Sometime into the battle, Fluttershy noticed the Dragon Lord raising her scepter. Remembering how Ember had used it to blind her earlier, the Pegasus quickly covered her eyes...which was exactly what Ember had been counting on. Quickly closing the gap between them, Ember quickly jabbed at a few spots on her opponent to temporarily stun the Pegasus before pushing her to the ground, quickly pinning the pony to the ground as she did.
“There is no kindness in forcing friends to fight each other: you taught me that!” Ember barked out, instantly taking the will to fight out of the yellow Pegasus. The Dragon Lord just let out a sigh. “I’m sorry, okay? I know how important it is to you that the Dragon Lands make peace with the rest of Equestria, but this? Forcing us to submit to you like so many of my more unruly subjects wanted to do to you ponies? That isn’t the way. You know that, deep down, don’t you?”
Before Fluttershy had the chance to reply, however, several dragons and buffalo entered the area, escorting a very familiar looking dragon to the area. “There she is, Princess,” one of the Dragons declared, all but confirming Ember’s suspicions.
“Welp, parallel Equestria it is,” Princess Ember remarked as she got off Fluttershy, the Pegasus quickly scampering into a corner as to not get in the way of the coming fight.
“Who do you work for, usurper?” Solar Dragon Lord Ember demanded. “Grogar? Ahuizotl?”
“I’m the rightful Dragon Lord!” Ember declared. “Within the Dragon Lands, I answer to no one...unlike you.”
“I’d choose your next words very carefully,” Solar Princess Ember growled out.
Ember just shook her head in disgust. “You would give away the Dragon Lands, the kingdom you swore to protect, like a set of bad gems...to a pony!?”
Solar Ember just gave a sigh. “The treaty requires that Celestia recognizes our differing societies… and that as much of our culture which can remain intact does remain intact.”
Ember just growled. “...and yet you put your forces at Celestia's beck and call.”
Solar Ember shook her head in frustration. “It was either compromise or risk that mare throwing my subjects into the sun.”
Ember could only glare. She understood her counterpart’s motives, she couldn’t help but feel disgusted. “Yes, you ensured the safety of yourself and your subjects, and all it cost you was your pride and your freedom. Sorry, Princess, but what you call compromise, I call appeasement!”
The Solar Dragon Lord merely growled in reply. “I grow tired of this.” She quickly raised her scepter. “All forces: attack the false Dragon Lord!”
“Whatever you say.” ...and that was the only warning Solar Ember got before she was blindsided by the last creature she had expected.
“What are you doing,Strongheart?!” Ember yelled out.
“Something that I wanted to do from the moment talk about this treaty began,” Lunar Little Strongheart declared. “The Solar Empress stole the Buffalo’s rightful home: I won’t let her do the same to the Dragons. Not without a fight. Your twin showing up was just the final push I needed to finally stage a little intervention.”
“Brave, yet foolish,” Ember said with a sigh. “I know you mean well, Little Strongheart, but you only brought a few dozen of your Buffalo with you, so even if you were to team up with my double, you’d clearly be outnumbered.”
“That’s true,” Ember declared, “but you are clearly outmatched.”
As it turned out, the battle that broke out didn’t last as long as one might think. Having spent the past few years using her scepter to command other dragons to fight for her out of a sense of self-preservation, it had been quite some time since Solar Ember had actually seen battle. This immediately put the Solar Dragon Lord at a disadvantage, as Princess Ember had made a habit of entering battle herself whenever she could if it meant protecting her subjects and/or her Equestrian allies. It didn’t hurt that her own scepter more-or-less canceled out the effect of her Doppelganger’s, effectively removing its influence from the battle. Combined with how Little Strongheart was assisting her - her traditional Buffalo fighting style a force to reckoned with on any world, to say nothing about how her status as the Chief’s daughter gave her enough influence to occasionally call upon her own backup in the form of some of her trusted Buffalo companions - and it was like Ember had said: her Solar counterpart was simply outmatched.
Ember simply shook her head as she gazed upon her defeated doppelganger. “Perhaps now you’d be willing to discuss a revised foreign policy?”
Before she could get a reply, she was stunned to discover that several of the dragons and buffalo were suddenly buried in pudding. “What the…?
Solar Fluttershy felt her eyes grow wide in comprehension. “I know this brand of chaos anywhere…”
“Glad to know you haven't forgotten about me… old friend.”
Solar Fluttershy just groaned. “Discord, show yourself this instance!”
Discord just gave a sigh. “Part of me wants nothing more, dear Fluttershy, but alas…” ...and that was all the warning they got before he appeared before them in a bright flash of light...only to reveal that his very form was fluctuating almost beyond control. “...it seems there are some forms of chaos that even I am uncomfortable with.
Little Strongheart could only stare in shock. “Holy...what happened to you!?”
Scootaloo, having since regained consciousness, quickly began looking a little green around the gills. “I've seen some pretty disturbing things but that…” ...and that was as far as she got before running behind a rock and tossing her cookies.
Discord simply gave a helpless shrug even as Fluttershy went over to comfort the daredevil Pegasus. “Yes, I suppose this is a bit disturbing, but wise as she is, Celestia always did make the mistake of thinking that peace and quiet were one and the same. While it's true that her ‘Solar Empire’ has eliminated most crime and conventional means of disharmony, the sad truth of the matter is that her little war with Twilight Sparkle's ‘Lunar Republic’, as the public is calling it, started a chain reaction that has inevitably caused Equestria's citizens to be in such a state of panic and mistrust that the power of Harmony itself is at a tipping point.” As a show of good faith, he snapped his fingers to get rid of the pudding - fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at things, leaving the guards in a state of brain freeze, keeping them from interfering for the time being - only for a few of rocks surrounding to suddenly become giant marshmallows.
Discord could only give a disgruntled sigh. “As you can clearly see, I'm just barely hanging onto the ambient chaos created by the struggle.”
Princess Ember, having realized the seriousness of the situation, gave a determined nod. “...and the presence of doppelgangers running around probably doesn't help much.” She turned towards Little Strongheart. “Because of our past friendship, I’ll allow you to leave and seek the aid of one of the brainiacs that could potentially send my lookalike home. If I catch you interfering again, however, I will show you no mercy.”
“And if I hear that you are still helping the Solar Empress, I’ll have no choice but to take you down...and I won’t even need help from your doppelganger to do it,” Little Strongheart declared, before looking to Discord. “Uh, you can send us to somepony who can help us, right?”
Discord simply nodded. “That much I can do, but discussions will have to wait.” With a snap of his fingers, Little Strongheart and Princess Ember vanished, before the Spirit of Chaos turned towards the pony who taught him friendship. “I have to go now, Fluttershy. Nothing personal: it's just that not only do I need to get to the Tree of Harmony, as it's the only place right now that even temporarily cools down my overflowing magical might, but I can't promise that they'll have been sent someplace you'll like. Like I said, there’s a bit too much ambient chaos in the air for even me.”
Solar Fluttershy simply gave a light smile. “It's fine: go take care of them. Just out of curiosity, though, you're still able to have tea parties, right?”
Discord simply let out a laugh. “I'll have the cucumber sandwiches ready.” With that, he teleported away...right into the company of Ember and Little Strongheart, the former of which was starring in shock upon realizing that her friends were here, safe and sound. “Welcome to Resistance Headquarters.” Lunar Discord declared.
Here, Little Strongheart gained a shocked expression of her own. “You...you're fighting against Celestia?”
Discord simply smirked. “I told you I needed this senseless war to end if the Empire didn't want me tearing reality apart without even meaning to: I never said which side I wanted to win.” He then sent a kind smile in Fluttershy’s direction. “Besides, how could I pass up the chance to have tea parties with two versions of my favorite pony?” He then gave shudder. “Speaking of which, I wasn't lying to them about needing to find the Tree of Harmony, so…” With that, he teleported away.
Ember, having noticed the way everypony else was looking at her and her companion, simply gave a helpless shrug. “Don't look at me: he's not our Discord.”
Rainbow Dash simply snorted. “Well, we already knew that much.” She smiled as a certain somepony entered the room. “Meet Not-Our-Twilight.”
Lunar Twilight Sparkle couldn’t but smirk even as she levitated something over into the Element of Loyalty’s grasp. “You know, I was actually beginning to wonder how I was going to retrieve you from the Dragon Lands, Ember.”
Ember merely blinked as she noticed Rainbow swallowing a pill. “Wow: I heard that Discord had a habit of giving ponies headaches, but this…”
Rainbow just snorted. “Well, you’re not wrong, but this pill is to help me avoid a different headache later on.”
“It’s a durability enhancer,” Lunar Twilight remarked. “Five-01-AR. Using a combination of Alicorn magic and some herbs found exclusively in the Everfree Forest, it temporarily increases the strength of bone, tissue, and even magical output by a significant degree.”
“Long story short, the egghead ‘borrowed’ the recipe from Celestia,” Rainbow declared as she and everyone else sat down around a conference table that had been set up, “She can tell you the rest later if you feel the need for a nap. Guess some things are the same in every reality.”
Lunar Twilight let out a bitter chuckle. “You have no idea how much I actually missed that kind of talk, Rainbow. Anyways, my old teacher gives these to her allies: I just thought it fair to return the favor.”
“Right, her allies,” Ember declared. “I actually ran into a few of our evil twins.”
Here, Lunar Twilight shook her head. “They're not evil. Well, most of them aren't. There are some like Chrysalis who hope to take advantage of the Solar Empire’s new status on how to handle criminals, but most of them are either following Celestia out of fear or because they are convinced that she is right. To be fair, until a little over five years ago, I would have been convinced she was right too.”
“Still, it’s hard to believe you’re doing this alone,” Little Strongheart declared.
“Who said she was?”
Rarity couldn’t help but gasp upon hearing that voice. “Sweetie Belle?!”
“I realize this isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s good to see you again, sis,” Lunar Sweetie Belle - currently walking around with the assistance of a wheelchair cart - declared as she walked in beside Lunar Soarin - sporting light battle armor and a five-year-old filly at his side.
Said filly - sporting light blue fur and rainbow-color highlights in her dark blue mane - gasped upon noticing a certain Wonderbolt in the room. “MAMA!” And that was all the warning Rainbow Dash got before she was glomped by the young Pegasus. “I never thought I’d see you outside of photos!”
“Uh, Storm, sweetie, it’s not her,” Lunar Soarin awkwardly declared. “She’s one of the ponies from the other Equestria Twilight mentioned.”
“Oh, sorry,” the filly declared as she broke the hug, only to be stopped in her tracks as Rainbow placed a hoof on her shoulder.
Rainbow stared at the filly for a good while before turning towards her fellow Wonderbolt. “So, she’s…?”
Soarin simply nodded. “Her name’s Storm Chaser. Long story short, the two of us had a bit too much cider following the tragedy of Canterlot. Despite her not being planned, however, you never once acted like you regretted her existence. After you fell in battle, I’ve been doing my best to raise her the way you would have wanted.”
Rainbow looked back to the filly, giving a proud smile as she did. “I see it. I see the same fire in your eyes that I see everytime I look in the mirror. I have no doubt that you’re going to be a legend when you get older.”
Rarity couldn’t help but smile as the two shared another hug. “Aww, that’s adorable.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Sweetie Belle said with a snort before turning to Twilight. “The Empire remains ignorant of my continued survival. Also, just got word from Shining Armor and Cadence: they’re still holding their ground at the Crystal Empire, though they’re requesting that we send some supplies their way as the Empire’s last assault on their home was a bit too close for comfort.”
“They’ll get them,” Twilight said immediately. “Any word from Sunset?”
“She’s holding up the best she can, all things considered,” was Sweetie’s reply. “Mentioned that her offer to come over and help, as well as their world’s Rainbow Dash’s offer to help look after Storm Chaser, is still there if you’re interested.”
“Tell her that as always, I appreciate it, but she and her friends are already helping me plenty by dealing with the ponies Celestia has exiled to her world, whom I’ll remind her once again don’t always deserve it. I need her to keep those ponies safe for the time being. Besides, the Empress never learned that the Crystal Mirror survived the attack on Canterlot all those years ago and she and her friends are my only line of defense if my old instructor ever decided to move on their world, especially since while Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna have been doing their best to aid their former students following their graduation, I fear for what would happen if they were to run into the former’s counterpart even now,” the Princess of Friendship declared.
“Here’s hoping we can solve this crisis before that happens then, Darling,” Rarity couldn’t help but remark.
“Mah thoughts exactly, Twi. Speakin’ o’ which, y'all got an impressive set up here,” Applejack said with a grin. “But Ah reckon it weren’t cheap. How do y'all afford all this?”
“She had a little help,” Prince Blueblood - wearing a business suit and showcasing scars and/or calluses on his hooves, indicating that he had been doing some strenuous exercise and/or personally working on a few other projects on the side - said with pride as he entered the room.
“What is this?” Ember growled out.
“How are you even alive?!” Rainbow demanded even as she held “her” kid close.
“Relax, Rainbow: he’s with us,” Lunar Sweetie declared.
Lunar Prince Blueblood nodded. “Unlike your Blueblood, I never willingly aided Sombra in his plans, and other than a certain incident at the Gala, I don’t have any other blemishes on my record. Celestia doesn’t even suspect that her favorite nephew is secretly funding the resistance effort. Besides, I highly doubt my counterpart would be pleased to learn what Celestia has done over the past few years.”
Lunar Twilight nodded even as everypony sat down. “Blueblood’s involvement is a secret. as those critical of the Empire tend to disappear: activists, government officials, reporters…”
Fluttershy nodded. “Well, um, you brought us here, so you mind explaining why?”
Rainbow scoffed. “Yeah, and while you’re at it, how about explaining why you couldn't have maybe waited a few more minutes. We were kind of in the middle of something.”
Lunar Blueblood nodded. “The Soul-Binder Bomb. Don’t worry: it didn't go off. Somehow, your transfer managed to prevent it.”
Rarity gasped. “How did you...?”
Lunar Soarin smiled. “At the risk of sounding creepy, we've been monitoring your world for some time now, your group specifically.” Clearing his throat, he turned towards Sci-Twi. “Well, most of you. You were brought here by accident.”
“It’s fine,” Sci-Twi declared with an understanding nod. “I’ll help however I can regardless. This might not be my world, but there’s still plenty of innocent people...er, ponies that need protecting. Anyways, what’s the plan now?”
Lunar Twilight simply gave a nod of approval before clearing her throat. “I’m not sure how it went in your world, but here, after we had dealt with Queen Chrysalis the second time, I decided to take precautions for in case I needed to fight against any of my friends for real, either because they had succumbed to mind control or because, like Celestia now, they had fell prey to their darker impulses. One thing I developed in particular that I had originally intended for my friends to use on myself, should the need arise, will aid us greatly in the coming crisis: an Anti-Alicorn weapon that…”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Rainbow yelled out. “The way I see it, you kill Celestia and you won't be any better then she is.”
Lunar Twilight shook her head. “I didn't say it would kill her: it's meant to incapacitate, nothing more.” She then sighed. “There's just one catch: I have it stored at the Castle of Friendship and I need your help to access it…”
Meanwhile, back in Canterlot, Princess Celestia, the Solar Empress, High Councilor of her self-created Solar Empire - currently wearing a more menacing version of her royal regalia - was taking a break from her royal duties to look at some old photos, reflecting on better times, all while a medium-sized Tirek stood in a containment cell in the corner of the room, a collar similar to the one she had found controlling Discord all those years ago around the Centaur's neck.
It was around that time that Solar Applejack - having let her hair down for the moment and wearing a flowing gown - walked into the room, nodding to Tirek as she did. “The collar seems ta be working. Good. Ah reckon re-education wouldn't have worked with him.” The Solar Empress nodded in reply...before jerking a bit in surprise upon noticing what Applejack was wearing. Noticing the stares, Applejack just groaned. “Ah lost a bet with Rarity, alright?” Celestia just nodded, earning a slight frown from the farmer in response. “Are ya sure that it's okay that Applebloom is recovering here? Ah mean Twilight's the one who cast the spell that’s healing her and with the falling out ya had…”
Here, Celestia blinked, remembering their shared sensitivity when it came to family. Eventually, she gave a weak chuckle. “Believe me, that's the least of my worries: for all my failures as an instructor, Miss Sparklereally knew how to command magic…”
Solar Applejack couldn’t help but adopt a guilty expression in response. “Ah'm not trying ta sound ungrateful: Ah just…”
“I know.” She gave the granddaughter of Granny Smith a light smile. “Go on, I'll be fine: the last thing I want is you to forgo time with your family, comatose status notwithstanding…”
Solar Applejack simply gave the Empress a light grin. “Ah appreciate that.” As she turned towards the exit, however, she froze in place. “Oh, before Ah forget, Rarity's…”
“...on her way in to give her latest report.” Despite the heavy tone of their previous discussion, Celestia couldn’t help but Solar AJ a teasing grin. “You're not the only one who likes being punctual.” She gave a light grin as AJ simply nodded and continued towards the exit...just in time for Solar Rarity to make her entrance, prompting Celestia to quirk an eyebrow. “I noticed you're still trying to arrange wardrobe changes with the residents of Sweet Apple Acres…”
Solar Rarity simply shrugged by way of response. “Well, I had some time, and you have to admit that she pulled the look off quite well.” Here, Celestia simply rolled her eyes in amusement.
“Anyways, we might have a problem,” Rarity went on to declare. “I’ve gotten reports of a disruption in the treaty negotiations with the Dragon Lands...but more to the point, while on my daily patrol, I ran into some ponies that could pass for Fluttershy and Applejack’s twin sisters, a Pegasus that looked a lot like Rainbow Dash...and the Element of Generosity.”
Needless to say, the Solar Empress found herself perking up at that last part, before gaining a stern glare. “Gather up as much information as you can and then bring in them and any others you might find for questioning. I want to know if this was an accident...or if my EX-student is finally coming out of hiding…"
As night fell on Ponyville, King Sombra couldn’t help but smile to himself as he relaxed in the carriage that pulled him around Ponyville. “Thanks for the lift,” he directed at the dead Guards he had reanimated. “Your loyalty is appreciated.” He then frowned as he observed the streets around him. “Strange place to find potential supporters, but then again, they could be dead by now, given the nature of this place.” He then shrugged. “Well, as much as I’ve appreciated your services, good sirs, I can’t have you drawing the attention of your companions too soon, so…” With that, he canceled his spell, watching with grim satisfaction as they fell like a sack of potatoes soon afterwards, not quite noticing that he himself was being watched from afar.
Having decided to take a look around, he paused as he stumbled upon some graffiti on a building scheduled for demolition, taking note of how it depicted a strange symbol featuring a combination of his dark crystals and some party supplies. “Hmm: not exactly my first pick, but still, it’s nice to know my influence hasn’t completely disappeared.”
He was brought out of his thoughts upon sensing an incoming aerial assault. Quickly turning, he couldn’t help the dark chuckle that escaped his lips upon noticing that it was Twilight Sparkle herself that he had crossed paths with. “Still playing hero, Princess?”
Twilight simply growled in defiance, ready and willing to fight even with the multiple injuries she was sporting that were starting to catch up to her. “This might not be my Equestria, but don’t think for a minute that I’ll just let you have your way with it!”
Sombra simply chuckled, having noticed two ponies approaching. “As fun as it would be to see a Princess bowing before a King, I’m afraid that you have other problems.” With that, he quickly melded with the shadows… just in time for Twilight to be shot at from behind by Rarity, who was being accompanied by Solar Gilda - the latter of whom sporting some sinister looking armor and a scar on her right eye.
“Twilight, Darling,” Rarity declared with some moderate surprise. “It’s been a while.”
“On your feet, Princess,”Gilda snarled out as she roughly grabbed the Alicorn by the forearm.
“Look, it’s good to see you again, but right now, we need to…” ...and that was as far as Twilight got before she was knocked out by a swift kick to her head courtesy of Gilda.
Sombra, having reappeared in a nearby alley way, mockingly shook his head as he took all this in. “Sorry, your highness: your friends are in a different castle.”
Meanwhile, back in Canterlot, Celestia had just put the finishing touches on Tirek's control collar and had decided to put it through its paces...just in case. Shooting a beam at the collar, she gruffly declared, “Hind left leg.” She gave a sinister smirk as Tirek raised said limb, lowering it to the ground with a loud stomp. “Perfect.”
She was brought out of her thoughts, however, upon feeling a faint buzz in her head, quickly noting that Rarity was trying to contact her via a telepathy spell. Intrigued, she decided to let it through. “Yes?”
Solar Rarity could practically be seen grinning over the spell. “Good news, Darling. We've finally done it: Twilight Sparkle's been captured.”
The Solar Empress, however, felt her eyes narrow at this news. The way the former fashionista sounded, she had done so easily: too easily, in fact. “I'm on my way,” she declared, hoping to confirm a hunch she had been forming.
Back in Ponyville, Sombra watched as Twilight was taken away, letting a sigh escape him as he did. “I almost miss her. Almost.” He shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Now, what's next on my to do list?”
“How about you drop dead?”
Blinking in surprise at that declaration, Sombra turned a certain Pink Pony approaching him. “Wait, I remember you. You wield the Element of Laughter. Pinker...Pinka...PINKIE PIE! That's it!”
“That's Pinkamena to you,” the former Party Pony declared as she circled him, an admittedly more deadly looking variation of her Party Cannon at the ready. “Funny story about the Soul-Binder Bomb: I was inside the city when it went off! Even I’m not sure of exactly how I survived the experience, but it changed me, binding the darkness it wielded to my very soul and allowing me to wield its power.” She practically shoved the cannon into Sombra's face with a growl. “Of course, you would've known all of that already that if you were actually King Sombra…”
Despite the obvious threat, Sombra couldn’t help the genuine laughter that escaped him upon hearing what he just had. “Oh, I'm sure you command the bomb's power: probably can summon dark chocolate or black licorice at will.” Needless to say, he wasn’t completely prepared for when the cannon literally went off in his face, sending him back a few feet...but what surprised him even more was that he recognized the payload. “That...that energy: it's based in Dark Magic!”
Pinkamena simply gave a dark laugh of her own. “Candy is dandy, but it doesn't solve everything.”
Maybe it was that King Sombra wasn’t prepared to fight one of the Element Bearers when they themselves were wielding his own signature weapon. Maybe it was that Pinkie Pie in any world had a rather random fighting style and thus the Crystal Tyrant had a tough time figuring out how to launch a counterattack. Maybe it was that the author felt like rambling in order to extend this fight scene for as long as possi…
Wait. Uh, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen: I’ll be right back.
Pinkie Pie, what are you doing?
What’s it look like? I’m injecting a little humor into this party pooper of a story. The last few chapters have been pretty dark in tone to them, you know?
Pinkie, this is essentially “Injustice: Gods Among Us” if it starred you and your friends. It’s supposed to get dark in tone every now and then!
Well, duh, I know that, but just because it has a few dark themes thrown in doesn’t mean that we can’t have a little fun every now and then, right?
I...well, I suppose you have a point there, but that doesn’t give you the right to mess with my script!
If you’re talking about telling everypony about how that meanie Sombra managed to beat my counterpart, I suggested to her that she let him pull off a win off-screen while you were busy arguing with me.
Sombra brushed himself off as he gazed upon his fallen opponent. “I'll admit it: I'm actually a little impressed. That was a bit harder than I anticipated.”
Pinkie, you can’t just… Ugh, look, if I let you interject a little humor every now and then, could you maybe leave my script alone?
Thank you. Anyways...
Pinkamena couldn’t help but replay the fight in her head, briefly thinking about how jealous everypony who hadn’t seen it would be…
Eheh, sorry. I’m done now.
“This...this isn't possible,” Pinkamena muttered, looking/feeling a little spooked. “The way you move...the way you…”
Pinkamena shook her head. “I was going to say ‘shrug off the darkness,’ but...yeah.”
Here, Sombra couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow, even as he reluctantly pulls the mare up to her feet. “I take it you actually respect me in this reality.”
Pinkamena simply shook her head. “I wouldn’t go that far, but I do respect what you represent. A lot of ponies know that you were the only one to go up against her and walk away more times than any other opponent. It’s that kind of determination that we need right now.”
Sombra simply nodded even as she gained a dark smile. “This isn't my Canterlot, but I assure you, I am King Sombra.” He actually had to hold back a chuckle at the irony as some of the party pony's signature poofiness started to return to her mane, some semblance of hope reappearing in her eyes after spending years without it. “I take it that means that you know where there are some ponies who are ready and willing to take the fight to Celestia.”
“Do I ever!” Pinkamena shouted with a gleeful snort. “Commander-in-Chief to the Shadow Party, right here! I can show you where they are right now if you’d like!”
Sombra gave a wicked grin as he followed the pink pony. “Very much so...though if you don’t mind me asking, why ‘Shadow Party?’”
Pinkamena simply shrugged. “It was either that or Joker Clan, and NetherRealm Studios beat me to it.”
What the…? Pinkamena?!
What? You said that “Pinkie Pie” could interject a little humor every now and then, and name change or not, that is still technically my name.
Ugh, touche. So, uh, are you and Pinkie done now?
Yeah, I’m good for now.
Alrighty then. Anyways, like me...
...all King Sombra could do was massage his forehead as he tried to fight off the coming headache. “Shadow Party's fine.”
Meanwhile, Celestia walked through the halls of Canterlot Castle while accompanied by Applejack - now wearing more casual clothing, consisting of a brown vest and her signature hat, albeit now sporting a few spikes to look intimidating. Though the ponies around her would occasionally bow in reverence and/or respect/fear as she passed by, she paid them little mind as she headed towards her destination.
Upon reaching a certain cell, Applejack nodded to the guards. “Stand down, y’all: we just want a chat with an ‘old friend.’”
Inside the cell, Twilight Sparkle groaned as she regained consciousness, instantly gaining a concern expression upon noticing the bindings on her wings and hooves.
“I wouldn't try to escape if I were you, darling,” Rarity declared with an almost melancholy smile, gesturing to an object on her horn even as she continued to finish preparations for the upcoming visit. “That blocker is designed to produce shock whenever magic is applied to it, and with it attached to your horn…” The former fashionista shook her head upon noticing the look of betrayal that graced the features of her "former" friend. “If it’s any consolation, I was just as upset about what happened to Spike and Rainbow Dash as you were. Don’t worry, though: for the sake of our past friendship, I’ll make sure no harm comes to our late loyal friend’s daughter once we locate her. In the meantime, you have visitors.”
Twilight was still absorbing all of this when Celestia and Applejack, the former of whom instantly scanned her with her magic.
Applejack, meanwhile, couldn’t help the smile she directed at Rarity. “Nice job tracking her down, Sugarcube: how'd you manage...?”
“It's not her.”
Needless to say, Rarity was shocked to hear those words come out of Celestia’s mouth. “What?!”
The Solar Empress simply shook her head in frustration. “She’s not a Changeling, but even though she looks like Twilight Sparkle, her magical aura's all wrong.” She then approached her ex-student's doppelganger. “You're one of the duplicates we've been running into recently: tell us how you got here and what you and the others plan to do.”
Twilight, having gained an inkling of the situation, couldn’t help but glare in response. “Why: so that you can lock my friends up right beside me? So you can let the likes of Sombra walk free? Your Rarity clearly saw me trying to capture him, or rather his doppelganger, if I'm reading this world correctly, and yet I didn’t see her going after him!”
Needless to say, Rarity was shocked to hear this, as were her two companions. “Wait: that was the real Sombra!? I thought it might have been an illusion or something!”
Twilight just scoffed. “He was accidentally brought along with me to this world...but that’s not the point. Illusion or not, I would’ve thought you of all ponies would be generous enough to scout the area out, just to be on the safe side!” She leveled a scowl at Applejack. “And you: locking ponies up without a trial? Hunting down innocent creatures like a lion hunts a gazelle? They would love it here, wouldn’t they?”
“Bright Mac and Buttercup,” was Twilight’s immediate reply. “They’d be so proud.” She didn’t even acknowledge the way the farm pony flinched at that remark even as she turned to glare at her instructor’s doppelganger. “I don’t know where my friends are, and I can’t say for certain how we got here, but given what I’ve seen, I wouldn’t tell you anything even if I did have those answers.”
The Solar Empress merely nodded in reply. “I believe you. Analytical, intelligent, stubborn, and noble to a fault.” Her eyes hardened as she delivered the hardest glare she could muster. “You truly are the doppelganger of my former student, Twilight Sparkle.” And that was all the warning the purple Alicorn got before Celestia delivered the hardest punch she could muster straight to her gut. “I do hope you enjoy your stay here: you won’t be leaving anytime soon.” With that, The Empress took her leave, Rarity and Applejack following close behind. As they did, however, Twilight couldn’t help but notice the slight hesitation that had been in their eyes.
Meanwhile back in Ponyville, Sombra couldn’t help but smile even as he worked to calm down the crowd before him. “I honestly love what you did with the place: the Castle of the Two Sisters has never looked better.” Needless to say, he couldn’t help but share a chuckle with the crowd. “Dear members of the Shadow Party: you know the truth about the Canterlot incident. Celestia killed those ponies, and then she tried to kill me.” He quickly motioned for silence as the some of the crowd "booed" in response. It honestly warmed his heart that there were some genuine admirers of his counterpart in this reality.
“I admire the work you've done in my absence,” the Crystal Tyrant said with 100% honesty. “Distractions, disturbances, general pains in the neck for good old Sunbutt…” He once again shared a brief chuckle with the crowd before gaining a maniac grin. “...but let’s think bigger.”
Pinkamena couldn’t help but let out an impressed whistle. “I have to admit, he really knows how to give a good speech.”
Sombra approached the edge of the stage that had been set up, gesturing to Pinkamena as he did. “Our good friend, Pinkamena, has informed me that Celestia developed this pill that she gives to her ground forces, then Twilight got her hooves on them and now we have them too.” He quickly gulped down one of said pills himself even as the crowd let out another cheers.
After once again managing to calm them down, he let out a dark grin. “From now on, we'll be more than a nuisance: the barking dog will become the rampaging elephant, the whoopie cushion a landmine, and King Sombra...a GOD!” Needless to say, the crowd went hysteric at this declaration...just in time for a wall blow up, revealing several of Celestia’s troopers. One of them managed to shoot Sombra point-blank with a powerful spell...only for the Crystal Tyrant to give a terrifying grin in return. “Surprise!” He yelled out before he snapped his would-be assailant’s neck.
Meanwhile, Pinkamena, having spotted this, realized that she might potentially be a bit over her head in this situation. With that in mind, she quickly activated the distress beacon Twilight had given her back when she had first created the Shadow Party, hoping that her friend would get here before they found themselves in more trouble than they could handle.
Speaking of trouble, Gilda, who had tagged along with the other soldiers, had quickly spotted Sombra and likewise scooped him up. “So, you are back,” the Gryphon remarked as she held the Umbra/pony hybrid by the neck, even as she allowed herself to acknowledge that the Princess had been telling the truth. “Never thought I’d see that ugly mug again.”
Sombra just scoffed. “You aren’t a prize yourself, missy,” he declared before blasting her back, almost casually dropping to the ground as he did.
Gilda just growled in defiance. “I'm going to enjoy seeing you delivered to Celestia again.”
“You’ll have to catch me first,” Sombra declared.
Having been a regular sparring partner with Rainbow Dash and having five years to improve on her fighting skills since then, Gilda was not an easy opponent to beat. Still, like Pinkamena had mentioned earlier, Sombra had gone up against Celestia herself, and, while not personally at Alicorn strength personally, that meant that he was well-versed in fighting tenacious opponents. Combined with his ability to use his magic to force those around him, alive or dead, to fight in his place, and unfortunately it was only a matter of time before the Gryphon learned the hard way why Sombra was called King.
Sombra simply gave an arrogant chuckle as he approached his fallen opponent. “How would you like your wings, girl: baked or fried?”
“Thanks, but I think I’d prefer stir-fried Unicorn.” And that was all the warning Sombra got before he was blasted away from the fallen Griffon by a Changeling that looked a lot like how Thorax had appeared before Chrysalis’ second defeat, albeit with darker wings and a red neck fin as opposed to the usual blue.
The Crystal Tyrant simply scoffed as he took in his new opponent. “So, the bug got tired of dining with Twilight and cozied up to Celestia. Tell me: who’s hooves are tastier to lick?”
“Twilight’s a criminal, just like you.”
Sombra simply rolled his eyes. “Nothing like me.”
The Changeling simply scoffed. “You don’t honestly expect me to believe you’re a hero where you come from, do you?”
“Nothing so cut and dry,” was King Sombra’s reply. “You see, Twilight sways the hearts and minds of those around them in order to maneuver her foes in a position to be defeated. I, on the other hoof, remove their defiance at the source.”
While as a simple drone, the Thorax look-alike was nowhere near as strong as Chrysalis herself, that didn’t necessarily make him weak. Combined with his shapeshifting abilities, Sombra was actually on the defensive for a short while. Unfortunately, if there was one thing Sombra was multiversally known for, it was his raw cunning. Having used the first few minutes of the fight to learn about his opponent, it was a simple manner to use his magic to disrupt the Changeling’s shapeshifting capabilities, leaving him wide open for a sucker punch to the face, knocking him out.
“Once a bug, always a bug,” Sombra declared as he readied himself to literally stomp out his opponent. Fortunately for him and all of Pinkamena’s allies, reinforcements had arrived in the form of Twilight Sparkle and her inter-dimensional allies.
“We’re out-numbered,” Solar Gilda declared as she scooped up her own ally, even as the Republic overwhelmed the Empire’s forces. “Let’s just go.” Sombra could growl in irritation as the two flew off into the distance.
Meanwhile Pinkamena grinned as her friend approached her, shutting the distress beacon off as she did. “Thanks for showing up so fast, Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle.”
“Yeah, Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle,” yelled out a stallion from within the castle.
Pinkamena just smiled as she suddenly adopted a red tie and a black hat. “Darn right, Sparkle Sparkle Sparkle.”
Was...was that a reference to the Nostalgia Critic?
Yes, yes it was.
Twilight just rolled her eyes even as she brought the mare into a hug even as said tie and hat disappeared. “It’s good to see you too, Pinkie.”
Sombra simply gave an arrogant chuckle as he approached the group. “Well, your highness, what do we do now?”
Applejack couldn’t help but growl upon recognizing the Unicorn before her. “Sombra…” …and that was all the warning the Crystal Tyrant got before quickly finding himself tied up by the Element of Honesty.
Despite the circumstances, Sombra simply rolled his eyes. “Does this mean I won't receive any apple pie?”
Needless to say, Rarity was shocked, and rightfully so. “Pinkie, Pinkamena, or whatever you call yourself, please tell me that's not who I think it is…”
Here, Pinkamena had the decency to give a sheepish, if not irritated, blush. “I know how this looks, but believe me when I say that sometimes you need to embrace the darkness to show ponies the light.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “That’s not you talking: that’s all the stress you’ve had to go through these past five years. Yes, darkness can sometimes be a good thing, but can you honestly look me in the eye and say that you think that going after Celestia with the stallion who killed her sister by your side is a good idea?”
“Speaking of which,” Princess Ember remarked even as Pinkamena looked down in shame, “if Sombra is here, there’s a good chance that he didn’t come alone.”
“She’s right,” Rainbow Dash declared as she approached with Sci-Twi at her side. “Where’s Twilight?”
“Which one?” Sombra deadpanned, nodding to Lunar Twilight and Sci-Twi even as he struggled to escape from Applejack’s hold.
Lunar Twilight simply growled in reply even as she approached the Crystal Tyrant. “Your eyes: full of wickedness, just like the ones I'm used to…”
Here, Sombra quirked an eyebrow, a wicked grin on his face. “You mean Celestia? Her little lackeys took your little friend. I might be able to help you get her back, if you’re willing to make a deal…”
Lunar Twilight just shook her head, quickly knocking him out with a paralysis spell. “No thanks: I don’t make deals with the likes of you.”
“Uh, I think he might have been telling the truth...at least about how Celestia’s allies have captured our Twilight,” Fluttershy declared. “She’d probably appreciate it if we came to rescue her. I mean, if you don’t mind that is.”
Lunar Twilight simply sighed. “It's not that simple: we don’t even know for sure where she’s being held. Don’t worry, though: I’ll have some scouts sent out to track down her location while we focus on the primary mission.”
Pinkamena gasped, hope once again shining in her eyes. “Does that mean...?”
Lunar Twilight merely smirked in reply. “It does, but first, I need you to get your forces to a more secure location: they'll be a target now…” She gave the unconscious Sombra a glare “...and you won't make that target any smaller.” With that, she quickly encases the Crystal Tyrant in her magic before looking to the others. “Gather up any supplies you believe me to be essential and then meet me at the edge of Ponyville: tonight, we’re storming the Castle of Friendship.” With that said, she teleported away to deposit Sombra in a holding cell.
Back in the Equestria we all know and love, Sweetie Belle had woken up from her coma...and even if she hadn’t, she’d certainly be awake now, given the news she’d just heard. “You found my sister?!”
Celestia couldn’t help but give a light smirk in reply. “And Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and everypony else.”
“Technically, Ember’s a Dragon, but hey, good news is good news.” Little Strongheart said with a grin.
Starlight nodded. “From what we can tell, they were somehow pulled into another dimension, not completely unlike the one with Canterlot High. Similar, but different at the same time.”
Here, Pinkie Pie couldn’t help but frown slightly. “You mean that they're enjoying one of my parties without me?”
Sunset did her best to snort in amusement. “Technically, if we’re right, you are there: it's just not the ‘you’ they're used to, not really.”.
Pinkie could gasp, gaining a large grin shortly afterwards. “Quick: how can we get there? I want to give myself a hug!!”
Silver Spoon looked to the Crusaders, concern written all over her face. “Could either of our worlds handle two Pinkie Pies?”
“Considering what my sister told me about the Mirror Pool...I have no idea,” Applebloom admitted.
Luna simply smiled. “We understand your curiosities and your concerns, young ones. Having heard some of the stories of our human counterparts, my sister and I have often had similar thoughts. Still, as we don’t know what lies within this other world, it might be safer to simply pull them back here.”
Celestia nodded in agreement. “Indeed: we don't want to accidentally send an away team into some unseen danger.”
“Still raises the same problem, though.” Braeburn declared. “How do we do it?”
“Way ahead of you on that front,” Sunburst declared. “Sunset?”
Celestia’s former student nodded as she levitated a mirror that she was intimately familiar with. “Sunburst, Starlight, and I are going to attempt to synchronize the Crystal Mirror with the energy we found in Celestia’s castle and reverse the polarity. Pull everypony back at once.”
Celestia just gave the young unicorn a proud smile before nodding to everypony else in the room. “We've got some work to do…”
Meanwhile, back with the Lunar Republic, Prince Blueblood looked on with pride as he gazed upon the rising moon, a sigh escaping him even as he heard somepony approach from behind him. “Beautiful, isn't it?”
Lunar Lightning Dust simply chuckled even as she sat beside “Canterlot’s Most Eligible Bachelor.” “The moon or it's light shining off your 20 karat smile?”
Lunar Blueblood just shook his head in amusement, even as he mentally grumbled about how it was actually 30 karats. “Joke all you want, but you have to admit that their skills are improving…”
Lightning Dust nodded as she briefly looked towards the setting sun. “I'll say. We won’t know the full extent of their abilities with absolute certainty until Celestia’s taken down for good, but that’s for the best, really. The less the Empress knows about the unicorns being trained in raising the sun and moon, the more likely they’ll be to get the chance to actually do it once we’ve won this war.”
Prince Blueblood smirked by way of reply. “You're really that surprised? They did it before Celestia and Luna’s rise to power, so there’s nothing saying that they can’t do it now. Besides, Starlight Glimmer and Trixiethemselves selected those ponies. Trust the student of the Element of Magic and her student to find exceptional talent.” He shared a quick chuckle with the ex-Wonderbolt trainee before facing his companion “Speaking of exceptional talent, I'm pleased to hear that you’re ready to rejoin the team full time.”
Lighting just shrugged. “Yeah, well, I owe the Empire some payback for the torture session. Besides, you know the only reason I tried the solo act for a while was because I needed to throw Celestia off the scent of Sweetie Belle and Storm Chaser. Those two have been through enough pain as is. Figure now is as good a time as any to try my hoof at being a team player again. It’s what Rainbow would’ve wanted, you know?”
Here, Blueblood quirked an eyebrow. “You know, I've actually been meaning to ask you about that for some time now. As I recall, a little over five years ago, you outright hated the late Element of Loyalty. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you were the type of pony who would be one of the first to jump on the Solar Empire’s bandwagon. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that you’re helping us, but all these years and I still haven’t quite figured out why.”
Lightning Dust just sighed, taking off her handkerchief and gazing at the rainbow-colored fibers. “I never hated her: I realize that now. If anything, I was jealous of how easy being Wonderbolt material was for her. We both had the same dream, but she was perfect for the job. I knew that even back then.” She looked towards Blueblood, her face full of regret. “Did you know that I had a friend sew a few of her hairs that survived her last mission into this handkerchief? I figured if I kept a piece of her close by, I’d have an easier time remembering.”
Lightning Dust simply gained a steely expression even as she placed the handkerchief back around her neck. “That I owe her, and the Lunar Republic, a debt that I can never repay. That I was supposed to be the one who died that night four years ago.”
Later that night, Twilight, Pinkamena, Little Strongheart, and Soarin had joined up with the Mane 4 and Princess Ember outside the Castle of Friendship. Sci-Twi, meanwhile, had elected to stay behind with Sweetie Belle to look after Storm Chaser, given that the Empire wasn’t aware that Rarity’s sister was alive and Rainbow’s alternate daughter was still a bit too young to fight.
Speaking of the loyal Pegasus, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but give a low whistle as she gazed upon the castle that laid beyond the force field that had been erected around the place, taking note of how somehow in the course of five years it looked to be in worse condition then the Castle of the Two Sisters did after a thousand. “I know jewels and decorations are more of Rarity's thing, but this place has really seen better days,” she couldn’t help but remark even as Twilight went about disabling one of the gems that held the barrier in place.
Rarity could only nod in agreement. “I'll openly admit that refraining from giving this place a full restoration is going to be a challenge: how could Celestia do this!?”
The leader of the Lunar Republic could only give a disgruntled sigh in reply. “That's not all she did. She stripped me of my official title as Princess and outlawed the production of spell books and charms. Anypony suspected of helping me is under constant watch. In short, she’s gone out of her way to use me as an example of why choosing to defy her is frowned upon.”
Applejack shook her head in frustration. “Ah'm still having trouble wrapping mah head around the fact that Celestia would fall this far, even with what Sombra did.”
Pinkamena just sighed. “As much as I don't want to, I can sort of understand why and how she did. After all, in Celestia’s eyes, she destroyed Canterlot.”
Fluttershy quirked an eyebrow. “Could you, um, maybe expand upon that statement? I’m not sure I understand.”
Soarin nodded. “Not sure what his plan was in your world, but in our version of things, Sombra used a combination of Poison Joke and his own Dark Magic to trick Celestia into believing that she was fighting Tirek at his most powerful...but it was Luna.”
Needless to say, Princess Ember, like her other companions, was horrified at this revelation. “No…”
“Sombra had mystically linked the bomb’s trigger with Luna’s heartbeat,” Twilight went on to explain. “When the Princess of the Night died, Canterlot died with her. The only consolation is that some, like Spike, at least managed to make it to the hospital before they passed away. Others, like Pinkie Pie and Sweetie Belle, were able to survive the blast long term, but at a price.”
Here, Little Strongheart let out a frustrated sigh. “As much as I hate how she’s been handling things ever since, I can’t say I blame her for giving into her rage and killing Sombra. When Luna died, Celestia felt powerless, probably for the first time in her life.”
Fluttershy shook her head. “In the end, though, she let her fear get the best of her.”
Soarin nodded. “Regrettably, our Rainbow Dash died trying to explain that to her.”
Needless to say, said loyal pony wasn’t sure she liked the direction this conversation was going in, as evidenced by how she muttered out. “Alright, moving on.” That said, she couldn’t help but blink as the shield came down. “Hey, quick question: why did Celestia set up so much security here? I mean, she already trashed the place.”
“Would you take any chances with her?” Pinkamena asked with a teasing grin.
Twilight then cleared her throat. “I need you, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack to secure the entrance to the Map Chamber. That’s where I’ve stored the weapon we’re looking for.”
“Darling, you’re not coming with us?!” Rarity couldn’t help but ask.
“I need to activate some old leylines I have set up around the castle,” the Element of Magic declared. “Without those, accessing the weapon is...well, not impossible, but the process would be much more difficult. Besides, the castle will recognize you as the Element Bearers and thus you’ll have an easier time dealing with the traps Celestia set up.”
Here, Rainbow couldn’t help but suck in a breath. “Speaking of Element Bearers…”
“Don’t worry, Rainbow,” Soarin declared. “Celestia killed the Element of Loyalty’s Champion, not the Element itself. In time, a new Bearer will rise up, and we’ve already found a few potential candidates over the years. Even if we hadn’t, however, we’ve lasted five years without you, and I’d rather join my Rainbow in oblivion before I ever let your world lose you too.”
“Such a smooth talker,” Rainbow said with a smile and a blush. “It’s no wonder my counterpart fell in love with you...and Storm is certainly lucky to have a father like you.”
Soarin simply smirked in response. “Now who’s the smooth talker? ...but thanks: that means more than you’ll ever know.”
Applejack just snorted. “Five bits say that she and our Soarin get together when we get back.”
Rarity likewise chuckled. “Make it ten and throw in them not even needing the cider to bring their own Storm Chaser into existence.”
“I call Mare of Honor at the wedding!” Fluttershy yelled out, blushing as everypony else turned towards her. “I mean, if that’s okay.”
Needless to say, Rainbow found herself blushing up a storm. “Just...let’s just get this taken care of.”
As it turned out, Twilight had been right about the possibility of traps in the building, but a combination of the Element Bearer’s unique skills saw them easily overcoming them. The real challenge came when they entered the dining area, where they ran into a few individuals who had arrived to try and intercept the ones responsible for taking down the shield. A few familiar individuals, at that.
Applejack couldn’t help but groan upon seeing who it was that showed up. “You guys are working for Celestia now?!”
“Well, there aren’t any royal pensions involved, if that’s what you mean,” Solar Flim declared with a shrug even as he and his brother, Solar Flam, stood beside the Solar Diamond Dogs, Rover, Fido, and Spot.
“But there are certainly plenty of benefits,” Flam remarked. “I particularly like teaching ponies like you the pecking order.”
“So do I,” Rainbow said with a grin. “It goes you, the dirt, the worms inside of the dirt, that stuff in AJ’s outhouse, the Canterlot Nobles, then us. Any questions?”
“Um, yeah, I…” ...and that was as far as Solar Spot got before he and the other Diamond Dogs were kicked into a wall, courtesy of Rainbow Dash, knocking them out in the process.
The rainbow-haired Wonderbolt could only snort in amusement. “Enjoy the nap, you little…”
“Rainbow Dash!” Fluttershy yelled out.
“What? I was going to call them runts!” the shy Pegasus’ oldest friend said with a shrug.
Was...was that a Dragon Ball Z Abridged reference?
“She...she sounds just like her, brother,” Flam declared, a bit of nervousness seeping into his voice.
“Acts like her too, but it can’t be… can it?”Flim couldn’t help but ask, eyes wide as he too stares at a face that hadn’t been seen in this reality in four years.
“You mind if I take this one, girls?” Rainbow Dash asked as she approached the two con ponies. “I feel the need to introduce myself.”
“They’re all yours, Sugarcube,” AJ declared with a grin. As much as she would’ve enjoyed kicking the two brothers right where the sun didn’t shine, she knew deep down that having their keisters handed to them by the mirror image of a dead mare was just as humiliating, if not even more so...and judging by her friends’ expressions, they felt the same way.
Despite what one might think, Solar Flim and Flam were no slouches when it came to combat: spending time helping Celestia round up any rebellious factions tends to boost your abilities a la “trial by fire”...sometimes literally. Combined with their unicorn magic, the fact that they tended to work as a team, and how they never went anywhere without some sort of mechanical assistance nearby - in this case, a pair of net guns to which they often used to attempt and capture their opponents to bring back to Celestia - they certainly gave Rainbow a run for her…
...I’m sorry: I couldn’t keep a straight face.
Yeah: Dashie took them both out in ten seconds flat.
See? I told you that it was okay to inject a little humor every now and again.
That you did, Pinkie Pie. That you did. Anyways...
Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as she gazed upon her fallen opponents. “Say my name.”
“Ra...Ra...Rainbow Dash,” Flim and Flam whispered out in shock, awe, and perhaps a touch of fear before passing out.
“And don’t you forget it,” the Wonderbolt said with a grin as she left with her friends to regroup with Twilight and company.
Meanwhile, Lunar Blueblood, currently in the middle of a meeting with his Aunt, couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow. “So, let me see if I'm following this correctly: you want me and my technicians to make a portable scanner, to help you and your forces better identify these duplicates.”
The Solar Empress simply nodded. “Exactly.” With that, she levitated a crystal over to him. “This holds a simulation of the aura signature I found on the duplicate Twilight we’re holding in the Canterlot dungeons.”
Blueblood simply took it with a shrug. “That’s helpful, though without a sample from ourTwilight to compare it to, it’s still going to be a few weeks before I’ll have something you can actually use.”
Celestia gave a good-natured shrug. “You'll figure it out: you always do.”
Here, Lunar Blueblood couldn’t help but shake his head in amusement. “I’m just glad to be of assistance to Equestria,” he humbly declared, sharing a brief hug with his aunt as the two of them got up from where they were seated. “You sure you can’t stay for dinner? Pumpkin Bread’s serving that Manehattan-style pizza you love so much.”
Celestia just gave an amused snort as she patted her nephew on the back with affection. “Maybe next time.” With that, she broke the embrace and headed to the door...only to pause halfway there. “These duplicates: do you think they have a Luna where they come from?”
Lunar Blueblood could only sigh. “There was only one Luna, and besides, even if you did find her doppleganger there, if she’s anything like the one we knew, she’d never be able to just up and leave the ponies of her world to their nightmares.”
Celestia merely nodded. “True enough. Still, my former student brought their citizens to our world: perhaps we should consider sending some ponies back.”
As the Empress took her leave, Prince Blueblood couldn’t help but look upon the crystal he had been given with equal parts hope and dread, not liking the way his Aunt had said that at all.
Meanwhile, back at the Castle of Friendship, Princess Ember couldn’t help but feel perplexed as she and the Republic members regrouped with the Mane 4 in the throne room. “Maybe it's because I'm still relatively new to Pony culture, but I'm curious how you managed to hide what we're looking for from Celestia. I mean, forgive my tactlessness, but it seems she was pretty thorough.”
It was honestly easy to see why she thought this: the thrones were in tatters, the table had a crack running right down the middle, and the tree chandelier was completely gone. Twilight, meanwhile, merely nodded in understanding, briefly flashing back to how this all took place, her eyes momentarily drawn to a dried up pool of blood in the corner, briefly wondering if this was where her parents made their last stand as they bravely held the Empress at bay whilst she had made her escape.
She then shook her head as she scanned the area, doing one last check to see if everything was in order. “The vault I stored the weapon in is coated in every perception filter I could throw at it, and even if she picked up on them, she’d dismiss them as I placed it in the last place she’d think to look.”
“Sounds like you went to a lot of trouble to hide it, Darling,” Rarity remarked, “between this and how apparently we’re the key to unlock said vault.”
“Neutralizing an Alicorn, any Alicorn, never mind Celestia, wasn’t a call one should have to make alone,” Twilight explained. “So I put the weapon in a vault that could only be accessed by simultaneously sampling the Aura signatures of five specific ponies.”
Instantly, Rainbow knew where this was going. “Our counterparts.”
Pinkamena nodded. “With our Dashie dead, and the rest of the Chosen Ones following Celestia for whatever ill-thought-out reasons they’ve cooked up, we needed your help to be able to access it.”
Ember couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow. “Why didn’t you just bring over those human counterparts I’ve heard so much about? And for that matter, if you needed the Elements of Harmony, why did you bring me over?
Little Strongheart snorted in reply. “I can answer that first one: even if they weren’t trying to hide how the Crystal Mirror was still around, with Magic not being a natural thing over where Canterlot High is, they were likely worried that Sunset’s friends might not have a strong enough collective Aura for their purposes, to say nothing about how they weren’t willing to gamble on them being able to effectively defend themselves in this world if it came down to it.”
Soarin nodded. “Pretty much. As for why we brought you over, Ember, well, I don’t understand half the jargon of how it works, but apparently, your scepter has enough magical energy coursing through it that when used in conjunction with Pinkie and the others, it should make up for any subtle differences that their might be between the auras of them and their counterparts.”
“‘Should?’ Twi, are ya sure this’ll even work?” Applejack couldn’t help but ask.
Twilight looked down in shame. “Honestly? I have no idea. Admittedly, there’s a good chance I’ll end up blasting the vault open after this simply knocks the lock loose a little. It’ll trip a few of the alarms Celestia has set up, but I’ll be sure to teleport you back to the base should that happen.”
Here, Fluttershy couldn’t help but gasp. “Twilight, you can’t. If you do that, you’ll die!”
The Lunar Republic’s leader gave the Kind mare a smile. “I appreciate the concern, but better that I die than to have your world lose your Elements of Harmony the way my world has.”
“Don’t talk like that,” Pinkamena declared with a smile more reminiscent of her counterpart. “This plan will work. After all, you’re the one who made it.”
“Besides, my counterpart proved that she was more than willing to give her life for this world.” Rainbow declared with a smile. “How could I call myself the Element of Loyalty if I wasn’t prepared to do the same thing?”
“Hopefully it won’t come to that, Darling,” Rarity remarked, “but the sentiment holds true: you’re not alone in this fight, Twilight.”
Princess Twilight actually teared up a little as the others all nodded in agreement, a small smile appearing on her face. “I realize this isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s good to have you back. Anyways, Ember, raise your scepter into the air. Everypony else, place your right forehoof at the base of the back of your thrones. Once I give the signal, Ember and Rarity, aim a blast at where the roots of the Golden Oaks library used to be.”
Everypony nodded as they got into position. As the Mane 5 placed their hooves against where their individual thrones used to be, said thrones and the cracked table before them started to blink erratically. About five seconds after the glow started to become constant and the Element Bearer's cutie marks began to glow, Twilight yelled out, “NOW!” prompting Rarity and Ember to send a stream of magic from their horn and scepter, respectively, towards where the center of a massive set of Oak Tree roots used to be, before a lone crystal that still lay there shot a beam onto one throne in particular, causing it to lurch back a ways.
“That’s enough!” Twilight called out, causing them all to back up a ways.
As Princess Twilight approached the exposed secret compartment, however, Fluttershy couldn’t help but gasp. “Wait, is that…?”
The Princess just smiled as she removed a medium-sized container from beneath where Spike’s throne used to be. “What can I say? Even in death, he’s my number one assistant.”
Opening said container, Twilight let out a sigh of relief upon finding what she was looking for: a special apparatus to place around one’s horn that contained a few gems and what looked to be a piece of Queen Chrysalis’ throne. “That’s it. We’ve got what we came for. Now let’s get out of here before…”
It was at that moment, the chamber they were in began to shake in regular intervals, indicating that somepony was bursting through the doors that led to their position one after the other. Needless to say, Princess Twilight was less than amused. “...before exactly that happens,” she groaned even as she quickly placed the container back where it had been originally, partially closing the hatch to give it some semblance of protection even as she and everypony else prepared for battle.
When the door to their location was forced open, however, Applejack was shocked to find that on the other side stood several of Celestia’s guards, as well as Solar Garble - now wearing light armor - and her own counterpart. “You…”
“...shouldn’t have let your guard down, puny pony.” Garble declared, quickly tackling her out of the room.
As the guards started to focus on her friends, Rainbow quickly kicked a piece of rubble at Solar Applejack, giving a chuckle as the farm pony focused her attention on her.
Seeing this, Applejack couldn’t help but glare. “Our Rainbow Dash was just as big-headed,” she declared.
“And probably just as super-ultra-extreme-awesomazing,” Rainbow couldn’t help but remark even as the two of them started their little bout.
The battle that followed was not easy. Not only was Rainbow fighting the mirror image of one of her best friends, the friend in question was one of only non-fliers to ever push her to her absolute limits and beyond them. To make matters even worse, this version of Applejack was clearly letting her fear, anger, frustration, and pain guide her actions in this fight, as the rainbow-haired Wonderbolt quickly found herself dodging blows that, if they had hit her, would have crippled her at best, killed her at worst.
Fortunately, despite her headfirst attitude towards battle...and just about everything else, really...Rainbow was not a stupid mare. While she’d openly admit to not being as smart as Twilight or Sunburst, she prided herself on being able to make snap decisions mid-flight or mid-battle based off of observations she’d pick up throughout the ordeal. Case in point, she’d noticed that while this Applejack had been openly using more aggressive moves, she’d almost been purposely missing, like she was afraid of actually hitting her...which she supposed made some sense: despite her support of Celestia, if she was anything like her AJ, she likely had spent several nights of the past few years awake, pondering whether she was actually doing the right thing, which might have explained the bags she saw under Applejack’s eyes. In other words, despite what she might’ve claimed out loud, she was hesitating. Whether it was guilt over what happened with Twilight - either one of them - or because she wasn’t completely willing to see another Rainbow Dash die, the Element of Loyalty made sure to capitalize on it, quickly knocking the farm mare flat before kicking her in the head for good measure, ending the fight.
Rainbow Dash could only shake her head as she looked upon the fallen Earth Pony. “And another thing: our Applejack? She’s 20% cooler.”
Speaking of the Applejack from the Equestria we all know and love, she and the others had quickly dealt with the Empire’s forces, surrounding Garble as they did. “That’s enough, ya varmint: yer done.”
“Not yet I’m not,” the red-scaled Dragon declared, quickly breathing out fire to force everypony back before making a hasty retreat.
“Can’t you just stop him with your scepter?” Rarity couldn’t help but ask of the Dragon Lord, who shook her head in frustration.
“I’ve been trying to throughout the fight, but he just won’t listen,” she growled out. “He must have spent so much time resisting the scepter’s influence after Spike and I won the Gauntlet of Fire, not wanting to take orders from ‘pony-loving Dragons’, that in this world he eventually built up an immunity to it.”
“Well, we’ll just have to do things the hard way then,” Rainbow declared even as she gave chase.
Quickly noticing this, Garble let out a growl, attempting a few aerial maneuvers to lose the speedy Pegasus. Unfortunately for him, Rainbow Dash knew a few maneuvers herself, having practiced quite a few of them both before and after her acceptance into the Wonderbolts. Even her opponent’s firebreath didn’t deter her, quickly flying straight through it to give the rebellious Dragon a punch to the face, knocking her to the ground. “That’s enough, Garble. You know you can’t outfly me.”
Garble glared for all he was worth, only to pause as he noticed something in the distance, bringing a wicked grin to his lips. “You’re right: I need a different approach.” ...and that was all the warning Rainbow got before flying off and grabbing a filly that had been sneaking around the deteriorating remains of Sugarcube Corner.
Needless to say, the rainbow-haired Wonderbolt was off put by this new scenario, her irritation quickly becoming fear upon realizing who the filly was. “Storm Chaser?! What are you doing here?!”
“I...I’m sorry,” her alternate daughter declared. “You and the others were taking a long time so I snuck out of the base while the others weren’t looking. I...I didn’t want to lose you again.”
Despite Storm Chaser not being her daughter, not really, Rainbow couldn’t help the proud smile that bloomed on her lips. “Heh: you’re my daughter alright. Loyal but reckless. If you really wanted to help out, you didn’t need to sneak out: if you had just asked, I’m sure we could have found a way for you to contribute, but you’re just a little filly: we can’t have you biting off more than you can chew,” she remarked, tossing in a wink at that last part, Storm Chaser throwing a wink back, having quickly caught onto what her late mother’s counterpart was planning.
“Touching, but pointless,” Garble snidely remarked. “See, here’s how things are going to work: I’m going to head back to the Empress with my little hostage, and if anyone tries to follow me, I’m going to…” ...and that was as far as the red-scaled Dragon got before Storm Chaser sunk her teeth into his arm, causing him to let go of her in pain. “You little brat! Forget Celestia’s orders to bring you in alive: just for that, you die first!”
Needless to say, Rainbow was not happy to hear that, quickly leveling a glare at Garble even as she held Storm Chaser close. “I’m sure if my late doppelganger had heard that, she’d kick you into next week. Allow me to do so in her place.”
Have you ever heard the phrase “Don’t poke the Mama Bear”? Garble was quickly learning why this was generally good advice. True, he was a lot more aggressive than the majority of Ember’s forces, but that hardly mattered when Rainbow Dash was coming at him with everything and the kitchen sink...literally: she “borrowed” the kitchen sink from the worn down Sugarcube Corner to bash the brash Dragon over the head with. By the time, the loyal Pegasus had finished the battle off with the first Sonic Rainboom this version of Equestria had seen in four years...well, Garble wasn’t dead, but he was very much wishing that he was.
“Take some free advice, Garble: stay away from my daughter!” Rainbow Dash growled out before approaching Storm Chaser, who had been watching the whole fight from a safe distance, quickly gaining a concerned expression as she did. “You okay?”
“That. Was. AWESOME!” Storm Chaser happily yelled out, quickly bringing her late mother’s counterpart into a hug. “I want to be just like you when I grow up!”
Rainbow simply chuckled even as she returned the embrace. “I’m sure you will someday. Just keep pushing yourself to your very limits and remember to stay loyal to your friends, your home, and to yourself: those are the traits that your mother prides herself on in any world. For now, though...you’re grounded for a week.”
“I’ll need to run it past Soarin, seeing how I’m not technically your mother,” Rainbow admitted, “but good intentions or not, you still snuck out of the base and likely worried Sci-Twi and Sweetie Bellesick tearing the place apart looking for you. That’s another thing that you’ll need to remember from now on: actions have consequences, and you won’t always have an awesome pony like me around to deal with those consequences for you.”
“I...okay,” Storm Chaser replied, reluctantly nodding her head.
Rainbow Dash simply smiled in reply. “Come on: let’s get you to Soarin and Twilight: the egghead can let the base know where you are and your Dad can decide if he approves of the punishment I gave you.”
“Grounded for a week it is,” said stallion remarked sometime later with a nod. “Normally, I’d also be adding ‘no dessert during that period of time,’ but given what happened with Garble, I’d say this is more than enough.”
“Agreed,” Twilight said with a sigh, having just informed the base that the young filly was safe, before checking up on the weapon she had hidden away...and groaning. “Aw, pony feathers.”
Little Strongheart couldn’t help but frown. “Bad news?”
“And good news, and worse news,” Twilight admitted. “The bad news is that one of Celestia’s soldiers managed to damage the weapon we came for in all the chaos. The good news is that all the components we’d need to affect the Empress’ Alicorn biology are still intact despite all that, but the worse news is that the targeting apparatus is beyond repair, and even with Blueblood, we don’t have the means to get a new one quickly.”
Here, Pinkamena cracked a small smile, looking to the audience as she did. “Don’t worry: it won't be too long before we get some help.”
Ember however couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow in confusion. “Who is she talking to?”
Rainbow Dash snorted by way of reply. “Something you need to understand, Ember: we might be in another dimension, but Pinkie Pie will still be Pinkie Pie: it’s best not to question it.”
Back in the Equestria we all know and love, Princess Celestia watched as Starlight Glimmer and Sunburst assisted Sunset Shimmer put some finishing touches on the new Crystal Mirror. “How are we looking?”
Sunset wiped some sweet from her forehead with a sigh. “Good news is that Starlight, Sunburst and I have mostly finished with our efforts to create another portal. Bad news is that the required energy output is immense. Starlight and I would have to give it everything we had and we’d still might not have enough power to make this work.”
“Maybe I can help,” Pinkie declared. “I've been told I have more energy than almost anybody else alive, with the possible exception of Cheese Sandwich. Time to put that to the test. Just strap me to a treadmill and make with the magic and calculations.”
“About as good an idea as any,” Sunset declared. “Let’s get to work.”
Meanwhile, in the Lunar Republic’s base of operation, Lightning Dust approached the returning members, giving a nod to the container Twilight was carrying. “That the weapon I’ve heard so much about?”
“Yep, that’s the one, albeit in some need of some repairs,” Rainbow declared, not at all prepared for when Lightning brought her into a hug. “Whoa. Okay, you are definitely not our Lightning Dust.”
“Sorry,” she sniffled as she broke the embrace. “It’s just the last time you went out on a mission that involved getting something that would help in the war effort, you never came back.”
“You know, now I’m curious: what did happen the night Rainbow died in this world?” Ember couldn’t help but ask.
Lightning sighed. “It’s like this…”
Four years ago…
Lightning could only grumble to herself, having just barely managed to evade some of Celestia’s guards. While the notion of joining up with this new Solar Empire was tempting, she’d heard a few rumors about how some of the former “criminals” in their army had gone through a little “re-education”, and she wasn’t going to risk that happening to her: liked the thoughts she had just fine the way they were, thank you very much!
She was soon brought out of her musings, however, when she suddenly found herself running into a very familiar individual. “Rainbow?”
“Lightning?” Lunar Rainbow Dash barked back with equal amounts of surprise, as it had been a year since they had agreed to leave the other alone for the time being.
“What are you doing here?!” they both yelled out at the same time.
“Well, I was hoping to get these notes back to Twilight to see if the egghead could make heads or tails out of…” Rainbow declared gesturing a notebook she had swiped from one of the scientists that hung around the place before frowning. “Wait a minute: I’m still technically an undercover Wonderbolt agent for the Lunar Republic. You’re the one who should be answering me! Last I checked, you weren’t even interested in this war the Princesses have going on!”
“Actually, you both should be answering a few questions that I have,” Celestia declared, coming around the corner, the glare on her face showcasing that she had overheard the whole thing. “I've always suspected that I might have a spy among my ranks, but I never thought that it’d be you,Rainbow. Aren’t you supposed to be the Element of Loyalty?”
“I am Loyal,” was Rainbow’s immediate answer. “Loyal to Equestria. This new policy of yours is going to get a lot of innocent ponies killed in the crossfire. Twilight was the only pony I trusted to have enough integrity and intelligence to give the less-than-combat-ready citizens a fighting chance.”
“A noble sentiment,” Celestia admitted, “but I’m afraid your faith is misplaced. Twilight has proven that she has no interest in protecting the citizens of Equestria by not joining up with my Empire.”
“You mean the same Empire that drags ponies out of their homes in the middle of the night because they suspect a criminal might have been there?” Lightning couldn’t help but retort.
“Silence!” Celestia yelled out, quickly firing a blast at the ex-Wonderbolt trainee.
Lightning closed her eyes, readying herself for the searing pain...only to open her eyes in confusion when it never came. Said confusion turned to shock and horror upon noticing a large gash that now lay across the rainbow-haired Pegasus’s chest. “...why?”
“For once I have to agree,” Celestia remarked, her eyes similarly wide with shock. “You know from a year ago that she’d gladly let you die.”
“You said it yourself, Princess,” Rainbow growled out in pain and frustration, placing a hoof on the satchel Lightning had been carrying, before seeming to realize her blunder and raising it to her fellow Wonderbolt trainee’s shoulder and giving it a comforting pat. “I’m the Element of Loyalty: just because she’d let me die doesn’t mean I’d do the same to her. You used to know that before Sombra took advantage of your fear and managed to turn you into a worse pony than even he was!”
Before Celestia could make an angry retort about how she was nothing like Sombra, however, a guard ran into the room in a panic. “Empress: one of the citizens accidentally knocked a bee hive into an Ursa Major’s den. It’s currently approaching the city in a frenzy!”
“Evacuate the area,” was Rainbow’s immediate reply. “I’ll hold it off until Fluttershy manages to calm either the bees or the Ursa down or something.”
“Rainbow, you can’t!” Celestia yelled out in shock, all thoughts of the rainbow-haired Pegasus' possible betrayal now out the window. “With those wounds, you’ll…”
“Seeing how you’re the one who gave them to me, I don’t see why you’d care,” Rainbow declared, turning and making as if to take off, only to stumble into Lightning’s arms.
“D...Dash?” It was only now as the Pegasus laid there with what might well be her final moments that Lightning truly realized how long she’d foolishly spent holding onto a grudge against a pony who didn’t deserve it.
“Go to the statue garden just outside of Celestia’s castle,” Rainbow whispered in her ear, instantly grabbing her attention. “There’ll be a blue-haired Stallion waiting for you. Ask him if the clouds will clear out soon. He’ll tell you that it’s a bit early for stargazing. Reply with ‘The Moon arrives with Dusk.’.”
Lightning just barely had time to react to that before Rainbow pushed herself off of her and gained a determined expression. “Look after my daughter for me, okay?” That was the last thing Rainbow Dash, Element of Loyalty, was heard saying before she took off, just barely escaping Celestia’s telekinetic grasp as she performed her very last Sonic Rainboom.
“That was the last time I’d ever see the Element of Loyalty alive...until today,” Lightning declared while looking at the doppelganger of the mare she’d owed her life to. “A few hours after that - in which time Fluttershywould manage to calm down both the bees and the Ursa, and Rainbow would be found, having succumbed to her wounds - I would manage to run into Soarin. He’d later confirm that our Rainbow had managed to slip the formula for Celestia’s enhancement pills into my satchel while she was arguing with the Solar Empress.”
Soarin likewise wiped a tear from his eye. “Our Rainbow Dash made the ultimate sacrifice to keep the ponies of Canterlot safe, as well as set up the diversion for the delivery of what would be our best weapon to combat Celestia and her forces until we could get our hooves on Twilight’s weapon.”
Sweetie Belle, however, couldn’t help but shake her head in frustration. “Still, you’d think that this would snap Celestia out of her ‘might makes right’ mentality, but nope: not even a month later, she was blaming Lightning Dust, and Twilight, and just about everypony but herself for Rainbow’s demise. The worst part is that there’s actually a good chunk of the Empire that knows what really happened that night, but…”
“...they’re either like Chrysalis and don’t care, they’re too scared to speak up because of what happened to the other me, or have been trying to convince themselves that this all for the greater good.” Rainbow declared with an understanding nod, everypony else likewise affected by that story. “Still, going out in a blaze of glory. Sounds like something I’d do. And in any case, I suppose this answers an unspoken question I’ve had running around my head.”
“What: how you died?” Lightning asked.
“Well, yes, that, but also if I knew any of those candidates for the Element of Loyalty Soarin was talking about might have been,” Rainbow remarked, looking to her fellow Wonderbolt trainee with a smile. “From what I can tell, my counterpart’s kid has some potential, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already met one of the other candidates.”
Lightning merely blinked in reply. “Wait, me?!”
“She’s right, you know,” Soarin declared with a grin. “When the possibility of Sweetie Belle and Storm Chaser’s location being compromised came up, you didn’t hesitate to use yourself as bait to draw Celestia’s attention elsewhere. When you were given the choice to side with Celestia, your response was ‘No’ even before Rainbow sacrificed herself for you and the rest of Equestria. When you had the opportunity to walk away, you didn’t take it. It’ll likely be sometime before we’ll know for certain, but regardless, you’ve come a long way since the academy, Cadet.”
Lightning just teared up a little as Soarin and Rainbow gave her an honorary salute, one that she readily returned, her eyes focusing on the latter. “I know I’d never replace you, but if it turns out you are right about me, I’ll do my best to not let you down.”
“That’s all any of us ask of you,” Prince Blueblood, having arrived mid-conversation, said with a smile. “Anyways, Lightning, I need you to come with me: you’ve been on the frontlines longer than just about anypony here, so Twilight and I will need your input on how to draw away her attention while we look for possible ways to repair her weapon.”
Back in the Equestria we all know and love, Celestia nodded as everyone gathered around the mirror to welcome everypony back. “Is it ready?”
Sunburst, having helped Sunset and Starlight place the finishing touches on their modified Crystal Mirror, nodded in reply. “As ready as we’ll ever be. Seeing how my own magical output isn’t too strong, I’ll be attempting to aid Pinkie in supplying kinetic energy to aid in Starlight and Sunset’s spell.”
“Just try and keep up,” the Element of Laughter declared with a teasing grin as all four ponies got to work.
Starlight nodded as the Crystal Mirror came to life with a steady portal up and ready to use. “Good: we’ve got a functioning gateway to the other dimension. Now I just need to attempt to reverse the polarity to pull everypony back.”
Suddenly, the Mirror started to spark, the portal itself seeming to behave erratically. Needless to say, Braeburn was growing concerned, as was everycreature else. “What’s happening?”
Celestia quickly scanned the mirror and frowned at what she found. “The Mirror’s still functioning, the level of arcane power is spiking! We need to shut it down!”
“No, we’re too close!” Sunburst yelled out, lighting up his own horn to channel some of his own magic into the mix. “We’re going to make contact with this other dimension!”
As it turned out, Starlight’s old friend should have chosen his words more carefully, as one bright flash of light later, he and Pinkie Pie soon found themselves dragged across the dimensional plane to what appeared to be an underground base. “Welp, we made contact with the other dimension,” Pinkie Pie called out.
“Yes, we did,” Sunburst said with a groan. “Don’t know whether to pat myself on the back, or kick myself in the…” ...and that was as far as he got before he found himself pausing, gesturing to Pinkie to keep quiet as the snuck behind a wall to listen in on a conversation that was taking place nearby.
“My technicians are more than willing to supply us with the necessary equipment, but we’re a bit short on personnel.” Lunar Prince Blueblood was heard saying, the two ponies having stumbled upon him and Lunar Lightning Dust mid-conversation.
“Doesn’t help that that crazy mare’s mini-militia is too reckless. Undisciplined...and yes, I’m well aware of the irony of me being the one to point that out,” Lightning remarked.
“That ‘crazy mare’, as you put it, is one of our most unflinching allies,” Prince Blueblood declared with an audible frown, “and even you have to admit that they’ve been invaluable to our effort.”
“Look, I have nothing but respect for the mare herself,” Lighting replied, “and you’re right: the distractions they can whip up do have their uses, but come on: you know better than anypony that it'll take more than a few distractions to take out Celestia.”
“Welp, that’s all I needed to hear,” Sunburst growled out, before turning to Pinkie. “Go and see if you can’t find somepony you can trust while I hold them off.”
For a moment, Pinkie looked like she was going to say something, before giving a shrug. “Okay: it’s your chapter.”
As soon as Pinkie ran off, Sunburst grabbed a nearby spear and threw it at the two ponies, who quickly dodged the assault. “Wasn’t this place supposed to be secure?!” Lightning found herself asking.
“Just keep him busy while I grab something from my office!” Blueblood barked back.
“With pleasure,”Lightning remarked with a snarl.
Needless to say, the following fight was not easy. While he had an entire library’s worth of knowledge of the arcane ways, Sunburst didn’t have the raw talent or magical output to perform half of those spells. Between that and how Lightning was a lot faster and had a lot more experience with actual combat, Starlight’s old friend found himself on the defensive for the majority of the battle.
That said, what he lacked in strength and speed, Sunburst made up for with his mind. Case in point, sometime into their confrontation, he couldn’t help but notice that Lightning was acting rather hostile towards him...or, well, more so than what had been reported towards even the Element Bearers during their past confrontations. He could only guess that he’d done something to upset the ex-Wonderbolt trainee in this world and while he didn’t know what that something was, it was something he was willing to take advantage of. “Is this really the best you can do?” he taunted. “It’s no wonder you the Wonderbolts didn’t want you if you can’t even take me out by my lonesome.”
“Better to be a Wonderbolt drop-out then a traitor like you!” was Lightning’s anger/anguish filled reply as she charged forward. Unfortunately, in her frustration, the Pegasus had failed to notice that Sunburst had placed himself in front of a steam vent, which he quickly used to knock his opponent off-balance before knocking him to ground.
Sunburst could only sigh as he looked upon the wounded Pegasus. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for whatever it is ‘I’ did to you.”
“If only it was her that you hurt,” Blueblood declared as he re-entered the room, a mechanical pair of wings strapped to his back. Upon noticing the look Sunburst was giving him, he gave the wings a good flap, hovering in the air as he stared down his opponent. “What do you think? It’s a little side-project I began working on a few years back.”
“I’d be more impressed if you’d earned those wings,” Sunburst remarked, “And what do you mean by that? Who else could I have hurt so badly that you’d be able to convince her to go after me with the intention to maim or kill?”
Blueblood simply scoffed in reply. “Only the mare she’s spent the last few years comforting after you broke her heart: one Starlight Glimmer.”
Needless to say, that revelation was enough to knock Sunburst off-balance enough to allow Prince Blueblood to get a few good hits in early on in the battle. Even after Sunburst rallied himself with the intent to make up for his counterpart’s mistakes, the fight wasn’t easy, as those wings the Lunar Prince had been using weren’t just for show. In fact, it was clear early on that whoever designed them, whether it had been Blueblood or his technicians, had managed to nearly perfectly match the flight speed and power of an actual Alicorn within the mechanical apparatus, and this only boasted Blueblood’s already impressive combat expertise as he had the same arcane knowledge and pragmatic fighting style as the Prince he knew back home.
Still, every machine has its flaw, and it seemed that whoever designed them had yet to figure out how to allow Blueblood to operate them and cast his rather impressive array of spells at the same time, so the Prince unfortunately found himself quickly getting exhausted as the fight wore on....which was exactly what Sunburst had been counting on. The moment Blueblood began to slow down, the studious Unicorn capitalized on it by grabbing the spear from earlier and throwing it at one of the wings mid-beat. Unfortunately for Prince Blueblood, between his aforementioned exhaustion and how the apparatus was still in the testing stage, this was enough to jam said wing in place, forcing him to the ground in defeat.
Sunburst shook her head in frustration and rage. “As much as I probably deserve a good kick in the teeth, that doesn’t give you the right to go after innocent ponies, Blueblood!”
“Stand down, everypony.”
Here, Sunburst had to blink upon noticing who entered the room. “Twilight?”
Rainbow Dash just snorted as she and everypony else entered alongside the Lunar Republic’s leader. “Sup, Sunburst. You’ve probably already figured it out, but we’re not in Canterlot anymore.”
“Yeah, I got the impression,” the wizardly Unicorn replied with amusement...which quickly turned to confusion upon noticing something else. “Pinkie Pie, what are you…?
The Party Pony merely giggled as she gave Pinkamena a side hug, her counterpart giving a small grin as she did. “You said to find somepony I could trust, and if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?”
Having spotted Lunar Starlight Glimmer, who had returned to aid in the preparations, Sunburst couldn’t help but wince. “That’s...that’s a good question.” he declared as he approached the counterpart of his childhood friend. “Listen, about what the other me did…”
“Don’t apologize,” was Lunar Starlight’s immediate response, even as a sad grin flashed across her face. “It wasn’t you who did it, and besides, the fact that you’re just as upset about what happened is more than enough for me. That said, I do hope that Lightning didn’t hurt you too badly.”
“Just my pride,” Sunburst said with a small snort, even as the others helped Blueblood to his hooves. “I’ll give her credit: she cares a lot about you.”
Starlight merely gave a light chuckle in reply. “She really does, doesn’t she?” With that she helped the ex-Wonderbolt trainee to her feet. “My old friend give you a tough time, Dusty?”
“Nothing I couldn’t handle, GlimGlam,” Lightning said with a snort before the two gave each other a quick peck on the lips.
Needless to say, Sunburst was surprised, as was everypony else who wasn’t native to this dimension. “Whoa: didn’t see that coming,” he declared, trying to keep his jealousy down by reminding himself that this wasn’t his Starlight.
“Surprised us too, when it happened,” Lightning admitted, “but we don’t regret that it did.” She then gave the newcomer a good hard look before her features softened a bit. “You...you really aren’t him, are you?”
“No I’m not, and I never will be,” Sunburst declared, before turning towards the others, “but now I’m really curious: what’s been going on here?”
Twilight could only give a helpless shrug in reply. “It’s a long story.”
Meanwhile, back at the Castle of Friendship, Solar Applejack could only watch in confusion as Celestia scanned the secret compartment that had been hidden under Spike’s throne. “Ah just don’t understand. Twi’s avoided this place for years after…” The farm pony shook her head as she tried to ignore the heavy feeling in her heart, trying to convince herself that this’ll all be worth it in the end. “We all know how smart she is: she’d know the risk she’d be takin’ coming back ‘ere, so why’d she go an’ do it? An’ why now of all times?”
The Solar Empress wished she had those answers herself as she reached into the compartment, hoping for some clue as to what her former student had been up to...only to get it in the most painful way possible when she felt a slight burning sensation in her hoof.
Noticing this, Applejack quickly ran over to the Princess’ side. “Y’all alright?! What happened!?”
Instead of answering, Celestia simply scanned the contents of the empty compartment...and stepped back in shock upon discovering some residue from the compartments’ former contents, and more specifically, what they were capable of in their purest form. “That’s...she’s done it.Twilight’s discovered how to make a mana-siphon!”
Celestia shook her head at her ally’s question. “It’s essentially a magic sponge. As I recall, my former student’s human counterpart had unintentionally created something similar a few years back.”
Despite how the two of them were on opposing sides of this war, Applejack couldn’t help but worry about her old friend. “Ya’ll thinkin’ we might run into our own version o’ ‘Midnight Sparkle’?”
The Solar Empress shook her head. “No. Like I said, the concept is similar, but from what I felt, she has something else in mind. She intends to take my magic and set it free.” She couldn’t help but growl in defiance. “No, I’ll never be that powerless again. I’ll just have to flush her out...and our little prisoner is going to help us.”
Having heard the Empress say this, Applejack wouldn’t be able to ignore the uneasy feeling she was now feeling in her gut even if she tried.
“Back in the Lunar Republic’s secret hideout, Sunburst silently looks over Twilight’s secret weapon, all the while wondering how he’d managed to be roped into an inter-dimensional Civil War along the likes of…”
“Pinkie Pie, what are you doing?” Sunburst couldn’t help but ask as he looked up from his work.
Pinkie simply smiled in response. “Narrating, silly.”
“Heh: I’d actually forgotten how oblivious all our other friends could be at times,” Pinkamena declared as she scarfed down a cupcake, before giving the audience a smile. “Don’t worry: nopony’s baked into this thing. I haven’t gone that crazy yet…”
Little Strongheart could only shake her head in a sense of exasperated amusement as she looked upon the two pink ponies, even as she couldn’t help but wonder who exactly they were talking to. “Party ponies: can’t live with them…”
“...can’t live without ‘em,” Applejack finished with equal amounts of exasperated amusement.
Sunburst merely snorted in a mixture of amusement and agreement before holding up the weapon he had been examining. “Alright: I’m pretty sure if we head back to our world, we’ll be able to easily repair this thing.”
Rarity nodded in agreement. “Might want to bring some reinforcements on the way back.”
Here, Fluttershy, despite hating the idea of going to war, especially with mirror versions of her friends, gained a look of determination. “I’m sure if we’d ask, there’d be plenty of ponies who’d be willing to teach themselves some manners. Maybe get a few counterparts of the Lunar Republicans over here while we’re at it.”
It was at this moment, however, that Twilight Sparkle entered the room, a grim expression on her face. “Love the enthusiasm, but unfortunately, there isn’t any time for it.” With that, she set a scrying stone down on the table before them, an image of Celestia appearing before them.
“Five years ago, a tragic event cost the lives of countless Equestrian citizens,” the mare in the projection declared, obviously using similar stones to broadcast this message to the entire nation. “Overwhelmed with grief and guilt about being unable to prevent this event, one pony was driven mad. She became an agent of Disharmony, an enemy of peace, but no longer: the leader of the so-called Lunar Republic will pay for her crimes.”
Little Strongheart couldn’t help but pale at this announcement. “No: even she wouldn’t…”
“As dusk settles tonight, Twilight Sparkle will be executed at the gates of Tartarus,” The Solar Empress declared, confirming their worst fears. “May Faust have mercy on her soul.”
Princess Twilight simply deactivated the stone with a stiff nod. “Getting help will have to wait: rescuing Twilight, your Twilight, just became our top priority.”
Ember shook her head. “It’s a trap.”
“She’s right: we’ll have to be sneaky about this.” Sunburst declared.
“Sneaky how, exactly?” Blueblood couldn’t help but ask, bringing up a projection of Tartarus with his horn. “Tartarus is covered in teleportation and magic dampeners to discourage escape.”
Sunburst nodded. “True, but they only cover the prison itself. You just need to get the Princess outside of the place.”
Rainbow Dash smirked in reply. “Sounds like at least part of this will be about speed, not subtlety: count me in.” She then looked to Storm Chaser. “Want to help Prince Blueblood and Sweetie Belle coordinate things?”
Her late doppelganger’s daughter blinked. “Are...are you serious?”
Rainbow shrugged. “Well, I know I wouldn’t let the fact that I was grounded get in the way of wanting to help out, so I figure that making you feel useful would be a good compromise.”
“As much as I’d like to help save my counterpart, I’d better stay behind too then if Storm’s going to help with observing the battle,” Sci-Twi said with a teasing grin. “If she really is Rainbow’s daughter, she’ll probably go trying to charge right into battle regardless of the risk when things are at their most dangerous and if that happens, she’ll need someone...er, somepony to hold her steady when that happens.”
Lightning Dust merely snorted in reply. “Yeah, that sounds about right.” She then cleared her throat. “Still, you’ll need a diversion: to keep Celestia and her goons occupied…”
Princess Ember found herself sharing a grin with Little Strongheart and, believe it or not, Fluttershy at that suggestion. “Leave that to us.”
“Speaking of diversions, Rarity, could you make me a cloak that looks like the one my counterpart wears?” Sunburst asked. “I need to sneak into Cloudsdale. I’m hoping to use the local weather factory to aid in Twilight’s escape.”
“If you’re going to Cloudsdale, I’m coming with you,” Starlight remarked. “You’re going to need someone to cast a Cloud Walking spell for your infiltration to actually work.”
“And if she’s going, I’m going,” Lightning declared.
Here, Sunburst couldn’t help but frown. “Are you sure about this? I know for a fact that our history is less than ideal on both of our worlds.”
Prince Blueblood simply shook his head at this statement. “Whatever history you two might have, the fact remains that Cloudsdale is currently stationed just outside of Canterlot…”
“…and if your cover’s blown, you’ll need somepony watching your back.” Twilight said in agreement.
Lightning just leveled a glare at Sunburst. “Let me just make this clear. I’m not asking permission.”
Sunburst merely nodded in acknowledgement. “…fair enough, but I’ll still be keeping an eye on you.”
Sometime later, Sunburst, now dressed to look like his Solar counterpart (albeit with his usual robes stored away in a bag he was carrying), nodded to Starlight as he and Lightning readied themselves for the mission. “Welp, here we go. Quick question, though: you sure this telepathy scrambler gauze will work? No offense, but while you’re an expert in spell casting in any world, I don’t recall you having the best luck with potion work.” He shuddered. “I still remember the jello incident.”
“That was one time!”Starlight groaned out before sighing, “and in any case, five years is plenty of time for one to improve oneself.”
“...she managed to blow up the lab and Twilight’s the one who actually mixed this up, right?” Sunburst directed at Lightning, having not at all been convinced.
“Yep.” Lightning Dust said with a smile, much to his fillyfriend’s growing irritation. “Seems some things are the same in every world.” She shared a light laugh with Sunburst before clearing her throat. “In any case, you remember the plan, right?”
Sunburst nodded. “I go in, show the guards the forged documents that give us permission to move Cloudsdale that Blueblood gave us, I get out. Simple.”
“Or not,” Lightning Dust remarked as she pointed to a Pegasus wearing Solar Empire armor approaching the complex. “I recognize that guy from some files I’ve come across: he’ll be on guard duty around the time of the execution. If he catches onto our infiltration, the whole mission is botched.”
“Not a problem,” Sunburst said with a nod even as he started to walk towards the guard in question. “I’ve actually run into his counterpart more then a few times back in my world, and if there’s any semblance of the pony I used to be in my own counterpart, this shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Meanwhile, Solar Flash Sentry couldn’t help but feel a bit uneasy about this whole execution thing. There was just...there were so many ways this could go wrong no matter how he looked at it. What he wouldn’t give for a distraction right about now…
“Hey, Sentry: how’s it going?”
Solar Flash stared at the approaching Sunburst with a blink before raising his hoof. “Just one second.” He looked up at the sky. “What I wouldn’t give for a million bits right about now…” He waited a few seconds before looking down with a groan. “Pony feathers.”
Sunburst just snorted. “You better not have been hoping for a distraction just now: that’s just asking for trouble.”
Flash Sentry just groaned in response. “Sorry, I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately. You’d think after five years things would start to get less complicated, but then all of this happened!”
“Well, at least it’s not boring.”
Flash simply gave a snort to that remark. “True enough.” He then frowned though. “Actually, are you okay? Not sure what it is, exactly, but your voice seems a little off. You haven’t been overdoing it with the performance enhancing pills again, have you?”
Sunburst quietly flinched, knowing full well that the problem likely lay in the opposite direction. “Nah, just a tickle in my throat.” he lied, faking a few coughs before giving a grin. “Hopefully I’m not coming down with anything.”
The Solar guard stared at him for a bit, but simply shrugged in response. “Fair enough, I suppose. Think you’ll be good for our Friday night Oubliettes & Ogres session?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Sunburst happily declared. “Though maybe we should continue this conversation later: we’ve both got some work to take care of, don’t we?”
“I’d be inclined to agree, but there’s just one problem,” Flash declared as he got into a fighting stance. “Our sessions actually take place on Saturday nights. You’re one of the duplicates, which means you’ll be coming with me.”
Mentally kicking himself for not seeing that coming, Sunburst simply shook his head. “Not happening. This war isn’t right, and you of all ponies should know that.”
Despite having committed himself to seeing this battle through, Flash Sentry couldn’t help but tilt his head in confusion. “How do you figure that?”
Sunburst just shook his head in frustration. “Don’t you know? You never split the party!”
Needless to say, this was a tough battle. Not only was Flash the faster combatant of the two, but since Sunburst had elected not to use the performance enhancers Twilight had offered him, he was forced to rely on his own natural abilities and it went without saying that he wasn't adept at high-level spell casting. That said, it wasn't just strength and speed that determined a battle's outcome. Taking advantage of how there had been some construction going on nearby, Sunburst lured his opponent to beside a pile of unused pipes, before knocking them over with his magic. Of course, being a Pegasus, Flash quickly took flight to avoid it...right into the path of a trashcan lid that Sunburst had thrown with his hooves, subsequently knocking him to the ground in a daze. With a final kick to the head, the soldier had fallen to the wizard.
“...and you never let that darn thief out of sight~” Sunburst couldn’t help but mockingly sing as he looked upon his fallen opponent before giving a chuckle. “Luckily, I’ve rolled nat 20 on evasion.”
“Looks more like a nat 1 to me.” And that was all the warning Sunburst got before he suddenly found himself stuck in the telekinetic grasp of his own counterpart, who quickly activated a telepathy spell. “Sunburst to Marshmallow: I found a duplicate of me.”
“Understood, Darling.” Rarity, currently standing inside the Lunar Republic’s headquarters helping the others make some final preparations, declared with a smile, relieved that the gauze had worked. That said, she couldn’t help the slight twitch that entered her eye as she gave her reply. “We'll be sure to send reinforcements: Rarity out.” As she disconnected from the spell, she couldn’t help but let out a groan. “Even in another dimension, I can't escape those jokes.” All Rainbow Dash could do was pat her on the back with sympathy, understanding her pain better than most.
Back in Canterlot, Solar Sunburst couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as his counterpart continued to struggle to escape his grasp. “Don’t bother: I know my own limitations better than anypony. Why do you think I jumped on board with the Empire when they announced those enhancement pills?”
Sunburst froze upon hearing those words come out of his counterpart’s mouth. “That’s the reason you joined Celestia?!”
“It’s reason enough!” Sunburst said with a growl. “You of all ponies know how painful and frustrating it is to know so much about magic and not being able to do anything with it!”
“And what about all the ponies that get hurt or killed so that we could continue using those spells?” Sunburst yelled out. “Were their lives worth the power you’ve gained?”
“...you sound just like the little traitor,” his counterpart growled out. “Acting all high and mighty while refusing to reset the timeline so that Luna never died in the first place.”
Needless to say, Sunburst couldn’t believe what he had just heard. “That’s the reason you tossed our oldest friend away like trash? If you really knew about Starlight’s time travel escapade, you’d know that…”
“Blah blah blah paradoxes, blah blah blah worse outcomes, blah blah blah moral high ground,” Sunburst whined out with a roll of his eyes. “Tell me, Sunburst: WHAT’S THE POINT OF HAVING POWER IF YOU DON’T USE IT?!”
“And how have you used it?” Lightning demanded as she and Starlight came out of hiding. “By chugging down a few pills and letting Celestia turn Equestria, land of love and friendship, into a bucking dictatorship!”
“Don’t act so high and mighty, Dust,” Sunburst growled out. “You’re the one who helped Sombra kill Luna in the first place!”
“Yeah, she’s made some mistakes,” Starlight acknowledged, “but at least she isn’t a hypocrite like you. I know that you have enough of a power boost with those pills of yours that if you really wanted to, you could’ve gone back in time yourself if it really bothered you that much, but you haven’t: why?”
“Because if he did, those pills would never have been created in the first place,” Sunburst declared, already knowing the answer. “Despite all his claims that he doesn’t care about the damage done to the time stream such a plan could potentially have, he knows that if he did this, he’d undo everything that gave him the power he now has, and that’s all he really cares about anymore.”
Sunburst just glared in reply, using his magic to tighten his grip on his doppelganger. “Shut up.”
The scholarly pony winced, but continued regardless. “I’m going to take a guess and say that he was one of the first ponies they tested the drug on, and for somepony who never knew what power felt like, the sensation was addicting. The thing about addictions, though, is that it can change who a pony really is. In fact, Starlight probably approached him, showing concern about the type of pony he was becoming.”
“Shut up!” Sunburst growled out, his horn glowing brighter as his grip tightened once again.
Despite it getting harder to breath, Sunburst just grinned, already knowing where this was going. “But you didn’t see our childhood friend being concerned when that happened. Oh, no: you saw a little pony trying to take away the power you coveted your whole life, so instead of saying to yourself: ‘Hey, maybe she’s right: maybe helping Celestia kill some ponies who might not even deserve it was a bad call. Maybe I should try not using these pills for a while,’ you cut ties with her completely, chasing her right into the arms of the Lunar Republic and by extension Lightning Dust herself.”
“SHUT UP!” Sunburst yelled out, looking ready to snap his counterpart’s neck...only for him to suddenly get thrown back by his own horn exploding from how much energy he was putting through it. Needless to say, he was shocked at this latest development even as his now free counterpart approached him, rubbing his own sore neck as he did. “Wha…?”
“‘Possible side effects include, but are not limited to, mood swings, insomnia, and, in rare cases, crippling magic surges,’” Sunburst recited off what he had read in Twilight’s notes before coming here. “I knew that if I got you riled up enough that this might happen, given how many of those pills you take on a daily basis, but I had been hoping to avoid that. Once I knew how little you cared about our lives, however, I stopped caring about preserving what little magic you had before you started taking that drug.” That was all the warning Sunburst got before his counterpart started slugging him in the face. “How’s it feel to have somepony stronger than you not give a damn about your feelings? How’s it feel to be the victim?”
Sunburst, however, simply gave a dark chuckle. “That’s right: you’re the stronger one now.” He smiled as his counterpart stopped, his horn lit and his fist ready to throw another punch. “It feels good, doesn’t it? The power, the sensation of not being a failure? Trust me: you don’t need those pills to get that feeling. Go on then: be the stronger stallion. Show me your power! END ME!”
To his counterpart’s shock and confusion, however, Sunburst shook his head and extinguished his horn, backing away as he did. “I’ll never let the pain, the darkness determine who I am. I will never be you.”
“Still as weak as ever, I see,” the now powerless Unicorn declared.
“You don’t understand, do you?” Sunburst said with a shake of his head, “Valuing life is not weakness, and disregarding it is not strength. Besides, it’s not me you have to worry about.”
Needless to say, Sunburst quickly paled upon realizing that Starlight Glimmer and Lightning Dust were still nearby, giving a weak chuckle as they approached. “You know, with the benefit of hindsight…”
Starlight didn’t even let him finish as she blasted her former friend and fillyhood crush into a wall. “That’s for breaking my heart.”
“And this is for all the lives you’ve helped Celestia take,” Lightning declared as she slugged the stallion in the jaw, knocking him out, before giving a sigh. “It’s over.”
“Not yet it’s not,” Sunburst declared, looking to Cloudsdale with determination. “We’ve still got a job to do.” Turning back, however, he sighed as he noted how Lightning’s wing was draped over Starlight’s shoulder. “Take care of her for me, okay?”
“Only if you promise to look after your Starlight.” Lightning replied with an easygoing nod.
It had taken longer than expected, and they had needed to take a quick detour to one of the Lunar Republic’s satellite bases to make sure that Sunburst’s Solar counterpart was secure - just because he was powerless now didn’t mean that he wasn’t still a threat, after all - but the trio had managed to secure a route into Cloudsdale and by extension the Weather Factory. As soon as they got in, however, Sunburst surprised his two companions by setting a scrying stone on a nearby table and casting a quick spell on it, nodding to himself as he did. “Alright, this will let us listen in on the Empire’s telepathy chatter: let us know if they catch on to our little sabotage.”
Starlight Glimmer couldn’t help but give a low whistle in response even as Sunburst put the stone back in his saddlebag for safekeeping. “You really are different from ourSunburst: he’d never be able to do that so quickly.”
Sunburst chuckled in reply. “I can’t take all the credit: when his magic surge blew his horn out, yourSunburst accidentally let me in on a few of the Empire’s secrets via some residue of the telepathy spell he had cast earlier.” Turning to the others, he gained an impish grin. “Fun fact: Queen Chrysalis is a bed-wetter.”
Lightning Dust wouldn’t have been able to contain the amused snort that escaped her even if she tried. “No wonder GlimGlam had a crush on you as a filly: you’re actually a pretty cool stallion when you aren’t working for an insane dictator,” she admitted before moving towards the door, something which her fillyfriend immediately noticed.
“Don’t go too far, Dusty,” Starlight warned. “We only get one shot at this, so we can’t afford to get caught.”
“I won’t be long,” Lightning promised. “Just paying a visit to an old friend.”
Sometime later, the ex-Wonderbolt trainee sucked in a breath as she approached her destination: a field of flowers that were replaced on regular basis surrounding by torches and prismatic fountains, all surrounding a statue with a plague that read the following: “Here lies Rainbow Dash: The Most Loyal Wonderbolt, Friend, and Mother You’d Ever Know.”
“It’s not a bad likeness, Dash,” Lightning admitted as she looked upon the place where the ashes of the mare she owed her life to had been spread, “but we both know that it pales in comparison to the real thing.” She sighed. “Sorry I haven’t visited before now, but you know better than anypony that I had a rather large target on my back even before...well, you know. Storm Chaser’s been doing great, by the way, though she did wind up getting grounded for sneaking out of the base to try and help with a mission. One thing’s for sure: she is definitely your daughter.”
She couldn’t help but give a bitter chuckle. “Still can’t believe you stated that you wanted to be cremated in your will, but then again, you never did like being grounded in life, so why would you want to be trapped underground in death? That and your counterpart did mention how you wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. ...oh, right: Twilight managed to bring your counterpart and some of your friends over from another Equestria. They’re helping us with the final stretch. I can feel it: we’re this close to winning this war.”
Lightning gave a sigh as she whipped a tear from her eye. “I just wish you were here to see it all. ...I miss you. Yeah, I never thought I’d hear me say it either, but I do. Having your counterpart here doesn’t help as much as you’d think it might: it’s like I’m talking to your ghost, and...well, don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful that you managed to indirectly introduce me to Soarin and the others, but I don’t know: sometimes I wish I had a sign that I deserved to survive for this long.”
“It won’t be long now.”
Lightning perked up as she heard this, quickly hiding behind a pillar to listen in on what was being said, gasping as one of Queen Chrysalis' changelings carrying a sinister looking crystal. Acting quickly, Lightning tackled the changeling to the ground, accidentally knocking the crystal into one of the surrounding prismatic pools. “What are you doing?!”
“It’s not what I’m doing, Republican scum: it’s what I’ve done!” was the changeling’s smug reply as the pool began to bubble. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Lunar Lunacy’ or ‘Cloudsdale Crashes’!”
“...you intend to destroy the city and blame it all on us,” Lightning gasped out. “Chrysalis and her changelings really have been using this war for their own benefit!”
“From the second our alliance with the Empress was made,” the drone admitted. “And at any rate, you’re too late: my companions will have made their own sabotages to the floating city. Now Equestria will watch in horror as the legendary Rainbow Dash’s precious home is destroyed before their eyes, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
“Wrong!” she declared as she knocked the Changeling out before taking out a scrying stone. “Starlight: how long would it take us to evacuate Cloudsdale...and before you ask, Chrysalis was going to destroy the city even if I hadn’t stumbled upon one of her Changelings!”
“So the Changeling Queen is double crossing Celestia: why am I not surprised?” Starlight groaned out, before sighing. “Shouldn’t take any longer than about a couple hours or so if we do everything just right, and I’ll see about spreading the word among the populace so that they can’t pin this on us, but we’ve got another problem: Sunburst and I just picked some chatter from deeper into the city. Looks like there are still two Solar Empire loyalists that weren’t informed about Cloudsdale’s change in location.”
“I’ll check it out.” Lightning declared, though pausing as the wind blew past her ears, causing her to blink in shock: it might have just been her imagination, but she could’ve sworn she heard a certain rainbow-haired Pegasus’ voice saying “Run, Lightning, Run!”
Even still, she teared up as she took one last look at the Loyal Pegasus’ final resting place. “I promise, I’ll make you proud...sis.” She wasn’t sure why she added that last bit, but she couldn’t help but think that it felt right.
As it turned out, Lightning actually knew these Loyalists. It seemed that Fluttershy and Scootaloo had come here and the last minute to pay a visit to the graves of Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles, Rainbow Dash’s parents, having passed away not long after their daughter: rumors continue to abound that the cause of death had been a broken heart.
“You ever wonder if we’re doing the right thing helping Celestia? I can’t deny that some of the stuff with Little Strongheart and Ember’s doppelganger have made me look at some of the past few years in a different light.” Scootaloo, the late Rainbow Dash’s honorary little sister, couldn’t help but admit.
Fluttershy nodded in understanding. “I have to admit that sometimes I do think we might be taking things too far. But then, I remember some of the points that Celestia made. For instance, what if what happened to Luna happened to Zephyr or my parents? Yes, Zephyr gets on my nerves a lot, but I still don't dislike him enough to want him dead - or even seriously hurt.”
Scootaloo sighed as she shrugged in reply. “Yeah, it made sense at first. Bad ponies got what they deserved, but now?”
Understanding where her friend was going with this, Fluttershy shook her head in frustration. “The Empress isn’t going to kill the other world’s Twilight: she’s just bait. You know: to help us catch ourTwilight?”
“And then what?” Scootaloo growled out, pointing to the graves as she did. “Remember what happened to Rainbow? I know it wasn’t the Ursa that made that gash on her chest!”
“Scoots, I…” Whatever Rainbow’s childhood friend was going to say, however, was soon cut off as the animal lover noticed some of the rainbow-colored rivers started to bubble, her eyes going wide as she realized what this means. “Something’s not right: somepony sabotaged the weather factory.”
“Not somepony,” Lightning growled out as she threw the Changeling she had captured at their feet. “Somechangeling.”
“What are you doing here?” Scootaloo demanded.
“Saving your lives, apparently,” the ex-Wonderbolt trainee easily declared, nodding to Changeling as she did. “I caught that thing sabotaging the rainbow fountains. Said there were others like him as well.”
“Oh, come on: you really expect us to…”
It was here the Changeling in question woke up with a growl. “If you think this will stop our plans to destroy this place, you’ve got another thing…” Needless to say, he realized too late that he had said this right in front of Celestia’s supporters, and paled. “Uh, it was the Republic’s idea?”
“Try the other one: it has bells.” Fluttershy growled out, quickly knocking the Changeling out again, nodding to an enraged Scootaloo as she did. “Take him back to the holding cells: I’ll join up with you after I’ve helped Lightning with the evacuation.”
“Yeah, I...what?!” Needless to say, Lightning was surprised to have heard this.
Fluttershy sighed. “Just this once, I’ll let you walk away when everything is said and done, seeing how you put yourself at risk to inform us of the situation.”
Lightning just gave a bittersweet smile in response. “Just because those in the Solar Republic would leave me to die doesn’t mean I’d do the same to them.” She then paused. “Huh: that’s the same thing Rainbow said about me after she took a magic bolt for me.”
Scootaloo just gave a sad smirk return. “Yeah: sounds like something she’d do. I’ll inform some of our Unicorns of the situation to help speed the evacuation process up a bit. The city can be rebuilt, the weather factory can be restored, but living beings aren’t so easily replaced.”
Lightning Dust could only chuckle in reply. “Well said, kiddo. You aren’t a bad filly: just fighting for the wrong side. Still, I can see why Rainbow held you in such high regard.”
Sometime later, Lightning re-entered the chamber Sunburst was in. “Whatever you plan to do with this place, make it fast: I managed to convince some of the Empire’s stooges to help us - enemy of my enemy and all that jazz - but we all know this place won’t last too long.”
Sunburst nodded. “I’ll be cutting it close, but I should still be able to make this work.”
“Nice to have that brilliant mind fighting on our side for once.”
Sunburst merely rolled his eyes in response. “Got my hooves full Blueblood: what do you want?”
Lightning could only shake her head in frustration upon seeing Sunburst’s horn alit, quickly guessing what was going on. “Have I mentioned how much I hate that telepathy spell? As they only work with Unicorns, I’m always in the dark half the time about what’s being said.”
“Oh, so, Lightning’s in the room with you.” Prince Blueblood declared, being able to pick this up from Sunburst’s thoughts. “Just one minute.” With this, Blueblood switched to producing an image of himself from one of Sunburst’s scrying stones. “Is this more to your preference, Dust?”
“I’m not going to ask again: what do you want?” Sunburst growled out, having just as much patience for the Prince here as he did back home.
“Right, I’ll get to the point,” Celestia’s nephew said with a nod. “I need you back here in Ponyville, Lightning.”
“What for?” the ex-Wonderbolt trainee couldn’t help but ask.
“I’ve learned that Filthy Rich has gotten his hooves on some prototype technology that may allow me to repair, and also improve upon, Twilight’s anti-Alicorn weapon,” the Prince went on to explain. “I need you to bring it to me.”
Here, Sunburst couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow. “Does Twilight know about this?”
“No, she would’ve insisted on using the weapon herself: I need to do it” Prince Blueblood declared. “Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, is the face of the Lunar Republic, as ironic as that might sound. If she dies, it dies with her.”
Needless to say, Sunburst was surprised at this revelation. “Prince Blueblood willing to sacrifice himself to save Twilight Sparkle. Even when I’m standing in another dimension, I never thought I would see the day.”
Lightning Dust merely gave a determined nod. “Just tell me what you need me to do.”
Speaking of Twilight Sparkle, the Lunar Rupublican Princess was currently traveling up the riverbank towards Tartarus alongside Rainbow Dash, quickly lighting her horn as she did. “Pinkie, I need you to get your troops into position: occupy any law enforcement you can.” She’d long given up trying to understand how an Earth Pony was compatible with her telepathy spell: after all, it wasPinkie Pie.
“You got it Sparkle,” Pinkamena declared, before deciding to do one last thing before she did. “Alright, Sombra, even prisoners deserve a meal every now and aga…” ...and that was as far as she got before she froze at what she saw: one of her troops dead on the ground, his blood used to write the following message: “You can’t lock up the Darkness.”
Needless to say, Pinkamena was not happy. “He...he Pinkie Promised that he wouldn’t leave without my permission.” she declared, the crazed look in her eye somehow becoming even crazier. “NOPONY BREAKS A PINKIE PROMISE!”
Elsewhere, King Sombra paused upon feeling a shudder run down his spine, idly wondering if it was time to replace his cloak as he led a good few dozen of Pinkamena’s Shadow Party members through the streets, now carrying actual weapons instead of modified party supplies. He’d admit that some of them had been good ponies, once, but if there was one thing he was good at, it was revealing who ponies really were in the dark. Twilight and Pinkamena might not have wanted somepony like him in charge, but they’d certainly managed to recruit quite a few members that did.
Meanwhile, back in Ponyville, Rarity could only grumble to herself as she entered the warehouse that Flim and Flam had set up shop. “Make this quick, Darlings,” she groaned out. “I’m needed elsewhere.”
“Thought you should be the one to see something my brother and I had found,” Flim declared, using his horn to bring a projection of a map of Equestria up in front of them, a dot blinking in certain location. “A few of our inventions have picked up a strange energy in this general area: care to guess what our theory of where they originated?”
“The Lunar Republic,” Rarity said with a gasp. “This is where those counterparts of ours are appearing from.”
Flam shrugged. “Admittedly, my brother and I don’t have anything concrete, but we’ve already sent this information over to somepony to pass on to Fluttershy after she gets back from some personal business she insisted on partaking in.”
“Not a bad plan,” Lightning Dust admitted as she showed herself, “She’d be able to find us faster than almost anypony. Maybe she’ll get lucky and free you from our holding cells while she’s at it.”
“What are you doing here, Dust?” Rarity demanded.
“Oh, just thought I’d pick up something that the Republic needs,” was Lightning’s casual reply. “And don’t bother trying to stop me. I was able to keep up with Rainbow Dash in her heyday: you really think you’d be able to capture me?”
“Why not? We managed to do it before,” Rarity said with a growl as she charged forward.
The battle that followed was a rather short lived one. While it was true that Rarity was a tough opponent to beat, Lightning Dust had had five years to learn to reign in her recklessness and build herself up to be more like a certain late rainbow-haired Pegasus. Combined with her natural speed, and the ex-Wonderbolt trainee was easily able to pin to the ground.
“The difference between you and the ponies who actually captured me? They managed to catch me off guard.” Lightning declared as she looked down at the defeated former fashionista, before turning to Flim and Flam, who looked surprisingly calm. “Don’t tell me that you think you can take me down?”
“Oh, no, we aren’t going to fight you,” Flim declared with a smug grin. “You’re going to give yourself up to us willingly.”
“And why would I do that?”
“Because if you don’t, you’ll be responsible for two of Applejack’s loved ones dying,” Flam remarked as his horn glowed, telekinetically floating something into the room.
Needless to say, Lightning was shocked at what, or rather who, was standing...er, floating before her. “Apple Bloom?!”
“That’s right: Applejack’s little sister,” Flim said with a grin. “We thought that somepony from the Republic might show up, so my brother and I brought her here as a contingency. Surrender or I remove her from this healing bubble, all but sealing her fate.”
“Wait, what?!” The Solar Flim/Flam brothers yelled out.
“For once we agree,” Rarity declared with equal amounts of shock at this declaration. “I knew you were reckless but…”
“It’s not being reckless: she should have been out of that bubble four-and-a-half years ago.”
To say Rarity was shocked would be an understatement. “Wha...What?! But the Solar Empress said…”
“Ah, yes, Celestia,” Lightning drawled out with a roll of her eyes. “If she says something’s a certain way, it must be true.”
“Enough!” Flam yelled out, taking out a knife and holding it to Apple Bloom’s comatose throat, sweating bullets as he did. “Surrender now or I’ll…” ...and that was as far as the threat got before Rarity blasted the knife out of his grasp.
“What are you doing?!” Flim yelled out, his brother likewise shocked at this latest development, only for them both to earn a glare from the former fashionista, who had finally had enough of the greed of the twin Unicorns, and likewise realizing how just how greedy she herself had been in ignoring the safety of the ponies around her in favor of punishing the (supposed) ruffians Celestia had placed in front of her, some of whom she finally realized likely hadn’t even needed to be punished.
“Something I should have been doing for years,”Rarity declared with all this in mind even as she pushed Lightning Dust off of her and got into a fighting stance. “Being the Element of Generosity!”
Luckily for the EX-Solar Empire loyalist, Lightning Dust was more than willing to aid Rarity protecting the comatose farm filly from the latter’s former allies. That said, however, the battle that followed was not easy: the Flim/Flam brothers, at their core, might have been a couple of cowards, but with the situation as it was, they were cowards who were desperate for their own self-preservation, and an opponent is at their most desperate when they feel cornered. That said, like Lightning had said, she had only been captured by the Solar Empire because it’s soldiers had gotten lucky and the nature of luck is that it always runs out. Combined with how she and her former enemy were now working together and it really wasn’t a surprise that the two con ponies soon themselves knocked out cold.
Rarity couldn’t help but scoff as she looked upon the two defeated Unicorn brothers. “Consider this my resignation.” She then scrunched up her face as she looked herself over. “Oh, dear: I really have let myself become a rather frightful sight. I don’t suppose there will be time for a trip to the spa before you take me back to the Lunar Republic’s base of operations?”
“Good to have you back,” Lightning said with a smile, her mind instantly turning towards Sweetie Belle. “And I know a certain filly who’ll be ecstatic to see you.” She then cleared her throat. “First thing’s first though.” She took out a scrying stone as she approached the item Prince Blueblood had described. “GlimGlam: let the big guy know that I’ve got the item he needed to repair Twilight’s weapon.”
“Nice work, Dusty,” Starlight proclaimed with a grin. “After so long, it’s like we finally have hope.”
Lightning couldn’t help but chuckle at what her fillyfriend had said. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” she declared as she looked over towards Lunar Rarity, who was already working to help her move Apple Bloom back to base. “I know what you mean.”
Meanwhile, back in the Equestria we all know and love, Spike, having returned from his diplomatic mission, couldn’t help but shake his head in frustration. “Run that past me one more time?”
Sunset, having finished re-examining the portal, merely sighed in reply. “We successfully bridged the gap between the dimension where our friends have ended up, but we ended up pouring too much energy into the portal during the initial activation. Combined with how, if the readings Starlight and I found are right, that the other world in question has its own portal set up somewhere, we ended up accidentally causing a feedback loop that resulted in Pinkie Pie and Sunburst being sucked into the other dimension.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought you said,” Spike declared with a groan.
“We’ll continue to work on the portal to help make their return trip run more smoothly,” Celestia reassured her former student’s number one assistant, “but for now, I’m sure wherever Twilight is, she’s got plenty of ponies who are ready and willing to help her out.”
Just outside of Tartarus, Twilight Sparkle, leader of the Lunar Republic, couldn’t help but let out a sneeze. “Ugh, I really hope I’m not coming down with a cold or something.” Shaking her head to try and get her thoughts back together, she activated a scrying stone to address all of her allies just before she and the brash Pegasus entered the compound. “Everypony, Rainbow Dash and I are in position: begin the assault.”
Meanwhile, at Tartarus’ gate, The Solar Empress and her allies waited with baited breath for whatever assault on the hellish prison her former student had planned out. Still, even she was vaguely surprised with what happened came over the horizon: one huge army, consisting of Dragons, Buffalo, and just about every animal that sprung to mind (and even a few that didn’t) coming over the next hill, all led by the very determined looking trio of Dragon Lord Ember, Little Strongheart, and Fluttershy. Celestia would be lying if she said that she wasn’t somewhat impressed by the gathered forces: there had been more Dragons and Buffalo who had been opposed to her rule than she had anticipated and it seemed that Fluttershy’s talent with animals was something to behold in any world. Even still, she’d come too far to stop now. “Take them down,” was her sole command to her forces before the battle began.
Back inside of Tartarus, Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but look towards her companion. “You have the explosives secure?”
“Right here,” Rainbow confirmed as she patted her saddlebag, “and I’m guessing you have the backup explosives for in case those fail and/or we need some extra 'OOMPH' at some point.”
“Not the most subtle plan, I admit,” Princess Twilight replied as she patted her own saddlebag, “but hopefully, Celestia will be too focused on the fight outside to notice us.”
“I don’t know,” Rainbow admitted as she scanned the surrounding areas. “It feels too easy. Like there should have still been one or two guards inside the...look out!” And that was all the warning Twilight got before the Loyal Pegasus pushed her to the ground, the two of them just barely dodging the magical blast as they did.
“You always did have sharp instincts and even sharper reflexes, Dash,” Solar Flash Sentry declared as he and the Thorax-look-alike from the assault on the Shadow Party came around the corner, the former quickly nodding to the latter. “I’ll deal with Sparkle.You deal with Rainbow, though remember to try and take her alive: we might need her to help us determine who the next Element of Loyalty will be.”
“No promises,” the Changeling declared as he stretched some joints before tackling the Pegasus out of the area.
As soon as they were gone, however, Flash’s features softened significantly. “Hello, Twilight. Still rocking the ‘hot librarian’ look, I see.”
“Save it, Sentry,” was the Lunar Republic’s leader said with a snarl. “Four years. Four years you stayed with the cause, and I’ll admit, if you had come to me with a ring when the fifth year began, I would’ve said ‘Yes’, but it wasn’t a ring you arrived with, was it?”
Here, Flash couldn’t help but growl with frustration. “I was cool with us fighting the Empire ourselves, but then you went and decided to get ponies from another dimension involved. What: getting ponies from our own dimension killed wasn’t enough for you?”
“I didn’t want that sort of blood on my hooves,” Twilight snarled back, “and besides, you saw the same images through the inter-dimensional scrying spell that I did. That they’re just as committed to protecting ponies as we are. As you used to be!”
“You know, I was going to try and convince you to leave this war behind,” Flash admitted as he got into a fighting stance, “but it seems there’s still one pony that needs to die before…” ...and that was far as he got before he suddenly dropped to the ground, holding his head. “N...no! I...I won’t let you…”
Needless to say, Twilight was shocked at this turn of events. “The re-education camps. Celestia must’ve managed to lure you into one. It hasn’t been you that was fighting us this past year, has it?”
“Sh...shut up!” Flash yelled out, his eyes scrunched up in pain. “All I care about is getting rid of...ugh, Twilight just take me out and get your counterpart out of here. I’ll be fine!”
Twilight simply nodded in reply, a tear leaking from her eye as she did. “Sorry, Sentry: I’ll try to make this as painless as possible for you.”
The fight that followed was, in a word, intense. Being former lovers, the two of them knew each other’s moves like the back of their hoof, so it was difficult for either to get a good hit in. Difficult, but not impossible, especially when Flash was fighting himself more than he was with the Lunar Republic’s leader. In the end, with how powerful he knew Twilight was, all he needed to do was let her get one hit in, which she eventually managed to do, blasting him into a wall, quickly knocking him out and ending the battle as she did.
Twilight couldn’t help but shake her head in frustration: she didn’t want to leave the stallion laying here, but she couldn’t risk her counterpart’s life by taking the compromised Pegasus with her. “We’ll find a way to get your mind straight after this: I promise.” she declared, giving him a quick peck on the cheek before flying off to aid Rainbow in her battle.
Speaking of whom, the Loyal Pegasus could only growl even as she continued to grapple with the Thorax look-alike. “Spike stood up for you. Starlight taught you a better way. Neither of them would want you to do this!”
The Changeling merely snorted in reply as he pushed the Pegasus to the ground. “I'm notThorax.”
Twilight growled as she just barely managed to shield Rainbow from the Changeling’s attack. “This is Pharynx, Chrysalis's most loyal soldier and Thorax's sorely misguided brother.”
“It was my brother that was sorely misguided.” Pharynx growled out. “He would have made the Changelings too soft to properly defend themselves with what Spike and Starlight taught him. Celestia and Chrysalis both understand the value of strength better than you ever did!”
“I understand all too well that sometimes a direct approach is necessary,” Twilight retorted, “but even still, while part of me does hope that your counterpart might discover the Magic of Friendship in my doppelganger's reality, I’ve lost all my compassion for you when you killed Spike.”
“Wait, what?!” Rainbow gasped out. “I thought you said that he died in the hospital.”
“He did, except that it wasn’t from natural causes,” the Princess replied. “Despite what the Empire might claim, he was murdered in his sleep...and I should know: I was there when you slit his throat, Pharynx.”
“He was just a Dragon,” the rogue Changeling retorted with a roll of his eyes. “No big deal, right?”
“Hence why I’ve lost all compassion for you: I’d have thought you of all creatures would understand,” Twilight Sparkle growled out as she forced her opponent back. “Thorax was your brother, but Spike was mine!”
The humans have a saying: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Needless to say, Pharynx was quickly learning that it had just as much truth to it in Equestria. True, he was physically stronger then his brother and a number of his fellow Changelings, but when going up against an angry Alicorn with an ax to grind, it was only a matter of time before he…
...wait, she’s not…
I think she is…
She...she wouldn’t. She...ooh, she DID!
OUCH: right in the kiwis!
...welp: this Pharynx definitely won’t be having kids anytime soon.
Let’s...let’s just move on, shall we?
“Thorax was, is, and always will be a much stronger Changeling then you will ever be.” Twilight growled out as she secured her fallen opponent.
“You know, our Spike is still alive,” Rainbow felt the need to point out as she helped the Republic’s leader secure the rogue Changeling. “I’m sure if you’d ask, our Twilight would let you spend some time with him.”
Lunar Twilight couldn’t help but snort in reply. “Maybe we should wait until after we’ve finished the mission before we start planning any inter-dimensional vacations.”
Meanwhile, Celestia’s guards were holding their own against the army the inter-dimensional/multi-species commanders lead into battle. The Empress herself, however, had had just about enough of the interference of the alternate Ember and Fluttershy...and come to think of it, she supposed that she did have a policy concerning traitors that she needed to enact in regards to Little Strongheart. With all that in mind, she blasted the Dragon Lord out of the sky before charging the Buffalo Chief’s daughter. Fluttershy, bless her soul, did move to try and stop the attack by employing “The Stare”, but while it did knock the High Councilor of the Solar Empire off-balance temporarily, she quickly rallied herself, blasting the two allies back a good distance. “A good try, Fluttershy,” she felt the need to point out, “but in the millennium that I’ve lived, do you honestly think you’re the only pony I’ve come across with access to that trick? Even if I hadn’t built up a tolerance against it, however, I wouldn’t let even you stop me from restoring order to this world.”
“Good thing she’s not alone then.” And that was all the warning Celestia got before she herself was blasted out of the sky. “Now you’ll face the wrath of the Great and Powerful Trixie and her allies!” Lunar Trixie yelled out as she, Soarin, Applejack, and Rarity joined in on the battle. Not too long after, however, one of the rogue Changelings attempted to charge the illusionist...only to be stopped in his tracks when a whip found itself around his neck
“Sorry I’m late,” Lunar A.K. Yearling/Daring Do declared as she slammed the would-be assailant into the ground. “Had to stop some of Celestia’s more radical followers from trying to release the Pony of Shadows as a means of destroying us. Shame too: we could’ve really used the help of Starswirl the Bearded and his companions right about now.”
“We’ll see about working to free him and the other Pillars when this is all said and done.” Soarin said with an understanding nod even as he kicked one of Celestia’s guards away from him. “But for now let’s focus on the task at hoof.”
Back inside of Tartarus, Princess Twilight Sparkle couldn’t help but wince, both in regards to the injuries she had received from her torture sessions and towards the light that suddenly flooded her dark cell. After blinking a few times to clear up her vision, however, she couldn’t help but give a bitter chuckle upon realizing who it was that stood before her. “So, you’re what all the fuss has been about.” she jokingly declared to her counterpart.
Twilight Sparkle, leader of the Lunar Republic, merely snorted in reply even as she removed her counterpart’s horn clamp and shackles. “Funny: I could almost say the same about you. Come on, let’s get you out of here, your Highness.”
“That is something you shall not do,” Solar Zecora declared as she walked out from behind a pillar. “This is the end of the Republic and you.”
“I’ll need to remember to scan everycreature we capture for possible mental tampering when this war is over,” Lunar Twilight remarked as she readied herself for battle against her former ally. “But for now, I won’t be going down without a fight.”
“I believe there’s been a misunderstanding here,” was Zecora’s reply as she took out some powder from her satchel. “It is not I who you’ll be fighting, but your fear.” And that was all the warning Twilight got before the Zebra shaman blew the powder into her face.
Coughing a bit, the Lunar Republic’s leader shook her head in frustration. “This won’t stop me from trying to take down Celesta, you know.”
“It should be: resisting didn’t do me any favors.”
Needless to say, Twilight had not been prepared to hear those words, or more specifically, who had said those words. “Rainbow?!”
“Been a while, Egghead,” Rainbow Dash,herRainbow Dash, remarked...and yet at the same time, she knew that this wasn’t the Lunar Republican that she once knew: not if the decaying flesh and hate-filled eyes she saw were anything to go by. “You’d be amazed how quickly I jumped onboard with the Empress when the offer to not be dead anymore was offered to me. It’s more than you ever did for me.”
“You’re not Rainbow: she’d never say something like that. You’re not real!” Twilight fearfully declared, though she couldn’t deny that a part of her feared that a good number of her fallen allies would indeed turn against her if Celestia managed to bring them back, as crazy as the notion of her not doing it to Luna first might have been: that she wasn’t as capable a leader as she tried to be.
“Rainbow” merely snorted in reply. “I’m real enough to defeat you!”
As it turned out, real or not, “Rainbow’s” words weren’t all bluster: Twilight could practically feel the blows coming, the severity of them only serving to showcase just how much the Loyal Pegasus’ death had affected her. Despite all this, the Princess of Friendship held firm. Maybe she could have found a way for her friend to survive that fateful night. Maybe she could have found a way to survive this long against Celestia’s enhanced troops besides sending Rainbow behind enemy lines to retrieve the formula and fight fire with fire. Maybe she could’ve avoided this war completely if she had simply made a different choice somewhere down the line. However, if there was one choice that she’d never regret making, it would be choosing to fight for the freedom of Equestria’s citizens. Besides, focusing on the “what ifs” never helped anypony before, so it wasn’t going to help her now.
“Whatever you are, you’re right about one thing: my actions led to Rainbow’s death, and I can’t change that,” the Lunar Republic’s founder and leader admitted, “but I can make sure that it meant something, so go back to whatever dark corner you came from and stay there!” With that, she unleashed a large blast of magical energy, managing to hit the undead pony head on as she did. As she collapsed to her knees in exhaustion and the visage of the Loyal Pegasus faded away, however...well, maybe it was just her imagination, but she could’ve sworn that the zombie pony actually smiled at her in a way more reminiscent of her late friend before it disappeared completely.
Zecora, meanwhile, merely gave a chuckle as Twilight stood there panting, having apparently dealt with the hallucination her powder had conjured up. “Defeating that phantom was quite a sight,” she admitted, taking out some more powder, “Shall we see if you can handle another fright?”
Fortunately for the Republic’s leader, she wouldn’t have to find out, as her counterpart - having managed to get out of her cell with some help from the real Rainbow, who had managed to sneak around the Zebra while Twilight was dealing with the illusion - clocked the shaman against back of her head, swiftly knocking her out in the process. “I hope for your sake that you are under some sort of mind control,” the Princess declared even as she held back a wince, the earlier maneuver having agitated her wounds. “It’s about the only reason you should be getting any enjoyment out of the pain and misery of others.”
“Got that right,” Rainbow remarked before giving Lunar Twilight a quick embrace, having guessed what it was that she had been seeing. “It wasn’t me. Whatever it was that that fake said, I’d never be able to hate you for something that was my own choice. I mean, you heard Lightning Dust: the other me knew that there was a chance that going after the Ursa might end up killing her, but she did so regardless. She’d forgive you for what happened. I forgive you for what happened.”
“Thank you,” Twilight said with a watery smile. “I...I needed to hear that.”
“That’s what friends are for, right?” Princess Twilight remarked, before her eyes went wide upon noticing something in the distance, quickly lighting her horn as she did. “Watch out!” And that was all the warning Rainbow and Lunar Twilight got before Princess Twilight let out a blast from her horn to intercept a large rock that had been tossed in their direction.
“Other Sparkle Pony smash good,” Solar Prince Rutherford declared. “Think you smash good again?”
Needless to say, Lunar Twilight could only give a tired sigh in return. “Celestia got to Yakyakistan too, huh?”
“Yaks tried to smash Sun Pony like Sparkle Pony did, but Yaks got smashed instead.” Prince Rutherford explained. “Now only way Yaks not get smashed again is if Yaks smash Sparkle Pony and friends. It not personal.”
Needless to say, the fight that followed was not easy. Twilight - both of them - were heavily exhausted from their more recent ordeal(s), and to make things even more complicated, they had to refrain from using their magic so that they’d have enough to teleport out of here when all of this was over. Luckily for them, however, Rainbow Dash was more then willing to aid them in taking on Solar Rutherford, and while she might not have been as smart as the Alicorn(s) in question, that didn’t make her dumb. Case in point, she was able to take advantage of how they were technically in a cave and that they had brought some explosives along with them by luring the Yak under a stalactite that she had managed to stick some dynamite to before blowing it up, managing to knock out the Prince with the resulting rubble.
“I know,” Lunar Twilight said in reply to the Yak Prince’s earlier comment as she looked upon his defeated form. “You’re just trying to survive, the same as everycreature else, and that’s why it hurts so much.”
Princess Twilight merely nodded. “When friends go to war with each other, everypony loses.”
Rainbow could only shake her head in agreement. “Let’s just get out of here, shall we? The sooner we stop this war, the better.”
Meanwhile, Rarity, having tried to assault Celestia in an effort to protect her friends, soon found herself being choked out by the Solar Empress. Lunar Daring Do, having noticed this, dive bombed the Alicorn to try and force her to drop the Element of Generosity...which she did. Good news? Fluttershy and Ember were there to catch the fashionista before she could hit the ground. Bad news? The explorer found herself within the Empress’ grip instead, which was threatening to tear her wings off. Before she could, however, Celestia took note of an explosion that blew out one of the walls of the hellish prison below her. “So that’s your game, huh?” she growled out, dropping the adventurous Pegasus before flying off to confront her former student.
Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but worry as she noticed that she and her two hadn’t teleported away yet. “Uh, shouldn’t we be disappearing right about now?”
Twilight merely looked up as Cloudsdale made it’s arrival on the scene before giving a nod. “We just need to get a little further away from here before…” ...and that was as far as the Lunar Republic’s leader got before a very familiar face showed up. “Ah, pony feathers.”
“Did you really think you could fool me,Twilight?” Celestia growled out as she blocked the trio’s path. “Like he did?”
“This isn’t about Sombra,” was Twilight’s immediate retort. “It’s about you.”
“I perfected this world,” The Empress rebuked, not noticing how Twilight and Rainbow gave each other a slight nod before subtly sliding closer to the edge of the path they were standing on. “So many lives lost because I held back, when I should have been using all of my power.”
“To do what?!” The Lunar Republic’s leader barked back even as she and her two companions moved towards the edge of the cliff. “Oppress the innocents you swore to protect? Have control over their very lives?”
“How could you, of all ponies, not understand?!” Celestia genuinely wanted to know. “I could’ve prevented Canterlot! SAVED MY SISTER!”
Even as Twilight subtly/silently primed her magic for a quick telepathy spell, she couldn’t help but try and appeal to her former teacher’s better nature one last time. “Celestia, please, just listen. I do understand. I know how you feel. Remember, I’ve lost friends and family to evil magic too…”
Unfortunately, Celestia had heard just about enough of this discussion. “BUT YOU WEREN'T THE TRIGGER!”
Despite feeling somewhat disappointed that she couldn’t save her Senior Princess, Twilight remained determined. “NOW!” she yelled out both outloud and over her telepathy spell, diving over the cliff with Rainbow and her counterpart soon afterwards.
As Celestia made to follow, however, she was quickly blasted back by a huge bolt of lightning just as the three ponies teleported to safety. Needless to say, the Solar Empress was not happy. “The Weather Factory…” she growled out, before flying off towards Cloudsdale, murder in her eyes. As she approached, however, she was momentarily distracted by the bubbling of the rainbow rivers that she could see from even here...and that was all the warning she got before Cloudsdale literally blew up in her face.
Momentarily knocked off balance, both literally and figuratively, by this latest development, she quickly scanned the area and found, to her relief and frustration, that nopony had been inside the city when it exploded, as everypony had been previously evacuated and the one who aided her former student had been teleported away at the last minute. As she pondered her next move, however, something else drew her attention. More specifically, the words, “CELESTIA! YOUR TIME IS OVER!” that were shouted to the heavens by a magically amplified voice. More specifically, Prince Blueblood’s voice.
As Prince Blueblood put the final touches on the weapon Princess Twilight Sparkle had developed and the mechanical wings his technicians had put together...well, he would be lying if he said that he wasn’t feeling at least a little nervous, because whether he liked it or not, this was it. This was the moment he had been building up to all those years ago when he and the Princess of Friendship had come together to form the Lunar Republic: the moment where they found out how much power the so-called “Solar Empress”really had...or rather he was.
He hadn’t been lying to Sunburst earlier: he wasn’t willing to gamble the young Princess’ life on...well, that was all it really was, in actuality: a gamble. As far as he knew, Twilight hadn’t even tested this weapon to see if it even worked as intended. Then again, seeing how it’s intended purpose was to de-power an Alicorn and there wasn’t an abundance of any that they actually wanted to de-power, and the one they did have wasn’t going to give them a chance to try again with the same plan, he couldn’t really find it in himself to hold it against the scholarly royal. Even still, he had to give the young filly credit: no matter how he looked at the weapon in question, it was really well-put-together: almost not even needing to be modified, in fact. “A scholar, a scientist, a sorceress, and a Princess: you truly are a prodigy, Twilight Sparkle.” he allowed himself to admit out-loud with a chuckle even as he finished with the necessary repairs/modifications on both the wings and the weapon in question.
As he swallowed one of the enhancement pills - while he didn’t think he needed it, his earlier fight with Sunburst had showcased that he would be remiss to not at least take one as a precaution - he allowed himself a sigh. “Just one thing left to do,” he declared as he took out a memory crystal and set it to record. “Hello, Twilight: if you're watching this, I can only assume that one thing: for better or worse, Celestia ended up taking me out upon confronting her with the weapon you created; I realize that you're probably upset that I went behind your back like this, but for all your planning, you seem to have overlooked two very important factors that meant that you couldn’t have used the weapon no matter how much you might have wanted to. First and foremost, the weapon is a mana siphon and there’s a very real danger of the user losing their own magic just for firing it. Luckily for you, I am not so attached to my own power that I fear losing it. At the very least this will protect you from facing the cruel ironic possibility of the Element of Magic losing hers.”
Here, Prince Blueblood couldn’t help but sigh. “Which brings me to my second point: you were a great leader even before you got those wings of yours. Equestria needs somepony to guide them back to true Harmony...and I myself have far too much blood on my hooves for the part I played, indirect as it might have been, in helping Sombra and then Celestia spread darkness across the nation for it to ever be me. I know full well that I likely don't stand a chance against my Aunt in a straight-up brawl...but maybe, just maybe, I can at least put a chink in the Empress’ armor for the rest of the Lunar Republic to exploit. In any case, I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees. My only regret is that I likely won’t be there to see the free Equestria that I know you’re capable of creating...or recreating, as it were.”
Blueblood aimed his 30 karat smile at the memory crystal as he finished up what well might be his final words to his friend, his ally...his sister. “Farewell, Princess: I have left for you in my study some items that you might find useful in regards to my funeral - which I would prefer to be a private event, if you don't mind - and for the rebuilding/reclaiming of Equestria, but for now, always remember: even now, in these dark times, Love and Friendship are stronger than Hatred, because, as you’ve always been fond of pointing out, Friendship is Magic.” With that, he ended the recording and placed the crystal somewhere where at least one of his allies was sure to find it if he didn’t return to get it himself, which he knew was a very real possibility.
As he attached his mechanical wings to his backside and placed Twilight’s weapon away for the opportune time, he couldn’t help but give a bitter chuckle as he reflected on what Sunburst had said back when he thought they were on opposing sides. “‘I didn’t earn these wings,’ eh? What was it that you always said, Rainbow? ‘It isn’t the size or the style of the wings that matters: it’s how you use them,’ and I fully intend to put these to good use.” With those motivational words, he spread his wings and flew off in the direction of Tartarus.
Right out of the gate, Lunar Blueblood could tell that these wings were a massive improvement on the prototype he used in his fight with Sunburst: easier on his magic flow, more aerodynamic, slimmer in design, harder to be hit by the dark magic blasts that were being aimed right at him...wait, what?!
King Sombra couldn’t help but give a dark chuckle as Prince Blueblood quickly landed (read: crashed) in front of him. “Well, isn't this interesting? I was hoping to follow my late counterpart’s example and take out a winged buffoon, but you’ll do!”
Blueblood merely scoffed in reply. “Actually, I was hoping I’d run into you at some point. After all, as much as Celestia blames you and herself for Auntie Luna’s demise, the truth of the matter is that I killed the Princess of the Night. After all, the only thing necessary for the absolute triumph of evil is for good ponies to do nothing, and that’s exactly what I did by simply letting you walk away with the Soul-Binder Bomb. Time to do what I should’ve done five years ago!”
The fight that followed was not easy, to say the least. Though Prince Blueblood had had five years to improve upon his already impressive magic, Sombra was nearly as long-lived as Celestia herself, so there were very few moves that the Alicorn’s nephew could pull that he hadn’t seen before. That said, despite what he might claim, as his late counterpart had proven, the Crystal Tyrant was not invincible, and while Blueblood had no intention of giving the dark Unicorn the satisfaction of being killed in this battle, he was able to use his knowledge of the half-Umbra - earned from research he had done in his free time as a member of Celestia’s court - to exploit his opponent’s weaknesses, particularly his aversion to light-based magic. A few well-placed spells and a swift kick to the stomach later, and the King found himself falling to the Prince.
Prince Blueblood merely shook his head as he looked down at his fallen opponent. “While I definitely think my aunt went completely too far on most things, I will very grudgingly admit that she might’ve had the right idea with your counterpart.”
Sombra merely growled in defiance. “I’ll begrudgingly admit that you're a touch stronger than your counterpart, but if you seriously think I'll be defeated that easily, then you're a bigger fool than I thought. I am King Sombra, Darkness Incarnate, the Shadows given form. NOTHING FRIGHTENS ME!”
“SOMBRA!” Blueblood was not ashamed to admit that he thought that he had soiled himself hearing that angry outcry, followed shortly by Pinkamena appearing on the scene, her expression almost demonic in appearance, so intense was her rage. “YOU PINKIE PROMISED!”
“...except maybe that,” Sombra said with a gulp before getting tackled to the ground and knocked out by an angry pink pony.
“I can't believe I thought you could help our cause!” Pinkamena growled out. “You drown ponies in fear, turn friends against one another, and can't even have a conversation without trying to twist the pony to your will!! ...but maybe the problem is that, like you said, I was thinking too small. Well, don’t worry: that won’t be a problem anymore. For example, I love bringing smiles to pony’s faces.” She gave a dark chuckle as she held a knife to the unconscious Crystal Tyrant’s face. “What’s say we put one on yours?”
Needless to say, Blueblood was horrified by this latest development. “Pinkie Pie, DON’T!”
“THAT’S NOT MY NAME!” Pinkamena yelled out, angry tears in her eyes. “‘Pinkie Pie’ didn’t have friends who abandoned her for a big meanie like the Solar Empress! ‘Pinkie Pie’ didn’t have all this dark magic flowing through her! PINKIE PIE WASN’T A MONSTER LIKE ME!”
“YOU’RE NOT A MONSTER!” Pinkamena blinked as her counterpart suddenly appeared beside Prince Blueblood. “You’re not a monster,” Pinkie Pie repeated. “You're just scared. Scared that your friends won’t come back or that you won’t be able to make new ones when all this is over. Scared that you’ll fail to use that dark magic for the sake of Harmony, despite how magic is just magic, no matter what color it is. Scared that you’ll never be able to regain that smile you lost five years ago.”
Pinkie nodded to Sombra even as her counterpart lowered her knife a tiny bit in response to her words. “...but ask yourself this: will killing him in cold blood like this really make you happy? Will it really spread joy anywhere? After all, you already saw how well that worked out the last time…”
Pinkamena simply teared up a little as she let the knife fall to the ground. “I...you’re right: it won’t help anypony but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not ‘Pinkie Pie’ anymore: I haven’t been her for five years.”
Pinkie just snorted in reply. “Doesn’t mean you can’t be her again.”
“How?” Pinkamena couldn’t help but ask. “I don’t even know who that is anymore.”
“I do.” Pinkie declared as she brought her counterpart into an embrace. “She’s the pony who’s always there to help cheer somepony up when they’ve feeling down, the way you’ve done for Twilight whenever she was feeling doubts about her plans. She’s the one to give ponies hope when everything seems hopeless, the way you’ve done by aiding the Lunar Republic and by extension the Shadow Party. She’s the pony who does her best to be a friend to everypony she can, like you have by not giving up on your friends even though they’ve joined up with the Solar Empire. She’s the pony who was… is worthy of being the Element of Laughter...and you… we are worthy of our Element. ‘Cause I love to make you smile, smile, smile...yes I do~”
“It fills my heart with sunshine all the while...yes it does~” Pinkamena sang back with a teary-eyed smile, slowly regaining some of the poofy hairy she had lost five years ago.
“'Cause all I really need's a smile, smile, smile from all these happy friends of mine!~” Pinkie Pie and Pinkamena sang out before breaking out into laughter soon afterwards.
Lunar Blueblood couldn’t help but gain a smile of his own even as he let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding. “There's the Pink Party Pony Equestria knows and loves.” He then nodded to the unconscious Sombra. “Might want to lock him up again: makes sure he stays in the cell this time.”
“That'll be the least we do,” Pinkamena declared as she readied her party cannon. “I still have contact with the rest of the Shadow Party: they should be able to help me round up the ponies that Sombra convinced to forget about the ‘Party’ part of the organization as well as continue to drive all the Storm Troopers crazy: you go and help the others take care of Darth Sunburn.”
Blueblood just shook his head in amusement, not understanding that reference but still relieved that the Element of Laughter was on her way back to her old self. “Don’t have to tell me twice.” he declared before flying off.
“So, Pinkie Pie: are you ready to make some noise?” Pinkie Pie directed towards her counterpart, her own party cannon at the ready.
Pinkamena, however, shook her head, a sad smile on her face even as she called for one of troops to pick up Sombra for her. “I’m not there yet, Pinks. I know I’ll get there someday, and I’ll let other ponies call me that in the meantime, but for now, I’m not ready to use that name again...but as to your question…” Pinkamena gave a teasing grin as she ran off, party cannon in hoof. “Whoever hits the most meanie beanies with their cannons has to clean out Gummy’s litter box!”
“He..Hey, no fair! You had a head start!”
Meanwhile, A.K. Yearling/Daring Do, having just finished up dealing with some of the Empire’s more fanatic members, was being held up by Queen Chrysalis and Gilda. The former, in particular, was taking some sadistic glee at the prospect of torturing somepony the late Rainbow Dash had looked up to. “Your story ends here, Yearling.”
“Not yet it doesn’t!” And that was all the warning she and her Gryphon companion got before they were both blasted back by Prince Blueblood himself. He then turned to the intrepid explorer. “Go help the others: I’ll handle this.”
Despite appreciating the assist, Daring couldn’t help but be concerned. “Are you certain about this? You know that this means that your cover’s been compromised.”
Blueblood merely snorted in reply. “Said the explorer who writes stories about her own adventures. Besides, they would all find out sooner or later.”
“Touche. In that case, I wish you luck, your highness.”
“When it comes to Celestia, I might need it, but not now,” the Prince declared as he faced off against Rainbow and Fluttershy’s fellow Junior Speedster.
The clash that followed was a lot closer than one might think. While Prince Blueblood had the edge in ranged attacks, Gilda had the edge in air superiority, given that she was more familiar with her wings, so the winner of this fight would inevitably come down to one thing: who could get the finishing blow in first. Luckily for Celestia’s nephew, his time in developing his wing harness had resulted in him learning a thing or two about the flesh-and-blood variety, particularly where a few pressure points were that when struck with a few well-aimed spells managed to lock them in place. Needless to say, after such a thing took place, the Gryphon found herself plummeting to the ground.
Blueblood couldn’t help but shake his head as he looked upon his fallen foe. “Pride comes before the fall, Gilda: even Rainbow understood that.”
Before the Gryphon could give her reply, however, the Prince was blindsided by a very angry looking Scootaloo. “Since when were you with the Republic?!”
“Since the day that Celestia decided to herd us like sheep.” was Prince Blueblood’s immediate reply.
The daredevil Pegasus merely shook her head, trying, and failing, to rationalize everything that had happened the past five years. “That’s not...that’s not true! She...she only wants what’s best for us!”
“We aren’t her playthings,” Blueblood declared with an angry shake of his head. “And she’s no god!”
While Scootaloowas the faster combatant, and in fact she did manage to damage Blueblood’s wings to the point where we wouldn’t be taking off again anytime soon, there was only so much that a filly with a scooter could do against a Unicorn whose knowledge of the arcane ways was only rivaled by Starlight Glimmer and Twilight Sparkle themselves. Needless to say, this battle didn’t last that long.
Lunar Blueblood merely sighed as he looked down on the defeated filly. “This isn’t what Rainbow would’ve wanted, and you know that...deep down.”
Before Scootaloo could reply, however, a large blast lit up the sky in the distance. Lighting up his horn to tune into the telepathic chatter, Blueblood quickly learned that Chrysalis’ Changelings had sabotaged the Weather Factory and while Cloudsdale had been successfully evacuated, Celestia herself had managed to be caught up in the blast. Knowing that he wouldn’t get a better opportunity than this, the Prince took out Twilight’s weapon with a sigh. “May fortune favor the foolish…”
“CELESTIA: YOUR TIME IS OVER!” yelled out the magically amplified voice of one Prince Blueblood.
Not even five seconds after he had yelled that out, Blueblood could only nod to himself as Celestia flew straight at him, her rage managing to make her forget about her own teleportation spell, giving him plenty of time to attach the mana siphon to his own horn. However, unfortunately for him, Scootaloo still hadn’t quite realized yet that the Empress was not the “awesome Princess” that Rainbow had always talked to her about, not anymore, and thus had no reason not to sneak her scooter under one of the Prince’s hind legs, tripping him up before he could fire the weapon, giving his Aunt plenty of time to tackle him into a wall, ripping the weapon to pieces as she did. “I trusted you, and in return, you betrayed me?!”
Despite how the impact had had enough force to it that Prince Blueblood was now coughing up blood, he still had enough strength to make his retort: “Who...betrayed...whom?”
The Solar Empress merely growled in response. “I gave you peace!”
“Peace?” Prince Blueblood couldn’t help but give a bitter chuckle. “All I see...is a Nightmare.”
Needless to say, Celestia was not happy to hear this: how dare this arrogant stallion compare her to Nightmare Moon!? If she had done this far sooner, Luna would never have fallen in the first place! With a simple jerk of her magical grip, she did all of Equestria a favor by snapping her traitorous nephew’s neck.
...or so she thought: turns out Equestria itself had a different opinion.
“Did she just kill Blueblood?” called out one observer.
“Murderer,” growled another.
“Why would she do that to her own family?”
“You think this is why Twilight created the Republic?”
Celestia shook her head in frustration as the chatter grew louder, before one comment in particular pushed her over the edge.
“Doesn't she even care that she’s in front of Canterlot Tower, the place where she and Luna used to store the Elements of Harmony?”
“ENOUGH!” She called out before flying off towards her castle, startling everycreature in the area as she did...but none more so than the filly who had intervened on her behalf mere moments earlier.
“I...I’m sorry.” Scootaloo cried out as she looked upon Prince Blueblood’s fallen body. "This...this isn't what was supposed to happen. This isn’t what Rainbow Dash would have wanted..."
Applejack couldn’t help but give a low whistle as she looked upon the live feed coming off the multiple scrying stones on the Castle's conference table showcasing major cities and settlements all across Equestria, all of which were displaying protests at best, full-out riots at worst, against the Solar Empire. “If Ah had any doubts ‘bout them ponies being alternate versions o’ us, Ah ain’t got any left now. Ah don’t know too many other ponies that can kick up a sense o’ rebellion in folks against a leader they don’t like like we can.”
“True enough,” Garble begrudgingly agreed. “Too bad we’re the ‘leader they don’t like.’ You do realize we’ll have to do something about this, right?”
“Willfulness spreads to anarchy, after all,” Queen Chrysalis declared. “We cannot allow it to spread!”
Gilda just scoffed. “Watch it, Queenie: considering what you and your subjects tried to do, uprising or not, you’re on some very thin ice right now, right Empress?”
The long, awkward silence that followed told Applejack that something was very wrong. “Uh, everything alright, Celestia?”
“No, it’s not!”The Solar Empress said with a growl from where she was seated. “I made those ponies safe, shielded them, but are they grateful? Do they appreciate my protection? NO! They whine, complain, side with those criminals!”
Here, Celestia stood up so quickly, some of the occupants of the room thought that they might’ve gotten whiplash. “If they prefer chaos, then we'll give them chaos - and not the mostly harmless variety Discord likes either.” she declared as Fluttershy and Scootaloo entered the room. “Ponyville and Canterlot: I'll flatten them, set an example...then, I'll find a way over to the dimension those duplicates came from: they'll burn for daring to interfere with my kingdom!”
Scootaloo shook her head, unable to believe what she was hearing. “Hold on: you...you're talking about destroying entire cities? Invading worlds in other dimensions?”
The Solar Empress simply growled in reply. “You have a problem with that, Scoots?”
Despite the dangerous tone with which the Empress had used with her nickname, Scootaloo nodded. “Yeah: I do. This isn't what I signed up for. This isn’t what Rainbow Dash would have wanted. It’s all crazy and going way too far.”
Queen Chrysalis shook his head in frustration. “Kid, not even I’m going to deny that your late friend deserved to be the Element of Loyalty, but take it from someling that knows: the citizens of Equestria are incapable of self-rule: they only do the things you want them to if you force them to.”
“Are you seriously going to take advice from her?!”Scootaloo growled off as she stepped forward, Fluttershy moving as if to follow her, only for Gilda to hold her back. “Even ignoring what she did to Cloudsdale, there need to be limits, even on us. Especially on us!”
“That’s ENOUGH!” Celestia yelled in response.
“You’re darn right it is!” Scootaloo remarked, not quite relaxing with those words, but nonetheless hoping she was getting through to her. “We can’t do this: Luna would’ve never…”
As it turned out, that had been the wrong thing to say, as the daredevil Pegasus soon found herself choking within the Empress’ telekinetic grip. Even still, she kept a defiant look on her face. “Rainbow Dash wasn’t afraid of you: why should I be?!” she declared, attempting to use her scooter as an improvised hammer...only for Celestia to reduce it to ashes.
“Let me show you.” And that was all the warning Scootaloo got before she found herself being burned alive. To the filly’s credit, though, she didn’t give the Alicorn the satisfaction of seeing her cry or hearing her scream out in pain, to which Celestia couldn’t help but be impressed by. “You truly were Rainbow’s sister. Such a shame that you choose to share her fate.” With that, she dropped the Pegasus’ body to the ground, which shattered like glass upon impact.
“Anycreature else have any objections?” Celestia couldn’t help but ask as she turned away from Scootaloo’s dead body. Needless to say, if any of them did, they were too afraid to voice them, to which she nodded. “Zecora, find Sunburst. I need the two of you to find a way to broadcast our next assault: I want everycreature to see this. Applejack and Garble, you’re with me. See if you can’t see where Rarity has run off to while you’re at it. Chrysalis, prepare your troops. Gilda and Fluttershy, get Tirek ready.” With those orders given, everycreature but Gilda,Fluttershy, and the Diamond Dogs, Rover, Fido, and Spot left the room, the Empress herself barely even acknowledging the filly that she had just cooked alive.
Once the Empress was gone, Gilda turned towards the Diamond Dogs. “Could...could you take her outside for us?” she asked, nodding to the remains of Rainbow’s honorary sister.
“Of course,” Rover declared with a nod as he and his fellow Diamond Dogs did their best to gather up the pieces of the late Pegasus, having had a soft side for the filly: she always brought them the best cuts of meat she could find and had given some pretty good belly rubs to boot. “Nice pony deserves to be buried, right?”
Fluttershy nodded as she paid her respects to the young filly. “I’ll see about getting you guys a steak later.” She had known about the relationship the gem lovers had had with the young filly and would see that she would do what she could to show them the same kindness Scootaloo had. It was the least she owed her: Rainbow had been her sister in all but blood too, after all.
Even still, as the Diamond Dogs took her outside to be buried, Fluttershy couldn’t help but shake her head in frustration. “She was right. This isn't what we signed up for.”
“We did our job: we eliminated crime.” Gilda said with a shrug, though the hollow tone her voice ran out with showed that even she wasn’t entirely convinced.
Needless to say, however, Fluttershy didn’t agree. “Scootaloo wasn't a criminal. Her only quote-unquote offense was having the courage to speak out when Celestia suggested destroying two entire cities and declaring war on another universe just because she got slightly humiliated.”
Gilda shook her head, knowing what the mare with whom she shared a friendship with the late Rainbow Dash was suggesting and not ready to lose anypony else. “She...she was a casualty of war: an acceptable loss.”
“Acceptable!? Gilda, Scootaloo was a child!”Fluttershy just shook her head, finally realizing what this war was turning them all into. “...I let myself believe that we were helping to make things better, but we’re not. I can’t do this anymore. I’m done.”
“Do you have a death wish?!” Gilda yelled out as she grabbed the Pegasus’ shoulder. “There is no ‘done’ with the Empire!”
“Maybe not for you.” Fluttershy declared with quiet defiance. “Goodbye, Gilda.”
Something about those last two words made something snap inside the Gryphon, as evidenced by how she tackled the Pegasus out of the room with angry tears in her eyes. “You can’t leave, Flutters!” She yelled out. “I’m not ready to lose you too!”
Needless to say, the fight that followed was not easy. Gilda had always been the more aggressive and physically stronger of the two combatants, but her emotional state had made her even more of a dangerous opponent than usual. That said, Fluttershy had grown a lot since the Gryphon had arrived in Ponyville over five years ago, and what she lacked in strength, she made up for in sheer willpower, which she showcased beautifully by using her “Stare” to end the fight prematurely.
As she looked down upon her fallen friend, Fluttershy could only shake her head in frustration, a tear leaking from her eye as she did. “I understand your fear better than anypony, Gilda. I don’t want to leave, but I have to. It’s what Rainbow and Scoots would’ve wanted.”
Before Gilda could respond, however, a gasp was heard from within the room. “Hey, what Critter Pony doing with Pastry Gryphon?!” Prince Ruthorford yelled out. “Yak smash traitor Critter Pony!”
“Don’t try it, Ruthorford,” Fluttershy growled out as she got into a fighting stance.
It went without saying that Ruthorford was the stronger opponent, and with the way that he had all that hair in his face most of the time, Fluttershy wouldn’t be able to rely on “the Stare” to finish this fight. That said, if there was one thing she shared with her late rainbow-haired friend, it was the ability to think on her hooves. Using some old wrestling moves she had learned to corral some of her more… difficult animal friends for baths, massages, and such to full effect, the Element of Kindness was able to turn the Yak Prince’s own strength against him, before finishing the fight by exploiting some pressure points to knock him out cold.
Fluttershy shook her head as she took in the defeated Prince and by extension the Gryphon she had defeated earlier. “You know better than anycreature what will happen if Celestia gets her way.”
“Just...just go.”Gilda said with a defeated whimper, understanding now that she couldn’t change the once shy Pegasus’ mind even if she wanted to. “Go before I change my mind.”
Fluttershy merely nodded in response before she took off flying. As she was about to exit Canterlot, however, she noticed some of Chrysalis’ Changelings gathering around a spot in the distance. Knowing what was about to happen, and knowing that she’d never forgive herself if she had let it happen, she made a quick detour to see if she couldn’t interfere.
As it turned out, she had arrived just in time. “Those who are gathered here are the elite: the best and bravest soldiers the Empire has to offer,” Queen Chrysalis called out to a crowd before her, consisting of virtually every species that stood under The Empress’ control. “Yours is a noble mission: it requires you to transcend your individual species, and embody the highest principles of this great nation. Obedience, order, and control.” She then nodded as a few of her best soldiers brought forward some ponies and a few Changelings who were loyal to Twilight’s ally, King Thorax, to stand before her. “But those who defy the Empress’ commands shall be executed without qualm or hesitation.”
“And ponies used to accuse Rainbow of having an over-inflated ego,” Fluttershy called out with a roll of her eyes as she stepped into the light. “Now, I’m only going to ask you once: let them go or I’ll be forced to use my secret weapon.”
“Oh, no: she’s not referring to that, is she?” One of Chrysalis’ followers asked with a shudder.
“As Applejack would say, ‘Ya bet yer boots Ah am,’” Fluttershy said with a wicked grin, adding a mock-Southern accent to the bit at the end. Despite channeling some of her time as Celestia’s lapdog into this moment, she was determined to use her newfound assertiveness for the right reasons this time around. Nevertheless, however, she couldn’t help but hold back a giggle at her own impression of the farm pony. No wonder Rainbow used to enjoy imitating other ponies so much: it was fun!
Speaking of other ponies, those gathered around the Changeling Queen quickly realized how serious the Element of Kindness was being right now. “Let them go, Chrysalis: it’s not worth it!” one of the other Empire Loyalists called out.
“Ally or not, I don’t take orders from a pony like you,” Chrysalis declared with a scoff. “Go ahead, Fluttershy: let’s see this ‘secret weapon’ of yours.”
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Fluttershy said with a shrug before bringing her hoof to mouth and letting out a whistle. Everycreature held their breath as a large dark shadow approached the group.
“Ooh, you’re in trouble now, Chrysalis” one of Thorax’s Changelings called out with a strange mixture of fear and amusement. “Fluttershy just summoned the Demon!”
Now, normally Chrysalis would’ve scoffed at this declaration, but given that the once shy Pegasus before her had managed to befriend Discord, Draconequus spirit of Chaos, she couldn’t help but feel a touch of fear at this declaration. “‘The Demon’?!”
One of the ponies merely gave a nervous chuckle, already aware that the Changeling Queen had never seen Fluttershy’s most dastardly companion in action. “That’s right, and there it is!”
Needless to say, everycreature held its breath as the source of the shadow revealed itself...only for those not in the know to blink in confusion. “Soo, what: is it behind the bunny?” somecreature called out.
“It is the bunny!” somepony else cried out in fear. Sure enough, there, no more than a few feet away from them, stood the Element of Kindness’ faithful companion, Angel Bunny, better known throughout the Empire to friend and foe alike as “Fluttershy’s little Demon.”
Needless to say, however, not everycreature shared that said level of respect and fear. Case in point, Queen Chrysalis couldn’t help but let out an eye twitch as she processed this latest development. “Are...you...KIDDING ME?! This is ‘the Demon’ everycreature is so afraid of?!”
“I think I soiled my armor, I was so scared,” somecreature in the crowd who likewise wasn’t convinced called out, evidently not having been ashamed to admit it.
“That’s no ordinary rabbit!” one of those loyal to the Lunar Republic declared, having calmed down, if only a little, upon realizing that Fluttershy had switched sides. “That thing’s got a vicious streak a mile wide!”
“Ah, shut up!” A Gryphon who was loyal to the Empire remarked. “I’ll handle this. I’ve always wanted to try out that hasenpfeffer recipe my grandpappy gave me.” With that, he approached Fluttershy’s pet rabbit.
Okay folks: the following scene is far too violent and gory to show in this teen-rated story, so I have no choice but to skip it.
Oh, come on: you literally char-boiled Scootaloo earlier in the chapter and have the mature filter set up for this chapter on your Deviantart account. It can’t be that bad, can it?
Pinkie, the scene in question is based off of the rabbit scene from ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, where we literally saw someone’s throat being torn out. Granted, Fluttershy likely isn’t willing to let things go that far, given how she’s switched sides and everything, but to quote the Genie from ‘Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar’, “You’d be surprised what you can live through.”
...touche. I’ll let you get back to the story then.
Thank you. Anyways…
Needless to say, the whole crowd was silent at what they had just witnessed. For some, said shock quickly turned to horror as Fluttershy gave Angel a nod to the Empire’s half of those gathered and gave one simple command: “Sic ‘em!”
Naturally, those loyal to the Empire only had one thing to say to that. “RUN AWAY! RUN AWAY!”
Evidently, however, Chrysalis didn’t quite share the same level of fear as her followers, as evidenced by her simply facehoofing. “I knew I should’ve sprung for that Blessed Hoof Grenade deal when I had the chance.”
That said, as the Changeling Queen turned back towards Fluttershy, her face quickly morphed into a snarl. “Opposing the Empire now, are we? Poor timing, wouldn’t you say?”
“You’re right,” Fluttershy declared. “I should’ve started doing this five years ago.”
Now, normallyQueen Chrysalis would’ve had the advantage. After all, she not only was on par with Celestia herself and the assistance of her hive at her beck and call, but they were literally surrounded by a few hundred of the Empire’s most loyal soldiers, all of whom were ready and willing to deal with any traitor they came across. That said, however, even if a good portion of them hadn’t been chased away by Angel Bunny and even if the once shy Pegasus didn’t have some assistance of the captured Lunar Republicans, the fact remained that this wasn’tChrysalis’ hive: this was an expanse of wilderness, and where there is wilderness, there were animals, and wherever there were enough animals, when Fluttershy got serious - and she had never been more serious before in her life - she. Was. QUEEN!
Can I say it? PLEASE?
...sure, why not?
Yes! (clears her throat) RULES OF NATURE!~
(chuckles as Pinkie Pie continues to sing) Soo, yeah. Point is, this fight didn’t last as long as you might think. Anyways...
Fluttershy nodded to those loyal to the Republic, gestured to her fallen foe as she did. “Think you can hold her for me?”
“We’ll certainly do our best.” Lunar Spitfire, evidently being among the captured, declared with a nod, handing her a map as she did. “You’ll need this if you want to find the Republic’s base, but before you go, I just have one thing to say.” The (ex-?)Wonderbolt leader gave a smile as she looked upon the Element of Kindness. “It’s good to have you back, Flutters.”
“It’s good to be back, Spitfire,” Fluttershy said with 100% honesty before taking the map and flying off...only to fly back upon realizing that she should probably refrain from leaving Angel all by his lonesome.
Meanwhile, back in the Lunar Republic’s base of operations, Rainbow Dash nodded to herself as she looked at her reflection, which showcased her wearing her counterpart’s Wonderbolt outfit. “Nice to know we were the same size,” she felt the need to say out-loud.
A casual on-looker would likely ask, “Hey, why is she wearing her counterpart’s uniform?” Well, shortly after she and Twilight’s Lunar doppelganger had returned from their mission, they had run into Lightning Dust and Rarity’s counterpart with Apple Bloom - who was currently being freed from Twilight’s old healing bubble - in tow. A short confrontation and a few explanations later, Rainbow had decided that she needed to be properly equipped for if and when Rarity’s old allies showed up.
“Soarin really loved you, you know?” Rainbow declared to a photo that the stallion in question had been stored with the uniform she was currently wearing: one that showcased him and her counterpart, the latter of whom was holding a small filly in her arms - no doubt Storm Chaser as a baby - with a proud smile on her face. “He kept this with him this whole time because he knew that you wouldn’t want it buried with you: you worked hard for this uniform, so no way were you going to let anycreature burn it. I hope I find somepony to share that kind of love with someday...and if I end up having a kid of my own, I hope that she ends up being as good a kid as Storm’s turned out to be. You’d be proud of the pony she’s becoming: I know I am.” Her musing was cut short, however, by her ears picking up somepony approaching, and fast. Not wanting to take any chances, she quickly grabbed something from one of the pockets of “her” uniform.
Needless to say, Fluttershy had not been prepared for who she had run into upon entering the Lunar Republic’s base. “Oh my Faust: Rainbow Dash, is that you!?”
“In the flesh…” ...and that was all the warning Fluttershy got before she was forced to catch the projectile Rainbow had grabbed from her pocket earlier.
“I probably deserved that,” the alternate Element of Kindness allowed herself to admit. “Anyway, where’s Twilight?MyTwilight?!”
Rainbow Dash merely growled in response as she took out another item out of her uniform’s pockets. “She's off somewhere not being a murderer.”
“Yeah, I probably deserved that too,” Fluttershy groaned out, before shaking her head upon noticing that Rainbow hadn’t lost her determined expression. “Oh, come on, Rainbow. You know I can match your speed if I'm properly motivated - maybe not exceed it, but still match it. You’re not going to hit me.”
“I wasn't trying to…” Rainbow Dash said with a smirk before ducking behind one of the lockers.
Unable to contain her curiosity, Fluttershy looked down at the item she had caught earlier...only for her eyes to widen in shock upon realizing that there was a timer with only two seconds left on it. As the flashbang grenade she had caught literally went off right in her face, Rainbow Dash got back up with a cocky smile. “You don't become the fastest flier in Equestria without learning how to think on your hooves…”
What followed was quite possibly the hardest fight Fluttershy had ever partook in. Not only was she still reeling from the flashbang when the battle started, but in a way, she was starring her own sins, Equestria’s sins, right in the face. After all, it was no accident that this war had killed off the bearer of the Element of Loyalty: everycreature who sided with the Solar Empress had all betrayed Twilight in one way or another, or worse, was never loyal to her, to either Princess, in the first place: Chrysalis had proven that much with her attack on Cloudsdale.
To say nothing about the fight in and of itself. Not only was Rainbow Dash a full-fledged Wonderbolt now, not only did she have access to all her Wonderbolt gear thanks to her late counterpart’s uniform, not only was she Fluttershy’s oldest friend and thus had a perfect counter for virtually everything the Element of Kindness could throw at her...well, that last part might have been part of the problem, really: Rainbow didn’t even recognize her as her oldest friend in that moment. All she saw was the pony who had betrayed her late counterpart and thus she was determined to give the mare in front of her the same amount of kindness Storm Chaser’s mother had received: absolutely none.
With all that said, as much as Fluttershy admitted that she probably deserved a beating, she didn’t come here to be tossed back out the door: she wasn’t leaving until she had earned her friend’s trust and forgiveness, until she’d proven to Rainbow, and herself, that she was still worthy of calling herself the Element of Kindness. With this in mind, she stopped treating this like an actual battle and more like the rough-housing that she and her Rainbow Dash had partook in as fillies back in Cloudsdale.
Needless to say, Rainbow had not been prepared for when Fluttershy purposely missed one of her pressure points in favor of tickling the spot where one of her wings connected to her shoulder. The Element of Loyalty, forgetting for a moment where she was, soon found herself locked in a laugh/tickle fest with the counterpart of her oldest friend...that was until the photo she had been looking at earlier managed to land right in front of them, freezing them both in their tracks. Needless to say, they both seemed to realize what had happened, by this point, neither of them felt like continuing either with the fight nor the rough-housing.
Fluttershy couldn’t help but shake her head in frustration and remorse as she looked upon the photo in question. “I remember when that photo was taken. Our Rainbow had flat-out said that she wasn’t going near the front lines now that she had a kid of her own to look after. Looking back, I should’ve realized that she hadn’t wanted me to be fighting in Celestia’s war, either.” She looked to the rainbow-haired Pegasus and carefully offered her hoof to the conflicted mare. “I know you have no reason to trust me, but PLEASE: give me a chance to prove myself to you...if not for me, then for the brash filly who offered a hoof in a gesture of friendship to a shy little Pegasus when she needed one the most.”
Rainbow looked at the hoof for a few moments before smiling. “First Rarity, and then you: all we need now is Applejack.”
“To get the Elements of Harmony back together in this world?”
Rainbow merely shrugged in response before foregoing Fluttershy’s offered hoof in favor of pulling the mare into a hug. “Well, yeah, that, but also, so that I can win the bet I've got going on with my Fluttershy. I'd rather avoid having to sit through dress-fitting duty courtesy of two versions of Rarity, you know?”
“You never did like being involved in anything too ‘fru-fru’, as it were,” Lunar Rarity said with a melancholy grin as she and Twilight entered the room before frowning as she looked to Lunar Fluttershy even as she broke off from her embrace with Rainbow. “I’m guessing that, while you aren’t up to anything ill-fitting of the Element of Kindness, you didn’t come here for a friendly visit.”
“Unfortunately no,” the formerly shy Pegasus declared. “I have some news for you and the others that you need to hear.”
“Well, let’s hear it then,” Twilight said with a nod as they left to find the others, before pausing and looking to the two former Empire loyalists. “But before that, Rarity, Fluttershy: it’s good to have you back..and this time, that is entirely accurate.”
Things were tense within the Lunar Republic’s headquarters to say the least. Granted, Sweetie Belledid end up having a tearful reunion with both Rarity and Apple Bloom, though the latter had been confined to the infirmary for the time being: evidently, being in a medically induced coma for four-and-a-half years longer than Twilight had originally intended had resulted in the young Earth Pony being physically weak at the moment. That said, though, her fellow Crusader had volunteered to watch over her in the meantime. “You would do the same for me,” the young Unicorn had declared when the farm pony had asked her why.
It wasn’t all good news, however. For starters, Twilight Sparkle had stumbled upon Prince Blueblood’s last message to her and she...well, to be honest, she handled it pretty well, all things considered.
She blew up his lab after collecting the items that he had left behind for her.
Like I said, it could’ve been worse. Regardless...
...all of that paled in comparison to what Fluttershy had just revealed to them. “Please tell me you’re joking,” Princess Ember begged.
“I almost wish I was,” Fluttershy admitted. “By this time tomorrow, Canterlot and Ponyville will be toast, possibly literally if the Empress is feeling up to it...and then she’s going after your world.”
Little Strongheart couldn’t help but shake her head in disgust. “I knew she had gone off the deep end, but this…”
Rainbow simply snarled in reply. “Dibs on first crack at Celestia: nopony does that to Scoots on any world and gets away with it.”
“No,” Twilight rebuked, bowing her head in defeat. “I brought you here to help me get my mana siphon, and if what Blueblood said was true, that plan was flawed from the start. You’re all going home, and then I’m destroying the Crystal Mirror linking our two worlds.”
“Twilight, have you lost your mind?!” Soarin yelled out, Sunburst likewise shocked at what he was hearing. “You said it yourself: that wouldn’t stop Celestia from trying to enter their world anyways!”
“It’ll give them time to prepare,” the Lunar Republic’s leader said with a snarl. “I won’t force their world to die in my place the way I did with the Lunar Republic!”
Rainbow shook her head. “Twilight, I already said that I didn’t…”
“Granny Smith. Big McIntosh. Babs Seed. Limestone. Snips and Snails. Hoops, Dumb-bell, and Score. Neighsay. Trenderhoof. Thunderlane. Bulk Biceps. Trouble Shoes. Ivory Rook. Seabreeze. Steven Magnet. Former Dragon Lord Torch. Scorpan. Twilight Velvet and Nightlight. Prince Blueblood. Do you need me to keep going?” Twilight said with a snarl. “You might not blame me, but can you say the same about everypony else that bet on my organization winning this war only to be proven wrong in the worst possible way? Can you say the same about all the other creatures I’ve gotten killed?!”
However, the mare the former cult leader would gladly call her sister merely shook her head in response. “No. I just encouraged them to go up against Celestia. I know this won’t stop her, but it’ll give them time to prepare. Hopefully they’ll succeed where I failed.”
“Just for the record, you didn’t forceTrixie, force any of us to follow you,” the showmare replied, nodding to Little Strongheart and Starlight Glimmer, who nodded back, knowing that if King Thorax or Sunset Shimmer were here, they’d say the same thing. “It was always our choice.”
A.K. Yearling/Daring Do and Spitfire nodded. “We risk our lives all the time to get the job done,” the former declared. “Why should this be any different?”
“You really shouldn't talk like that, Darling,” Rarity remarked, her counterpart nodding in agreement. “We’re here: we still have a chance.”
“It’s okay to be scared.” Fluttershy replied, her counterpart likewise giving the Republic’s leader a look of compassion. “But if you quit now, the last five years will have meant nothing.”
“It’s no fun if we just quit now.” Pinkie Pie said with a determined nod, her counterpart likewise not willing to give up just yet.
“My counterpart and Blueblood sacrificed their lives for this world,” Rainbow declared, Lightning Dust, Soarin, and Storm Chaser likewise showing their determination. “We won’t dishonor that by leaving.”
“Family sticks together,” Applejack said as her mind went towards Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, while also knowing that if her counterpart was anything like her, she wouldn’t be willing to lose the latter a second time. “And whether ya know it or not, the Republic has become part of yours. Ya can’t get rid o’ us that easily.”
Princess Twilight shared a look with Sci-Twi before giving a nod of her own. “Besides, we do still have one other option. We bring over our Celestia. Take the fight straight to the Empress herself.”
Despite all the earlier encouragement, Twilight Sparkle let out a snarl in reply. “We already have an Alicorn of the Sun, thank you very much.”
“She’s not like yours,” Princess Ember declared, her eyes full of compassion. “Don’t let your anger or fear make your decisions for you. Take it from me: it’s never a good idea.”
Before Twilight could reply, however, a nearby wall was taken out with a controlled explosion as multiple Empire soldiers burst into the room. One fighter within the group in particular quickly zeroed in on the Republic’s leader. “Yak smash Sparkle pony!” Prince Rutherford yelled out...only to be knocked to the side by a powerful kick from Applejack.
“Ya ain’t touching her.” the farm pony snarled out.
In terms of raw strength, Applejack and the Yak Prince were surprisingly evenly matched, but as we all know, strength isn’t everything in a fight. After all, biologically speaking, Prince Rutherford wasn’t too different from the cattle that Applejack dealt with on a daily basis back home. In other words, for Rutherford, when Applejack lassoed his legs, tripping him up and managing to knock himself out, it was the most humiliating defeat of his life, but for the farm pony, it was Tuesday.
Applejack just shook her head as she looked upon the Yakyakistan Prince. “Unwilling or not, Ah ain’t letting ya Solar Empire varmints near my friend.”
Before she could get a reply and/or help the others out, however, the farm filly soon found herself teleported to just outside of Sweet Apple Acres. “What the hay…?”
“I brought you here,” Discord declared. “With my power getting quite the boast with all the ambient chaos in the air, pulling you away from the others was easy. That said, contrary to what some might think, there is such a thing as too much power.” As if to prove his point, a tree nearby was literally reduced to ashes by his mere presence, causing him to groan. “As you can see, Celestia’s declaration of inter-dimensional war hasn’t helped matters any. It’s taking everything I have just to keep myself from tearing the land asunder. With that said, however, there’s an issue that’s cropped up that I simply cannot ignore, which is why I need your help.”
Applejack thought it over before nodding. “Mah friends can handle themselves without me for a bit, so Ah’m willing to listen.”
Back in the Lunar Republic headquarters, everycreature else was handling the intruders fairly well. Twilight Sparkle and her two counterparts were doing well to hold their own, though the native bearer of the Element of Magic still had some concerns. “We need to get the Crystal Mirrors out of here: if either one is damaged, odds aren’t very good of your return home.” With a unified nod, Princess Twilight and Sci-Twi made haste to move the mystical items to the last place Celestia would expect them to be: the Castle of Friendship.
Meanwhile, Applejack quirked an eyebrow in irritation. “Ah’m well aware that Celestia plans to attack Canterlot and Ponyville, but Ah’m not hearing why you needed mah help specifically.”
Discord nodded. “That concerns how she plans on doing it.” With that, he snapped his fingers, conjuring up an image of the farm pony’s Solar counterpart gathering up members of the Apple family to draft into the invasion force.
Needless to say, the Element of Honesty was shocked at this latest development. “Oh my Faust, no!”
The Spirit of Chaos simply pointed over towards the farm. “She’s over there, if you want to talk to her.”
“Ah believe Ah do,” Applejack said with determination, before looking towards the Draconequus with a curious expression, “though before Ah do, Ah need ta ask: did ya start working with the Republic before or after the Chaos became too much for even a fella like you?”
Discord simply nodded, having expected that question. “Definitely before. I like Chaos, but not like this: not this large-scale murder. That is a line I've always drawn, even before I befriended Fluttershy. Admittedly, it was because, if I made a habit of killing my enemies/playmates, I would eventually run out of beings to mess with, but still. In any case, the moment Twilight started her little rebellion, I was one of the first to volunteer to help.”
“Sometime after our world’s Rainbow Dash died, however, I began to notice that I was slowly losing more and more of a solid grip on the sort of Chaos that I did enjoy.” The Chaos Spirit went on to explain. “I’m still not completely certain if it was because the Element of Loyalty had lost it’s bearer or if it was a natural consequence of all the fear, anger, panic, and mistrust that was quietly going on behind the scenes, but I do know it's all due to a simple yet unavoidable flaw within the mission statement of the Solar Empire: they wish to eliminate all crime in Equestria.”
“But that’s impossible.”Discord declared. “A filly that eats a candy bar they forget to pay has technically committed a crime. A stallion who tries to force his way into his own house after realizing he’s forgotten his keys has technically committed a crime. A colt who defends himself against a drunk aggressor and accidentally ends up killing him/her has technically committed a crime. A homeless mare looking through somepony's garbage cans for something to potentially eat has technically committed a crime. As long as ponies suffer and/or make mistakes, crimes will take place, and not everypony who commits them is necessarily malicious in nature either. The good thing about most judicial systems, though, is that they try and take this into account...but the Solar Empire isn’t ‘most judicial systems.’”
“Every death, every bit of suffering, every attempt to maintain ‘order’...I felt them all,” the Draconequus said with a growl and a clenched fist. “You can’t control a living thing without destroying what’s alive about it...so the Empire's entire system is based on a lie. Ergo, therefore, and thusly, my powers won't become stabilized again unless this war is stopped. Celestia must be stopped, and I’m hoping that, as the Element of Honesty, you can help your counterpart to see that too.”
Before Applejack could respond to this, however, a low chuckle was heard, alongside a set of approaching hoofsteps. “Discord aids in the Republic’s endeavor,” Zecora declared as she made her approach. “As a strategist, he’s no Clover the Clever.”
Despite her malicious stance, however, the Element of Honesty couldn’t help but notice that one of the Zebra’s hooves was scratching at the dirt. In fact, it almost looked like she was...wait, she was writing something! “‘Help...me...be...free.’” Applejack read out loud before simply giving a nod, remembering what she’d heard from Rainbow about Flash Sentry, and knowing that this bout of “re-education” was just a touch stronger then what the Pegasus had undergone. Despite this, the farm filly just smiled. “Y’all wanted my help? All ya needed to do was ask,” she directed at both DiscordandZecora.
Needless to say, the fight that followed was a difficult one. Not only was Zecora the more well-rounded fighter, but unlike when Twilight had fought against Flash Sentry, the re-education the Zebra had undergone was of a more… complete variety, so Applejack couldn’t rely on Zecora fighting from the inside to get her out of this fight, unless of course you counted those subtle twitches her opponent would occasionally gave off as assistance.
Wait, are we counting those subtle twitches as assistance?
Well, they did end up causing Zecora to miss out on exploiting some obvious openings in Applejack’s defence whenever they showed up, so...maybe?
...Celestia’s kind of a jerk in this world, huh?
That she is, Pinkie. That she is. Anyways…
Applejack had quickly found herself on the defensive early on in the fight, but luckily for her, she had two things going for her. The first was that the land they were fighting on was still technically part of Sweet Apple Acres, and AJ had the home field advantage when fighting there in any world. The second was that while Discord couldn’t directly affect the fight for fear of accidentally killing somepony, that didn’t mean that he couldn’t indirectly aid the Element of Honesty every now and again. Case in point, it was no accident that when Applejack bucked a tree that Zecora had been standing under that one of the apples suddenly became the size of a small mellon when it fell on the Zebra’s head. Needless to say, that quickly took the shaman out of the fight.
Applejack simply sighed before looking towards Discord, gesturing to her fallen friend as she did. “Y’all have enough control to send her back to one of the Republic’s holding cells? Ah don’t feel comfortable just leaving her here.”
“That much I can still do without issue,” the Draconequus said with a nod. “Good luck dealing with yourself.”
“Thanks,” the farm filly said with a determined glare. “Ah think Ah might need it.”
Speaking of Applejack’s Solar Empire, though she was deeply conflicted with the latest development, continued to attempt to rally her family to aid into the coming attack...with understandably little success. Like the others, she knew this was wrong, but what other choice did they have? How else could she keep her family safe?”
“Stop right there, Sugarcube.” Applejack declared even as she revealed herself to...well herself. “Ya need to stand down. This ain’t right and ya know it, deep down.”
“Ah can’t do that,” Applejack said with a frustrated frown as she got into a fighting stance, not in the mood to be lectured by her counterpart in spite of her doubts. “Don’t y’all see? Canterlot showed us the truth, showed us the only choice we have: the only way varmints stay down is if ya force them to!”
The fight that followed very nearly ended in a stalemate. It seemed that for every punch, kick, and rope trick one version of Applejack would pull off, the other had the perfect counter to answer with. Luckily for the bearer of the Element of Honesty that hailed from the Equestria we all know and love, very few of the other members of her counterpart’s family weren’t content to just sit idly by while all this took place, and even fewer were willing to fight under the banner of the Solar Empire after everything that had happened. The irony wasn’t lost on Applejack that she eventually found herself restrained in no small part thanks to her counterpart getting assistance from the very ponies she had come to recruit to fight alongside her.
Applejack nodded her thanks to “her” family before turning towards “herself.” “Yer wrong: there’s always another choice.” Applejack said to the counterpart’s earlier statement as she struggled against her bindings. “Applejack,please: yer a good pony but yer making all the wrong decisions.”
“Is this really what yer Ma and Pa would’ve wanted?!”
“AH DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO!” Here, Applejack couldn’t help but let out all the tears she had stored up over the years, ‘crying on the inside’ be damned. “Ah don’t know what else to do. Ah already lost Granny, Big Mac, Babs, and now Apple Bloom: Ah can’t lose any more of ma kin.”
“Ah seem to recall us once referring to Twilight as our kin: was that a lie?” Applejack simply nodded when her counterpart looked down in defeat. “Apple Bloom’s still alive, by the way.”
“WHAT?!” Applejack yelled out. “But Celestia said…” She then shook her head in frustration. “It was all a lie. This entire Solar Empire was built on a lie. How’d Ah not realize it sooner?”
“It promised to protect our family” Applejack immediately replied, “Even if it were a lie, we’d do anything to protect our kin. Ya and Celestia are the same in that regard...but Ah reckon there’s one small difference: we know when to draw the line on how far is too far.”
Applejack simply shook her head in frustration. “Ah just...Ah miss them, Ah miss them so much.”
“Ah know,” Applejack declared, letting her counterpart out of her restraints before bringing “herself” into a hug. “While Ah might not be from this world, Ah’m still an Apple, so Ah know better then anypony how important family is to ya...but this? Invading cities and other dimensions? That’s not the way to protect them, is it?”
“...no, it’s not,” this world’s Element of Honesty declared even as she returned the hug. “And it’s high time that we stop telling ourselves otherwise. Ah’ll bring the Apple family to Canterlot and Ponyville, alright, but if Celestia thinks she can burn them to the ground, she’ll have to burn us with them.”
Applejack simply smiled as she broke their embrace. “Good to have ya back, Sugarcube.”
Lunar Applejack just blushed in reply. “Good to be back.”
Meanwhile, back at the Castle of Friendship, Princess Twilight and Sci-Twi watched in horror as the scrying stones continued to show the live feed of Celestia and her troops bring about Canterlot and Ponyville's destruction. Many of their friends tried to help, but they were overwhelmed by the sheer number of troops and the raw power of the Empire’s heavy hitters. Finally, Sci-Twi had had enough. “This is going nowhere: we need to…”
“Once I’ve made the final adjustments to the Crystal Mirror, you’re all going home.” Lunar Twilight declared.
Princess Twilight, however, simply shook her head. “You know, as much as I want to go home, in no small part because fighting a corrupted version of the pony I admire the most is my worst nightmare come to life, it wouldn't feel right abandoning all of you at such a dire time.”
“I couldn’t do it either,” Sci-Twi said with a nod, “and besides, you know as much as we do that without help, you’ll die, and the rest of the Republic with you.”
Twilight however just shook her head, moved away from the Crystal Mirror to hold a photo that was taken of her and her friends before the tragedy of Canterlot struck. “Then maybe that’s my fate: to die alone like the failure I am.”
“Twilight Sparkle doesn’t know the meaning of failure.” Princess Twilight declared in defiance, before quickly moving over to the Mirror to try and pull her old instructor over.
Needless to say, however, Lunar Twilight wasn’t too thrilled by the prospect, as evidenced by how she quickly shoved her counterpart away from the Mirror. “Celestia ruined my life: what makes you think I’d be okay with you bringing another over?!”
“If you’ve really been watching us this whole time, you’d know that our Celestia isn’t yourSolar Empress,” Sci-Twi remarked as she got into a fighting stance.
“Shut up! I won’t let you throw your lives away too,” Twilight cried out in despair. “This is my world! My fight!”
“You made it ours when you brought us here,” Princess Twilight declared as she too got into a fighting stance.
If one were to ask the Princess of Friendship what had frightened her the most about this journey later, it wouldn’t have been the prospect of Celestia becoming a tyrant in another reality, the idea her friends fighting amongst one another and/or themselves, or even the knowledge that so many ponies she knew were dead in this world. No, it would’ve been this fight. She’d always known she was a rather emotional mare, but seeing her mirror image lash out in anger and despair chilled her to the bone, for it stood as proof that not even the Princess of Friendship herself had come out of this war completely untouched by Sombra’s past crimes. Luckily for her, she didn’t have to work to calm “herself” down alone: seeing herself act out like this reminded Sci-Twi of stories her own friends had told about her time as Midnight Sparkle, and thus wanted to help her counterpart the way Sunset and company had helped her.
That wasn’t to say the fight was easily won. The leader of the Lunar Republic had five years of experience over her two counterparts, as well as the home field advantage, given that this wasn’t the first time she had fought inside the deteriorating castle. With all that said, while this technically wasn’t her castle, Princess Twilight still knew enough about it to trip up her Lunar counterpart, and while Sci-Twi was not accustomed to fighting in an equine body, that didn’t make her completely defenseless and was proving to be just as quick on the draw of learning how to use new magic as her two pony counterparts. A quick barrage of magic blasts later, and Twilight Sparkle was forced to admit defeat to her two counterparts.
Princess Twilight just sighed as she and Sci-Twi looked upon their fallen counterpart. “If we’re done here, we’ve got some work to do.”
The Lunar Republic’s leader just shook her head in reply. “It won’t work. You bring her over and we’re all doomed.”
“I know you don’t really mean that,” Sci-Twi said with a smile. “You’re just gotten so used to the darkness that you’re afraid to hope again.”
Princess Twilight nodded. “Even still, you brought us here because you had faith. Faith that we’d uphold the values you’ve given everything to defend. So trust us. Trust yourself. And let’s end this.”
For what seemed like an eternity, Twilight just sat there, wondering what she should do, before her eyes settled on the photo from earlier. The ponies in that photo: none of them would have been pleased to hear that she was just willing to give up when she was nearly at the finish line, as it were. As she got up, ready and willing for one last mission, however, the Lunar Republic’s leader couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow. “...you have no idea how to use it, do you?”
“I could’ve figured it out, though I was hoping you wouldn’t notice,” Twilight admitted as she and her two counterparts approached the Crystal Mirror. Twilight rolled her eyes in response but got to work regardless. Within a matter of moments, the Element of Magic across three worlds had successfully brought over the one pony who could challenge the Solar Empress: Princess Celestia herself.
After all the explanations were finished, Princess Celestia only had one thing to say. “We need to get started. Innocent creatures are dying.”
“We’ll take the others, so you can focus on theirCelestia.” Spitfire called out, having arrived with Soarin and a few other Wonderbolts, alongside a few other of their allies that had been ready and willing to fight.
The Princess of the Sun merely shook her head in reply. “No. I won’t force you to defend two cities alone. Twilight - all three of them - Cadence, and I will be joining you and the others in dealing with the Solar Empire’s forces to help better prevent casualties. ThenCelestia.”
“I still wish you had let me come, Sister,” Luna declared from the other side of the portal via a telepathy spell.
Sci-Twi sighed. “I know what you mean, Luna, but even if we didn’t need you, Sunset, Starlight, and Trixie to watch the portal on your side of things - make sure that we have a way home after all of this - you have to remember that the reason all of this started is because Celestia murdered you and Sombra in this world. Who knows what she’d do if she saw, well, you now?”
“She’s right, Luna: it’s too risky,” Celestia said with a sad smile even as Luna reluctantly agreed. “That said, Tirek is going to be difficult to deal with…”
Princess Twilight nodded, remembering her own brief battle with him. “Plenty of collateral damage…”
“I'll try and force that fight elsewhere when I have the chance.” Taking note of how quiet her student’s counterpart had been throughout this whole discussion, Celestia turned to Twilight Sparkle. “Is there anything you'd like to add?”
Twilight merely nodded as she approached Celestia...and that was all the warning the Sun Alicorn got before she was drawn into a hug. “I know I've been saying this a lot today, but it's never any less valid. I realize this isn't completely accurate, but it's good to have you back.”
Princess Celestia gave a bittersweet smile as she returned the hug, feeling her student's Lunar counterpart practically melting into the embrace even as tears leaked from her eyes. “I realize it’s not an entirely accurate reply, but it’s good to be back.”
Meanwhile, Garble was having the time of his life. It was about time that Celestia, that any of these puny ponies learned the basic rule of the universe: the strong lived and the weak crumbled, and he refused to be weak. Just as he was about to prove just how much ‘strength’ he had against some of the (ex-?)Wonderbolt members that were supporting the Lunar Republic, however, a blast of magic forced him back.
“That’s enough, Garble,” Princess Celestia declared as she arrived on the scene with reinforcements. “If you follow the commands of anycreature besides yourself, then follow this one: go home before I’m forced to make you go home.”
“Never!” the rebellious dragon declared. “Celestia rules Equestria the way I would’ve ruled the dragon lands had Ember and Spike not stolen the title of Dragon Lord from me: we have no room for insurrection! We have no room for weakness! And if you care for these pathetic creatures so much, then I’ll take that much more pleasure in having you watch them die!”
Celestia merely shook her head as the red-scaled dragon proceeded to pick up various carts and pieces of debris before throwing them at innocent bystanders, disgusted at this cowardly, and to be blunt, rather idiotic tactic. So idiotic, in fact, that the Princess of the Sun didn’t even have to move as she telekinetically caught the multiple thrown objects before they could hit any of their targets and lowering them safely to the ground. “Please,Garble. I literally move the sun on a twice a day basis. You think I can't handle a few boulders? And speaking of the Sun, I think that would be enough heat to override even a dragon's fire resistance.” And that was all the warning Garble got before the Alicorn fired off a fairly powerful heat blast at the rebellious dragon, knocking him out. “Now who’s weak?”
“Still you!” And that was all the warning anycreature got before Queen Chrysalis proceeded to blast Celestia into a nearby building before using her magic to subsequently force the building in question to seemingly collapse on top of her. Sure, everypony in the Solar Empire now knew what Twilight and the Lunar Republic had already suspected - that she was a serpent in their supposed Garden of Eden - but she didn’t care! Now she knew that she could do the same thing to the Solar Empress.Now was the time to make everycreature bow to her! “LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!”
Her sense of triumph was short-lived, however, as she soon felt somepony tapping her on the shoulder. Sure enough, Celestia had teleported away at the last minute...and hoo-boy, was she mad! “I truly have gone off the rails in this world if I thought it would be a good idea to trust you!” the Alicorn of the Sun declared before proceeding to knock the Changeling Queen out with a well-placed chop to the back of the neck: Fluttershy wasn’t the only pony who knew about pressure points after all.
Deciding to play it safe, Celestia then proceeded to hit the traitorous (former) Changeling leader with a sleeping spell. “By the time you wake up from that, you'll be in heavy duty chains and wearing a high-grade horn ring. And Gilda, I am politely asking you to surrender peacefully. You know you can't win against me.”
Sure enough, the Gryphon in question had been standing off to the side watching everything that had happened. “I never wanted this.” Gilda said with a sigh as she lowered herself to the ground in surrender. “I just wanted to keep the few friends I had safe. You said it yourself: I couldn’t win against you. Twilight couldn’t win against you.”
“Knowing her friend Rainbow Dash as much as you claim to, as well as the circumstances of he unfortunate passing in this world, I’d have thought you would have just a little more faith in my student.” Celestia gently scolded as several Lunar Republic loyal guards came to take the Gryphon away even as she nodded to some fillies that Gilda had been protecting when Garble and Chrysalis had started their little tantrums. “But I’m certain she will take how you were looking after the safety of the Empire’s little ones into consideration when passing judgement upon you.”
Elsewhere, Dragon Lord Ember continued to reluctantly march several of her Dragons through the city streets. Loath as she was to admit it, Little Strongheart and her counterpart had been right: siding with the Empire hadn’t been the way to protect her subjects. Her musings were brought to a screeching halt, however, as she spotted the Celestia that hailed from the Equestria we all know and love descend from the heavens. Mistaking her for the Empress, however, Ember growled in defiance, having finally decided that she had enough of licking the Empire’s boots. “Are you ready, Princess? Do you think yourself powerful enough to challenge the might of the Dragon Lands?”
“Yes: we do.” And that was the only warning Princess Ember got before the entire Apple family clan came out over the next hill, led by Applejack and her Lunar counterpart. Needless to say, a fight quickly broke out.
Ember, however, decided to take the fight to the big mare herself. “You're not wanted here, Empress!” she cried out as she charged the Solar Empress’ doppelganger...only for her to be stopped in her tracks by the Alicorn’s telekinesis. One punch to the gut and the battle was over before it even began.
“I might not be wanted here, but clearly I am needed.” Celestia declared as she approached the fallen Dragon Lord, offering a helping hoof as she did. “With that said, though, I could use your help to stop the Empress from making sure creatures like you don’t have to suffer. I won’t force you, but I don’t believe you are ready to leave things like this.”
Ember stared at the hoof in confusion before looking to the pony offering it. “You...you’re not her, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” Celestia said with a smile as the Dragon Princess took her hoof, “And fate permitting, I never will be. Think you can still fight?”
Lunar Princess Ember merely snorted in reply. “It’ll take more than a few farm ponies to take my Dragons down. No offense, Applejack.”
“None taken,” both farm ponies declared.
“And in any case, it’s good to have you back, Ember,” declared one Little Strongheart, having tagged along with Braeburn and a few dozen of her Buffalo. “Also, just as a heads up, I got word that the others are holding their own in Ponyville. Who knows? Maybe it'll be easy from here on out.”
Before anyone could reply, however, Princess Celestia found herself blasted away from them by a mind controlled Tirek, who proceeded to charge right on through, toppling a building as he did. Little Strongheart could only facehoof in response. “Why did I say that?”
Back with the Alicorn of the Sun, Tirek could almost be mistaken for doing this of his own free will as he proceeded to try and take Celestia’s magic. A quick blast to the face, however, had him stumbling back, giving the Solar Empress’ counterpart the opening she needed to grab onto him and teleport the two of them to what was, ironically, the safest place in Equestria right now: the gates of Tartarus. The maneuver had unintended consequences, however, as the force of their rough landing was enough to damage Tirek’s collar, freeing him for the first time in years, and needless to say, he was not happy about how he had been treated. “You share the face of the one who tried to control me…”
Celestia merely nodded in reply. “I do, but even you must know that appearances can be deceiving.”
“Indeed,” Lord Tirek said with a scoff.” “I suppose I should thank you for freeing me, but seeing how you do share the Empress’ face, you'll have to settle for me making your death as quick and painless as possible.”
Celestia could only shake her head in disappointment: even in another dimension, Tirek’s only loyalty was to himself. Even still... “I can't say that my doppelganger wouldn't deserve that sort of treatment, but if you insist on living just to cause death and destruction, I'm afraid that you'll live disappointed.”
To say that the fight that followed was difficult would be like saying that water was wet. Celestia actually found herself on the defensive for the majority of the fight due to the raw strength and power Tirek commanded, and this wasn’t even his final form! That said, for all his power, the Centaur had never truly learned how to use his magic as anything more than what was essentially a blunt object, always going for the straight forward approach in battle, while the Alicorn of the Sun had spent milenium learning every battle tactic she could. Case in point, at some point in the battle, she purposely left herself open for an attack, hoping that the so-called Lord’s lust for more power would result in him trying to take hers. Tartarus’ most infamous prisoner didn’t disappoint...which had been exactly what Celestia had been counting on, as she proceeded to shove one of the pieces of Chrysalis’ throne that had been scattered around the prison as a means of further deterring prisoners using magic into the Centaur’s mouth.
A casual onlooker might well ask “So, wait: what happens when what’s essentially a magic vampire tries sucking magic out of an object designed to suck up non-Changeling magic?” The answer? Essentially what Twilight had hoped to do with the Solar Empress with her mana siphon: by the time Tirek had gotten the stone out of his mouth, he was as skinny, if not more so, then he was when he had first escaped Tartarus, making him easy pickings to be knocked out by Celestia.
Princess Celestia shook her head as she proceeded to lock Tirek back up in a cell. “No good comes from relying on stolen power.”
Before she had time to relish in her victory, however, her ears perked up, noting that something, or rather somepony was approaching. Turning towards the newcomer, she couldn’t help but stare as her Solar counterpart made her approach. “I knew they’d pull you over eventually: you don’t belong here.”
Celestia shook her head. “I would’ve thought you of all ponies would understand: I couldn’t just stand by and watch as all those innocent lives were slaughtered in the crossfire of your little war.”
The Solar Empress nodded. “I do understand, but I’d have thought that you would understand that I am this world’s Savior. I am their protector.”
Needless to say, Celestia was horrified at this declaration. “That’s what you call what's happening out there?! Protection!?”
“Disobedient children will be punished.”
“Children?!” Celestia cried out in shock. “I seem to recall ourselves hating the idea of ponies looking to us like we were gods. We don’t get to decide who lives and who dies.”
“It is my decision!” The Empress cried out. “It became mine when Sombra turned me into a weapon of mass destruction!!”
Princess Celestia sighed. “I know what you lost. Even still, ‘A true Princess, in any world, leads, not by forcing others to bow before her, but by inspiring others to stand with her.’ For a simple high school principal, I believe our human counterpart had some sage wisdom.”
“You dare to mock me? To judge me for my actions?!” Her Solar counterpart yelled out before approaching her. “Once I've killed you and brought your Luna here…”
“...and she'll be terrified and disgusted by what her sister had become in ‘her’ absence!” Celestia yelled out. “And I wouldn't be able to blame her one bit! This is far worse than anything she ever did as Nightmare Moon!”
“At least she’ll be alive!”
Princess shook her head in disgust at the pony her counterpart had become. What she had become. “Your Luna's death does not justify all of this.”
The Solar Empress growled in defiance. “Sombra stole her from me - after I only had her back for two years!”
“And you stole the freedom of this entire nation and several others.” was Princess Celestia’s immediate reply. “It’s time you gave it back.”
There’s an old saying: “You are your own worst enemy.” Needless to say, this fight was doing a very good job of showcasing just how true that statement was. Every blow, every spell, every possible way to put each other down, Celestia - both of them - had a counter for it. It was clear from the getgo that if Celestia wanted to defeat her counterpart, she’d need some sort of edge...and as luck would have it, she’d get it in the most unlikely source.
“GET AWAY FROM HER!” Storm Chaser yelled out as she rammed into the Solar Empress, very nearly recreating the Sonic Rainboom with how fast she had been flying. “You killed my Mom, you killed my Aunt. Did you really think I was going to let you kill yourself?! I don’t care if this ends up extending how long I’m grounded. I don’t care how much more powerful you are then me! I won’t stand by and watch as you destroy everything that makes Equestria great!”
“You have courage.” Celestia remarked as she backhoofed the young filly into a wall. “The courageous are always the first to fall.” The filly didn’t give a response other than using one of the flashbangs that she had “borrowed” from the Republic’s base, causing the Empress to flinch back in pain before turning back to Rainbow’s daughter with a glare. “Why do you continue to fight?! Can’t you see that it’s hopeless!?”
Having seen just about enough, Princess Celestia charged forwards and pinned her Solar counterpart to a wall, giving the nastiest glare she could muster as she did. “If that filly is anything like her mother, she won’t quit as long as she can still draw a breath. None of Twilight’s allies will. Twilight never will. Me? I’ve got a different problem.”
Celestia proceeded to punch the Empress until she was forced through the wall she was pinned to before giving a glare. “I feel like I live in a world made of matchsticks. Always taking constant care not to burn something. To burn somecreature. Never allowing myself to lose control for even a moment or somecreature could die. But you don’t care about that anymore, do you? You stopped holding back a long time ago. Even still, you can take it, can’t you? What we have here is a rare opportunity for me to cut loose and show you just how powerful I am. How powerful you used to be.”
It seemed that seeing Storm Chaser’s bravery, her Loyalty, was enough to give Celestia a second wind, as the Solar Empress soon found herself on the defensive for the first time in years. What’s more, Celestia had been right: the Empress had stopped holding back within the last few years, always going into battle, as the humans would say, “all guns blazing,” whereas the Princess of the Sun from the Equestria we all know and love had always kept some of her magic and strength in reserve. In fact, the only reason Chrysalis had been able to overpower her back at the Canterlot wedding was that she couldn’t go all out for fear of hurting the ponies who had been in attendance. Here though, the only pony Celestia could hurt was the Empress, and judging by the bruises that were covering her Solar counterpart by the time Luna’s sister was done with her, she’d done a very good job of doing so.
Princess Celestia just took a few deep breaths as she looked upon her fallen counterpart. “Your reign is over.” Needless to say, however, the Solar Empress wasn’t quite ready to call it quits, as evidenced by her firing a beam at her counterpart with her horn. Teleporting out of the beam’s trajectory, however, Celestia quickly delivered a punch right to her Solar doppelganger's jaw, knocking her to the ground as she did. The Alicorn of the Sun simply shook her head in disappointment as the Empress tried to get up to attack her again, only to fall to the ground once more. “It’s over: you won't be terrorizing the ponies of this land anymore.”
The Solar Empress, however, merely glared in defiance. “Love and tolerance only go so far: fear and hatred are the only things those ponies understand. One day, you will learn that as well.” With that she passed out, completely missing the look of pity that had been in her counterpart’s eyes.
When she came to, Celestia almost couldn’t believe her eyes. There, surrounding her, stood the Elements of Harmony, reunited after five long years: both versions of Applejack (Honesty), Rarity (Generosity), and Fluttershy (Kindness), Pinkie Pie and Pinkamena (Laughter), Rainbow Dash and the potential bearers of Loyalty that were Soarin,Lightning Dust, and Storm Chaser - whom Rainbow and Soarin looked upon with pride, though also promising that she was still grounded, though it would remain a week seeing how she did leave a note back at the base and it was to help Celestia - and of course, the trio of Twilight Sparkles (Magic), all of whom stood beside two versions of Dragon Lord Ember and her own counterpart.
Knowing that even she couldn’t fight all of them at once, the Solar Empress settled to leveling a glare at her former student. “You’ll have to kill me.”
The leader of the Lunar Republic, Twilight Sparkle, merely shook her head in reply. “No, Celestia. Unlike you, I only kill when I have absolutely no other options. Besides, too many beings of too many different species have already died because of this war. No, you are going to be spending the rest of your extremely long life in Tartarus.”
“And just how do you have the authority to decide that punishment?” The Empress barked back in defiance. “Your Princess privileges were revoked years ago. And what's to keep me from escaping? After all, Tirek escaped more than once and that was when he had far less power than I do.”
“I can answer that, courtesy of a spell Luna, Cadance and I once used to temporarily transfer our combined power to our universe's Twilight.” Princess Celestia remarked. “I can use that spell again - only this time to transfer your power to your universe's Twilight - permanently. At the very least, you will be left too weak to easily escape.”
“And as to authority, I found an interesting bit of information in the contracts you had us sign when we joined up with the Empire,” Rarity declared as she took out a legal document. “Page 5, paragraph 9, sub-section 12. ‘All laws and decrees made by the Empire shall be absolute so long as at least half of the Elements of Harmony agree with the Empress’ commands.’ Well, Darling, I don’t believe that I agree with you taking away Twilight’s status as a Princess. What say the rest of you?”
“I want Twilight to be a Princess again.” Fluttershy said with a look of determination, her and Rarity’s counterparts likewise nodding in agreement.
“Your world’s Rainbow Dash wouldn’t like that declaration, and neither do I” the rainbow-haired Wonderbolt declared, Storm Chaser, Lightning, and Soarin likewise showing their disdain for that particular decree.
“Princess Twilight Sparkle not being allowed to actually be a Princess? And ponies call me crazy.” Pinkamena remarked, Pinkie Pie likewise giggling at the ridiculousness of that particular command.
“I might not be an Element Bearer, but I’ve had my fill of the Empress’ commands,” Princess Ember immediately replied. “If I’m permitted, I’d like to jump on the ‘Give Twilight her Princess privileges back,’ bandwagon.”
“Yer permitted,” Applejack declared with a smile, even as her and Ember’s counterparts nodded in agreement.
“Twilight’s family,” the farm pony said with a teasing grin. “And as Ah recall, the last thing ya wanted was for me to forgo dedicating time to my family. Besides, Apple Bloom wouldn’t talk to me for a year if I didn’t help Twi get her status as a Princess back. She’s doing just fine outside that magic bubble, by the way.”
Needless to say, Celestia didn’t have a good reply for that statement, only being able to look down at the ground in frustration even as all three Twilight’s smiled in appreciation. After five long years, the Solar Empress was forced to truly admit defeat.
Twilight Sparkle, (former) leader of the Lunar Republic, could only sigh in relief as more and more of the Empire’s forces were loaded up for transfer to prison facilities. “At long last, this war that should have never happened is over. Though there is still much to do and many beings of many different species that need help, it's still a step in the right direction.”
Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement, relieved to be able to properly enjoy the sunshine for the first time in five years. “Well, Shining Armor and Cadence send their thanks for the needed supplies getting through, but the Crystal Empire is now under attack by the forces of a new menace; some wiseacre calling himself the Storm King.”
Here, Twilight couldn’t help but groan. “And to think Rainbow would have called me a buzzkill for thinking that the forces of Disharmony wouldn’t simply stay silent after the Empress was taken down. It will be a while before any help can arrive, but we will get it there as soon as possible.”
Sweetie Belle merely snorted in reply. “Your brother thought you might say that, and said the offer is appreciated, but not needed. Shining already has a force field around the entire Crystal Empire and the odds of it lasting long enough for the Storm King's forces to run out of steam are quite good. He just sent the report to explain why he and the rest of the Crystal Guard might be a while to help out with the rescue, recovery and repairs.”
Twilight nodded in understanding. “And we’ll definitely need some help with the repairs. Despite how Discord has confirmed that the ambient Chaos levels have already gone down considerably since that last battle, I know that it’ll be some time before things approach some semblance of anything that can be considered ‘normal.’ Besides, Pinkie is definitely going to need some help with what the other Sombra put her through on top of all the other stress she had to go through and there is only one pony who can keep up with her.”
“Already ahead of you there, Twi.” Sweetie Belle said with a grin. “I took the liberty of sending a message asking Cheese Sandwich to help Pinkie through her recovery.”
Here, Twilight couldn’t help but let out a snort of amusement. “Still can't resist playing matchmaker, can you, Sweetie?”
“Well, I need something to help me through the grieving process considering what happened to Scootaloo.” Sweetie said with a slight huff. “Well, I mean, besides being Spike 2.0.”
Twilight merely nodded in reply, remembering how Rarity’s sister had offered to use the connections she had gathered during the war to become the Princess’ new assistance, only to frown as she remembered something important. “Speaking of Scoots, it’s nearly time.” The Princess of Friendship declared as the two Republic members turned towards the mass funeral for everypony who had fallen in the final battle for Equestria. Of particular note were two graves that were being bestowed with full honors: Scootaloo, the brave sister of the late Rainbow Dash who would never get to actually see the battle in question but proven in her final moments to have been just as loyal as the late Wonderbolt, and Prince Blueblood: the (former) Empress’ nephew who’d proven to be every bit the noble pony he professed himself to be.
Sunburst in particular was feeling emotional about this, even more so then he had when he had shoved his own counterpart into the custody of Twilight’s new Royal Guards, as evidenced by the tear that leaked from his eye as he laid what remained of Blueblood’s wing harness at his grave. “I was wrong earlier: you were worthy of those.”
Rarity merely nodded in agreement as she kissed her hoof and stroked the noble pony’s headstone. “Good night, sweet Prince.”
Rainbow was also holding back some tears as she laid her late counterpart’s Wonderbolt uniform at Scootaloo’s grave before giving a salute. “You earned it, sis.”
“Say hi to Mom for me,” Storm Chaser said with a nod as she proudly wore the Element of Loyalty of this world - still appearing as a lightning bolt, though the fact that her Cutie Mark, earned shortly after the last battle, looked like a rainbow-colored bolt of lightning coming out of a storm cloud might have had something to do with that. When asked about said mark, she simply said that "I want to be the kind of pony my Mom was: to good ponies, I'll bring hope, but to bad ponies, I'll bring the storm that always comes before a rainbow."
Despite part of Lightning Dust wishing that it had been her, she wasn’t too upset. This war had done a good job of teaching her humility and besides, she couldn’t say she was too surprised: the filly was Rainbow’s daughter after all. Speaking of… “I promise, I’ll look after your niece for you: I don’t need an Element to prove that I’m loyal to her and Equestria.”
Soarin smiled. “Maybe not, but with all the Pegasi that fell in battle during Celestia’s rampage, we need some new Wonderbolts recruits. What do you say, Dust? Want to give it another try?”
“Go ahead, Dusty: you’ve earned it.” Starlight Glimmer said with a smile as her fillyfriend looked to her in shock. Needless to say, the only reason Lightning didn’t break out cheering was because she was at a funeral.
As it turned out, the tears didn’t stop once the funeral was finished, as evidenced by the ones that leaked from Rainbow’s eyes after Fluttershy gave her some troubling news. “I feel bad about you guys turning yourselves in.”
Fluttershy shook her head as Applejack, Rarity, and herself waited to be taken away by the authorities. “We’re not too thrilled about it either, but we did do a lot of bad things that we need to answer for.”
Rainbow nodded, not liking it, but understanding it nonetheless. “Well, I'm pretty sure, considering your genuine remorse, the fact you guys did help save the day and the fact that you got quite a few reliable folks willing to vouch for you all, that you'll get a much lighter sentence than most of the others.”
Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement, tearing up as he brought her sister in for a hug. “I'm going to miss you sis.”
Rarity simply returned the embrace with a bittersweet smile. “Sweetie, we've waited five years to see each other: I’m fairly certain we can wait just a little longer.”
Applejack looked to her counterpart. “Hey, uh, Granny Smith, Big Mac, and Babs: they alive in yer world?”
“Give them a hug for me, will ya?” the alternate Element of Honesty requested with a bittersweet smile, happy that her family was still alive.
Applejack merely smiled as she brought herself in for a hug. “Ah promise.”
Meanwhile, back in the Dragon Lands, Ember watched as her counterpart had several caches of high quality gems being carted off to Equestria’s treasuries. “You know, I was joking when I compared joining up with the Solar Empire with parting with a few bad gems.”
“True, but whether I like it or not, the Dragon Lands did aid the Empire for a short while,” Dragon Lord Ember replied. “And seeing how the one pony I could trust to rule in my place while I sat in an Equestrian holding cell is dead, helping the other nations pay for the repairs is the best way I can think of to work to regain their trust.”
Ember just nodded, knowing exactly who her counterpart was talking about. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’d have fared any better in your position, and given that you did end up turning on the Solar Empress… well, you had a few rough patches, but I think Spike would be proud.” She then blinked. “Actually, that reminds me. Our Sombra seems to have become rather fond of this world, but I know that no creature here wants him to stick around. Problem is, I’m not sure how we could get him to leave.”
Princess Ember merely gave a dark chuckle in response. “Don’t worry. If I know ourPinkie Pie, and I like to think I do, she’s currently repaying him for all the kindness he’s shown her by subjecting him to the worst torture she could think of.”
As it turned out, the Dragon Lord wasn't too far off. “Make it stop! MAKE IT STOP!” Sombra yelled out, nearly crying as he noticed Celestia and Twilight, his Twilight, walk past his cell. “Oh, I never thought I’d say this, but thank Faust you’re here! You need to get me out of here! I’ll go back to Tartarus. I’ll clean your castle bathrooms with a toothbrush. Anything to get away from that mare!”
Princess Twilight blinked as she looked to Pinkamena. “Do I want to know what you did to him?”
“Oh, nothing much,” Pinkamena said with a shrug. “Just having him binge watch the G3 movies.”
While she didn’t understand the reference, Celestia couldn’t help but shudder. “Note to self: don’t mess with Pinkie Pie in any world.”
“Generally a good idea,” Twilight said with a sigh. “Just felt you should know most of the Empire’s forces have been rounded up, or have turned themselves in. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any stragglers. The next job will be restoring order.”
Princess Twilight nodded in agreement as she and Celestia walked beside her counterpart. “So, I suppose with the evidence Lightning Dust, Soarin, and Prince Blueblood had gathered up and shared and with your Celestia defeated, your Princess Privileges have been officially reinstated?”
“Only temporarily.” Twilight said with a sigh. “I only plan to stay on the throne until the repairs to Equestria have been completed and a democratically elected council comprised of equal parts Unicorns, Pegasi and Earth ponies has been firmly established.”
Here, Twilight quirked an eyebrow. “So, being ruler of Equestria a little too much responsibility for you?”
“Yes, and I have no trouble admitting it.” The former leader of the Lunar Republic declared. “Oh, I still plan to use my power - including the power your Celestia transferred from myCelestia to me. In fact, I thought I’d try and take over the late Luna’s job of watching over ponies dreams. I might also take over raising and lowering the Sun - though I'll leave the moon to the unicorns: no sense letting all the hard work of Starlight and Trixie's trainees go to waste. Not to mention handling the villains and monsters that are too dangerous for the normal military and/or helping any returning ponies that Sunset might send over.”
“But I'm not up to ruling Equestria long term - especially not with Spike and Rainbow dead and the rest of my closest friends in prison.” Twilight continued to explain herself. “Someday, maybe, I’ll be ready to take a larger role in looking after Equestria again - maybe set up a Constitutional Monarchy or something - but not today. Not now. Back when Celestia and Luna first hit the scene, they actually weren’t Equestria's rulers. Just its protectors. In the first few years, it was that simple. It needs to be that simple again.”
Celestia merely nodded, a proud smile on her face. “I can respect that, though if you don’t mind, I think we should still stick around for a few days. I hope to help give you a fair chance to get used to my counterpart's power before I leave.”
Here, Twilight couldn’t help but quirk an eyebrow even as she watched as her counterpart merely nodded in acceptance as they approached her counterpart’s cell. “Speaking of Equestria’s rulers, what will you do with your Celestia?”
“She’ll stand trial: they all will, but I’m going to make sure that the judge and juries take any mind control they were under and/or any support they gave us during this little adventure into the sentencing process.” Twilight declared, frowning when Celestia merely nodded, her eyes never leaving the (former) Solar Empress. “Bit for your thoughts?”
Celestia merely gave a disgruntled sigh. “Though I am pleased with the hard-earned victory against my counterpart and her forces, I am still left worried. I already knew I wasn't perfect even before this, but this version of me was pretty much all my biggest flaws amplified. Still, I have to wonder, if I was ever pushed too far, would I have gone that far astray as well?”
“In other words, you're hoping you don't go bad too, but fearing that you might under the right - or should I say wrong - circumstances?” Twilight asked before giving a nod of understanding. “I know what you mean. I've come close to crossing more lines than I'm comfortable with admitting myself. And with the power I had even before you transferred your counterpart's power to me, those types of slips can be disastrous. It is an extremely thin line we have to walk, and I sincerely hope that for your world’s sake you never have to find out. But for what it's worth?”
“If you ever do lose control?” I'll come to help my counterpart and her friends stop you.” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile.
“And I wouldn't have it any other way.” Celestia said with a smile as they made their exit, the two Pinkie Pies already on standby for the victory party.
As they walked off, however, the (former) Solar Empress glared out the window of her cell, her horn giving off a glow even as the Unicorns Starlight and Trixie trained began to lower the Sun and raise the Moon.