Harmony, 3:30 PM – Celestia

Hours ago, when her message to Spike to check on the status of the Bearers' mission had bounced back, Celestia had cancelled court for the day. She paced restlessly, aware of her guards observing her, and of the anxiety they must be feeling – anything that made Princess Celestia's serene mask crack had to be serious. But she couldn't help herself.

It was ironic, she thought. The last time she'd been pacing like this, too full of anxiety to be able to sit down, her equine instincts screaming at her to bolt from a threat that couldn't be run from... it had been because Discord had broken loose. Cotton candy clouds had rained chocolate milk all over Canterlot - and Ponyville, too, she'd been told – while cola poured down from nowhere onto Cloudsdale and skyscrapers wrestled each other in Manehattan. It had been two days after the Grand Galloping Gala, and all the happiness she'd felt at how lively her student's friends had made the stuffy old thing had fled, and all she'd been able to think was, Did I do this? I invited the chaos in, I hoped for it, I all but engineered it... because I never thought he could break free. The stars freed Luna... did they free him as well? Are they going to free every evil we imprisoned? She'd felt helpless, and guilty, and so, so angry. So many hopes she'd had, in the long millennium of empty loneliness, that Luna would be different once she returned from the moon... and she had been... and that Discord, maybe, someday, could be freed, and he would have learned his lesson and he could be healed by the power of Harmony the way Luna was... and that, she'd thought at the time, had been pure idiocy. How had she ever thought he would relent from his chaos? The colt who'd been her friend, her lover, was gone forever; surely centuries of fighting Discord should have told her not to hope any more.

Ironic, then, that she was pacing now because she'd been right the first time. Because there was something inside him that could be redeemed.

She'd told Luna that they had to free him because if he'd been freed, and Sombra had returned, how long before all the other spells cast by the Elements ended? How long until the doors to other worlds, that Discord had once torn open casually and then guarded for his own reasons, the doors that she and Luna had painstakingly locked with the Elements, all opened again? But if she hadn't desperately wanted to redeem him, and if she hadn't had visions that perhaps it could happen, and if she hadn't seen evidence for herself that he was, in some ways, no longer as cruel as he'd been, she'd have found another way. He hadn't taken any kind of revenge on Luna, only bespelled her to sleep so she wouldn't awaken during his coup. Oh, he'd put her hoof in a bowl of water in a supremely childish prank, but otherwise, nothing. After over a thousand years in stone, trapped, alive and able to hear but to do nothing else, she would have expected some sort of horrifying revenge. She'd seen him do far worse for far less. Yes, he'd been brutal to the Bearers, but few of his other victims had suffered pain until they'd been freed from him and the humiliation of what he'd made them want to do had sunk in. In the past he'd done what he did to the Bearers to entire towns, at once, destroying marriages and friendships and leading foals to be abandoned. This time, no matter what he did to the minds of his victims in Ponyville, they'd still remembered their love for their families. Even Applejack, who he'd turned into her opposite along with the other Bearers.

It had taken time, for the Bearers to become confident in their friendships and for Fluttershy to develop just a little bit more strength of will. She'd thought, when Fluttershy got him to admit that friendship was magic and even bow to her, that maybe he was back. And then when he'd refused to save her from the plunder vines, when he'd gloated at her as they'd dragged her off through the tunnels they'd bored, she'd realized, terrified, how wrong she was. He still wasn't her Discord. He might never be again. He was still cruel, capricious, more in love with chaos than anything else. He still saw ponies as toys. He still resented and perhaps even hated her.

But he'd kept his word. He'd helped Twilight, without making it obvious that he was helping her. And if he'd defeated the plunder vines himself, if he'd just snapped them away like she was still sure he could have... they would never have found out how badly the Tree had been weakened by a millennium without its Elements. She was sure Discord had known, and the Tree was his nemesis. He'd killed other Trees of Harmony and trapped this one in a forest ringed by and saturated with chaos magic. And yet, he'd acted to make sure it didn't die. Sure, with the Elements returned to the Tree, they no longer had any way of stopping him or controlling him... but if he'd known how weak the Tree was he'd have known they didn't anyway. And he hadn't released unrestrained chaos on Equestria, even though he'd have known they couldn't stop him. His friendship with Fluttershy was sincere. He really did care about her.

So he was on his way back. It would be slow, and painful, and there might be relapses. She expected that. And... she would probably never have him for a friend again. Certainly not a lover; there was far too much pain on both sides. Celestia doubted she could ever trust him that way, and was certain he felt he couldn't trust her. Maybe she'd never get anything from him but resentment, anger, bitterness and mockery. She was an authority figure now and he was compelled to rebel against authority. But none of that mattered. He was on the pathway back to his old self, slowly, led by Fluttershy. And maybe he could be happy with her the way he could never be with Celestia again. Maybe he could love her. All evidence suggested he did love her, as a friend, and maybe that would be enough.

And then this.

It was so unfair. And so stupid. She was angry at him for how much of an idiot he'd been to put himself in danger that way, and for succumbing to his need for chaos when he was trying to reform, and for not talking about his problems with anyone, but all of that was so in character for him she couldn't honestly say she should have expected anything different. And it didn't matter anyway. What they were doing to him was so far beyond the realm of anything anyone could possibly deserve, and it hurt like nothing had hurt since banishing Luna to know what was happening to him, and that there was nothing she could do directly to save him. She couldn't have gone gallivanting off to another universe under any circumstances, when Equestria relied so heavily on her; she had every intention of regaining some of her freedom to act, now that Luna was back and Twilight and Cadance were both alicorns, but it would take time to extricate herself. And there was the fact that the other Celestia, and probably the other Luna, would have sensed her immediately. Celestia still remembered the time Discord had sent her back in time and she'd met Amaterasu of Neighpon, how she'd felt the ancient kirin touching her sun in a way that in her lifetime, only Luna and Discord had ever been able to. How Amaterasu had sensed her instantly even though Celestia hadn't dared touch the sun in the past before her own birth. No, there was no possible way she could go.

So here she was, relying on Twilight. Again. And she trusted Twilight completely, and maybe, possibly, hero-worshiped her student just a little bit. She'd had hopes for so many other students, and some of them had achieved what she'd hoped for them, at least for a little while... but Twilight had been the first that had made her feel alive again, after a millennium of numbness. After Sunset's failure and disappearance, she'd thought, she'd have to show them more affection in the future. Behave like more of a maternal figure than a cool and distant teacher. It had been a calculated move. The calculation had lasted all of three hours in Twilight's presence before the affection she'd been feigning for the filly became real. Others had been her students, but Twilight was the daughter she'd never had and never would.

But still. Twilight and her friends were up against themselves. Selves that were clever enough to defeat Discord, ruthless enough to enslave him, and cruel enough to torture him. And for several hours, none of Celestia's messages to Spike had gotten through.

Then she felt the familiar, wonderful tingle in her horn that meant a message from Spike. They're alive! They're all right! The more rational part of her mind tried to tamp down her enthusiasm – strictly speaking, all a message from Spike meant was that Spike was still alive. But surely, Twilight and the others were fine too, right? They had to be!

Eagerly she cast the spell to materialize the message... and stared, dumbstruck, as a heavy iron hoofcuff clattered to the floor.

"Princess! Are you all right?" one of the guardsponies asked.

"I'm fine, don't worry about me. I've just received an... unusual... message."

She summoned a quill and a scroll and started to compose a query – why was Spike sending her a hoofcuff? Before she could get more than two words written, she felt another transmission in her horn, and materialized it. It was another hoofcuff... with a small tuft of purple fur from a fetlock stuck to it.

Twilight's. Twilight had been in hoofcuffs. Spike was sending Celestia the cuffs. No. Spike wasn't deliberately sending them – he was freeing Twilight. He'd figured out that dragonfire could be used to burn and transmit an object you wanted to send away, and he probably wasn't thinking about where the transmission was going. Or maybe he was, and he just hadn't had time yet to compose a message to explain what was going on.

Her horn lit, and she took quill to scroll more urgently... but hesitated before sending the message. There hadn't been a third or fourth hoofcuff. Could Spike actually be low on fire? Iron disrupted magic; it was less disruptive to dragon magic than to most other types, but it no doubt had taken him a serious effort to burn off those cuffs. She didn't want to use up any of his fire if he was low, not if he was freeing ponies from cuffs. And what if he was in the midst of battle, and her transmission distracted him? No. Best to wait. Spike would send her a message as soon as he had a chance, Celestia was sure of that.

So she went back to pacing... until she felt a sudden splitting, agonizing pain in her horn, and the feeling of a dragon transmission but heavy, an impossible weight, a mass that should not be trying to siphon itself through her slender horn. Celestia fought the pain to make the item materialize and get it away from her horn; she could lift the sun. She could bear any weight she had to. She wouldn't let the transmission of an object far too massive for ordinary dragonfire drag her down.

The transmission materialized... in the shape of a pony.

An alicorn.


And as Celestia stared into eyes that were like a mirror, the other Celestia reared, lit her horn, and fired.

Opposition, 3:30 PM – Discord

Discord lay on the floor of Twilight's workroom, listening.

Spike had left to go get his trophies a few minutes ago, but he'd taken too long. The argument between Fluttercruel and Twilight had wound down, finally, as it sounded as if Fluttercruel had finally accepted Twilight's explanation of the necessity of Discord's death. She was crying, but she wasn't shouting at Twilight or arguing anymore. Now she was begging Twilight for a chance to say goodbye.

The sun was at mid-afternoon. There was still time, before sundown or moonrise. But if Twilight brought Fluttercruel in to say goodbye to him, and she made a huge thing of it, and didn't let him out of her sight for the hours before sundown... and he couldn't even offer her sex to distract her, because Twilight had ordered him not to. Which had relieved him greatly at the time, but it meant he had one fewer tactic he could use to manipulate Fluttercruel.

He sighed. It was out of his paws. Spike would find a way to smuggle the pieces of his alternate self to him, or he wouldn't. There was nothing Discord could do by worrying about it.

The door opened, and Twilight trotted in, along with a crying Fluttercruel and Rainbow Dash, who was hanging back. "Say your goodbyes, then," she said, in a tone that was almost sympathetic. "I know you wanted to keep him as a companion, but think of all the ponies who'll be saved from old age and sickness and pain. Something this fantastic is worth giving up our own lives to achieve, let alone the life of a creature dedicated to chaos."

"I know," Fluttercruel sobbed. "I know, I just... I'll miss him so much! Discord..." She threw her arms around his neck, still crying. He held himself rigid. Twilight had said he was allowed to refuse sex, but there was nothing he could do to stop her from inflicting non-sexual affection on him, as much as he hated it when she touched him.

And then, quietly but very clearly, she said, "Put Twilight to sleep. Happy sleep, with happy dreams, that she'll enjoy and won't do her any harm."

Discord blinked. Was this really Fluttershy? Had they pulled a switch somehow?... no, the mane color was normal and there was no spell on her that could have reverted her mane that quickly. It didn't matter, anyway. It was an order, and if he didn't know it wasn't Fluttercruel, his collar would allow him to carry it out.

Twilight slumped to the floor, her head landing on a pillow because he wasn't allowed to do anything that might harm his captors, which included Twilight hitting her head when she fell over.

"Shit!" Rainbow Dash charged forward, bodyslamming him backward, out of Fluttercruel's grasp. "What the hay did you do, Dipcord? Tell me!"

"Let him go!" Fluttercruel snapped. "I ordered him to put Twilight to sleep."

"What? Why?"

"Did you seriously think I was going to let Twilight just kill him?" Fluttercruel glared at Rainbow. "Especially after what the other me said?"

"Come on, you know the bitch was lying."

"Yes, she might have been, but can we really take the chance? Given the choice between the other me lied and this will kill Discord and nopony else, or Discord misled and tricked Twilight and this will destroy the world... how can we possibly take the risk?"

"Yeah, but Discord can't lie!"

Fluttercruel laughed. "Everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie, all the time," she said. "But it's true at the same time. He can't say something that's completely untrue, but he can say something that sounds like it's true but it's not, just as long as it's not technically a lie."

Discord shrank back against the wall. Twilight might be asleep, but that didn't mean he was safe. Fluttercruel wouldn't kill him, but even if she couldn't rape him anymore, she could still make him wish he was dead. And he hadn't known that she truly understood his limitations, or rather, where his limitations weren't. All this time he'd been misleading her every chance he got in the belief that she didn't know he was doing it, or that he could do it. She had always punished him horribly when she had evidence that he wasn't being completely truthful. So how could it be that she'd known he was being as untruthful as the spells that bound him allowed him to be, almost every single time?

"I don't like this. Twilight's our leader. Princess Celestia appointed her."

"You're going to pick now to try to be loyal? Listen." Fluttercruel glared at Rainbow Dash, full force. "You were my friend for years before you even met Twilight."

"That was before you started fucking the enemy that corrupted you and turned you into a raving bitch!"

"Oh, really. And you had a better plan? Don't you remember how we defeated Discord? If I hadn't been fucking him, he'd have noticed that Twilight had broken the spell that kept us apart from each other, or that you were all coming together at my house, or both."

"Yeah, okay, you tricked him, fine, whatever. But don't try to pretend you didn't want it, not after you've been making the pony with two backs with this one every night for two months." She kicked Discord, casually.

"I never said I didn't want it. I said it wasn't disloyal. I used it to defeat him, and I used it to break this one and teach him obedience. Now help me unlock this chain."

"I don't think this is a good idea."

"Who asked you? We need to take him to the Everfree and hide him so Twilight can't find him when she wakes up!"

"I'm not allowed to go through that door," Discord said. "And I'm supposed to try to kill you if you unlatch the chain."

"Oh, for... who told you that?"

"Twilight did. And her orders supersede yours." His voice wasn't trembling, and he was very proud of himself for that. Defying Fluttercruel, even to the extent of telling her that she couldn't give him the orders she wanted to give him because they'd trigger a seizure, was terrifying.

"And what if I told you not to listen to Twilight's orders?"

Now he couldn't quite keep the tremor out of his voice. "Mistress, they're Twilight's spells. I have no control over the priorities she embedded in them. If Twilight orders me to do something and you order me to do the opposite, I have to follow what Twilight said, unless it contradicts the honesty or loyalty spells, and if it does that I'll have a seizure. I can't prevent it."

"So if I unlatch your chains you'll have a seizure, because Twilight ordered you to use lethal force but you're not allowed to harm me."

"Yes, but please, don't... I had a seizure last night. I don't know how many of them I can endure before I end up with permanent brain damage." To be honest, he didn't know if he'd hit that limit already. Between what the starvation and sleep deprivation were doing to his ability to think, and how strange his normal thought processes were by pony standards, he wasn't sure how he'd be able to tell.

"If I can't find another way I may have to, or order you to knock yourself unconscious. But let me think. If I order you to delay obeying any of Twilight's orders... say, by five minutes... so you still have to obey her, but you can hold off needing to do it for five minutes, can we do that?"

"I don't know..."

"What if both Rainbow and I give you those orders?"

"I'm not doing anything that would get in the way of Twilight telling him what to do!" Rainbow objected. "You act like I've gotta do what you want because we're friends, Flutters, but first off friendship is a crock of ponyfeathers and you know it, and second off you mouth off at me and call me a whorse and stuff like that every chance you get, so how are we even friends? Last I checked, we were a lot closer to enemies who've gotta work together." She sneered at Fluttercruel.

"Let me explain it to you in very tiny words for your very tiny brain, Rainbow. We are saving the world. If Twilight performs this ritual everypony and everything will die. And we don't want to hurt her to stop her, and she won't listen to us because she thinks she's smarter than all of us—"

"She is smarter than all of us. You're no egghead supergenius, and you're probably the smartest one next to Twilight, but in a brains contest? She's number 1 and you'd be, like number 23. Out of 80 or so, I gotta be fair."

Fluttercruel sighed explosively. "Yes. Twilight's a genius. But she can be fooled into believing what she wants to believe. I mean, Rainbow, really. Eternal life for all ponykind? You think if there was a ritual like that, somepony else wouldn't have ever discovered it before? Not Princess Celestia? Not Twilight's idol Starswirl? Not Clover the Clever? Nopony?"

"Mistress Fluttershy is telling the truth," Discord said. "I told Twilight about the ritual because I was sure I could mislead her into believing something that she wanted to believe anyway. She thinks she can use my power to give eternal life to ponykind. That's never been true but she's been torturing me for months to try to understand my powers well enough that she can do it, even though it's blatantly impossible, and I'm saying this as the spirit of Chaos. Impossible's a dirty word, to me. So I knew I could trick her into thinking the ritual would accomplish what she's been trying for months to achieve, because she wants it that badly, but I misled her. I told her what she'd get for the first five minutes or so after the ritual was completed, and I never told her what the consequences would be after that."

"Why would you do such a thing?" Fluttercruel snapped at him. "Why would you want to destroy the world? Destroy Twilight, yes, I understand that, but the world?"

Despite his fear of her, Discord couldn't help grinning a twisted, bitter grin at her. "Because you convinced me that I didn't have any friends and that my Fluttershy was lying to me. This is all your fault, mistress. You did your best to break me, and it worked, but before you put something under so much pressure that it breaks you might want to consider where the fracture lines that are already there are. I didn't have any reason to want to live, and I had every reason to want you and all your friends to die."

"And now she's fooled you into thinking she's your friend again?" Fluttercruel sneered. "You're so gullible. You really think any pony would ever be your friend? Especially one who's terrified of her own shadow, let alone chaos? I was scared of your stained glass window, before I even knew you were really inside it! I was scared of everything in your maze! All I wanted to do was run away and go home! How could I possibly have ever wanted to be your friend without you corrupting me first?"

"Because you were stronger than you remember yourself being, now," Discord said. "And because, while you've spent the intervening years fighting with yourself and sinking farther and farther into your own depravity, she's had friends to bolster her up. She's had good experiences with her Element that made her stronger. You haven't. Plus, if you could possibly recall after so much time and so many changes to our relationship, yours with the other me and then you enslaving me... you had the strength to stand up to me in the maze, despite your fear. You made me have to cheat to win. None of the others did that." He reached a paw out to her, though he couldn't close the distance and touch her without her permission. "Why do you think the other me fell in love with you? It wasn't because you were easy to corrupt. You were a challenge. Mindless terror isn't all that entertaining; I get that all the time. Kneejerk defiance is pretty ho-hum, old news, too. But you beat me at my own game, and I had to cheat to defeat you, because you're strong in a way I didn't know how to fight."

Fluttercruel was gaping at him, at a loss for words for once in his time with her. He smiled a twisted smile, dropping the paw. "Fluttershy is my friend. You could have been, too, but you decided you had to own me instead. You're beautiful, and you wanted me; no wonder the other me succumbed to your wiles and died to be with you. I'd do anything at all for my Fluttershy, because I know she cares about me and she's kind to me. You could have had that too... even with the parameters of the spell Twilight put on me. You could have enslaved me with kindness. But no. You decided to rape me and beat me and feed me the worst things possible and do your best to find out what I honestly think about things so you could punish me for thinking thoughts you disapprove of. I could have fallen in love with you; the fact that you wanted me would have gotten me plenty hot under the collar even if you weren't as beautiful as my Fluttershy is, and obviously, you are. If you'd just asked, you could have had me wrapped around your hoof. But you never asked. You just took. Even when I offered, you found ways to make me feel used and helpless and reminded me of how much I hated what you were doing to me. So." He took a deep breath. "I'll cooperate with you if you try to hide me from Twilight, because I don't want to die anymore, and even if I do die I don't want to destroy the world when I go. The thing I tried to trick Twilight into doing will destroy the natural chaos of this world, and I don't want that. I'll try to find a way to help you if you want to make it so you can override Twilight's orders that prevent me from escaping. But Twilight also ordered me to never have sex with you again, and specifically instructed me that her orders override yours, and I'm not going to do anything to help you get around that."

And then it sank in what he'd just been doing. He had just deliberately taunted Fluttercruel by confronting her with all the terrible things she'd done to him, and how he really felt about all of it, and then gloated over the fact that she wasn't going to be able to rape him anymore. His ears flattened and he shrank back against the wall, suddenly so afraid he could barely breathe, but he forced himself not to apologize or beg for mercy. It wouldn't work, anyway; if she decided to punish him, begging her not to wouldn't help.

"It doesn't matter," she said quietly. "Maybe the other one is your friend, but odds are Princess Celestia's going to execute her and you can't do anything about it. We can deal with the whole... intimacy... thing later, once I've made sure you won't die." She turned to Rainbow. "Now are you going to help me?"

"You gonna let him talk to you like that?"

"For right now? Yes. Getting him out of here and away from Twilight is more important."

"Yeah, well, I don't like the way he talked to you." Rainbow turned toward him and punched him suddenly in the jaw, her forehoof coming in under his chin and knocking him backward. She followed it up with a flurry of kicks and punches. He screamed and tried to curl in on himself; she was hitting with enough force that he felt bones crack, in places where he had bones rather than cartilage, and the kicks to his abdomen felt like something was ripping inside.

"Thank you, Rainbow, but I can fight my own battles. You've done enough."

"Yeah, well. He needed to learn some respect."

"Respect is very important, that's true." She came over to him, where he was trying to huddle on the floor as best he could, given the way Twilight had him shackled. "Stop that whimpering; Rainbow didn't hurt you all that badly. You've been through a lot worse."

While the part about him having been through worse was certainly true, that didn't make the pain any easier to bear. "I... I think she cracked my breastbone," he gasped, having difficulty breathing. His ribs were flexible cartilage, but without his magic, the breastbone they attached to was not.

"Oh, fine. Heal yourself. I might need you mobile." Discord sighed with relief as the magic washed over him, transforming him back to his uninjured state. Fluttercruel waited until he was done. "Now, listen carefully to these orders. When Twilight gives you an order, you are to obey it after a delay of three minutes. You should not obey any of Twilight's commands any faster than that. Orders that come from me, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, or Rarity should be obeyed immediately. If Pinkie Pie gives you an order, and it threatens your life or health, wait three minutes; otherwise, you should obey her orders. Do you understand?"

"Yes, but I might still have a seizure. I don't know if this is going to work. The spell says I have to obey immediately."

"Yes, so you need to immediately obey my order to delay any of Twilight's orders. This should be taken to apply retroactively for a day, so that if you are under orders that she gave you today, you must delay obeying them for three minutes. Can you do that?"

"I don't know," he said, truthfully. "I want to obey you for this one, but I don't know if I can."

"Let's test it." She walked up to the latch on his collar. "I'm going to unlatch your chains now. Don't attack me."

Discord trembled violently as Fluttercruel reached for the latch, which she did slowly and deliberately, running out the clock on his five-second grace period. His limbs shook with the need to lift them and slash at Fluttercruel, but the loyalty spell – and possibly, Fluttercruel's order to wait three minutes – paralyzed him. His head pounded, and nausea rose in his guts, but he didn't attack her or try to stop her.

Maybe her trick with the delayed orders was working after all. If he recalled correctly, when Twilight had tested him with orders to harm her or one of the other Bearers, the seizure had come far more swiftly than this.

"What's wrong with this thing?" Fluttercruel pressed on the latch again. It didn't unlatch. "Why won't it open?" She tried several more times. "Come on! Discord, are you doing this?"

"No! Why would I be t-trying to s-stop yo-you?" The shaking had gotten so bad he couldn't talk without stuttering.

"Let me try," Rainbow said. "I'll bet it's stuck. Just needs a little push from a strong pony."

"Fine. Give me a moment." Fluttercruel backed away, and waited until his shaking subsided. "I'm proud of you, Discord. You held out for I think two minutes there."

"I, I don't know if it's your orders or if it's the conflict with the loyalty spell," he stammered. "It, it makes me feel awful. Like my muscles want to pull in two different directions at the same time. I think if you keep it up I'll have a seizure. Or throw up. Or both."

"Well, if you have a seizure you'll probably lose consciousness, and then we can get you out of here." She turned her head. "Go ahead and try it, Rainbow."

"I'm only doing this because I don't wanna see Twilight destroy the world, and she might not listen to us about a magic thing because she's a little miss know-it-all," Rainbow said. She came forward and tried the latch. "Ugh! It's really stuck!"

"Twilight might have locked it with a spell," Discord said. "I wasn't... paying a lot of attention, really."

"Yeah, sounds like her," Rainbow said. "Oh, well! Fluttershy, I just figured out how we can prevent Twilight from destroying the world easy-peasy without having to worry about getting him out of here! Let's just kill him, then there'll be no problem!"

"What part of I want to keep him alive are you not getting?"

"The part where I care? I don't need to help you protect a danger to Equestria just because you want some nookie. Which you can't even get, because Twilight ordered him not to."

"There are ways around that," Fluttercruel snapped. "And that's not the point. Rainbow, do you remember why the spells on Discord work?"

"Because Twilight cast them with the Elements. Duh."

"And for the Elements to work, we need to be in harmony with each other. That was the entire reason Discord corrupted them, because if they were corrupted with their opposites they wouldn't be able to harmonize with Magic, or each other. But Twilight found a way to make them harmonize with Magic, and the rest of us harmonized with each other. What do you think is going to happen if you try to kill Discord in front of me?"

"You'd freak out?"

"I'd hate you. More profoundly than I am capable of hating anyone right now, and ever since my element was corrupted I've gotten good at hating ponies, Rainbow. If you try to kill Discord and you can't do it instantly... you're likely to free him, because you'll break our harmony, and the spells will snap. How long do you think you'd live if you were trying to kill Discord and all of a sudden he got his magic back and wasn't being prevented from harming any of us anymore?"

"To be honest, she'd live a very long time," Discord said softly. "A very, very, very long time."

Rainbow shuddered. "Knock it off, jerkface, you're being creepy."

"You just threatened to kill me. I thought it would be helpful to know what you're risking for yourself if you try it."

"So, if we can't get the latch open because of magic, we'll have to cut through the chains. Lyra and Bon Bon will have bolt cutters. Let's go."

"Don't you want me to, like, stay here and make sure he doesn't get loose?"

Fluttercruel gave Rainbow a look. "You mean, stay here and take a nap? Discord's not going anywhere if we don't cut through those chains. No, you're with me. I don't like asking ponies for favors, you can do it for me."

She fluttered to the door, much more slowly than Rainbow, who was already through the door. Fluttercruel turned and smiled at Discord. "Now, remember, it's very important to make sure that Twilight stays asleep. Poor thing is so tired. It'll be very helpful for her to get some nice rest, so there's nothing wrong with you keeping her in a healthy sleep if she starts to wake up, now that I've ordered you to."

Discord nodded. Fluttercruel started to continue. "And don't—"

He didn't want her to finish that sentence, in case it was an order not to go anywhere. Not that he could, until Spike got back and maybe not even then, and not that Fluttercruel knew it was an option, but it wasn't a risk worth taking. Discord interrupted. "Mistress, even if we get me out of here, how can you hide me from Twilight? Spike said she's got a spell that can scry for me."

"Oh, don't worry about that! That's why we're going to the Everfree; that spell never worked when you were in the Everfree. Well, when the other one was."

"Fluttershy, you want those bolt cutters, then let's get a move on! I don't care how healthy Twilight's nap is, if the rest of the girls get back here and see you've put Twilight to sleep to protect Discord, you're really gonna be in the soup."

"All right. I'll be right back, sweetie!" Fluttercruel left finally, shutting the door behind her.

Discord took a deep, ragged breath, looking down at the unconscious Twilight. For a moment he considered ripping her Element off of her; she was still wearing it as a tiara. Maybe there was something he could do, pry the piece of Matrisse out of it, something... but no. It would need magic to repair it, and the magic might be beyond him even with his powers. Planting disharmony in the heart of the Elements of Harmony? That was well within the range of the Spirit of Disharmony's abilities. But it had been Twilight's power that had sutured Harmony to Order. The only thing Discord could do with Order was to destroy it, and it might take more strength than he really had, with his body so weak and his thoughts so much more sluggish and harder to focus than usual.

"Come on, Spike," he muttered. "No time like the present... let's go, here..."

Opposition, 3:30 PM – Twilight

"What did you do with her?" Shining Armor was screaming up at Spike. "What did you do with our princess?"

"I think I probably mailed her to my princess," the gigantic dragon that had Spike's colors, that looked like newborn Spike before Celestia had come and cast the spell to regress him to his proper infant size, but whose voice was too deep and booming to ever be Twilight's little baby assistant, said. "The honest truth is I don't know. And I don't care either. She was going to kill my friends... and you were going to let her do it!"

Faster than she ever thought something so massive could move, the dragon that couldn't be Spike grabbed at her brother that wasn't her brother. Shining Armor threw up a shield, and the huge paw slammed into it and slid off.

"Spike, don't hurt him! He was obeying Princess Celestia's orders!"

"He was going to let her kill you! And all of our friends!" Spike roared, and the stones of the palace shook. His wings beat, sending small whirlwinds every which way, and changelings caught flying in the gusts were flung some distance.

"That doesn't matter," Rarity said, firmly, and did what Twilight couldn't possibly – she went up to the monstrous dragon and ran her hoof along the part of his great neck that she could reach. "Spike, you would not be able to live with yourself in the future if you had to remember harming Shining Armor, even if he isn't the correct one. He was like an elder brother to you, isn't that what you've told me?"

"Yeah..." It was, Twilight thought, a strangely incongruous word to come from a giant dragon.

She was still reeling. Spike had grown to full adult size in instants, like he had the day she hatched him. Greed growth had taken at least a full day. And he had wings. He hadn't had wings either of the previous times he'd been prematurely adult. What did that mean? And he seemed in control of his reason, mostly... he could still talk, and he hadn't kept lashing at Shining Armor. But Spike was her baby. Like a little brother, considering that she'd been far too young when she'd hatched him to be realistically considered a mother. He wasn't supposed to be like this. He wasn't supposed to be monstrously huge, so he'd never fit in the library or even anywhere in Ponyville and he'd have to go find dragons to live with because he'd terrify ponies everywhere he went and she was going to lose him—

A poisonous voice drifted over the battlefield. "Oh, dear, have I come at a bad time?"

Twilight spun around to look at the speaker, at the same time as Shining Armor did. "Honey!" he shouted. "Spike's turned into a full-grown dragon and attacked the Princess! He says he might have mailed her to another dimension! We need support, ASAP!"

"NO!" Twilight took to the air, and fired a beam of laser intensity at Chrysalis – who blocked it. Because when she'd fed on Shining Armor for months she'd been powerful enough to defeat Princess Celestia, and she'd had him in her clutches for years now—"You won't harm Spike!" she shouted, attacking Chrysalis again, but this time it was Shining who blocked her, extending his shield around the Changeling Queen.

Chrysalis laughed. "You may be an alicorn, False Twilight," she shouted, "but I've fought alicorns before. You're no Celestia. My changelings, attack the mares! My love and I will work on spanking the dragon and the little sister."

And then there was chaos. It was so much like the wedding; all around, changelings were taking the forms of her friends, but they were smarter about it than they were during the forest battle or the wedding. They took her friends' current looks, including mane dye jobs and everything, and they didn't attack the pony they were impersonating... they attacked one friend in the guise of another, greatly increasing the chance that one of her friends would hurt another, or would hesitate and be felled by a changeling. The remaining Royal Guards were attacking as well. Spike wasn't flaming them – she guessed, because he'd just figured out he was mailing everything he dissolved in his flame to their Princess Celestia, who probably had her hooves full with her doppelganger – but he didn't need to; a single swoop of his paw could send a dozen guards tumbling over the stone floor. A few earth ponies fell off the parapets and had to be rescued by pegasus comrades.

But Twilight didn't have much attention to spare to watch how Spike and her friends were doing, because she was fighting desperately herself.

Chrysalis was powerful. Very, very powerful. And much more experienced in battle. And while Shining wasn't attacking Twilight, he was shielding Chrysalis, so none of Twilight's attacks got through. It was all she could do to shield Spike and dodge Chrysalis' attacks herself, because Shining and Chrysalis were synchronizing, calibrating the shield to let the frequency of her magic through while blocking Twilight's, and when Twilight shifted her frequency, both Shining and Chrysalis changed theirs.

I can't beat them this way, she thought. Shining's shields were powerful enough to encompass an entire city; on a much smaller field, like this one, they were for all intents and purposes impregnable. As long as he was protecting Chrysalis, none of them, including Twilight, could get a hit in on her... but she was able to hit Twilight. More than once. Once, Twilight fell out of the sky, striking the stone floor hard... and cast a healing spell to accelerate her already vastly accelerated alicorn healing, getting back up on legs that moments ago had probably been broken to fire back with a counterattack. Another time, she skidded across the floor with burns in her wings or on her belly, and teleported back to where she'd just been. After a third attack that got through, she reeled back from bright light in front of her eyes, falling into a brutal spell that tried to crush her and break her bones, and she had to counterspell it, and while she was concentrating on that her shield on Spike faltered. He bellowed, unable to dodge away from Chrysalis' attacks while he was fighting to help their friends. Twilight thought it would take a lot of magic to harm him, but... she still remembered that horrible moment when her Princess Celestia had fallen at Chrysalis' hooves.

"Shining! We don't want to fight you! We don't even want to fight Chrysalis – we just came here to retrieve Discord and go home!"

Shining shook his head. "You have no idea what Discord did, here. He drove hundreds of changelings insane, and they killed themselves. He murdered Cadance. I can't allow him to be free, not for a moment."

"That wasn't our Discord! He didn't do anything like that, and the one who did is dead!"

"He's still Discord! I could allow the seven of you to go free, and go back through your portal, but you can't bring Discord with you!"

"Why? You know he's not the same one! Our Cadance is perfectly fine, and the two of you are happily married! Augh!" A bolt from Chrysalis caught her in the withers, burning through flesh and bone, and while Twilight was distracted force-healing it, her own shield was down. Chrysalis laid down a barrage on Spike, driving him back.

Twilight's shield went up again, even as Shining Armor blocked her counterattacks. "Why are you like this? When you were talking to Princess Celestia, you said you thought it would be a good thing if we took Discord and left, because your Twilight's obsessed with him!"

"I convinced him that that position was short-sighted," Chrysalis said, firing another blast that Twilight had to dodge.

I'll just bet you did, Twilight thought. She didn't know whether Chrysalis had used magical brainwashing, or just the ordinary influence special someponies had on each other, but either way it was obvious she was a pernicious influence. "If you're going to judge ponies for what their counterpart did in another dimension, Shining, then you need to take a good look at your marefriend, because in our dimension, she kidnapped Cadance! Impersonated her for months! Mind-controlled you at your wedding to let changelings come in and take the city! If you can love her even though her counterpart did all of that, then you can recognize that Discord didn't do the things you're accusing him of!"

"Why should he believe you?" Chrysalis asked, laughing. "I've proven myself. For all he knows, you come from a world where all of you are malicious liars to begin with, or you want Discord back so badly because you serve him willingly."

"You're the one who's good at lying and pretending to be something you're not! Shining, you know me! I'm just like the Twilight you knew, except that my Element isn't corrupted and my personality's still the same!"

"And you're an alicorn," Chrysalis said coolly. "That's rather different, don't you think?"

"That doesn't change who I am inside! Argh!" A blast of burning magic nearly took off her hind hoof. "Shining, you know an alicorn is still a pony! Cadance was an alicorn, and she was just as normal as you and I were!"

"It certainly makes you a lot more powerful," Shining Armor said. "And power can go to your head."

"More powerful, yeah, but not all-powerful. In my world, the Changelings captured Cadance even before the Gala. She spent a year as their prisoner, so Chrysalis would be in a good position to fool you when she supposedly got back from her foreign travels. Being an alicorn didn't save her from that."

Wait. Wait a minute.

The Grand Galloping Gala had happened before Discord broke out. Twilight had even noted that, before, when she'd been talking to Princess Celestia.

If this world had had the same history up to the point where Discord didn't get put back in stone... What was more likely? Discord taking a prisoner from the Changelings, only to kill her? Cadance breaking free of the Changelings and running straight into Discord, who for some reason decided to murder a mare who couldn't possibly have been in any condition to threaten him? Or... her changeling captors seeing an opportunity, and taking it?

Kill Cadance, blame it on Discord, and comfort the bereaved lover, openly taking Cadance's place in his heart? Because the Queen had decided Discord was a threat, or Discord had actually attacked them already, and an alliance with Celestia would be easier if the question of what had happened to Cadance never came up?

"Shining! I just remembered something!" she screamed frantically. "In my world, Cadance was kidnapped before the Grand Galloping Gala; that's why she wrote you to tell you she wouldn't be able to make it after all, because it was really Chrysalis writing the letter!"

"So what? Haven't you been arguing with me that someone from another dimension doesn't have to have done the same things as in this dimension?" Shining asked.

"We need to put her down, Shining! If we're to have any hope of getting Celestia back, we need to take them captive! Now!"

Twilight dodged and shielded against Chrysalis' suddenly frenzied attack. "The difference between our two worlds started with Discord breaking out. Which happened two days after the Gala."

"What are you trying to say?" Shining snapped, and there was suddenly a shield around her, pinning her in place. "That my Chryssie killed Cadance? Why would she have done a thing like that?"

Twilight teleported out. "I didn't say—"

A changeling landed on her then. Not as a combatant, but as an object that had been flung, apparently by Applejack. Twilight tossed the changeling aside. The fighting had gotten a lot closer to where she was. More changelings broke off from attacking her friends to come after her.

"Because Cadance is dead! I saw her body! Discord took her wings, and her poor horn was a broken stub, and her body was so badly smashed and mutilated—" Shining's voice caught in a sob. "He tortured her, or he dropped her from higher than even the pegasi can fly, after taking her wings. Who else could have done that? She was an alicorn! Who could have taken her wings, except Discord?" Another sob escaped him. "My Twiley thought it might have been Nightmare Moon, because Discord didn't generally kill anypony. But he killed changelings. So many changelings died, because he drove them into madness. He killed Sombra – took his horn, restored the crystal ponies' memories of the horrors they'd lived through, and tossed Sombra in the middle of them. Why would Nightmare Moon kill her own niece? Even if she hated Cadance, why wouldn't she have tried to take her hostage against Princess Celestia or something?" Shining was throwing shield bubbles up wherever Twilight paused, forcing her to fly or teleport nearly constantly. "He killed her! You're trying to imply that my Chryssie did – that she – no! She didn't, she couldn't have, because no one but Discord can make wings disappear as if they were never there!"

"Darling." Rarity had somehow come up behind Twilight, her mane a ruined wreck, her body covered with stone dust and scrapes and cuts, but she held herself proudly. "Let me answer him. Cover me, Chrysalis will try something."

"Um... okay?" But she couldn't teleport Rarity, now that she herself was exhausted, and Shining was using his shield to attack, and there was no countering that. What was she supposed to do?

"I'm sorry to raise such painful memories, but you must know, Shining!" Rarity called out. "The easiest way to take the wings from an alicorn if you're not Discord is to murder somepony who never had them in the first place!"

"What?" Shining stared at her, plainly enraged but also confused. "Cadance—"

"Had wings! Fleur de Lis, Fancy Pants' wife, did not! In this world, Fleur is a changeling... but in ours, she is not! And aside from wings, coat and mane color – which can be changed with dye – and cutie mark, she—"

And then the stone floor smashed beneath both Rarity and Twilight. With an ear-splitting shriek from Rarity and a cry of horror from Twilight, it caved in and they fell.

Harmony, 4 PM – Celestia

Celestia dodged her doppelganger's energy bolt by instinct, largely because she hadn't had time to analyze it and see what type of energy it was. It hit the wall and actually burned through the heat-protectant spell she'd placed on all of the interior walls of Canterlot Palace ever since her need to not channel so much energy that she'd melt stone to lava had led to her being defeated by Chrysalis. The bolt couldn't have harmed her – Celestia was immune to heat, up to and including being able to survive in the heart of her own sun – but she hadn't known what type of bolt it was before she dodged it.

"Princess Celestia!" Her guards charged forward – and stopped, trapped by the fact that there were two of her and they didn't know what to do.

"Go wake my sister, all of you. Tell her it's an emergency," Celestia said. They galloped away. To the other Celestia she said, "Do you choose to be a guest in my home, or do you choose to come as an enemy?"

"You are – This is the world Discord comes from. The world the uncorrupted Twilight and her friends have come from."

"It is, yes."

"And your Luna is alive?"

"She's asleep at the moment, but yes, quite alive and well."

Without warning her other self fired a transformation spell at her, with a power and constraint level appropriate to transform even an alicorn to... something inanimate, Celestia wasn't sure. She didn't have Twilight's talent for analyzing and rapidly comprehending spells. She did, however, have considerable experience with tearing spells apart, and with her own spellcasting techniques, so she was able to rip the spell apart easily.

"Why are you attacking me?" she shouted. "I've done nothing to you."

"Your dragon sent me here!"

"He is his own dragon, which I'm sure you recognize when you're in your right mind, and since I've been out of contact with him I had no way to influence his actions. Why did he send you here? What did you do?"

The other one fired a sleep spell, an area-effect dissolution spell that would dissolve matter within it, and three more transformation spells, in rapid succession. Celestia broke them all, and returned a sleep spell, a spell to reflect spells back on the caster, and a spell of clumsiness, which the other Celestia broke with ease. "It doesn't matter. I did what I had to do."

"Had to, or wanted to?" She flung the hoofcuffs at the other one, at sufficiently high speed that they'd have broken bones when they hit if the other wasn't shielding. Not that a broken bone could stop an alicorn of her age for longer than about thirty seconds, at most, but they were evenly matched enough that any advantage might give Celestia the upper hoof against her alternate.

"You have no idea what my world has become! Twilight told me, your Discord was safely caged again within a day! You didn't have to deal with chaos tearing your country apart for a year! You didn't lose your Luna!"

"I'm sorry for your loss," Celestia said, dodging a beam of frostfire. The other was getting desperate. Cold spells weren't their strong point to cast, and did little good against them – nopony could cool the sun, after all. On the other hand it was too simple and raw to be unraveled, not unless you were Discord at any rate. "But attacking me won't bring your Luna back! What do you hope to gain by this?"

The other didn't answer, just stepped up her attacks. Her eyes had been as cool and calculating as Celestia's own were, when all of this started, but now they were wild and crazed. Whatever was driving her to these attacks wasn't anything rational. Perhaps that world's Discord had corrupted her too, just in a more subtle way? Or perhaps she'd merely gone mad. Celestia considered how she herself would feel if Luna had died, such a short time from when she'd finally gotten her back. Still, it didn't make sense. She understood the concept of being maddened by grief, but it simply didn't seem in character for her; grief had always caused her to withdraw, push away any ponies who tried to help her, once in a while get exceedingly drunk... which was a challenge to manage with alicorn metabolism, but right after losing Luna she'd gotten quite good at it... Attacking another pony for no particular gain didn't seem like something she'd ever want to do, though.

"Is this jealousy?" Celestia pressed. "You're angry at me because my Luna didn't die?"

The other didn't answer, but her eyes grew even more wild and angry, even as tears started to glitter in them. So either that was a direct hit, or she was on the right track. She knew why the other wasn't answering her; goading her opponents into giving her the hooks she could use to manipulate them verbally was one of her own preferred tactics, and she knew better than to fall for it herself. Apparently, the other Celestia was that much like her, at least. But the other one was too emotional to guard her tells; she might be able to refrain from responding verbally, but her face told Celestia that the comment had hit a sore point, most likely the truth or a near-truth.

And then Luna finally arrived, her coat slightly amuss from sleep. "Sister? What – oh!"

The other Celestia turned, leaving herself completely open to attack, her face a picture of grief and longing. "L-Luna?"

"Sister, why are there two of you?"

"That one comes from the dimension the Bearers went to. Spike seems to have mailed her here," Celestia said.

"Luna – is it you? Is it really you?" The other Celestia took a hesitant step forward.

"I – yes? It is indeed me?"

"Her Luna is dead," Celestia said softly.

"Oh. Oh, I see."

The other Celestia broke, staggering toward Luna, the weight of her own emotions seeming to crush her. "Luna, Luna, oh, I've missed you so much," she cried, tears welling in her eyes. She threw her forehooves around the smaller alicorn. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I never wanted to do it but you said you couldn't keep fighting her off, Discord turned you back to Nightmare Moon and I tried to cast a spell to push her back but I wasn't strong enough, you told me you were slipping and you told me to do it and I never wanted to—"

Luna's horn lit, and the other Celestia slumped and fell to the ground. Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Sleep spell," Luna said.

"Of course." Luna's sleep spell was almost unstoppable – it didn't work on Discord in combat, though they'd never been able to try taking him by surprise with it, and Celestia herself could block it if she saw it coming, but back in the old days Luna had ended more than one sisterly argument about Celestia neglecting her own health with a sleep spell. "I imagine that's the best thing for her."

"Do we have a notion of why Spike would have sent her here?"

Celestia passed the hoofcuffs to Luna. "These arrived with a bit of Twilight's fur on them. I think Spike must have been freeing Twilight from captivity. I'm not sure why he was suddenly able to send me anything; I've been trying to send him messages all day, and aside from the very first one, none have gotten through."

"There would normally be a set of four of these."

"Yes... which is why I haven't tried to send Spike a message. If he didn't have time to free Twilight's back legs..."

"Who would have known the proper way to magically bind an alicorn? We've kept that secret over the centuries... haven't we?"

"Of course." Many, many enemies of ponykind knew you could stop a unicorn's magic by putting an iron ring on their horn. None knew that an alicorn could transmit her magic through her wings or her hooves if her horn was blocked – just as she could transmit her earth pony strength through her wings to make her flight more powerful, or her pegasus weather manipulation magic through her horn to cast weather manipulation spells every bit as good as anything the best weather management pegasus could do. There had been some, in the past, who'd known it, but Celestia, who'd outlived them all, had made sure their knowledge died out as well. "She must have been the one to bind Twilight. Or to order it done, at least." Celestia sighed deeply. "Discord said in his letter that her eyes were so cold, but to be perfectly honest, if he'd stayed free and unleashed chaos all over Equestria for months before being turned to stone, I think I would have been every bit as cold to him. I was hoping that she didn't know how he was being treated, that this was all the corrupted Twilight acting on her own recognizance... but that seems unlikely now."

Luna yawned. "I should walk in her dreams. Gather as much information as I can about what is transpiring in the other world, and what she's done." She sighed. "I am still troubled by your decision to let Discord free, and I'm still not convinced he is other than a monster... but if there is any possibility at all that the true Discord lurks within him someplace... I understand why you decided to act."

"Aside from any other equinitarian motive, he himself warned that he feared he'd be used as a weapon, if they broke him. That had to be prevented." Her horn lit with the summoning spell for her guards, and they returned. It was hard, sometimes, to get them to obey her standing orders – that they should leave her presence and concentrate on protecting the castle and civilians, should she ever be hard-beset by a foe she couldn't simply drop with a thought. Their instincts told them to protect their Princess, not to consider themselves a liability who would slow her down and impede her self-defense because she'd need to consider their welfare. But these had done well, and she told them so. Then she instructed two of them to go to one of the specific vaults in the Palace, and bring back a set of restraints that consisted of a horn ring, an iron cable, and four large hoofcuffs, larger than these. "Do you want to check on her dreams before I bind her?" she asked Luna.

"Nay, it's not necessary. And probably for the best that I wait, on the chance that I wake her up by misfortune."

Celestia nodded. "See if you can find out why she was attacking me. The best I can guess was that she was jealous of me, because you live and her Luna doesn't."

"I'll seek out that knowledge in particular, yes."

Opposition, 4 PM – Spike

Where was it?

Dear Celestia, Twilight couldn't have taken it when she took his gems, could she? All of Spike's secret stashes were completely empty. He'd known she took his gems, but when she'd asked him about the stone shards of a deer antler, he'd claimed it was petrified, and he'd found it in the Whitetail Woods, and that it wasn't food but he thought that it was really cool that things that had once been alive could turn to rock, so he'd taken it because the natural world was interesting. Only one of those statements had been true; he really had found it in the Whitetail Woods, in the cave where Celestia had put Discord's statue, surrounded by nothing-is-here spells that would keep a pony from noticing, but Spike had bribed one of the guardsponies who'd flown the statue there with donuts to find out exactly where Discord was.

Twilight had taken this to be an interest in science, and left it with him, after ostentatiously claiming his gems. But it wasn't in the place he'd been keeping it. And it wasn't in any of his other secret stashes. And downstairs the yelling had stopped some time ago, and any moment now he was going to run out of time. Terror and the sick feeling that he'd screwed things up horribly and doomed them all drove him to run downstairs to check and see whether there was any chance Twilight would be coming up.

Instead he found Twilight asleep on a pillow in the workroom where she'd bound Discord, and Discord himself slumped on the floor. He brightened as soon as he saw Spike. "Spike! Do you have my lunch for me?"

"I can't find it! I think Twilight took it, and why is she asleep?"

"Fluttershy ordered me. She and Rainbow Dash have gone to get bolt cutters. Now would be the perfect time to find your trophy and get it to me..."

"I just said! I can't find it! I don't know where it is! I've looked everywhere!"

Discord raised an eyebrow. "You let somepony steal from your hoard? What kind of a pathetic excuse for a dragon are you?"

"It was Twilight! I can't say no to Twilight! And I don't even know when she did it!"

"Hide it better next time. Give me a moment." Discord closed his eyes and lay down on the stone floor.

"What are we going to do?" Spike asked anxiously.

"We're going to shut up and let me concentrate," Discord snapped. "With my magic bound this is absurdly difficult." He closed his eyes again.

So he wasn't falling asleep. Spike didn't know what he was doing, but it required concentration, apparently.

Spike paced nervously for a few minutes. Finally Discord lifted his head. "Basement."


"I can't pin it down to where in the basement, but I can hear the tiny squeak of trapped and muffled chaos magic if I really concentrate on it, and it's coming from the basement. I'm sure of it."

"All right! I'll find it! Are you sure Twilight's okay?"

Discord rolled his eyes. "I'm not allowed to harm her, even under orders. She's just asleep."

"But what if she wakes up?"

"Fluttershy thought of that too. I'm under orders to keep her like this."

"Okay... I guess that's all right..." Spike backed out of the room and then ran for the basement.

Above his head he heard the door opening, and swore silently to himself, using words he'd found in books that Twilight didn't know he'd read. And there was Rainbow Dash's voice, absurdly loud.

His entire hoard of non-gem items was in a box in a corner. His comic books. A cravat that Rarity had made for him. A pawful of fireproof baby toys. A few celebrity autographs. A copy of Ogres and Oubliettes, First Edition. Photographs of himself and Twilight, from happier days. And his little bag of shards from the antler of the creature he'd murdered.

At some point today Twilight must have taken his entire hoard and moved it to the basement. To mess with him? To punish him? To keep his stuff safe in case something went wrong with her ritual? Spike had no way of knowing... not unless Discord's plan worked and they were able to fix the Elements and re-harmonize them. He sat on the floor and poured the shards out into his lap. There were five of them, in varying lengths and thicknesses. Because Discord's face had been staring at him, that expression of bitter laughter he'd been wearing when he was stoned and now he was looking at his murderer with that same cynical humor on a severed stone head lying face up on the ground and Spike couldn't stand it, so he'd swung the hammer again and smashed Discord's face in, except that had been even more horrible so he'd smashed and smashed until the pile of rubble wasn't recognizable as a head anymore. Except for the antler, which had broken off very early. As he'd picked it up, it had fallen to pieces, but they were pieces large enough that Spike could look at them and recognize what they were.

He'd needed that. After he'd looked at the rubble he'd created and it had sunk in, you have just killed someone. You have done something irreversible and awful, his mind had reflexively wanted to go elsewhere. Wanted to escape into daydreams, and forget that he'd done this. And that seemed wrong. He'd killed someone. He shouldn't get to run away from that. So he'd taken the antler bits, to remind him, forever.

Maybe it would all balance out if he saved this Discord's life. Maybe someday he'd be able to forgive himself.

He put the pieces in his pockets and headed upstairs.

Rainbow Dash was working the bolt cutters. Discord looked extremely ill and was trembling violently, but he wasn't attacking her. "Hurry up, please," he moaned.

"Stop being such a big baby," Fluttershy snapped at him. "Oh, Spike! Rainbow and I were just wondering where you were!"

"Uh... why?"

"We need to find out if the others have left the palace yet, and when they left. I don't want to get into an argument with them when they get here and I don't want them to take Twilight's side." She looked at Discord. "You did tell him what's going on, right?"

"That the ritual will end up destroying the world? Yes, I told him that... ngggh. Please, I think I might have a seizure..."

"Take a break, Rainbow."

"Not a chance! I'm almost through this one, and we've got two more to do!"

"Did Twilight actually order you not to let anyone break any of the chains, or did she just say the one attached to your collar?"

"All of them..."

"Oh, dear. All right, Rainbow, finish this one and then take a break." She turned to Spike. "Can you write a letter to Princess Celestia and ask her when the others left?"

"Okay..." He started to reach for his pocket and then remembered it was stuffed with shards of the dead Discord's antler. "Let me go get a quill and a scroll..."

Those were easy enough to find in a library. He quickly jotted the note and came back into the room, where Rainbow had finished with the main chain and backed off, letting Discord recover. "Okay, sending this to Princess Celestia..." He summoned up his internal magic and breathed out on the scroll.

The response came almost instantly. He belched it out. "What does it say?" Fluttershy asked eagerly.

"Uh... this is the message I wrote. It didn't go through."

"Oh, no! Can you try it again?"

"It's not going to go through if you try it again," Discord said. "A bounce like that means interference with the signal. My guess is that my Twilight and her friends have done something to block the transmission at the endpoint."

Fluttershy's eyes narrowed. "You mean they've done something to Princess Celestia?"

"Not necessarily. An interference spell doesn't need to do any harm to anypony."

"I'll try it again anyway," Spike said, and did, with the same result.

"I'm outta here," Rainbow said. "I need to check on Princess Celestia."

"And the others. I'll... cut these bolts. Somehow. Oh, maybe Spike could do it!"

"Yeah, no. Twilight said he had to use lethal force to stop me. He can't attack any of you, but he can attack me."

Rainbow sighed with exasperation. "Look, gimme two seconds and I'll get those chains off."

"I'll hold him down so he can't try to attack and maybe then he won't have a seizure from the contradictions," Spike volunteered.

"Like I care."

Spike walked over to Discord. "Put your head down so I can sit on your neck. Maybe if you can't physically attack, you won't get a seizure from the spell trying to make you do it when a different spell says you can't."

Discord sighed. "I doubt it will work, but all right."

As Spike crouched down to climb onto Discord's neck, in the moment when his body was facing Discord and blocking Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash's view of Discord's face, he quickly pulled the shards out of his pocket and laid them on the floor. "Go for it," he whispered.

"Got it!" Rainbow crowed. "Lemme get this other one—"

"No, it's fine, it's small," Fluttershy said. "I should be able to cut it. Go check on the Princess and the others."

"Right, I'm outta here."

Discord's tongue shot out, wrapped around the rocks and pulled them back into his mouth as Spike climbed onto his neck. "What do you want me to do?" Spike whispered to him.

"Wait for it."

Fluttershy started working on the last chain. "Oh, my goodness. Rainbow made this look so easy," she panted.

Discord's head jerked up, as if he was starting to have a seizure, and his breathing stopped for a moment, then resumed, fast and loud breaths through his nose. "Mistress Fluttershy?" he said, less mealy-mouthed than Spike would have thought – had he managed to swallow those rocks already, without chewing them? "Can I tell you something?"

She looked up. "Of course, sweetie, what is it?"

From his vantage point on Discord's neck, Spike couldn't see Discord's face, but he could hear the grin in Discord's voice. "Go fuck yourself."

And then the world turned inside out.

Opposition, 4 PM – Twilight

Twilight flung her magic out, catching Rarity with her telekinesis and shielding from the rocks. She teleported to the main receiving chamber of the palace, knowing that Princess Celestia wouldn't be there, and it would probably be locked. With no Princess and with so many guards being called to the roof, it was her guess that none would be spared to guard a room no one needed to be in right now.

Conservation of momentum meant she aimed for being in the air when she teleported, so she would have time to fly down and reduce her speed naturally, without instantly hitting the ground with all the force of her fall. She set Rarity down as soon as she landed. "Rarity, what's this about Fleur de Lis?"

"Shining mentioned that Fleur de Lis is a Changeling Princess, here."

"But Fleur was at the wedding. Cadance's spell would have thrown her too. Any creature that fed on love—"

"I know. And the wedding happened long after Discord broke loose, but it seemed to me as if Fleur here was revealed to be a changeling shortly afterward. Now, perhaps it's possible that Fleur was a captive of the changelings in our world and they returned her before the wedding... but honestly I think she or Fancy Pants would have told me at the wedding, if that happened."

"So in this world, they replaced Fleur?"

"I don't know if you ever noticed this, but in my profession I have to have an eye for body types. Their faces aren't identical, of course, and they're of different colors... but Fleur and Cadance could be perfect copies of each other, with the right makeup and some mild illusion spells, aside from the cutie marks and the wings. Shining told us that 'Cadance's' wings were missing, as if they'd never been there, and he assumed that was Discord's doing, since who but Discord could do that to an alicorn's wings?"

"You're saying..." Twilight felt sick. "The Changelings here murdered Fleur to make it look like Cadance had been killed by Discord? But why? What do they get out of that? If they wanted to frame Discord for killing Cadance, why not just kill Cadance?"

"Well, in part because you can't actually kill an alicorn by dropping her, I'd presume. Even if they bound her wings... well, darling, I've noticed how quickly you heal up from minor bruises and scrapes now, and Princesses Celestia and Luna are immortal, or nearly so. I haven't the faintest idea whether you and Cadance are, but you do seem to heal very quickly."

"They could have killed her some other way and then dropped the body."

"But then they don't have the Alicorn of Love, an expert on love spells, as a prisoner." Rarity swallowed. "We've seen what the corrupted versions of ourselves were willing to do to Discord to make him use his power for their benefit. How much do you think Chrysalis would be willing to do to break a magical supply of endless food to her will? Cadance can cast love spells. And if Chrysalis could break her, as our alternates were trying to do to Discord, to make her obedient..."

Twilight put a hoof to her mouth, trying not to throw up at the mental images suddenly bombarding her. Not Cadance. Not her sweet, kind, loving babysitter and sister-in-law. No.

But it was horrifyingly plausible. And if so... it made it so much more awful that Shining genuinely loved Chrysalis.

She took a deep breath. "I'll tell him. But I should teleport you outside the palace first."

"Nonsense, my place is with the rest of you."

"But you're not in the middle of the fighting now... I could go and teleport all of them."

"And then what? The guards would only pursue us, you know. We need to convince your brother that Chrysalis is playing him falsely."

"He's not going to want to hear it..."

"Is Chrysalis mind-controlling him?"

"I don't know, but... it's weird. When I was listening in on him talking to Celestia, he said that he thought we should be let go and we should be allowed to just take Discord because that way my counterpart would stop obsessing over studying him. Now he says letting Discord go would be terrible, and he keeps talking about the horrible things the other Discord did... mostly to changelings and Cadance. He doesn't bring up what Discord did to the rest of the nation. My brother's loyal, and he cares about Equestria. Why would he keep talking about changelings and not about ponies if he's fully in his right mind?"

"Is there any spell you can use to break him free?"

"If he was fully mind controlled, I could use the memory spell I used on you girls, to save you from Discord. But I don't think he's fully under her spell – just heavily influenced. I don't know how I'd counter that."

"He's your brother. Even if he isn't really your brother, I'm sure he'll listen to you if you can only have a chance to speak without Chrysalis interrupting."

"The problem is how powerful she is. And I can't get my magic through Shining's shield."

"I have an idea. Bring me to Spike; let me ride him. He has the power we need, but the dear young boy lacks the experience. I may be able to direct him. If he attacks Chrysalis directly while you work on separating Chrysalis from Shining Armor..."

"How is Spike going to get through Shining's shield?"

"From underneath, perhaps?"

"No, it's spherical."

"Hmm... darling, I'm afraid you're going to have to break it. You're an alicorn, he's not. Surely you have the strength needed?"

"I don't know... my brother has the most powerful shields in all of Equestria. I might not be able to pull that off."

"Let me think... there must be some way we can use your alicorn status. He won't be expecting that; his Twilight isn't. Is she significantly less powerful than you?"

"Yes, but much faster. I think it's that thing she combined her element with; it seems to have given her a speed boost and made her able to do complex spells a lot faster."

"But she can't fly."

"Uh, probably not. I couldn't when I was a unicorn."

"What if you flew at his shield, at high speed?"

"I don't think that would break it—"

"I'm sure it wouldn't, darling, but what would happen to an ordinary unicorn who fell onto his shield from a height?"

"Uh, it operates like it's a wall, so I guess they'd get hurt... but where are you going with this?"

"Consider. Somepony who looks and sounds like his beloved little sister is flying at high speed at his shield. You weren't nearly as adept at rapid teleportation when you were a unicorn; perhaps she is and perhaps she isn't, but my guess would be that he wouldn't expect you to be able to teleport away at the last moment. And while he may know you're an alicorn... his Twilight isn't, so I doubt very much he will be thinking in terms of your alicorn healing abilities. To him... it'll seem as if you're about to crash. And what would his immediate emotional reaction be to the sight of his little sister about to crash into his shield?"

Twilight wasn't the best at calculating the emotional reactions of others, but now that Rarity had pointed it out, she had to confess it sounded plausible. "So... you think he'll drop his shield?"

"And if he doesn't, you can teleport away before you hit."

"I think you might be overestimating my reflexes... but all right, I don't have a better idea so I guess we'll try it."

Opposition, 4 PM – Pinkie

The battle had not been going well.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash seemed to be doing okay against their opponents, all things considered, but they were both fighting five or six Royal Guards each. Rarity had wailed and screamed as she fought, crying and whining about how unfair it was that she had to fight, and she was a lady, and how uncouth it was for Royal Guards to be attacking a poor feminine dressmaker who isn't even a very powerful unicorn... which had led the guards who were going after her to back down. Fluttershy had succeeded at something similar, convincing two guards that Princess Celestia had obviously not been in her right mind if she wanted to commit necromancy, and Spike had sent her somewhere she could be healed, and she would be very grateful once she returned with her sanity intact that some guardsponies had recognized the terrible mistake she'd made and hadn't carried out such horrible orders. But all this had done for either of them was get Changelings set on them instead. Rarity had gone all out against the changelings, using rocks and discarded helmets and anything else she could find with her telekinesis to smash into them... but Fluttershy hadn't been able to do much except dodge. The Stare, and other manipulations, didn't work on changelings, who had their mother figure right there, giving them orders.

Meanwhile, Pinkie was taking hits.

She hadn't thought her Pinkie Sense would start cutting out from the backlash while she was still in danger. She'd expected it would wait until she was safely home, and then it would drop completely and she wouldn't sense a doozy if it was in front of her painted blue and blowing a flugelhorn to the tune of "Doozy Days Are Here to Stay." But no. It was failing now, her ability to sense how to dodge out of danger cutting out at exactly the wrong moments, so she kept getting hit. It was hard to be as agile as she normally was when her ribs and her belly ached so much and there were claw slashes from a Changeling on her side (how did they even have claws? They had hooves! Had the one who'd hit her shapechanged his hoof into a claw at the last second before he hit her? Oh fudge pudding this hurt) and dust in her eyes and one time she'd landed wrong and gotten a rock in her frog and now she was limping even though she'd managed to get it out.

Still. Fluttershy beset by Changelings. And Rainbow Dash up in the air fighting pretty much every pegasus guard almost single-hoofedly. Spike kept raising enormous gusts of wind to blow at them, but that was catching Rainbow as much as it was her opponents because Spike might know how to fly for some reason but he didn't know anything about air flow like Dashie would know but it wasn't like she had time to teach him. And Applejack was taking on most of the unicorn and earth pony guards, the ones that Pinkie wasn't fighting. No one was free to help Fluttershy... who had a little success getting changelings to bang into each other or to get them to chase her into range of Spike's massive paws, but not much.

Well, there was no help for it. Pinkie just had to step up her game.

She weaved and dodged and blocked as she worked her way toward Fluttershy. The changelings saw her, and there were thus three Fluttershys and two Pinkie Pies in the group that had gone after Fluttershy, but Pinkie knew who was who. These changelings knew to mimic their dyed mane colors, but the expressions on their faces were too savage or mocking or savagely mocking to be either Fluttershy or Pinkie, and their combat moves weren't quite right. The fake Pinkies didn't seem to pronk like she did, and the fake Fluttershys were in the air. Pinkie lured her guards in and got one of them to get mixed up and attack a Pinkieling. She shouted as she fought her way toward Fluttershy. "Fluttershy! Remember the time I asked you if Gummy could eat ice cream?"

"Yes, and you remember that I said no and you fed it to him anyway and then he got sick?"

"I couldn't help it! He wanted it so bad! You try standing up to those baby alligator eyes!" Pinkie grinned. They had both established their bona fides to each other, despite all the changelings, and they hadn't even needed to use Marco Ponio.

Across the floor, she saw that Rarity had managed to break free of her bevy of changelings and had gotten over to Twilight and Spike. "Let's try to get to Applejack! We'll work better as a team!"

"Oh, but Applejack won't be able to tell changelings from the real us nearly as easily as we can, Pinkie, you know that..."

"We'll just do Marco Ponio! Anyway we could totally get the guardsponies who are fighting Applejack to take on some of our changelings!"

"There is that... Okay, then."

Pinkie began trying to move the fight. It was difficult, because Fluttershy, despite being able to fly, wasn't willing to go up to go over a combatant, so they couldn't leap together, and they had to stay together because Fluttershy couldn't really fight. Pinkie had to do the fighting for both of them, although it was Fluttershy who found that if you bucked a changeling hard enough between their neck and their withers that it cracked their carapace, it dropped them. She had a large rock in her hooves, courtesy of Spike or Chrysalis or someone who had smashed up the floor come, and was on her hind legs, staying balanced by using her wings, and lunging at changelings with the rock. It was rarely effective, but at least it made them keep more distance from her than they'd probably prefer. Pinkie didn't need a rock to do the same thing; she was an earth pony. No Applejack, no, but when she concentrated on her legs she could crack a changeling's carapace with a buck, and she was better at fighting in a reared position, on hind legs, than any other earth pony, or in fact anypony who wasn't a pegasus, that she knew. A hard punch to the face with a foreleg sent most changelings reeling, and Pinkie could even jump from that position. She was still taking hits she should have been able to dodge, but she was keeping the changelings from piling on top of them en masse, and that was what was important.

And then they heard Rarity and Twilight scream. Both turned to look, and saw, horrified, as the floor crumbled underneath the two mares and sent them falling into the tower.

If the changelings had thought they could take advantage of the distraction, though, they were mistaken. Spike roared. "Twilight! Rarity!" His voice boomed with rage and horror, and then turned into a wordless scream/roar loud enough that all Canterlot probably heard it... and then flame jetted out of his mouth. Real flame. Burny flame that burned things. Which happened to be changelings. A dozen changelings near the hole in the ground screamed as they were set on fire.

"Oh... oh, my..." Fluttershy whispered. "Poor Spike... when all this is over that's going to give him nightmares, I'm sure. We'll have to tell Princess Luna to help him..."

Pinkie swallowed. "Yeah." Cute, friendly, chubby-cheeked Spike, always helpful, always hungry, always up for a donut or a gem-encrusted cupcake as a reward for a chore... had just killed a dozen changelings. He'd been horrified enough, when they'd been in the forest, that he'd have to fight some. Maybe the changelings would be able to stop, drop and roll, and put out the fire... no, there they went. Nothing but ashes.

Spike took to the air. "I'LL KILL YOU, CHRYSALIS! I'LL KILL EVERY CHANGELING HERE! TWILIGHT! RARITY!" Another gust of flame came out, dangerously close to Pinkie and Fluttershy, but the changelings who'd been besieging them scattered.

Chrysalis shouted, her own voice reverberating loudly. "My changelings! To me! Bring the dragon down!"

And the sky turned black with changelings, not just all the ones on the roof but ones flying up from every window in the palace, from the ground, from places in Canterlot. It was like the wedding all over again. And all of the changelings made a beeline for Spike. He roared and flamed more of them, but there were so many, swarming him. Landing on him, trying to bite him. Covering him with their bodies.

"Oh, no," Fluttershy whispered. "It's like the bees... We have to stop this!"

"Like the bees?" Pinkie asked as she galloped, following Fluttershy, right up to Shining Armor, who was shielding Chrysalis still but staring up at the sky with more horror in his face than triumph.

"Shining! Shining Armor!" Fluttershy shouted. "You have to end this! Without Twilight or Rarity, you're the only one who can!"

"End this?" He looked down at Fluttershy. "He's trying to kill Chrysalis. My love. I can't... I can't let him do that."

"He's Spike. He's the closest thing to a little brother or a nephew you have!"

"He's... not my Spike."

"That's true, and the Twilight who fell isn't your Twilight, and you're not our Shining Armor, but how would you feel if your Spike was protecting Twilight in our dimension and the changelings tried to kill him for it?"

"Yeah!" Pinkie said. "All you have to do to stop this is rescue Twilight and Rarity! And then let us all go! Spike doesn't want to fight the changelings!"

Another gust of flame burned more of the buglike creatures. "He doesn't seem to have a problem with it to me."

"He's a dragon, and he's maddened because of Twilight and Rarity! He'll stop if you rescue them! And those changelings will kill him! Like bees!"

"They can't... how is their venom even going to get through his armor? They can't do anything to him! He's a dragon!"

"No," Fluttershy said, with more patience in her voice than Pinkie could muster up, herself. "When a foreign bee tries to invade a hive, the bees protecting the hive swarm it. They surround it completely, and beat their wings to generate heat. The bee who's surrounded overheats and dies. Spike can't overheat, he's a dragon, but if there are enough of them crawling all over him he won't be able to move his wings anymore. He'll fall. And where he's positioned... he won't fall to the ground in Canterlot. He'll fall to the bottom of the mountain."

"I don't think even Spike can take that!" Pinkie said frantically. "We can get him to stop if you get Chrysalis to call her drones off and you rescue Twilight and Rarity!"

Shining firmed his jaw. "Soldiers! Go downstairs and look for Ladies Twilight and Rarity! Tell them Spike has gone berserk and bring them upstairs to try to calm him! Tell them he's killing changelings!" He turned to Chrysalis, who had paid no attention to the conversation, her eyes glowing as she apparently stared into space, or possibly communed with her changelings. Yeah, that sounded more likely. "Chrysalis! I need you to stop trying to kill Spike!"

Her eyes cleared, and focused on Shining. "He has murdered changelings!"

"He is a child who has been repeatedly faced with a threat to the life of his family and friends, who's just had very rapid and terrible changes happen to his body that I doubt he has any idea how to handle, and you attacked Twilight and Rarity. We can get him to calm down if we can find them."

"Why should I cater to him? You heard the horrible things they were saying about me!"

"You mean like how you probably killed Fleur de Lis and made it look like you killed Cadance so that you could keep Cadance and still win over Shining Armor and Princess Celestia?" Pinkie asked. "Because we were all talking about that when we were still locked up in a cell!"

Chrysalis' face twisted in rage. "How dare you! I should strike you down where you stand!"

Shining put a hoof out. "Chrysalis. Stand down. They don't know you like I do. They're ignorant and they're afraid of what they don't understand. I know you would never have harmed Cadance."

"Well, unless Discord messed with her head to totally change her personality forever, then you know wrong, because in our world she kidnapped Cadance and impersonated her so she could marry you and feed on your love and invade Canterlot, and nopony else has had a completely different personality forever unless Discord messed with them, they just have different personalities because of different stuff that happened, but Cadance got kidnapped before Discord broke loose in our world and—"

"Pinkie. It's out of respect for my sister's friendship with you in my world that I'm not blasting you where you stand. Shut up," Shining Armor snapped.

And then Twilight and Rarity reappeared, above Spike.

"What are you doing to Spike?" Twilight screamed. "Get off him!"

A shockwave of telekinesis blasted from her horn, washing over Spike's body and dislodging most of the changelings.

"Rarity! Twilight! You're okay!" Spike shouted up to them. His wings beat hard, and he rose up to greet them.

Chrysalis' eyes narrowed, and she set off into the air. Shining Armor called out to her. "Wait! What are you doing?"

"Directing the battle myself," she said. "I won't allow Twilight or Spike to harm any more of my changelings. I'll take the field myself!"

"I can't shield you when you're in the air!"

"I don't need you to shield me! I have enough power to fight off one young alicorn!"

Pinkie looked at Fluttershy. There were now no guards on the roof and no changelings anywhere. "Go to Discord," she whispered. "There's probably bolt cutters in the other Pinkie's workshop in the basement at the Cakes', because I have them for a handcuff emergency and I kinda think she has more of those than I do. I'll be a distraction."

"Okay," Fluttershy whispered back. "But, um, if you have the chance while you're talking to Shining Armor? Cadance might possibly be alive, I think?"

"How come?"

"I was at the Tree. Luna's cutie mark was darkened, but Cadance's is there, on the other side of the tree, and it was... flickering. Celestia's was just like on our Tree."

"Huh. Good to know. If I get a chance I'll use it but I've got something better for right now, I think." Pinkie looked at the sky. "Two things." She waved a hoof at Fluttershy and whisper-shouted. "Now hurry up and go!"

Fluttershy said, "Okay", again, softly, and slunk away, backwards, while Shining Armor was still staring up at Chrysalis.

"Yoo-hoo! Shining Armor!" Pinkie waved a hoof in front of him.

His eyes refocused. "What?"

"I have an idea! Why don't you just let all of us go? There's no crazy Princess Celestia here trying to commit necromancy, and if we don't go back through our portal, our Princess Celestia doesn't know where it is so she can't drop off your Princess Celestia at the portal, and she's not a huge giant dragon so I bet she can't mail another alicorn to Spike, so unless you let all of us go how are you going to get your Princess Celestia back? And without her saying she's gonna kill us all so that she can kill Twilight to get Luna back, you don't even have to keep fighting us!"

He looked back up at Chrysalis. "You don't know what Discord did to the changelings. Even if he killed Fleur de Lis to make it look like he killed Cadance, to hurt me because I'm Twilight's brother and everything he did was to hurt Twilight. Everything he did to the changelings justifies never, ever letting him free."

"That's too bad, because I was kinda hoping we weren't gonna have to do this," Pinkie said.

"Do what?"

That was when Rainbow Dash slammed into his shield with all the force of a Sonic Rainboom.