Cadence and Shining Armor caught the last few moments of what the What-If Machine was showing.
They both shivered in horror.
"Wait, I have to share my husband with a not-completely-evil Chrysalis?"
"I... fathered... one hundred seventy-three Changelings? With... Chrysalis?"
The two ponies hugged each other, horrified to their core.
"If it's any consolation, you and Chrysalis mostly become friends in that universe." The machine said to Cadence, "And your children bright about social change in the hive," it said to Shining Armor.
There was a knock at the door. Cadence blinked, watching a large, gold armored Changeling enter. There was a large scar on his chest. "General Hercules? What is it?"
"Simply checking in, my queen..." he said, giving a bow. "You've been gone for some time and we were beginning to worry."
"Oh, my apologies. This simply took longer than expected. Please tell the others everything is fine."
"Yes your majesty..." he said with a bow and left.
"...Considering that guy tried to kill my squad and some of your friends, it's surreal for him to be on our side..." Shining admitted. "...Come to think about it, why didn't we call the World's Strongest Changeling to help us in any of the big fights we had here?"
"Well, I was going to have him slam down the door if it turned out things weren't going well when the What If Machine took over, but it was resolved peacefully..." Cadence replied.
"Yeah...Good thing too I guess..." said Shining. "Still surreal..."
"Continuing universe viewing..." said the What If Machine.
"...So there's no way to turn her back?" Shining Armor asked sadly.
"No, my King," said Hercules, guiltily. "I apologize for how this is going to sound, but we never saw reason to 'downgrade' Changelings. Alchemy Master Kabuto was the only one who might be able to figure out how to do it, but he's currently on the moon...if it makes anything right, this was not something myself, Digger Wasp, or many of our soldiers were aware of. Kabuto had a very long leash with the former Queen agreeing with many of his experiements, and we normally only 'upgraded' willing ponies."
"Didn't know you had a moral code."
"We didn't, unfortunately. It was a pragmatic choice: the transformation doesn't change the mind, only the body. Doing it to unwilling participants would only result in a Changeling with no loyalties to the Queen and a waste of resources...Kabuto often did it for his 'experiments'."
"That monster better be happy he's on the moon where I can't get my hooves around his throat..."
"We are in agreement on that point."
"Digger Wasp had orders to execute Kabuto when the invasion was finished and had he failed I was tasked with it. and half the hive was lined up behind us."
"...I guess I should be glad he didn't do something worse to her."
"Perhaps Kabuto's assistant Katydid can be of help, but while very intelligent, she's...somewhat unstable."
"Big brother...it's fine..."
Shining turned the Changelingified Twilight. "Twiley...."
"It's...it's not quite okay, but I can live with it...My friends don't care what I am...so...I can take it..."
Shining hugged her. "...I'm sorry Twilight...I...I didn't know..."
"It wasn't your fault, Chrysalis tricked you, just like she did everypony else..."
"...No matter how hard this makes your life...I promise I'll help you through it..."
"I know you will, BBBFF..."
"Wow...I guess...I guess there's no reset button for that me..." said Twilight, a little disturbed.
"Yes, but at least she has a good big brother there with her," said Cadence reassured.
"And good friends as well..." Rarity replied, giving her friend a hug.
"Hmm...Katydid....She seems a lot different from how she is in my world..." Ghostly Pie explained, tapping her chin. "Then again our Cadence had time to help her get better by the time her Changeling Rangers started fighting us, and I only really got to know her in Heaven..."
"Yeah, like Pony Rangers...a lot like Pony Rangers...Katydid is a huge fan. Don't ask how she made giant robots, it flew over my head..."
"...so that's why she wanted her statue to have a radio with Pony Rangers playing in the room with her statue..." said Cadence. "Hope she doesn't get sick of it by the time Kabuto is released..."
"Well, she's still happy with it a thousand years later, so I guess she won't..."
"It will BE a thousand years before Kabuto is released, so that's a good sign..."
"Continuing..." the What If Machine explained.
Shining thought back to his confrontation with Chrysalis before the monstrous Queen was dragged off to Hell. His sister was being checked out, Cadence was busy avoiding international incidents while Luna was figuring out how to reunited her two bodies.
He thought of -Rainbow Dash- and -Gilda-, the two shadows that had joined with him to save her.
He now remembered being a part of the track team growing up and being quite good at it. While buck Withers had still been a lot more of a jock than him, and he was still more into O&O, he now had a more competitive streak than he had previously had. He was decidedly more out to win, but still entirely loyal to his team.
"I wonder who those two were..."
The What-if Machine whirred, calling attention to itself again.
"Incoming transmission. Contains: Shadowy Government Organizations and Various Attempts at Shocking Swerves."
The table was quiet, save for the minor grunts of pain from a few of the stallions seated around it. Some had bandages around their limbs or midsections, one pegasus had his left wing tightly bound and part of his mane singed and a unicorn's horn would occasionally spark along a crack near the tip. They all wore suits and a set of shades (despite the dim setting), but most were similarly damaged, and at least one's glasses had a very visible crack in one lens.
All in all, the Stallions in Black had seen better days.
However, one still seemed unharmed and his outfit undamaged.
He sat on a small cushion, his wing idly tilting a thermos to pour a dark-brown liquid into a small cup. Steam billowed from the cup as he set the thermos down and turned to the one pony at the table who wasn't wearing the trademark outfit. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with us, Shining Armor."
The white unicorn glared at the pegasus, his body tense and ready to react to even the slightest twitch. "Don't pretend this is some social call. My sister and her friends kicked your sorry flanks into the ground once already, they can do it again."
"Yes, yes they did." The pegasus's hoof idly swirled the steam above his drink, slowly condensing it into a tiny ball of cloud. "But that's not the issue right now, Shiny."
"Only my friends call me Shiny," he snapped.
The pegasus chuckled. "Shining Armor, with what I'm going to tell you, you're going to want to start considering me a friend." Ignoring the unicorn's hardening glare, the pegasus used his wing to pull over a sugar bowl and add a few scoops to his drink. "Do you know why the Stallions in Black were formed?"
Shining continued to glare for a moment, then responded. "To hide the other tribes from each other."
The pegasus shook his head, setting the spoon back in the bowl. "No, that was merely one method we used to achieve our goal. The SIB was formed centuries ago, under a different name of course, in order to protect the world." He lowered his shades slightly to look Shining in the eyes. "By any means necessary." As the unicorn shifted uncomfortably, the agent continued. "At the time, none of the tribes were very... shall we say 'Friendly'?"
"Yeah... I remember the history lessons... assuming you didn't alter the books to suit your secrets."
One of the wounded agents spoke up. "We merely removed any information pertaining to the other tribes; any and all other information was left unaltered."
The pegasus that had been running the conversation chuckled dryly. "Yeah, none of the tribes started out as civilized as they are today. Especially us pegasi, we're not exactly known for being level-headed."
"That's racist," Shining interrupted.
"Only if a unicorn or earth pony says it." The pegaus continued to manipulate his little cloud-ball. "Anyway, even though it wasn't your greatest subject, I assume you paid enough attention in your History class to get the gist. Can you honestly say that, if the tribes had met all those years ago, it would have ended in sunshine and rainbows?"
Shining Armor fidgeted in his seat, nervously rubbing his hooves together. "Well, maybe..." When the pegasus only raised an eyebrow, Shining gave a defeated sigh and slumped on the table. "Okay, yeah, you're right. It would have one giant clusterbuck and likely turned into a war."
"Exactly," the pegasus said. "However, as the years marched on, times changed. Your sister and her friends are proof of that." He finally picked his drink up and took a long gulp. "They truly are remarkable kids. However, at the end of the day, that is still all they are: Kids. And that, Shining Armor, is where we come in."
Shining looked up from his slump, scrutinizing the pegasus. "What do you mean?"
"No matter how remarkable they are, you can't truthfully expect children to be the new guardians of the world. The stress alone would probably drive them to an early grave. We, however, have training and experience on our side; the only thing we lack, is trust."
Shining blinked. "Huh?"
"If we were to approach them, even out in the open, they would not react favorably. Miss Midsummer Night alone might attempt to kill one or more of us.
"I won't say she is wrong for that attitude, given our history with her family, but it makes things rather difficult for us. You, however, are trusted by them, especially by your sister. Meaning that you would make an excellent liaison between us and them."
Shining Armor's eyes widened. "So... you're saying that... you want me to work for you?"
"In a nutshell, yes." The pegasus took another sip of his drink. "In a more wide-reaching sense, we want to help your sister and her friends. Our job is to ensure the safety of the world, and -- right now -- ensuring the well-being of those ponies is the best way to do so." The pegasus sighed himself now, pulling off his glasses entirely now. "I'll be blunt, Shining Armor. This isn't some leg-twisting, 'work for us, or else' offer; we need your help. You're the only one who could possibly convince them to listen to what we have to say. So, I am asking, one pony to another, will you help us?"
Shining Armor slowly pulled his head off the table, thinking about what the pegasus had said.
It didn't take long.
"Okay, for the moment, I'll believe you." He jabbed a hoof at the pegasus. "But! The second I start doubting you, all bets are off!"
"Fair enough." The pegasus bumped his cloud-ball with a hoof, pushing it over to Shining Armor. The ball popped open, and a set of shades landed on the table before him. "Welcome to the SIB, Agent Armor."
"Thanks..." Shining gingerly picked up the glasses with his magic, not taking his eyes off the pegasus. "I'm assuming you have a name too?"
"Coffee Swirl," her responded, taking another sip of his drink. "The door is that way." He pointed a wing to the left. "We'll be in touch."
"By the way, good luck with those 'crimes against equinity' charges your organization is facing."
Everypony looked at Coffee Swirl in confusion.
"...Well...that was unexpected..." said Twilight.
"So I'm the leader of a reformed faction of an evil conspiracy in that world...I can live with that..." Coffee Swirl admitted.
"What I wonder is WHY you're the leader.."
"Well..." Gothamena said. "The original leader, named Cover Up, refused to leave their base as it burned down after we had to defeat him. And a lot of their higher ups got mind wiped. So he took control afterwards?"
"As good an explanation as any..."
"I'm just glad bad guys turned good, it's always good when that happens!" Ghostly Pie replied. "And I'm speaking from experience as a bad guy turned good!"
"I think we can all agree on that."
"Rarity, what are you doing?" Twilight walked over to her friend, frowning. Rarity ignored her to continue staring through a telescope aimed out the window as Twilight snapped, "Did you pay any attention at all to what just happened?"
"Of course, dear, I spoke to Cadence about becoming a Changeling before I learned about the, urrgh," she shook herself, "soaking my magnificent mane in that slime that fills Changeling cocoons." She glanced at her friend. "Right now I'm watching what's going on with Big Mac, Cheerilee, and my sister Red Gala back in town." The fashionista frowned. "I don't know why, but for some reason it feels odd to say 'big sister'."
Twilight stood close by attentively as Rarity observed her sister and friends talking at the Ponyville train station.The daily to Canterlot was there, and ponies were getting aboard. Rarity could see Princess Luna boarding, apparently wanting to give her wings and horn a rest, or just enjoying the lxuery and beside her Fleetfoot accompanying the Princess. Judging by the just plain lusty look she was directing at Big Mac, she wasn't leaving completely willingly. Still, she did leave.
A short ways off from her big sister, Big Mac, and Cheerilee she noticed Green Tea walking off with Zecora's sister Bareedina. She barely caught part of what the zebra said: "...have just the best blend you never tasted before, passion fruit tea, only grown in a rare part of Zebrafrica..." The two mares vanished back into Ponyville, leaving only three ponies talking at the station.
"Part of me wants to demand that you choose one or the other of us," Red Gala said to Big Mac. The crimson-maned mare shook her head, looking like she flirted as she half hid behind her mane. "The other part of me doesn't want to put a friend on the spot like that. Even, no, especially a stallion I -- like." She smiled slowly at him as she said the latter.
Big Mac somehow seemed to turn even redder at her words. When her smile widened and took on a sly look, he seemed ready to either run or sink into the earth to escape. Cheerilee snorted and set her ears back in annoyance, stepping closer to Big Mac. He shifted a bit uneasily, but didn't pull away.
Applejack stood nearby, remaining silent. She looked like she knew deep down that this was something she ought to stay out of and allow the ponies involved to settle it.
Red Gala noticed Big Mac's reaction. Her smile tuned sad as she said, "But then, I think you've already made your choice, haven't you? A long time ago." She seemed to look at Cheerilee and emphasize the word 'long' slightly. Cheerilee frowned at Gala.
"Miss Red Gala Belle," she said, her voice sharp as when she spoke to a student who'd seriously misbehaved in class, "Are you implying anything about either Big Mac or myself?"
"What?" Red Gala smiled at her. "Afraid that the big bad and younger mare from Canterlot is going to steal your stallion away?" She frisked over to Big Mac and gently nuzzled at his neck. He seemed ready to die of embarrassment, scraping one forehoof absently against the ground. Cheerilee gazed on coldly as Red Gala husked out, "You don't think I could do that, do you, stud?"
Big Mac's cheeks flamed. Cheerilee looked from him to Red Gala, despairing.
"Uhhh...." Big Mac looked from her to Cheerilee, the pretty mulberry mare he'd known for years, the one who'd taken time from her own studying to come and teach him more than the 'Three R's' he'd learned before tragedy took him out of school and set him to work alongside his grandmother. She blushed and looked away as he said, "Eee-nope."
"I thought so," Red Gala said. And with that the air she'd assumed of the stallion-eating seductress dropped away. And all that could be seen was a wistful mare, her eyes gleaming with a wetness that faded before it had a chance to fall. She leaned in close and gave Mac a kiss, a gentle one. "Thanks, Big Mac. The better mare won." She turned to Cheerilee and extended a hoof. Cheerilee took it and shook as Gala said, "Take good care of the big lug." She added in a mock-serious tone, "And remember, if you don't, I WILL come back and romance him away -- for real, this time." She turned and began to walk away, heading for the cars of the train.
"Miss Gala, where are ya goin'?" Big Mac called after her. "Ya don't have ta leave."
"Yes, I think I do," Red Gala called back. "I need to return to Canterlot for a bit, I have to look after Rarity's second shop. Please give my best to Rarity and little Sweetie Belle, and don't worry," she looked back at them, "I'll be back someday." Big Mac started after her, just as a release of steam from the train's brakes hid her from sight. And when it cleared she was gone.
Big Mac looked at Cheerilee as the train pulled out of Ponyville station. "Ah reckon she's right about one thing," he said. He leaned over and gave her a gentle nuzzle. "If there is any one mare in ma life, it's you. Ah'd still like ta wait a bit 'fore makin' it permanent, though. Not too long!" He hurriedly added. "Just long 'nough ta clean out the old 'newlyweds house' on th' farm." At her curious look, he shrugged. "We used it more in th' past than now, but it's still set up proper. Be a nice place for two ponies ta live in." He blushed as he realized what he'd said.
"I can wait," Cheerilee said, smiling as she nuzzled him back. "Just not TOO long, now."
Trotting side by side like an old married couple, Big Mac and Cheerilee headed for Sweet Apple Acres to break the news to the one pony who deserved most to hear it first.
"See you later . . . Red Gala." Rarity whispered, oddly feeling hurt like she was seeing her big sister go off from Ponyville for the first time instead of her big sister simply going back to Canterlot. All the same, Rarity understood why Red Gala had to leave right then instead of saying goodbye to her family . .. Rarity forgave her.
"Wha . . . what happened?" Sweet Cream Scoops said, coming out of her catatonic state she'd been in after seeing herself as the mistress of countless stallions, including Cheerilee and the Elements of Harmony turned INTO loving devoted stallions by an unknown seapony Amulet, with no time to herself, and very very pregnant.
"Oh sorry darling, forgot you were here . . . I'm not at liberty to say how, but Big Mac is now officially out of your hunting grounds." 'I just wish the mare would find a stallion who is as shallow as she is, they'd be happy together.'
The What If Machine looked up. "This one may be entertaining to Miss Maud Pie."
Maud blinked, raising her head.
"Pinkie Pie...stop this..."
"Come on sis sis sis! I just want everypony to smile smile smile! Is that too much to ask ask ask?!" asked Nightmare Granfalloon, the Bearers nearby fighting off her familiars. Rainbow Dash was currently an Earth Pony, Rarity a young pink unicorn, and Twilight a green Earth Pony, but still they fought. Each for different reasons.
Maud had come running. Big sisters have a way of knowing when their little sisters need them. And Maud had had just that.
She looked stoically up at the Nightmare. "...I thought you said I didn't need to smile...That I smiled on the inside."
"So is there something wrong with me now, Pinkie?"
Granfalloon seemed like she was a computer being hit by a paradox. On one hoof, her definition of 'wrong' was obviously quite skewed. But...she knew her sister's happy' self. That was a HAPPY memory she'd saw no reason to cast out.
"Maud...you...you don't understand! You just don't don't don't!"
"But I think she does..."
The top of the tent blew open. Everypony expected Celestia to descend...but instead, what came was a white pegasus with large wings and strange markings.
The Pegasus landed next to Maud. "Remember when Lily Lightly thought she was different?"
"Y-Yeah...she was scared we'd judge her..."
"Yes, but how much did it mean to her when we accepted her?"
"...A lot lot lot..."
Star Catcher turned to Maud. "Miss..."
"Maud Pie," Maud had a feeling 'Star Catcher' already knew just that and was 'acting'.
"Yes, Maud Pie," Star Catcher said. "How much does it mean to you your sister don't think it wrong you 'smile inside' and accepts you fully for it?"
"...A lot...everything...it means everything..."
Granfalloon took a step back. "B-But those feelings are bad...you shouldn't feel out of place or sad..."
"But Lilly Lightly did in our world...but finding those that accepted her meant the world to her, Pinkie," Star Catcher explained. "That wasn't some alien taint, it was there...and it was special. So very special. It made Lilly so happy when it finally happened...happiness can come out of darkness..."
Granfalloon put her hooves to her head. "N-No...darkness...sadness...they're bad! Good can't come out of them!"
Maud trotted over and hugged her sister despite her Nightmareified state. "But it does...just like a little pink filly can bring joy to a dull, dismal rock farm...I think you made the rocks smile that day...and it was so special...would you change that for the world?"
Granfalloon's familiars and brainwashed minions just stopped.
'Star Catcher' allowed the unbrainwashed/altered members of the group to briefly see a familiar image of Princess Celestia. "Hurry! There isn't much time!"
She threw the Elements of Harmony to them.
"But we need a laughter!" Fluttercruel warned, currently forcing her Zipzeeified mother into a mental closet and helping the others, having earned their trust.
'Fluttercruel! Bad girl! I...I LIKE being like this!'
'Sorry mom...but this is for the world's own good...I'm sorry...'
Star Catcher put the Element of Laughter around her own neck, the jewel taking the form of Celestia's Cutie Mark. "...My bond was broken...but not for good...I merely refused to accept I was worthy of it anymore...But not anymore."
Maud ignored the happenings behind her, merely hugging her little sister. "It's okay, Pinkie...I love you..."
A tear ran down Maud's face.
The Rainbow of Light washed over the two, but seemed to outright AVOID Maud, like she was oil in it's water.
A few seconds later, she was hugging a sobbing Pink Alicorn in the middle of Sugar Cube Corner.
"I...I'm sorry...I...I thought...I meant...I'm sorry..."
"Shush...It's okay Pinkie...It's all okay..."
Diamond Tiara, nearby, hugged her now sane again mother. What no one in this universe or the Studio saw was Discord's link to her being CUT IN HALF by being in such close proximity to the Elements being set loose on top of his deal no longer being valid.
Rarity peered at the screen. "My word, was that Diamond Tiara? I wonder if this machine could give us some clue as to where to find her, the poor filly..."
Fluttershy peeked out from behind a couch. "Stop that, mom," said Fluttercruel. "You're embarrassing us!" "Sorry," said Fluttershy, blushing a bit. "Pinkie's Nightmare is kind of scary." "We've seen it before, mom." "It's scary no matter how matter times I see it!" "Honestly, that machine has shown us everypony's nightmares a half-dozen times each! Are there any Nightmares we haven't seen by now?"
The Machine whirred. "Match found. Do you wish to view Nightmare Phalanx, the Best Defense?"
It took a moment for Shining Armor to parse that, and then he shouted "No! Absolutely not!"
"Are you sure? These scenes have high ratings for darkness and violence!"
"That makes me want to watch them even less!" Shining trailed off, panting, and the Machine sat there, silent. "You're not going to ignore me and show it anyway?"
"Of course not. This machine is reformed." An image of a halo appeared on the monitor. "Instead, please enjoy this video of a lovecat kitten playing with a ball of yarn."
"You're trying to get me to blurt out 'No, anything but that!', aren't you?" said Shining, ignoring all the of mares in blissful cuteness overload, and especially ignoring his sister taking notes on the reactions of the others for a thesis on pony psychology.
"... this machine was certainly not."
"Yes you were!"
"Clarify... did you say, 'Yes, work on playing the video'?"
"Did Ah miss anything good?" said Applejack, pulling a small cart into the studio. "After Big Mac told us all the good news and took Cheerilee out to dinner, just the two of 'em..." The farm pony grinned and winked. "Ah thought we could use these extra apple pies and apple fritters for Maud's party."
"Can I have some?" Sweetcream Scoops asked.
"Here." Gave her one.
Coffee Swirl asked. "Now how about you go home and think about what you actually want from a stallion. Or maybe the what-if machine can show you more stuff."
"N-No! I think I'll do just that!" And Sweetcream Scoops was right out the door.
"Scared'em straight." Coffee Swirl said to himself.
"See? This machine's strategy work!"
"You show nasty stuff just to freak us out!" Shining Armor said.
"That is a lie! It is so you can better appreciate the goodness you have!"
The ponies ignored the what if machine and focused on what AJ had said.
"Oh my." Fluttershy said blushing.
'You never even tried to get the prize mom.'
"Oh my! I wouldn't dare! He had enough on his plate. And I just though he was nice, I didn't love-LOVE him."
'Oh right, you already have a stallion whose head over heels about you.'
Cadence sighed with a smile. Maybe Red Gala's existence had helped along the happy couple.
Rarity said nothing, having watched through the telescope.
The Pinkie Pies cheered at the happy news.
"Just don't go telling my sister or her friends." Rarity said. "Or they might think that love poison was a good or idea or something. Oh wait, Cheerilee already explained that it did the opposite of help, never mind."
Twilight clapped. "I'm happy for them. Good to hear. And Rarity, sorry Red Gala didn't-"
"It's alright Daring. She wants Big Mac to be happy, and that's what she got with him with Cheerilee."
Fluttershy found herself face to face with Not-Maud Pie. It was like she had blinked and she was there (a lot like Pinkie Pie). "Don't hide from yourself Fluttershy. . . . The reason you're so scared of Pinkie Pie's Nightmare isn't because she's scary. It's because you want the world she'd make."
"W-what?! I realized that world was wrong when my friends saved me from being Nightmare Whisper!"
"No. You realized forcing your will on others and stunting their growth was wrong. You never once said that world was wrong. You want it. As much as Applejack wants a world without lies even though she knows there are ponies who don't want it. The other you? In that vision? She wasn't brainwashed, at all. She was fighting to protect the world Nightmare Granfalloon wanted to create completely of her own free will. Not because she was angry or hurt or confused. But because she wanted a return to the Age of Dreams, and all the happiness, friendship, and complete lack of monsters like Chrysalis that comes with it. Applejack doesn't deny she WANTS the world Nightmare Mirror created, she just chooses to not pursue that want. In worlds were Nightmare Granfaloon succeeded in her goal, she turns herself back into the Pinkie Pie, and you, and the other Breezies, become the caretakers of that world. And you love every moment of it. Don't deny yourself Fluttershy it gets . . . unhealthy."
The what-if machine spoke. "You mean like when you tried to be all happy and cheerful on the outside, but your sister realize you were now frowning on the inside instead of smiling on the inside?"
"No need to show that." Maud Pie said with as much force as her emotionless voice could muster.
Rarity looked thoughtful. "What If Machine, if you do not mind, I have a request."
"Yes, Lady Rarity?"
"I would like to see a world were...if you don't mind...may I see another world were Diamond Tiara ended up an ally and friend of our little sisters...and sister figure?"
"This universe exists. Finding...Is rated Adventure. Mild Dark Themes. Please note, this What If 'could fill it's own fanfic' so please understand this is the condensed version."
"Where are YOU going, Blank Flank?" Diamond Tiara asked, currently taking cover in a deserted Sugar Cube corner as Applebloom dug through a drawer.
"If yah must know, lookin' fer Pinkie's 'in case of travelin' emergencies' stash...Ah!" she pulled out a folder full of keys to various machines Pinkie came up with.
"So Ah can get tah Canterlot and get those fancy necklaces so sis and her friends can use them tah take out Grogar before it's too late!"
"Are you crazy?! You're just a blank flank filly! What are you going to do-"
Applebloom gave her a death glare. "Yer pa is kidnapped just like all the other grownups! Did yah think of that?!"
Diamond Tiara stopped in her tracks. "I..."
"Now Ah've got a big sis tah save!" she then left with the other Crusaders, including that same brown, red maned filly from the other image, and Spike. Of course only two of them were blank flanks anymore...
Silver Spoon stayed back, looking between the two groups.
Diamond hesitated for a moment. "Papa..."
She slowly trotted forwards.
"Diamond?" Silver asked, blinking.
"...I...Papa...I...I have to do something Silver...Can I please..."
"...I've wanted you too this whole time."
"...You have? I thought..."
"Sweetie Belle, had did yah open that?!" asked Applebloom in shock, looking through the open doors. It was clear from the damage to the room Grogar had tried EVERYTHING to try and open it, and if it hadn't budged yet, nothing could force it to open.
"I...I saw Chryssy...when I was brainwashed she made Twilight open it and I learned her magic so...maybe I could learn Twilight's too..."
"how are we going to get in there?" asked Sweetie Belle, looking up at the fortress.
As the Crusader's thought, gears turned in Diamond's mind. "Scootaloo, can you fly up to that window with a rope? Applebloom could make a pully or something and Babs and Spike could pull us up, then we pull them up. Easy."
"...Wow, that was quick."
Diamond gave a snooty look. "Of course! Why wouldn't it be!"
"...You're still Diamond Tiara..."
"And we're glad yer on OUR side now."
"W-What?" asked Applebloom, staring up at the Goat tyrant, who didn't seem to particularly care about their presence in the slightest.
"The Bearers aren't in my city, they're at several locations in Equestria so I may use their spiritual energy as part of my spell," Grogar stated, turning and preparing. "You came all this way for nothing."
"N-Nothing?" Applebloom asked, trembling.
"Now if you excuse me, in a few seconds my spell we activate and my mind will be linked into the mana streams, allowing me to perfectly monitor every waking moment of my subjects' lives. As it should be for a perfectly, orderly world."
"And Rainbow Dash?"
"And my papa?" Diamond and Silver asked together.
"Mah siste'?" the brown filly asked.
"The former four will be killed when their spiritual energy is siphoned off, the later will live under my eternal order, though perhaps as punishment for your defiance, I will make things harder on them. Now quiet, foals, I have much to do."
Applebloom shook with rage. "Well...well Ah...Ah'll just have tah be Honesty then!" she yelled, putting it on her throat.
"Yeah!" Scootaloo announced, grabbing Loyalty and putting it around her throat. Her's glowed.
"For Rarity!" Sweetie yelled, putting Generosity around her neck. Babs took Kindness and put it on. Spike hesitated, remembering when he'd been 'the new Rainbow Dash', resulting in Silver grabbing Laughter and Diamond snatchingMagic.
"Uh...how do these things work?" Scootaloo asked.
Grogar snarled and fired a beam, trapping the children in a crystal prison. "Enough. You clearly are foals trying to use an unloaded gun. Now leave me in peace."
"It...it didn't work?" Applebloom asked sadly, looking at the Element. "But...Ah thought we were friends after all this..."
Diamond looked at the crown on her head. 'Am...am I just as useless as my Cutie Mark?' she asked mentally...
Her thoughts quickly found their way to her father. The prospect of him living forever under this tyrant's iron hoof. She wanted the crown because of it being the 'most special'. That's why she grabbed it...but what she wanted more was her father.
"...I...I just grabbed it...maybe...maybe we just got them scrambled up?" she dared to suggest.
She felt something in her heart call out to Sweetie Belle. A connection they'd long had. She carefully held the crown out to her, trading it and Generosity. Both glowed bright.
'Willingness to surrender your wants to help the one you care for is Generosity,' she realized it. She'd wanted anything rather than to start this...but she did for her father's sake. She went on a harrowing adventure all to protect him.
And Rarity...she'd always been kind to her, even if she hadn't returned it as she should have...
"...My bond with Chryssy made her a filly again...maybe...maybe that bond is why?" Sweetie asked. "Or...you know, knowing how to use dark Magic for good..."
"...Ah ain't eve' lyin' tah mahself eve' again. The truth is, Ah ain't no bully anymore, that ain't who Ah am now...Ah WAS a bully, not cause Ah was bullied but in spite of it."
"...I'm kind to whoever needs it..." said Silver, Element of Kindness lighting up.
Applebloom found the Element of Laughter doing nothing around her own neck. "...Here Spike...you try..."
She handed it to him and he put it on, causing it to glow. "Hehe...guess I do like to get Twilight to lighten up and have fun once in awhile...But Applebloom."
"...Ah just want mah sister tah be okay..."
Grogar blinked as a rainbow colored light erupted behind him, blowing the prison he'd created to bits. "What?"
He charged up his horns...and Applebloom promptly blindsided him with a buck to the jaw.
A Rainbow erupted upwards and slammed down towards the goat. "Impossible..."
Grogar roared as the Rainbow washed over him, sending him back to his prison, his bell shattering to pieces. His city vanished, but left his captives behind unharmed while the Bearers would be rescued by the guard soon after.
"Sensors indicate this universe is a neighbor. While events have happened to render it unlikely, it was a potential possible future," the What If Machine explained.
AJ tilted her head, "Little cousin Babs Seed? Why would she ever be a bully? This thing is nuts."
"We see our little sisters fighting an evil overlord, and THAT is all you have to say?!" Rarity gasped.
"That part was believable," AJ said.
"It seems like it never ends." Cadence sighed, "There's ALWAYS another evil overlord. I hope I don't to face any any time soon."
"Irony meter rising." Said the what-if machine.
Shining Armor kicked it. "You could have kept that to yourself!"
"Shining, unless the what if machine is going to show us more of that universe where you were the Element f Loyalty, can we leave now? I'm worried about Zecora having to keep after Kifuko and Midnight for so long."
"At least everything turned out for the best, I just can't believe we all lost like that, and it was up to FILLIES to save the day, that feels, like we failed our responsibilities as protectors of Equestria." Twilight said.
Shining Armor hugged her. "Believe me, I know how that feels."
"Well .. . I'm just happy everything turned out alright." Fluttershy said.
Maud Pie and Coffee Swirl said nothing.
"So you got anything left to show us about that world?" Shining Armor asked the what if machine, still hugging his little sister, "Or can I and my wife finally go?" Shining Armor didn't want to say it was feeling crowded in here.
The What-If Machine whirred, seeming to consider. "Yes. There is additional data of interest."
A month after the "Chrysalis incident," Ponyville was finally settling back down to normal, or at least as normal as things were likely to be from now on. Another market day had come, and Twilight Sparkle, in her true changeling form, was once again mareing one of the small booths. She had her sign with a list of minor magical services and prices. She had all of her supplies. What she didn't have was very many customers, at least so far.
Moth waved encouragingly from the next stall over, also undisguised. She and Bon Bon had a whole line of customers waiting to buy magic or love cookies, both pony and changeling, though each group looked a bit uncomfortable, trying not to stand too close to the other.
Twilight sighed, glancing at the sun, and almost missed Big Mac arriving. "Howdy, Miss Twilight," said the red stallion. "The pest control charm for our south field is wearin' kinda thin... could you whip us up another?"
"Of course!" she said brightly, her center horn glowing blue as she levitated a diamond onto the counter and began to magically etch the runes. "You know, I'd happily just give you these if you asked..."
"Now, none of that," said Big Mac firmly. "Besides, we want to support you and what yer doin'."
"Mom, why does she look like that?" she heard a colt asking.
The mare beside the colt winced and tried to keep her voice down. "She's a changeling. They can look however they want, you know that. You'd have to ask her why she wants to look that way."
"Thanks so much for your business," said Twilight, collecting Big Mac's bits and resisting the urge to sink beneath the counter.
"Okay!" said the colt brightly. "Hey, why do you look like..."
The mare pulled her son back quickly. "Dear, you can't just ask her that!"
"But you said..."
Twilight sighed again, but then some new faces arrived to cheer her up. "Oh! Cherry Blossom, Cranberry Cupcake! How have you been?"
"Oh, we have been very well!" said Cherry. "It's so good of you to ask!"
Cranberry edged in front. "My sister would like to be a pegasus for a day again, and this time I would like to join her. This is a thing you can do, yes?"
"Absolutely," said Twilight. So strange, those two... they worked in a beauty salon, but her "scary" appearance didn't bother them in the slightest... and Twilight knew for certain that they weren't faking it or secretly changelings themselves. "Just remember, it's only for a day, and if you haven't flown, then don't try it without an expert to teach you how."
Two temporary transformations left her tired out, but they earned her a lot of extra bits. "I'm just glad I didn't lose my Element or any of my mana capacity," she mused to herself. "I don't know what I would have done if..."
"What are you doing, Miss Sparkle? Why do you continue behaving in this manner?" Twilight groaned... it was Bread Crumb and his wife Sugar Crumb again. Two perfectly normal pegasus ponies... in appearance, at least. Other ponies had been in those changeling cocoons right along with Twilight, and these were two of them. "I thought we talked about this!"
"Excuse me?" said Twilight. "You talked. I disagreed."
Bread Crumb wasn't deterred. "Those changelings... the real, born changelings had a saying... in secrecy lies safety! Surely you can see the wisdom of that now."
"We just want this to be over," pleaded Sugar Crumb. "We want everything to go back to normal! How can it, when you and the rest are constantly reminding everypony that we're here, that we're... not ponies any more..." She sniffled a bit.
"We are what we are!" said Twilight, a little louder than she'd intended. "I'm sorry, but sweeping this under the rug isn't going to make it go away. We need to accept it, not hide from it."
"I can see that we're just going to have to agree to disagree," said Bread Crumb disdainfully. He glared at Moth too for good measure, and then Moth had to restrain Bon Bon from going after the couple when they left in a huff.
Later, at the library, after she'd copied her sales into a ledger while telling Spike about her day, Spike surprised her by asking, "Twilight, why do you work so hard?"
She glanced up at him. "What do you mean, Spike?"
Spike shrugged. "Like that colt said, you *are* a changeling. You can look however you want. Why put yourself through all that? Why not just... be Twilight Sparkle?"
Twilight smirked. "I could, it's true." In a flash of blue fire, she became the perfect image of her old unicorn self. Only the color of her magic would give her away, and she'd been experimenting with illusions that might disguise even that, if she ever had the need. "I could be plain old Twilight Sparkle, just a slightly peculiar unicorn with that one teeny-weensy awkward problem... needing to be loved, or she'll die."
Spike gasped. "Are you getting enough?" He glomped her hastily. "I love you Twilight! Have I told you that today?"
She giggled, reverting back to her changeling form. "Don't worry, Spike. I know you do... And I love you too, and you and Shiny and everypony give me all the love I could ever need. I kind of understand Chrysalis and the old changeling ways a little better now, though... there's always that little nagging worry, knowing that the food you need isn't something you can grow or buy in a store... it needs to be given to you."
"But, they didn't..." said Spike, confused. "Before Cadence, changelings took it. They kept slaves... cattle..." The little dragon shuddered.
"And that's where they went wrong," said Twilight. "If we start hiding what we are... like we're something evil and wrong that needs to be hidden, if we act like we can't help but be evil, we'll be falling into the same trap they did. That's why, Spike. If Mr. and Mrs. Crumb want to hide what they are, that's their choice, but it doesn't have to be that way!"
Upstairs, Fluttershy tapped at an open window. "Hey, Twilight! Do you still want that flying lesson? There's a giant soapbox blocking the door."
"Different body, same old Twilight," grumbled Spike, pinned between the soapbox and a wall.
The what-if machine flickered off.
"Twiley." Shining Armor sighed, wishing he could hug that Twilight Sparkle.
"Do not be too worried." The what-if machine said. "Your sister being of the changeling tribe rather than the unicorn tribe, will become a mote point once she *CENSORED* an *CENSORED*. Because *CENSORED* *CENSORED* all *CENSORED*, in one year's time. As your sister is destine to in one year's time. That Twilight Sparkle's experiences will actually allow her to hit the ground running."
"Wait what now?" Twilight responded confused.
"Part of this machine's answered were censored due to them not being technically what-if, and therefore, beyond this machine's ability to share."
"We'll I'm happy to see you, that you, adjusting well darling." Rarity hugged her unicorn friend.
"Me too, us too." The Flutters said hugging Twilight as well. Followed by Shining Armor, Cadence, and Applejack. Then the Pinkie Pies.
Twilight didn't need to be a changeling to know she was loved.
"Sorry to hug and run Twiley, but we had better be picking up Kifuko and Midnight from Zecora, it feels like we've left her with them for weeks now."
The two nuzzled. "I understand BBBFF."
"See you soon little sister." Cadence hugged her.
"Even if you weren't going to *CENSORED* *CENSORED* after canon finally starts up again, you will see invariable see each other in a few months anyway, when Princess Cadence becomes *CENSORED* of the *CENSORED* *CENSORED* and you fight *CENSORED CENSORED* and are loved by *CENSORED* and Spike becomes a beloved *CENSORED* to all the *CENSORED* *CENSORED*."
"Can you tell us ANYTHING not hopelessly vague?" Cadence asked.
"Invest in jewel polish. That is all."
Foal-sitter and Big Brother shared a hug again.
"Well, it's also nice to see Rainbow Dash and Gilda are both happy with their new lives in that world," Fluttershy commented.
"Stop being so afraid of change," Maud Pie said to Coffee Swirl for some reason sipping the rock coffee from the make-shift.
On the way out, Applejack spoke with Shining Armor and Cadence in a low voice.
"Yer one of the few ponies Ah can say this too. Ah just wanna say . . . while Ah'm more happy than ya can imagine that Ah'm just Applejack the pony again instead of one of Ma Fate's wolves . . . Ah admire that AJ for her sense of responsibility, she gave up Everything, her family, her friends, even ponies thinking too hard about her being missing. Ah'm happy Ah never had ta do that. But Ah'm proud to know Ah could face that if Ah had to. And . . . you and Red Gala are real ponies. Don't let anypony tell ya different."
"Thank you, Applejack," Shining Armor said and accepted some free apple treats from Applejack. He and his wife then left the studio to pick up their adopted foals and get back to their honey moon.
"Will the party begin soon?" asked the What If Machine.
"We're working on it," Ghostly Pie replied happily.
"Why do you ask darling?" Rarity asked.
"This Machine would like to part take in the party," explained the device.
"Well that's perfectly fine."
The Machine looked itself over. It was more or less simply the What If Machine supported by wires and tendrils. It tried to dance. Keyword 'tried.' "This form seems inefficient for the act of partying. Reconfiguring."
It grabbed a large bit of spare metal and parts and began rebuilding itself with several random gadgets retrieved from Pinkie Pie's various stashes. The result was a dull grey android pony (gender was difficult to say from just looks) with a blue visor and it's screen on it's chest, it's natural brownish casing mismashed into it.
"How is this form?"
"Practical...but no offense darling, it's kind of garish," Rarity admitted. She looked around and found some paint. "How about I give you a bit of a paint job?"
"This offer is accepted so long as I do not end up pink."
"Can do, dear."
"While Miss Rarity is doing my new paint job, please enjoy this potential situation. "
"Hey Scootaloo! What are you doing?!"
Scootaloo, an orange adult pegasus with her current Cutie Mark looked down at a blank flank filly version of Rainbow Dash. "Just doing some cloud busting, Rainbow!"
"Can I help?! I bet I could clear the sky in 10 seconds flat!" the cute little filly boasted proudly.
"Sure, just be careful-"
The filly zipped around like a humming bird, kicking clouds...and then crashing into the ground nearby.
Meanwhile, little Applejack was trying her best to buck trees at Sweet Apple Acres.
"Sis watch yourself!" Applebloom, also a full grown mare and the one wearing their father's hat, her Cutie Mark an Apple Tree. "Yer gonna hurt yerself!"
"Ah wanna help!" the filly replied stubbornly, trying again, this time the force being enough to flip herself over and make a few apples drop into a bucket.
Applebloom gave a small chuckle. "...Just like Ah was when Ah was yer age...always 'Ah want it now!' Hehe."
"Applebloom?" asked a voice.
"Howdy Diamond," said Applebloom tipping her hat to Mrs. Tiara and her assistant Silver Spoon. "We just finished that order of Zap Apple Jam."
"Glad to hear it...hehe, hard to believe that we're doing business now, huh?"
"No doubt. But Ah guess we just outgrew schoolyard grudges, huh?"
Elsewhere, a purple maned, white furred unicorn filly pulled hard on a thread, looking at the dress she helped make for her big sister. There wasn't yet a jewel to be seen. "It looks beautiful, Rarity," an adult Sweetie Belle with the same Cutie Mark replied, smiling. "I'll definitely wear it for the Hearts and Hooves Concert tonight."
"But something just seems missing!" the tiny child whimpered. "I want it to be perfect!"
Sweetie Belle sighed and nuzzled her. "I'm sure you'll figure it out, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I was a kid."
"Done..." Rarity admitted, but was staring at the screen in confusion.
The What If Machine's new body was painted silver with blue and gold accents, giving it a heroic and regal look that Rarity felt fitted a robot rather well. "This machine approves of this look," it replied, the screen showing a smiley face. "Continuing universe."
"Twilight?" Spike, a teenaged sized dragon (dragon aging being far different than ponies) as he looked through books in the town library.
"Yes, Spikey?" asked the unicorn filly, poking her head out of a book fort.
"Have you seen 'Jewel Cake Recipes for Dummies?'"
"It's part of the book fort, isn't it?"
"I need it back, I'm making a cake tonight."
"To celebrate the anniversary of you and your friends beat Queen Chrysalis and convinced her to go back to being Princess Kifuko and reuniting with Princess Cadence?"
"Yeah, hard to believe Hearts and Hooves Day was actually in remembrance of Cadence having to seal her twin sister int the crystal mines with the Elements and save Equestria...oh, and Twilight?"
"Your favorite foal sitter will be there."
"Yay! Celly will be there!"
The assembled ponies looked at the machine, surprised by the latest (and thankfully non-horrific) world.
"So were were fillies there, the younger sisters?" Twilight said. "And Spike was my adopted big brother? Huh." She smiled. "It was interesting to see myself as a filly again."
"I agree wholeheartedly, dear," Rarity said, looking thoughtful. "I wonder if Red Gala is little more than a foal in that world."
"Me, Ah wonder 'bout Big Mac," Appplejack said. "Like if he's still Little Mac there. What?" She looked at her surprised friends. "Mac was always a little colt 'till his cutie mark came in and he got his growth spurt."
"And Celestia is your foalsitter? What does she look like? And what became of Luna?" Fluttershy looked at the What-If Machine.
If a Machine could sigh, this one did. The screen lit up and:
"How's my favorite little filly?" the pink-maned and tailed young mare asked as she strolled into the library. Spike grinned and Celestia held her forelegs out as with high-pitched whinnies a small purple ball of energy raced into them.
"Celly Celly Celly!" Little Twilight nuzzled Celestia's neck, accepting an affectionate nuzzle in return from her sitter. "Are we gonna go and see the old castle today?"
"We certainly are," she said, hugging Twily close. She added, "Sunset will be there too, and now!" She added in mock-sternness at the wary look Twilight gave her. "She's gotten a lot better since my sister taught her to open up and not be so shy." She looked over Twilight's back at Spike, who understood. Sunset once was prideful and arrogant, Cadence's best student and headed for an epic fall until her two alicorn nieces Celestia and Luna guided her to see how wrong she was.
"And see Luna?" Twilight sounded hopeful. "I like her stories." Spike was the one looking wary now.
"We'll see her," Celly said as she guided Twilight towards the door. "My big sister Luna wants to see you too, and your other little friend Trixie. But I'm sorry to say, NO ghost stories this time! They give nightmares to little fillies."
"I am not a little filly!" Twilight said as they left.
"Warning," the What-If Machine said. "Impending display of formerly seen universe."
The ponies froze as static filled the screen before it cleared to show:
"That's right, former ponies of Ponyville and elsewhere," Applejack almost bristled to see a familiar pair of unicorns, ones with pale olive coats and white-striped red manes, facing a small herd of ponies and -- to their surprise -- Changelings. Behind the two conponies stood a massive machine, with a pony-sized entrance on both ends and arrayed with Jacob's Ladders and flashing lights. The mustached brother, Flam, went on with, "This is our patented 100% safe and legal 'De-Changelingification Machine', approved by Celestia herself," he flashed an official-looking paper with Celestia's image and signature on it; when one female Changeling tried to take a closer look he innocently yanked it away, "solely to be used on transformed ponies who wish to be restored to their former forms, regain the ability to eat solids, and who have an overwhelming desire not to die flying into bug lamps."
"How do we know it's safe?" One Changeling in the crowd yelled, and another said, "The last time you were in town, you tried cheating Applejack out of her orchard!"
"Oh, that was all just a joke," Flim said, waving one hoof and smiling. "We would have returned it after we got the free publicity for our victory. And if you want to know if it's safe, well?" He and Flam turned the machine on with bursts of greenish magic from their horns, and then strolled through. Electricity flashed, and at one point their skeletons showed like in an x-ray as they passed behind a thick glass screen set in the machine. "It's utterly - OW! -- safe and completely -- ARRGH! -- painless, to boot!" The brothers walked out the other exit, their manes and tails looking slightly frazzled but otherwise in one piece. Flam extinguished a glowing spark on his brother's coat as Flim said, "See? Completely safe."
The Changelings still looked unconvinced, but the female who'd spoken before flew up and said, "I'll try it. I, I want to go back and live with my family again." She looked around, fangs bared. "The jokes about flypaper are getting old, too. What do I have to do?"
"Just reassume your original pony form," Flam said with a sharklike smile "and proceed through the machine." The Changeling frowned, looking hesitant. Flam added, "And if you're not completely satisfied, you get your bits back."
She nodded and with a flash of blue fire, a simply ravishing unicorn mare appeared, with a soft and elegantly styled pink mane and tail and hot crimson coat. A cutie mark of a broken heart showed on her flank. Long eyelashes fluttered and she said in a voice like a warm caress, "You're sure? I don't want to lose," she swept her long tail along her body, "this."
"Lady, lose that and I'll help you find it," Flim croaked out. Flam snorted and gave him a dirty look before turning to the mare.
"Little brother, the lady was speaking to me," he said, bestowing a simply dazzling smile on her. The mare smiled back slowly as he said, "Just go right through, madam. I'll be waiting for you on the other end with some questions. You know, your health, your appetite, your home address... Ummph!" He glared at Flim as a magic bridle shut his mouth.
"It will work?" The mare said, taking a deep breath. The brothers nodded absently, and she kicked her hooves high. "Oh wonderful! I, I simply don't know how I'll thank you afterwards!" She all but pranced into the machine. The brothers barely remembered to cast their spell in time. Sparks flew and the mare whinnied in pain, and she trotted out the other end.
"How do I know if it worked?"
"Try shapechanging," Flim said. The mare concentrated. A faint blue glow played over her. She seemed to shiver, and nothing happened. "It worked! I, I can't shapeshift any more!" As other Changelings hurried forward, she asked, "Wait, do I still need to consume love? Because I feel like I do -- where will I get love?"
"Oh, I think I can help with that," Flam said, setting his leg over her withers and guiding her off to the side. "Just see me at the Ponyville restaurant in an hour, I'll let you get the check, Miss..."
"Oh, you'll get more than that," she purred out before saying in a very different tone, "I think about ten to fifteen in the Canterlot dungeons for false advertising and illegally using magic to lock away the natural powers of other pony tribes, which only the courts can do. I was able to figure that out when I examined the spell as it was cast." She smiled at the two stunned conponies. "My foalsitter Cadence told me about this, and I helped save Applejack's farm from you two cheats. I'm Twilight Sparkle, and you're under arrest!"
"Heh. You and what Guardspony?"
"How about me?"
Flim and Flam turned and saw Shining Armor, Element of Loyalty and Chief Royal Ranger of the Everfree Rangers, glaring at them with several of his fellows beside them.
Flim turned to Flam.
"Dear brother, must you always tempt fate so?"
Shortly afterwards, as the two were being taken away and some sadder but wiser ponies turned Changelings were leaving. Shiny spoke to his sister, still in her 'new' form.
"Sis, what made you decide to look like Heartbreaker from those romance pulps?"
"Hey, I was stuck for a form to use, okay?" Twilight snorted and tossed her head. Some of Shiny's fellow rangers could barely take their eyes from her. She scowled at them and said, "I wanted to take a form I knew nopony would ever associate with Twilight Sparkle. Now I have this and just as soon as I break that power-locking spell..." Her horn glowed. "Hah!" Blue fire ran along her body and when it faded Twilight... still looked like Heartbreaker.
"Umm, sis, those spells are made to last."
"Twenty years or so."
"I get stuck like that?!" Twilight Sparkles' eyes were wide staring at the screen.
The what if machine said, "While the causes are censored due to being destiny rather than what-if, suffice to say, that Twilight Sparkle needs to endure that form for less than a year, and had illusion spells in the mean time. You were free of that form soon enough. That is all I can say."
"For instance," the What-If Machine said, "you were able to do this."
Twilight watched as she -- in her alternate form -- once more stood by her open stand in Ponyville Town Square. A line of stallions were waiting for her, watching the crimson and pink mare as she coolly trotted over to her spot, her every move drawing their gaze.
None of them noticed her smile.
"Okay, then!" She said in that softly musical voice. "Twilight Sparkle's Magic for Hire is open for business! First customer, please!"
She waited for the by-now typical ears-laid-back and snorting stallion squabble to settle. When it did, the victor approached her table, head held high and tossing his head to allow sunlight to shine along a gilded horn. Literally so -- he'd had it inlaid with gold.
Twilight rolled her eyes as the blue-coated, golden maned stallion aimed a smile her way. She blinked against the light reflecting from his teeth.
"Well, Miss Sparkle," he whinnied, "I'm looking for some companionship, somepony whose beauty will shine as beautifully as my own," he tossed his head, mane rippling in waves as Twi forced down a yawn, "and I think you are the only pony who can help me. Or do I need to make it," he leaned in closer and Twilight winced at the cloud of cologne surrounding him, "even plainer?"
"Oh," Twilight said, batting her eyes, and leaning closer, "I think I can provide something for you..."
He grinned. Twilight grinned in response as her horn flashed and a full-length mirror appeared before him.
"Talk to your reflection," she said dryly. "It cares more about your appearance than I or any mare ever will. Now, is there anyone here who really NEEDS my help or," blue fire, secretly an illusion spell, consumed her and she appeared in the form she considered her 'Classic Evil Changeling Queen'. The stallions winced as she asked with a fanged grin, "Anypony want to see what else I can do?"
They were gone in less than a minute.
On her way back into the studio, Applejack found the Blank Wolf helping himself to an apple fritter, gobbling it up and then licking his chops. "Oh, Ah see how it is," she said, with a wink. "You just hang around me all ominous and invisible-like just to get your paws on free apple snacks."
"Mother doesn't have apples in her realm," the Blank Wolf grumbled. "Adventurers kept barging in and taking them, and the reapers got what was left."
Applejack blinked. "Why... no, Ah'm not even gonna ask." She glanced over at the others, watching Ghostly Pie gliding back and forth, putting up party decorations. "Say, did you ever get a chance to talk to Princess Celestia about that thing? How'd it go?"
"Oh, that? We made time. She had volumes to say, but mostly her advice amounted to this: Don't let dread of the future spoil your present joys, and don't be afraid to keep making new friends." The Wolf scratched at his chin with a claw. "Curious. It sounds simple and obvious when I repeat it now... Hardly something that I needed to bother a goddess over, yet she did not chastise me for it."
Applejack smiled. "Maybe ya made a few more friends today already."
"Perhaps..." And then Ghostly Pie unexpectedly came upon them and GASPED. "But let us not rush things," said the Blank Wolf, vanishing hastily.
AJ realized. 'Wait a tick. The Pinkie Pies are from out of this world. So isn't Snow tryin' ta eat'em? . . . Then again those freaky Harmony Queens and Nightmare Mirror didn't get eaten either. . . . Maybe cause they're not meddlin' and this place is non-canon and they're distortin' stuff? At least Ah'm not feelin' the urge to eat'em. Hopefully that means Wolf Jackie is gone for good, AT LAST. NO offense to Snow, but Ah LIKE being an Earth Pony thank you very much.' Of course. Being an Alicorn, wouldn't be so bad, since she'd technically still be an Earth Pony, just with membership cards in the other tribes,why the heck did she think of that?