Chrysalis felt her heart in her throat, beating and throbbing in a frenzy of adrenaline. Celestia. Right here in Ponyville! Of all the worst possible occurrences, this was it!
Chrysalis had expected Canterlot to be carefully guarded after the incidents at the wedding; but it had never occurred to her that Ponyville would come under the scrutiny of the Princess herself.
Even after feeding on Shining Armour’s love for so long, Chrysalis still had found it difficult to strike down the Alicorn. And now, reduced to leeching energy from mere affection? Celestia would toss her aside like a toy broken in a child’s tantrum.
Casting her gaze about, Chrysalis considered hiding, cowering under the nearby apple cart until the danger passed.
Adrenaline flushed her system. Everything in her being told her to flee! To run! To hide! She fought it down as hard as she could. She was a Queen. She was calm, collected, and powerful. Nothing could fluster her.
But still, her heart thudded in her chest like a tiny drum being beat to an ever increasing tempo, and her limbs began to almost dance in place. She felt like a juvenile changeling again, caught in her first lie with a partner.
Only this time; if she was caught in a lie, she didn’t have any magic to call upon to save the day.
Breathing growing heavy, Chrysalis looped the carry bag holding her purchases around her neck, and began to walk as calmly as she could towards the spot where she was to meet Evergreen.
There were several heavy thuds behind her, as the royal guards landed in anticipation of Celestia herself touching down.
Chrysalis felt a powerful jolt of fear, and her body demanded that she flee; that she sprint away into hiding. But she crushed her fear once more under the iron hoof of her willpower, ears splaying backwards as the inner conflict resulted in a little dancing mis-step.
The muscles in Chrysalis’ neck quivered as she strove against the urge to look behind herself. She could feel eyes scrutinising her; but she willed herself not to look back, trying to control her breathing as she walked stiff-legged towards a building up ahead.
Chrysalis rounded the corner and almost collapsed, her legs turning to jelly. Her own breath rasped in her ears as she staggered against the wall, her eyes wide. She was scared. She hadn’t felt fear like this in a long time. Of course Celestia was here! Her changelings had been scattered to the four winds by the spell; most certainly utterly destroyed; but Celestia had to be sure. Of course she was going to be checking the major population centres!
There was no way Chrysalis could leave Evergreen now. He was the biggest stroke of luck she’d ever had. A gullible pony who lived in the Everfree Forest, alone, and actually liked her enough to give her energy? He was a gift from the heavens!
Forcing her recalcitrant limbs into action, Chrysalis picked up her pace, cantering towards the next intersection. A feminine, commanding voice call out; “Halt there!”
Chrysalis shot a nervous glance over her shoulder,and shuddered as she saw Princess Celestia herself raising a hoof in her direction, directing the guards to pursue her.
Chrysalis’ heart found her mouth again, and she dove headlong through the streets as fast as she could. She dodged left and right, not even bothering to look behind her. She slipped around a cart being pulled by a large red pony and bolted behind a building several streets away before she risked stopping to take a few deep breaths, looking around wildly. There were no sounds of pursuit behind her, and she began to relax.
The hairs on the back of her neck began to stand up, and she shivered slightly, slowly looking upwards. A Royal Guard with a spear was hovering right above her, a spear pointed resolutely in her direction, its tip rock-steady in front of her nose.
Chrysalis’ eyes widened, and she cast her eyes left and right. She feinted left, and then leaped to the right as the Guard dropped down onto the ground and bounded after her. He was confused by her feint and ending up missing her with a lunge of his hooves.
Chrysalis felt the fear pumping into her veins, giving her speed and strength. Royal Guards began to drop out of the sky all around her, hitting the ground with heavy thuds, their limbs splayed for balance. Their spears came down to form a preventative wall to stop her from advancing.
Crysalis reared up on her hooves as she came to a halt, and then swiveled, turning to head back the other direction. She planted her forehooves and sprinted hard down the length of the road as Royal Guards seemed to appear from everywhere. Every turn she tried to take was blocked off by a spear-wielding royal guard. She would have to flee into the forest and hide.
Already, she was trying to ascertain how much energy she had left. How long she could survive alone without anyone to leech off.
Chrysalis went wheeling off to the side as she impacted something rather heavy, pliable, but ultimately unyielding, losing her balance and tumbling to the ground. She rolled once or twice and slid several feet before coming to a halt, dazed.
A shadow fell across Chrysalis, and she looked up, and up, and up to the scowling face of Princess Celestia.
Chrysalis began to hyperventilate, her head pounding, and her limbs shaking. She was terrified now. There was no other words she could think of to express just what kinds of emotions she was dealing with at that moment.
Celestia herself had found her, when she was weakened, vulnerable and friendless. Horrifying images of what could happen went through her mind; being turned to stone. Being banished to the moon to suffer a slow, black death of starvation, or even just killed there on the spot.
A helpless squeak left Chrysalis, and she scurried towards a nearby cart as the owners fled the scene. She dove behind a basket of strawberries and covering her head in her hooves, feeling tears starting to break ou. Her limbs shook as she shuddered in abject terror and in a detached part of her mind, she realised she was crying. Surely, she was the master of fake tears; but these were real, unwanted tears streaming down her cheeks. She heard hoof-falls advancing on her flimsy cover as the princess stalked closer.
And all Chrysalis could think was: I don’t want to die.
The Queen of the Changelings, reduced to a bawling infant by circumstance.
“Oi! What yer doing!” called a voice. Chrysalis lifted her head in time to see Evergreen muscling his way between the guards to rush towards both Celestia and herself.
“I am investigating this suspicious new unicorn.” Celestia stated, lifting her head to its full, regal height.
“Yer scaring her half ter death!” Evergreen protested, moving to stand between them, shielding Chrysalis from the Princess.
“Stand aside,” Celestia said, her eyes narrowing. Magic sparked dangerously at the top of her horn.
“I will do no such thing!” Evergreen said, his eyes narrowing, standing up to his full height, which was much diminished over Celestia’sown.
“That there is Cee, adopted daughter of mah brother, and yer scaring the wits outta her!” Evergreen protested, striding forwards and actually poking the princess in the chest with his hoof.
Chrysalis could only stare, eyes wide and scared, awed by Evergreen’s actions. The dumb oaf was staring down Princess Celestia, just for her!
“Yer didn’t know that her elder brothers told her tales of Princesses tracking down and eatin’ unicorns, didja?!” Evergreen demanded of Celestia, poking her again.
Celestia recoiled a moment, staring down at the woodspony with a gauging glare.
“Yer just making her think th’ worst of ya!” Evergreen said, pointing a hoof towards Canterlot on the mountain in the distance. “Now get outta here and stop scarin’ mah family; Princess or no princess, Ah’ll fight to see her not scared!”
The Princess seemed taken aback by the fire in the pony’s eyes, and she looked past him at the cowering unicorn for a moment, her expression softening.
“I’ll not harm her, I promise.” Celestia said with a bow, closing her eyes a moment in deference to Evergreen, before pushing past him gently to crouch in front of Chrysalis.
“Hey there, you,” Celestia said tenderly.
Chrysalis could only whimper in response, convulsing in abject terror as the princess, and her deadly horn, came closer. A single blast from that horn could end her existence or bring a literal lifetime of misery. Celestia had only need suspect that she was who she was.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Celestia soothed, leaning forwards to nuzzle gently against Chrysalis’ muzzle in a comforting fashion.
Chrysalis felt herself begin to break down as the Princess rubbed her muzzle against her own, tears streaming down her face, sobs starting in her throat as she tried weakly to get away. She didn’t care that everyone could see her. She didn’t care that her pride in that moment was non-existent. She was just scared, scared and alone. In any second, Celestia’s expression would change to one of anger, and her horn would burn her existence from this world. Chrysalis knew it.
She knew it.
But then, Celestia drew back and turned away, bowing to Evergreen.
“I bid you a good day.” Celestia said, walking away.
The royals guards around Chrysalis and Evergreen slowly peeled off to follow, returning to their patrol.
Chrysalis barely noticed, lost in her own world. A gentle nudge from Evergreen brought her out of her reverie and she whimpered, pressing her terrified form close to his own.
A pair of eyes watched from a nearby alleyway, narrowing slowly on Chrysalis. The shopkeeper from the alchemy store gave a wicked smile.
“C’mon. Ah’ll keep yer safe,” he soothed, strokinga hoof through Chrysalis’ mane.
Chrysalis nodded dumbly and followed after Evergreen as he lead the way towards the outskirts of town. She barely made it to the second treeline before she collapsed into a sobbing ball, rocking back and forth and hugging herself with her hooves. She had never tasted fear before; not like that. Feeling Celestia’s flesh against her own had scarred her mind. She would never forget it. A mere inch from obliteration.
Thoughts of what could have happened had Evergreen not been there and not been so quick to think, thundered through her mind. Their vibrantly morbid possibilities chased away conscious thought, leaving her watching a mental slideshow of her own obliteration.
A pair of warm hooves wrapped around her, and Chrysalis gasped as her unwilling imaginations were broken. She clung to Evergreen then, as though he were driftwood in a raging river. She pressed close to him to feel the warmth of his body against hers to reassure herself that she was still whole as she sobbed into his mane.
She was the Queen of the Changelings. But right now she just felt like a lost child in a large world with no one to turn to, alone and vulnerable. Evergreen was her one salvation, her one anchor in the world to keep her from drifting away, lost to the annals of time as a mere footnote. She clung to him with an iron grip as she buried her head in his mane and cried until she could regain her senses.
Chrysalis felt stupid. Reduced to a weeping, sobbing infant in front of her adversary. She was weak, and she disgusted herself.
She drew back slightly from Evergreen’s comforting embrace and stared at him for a long moment, lifting a hoof to rub at a stained tear trail on her cheek.
“You will never speak of this. To myself, or anyone else. Ever.” Chrysalis breathed, amazed at how unsteady her voice was.
“Ah don’t know what yer talking about, ma’am,” Evergreen said with a slight bow.
Chrysalis blinked once, before realisting that he was acquiescing to her terms.
“You are either the bravest pony I ever met, or the stupidest,” Chrysalis stated, staring at Evergreen and shaking her head slowly.
“Ah always thought the main difference between bravery and stupidity was forethought,” Evergreen said with a nod and a grin.
Chrysalis stared at Evergreen for another long moment. “Stop that. Deep phrases don’t gel well with that mane.”
“Yes ma’am. I will stick with talkin’ bout flowers and herbs,” he promised.
Chrysalis stared at Evergreen again, biting her bottom lip, looking left and right, her ears splaying backwards. “...I... Uhm...”
Evergreen raised a brow curiously.
“I... Just...” Chrysalis looked down at her forehooves nervously, and then threw her hooves around his neck, giving his cheek a fleeting kiss.
“Thank you,” Chrysalis breathed against his ear, before pulling back quickly and turning away, standing awkwardly in place, refusing to meet his gaze.
“We’re gonna have ter git moving or we won’t get back before night.” Evergreen said, still composed completely, covering for her nervous embarrassment by not acknowledging her show of gratitude. He, quite correctly, surmised that it would be best not to dwell on it.
“Well...Let’s go,” Chrysalis breathed, shuddering and peering back at the town. The Royal Guards were all peeling off from the town now, circling about the area, having finished their sweep of the town. But she was still shaking slightly, scared of how close she had come to being exposed.
By the time Chrysalis and Evergreen reached the cottage again, it was almost night. Chrysalis had calmed. She felt stupid. Stupid, vulnerable, and embarrassed. She, a queen, had fallen apart completely in front of everyone. She still remembered the touch of that fear. It was pervasive. She had never felt fear like that before; to be so close to destruction.
Just the thought of Celestia touching her made her shudder. She had been so close. Literally nose-to-nose.
Chrysalis shuddered and shook her head as she closed the door of the cottage behind her. She paused, blinking down at the empty fireplace.
“I’ll get the wood.” Chrysalis stated, tossing her mane once. “You, go fill the bath.”
Evergreen raised a brow at that, and then nodded slowly.
“Ah’ll get on it right away.” Evergreen said, placing down his sack on the bed, and moving out the back door to the little room holding the cauldron.
Chrysalis reversed direction and instead made her way outside to the wood stack, peering up at the high stacks of wood. She began to tug down one after another, placing them haphazardly on the sled until she deemed it full. She then dragged it around to the front of the cottage, pushing open the door and dragging the load of wood inside.
Chrysalis hummed to herself as she set down a series of blocks in the fireplace. Once there was enough wood there, she dragged the rest into the back room, moving around Evergreen to place them under the cauldron. It felt nice to be self-sufficient. Soon enough, she would have no one to help her. She had to leave Equestria, that much was certain.
Once she had enough energy from Evergreen, she would trek across the country until she could seduce her way off the continent. Her run-in with Celestia had her scared.
“Why yer so eager for a bath?” he asked, peeking at her for a moment as he pumped the water up into the cauldron.
“I’m not.” Chrysalis stated, turning to face him. “I’m eager for you to have a bath, you filthy beast. Look at you. I’ve seen cleaner things dredged up from the swamps.”
Evergreen rolled his eyes at that, slipping into the cottage proper to retrieve a box of matches. He lit up the fire with a deft flick of a match.
Chrysalis watched the fire grow under the cauldron, giving it a few minutes before turning her gaze towards Evergreen. “Alright, in you get.”
The stallion nodded, and then pulled himself up over the rim of the cauldron and then inside. He slipped into the warm water, coming up with a wet mane, giving his head a little bit of a shake.
“And now...” Chrysalis said, undoing the pouch at her neck and reaching inside, pulling out a comb and a pair of scissors. “Now...You get a manecut,”
Several years previously, Chrysalis had taken the place of a hairdresser for a month. Her first cuts had been horrible; she blamed them on being sick. But she had gotten into it after a while and, by the end of the month, she was quite the cutter. Not the best, certainly, but she had stopped receiving complaints.
Evergreen stared at the scissors in her hooves, his ears splaying back. “...Do yer have ter?”
“Yes, I must. You look like a small animal died on your head and stayed there,” Chrysalis said, advancing on him with the comb. She dug it into his mane, starting to drag it back to the end of the long locks, tugging at it to get the knots out.
A soft yelp left the woodspony. Chrysalis scowled at him, lifting her hooves to hold his head still.
“Grow up, foal.” Chrysalis growled, as she continued to work the comb through his mane. “Your mane looks like a birds nest!”
“Ah don’t have ter make it look all fancy!” Evergreen complained, but brought up no further argument, only wincing as Chrysalis dragged the comb through his mane.
Once Chrysalis was done straightening Evergreen’s mane with the comb, out came the scissors. She gently ran the comb through his mane and then snipped off the end with the scissors. She took her time, being careful and delicate. The cuttings landed on the floor, to be cleaned up later.
After several long minutes of intense concentration, Chrysalis gave a faint sound of satisfaction and stepped back, stretching her hooves to get the cricks out. “There. Done.”
Evergreen relaxed slowly, giving a sigh of relief. He reached a hoof up to check his mane, making sure Chrysalis hadn’t cut it right back. He was rather happy with how long his mane was. He didn’t want to look like some prancy unicorn. That just wasn’t him.
“Okay, now get out,” Chrysalis said, pointing a hoof. “I want in.”
The colt gave a faint laugh and shook his head, pulling himself out of the cauldron and stretching for a long moment, before pulling a towel around his body and vigorously drying himself.
Chrysalis hummed faintly as she set aside the pouch holding, comb, and scissors. Pulling herself into the cauldron she gave sound of delight.
Evergreen watched Chrysalis for a long moment, his head canting to the side, smiling at her. She didn’t open her eyes as she happily stretched out as much as she could in the cauldron of heated water, resting her chin on the edge of it. He moved off to check his reflection in a mirror, to make sure she hadn’t butchered his mane.
Resting in the water, Chrysalis felt the bond gather more strength. She smiled.