Queen Chrysalis awoke slowly as sunlight flooded the room. There were many things she despised on the surface world, but none as much as the sunlight. Even when she changed forms, her eyes could never quite adjust to the bright intrusion to her dreams—well, “nightmares” was a better term to use.
Letting out a low growl, she tried to roll over only to find that her forelegs and part of her chest were bound by some strange form of stone. The Princess has caught me! They are probably going to torture me, execute me, then parade my carcass through the streets of Canterlot for attacking her! I have to get out…
In her panic, Chrysalis tried to escape from her prison when the all-too-familiar pain of broken bones caused her to gasp. She let out a small sigh as she remembered the failed invasion of Canterlot. That magic blast from that brat Cadence and the fool Shining Armor had drained her of her energy and had thrown her to some godforsaken land. It left her feeling broken and utterly empty inside, like a husk of her former self being stomped on by somepony’s hoof.
“Please, don’t struggle miss.” Chrysalis went completely rigid when she heard the strange male voice speak. “The casts are holding your broken bones in place. If you keep moving, they won’t heal properly.”
Chrysalis did everything she could to steel her voice. “Who goes there? Show yourself!”
She heard something walk from the side of her bed into her line of sight. He was a tall, lean stallion covered head to hoof in tattered rags that wrapped around his body. The only parts of him that she could actually see were his mocha tan muzzle and his coal black mane. Dark sunglasses shielded his eyes, which was odd considering the few rays of sunlight dancing around in the room.
“Are you with the Royal Guard?” Chrysalis hissed at the stranger.
With a smile he said, “No, I am not.”
She took a moment to think, “Where am I and why am I here?”
“You are in the Sundrop Deserts. I found you out in the sand dunes. You were gravely injured and in need of immediate medical attention. So I took you here, to my cabin, and treated your wounds.” He drew a strange rag from his pocket and raised it to his muzzle. Once he had wrapped it around his head, he moved to the side of the room towards a small door.
“Sorry to leave you so abruptly, but I have to run into town for some supplies. I should be back in a few hours so please don’t try to do anything. You might hurt yourself,” he said through the rag. Then, he opened the door and the room was flooded with bright light. Chrysalis shielded her eyes from the sudden attack on her irises. She could hear wind howling from outside the building and the blast of air into the room tasted like dirt as she inhaled. The door slammed shut and all was silent and dark again.
Disobeying his warnings, she tried to move from the bed and escape. With all her might, she wriggled her way to the side of the mattress despite the intense pain in her ribs and back. Just as she got to the edge, she looked down at her appendages to see they were cast and bound by a plaster mold.
With a disappointed grunt, she muttered, “This day has been just perfect.”
Now she moved her way back to the center of the small bed panting. Having to worm her way around the bed turned out to be far more physically demanding than she had expected. Being broken and starved didn’t help either. She was completely exhausted. Within a few minutes, she decided to just close her eyes and wait for the stallion to come back…
“What kind of pony are you?” a young colt asked, his voice laced in malice. He was walking closer and closer to a small black foal. She was backing away…
“Those aren’t pegasus wings? How did you get ‘em, huh?” another colt asked, his voice filled with the same hatred.
"Um..." the black filly stuttered, but was abruptly cut off by one of the other ponies in the group.
“So which is fake, the horn or the wings?” a filly asked sarcastically. “Do you think you’re special or something?” The black filly continued to back away, but found herself pressed against a wall.
“Th-they’re both real, honest,” the small black foal said, her voice shaking in fear.
“Well then, show us!” the first colt said taking a sudden step towards her. Instinctively, she started to flap her wings, creating an insect like buzz.
“What was that?” the filly said.
“Sounded like a bug.”
“What a freak!” the bigger colt said. The black foal started to cry.
“Freak… freak… freak! Freak! FREAK! FREAK!” they chanted in unison. The foal collapsed to the ground crying. One of them kicked her in the ribs, which made her yelp in pain. The others followed their friend’s example, and started pummeling the young filly.
The beating ensued for what seemed like an eternity. All she could manage to do was sob and whimper as they continued. Eventually, they got tired and walked away but made sure to say a few choice words. One even spat on her after he stomped on her foreleg and snapped it like a twig. She let out a blood-churning scream.
“If we see you around our school, we will have another little ‘talk,’ but next time, we won’t stop until we break every bone in your body.”
The young filly was left all alone to cry in the dirt.
Chrysalis opened her eyes slowly with a heavy sigh. She didn't have many recurring dreams, but this was one she wished would go away. After a few minutes, she looked around the empty room to see that it was a part of a very small cabin. From the bed, she could see a small stove, a round table with three chairs, a bookshelf, and a workbench with a dresser next to it. The only other thing in the room was an armchair facing the closed window and a small stand with a pair of reading glasses next to it. She noted that the room was covered in a thin layer of dust, and the light bounced off the tiny particles flying through the air.
She watched a small particle dance around her, perplexed by it as it swayed and floated around the room without a care in the world, making her smile.
Oh to be as you, she thought in envy as the small speck danced about the room, free to do as it pleased. The Changeling Queen was pulled from her reverie as the front door to the home opened, the small particle ran into some dark corner of the room and out of her sight. This time, the howling winds were much louder and there was a lot of sand blowing into her temporary prison. The pegasus pulled with all of his might to close the door and with a great heave, the thin wood was sucked back into its frame. She could hear him breathing deeply through all the cloth that still covered his maw.
“Wheew! Now that – that was a sandstorm!” he managed as he removed the rag. He started to chuckle, “I think I’m getting out of shape!”
As he took a moment to catch his breath, she readjusted her position on the bed to keep an eye on him.
He walked over to the table and dropped one of his saddlebags down, spilling its contents. He sifted through the pile and after a moment, he found what he was looking for. From what she could see, she guessed it was a small dry plant with long winding roots. He threw the plant into a mortar and pestle and set to grinding it up. After the plant had been ground into a fine powder, he put it in a bowl and started looking for another ingredient.
“What are you doing over there?” she demanded. He glanced over his shoulder a moment, but then returned to his work. Her eyes narrowed. “I asked what you are doing? Was that not clear?”
“Oh, it was plenty clear, but it was very rude. I tend to ignore rude things.” Chrysalis's ear twitched, catching the slight foreign accent as he spoke.
His hoof landed on a small vial of liquid. He picked it up and poured the purple liquid into the bowl of powder. With a small crackle and puff of smoke, the ingredients mixed into something that smelled terribly foul. Chrysalis had to cover her nose.
“By the Creators! What is that stench? It smells worse than the rotting carcass of a cave worm!”
The stallion smiled, “That is the smell of your medicine. It should help with the broken bones as well as fight off any infection that your body might have contracted.” With the bowl of repugnant liquid in hoof, he slowly approached the bed.
Her eyes went wide. “Wh-what are you doing?” she said, trying to back away from him but the combination of bandgages and searing pain held her in place. She was at his mercy.
“Why are you afraid? I’m just bringing you your medicine…” he started to smile and chuckle under his breath, which only made Chrysalis start to panic even more.
“Th – that is why!” Once again she tried to escape, but failed miserably. As he reached the bed, he held her down with one hoof and held the bowl to her lips with the other. His touch was firm enough to keep her from moving, but also gentle and careful so that he didn’t hurt her.
“Now say, ‘Ah!’” he said. Chrysalis’s words were muffled through her closed muzzle, but it was clear she had no intention of obeying his commands. “C’mon. You don’t want to do this the hard way, do you?” he asked. She simply turned her head to the side and closed her eyes like a foal refusing to eat her vegetables.
He sighed, “Very well then,” and in one deft motion, he moved his second hoof up to her mouth and opened her jaw by applying pressure to her chin. The putrid liquid spilled into her unsuspecting maw. It wasn’t much of a surprise that it did not taste much better than it smelled. She coughed and gagged as it slid its way down her throat like a large slug.
“Wh – GAH! – What the Tartarus was that?” she cried holding her plaster-coated hooves to her mouth. The after taste that stained her tongue was almost unbearable. Luckily for her dying taste buds, he pulled out a small bottle of water that she took and drank from greedily.
He started laughing again, “That was a solution of Cinder Root and extract of Nightshade. A little fast healing potion I learned how to make many years ago.”
She choked on the water and stared at him as if he was crazy, “Aren’t both of those ingredients toxic?”
“Separately, yes, they are both the most lethal poisons in all of Equestria. However, when combined they become one of the fastest healing potions known to pony kind,” the stranger finished as he walked over to his workbench. “Its effects should become apparent momentarily.”
Chrysalis started to argue when she felt a strange warmth welling up inside her. As it washed over her body, her pains were replaced by numbness, and then she could feel nothing but a light aching. She was completely stunned. Being royalty, she had access to some of the best potions out there and had tried many different healing solutions, but none were as potent as this. How had she never heard of this before?
“I’ll take that as proof it is working,” he said turning around to see her. She just stared at him, mouth agape.
He shied away a little. “Do I have something on my face?” he asked with a nervous chuckle.
She finally composed herself and decided to ask the question that had been on her mind since he left, “Why are you helping me? Do you even know who I am?”
"You know, you remind me of my daughter when she was just a foal. Always asking foalish questions," he said over his shoulder as he turned back to the table. "I helped you because aiding a pony in need is the right thing to do, regardless of who they are or what they've done."
"Tch. What a stupid and naive answer!"
"Well, I'm going to tell you the same thing I told my little filly; 'You ask a stupid question, you're going to get a stupid answer!'" He started laughing. Chrysalis didn't like being talked to in such a demeaning way, but she still found his sarcasm rather amusing.
Just then, she noticed that the potion had restored her feeding magic and she could feel his joy, his love for his daughter, and his laughter pouring out of him like a fine wine. Using her magic, she reached forth and started to drink in the healthy emotions, but the taste was tainted by an inner turmoil. This stranger was haunted by his past, and it affected everything he did. She imagined that if she tried feeding on her own emotions, they would taste just as bitter.
Her train of thought was broken as he spoke, “Anyway, the medicine will help take the edge off and speed up the healing process. You’ll be up and moving again in about a week.”
Her eyes were downcast, “I am afraid I cannot wait that long. My sub – I mean, my family needs me. I must return to them post haste.” She tried to raise herself out of bed, but the strain caused her to become light-headed, and she started falling face-first towards the ground.
“Whoa, there!” The pegasus moved to her side with amazing speed and grace. He caught her in his hooves just before her head collided with the hard wood floor. Lifting her back into the bed with ease, he said, “You must take it easy. Your ‘Family’ can wait until you are well enough for me to move you. For now, you need to rest.” The stallion put her under the covers and tucked her in, drawing up the comforter from the foot of the bed.
“Why are you doing that? It is already unbearably warm here,” Chrysalis said. The room was extremely hot thanks to the desert sun beating down on the small cabin, not to mention that she was not keen on being babied by the stranger at all.
He just continued to tuck her in. “It is going to get dark out soon, and as soon as the sun dips behind the horizon, it will get very cold rather quickly.”
Chrysalis rolled her eyes. “I do not need this bedding to keep me warm. My kind are used to living in colder places than this.”
The pegasus started to walk over to the small chair by the window. “Trust me, you’ll need them. In your condition the warmer you can keep yourself the better.” He plopped his flank in the armchair with his back to her and removed his sunglasses, placing them carefully on the table next to him.
“If you need me, just holler,” he added with a wave of his hoof. Just as she was about to respond, she heard a light snore.
Wow. I didn’t think anypony could fall asleep so quickly… she thought, bewildered. After a few minutes, she gave up trying to figure it out.
Once again, she settled down under the covers, but tossed the heavy comforter aside, I do not need such a heavy quilt. The hollow gets far colder than anything this desert could possibly muster!
Oh how wrong she was…
Chrysalis couldn’t get a wink of sleep for most of the night. Just as the colt had said, it got inexplicably cold as soon as the sun had set. The winds outside howled and lifted the sand to whip it at the door and windows of the home creating an insistent clacking. Even with all of these other sounds, she could still hear the pegasus’ light snoring from the chair by the window. She tried to cover her ears, but the plaster casts did not make very effective shields against the noise.
On top of the ear-piercing screeches from the wind, she had foolishly thrown the heavy quilt off the bed, and now the chilling cold seeped through the thick adobe walls of the cabin. It made her shake violently, causing her ribs to throb painfully in protest. She brought her legs in closer to her torso, trying to retain any body warmth she could muster. Cu – curse the Creators for making such a bipolar wasteland… She thought as her teeth continued to clatter and clang against each other.
The feeling of fabric sliding against her fur impeded her thoughts. Her eyes shot open and darted around as she moved a hoof to feel the comforter draped over her. She started to sit up slowly to get a better look, but she felt a gentle hoof push her back down.
“Just sleep. Everything will calm down soon. Please, sleep…”
She didn’t plan to argue. The quilt's warmth embraced her like a cloud as she started to drift off to sleep. Just as he said, the howling winds died down and the clacking windows ceased their chattering.
“Are you always right?” she asked under her breath. He just chuckled.
“Most of the time anyway,” he whispered in her ear. “Now please, sleep…”
She let out an extremely cute yawn, “Fine.” He started to brush her mane lightly. His touch helped her relax, and within moments she found herself drifting off to sleep…
The filly was still lying on the ground crying. She tried to stand but the paralyzing pain from her broken leg kept her rooted to the spot.
“ Heeelp!” she called out through her coughing sobs. “Heeeelllppp! Somepony! Anypony!” She stared down at her now-disfigured leg. The bone was starting to protrude through the skin and her limb twitched uncontrollably as her mind tried to shut out the pain. The sight was so gruesome that even a war-hardened veteran would have a tough time trying to stomach it.
She wanted to cry. She wanted to let all of her emotions pour out of her and feel relief. But when she cried, she coughed. When she coughed, it felt like somepony was stabbing her bruised and dislocated ribs. So she swallowed her anguish for now and decided to try standing again. Cradling her broken leg, she was able to hobble her way to a nearby store where she hoped they could call for a doctor or even dress some of her wounds themselves.
She tried to knock on the door, but she realized that if she lifted her hoof she would fall down, so instead she used the side of her head and gently knocked on the entryway, “I-Is anypony there?”
There were hoofsteps on the other side of the door as well as a metallic click from the latch. The large oak door opened to reveal a rather stout older mare with a peach coat and a dark brown mane with two silver streaks running from her temples. She wore a white apron stained by whatever she had been cooking, and her hair was tied back with a few strands cascading down her face.
She looked down at the poor filly and her eyes instantly widened. Embracing the small foal tenderly in her arms, the mare spoke in some strange language she couldn’t understand. When the foal just stared at her, the mare realized that she didn’t understand.
“What happened to you, little one?” she asked. Her voice was tender and thick with her accent.
The foal contemplated explaining what happened, but she knew that if the ones who did this to her found out, they would probably do much worse. Instead of lying, she just pleaded for help.
“Of course.” The mare gently picked up the small filly and carried her inside.
As with most buildings, the store doubled as the mare’s home. The walls were all painted in warm colors, and all retained the same strange pattern of waving lines along the foot of the wall. The mare walked through another entryway and into the living room and set the foal down on the comfy couch.
“I will go get the doctor. Please wait here,” she said. The mare turned to run out the door, leaving the young filly alone in her house. A few minutes later, the mare came back, followed by a young stallion in a white coat.
“Here she is, Doctor,” she said, bringing him into the couch that the little foal was resting on. He jumped a little at the sight of her, which made her realize she must look a lot worse than she thought.
Quickly, he regained his composure. “Where does it hurt, darlin’?” he asked in a thick southern accent.
All the foal could manage to say was, “My leg.” She held up her mangled and bleeding appendage to the doctor. He stared at it a moment, contemplating the best way to approach the situation.
After a defeated sigh, he said, “Ma’am, please go fetch me a thick towel and a bowl of water. I’ll grab everything else we're gonna need.” He then returned his attention to the lightly crying filly. “Give us a moment darlin’. We’ll getcha right as rain in no time!” He said with a smile, but it faded as soon as he turned away from her.
They stepped into the kitchen and grabbed everything they needed. When they came out, the mare was holding the bowl of water and a white towel and the doctor brought two wooden boards and some thin ropes. She didn’t like the looks of this…
The doctor sat down on the ground in front of the couch and looked into the foal's eyes, “Alright, darlin’, after lookin’ at yer leg I have no choice but ta set the bones that broke. I ain’t gonna lie, it will hurt—a lot—but it’s better ta do this than ta have it heal improperly.”
The filly knew what he meant, and even though she knew that a bone that heals improperly would cause her insurmountable amounts of pain until it was rebroken and set properly, she was still terrified. Nevertheless, she had already been through most of Tartarus today. Why not just finish the journey?
“O-okay…” she said very quietly. The elder mare held out the cloth, “Here. Bite down on this when he starts to move the bones.” The filly took it with a shaky hoof, and did as instructed placing the cloth over her teeth while she waited for the doctor to begin his work.
Although he gently placed his hooves of the protruding bone, she still felt an extremely sharp, jagged pain that nearly took her breath away. With a loud gasp, she started to bite down on the cloth, which surprisingly helped a little.
“Are ya ready?” the doctor asked, looking up at her. All she could do was nod her head, and brace for the setting.
“One Mississippi…” he said. The rest was drowned out by the crack of bone and a muffled scream.
Chrysalis awoke moaning. The herbal medicine the colt gave her had worn off, and she could feel every agonizing tear and break her body had undergone ripping through her all at once. Hot tears streamed down her face as she writhed in pain.
“What happened!?” the pegasus asked in alarm.
All Chrysalis could manage through her blood chilling screams were, “THE PAIN! THE PAIN!”
She could hear the pegasus fumbling around the workbench for something and running back to the bedside. “Hold still!” he grunted. Chrysalis could feel a sterilized needle tear a small hole in her shoulder, and soon her pain subsided. She was left on the bed sweating and breathless. Her screams died down to whimpers.
The colt walked over to her, still fully clad in his rags, “Are you alright now?” She tried to speak, but instead opted to give him a nod so she could catch her breath. After confirming that the medicine had worked, he walked back to the table and started working on a new potion.
“Since you are in such intense pain, we will need to keep a steady flow of medication and water in your system to help keep the pain levels down so we don’t have another incident like that one.” He quickly made another bowl of the foul smelling potion and placed it on the nightstand with a glass of water before walking to the door.
"Wait," she called. "Where are you going?"
“I just used up the last of the Nightshade extract. I need to go refine some more before the sun rises," he explained. "It shouldn't take me too long, and I will be right out back. If you need me for anything, just call for me.” He flashed her a warm smile and departed into the dark night. Chrysalis could hear the opening and closing of a gate outside, and then the low hum of a motor.
Since he was outside, she thought that now would be a good time to see just how much of her power she had access to. Focusing on the glass of water on the table, she decided that testing basic unicorn level magic would be safe and help her ease into changeling magic. It took a little effort, but she was able to pick up the glass and drink from it slowly. She smiled. That was more than I thought I could do. Now let’s try some of my changeling powers…
Her horn started to glow a vibrant green aura as she started to picture a pony she wanted to turn into. As she let her magic envelope her, she made extra sure to only change her appearance instead of altering her bone structure. In her condition, changing her entire anatomy could cause quite a few… complications. She shuddered at the memory of one of her subjects trying such a thing. In the end, she had to end his life to spare him the suffering.
First she changed her coat and mane color. She closed her eyes and focused as her mane turned a rose red while her coat turned a pearly white. Next, she changed the textures of both her horn and wings, making them the large, regal pegasus wings and ivory white horn.
Opening her eyes, she checked all of the changes she made. Good. Everything is as I willed it. The medicine that colt gave me has been working wonders. I should thank him… At that point, she realized she did not even know the colt’s name. How have I not asked him his name?
She blushed at this realization, but since she did not change any of her internal functions, her cheeks were flushed a light lime green tint. Perhaps I should tell him who I am as well.
The door to the cabin flew open as the pegasus in question started walking blindly over to the bed looking at nothing in particular. “It will be about an hour for the first vial to be ready, but IaaaaAAAHHHH!!!” He jumped back a bit when he saw her and spread his wings, bracing for combat.
“Who are you and what have you done with the black mare!” He flapped his wings as he started to charge her.
“Wait!” she yelled holding out a hoof.
This caused the pegasus to halt his attack and raise his ear. Though her appearance had changed completely, her voice was still the same. “Ma’am? Is that you?” His head was cocked to the side and his wings drooped slightly in confusion.
She closed her eyes and let the magic flow from her horn. All of the changes she made were burned away by a green flame, revealing her true form. She looked up at him. “Please, sit down. This is going to be a long conversation..."
The stallion stood there completely shocked by Chrysalis’s transformation. “H – How did you do that?” he stuttered.
Chrysalis let out a deep sigh, “My name is Queen Chrysalis and I am what is called a Changeling.”
He took a seat next to the bed. “That explains… a lot, actually,” he said looking her over once more to be sure that what she said was true.
Her eyes went wide. “Wait, you know what I am?” she asked. From what she knew, common ponyfolk were unaware of the changelings' existence.
“I had a few ideas, but I’ll explain that later…” he said with a wave of his hoof before continuing. “So, how did you end up way out here? I thought the changelings lived in the Badland caves?”
She really wanted to know how he knew so much, but she decided that the best way to find out was to press on. “It all started a long time ago, when I was taken from my home…”
It had been several years since she was brutally beaten by her classmates and the little foal had developed into a fine young mare. Many of the scars they had left healed, and it even seemed that the emotional scarring had been replaced by love and tolerance. Without anywhere else to go, the elderly mare named Nana Maíz volunteered to care for the young filly and filled her life with happiness and joy. However, one faithful day it was all taken away from her…
“Nana, can we go watch the fireworks show tonight?” the young mare asked her adoptive mother, her voice melodic and majestic.
The elder mare just laughed, “What did I tell you last time you asked me, mijita?”
The young mare pouted, “But Nanaaa! Everypony whose anypony will be there, and… well…” she trailed off, a light blush gracing her cheeks.
“And so will that boy Jeremiah Spuds?” Nana Maíz said with a sly smirk.
Her daughter stared and blushed even deeper in embarrassment, “H–how did you know?”
Maíz laughed heartily, “Soy tu madre! I know everything, remember? Perhaps if you asked me a little differently…” Whenever she said this, she wanted her daughter to try her hand at her native language.
The black mare rolled her eyes, “Puedo ir al demonstración por favor?” Since she had moved in with Maíz, she had been able to pick up on some of her native tongue, but was still struggling with the more subtle aspects of speech.
“’A la,’ but close enough,” she said with a wave of her hoof. “Go have fun…”
“Oh thankyouthankyouthankyou!” the young mare shrieked out as she tightly embraced her generous mother before bolting for the front door.
“I want you to stay with Kame and be back home right after the show is over, understand hija?” she said as she watched her daughter heading out the door.
“Okay, I’ll be back right after everything is over. I love you!” she called over her shoulder.
“Please for Celestia’s sake be careful…” Maíz continued, but the warning fell on deaf ears as the door slammed shut. Maíz sat back in her chair and started rubbing her eyes with an exasperated sigh, “Ay dios mio… What am I gonna do with her?”
The black filly ran through the streets smiling. She had finally been given permission to watch the annual fireworks show celebrating the end of the Diamond Wars and, most importantly, she got to spend the night with Spuds… Her cheeks tingled, and she smiled uncontrollably at the thought.
She made it to the large hill overlooking the small mining town of Colterville just as the sun was setting. From there, she could see all that her home had to offer: the large rolling hills covered in luscious green trees, the beautiful lake nestled between the peaks that reflected the orange glow of the sun so perfectly, and the dark barren mines that scarred the otherwise breathless landscape.
Looking back up the hill she could see a small crowd of ponies eagerly waiting for the sun to set and the show to begin. As she got closer and closer, their chatter started to die down and all of their eyes latched onto her. She was… Different. It has been like this for as long as she could remember, but it didn’t bother her like it used to—mostly because Nana Maíz kept her so busy with bookwork that she really didn’t have time to think about it. All the more reason she was so ecstatic to be out tonight.
“Hey there, Pipsqueak!” said a friendly voice as she felt a hoof touch her shoulder. “So the old mare finally let you out, huh?”
She turned to see her best friend Kame beaming at her with his unusually large grin. “Long time, no see, Pudge,” she said as they embraced each other. Her eyes widened as she held him, noticing that he was thinner than when she last saw him. “You’ve lost weight! Oh, that will never do… You need to start coming by the bakery every day after school so I can make you something!”
Pulling away from the hug, Kame laughed, “If I came by the store every day, I’d be right back to square one…” She remembered back to the day he decided to start cutting back on the sweets. Of course, this was only after he ate half his three-tiered birthday cake she had made for him. It was good to see he was following through with his plans though.
“Hey, you’ve grown quite a bit, haven’t ya Pipsqueak?” Kame asked playfully.
“Yes! And haven’t I told you to stop calling me that?” she pouted. “I’m almost bigger than you now!” It is true that when she was much younger, she was extremely petite, but over the years she had developed into a rather tall, beautiful mare.
Again, Kame laughed. He was always laughing at something. “Ah, just grin and bear it Pipsqueak!” he said ruffling her mane with his hoof.
She threw her hooves up in an attempt to stop him. “Quit it!” she whined, now trying to fix her mane. Just then, they heard the town mayor's voice over the loudspeaker, thanking everypony for coming out and announcing that the show was going to start in ten minutes. “Well, it was nice talking with you Pudge, but I need to go find somepony.”
Kame cut her a sly grin, “Spuds should be over by the old oak tree on the peak…” She blushed violently and stood there, rigid from shock. As he walked past her he whispered in her ear; “… all alone.”
She swallowed hard. Oh boy. He knows too… she thought. While being alone with him was exactly what she wanted, her nerves wracked her body and mind, making her question everything she had set out to do. Shaking away her discouraging thoughts, she steeled herself and set out for the large oak just a little ways away. She saw the clover green stallion she was looking for sitting back under the tree with a sprig of hay protruding from his mouth and his red mane cascading down his muzzle.She could feel her heart thumping in her chest and hoped Spuds wouldn’t notice.
*ba-bump… ba-bump... ba-bump...*
He looked up at her with his golden yellow eyes. “Hello there miss,” he said in a voice that warmed her soul. “What brings you out here?”
She looked away and started bashfully pawing at the grass. “Oh, nothing. Just was wondering if you wanted to watch the show with me,” her timid voice squeaked out.
He patted a patch of grass next to him, gesturing for her to have a seat. After a few moments of internal debate, she complied, trying to make her heart quiet down.
She felt like they were the only two ponies in the world. They talked about this and that, had a few laughs, and the entire time she could feel him emitting some kind of warm energy that she was quick to take in. The rush she got from him was pure ecstasy as she let it caress every fiber of her being, becoming more and more enveloped in her desire for more. Could this be it? Could this be… love?
She indulged herself on his emotions that he was developing for her and slowly to lose control of herself. Becoming more forward and flirtatious, saying things she never would have imagined and acting extremely promiscuous. Slowly, she turned from being a shy, timid filly to something she had no control over. It started to scare her and she wanted to stop, but she was no longer able to control her actions. It was as if she had become a third party of her own body. The rest of the conversation was a blur; all that she could see now was the blushing face of the colt and leaning in for a kiss…
“… and then what happened?” the pegasus asked, leaning precariously on the edge of his seat.
Chrysalis looked down at her hooves, trying to keep him from seeing her tear up. “Then we kissed. I had dreamed that my first kiss would be something spectacularly warm and loving, but the kiss I had that night was cold and emotionless,” she said with a sniff. She cursed herself for letting her emotions break through her façade, but she continued,
Their kiss went on for what felt like hours. She kept sucking this warm energy from him like a vampire sucking the blood from their victim. Except, she didn’t stop. She kept going until there was nothing left. Finally, she opened her eyes and reeled back in shock and screamed. Jeremiah Spuds was no longer the young energetic colt he once was, but instead a shriveled and hollow husk of a pony. His flesh faded to dust, and his bones crumpled to the ground with a clatter.
“What’s going on over there?” a pony called up to her. She started to run down the hill crying hysterically. She ran through the crowd and took off for home.
The street was dark and quiet, since most ponies were on the hill celebrating. About half way back to home, the black filly felt a strong, throbbing pain in her jaw. She turned into an alleyway and raised a hoof to her muzzle. As she did so, she felt a sharp prick on her hoof.
“Ow!” she cried. Pulling her hoof in front of her eyes, she noticed a small trickle of blood running down the center of her hoof. Panicking, her eyes darted down the alleyway to find something that she could check her reflection in. After a few seconds, she noticed a large puddle of water in the moonlight. Peering into the water, she studied herself. In the water, she saw a pair of razor sharp fangs protruding from her once beautiful muzzle. She touched them lightly, her eyes wide, unable to believe that they were truly hers.
“There she is! Grab her!” She looked up to see a stallion standing at the end of the alley pointing a hoof at her. Within moments, a few more stallions showed up and charged her. She tried to stop them, but they were far too fast. They tied her up and knocked her out…
When she awoke, there was a brown sack placed over her head and she could feel herself being dragged along a dark corridor. Through the small fibers of the burlap, she was able to see the two ponies that were restraining her as well as bright floodlights and bedrock.
She tried to speak, but she found herself gagged by some kind of rag. She started to thrash about, trying to break free or at least slow them down. The two stallions holding her didn’t even slow down. Eventually, they reached the end of the hallway, and a door swung open. From there, she was thrown into a chair and strapped down.
“After that, all I can remember is pain. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and months to years…” Chrysalis said, wiping her eyes. The stallion laid his hoof on hers and did his best to try and comfort her. At that moment, all she wanted to do was throw her hooves around him and cry, but she refrained from showing any more emotions. She was a Queen after all.
“It must have been horrible,” he said looking at her through his shades.
Why is he always wearing those? she wondered, but only for a moment. “Yes, it was.”
“How did you escape?”
She shook her head, “That’s just it, I don’t remember anything except waking up in my castle deep inside the Hollow.”
He tapped his chin, “Well, that still doesn’t explain how you got way out here in the Sundrop Desert.”
Chrysalis then told him about the famine and how she had planned to attack Canterlot to help feed her starving people. She had tried many other approaches but in the end, invasion was her only option.
“Wow. That explains all of the burns and blunt force trauma,” he said sitting back in his chair.
She winced, a familiar pain returning. “Speaking of ‘trauma,’” she said through sharp breaths. He took the hint and gave her the next dosage of medicine. The relief was almost instantaneous, which she guessed was a good sign.
“Thank you for answering my questions,” he said as he prepared another batch of the elixir. “Now I think it is only fair that I answer some of yours.”
Sitting up in the bed, Chrysalis took a moment to ponder which question she should ask first. After a few moments, she decided on the one that mattered the most.
“What is your name?”
He chuckled under his breath. “Well, I guess that’s a start. My name is Caduceus,” he said putting a hoof to his chest.
Chrysalis tilted her head in confusion, “Do you have a first name, or is this your first name?”
“It is my only name.”
She brought a hoof to her chin in thought before asking her next question. “Where are you from?”
He trotted over to the workbench on the far wall of the room. Lifting up a small cloth that draped down over one of its cupboards, he pulled out a small brown box. Taking a moment to look it over, he smiled and brought the container over to her and gently placed it in her lap. “Hopefully these pictures will help me explain my story,” he said before walking over to the large armchair facing away from her. After he sat down and made himself comfortable, he removed his sunglasses and gently placed them on the table.
Caduceus let out a heavy sigh, “I was born and raised in Zebrabwe, a small country to the south of The Dragon Pride Lands…”
Chrysalis took this as her cue to open the box placed in front of her. When she peered inside, she found an old scrapbook covered in strange runes and markings that she could not decipher.
Turning the first page of the book, she saw a black and white picture of a tiny sleeping foal wrapped up in a hoof knitted blanket. Underneath the photo was a piece of paper that had the same strange runes as the cover.
I have to find out what these markings mean.
“My father was an explorer named Dusty Trail,” Caduceus said. “He was tasked by Princess Celestia to explore the lands to the south of Equestria and make peace with any civilizations out there. After two years of exploration, he found Zebrabwe and also met my mother, Ayana, the Shaman of the Ethiponyans”
She turned to the next page of the book and saw a picture of two smiling ponies. One was a brown pegasus wearing a safari pith helmet with a thick, silver-grey mutton chop beard and tan brown fur just a few shades lighter than Caduceus. Under his right wing stood a slender, stunning zebra mare wearing her traditional jewelry and bands, toting a small saddlebag with the same markings as the cover of the scrapbook. Her eyes were closed, and she wore a simple smile.
Chrysalis thought this would be the best time to ask her next question, “How did they meet?”
“Hmm. If I remember correctly, an Ethiponyan war party captured my father’s caravan and brought him in as a prisoner,” he explained. “Deeming him a threat, the tribe’s Chief ordered his execution and his body to be sent back to Equestria as a warning for any and all invaders. However, my mother told the Chief that she had a vision and that if they killed Dusty Trail, a terrible evil would befall their tribe. So, my father’s life was spared, and my mother was tasked to care for him while he stayed with the tribe.”
Chrysalis’s eyes widened. “So Ayana saved your father’s life?” She felt a warm smile creep up onto her face. That’s so romantic! She saved his life and ended up marrying him, Chrysalis thought.
“Yes, and a few years after that, they got married and had my sister and me…”
She again turned the page to find a picture of a zebra foal and a pegasus foal with stripes like a zebra, but instead of black they were just a shade darker than his natural color.
“So that’s what you look like under all those rags,” she thought aloud. As Chrysalis flipped through the rest of the pages in the book, she noticed a recurring theme with the stallion sitting with his back to her; Caduceus’s eyes were either closed or covered in nearly every photo she saw in the book.
He laughed softly, “Yea, that’s me alright. That picture was taken just before the famine started.”
She lifted her gaze from the photo to the back of his chair, “I can relate to that plight.” The Changelings knew quite a bit about famine and the suffering that follows. First, there was denial, then arguing, and finally the resolution. For her people, it was invasion. Chrysalis could only imagine what had happened to the tribe.
“Everypony suffered,” Caduceus said in a grave tone. “The first few months weren’t that bad, but after year three, ponies just lost hope and waited for their time to die. Thanks to my mother being the tribe’s Shaman, she was able to forage and make enough edible food for our family to survive. She took us out with her every time and taught both of us how to find the ingredients we needed to make our food and potion supplements. However, not every family was lucky enough to have somepony so skilled, and many did not get to see the end of the suffering. Every day there was a fresh body lying in the fields, and every night we could hear the howls of the hungry hyenas, enjoying their meal. If it weren’t for my father sending for aid from Equestria, none of us would have survived another month.” He finished with a sniff.
Chrysalis felt the sadness, anguish, and regrets emanating off of him like the foulest stench that soon overwhelmed anything else in the room, tainting everything it touched. Up till this point, she did not realize she was still feeding off of his emotions, and she accidentally consumed the vile energy. It made her violently nauseous, and she felt the extremely strong urge to expel the toxic emotions from her body. Luckily, she was able to choke it down long enough for her to change the subject. “So what ha-happened after that?” she asked.
Caduceus shifted lightly in his chair. “After we received aid from Equestria, life resumed its normal pace. My sister and I decided to learn more about the herbal trade, and our mother took us as her apprentices. Within a matter of years, we both became experts on just about every combination and permutation known to ponykind.”
Thankful that he was no longer resonating the dark emotions, Chrysalis released a sigh of relief. If that had kept up much longer, I don’t think I could have held it back, she thought as her stomach stopped churning.
“Our mother told us that there was but one thing keeping us from being Shamans, and that was for us to find our spiritual centers,” the stallion continued. “So, with a heavy heart, our parents sent us off into the world with nothing but our skills and a small bag of bits to aid us. My sister and I went our separate ways. My spiritual journey led me here, to the Sun Drop Desert and a young filly in need. I took her in, gave her a place to call home, and started putting money towards a proper education. She was like a daughter to me, and I a father to her. Eventually, she grew up, and I had to watch her leave. Saying goodbye to her was perhaps the saddest day of my life. Although I haven’t seen her in many years, we still write each other…” He rose up from his chair. Reaching over, he grabbed his sunglasses and put them back in their rightful place on his muzzle. “And that is the end to my story.”
This reminded Chrysalis of a burning question that had been itching at her since their conversation began, “One last question.”
He walked over to her and sat down right next to her on the bed. She felt extremely awkward with him getting that close to her. A light blush graced her cheeks, and she became slightly distracted. While he had been this close to her before, this time was slightly… different. She couldn’t explain why, and she figured it would be best not to dwell on it too long.
“Yes?” he asked softly. This brought Chrysalis out of her own mind and back to reality.
“C-can you please take off the rags and glasses?” she asked.
He pulled back in shock, but recovered rather quickly. “Well, you don't waste any time getting down to it, do you?” he replied with a sly grin plastered on his face.
Chrysalis’s eyes went wide and she could feel her face burning up. Caduceus burst into a fit of laughter, leaving him completely breathless. “Nonononono! That’s not what I meant!” Chrysalis exclaimed, shaking her head violently.
“Oh, I—I know what you meant, b-but I couldn’t pass up a—an opportunity like THAT!” he said, trying to catch his breath.
Chrysalis started to giggle as well. His laughter has grown infectious! she thought as her giggle turned into full-on laughter. Luckily, the medicine had not worn off just yet, so her violently expanding and contracting rib cage caused her little pain.
Wiping a tear of laughter from his eye, Caduceus rose from the floor. “Alright, so you want to see what I look like, is that it?” Chrysalis calmed down and responded with a firm nod. “Are you sure?” he started to ask. “Some things are best left as a secret, you know.”
She thought about this for a minute, but eventually her curiosity outweighed his warning. “Yes, I want to know what you look like.”
He turned away from her, and started to remove the wrappings. “You sure?” he asked again, which only created tension for Chrysalis. What is he so afraid of?
“Only foals are positive,” he muttered under his breath as he removed the tattered rags that covered his body. Turning back to face her, Chrysalis noticed that he looked like any other pony she had seen with the exception of the stripes of dark brown that covered his body. He was tall, lean, and extremely handsome. His mane was about mid-length, but it was tangled and looked rather wild. Her gaze started to slowly move down his figure. He was not overly muscular, but he was still bigger than most other stallions she had seen. Finally, her eyes landed on his cutie mark; a winged staff with two snakes chasing each other up to the top. This did not keep her attention for long, however, and her eyes shifted to his rather toned flank…
Chrysalis caught herself gaping at him and quickly turned away, blushing once again. What are you doing? You’re royalty for goodness sake! She forced herself to focus back on his face and the conversation at hoof.
Caduceus reached for his sunglasses. As his hoof reached the frame of his shades, he paused. “Are you sure you want to see my eyes?” he asked, his voice shaking slightly from what Chrysalis could only describe as nervous jitters.
Once again, she nodded. With a deep breath, Caduceus complied and removed his glasses.
Caduceus's eyes were nothing like that of anypony she had met before. His irises seemed to glow a metallic gold color, and his pupils were the shape of hourglasses. They seem glazed over, as if he were unable to see properly out of them or there was an obstruction irritating them. Chrysalis didn't know whether to be terrified or awestruck.
"Wh-what is wrong with your eyes?" she asked, her voice starting to shake.
He let out a sigh. "There is nothing wrong with them. They are my blessing as well as my curse."
Chrysalis slowly sat up. "I don't understand.”
"Perhaps it is best if I just show you..." he said. He put his hooves on the sides of Chrysalis's head, slowly drew her in, and pressed his forehead gently against hers. "Please close your eyes," he said moving his hooves away from her face.
Chrysalis complied and slowly closed her eyes. He took a deep inhale and just as he exhaled, she felt a warm tingling sensation emanate from him. This was not all too different from the feeling she got when feeding off of love, but the after effect was far from normal. This feeling focused itself around her eyes and turned into an intense burning sensation, causing her to clench her eyes shut.
She started to panic, "What is happening?” she asked, her voice a little squeakier than usual. “What are you doing to me?"
"Just relax," he said while pulling away from her. Just as he did so, the burning numbed and she was no longer in pain. "Now, open your eyes."
As she did so, she found that the once tolerable level of light invading the home had become inexplicably bright. Great. Of all the things that could have gotten worse, it had to be the light, she thought.
The room around her was no longer the dark adobe brown that it once was, but a dull grey. Everything she saw around the room was grey. The chairs, the bench, even the once beautifully-decorated bedspread was the same dull hue of grey. Soon, her eyes turned to Caduceus, who appeared to be emanating a very small aura of white and black flames, and his eyes were still their same golden color.
"What is this?" Chrysalis asked, looking around the room completely slack-jawed.
Caduceus released a heavy sigh. "This is how I see the world," he said with a small smile painting his face.
She looked back to him and studied his aura, "What are these black and white flames that I see coming off of you?"
"When I was young, I asked my mother a similar question. She told me that every living thing in this world creates magic, and that fiery glow is just the creature releasing it," Caduceus explained. "She said that each creature emanates a different magical energy that does different things. Using this sight, I can find the right types of plants to mix to create a specific potion..."
"So, like mixing ingredients to bake?" she asked making sure she understood properly.
He smiled. "I suppose so."
Just then, Chrysalis's eyes started to burn once again. Raising one of her hooves she tried to rub out the pain. When she opened her eyes again, everything was back to normal. "Huh?"
Caduceus chuckled lightly. "As you see, I can only share my power for a short period of time," he said before he let out a wince of pain and put a hoof to his forehead.
Chrysalis gave him a concerned look. "Are you alright?"
Caduceus nodded his head. "Mhmm. Sharing my power just takes a lot of magic. Excuse me, I need to go make something." He walked back over to his workbench.
How can a pegasus use magic, especially one so strong that it can change the way somepony sees? He even has the same magic withdraw that allowed me to take control of Shining Armor so easily, she thought, completely perplexed by her companion's strange powers. Well, he is part Zebra, and I don't know much about their kind. Perhaps I should do some research on their culture and history. Maybe I will find some answers then.
Did you hear me?" Caduceus asked, interrupting her train of thought.
"I'm sorry. No, I was thinking," she answered honestly.
"It's okay. I just said that we should check your bandages and redress your wounds. Hopefully you will be able to get out of bed by tomorrow," he said as he drank the solution he was making for his head.
Chrysalis smiled. "That is great news! My legs have been getting stiff from all the lying around. I can't wait to stretch them out."
"Well then let's get started," Caduceus said as he approached the bed with a small journal tucked under his wing.
"What is that for?" Chrysalis asked.
He put the journal in front of her and opened it to reveal all of his medical notes as well as a very well drawn diagram of her basic anatomical structure. "This is a journal I made after I brought you back here. I needed to have a record of your condition so that I could keep track of all the little details," he explained.
Chrysalis scoffed, "Isn't that a little too thorough?"
"One can never be too sure. It's usually the small details that are the most important," he explained getting out his quill. "Now, let's begin. Please remove the covers and turn towards me."
Chrysalis carefully pulled back the covers to reveal her bandaged figure and lay on her side. The first things he wanted to check were her ribs. When he found her, her chest was slightly collapsed. It was amazing that none of the broken fragments had caused any serious internal damage. He carefully ran his hooves up and down her ribs, gently applying pressure here and there and recording her reaction.
"Your ribs have healed quite nicely, and it seems that all but one of the bones has completely healed," he commented as he made a note in the book. "There's a little bruising in your midsection, but nothing too severe. Still going to keep an eye on it."
He moved on to her plaster-covered forelegs and carefully removed the casts and bandages. Chrysalis shivered as her legs were exposed to the air they were so deprived of the past few days. She could feel the moisture and sweat dripping off her once-covered appendages and felt rather embarrassed. Caduceus took a small rag and gently dried her legs.
She winced in pain as he touched her right ergot. Caduceus quickly pulled his hooves back, "I'm sorry!"
After the pain subsided, Chrysalis chuckled. "Don't worry. It's just sore I guess," she stated trying to move it around. However, as she started to bend it, the pain came rushing back. She tried to play it off, hoping that it wouldn't interfere with his plans to let her walk around tomorrow.
To her dismay, he noticed.
"Oh that's not good. We'll have to keep that wrapped up until tomorrow," he said making another note in his journal.
Seeing him writing in that black ink made Chrysalis think for a moment. "Can you even see what you are writing?" she asked blatantly.
Not even taking his eyes off of her wounded leg, he answered, "Of course I can. Just because I see the world in shades of grey does not mean that I can't see the black of ink on a piece of paper."
Chrysalis looked over his diagrams again, noting the fine detailing and shading. She wanted to press the issue further, but decided to drop the matter. I don't think I can handle much more information without my head exploding.
The rest of the examination went by rather quickly. He very carefully removed all of the bandages, applied some kind of liquid to any wounds that were still open, and redressed the wounds. She found out that the green plant juice was from a local cactus called Aloe Vera and that it helped seal wounds and sooth any kind of skin irritation, which she found completely fascinating. Soon, they got into a very long conversation about different kinds of plants and how to tell the difference between poisonous, edible, and healing plants and what they do based off of their leaf structure. Chrysalis noticed herself laughing more than she had in a long, long time. She was genuinely happy with this colt. She enjoyed being around him, hearing his voice...
Chrysalis could feel her heart pounding in her aching chest and she started to blush. Why do I feel this way? she wondered, placing a hoof to her chest. She watched as he continued to write in his medical journal with a small smile gracing his features, blissfully unaware of her gaze. Again, she felt her heart beat getting stronger and stronger. Suddenly, Chrysalis could hear the howling winds whipping at the windows and doors. The sun was setting, and the cold winds were rushing in.
Caduceus looked up from his notebook and over to the door. "Wow, is it that time already?" he said sounding rather surprised. Standing up, he donned his rags and glasses and walked to the door. "I need to go into town tonight and get some supplies," he said wrapping his face in cloth.
"Isn't it dangerous to go out this late?" she asked. From what she understood about desert ecology, predators were most active during the night and tended to travel in packs. If he were to be attacked, he would have to defend himself against the group of hunters. Not even a full-grown earth pony stood a chance against a pack of wolves.
"Don't worry about me," he said with a wave of his hoof. "This isn't my first time going out after dark and I know my way around. I'll be fine."
Caduceus opened the door and the harsh winds pushed their way past the door frame, charging Chrysalis in full force. She could feel the bone chilling cold rushing towards her and quickly grabbed for the comforter. However, she was far too slow, and the wind bit at her exposed body, causing her to shiver and her teeth to chatter violently. It got to the point where she was worried she would chip a fang. Pulling the blanket over herself, she tried to rub her hooves together to create any warmth she could. After the shock had subsided, she glared at him with as much spite and anger she could muster.
He chuckled lightly, "Sorry. Goodnight." With that, he closed the door behind him, leaving Chrysalis alone to sleep.
“There she is! Grab her!” The black mare looked up to see a stallion standing at the end of the alley pointing a hoof at her. Within moments, a few more ponies rounded the corner of the alley and charged her. She tried to stop them, but they were far too fast. She felt a quick blow to her head, and then everything went black.
When she awoke, there was a brown sack placed over her head and she could feel herself being dragged along. Through the small fibers of the burlap, she was able to see the two ponies dragging her along as well as bright floodlights and bedrock.
She tried to speak, but found herself gagged by some kind of rag. She started to thrash about, trying to break free or at least slow them down. However, her struggling didn’t even deter the two stallions holding her. Eventually, they reached the end of the hallway, and a door swung open. From there, she was thrown into a chair and strapped down by her legs and neck.
The black mare continued to struggle, but the restraints were far too tight. All that her struggling managed to do was choke and cut herself on the rough material. Suddenly, the brown sack was torn from her head and the bright white light blinded her, causing her eyes to clamp shut. As her eyes adjusted, the mare could start to make out the figures of a group of ponies.
They were whispering amongst themselves, discussing their plans as they watched the black mare strapped down in her chair writhing and lashing out, just trying to break free like a wild animal.
One of the figures stepped forward enough for the black mare to see that he was not a pony, but a large griffon.
"Now then," he said. The sinister tone in his voice sent a chill running down the mare's spine. "Shall we begin?"
With that, one of the creatures that had captured her pulled a lever beside her, and the black mare heard a burst of steam as the chair she was strapped to began to descend. The griffon walked over to her side, holding one of his claws near his beak as he whispered something into it. With his free claw, he reached over to some unseen table and picked up some kind of needle.
"I will not lie, little one. This will hurt, and it will hurt a lot." With one deft move, the griffon injected the toxin into her shoulder. She could feel it slither through her veins like hot lava.
Chrysalis let out a bloodcurdling scream as she shot upright. A cold sweat poured down her brow as she breathed heavily. For nearly ten minutes, she just sat there staring at an indiscernible part of the wall, catching her breath. Finally, she wiped the sweat from her face and decided to get out of the bed. Taking extra care to not put much weight on her bad leg, she walked over to Caduceus's work bench and drank the glass of water he left sitting there. Her hooves shook as she set it back down.
"What was that?" Chrysalis wondered aloud. Her mind was sending commands to her body that it couldn't process. She wanted to break down and cry, to just scream and scream until her lungs collapsed, but instead she just sat there, unable to do anything.
It was just a dream, right? It didn't really happen... she tried to reason. Then why did it feel so real? She instinctively raised a hoof to the spot on her foreleg where that nightmarish griffon injected the serum and caressed the area where she had felt the needle penetrate her skin. As she traced her way up her leg to the point, she found nothing strange until she got near her shoulder joint. There, she found what felt like a thick, sprawling scar that seemed to trace its way down her veins for an inch or so in either direction.
So it wasn't just a dream...
The realization caused her body to tense up. She felt breathless, as if she was falling from the highest point of the Hollow. Try as she might to catch her breath, it was futile. Her mind was racing a thousand miles a minute while panic and confusion infected her conscience.
Her head pounded as images of her incarceration began to flash through her mind. She could almost hear the ice cold voice of that evil griffon and the fiery sting of the hypodermic needle as it pierced her skin. However, she wasn't able to remember anything clearly and the lack of knowledge frustrated her. Those thoughts gnawed at her, begging for some kind of answer, making her feel even more enraged. Scanning the room, her eyes landed on the pillow resting on the bed.
Chrysalis roared at the top of her lungs as she threw all of her energy into one final punch. As her hoof connected with its intended mark, it let out a thud that shook the small hut and cracked some of the adobe behind it. She held her hoof there, allowing herself a moment's rest as she let the satisfaction of her actions sink in. She was breathing hard and sweating furiously.
I need some more water, she decided. She released the pillow she had been abusing for the past ten minutes and let it drop to the ground. Walking over to what she presumed was the kitchen, she opened the ice chest and found a large pitcher of water next to some other assorted liquids of different colors.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Chrysalis lifted the lid off one of the containers and took a short whiff of its contents. She instantly fell backwards, trying to fight the urge to vomit as she tried to shield her muzzle from the stench. The only way it could be described was like the putrid odor of an old campsite latrine filled with spoiled broccoli and horseradish boiling in the hot sun surrounded by a pack of angry skunks.
The worst thing about this was the realization she still had the lid in her hooves. Using her magic, she levitated the lid and tried to maneuver it back onto the container. However, she couldn't see into the ice chest, so she had to go back over there, peer into the chest, and close the container.
Chrysalis dry heaved just thinking about getting that close to it again, but it needed to be done. Otherwise the toxic fumes would fill the room and gas her out. Even now the potency of the stench was increasing at a rapid rate, causing her head to spin.
Chrysalis took the casing off the poor, defenseless pillow and wrapped it around her muzzle, just as she had watched Caduceus do, and took a few deep breaths through the cloth. The moisture from her breathing dampened the makeshift gas mask and created a weak scent seal around her nostrils. Thankful for the slight relief from the assault on her senses, she then proceeded to approach the ice chest. As she got closer, the air almost seemed to become thicker, almost as if the foul abomination had gained a mind of its own and was pushing her away, trying to keep her from achieving her goal. However, Chrysalis was determined to defeat this foe, and with all her strength, she put the lid on and closed the container.
Slowly, Chrysalis removed the pressure she was applying to the lid, hoping that the jar would stay shut. Once she was confident that the container would not explode, she slumped down and heaved a sigh of relief, removing the cloth from her muzzle. She proceeded sprawled out on her back and smiled triumphantly. After all, she just saved the entire land of Equestria from that abomination. She deserved a medal for her valiant efforts, but being able to just lay down in peace was reward enough.
Chrysalis's head shot up from its position on the ground and turned in the direction of the voice. Through her legs, she was able to see Caduceus, walking out of a dark corner of the room trying to stifle his laughter. Her face completely flushed, Chrysalis twisted her body and jumped to her hooves. Unfortunately in her embarrassed haste, she landed wrong and put too much weight on her bad leg twisting her ergot and folding like a cheap tent.
Just as she was about to hit the ground, Caduceus reached out and caught her. "Easy there, Killer. No need get another injury for me to fix," he joked, helping to stand her up.
She quickly pushed him away and hid her face, trying to keep him from seeing her deepening blush. "H-how long were you standing there?" she asked.
"Long enough to know that I'm going to need new pillows."
Chrysalis shrunk, reprimanding herself mentally. Oh no! He saw everything. Even my reaction to that foul concoction he has brewing in there! Not only that, but he saw me in that undignified position! Me, the Queen of the Changelings! What was I thinking?!
Her humiliation slowly turned into anger. "How dare you spy on me! Why did you sneak in?"
"I didn't sneak in," he said with a hint of humor. "You were just too preoccupied with beating the stuffing out of my pillows to notice me walk in."
This only made her more distraught, "Then why didn't you show yourself?! Why did you stay quiet?"
"You had a lot on your mind. Figured it was just one of those things you had to work out of your system. Although I was a little worried you would hurt yourself with that last punch," Caduceus remarked in a very soft and caring voice.
"Wh-what?" Chrysalis was taken aback by this. She was expecting anger, frustration, impatience. Not compassion and worry.
Caduceus walked over to her and removed his glasses, "I know that you like to keep a lot to yourself, but what got you so worked up?"
"It-It's none of your concern," she said, her gaze dropping to the floor.
"I know, but I am concerned. Just, talk about it. Let me help you."
After a few minutes of bickering, Chrysalis finally decided it would be best to tell him about her horrible nightmare and the chilling discovery of her strange scar.
"May I see it?" Caduceus asked, which earned him a questioning look. "I just need to see something." He added, taking his medical journal out of his saddlebag. His hoof gently traced up her arm to the spot of the injection. His soft touch, although innocent, made her blush lightly. Carefully, he applied a slight pressure to the scar and scanned over his notes, mumbling to himself.
"Well that's strange..." he mumbled.
Chrysalis cleared her head as her ears perked up, "What is it? Is something wrong?"
Caduceus tapped his chin, checking over his notes again. After a few moments, he slid the book back into his bag and turned back to her. "Do you think you would be able to make a trip into town with me?" he asked.
"I-I believe so. Why?"
"Because there is somepony there you need to meet."
Caduceus walked over to his workbench and opened one of the drawers, searching for something. After a few minutes of sifting through everything there, he pulled out a small package held together by a thin leather binding. He let out a deep sigh as his hoof ran over the rough paper wrappings, taking them in. Chrysalis could feel his emotions, his nostalgia for a time long past.
Caduceus opened one of the pouches on his saddlebag and carefully slid the package inside. Turning his attention back to his bench, he opened a different drawer to reveal two sets of faded white robes as well as a few other assorted materials.
"Who is this pony you are taking me to?" she asked.
"You will need to put one of these on before we head outside. Whether it's day or night, this will save your life," he explained, pulling one out and placing it on the bed for her.
Wait, I don't understand, Chrysalis thought. These are made of really thick material. Does he want me to burn alive in this thing?
As if reading the confusion on her face, Caduceus continued. "The robes will keep you from getting dehydrated in the day and protect you from the cold bite of the night air."
"I'm not putting it on until you tell me who you are taking me to," she said folding her legs and looking away from the articles of clothing laid before her.
With an annoyed sigh, Caduceus continued to search through the house as he spoke.
"A few years ago, a traveler arrived at the settlement and asked if I could make an herbal remedy to use for his skin. He had a strange breathing apparatus that emitted some kind of steam strapped to his muzzle and was unable to walk without his cane. When I examined him, I noticed a very similar scar on his shoulder. When I asked him about it, he covered it up and pulled away. Suddenly, he became very defensive, telling me to stop the examination as he covered up. Until now, I had dismissed the entire ordeal, but now..."
He turned to face her, his expression stone cold. "Now, I think it is time to confront him and find out what was behind that scar."
Chrysalis was startled. She didn't expect such an intense reaction from the otherwise cheerful stallion.
"Why do you want to know?" she asked, recovering from her shock.
Caduceus turned and continued to pack his supplies, "After what you told me about your dream and everything you were put through, I just want to know more about this and why someone would do what they did. Don't you?"
"I mostly want to know why they did it... and why me," she said, eyes scanning the robes that lay on the bed.
"Well, due to your injury, we cannot take the fastest route into town. The sand gives way beneath your hooves and if you try to walk across, it will only make your injury worse," Caduceus explained, reaching a hoof into his saddlebag and pulling out an old map as well as a few cartographer tools.
"But I can fly," Chrysalis stated, buzzing her wings for a moment. "I can just fly next to you."
He chuckled, "Were it so easy.... If the sun starts to go down before we can reach town, you will be blown away by the strong winds and I will probably never find you again," he stated flatly, making a few marks on his map. She could hear him muttering under his breath. "It looks like no matter what alternate route we take, we will have to trek through the canyon..."
"Is going through the canyon a problem?"
He let out a deep sigh, "Yes. Back in Ethiponia, we called them gwenga sukukuyiri or Blind Desert Serpent, but the locals here just call it ‘The Maw,’” he began, a tinge of grief staining his words. “They can grow to be fifty-five hooves in length and will eat just about anything they can smell. Locals say that they have spotted the creature moving in and out of the canyon during the night. If we leave now, we can move into a cave there as the sun sets and get out before it comes.”
With that said, Caduceus stood up and returned the map to its proper place before slinging his bags onto his back. “I have to go fill the canteens,” he said softly as he walked by. “You stay here and get dressed.”
Chrysalis looked to the clothes on the bed and—Wait, ‘here?’ Chrysalis’s eyes darted in the direction he was walking to see him opening what looked like a trap door and then climbing down the stairs into what she could only guess was his cellar.
Guess the house was bigger than I thought…
“Why is this so hard?!” she grunted, trying to get the long robe over her head; her bad foreleg making it all the more difficult to get the first sleeve on.
“Come on, you stupid thi—whoa!” Chrysalis tripped on one of the long sleeves of her robes and tumbled backwards, getting entangled in the lengthy cloth. Pain surged from the back of her head as it bounced off the hard floor, and all she could see for a few moments were stars as little bells rang in her ears.
“Oh my! Are you okay?”
Chrysalis groaned. Of course he saw that! Chrysalis scrambled to her hooves and sent her caregiver a death glare. “If it weren’t for this excruciating pain, I would rip out your tongue so you couldn’t tell anyone what you have witnessed here!”
Caduceus threw his head back and laughed. “But if I couldn’t talk, how would you know where to go?”
“I’m thrilled by your amusement,” she said, almost snarling as she tried to get the robes on once again.
He walked over to her, his fits of laughter subsiding. “Here, let me help you get that.”
"No!" Chrysalis barked, her pride keeping her from accepting any more of his help. "I'll do this myself!"
Finally, she got the robes over her head and draped them down her haunches. The robes fit her surprisingly well, despite her slightly larger stature compared to the average pony. The wool material scratched at her skin and caused a great amount of discomfort, but there was nothing she could do about it except grin and bear it. Looking over to Caduceus, she saw him finish covering his head in cloth, but instead of covering his muzzle as he usually did, he let the final piece of cloth hang down his neck so she could hear him clearly.
"Before we proceed, you... um... need to change form," he said.
Chrysalis shot him a puzzled look. "What is wrong with my current form?" she asked, mock anger in her voice. "Do you not like the way I look?"
"N-No! N-Nothing's wrong with the way you look. But... um... your current form might attract unwanted attention," he stuttered, his face a deep crimson.
Chrysalis chuckled. "I understand what you mean, especially since the Royal Guard might be searching for me. Perhaps it is best if I change into something more fitting."
Closing her eyes in concentration, Chrysalis prepared to perform her spell. . A bright green flame slowly engulfed her as her new form took shape. Contrary to common belief, the changelings' ability to change form was not some simple form of outward camouflage, but rather a complete shift in their anatomical makeup. As great as this was, transforming while injured was an extremely dangerous process and could kill if the changeling was not strong enough to handle the added strain. Luckily, Chrysalis had absorbed enough emotion to safely perform the spell.
Soon, she was completely engulfed in the magical aura, allowing for the final changes she needed in order to properly impersonate the pony she had in mind. As the neon embers subsided, they revealed an orange earth mare with a yellow mane. She was a few inches shorter than Caduceus but just as physically toned, and her face was that of a young country mare, graced with freckles on each cheek and long eyelashes. She opened her eyes to reveal great emerald pools not unlike Chrysalis's own, except for her irises, which were now round instead of the snake-like slits they once were. The robes that she wore were not as stretched out as they were before due to her smaller size, but still clung to her snugly.
"There," Chrysalis said, her voice slightly higher than before. "Now what?"
After his shock subsided, Caduceus shook his head and reached for something in his bag.
"Do you know how to put one of these on?" he asked, holding out what she could only guess were the head wrappings.
Taking it from his hoof, Chrysalis tried to imitate his movements by first laying out the square cloth, folding it in half, and carefully wrapping it around her head.
"That's very good," Caduceus remarked. "But you are a mare, and there is a different method to wearing it." His hooves carefully removed her headdress and started from scratch. This time, he wrapped around her head like a hood, instead of a cowl.
Looking her over once more, he smiled, "Okay, it looks like you are covered up properly."
Chrysalis sighed. About time! I've been stuck in this place for what seems like months!
Caduceus walked over to the small wooden door of the adobe home, but stopped just before the door. "Chrysalis, once we are out in the desert, things are going to get pretty chaotic. I need you to stay close and listen carefully if you want to get out of this desert alive. If I tell you to do something, you do it without a second thought or moment's hesitation. If I say jump, you jump as high as you can. If I say run, you run... and if I say to leave me behind, you never look back."
Chrysalis was a bit shocked by his statement, but she understood the gravity of the situation they were getting into. She gave a slight nod, and Caduceus put a hoof on the door, lightly pulling on the handle. The pressure from the violent winds outside caused the door to fly open at his touch, letting the hot air from the wasteland outside flood the room. Chrysalis felt as if the flames of Tartarus were crashing against her like a tidal wave, the coarse grains of sand ripping at the few bits of her exposed flesh. Walking out of the house and into the direct exposure of the sun's ultraviolet onslaught caused beads of sweat to pour down her covered face like a waterfall as her eyes clenched shut to shield them from the bright light.
Once her eyes adjusted, Chrysalis peered out onto the barren wasteland to see nothing but an endless ocean of sand and death. Bones of creatures long passed lay dried and shattered amongst the great rolling dunes of the desert as they engulfed everything in their wake. It was a sight she seldom wished to see but knew far too well. Once the famine had set into the hive, her people fought for what little food was left, leaving their once great city a defiled crypt of blood and bone. Thinking of what happened to her people, what she witnessed, brought back very painful memories.
"Is there something wrong?"
Chrysalis shook herself from her reverie to notice that her traveling companion stood at her side waiting for her.
"N-No. I am ready," she replied, her voice shaking ever so slightly. "What direction should we head?"
Caduceus looked up to the sun and pulled out a small necklace that he had tucked into his ragged robes. Holding it flat in his hoof, he studied the innermost circle of the device as it rotated to face a designated direction.
"The canyon is due southeast, so we need to go that way," he declared, pointing in the opposite direction of the small hut. Wrapping the final piece around his muzzle, he began to walk towards their objective. Chrysalis pulled down the hood of her head wrap and followed closely behind.
The strong arid winds tore through the dunes as the sun relentlessly beat down on the two travelers trekking the desolate wasteland. They had been trudging through the sand for what felt like days; Chrysalis actually surprised herself with her own strength, but the Changeling Queen was wearing down. Fast.
Just put one hoof in front of the other. C'mon now, she encouraged herself, her exhausted body screaming in protest. She looked forward to her companion, who was much farther along the trail, taking note of how easily he traversed the land without any sign of fatigue or dehydration. It only makes sense, she thought. He has made this journey nearly every day since I met him...
Trying to give her body some much-needed nourishment, she used her magic and reached for him, trying to find any kind of emotion she could feed off of to keep her going. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to get very emotional about taking a stroll through Tartarus on Equestria. Who knew?
Looking over his shoulder, Caduceus realized just how far behind Chrysalis had fallen. He wanted to slow down and allow them to catch their breath, but after a quick glance to the horizon, he realized that they were out of time.
"Chrysalis!" he started yelling, running toward her as fast as he could. However, his voice was muffled and distorted from the wind. Chrysalis could not understand his words, but upon hearing his voice, she lifted her head to see him charging her. While she couldn't understand everything he was saying, she heard one thing loud and clear: "LOOK OUT!"
Turning around, Chrysalis was engulfed in an endless wall of sand that quickly swallowed her whole. Within a moment, the world disappeared into nothingness. The roar from the twisting winds was deafening, and the blinding flurry of sand circled around her like a bloodthirsty shark, ready for the kill. She could neither see nor hear in the middle of the dense sandstorm. There was no up, no down, no forward nor back... only sand.
Chrysalis called out to Caduceus but was silenced when another billow of sand flew directly into her face, blinding her and making her gag. She raised a hoof to cover her eyes as the sand cut and dug its way into her irises like shards of glass. The pain was excruciating. She tried to rub the coarse grains of earth from her eyes, but every touch made the sand dig deeper and deeper. Fighting her instincts, she stopped rubbing and tried to look around for even an outline of her guide, but her vision was clouded by the sand and the tears it had caused, and she could see nothing but a blurred shadow in the distance.
“Caduceus?” she asked, slowly walking toward the shadow through the hurricane of sand raging around her. The ground gave way beneath her, causing her to stumble and fall down one of the dunes. As she fell, her scarf came undone, exposing her face to the elements at play. It felt as if a thousand tiny needles were poking and prodding her mercilessly. Deciding to cut her losses, Chrysalis rolled onto her side and did whatever she could to shield herself from the world of pain around her, like a filly hiding under the covers from the monsters at night.
After what felt like an eternity, the wind began to calm and the air cooled. Peering out from her hiding place, she noticed that she was buried under a large pile of sand, which weighed down on her, making it hard to breathe. Using what strength she had left, she burst from her involuntary burrow and looked around, cringing as the sand scraped against her joints as she moved. All she knew was that she was in the middle of nowhere, and it was night. The wisps of sand and wind danced gracefully across the plains as the large neon moon rose in the dark blue sky. One more thing that she noticed was that the once-scorching desert had become as cold as the great Mammoth Tundras.
I’m not sure what I prefer, the heat or the cold, she joked with herself, pulling the cloak tighter. She was extremely grateful that Caduceus had given it to her. Otherwise, she would have just burrowed into the sand and hidden till the sun came out.
Snapping out of her train of thought, Chrysalis decided to climb a nearby dune to find a vantage point. Trying to climb up the ridge was a lot harder than she thought it would be. Once atop the mountain of sand, she was able to see for miles around. She heaved a depressed sigh. Just as I thought. Nothing. Looking up to the night sky, she reveled in the serenity of the night like she did back when her life was peaceful...
A young black filly covered in bandages with her right foreleg wrapped in a sling sat at the windowsill, gazing out at the gracefully dancing lights in the night sky.
"Beautiful, aren't they?"
The filly squealed in surprise. She had been so caught up that she didn't even notice her caretaker walk into the room. "You scared me, Miss Maíz," she said, catching her breath.
The elder mare laughed softly. "It's been a week since we met. How long are you going to continue to call me 'Miss,’ little one?"
"S-sorry," the black filly apologized, blushing a little.
Seeing this made Maíz chuckle, "You never answered my question, Mijita."
The black filly looked up to her caretaker and then back to the dancing lights just outside the window, "Yes. I think they are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." Just then, Maíz walked behind the filly and knelt down.
"You know, you can't really see the stars from here. How would you like me to take you up to the balcony?" she asked quietly.
The filly's eyes lit up, but when a realization dawned on her, she sighed, "I wish... But Doctor Comfort said I wasn't allowed to leave my room till tomorrow."
Maíz looked over to a small clock on the nearby nightstand for a few moments. The black filly listened to the light ticking. After a slightly louder click and the soft sound of twelve chimes, Maíz turned to the filly and asked, "Guess what?" Before the filly could answer her question, Maíz picked the small filly up and placed her on her back. "It's tomorrow! Come, let's get you out of this stuffy room."
Walking out into the hallway and up the stairs, they arrived at the small opening that led to the home’s small balcony. The filly gently slid off of the elder mare's back and looked up to the night sky in awe. Stars! Stars everywhere! Beautiful spectacles of light endlessly waltzing in the heavens to the song of the night. While this night sky was nothing like she saw in the paintings from one of the old books Maíz let her read, it was still breathtaking.
"Come little one! I want to tell you a story," the elder mare called from an old rocking chair she had there for nights just like this.
The filly slowly hobbled over to the chair and asked, "What kind of story?"
Maíz gently picked the small filly up and placed her on her lap, "I want to tell you El Cuento de las Estrellas..."
As the elderly mare retold the story of the stars, the filly sat there in complete awe at the majestic tale of the great Princess Luna and the creation of the night sky. For hours, the two of them sat in the chair, asking and answering questions about the stars and their constellations until the young filly fell asleep, nuzzled comfortably in her caretaker's warm embrace.
A few stray tears slid down Chrysalis’ face, and she found herself wishing she could return to those enchanted days. Smiling, she raised her hoof and pointed at the stars, just as she did all those years ago. There's Taurus, Aries, and over there is Cygnus and that one in the middle is...
Chrysalis's eyes shot open in realization. "That's Polaris! The North Star!" she exclaimed, jubilantly jumping up and down atop the dune. Caduceus said the canyon was to the southeast, so if I go that way…. Her eyes traced the imaginary trail leading from Polaris towards what she hoped was the canyon. Well, nothing to do but try, she decided.
After about three hours of walking through the desert, Chrysalis was just about to give up hope until she climbed atop a large ridge of sand to see an almost unbelievable sight. There, carved into the very ocean of sand lay the canyon she had been hoping to find. The sand cascaded down the sides of the great chasm into oblivion. A small path was carved into the rock face, allowing passage through its treacherous maw. Great, she thought. There is no way I can cross that on my own, not right now anyways. I think I should wait here for Caduceus. Maybe I beat him here.
Sighing in defeat, Chrysalis let herself fall to her haunches and rest, if only for a moment. She lay back into a bed of sand to contemplate just what had happened that day and saying a silent prayer of thanks to the creators. Nopony would think that the Queen of Changelings was by any means religious, but her mother taught her many good habits. All of the bad ones she picked up on her own.
Suddenly, Chrysalis felt the very earth beneath her shaking from unseen tremor. Looking toward where she thought the tremor had started, her heart sank as she cursed her luck. She could see something charging her position, creating a wake of sand as it carved its way through the wasteland.
It must be the creature Caduceus spoke of, Chrysalis decided, her heart sinking. Her eyes darted to and fro, trying to find a place to run. To her dismay, the only place to hide was the very reason she waited atop the ridge. Deciding on the lesser of two evils, Chrysalis began running into the mouth of the canyon in search of refuge. A cave or something. Anything. She could hear the monstrous creature's bloodthirsty roar as it chased her into the crevice. How did it catch up so quickly? She thought, but fought the urge look back. The path she was on was too unstable. Turning her attention away from the earth beneath her for even a second would lead to her certain doom, and in the time it would take her to recover, the creature would be on top of her.
The earth quaked as the creature rampaged behind her, doing whatever it could to knock her into the dark abyss. Chrysalis used her magic to form her wings, helping her balance on the thin patch of rock she was running on. However, the creature's tantrum caused a large portion of the path ahead of her to collapse. Chrysalis skidded to a halt just at the edge of the path, cornered by the great beast behind her.
At this moment, time slowed down for Chrysalis. Sand fell around her like a light rain as she turned to face the beast. Behind her, she saw death incarnate rising from the dark of the crevice. She couldn't see everything, but by the dim light of the moon, she could see just how terrifying the beast truly was. Its enormous body was covered with thick, sharp scales that meshed with every sinister move, its almost fin-like spine protruded through the surface, carving its way through the ocean of sand as it stalked its prey. But the most nightmarish feature of this demon was by far its glowing yellow eyes that seemed to pierce her very soul and leave her paralyzed.
Submitting to her end, Chrysalis lowered her head as the creature opened its great maw, bearing rows of razor sharp fangs down on her.
Is this really it? Is this how I am going to die?
Chrysalis could feel the warm moist breath of the great snake preparing to devour a tasty morsel engulf her form. The putrid stench of rotting flesh being decomposed by a deadly toxin threatened to suffocate her as her end became more and more of a reality. Just as the jaws of the monster began to close around her, she heard somepony yelling followed by a deafening screech from the Maw. As the beast reared back, Chrysalis could see once again as the light returned to her world.
“Chrysalis!” a familiar voice screamed. Looking over to the source, she saw Caduceus running along the ridge of the canyon, using his wings to stabilize himself as the sand fell beneath his hooves into the crevice.
Wasting no time, Chrysalis spread her wings and jumped over the break in the path. Once she landed on the other side, she broke out into a dead sprint to escape the now highly perturbed monstrosity before it could recover from the surprise attack. Unfortunately, her hard landing sent a sharp pain through her injured leg and forced her to hobble with the help of her wings.
Gliding down the canyon beside her, Caduceus hit the ground running. “Miss me?” he asked condescendingly as he shot her a sly grin.
Taking a quick look at him, she could see that his clothes were tattered and ripped, the shreds trailing behind him held onto him by his saddlebags. Reaching into one of them with his mouth, he pulled out a strange flask of liquid that sizzled as it was sloshed around. It was now that she noticed he was no longer wearing his glasses, and his golden eyes glowed in the night, making him look like some kind of dark specter in the eire moonlight.
“Where have you been?” Chrysalis asked, a little awe struck by the cinematic fashion in which he appeared.
“I’ll tell you later,” he mumbled, the glass flask still in his mouth. “For now, DUCK!”
As she did what he was told, Caduceus made a jumping twist and tossed the bottle of liquid behind them at the Maw who was once again on their trail. With a powerful flair of his wings, the bottle of liquid was shot out like a speeding bullet, careening towards the creature’s head. The contents of the glass exploded as soon as it made contact with the beast’s face, causing shards of glass to rip the creature’s face as the acidic substance ate through its flesh making the hard outer shell of its skin almost melt away at the touch of the substance. The creature roared viciously as it tried to shake the harmful chemicals from its snout.
Caduceus landed on his hooves without missing a beat and continued to run down the path a while longer until they reached a fork in the road; one path led out into the open crevice of the canyon, the other lead to a small hole in the cliffside barely large enough for a pony to squeeze through. Stopping just before the paths divided, Caduceus dug into his bag again and pulled out another flask of liquid that he threw on the ground beneath his hooves. The reaction of the chemicals was far different in this one, the contents that collided with the ground mixed together and created some kind of pungent smokescreen that quickly expanded to the size of the canyon, blocking them from the serpent's senses.
"Quick! This way!"
Herded down the small path to the cave, Chrysalis tried to change her form back into a normal, smaller pony but found herself unable to conjure enough magic to perform the spell. She hadn't fed in over a day and after using all of her reserves to run from the Maw, she was growing weaker by the moment. Shaking her head, Chrysalis pushed the growing pain in her body aside. She did her best to squeeze into the burrow carved into the canyon wall, but ultimately couldn't fit through the opening.
"I can't fit! I-It's too small!" she said as panic creeped into her mind. Caduceus dropped his saddlebags behind a large rock and pulled out a large tarp like material with small pockets on each of the corners that he placed his hooves in. Before she knew what was happening, he knocked her to the ground and jumped on top of her, wrapping the tarp around them with his hooves just as she heard another mighty roar from the the beast that was hunting them.
"Keep very still," he whispered with a steely edge to his voice. Doing her best to calm herself, Chysalis slowed her breathing and closed her eyes tight, hoping that this terrifying ordeal was nothing but a horrible nightmare.
The two laid beneath their makeshift camouflage there for what seemed to Chrysalis as an eternity, waiting for the beast to pass them by. Perhaps the worst part of all this was the fact that she couldn’t see anything that was going on around her. She could hear the winds howling, sand falling, and the sounds of the monster as it tore through the canyon. Its roars of complete fury bore their way into her skull, creating an abject horror and making it almost unbearable to keep lying beneath the tarp. Soon, the sounds of the beast died out, but she dare not even breath until some time much later
“I-Is it gone?” she asked in a hushed whisper. She didn’t want to risk being too loud in case it was still lurking around.
The only response she received was a tremble in Caduceus's form. He had been propping himself up over her and holding the edges of the tarp the whole time without moving in the slightest. Suddenly, Caduceus seethed and collapsed atop of her, releasing his grip on the canvas that shielded them. The edges of the tarp were picked up by the wind, throwing it off of the two ponies and exposing them to the night once again. Chrysalis's eyes darted around the opening and top of the crevice they were currently in. After she was sure that they hadn't been spotted, she let out a sigh of relief before returning her gaze to the stallion that was now resting atop of her. Normally, she would have thrown him off for having the gall to lay his form atop of hers and for putting her on the ground in such an unsavory position in the first place, but for now she simply gazed down at him. His brow was moist and his mane was completely drenched with sweat. His ears lay flat against his head as his eyes fluttered open and closed in an attempt to remain conscious. His breaths were quick and ragged, most likely from fatigue, but something just didn't seem right. It was then that she felt a trickle of warm liquid slowly rolling down her chest to her back.
Looking down to the spot on the sand that the liquid was starting to pool, her eyes widened in complete horror.
"Blood," she whispered to herself. Caduceus's body heaved as he let out a raspy cough, a light trickle of the red fluid dripping from the corner of his muzzle.
"Well Ponyfeathers," Caduceus cursed, his voice was weak and distant. Weakly, he did his best to remove himself from atop his companion and rolled onto his side next to her causing him to gasp in pain. "G-Guess that monster got me after all." Scanning over his figure, she noticed a relatively large, swollen gash along his underbelly that had started to bleed profusely. "Q-Quickly, get my first aid kit. I need t-to stop the poison from sp-spreading."
Chrysalis's eyes darted around in a panicked search for the saddlebags. Once she found them, she ran over and began searching for the medical supplies, her hooves fumbled and her heart raced as the true nature of what was happening dawned on her. Taking a slow, careful breath, she did her best to steady her ferociously beating heart and calm her nerves. Panicking at a time like this would only make things worse. C'mon now, just breathe.
Taking out a rather large wooden box with a cross carved into the front of it, she quickly opened the box to find a wide assortment of medical supplies ranging from antibiotics and bandages to syringes and splints. "Ok, what now?"
Caduceus drew a labored, shallow breath and held out his hoof. "Green Vial. M-Marked with the snake. G-get it ready."
Looking through the kit, Chrysalis found what she was looking for, and removed a rubber cap that protected the contents of the glass. “What now?”
“Pour it o-over the wound.”
Doing as instructed, Chrysalis began pouring the solution down the jagged gash, causing it to bubble and hiss as it touched the damaged skin. Caduceus let out a breathless scream as the liquid seeped deeper and deeper into his body. Chrysalis closed her eyes, and held his hoof tightly as his body seized and convulsed from the pain.
A few moments later, the swelling around his wound began to descend, leaving the tear in his flesh thoroughly exposed. Chrysalis could now see that the single strike from the snake had cleaved into the layer of muscle tissue exposing the fibers and deep tissue, which had partially blackened due to the poison.
“Th-thank you,” he said weakly.
Chrysalis snapped out of her stupor, and with a slight jerk of her head turned her attention back to his pained expression. Her jaw trembled in fear. His once dark mocha coat had faded to an almost khaki coloring. “O-of course.”
Caduceus gave her a warm smile. “I know this looks bad, but I’ve been through a lot worse. The potion is doing its job, but there are a few more things we need to do.”
Taking the thick thread in her teeth, Chrysalis severed the end of the suture she had just finished using to close Caduceus’s chest wound. Moving back slightly, she looked over her work and smiled in content. The stitches were thick, and just tight enough to hold the lacerated skin together without tearing through the weakened tissue. Satisfied with her work, she reached into the supplies and pulled out some of the bandage wrappings.
Caduceus looked down to his chest. “Not bad,” he said, his voice a little stronger than before. “Especially for your first time doing this.”
Her smile ran from her face, replaced by a sour scowl as she properly dressed his wound. “I never said that this was my first time doing this.”
No this was definitely not the first time she had to stitch a wound shut, but thinking about it just brought back terrible memories. Instead of reliving that particular nightmare, Chrysalis swallowed her anguish and threw her injured companion a fake smile, "Do you need anything else?"
To her surprise, Caduceus frowned and looked up at her almost... disappointingly? She couldn't quite place a hoof on the look he gave her, but she knew that this was the first time she had seen it in a very long time.
"Why do you smile if you do not mean it?" he asked, his voice quiet, yet very strong. "If you are unhappy, then be unhappy. Do not feign an emotion that you are not genuinely feeling, otherwise it will destroy you."
Looking into the golden pools of his hourglass eyes, Chrysalis saw nothing but pain. Not just in his physical being, but in his soul. He hurt to see her do this to herself, burying her pain deeper and deeper until it finally drove her mad. While they had not been with each other for very long, he seemed to know her better than anypony else on the planet. It did not strike her as odd, but instead she took comfort in the fact that somepony actually cared for her more than a subject of royalty or even test subject. It again reminded her of the time when her life was peaceful and happy, and this time a genuine, warm smile found its way to her muzzle as she placed her hoof in his.
The black of Caduceus's eyes widened to a staggering diameter as he looked down to his hoof, obviously taken quite by surprise at the rather forward gesture from the Changeling Queen.
A wave of hot blood came rushing to the Changeling's cheeks, and she closed her eyes solemnly, pondering his question. But her thoughts were interrupted by a strange, yet somewhat familiar, warmth rolling over her entire body. It was an ecstasy that shook the very core of her being, threatening to take complete control of her thoughts and actions, leaving nothing but a monster, hungering for more. It was at this moment of revelation that the very air she was breathing seemed to run from her lungs, and the blood flowing through her veins turned to ice as her body became rigid. Her eyes snapped open, revealing that she was now but inches away from Caduceus, who just looked up at her with no discernible reaction, save for that vibrant blush that graced his cheeks.
Chrysalis quickly fell to the ground next to him, trying to avoid admitting what had just happened to herself. Instead, she looked up to the stars and thought of something, anything to get the conversation away from the path it was about to go down. An awkward silence overtook the couple as the two just laid there beneath the stars. "The moon looks beautiful tonight..."
Caduceus looked over to her with a smile, then turned his attention back up to the sky. "Yes, it is quite beautiful."
"My mother once told me how the moon was made." Caduceus continued to stare up in the night sky. "Would you like me to tell you the tale?"
Chrysalis released an inward sigh and rolled onto her side to face him. "Yes. Yes, I would like that very much."
With a smile on his face, Caduceus pointed a hoof up to the sky, tracing small circles around the neon light.
"When the almighty creators came to this land, they found nothing but oceans of rock and sand. A world devoid of life, water, or light. But in their minds, a spark did ignite. Baba, father of our kind, looked out upon the plains through his mask of gold, and spilled the life blood from his veins until his body became cold. The others looked to him with great dismay. 'Why would you do this? Have you nothing to say?'
Baba looked at them, clear that his actions were not contrive. 'One of us must die to bring this world alive.'
Understanding his sacrifice, the blood they did not waste, and created the oceans, lakes, and rivers, with great haste. Baba then told the other gods to listen carefully to his next word, for it would likely be the last one that would be heard.
He cut off his head with great mirth. 'Use my body,' he said, 'to create the earth.'
His hide stretched over the sand far and wide, filling the head of the god with happiness before he died. However, the job was not yet done, for the land was missing two things: A Moon and a Sun. Taking Baba's masked head in hoof, she did not waste any time. The great mother, Amai, set her eyes to the sky and began to climb. She climbed and climbed, rising far above the earth and into the sky with a smirk. Once she had finally stopped climbing, she was atop the mountain Kilimarejaro, and set to do her work.
Amai removed Baba's gold mask to release the god's great might, and it illuminated the sky with powerful beams of light. The great mother took both the mask and the head and held them high. Then, using her own powerful magic, she threw them in opposite ends of the sky. Finally, Amai set both the head and the mask aglow in colors very bold. The head of Baba shown neon blue, and his mask emanated a gallant gold."
It was then that Caduceus brought his hoof down to rest on his chest, and turned on his side to face Chrysalis, looking deep into her emerald eyes. He reached out and gently touched her chest, speaking softly in his native tongue. Once he was finished, he pulled back, closed his eyes, and rolled onto his back.
Chrysalis continued to face him, unable to move, unable to look away. Although she didn't understand what he had said, she knew it was extremely important. "What did you say?" she asked warmly, a small grin forming on her muzzle.
"It was something my mother used to do. A 'prayer' of sorts."
Chrysalis could feel a swell of emotion crash against her body, remembering that she was in desperate need of the live-giving nourishment. She had to press the matter further. "Your mother seems like a very interesting mare. Tell me a bit about her."
He started to laugh, but was cut off by a strong fit of coughing. Chrysalis frantically shot to her hooves to gently help sit him up, patting his back once he was upright. After she was sure he wasn't about to hack up any internal organs, she found herself smiling. "You know, if you don't want to talk about it, there are better ways to say 'no' than dying."
As his bout of coughing had subsided, he took a few deep, wheezing breaths to regain his composure. "Sorry. Just, give me a moment." Chrysalis released her grip on him, allowing him to lay back on his bed of sand before she checked his bandages. Sure enough, his convulsion had caused his wound to tear a few of the sutures, re-opening the wound and bleeding through the bandages. Diligently, she removed the now useless bandages, and set to fix the stitch.
Caduceus cleared his throat and licked his dry lips, preparing to speak again. "Well, as a shaman, she is the best our tribe has ever been blessed with, maybe even the best in all of Zebrabwe, but thanks to the famine, we never did get to truly test her abilities."
Reaching out with what little magic she had left, Chrysalis attempted to gather up enough energy to feed on from the conversation. The throbbing pain in her ergot as well as all of her aches and pains began to ebb away as she absorbed his love for his mother, but it was only partial. To be completely restored, she needed more. "What about as a mother?"
"Oh, well..." Caduceus stuttered, a small blush forming on his cheeks as he rubbed the back of his neck with a hoof. "What can I say other than she is the best mother my sister and I could have ever hoped for. She's a sweet, generous mare who was always doing whatever she could to keep my family safe and happy. She was always the strong one. Even when famine and war struck our village, she carried all of us with such strength and confidence.”
"You never mentioned the war before." Chrysalis cut the thread after closing the wound for a second time, pausing as she sensed a drastic change in mood of her patient. She could feel scorching waves of hatred and anger flow from him as the smile that had formed ran from his muzzle.
He let out a deep sigh, "When the famine broke out, a war for supplies and fertile land broke out... My village was caught in the middle of it all. Other than that, I do not want to speak of it."
What a nice way to say, "Mind your own business," she thought. Still, she couldn't blame him. Everypony has their secrets, her included. "Sorry. Forget I mentioned it."
"It's alright. I'm glad you asked."
Chrysalis's ear perked up as she shot him a curious glance, trying to understand why he was glad she brought up a very sensitive subject, to which he just smiled in reply. "It means you care."
She could feel her cheeks warm as she subconsciously shifted her weight from one hoof to the other. "Oh."
"But enough about me." A grunting cough left the injured zebra's lips as he strained to sit on his haunches. Once he was upright, Caduceus carefully moved closer to his companion, almost close enough to be touching. "What about you? Have any good stories to share?"
The realization of how close he was made the changeling queen jump slightly, her face burned even more so now. Looking away for a moment, Chrysalis tried to fight the blush that she knew had been forming on her cheeks. "Well, I don't know too many good stories, but there is this one that one of my caretakers told me when I first came to the hive."
"What is it about?"
Chrysalis looked down at her hooves, studying her form. "It was the story of our creation, or, at least how my people came to be what we are today. We weren't always like this; Monsters who have to feed on others to survive. Once we were like normal ponies with fur, horns that didn't look mangled, and hooves that didn't have these holes, but that was all taken away from us. It all started very long ago, when all of the world was in thrown into chaos, and the being known as Discord ruled over the land..."
Chrysalis took a deep breath, ready to begin the story, "Long ago in the land of Equestria, there were three different kingdoms that existed, sharing the land with the three pony tribes. The Crystal Empire; a proud clan of earth ponies who learned how to harness the power of crystals to become powerful beings who used their empire as a beacon of hope and good will for all of the land to prosper from. The Alicorns, the winged unicorns with the god-like power to shape the very heavens with their magic and enforced the laws by banishing the wicked. Finally, the Faerie ponies. Much like the Alicorns, the Faerie ponies had both horns and wings, but unlike their feather-winged friends, their wings were formed more like an insects, thin and transparent yet large and graceful. The Faerie ponies used their magic to keep the earth fertile and spread the love of nature across the fruitful land, treated with the utmost respect and given anything they desired. Together, they kept an everlasting peace across the continent by bringing balance and control, but this was not to last, for when the three pony tribes made their new home, the great evil that had plagued their ponies followed behind them like a disease, infecting the beautiful new world with its putrid filth.
The ponies referred to this strange creature as a "Draconequus," but the Alicorns knew the entity by a different name; "Discord," they called him; the last of his kind, and a powerful avatar of the Elements of Chaos whose very will could bend the fabric of space and time. Sweeping over the land, Discord began conquering each of the great kingdoms as he went, turning every race he defeated into a sick, twisted image of their former selves, and leaving his puppets in charge, eventually seizing control over everything but the underground city of the Faerie Kingdom. However, it was not long before Discord moved on the city to complete his conquest.
It was then that the leaders of each race gathered deep within the caves to discuss their next move. During their meeting, the Alicorn King proposed the use of their most sacred tools of peace, The Elements of Harmony, to stop the enemy approaching their gates. The other races were skeptical. If these artifacts were so powerful, then why wouldn't they have used them sooner? The King explained that if each element was not harnessed by the proper champion, Discord could use the elements as a relay for his magic to corrupt their users, and that since none of them were the chosen champions, the risk of losing themselves was extremely high. Not to mention that the elements needed time to charge their power. Time that would need to be bought.
Suddenly, the cave began to shake. Discord had arrived.
All of the world leaders stayed in their seats, mumbling this or that, trying to determine who would be the ones to distract the monster. It was then that the Faerie Princess rose from her seat at the end of the table, volunteering herself and her forces to buy the others some time. Once everything was settled, the Alicorn King set to work choosing the bearers of the elements, but there were only three ponies who closely embodied the Elements' powers enough to use them. His two daughters, Celestia and Luna, as well as the son of the Crystal Pony Emperor, Sombra. After the children were informed, the Alicorn King led them to the highest point of the castle to begin the preparation of the spell.
In the great battle that followed, the Faerie Princess was able to hold the God of Chaos at bay, but it was not long before her forces began to wane. Discord deftly broke through her defenses and used his demonic magic to set each and every faire pony alight with an emerald flame, burning away all of their fur and cauterize their flesh, turning it black as coal. Their limbs and wings began to blister and crack as parts of their bodies melted and fell to the ground. Finally, the faire ponies anatomy was changed, giving them fangs and forcing them to feed on the life force of others, solidifying their transformation into what is now know today as Changelings. Discord materialized by the Princess' side, laughing hysterically at the sight before him.
'Why do you torture us like this, you monster?!' she asked, staring him down.
His laughter halted as he stared at her with piercing red eyes. 'Why, my dear, I am not the monster. Ponies like yourself, who cannot stand the sight of something different, whose hearts are black and decayed inside, are the true monsters. And now I am going to show the whole world what you truly are!'
Turning away from him, she tried to use her powerful magic to extinguish the fire. As soon as her aura made contact with it, an emerald flame shot through the air to her horn, burning her as well. Her screams of agony rang out with her subjects, creating a symphony of anguish and suffering. Being the demented creature he was, Discord rose his claws and began to orchestrate, laughing maniacally as he did so.
Once the Alicorn King and the children channeled the power of the Elements, the emerald flame faded into nothing, allowing the Princess to see the true horror of what had happened to her people. None were spared. Stallions, mares, even the foals were mutated into these sick perverse images of their former selves. Looking towards the horizon, the Princess could see her people's tormentor, locked away within a prison of stone thanks to the Elements of Harmony."
Chrysalis took a moment to clear her throat, since she was not yet used to the dry desert air. She reached for the bag in search of the canteen and took it in her hooves, drinking slowly to savor the cool liquid's caress. Once she had finished her second mouthful, she let out a sigh of content and offered the remainder of the water to Caduceus, but when she turned to him, she dropped the canteen in shock. Her voice was caught in her throat, unable to speak as she gazed upon his form.
Caduceus's chest wound now oozed a dark puss through the sutures, his mouth was foaming at the corners, and, perhaps the most frightening thing, his once glowing golden eyes had glazed over and turned a whitish silver. Her breathing quickened to the point of hyperventilation, trying to get enough oxygen to her brain to comprehend the situation. It didn't take her long to figure that he was succumbing to the snake's poison. Caduceus said that the poison was designed to paralyze its victims, which probably meant shutting down his muscles to prevent him from moving, which also means his heart rate would slow to a near creep.
"N-No no no. This can't be happening," she said, quickly moving to his side. Pressing her ear against his chest, she could still feel his heartbeat, but he had stopped breathing. Placing both her hooves on his chest, she began to perform muzzle to muzzle, trying to recall what her teacher had taught her long ago. After about ten compressions, she covered his nose with a hoof and began to blow. After no response, she tried again and again. "You can't leave me! Not yet!" she cried out, applying more pressure with each compression. "Y-you promised me! You promised me that you would get me home!" Now pounding her hoof into his chest, she started to feel hot tears rolling down her cheeks as her strength finally left her.
For a few minutes, Chrysalis could not do anything but sob. She felt powerless to help her companion, who now lay motionless on the ground beside her. So this is it, huh? This is how the story's gonna end? With me failing, once again, to save the ones I care about... she thought, burying her head in her hooves as she felt his life-force fade.
Suddenly, something dawned on her. Her eyes shot open as her ears perked up, "Wait. M-Maybe I can still do something. Maybe I can use my magic to give him a part of my energy. It's a long shot, but what else is there for me to do?"
Chrysalis stood and took a few steps back from Caduceus and stared down at his form, almost completely devoid of color. Closing her bloodshot eyes, she began to focus her small amount of energy into the tip of her horn, condensing into a minuscule orb of green light. After a few minutes, she had funneled and compacted as much energy as she could spare into it. Once complete. the life-giving sphere detached from her form, floating aimlessly in the space before her as she caught her breath. She had never done anything like this before.
"Giving" was not the Changeling way. She had been told that since day one. They had to take what they needed to survive, living off of the scraps of love they could find wherever they could find it and keeping whatever they could for themselves. Sharing with others was considered to be making yourself and those who fed off of your shares more of a burden. It was better to have one strong changeling rather than two weak ones. But now, she was faced with a similar situation; does she continue and give him the energy she could afford to share to completely revive him, or does she just give him enough to survive while keeping the rest for herself and carry him out to safety with the energy she would have from it?
Chrysalis took the small orb in her hooves, gently cradling it as she walked over to Caduceus. She slowly dropped to her haunches just above Caduceus's head, preparing to finish her spell. Her horn began to glow subtly as she took hold of the sphere with her magic, floating it down just above the tip of his snout. She closed her eyes and began breathing deeply, allowing her to concentrate on the task before her.
The orb's light grew brighter as she moved it into Caduceus's mouth, and down though his body to his heart. Color began to return to his form as the magic did its job. Moving forward, Chrysalis put an ear to her friend's chest, intently listening for any sign of change.
Suddenly, his eyes shot open as he lurched forward, shouting some incoherent babble as he stumbled to his hooves and ran over to the nearby sandstone wall. Something about her marrying a pet and a satanic elephant with a fork attacking him. "What in the world did you do to me?" he asked, spinning on his hooves to face her only to find her wrapping him up in a tight embrace, further shocking the still delusional zebra.
"How d-dare you!" she screamed through a flood of hot tears. "H-how dare y-you even think of l-leaving me here alone!"
Caduceus blinked a few times, staring down at the crying mare as a warm smile formed on his face. Gently, he returned her embrace. "I'm sorry, Chrysalis," he soothed, stroking her mane gently. This only made her cry even harder, now unable to speak through her tears.
Why do I feel this way? she thought to herself, still clinging to Caduceus as if she were about to be blown away. Why am I weeping like this? Why does my chest hurt so much? Another violent sob shook her body, causing her to hiccup. It was embarrassing for her to be so exposed and clearly vulnerable. If she were to show such weakness before her own people, they would have her head for it.
"Hey," he whispered gently, still stroking her mane. "I don't know what you did, but thank you for this. However, now is not the time to cry. We need to find a way out of this canyon and get to the town before the sun rises."
A strange hooded creature stood atop the canyon's edge, staring down at what it thought was the most pitiful sight its eyes had ever witnessed. There was the target, the Queen of Monsters, crying hysterically over the loss of her pathetic companion. Reaching a metal talon into one of the pouches around its waist, the creature pulled out a small map, a stick of graphite, and a compass, marking its location as well as a small note on the parchment. Satisfied with its work, the creature returned the tools to their proper places. Once that was complete, the creature flared its wings, leaping into the night sky and flying at a blistering pace towards a distant mountain range. It had to give the message to his master:
Subject 001 has been found.
and to all the others who have lovingly supported this story since its release and rise to fame, thank you for all that you've done for me, through comic relief and other means of support