“Oh... Ohhhh myyyy...” Chrysalis breathed as she was submerged in the warm water, sinking in it up to her shoulders. With a heavy groan, she rested her chin on the edge of the cauldron, giving the faintest whimper of delight. The steaming water enveloped her form and chased away the resounding soreness in them.
“There. Not so bad, is it?” Evergreen asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
“This... This is acceptable,” Chrysalis managed to murmur, feeling herself drifting off. Unlike the cold darkness that had been threatening to sweep her away on black wings, this was a pleasant, lulling, soothing sensation. It was paradise. Ah, the joys of warm water.
“Tell you what,” Evergreen said, slipping over to the shelves on the walls. “You aint gonna like this, but it’ll stop you from gettin’ sick.”
Evergreen reached up for a bright blue flower, holding it by the stem and moving over towards her. “I’d ask yer not to struggle, but yer gonna anyhow.”
Chrysalis stared up at Evergreen for a moment in a stupor. She was completely unprepared for it as he snapped the stem and then wrapped a hoof around the back of her head. He was touching her again!
Evergreen’s grasp was surprisingly strong and Chrysalis was helpless to resist it. By the time it even occurred to her to struggle, the stem was pressed against her nose. The strongest, most acrid scent she’d ever known invaded her senses. It was overpowering, and it burned. It broke her out of her lull instantly as it seared its way down into her lungs and a sharp sensation of pain flared in her temples. Her sinuses cleared, seared clean in an instant, and she was aware of an ease in breathing. She hadn’t even realised how congested she had been, the beginnings of a sickness from being out in the pounding rain and the elements followed by the cold wetness from the night.
Chrysalis tried to shape a rebuke to the pony, but her limbs were so heavy, and she just couldn’t summon up the energy. With a low groan, she rested her chin on the edge of the cauldron.
“Eugh,” Evergreen murmured as he snapped the stem off up higher and wrinkled his nose deeply, before leaning in and inhaling hard. He took the horrible, overpowering scent deep into his lungs and held it for several seconds, letting it out in a heavy cough, taking several long, deep breaths to filter out the overpowering scent. Evergreen then moved back over to the cauldron and began to peel the flower petals off into the warm water, leaving them floating there at the surface.
“You’re cooking me...” Chrysalis accused, her voice distant and eyes unfocused.
“Is just the petals, ma’am. They’ll not harm yer, and they taste as bad as they smell, trust me. But you’ll not get sick,” he pointed out as he tossed the broken stem away. “Yer stay there and soak long as yer need. I gotta go earn me bits.”
Chrysalis didn’t acknowledge his words in any way. Instead she sighed faintly, resting with her head on the edge of the cauldron.
The front door opened, and then closed. And she was finally alone.
True coherency took a long time to return to Chrysalis, her sensed muddled by the spicy aroma of the flower rising up from the warmed water. She belatedly noticed that a towel had been laid out for her to dry herself when she was ready.
A bubble of panic began to permeate the calm that the bath was giving Chrysalis. He had left. She felt the tendrils of energy between them fray and dissolve. She shuddered, realising that she was cut off once more from any source of energy. She took stock of her situation. She had energy still. The brief flare in his fondness for her had given her a mild boost, but the magic before that... She had no experience with being drained like this, she had always had energy to spare.
But ever since that spell had hit her, her energy reserves had been...different somehow. It was harder to retain energy, and her magic definitely used more than before. It was as though her reserves were tainted—poisoned. She had be careful not to over-extend herself.
Chrysalis was mildly afraid. If Evergreen was gone too long, she would most definitely be back to a state of no energy. At this rate, she’d be stuck here quite some time.
A faint sigh left the Queen and she rested her chin back on the edge of the cauldron. There was no point to worrying. The oaf would return when he returned, and if she frayed her energy reserves worrying about it, that would benefit nopony, least of all herself.
Closing her eyes, Chrysalis dozed.
Rustling movement broke Chrysalis out of her trance-like state. She just lay there for several long moments, resting and unwilling to move.
Chrysalis felt the bond re-establish. And then, strangely, it began to strengthen, slowly but surely transferring more energy by the moment. It was still tiny amounts, but the flow was growing wider, just faintly.
Chrysalis’ eyes slowly opened and she found Evergreen standing in the doorway, watching her doze in the tub, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Her voice was thick as she asked, “What are you leering at?”
“Jus’ tryin’ mah best to be as creepy as can be, watchin’ yer sleep and whatnot,” he said with a playful grin at her.
“You have succeeded admirably,” Chrysalis murmured, closing her eyes again. The bath was cooler than it had been, but it was still a pleasant warmth that suffused her form and lulled her into a state of unthinking bliss.
“Yer gonna have to get out of there soon,” Evergreen stated calmly. He picked up the rope for the sled and began to drag it back through the house.
A noncommittal sound left the changeling and she rested her chin back on the edge of the cauldron.
The front door opened, closed, opened again, and she heard the sounds of firewood being stacked beside the fireplace, and then the front door opening again. When Evergreen returned, he dragged the sled back in the room and began stacking blocks under the cauldron once more.
“Time for you to git out, ma’am,” he said, poking at the embers at the base of the cauldron with a stick, to get the fire burning again.
“Must I, Sir Evergreen?” Chrysalis simpered faintly.
“Yes, yer must.” Evergreen rolled his eyes for a moment. “C’mon, git out and go sit in front of the fireplace, or yer’ll shrivel up like a dried prune.”
“I do not believe warm water to be capable of such an act,” Chrysalis stated by way of rebuke.
“Oh come on,” Evergreen growled. “Yer can git back in the bath when I’m done. But ah’m cold, shivery, covered in mud, and I wanna be clean, and yer are stopping me.”
Chrysalis’ eyes blinked open, and she huffed a moment.
“...Very well.” Chrysalis scowled, rising to her hooves. She shuddered as the cool air hit her form, and swayed slightly as she slowly pulled herself out of the cauldron.
Evergreen moved forwards to help her, supporting her weight out of the cauldron and down onto the dirt floor. A towel had been placed so she wouldn’t muddy her hooves and trek it back through the cottage.
“I can do it myself,” Chrysalis huffed down at him as he helped her, but she didn’t make any move to stop him.
Chrysalis felt a rage building in her at his brazenness in touching her. The uncouth pony was so physical. She would beat that out of him before she left his cottage.
Staggering slightly, Chrysalis took a few moments to regain her balance. Chrysalis stopped, picking up the towel and neatly throwing it over her shoulders to help dry out her coat as she pranced towards the fireplace haughtily.
Chrysalis felt an increase in their bond as she did so, and paused to look over her shoulder, head canting to the side. Evergreen was watching her, smiling faintly.
Harrumphing, Chrysalis flicked her mane and then moved to sit besides the fire, resting in front of it to allow its warming effects to permeate her body. She exulted in the increase in energy from their growing bond. It felt different. There was something... strange about this bond.
Perhaps it was because she was experiencing the bond from its infancy, instead of just jumping in on somepony else's bond and sucking up all that lovely energy. Or perhaps it was the poisoning of her energy from the blast that almost killed her that made new bonds feel so strange. But it was definitely different, yet... Not unpleasant.
It was only a trickle, but it was... fulfilling. Contenting. Before the spell, the energy she consumed was like a drug; it was intoxicating and powerful. It begged her to take more and more, to consume as much as she could and to gorge herself on the addicting sensations. But this... this was like that bath in the cauldron. It was warm and mellow—accepting. It didn’t make demands of her senses. It just... was. It was a unique, novel sensation for the Changeling Queen, and it made having to suffer that oaf of a pony a little more bearable.
If all bonds felt like this from now on... Well, she would be a content queen indeed.
Chrysalis’ thoughts were broken by the sound of the door opening and the pony stepping into the room. He towelled distractedly at his mane, looking clean and much less like a crazed woodspony.
Chrysalis stared at him for a long moment, her eyes narrowing.
Evergreen paused as he felt her gaze on him, and he shifted uncomfortably. “...Wot?”
“You were barely in the bath for ten minutes,” Chrysalis stated.
“Ah’m clean now,” Evergreen responded calmly, shaking his head once.
Chrysalis rose to her hooves, scowling. “No. You are not.
“Wot do yer mean I’m not?” he asked defensively.
“I mean, get. Back. In. The. Bath,” Chrysalis said flatly, advancing on Evergreen and taking a deep breath as she pushed at him with her shoulder.
“What the Discord has gotten into yer?” Evergreen asked as she pushed him back into the room. He stumbled, leaning against the cauldron for balance.
“You are filthy,” Chrysalis spat, huffing at him, her eyes narrowing.
In truth, the pony was clean. Just as clean as she was; but if he had forced her from the bath then he was surely going to spend more than ten minutes in the thing!
“Ah’m not!” Evergreen protested, pushing at her with a hoof.
“You are. Now get back in there,” Chrysalis said, pointing resolutely at the cauldron.
“Ah’m not going to,” Evergreen replied flatly, sitting back on his rump, crossing his hooves and turning his head away.
Chrysalis’ eyes flashed and narrowed further, and she growled, “You will get back in that bath, Evergreen.”
Something in her tone or stance must have alerted Evergreen to a growing threat. His ears splayed backwards as he gazed up at her meekly for a moment. “Geeze woman. I’m going, I’m going!”
Evergreen splayed the towel out on a rack to dry as he heaved himself back into the cauldron with a splash. He sank himself down into it, glowering at her. “Yer happy now?”
“No, But it is a start,” Chrysalis stated, as she turned to the shelves, eyes sparkling with a sudden idea. She moved over to the shelf he had taken the flower from, scanning the various herbs and other plants arrayed out before spying the same flower he had used. She picked it up and moved back towards him, an evil grin on her face.
“Wot’re you doing?” Evergreen asked uncertainly, ears pinning back.
“Make sure you don’t get sick, Sir Evergreen,” Chrsalis simpered, as she grabbed the back of his head in a hoof. She neatly snapped the stem of the flower with a twist of her hoof, and then shoved the broken stem against his nose, forcing him to inhale the scent from point-blank.
The pony began to cough and sneeze, and Chrysalis gloried in her power over him, enjoying the way he squirmed and struggled in her grasp, obviously in quite some discomfort.
Chrysalis pulled the stem back, smirking at him, beginning to peel the petals of the flower off and dropping them into the water. “You will remain in the bath until you are clean.”
The mare drew back, and then said in her sweetest, honeyed tone, “and if that is less than an hour from now, I will pick you up and throw you back in.”
The stallion pinned his ears back once more, and nodded meekly. “Yes ma’am.”
Chrysalis turned towards the door and strode through it, beginning to close it behind herself, when she heard a ‘Thank yer, ma’am.’ from the other side, making her pause and blink.
Chrysalis shook her head, breaking herself from her thoughts, and responded in a simpering tone, “You are quite welcome.”
She closed the door and strode back over to the fireplace, grinning as she stared into the dancing yellow flames, feeling the bond between them growing even stronger. She had Evergreen right where she wanted him. Soon, it would be time to destroy him.