Changeling Heart and the New Moon
...weather’s out of sorts again. It’s them no good pegasi kids they take on these days. No mind for the job. No consideration for the decent folk trying to make a decent living. Can’t till the ground right in this drizzle. Haven’t seen one of ‘em...what must be two weeks now, so who’s doing anything about it?
Down Spout never would’ve let this happen in her day. Up Draft neither. Always came right out to the farthest little holdings, they did. Whipped the clouds right into line, they did. Not like that anymore!
Now it’s all about going here or there, always the towns. Down and Up had some respect in them, and earned it too. These damn kid foal-fliers, everyone of them is thinking that we’re beneath them just because they’re above us. It ain’t right.
May Flower’s cough is sounding better now. I’m sure it is. Keeping her to bed all the same. That kid should be back soon now with a doctor. Sent him off with the bits we managed to save up for a rainy day.
That was yesterday. Still is.
She’s taken quite the shine to that kid what comes around now and again. I don’t know what I think, but she smiles and that’s more than enough for me.
The scrawl had been slow and meticulous. The heavy handling of pencils had scored the pages with indentations. At some point the journal had been drenched; the pages had crinkled and the lead faded, but their original hard use saw to it that the thickly-formed words were still quite legible.
The spidery elegance of Luna’s writing would have died well and truly under similar treatment.
For a bookmark she had plucked one of her own feathers, and its pristine blue stood at odds with the dulled and cracking paper. It wasn’t a gesture she would have expected Fallow to appreciate. The one was dappled smooth as moonlight waters, the other rough and cantankerous, each with details that fought for attention.
She wasn’t very far into the journal, truth be told. It wasn’t something Luna felt could be read quickly, nor did she want to.
At first it had seemed simply the musings and complaints of a rather ignorant old pony. Protesting pages crackled and turned through his days, and she came to recognize his slow, careful navigation of words, his distinctly rural modicums of speech. With each passing page her initial opinions had been...well, enforced. Her first impressions were, in fact, quite accurately the case.
Whatever Chrysalis wanted her to see in these pages, Luna hadn’t seen it yet. There’d always been the slight possibility that the journal was a decoy, a prop filled up with some malicious magic, but what would be the point? The Queen had already had Luna where she wanted her.
Besides, Luna just knew there was no magic in the journal. Nothing magical would smell musty and sour. If there was any magic to it at all, it was the magic of making her want a breath of fresh air after five minutes of reading it when she was already outdoors.
And yet...and yet, she kept reading. A tidbit here, a snippet there. By minutes and days she read through his months and decades.
Most of them were filled with trivial trite. Trees, rocks and water mostly. To be knocked down, pulled up or just falling from the sky yet again. Seasons came and went like itches. Deep down beyond thought, she just knew there’d be meaning in all this, to the point that not finding some terrible and fascinating revelation at the end of it would be quite surprising. She just had to keep reading.
Somehow, the idea of skipping ahead never once occurred to her. It was probably for the best. With barely an effort the journal faded away into the pools of her magic and was forgotten for the time being.
The day was overcast. Rain threatened, but was yet to appear. Luna stood at the edge of the trees, as she had for some time. Before her lay ground unmistakably touched by the plough. It had been, once. Soil tended by the stubborn sweat of an earth pony had since fallen back to the wild elements. Impassable brambles clambered across the earth. Thorns and leaves hid it completely, as if holding this small plot of land against the day someone might return to work it once more.
The leaping snarls of the thick vines hid much, but not quite all, of the dilapidated house resting and rotting at the opposite corner of the field.
Changelings approached. The Queen herself stood a small ways back, snorted at some amusing thought and stretched. All others waited on her move.
“It’s a milestone of sorts,” Chrysalis said. “Fallow lived far away from other ponies. On the upside, he lived nearer us than any other. We use his home to mark the boundary.”
Luna said nothing, but there was no hostility to her silence.
Chrysalis sauntered up the the princess’ side. “I saw your maps, a bit, in Canterlot.” The gleam of the Queen’s grin was somehow audible. Even without looking, Luna knew it to be there. “Is Equestria the kingdom or princessdom or whatever you call it? Is it what you call the land or the continent or the whole world?”
Luna turned to answer, but Chrysalis only laughed and went on.
“It all seemed kind of pointless, to tell you the truth. But I did see enough to know where we are as ponies see it. You’re nearer home than you think. Isn’t it amazing how things fall through the cracks though? Poor, poor Fallow Field.” The Queen fixed Luna with eyes that lit up from within. “Poor, poor Luna.”
Luna’s gaze narrowed, but she’d grown more used to this sort of treatment from the Queen.
Chrysalis swung around in front of her. “Don’t worry, little moon. We’ll make sure you’re not alone when the first ponies find you. That would be terrible to explain, wouldn’t it?”
The Queen nodded to her cohort, and from them came a sound not unlike the deepest notes of a reedy instrument. A sound of magic. It grew, as did the flames.
Green they were, one and all, and blazed through the variously black bodies and left in the wake...colour. Vibrant colours. Not just one rainbow, but many, more colours than Luna had seen since departing Canterlot in the dead of night. It seemed so long ago.
There was her heart and her head. At the sight of the changelings, one filled with wonder, the other with dread. She wasn’t sure which went to which.
Luna stared into blinking eyes and luscious manes.
“No,” said a voice, and it was hers.
“No,” she said again, stronger.
Only Chrysalis remained as she had been, and her smile’s sharp edge dulled by degrees.
“No deceptions. No more lies.”
Chrysalis flared her wings. The nearest leaves were buffeted by the force of it. “You’d rather be seen leading an invasion? I’m sure they’d just love that. I promise we’ll behave,” she said with mock playfulness.
‘No’ was a good word. Luna knew where she stood with it. She called upon it again, louder. “This is a quest of peace. Let everyone see that. I won’t have it begun on a lie!”
The towering changeling filled Luna’s vision, but she refused to back down. Their horns were inches from grating edges, each with powers to call upon ready and waiting. “You think I want peace?”
“You need it, Chrysalis. Your people starve. Equestria outmatches and outnumbers you.”
The Queen huffed. She nodded reluctantly. “That’s true,” she said simply. Luna hoped that might be the end of it, but then Chrysalis raised her head and voice for all to hear.
“So what is it you want, little moon? Your people to stop fearing you?” She gestured dramatically to the gathered psuedo-ponies. She circled about Luna and lit up in flame. Celestia emerged from the fires of Chrysalis. Immaculate, perfect Celestia. “Your sister to respect you?” Another flash of fire made for a darker, smaller alicorn, who pressed her sneering lips a hair’s breadth from Luna’s. “To not cringe every time you see yourself?”
The princess reared back, her hooves slammed the earth. “Enough!” Eyes and horn, Luna glowed with a silvery light. It shot forth from her, bowling over the Queen and burning away her false visage.
Chrysalis roared and fumbled blindly to her hooves. Changelings tensed, unsure what to do. In their moment of hesitation Luna lashed out at them, her magic flinging those it struck far back into tree and underbrush, stripping away the colours from their black hides.
Too many still stood wearing the colours of her people, but not their expressions. All surprise was gone from them now and the air filled with the low hum of their threat, like wasps growling. They closed in around Luna all too quickly. To even attempt to keep them all in sight she backed away, until the edge of thorns licked at her legs and she could go no further.
The Queen looked to her scattered people, then whipped back to Luna. Chrysalis blinked through teary eyes and snarled. “Is this what you want?! It is, isn’t it? You will beg before I’m done!”
There was no lunge, no desperate struggle. One second there was Luna, blazing with power and mad defiance. Between that breath and the next...well, there was no next. The Queen’s flames blazed their green light and the earth beneath Luna’s hooves surged upwards and pounded her in the belly and the throat. She never saw it coming.
Wheezing, Luna collapsed like so many stones. Changelings pounced. Their numbers tried to subdue the struggling alicorn. In seconds only her head was free of them. Shouting threats and inane curses she whirled her horn about.
Chrysalis stalked back and forth. The moonlit eyes of Luna left Chrysalis moonstruck. With a careless flick of green flames a slab of soil peeled itself from the earth then fell back down atop those blazing eyes.
“Why? Why now? We could have reasoned this out like royalty!” Chrysalis hesitated as she heard her own words, then burst into venomous laughter.
It was cut short as abruptly as a dream - or a nightmare. Colorful changelings grunted as they kept the squirming alicorn down. “What now, little moon? What now-”
Screams cut across all speech like a lovingly honed knife. Every changeling turned to look. Those grappling with Luna loosened their grip.
The light beneath them went dark.
Then it went darker still. It seeped out through the changelings, an incorporeal haze of blue and black and tiny pinprick stars. In all of a second it whisked away into the thorns, through which it flowed like quicksilver.
Deep amidst the bramble, so deep they made a lattice work across the sky like the bars of a prison caught forever in night, Luna coalesced.
She steadied her breathing and thought of simple spells. Don’t see me she whispered into their minds.
At the edge of hearing, muffled and cut apart a hundred times over by the thorns, the frantic shout of a changeling. “Don’t hurt her!”
Changelings surrounded the overgrown ground, and others still watched it on the wing. Don’t see me.
It was all Luna could do to not join her scream with Surreal’s, and even at that the thorns took a ready taste of the alicorn.
Come out, little moon.
The thoughts were not her own and spoke to her through glistening fangs, just behind her eyes.
You don’t remember much about that first night. I do. Let’s just say I have a way into you, all for myself. I haven’t had to do this once yet. All this time. You’ve forced me to act. I want you to think about that.
Luna curled up in a pool of blackest obsidian. Don’t. See. Me. Could Chyrsalis control her? Muddle her thoughts as she had with the Captain of the Guards and the hoofmaidens? The fear of it pulled Luna deeper into the darkness. Thorns caressed her sides and threatened to tangle her wings. Brambles moved and whispered to one another, as if to betray her hiding spot to the Queen and drag her, bloodied and screaming, to the changeling.
She didn’t want to fight. Or...she wished she didn’t want to fight. She might yet win if she did, but how many had she already hurt? To fight would kill off this vague, unplanned, impossible chance at peace entirely.
She felt more than saw the green flames that trail blazed blindly inwards from the overgrowth’s edge. Sooner or later they’d find her, and what then? It wasn’t as if they were real ponies, the darkness seemed to whisper into her.
And they weren’t. Not ponies at all. They were changelings. Real changelings. Real people. To think otherwise would be an evil unacceptable in the humble and small-minded Fallow Field, let alone a princess of Equestria.
“Tia, I’m sorry.”
It’s not her you should be apologizing too.
Luna’s emotions felt as twisted and painful as the bramble. It was as if they had snagged her heart and mind as much as her body, for she knew not what to do, nor what choices to make, or even what choices she had.
It was to everyone’s great surprise that the choices weren’t hers to make, nor Chrysalis’, nor any changelings’.
The deep voice of a male was raised high in passions, and higher still in elevation.
“My lady Luna is besieged! Have at you, vile foes! I shall not yield!”
The pegasus dove headlong into the fray as Luna knew he would, though she could not see. The absurdity of it put a silly smile to her face and pause to changeling thoughts.
Is he serious?...He’s serious. He’s actually serious.
And suddenly, Luna’s fear scurried away like so many mice. Chrysalis still spoke into her mind, but it was impossible to be afraid of a dumbstruck Queen.
“I suppose I shall have to tell him to be at ease before he hurts himself.” The darkness beneath Luna drained away until there was only the natural half-light of the brambles. Wings flared and legs tensed. Luna broke into the sky, and though the thorns took their toll in feathers, blood and skin they couldn’t quite take the smile from her face.
Below, a changeling’s magic dragged the earnest pegasus away from another he’d been wrestling to the ground, shouting all the while as if it were only a minor setback to his struggle. Risen like a dark harbinger, all eyes turned to Luna.
“That’s enough, all of you. Can we try this again?”