Changeling Heart and the New Moon
Three days passed. The world spun on and if small but important parts of it grew frantic with worry, Luna neither knew nor cared.
The changelings’ strange hostage, if anything, had grown even more popular in the meantime. There were other harvest alcoves, but Luna’s, and everyone had taken to thinking of this one as being Luna’s, was the one visited most. More often than not by the Queen herself. Chrysalis continued to wonder at the sudden turn for culture in her subjects, hoping that it wasn’t as incumbent a nuisance as, say, mildew to get rid of should she need to.
But most of all she puzzled about love. Not her own, of course, for the Queen of changelings thought it very unwise to touch the stuff beyond a purely consummative matter. She fed tentatively from the jewels, but despite her constant probing of them they gave up no more secrets. It was like feeling over a wonky tooth with her tongue.
In a very definite way it was annoying and humbling. Chrysalis had always just assumed that being what she was, she naturally had a masterful grasp on the inner workings and nature of love, even if she had considered it foolish and insane in the extreme. Instead she was discovering she had about as much comprehension of it as a bee does for pollination.
The emanations from Luna’s pod made only a little more sense. They were, after all, those pieces of heart she’d kept for herself. The warmer, kinder, less twisted loves than those that presently swirled above the Queen of changelings head.
Chrysalis let the love spill through her once more. She felt no shame in rifling through what she could for she had, for once, been honest... For a given value of honesty. Luna had been told they would be intimate and whatever she had thought it would mean, this was a consequence. If only it wasn’t such a mystery.
A subtle shift in the sensation noted a change in Luna’s dream. It happened every few minutes and Chrysalis was getting very attached to being around her more and more to experience them all.
Ah, this one was easy. It tasted like... well, it felt like a bright fire would feel on a cold night outside, except a downpour of rain had nearly extinguished it and only now the retreated embers were starting to peek out again with little tongues of flame. It felt like a rift in healing.
It didn’t take a genius to figure this one out. That was well and good, because Chrysalis certainly wasn't a genius and this was the first and only love she was confident she understood. It had to be Luna’s bond to Celestia, this was certainly vivid enough, But even then it was full of a thousand little nuances, just out of comprehension.
Come to think of it, had she ever actually considered the ponies in the other harvest pods? Just thinking of it now their background emanations seemed more distinct from one another. All this sensory exercise might be sharpening her awareness. It was a strange prospect. It’d always just been another of Chrysalis’ assumptions, and she was getting the nagging suspicion she had a fairly long list of these, that because they’d all felt the same that they’d all been the same. She’d never considered the possibility that her senses were... unrefined.
“What am I going to do with you?” she asked of the unresponsive princess. It was only a matter of time, be it days, weeks or months, until somepony showed up with a big stick and started asking angry questions. Obviously she’d snap the big stick in half, laugh at them and throw them in the nearest pod, but what then?
But what then? Chrysalis sighed. Before the fateful invasion, she would never had thought that far ahead. Pony in the harvest pod; end of problem. But what then? The problem with thinking, she was beginning to realize, was that it was habit forming. It tended to open up more things to question and worry and consider. Sheesh.
But what then? Some part of her insisted. Well, what would happen? More would show up, and more still until harvest pods wouldn’t be an option, and then where would they be?
Oh sure, banish one of your own for a thousand years and no one raises an eyebrow. But kidnap... or grant asylum to, she still couldn’t decide which, that same one and suddenly everybody is in a big uproar.
Or not. She would know soon enough. She was about to leave Luna’s alcove when the dream emanations shifted. Oh no. Not this one again.
Chrysalis couldn’t help it. Her expression fell into slackjawed bewilderment as she looked upon the blissful smile of Luna. It was the least complicated love yet, simple as the blunt edge of a hammer. Chrysalis certainly felt brained. The impressions made no sense. There was... no reservation in Luna to the expression of this affection, and that was understating it. There was the impression that the recipient felt and acted the same way. It felt childishly innocent, not at all the exquisite and twisted affairs every other of Luna’s loves proved to be. And... what was this?
In her time masquerading as princess Cadence Chrysalis had inevitably had to kiss that foolish captain once or twice. It was something expected of brides and grooms, and it was part of the act. She hadn’t liked the experience and gotten away with the tiniest possible pecks. Not because it was a lie, that didn’t bother her in the slightest, but because the gesture itself was weird.
Whatever Luna dreamed of now, it wasn’t kissing. It was close-your-eyes-or-get- tongue-in-them enthusiasm. Chrysalis didn’t think ponies did stuff like that, but the worst part was that she wasn’t at all sure. Her imagination ran wild in the gaps.
She cocked her head to one side and regarded Luna suspiciously.
She cocked her head the other way, peering at the alicorn.
She face hoofed. “You know what?” Chrysalis said to the sleeping princess. “You can keep that one. I don’t want to know. I don’t,” she insisted.
Luna floated on with a particularly silly smile, giving not one care.
The Queen of changelings whirled about and strode into the central chamber. Whatever it was she’d just witnessed, it made her want a drink. Being a changeling, her understanding of the word went only as far as ‘the mineral rich water that collects in the basins we carve out from the walls,’ but what she meant, even though she had no way to know that she meant it, was a line up of stiff drinks to knock back until it made sense, or failing that, she found it funny, fell from a barstool and stopped caring.
The water tasted, as it always did down here, like walnuts or almonds, with a hint of hyphae. It wasn’t likeable per se, but it was familiar and normal. Not at all like that crystal clear, tasteless stuff she’d been made to drink prior to the invasion.
Ah, the invasion. With water trickling down her chin and wings stretched, the Queen of changelings mused on it with grim nostalgia. No pony, not even Luna or high and mighty Celestia had suspected how much effort had lead up to that fateful day. Changelings were a race predisposed to covert action, not open aggression. In a fight the average changeling was capable, but unimaginative. It didn’t help in the slightest that more often than not they instinctively shifted into the forms of their enemies, then spent the time fighting one another. But they’d taken their time setting it all up. Everything had gone perfectly.
And then it had gone perfectly wrong. The Queen of changelings beat the air with her wings, which billowed like great translucent petals. She rose slowly at first, but as she ascended out of the gloom she gained speed.
Yes, everything had blown up in their faces. Literally; the city had exploded with powerful magic and repulsed the changelings, tossing them like so many ragdolls to the four winds. Ending her brief flight, the Queen of changelings settled on a open terrace of spongy growth which gave slightly under her weight. She called to the darkness.
It didn’t take long for the naturally wide eyes of her nearest subjects to find her. It was a major perk of being Queen, and of being several times their size. She felt, despite her reminiscing, enthusiastic.
Luna had brought with her so many things. Intrigue... mystery... a significant source of food among others. But another word came to mind, and this one slithered on its belly.
The changelings she had called waited on an order. Not that she had a plan. No master stroke to bring down a kingdom or anything of the like, but it didn’t worry her. In all this mess, opportunity would present itself and she would give it a well deserved wringing when it did.
The fact that Equestria had, after the eminently successful expulsion of the changelings, failed entirely to follow up by rooting out her web of spies would be a good place to start.
It was as simple as asking the nearest changeling ‘what news of Equestria?’ The changelings had never needed cleverness or cunning where their natural talents came in with regards to stealth and trickery. Even the word ‘spy’ wasn’t quite right. They were just ordinary changelings that happened to spend quite a lot of time in Equestria and had insinuated themselves nicely into one niche or another. They didn’t report in so much as come home every once in a while to visit the family and tell them stories of what was new in the double life of their chosen feeding ground. There were even a few that choose to never come back at all.
But she couldn’t think of those now, not when she had this fledgling sense of purpose.
“Go find the most recently returned changelings from Equestria. Send them to me.”
There was no need to question where she’d be. Over the last three days Chrysalis had been spending more hours musing over Luna than at rest in her own chamber, and Luna was steadily winning out.
The ground didn’t kick up a plume of dust as Chrysalis landed with a flourish; it was too moist to be dusty. But it should have done for the style of the thing.
She strode into the alcove with a new energy. The changeling’s resident explorer pony, dreaming away behind Luna would have been put in mind of distant savannahs, prides, and running away very fast.
The jewels and the new course of action had done Chrysalis good. A definite step up from being morose and hungry, it wasn’t the maddened power trip Canterlot had given her. It was probably better. Flaunting her power and laughing maniacally had all been very satisfying, but while she’d been doing those she hadn’t exactly paid proper attention to certain important developments going on around her.
So she laughed quietly to herself and smiled through the stories of the changelings that came to her. She didn’t even get snappy with them when it became apparent that most, if not all, of their stories had no significance at all. One’s neighbours were moving to Fillydelphia because their in-law had come upon a house with extra rooms. A travelling fair had been held up a day by an accidental storm in some village or other.
So on and so on, little snippets of life with ponies that didn’t float in harvest pods fell upon the Queen of changelings’ ears. It was true. The changelings weren’t good at playing spies. They had the blending in down, but really dropped the ball in regards to meaningful reconnaissance. And yet, in all the trivialities one truth became apparent.
Luna’s disappearance hadn’t been made common knowledge yet.
Opportunity was in the air.