Changeling Heart and the New Moon
Luna awoke to confusion and a headache that could have split stones. A million miles past the pain, bleary eyes peered open. They saw something. An imposing, glowing presence.
“...tia? ...you?” Luna’s raspy voice croaked. She barely recognized it as her own. As quickly as she could think of it, fresh water flowed upwards to her. It was heavenly, and she drank deeply to slake her thirst.
The water obstructed her nostrils and mouth. Luna twisted away but the water moved with her, swirling across her face.
She screamed a spout of bubbles, wasting what little breath she had held in her lungs. Her chest constricted in a vice while her wings flared madly. She lashed out blindly, whipping her head back and forth like a rabid dog, but still the liquid smothered her.
She managed to scream her last as the compulsion to breathe battered all other thought to dust. Princess Luna, ruler of the night and co-regent to the throne of the Equestria was on the verge of drowning. She closed her eyes and did the only thing she could.
Luna drew her last breath.
Then she drew another last breath. And another. The world and its pitiful sanity fell away as sweet Air flooded into her lungs through great heaving gasps. Somewhere far away the body of a blue alicorn collapsed to the floor, but that was nothing, there was only the Air.
“Thinking more clearly now, are we?”
The voice bore no register on Luna. Her ribs could shatter and her heart rupture in a shower of blood, but so long as Air filled her lungs she wouldn’t care.
Seconds passed like years. Amazingly, impossibly, Luna caught the ragged edge of her breath.
“What?!” she gasped through chokes of air.
“Don’t be mad. You weren’t going to die.”
Luna flung herself at the Queen of changelings’ with the senseless aggression usually only reserved for the far side of sanity. There was a crunch of something almost like bone and the point of Luna’s horn was lowered to Chrysalis’ neck.
“You tried to kill me!” She roared with a voice that shook clumps of dirt free from the ceiling and walls.
The changeling sneered. There was a flash of green light and Luna’s precious breath was knocked from her as she slammed bodily into the wall. The hard edge of a hoof pressed firmly into her throat.
“If I had tried to kill you, I would have. Now, little moon, are you going to calm down or must I do some things I’d really quite like to?”
If there were looks that could kill, Genocide would have blazed in Luna’s eyes.
“Well?” The hoof pressed harder upon her windpipe.
Luna glared, then looked away.
“That’s better,” Chrysalis said with satisfaction. “I think I deserve an apology for that. Turns out you needed a little shock to bring you around to your senses. Here I was, thinking that a big scary alicorn would be more resistant to the harvest pods, not less.”
“What did you do to me?” the princess growled as the Queen freed her.
“What did you expect me to do when you were sleeping and helpless before me? Realize that I’m the bad guy and change my ways? Discover I was madly in love with you and promise to be better if only you’d have me?” On this Chrysalis whirled away with a flourish, cackling without restraint or abandon. For all her posturing, the Queen of changelings limped.
“Get real, little moon. I’d like to keep pretending that I can blame most of your idiotic dribbling on the harvest pod, but you’re making it hard for me. You walked, alone, into my realm, pleading for my help in your personal little crisis.
“Let me make it clear to you now - as long as you are in my home you will smile if I command you to lick the scum I trod upon from my hooves. Do you not understand what it means to be at my mercy? You thought you could tie me down with your words? No. I play along with your game, and I will continue to play along for as long as it suits me and you will thank me for sparing you from worse than mere indignities.
“If you ever threaten me or any of my people again, I will make sure the last thing you ever comprehend is just how truly powerless you really are. Got that?”
Chrysalis smiled down upon her. To Luna’s horror, there was something... regal in the set of the Queen of changelings’ expression.
“This is the part,” Chrysalis said through her tightly drawn smile, “where you get up, go shower the muck off yourself and consider your position very carefully, waiting for me to call you back. That is something you will do promptly and without incident. Or, if you want to skip straight ahead to considering your position, I can knock a few of those pretty pearly teeth out and rattle your ribs a bit.” Chrysalis slumped and favoured the one leg. “I’ve had enough violence for now, but I’m sure I can come up with some more if you want to have that conversation. Do you want to test me on it?”
Luna clambered shakily to her hooves and said nothing.
“Good girl. Come out!” The Queen called to the shadowy corners. In the home of the changelings there was always an audience.
Several of the black creatures stepped to her summons. Some were prompt, others hesitated more so. Chrysalis eyed their number, then smiled as her eye fell upon a particularly nervous little changeling. The Queen smiled. The target gulped and returned the smile uncertainty, which Luna found strangely expressive considering the normally stony faced changelings.
“You again, little one? It was you that started that little fit of naming the children.” Chrysalis’ voice held neither praise nor condemnation. In it Luna could hear only a casually amused interest.
“My Queen Chrysalis,” the cracking little voice began from a head bowed low, “I am sorry.”
“Sorry? No. You have no need to be. We’ve all been a bit moonstruck lately.” The Queen gently brought the changeing’s gaze up with her hoof, and though this was a subterranean realm consigned to gloom, Chrysalis’ smile brightened the creature’s day more than the sun itself.
"You can do me a favour, though.”
“I want to serve you,” the changeling standing barely to the Queen’s knee said hopefully.
“Good, good. What is your name?”
“Surreal, my Queen,” she chirped. “My friends call me Surry.”
“Hmm? Your friends?” Names were vague enough between changelings. Nicknames were unheard of. Come to think of it... so were friends.
Luna saw that the little changeling’s gaze flickered over her briefly. “When I am, um, roaming.”
The Queen of changelings’ brow furrowed for a moment, then relaxed with a shrug. “You will attend upon Luna. You are now responsible for her. Stay by her and see to it that she is fed and watered. Find her a shower, and some kind of bed. Show her around the place, if you like. Luna, are you fine with this?” she asked with mock sweetness.
The princess stifled a grumble under her breath. Chrysalis flashed her a sharp-toothed grin, and Luna clenched her own teeth tightly before she could snap something vulgar. She was the princess of the night! She deserved to be watched with maximum security! Not lead around like some harmless foal out for a day with their sitter! The Queen’s nonchalance infuriated Luna.
“I am a threat to you! I could crush this little warden!” she very nearly screamed, but the blossoming bruise in her side made her wince as she drew the breath to do so.
Luna realized that Chrysalis had turned to watch her very intently indeed.
If you ever threaten me or my people...
There was an illumination that came upon Luna in that moment, but there was no warmth in it, like dawn upon a frost-blasted tundra. She shivered as understanding battered her like an icy wind.
Luna had never felt further from the moon and sun in all her life. And oh, how the Queen of changelings smiled.
“Good. Now, little moon, make yourself at home.”
The ‘shower’ proved to be nothing of the sort Luna was used to, but she had bigger concerns than creature comforts. Water fell in spatters upon her as Luna grudgingly did exactly as she had been told: she very carefully considered her position. At least the shower cooled the bruise of her aching side. It was little more than a small space dug out from a fissure in the rock through which groundwater bubbled and fell, but it was a small comfort that Luna had been given; the music and touch of falling water tried to cleanse her body and mind.
Luna felt anything but soothed. How could she have been so stupid? So selfish? Equestria was all but at war with these creatures, and she had snuck away from her life and her throne to play completely into their power. She’d given into her angst and her ache, again, thinking nothing of others or how they might suffer.
The shower hid her tears well, but the splashing of water did little to hide her sobbing. She wanted to scream and shout. She forced herself not to, but even then the blinking eyes of her tiny warden popped around the corner were a torment.
“Shut up! Leave me be!” The changeling, Surreal, winced as if struck and recoiled from sight. She wouldn’t go far, she would be lurking just around the corner. As the stinging tears flowed on, Luna smiled with the cruel irony of it.
For the one time she wanted to be alone, she could not.
“Luna?” a kindly voice asked. The princess whirled about with a snarl to scare her warden off again, except this wasn’t her. A pony peeked around the corner, her coat the pink of carnations. Magenta eyes looked to her with a nervous hopefulness.
Luna’s bloodshot eyes narrowed. Changeling. Of course. “Is this some kind of cruel joke? Go on then. Laugh.”
Everything in Surreal’s expression spoke of hurt and surprise, from the slight quiver of moisture at the edge of the eyes to the way the mouth hung just slightly open.
“There is nothing to laugh at,” she said sadly. There was a little bout of green flame and the changeling stood as herself once more. “I thought you might prefer to see me... not as I am.”
“A changeling is a changeling, whatever you look like.”
“And we feel what we feel, whatever we look like.” The little creature met Luna’s glare with sadness and defiance, then broke away. “I’m sorry, mistress,” she murmured.
Luna said nothing and turned her back to the changeling. Alone once more she wondered why it was that Surreal had been the one to say sorry, yet it was Luna who felt she should apologize. She didn’t want to consider this now and let the soft trickle of falling water empty her head of thoughts, if only for a fleeting reprieve. Just until the tears washed away.
Soaked and sore, Luna left the ‘shower.’ She didn’t really feel any better and her situation was as untenable as ever, but she’d cooled her temper and calmed herself, for what it was worth.
She could have blasted the wetness from her coat, but she didn’t care to. Her mane hung heavy with moisture that rippled down her sides like a soft night tide. It was pure whimsy to let it remain so, but here beneath the dark earth she could almost pretend she was a filly again, playing in darkling storms.
Changelings lurked all around her. No... lurked wasn’t quite right. They stopped and watched her, but there was no hiding themselves from her sight. If anything, she should be hiding from theirs, but even in this mess there was no sense of antagonism, only the shine of their eyes.
In a way it was reassuring after the intensity Chrysalis had shown.
“Mistress?” a tiny voice murmured from behind her. Luna jumped, then shifted into a quick-paced, aggravated trot.
“What do you want?” she growled.
The little changeling recoiled, then quickly stepped up into a canter just to keep pace with the long legged princess as she struck out purposely into the winding tunnels.
“I just want to serve,” Surreal said, but something in the cracking of her voice bid Luna halt. She turned to the tiny changeling and learned something new.
They cried just like ponies did. Or at least Surreal had been crying, her eyes were puffy in a strange, changeling way. The sight of it stoked Luna’s regret and anger in equal measure, both emotions she was well familiar with.
“Well then, my little jailor, what is to become of me now?” the princess said snidely.
Surreal winced and blinked. Once again she needed to leap forwards just to keep pace. “The Queen has not called for you... where do you want to go?”
Luna groaned. She didn’t think she could take much more of this disrespect from Chrysalis, being treated like an insipid foal. But that was the point of it, wasn’t it? She carefully ignored the truth that she’d broken down in tears just minutes prior and wondered, for the first time since getting herself into this mess what her sister would do.
Luna muttered under her breath. If she was going to have to dance to Chrysalis’ step, she might as well learn something for it. The Queen had done something to her, after their... business, and it would not be wise to be in ignorance of what that had been. Her memories of it were blurry at best. She still felt unsettled to the depths of her being, as if Chrysalis had recklessly shaken the snow globe of Luna’s soul. Of course, she’d proffered it up to the changeling to do just that... It was harder to focus than she realized, and for a dizzying second Luna wondered if she actually could use magic on the water still dripping from her coat or not.
Being wet was foalish and senseless. Time for the water to go. With a flash of darkness and to Luna’s great relief, the magic worked much as it always had. If it was harder to cast than she remembered, she chalked it up to not quite being herself.
The princess shut her eyes tightly, trying hard to rally her focus while the changeling waited with antsy nervousness. “Take me to wherever it was I awoke. I want to know what was done with me last night, for I know it was no bed I slept in.”
Surreal said nothing, and stopped dead in her tracks. “Mistress Luna...” she began in a whisper. For the quietness of her voice, it snagged something of worry in the alicorn.
The little changeling cowered, fully expecting to be struck. “Mistress Luna... you were asleep for three days”