Changeling Heart and the New Moon
The harvest pod before Luna seemed to flow without motion, while dim shafts of green light broke and scattered within it. Whatever her thoughts were for the pony slumbering within, the princess kept those feelings to herself, leaving her expression softer than either Chrysalis or the little steward Surreal had ever seen before. It wasn’t long before Luna spoke. The word was only a firmy spoken “no,” not resounding or shouted, but still it managed to draw a very clear line, one that smoldered like old embers in the gloom.
Chrysalis’ perpetually glinting eyes and teeth turned to the wayward princess. “No?” Luna met the gaze with her own, and a familiar resonance in both voices set the little changeling Surreal huddling closer against the imposing form of her Queen.
Whatever painfully long pause the little changeling had dreaded, it didn’t come. Luna merely stepped away. In that simple motion whatever ice had hung over them both seemed to break and clear the air, but likewise the ever present snarl that clung to the edge of the princess reaffirmed its place within her.
“No, I do not want to hear your story. His, maybe...but not yours. You use the truth like a worse kind of lie, until even the truth doubts itself. I, however, have no doubt that your telling of his story, true or false, would paint the colours with such convolution as to be an insult to Fallow Field, and to me, let alone your shame, if you even have any.”
If Luna’s words bit deep, she made no effort to follow up their on them, nor did Chrysalis seem all that stung. Rather, she smiled her familiar smile, all tooth and gleam. No matter how many times Surreal saw it, that look would leave her a little bit thrilled and a great deal frightened.
The Queen of changelings grinned and nodded, all the while gently but consistently urging the smaller changeling away from the shelter of her side. Knowing both regal persons fairly well for her part, Surreal took quite a lot of urging, standing on her own only when an unceremonious knee scooped her up bodily and dropped her to the soil. Surreal fumed, but as her Queen turned away from her the off-coloured fissures of Chrysalis’ healing injury prompted a silent, sincere apology. The damage was closing unevenly, and more slowly than it should have been. With disheartened certainty Surreal recognized the beginnings of a permanent scar.
“Well, little moon,” Chrysalis began, but where all expected a scathing retort to follow, there instead came nothing. Luna shot an unfriendly glower, one riddled with uncertainty, over her shoulder to the Queen, who for her part walked slowly to Luna.
“Yes,” she began again, looking to the ceiling...or maybe she looked past that, through the dark earth, ancient roots and shriveled trees to the sky far beyond. Her voice lacked the usual barb and twist she spoke with, seeming almost soft for it. “I was responsible for the feeding of my people. Now I’m responsible for their gnawing hunger.”
Surreal squeaked as if struck. “My Queen!” she cried defensively, pained to see Chrysalis say anything of the sort.
Chrysalis turned on the little changeling so suddenly, with such savagery that it seemed sure she would make such thoughts reality. “Know your place!” she snarled, but did no more to the trembling changeling. As fast as it had come upon her, the furious anger evaporated like so much mist.
“If I was a good person, little moon, I’d almost thank you. Even here, right this instant, you’re slowing down starvation.” Chrysalis looked upwards again, and bereft of words or anger Luna found herself thinking clearly. She stared unrepentantly at the Queen. No mere dirt is the focus of the wistfulness there. Among other things, she felt humbled. With all her ties to the night, Luna could sometimes forget how profound it could be to anybody...everybody else, even as she understood how truly profound it was. Often she stared into it, lost as one could only be with dreams and twinkling stars and the endless mystery.
And like the night, dark clouds drifted into the princess’ thoughts and the light of it dimmed. “I will still have my people freed.”
“I know you will try. But not today.” A note of almost pleading and threat flitted across the Queen’s speech.
Luna nodded. Once, and slowly at that, but all the same it seemed some pact was made, some understanding reached. Whatever lines might be drawn between them, whatever Queen and princess contested for, it’d not be done with raw power, at least not where the weak and helpless floated in dreams and the half-starved watched uncertainly, silent in the shadows. It happened so lightly, Luna almost missed the weight of the world settle on her shoulders: the weight of each soul fell softly as snow on her, by their hundreds and thousands.
Is this what it feels like to be Celestia? she wondered. She found her answer in the depth of the Queen’s eyes. No, this is what it feels like to be a ruler.
The reverie was broken by a changeling, one who skulked into the alcove, concealing none of his worry at intruding. A tattered journal floated in his pale magic, which he held up like a talisman or shield to hide behind. He was slightly larger than Surreal but just as thin, and halfway through wondering if this might be her brother, Luna’s thoughts stopped in their tracks.
He. She’d thought he, not it. She’d looked at these creatures all the same and so she’d seen them all the same, without really seeing at all. She’d imposed an idea and an image onto them, big enough and damning enough to be all but impossible to squirm out from under. Luna had already learned that changelings cried just like ponies did...but had she learned anything at all? What did that mean to her?
Before she could spiral further down, the changeling announced himself to his Queen with the cough which universally means ‘here I am, and I intend to be small and unobtrusive as possible, by your leave.’ He eagerly offered up the item.
The journal, and it was definitely a journal: dog-eared, dog-ended and quite likely dog chewed, even before coming into the dark earth, was taken by the green eminence of Chrysalis. Despite its decay, or perhaps because of it, she handled the item carefully.
With the slightest nod of approval she sent the newcomer scrambling away. “You were right, of course,” she spoke aloud. “I am an unrepentant, unforgiving, all-round bad person.” With each word, the faithful steward Surreal winced. “I am a liar, and would lie to you, as you know. And you were right, I do use the truth like a worse kind of lie. So here. Take your truth. I gave Fallow Field time to write before he stepped into his pod. Whatever he had to say, it is there. Read it when you will, take from it what you will.”
With that the Queen’s magic winked out and the old journal dropped. Luna gasped and rushed to catch it in a dark flash of her own. Only as she breathed a sigh of relief did she catch the appraising grin of the changeling, like a mare considering the wares of a jeweler for her beloved.
“So it is important to you after all. That’s good.” The Queen of changelings fluttered her papery wings in a brief flurry. As the sudden breeze of them ended Chrysalis stretched out her shoulders and neck like a mare that had been at the plough all day and expected to be at it for many days yet. The whole show she made of it caught the princess’ eye, reminding her of her own aches in the days she’d been here. As an afterthought, the Queen turned to Surreal.
“You can go aswell,” she said.
Surreal looked to Luna, than spun back to Chrysalis. “My-my Queen?”
“I said you can go. You don’t have to guard Luna anymore. You’re done, be happy.”
Her eyes wide, Surreal was anything but. “I don’t understand.”
Annoyance flashed across the Queen like a tongue of green flame. “Did I ever tell you to understand? No. I said ‘you can go.’ Do so.”
Everything in the little creature’s face told a tale of upset, but to look at her hooves was a different story altogether. They dug into the dirt. Luna watched with piqued interest and worry. “Have I failed you?” the changeling chirped.
Chrysalis sighed like an amused, tired parent and relaxed her poise. “No. You’ve done everything I wanted. Do you remember what I asked of you?”
Surreal sagged like any unhappy foal might, but hadn’t moved. “To trust you,” she mumbled, and her eyes still held the Queen’s own.
“Yes. So question my orders in your own head, not out where everyone can hear them, please,” Chrysalis chided gently.
As detached from the exchange as she had been, Luna felt physically jarred, even pulled in by the look Surreal threw her. Indeed it might have been thrown, as if the little changeling hoped Luna to pull her back to something safe and familiar, even as one of those emotions born of too many others rippled across the changeling’s eyes.
Luna could do and say nothing, and had no idea what either would be if she did. She didn’t miss the dark look that shadowed over the Queen’s brow as she watched the smaller changeling leave, nor did Chrysalis waver from it when she next spoke.
“Do you want to go home, little moon?”
Luna had to play the words again, and then a third time in her head as the full impact crashed through her. Home. Happiness. Celestia. Shame. The familiar old storm blew on the horizon, but was strangely muted. Luna kept silent.
“You didn’t expect me to keep you here forever. Or did you? I can’t exactly allow an army to come dig you out. I don’t think I need to tell you that a lot of ponies would find that a big, juicy excuse to come here right now, if they knew.”
Luna’s thoughts raced. Could ponies be so vindictive? Somewhere within the word no! rang out, but Luna felt a chill as she realized better.
They could, easily. Not because ponies were cruel or aggressive, but because they were afraid and ignorant. But then, a full scale surprise invasion of what had previously been believed to be merely mythological beings could do that. But then, her thoughts turned again, Chrysalis had brought this down on her own people. Equestria had done nothing wrong in defending itself. What the changelings got, they deserved for unwarranted aggression.
Luna shut her eyes tightly and welcomed the total darkness of sightlessness. Unwarranted aggression. Those were bureaucratic words, used by the less noble, the sort that considered the populace a sort of resource. Covering her closed eyes, Luna backtracked from the thought like a cart puller might back away from a mire in the road.
They got what they deserved. Starvation. They brought it on themselves. Starvation. She was helping them just by existing, and they appreciated her for it.
The princess took a breath that was nearly a gasp, the sound of which filled the darkness both within and without. There is such a thing as wanting a thing for so long that one dismisses the constant aching for it from the forefront of their thoughts. It could be called the pain felt only when numbness fades.
Except, in a very real way, it hadn’t faded at all. Luna remembered the deep-seated need for approval. Born, perhaps, from living in the shadow of Celestia, or more accurately being the shadow. She could remember the ache, the tears and struggles, but she couldn’t feel them. Even now, she felt only a hollow satisfaction, no more profound than seeing the dishes done, not that Luna did her own of course.
It just...wasn’t there. Luna’s breathing should have started coming harder for the sake of the thing, as if her lungs might fill the missing piece of her heart if enough air was pumped in. It felt like a betrayal that her heart kept its steady beat and her breath stayed easy.
“What did I do?” she heard a calm voice ask, realizing belatedly it was her own. Luna was so used to falling to bits that it was strange in the utmost to find that she wasn’t worried or stressed. How could she be? That pain and fear and angst were gone too. Gone with the love.
Chrysalis shrugged. “What you chose to, I guess.” She swung into what was still Luna’s personal space, though the pony didn’t feel half as much affront as she would have just days prior. “I’m going now, and so can you, if you want. Nobody will stop you. You can choose that...or you can stay. Celestia waited, what, a thousand years for you to return? It might be worthwhile to make her wait a few days more. This time, it would be your choice, not hers.”
Luna bristled with cold fury. “You’re a monster.”
Chrysalis yawned. “A tired monster. Goodnight, little moon. I’m almost convinced you do think sometimes, so take some time for that now.”
She left Luna standing there, alone but for a journal and a crop of ponies. The mare had enough to consider, as did herself. It was not far to her tiny chamber, but Chrysalis fell on her spongy bed with the total release of tension that only the exhausted can manage, instantly regretting the spasm of pain in her leg.
Not that she could sleep. With a tired flick of magic in the dark, her three jewels floated up to greet her. They bobbed as if bowing deeply for her and they wove like little dancers between one another, something not entirely of Chrysalis’ doing.
Opportunity. Uncertainty. Change. That’s what she’d called them, on a whim. Each greeted her with a little flourish as if she’d named them aloud.
“What are you?” she cooed to the polished little things. Well, she knew the barest truth of it; they were pieces of Luna. They had to be alive than, she reasoned. Maybe not alive like herself, but alive all the same. Like the glowing growths that lined the walls. Silent. Unthinking.
The Queen of changelings beckoned to the deep blue gem. So faint was her suggestion of magic she wondered if it had come closer of its own accord entirely. Its siblings waited patiently.
“Is it you I felt...Uncertainty?” She was not entirely certain herself. “Is it you that my little moon fumbled to feel and couldn’t, because here you are? What are you?”
Only Luna knew for certain, but Chrysalis hadn’t broached the subject yet. Did the alicorn know these existed, or had the trauma of their exorcism knocked the details of that memory loose?
The Queen cautiously opened herself to the ever-present glow of the gems, just enough to curb the edge of her hunger. She resisted temptation like she had never bothered to before, because for all their mystery and pretty little dances there was something she had no word for, something...unwholesome about feeding from these. She refused to risk herself to something she wasn’t sure she entirely controlled.
She was already watching Surreal suffer the early symptoms, and the other changelings would start seeing them soon enough, those that knew to look for them.The expressive little thing had been chosen for a reason, and she’d managed everything much faster and more profoundly than Chrysalis had thought possible.
The victory there had a sharp cost and a bitter taste. The task Surreal was proving so adept at was turning around to consume her. Few things prompted a changeling to sadness, but the prospect of a lost one did so in Chrysalis as much as any of her people. She rather liked the feisty little thing, but if the Queen was to save her...well, she did not envy Surreal the coming days, and for once in a blue moon it pained Chrysalis that she couldn’t be honest in this matter. It was one thing to deceive ponies, but entirely another to lie to her own people. Uncertainty seemed to shimmer in resonance with her thoughts.
It was a cruel twist that she had been honest to Luna about letting her go. She really could leave without challenge or chase. Chrysalis would let her go and leave her be, and all the while the Queen would have powerful little enigmas intrinsic to Luna’s heart.
That was the thing. There was a choice, but it couldn’t be divorced from the consequence. It annoyed the Queen the sheer extent of idiocy her little moon could manage in her ignorance of that. But she’d been spot on about truth; Chrysalis not only knew, but was proud of how she deftly wielded it like a polished, more finely sharpened lie.
And if a consequence of one flighty mare’s selfishness was to bring a vengeful army to her home, well, there’d have to be a reckoning. A reckoning that would change everything.
As she sunk into her organic bed and deeper still into thought, The Queen of changelings found herself at what thoughts always bring a mind to, sooner or later, again and again.
She found herself at a choice.