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Twilight woke up fresh and rested this time. Spike was already shuffling in the kitchen, the aroma of pancakes urgently tugging the mare by the nose. She felt a lot better compared to yesterday – all the tension went away somewhere, now that she knew Chip or Wub or whatever wasn’t such a bad guy. A bit awkward and straightforward, but Twilight could see why the Princess would trust him – he was honest.
The pony went down the stairs and greeted her number one assistant who presented to her a stack of mouthwatering pancakes, with some of her favorite syrup to boot.
“Did you call our guest for breakfast?” asked the mare, pouring the honey-like liquid on top of the delicious mountain.
“I tried to, but she said she was busy… He… Whatever. That thing. ” grumbled Spike, cleaning the kitchen.
“He’s not a thing. I know you got scared when you saw him in his… True form. I was dead scared too.”
“Yeah, terrified. But you know what? I remembered that it was the Princess who sent him here. And she would not do that if Wub would be dangerous, right?” Twilight gobbled up the first pancake, causing her face to crack up in a smile of pure delight. “Mmmm…. Spike, you’ve really outdone yourself this time. I have a feeling this is going to be a great day!”
“I think so too Twi!” cheered the baby dragon, turning away from the sink. “After all, today Rarity is going to show us her latest fashion design! She said it was for somepony from Canterlot!”
A pancake stopped in midair and then fell back on top of the stack.
“Wh… Today? That’s today? Ohmygosh, ohmygosh… I totally forgot! How could I… I can’t go!”
“Because I have very important research that needs to be finished as soon as possible! Every minute counts… Gah! What to do, what to do… Spike, you’ll just have to go alone. I’m sorry,” apologized the mare, lifting Spike’s sad face to her own.
“I really, really wish I could go… But you understand… This is bigger than…”
“Friendship?” suggested spike, frowning.
There was an awkward silence in which the librarian tried to solve this sudden problem. She couldn’t just leave Chip hanging like that because she had a friend to meet. Friends are important, but Equestria is far bigger than that… She’ll understand. Hopefully.
“No, nothing is more important than Friendship. That is why it prevails through all sorts of hardships… Like this situation now. Please, tell Rarity I’m so very sorry I can’t attend, but some very important research… You get the idea?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Spike waved her off, still looking a bit displeased. “At least I won’t have to lie much – you will be studying hard down there with that… whatever he-she is.”
“Telling them that I have work to do should be enough. They don’t have to know about our work here. The fewer ponies know, the smaller the danger.”
There was a knock on the door upstairs.
“Who is it?” asked Chip in his Wub voice.
“It’s Twilight. I’m ready when you are.”
“Why does the sun travel across the sky?” asked the colt, his eyes locked onto a book he had in front of him.
From the other side of the mighty reinforced doors, there was a sigh.
“So it can get to the other side. Now can you let me in?”
A twist of a key later, Twilight entered the room. She saw Chip lying on the ground, focused on a book that lay in front of him. To his right there was a basket with some fruits and vegetables… Right now, the disguised colt was levitating a lemon to his mouth…
“I would watch what you’re trying to eat, Wub. You don’t want to eat a lemon whole,” giggled the pony, locking the doors and making her way down.
Chip lifted his head to look at Twilight. And then put the lemon into his mouth. He chewed it slowly, some of the juice dripping down his silver fur. He then swallowed very loudly, sending chills down the mare’s spine.
“No taste buds. I thought we covered that yesterday.”
“Yeah, right, hehe, sorry. So, uhm, what you reading?” asked the purple mare, cocking her head to look.
It was a mistake. As soon as she saw two ponies locked in a very tight embrace with their mouths open and tongues doing… Things, she squeaked and backed away.
“Chip! Holy Celestia, are you reading clop?” Twilight was shocked beyond belief.
“Clop? The title is ‘100 funny facts about mares and colts’. I would debate the hilarity of the ‘facts’, but overall this book is very informative! Did you know that a mare and colt can be in ‘heat’? Did you know it doesn’t in fact involve temperature but-”
“I perfectly know what you mean,” mumbled Twilight, turning a deep shade of red on her face.
“Oh. Did you read it then?”
“NO!” yelled the pony, embarrassed beyond belief by the high pitch her voice reached.
“Oh. Well, wanna read it together when we’re done with our research for the day?”
Twilight was speechless. Either Chip was really good at discording, or he honestly thought that reading kinky stuff like that was actually a fun pastime.
“… No,” she said in a grim voice, closing the book in front of Chip. “Where did you get it anyway? There is no such thing in this library.”
“I borrowed it,” shrugged Chip.
“… Gah… Whatever,” groaned Twilight, putting a hoof to her face. “Just… Just return it from who you got it later today, okay? Reading or talking about such things in public is… awkward. Ponies don’t go around bragging about what they do in private, and neither should you!”
“We’re not in public. This is a private room.” Chip made a sweeping motion, showing that nopony else was here. “So that means I can read and talk about anything I want. And I do believe the Princess told you I’m doing my own research about ponies as well?”
“Yes, she did… Oh no. No. NO. HAY NO.” Twilight backed up straight to the wall, squinting dangerously at Chip. “Nu-uh. I am not going to help you in that kind of research. No way. Not gonna happen. Forget about it!”
Chip didn’t understand what the mare was so worked up about. The book said that these things were normal and nopony should be ashamed about it. In fact, it claimed that everypony liked it. Maybe ‘fun’ fact number 52 would help Twilight relax a bit about it?
The changeling closed his eyes and pumped his horn with magic. The book didn’t specifically tell what kind of energy it should be, so he tried happy thoughts for starters. He then travelled his thoughts through the air, searching for Twilight Sparkle’s horn. As soon as he contacted it, he embraced the magical instrument in the energy he bore and begun swirling it around according to the diagrams in the book… Just like that…
A table was unfortunate enough to be behind Chip when he flew through the room. Tiny splinters bit into his skin, changing a yelp into a full blown scream. Dust erupted all around, obscuring the view of a bolting Twilight, who swiftly exited the chamber. Was she crying?
“What was that for?” moaned the changeling, rubbing his muzzle. The telekinetic blast he got straight to the face was powerful enough to behead any normal pony… Or at least it felt like that. Chip got away with a dislocated jaw and wood in his back.
“Umm, Twilight?” tried Chip, cautiously peering from the staircase into the bedroom.
“GO AWAY!” shrieked the mare.
The changeling was fortunate enough to duck, as a book hit the place his head was just a few moments ago.
“What gives? What did I do?”
“What did you do? What did you DO?!” her voice was full of anger, but it was breaking apart due to sobs and a shallow breath. “You… You…! GO AWAY!”
“Look…” said Chip, bravely tip-toing his way closer and closer to the mare on the bed. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, okay? I thought you were tense and wanted to help… I really, really meant no harm…”
“Yeah, sure, I’m sure you did!”
The colt didn’t stop his approach, despite another book hitting his sore back. He cringed.
“Where does it hurt? I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have used this kind of trick without preparation…I’m sorry… ”
Twilight was silent, save for the sobbing. Chip didn’t know if she calmed down a little bit or just ran out of books to chuck at him – he was too afraid to raise his head to check.
“It… It didn’t hurt,” admitted Twilight. She sounded a lot less aggravated now, so the changeling risked looking up. The mare was lying in her bed, her tail in her forehooves. She was looking somewhere ahead, probably deep in thoughts.
“It… It even felt… You can’t do such things to ponies, you know?” Twilight was slowly stroking her tail, sobbing only from time to time now. “Those are private things. Each pony has their private space, you know? Do you understand what privacy means?”
“More or less, yes,” admitted Chip, trying to sound as apologetic as ponily possible.
“Well, that book you had… It was about a lot of private things. A mare and a colt together… Uh, why am I saying this…” She finally sat upright and faced the colt, wiping away some wetness from her eyes. “Okay. Listen. I’m not going to repeat this twice, okay? A mare and a colt together can do lots of… things. What they do is their private matter and it is considered bad manners to talk about it with anypony you don’t share a special connection with. You follow?”
“You mean friendship?”
“No, something more. Friendship is important, but there is a feeling above that. It is love. Do you know what love is?”
“I know how it tastes and smells like…”
“Have you ever felt love?”
Chip was stumped. Did he feel something like that? He thought back to all his friends – he bore some deep emotions to each and every one of them. But was it love or just friendship? What was the difference?
“Where is the difference between love and friendship?” tried the changeling, sitting on his haunches.
“… Hard to tell, really. I guess you just… Feel it. I mean, ponies feel it… I don’t know about changelings… How your kind feels or thinks… It is something I just can’t imagine. Maybe you love and the pony definition of love just doesn’t cut it. I don’t know… And that is why we are doing this research… I mean-“ Twilight sighed and stopped to gather her thoughts.
“Wub… I know you for barely two days and already you’re giving me my second head ache…”
“I’m sorry…” Chip lowered his ears and head. What could he do? Maybe everypony was right – the changeling was clueless, much more than his friends admit it. And it could be downright hurtful, given the current situation.
“It’s alright. I’m not mad, at least… Not that much. You startled me. Seriously startled me. No colt ever ‘touched’ me like that before… And if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep it that way… I mean, you’re not a bad guy, but I barely know you and… Well…”
“Don’t struggle,” said the changeling, reaching out to Twilight but stopping just inches away from her shoulder. “I understand. No funny facts or private mare-colt stuff. I should have learned my lesson back at the den…”
“Oh, nothing… Nothing… So, uhm… Do you need some more time, or should we…?”
“Give me a minute more… Okay?”
Chip felt the awkwardness in the damp laboratory air. Twilight was still feeling strange emotions towards him – they tasted a lot like confusion and distrust. Well, he did goof up big time. His natural curiosity and disregard for social customs led him down dangerous paths before and displeased at least a few ponies. He was a fast learner, but it seems that sociology just wasn’t his thing.
“Wub,” begun Twilight, opening a book she brought from upstairs; the spine read “Eastern Pony Medicine – The Art of Acupuncture”. “Look at this picture.”
The image Chip had to look at was a pony seen from the side and front, riddled with dark points, each with a description. Most of them were written in some funny language and didn’t make any sense.
“This is a pony body. There are hundreds of pressure points on it; some of them, when stimulated, may heal or hurt a pony. Do you understand what acupuncture is?”
“No,” admitted Wub, curiously peering at the multitude of dots.
“Well, it’s a form of applying point pressure to one of the points on a pony body. Usually with needles. It’s something like massaging, but goes under your skin.”
“Do ponies use that for torture?” Chip furrowed a brow.
“What? No! As I said, it is mostly used for healing. But some points, when put pressure on, can cause you to faint or lose control of your body. Some may disable you, others can even cause death when held long enough.”
“Oh… Even conventional medicine, such as drugs or shots can be harmful if applied wrongly. That’s not my point. What I want to ask is, do you know of any such points on the changeling body? Any spots that cause your knees to jerk or send shocks down your legs when stroked?”
“Uhm… No, not really. Each changeling wears armor, so it would be hard to get to the skin in the first place…”
“You’re not wearing your chitin now I see.”
“Then you can try one of your points on me. Go on, try. I guarantee it won’t work.”
“Uhh, I don’t have a needle… And I’m afraid I’ll hurt you…”
“You can use magic. Or a quill. And c’mon, I deserve it for what I’ve done to you. Please,” asked Chip, fighting against Twilight’s doubts.
“O-Okay… Just, just tell me when it hurts, okay?”
The mare focused some of her magic into a solid entity and hovered it in front of Chip. The changeling had a smug face… At least until he received a blow to his torso, where the solar plexus was.
For a moment the changeling lost his breath and feeling in his hooves. The hit wasn’t powerful, he barely registered it, yet his body just decided to let itself go. He now lay on the ground, fighting for air, a worried Twilight jumping around him.
“Ohmygosh, I’m sorry! Are you alright? Speak to me!”
“I’m… Fine…” gasped the colt, gathering himself up clumsily. “What… Was that…?”
“That was your solar plexus.” Twilight smiled faintly, supporting the changed stallion as he got up. “It seems you have one too.”
“Impossible. Although… If that thing is supposed to be on the body of a pony… Wait,” said Chip, rapidly changing his form. The pony thankfully didn’t jump this time.
“Try now,” proposed the towering changeling.
Twilight frowned, but complied. She hit the same spot on his torso and… Nothing. She tried harder, but there was no effect.
“No no, try under the armor,” instructed the changeling.
“What? How? I don’t know how thick the plate is… I could hurt your insides or something…”
Swept up in the moment, Chip didn’t give much thought to his next action. With a yelp, he tore off his breastplate, revealing really short fur on black skin. Twilight backed away a bit, frowning.
“Owww… Did that hurt?”
“… A little,” squeaked the changeling. “Try now.”
Twilight hit the uncovered creature, but nothing happened. She tried striking points around the place where the plexus should be, but to no effect. In his true form, Chip wasn’t that easy to down.
“But why did it work when you were a pony?”
“I think it is due to the way our transformation works. We don’t change our form, we make the world see us as somepony else. Even if I have chitin, the world is convinced I do not, and so normally I can be hurt like any other pony. It would be quite silly if I got hurt and there wasn’t a bruise or scar to show for it, right?”
“Yes, true… So we need to understand how your transformation works. In your pony form, normal hand to hand combat is enough. But as a changeling… We’ll have to work out something else.”
“How do you want to do this?” asked Chip, inspecting his open chest. There were tiny crystals already forming in the gap, and before he would wake up tomorrow he would already own a shiny new plate.
“Just stand still and I’ll hook you up to some of my measuring machines!”
Twilight was absolutely beaming as she levitated over some devices with colorful lights, some tapes and wires…
Decorated like a Heart’s Warming Eve tree, Chip was standing in the middle of the room, all sorts of machines buzzing around him, spitting out rolls of papers with diagrams, numbers and Celestia knows what else.
“Okay. This is an Ether Animation Monitor. It will keep track of magical alterations that happen in your body – any kind of shifts, accumulations or usage will be noted on the diagrams with timelines! Isn’t that neat?”
“Yeah… I think so” In fact, Chip didn’t understand a word she said. But the mare was so worked up and happy about it, he just didn’t have the heart to break it for her. Compared to the morning slip up, she was really happy right now, excitement alluring the changeling with its subtle, sweet smell.
“Okay, you can shape shift whenever you’re ready.”
Chip focused and swiftly covered his body in flames, taking on the form of Wub. Strangely, the wires he was attached to were still coupled to his body, and more or less in the same places they were before. The helmet on his head was a bit big now, though. And the lights were irritating…
“Huh. This can’t be right… Something must be… Miscalibrated…” Twilight fiddled with some levers and knobs, mumbling to herself.
“Okay. Let’s try it again. Change, please!”
The colt did as he was told, yet the mare was even more displeased than before. She adjusted some more knobs, flipped some more switches and levitated a heavy, large book to her, furiously flipping pages.
“Give me a second, okay? Something must be broken…”
“Why?” The colt cocked his head, looking at the paper spat out by the machine that had a name that Chip forgot. The diagram consisted of flat lines, or nearly flat ones, with some minor hills and valleys, but almost unnoticeable ones.
“Well, for starters, my Monitor doesn’t show any activity. Only white noise. That is impossible, it is a very delicate instrument… It can detect any kind of magical activity…”
“Then maybe it isn’t broken and I’m not using magic?”
Twilight stopped and raised her head from the tome she was scanning. She smiled and then giggled, waving a hoof at Chip.
“That’s impossible. You clearly are casting a spell. You must be using magic. This thing must be really old and not working as it should. That is the easiest answer.”
“Well, if I’m doing magic, can you change shapes too?” asked the changeling, rising his brow.
“Well, uhm, I bet there’s a spell somewhere that allows me to look like somepony else…”
“Look, maybe yes. But I don’t simply look like another pony. I am another pony. I can get hurt, I can be stunned and have that plexus thingy you hit me in… I don’t wear a pony coat. I am a pony.”
“Well… If it’s not magic, then what is it? What, you’re a chameleon on steroids?”
“What’s a chameleon?” asked Chip. He never heard of such a creature before.
“It’s a lizard that can change the color of its skin to match that of its surroundings.”
“Well, does that lizard use magic to do it?”
“…No. I see where you’re headed, but it is just impossible! This is too complex to simply be a… An attribute of your body!”
“A simpler explanation than looking for a fault in a contraption you said should work perfectly fine.”
Twilight put a hoof to her mouth and thought hard. Could it be possible that changelings wielded such a powerful ability? It would kind of make sense – anypony with magic abilities could feel magic being cast. Changelings are stealthy predators, so they need to be undetectable in a crowd. Which made them a powerful adversary, one that can be anywhere at any time.
The Princess was right. This was a mighty foe that needed to be stopped before he had a chance to strike…
“Okay. Fine,” conceded the mare, sighing. “Let’s pretend for a moment that you indeed are a giant chameleon, capable of not only changing his skin color, but also your guts, bone structure and muscles. How do you do it? How does it feel?”
“… Normal?” tried Chip. He never really gave it much thought. Back at Chrysalis’ lair, when he was still learning magic and shape shifting, he did feel a subtle difference between casting an incantation and changing his body. The former required concentration, mostly around the area of the horn, while the latter… He had to feel it. With his whole self. It belonged to his hive mind. The one that he lost quite some time ago.
“That doesn’t tell me much… Those flames that you burst into obscure much of the transformation. Do you have any control over your shape shifting?”
“I can change into anypony I want…”
“That’s not what I meant… I thought more in the direction of… I don’t know… Doing it slow?” Twilight waved her forehooves around, searching for the right words. “Or not turning into a ball of flames?”
“Huh. I never really tried. I’ll give it a go.”
First time, he went with his reflexes and just changed his form. Embarrassed, he apologized to Twilight, who was staring at him intently, quill, ink and paper at the ready.
The second try, he felt something awkward. He tried to stop his body mid-change, but a surprising wave washed over his body, causing his transformation to complete. He shook it off involuntarily – was that pleasure? It was…
The third try was even more exhilarating. He forcefully made small stops during the transformation, causing ripples of pleasure to go back and forth through his body. He felt warmth in his abdominal area. And he wanted more of it…
“Chip!” shouted Twilight, covering her eyes and turning red.
“What?” gasped Chip, feeling hot. His mind was a mess – he wanted more of that pleasurable feeling. A lot more.
“What in Celestia’s name are you doing?!”
“What… What you asked me to!”
“Well, you can stop now. I don’t want to see this anymore…”
“Oh, but why? It feels so good…”
“I don’t dare doubt that,” mumbled the mare, turning away from the colt. “You can do it all you want when we’re done for the day… Or… Wait… Ugh!!”
“What’s wrong Twilight?” Chip lost that feeling he just had and was very displeased. He had to remember to try slow transformations later on – he had a hunch there was much more to the exciting experience he had just now.
“Just… Let’s just take for granted the fact that changelings can change without the usage of magic.”
Chip had no idea what he did this time, and Twilight stubbornly refused to return to the subject. Hay, she didn’t even want to look him in the eye anymore, blushing or turning away as he looked at her. She even tore the page that she was making a drawing on, claiming that it “didn’t belong in a professional document that anypony could read.”
“Okay, so you are a perfect shape shifter,” concluded Twilight, putting the last bunch of cables back where they belonged. “How do you identify each other then?”
“We can smell eachother.”
“How? Wouldn’t a smell be obvious to other ponies?”
“Not this kind of smell. Only changelings can detect it… I think. Try sniffing now.”
Twilight inhaled cautiously, but couldn’t feel a thing. Chip in the meantime let loose a small dose of pheromones. His nose picked them up right away – it was a heavy aroma, indicating a male changeling. His eyes even kind of saw a yellowish mist spread across the room – it was a visual representation on the identificator, brought into view by his senses doing their magic in his body.
“I can’t feel anything. Only dust.”
“Exactly,” smiled Chip. “I’d be heavily surprised if you could feel it. After all, changelings work in the field, mostly. They need to be able to identify each other without being noticed. Just like with the shape shifting.”
The librarian was noting the words down, when a knock came from upstairs.
“Who’s there?” asked Twilight, covering her eyes from the green flame Chip used to disguise himself as Wub again.
“It’s me, Spike. Open up, Twi!”
“Why does the sun travel across the sky?” intoned Chip.
“Oh, will you give it a rest?” chuckled Twilight, going up the stairs.
“No, this is important. Don’t you dare open that door until… Ugh!”
The colt scowled, eyeing Spike as he entered the room.
“I have a message from Rarity Twi… Oh my! What is that beautiful smell!”
Twilight had a confused expression as the baby dragon sniffed around her.
“New perfume or something? Wow, it’s really great! ”
“Spike, you know full well I don’t use…” She paused, suddenly realizing something. “Come down here, Spike. You have to tell us something…”
Together, the two approached Chip, who was still unhappy that his safety protocol was breached so carelessly.
“Wub, would you mind doing what you just did again?”
“It’s too late to ask for a password…”
“No, not that! The smell thing... Give out your smell!”
The changeling shrugged and let out another puff of yellow smoke. Spike instantly caught on, sniffing around the colt, eyes wide.
“Well well… Hehe… Too bad you’re such an ugly monster beneath that pretty pony skin… Oww! Twi, what was that for?!”
The baby dragon was massaging his head while Twilight was making notes. Dragons could smell the changeling pheromones. That was definitely valuable information.
The trio soon enough decided it was time for some dinner. Chip was talked into having a meal with them instead of looking through the notes they had, which was quite a solid pile of paper by now. And it was only two days of work, go figure!
At the table, Spike finally got over the smell he kept describing as subtle, beautiful or even lovely. He chowed down on some hay fries with eggs when a sudden realization fell upon him. He quickly chewed and swallowed.
“Twilight, oh hay feathers… I totally forgot!”
“What is it Spike?”
“Rarity… I told her you were busy with your work and all… And she said it was okay.”
“That’s good to hear,” smiled the mare, wiping her face with a handkerchief.
“Well… She also said that the show doesn’t have to be at Carousel Boutique. She wanted all her friends to see it so… She said she would bring the piece over to the Library!”
Spike duck under the table just in time to dodge a stream of coffee spraying from Twilight’s mouth. Chip was amused at the stains on his coat, looking down deadpan.
“I’m sorry, Twi! She didn’t want to listen to me! She told the rest of the guys to be here at six!”
“Six?! That’s.. That’s in thirty minutes! What took you so long to tell me?!”
“I’m sorry! Please don’t be mad! I stayed a bit longer at Rarity’s and then totally forgot to tell you when we were downstairs…”
“Other ponies are coming over?” asked Chip. “Twilight Sparkle, we can’t have that… What if somepony-”
“I know, I know! They’ll definitely ask why I was so busy that I couldn’t come over! And I’ll have nothing to show them to prove I was really busy! They’ll think I’m making up excuses. That I don’t like them, that our friendship isn’t important to me! And then, and then-”
“Twi, stop working yourself up again!” spoke up Spike, shaking the mare violently. “They’re coming over, that’s a fact. We have twenty minutes to get ready.”
“Yes, yes, of course! We have to clean up!” Twilight nearly ran out of the room, followed by the baby dragon.
Chip was stumped. He got totally ignored. Ponies, other ponies that he didn’t know, were coming over. They were dangerously close to him, and to their research.
“Twilight!” yelled the colt, standing in the kitchen door frame. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“What?... Ohmygosh! You’re totally right! Snacks! Spike, quick, run to the store and buy-”
“No, not that!” interrupted the colt, impatiently tapping his hoof. “Our research perhaps? I’m not thrilled to have other ponies this close to so many pages that are classified and for our eyes only.”
“Oh, that, yes… Umm, we’ll just close the door?”
“What if they’ll want to enter?”
“They won’t trust me. I’ll just tell them it’s a mess in there and there’s nothing interesting in there anyway.”
“… And they’ll take your word on that? Just like that?”
“Well, yeah, why not?”
Chip pondered for a minute. If they were friends, then why not? Still, somepony like himself wouldn’t mind dirt. It was a poor excuse in his eyes.
“I’ll be inside then. I’ll close the doors and not open them unless I hear the passcode this time. And I’m not joking.”
“Okay, okay, fine, do what you want! Feathers, only 15 minutes left! Where is Spike!”
Back at the laboratory, Chip looked thought the new pages Twilight Sparkle populated with words, diagrams and images. The language she used was very fancy, most of it words the changeling only mildly understood. Not only did the pony learn a lot – the colt himself was facing questions he never asked himself before, even when he was wondering about his own kind.
There was so much he didn’t know about his body it was strange. He lived inside himself for all his life, and yet this whole slow shape shifting was a total surprise to him. Would he ever have discovered it if he worked with Chrysalis? Did she herself know about this intriguing attribute? Chip would ask her about it one day. Maybe even teach her a few tricks. Yeah, number 52 would definitely help his Queen relax. And it would be okay to do it to her, because… Because he still loved her. His mother. Queen Chrysalis.