The underground tunnel system the heroes now found themselves in was a tad unsettling, to say the least. The walls were coated in some sort of luminescent slimy green substance, and translucent cocoon-like sacks of what they could only assume was the very same slime hung from the ceiling at uneven intervals, like a set of insect-inspired lanterns. The glow all this goo gave off bathed them all in its sickly green glow, which gave them the same sort of haunting, otherworldly appearance.
Rarity, of course, was put off by the place more than everyone else. She absolutely refused to walk through the various puddles of slime that littered the ground, so the group was forced to navigate around it. This wasn’t to say they were gung-ho about swimming in the stuff themselves; nobody really wanted to touch it.
Occasionally, they came across wide crevices filled with rivers of the stuff, though thankfully Rainbow Dash was able to fly Mario over these pits, whereupon he could knock over a convenient stalagmite or slab of stone to form a bridge for everyone else.
Unusually, though, there didn’t seem to be anyone or anything about, despite evidence of recent activity within the slime about the place. Whatever occupied these caverns obviously preferred to dwell deeper within.
Eventually, the group came to a rather wide chamber. They all looked around, but there was no sign of Big Macintosh anywhere, which worried the group.
“Where in the hay is he?” Applejack asked.
“I’m not sure,” Twilight replied. “I’m positive that this is the only possible route that he could have taken, and this is where the route stops.”
Every stood silent for a while, pondering the conundrum, and that was when they heard a deep rumbling sound. Looking around, they saw the source of the noise.
In the light of the slime, it would be mistaken for normal rock at a passing glance. However, its true nature was revealed with a more focused look. Sitting erect, blocking a passageway, was a creature of living stone, a Whomp. For the moment, it seemed to be sleeping.
The group approached it, and Twilight tentatively tapped it with her hoof. “Um… excuse me, sir?”
The Whomp remained undisturbed. Everyone seemed to be at a loss for what to do, and for a moment, everyone simply stared at it. However, Luigi eventually stepped forward, and after a moment of thought, promptly smacked its face with his mallet.
Immediately, the Whomp’s pitch black eyes shot open. “Abuduh… whuh?” The stone slab sputtered. “What’s going on?! Who are you all?!”
As the Whomp boomed, Luigi immediately darted behind his brother. Twilight decided to step forward and talk to the beast. “Um… hello sir, my name is Twilight Sparkle. We think a friend of ours might have gone by here, and we need to get by.”
The Whomp stared down at Twilight, and gave a hearty guffaw. “Hah! As if! You think I’m dumb? You just want my choice sleepin’ spot!”
“Your sleeping spot?” Rainbow Dash said.
“Yeah!” the Whomp said. “Everybody knows that tunnel entrances are the best places to take a nap. That way you don’t have to sleep on your face, where everybody can walk all over you, and there’s always a cool draft to soothe your achin’ back… point is, I ain’t movin’! It took me ages to find this spot, and I’m not movin’ just so you and go and take it!”
“That’s ridiculous!” Rarity said. “Why on earth would we want to take a nap in the middle a slimy cave, on the dirty ground?”
“Hey, you know what this ground’s made of?” The Whomp said. After some confused looks, the Whomp slammed his stone hand on the ground. “That there’s granite! Coziest rock in the world, right after marble!”
“Look, mah brother is in there,” Applejack shouted. “We ain’t tryin’ to take your nappin’ spot, we just need t’get through this tunnel, so move before we put the hurt on ya!”
“Ha!” The Whomp laughed again. “You? Put the hurt on me? A pack of puny ponies and a pair of portly plumbers?”
Pinkie giggled at the Whomp’s comment. “Haha! I love alliteration! Smooth sentence structure with similar sounds slipped in slyly!”
Everyone looked at Pinkie for a moment, before the Whomp spoke up again. “Anyway, I ain’t movin’, so beat it!”
It was then that Fluttershy stepped forward. She shuffled her hooves nervously. “Please… we really need to get through… our friend is in there, and we need to find him before he gets hurt…”
“The cute little pony junk doesn’t work on me,” The Whomp said. “Now get out of here, before I really get steamed."
Fluttershy clenched her eyes shut, and her legs started to shake. “Oh no… please, I don’t want to have to do this to you… please, move, it’s for your own good…”
The Whomp just laughed. “Oooh, I’m really scared!”
“Please… just move… please…” Fluttershy whimpered.
Suddenly, Fluttershy’s eyes shot open, and she lifted herself of the ground, and right up to the Whomp’s face. She stared intensely into the Whomp’s eyes, nay, his very soul. “Now you listen here, mister!” Fluttershy scolded. “We need to get through right now, our friend is in there and he might be hurt, and all you care about is your precious sleeping spot? Shame on you!”
The Whomp was at a loss for words, as he merely cowered under Fluttershy’s Stare. “Now, you stand up right this minute, and move over, so my friends and I can pass, understand.”
The Whomp scrambled to its feet, stammering. “Y-y-y-y-y-y-y-yes ma’am!” It shuffled sideways in a panicked fashion, the passage becoming open to the group.
Fluttershy calmed down as the Whomp stepped aside. “Oh, I’m sorry I had to do that,” she promptly apologized. “But thank you for moving for us, we really appreciate it.”
“N-n-n-no problem…” The Whomp said, clearly still afraid of Fluttershy. “I-i-it’s my pleasure, really!”
Fluttershy patted the Whomp on top of its head with her hoof, and touched back down to follow the group through. The Whomp watched her go through, and sighed with relief.
“Geeze, now there’s someone you don’t wanna meet in a dark alley…”
The tunnels were more treacherous as they continued onward, and for good reason. They soon discovered what exactly it was that was occupying the caves.
Evidently the group had happened across the Changeling hive. The creatures were scattered about practically everywhere, and they didn’t take kindly to the group being there. Battles were something of a confusing affair, as they attempted to confuse Mario and Luigi by taking on the appearance of either brother, or their pony companions. However, it wasn’t enough to stop them, and any opposition they met was dealt with promptly.
After a long and treacherous excavation, they found themselves in front of a pair of high doors, which bore resemblance to the cocoons that lined the walls. Like the cocoons, the doors were translucent, and everyone peered through them, trying to see what was going on inside.
“It seems like there’s a lot more Changelings in there…” Twilight said in a hushed tone. “There’s a lot of black shapes…”
“Do you think that Queen of theirs is in there?” Rarity asked. “The one that disguised herself a Princess Cadence and had her swarm invade Canterlot?”
“Well, it’s not out of the question…” Twilight said. “I think there’s a slightly taller shape in there that could be her… hold on a second… I think there’s someone else in there… I think it’s Big Macintosh!”
“You think so?” Applejack said. She peered through the door intently, and she could make out a reddish shape amidst the sea of black. “It is him! But how’re we gonna get in there an’ get him out?”
“Well...” Twilight began to think. “…Maybe I could put some sort of invisibility spell on us, and we could sneak in without them seeing us…” As Twilight pondered their next course of action, a thought occurred to Rainbow Dash.
“Hey, if we can see them through the doors,” Rainbow said. “Then what’s to stop them from seeing us?”
The group suddenly fell completely silent, and they realized that the same had occurred on the other side of the doors as well.
“This isn’t good…” Twilight said.
“Guards, could you please open the doors so that our unexpected guests might join us?” said a voice on the other side. It was at that moment that the large double doors opened, and the heroes could clearly see who was on the other side. As expected, there were hundreds of Changelings lining either side of the wide hall, and standing up on some sort of stage was none other than the Queen of the Changelings herself. Standing a few feet away from her was Big Macintosh, evidently in some sort of trance. Everyone backed up a step, in something of an attempt to escape, but they were promptly stopped by several Changelings moving behind them. At this point, there was no option but to move forward, into the wide chamber.
“Well, if it isn’t Twilight Sparkle and her little friends,” Queen Chrysalis said. “It’s been some time since the wedding, how is your brother?”
“Can it!” Applejack shouted. “What’d you do to mah brother?”
“Right to it, are we?” Chrysalis said. “Very well then. After the little incident in Canterlot, my swarm and I had to come up with some other form of sustenance. We began to look into other pony colonies to infiltrate, and we discovered that our hive was no more than a stone’s throw from a sleepy little town just outside the Everfree forest.”
“Sleepy little town…” Rarity said. “You’re talking about Ponyville, aren’t you?”
“Ah, so you know of it,” Chrysalis said with an evil smirk.
“’Course we know about it!” Applejack shouted. “That’s our home!”
“Really?” Chrysalis said. “I wasn’t aware of that…” She seemed to be telling the truth, but the news seemed to please her. “Well, we would have come to… greet you sooner, but we’ve had a bit of trouble actually getting Changelings into town.”
“And why’s that?” Twilight said. As the conversation was going on, Luigi had slipped away from the group and was currently trying to sneak through the crowd of Changelings. It was fairly obvious to everyone what he was doing, but they simply chose to ignore him.
“Because everypony knows each other too well in Ponyville!” Chrysalis said, momentarily looking upset. “There’s nothing better to a Changeling than somepony that nobody knows much about. It makes it so much easier to blend in without anypony noticing. Of course, there’s no such luck with your town.” By now, Luigi had managed to work his way to the front of the crowd, and was trying to climb up onto the stage.
“So without being able to enter Ponyville to feed on the citizens’ love, our swarm was sure to starve… until a short while ago,” Chrysalis’s bad mood had subsided, and returned to a devilish grin.
“You still ain’t told me what happened t’Big Macintosh!” Applejack said. Luigi had managed to get onto the stage, and was now trying to push the large red stallion away from Chrysalis. He had no such luck though, as Big Macintosh stood strong.
“Well, you see, earlier this morning, a pair of our scouts discovered a pair of very interesting changes in the Everfree Forest.” Chrysalis said. “Firstly, the Everfree Forest had expanded into some sort of apple farm-“
“MAH farm,” Applejack said bitterly.
“Your farm?” Chrysalis repeated. “Hm. Another little happy coincidence. Anyway, the forest had expanded, and one of the forest’s rivers had changed. The liquid in it had changed from water to what we’ve identified to be love poison.”
“Love poison?!” Twilight said. She had a fairly good idea where this was going.
“Yes, love poison,” Chrysalis. “The very same love poison our ancestors had created in a desperate attempt to feed their starving hive. As I’m sure you all know, a long time ago, a pony prince had given the poison to a princess, in an attempt to make her fall in love with him.”
“Of course,” Twilight said. “It’s how Hearts and Hooves Day was created.”
“Ah yes, Hearts and Hooves Day,” Chrysalis said. “My hive really does love that day, it’s so easy to get a good meal. Well, what history may have left out was that the prince hadn’t made the poison himself. He instead purchased it from a disguised Changeling. They plotted to force the prince and princess to fall in love, and then exploit it by disguising as the Princess and invading the kingdom on their wedding day.”
“Boy, Changelings sure get points for originality,” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes.
“Well, when we discovered the River of Love, as we’ve named it,” Chrysalis said. “We promptly began harvesting it and storing it. We very nearly have enough to move on with our plan.”
“Your plan?” Twilight asked.
“Of course,” Chrysalis said, beginning to pace around. “After a bit of testing, we discovered that the artificial love created by the love poison can nourish a Changeling almost as well as true love.” She stopped in front of Big Macintosh, staring down at Luigi. The tired out plumber looked up at Chrysalis, and promptly scurried away. Smirking as Luigi hurried off, she returned her attention to Big Macintosh. “Isn’t that right, dear?”
Big Macintosh grinned up at Chrysalis deliriously. “I love you, my little monkey-wunky-puddin’ pie…”
“Yes, of course you do,” Chrysalis said. As she turned back to the heroes, a thin, green whispy trail came out from Big Macintosh’s chest and was drawn in to Chrysalis’s horn.
It was all Applejack could do to stop herself from jumping up on stage. “You slipped Big Macintosh some o’that love posion junk?!” she shouted, enraged.
“He was trespassing, much like you all are now,” Chrysalis said. “At least now he’s making himself useful to our cause.”
“Anyway, as your brother has so kindly demonstrated for us,” Chrysalis continued. “Love poison works just as well as the real thing. And, it has the pleasant by-product of allowing us to cloud a pony’s mind enough to easily disguise ourselves as them without causing suspicion. All we have to do now is spread the love poison among the citizens of Ponyville, and we’ll be able to feed and feed until we have enough power to move on to the next city, and so on until we take over all of Equestria!”
”So that’s your plan,” Twilight said. “Why are you telling us this so readily?”
“I thought it’d be obvious,” Chrysalis laughed. “You all are going to bring the poison into Ponyville for us!”
“Ha! As if we’d do that!” Rainbow Dash said.
“Perhaps I misspoke,” Chrysalis said. She turned to the crowd of Changelings. “You six, come here!” Six Changelings separated themselves from the crowd, and came up onto the stage. “Now then, as I was saying, you’ll bringing it into Ponyville for us… at least, that’s what it will look like.” On cue, the six Changelings took the forms of Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie. “Now then, I fear I haven’t been a good host, so while they deliver the poison for you, you’re all free to stay and relax here. Perhaps you all would care for a drink?”
The crowd turned to face the eight heroes, and several came out, a few carrying stone cups filled with some sort of pink liquid; the love poison. The heroes fought their way out of their would-be captor’s arms, and rushed the stage, leaping up to face the Queen on more even footing.
“You ain’t gonna poison mah town, missy!” Applejack said. “An’ I sure as shoot ain’t gonna let you get away with poisonin’ mah brother!” The six ponies lined up behind Mario and Luigi, who struck battle ready poses.
“Well, if you aren’t going to help give me more power,” Chrysalis said, with her own six ponies lined up behind her, “Then I suppose there isn’t much use keeping you all here.” She stepped forward, her horn glowing green, and the trail between it and Big Macintosh intensifying.
“Go get ‘em, sugarlump!” Big Macintosh called out, in his love poison-addled stupor.
“Hey! Just whose side ‘re you on, Big Macintosh?” Applejack shouted.
Chrysalis merely chuckled. “Don’t worry, dearest, I won’t let you down!” she called mockingly. She then charged forward as Mario and Luigi leapt into battle.