“And you saw how quickly they turned against me, after all the sacrifices I have made for them,” Chrysalis concluded wryly, “so what they deserve is relative.”
Celestia could feel the ground slipping away underneath her, almost overcome with the urge to grab hooffuls of her own mane, clinging onto anything she could. She needed time to adjust her thinking to the new knowledge about changeling natures, but she had none. Chrysalis might never be as receptive again; if there were anything Celestia could do, she had to do it right now.
“I will reach out to them,” she blurted, not knowing if she’d actually be able to do anything to help, but certain she had to try. “Offer the love they need, if they cannot sustain themselves on their own.”
And at that, Chrysalis froze. All traces of the haughty, scheming changeling queen vanished, replaced with a blank face and a mouth hanging open. Her wide eyes were locked on Celestia, unblinking. After a couple of seconds, Chrysalis recovered, but spoke haltingly as she leaned in.
“W-would you, would you really do that for them?” she asked in a breathy voice, edging closer on the bed to Celestia. Chrysalis covered her mouth with a hoof, and then spoke more quickly, disbelief in her tone giving way to wild hope. “Now they’re in their adult forms, they’ll only live about ten years, even with plenty of food, and they can’t reproduce,” she babbled. “So it would only need to be temporary.”
Then she caught herself again, holding her breath and giving Celestia an earnest look. Chrysalis’ face by that point had drawn to within hoofwidths of Celestia’s own. “And I would owe you the biggest favour in history, for not letting my children die.”
“Of course we would,” Celestia said without hesitation. She could already picture the strange looks she’d get, helping those who had so recently been enemies, but if Thorax and his people were in need of aid, Equestria would provide it. It would have been easier had they eaten pony food, but love was what they ate, so love they would have to have.
“I don’t have much to offer in return,” Chrysalis said softly, looking down at the bed and pulling back a little. “Not at the moment. Once I rebuild a new hive, then–”
“I can think of one thing,” Celestia interrupted gently. Revelation after revelation queued up in her head waiting to be processed, but the most recent one, that Chrysalis would put such stock in whoever might offer to help her children, might have put hope back on the table, and that couldn’t be left not acted upon.
Very slowly, Chrysalis straightened upright again. There was a tight look around her eyes that Celestia interpreted as sad, but also hard. There might have been shame in there, perhaps, or fear, she couldn’t quite tell.
“I will not lay down my life,” Chrysalis said. Celestia heard reluctance, but also unwavering resolve. “I am the mother of my race, and it will die without me. I cannot allow that to happen.” She paused to swallow. “Ten years of happiness are not worth infinities of extinction.” Celestia noticed guilt in Chrysalis’ expression, too, at the thought of those she would be abandoning. “If you want that, you’ll have to catch me first.”
Chrysalis leapt backwards off the bed, landing on her hooves and flaring her wings. A green glow immediately appeared around her horn. She looked like her heart wasn’t quite in it, but that she was determined to fight her way out anyway.
Celestia remained where she sat, trying not to show her alarm, but reasonably confident she could placate Chrysalis before the situation grew out of hand. Celestia could understand defensiveness and suspicion, but that had been quite a conclusion for Chrysalis to leap to. Celestia patiently watched Chrysalis, saying nothing, only wishing that she had some tea to sip while doing so.
“That wasn’t it,” she said calmly. And she understood Chrysalis’ decision, too. However hard it must have been to doom her own children, a leader had to put their subjects as a whole first. In this case, that meant Chrysalis’ unborn future changelings over Thorax’s extant ones, which was an unusual situation, but Celestia knew that any monarch worth their salt would have made the same decision.
Wincing, Chrysalis’ ears turned red as the green glow around her horn fizzled out.
“Then, what?” she asked sheepishly, shuffling her hooves before looking away.
Celestia gestured with her muzzle, pointing at the spot on the bed Chrysalis had been occupying, and smiling encouragingly. In as low-key a manner as she could, Chrysalis returned to her former spot, her face still flushed, rubbing the back of her neck before settling down.
“You will build a new hive, yes, once they’re gone?” said Celestia. She perked up where she sat as she asked, tapping a hoof to her lips while thinking.
“Yes,” Chrysalis answered, unsure of the purpose of the question. Her brow furrowed slightly, puzzled where Celestia might be leading the conversation to.
“And,” Celestia kept her tone neutral, “you will raise the next generation of changelings to be just as cruel as the last?” Her mouth had gone dry at the thought, but she made sure not to wrinkle her brow.
“Probably more so,” Chrysalis replied evenly. She showed no outward signs of what she was feeling, and her voice held neither sadness or pride. “I think it will give them the best odds of survival.”
And there’s a very good chance you’re right. Chrysalis absolutely believed so, that much was obvious. Celestia couldn’t trust her own opinions on the matter: when they weren’t influenced by what loving ponies would do in that situation, they were too wrapped up in what it would mean for Equestria.
That was a debate for another time. Celestia would have to set things up for now, and consider them as she went. There’d be plenty of opportunity to think it through from all angles once the initial arrangements were in place.
“Do you have to start now?” she asked, feeling her breath hitch. “Or can you leave some time before starting a new breeding cycle?”
Chrysalis arched an eyebrow, and Celestia realised that it might have been quite a personal question. It was a necessary one, however, that she couldn’t have moved forwards without asking. Chrysalis didn’t look indignant, though, more like mystified.
“...I can,” she said, sounding bemused.
Celestia bit her lip, noticing the sweat on her forelegs, and picking up on how acute her senses suddenly felt. She would not let her eyes flick to the exit. She would not! Instead she closed them and took a deep, steadying breath, then opened them again and fixed her gaze on Chrysalis.
Ok, moment of truth. Go for it.
“Then stay with me,” she said simply. She didn’t need to struggle for her voice to sound open, or fight down her nerves, that all happened by itself, and she found there was a clarity in the moment. “Take a century off to spend with me here, in the palace.” She smiled, feeling almost weightless, and arched an eyebrow of her own. “You said you wanted company.”
Chrysalis didn’t say anything or give much of an outward reaction, but she smiled and pursed her lips. There was a calculating look, a slight narrowing of her eyes, but the smile never faded. Celestia took that to be the best response she could have wished for, under the circumstances.
“You’re thinking you can win me over,” Chrysalis said shrewdly. It wasn’t a question.
Using subterfuge on a changeling is a bad idea, especially if I’m hoping to teach her openness and honesty.
“I think if you live among the sheep,” Celestia said with a playful grin, borrowing Chrysalis’ metaphor, “you might be more reluctant to go back to feeding on them.”
“Changelings have to eat,” Chrysalis reminded her, but at least sounded more amused than disparaging, as her lips pressed together into a fine line.
“But that food could be freely given, without you having to steal it,” Celestia implored, rushing, with a fluttering in her stomach.
“You would make us your pets, utterly dependent on you for love, and helpless should you withhold it.”
Was that how it looked from the other side? In a way it was nice to think that changelings had a deeper reason than mutual distrust for not simply asking ponies to love them. They were unwilling to put themselves in such a position of subservience. How could Celestia offer them some self-worth, making them slightly less co-dependent?
“If love is only a resource to you, then it would be no different to a basic bartering system,” she said, “exchanging food for whatever services you could provide.” And once she’d said it, Celestia realised she had no idea if changeling society had any form of currency, insectoid as it was. Then she remembered that Chrysalis had had no trouble fitting in amongst ponies as Cadence, and she and Shining Armor had always kept tight-lipped about exactly how long that had gone on for, so the idea would likely not be foreign to her after such immersion in pony society.
“But we would still be at your mercy,” Chrysalis said pointedly, rolling her eyes. “You’d be able to set whatever price you wanted, because we couldn’t survive refusing it.”
Hmmm. That was hard to argue with. Celestia looked off to one side, eyes lowering and darting around studying nothing as she tried to consider the problem. Ponies could grow their own food, but changelings could never hope to be so independent. Nothing they could offer ponies would ever be needed in the same way as love was for them, and so the imbalance couldn’t be countered.
“Then we will have a century to work out the details,” she smiled, straightening her spine from where she had hunched over in thought, and feeling the lightness in her chest as she pushed it out confidently. Given enough time, all problems could be solved. Time was something she had. Chrysalis too.
“But even if, after that, you leave and continue just as before,” she pressed on, “a hundred years without me having to worry about another changeling invasion will have been welcome.” There would be other threats, of course, but the changelings had presented a unique challenge since Equestria had become aware of their existence, requiring all manner of anti-deception spells. None of which had reliably worked, but they still had served some purpose, reassuring the populace.
They had not been cheap, though. Being able to do away with them would definitely be a boon.
“And you’d have me here, as your guest?” Chrysalis asked, narrowing her eyes and jutting her chin out sceptically, but it came across as good-natured. “Perhaps in some official function, an ambassador to a nation that no longer exists?”
“Something like that, if you’d like,” Celestia nodded, breathing easily. In the meantime, until such appointments were made, Chrysalis would probably need to remain as Celestia’s personal guest. Happily, the private guest rooms of the palace were every bit as lavish as the state rooms, so Chrysalis ought to have nothing to complain about.
Chrysalis chuckled and lifted a hoof to her mouth, trying to stifle her laughter, but not trying that hard, and looking around the room in mock-innocence at anything but Celestia.
Moving only her eyebrows, Celestia sent Chrysalis a ‘something funny?’ look.
“How would Princess Cadence take that, I wonder?” Chrysalis grinned. Her eyes twinkled mischievously, not taking the situation nearly seriously enough. But Celestia struggled to hold her decorum, too. To an immortal, any day worth remembering would ultimately end up being thought of fondly. And she’d been struck down in her own throne room!
“That was quite a while ago,” she said with a knowing look. “I doubt she was too happy to see you again, especially via abduction” – she frowned for a moment – “but you probably need not fear for your safety.” She tried to keep the rosiness from her face as she confided, “I happen to know that now the trauma of the incident has passed, the Princess of Love is quite proud of having a wedding nopony will ever forget.”
Was it the jaded indifference of immortal perspective to find herself smiling about the whole thing with the very creature who had done the striking? Or could it be the first sign of friendship?
“Then she’ll love Flurry Heart’s cute-ceañera,” Chrysalis cackled, and Celestia chortled despite herself. She probably ought to warn Cadence about that one...
“Since you mention love, and that occasion,” Chrysalis continued once they had both regained their composure, rubbing her sides, which ached from laughing too hard, “you know I’d need to eat while staying here.”
Celestia had already thought of that. She cleared her throat and looked uncomfortable, although probably not for the reasons Chrysalis might have guessed. This would need handling delicately.
“I don’t mean to rub your face in it,” she said, “but love is a luxury I can afford.” She made an effort not to shuffle her hooves in front of her. “And I have plenty of it to spare.”
Would the platonic love of a friend be enough to sustain Chrysalis? And how quickly could those feelings be developed? Celestia wasn’t sure how drained being fed on would leave her, but attempting to bring peace to relations with Chrysalis and the changelings would be worth substantial sacrifice.
“You would love me?” Chrysalis smirked.
Well somepony’s got to. And I don’t see any others lining up.
Chrysalis looked like she’d just been handed the keys to the kingdom. Nothing was impossible, Celestia reminded herself, so there was the tiniest chance that when future historians looked back on this moment, that was exactly what they would conclude to have transpired. “I, who, only a few minutes ago, you looked ready to strike down for tyranny?”
Maybe the answer was to look only at Chrysalis’ good traits. She was loyal to her race as a whole, if not individual members of it, or even individual generations of it, ensuring its survival at their expense if that was what it took. Kindness and generosity were present in her dedication, if not her manner. Honesty was out entirely, of course, but, between raw power matching Celestia’s own, bringing down Shining Armor’s shield, and that throne of hers, Chrysalis had proven herself with magic time and time again. And laughter? She had that down to a tee.
Outside of the Elemental virtues, Chrysalis had ambition, determination, and the toughness to weather the centuries on her own, at least until now. She was audacious enough to kidnap every important political figure in Equestria in one go. She even had a great singing voice.
And she was clever. Celestia had been devastated after the wedding to realise how harshly she’d treated Twilight, who had been right all along, of course, but she’d grudgingly had to respect Chrysalis’ masterful plan to drive a wedge between the six bearers of the Elements, manipulating people she’d never met before.
“I’ll try,” Celestia said levelly, biting the inside of her cheek. There was no denying the adventure Chrysalis always brought with her when she entered the picture, where at the time ponies, Celestia included, would only see danger. That kind of thrill ride only worked when mortal peril was present, which Chrysalis saw as something of a speciality.
“Maybe it’ll encourage you to start acting more lovably,” Celestia teased.
“And here we are with the pet thing again,” Chrysalis drawled, shaking her head indignantly before crossing her forehooves and looking away, scowling. All done in a way Celestia knew wasn’t really meant.
There was definitely a sense of fun about Chrysalis, a mischievousness and unpredictability that only came from somepony who wasn’t necessarily going to do the right thing.
“All I’m saying,” Celestia said lightly with a grin, “is that being difficult to love might not work in your favour.” She wanted to give Chrysalis a playful nudge, especially when facing the feigned indignation, but restrained herself. Soon, if all went well, they would actually have the kind of bond between them where such behaviour would be acceptable, even encouraged. But not yet. “You evolved yourself to be cruel, can you reverse it?”
The circumstances were unique, but ‘evolved’ was absolutely the word. Chrysalis had been shaped into something different by natural selection, her nature changed over time into whatever form gave her children the best chance of survival.
“That’s not a good idea,” Chrysalis said after a hard swallow, giving the answer Celestia had mostly expected to hear. “It’s taken me a long time to get to this state, backtracking would not serve the changelings well.”
I wonder what she used to be like, once upon a time. And how the Chrysalis from back then would think of her modern self being so reluctant to let go of malicious attributes she might once have found horrendous.
Clearly, Chrysalis was taking the consideration seriously. Her reply, as well as the tension in her shoulders, said that she knew what would be at stake, and would not risk it without very good reason. But it also suggested that Chrysalis at least thought such a change possible, rather than her being too locked into her ways to turn back.
And that’s it, then. That’s my mission. To prove to her how much she could stand to benefit, and find a way together for us to make it work. It would be in Chrysalis’ personal interest, with Celestia’s affection for her presumably growing with each step away from cruelty, and it would mean a more comfortable life for her people. But it did threaten their independence, and maybe in the end their survival, if no solution were found. One hundred years to find some compatibility, some way to coexist, with the terrifying changeling queen.
“If you see it that way, perhaps,” Celestia smiled serenely, feeling warmth radiating throughout her body. “But you could look at it as taking some time off from the endless cycle of death and rebirth, to enjoy the company of another immortal.” She struggled very hard not to reach out and touch Chrysalis, with how euphoric she was feeling. Her horn wasn’t glowing, but she wondered if she might all the same be subconsciously making the sun bounce up and down happily in the sky. “A holiday, if you will.”
Chrysalis gave her an appraising look, moving her head this way and that, studying closely with a piercing gaze as if the answers she sought could literally be seen in Celestia’s eyes. For a long time Chrysalis sat there opposite Celestia on the bed, biting her lip as she weighed the options.
And then, during a conversation in which Celestia had had to rethink her opinion on Chrysalis again and again, realising how wrong she’d been for years about various things, came her biggest surprise yet. Haltingly, nervously and with great uncertainty, Chrysalis leaned forwards, stretched out her forehooves and wrapped them around Celestia, enveloping her in a hug.
Celestia barely had the presence of mind to respond in kind, trying not to start shaking from the shock of it as her heart hammered away. Not letting go, Chrysalis rested her head on Celestia’s shoulder, thoughtfully on the opposite side to her flowing mane, and Celestia did the same, slowly closing her eyes.
“I’ll give it some thought,” Chrysalis said quietly in her ear.