Pinkie’s ears were ringing, and all she could see was pitch black - she tried to get up, but her body was not listening. In the distance, she could hear a muffled mix of rumble, screams, and conversation - all jumbled up, and confusing.
“Come on! We need to get out of here!”
“...we can’t… the shield!”
BAM … BAM … BAM
“...evacuate the princess and the element bearers!”
BAM … BAM … BAM
“Too many of them! We need to…”
“Cadance watch out!”
… … ...
“Excellent job my child.”
“Huh…?” Pinkie slowly opened her eyes, her eyelids felt as heavy as iron bricks, and her body was hurting all over. When her vision adjusted, it was the same story all over again - she was in a dungeon, chained to the wall - except this time the rest of mane six, as well as Shining, Cadance, and even Flurry Heart were there as well - with Chrysalis looming over them.
The other Pinkie was sitting next to her, the only noticeable difference, was that the fur of her 'counterpart' was relatively intact, while hers was covered with burn marks - no doubt due to the magic she was exposed to earlier. “Oh, this is just excellent! Perfect plan and execution - wouldn’t you agree my child?” Chrysalis said with a grin, looking at both pink mares. “Ha! You are just perfect! Even I can’t tell you apart.”
As everypony was processing what she said, one of the changelings reported that the shield was restored. “Huh? Restored? What happened?” the burned Pinkie asked.
The Queen gently lifted her chin, so they were looking eye to eye. “My dear, you… or you,” she pointed to the other Pinkie, “made it collapse - finally allowing us to invade. After their precious shield was gone, we took over in less than an hour-”
“I knew you were behind all this!” Pinkie took a swing at the Queen, but the chains didn’t allow her hoof to move far enough - Chrysalis only smiled at the futile attempt.
“I don’t understand…” Twilight said. “There is no way a changeling could pass through the new shield...”
"Finally you are correct on something princess. Indeed, normal changelings - myself sadly included - were blocked by your little contraption,” Chrysalis rubbed her chin. “It took a lot of effort, but I managed to breed a new changeling that cannot be stopped by the barrier. She not only looks the same, can perfectly mimic body capabilities, weaknesses, and composition - but most of all, she has the same memories as the person she replaces. That’s why we captured your little friend - her memories were copied to my subject-”
“Wait-wait-wait!” the burned Pinkie interrupted. “Are you saying one of us is a changeling and doesn’t even knows about it?!”
“Exactly! You see... when I learned that the element of laughter will attend that ridiculous 'dessert competition' we put the plan into motion... All we had to do was to capture and replace her before she reached the Empire, then wait for Celestia and the element bearers to use the power of the Crystal Heart on you."
“But… you said changelings couldn’t pass through the barrier,” Twilight interrupted, “how did you intend to get the captured Pinkie inside?”
Chrysalis chuckled, “I didn’t.”
Twilight gulped slowly. “A..are you saying-”
“My dear princess, you and the rest of your little gang are extremely predictable. I knew that if I let Shining Armor ‘accidentally’ rescue the other Pinkie, we would be your first suspect, but thanks to the amnesia spell she didn't remember who captured her so you couldn't be sure, and since my changeling was so convincing that none of you could tell her apart, it was obvious Celestia would want to investigate before reacting.”
“But that’s just silly…” the burned Pinkie interrupted again, “couldn’t she just zap both of us with her magic to reveal which one is the changeling?”
"Oh, but she did. Remember your time in the clinic? All those tests they put you through? Some of them were intended to do just that - and if you were a regular changeling they would force you to your original form, but with the new breed, this won't be that easy - when it comes to 'un-shifting', you are as resilient as I am," Chrysalis said while brushing Pinkie's mane like if she was a foal.
"But... what about the changeling talking with Celestia?"
"He was sent by that traitor Thorax to 'evaluate' you, but even he thought you were real. Since they found nothing, they sent you away - I am surprised they didn't send you here, though..."
"For centuries, the Empire used the Crystal Heart as its primary defense against us - you see, the heart can channel so much love-based energy that it can force any changeling - even the queen - back to their original form - that's exactly what they tried to do, and exactly what we wanted them to do."
"But... if I didn't come here..."
"They would bring you here sooner or later anyway, but of course the 'good and merciful' Celestia had to be even more 'caring' for the well-being of her subjects than I anticipated. Instead of bringing you by force, she wanted to sit and observe... seriously, do you have any idea how hard it was to wait with the entire army outside the Empire? I swear, I will make her pay for every minute I had to spend in that frozen wasteland!"
“So… all the super-duper weird questions, silly behavior, and secrecy was because you guys didn’t know who was the real me?" the burned Pinkie said, turning to her friends. "Oh, you've gotta be kidding me! It should be obvious it was me!”
The other Pinkie immediately interrupted, “Don’t be silly! I’m the real one!”
“I don’t think so!”
“You dare to put your money on that?! 50 bits that I’m the real one!”
“You’re soooo on!”
“QUIET!” Chrysalis shouted, at the two arguing mares, “Should have captured the element of honesty instead of that annoying baker,” she mumbled. “I think it’s time reveal who is who… hmmm…”
Chrysalis glanced at both mares doing her best to find her changeling but quickly gave up. “Like two drops of water… oh well, we will have to do it the traditional way,” with that, she fired her magic at the Pinkie on the left. Some smoke and green light started to emanate from her body… but died down after a second. “Dang… I thought it was you,” she said, turning to the other one.
“No… that can’t be… STAY AWAY! DON’T COME ANY-” the burned Pinkie screamed, putting her hooves in front of her, trying to block - but to no avail.
Suddenly, there was a bright green flash and one of the mares transformed into a changeling, it was obvious she was no regular one either - her body was green, not black, her eyes had visible pupils - unlike that of an ordinary changeling - and most of all, she was almost the size of Chrysalis herself.
For a moment, the changeling glanced at her new appearance with mouth wide open - suddenly, she buried her head into her hooves and burst into tears.
“I don’t understand, why are you crying child?” Chrysalis asked.
“I… I remember… I remember everything! The planning, the capture - memory transfer, but also all good times with my friends and now... I betrayed them,” the changeling collapsed on the floor, rocking forth and back. “Dear Celestia, what have I done…”
Chrysalis embraced her child gently. “I am truly sorry, but the pain will pass... Remember - thanks to your sacrifice we will have enough love to feed us for years,” she murmured, unchaining the changeling - who was still attached, just like the rest of prisoners.
“We shall see about that, Queen!” Shining Armor interjected with an angry voice.
“My dear Shining, I am afraid you don’t have a choice - you see… you are not the only one who can manipulate energy fields,” Chrysalis grinned, “we already adjusted that little shield of yours, so Celestia will find it rather difficult to get inside - also, you probably noticed your magic is fairly weak - you can thank the Crystal Heart for that as well - that contraption can do wonders in the right hooves. Without further ado - here is the deal: you and your crystal ponies will live under our ‘protection’ from now on - in exchange, you will provide us with love from your subjects-”
Cadance interrupted, “We will never agree to that, and you know it!”
“Well, you better - because that little stunt you did - has drained most of the love from the Crystal Heart, and in a day or two, it will no longer be able to sustain the shield. We can survive in extreme cold temperature, but you ponies can’t - and before you start thinking about some clever way to restore your magic and evacuate your subjects, know that a squadron of my elite changelings has orders to move the Crystal Heart to our lair if necessary, while the rest will destroy the train station and other means of escape.”
Cadance tried to counter, but the reality was rather grim - Queen was right, if the shield were to collapse, the Empire would be transformed into a frozen wasteland in a matter of hours - with the Crystal Heart removed and train station destroyed most ponies would freeze to death before the rescue. After a few seconds Chrysalis added mockingly, “Oh, you don’t have to decide right away - sleep on it and let me know tomorrow.”
With that, she and her changeling left the cell, leaving everyone to think over her ‘offer.' “I’m so super sorry...” the changeling mumbled, leaving the dungeon.