The Joy Hive

by TheDriderPony


Ascension

Pinkie practically melted into a puddle of bliss as she sank into the steamy water. A towel turban kept her mane out of the water as well as a few things she didn't want getting wet. Pronking really did a number on the hooves, especially now that she had twice the distance to travel and far more than twice as many friends to visit every day. Adding a hot spring to the pool area had been a stroke of genius.

She took a long slurp of her fruity drink and let the tangy exotic flavors play across her tongue. Citrusy ice really was a perfect complement to steam. Though her eyes were closed, she felt the water ripple as someone entered the spring beside her. A soft groan gave his identity away, not that it had been that much of a mystery.

"Mmm," Pinkie leaned till she felt firm, warm chitin meet her cheek. "Long day?"

"Indeed," came the tired response. "Several nymphs escaped the kindergarten again. They were finally found playing in one of the fountains. Their caretaker swears she merely turned her back for a moment afore they vanished."

Pinkie tittered lightly. "I remember when I used to do that when I was a foal. Drove Mother and Father crazy."

Feldspar chuckled, a deep throaty noise that made his armored plates vibrate against her. They sat in silence for a time, each content in the moist air and each other's company. After enough time had passed for Pinkie's hooves to feel at ease again, Feldspar reignited the conversation.

"I spoke with the fifth construction company today."

"Mm?"

"They report progress on the banquet hall is moving faster than expected. It may be weeks rather than months before it is completed."

He shifted his weight as Pinkie suddenly rose up from his side, eyes aglow. "Really? That's great! Then that's one step closer we'll be to the big reveal!"

Feldspar took a deep breath of her joy, but maintained his collected composure. "Are you sure, absolutely sure, that revealing ourselves is the best course of action? Once done, it cannot be taken back."

Pinkie gave him a playful shove. "Of course I'm sure, silly. Not like I've been planning this out for years now or anything. You panicked just the same when I brought up revealing the hive to Rarity, and didn't that work out exactly how I said it would?"

He had no comeback for that.

"It's simple." She tapped her temple. "Can't be discovered if everyone already knows about you. That's modern thinking. It's all part of my master plan which I call the Get-Everypony-To-Start-Liking-Changelings-And-Accept-Them-As-Who-They-Are Plan."

"Once more I must commend your decision to form a committee to decide on all official location and project names in the hive."

Pinkie ignored him and continued. "Already a lot of changelings are making friends with the ponies upstairs using their own personalities. And with our resin products selling well across the country, we've got a good stable economy and host of ponies who respect us for our skills." She paused to drain the last slushy drips of the vibrantly blue, umbrella-topped drink. "All that's left is a little bit more positive propaganda and finishing off all the construction down here. Then everything will be ready for the big event! Nothing can go wrong!"

Her words hung in the air like a raised guillotine.

And then the blade of disaster came falling down.

"Intruders!" A hefty changeling crashed through the doors, his speed whipping up a wind that dispersed the gathered steam in seconds. "Invaders! Ponies in the hive!"

Pinkie leaped to her hooves and scrambled onto dry land. Feldspar was already there, grilling the messenger for further details. "Where, how, and how long ago?"

"Also who?" Pinkie added.

The changeling, Cobble, struggled to speak through his own laboured breathing. "Just... few minutes ago. Not sure where they came in. Somewhere... east side of town. It's... it's the Element Bearers!"

Pinkie felt her heart stop and her breath catch in her throat. "My friends... No, no we're not ready! Nothing is ready yet!" Sure she'd planned to introduce her friends to the hive eventually. But slowly! Easing them into the idea one at a time once they were ready, like she'd done with Rarity. They weren't supposed to find out on their own! It was like a birthday pony walking in on the surprise party before the food was even laid out yet, only with much bigger consequences!

Just as she felt herself beginning to hyperventilate, Pinkie felt a strong hoof on her withers. She looked up and found herself pulled into Feldspar's ever-calm and composed gaze.

"It's alright," he soothed, his voice acting like a balm to her nerves. "We can handle this. Just tell us what you need."

That's right. This was bigger than just a spoiled surprise. The fate of her changelings counted on the first meeting going well, and it was about to happen whether she was ready or not. They were counting on her! Besides, what kind of party planner would she be if she couldn't react and adjust to a few unexpected hiccups in the schedule?

Pinkie took a few deep breaths and calmed herself. The situation was not yet lost. "Okay. Okay. We can still make this work. Just have to spin it a little."

With a purposeful stride, she headed out of the hot springs, Feldspar and Cobble hot on her heels, unconcerned with the water her soaked fur left in her wake. Changelings took notice as she passed, and sensing the mood, dropped whatever they were doing and followed. It didn't take an emotivore to sense the determination and seriousness behind her eyes. Pinkie scanned the crowd of followers as it grew, quickly sorting through who she had on hoof to work with and how to best put them to use.

"Bittersweet," she called, not even slowing her stride.

A changeling sped up to her side. "Yes!"

"Get a team of runners and start channeling them towards the ballroom. Use the service tunnels to get ahead of them and put up some fake walls over any routes that would take them down the wrong way. Chiffon!"

As Bittersweet darted away, another changeling took his place. "Call up party teams A through G and have them start setting up a Priority One party in the ballroom. Get everything arranged but keep it cloaked till I give the signal."

"Priority One? But that's-"

"Princess level. I know. But we only get one shot to make this right, so I'm not pulling any punches."

He nodded and moved to gather his teams before hesitating and turning back. "What's the signal?"

"It's 'Surprise!', of course."


Twilight's mind raced as she slowly traversed the labyrinth of alien architecture. How could she have missed it?! Changelings. In Ponyville! A whole hive right in her own backyard, and here she was caught completely unprepared.

For that matter, what was this place? She could hardly believe it was built by changelings; it was so far removed from the badland's hive in terms of design. Maybe it was an ancient ruin, left behind by some predecessor society lost to time, to which the changelings had merely moved in. Either way, they'd taken great measures to remain hidden. Even at the edge of her awareness, she couldn't help but acknowledge the sophisticated array of wards and anti-scrying spells built into the very walls. If they hadn't tipped their hoof by tunneling into Rarity's basement, she doubted they'd have been found before it was too late.

All the signs had been there. She'd seen how Ponyville's population seemed to be growing despite no new housing being built, but had dismissed it as tourists. She'd bought some of the strange new items at the market, but never wondered where they came from. Guilt gnawed at her like a dog at a bone, but she was at least grateful that she didn't have to face the consequences of her mistake alone.

"This is insane! I can't believe she managed to build a whole hive underneath us without anyone knowing!" said Rainbow Dash, who found the hallways thankfully tall enough to fly through.

"That Chrysalis sure is a sneaky one," Applejack agreed.

"I hope Pinkie Pie is alright." Fluttershy looked like she'd rather be absolutely anywhere else right then. "I can't imagine how scared she must be. Kidnapped by scary unreformed changelings from her very home!"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about her," Rarity said off-hoofedly, before quickly adding, "I mean, they're probably keeping her in a pod. That's what changelings do, right?"

Twilight refocused on that point. Rarity was right. It wasn't just that there were changelings under Ponyville, but they had also kidnapped one of her closest friends! Using that as her center, she channeled all her guilt, her fear, and her worries into anger. It wasn't the friendliest of emotions, but it could sure get things done!

"Come on everypony!" she said with renewed determination. "Let's go! There's no time to waste!" She picked up her pace to a strong gallop.

"Yeah! Now we're talking! Let's kick some changeling flank!" Rainbow Dash was quick to match her pace. The other three sped up as well, with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Countless hallways, staircases, and empty rooms later, they found themselves at an ornate pair of double doors. They knew this had to be the place since the branching pathways had grown fewer and fewer as they'd approached it. What few changelings they had seen during their rampage had been quick to dart away into holes too small to follow, but they'd led Twilight and her friends to this inner sanctum all the same.

Having long since abandoned stealth, Twilight knocked the doors off their hinges with a powerful blast of magenta magic. Blue flamed torches flared to life along imposing columns, revealing an oppressive and ominous throne room. At the very end of the room, seated on a throne that couldn't be a more perfect match for the one Starlight had once described, was Chrysalis herself.

Twilight knew it had to be Chrysalis because no one else would have had the arrogance, the sheer unmitigated gall to disguise herself as their missing friend. She wasn't even trying to pretend she really was Pinkie as she pet a changeling that slept on her lap like some kind of megalomaniac's cat. The mockery only served to stoke the fires of Twilight's anger.

"Welcome everypony," Chrysalis said, her word dripping like venom through an insultingly poor mockery of Pinkie's voice. "To the ultimate surp-"

"Cut the act Chrysalis!" Twilight interrupted, her horn already alight. "I don't know what your plan is, but you'd better return Pinkie to us right now if you know what's good for you!"

The changeling queen paused, only to further the insult by playing dumb. "What? Who? No, it's me, Pinkie. You know, friendly baker and local Element of Harmony?"

"You're not fooling anyone with that ridiculous charade! Drop the facade and give Pinkie back to us!" Twilight fired a warning shot. Before it connected, a baker's dozen of changelings dropped from the shadowed ceiling, cast a shield, and took up a defensive formation. "See? Your minions give you away!"

"But I really am Pinkie," she insisted, "I'm not Chrysalis!"

"No, but I am."

Applejack and Fluttershy yelped in surprise and scrambled back as Rarity was consumed by green fire. Lanky black legs pushed out from alabaster fur as her horn twisted and grew like a tortured branch. Gone was the trusted fashionista, replaced by a maliciously grinning dictator.

She strutted forward in the shocked silence, swaggering across the throne room like an oversized feline. The ceiling and balconies, previously seeming to be empty, lit up with hundreds of glowing eyes at her reveal. Her smile widened, showing off as much fang as possible. "You've done well, my minions," she crooned, her trilling vocal reverb played to full effect, "to build a new hive worthy of your Queen. And to do it right under the enemy's muzzles!" Her cackle bounced and echoed across the hall, filling the space like a cloud of knives. "I couldn't have done it better myself. Well, obviously I could have; for one thing, your sense of aesthetics has become terribly warped in my absence, but no matter. Your beloved Queen has returned to take her rightful place and lead you to victory. Now, capture these insufferable ponies and let my new reign begin!"

She punctuated her speech with a dramatic pose, too perfect and practiced to be spontaneous. A long and awkward moment passed as not a soul moved to obey her order.

"Momma?" a small voice asked. "Wha's goin' on?"

All eyes turned to the throne, where the small changeling on Pinkie's lap slowly rubbed the sleep from its eyes. It's vibrant and undeniably pink eyes.

Pinkie sighed. "And now you've gone and woken up little Cherry Pie. They were right, you really are a terrible parent."

"Momma," Cherry Pie continued, tugging at a curly lock. "Who's dat big chan'ling?" The tiny pink-eyed changeling pointed at the horror-struck Chrysalis. "She looks mean."

"What- what is this?" Chrysalis barked, her voice torn between fury and fear. "What have you done?!"

"She has done what you never could." A tall changeling emerged from behind the throne and took his place at Pinkie's right hoof side. "She fostered loyalty, built trust, and forged a genuine bond of mutual respect."

"I am your Queen by birth and by right." Chrysalis's voice came low and harsh, more snarl than actual speech. "You will obey my commands!"

"You are many things, Chrysalis," Feldspar continued, his tone carefully measured while his expression openly radiated his disgust. "You are a bully, a tyrant, and a coward, but you are no queen. If you want to see a queen, you have only to look to that throne."

Pinkie waved.

"Pony she may be, but Pinkie Pie is more of a Queen than you ever were."

"She gave us food," one changeling said, stepping forward between Chrysalis and the throne.

"She gave us names," added another, who blocked her path to the exit.

"She gave us a home," supplied a third as he and many more began to draw ever closer, cutting off any chance at escape.

"And she gave us the freedom to choose," Feldspar concluded. "And with that freedom, we would choose her over you a thousand times over. For her love and her joy are shared without end, while you never had any to give.

"No!" Her cries were more bestial than equine now, fueled by unbridled rage. "You are mine! Do you hear me? Mine!"

"NO!" Feldspar shot back just as fiercely. "We are ours! And we are hers. Guards!" A team of changelings outfitted with dense pink-shaded stone armor emerged from the crowd. "Arrest this miserable excuse for a changeling and throw her in the dungeon!"

"We have a dungeon?" Pinkie asked, genuinely surprised.

Feldspar flinched. "Sorry, old habits. I mean deliver her, bound and muzzled, to the proper authorities."

They stepped forward, but Chrysalis was beyond words now. With a banshee-like howl, she lit her horn and fired a beam of acidic green magic at Pinkie. It didn't make it a fifth of the way before being blocked by multiple shields. Continuing to shriek, she turned her magic on the still approaching guards. Yet every spell she cast or magic she fired was just as quickly snuffed out or block by the magic of countless nearby changelings. The changeling queen screamed and fought to the bitter end, but to no avail. With almost anticlimactic ease she was overpowered, magically sedated, bound, and transported out.

Twilight and her three remaining friends watched these proceedings with mute cocktails of shock, confusion, and bafflement. They didn't react as the changelings presented Pinkie with a small crown, modeled after Chrysalis's but in blue and pink, nor did they react as they celebrated her accepting it. It wasn't until the party decorations were revealed and they had each been presented with a mug of cider and a party hat that any of them finally snapped back to reality.

"Wait, why do you guys have cider?" Rainbow Dash broke out of her shock and instinctively drank it. "And why is it so good?"

"What... what just happened?" Twilight managed, her mental gears still spinning but not quite clicking.

"I think... the changelings ain't our enemy," Applejack ventured.

"And that Pinkie is somehow behind that," added Fluttershy.

"That's pretty on the money," Pinkie said cheerily as she left the throne and trotted over, Feldspar standing proudly by her side and Cherry pie riding in her mane. She chuckled awkwardly as she reached her friends. "Not exactly how I expected this day to go down, but, eh, that's life. So, girls," she spread her forelegs welcomingly, "Now that you're here, welcome to the Joy Hive! Which I guess I'm Queen of now. Apparently."

"Oh Pinkie," Feldspar chuckled, "you have always been our Queen. We may have used other titles out of respect for your humility, but a Queen you have most certainly been in action, if not name."

"You're... you're really Pinkie?" Twilight asked. "The real Pinkie Pie?"

"Yepperooni! I'm the realest, pinkest, pie-est Pinkie Pie that ever pinked a pie."

"Sure sounds like her," Applejack vouched.

Twilight shook her head. The emotional whiplash of the last half-hour too much for her to process. "How did this happen?"

Pinkie giggled and raised a hoof to pat Cherry as the nymph played with her crown. "It's kind of a funny story really. You know how when you were a filly, and your parents always told you not to feed the stray cats cause they'd keep coming back? That's how this all started."