Chrysalis was all on her own, and this was fine.
Richard had gone off to answer damn Twilight’s damn questions, leaving with assurances he’d be back as quickly as possible, saying he was sure Chrysalis would appreciate some time on her own anyway, that she’d barely even notice he was gone.
She had agreed to all of that, basically shoving him out of the door - deciding that if he was going to go and do this (and she could grudgingly see the logic in keeping Twilight placated, annoyingly) he should just get it over with and stop making such a fuss.
So out he’d gone, Chrysalis slamming the door behind him.
And now everything was very, very quiet.
A lot of Changelings might have felt horribly, horribly isolated on their own. Theirs was a communal type of living, after all, barring the occasional infiltrator sent out solo - but those were exceptional individuals and were sent with a purpose. They had an objective to keep them going and knew that, once it was completed, they would be back in the comfortable, crowded, chitinous bosom of the hive and their compatriots.
Your common-or-garden Changeling left to their own devices, all on their lonesome, was liable to start to feel a bit twitchy pretty quickly. Start to feel that yawning silence closing in around them, start to feel so crushingly, crushingly lonely.
Lucky, then, that Chrysalis was most certainly not a common-or-garden Changeling. She was a queen. She was The Queen!
She was fine on her own.
Really, now that she thought about it - as she wandered about the poky little house she was more-or-less imprisoned in for the foreseeable future thanks to Richard’s terrible injury, glaring at the fixtures and fittings - the more she realised she had always and would always be alone, in a manner of speaking. She was simply above and beyond those around her, always had been. Operating on a higher level. Separate! Superior.
So, really, if she thought about it this being alone was no different to how she’d always been. No matter how different it might feel, it actually wasn’t, really. So she was fine.
Besides, what did being alone matter to her? If she had wanted to she could have conquered the world by herself. Would have taken a while on her own, but she could have done it. The point was she didn’t have to - she shouldn’t have to! She was a queen! Queens had people around to do things for them, that was how it worked!
And that was how, until recently, it had been working!
She’d had a hive! A huge and imposing hive! The sort of thing that loomed and towered! It had a throne at the top! She’d had teeming hordes of minions! Disposable ones - the best kind! She’d had everything going for her! Everything she deserved!
More than that she’d had drive.
And now everything had been taken away. Like having her guts ripped out.
(Though Chrysalis was quietly confident she could actually survive having her guts ripped out, should it ever come to that - it’d be sore but she could probably walk it off.)
Losing one thing or two things she could have taken in stride, could have adapted around, could have worked with, easily. Lose the hive? Fine. Lose the minions? Whatever. Lose the throne? Eh. All at once though? Everything? And when she’d been so close, too! Where was she meant to start on putting it back together?
She was just so…
Appropriate then that her aimless wanderings about the house had taken her back up to the bedroom. And there was that mirror, and in that mirror was her. Or what she’d ended up as.
Chrysalis still wasn’t exactly happy with that. She’d been bloody gorgeous before, back when she’d looked like what she was meant to look like. The hungry and feral image of beauty, bordering on the absolutely perfect - holes and proper fangs and jagged edges and ragged wings. Gorgeous!
All gone, now.
Could bring it back with a little effort - and she did so, sometimes - but that was just a disguise, not her actual self, not anymore. It wasn’t the same. Like everything else she’d had, that was gone too. Somehow it hurt more, it being more personal she supposed. Everything else she’d lost had just been things (fancy throne, disposable minions, etcetera), while this was her! She’d been changed!
She hadn’t asked for this!
Richard’s fault, damn him! Why did he have to be so, so...and why did he have to...why did she have to...when he was hurt...why…
The painfully vivid memory of what he’d looked like all laid out with eyes closed and blood trickling down his face came snapping back to her mind and she felt deep in her (obviously non-vital) guts a very unfamiliar, unpleasant lurch. She had no idea what it meant but she did not like it one bit, not at all.
“He’s fine though. He’s okay. Was probably just putting it on in the first place anyway, just to annoy me,” she told her reflection, doing her best to banish the image, face set and glaring.
He hadn’t been, she knew. She wouldn’t say it out loud but she did know. He’d actually been hurt and while he was indeed fine now - idiot - he could just as easily not have been, and that…
...didn’t like it one bit, no.
Her reflection didn’t seem to have an opinion. It just stood there, being reflective, looking all pastel and shiny and bleurgh. Chrysalis glared at it some more and then turned sideways-on for a more comprehensive look at herself.
She supposed it wasn’t awful in the strictest sense of the word.
The colours were adequate, if a touch garish. The shininess wasn’t too distracting if the lighting was good (which is to say, bad - the current level of dimness with the curtains drawn seemed about perfect). The lack of holes would probably take some getting used to, but it wasn’t inherently a bad thing, she might be of a mind to admit, possibly.
Had it happened to anyone else then it would be awful, it would look appalling! It had happened to others, in fact: all those traitors, those turncoats. On all of those others - the traitors and the turncoats - it looked appalling. On her? Tolerable, barely. Just barely.
But then she could make anything work, so that wasn’t saying a whole lot.
So no. Not awful.
The problem remained though that looking like this wasn’t the actual real issue. Chrysalis could (and did) look like literally anything and remain her sublime self. The real issue was the other changes. The intangible, internal ones. The vague and fuzzy and fluffy ones.
The sort of changes that, were they to happen to anyone other than a queen, might lead to the worry that some fundamental part of themselves had been irrevocably altered in some way, changing who they were on a quite deep level, hollowing out who they had once been and undermining everything they might once have stood and strived for.
Not a worry that Chrysalis had, obviously. Not even for a moment. Not at all.
She realised that she’d ended up, quite without meaning to, just staring blankly at her own reflected face. It was eerie. Still recognisably her, but uncomfortably different. And a stark reminder that something inside had changed, too.
“What’s happened to you?” She asked herself quietly.
Further thought on the subject was interrupted by the sound of the door opening and Richard returning, a blessed distraction - but did he have to be so noisy?
Chrysalis was on him almost the moment he crossed the threshold, magically hoiking him off his feet and yanking him across the room. Shutting the door, too, of course - she wasn’t born in a barn (the smart money was on it being a swamp, where doors are treated with the proper level of respect).
“I missed you too, your majesty,” Richard said, as sanguine as he always was about being magically manhandled.
Chrysalis ignored this, too busy holding him in place as she hovered and examined him, taking his head in her hooves and turning it this way and that way.
“What did she do to you? Was it magic? Was it friendship? Was it both at the same time?” She asked, peering intently, looking for signs of foul play. Richard frowned, perplexed.
“Aren’t they very closely related here?” He asked.
Not that Richard was an expert. Not in magic, at least. A minor understanding of friendship and a greater understanding of a few other things, sure, but not magic.
“Quiet, Richard, I’m looking you over!” Chrysalis snapped, having now moved onto poking various parts of him in her continuing search for malfeasance.
Richard went quiet.
Eventually Chrysalis ran out of parts of him to prod and set him back down again, landing herself, wings folding away smartly. She tried not to think again about how they weren’t delightfully ragged and torn anymore. It just wasn’t fair.
There didn’t appear to be any external signs of anything concerning with her minion, but when you were dealing with a pony as twisted and spiteful as Princess Twilight, you couldn’t ever be too careful. The only one worse was Starlight Glimmer.
Urgh. Even the mere thought of her made Chrysalis shudder. Best to think of something else.
“What happened?” She asked Richard.
“Nothing especially exciting. She just asked questions and I answered them. Nothing about you, your majesty, I hasten to add - just questions about human things. Where we’re from, what we’re like, how I actually got here, that sort of thing. Nothing important,” he said with a shrug.
Chrysalis had never asked him those sorts of questions. That she could (or should) had never crossed her mind. It didn’t cross her mind then, either. She was too busy trying to imagine how asking pointless questions could be a cover for something else, something dastardly.
It’d be the perfect way of getting to her! Manipulating or somehow sabotaging her idiot servant. Filling his head with lies, maybe? Or feigning interest in his stupid origins to curry favour! Yes! That one!
It was befriending! It had to be!
Damn ponies, always with the friendship, like it was somehow the answer to everything and not a malign blight. Chrysalis had never had a friend in her life and look how well things had turned out for her! Well, at least until everyone else had ruined it for her, but that was hardly her fault, was it?
Richard took advantage of Chrysalis staring angrily and silently into space to produce a bag that he’d secreted about his person.
“I brought you this, your majesty,” he said. This brought her back to the moment and her eyes snapped to the bag. She sniffed, but learnt nothing other than there was something sweet inside, which only raised further questions.
“What is it?” She asked.
“Baklava,” Richard said.
Again, this didn’t really help her much.
Richard hefted the bag with pride, holding it aloft.
“Yes, I was surprised to find it myself, too. More surprised it didn’t have some sort of horse-punny name, honestly, but I suppose ‘baklava’ doesn’t give them a lot to work with,” he said.
“...give me the bag, Richard.”
“As you wish.”
He did so. Chrysalis found the contents mysterious but ultimately to her liking, retreating to the sofa, curling up and devouring them in short order. Richard joined her not longer after she’d sat down, at her insistence.
Well, he assumed it was at her insistence - her mouth had been full so she’d been a bit muffled, but her pointing angrily at him then at the sofa and back again a few times had seemed like a big enough hint, and that she’d then promptly started using him as a cushion looked to indicate he’d read the room correctly.
So there he sat, Chrysalis pressed into him as she furiously finished off the baklava and then peered into the bag to see if she’d missed any. She had not, and sighed sadly letting the now-empty bag drop to the floor.
Eating food. Richard was a terrible influence.
In (comparatively) happier times this was usually when she would have told Richard to think happy thoughts and spent a pleasant few minutes skimming his sickly affection off the top, taking it direct. That didn’t work anymore. Or maybe it did, but she didn’t need to do it that way anymore.
Now what happened instead was this weird, oozy, back-and-forth sort of arrangement where she could still feel his unnatural, alien feelings wafting out of him but could also feel her own superior, Changeling feelings kind of…
It was deeply unsettling. But also lovely. But also horrible.
Being aware of her own feelings in the first place would be bad enough, but this as well?!
Twilight Sparkle had better come up with a cure for this horrid condition right quick, that was all Chrysalis had to say on the matter. Especially seeing as how it was her fault, in a roundabout but definite sort of a way.
But until she did, well, Chrysalis was just going to have to put up with this sort of thing in her usual stoic, refined, regal manner.
Which might have looked like humming in quiet contentment while settling deeper and more comfortably into Richard and getting him to put his arms around her again, but it wasn’t that! It just looked like that. It was in reality stoic and regal poise!
Ruined, of course, when Richard started speaking for no reason:
“They have a friendship school here, I hear, your majesty. Teaches, well, friendship, of all things, which I must admit is a very novel concept. Do wonder if they teach it alongside literacy and numeracy and such or if-”
“Be quiet, Richard.”
“As you wish.”
He went quiet, though on the inside he decided that the students likely had a proper grounding in the more mundane aspect of education before starting on friendship and that, given friendship was something of a tangible force in these parts, the whole setup probably wasn’t as ridiculous as it might have initially sounded to him, a human.
They sat comfortably for a minute or two before Chrysalis, unprompted, rolled over onto her front and wriggled up Richard until they were face-to-face, whereupon she stared at him but didn’t actually say anything.
“...something the matter, your majesty?” Richard asked, mildly concerned and having expected her to say something after the first few seconds. Chrysalis kept on staring.
She was thinking.
There’d been something she had wanted to say, she was sure of it, and she’d wanted to be looking at Richard when she said it, she was sure of that, too. But now that she was it had slipped her mind completely. Just something about his blank, doe-eyed and just plain fond expression that had stopped her brain dead in its tracks.
So she was trying to get her train of thought going again, with limited initial success.
And all the while there was still that mingling, that back and forth. Her thoughts would have been hard enough to get in order without all of that weird, alien affection just flowing out and over, distracting her, mixing up with whatever it was was flowing out of her and meeting in the middle and creating...something…
The gnawing, ever-present, driving hunger that had been with her since she could remember was gone, replaced with a sickly, aggravating, all-filling warmth that ebbed and flowed with Richard’s disgusting proximity but never seemed to truly leave and so never left a void the sucking emptiness of which she could use to power herself onward to greater heights.
How could she be expected to work in these conditions?!
Eating love was fine - had been fine! That had been easy. She’d been doing that for years, never thought twice about it. Why would she? It had just been food! It was just food! That’s all emotions were! And the point was to eat them, consume them! Not this...whatever it was! It wasn’t natural!
As uncomfortably pleasant as it might have been to experience, and as satisfying as it might have been, and as...happy as it might have made her feel…if that’s what it actually was. Was that what it was?
Happiness usually came at the express of another, didn’t it? No-one won unless someone else lost, and how could she be happy unless someone else was miserable? Happiness was gained by taking! So what was this?
Chrysalis just gave up on thinking for now. Probably not important anyway, not at the moment. She’d think about it more later.
For now she just flopped back down onto him, curling into the crook of his neck and doing her best not to stab him through the head with her horn. That would have made a dreadful mess and, with him being dead, she’d have to be the one to clean herself up. No good at all.
“I miss the castle,” she said with a sigh, then she drooped and curled furtherm adding. “I miss my hive…”
‘The castle’ in this case being the ruin they’d been squatting in, obviously, but a queen does not squat in a ruin or anywhere else, so to her it had always been ‘the castle’ (her castle, specifically). But that’s by the by.
The hive was rather more obvious, though whether she was referring to the structure or the structure and everything and everyone that had been in it was less clear. Richard knew it didn’t really matter which - she was just sad, and that was all that mattered to him. He did not like it, not one bit.
“We could go back, your majesty? If you’d like.”
“No, no, we’re being watched and I don’t have the energy to fight my way through all of them. And keep you safe at the same time. They’d probably go after you first, you being my glaring weakness.”
He was kind of an easy target, Richard would be the first to admit. They’d for the legs, like he said the other day - it was just obvious. And of course Chrysalis had no proof of being watched but then again she didn’t need proof to know she was right.
(She was also actually, actually right, so there was that, too.)
“I could smuggle you out? Dead of night, maybe? I can be very subtle when I need to be,” Richard suggested. He was being perfectly sincere, too - if she wanted him to do that, he would. She knew this, just a fact.
Chrysalis considered his offer for a moment but then shook her head. As attractive as the prospect was of being smuggled out in the dead of night by Richard - cradled in his arms, perhaps? - she couldn’t see it working out well. They’d be waiting for something like that, she knew.
A queen’s paranoia was on a deeper level than the paranoia of lesser beings. It had greater nuance and richness and was, of course, entirely rational as opposed to the irrational sort of everyone else.
When others thought they - they! - were out to get them, those others were idiots. When a queen thought they - they! - were out to get them, she was just being practical and realistic.
Because they were out to get her.
“No, no…” she said, sadly.
It would be more sensible to bide their time, pick their moment.
Bide her time, pick her moment.
That was better.
“Have you decided what the first step of your next scheme is, your majesty?” Richard asked. He knew how much she liked her scheming, after all, so thought that maybe steering the subject in that direction might buoy her spirits a little.
Chrysalis just sighed again.
“No I have not. I am still thinking. This is very delicate, Richard. You’ve put me in a very difficult situation. I’m amidst bitter enemies, everything is now at least twice as hard - maybe even three times. I need to collect myself first,” she said.
Which was a cause for concern. Really she shouldn’t have to collect herself at all, she should have been ready to go. She should already have been going, in fact. But she wasn’t, and that she wasn’t made her deeply uncomfortable.
She was still the same on the inside, she told herself, more or less. And in her head she could still clearly see what it was she had to do and why she had to do it - exert dominance over everyone and everything around her because that was just the way things had to be. It was just coming up with the exact details of the how that was proving tricky.
Richard took her answer on board and nodded, his fingers trailing down her back and making her shudder. She probably should have told him not to do that, but she didn’t.
“Sounds like a good idea, your majesty. I imagine that’ll mean we’ll be here for a little while yet, then? Might be worth me acquiring some gainful employment in town, if that’s the case. To keep you in the manner to which you have become accustomed,” he said.
His inexplicable connections could only carry them so far, after all, and a key component of knowing a guy who knows a guy is that you don’t rely on those guys who know guys that much. It’s not a sustainable model in the long term.
Chrysalis blinked at him.
“You want to get a job here? In this town? With these ponies? Here?” She asked.
“Well, ‘want’ is a strong word. I just imagined it would be a sensible thing to do,” Richard said.
Chrysalis was so overwhelmed with the issues with this idea that she struggled to know which one to start with. In the end she went with:
“But - but you’d leave me on my own all day!”
Richard did consider pointing out that, back when they’d still been squatting in that ruin, she had often left him on his own for considerable periods of time, but he imagined that different rules applied to queens than to himself. He imagined correctly.
“That would be a drawback, yes. Perhaps part-time, then?”
Chrysalis did not answer. Her mind was now racing, train of thought thoroughly back on the tracks, albeit fresh ones so to speak. A job? A job?! Richard already had a job! The job of doing what she wanted him to do, when she wanted him to do it. He didn’t have space for anything else!
And besides, getting a ‘job’ reeked of settling down, settling in. They weren’t living here! With these ponies! They were here temporarily! They were being put up in this tiny house entirely thanks to Richard’s clumsiness followed by Chrysalis’s cunning. They were here for however long it would take for Twilight Sparkle to come up with some solution or cure to this horrific ‘reformed’ issue and then they would make their escape - that was it!
That’s what it had always been!
What was wrong with her?! Wandering around, wallowing in confused self-pity, eating food (delicious though it might have been), gorging on weird alien fondness and not actually doing anything! Unacceptable! Behaviour unbecoming of a queen! The slippery slope into the mire of complacency!
She sat up straight on Richard’s lap and grabbed him by the collar, hauling him up so he was sitting too, his nose squashed against her muzzle.
“We are not settling down here, Richard. We are not going to live in this pathetic house in this pathetic town with these pathetic creatures and live a pathetic, quiet life together. We are not living together at all, RICHARD! You are my SERVANT and I am a QUEEN! Starting tomorrow we are going to get things back to the way they were - the way they should be! I am going to go to Twilight Sparkle, I am going to get the cure for my condition and then we are going to go back to the castle and get back to the serious business of conquering this world horizon to horizon, starting with me gorging myself stupid on your strange, alien feelings the way a Changeling is supposed to, NOT LIKE THIS! Do you understand?”
Richard was entirely unfazed on having this rather loud speech delivered point-blank into his face.
“Yes, your majesty. Though I believe the princess is busy tomorrow. Out of town, as I recall. Some sort of meeting, she told me,” he said.
Chrysalis ground her teeth.
“Then we shall march over at the earliest available opportunity and demand she fix me. Is that better?”
Richard knew a trick question when he heard one.
“I wouldn’t know, your majesty, I’m just the minion,” he said.
“Yes you are, good boy,” Chrysalis said, letting go of his collar and letting him flump back onto the sofa, flumping down on top of him again a moment later.
She’d got her point across, after all, so no need to sit around being uncomfortable.