“How can you love him?! He is of lower class and nothing but a street rat! And don’t even get me started on the fact you’re in love with a pony of the same sex!”
“Your mother’s right son, it’s not only beneath you, but it’s unnatural. Can’t you see that?”
“It’s not unnatural! I love him and I just want to be happy! Is that a crime?!”
The words and scene flashed in Cadence’s mind as she looked down at the Changeling Queen before her, tied up, blindfolded and at her mercy. Only seconds ago she had been ready to tear off the creatures’ head, but now…
Why? Spoke Cadence’s inner voice. Why did she have to say it like that?
Lightning Dust looked over at her employer, she could tell the Alicorn-disguised-as-a-unicorn was waning in her judgment. Lightning wasn’t sure what had just triggered Cadence to be suddenly stricken with silence, but she knew it couldn’t be good.
The Alicorn of love was still deep in some personal conflict when Lightning took a step towards her. “Hey.” The pegasus mare said sympathetically. Cadence’s head jolted back to look at the pegasus. Lightning motioned for the Alicorn to speak with her, away from the prisoner.
Cadence left her position and walked up to her mercenary, she seemed extremely apprehensive. “What is it?” The Alicorn asked with a weakening tone.
Lightning delayed for a moment as she thought of the right wording. “You don’t look so good. We could end it for today, if you're not up to it. We can start up again tomorrow.”
Cadence nodded weakly at that. “Yeah… yeah, let’s do that. I… need to think.” Without waiting for a reply, Cadence left gloomily, her mind a spiraling vortex of doubt and uncertainty.
Lightning and the other mercenaries watched the Alicorn leave. “The hell was that about Captain?” One asked.
“Hell if I know,” Lightning replied. “You can never tell with crazies like that.”
It had been almost four hours since Cadence had faltered in resolve inside Chrysalis’s cell. The mare had been contemplating the entire time, even after dinner had arrived. Chrysalis’s words rang through her head, if only for familiarity’s sake.
“I love her and I just want to be happy! IS THAT A CRIME?!”
Normally, Cadence wouldn’t have been affected by Chrysalis’s words; she had been talkative about deserving happiness during their interrogations. But never before has she used those words in that order, which had triggered Cadence’s shock as memories flowed through her head. Even now, so many years later she dared not count them, she remembered that day and scene.
During her foal-hood Cadence had befriended a much older Canterlot noble-stallion. He was probably… ten, twelve years older (relatively) then the filly? Cadence had forgotten. She loved that stallion like a brother and he saw her as a precious sister. They played often and were sometimes inseparable at times. Theses were times before Shining Armor, or Twilight. Her husband and sister-in-law weren’t even born yet (Alicorn childhood was exceptionally long). He had taught Cadence a lot during their friendship, before he died of old age. But one lesson stuck with her the most.
Her noble friend was homosexual. Cadence had actually met his colt-friend many times, he was extremely nice and always bought Cadence chocolate. Their relationship was in the closet, however. It was, until the stallion’s parents found out by some sick twist of fate.
Equestria has long since accepted same-sex couples, but a cruel double standard remained. It was most ponies’ belief that the ratio gap of stallions to mares is extremely high, with mares greatly outnumbering the other sex. This wasn’t true, and one trip to Equestria’s census bureau would show you that across the entire country the ratio was nearly fifty-fifty (old stereotypes die hard however). This misconception has lead to same-sex stallion relations being less popular. It was thought that stallions had to find a nice mare and contribute to the population.
Cadence’s friend’s parents did not take the news well, and berated him harshly. Cadence had the unfortunate luck to be there when it happened. That’s when her friend uttered that line: “I love him and I just want to be happy! Is that a crime?!”
That one line had impacted Cadence greatly as a foal, and she took to it like a moth to a flame. From that line Cadence based her views on love and happiness: that they were things every single creature was entitled to. Not too long after, Cadence finally got her Cutie Mark.
And so, after four hours of thought, Cadence had decided to give Chrysalis a chance at the very least. It wasn’t because she liked Chrysalis; it wasn’t because she thought Chrysalis deserved love or happiness. It was because she knew the stallion would want her to give Chrysalis a chance, and she was would do it for that reason only. She owed her friend that much.
“Am I really in the wrong? Have I had an error in judgment?” Cadence sighed heavily. “I… I’ve been a fool. I can’t condemn a pony, even a Changeling, for past mistakes. I’ve got to… I’ve got to give Chrysalis a chance. I may not like it… but I have to, it's what any Princess worth her crown would do.” And it’s for him, Cadence thought.
Hunger finally got the better of the Alicorn and she decided that the discolored soup sitting on her table would have to do. She took into her now mostly cornflower blue magic and readied to take a sip.
The door to Cadence’s room burst open to reveal one of Lightning Dust’s mercs. “Cadence! We need you right now!”
Cadence shot her eyes up from her food. “Why? What's happened?”
The merc inhaled deeply to regain lost breath. “Chrysalis and her escort have escaped! They blew up some of our tunnels as a distraction after they got out of their cells! We don’t know where they are now but Lightning Dust is…”
“Hold on, hold on…” Cadence motioned the guard to stop. “Explosions? What explosions? I’ve heard nothing.”
The merc scratched the back of his neck. “Um, ma’am, you soundproofed this room, remember?”
Cadence’s eyes widened, and she felt her cheeks redden in embarrassment. “Oh… Right.” Cadence had forgotten she had enchanted her room to keep sounds from entering or leaving, for privacy’s sake. The only sound that could get in was a knock on the door or certain phrases Cadence had picked out personally.
The pink Alicorn shook off the awkwardness and hardened her look. “It doesn’t matter! We need to stop them! Where’s Lightning Dust?!”
“Coordinating the efforts to put out the fires.”
Cadence got up from her chair and grabbed her magical pendent from the vanity. “Take me to her, now.”
“Over there! By that storage closet! More flames! Throw water on that now!”
“I need more hooves over here!”
“Crap! The fire is spreading into the meeting area!”
“Dammit! GET MORE WATER!”
Lightning Dust cursed under her breath as she took three buckets in her wings and mouth and tossed the water inside onto the flaming rubble in front of her. Lightning didn’t even falter in her fluid movements as she ran and gathered more water from a near by drinking fountain that had been broken so it would gush out water. Gathering more liquid, Lightning and several mercs ran back to the flames, desperately trying to save their burning base.
Cadence arrived just as Lightning tossed her newest batch of water onto the flames. The Alicorn skidded to a stop, covering her face from the intense heat and light of the fire. “Lightning!”
The mercenary captain turned to the sound of her name. Seeing Cadence, she threw her buckets to another merc and ran over to her employer. “Cadence! The situation’s gone so far in the fire we're getting extra crispy!”
“Can you fix this?!” Cadence asked, enveloping a chunk of the fire with her magic and cutting it off from oxygen and snuffing it out.
“Can you fly?” Lightning asked sarcastically.
“It’s more like falling with style.” Cadence jested.
“I’ll take it!” Lightning shouted, turning and yelling orders to her mercs.
Cadence snuffed out a large amount of flames and returned her gaze to Lightning. “Where’s Chrysalis? Do you have captured again yet?”
Lightning shook her head. “No, but I have my best lieutenant protecting the only plausible exit along with a large portion of my merc group.” The pegasus mare frowned heavily. “I sacrificed a lot of able-bodied mercs to guard that door instead of helping to put out the flames, they won’t disappoint.”
Cadence smiled and nodded. “Good, we can’t let Chrysalis escape now, not till I say so!” The Alicorn gathered a huge chunk of her magic and suffocated much of the flames.
The mercs were gaining the upper hand on the fire. Lightning sighed in relief. “We should be good, as long as there aren’t any more surprises.”
Cadence and Lightning’s ears twitched and stood erect as they heard a buzzing sound, like insect wings flapping. Cadence turned her down one of the undamaged hallways and into the darkness beyond. It took a few seconds but soon a little Changeling came flying out of the darkness. “Shape Shift?!” Cadence yelled before the insectoid rammed her and sent her to the ground.
The Alicorn and Changeling wrestled on the ground slightly as the little bug tried to get Cadence to listen to him. Cadence finally got a foothold and pushed the Changeling away. “Dammit Shape Shift, what was that about?!” Realization hit Cadence. “Shape Shift? WHY ARE YOU HERE?!”
The little Changeling had taken Cadence’s place in the lower countryside (an irony in retrospect). While the real Cadence helped the mercs interrogate Chrysalis, Shape Shift organized the search for his Queen. As Cadence, he sent the guards in all the wrong directions to buy the real deal time. To avoid the problem with Shape Shift’s muteness, Cadence had faked strep throat so no one tried to get her assistant to speak.
Cadence knew Shape Shift’s appearance here at the base was not a good sign. “Why are you here Shape Shift? You should be back sabotaging the search efforts.”
Lightning Dust squinted at the Changeling angrily. “I want to know how he got in my base undetected…”
Shape Shift grabbed out his tiny board and scribbled on it furiously. Finishing in record timing, the Changeling showed his mistress the board: WE HAVE BIG PROBLEM! CELESTIA SENT EXTRA GUARDS TO HELP SEARCH, BUT THEY DIDN’T REPORT TO ME! THEY FOUND THIS HIDEOUT AND TOLD CELESTIA! NOW A CONTINGENT OF ELITE CANTERLOT GUARDS IS ON THE WAY! I COULDN’T STOP THEM CADENCE!
Cadence’s wide eyes betrayed any sign of calm she tried to put forth. Celestia had sent her own guards to find Chrysalis and, undeterred by Cadence, had found the mercs’ hideout easily. They’d be on them any minute! It was over! This base was a lost cause; it was time to cut their losses.
Lightning thought the same. “If this true, then things are going to get fubar pretty soon. We need to leave immediately.” The pegasus looked at Cadence. “You should get out of here first. If your cover’s blown…”
“I have a better plan.” Cadence stated confidently.
Lightning Dust blinked at the Alicorn confusedly. “Wha-What? What do you mean?”
The Alicorn smirked. “There’s never anything wrong with earning good will right? Just make sure to explain what happened to your mercs. I’m trying to fool Chrysalis with a smile, not betray them.” Cadence turned to Shape Shift. “Did you use a backdoor?” The Changeling nodded. “Show me.” Cadence’s eye turned from her Changeling to Lightning. “I’ll contact you when I’m able.”
The two then took off down a hallway. Lightning watched them leave and sighed, her pay grade wasn’t high enough for this confusion.
By the time Shape Shift and Cadence had escaped the base, the elite guards were already in position. The Guard commander, an Earth pony stallion named Tested Tactics, was about to give the attack order when Cadence arrived.
The stallion blinked at the pink Alicorn. “Princess Cadence? What are you doing here? We had just sent a messenger to inform you of our find.”
Cadence smiled. “I am always aware of the situation, commander. I’ve come to retrieve Chrysalis personally.”
“It is commander.” Cadence frowned sternly. “Chrysalis was captured while coming to visit me. I feel obligated to bring her back to Canterlot.” The stallion was about to speak again, but Cadence stopped him. “And no need to worry about protection,” Cadence’s eyes glowed a dark red and her mane burst into scarlet flames before engulfing her whole body. When the flames subsided, Cadence was in full battle attire. “I am already covered.”
The stallion nodded. “Very well Princess, welcome aboard.” The Commander turned to his guards. “Alright! Fire off a warning shot! It wouldn’t be right to not let them know we’re attacking.”
“A little cocky aren’t we?” Asked Cadence as a bolt of magic was shot through the makeshift metal wall leading to the mercs’ base.
“Princess, with all due respect,” Tactics started, lifting his hoof into the air. The stallion brought it down and all the unicorns in the contingent fired on the wall, tearing it to shreds. “We aren’t cocky just for show.” The stallion smiled as he shouted ‘charge!’ and the elite guards rushed the opening.
Cadence chuckled at the commander, but quickly went to the task at hand. Walking past the destroyed barrier and into the base’s cavern entrance, the Alicorn looked around for her target. She spotted her only a few meters away. How close she was to escaping… Cadence thought, annoyed.
Walking calmly and coolly through the fighting, Cadence seemed unaware as bolts of magic flew past and around her. She reached Chrysalis easily. The Changeling hesitated for a few seconds but finally looked at the Alicorn’s boot, then up to her face.
Cadence smiled warmly, though she looked quite intimidating in her battle armor. “Hey there, long time no see huh?” She said casually.
Canterlot, Many Hours Since Attack on Merc Base
The Sun had just been risen and a new day had begun in Equestria. Celestia was waiting at the front gates of Canterlot Castle. Her normally calm demeanor had faltered, and she was visibly anxious. She bit her lower lip in anticipation, but tried to remain patient as she had for the past few hours. Her patience was rewarded when, trotting up to the front gates, Cadence and Chrysalis arrived at the Castle.
“Aunt Celestia!” Cadence shouted happily. “Look who I found!”
Celestia couldn’t contain herself and she ran at Chrysalis, tackling her to the ground and showering her with kisses. Cadence laughed slightly at the gesture. Chrysalis laughed gleefully, trying to push the Alicorn off. “Ok, ok, ok Celli! Come on! Have some dignity!”
Celestia nuzzled the Changeling. “Dignity be damned.” Celestia grabbed the Changeling’s face and gave her a deep kiss, a kiss Chrysalis happily returned.
Cadence coughed, indicating that the two should stop before they ‘got dirty’ right at the Castle gates. The two large mares caught the gesture and agreed, picking themselves up.
“Oh Chrysalis, it’s… well no words describe how good it is to have you back.” Celestia nuzzled her lover once more.
“It’s certainly good to not be a prisoner anymore.” Chrysalis remarked. “I’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep in a proper bed.”
“You’ve earned it.” Cadence happily agreed.
Chrysalis smiled and jumped at the pink Alicorn, hugging her. “Thank you Cadence, you freed me from that hellhole.”
Cadence laughed sheepishly and gently nudged Chrysalis off of her. “Me? No, I just escorted you to Canterlot. Celestia’s guards are the ones who found you.”
“Then I’ll have to thank each one personally.” Chrysalis happily replied.
“That’s for later.” Celestia interjected. “For now you need to rest up and heal. After that, I’ll need your help with something.”
Chrysalis’s happy expression dropped and she cocked an eyebrow. “What? Why do you need my help?”
“I’ll explain in private, I don’t want…”
“Sister! I called Queen Carapace again! She didn’t answer, foolish bug!” Princess Luna came from nowhere and landed next to her sister. “I swear, that Changeling is a major thorn in our sides, and not just because she’s taken everypony in the Crystal Empire hostage.”
Celestia face-hoofed. “Dammit Luna…”
Luna cocked an eyebrow. “What? Why are you…?” That’s when the Princess of the Night noticed Cadence, the pink Alicorn’s eyes wide and her mouth gaping. “Oh…”
Cadence’s right eye twitched, but other than that the mare’s expression was stuck into one of shock. She was beginning to breathe heavily. Celestia took a step towards her. “Cadence? Cadence, I need you to just calm down for a second while I…”
“I think I need a doctor.” The pink Alicorn said weakly as she swayed back and forth, looking woozy. “Medic…” The mare collapsed.
“CADENCE!” Celestia, Chrysalis, and Luna shouted as they ran to the young Alicorn.