Chrysalis' eyes flew open, and she bolted to her legs with a gasp. The pain of her last death was still fresh in her memory, causing her heart to race. “That accursed mare,” she hissed. “Waltzing into the middle of my speech and ending me so unceremoniously. I deserve more respect than that.” She took a moment to catch her breath, surveying the world around her. Something was different. Chrysalis opened her mouth and sniffed deeply, drinking in the scents. There was no mistake. She was back in Reality. With a look of concern, she mounted the nearby hill. She'd been deposited near Canterlot, which didn't look much more than ten minutes of travel away, and her army was nowhere to be seen. She frowned. Something had changed, and she couldn't quite place her hoof on it.
Her stomach growled, interrupting her thoughts. Ah yes, that was what had changed. She felt hunger agian. And pain, her head was quick to remind her. It seemed the borders between the worlds were deteriorating. Well, two things seemed obvious. Firstly, she needed a meal. And secondly, when everything came to a head, she would want to be in the best position possible. In the throne, preferably. Both desires could be met in Canterlot, and so she began trekking her way across the snow. The city slowly grew larger as she came closer, her wings buzzing in anticipation. She'd finally have a chance for revenge against Celestia and that lovey-dovey couple. She was lacking the brute strength of her minions, but what did it matter? All she needed was a hostage, and the world would fall before her. And what better way to unsettle them than approach as herself?
“Halt!” The guards attending the front gates lowered their spears agressively. “Don't take a step further, Queen of the Changelings. You're not welcome here.”
“I need to speak with Celestia. Don't keep me waiting.”
The guard shook his head. “I don't have the authority. Besides, Celestia is away from Canterlot at the moment. If you really must speak, the Minister of Relations might be willing to-”
“Do I look like I want to talk to the minister? Where has Celestia gone?”
“That's confidential information.”
Chrysalis gave a condescending look. “You don't know, do you?”
“Ma'am, turn back or we'll be forced to take hostile action.”
“If I wanted to fight, I'd have launched another invasion,” Chrysalis said, grinning internally at her deception. “Surely there must be somepony more competent I can speak with?”
The guard hesitated. “Princess Cadence and Shining Armor are presiding in Celestia's presence, but considering your lat interaction with them, I don't really think that-”
“Just let them know I'm here, yeah? Let them decide for themselves, unless you think your judgement is better than theirs.”
The guard nodded to one of his inferiors, who ran off to inform the royal couple. The rest stood in their strained standoff, not saying anything. Finally, the guard returned, Cadence and Shining Armor in tow.
“Chrysalis,” Cadence began warily. “To what do we owe your presence?” She had been about to say 'honor' out of habit, but had quickly bit back the word. There was no real point
“I'll be quick and blunt. I still hate you both and would do anything I could to see you in my dungeon. But there are bigger problem than just you or me right now. I'm certain you've heard the reports of a strange plague that's spreading across the land? Of extreme sensations of pain and hunger?”
“We've been trying to keep it quiet, but yes, there have been some strange things happening to the populace.”
“Well, I happen to know where it's coming from. Give me a meal and I'll tell you what I know.”
Shining Armor shook his head. “I don't think anything you would say could help us.”
Chrysalis frowned. “I'm trying to be reasonable here.”
“Then leave in peace, and we will not follow.”
Chrysalis began to feel the opportunity slip away. She had to speak quickly, or else she'd be back where she started. Alone, hungry, and frozen. “Come now, I'm delivering myself to your doorstep and you know my real strength lies in my army. Or don't you think you can subdue one simple mare?”
“I simply don't trust you. We'l figure out what's happening without you, sooner or later. And if you're the one who's been causing this...” His eyes grew dark as he left the threat hanging.
“Me? If only. No, I can't take credit.”
“I've already made my decision, Chrysalis. Move along.” Shining Armor put a hoof around Cadence and began walking away.
Chrysalis stepped forward, but was once again threatened by the spears of the wary guards. “Wait!” she yelled. “It's Twilight. Your sister's been causing all of this, even as she's been trying to stop it.”
Shining Armor stopped with that jolt of betrayal that comes with news feared true. He turned back, his face much more concealing than his body language. “And why should I believe you?”
“The circumstances are too perfect. If you still doubt me after I've spoken, I'll leave without complaint.”
“It's just a trick. You can't be trusted. You're too dangerous of a guest.”
“As is truth. Do you know how many lives Twilight has condemned by her actions? We're all at risk. She's cost your precious little kingdom more than you've ever saved here, sitting on your fat post, Captain.”
“Get out!” Shining Armor barked. “Any future attempts to gain entrance to any city protected by the Equestrian nation will be met with lethal force. You've fooled us once, and I will die before you do it again.” His glare was unyielding as his stance; Chrysalis was actually intimidated, and she took a few steps back. But then, just as she was about to leave in defeat, another voice spoke up.
“Let her speak.” Shining Armor's glare turned into a look of shock. He turned to see Cadence step forward, her wing draping over his back in consolation. “She'll be my personal responsibility, but I want to hear what she has to say.”
“Dearest, I'm not sure that-”
“My knight, I know that she's dangerous, perhaps better than you do. But if she is right, turning her away might do more harm than good. Celestia left us to protect the kingdom as a whole, and these amplified emotions are causing one worse than the others; fear. Unless we find a way to address this, the citizens will become restless.”
“Oh, you have a good deal more to worry about than that.” Chrysalis began to relax. She could see that Cadence's infuence was working on Shining Armor.
“Fine.” Shining Armor signaled the guards to let down their spears.
“Heh, are you sure you got rid of the right one of us?” Chrysalis asked as she stepped forward once again. “Cadence has a better hold on your mind than I ever did.”
“You'll find love to be more persuasive than fear could ever hope to be,” Cadence retorted. “You've been allowed entrance, but remember, you are our guest. One false step is all it will take for us to kick you out.”
Chrysalis nodded, and followed without a fuss, painfully aware of the troops around her. Her instincts told her to run, to fight, to do anything but comply, and yet, she was the master of manipulating emotions. She knew how to control her own. In short time, they were lead into a meeting room of some sort. There was a long table with space for many more ponies than the three that remained in the room, clustering at one end of the table. Shining Armor wasted no time with questioning the changeling queen.
“Alright, we've let you in, and you have a private audience. What do you know of the hunger and pain?”
“This will be hard to swallow, but everything will make much more sense when I've explained it. I'm not from Equestria. The changelings, and more importantly, me, all came from another world that overlays and envelops this one. It's a land where the feelings that are currently crippling the nation come from. And they're just the beginning. Everything considered bad or wrong here has a more perfect and pure form in that world. When I say that Twilight has condemned us all to death, I mean the true death. You call it 'blinking' here, right?”
“That's right. It's as fast as a blink, and as painless as falling asleep. It's a rest well-earned.”
“The death in that world, and the one that's coming here, is nothing like that. It's indescribable, and it's the worst of what that world has to offer. If only pain and hunger are here now, then it's likely that more sensations will begin to bleed through, and they'll only get worse.”
“Where did this world come from?”
“From what I've been able to gather, your very own Princess Celestia.”
“Why would she create such a thing?”
“I don't think she created it, in the traditional sense. It was a reorganization of materials. The worlds were once one and the same. And much like a rubber-band that's been stretched too far, it's about to snap back into place. She separated them for as long as she could, but even her strength can only do it for so long. I'm sure her decision was driven by some misguided sense of doing it for the greater good, but she made some enemies in the process. Including, sadly, her sister.”
“I'm not sure I follow.”
“Princess Celestia's been gone for an awful long time, hasn't she? And Luna's missing too. And your sister too. No letters, no explanations, once again leaving you behind to deal with the mundane duties so that a false sense of normalitiy can be imposed on the masses.”
“So what do you want us to do about it?”
“Fight back. Demand an explanation.”
Cadence held out a hoof in protest. “Hold on a moment. Celestia's been nothing but good to us. All we have is your word. Why would we confront her?”
Chrysalis rolled her eyes. “What'll it take to convince you two? What do you need, another witness? To see it with your own eyes?”
A flash of light interrupted Cadence's measured response. All parties looked to the source of the arcane interruption. A confused-looking Changeling stumbled to the ground. Shining Armor leaped to all-fours and rammed Chrysalis into the wall. “Of course it was a trap!”
Chrysalis looked around wildly. “No! I promise, this isn't my doing!” But even as she protested, several more flashes blinded her in quick succession. A couple more changelings appeared, along with a few unrecognized ponies, and finally, a griffon. Each seemed as confused as the last. The griffon lost its stomach on the plush carpet, causing Cadence to shy away.
The three that had first been occupying the room didn't know what to make of the situation. Shining Armor began to doubt that it was really an attack. “Chrysalis, explain,” he said simply.
“It'd be a little easier to if -hurk- If I could breathe, you idiot!” Shining Armor released her from the pin, and caught her breath. “Minion, what do you last remember?”
The insectoid pony began chittering excitedly, its words hardly recognizable past the thick accent of the changelings. “Your gloriouss majesty, I vas doing as I had been instructed. I vas with my patrol, rounding off any who would try to escape the might of the changeling army. We had just happened on a small group of survivors, he being one of them,” It said, pointing to the still-queasy griffon, “And we began to fight. Last I remember, a brilliant flash of light lit up the entire sky not far away. Our fight vas interrupted as we watched it quickly move towards us. I felt a searing pain, and before I knew it, I had died. I vas waiting in the natural plane for a short time before I was forcibly returned. Your highnesss, forgive my failure and my ignorance, but this is not the Forgotten Realm, is it? These are they who cast us back into the darknesss, and I'm sure they wouldn't want to follow us.” It made a point of looking at Shining Armor and Cadence, an evil glint in its eye. Chrysalis shook her head in response.
“No, this is Reality again.”
The griffon looked up excitedly. “Wait, we're in reality? We made it?” His pony companions looked around in awe and hope.
“Don't get too excited.” Chrysalis stepped over to him. The griffon reared up and bared his claws, making Chrysalis pause. “Calm down, I'm not here to kill you yet. We've got bigger problems than conquering a castle it seems. Can you confirm my soldier's story?”
The griffon eased up, but remained wary. “Yeah. We'd just gotten away from your attack. When we realized it wouldn't be possible to hold our ground, we ran in the hopes we could regroup at meeting place. But we were weaked from battle, and your scouts were fast. We fought, the light appeared, I felt terrible pain, died, and suddenly I'm here.” His companions nodded their silent confirmation.
The door burst open. A guard ran in, and stopped just as suddenly. “Prince! Princess!” He lashed out with his spear, goring the nearest changeling, who fell over dead without a sound.
“Stop! Don't start a fight, Sharp-Wit, you idiot!” Shining Armor ran over and smacked the spear out of his inferior's hooves. The baffled guard stammered out an apology.
“I came to warn you, there are changelings all over the castle! Several of us have already fallen! Are you telling me not to fight back?”
Shining Armor threw an accusatory glance at Chrysalis, who groaned. “I'll call them off. But what can you expect? They appear, scattered, amongst the enemy. Of course they're going to fight.” Chrysalis bellowed out, with incredible force, an all-encompasing cry. “ALL TROOPS. CEASE. TAKE TO THE SKIES AND HOLD.” The voice was laden with an almost comically-manly bass, causing it to bleed through the stones and travel throughout the entire castle. The changelings in the room brushed past the poor guard and leaped out a nearby window, joining the rest of the swarm.
Chrysalis, content, turned to the guard, Sharp-Wit. “For killing one of my soldiers, I demand an answer. Were the changelings the only creatures to appear?”
“No, there were quite a few ponies and griffons as well, but they fought with us, and in the heat of the battle, I didn't question it.”
“Then it's as I feared.” Chrysalis turned back to the royal couple. “We have less time than we thought. Is this proof enough for you? There's another world, and it's about to invade our own. As much as I love fighting and conquest, I like Reality as it was quite a bit more. If you want to save your world, we have to fight back. You'll have the changeling army at your command, and we'll settle our differences later.”
Shining Armor and Cadence looked at each other for a few moments, their glances all the debate they needed. Cadence turned back to Chrysalis. “Very well. The Canterlot army will do what it can to stop this. What's the plan?”
“We get in position. With our combined magic, we can probably track the leak, and deduce where it's going to happen next. If we can close it up, we can eventually herd the atrocities back where they belong, and seal them once again. Anypony who stands in our way will face our wrath. Simple as that.”
Shining Armor nodded. “I'll gather the troops. Cadence, if you'd like to stay with Chrysalis, you can begin the tracking.” Shining Armor glared at Chrysalis. “If you harm a hair on her-”
“Just go, loverboy. Soon enough, death will be permanent, and I don't particularly want to be stuck in that position. I'll play nice. You run along now.”
Shining Armor dragged Sharp-Wit with him, and the two female alicorns were left with the soldiers from the Forgotten Realm's abbey.
“I didn't want to say anything in front of Shining Armor,” Cadence began, piquing Chrysalis' attention. “But I have to know; has Celestia really been lying to us?”
“I'm afraid so. Whether maliciously or good-intentioned, she's been keeping the truth from you. There's another world, and it's on its way here.” Cadence sighed, but said nothing more. Seizing the silence, Chrysalis spoke up once again. “Oh, by the way, I'm still a bit hungry. Since I'm guessing Canterlot doesn't keep a steady supply of meat, would you mind giving me a little, uh, sampling of your magic?”
Cadence cringed. “It seems rather self-defeating to spread my love just for you to devour it.”
“Hey, a full Chrysalis is a happy Chrysalis, and you'll want a happy Chrysalis fighting with you.”
Cadence shook her head, but complied.
Many miles away, and oblivious to the apocalyptic problems facing Canterlot, a lone pony pulled a small, wooden wagon. “It's been a long time since Trixie's felt this hungry,” she muttered. “She ate three days ago, so why does it hurt so much now?” She lifted her head to the sky. Cloudsdale was just a short distance away, but the city might as well have been across an ocean. She could maybe try to catch one of the Pegasi's attention, but her pride was stronger than her complaining stomach. “I'll find something along the way, I'm sure.” Trixie continued trudging along for a while, the aching turning into active and sharp pain. Finally, she could bear it no longer. She turned to the plants in her immediate vicinity. None of them would've been particularly appetizing on any other day, but survival pushed aside any scruples propriety offered. She bent over, grasping some of the grasses and ripping them out of the earth with ferocity. The bitter taste washed over her mouth, but it was food, and that was enough. She returned for another bite with the same vigor.
Without warning, a blast of light hit Trixie, sending her sprawling a few feet. She jumped back up, more embarrassed that she'd been seen acting like a wild animal than she was hurt. “Who dares to attack Trixie?” Before her floated a familiar-looking unicorn who appeared to be in some sort of trance, an aura of light enveloping her. “What?” Trixie approached slowly. “A mirror? But that isn't Trixie. Who are you?”
The copy's eyes flew open, as did her mouth. Her voice was airy and distant, like she were yelling over a great distance. “The time is not yet!” She convulsed for a moment, before finally gaining control, turning to look at Trixie. “You must be my reflection! I don't know to whether to curse or thank the gods. Quickly, you have to join me!”
Trixie frowned. “I think not. Explain yourself, or leave Trixie's presence before she gets angry.”
The pony convulsed again, obviously in great pain. Trixie's frown of spite became one of pity. The reflection gained control once again, gasping for breath. “I am Lux. I come from a world of darkness, where I am one of the few sources of light. But I fear I have failed in saving it. Its borders are broken, and like a flood, the darkness will rush here and drown all you hold dear. Please, you have to help me if there is to be any hope!”
“I don't understand. What's happening to you?”
“I made a mistake. I initiated a ritual to ascend to Godhood in the hopes that my influence would be one of good, but I was incomplete. I needed my other half. I needed you.”
“I am to become an Alicorn, but without being balanced within, the power I hold will tear me asunder.”
Trixie shyed away. “This is so sudden. Trixie don't know you. How does she know this isn't a trick?”
“I never lie. Look into my eyes and know Truth.”
Trixie did as she was told, and after a few moments, she nodded, a fierce determination overcoming her. When she had looked into those eyes, she saw something greater than the physical flesh. If she had been asked, she wouldn't be able to describe it, but a feeling of pure knowledge had washed over her. Now she knew. “Trixie- I mean, I, will do what I can to help.”
“The grasp my hoof, and will that we become one.”
“What will happen?”
“We shall die, and dying, never fear death again.”
Trixie grinned. “Immortality?”
“And all I've got to do is save the world?”
“It boils down to that, yes.”
“Easy. There's nothing that Trixie can't do.” She clasped her reflection's outstretched hoof, and both disappeared, leaving a strangely serene scene of the abandoned wagon and a small, half-chewed clump of grass lying by the side of the road.