Chapter 17: Powder Keg
“Shift?” I turned my head to Digit, who was fixated on the farthest corner of the chamber. We were being escorted roughly through the twisting catacombs of Prima’s new Hive. The place did not feel like a clutch as shown through our Queen’s imprinting; no amber lining the walls to hang hosts from, no alcoves dug into the upper sections to allow grubs room to grow, it was just a large, circular chamber. The drones that weren’t guarding us were merely standing around, like robots put on standby. A couple dozen eggs—our eggs—were laid in the very center with the utmost care. In the farthest corner, where Digit was staring, was a large, if rather underwhelming, cage. In that cage was the prone form of…
My Queen… I thought, trying not to gasp out loud. I only knew it was Chrysalis through the bond I had with her, that flared when I noticed her. Otherwise, she was nearly unrecognizable. She may as well have been a corpse from the way she remained still as a statue.
Yet there was something else… Her tail and mane were completely drained of color. The antennae on her head—often mistaken for a crown, for understandable reasons—hung low like a dying flower. Her eyes were unfocused, unseeing…
“Mother!” Digit cried out. A quick smack to the back of her head silenced her.
The gesture did not go unnoticed. Chrysalis’ eyes flickered towards us. They flashed with life—a look of deep despair. I caught the faintest sign of a tear before she shut her eyes and did not move.
I stared at her. This wasn’t right… It would be understandable if she was beaten, battered, bruised, anything to show she hadn’t gone down without a fight, but… She seemed to be drained… She looked as though she didn’t see the point in fighting. This was wrong…
My eyes fell on her discolored tail again. They’d done something to her. I opened my mouth to call out to her, when another smack dropped me to the floor.
“Seal them in the amber, but leave them conscious…” came a booming, somewhat distorted voice, more so than Chrysalis’. “I want them to watch their mother and the part she plays in the new era of our kingdom.”
“Chrys--” I began, but I was kicked in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I felt magic wrap around my hind legs, and was dragged backwards towards the wall. I was hoisted against the wall of the cavern, given a grand view of Chrysalis, who seemed to be stirring. A glimmer of hope flashed in my heart…
When I realized she was groaning in distant pain. “Ah, the first egg in our new order!” Said the voice. I looked up to see another Queen—a horrible aberration, twisted with some kind of dark magics—hovering overhead. The Queen—likely Queen Prima—looked down at us. “In time, you will see… This is the glorious destiny of our people!”
I watched in horror as, once the single egg was laid, it was cruelly snatched away and placed among the rest of the clutch. I stared at Chrysalis, who seemed utterly resigned to this fate.
I made one last effort to call out as the drones began to encase Digit and I in amber.
“I’m telling you, man, there’s nothing here…” Dan said as we drove another lap around the gravel pit we’d found off West River. Other than a single office trailer that had not aged well, the place seemed abandoned… If it weren’t for the faint signs of recent tire tracks on the dirt road I would have called this lead a bust.
The past forty-eight hours weren’t exactly relaxed. Dane’s friend Lucas was, in actuality, a closet brony, and had a nerdgasm over meeting the “Great and Powerful Trixie”. He was disappointed by me having what he thought to be ‘amnesia’, but insisted on telling me how awesome I was and refused to leave my side. He even showed me the rest of the show; quality stuff, easy to see what the millions of guys loved about it. The Trixie episodes, in particular, were my favorites… Chris made Trixie sound like little more than some unicorn who could fling a few basic magic spells around, but what she could do was far more spectacular—teleporting, conjuring, illusions, I could see why so many would throw themselves at her feet.
I could actually imagine myself on her stage… Throwing fantastical spells about, astounding them, making them see the power she… I, wielded… A few fireworks here, the illusion of entire constellations there… The cheers of the crowd, granting a wondrous sense of adrenaline that fueled my desire to prove the power of the Great and Powerful Trixie!!
The finale did put a deep sense of anguish in my stomach, though… That Discord character ended up screwing everyone and everything over, just to conquer that world. There hadn’t been that much of a fan outcry since a certain Crucible fiasco.
Finally, a couple days later, we decided to follow up on that lead. We never told Lucas what was going on, of course; if he found out we were (potentially) certain danger, he’d probably do something stupid for my ‘honor’. He was saddened to see me go, but I made a flimsy promise to return if I could.
“Let’s just check out the trailer…” I said. “If there’s nothing there, we’ll…” I gave a sigh. “We’ll get out of here…”
Dane brought a gun he’d snagged off one of his bodyguards; I didn’t know just how useful it would be, but if the changelings could die from being stabbed in the throat, a bullet would likely be just as healthy for them. We left at around 1am; I kept an eye on the sky, but there hadn’t been any signs of anything strange around town. There were the occasional “strange sightings” everywhere else… Likely others being turned into ponies. Maybe once Chrysalis was out, we could find some way to contact them.
Dane pulled up a short distance from the trailer. “I’ll go check it out…” I said softly, opening the door. “I’ll come back and let you know what I find.”
“Or…” Dane said firmly. “We both check it out.” He opened his door without another word and crept towards the trailer. I rolled my eyes and followed, wincing every time my hooves made a considerably loud ‘crunch’ on the dirt underfoot. As we approached the trailer I reared back and leaned up against a window.
“It’s pitch black in there…” I muttered.
“Hold on…” Dane said. He pulled out Lucas’ cell phone, likely snagged without Lucas knowing, and held the screen to the window.
“Are you crazy!!” I hissed, ducking to the ground. “What if something is in there?!”
“It’s cool, look…” Dane said. As I got up, he seemed to notice something. “...Oh, wow.”
“What?” I asked, looking through the window at what he’d seen. My jaw dropped. There was a sizeable hole in the floor, seemingly dug out by some animal seeking shelter…
“That has to be it,” Dane said. He moved around the side of the trailer and grabbed the handle.
“STOOOOP STOP STOP STOP STOP!!” I hissed, trying desperately to avoid shouting. The knob didn’t move; locked.
“Figures…” Dane said.
“What’re you thinking?!” I said. “We can’t just YOLO our way in there, gun or no gun!! They’ll rip us so many new assholes!!”
Dane put a finger to his chin. “What do we do, then?”
I bit my lip. “...I don’t know, we, uh…” I rested my head against the trailer; without having the faintest clue of what was down there, our only hope was to actually venture forth and hope not to trip on a snoozing changeling. I sighed. “Fine, whatever… We head in there, all stealthy, and hope for the best… Only real option, really… Once we figure out how to get in there…”
Dane looked away from me, and at the car. “...I’ve got a plan. Not that much smarter or safer, but, hey…” He hurried towards the car.
“Whoa, what, what’re you doing?” I asked, following him.
“I’ll get you a way in,” Dane said, swinging the driver side door open. “Then I’ll try and keep those bugs’ attention while you go in there and get Chris out; if he can help as much as you think, he should be able to handle the rest…”
“I dunno…” I said. “I mean, Chris had some time to practice magic, but otherwise he might not be able to…”
“Then you two can just grab Liz and those ‘grubs’ or whatever, and get out!” Dane said as he climbed in and slammed the door. “Look, you’re the one who wanted to get here sooner! It’s now or never, we either do something stupid and probably die, or do nothing and everyone definitely dies! Now, are you with me?!”
I stammered; this was all happening so fast. “S-Sorta?!”
That was all Dane needed. The engine roared to life and, within seconds, was already screaming towards the trailer. I hurried off to the side of the gravel mound the trailer was settled into, and ducked.
With a powerful crash the car plowed through the flimsy wall. Dane quickly shifted into reverse and backed out; he rolled his window down and held his gun out the side. An ominous buzzing rumbled from within the trailer.
“Wait till it looks like a lot of ‘em are out there!!” Dane called.
“Please don’t do anything stupid!!” I called as the buzzing grew to nerve-racking volume. “...Or, at least, stupider!!”
In less than a second a stream of black and green flowed out of the trailer. At least forty changelings buzzed angrily, floating in a disjointed formation, glaring furiously at Dane. “Oh shit!” Dane squeaked, closing his window and beginning to speed away. The changelings began divebombing the car as it sped back down the dirt path. The car rounded a corner onto the main road and out of sight.
I took the opportunity; I sprinted into the trailer, careful not to trip on the debris, and threw myself into the hole. I rolled and tumbled painfully along unfeeling stone into near complete darkness. The place felt like a very painful water slide, sans water; it took every ounce of effort not to yell in pain before the ground leveled out and my rolling ceased. I shook my head of the stars blocking my vision and looked around.
I seemed to be on an upper ledge in some large, round cavern, dug out by these changelings. The only light came from the soft glow of that same goo that had been lining Chris’s basement the night Liz was kidnapped; I don’t know how they’d made this stuff glow, though. Down below was a sort of pit; at the bottom were a very large number of eggs… Chris’s eggs. Some of them looked ill… Their normal green color had given way to a venomous purple… Whatever Prima was doing, it was working. And at the far corner of the pit was a cage, with Chris himself inside. He was lying down, completely still… Was he asleep?
“What are they doing?!” An angry voice called out. I looked up and nearly screamed. Hovering close to the ceiling, with its back to me, was another changeling, like Chris in shape alone… Insect wings, long mane and tail, curving horn… But she looked like if that character Chrysalis was designed for some kind of horror movie. She was angrily addressing five other changelings, one of whom I recognized as Pollen from Chris’s place. “They’re going to attract too much attention!!”
“But, that human, my queen!” She whimpered, averting the gaze of who I could only guess was Prima. I ducked behind nearby stalagmites and listened. “He seemed to know of this Hive! If he escapes he will alert other humans to us!!”
Prima roared in fury. She lit up her horn; a blast of crimson magic blasted Pollen, causing her to plummet to the floor. She smashed to the floor, gave a single death throe, and suddenly turned into a glowing pile of neon green goo. Prima looked to the other changelings. She looked half-ready to smite them as well, but she took a breath and calmed herself. “I will obtain this human myself. I will be back shortly. You remain here and guard Chrysalis… I smell treachery in this…”
I ducked lower as I heard a low buzzing grow close, then disappeared up the way I’d so-gracefully entered. I peered between the stalagmites; four changelings patrolled diligently around Chris’s cage.
Okay, Trixie, think… I thought. You’ve played Hitman, how do you get guards to leave your target alone? A well-placed diversion… I looked to the left. The goo seemed to be important… It was what held Bedford in place—matter of fact, I could see her over there. And next to her were three…
The grubs! I realized. Their eyes, unlike Bedford’s, had some gleam of life in them… They were conscious. Prima evidently wanted them to watch their eggs being corrupted, the twisted bitch… Maybe…
I looked along the edge; despite there not being much reason for a changeling to use a ramp, there was one off to the side, likely for bringing prisoners in. I double-checked to make sure the coast was clear, then crept along wall towards the ramp, never taking my eyes off the guards. Their ‘patrol’ was nothing more than standing in front of Chris’s cage, keeping eyes on all points of approached. I’d never get close enough to the grubs without being seen…
I felt my hoof bump a rock; I stopped just short of causing it to roll, which might as well have been me stepping on an “AWOOGA” horn. Actually… I thought. I lifted the rock in my magic; there was a deeper part of the pit, below the ledge… If my aim was good, and if these drones were stupid enough, I could distract them for maybe a good five seconds, long enough for me to try and yank one of the grubs out.
Hey, we’ve gone this long without a good idea… I thought, rolling my eyes. Why start now? I tossed the rock. It clattered into the lower section, echoing into the cavern. “What was that!” One of the drones yelled. Predictably, yet somehow unbelievably, all four of them swarmed towards where the rock had landed.
Wow… I thought, trying desperately not to laugh at their stunning brilliance. I crept towards one of the encased grubs—Shift, I recognized, by his larger size. I used my horn to scrape a line in the goo around his shape before, with a pull of magic, I pulled him free and kept him hovering in the air. My head ached in pain from supporting his weight as I gently lowered him to the ground and quickly rubbed the goo from his head. “Wake up…” I said in a barely audible whisper. “Please, Shift, PLEASE, wake up!!”
Shift’s eyes slowly regained focus. He shook his head. “Trix--” he began before I shoved a hoof into his mouth.
“I need to get your sisters out,” I hissed, casting a glance towards the idiot drones. “Once they’re free, can you three distract those guys while I get Chris out?”
“Prima…” Shift said softly. “She did something to… to our mother…”
His choice of words didn’t go unnoticed; I tilted my head to the side. “What did she do?”
Shift shook his head. “I don’t know, but it… Drained her…”
“Shh…” I said. “Help me get Digit and Echo free real fast, okay?”
Shift shakily got to his hooves as I began to pull Digit out, the same way as before. The goo around the grubs seemed to be losing its glow—it probably reacted to a deal of life force, or whatever, being encased in it. Digit and Echo came free in seconds… If Jedi was any indication, we’d be discovered any moment now. “Distract those guys!” I hissed as I heard the changeling guards agree that it was nothing. Echo and Digit shook the goo from their heads, somewhat woozy but otherwise fine.
“What about the eggs?” Digit asked. “Prima, she…”
“We’ll figure something out, now go!” I hissed. The grubs looked at each other and nodded. The trio flew some distance above the eggs.
Digit’s hind leg shifted into the leg of an attractive woman with a long red dress and heels. She pulled the hem of the dress up like a hitchhiker. “Yoo-hoo~!” She called.
The drones spun around and looked up. “They’ve escaped!!” One of them yelled. “Get Queen--” Before he could finish, the four were suddenly divebombed by the grubs. It was scary just how well the three synchronized; when one knocked a foe airborne, another was there to slam it back to the ground. When one was ganged up on, the other two were quick to provide relief. It was clear why Prima wanted Chris’s eggs; hers were clearly inferior—the Cocoa Crunchies to Chris’s Cocoa Puffs.
While they were dealing with Prima’s drones—and clearly having fun with it—I ran over to Chris’s cage. I could immediately see what Shift meant… Chris looked like he had the most vicious of death wishes, like he hadn’t properly eaten in days, but otherwise he looked physically fine… He hadn’t been beaten into submission like I’d suspected… It was like he just… gave up, but why? “Chris?” I asked.
Chris’s eyes flickered open and looked over at me. They narrowed in confusion. “...Trixie?” He asked. “What’re you doing here?”
“I’m getting you out!” I said urgently. “We’re gonna deal with that Prima lady and get out of town, maybe find other human-ponies—there’ve been sightings!!”
Chris didn’t move. “And then what?”
I sputtered. “W-We find a way to fix this! Become human again!”
“‘Human again...’” Chris said. He gave a shadow of a laugh, then turned away from me. “Get out of here, Trixie… It’s no use…” As he turned, I noticed something odd—his mane and tail were grey, not the veridian I’d gotten used to. “Even if Prima’s stopped, even if everything works out… What happens next?”
“I, I don’t understand…” I said, bewildered. “What’s wrong?”
Chris took a deep breath. “Our lives have been little more than a lie, Trixie Lulamoon…” he said.
“What are you talking about?!” I asked, wrapping my hooves around the bars. “And stop calling me that! It’s Ray!”
“Trixie, we were never truly human in the first place…” Chris said. “We thought we were turning into ponies when, in reality, we were… shedding the human skin we’ve had for the past twenty five years… Discord banished every last pony from Equestria to here, and took the world for his own…”
I shook my head. “You’re not making any sense, Chris!!”
Chris finally stood up and looked at me; his green eyes had become grey as well. “We. Were never. HUMAN. This is our true form, Trixie!! Our humanity is gone, forever! We’re stuck like this, and… and…” His eyes shut as tears streamed down his face.
His words, however crazy sounding, somehow… stuck. If he had merely put under the delusion of actually being Chrysalis, it would be easy to put it all off as bullshit, but… Somehow, it all made sense… At least, in a world where people had turned into magical talking horses, this theory… seemed like something more.
I thought of those Trixie episodes… How easily I found myself imagining myself on that stage… The awestruck ponies observing my performance, the roar of the crowd, the rush of being in the spotlight…
“He’s here!!” A pegasus cried, floating some ways over a nearby building. I teleported onto the building he was above and looked to the horizon outside Manehatten, holding my hat in the heavy winds.
The billowing hills that rolled into the distance were becoming much less green… Some of them were taking on polka-dotted or striped patterns of many colors. The blue sky was becoming a vibrant purple…
“Oh, sweet Celestia…” The pegasus said. “We’re doomed…”
I didn’t think to give some kind of inspirational speech. “We need to keep everypony calm while we come up with a plan!” I looked to him; he looked half ready to flee and take his chances. “Hey!” I called. “Are you with me?!”
The pegasus looked at me and, after a moment, gave a nervous nod. He flew down towards the street while I teleported back. The citizens were urgently shouting, some families hugged each other, some were sobbing, unable to accept their impending fate...
“Miss Trixie!!” A voice called; I felt something tugging at my cape. I looked down at a little filly—a unicorn with a lime-green coat and mane. “You’ll stop Discord, won’t you?! You can do anything!!”
I stared at her for a moment, then gave a soft smile. “He won’t hurt you…” I said, before rearing back, just like on my old shows. “Not while you’re under the protection of the GREAT and POWERFUL TRIXIE!!”
The shouting silenced; all eyes were on me… Eyes full of… hope. “You hear that?!” Somepony yelled. “Trixie will save us!”
“She’ll send Discord packing!”
The encouraging shouts became louder… I felt myself shrink under their gaze, filled with false hope… I looked back; down the street I could see the purple in the sky coming closer. I looked back at them. “Y-Yes… Citizens of Manehatten, you are all under the protection of the Great and Powerful Trixie!”
I needed to do something… Keep them filled with hope, while still getting them to safety… Inspiration struck. “Now, get to the far side of the city!” I called out. “The battle with Discord will be dangerous… I won’t let anypony come to harm!”
The ponies looked unsure for a moment, before they started dispersing. The filly smiled at me for a moment before running up and hugging me. “Kick his butt!” She said encouragingly before turning and running back into the crowd.
I looked up at the pegasus; he didn’t look as sure, but he seemed to know what I was doing. He hovered down, laid a hoof on my shoulder, and nodded. “Good luck…” He said before reaching down and giving me a hug.
I hugged him back. “What’s your name?”
“Cloud Terrace…” he said. “...I loved your shows…”
“I hope you can see them again, someday…” I said, my eyes stinging with tears.” He gave me one last squeeze before flying off to organize the evacuation.
I wiped tears from my eyes, then turned towards the street. With a series of teleports I hurried towards the outskirts of the city. By the time I reached the sign reading “Welcome to Manehatten”, Discord’s influence was barely a mile away. I straightened my hat, kept my horn lit up, and dropped into a defensive stance.
A slow clap from above made me look up. There he was… He seemed amused, his claps practically screaming ‘sarcasm’ with each slap. “Bravo, Miss Lulamoon…” Discord said. “Tell me, how far do you think they’ll get before they realize just how useless you are?”
I scowled and sent a blast at his face. He snapped his fingers and the blast suddenly dropped from midair. It hit the ground and shattered like glass. With a growl I teleported. I reappeared above him and dropped down, aiming my horn towards his face…
He caught me by my horn, cackling. “Oh, this is too much! I must say, you might actually make me die laughing!!” He tossed me aside; I landed heavily on the multi-colored ground that was quickly spreading towards the city. I shakily stood up… The thought of that filly’s smile gave me a much-needed boost. I channeled my magic towards the Manehatten sign and lifted it into the air while Discord was busy guffawing. I tossed the sign like a frisbee at him.
It hit him full across the back, causing him to plummet out of the air and slam into the ground. I caught the sign and made to bring it down on him again…
He lifted his head, his laughter gone, replaced with an annoyed growl, and he snapped his fingers. The sign suddenly flew straight towards me. With a yell I threw myself to the side in a roll.
By the time I recovered, he was on me. He grabbed me by the throat and hefted me into the air. “Look at you…” he said, sounding impressed. “You’re slightly less useless than I thought… Just like that adorable Rainbow Dash, a fighter until the end…”
“Sadly, this is the end. Farewell, Great and Powerless Trixie…”
He waggled his eagle talon, which became surrounded in an aura of dark magic.
With the barest hope I’d bought the evacuees enough time, I closed my eyes.
“For Five Score, Divided by Four…”
I blinked… What was that?
Chris—no, Chrysalis was staring at me through the cage, his frown unmoving. “Starting to remember?” He asked in a monotone.
My gaze fell to the floor… “Twenty-five years…” I whispered.
“All a lie…” Chrysalis said.
“My family…?” I asked.
She paused, then sighed. “I suppose they’re still your family. They love you as such, I don’t see why you should cease loving them… It’s just… There’s no going back. No being human again, no hope of having a normal life…” Her lip quivered. “And the burden of my choices is left with me and me alone…”
I looked up at him. “H-How did you…”
“Prima granted me my true memories…” She said, her shoulders quivering with each silent sob. “How I kept my people hounding Equestria, trying to find ponies to feed off of… By the time I’d realized the futility of it all, it was too late… My people died, Trixie… Only Prima and I were left... I threw myself at Discord… He sent me away the same as he did you, as everypony else… When he found out that we were returning to normal, he offered Prima a chance… To restore our people, in return for her allegiance…”
I noticed the noise of the fighting had ceased. I turned to see the grubs behind me, staring sadly at their mother. I looked back at Chrysalis. “And you’re… okay with this?” I asked.
She laid down again. “Even if we stop Prima, we won’t stand a chance against Discord… He’ll banish us again, that’s assuming he doesn’t kill us… There’s no hope, Trixie… There’s no hope…” She sighed. “The only solace I have is knowing Liz is safe.”
My mind lit up like one of Trixie’s—or, myold performances. “No, no she’s not!!” I said.
Chrysalis lifted her head. “What?”
“Prima has her here!!” I said urgently. “She’s being held here, being fed off of!!”
Chrysalis blinked slowly. “No, no…” she said, standing up, staring at the floor. “Prima said she’d let Liz go…”
“And you believed her?” Echo asked.
Chrysalis seemed extremely confused. She raised a hoof to her face, brushing her mane aside with a groan. “Stupid… Why did I believe…?” She suddenly noticed something odd—her mane color. She pulled it into view as best as she could. “What…?” She looked back at her tail, her wings, everything that was grey instead of greenish blue. Her expression went from confused to one of pure realization…
...then shifted into a fury that boiled, with increasing speed, until I started wondering if I did the right thing. “Oh… That…” Chrysalis said, her voice low like the booming voice of an awakening god. “Fucking…” She stood up straight. “BITCH!!!!”
Like a spark traveling along a line of gunpowder, color quickly returned to Chrysalis; her veridian mane and tail seemed much brighter, much livelier than before. He turned, her horn practically overflowing in her green magic. “We’re gonna find Liz…”she said, sounding as though she was trying not to explode. “And then we’re gonna find Prima, AND WE’RE GONNA MAKE HER WISH SHE’D STARVED WITH THE REST OF MY CHILDREN!!!!”