Chapter 24: Forgotten Grudges
“Rainbow Dash wants the ponies to come to Iowa,” I said, pacing feverishly around the dining room table. My family, Liz, Trixie and the grubs were all seated, watching me walk around them. “That sonic rainboom wasn’t a means of showing off—hopefully—it’s a signal! A message to ponies everywhere to go to Iowa!”
“What is she offering?” Liz asked.
“Shelter, food, safe haven, maybe even a way home!” I said. “We can get there in like three hours, traffic permitting… Odds are we won’t see a lot of traffic heading towards what looked like a massive explosion…”
“You’re leaving?” Penny asked. I turned and saw the mix of shock and sadness in her eyes. “But…”
Frowning sympathetically, I approached her and laid a hoof on her shoulder. “This is something I have to do. I want to stay, believe me, I do… But this is too important.” I turned to Liz. “We should leave soon if we wanna have enough daylight to find Dash.”
“How are you gonna find her?” Sarah asked. “I mean, yeah, that explosion is a clear indicator to come to Iowa, but that still doesn’t give you much to go on once you get there.”
I bit my lip. “Yeah, but… If we head there, maybe she’ll send out another signal… Another sign, to give ponies a more precise location to head to.”
“Seems like a longshot, sweetie…” Mom said.
“We’ll head to Des Moines first,” I said. “Dunno if we’ll be able to get in, odds are there’ll be military efforts to keep the city quarantined, out of fear of radiation or some crap, but it’s better than nothing.” My family didn’t look convinced. I gave them an almost pleading look. “Look, I, I know you’d prefer definites, but we don’t have that luxury! This is the only lead we’ve had on other ponies since Trixie showed up at our doorstep! I gotta do this. I know this is usually a shit way to go about things, but we’ll figure things out as we go, okay?”
“I agree,” Trixie said, standing up. “We can’t just let this slide. We should go.”
Finally, Sarah nodded. “You’d know more about this than any of us, Chris. Do what you think is best.”
I grinned at her, then at the rest of the family. “I love you, guys…” I said softly.
As Liz and Trixie hurried off to grab their things, I spent some time giving my goodbyes, which I could only hope wouldn’t be my last. My mom grabbed her emergency bundle of cash for us; I may not have taken it if I hadn’t remembered that Liz and Trixie actually needed food, and the truck wasn’t exactly thrifty with gas. At 12:30 the truck was hastily loaded and primed. Liz, Trixie and the grubs gave fond farewells to my family, expressing hopes to see them again before loading into the truck.
As my family and I stood on the sidewalk beside the truck I gave them all one last, big hug; I felt their love pouring over me like a beautifully hot shower, flooding me with energy. “Stay safe…” Mom whispered in my ear before kissing me on the cheek.
“I will,” I said, tears flooding my eyes. “I’ll come back, no matter what. I promise.”
After one last big squeeze I separated from my family and climbed into the front passenger seat of the truck. “I love you, guys…” I said.
“We know…” Penny said. “Please, be careful!”
I nodded before closing the door. I nodded at Liz, who put the truck in gear. I watched my family through the window, waving at me. My mom and sisters looked like they were about to cry—hell, even Dad was tearing up.
Finally, the truck rounded a corner and I couldn’t see them anymore. I sniffled and laid my head against the window.
We managed to get on the highway in about twenty minutes. My theory that there wouldn’t be northbound traffic was, sadly, gravely false. Traffic going both ways was clogged; those going south were probably fleeing the site of the Rainboom, while those going north were likely seeking to check on friends and relatives who’d been at the epicenter of the blast. We could barely go a mile without another fifteen minute full stop. I almost wanted to say ‘Fuck it’, take normal form and fly the rest of the way; it wasn’t like ponies were gonna be secret for much longer, not just from the rainboom, but with the likelihood that some may be spotted en route to Iowa. We kept the radio on, hoping for any further developments on the rainboom, but it was focused entirely on the effects of the blast and the evacuation efforts that followed.
I swayed in my seat, my eyes struggling to stay open. I always needed a stupid amount of sleep, usually around twelve hours, and Liz’s frantic means of waking me up could only get me conscious for so long. It was after my tenth yawn that Liz turned to me. “Chrys, why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll wake you up when we…”
I didn’t even hear the rest of what she said; the moment she dropped the word ‘sleep’ I was already clocking out.
- - - - -
Chris walked through the dark abyss, glancing about, confusedly. He knew this was somewhere in his mind—he’d experienced this sensation several times, now, after Chrysalis became his ‘mental bunkmate’... But usually they met in a sort of rift, the point where Chris became Chrysalis, and vice versa. This was something else. “Hello?” He called. The emptiness might have scared him, but he still felt… safe. Like no harm would come to him here.
“Chris?” He turned to see Chrysalis approaching him. “Where are we?”
“If I knew, you’d know…” Chris said. “This isn’t our usual place, but we’re… in our mind, that much I’m sure of.”
“I know we fell asleep…” Chrysalis said, tapping a hoof to her ebon chin. “So we’re obviously…” she trailed off, her eyes widening.
Chris’s did the same. “Dreaming,” he finished.
The pair spun around to see a third figure standing off in the distance. The entity approached, beholding the pair with judging eyes.
“Princess Luna…” Chris breathed. He took a tentative step forward. “What’re you…”
“A moment, please, Chris,” Luna said; it wasn’t a command so much as a patient, yet authoritative request. She turned towards Chrysalis, a wary look in her eyes. “So.”
Chrysalis straightened herself. “So.”
“You suffered the same fate as the rest of us, I see,” Luna said, trying to look civil, with moderate success.
Chrysalis nodded. “Discord’s uprising caused the starvation of my people… I was cursed when I attacked him out of fury.”
Luna closed her eyes and lit up her horn. She was quiet for a few moments before her horn dimmed and her eyes opened. “Though there are results of your banishment that you wouldn’t consider bad, aren’t there?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.
Chrysalis looked at Chris and smiled. “I’ve… led a good life. I was fortunate to know a loving family, and… Liz…”
Luna nodded. “Yes, I’ve seen.”
Chris frowned. “You’ve ‘seen’? How?”
“Dreams are constructed from the deepest parts of our minds, Chris,” Luna said. “To you, they may appear strange, incoherent, but sometimes they are built of something deeper… Our hopes and dreams, our fears and dreads… Our bitterness and hatreds…” Luna stared at the floor sadly.
Chris nodded knowingly. “I get it… You… took a peek at our memories.”
“It’s not something I do often,” Luna said. “Before I would only aid ponies in relieving their fears to dispel their nightmares, or guide them out of dreams that gave them only heartache… I tried to keep everypony dreaming only good, happy dreams… But there were times I needed to know if a pony had something to hide.” She looked at Chrysalis pointedly.
Chrysalis sighed. “I know… Believe me, I know… But you’ve seen what I want, correct?”
Luna took a deep breath. “Peace. The redemption of your people… Vengeance against Discord.”
Chris shrugged. “Can’t say those are unreasonable…”
Luna ignored him and approached the Queen. “Yet it is not just for the sake of preventing future conflicts, is it, Chrysalis?”
Chrysalis frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You’ve seen what you’d become,” Luna said. “You saw what you did, through the eyes of this human…” She jerked her head towards Chris. “You saw yourself as a monster… Placing innocents into the preserving amber and feeding off of them…”
“Hey…” Chris said. “Easy…”
Chrysalis hung her head, ashamed as Luna continued. “You saw the beast you’d become, and you feared her… You dreaded the idea of becoming such a cruel monster again, so you wish to take every step possible to assure you can never take that dark path again.”
Chrysalis looked up at Luna, her eyes flooded with tears. She nodded.
Luna was silent for a moment.
“...I can sympathize.”
Chrysalis blinked. “What…?”
Luna gave a soft smile. “A true monster never regrets the things it’s done. I learned that a while after my return—my true return.”
Chrysalis gaped at Luna for a moment before smiling. “Thank you…”
Luna nodded at her before turning to address both her and Chris. “I merely wished to learn your intentions… I’ve no doubts you have changed for the better. This is why I shall tell you where you must go.”
“You mean…” Chris breathed.
Luna smiled. “I’ll tell you where to find the Bearers.”
- - - - -
I woke up with a start, shaking my head. I heard Liz yelp in surprise and felt the truck swerve a little bit before correcting itself. “Chrys?” Liz asked as I shook myself awake again. “What’s wrong?”
As I blinked the sleep out of my eyes I noticed that, not only had traffic lightened up a little bit, but it was nighttime now. I glanced at the clock; 11pm. “Christ, how long was I--?” I began before shrugging it off. I grabbed the GPS, which was programmed to take us to Des Moines. I immediately input a new route. “Change of plans.”
“What’re you doing?” Trixie asked. “We’re going to--”
“The ponies aren’t meeting in Des Moines,” I said, entering the address Luna had given me. “Okay, it’s in.”
Liz peeked at the GPS. “...Chrys, that’s…”
“In the middle of nowhere,” I said. “Rather fitting, if you wanna stay under the radar, isn’t it?”
Liz stared at me; after a few seconds I had to tactfully point towards the windshield so she wouldn’t drive us off the road. “How did you…?” Liz asked.
I leaned back in my seat. “Got directions from Best Princess…”
- - - - -
“I still think Luna could’ve been a bit more precise…” Liz said, annoyed, as the truck rumbled down an old road.
“And a bit more timely with the info so traffic wasn’t an issue…” I grumbled. It wasn’t just north and southbound traffic that was clogged; it was every route in and out of Des Moines that had been flooded with cars. By the time we managed to get on the westbound freeway it was past 1 in the morning, and even then we needed most of the night to overcome traffic that flowed as smoothly as a Lego milkshake. It was roughly 9am by the time we got to the end of the GPS’s directions, and even then the damn thing stopped directing us when we got to a series of old, cracked roads that looked straight out of the Capital Wasteland. We spent at least two goddamned hours going back and forth along the roads, looking for the faintest sign of anything equine.
Trixie and the grubs were getting antsy in the backseat, occasionally breaking into spontaneous yoga routines in an attempt to stretch their stiffened muscles while trying to avoid hitting each other and turning the ride into a family sitcom. We only got so many chances to pull off the highway to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs, and give Trixie and Liz a chance to go to the bathroom. Otherwise we were stuck in the truck cab, which we were gaining a growing apathy and loathing for. Once we got to the end of the route given by the GPS, though, the four of them were squirming, begging for sweet freedom from the stuffy prison.
“Look, Luna said it was a farm in the middle of the forest,” I said. “We might not have specifics, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find—there!!”
Liz hit the brakes. “What?? What??” She followed my pointed finger towards a lone dirt road leading off to the left, into the thick forest. She gave it a wary look. “I don’t know…”
“Yeah, seems a bit shady…” Trixie said.
I had some reservations myself; I unbuckled and opened my door. “Okay. You guys stay here, I’ll go make sure it’s legit, all right?”
Liz sputtered. “What?! No! Chrys, this is stupid!!”
“Name one smart thing I’ve done in all this…” I muttered as I climbed out. I paused to give Liz a firm, no-bullshit look. “Stay here. Seriously.” I shut the door and jogged towards the dirt road.
As I slipped between the trees I dropped into a prowl, glancing around and jumping at every small noise. I followed the road while staying about twenty feet away from it; I couldn’t discount the possibility this was a trap of some sort.
But still, I was feeling a wondrous mix of anxiety, joy, excitement and slight terror as I tiptoed ridiculously between trees, peering about for some sign of life. Trixie and I would finally meet other Equestrians again, we could actually walk about in public, we had a chance to get home! It was hard not to smile as I ducked from cover to cover like I was playing Red Light/Green Light.
Finally, after ten tense minutes of stealthing, I noticed a clearing at the end of the dirt road. I could make out a couple structures through the trees. Smiling, I made to approach when I heard voices.
Panicking, I ducked into a nearby bush. I breathed quietly and listened intently as I heard two figures growing closer.
“...hope Twilight finds an answer soon…” came a female voice.
My jaw almost dropped. We’ve found them!!
“She always does,” came the other voice, this one male and… familiar. “Just give her time, that’s all she ever really needs.”
“Yes, but… it’s hard to ignore what’s at stake here…” came the first voice. I noticed it was rather… classy?
I carefully adjusted my position in the bush, wincing with every rustle of the leaves. I opened a little hole in the brush and peered through.
My eyes widened. Two white unicorns were passing by, some distance away… Two very, very familiar unicorns. One was Rarity, her every step one of poise, class and confidence. The other was Shining Armor, who was walking rather close to the former…
Rarity rubbed affectionately against Shining, who nuzzled her back.
My eyes widened like I’d walked in on someone jerking it. Uh…
“You know…” Shining said. “It’s pretty quiet out here…”
My eyes widened even further, like the person I’d walked in on felt encouraged by my arrival. UH…
I heard Rarity giggle suggestively. “And rather foreboding… No telling what beasts may lurk in these woods…”
OKAY, I’M GONNA STOP THIS BEFORE I FEEL THE NEED TO SCRUB MYSELF.
I clambered out of the bush and dropped my human form. “Hello!” I said, trying to disguise my awkward terror with a friendly grin.
The unicorns spun around. My eyes locked with Shining Armor’s.
Infiltrating Canterlot, abducting Cadence, impersonating her, feeding off Shining, clouding his mind, organizing the drones beyond the barrier, banishing Twilight to the caverns below, overpowering Celestia, heading the invasion of Canterlot…
All those memories suddenly flooded to the very forefront of my mind. I felt my chitin become somewhat splintery and itchy, as my smile dropped. Shining and Rarity both stared at me, eyes wide in shock. It was quite clear they remembered me, and not just from the show.
If I thought their flirts were awkward…
Shining’s shock gave way to anger.
I gulped audibly. Ruh roh…
“GET DOWN!!” Shining yelled. Rarity immediately ducked as his horn lit up and a pink blast of energy flew at me.
“JESUSSHITFUCK!!” I screamed, throwing myself to the side as the blast flew past me and ignited the bush I’d been hiding in. I turned my dodge into a clumsy sideways roll as I got back on my hooves. “WAIT WAIT WAIT--” I said quickly, but Shining was getting another blast ready.
I took to the air, feeling another powerful blast pass below my hooves and missing me by inches. I climbed onto a branch of a nearby tree and hid behind the trunk. “Please, listen to me!!” I called.
“Not likely!!” Shining called. I heard him gallop around the tree to get a clear shot.
I bent my legs to take off again, when I felt the branch beneath me give after I heard another blast hit the wood.
“Aw, fuck both MY LIVES--” I fell to the ground but managed to land on my hooves. I spun to see Shining launching a barrage of pink blasts straight at me.
I lit up my own horn and erected a barrier that easily absorbed the blasts before dissipating. Shining began firing bigger, more powerful blasts, which I deflected skywards with a single, small shield for each.
“If! I! Could! Get! A! God! Damn! Word! In…” I said, pausing between each word to deflect a blast.
“I am not gonna let you deceive me again!!” Shining roared. He charged forward, holding his horn down like he meant to gore me with it. I stepped to the side and swept my left foreleg.
Shining tripped over my leg and fell into a somersault, colliding with a tree before laying on his back, groaning in pain. “Sorry…” I said, wincing sympathetically. “You-- GAH!!” A blast of blue energy collided with the side of my head, feeling like someone smacking me with a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I stumbled to the side before turning to see Rarity, horn still lit for another attack.
“Fffffuuuu…!!” I said, pressing a hoof to my head.
“Get away from him, you monster!!” Rarity yelled, firing another blast. I ducked beneath it and quickly stepped away from the recovering Shining.
“All right, all right!!” I said. “Look, let’s just calm the hell down and we can talk…”
“NO.” Out of nowhere, Shining full-body tackled me, sending me stumbling to the ground. When I regained my senses, Shining was pinning me to my side, horn flaring like the tail of a very angry Charizard. “Don’t even try.”
Okay, this isn’t working. I lit up my horn and shut my eyes. I felt my horn give off a bright flash and heard Shining and Rarity yelling in shock. I opened my eyes to see Shining lift a hoof off me to rub his eyes. I took the chance to change into a squirrel; the love I’d gotten from my family over the past few days would give me enough time in this form to formulate a plan. I scurried out from beneath Shining, climbed up a tree and hid in the nook between a few branches.
I watched carefully as Shining and Rarity recovered and began glancing around. “Where is she? WHERE IS SHE?!” Shining yelled.
“She can’t have gotten far!” Rarity said, scanning the forest and branches.
I glanced upwards. Kinda busy, Echo…
"Is everything okay?"
HUNKY-DORY, need a few minutes to focus, ‘kay?!
"...Okay…" Echo’s voice became silent.
Okay, time to think… I began tapping my head with my adorable little paw. Obviously he doesn’t wanna take the chance that I’m still evil, even if I’m not even DOING anything… I could try and fight back, GENTLY, but that might not help my case… I could leg it back to the truck, but that defeats the purpose of this whole trip, and I am NOT giving up on talking peace...
“Keep checking the trees…” I heard Shining mutter as he walked away from my little haven. Rarity scanned a couple nearby trees before looking up mine.
Our eyes met. I immediately tried to look as innocent as possible. I AM A SQUIRREL I AM A SQUIRREL I AM A SQUIRREL PLEASE GOD LET HER THINK I’M JUST A SQUIRREL PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
Her horn lit up.
“SHINING, UP THERE!!” Rarity yelled as she launched a blue blast that singed an area a few inches from my paw.
I felt a powerful impact at the base of the tree, likely a buck-kick, that sent me stumbling out of the nook and falling to the ground. I turned back into Chrysalis to avoid getting too hurt from the fall, and landed painfully on my side with a yell.
I looked up to see Shining charging towards me, horn lit for the final blow.
Okay, no choice… My horn lit up. Shining was enveloped in a green haze. I screwed my eyes shut at the last second.
Three seconds later, nothing happened. I opened my eyes to see Shining, covered from the neck down in dripping amber that formed a green cocoon five feet across. Shining flailed his head, trying to get free. “NO!!” He yelled.
I heard a horn sparkling behind me. I spun to face Rarity, who was ready to loose another blast. “STOP,” I yelled, fed up. Rarity shrank somewhat under my furious scowl. “STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOP. STOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-PUUHHH.”
I panted heavily as Rarity’s horn dimmed and she took a step back. I turned to Shining, who was still trying to get free of the amber. “Now, listen…” I said, loudly and clearly. “I am not here to cause any trouble. Discord did the same thing to me that he did to all of you. I am in the same goddamn boat as you. I know you have every reason to distrust me—I’d think you were crazy if you did trust me. But I want nothing more than to get back to Equestria, and make Discord pay for his crimes.”
I approached Shining and lit up my horn. He’d calmed down somewhat, though his glare hadn’t gone anywhere. “I’m gonna let you out of that, now. All I ask is that I be allowed onto this… haven, or whatever, without being shot at.” I glanced at Rarity. “By anyone.” Back to Shining. “Is this fair?”
“...What’re you gonna do?” Shining asked warily.
I frowned and thought about it; I hadn’t quite thought this far ahead. “...Twilight. Just wanna have a quick chat with her. There are things I feel we need to discuss.”
Shining’s eyes narrowed. “...I’ll be watching you. Every. Step. You take. If you put us at risk, if you so much as look at anyone funny…”
“Fine,” I said simply. With a flash of my horn the amber melted. Shining stood before me, shaking some of the goo off of him. “Might wanna take a shower later, though, that stuff gets pretty pungent after a while.”
Shining gave me a dirty look before jerking his head towards the clearing. I wanted to roll my eyes, but opted to give him as few reasons to suspect me as possible. I headed off towards the buildings, at a pace that wouldn’t give him the justification to take a potshot at me. I heard the pair whispering intently to one another from behind me, likely topics of ‘why is she here’ or ‘what is she planning’.
I felt like an idiot, more so than usual. Somehow, by some goddamned miracle I’d completely forgotten what I’d done to them, what I’d nearly done to their home. Sure, I wanted peace now, but that didn’t magically erase the fact that I’d nearly A, conquered their homeland, B, stolen that pony’s wedding and C, ruined his relationship with his sister. Part of me wanted to turn around and let Shining smack me around a little bit, if only to punish my absentmindedness.
We emerged from the forest and stepped onto the farmland. It was a pretty impressive space, even if the structures seemed a bit cliche for a farmland; two story farmhouse, big barn, a few sheds and a sizable corral. Yet it wasn’t the property that piqued my interest—it was the ponies.
Countless ponies, some familiar, were roaming the land, erecting tents, socializing, handling stockpiles of supplies. If the sight didn’t make me so happy, so relieved, I might’ve called the place a real clusterfuck. There were a few cars parked off to the side—no trucks, though, so I’d feel a bit awkward when we drove that thing in--
Liz! I wanted to turn around and get her right then, but remembered I was being held at Armor-point.
Echo? I thought.
It’s legit. Don’t bring the truck in yet, though, lemme… sort things out, you know?
Okay, let us know when you’re ready.
“Keep going,” Shining said, jerking me out of my little trance.
“Sorry,” I said, turning back towards him. Almost immediately Shining stepped between me and Rarity with a scowl. Now I rolled my eyes. “So, where’s Twilight?”
“She’s in the house,” Shining said levelly. I turned back towards the house and headed towards it, beholding the vast numbers of ponies on all sides.
I was so taken in I didn’t notice somepony was standing in my path until I’d bumped into them; she was a pegasus with a green coat, long yellow mane and tail and a cutie mark of a rainbow-patterned plus sign.
“Sorry,” I said. She turned around, took one look at me and screamed bloody murder before flying off in a screaming green streak.
I slowly turned to face Shining. “Not sure if I prefer that to open hostility…”