Chapter 29: Through Good Times and Bad
The day’s drama took a lot out of us, so we ended up turning in a short while after our talk with Shining. I felt… good; I felt we’d made a great deal of progress already on the future, after Discord was defeated.
So now all we had to do was find out how to get home, then find a way to defeat a demigod.
It actually wasn’t that daunting of a task; if they could get the Elements of Harmony back, he’d be royally screwed. It was getting the Elements back that would prove potentially difficult; I could only hope that the Mane Six had some sort of plan together… It would likely involve a distraction from anypony else looking to fight him, though I couldn’t be sure. As I climbed into the truck cab as Chris, I figured I’d talk to them in the morning about it.
I sat in the driver seat, leaning it back as always; as I reached into the back seat for my blanket and pillow, I noticed that Liz was taking a while to show up. I was about to get out and look for her when the passenger door opened, and Trixie climbed in. “Hey,” she said, climbing in and closing the door.
“...Trixie, I like you as a friend…” I began, only mostly joking.
Trixie rolled her eyes. “If you’re wondering about Liz, she’s gonna sleep in the back tonight with the grubs. She figured they needed some quality time.”
I nodded approvingly. “Alright then.” I laid my head back into my pillow with a yawn.
I was starting to fall asleep when Trixie spoke up. “...Chrys?”
“...I… I don’t know what’s next for… me…”
I sat up and looked at her. “Say again?”
Trixie was looking rather sad. “You’ve had all this talk about what you’ll do when this is over, but… I don’t know about me… I don’t think I have much to go back to in Equestria, I don’t know if I can live up to all this ‘Great and Powerful’ hype people around here give me...”
I frowned. “You have your family here, don’t you?”
She nodded, conceding my point. “Yeah, but… There’s the same problem. I can stay with my family, sure, but… I don’t know where I can go from there. What can I do? In either world?”
I pursed my lips in thought. “...Maybe people will be more awed by your magic here?” I suggested. “Magic isn’t common with humans, and from what I can tell, your special talent’s in magic with style, so don’t be so quick to discard your days as a performer and entertainer.”
Trixie nodded slowly. “I guess…”
“Hey…” I said, reaching over and laying a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t forget you have more than your family to turn to.” I laughed. “Sorry to sound cheesy, but… We’re your kinda-sorta family too… Aunt Trixie.”
Trixie grinned at me; she reached over and gave me a big hug. “Thank you…” She said. “I can never repay what you guys have done for me…”
I shrugged. “Eh. Feel free to try.”
- - - - -
I climbed into the truck bed, yawning as I heard Trixie climb in up front. Part of me wanted to tell Chrys myself, but I was too lazy. The grubs were nestled among the clutch; Digit and Echo gave me warm grins as I entered, while Shift gave me a respectful nod—another sign of how difficult it was for him to commit to more emotional agendas. The eggs had their usual faint glow; Chrys had managed to find that sweet spot of feeding where they wouldn’t starve, but wouldn’t get closer to hatching so long as he was careful about when he fed them next.
I kneeled by Trixie’s sleeping bag next to the wall and, too tired to care about any fur or hairs left inside, climbed in. Digit was sitting across from me, looking wide awake, Shift was already trying to fall asleep, and Echo was leaning against the wall next to me, reading one of Chrys’s books, Jam, under a light from her horn. “After I read that, I could never look at PB ‘n J again…” I said, shifting the sleeping bag so I was laying horizontally in the truck space.
“I think a zombie apocalypse would be much less complicated, personally,” Digit said cheerfully. It was good to see she’d cheered up; seeing her sad actually felt physically painful.
We found a dull in the conversation. “...So…” I said, twiddling my thumbs. “What’re you three gonna do when this is finished?”
“Whatever Mother wishes of us,” Shift said simply, not opening his eyes.
“Well…” I said. “Chrys hopes that the changelings will live as… individuals. Not just as parts of a Swarm, but as an actual people… maybe even as families. So… you’re just gonna stick with him?”
“Well, I’m gonna hang around on Earth!” Digit said happily. “I miss grandma, grandpa and aunts Penny and Sarah, and I wanna go to some of the awesomer places here!” She tilted her head to the side. “...I wanna meet your family, too, Liz.”
I frowned, considering that possibility. “That… might go either way, Digit… My parents don’t know I’ve come all this way, and I’m a little… concerned about how they’ll react to Chrys, being what he is… It’s not like his family, when they accepted him regardless of what he’d become; they’ll see me as pretty much dating an alien.”
“Because they have so much control over who, or even what, their twenty-four year old daughter dates…” Shift said passively. He opened his eyes. “Honestly, if they have a problem with it, what’re they gonna do?”
“I’d rather they didn’t have a problem with it…” I said softly. “Either way, they’re still my parents…”
Shift blinked, taking my words into consideration. “...I guess it may be worth trying to win them over…” He conceded. “Though if they don’t learn to accept it, it doesn’t exactly say much about them…”
For a moment I thought he was tossing a thinly-veiled insult at my parents, but I quickly saw where he was coming from; no parent should have a kind of ‘rubric’ for who their child loves other than ‘makes them happy’. I turned to Echo. “And you, Echo? Will you stay with Chrys?”
She nodded. “I want to learn what I can from her while she’s Queen, which could be for a long time… Being her first, and at the moment, only, Royal, I’m what you may call her ‘heir’. If I become Queen, I want to have as much knowledge under my belt as possible.”
“What about you, Liz?” Shift asked, sitting up. “You’ve said you’ll stay with Mother…”
I nodded. “Always.”
Shift blinked. “...Why?”
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Things with your… boyfriend…” Shift made a face, looking like the words felt strange coming from his mouth. “...They’ve gotten much stranger, much more… complicated… Then most, or any, relationship, on Earth or in Equestria. You’re the consort to a Queen, as old as centuries, who may live for centuries more… A being with immense power that only grows as she feeds, and who can birth at such a rate that, while I know she wouldn’t now, could blanket worlds… I can’t speak for you, but… If it were me, I’d wonder just where my loyalty to Chrys is taking me.”
I remained silent, considering his point. I’d be lying if I said things were simple now; when Chrys and I thought this was seemingly random, when he was still a human turned into a changeling, things actually made some semblance of sense—he was still Chris. He was scared and confused, but, as a person, he hadn’t changed at all… So I stayed.
When he started showing signs of ‘slipping into the role’, from laying eggs to having a sudden, explosive temper, I was still there for him. Even when I left the night he trashed Dane’s car, I still came back; he was scared of what he may become, and wanted nothing more than to go back to being just Chris… And I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving him alone to figure things out.
When we learned that he and Chrysalis were one in the same, when I learned that it was his human guise that was the alien body for him, I still remained with him; the Chris I knew and loved was still in there. Every time he looked at me I could tell I was keeping his humanity… ‘tethered’ to his true self, though, from what I’d seen, Chrysalis wasn’t trying to ‘evict’ him.
But now? Knowing what he had in mind in the days to come? Restoring his true people from extinction and leading them, possibly even having them live in not one, but two worlds? Acting as a true Queen? Where would I fit in? Where would we live—Earth or Equis? Would we have free passage between either? What if I was in it for… the long run? What of children we could both call our own? I loved the grubs, sure, but… I looked at them now, yet I didn’t feel so much like a mother to them… More like a babysitter. Would Chrys and I be able to have a normal baby? Would it be human? Changeling? A hybrid? There were so many questions, it made my breath quicken...
I calmed myself. I considered what may pass for a normal day with him.
We’d wake up in bed together, we’d do our normal morning routine—shower, teeth, dress (or don’t, in his case). Then he’d need to go off to do Queen things… I’d… join him. Maybe give him advice on instances that he felt conflicted about. Maybe he’d want to visit someone—dignitaries, friends and the like. Maybe he’d work on relations with Earth, and maybe I could help show any Earth diplomats that this alien had plenty of human in him…
No, these were all ‘maybe’s’... I needed to think about why I should stay…
The answer came immediately. All those instances, they involved me being at his side… My mind flew to those conclusions because… Because I needed Chrys as much as he needed me. Chrys made every effort to make me happy—that’s all he ever wanted, and it’s all he would ever want…
And it was the same with me. I wanted to make Chrys happy. That’s all I ever wanted, and that’s all I would ever want.
I didn’t care what lay ahead of us. Good or bad, I wouldn’t let him face it alone.
I turned to Shift. “I love Chrys more than I can say, Shift. He’s what keeps me held together, same as I am for him. I don’t know what we’re gonna face—trials that challenge him, me, us or everyone we know and love… And I’m not afraid. All I want, all I need… Is to be at his side… For his sake and mine.”
The grubs were silent.
“Then, as far as I’m concerned, you have a place with us.” Echo moved closer, put her forelegs around me and hugged me.
I hugged her back, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Echo...
Digit hopped up, hurried over and joined in the hug. “We love you, Liz…” She said sweetly.
“I love you, too…” I whispered; I glanced at Shift. “All of you.”
Shift’s gaze fell to the floor, deep in thought. For a few moments, he didn’t move… Then, with a look of determination, he stood up, approached us and joined in the hug. “You’ve been so unbelievably strong… Mother is lucky to have you.”
I giggled. “Damn right…”
- - - - -
In the morning, Trixie was already outside when I woke up; I’d dropped my human guise in my sleep, and found the steering wheel pressed harshly into my stomach as I sat in the human-sized seat. With an enormous yawn I took human form and climbed out of the cab, stretching my aching muscles. “Should’ve—oomph!—slept in the back seat…” I said, feeling my shoulder snap back into line with the ‘pop’ I loved so much. I walked around the truck and opened the bed, looking for Liz, Trixie or the grubs; no one was in the bed, the eggs glowing faintly in the darkness. They were due for a feeding soon.
I closed the bed and headed towards the farm; the number of ponies had grown a fair bit. Since I considered making up with Shining as a definite privilege to be here, I dropped my human form and walked casually across the property. Any newer ponies who saw me didn’t seem terribly bothered, with the most noticeable reactions being a confused glance that quickly faded with a dismissive shrug.
I found Liz, Trixie and the grubs by the barn, helping some new arrivals pitch their tents; the grubs, like me, were in their natural forms, finding it much simpler to use magic to lend a helping hoof. Liz was carrying a heavy-looking pack of water bottles; I made to help her but, to my surprise, Shift beat me to the punch, taking it off her hands with his magic... with a damn smile, no less. She gave him a grateful grin as he took it away, then turned to me. “Morning!”
I pointed between her and the grubs. “Y’all get along alright, last night?”
“Oh, no, we were at each other’s throats…” Digit said cheerfully.
“Lots of blood and swearing,” Liz said, shaking her head. I smiled, leaned forward and nuzzled her; I’d been getting into that habit for a while, and, while she was initially unsure how to feel about it, Liz was used to it by now. She kissed me on the cheek. “What’s on today’s agenda?”
I glanced towards the farmhouse. “I’m thinking I’m gonna talk to the Mane Six about… how things will go down with Discord. I wanna help in any way I can.”
“I haven’t seen them this morning, actually…” Liz said, frowning. “Shining’s in the house, though, maybe you should ask him.”
I nodded. “Cool, be back in a bit.” I headed towards the farmhouse, leaving them to help the ponies.
I approached the front porch; for the past couple days I was a little wary about getting this close to ‘headquarters’, but hopefully Shining had spread the word that things were cool, now. I entered the house; it had an unusual sense of emptiness surrounding it. I headed into what looked to be the living room. "Hello?" I called.
"Hey," a voice behind me said. I turned to see Shining standing in the door way. "What's up?" He asked, with a calmness that I found to be a refreshing change of pace.
"I was hoping I could talk to you guys about what'll happen once we get on the far side of the portal," I said; I leaned to the side to peer up the stairs. "Where're the others?"
Shining frowned, a sense of guilt in his eyes. "They're not here."
I blinked. "...Say what."
"It's just Big Mac and I here. The Mane Six are following our best lead on getting back to Equestria," Shining said.
"The 'Equestria Girls' method," I said knowingly. "Dash mentioned that."
Shining nodded. "The place we knew as 'Canterlot High' as been gone for some time now, but we have reason to believe that the portal isn't. They're gonna see if it's still there and that it still works. If it's a definite way home, they're gonna contact us and have us head there."
"Where is it?" I asked.
"In Dubuque!" We turned to see Digit walking cheerfully from the kitchen, levitating an aged map towards us; it had a circle drawn on it in red marker, centered around the town of Dubuque. She noticed our confused glances and shrugged. "I was bored."
Shining was looking a bit worried at the secret being exposed. "We were hoping to keep it quiet, to keep anyone from heading there before they could say for sure whether the portal was there..." He glanced at me.
I took the map from Digit. "...Dude, Dubuque's like... what, a hundred miles from here... How're we gonna get there? Don’t suppose you’ve commissioned a few dozen buses for us?”
“We’re gonna make a mad dash up north," Shining said. "And make every effort to avoid tangling with the authorities.”
I frowned. “...I think a thousand multi-colored horses…” I stopped and glanced at Digit. “...plus four bug-horse-monster… things, are gonna draw a fair bit of attention, Shining. Depending on when they see us, the military could make a huge-ass blockade!!”
Shining bit his lip and rubbed his leg anxiously. “I know… Not gonna lie, it’s risky…”
“It’s stupid…” Digit chimed in.
Shining glanced at her, then at me. “You’ve got a better plan?”
I opened my mouth to say no, when my eyes fell on Digit.
I stared at her.
My mind suddenly lit up in an explosion of ‘HOLY SHIT’ accompanied by Tchaikovsky.
“...Chrysalis?” Shining asked.
“Mom?” Digit queried, shrinking a little under my wide-eyed gaze.
A smile slowly cracked across my face. “Brain-Blaaaaaast…” I said in a soft, sing-song voice.
“What?” Shining asked. Without another word I turned around and walked briskly out of the house. “Chrysalis?” He called, baffled.
I felt a faint numbness as I walked straight past the community of ponies, tunnel-visioned on the truck.
A voice cut through my focus. “Chrys?” I turned to see Liz walking over, concerned. “You okay?”
I jerked my head towards the truck, indicating for her to follow me. She walked alongside me as I began to explain. “No idea when, but everypony here’s moving out sometime soon. The Mane Six have gone somewhere up north to make sure the portal’s legit, then they’ll send word and have us head up there.”
“Everyone?” Liz asked, aghast. “But… how?”
“Well, Shining is following a strategy worthy of Sun Tzu,” I said pointedly. “Namely, ‘leg it up north and hope like hell no one gets caught by human authorities along the way.’”
“...That has got to be the dumbest…” Liz began.
“...and only plan we’ve got,” I finished; we were almost at the truck now. “So, I thought… If there wasn’t a risk of anypony being caught, it wouldn’t be a completely horrible plan…”
“Just a mostly horrible one…” Liz said. “So how are you…”
Her words trailed off as I lifted the truck door open. “Wait…”
I stared at the clutch in the truck; their glow had brightened, as though they were expecting to be fed.
“...Chrys…” Liz breathed, looking at me. “Chrys, are you serious?”
“They’ll act as air support,” I said, my voice oddly quiet. “We’ll be much easier to spot, but I’d rather definitely be seen and not be caught rather than possibly be seen and possibly be caught. And we’ll have them for when we get through the portal.”
“But what if the portal isn’t there?” Liz asked. “What if there’s… no way for you to get back to Equestria?”
I sighed deeply. “Then this is where we make our home—on Earth.”
I slowly lifted a hoof to climb into the truck, but froze, a single thought stopping me.
I was about to hatch the eggs.
I was about to take the first real step back into my old life.
I was about to completely turn my back on living a normal, human life.
Every time I’d told myself about this future, about how I was planning peace with the ponies, worrying about feeding and sustaining my people… They all suddenly became… meaningless.
All I could see was the eggs that lay before me, and the human life I’d grown so accustomed to suddenly beginning to slip into the distance with increasing speed.
“Chrys?” Liz asked softly.
I slowly looked at my raised hoof. I fell to my haunches and turned the hoof into my human hand. I stared at the limb, my mind coming to a complete halt.
My vision blurred.
Chris stood on his half of the chamber, Chrysalis on the other. The pair stared at each other; Chrysalis was staring sympathetically at Chris, who may as well have been climbing the steps to the guillotine.
He looked up at her. “This is it… This is where we decide if I’m ready to be… you.”
Chrysalis nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
“...I’m scared, Chrysalis…” He said softly. He stared at his own hand. “I’m so fucking scared… I’m scared I might not exist here anymore… I’m scared that… If we go through with this, we’ll go down a path where it’s just… you…” He looked up at her again, tears welling in his eyes. “This is where I could begin to fade…”
Chrysalis suddenly stepped forward; Chris flinched, but didn’t move as Chrysalis approached.
The Queen wrapped her forelegs around him in a tight hug. “I won’t let that happen,” she whispered, with the air of a mother giving soft assurances to her child. “I promise you, Chris, you will… not… fade…” She released the hug, but kept her front hooves on his shoulders as she faced him. “If you go, I go…”
Chris stared at her, taking in her words.
He took a deep breath, his expression shifting to one of assurance and determination. He placed his hands on the Queen’s shoulders. “And the same to you.”
I regained focus with almost a flash, blinking rapidly. I could feel a hand on my back as I remained staring at my hand. “Chrys?” Liz asked softly. “Are you okay?”
I sighed, reverted my hoof to its natural form, and stood up. “There’s no going back past this point… For either of us.”
I slowly turned to her. “Liz, listen…”
“Don’t…” Liz said sternly.
“Please, just listen to me…” I pleaded. “...You don’t have to go through with this… You’ve stuck with me through far more than I could ever deserve... You don’t owe me anything… You can still walk away... You can… You can find a normal life.”
“Stop,” Liz whispered. She took my face in her hands, and rested her head against mine. “I’d rather have a weird life... with you…” She said softly.
There was an achingly long pause.
I took my human form and I kissed her. She immediately wrapped her arms around my chest and practically threw herself into me, returning the gesture with a passion so intense I feared we’d catch fire. As we kissed I rotated us, lifted a leg and planted it on the bumper to climb into the truck bed; Liz swung her legs up and wrapped them around me, letting me lift her with me into the truck. When we were both in, I reached up and closed the door behind us.
- - - - -
I watched as Mother and Liz disappeared into the truck, the door slamming shut behind them.
Digit and Echo approached on either side of me, fixated on the truck as well.
Digit failed to keep herself from sniffling. I leaned over and nuzzled her gently. Digit immediately wrapped her forelegs around me, as did Echo, whose eyes were also wet with tears.
I hugged them back, smiling.
‘Family’ sounds much better than ‘swarm’, I mused.