The flight across Ponyville was done in silence. Shadows of changelings in the sky passed by the thatch roofed homes, and any resident who noticed them quickly scurried out of sight. The queen sighed, as she mulled over the current predicament.
Four Elements of Harmony had escaped her sentinels. Sombra was still an obnoxious presence, and she still needed to forward her plans of expansion into the rest of Equestria.
She took a deep breath, she knew she was in for a challenge when she decided to do the Canterlot invasion. Stability was dependent on her, so she would need to remain composed for all of this, for the swarm. This was why she did all of this in the first place, the betterment of the swarm. She would have to be strong enough to do what was necessary, even if it was unpleasant.
The journey ended quickly, and Chrysalis brought her attention to the present as she landed in front of the Golden Oaks Library. The fifty or so changelings that followed her landed close behind, and relaxed their stances. Apparently the major task in Ponyville had been accomplished for the moment, and now the queen was going to deal with more private business.
Chrysalis’s eyes flashed and she called out to the vanguard that surrounded Ponyville.
“Leave your posts, and gather here at the library.”
She could feel a sigh of relief as the vanguard flew towards the tree house library. Now that the small division of the swarm would be regrouped shortly, she turned her attention to the sentinels she had assigned to guard the element mares.
Her emerald eyes roamed the dozen or so changelings she had left there. Even though her gaze was placid and didn’t betray any fury, the sentinels all cowered as she looked over them.
Soft whimpers came from behind them, and this caused her to cock an eyebrow. Chrysalis strode towards the sound, and the nervous group of guardians parted to let her advance. Curled up on the ground in a defensive ball was Carve. His red tuft of a mane next to his fin made it obvious.
“What is this…”
A giant hoof was pointed at the pathetic prone changeling, and her large emerald eyes shot back to the group of assigned sentinels. They all hesitated to answer, and the silence that followed was painful to bear.
The first answer came in a pain filled growl-groan weird noise.
On the ground, Carve had uncurled slightly and revealed part of his face. The guttural heave had come from him, and it was apparent why he couldn’t talk straight. His muzzle was broken badly, leaving it bent and crooked, on top of the numerous cracks in his jawline. The chitin around one of his red rimmed eyes was effectively shattered, and the green fluid oozed amongst the splinters.
This was aside from the general damage over the rest of his body, which included a wrinkled wing and a disjointed fore-leg that hung limply.
Chrysalis lost her call demeanor, and she roared at the little group. One giant hoof was pointed threateningly at the closest changeling.
The sentinel she pointed at nervously shook in his chitin, he quickly dove into a bow and hurriedly spit out words.
“Carve and Gnarla fought, the rest of us watched and the ponies got away!”
Before Chrysalis could bother to speak again, another gold trimmed sentinel stepped forward and addressed the queen. She bowed before the royal changeling and answered unapologetically.
“Carve challenged my worth, so I showed him otherwise.”
Chrysalis looked towards the yellowed tufted mane, and took a deep breath. She glanced over the small group, then back to Carve, and finally returned her attention to Gnarla. The queen’s eyes turned cold, and her long legs carried her slowly to the bowed sentinel.
“And what exactly did proving your worth to Carve result in…”
This caused an obvious flinch from Gnarla, but the sentinel felt bold enough to continue with an answer.
“Him being proved wrong.”
“Sorry, I don’t think you gave me a full answer…”
“And the es-”
“Stop there, I don’t want to hear anymore.”
Chrysalis turned away from the small group of sentinels as she interrupted Gnarla’s answer. This caused a surprised cough out of the gold trimmed sentinel, and she remained quiet afterwards. Once the queen had put some distance between herself and the group she turned her head sideways.
“Your banished, all of you that were assigned to guard the element bearers.”
This caused a collective shudder from the changelings that stood nearby. Though the drones and vanguards were nervous, they were glad the attention was not directed at them. The sentinels that were not part of the library guards shifted nervously, as they heard the fate announced for their fellows. Those that the statement was directed towards stuttered in shock, as if they didn’t believe what was just said.
Several of the sentinels in the guardian group stammered and gasped. This couldn’t be…
“None of you will be allowed to feed in Equestria, you are no longer part of my swarm.”
“But my queen! He insulted Vivisect, he… he…”
Chrysalis clenched her jaw and her horn ignited in a threatening glow, as she heard Gnarla’s voice attempt to address her again. Each of the sentinels now trembled in terror at the displeased sight of the queen.
“I don’t care what he said! Your actions clearly show your priorities are not for the swarm, but your own pride! If you’re so concerned about yourselves then take it elsewhere.”
“I AM NO LONGER YOUR QUEEN, NOW GET OUT OF MY SIGHT!”
The giant changeling enraptured her form in emerald energies and stomped the ground. A shockwave of energy blew the small group of sentinels off their hooves, and they tumbled backwards.
“Leave Equestria, and don’t return, or I’ll make you surrender all the love stored in your bodies for more competent changelings!”
The beleaguered group of sentinels quickly scurried off, none of them looking back, there was too much fire in Chrysalis’s eyes for any of them to bear it. Even the fallen form of Carve tried to scurry away, but he fell over several times on his three legs. He tried to buzz his wings futility, but the crinkled one prevented him from flying. One of the other banished sentinels had the mercy to assist him, as they retreated slowly together.
Chrysalis finished with an aggressive snort, she turned back to the rest of the changelings that watched her. The glint of fear shivered through all of them at the sight of her displeasure. With pursed lips she addressed the rest of the changelings still there.
“Should the element bearers fall in our custody again, I won’t tolerate failure in their guardianship. Every changeling is expected to fulfill their station first, not fight about one they don’t have… Am I understood?”
The answer came in the form of a resounding mental
“Yes My Queen!”
With that completed Chrysalis turned her eyes back towards Canterlot. With a deep sigh, she ignited her horn once more to conjure a portal right outside of the library. The green and black abyss was wide enough for several changelings to pass through at once, and they began to file in.
One large hoof slowly rubbed over the right temple of Chrysalis’s head, she had a slight headache that pestered her wellbeing. She kept her eyes open and moved by the changelings as they trotted forward. Most of them kept their eyes forward, but occasionally one would throw her a nervous glance. She kept her hoof to her temple in a slow rub, and didn’t bother to hide her sharp frown.
She could feel her heart sink slightly. Being harsh and stern as queen was nothing new to her, she learned the necessity very quickly after she took the crown from Shellish’s corpse. This wasn’t as fun as dealing punishment to enemies and opponents was. In the harsh life she carved out it, smothering her opponents was one of the few things she really took pleasure in, so enjoy it she did.
These were her changelings though, she looked after them, she saw their needs met, and she dealt out punishment when they were necessary, lest the swarm become unruly or lazy. She thought back on the words Shade had shared a while ago. That should she could be “Admired, respected, and even in time, loved as a ruler” or something along those lines. Perhaps that was a fantasy she shouldn’t hope for.
She chuckled in melancholy tone, which caused a few confused and fearful glances from the last few changelings who entered the portal.
How could she be any of those things… when she often had to be so cruel to keep order. Especially when even her own changelings looked at her with fear, even after all she had done for them over the years.
“Um, my queen?”
The voice of a vanguard caused her to brush away the doubtful thoughts that lingered in her mind. She looked at two of them that stood there.
“We were wanted to know if you desired us to resume our stations in Ponyville?”
“Oh, yes, keep an eye on things. Both of you did a fine job at informing Shade for me, I am pleased with your work. Help the town calm down from today’s incident, if you would.”
Chrysalis’s calmer tone seemed to relax the two vanguards, who stood at attention. Both of them nodded respectfully before they walked around to the back of the Library. Once they were both obscured, there was a brief flash of green, and two ponies walked around the other side of the library.
One of the vanguards had turned into a cream colored earth mare, who sported a mane that was divided blue-pink down the middle and had large soft curls. Her eyes were teal and she had three candies for cutie mark.
The other vanguard had changed into a yellow pelted earth mare that had a long curly orange mane and tail. She had green eyes and the mark of three carrots adorned on both of her flanks.
The queen watched the two of them make their respective ways back into Ponyville, and once they were gone she faced towards the open portal. She made slow deliberate steps towards the dark swirly abyss. Her tail swished back and forth unenthusiastically, and her head wasn’t held as proud as it usually was. When she finally crossed through it the dimensional rift shrunk down into oblivion.
Back in Canterlot
The group of changelings had exited near the Solar Tower, where once they were through they started to divide and fly back to their previous occupations. As if the morning’s activities had just been another item on the menu for the day.
When Chrysalis flew down to the balcony of the Observation Tower, she could already see the other changelings in the distance, many of which already disappeared into the cityscape. She let out another stress induced sigh. Her mind rummaged through the number of different things she wanted to approach next.
Dropping out cold into a bed sounded like a good idea, but there were still more pressing concerns. She walked down the spiral staircase of the tower, and trotted somewhat aimlessly along the castle halls, somewhere between a zombified stupor and contemplation.
Eventually her wandering hooves brought her to the Gala Ballroom. The place she had started to organize so many of the events here, and planned to do a great many more. To her surprise there was another changeling already in the room. They were the only two to occupy this space, and when Chrysalis loud hoof steps heralded her entry, the other changeling turned about to face her.
It was Colony, and the short drone looked up with some expectancy.
“I’ve searched all over the castle and decided to wait here. I figured you had other important business you were attending to. That flash of light over Ponyville left me a little dazed, I didn’t quite expect that.”
Tired and with no desire for pleasantries, the queen bluntly asked for the point,
“You have business for me Colony?”
“Yes I do, Fancy Pants has inquired for you, and since you were preoccupied, he came to me. The matter he wants to address has nothing to do with my specialty, so I told him to wait until I found you.”
“So what is this business? Where is Fancy waiting?”
“Apparently some delegates from Saddle Arabia planned on meeting with Celestia today. As you know that will not happen, so Fancy Pants is entertaining them with a garden party until you should arrive. It’s taking place at his house; he left you a calling card to guide you there.”
Chrysalis did everything she could to suppress a groan of frustration as Colony levitated a small slip of paper towards the queen, who in turn grabbed it with her magic. This wasn’t an errand with a quick answer.
Her harlequin eyes looked over the small business card, which featured a picture of Fancy and some contact information. She flipped it around, and on the back was scribbled a personal message.
The arrow is a compass to my home, I hope to see you there soon.
There indeed was a small arrow, it was red and when she shifted the card, the arrow adjusted to point in an enchanted direction. Chrysalis looked back over to her Councilor.
“Thank you Colony, you may go about the business you had planned for today.”
“My queen, I will resume my work with Golden Trust.”
The little drone bowed respectfully before she turned and left. Chrysalis stood there awhile longer, silently debating with herself. A slightly mischievous grin crawled over her fanged mouth.
How long could she get Fancy to “entertain” these delegates? Long enough to get them to go away perhaps? She took another deep breath and sighed, the queen noticed she had been doing that alot lately, and it annoyed her.
Chrysalis turned to leave the Gala Ballroom, and shook her head as she went. This was something she shouldn’t shirk off, these Saddle Arabians were officially her neighbors now, and if they expected to meet with someone as important as Celestia, then they would expect to meet with her. She snorted, and tried to recall what she could of the desert dwelling horses.
They weren’t a very social bunch, none of the vanguard she stationed there in the past had been very excited about the prospects of food sources. Scholars and archivists were aplenty, and there were even many exotic cultural delicacies, but availability of positive emotional wellsprings? Less common... That was only of the reasons that fueled why Equestria was her first choice for invasion.
She exited the castle, walking the grounds while she kept an eye on the direction the arrow card pointed. She imagined Fancy’s house shouldn’t be too far away, he lived near the rest of the nobles didn’t he? Anyway, the sooner she could get this done, the sooner she could go rest.
Thankfully, It was not too long before the queen found her way near a decently sized property. The grounds were spacious, and was the place of habitation for a healthy green lawn. Several stylishly cut bushes decorated the property along with a vast arrangement of flower beds. The whole spectrum of colors appeared to be present, along with a plethora of mesmerizing patterns.
From what Chrysalis could see, this impressive arrangement of gardening was only the front of the property. The back appeared to have even more diversity, with a few tall trees teased at the possibilities of what lay beyond.
The actual house was surprisingly humble, compared to the more gaudy noble mansions further up the street. It was only a single story, and not nearly as wide as many of the neighbors, but it was as neatly kept as well as any other.
This brought a small smile to one corner of Chrysalis’s mouth, she felt assured she had made a good choice for who she picked as her liaison. Changelings held a long tradition of valuing efficiency, born out of necessity more than anything else, but generally had it ingrained in their minds nonetheless.
Not that Chrysalis didn’t like to indulge every once in awhile, these comforts were infinitely better than the hospitality of the Badlands, but she didn’t like the prissy attitudes that were so often associated with such frivolity.
Fancy’s home showed he had taste, but was not overly extravagant, compared to the waste of space that were most of these “noble” mansions. Her heavy steps approached the door and she lifted one hoof to knock.
Before she landed a hoof the tall door way was opened. On the threshold stood Fleur Dis Lee, who’s eyes widened a bit in surprise at who was at the door. Though she was not overly surprised, and there was a certain amount of expectancy in her light violet eyes.
“Welcome queen, Fancy and the rest of the company are in the back.”
For a moment Chrysalis simply stood there, and blinked her eyes slowly. When Fleur started to tilt her head in confusion, the queen shook herself to put her exhaustion at bay, and forced out some words.
“Lead the way please.”
Fleur brushed through her mane quickly before she turned about with an elegant swish of her tail. Chrysalis had to point her head downward slightly to fit through the door, lest her long horn impale the door frame.
Once inside the house the queen was lead past a neatly done living room. The aesthetics were an interesting mesh of Fleur’s and Fancy’s tastes. What with things like an intricately detailed grandfather clock as a grand centerpiece on one side of the room, and on the other a wide range of photo albums on display. Most of which featured Fleur in her various shoots.
The furniture was antique, and showed a collector’s eye, much of the woodwork was just as impressive on the chair legs as it was on the body of the grandfather clock. As neat as the details were, it was more of the smell in the home that distracted Chrysalis’s attention.
Fleur’s heavy perfume was the first odor to notice, it was quite rosy. There was also the smell of old wood from many of the antiquated items along with their staining agents in the home. The smell of something from the kitchen also caught her attention, something particularly savory was being prepared.
The queen wrinkled her snout in response to the sumptuous smells, then spoke with passing interest about another subject.
“Did you have your discussion with Fancy yet?”
Fleur stopped in her tracks. She didn’t turn around to face the queen, but fidgeted slightly with one of her front hooves.
“Yes, yes I did…”
“How was it?”
Fleur’s mind hovered around the event.
Fancy’s and Fleur’s house the other day
In a rapid fervor, Fleur had hurried Fancy and herself back to their home as quickly as they could. She barely cooled off on the way over, and was still soaked with a fair amount of sweat. She panted heavily from the pace both of them ran out of the castle, across the grounds, and past the noble mansions.
She almost collapsed when they finally reached their doorstep. Fancy himself was not in any better condition, as he wasn’t any more athletic than she was. He managed to heave out some words though.
“Fleur, -huff- you have me concerned.”
“Let’s –pant- just go inside first.”
Fleur used her pink magical aura to open the door, and the couple stumbled in. After they moved into the living room they took a seat on the primary couch, a nice antique couch, covered smooth leather and supported by very comfortable cushioning.
Both them just relaxed there for a small amount of time, while they waited to recover from their sprint over Canterlot. Eventually they had both slowed their breath, with Fleur casting a spell to dry off her sweat, before becoming silent.
Even though her body externally showed calm, her mind was ablaze. How should she approach this?
Fancy had spoken first, and this made her even more nervous. She never really planned to talk to Fancy about what she was, but the queen just had to make things… happen.
“Are you a changeling?”
Fleur’s heart stopped in her chest, and her entire body went frigid. The remnants of sweat on her coat went cold and she shivered. Fancy took a deep breath when he saw her reaction, her bright lavender eyes were terror struck. He reached out with his hoof to try and reassure her, and when he made contact with her shoulder she jumped slightly, but didn’t retreat. Now she was confused.
“It’s alright, you can tell me. I’ve never seen you as nervous around any pony as you were around the queen. Not even Celestia made you this panicky. The attention she gave you was also, strange.”
“I, well, you were always so perceptive dear. Pretty ironic I’m a terrible liar isn’t it…”
“Oh I would say you’re not bad, I didn’t have an inkling until today. In hindsight a number of things make sense now. Notwithstanding, I do have a few questions.”
“First, can I see you face?”
It was one thing to admit it outloud, but to actually make the change? She felt a new level of uncertainty. It was a pity she almost started to relax about the whole thing. This was a part of her she never exposed to another pony before, but of all ponies, Fancy deserved it the most.
With a resigned sigh Fleur activated some green magic as curtains in the windows were closed, and emerald energies rushed over her body.
There on the couch next Fancy Pants was a tall vanguard changeling. There were no holes in her legs, and in contrast to almost all of the changelings in the city, she had a full length mane, which was stylized just like her unicorn form. Her light lavender irises were now light lavender rims to the entirety of her eyes. The color of her mane and tail were a matching tone of purple, and were very well kept.
Fancy blinked at the shift, he had seen a few other changelings do it, but this one was quite personal. He looked over the vanguard changeling that sat across from him on the couch. To his surprise it was almost as if Fleur had only adopted a changeling costume, there were still many things which were familiar about her in appearance. Apparently the pony form she chose, reflected many of her natural qualities anyway. This brought a smirk across his mustached mouth.
She noticed the slight smile and she nervously returned one of her own, only now her smile had some fangs in it. The unicorn stallion continued with another question.
“Now I would like to know, is there another Fleur or Fleurs running around?”
“No, I created Fleur Dis Lee twelve years ago. You can check all the records, there never was a foal by that name. Just migrant old me, though where I migrated from wasn’t exactly Prance.”
“Hmm, I suppose the next question is the most simple and complex. How does all of… this… work? I must say my knowledge of changelings is quite vague.”
Fancy lifted one hoof to make circular motions between Fleur and himself, and ended with an open hoof in Fleur’s direction.
“Um, where to start?”
“How about twelve years ago.”
“Alright, so when Fleur was born, so to speak. That was my first time trying to infiltrate pony society. The other times I stopped here were for observational purposes, like all other vanguard in training. By the time I was ready, I knew how I wanted to go about entering the pony world.”
“As a super model? Not that I’m complaining about your choice, but-”
“Looks first, behavior second! I already said I was a terrible liar, so I figured that would be a better way to grab attention. Admiration, desire, and appreciation for beauty were emotions I could harvest in vast quantities for the swarm. Let alone, I love the spotlight, hehe.”
“Then how about us? How do we work? Are your feelings genuine, do you have feelings, do you actually love me?”
“Of course I have feelings! I’m still that same pony who fell in love with you eleven years ago.”
She tapped Fancy on the snout with a hoof. Fancy wrinkled his nose, and chuckled slightly before he continued. That was one less thing to be concerned about.
“Then why do changelings have to feed off of pony emotions? Can you not feed off each other?”
“No we can’t. Changeling emotions are inedible for other changelings. We could technically drain it from each other, but it would be like living off of dirt and rocks, it’s just indigestible and without nutrition.”
“So there is your dependence on ponies.”
“Any other species really, griffons, minotaurs, even bunny rabbits. But ponies have been the best.”
Fancy lifted a hoof and thoughtfully twirled his moustache. He looked over his changeling wife again as he mulled over more thoughts. The idea toaster in his mind popped.
“Did you have another name you went by as a changeling?”
This brought a slight purse to Fleur’s lips and she snorted.
“Yes, but I don’t like it.”
“Changelings are given names based on what they do or have done. Though the one they donned on me doesn’t reflect the way I want it too.”
“And what was that?”
“Yes, because I’m good at shifting forms.”
“That requires talent?”
“Yes, especially when assuming an original disguise. It can be quite complicated.”
“Any changeling can copy the form of another pony, or similar creature. Even simple minded drones and sentinels can accomplish that. However,assuming a disguise no changeling has taken before, that’s like becoming a sculptor. It takes imagination, inspiration, and spatial intelligence. Every little detail can be managed, and it is trickier beneath the skin. Taking the time to shape bone and muscle precisely isn’t a comfortable process either.”
Fleur activated green magic over her body again, and she regained the form of her unicorn self. Fancy’s gaze locked into her lavender irises, and he sighed. Fleur was herself, but not. She continued to speak, her voice sounded as if it hadn’t changed in either form. Yet another detail that surprised him.
“I have spent more time in this form than my changeling self. I would prefer to stay this way, if you don’t mind.”
“Please, stay how you prefer.”
The white unicorn brushed through her pink mane a bit, and stretched out. She scooted closer her husband, and leaned against him. Fancy accepted her advance and relaxed further into couch; he put a hoof around her shoulders and pulled her close. She looked up into his blue eyes with her lavender ones.
“Does this change things between us?”
“Do you think it does?”
“I hope not…”
“Ha! Well, it explains who the mysterious in-laws were after all these years. It was quite a hello. It even seems I’m under the same employer as you now. Huh, should I call Chrysalis my mother in-law, I mean, how does that work?”
“No, the queen isn’t my mother, my parents were a drone and a vanguard, but they passed away a while ago.”
Fancy lifted one hoof to brush it along her cheek, and run it slowly down her neck.
“I’m sorry to hear that…”
“There’s no need to be, they lived longer than most changelings have.”
“Hmm, all of this has been quite a lot to take in, I would love to indulge more into this, but I will rest my case for now and ponder about what we’ve discussed. Though, there is one more thing I would like to say before we go our ways for the day.”
“I still love you Fleur.”
Fleur’s eye’s sparkled with happiness, and she leaned in close to her husband’s face. Fancy leaned his head forward, and brushed his snout past hers. He brought his mouth close to her ear, so he could whisper.
“Even if you take little bites of my soul.”
He nipped at her ear.
“By Celestia! What a way to spoil the moment.”
She pushed him back and crossed her front hooves, she leaned back and made a loud humph noise. Fancy chuckled a little.
“Well it’s true isn’t it?”
Fleur rolled her eyes, and blew away a string of hair that got in her face.
“It grows back…”
Back to the present.
Fleur put a hoof up to her lips and smiled upon reflection. She stood still short of the kitchen, and Chrysalis waited patiently. The queen’s eyes still roamed over the décor when Fleur finally responded.
“It went well.”
“Good, now lead on, I believe there are some Saddle Arabians I need to talk to.”
The elegant white unicorn led her guest past the recreational room, and out to the backyard. They exited through sliding glass doors onto a marble tiled patio. At a glance, all the foliage in the back was just as impressively maintained as it was in the front. The addition of a few willow trees added a serene feel to it all, what with their comfortable drapery of leaves.
There were many tables and chairs set up, and many ponies occupied them. The chatter amongst the guests was lively until the changeling queen’s presence entered the backyard. Then things went deadly silent, almost all eyes immediately shot towards her, and the stench of fear spread quickly. She peered around with weariness, and held her mouth tightly. She didn’t have the energy to keep up a performance, not after the fiasco at ponyville. Thankfully all the nobility continued to remain quiet, hopefully the fear would keep them to themselves, all she wanted was to be in an out of this endeavor, and back to heavenly cushions in the palace.
“Now now, I said the queen may grace us this evening, so don’t act all surprised! I have a table arranged for you over here my queen.”
Fancy’s address to the crowd snapped Chrysalis’s attention back to business, and she silently cursed herself for not asserting herself more. All the fatigue had made her slack off, and the last thing she wanted to come across as was lazy.
Already seated there were two tall equines, Saddle Arabian horses. One of them was brown stallion with a bright blonde mane, the other was a pink mare with subdued shades of blue-violet in her mane. Both of them were dressed in fancy regalia that signified their delegate status.
Chrysalis hurriedly strode over to the table and took a seat, eager to get this done, she turned to the two delegates and made a special gesture. With a hoof she tapped each of her eyes once, then her snout, and finally she held an open hoof out to the heavens, and back down to the two delegates.
The brown stallion blinked in surprise and smiled warmly at the gesture, while the mare was more reserved, and even let suspicion dance openly on her face. Fancy Pants watched the interaction with interest.
“Is there an element of greeting my guests I’ve missed?”
“Oh no Fancy, you’ve treated us well, I’m just surprised your new queen knows of our formal greeting.”
The tall blonde stallion answered, his voice was smooth and clear, but accented. Chrysalis spoke with an indifferent tone.
“The greeting is something I picked up when I visited your country before, it was not too difficult to remember.”
“Really, then have we by chance met before?”
The Pink mare in turn spoke, her suspicion had only deepened, and blue eyes lingered on Chrysalis, in an attempt to read her intent.
“No, last time I was there I had no reason to speak to delegates. Now that I rule over more than a swarm of changelings, I have a reason. I am queen Chrysalis, if you have not already been told.”
“We are pleased to make your acquaintance then, queen Chrysalis, I am Crescent Iris, and this is Delta Shores.”
Crescent returned the gesture that the queen had given them earlier. Delta was more hesitant, but she followed her companion’s example.