I threw open the heavy door to my lab and stepped inside the wonderful realm. A few graduate students had congregated at the table set up by the all-wall chalkboard. Normally, this was where I would outline a plan of attack for a research proposal – or just shoot the shit with my underlings. Unfortunately, in this instance, my newest research associate – Princess Twilight Sparkle – was busy putting my enthusiastic workhorses to sleep.
“Newbies, Code Black.” My voice broke them from their stupors, and each of them knew the ramifications of that phrase. DarkOps business was going down, and they needed to get the hell out. Chrysalis had obviously been thorough in her scouting. The lab walls were thicker. There was more privacy here. It was the perfect place to have a candid discussion, and she had been aware of that fact.
The students left without raising a fuss, and I gave an appreciative nod to each of them before the persona known as Aphrodite, with Captain Magic Barrier in tow, guided Twilight back into the room. “Not you,” she chirped. “We’re going to need you. The timetable on this plan just got moved up.”
“Huh?” Twilight moaned. Her tilted head and splayed ears betrayed her confusion, and she blinked a few times at the sight of the pink earth pony closing and locking the entrance after Barrier had cleared the breach. “What do you need me for?” She paused a moment, allowing time for her eyes to scrutinize the stranger. “You do look a bit downtrodden. Are you having a friendship problem? I can really help with those! I was just explaining to Wing’s students about the magic of friendship and all of the wonders it can bring Equestria.”
“Sparkleface,” Chrysalis deadpanned, “you’re absolutely insufferable. Adults are about to talk, and we are both going to need you to listen. You’re good at that, right? Celestia always praised you for it. Just consider this to be the ultimate organizational task…” The changeling hesitated and dropped her magical façade. “… because I have lost the luxuries of time.”
The Princess of Friendship squeaked and leapt onto the table in a frantic retreat. Her barrel heaved with panicked breaths as a purplish light danced around her horn. “Changelings!” The squeal pinned my ears to my head. “And you!” Her tone took on an aggressive demeanor as she crouched – a spring ready to unload. “You will pay for what you did to my brother! And you will pay for what you did to my friends!”
Castfire erupted from her forehead and rocketed towards the changeling queen until Barrier’s quickly erected shield absorbed the attack. Her gaze flickered between the unicorn stallion and myself – the ramifications of the event obviously dripping through her thought processes. “Yes, Twilight,” I interjected. “That means what you think it does. Barrier is actually Captain Barrier, and I am the real Wing.”
A smirk practically crawled along Chrysalis’s midnight muzzle. “The poor dear looks like she’s quivering. Would you like me to walk you through this one, Princess? You seem a little lost, and frankly, it’s a bit cringe-worthy to watch in real time.”
“Not helping,” I chided the taunting royal. Twilight visibly strained to make sense of what was transpiring before her. The Princess of Friendship was notorious for overthinking problems – if the twenty page report I read on the Smarty Pants incident made any indication – and I feared that she would do it again.
“She must be controlling your minds!” the mare exclaimed. Her hoof gesticulated with what I dubbed the academic flair, whereas my hoof promptly found my face.
“Twilight, just scan me so we can get this shit over with. We seriously don’t have time for this. I’m in control of my own actions – kind of like the time I booted you out of my class for the endless question disruption.”
“What difference would that make? Either way, you’re aiding Chrysalis. She nearly ruined my brother’s wedding. She controlled his mind and sent both Cadance and me into the caves beneath Canterlot! You’re either being controlled, or you’re actively assisting someone who poses a danger to all of Equestria!”
Chrysalis unleashed a dramatic groan. “Child, shut your muzzle and think. Why would I send the one pony who saw through my disguise to the one pony that could reveal my presence to the masses? Do you honestly believe that Celestia, a bona fide goddess with the power to move heavenly objects, could be bested in a single, pathetically brief exchange of magic with another regal entity? I have other things to discuss with these stallions that are far more troubling, so I’ll just spoil the ending. The invasion was theater – nothing more, nothing less.”
“You still imprisoned Cadance, used your magic to hurt Shining Armor, and took advantage of their–”
“Love cannot be faked!” Chrysalis roared back, finally silencing Twilight Sparkle’s outbursts. “Yes! I used your brother. It was done for the good of an entire race, and your rulers were in on the act. Where do you think Luna was that whole time – pissing the hours away? I’ll give you a hint, Princess. She was orchestrating your special forces so the assets actually capable of killing would be out of the way. Would you rather have me hoof-deliver an apology and grovel before your sister-in-law instead of saving my kind? We are all standing in the room with the pony whose technology could end the need for raids, and you’re griping about a parlor trick. Think about what happened in both Canterlot and Manehattan and put the pieces together. Now ask yourself if you still want to bitch or if you would rather learn about the maggots who want to screw up my plan.”
Both Barrier and I angled our snouts towards Chrysalis. Her last sentence reverberated within my thoughts, and based upon the expression dotting my colleague’s countenance, I made the assumption that he was thinking the same thing I was. “You were able to read that shit on the bottom, were you not?” He beat me to the punch.
The monarch’s muzzle descended briefly while she gave a curt nod. “I know that my son is involved with the pony who sent that letter. He’s the only rogueling with knowledge of my royal language. It is inconceivable that he would share something that personal with an outsider, but alas, it is merely a trivial concern compared to the content. This pony is aware of Wing’s technology, yes? This means that Duel is also now in the know.”
Twilight’s irritation lessened as she listened to the explanation from the changeling queen. The drive to fight that had shaped her expressions had morphed into something that teetered far closer to genuine concern. “And what does this have to do with me?” she interrupted with a voice laden by anxiety-induced inflexions.
“Time is in short supply, Twilight Sparkle. Your status as the Princess of Friendship provides a voice that can move others to action. It may very well be needed to set a proper pace.” Her head swiveled to face me. “Duel has skewed beliefs, idiotic beliefs, but the nymph actually has a brain. He will piece together the rationale that inevitably led me here – if he has not done so already. That alone places you, and all the things you care about, at risk.”
“Protection details then.” Barrier’s gaze matched his tone – focused, steady, and commanding. “I’ll start grabbing those I trust to tend to your research staff. You should probably consider calling in your ponies to handle the tech, Wing. And then…” The lights of the lab flickered off the surface of his eyes. They were quivering; he was hesitating, and Barrier was never one to hesitate. “A security team should be assigned to Ambrosia.”
A gasp arose from Twilight that pulled our collective attention. Quills were already hovering around the mare as they set their tips upon multiple scrolls. “I’ll send word to Celestia and Luna right away. The Royal Guard can be dispatched to look after Ambrosia, and notice can be forwarded to those in Professor Wing’s department.”
“Don’t send guards to Amby,” I countered before shuffling a bit over the tile floor. “I don’t want to disrupt her life with problems that I caused. Send the order to Manehattan instead, Ms. Sparkle, specifically to the Chain of Blossoms flower shop on the corner of Bridleway and Trotter. Trigger will keep an eye on her, and he is practically family.”
“And please do mention that one of mine is already keeping tabs on the subject of interest.” Chrysalis paused to receive the glare that I thrust her way. “What? I told you that I came to bargain for your services. She is definitely part of that service. I am not having anyone get in the way of the most promising endeavor I have seen in centuries. How do you think I collected all that intel, and why do you think I told you that any ‘ling would be eviscerated if harm was brought to her?”
I inhaled sharply and stared upon the imposing creature – a perplexing mix of smugness, concern, distress, and genius. “I’m both a bit creeped out and flattered.”
“That’s the best way to deal with those unfathomably younger than oneself. Consider that your first lesson in properly constructing enjoyable conversations with ancient beings, but there will be time for that later. I believe Princess Twilight should get on with the correspondence.”
The purplish alicorn hummed and commenced with the appropriate dictation. There actually were certain circumstances in which the zealous academic’s brute tenacity paid dividends, and the distribution of information was one of those cases – provided, of course, that the recipient could tolerate the verbose text. With a flicker of her magical aura, the scribed letters vanished, leaving in their wakes a contented Twilight who basked in the glow of the finished task.
“Company,” Chrysalis huffed before her muzzle furrowed. Her gaze, following the fluid pivot of her head, shifted to the abruptly unlocked and opened door. The royal's ears perked to the squeak that radiated from the mouth of a tumbling orange unicorn, and her tail flicked aggressively once Mosaic Breeze stepped through the yawning entrance.
The white pegasus brandished a scowl while she leered at the sprawled mare. “Code Black, huh?” she sputtered. “I caught two trying to listen in. One bailed, but I chased this one down.” Her yellow eyes briefly glanced to Queen Chrysalis before she shrugged. “Wreaking havoc again, Wing?”
Chrysalis did not yield a moment for me to answer. She stepped forward and slammed her hoof down in front of the startled, prone pony. “I don’t sense your emotions, child.” She glared at the unicorn’s reddish irides and sun-kissed mane. “Drop the act, and tell me exactly what you are doing here.”
“Queen Chrysalis,” the unidentified eavesdropper whimpered, “y-you’re too late. King Duel will learn the details of your plan. He will respond. He will move us forward. He will–”
“Insolent brat,” the monarch shouted, slamming her hoof down again as her countenance contorted to air her disgust. “King Duel!? King? Nymph, you do not know the meaning of king! A king would not cast aside the rules that have kept our hive intact for millennia. Duel is no king; he is but a prince in his pod, and he will not stop me from ending his delusions. My plan is already in motion! Look at these ponies! Look at how they have set aside their hatred and trepidations to help us!”
I see, I pondered as my ears corralled Chrysalis’s words. The mare is a changeling, too. I shifted my focus towards Mozy and quickly flicked my hoof. “Mosaic Breeze, Queen Chrysalis, and likewise. I’m sure you're capable of connecting the dots on this one. We’ll be aiding the hive by constructing a civilian well of the A&W shell type. You’ll be in charge of all student and associate handling.”
Scraping her hooves against the floor, the disguised changeling drew my attention with the percussive rumblings. However Mozy had responded, her acknowledgement of my decree fell upon deaf ears. I was studying the peculiarities of our confounded and uninvited observer. Anguish tugged at her muscles while she alternated her focus between the still-looming queen and me, and I did not need superequine powers to determine that a debate waged war across her mind. A jolt ran through my limbs at this realization. Cornered warriors do not make good company...
When the gulp of air filled her lungs, my wings unfurled instinctively. The deafening scream that followed pinged the reflexes of those around me, but I had already raised my leg and primed my hoof. “I’ll kill you!” she wailed upon springing into a charge. Her disguise dissolved in the rush, revealing a black horn that emitted daggers of green fire. Rage had blossomed beneath her pony mask, and that resolution remained etched upon her glare. “Then nothing will stand in the way of our king!”
Horns flared into action, and Mozy’s frame crouched in anticipation of the tackle she felt destined to execute. Wisps of vapor spiraled around my leg and compressed into a small sphere in the time it took the changeling to take another stride. Before my comrades could engage, I threw my hoof forward, guiding the ever-darkening tuft, and unloaded the garnered electric charge into the bug’s carapace.
Her eyes widened. The determination in her efforts had been immediately replaced by dread. The scream that had so excellently startled the room collapsed into a whimper that paired well with her crumbling figure. “I have other plans. I’m not going to leave her like that, and I am certainly not going to let your king endanger Equestria.” I rendered my own resolute leer for the panting changeling.
“I’ll scramble my squad to be on the lookout for the other one. Maybe we can catch up and intercept before the bug makes it home.”
Barrier’s assertion was met with nod from Chrysalis, who had taken a few moments to glance over my frame before stepping towards her downed objector. She set her leg upon the nymph’s charred shell and pressed downward with enough force to yank a pained squeal from the creature’s muzzle. “Set your sights upon the Macintosh Den, Captain. That’s where Number Two will be heading.” The words sent the pinned captive squirming. “Your archaeologist revealed another exciting clue, Professor. My forsaken son has started his campaign with diamond dogs. Isn’t that right, Dear?”