“I see you've made it at last,” sneered Queen Chrysalis, stalking out of the shadows of the cavern. “I can't begin to tell you how happy it makes me that you said 'yes' to my proposal.”
“Chrysalis...” growled Twilight through clenched teeth, “I don't know what you're planning or what your scheme is here, but we're not going to let you get away with it!”
“Ah, yes, you and your little friends.” Chrysalis peered through the strands of her hair at the five determined ponies surrounding the alicorn. “I suppose I'll have to do something about them before we get to the fun part, hmm?”
She gestured with one hoof, and Twilight fell back in shock as all of her friends burst into flames. She recoiled further, when she saw the fire was green and realized what was actually happening to them.
Chittering and laughing, the five changelings that had entered the cave with her jumped into the air and buzzed away down a tunnel.
Chrysalis let out a full-throated chuckle. “Remember when you tripped on that suspiciously well-placed branch and rolled down a hill into a bush? You found your friends when you came out of your side of the bush... but your friends found another Twilight on their side. Isn't shape-shifting wonderful?”
“If you hurt them–!”
“Now, why would I do something like that?” Chrysalis pouted. “It's a shame you waited so long to tell them where you were going and why, though. They don't even know you're here. On the plus side, changeling K85-348IL–sorry, I mean their dear, longtime friend Twilight Sparkle–is now treating them to quite a wonderful picnic. Your future, however, is going to be a lot less pleasant!”
Twilight sent a blast of magic towards the Queen, but she had already faded away, back into the shadows.
Twilight panted, stumbling forward through the green-tinged darkness of the tunnels.
She had made the mistake of playing Chrysalis's game and charging after her in pursuit, instead of retreating to the entrance of the cave. Now she was well and truly lost, and to make matters worse this wasn't merely a cave–it was a full-fledged changeling hive, and she was trapped in its depths. None of the drones had interfered yet, but it was only a matter of time until–
The beam of green magic came from her left side, and only her years of training let her get a shield up in time to deflect it. But that had only been a feint, and the real attack, a charging changeling Queen, came from her other side.
Dash's self-styled 'combat practice' hadn't been for nothing, though–despite how much it had resembled recreations of scenes from the pony-fu movies the pegasus likes so much. Twilight ducked, causing the large Queen to stumble over her and go sprawling across the cavern floor. She was quick with a shield as well, throwing it up in Twilight's direction even as she tumbled, but that hadn't been an attack spell the alicorn was casting.
With a flash, Twilight appeared above Chrysalis, and then let loose an enormous burst of magical power right into the surprised changeling's face, blasting her back across the floor in the direction she'd initially charged from.
“Not so smug now, are... you...” Twilight trailed off as she approached the Queen's prone body, the green flames that danced around it parting to reveal an unconscious changeling drone. “No–!”
She barely had time to protest before tendrils of green magic wrapped around her body, draining her strength and magic. With a fading cry she collapsed to the ground, and Chrysalis coalesced out of the darkness behind her.
“All done!” she said cheerfully, a large smile on her face. “Well, except for one... last... thing.”
Twilight hardly had the strength to watch out of the corner of one eye as Chrysalis's head descended, mouth grinning wider and opening to expose her fangs, and finally she turned away. She didn't want to be watching her murderer as the deed was done, anyway.
Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about her other senses. She felt Chrysalis's breath, hot on her neck... felt the changeling's teeth on her throat... felt the jaws begin to tighten, fangs starting to pierce her veins...
Felt Chrysalis draw back, after putting hardly enough pressure on her neck to dimple the skin.
Confused, Twilight lay there, curling into a ball, trying to protect herself, as Chrysalis lay down next to her, leaning heavily against her body and starting to... groom her coat?
“I don't know how you ponies can live with all this fur,” chuckled Chrysalis, her hoofs working out the mud and other gunk that had adhered to Twilight's coat during the battle. “I'm not complaining about how soft and smooth it is, of course, but, well, give me good old chitin any day.”
Twilight lay there, submitting to the Queen's ministrations, mind racing as she tried puzzle out what was going on. Finally, on the basis that Chrysalis wasn't aggressive anymore, she decided to try and move away, only to be effortlessly scooped back into place by a holed hoof.
“Uh-uh, not done yet.”
A hoof gently teased Twilight's wing into stretching out, and she gasped as the Queen began to preen her feathers, nibbling along the length of each one and working the ones that had gotten bent during her tumble across the floor back into their proper places.
“W-what are you doing?” she asked timidly, then gasped again and felt her body involuntarily relax as a particularly damaged feather–one whose discomfort she hadn't noticed until it was gone–was carefully pulled out and discarded.
“I'm afraid you got a bit messy during the wedding ceremony just now,” said Chrysalis apologetically. “And I can't have my new wife go around looking disheveled, now can I?”
“Ah, I've been waiting for this day for so long.” Chrysalis paused her preening to look upward with far-off eyes. “Ever since I first saw you in Canterlot, while I was posing as Cadance, I've wanted you to be mine. No other pony there saw through my disguise, no one else was smart enough to figure it all out. That's why I abandoned my plan, and sent you down to Cadance to see what you would do. I mean, I could have just killed you on the spot!
“But you helped her escape those caves, you outwitted my bridesmaids, and you confronted me at the wedding. Even after finding out I was a Queen you didn't back down, defeating all those drones while trying to get to the Elements of Harmony. Impressive, even if they were under orders not to hurt you.
“And even after I captured you again, you still didn't give up, freeing Cadance and 'defeating' me. That was when I knew it was true love.”
Chrysalis giggled, resuming her preening of Twilight's wings. “I was impressed you knew about changeling courtship rituals. These last few years have been just... incredible. I kidnap your friend's sisters, you face me down in my castle and I act like your magic was able to hurt me so you can win... you lock me in the castle for 'a thousand years' as punishment, then pretend to fall for that silly trick with the book so I can 'escape'...”
“I didn't prete–!” Twilight's mind locked up, stuck between trying not to encourage Chrysalis and not wanting to admit she'd been fooled so easily.
“I'd heard stories and tales, but I never imagined I'd experience something so romantic until I met you. The constant battles, the fights for dominance, the carefully chosen verbal barbs hurled at each other every time we met... it was like a dream come true.
“I was looking forward to our next date so much, but then I thought, well, why wait? I knew there was only one pony who had a place in my heart. So I sent you that wedding proposal, and you accepted! Oh, I'm so happy!”
She let out a giddy giggle, nuzzling up against Twilight's head. Most of Twilight froze up at the sudden intimate contact with someone she thought of as her worst enemy, but part of her mind was still analyzing the situation and trying to figure things out.
Wedding proposal? What wedding proposal?! All she sent me was a letter challenging me to a final battle! It said–
My Dearest Twilight Sparkle,
Truly, I have enjoyed the time we have spent together. From the day we first met, I've been unable to think of anything but you...I can't get you out of my mind, I just want to wrap my hooves around you and squeeze, and never let go.
If you feel the same way I do, the way I know you do, then meet me at the location on the map I've sent with this letter. I hope to see you soon; I am eager to finish this and move on with our lives together.
Ooooohhhh. Oh sweet Celestia, none of that was sarcasm.
Twilight's train of thought was interrupted again as Chrysalis suddenly stood up.
“There we go, looking as beautiful as always!” The changeling smiled cheerfully. “I'd imagine you're pretty tired now, though. Come on, let's go to my–to our bedroom.”
At those words, Twilight's brain once again shorted out. The situation was made worse as Chrysalis turned and directed an expression at her that she'd never imagined she'd see from the changeling–one of worry and concern.
“Are you okay?” Chrysalis trotted over quickly, placing a hoof against the side of Twilight's head. “I didn't drain too much from you, did I? I knew I shouldn't take too much since you just became an alicorn, but I also knew that what would work for a normal pony wouldn't be enough so I tried for about halfway between the two, b-but if I really hurt you then–“
“N-no, I'm fine!” Twilight tried to stand up quickly, only to find herself wobbling. The spell actually had taken more out of her than she'd thought.
“I'm really sorry! Here, let me carry you.”
She tried to squirm as a green glow scooped her off the ground, but it was no use, and she was deposited on Chrysalis's back. Her green shell was surprisingly soft, like a rubber mat.
Chrysalis made her way through the tunnels, walking smoothly, hardly jostling Twilight at all. Embarrassed, she kept her head down, but lifted it when she noticed the hooves of other changelings as they passed by. Each changeling, she saw, was bowing their heads, and finally she tuned to Chrysalis.
“Why are all your changelings bowing?” she asked tremulously. “Do you always make them bow to you?”
Chrysalis chuckled, looking back at Twilight over her shoulder. “Of course not. For one thing, there is no need to make them bow when I can feel their respect and dedication to me through the hivemind. But they aren't bowing to me, they're bowing to you. After all, it's not every day they meet a new Queen.”
“A new–“ Twilight had to stick a hoof in her mouth to keep from screaming. As a form of distraction, she tried to list all the ways this was a complete and utter disaster. It was an odd way to calm herself down, but it worked.
Let's see, there's the hierarchy to think about first, she mused. If I'm still a member of the royalty of Equestria, but now I've become a Queen of the changelings, does that mean I outrank the other Princesses? Oh no, what if they think this is some kind of power grab, like when Luna tried to take over?! They might banish me to... to... well, Luna got banished to the moon, so I guess I would get banished to... friendship? How would that even work? I mean, I guess a literal interpretation of that would be to banish me to Ponyville, except that's not really a banishment and it's also the central seat of my power, so sending me there would be advantageous to me if anything, and–
Oh Celestia, I haven't even considered the political ramifications! If we really are married then that means our kingdoms have merged. It's been a while since I read up on the old feudal laws, but I think that means that Chrysalis's hive, being smaller, gets absorbed into Equestria, and–and now all the changelings are Equestrian citizens, and Chrysalis is a Princess as well, while still keeping her title and power over her lands, and-and-and...
And this is going to cause all kinds of trouble that I can't even imagine, she finished with a gulp.
“Here we are!” said Chrysalis happily, as they turned into a smaller tunnel and passed through an emerald-green curtain of silk. “Our little love nest.”
Twilight gulped again, and had to suppress a gag as well, but kept her head up, forcing herself to look around as they entered a twisted, depraved room that was–
Actually surprisingly normal. There was a bit of the usual green changeling slime around on the walls, and an overall theme that was a little too green in general for her tastes, but other than that... a bed, dressers and chests, various personal items and knick-knacks strewn about, bookshelves carved into the walls that were extremely well stocked, including a few books Twilight didn't even recognize that seemed to be changeling written–!
Twilight shook her head. She had other things to worry about, as Chrysalis lowered her back legs and let Twilight gently slide down onto her own hoofs.
“Are you alright now?” asked the Queen gently, and Twilight nodded, looking off to the side rather than meet the changeling's eyes. “Good. Give me a few minutes to put the hivemind into a resting state, and then we can go to bed.”
Chrysalis closed her eyes, horn glowing faintly. Thinking of the last words the Queen had said, Twilight considered trying to make a run for it while she was distracted, but gave the idea up after a bit of thought. A quick test had revealed the magic she currently had could only produce the faintest of glows from her horn; trying to escape through the hive's tunnels while relying on the low natural light they had would be a quick route to failure. And trying to do so while Chrysalis was in direct contact with the hivemind was probably an even worse idea. She'd have to wait for a better opportunity.
Looking around, she spotted what seemed to be a scrapbook sitting prominently on a table, and went over to have a look. Chrysalis hadn't specifically told her she could touch anything in the room, but, well, they were married now apparently, which meant it all belonged to Twilight as much as her.
On the cover was... her cutie mark. Twilight gulped again, for the third time in as many minutes, but opened the book with one hoof. She had to know.
The first page had a newspaper clipping. It was from the day of the wedding, about the defeat of the changeling Queen and the role Twilight herself had played in those events. Flipping through the book, Twilight found it mostly consisted of similar clippings, stories about Twilight and all the things she had accomplished–defeating Sombra, becoming a Princess–but most of all the ones about the various times Chrysalis and Twilight had clashed. Carefully, Twilight closed the book.
She didn't know how to react to this. Part of her wanted to shudder; this was like finding out you had a stalker, and they had been collecting pictures of you and keeping track of you without your knowledge. It made her feel creeped out, as though her privacy had been violated–despite everything in the book having coming from public publications.
On the other hoof... from everything Chrysalis had known, she had been in a fully reciprocated and completely normal–in her mind–relationship with Twilight. Keeping tabs on her, saving a record of her accomplishments, being proud of her... it was actually, almost, kind of, in a way... sweet.
And sad, Twilight realized. How lonely had Chrysalis been, separated from the one she loved, only able to keep track of her through stories in the newspaper? How excited had she been, every time she came up with some plan to bring them together, even if she knew it was only for the briefest of times?
Twilight did shudder now. Oh, Celestia help her, was she... was she actually feeling... empathy for Chrysalis?
“Are you ready for bed?” asked Chrysalis from behind her, making her jump.
“I, um, I, guess so?”
Chrysalis gave her a happy smile and moved around to the right side of the bed, while Twilight, eyes darting around nervously, seeking some way out, went to the left. Nothing presented itself, and she was forced to climb onto the bed–heart-shaped, of course–sliding on top of the silk sheets–green, of course. She turned around quickly once in place, facing away from where Chrysalis would be laying.
Twilight's breathing sped up as the large Queen climbed onto the bed, nearly causing her to roll back the other way. She cringed as Chrysalis snuggled against her back, spooning her from behind, but then relaxed, slightly, as the changeling seemed content to just lay there.
“Goodnight, my dear,” said Chrysalis softly, nearly whispering in Twilight's ear.
“Um, good... night?” replied Twilight. That was apparently enough, producing a happy sound from Chrysalis, and soon she seemed to be asleep. At the least she was dozing, breath even and steady, heart–hearts, actually, she has two like an alicorn, a detached part of Twilight noted–beating gently against Twilight's back.
For Twilight's part, there was no sleep coming. Far too much had happened in the last–had it even been an hour at this point? For having her entire world flipped upside down, more than an hour had to have passed. It felt like months, in any case.
Thoughts raced through her mind, chasing sleep off at every chance. Was Chrysalis serious about this? She sure seemed like it. Although there hadn't been much... physical contact, other than that nuzzle or two and the preening, and now spooning her in bed of course. Not that Twilight had been looking forward to consummating their relationship, although on the other hoof there was that morbid sense of curiosity she had sometimes–
One thought finally focused in her mind: escape. At the worst, should Chrysalis find Twilight had left her, and had in fact never loved her to begin with, things would go back to what Twilight had though of as normal. Actually, scratch that. At the worst, Chrysalis, brokenhearted, would seek vengeance, her determination and ruthlessness pushed beyond all previous bounds by the pain Twilight had caused her.
Between that and staying in bed with Chrysalis, Twilight decided to take her chances.
Carefully, she began to slide to the edge of the bed. Her magic was still weak, but Chrysalis had put the hivemind into a 'resting state', whatever that meant, and she should be able to sneak past them. Especially since they would just bow if they saw her.
She was almost off the bed when legs suddenly wrapped around her chest, crushing tight like steel bands and driving the air from her lungs. She struggled to breathe, but futilely, and finally gave up and slumped down to let the darkness take her.
When she did, she realized that most of the tightness in her chest had been caused by her panic, and the legs–holed legs, she noticed in the dim light–actually weren't even squeezing that much at all.
Chrysalis mumbled something sleepily, hugging Twilight even tighter and nestling her chin down on top of the alicorn's head, and Twilight puffed out her cheeks in annoyance and embarrassment as she realized she was being cuddled like a large stuffed animal.
Now she had no other options but to sleep, however unlikely that was. Despite everything, though, she began to doze off within a few minutes. There was something comforting about being held like this. And so, she finally gave in and let sleep claim her.
Chrysalis was humming again.
Twilight looked up for a moment, staring unfocused at the far wall, trying not to grit her teeth.
She wanted to grit her teeth, but she didn't want to want to grit her teeth. Because, as she'd noticed, Chrysalis only hummed when she was feeling particularity happy and content. It was a wandering tune, never the same twice as far as she'd been able to tell, and she wasn't sure if Chrysalis even knew she was doing it.
Twilight really didn't want to feel annoyed by it because Chrysalis did it when she was happy. And she didn't want to start associating Chrysalis being happy with her own annoyance.
But she was annoyed by it, as she knew the exact reason why Chrysalis was so happy: because she was sitting here in the library of her hive next to Twilight, the pony she loved.
The last few days had been... surprisingly peaceful, aside from the occasional spine-shuddering displays of affection from Chrysalis. Twilight had been given free reign of the hive, possibly even with the option of leaving, though she hadn't dared try that since the first night. The drones had turned out to be quite friendly; they could understand her, but without shape-shifting they could only speak their own language, Hempid, which had sounded like nothing more than buzzes and clicks to her at first. It hadn't seemed fair to ask them to change forms just because she couldn't understand them, so she'd begun learning it. She'd always had a talent for languages.
Her studies had also helped with that, as she had begun going through all the changeling-written books she could find. Mostly to try and figure out exactly how she'd become married to the Queen and why Chrysalis was acting the way she was, although the temptation to look into some of the more interesting tomes had overwhelmed her more than once.
What she had found was that all changeling relationships were based on domination and conquest. There was no acrimony once the hierarchy had actually been established, but until then... yeah, they kinda seemed like they were trying to kill you.
And by seeing through Chrysalis's disguise before the wedding and calling her out, Twilight had unwittingly challenged the changeling to a contest of dominance. There were many subtleties to changeling relationships, and somehow what she had done, both before and after her accusations, had expressed her... availability, and her interest in Chrysalis. The Queen had quite obviously returned that interest, which was technically lucky since it had probably helped prevent the invasion from succeeding.
The interesting thing–well, the 'interesting thing'–was that had Chrysalis taken control of Equestria, she and Twilight would have been married on the spot. And the kingdom would have stayed firmly in the hooves of the changelings, of course, but that was almost beside the point.
Domination and conquest, that's what it was all about. The conquest of Equestria would have been the proper conclusion to a short engagement–more like an elopement–and Chrysalis would have taken Twilight as her prize.
Instead, the Queen had been defeated, but in a way that left her free to try again and again. This had initiated the longer form of courtship which, Twilight had noted with dismay, was considered much more romantic.
Instead of just one battle with a clear victor, they had clashed over and over again. Making things worse, while Twilight had had a few setbacks and defeats at the hooves of Chrysalis, she had won more often than not. Meaning she was at least as powerful as Chrysalis, if not more, and that just made her all the more desirable to the Queen–she was a strong spouse, a prime mate, one able to protect the hive and ensure its future.
And their wedding, naturally, had been another fight. Except this time it had been serious, with Chrysalis giving everything she had. Because at the end, when she'd had Twilight helpless, when she's clamped her fangs around Twilight's neck, she had proven she was the stronger of the pair. All changeling weddings ended in 'death', with the victor becoming the dominant partner.
Although it was hard to think of Chrysalis as dominant right now, given the way she was fawning over Twilight. It was almost impossible to separate herself from the Queen, and Chrysalis kept asking if there was anything Twilight wanted, anything she needed, and was constantly giving little–and sometimes not so little–displays of her affection.
Currently, Twilight figured that was just post-marriage giddiness. It would be interesting to see what Chrysalis's actual personality was like once she'd calmed down and they'd had more time to get to know one another–
No! No, that wasn't going to happen. There had to be some way to... to fix this, to break it off with Chrysalis without hurting her, and maybe even keeping her as a friend.
So, with a silent sigh, she turned back to her book. As much as she wished to browse changeling literature some more, her relationship status needed to be dealt with. So now she was going through an Equestrian book of laws. Which was surprisingly current, and unsurprisingly completely unhelpful.
The problem was that, by long tradition, travelers from Equestria to foreign countries were bound to the laws and traditions of the lands they visited. There were exceptions–no one expected ponies to eat griffin meat dishes if they didn't want to, obviously–but by and large the tradition applied to everything. Which meant that her marriage to Chrysalis was, in the eyes of Equestrian law, completely legitimate.
There was even a precedent for 'unconventional' marriages due to ignorance of societal practices, set back during some of the earliest encounters with dragons. And seeing as how that union had produced a certain draconequus, the tradition seemed to be pretty ironclad.
Her other hope, the fact the changelings were an enemy nation, had been dashed as well. A simply hostile society didn't provide exemption to the tradition. Being at war with a nation did... except, what with one thing and another, war had never actually been declared on the changelings after the wedding.
Part of it was no one had actually known where the changelings were. No one had even known if they had a where, or if they were even technically a nation. They certainly hadn't had any kind of embassy, diplomat or capital to whom a declaration of war could be issued. And declaring war on an entire species had... issues. After what had happened to the giraffes, everypony had been hesitant to do it again.
Another reason was that there just didn't seem to be all that many changelings. Attacking Canterlot with anything less than their full strength would have been foolish, and Chrysalis had shown herself to be anything but. And yet, there had still been significantly fewer changelings than there had been Canterlot citizens. A country with the size and power of Equestria declaring war on a 'country' with roughly the population of Ponyville would, to say the least, cause foreign and public relations problems.
Resignedly, Twilight closed the book. There was no hope there. There was no hope anywhere, as far as she could tell. She was well and truly screwed. Quite literally, to judge by the looks Chrysalis had been giving her.
Although... there was one pony who'd always been able to help her.
She got up, moving out of the library while frowning in thought, not paying attention as Chrysalis suddenly noticed her absence and scrambled to her hooves, buzzing through the air momentarily in her haste to catch up.
The next day, Twilight left the hive.
Exiting the cave that marked the main entrance to the hive, she stopped, closing her eyes and turning her face up to the sun, happy just to feel its warmth on her face again. The hive wasn't bad, in fact the caverns made it pleasantly cool, but she had spent her whole life in the sun and had missed it even in the few days she had been underground.
Looking around hesitantly, Twilight walked further from the cave mouth. The hive was hidden in the southern part of Equestria, in the Macintosh Hills, and she purposefully kept her eyes to the right as she climbed to the top of one of the larger nearby hills.
Finally, she turned, and beheld all of Equestria, or at least the general region she called home, spread out before her. Ponyville was easily identifiable, being the only city on the plains near the Everfree Forest, and even if it wasn't her castle shone in the sun like a beacon. Equally noticeable was Canterlot, hanging off the side of the mountain that shared its namesake.
Twilight sat, staring at the two cities she called home equally, and felt a pit of longing opening up in her stomach. She missed her home. She missed her friends, she missed Spike, she missed her family, she missed everything that Ponyville and Canterlot meant to her.
For a moment she was tempted to leave. Just leave, teleport back to her home, or at least teleport most of the way and then fly. She could expose the changeling that was currently taking her place, report the location of the hive to Celestia, and they could have the Royal Guard on their way here within the hour. Chrysalis and the hive, or at least most of the hive, would no doubt be long gone by then, scouts, spies and the hivemind having given them ample warning about what was coming. But they would have received a message they couldn't ignore, that Equestria wouldn't tolerate their presence inside its borders. And if Chrysalis was foolish enough to stay and fight, she'd be defeated easily, and they could lock her up somewhere for real this time.
Those thoughts, to Twilight's surprise, produced similar feelings to her homesickness. She couldn't do that to Chrysalis. She couldn't break her heart like that. That wasn't even breaking her heart; that would be something so far beyond betrayal Twilight didn't even have a word for it. And the thing was... she actually liked Chrysalis.
Not liked liked her, of course, of course not. That would be... that would be ridiculous. She could never reciprocate Chrysalis's feelings for her. Even though sometimes she–no.
But the Queen was fun to be around. She was strangely silly at times, and any conversation with her was bound to turn out interesting, whether she displayed a cruelty of thought that was chilling or an amazingly considerate analysis of others' situations and feelings.
Changelings fed on emotions. For some reason, Twilight had hypothesized, this gave their Queen an utter lack of control over her own emotions. Her reaction to anything seemed to be at the maximum level of emotional investment.
Thus, a changeling who had come in to report a failure had triggered a towering rage the likes of which Twilight had never seen. Chrysalis had begun throwing around blasts of magic that had looked likely to kill the unfortunate drone, and only Twilight's intervention, it seemed, had saved him.
And yet, when several changelings had been injured in a small cave-in, Chrysalis had displayed a concern near panic. The tenderness and compassion she had given the injured had met, and possibly surpassed, anything Twilight had ever seen from a pony. Again she had had to intervene, this time to stop Chrysalis from working herself into exhaustion from caring for the changelings.
The contrast was... intriguing, to say the least.
But those two incidents had highlighted a different problem. Twilight could, to a degree, control Chrysalis now. The Queen loved Twilight so much that she'd do anything the alicorn said, even when so consumed with rage she seemed out of control. Which created a conflict for Twilight.
Her role as a Princess of Equestria meant she had to consider what was best for the kingdom. And that responsibility practically demanded she keep 'control' of Chrysalis, that she remain married to the changeling even if she couldn't return her love. Removing the threat Chrysalis posed–actually turning her into an ally instead of merely imprisoning her–should take priority over everything else.
Except she was also the Princess of Friendship. And friendship didn't mean staying in a loveless marriage in order to brainwash somepony into doing what you wanted them to do. No matter what Pinkie said.
Finally, Twilight climbed back to her hooves. Giving Canterlot and Ponyville one last glance, she began making her way back to the hive.
She sighed. Coming out here hadn't made her conflict any clearer. Still all she could see were the two options, and neither was appealing. But seeing Canterlot had reminded her again that there was one pony who always seemed to have an answer to her problems. Maybe she would be able to see a third choice where Twilight couldn't.
“You left the hive today,” said Chrysalis quietly, breaking the silence that evening as they walked through the tunnels towards the... well, Twilight had just been thinking of it as the cafeteria.
There were a number of ways she could have responded, but Twilight just settled for saying, “Yes, I did,” and letting the silence fall again.
Her nerve broke first, though, and so she broke the silence the second time. “Were you spying on me?”
“You have bodyguards, they were following you. I can't let anything happen to you.” Chrysalis looked away, not meeting Twilight's eyes. “And... yes. I want to know where you are. All the time.”
That was perfect example of Chrysalis's unique brand of creepy-sweet. But at least it gave Twilight a good opening to make a request.
“Chrysalis, there's something I want to ask of you,” she said, glancing over at the changeling. She wasn't quite sure how this was going to go down.
“Anything, Twilight,” Chrysalis replied eagerly, earlier awkwardness instantly forgotten.
Twilight took a deep breath. “I want to go to Canterlot.”
Chrysalis looked at her in surprise for a moment, then burst into an excited smile. “You do?! Excellent! I can have three legions assembled within the hour, and we can march on Canterlot by–“
“Chrysalis, we've talked about this,” said Twilight firmly, interrupting the Queen. “We are not invading Canterlot or taking over Equestria, and I am not usurping the throne.”
“B-but I would be a much better ruler of Equestria–we would be better! With us in control, soon the entire world would be–“
“I said no, Chrysalis. For one, the Princesses are my friends. That's why I want to go visit them and let them know what's happened.” She leaned over as they walked, giving Chrysalis a bump with her shoulder. “You know what friendship means to me. And a coup d'etat isn't the kind of thing you do to friends. I'm hoping I can at least get you to learn that some day.”
“That Princess wasted your potential,” grumbled Chrysalis, giving in. “If I'd gotten ahold of you first, we'd be unstoppable.”
Twilight let out a loud, melodramatic sigh and rolled her eyes, producing the wanted response from Chrysalis; namely, a soft giggle.
“Thank you,” said Twilight sincerely.
“You know I'd do anything for you,” replied Chrysalis, chitin on her face darkening slightly as she blushed. “I love you.”
Twilight remained silent, suddenly uncomfortable. Thankfully, she was saved from having to make a response by them entering the tunnel entrance to the 'cafeteria'.
“I'm thinking chicken wings today,” mused Chrysalis, then looked over guiltily at Twilight “I'm sorry, I didn't mean–“
“Do we have to go through this every time you eat meat?” Twilight rolled her eyes, for real this time. “It's not like I don't have griffin friends. And not all ponies are strictly herbivores, either. We have... omnivorous tendencies, on occasion.”
“Have you ever eaten meat?” asked Chrysalis curiously, tilting her head to the side.
“I... have,” replied Twilight hesitantly, remembering the cafeteria–a real cafeteria–in a certain alternate-universe high school. “Actually, there's something I had once that I really liked, do you think I could maybe get it here? It was called a 'hot dog'.”
Chrysalis looked at the changeling server, who shook his head, then turned back to Twilight. “Sorry, I don't think we have any dog right now. It's usually not very good, anyway.”
“No, it's not made of dog. It's pork, and it's all kind of ground up and put in this casing, and served on a bun...” Twilight made a rolling motion with her hooves, then gestured as through she were placing one object inside another. Both changelings, Queen and servant, gave her blank looks, and she let her head fall. “Never mind. I'll just have a hayburger, thanks.”
The two royals sat down at one of the tables that dotted the room, stretching out side-by-side. Like the Neighponese, changelings preferred low-slung tables that they sat on the floor in front of, rather than the chairs and taller tables of Equestria. It was one of a few details that gave Twilight the suspicion that the changelings had originated to the east, and had only recently migrated near Equestria.
One skill Chrysalis had, Twilight had to admit, was an ability to set her at ease, and by the time their food was served she was snickering and trying to smother her laughter with a hoof. Perhaps it was part of the uncontrolled emotion thing, but Chrysalis's sense of humor was wickedly funny.
So relaxed was she, in fact, that as she ate and ruminated on her problems, she leaned up against the large form next to her, wiggling herself into a comfortable position. Her burger suddenly froze partway to her open mouth and she struggled to contain a whimper, as she remembered who she was sitting beside.
It was a natural reaction, she supposed. After all, how many times over the years had she been in this exact position with Celestia, reading a book, studying magic, having a simple talk, or even eating just like this? After a certain point, snuggling up against the large form laying next to her had become an unconscious response.
On the other hoof... there wasn't much to complain about here. Aside from Chrysalis's chitin being a bit cooler that Celestia's fur, this felt just as familiar and comfortable. So, with a silent sigh, Twilight went back to eating her meal.
Only to pause once more, trying not to grit her teeth.
Chrysalis was humming again.
Twilight stopped, realizing she could no longer hear the sound of hooves clip-clopping beside her. She looked back, at the unicorn who was staring around in admiration.
“You coming, Chrysi?” she asked, cocking a questioning eyebrow upwards.
That name had been a point of contention between her and Chrysalis before they left for Canterlot, as was the form the changeling used as a default when she wasn't impersonating anypony in particular.
Chrysi, Twilight had argued, was hardly the least suspicious pseudonym for someone named Chrysalis. Along the same lines, a tall dark gray unicorn, with teal hair and a cutie mark of a green heart dripping with slime, was not the best disguise for a changeling. Twilight had pushed for a pony disguise that looked as little like the Queen as possible, and had even offered to use her art skills, rudimentary as they were, to design one.
But Chrysalis had refused, claiming she had a sentimental attachment to the form. The cruel and ruthless changeling Queen had abused the fact that she was preening Twilight's feathers while they had the discussion, and had teased and tormented the poor alicorn's wings until she had given in.
“I'm sorry,” said Chrysalis, hurrying to catch up. “I just forgot how beautiful the palace is. I was only here for a few days, after all.”
“It's quite something,” said Twilight, nodding. “Although, trust me, you get used to it after a couple of years.”
Chrysalis sighed. “Sometimes... I wonder if I made a mistake by not taking this place when I had the chance.”
“Really, Chrysi?” said Twilight resignedly, staring at her through half-lowered eyelids. “I mean...”
“Oh!” Chrysalis put a hoof to her mouth in shock, then ran up next to Twilight. “Not like that! I'd never regret anything about what we have! These last few years have been amazing.”
She put a foreleg across Twilight's back, nuzzling up against her. Twilight opened her mouth, ready to explain what she had really meant, then thought better of it. Arguing wouldn't help anything. Instead, she just gave Chrysalis a light nuzzle back.
She let out a small sigh as they continued on their way to the throne room again. She really shouldn't have returned that nuzzle. She shouldn't have returned any of them, or the hugs, or the happy smiles each time they made eye contact.
But it was getting harder and harder not to. Chrysalis was just so... affectionate. She was nice to Twilight, and so Twilight was nice back, and that just made the situation worse.
She glanced over, cheeks heating slightly as she peered at 'Chrysi'. That disguise didn't help either. The more Twilight looked at her–not that she was purposely looking of course, it just happened sometimes in the normal course of being around each other–the more she realized that the disguise was identical to Chrysalis, except in pony shape.
Well, 'shape' was the wrong word. That was Chrysalis's shape, every curve and long, graceful limb. 'Form' would be better; if you turned Chrysalis into a pony, and shrunk her a bit, she would look just like her disguise. Of course, to be fair, that was exactly what had happened.
The physical attraction wasn't the problem–not too much of the problem–as much as the fact that she'd started to think of this as a solution. All her reservations about having a relationship with this pony that loved her and was kind to her disappeared when she was, well, a pony.
What this came down to was yet another solution that was unfair to Chrysalis. Asking the changeling to permanently stay in pony form just to make Twilight comfortable wasn't right–even if Chrysalis would do it without question, and even if that was kind of a changeling's thing.
If this relationship was going to work–BIG if, something the jury was still very much out on, but an idea that, Twilight had been forced to admit, didn't seem as utterly repulsive as it once had–she had to like Chrysalis for who she was. She had to like the changeling. Making the Queen hide behind a disguise just so Twilight wouldn't have to deal with the fact that she actually couldn't love Chrysalis after everything that had happened wasn't the way to go. Chrysalis changing into other attractive ponies was something they'd save for later–nonono, bad thoughts, go away!
In any case... Princess Celestia would know what to do. The Princess always knew what to do. Twilight might not even have to deal with her confusing feelings at all–Princess Celestia would present the perfect solution, everyone would be happy, and everything could allllll go back to normal.
Please, please let it all go back to normal.
They stopped at the huge, arched doorway to the throne room, in front of the two royal guards that were blocking it.
“Hello,” said Twilight, “I'm here to see the Princess, please.”
“Sorry, the Princess is not seeing anypony right now,” said the guard on the right.
“Ahem.” Twilight ruffled her wings, and a small spark of magic leapt off her horn. “I am Princess Twilight Sparkle, here to see Princess Celestia.”
There was no response, and Twilight narrowed her eyes.
“Perhaps you've forgotten me? You know, Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia's personal protege? Recently became the Princess of Friendship? Here, right now, in front of you, telling you that I have a pressing need to talk with Princess Celestia?”
“I'm sorry, ma'am, but–“
“Because you see, my old friend Lieutenant Cuirass, I haven't forgotten you. Why, I still remember the cadet I met when I was a simple filly, having just moved into the palace to learn magic under Princess Celestia. And I remember watching that cadet from my tower, as he ran lap after lap as punishment for breaking a stained glass window after trying to show off while practicing with a spear.”
The guard's ears went flat against his head and his eyes widened, flickering over at his companion. That guard wore the standard stoic guard expression, but a close look could, just barely, make out one corner of the guard's mouth starting, ever-so-slightly, to curl upwards.
“I also remember finding that same cadet huddled under a stairway, clutching a letter from home that was soaked in tears–“
“Right this way ma'am the Princess will see you now!” cried out the guard, leaping to one side and slamming open his side of the door with a hoof.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” said Twilight politely, trotting past him with Chrysalis in tow.
“Mmm, I love it when you're all... Princessy,” whispered the changeling into her ear, causing her to flush.
She shook her head as they crossed the throne room to the smiling Princess Celestia. She needed to be calm for this. And, she found, she was calm. After all, Princess Celestia could fix anything.
“Twilight!” cried Celestia happily, rising from her throne. “It's so nice to see you.”
She stepped forward, embracing Twilight with her wings. Twilight moved her own wings under Celestia's, hugging her back.
“It's good to see you again too, Princess,” she said.
Celestia broke the embrace, moving back and looking over at the unicorn who had followed Twilight in. “And now who is this? Another new friend?”
“Well, yes, in a way,” said Twilight. She walked back, to stand next to Chrysalis. “Princess Celestia, meet... my wife.”
“Oh.” Celestia blinked a few times, looking back and forth between the two ponies leaning against each other–well, the tall unicorn leaning against the slightly uncomfortable looking alicorn.
“Tea?” asked Celestia with a bright smile.
“I must say, I didn't even know Twilight had a special somepony, let alone a wife,” commented Celestia, taking a deep sip of her tea as the three of them sat in her drawing room. “You've been keeping secrets from me I see, my faithful student.”
“I-I didn't mean to,” said Twilight nervously. “It's just... well, there are some things you don't know about...”
“Oh?” Celestia raised an eyebrow, which just increased Twilight's nervousness and completely shut down her ability to talk.
“Shouldn't you at least introduce us?” prompted Celestia gently after a moment. She did, of course, know how to deal with her student's occasional lapses into anxiety-induced silence. “I can't just keep calling her your wife, after all.”
“Oh!” Twilight jumped in her seat. “I-I guess so, but... you've actually, ah, kind of met already. Sort of.”
“Interesting. She doesn't look familiar, and I typically have a good memory for ponies.” Celestia glanced over at the tall unicorn, who just smirked and giggled. “Where did we meet?”
“Well, at my brother's wedding,” admitted Twilight “That's also where I met her.”
“Hmm. I must say, you have me stumped, Twilight. I don't recall her at all.” She gave Twilight the raised eyebrow again, adding a small bit of admonishment to her tone. “You seem to be keeping more secrets from me. Is there a reason you're hiding all this?”
“I, um...” Twilight looked over at Chrysalis, who let out a snort of laughter and shook her head.
“Oh, tell her already. I can't wait to see her reaction.”
“Okay, okay.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Princess, you trust me, right? I mean, you know I'd never do anything I thought was risky, or that would put Equestria in danger, and you know me, so you know this is me, and that I'm not doing anything against my will or being controlled by someone else–“
“Calmly, Twilight,” said Celestia, smiling. “Yes, I trust you completely. You know that.”
She took another deep sip of her tea, contemplating the grinning gray unicorn sitting across from her. “Although, I have to say, I don't have the faintest idea what could be so shocking about such a pleasant-looking pony.”
“Well, you see, the thing about that is... she's not a pony. She's a changeling. I married Queen Chrysalis.”
Princess Celestia's self control was legendary. So great was it that her teacup hardly rattled as her magic placed it back in its saucer and slowly lowered it to the table. Of course, the saucer quietly broke in half once she released it, but nopony is perfect.
“Explain.” Gentle-smile Celestia was gone. This was imprisoning-in-stone, locking-in-the-ice-of-the-frozen-north, sending-to-Tartarus, banishing-to-the-moon Celestia. But, very importantly, it was also Twilight-trusting Celestia, and she'd given Twilight exactly one chance to have all this not turn into a bloodbath.
So Twilight explained.
She told Celestia about how changelings courted, what they considered love to be, how they handled relationships. She told Celestia how Chrysalis and herself had gotten involved with each other, how everything that had happened since had just been Chrysalis 'dating' her. And she told Celestia how she'd spent the last few days in the changeling hive, how she'd learned there was more to the changeling Queen than she'd thought, that there could be a chance–a hope–for everyone to live in peace.
She finally stopped, letting her head hang down, short of breath and nearly panting. And when she heard Princess Celestia say, “Okay, Twilight. I believe you,” she almost collapsed. She'd done it. Chrysalis was safe.
“I will admit to being... hesitant, still,” continued Celestia, and Twilight raised her head. “However, as I said, I do trust you. And I do know you enough to know if you weren't acting like yourself.”
The smile finally returned to Celestia's face, gentle but now, for some reason, almost sad as well. “I doubt any changeling, or mind controlled Twilight, could get as flustered as you have. Nor could they rattle off their research on changeling society as thoroughly–and as much like, well, you–as you just did.”
“Thank you, Princess,” said Twilight quietly. “This means a lot to me.”
“I... I know it does,” replied Celestia, closing her eyes with something that was almost a sigh and nodding.
Reopening her eyes, she turned to Chrysalis Her expression changed, hardening. She wasn't angry, but... unwelcoming. Chilly. And, again, there was that hint of sadness. “Would you mind removing your disguise? I know it matters little to you, but I'd prefer to talk to you 'face-to-face'.”
“Hmm, very well.” Green fire wrapped around the unicorn, parting to reveal the changeling Queen in all her glory.
“I suppose I can let you gaze upon me once more,” she said, voice buzzing with dual tones. “After all, this is going to be your last chance.”
Celestia narrowed her eyes, her neutral expression changing to a frown. “And exactly what is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, nothing. By the way, did you enjoy your tea?” Chrysalis let out a loud cackle, taking a sip from her own cup, eyes dancing gleefully at Celestia over its rim.
“It took me a long time to find a poison that works on alicorns, and even longer to get close enough to use it, but now Equestria shall finally be in the hooves of those who deserve it!”
“Guards–!” Celestia rose to her hooves, starting to shout, but was silenced as a band of green magic wrapped around her muzzle.
“Ah-ah, getting all worked up would be a bad idea.” Chrysalis grinned happily, leaning forward on crossed forelegs. “You don't have all that long left, and getting agitated will just help the poison do its work faster.”
Shaken, Celestia sat back down, and the magic holding her mouth shut disappeared.
“That's better,” said Chrysalis, then gave Celestia a pouting look. “Aw, don't be so sad! Imagine Equestria, as you know it now, but filled with ponies who only love! Such a peaceful land, don't you agree? And wouldn't you sacrifice everything to bring your ponies that happiness? My changelings and I will ensure they feel only love, for us to feed off of, and soon the entire world will–“
“Chrysalis!” barked Twilight finally, causing the changeling Queen to jerk back in surprise. Twilight had been rubbing the bridge of her muzzle with one hoof, and now held out the other in front of Chrysalis's face. “Give me the antidote.”
“T-the antidote?” Chrysalis looked away, eyes wide. “There is no antidote–“
“Are you telling me,” said Twilight, deadly calm, “That you brought me here, with a poison that could kill me, and you didn't bring an antidote?”
“I... of course not–“
“Then give it to me.”
Chrysalis's eyes moved back and forth, desperately seeking someway out, but finally she dropped her head.
“Here,” she grumbled, a real pout on her face this time. A small vial floated out from inside her mane encased in emerald magic, and was deposited in Twilight's hoof.
“Thank y–“ Twilight, starting to turn and give the vial to Celestia, paused.
Peering suspiciously at the vial, she asked, “Chrysalis, is this the antidote? Or is this more poison?”
The Queen's eyes widened even further, and she turned away. “It's the antidote, of course. Why wouldn't it be?”
“Okay, well, just in case some of the poison got into my cup too I'd better take some of this–“ Twilight uncorked the vial and began moving it towards her mouth.
“No–!“ Hooves going to her mouth in shock, Chrysalis turned with a gasp, to meet Twilight's angry eyes.
“The real antidote, Chrysalis. Right now.”
The changeling's mouth worked silently, as she tried to come up with some excuse, but the eye contact was too much. A supremely unhappy frown on her face, Chrysalis brought another vial out from her mane and passed it to Twilight.
“Thank you, Chrysalis,” said Twilight politely, and handed the vial to Celestia.
She looked at it critically, and Twilight nodded in apology. “Feel free to check it first. I trust that she gave me the real antidote this time, but you clearly don't have any reason to.” She cast a dirty glance over at Chrysalis, who had turned away again and was angrily sipping her tea. “I'm going to have to have a long talk with her after this.”
Celestia closed her eyes briefly, casting a spell, and the vial glowed blue. Satisfied, she quickly gulped it down, grimacing at the taste.
There was a long moment of silence as they all looked at each other. Well, Twilight and Celestia looked at each other; Chrysalis was still sulking.
“I'll be honest, Twilight,” said Celestia finally. “I don't know how to react to your wife trying–successfully–to poison me.”
“I know,” sighed Twilight. “It's just... here, watch this. Chrysalis?”
There was no response, and Twilight tried again. “Chrysalis!”
“What,” came the sullen reply.
“Chrysalis, can you please tell me what a friend is?”
Chrysalis sighed, rolling her eyes, her annoyance overcoming her grumpiness. “'A friend is an enemy who isn't trying to kill you',” she said, voice nearly monotone, repeating the definition by rote.
“You see?” said Twilight, shrugging and turning back to Celestia. “Even that took me days. Changelings don't have friends, Chrysalis has trouble even understanding the concept. There's just the hive, and enemies. I'm trying my best to change that, but there are occasionally... hiccups.”
“Hiccups,” repeated Celestia flatly. “Hiccups like, say, fatally poisoning me.”
“Well... yes,” said Twilight, cringing.
Celestia gazed at her for a long time, then finally sighed.
“You really must care for her,” she said softly, almost inaudibly, then looked up and smiled. “I'm glad you're so happy, Twilight. And I'm glad you've found someone who means so much to you. Even if...”
She trailed off, and Twilight cocked her head to one side. “Princess? What...”
“There's something I need to talk to you about, Twilight,” said Celestia, standing up briskly. “If possible... it would be better if we were to talk alone.”
“Oh, no, don't mind me,” said Chrysalis as Twilight turned to her. “I'll just stay here, alone, while you go off with your 'friend' that you won't even let me kill. See if I care.”
“I'll miss you too, Chrysalis,” said Twilight, with a smile. She at least got a little smile back, so thankfully the Queen wasn't too upset.
That was a small comfort as she followed Celestia out of the room, though. 'Let's have a chat' or 'How was your day' were good things. 'I need to talk with you' was the predecessor to unpleasantness.
Twilight was getting more and more nervous as she followed the silent Princess Celestia up a winding staircase. While there had been many moments of joy in Celestia's personal study, it was also the room she was always called to when there were punishments and reprimands to be given out.
They entered the room, golden magic closing the door behind them. Twilight jumped slightly as the lock snapped shut. Spells crackled briefly along the walls, blocking any attempts at eavesdropping, and she gulped.
The familiar surroundings, the musty smell of ancient scrolls, all the various artifacts and knick-knacks–each with their own personal meanings to Celestia, meanings Twilight had learned bit-by-bit over the years–calmed her down, set her fears at ease.
But seeing Celestia walk around to stand behind her desk, smile gone, and start shuffling papers, brought back all her worries. This was exactly how Celestia acted when she was upset with Twilight.
“Princess Celestia?” asked Twilight finally, when she could stand it no longer. “Are you... are you mad at me?”
“Mad?” Celestia looked up in surprise, and smiled briefly. “No, Twilight, I'm not mad.”
She put down the papers she'd been idly playing with, and moved to a window that looked out over Canterlot.
“No, I'm not mad,” she repeated with a sigh. “Just... disappointed.”
“Oh.” Twilight's head fell, ears folding back against her head. “I didn't mean–“
“No, Twilight, it's okay.” Celestia's head was bent as well as she gazed out into the distance. “It's my fault. I should have talked to you earlier. I should have let you know how I felt about you a long time ago.”
“I just thought I had more time, I guess.” Celestia turned from the window, beginning to pace along the bookshelves behind her desk. “You had ascended, become an alicorn... we had eternity before us... what's a few lifetimes, if it takes you that long to realize how much I love you? I was prepared to see you take lovers, even marry. And I was prepared to see you deal with their inevitable deaths, and help you through them.”
She looked over at Twilight, misinterpreting the expression on the frozen Princess's face. “Does that seem cruel to you? Perhaps it is. But dealing with loss is a part of life, part of growing up. And now that you're immortal, you have a whole new level of growing up to go through. I've dealt with the pain of losing more loved ones than I can count; Luna has as well. It's why I was so happy to see you become an alicorn: here at last was someone I loved who would last as long as I. A pony who would one day, perhaps, come to realize that I could always be there for her no matter how long her life went on.”
Celestia laughed bitterly. “And what happens? You go and fall in love with one of the few other immortals in all the world. Once again my penchant for trying to manipulate things from behind the scenes, to guide rather than simply tell or command, has cost me someone I love. I wasn't able to stop Luna from succumbing to her darkness with those tactics; I'm not sure why I thought they would get you to fall in love with me.”
“Princess, I'm sorry–“ Twilight tried to speak, but Celestia shushed her with a gentle wingtip down the side of her face.
“Ssh, Twilight, no apologies. Never apologize for what you feel in your heart.” She gave Twilight a warm, bright smile, her first real one since finding out it was Chrysalis that Twilight had married. “I am truly happy for you. You have found a pony you love, and who clearly loves you back with all her heart. I could wish for no more. Don't let me ruin that for you; I'll be just fine.”
Celestia moved away, returning to her desk. “Go back to her, Twilight, and enjoy your life together. You deserve it, more than any pony I know.”
Numbly, Twilight nodded and got to her feet. Just before she reached the door, though, Celestia called out to her again.
“Twilight?” She turned back, to see Celestia shuffling in place behind the desk. For the first time Twilight could remember, the Princess looked nervous, unsure of herself, her eyes darting about and refusing to meet Twilight's.
“I said my preference for trying to guide events to my liking, rather than simply acting directly, has been a mistake. If I'm going to move beyond that, get past that way of thinking, I need to do it now.
“So. If you and Chrysalis... I don't know what you two... like to do... I'm not sure of your opinions on... certain things that ponies sometimes...”
She shook herself, ruffling her wings. “Oh, horsefeathers, I'll just say it.”
Twilight gasped; she'd never heard Princess Celestia swear before. Then she realized Celestia was looking directly at her, face flushed and determined.
“Twilight,” she said, voice rushed but steady, “If you and Chrysalis ever want to have a threesome, just know that I'm always available, okay?”
Twilight's mouth dropped so far open it went back the other way and her teeth clamped together. Time stopped, frozen in one perfect crystalline moment of pure embarrassment, disbelief and utter horror. Finally, after eons had passed, the crystal shattered and Twilight could act again.
Had Twilight not already earned her wings, she would have at that moment, as she became the first pony to teleport out of a room without using magic.
Halfway down the stairs, Twilight finally managed to process what had just happened. She stopped, breathing deeply, using Cadence's calming technique.
It's okay, Princess Celestia, the ruler of Equestria, the pony who practically raised you, your teacher your entire life, the pony you respect more than any other, just told you she's had a crush on you for years, her panicky mind said unsteadily. Oh, and then when you told her you were married she totally just offered to have a threesome with you and your wife, no big deal either, happens every day I'm sure, and you–
And you forgot to tell her you don't actually love Chrysalis, so she could help you figure out a way to get out of this. Twilight dragged a hoof across her face and turned to go back up to the study, then froze. Desperately, she tried the calming technique again, but there was no stopping this panic attack.
I can never tell Princess Celestia that I have no feelings for Chrysalis! I can't ask her for help or advice about this!
If she ever did, Princess Celestia would see it as being her own fault. She would think Twilight wanted to break off her relationship with Chrysalis to pursue one with the Princess, and blame herself. The guilt would eat her up, and she would have to reject any attempt by Twilight to deepen their relationship, out of principle.
Worse, trying to push the subject would just alienate Princess Celestia, and no doubt word would get back to Chrysalis, resulting in both hating her, the Queen would leave her, Princess Celestia would despise her for leaving her wife as soon as a 'better' option came along, she'd be alone for all eternity–
Her breathing was becoming more ragged as she began hyperventilating, holding herself up with one hoof against the wall, and the only thing that stopped her from passing out due to this crisis was the realization that there was an even worse disaster developing below.
Groaning, her breath coming under control again, she trotted back down the stairs as the walls shook with the Royal Canterlot Voice.
The drawing room looked about as she had expected it to; tea service scattered about, table upside down, at least two chairs, maybe more, in a pile of splinters near the stairs. What she hadn't expected to see were the two Princess Lunas, locked together in a death struggle, rolling about the floor.
“FOUL IMPOSTER!” boomed one. “I SHALL SMITE THEE FOR ATTEMPTING TO IMPERSONATE OUR ROYAL PERSONAGE!”
“YOU DARE TO IMITATE US?!” screamed the other. “THIS IMPUDENCE WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED!”
“Stop it!” cried Twilight, afraid to go more than a few steps into the room as the two rolled and thrashed past her. “Luna, Chrysi, I said stop it!”
They ignore her, both focused on attempting to subdue and/or kill the other. Twilight grabbed them in her magic, lifting them off the ground, but all that did was result in them bobbing up and down as their fight continued unabated. Finally, scrunching up her face, she managed to let loose an enormous burst of power, ripping the two apart and depositing them on opposite sides of the room.
“Okay, so what happ–“
“THIS FRAUD WAS SITTING IN OUR SISTER'S DRAWING ROOM WHEN WE ENTERED!”
“WE CAME TO VISIT OUR SISTER AND FOUND A FAKE US ATTEMPTING TO TAKE OUR PLACE!”
Both Lunas pointed hooves at each other, bellowing out their responses at the same time. Luckily Twilight was directly between them, so instead of being blown one way or the other by the shouts she was merely deafened.
“Okay, okay,” she said, rubbing at her ears. “First of all, dial down the shouting, please. I know one of you is fake, and no, Luna, she's not trying to replace you–at least, if she knows what's good for her, she'd better not be. Now, come on, Chrysi. I'll admit this was a little bit funny, but the joke's over now. Change back please.”
“Who is this Chrysi?”
“We do not know this Chrysi.”
Both Lunas looked confused, tilting their heads in puzzlement, then turned furious glares on each other.
Twilight groaned. “Please, Chrysi. Don't do this.”
The Lunas simply continued to glare, and Twilight sighed. “Alright, I don't want to, but if you're going to make me do this...”
She started forward, but then tripped on the wreckage of the chairs that were nearby, falling to her knees with a cry. “Ow...”
“Twilight! Are you okay?!” cried a Luna, from next to her.
Twilight stood up suddenly, a wide grin on her face. “Gotcha!”
The Luna's eyebrows rose in surprise, then suddenly fell back down into a scowl as she puffed her cheeks out. “You cheater,” she growled under her breath.
“Well, that's what you get for causing trouble,” giggled Twilight.
Luna was watching all this, even more puzzled than before.
“I... will admit I am baffled by this,” she said finally, sitting down with a lost look on her face. “Is there some joke I'm not getting? Is this one of Pinkie's pranks, perhaps?”
“Ah, no, Luna, sorry,” said Twilight, turning to her as Chrysalis moved to stand by her side. “This is Chrysi, my wife.”
“We are pleased to make thy acquaintance,” said the disguised changeling, with a small bow–earning herself an elbow in the side from Twilight.
Luna looked back and forth between the copy of herself and Twilight, and finally cocked an eyebrow upwards.
“Well, I can see the appeal, but if you wanted the real thing you could have just asked.”
“No, no! T-that's not what this is!” cried Twilight, face turning red. “You've had you fun, Chrysi, but change back please.”
“Yes, very well.” There was a brief flare of green fire, revealing the changeling Queen once again standing next to Twilight.
“This is Queen Chrysalis,” said Twilight, gesturing to her side. “She's my wife. I don't believe you two have met, have you?”
“Queen... Chrysalis...” repeated Luna flatly. She began to move forward slowly. “The Queen of the changelings? The creatures that invaded our city during our niece's wedding, as I slumbered in my tower? The same Chrysalis who felled my sister and essentially had control of Canterlot for several minutes?”
Luna had stopped in front of Chrysalis, peering at her through narrowed eyes as the Queen looked back, unimpressed.
“Um... yes?” gulped Twilight
Luna continued to stare at Chrysalis for several more seconds, then said, “That was a mighty feat indeed, to bring our sister down with merely one blow. When I tried the same, she was only stunned for a handful of seconds.”
“Well, I did embed her in a cocoon immediately afterwards,” said Chrysalis, waving a hoof nonchalantly. “It makes things easier if you fully subdue them as soon as possible.”
“Interesting, interesting,” mused Luna, rubbing her chin with one hoof. “And how did you deal with the Elements, again? That was what really finished me off in the end.”
Twilight sat there, whimpering, as the two discussed various schemes to defeat Celestia. While Luna might be doing so out of a sense of sibling rivalry, Twilight had a very strong feeling everything Chrysalis said was in earnest.
Well, at least it was a little bit better than Luna offering herself for a threesome. Although, judging by the way she was looking at Chrysalis, that might not be out of the question...
Twilight considered what Chrysalis's response to such a proposition might be, and immediately began to have another panic attack.
“Well, this trip hasn't been too much of a disaster so far,” said Twilight, dragging herself through the door of the guest suite Celestia had lent them.
“It hasn't been a disaster at all,” declared Chrysalis, prancing along beside her, head held high. “Why, I could even say I had fun!”
“You poisoned Princess Celestia!” cried Twilight, throwing her hooves out wide. “After we specifically had that talk about not trying to take over Equestria! You promised me you wouldn't do anything like that!”
“You said no usurping the throne or invading Canterlot, and we wouldn't have been,” said Chrysalis innocently. “If the Princesses had happened to die today, you would have simply inherited rulership of Equestria naturally. That's not usurping the throne at all.”
“Oh, thank you,” replied Twilight caustically. “Thank you for following the letter of my word and completely ignoring the spirit.”
“You know,” said Chrysalis, as she wandered around the room inspecting the furnishings, “While I am still no fonder of Big Princess than I was before, I did quite enjoy talking with Blue Princess. I would like to do so again in the future, which has had the odd effect of making me not want to kill her.”
Twilight had snuck someone into the palace who was technically still the most wanted villain in all of Equestria, said villain had then proceeded to poison her mentor and closest friend, said closest friend had then confessed her love for Twilight and made the offer of a threesome, and Twilight had then had to spend far too long listening to said closest friend's sister and said villain discuss the best way to overthrow said closest friend.
It had been a stressful day, to say the least.
“Chrysalis, they have names,” snapped Twilight. “Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Learn them, if you ever want to do this again.”
“Hmph.” Chrysalis frowned back at Twilight over a shoulder, as she continued on her mission to, apparently, give every object in the room that caught her attention a solid poke with her hoof. “You ponies take names far too seriously. Changelings don't care about unimportant things like that.”
“That's not what I've seen,” replied Twilight snidely. “Most of them like to have real names.”
“Is that so? Let me humor you for a moment, then, to teach you a lesson.” Chrysalis closed her eyes, horn glowing. “Changeling W37-583MG, do you–“
“Ooh, is that Wayne?” asked Twilight, maliciously cheerful. “I like him, he's funny.”
“His name is not–what do you mean, call you Wayne?!” Chrysalis turned away, a snarl on her face, as the worker changeling answered back through the hivemind. “I will do no such thing, and if you persist in this–fine. G93-482PE, buck W37-583MG into a wall.”
“What?! No!” cried Twilight, but a moment later Chrysalis nodded in satisfaction.
“Good. And keep that in mind next time you think you have a name.” Chrysalis's horn stopped glowing, and she turned to glare at Twilight.
Who glared right back. “You had another changeling buck him into a wall?! What if he's hurt?! How could you do that?!”
Chrysalis tapped her side with a hoof, producing a dull thumping sound, and sneered at Twilight “We are chitin, not weak flesh and fur. He hardly felt a thing, aside from my displeasure. It will be a reminder to him not to forget his place again.”
“All he wanted was a name! There's nothing wrong with that!”
“He doesn't need a name, he's a changeling!” Chrysalis, striding forward, gave Twilight a sharp poke in the chest. “And I'd thank you to remember that the next time you try to ruin the hive I've spent so much time caring for.”
“He deserves a name,” said Twilight, standing her ground. “Everypony deserves a name!”
“He's not a pony! We're not ponies and don't want to be! Why do you think we would want to be a bunch of cowardly, mewling prey?!”
“You really are a monster,” Twilight said quietly.
Chrysalis stared down at her, face screwed up in fury, then spun around and stalked away. “Then maybe you should leave. I wouldn't think you'd want to spend any time around a monster.”
“I think you're right.”
Twilight stomped to the door, putting a hoof up to the handle, but just as she did a soft sound came from behind her. She froze, gritting her teeth, trying to resist the urge... but she couldn't, and looked back.
Chrysalis was sitting on the far edge of the bed, facing away. Barely, just barely, it looked like her shoulders were shaking.
There was no resistance this time. Twilight took her hoof from the door and walked quietly back to the bed.
“Chrysalis?” she called out softly. There was no response, and so she climbed onto the bed, scooting her way across it on her knees.
She couldn't think of any words to say, and so she simply climbed halfway up onto the back of Chrysalis's shell, wrapping her forelegs around the changeling and embracing her from behind. She pushed her face up against Chrysalis's neck, and after a moment felt a tough chitin chin nuzzling down on top of her head.
“I don't like fighting with you,” said Chrysalis miserably. “It's no fun when it's for real.”
Twilight just nodded, squeezing the changeling tighter.
“I should have just explained to you how the hive works, instead of getting angry,” continued Chrysalis, practically speaking into Twilight's mane. “With the hivemind, we need clear ways to identify who is speaking. Each changeling has a designation that identifies their caste, what specific skills they have and which tasks they perform. Were 'Wayne' to simply speak to me, I would have no way of knowing what he can do that I might need without having to spend precious time trying to match the name with a specific changeling. When I'm trying to coordinate the actions of dozens of changelings at once, that can be an annoyance, or even dangerous.”
“They don't feel... I don't know, like just cogs in a machine?” asked Twilight.
“They are cogs, and they all know it. And they're proud to be; each cog helps the hive to grow and prosper. You fear they suffer from some sort of loss of identity?” Twilight nodded, making Chrysalis nod as well. “That's not true. In the hivemind... I can't explain it to you very well... each mind has a taste, each one is like a fire glowing a multitude of colors. It's impossible to mistake one mind for another.
“Their designations do not detract from their individuality, either. You see merely a series of numbers and letters... but I see a worker changeling, one who is skilled in mining and gathering. I see a guard, there for protecting my changelings and enforcing my will. Each designation is unique, far more than your pony names. Those numbers and letters to me each represent a specific changeling, one whom I know well and care dearly for.”
She paused for a moment, musing. “You said W37-583MG was funny? That would be the knock-knock jokes, yes?”
Twilight nodded with a chuckle, and Chrysalis grimaced. “It's been years, and we still haven't been able to get him to stop.”
Twilight slid down off Chrysalis's back, to sit beside her on the edge of the bed and look up at her. “I'm sorry I tried to make your changelings into ponies,” she said quietly. “You aren't ponies, and that's what makes you all so special. I shouldn't have tried to change that.”
“I'm... sorry too,” said Chrysalis, with a resigned sigh. “I guess I shouldn't have called ponies mewling cowards.”
“What about calling us prey?” asked Twilight, expression offended. Chrysalis just looked back, grinning to expose all her sharp teeth and fangs.
Twilight glared at her, but it was short lived, and she quickly started giggling. “Okay, okay, fair point.”
She stretched out more comfortably, leaning against Chrysalis slightly, then looked back up at the changeling as the conversation brought a thought to her mind. “What does our love taste like? I've always been curious...”
Chrysalis sighed happily. “It is the most wonderful flavor there is. I have tasted many foods, all across the world, and there are none that come close. If I had to make a comparison, I would say the closest pony food would be... ice cream.”
Twilight blinked in surprise. “Ice cream?”
“Yes. Strawberry, to be exact.”
Twilight was silent for some time. “I can't tell if you're serious or not.”
Chrysalis chuckled. “I would say, in fact, that there is probably only one taste that might even come close to comparing with the taste of love.”
“Oh? What's that?”
In answer, a hoof cupped the side of her head, drawing her around, and her eyes widened in shock as Chrysalis kissed her.
It was a quick kiss, hardly more than a peck on the lips, but still both pony and changeling faces were flushed when they separated.
“Until you have decided to give your love to me, that will have to do,” murmured Chrysalis.
Twilight, staring into her eyes, just gulped and nodded. Chrysalis's eyes had always been striking, with their double-ringed irises, but now, so close to them, Twilight was noticing for the first time how beautiful they were. She could see herself, and stared in wonder at that blushing, awe-struck pony looking back at her.
After a moment, Chrysalis put her hoof around Twilight's body, pulling her in close and nuzzling against her, and Twilight returned the nuzzle without hesitation. They remained on the edge of the bed, not talking, just being together, for what little time was left before they had to slumber.
How did it all go so wrong?
Twilight, staring into the mirror in the bathroom, asked herself that question again and again.
What had happened with Princess Celestia had been Twilight's mistake. She should have told the Princess the truth as soon as they were alone. Instead, she had let her history with the Princess distract her, she had become more concerned with the thought that the Princess was mad at her than with following through with her plan, and that avenue of escape had been closed off to her forever the moment Princess Celestia opened her mouth.
But this was supposed to have been different.
The plan this time had been simple. Introduce 'Chrysi' to her parents, let them all get to know one another a bit, then reveal that she was Chrysalis in disguise. Her parents would be suitably outraged that the changeling Queen who had ruined their son's wedding was now married to their daughter, there'd be a huge fight... Twilight and Chrysalis would be disappointed, but, well, family is important, right? Chrysalis would understand that, she had a bigger family than anyone. With Twilight's family threatening to disown her, they wouldn't have any choice other than to break off the marriage. And while they would both be upset, there was no reason they couldn't still keep in touch, write one another letters, even be friends.
As far as plans went, it was... well, not great. But it was the best she had, one of her last hopes. And she had gotten a disaster, all right... but not the way she'd wanted. This was far worse than anything she could have possibly imagined.
How did it all go so wrong? she asked herself again.
Another loud burst of noise came through the bathroom door, and Twilight cringed back, then drooped down and let out a sigh. She ran a bit of water in the sink, splashed it on her face, then took another look in the mirror. She looked... frazzled, but still sane. She wasn't cracking yet; the facade was holding. And maybe there was still a chance to salvage the night.
Taking a last deep, calming breath, she opened the door and trotted out to the sound of laughter. In the living room were her parents, Twilight Velvet and Night Light, sitting on a couch with their backs to her. Opposite them sat Chrysalis on a love seat; looking up at Twilight's return, the changeling smiled and happily waved a holed hoof, beckoning her over.
Twilight took a few steps forward, then froze, her ears folding back and a small whimper escaping her mouth. Whatever plans she might have been considering disappeared; the situation was far, far worse than she had thought.
There, on the coffee table between the two sofas, sat an open photo album. Her parents were showing Chrysalis her foalhood pictures!
“So, what is it you do, Chrysi?” asked Twilight Velvet, levitating a plate of biscuits over to the disguised changeling.
Taking one and munching on it happily, Chrysalis replied, “I'm actually a bit of royalty myself, like Twilight. Nothing as glamorous as Princess of Friendship, though. I mostly have to concern myself with feeding my subjects.”
“Oh, now that's interesting,” said Night Light, as Velvet sat down on the couch next to him. “Let me think, you must be a baroness? No, no, sorry, a countess, at the least. You're too regal to be anything less.”
“Oh my, you never told me your father was so charming,” said Chrysalis to Twilight, giggling, as Velvet gave her husband a frown. “As a matter of fact, I'm a Queen.”
“A Queen!” Both ponies seemed surprised.
“But not just any Queen,” continued Chrysalis, drawing back and letting out a dark chuckle. “I am Queen of all the chang–!”
“Ahem.” There was a loud cough from Twilight, along with a nudge from her elbow. Chrysalis blinked, then dropped her head, her chuckle this time more embarrassed.
“I, ah, mean... yes. I am a Queen.”
“Hmm...” Velvet had a small frown on her face. “I didn't know there were any Queens in Equestria. Or even in any of the nearby lands.”
“Well, we are not a numerous people,” admitted Chrysalis grudgingly. “And we are somewhat... reclusive. We prefer to remain hidden.”
“I'm not surprised that Twilight managed to draw you out,” said Night Light proudly. “She's become quite good at that kind of thing.”
“Can you believe she didn't have any friends when she was a filly?” asked Velvet in a faux-hushed tone.
“Mother!” cried Twilight, as Chrysalis giggled. “I had friends!”
“Smarty Pants doesn't count,” replied Velvet, smiling.
“I had plenty more friends than just him.” Twilight crossed her forelegs and turned away, a small pout on her face. “I just had a lot of studying to do, so I didn't see them very often.”
“Always with the studying, this one,” said Velvet, rolling her eyes and giving Chrysalis a wink.
“Oh, tell me about it,” the disguised changeling replied. “The first day we spend together, and what does she want to do? Read books the entire time. I hardly even got a word out of her!”
All three were chuckling now, to the embarrassment of the red-faced Princess.
“I know exactly where she gets it from, too,” said Night Light, a sly grin on his face as he looked over at his wife. “Maybe if her mother hadn't spent so much time making Twilight proofread the books she writes...”
“Oh, stop it, you!”
“I let Velvet choose where we went for a date once, you know where she wanted to go? The Canterlot Library, followed by a thrilling trip to a used bookstore. I stopped letting her pick date spots after that. So if Twilight ever tries to get you to visit a library, well, watch out–oof!”
Night Light cut off, as he suddenly found Velvet's elbow in his side.
“That's enough out of you,” she said with a sniff. “I'm sure Chrysi doesn't want to hear you trying to play matchmaker. And besides, that's supposed to be my job.”
She gave Chrysalis an apologetic look. “I'm sorry about my husband. He doesn't know when to stop talking.”
Velvet looked around conspiratorially, speaking again in a loud whisper. “Although we do worry about Twilight sometimes. She might have had a few friends when she was young, but we never saw her go out on a date, stallion or mare! I never would have thought Shining Armor would turn out to be my best hope for grandfoals!”
“Actually, mother, that's something I wanted to talk to both of you about,” ground out Twilight through clenched teeth, as more chuckles filled the air.
She took a deep breath. Okay, this wasn't exactly how she had envisioned things playing out, but she'd go ahead with the plan. After all, it wasn't like things could get any more awkward.
“You both remember Shining Armor's wedding, right?” she asked, to get things started.
“Of course, it was wonderful!” exclaimed Velvet gleefully. “Such a beautiful ceremony.”
“One of the proudest days of our lives, and you kids have given us so many days to be proud of,” said Night Light, nodding in agreement.
“No, I mean his first wedding,” said Twilight, a grin on her face that was somewhat on the vicious side, and both her parent grimaced.
“Well, hard to forget an experience that terrible,” said Night Light.
“Especially that horrid Chrysalis creature, and her changelings,” said Velvet distastefully. “I can't believe she fooled us like that. Why, if we hadn't been so busy with the wedding preparations...”
Twilight looked over at Chrysalis with expectant glee, and then frowned. She looked... proud. Her head was held high, eyes closed and a smug smile on her face. If she'd been a pegasus instead of a unicorn, she looked like she'd be preening her wings. Twilight gritted her teeth. Of course the Queen would be proud of everything she'd done. She lived for deceit, conquest and domination, and Twilight's parents talking about how well she'd done all of that would be music to her ears.
Fine, then. No quarter, no more holding back.
“Funny you should mention that,” said Twilight cheerfully, giving Chrysalis a meaningful nudge, “Because Chrysi is actually Queen Chrysalis, and we're married.”
At the signal, Chrysalis dropped her disguise. Twilight watched in glee as her parent's expressions turned to shock and horror, their mouths dropping open as the flare of green light lit their faces.
For a long moment, all Night Light and Twilight Velvet could do was stare, their eyes moving back and forth disbelievingly between the Princess and the Queen before them. Finally, Velvet's eyes narrowed, her mouth setting in a hard, thin line, and Twilight leaned forward expectantly.
“So, what, your mother doesn't get an invite to your wedding?” said Velvet bitterly. “Oh, no, it's just my only daughter getting married, what interest would I have in that?”
Now Twilight's mouth dropped open. “W-what... no, mom–“
“It's fine, Twilight, it's fine.” Velvet sniffed dismissively, turning away. “You're immortal now, I'm sure you'll have plenty of other weddings–heaven forbid anything should happen to you two, I wish you a long and happy marriage, but these things do happen. Of course, I'll probably be dead by then, but I'm sure you won't care.”
“No, that's not–dad, please–“
“Listen to your mother, dear,” said Night Light, putting a foreleg around his wife. “We know you have a lot of important things going on in your life, very important things, but we'd still like to be involved too. You could have at least told us you were thinking of getting married.”
“N-no, that's not... you don't understand...” Twilight shrunk down under the disappointed gaze of her father and icy glare of her mother, trailing off into a faint whimper.
“I'm afraid that was my fault,” said Chrysalis suddenly, voice buzzing apologetically. Night Light and Velvet turned to her, a little too quickly for the action to look natural, their eyes wide and wary.
“You see, our wedding–our entire courtship, in fact–was done in the changeling fashion,” Chrysalis continued. “And our marriages tend to be rather sudden. There isn't much of a ceremony either, and as for guests... well, that would rather ruin the mood.”
She paused momentarily, tapping one hoof on her chin. “Although, I suppose I could have taken hostages...”
Both parents looked at the Queen for a moment longer, then sat back, relaxing slightly.
“You could have just told us that in the first place, Twilight,” said Night Light, a tone of reproach in his voice. “You would have saved us all a lot of confusion just now.”
“I never knew Chrysalis was such a polite girl, though,” said Velvet approvingly. “You should pay attention to her, Twilight, I think she could teach you a lot. She might be a good influence on you.”
“Wha–bu–“ Twilight put booth hooves to her head for a moment.
“She attacked Shining Armor's wedding!” said Twilight, just barely managing not to scream. “She nearly ruined the entire thing, tried to take Cadance's place, and almost took over Equestria at the same time!”
“Hmm, that is true,” said Velvet, staring at Chrysalis with narrowed eyes. “I can't say that exactly makes me eager to welcome you into our family, even if Twilight cares so much for you.”
“We would at least like an apology,” said Night Light sternly, crossing his forelegs.
“If it helps, I do regret how things turned out,” said Chrysalis meekly, lowering her head. “And it was never personal, either. I'd never even seen any of you beforehoof. I... well, I nearly called off the entire plan and asked Twilight to marry me when I first met her.”
“Oh, that's so romantic,” cooed Velvet, clearly having no idea what a changeling marriage entailed.
“Well, Twilight's forgiven you, so I suppose we can try to as well,” said Night Light, then sighed. “Though it's a shame I won't be able to walk my daughter down the aisle.”
“You know...” said Velvet slowly, in a tone that sent icy tendrils of fear creeping through Twilight's heart, “There's no reason we couldn't have another wedding. A pony wedding. Something for all of Twilight's friends and family to enjoy, a ceremony that everypony can see, a way to prove to everyone that your marriage is official–”
She stopped suddenly, embarrassed. “I'm sorry, I'm not trying to imply you need to have a pony wedding, that yours somehow doesn't count just because your traditions are different...”
She didn't need to have worried. Chrysalis was staring at her with wide, shining eyes.
“Do you really mean that?” she asked breathlessly. “You want to throw a wedding for me? I would get to wear a dress, and we'd have flowers, and a party...”
“Of course,” said Night Light warmly. “You're family now. We'd love to welcome you, in our own fashion.”
“Oh, this is so amazing!” gushed Chrysalis, wrapping her forelegs around the frozen Princess sitting next to her. “I'm so excited I can hardly wait, Twilight!”
“I-I-I...” Twilight stuttered for several seconds, then suddenly leapt to her hooves. “You know what? I need a quick break. I'm going to go... freshen up? Yes, that. I'll be back, uh, whenever.”
She trotted quickly to the bathroom, doing her best to ignore the sounds of her parents and Chrysalis chatting happily with each other.
“Oh, this is a good one,” said Velvet gleefully, turning a page in the photo album. “We thought we'd learned enough from Shining Armor to be able to raise another foal without trouble. But we had to figure out an entirely new set of rules when Twilight was born.”
“Oh, Celestia...” Twilight buried her face, which had been bright red from the moment she sat back down, in her hooves. Her parents always showed this picture to friends and family.
“Normally you have to move objects from the bottom of shelves to the top, so the little foals can't get into trouble. With Twilight, though...”
In the picture, a small Twilight sat with a book spread open in front of her. That wouldn't have been so unusual, except she was also perched casually on top of a bookshelf, high above the heads of her puzzled parents.
“Oh my!” Twilight's blush deepened at the sound of Chrysalis's giggling. “How did she even get up there?”
“We still don't know,” said Night Light, with a chuckle. “But we learned quickly that books, at least, needed to be kept on the lower shelves. And we called her our little spider for quite a while after that.”
“Well, this little spider caught herself quite the juicy fly,” said Chrysalis slyly, nuzzling up against the squirming pony as her parents laughed.
“I'm sure you'll have plenty of stories as well once you have your own foals–“ Velvet started to say, then stopped suddenly. “Oh, I'm sorry. It's probably a little bit too soon to be asking you for grandfoals, isn't it? And while I know there are options for ponies in your... situation, I shouldn't have assumed anything...”
“W-we haven't actually discussed anything like that,” said Chrysalis, blushing and looking over at the equally embarrassed Twilight. “Although if anything, we probably have more options.”
She looked downwards. “I suppose the easiest way would be for me to just extend my ovipositor, like so–“
“Chrysalis, no!” cried Twilight, waving her hooves. “T-that's not something you do in public!”
“It's not?” said Chrysalis. Her tone was puzzled, but there was a smile on her face as she watched Twilight.
Twilight shifted uncomfortably, clearing her throat, but Chrysalis continued to gaze at her, still smiling.
“You know,” Chrysalis said after a moment, turning back to her parents-in-law, “If it's grandchildren you're interested in, every changeling in the hive is my child. You actually have several hundred grandchildren now.”
There was a long, long moment of silence as both Night Light's and Twilight Velvet's mouths dropped open and they stared in shock at the Queen. Even Twilight sat frozen, as she was hit by the realization that she was actually the mother of every single changeling she'd met while in the hive.
“I am going the throw this into the face of that Silver Lilac down the street so hard,” said Velvet finally, a vicious grin surfacing on her face. “Oh, your grandchildren have all been in the top five percent at the university? Well, mine conquered Equestria!”
“Mom, that's not–“ Twilight started to object, but was interrupted as the doorbell suddenly rang, causing both Princess and Queen to shoot panicked glances towards the foyer.
“Oh good, our special guest has arrived,” said Velvet, the smile on her face turning sly.
“W-what?!” squeaked Twilight.
“Well...” said Night Light slowly, drawing the word out, “We might have heard that a certain Captain of the Guard was in town today, and invited him over...”
Twilight leapt off the couch eagerly, racing for the front door. One last chance, she thought excitedly.
“BBBFF!” cried Twilight, as she threw the door open.
“Twiley! It's good to... see you...” He trailed off.
Shining Armor had, obviously, known Twilight her entire life. And he'd learned to recognize the warning signs of her having one of her... episodes. Right now, judging by her manic grin and slightly twitching eye, she was at stage three: unstable, ready to blow, but still recoverable.
“So... is there something going on?” he asked cautiously. “I wasn't expecting to see you.”
“I didn't know you were in town either! Is Cadance here?”
“No, sorry,” said Shining Armor, worry momentarily forgotten, chuckling. “She stayed back in the Empire. I'm here on business; I'm checking in on the Crystal Empire guards we had trade places with some Canterlot guards. It's part of an exchange program we started, to help build relations between our kingdoms and get the soldiers some experience with how each guard force does things. What are you doing here, though?”
“Oh, nothing too big,” said Twilight with a smile. “I'd just dropped by to introduce mom and dad to my wife.”
“Your–“ Shining Armor's mouth dropped open, then he burst into a brilliant grin. “Twilight, that's great! I'm so happy for you!”
He gave her a hug, then pulled back. “Was it Rainbow Dash? Please tell me it was Rainbow Dash!”
“It was Celestia after all then, huh? Damn.” He stomped a hoof, then looked off to the side and sighed. “I should really know better by now than to bet on this kind of thing with Cadance. Well, looks like I'm the bottom again this month.”
“I don't...” Twilight took a moment to try and reset her mind after the last few seconds of conversation. “It's neither of them.”
“Wow, a wild card, huh? So, anyone I know?”
“Oh, yes,” said Twilight, starting to lead him into the living room. “In fact, she's your ex-fiancée.”
“Ha ha, I have no idea who you're–“
Shining Armor stopped talking as he entered the room, spotting Chrysalis sitting on the other side of the coffee table.
“Oh. Ah, hello,” said Chrysalis, waving at him.
Twilight waited for the explosion, but nothing came. She looked over at Shining Armor, at the wide smile that remained plastered on his face.
“Uh, Shiney? You okay?” She waved a hoof in front of him, and his expression didn't change.
Slowly, the smile still on his face, he tipped over, taking out the coffee table as he crashed to the ground.
“You know, I can't say I'm surprised by that,” said Chrysalis, floating a biscuit into her mouth off the plate she had saved from Shining Armor's faceplant.
Twilight sighed, rubbing the bridge of her muzzle with a hoof. “I'm really not either.”
“Hey Shining Armor, you alright?”
Shining Armor pushed himself up, blinking slowly. He was in... yes, his old bed, in his old room. The same sci-fi posters were on the walls, and the same roleplaying figurines, rule books, and other bits of paraphernalia were scattered throughout the room. And that was his same sister looking at him with concern. The only thing different was the gray unicorn standing next to her.
“Twilight?” he asked groggily, putting a hoof to the small bump on his head. “What happened?”
“You came over to visit and, ah, hit your head,” she replied.
“Right, I thought I saw–“ He stopped, staring at the pony next to Twilight. She was tall, with a dark coat and green hair. Even more telling, she was standing up straight, nose in the air, a familiar, arrogant look on her face.
“That's... that's Queen Chrysalis, isn't it?” he asked, pointing a hoof at the unicorn.
“Whaaaaat? No, don't be silly–“ Twilight tried to say.
Shining Armor's horn lit up, and Twilight just barely managed to fire off her own magic, suppressing his spell. It was still a struggle, though; alicorn she might be and a cutie mark related to magic she might have, but the shield spell was Shining Armor's special talent, and it could give even Princess Celestia herself pause. Only a pause, of course, but still a pause.
“Shining Armor...” growled Twilight, one eye squeezed shut from the effort of trying to hold back his spell, “You don't... understand...”
“I don't need to understand,” he shot back, face scrunched up. The sphere of the shield spell, centered on his horn, grew to encompass the bed. “It's Chrysalis, and that's all I need to know.”
“Do you, ah, want some help there, Twilight?” said Chrysalis nervously, backing away from the bubble.
“No, I have to do this,” panted Twilight. “I'll make him see reason. If you try to help, it would just turn all this into you versus him.”
“You're making her do your dirty work now, you monster?!” snarled Shining Armor. He lowered his head and gritted his teeth, forcing more power into the spell. “I'll make you pay, Chrysalis, for everything you've done to my family!”
“Okay, Twilight, i-it's just that things are getting kind of cramped in here!” Chrysalis was sounding nearly panicked now, and Twilight risked a look back at her.
The disguised Queen was pressed up against the bubble, which had forced her back into a corner and trapped her in the room. Twilight's eyes widened; she could see real fear on Chrysalis's face.
Chrysalis had explained to her that while she had expected–and even welcomed–a defeat at the wedding, she hadn't been prepared for it to be so... unpleasant. She hadn't gone into too much detail on what exactly had happened after being flung from Canterlot, but Twilight doubted being thrown several dozen miles had been painless, even with wings to help break her fall. And Chrysalis had experienced all that from the point of view of every changeling she'd brought with her. She clearly wasn't looking forward to a repeat, even if it was singular.
“Enough!” cried Twilight, turning back. Her eyes glowed white, wings flaring wide, and she stomped down, slamming Shining Armor's magic back into his horn with a burst of her own power.
They stood in place for a moment, glaring at each other, breathing hard.
“Twilight–“ Shining Armor started to growl.
“What are you kids doing up there?” called Twilight Velvet from the bottom of the stairs.
“Nothing, mom!” Twilight yelled back hurriedly.
“You're not roughhousing, are you?”
“Because you're not supposed to roughhouse upstairs!”
“We're not, mom!”
Twilight and Shining glanced at each other, the same look of embarrassment on their faces.
“Okay, then we can just talk,” said Shining Armor in a low voice. “We can talk about the fact that Chrysalis is controlling your mind!”
“You can fight it! I know you can, just listen to my voice, Twilight. It's me, Shining Armor, your brother, remember?”
“I don't have amnesia, Shining Armor. I know who you are.” Twilight let out a long, pained sigh. “Fine, let's do this. Chrysalis? Drop the disguise.”
Chrysalis, who had taken a few hesitant steps forward after the shield had dissipated, switched back to her normal appearance. Shining Armor's eyes narrowed at seeing her true form again, but he didn't say anything.
“Okay now, Chrysalis... take control of my mind.”
“Twilight, no!” cried Shining Armor.
There was a moment of silence, and then Twilight turned back. “Chrysalis?”
The changeling Queen stood with her head down, one hoof scraping at the floor. “I... Twilight, you know I don't like doing that to you. I only tried it the once because you were curious, and you asked.”
“Yes, Chrysalis, but we need to prove a point. Please?”
Chrysalis let out an unhappy grumble, but raised her head, horn glowing, and a ray of emerald light struck Twilight in the head. Her eyes went green and sagging, and Shining Armor gasped in horror, but a moment later there was a fizzle from Chrysalis's horn. Twilight shook her head, and her eyes were back to normal when she opened them.
“You see?” she said. “It doesn't work on me. It doesn't work on any alicorn. I mean, do you think Chrysalis would have bothered attacking your wedding if she could have just taken control of Celestia's mind? She had plenty of opportunities while she was pretending to be Cadance!”
“Okay, fine, she's not controlling your mind with magic,” huffed Shining Armor, crossing his forelegs. “What lies had she been telling you then? How did she trick you into thinking she loves you? And into forgiving her for what she did to us!”
“No lies, Shining Armor. No tricks. The wedding... things were complicated back then. She's sorry for what she did to you.”
“No I'm not,” snorted Chrysalis, turning her head away. “I did nothing wrong.”
“Chrysalis, please! I'm trying to make things right between Shining Armor and you!”
“I don't care. I did what I did for the good of my people. I may have changed my focus a bit after I met you... but that doesn't change what I intended to do. And I'd do it all again.”
Twilight glared at her, then an evil little smile lit on her face. “Okay Chrysalis, that's fine.”
She turned back to her brother. “Shining Armor, as a Queen of the changelings, I hereby formally apologize to you for the attack on your wedding, and acknowledge our wrongdoing in said attack.”
“Twilight, no!” wailed Chrysalis, stamping a hoof on the floor. “At least make him grovel first!”
“Well, you should have thought of that before you refused to apologize. Besides, I'm a changeling Queen now, but you're a Princess of Equestria. And that means being diplomatic and apologizing for things that people are upset about, even if you don't think you're to blame.”
Shining Armor, meanwhile, was looking back and forth between the two.
“This is... this is real, isn't it?” he asked finally, voice dazed.
“Yes, Shining Armor,” said Twilight, taking a step closer to him. “I mean, it's not an apology from her, but it's probably as close as you're going to get. Although, if you think reparations are in order, I'm sure we can find plenty of changelings who would be happy to spend time 'volunteering' in the Crystal Empire. For that matter, if you want guards for the Crystal Heart, I doubt you'd be able to find anypony that would guard it as closely.”
She thought that last sentence over for a moment. “Well, maybe a bit too closely.”
“No, I mean...” He waved a hoof at the two. “This. The both of you. Together.”
“We... are really married, yes,” said Twilight carefully. Chrysalis had moved closer, and now leaned up against Twilight, resting her chin on the shorter alicorn's head. After a moment of hesitation, Twilight leaned over, snuggling up to her as well.
“I really do care about her, Shining Armor,” Twilight said softly. “You don't have to like her too, not after what she's done, but I'm not going to let you hurt her.”
Shining Armor looked at the two for a long moment, then finally dropped his head. “This will all make sense, right?” he asked plaintively. “Like, there's some big story behind it that will explain everything?”
Twilight winced. “Kind of?”
With a sigh, Shining Armor slid off the bed. “Okay, Twilight. I trust you. So, I'll trust you in this. Come on, let's go downstairs. We can talk, and maybe I can get at least some idea of what's going on.”
“Thank you, Shining Armor,” said Twilight warmly.
He laughed. “Hey, I've been married to the Princess of Love for a few years now. I should have learned at least something about how strange love can be.”
“Twilight, you said I'm a Princess of Equestria now. Shouldn't I be the Princess of Love?” said Chrysalis, pouting. “She doesn't even live in Equestria anymore!”
“You're only a Princess by marriage, Chrysalis,” said Twilight, rolling her eyes. “The titles we have need to be earned.”
“And the arrangement between the Crystal Empire and Equestria is a bit complicated,” said Shining Armor. “Cadance and I are the Crystal Empire's Princess and Prince, but we're still citizens of Equestria. Actually, the whole situation is more like the Empire is a colony of Equestria, and Cadance and I are the ruling governors... like I said, it's complicated. There's a whole pile of books and scrolls that explains why and how it works, but I just nodded the whole time Celestia and Luna were explaining it to us.”
“I should still get a title,” declared Chrysalis, head held high as they walked from the room. “I can be the Queen of Love.”
“Don't ever let Cadance hear you say that!” said Shining Armor, eyes widening in horror. He shuddered as he followed them. “I think she just got over wanting to kill you on sight. I don't even want to imagine what she'd try to do if you repeated that near her!”
“Twilight?” said Shining Armor later on that night. “I want to apologize to you.”
Chrysalis and Twilight had gone over their courtship and wedding with Shining Armor. He had been incredulous at first, then suspicious, and ultimately had grudgingly accepted the situation.
Twilight Velvet and Chrysalis, at this point, had gone into the other room to 'discuss some things', a spine-chilling phrase. Night Light, obviously sensing there was something his children needed to talk about, had conveniently decided to step out for some air.
“You don't need to apologize for anything,” Twilight said with a shake of her head. “What Chrysalis did to you was terrible, I know. But...”
“But you love her,” said Shining Armor gently, smiling. “I understand. I still shouldn't have tried to attack her, though. I didn't even give you a chance to explain.”
“You don't like her, do you?” asked Twilight, looking down.
“Twilight... no, I don't. I don't think I ever will. I can't forget what she did, and I don't know if I can ever forgive her, either.”
He looked over at his downcast sister, her shoulders slumped, and smiled. “You've forgiven her, though. And she makes you happy. If anything can make up for what she did, it's that. Even if I don't like her, I can tolerate her. For you.”
“That's not really a nice thing to say,” said Twilight, then sighed. “Although I can't really blame you.”
“Now, that's not a nice thing to say either,” scolded Shining Armor. “She's your wife. You need to support her, even if you don't completely agree with her decisions. I mean, I'm not saying you should go helping her take over Equestria or anything...”
“Shining Armor, listen–“ Twilight started to say, and then stopped.
She could tell him the truth right now. He'd help her, he might even know a way out of this. Maybe there was a solution in those scrolls from Celestia that he'd mentioned, or maybe he just had some big-brotherly advice about how to handle all her relationship problems. At the least, judging by his initial reaction to Chrysalis, she could get that incident she'd been hoping for when she came here.
But if she did that, she might get even more of a fight than she wanted. Shining Armor had already attacked Chrysalis once, and the only thing that had stopped him had been believing they were in love. If she started another fight between them... Chrysalis might get hurt, physically as well as emotionally. Twilight couldn't bear the thought of that.
So she just said, “Thank you, Shining Armor. It really means a lot to me that you're willing to put aside your own feelings to help me. And that you're willing to welcome Chrysalis into our family.”
“Hey, that's what big brothers are for,” he said, grinning and ruffling her hair. “Besides, she might be a good influence on you.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?” huffed Twilight, batting his hoof away.
“Saying what?” asked Chrysalis curiously, as she and Velvet entered the room, followed by Night Light.
“Oh, nothing, nothing,” said Twilight quickly, casting a deathly glare at Shining Armor.
Chrysalis took her seat next to Twilight, her weight causing the cushions to bow inwards and slide the smaller pony up against her. As Twilight shifted around into a more comfortable position and Chrysalis wrapped a foreleg around her, they both missed the warm smile Shining Armor gave them.
Later that night, after saying farewell to Twilight's family, the pony and the changeling made their way through the streets of Canterlot. They walked slowly, casually, taking the scenic route back to the castle and their guest suite.
Twilight walked with her head down, feeling a confused mix of regret and relief. Regret, because her plan–weak as it had been–was a complete failure. But relief, because Chrysalis hadn't been hurt, and because her family had been so welcoming to her friend... to her wife.
Focusing on the street, Twilight didn't notice that the unicorn walking beside her kept glancing over, until finally Chrysalis spoke.
“Twilight?” she said softly, almost hesitantly. “Did... did I do good tonight?”
“What?” Twilight looked up for the first time, surprised by the question.
“It's just... you were mad after we met the Princesses, because of something I did that I'm not quite sure about. And my hive welcomed you in, you were so kind to all my children... I just wanted the same from your family. And to do the same for your family.”
Twilight looked up into Chrysalis's wide, hopeful eyes, and a smile of pure happiness covered her face.
“You were wonderful, Chrysalis,” Twilight said softly, pausing to momentarily place a hoof on her shoulder. “They loved you. Well, maybe not Shining Armor, but...”
“But you taught him an excellent lesson,” declared Chrysalis proudly, head raising up. “Now that he knows his place, he will not oppose us again.”
Twilight couldn't help it; she started giggling. “Yes Chrysalis, that's exactly what happened.”
Then she sobered up. “Although, there was one thing you did that I didn't approve of. You shouldn't have mentioned your... ovipositor... in front of my parents like that. That isn't the kind of thing you do in polite company.”
“Oh my! It isn't?”
“No, Chrysalis, and–“ she stopped, looking at the grin on the changeling's face, a horrible suspicion rising in her mind. “Chrysalis, you... did you know that when you said those things?”
“What? Why, how could I have possibly known that? Your pony culture is so strange to me...”
“You did know!” cried Twilight, pointing an accusing hoof at Chrysalis and getting a low chuckle in return.
“Then why?! Why would you do that?!”
Twilight stopped short as the disguised Queen suddenly threw a smoldering glance at her. “Because you're cute when you're flustered.”
“I-I am not!” cried Twilight, blushing suddenly.
Chrysalis just chuckled again. “Adorable,” she said, before continuing on her way.
“You... you can't just...” A thought struck Twilight, and she hurried to catch up with Chrysalis. “Wait, so do you really have an... an ovipositor or not?”
That just got yet another chuckle from Chrysalis, along with a leer that instantly stopped Twilight from asking any more questions. That didn't stop her from walking alongside Chrysalis grumbling under her breath, though.
A few blocks on, one of Twilight's ears twitched, swiveling towards the Queen. It was hard to make out over the ambient street noise, but there was a faint sound coming from her, hardly audible unless you were listening for it. It took Twilight a few moments, but finally she realized what it was: Chrysalis was humming.
After a moment, Twilight began to hum along. It was a nice tune.
“Okay, is everyone here?” asked Twilight eagerly, looking around her throne room.
Her friends, from their own seats around the map, gave various hoof gestures, grunts, and cheerful greetings to indicate their presence. Even Spike, from his seat next to her, took a moment away from reading his comic book to idly wave some claws at her.
“Good! So, I've been thinking over our activities for today, and I thought... that we could spend all day with you showing me how much you love me!”
Groans came from her friends, and Twilight's face fell. “Don't you love me?” she asked, disappointed.
“Oh, Twilight, of course we do!” said Fluttershy, going so far as to get up from her seat and give Twilight a hug with one wing.
“Aww, thank you, Fluttershy,” said Twilight, wrapping a wing around her in return. “But then why don't any of you want to demonstrate it?”
“Um...” Fluttershy had tried to move away from the hug, but Twilight's wing held her firmly in place. With a resigned sigh, she sat down on the floor next to Twilight's throne.
“We don't mind, darling, it's just, well...” Rarity looked upwards, waving a hoof in circles in the air as she tried to think of a tactful way to express her feelings.
Rainbow Dash, of course, had no such hesitations. “It seems like that's all we've done lately!” she cried out indignantly. “I mean, it's not a bad thing, but it got boring after like the zillionth time!”
“Yes, thank you, Rainbow Dash,” said Rarity dryly.
“She's tellin' the truth, Twi,” said Applejack. “Y'all have been a tad needy lately.”
“My hooves are all out of hugs!” cried Pinkie Pie, twisting her body back and forth and making her forelegs flop bonelessly in every direction. “And they had a lot of hugs in them!”
“Oh... I see.” Twilight's ears folded back against her head and she slumped down. Taking advantage of the sudden slackness, Fluttershy escaped and ran back to the safety of her own seat. “I-If that's the way you all feel, then I won't bother you anymore. You can go do whatever other things you had planned, and I'll stay here... alone... unloved...”
More groans came from the assembled ponies.
“Aw geeze, look at her,” complained Rainbow Dash. “Like a puppy that kicked another puppy, and that puppy turned out to be its best friend.”
“I've never seen her look so sad...” said Fluttershy in a trembling voice.
“Except when she did this yesterday. And the day before that, and before that...” pointed out Applejack, then sighed. “Though she does look more down in the dumps than an apple tree in a pear orchard.”
“The poor dear,” said Rarity, a pout on her face. “I suppose... if she's that bad off...”
“It's okay Twilight, my hooves just grew a million more hugs!” cried out Pinkie Pie, leaning forward on the table with her forelegs outstretched and lower lip trembling.
“You really mean it?” asked Twilight, and all her friends voiced their agreement, perking her back up. “Oh, thank you all so much! You have know idea what it means to me to know I'm so loved...”
“Alright, that's enough,” said Twilight, pushing open the throne room door and walking in.
Her friends sat stunned, unable to do anything but gape at the second Twilight who had suddenly entered. The first Twilight, though, looked even worse off–she was on the verge of pure panic as the second Twilight made her way around the table, frozen in place, her body trembling slightly.
“I...I...” The first Twilight jumped out of her throne, bowing down low to the ground. “My Queen, I'm sorry–“
“It's okay, K85-348IL,” said Twilight gently, giving her copy a pat on the head. “You did good. Thanks for taking care of everything here for me.”
“It was my honor, your majesty.” Bowing again, the changeling dropped his disguise and moved backwards, to sit behind the throne.
Sitting down, Twilight looked around the table, smiling widely. “Hello, girls! It's great to see you all again–“
“Hold it right there, Queen Doppelpopolis!” cried Pinkie. “We're not falling for your tricks this time, no matter how clever they might be!”
“Ignoring Pinkie's opinion of your plan, how exactly did y'all expect to fool us by just walking in here all out in the open like this?” asked Applejack, eyes narrowed. “I can see the changeling standing behind you!” K85-348IL smiled and waved.
“What? Oh, no, this is really me right now–“ Twilight tried to say.
“Please,” sneered Rarity. “We just heard him call you his Queen, too! Really, are you even trying anymore?”
“It's about time you changelings came back!” cried Rainbow Dash enthusiastically. Flexing her wings, she slammed her hooves onto the table and looked around. “Alright, where's the rest of them? I hope you brought a few dozen again, I want a real rematch!”
“Um, please, d-don't attack us,” said Fluttershy meekly. “I don't want to have to hurt any more changelings. Or have them hurt us.”
“Please, girls, it's really me!” pleaded Twilight, starting to get desperate. “Look, I have my own magic!”
She lit up her horn, magenta light radiating over the map.
“As far as we know, changelings can make their magic any color they want,” said Rarity, a suspicious frown on her face.
“No, the visible wavelength of a magical aura is an intrinsic part of the being,” replied Twilight. “You can't change it anymore than you can change the natural color of your mane, or your coat. For ponies, its color also tends to reflect the special talent of that pony. That's why Princess Celestia's is the color of sunlight, Princess Luna's is the color of the night sky, and so on.
“Changeling magic, though, is always green. That's because, obviously, they all share the same 'special talent', i.e. impersonating ponies and feeding on love, not to mention they're all part of a single hivemind. The green color most likely comes from the green of their slime and... various other secretions. Although, if you wanted to be negative, you could say that they steal love because they have none themselves, and the green represents their envy of others' love.”
Twilight wound to a halt, beaming proudly at her friends. “So you see, my having a non-green magical aura makes it a logical impossibility that I'm a changeling in disguise.”
“Okay,” said Rainbow Dash after a moment, “Now I think that might actually be Twilight. She's the only one who's that much of an egghead.”
“I'm not sure...” Pinkie was rubbing her chin suspiciously. “She seems to know an awful lot about changelings for not being one.”
“And that changeling called her his Queen. I find it hard to just ignore that,” pointed out Rarity.
“Well, you see...” Twilight cleared her throat nervously. “The thing is... not only am I a Princess, I'm also a Queen of the changelings now.”
“Really?” said Applejack finally, breaking the long, disbelieving silence. “That's the best y'all could come up with?”
“Um, I'm not saying I think you're lying, o-or anything like that,” said Fluttershy, “But that sounds kind of, um, far-fetched?”
“No, come on you guys, this is totally believable and not a trick at all,” sneered Rainbow Dash. “Go on, 'Twilight', tell us how you became a Queen of the changelings.”
“The easy way,” said Chrysalis, taking that as her cue to enter the room. She strutted slowly around the table, clearly enjoying the glares, looks of fear, and stunned faces she saw. Finally reaching Twilight's throne, she climbed partially up onto it, so she could squeeze the Princess into an embrace. “She married one.”
“Aheh.” Twilight grinned nervously, looking around as all of her friend's mouths slowly fell open at the same time and they took in deep breaths. “I can explain–“
Discord sighed, lowering his reading glasses and looking off into the distance.
“You know,” he said crossly, “If they're just going to create all this chaos themselves, I don't know why they even bother keeping me around.”
He went back to his book, taking a bite out of the next page.
“So, let me make sure I've got this right,” said Applejack caustically, quite a bit later. “This whole time, Chrysalis and you have been in love?”
“Well–“ Twilight started to say.
“And all these messes that have happened–her invading your brother's weddin', kidnappin' my sister and her friends, you lockin' her in a castle and then lettin' her escape, and so on–all that has just been you two makin' googly eyes at each other?”
“It's more complicated than that–“ she tried again.
“And at no point durin' any of that did you feel like sayin' to us, 'oh, don't worry y'all, this isn't actually a life-and-death situation, it's just a date'?”
“We were just–“
“Really now, Applejack, where is your sense of the romantic?” interrupted Rarity. “I can't say being courted in such a manner would exactly be my cup of tea, but surely you can see how it would utterly ruin the whole thing if she were to tell anyone what was really going on.”
“No, I just see how my little sister was kidnapped and I spent a whole lot of my time fighting for what I thought was my life, not Twilight's love life!” shot back Applejack. “And considering that your sister was kidnapped too, I'd think you'd be agreen' with me.”
“You just don't have any romance in your soul,” sniffed Rarity. “While I may not be terribly pleased about what they did, I do at least understand that it was for a good cause.”
“You're just all giddy because it was a royal wedding,” said Rainbow Dash, rolling her eyes, but then she grinned. “You know, I don't care much for all that mushy stuff, but fight-dating sounds awesome. You think any ponies would want to try it?”
“So you two are really fine with what happened?” Applejack turned to Pinkie Pie. “How about you?”
“I don't know...” said Pinkie, eyes narrowed. “There's something about this situation that I don't trust...”
Applejack sighed. “That's because you're squinting suspiciously at everything.”
She smacked Pinkie on the back of the head, and after blinking a few times the pink pony looked around with wide eyes.
“Ooh, you were right!” she chirped happily. “Everything looks a lot better now!”
“So what do you think about all this, then? About them lyin' to us all this time?”
“Well... I guess I don't like that they lied,” mused Pinkie, “But they weren't really lying, they were just keeping a secret! And breaking a promise to keep a secret is even worse when it's a sexy love secret!”
“Hmm...” That at least seemed to give Applejack something to think about. She turned to the empty throne. “Fluttershy?”
“Um, is Chrysalis still here?” came the response from behind the chair.
“I am,” said the Queen curiously, and there was a squeak.
“Well I'm very happy for both of you please don't eat me or my love.”
“Fluttershy, Chrysalis isn't going to do that to you. She's nice–“ Twilight took a moment to recalibrate that sentence, “She wouldn't do that to my friends.”
There was no response from the chair, and with a sigh Twilight turned back to Applejack.
“I'm sorry about what happened, Applejack,” she said quietly. “I never meant to hurt any of you. Can't you give Chrysalis a chance?”
“Twilight... I'd like to, for you, but I don't know if I can trust her.”
“Oh.” Twilight looked down for a moment, then raised her head again. “Applejack, I promise, this is real. This truly isn't some kind of trick. She isn't going to attack Canterlot, or try to replace ponies, or–“
“No, no, not that,” said Applejack, shaking her head. “Twilight, y'all helped reform Luna, Discord, Trixie, Sunset Shimmer, Starlight Glimmer–probably a whole bunch more I'm forgettin'. Shoot, for that matter, y'all became a Princess because of how good you are at makin' friends. If you say she ain't planning anything, I believe you.”
Applejack stared pensively at the Queen for a moment, then said, “Chrysalis, when you were pretendin' to be Cadance, I gave you one of my apple fritters, and you said it was good. Then you threw away the entire bag I gave you!”
She put her hooves up on the table, leaning forward with a glare. “Why would you ever do something like that?”
Chrysalis gave the farm pony a considering look. “Do you really want to know?” she asked finally.
“Fine.” Chrysalis leaned forward as well, locking gazes with Applejack. “I... don't like apples. At all. In fact, I prefer peaches.”
Had any of the ponies in the room dared breathe, they would have gasped with horror. They all froze, aside from Fluttershy, who moved just enough to peek out from behind her chair in terrified fascination, unable to look away from the oncoming trainwreck. Tension crackled in the air, creating an almost palpable aura as the earth pony and the changeling faced off. Twilight gulped; who should she protect when the two inevitably came to blows? Applejack was one of her close friends, had been for years, but Chrysalis was... well, she was Chrysalis, and she was her... friend, and Twilight didn't want her to get hurt either.
“Chrysalis,” Applejack finally said in a low voice, causing everypony in the room to jump, “I don't like you. I don't know if I ever will. Lying and tricking ponies is what you're about, and that's the opposite of what I'm about.”
She snorted, then leaned back in her seat. “But y'all aren't afraid to be honest when you need to be, and you were just now. I can respect that, I suppose.”
The sighs of relief formed a brief gust as everypony in the room breathed out simultaneously.
“Thank you, Applejack,” said Twilight, sincerely touched. “This means a lot to me.”
“Well, shoot, Twilight, I know that,” replied Applejack, holding a hoof to her chest. “I've seen what close friends you've become with Sunset Shimmer, and she did darn near the same thing Chrysalis did. And if you tell me Chrysalis is more than just a friend to you, why, the least I can do is give her a chance.”
“I'm glad,” Twilight said happily, and then smiled around at her other friends. “And the same goes for all of you. Thank you for being so welcoming to my wife, despite the... initial impression she made on you all.”
Murmurs of agreement came from around the room, and then Chrysalis shifted slightly, standing up a bit more to attention.
“I suppose I should thank you all as well,” she said, with the slightest bit of a shuffle of her hooves. “I will admit, I was a bit nervous about how well you would take the news when you found out the truth. I was well aware of how badly that could turn out, and how that would hurt Twilight. But, I know Twilight. She is my love, the pony that means the most to me in the world, and I knew her friends would understand. So, thank you.”
More murmurs came from the ponies around the table, along with a typically over-the-top “We love you Queeny! Well, not as much as Twilight does but you know what I mean!” from Pinkie Pie.
“It's nice to see you're all as energetic, friendly and entertaining as ever,” continued Chrysalis. Her face changed, growing a sly, mischievous grin that, had Twilight been in a better position to see it, would have warned her of what was about to happen.
“Especially the yellow one. Fluttershy, isn't it?” Another squeak from behind the empty chair confirmed the identity of the pony, and Chrysalis's grin widened slightly. “Come on out, dear, let me see you face-to-face. I promise I'm not as scary as you think.”
Hesitantly, Fluttershy began to edge around the throne. Twilight, hearing a buzz come from beside her chair, turned and saw that Chrysalis was gone.
“Chrysalis, no–!“ she tried to protest, realizing what the changeling was up to, but it was too late.
Fluttershy, already suspicious and fearful, retreated back behind her chair as soon as she saw that Chrysalis had disappeared. When she did, she found the changeling Queen crouched down next to her, right in her face with all her fangs exposed in a wide grin.
“Poor little Fluttershy! She's so lucky to have Discord as a friend! Now she has someone to protect her whenever ponies bully or tease her!” cried Discord mockingly, making his Discord and Fluttershy action figures dance with each other.
“BAH!” he threw the Fluttershy figure out the window, ignoring it when it smashed through the window on the other side of his house and bounced off the back of his head. “That mare doesn't need any protecting. She's got a right hook Celestia envies.”
“My nobes urrts oh much!” wailed Chrysalis, tears in her eyes.
“Now, now, it's not that bad,” said Fluttershy gently, holding an icepack to the Queen's muzzle.
“Id's beeding, I knob id!”
“You're a big, tough Queen, Chrysalis,” chided Fluttershy. “It would take more than a little punch from me to give you a bloody nose. Um...”
The yellow pegasus shuffled her hooves, fluttering her wings in consternation. “I'm really sorry about hitting you. You just surprised me, is all–“
“No, Fluttershy, don't apologize to her,” said Twilight crossly. “She was trying to be mean to you, and got what she deserved.”
“Tiwiiight...” moaned Chrysalis miserably.
“That's not fair, Twilight!” said Fluttershy firmly. “She was just playing a little joke, and I overreacted.”
“Yeah, Chrysalis, you learn pretty fast not to scare Fluttershy,” said Rainbow Dash, sniggering. “She actually did give me a bloody nose once, back in flight camp. Ruined a great Nightmare Night mask, too.”
“I had a black eye for a week after she first came to Ponyville!” cried Pinkie Pie happily. “Never threw a surprise party for her again!”
“You're going to be just fine,” said Fluttershy, removing the icepack and inspecting Chrysalis's muzzle. “It's a little bit swollen, but that should go down soon. And I am sorry about what happened.”
“O-okay,” sniffed Chrysalis. “I'm sorry, too.”
She turned wide, wet eyes on Twilight, who shifted nervously. “W-what?”
“My nose hurts. Will you kiss it?”
“But that would make it feel better,” pleaded Chrysalis. “Pleeeeease?”
“Oh, for the love of–“ Twilight tried to object, but she made the mistake of looking into Chrysalis's begging eyes.
“Fine,” she sighed. Leaning forward, she planted a quick peck on the end of Chrysalis's snout. “There. Better?”
“Worlds,” said Chrysalis, pulling Twilight into a hug and squeezing her tightly.
“Okay, okay,” said Twilight, embarrassed, as her friends giggled–or made gagging noises, if they were certain blue pegasi. “Can we get back on track now?”
There was a brief flurry of activity, as medical supplies were packed up, Fluttershy took her seat, and Twilight and Chrysalis went back to the Princess's throne.
“My nose still hurts,” whined Chrysalis, leaning up against the arm of Twilight's chair.
“Oh, hush, you big baby,” said Twilight, pulling her in to give her neck a quick nuzzle before turning back to the table.
“Before we were... interrupted...” Chrysalis and Fluttershy both averted their eyes, fidgeting nervously, as Twilight spoke, “I was actually about to apologize again. To you, Spike.”
“Hmm? For what?” The young dragon looked up from his comic book.
“For letting a changeling replace me. For leaving you all alone here with someone who turned out to be a complete stranger. I should have at least told you what was going on, not let you just find out all of a sudden that you've spent the last couple of days with a disguised changeling. I'm sorry.”
“Oh, don't worry about it,” said Spike, turning back to his comic. “I knew the whole time.”
“WHAT?!” The clamor that arose from the six ponies made him wince.
“Twilight,” he said once things quieted down, rolling his eyes, “You constantly make checklists, you keep to a strict schedule every day, and you reorganize your library on a whim, for fun. And you do all that using systems so complicated even I can't follow them, and I've been your assistant my entire life. Did you really think someone could just come in here and pretend to be you?”
“Ah...” Twilight blushed as Chrysalis, and several of the ponies around the table, sniggered at her. “I-It's not that bad!”
“Really?” asked Spike. “Because the night the other you came back, I found her in the library, practically crying. She was trying to find that textbook you wrote on organizational techniques, so she could get at least some idea of how to make checklists and schedules like you. Except she couldn't find the book, because of how you reorganized the library last time.”
“It's a simple system!” protested Twilight. “It's arranged alphabetically by the genus of the author, then by species, then race, and finally chronologically by publication date. All K85 would have had to do is find the pony section, go through it to the alicorn subsection, and then find the books from a few years ago. It was right there!”
“Uh-huh.” Spike's reaction made his opinion abundantly clear. “So, I realized she was a changeling disguised as you, and bravely demanded to know what was going on–“
“He screamed and ran. I found him under your bed, and he was crying,” K85-348IL whispered from behind Twilight.
“–and he explained everything. So, we've just been hanging out since then.”
“You didn't think about, I don't know, maybe telling us about the changeling pretending to be Twilight?!” demanded Rainbow Dash.
“Well, no. He said the marriage was supposed to be a secret for a while, and that Twilight and Chrysalis would tell you when it was time.”
Twilight smiled softly at her assistant. While that innocence could have backfired if she actually had been ponynapped by Chrysalis, it was sweet that he'd kept the secret for her.
“Well, I really should have at least sent you a letter,” she said. “I hope you didn't mind having to spend time with him .”
“What, are you kidding? K85 is awesome.” Spike held up a fist, not looking back, and K85 gave it a bump with his hoof. “He likes comics almost as much as I do, plus he can turn into all the characters from them! He does a wicked Mane-iac. Even got the voice right, after I gave him some tips.”
“Really?” said Chrysalis suddenly, arching an eyebrow at the changeling. “Dropping your disguise for other forms when you're out in the field? And doing so for entertainment? I don't recall hearing about that in your nightly reports to the hivemind.”
“Um...” the changeling shrank back under his Queen's glare. “Practice taking forms using my imagination as the base?” he suggested hopefully. “A necessary tactic to scavenge food supplies after my initial disguise was discovered?”
“We'll talk more about this later,” said Chrysalis tightly, and the changeling hung his head.
“Um, Chrysalis?” The Queen blink in surprise as a claw tapped on her foreleg, and she looked down at Spike. “K85 isn't in trouble for what he did, is he? We were just having some fun.”
“W-well, Spike, you see, there are rules changelings have to follow. They keep us safe, and he broke them.”
“But you don't need those rules anymore, do you?” pleaded Spike. “I mean, if... if we're a family now, you don't need to hide, so all those rules are pointless.”
“It's not quite that simple...”
In desperation, the Queen looked over at Twilight, who just shrugged and gave a meaningful nod towards K85-348IL. Chrysalis look horrified, shaking her head violently and mouthing "Nooooo". Twilight's lips tightened and she gave a firmer nod, and with a sigh Chrysalis let her head drop.
“Okay, Spike, I won't punish him,” she said, voice sounding like she was going to be sick, as she patted the small dragon on top of the head. “But we are still going to have a talk later. He did break the rules.”
“That's fair, I guess,” said Spike, downhearted. Then he perked up. “Can we go read comics together?”
“Yes, yes, very well.”
Spike trotted out of the room, followed by a scurrying changeling hunched down under the glare of his Queen.
“Thank you, Chrysalis,” sang Twilight, all saccharine sweetness.
“You're going to make my changelings weak, you know that?” she grumbled back. “They're all going to become soft and undisciplined, and we won't even be able to take over a Diamond Dog cave.”
“Mwa hahaha!” cackled Twilight, rubbing her hooves together, “Soon my plan will be complete, and the changelings will be at my mercy!”
“They already are, dear,” replied Chrysalis, planting a kiss on Twilight's cheek that turned her face beet-red.
“Ahem. I-in any case...” Twilight looked down at her hooves on the table, avoiding her friend's eyes. “The last thing I needed to tell you was that you're all invited. To our wedding.”
“A wedding?!” cried Pinkie Pie, shooting up straight in her seat. “That means parties, right?!”
“Oh, how exciting!” said Fluttershy happily.
“Do I get to do another rainboom during the ceremony? Please tell me I do!” cried Rainbow Dash.
“Well, ah, I suppose,” said Twilight unenthusiastically.
“Ain't you two already married, though?” asked Applejack, raising an eyebrow.
“We are, it's just, my parents...”
“They want to celebrate how in love we are, so they're throwing us a big wedding in Canterlot to show everybody!” cried Chrysalis, wrapping her hooves around Twilight. “Oh, I'm still excited!”
“I'm, uh also–“
Twilight stopped, blinking several times quickly. Everything seemed to have gone white... no, there were two little blue dots that–
“Wedding?” rasped Rarity, a quarter inch away from Twilight's face, and the purple pony recoiled.
“You two are having a wedding? In Canterlot?” said Rarity hoarsely, hooves on the back of Twilight's chair to either side of her head, leaning forward again.
“Yes, we are–oh.” The bit finally dropped for Twilight. “Rarity, ah, would you like to make our dresses?”
“Why Twilight, I thought you'd never ask.” Rarity pulled back, placing a pair of glasses on her face and leafing through the pile of folders held in her hooves. “Now, I have a matching pair of gowns drawn up for you two that are simply radiant...”
“What...” Twilight took the folder Rarity passed to her. Opening it, she found a set of dress designs for herself that... actually looked quite beautiful. She tried to take a peek at the sheets a wide-eyed Chrysalis was looking through, but Rarity pushed her back.
“Uh-uh, Twilight. You'll see her's at the wedding.”
“Rarity, I don't know how you put these together so fast...” Twilight noticed the label on the folder, which read 'Twilight + Queen Chrysalis'. “Rarity, did you have these drawn up in advance?!”
“Of course, darling. I've sketched wedding dress designs for all my friends.”
“But... these are specifically made for Chrysalis and I. You said it's a matched set. You saw this coming?”
“Well, you are royalty now. It was important that I be prepared for your inevitable marriage to other royalty.” Rarity sighed. “Nothing against you two, but I do wish you had married King Sombra instead, or maybe Princess Celestia. Those dresses were just to die for.”
“I have changes,” declared Chrysalis loudly, slapping her folder down on the table, and Rarity sighed again.
“Yes, dear, I remember the last time I made a dress for you. Just... just try to remember that I've designed your dress as part of a set? No dramatic, sweeping changes, please?”
“Now, don't be that way. I can make any trouble I cause worth your while, seeing as you're being so kind as to do this for my love and I.” Chrysalis cocked an eyebrow upward. “I've heard you had some trouble with that Prince Blueblood pony?”
“Ugh, yes,” groaned Rarity, grimacing and looking away.
“Would you like me to have him killed?”
“Chrysalis!” cried Twilight.
“I... have to agree with Twilight, darling,” said Rarity nervously. “That's not something I'd wish on anyone.”
“Hmm. What if he were replaced by a pony that looked just like him, but was polite, courteous and respectful? And, perhaps, quite interested in pursuing a relationship with you?”
“Rarity, are you seriously considering this?” demanded Twilight.
“Oh, no, no, of course not Twilight, no,” said Rarity, laughing shrilly and gathering together her folders.
"We'll talk later", she mouthed to Chrysalis, moving back to her seat.
“Well, that was everything I had to tell all of you,” said Twilight, looking around the table. “I know this was a lot to take in with no warning, and you'll probably want to go and take some time to process all of it. So, unless anyone else has some business...”
“OOH OOH OOH!” cried Pinkie Pie, leaning forward and waving her hoof. “Strippers!”
“I mean bachelorette parties! And I need to know what kind of strippers you want for them.”
“How does that work?” asked Chrysalis, face puzzled. “I mean, we're all naked right now, aren't we? What's the point?”
“Trust me, Queeny. There's naked, and then there's naked.” Pinkie gave the two a leer that made even Chrysalis blush. “Plus, the point isn't that they aren't wearing clothes, it's how they take them off.”
“You'll understand when you see it,” said Pinkie, nodding confidently. “Now, mares or stallions?”
“I'm, uh, good with both, I guess?” said Chrysalis hesitantly.
“Okay, not unexpected. Twilight?”
“I... Pinkie, not... everyone's here...” Pinkie just looked back at her, face expectant and cheerful, and finally Twilight said in a barely audible voice, “Mares and stallions too, please.”
“Right-o! These are going to be the two best bachelorette parties I've ever thrown, I promise!”
“You're throwing two separate parties?” asked Twilight “You really don't have to–“
“Of course I do, Twilight! I mean, you can't be at each other's bachelorette parties. That would just be weird.”
“I'm looking forward to it,” said Chrysalis, sniffing. “Hopefully this party will be better than that childish mess you tried to force me to participate in last time.”
“Don't you worry about a thing!” replied Pinkie happily. “You're going to love it.”
“Pinkie... you seem awfully happy to be throwing Chrysalis a party,” said Twilight, frowning. “I would have thought you'd have more reservations after last time. I mean, she hated that party you tried to throw for her at my brother's wedding, and she just insulted it again.”
“Well duh, Twilight, of course she hated it,” said Pinkie, rolling her eyes. “That was a party for Cadance, not Chrysalis. Why would she like a party that I'd custom planned for somepony else? I mean, if I'd known she was a changeling Queen in disguise, I would have done things completely different.”
“Like... like letting us all know, right?” asked Twilight
“And ruin the party?!” gasped Pinkie in horror.
“But–okay, good point, I guess? You can go start planning things if you–“ Pinkie was already gone. “Okay, good.”
She looked around at the rest of her friends. “Unless anypony else has something they need to bring up, I'll let you all go.”
“I should really go get started on those dresses,” said Rarity, getting to her hooves. “I'm sure we'll need time for last minute fittings and alterations.”
“And I should go check on my bird friends. I assume you want them to sing at the wedding?” asked Fluttershy.
“That sounds wonderful,” said Twilight, smiling.
“Don't bring that terrible one again,” warned Chrysalis. “I thought my ears were going to bleed.”
“Oh, don't worry, he's gotten much better,” said Fluttershy, beaming, as she trotted out.
“Time for me to start working on some apple fritters,” said Applejack. “And... I'll tell the Cakes to make some peach cobbler. I ain't doing it myself; no non-apple fruits are goin' to touch these hooves. They're unclean, I tell you.”
“I'll go practice my Sonic Rainboom... I guess.” Standing up, Rainbow Dash slowly made her way out of the room.
“Did she seem alright to you?” asked Twilight to Chrysalis.
“Not as loud as usual, that's for sure.”
“Hey Dash, wait up!” called Twilight, trotting out the throne room door, Chrysalis following close behind her.
“Hmm? What's up, Twilight?” asked Dash, as the Princess caught up to her.
“That's what I was going to ask you,” she replied. “You seem down.”
“It's just, well...” Rainbow Dash let out a long, melodramatic sigh. “I was so excited when I saw Chrysalis was back, you know? I mean, that fight with the changelings was one of the most awesome things I've ever done! I dream about it still sometimes! But now... well, she's our friend. They're our friends. I'll never get to fight them again.”
“Is that all?” asked Chrysalis. She looked over at Twilight, smiling and giving her a wink. “Well, how would you like another fight with some of our changelings?”
“Really? You mean it?!” cried Rainbow Dash.
“Of course. You're one of Twilight's friends. Making you happy will make her happy, yes?”
“Yes, Chrysalis,” said Twilight, touched. “I may not approve of Dash's idea of fun, but thank you for doing this for her.”
“It's nothing, my love.”
“Alright, this is awesome! When are we going to have the fight?” asked Rainbow Dash, now trotting along excitedly.
Chrysalis chuckled deeply. “Now, now. You're fighting changelings. And this isn't Canterlot, where we had to stop you from getting to the elements. No, now you're fighting on our terms. And that means never knowing when we'll strike or where we'll come from.”
“W-what?” Rainbow Dash suddenly seemed much less enthusiastic about the possibility of fighting changelings.
“Oh yes, our changelings could come at you from anywhere, at anytime. Why, they could even be outside that door right now.”
Rainbow Dash, having just pulled open the entrance to Twilight's castle, stumbled back, but the opening was devoid of changelings. Chrysalis chuckled again.
“Not this time, I guess. But maybe when you get back to your house. Or when you're sleeping. Or the next time you go shopping.” Chrysalis, grinning, bent down right into the drooping-eared pony's face. “Because that's how changelings work. You never know when we'll strike, or where, or who'll we'll be when we do. We could be anypony you see every day; your closest friend, your worst enemy, an acquaintance you pass on the street, your coworkers... or all of those ponies at once.”
Chrysalis straightened back up, still grinning down at the quaking pegasus. “But the one thing you do know is, when we do attack, you'll never see it coming.”
“I'm, uh, having second thoughts–“ Rainbow Dash started to say, and Chrysalis closed the door in her face.
“Chrysalis, I really don't want you doing anything you were just talking about,” warned Twilight, scowling.
“That pony is insolent,” huffed Chrysalis. “She seems to think our changelings are some kind of... of punching bags, for her amusement. I shall correct her misconceptions.”
“I don't want you hurting her!”
“But you're fine with her hurting our changelings?” questioned the Queen, and Twilight looked away, abashed. Chrysalis chuckled. “Don't worry, she won't be harmed. I'll let her stew for a few days, jumping at shadows. Then I will have a talk with her, during which I'm sure she will beg me to call off the attack, and I'll agree as long as she apologizes.”
“Okay, that sounds better–“
“And then the next day, that's when our changelings attack!” Chrysalis's laughter echoed up and down the halls of Twilight's castle, long and loud.
Twilight showed Chrysalis around the castle, finding the Queen's enthusiasm about her home infectious and flattering. Those feelings were tested in the bedroom, especially when Chrysalis described the bed as 'small and cozy', and alluded to how much she was looking forward to 'using it'. But any awkwardness she felt over that melted away when they peeked in on Spike and K85-348IL reading comics together in his room, laughing and chatting happily with each other.
The most humorous part of the tour to Twilight, at first, was how excited Chrysalis became when they reached the basement. She watched, bemused, as the Queen paced around the various rooms with her horn glowing.
“What are you doing, exactly?” she asked finally.
Chrysalis looked over at Twilight momentarily, smiling, before turning back to her work. “Measuring the dimensions of the basement, and sending them back to the hivemind. The engineers need to know what they have to work with, for the entrance to the new hive.”
“N-new hive?” squeaked Twilight.
“Of course. If we're going to live here, we'll need to construct a new hive for our children.” She looked back again, her smile wider this time. “We can build ourselves a new love nest, as well. Something deep and secluded, for when we want to get away from it all.”
Starting to hyperventilate, Twilight once again took refuge in considering the political and legal ramifications of the situation.
Well, the roots of the palace go down quite far and wide, so all of that land is technically mine already. And if the hive does start to spread out under the town I can always claim eminent domain. It's not like anypony actually builds anything under the town anyway, aside from Pinkie and her secret party cave. Do any zoning laws apply to underground structures in Ponyville? What would a changeling hive be zoned as, anyway? The majority of it is residential, I suppose, but there are commercial and industrial aspects to the hives as well...
She spent the next several minutes happily daydreaming about construction permits and other paperwork that needed to be filled out as Chrysalis circled the basement.
They finally ended up on the balcony, looking out over Ponyville as the sun slowly set behind the town. Chrysalis leaned on the railing, peering intently at the buildings spread out before her. Finally, she leaned back onto her haunches with a sigh.
“Your kingdom is so beautiful,” she said softly.
Twilight looked over at her. Now was the perfect moment to tell Chrysalis what was really going on. She was calm and relaxed, contemplative, almost, and if there was ever a chance to discuss things reasonably with her this was it.
“Our kingdom,” she said instead, and both she and Chrysalis blinked in surprise. But there were no feelings of panic in her chest, no imaginings of what horrors Chrysalis might bring down upon Ponyville, no foreseen disasters. Instead, she simply felt a strange confidence and comfort in knowing that the Queen would be by her side in this castle. So she said it again. “You mean our kingdom, Chrysalis.”
Chrysalis's only response was a wide, happy grin, and Twilight smiled back.
“Oh, no, let's not invite Discord to the wedding! It's not like he's one of our friends! Besides, he'd just turn the brides into geese or something.”
Discord paused in his rant. “Well, I would, but it's still insulting.”
"Chrysalis? Are you in there–yipe!"
Twilight pulled her hoof back just in time, as fangs snapped together right where it had been inside the dark cupboard.
"Well, if that's how you're going to be, maybe I won't give you any coffee," she huffed, moving away to another part of the kitchen and starting to pour a pair of cups.
There was a groan, and slowly the mighty changeling Queen emerged from the depths of the cupboard, blinking unhappily at the sunlight streaming in through the windows.
"Sorry," she said hoarsely. "It's the hiving instincts. I guess I decided to make that my new hive last night when... well, at some point last night. I can't quite remember." She glanced back into the cupboard. "There's a little bit of slime in there, but at least I didn't have any eggs to lay."
"Speaking of things you don't remember about last night..." said Twilight, passing Chrysalis a cup of coffee as she sipped on her own, "When exactly did you get my cutie mark?"
"What?" Blinking, Chrysalis turned bleary eyes to her flanks. On them were crudely tattooed replicas of the mark on Twilight's own flanks.
"Oh, that's just great," she groaned. "If that's something permanent, I'm going to have to molt again before the wedding."
She took a long slurp of her coffee, considering Twilight. "I probably got this around the time you shaved your mane and put my crown around your horn."
"What?!" Twilight ran a hoof over her head, feeling nothing but smooth fur. "Ugh, I didn't even notice because I was so busy looking for you. I hope Rarity still knows that hair-growth spell."
"So, where did you wake up?"
"In the library, where I had once again reconstructed Fort Book." Twilight grimaced. "A drunken, wobbly, unstable Fort Book, that collapsed as soon as I moved."
"Is this normally how Pinkie's parties end?" inquired Chrysalis curiously. "I'll admit, it seems like my first impression of them was completely wrong."
"Well... not exactly?" Twilight winced, then gave a toss of her head, beckoning Chrysalis to follow her as she began to walk down the main hall of the castle. "I mean, she has crazy parties. Crazy parties. But I don't usually end up so..."
"Blackout drunk?" suggested Chrysalis, drawing a frown from Twilight.
"Princesses do not get 'blackout drunk'," she sniffed, raising her nose into the air.
"Then what did you do last night?" asked Chrysalis innocently, then giggled when Twilight scowled and angrily puffed her cheeks out.
"Well it couldn't have been anything too crazy," replied Twilight. "I mean, the castle looks fine..."
Pushing open the tall front door with one hoof, Twilight trailed off as both her and Chrysalis's jaws dropped. Their mugs followed suit, shattering upon the top of the castle steps.
At some point the night before, the grounds of Twilight's castle had apparently been replaced by a battlefield. Ponies and changelings–not to mention griffons, minotaurs, yaks, and the occasional zebra–lay strewn about the lawn. The entire eastern side was blocked off by an unconscious dragon, who, to judge by the enormous divots that had been dug out of the ground, had been attempting to dance the night before. Speaking of dirt, a deep furrow led from one side of the lawn to the other, with Rainbow Dash sticking out of the end, also passed out. Further down the path to the castle, what appeared to be Luna's tail stuck out of a bush, flowing gently. Overturned tables, popped balloons, confetti, and bottles–lots and lots of bottles–were scattered about among the living beings; occasionally, in the case of the bottles, they formed mounds. In a few spots small fires burned, smoke twisting its way up into the sky.
"Remember when I talked about the battle with Tirek? This is kind of what it looked like afterwards," said Twilight faintly.
"Wasn't there..." Chrysalis peered over the wreckage, rubbing her chin in thought. "Wasn't there some kind of divider here last night? My memory of the whole thing is fuzzy, but I remember a wall between us, separating the two parties."
"Of course," said Twilight, pointing a hoof about the lawn. "See how there are planks of wood all over the place? It would have only been a temporary wall, and it must have fallen down at some point."
"My earlier question still stands," said Chrysalis. "Is this what Pinkie's parties are normally like?"
"No, no, but..." Twilight's eyes suddenly lit up, as she made a connection. "Critical mass! One party is fine by itself, you can even have two in rather close proximity. But if they combine, you get something exponentially more powerful than either of them alone. Like you said, we tore the wall down at some point, and then... boom."
"I would be very interested in knowing what happened last night," said Chrysalis, starting down the stairs. "And I know just who to ask."
To one side of the stairs was Pinkie Pie. Or rather, the back half of Pinkie Pie, sticking out of the ground. Snoring could be heard faintly, coming up through the earth. Grabbing the pony's tail with her magic, Chrysalis gave a mighty tug, only to fall back panting.
"Here, let's try together," said Twilight, trotting up next to the Queen.
They both wrapped their magic around Pinkie's tail, and, straining, yanked her out of the ground, showering dirt in every direction.
"Now we–oh, my." Chrysalis stopped as she got a look at Pinkie's face, which sported a full, bushy beard and glorious handlebar mustache.
"Ah," Twilight chuckled weakly. "That would be me. She always asks me to cast that facial hair spell on her, and I always refuse. Unless I'm really drunk. She must have taken advantage of that last night."
"Hmm. Would you ever use such a spell on me?"
"Of course not, I wouldn't want to ruin your face," said Twilight absently, inspecting Pinkie. She missed the beaming smile Chrysalis turned on her, as she gave Pinkie a few shakes. All that did was make the beard flop up and down, and momentarily increase the volume of Pinkie's snores.
"I don't think we're going to get any help from her," said Twilight, lowering the party pony back down to the grass. "At least not until she wakes up. Come on, let's see who else we can find."
They had only gone a few steps before Chrysalis stopped, eyes wide and staring. "What is that?" she asked, pointing at a pile of scales, fins and orangeish ponies.
"Well, that would appear to be Sunset Shimmer, a couple of Flash Sentries, aaaaaaand the Sirens," said Twilight, voice full of mock cheeriness.
"The Sirens?" spat Chrysalis, disgust suddenly on her face. "I know what you're going to say, but can't we–"
"Chrysalis, we've talked about this–"
"They're anti-changelings, Twilight! They spread hatred to feed off of, and we eat love! It has to be either us... or them."
"Chrysalis, you are the last one to be upset about reformed villains. Well, I assume they're reformed, or Sunset wouldn't have brought them. Unless she did it after getting really drunk." Twilight shrugged. "In any case, they're her responsibility now, and I trust her to keep them in check. And even if she doesn't, we destroyed the crystals they get their powers from, so they should be completely harmless now."
"You promise that pony can keep them under control?" asked Chrysalis finally, after a furious silence.
"Yes, Chrysalis," replied Twilight, with an inaudible sigh of relief.
"And they'll stay locked on the other side of that portal? From now on, at least."
"And after they go back we can push all the mirrors off a cliff and burn that book you used as a link?"
"We're not going to go quite that far, sorry."
They trudged further up the path leading from Twilight's castle, winding their way around unconscious beings of various races, the remains of the annihilated divider, and pools of... well, they didn't look too closely at what those were pools of.
Twilight sighed as she experienced the ruins of her lawn up close, but took comfort in the fact that she'd signed the Pinkie Party Contract. That guaranteed that any property damage resulting from a party would be personally fixed by Pinkie, and was in fact the only reason Pinkie was once again allowed to serve alcohol at her parties after many years. Twilight was grateful for that contract in more ways than one; drawing up the template for it had cemented her friendship with the party pony.
"My idea didn't work out so well. What now?" inquired Queen Chrysalis as they walked.
"Simple," said Twilight, nodding at the flowing blue tail sticking out of a bush some distance down the path. "We'll just ask Luna."
"An excellent plan. I wouldn't mind talking to Moon Princess again–I mean Princess Luna," Chrysalis quickly corrected herself, wilting under Twilight's glare. "I'm sure she'll be able–"
"Oh thank goodness, you two are here!" called out a voice off to their side.
Twilight and Chrysalis stopped and stared, then walked over curiously. A curving metal pole stuck out of the ground, a golden bird cage hanging from the hook on its end. When they drew near, they saw a tiny Discord standing inside, clutching at the bars.
"So, if you could help me–"
"What are you even doing here?" demanded Twilight. "I don't remember inviting you, and I'm sure Chrysalis didn't either."
"We call the time he ruled 'The Great Famine', so that's a no from me as well," said Chrysalis dryly.
"I may have crashed your parties a tiny bit," said Discord, holding the fingers of his hand apart so they were barely touching, which made the gap invisible at his size. "And I may have tried to turn the pony–and changeling–of honor at the parties into certain waterfowl–"
"And that's why you didn't get an invite," said Twilight, rolling her eyes.
"You need to at least fix this!" cried Discord indignantly. "You two cast some sort of shield spell that reflected my magic, and it did this to me!"
Chrysalis and Twilight looked at each other, wordless communication passing between them, then they turned as one and continued on their way.
"Oh, you're... you're going to get help?" asked Discord desperately. "O-okay, I'll just... I'll just wait here."
Hurrying along, the two managed to make it to the bush with Luna in it without being distracted by any of the other various hints at the previous night's debauchery.
"Finally," sighed Twilight, poking the body in the bush with her hoof. "Luna, we need–"
Nightmare Moon rose from the bush, midnight black and clad in silver-blue armor as always. Twilight and Chrysalis retreated several steps, moving together in mutual support and shock. Looking down at them, Nightmare Moon's lips curled back in a snarl.
"Bleeeeeah!" she cried, sticking her tongue out and then pulling it back in to smack her lips distastefully. "Ugh, Darkness, what did I do last night?"
She peered with bleary, bloodshot eyes at the pony and changeling pressed up against each other. "This is what you like? This sun?" she croaked, gesturing at the sky with a hoof. "Sitting up there, trying to kill us with all that light... augh, my head hurts so much..."
"Y-you..." Twilight tried to say.
"Yes, yes, you want to stop me from bringing eternal night and all that," sighed Nightmare Moon, rolling her eyes and making a dismissive gesture with her hoof, then groaning and putting that same hoof to her forehead. "Look, I can't deal with you while I've got a hangover like this. Let's just call the battle off for now, yes? I'm going to go merge back with Luna."
She stepped out of the bush on wobbling legs, unfurled her wings, and took off, flying unsteadily back towards Canterlot.
"So... that was Nightmare Moon," said Chrysalis, as the two slowly moved apart.
"And she can apparently just come and go as she pleases."
"...want to just pretend we didn't see that?"
"Absolutely," said Twilight emphatically, then sighed. "Although now we're back to square one."
"Yes, it would help if someone had taken pictures last night."
"No–well, yes, that would help, which is why I'm pointing out that there's a camera over there."
Twilight looked in the direction Chrysalis was indicating, where a camera lay on the ground next to a tree. They galloped over in a rush, Twilight scooping the camera up in her magic.
"I'm not sure why a camera would just be laying here, but–"
A snore from above interrupted her. Looking up, they saw Photo Finish hanging upside down from a branch in the tree.
"Okay, now I really want to see what's on this thing."
There was silence as Twilight turned on the camera's screen and began to page through the stored photos from the night before.
"Well, it just looks like a typical Pinkie Party so far," said Twilight after the first few pictures.
"Yes, although I'm surprised by your drinking abilities," replied Chrysalis, grinning. "I've never seen someone do a reverse keg stand before."
"Then you've never seen Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns after finals week," said Twilight, nose in the air. "And you've never seen what magic-using grad students do when they want to blow off some steam."
She flipped through a few more photos, then froze.
"That looks like you with a stripper," said Chrysalis, with a little giggle. "A tall, white, female stripper. One who looks a lot like a Princess I know–"
"I-I just spent a lot of time around her growing up, and maybe I had kind of a crush on her as a teenager, and hey let's look at some more pictures–" Twilight stopped. "And that looks like you with a stripper," she growled. "A white, male, unicorn stripper."
"I can explain–" Chrysalis started to say. "Wait, I don't have to explain anything to you! Your party had strippers too–"
"Yes, but mine didn't look like someone I almost married! Or like someone you're related to!"
"No, you know what? Never mind." Twilight sniffed and started flipping through pictures again, mouth tight and eyes narrowed.
"Are you mad?" asked Chrysalis after a moment. There was no response. "You're mad, aren't you? You seem mad."
"No!" snapped Twilight "Why would I be mad? If anything, I'm surprised. Surprised that you're still here, seeing how my brother is right there in Canterlot and you find him so attractive–"
"Come on, you know that's not true. I mean, I even left him for you–"
This time both froze as a new picture came up on the camera.
A few more photos scrolled by in silence.
"I think we've identified the moment when things went out of control," said Twilight carefully.
"That may be an understatement."
"I, um, apologize for what I was saying before." Twilight's face was now bright red, as she tried to look away from the camera screen. Her gaze kept being drawn back, though.
"Oh, don't mention it," said Chrysalis, the chitin on her face darkening as she blushed and tried futilely to avert her gaze as well.
Twilight started flipping through the pictures at a constant rate, trying her best not to tarry too long on any one photo. Even then, there were still times when she couldn't resist, as the camera seemed to contain more debauchery than either pony or changeling had seen–which was saying something, considering how long Chrysalis had been around and the things she had done to feed. There were still times, though, when Twilight stopped the slide-show out of fascination and sheer morbid curiosity.
"I never knew Fluttershy was so flexible!"
"Applejack looks surprised too."
A few more pictures went by.
"Our changelings do a nice chorus line."
"Well, it's not like coordination is a problem."
Another dozen or so photos passed.
"I guess your teacher decided to join the party."
"Look at her go! I suppose she wasn't able to drink while Luna was banished, and she must have stayed sober out of habit afterwards. This was probably the first time in over a thousand years that she's had a drink."
A few photos later...
"Huh. Looks like she wants to teach you something besides magic."
Two pictures after that...
"Well, that's not me that she's got her wing around!"
There was a moment of silence as the next set of pictures came up on the screen.
"Okay... there's when Nightmare Moon showed up..."
"And there's Celestia confronting her..."
Twilight flipped forward one image, and her and Chrysalis's eyes shrunk to pinpricks, their manes standing on end.
"It looks like they're–!"
"Are they really–?!"
The last few pictures flew past.
"Is that even legal?!"
"I-I don't know!"
"It doesn't look legal!"
"She's a Princess; maybe it's legal if you're a Princess?!"
"Does that mean we could do something like that?!"
"I don't know!"
There was another moment of silence.
"No one can ever see these pictures," said Twilight finally, her tone definite. "It's a good thing I dropped the camera."
"You did?" asked Chrysalis.
"Yes." Twilight let her magic fade, and the camera fell to the ground with a thump. "And then you accidentally stepped on it."
Dutifully, Chrysalis stomped her hoof down on the camera, smashing it apart and then grinding the pieces into the dirt.
"And then it started on fire."
They both lit up their horns, and flames began crackling among the shattered wreckage of the camera.
"I guess now nopony will ever know what happened last night..."
They stood silently, looking back out over the devastation the party had wreaked upon Twilight's lawn the night before.
"We're still going to hire Pinkie for our next party, though, right?" asked Chrysalis after a moment.
“Is my headdress on straight? It isn't on straight, is it? Why isn't it straight?! Why aren't you fixing it?!”
“I can't fix it... because you won't... stand still!” panted Rarity, trying to catch Chrysalis as the changeling galloped around the dressing room in a panic, gown trailing behind her. Desperately, Rarity tried to use her magic to slow Chrysalis by grabbing her tail.
The only effect this had was to cause Chrysalis to drag Rarity behind her, right up until the Queen made a sharp turn and started running in the opposite direction. Rarity was flung across the room, her magical grip slipping off, and she landed in a pile of ponikins up against one wall.
“Oof!” Rarity managed to dig her way out, upside down, only to be met with the disapproving glare of the Queen as she loomed above.
“While I appreciate your gift of these dresses, I wish you would take my concerns a little more seriously,” said Chrysalis snidely, looking down her nose at Rarity. “I'm trying to make sure all your hard work looks good, but you seem to just be napping in a pile of... some kind of pony-shaped pillows?”
“If you would just hold still for three seconds–“ Rarity started to snarl, then stopped and took a deep breath. Element of generosity, element of generosity, she reminded herself silently.
“I'm trying to help you, dear,” she said, standing up and patting her mane back into place with practiced ease, “But I can't do that if you keep running all over the room.”
Finally managing to get her hooves on the Queen, Rarity held her in place and inspected the headdress resting on top of her head. Despite having just finished galloping laps around the room, and the fact that she was now prancing in place, Chrysalis's headdress was still tightly fastened to her head, its gauze flowing down and twisting through her hair.
“It looks just fine,” said Rarity confidently.
“You're sure? I thought it looked crooked,” said Chrysalis, worry audible in her voice.
“Chrysalis, that thing is pinned to your head so securely you could get flung from the castle–again–and it would stay on. A theory I am sorely tempted to test,” huffed Rarity. “Stop worrying.”
“Okay, okay, I-I'll try,” replied Chrysalis meekly, the sound of her hooves still tapping on the floor under her dress giving lie to that statement. “I just want it to look right. I want everything to look right. This day has to be perfect.”
“I don't know what you're so worried about,” said Rarity, spotting a gem on the gown that had come loose during the Queen's jog. Retrieving a needle and thread, she worked on repairing it as she talked. “I mean, you're already married to Twilight. This is just a ceremony for show, a celebration so all of us can be a part of your happiness.”
“Yes, but... but...” The pace of her prancing picked up, and Rarity put a hoof on Chrysalis's back, more to hold her in place so she could do her work than to comfort her.
“I just need everything to go right today,” said Chrysalis finally. “It's... it's important. You said it's a ceremony, a way for all of you to join in, but that means if something goes wrong, it will happen in front of all you. In front of all of Twilight's friends and family. If something happens, if the wedding gets ruined, she might call the whole marriage off. She might leave me, and... and I don't know what I would do then.”
“Chrysalis...” Rarity smiled at the changeling, her heart melting at such a romantic display. “Twilight would never do that. I see the way she looks at you when you're together; you drive her absolutely crazy.”
“You really think so?” sniffed Chrysalis, turning a pleading look on the fashion pony.
“Definitely. Why, even if she wasn't in love with you anymore, I doubt she would ever even admit it. Not now that she's married to you. The poor dear doesn't have the heart to do something as cruel as that.”
“It wouldn't matter if she stopped loving me,” declared Chrysalis, raising her head high. “I would make her love me again, no matter what it would take. I would bring out all my armies to raze any foe separating us, I would tear down any barrier keeping us apart with my own fangs, I would storm Tartarus itself, just to get her back.”
“That's, ah, the spirit,” said Rarity with a small cough, snipping off the last thread and moving to put her tools away. “Now, while we're on the subject of love, I was wondering if there might be any updates to that little matter we discussed...”
“Why, it turns out Prince Blueblood may have a long-lost twin brother,” said Chrysalis, an innocent smile on her face. “His name might be, let's say, Prince Greenblood?”
“Hmm, not as catchy as Blueblood, but I can work with it,” said Rarity, grinning.
Deep breaths, deep breaths, DEEP BREATHS.
“Twilight, would you please hold still?” asked Sassy Saddles desperately. “I'm trying to straighten your headdress, and I can't do it with you panting like this.”
“What are you... talking about?” gasped Twilight, a strained smile on her face. “I'm just... breathing like... I always do–“
“You're panicking,” said Night Light, smiling and putting a hoof on her shoulder. “Which is a perfectly normal reaction to have when you're about to get married.”
“But she's already married, isn't she?” asked Sassy, as she used a rag to wipe more sweat off Twilight's brow.
“Well, yes, but this is different. It's a large ceremony, with all of her friends and family present, not to mention her mentor, her mentor's sister, all of the elite of Canterlot, what seems to be a good portion of her wife's hive...”
All of them staring at me, watching as I marry Chrysalis. And if I do anything wrong, if I really do freak out and lose it and let Chrysalis know how I really feel, it will happen in front of basically everybody we know, not to mention all of Canterlot and her hive, and all of Equestria by the next day, and if I thought she was going to react badly before it's nothing compared to what will happen if I humiliate her today in front of the entire world...
Now she was really panting, on the verge of hyperventilating, until her father put his hoof under her chin and gently moved her head to face him.
“I know it's not going to help, but I'm still going to tell you there's nothing to be worried about,” he said, smiling. “You do love her, don't you?”
“I... yes, I do,” she replied. It was disturbing how much easier speaking that untruth had become over time.
“Then don't worry. Everything will work out fine in the end, you'll see.” He chuckled. “You know, I had cold hooves myself. I actually climbed out a window just before the ceremony and almost ran away!”
“You did?!” gasped Twilight. She was so shocked she froze, staring at him, and Sassy Saddles took the opportunity to start adjusting her headdress again. “I never heard anything like that! What happened?”
Night Light smiled, caught up in the hazy nostalgia of a happy memory. “As I galloped around the church, I caught a glimpse of your mother through a window. She looked so beautiful in her dress... it reminded me of all the reasons why I'd proposed to her in first place. So I turned around and went right back to my own dressing room."
Twilight just gaped at him, and he laughed. "You know, they say seeing the bride in her dress before the wedding is bad luck, but it's brought me nothing but good luck. Because it stopped me from making the biggest mistake of my life, and helped me stop my son from almost doing the same... and now my daughter, too."
That finally put an expression on Twilight's face that wasn't surprise or terror, and she giggled. "Shining tried to run out on Cadance?!" she said, trying to smother her laughter with a hoof.
"Technically, he didn't just try," said Night Light with a wink. "I saw the signs beforehoof, and I was waiting outside his window when he climbed down."
"Oh, I am going to hold that over his head forever! He'll have to do what I say, or I'll go straight to Cadance!"
"You could do that," said her father, nodding, "Of course, then he could go to Chrysalis and tell her how panicked you were getting before your wedding."
"If it takes a little mutually assured destruction to keep my children in line, I'll have to make that sacrifice," Night Light said, sighing dramatically.
"Fine," Twilight growled out between clenched teeth.
Night Light chuckled, then gave Twilight a pat on the shoulder. "Felling better now?" he asked.
"Dad, listen..." began Twilight hesitantly.
I don't love her! part of her mind screamed. This was all a huge misunderstanding and I made a mistake in not telling Chrysalis that in the first place! But I went along with it because I was afraid, and now I'm stuck choosing between breaking the heart of someone I really care about and going through with a loveless marriage! Which has benefits politically and honestly the idea has been starting to grow on me, but I feel like it's all out of my control and everything just keeps getting worse and worse and... and I just want my Mom and my Dad to please make it all go away!
For a moment, those desperate words danced on the tip of her tongue, until finally she swallowed them.
What had happened was her mess to clean up, or live with, and as a Princess it was her responsibility to do so herself. Besides, it had been a long time since she'd gone crying to her parents to fix all her problems. Almost as long ago, she realized, as it had been since the day the Princess had taken her under her wing.
Instead, she just said, "Thank you, Dad. For everything," and pulled him into a hug with one foreleg.
"That's my little Princess," he said, the old pet name–now literally true–making her giggle. "Now, are you ready to get married?"
"I..." Twilight took a deep breath. "You know what? I think I am."
Those words were still in her head, mocking her, as she waited for the ceremony to begin. She was fully dressed, waiting outside the hall, while Chrysalis stood inside at the altar and the guests finished filtering in. Her panic hadn't returned to its previous level, but there was still a pit of nerves tying itself into knots in her stomach.
"I see you're nice and calm," said a voice in the doorway, and Twilight turned in surprise to find Shining Armor with a smile on his face.
"Shiney!" she cried happily, trotting over as best she could in the gown.
"Just came by to say good luck, and make sure you weren't trying to fly out a window like Dad said you were."
"I haven't even tried to climb out the window yet," she replied, sticking out her tongue. "I heard you made it out though."
"So Dad did tell you, huh?" he said, grimacing. "Fine. Truce, then?"
"Truce." Twilight shuffled her hooves nervously. "So, is Cadance still...?"
"Still stuck in the Crystal Empire," said Shining with a sigh. "She said she'd kill to be here right now, but, well..."
"Running an empire is busy work, I know," said Twilight, nodding sadly. "Still, I wish she could be here. I mean, wedding, Princess of Love, all that."
"Don't worry about it, I'm sure she has something huge planned for you two," said Shining Armor with a grin, then turned as the sounds of an organ warming up began to vibrate throughout the building. "Whoops, I better get to my seat. Good luck, Twilight. I mean, not that you need or anything, you're already married, but still."
The next few minutes seemed to last forever, and then, far too soon, her father came to get her and they were standing in front of the large doors leading into the wedding hall. The organ started playing the wedding march, and, taking her hoof in one of his, her father pushed the doors open with his magic and began to lead her down the aisle. Twilight made it one step and then halted, as she caught sight of Chrysalis standing at the altar.
Chrysalis's dress resembled the one Twilight herself wore. Both were of white silk, ruffled at the neckline, flowing up and over their tails to cascade down in waves to a short train ragged with holes, much like a changeling's mane and tail. Gems woven into the fabric of the gowns crisscrossed their bodies, in alternating green and magenta hues.
But that was where the similarities ended. Chrysalis's headdress was a gorgeous silver crown that fit to the shape of her head, curling around her horn and winding halfway up it. The headdress was held on by thin chains of silver, which disappeared in a complex net that wove its way through the mass of curled braids that her mane had become. Streamers of gauze, colored the purple and magenta of the stripes in Twilight's hair, were also woven throughout her mane.
Twilight's headdress, on the other hoof, was a series of emeralds laid across her forehead, dangling from golden chains much the same as Chrysalis's silver ones. An offshoot of the chain spiraled up her horn, where another emerald hung from its tip. The rest ran back over the top of her mane, holding it down flat against her skull and then encasing the long, thick braid her mane had been woven into before also ending in emeralds. And, much like her wife, streamers of gauze had been braided into her mane, though hers were the color of Chrysalis's hair.
And her wings...
Twilight's wings were decorated in a fairly simple style, with strips of green silk threaded between her feathers holding on a gilded runner of lace along the leading edges.
But on Chrysalis's back were large pieces of some iridescent material that shimmered like her gossamer wings. Through some trick, possibly Chrysalis slightly fanning her own wings as they lay down across her back, the faux wings were constantly flowing through the air. Twilight couldn't even tell which were her wings and which were part of the dress.
As Twilight entered the room, a shaft of light–from a sun perhaps a little too perfectly positioned–came in through the hall windows and centered right on Chrysalis. Between the light glinting off her headdress and the light refracting through her wings, she lit up like the most splendid Hearths Warming tree Twilight had ever seen.
After a long moment, Night Light leaned over.
"You may want to close your mouth, dear," he said, then gave her hoof a gentle tug. "And I believe we're supposed to be walking down the aisle."
With only a slight stumble, Twilight managed to start moving again, albeit in a daze as she was unable to take her eyes off Chrysalis. She climbed the steps to the altar, a tremble in her hooves, and Chrysalis finally looked over as Twilight came to a shaky halt next to her.
"Chrysalis..." breathed Twilight, as the changeling looked down at her from half-lowered, slowly blinking eyes, a serene smile on her face. "You... your dress..."
"You look beautiful too, my love," said Chrysalis, her smile widening.
"Are you two ready for us to began?" asked Luna, and Twilight turned, blinking in surprise. She hadn't even noticed Luna and Celestia standing before them at the altar.
"Of course," said Chrysalis with a small bow of her head.
"Y-yes," Twilight managed to stammer out.
"Very well," said Celestia, giving them a beaming smile, and then raising her head to include everyone in the hall in its glow. "Dearly beloved..."
It was, Twilight heard later, a very beautiful ceremony. The tales of it that were carried out to the city and beyond went a long way towards accelerating the ponies acceptance of the changelings. Celestia's praise of Chrysalis's willingness to merge her kingdom with Equestria, even as a minor partner, certainly made an impact. So too did Luna's monologue on the power of love to light up even the darkest of hearts, a message that, given her history, was lost on no one. While neither point was exactly true, Twilight decided it was best overall to just let that slide.
But then, she never heard either speech completely, only in fragments and through second-hand retellings in newspapers. She spent the whole ceremony completely captivated by Chrysalis, unable to tear her eyes away from the changeling, Celestia and Luna's voices just a dull hum in the background. The only thing that finally caught her attention was hearing her own name.
"And do you, Princess Twilight Sparkle, take Queen Chrysalis Bladequeen to be your lawfully wedded wife, for as long as you both may walk this world?" asked Celestia, gazing solemnly at Twilight.
"I do," answered Twilight without hesitation, hardly aware she was even doing so.
"Then, if there are any who would oppose this union, let them speak now or forever hold their peace."
Twilight's eyes widened, and she turned slightly, to get a better look at the crowd.
Her side of the aisle consisted mostly of friends and family, of course. This also now included K85-348IL, who had attached himself somewhat permanently to Spike. Sunset Shimmer and Starlight Glimmer were there also–though the Sirens were not, a fact for which Twilight was grateful. She had decided not to bring them up, and Sunset hadn't mentioned them either. Moondancer, Minuette and Lyra had come to wish her luck as well, Minuette and Lyra even despite their experiences at Chrysalis's last wedding. Twilight made a note in her mind to have Chrysalis apologize for that at the reception.
A good deal of her 'guests', though, were Canterlot elite. She hadn't particularly wanted to invite them, but as a Princess there were certain social responsibilities she had to fulfill. Considering how Chrysalis had treated them while imitating Cadance, snubbing them now would start things off on quite the wrong hoof, especially with the changeling having become their newest Princess.
So they had been invited as well, despite the fact that very few of them were actually happy for her or would truly congratulate her on the wedding. If anything, most of the nobles viewed the wedding as a loss on their part, since it meant she was now unavailable to marry them or one of their relatives. And on top of that, there was now another Princess, who was also a changeling, over them in the hierarchy of Equestria. So it was from this quarter that Twilight had expected to hear objections.
Instead, while there was a bit of muttering that manifested itself as a low murmur, no one actually said anything out loud. Twilight turned back to the altar, somewhat surprised by the nobles' reactions. Perhaps they didn't disapprove of the marriage as much as she'd believed, or perhaps Celestia and Luna's speeches had swayed some of their thoughts.
Or perhaps it had to do with the fact that Chrysalis's side of the aisle was packed tight with changelings, all of them radiating a very definite sense of approval with the ceremony.
"Very well. Then by my power, I hereby pronounce you wives," said Celestia, a warm smile blossoming on her face. "You may now kiss."
Kiss?! thought Twilight frantically. I completely forgot we have to–
Chrysalis wrapped a gentle hoof around her neck and bent down, and Twilight's mind suddenly stopped as Chrysalis kissed her. Her lips shouldn't be so soft, was the last thought she had before they all faded away. Not with all that chitin...
This wasn't the simple peck on the lips the changeling had given her when they first came to Canterlot. Chrysalis's mouth pressed firmly against Twilight's, slightly open, needy and wanting. Not greedy, though; what little kissing back Twilight did, Chrysalis took and returned happily. Twilight couldn't help herself; her eyes fell closed, her wings fluttered by themselves, and she just let herself go with the moment.
After a time, Chrysalis finally pulled back. Twilight stood in place, swaying slightly, looking up into Chrysalis's eyes as the changeling gazed back. And, for an endless moment, that was all that mattered.
She didn't notice the wedding guests cheering and stomping their hooves, didn't hear Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom going off overhead, didn't see the Wonderbolts who had been pacing Dash turn into changelings and tackle her.
For just that moment, her entire world consisted of Chrysalis.
Twilight was doing her best to remember that moment later that night.
The reception had gone just fine. There had been cake and congratulations and a lot of dancing. She'd been surprised to find that Chrysalis was an even worse dancer than she herself was. Not in Twilight's 'nearby ponies fear for their safety' way, but in a 'stand in place swaying slightly with a look of almost utter terror on your face and claim that's dancing' way. So Twilight had been the one to take control, leading the stiff-legged Queen around the dance floor during their obligatory slow dance. It had been nice, in a way; the Queen was usually so demanding that taking charge in something was a welcome change of pace. And the almost desperate way Chrysalis had thanked her afterwards had brought a pleased blush to the pony's face.
There had also been a cake, a typically Pinkie cake that looked as though it shouldn't physically be capable of supporting its own weight. In similar Pinkie fashion, the wedding figures on top had originally been of a somewhat more... explicit nature than good taste would allow. Luckily Twilight had seen the cake while the reception was still being set up, and that little incident had been prevented before it could start.
Most of the ponies she had talked to at the reception had faded from her memory quickly, being little more than introductions and congratulations. The one meeting that had stuck out had been the Princesses.
"You look like me at the Gala," said a voice behind Twilight, causing her to spin around in surprise.
"Princess Celestia!" she cried, starting to get up from her seat in the center of the reception hall so she could bow, only to stopped by a shake of the monarch's head and a gentle smile.
"You need to learn that you don't have to bow to me anymore, Princess," Celestia chided, giving her a quick nuzzle and taking a seat in a nearby chair. "Besides, this is your day. If I'm coming to congratulate you on having a wonderful wife and give you heartfelt wishes for many happy years to come, I'm the one who should be bowing."
"Oh. T-Thank you, Princess," said Twilight nervously.
"You are welcome of course, my faithful student." Celestia quirked an eyebrow upwards. "Though I'll admit, I also came to see what was able to tear Luna away from my side during one of the social events she hates so much."
Twilight followed Celestia's gaze, to the spot a few tables away where Luna and Chrysalis were chatting.
"It's good to see Luna find someone she can really call a friend," said Celestia wistfully. "Most still find her frightening, and her somewhat brusque nature intimidates even those who know she has left the Nightmare behind."
"They do seem to enjoy each other's company," said Twilight. Her eyes went wide as she saw Chrysalis, who had been talking animatedly, suddenly began making motions as though she were throttling a pony. Luna's reaction, however, was to laugh gaily and nod. "Although I can't imagine what they're talking about."
"Perhaps about how being feared doesn't mean one can't be loved," said Celestia softly, watching them. "Or, on the other hoof, about how one doesn't need to fear being loved for being oneself."
She had said no more, and at some point had slipped away.
Twilight began to feel the first tinkling of nerves when she saw the chariot Chrysalis had arranged to take them back to the castle. But the ride itself had been innocent enough; Chrysalis had simply curled herself around Twilight on the lavish seat cushion, silent aside from the occasional humming.
When the chariot had dropped them off and the pegasi were winging their way back to Canterlot, the two 'newlyweds' slowly climbed the stairs to the castle doors. At that point, Chrysalis had stopped Twilight, refusing to let her enter unless she would let the changeling carry her inside. Twilight had balked, knowing full well what that tradition was a precursor to, but Chrysalis had refused to back down and the pony had eventually surrendered.
Sitting snugly on Chrysalis's admittedly comfortable back, Twilight's suspicions had been confirmed when the changeling hadn't let her off once crossing the threshold of the castle and instead had started climbing stairs, heading determinedly for the bedroom.
Twilight hadn't gone into full-on panic mode, though. She'd dealt with this the first night they'd slept in the same bed, she'd actually thought she'd have had to deal with it far sooner, and there was even a bit of something that was almost anticipation, a curiosity about what kind of lover Chrysalis would be.
But the nerves were still there, because the key word was lover. She didn't love Chrysalis. Respected her, liked her, enjoyed spending time with her, admired her even–but not loved. She'd only known her, the real her, for a short time, despite the years that had passed since their first meeting. And even then, there was still too much 'Evil Queen Chrysalis' to her at times. Twilight could put up with that, she could tolerate it even. Especially when the Queen cared enough to listen to what she said and agree to the compromises she suggested. But there were still times when she didn't trust Chrysalis, still didn't quite believe all of this was true... times when she couldn't forget the Chrysalis she had known for so long.
Twilight frowned slightly when she saw the doors to her bedroom past Chrysalis's neck. Why were they closed? She only really closed them when she was sleeping, there was no reason why they should be closed now–and then Chrysalis pushed the doors open with one hoof and Twilight saw why.
The magical crystals that lit the rooms of her castle had been turned off here, to allow candles to light the room. Dozens of candles filled the chamber, on every available piece of furniture, all of them black with brightly burning green flames. And scattered about the floor and covering the bed were lavender petals, forming a trail that Chrysalis slowly carried her across.
How did she know my favorite flower? thought Twilight numbly, then had to resist an urge to smack herself in the face. Of course Chrysalis knew, she probably knew more about Twilight than Twilight did herself. She did have an army of shape-shifting spies at her beck and call. Guiltily, Twilight realized she didn't know Chrysalis's favorite flower, or if she even liked flowers.
"You wait right here," purred Chrysalis, depositing Twilight into a pile of petals on the bed and giving her a kiss on the forehead. "I'm going to go change into something more... appropriate."
She paused on her way to the powder room, looking back at Twilight with smoldering half-lidded eyes. "You can change out of your dress too if you want. But it might be more fun if I have to rip it off." And with that she was gone.
Twilight took off the dress with little internal debate, mostly because she did a good job at not letting the pro-keeping-the-dress-on side speak up, and focused instead on how Rarity would feel if Twilight let one of her dresses get ruined.
Chrysalis returned much sooner than Twilight had expected, and she had to bite her lip to keep her mouth from falling open as the changeling sauntered her way across the bedroom. By 'something more appropriate', she had apparently meant something that was all black lace and garters, with a fuzzy saddle that fit across her back. Twilight, having been in the back room of Carousel Boutique more than once, recognized that style of design; apparently the wedding gowns hadn't been the only gift Rarity had to give.
Twilight lay still on the bed, quivering slightly, as Chrysalis walked up and slid next to her. For a moment, the truth hovered on the tip of her tongue. But then Chrysalis's lips met hers, and Twilight let her eyes slip closed.
The changeling didn't linger on her lips for long. She moved up, kissing along Twilight's muzzle, on each of her closed eyes, letting her lips brush softly against the alicorn's horn. One of Chrysalis's hooves came up, caressing Twilight's ear, and she raised her head to lean into it. When she did, Chrysalis moved down, planting kisses all along her exposed neck, making her let out a small moan.
Kisses along Twilight's neck eventually turned into a trail of kisses that led down her barrel to her belly, and then slowly started moving even further down. Twilight began to pant, her wings stretching out beneath her. Chrysalis ran her hooves over the wings, pressing the feathers down into the bed, creating a delightful tension as their shafts pulled against the skin of the wings.
Chrysalis paused her kisses just below Twilight's stomach, then moved back up, following her earlier path of kisses in reverse, and Twilight groaned in frustration. That turned into a moan as Chrysalis let her sharp teeth scrape against Twilight's neck while kissing, and then she took advantage of that moan to press her lips over Twilight's and slip her tongue into the pony's mouth.
Twilight's eyes popped open in shock. She had kept them closed the entire time, forgetting who it was bringing her all this pleasure, just letting herself get lost in the moment. But Chrysalis's tongue slithering against hers broke that illusion; the changeling's tongue was long and thin, slightly rounded, not wide and flat like a pony's. And, of course, it was forked, the whip-like ends flickering around and tickling her tongue.
Feeling that alien organ in her mouth shocked her back to reality, and when she looked up all she saw was Queen Chrysalis–the dreaded Queen Chrysalis, her worst enemy–kissing her deeply. The image only lasted a moment before her memories reasserted themselves, but it was enough to make Twilight cringe back and let out a whimper.
And that moment was enough to make Chrysalis open her own eyes, see the distress on her love's face, and break off the kiss, pulling back.
"Twilight?" she asked softly, laying a gentle hoof on the pony's shoulder, "Is something wrong?"
Twilight looked up at her, lips quivering.
She was no stranger to sex–there were other things the post-grads at Celestia's school did to blow off steam besides drinking, and of course there had been that one spa trip with Rarity where things had maybe gotten a bit out of control, though in a good way–but all of that was different. They had just been flings, done for fun, done for relaxation, done for friendship.
Chrysalis loved her, though. And she didn't love Chrysalis. To make love to Chrysalis like this would be unfair to her, would be a betrayal of her love, would almost be cheating on her in a way. It would be the culmination of all the lies Twilight had told, the final ultimate lie everything she'd done had been leading up to... and she couldn't do it.
That realization was the last straw. All the deceit, all the tension, all the sheer stress of the last few weeks broke free at once. Instead of answering, Twilight burst into tears, turning away and burying her face in a pillow as she sobbed.
Chrysalis's jaw fell open in shocked dismay, her eyes darting back and forth as she sought some reason for this display. Finding none, she simply moved forward to embrace Twilight, holding her in place with one hoof when she tried to squirm away. Her other hoof stroked Twilight's mane as she buried her face in it, making soft, soothing sounds.
Twilight had a good, long cry, soaking the pillow with her tears. Chrysalis stayed right behind her, hooves wrapped around her body, squeezing her tighter every time it seemed like her sobbing was ramping back up. Ironically, each display of care and affection only made her want to cry more.
Finally, Twilight's weeping tapered off, ending with a last few hiccups. She turned slowly, to look at the changeling who was still holding her in her hooves..
"Chrysalis..." she said slowly. "I... I have to tell you something..."
"Go ahead," said Chrysalis, an encouraging smile on her face. "You can tell me anything. You know that."
Looking at that smile made her heart feel like it was being squeezed in a vice, but Twilight took a deep breath. She'd already hurt Chrysalis by letting things go this far; even if it hurt now, hurt them both, it was better than letting it linger.
"Chrysalis... I don't love you."
It was as bad as she'd expected. Chrysalis's face went ashen, her eyes widening with a look of desperation and horror in them. She pushed herself backwards on the bed, shaking her head unsteadily in denial.
"No... no, Twilight, please," she pleaded. "Whatever I did, whatever happened, I'm sorry. W-was I pushing things too fast? I just thought you'd be more comfortable in your own castle, I thought you'd feel it was more private than the hive... we don't have to make love, we can just cuddle, o-or talk, or go to sleep–"
"Chrysalis... Chrysalis, no." Twilight took another deep breath. "I never loved you."
The changeling pushed herself up, face drawn and haggered, her breath coming in harsh, ragged gasps. She tried to back away, but her trembling legs collapsed as soon as she put weight on them and she fell down onto the edge of the bed. Her head dropped, as though her neck were unable to hold its weight up, and her face disappeared from Twilight's sight as her hair fell to mask it.
"I don't understand," she said finally, her voice a miserable whimper, her body shuddering.
"That day, in the hive, when you explained to me what changeling courtship rituals were, when you told me how we were married... that was the first time I'd ever heard any of that."
A strangled gasp came from behind the curtain of hair, but Twilight forced herself to continue.
"I was terrified of you, Chrysalis. When you... when you married me, I thought you were really going to kill me. I thought you were going to kill me, and take my place, and hurt everyone I knew and loved. From the moment we first met, everything you did, everything you said... I thought you meant it all. I thought you hated me, and that you really wanted to hurt me.
"And... I hated you. I thought you were a monster. Everything I said to you, every insult, every bit of hate I spewed back at you... I meant it all. I wanted you gone from Equestria, gone from my life. If I'd ever managed to turn the Elements of Harmony on you, I would have gladly turned you to stone, or locked you in the ice of the frozen North, or whatever the Elements would have done to defeat you... and I would have been glad."
With each statement Twilight made, with each admission of what her true feelings towards Chrysalis had been, the changeling flinched as though she were being struck. It hurt to watch that, oh it hurt so much, but Twilight forced herself to continue. Chrysalis deserved the truth, not a sham of a marriage, no matter how much it hurt her. And Twilight forced herself to watch Chrysalis's pain; that was her punishment.
"But Chrysalis... these last few week with you have been amazing. I got to know you, the real you, more than I ever thought I would. And I came to realize that while I might consider a lot of what you do to be wrong and, well, 'evil', there's so much more to you. That was always too simple of a way to think of you, to think of anyone. You're just... different. In a lot of ways, I like that difference. You're so much more straightforward.
"And... and I like you, Chrysalis. I like spending time with you, I like being around you. You're fun, you're always excited about everything, and, well, you know me. You know what to do to make me laugh, how to cheer me up, how to just let me be when I want some quiet time. And I know you really care for me, and I appreciate that.
"I don't love you, though. You're my friend, a really good friend, and I hope we can stay friends after this... but that's all we can be. Just friends."
Soft weeping came from under Chrysalis's mane as Twilight spoke, but it trailed off as she went on, and when Twilight finished speaking all she could hear were fast, shallow breaths from the Queen. For several moments there was silence, neither pony nor changeling moving or speaking.
"I... was a fool, wasn't I?" said Chrysalis finally, voice soft and hoarse. "All this time... I could barely feed off you, and I thought you were purposely holding your love back. To make me earn it, to make me prove myself worthy. That is what a changeling would do. But the love was never there to begin with, was it?"
"No..." said Twilight, shaking her head sadly. "That's not how love works with ponies. We can't deny our love to another, can't keep it in. When it's there, it all comes out at once."
Chrysalis' head drooped down further. A few more ragged breaths came through her mane, billowing it out slightly, and then she pushed herself back with her hooves, sliding off the bed. Her legs wobbled as she stood, but they held her up, and she turned away, face still hidden.
"Chrysalis..." said Twilight plaintively from the bed, "Chrysalis, I'm so sorry."
"No, Twilight, it's okay. You don't have to apologize. In fact, I should be thanking you."
"Thanking me?" repeated Twilight, puzzled. "For what?"
Chrysalis's horn lit up, small fires crackling along the lingerie on her body, and then she pulled the whole thing off and let the smoldering mess fall to the floor by her hooves.
"Tell me, Twilight Sparkle," she said, talking animatedly once more, voice pitching upwards in a kind of vicious amusement that made Twilight's eyes widen. "You've clearly spent some time studying me and my kind since being so horribly forced to marry me. So, tell me... what is it we changelings desire most?"
"Well," replied Twilight nervously, "Love, of course, and domination. And–" She stopped, the last word catching in her throat.
"And conquest," finished Chrysalis with a hiss, head turning to meet Twilight's gaze at last, and green fire blazed in her eyes.
"Chrysalis, no, wait–"
"Sssshhh." Chrysalis hushed her, moving around to the front of the bed. For a moment, she just looked back at Twilight, her eyes narrowed, her face tightly drawn.
"I was prepared to give it all up for you," she finally said softly. "I knew you wouldn't let me just do as I pleased and enslave all your ponies. I looked forward to it, even; there was no one else I thought worthy of disagreement with me, no one else who would be able to stand up to me, no one else I wouldn't mind losing to. For you, I would have even been willing to resort to diplomacy and negotiation to expand my power.
"And that's why I'm thanking you now. For giving me this last chance at conquest. The greatest conquest of my entire life." She lifted a hoof, pointing it straight at Twilight. "You!"
"You don't have to–" Twilight paused, blinking. "Me?" she squeaked.
Chrysalis slid sideways a few feet, stopping on Twilight's side of the foot of the bed and peering back down at her. "You stole my heart, Twilight. And now... I shall steal yours."
She began to move forward, each step lithe and carefully placed, like she was stalking some prey.
"I am going to make you love me, the way I love you. You won't be able to sleep at night, because I will be all you can think of. And you won't be able to think, because I won't be with you. Every last thought you have will be consumed by your desire for me. You'll want me, need me, ache for me every second we're apart. I'll be your worst addiction, your greatest craving." She stopped next to Twilight, looming over the trembling pony, peering at her with half-lidded eyes. "And then, my dear Twilight, when you can't stand it anymore, when you come crawling back to me on your belly, pleading, begging me to take you back... I'll look down at you, and do you know what I'll say?"
Twilight, dazed, was barely even to shake her head. When she did, Chrysalis suddenly darted forward, so fast Twilight didn't even have time to flinch.
"I'll say 'yes'," crooned the changeling, her muzzle nearly inside Twilight's ear. "And we will spend our days together in bliss."
She moved up, her fangs giving the edge of Twilight's ear a sharp nip that produced a sound halfway between a gasp and a whimper from the pony, and then drew away, heading for the door to the bedchamber.
"So prepare yourself, Twilight Sparkle!" Chrysalis called back, standing in the open doorway. "For I am going to woo you as no pony has ever been wooed before!" With that, she was gone, the door slamming shut behind her.
"I don't..." Twilight tried to say, several minutes later, then trailed off.
"You can't just..." Another attempt to talk faded into oblivion.
Finally, it dawned on Twilight that Chrysalis had been gone for quite some time. She considered several options for what to do next, then, finally... just gave up, and let herself flop over on the bed.
She took in a deep breath and let out a sigh, then gave a curious sniff. Lavender was the predominant smell, of course, but under it was something else, something bitter–the smell of Chrysalis. And while it was bitter, it wasn't a bad scent; it reminded her of black licorice.
Maybe... she thought, words hesitant even in her own mind, maybe it wouldn't be that bad.
Despite herself, Twilight couldn't help smiling.
Canterlot was an old city. Like any old city, no matter how splendid and beautiful it might be, it had certain areas that respectable ponies didn't venture into. This bar, The Black Alicorn, was smack in the middle of one of those areas. It was the kind of bar where at least one ambulance stopped by per night, where the owners had an abnormally high mug budget because the patrons tended to eat the glass after they'd finished drinking out of it, assuming they hadn't shattered it over the head of another patron by that point.
Despite that, the bar's current crop of patrons were nervous, casting constant glances back at the booth in the corner. It didn't matter how bad of a pony you thought you were, one thing you didn't want to mess with was a changeling Queen. Especially not one that seemed to be falling apart, equal parts giddy, furious and melancholy.
"And there you go," finished Chrysalis with a sigh. "There's the full, complete tale of my foolishness and naïveté."
She tipped her wineglass up, found it empty, and used her tongue to probe its bottom. When that also failed to produce wine, she reached for the bottle, only to have the pony sitting in the shadows on the other side of the table snatch it away with a cauliflower-blue magical aura. Chrysalis pouted, an expression that quickly melted into a real frown.
"I messed everything up," she moaned miserably. "Really, really badly. And I may have lost the love of my life because of it, the only pony who could ever make me happy."
She took a deep breath. "That's why I invited you here. This is important, the most important thing in the world to me. So important that I'm willing to ask for your help, even after everything you've done. I know a lot about love, but only how to use it, twist it to my needs, and consume it. What I don't know is how to create it... but you do."
A chuckle slid out of the darkness.
"Twilight Sparkle, you say?" mused the voice. "I'll admit, that is a tempting offer. I've had that little pony on my list for a long time indeed."
"So... will you do it?"
There was a long moment of silence, and Chrysalis began to droop down. But she perked back up when the answer came.
"Yes, I will." There was another chuckle. "This isn't quite what I'd planned, but... I think I can make it work."
"Oh, thank you, thank you!" Chrysalis leaned forward, reaching her hooves across the table, then hesitated.
"This is really important to me," she said, voice somber again. "I'm going to be relying on you for everything in this. I'm talking about the pony I love more than any other, the pony who consumes all my thoughts. Do you have any idea what that's like to be so close to losing someone you care about so much?"
"Oh, I think I understand. And don't worry..." Princess Mi Amore Cadenza leaned forward out of the shadows, firelight glinting off the teeth exposed by her wide, eager grin. "You can trust me. Your date is going to be perfect."