• Published 30th Aug 2013
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A Stranger Among the Voices - Tystarr


The arrival of a strange creature sends ripples through the lives of several inhabitants within Equestria.

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Chapter one: Chrysalis

Pain.

Pain filled every fibre of the changeling’s body as it lay crumpled upon the forest floor. An attempt to move was met with a grimace before surrendering to its body’s demand to just… relax for a little while. Slowly opening one eye, the equine took in the surroundings only to notice that its muzzle was half pushed into the loose soil.

Fantastic.

The changeling felt the slight wounds upon its body heal as the stored nectar within did its work. Of course, the negative side of this was that the hunger would return soon. Slowly, it - or more precisely - she got her hooves under herself and lifted up her head to take further stock of the situation. Priorities had to be addressed though and a few globs of dirt, now turned partially to mud, were unceremoniously ejected from her mouth.

Yes, this is exactly how I wished my day would go.

Using a hole-filled hoof to try and scrape the remainder off her tongue, not for the first time bemused as to why she had taste buds in her natural form if food couldn’t be ingested; the changeling ran a tongue over her fangs as she gazed about. The forest was eerily calm, but then again her arrival into the ecosystem probably had much to do with the absence of any animals around her current location. Slowly her body finished its recovery, which surprisingly turned out to be amazingly minor. A few scrapes and aching muscles were the extent of her injuries.

That… makes no sense.

Raising her head she gazed through the tree line with luminescent eyes, noticing far in the distance the unmistakeable sight of Cloudsdale. This information only confused her further, when the alicorn and unicorn had cast that spell, she and her brethren had been forcefully ejected from Canterlot. Given how far they had travelled, it was well within reason to expect significant injuries upon landing, if surviving at all.

And yet…

Princess of Love indeed, she couldn’t even bring herself to hurt us for all we did. That’s pony stupidity for you.

Stretching her limbs she found she had retained more than enough nectar, keeping the aches in lieu of depleting her reserves further. Spitting out some mud she had missed, the changeling looked around once more. She had, admittedly, no idea where she was except for the obvious fact she was still in Equestria. On top of that issue, she was even more aware that after the failed invasion they would certainly be hunted down from this point on. Dwelling on the issue made her angry, the events that had led up to the failure fresh in her mind.

More importantly however was the betrayal.

Wishing not to mull on the issue further as she remembered the sight of a scared female looking at her, terror, along with helplessness etched on the…

Yeah… no. Not thinking about that at the moment. Clear head…

<Is anyone out there?>

Her call was put out as she slowly trotted along, ears perked to sense for any threat. Granted, given her species, she was more likely the highest threat in the area, but it never hurt to be careful. She could probably take down one, maybe two ponies if they found her but any more than that would be touch and go; especially with a near empty belly.

<Chrysalis? You’re okay!>

Chrysalis paused her trotting as she heard a reply, seating herself down as she found another pocket of soil that had lodged behind a fang. Using a hoof with her mouth wide open, she tried to fish it out not willing to use her tongue and risk tasting it yet again.

<Well, other than being thrown half way across Equestria and eating a mouthful of dirt, no I’m peachy.>

Chrysalis’s hive communication was met with silence on the other end, eventually a reply was given back along with several other voices.

<I was worried, we didn’t know what to do.>

<Chrysalis!>

<She will know what to do!>

<Are there any others?>

<Why is she eating dirt?>

Ignoring the context of several thought bursts pushing into her head, Chrysalis found herself mildly worried. She now knew more or less where she was from the voices, the fact she had been thrown so far as to be in the same forest as the ‘vanguard’ was in some ways a welcome discovery. Yet, now she felt dread slide its skeletal wings around her form. The others sounded lost, unsure and were looking to her for guidance.

Fantastic.

Finding that particular word was quickly summing up her day so far, Chrysalis made her way towards a stream to rid herself of the irritating mud she couldn’t reach. After a mouthful of water and making sure her fangs were clean - along with her mouth and for good measure her chitin - the changeling looked into the reflective surface as the ripples ceased. Staring back at her was just another worker. Well, not just any worker it was after all her, but nothing distinct to separate herself from hundreds of others.

Nothing other than that name at least.

Once proud of the title bestowed she now found it feeling like a curse, a noose about her neck. The fact she shared it with another only made it worse. Even hearing the use of it again to try and get her attention was starting to grate on her nerves. It also reminded her she had yet to respond, so caught up in memories like the peach mare gazing at her…

<Chrysalis, are you okay? It’s… getting hard to sense you for some reason.>

The voice thankfully interrupted the mental imagery with another strange fact. If it was getting difficult to sense her they must be in worse shape than she thought, or perhaps it was she who was weaker than she realised. Regardless she had to respond, following the faint tug towards the owner of the voice as she replied in kind. <I’m fine, just… distracted. I’m coming to you. How many are there?>

A pause was given as Chrysalis trotted along; her body was feeling… strange for some reason as if the aching was not due to the injuries at all. It was hard to put the term into words, but she felt like her body was draining itself to heal wounds that simply didn’t exist. Bottom line, it was a strange sensation and she didn’t care much for it.

<Thirteen… wait, fourteen of us not including you.> Silence hung in Chrysalis’s head while she could sense the others talking amongst themselves. Almost like being two rooms down from a conversation, she could pick up mumbled words as they conversed before the changeling continued, <plus the two eggs.>

Relief flooded into Chrysalis’s body at the last comment but she refused to show it. They were the point of contention with her after all, the reason for… what happened to some extent. Not to mention the one speaking to her right now, not that she could blame her. As small plants were crunched under hooves, she found herself travelling deeper into the forest while surveying the area. Despite only briefly staying at her current destination she could make out small landmarks. Finding her bearings once she passed ‘queen rock’ due to the formation looking somewhat like a changeling queen’s crown, she started to hear the confused communications being thrown back and forth. Several were even coming from other changelings finding themselves coming too or moving into range.

<Good, I’m coming but I don’t know what I can do personally.> Chrysalis made sure to direct that one privately to only one recipient and she could almost feel the turmoil echoing around the other’s mind. <But we’ll think of something. Alright?>

<You’re right, I’m just… scared Chrysie. We lost contact with everyone after the big flash and then…> The voice was filled with a tremor which ate into Chrysalis’s chest. She hated her hatch-mate being upset as she was, especially knowing it was the reason she had been left in the so called ‘vanguard’. She had always had a special tie to the other changeling since they hatched around the same time, hence the term ‘hatch-mate.’ It was a common thing for young nymphs to bond with other hatchlings, but for Chrysalis and the other it had persisted through the years to form a stronger bond. That is why hearing her upset made what Chrysalis knew even harder to stomach.

Anger built within at that thought before she quelled it, nothing could be done about it now. Despite herself she used the now hated name to her advantage; even with her personal feelings on it the others saw it as something else… at least for now.

<Hey… we’ll be fine. You have Chrysalis with you and have I ever let you down?> Chrysalis tried to ignore how her anger flared just mentally mouthing the name; thankfully it had the desired effect on the recipient.

<Well there was that time you tricked me into eating an apple when we were younger.> The tone given was at least less saturated in fear, Chrysalis finding herself giving a fanged smile even as other ‘thoughts’ pushed for her attention. Noticing she was close to the cave she sent one more private thought to hopefully calm her hatch-mate further.

<You make one mistake as a pupa… > A soft laugh was given as she entered the cavern’s entrance. Bioluminescence allowed her to see easier as she progressed further, the light being provided by the glowing blue hive orbs that the others must have constructed and randomly positioned along the walls and ceiling. That observation did little to reassure her, to her it was a waste of nectar to make such things and she knew the ‘vanguard’ was most likely low and very unlikely to have fed at all.

Chrysalis… how could you?

Gritting her teeth she exhaled, letting the anger bleed away as she reached the rear of the makeshift hive. The sound of buzzing wings gave away the others as she approached only to feel all eyes fall upon her form, the overwhelming push of responsibility hanging now over her head. The reason was simple, not one other in the room was named, and she knew this. Even if they all looked similar, even if there was currently little to differentiate herself from those looking back at her - the hope and fear warring within their eyes, she knew she was different on a fundamental level.

It all fell back to her name.

Exhaling she took in the sight of the hungry changelings before her. Some were faring better than others, those most likely from the Canterlot invasion like herself. It was the ones she knew were left behind that she worried the most about, without a queen they were unable to get sustenance, well a large portion weren’t. Some she knew were able to feed, but she knew most had been picked for a very particular reason. They were Feedless.

The term itself was used as an insult, at least within their hive. She had heard rumours other hives treated them as martyrs, or killed them outright. There were also tales of some hives being primarily Feedless except the queen, selective choosing to make them such. Even despite her hatch-mate being one, Chrysalis suppressed a shudder. Feedless were termed such due to their inability to actively feed, whether it was due to genetics, or even some kind of mental blockade, they couldn’t feed without the queen providing food for them, much like a newly hatched nymph.

In the hive, those who fell into that group were ostracized. Being unable to go and retrieve nectar for the queen to redistribute they were instead regulated to watching over the nymphs, or… more derogatorily known as ‘pupas’, the same as any other nameless changeling. They were seen as a blight on the hive, and at best a nuisance and freeloaders.

I can’t believe she did that…

Again the anger built within, now at herself. She should have seen what was going on, but seeing how hungry they were only increased her ire. Chrysalis exhaled, still seeing everyone looking at her for answers as she saw her hatch-mate near the two eggs. The changeling had been appointed to watch over them, and to be fair she was one of the best nymph-sitters around. Even Chrysalis was hesitant to get on her bad side, even if it was near to impossible with the Feedless changeling’s passive attitude. Still, the pupa could fight when backed into a corner, not that it would help them now.

A few others looked at her knowingly, hanging their heads as she recognised them from the invasion. She wasn’t sure but she had a strong suspicion they knew what had happened. What had been said.

This… won’t be easy to say.

Clearing her throat she sat herself down, ignoring the thoughts directed her way. She never asked to be relied upon, to be in this position but she was not about to let her sisters suffer. She was a changeling first and foremost, and a named second. Chrysalis did not desire responsibility, and that is why the crushing pressure of it was not helping her mood.

Just what I wanted, to be a leader. Woo.

Retreating back to her usual defence of sarcasm and cynicism, Chrysalis decided she could not put it off any longer. A gaze at her hatch-mate who was protectively positioned near the two unhatched eggs solidified her resolve. Licking her fangs she decided on using her voice, communing with so many other changelings at once was too taxing after what she had just endured.

“Look, I know you’re all looking at me for some kind of divine guidance.” A few thoughts or ‘communes’ were sent her way as she held up a hoof tiredly to stop the chatter, Chrysalis continuing as she exhaled once more. “But I am not, yes… I am named, and yes it’s a rather special name. But…”

She faltered and it made her frustrated, how could she tell these changelings the rest? To tell them what the plan truly was, what the one they had looked up to was willing to do. Anger once more surged within as she mulled on the thought for a while longer, debating on how to word it. From the time they were hatched they were raised and taught to obey their queen, that her will was that of the hive. How did you cope learning everything the one you looked up to had done had been part of a plan that spanned several generations? To know that the queen, while immortal could spend hundreds, perhaps thousands of years working towards one goal, your own life just a small cog into the plan.

How did you cope knowing that you were expendable, no… not just expendable but to be sacrificed without ever knowing why?

Yes, and I am coping so well with it myself.

“Tell them.” One of the other changelings broke the ice, one near the back who had been part of the invasion from what Chrysalis could tell. The fact she looked somewhat fed added credence to this suspicion, probably still ‘riding the drain’ from what she could tell. The several others within the cave who also showed signs of recently feeding at Canterlot were the ones that worried her most of all. It was widely known those that fed for their own gain grew a little stronger - at least temporarily, but there were also several side effects. While it was merely a part of life for being a changeling, in this situation it would be a very clear danger. Primarily, depending on the emotion fed upon, some of it would bleed into the feeder and amplify.

And it looks like a few fed on fear and anger… ugh, this will be fun.

This is why stealing love and compassion were the focus for the hive. For one, it was one of the best feelings in the world. Chrysalis herself had enjoyed it on multiple occasions; it was merely what it meant to be a changeling. You got love or compassion, then returned to the hive and gave most to the queen for her to redistribute among the numbers. One changeling with a full belly of love when upon giving it to the queen could provide for a hundred due to how the ruler amplified the emotions given to her. One of the best ways Chrysalis had ever gotten a huge source of love quickly was replacing a terminally ill patient after the pony had passed away, but before anyone had noticed. She had milked that one for a few days before returning to the hive. In fact, she was so good at getting love it was how she had been bestowed her name.

Idiots, they know not to feed on the negative emotions.

She saw how a few were jittery, the fear rolling off several of them almost overwhelming. One in particular, the outspoken changeling was looking fit to snap with the rage roiling beneath the surface. While love and compassion were amplified, so were other emotions which made forceful feeding dangerous. One changeling was sobbing in a corner. Chrysalis definitely did not wish to learn how that one had fed on so much sadness.

It doesn’t matter. We were all used.

It horrified Chrysalis how their queen had done this to them, out of the hundreds who had invaded only a small fraction had entered the feeding frenzy instead of moving to stop the Bearers. Looking around she sighed prior to issuing a soft tsk. Somewhat amusingly, she at that moment longed to have her head nuzzled or stroked with a wing. It was a small thing she had picked up when imitating a filly for a very loving family. Whenever she was nervous, upset or needing comfort they had run a wing over her head, or nuzzled into her hair. Annoyingly the habit had stuck, but it was highly unlikely she would receive such comfort here. That was for ponies after all, not for changelings.

Yes, I can see it now. Hey can someone just nuzzle my head for a second to calm me down? Thanks. Okay, now back to the issue…

The thought did relieve some of her tension as she hid a small smirk at the mental imagery. Back to the matter at hand, Chrysalis exhaled and cleared her throat as she felt several communes pushed in her direction, all seeking answers.

“We were all used.”

The words hung in the air as several expressions were directed her way, mainly confusion and disbelief. Before the questions could be nudged into her mind once more, Chrysalis continued.

“Yes, it’s hard to believe. But the vanguard here, the ‘Feedless’ of the hive were left here as a decoy.” Several murmurs started and Chrysalis saw the look from her hatch-mate showing she was having trouble believing such words.

<Queen Chrysalis would not abandon us!>

<We have served loyally!>

<A decoy… for what?>

The last commune cut through the rest as the others turned silent, looking first at the one protectively near the eggs before the one the question was directed at. Chrysalis sighed and thought hard on how to word her reply. Her go-to move of lacing the words with sarcasm to soften the blow would not benefit here, and she privately loathed the fact she was the one having to explain. Simply because she voiced her concerns just before the wedding did she find out the truth, their queen so smug and arrogant she saw nothing wrong with explaining her plan.

We’re nothing but pupa in her eyes, merely to be used to her own benefit. Born to be a tool.

“You… were never meant to be a fall back point, or a place to hold over the eggs to celebrate the first two hatched in our new home.” The words felt bitter in Chrysalis’s mouth but she continued, swallowing back the vitriol that threatened to surge with them. She didn’t need to feed on anger like some of the others had to feel the rage build within.

“After the wedding, you all were to be a decoy. She would have gotten the guards sent to… deal with those planning to launch an attack on Canterlot.” Chrysalis looked aside as she reigned in her anger, continuing after a few calming breaths as she ignored the gasps and denial pushed her way. “After the guards were sent to mop up this ‘vanguard’ everyone else would attack and take over Canterlot when the ponies’ guard was down.”

Silence fell within the cavern, the very idea the queen would do such a thing was anathema to the changelings. Chrysalis would not have believed it herself were it not for the fact she had heard it from the queen’s mouth, and thankfully a few others had also heard it too with one in the room sneering slightly. Unfortunately, she knew that other changelings would see it as an acceptable loss, Feedless were not well loved in the hive as she well knew.

But they are part of the hive, we’re changelings! Not turncoat ponies!

Slowly as the information was digested a timid voice spoke up, mentioning that they had no reason to disbelieve Chrysalis. Her name, that bestowed on her by the queen itself held weight far above her station. It was not only that however, Chrysalis had no reason to lie. She let her thoughts be nudged open by those in the cave, being eaters of emotions they were very accustomed to picking up the barest trace of such within words, or thoughts ‘spoken’. It is why changelings didn’t lie to each other, it was almost impossible to do so in the best case scenario.

With the others satisfied there was no falsehood in her words a sullen mood fell over the cavern, more so than previously. Without a queen the Feedless would die, as would the nymphs when they hatched.

“What… what do we do?” The voice came from her hatch-mate, glowing blue eyes looking imploringly towards Chrysalis for answers, for hope. To find out that not only were you to be used for the good of the hive, but now you were to slowly starve to death would have been a bitter pill to swallow. Unable to meet the gazes directed her way, Chrysalis sighed.

“I don’t know.”

Her answer hung in the air until an angry voice exploded from the side of the cave.

“You don’t know? You’re Chrysalis! You’re named after the queen herself… how could you not know what to do?!”

Chrysalis knew it was the ‘ride’ talking and not the changeling itself but the words still stuck deep into her chitin. Before she knew it she was growling, one hoof slamming down to disrupt the dirt below.

<I am just another worker like you! You think I want this name after what she did? Yes, this is exactly how I wanted my day to turn out, bravo.> The fury bubbled within before Chrysalis exhaled slowly, pushing a hoof away from herself in a gesture she had picked up while disguised. Regretting her outburst she gave another tsk and flattened her ears. <Look, I don’t know. I am just as lost as you all. But we’re changelings, we stick together.>

Her commune was met with small nods, a few small fanged smiles given as she raised her head up high.

<Look, I can’t sense the queen and I know none of you can so for all we know she’s dead or gone back to the Badlands to lick her wounds. After what you heard, you know she won’t be welcoming the Feedless back with open wings, so we need a new plan.>

The others mulled on Chrysalis’s words as she herself tried to think. Thoughts were bounced around the room, flying fast and without pause.

<What if we went to another hive?>

<What other hives? Do you even know where another is?>

<I thought other hives and queens were just legends?>

<Well… can’t we go back anyway?>

<I don’t… I don’t want to be discarded.>

<What if we started a new hive?>

The last thought caused a cessation of chatter as they all looked towards the one who had spoken. One of the other changelings who had participated in the invasion looked about noticing all eyes on her. Meekly she lowered her head, the mere idea to leave a hive, let alone to start a new one was unthinkable to a worker. Queen Chrysalis is all they had ever known, all they thought existed outside of the odd legend or anecdotal evidence. Sure, it stood to reason other queens and hives existed due to the amount of rumours, but none of those present had a single clue where to start the search.

The other idea to start a new hive was even worse; without a queen it would be doomed to failure. Who could feed the nymphs? Sure a worker could in theory lay an egg, not that it had ever been allowed due a simple fact, it simply could not feed the nymph upon it hatching. That much was unfortunately known. That wasn’t even taking into consideration the Feedless, or feeding all the changelings without the queen able to redistribute and amplify the given emotions. A changeling on its own could survive indefinitely if not detected. Simply by retaining all the nectar they collected, going rogue… and not returning to the hive. It was an unfortunate truth, but it happened on occasion.

But that would doom the Feedless to a slow starvation…

Queens, from what they had been told by their mother, were born once every thousand years to the existing queen. Whether that was true or not was another matter entirely, and even if the queen was telling the truth it wouldn’t help with their current situation. For a hive to exist it required a queen, there were no two ways about it. Without that key role filled to help guide the other changelings with a unified direction, to feed the nymphs and amplify the retrieved nectar to the entire hive, any attempt would be doomed to failure.

<I have an idea.>

Chrysalis, along with everyone else looked in the direction of the speaker. Surprisingly it was one of the changelings who, at that moment was riding the drain on fear, her body language twitching a little as she tried to keep the emotion under check. Seeing she was the center of attention she licked her fangs nervously and spoke up.

<Why… don’t we all pitch in and that way we could look for a new hive at the same time?>

The others mulled on the thought before Chrysalis shrugged. It was ultimately their best option as she buzzed her wings, more to stretch the muscles than anything else.

<It seems to be our best option. Those of us who can feed will go and get emotions from the nearby towns and farms before bringing the nectar back. It won’t be much, but at least we will hopefully be able to keep the others alive.> Looking around the room a few sullen nods were given her way as she communed, Chrysalis sighing as she knew it would be like trying to steal compassion from a lawyer pony. <In the meantime, one of us could go looking for any information on another hive. They have to exist, but we need to know where one is if we are to try and join it.>

A few more nods were given, it was a plan regardless of how awful it was. Ultimately between all of them they managed to get some order and discussion going. Having some give sustenance for the Feedless would tax the others, but now it was a race against the clock. If the eggs hatched the amount of emotions a growing nymph needed would stress the fragile balance completely, and changelings would start to die or alternatively the young ones would need to be sacrificed.

Even the option of going back to the queen won’t work, we don’t know if she is even alive given she was in the epicentre and if she is, if they spared her too… this would just repeat itself. Well isn’t this day just going swimmingly?

Despite changelings having individual personalities and individual will, they as a species desired to follow a queen. No-one knew, or really cared whether this was for guidance, for security or even just some instinctual command long since programmed into their genes. All that mattered was without so much as an obvious leader figure the small group would not survive two days let alone the time needed. As luck would have it, Chrysalis knew, even before it was mentioned what was going to happen.

Please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me, please don’t pick me.

<Chrysalis… will… will you be our leader?>

Oh chitin-rust.

Exhaling Chrysalis gazed at her hatch-mate, hopeful eyes looking back at her, before rolling her eyes. Granted, without irises in their natural forms it was a pointless gesture, but it made her feel better and that’s all that mattered. Looking around the room hoping for some sort of dissent she was disappointed to see the others had also latched onto this idea. Annoyingly, Chrysalis wished to just follow orders herself; she never wished to be a leader. She was just a worker and that’s all she ever expected or desired to be. She had passed up the opportunity to be a soldier several times for this very reason.

Yet as she looked around the cave she saw eyes all directed back at her. Several looked nervous to be requesting such a monumental task upon her back, while others had hope etched on their faces. Chrysalis could almost taste the apprehension in the air, the fear she would decline with no-one else that could presently fill the role. Despite her misgivings she couldn’t bring herself to crush what little hope they all still held.

<Fine.>

The deadpan expression matched the tone of Chrysalis’s commune as the others sheepishly smiled and awaited her command. It was strange, but she could tell they really were depending on her as she made to stand up. The feeling was odd, the overall responsibility hanging over her as she felt the mind link grow stronger. It was a subtle thing, but the now twenty or so changelings within the cave were looking at her like a queen. Such a thing had never been done before, for a worker to lead a group. Sure they sometimes teamed up to hunt for food, but to actually lead a group, to lead a makeshift hive?

Fantastic…

Chrysalis really wished she had not gotten up that morning, or at least had remained in her little ditch within the outskirts of the forest longer. With the responsibility weighing down upon her she started to direct the others and made plans. Ultimately they were just going to be treading water, but she would make sure they stayed afloat as long as possible.

~~~~~~

So far over the last few days their plan had worked out well, which actually surprised Chrysalis more than anyone else. By sneaking into the farms and towns to replace ponies for brief periods they were able to accumulate just enough nectar to feed the ‘hive’. With a few others having joined, the burden was eased somewhat, but still…

If those eggs hatch, would I be able to make the call to let them die so we all can live?

It was a rhetorical question and Chrysalis knew it. At the moment she was out to hunt for more food or even information on another hive. So far she had gotten precious little of the former, and nothing of the latter. Not dissuaded, she was now increasing the distances travelled. Food was getting scarce, paranoia starting to settle within the ponies as their loved ones were acting ‘strange’ for up to an hour at a time. Questions were being raised and given the full alert put into place after the invasion, it was getting riskier to get food.

One changeling in particular had almost gotten caught when a suspicious earth stallion had noticed his wife acting odd on one outing. Thankfully with a little acting the situation had been defused, but questions were starting to be asked. There was an undercurrent of distrust starting to permeate through the town which in no way assisted their attempts to feed. Chrysalis herself had witnessed one pony being accused of being a changeling in disguise, thankfully however it had just been a slightly inebriated pegasus being targeted by a paranoid unicorn. But even with nothing negative developing from the resolution, the idea itself was now planted within every pony who had heard about it.

And now we all have to be doubly as careful if we are to collect and store any nectar.

So far the small hive had stored a few nectar crystals, but they would not hold out for long if push came to shove given it were mere workers making them instead of the queen. That is why Chrysalis was sneaking through another town at the moment, scouting to see what kind of food she could obtain from here. It was almost a full day from the hive’s location, but if she were successful…

Filly-Delphia? Ugh, ponies and their stupid names for places.

Sticking to the shadows Chrysalis was largely reluctant to use her magic, disguising oneself took precious nectar to use and she couldn’t afford to waste any. Granted, she could forcefully take emotions from some pony, but the idea never sat well with her for two reasons. First and most important was that it would draw attention. The last thing they needed were guards to show up and slaughter them all in retribution for the attack, not to mention the forceful feeding that caused detection. Secondly, the method damaged the pony being fed from. Some changelings saw no problem in this, food was food… but Chrysalis was a bit more pragmatic with it and saw both sides. While you were indeed getting emotions in a very easy manner, you were effectively killing your meal ticket at the same time. The more a changeling ‘rode the drain’ so to speak, the harder it was for the pony fed upon to feel emotion.

Not that she had ever experienced it herself, but it was also possible to even kill if one went overboard. Granted, if it was only a little they could recover, but too much and the effects were irreversible. A few ponies sometimes found themselves dragged to the hive and used in such a way, drained until they were almost mindless zombies. Thankfully it happened very rarely, but it never sat well with her. It seemed… wasteful, and needless.

Why drain them, when you can get an infinite amount of love from a nice family?

While she trotted through the alleys she thought back to the family she had fed from as a pegasus filly. For years she had used the disguise, becoming what they called a ‘timer’ within the hive. ‘Timers’ were well respected as they gave a reliable and steady source of nectar from the emotions given their way. This was due to the single reason that they used one disguise constantly, allowing them to remain in a family with a steady amount of love given their way. They were also very rare as the changeling would have to adopt the mannerisms and keep up the act or arouse suspicion. An inquisitive unicorn might be able to peer through the disguise if he or she knew what to look for, or at the very least find trace amounts of magic and delve deeper.

The rarity was also for the significant detail that ‘timers’ could only exist where a position in the family was vacant, such as a death occurring. It was however rumoured that sometimes a changeling was known to ‘create’ such absences. Chrysalis meanwhile had simply been in the right place at the right time.

Heh, and I managed to pull it off for six years.

Not that she would ever admit it, especially not someone as cynical as Chrysalis… but, she actually enjoyed the time there. Sure it was akin to playing with one’s food but she sometimes… well, not that she would say it out loud, but… but were she to actually admit it…

She sometimes missed the family members she had been with.

No changeling that she was aware of had ever been a ‘timer’ in a single position for as long as her, hence how she had gained the attention to earn her name. The queen herself had bestowed the moniker upon the changeling out of admiration for her skill. Sure Chrysalis had felt proud over it, showing off to her hatch-mate initially, but…

Her thoughts always seemed to find their way back to the stallion and mare that had been her meal source for the last few years. She had even warned them in advance of the invasion, not because she actually cared for them of course… that would be silly. It was more… protecting her food supply.

Still…

I wonder what they’re up too now?

Pushing the thought aside she focused on her task, she needed to feed on emotions to create nectar and in turn share with the hive. Despite how she might complain and act like it was a burden she was nonetheless invested in this endeavour. If nothing else she needed to help create a buffer until they could get in contact with another hive, even just to unload the eggs to another queen before they hatched . The Feedless could be kept alive by the method that was working thus far, even if it was monumentally taxing for the others.

A grimace passed over the changeling’s muzzle as she slipped into another alley, blending in with the shadows as she used a small amount of magic to mask the glow from her eyes. Watching a stallion wander by she released the breath she had been holding, almost having been caught while musing over their predicament. Resuming prowling for the perfect target she found herself spoiled for choice. The town was robust with happy ponies, each having more than enough love to go around. She would need to be careful, but she couldn’t help herself feeling just a little smug.

She had come looking for a place to gather vast amounts of nectar, and she just hit pay dirt. Watching a young couple trot by she licked over her fangs. Despite how often she did it, the anticipation of a hunt was always the best part for her. Some changelings preferred simply to go after patients that had recently passed away and replace them. Chrysalis had to admit, it was effective but not a long term solution. She never felt guilty for her actions in doing so herself, to her it was a two way street. They got some more time with their ‘loved one’, and she got to feed on their love for who she was disguised as.

But that was not the way she preferred to hunt.

Others liked to take the more… ‘adult’ way of collecting love, even if it was somewhat diluted. Some towns actually had established points which were run exclusively by changelings who would satisfy their customers and get a full belly in the process. Chrysalis had no doubt those areas were coping well with the absence of the Queen.

But that was also not the way she hunted.

Chrysalis preferred the more risky active-replace technique. Most, if not all changelings did it at some stage, or used it their whole lives to obtain nectar. Chrysalis however put more effort in than most. This was due to most of her sisters being unwilling to spend some nectar to gain more. She on the other hand, being the pragmatic sort saw the value in this. By burning some energy to partially hypnotize the other once disguising herself, she could spend the evening with the partner and gain vast amounts of emotion in the process.

The trick was to use only enough magic to keep the pony from remembering the encounter, but still enjoy the evening. There was no point in making just a thrall for the night, that would both require too much magic usage, and would make the pony unable to feel anything at all completely undermining the whole undertaking. No, it required a gentle touch and good acting, but she enjoyed it. Playing with one’s food was juvenile yet she had never really outgrown that phase, especially since it worked. Plus the pony got a fantastic night out with his or her loved one - even if he or she never remembered it, and Chrysalis got a full belly to take back to the hive. To her, that was beneficial to both sides.

Thus, upon spying the mare excuse herself and trot off home, much to the disappointment on the young stallion's face, Chrysalis saw her chance. With a burst of green flame she applied her disguise, ignoring the aching feeling within. Feeling the magic roll over her, she felt the always strange sensation of her wings vanishing and her horn altering. The weight of a mane upon her head was always something odd, yet not entirely unpleasant as she felt the magic ebb away leaving her in a new unicorn form.

Got to be careful, can’t spend too much.

Chrysalis was still feeling the almost constant sensation of being drained, and it wasn’t just from the large amount she was sacrificing to give to the hive. Her body constantly felt like it was feeding off her nectar stores, constantly nibbling away with an insatiable hunger. She had talked to the others in the hive about this, fearing some form of ailment affecting them with the loss of the queen yet she seemed to be the only one affected. Part of her wondered if she was simply coming down with some as-of-yet unknown sickness; however that didn’t make much sense. Other than the odd patch of chitin-rust, a changeling never got sick.

Mind on the game Chrysalis.

Shaking her head she felt her new blonde mane fall over one of her purple eyes and focused on what was needed of her. This town could indeed work as a feeding ground if she could make it worth the long distance to travel. With that in mind she trotted out of the alleyway while casting a small spell of forgetfulness upon her target. A small glazed look followed by a green glow passed over the pegasus’s eyes before he noticed her. With a wide smile he greeted her with enthusiasm, Chrysalis already feeling the delightful feeling of his love for the form she had cloaked around herself.

“Tea!”

Chrysalis realised too late she had not heard them use their names for each other, an amateur mistake. Then again, given the ponies and their delight for naming close to their beloved cutie marks, she had a fair idea he was referring to the form she wore. The tea leaves kind of gave it away.

“Oh, I couldn’t leave you dear.” Flirting as best she could, she knew with the spell he would see nothing overly wrong with how she acted or spoke instead rationalising every action his ‘love’ did.

“Awww… cream puff, you spoil me.”

Chrysalis had to withhold the gag reflex as she followed him towards a nearby grassy hill.

Cream puff? Oh for the All-Mother… can I get through this without vomiting?

“So my supple flower, is this view not the most breathtaking you have ever seen?”

Chrysalis forced a wide smile onto her face while she felt herself die a little inside at his words. A war was raging within, was the love she receiving at that moment validation for how her inner self was fighting to strangle him.

Annnnd… at this rate, vomiting will be the least of my problems.

Releasing a long drawn out sigh, the disguised-changeling endured for the hive, even if she did accidentally push him down the hill during the evening.

Twice.

~~~~~~

Against all odds, the small hive had managed to sustain itself over the last month. While it was for the most part a tentative affair, Chrysalis was proud of what they were accomplishing. Thankfully a few more named had joined them which diverted a small portion of the dependence off her, but she still felt obligated, driven even to provide for the group.

It was with these thoughts in mind she found herself wary of the concern given her way. The others were seeing her worn down nature, worry beginning to gnaw into them. Due to this she was going more often to Fillydelphia, trying to obtain more nectar if only to escape their worried glances. At that present moment she was in the midst of making one such journey.

<Chrysie, are you sure you don’t want another to come with you?>

Chrysalis exhaled at her hatch-mate’s concern. She couldn’t fault the other changeling, yet it went without saying that the more feeding occurred in one town the greater the risk. Already the townsponies were beginning to get suspicious, not that she had helped in some regards. Especially on her first foray into gathering nectar that despite it all had produced a copious amount.

I still can’t believe he bounced at the bottom.

Restraining a chuckle at the memory, Chrysalis responded as she reached the limits to commune back with the makeshift hive. Most surprising was over the last few weeks she had discovered that the range she could communicate had grown in leaps and bounds. Again she put this down to the ailment affecting her, but it seemed odd that her effective distance had more than doubled, not to mention becoming able to ‘sense’ where the others were.

<I will be fine.>

She could almost taste the unease on the other side as she replied. They all knew that the eggs could hatch any day now, it was an unavoidable fact. That moment could be in a week, maybe two or perhaps even tomorrow and they had no way to know exactly when. It was putting everyone on edge and she knew this but there was little they could do about it. Trotting along in a disguise she exhaled softly as the threshold was approaching, like a little niggle in the back of her head she instinctively knew when she was about to lose contact.

<Okay… we will see you tomorrow.>

With that Chrysalis was once again alone in her head. She knew the concern was founded given her body was consuming nectar almost as fast as she could put it in. That was also before taking into account she was sparing more than she should be towards the hive. In the end this left her constantly tired and unfocused, which any changeling would know was a dangerous combination.

Just what is going on with me?

Entering the town she slipped into the alleyways again, cloaked in darkness while dropping her disguise. With her limited amount of energy she needed to conserve all she could while looking around for her next victim. The town itself was becoming paranoid, rightfully so, but it did make things far harder to get a good meal. There was also talk about them hiring some ‘monster hunters’ but Chrysalis paid no such attention to these details. As long as she was in and out quickly there would be little to no risk in getting multiple quick snacks. All she needed to do was make sure the net gain was more than what she spent; a simple life equation.

Formulating a plan she continued to remain within the shadows, working over the numbers in her head of how many ponies she would require tricking in order to obtain the amount needed. Turning a corner she looked about before gazing at the ground, lost in the calculations needed. Numbers had never been her strong point even with a less fog-filled mind.

Perhaps it was because she was distracted, or perhaps it was due to the hunger gnawing in her belly but Chrysalis only realised she had wandered out of the alley when it was too late. The changeling abruptly found herself staring into the eyes of two male unicorns looking just as stunned as she was, both wearing striped tops with a bow-tie and, if she were to admit it, a hideous looking straw hat.

By the All Mother! Stupid Chrysalis, stupid!

Taking a cautious step back she made to run only for the one with a red moustache to react quicker. A green glow enveloped one of her hind legs causing her to fall upon her face, an undignified sound escaping her muzzle. Thankful to not have broken a fang she moved instead to struggle against the magical bonds. Finding that useless she instead started to charge magic into her horn, feeling it build up as she tapped into her precious reserves of energy.

“Flam, look out brother of mine!”

Chrysalis never felt it coming. Yet again she had performed another grave error in her weakened state. Her horn spluttered out magic but missed its target due to who was presumably the one named Flam’s brother adding his own magic into the mix. Her head was jerked to the side, a building taking the brunt of her magical discharge and spraying bricks along the street.

“Great job Flim, why the townsponies were right! With this here changeling we’ll take our show from here to Vanhoover!”

Oh, like Tartarus that is going to happen.

Against her better judgement she drew more magic into her horn, this time trying a different tactic. Expecting another blast of magic, the stallions were caught off guard when a bright flare emitted instead of a beam, disrupting their concentration and releasing their binds. Taking the opportunity presented to her, Chrysalis got to her hooves and ran.

Well, that was the plan anyhow.

Ow. Well… that was intelligent.

All the changeling had managed to do was stumble a few steps and smash her muzzle into the wall, her energy almost all tapped out. Overestimating her abilities had now cost her everything as she berated herself for being distracted, for getting into this situation. Worse still was to be captured by the two idiots, the point reinforced when she felt a jab against her chitin-covered side by a stick, currently procured by the one without muzzle-hair.

“Flam, I do believe it’s exhausted.” Another jab punctuated his statement, Chrysalis too tired to even care at this point. She had failed, too far away to contact the hive she closed her eyes as the consequences for burning too much of her reserves kicked in. The last thing she thought before she felt the cruel grip of unconsciousness claim her was if that pony poked her with the stick one more time, she swore she would shove it right up his backside.

Thankfully for Flim, she passed out before getting the opportunity.

~~~~~~

Infuriatingly the day had gone from bad to worse.

All attempts to contact other changelings were met with little to no success. One or two she managed to get hold of had no way of assisting her without blowing their own cover. Ultimately it turned out everyone was in the same boat on simply trying to survive. Although unlike them, she was now stuck within a metal cage. Of course, Chrysalis could think of at least one hundred and fifty seven things she would rather be doing right at the moment.

She had also only started the list two minutes ago.

Well, congratulations Chrysalis. You managed to get captured by the two stupidest ponies in Equestria.

In the process of listening to their inane conversation she absently tested the bar’s durability with a hoof. Realising there would be no way to escape the cage she now found herself in she conserved her energy by lying down and getting comfortable. Amusingly the two buffoons thought her barely sentient, simply due to the fact she refused to speak. Some kind of emotional vampony is what she had been called, and while slightly insulting she still refrained from speaking. Truth be told, she didn’t much care for ponies in the first place. Yet, just because she needed to partake in some of their emotions they made her out to be a monster?

Well that’s hardly fair. Do we call them monsters for feeding fish to their pets, or eating the vegetables they grow? Hypocrites.

Not that being called a monster offended her, it was merely the fact they looked down on changelings. Granted, they may have invaded their capital and tried to overthrow their monarch, but she still felt they might be overreacting a little. Or maybe that was the all-consuming hunger speaking for her, raging within her innards. It was getting hard to tell what a coherent thought was, and what were delusions derived from her slow starvation in progress.

I shouldn’t have used my reserves, again… great idea there Chrysalis. Top marks.

For the past two hours the two ponies had tugged the wagon along, her cage situated on the top along with three others. One was empty, but the other two occupants did not interest her in the slightest. The manticore kept eyeing her up, while the cockatrice thankfully could not due to its headband. She did try to taunt it a few times by running a hoof along the bars, but that got old pretty quickly as well.

Great company.

Ultimately… deep down Chrysalis knew she was going to die in a cage. That thought was indeed a sobering one, even if she didn’t wish to admit it. She knew she couldn’t escape, and her only hope for rescue was that another changeling, or two, or several would spring her out of the cage. The only problem was, she was just another worker and ultimately unimportant. One worker didn’t make much a difference, even if she was trying to save the Feedless, two eggs and several other changelings.

Actually, for most that would be more incentive to leave me in the cage.

The absence of a queen, not to mention the finality of their hive possibly being destroyed was almost a sense of freedom for a portion of the changelings. Freedom to feed however and whenever they wanted. If they were doomed they might as well eat up with little regard for anything else. Chrysalis mused on this as the wagon rolled along, purposely tuning out Flim & Flam as the two stallions sung back and forth, apparently trying to get some form of tune for their grand unveiling.

Thinking back, she knew that changelings could in theory survive for months on a single feed of emotions if they held it all to themselves. Minimal use of magic, conserving energy and consuming food while disguised could, in theory keep them going for maybe a year, two tops. She also realised the hive would be lucky to survive a couple of weeks, what with the changelings having to give a large portion of their nectar to the Feedless to keep them alive. It was selfless, but Chrysalis was proud of what they had attempted.

And when the eggs hatch, I give the place a day… maybe two tops until they all run out.

The thought was again, rather depressing but she could do little about it. Due to her own error she was stuck in a cage, and she had burnt through most of her own reserves already. Looking at the two stallions she realised that unless they gave her emotions freely in her true form, she had a very limited lifespan. A snigger threatened to pass her fangs as she contemplated the odds of them giving her love of their own accord, the thought was a nymph’s tale, something that only the most deluded of changelings considered. There was always the rumour of a rogue changeling running off with a pony and living happily ever after, the pony loving the changeling for whom, or what she was.

Sure, and I am Princess Celestia’s wayward second cousin. Right.

Chrysalis had never believed it; the whole thing stunk of wishful thinking. Sure, there was even a legend that a whole hive had once done such a thing… hundreds, perhaps thousands of years ago. Etchings down within the lower levels of their hive in the Badlands hinted at tales of such, that a hive had co-existed with the ponies peacefully. Emotions freely given and in exchange they spread joy and happiness throughout Equestria.

Frankly, Chrysalis felt it made a nice story, but reality wasn’t quite as nice. They were even called ‘Flutter-lings’ or something of the sort, she had only once looked at the thing but her hatch-mate was always fascinated by it.

Regardless, I doubt these fine, oh so intelligent ponies will give me a cup of free love to… oh by the All-Mother, are you two actually still singing?

Her eyes narrowed as she confirmed that yes, they were still singing their jaunty tune.

“I’m Flim.”

“He’s Flam.”

“And don’t you know.”

“That you ponies are in for a wonderful show!”

“Because this right here is the Flim Flam brothers’ one-of-a-kind…”

“Ciiiiircus.”

Okay, starving to death is bad enough… this is outright torture.

Much to her disgust, they didn’t let up and continued right up until they set up camp. With a bowl of slop given to each cage, Chrysalis regarded hers with as much distaste as she could manage.

“Flim, I do believe our changeling doesn’t wish to eat.” Flam toyed with his moustache with one hoof, watching Chrysalis regard him with narrowed eyes.

“Well brother of mine, if it doesn’t wish to eat now, it will starve until morning now won’t it?” Flim gave a chuckle before the bowl of food encountered the side of his head, hat in turn being knocked to the trail. Turning to glare at Chrysalis with a soggy, and food-laced mane, the stallion pulled his hat back on with magic, unfurling a whip from the side of the wagon. “Well, I see we have a discipline problem.”

Flam looked thoughtful on this before shrugging, leaving his brother to do his thing to train the ‘wild beast’ while he got their dinner ready.

“Now, anypony, I say anypony can see that you little changeling have to gain a change of attitude.” With the whip unfurling Chrysalis furrowed her brow, surely he wouldn’t-

Ow, son-of-a…

A hiss of displeasure escaped her muzzle as she glared at him, a small groove knocked into her chitin along the left side. A waggle of the whip caused her to relent and back into the cage, this turning out to be the response he was looking for.

“Hah! See Flam… I told you it would be easy to train the thing.” With a smug air to the stallion, Flim trotted over to his brother, the two clanking large wooden mugs together with the scent of cider permeating throughout the air.

“I do give it to you Flim, you sure proved me wrong.” A look at the mug of cider he held caused the stallion to give a wistful sigh. “A shame about that business in Ponyville, we could have made it big.”

“Indeed brother of mine, but how were we to expect the… unsatisfied customers from that result.” The two sat in silence for a while before the mugs were clinked together. “To our future successes as monster hunters!”

“To Flim & Flam, Monster Hunters!” With the two verbally patting themselves on the back, Chrysalis found herself directing a frown in their direction. Idiots they might be, but they were undeniably dangerous idiots.

Put in a cage to starve to death, having to listen to these two morons… and then whipped. Really, what else could go wr-

Almost pre-empting the changeling’s comment the heavens answered. Clouds spiralled, moving to crash and tear into one other while lightning split the sky. Seconds later thick droplets of rain spat down, the two stallions retreating into a hastily lifted tent leaving the ‘animals’ alone on the wagon with only the roofs of their cages providing cover. Soon a rather soaked Chrysalis lowered herself to muse on her failings, regret slipping into her mind on being unable to help her hatch-mate, the others and all those who had looked up to her. Whether she wanted the responsibility or not, it didn’t change the fact she had failed them. The rain only helped punctuate the end to a miserable day.

Ah, touché Equestria. Touché.

With little else to do the changeling moved to a resting position with the realisation her days were now numbered and there was no hope of rescue outside a miracle. All she could do was bide her time and hope she got an opportunity to escape while they underestimated her in thinking she was merely an instinct-driven beast. Mulling over those thoughts and trying to ignore the crippling hunger she closed her luminescent eyes to try and get some sleep.

Ultimately though she found herself thankful that in her natural form she lacked the tear ducts required to cry.

Very thankful indeed.