• 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 two: Empathy

Ow.

Chrysalis found herself rudely brought back into the world of the conscious by the jostling of the cage she resided in. Quickly deducing they were being moved once more, the changeling exhaled and made the effort to open her eyes. Sleep had not been kind to her, nor had the cold rain and wind but it wasn’t the first time she had slept in such circumstances.

No, it was the constant draining that was going to be her undoing. Normally, even with her nectar almost as miniscule as it was, were she in a situation where movement was minimal… such as, say being stuck in a cage… she would be able to survive for a couple of weeks easily on what remained.

Yet at this rate, I doubt I will last a week.

The thought was not a pleasant one. While Chrysalis wasn’t by any means keen to die, she was pragmatic enough to know there was little she could do about it. Were she to speak up and explain to the two stallions pulling the wagon what she required to survive she harboured no delusions that it would bear any fruit. In reality she had two options to feed, the first choice was with a disguise and take emotions not meant for her in the typical changeling fashion. Then there was the alternative of forcefully extracting from the pony that could – and very likely would – result in an emotionless thrall. Strangely enough she doubted either option would appeal to the unicorns.

And then, even if they did agree to it… it’s not like the two idiots would then play along with the ruse just to feed me. They’re stupid but I doubt they’re that-

The sound of the two singing again made a deadpan expression fall over her features.

Well… okay, they are that stupid. But even a nymph would be able to tell it wouldn’t work. No it’s best to keep waiting for an opening, let them get sloppy.

It also didn’t help that trying to forcefully feed would only result in the other stepping in, and that wasn’t even getting into the fact she was not very adept at such methods in the first place. Chrysalis sighed softly as she rested her muzzle onto forelegs, only to absently rub her nose against a hole out of habit. In the end her only option was to wait but with every hour in doing so her energy was sapped further. In essence she knew she was probably just trying to put a positive spin on the predicament she was now in, that is in entertaining the idea of escape. Logically the changeling knew she was probably doomed to a slow and rather painful starvation. The fact that she out of the entire hive was trying to be optimistic in the current situation was not lost on her.

Okay, slow starvation is one thing, but that singing is just torture.

Her eyes narrowed as even the manticore was starting to find the sound irritating. Well, she presumed that was what was causing the beast to bang its head against its cage. For all she knew it might just be lacking in the intelligence department, even amongst its kind. That would go a long way to explain how the brothers managed to capture it.

Of course, they got me as well. What does that say about me?

Pushing the obvious implications aside she sighed and watched the landscape slowly roll by. Any attempts to contact other changelings was met with silence, either none were responding or there were no others within range. Frankly, Chrysalis was unsure what option disturbed her more. She could feel every moment the diminishing of her remaining energy, a constant and unwelcome sensation if ever there was one.

She had long since given up being overly perturbed by the draining itself; to worry about the issue would be a waste of time. Such a thing as far as she was aware had never happened to a changeling before, and the very idea that one of her kind could ‘leak’ stored nectar spontaneously was simply too frightening to dwell on. Instead Chrysalis moved her attention to the two stallions dragging the wagon along, all the while trying hard not to glare holes into the back of their heads.

The storm that had ravaged the countryside in the night was a thing of the past although it did leave a few curious questions with its departure. Chief among them was what exactly had the pegasi been thinking when they had created such a thing. Granted, Chrysalis was no expert on ponies and how they managed the weather but to her it seemed a rather tad… extravagant and wasteful to create such a monstrosity. The two brothers seemed to agree, talking amongst themselves over the matter before one broke into song again.

Oh for the love of…

Ears flattened to her skull while releasing a guttural sigh. Starvation was one thing, but could they at least let her die in peace?

“Flim… what, is that?”

Realising the singing had abruptly ceased, Chrysalis found her curiosity piqued when the hesitant tone in the unicorn’s mouth hinted at something clearly amiss. She noted that both the brothers were looking at a small hill where upon the top stood a tree that had fought with lightning and clearly lost, now remaining in a broken and dejected manner of its former glory. That was not what had seemed to seize their attention though, with the real focus of their curiosity being the strange creature located further downhill leaning against a far more intact plant specimen.

Huh…

Chrysalis had seen many things in her life but the bipedal creature was not one of them. Standing vaguely in a similar sense to a diamond dog or minotaur, the creature looked very much the worse for wear. With tattered clothing and obvious injuries, the, what Chrysalis presumed was a female, uttered strange and nonsensical noises before trying to take a step. Under different circumstances she may have been more inquisitive about the whole affair; however being stuck in a cage and slowly starving to death was a good distraction from curiosity. With a sharp cry, possibly one of pain, the biped fell to a heap down on the grass as Flam moved forward.

Well… that’s… uh, different? Wonder what is wrong with her?

“Flim, you don’t suppose this is…?” Flam spoke as he turned his head to regard the other unicorn that approached, both now looking down at the comatose form lying upon the wet grass. A small hoof nudge was given by one but garnered little in the way of a response. “I mean, it is around where the townponies mentioned it had been seen.”

“Hmm, you may be right brother of mine.” A contemplative rub under his muzzle accompanied Flim’s words as he looked down, critically accessing the prone form at his hooves. “Has fingers, injured shoulder, walks on two legs… I would say that this is without a doubt the ‘Foal-Hunter’ they spoke of.”

A slow blink came from the caged changeling at what the two had said along with the object of their conversation. That creature was one that hunted foals? Well, she couldn’t exactly fault the feeding habits of others but it didn’t make much sense from Chrysalis’s perspective. Even from a distance the bipedal-thing didn’t look like much of a predator but then again that could be part of what makes it successful in its hunts. Regardless it was of little concern as the brothers continued to congratulate themselves and levitate the limp form into the remaining empty cage.

Oh joy, more company.

Finding herself unable to pass up the opportunity to make life more difficult for her captors – all while retaining the guise of being a ‘simple beast’ – Chrysalis waited until Flim was almost done locking up the cages’ new occupant before following the manticore’s earlier example and banged her head against her own cage. The ensuing result was more than she could have hoped for. With a loud clang as her chitin came into contact with the metal bars she had the wonderful reaction of Flim trying to turn his head to see the supposed threat. Of course, he had also failed to completely close the cage’s door by this point and his muzzle met the unyielding material much to his displeasure.

After several loud and increasingly explicit words were uttered, the unicorn rubbed his snout with a hoof much to Chrysalis’s continued amusement.

“Flam, if I didn’t know better I would say this changeling has a vendetta against me.” Flim eyed Chrysalis accusingly while she maintained the best imitation of a mindless beast that she could manage. Which in truth only required her to tilt her head in a curious manner as he talked prior to hissing in his general direction and bashing her head against the cage with gusto; which… amusingly received another satisfactory flinch from the show-pony. “That does it; if you could so kindly finish up with this cage I will continue to ‘train’ our little changeling.”

“Well I hardly see how a feral beast such as it could have a vendetta brother, but if you say so. Just be sure to not be too thorough, we are after all only a couple of days out from Baltimare and we wouldn’t want our star attraction to be looking the worse for wear.” Flam cautioned his brother who at that point was unfurling the whip from the side of the carriage. Chrysalis winced slightly at knowing what would follow, suddenly forced to rethink if her little prank was worth what was about to happen.

“Now changeling… even though you are just mindless drones under the control of your queen, it doesn’t mean you can’t be taught how to behave.”

Chrysalis had to restrain herself from breaking her act at that particular comment spouted from the unicorn. Everything he said in that sentence was almost as completely absurd as it was outright wrong.

Mindless drones under the control of Queen Chrysalis? That… is that what all the ponies believe or just these two idiots? Wait… drones? Oh that is just insulting.

Choosing to instead remain quiet after much internal conflict, Chrysalis soon felt the bite of the whip along her chitin. While it did not cause much in the way of pain due to her protective covering it still remained an unpleasant experience to endure. Several times Flim gave an instruction in an attempt to ‘train’ her with the whip soon following but the changeling could tell it was simply to vent his frustration.

Eventually he either spent his anger or thought his training had borne fruit since he put the whip away and joined his brother in securing their new addition to the cart. This left Chrysalis to silently seethe while actively resisting her body’s attempts to heal itself with the pittance of nectar remaining. Glaring at the two brothers as they finished their task and resumed pulling their load did nothing to sate the anger bubbling within. Only with reminding herself to wait for an opportunity did she calm down enough not to hurl insults in their direction.

And the ponies have the gall to say we are evil? Hypocrites, all of them.

Sullenly Chrysalis eyed the new passenger while entertaining thoughts of what she would do to the brothers once she escaped. Despite the plotting she listened in on the two unicorn’s conversation as the cart rolled along.

“I’m telling you Flam, that creature is definitely the Foal-Hunter we were told about.” Flim jerked his head back in the direction of the cart while his brother looked thoughtful.

“Now Flim, I am not denying the providence that put this unique specimen into our hooves but… it is wearing, well… clothing.” Chrysalis blinked at Flam’s words, her head turning to look at the new occupant before resisting the urge to slam her face into a hoof. It was evident the creature had dressed herself, a conclusion on the gender easily reached by the skirt worn. The changeling herself was not much for wearing them, even when disguised but she still knew a skirt and feminine clothing when she saw it.

“Ah, but you forget brother of mine that one of the descriptions was of a diamond dog stealing foals away in the night.” A pause was given as Flim puffed out his chest as he continued, “and… anypony can see that it is indeed wearing clothing.”

A pause was given before Flam wriggled his moustache and cast a wary look backwards.

“Ah… Flim, I do hate to be the bearer of bad news but I am certain that is not a diamond dog.” Flam’s comment caused both of the unicorns to exchange glances before trotting in silence. Not for the first time Chrysalis questioned how she had been caught by the two. Part of her considered the fact they might be craftier than they look and it was an idea her ego eagerly accepted. Then there was the more likely concept that the two were just well accustomed to dumb luck.

Personally she didn’t care what the female creature was, or if she really was the Foal-Hunter. She had heard the rumours pass around Fillydelphia but paid them no heed; it was really no different to the unsubstantiated rumours a dragon had ravaged through a pony village for a period of time. Whether the creature stole and ate foals, or didn’t the outcome was the same. Chrysalis was still in a cage and as such it was none of her concern.

“Flim… an idea occurs to me.” Flam’s comment broke the monotony of the cart moving as both brothers paused. “What exactly do we know about the beast?”

Flim was quiet several seconds, his muzzle rubbed thoughtfully all the while before the two continued moving forwards. Chrysalis felt herself being knocked into the bars with the sudden movement, sharing the manticore’s and cockatrice’s displeased sounds at the care being given towards them.

“Other than the obvious we already discussed, there were several rumours we heard.” Flim hummed as if recounting all the conversations he had on the matter. “Its shoulder was injured when fleeing from the authorities, it stands between ten hooves or thirty seven hooves, it has scales, it has fur, and it has feathers. Then there are the ponies who said it had fangs, or a tail, or wings, or…”

Flim trailed off as his eyes went wide with realisation and gazed at his brother, Flam nodding sagely as if waiting for his sibling to come to a particular conclusion.

“You see Flim, no-pony could agree on what it looked like.” Flam spoke with a wide grin as he indicated with his head back towards the cart. “Who is to say what we have back there is not the Foal-Hunter?”

“Brother of mine, you always did have the brains of the family.” Flim regarded the other unicorn before continuing, “So by the process of elimination, this must be the Foal-Hunter… I am not quite sure why it looks that way or why it wears clothing, but that’s how monsters work.”

…Really?

Chrysalis exhaled at the logic or complete lack thereof being showcased before her. If that was how to make a deduction then there was really nothing to stop them grabbing a random turtle and proclaiming it a dragon slayer. Tuning the two brothers out lest her sanity suffer along with her patience, she instead took the time to look at the so called ‘Foal-Hunter’ still passed out in the cage beside her.

The female creature had brown toned skin, lacking in fur, scales or hair aside from a dark mane with a light streak and a thin collection upon each brow. The fingers were much lither than those found on a diamond dog or minotaur, and she lacked visible hooves or paws, instead wearing strangely shaped hoof-wear. Also from what she could see the ears were small and rounded and she lacked any visible tail.

Weird…

Upon closer inspection Chrysalis noticed that the creature’s more obvious injuries had been healed, possibly when the brothers had put her into the cage. The fact the two unicorns knew some healing magic raised her opinion of their intelligence to some degree, but she still doubted the fact the creature was a hunter of young ponies let alone a mindless beast.

It’s wearing clothing, so it must be intelligent to some degree.

Chrysalis’s eyes wandered over to the sight of the two unicorn brothers pulling the wagon causing her expression to darken.

Okay… maybe wearing clothing doesn’t prove intelligence. But that creature is clearly sentient to some degree.

A soft groan tugged the changeling’s attention back over at the new addition to their merry band of captives as the ‘Foal-Hunter’ started to come around. The bizarre creature opened her eyes before wincing and brushing the mane from her eyes with a hand. Unsurprisingly the Foal-Hunter seemed confused to its current status of being in a cage as it made strange noises in a feminine toned voice. It didn’t take long for the two brothers to become aware of her awakening.

“Ah, I see the Foal-Hunter has woken.” Flam peered behind him before posing a question towards Flim. “I suppose we should check to see if it is sentient brother of mine, cover our flanks and all that.”

“I suppose you are correct as usual Flam, we wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of the law.” Flim offered a shrug as he too regarded the Foal-Hunter with an inquisitive gaze. “Afterall we can’t be seen to wrongfully cage an innocent party.”

Chrysalis was a little intrigued by their conversation but knew it would do her no particular good. She herself was unlikely to be freed to go on her merry way if she stated she was sapient with the more likely outcome being put before an execution squad.

So it’s against the law to imprison sentient creatures or just innocent ones? Intriguing but does little to help my situation.

Instead she observed the two brothers remove their harnesses and make their way over to the cage, Flam raising a hoof to tap the bars curiously as the other unicorn spoke.

“Ahem… now are you the Foal-Hunter we have heard about?”

Chrysalis yet again resisted the urge to slap her face with a fore hoof at the direct and stupid question asked.

Yes, of course. And now she will freely admit that yes, she is in fact the Foal-Hunter and thank you very much for capturing her.

The Foal-Hunter instead gripped the cage with her right hand before replying with anger present in her voice, although whatever she was ‘saying’ could not be understood. The sudden display of emotion caught Flim off guard which amused Chrysalis before he used his magic to give a slap against the creature’s cheek abruptly silencing her. Nodding, Flim seemed content that he had showed the Foal-Hunter who was boss before Chrysalis felt the sharp sting against her own face next.

Ow! Hey what the?!

Hissing in displeasure she saw Flim give a satisfied grin before the commotion riled up the other two caged animals. Knowing he now had a vendetta against her, which she admitted she might have helped along, Chrysalis watched as he acquired the much hated whip. With two loud cracks the manticore and cockatrice ceased their noises before the changeling felt the bite of the tool against her own chitin. Ceasing her own hissing she retreated to the corner of the cage, partially continuing the charade of being a beast and partially to just get out of the damn whip’s range.

Surprisingly the Foal-Hunter was whipped next, which even Chrysalis found a little odd considering she was merely sitting with a fearful expression. The creature gave a cry of pain before sniffling as the two unicorns resumed the pulling of the wagon. It was at that point Chrysalis came to a new and disturbing conclusion.

They aren’t idiots.

Her eyes narrowed as she found a strange and unsettling emotion bubble within; anger. What she had taken for idiotic behaviour seemed to be masking something sinister beneath the surface.

“So how do we explain the clothing then?”

“We dressed her up for the show obviously.”

“Ah, always with the quick thinking, Flam!”

“I can’t take all the credit; you are the one who gave me the idea.”

Chrysalis frowned as she moved to get comfortable while her ire continued to rise even if there was little she could do about it. The Foal-Hunter, be she truly what they said or not was clearly not as unintelligent as they proclaimed given her actions and how the noises she issued held inflections and tone, a language of sorts perhaps. Maybe it was simply how the creature spoke with her own kind, but the fact they were trying to pass off her clothing as their own doing just cemented her distaste for the two outside of her own predicament.

They know, and they don’t care.

In a way it disgusted Chrysalis. While she fed upon their kind she at least did so for no other reason than survival of herself and her species. There was also the fact she always tried to leave the victim unharmed afterwards, not purely for utilitarian reasons but she still could at least say she wasn’t ‘evil’. It was after all just the food chain but she never brought misery unnecessarily upon those she got sustenance from; that was just wasteful and ruined potential further meals for the same source. While she looked down upon ponies for their hypocritical behaviour as these two were in the midst of displaying, she, unlike some of her sisters would not stoop to their level.

Plus even if she hated to admit it, she knew several ponies that she could tolerate such as the family she had lived with for those few years. But these two…

And I am the monster? The cockatrice has a better moral compass than those two, and- Ugh… drop it; it’s not your concern. Focus on your own problems.

Chrysalis’s anger was snuffed out as she watched what the cockatrice in particular was in the process of doing, her eyebrows lowering as she scrunched up her nose.

… Okay, someone had best clean that up soon… Gross.

Exhaling she simply dropped the matter; her body was already beginning to ache from the lack of sustenance as she eyed the crying Foal-Hunter curiously. As she kept repeating to herself, it was none of her concern and yet… she still couldn’t buy into the whole idea of the lithe and fragile looking creature being something that could steal away ponies, and for what? Gazing between the manticore who was still sulking over the whip strike and the sobbing female, Chrysalis could clearly see who a potential threat was and who wasn’t.

There was also the obvious fact that the changeling could almost taste the fear and confusion permeating the air around the female creature.

Eh… it’s not my concern anyhow.

Tuning out the unicorns and the soft sniffles, Chrysalis tried to get some rest if only to escape the hunger that was by this point quite literally consuming her. It only was when the sun began to slip below the horizon that the brothers stopped to set up camp. Unlike the previous night they actually offered food this time around, Chrysalis opened one eye to peer at the unappealing slop that sloshed around in the bowl now nearby.

Mmm… fish slops, potatoes, water and I think that might be hay, or perhaps maybe old lettuce. Yeah, no.

Looking to the side she saw the manticore lap into its own with gusto while the cockatrice pecked blindly around the floor of the cage until flipping its bowl accidentally. Disgustingly this did little to impede the creature from feeding as it ate the spilled contents off the floor, Chrysalis in turn screwing up her nose before looking away.

Still didn’t clean that cage…

Lacking the nectar to even disguise herself – an almost unheard of situation for any changeling to be in – Chrysalis couldn’t even eat the food if she wanted to, and by the smell of it and with the look of disgust on the Foal-Hunter’s face it was clear she wouldn’t. Her ear flicked as she heard the female creature sigh before the unmistakable sound of a grumbling stomach filled the air and surprisingly it wasn’t Chrysalis’s. Raising her head she saw the Foal-Hunter had retreated to a corner of her cage and was attempting sleep, a curious expression falling over the changeling’s face as she watched.

The creature for some reason intrigued her and it baffled her why. Perhaps it was the hunger distracting her thoughts or perhaps it was just morbid curiosity but Chrysalis found herself wondering if the creature was indeed as intelligent as she presumed. If for no other reason than she wouldn’t have to suffer alone; misery did love company after all. Shaking her head she scoffed at her musings, it would do no good to become distracted by such pointless thoughts.

Looking instead at the brothers she saw in stark contrast to the caged occupants the two unicorns were warm and cosy around a well stoked fire. The scent of cider filled her nose as they filled their mouths with pie and talked animatedly about how many bits they would make once they arrived in Baltimare.

Soon. I will have to make my move soon.

Moving to get as comfortable as her accommodation would allow Chrysalis closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep, if ultimately for no other reason than to block out the quiet sobs from the cage nearby.

~~~~~~

So far the next day had been much the same as the last. That is as far as still being in her cage was concerned. Other than at one point the brothers healing the Foal-Hunter enough that she stopped crying out in pain every few moments it was otherwise uneventful.

About time too, that sobbing was getting irritating.

So far any and all attempts on the journey to contact another changeling were met with no success, but by this point Chrysalis was resigned to the fact she was on her own. If the situations were reversed she would be hesitant to come to another changeling’s aid, even if that truth was difficult to swallow. To her, changelings no matter what stuck together but her current predicament being so volatile made a rescue difficult. Especially with her kind being public enemy number one made any open action tantamount to suicide. Not to mention she was a known supporter of the Feedless which would not earn her any favours with a substantial amount of the hive.

Refusing to dwell on it anymore she was caught off guard as the Foal-Hunter started making aggressive sounds towards the two brothers. The two unicorns looked puzzled, before shrugging and instead ignoring the commotion.

Oh sure, I make a scene I get whipped, she makes a scene and you ignore her. That’s fair.

Much to Chrysalis’s surprise she noticed that the female creature looked dejected afterwards, green eyes wide in horror as if suddenly realising her predicament. With a flick of her ears the changeling noticed something else that poked holes several hoof-widths wide in the theory she was an unintelligent beast.

Wait, how could I miss the fact she has a sling?

Putting it down to a lack of focus she exhaled loudly while the Foal-Hunter hunted around in her top and removed a flat smooth item. Fiddling with it for several seconds she held it before her face before giving a long exhale and pocketing whatever the black object was. Chrysalis blinked and raised a brow, the action confusing but seeming to have some profound reason behind it. It was now evident that the Foal-Hunter was far more intelligent than the brothers seemed to let on in their conversation. Why they were ignoring the blatant signs or worse such as with the clothing lying over the fact eluded the changeling.

Musing on the issue was cut short as the wagon struck something in the road throwing the cage occupants against their enclosures. Chrysalis grunted, hissing her displeasure at the forces of momentum and their cruel, cruel ways. Accompanying her were both the manticore and cockatrice only for a louder and anguished scream to echo through the air. Immediately the two unicorns stopped while Chrysalis looked to the source seeing the Foal-Hunter grasping her injured shoulder.

I guess she is in worse shape than I thought.

Much to the changeling’s utmost shock the brothers actually shared a look of concern between themselves.

“Now I thought you said you had healed it?” Flam’s comment got his brother to frown, gazing back at the cages before offering a tsk.

“I did!” Flim seemed offended by the comment as he snorted. “I’ve never seen a Foal-Hunter before, how am I meant to know how well the healing spell is working?”

Flam seemed to realise he might have set his brother off and offered a small bow of his head.

“You raise a valid point brother of mine and I apologise, but if you would be so kind as to try again?” Flam’s comment had Flim nod, the anger quickly vanishing. “We of course need our new star attraction to be in the best shape possible.”

Oh, so I’m no longer the star attraction?

Chrysalis deadpanned as she snorted from her nostrils amidst the anguished groaning of the Foal-Hunter.

Wait… why the hell am I caring about that? By the All Mother this hunger is messing with my head.

“No, no you speak the truth Flam. I’ll go see what I can do.” Flim made his way over to the cages, Chrysalis actively resisting the urge to do something to startle him. Not just because the repercussions were undesired, but also due to the fact for some reason she wanted the Foal-Hunter to be healed. Ultimately if only to silence some of the annoying sobbing that the female creature was so fond of, along with the pained screams.

And maybe I can sleep in peace.

With the job done Flim moved back to the front joining his brother. With harness reattached they resumed pulling the cart and much to Chrysalis’s annoyance she had to listen to the two reassure each other there was no hard feelings. Closely following the display of brotherly bonding was reciting their song for whatever show the changeling was unwillingly going to be a part of.

Tuning them out Chrysalis instead turned her attention to the Foal-Hunter. Something was deeply bothering the changeling, the emotions coming off the creature were those of an individual unsure of what was going on. Fear, anguish, confusion, anger, they almost reeked off the girl which Chrysalis was more than a little surprised that she could notice such things. Putting it down to the hunger making her more than slightly delusional she found herself staring into the other cage.

The occupant in response, much to Chrysalis’s surprise made noises in a flat and emotionally drained voice in her direction.

After several seconds of looking at the creature Chrysalis came to a conclusion. A nod was given, partially of reassurance but also a minor attempt at communication. The confusion crossing over the Foal-Hunter’s face seemed to show the message was partially conveyed and so Chrysalis curled up in a corner. She had no appetite for nor ability to eat the food provided so instead chose sleep instead.

We’re stuck, both of us knowing what situation we’re in but unable to do anything about it. Fantastic, but it doesn’t help me any.

Whether it was due to her body lacking energy or the realisation that she was not suffering alone, Chrysalis managed to find sleep reached her easily.


~~~~~~


Exhaustion: absolute, draining and complete. That was what possibly had been the cause of Chrysalis sleeping in.

Then again perhaps it was the snide voice in her head that she could barely concentrate on. It really was difficult to discern which the culprit was, but ultimately she felt awareness return to her as she shakily got to her hooves. The changeling noticed immediately that they were now in a town, presumably the Baltimare the brothers were going on about but she also noticed the more alarming factor that she felt drained, far more than before she slept. Whatever was causing the leeching of her energy had gone into overdrive when she had slipped into unconsciousness and now she realised her nectar was completely depleted.

Now it seemed her body was now feeding ravenously upon itself to try and sustain her very existence which was definitely not ideal; not to mention also completely self-defeating.

Wait… a voice?

Thinking back to what possibly woke her Chrysalis looked around only to see that the cart she was on had been set up down the main road, just near the railway station. Several ponies were looking on curious as the brothers were setting up making her curious as to why they were being so… blasé about the cages’ occupants. It was then she noticed a faint glow surrounding the cages, the realisation why caused her eyes to go wide. She was able to see the illusion spell in its raw state!

H-How am I even seeing that?

It was no mystery that changelings were extremely adept at illusion magic, but that didn’t mean they could tell when something was an illusion or not. Yet Chrysalis could see the barest traces of a cloaking spell falling over each cage masking the occupant of each from prying eyes. It took no hard guesses as to who had cast the spell, but why she could suddenly see such a thing was beyond her.

Something strange is happening, first I could commune longer distances and now I can see magic in its raw state? This hunger is messing with me worse than I thought…

Torn from the new discovery she remembered exactly what she was trying to focus on in the first place as the ‘voice’ was picked up on once again.

<- to believe that there really was a changeling stupid enough to be caught. Oh well.>

Chrysalis blinked as she caught the end of the voice filtering into her mind. Shaking the fog from her mind to clear her addled mind she picked up the commune once she could focus.

<What?> While not the most intelligent question to put forth Chrysalis really could not think of anything better. Evidentially the one asking was not expecting an answer as Chrysalis caught sight of a blue mare trotting curiously nearby, one ear askew as her face betrayed surprise.

<So those two were telling the truth, I would never have believed it.> The earth pony looked bemused as she gazed at all four cages, apparently trying to pin point which contained Chrysalis beneath the illusion. Slowly the mare narrowed her eyes, trotting a little closer to one corner prior to flicking her ears. <That voice… I can barely sense who it is but… no it can’t be! Chrysalis?!>

Chrysalis winced as the laughter ripped through her mind even if the mare physically was clearly trying to suppress a wide grin.

Yeah… this is just great.

<Chrysalis! You got captured? Oh this is just too much…> The mare gained a malicious expression as she looked between the cages. <I was wishing to see which of my sisters was careless enough to be captured, but I never expected it to be you, Feedless lover.>

Hidden behind the illusion Chrysalis narrowed her eyes. This was precisely what she feared would occur when finally encountering another changeling. She had berated herself for hours about being careless enough to be captured; the draining itself was merely an excuse. She knew she had gotten sloppy and that was all there was to it.

<Are you just staying to gloat, or are you going to help me?> Normally Chrysalis wouldn’t be so snappy but pain was starting to bubble up from within. Her mane-frill was aching and she could barely focus due to hunger. The disguised-changeling was cut off however as Flim and Flam came to inspect what she was up to.

“Miss, I know you are excited to see the show but you’ll have to come back in an hour after we finish setting up.” Flam grinned after speaking, patting the cart with a fore hoof. “I guarantee you it will be well worth the wait!”

The mare blinked and immediately looked sheepish as if she had been caught trying to get a sneak peek at the ‘animals’ held within.

“Oh… sorry I guess I just got really excited hearing you had a changeling… and I am really curious as to what the mystery creature is!” Chrysalis lowered herself down as her legs were beginning to feel numb while all the while listening to the disguised-changeling cover her tracks. Unsurprisingly the two brothers bought it hook, line, and sinker but given their belief that changelings were feral beasts it made sense they never would expect the mare.

“You shall not have to wait much longer my dear, Flim Flam brothers’ one-of-a-kind circus shall be having its grand reveal shortly.” Flim puffed his chest out while the mare pretended to eat their words up.

“Oh! I look forward to it!” With a wave she started to trot away before sparing one look back, the venom in her commune completely at odds with her wide smile to the two brothers.

<Help you? Why would I a lowly un-named be needed to help the great Chrysalis, blessed with the name of the queen herself? Surely she can get herself out.> The blue pony slowly trotted down the road as Chrysalis frowned having expected as such but having hoped otherwise. <And… don’t be expecting any other of our sisters to come to your aid, I am the only one still around here and even I’ll be leaving after seeing your show. Someone has stirred up their paranoia rather significantly after all.>

Fantastic, one of the Feedless haters... Just perfect.

With the laughter filling her mind Chrysalis exhaled and rested her head upon front legs. Already her opinion of her own race was barely enduring a severe pummelling as she dispassionately watched the mare trot away. Her thoughts drifted back to the makeshift hive hoping that her hatch-mate and the others were somehow surviving. By now her absence would be noticed and she felt something gnaw within her, a strange and uncomfortable feeling; guilt. She knew by getting captured she had left the hive leaderless and even if she despised the responsibility she knew her name had provided a central figure to look to.

With a long exhale Chrysalis gazed at the brothers as they started to set up their show. Tuning them out was becoming surprisingly easy as she instead found her mind wandering towards the caustic attitude that had just been directed towards her.

Ugh, jealousy and hatred within my own kind. I never expected such vitriol from a sister though, even with our differences.

Despite herself she felt anger bubbling beneath the surface. Sarcasm was pushed aside as she realised on a rational level that in reality her sister could have done little to save her anyhow. Regardless of this fact the words had managed to get under her chitin all but piercing through the calm façade she had been maintaining. In this moment of weakness the truth was allowed to wriggle past her denial and strike true.

She was dying.

Her body was running on empty, the strange affliction was going to be her undoing as it ravenously consumed, regardless of whether it was nectar or her own body. She felt strange, areas tingling and numb while others were aching. Ultimately though she was weak, far too weak to even contemplate an escape even if an opportunity presented itself given she could barely stand. A bitter chuckle escaped her muzzle before she moved to lie down.

The All Mother seems to have it in for me for some reason.

A long sigh escaped her muzzle as she watched the brothers prepare, thankful that whatever illusion they had crafted stopped them from seeing or hearing what was inside each cage as much as anyone else. It at least gave her some relief to pull faces at them along with screaming obscenities now and again. Wallowing in self-pity was not something Chrysalis was well accustomed to, instead narrowing her eyes as she took in the scene around her once her frustration was spent.

Sating her curiosity she sighted the brothers now fiddling with the cart before she felt everything move. Splitting down the middle, the cart was separated into two halves with the cages equally spread between the two. Although she couldn’t be one hundred percent certain, she was positive that the cage next to her was that of the Foal-Hunter.

Well… could be worse, could be the manticore or likes to eat its own… you know what, not going to think about that one.

With the set up complete, a large chest placed on the ground before the exhibit Chrysalis noted the gathering of a crowd starting to form. Her brows lowered in disgust as she heard the unicorns sing.

“He’s Flim.”

“He’s Flam.”

“And don’t you know…”

“That you good ponies are in for a one of a kind show!”

“Because this right here is the Flim Flam brothers’ fantastical ciiiiiircus!”

Oh, that’s the version they went with… I felt the first captured the spirit of it- For the love of the All Mother, someone shut those idiots up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut…up!

With an eye beginning to twitch having to endure more of their singing, Chrysalis blinked as the illusions were dispelled from the cages. Choruses of surprise, anger, wonder and fright rippled throughout the crowd upon having the occupants now revealed. A look to the side saw the Foal-Hunter rubbing her cheek, seeming to have been magically slapped awake during the musical number.

“Now now everypony, five bits is all we’re asking to enjoy such a marvellous and unique show.” Flam flicked his hat with a hoof while addressing the crowd, his brother flipping the chest’s lid open with a follow up flourishing gesture over the empty container. Immediately bits were thrown in, some missing to clatter onto the ground but these were quickly lifted within a green glow to join their peers.

Colts and fillies were wide eyed with wonder while protective parents nearby. Pegasi flew higher for a better vantage point as several ponies jeered at the ‘evil changeling’. Chrysalis merely snorted, not willing to even put effort into thinking of insults.

“Mommy, what is that?”

The curious question from a colt seemed to voice what the crowd was thinking, a fore hoof directed towards the cage where the female creature was currently cowering.

“Ah! Why you ponies of Baltimare are in for a treat!” Flim trotted over to direct a hoof up at the Foal-Hunter making the creature retreat further against the rear bars with terror evident on her face. “This right here is the scourge of Fillydelphia.”

A pause filled the air before Flam opened his eyes wide, leaning close to the colt with an ominous tone in his voice.

“The Fooooal-Hunter.”

Flim laughed at his brother’s antics before the two nudged each other.

“Why Flam, I dare say you are scaring the crowd.” Flam looked admonished at the other unicorn’s words although after watching them rehearse this for over two days Chrysalis was not fooled for one second by their sincerity.

“Oh my apologies Flim, and to you good ponies but as you can see it is safely contained within the cage.” The moustached show-pony cleared his throat before seeming to notice the dubious looks on several observers. “Oh my, oh my Flim I do believe these ponies are unaware of the Foal-Hunter!”

“Why brother of mine, we should correct this immediately!” The two shared a look before becoming animated, Chrysalis giving a deadpan expression – certainly not for the first time – as the brothers began singing.

“Little ponies should beware!”

“For the Foal-Hunter is near!”

Is it morbid for me to wish to hurry up and die so I can stop hearing this?

Chrysalis resorted to banging her head against the cage which thankfully drowned out the singing as the crowd ate up every word. Mention of stealing foals in the night, eating them, immunity to magic, able to fly, the song really did have it all. Yet it was not Chrysalis who disrupted the singing, but the Foal-Hunter herself as she gripped the bars with one hand and made furious sounding noises.

Okay… I think I might be warming up to her a little.

Flim and Flam ceased immediately as the crowd reacted with fear and amazement.

“Is it contained?”

“Are we safe?”

“What if it breathes acid like they said?!”

“I-Is it trying to talk?”

“Why is it wearing clothing?”

Questions burst forth from the crowd, some Chrysalis found some faith in pony intelligence returning especially with the last two concerns voiced. Flim however reacted far faster than she would have given him credit for.

“Never fear, it’s all part of the show.” As he placated the crowd a whip was levitated within his magical aura, unfurling before cracking along the Foal-Hunter’s back. The scream of anguish and pain made Chrysalis fold her ears down, wincing slightly at what had just occurred. To the creature’s credit she did bite down on her lower lip to restrain herself from screaming further but by then Flim had moved onto his next target. The manticore felt the bite of the whip next; a loud roar was given causing the crowd to gasp in amazement. Next the cockatrice received the same treatment while Chrysalis was a little slow on the uptake. Due to her body’s current crisis her muddled mind didn’t put two and two together fast enough to brace herself for the blindingly obvious until the whip had already struck her along the back.

“Up Changeling!” Flim’s command followed the whip causing Chrysalis to grit her teeth and try and obey if only to avoid more of the same.

Ugh…

Realising she was far worse off than she had suspected she struggled to get all four hooves under her, barely remaining upright as she staggered but ultimately succeeded. Part of her admitted her will had been partially broken but she had not the energy to even attempt being disobedient. Even the desire to hiss barely passed her throat.

Her following of instructions spared her another whip blow as the manticore received a second allowing Chrysalis a reprieve. Flam meanwhile, seeing some in the crowd harbouring misgivings about what was going on stepped forward.

“Now as you can see we have trained this simple minded changeling. And you may have noticed the Foal-Hunter is a master at earning sympathy. It will pretend to be wounded or injured, anything to get a foal to let down its guard.” A look of seriousness fell over Flam’s face as he continued to address the crowd. “But do not be fooled, the ponies of Fillydelphia will vouch that the creature is not to be trusted. Look, even now it is sobbing to try and lure a kind hearted colt or filly nearby to be eaten!”

Chrysalis looked with the rest to see the Foal-Hunter sniffling, which while not quite sobbing was enough to convince several ponies in the crowd. A few shouted insults at the Foal-Hunter while Chrysalis copped more than her fair share.

<Well, it’s been fun Chrysalis.> The thought popped into her head while she was listening to the brothers explain the clothing on the Foal-Hunter as merely them dressing her up for presentation. By the looks on several ponies, they seemed to believe it to, much to her chagrin.

<Oh, I assure you the pleasure was all mine. Going so soon?> Chrysalis decided if she couldn’t do much else she could at least resort to her sarcasm given it was all that was left to her. Besides, she wouldn’t allow her sister the satisfaction of seeing her beg or plead.

<Well given that a certain Feedless lover got herself captured I really should be going.> The commune was full of smugness, so much so that for a brief second Chrysalis considered shouting out there was another changeling in the crowd. Immediately after it had formed the thought was dropped, she would not fall to her sister’s level. She still believed changelings were better than ponies, even if her sister was not demonstrating such qualities at that moment.

<Oh please, don’t let me stop you.> Chrysalis followed her commune with a soft chuckle. <Oh… and since you’re acting so much like a turncoat pony, you might as well go worship their princesses while you’re at it.>

The snarky remark seemed to strike true as she could see the blue mare in the audience narrow her eyes.

<You are what made the previous hive weak Chrysalis, changelings like you that sympathised with the Feedless. The Queen’s invasion would have been won if not for all of you foolish pupas.> The venom thrown in Chrysalis’s direction surprised her somewhat. The disguised-changeling then having vented turned to leave, but not before one last commune was given her way.

<You’re draining aren’t you? You’ll get caught you idiot and bring the guards down on all the rest!> Chrysalis’s anger caught the other changeling off guard, the mare pausing before resuming to trot away vanishing into the crowd.

<Some of us know to do anything to survive, but a Feedless lover like you wouldn’t understand that… and that’s why you’re going to be in that cage for weeks.> With that the other changeling went silent leaving Chrysalis alone with her thoughts, give or take a crowd or so.

Hah. Joke is on her, I won’t even survive until the end of the week.

Chrysalis found it hard to believe any of her sisters could act in such a way yet when she thought about it she knew she was just being foolish. Without a queen to hold them all together and give direction the changelings would work for survival, some even at the expense of others. The fact that she along with the Feedless and other sisters had worked in unison for so long and so selflessly made her chest flare with more pride.

If only they had picked a better leader…

Exhaling slowly she watched the crowd and dispassionately continued to ignore the jibes in her directions along with accusations. Strangely enough the manticore and cockatrice were being largely ignored while the Foal-Hunter was receiving just as much vitriol as Chrysalis was previously. With a sigh the changeling saw how quickly the ponies believed the lies Flim & Flam had said about the Foal-Hunter, not to mention herself.

“It looks so sad…”

“You heard the two, it’s how it lures you in.”

“I would never fall for that!”

“Ooooh that changeling looks so scary…”

Chrysalis exhaled again while gazing at the foals that in their attempt to be brave were standing closer to the cages. Apparently her visage was enough to make them run screaming back to their parents which amused her to some small degree. Distracting herself from scaring young ponies she instead felt the presence of the other changeling fade away from the immediate vicinity and outside of commune range. Now officially the last changeling in Baltimare – and still confused how she knew this – Chrysalis endured the day until finally the sun begun to set and the crowds dispersed.

After feeding – this time the Foal-Hunter joining the two other creatures in eating the meal – the changeling moved to get some sleep if her body would allow it. Yet again the bowl of… whatever it was, remained untouched while the two brothers stuffed themselves. As she closed her eyes she tried to block out the sound of quiet sobbing from a nearby cage.

It didn’t work.

~~~~~~

The rest of the week passed with two more venues visited. After the last show in whatever town it was – Chrysalis not picking up the name nor caring – she discovered she was no longerable to stand under her own power. Her mind felt foggy, weak and she could barely focus on anything. Breathing was becoming laboured and with that she knew she would be lucky to survive the night. The only small consolation is that even the audience was noticing and had pointed out how ‘sick’ she looked.

Much to her non-surprise Flim & Flam merely passed it off as her ‘suffering from withdrawal from the queen’ while secretly discussing how to ‘fix’ her.

Yeah… Like I miss her. That’s obviously what is wrong with me.

The creatures were constantly healed after each event to remove the whip marks; of course much to the brother’s confusion her condition was not improving at all.

If only the world would stop spinning…

Closing her eyes she tried to ignore the pain roiling around in her innards as whatever her affliction was desperately tried to consume something, anything. Her neck was aching and she wasn’t exactly sure without a mirror but she was certain something was happening to her body. That or the talking bowl was lying to her, which was entirely likely as so far it had not been the best conversationalist. It could be that it was just a hallucination but she felt it might be rude to suggest that to the bowl.

“We will need to rethink our approach I feel Flim.” Chrysalis weakly turned her head to allow ears to swivel and pick up the brother’s conversation. She didn’t really care per se but it at least took the attention off her imminent death.

“I agree, too many questions asked in that last town.” Flim gave a soft tsk before continuing, “I ask you Flam, what happened to the days where ponies used to trust an honest face?”

“A tragedy is what it is brother, why some even doubted that the changeling was nothing but a feral beast!” Flam’s voice sounded incredulous as if the very idea was preposterous. “That’s not even getting into those thinking that the Foal-Hunter is actually intelligent and upset at being caged.”

Oh yeah… complete and utter tragedy that one.

If Chrysalis had the energy she would have slammed her head against the bars due to what she was hearing, even if that might have only validated their claims to her intelligence. While the two discussed exactly how they would qualm the concerns of the next town they showed their ‘circus’ at the changeling was distracted by something else. Turning her head she observed the Foal-Hunter regarding her with green sorrowful eyes.

Over the past few days the creature had cried, slept or sat in silence outside being whipped to make noises in the show.

Yet…

We’re both trapped, and that’s all there is to it…

Chrysalis met the Foal-Hunter’s gaze, the two almost coming to silent agreement as they both understood the situation they were in. Part of her seeing the dirty, ragged, and worn looking creature looking far different from the one she met a week ago felt a little sympathy for its plight. Sure the crying, the sobbing and all of the screaming had irritated her but she could understand; it’s how she felt herself to some extent.

About to close her eyes and let sleep claim her again Chrysalis was surprised to see the Foal-Hunter looking indecisive. Odder was the fact the creature was now leaning in her cage, reaching towards Chrysalis’s own.

What? What is she doing?

Curiosity, not to mention a complete lack of any energy kept Chrysalis from shying away as the hand tentatively moved through the bars of the cages. The two brothers remained oblivious within their conversation as to what was happening behind them as the fingers wriggled and got closer. Keeping one eye on the hand, wary of what might follow the changeling was once again astounded when with surprising gentleness she felt the skin of the creature push gently to her head. Even if the hand was disgustingly filthy Chrysalis had to suppress a laugh at what was happening. Like when she was a disguised-filly and ‘upset’ her head was being stroked, the action soothing and very much appreciated.

Feeling slightly dumb-founded at the gesture she moved her head in reflex which caused the Foal-Hunter to become startled and pull her hand back. Realising her movement had scared the creature Chrysalis quickly moved her snout to push to the fingers, feeling them slide over her head again. Now settled the Foal-Hunter slowly stroked over the changeling’s chitin while Chrysalis relaxed, enjoying one last comfort while she could.

What?

The hand felt warm as it passed over her chitin but there was something else, something unheard of. Warmth and compassion began pouring into her body from the Foal-Hunter and like a desert getting the first rain in years her body sucked it up greedily. Chrysalis had never encountered so much emotion being supplied to her in such a short time and yet it kept flowing, pouring in and converted to nectar at an astounding rate.

W-What is going on?!

Her eyes gazed up to see the Foal-Hunter smiling warmly in her direction yet nothing about this made sense to Chrysalis. How was she being fed in her natural form? It felt pleasant, like a warm blanket was being pulled around her providing comfort, inside and out as it poured through her body. She could sense the creature’s emotions… the compassion felt towards her along with the fears, concerns and sadness lurking just beneath the surface.

Life.

The Foal-Hunter was gifting her with life. Sweet ambrosia filled her with strength, pulling her from the verge of death with renewed vigour.

S-She’s feeding me? How? I’m not draining her… she’s giving me emotions… willingly?

Chrysalis could almost see the emotions pouring from the female creature as she began to greedily consume. The nectar began to build within and from that her strength returned. Wings were stretched and tested while her legs grew steady and strong. She could taste the emotion now as her body healed at an astounding rate with the resources being provided. The grooves in her chitin started to close, her muscles ceased aching and a sense of purpose invigorated the changeling.

It… it tastes amazing. Like vanilla mixed with chocolate… but that’s not even doing it justice.

Pushing to the hand Chrysalis felt the compassion flow further in while mentally taking note of their current position. A large dark forest stood nearby and with it her avenue of escape. Buzzing her wings she turned her head to gaze at the Foal-Hunter unsure on what to think. The creature had just saved her, had just done the impossible and provided nectar willingly. Suddenly fear tainted the changeling’s meal as the Foal-Hunter pulled her hand back, the taste of earth filling Chrysalis’s mouth before the contact was broken.

Thank you…

A nod was given accompanying the thought, having giving thought to her gratitude as talking would give away what she had planned. Her body felt like it was too small a container for the energy now bubbling beneath the surface. Never before had Chrysalis had so much stored nectar even as she felt the nibbling of the affliction already sampling the new stockpile with relish.

Okay Chrysalis… now time to do something incredibly stupid.

It was an absolute fact that only Queen Chrysalis could contain enough nectar to fuel a disguise that Chrysalis was about to attempt. It wasn’t that it killed the changeling, or injured the individual… it simply didn’t work. Yet deep within Chrysalis she felt the roaring furnace screaming to be released.

So she did.

Dimly aware of a terrified scream the changeling grit her teeth as the magic flared into life around her. For so long she had been surviving off the bare minimum and it felt amazingly liberating to finally cut loose, but now she needed to go beyond anything she had ever tried. Already the sensation of her only recently obtained nectar pool emptying was felt, but she needed more. The magic raging out of control and wildly unstable started to emit dangerous levels of heat as Chrysalis struggled to contain the spell.

I’m going to kick your pansy cream-unicorn asses!

Her eyes snapped open as the thought of the brothers filled her mind, how they had abused her and the singing she had been forced to put up with. As if a switch had been toggled her body seemed to accommodate to the increased magical output and the disguise magic flared around her. She felt strange as her body changed, growing in mass as her form shifted within the fire. Finally she could make out the belated brothers’ reactions to what was going on, something that brought a smile to her now leonine face.

Now you’ll see what a non-half-dead changeling can do you bastards.

A loud roar ripped from her manticore throat, having disguised herself as the largest creature that was nearby. Anger raged within and Chrysalis used it to her advantage, throwing herself against the cage that imprisoned her in an attempt to knock it off. To the unicorn’s credit they reacted far faster than she would have thought possible, their magic quickly working to steady the cage against her rage. It was working.

It was a pity for them it was only half of Chrysalis’s gambit.

With her mind clear for the first time in weeks she had quickly formulated a plan born of desperation. She was gambling on the fact that a manticore, a very territorial beast would not take kindly to another appearing nearby. It turned out she was right.

With a roar the original manticore threw itself against the bars of its cage attempting to attack the new threat to its domain, even if said domain was simply a small prison. Matching its movements Chrysalis threw herself to the bars at the same time adding their energy together resulting in the wagon rocking dangerously.

“Flim! What is going on?!”

“How should I know brother?! Hold the cage before it-“

Before the sentence could be finished another lunge was given and the tenuous balance was shattered. The wagon dutifully obeying the laws of physics toppled over scattering cages over the road in a clatter of noise and pained cries. Not wasting any time Chrysalis used her new tail to viciously attack the lock until it and the stinger at the end broke. Even as the agonised roar escaped her muzzle she pulled herself out, bellowing at the brothers all the while.

Now to get out of here and into the-

Pausing for the briefest second she saw the cowering form of the Foal-Hunter within a cage nearby, fresh bruises starting to appear upon her form.

Chitin-rust…

Another angered roar was given towards the two unicorns as they wisely cowered behind the upturned wagon, clearly making sure they kept their distance. Satisfied she had a second or two window of opportunity, Chrysalis pulled back a large paw and swung it with all her might at the cage of the one who had provided the means for escape. Metal succumbed along with a majority of the limb used to perform the task leading to another sound of pain to escape the disguised-changeling’s throat. The sacrifice was not in vain however as the cage was now broken open, allowing for the occupant’s escape.

Ow…

Dropping the disguise she felt her forelimb return to an uninjured state as the brothers finally started to gain the initiative to the situation. Not wasting any time she turned and galloped for the forest, pushing past the branches and leaves to vanish out of their sight hearing their angry cries from behind. A voice however brought her to a standstill.

“I’ve got the Foal-Hunter! Keep the manticore in its cage Flim!”

“I’ve got it Flam!”

I’m going to do something stupid again, aren’t I?

Why she went back Chrysalis couldn’t say. Perhaps she felt an obligation to the Foal-Hunter even after breaking the cage or perhaps she was curious as to how she had been fed. Regardless of the reason she turned and ran to the edge only to see the female creature being restrained by Flam, his magic ensnaring one of her wrists and slowly tugging her back towards the wagon.

Oh… I am going to enjoy this.

Focusing on the unicorn’s horn Chrysalis felt magic build up at the tip of her own. Finesse was not an option as she instead chose to let the blast surge in a straight line to impact against Flam’s horn to disrupt his concentration and magic. Thankfully for the show-pony she lacked the time to put any real power behind it yet it still accomplished the goal of releasing his grasp. Knowing her work was done Chrysalis turned and ran into the forest while listening to the Foal-Hunter push past foliage in her own escape.

Moving on all four hooves she felt fantastic, better than she ever had. Her body was alive with energy despite all she had used in the escape, which truthfully was still continuing to baffle her. She had never had so much emotion given to her at one time, nor had she contained such a large quantity. Truthfully it felt euphoric, like she could do anything, go anywhere or take on anyone at all.

My body feels so alive for the first time since the invasion… no, better even!

She felt almost weightless as she hopped over roots and rocks. She almost felt like a hatchling as she bounded over a stream before pausing to look behind her with luminescent eyes. She could hear far in the distance what she presumed was the Foal-Hunter making her way through the forest along with the faintest sound of one other voice.

Not my problem… I already saved her once.

Chrysalis stood there for several seconds before gritting her teeth, her body almost moving on its own accord to turn her around.

“Argh! Why am I constantly doing stupid things today?” The forest didn’t really have an answer for the frustrated changeling as Chrysalis pushed herself to return whence she came, albeit on a slight angle. Her horn glowed as she applied a spell to mask her presence and for good measure one to detect any life nearby, one she used in a prudent fashion normally while hunting for an appropriate victim due to the cost it incurred on the caster.

Which, given how much energy I have right now that’s of little concern.

Not surprisingly it didn’t take her much to find the fleeing Foal-Hunter, the amount of noise she was making while brute forcing through the branches leaving the detect spell somewhat redundant. Making sure she was hidden from view she watched the female creature continue her laboured sprint before an ear flicked, Chrysalis’s prey approaching. Once observing which of the brothers it was she waited for him to pass by before applying her disguise and moving out into the open.

“Flim, wait a second!”

Flim paused at the mention of his name, turning to observe the disguised Chrysalis with a look of disbelief upon his face.

“Flam? What are you doing out here? Are the other two secured?” The show-pony looked quickly between his ‘brother’ and where his prey had fled from him. “Quick we have to hurry and catch the Foal-Hunter and that vindictive changeling before they get away.”

“Oh don’t worry about that brother of mine, there’s something far more important we need to discuss.” ‘Flam’ moved closer to ‘his’ brother, tone of voice strangely ominous.

“What could be more important than catching our two star attractions? Quick Flam, this is no time for games… this forest is giving me the creeps.” Flim looked about nervously as one ear went askew while the sounds of the Foal-Hunter grew fainter and further into the distance. Chrysalis meanwhile had been waiting for the opportunity as she approached under the guise of Flam, eyes narrowing.

“Oh… this isn’t a game, you see there is one thing more important than catching them; revenge.” Making her eyes glow blue she dropped the disguise as Flim’s own eyes went wide. She quickly sidestepped a snare spell before bounding forward as the last of the green flames flickered off her dark chitin covering. “Oh… and you’ll see I am not the same half dead changeling I was when you first captured me.”

“Y-You can talk?” Flim stammered as he took a few hoof steps back, Chrysalis giving a wide fanged grin in response. Despite the size difference she glowered upwards intimidatingly. With the emotions given to her by the Foal-Hunter she knew she was more than a match for the unicorn.

“Yes I can talk.” Her anger bubbled to the surface as she spoke, a loud snarl forcing Flim to give a yelp and push back against the tree behind him. “And so can the Foal-Hunter, but you knew that didn’t you?”

Chrysalis felt the build-up of magic a split second before the ground where she stood was on the receiving end of Flim’s desperate attack; the only problem for him was she had already moved. Upon seeing he was outclassed the unicorn tried a different tactic, begging.

“Ah, well you see this has all been just a big misunderstanding!” His eyes glanced about while pupils shrunk creating the very look of abject terror. “My dear brother and I simply had no idea you were both intelligent and very… very merciful beings.”

Chrysalis frowned as she stepped closer again making sure her fangs were prominently displayed. The earthy taste of fear permeated the air around the unicorn to the point it was almost overwhelming.

“You lied to the crowds about the Foal-Hunter, now call me crazy but a creature that sobs day after day doesn’t seem horribly threatening to me.” Flim looked about to interrupt before Chrysalis snarled earning a meek whimper from the unicorn along with the more distinctive and unappealing smell of ammonia to creep into the air. “Yeah, you must think I’m a fresh hatchling to believe that load of garbage. Oh… and gross.”

“N-No… I just… uh… you see… Flam! Flam! Come here quick!” Flim screamed loudly to which Chrysalis gave a low chuckle, eyes glowing with malicious intent. “P-Please don’t hurt me! I’ll give you anything you want, bits, food you name it! W-Why do you even care about the Foal-Hunter anyhow?”

Chrysalis only stepped closer making Flim back up further as her horn started to burn with green fire.

“That’s a good question… but it’s none of your business.” Pent up frustration oozed into Chrysalis’s words as she cast an illusion to darken the woods around the two of them, Flim’s eyes going wider as his legs began to shake. “Now… you will give me what I want. I’m going to show you what a true changeling is capable of.”

As the darkness pulled in the changeling hissed between her teeth, green fire erupting around her form although in this case it was purely for theatrics.

“Feel free to scream all you want Flim… no-one can hear you.”

It was a suggestion he took to heart even if the sound never escaped the magical barrier; but Chrysalis heard them.

And they were delicious.

~~~~~~

Chrysalis had left Flim several minutes ago, the stallion cowering in a small ball sobbing to himself while his brother’s voice sounded out nearby. It had felt so satisfying to give him a sliver of the punishment she felt he deserved, even if she could only resort to fuelling his nightmares for weeks to come.

It feels so good to feel myself again, better even!

Now she found herself galloping through the forest to hunt down the Foal-Hunter. Moving with speed she relished stretching her limbs while using her wings for that little extra bit of acceleration. Despite it all she found herself still conflicted as to why she was hunting down the female biped. Was it due to a sense of concern for her wellbeing, or was it merely her pragmatic side trying to figure out how exactly she had been fed so much? Or… was it due to the warm feeling still gently burning within her chest from when she was touched, fed willingly?

Ugh… stop thinking about that. Stop thinking about how nice it felt, and how warm you feel and… hey, brain don’t make me come up there.

Focusing the magic back to her horn she started to feel the presence of the fleeing female nearby, easily catching up to the Foal-Hunter but choosing to stay back out of sight. Realising that at that point was the perfect opportunity to actually see what the female really was like out of captivity she remained in the shadows. It seemed that the creature was out of breath, struggling to get oxygen back into her lungs before starting to observe her surroundings.

Over the next hour or so Chrysalis continued to follow, the Foal-Hunter wandering seemingly randomly around the forest showing she was undoubtedly lost. Deciding her observation had gone on long enough Chrysalis exhaled softly prior to raising a front hoof and pushing it purposely down upon a twig to gain the attention of the creature in her direction. Moving through the foliage she did the same in another direction, the analytical side of Chrysalis curious to see how the Foal-Hunter would react. Would she react in hostility, would her true colours emerge or would she-

Ah… no, she looks about ready to wet herself. Well that settles that.

Moving slowly out of the vegetation she walked behind the biped and stood down on another twig instantly having the female turn and regard her with shock.

She’s… scared of me?

Normally that idea would make Chrysalis get a small amount of amusement but… at that moment she felt something inside, an empty feeling that was not in any way pleasant. Now curious as to what was causing this she looked upwards with a slight tilt of her head, studying the Foal-Hunter. To her surprise a hand was once more directed, if slightly shaking in her direction which she hesitated momentarily before pushing her muzzle against the skin.

Chrysalis yet again enjoyed the warm sensation flowing into her from the creature, her wings buzzing almost subconsciously at how wonderful it felt. Smacking her lips a little she savoured the taste which oddly enough made the Foal-Hunter relax. The hand pet more confidently now, stroking down past her frill and over her head. Eventually Chrysalis was more than full, taking a step back to break the contact while the Foal-Hunter looked as surprised as she was, looking at her hand curiously.

She… is feeding me willingly. This feeling… it’s…

Chrysalis had never felt this sensation before; well… she had but never directly towards her true self instead of a disguise, and never this intense. Compassion, kindness… it was unheard of for it to be given freely to a changeling. Yet, this creature, this bipedal female genuinely felt these towards Chrysalis.

This… this could be just what we need… what the hive needs!

A smile came to Chrysalis’s muzzle at that epiphany while the Foal-Hunter smiled in return before saying something in its strange language. Unable to understand Chrysalis gestured as such with a tilt of her head. When the word was once more repeated she shook her head unable to understand but on the plus side the creature appeared happy. Now with some form of plan in mind she could only hope that the hive was still intact, it had been a week without her. All she could do was continue to hold faith in their ability to continue without her reluctant leadership.

Well, now we need to find a way out of the forest and take the Foal-Hunter back to the hive without getting caught… no problem.

Withholding cynicism at the nigh impossible task set before her Chrysalis started off in a direction where she felt the presence of multiple ponies far in the distance, if only as a guideline of where civilization lay. When the Foal-Hunter failed to follow her she gave a motion of her head which was thankfully understood.

And to top it off we can’t understand each other. Nothing is ever easy is it?

Summoning magic to her horn Chrysalis cast the detection spell again, this time holding it for the benefit of finding if any hostile creatures were nearby which there appeared to be no small number of. While it would normally be difficult if not outright impossible for a changeling to do so she found it was remarkably easy.

What’s going on with me?

Firstly her commune distance was remarkably large, and then her body was stronger, faster than ever. That wasn’t even getting into her current magic ability with the disguise she pulled off to escape and unbelievably still retaining nectar afterwards. Even at that moment she was effortlessly picking up on hostile threats and veering off course while moving at a slower pace for her companion to keep up.

It’s almost as if… no… that’s impossible. It’s never happened before, but- Oh Chitin rust!

Noticing just in time that the latest direction change went unnoticed by the Foal-Hunter she quickly moved and bit into the clothing to hold the female back, all the while trying to ignore the intriguing blend of flavours in the soiled top. With gentleness she guided the biped backwards who at that moment seemed transfixed on the slumbering hydra they had almost disturbed.

Whew… that was far too close.

After that point she moved far slower and remained more attentive to her companion until the sun began to set reducing the already dark forest into an almost pitch black. Surprisingly the other female didn’t make any sign of complaint and simply dutifully followed as if terrified to make the same mistake twice. While this fact was welcome by Chrysalis she did notice that the biped was almost dead on her feet. Sighing softly Chrysalis looked about until she spotted a small cave nearby that looked suitable.

Perfect.

Peering inside she made sure there would be no unwanted surprises within before trotting over to a large leafed bush and procured a few into her mouth. Moving back towards the cave she paused and indicated with her head for the Foal-Hunter to follow prior to spreading the leaves to create makeshift cushioning. Lying down it only just occurred to Chrysalis how tired she was after the day’s events, yawning while watching the other female enter cautiously before seating herself to the rear of the cave. Noticing how nervous her companion looked Chrysalis moved a little to gaze at the entrance then nodded reassuringly towards the Foal-Hunter to signal it was safe. A small smile was given that surprised the changeling as she felt a blush burn along her muzzle, thankfully missed by the only one who could have seen with her eyes already closed.

She is kind of cute when she smiles and isn’t crying, or sobbing or-

Exhaling Chrysalis lowered her head onto fore hooves after casting a barrier spell on the entrance to protect them as they slumbered.

Yeah, the strange possibly foal snatching creature is cute. You’re tired Chrysalis, go to sleep.

Yet… it was a few hours before Chrysalis fell asleep, quietly observing the filthy and fragile looking female at the rear of the cave wince occasionally within her slumber. Eventually however sleep claimed the changeling as the two slumbered peacefully for the first time in over a week, freedom rightfully earned.

~~~~~~

<What do you mean the Feedless are a tool? How could you do this to them?!>

Chrysalis stood defiantly before her queen, the tall changeling royalty not even deeming her daughter the dignity of being looked upon as she responded.

<Exactly as I said Chrysalis… honestly, I would have thought a changeling gifted with my name would be more… quick on the uptake?> The tone was neutral, almost bored as Chrysalis frowned.

<But… you can’t use them that way! They believe in you! They’re your daughters!> Her words were tinged with desperation, there was no way she could go against her mother but she couldn’t just stand by as her sisters were used in such a way.

Queen Chrysalis, her mother turned with a raised brow as she trotted around the room under the guise of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza. Yet not even the pink alicorn’s appearance could remove the almost tangible aura of malice that oozed off her form.

<And who are you daughter to think you can tell me what I can and cannot do with my own children?> Queen Chrysalis’s tone held no malice or anger within, the tone instead was curious as if she was honestly surprised any of her daughters would have the gall to question her.

<You… you would sacrifice your own daughters just to get your own wish? That sounds like such a great mother figure…> Chrysalis almost snarled the words out in her typical sarcastic fashion, her mother however deemed not to even pretend to hear the tone lacing the reply as she looked at herself in a mirror.

<Why of course I would, why wouldn’t I?> The way the queen mentioned it was so blasé that it left Chrysalis somewhat dumbfounded on how to reply. With her daughter still remaining lost for words the disguised changeling monarch continued to get ready for her wedding, donning the veil as she admired herself in the mirror. <Now you all have your parts to play and I will hear nothing more of it. Off you go Chrysalis and continue to live up to my name.>

Chrysalis grit her teeth, there was little she could do but she vowed to find some way to save her hatch-mate and the others before they were sacrificed. To hear not only she but all her sisters were just mere pawns to be used cut into her deeply.

<Yes… your highness.> Donning her own disguise as a royal servant, Chrysalis trotted out of the bedroom while her mother had seemed to forgotten she was even talking to someone. While she trotted away she could even have sworn she heard her queen start singing to herself, a long sigh escaping the changeling’s mouth.

Unsure on how to proceed she wandered aimlessly for several minutes, trying to think of a way to warn those about to be sacrificed for their queen’s plans. Yet as she left the castle she found herself bumping into the last pony she ever wished to encounter. One she thought had left Canterlot upon being anonymously warned. The mother she had pretended to be the daughter of up until that point.

The peach furred mare gazed at her with wide eyes before taking a cautious step forward.

“Rosebloom?”

Chrysalis had grimaced, now regretting the choice to keep the daughter’s form due to it having access to certain areas. Given her ‘father’ was one of the palace guards and her ‘mother’ was one of the gardeners it had granted her some leeway in assisting her queen in setting up the whole invasion. That is up until just hearing what was going to happen to make it a reality.

“U-Uh…” Chrysalis stumbled over what to say as her disguise’s mother slowly approached.

<My royal subjects, there has been a change of plan. The dome is down, attack!>

Chrysalis found her eyes going wide as the order to attack went out, a drastic change from the plan she had just heard. The mare before her screamed in horror as the sky started to fill with descending changelings, all homing in on victims to drain for their nectar. One in particular spotted the peach earthpony and flew down with saliva glistening on her fangs only to be intercepted by Chrysalis, her body moving before she could even formulate a single thought.

<Ow! Hey! What’s the big idea?> The changeling shook her head from where she had been knocked aside, Chrysalis having dropped her disguise to frown at her sister. Realising who it was the dazed changeling gave a long sound of understanding before taking to the air again. <Ooooh, hey Chrysalis… this was your timer mother wasn’t it? Hey I won’t get in the way of that meal, enjoy it!>

Chrysalis watched her sister fly off in search of another pony to feast upon leaving Chrysalis alone with the mare, Ivy Touch.

“R-Rosebloom… you’re not Rosebloom! Who are you?!” Ivy Touch stepped back, tears building within her eyes as Chrysalis frowned. She was a changeling and she had never been this mare’s real daughter despite the several years they had spent together in such roles. She was one of the best nectar gatherers of the hive and had used ponies numerous times before for her own gains. “Where is my Rosebloom?! What have you done with her?!”

So… why did it hurt so much to hear Ivy Touch say such things to her?

“Your daughter died and I replaced her, the Rosebloom you’ve known for the past few years has been me… a changeling. I’m… sorry.” Chrysalis wasn’t sure why but she felt she had to say the truth, her own emotions in flux after what had happened with the Queen and now with her surrogate mother.

“You’re lying! There is no way such a filthy beast is my daughter! There is no way! Give my Rosebloom back to me you monster!” Chrysalis blinked, stunned as Ivy Touch beat on her with her fore hooves but with no real force behind them. Tears rolled down the mare’s cheeks as she sobbed. Soon her flailing ceased to instead fall down into a foetal position, Ivy Touch’s eyes wide yet unseeing through the tears and terror gripping her. “M-My baby girl… this can’t be happening… this can’t be happening.”

Chrysalis moved one step forward before pausing. She knew she should drain the mare and move on, follow her queen’s commands but something within was telling her different. With a loud tsk she instead buzzed her wings and flew up into the sky to leave the sobbing mare on the ground. Even the addition of a barrier around Ivy Touch to prohibit any other changelings from attacking her failed to ease the changeling’s guilt.

<Quick my daughters, stop the Bearers from reaching the Elements and the day is ours! Their sun princess has fallen and the lunar princess is nowhere to be seen!>

This news from the queen was rather shocking, Princess Celestia had fallen? Something about that felt wrong to Chrysalis, she had seen the Princess many a time under the guise of Rosebloom and it was almost inconceivable a pony holding that much power could be overcome, even by their own queen. Thankful for the distraction however she flew off with most of her other sisters to stop the Bearers.

It was about that point that a giant Queen Chrysalis tore out of the ground, mouth opened wide with guttural laughter filling the air.

<Chrysalis! You disappoint me with your betrayal but no matter. You and your sisters are nothing but worthless pawns… mine to use as I see fit. Know your place!>

Soon two more heads tore out of the ground, the landscape tearing apart as Chrysalis fought to stay aloft in the air on her tiring wings. Both newly formed cream-coloured unicorn’s laughed, one with a moustache and one without as a cage was dropped upon Chrysalis, pinning her as all three gazed down to laugh at her degraded position.

“Ah Flim, such a stupid and worthless changeling we have captured.”

“Yes Flam, she thought herself so smart but look at her now… pathetic.”

Looking about frantically Chrysalis found the cage slowly compressing. With her fate sealed she closed her eyes until opening them at the sound of the metal slowly being bent and reshaped. What she saw surprised her more than anything else so far, the sight of two brown hands gripping the bars and forcing them apart effortlessly. Blinking her eyes she watched as the three heads vanished along with the landscape to be replaced with the Foal-Hunter, the female smiling softly as she reached into the gap to slide her arms around Chrysalis’s neck in a soft embrace.

“I am here for you.”

And with that simple sentence, Chrysalis knew she wasn’t alone anymore. Although she was now clad in an intricate dress and about to have tea with Senior Food-Bowlinton but he was late, which was entirely inappropriate.

That was until the sound of rain finally tugged Chrysalis out of her dream.

~~~~~~

Ugh… okay, that was by far one of the strangest dreams I have ever had.

Shaking her head Chrysalis found herself still within the cave along with the added background noise of rain impacting on the ground outside.

Ah… thank you rain. And a dress dream? Really?

Dismissing the events of the dream – which wasn’t even entirely accurate – as it slunk back into the nether Chrysalis yawned widely and observed their surroundings. Thankfully the shape of the cave provided enough cover to stop any rain from seeping in but given the very odd nature of the forest she didn’t feel up to moving around while it was going on.

Gazing out the entrance she observed the water impacting against the leaves and forest floor while small creatures ran for shelter. It was almost peaceful, that is until a loud scream reverberated through the cave making Chrysalis whip her head around for the source. What she saw was the Foal-Hunter breathing quickly as whatever turmoil had affected her within her sleep was slowly forgotten.

Raising a brow Chrysalis was met with another startled reaction from the other female which resulted in a bumped head and sheepish smile given to the confused changeling.

And… yeah, that was cute. I admit it. Oh wait, that rain gives me an idea.

Stretching her limbs she got onto all fours to trot outside. Immediately the cool touch of the rain started to roll over her chitin and with it removing the dirt and filth that had accumulated over the last week in captivity. Noticing she was merely being observed by the Foal-Hunter she decided some persuasion was needed. Moving her head she indicated the other female should join her, the gesture accompanied with a wrinkle of her nose implying the reason why.

By the unamused expression given the Foal-Hunter had picked up on the meaning, a small grumble emitting from her mouth sealing Chrysalis’s suspicions.

Hee.

Chrysalis watched as the bipedal female also exited to stand in the rain and it wasn’t long until she was smiling. It seemed the rain was invigorating the Foal-Hunter as she moved to wring out her clothing before a short, sharp sneeze was issued. Realising what was needed Chrysalis nosed around under some bushes and trees to obtain wood that had avoided most of the downpour so far. Returning to the cave she set up a fire, her horn providing the spark required.

The Foal-Hunter spoke something, her tone full of gratitude which at least allowed the changeling to get the gist of what was said. A small nod was given before lying down fully to enjoy the warmth playing over her chitin and drying her off. Closing her eyes she enjoyed the moment before falling once more to sleep.

~~~~~~

When she woke from her dreamless sleep a new day had dawned and with it an opportunity to continue trying to get back to the others, weather now permitting. Stretching out she felt cricks go along her spine before spying her companion still fast asleep in the rear of the cave. For several moments she quietly watched, eyes roaming over the female’s form and noticing the injured shoulder amongst other things. Questions remained in her head of where had this strange creature come from, it was evident that the ponies had never seen anything like her either.

And she hasn’t eaten in a couple of days now has she?

Concern for the female trickled into her mind as she trotted out of the cave. Reapplying the barrier to make sure it held in her absence she told herself it was purely out of necessity. Without the Foal-Hunter to continue feeding her and perhaps save the hive, she would be in a far worse situation than she currently was. It wasn’t because she cared about the female’s wellbeing or anything.

It wasn’t as if she watched her sleep or anything.

…Oh… Chitin-rust.

Grumbling under her breath Chrysalis made her way into the forest, looking around for anything edible while keeping ears perked. She was certain that they were no longer being pursued but it never hurt to be too careful, especially after her lapse in concentration had got her into this mess in the first place. Eventually she spied a small collection of apple trees, her magic easily snagging two before making her way back.

Along the way it gave her time to think as she mused over her new companion and everything she knew about her. For one the Foal-Hunter cried a lot that was a given, but she also seemed to hold compassion for Chrysalis. A small smile crossed over her muzzle as she remembered the warmth that had flowed into her, how it had felt and tasted. Shaking herself out of the reverie she knew she couldn’t refer to the creature as the Foal-Hunter, everything about that title was wrong.

She’s skittish, easily frightened, cries a lot and is physically weak. It would be more apt to call her Foal-Prey than Foal-Hunter.

Frowning as she trotted along she found a conundrum now facing her. Changelings as a whole did not do well with names; they were up to the Queen to give them out and it was a great honour to receive such a gift. Now she was being forced to think of something to term the Foal-Hunter, purely as the name was given by the brothers and she couldn’t stomach referring to the creature as anything those two sadistic idiots came up with.

Uh… Let’s see. How do those ponies do it, a distinguishing trait? Er… she has legs? Leggy?

A deadpan expression fell over Chrysalis’s face as she exhaled.

Yes… Leggy, creative work there Chrysalis.

Thinking hard she entered the cave going over everything she had seen and knew about the other female. Moving past the now extinguished fire she gently placed the two apples upon the skirted lap of her companion before moving back to sit, still contemplating over a name. It wasn’t long for the Foal-Hunter to waken, a loud growl rumbling from the lithe belly hidden under the clothing she wore. The creature’s eyes went wide as she spied the two apples, her gaze looking from the fruit to Chrysalis who gave a small nod indicating they were hers to eat.

Immediately the female biped started crying, yet she was smiling.

Did… I do something wrong?

Chrysalis felt alarm fill her before she noted that an apple was picked up and bitten into, alleviating her fears as sounds of enjoyment were emitted from her companion.

Ah… she cries when happy too. Fantastic.

Even so, Chrysalis found herself smiling. It was, in some strange way actually cute watching her consume the apple with gusto before realising how she had been eating. A blush came to her cheeks, possibly of embarrassment to which Chrysalis couldn’t help herself but laugh at the scene. A polite offering of the second apple was declined twice by the changeling as she nosed it back towards the Foal-Hunter.

But she’s kind. I’ve never had anyone outside of my hatch-mate treat me this way.

Watching briefly she turned and made her way out of the cave, hearing the other female follow as she was struck hard by inspiration.

She cries, she is kind, she is easily scared, timid but she is able to feed me outside of a disguise. Like the legends, the myths…

She recalled her hatch-mate and how she always wistfully went on about the legends of changelings not having to steal emotions but having them given freely. About a whole race of ancient changelings who lived amongst the pony race thousands of years ago only to vanish mysteriously; The Flutterponies.

Personally Chrysalis had never given the legends much thought, always discarding them as simply some form of wishful thinking. Yet…

“Legend…” Chrysalis mumbled softly under her breath before realising that she had spoken out loud. Thankfully the Foal-Hunter or as she was now named, Legend was too preoccupied in her own world and apple to overhear Chrysalis’s gaff.

Legend… it’s perfect.

Feeling rather proud of herself having named another creature, if only for her own benefit, Chrysalis trotted ahead with her detection spell active, leading them both through the forest. They travelled in silence outside the odd giggle or sigh from Legend, the inability to communicate verbally becoming somewhat of an issue in that endeavour. Eventually however Chrysalis found a trail, one that was obviously used by the ponies due to the tracks within.

Well that’s something, but we can’t linger on a trail and be seen.

Deciding to instead cross and follow from the other side she made to step out only to flick her ears at a most unusual sound. A high pitched wailing cut through the forest while small hooves impacted upon the earth. Chrysalis however was not interested in the definite sounds of a foal running; she was far more pre-occupied with whatever was following it. It was impossible to place, so many conflicting noises but whatever it was it was large… larger than even a manticore.

The answer was soon brought to light as the sight of a small light purple filly came running down the trail from deeper in the forest and right behind was something Chrysalis had heard of, but never had the displeasure of meeting.

A chimera. The beast was clearly obsessed with eating the small morsel keeping just outside of its three jaws, the lion head and ram head being pushed aside by that of the dragon as it made attempt after attempt to snap up the young pony. The creature was massive and bulging with muscle under its fur and scales and it was Chrysalis’s assessment that only a complete idiot would interfere with the meal.

“Please! S-Someone help!”

Chrysalis flicked an ear at the filly’s call for help but knew there was little she could do. It was sad, but ultimately it was the food chain and such a thing had to be respected to some degree. Turning to enter back into the forest she felt the cold sensation of doubt gnaw into her as she heard the desperate screams push into her ears.

“M-My baby girl… this can’t be happening… this can’t be happening.”

A frown knitted over the changeling’s brow as the memory was pulled from the depths of her mind. That filly would be some pony’s daughter…

Why did I have to remember that of all things?

With reluctance she paused, about to turn and do something to assist when she discovered she had not been followed. Legend had remained out on the path, whether frozen by fear or possibly actually the Foal-Hunter and was sizing up a potential meal. Before Chrysalis could react however Legend moved. Her companion moved with purpose she had not seen since encountering her initially, Legend pushing her legs to scoop up the filly and leapt with all her might to throw herself onto the other side of the path. Incredibly it worked and the dragon head which would have eaten the filly instead dined on the hoof-trodden dirt instead.

Yes… this was well thought out.

She saw Legend had not escaped unscathed; her injured shoulder had impacted against a tree and caused a rather nasty injury if the blood was anything to go by. Chrysalis found herself gritting her teeth as she saw Legend was in no state to get away, either dazed by impact or immobilized by pain.

Well I did say one would have to be a complete idiot to fight this thing…

Just as the chimera had located where its snack had gone and was preparing to pounce Chrysalis focused magic into her horn and directed it into the goat head. Staggering under the assault the beast snarled only to receive two hind legs kicking directly into the lion head.

Okay… I have its attention. Be nice if I had some form of a plan after this.

She turned while the chimera was distracted to gesture with her head for Legend to run away with the filly. It was clearly evident that if they both remained they would just get in the way of Chrysalis or worse, eaten. To her great surprise Legend shook her head firmly, clearly reluctant to leave Chrysalis’s side. The changeling felt touched by that but knew there was no place for such sentiments at that moment. Glaring she pointed with a fore hoof as the beast started to stir before lashing with a hind leg to dissuade the dragon head from its attempt to eat her rump.

Thankfully the message was finally received and Legend took off with the filly, running towards the distance where Chrysalis detected multiple ponies, possibly the filly’s village. If she remembered correctly there was a small town nearby but for now that wasn’t her concern. This was due to the giant three headed and rather miffed monster was on the top of her ‘to-do’ list. Buzzing her wings she turned and ran in the opposite direction at a gallop, thankful to hear the beast giving chase.

Oh good choice Chrysalis, send Legend off into village full of ponies and run around this freaky forest with your new playmate.

Moving with speed she ducked and weaved between trees only to hear them get torn asunder as the much larger chimera didn’t bother with finesse. She knew she had to at least lead the beast as far away from Legend in case it decided they were an easier meal so flying away was out of the question. Frowning she looked about while leaping over a fallen log before swerving to the side to avoid another lunge attempt. There was simply no way she could fight the chimera and come out on top even with her regained, if not improved state of being. For one she simply didn’t have as many heads.

Wait… that’s it. An incredibly stupid and ill thought out plan!

Channelling magic to her horn she flared up her detection spell hoping that there was more than one of what she sought in the forest. Using her wings she avoided two more bites before bouncing off the lion head to gain precious altitude, finally catching a glimpse of what she desired over the tree line. A feral grin spread along her muzzle as she pushed her body faster, heading towards a large swampy clearing wherein a hydra slumbered that dwarfed the chimera in size tenfold.

Okay, this plan is simply too insane not to work.

Running towards the hydra she let the no longer needed detection spell collapse and twisted the residual magic into something a little more volatile. With a swing of her head as she ran past she blasted the ruptured spell against the hydra’s left-most head causing a disgruntled snarl to escape all its mouths. With a buzz of her wings she took flight, running up the long neck before pushing off. All would have been perfect with the manoeuvre had the hydra not raised one head to see what was going on. Chrysalis felt the side horn scrap against her hind leg cutting a groove into the chitin as she hissed in pain.

Pushing past the injury she flew high into the sky just as the chimera realised just exactly what had occurred. Skidding to a halt it gave a sheepish grin with three heads as the hydra snorted and lowered all four of its own. A bellowing roar filled the clearing as Chrysalis flew down into the forest to hide from sight, wincing as she felt pain lance up her injured hind quarters.

Well… honestly that should not have worked at all.

Catching her breath she slowly limped through the trees taking a small amount of satisfaction listening to the hydra attack the chimera obviously unaware that the beast was an innocent party in its awakening. Taking to the air she flew instead of further aggravating her injury as it slowly healed; now a little more prudent with her nectar after all she had been through. The path back was easy to follow with the destruction the chimera had left allowing her to fly with haste back to where Legend and the filly had been.

Where did they go?

Worry gnawed within as she flew low over the path only to hear a commotion outside the tree line ahead. Slipping into the forest’s canopy she peered out only to see Legend passed out on the ground while the filly was nuzzling under a grey coloured pegasus mare’s wing. Every fibre of her being almost demanded she leap out and save Legend from the ponies but something made her pause. Eyes narrowing she saw a doctor being guided towards the unconscious biped, urgency in all the ponies’ voices.

Her nectar reserves were low which in truth was no surprise after all the magic and energy she had been burning in the last day. Then there was the draining sensation which having been presented with fresh nectar had become even more ravenous, consuming her stores at a rate that was alarming. That left her with a choice, she could go in and rescue Legend right now but she would not be able to heal her injury and thus would be unable to get away. Or alternatively she could heal her injury but that would not leave her with the capacity to fight off so many ponies and also take Legend with her.

Damned if I do, damned if I don’t…

Closing her eyes Chrysalis took several deep calming breaths considering what she should do. The result was that with great reluctance she decided Legend would most likely be receiving medical attention if nothing else. It went against everything she desired, everything she believed but she found herself unable to think of any other option. Taking a deep breath she waited as they restrained Legend when she woke. The biped was clearly terrified of being captured again before they sedated her, the action making Chrysalis look aside out of guilt mixed with anger.

Mostly directed at her own failings.

I’m sorry Legend, but they should help you.

Green fire erupted around her form as a disguise was applied using a small amount of nectar, one she knew well with alterations. She couldn’t use Rosebloom again in case she was spotted but she could use one similar. Her mane was now longer, black much like Legend’s and her fur was similar to her companion’s skin colour. It was overall small changes but for now it would have to do. Steeling herself she slowly limped out of the forest once the ponies left, wincing with each step taken.

Having spotted at least one of the Bearers nearby when Legend was taken she required extra caution in how she approached this. Yet one thought surprised her as she hobbled along, especially with the amount of anger it ignited with the mere idea of it happening.

Because if they harm you, not even their princesses will be able to save them from me.